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Crypto-Anarchists and Cryptoanarchists

Op-ed - Crypto-Anarchists and Cryptoanarchists

The word “crypto” is Greek in origin (from kryptós) and means “hidden” or “secret.” Cryptozoology is the study of hidden and rare animals, cryptography is the study of hidden or secret writings, etc. In contemporary times, the use of crypto as a prefix usually designates a secret identification. While few today would declare their allegiance to the ideals of fascism, it is not uncommon to hear people referred to as “crypto-”fascists. The addition of crypto as a prefix in this case indicates a belief that someone is 1) secretly a fascist or 2) they act in ways to surreptitiously bring about fascism.

The double entrendre of “crypto as a prefix” can help us understand the role of crypto in the broader paradigm of achieving a liberal society. Crypto-Anarchists, I argue, are ideologically committed anarchists who recognize the superior efficacy of utilizing cryptographic means to achieve freedom. The population belonging to this group is, shall we say, narrow. These anarchists are “crypto” in the first sense of the word: they are anarchists who deliberately and intentionally want to recreate society on the basis of decentralized consensus, trustless networks, and strong encryption.

Cryptoanarchists, on the other hand, encompass the whole body of people who are using cryptographic tools without the understanding that they lead to anarchy.They embody the second sense of the word “crypto” – that is, that by using cryptographic tools as a function of their own self-interest, they are ignorantly and absentmindedly promoting an anarchist world. They are popularizing and normalizing tools of trade – such as Bitcoin or OpenBazaar – without any reference to society, politics, or economics. They are, usually, blissfully unaware of the goings-on at the Federal Reserve or the latest attempt by the Dept of Justice to regulate “intellectual property.” They care not for discussions of Internet freedom, and aside from the mass revolt against CISPA/SOPA, they generally do not foray into topics pertaining to digital property, privacy, political freedom and independence, and so on. They are mostly Muggles who, through natural processes of diffusion, have learned from others to use Bitcoin, TOR, TextSecure, GNU/Linux, or other various tools in the Crypto-Anarchist toolbox.

Both of these groups are absolutely vital to the success of crypto-anarchy as a movement. The field of intelligent specialists in cryptography, systems security, digital cash, and peer-to-peer networking is small. Though this group is few in numbers, they provide the much needed ideological zeal to inspire people to devote their time to create these products, often voluntarily. Computer scientists, IT specialists, and software geeks of all types are, like everyone, influenced by incentives. The work they perform is work like any other, and is usually purchased by various companies. Intelligent programmers are normally scooped up by large, centralized companies to tackle specific problems relating to server maintenance, communications, or other projects. Software giants today have little incentive – or perhaps disincentive – to spur their hired coders to create innovative, decentralized networks. Decentralized networks are anathema to the Microsofts and Apples of the world today. Hence, the majority of “software proficient” people find themselves working on puzzles for corporations – they are not geniuses who strike out and break the paradigm.

The ideologically committed Crypto-Anarchists are the ones putting fire in our hearts; they are the ones inspiring and encouraging others to pick up an encrypted weapon and join the fight. They spread anarchy through their natural means: coding. Crypto-Anarchists, like Cypherpunks before them, write code. While writing code, they also write prose that speaks to the souls of fellow programmers and software developers spending 40 hours a week to tweak Skype’s “calling” interface. When approached with dreams of independence and integrity, many devote their volunteer time to building anarchist tools. For all its ideology, Bitcoin is COOL. It is NEAT. It is innovative in ways that surpass economics, computer science, and law. It ushers in a new paradigm of communication and contracts. Bitcoin will do to money what BitTorrent did to information: release it. Money and contracts will no longer be the domain of bankers and lawyers. They are unnecessary, antiquated solutions to collective action problems that existed before decentralized consensus mechanisms were available. In the Bitcoin age, they are dinosaurs, unfit for the new future world. Describing and elaborating on this new world brings excitement. Anything is possible! Programmers now have a small side-interest in working on Bitcoin or Bitcoin-related projects. They saw the computer science implications long before economists saw the economic implications (lawyers have yet to be brought up to speed on the legal implications). The Crypto-Anarchist zealotry is hugely important; it shunts men and women out of their regular daily lives toiling away for centralized institutions and it creates a desire to free the world from software giants and telecom companies.

While they are the firebrand minority, most of the work to be done relies on the cryptoanarchists: the mass crowd of consumers who desire cool stuff. Once Bitcoin crosses the innovation chasm, and regular people realize they can use it in place of stuffy government money, they will become adherents and will support it simply for the amazing things it does: own and control money without tying it to a legal identity, send it to next door or across the world for five cents, and have perpetual access to your account. Of course, if they realize that it destabilizes fiat currencies and central banks, all the better. But that is the domain of Crypto-Anarchists, not cryptoanarchists. So long as they are using Bitcoin or TOR (to evade internet espionage) or Linux (to evade malware), they are promoting anarchy. The critical tie-in, for Crypto-Anarchists, is to create anarchist tools hidden within amazing consumer goods: Smartphones that are completely open-source, communication tools that are end-to-end encrypted, operating systems that leak no information! This is the key! Package the tools to anarchism nonchalantly in new technologies and watch the world transform.

Once consumers start chatting over lines that are end-to-end encrypted by default, dragnet surveillance is over. Once consumers start browsing the Internet through I2P or TOR, Internet espionage is over. Once consumers start using Bitcoin in their purchases, debt payment, remittances, savings, and investment assets, the monetary circus of inflating fiat currencies is over. Without control of money and information, the State itself withers. It cannot tax what it cannot surveil. By popularizing these crypto tools within “normal” consumer electronics, we make anarchy in everyone’s self-interest. No longer need they report their earnings to the IRS because their employer automatically sends a W-2 or a 1099; all earnings and expenditures are on cryptocurrency ledgers.

The Blockchain and other innovations will eradicate any ability for the State to prey on its people. Most advocates for liberty have taken the attitude that mass awareness is required, that without educating and informing people that they are slaves under a worldwide criminal apparatus, there will never be freedom – but this is not so! Simply give people the tools to protect themselves, wrap them in shiny user interfaces, and say nothing more. Let the intelligent users discover the lineage of cryptography and digital cash, and let the typical users enjoy their privacy. Nothing more is needed to undermine the State than mass disobedience through cryptography.