Today on Sick Sad World: How The Cryptobros Have Fallen

Or, the through-line from Assassination Politics to monkey JPEGs.

The joke goes, "Stop saying you were promised flying cars. Unless you were born in 1935, you weren't promised flying cars, you were promised a cyberpunk corporate dystopia. You're welcome."

Or, in the immortal words of Blank Reg, "You know how we said 'No Future'? Well. This is it."

In the 80s and 90s, hacker culture was flush with tech utopians who thought that computer networks in general, and cryptography in particular, would allow them to route around the world's problems. These nerdy, young, sheltered, wealthy white men believed that you could code your way to freedom and good governance, and they could thereby avoid the yoke of whatever oppression they were suffering.

For many of these people, the oppression they felt seemed mainly to be paying taxes, or being told that they couldn't hoard guns, or that they simply couldn't get to do whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it. That latter particularly sociopathic part of hacker culture now calls itself "black hat", but the Libertarian end of it, that metastasized out of hacker culture and took over the tech industry in toto.

So there was this guy named Jim Bell.

He really, really hated paying taxes.

And in 1995, he published an essay on the "cypherpunks" mailing list called "Assassination Politics". It is long and rambling, but the gist of it is this:

I speculated on the question of whether an organization could be set up to legally announce that it would be awarding a cash prize to somebody who correctly "predicted" the death of one of a list of violators of rights, usually either government employees, officeholders, or appointees. It could ask for anonymous contributions from the public, and individuals would be able send those contributions using digital cash.

I also speculated that using modern methods of public-key encryption and anonymous "digital cash," it would be possible to make such awards in such a way so that nobody knows who is getting awarded the money, only that the award is being given. Even the organization itself would have no information that could help the authorities find the person responsible for the prediction, let alone the one who caused the death.

So basically, Silk Road meets Kickstarter but for freelance hit-men. It's the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, but with sniper rifles.

And this wasn't satire! He really thought this was a good idea, a thing that should be built, and that only the "bad" people would suffer from an epidemic of 9mm tumors.

Remember, this is a guy who said things like, "Tax collection constitutes aggression, and anyone assisting in the effort or benefiting from the proceeds thereof is a criminal."

Later, Bell devoted his time to finding and publishing the home addresses of IRS employees. That's right, he pioneered doxxing! The FBI was not pleased with this, and it did not go well for him. The cypherpunks were also not pleased with this, because by their ethos, those addresses were a matter of public record, so how could doxxing be unethical or even illegal?

Fast-forward thirty years, and here we are now, in this, the Year Of Our Blade Runner, 2022. The infrastructure that this guy was fantasizing about has moved from its infancy to the mainstream. Public-key cryptography is widely accessible, and it's possible in practice to conspire and exchange value anonymously, if you do your OpSec right and don't post selfies from the scene of the crime. Theoretically. (It's a big "if", because there are no Moriartys.)

What have these Libertarian crypto-bro idealists built?

The cryptocurrency industry, whose business model would seem unrealistic and ham-handed if it was a villain on Captain Planet: they manufacture only POLLUTION, nothing else, and they turn that into money.

They call it a "currency" but the only thing you can do with it is pay ransom after your computer was hacked! You can't even use it to buy porn!

And make no mistake, if you can't use a thing to buy porn, that thing is not a currency.

Cryptocurrencies are Itchy & Scratchy Money.

And their new product, the one that is getting all the press these days? They re-invented the "International" Star Registry con. "I am the Mayor of this 64 digit hash!" The new killer app is people speculating on receipts for links to automatically-recolored cartoon monkeys.

And people and organizations who absolutely should know better -- The Long Now Foundation, The Internet Archive (keep fucking that potato), Mozilla, and so many others -- are still adding cryptocurrencies to their checkout options like it's not a god damned planet killer.

But at least Bell's crackpot idea of turning every couch potato who feels victimized by what they saw on the teevee into a bargain basement Eric Prince didn't come to pass. At least being a school shooter isn't usually profitable for the shooter.

At least there are no Moriartys.

They promised us Bond villains with lasers and unhackable data centers in atmosphere-evacuated vaults in international waters. What they gave us was the banality of day-traders, armchair finance-bros with laser-eye avatars, who are unable to give up on the grift because the grift requires that they must always find the greater fool.

I sometimes joke that we deserve a better class of villain.

But I guess we don't. This is what we built, and we're getting exactly what we deserve.

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