(Reputation Economy) The Genesis of Selvage

Kent Dahlgren
5 min readFeb 12, 2021

Q: How do you get hackers, trolls, and pranksters to study an HR manual?

A: You prank them into doing it, by leading them to believe they’ve stolen it from you.

This a brief story about a game, and how a little performance theatre coaxed an unruly demographic into learning something about peace, against their wishes….demonstrating that there might be an aspect of them, call it their “higher selves,” that might be interested in harmony.

Rewind a few years, and a lot of us were on 4chan (circa 2006), before it predominantly became the playground of racists.

For a while, it was a fun and boisterous place, and we were granted a measure of anonymity, but eventually the moderators were asked to verify their identities, and so a lot of us (activists, hackers, pranksters, and trolls) departed.

This is what led me to social media, suddenly cheek to jowl with you folks: what we call the “normies.”

Given my experience with real-world grassroots activism (skateboarding), I became fascinated by how we might take what we’d learned and activate “normies” on-line.

After all: the normies are actually what made a difference in the domain of skateboard and skatepark activism. Why not replicate the experience on-line, and see where it led?

This formed the basis of our early experiments in what’s formally referred to as “omnichannel operations,” which are those which merge on-line coordination with in-real-life operations.

The trick was: how do you teach them how to become self-governing, so to speak, particularly in the context of conflict resolution? This was important because the effectiveness of a certain operation (or “op” for short) was limited by the inevitable petty disputes from within.

And not everyone, mind you: the focus was upon those who fancied themselves hackers, trolls and pranksters, because (God love them), they can be a real pain, often causing massive conflict.

What did I do?

To begin, I defined and implemented a labyrinth, and some people began to get caught in its maze, if at first just seeking a distraction.

Much of the labyrinth is still in existence, and in a manner that transcends any particular social media platform, but I’m only here to speak of one aspect: that which related to a community’s ability to manage internal conflicts, which is a competency I refer to as “Selvage.”

“Selvage” is the art of learning to function as one, and navigate the inevitable hard times; the word is intentionally borrowed from the domain of sewing/weaving.

I spent about six months building up awareness within the “labyrinth” regarding an updated “selvage curricula,” and when conflict erupted (as it reliably would), I wrote the “curricula,” and prepared it for release.

Sitting at my desk, I wrote a document, leveraging a stripped-down HR manual for guidance, but took care to reword it in such a way that it seemed to imbue the iconography of a certain secret hacker society.

Then I stripped the PDF of metadata, encrypted it, and orchestrated its theft, because it was positioned as a big secret — an important dispatch in support of a highly-valued evolution in “cross-hive self-governance.”

And when it was stolen, it didn’t take long to crack the encryption, because that was the original intention. And when the contents were revealed, I acted heartbroken, betrayed, angry.

All an act, and it worked, because the targeted “students” had come to the “class” prepared to steal, crack, and humiliate.

The performance, if you will, had just begun.

Those who had stolen the document gloated over how they’d humiliated the guy who was presumably the expert in security, and they studied the heck out of the document, egged on by my loud protestations.

“No, please! Stop doing that! I need it back! This is a catastrophe!”

Etcetera.

They studied a re-formatted HR manual, top to bottom, because they came to believe they’d stolen something of value.

This was years ago, and you know what? The circles are indeed more harmonious, and by my observation: it sure appears as if it’s because they incorporated some of the best practices they’d learned from reading the re-formatted HR manual.

Have stopped hacking? No.

Have they stopped trolling? No.

Are they no longer engaging in pranks? Again, no, because that was never the intention.

Are they battling it out among one another? Not as much as they used to, that’s for sure, and it’s gratifying to see them use tools learned from an HR manual to solve their own problems.

Which brings me to my point: education has the potential to be very cool, but school itself is frequently a bummer.

If you do education right, the lesson can continue running for a long time afterwards, and can be very enjoyable. I stopped investing in the evolution of “Selvage” years ago, and to this very day I still receive messages from complete strangers, trying to solve its puzzle….was it real, or was it a performance?

Imagine being pranked into being that interested in learning how to become a peacemaker?

Wouldn’t it be cool if we had more games like that?

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could figure out how to reward people for their creativity in bringing about a more harmonious engagement among diverse collaborations of people?

This was the genesis of my theories on how to “gamify” social interactions, which means: how to provide reward mechanisms that provide incentive for people to adopt and embody certain values held dear by a particular sub-culture.

Fast-forward several years, and today I own a software company called 214 Alpha, which provides a community activation mobile app, giving a small town or a community everything it needs to deliver a self-funded economic stimulus, using money that normally remains “under the table,” and activating local leadership.

The community activation mobile app includes seven features essential to self-governance, and one is “reputation,” which (within our solution) is not just a score, but also a way community members can earn complementary currency: what we call a “selvage token.”

Within our reputation economy, the “selvage token” pays people a bonus if they can innovate a way to reduce the rates of arbitration within our system.

The economics behind this are pretty simple: by reducing the rates of arbitration, they optimize our system. Pretty straightforward.

In this manner, a skilled mediator (embracing restorative justice) could better compete head-to-head with attorneys who are ordinarily incentivized to perpetuate conflict.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” one might say.

To that end, Ruth and I are writing an Anti-Fragile Playbook, which guides grassroots and on-line activists towards delivering a self-funded (and self-governing) revival, so they can reclaim their dignity on their terms.

We seek fellow educators and collaborators, rich with the wisdom necessary to get the job done, and it’s going to take a lot of creativity.

Would you like to assist?

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Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”