oli on Wed, 28 Feb 2018 21:10:04 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Josh Hall: Blockchain could reshape our world – and the far right is one step ahead (Guardian)

Alice Weidel is not listed on the site of the event. Nevertheless, she
was a trader or broker for some hedge fund or so, afair. Her 'expertise'
lies in finance, therefore the guardian article's claim is not totally
out of the blue. Since I am located in Hamburg, I will follow the news
on the event.

On a more general note around blockchains: I guess we all agree that
talking about "the internet" is not very informative, I hope we will
soon establish the same consensus on the topic of blockchains. There are
massive R&D efforts on the way, money flows in on a large scale and I
think it is okay to say that blockchains, open or closed, decentralized
or centralized, will help to further tighten the machine control
paradigm around our societies.

I recently made an effort to speculate a bit about the relation of
private property and the trajectories of blockchains, published on the
moneylab blog


The Blockchain as a Modulator of Existence

By: Oliver Leistert

The advent of the blockchain as a protocological internet layer for
values corresponds to a continuing monetization pressure and ongoing
expansion of identification strategies. Notwithstanding these
trajectories, behind this prospected killer application resides first of
all a sovereign chronological regime that has the capacities to proof
and modulate the existence, identity and administration of data, assets,
goods and services from a distance on micrological scales.

    “As far as agency is concerned, the law holds that things and media
are strictly passive.” Cornelia Vismann

Without doubt, one of the most common and important techniques since the
advent of massified networked computing has been the basic computational
operation to copy and paste. To copy the contents of an address space to
another in (networked) computers seems to be the one fundamental
operation a networked society is relying on – on the operational level
of computing itself and on the individual and societal level of swapping
clusters of large files. In the digital realm, scarcity up until today
proved too counter-intuitive and technically non-viable or too expensive
to implement on a general scope. This became manifest in fundamental
attacks endemic and systemic to digital cultures on property regimes,
whose operationability had formerly been intrinsically secured by the
simple fact that consumers did not have the means to copy goods as they
wished. If there is one single capturing method that blockchain
technologies are aiming at it is to limit ubiquitous copy and paste in a
broad sense, to migrate from copy&paste to cut&paste (if at all), to
insert a digital proof of identity for data that may then be linked with
appliances and other machines such as media player or access control via
interfaces. “The business of embedding artificial scarcity into the
digital asset is aligned with what appears to be an inevitable and
continued enclosure of the mythos of online commons within colonial
apparatus.”i The introduction of a time stamped proof of existence in a
presumably tamper-proof distributed ledger yields the late introduction
of scarcity on the protocol level, almost fifty years after the
introduction of TCP/IP.

In the blockchain era, prospected to be in full bloom in ten years,
goods and services – physical or digital, manual or automated – are
bound to a time stamp in the blockchain that is cryptographically
secured. This time stamp marks the beginning of what might be called the
post-digital, signified at its most basic function by remote,
blockchain-based controls of existence. Property regimes in a very
general sense then may be executed automatically by machines through
permissionless (open access), distributed, or permissioned, centralized

This text describes the very real possibility of this new kind of
sovereignty – the sovereignty of the post-digital that modulates
ownership and use of its commodities new from scratch, and as an
extension and update of the bourgeois operating system, designed by the
vectorialist class.ii At its most radical trajectory, control shifts
from external, non-digital, human-centered legal and administrative
procedures, such as contracts, to internal, machine centered and
executable qualities of the commodities, goods and services themselves.
Test cases and applications are already deployed in a variety of fields.
Even if they fail in their first testing phases, the stakes are too high
for fine grained monetization schemes and profits on new frontiers to
emerge to not continue intensive R&D.

‘Smart’ ≈ blind, ‘Contract’ ≈ Code

The originality and limitation by design of blockchain-based distributed
databases is their append-only regime. All past elements are read-only
and only the current block is a write operation. And furthermore, since
the chain is secured in backward direction via hashes, its complete
verification (or falsification) is viable at any time by any node.

Hashes are mappings of data objects, usually large, most-certainly
unique hexadecimal numbers. Hashes themselves do not expose anything
about the object (such as the block a hash refers to) except a one-way
identification. By reproducing the hash with access to the hashed
object, and checking it against the time-stamped hash in the blockchain,
a proof of existence and identity is established that easily scales up
to large numbers of objects. This is the basic mechanism referred to as
‘proof of existence’ in the blockchain idiom. It can be applied to all
sorts of data, objects or processes. Blocks may contain hashes of a set
of object, or of other blockchain’s blocks. Otherwise said, the blocks
contain registries of identification anchors for anything computable.

One way to unleash the automation powers of blockchains are so called
‘smart contracts’: code that runs ‘on top’ (more precisely: in
specialized virtual machines) of a blockchain to govern the execution of
conditions with sovereign access to assets and values registered in the
chain. The idea to execute the terms of a contract with a transaction
protocol dates back to 1994, when Nick Szabo, a prominent figure in the
crypto-libertarian community, wrote down a first conceptual paper by the
same name, where he foresaw a reality that currently starts to unfold:
“Smart contracts will replace, and even protect against, lawyers,
politicians, and violent enforcement in many business and social
interactions. They will also be used to design lucrative new free-market

The Ethereum network, dubbed to be the first “world computer” by its
inceptor Vitalik Buterin in late 2013, was the first manifestation of a
technology that enabled to combine the time-stamping regime of secured
hashes with a Turing-complete programming language on a distributed
computing platformiv and has since attracted billions of funding for
projects running on its chain. The overwhelming majority is itself
issuing tokens that can be traded and it is most often exploited as
funding mechanism for a start-ups. Up until today, the Ethereum ‘world
computer’ remains “[t]otally unregulated and experimental in the
extreme, Ethereum represents the true pirate utopia, equivalent to those
of the corsair enclaves of the 16th century.”v

Land registries, real estate or royalty payments are typical playgrounds
for Ethereum based take overs of markets that rely on middle-men
authorities. Such attacks on established control instances are basically
proxying identification processes with cryptographically secured trust
automatically. Smart contracts may be rather simple, such as
Non-Disclosure Agreements, but may also gain opaque complexity and
rather obfuscated accountability since one may be nested into another,
resulting in autonomous machines governing automated trades or act
themselves as trading platforms, such as EtherDelta.vi They are
exceptionally well fitting for all kinds of notary tasks that mainly
relied on the authority and agency to calculate and less on semantical
skills of an agent. Smart contracts rationalize administrative tasks and
by way of their immutable powers of execution one may agree that they
are less prone to corruption or dysfunctional human-centered
administrative structures. But this argument remains flawed, since
software and coding itself rests an a myriad of decisions, implicit
assumptions and error prone coding by their producers. The neutrality of
code is a well maintained myth. Code thus functions discursively as a
prolongation of instrumental reason, false objectivity and obfuscation
of power relations,vii a fueling mechanism for the (ir)rationality that
is driving capital expansion ever since.viii All the more this is true
for blockchain technologies, as Adam Greenfield, among many others,
points out: “in its design, important questions about human interaction,
collaboration and conviviality are being legislated at the level of
technological infrastructure.”ix

Smart contracts offer intriguing games with time regimes. Since the
execution of a smart contract is guaranteed (or better said: immanent to
its existence), the possible futures after the contract becomes a
calculable, hedged present and thus executable itself, paving the way
for a new contract working on the present future captured. Smart
contracts, in other words, naturally trigger more smart contracts by
setting in the present executable loops from a captured future, juggling
with different time loops that again may have executable passages into
new foldings. Of course, this is nothing new per se, since derivatives,
futures, bonds or securities all gain their powers from the manipulation
and foldings of time or, otherwise said, from an antagonistic relation
towards the real and its state at some point in time.x But if smart
contracts “render decisions in the present on situations that were
conceptualized at some arbitrary point in the past”xi without any
interference interfaces to update or correct them according to the
present real, then smart contract run the risk of becoming agnostic,
detached from the chaotic unfolding of this real and thus brutal,
unstoppable executioners of value passages. Perceptionless but
actionful, they are having considerable impact on this unknown real, and
as such they are gaining massive ontological powers, or ontopowers, to
lend a term from Brian Massumi.xii

Then again, whatever the “Nerd Reich”xiii may develop into, there are
powerful organizations and administrations in the way of its full,
frictionless bloom. Ethereum as “a Bretton Woods for our time” (ibid.)
might never become true in this totalitarian sense.

Beyond these speculations on the coming right-wing libertarian
antisocial technologist insurrection, already today exit vast
differences between the complex social practices that are part of
contracting practices and the antisocial form proposed by smart
contracts. Contracts are – broadly said – social resources to manage
relations among people and not technical artifacts. Karen Levy reminds
us that “contractual obligations are enforced through all kinds of
social mechanisms other than the legal system proper; concomitantly,
contracts serve many functions that are not explicitly legal in nature,
or even designed to be formally enforced.”xiv Considering the many
aspects of common contracts that are (up until today) non-intelligible
to and (by design) excluded from smart contracts, one may question if
smart contracts do really “allow us to construct contracts that mimic
other contracts”xv – this mimicry has at least a profound bias.

On the other hand, the term smart contract itself maybe should not be
taken too literal, neither ‘smart’ nor ‘contract’. The novelty of this
automatically effectuated code in the realms of values might overall
still lack a conceptually full determination. Being “book smart”, as
Levy sees them, points towards a genealogy of book keeping, not
contractual law. Nonetheless, there are kinships to be excavated.
Cornelia Vismann in her genealogical discussion of the operational
status of files for the legal apparatus states that “[t]he inquiry into
the origin of the law leads […] to administrative record keeping”xvi.
And files became the self processing medium that automated order up to
guiding their own performance through users, “instructing users where
they should be brought next literally get files on their way.”xvii The
sovereignty of media starts in administration, is her argument.

But administrative book keeping does not nearly cover the complexities
that smart contracts can handle. Since computational powers and
distributed data processing are native to smart contracts, their
alliance is much more with databased targeting and discrimination. What
Louis Amoore described as data derivativesxviii– risk trades by
inferences about who we might be, derived from of all kinds of data –
becomes in conjunction with smart contracts an automated fully data
driven speculation machine with access to wealth and values.

The attack vector of smart contrasts on the established legal and
economic practices through their utterly antisocial design and human-
and institutional-decentric trajectories is a weapon and a vehicle for
the vectorialist class to tap wealth and assets directly, bypassing
stock markets or banks, since “[t]heir power lies in monopolizing
intellectual property—patents, copyrights and trademarks—and the means
of reproducing their value—the vectors of communication. The
privatization of information becomes the dominant, rather than a
subsidiary, aspect of commodified life”xix. Smart contracts are a
solution to automate this hyper-commodification process and
redistribution of wealth into new class subformations. It is the market
and private property that are targeted and effectuated at once. This
comes with a fine but important difference to the stratified system.
“Lex Cryptographia”xx – as this emerging regime might be dubbed – are
“almost always those of capital, of property. From financial
restrictions, through shares and deeds, into contracts and ‘intellectual
property’. But this law is set free from its bourgeois state shackles –
and checks and balances.”xxi

What is more, by way of smart contracts and proofs of existence laid
down in blockchains, the gap between symbolic orders and the real
diminishes further and opens up the possibility of automated governance
of physical spaces and things, too. Smart contracts as codified truth
work “flush with the real”, to take up a seminal notion by Bruno
Bosteels in the context of his discussion of a-signifying semiotics
proposed by Félix Guattari.xxii

Micro-administration of goods and services from a distance as an
upcoming control paradigm

As long as smart contracts operate in the realm of cryptographic tokens
alone, their grip on everyday life remains negligible. Automated,
distributed DIY betting machines on the performance of cryptocurrencies,
futures or stock trades might shake the financial markets one day – but
not yet. And there are powerful regulating bodies guarding the
interfaces between the two spheres.

The picture changes significantly once the links towards physical
objects, especially those that provide access or modulate it, are taken
into consideration. And this is not too far fledged since the
distribution of items deemed to belong to the so-called Internet of
Things, or more generally the installation of networking capacities into
everyday objects, is in full swing and might become the new normal for
large parts of the urban classes and their management of social
relations. Nick Szabo called this ‘smart property’, which “might be
created by embedding smart contracts in physical objects”.xxiii The
smart phone as the general access device has been integrated into all
prospected customers’ agency already. From renting bikes to paying lunch
– cash is on the retreat and we are in a kind of testing phase about
which financial protocol to implement for our most mundane commercial

Blockchains answer to a problem that transforms all individual
addressability from the ground, or better, they for the first time
unfold it to the level of a permanent management of control. For a
better understanding of this emerging order of things, it suffices to
take into consideration the historical unfolding of the current property
regime, which needed to be flanked by moral modulating laws in order to
gain full traction when for the first time the distribution of wealth
became too uneven and too visible to be left to its own devices.

It is the invention of the liberal society and its securing mechanisms
by a whole new set of laws that Michel Foucault, in his 1972-73 lectures
on the punitive society, analyzed in terms of a bourgeois morality as a
modulation of laws in the fields of ownership and property. He
identified a betrayal at work, as property owners, once they had
established their property regimes through theft (such as the theft of
the commons and their transformation into private property),
appropriated theft itself as a class dividing element in their penalty
system. Thus, he brings together this bourgeois betrayal on the
possibility of theft as a method to govern the labor force that owned
nothing but their labor time. “It seems to me that until the end of the
eighteenth century a certain lower-class illegalism [illégalisme
populaire, OL] was not only compatible with, but useful to the
development of the bourgeois economy; a point arrived when this
illegalism functionally enmeshed in the development of the economy,
became incompatible with it.”xxiv These illégalismes populaires included
practices of stealing from the feudal classes and were in alliance with
the bourgeois revolution. But once the revolution was over, they posed a
threat to the bourgeois society itself, resulting in moral modulating
laws instantiated thoroughly and exclusively against the have-nots. This
resembles to large degrees the digitalization efforts and establishment
of networking capacities for the masses in these last decades, since
they were strongly supported by all kinds of “media piracy”-practices on
a large scale and effectively establishing a new way to distribute
cultural goods mainly for the working poor.xxv

Foucault describes the ‘hack’ that allowed the new bourgeois regime to
install its new class divisional penalty system: “Thus, if the Code does
not allow itself to punish in the name of the moral law, it provides for
the possibility of punishing according to morality, which is thus a
moral modulation of the law.“xxvi Today, the triad property, betrayal
and theft extends its problematic beyond the then only physical
distribution of goods into an area that until recently kept the quality
of ownership and use in a permanent state of artificiality. The digital
realm requires a quasi counter-intuitive mental operation of insight
into the problem of theft, because the question of ownership and use
here decouples itself from the concrete good. A digital good, whose
exemplary identity is not related to production or consumption,
challenges any moral modulating law system, which differentiates its own
operations of betrayal positively, as Foucault remarked, by modulating
theft negatively. The relation between an excess of goods here and their
lack somewhere else had up until now found its most pressing problematic
in the digital realm, where the political concept of scarcity remained
mostly unknown: whereas rights violations have been a catalyst for the
dissemination of the internet within large parts of the populations by
way of illegal downloading, and as such has been a welcomed aspect in
the establishment of a networked society, in the long run they are too
problematic and care intensive for the current order of property and
ownership. Digital goods lack exemplary identity and thus digital stolen
goods require a different set of identity operations, otherwise they are
not stolen, because stealing conceptually includes a loss somewhere
else. Digital commodities in data formats might thus be called
ontologically queer, neither here nor there, but dissolved in
distribution. As such, they are damaged commodities, but not compromised
as a product. Until now, the anonymous mass practice of unlawful
(re-)distribution of digital goods profited from the fact that digital
products are non-identifiable. The non-identity of the commodity as a
produced single item and its unlimited distribution did not match the
criteria established prior for the physical commodity.

The blockchain reworks these mismatches on the level of the condition of
the commodity itself. Digital artifacts that have been made
discriminable and identifiable by a cryptographic time-stamp of
existence in a blockchain re-adjust the bourgeois order of betrayal and
theft in favour of the bourgeois betrayal. By discriminating formerly
non-discriminable data, a registration of digital objects is introduced
that at the same establishes a new regime of control. With the
introduction of the concept of digital existence a new parametric
modulation of its ontological status has become operative. For instance,
in this set up stolen digital goods would loose their functionality
since their legal status is negative.

Within this trajectory, the use or consumption of a commodity is bound
to conditions that do not have to be defined outside of the commodity,
in a contract stating the acquisition and with it, the rights to use it,
but they move, so to say, into the interior of a commodity through
control over its functionality. The blockchain is the trusted ledger
from which the conditions of use are defined and unlocked. With its
object orientation, the blockchain can lock a stolen good from distance
and render it (data) trash. ‘Smart’ in this context signifies an
encroachment of exterior control beyond the acquisition of the commodity
– into the time of its use. This resonates with the so called ‘sharing
economy’, which is aiming at a commodification regime of use values.

Such an ‘acquisition until revocation’ or ‘acquisition under limited
conditions’ establishes an operational extension of the initial
bourgeois betrayal on property, as described by Foucault, into the time
of consumption and eliminates the possibility of theft by non-legally
acquiring parties.

It is this basic operation of use control that renders (digital) objects
insusceptible to theft and illegal uses. By way of a historical
entanglement of two fundamental axioms of the bourgeois order –
negatively the impossibility to distinguish instances of digital objects
and positively the masking of their historicity through the commodity
form – that the question of ownership ‘retreats’ into the object itself
via its hashed anchors in the blockchain and overwrites its ontological
status. Blockchain technologies transfer proof of ownership and rights
administration into the object itself. They ‘objectify’ the property
regime by capturing things throughout their life-time.

This described evolutionary path of a technologically controlled rights
regime for objects, as the blockchain signals it, and which has its
physical technological counterpart in the so called Internet of Things,
contains management and logistics strategies which aim at an automated
administration of things by distance. The blockchain secures the order
of bourgeois property and ownership relations, and at the same time
enhances it towards new modulations of control. Governing from a
distance acquires new meaning in lights of blockchain based access and
use regulation for things and services. In a sense, property relations
are now becoming a functional aspect or dimension immanent to goods and
services, integrated into the objects.

The powers of a multitude of blockchains governing objects are not only
performative and prescriptive on the level of object administration, but
at the same time constitute a hard and fixed time regime that contains
and structures these objects and their possible use. By administering a
chronicle regime against any open future of possibles, blockchains aim
at becoming a technology of object “structurization” against
incalculable events, a hedging technology against risks, excluding
possible use values for unauthorized use ex ante, setting up a
closed-circuit value capture system.

i Helen Kaplinsky, “Collections Management on the Blockchain: A Return
to the Principles of the Museum,” in: Artists Re:Thinking the
Blockchain, ed. Marc Garrett et al., England : London: Liverpool
University Press, 2018, 269.

ii McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2004.

iii Nick Szabo, “Smart Contracts” 1994,

iv Read his fascinating white paper here:

v Ben Vickers, “Immutability Mantra,” in: Artists Re:Thinking the
Blockchain, 234.

vi See https://etherdelta.com/. See the operational code here:

vii David Golumbia, The Cultural Logic of Computation. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2009.

viii Donna Jeanne Haraway, Modest−Witness@Second−Millennium.
FemaleMan−Meets−OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. London; New York:
Routledge 1997.

ix Adam Greenfield, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life.
London ; New York: Verso, 2017, 117.

x Benjamin Lee and Randy Martin, Derivatives and the Wealth of
Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

xi Greenfield, Radical Technologies, 172.

xii Brian Massumi, Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception.
Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

xiii Vickers, “Immutability Mantra”, 237.

xiv Karen E. C. Levy, “Book-Smart, Not Street-Smart: Blockchain-Based
Smart Contracts and The Social Workings of Law,” Engaging Science,
Technology, and Society 3 (February 17, 2017): 1–15.

xv Szabo, “Smart Contracts”.

xvi Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology. Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2008, 4.

xviiVismann, Files: Law and Media Technology, 138.

xviiiLouise Amoore, “Data Derivatives: On the Emergence of a Security
Risk Calculus for Our Times” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 6
(November 1, 2011): 24–43.

xix Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, 32.

xx Aaron Wright and Primavera De Filippi, “Decentralized Blockchain
Technology and the Rise of Lex Cryptographia,” 2015,

xxi Rob Myers, “Blockchain Poetics,” in: Artists Re:Thinking the
Blockchain, 246.

xxii Bruno Bosteels, “From Text to Territory: Félix Guattari’s
Cartographies of the Unconscious,” in: Deleuze and Guattari: Critical
Assessments of Leading Philosophers, ed. Gary Genosko, London ;New York:
Routledge, 2001, 899.

xxiii Szabo, “Smart Contracts”.

xxiv Michel Foucault, The Punitive Society: Lectures at the Collège de
France 1972-1973, ed. Bernard E. Harcourt and Graham Burchell,
Houndmills, Basingstoke ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 140–41.

xxv Cf. Ravi Sundaram, Pirate Modernity: Delhi’s Media Urbanism. London;
New York: Routledge, 2009.

xxvi Foucault, The Punitive Society, 177.

On 23.02.2018 13:11, Patrice Riemens wrote:
> Some connex pbs have caused my post to be send unedited. Here's the
> correct version (fingers X-ed)
> ---------------
> Original to:
> https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/23/blockchain-reshape-world-far-right-ahead-crypto-technology
> Blockchain could reshape our world – and the far right is one step ahead
> Crypto technology is coming to a crossroads. Those who want to use it to
> radically redistribute wealth must take urgent action
> By Josh Hall
> Fri 23 Feb 2018
> Alice Weidel is the co-leader of Alternative für Deutschland.’
> Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Reuters
> Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain reads the title of a 2017 book. From
> currency speculation through to verifying the provenance of food,
> blockchain technology is eking out space in a vast range of fields.
> For most people, blockchain technologies are inseparable from bitcoin,
> the cryptocurrency that has been particularly visible in the news
> recently thanks to its hyper-volatility. Crypto-entrepreneurs have made
> and lost millions, and many people have parlayed their trading into a
> full-time job. But blockchain technology, which allows for immutable
> records of activities, stored on a ledger that is held not just in one
> place but massively distributed, has applications in every conceivable
> area in commerce and beyond. Soon, there will be blockchains everywhere
> that transactions happen.
> While the focus has so far been on currencies such as bitcoin, what’s
> less well known is the large and growing community of blockchain
> developers and evangelists, many of whom believe that the technology
> could herald radical changes in the ways our economies and societies are
> structured. But there’s a big question at the heart of that community:
> what might a world built with the help of blockchain technology look like?
> Unchain, a large bitcoin and blockchain convention based in Hamburg,
> seems to have a potential answer. Along with speakers from blockchain
> startups, cryptocurrency exchanges and a company that purports to offer
> “privately managed cities as a business”, the conference programme also
> features Alice Weidel, listed on the site as an “economist and bitcoin
> entrepreneur”.
> In fact, Weidel is the co-leader of Alternative für Deutschland, which
> recently became the third largest party in Germany’s Bundestag. Weidel’s
> election campaign in 2017 was the party’s breakthrough moment, and what
> many have seen as a watershed in German politics – the return of
> far-right, populist ethno-nationalism to the federal parliament.
> Since 2015 the AfD leadership has adopted increasingly hard lines on
> borders, migration, Islam and Europe. The party has also attempted to
> recuperate language associated with historic Nazism; in 2016, the AfD’s
> then chair, Frauke Petry, called for the rehabilitation of the word
> “völkisch”, which is seen to be inextricably linked with National
> Socialism.
> Weidel is thought to represent the more “moderate” wing of the AfD, in
> comparison with her colleague in the Bundestag Alexander Gauland, who
> has pushed for Angela Merkel to close Germany’s borders and to deliver
> ways by which immigrants can be repatriated. But the tension between the
> “moderate” and extreme wings of the AfD has been seen as a conscious
> tactic, in which Gauland pushes taboo subjects which Weidel then makes
> more palatable. Weidel herself, though, has also previously appeared to
> describe German Arabs as “culturally foreign” and to encourage a return
> to the paranoiac xenophobia of the Third Reich by describing Merkel’s
> government as “pigs” who are “puppets of the victorious powers” from the
> second world war.
> The rise of the AfD has caused deep soul-searching in Germany. But
> outside of the country’s borders, Weidel’s invitation to the Unchain
> summit also poses questions for the nascent blockchain community. On one
> side are those who believe that crypto technologies should be used to
> divert power away from states (particularly social democratic states)
> and into the hands of a righteous vanguard of rightwing libertarian
> hackers.
> Some of these people are now in positions of significant power: Mick
> Mulvaney, the director of the US Office of Management and Budget, is a
> staunch bitcoin advocate and his appointment was warmly received by some
> crypto news publications. Mulvaney has previously addressed the John
> Birch Society, an extreme rightwing pressure group that was formed to
> root out communists during the cold war but that now specialises in part
> in Federal Reserve conspiracy theories – a popular theme on some bitcoin
> forums. In June, the John Birch Society demanded that the Russia
> investigation be dropped; their “speakers bureau” offers talking heads
> on subjects including why the US must leave the UN, “the Trojan horse
> called immigration”, and “the global warming hoax”.
> But there is another tendency: one that believes blockchain tech should
> be used as part of a liberatory political project, one that can
> redistribute wealth and help to fund and safely connect participants in
> radical left activities. There is already significant overlap between
> the crypto community and those active in “platform cooperatives” – that
> is, organisations that are attempting to build alternatives to platform
> companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, with power and ownership in the
> hands of the workforce. Similarly, The New Inquiry magazine recently
> launched Bail Bloc, a system that leverages participants’ unused
> computing power to mine cryptocurrency to pay bail bonds in New York.
> Despite the wild fluctuations in cryptocurrency valuations, it seems
> clear now that blockchain tech is here to stay. In their book Blockchain
> Revolution, Don and Alex Tapscott insist that blockchains could
> revolutionise everything from business to government.
> But we are at a dangerous point for the adoption of crypto technologies.
> Alice Weidel’s invitation shows one potential route forward: the
> diverting of more power into the hands of the authoritarian right. Even
> crypto-sceptics must acknowledge this danger, and should be working with
> the crypto community to develop alternatives. Blockchain technology has
> the potential to help us build a better world – but we need to take
> action to ensure that it doesn’t lead us down the path preferred by
> Weidel and her companions.
> • Josh Hall is a writer and editor based between London and Berlin.
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