Key Points From This Episode:
- Factors driving relocation due to cost of living
- Emotional disconnect from home countries
- Global impact of the crypto industry
- Navigating immigration complexities
- Growing trend of purposeful location choices for hubs
- Zuzalu community’s remarkable success story
- Significance of local insights in community building
- Diverse dynamics within health-focused communities
- Cautions against hasty expansion and misuse of Zozalu’s name
- Structured growth imperative as project scales
- Regional influencers and quest for secure refuges
- Urban and rural benefits of clustering
- Infrastructure’s role in enhancing small town appeal
- Special network effects in close-knit communities
- Digital communities united by shared values
- Sovereignty quest challenges and complexities
- Community’s pivotal role in city development
- Navigating delegation challenges and preventing tyranny
“It’s a crazy social experiment where we basically brought together about 200 people from a combination of the ethereum space, some bio and longevity hackers, people interested in building new cities and societies and a lot of the adjacent communities. And we basically got people to come and live together in one place for two months.” — @VitalikButerin [0:00:50]
“A lot of people reported that they really appreciate the aspect of being in one place. And it’s a small community and everyone knows basically everyone else, or at least you’ve seen everyone else’s face a couple of times, and they feel familiar. It’s basically like a prehistoric tribe.” — @VitalikButerin [0:04:22]
“There’s a lot of people from a lot of different places that basically either feel like they don’t identify with their homeland anymore or who feel like they just can’t do the kinds of things that they want to. Do or live the kind of life that’s acceptable to them or even just feel like there is safe in the place that they grew up.” — @VitalikButerin [0:19:16]
“But the thing with the small towns is if you can find the small town that has the thing and the people that you want, it’s like a totally great experience, right?.” — @VitalikButerin [0:25:07]
“Community norms are important and I think having explicit norms against Domineering in certain ways is good. So far I felt like we haven’t really needed that explicitly yet because that hasn’t come to be a problem yet.” — @VitalikButerin [0:40:44]
“I think in terms of what we’ve learned, people want there to be a future of Zuzalu, therefore there will be a future of Zuzalu… It was like, okay, this will keep going with or without us. The question is, what is the role that we want to have in it?.” — @VitalikButerin [0:47:39]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Kurtis: Welcome to the Charter Cities Podcast. I’m Kurtis Lockhart. On each episode, we invite a leading expert to discuss key trends in global development and the world of cities, including the role charter cities and innovative governance will play in humanity’s new urban age.
For more information, please follow us on social media or visit chartercitiesinstitute.org.
Mark Lutter: Welcome to The Forecast, a four episode podcast series by Bravocities. I’m here in wonderful Montenegro in Lucia Bay with Vitalik Buterin for the first episode. Vitalik, thanks for joining us today.
Vitalik Buterin: Thank you so much, Mark. It’s good to be here.
Mark Lutter: And so to start, we’re at Zuzalu. I arrived about two weeks ago, but the event has been running for about six weeks now. Vitalik, what is Zuzalu?
Vitalik Buterin: So it’s a crazy social experiment where we basically brought together about 200 people from a combination of the ethereum space, some bio and longevity hackers, people interested in building new cities and societies and a lot of the adjacent communities. And we basically got people to come and live together in one place for two months. So the idea for this came to be about six months ago, and I had been thinking a lot about both ideas around things like network states. Like I read and reviewed Balaji’s book last year, as well as some of the other writings and speeches by other people around somewhat similar ideas, but also thinking about crypto cities and whether or not there’s ways to actually apply different crypto technologies, which includes blockchains, also includes zero knowledge proofs and other things in more real world contexts. And so I thought that the conversation around a lot of those topics had been very theoretical and lots of long screeds and lots of long podcasts replying to long screens. But I thought that, hey, yeah, let’s actually do a live experiment. And the nice thing about the size and the length is that it’s still a significant step from things that are usually done, right? Like conferences are big, but they last a week, and this is almost ten weeks. And then hacker houses are long, but they’re ten to 20 people, and this is 200 people. So it’s larger and it’s large enough that you can do things that you can’t do at smaller scales. Like, we’ve taken over a restaurant for part of the day and Milic had them serve a customized healthy breakfast buffet that was modeled on the Brian Johnson Blueprint menu. But also there’s room for different sub communities, but at the same time, it’s still manageable in size and it’s not going from 0 to 100,000. Right? So try to be in this stepping stone in the middle and basically seeing what are some things that we can do at the scale and what kinds of things can we learn?
Mark Lutter: What have you learned?
Vitalik Buterin: A lot of it is like, tacit implicit knowledge, which is difficult to summarize. I mean, one is just from what I can tell, the format works there’s a lot of people who are willing to come and a lot of people who, once they came, they were happy to have come, and they’re happy that it’s lasted as long as it has. And they’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of good connections that were really helpful to things that they were working on already or things that they wanted to do. It was a challenge to organize. But I think the number of things that blew up is definitely less than I was expecting. So, yeah, I think just kind of the big fact that things like this are possible and seem to work fine, I think is a big learning by itself. Some different things about the format for these kinds of projects. In terms of demographics, one thing that ended up happening basically unintentionally is that we got a lot of very young people actually, like one third of the people here self identified as digital nomads. Actually the highest percentage I’ve ever seen in my life of white people who speak Chinese. That was totally surprising and out of left field. But there’s definitely a type, but I feel like it’s still pretty diverse within the type, which is really fascinating. One of the complicated trade offs to manage is the trade off between kind of being secluded and kind of being connected to, I think, both sort of the wider local community and to the global world. A lot of people reported that they really appreciate the aspect of being in one place. And it’s a small community and everyone knows basically everyone else, or at least you’ve seen everyone else’s face a couple of times, and they feel familiar. It’s basically like a prehistoric tribe. It’s about Dunbar’s number is 150 people, and this is not far from 150 people. And obviously the idea that there’s like a number is fake and it’s continuous, but it’s still in that range. Right, but then the trade off is people also want to interact with people outside. And people are in Montenegro, they want to see and understand more of Montenegro, and they also want to see more of these interesting communities that are coming in. But then if you do too much of that, then it starts getting diluted and that ends up if there’s too many visitors, that dilutes things. And it creates a bit of an unhealthy dynamic. And I think people are happy that after this last week of Network State and AI events where things got really hectic, it’s calming down a bit more again. Yeah. In terms of some of the other sub-experiments that we’ve done, I mean, one is doing crypto stuff, so the thing that we haven’t managed to do a lot of is ethereum payments. Actually, we have done some. So when we came, there was like a local business that basically self organized and started doing delivery to here. And they accepted I think I forget if it’s USDC or USDT, but they accept ERC 20 stablecoins, and lots of people actually use them. And they get stuff delivered to Here, which I thought was really cool, but otherwise it’s this fairly secluded thing where generally a lot of interactions at that scale are like they don’t involve payment. It is just people providing things to each other for free because they know each other. And when that happens, it’s big enough to be a community, but it’s not yet big enough to be an economy because it’s still too community-ish that there’s even a need for as much formal economy as if there was an entire city. And so the economic interaction has just happened between people here and people outside. Mostly. We have done a lot with zero knowledge proofs, right? So I’ve talked a lot positively about zero knowledge proofs and this ability to prove things about pieces of information that you have without revealing other details about what you’re proving. So like here we built this app called Zoopass, which is basically a very simple identity system. So you have your key and then there is a public registry of I mean, obviously not private keys, the public registry of the public keys that people have. And you can prove that you’re one of the keys in that registry without revealing which one you are, right? And so we’ve built a lot of stuff on it. We use that for signing into places in person, but we use it for voting. There’s zoo polls, like basically polls that you use your knowledge proofs to vote in. There’s a Zoo cast, which is like a Twitter that is built on this stuff. And people sometimes ask the spicy questions and are willing to share things about themselves. So I think it’s a start. I think there’s a lot of places that that kind of technology can go. And I think there’s a big need to try to digitize society or whatever that means and get efficiencies out of that, whatever those are. But at the same time, lots of people are very understandably concerned about very rapidly losing their privacy. And that’s not even just some obscure crypto libertarian thing. That’s a very mainstream view within the EU government, for example, right? And so one of the hopes is that things like this can be part of the solution. So I feel like the ZK stuff had performed probably roughly to my expectations. I mean, the technology works well. The biggest sort of criticism is probably that, again, 150 people, or even 200, it’s still Dunbar size, that it’s not at the level where there’s much value in formalization yet, but it’s still done its thing and it’s been helpful. On the health side, this is the other thing, right? This is one of the parts of the experiments that it was kind of inspired by sort of my own needs and struggles, to some extent, right? Because I’ve been very into the health and longevity thing, both from a radical science and let’s figure out the right way to poke our mitochondria so that we live forever point of view. But also, for me, kind of very practical, what are some things we could do to be healthier, have a decade more healthy life today perspective. And one of the challenges that I’ve always had is, as a nomad, my lifestyle was pretty constricted, right? Like all my stuffs in a 40 liter backpack, I travel around pre COVID I was averaging 55 flights a year. In 2022, I did 39. And that was after an intentional effort to do less. And I’m even more intentionally trying to do less this year. But the challenge is there’s a lot of stuff that you just can’t easily do when you’re busy and jumping around and you have a lot of other things occupying your mental space. And so, hey, let’s take advantage of economies of scale, right? When you have 100 people, if everyone wants to have a particular kind of food, you can make that kind of food happen. There’s a lot of features of the world or of the sort of built world that seem like unchangeable nature when you’re one person. Suddenly, when you’re 100 people, you can negotiate and you can make things happen. And just sort of breaking down that limiting belief and kind of unlocking that, I think, was something that was one of the goals. And a lot of people reported really appreciating. And so we did have the healthy breakfast. A lot of different exercise groups, like there is a strong hiking culture, running culture, cold plunging culture, and being in that environment is very motivating. So this was one of the things that I mentioned when I was on Balaji’s podcast back in January, this idea that community can provide value as a motivational environment. And that’s true for learning, it’s true for exercise, it’s true for a lot of things. And I feel like that’s been definitely experimentally validated to a significant extent for me now, which is cool. The one thing that probably failed on the health side is what we needed is more people willing to be full time champions of all of those things. There is often things that succeed if you have a very dedicated champion, but fail if you don’t, right? And Cold Plunges had a champion, which was great, continuing the intellectual work of figuring out how do we get from here to a longevity focused charter city. There are champions, and that’s great. On the food side, not so much. On some of the other aspects, also not so much. Right? And so sometimes you see these are some of the aspects of intentional community building that I think is really worth thinking about, especially at these sizes. One champion can often make or break an entire area. And it’s the difference between people kind of vaguely wanting something to exist but never actually managing to do it, versus something starting and hitting a critical mass and taking off on its own. In terms of just conversations that have happened, and the value of Zuzalu as an intellectual space, we’ve managed to create connections between people who have come. We’ve, I think, managed to expose people who live here to a lot of interesting ideas. The one thing that we’ve probably failed a bit at is on the learning side, there is a reason why college courses are parallel and not in series, right? Like, space repetition is the best form of learning, at least approximately, that we know. And you’ll learn some math and then use some homework, and then three days later you have another class, and then five days later you have another one. And it’s very consistent over a long period of time. But here what we tried, is, like, theme weeks. And theme weeks kind of make sense from the point of view of if you care about bringing in outside speakers and if you care about catering to both the two-month community and the two-week community. But the problem is, if you have theme weeks, then you get bombarded with crazy cryptography and then you forget. I think I remember. There are even studies that show that summer vacations people’s understanding of different subjects goes backwards significantly during them. So if I were to do this again, I would have fewer theme weeks and more topic based things that have a set time every week that are more ongoing and that are more well thought through, especially thinking through the kind of beginner versus advanced distinction we saw that for cryptography and probably exists to some extent for biology too. So, yeah, I think, you know, main learning is, like, the format works and the format’s successful at attracting people and making people, at least within this one space, wants to be here instead of being in New York or whatever, but you know, there’s still a lot of details and a lot of things that can be refined, which I think is good.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I mean, last week the question on everybody’s mind was, what is P Doom? The week before that, it was, what is a network state? So seeing the kind of community pulse as you have those weekends has been quite interesting. You mentioned Balaji a few times, and one thing that I’ve changed my mind about over the past few weeks is network states. I had previously been quite skeptical of the idea because Balaji has what might be described as a very rigid formulation. You need a very strong leader. You need a single purpose, a single mission, and then to negotiate for sovereignty. And the example that he frequently brings up is Israel. And it’s like, okay, look, if you have a religion that’s multiple millennia old, that is facing literal genocide and has the backing of what’s at the time the world’s greatest superpower, the United Kingdom, like, yes, you can start a sovereign state. However, right like, that is very difficult to do. And so I think seeing a I mean, Balaji might not define it as a network state, but network state inspired vision, kind of the mimetic potential of the network state concept has been appropriated to a certain extent by you, by other folks that is a little bit more community oriented and a little bit less sovereignty oriented. And seeing how that can manifest and enact change has been very interesting and has caused me to update a number of my priors.
Vitalik Buterin: I mean, his vision is definitely rigid, but one of the things that I’ve noticed is that everybody starts, has been recently calling whatever thing they’re working on in network state, even if they’re very far away from kind of his prescription and his one-paragraph definition. And it’s a successful meme, right?
Mark Lutter: Very successful.
Vitalik Buterin: Yeah. It feels like he’s not the only one who has written things in this direction. And I think lots of people have written vaguely adjacent work over the last few decades. I mean, even just the concept of communities formed on the Internet that are driven by values, that’s been a trope of sociology for 30 years. And that’s the thing that people talk about all the time, the concept of can we basically does it make sense to kind of bring back aspects of what Robin Hansen would call forager life, which could involve medium sized tribes and could involve different lifestyles, like maybe less of this kind of atomized, nuclear, family type orientation? Logically speaking, that makes kind of sense from a very 30,000 foot view. Right? Because we have the Internet, we have now AI, we have globalization, lots of different things are changing. And a lot of the stuff that was really optimized around, like physical coordination around particular types of industries, doesn’t make as much sense for some people, right? Like, it’s important to remember that, like, basically everyone here is a remote worker and remote workers are 14% of the population at most. But my point is that there’s interesting clusters of ideas. Well, the thing with seeking sovereignty, I mean, it’s obviously part of a particular intellectual lineage. But the way that I personally think of the question is that I think you can seek sovereignty for the sake of sovereignty, or you can ask, what are the needs of the group that I’m trying to solve for? And those may need sovereignty. They may need autonomy with stability. They may need limited autonomy in a few spheres, or you might not even need too much. And all you need is basically like six months notice before you have to relocate somewhere else. In terms of just different kinds of constituencies, some of them we’ve seen even here, right? There’s people who want cities to do longevity and bio-research in environments where it’s easier to offer experimental therapies or do trials and all of these things and the needs of that versus the needs of a roving nomad village are very different. A roving nomad village, you’re going to want to change locations because it’s fun. It adds to the experience. You can learn a lot about different places. But if you want to have a longevity focused bio village, then you need to be in one place, right? Not only can you not move around infrastructure, like heavy infrastructure that biology depends on that easily, but also convincing one country to have favorable regulations is hard enough. You’re not going to be able to do that with a new country every 60 days.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always been a little bit skeptical of the kind of longevity focus. My thinking is, look in the Caribbean or in Central America. If you have $50 million and you go to three countries and say, I will invest $50 million in stem cell therapy, if you pass this law, you’ll find a country to do it. A lot of the countries, their functions tend to be does it create jobs? Does it create tax revenue? Does it generate massive negative publicity? If your answer to those questions is appropriate, then a lot of countries will be relatively happy to create a legal framework. I think the point that you touched on regarding kind of this as an IRL instantiation of Internet communities is quite interesting and something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. The Internet is a great sorting mechanism, right? It allows for much better matching than previously took place. And what we’ve seen is a lot of these communities kind of emerge where people find people who really identify with them, who kind of share similar values online. And now I think particularly with COVID recently, we’re starting to see that instantiate in the real world to a much greater extent before. And seeing how these matching patterns, how these pseudo network states, whatever you might want to call them, kind of instantiate and evolve, I think is going to be really interesting to watch.
Vitalik Buterin: Yeah, I absolutely think so. There’s a lot of very real factors that are driving people to want to be in a place other than the place that they’ve been mean historically. One of them is just cost, right? Like the cost ratio between even Silicon Valley and Mexico is massive. But then the US side incentives are lower than the incentives that a lot of other people are facing. Right? Like, if you think about some of the very authoritarian directions, a lot of other large countries have been going in in the last couple of years. And then Russia at its most extreme, of course. 10% of Russia’s IT workforce has apparently left and 1% of the entire population. Right? That’s huge. And there’s a lot of people from a lot of different places that basically either feel like they don’t identify with their homeland anymore or who feel like they just can’t do the kinds of things that they want to. Do or live the kind of life that’s acceptable to them or even just feel like there is safe in the place that they grew up. And that’s a much deeper and stronger motivator than I want to save 2x on my tacos and not pay 43.4% taxes or whatever it is, right? Especially if you sort of branch beyond the US. Often these even stronger push factors that we forget about. And also just being able to bring international communities together. One of the reasons why the crypto space has such a natural fit for Zuzalo is that the crypto space is already incredibly international and it has been for a long time. Even bitcoin mining was dominated by China basically almost since the beginning, right? And there was this really deep Chinese bitcoin community and just learning about it was one of the things that actually motivated me to go to China for longer periods of time and try to understand it for the first time. And then there’s people in the US. Ethereum itself. The main dev office is in Berlin. There’s a bunch of different hubs all across Europe. And then we have people in Taiwan and we have a space in Singapore and a space in Switzerland where the foundation is headquartered. So it’s this community that’s already been, I think, a lot less US focused or like single location focused in general than basically any other tech community. And it’s evolved interesting institutions to cope with that. Like conference culture pre-COVID. Sometimes I think people ask like, hey, why are these people just going around and partying all year? But no, it’s a mechanism that allows people to stay in touch with people that they’re ultimately collaborators with and at the same time live where they actually live. And so the result was that with crypto we have these huge international networks and a lot of people from lots of different places ended up coming here. And like, that’s something that’s getting harder to do in either the US. Or a lot of other wealthy countries. Right? Like we’re in the middle of pretty significant anti immigration backlash. I mean, more controversially a backlash just against the concept of empathy toward foreign countries, which to me is really sad because I think foreign countries are the group that I think people have been not empathetic enough to pretty much for all of human history. And in my more naive youth, I was kind of hoping that we could get beyond that. But alas, it turns out that 1991 to 2008 was an aberration. I expect to see a lot of international groups basically trying to more intentionally kind of collectively choose places to make hubs for a bunch of different reasons and with different levels of intentional organization. And I could easily see that becoming more of a trend.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I was working a few years ago with a group, the Victoria Harbor Group, that was looking at doing the first iteration was the new city development for Hong Kong migrants. If you look at the period from 87 to like 93, at its peak about 1% of the Hong Kong population was leaving every year and probably a total of like 7-8% left because that’s when they formalized the handover to China. And now I haven’t looked at the numbers recently, but I think it’s comparable. It evolved to kind of looking at more smaller urban developments, towns, villages. But the UK has a very strict planning system. But yeah, I agree. I think as the US kind of defense umbrella withdraws from around the world, you’ll see places where regional hegemons like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran begin to reassert themselves. And that’s going to cause life in those places for palada people to come quite uncomfortable and they’re going to look for safe havens and to move those safe havens to try to preserve a degree of their kind of culture identity. One other kind of tangent that Zuzalu has caused me to think a lot more about is just like the scale of agglomeration. Like historically I tend to think about like you can look at agglomeration, different units. Like one is the nation state, right? So large nation states tend to have larger internal markets that benefits them because people can become more specialized and productive. Also cities, right? You have cities that have large internal markets. It’s kind of the point of a city. You’ve got a large labor market, people can become more specialized and they can become more productive. There’s more idea sharing. Then you have this instantiate in different cities in different ways. Like San Francisco, obviously for Tech, for a long time it was like conventional wisdom. It’s changed a little bit over the last few years. But if you were a founder you had to be in San Francisco. If you want to act, you have to be in LA. And I think what Zuzalu is kind of demonstrating is maybe this is a filtering of the kind of internet community, the better matching pattern. Is it’s possible to have very, very powerful agglomerations on a much smaller scale.
Vitalik Buterin: I think so, absolutely. One of the ways that I looked at this so before, about the last two years, I’ve spent a bunch of time in various towns that have surprisingly small populations. So Longyearbyen in Svalbard, the northernmost significant settlement in the world, 3000 people, one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to, but still 3000 people. Then some different ski towns in Colorado, like 1000 people, like surf towns in Mexico and Latin America more generally that have between 2000 and 8000 people. And those kinds of places are they were still pleasant for me to be in. Right? And I think the kind of historical picture of agglomeration is like if you’re interesting and you’re in an 8000 person town, then you’re going to want to move somewhere bigger. And that could easily still be true for someone who kind of hasn’t chosen what their specialty is who still sort of has their empty talents tree and hasn’t decided to go this way or this way or this way yet. But the trope is like, San Francisco is the place you’re supposed to move to for three years, and then you find your right? But the thing with the small towns is if you can find the small town that has the thing and the people that you want, it’s like a totally great experience, right? And for me, I was not even going to the surf towns to surf, right? Like, I was going to the surf towns because there just happened to be a group of my own friends there. And there’s different kinds of agglomeration effects that matter. There’s like basic infrastructure of a type that everyone needs. But for that type of basic infrastructure, the minimum sizes in a lot of cases are much smaller than we think. Like low thousands. Makes total sense, right? And if you even just do the math, like Longyearbyen population of 3000, it has a school. Does it make sense to have a school? Well, divide 3000 by, let’s say, age of 100, get 30 people per year, that’s like enough to have one big class per grade in a school. And then it has an airport, it has basic hospital, big grocery store, a lot of different things. But the thing that it doesn’t have is specialization, right? The thing with New York City is like, you have specialization for everything. Are you in DeFi? There’s stuff in New York for you. Are you a Chinese foodie? There’s lots of stuff in New York for you. Are you a Nepal foodie? There’s probably stuff for you, despite Nepal being a very small country, right? And are you an Indian in crypto? And you just wants to have that community. There’s lots of people for that too, right? It’s just like it’s big enough that it has some of everything. And Zuzalu with 200 people is not going to be that. But what it is going to be is it can be a hub for a few things, right? So the other model actually, aside from those small villages that is kind of an inspiration, is university towns. And university towns are I think they’re interesting because they sort of show both the strengths in that Ithaca, where Cornell is population 30,000, and lots of academics do frontier research from out of there and totally enjoy living there. But at the same time, the usual kind of counterargument against these places is that 90% of the population is transient and people don’t start families. And how do they fit into the long term and obviously admit that Zuzalu has not solved that problem, and I don’t think it’s decided whether or not it’s going to solve that problem, but it still shows some things. Like, it shows kind of the difference between these kind of generic network effects and these really special purpose ones. And the special purpose ones, yeah, they do have a lot of value. Yeah.
Mark Lutter: I mean, one thing that I don’t know if this has struck you as well, but when I finished graduate school, I was very unattracted to teaching at a small school in a small town. My impression is 30, 40 years ago, that was seen as people like me would have perhaps enjoyed that a lot more. But it felt like the draw of living in a kind of large city was a lot stronger than it had been in the past. Part of that might have just been because I hadn’t found my tribe per se, and I was worried about my kind of search function in a much smaller area. But I did get a bit of that feeling. One question to, I guess, continue one of these threads is why Montenegro?
Vitalik Buterin: So I first got introduced to Montenegro last year. Well, basically a friend of an Ethereum researcher invited me to come. And the government was also very interested in chatting. And we chatted a bunch about potential things around the crypto or doing a crypto law. And they seemed very interested in being welcoming. And I think it was a combination of being in a place where I just happened to have contacts that could do logistics for this kind of thing practically and I think potentially long term potential for a very positive and productive relationship between Montenegro and both Monocrypto and other tech communities and kind of wanting to explore the possibilities of that.
Mark Lutter: So you’ve mentioned, I guess Zuzalu hasn’t figured out whether it wants to be permanent or scaled. But that is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Right. If you look at the places of very high talent density, the governments often don’t even like that talent density. I mean, you have San Francisco where the government is actively hostile to the tech community. New York, a lot of people are actively hostile to finance. LA feels a bit different. There isn’t as much hate for acting, but thinking about, all right, how do you get these kind of permanent talent agglomerations? What does that look like? As you know, I’m working on a project in the Caribbean. And one of the things that Zuzalu has kind of helped really clarify, I think we had a relatively good economic plan. Start with kind of hospitality, tourism, and then transition into attracting talented people who want to come to the US. But because of the US restrictive visa system, you go to Google and say you’re hiring 10,000 H1B’s, you only get 2000. Open a campus here for 500 people. We guarantee everybody gets a visa. Drives kind of long term economic and population dynamics. But how you actually get that subculture of people pushing the frontier that are doing really interesting things, I think it only really needs to be 1% to 2% of the population. But the impact can be tremendous. And how do you kind of plant that seed and then let’s call it you can’t be a carpenter, but you can be a gardener to kind of encourage it to grow over time.
Vitalik Buterin: Yeah. I think in terms of creating communities in a new place, this is something that’s very not amenable to a stereotype kind of McKinsey cookie cutter approach. There is no $900 an hour consulting manual for how to build a community. And I think the reason why is that it just very fundamentally relies on this local knowledge, which is difficult to condense into a simplified form. It basically requires kind of yourself as the creator, having claws into the community. For myself, I obviously know a whole bunch of crypto people. I’ve also been a nomad for, I think, 9.9 years now. My 10th nomadding anniversary is June 5, so it’s coming up pretty soon. And so I ended up knowing all these different European communities, the Ethereum Chinese community, people from India, and all of these other places. Literally three months before this, I went to a Rationality meetup in Vienna, and I invited some of them to come, and they did. And I feel like they’ve been giving some pretty valuable kind of contributions and sort of injecting that spike of intellectual diversity while they’re here. But those are not things that I would have been able to do if I had not actually spent a decade being part of all of these places. Right? And I think one of the ways in which it shows is that I feel like the longevity side has probably realistically been like the weaker side of this compared to the crypto side. And I think one of the ways to explain part of that, I think, is just like for myself, I’ve been a supporter of longevity technology since I read Aubrey’s book when I was 13. But my relationship with them has always been like, I believe that you’re doing amazing stuff, and if I have some money and I’m going to give some money because I think your cause is morally important, but otherwise I just did not have the time to really become a full time member of those communities. And I think if I had, I would have, I think, clearly been able to invite much more people and make all of the different sides of the health thing, I think, even more of a success that they have been so far and then branching out into other communities. The further you branch out from yourself, the more the thing just kind of unavoidably becomes artificial. So that’s, I guess, the thing that I would probably advise city founders. Like a level like the gold tier is like, stick to your passion. And then silver tier is if you decide that something that is not your passion, but you have intellectual arguments for why it’s important to your project, then put someone on your core team for whom that is their passion.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s right. I think one of the other interesting elements is a lot of people have been talking about community first for city projects. But to me, kind of the community and the city development, they go a little bit hand in hand, right? I mean, here there are these overlapping communities, these overlapping networks, and they’ve only really instantiated in this particular point, in this particular time to build something kind of unique. And so there are some historic communities. For example, the mennonites. There’s populations of them right now in Paraguay. They’re German, then went to Russia, then Canada, then Paraguay, because they basically want somewhere where they could live and do their own thing. That was a community that existed that had very, very strong social ties, when all these communities are basically overlapping networks of slightly weaker social ties, and the instantiation of them is really dependent on particularly coordination in particular places. In particular times and kind of coevolving that with kind of a broader set of what these projects might be, I think is something that tends to be a little bit underemphasized.
Vitalik Buterin: Right? Yeah. I think the problem with going city-first without the community aspects, I think this is probably, from what I’ve noticing, one of the traps that kind of prospera has fallen into, right. That they’ve put in a huge amount of hard intellectual work on figuring out this really fancy libertarian, contractarian inspired governance structure stuff and actually having a location. But then in terms of creating the community, it’s something that it seems like they have really started realizing the value of and started building more. But it was kind of more of a delayed thing. And I think the challenge is if you have something that has that infrastructure and jurisdictional appeal without a community filter, then you have two risks. I mean, one is that not many people will show up because people want to be around a community. The other kind of more negative risk is that you’ll end up basically becoming an attractor for very unsavory people because they’re looking for places to do stuff too. And if you don’t have a culture that can be sort of a barrier against that, then those kinds of cultures are often cultures that end up forming. And I think we do see that in at least some of these rich people oriented, finance oriented cities around the world, especially those that kind of compete in very low taxes and all of those things. It doesn’t always happen. But sometimes the problem with community first and real stuff never, is that regardless of what you tell your community, the selection function of the community building process is going to be very different from what you’re actually looking for. In terms of getting people who are willing to actually move and actually be loyal contributors to the new thing that you’re trying to build. Right? And it’s not even just about the people. It’s also about the types of interactions between people that you create. At Azozola, things that have been created are self organized clubs for cooking hot pot or cooking Ukrainian food or karaoke or hiking. People organizing together to cook food for each other at larger scales. People organizing together to do particular activities like things that they actually need in this format. I’m organizing to teach each other even. Right? And those are the kinds of connections that get there are connections that need to be built and strengthened over time for stuff like that to happen. And those are very different than the kinds of connections that you get if instead you’re like, let’s say, organizing just regular meetups in top tier American cities for a few years. Right? So, there needs to be kind of spiritual continuity between the thing that you’re doing in the early stages and the thing that you eventually wants to do in the later stages.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I think that’s important. I think that’s one of the challenges of thinking about how these things scale as well as how they interact with local communities on the ground. Because the thing is, there is no land in the world that is really terra nullis. At least that is livable. And so identifying like, okay, you are bringing a community of people to a place, but there are people already there. How do you interact with the people already there? How do you make sure you can coordinate with them, kind of build on their culture, bring your own culture and create a positive dynamic as well as something that’s built in. If you look at most cities, in San Francisco, less than 10%, I’ve seen figures 8% of people work in Tech. You think about the number of people who work in Tech that actually do interesting things, it’s probably at most 10% of those looking at less than 1% of San Francisco, which is arguably the most interesting city in the world actually doing interesting work. So right. How do you build these subcultures that are layered on local communities and then layered on new communities that might not have the same values and goals but are necessary to the function of an actual city project?
Vitalik Buterin: Yeah, the interacting with a local community question is, I think, an important one. It’s a challenging one because you have to approach the question in a way that makes sense. What is your actual motive? I think if your motive is to kind of check a virtue signaling box that says we’re locals friendly, then that’s something that can very easily fail or at least not really get very far. In general, if people are here in order to interact with other people that have particular interests, then the ideal would be if there’s some locals that have those existing interests already. But otherwise you need to find some kind of natural symbiosis that already exists. And yeah, that’s a challenge.
Mark Lutter: Yeah, I mean, the way I think about it, at least if you’re in areas that have relatively small populations, given a lot of these interests are relatively niche. You might not find people that share those interests, but you might find people that can share those interests, or you might find people who, even if they don’t share those interests, they still value some of the benefits that the community are bringing because it might be a historically economically depressed area. And so they’re happy to engage because it means more jobs, it means more business for their restaurants or whatever it might be. And they see kind of the vibrancy that that community brings. And so the way I think about it is if you want to make it long term scalable and sustainable, building in those positive interactions from the beginning and some of it’s going to be a little bit tricky because Zuzalu, for example, has unusual people. And so how do you bring that unique culture? You don’t want to dilute it, then how do you do that while also having kind of not just box checking, but meaningful, substantive engagement with the local community that says, look, we are here. We understand that this is your community, but we want to be a part of your community, and we want to kind of build on this over time, and together, we think we can build something beautiful.
Vitalik Buterin: I think I definitely agree with that. Yeah.
Mark Lutter: And I think one of the other things that I’ve been thinking about is just seeing as you mentioned earlier, how the waves of visitors affect the Zuzalu culture as well as how the status hierarchies begin to kind of change and shift a little bit, right, because Zuzalu is spread basically entirely through word of mouth. And so lot of the early people were just like, oh, this seems cool, I’m a little bit bored, I’m going to go hang out here for a while. And then as the word of mouth spreads, you get people who are like, oh, this is awesome, I want to come. And they already have high status in the default world. And so when they bring that, they bring some of that status here, which changes the kind of egalitarian nature of Zuzalu, because you do want this open idea sharing and you get people who everybody else naturally flocks to just because of their ideas or potential funding sources or whatever it might, right. You start to get that change. So have you thought about how the status hierarchies change in Zuzalu and other similar communities over time and how to kind of keep that openness while you don’t really want to exclude the highest status people, but building a culture and that can really help preserve some of that openness?
Vitalik Buterin: Yeah. I think one of the things that’s contributed to Zuzalu’s success is, like, the unusual filters, one might say. Like, if you want to stay here full time, you have to be willing to dedicate two months of your life to the thing. If you want to even visit, you have to be willing to survive what’s a realistically a 17 hours flight, including the various connections. You have to be willing to accept changes to your lifestyle and all of these things. And those are filters that a lot of people who are at least passionately attached to the cause can definitely pass through. The kinds of people who are like people who are more on the low-effort parasitic side are I think, like the number one group to try to kind of keep away entirely. And I feel like we’ve been much more successful at that here than we could have been had this been 10 km away from a major US city or something like that. But yeah, I think the challenge comes, I think closer to what you were saying, like on the boundary, right? Like people where there might even be disagreement within the community about how desirable is a person to include. And then once a person is already in, then do kind of power differences or even kind of cultural things other than power differences from the outside world sort of end up inevitably trickling in. I feel like Zuzalu has not been around long enough to really give good answers to that question yet. Right? Like I think if it starts being like round two and round three then we’ll start seeing that appear. The closest things that we have to solutions so far. I think actually some of the kind of explicit voting and community aggregation stuff that we’ve done I mean, the zero knowledge polls, the zoo polls are one example, but also we’ve used polis, we’ve used figjam and just various tools like that and kind of let people bring their preferences through in a way that’s kind of disintermediated and doesn’t pass through gatekeepers. It’s like one of those things that can help resist some gatekeepers that are getting too powerful and too misaligned with the community. Community norms are important and I think having explicit norms against domineering in certain ways is good. So far I felt like we haven’t really needed that explicitly yet because that hasn’t come to be a problem yet. But the norms that we have had are around respecting privacy, for example. Right? And I think one of the ways in which you can see how that succeeded is well, ironically enough, because it started failing a bit more recently and that’s because, well, we had a control group, right? We did a better job of telling people the norms at the beginning, but then people coming in more recently, there’s more short term stayers and also there haven’t been orientation sessions or really any opportunities for people to just understand that this is what the norms are. And as a result, I notice myself getting bothered with selfie requests somewhat more, for example, which is like it’s unfortunate for me, I kind of hope to have fewer selfiers. But it’s also an interesting barometer. And then, you know, more and more Twitter dynamics, though I feel like we’ve kind of officially surrendered to being on Twitter once Autism Capital yelled at us last. So I guess it’s a long term question that I think is hard to pre-answer before the patterns actually start showing up. But I totally agree, it’s super important to be vigilant about it.
Mark Lutter: And I think one of the interesting things here, for example, compared to Balaji’s vision, which has a much more kind of default tech founder type CEO early, that really drives things, and this is much more community oriented. So how do you balance, right? You need to set up these filters, you need these mechanisms, but you also want the community to be really engaged and lead. So how do you think about the role of, for example, being a gardener versus being a carpenter versus something a little bit in between about what that community mergence looks like and what kind of your function and the function of other organizers is?
Vitalik Buterin: I feel like given my psychology, it’s easy because I’m just too lazy to be a real 80 hours a week grindset CEO or whatever it is that those Twitter self help people tell you you have to do to be an alpha male. This was even true in the Ethereum Foundation, and I ended up just being pretty early to just to delegate lots of stuff to other people. And I definitely made lots of mistakes in that process. And the Ethereum Foundation had a complicated history and I think it took a long time to really stabilize and turn into the friendly thing that it is now. But that’s probably the realistic answer why I would be bad at being a dictator. Of course, as we discovered in the Ethereum Foundation, there’s the risk that people other than me will start accumulating power and becoming a dictator. And one of the things that we made sure to do for round one is we made sure to intentionally push against the meme of a core team. We tried to intentionally de emphasize that concept and try to sort of deny its existence to some extent. And there is an extent to which doing that too much can kind of push toward dishonesty. But I think the reason why he wants to do that, and this is the reason why I think I’m not really a fan of the tyranny of structuralist viewpoint. I think structuralist does have a lot of anti-tyranny value, is that it caps the legitimacy that any of these unintentional tyranies might have, right? It makes it much easier to say, like, okay, this mechanism is misaligned with our values. Like, screw this, let’s replace it, right? Because the people you’re replacing don’t have anything to point to that creates an agreement that there is any expectation at all that just because they were there for round one, they’re going to be there for the long term, and that’s not a mechanism that can last forever. But I think for early stage and kind of experimental stage things, just doing things like that is often really helpful. And aside from that, I think I was intentionally pushing back against other forms of formalized power. So one or two people ask like, hey, will there be a coin? And I’m like, no, there will not be a coin. I should have maybe answered ETH as the coin. Someone wanted to do Zucoin for not as a long term speculative thing, but as short term kind of exchanging favors, token, which would be fun to experiment with, but I think.
Mark Lutter: A lot of people would speculate on it anyway.
Vitalik Buterin: Right? Well, there’s ways you can create games to cut that out. You can add a rule that allows arbitrary people to send transactions to print a million units of the coin starting June 1. Obviously, if a coin community forms, they can just clone it and fork that out, but the default pressure works against them, and often default pressure is like three fifths of the battle.
Mark Lutter: So what’s next for Zuzalu?
Vitalik Buterin: This is still in the process of, I think, being thought through. But I think in terms of what we’ve learned, people want there to be a future of Zuzalu, therefore there will be a future of Zuzalu. We did a poll session at the very beginning, and one of the questions was, if there was one next year, would you come? There were zero no votes, which was, I thought, a really positive sign. It was like, okay, this will keep going with or without us. The question is, what is the role that we want to have in it? Right. And some of the other learnings, I think, like realizing the kind of divergence in vision based on different goals. The fact that a longevity city and a nomad village have fundamentally different tasks is probably one example. There is practical limits there. And one of the other things that I’m being mindful of is there’s social limits to what kinds of people will be willing to be part of the same tribe. If you think about health and longevity as an objective that attracts many different kinds of people. Right? The way that I think of the three health tribes, and this kind of brings out my vaguely Balaji style, meme version of myself. There’s three tribes of health. You’re either on Team Steak or you’re on Team Kale, or you’re on Team you know, Zuko Is, and his carnivores are a good example of Team Steak and then yoga, wellness retreats, focusing on organic and naturalness and all of those things. Team Kale and then Team Metformin is let’s go full on radical technology. Right. And Team is being a bit facetious because I don’t think these groups have to be opposed to each other or anything. There are more three approaches and there’s some combination of kind of beliefs and vibes. But one example is a lot of people on team Midforman, especially people doing large scale stuff, are connected to Peter Thiel. And a lot of people on team Kale think that Peter Thiel is evil. Like that’s already a moral difference and things like that are another one of the reasons why I’m kind of wanted to be more cautious about saying that we’ll do everything and expanding quickly. I definitely don’t want to just go around and give random groups the freedom to use the Zuzalu name and say that they’re part of the project and all of those things. Yeah. So this is a reason why I don’t want to just expand the thing rapidly and let a whole bunch of people start saying that they’re a part of the project. And it’s also a reason why I would kind of love to see there just be spin offs and groups that kind of take more different approaches to things and I think there is value in nudging them. Right. I think on the bio side, I personally would love to even help nudge more of this more radical bio community to be willing to adopt some, let’s say, a patent covenant that prevents them from enforcing it in poor countries. That’s one of those 80 20s that actually Bulvy the anticovid effort that I’m part of that was funded by the Dog Money two years ago. Generally it insisted on full open source but in a couple of cases where it was not able to just give the full amount of money because it was too large. And so it negotiated for this more partial thing where it basically said it’s like a covenant to not enforce their patents during emergencies or in poor countries. And if you look at the history of pharma and biotech, a lot of the worst kind of moral disasters of the US focused or based corporate pharma industry have been basically around essentially enforcing patent rights even in places where they’re not even selling the thing. And so they’re basically causing huge numbers of people to die for very tiny amounts of money and just kind of kneecapping that and saying if he wants to be part of this, you have to agree to that kind. Of covenant that takes off at most 10% of your profit, but takes 80% of the risk in terms of the worst moral consequences of that system. Right? So that would be a case for trying to keep things together when things are in the bubble. You can them to be better actors but at the same time there are places where people’s values do kind of diverge a lot and even places where people’s values diverge a lot in a way in which I personally find myself in the middle of the dispute. So I think a lot of pluralism is inevitable and I think some kind of structure as the thing expands to a larger size and figuring out exactly what that means, I think that’ll be really interesting to think through.
Mark Lutter: Great. Thank you very much. Vitalik. This has been the forecast, a podcast of Bravo cities. I’m Mark Lutter. You can follow me at twitter @marklutter. Thanks very much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
Kurtis Lockhart: Thanks so much for listening. We love engaging with our listeners, so please always feel free to reach out. Contact information is listed in the show notes. To find out more about the work of the Charter Cities Institute, please follow us on social media or visit chartersitiesinstitute.org.