I am not adverse to the occasional buzzword, but I think the subtitle above is a bit much, and thus bears explanation. But first the explanation needs a backstory.
To deep dive for a moment into a bullet-point anthropology: the human race has over the centuries adapted various solutions for dealing with the core problem of human existence.
How do we organize the Chaos? Nature is Chaos—it’s got its rhythms, indeed, but still unpredictable and dangerous Chaos.
Every person’s struggle to achieve personal mastery over Chaos has been the principle driver of progress, but along that line of progress, human history has veered wildly between the rights of the Individual and the demands of the Collective.
The tradeoff has been: too many freedoms granted to the individual, Chaos reigns and people are harmed. Too few freedoms to the individual, Stasis reigns, progress is halted, and once again people are harmed.
Like the best line on a Formula 1 racing circuit, the optimal point for the most benefit to human existence is found in the balance between Chaos and Stasis, velocity and stability, freedom and predictability.
To the bullet points:
Rule by tribe—prehistorically, tribes competed for resources and the survival of the tribe was supreme: no personal freedom could survive the loss of tribe resources or power. If one tribe wins over yours, your are wiped out or made slaves. The optimal balance hung squarely in the power of the Collective over the individual.
Rule by kings and emperors—from Hammurabi to Magna Carta, the powerful were suffered their immense power (even when it was not granted but taken) because of the far greater risks of no one powerful in power. Existence was brutal to the person who owed no allegiance—and to whom no protection was owed. On a regular basis, forces of nature and tribe tore through the ‘civilized’ world, only to recede with the power of the powerful intact, and the surviving populace grateful for that fact. Once again chaos has been pushed back, and life resumed—at the expense of liberty. Aristocracy over the individual.
Rule by nations—from Magna Carta to World War II, the paradigm that emerged was one of nations: groups of people and/or cartels of the powerful banded together to create governments of varying quality and durability, but each with the understanding that the diktats of government were to be followed for the nation—and thus the people in it—to succeed. Sometimes those diktats arrived by military junta and the firing squad, other times by vote and representation: but always the individual owes allegiance to the Nation and Law, for his own good. To allow otherwise is to invite chaos and instability. Nation over the individual.
Rule by super-nationalism—following the Aristocratic and Nationalistic excesses of the first half of the 20th century, the super-national paradigm became fashionable. No longer could nations be trusted to organize the chaos between them, we need a larger collective understanding of human government—so the idea was espoused. And so arose the Communist International, a committee of socialist nations committed to the enforced organization of chaos along their chosen methodology. Against this genocidal threat arose a collaboration of the ‘free’ nations of the world in an alliance broadly defined by ‘free market economics’ and democratic governance processes—often weakly implemented.Both of these movements, however, placed more demands on the individual and tolerated the accumulation of power to the titans of industry, government and media, placed unaccountable powers at the cornerstones of finance and economics, and once again organized the chaos on behalf of the individual—only at times with their permission. As the size of super-national organizations metastasize, ossify and become less accountable (see EU, G8, UN, IMF, multinational Corporations, etc.), the rights of the individual are once again eroding under the demands of the Collective. Globalization over the individual.
You can see how history trends for the individual: at every point there is a promise of future freedom, prosperity or agency for common folk, but so often the promise is subsumed by events, lack of vision, by needs of the day seized upon by the all-too-human hunger for power. Order must be maintained over chaos, stability over velocity, predictability over freedom. Individual rights—maybe next time, after the crisis du jour has passed.
Genuine human progress, on the other hand—the natural product of the equally human desire to observe, to rethink, to imagine, to craft and to build—depends, not on Chaos, but on the possibility of Chaos. Think of a baby’s first steps: if parents never allowed their child to fall, order would be maintained at the expense of growth. The possibility of falling—even the experience of it—is essential to growth and progress, so long as the experience isn’t irreparably destructive: a one-year-old walking unassisted on a 4-foot balance beam is no one’s idea of a good day.
A New Paradigm Empowers the Individual
Here’s where we get to the buzzwords. In 2008 a mysterious individual named Satoshi Nakamoto invented a quirky intersection between philosophy, mathematics and computation named Bitcoin. He launched the project as a 9-page system logic document (known as a Whitepaper) and a batch of code on an open-source forum, and after December 2010 quietly disappeared, remaining unknown to this day. From his plans and code, individual geeky types with a penchant for risk and independent action implemented the cryptographic ledger and consensus network (known as ‘mining’ because the costs of maintaining the network result in rewards in cryptographic currency) that continues operating to this day, having increased in its popularity and value somewhat since its inception.
I’m not sure anyone within range of the Internet by now has not heard of Bitcoin, but few understand fully what it represents, and what value the subsequent explosion of related Cryptocurrency projects brings to humanity.
There are many ways to regard Cryptocurrency in general, and dramatically differing opinions on the merits of the specific Crypto projects littering the forums, but I prefer to present here the philosophical view.
Back to the buzzwords:
Radically—in keeping with the ‘move fast and break things’ ethos that brought us massive Internet innovations that displaced slow and ineffective products and processes with efficient and adaptive ones, Crypto doesn’t wait for permission to try something new. Might people get hurt? Absolutely. So might a gymnast fall off the rings 10 feet up in the air. See point #2.
Volunteeristic—something radically transformative that becomes valuable cannot be coerced, as the Communists found out after their revolutions. This is a basic principle of Crypto: Do Your Own Research (DYOR) and “Not financial advice” accompany everything. Throughout the successes and failures of various enterprises and individuals (google “Mt Gox” or “rug pull” for examples of the latter), the individual’s rights are absolute: to get involved at all, to try, to win, to fail, to take responsibility for one’s own actions, knowledge, research, risk assessment and decisions. Is this chaotic? Yes! Is there immense value being built as the entire industry and its players learn how to self-organize the chaos (see the Smart Contract auditing and “War on Rugs” that have spontaneously arisen to address the challenges) and race toward the potential? Double yes!
Experiment—could this entire industry be crushed by coordinated authoritarianism or meteors or quantum computers? Absolutely. Might something better arise we haven’t invented yet? Completely. The point is in the velocity of iteration and adaptation. The intensity of the speed of new developments in the Crypto industry is far more than the intensity of Crypto token prices. We try this idea, this algorithm, this code, and see if it works. If no, we try that. We keep trying until we find the performance we’re looking for—or maybe even a serendipitous completely something new we hadn’t thought of.
Cooperative—the vast majority of projects are heavily open source, and as people gain interest in various projects, use cases and industries, they leverage every tool at their disposal to share ideas, ask question, poke holes in answers, demand explanations and contribute to code, network effects and actual implementation. This is fully a community, but one in which individual rights are absolutely respected. You are welcome to participate. No one owes you anything. Stand on your skill and merit.
Sub-National—I’ve had conversations with people from the UK, Eastern Europe, Korea, South America, and thousands of them with who knows where. The topics of competing national interest (with the exception of regular pot-shots at the wisdom of central bankers and lawmakers), creed, culture, gender or faith just are not relevant. This is a community of the interested, and all are welcome.
Non-Corporate—Lest you think the new tech will just deliver new titans and oligarchs and more centralized power, like Nakamoto himself, the Crypto industry’s staunch ethos is to launch self-sustaining projects that no one specific is really ‘in charge’ of: “Decentralize all the things”. Events like destruction of the master keys, retiring of the master nodes and the no-single-point-of-undue-influence design of Blockchain itself means that the vast majority of Crypto projects are owned and operated by their community of investors, open source developers, validators and stakers—or have a specific roadmap on when they get to that point—and the operations of the blockchain are open to review by any critical or interested party. This vastly exceeds the regulatory-driven corporate requirements of disclosure and improves on the Corporate “private investment drives proprietary delivery model”.
Self-Government—here’s where the magic of the cryptography comes in: Nakamoto’s singular achievement was to describe a way to establish and maintain a “single source of truth” aboutjust one thing—payments—that no one could argue was not the truth.The offspring of that realized concept has given rise to dozens of more highly valuable use cases—from digital ID to NFT ownership to authenticated supply chain dynamics—that give us all the ability to interact as individuals securely and with consensus, immediately across the entire globe with as-close-to-zero friction and difficulty as currently possible.In all the previous forms of government, we tolerated Law—even heavy-handed ones—because they were necessary to organize the Chaos, because things cannot be fully known, because the powerful can manipulate the truth. The downside of this was that Law too often stifles growth, and is itself manipulated by the powerful against the commoner, and is mutable by the Collective at the expense of the individual. It is this way by design. It is an old design that has exceeded its usefulness.Crypto also recognizes law, but implements the laws of mathematics, computation and cryptography, of the truth of the ledger as established in the blockchain. Of the immutable contract. Of the truth of the governance proposal as established by the algorithm and its voluntary and verified participants. All other Law touches Crypto only as an arbitrary annoyance and an obstacle.
This is what Blockchain and other Distributed projects ultimately represent to those of us who truly understand the potential of Crypto: genuine self-determination giving each of us the ability to choose for ourselves from a full marketplace of high-velocity, innovative solutions without coercion, intimidation, discrimination, censorship or arbitrary borders and restrictions.