A reveal on how Bitcoin is positioned to play a central role in the imminent battle between an emergent & inclusive future vs. the entrenched & extractive world order.

The eons of central authority

Appeal to, adherence to, servitude to hierarchical authority structures is in humanity's very nature; and it's not merely a social construct. Disparate lineages of life have evolutionarily converged on dominance hierarchy as a primary key to the survival of social organisms. It's written in the DNA of social insects and mammals alike. Wild ants, elephants, dolphins, lions, and wolves strongly obey it. Humans have wielded artificial selection to mercilessly exploit such submissive tendencies in our domestication of bees, cows, pigs, sheep, horses, etc. Evolution has programmed the adherence to authority into the DNA of apes; and like it or not, every healthy cell in your body runs this same code and submits to dominance hierarchy. Why is this the case? When convergent evolution occurs, it's usually indicative that the point of convergence is a superior, elegant, efficient, and relatively simple tool of great utility that solves a difficult adaptation problem: the flagellum, the lung, the eye, the wing...

source: Tobias Collier

All sufficiently complex macroscopic lifeforms have converged on the brain as the hierarchical, central authority structure that governs their bodies. Physically and ideologically, the pyramid is representative of such a hierarchical structure: simple, stable, practical, powerful. It's not an accident that Egypt's Great Pyramids have survived 5000+ years. They remain perhaps the most magnificent testament to the power of hierarchical organizations ever constructed. Their sheer magnitudes attest to the awesome power of central authority structures. What other human organization besides the almighty pyramid of authority could accomplish the grand undertaking of the Pharaoh's pyramids?

Physically, a pyramid is the most stable above ground structure conceivable; conceptually and organizationally, a hierarchical pyramid is the most efficient, ordered, intuitive, scalable structure under which to organize groups of individuals, make high-level decision, incentivize cooperation, enforce order, and get shit done. Naturally, all human societies, from tribal to global, are firmly rooted in the hierarchical pyramid of authority ideology. Hierarchical, tiered organizational structures are so fundamental to virtually all social constructs that it was extremely difficult to even imagine any viable alternative before the emergence of peer-to-peer (p2p) networks.

The epoch of p2p

Then in the 1970s, the p2p model was conceived and utilized to great effect by protocols, which in large part still form the underpinnings of the Internet: USENET (retired), SMTP (email), FTP (file transfer), and of course TCP/IP (world wide web). From the 1990s onward, after the PC revolution, other p2p protocols such as Napster, BitTorrent, and Tor continued to weaken the strangle-hold that centralized authority had on the world.

There's no doubt that the p2p model certainly had great impact on deeply entrenched societal organizations, industries, governance, and politics. Yet the duplicitous and unbounded reproducible nature of the information transferred on these early p2p networks did not allow for much more than sharing economies. Normal information is trivially editable, copyable, transferable, and deleteable, and as useful as these properties can be in other circumstances, together they make normal information useless for storing, securing, and transacting any intrinsic measure of money, trust, value, or wealth.

The dawn of Bitcoin

Then in 2009, Bitcoin (BTC) was born. By successfully imposing relative scarcity, immutability, discreetness, and ownership onto otherwise normal data via cryptography and the blockchain, the Bitcoin protocol allowed for the creation and transaction of intrinsic value through p2p networks. Said another way: Bitcoin was the first scalable, decentralized consensus network. The protocol was designed from the ground up to be a decentralized consensus network, with no central point of failure, that's resistant to attacks meant to manipulate or takeover the network. It accomplished its attack resistance by incentivizing decentralization across its multiple levels of deployment: developers, full nodes, miners, and users. There is certainly room to improve on increasing decentralization incentivization, particularly at the full node and user levels, but as yet there's not been a known attack that's succeeded in hijacking the consensus mechanisms, at any level of the network. And as the developers continually improve the protocol to defend against the onslaught of attacks directed at every aspect of the network, Bitcoin becomes ever more anti-fragile.

Early nodes in the Lightning Network

Now the cat's outta the bag, there's no putting it back in. Already thousands of upstarts have forked or cloned the breakthrough technology at the heart of Bitcoin. Even if Bitcoin fails, one of its successors is sure to succeed, because of the tremendous utility of a decentralized, digital currency.

Historical case studies of decentralization vs. centralization

In a previous article, I discussed in detail a number of relevant, historical case studies of competition and conflict between the two rival organizational structures: decentralized vs. centralized. Consider reading it first, as much of the following is based on the conclusions drawn there.

Master and slave

Since the dawn of civilization, the relationship between the governing and governed has been one of master and slave. Master and slave relationships are the de facto global standard of governance relationships between first and third world nations, between nation states and their citizens, between banks and their customers, between employers and the employed... Perhaps you think this is hyperbole? Think again:

But first world citizens, despite being robbed as a matter of course by their banks and governments, are the lucky ones. The majority of global populations in the third world are systematically excluded from joining the ranks of the first world, so that they may be routinely exploited and stripped bare of all manner of internal resources: material, energy, human...

source: ClassicStock / Masterfile

The long, and ongoing, history of global decolonization amply demonstrates that it's exceedingly rare for the master to willingly free his slaves without resorting to violence and war. Unfortunately, owing to the propensity of nation states towards violent conflict, there will almost certainly be a violent war for global supremacy, brought on by emerging decentralized organizations. However, as discussed in the prior case studies, if a decentralized organization can succeed in defending against attacks from centralized rivals, it often triumphs over them.

The battle for global dominance

When nation states are involved in power struggles, there is high potential for violent conflict. Usually, developed nation states prefer to exercise their monopoly on violence via their national and global fiat currency systems, in order to abstract away their violent acts; although, they are certainly not adverse to good old fashioned open warfare either. Traditional warfare is much uglier, messier, unsavory, and condemning than more subtle, palatable acts of economic warfare designed specifically to keep a nation's citizenry impoverished and enslaved. The weapons of economic warfare are debt, inflation, interest, forfeiture, regulation, legislation, sanctions, trade agreements, embargoes, etc. Bitcoin stands up in direct defiance of the most powerful nation states and their financial institutions because it promises to undermine their most powerful and subtle weapons of oppression.

The decentralized and p2p structure of the Bitcoin network eliminates vulnerable, central points of failure, leaving the usual pressure points typically targeted to exert control over unavailable to traditional authorities such as banks, regulators, law-makers, law enforcement, and government bodies. Increasingly, these authorities are waking up to the threat that Bitcoin poses to their bloated, corrupt, ubiquitous monopoly of control over every person born on planet Earth. They are drunk on the blood of the oppressed, but are quickly rising from their debaucherous stupors to realize their control is slowly being eroded away. Soon their disbelief will turn to anger and they will rally their armies to fight the would-be usurper for global dominance. Already the battle lines are being drawn up and the first shots fired: US senate bill S.1241 seeks to criminalize ownership of concealed BTC, China cracks down on BTC exchanges and mining, Australian banks freeze accounts associated with purchasing of BTC...

Any central points of failure present in the Bitcoin ecosystem are sure to be the first casualties: the most centralized and influential exchanges, mining operations, developers, and users. But once the central points of failure are purged from the network, and the privacy and anonymity of the network has been necessarily hardened, who will the authorities attack then? Unfortunately, as the Soviet Union's Gulag and America's War on Terror has shown, there needn't be any real definition of the enemy for the slaughter to continue: the enemy is whoever the authorities say the enemy is. Totalitarian superpowers must collapse from the inside out; and collapse they will.

Inclusive vs. extractive institutions

In their book, Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson build a compelling case that the most important factor—above geography, climate, culture, religion, etc.—in determining the prosperity, stability, and longevity of a nation is its inclusive vs. extractive nature. Inclusive institutions include their citizenry in the affairs of the nation, e.g. processes of governance, politics, justice, economics, productivity, etc. When an inclusive nation prospers, so too does its citizens. Thus, inclusive nations incentivize innovation, production, economic growth, and happiness, because their citizens are empowered to directly benefit from their inventions, efficiencies, hard work, etc.

In contrast, the aim of extractive institutions is to siphon off wealth from the citizenry to enrich the nation's elites. Citizens of an extractive nation are incentivized to decreased levels of production, economic growth, happiness etc. as they are not able to enjoy the fruits of their labors, because a disproportionate amount of their wealth is extracted from them. In addition, innovation is purposefully squelched by the elites, because they fear any disruption to their absolute control.

Which type of nation do you live in? Which do you want to live in?

Bitcoin: the great equalizer?

All the nations of the world must now choose how they'll respond to the inception of global, decentralized consensus networks, such as Bitcoin. Will they seek to crush any challengers to their authority, or will they decide to embrace the emergence of an inclusive new world order? The reactions of nations will likely come to bear on their own future viability, prosperity, stability, and longevity.

Bitcoin offers everyone, but particularly the world's poorest, a tremendous opportunity to make a great leap-frog forward into the global marketplace, by altogether bypassing the restrictive and oppressive state backed banking systems. In the developed world, Bitcoin adoption seems to be largely driven (at least so far) by speculation and hype; however, in the developing world, where the majority of people have no access to banking and existing financial systems are extremely corrupt and manipulated, Bitcoin adoption is primarily driven by necessity. As a result, use of Bitcoin in the third world is skyrocketing. Here are just a few relevant news stories over the past couple months:

Meanwhile, the United States Government (FBI) has so far capitulated to selling off more than 120,000BTC, seized from deep-web illegal marketplaces such as Silk Road, for a paltry $245.3M.

For the first time in human history, Bitcoin offers a real alternative to our ubiquitous structures of central authority. Evolution has imprinted much servitude in our nature, but ironically its also given us brains capable of exerting free will. We must now each make a choice: will we continue to bow to our masters and blindly trust our fates to their feigned beneficence, or will we stand tall in our new-found financial independence and face our oppressors eye to eye?

Featured image from Freddie Collins on Unsplash

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@landonmutch — traveling, trailer-dwelling, software developer, writer, geologist, autodidact, traditional hacker, subversive, Bitcoin maximalist, contributor to Lightning Network protocol.

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