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3 Δεκ 2013 (πριν από 4 χρόνια και 7 μήνες)

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The Stream - Brazil's Freedom March &
Bitcoin Digital Currency (Starts @ 24m00s)
The above image is licensed under Creative Commons, and can be found
Hong Kong -
The term "hacktivism" has been grossly misconstrued by the media.
The image of masked saboteurs attacking from the darkness has romantic appeal but
this spectacular narrative of sabotage ultimately misinforms, other-ising hackers and
distorting hacking itself. Richard Stallman
defines hacking
as "exploring the limits of
what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness". Real hacktivism, then, is less about
denial of service attacks, which are acts of digital protest, than about the clever
creation or intervention of software forms for social change. It is less about sabotage
than about alternatives.
Hacktivism allows dissent to overcome the limitations of protest, actually
implementing alternatives and making them widely available without asking for
permission from the status quo. It gives wings to the possibility for gradual peaceful
revolution: alternatives no longer need to remain dreams, but can become real
options for real people.
Hacktivism often opens real spaces by "selling the idea" first to the machines, after
which people realise other ways are possible and allow themselves to think in new
ways. This is what the work of a programmer known as Satoshi Nakamoto did for
economics. In 2008 he coded a critique of the world's monetary system into a P2P
computer protocol he called
. Bitcoin started running on January 3, 2009, and
is now a working decentralised monetary system with thousands of users around the
The Bitcoin protocol is based on a fundamental critique of the world's monetary
system: that it demands undeserved amounts of trust from us. Nakamoto thought that
it would be better to place trust outside the monetary system itself and
back into
social life
The root problem with
conventional currency is all the
trust that's required to make it work.
The central bank must be trusted
not to debase the currency, but the
history of fiat currencies is full of
breaches of that trust. Banks must
be trusted to hold our money and
transfer it electronically, but they
lend it out in waves of credit
bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our
privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts. Their
massive overhead costs make micropayments impossible."
Through a clever use of encryption technology, the Bitcoin protocol enables this
move. In networked storage systems, Nakamoto explains, strong encryption
technology affords end users peace of mind because they no longer need to trust the
system admin with their privacy. He argues that if money could be similarly
encrypted, middlemen who provide trust (e.g. banks) could be bypassed:
"It's time we had the same thing [strong encryption] for money. With e-
currency based on cryptographic proof, without the need to trust a third
party middleman, money can be secure and transactions effortless. (…)
[Bitcoin] takes advantage of the nature of information being easy to
spread but hard to stifle. The result is a distributed system with no single
point of failure. Users hold the crypto keys to their own money and
transact directly with each other, with the help of the P2P network to
check for double spending."
The result is Bitcoin. It is not controlled by any state nor owned by any company;
neither is it a company in itself. It is merely an open source computer protocol that
runs over the internet.
Finite fiat, if I may
Strictly speaking, I would argue, Bitcoin is a fiat currency. The term "fiat" is Latin for
let it be done
: it designates systems where an entity (eg the Federal Reserve)
summons new money into existence by saying, in a god-like way, "let it be done". In
the case of Bitcoin new "coins" are brought into existence across the network by the
algorithms in the protocol.
No entity or individuals are entitled to new bitcoins on merits other than their standing
among the sum of active nodes in the network in terms of computing power. Of
course, anyone can also earn already-existing bitcoins through work, through the
exchange of goods and services, or (in the case of social organisations) through the
trust the public places on their ability to do good.
In short, bitcoins are created through a transparent and distributed process
determined by mathematics. Bitcoin is finite post-Westphalian fiat, a monetary system
where currency is indeed created, but through an algorithm driven by the logic of the
network of distributed - rather than concentrated - power.
Bitcoin does a better job than central entities (like the Fed) at creating new money
because it does so in a decentralised way and
without the need to create debt
; it
does a better job at storage than banks because it does so for free; and it does a
better job at transfer than SWIFT because it is faster, cheaper, available to anyone,
and not subjected to the control of Western powers: SWIFT's ability to blockade
Iranian banking transactions shows the ultimately unilateral nature of global financial
What we have here is radically different from the current system where money
creation is based on debt, politically motivated, surrounded by secrecy, inflationary,
unilateralist, colonialist, and exploitative of powerless nations, etc. The flaws in the
design of modern currency are at the roots of the social and ecological disasters we
face today. Alternative currencies in general hold the promise of a way out, and the
emergence of a
vibrant Bitcoin economy
in particular is one of the most interesting
developments in recent times.
Money not owed
Bitcoin, I think, is revolutionary especially because it distributes the creation of
money. The current system, based on national and personal debt, insidiously
concedes obscene yet hard to object power to rich nations and global banks. Debt-
based money not only provides exorbitant privileges to powerful nations and
threatens collapse in Europe and the US under its own absurdity; it also deforms the
nature of human sociality.
The disastrous social consequences of placing debt at the root of the creation of
money cannot be overstated. A society whose currency is backed by debt (aka the
modern world) is a society where freedom is just a word because the reality of
everyday life, even for the middle classes of so-called rich countries, tends toward
sublimated forms of slavery or debt peonage. An economy built on debt-based
currency can only "grow", the 2008 economic collapse showed us, by putting more
people deeper into debt. Inevitably, this leads to a society where the many always
owe more and more to the few, eventually making democracy a farce. Bankers, as
Robert Fisk
puts it
, are the dictators of the West.
The whole world's "formal" economy is backed by debt, and debt is backed by
violence. This can be verified by defaulting, and subsequently resisting eviction:
state force will be used sooner rather than later. Anthropologist David Graeber, one
of the most prominent scholars in the Occupy Wall Street movement, articulates in his
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
, how debt embeds our culture and our very selves
into an inhuman, unsustainable, condition of iniquity:
"…by turning human sociality itself into debts, they transform the very
foundations of our being since what else are we, ultimately, except the
sum of the relations we have with others into matters of fault, sin, and
crime, and making the world into a place of iniquity that can only be
overcome by completing some great cosmic transaction that will
annihilate everything."
The P2P money creation system that Bitcoin proposes is truly something else as it
deflates the dark power of debt-based money in society; it allows envisioning a world
where the wheels of debt are no longer at the origin of economic activity. This does
not mean that Bitcoin is necessarily the final and perfect answer to our needs, but it is
an important step in demonstrating that it
be done.
Ten years
It has already been over three years since the Bitcoin protocol started running, and
yet these are still the very early days. What Nakamoto created is really just an open
and autonomous backbone for global finance. Several layers of complementary
technologies and services will need to be developed around this backbone before
Bitcoin can aspire to really become an operational global currency for the 21st
Cleverly, he devised a system in a way that planted the incentive to take over this
extremely complex task in individuals likely to have intimate knowledge of
technology and an understanding of the nature of networked sociality.
The first miners joined the network out of intellectual curiosity when it was nothing
more than an experiment posted to an obscure cryptography forum. Bitcoins were
easy to mine in the beginning, and as the network grew they gained real value.
Suddenly many realised they had run into small fortunes, that they could potentially
become larger fortunes if Bitcoin succeeded, and that it was really up to them to
make it happen. They understood that their success depends on making Bitcoin
useful, safe and easy for the largest possible amount of people.
Bitcoin entrepreneurs have already developed an impressive, if experimental and
imperfect, ecology of operational support infrastructures. Available services include
exchange, escrow, arbitrage, transfer, storage, consulting, investment, auction,
payment, mobile support, etc.
A lot of things
can already be paid for using Bitcoin.
These services are autonomous initiatives, driven by no authority other than that
which emanates from the needs of Bitcoin users and the nature of the Bitcoin
It takes ten years to get a disruptive technology from inception to
becoming so easy to use that it reaches mainline adoption.
- Rick Falkvinge, Swedish Pirate Party
On a larger scale, Bitcoin's neutrality also gives it the potential to be a good national
reserve currency as well as a low-friction medium for international trade.
Governments, especially in "poor countries", could start their own Bitcoin mining
operations and make Bitcoin an acceptable means of tax payment: a Bitcoin reserves
strategy could shield vulnerable economies from global currency cycles and provide
increased autonomy from foreign powers.
If Bitcoin is to become a widely used everyday currency, it will not happen overnight.
Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, believes that it will take Bitcoin
eight more years
to reach the level of usability required for wide adoption:
"I predict that Bitcoin will reach usability sometime around 2019. I base
that prediction on earlier disruption technologies, where blogging started
appearing in 1994 and reached mainstream adoption in 2004; file sharing
started in 1989 over the net and Napster hit in 1999. You had streaming
video 1995, mainly porn sites streaming animated gifs, what was then tip
of the spear technology; Youtube was founded 2005 and just swept the
floor with everyone else just because they were usable. This is not
something bad; it is just an observation that it takes ten years to get a
disruptive technology from inception to becoming so easy to use that it
reaches mainline adoption."
When it comes to money, people are understandably reluctant towards
experimentation. Either it works, meaning it provides clear advantages, or it doesn't.
No part of the Bitcoin economy will last unless it is objectively a better deal for the
end user than the flawed-but-known ways of today. In this sense Bitcoin is perhaps
one of the hacktivist revolution's greatest tests: can the network itself actually handle
the globe's finance? Can it really deliver better money for this incredibly complex
world? It could very well be that it actually will. It seems to be advancing in that
direction, slowly, step by step.
Nicolás Mendoza is a scholar, artist and researcher in global media from The
University of Melbourne and a member of the
P2P Foundation
. His recent work
can be found
Follow him on Twitter:
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily
reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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