I have friends at the forefront of cryptography and privacy who don’t much care for Bitcoin; they see flaws in it and they think we could do better. And they are not wrong: There are flaws and we can do better. Nonetheless, Bitcoin is. And it is playing a crucial role in the formation of a new age.
I think it’s important for us to understand that role.
How The Future Arrives
Children are oblivious to the future. Old people tend to oppose it on principle. Those of us in-between are left to grapple with it. And the fact is that the future seems to arrive in different ways for different people. Three examples will suffice:
Middle-of-the-roaders, fiercely committed to a comfortable sameness, tend to be gob-smacked when changes arrive. In 2009, for example, we heard such people groaning, almost in unison, that “No one could have seen this coming.”
Cypherpunks, space advocates and other assorted future-seekers are forever disappointed that it’s taking so long.
The most enthusiastic denizens of the status quo; that is, those who believe they are feeding from it, can be counted upon to oppose the future. Somehow they understand that when the future rolls in their ox will not only be gored, but run-down flat.
Nonetheless, the future does arrive, though never according to the pristine wishes of the future-seekers. Rather, the future arrives in a very human way: Sloppily and haphazardly. When the future begins to put down roots, it is not according to the best laid plans; it’s according to an insanely complicated human condition.
When the future appears we purists are seldom fully pleased. Nonetheless, it behooves us not to uproot imperfect developments. Our job is rather to keep building, adding better layers to a less than perfect first layer.
Bitcoin, flawed though it may be, is a very effective first layer for the future, and we should avoid anything that smacks of either tearing it up or idolizing it.
Bitcoin Is Education
Anyone who pays attention sees that Bitcoin is a tremendously important revolution in money. It is decentralized, censorship resistant, neutral and immutable. It’s hard to over-estimate the importance and impact of that. It is a massive game-changer.
On top of that, Bitcoin has survived and thrived for nearly eleven years, beginning at absolutely nothing, always at a gigantic disadvantage. And after that battle we see millions of people enamored with a cypherpunk technology… and a hundred million more who are notably curious.
But there is more to Bitcoin than even this. Bitcoin is also education. Please consider this odd concept:
Bitcoin is teaching people how to behave in the new age.
I once listened to a lecture on ancient Greece and was struck by the historian saying, “Homer taught the Greeks how to behave in their new civilization.” I now think that Bitcoin is doing almost precisely that for our new age. To put some flesh and bone on that, I’ll use this moment’s most common exemplar: the Bitcoin meetup.
Every week, in nearly every significant city on the planet, people gather; sometimes 4 or 5, sometimes 20 or 30, occasionally several hundred. And together they explore the mysteries of the blockchain, a method for assuring and scaling trust that requires no overseer.
These people are learning to think about decentralization. That is, to imagine human processes without the central dogma of the past 5,000 years: That centralized force is essential to life itself.
Think about that for a moment: An ethos of survival that has held since the Bronze Age – that small, tight groups must control the masses – is being replaced with a preference for decentralization. And consider that by this the dignity and utility of the individual is being placed above the dignity and utility of rulers.
This is the future taking root.
Seeing Bitcoin As It Is
Bitcoin is neither magic nor poison. It is a tool. A brilliant tool? Yes, I think so, and more than that a terribly useful one.
As I noted above we should neither degrade nor idolize Bitcoin. Rather, we should use it profligately. Not only because it’s good money, but because it is teaching mankind, week by week, to think in terms of decentralization… to value the utility of the individual… to believe in the dignity of the individual.
And those are things that will very definitely change the world.
If you’d like to read more on this, see:
FMP issue #101