Author: Tang Han, member of the “Twisted Neck Three View Advisory Group” and founder of SeeDAO
Zuzalu is a pop-up city experiment initiated by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik in Montenegro from March to May 2023. In two months, the experiment attracted 200 residents from all over the world (including visitors will reach 700 people), and I became a visitor in April and spent a month here. At Zuzalu, I participated most in activities related to network states and AI, and made many friends; I also spent a period of “Chinese Longevity” and opened Tai Chi courses at Zuzalu with the other two members of SeeDAO, attracting many European and American friends to participate.
This article is a summary of the Zuzalu experiment that I participated in and observed; in addition, this article also integrates what I have seen and heard since last year’s “Summer of the Cat” and SeeDAO’s one-and-a-half years of practical thinking. Before the article starts, I want to thank Vitalik for opening this experiment in a “enclave” of world civilization and still committed to expanding the imagination frontier of Web3 changing the world.
“The more you learn, the more you know nothing. The less you know, the more you do. Without doing anything, you can do anything. To take the world, always do nothing.”
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——”Tao Te Ching”
I have been thinking recently about the differences between Zuzalu and the social practices I participated in before (especially co-living communities), and why Zuzalu has produced so many emergences (emergence of order, emergence of meaning, and emergence of creation).
After thinking for a while, I tried to describe the characteristics of the Zuzalu experiment that I felt.
First of all, the scale and time of the experiment are very interesting: 200 people/2 months. The city is not too small to form a scale; nor is it too large to scatter consensus and difficult to govern. Two months is similar to a summer vacation, not too short to seem like a holiday, nor too long to become a long-term resident.
Secondly, the location was chosen to be in the enclave of civilization. Montenegro is located next to Europe, but it is not part of the EU. Montenegro is a former Yugoslav country, a former socialist country, but with a population of less than a million. Here, you can see traces left by various civilizations, so it is feasible and imaginative to discuss civilization in this context; but it is not in the core circle of civilization, so it is suppressed by order. This is very different from co-living spaces in places like Beijing, Shanghai, and London, where you can only obey or integrate into the existing order; releasing the suppression of order brings the possibility of exploring a new order.
Thirdly, screening the crowd that participates in the experiment through themes in some way achieves “value alignment”. People in Montenegro are very diverse, including scholars, entrepreneurs, students, etc., but the general atmosphere feels very consistent because many people are interested in a particular theme (people interested in Longevity, AI, and Crypto are basically open-minded and willing to explore a new world order).
At the same time, the enclave plays a role in threshold screening. A large number of commercial projects are widely concentrated in the central city of civilization. It is difficult for them to cost two months of time and come to an enclave, and many people will not be willing to do so. Without value alignment, there can be no harmonious emergence, and the cost of governance will also become extremely high (some problems occurred with Zuzalu before and after EDCON).
Fourthly, give the participants in the experiment a new identity, weaken the identity differences and opposition under the original order. The experimenters are almost not from Montenegro, but from different countries in the world. Therefore, they do not have strong local forces in Montenegro, and everything needs to start anew. In the new environment, they are given a new identity on the ground: Zuzalu residents or Zuzalu visitors. Zuzalu has become their community in Montenegro, and they are equal in building this community.
This weakens (not yet cancels) their original identity differences (Chinese, Americans, entrepreneurs, students, rich and poor, etc.), making them have the foundation that cannot emerge due to the constraints of the original order. I am most interested in weakening national identities. It is difficult for us to organize such discussions in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia because the opposition of national identities is very obvious there, and it is difficult to get rid of this constraint.
Finally, a high degree of freedom. In terms of freedom and order emergence, Zuzalu impressed me. I remember when I first invited Balaji (former CTO of Coinbase and the first advocate of the Network State concept) to share the Network State, almost everyone still needed to quote Balaji’s words to discuss the Network State; but as everyone’s discussion became deeper and deeper, some people began to express dissatisfaction with such a Network State. And with Primavera (a French theorist and Harvard University blockchain scholar) coming to Zuzalu, immediately everyone started to criticize Balaji, discussing the “Coordination” workshop, and even forming a loose alliance.
Longevity is the same. Although Zuzalu gathers a group of Longivity extremists, it does not prevent another group of people from organizing an anti-Longevity group, and everyone enjoys high-sugar foods together; nor does it prevent the development of the Chinese Longevity faction. Zuzalu does not have that strong political correctness, it does not preset its position, allowing people to freely debate, socialize, oppose, and build, and finally let Zuzalu present a certain appearance.
Image source: Tang Han
In terms of results, Zuzalu has a very dramatic result: I know that many young people who came to Zuzalu chose to resign before the experiment was over; or when they returned to their original life, they were preparing to resign.
My understanding is: Zuzalu provides a place for them to get rid of the shackles of the original order, so that they can think more clearly about themselves and the collective they should contribute to. (Everyone has a “Tao” in their heart, but it is suppressed under the existing order. When a person is liberated from the originally repressed environment, that kind of “Tao” will naturally unfold, and they can rethink their own path.)
Many people have their own unforgettable places in Zuzalu, such as having breakfast together, debating together, and having a blockingrty together at night, or reading clubs, etc. Some people feel a sense of home or community in Zuzalu. I think these are just the results of people who have been freed from the suppression of the order and naturally unfolded in the natural environment of Lustica Bay (a comprehensive resort and tourist destination located in Montenegro).
Of course, if the natural conditions of Zuzalu’s location change, the form of “expansion” may be somewhat different, but the results are good. For example, we cancelled the kiki meal (a local restaurant where everyone often goes for breakfast) and instead provided a public place to make breakfast; at the same time, we moved the experimental site to the mountain, where everyone can pick food, and the form of expression may be different, but we can also see the emergence of people.
Image source: Tang Han
I want to add why it is important to unbind the order. When we were discussing Network States (let’s use the term invented by Balaji for now), we were already expressing dissatisfaction with the existing order. Overall, we are in a confrontational world. World War II was a war between fascism and anti-fascism; after World War II, it was a war between the socialist and capitalist camps; after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, although the United States became the leader of the world, there was a war between “democratic countries” and “non-democratic countries”; after China’s rise, the East and the West became enemies again.
We either choose A or B, and in any case, we have to take a side. A and B always constitute a potential hostile relationship. Nationalism is a typical narrative: either I am an American or a Russian, and America and Russia constitute a subtle hostile relationship. Since I am a Russian, I have to fight for Russia’s interests and not care about the life and death of Americans. We are loyal to a local concept rather than a global one, loyal to a nation-state rather than humanity.
No matter whether the world is peaceful or not, we are always creating and looking for enemies. This order has reached a dangerous moment and is converging with the singularity of technology. We finally see an unacceptable outcome: the collective destruction.
Breaking away from the identity restrictions of A and B and returning to “human” is a possibility that I see in Zuzalu. In Zuzalu, identity is not forcibly imposed, but can be self-defined and chosen through one’s own behavior.
As for breakfast, Blockingrty, Hiking, etc., in my opinion, they are behavior choices that arise naturally after the identity restrictions of A and B are lifted. When we return to “human” instead of the symbols imposed on us, we will naturally make choices in life, return to each person’s “way”, that is, “freedom”, and derive a kind of order. From this perspective, Zuzalu’s experiment was successful.
Image source: Tang Han
A good civilization should allow people to live true to their inner lives, rather than becoming cogs in the order machine.
02 Variations of Zuzalu
Zuzalu may have some variations.
I believe that when the number of participants, time, location, and theme of the experiment are adjusted, Zuzalu will present different appearances. However, weakening the old identity order of the experimenters, giving them new identities (the basis for equal communication in the experiment), and giving everyone a high degree of freedom seems to be unadjustable. Once these things are gone, it is hard for me to imagine it still being Zuzalu.
It can be imagined what changes would occur when the Zuzalu experimental site is moved from Montenegro to Chiang Mai: more people (breaking through the limit of 200 people); more Asian faces; higher sustainability; more complex governance issues. More like a real city.
It can also be imagined what changes may occur when the Zuzalu experimental site is moved from Montenegro to Palau, Kas in Turkey, Lisbon in Portugal, or Bali in Indonesia. Although the location, scale, and experimental time will change, there will still be a living thing that makes people aware that this is still Zuzalu. People may also wander in different Zuzalus, realizing value alignment through human connections.
I would like to give two examples to describe the variations of Zuzalu:
One, Zuzalu as Jixia Academy
During these times of Zuzalu, it often reminds me of the Jixia Academy in the Warring States period (many people call Zuzalu the Academy of Athens, but from a broader perspective, it may be more similar to Jixia Academy). The above five points of Zuzalu may indeed lead to the emergence of “Jixia Academy”.
Last year, when Tony embarked on the road of digital nomads, I talked to him about the current world situation. He mentioned that the current world is very similar to the Warring States period. The collapse of courtesy and music, the collapse of old moral concepts, endless wars, and people becoming war machines. In such a crisis, a large group of knowledgeable people who feel responsible for the world are discussing new world orders, building new theories, and carrying out practices. At that time, truly good scholars did not belong to any country (such as the Chu Kingdom). They were wandering philosophers.
Confucius was a typical wandering philosopher. He was from the state of Lu and traveled throughout the states with his students, spreading his teachings.
Laozi was originally a librarian for the Zhou dynasty, but he later left and wrote the Tao Te Ching.
Mencius advocated universal love and non-aggression, leading his students to prevent wars between countries and even directly helping small countries resist foreign invasion.
There were no philosophers who specialized in serving a single country. All philosophers were thinking about new world orders and possibilities, and were taking action to experiment and construct the order they wanted. They chose to stay in a certain country because that country adopted the order they wanted or advocated. For example, the Montenegrin government adopts policies that are friendly to longevity or crypto, so some people want to stay there.
These wandering philosophers had a direct impact on the world order after the collapse of the traditional system of rites and music. In fact, the world order that followed was born out of the debates and experiments of these wandering philosophers.
I think there should be wandering philosophers in our time. Only wandering philosophers truly know what is happening in the world and can be freed from the oppression of nation-states to think about the future world order. Scholars who stay in China, the United States, or Europe, or who only serve one country, cannot propose a new world order. Because a country’s interest cannot be aligned with the interests of the entire world. In order to obtain the interests of the entire world, he must be a wanderer and experience this collapsing world.
In addition, many real scholars are suffering because of the reality they face. Because they serve the academic network under the nation-state system, their economic source comes directly from the nation-state or large companies, so they have to succumb to the existing order to conduct research. In China, it is difficult to see philosophers who think about the world order beyond China; the United States is the same, and political correctness and suspicion of China have also harmed their academic network.
After returning to China, I met with a SeeDAO member who is also a professor at one of China’s top 2 universities in Beijing. He mentioned that the title of professor is now a shackle for him, and he mentioned the possibility of giving up his position as a professor and becoming a wandering philosopher. This is not an isolated case.
A gathering place is needed for wandering philosophers. I saw the possibility of a gathering place for wandering philosophers on Zuzalu. Once the values of Zuzalu are aligned, the most likely form it will take on is an academic network. The enclave will unleash the potential for these philosophers to think and debate, allowing them to quickly come together.
Furthermore, these wandering philosophers come with their own community (like Confucius and Mozi were naturally surrounded by a group of people), and their community has action ability (programmers, artists, designers, etc.). They can use Zuzalu as an experimental base and build on this experimental base. Therefore, Zuzalu will also become a living community, but living in the Jixia Academy is not the first priority, the first priority is thought.
Image source: Tang Han
This is a real thing. The most important thing about Zuzalu under the Jixia Academy model is the freedom under the enclave, it is not a network of the rich, but it may become a network of intellectual elites, or a network of “scholars”. (“Scholars” is not a bad word in China and does not equate to “elites” in Western contexts. “Scholars” are people who have pursuits in thought and take the world – world order – as their responsibility and should be respected by society. In the Chinese hierarchy, “Scholar, Farmer, Artisan, Merchant”, and rich merchants are ranked last.)
Second, Zuzalu as a base for wanderers
In an era when the national order of the nation-state is collapsing, wandering will become a trend. I believe that there will eventually be a base for digital nomads. These bases will also be established on the edges of the national order of the nation-state, such as Turkey, Thailand, Uruguay and other places. In those places, digital nomads have begun to gather and already have their own culture and history. (The history of Chinese nomads migrating to Thailand has exceeded 100 years.)
In these places, because the volume of the nomads is so large, new schools, hospitals, and public infrastructure may be established. (I noticed that almost no one who came to Zuzalu for the experiment brought their children, so this is not a real human society.) New social rules and governance systems may also be established here.
Unlike the “Jixia Academy”, the wandering base does not need a special “topic”, but only a convention of value alignment that will have value alignment with residents It may be a value alignment that is different from topic restrictions. Life itself is the biggest feature and appeal of the wandering base. At the same time, there need to be reliable people who are willing to operate the base for the long term to manage the base. The selection of personnel and governance rules will be important.
Due to the larger number of experimental subjects in the base area (maybe 2,000 people?), the time will be longer (assuming it is 3 years, or forever?), and it will certainly affect the local ecology, and the relationship with the locals will have to become an important consideration. The large influx of outsiders, funds, resource demands, and views will make the base an important force in the area, which may lead to conflicts and dissatisfaction.
For example, Russian tourists gathering in Bali caused dissatisfaction by hoarding land and driving up local land prices; and different civilizations hope to continue their previous culture after arriving in a place, so they will establish various international schools, which are disconnected from the local education system and attract the attention of the local government.
The economic sustainability of the base will become a very prominent issue. With so many digital nomads gathering here, what are they relying on to live? (Maybe it’s okay for Web3 practitioners because many of them are already in nomadic mode and don’t rely on local economies.) Subsidies and donations are not the solution. Here, more observation and experimentation are needed.
03, The Relationship Between “Zuzalus”
It is still difficult for me to define what “Zuzalu” is. But as long as it becomes a practice that can be tried, this practice will not only be confined to a working group.
“Zuzalu” may already have its own core working group, but its experience will be learned by other organizations or social practitioners, thus becoming a “model”. It is difficult to say whether the community constructed by learning from the “Zuzalu” experience is “Zuzalu” or something else. But they will definitely exist.
I think Zuzalu will become “stars all over the sky”. The core working group may maintain an official Zuzalu (such as in Montenegro in the first half of this year, and in Chiang Mai in the second half), or may not; but similar experiments in different corners of the world will also be going on synchronously. The residents and visitors of Zuzalu will spontaneously conduct these experiments without control, because many people have already awakened to this consciousness and want to explore a new order outside the national system. Therefore, thinking about the relationship between “Zuzalus” may become a topic for the next step.
A website or forum that collects Zuzalu experience will be a necessity, allowing people to post their experiments in different places and exchange experiences. Encouraging residents to flow between different Zuzalus will also become a practical way to align values, as they know where the degree of this value is.
I have always hoped that Zuzalu can have its own “constitution” or a guidebook for establishing new Zuzalus. Now it seems that one experiment may not be able to establish these mechanisms, nor is it enough to form a practical guidebook. Therefore, establishing a network for communication among Zuzalus may promote the publication of this guidebook more quickly. Everyone can also discuss what the order between different Zuzalus is.
04 Extension: China and Zuzalu
I think the guidebook for establishing Zuzalus that is ultimately obtained will be very important.
After Montenegro, I returned to China. China’s history is very interesting. The gap between modern China and ancient China may be 1,000 times greater than the gap between modern China and modern America. The freedom that Lao Tzu talked about in the “Tao Te Ching” is not the freedom in Western society that gives you choices and then lets you choose. That kind of freedom is actually inherent in things and people. Unfortunately, modern China has lost both the freedom in the “Tao Te Ching” and the freedom described by the West.
After returning to China, I went from northeast to the Mongolian grassland. In the long history, the north of China has always been the territory ruled by ethnic minorities, not belonging to the same ethnic group as China’s Han people. But when I crossed the north of China, I found that whenever these ethnic minorities occupy geographical China with strong military force, they always follow the cultural order of “Huaxia” and become the rulers of “the world”.
This is because “China” is not a country, but a value alignment. In China’s view, no one is born a Chinese person. When you are born in China and grow up in a different cultural background, and do not agree with Chinese culture, you become a “barbarian” (the barbarian describes a state far from Chinese civilization). And a person, even if born in the United States, becomes a Chinese person when he identifies with Chinese culture. (According to this view, this person may be more Chinese than those Chinese who blindly pursue GDP.) Ethnic nation-states are completely incomprehensible and unreasonable in the Huaxia background, because the Han nationality itself is many ethnic groups, a group formed by constantly integrating based on a cultural concept.
“Huaxia” is not a geographical or ethnic concept, but a concept of civilization or culture. Or, it is a value-alignment system in itself. “The Book of Rites” is one of the most famous founding manuals of Huaxia, but it has nothing to do with religion. Any country established according to “The Book of Rites” is compatible with the Huaxia system and will be within the “coordination” of the organization.
Of course, the “Book of Rites” from over 2,000 years ago is no longer appropriate for today’s global society. However, the idea of constructing a world order has not changed much. When the Mongols or Manchus occupied China geographically, they still constructed countries according to “The Book of Rites”, and they became part of Huaxia and obtained cultural legitimacy.
What is rare is that the value-alignment of Huaxia does not show a strong invasive nature. Li does not go to religion. Because it is not a religious system, it does not spread or enforce by force. Only those who like this gift adopt it. It is not Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, nor is it the freedom and democracy that the United States wants to promote.
In our opinion, the truth that needs to be spread by war is not the truth. Li has no enemies, nor does it have people it wants to rescue, but a “value-alignment” that belongs to a community if you want to identify with it. When you don’t agree, you are not in this order; but being outside this order does not mean that you need to be suppressed or forced to be included in this order.
I have not yet seen how Zuzalu in multiple places is connected into a network. But I seem to see the similarities between the distant “Huaxia” system and some of the temperament that Zuzalu has already shown.