The Decentralized Country
If you only have a couple of minutes to spare, here's what investors, operators, and founders should know about decentralized countries.
- Nations are a modern concept. Most modern nation states emerged at the tail of the 18th century. That makes them much newer than many other civilizational constructions. There’s no reason to think they should last forever.
- Innovation forces societal restructuring. The advent of the printing press was a driving force behind society’s transition from divine rulers to more democratic nations. Newer technologies like the internet and blockchain will cause similar disruption and reorganization.
- Crypto has introduced “vernacular economies.” Currencies like bitcoin, Ethereum, Terra, and even Dogecoin are internet-native monies. In that respect, they resemble a kind of “economic vernacular,” endemic to the digital realm. In time, that may grant them greater authenticity and social power.
- Decentralized countries may supersede nations. The most influential civilization-scale entities will exist entirely online, a consequence of digital lives becoming more valuable than physical ones. “Decentralized countries” will coordinate and govern our virtual terrain.
- Our sense of identity will be altered by these changes. Today, humans have a mostly monogamous relationship to nations — try and profess allegiance to more than one and things get complicated. In the future, we may be “promiscuous nationalists,” moving between digital states depending on circumstance.
We have not always lived in nations. Before there were structures like "France" or "Germany," empires reigned. The dominion of Rome stretched up to two millennia, depending on one's definitions, and both the Byzantine and Ghana empires lasted roughly a thousand years.
Compared to those reigns, unions like "the United States of America" look short. Two hundred and forty-five years is the blink of an eye in the Anthropocene. Even the US looks ancient next to constructions like "Russia," its current incarnation created thirty years ago.
Comparisons of this kind are meant to illustrate two simple points: nations are not very old, and there is no specific law that we must organize beneath their banner. Across human history, we have cobbled ourselves into tribes and fiefs and city-states of varying prosperity and endurance. We have favored other configurations and flourished.
We will do so again. Just as mechanical advancements gave rise to national systems, the technological revolution enables new structures. While the internet was the dominant force in the current shift, cryptocurrency represents the missing piece. Though much discussed, we remain in the early innings of understanding how profoundly the blockchain "vernacularizes" economics and empowers digital, censorship-free homesteading.
The result will be a new kind of civilizational structure: decentralized countries. "DeCos" will operate above national borders in the digital realm. In that respect, they resemble the "cloud nations" theorized by one of the decentralization's poet laureates, Balaji Srinivasan. This piece owes a debt to his thinking and the writings of Benedict Anderson and Marshall McLuhan.
While Srinivasan's "cloud nations" seek to proceed "cloud first, land last," DeCos may never attempt to settle the terrestrial territory. Rather, these entities recognize that our digital lives are more real and valuable than our corporeal ones.
In stating this claim, DeCos begin to fulfill it, drawing groups into meaningful digital communion. Eventually, this will allow them to supersede nations as the primary recipient of our time, attention, capital, and social fealty. Our descendants may not identify themselves as "Italian" or "Turkish" but from a specific digital clan that can be carried with them, regardless of their physical location. Once Romans walked the breadth of the empire protected by the phrase "civis romanus sum" — I am a Roman citizen. In the future, we may jump between a range of such identities — civis Bored Ape sum — promiscuous in our nationalism.
If not already evident, such a fundamental shift will open radical opportunities. Founders and early denizens of DeCos may exert outsized control over the dominion's GDP and branches of government. Investors in the DeCos themselves and the technologies enabling them will also prosper.
Today's piece is an exploration of this idea. By the end of our journey, we will have discussed:
- The definition of a nation. Before it receives a eulogy, the concept of a "nation" deserves depiction.
- How innovation created national structures. We can trace our current civilizational structures to the rise of the printing press and the decline of religious elites.
- Nations and temporal manipulation. As national citizens, we experience a form of "simultaneous time" which recognizes the simultaneous existence of compatriots we feel a kinship for but do not know.
- The internet and spatial manipulation. The proliferation of the internet has created something like "simultaneous space." We occupy many terrains simultaneously and understand that others do the same.
- Crypto and "economic vernacularization." The blockchain opens up the ability to create an independent economy.
- When terrestrial and transcendent countries collide. For the foreseeable future, we can expect humans to have bodies. That pesky corporealism makes interaction with the physical world necessary. DeCos will need to build relationships with terrestrial entities, even as it looks to transcend them.
We'll also discuss which entities have the potential to become DeCos, in time.
The National Equation
Many better minds have been vexed by the question, "what is a nation?" Even this may be an insufficiently precise inquiry given that someone might reasonably respond, "well, what kind of 'nation' do you mean?"
Though some scholars suggest proto-nations existed earlier, for our discussion, "nations" are synonymous with modern nation-states. This delineation does not answer our question, but it circumscribes our exercise. On this account, too, definitions vary. Thinkers like Johann Gottlieb Fichte suggested nations formed around ethnic divisions, while Ernest Renan argued nations formed around civic ties.
With the benefit of time, neither seem quite right. I believe nations require three elements: ideology, terrain, and governance.
- Ideology. An underlying philosophy animates every nation. Though some countries may explicitly outline its principles, there is always some part that is obscured. For example, ask an American what the US's ideology is, and you are sure to hear the word "freedom," which is definitively outlined in the Constitution. Though perhaps less common, you're also likely to receive comments that reference Judeo-Christian values or something of the sort. Of course, the First Amendment explicitly obscures this ideology, which demands separation between church and state but remains a part of national culture. Ideology is the sum of intended and unintended cultural elements.
- Terrain. Ideology alone is not enough to create a nation. Physical territory is a necessary element. Nations must oversee some terrain, though it need not be continuous. Colonization represented an attempt by nations to extend their boundaries physically and non-contiguously. The fact that this mostly failed is partly due to the inability of ideology to keep pace with force.
- Governance. While ideologies — particularly religions — are good at guiding human behavior even in the absence of formal power, nations ally philosophical unity with tangible governance. Though many nations distinguish themselves from previous collective incarnations by expanding the governing class to all citizens, this is unnecessary. Saudi Arabia is recognized by the United Nations (UN), even as it acts as a Kingdom. Thus, the essential element is the presence of a national administrator.
If you were trying to create a nation from scratch, the "Ideology + Terrain + Governance = Nation" equation works well enough.
However, this is only true if we adhere to a de facto definition of nationhood. Any territory with an ideology and governance power can act as a nation, but that does not mean others will accept it as such. For de juro nationhood, recognition is required.
That's more than a semantic matter — there are real benefits of recognition. Not only does collaboration with other entities require their acknowledgment of your sovereignty, but ratification by an entity like the UN brings tangible reward. Member states benefit from crisis support, simplified trade agreements, and access to capital from the World Bank and IMF.
This is a nifty setup for nations. By requiring recognition, they transform the quest for nationhood from singular (the nation in potentia) to collective (the member states). Though not every king or sultan recognized the legitimacy of neighboring rulers, empires never had to ask permission to exist.
We'll discuss later how permissionless formation could prove crucial for DeCos.
Print and Time
We have answered the what of nations, but not the why or how. Why did nations materialize as the dominant civilizational structure? How did that happen?
The crispest explanation, in my view, comes from Benedict Anderson. In his seminal work Imagined Communities, Anderson points to the printing press as one of the defining catalysts in the emergence of modern nations.
Before the emergence of the press, common people were triply impoverished. Firstly, they were monetarily poor compared to the upper classes. Secondly, they were linguistically debased. Few spoke a sacred tongue like Latin, relying instead on vernaculars like "French" and "German." These were seen as subservient languages, incapable of capturing eternal truths. Finally, their circumstances were perceived to be the consequence of divine decree. Just as monarchs derived their authority through God's will, the lot of peasants was presumed to be similarly chosen. According to Anderson, guiding this notion was the prevailing idea that "cosmology and history were indistinguishable," per Anderson. History — and thus one's place in the world — was not seen as "an endless chain of cause and effect or of radical separation between past and present." Time just was — a kind of unmoving monolith connected to the divine.
Allied with economic change and scientific advancement, the printing press altered these dynamics. Invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, his device radically reduced the cost of producing written documents, opening up texts to a much larger audience. Libraries that a hundred years earlier might have had a dozen or so copies suddenly had hundreds. Because publishing houses were capitalist enterprises, these works were not written in Latin but in English or French, designed to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Anderson called this the "vernacularizing thrust of capital," or "print capitalism."
The explosion of print also created a shift in consciousness. Suddenly, large swathes of people could read the same story in a standardized language, contributing to the sense of a "deep horizontal comradeship," as Anderson called it. Even if you never met your compatriots, you knew, in a sense, that they were there.
Furthermore, it created a fundamentally different sense of time. Rather than perceiving temporality as fixed or universal, a sense of progress and simultaneity manifested. Perhaps the best example of this came in the form of newspapers.
As Hegel once remarked, the newspaper took the place of prayer in secular society. While once millions kneeled each morning to pray, they now sat and read. Communal, quotidian meditation transformed from inner-aural to visual type.
For Anderson, reading the newspaper was not only an "extraordinary mass ceremony" but proof of a different apprehension of time. Newspapers are explicitly tied to calendrical progress, existing as "one day best-sellers," which content unified only by its connection to the current date.
Moreover, as with other forms of writing, newspapers inculcated a sense of simultaneity. Anderson explained:
By disseminating the written word, we began to understand that time was experienced simultaneously by multiple parties whom we did not directly know but could nevertheless enduringly conceive of.
The nation was a consequence of these shifts. Secular, vernacular, and communal, it perfectly reflected changes to the underlying society, many of which had been precipitated by the printing press — though it took time for them to develop. The French nation rose in 1789, more than three centuries after Gutenberg's v1. Italy took nearly another hundred years.
A few factors contextualize this interlude. For one, it took time for publishing production to ramp up and for those works to spread across the continent and around the world. In the final 60 years of the 15th century, Anderson notes that about 20 million editions of the Gutenberg Bible had been printed. Over the following century, 200 million were produced. Production of books per half-century grew from 12.6 million in 1475 to 640 million over the following three hundred years.
Secondly, literacy improved gradually. Four hundred years after Gutenberg's 1440 innovation, only about half of the English and French populaces could read. In Russia, only 2% were literate.
Finally, recalibrating fundamental beliefs about time and existence is usually not easily made. Even today, many "secular" nations are heavily influenced by preceding spiritual doctrines.
Using contemporary framing, we can say that the printing press took time to scale and had a relatively long consumer adoption cycle. As we move forward, analogizing this duration to DeCos will prove helpful.
Internet and Space
If print forced a reappraisal of time, the internet encourages the same for space. As we all know well, through this "network of networks," we can communicate, collaborate, transact, and play irrespective of our physical location.
Interestingly, the internet's effect on space is both analogous and opposed to print's influence on time. At first glance, it seems like an inversion: whereas newsprint shifts us towards progressive, continuous Time, the internet views space as an abstraction. You may "surf" the web, but it rarely feels as if you move through it. There is none of the linear sense of progress one might get from a physical journey. Similarly, though we know the "terrain" of the internet changes, with new websites and applications constantly emerging, we hardly seem to adjust our mental image spatially. The internet just is.
The internet is a spectacular simultaneity machine, however. Not only has it intensified the temporal simultaneity of newspapers — our modern communion is the incessant opening of social media — but it has created a sense of spatial simultaneity. We are now aware that each of us occupies several territories at once. Just as simultaneous time responded to divine law, simultaneous space counters corporeal law. We should not be able to be in two places at once, but we now know that online, we can be. We are constantly in a state of superposition. Though this is not the only factor, such freedom is one of the reasons why digital life is more exciting and increasingly more valuable than corporeal life. We, quite literally, have access to extra-dimensional powers.
Beyond its amendments to space, the internet has challenged fundamental beliefs. There's a direct analog to the impact of the printing press in this regard. Gutenberg's invention radically reduced the cost of information production and expanded a work's potential audience. The internet pushes both asymptotically towards its relevant axes: the marginal cost of production is zero, while the audience size is effectively infinity.
By doing so, it has elevated a new "cyber vernacular" and flattened power structures. The modern version of a vernacular language is, of course, the meme. It is the dialect of the internet everyman, and it is natively suited for that dominion. Not only are memes context-rich, visual, and remixable, they're often post-linguistic — you do not need to speak a particular language to enjoy them. Such a feature is ideal for the internet's global audience.
The internet's reduction of publishing costs and removal of gatekeepers has allowed the number of "publishers" to skyrocket. Of course, the definition of a publisher has changed radically, shifting from referring to an organization to an individual. Now, every person that tweets or posts acts as a sovereign publisher contributing to the information diet of other internet citizens.
Under the weight of this expansion, Truth has become fractal. Not long ago, individuals received reporting from just a few news sources. While there might have been some variation in opinion, by and large, the number of perspectives on a given topic was limited. Today, every topic is refracted through thousands if not millions of competing opinions.
In the vast, indefinite hinterland of internet-space, distinguishing between these requires time and constant cognitive energy. Because the development of citizen reporting has revealed both the blind spots and biases of traditional publishers, consumers can no longer simply default to believing one source but have to bounce between hundreds and thousands. Users encounter far more varied and fantastical positions because there is no arbiter, and existing platforms favor extreme positions. The result is the creation of fractal truth, in which every person sees just a sliver of the overarching pattern but still believes in the authority of their position. Each new opinion shared online can be forked, opening up further fractalization. "Deep horizontal comradeship" is replaced by shallow, chaotic comradeship; we affiliate and sever ties with random groupings issue by issue, minute by minute.
Traditional governance loses legitimacy as a result. Voters find it hard to find candidates that subscribe to their particular brand of artisanal Truth. Every politician is, in some way, comprised and delinquent.
Moreover, consensus is impossible in the absence of objective — or even proximate — truth. Legislative peers can live in different realities online and receive support and reinforcement for their perspectives. One may believe the world is flat and governed by lizard people, while another knows it to be round and that lizard people are not real. Each is subject to praise and ridicule. How can these two people agree on a sensible housing bill? Inevitable gridlock further undercuts the authority of legislators.
We have arrived at a set of changes that look similar to those advanced by the printing press:
- "High language" is declining relative to a new vernacular.
- Traditional power structures have lost authority.
- Our conception of space-time is changing.
When this last happened, nations appeared as a reflection of altered dynamics. What will occur this time around?
The Blockchain and Vernacular Economics
Before answering that question, we must reckon with the impact of a second transformational technology: the blockchain.
First popularized by bitcoin and the thinking of Satoshi Nakamoto, the blockchain solves the primary impediment of forming a digital collective that competes with nations. Up until this point, when online communities have conflicted with terrestrial power structures, the physical world has (mostly) won. Though legislators struggle to understand technology, they are still empowered to regulate it through privacy policies and other regulations. Some governments ban certain websites altogether, effectively erasing that digital territory as a potential residence for its citizens. Both are evidence that the digital dominion is subservient to the physical one.
The blockchain opens up an alternative path. Because of its decentralized architecture, it is largely free of censorship. Governments would struggle to eradicate any well-built, popular blockchain completely. That isn't to say that they couldn't restrict its access. Through terrestrial laws and by pressuring traditional internet providers, legislative bodies could make cryptocurrencies challenging to exchange, stifling innovation and reducing capital inflows.
Not only would such a move be nearly impossible to pull off in a true democracy given crypto's growing support, but it might only accelerate the development of decentralized infrastructure. Projects like Helium, for example, are creating "people-powered" wireless networks. Rather than relying on Verizon or AT&T — entities that are governed by and submit to terrestrial law — internet users in the future may surf a web secured by citizen-run nodes. Legislators could not move such an entity, or at least not nearly as much.
For a DeCo to exist, the blockchain is necessary. Not because of any philosophical allegiance per se, but so that it cannot be eradicated, razed from the digital world, by a competitive government. No one chooses to belong to a nation that can be forced to disappear.
Beyond removing this dependency, blockchains have also "vernacularized" economics. That is meant literally — it has empowered and elevated the formation of new, internet-native economies.
We can lean on analogy to clarify this point. Traditional economies are spiritually akin to the "sacred languages" that humans once presumed had special access to the truth. Fiat currencies, and associated instruments, are conceived and controlled with a top-down structure and are seen as superior to "vernacular" monies, holding special value. (Often with good reason).
Currencies like bitcoin are the internet's vernacular money and have historically been viewed with similar condescension. To the conventionalist, bitcoin or Ethereum is not "real" money, nor has it created a "real" economy. Increasingly, we see that position challenged to breaking point as cryptocurrencies rise in value and popularity.
The blockchain fulfills a hybrid role in this revolution: both the printing press and print capitalism. Without it, the genesis of new products (economies, in this case) would not be possible; without the capital it has attracted (crypto investors), such products would not have proliferated. The term "crypto capitalism" to refer to the latter is an uneasy fit given the sector's libertarian and occasionally Marxist bent. Still, it nevertheless feels most apt and allows us to avoid confusion.
We can see the effect of crypto capitalism on the rising market capitalization of its currencies. It has risen from effectively $0 to as high as $3 trillion in ten years.
A wave of vernacular economies has been formed as part of that process. In 2013, just 66 cryptocurrencies existed; today, there are nearly 8,000. Many leverage the internet's "cyber vernacular" of memes with success — think dog coins and Squid Game scams.
Though not perfectly analogous, the uptick brings to mind the spiking production created by Gutenberg's press.
Nations were not built for this reality. They were not built to serve fractal-truth, cyber-vernacular, spatially-simultaneous humans. They were not built for the internet or the blockchain.
New civilizational structures will arise from national failings. In particular, I believe we can expect decentralized countries (DeCos) to emerge. These unions will be internet-native and agnostic to the physical world. They may start by leveraging platforms run by centralized companies but eventually migrate to a fully decentralized stack to protect their existence. In time, DeCos will attract borderless "populations" that rival and surpass that of many nations. Though much of it will be dominated in vernacular monies, including currencies denominated by the DeCo, these entities will boast large GDPs.
To clarify DeCos, we can outline how they align and diverge from the three characteristics that define nations.
- Ideology. DeCos will still require ideologies and cultural norms to bind its citizenry. This is made considerably easier by the location-agnosticism of these entities. Rather than trying to identify proximate truth and agreement within a geographic boundary, DeCos do so globally, piecing together like-minded constituents. By reducing the friction to participate in governance, DeCos should also modify and update ideology more quickly.
- Terrain. DeCos care about physical terrain only to the extent that legacy governments might pass rulings that impede digital legislation. In time, the financial and social might of DeCos will allow them to supersede nations making traditional governments subservient or at least friendly to their agenda. While DeCos might not care about physical terrain, they must pay close attention to digital terrain. Constructing a distinct digital topology protects context and fortifies group dynamics.
- Governance. DeCos will leverage blockchain architecture to conduct on-chain governance. While certain parties may have outsized voting power due to their status or contribution, DeCos will be broadly democratic and see much higher voter participation than our current democracies. Ernest Renan said that nations drew authority from citizens voting in an abstract "daily plebisicite" by choosing to remain part of the state; DeCos will make this concrete.
Before moving further, the concept of digital terrain deserves an additional explanation. Earlier, we highlighted how the internet operates as a monolithic space. For two reasons, it is in the best interest of DeCos to interrupt and moderate the sense of boundless homogeneity.
Firstly, terrain provides context. The physical territory we are in often indicates how we act. We may not think about such things, but how we dress, speak, eat, move, and interact is all influenced by where we are and what surrounds us. In the mountains, we might wear different clothes than we would at the beach; in one part of the city, we may be more relaxed about walking alone at night than we would in another neighborhood. Environment cues inform our actions.
The internet makes this difficult. Digital platforms certainly have topologies, but they are much less pronounced than in the physical world. "Context collapse," in which meaning is lost or subverted as it reaches an unintended audience, is the inevitable result. Twitter's flat topology makes it a breeding ground for this phenomenon.
For example, every day, millions of crypto-adherents tweet two letters: gm. It means "good morning" and has become an in-group greeting among that constituency.
Through RT'ing and sharing, this message might spread far beyond the abstract province of "crypto Twitter" and meet any manner of other communities. Most would be puzzled, but some might derive an entirely different message. Auto-enthusiasts, for example, might wonder why, all of a sudden, everyone was talking about General Motors.
Notably, the bounded topology of a platform like Discord makes this confusion less likely. If you're in a crypto community, you will no doubt know or quickly learn that "gm" means "good morning." The borders create context.
Terrain is also essential in establishing in-group, out-group dynamics and engendering a sense of shared identity. Though not the only factor, topology undoubtedly influenced national lines. The presence of mountains or water bodies provides natural delineations.
Again, while this exists in small ways online (invite-only products, passwords, and privacy settings), spatial character is nevertheless diminished.
To thrive, DeCos will need sophisticated infrastructure that allows for digital "terraforming." The obvious solution is the "metaverse" — a virtual realm that injects real-life spatial concepts with fantasy and internet dynamics. A DeCo in the metaverse could manifest massive, context-dense cities and countryside that reflect the ideology and culture of its citizenry. Even better, it could scale and upgrade over time to meet rising demand or pivot based on a change in opinion. (Of course, for it to truly serve DeCos, it will need to be decentralized and not, say, controlled by Meta.)
You can imagine a world in which a citizen dons a headset and jumps into DogeLand, a DeCo united by an ideology of irreverent humor, a virtual city filled with Shiba Skyscrapers, and daily votes registered on-chain. Compatriots both communicate and transact in the vernacular, peppering speech with memes and paying for items in Dogecoin.
Such a world would be exponentially more context-rich and culturally reinforcing than a Discord server and Snapshot page.
Though DAOs may be the closest thing we have now, they do not seem particularly close to being DeCos. While they have the most promising structure for massive, distributed, censorship-free governance — a seismic innovation — they are less secure ideologically and topographically.
Beyond a commitment to decentralization, DAOs may not have a memorable, distinct philosophy deeply embedded in contributors' minds. That's reasonable enough as such depth takes time. It's also a consequence of DAOs' differing orientations. Rather than being a new kind of nation, DAOs are explicitly "organizations." They tend to focus on an explicit purpose or goal rather than engendering digital patriotism.
Of course, they are limited to the same low-terrain platforms as everyone else. Over time and with the materialization of better technology, we may see DAOs make the jump from organization to DeCo. Though DAOs are already an extremely persuasive category from an investment perspective, conceiving of them as nation-scale entities reveals the extent of their potential.
Just as DAOs allow contributors to work on different projects simultaneously, DeCos may also permit multiple affiliations. This "promiscuous nationalism" would represent a significant departure. Today, nationalism tends toward the singular. You can be a citizen of different nations, but legal and cultural norms discourage it. Some countries outright prohibit holding more than one nation's passport, including Austria, Bahrain, India, and Japan. Others may permit "dual citizenship," but not only does this often come with doubled financial duties, but the very phrase also implies a cap. We do not hear the term "multiple citizenship" nearly as much.
As someone born and raised in England to an Italian father and an American mother, the cultural impulse to reduce is familiar. When I outline my muddled origins, someone will often ask what I feel most like. Do I feel American, English, or Italian? This question does not bother me, but it is always faintly puzzling. I feel like all of those things, I say. The implication is that we must choose one national identity.
This shows up linguistically, too. Again, in response to my parentage, an interlocutor might ask whether I am "Italian-American." No, I respond. I'm Italian and American. (Let's not even deal with the British thing.) The hyphen is a godsend to multicultural nations like America, deployed to compress multiple allegiances into one. You do not stay Mexican and American or Polish and American for more than a generation. Time makes you a Mexican-American or Polish-American.
DeCos may have a different relationship to fealty. Because the internet allows for spatial simultaneity, we can "occupy" multiple DeCos at once. We could be a citizen in one, actively working on some task while passively existing, earning, contributing to hundreds of others. Presumably, we will still have some sense of loyalty, prioritizing one DeCo over another. But rather than being immutable, a fact of birth, our "nationality" may shift along with our opinions, making us "conditional citizens."
Such promiscuity may not last forever, particularly should conflict arise. Over time, as DeCos establish firmer borders, cultures, and services, stronger allegiance may be required. Still, the cap is likely to be significantly higher than one and may still vary.
Terrestrial and Transcendent
We have yet to reckon with how DeCos address recognition, that final requirement of de juro nationhood. Can we expect The United States of Apes to receive ratification from the UN any time soon?
Nor should DeCos pursue validation from old-world organizing bodies. Part of this structure's strength derives from its ability to operate without the permission or benediction of existing nations. Providing they leverage decentralized technologies, DeCos should prosper outside national paradigms.
Could nations stop the rise of this alternative? As mentioned, draconian bans could slow adoption, but in the long term, they might only deepen emotional ties and galvanize the development of decentralized infrastructure. Over time, it seems likely that the internet's speed, ubiquity, and value will allow native structures to win out over slower-moving incumbents. By the time national legislatures have constructed even a partial impediment, proto-DeCos will have adjusted.
Nevertheless, this raises how nations and DeCos reconcile differing agendas. How do terrestrial and transcend sovereignties negotiate?
First, we may see DeCo lobbyists seek to influence favorable legislative change. Some may even run for elected office. These should be seen as intermediary steps designed to remove physical world impediments.
If unable to gain traction in the existing political system, some budding DeCos may seek to settle or win tracts of land themselves in which they can self-govern. Attaching themselves to a specific territory may come at a cost, though. Not only does it reduce the potential scale of a DeCo since it is grafted onto an exact physical location with finite space, but it also introduces necessary low-value work. Does a DeCo want to spend time and resources planning upgrades to its municipal sewage system? Or would it be better off allowing that relatively solved problem to be handled by a denuded physical world legislative body?
If we believe that value will increasingly accrue to the digital world over the physical one, it seems that DeCos that devote themselves to the former will capture most power. In that respect, I think the most influential DeCos touch as little land as possible, and ideally none. Rather than outright exterminate the concept of nations, DeCos will sit above them, using their social and financial capital to guide terrestrial policies. At various times in human history, states and empires have allowed themselves to be jockeyed by religious organizations that professed unique powers; DeCos should be able to make a similar claim.
By taking this approach, DeCos retain the ability to draw from the broadest possible constituency, humanity, and focus their efforts not on the world of bricks and mud but bits and pixels.
It will take time for old structures to fall, and yet — it all may arrive faster than we think. Today, Singapore is one of the most successful sovereignties in the world, with the fourth-highest GDP per capita, robust infrastructure, a strong state education system, and one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It only surfaced as an independent polity in 1965, just 56 years ago.
Half a century may be long enough to see the coronation of a true DeCo. Leveraging the internet's power and scale, such an entity will thrive by embracing the vernacular, both linguistically and economically. It will undermine existing governance structures and sit beyond them. It will further change our concept of space and identity and encourage the "terraforming" of vivid, complex virtual worlds.
Nations will not last forever. It is time we consider what comes next.