Recently a video was made: “The Declaration of Bitcoin's Independence”. Here's the video.
For those of you not involved with the, all in all, rather small cryptocurrency community the people in that video are some of the bigger names within the community. The village elders if you will. Not sure the village actually chose them, but elders tend to be self appointed anyway – at least at first.
My friend and business partner, Preston, provided his response in this fine article. I take an analogous, but distinct, view from Preston's.
Anarchists: Go Experience Anarchy, Or Shut Up
One of the overarching points of the video is that Bitcoin is somehow sovereign, which I assume means a system unto itself. And I'm not simply picking out one word from many and obsessing about it. That is the entire point of a “Declaration of Independence” – for a group to declare that it is no longer beholden to a prior sovereign and is now beholden to a different sovereign.
But who is the sovereign in which these individuals of common purpose are beholden to? Who knows.
I'm a relative outsider to this whole cryptocurrency thing. Sure, I'm trying to build a business which will utilize some of the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies. However, I am by no means a believer that a few cryptographic hashes and a fancy database somehow changes any of the real human dynamics which scientists, artists, philosophers, and the like have been pondering for a couple millennia.
As an outsider, it is (anthropologically) interesting to watch a bunch of (predominantly) white (predominantly) Americans (and Canadians) purport to claim that an interesting payment protocol will solve world peace, governmental overreach, and all the other ills of modernity. The idea that somehow because there are cryptographic hashes and p2p communications protocol that those will suddenly shift the paradigm of modernity and that we can reach a point where governments are unnecessary is… I'm not sure what it is actually.
I've lived in anarchy. I know what it looks like when governance systems collapse. I have felt how easy elite capture becomes in such situations. I have tasted hyper inflation. I challenge anyone who identifies as an anarchist to actually go to Somalia – or another area where governance systems have collapsed for a significant amount of time. Spend some time there. Talk to people about their lives. Understand what the hell you're talking about.
Whatever the participants’ individual motives are I cannot speak to, I suspect that many would identify more with libertarian thinking than pure anarchical thinking. For those that do have anarchical tendencies, please see above. For those that have libertarian thinking, please see below.
Lesson 1: Declaring Independence is an Emotional Exercise; Building a System is a Rational Exercise
In 1991 the elites of the Somalilanders “freedom” movement (it wasn't about freedom really, it was about capturing the state in the name of the Somalilanders) were forced by a bunch of emotional people to declare their independence from Somalia. Many at the time, and many today, question whether this heated, emotional, reaction was the correct decision. Nonetheless, it happened.
As most Democracy and Governance, Conflict Studies, and Crisis Situation scholars and practitioners understand declaring independence is the easy bit. Pretty words on paper (or in a video) don't mean anything in reality. They are simply those – pretty words. They can inspire, sure, but beyond that they mean little.
In the case of Somaliland it took about 13 years after the Declaration of Independence to have a really functional Constitution and the state building is still going on – and likely will be for another two generations. It took a massively important leader with a real commitment to building a functional system who fought tooth and nail to build a constitution which was both responsive to constituent concerns while also setting the framework for a functional system. It took scholars, and discussion, and compromise, and work to get there.
The question I have for those who participated in this video is this: are you actually interested in doing the work necessary to craft a system? Only time will tell.
Lesson 2: If You Want to Sit At The Adults’ Table Act Like Adults
During my time in Somaliland I said the above more times than I could count. Mostly in response to idiotic stuff whatever Minister or other person of purported power who was sitting in some vaunted chair did. It would drive me crazy that Somalilanders in positions of power would drone on about how they were a “real state” but how they continued to fail to perform the most basic of governance functions. You can't have it both ways I would tell my friends. Either you need to do the work, make the sacrifices, and be your own state, or else you just need to shut up. More times than I currently care to count, I would watch the Somaliland government act as a rebel organization acts and then go on BBC Somali asking why the world wasn't treating them like a state. Most of the time the reason the “world” wasn't treating them like a state was because they weren't acting as a state acts.
I view the cryptocommunity through a similar lens. It talks – at nauseum – about how it deserves to be taken seriously. Really? Why? What has it done to deserve being taken seriously? Certainly there is some very interesting technology that has been built. And that technology should be taken seriously. As technology.
But Bitcoiners, and the cryptocommunity more generally, should not somehow be free from the normal rules which apply. If those inside the cryptocommunity want cryptocurrencies to be treated as currency, then they must abide by the normal rules which attend to handling money.
These rules are onerous, precisely because businesses which deal with folks’ money are, well, dealing with folks’ money. I do not understand why cryptocurrencies businesses should somehow get a bye as to providing proper safeguards, as has been agreed in the relevant states are necessary.
Lesson 3: Real Systems Empower Professionals and Root Out Scammers
When I was in Hargeisa some of the more interesting people I hung out with were folks who were trying to set up a governmental quality assurance system. There were a lot of problems that needed to be tackled, but foremost on the minds of these scientists (some of who had been trained locally some of whom had been trained abroad) was the difficulty of ensuring that medicines were proper. There was (and likely still is) a huge problem of knock-off drugs, mislabeled drugs, and the like. These scientists were trying to tackle this. Because it was putting the health of community members in jeopardy.
I enjoyed my time with these scientists and doers precisely because they saw a collective problem and were trying to do something about it – despite the odds. The odds being that big importers who supported big actors within the government make more money off fake drugs than real ones. The odds being that quality assurance of medicines is not one of aid's current hot topics (and therefore there was no aid money to support their activities). The odds being that of all the problems in Hargeisa this was not the one that was on the tip of folks’ minds – except for when those folks had sick kids. Despite those odds, these guys were trying to do something to protect folks. And that was awesome from my perspective. They are a long way from solving this issue, but they are trying.
What is the cryptocommunity doing about rooting out scammers? There are, indeed, some efforts. And I hope that they continue, because the cryptocommunity has a huge scammers problem that needs to be addressed in a fundamental way. It isn't likely to happen with a technological solution; it is much more likely to happen via legal or social mechanisms. But so far we've only seen a few of these take place.
Time will tell how this all plays out. Indeed, most of this is about the community more generally than a response to the specifics of that video. I think there is some very interesting technology which bitcoin has brought to people's attention. It would be a shame if that technology was overshadowed by people projecting their issues and complaints with bigger systemic issues on it.
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