Notes Regarding Alison McDowell Circa 2021 on SSI and Africa

6 min readSep 1, 2023

The video critiqued

In order to be taken seriously, all news related content has to trade in ostensibly notable facts, whether by way of significantly informing its consumer or distracting them with fallacy.

McDowell lays out many interesting and important interrelated facts in exceptionally clear terms, so she counts as a source good for something.

At the same time, her rhetoric consistently trades on loaded terms underwritten by non-sequiturs.

The difference between performative dialogue and reasonable dialectic is that the former only uses fact to fortify assertion and synoptic perspective, while the latter is a mutual prioritisation of agreed facts and valid inferences therefrom.

The social media norm is patently not the latter. Perhaps it should go without saying that somewhere at least, it ought to be, lest the planet implode under cultural sludge. But in any case, we live in a general shitfight, which is sometimes efficient for getting a point across to your own and nearby echo chambers for as long you happen to hold the megaphone.

Or maybe I should go at it from a positive angle: To some degree, we all tell our truth and this joint product, insofar as being truth, cannot ultimately contradict itself, so where it might appear to do so, something is factually incorrect or logically defective and thereby warrants the shedding of some light.

McDowell is rather neatly synoptic, drawing together extensive investigations and reflections on digital technology, global business and power networks and various mechanisms by which they play out, including ideological, bureaucratic, educational etc. A skeleton of fact is undeniably there, to boot with some attached muscles identified and in motion. Interpretation of its dance, however, is where she slides from methods of forensics to those of contention.

At a few points she almost self-reports on this by generalising about phenomena of discovery as to what terms used by various entities she quotes “really mean.”

I suppose that is one way to encapsulate what happens when we see behind the curtain as it were, which to be fair, most of the politically aware (regardless of orientation) manage to to do from time to time.

But it is possible get things wrong in such frames of mind, especially in modes of excess. By way of comparison to the immersion method of learning a language she comments in relation to people having studied roughly 20hrs of her type of content: “once it starts to sink in you start seeing it everywhere!” 1:21:58

Sounds like the generic rocket fuel of our worldwide conspiracy theory community, bless its limited merits, though I certainly don’t suppose there’s nothing relevant to be seen, or even that it lacks a majority of the contours that tend to get sketched.

The issue is deeper and more perspectival, hinging on a systematic, contentious, wholesale and metalevel translation of terms and concepts. That is precisely why it can seem to work so elegantly, naturally and comprehensively, especially when most terminology is dodgy to begin with and often does warrants a comparable translation in at least outlying cases.

But at the end of the day and notwithstanding all of the research, passion and group resonance it is bound up with, such translation is merely a semi-autonomous narrative generator that often as not gets it right by the same method of a stopped clock. It is simply too cheap and cheating to do any justice of its own to reality.

But it is ultra spicy sauce and perfect as glue when you have nothing else to hand for that purpose.

Is she really like that? I don’t really care to judge, though it does seem a bit or lot that way to me in her case and many others. Presently this is a background and largely collective issue, but neither a negligible one nor something that I have any interest in quantifying with regard to the central matters below.

In the present video she draws and colours-in high-level outlines of the following style.

Africa is in process of being exploited by an emerging form of digital colonisation, which commandeers education, aid and economic development through a host of players and means including Cardano and Self-Sovereign Identity.

More specifically, if unfortunate enough to be among millions of “targeted” Africans, “metadata is going to aggregate to your DID” from birth, leaving you entirely at the mercy and effective slave ownership of mercantile and mercenary elites, deploying if not being geeks or instances of artificial intelligence.

For education your head will be covered by a box of virtual reality and for employment it will stay there for lifelong menial drudgery.

Now I can also draw outlines, but rarely care to tease them out of the lay of the land with loaded terms. For instance:

  1. However dysfunctional, labour and capital are an inevitable economic symbiosis and perhaps accordingly the only right and natural political division.
  2. Digitising their interplay is currently the line of least resistance for both.

Now to detail and colour it in.

We could do this three or more ways, without changing either that outline or a hypothetical set of dots that represent entities A to Z in the classic fashion McDowell adopts.

Stormy scheme:

Just join dots A to Z: It’s total and abject exploitation, thanks to SSI, AI and associated tech.

Sunny scheme:

Just join dots A to Z: It’s kittens and unicorns, thanks to SSI, AI and associated tech.

Partly cloudy:

Just join dots A to Z: It’s like most of history, generally not so good as you hope or bad as you fear, with notable outliers either side, thanks to SSI, AI and associated tech.

One central dot McDowell mentions is the w3 group, which happened to be captured on camera in full flight half a year later, in this video. Though few would deny that present times are dark, if subscribing to her midnight scheme, I dare say we’d expect something very much darker than the patently decentralised and wholesome process it documents on all levels with regard to static, dynamic and decision-making organisation, dispositions, rationales, organic community spirit and practical interplay.

With regard to SSI per se, her aforementioned compliant of it being something around which metadata aggregates, namely her foundation argument against it, does not withstand scrutiny.

This is because the nature and quantity of metadata is for all intents and purposes effectively the same if SSI is in operation of not, as the DID has no relevance to metadata except through functions that, so far as metadata is concerned, would simply proceed in negligibly different ways without it.

On the other hand, if her argument were merely that life without SSI would not be so digital, or thus involve so much potentially personal metadata then its not centrally about SSI, but a more generally Luddite contention.

Similar, though perhaps less peripheral to SSI, is her gripe with “tokenisation.”

If tokenisation is a thing then then it is neither new nor inherently soul-destroying. The concept of a token is fundamental in philosophy and natural language, applying to the material and abstract alike. Every physical coin is an example that covers both domains — the latter by virtue of ticking the box for legal tender.

Whether metaphorical or on screens or paper, the ticking of boxes is perennial. Tokenisation is only soul destroying to the extent that it becomes gratuitous and/or perverse. Tech also has potential to reform it and especially with SSI, in part by making it above board and maximally consent-based.

I am also unmoved by claims that there should be a net increase of tokenisation with SSI, perhaps because I can’t discern a clear argument structure associated with such claims. I gave an argument for why there shouldn’t be any such increase in my last post here and would be interested here if any specific premise or inference there is presumed flawed by somebody and if so, in what precise way. Thus far I am only noticing generalisations about things like miles lost for inches surrendered which trade on contentious or unspecified presumptions rather than agreed premises. For instance, I don’t see SSI as surrender of anything whatsoever, so if the issue is meant to turn on that then it’s not really a separate one to my mind.

Like all narrative, counternarrative tends to appeal through common denominators and thus moreso with the lowest thereof, where fear and hostility tend to feature prominently. Yet besides this reason for a dank colour scheme, there is also realism about downsides, and either way, the latter is typically professed, being less embarrassing.

If reality approximates McDowell’s fears for Africa and beyond it will most likely be with centralised ID and I don’t see the odds of that as in any sense negligible. Her work, ironically besides the most contentious and thereby distinctive premise, should thus not be dismissed but respected. After all, the job of a watchdog is to err on the side of barking.

But for reasons mainly given elsewhere, SSI is a primary guardrail against such dystopia.




Were anyone to discover the whole truth, they would sadly find it offends all parties.