“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” -Victor Hugo
Early 1950’s America. Harry S. Truman is in office. The economy is booming and the middle class are comfortable. Shiny new television sets invite the first scenes of Hollywood into people’s homes. The Weavers, Tony Bennett, Vera Lynn and Perry Como play on the radio.
But on the fringes, in dance halls and late night clubs, a cultural revolution is brewing… A new musical fusion with influences from blues, R&B, jazz, rockabilly, country and gospel music is about to give birth to not only a new genre, but a whole new way of life that will change society and culture, forever.
It becomes a symbol of freedom, a means of expression, and a catalyst for social change. It brings into existence a new type of counter-culture, filled with individuals who are driven to rebel against norms and authority. They don’t ask for permission. They push for change.
I believe we are witnessing such a shift now. And like rock & roll, the movement I’m speaking of is also ground up, grass roots, punk rock and will not look to authority to seek permission. The catalyst for this new social change, I believe, is Bitcoin. With its innate properties, it empowers and enables the individual like never before to achieve their fullest potential, expressed through an unprecedented freedom technology. It is an idea, like a song everyone can sing in their own way, that nobody can silence.
"You say you got a real solution / Well you know / we’d all love to see the plan" -John Lennon
The rock & roll era helped bring about meaningful societal change through art, music, and film. It created a new social narrative. Today, the Bitcoin network is providing people with a different set of tools and ideas to build a better future in a much more practical and pragmatic way. Instead of trying to reshape social consensus and cultural norms through art forms, fashion, or lifestyle, bitcoin is achieving this through open source code.
For the first time, this technology gives individuals financial sovereignty and personal control over their own destiny, with the ability to self custody their own money that no corporation, government, dictator or king can tamper with. The individual has an opportunity to finally be freed from economic tyranny. And societies have the potential to avoid endless wars funded with printed government money. John Lennon said ‘give peace a chance’. If he were still here today and understood how bitcoin could subvert the military industrial complex would he not exclaim, ‘give bitcoin a chance’?
"The times they are a-Changin’" -Bob Dylan
The civil rights movement was tightly interwoven with the history of rock & roll. The march on Washington, August 28th 1963, marked a seminal moment in American history for the advancement of equal rights before the law. Bob Dylan, along with Joan Baez, stood with over two hundred thousand other Americans and listened to Martin Luther King’s now immortal speech.
People with the same values peacefully gathered in numbers to make a statement powerful enough to change the conversation. This is analogous to the same freedom-minded people today gathering in cyberspace and voting not in the traditional sense, but voting with their money – peacefully exiting and transferring their economic energy into a system where they can’t be expropriated.
The question of whether individual rights are granted or have to be secured by each individual remains a contested area of philosophy to this day. To outline each in a very crude and simplistic way, natural rights (sometimes referred to as inalienable rights) are derived from the belief that every person owns their own body, therefore their own labor, time, and energy. Civil rights, on the other hand, are granted by the state and are therefore not universal. The fact that they are rights granted to humans by other humans means they always have the potential to be revoked or withdrawn.
Digital rights granted by the power of asymmetric cryptography are based in the laws of mathematics. Combined with proof of work, based in the law of thermodynamics, this makes digital rights that bitcoin provides more akin to natural rights than civil rights, as no one person or group can unilaterally revoke those rights or confiscate your property through violence. No amount of fire power, tanks, fighter jets or nuclear weapons can break a bitcoin private key or rewrite the sunken cost of proof of work embedded into bitcoin’s timechain. This idea of securing rights without asking permission is, in itself, a revolution and achievable now in an egalitarian way. This implies a potentially huge shift in power from those with a monopoly on violence, to peaceful individuals who want to be treated fairly and with dignity.
Songwriters write songs. Cypherpunks write code.
To tie things back and look at a very narrow, but potentially huge use case of bitcoin, let’s examine the current broken incentives of the music industry, particularly recorded music. It is becoming increasingly apparent that an option other than a subscription model could find demand from content consumers and producers alike.
There is now a way, with Bitcoin and Lightning Network, for a music fan to pay artists directly and for any amount – dollars, cents or even fractions of cents. This model has positive outcomes for the music producer and fan who are the main two parties engaged in the transaction. The artist keeps all of what is sent and the listener can pay what they want. The listener can pay as they listen, rather than be locked into a rolling subscription that isn’t based on usage. This concept, called ‘value for value’, is finding its way into new music platforms such as Wavlake and Fountain. I believe model will become the de-facto way of monetizing digital content in the coming years. This could bring an economic signal back to music that has been lost and cannot be achieved by streams alone. This will hopefully create a more meritocratic music system and shake up the entrenched streaming monoliths.
Art can shine a light on a certain truth. It can also make people look at things in a completely new way. Maybe then, Satoshi was the greatest artist who ever lived. Bitcoin smashed the conventional wisdom and theories of the most basic and prevalent thing everyone takes for granted: money. Using money as a lens to view the world can lead to distortions in your perception if the lens is warped. Removing the glasses makes you reevaluate economics, politics, religion, philosophy, morality, beauty, and almost every other aspect of life. The beauty of the Sistine Chapel, the Egyptian pyramids, the Mona Lisa, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Bohemian Rhapsody all intrinsically imply a certain degree of proof of work. The art, you could say, speaks for itself.
As a musician, I have found a new hope. The value for value movement gives me that hope. If this is truly a superior model of music distribution and consumption it will win out over time on the market.
Another point to touch on would be the possibility of this technology ushering in an artistic renaissance. I can honestly say my favorite music, the songs that have moved me the most, normally comes from a place of truth, honesty and sheer talent. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I feel popular music of late is devoid of soul, meaning and the biggest mainstream artists want to conform to the man (giant corporations/governments) instead of stick it to the man! Probably because there is nowhere else to turn now that streaming and social media platforms own their speech and art. We need to investigate and embrace new ways to own our speech and art, to make art interesting again. The powers that be, need to let it be, and leave alone individuals who wish to use this technology for their own interests if they do so in a peaceful way.
I want to leave you with a Frank Zappa quote that seems more relevant than ever:
“I’d say that today, dishonesty is the rule, and honesty the exception. It could be, statistically, that more people are honest than dishonest, but the few that really control things are not honest, and that tips the balance…”
My charitable view is that the majority of people in power aren’t corrupt, it’s rather just a case of ‘no one is better than their incentives’. But when incentives are misaligned bad outcomes will inevitably result. With bitcoin and its incorruptible incentive structure, we have a chance to peacefully opt-out of a rigged game. I urge you to not trust, but verify with your own research that bitcoin is the answer to many of society’s current problems.
I think it’s fair to say, we all need to question ourselves and authority a little more than we’re comfortable doing, to hold truth as an ideal worth striving for, and live a little more rock & roll!