Some of my earliest memories are of the social unrest of the 1970’s.
Richard Nixon had cut the dollar’s final ties to gold a few months after I was born in 1971 and by the time I was toddling around in front of the TV screen, it was filled with pictures of angry young men either on strike outside factories or on Top of the Pops (the weekly British music show on the BBC that was an institution in its own right).
“God save the Queen. The Fascist Regime….. We’re the future. Your future.” snarled Johnny Rotten in a fair reflection of his generation’s mood, sending “the establishment” into a right-royal tizz at the same time.
The origin of the word “Punk” is “Spark”.
Whilst it could be argued that The Sex Pistols gave a voice to the spark which led to the inevitable political changes in the early days of our age of mega monetary expansion, another group of renegades adopted the same moniker for their own movement in the early ‘90s – The Cypherpunks.
Taking a somewhat less bombastic approach, this group of academics, computer scientists declared in their manifesto, “Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. … We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy … We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. … Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and … we’re going to write it.”
After I attended the first Bitcoin Meetup in London in September 2012, this mood and these principles clogged the air as the group gradually grew from an original 5 to over 80 in the following months.
I’d been a little bothered by the fact that the emergence of the internet over the previous decade, with communities now gathered in a single (cyber) space, had seemed to have homogenized the ardour of those typical and identifiable youth movements – with a political statement to make – that had been de rigueur for their predecessors.
Over those few months it became very apparent to me that they were back – but this time it wouldn’t be music, art or fashion as their weapon of choice.
This time around it would be code and software.
However, it was also clear to me that no amount of code on its own would easily change peoples’ ideologies en masse but the density of idealogues within the community back then was naturally high.
“Bringing down the banks & governments” was the natural persuasion amongst those that had both immediately and fully understood the mechanics and also become equally convinced of the implications that Satoshi’s little idea had put forth.
Whilst undeniably having a foot firmly in their camp, I guess I’m a bit of a pragmatist, and knew that this hell-bent vision would eventually become diluted over time as ever-more people entered the space.
Code is code. Law is law.
And no amount of the former would completely do away with the latter. But just like the punks of the 1970’s, their cypher cousins could indeed hold the power to effect significant change.
I doubt that anyone that was there at the Paddington pub will forget the moment when Amir Taaki (the punkiest of early Bitcoin punks) jumped up onto the pool table to corral the troops that included a group of Cambridge PhD’s (who’d go on to form Elliptic) or an executive architect from IBM (who’d go on to become CTO at R3).
Not long after that, one of the original group’s members introduced his good friend, Gavin Wood, to a certain Vitalik Buterin who was looking for C++ developer to work on an idea he had for a more programmable version of Bitcoin.
Community is a powerful thing.
In the years since, the progress and innovation in this space has been nothing short of astounding – especially for those that recall those early days.
As these simple(!) ideas have morphed into multi-billion dollar companies and networks, many of those early apostles have, when faced with the realities of their own (quite understandable) self interests, have had to compromise and conform – if for no other reason than to stay out of jail.
That pesky “law” thing.
11 years into the experiment, and with the explosion of DeFi projects building significant traction, our industry faces some serious challenges.
Developing the independent financial rails that are finally fit for our digital age will, without any doubt, be challenged by the powers-that-be in the many years ahead that it will take to develop and evolve.
Bringing down banks and governments, at one end, was always a pipe dream and, if we’re honest, probably not a world that the majority of people want to live in.
At the same time, the opportunity to bring about real change, chipping away at The Establishment’s reach along the way, is a must.
Absolutely, certain compromises will need to be made as existing laws and regulations are waved in the faces of the innovators. But it is our duty to both prove and ensure that we can build better systems that start to do away at the things that have created the need (or excuse) for such overarching regulation in the first place.
Ones that can meet the demands of those that actually want to live and operate as law abiding citizens but with their own liberties and privacy better protected, putting the power back into the hands of the individual and the communities in which we live.
The youth movement of the next decade won’t be defined by safety pins and Mohican hair cuts. It will be defined by genius software written by the very generation whose financial destiny was set in stone the very year I was born.
They might not get to appear on Top of the Pops, but I’m sure Johnny, Sid and the gang would be only too proud to lend them their lines.
“We’re the future. Your future.”
Paul Gordon, a former interest rate derivatives trader and broker of 20+ years, has organised Coinscrum, one of the world’s oldest and largest Bitcoin and blockchain networking groups in London since 2012 – introducing leading projects and thought leaders, spanning over 250 events. He has worked on his own startup in the industry, is an angel investor and is currently producing a weekly webcast covering news, analysis and opinion from across the crypto markets.