Bitcoin and the Beatles

Beatles

I’ve been involved with cryptography since the mid-1990s. That’s when I had my “aha” moment and realized that cryptography creates a terra nova the lords of force can’t penetrate. Progress, however, was disturbingly slow. We had great ideas, brilliant people, and even some impressive projects. But nothing really stuck. Disheartened, most of us gave up on our world-changing dreams.

Then, to our great surprise, Bitcoin stuck. And now, finally, I’m facing the possibility of cryptocurrency making some of our dreams come true. And trust me, that’s not easy after years of disappointments.

Fun (and Maybe Useful) Parallels

As it happens, I’m starting on a series of stories just now, involving jumps back into the past. Part of the process has been to listen to old music to get a feel for the era I’m writing about. And that led me to my Bitcoin-and-Beatles parallels.

Bear in mind, please, that this isn’t only for fun. Both the rise of the Beatles and the rise of Bitcoin are social phenomena, tied to popular acceptance. There may be substance beneath some of this.

But either way, let’s have some fun with this idea.

Synthesis

In the cases of both the Beatles and Bitcoin, it wasn’t any single thing that made them a big deal, but a synthesis of several factors. Consider:

The Beatles: Yes, the lads were talented and hardworking, but in no way did they stand above the era’s best musicians. Paul was a competent bass player, John just an average guitarist, Ringo a professional-level drummer, and George a shyly inventive guitarist. Paul and John were pleasant singers and George was a competent harmonist, but none of them could come close to a singer like Andy Williams. Even when it came to songwriting (their strongest area in my opinion), it’s quite debatable that they were as good as, say, Goffen and King.

But taken all together… the synthesis was an earthquake. In 1963, the top 100 songs still included Henry Mancini, Nat King Cole, and Tony Bennett. Fine musicians all, but definitely rooted in the post-World War II era. In 1964, the Beatles blew the doors off everything that had come before, with nine songs hitting the top 100, including #1 and #2.

Bitcoin: No single component of Bitcoin was a revolution in itself. Diffie and Hellman had invented public key exchange back in the 1970s and Ralph Merkle, hash trees back in 1979. Bram Cohen defined P2P networking several years before Bitcoin, and proof of work was previously developed by Adam Back as a cure for spam.

But again, the synthesis was an earthquake.

The Acceptance Pattern

The Beatles (Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison) had been playing together for six years before the broader world noticed. Then they exploded. But after the explosion, as few people remember, they slowly faded. As we said, in 1964 they had nine songs in the top 100. In 1965 they had only four. They had four again in 1966 and lower on the list. In 1967 they had only two songs on the list. By the standard measurements, they were dropping.

1967, however, was the year the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper album, changing the music business and making the list almost irrelevant.

Bitcoin likewise labored for years before it was noticed. It dropped onto the internet in January 2009, but few people heard of it until the exchange rate rose dramatically in 2016 and 2017. Then the world heard about Bitcoin, which promptly fell into a slump.

So, is Bitcoin’s “Sgt. Pepper moment” coming? Consider first that literally billions of people have no bank account and no serious hope of getting one; they are constrained to their local trading circles. They do, however, have smart phones, and that’s all they need to use cryptocurrency, opening the world economy to them. Crypto gives them more or less all the advantages banks can provide (and then some), with few of the hassles or fees. Consider also that the value of Bitcoin can’t be inflated away like government money. (The dollar has lost 90% of its value since I was a boy.)

So the answer is yes, Bitcoin’s (cryptocurrency’s) Sgt. Pepper moment is almost certainly coming. It may not be as sharp an arrival as the release of Sgt. Pepper, but it’s almost certain. People are not blind to what’s in their interest.

Further Parallels

Both the Beatles and Bitcoin had fleeting predecessors. For the Beatles, Elvis and Little Richard had shaken things up some years before, but they were mainly gone. For Bitcoin, the cypherpunks had shaken things up some years before, but they were pretty well gone too.

Both handled their fame admirably. The Beatles were suddenly influencing a hundred million young people while not far past boyhood themselves. But they behaved themselves and moved toward peace and love, admirable directions. Likewise Satoshi: He, she, or they got out of the way and stayed out of the way, which, in retrospect, was probably necessary.

It was just the right time. The world was ready for new music in 1964, but probably no more than it’s ready for new money now.

* * * * *

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Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

Herberts Shouldn’t Wear Tie-Dye

clothinghippies

The term “Herbert” referred to a stiff, rule-keeping bureaucrat.

Tie-dye was the clothing of hippies; it was made with bleach and strings.

Being old enough to remember how things were “back in the day,” I’m always half insulted to see very fine establishment types – people whose livelihoods rest on uncritical obedience – trying to align themselves with nonconformists they would have hurried away from back in that day.

Obedience was not cool back in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, it was derided. Here’s a Beatles lyric that was sung as a condemnation:

Once upon a time there was a boy named Ted. And if his mother said, “Ted, be good,” he would.

Notwithstanding that I have a strong preference for well-behaved children, I think you get my point.

So when I saw some footage from the very presitigious Kennedy Center Honors, celebrating bluesman Buddy Guy, I recoiled. Here’s a still from it:

170425-image001

Here’s what went through my mind:

How would these suits and gowns have treated Buddy when he was working days as a janitor at Louisiana State University back in the 1950s? Or when he was performing in a lot of very unpretty clubs on the West Side of Chicago in the late ’50s?

Where were these very successful Herberts in the 1960s, when he was playing any juke joint he could to make ends meet? How many would have shown up at his club on Chicago’s East 43rd Street in the 1970s?

And how many of these people, I wondered (and you may too), would have sympathy for poor bluesmen if virtue signaling wasn’t involved?

Now, for just one more example, here’s another group of Herberts, at the same august event, honoring Led Zeppelin:

170425-image002

I’d love to see this group confronted with the boys of Led Zeppelin in, say, 1973. That would be a spectacle.

Worse than the 1950s

The 1950s are remembered as a time of abject conformity, and in some ways that was true. But today is actually worse. And the reason for it is simple:

Today’s conformity, every bit as bad as the 1950s, drapes itself in the garments of past radicals.

The tie-dyed, pot-smoking radicals of the 1960s are no longer any threat to the Herberts of the world. Mainly, they’ve been tamed and brought into the machine. But they did revolutionize the music scene, and by doing so, they taught advertisers how to abuse a youth culture. Because of that, images of past rebels became (and remain) commercially important.

That’s why our modern Herberts turn out to honor people they might have jailed back in the day.

The proof of this is to be found in examining how these people have treated today’s radicals, people like Ross Ulbricht and Julian Assange. And the verdict is stark: They have mercilessly abused them.

But my point today is not condemnation, even if it is deserved. Rather, I’d simply like the Herberts to go back to things they’re good at.

Herberts are great at fitting in, presenting proper appearances, and keeping up with the Joneses. They should stick to their strengths and leave radicalism to people who know how to do it.

And so, here’s what I’d like to tell the Herberts:

If your mother never yelled at you for tie-dying clothes in her sink… if you weren’t asked to leave “proper occasions”… if you didn’t habitually look out for cops… you really shouldn’t make a show of celebrating radicals. It’s glaringly obvious you’re not like them. We may be polite about it, but we’re not fooled.

* * * * *

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  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.

  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.

  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

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Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

What Would You Do for “Truth”?

progress truthI closed a recent post by saying this:

If you’re not willing to suffer for your beliefs, you’re not much of a believer.

To that I will add that the statement remains true, no matter what types of beliefs we’re talking about. Either we have the guts to stand by our beliefs or we don’t. (Which is why a lot of people avoid them – they haven’t the guts to choose.) Holding to our beliefs under fire is the crucial test – not of our beliefs, but of ourselves.

Anytime you move the world forward in some way, you will receive a backlash. In a world like ours – a world neurotically devoted to stasis – that is almost unavoidable.

Have you ever noticed that when people complain about tax collectors or the police, they look around first and lower their voices? The reason why is ultra-obvious: They expect those groups to seek out and hurt people who oppose them.

Why We Suffer

In societies that dedicate themselves to law and punishment, people learn to neurotically avoid all blame. That’s the big problem with “law” – it demands that you remember tens of thousands of rules and punishes you if you fail to obey them. That leaves all of us subject to punishment at every moment of our lives. And that’s a recipe for stress and neurosis.

On top of that, people very well understand that by changing their opinions or actions, they are judging their previous choices as “bad.” And bad, of course, means that you can expect punishment.

Since everyone in a “modern society” grows up learning that changing opinions invites punishment, they come to instinctively avoid it.

What all of this means is this:

For all practical purposes, progress is grounds for punishment, and talk of progress is both suspicious and dangerous.

Yet here we are… and here all sane, healthy people are… trying to move forward.

The sad truth is this:

If you wish to progress, those people who’ve bought into the system will instantly see you as a threat and will therefore oppose you.

Sure, these people should grow up and do better, but the system has trained them in this behavior all their lives. My dad, for example, was a very bright man and definitely not a coward. But when he once asked me what I was doing that evening, I mentioned that I might attend a meeting of libertarians, and he said, “Ah, crap. You’re gonna go to jail.”

My dad may have leapt to a conclusion, but he very rightly understood that going against the status quo brings trouble.

(I didn’t actually go that night, and believe it or not, I’ve only attended one or two official libertarian meetings ever.)

The Price We Must Pay

As I say, in the current situation, moves forward will be opposed, and that means you’ll have to accept pain. That sucks, but it doesn’t suck worse than the alternative, which is a neutered stasis in a permanent semi-slavery.

And please don’t think you can avoid the pain and still make any meaningful progress. What’s going on when we move forward is that we suffer for our virtues. The only way to avoid that is to turn away from those virtues. And that means diminishing ourselves.

Don’t do it – your life is worth more than that.

We may as well accept that we’re enemies of the status quo, and our lives therefore involve risk.

Anyone who is serious about goodness becomes an enemy of the system. Anyone who is serious about liberty is already an enemy of the system. We can either accept that or evade that, but it will not go away.

If we accept it, we make ourselves better and we eventually make the world better.

If we evade it, we degrade ourselves and we degrade the world.

Let’s choose not to be harmless serfs. We’re so much better than that.

Paul Rosenberg
FreemansPerspective.com