The Rise of Cryptocurrency Millionaires Is a Cultural Revolution

Posted by on January 31, 2018 10:30 am
Tags: , ,
Categories: revolution

By Felix Stephan

It started as a revolution, a cultural revolution: in the aftermath of soaring cryptocurrency market prices, it has almost been forgotten that Bitcoin started as a left-wing resistance movement.

Everybody is talking about the crypto boom of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is part of a resistance movement against monitoring and control.

In September 2015, for a short time, the Prague Castle was not flown over by the Czech national flag, but by a gigantic red pair of underpants. The Czech artists’ collective Ztohoven had removed the flag as a sign of protest against the then-prime minister Milos Zeman, cut it into 1,152 pieces, provided the pieces with Bitcoin codes and finally distributed these vouchers throughout the country.

At that time the Bitcoin price was just around 500 dollars, today a Bitcoin is worth about 11,000 dollars, a few weeks ago it was even much more. In this sense, Prague’s action in retrospect was perhaps the greatest act of wealth redistribution in art history.

The word “blockchain” alone makes cryptocurrency prices explode

The cryptocurrency market phenomenon of Bitcoin and the underlying technology, blockchain, are currently producing high-pitched news that would have been passed as a financial satire just a short while ago.

For example, when the dying New York ice tea company Long Island Iced Tea recently changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp., the share price exploded within minutes.

And when the American rapper 50 Cents recently remembered that he had once accepted Bitcoin as a means of payment for his album in 2014, he realized that his Bitcoin collection was now worth more than seven million dollars. The musician said he had completely forgotten about it.

A popular Bitcoin joke goes like this:

A boy wants a Bitcoin from his father for his birthday. The father answers, “What do you want with $12,000? Aren’t $14,000 a little too much for you? I don’t even have $16,000 myself.”

Bitcoin has long since replaced the own condominium as an object of remorseful retroactive investment: if I only would have back then, then I would have now and wouldn’t have to any longer…

Greedy financial elite

Even if it doesn’t seem that way these days: Bitcoin was launched in 2009 as an anti-authoritarian resistance technology aimed at combating the depletion of privacy, the abuse of power by a greedy financial elite that manipulated prices and overthrew control authorities, thus triggering the global financial crisis in 2007.

And because certain city dwellers are always available for new forms of anti-authoritarian rebellion, Bitcoin technology was used at an early stage. Some cities have have been admired time and again for the dedication with which cryptographic currencies are being considered.

Bitcoin is a digital, decentralized form of investment which, at least theoretically speaking, should give no participant the power to manipulate the system.

The technology is based on the same spirit that led to the creation of the encrypted browser network Tor, the now compromised transparency platform WikiLeaks and the so-called dark web — all technologies that oppose the global surveillance that the Internet brings with it, and to which most users have long become accustomed, but which makes things no less devastating.

The minds behind these technologies are all more or less directly related to the so-called Cypherpunk movement: Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Hal Finney, Nick Szabo.

Unknown inventor

The famous Cypherpunk Manifesto, published by the American mathematician Eric Hughes in the spring of 1993, states that “in an open society, privacy requires encryption. We cannot expect governments, corporations or other large, faceless organizations to give us privacy out of charity.” If you want privacy, you have to get it yourself, in the area of communication as well as money transfer.

That’s why it is so attractive on the symbolic level that the inventor of Bitcoin is still unknown: the programmer, who introduced the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to subscribers of a small special interest mailing list in January 2009, is still trading under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.

American pensioner

The status of the investigation into Nakamoto’s identity currently looks like this: in 2014, a journalist from the American magazine “Newsweek” presented a certain Dorian Nakamoto as the inventor of Bitcoin to the world public.

However, Dorian Nakamoto soon turned out to be a Japanese-American pensioner who worked with model railways in his spare time and had never heard of the term “Bitcoin”. He not only had the wrong name, he lived in the wrong neighborhood and clumsily answered journalists’ questions.

Shortly afterwards, an Australian businessman named Craig Wright informed various media that in reality he was Satoshi Nakamoto. The definitive proof, however, has remained unproven to this day. Nevertheless, Craig Wright has meanwhile gathered a loyal, evangelical followership around him who, despite all justified objections, hold him unswervingly for the Bitcoin prophet, and with this act made a nice fortune.

Deeply political

And then there is the thesis that Nakamoto is not a single person, but a Japanese-Korean joint venture of the technology companies SAmsung, TOSHIba, NAKAmichi and MOTOrola, for which there is no evidence other than wordplay.

The Cypherpunks see Nakamoto as one of their own, because the Bitcoin technology can be understood not least as a political instrument.

From the perspective of the Cypherpunks, our present day looks like a dystopian novel-setting by Philip K. Dick or William Gibson: governments and corporations are working together to build a global control and surveillance architecture that ignores fundamental civil rights and parliamentary control authorities and that penetrates the lives of its citizens and customers right into the bedrooms.

If you want to enforce fundamental civil rights, you need encryption and decentralization because you cannot rely on politics.

New distribution battle

It is the first socio-political debate that is truly global and plays no role in national borders because the nation only exists as a server location on the Internet. Two camps face each other here: the centralists are trying to monopolize sovereignty over the data and thus gain more political control than ever before in the history of mankind.

And the Cypherpunks and cryptoanarchists are fighting to ensure that the data does not belong to just a small elite, but to everyone, because nowadays, only those who have their data at their disposal are sovereign.

The traditional right-left schema has only limited effect in this cultural struggle: it is precisely centralistic data giants such as Google that stand up for the open, collaborative, hierarchy-free network.

Informational self-determination

And the Cypherpunk movement’s basic demand — the protection of privacy — is actually a deeply civil concern. This is what a federal government’s data protection commissioner would eventually go along with.

Or the thousands and thousands of citizens who blackened their house on Google Street View. Or for example Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, which has declared the right to informational self-determination an inalienable fundamental right.

Nevertheless, much of the anonymity on the Internet is often associated with crime first and foremost, which may also have to do with the fact that the first major practical application of the Bitcoin experiment was mail order Silk Road.

Civil fundamental right

Silk Road was a kind of Amazon for everything illegal, a site that could only be reached via the encrypted Tor browser and accepted only Bitcoin as a means of payment. The operator of the site has been in prison for a long time.

According to this story, the defenders of privacy were suddenly standing there as agents of organized crime, even though they were only demanding a fundamental civil right.

The fact that there is a problem of trust between the government and the public has been evident for some time now in some public transport system.

Anonymous on the escalator

Take Berln. Since August 2017 there have been surveillance cameras with facial recognition software at S├╝dkreuz railway station, which is why it now often looks as if Magritte’s painting Le Fils de l’Homme is on its way in the Berlin suburban railway: people of all ages and social classes keep their bags, hats and hands in front of their faces as they drive down the escalator to Edeka in the concourse.

Is the Bitcoin bubble bursting, or is it just a short intermittent depression?

This is another reason why it is now a wonderful triumph for hackers and cryptoanarchists that their civilian resistance technology casts a spell on the cryptcurrency markets, even if Bitcoin temporarily devaluates them as it does at the moment.

They have not only developed a new technology with which money can be transferred past states and banks, but also disprove an iron law of the Internet economy: up to now, economic success can only be achieved if you turn your customers’ data into money.

The success of Bitcoin and blockchain has now shown that even in the digital age one can become insanely rich by standing up for the self-determination of the users. This change is fundamental and its importance cannot be overestimated.

Golden times for Berlin

By the way, the international crypto scene is flooded with more money than it could have ever dreamed of: Satoshi Nakamoto is considered one of the fifty richest people in the world today. An anonymous American who calls himself a Pine and, according to his own account, owns 250 million dollars worth of Bitcoin has just donated 86 million dollars to charity.

And also in Berlin, home of the Chaos Computer Club, the hacker community c-base and the Bitcoin think tank Room 77, a lot of things got stuck.

And that is certainly good news too: when civil disobedience becomes an economic sector, the city budget is facing golden times.

translated from Die Welt