This is a speech given at the Direct Democracy Festival at Thessaloniki on September 4, 2014 about the trend of decentralization creating a global commons on the Internet and the disruptive potential of the Bitcoin blockchain.
Thank you for inviting me to this event. I feel honored to be here in Greece, the birthplace of democracy.
I was born and grew up in Japan. I moved to the States as a young adult. I live beyond borders and don’t belong to one particular nation. In a sense, I find the Internet to be my home. Indeed if there wasn’t the Internet, I wouldn’t be here right now.
Often I find this online borderless world more real than the world outside. In this place called "real life", we are separated and controlled by the interlocking power of nation-states and corporations. Every aspect of our lives is financialized and imaginations are captured by institutionalized hierarchies. Yet in the interconnected world of cyberspace, I find that imagination is not just surviving but thriving.
I here ask a question. Can the imagination of this virtual world help free the world that has been commodified? Tonight I am going to talk about the resistance against enclosures happening on the Internet and how the trend of decentralization in recent years is facilitating a reopening of the commons.
BitTorrent, Pirate Bay, Creative Commons, Linux and WikiPedia. Here we see the emergence of waves of uprising that challenge this culture of ownership and are weaving a new network based on sharing.
These waves of decentralization in the digital space perhaps best express the essence of social movements. A movement must move. It must flow. This movement of decentralization was built on net-neutrality. The Internet is anarchy, a true force for democracy. In this ecosystem, there is no governing center, no command from above. It enables unmediated peer-to-peer direct connection. In this decentralized system, power is distributed to everyone and there are no levers of control.
These new waves have begun disrupting outer central power that has been stagnating the flow of sharing and communication. In describing the reason behind her release of troves of classified documents, WikiLeaks whistle-blower Chelsea Manning said that "Information wants to be free".
In 2010, with the rise of WikiLeaks, we saw the beginning of the decentralization of information. WikiLeaks was the birth of journalism for the global commons. With the idea that cryptography could liberate people, they aimed to open governments by exposing secrecy and lies that are used to steal from the public.
This stateless whistleblowing site opened the floodgates, freeing information that had been kept in hierarchical media institutions or centralized state control. Information as the currency of democracy has begun to flow.
But this was not just about information. Manning also said, "I cant separate myself from others, I feel connected to everybody like they were distant family". In this outer world, we were taught to identify with national flags and look at other people across borders as either allies or enemies, but not as brothers and sisters.
Manning’s conscience was a spark that frees us from the biases of patriotism, imperialism and racism. It kindled an awakening to a larger sense of the commons. We began imagining each other anew based on the ground of equality.
This struck a chord throughout the Internet, bringing forth a new insurgence of justice. In the wake of the financial blockade of WikiLeaks, the online collective Anonymous stepped forward. Anonymous is an open source idea. There are no levers of control, no leadership, only the influence of thought.
They broke down the firewall of the corporate state and restored the right to freely assemble, this time on a global platform. Now everyone can associate with anyone in the world to create Ops and form a legion of shared ideas. The leaderless and egalitarian decision-making in IRC Chat rooms then morphed into a new insurrection in the streets during the Occupy movement. Open source protocols of consensus found resonance around the world and a shared resistance exposed the corruption of global power in the Anglo-Euro alliance that uses financial institutions as weapons of control.
In the West, the financial sector carries between 8 to 15 percent of the entire economy. Visa, Paypal, investment markets, Central banks and remittance industries monopolize the services of money printing and transfer, loans and wealth management. Some of the biggest corporations are running this financial system for their own gain. They charge massive fees, penalizing and basically steal money from the poor and transfer it to the rich.
Those occupy encampments at the centers of capital control gave birth to collective decision making through general assembly to challenge predatory capitalism. But then these movements were crushed by the brutal power of the state. Yet nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The imagination for a decentralized future has emerged again in another wave of powerful resistance.
In 2008, a white paper published under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto put forward a proposal for a peer-to-peer digital cash without any central authority. Now many people know Bitcoin as a form of digital cash, but what is the significance of this invention?
The potential for elimination of central authority in virtually any communication or financial transactions brings the source of legitimacy back to the individual. We can associate with anyone and create a decentralized system of our shared interest.
The core of this invention is a decentralized network that can achieve consensus amongst strangers at a large scale. This is similar to the "In Each Other We Trust" that was practiced during Occupy. Now with the blockchain technology, this trust is distributed at a global scale.
Here we have an open source network of distributed trust where no single person or institution acts as an authority. Unmediated horizontal interaction and decision making allows us to interact, innovate, and build a new infrastructure for the world without permission.
The blockchain distributed trust network is a global square for the commons. This is a square that cannot be cleared by the state and works autonomously, free of outer control. Access to the network is open to everyone. Unlike banks, the blockchain responds to and welcomes all people indiscriminately regardless of their economic status, nationality or credit history.
The Bitcoin network brings people who are excluded into the circle of consensus. Currently only one billion of the world’s population have real access to the financial and banking system. There are 6 billion people that are unbanked or underbanked. Now through this technology, those who are excluded from this Western-controlled financial system can participate in the world economy on their own terms.
The protocol of this blockchain public square is open source and built through collaboration. The anonymous creator of this technology knew that in order to build and secure the system, there needed to be an incentive to maintain it. This is one reason why currency was embedded in the protocol as its first application. Bitcoin is a public asset ledger that creates peer to peer digital cash.
This is the world’s first transnational currency. It is the Internet of money, and it empowers everyone. In this value transfer network of the blockchain, the concept of the nation-state becomes obsolete. It also makes mafia banks like Goldman Sachs obsolete, as well as the wire transfer industries such as Western Union. We are beginning to take back the power and flow of currency that has for too long been privatized by corporations and central banks. This can eliminate a huge portion of these financial services that extract money from the world economy and then bring this power back into the hands of the people.
The people’s currency has already been used to crowd-fund parts of the global commons. For instance, it was used to collect donations for Edward Snowden and to circumvent the financial blockade of WikiLeaks to sustain this global 4th estate.
With this decentralized currency, we now become our own banks. What happens when we gain the ability to create money and keep it in our own hands? We can declare independence from hierarchical institutions that divide the world into consumer class and sweatshop slaves, into "first world" and "third world" and thus determine access to information, finance and resources.
Up till the invention of blockchain and this stateless currency, we have been systematically kept unfree. Decentralization of information weakened the central powers that control narratives. Because of social media, Israeli government’s genocide in Gaza and the reality of the police state in Ferguson can no longer be kept secret. More people are becoming aware of the continuous illegal wars in the Middle East. Yet, information was not truly liberated to become a revolutionary force that could meaningfully challenge state control.
Around the world, people have been protesting and demanding that governments end the wars. Yet, have these efforts really worked? Many of us have come to think that wars never stop and central control will always prevail. Why is this so? Because right now governments don’t have to listen to the people. They have the means to fund wars simply by printing more money.
Whenever we use the Euro and the US dollar, we are paying for wars, bailing out banks and funding state violence and oppressive regimes around the world. In this modern world, we might think we have moved away from monarchy. Yet, we have the fiat U.S. dollar as world reserve currency, declared on high acting as a King. What we really have is Exxon Mobile dollars or Chevron coins. We have been using Goldman Sachs coins that are disguised as national interest but are actually imposed upon us.
Central banks of the world stagnate the flow of money and use it as means of control to create war economies and enslave us through debt. Bitcoin has a fixed monetary policy. Its decentralized design has a potential to limit or even eliminates this power. If governments don’t have the ability to print money, they cannot buy tanks, missiles and endlessly fund wars. They cannot debase currency with austerity, taxation through rent seeking and support financial colonization by controlling borders and forcing remittance.
With blockchain decentralized trust, information as a currency of democracy could generate a bottom up power of consensus. We can have our own banks and money in our own hands and direct its flow. As we divest from the war economy, governments will have to beg people to pay for their war operations. They won’t get to print money for war. They will have to ask. Who here would want to join #OpUS – CollateralMurder or #OpIsraelGenocideofGaza?
The blockchain network creates a world of voluntary association and mutual aid. In this new world, the populace cannot be forced into debt if they don’t agree to it. We can now fund our own Ops with our own currency based on shared trust. We can now create our own communities based on common values.
We share the same problems. Let’s solve them together. The privilege of Western Europe and North America creates the poverty of the Global South. Bitcoin distributed trust delivers power to the periphery. We can unite to keep our network in solidarity for a decentralized future within the global commons. The next time people in Cyprus are hit with the crisis of austerity and their government tries to steal their money, they have a choice.
From Somali migrant workers transmitting money back home to American college students in debt servitude and Argentinians resisting currency default, we can all work together to help each other create our own flow of common wealth. This decentralized autonomous network has the potential to transform war economies based on debt into new economies based on our indebtedness to one another.
Like WikiLeaks challenging information apartheid or Anonymous taking on a state-corporatist ideology of separation and hatred, with the blockchain we can free ourselves from the shackles of monetary apartheid, financial extraction and segregation.
Information is now being freed. Currency is flowing like never before. With the blockchain, we don’t have to occupy the city square. Each simply can become a part of a network that is already creating a global wave of uprising through simply acting as if we are already free.
As the imagination begins to move, forces that try to squash its flow has infiltrated cyberspace. With extreme surveillance and censorship, the militarization and centralization of the Internet has been creeping into our lives. The Internet has become a battleground.
Yet, the Internet is anarchy. It has already unleashed a true revolutionary force: our imagination as currency of the global commons. This is our movement. This is our flow. It cannot be diverted, devalued or controlled. Can our imagination save the world?
The answer is up to us.
Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency and decentralized movements. Her work is featured in many publications. Find her on twitter @nozomimagine.