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Utopians and Magical Thinkers – A Response to Alex Payne via Karoli

Op-ed - Utopians and Magical Thinkers – A Response to Alex Payne via Karoli

In her recent post on Crooks and Liars, Karoli, whose pieces I’ve been reading for some time and generally find well done and intelligent, unfortunately chose to pick up on and excerpt some foolishness from Alex Payne’s recent - and rather unimportant - screed against Bitcoin. Payne’s piece is particularly vapid and one I didn’t think worthy of response, but Karoli’s is more interesting as it goes to issues of moral superiority, fantasy, and narrow-mindedness. Plus, as I say, I think Karoli is both a good writer and worth reading.

Karoli frames her piece with the headline "Is Bitcoin a Libertarian Utopian Dream?"Short answer; yes, it probably is that for some. But people have utopian dreams about all manner of things.What Payne's article (I read it completely when it first came out) doesn't do is refute any of Bitcoin's technological innovations, innovations that are undeniable by anyone who actually looks at what the protocol does, or has any real experience with it. What Payne's article does do is make unsubstantiated opinion statements couched in simple linguistic tricks like "Bitcoin is “generally viewed”" and “Bitcoin is viewed by many technologists” without saying who these experts are, or backing up these statements in any way. I particularly enjoyed the "Bitcoin is regarded as a flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment" bit. What exactly is a 'flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment'? A worthwhile experiment that has some flaw in its experimental method? The Bitcoin protocol has been put to the test, worldwide, for 5 years. It's still working today. Any experiment with that kind of real-world field test is hardly ‘flawed’. Or how about Payne’s assertion that “The only thing “profound” about Bitcoin is its community’s near-total obliviousness to reality.” The bold emphasis is Karoli’s, indicating that that’s the principal point about Payne’s position, that only those who agree with him have any grip on reality.

Are there Libertarians among Bitcoin advocates? Yes, and some Anarchists too. And some merchants trying to make money. There could be some speculators wanting to get rich. There could be some social activists and human rights advocates like me among them too. But also among them there is Richard Brown, a high level technical analyst for IBM's Banking and Financial Markets Division. He described the fundamental achievement of the Bitcoin protocol as 'unimaginable' just a few years ago. Watch his remarks yourself.

The thing is, Alex Payne, former Chief Technology Officer at Simple Bank (an online bank), writes his blog called "Alex Payne Writes Here". So that means he has to write something, or so he thinks. His writing reveals that he doesn't like people who have utopian ideals or who imagine a more just future. That's his real problem, not Bitcoin. And Karoli’s dislike of Bitcoin is not because of any real experience or analysis; as she states at the very top, “All of the buzz around Bitcoin has disturbed me since Dan Backer filed with the FEC to allow his tea party groups to accept Bitcoin for contributions and expenditures.” She doesn’t like Dan Backer, therefore Bitcoin is some kind of Tea Party threat to humanity. Not exactly a sound evaluation.

Is Bitcoin a Libertarian Utopian Dream? Maybe. Is socialism a utopian dream? Is democracy a utopian dream? Did Dr. King have a utopian dream? Maybe humanity counteracts its own evil and narrow-mindedness with utopian dreams. The lions may someday lie down with the lambs.

Do you harbor any utopian dreams? That's not necessarily a bad thing, you know.Happy holidays.