The bad guys

One of the first criticisms of the bitcoin proposal on the cryptography email list appeared on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008:

> As long as honest nodes control the most CPU power on the network
> they can generate the longest chain and outpace any attackers.

But they don't. Bad guys routinely control zombie farms of 100,000 machines or more. People I know who run a blacklist of spam sending zombies tell me they often see a million new zombies a day. This is the same reason that hashcash can't work on today's Internet -- the good guys have vastly less computational firepower than the bad guys.

I also have my doubts about other issues, but this one is the killer.

Before we get further, lets point out that the author of this critique is entirely correct.  However, his point here - if taken further - becomes not a critique of bitcoin but in fact the thing's very raison d'etre!

Today this kind of critique is phrased differently.  "Bitcoin is controlled by a conspiracy of chinese miners" claim similar voices across the blogosphere.  And perhaps they also are correct.  While the veracity of a claim that one party or another is "the bad guy" is beyond the scope of this post, we can still agree that the bad guys could control the hashpower, and could conspire to cartelize or make a monopoly in the business of bitcoin mining.

Can you agree that it's possible?  It's important to consider this before we move on.  Perhaps you feel the majority of SHA256 hashpower on the bitcoin network is "good guys", but..  do you acknowledge that bad guys could get their hands on more, at least temporarily, if they needed to?

Now that you are in the suspicious mindset, lets take a look at another kind of coin:  the fiat unit, for example the so-called "united states dollar".  The means of production of this coin are printing presses and bank computers.  The limits of the production are, well, there aren't any public limits because this is a private coin.

Do you think maybe the bad guys could get a hold of some printing presses?  Do you think the bad guys could get control of a bank computer?  Maybe, right?

You see, the improvement of bitcoin here is that it limits the power of those bad guys who have taken control of the system.  Money creation events become public and therefore limited by checks and balances of oversight.

The bad guys can leverage their resources here to get 12.5 BTC every 10 minutes.  Now you do the analysis for fiat please: how many dollars do the bad guys get, and what resources does it cost them?

 

 

 

The urban vs. rural dispute

Well they say a picture is worth a thousand words:

city

In this case you probably get the idea.  "Urban" is a word which can effectively mean cancer, as far as Gaia is concerned, which is by the way your name.  It's hard to forget the look of Denver from high in the Colorado rockies, a small black tumor on the landscape when viewed from great distance - yet one which draws the eye in horror.  Biodiversity is hugely destroyed by modern urban environments.  There are practically no amphibians (natural mosquito predators), even the plants find it difficult - seeing as there is not even a base of living earth in some places.  Pigeons, rats, and cockroaches seem to have found a niche, along with a couple hardy species of grass which poke up here and there.  That's about it - the urban environment is basically a desert.  This is why building "modern cities" (meaning old box crap designed with no thought to the future) in a desert is doable.

HOWEVER, what is the density of violin teachers in rural areas?  What is the likelihood of hearing some different languages?  How easy will it be for you to sell your craft items?  What diversity of health-delivery agents?  An "urban" environment is simply a necessity for us, at least to some extent.  Sure, the idiot density goes up a lot faster than the total population density in a city, but even so - the literate density is still somewhat higher than it is in rural areas.  There are many benefits to having areas with higher population density.

So what can we do about this?  Well we can recognize how the dichotomy is a false one.  Sure, we know that certain places are urban, and others are rural, but that doesn't mean that after we cross a certain line we should start paving every square inch of land, and putting street lights up so we can burn more fuel because we are afraid of the dark.  It doesn't mean we shouldn't compost.  In fact even in densely populated areas it is possible to live in a conscious feedback with some local flora and fauna.  One CAN compost, and garden.  There could be densely populated areas in a forest!  Obviously, we aren't that intelligent yet, but we know it is possible.

The days in which nature was a scary force to be pushed out were in fact never here, for anyone other than the orcs.  We need to invite her in, as we know with 100% certainty she is in fact our own life and health.  There is no urban and rural dispute really.  The trouble is just that urban areas tend to attract those developmentally challenged individuals who think that the world ends when they die, and that remaining ignorant is a skill to aspire to.  These individuals will live out their unhappy lives, and the rest of us will compost the corpses.

"A great place to visit but a better place to rob" -  Michael Diamond

The big lie of colonialism

Mea culpa: I was told to address colonialism, then this thing sat in my drafts folder for about a year.  Lets give it a shot shall we?

You probably have some idea what I am going to say now, based on the title.  What is the big lie?  Maybe one of the many lies told by the colonialists to the locals?  We come in peace?  Work for us and you'll be rich?  We want a truce?  Your children will be safe?  No, I have no reason to rehash any of these lies here, for the lie I refer to is in some sense a bigger one.  It is a lie that colonialists tell themselves.  It is a lie that people today still tell themselves.  It is a more subtle lie than one which is part of any single colonialist story.  It is more of a general psychological phenomenon than specific to colonialism, but as colonialism will be our entry point into this lie we might tell ourselves we will name it thusly.  In fact this big lie is one of many simple related psychological bugs that occur often in primates of the homo persuasion.

When you burn books instead of reading them, you have won.  (1st version)

To begin lets consider a problem in game theory.  Suppose you play some game, in which ten choices need to be made, yes and no for each.  You aren't entirely sure what the choices do, but you make some guesses, pick yes for the first five, no for the second five, and you get a score.  Let's say the score is 1.  You hear that somebody else got a 0.  So, it looks like you did pretty well doesn't it.  In comparison to that somebody else, you have "won" haven't you.  So, it seems we can safely conclude that the first five choices should be "yes" and the second five choices "no".  Right?  Give yourself a pat on the back, right?

Of course not.  First of all we haven't even been clear here about what the "score" means.  Do you want a higher or lower score?  Are we even supposed to compete with the other player?  And even if we determine that a higher score is better and we are to compete, how are we to judge our decisions?  We don't know exactly how the score was calculated so we can't judge them properly.  How can we learn from this experience?  It's hard isn't it.  Even if we can clearly delineate a substantial win based on some criteria, it is hard to figure out just what plays were good and which were bad.  Maybe only the 7th question was answered correctly.

This brings me to another phrasing of the big lie:

The colonialists won.   (2nd version)

It's not really a solid lie because it's not clear what is claimed as being won, but it is certainly not truth.  A year's supply of rice-r-roni, the San Francisco treat?  Misery and ignorance for generations?  A massive loss of social, biological, and financial capital?  When this statement is made, it is specifically NOT declared as to what the contest details were, and what criteria would define a winner.  The idea is supposedly a justification of the hardship endured through the process.  As if we need somebody declared a winner every time one, or a million people are killed, or to justify any idiocies of our forebears.

Ion: Well I can think of something they won
Socrates: Sure, what?
Ion: Their lives.  They lived, the locals didn't.
Socrates: Actually the individuals involved are all long since dead.
Ion: But their children lived.
Socrates: Gaia still lives on, yes.
Ion: Specifically, the people alive in that region today on average have a higher genetic similarity to the colonialists than to the locals.
Socrates: So?
Ion: So, they won the battle of what the noses of people in the future would look like.
Socrates: That's not entirely clear.  Mostly other folks came in and picked up the pieces, contributing their genetic material.  Anyway, is that really a win?

Is this a worthy goal?  Or one that a person capable of thought and having interests and concerns of their own in the world would consider?  Of course not.  But it might be a childlike enough goal to have been considered at the time, who knows.  You see, colonialists are by definition not in certain ways mentally acute.

Lets step back a bit.  What is colonialism?  What makes a colonialist a colonialist?

Well it can become more clear upon some inspection.  A colonialist is one who enters an area but is, lets say charitably, less clued in to local networks than the residents thereof.  If the traveler is of some equal footing in intelligence, and can say, learn the language, make friends, earn a living, etc., we might call the traveler an anthropologist, a businessman, an immigrant, scholar, a thief, or something like that.  If the traveler is afraid of his own shadow (and his own family), and doesn't appear to learn quickly (or rather, at all), we avoid him like the plague, give him some space, and call him a colonialist.

Ion: Let me get this straight, you are saying the local savages are always smarter than the colonialists?
Socrates: I am calling colonialists savages.
Ion: But the locals sometimes don't even wear uncomfortable clothes all day.
Socrates: That's right.
Ion: But the locals sometimes thought sexual relations were healthy.
Socrates: That's right.
Ion: But the locals sometimes don't even value fiat marks on coins
Socrates: That's right.
Ion: But the locals sometimes don't practice ritual genital mutilation or state marriage.
Socrates: That's right.
Ion: But the locals sometimes had coming of age ceremonies which involved psychedelic plants and difficult, dangerous endeavors.
Socrates: That's right.
Ion: But the locals are sometimes unwilling to accept religious doctrine instead believing their own senses and thoughts and wisdom of their elders.
Socrates:  Yes.
Ion: The locals didn't want to kill everything.
Socrates: Yes.
Ion: OK, I see where you are going with this this, but there's one problem with your argument.  We know the colonialists were smarter because they killed a lot of the locals.  If the locals were so smart, how come they were often killed or enslaved?
Socrates: Do you believe killing is a sign of some sort of intelligence?
Ion: No, but it takes some to be the survivor.
Socrates: By your argument then, is a child who kills his siblings and parents the smartest of the family?  Is suicide a mark of sanity?

The colonialists stole from the natives.   (3rd version)

When it's phrased this way, it is couched as a criticism of colonialism.  However it is really anything but.  For there is nothing wrong with stealing or killing per se, at least for the narrative at this stage.  Sometimes, these things might make sense to do.  A person who travels to a foreign land, burgles valuables, and is a successful thief, even a murderer, is thus a successful thief and a murderer - not a colonialist.  To take that step down to colonialist, you have to tell yourself the big lie and act like you believe it.  Manifest destiny!  You have to pretend you are superior in some larger Dunning-Kruger sense and that you can learn nothing else.  You cannot have passed the 1st enemy of knowledge.  You must be afraid of any knowledge, and work to destroy it.  You must actively work against your own progress and fear any information you might learn from.  It's about closing yourself off from the world and putting fingers in your ears while saying "Na na na I can't hear you".

To cover all bases, I will include an edge case.  Suppose someone travels to the foreign land, learns the local language, customs, and body of knowledge, determines it is totally wrong for some reason and decides it should be destroyed, and works to the destroy it.  This person is not a colonialist!  Willingness to learn and curiosity of the unknown excludes one from the label of colonialist.  Mere violence and oppression, even if self destructive, are not enough.

Ion: Well they did steal the land.
Socrates: Not really, no.
Ion: How can you say that?  They took it.
Socrates: The land was free to take, it was not "stolen".
Ion: They drove the people from the land.
Socrates: And in doing so - they lost valuable materials, assitance, and knowledge.
Ion: But they did take it.
Socrates: They could have had all that land and much much more if they had been willing to learn instead of fear.  If I bulldoze an olive tree and now stand guard over a patch of dead earth, am I a successful thief?
Ion: In some cases they stole metals like gold.
Socrates: True.  But recall thievery does not a colonialist make.

Basically it is a question of celebrating mental illness.  To take the trait which most holds you back in the world, holds you back from spiritual, social, sexual, and intellectual fulfillment, which lowers your chance of survival, which makes you a petty tyrant and strips you of any real power, "look I am a cause of suffering".  To take this trait and hold it aloft for anyone to see and to yell "WIN".  That is the great lie of colonialism.

If others suffer, I am powerful.    (4th version)

Keep it up, it's great comedy.  How could working solely to affect a feeling in others be considered powerful?  It's too absurd to consider, and yet people still tell themselves this lie on a regular basis.  It's the kind of idiocy that was observed in the Milgram experiment.  That's part of the colonial mentality.  The big lie.  Shouting "win" while your behavior is that of every loser.

It's not a bug it's a feature!       (5th version)

Sometimes people take that very trait which makes themselves unhappy or unsuccessful and grab onto it for dear life.  I don't really know why.  Perhaps it's because they want to say "it can't have been for nothing".  It might also just be because "I learned it from watching you, Dad".  In all cases, it is quite sad - for the colonialist.  The justice of natural law is inarguable:  in penance for their crimes they must live out their miserable lives - devoid of the joy that normal folk can achieve with respectful productive relationships rooted in equality.  The function of the colonialist in the world is to provide an example to others of the archetype of failure.

Epilogue

Those better versed than I in the issue of colonialism have done a far better job explaining the underlying psychology.  I know of no better psychologist than  Malidoma Somé on the issue.  The psychological state arises from a combination of several factors, of which two are made clear:

The first is an absence of connection to ancestors of any kind, creating a mistrust and psychological void that apparently is very difficult to overcome and become whole.  Without a breadth of self in time, it is difficult to have a breadth of self in space, and hence - the extremely small self image.  This in turn can drive the lack of self confidence which drives the fear of knowledge and general "egotistical" behavior associated with retarded self awareness.  This mindset is then projected onto everything else in the world "the world couldn't possibly be intelligent or empathetic, because I am not" and hence "kill them before they kill you".

The second is pure neoteny.  The colonial mentality is one of an adolescent, as they have not had any ritual to guide them into adulthood.  Instead they continue the Freudian emphasis on adolescent sexuality, anger and jealousy, bile, and lack of responsibility or recognition of their larger body.

Some have suggested the big-lie-colonialist or the petty tyrant can be useful in training for a young warrior, and as continual demonstration of the archetype of failure.

Post-Epilogue

The word "colony" need not be associated with the big lie as represented here.

Americans have no culture

Lol right?  I've heard a number of people say this over the years, and every time it has given me a big smile.  It's a great example of that golden rule of psychology: people are really talking about themselves.

This statement can say "I am a fool" on many levels though, every one comedic.  In the end, as is often the case, there maybe be some grains of truth to the somewhat ambiguous statement.  Such a grain of truth provides the final "aha" of great comedy, as it provides yet another reason that the speaker is yet again proved ignorant.  So lets go through the layers, examining the stratigraphy of lulz.

Lets start with the obvious.  Being born on or having grown up on a certain area of the planet marked by some other folks as having some name or another means just that.  It can't possibly mean anything precise about the cultural background of an individual.  And what would "no culture" even mean anyway?  Perhaps it means there is a culture that you don't like?  It sounds more like it means there is a lack of knowledge of the culture - on the part of the accuser.  So on the first level we have the classic fallacy of prejudice coupled with a statement indicating a dearth of anthropological study.  I mean, "America" is two continents.  You think there's some cultural variability in there somewhere?

I've heard this spoken most frequently in Europe.  My first response was to make a snappy comeback: "Yeah it's true, none of my friends back home can solo on Giant Steps in more than one key".  First of all, if they'd heard of Trane, Bird, or Prez, that would be evidence of cultural aptitude, and so they wouldn't have made the statement in the first place.  This is bound to go over their heads, and just be annoying and unhelpful.  Not to mention contrived.  Who plays Giant Steps in other keys?  It doesn't make sense anyway.  If you can solo well on Giant Steps, you probably ~could~ play it in other keys.  To do so is easier on guitar or bass then keyed instruments, but I digress.

Another option is to go both ways at once "Yeah we don't have any Art left."  If a curious look is given, or other people are listening, you can follow up with "Art Tatum, Art Pepper and Art Farmer".  Of course you could design your own snide remarks using any other genre, it doesn't have to be jazz.  Punk music.  Baseball.  Potatoes.  Tobacco.  Ganja.  Skateboarding.  Freestyle.  Whatever, it's all culture.

While in my experience (completely biased by where I've lived) Euros have been more likely to make this titular comment than others, I've also heard Chinese folks say it.  In related lulz, you may have heard "Chinese have 5000 years of history".  That's right, history is something that is possessed by a tax regime or a racial identifier.  Lol!  In truth, history is there for the study by any interested party.  People from Beijing could learn about the incredibly rich ancient American history and it is just as much "theirs" as it is "theirs" to the people who live near to what is left of the archaeological sites today.  Oh and by the way, my snide remark here is usually "Only 5000 years?  I have at least 12 billion years myself".

You see, the rich and rewarding culture of the even tempered scale and all it entails is not "yours" just for holding a German passport (or for being born near JSB's birthplace).  Somebody who lives on the same street Bach did, but listens to techno and doesn't play an instrument, is less in possession of this culture than an Asian looking kid who grew up in New Jersey who memorized his first Bach compositions while studying from a black teacher.  A Chinese kid claiming to "have 5000 years of history" is a similar claim, in that such a broad statement really implies that they don't know their own history.  You think they studied metal calligraphy?  How much of southeast Asian history do they really know, if they could make such a statement?  How much cultural competence could somebody have to make the statement we are currently evaluating?

Dr. Levi Strauss, can you tell me about the cultures in upper Amazonia?

Yeah, there are none.

Haha, where were we?  Oh yeah we were at the first level of lulz stratigraphy, where we heard a statement that uses a clearly broken judgmental technique to imply superiority in some anthropological field while simultaneously demonstrating incompetence in this field.  Neat eh?  It's like a proof-of-idiocy rolled up in a proof-of-Dunning-Kruger-syndrome.

So let's look at some other implications.  A culture of puritan self-loathing and genocide-because-we-can left much of N. America with, amongst others, Euro-Orcish cultural roots.  This makes modern day Euros then pointing at "no culture in America" extra lulzy, like a dad insulting his son for having bad genes.

Yeah I get it, you have both kinds of music: trance and minimal.  Everything else is "no culture".  Hey let's all dress alike and watch "freinds" tonight what do you say?  No, I don't sing or play an instrument or hang out with the locals, because they "have no culture".  Of course they don't!  For proof, note that my windows are closed, and I'm not reading any books.

When presented with "X country has no culture" we could go further with this, dipping into Terence McKenna's famous quote "culture is not your friend" and what he meant by that.  It fits in with Don Juan Matus's remarkable claim that the destruction of the "tonal of the times" (something like culture) in much of the Americas was a boon to those aspiring men of knowledge who survived the orcish invasion.  However, this would be overkill.  Argument and dialog is more rewarding when carried out with people capable of opening their eyes.

Anyway, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Retreating to polemics is tempting, I understand.  And yeah car culture, fiat money, illiteracy and pretend democracy are depressing enough that one might be tempted to deny their existence.  But hey, say what you mean next time!

Bitcoin is socialist some more

In the first post of the series, we stated the obvious: that exchange commodities form the basis of a social system of sorts, in which participants are at some base level equal in their valuing of a token, and at a base level equal in their presentation of a token.

This applies to exchange commodities from wampum and gold to dollars and bitcoin.  They are inherently tokens which are valued due to support and belief in a social system in which everyone is at some level equal (my dollar is just as good as your dollar).

Today we are going to point out that because bitcoin is a public coin, it is markedly more "socialist" than other currencies.  I use the word socialist here in full knowledge that it is woefully under-defined and a polemic term, and the intent is to be a balance for others who claim that bitcoin might be somehow anti-socialist.  Of course, definitions for these words exist such that both statements are correct.  Why not look into the details of what's happening rather than taking sides in a loyalty-to-a-word battle?

A public coin is more socialist than a private coin precisely because it removes barriers between participants, enabling the people to have some ownership over the means of production.  Perhaps a few examples are in order.

--1)   Gold

It could be the case that one gram of pure gold offered by one person is the same as one gram of gold offered by another.  It also could be the case that anyone is to some extent free to go try to dig up more.  However, how much gold is outstanding?  The information might be out there to make a reasonable estimate, however it isn't exactly easy.  Certain people could become privy to information about where certain stashes of gold are, information which would be hard to obtain for somebody off the street.  In fact it isn't easy to verify the purity of a sample of gold either, or to make change.  How much gold could be mined from a given hill?  These things are effective barriers to a person who has just arrived to the golden age.  An inequality due to a pole position is maintained.

Compare these facets to those in the public coin world.  Yes, one bitcoin offered from one person could be the same as one bitcoin offered by another.  And further, anyone is free to go mine more.  But how much is outstanding?  Well, this is dead easy public information, and verifiable too.  While there may be stashes of bitcoin of appreciable market-changing quantity, the total amount - and the purity of a sample - are dead easy for anyone to assay or figure out.  Bitcoin appears to be more accessible to the public, even if at this stage, like gold, it already appears "premined" in that there is surely an advantage to the early adopters.

--2)  Fiat (privately issued coin)

Again with fiat, we see that a note from one person is in some sense equal to a note from another.  And further, anyone is free to start producing the notes.  Well, in theory this is the case.  However in practice, there are enormous hurdles in place.  Issuance is dominated by cartels, and not anyone can simply open a bank or start printing banknotes without facing retribution from established competitors.  In practice, arriving at a position of an established fiat issuer is not in any sense a straightforward path.  The system is maximally pole-positioned, as any newcomer not only has no way to find out how the system works (who is printing the money, how much, or where) but also is maximally unable to participate.  The issuer is free to issue at will, in private, at no cost, and with no oversight.  The means of production are held the strongest by the smallest hands in what might be called "fiat feudalism", and inequality is therefore maximized.

--3)  Public coin

With publicly issued digital coin again we see the basic equality of an exchange commodity, in which a coin from one person can be just like a coin from another.  This is not exactly true, as tainted or colored coins can exist, but to the level it matters for this conversation public coins are effectively fungible.  Again we also see a basic inequality of exchange commodities: some people have more than others.  Whether a person has more or less than another is rarely "fair", it is simply a matter of history.  So lets not get ahead of ourselves and claim that public coin presents a utopia of social balance.  However, a public coin removes some of the inherent advantages of existing stakeholders.  While fiat issuers can create tokens ad infinitum at no cost, public coin holders absolutely cannot.  Fiat stakeholders are able to use this power and also the power of secret issuance to great effect, creating remarkable injustice.  Coin stakeholders, while certainly capable of pressing their advantage, do not have these abilities.  They can hide assets, but always creation and money supply are limited.

Means of production

So, who owns the means of production?  In a public coin system, he who has amassed a fortune by hook or by crook can still purchase the means of production.  So it's not necessarily socialist, but can enable a socialist picture.  In a fiat economy, the fiat issuer can always obtain the means of production with no work, by issuing a bank account with the total amount required to purchase the factory.  A socialist economy is simply impossible in such an environment.

Epilogue

As you have probably realized by now, it is an absurdity to give a currency a political label - just as it would be an absurdity to call guns communist or hammers capitalist.  It is what people do with the stuff that really counts.  A better way to view it then is that public coin can enable a more socialist system, by allowing us to avoid huge concentrations of power which have beset us in the age of fiat feudalism.  Public coins are more amenable to the ownership of the means of production by the people.  They do not enable psychopaths to obtain as much power as fiat does.

Once you see it, it's dead obvious.  If we trade the means of production for a fiat currency, the means of production are thus owned entirely by a small group of fiat issuers.  The temptation at that point becomes too great, and the checks and balances too miniscule.  Waste, inefficiency, and unmitigated disaster are the inevitable results.  It's time we moved on from that era.