Secure public networks can support fair and efficient conflict resolution using a decentralized process. Consider the story of two ordinary people caught in a good deal gone bad. We’ll call them Cain and Able.

Cain loves the smell of clean damp earth and the feel of firm celery. Abel is a good shepherd and loves his sheep so much he decides to buy them a truckload of top-grade organic celery. Lucifer (or was it Gabriel?) had taught the young men about the advantages of byzantine fault-tolerant public networks. So Abel posts a bid on one such network to trade “a fine lamb for a truckload of top-grade organic celery.” The name of the network is “The Garden.”

The Garden connects groups of people holding to compatible standards for social conduct. In fancy talk, “ethical cohorts.” Abel posts his bid to a “Path of Justice” cohort that has a certain way of settling their differences. Cain is also a follower of the Path, and Abel’s offer excites him. He accepts the offer without hesitation. Both Abel and Cain post a cryptocurrency bond in The Garden as security for their promises.

On the appointed day, Cain shows up at Abel’s with a truckload of celery. Abel gives him a silky white lamb, they release each other from their security bonds, and part ways. A while later, Abel notices many of the celery stalks are wilted and sun burnt. Then his home test kit detects pesticide residue. He calls Abel to complain.

“Cain, you sneaky cheapskate! You’ve left me tainted rotten celery unfit for a pig. Bring back my fine silky lamb and pick up your trash or I will certify a complaint in The Garden!”

“What? That celery was top-grade organic! I harvested it myself at dawn today! Oh, I’d take it back if I could, because your lamb’s not so fine. She’s sick and I’m not sure she’ll survive. But now you’ve ruined my celery in your toxic fields!”

“Now you’re insulting my pristine fields and my fine lamb?! What have you done to her?”

Your can guess how their informal settlement talks went after that. Abel wants to suffocate Cain in a blanket of righteousness, and Cain wished he could run Abel over with his produce truck. By late evening, they are at their laptops, preparing complaints for posting in The Garden. In the morning both complaints are festering in The Garden’s public ledger, drawing attention. Their peers can see that Cain and Abel have a serious problem but not what it is. Both encrypted the substance of their complaints, as the Path of Justice requires for uncertified complaints.

To make matters worse, Abel posts a meme accusing Cain of delivering rotten celery. Cain ignores it.

They can’t leave the complaints just sitting in The Garden. Others may think they don’t take complaints seriously and avoid dealing with them. Followers of the Path agree to settle by submitting to a mutually agreed neutral, when necessary. If either Abel or Cain refuses neutral arbitration, the other can hire a neutral to certify and publish their complaint. To avoid an unwanted public airing of the other’s complaint, they agree to hire a neutral. Let’s call her Eve.

Each pays half of Eve’s service fee and sends their complaint key to her. They might pay her up front, or she might take a percentage afterwards. The Garden network enables automatic fee splitting, using an escrow account linked to the complaint certificates.

The Path of Justice resolves differences between members’ social promises by the “rule of least obligation.” This means that the accused picks what they prefer under the circumstances: their own social promise, or the other’s. “Social promises” are general promises to other followers of the Path. Each member promises to honor social promises they record in The Garden.

For example, suppose Abel follows the “Rule of Shepherds.” Shepherds promise to pay damages for breach of contract and pay double for breaking contracts on purpose. Cain follows the “Rule of Farmers.” Farmers also promise to pay damages for breach, but pay triple for doing so on purpose. If the neutral finds Cain liable to Able for delivering rotten celery on purpose, Cain will only need to pay the least obligation. In this case, Abel’s promise of double damages is least.

Eve investigates. She mediates between Cain and Abel, but cannot get them to agree. So she writes her opinion, encrypts it with a key, and publishes her opinion in The Garden. The opinion may include copies of the complaint keys so that anyone with Eve’s key can also view the underlying complaints. Eve signs the opinion and keeps her key. Thus, the complaints and neutral opinion stay in the ledger forever, but no one can read them except people who have a copy of Eve’s key.

Cain and Able can obey Eve and ask the neutral to certify their compliance in the ledger. Eve can produce encrypted compliance certificates, and give each of them a key. To restore their reputations, they might release the settlement key so others can see it. Alternatively, they might cooperate to destroy all keys to the records of their dispute.

If they won’t settle their dispute, Cain and Abel might publish their complaint keys, with or without Eve’s opinion. Or, they can sell control over the keys or their right to collect to someone else, let’s call him “George.” George might threaten to release complaint keys to interested parties, or apply other kinds of pressure. Owning a key to a complaint has value, as a sort of “forgiveness token.” The value is greater if a respected neutral certifies the complaint by attaching an opinion about relative fault and reasonable damages.

For example, suppose Eve concludes both share the blame. Cain supplied day-old (but not rotten) celery worth less than fresh-picked celery. Although Cain lied about the celery’s age, he did so after Abel accepted the celery. His lie caused Abel no damages. Abel supplied a perfect lamb, but publicly accused Cain of supplying rotten celery, which was untrue. However, Abel believed his accusation was true and so his defamation was unintentional. Eve certifies these facts with her opinion that Cain should pay Abel for half a lamb and Abel should take back his false accusation and apologize.

Cain grumbles and pays, reducing the value of the Abel’s complaint to zero. But Abel refuses to apologize or to retract his accusation, so Cain’s complaint against him keeps the value assigned by Eve. Suppose Cain sells his right to collect to George, because he thinks Abel’s false statement won’t hurt him and prefers a little cash. Abel can quench the value of Cain’s complaint by complying with Eve’s order or settling for some lesser amount with George.

A free market for credible, unsettled claims can exist in any community where reputations matter. Anything that can be signed can be made into a transferable token. Whoever holds a complaint key can convert the complaint into a token. For example, if Cain and Abel had not agreed on Eve, one or both of them might have issued forgiveness tokens instead as described by Joe Rogan at Remedy Coin. Neutral opinion tokens resemble forgiveness tokens, but only mutually agreed neutrals can produce them.

Issuers of forgiveness or neutral tokens might increase their value by tying them to other digital assets. For example, Abel might be so confident of his claim that he links a cryptocurrency reward to it, subject to conditions he defines and certifies. He might set the reward as payment of his share of neutral certification fees, on condition that Cain match it. Or he might attach the reward to a certified neutral opinion in his favor, as an automatic discount to whoever pays the judgment in full. The certain kickback incentivizes payment of the judgement sooner rather than later, because Abel keeps power to reduce or eliminate the judgment until someone pays it. These and other devices can enhance markets in forgiveness or neutral opinion tokens.

Legal systems often produce lose-lose outcomes. We can do better. The advent of secure public ledgers enables conflict resolution and social credit rooted in peer-to-peer communities, which should produce better outcomes. I write to inspire others to build these systems, and hope for the day when meaningful communities use them. Demand for better solutions is great. May you prosper making them real!