Bitcoin and Justice (Part I)

Pictures of historical documents are boring, so here are a bunch of redcoats surrendering at Yorktown

Bitcoin is good. Its ideas are derived from the same ones that underpin classical values of freedom, equality, and personal liberty. In this post I’ll dive into my views on how technology should be though of from an ethical perspective, and why I disagree with the idea that Bitcoin is best used to break the law.

(Spoiler alert – there is a higher law)

The Ethics of Technology

We need to consider what Bitcoin actually achieves from an ethical perspective. Technology can be used for both good and evil, but it often has a bias. Hearing aids are designed to lift up someone with a disability to a higher level of functioning, while nuclear weapons are designed to grant an individual the power to wipe out cities. So the test for the value of a technology is simple – in the hands of a capable sociopath, how will the technology impact the rest of society?

The Volksempfänger, "people's receiver") was a range of radio receivers developed by engineer Otto Griessing at the request of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

The purpose of the Volksempfänger-program was to make radio reception technology affordable to the general public. Joseph Goebbels realized the great propaganda potential of this relatively new medium and thus considered widespread availability of receivers highly important.
“All of Germany hears the Führer
with the People’s Receiver.”

The key distinction is relative power. We know that in fact, all men are not created equal. But certain technologies help level the playing field, while others grant power disproportionately. Give Hitler control of a one-to-many medium like radio where he can propagandize directly without competition, and you get Kristallnacht. Give him a Twitter account and he’s just another troll, whose horrible ideas will get ratio’d to hell as soon as they’re exposed to the light of day.

As a many-to-many platform, Twitter gives a voice to the voiceless who may otherwise be censored by centralized technology. That includes women abused by powerful men, minorities harassed by law enforcement, and middle class Americans disgusted by the excess of the elite.

Like Twitter, Bitcoin is designed for freedom. The trade-offs that limit transaction throughput are made to ensure it remains a tool available to empower individuals, no matter their circumstance. Anyone in the world with an internet connection and a Raspberry Pi can hold Bitcoin, run a node, and verify their transactions.

The end result is monetary security – protection against direct theft, as well as protection against debasement risk that plagues centrally controlled currencies. In this way, Bitcoin is an extension of our natural, unalienable rights, and a powerful force for good in the world.

Natural Law vs the Laws of Men

Bitcoin’s design makes it clear – this stuff is made to function in a hostile environment, and enable “breaking laws and social constructs”. It’s useful however to ask specifically what kinds of laws Bitcoin can break. At the core, Bitcoin supports two natural rights – the right to save for the future, and the right to transact freely. Centralizing technology has restricted these rights in practice, and even made possible laws that codify those restrictions.

Those laws are fundamentally in opposition to natural rights. They are man made, and out of harmony with moral law. Bitcoin is a weapon, built to fix this.

“A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

The Bill of Rights was designed to enshrine natural law into the DNA of an embryonic nation. While the rest of the Constitution laid out the government’s legal powers, the first ten amendments aggressively curtailed their scope in relation to the people.

America’s founding documents were far from perfect. They failed miserably in granting those natural rights to every human within the 13 colonies, and by definition they can only apply to Americans. The beauty of Bitcoin is that through the internet and open source code, today anyone can claim those rights, anywhere in the world. Unjust legal authorities can still prosecute or persecute Bitcoiners, but for the first time in decades if not centuries, they are fighting a losing battle.

Bitcoin is a tool that strengthens moral and civic principles rooted deep in western civilization. To the extent that Bitcoin violates an ordinance, we examine the underlying issue with strict scrutiny and a healthy dose of skepticism.

In Part Two I will discuss Bitcoin and to crime, and explore its relationship with law enforcement and international relations.