You cannot kill an idea.
One such idea that has been around for a millennia, creeping through the dark corners of history as hope for the masses, is the idea that brought the world Brutus. He vehemently opposes concentrated wealth and power. He stands for the average citizen: the farmer, the industry worker, the coal miner, artist, teacher, anybody with a craft. Brutus has been feeling down lately. Scott Walker and his cronies keep kicking him in the nuts. Once Brutus explained to me the bittersweet feeling of getting to see the Packers win a Superbowl right before Americans For Prosperity made sure He would never see a Union in America’s Dairyland again. Forward, what else can an idea do? These are tough times for good ol’ Brutus, and he is my friend, so I will write to him and all of you, to sympathize with his plight.
My dear friend Brutus is most famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar and the subsequent, albeit unintended shift from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. For a man out to preserve the Republic, his most notorious act did exactly the opposite by accelerating the violent transition by bringing about turmoil, leading to the return of proscription on a large scale and consequently widespread violence. I like to bring this painful memory to the forefront for him before he makes any major decisions. Whether he was acting in his own vested interest in the Senate or whether he was actually crusading against the monarchical behavior of Julius Caesar, his actions caused a populist uprising and Civil War that eventually took his life. Brutus isn’t always right–as his actions in Rome illustrate–however, his passion for his ideals aren’t ill-intended.
The Founding Fathers found value in finding parallels between Rome and their newly minted Republic in 1787. Alexander Hamilton wrote under the pseudonym Publius, and with James Madison and John Jay wrote a convincing collection of works known as the Federalist Papers, which described in detail the need for a central authority. This was before the telegraph. Creating a system of pure democracy that reached every citizen would have been a logistical nightmare, just like paying war debts from the Revolution. The Republic would never make it without a central authority like the National Bank and other Government institutions that held the Republic together by a string. Thomas Jefferson and the Antifederalists (like Brutus) argued that centralizing all of the wealth of the States would give the elite Northeastern merchants and bankers too much power and make America subject to influence by greed. Cue Wall Street comparison. Jefferson had a vision of America where every American (despite the contradiction of Jefferson being a slave owner himself) owned property, where they could produce for themselves and not rely on central banking authorities.The internet’s new brainchild, blockchain, was invented for the sole purpose of reducing volatility that centralized power inevitably causes by making a medium of exchange outside any single entity’s control. How? Decentralized automation, the test-tube super-baby of AI and coded algorithms. Sounds like science fiction, but it’s happening as we speak.
Put your future goggles on. It’s a busy time for Brutus in the hyperconnected society of today. The level playing field possible with blockchains coupled with an overwhelming need for a New World economic network has set the stage for a change. He and his mob will stand opposite of established authority on the picket line, per usual. So what are the competing interests?
Possibly one of the world’s most famous classical economists, Adam Smith, wrote that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” People act in their own self-interest and have shown a terrible capacity to inflict whatever damage necessary to achieve and secure these ‘interests.’ Don’t put baby in the corner. When the interest is survival, things can get wild and horrible.
As anyone who has ever been through airport security can tell you, we live in a time of the all-powerful; where the only omnipotent and omnipresent power to reach into every single home and soul in America is the long arm of the federal government. Between NSA data collection warehouses and major internet Corporations such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, there isn’t much information that the government can’t access. Cops are militarizing off trickle-down equipment from our $6 billion military, feeding a civil asset forfeiture scam called the War on Drugs, which our military repeats on the International Stage with our War on Terror. What a show! Corporations control everything from information technology to prisons to commercial farms to munitions sales. They operate for profit, sometimes in spite of general wellness or sustainability.
Corporations control almost all factors of production and thus control access to the market. Their best interest is profit, human wellness and labor be damned. The death of the independent American can most easily be portrayed in a police raid on a small Northern California grow-op whose owner scrapes by while an industrial sized competitor in the same county – a corporation on government subsidies that doesn’t pay taxes – fuels the booming pot industry in Colorado and other legalized states. Who is the gatekeeper and what are his ‘interests’?
The same phenomena takes place in almost every industry. An independent Arkansas chicken farmer fights against Tyson and the handful of other major meat producers just like a coal miner is considered expendable and abused accordingly by one of Don Blankenship’s (and other fatbacks like his) companies. All the while these companies wreak havoc on the environment and silence any dissenters. Exxon and Valero continue to pollute, say oops, pay a fine, and return to the status quo. The Feds march pipelines through private land despite genuine protest from Landowners of the Heartland. The CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, proved to be a card carrying member of Fuck You I’m Rich Club in 2015. When facing implications of criminal activity from a US Senator, he reportedly leaned back in his chair with a shit-eating grin and replied, “So hit us with a fine, we can afford it.” How perfectly American: the law means nothing next to a stack of money. But sit tight, young Patriot, because for just your belief in the existing system you can inherit thousands of dollars of debt for a tiny chance to be a part of the elite, with odds about as good as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The vast majority of people can afford less and less and are increasingly accumulating debt while another branch of Corporate America builds for-profit prisons to house the criminalization of poverty. Can’t pay the bills? Off to HMS Jersey with you, vagrant! But we’re all in this together. Think positively. We all get a liquor store, bail bondsman, and fast food restaurant on every block. We want what we want and we want it now and to hell with the consequences. This is America’s brand of capitalism at work, marked not by opportunity or liberty but your very own lease on the American Dream. I never know what to say when Kendrick Lamar asks, “How much a dollar really cost?” Whatever the ledger says today doesn’t really matter because it’s all unsustainable.
Less than a fraction of a percent of the world’s population controls a vast majority of it’s wealth and resources. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few, who by nature will do whatever it takes to protect it and expand it. A world class possessor of common sense, Noam Chomsky, put it this way, “Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.” FDR weighed in by saying, “Under this concentration, independent business has been a menace to American society.” Being an independent earner for yourself is part of freedom, an idea Jefferson failed to realize with 40 acres and a mule. So who do you work for?
The famous economist John Maynard Keynes once said, “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” Both former Presidents of the Bush family aligned with Obama when they all – on separate occasions – admitted the corrosive and corrupting effects of power. Trump would never admit it, but awareness of what could possibly be our inherent aggression can lead to effective policies. As Mark Twain put it, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” To the trained eye the relationship between Big Business and government power is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish.
When taken into account with the relevance of the Stanford Prison experiments and many others like it, the immense concentration of wealth in this country puts a new paranoia in the air around those in power. The experiment, conducted in 1971, showed that abuse among those who perceived themselves in positions of power was almost universal, applicable to both the Lucifer Effect and mob rule. Power becomes a nasty product of human nature, and it walks several fine lines, like the line between protest and looting.
In a world of extremes it’s important to note that the answer is usually somewhere in the middle, a compromise. It’s what our Constitution requires to function and also the one thing absolutely missing from modern politics. Blame Congress all you want, Mark Twain, but the fact remains that our Republic has become exactly what we allowed it to become. Politicians act in their best interests, which is re-election, and their policies depend on the involvement of their constituents. Changing the power structure requires an awareness of the cycle of violence and abuse that any recognized power creates. J. Cole once told me the “abused becomes the abuser and that’s just how life go…the only real revolution happens right inside of you.”
I’ll leave my philosophy out of it, but the revolution inside of you in the context of blockchains, like all other reflections of self just requires knowledge and experience. i.e. participation. Automation threatens jobs in damn near every industry, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a world where countries like Finland are testing basic income, which could potentially be run on Blockchain technology.
One of the great philosophers of our time screamed, “MODERATION IN ALL THINGS!” Industry is necessary, but the cancerous expanse it has grown into is draining LA’s water supply just like it’s draining the Ogallala Aquifer and polluting everything in-between. Just like banks are necessary, but we’re all kind of tired of the type of corruption and tax evasion brought to the public’s short attention spans by the 2008 Banking Crisis, from which came Bitcoin. It was a direct response to mass corruption and my segway into The Solution.
Where there is power long enough, the abusive will find their way to it. Birds of a feather and such. So spread power out on the network that already exists in countries that don’t censor internet content.
Blockchains are ambiguous in that the possibilities of what they may be used for aren’t currently clear, and have been created by our most ambitious visions of the internet was supposed to be. The interesting thing about them is their capacity to execute what are called Smart Contracts, which are basically digital agreements. Which doesn’t sound that impressive except that they are executed by a what some refer to as a global virtual computer, not a lawyer and a dash of trust. The Solution already exists and is expanding as fast or faster than it’s predecessor – the Internet. In 1996, a man named John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” to preface the explosion of the internet that permeates every aspect of our lives today. He wrote:
“Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications…We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth…We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity. Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.”
There is still no matter in cyberspace. Bitcoin may not turn out to be the crypto-currency of the future, but it’s structure will surely continue. AOL Online did something similar in the 90’s. It brought the internet onto the mainstage in American Culture only to gradually deteriorate into obscurity by 2009. AOL was a pioneer in a new age of technology like Bitcoin is today, and it’s only going to grow. However, this growth faces major obstacles from existing institutions in power who are determined to defend their ‘interests’ which the blockchain/crypto-currency movement threatens to undermine.
The nature of such a power has already attracted the beasts. R3, a research group funded by over 25 of the world’s biggest banks have been researching how to control and monetize this new technology. They are not researching how to bring equal economic opportunity to all because that is not in the best interest of their pocketbooks. R3 is developing what is called a private or permissioned blockchain, which turns the public decentralized network into a cheap, secure, and resilient data management solution which they control. For without anonymous and transparent access, the problem of fraud committed by whoever holds the ‘key’ to the blockchain is essentially duplicated power onto a new technological medium.
However, it is still early enough in this New Cyber Frontier landgrab to take a lesson from the Native Americans. Save the Mohicans. Governments in several parts of the world have already began to recognize the benefits of automated smart contracts and fair enforcement of the Rule of Law. Sweden, the Republic of Georgia, Honduras, and the Philippines have all implemented or started research on a land registry to eliminate the administrative costs of keeping a land registry to record property ownership and sales.
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” Blockchain could, and ought to be, a force to even the flow of economic resources by providing a platform for independent commerce, our own 40 acres and a mule in the digital world where the product is content. It’s not so far fetched when you consult the growing number of Social Media Superstars on various platforms making a good living. Be weary though. History will tell us it will be a bloody and lopsided affair for that acreage and an ass.
Decentralizing the economy via blockchains and cryptocurrency could open up access to the economy to everyone with an internet connection. I only wish I could write this with less ominous conditions, but the Powers that Be have already taken steps to limit the freedom of access to information via net neutrality legislation and private massive crypto-mining facilities which already exist under the control of singular companies. The amount of capital required to mine Bitcoins and its derivatives is insane. It will certainly be a turbulent time in Cyberspace, but despite Brutus’ populist temper, we have discussed much and we still remain hopeful. Perhaps we’re naive. Any matter, I think I have scribbled enough ideas to keep you, dear reader, occupied for another week. Do your own research, incorporate ideas instead of attempting the impossible act of killing them. Until the next session I remain both Brutus’ and your
Dedicated and concerned friend,
Julius Caesar image via Adobe Stock