Protocol, Networks, Law, and Anarchism

June 2nd, 2013   Submitted by Seth King

protocolI imagine long ago there was a time when neither verbal nor written language existed for humans. Hand gestures and other physical cues were as good as our ancestors had it. Perhaps the sign for thirsty meant pinching one’s own tongue. Or the sign for hungry meant stuffing one’s hand in one’s own mouth. Misunderstanding was rampant. Quality communication was scarce. And productivity was low.

But since the beginning mankind has been slowly improving its communication skills. Along came verbal and written languages and with it increased understanding. With increased understanding, so too came increased productivity.



When two or more individuals come together and speak a common language it can be said they are obeying a certain protocol. So long as none of the individuals pervert the pre-defined meanings of words there is understanding. If another person attempts to ascribe false meanings to the English language, or perhaps even speaks a foreign language to a group of English only speakers, that person can be said to be disobeying protocol. The protocol, in this case, is the English language.



When many individuals obey the same protocol while communicating it can be called a network. There are networks of English, German, French, and Spanish speakers, and so on. You might say that large groups of individuals within a geographic region all speaking the same language is a local area network. Generally speaking, it is in an individual’s own self-interest to have his protocol as widely adopted as possible. If one’s native language is too small relative to the rest of the world the individual will likely need to become multilingual. In order to increase maximum communication and understanding eventually all individuals will likely obey the same language protocol.

Assuming you’ve followed me so far the question I then have for you is which language should be the global protocol? Should it be English, Spanish, or Chinese? Perhaps something else? The truth is there are two answers to this question. The first answer is that it is totally arbitrary. There is no right or wrong language. Assuming everyone in the world can obey the same protocol, it doesn’t matter one iota whether it’s Spanish or English being spoken. The second answer is that billions of people have their preference and are vying for ubiquity, but only one is likely to come out on top. Which language should “win” is totally a matter of preference to each individual. Morality is simply devoid from this debate.

Now, this isn’t to say that every person on the planet will be forced to stop speaking the language of their local area network. It merely means that in order to easily communicate with everyone else on the planet one protocol will have to be obeyed. To refuse to do so would mean certain isolation and disadvantage.



Now let’s talk about law. There are many types of law in the world. There is Amish law, Sharia law, United States law, Chinese law, you name it. Law, just like language, is a protocol. When two or more people obey the same law, there is harmony between those two or more people. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous others may find that law, just like it doesn’t matter how many other people like Arabic. For the people obeying the Arabic protocol there is harmony.

Legal protocol also encompasses geographical locations. They are generally called governments or states and they are local area networks. As with languages, individuals are genuinely vying for ubiquity of their own law. If one’s own law is too little accepted relative to the rest of the world they will likely adopt the law of another. It follows that one type of law will likely “win” out globally in the long run.

Which then, should it be? Again, there are two answers. The first being that it is completely arbitrary. It doesn’t matter. If everybody in the world agreed upon one law there would be harmony. The second answer is that it’s totally a matter of preference to the individual. Just as one person may prefer English over German, so too may that individual prefer United States law over European Union law. When one law eventually achieves ubiquity it is not to say that others cannot obey a completely different law of their own choosing within and amongst themselves. For example, Halakha may be fully obeyed and practiced by individuals within the Jewish network despite living simultaneously under United States law. Those individuals unwilling to obey the legal protocol of the United States, however, may find themselves in certain isolation and disadvantage.



So, where does this put anarchists? Anarchists also have their own protocol. In fact, there are even different protocols amongst anarchists of varying stripes. Each flavor of anarchism is vying for ubiquity just like other legal protocols. And the truth is there is no right or wrong protocol. There is only preference. When two or more individuals cannot agree on protocol, be it language, legal, cultural, or other, there is conflict and isolation. That is an indisputable fact of life. There is no point in moralizing or lamenting it.

Anarcho-capitalists may have the hardest time swallowing this pill as they are generally very concerned with the subject of ethics. It is our values that are the building blocks of our market-anarchist/voluntaryist protocol. But if there is one thing we should have learned from our Austrian economic background, it is that all value is subjective. Even how individuals value ethics, law, and human relations is subjective.

How anarcho-capitalists value their protocol has absolutely no bearing on how others will value their protocol. It is merely preference. So, if we market-anarchists want our protocol to be the one that “wins” globally we will have to take measures that help to ensure our victory. A few quick ideas come to mind.

Predicting that English will eventually become the global language protocol it seems that it would behoove market-anarchists to emulate some of the tendencies of English speakers. First, as English speakers are almost universally monolingual and unwilling or uninterested in learning second languages, in order to share language protocol others are required to learn English. Second, as England was strategically isolated on an island, the English language was provided a geographical defense from foreign language protocol creep. Third, as arguably the majority of the last century’s innovations and cultural media came from English speaking countries, non-native English speakers were forced to learn English in order to reap the rewards of these advancements.

Therefore market-anarchists should seek to unlearn, take no interest in, become completely ignorant of, and disobey statist legal protocol. Let the rest of the world conform to our protocol, not the other way around. Second, market-anarchists may need to have at least one large, isolated geographical area fully populated by market-anarchists. Surely, there must be some way to procure a large oceanic landmass, possibly the size of Hong Kong Island. Let’s also not forget the Free State Project. A market-anarchist that doesn’t live near any other market-anarchists is as good as a computer not connected to the internet. There’s simply no network until there are two or more people obeying the same protocol. Third, market-anarchists must offer goods and services on our terms. For example, when doing business refuse to accept statist financial protocols like bank transfer or central bank notes, and instead demand Bitcoin. Also, many voluntaryists are computer programmers. Perhaps it would be beneficial to only write free and open source software and not cater to nonfree operating systems like Windows or OSX.

In conclusion, market-anarchism is a protocol. It is not special. It is merely our preference. We should seek to codify its laws to help others conform with ease, much like a dictionary defines the rules of language. Market-anarchists may also need to take a very hard-line and seemingly arrogant approach to non-voluntaryists.


21 Responses to “Protocol, Networks, Law, and Anarchism”

  1. Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

    Don’t anarchists deny that one type of law must “win” out globally?

    Suppose a state adopts Bitcoin as the state’s fiat currency, i.e. the state makes Bitcoin its legal tender and commands its subjects to pay taxes and other statutory rents in Bitcoin. Must anarchists then abandon Bitcoin?

    May anarchists use a stateless currency other than Bitcoin, bank notes not regulated by a central bank for example?

    Doesn’t Bitcoin have a central authority? Isn’t he Satoshi Nakamoto? The Bitcoin protocol could change in principle, but doesn’t it remain the same precisely because Bitcoiners freely respect this central authority? Couldn’t some people freely respect a banking system with a central bank as well?

    Rather than one system of law winning out globally, I want only a few rules to win out globally. I want people associating freely and respecting any system of law they choose within their free associations, and I want people in different associations, possibly respecting radically different and contradictory rules, to coexist peacefully.

    As long as no association forces people to be subject to its rules, we’re all as free as we can be, so free association is the only universal rule. Free association does not imply that every association adopts market anarchism or that any association adopts market anarchism.

    Since you and others want market anarchism, some associations presumably adopt market anarchism if people are sufficiently free, but these people might also change their minds, once they have what they now think they want.

    Freedom can only permit market anarchism to compete globally. If we expect it to win the competition everywhere, we’re tempted to pursue this victory by force, and we’re then statists.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      No, Satoshi Nakamoto is not a central authority of Bitcoin. He disappeared a couple of years ago. Yes, the protocol is truly regulated by the people that use it.

      I put “win” in quotation marks for a reason.

    • Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

      “we’re tempted to pursue this victory by force”

      Libido Dominandi.

      Please don’t use “we”. I’m not tempted.

  2. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    To function well with others demands aceeptance and willingness to conform to certain realities. If I rent an office or apartment and the owner or “landlord” does not accept Bitcoin as consideration for the rent the reality for me is I will not be able to rent from that person. The reality is one will find that many of the people one owes money to or needs to purchase goods and services from do not accept Bitcoin. Thus refusing to transact business with those who do not accept Bitcoin is not a viable option. The fact is the world is not the way one would like it be but rather the way it currently is. The best one can do is attempt to persaude others it is in their interest to agree with him and adopt his views. Denying reality can be a lonely thing. I am not opposed to seeking out those who accept Bitcoin if that is the way one perfers to transact business.

  3. Bill BochynskiNo Gravatar says:

    Alright, already; I’ll try and get my Bitcoin sign up faster!

  4. GunnarNo Gravatar says:

    I tend to find that spending one’s time promoting and building agorist/anarchistic relationships is far more productive than “fighting the state.” I think that the author of this article expressed that idea far better than I with his simple protocol explanation, and his/her argument for unlearning and ignoring statist protocol.

  5. Ryan TaylorNo Gravatar says:

    Funny, I didn’t even see Bitcoin as the main battle-cry of this post but that’s the way the comments are going. You draw some good connections and analogies between protocols and networks in technology and society which I think frequently go unexamined.
    What happens when the overarching laws of a local area network are decidedly against a specific protocol of a sub-culture within that network? This is essentially the threat that non-Bitcoin users see coming down the line but I would say that Bitcoin users don’t see it as a threat at all because of their understanding of protocols and networks. This post does a good job of illuminating the unrealistic nature of that threat and why we don’t see it as such.
    Having an understanding of protocols and networks in the context that you have drawn makes it easier to see other abstract protocols that form our personal and cultural values. Open source is a protocol but it is also a network, Bitcoin is part of that protocol and the Bitcoin network is part of the open source network which is part of the Internet network as a whole.
    This is about that bigger picture, the Open Source network, and the values that stem from it.
    Decentralization, transparency and free access to information are the tenants of the open source protocol. These are the values that we are to look for, spread and promote in all facets of our lives.
    Back to Bitcoin: If your favorite merchant/landlord/government does not know about or accept Bitcoin then take the time to inform them because it could very likely be in their best interest to get involved, especially if non-acceptance will cost them a customer/tenant/tax-payer.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      I stated that one can attempt to persuade others that it is in their interest to adopt you views Ryan. keep in mide that people will use the same argumen tto justify not accepting Bitcoin. They will say that they can not pay their bills with Bitcoin because the people they owe money do not accept Bitcoin. It not simply a matter of persuading the people you deal with, those people in turn have to persaude the people they deal and so on. It’s in a way multilevel. In the mean time every one accepts FRN’s and you don’t have to persaud them to accept FRN’s.

      • Ryan TaylorNo Gravatar says:

        Payment processors like Bitpay and Coinbase allow merchants to accept Bitcoin without needing to hold any Bitcoin. Transactions can be immediately exchanged to fiat and transferred directly into a bank account. The whole process is faster than credit card and paypal transactions.

        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          How much does it cost for a merchant to get set up to accept Bitcoin? What is the cost to the merchant in terms of percentage of the amount of the transaction? Wher can I obtain information about this?

  6. MAMNo Gravatar says:

    Does this mean that you will begin work on your court system Seth?

  7. KathyNo Gravatar says:

    Good article, son.

  8. AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

    You mention the law, and I ask, Can I force a contract on you? Can I come up and say, ‘Here is your contract, and good luck with that,…?’

    Then why haven’t we been reminded that this is not allowed under the law??

    I do not contract with people in uniforms,…

    Seems to me that this is a valid area of the law in need of study.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      It’s not a contract by our definition, but it’s definitely a protocol. Obey the state is the protocol. If you don’t obey protocol you’re in a state of war, even if you choose not to fight it with violence.

      • AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

        Under the law when you agree to a contract you are stuck with the terms of that contract, I say that you can’t come to me and say that you have a contract that I haven’t agreed to and it’s terms be valid.
        If I could come to you with a contract that says you owe me 30% of your money and that you need to pay you would call me crazy, why do we accept the same thing from the organized force of a given area??

        Oh, yeah, because they have a monopoly on force in the area.

        Rise up!!

        And good luck getting a judge to rule against his paycheck,…

  9. lokiNo Gravatar says:

    i started reading this and the argument was kinda persuasive for a while until you started on the moral relativism. there is one law that is right, it is the one that produces the results that are claimed of it. it is not true that obeying the same laws produces harmony, and it’s impossible for such laws to prevail if they are at odds with natural law. just as in science, eventually the fragmented ‘right’ parts of each system gradually crystallises into an agreed system.

    even the thing about languages is missing some very important and obvious historical facts – that languages change. only 500 years ago there was a lot less difference between german and dutch and english. fragmentation of language results from isolationist governments, and results in poverty. part of the reason why western europe rose to such wealth and prominence actually was more to do with the narrow gap between the languages of the different regions. the biblical tale of the story of babylon and the fragmentation of language is entirely metaphorical. read it a bit deeper and you see there is a common thread amongst the different events that lead up to this time, the story of the golden bull, the god-given law of the jews, and specifically the prohibition of the formation of a jewish state. the fragmentation of language arose due to ethnic groups making war with each other because of the emergence of proto-democratic systems, of fights between the various aristocracies that had risen to power in different regions. these groups became isolated from each other by the attempts of the babylonian empire to bring about a single unified system of law, which was contrary to tradition and temperament of the different racial groups that the empire spanned. the same story repeats again in the greek empire, and the roman empire, and then into the british empire, and now we have the american empire and the german empire, as well.

    in fact, the same pattern can be seen in the history of the russian empire, and the chinese empire, the russian being the one with the most recent and obvious collapse and fragmentation – and languages which were once relatively uncommonly used are now everywhere, poles, romanians, bulgarians, kazakhstanis, serbians, slovenians, slovakians, czech, all of them used to have a primary official language of russian, but this degraded along with the power of the state imposing this language via its legal system.

    in any case, it is irrelevant. while machine translation is still not anywhere near as good as human translation, because of the global universality of latin, historically, it became a primary language used by scientists. english is now in this same position, being the language in which the largest amount of development of science and particularly information technology is published. no single language can ever dominate the world without the support of the violence of government. the us dollar dominated the world throughout the latter part of the 20th century because of the revenue base of the USA enabling it to force transactions, particularly in relation to oil, in us dollars, this made it a major currency not just in the USA, but anywhere that there was a lot of oil, the middle east, south america and africa.

    however, this fragmentation and seeming dominance of one thing or another as discussed only has a basis in the actions of states. more liberal states tend to become dominant because they impede science, art and economic activity less. it’s more or less a ‘firehose’ effect, of the outer construct of the state, with the inner construct of greater liberty enabling the state to be relatively larger with a lower burden on the population.

    for this reason, i cannot agree with the fundamental points in this article, at least up to the point where it became obvious to me it was overly simplified, and i stopped reading.

    my counter is that we now live in a different world where collaborative, non-state, non-violent groups are creating the biggest protocol systems, such as bitcoin, bittorrent, tor, and the growing number of other peer to peer systems that are arising, i mean, even skype runs on a largely peer to peer system. this is the only way that there will emerge a stable dominant protocol system in anything, through the massive global networks of people who all benefit from using this common protocol. the state, as an institution is in its final phases in history, it is being replaced by voluntary, commonly accepted, logic-based principles. there is no relativism in this at all. bitcoin, for example, solves the problem of eliminating the ability of any one group to inflate its value, as exists with central bank issued pure exchange currencies. this is what everyone wants, when you really ask them the questions without probing their faith in whichever popular nonsensical economic jibber jabber they otherwise profess to.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      If the protocol is your partner beats the crap out of you every day, and you like it, then who am I to say that’s wrong?

      Just because two or more people have a different protocol to treat each other than I do doesn’t make them wrong.

    • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

      loki, I think you might have missed Seth’s point. (Perhaps you’d have grasped it if you had read the whole article.) Protocols and networks develop, and the impetus behind that could be anything – to include force in some situations. If the use of that force is accepted by enough people – as it appears to be damn near everywhere in this world – then it still becomes the protocol. I believe Seth’s point is that libertarians need to develop our own protocol rather than fight so hard against the existing one. That’s just a losing battle. Seth, feel free to correct me if I misunderstood you.

      • The power of the protocol is shown when it is freely adopted and its weakness is shown when it is forcefully imposed.
        Instead to fight to change the rules of the government inside, move out (as possible and convenient) and create new rules. Instead to fight against a protocol, create a new protocol.
        If it is better, people will start to adopt it.
        And more they use it, more they will not use the older, obsoleted ones.

        There was no need to ban or abolish Morse Code to make it a rarely used thing of the past. It just needed to introduce a better protocol to transmit informations over modern connections.