Why I’m Committed to Something that Doesn’t Yet Exist


It’s a strange thing that so many people unquestioningly doubt, even oppose, anything that they can’t see, that they can’t count on with absolute certainty, or especially, that lacks the approval of authority.

New and useful things, as we’ve all observed, begin as things that can’t be seen… things with no evidence, no substance, and usually no pedigree. Name your convenience and it probably began that way.

But let’s move past older historical examples and simply jump to things that have happened in our own times:

  • Where were personal computers a generation or two ago? Only in the dreams of a few hyper-technical types. It was a business grown mainly in garages and similar spaces.

  • Where was home schooling a generation or two ago? It was the domain of cranks at best and child abusers at worst. (Or so it was proclaimed by an enthroned and worshiped educational aristocracy.) And yet homeschooling delivers superior results.

  • Where was the Internet in 1990? First it was unknown, then it was a silly tool of “nerds,” then it was a threat to all that is holy (yes, New York Times, some of us remember), and only later, a worldwide infrastructure.

  • Where was encryption in 1990? A regulated munition… a sequestered weapon… until a small group of cypherpunks set it free.

  • Where were digital currencies in 2000? The supposed haunt of the worst criminals on the planet. And now… well, now they’re hated only by people skimming from violence-backed currencies and those who think they’ve missed the boat.

Those of us of a certain age have seen all these things enter the world. Things that were utterly without substance, existing only as ideas in disrespected and belittled minds.

So then, where are the utility, efficiency, and safety in “staying with what’s been proven” and ridiculing the new? Blown away is what they are. The voice of authority is the voice of paralysis and petrification.

Yes, some old things remain lovely, and some new things are stupid. But opposing things only because they are new… smothering them in fear and the implication that unauthorized things will be punished… “paralysis” and “petrification” are not overly strong terms.

Progress always begins from mere ideas… from unapproved ideas and usually from opposed ideas.

This is why I am committed to parallel societies, to decentralized economies, to a voluntaryist ethic and a civilization built around our abilities, not around our fears. I know that good ideas can become reality. I’ve seen it over and over. You have too.

Moreover, none of the things I believe in are entirely new. Humankind has had decentralized commerce many times. It has enjoyed voluntaryist ethics and healthy societies.

Our Model

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t beat the system,” or discouragements to that effect, for a long time, and it simply isn’t true. Yes, the system uses plenty of force and likes to make examples of people who threaten its legitimacy, but where are the great pharaohs? Where is “the Great” Alexander? And where, for that matter, are Napoleon and Mussolini and a hundred other “indomitable leaders.” They’re gone, along with their ruling juntas, their court intellectuals, and their acquiescent subjects.

So, you can beat the system. It may take time, but the system always crashes and burns. The only question is when.

And in our quest to build a voluntaryist civilization, we have one tremendous example: the proto-Christians and decentralized Christians of the first few centuries AD. And let me point out that this was a long time before what people think of as “the Church.”

Nor is this really about religion – it’s about people who believed in and were devoted to a better set of ideas. Ideas opposed by the greatest power ever seen on the planet: the great Roman Empire at its height.

But in the end, Rome crashed and the new ideas triumphed, wiping away the Roman model altogether.

Here’s how the great historian Will Durant described it:

There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.

There is no reason we can’t do the same thing. I don’t know how long it will take or how much turmoil we’ll have along the way, but I can tell you that building a decentralized world based upon the Golden Rule is very definitely possible. But we’ll need to work for it.

We can build a better future or we can “play it safe.” Which will you be more proud of when you’re old?

* * * * *

The novel that helped put the crypto revolution into high gear.

Comments from readers:

“Of the twenty five or so people I worked with last fall, all of them revered A Lodging of Wayfaring Men as a bible. They referred to the house and their community effort as a Lodge. We all felt it was modeled on the Free Souls.”

“Actually, I am somewhat at a loss as to how I might explain how I feel about this book other than to say what a great mind to write such an awesome story!”

“I’m an Old guy and find that Rosenberg has captured many Real-World truths in this novel. I wish the Millennial Generation would read this novel and consider the concepts and rationale presented here.”

Get it at Amazon or on Kindle.

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

The Discovery of Terra Nova by the Cypherpunks


Ten years ago the cypherpunks were almost entirely forgotten. But now – and quite shockingly to those of us who were involved – cypherpunks are cool again. More than that, the discoveries of the cypherpunks are starting to change the world in a serious way.

That being so, I’d like to briefly recap what the cypherpunks discovered, because what these people found was a new world… a “terra nova.”

Land Ho

Our new territory was created by a combination of the internet and encryption. The internet gave us unlimited community, and encryption became our “city walls,” allowing us to separate ourselves from the rest of the world.

The first cypherpunks, being clever lads, began using the internet and encryption because they were interesting and fun. Shortly, however, they realized that they were actually building a terra nova and were instantly confronted with a huge question: How should we arrange our new world? That cranked everything into high gear.

I didn’t know this passage from Tom Paine’s Common Sense (1776) at the time, but it captures the astonishing thought that sprang from the discovery of terra nova:

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

The First Crypto War

Not all was sweetness and light, however. Encryption was considered a munition, and exporting it was highly illegal. But it was easy to see that public key encryption (actually key exchange, published by Diffie and Hellman in 1976) was the perfect technology for the internet… and the internet was not limited to the USA.

So, a group of the clever lads hatched a plan in 1991: They’d write a nice little encryption program and send it around the world. An anti-nuke advocate named Philip Zimmerman drove the project but everyone involved wanted to avoid the jail sentence that would come from exporting their new program. They did have one trick available to them, however: the First Amendment.

So, they took the program, called Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, and printed it as a book. And since books are protected speech, they pushed copies of the book into envelopes and mailed them to friends in Europe. Once on the far side of the Atlantic, the books were keyed back into computers and turned back into a program… and then distributed everywhere.

Zimmerman very nearly went to jail (based upon an upload to a BBS system), but the world received strong encryption.

Encryption Plus Commerce = “Oh My…”

Once you begin exchanging encrypted messages with friends, one of the next ideas to cross your mind is, Gee, some kind of electronic currency would be really nice to go with this. (David Chaum, for example, began working on digital cash after he invented cryptographic mixes back in 1981.) And once you start imagining encrypted commerce, you quickly realize just how radical this technology can be.

One by one this thought dawned upon us all. I wasn’t among the very first to grasp it, but by the mid-1990s I was struck by it as well. In a continuing education course I conducted for Iowa State University, I wrote this:

Another huge thing in years ahead will be electronic cash for Internet commerce. Electronic cash can be transferred on-line instantly, inexpensively (almost free), and, if encrypted, privately. Think about this for a minute – it will change the world.

“The Universe Favors Encryption”

The awesome power of encryption is not something that is instantly grasped.

The quote above is from Julian Assange (also a cypherpunk), and it’s quite true. Encryption, after all, is merely applied math, and math is built into the structure of the universe.

Now, to illustrate just how strongly the universe favors encryption, please consider this:

It is roughly 2100 (2 to the 100th power) times harder to decrypt a message than it is to encrypt it (unless you have the key).

Engineers debate this number of course, but it’s clearly in that range.  Here it is precisely:


So, when people like Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin, talk about an arms race between cypherpunks and old-world power, don’t simply assume that the old way will win((You should also know that post-quantum encryption already exists and is being incorporated into leading edge systems.)).

Many Other Pieces

But while the cypherpunks dropped off the radar for a couple of decades, they still produced things like BitTorrent, The Onion Router network (aka Tor, or the darknet), I2P (an even better darknet), a variety of digital cash systems, privacy systems (including the first commercial VPNs), and even commercial tools like digital escrows and dispute resolution.

The big, new cypherpunk creations, however, everyone knows: WikiLeaks and Bitcoin. I’ve explained WikiLeaks before and we have a report on Bitcoin, so I’ll leave those aside for today. But suffice it to say that a cypherpunk world has been building for some time and may form much further in the years ahead.

Is That a Good Thing?

A Planet Cypherpunk would be a radically different place from our current Planet Status Quo, and that scares some people very badly.

That fear isn’t rational of course. The ancient world is very happily long gone. We live better and behave better. The rational choice, then, is to keep that progress going, and that necessarily includes change, including radical new adaptations.

Status quo systems, however, major on fear. That’s the secret ingredient that keeps their game together. And so “right-thinking” moderns have been trained to fear anything new. That’s not rational, but it makes people feel safe.

But rather than conducting a further discourse on why Planet Cypherpunk would be better than Planet Status Quo, I’ll simply leave you with the conclusion of one of the very first cypherpunk documents: Timothy C. May’s Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, published in November 1992:

Arise, you have nothing to lose but your barbed wire fences!

* * * * *

A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:

  • I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.
  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.
  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.
  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

Get it at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)


* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

What Julian Assange Is Really Doing


Most people know the what about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks – that they publish secret information – but they don’t know the why. And that’s a great loss, because the reason behind all the leaks is both brilliant and illuminating.

It Usually Starts with the Cypherpunks

The first thing to understand is that WikiLeaks, like Bitcoin, came from the cypherpunks. In particular, WikiLeaks was spawned by a cypherpunk group that formed (spontaneously) in Melbourne, Australia.

In other words, WikiLeaks is the creation of some smart guys who were inspired by Timothy C. May, Eric Hughes, Murray Rothbard, and a few others. Assange was part of this group and an intriguing thinker in his own right.

Assange explained what WikiLeaks would be doing, and why, back in 2006, and you can still find copies of that work here((I owe hat tips to Aaron Bady, who addressed this before I did, and to Joe Katzman, for turning me on to it.)). Given the worldwide recognition of WikiLeaks, it’s a little crazy that this is so little known and discussed, but I’ll do my part to change that condition.

The Core Ideas

Assange starts out by describing modern governance as conspiracy. He invokes Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”

Assange calls these conspirators “neocorporatists,” referring to the entire complex of legislators, bureaucrats, and the corporations who purchase laws from them.

He goes on to describe them as existing in elaborate networks, a theme that Jonathan Logan and I examined in The New Age of Intelligence and that was the subject of a landmark study in 2011 by Vitali, Glattfelder, and Battiston, entitled The Network of Global Corporate Control.

These networks – the real power behind the apparent power – are WikiLeaks’s actual targets, not the governments they may seem to be addressing. This is the first thing to understand about WikiLeaks.

What Assange wants to affect is communication inside these networks. This passage explains why fairly well:

[W]e see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite… the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power… these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers.

WikiLeaks was designed to hurt power that hides its intentions.

But merely unmasking those intentions is not the goal; Assange, brilliantly, goes after something deeper than that.

Preventing Obscured Power from Using Power

Assange writes:

Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others… [may] be a bridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy.

He goes on to say that such a network can be disrupted by “distorting or restricting the information available to it,” by “unstructured attacks on [its] links,” by dividing the network by cutting links. Then he adds this:

A conspiracy sufficiently engaged in this manner is no longer able to comprehend its environment and plan robust action.

This is Assange’s goal: He wants to stop the “conspiracy” from trusting itself.

The goal of WikiLeaks is to prevent a network of this type from communicating with itself.

So, when WikiLeaks publishes the Democratic National Committee’s dirty secrets (to pick just one example), it’s not trying to drive public outrage, as reasonable as that might be. Rather, it’s trying to make the conspirators distrust each other, and especially to distrust their communications, because if those links go, networked power goes with them.

And It Gets Even Better

I hope you can see how brilliant the WikiLeaks strategy really is. They’re not reacting after the events, as in exposing dirty laundry. They are acting in advance, disrupting their enemy’s ability to function in the future.

And here’s where it gets even better: A network of this type invariably reacts to leaks by closing itself tighter against untrusted links. And so, by closing itself off from intrusion, the network becomes less and less able to engage with anything outside itself. And the less it engages with things outside itself, the less it can enact power outside itself.

Once the obscure conduits of elite power become so paranoid that they can no longer conspire among themselves, WikiLeaks has won. As Assange writes:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie… in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit….

What Led to This?

As noted above, I find this a brilliant strategy. More than this will be required to bring our world out of its current barbaric age, but this is a fascinating and important part.

Before I close, I’d like to aquatint you with the mindset that produced this. And so, here is an edited passage from Assange’s book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet:

The new world of the internet longed for independence. But states and their friends moved to control our new world. They leached into the veins and arteries of our new societies, gobbling up every relationship expressed or communicated, every webpage read, every message sent and every thought googled, and then stored this knowledge, undreamed of power, in top secret warehouses, forever.

And then the state reflected what it had learned back into the physical world, to start wars, to target drones, to manipulate UN committees and trade deals, and to do favors for its vast network of industries, insiders and cronies.

If this isn’t the kind of world you want, I encourage you to get busy creating a better one. Watching and complaining will never give you what you want.

* * * * *

A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:

  • I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.

  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.

  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.

  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

Get it at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)


* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg