Review of “Founding vs Inheriting”

Balaji S. Srinivasan presents a dilemma between the ideas of Founding vs Inheriting in his article. It’s best to read his article first because I’m going to be mostly reacting and reviewing the ideas in the article. I am from the American West and I work at a tech company so I’m biased in favor of Founding. Balaji is also biased in favor of founding and one peek at his wikipedia page tells you all that you need to know about where that bias might stem from.

Despite Balajis article being about founding vs inheriting he also presents a third option which is “forking.” That is, making a copy of some ‘source’ and start independently developing it. You could argue that the history of western civilization is a long chain of forks stretching from Athenian Democracy (and various other founding city states) through The Roman Empire down through modern nation states and former western colonies that have forked their old masters governments. You can easily identify the ‘code’ from Roman Jurisprudence in modern law for example in modern governments across the west. Just like forked code however not only do you get the functioning code but you also get the bugs or technical debt that the original code had. The US is many forks deep so we have many well functioning routines but also an incalculable amount of bugs.

Good artists borrow but great artists steal. The Western US may very well be a fork of the East but it’s a fork and it carries a lot of the technical debt that the east still has. Instead of founding new systems out of nothing founders were efficient and took ideas and capital from preceding founders. That means that they can focus on the business and not how to make the perfect meritocracy for example. One benefit of this forking is that the two systems are compatible. East and West coexist and cooperate.

There are certainly other options. One option would be to work on technical debt. Even in coding, everyone hates doing this. It’s much sexier to make a new chat app than fix the old one. Even if we forked silicon valley culture and colonized new areas that are compatible with the western code that technical debt still exists. The people who make up the new society will still have the old western operating system running underneath everything like DOS propping up a pretty Windows 3.1.

Another option is changing the technology. I’ll pander to decentralization a little in saying that making it next to impossible to deplatform people because of the technology you communicate with won’t allow for it is a huge game changer. There will be many unintended good and bad consequences. Moving towards decentralization for some may not be an ends focused decision. In the same way that early adopters of the internet didn’t necessarily think a primary function of the internet would be sharing cat videos and bullying teenagers I think that moving to complete decentralization will allow for a greater expression of humanity in all the weird, wonderful and terrible ways that could happen. No one picked decentralization because of the ends but as a better means to get certain things done so it’s consequences will be unpredictable just like the industrial revolution.

There are probably more options but another that I’ll mention is contact with other societies. Assuming every country doesn’t completely close themselves off of the world wide web into their own mini webs our social contact with other countries and peoples will continue to grow. I had a moment playing EVE a decade ago when I realized I as an American had more in common with this Russian that I was mining asteroids with than many people I had contact with day to day. That’s great that the internet brought us both to new levels of empathy. It will also lead to social change. Not only of customs but also of systems. What happens when your western civilization fork gets a large amount of fascist software installed into its population for example. I think some of the societal change in the US in the last decade may be due to the socialization of some of the ideas that run counter to the US’s original programming.

All in all I agree with Balaji’s sentiments. This problem of inheritance was also debated by Marxists and Libertarians when it came to personal property in the 18 and 19 hundreds. I’ll oversimplify Marxism as a radical idea that maybe all property is public property which was soundly rejected by the west a long time ago while capitalism’s focus on private property means that people will accumulate it and create the inheritance problem over and over. Working on that technical debt may mean not giving up capitalism in favor of all public property but having some mechanism in society to ensure that the less advantaged have access to capital and opportunity so that they could make their own forks instead of being under the thumb of the old guard. Technologists have a huge responsibility because in the rise of crypto it seems we may be repeating some of the same patterns from an earlier fork in terms of access to opportunity.

I’m a Learning Experience Design Manager at Google. I like to write about education, user experience and philosophy.