The True Meaning of Cryptocurrency and ‘Radicalism

Author: David Z. Morris; Translation: Block unicorn

A new book written by Joshua Dávila, also known as “Blockchain Socialists,” presents a viewpoint that the future of cryptocurrency is not limited by the right-wing economics that shaped it before.

About ten years ago, I became interested in Bitcoin mainly because of its association with some more extreme political factions. After the global financial crisis in 2008, investors’ interest in gold soared, especially among survivalists and “preppers” in economic crises. These “gold bugs” often held extreme libertarian views (which we might now call far-right views), and it was through conversations with them that I began to seriously consider Bitcoin.

I looked at early Bitcoin adopters’ desire for hard money and radical free-market spirit from an outsider’s perspective. Personally, I have always been a rather ordinary European-style democratic socialist, committed to the privacy promises of the cypherpunks and resonating with some anarchist syndicalism. However, this political disconnect never affected my interest in cryptocurrencies. In fact, even though I may not agree with their conclusions, I began to respect many principled libertarians who were involved in this field. (I have much less patience for authoritarian far-right ideologies, especially their overtly nationalistic Zoomer form)

However, in the past four or five years, the political ideologies in the crypto field have become significantly diverse. Perhaps most importantly, the smart contract architecture of Ethereum has attracted a large number of potential economic engineers who are concerned not with individual sovereignty like Bitcoin but with cultivating new incentive structures for a more balanced and healthy society. Two key examples include Glen Weyl’s “radical markets” theory and the emerging “regenerative economy” discussion initiated by Gitcoin founder Kevin Owocki and others.

Against this backdrop, about two or three years ago, a new Twitter account calling itself “Blockchain Socialists” caught my attention. Subsequent podcasts featured truly transformative figures such as artist Rhea Myers, Ethereum co-founder Amir Taaki, and Sci-Hub’s Alexandra Elbakyan, who saw the practicality of cryptocurrencies in a variety of activist projects. This “Blockchain Socialist” became the center of discussions on American economic imperialism and, in particular, left-wing privacy rights, two cornerstones that help define the positions in the crypto field in a different category from the mainstream liberalism.

What is “radicalism”?

This year, “Blockchain Socialists” finally stepped out of the shadows and revealed their true identity as Joshua Dávila. For years, Joshua Dávila has been a blockchain business consultant at Deloitte’s European branch, and he has also created a project called Breadchain, aiming to build a “unity language” similar to smart contracts, a “financial lingua franca” that developers like (in simple terms, he wants to build something like financial tools but for supporting cooperative solidarity).

To better convey his views, Joshua Dávila is publishing his first book: “Blockchain Radicals: How Capitalism Ruined the Crypto World and How to Fix It”, which will be published by Repeater Press on August 8th. Vitalik Buterin describes this book as an important supplement to the existing narrative in the crypto field.

“In fact, a characteristic of someone defined as a ‘radical’ is the willingness to rethink various assumptions from the deepest level.”

This book is essentially a long exploratory essay aimed at delving into Joshua Dávila’s fundamental beliefs about cryptocurrencies, namely as tools for organizing non-state social and economic alliances, covering everything from mutual assistance groups and bail funds to providing new models for technological development.

Joshua Dávila says that so far, he has encountered greater difficulties in conveying his commitments regarding blockchain and cryptocurrencies in political circles.

He told me, “If you try to discuss cryptocurrencies in left-wing forums, you will be banned. I am often accused of being a fraud. I thought we could have a solid conversation, but I found that it’s not the case.”

“Blockchain Radicals” resists the simplified condemnation of cryptocurrencies. Ironically, these derogatory views on cryptocurrencies are often put forward by those new liberal centrists who yearn to return to the embrace of the system, especially recently, by those notorious repressive intelligence agencies.

“Blockchain Radicals” can be seen to some extent as a decoding manual, helping those who have been misled by this distorted and deceptive “causal theory” to rethink their ideas. The key point of the book is that it succinctly and openly introduces basic cryptographic concepts such as proof of work, smart contracts, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and distributed applications, as well as some historical overviews, such as the creation of Litecoin and the “DAO” hack. These contents are clearly marked, and if you don’t need a review, you can easily skip them, but they are essential for those who have only disdainfully waved their hands without substantial participation for years.

Joshua Dávila told me, “My book is not necessarily meant to answer the question of ‘what is blockchain socialism’. I don’t think that’s the real question that needs to be asked. What I’m trying to do in this book is to deconstruct people’s way of thinking about blockchain… and to demonstrate the flaws in these patterns of thinking.”

The Radical Potential of Cryptocurrencies

The radical potential of cryptocurrencies

In this sense, the title “Blockchain Radicals” may be confusing. Although people have gained more understanding of right-wing “radicalism” in the past decade, this term is still often associated with left-wing figures such as “climate organizations” or Che Guevara.

However, the “radicals” can actually have any set of political beliefs. In fact, the definition of radicals is those who are willing to rethink assumptions at the deepest level, including truths that society may take for granted or consider sacred and inviolable. The term “radical” has linguistic origins that can be traced back to the Latin radix or radic-, meaning “root”: radicals are those who delve deep underground to reveal the origins and true essence of things.

“Joshua Dávila openly emphasizes the potential of cryptocurrency to bypass unjust laws.”

The radical nature of cryptocurrency is evident to anyone who has a deep understanding of the crypto field, regardless of their political orientation. In the past decade, cryptocurrency has first sparked a rethinking of fundamental concepts such as currency, banking, investment, borders, and even the nation itself (Joshua Dávila has repeatedly refuted the views of Coinbase’s former CTO Balaji Srinivasan in his book “The Network State”).

Joshua Dávila attributes one of the broadest “radical” potentials to cryptocurrency: its ability to redefine and possibly revive the “public sphere”. Historically, European and other feudal or tribal societies were organized around communal agricultural “commons”. The new system of land and labor led to the enclosure of these commons into stratified private holdings between the 18th and 20th centuries (later justified by false racist narratives of the “tragedy of the commons”). This rhetoric subsequently became the justification for various privatization initiatives that sought to profit, including modern patent and intellectual property systems, which may restrict technological progress.

From this perspective, cryptocurrency’s fundamental reliance on the structure of open-source software development may be one of its most profound radical tendencies. Joshua Dávila also describes cryptocurrency as capable of enabling new types of digital common property, leveraging new mechanisms of shared ownership and incentives, which is just one aspect of its broader potential for bottom-up economic engineering through blockchain.

Joshua Dávila also proudly embraces a more direct form of cryptocurrency radicalism: openly emphasizing the potential of cryptocurrency to bypass unjust laws.

He shares my admiration for Alexandra Elbakyan, a developer from Kazakhstan who, like Aaron Swartz and even Edward Snowden, is a champion of information resistance. Through her completely illegal website, Sci Hub, Elbakyan has liberated publicly funded scientific research from fundamentally corrupt and rent-seeking “publishers” such as Elsevier for over a decade. She is resisting the most glaring distortions of public interest caused by capitalist enclosure of the commons, and bitcoin allows this effort to continue.

“The Blockchain Radical” explores specific proposals, projects, and trends. For those who are not directly faced with the challenge of building with pre-encrypted tools, they may even seem unremarkable.

Perhaps the most interesting are DAO-like structures and smart contracts, used to build new types of collaborative enterprises. Although it may seem boring, a major obstacle to building new economic models is simply accounting, trust, and coordination. For example, I have lived in collectively owned houses during my student days, which was very beneficial in terms of cost reduction. However, this requires a great commitment and mutual trust, especially in managing collective funds such as house repairs and taxes.

In today’s United States, the idea of employee-owned companies or resident-owned apartments may sound radical, but they used to be common in this country. The first American cooperative seems to have been established by Benjamin Franklin in 1752, and they subsequently successfully demonstrated at least some practical benefits of socialism. The transparency and immutability of carefully designed DAOs and smart contract stacks may make this collective ownership easier and more transparent, possibly putting more money back in the workers’ pockets.

Joshua Dávila correctly warns that his book does not attempt to precisely define how blockchain technology can help create a more economically just and stable world. Although he presents many specific admirable examples and draws lessons from them, “The Blockchain Radical” is not a taxonomy or plan for “blockchain socialism”.

Instead, this book aims to broaden people’s vision of the wider possibilities of cryptocurrencies, possibilities that are often difficult to encounter in mainstream media. If you are interested in changing the world, the mere fact of this obvious silence is enough motivation to read it.

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