Bitcoin's "Political Neutrality is a Myth" - Amir Taaki Interview
Amir Taaki is a skilled programmer and one of the leading minds behind Dark Wallet, an app that will allow Bitcoin users to easily conduct anonymous transactions.
Amir Taaki is a skilled programmer and one of the leading minds behind Dark Wallet, an app that will allow Bitcoin users to easily conduct anonymous transactions. He also happens to have strong feelings about some other important actors in the cryptocurrency community.
On July 24th, he posted this thread on Reddit’s /r/Bitcoin forum where he called out Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn as a “crony”, accused the Bitcoin Foundation of doing “jack shit for Bitcoin”, and pondered why web wallet/broker Circle had not responded to developer Peter Todd’s inquiries about whether they would be implementing censorship or surveillance technology.
I contacted Amir to see if he would be willing to expand his thoughts on Bitcoin corruption past what he wrote in the thread, as well as to learn more about his visions for a crypto-anarchist future. Here are his responses.
- Amir Taaki
Cointelegraph: You called out Circle for not responding to questions from Peter Todd about whether they are implementing censorship or surveillance technology, and the Bitcoin Foundation for not doing “jack shit” with the resources they have. All of this is framed by your conclusions about them playing into the hand of governments that want to kill Bitcoin through regulation. Do you think they truly believe regulation will lead to greater adoption and progress for the community? Or is something more malicious at play?
Amir Taaki: People like Jeremy Allaire are scary because they are boring and dull people lacking in any imagination. They do not understand Bitcoin beyond the simple level, and are excited because they've spent years in the corporate brainwashing world and now see these new tools of power.
It's important to understand the logic because it is the logic of many newbs to Bitcoin familiar with the world of consumerism, and unversed in the ways of open-source and decentralization.
Gavin Andresen is a small dude who has suddenly found himself thrust into the centre of a big picture, with many players vying for his attention. He is also naive. And bankers, law enforcement types, politicians and lawyers come to him smiling with good manners and sweet words.
He sees himself as some closeted libertarian ninja silently advancing the Bitcoin agenda while working with regulators to better sway their opinion by offering up his assistance, demonstrating good intent. All without realizing he is educating the sharks.
He says that we need to get the masses on board, because then we will be protected, and that it's OK to compromise so that we win these gains. It's a typical herd mentality of frightened sheep flocking together waiting to be slaughtered. What Bitcoin needs are strong individuals willing to stand for their rights and take initiative.
- Gavin Andresen
Then there are the "fringe elements" of Bitcoin who call him out, and they are a threat to this strategy, a threat to the united front of the Foundation. And so they make attempts to marginalize, to push-out people who don't dress, think and speak like them.
Then there's people like Jeremy who see Bitcoin as this new tool of power, that they just need to wrestle away from those crazy anarchists for the greater good.
No Jeremy, you don't understand. Bitcoin is bigger than you, me or anyone else here. Bitcoin is not a payments system, it is a transactional network with way more potential for how humans organize, govern and live. We haven't even begun to explore the true possibilities of this new technology of the blockchain.
Bitcoin is a shitty payments system. It is not meant for buying coffee at Starbucks. It is an economical tool to enable new forms of trade to thrive which extends further into the areas of resource management, decentralized law, and digital governance. We can use this to create the next generation of economic activity between humans, and organize on a local level much larger than ever before possible. We can find new ways to disempower banks, politicians, lawyers, police, judges and institutions.
Note the title of the Bitcoin 2013 conference which calls Bitcoin a "payments innovation". This is their way of slanting Bitcoin so it's not a challenging new currency, but a safe addition to help banks streamline. A way to paper over the cracks in our current financial system.
These people are dangerous because of the influence they wield over Bitcoin that can destroy it as a free and open system. Recently Gavin made a post calling to raise the blocksize limit which is connected to this vision of Bitcoin as a system for payments. There is an agenda behind that kind of talk because raising the blocksize limit morphs Bitcoin as a better payment's system but centralizes more power with miners - which is already at dangerous levels in Bitcoin. We can either have a decentralized, free and uncensored Bitcoin, or a centralized Bitcoin good for payments (same as the banks).
The newbs to Bitcoin always talk about whether X is good for getting the masses on board. Newsflash: Bitcoin will be adopted. The utility of this technology is simply too strong. Imagine yourself in the early days of the internet people talking about mass adoption of the internet. What is important is not to grow adoption of Bitcoin, but to protect and ensure the integrity of this technology. Otherwise we will have a GovCoin or a CorpCoin.
When people like Jeremy Allaire talk about mass adoption and compromise - that is a big red warning signal. Giving your power to win favor is a losing strategy. We have the power and now is the moment. Do not give an inch.
Peter Todd is calling out Circle on their newspeak language which those of us in the know understand is code words for surveillance and censorship technology. Circle refuses to acknowledge him because they're guilty and complicit in crimes against Bitcoin users.
And these crimes affect us all. It's not just that user X gets monitored or user Y is unable to make a payment. These technologies that are implemented and employed work against the whole of the Bitcoin system in its totality. The more tools of power employed against the shared infrastructure of Bitcoin, the more difficult it becomes for you to stay protected and secure because these tools work not just against individuals but against everyone.
These individuals are all friends, and form a gang that promotes each other. If you look at the top of the Bitcoin2014 conference, Jeremy, Gavin and Mike Hearn are on the first line while other real contributors to Bitcoin like Thomas V (Electrum), Alan Reiner (Armory), Peter Todd and others are below all the suits. Is this the Bitcoin that truly represents us, the community?
CT: When talking about the projects you work on, you told VICE Motherboard “with the future we're heading towards, we need to have these tools that we can use to live.” What is your vision of the future?
AT: We can live together with our friends, have tons of free time, own our own work working on the things we like in our self-interest keeping the profit without needing bosses or nannies. Our places can be beautiful with swimming pools, hacklabs, cinema, awesome parties, cool events, ...all for ourselves. More free time to spend with our kids, follow our passions, start a business or whatever we want. And the more of us there are, the stronger we are. With 10,000 people in one place, you can do a lot.
We just need the technological and industrial tools for self-management. Our group is investing time and resources towards developing these tools. It's a lot easier than you think. The moment is now. It's not the same situation as 100 years ago.
CT: When did you decide this was a future you wanted to commit yourself to?
AT: No decision. Just the sum of gradual realizations. I've had my own journey and there were many stops along the way.
CT: Any favorite philosophers or writers?
AT: I'm not a philosopher, and I don't read fiction that much. Mostly I read text books on science or Wikipedia a lot. I do take inspiration from historical figures who better help me in being the person I want to be.
Ahmad Shah Massoud is a legendary figure in Afghanistan who fought against the soviets raising a professional guerilla army. He captured the most amount of bases and taught himself from books. He was also a very good person who ended up fighting against the Pakistan/US funded Taliban until he was assassinated 2 days before 9/11 despite repeatedly warning the US about attacks. Massoud inspired millions to follow him through his charisma and cunning, and despite being in a war, there are many many stories about his humanity.
Carl Sagan is a scientist who created a TV series called Cosmos that's inspired generations of scientists (including my sister). Unlike other science documentaries, he talks not of facts but with poetry and wisdom that imparts real significance and meaning. I've never heard other scientists talk like him, and I feel him as a person who knew about life, understanding our world in its totality. Sometimes physicists (or programmers .etc) have a tendency to view the world through the narrow slit of their specialization.
- Carl Sagan
CT: Do you consider programming to be an art form?
AT: I guess you know my answer :) Mediocre programmers working for the man (usually Java code-monkeys) who spend their time slotting design patterns together to meet specifications from up-top would like you to see them as engineers. In fact, their code is terrible and they're brain dead corporate robots, lacking in creativity. The analogy is Hollywood movies designed by movie executives based off market research.
As a programmer creating technological tools for people, I have a toolbox of different techniques to employ, all with different tradeoffs, none good or bad. There is no 1 way to write code. I encode my values in the software I write simply by how I decide to implement the code one way or another.
Some of the Bitcoin fascists are spreading a dangerous mistruth that technology is politically neutral. They conflate the fact that Bitcoin doesn't differentiate between participants, with the mistruth that Bitcoin is politically neutral. If you read the original writings of Satoshi Nakamoto, you will learn that he has a strong libertarian slant and was very political.
Political neutrality is a myth. Calling a technology politically neutral is a dangerous lie meant to serve an agenda. Bitcoin was created to serve a highly political intent, a free and uncensored network where all can participate with equal access. A free market ethic.
CT: You’re an extremely talented programmer who has turned down multiple lucrative job offers in favor of living in communal squats and being able to work on your preferred projects. Is this because you consider the life you’ve chosen more satisfactory than a traditional career path on an individual level? Or is this about sacrificing your own pleasure for the greater good?
AT: There are different ways to organize communities. One is through a central assembly (usually democratic consensus driven decision making) which projects are subservient to. The alternative model is a federation of autonomous projects which self organize, even down to the people level. It can be less organized but gives more individual freedom, whereas the democratic model is often more organized but the assembly often is its own political structure with hierarchy and bureaucracy.
I prefer communities which don't have central meetings and promote individual autonomy. In the squats you have private kitchens, private rooms, but sometimes it makes sense to organize cooperatively especially for economic reasons (i.e buying food in bulk is far cheaper). I oppose communal communities and where I have been in those places, I've often come into conflict with the central authority that tries to masquerade as the democratic will of the people (tyranny of the majority).
I like to squat because it gives me freedom. I can move around every major city of Europe through a network of like-minded people often at zero cost. People are interested in my work, and if it were not for squats, I would not have been able to work on Bitcoin and open-source for so long. There are many many rich people in Bitcoin who talk a lot, but it was squatters with little money who supported me through 2013 when I was bankrupt, giving me shelter and bringing me food when I was working on the foundation for Darkwallet. I had no help from the Bitcoin community or business people then.
Free culture has a different feeling than the corporate life constructed for us. Self-run kitchens are way more enjoyable than restaurants. Free parties are much better than any nightclub. Squat-cinemas are filled with friends. Boxing gyms, theatre, music studios, hacklabs, mechanic-workshops, bars...you can find them all with cool people and nice girls around.
We have occupied a forest 1 hour from London, and people are constructing houses in this trippy forest. You have old couples, people raising kids, 1 house is with chickens, ducks and pigs. Recently we held a ceremony for the summer solstice 30 mins away where there is one of the oldest trees in England- a 1400 year old yew tree which isn't marked on maps, and pagans across the country make pilgrimages too. That was an interesting experience. We often go swimming in the river right next to us or climbing around trees.
I value my freedom over material comfort. In the end, you can be the most luxurious prisoner, but you're still a prisoner. I feel a fondness for simple aestheticism, and it keeps me grounded knowing my motive is not corrupted or driven by personal profit. I want to soar above this earth like Jonathan Livingstone.
I don't believe in greater good. Maybe I did in earlier years, but my wide-eyed enthusiasm for "changing the world for the better" no longer exists. That's utopic thinking.
CT: You said that Mike Hearn is “pushing for blacklists, censorship, supporting regulation etc. he is a crony in the worst way.” If this is true, what do you think his motivation is?
AT: When Mike Hearn imagines Bitcoin, he talks about innovations for improving and streamlining consumer commerce, but never nothing grander that promotes individual freedom. He stands for privacy, not anonymity and actually wants to improve the ability of law enforcement to police Bitcoin.
I won't speculate on his motivations, but the actions of Mike Hearn are of someone who has consistently and vigorously worked against the interests of the user. Many of his proposals are compromised in a deeply technical hard to perceive way, which manage to allow censorship or surveillance of Bitcoin users.
He's proposed 4 different schemes on separate occasions that are variants of blacklists against Bitcoin transactions. His last proposal was a scheme to allow miners to regulate against double-spend attempts (so that users can buy coffee at Starbucks) by voting whether to confiscate the reward for blocks. Problem is that then the authorities can pressure miners to penalize "bad blocks.” His blog has posts with compromised privacy schemes, ways we could police the Tor network. He's also worked with police against the Tor drug markets.
If you see the CoinSummit YouTube video with him in London, you'll see he proposes putting Bitcoin inside Tor for privacy then starts talking about Denial of Service attacks, and so the need for authentication between Bitcoin nodes. Then somehow he manages to get onto Bitcoin nodes having a proof-of-a-government issued passport...in the name of privacy! He's tried to slant this other ways, but it's in the video 3/4 of the way in.
CT: This is powerful software you are working on and you have made it clear that you want it to help take down governments. Do you worry about what kind of backlash that might bring against you from the people whose power you are trying to take away?
AT: Look, we are in a deep crisis. We are heading straight for an unprecedented disaster and there is NO turning back right now. The dollar is reaching the end of its hegemony. Resource consumption globally is increasing exponentially. Population is increasing. Oil extraction is becoming expensive. The ecology is under massive stress, and already facing collapse.
We are in an extinction event (the Anthropocene) with millions of species facing extinction. The military and bureaucracies are ballooning in size. The economy collapsed in 2009. We discover surveillance programs with massive dragnet surveillance flying drones over entire neighborhoods, tapping 40 million phone calls in France per month (60 in Spain). This is absolutely crazy.
Meanwhile for normal people, things are really shit. We live in a time of high-technology and high-science, and yet people have very little time to spend with their kids. People are working jobs they increasingly hate doing crap work against their own self-interest, being paid less and less (maybe more $, but they print $) and doing longer hours. The situation is only going to get worse. I doubt there will be an apocalypse, but one day you may wake up and think "fuck! how did this all happen?" or maybe not? Winston's comrades were happy about chocolate rations going up.
The ecology deserves special note because we are growing these big monoculture crops with monsanto seeds that cause imbalance in the nature. To compensate, we pump the soil with chemicals that create another imbalance, and then we add more and more, destroying the diversity and resilience of the surrounding ecosystem to support itself.
There is now a whole class of chronic diseases in the West on the rise, that don't exist in developing nations. We are making ourselves sick. We believe that the food we eat is either safe or unsafe, but the reality is that there are dangerous contaminants and the legislation simply regulates what the acceptable levels of toxicity are. More toxicity equals more probability of cancer or other illness.
We do testing of water in Spain, and many of the rivers are contaminated upstream by industrial pollutants that accumulate in the bodies of animals up the food chain. This is part of the delicate system we rely upon to live and eat. You have some areas with monoculture plants, usually introduced that are growing like a bulldozer and wiping out old ecosystems and municipalities that try to cut back the crop causing other problems. It really is a disaster scenario with no solution.
But in the city we don't see this stuff. And deep within Babylon, it's easy to ignore.
CT: What do you think is Bitcoin's greatest weakness?