The theme of ‘the revolution betrayed’ is central to George c’s legendary Animal Farm. His timeless satire on the Russian Revolution ends with the farmyard animals staring through a window at the conclusion of a human-swine business deal. As the animals stare at proceedings, the pigs’ faces begin to morph grotesquely and take on human characteristics until it is no longer possible to tell the difference between the two species. The allegory is an apt one for helping visualize Bitcoin’s ideological failure on its own terms.
A successful field test Bitcoin is not a technological failure. On its own technological terms it is a resounding success because Bitcoin was intended to be a live experiment to see whether blockchain technology would work in the field. It does work, and the concept has been proven beyond doubt. But Bitcoin was prototype technology that should never have been taken as far as it has. It was ideology that took it so far.
Without the ideological accompaniment, Bitcoin would have been shelved in favour of a more capable technology long ago. Its technological basis is certainly a success in prototype form, but it is deeply limited. It is this limitation that has already and will further lead to its ideological failure and the betrayal of the financial revolution. Techno-Libertarianism Bitcoin ideology is a form of Techno-Libertarianism. It became so because the technology arrived at the moment the world was suffering from a deep financial collapse.
Many people had begun to associate government failures with a corrupt Federal Reserve System.
Conspiracy theories were back in vogue, Alex Jones’s YouTube view count was at an all-time daily high, Ron Paul was in the ascendancy, and the previously marginalised Libertarian movement became a fashionable faction for the young and disillusioned to pledge allegiance to. On the streets this new Libertarianism was expressed through movements such as Occupy and We Are Change. But more importantly it was expressed online, via web forums, bit torrent technology and the idolization of hacking groups like LulzSec and Anonymous. The Silk Super-Highway and beyond Bitcoin’s arrival went under the radar, but the launch of Silk Road struck a chord with those who sought to espouse personal freedoms and fight against what they saw as government tyranny. For many, the website embodied the spirit of the scene discussed above.
It made real their desires to stick it to the man. This is why some of the early Bitcoiners and Silk Road users still defend Ross Ulbricht to the hilt despite his fall from grace. His actions, like those of LulzSec and Anonymous represented the kind of thing they wanted to do but didn’t have the guts, and because of that he will remain a hero to the many who will always overlook his faults. Silk Road’s success and culture had attracted a wave of Libertarians and Libertarian sympathizers who began to take a closer look at the currency. They saw in it the potential to not only break the law, but to bring down the entire financial system and the government reliant upon it. They felt that if only everyone started using Bitcoin there would be no way to control it and the government’s house of cards would collapse and this ideology became the factional cant of the new Bitcoin age. Then, out of the blue, Silk Road collapsed and with it the movement began to fade.
End of an Era The collapse of Silk Road was a watershed moment, not only did it represent the beginning of the end of the Libertarian Bitcoiners, but also their peak demonstration using the Bitcoin technology. Ross Ulbricht’s seized funds were quickly located on the blockchain, and thousands upon thousands of Bitcoiners began sending microtransactions to the wallet. The transactions were accompanied by messages such as ‘End the Fed!’, ‘Free Rossy’ and ‘Die Scum!’ The torrent of insults continued for days, it could be viewed in real-time and was quite a sight to behold. There could have been no more staggering demonstration of the power of blockchain technology. Here a government agency considered oppressive was being insulted publicly and permanently every second for days and they could do absolutely nothing. One can only imagine what those hard-faced agents must have felt when they read the messages.
For Bitcoiners who witnessed it, it was that extraordinarily rare moment when you realize that you are observing history as it happens, as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall to many. It was about more than Ross Ulbricht. It was revenge for the unmet promises of the Obama administration, and the Iraq war, and tuition fees, and the financial crisis, and anything else anyone cared to blame on the American government. It was the cryptocurrency equivalent of standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. It created a deep feeling of camaraderie and seizing the moment, history has no parallel, because such an event was only possible because of the Bitcoin technology.
But like many great historical moments the spirit that drove it soon faded. Forgotten idealism Libertarianism and its techno outgrowths are seldom mentioned in mainstream cryptocurrency discourse today. While the ideas of those early idealists still indirectly inform some aspects of the culture, they have become an embarrassment to the Bitcoin elite. The major players in Bitcoin today seem ashamed of their ideological roots, they can’t remember the names of those who forged them and don’t care to even if they could. Of course, some of these people can still be found. Some have switched sides for the sake of profit, others can be occasionally seen in the darker recesses of Bitcointalk, using pseudonyms and whining about the state of affairs, or worse, attacking other coins for being ‘centralized’. The ones who attack do so because they are still holding on to the old dream. They have failed to realize that their revolution has been betrayed, in part due to greed, as Orwell’s animal revolution was, but also because the Bitcoin technology itself trends towards centralization.