Bitcoin’s Place in a Planetary Culture
You can hate globalization or love it. But you cannot deny that, today, we are living in the most interconnected global society the world has ever known. For the first time in human history, almost everyone in the world has reasonable access to near-instant communication with the rest of the planet.
Pondering the consequences of this situation fascinates me.
It is hard for many people to imagine a borderless, united world, but I cannot help but come to this conclusion when looking at current trends. While some people may consider it unlikely based on our species' historical penchant for war, there are signs that we may be well on our way to a more enlightened society.
Scholar Steven Pinker has used empirical evidence to make a convincing case that violence has been on the decline for thousands of years. Based on his research, we may be living in the most harmonious era of human existence, driven by the influence of humanity's "peaceable motives" that reward cooperation. Biological studies have also confirmed a motivation for altruistic behavior by individuals within a species because it will maximize their own “evolutionary fitness”.
These findings parallel the musings of futurists who believe we are moving towards a global civilization. The physicist Michio Kaku writes that, today:
"We see the beginning of a planetary language (English), a planetary communication system (the Internet), a planetary economy (the forging of the European Union), and even the beginnings of a planetary culture (via mass media, TV, rock music, and Hollywood films)."
And today, with Bitcoin, we are seeing the early days of the first planetary currency.
Where’s The Motivation?
It is nice to talk about utopian global societies, but is there enough evidence that humanity is capable of such cooperation? After all, less than 75 years ago the world was in the midst of a catastrophic global war. What has changed to allow for this sort of peace? And even if we have become more peaceful, what will keep us from reverting to our old habits of violence?
The answer lies with the Internet.
Yes, the same internet that most of the time seems like it is dedicated to pictures of cats side-by-side with some of the most hateful and offensive comments you can imagine, might very well be the key to uniting the human race.
This is because, for all of its faults, the Internet helps us to perceive each other as equals.
While there is a biological incentive for human beings across all cultures to cooperate based on our genetic similarities, for much of history we were blind to this opportunity. Before the industrial revolution, the majority of humans spent their entire lives on roughly the same part of Earth, with far off lands seeming as separated from them as Mars is to us.
Globalization, the expansion of trade and communication started by the industrial revolution which has since grown exponentially, has allowed humanity to view each other from a better perspective. As we realized that the people on the other side of the ocean weren’t all that different from us, we empathized with them. This is important because, as studies have shown, our ability to empathize with someone increases our willingness to co-operate with them.
Fast forward to present day, and relatively cheap worldwide access to the internet (a product of two centuries of globalization) has allowed humans to learn more about each other than ever before. An education in history and anthropology that was once only available to those who were rich enough to pay for it is now available to anyone with unrestricted access to the web. This free flow of information is essential to furthering what Pinker calls “the peacemaker of cosmopolitanism”.
The Importance Of Bitcoin
Another peacemaker that Pinker identifies is commerce.
“As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism. For example, though the relationship today between America and China is far from warm, we are unlikely to declare war on them or vice versa. Morality aside, they make too much of our stuff, and we owe them too much money.”
Unfortunately, while this positive-sum view of trade has long been held by economists, most politicians do their best to hold back free trade.
You could point to documents such as the North American Free Trade Agreement as an exception, but NAFTA is 1,700 pages long. That is not a free trade agreement. A free trade agreement shouldn’t take more than a page. It should say “anyone is allowed to buy and sell things with anyone else without any red tape”. That is the opposite of what you get with today’s “free trade” agreements.
Instead, this is what you get when politicians (and in turn the contributors to politicians’ campaigns) are in charge of free trade: a convoluted agreement like NAFTA that is specifically designed to only open up trade for people that are in the know and have enough time and money to navigate the bloated document. By its very nature, NAFTA is anti-free trade.
Bitcoin solves this problem where politicians fail. Just like globalization and the Internet tore down the walls of ignorance that kept humanity from learning about itself, Bitcoin will dispel the arbitrary borders and regulations holding back world commerce. Governments can manage trade when it goes through banks and involves their own fiat. However they have as much reign over cryptocurrencies as they do over the laws of mathematics.
Obviously this will not be a smooth process. China is trying to strangle the business of local Bitcoin exchanges due to their fear of unrestricted capital flows and the United States has chosen to hamper crypto transactions with archaic tax laws. And this is just the beginning for Bitcoin. The Internet has been around for substantially longer and is still facing dangerous attacks to its mission of democratic access to information. Cryptocurrencies can expect no less. No government wants to see their power taken away.
The beauty of Bitcoin, however, is that instead of that power being transferred to another centralized organization, it will instead be distributed to anyone with the ability to download a wallet. Monetary information, like almost any other form of information in the 21st century, will be freed from its entrapment inside a hierarchical power structure.
It will not happen overnight. As we have learned, it takes time for humans to learn what is best for them and entrenched ideologies of hatred and misunderstanding are still alive across all levels of our culture. But with tools like the Internet and cryptocurrencies at our disposal, humanity can begin to learn more about itself than ever before and trade with unprecedented autonomy.
Hopefully this will help continue our progress towards a peaceable, planetary society.