[Op Ed] Bitcoin: New Technology, Familiar Revolution


My favorite day of the year is coming up on Thursday. It would be tough not to like July 4th – it’s a day of bbqs, beer, friends, and a celebration of the day when a group of idealists chose to stand together against to the most powerful empire in the world in the name of liberty.

As I write this from a plane on my way to the Bitcoin London conference, it first seemed ironic that we’re going to be in the land of the oppressor from whom we’re celebrating our freedom. Upon deeper consideration, it’s actually rather fitting: we’re about to join a group of individuals promoting a technology that just might be able to restore many of the liberties that have been slowly whittled away by a government demonstrating ever-increasing signs of tyranny.

There are a number of reasons bitcoin is gaining popularity now, not the least of which is the fundamental human desire for freedom. Understanding that modern warfare is being fought with technological and financial means, the similarities between the revolution we celebrate this week and the path that has gotten bitcoin to its current state are actually quite remarkable.

Life, Liberty, and Property

One of the many offenses that led to the American Revolution was the invasion of colonists’ persons and property by the British. The British government increasingly used what was known as a Writ of Assistance, a document that effectively gave them the legal ability to enter and search colonists homes and property for ‘uncustomed goods.’ The tensions and legal battles that erupted as a result of these would be what John Adams famously declared  “the spark which originated the American Revolution.”

The 4th Amendment was intended to curtail such offenses, but lately these same violations of basic human privacy have been similarly conducted by the American government, particularly when it comes to financial matters. Police have seized millions of dollars in cash without due cause, while payment processing companies and banks regularly freeze customer accounts in an attempt to comply with complicated reporting and investigating regulations put in place by the government.

Bitcoin offers users a technological tool to protect their property from the invasive arm of their governments. The ability to transfer wealth worldwide without an intermediary that reports to a government offers global citizens a level of financial freedom never before possible. Additionally, the encryption technology used to secure wallets makes it near-impossible to confiscate if the holder follows basic protection practices.

Ideals Over Individuals

Every great movement needs leadership by visionaries who not only dream of a better world, but who are also able to inspire others to perpetuate the ideals on which their actions are founded. Though Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin, never went to battle or heroically led troops to victory against overwhelming odds, he does bare a number of striking similarities to leaders of the American Revolution. Most notably, he emphasized the idea of bitcoin over his own personal gain and glory, implementing his vision and then, protecting the notion of a truly democratic currency, stepped out of the limelight into obscurity.

George Washington, father of the American Revolution, famously took similar action. After his second term as President, the country he built overwhelmingly favored the continuation of his leadership. Rather than accept another easy victory, he allowed the vision for a democratic society to flourish by letting others take the helm.

One could argue that Satoshi’s anonymous nature makes him different than revolutionaries like Washington, who was a well-known figure throughout the colonies. Yet anonymity did play an important role in the founding of this great nation. The Federalist papers were penned by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under a pseudonym and are often credited with aiding the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Satoshi’s white paper outlining the notion that would eventually become bitcoin served a similar purpose. When recognition for work is taken out of the equation, people can judge ideas on their own merit rather than the perceived credibility of the author.

Guerrilla Tactics

Since the turn of the 21st century, the American government has perpetually increased their ability to gain visibility into and control financial markets and accounts. This is facilitated by implementing regulations on business entities required to transfer funds and by maintaining a peering eye into their operations. While most people do not have anything to hide, there is a fundamental desire for privacy and to prevent other people invading this privacy without proper cause.

Bitcoin’s anonymous wallet addresses and the ability to access them through secure browsers makes tracking difficult. This unique feature is largely beyond the traditional familiarity of financial regulators and offers a distinct advantage to citizens daring to challenge the world’s most powerful entity.

When forced to face off against a practiced foe with nearly unlimited resources, going head-to-head is nearly guaranteed to turn out poorly. Patriots recognized this during this during the American Revolution as well. Adopting tactics employed by Native Americans and using their superior knowledge of the territory, the colonists broke away from traditional warfare practices to gain the upper hand.

Instead of trading shot for shot in volley fire against the British army, as was the norm at the time, colonists employed guerrilla tactics, firing from the cover of forests and picking off British officers. Their ability to go largely undetected helped the patriots achieve victories that may otherwise have been impossible.

An Armed Militia

At the time of the American Revolution, the British Navy was the most powerful in the world, and the British Army the best trained and most experienced. Defeating them would be no small feat and require whatever advantages possible. Fortunately, the proliferation of the Kentucky Long Rifle in the colonies made Washington’s militia a force to be reckoned with. This new military arms technology allowed for accuracy from a far greater distance than the musket and led to early predecessors of the modern sniper.

The long rifle is largely credited with helping the colonists achieve victory over the world’s greatest military power, but nothing that could be kept in a home would be able to stand against the U.S. military today. As mentioned above, technology and finance are playing an increasingly important role in the global power structure, meaning  that military strength may not be necessary to protect many of the freedoms our constitution guarantees.

Mining, the act of verifying bitcoin transactions and protecting against fraud, is the backbone of bitcoin’s security against attack and the arms race has clearly begun. The hashrate of the bitcoin network has roughly doubled every two months so far in 2013, meaning the strength against an attack has done the same. This is primarily a result of the ASIC mining technology being proliferated across the globe. The 2nd amendment was put into place to ensure citizens would have a fighting chance against a tyrannical government. The right to bear arms has been largely degraded over time, but fortunately the right to bear ASIC remains strong.

Tyranny Is A Global Issue

American Revolutionaries, for all of their bravery and intellect, did not defeat the British on their own. Heavy military aid from the French, Spanish, and Dutch helped secure a victory for our young country. Without their help, overcoming the power of the great British empire would have been all but impossible.

In today’s world, the offenses of the U.S. government have similarly led to a world running thin on tolerance for perpetual manipulation and invasion. The global hunt for Edward Snowden illustrates this point. Demands for extradition of the man responsible for shedding light on a shadow government that spies on global internet users demonstrates the United States’ lack of respect for sovereignty of other nations. The push back against the world’s most powerful empire has only increased in recent weeks.

Bitcoin and the financial freedom it represents exist on a distributed, global network of computers as a nation-agnostic cause. Citizens of countries whose governments have had strained relations for decades are, with each other’s help, embracing the notion of a currency that promotes economic freedom, devoid of political intervention.

America Is Not Its Government

I’ve lived in the United States my entire life and love my country dearly, but with the understanding that America is a set of ideals, not the government that controls a particular plot of land. In fact, they are diametrically opposed by their very definition.

To my fellow countrymen looking forward to a day off this Thursday; remember what you’re celebrating. The struggle for liberty is an ongoing endeavor and it’s up to each of us to learn from history, be wary of centralized power structures, and fight back when necessary – it’s the American way.

The views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Genesis Block.


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