Part 5: Battling Rex
Continuing from Part 4.
The big argument against decentralized systems is that there’s no one to enforce conduct… that the powerful will be able to do what they want and get away with it. Please keep that thought in mind, remembering that Rex was the richest person involved, that he owned and controlled the central means of communications, and that most of the “important” people were on his payroll.
By this time, I was involved with the project on a daily basis, especially related to law, the resolution of disputes in pseudonymous space, the ability to enforce justice in the absence of force, and in related areas. And so, when disputes arose between the various parties, I was the natural choice as arbitrator. And some of those disputes involved Rex.
One of my prouder moments was resolving one of these disputes with Rex (no amateur when it came to negotiations), then physically taking gold coins from Rex and hand-delivering them to the lady on the other side of the dispute.
Soon enough, Rex’s bad actions were causing enough commotion that he brought me in to go over his records and “prove” that he was behaving well. I’m not sure what he really expected me to do… or maybe he was drunk… but he misbehaved right in front of me. Here’s a section from the report I wrote and published to the community:
[Rex] has contacted me several times, demanding that I publish the original evidence that convinced me to undertake this investigation. I suggested to him that this was not an especially good idea, but he insisted. Since it is his reputation that stands in jeopardy, I will yield to his request.
None of the following would be made public if [Rex] had not insisted…
On [date], I personally witnessed [Rex] using the Trustee’s email accounts, nyms, and passwords, all without the Trustee being present. This occurred in [Rex’s] office at the Consulado in San Jose.
On [date], I (being present) demanded that the Trustee draft his own note to be posted on Dodge. [Rex] was very unhappy with me for delaying things and claimed that he had always written the Trustee’s statements.
During the time I spent in San Jose, the Trustee was always fully informed of pertinent details regarding his fiduciary duties. On other matters, [Rex] made or was involved with all decisions and all questions…
I had private conversations with the Trustee that, to one extent or another, supported the claims.
That was the beginning of the end for Rex. People began walking away from him. Before long Dodge City was a shadow of its former self. (Within a year or so, it became useless to Rex, and he closed it.)
Rex’s programmers started moving back to where they had come from.
But I should add one last note about Rex. For all his bluster, bad choices, and even occasional bad faith, he didn’t hate me after I publicly undermined him. He was angry at first, but he rather quickly shifted to respecting the fact that I had scrupulously told the truth. He continued to contact me for advice for some time after.
But this was not the end. Orlin’s team and others aligned with them had not stopped working, even if they were quiet.
As Dodge was winding down, a new community forum appeared. This one featured PGP-encrypted messaging, much better security, and a professional design. And it was designed to be distributed. It was called Distributed City (or DC for short), and here’s a statement from its About Page:
Communities are not static things. They embody dynamic, vibrant, complex social interactions. As the community changes, so too should the website to accommodate the needs of its members. This is a difficult task for website operators. Given limited resources, how do we anticipate and accommodate the needs of our disparate users?
Various strategies can be used. But so long as it is a small, select group of people making all the decisions and controlling the features and architecture of the website, then this is a form of centralized planning. Some people make the rules and others follow them. This is anathema to the creators of Distributed City, who hope to build a community of freedom-seeking individuals, not a storefront or a dictatorship.
The logo was this:
More than that, you can still find the code on Sourceforge.
Distributed City was a gas, and it operated for quite some time thereafter. Again we had the most interesting and active people, and accordingly, the best ideas. Lots of good things sprang from it.
In December of 2001, DMT, the Digital Monetary Trust, arrived. This was the product. And true to his moral obligations, Orlin and his team made it available first to the project’s donors. He even allowed people to transfer assets from the Dodge City system, which was still operable at the time.
To join DMT, you first created a Cyber-holding corporation, called an “Asset Lodging Trust Account,” or ALTA. A minimum 23-character password was mandatory.
After that, the system wasn’t terribly different from a Charles Schwab account. You had a choice of several currencies (six, as I recall, one of which was a floating basket of currencies Orlin maintained), methods of moving money in and out (including SWIFT), and more or less everything you might expect of a 2002-era banking and trading system. And it worked beautifully.
Orlin’s introduction to the Digital Monetary Trust can still be found here.
Connected to that was an exchange, called the LESE, for Laissez Faire Electronic Stock Exchange. And again, it had more or less everything that Charles Schwab had at the time… except that it was all encrypted, anonymous (again, pseudonymous, to be precise) and all interactions were made with digital bearer certificates, or DBCs.
A digital bearer certificate, if you think about it for a moment, is the same thing as a digital coin. And a lot of people conducted a lot of anonymous commerce through DMT.
I wish I had screenshots to show you the inside pages of the system, but sadly I don’t.
To be Continued…