The most pressing problem evangelical bitcoiners and libertarians face is one of communication. Occasionally on purpose, but more often by accident, they erect four walls and create a barrier between their world and the rest of the world. They struggle to project their glorious message beyond a four-sided prison. In order to engage the audience, they must learn to communicate directly via a medium the audience can relate to and understand. In short, they must learn how to break the fourth wall.
The idea of the fourth wall traces its roots back to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of dramatic theatre. A formal construction of the concept didn’t exist until 1758, however, when Denis Diderot, a French Enlightenment philosopher most famous for his role as co-editor of the Encyclopédie alongside Jean le Rond d’Alembert, published his Discourse on Dramatic Poetry. In the ensuing nineteenth century, “breaking” the fourth wall became a trope in realist theatre.
Shakespeare shattered the fourth wall time and time again, most notably in Richard III. In the 1995 film adaptation of the same name, Ian McKellan stars as the eponymous power-hungry king and breaks the fourth wall with panache. As Ferris Bueller, Matthew Broderick playfully talks directly to the audience. In the cultural phenomenon that is House of Cards, the fourth wall gets repeatedly upended by Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood.
As a palpable manifestation of liberty, Bitcoin is the sledgehammer that can break through liberty’s fourth wall and tear it down—in two revolutionary ways.
First, Bitcoin is not a monologue, a soliloquy, or an aside. Instead, it’s a direct communication with the audience. It’s money—something everyone uses, interacts with, and relates to. Despite being an exclusively digital technology, there’s a certain tangible quality about it. Perhaps that’s because, in addition to reading about it or thinking about it, you can actually use it and do stuff with it. Philosophical treatises on rights theory are no longer needed to explain the greatness of liberty. All you need to do is send someone bitcoin.
There’s a universal law that, upon using bitcoin for the first time, you exude effervescence and joy. It’s just the way the world works. Suddenly, you’re all agog to see it in action again and again. In an instant, doubters of decentralization, free exchange, and liberal ideas in general are immediately swayed.
Second, Bitcoin breaks barriers by virtue of its appeal to broader audiences. As a digital currency aware of no political boundaries, bitcoin unites the globe. The unbanked and semi-banked of the world will finally be initiated into the world economy, unleashing the full power of exchange, trade, and the division of labor. By reducing reliance on credit (scores), the impending application of smart property will empower the poor, the youth, and even third-world farmers caught in a quagmire of ineffectual policy and Western self-righteousness.
Recently, detractors of Bitcoin haveseethed about problems of privilege that afflict the nascent crypto-currency. It’s true that Bitcoin’s neutral protocol can help quell considerations of race, gender, sexuality, class, and wealth. It erases the problems of traditional banking and financing by eliminating the need for trust. It doesn’t care who you are or where you came from.
But only if you know about it.
That’s where the privilege problem comes in. Right now, Bitcoin’s audience is narrow and small, made up mostly ofwell-off males who are (highly) computer-literate. While there’s no privilege-perpetuating flaw in the protocol itself, there is an awareness gap that divides the “knows” from the “don’t-knows.” And it’s the “don’t knows”—women, the poor, the unbanked, the third-world—who have the most to gain from Bitcoin. Because of the nature of the network effect, however, the current privileged Bitcoin class has no incentive to keep its secret.
Libertarians and non-libertarian Bitcoin enthusiasts must be careful not to subsume themselves within a dramatic box. They have access to the greatest tool ever to break the fourth wall and connect with the public on a visceral level. Yet Bitcoin merely equips us with the ability to break the fourth wall. We have to make it happen through dedicated vigilance and conscious effort. Outreach will shrink and ultimately abolish the awareness gap, guaranteeing that everyone can enjoy the magnanimity of Bitcoin. From there, Bitcoin can demonstrate and explain to people across the world the true beneficence of human liberty.
At its core, the fourth wall encloses the drama, preventing it from seeping out and spilling onto the audience. The tidy delineation permits the audience to observe the action without becoming a part of it. As such, it also prevents any direct, potentially beneficial interaction between the actors and the audience from taking place.
In the theatre of life, libertarians often find themselves reading from a stilted script. Bitcoin invigorates the narrative with a refreshingly real and accessible element. Money is something everybody can relate to. If spread with care and attention, Bitcoin can break liberty’s self-imposed fourth wall, demonstrating to the world that freedom is much more than a quaint matinée. It’s the main event, one in which everyone can participate.