Bitcoin and Morality

by Daniel

Bitcoin — a currency by most measures — is consistently framed as ‘amoral.’ Let’s think about why currencies are not compatible with morality.

An unethical or amoral use for a unit of exchange says nothing about the unit, and everything about the user. Those who don’t understand Bitcoin seem to think its uses make it good or bad. Cash, silver, gold, diamonds & bitcoins: These are units of value that can be used to purchase things no matter how the larger society perceives them.

The fact that you can buy drugs, guns, and assasinations, with Bitcoins is indisputable. Bitcoin was not built for the narrow purpose to purchase ‘illicit’ things. Teddy bears, maple syrup and beef jerky are all for sale. It was built to be a secure network of exchange, secured by the computing power of its participants. Sure, Bitcoin’s creator endowed its very DNA with an offhanded critique of our current banking system, but Bitcoin is at its core lacking an ethical or moral position.

I can’t blame Gawker headlines for this persistent problem when it comes to the common man’s perception of Bitcoin. The currency is scary once you get know it. Let me introduce you to a world using Bitcoin:

Transactions can be anonymous (1). Sending money from neighbor to neighbor or Alaska to Istanbul is instantaneous and free (2). Money can be stored with a memorized passphrase, or stored on paper in a vault (3). Only complete disconnection from the Internet can stop a transaction from occurring or disrupt the network (4).

This seems pretty liberating to say the least. But of course, with all disruptive technologies, one can forsee problems.

Can you see why I want Bitcoin to be understood correctly, free of moral relativism? It is a unique unit of value built for the Internet age which has been derided since the beginning. Placing a moral judgement upon what is essentially an open source algorithm is like calling a tomato evil. Learn more about Bitcoin here.

“What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.” - Protagoras

Notes:

  1. There are numerous mixing services.
  2. The double spend problem is real, but difficult to perform (read more). After 6 confirmations (usually after a few minutes) a transaction of coins from point to point can be reasonably trusted. See the comments for more discussion on this. A technical explanation.
  3. See Brainwallet. Pick a long, memorable phrase, and use that to generate a private and public key (this is printable).
  4.  The nodes, miners, and clients spread across the world make Bitcoin the largest distributed computing project ever. Ever.

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