Bitcoin often faces various criticisms (regarding speculation, volatility, money laundering, terrorism, pollution, etc.). However, there is a vast body of data and analysis disproving these accusations point-by-point, which is readily available on the internet to anyone who bothers to research such criticisms or objections to Bitcoin.
So why do the same accusations keep coming back, regardless of these refutations that have been published for years? The intellectual laziness of certain detractors does not explain everything. Nor are the obvious biases of those whose power or economic model is threatened by the rise of cryptocurrencies.
There is a more fundamental, ideological reason.
In “The open society and its enemies(1945), the great philosopher Karl Popper recalls that civilization is the progressive recognition of a few great principles: equality of rights, freedom of opinion, intellectual pluralism, critical rationalism, property rights, individual responsibility, mutual tolerance, exchange and cooperation. The “open society” is the dynamic social order that frees the individual from inherited hierarchies.
But, according to Popper, this process of civilization is inherently fragile. Because it creates movement, uncertainty and complexity, it disrupts the comfort and security guaranteed by the traditional order. The place of each individual in the social hierarchy is no longer automatically guaranteed. The simplicity, certainties and permanence of tribal society are called into question. This process therefore feeds fear, virulent rejection, reactionary responses.
For those nostalgic for the “closed society”, too much freedom leads to chaos. The collective must take precedence over the individual, tradition over innovation. Letting the open society unfold is out of the question. We must restore submission to immutable traditions, to unquestionable beliefs, to fixed hierarchies, to a permanent status. They must impose the primacy of the community, of mutual surveillance, of social control.
Western political philosophy is, according to Popper, confronted with this opposition between open and closed society. In each era, the thinkers of the first must respond to the theoretical assaults of coercive holism, anti-individualism, tribal collectivism and the temptation of totalitarianism.
The Bitcoin debate is just another manifestation of this tension. Bitcoin is the currency of the open society. It bothers because it is a free currency. This is intolerable for skeptics of freedom.
The Bitcoin network is open to everyone. No one is forced to use it. Everyone can participate and leave at any time: no prior authorization, no discrimination, no censorship. Anyone can receive, store and transmit bitcoins.
Everyone can participate in securing the system, either by helping to validate transactions for free (by downloading the software and the database), or by participating in “mining” (by being paid to provide computing power to the network) . Everyone can also contribute to verifying, auditing or supplementing the protocol. The latter is open source: it can be consulted, copied, used freely and free of charge.
Bitcoin transactions are public messages, readable by everyone. The accounting register is also public (the famous “blockchain”). It is duplicated on tens of thousands of computers around the world, with none having more influence than the others.
Bitcoin’s monetary issuance regime is transparent, automatic, predictable, non-manipulable. Bitcoin is a headless, decentralized and open device. No one has power over this system. It has no chef or manager. It belongs to everyone and no one.
These characteristics form an exceptionally innovative whole, the direct antithesis of systems based on hierarchy, authority, legal monopoly, authorization, privilege, secrecy, centralism, control, arbitrariness, politicization, dirigisme, planning, coercion.
Bitcoin has all the qualities required to be used as currency: its token is homogeneous, divisible, portable, exchangeable, rare, expensive to produce. Its technology is scalable. Programmable, it adapts to the paradigm of the digital age. A complementary protocol (the Lightning Network) allows an unlimited number of micropayments without additional energy expenditure. Adoption of bitcoin is gradual. It is a currency in the making.
Should the social institution of money be imposed, piloted, manipulated? Captured by an oligarchy? Instrumentalized for political purposes? Mobilized to drive the economy and monitor privacy? Or should it be free, neutral, innovative, open (what will be the future “central bank digital currencies”)? do not to be)?
In the 1990s, free Linux software was called absurd and unrealistic because it was open to everyone, without intellectual property. It is ubiquitous today, even in the most closed computer systems like those of Microsoft. Open systems often arouse contempt and hostility, but they always end up winning because they are more flexible, more resilient and more innovative. Like the open society. Like open money.
This is a guest post by Yorick from Mombynes. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.