Interview on Let’s Talk Bitcoin no. 137: the Eye of the Beholder

“One of the great episodes where there is a pretty vast difference of opinion but the discussion is really civil and interesting.”

Thanks – I tried. Adam and Stephanie were a blast to speak with and I look forward to doing it again in the near future, with any luck!

Listen to the whole thing.

EDIT/UPDATE: to the critics, I recommend you listen to the whole thing rather than switching off 15 minutes in.

Consider the following:

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

-Karl Marx, ad Feuerbach (VIII)

1) Such disapprove

A sampling of some of the comments:

don’t worry about laughing in Preston’s face, that’s the least his apologist mockery deserves. You’ve made significant and sincere contributions to everyone who values this new technology and it’s potential to set our economies free. Of course you would be outraged at his deliberate understatement of the terrible harm that has been inflicted on countless individuals. He knows full well that the legal and political systems have been captured and corrupted by the fascist central banking cartel. We don’t need their help, we don’t need their permission, we never did.

…you keep using that word libertarian. You don’t know what it means. Seriously, stop destroying the idea of Bitcoin. You aren’t fooling anyone. Trying to get people warmed up to the idea of regulating Bitcoin is like a pencil without a tip. Pointless.

I guess, first a thank you for reminding us who and what we are up against. With friends like Preston, who needs enemies? I kept waiting for him to say “you can’t fight City Hall”. He is clearly too imbedded and dependent on the system to see that it is not a benevolent actor treating its charges fairly and consistently. Allowing that same system to regulate Bitcoin will not lead to the system changing.

And who can forget the legendarily uncompromising Mircea Popescu, commenting on a blog post from last week:

…not that Preston Byrne has any chance to survive the collapse of the system that he’s currently working for… I do intend to have all these people hanged, once we’re done taking over. This false impression that you can never hang for having said the wrong thing at the wrong time just as long as your view was at the time in the majority is not long for this world.

Ain’t public life grand?

2) Very approve

Fortunately at least a couple of people get it:

This sort of debate is *exactly* the kind of content that should be interesting to the crypto community. Stephanie and Andreas are pillars of the community and I love hearing their take on the world. However, it’s much more interesting to see libertarians and crypto supporters actually interact with non-community members. Without that sort of friction and discussion, we’ll always be a small community.

Preston’s perspective was a bit unnerving, and my gut tells me I should rant against it. But this is when I have to say “thank you” for challenging my beliefs.

Preston Byrne presented a rational and refreshing view. It is a shame that Stephanie felt it appropriate to laugh at a guest’s professional opinion.

5) Take the world as you find it

To me, libertarianism is not an ideology, but an analytical framework. It’s a toolbox, not a religion.

It is not a single-issue philosophy. It is certainly not just a sound money philosophy. And it’s definitely not just about Bitcoin. Nor does Bitcoin necessarily imply any ideology. Even in relation to Bitcoin, I would reject any notion of a uniform philosophical position; apart from the fact that Bitcoin is software (and is thus capable of bearing many different political meanings depending on the perspective of its user), the anarcho-capitalists cannot claim hegemony to the exclusion of the remainder of the liberal “big tent” – minarchist, left-libertarianism, voluntaryism, BHL, BHLNGDPT –  in my understanding of the school of thought, it does not require an adversarial approach to the state (nowhere does Hayek or Mises advocate lawbreaking or direct-action resistance).

Working to limit the scope of state power is not the same thing as working to undermine state power; one acknowledges the legitimacy of elected government while the other does not. I tend to the former; many in Bitcoin tend to the latter. Philosophically, there’s nothing inherently contradictory about working to change legal rules while acknowledging that existng legal rules have binding force. Practically, I’ve found that on other occasions when I’ve taken the government to task from the libertarian angle (which is my main hobby)  less focus on rhetoric and greater emphasis on the facts – and appealing to the left and to the right – has usually led to a wider reach and therefore better results.

And yes, this means your political positions sound hedged and do not adhere to absolute statements of principle; but “apologist mockery” or “hypocrisy”? N’importe quoi. Establishing a political position which is grounded in reality rather than pure principle, having conducted a sober assessment of what you want to achieve against what you’re able to achieve given existing constraints, is far better.

 4) Compromise is an acknowledgment of reality, not an expression of hypocrisy

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” It is in my view thus far better to express a moderate position with a 40% chance of successful implementation than a fundamentalist position with a 1% chance of successful implementation. There is plenty of room for both approaches within the liberal camp.

I am cognizant that this type of cognitive dissonance is easier for someone in the legal profession to accept than for someone who is not. After all,  a fundamental part of our job involves setting aside our personal convictions in order to (1) serve our clients and (2) to uphold the rule of law.

As to the first, often have I (and more often have my friends in criminal practice) been asked how it is possible to “defend a guilty client.” The answer, of course, is that it is a cornerstone of a free society that people have a right to obtain counsel who will at all times put their clients’ interests ahead of their own. The most eloquent formulation of the principle of which I know may be found in Lord Brougham’s legendary defence of Queen Caroline:

…an advocate, by the sacred duty of his connection with his client, knows, in the discharge of that office, but one person in the world, that client and none other. To save that client by all expedient means — to protect that client at all hazards and costs to all others, and among others to himself — is the highest and most unquestioned of his duties; and he must not regard the alarm, the suffering, the torment, the destruction, which he may bring upon any other; nay, separating even the duties of a patriot from those of an advocate, he must go on reckless of the consequences, if his fate it should unhappily be, to involve his country in confusion for his client.

As to the second, we have a duty to “uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice.” That involves not advocating in favour of sedition or lawbreaking no matter how much we may disagree with the status quo.

I see no contradiction in this; the approach is professional and has the added benefit that government is more likely to take you seriously. Above all, it is what I believe to be right. The approach, however, requires patience. As I said at the end of the podcast,

Your politics and how you then approach your philosophy of change have to be two separate things. If you’re going to be a political actor who gets taken seriously, if you’re going to be working in commerce, you have to compromise on what you do and your approach to these problems.

I think that technology will really change the way people look at their governments, and I think that that is the real value in it. …Regulating this technology and spreading it more widely… will make more people aware of its benefits and what it can do, and that you don’t need financial intermediaries for a lot of things. And once you get to that point, then the lightbulb goes off and people say ‘hold on a second – if I don’t need an intermediary for this, what about a hundred other things that I’m doing as well?

So it’s a nuanced approach. It’s one that I get a lot of flak for all the time. But ultimately I think that this very slow and gradual change, one day, it’s going to break and there will be a tipping point, a critical mass, where everyone realises its benefits. At that point, that’s when a lot of these laws are going to get rolled back and a lot of institutions are going to have to start being very worried about their market position.

We’re not there yet. But I don’t think we should rush it.

5) Hard truths: it’s time to grow up

It’s not popular, but deep down, we know it’s all true:

  • The state is going to regulate Bitcoin and crypto, whether we want it to or not.
  • In the short-term there is practically nothing we can do about it.
  • How we choose to respond to these circumstances, however, is entirely a matter for each of us as an individual. You have your way, I have mine. We’re working for the same objectives, but our methods differ.

As put by Casey Kuhlman, if you want to sit at the adults’ table, act like adults. The effectiveness of any representations made to limit this intervention will depend substantially on the ability of the Bitcoin community to marshal support among and improve dialogue with those who are able to operate effectively in commerce and in front of the regulators.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.