Blog

Punk Is Dead and So Is Bitcoin

tumblr_inline_p1eekpNoj01uz5i6p_540.jpg

Let’s get this out of the way first: I really don’t know that much about Bitcoin.

I’ve probably only read slightly more than the average person has about the infamous cryptocurrency everyone wishes they’d bought up a year ago. I’m not an expert in economics or finance and I’ve pretended to understand inflation longer than I’ve actually understood it.

But I know I like Bitcoin.

See, I don’t know anything about skateboarding, either, but I respect and appreciate the way a loosely-tied, global collective of young people took a looked-down-upon hobby and turned it into an industry worth $5 billion.

No one told them to do it, no one asked them to do it, and no one really wanted them to do it, but they did it and they didn’t need help from the government, corporations, or banks. They founded their own corporations, they formed their own system of governance, and they made bank doing it.

I like Bitcoin because it’s punk rock, manifesting itself as a medium of exchange.

I like it for the same reason I like Uber or Netflix. They looked at two entrenched, highly complacent industries and shook them up the same way The Stooges did the hippie-dippie ‘60s or the Ramones and the Sex Pistols did the turgid, overstuffed ‘70s.

Do I feel bad for people who’d invested thousands in their taxi cab or Blockbuster franchise? Sure. But just what the hell was stopping the higher-ups at the cab companies or Blockbuster from creating their own Uber or Netflix? After all, they had the resources and access to the market.

Instead, it took a bunch of outsiders to bring each industry into the new millennium. Bitcoin’s no different.

No one’s quite sure who invented it. We’re not even sure if it was one person or a group of people. But whoever did, it looks as though they’ve made a legitimate attempt at creating a currency for the new, digital millennium.

We don’t need flower power nonsense, we don’t need 40-minute keyboard solos, we don’t need a complacent taxi industry, and we certainly don’t need governments or banks to tell us how we’re allowed to buy stuff.

I suppose that’s why I find myself so disappointed in what Bitcoin has become. Or should I say, in what the public have turned Bitcoin into. Punk is dead and, I’m sad to say, so is Bitcoin.

In much the same way that the freedom of punk rock was perverted into a cut-and-paste musical formula guarded by a suffocatingly insular and homogenous culture of punk police, Bitcoin, as it was originally intended to be, is no longer Bitcoin.

The appeal of Bitcoin, its very raison d'être, is freedom. This is a form of currency whose value could only be decided by the people. Its value doesn’t have anything to do with how well-stuffed the coffers of a centralised government happened to be at any given time. There is no federal reserve to manage the supply of Bitcoin. In the world of Bitcoin, banks are effectively useless.

At first, you didn’t even really need to “earn” it, in a strict sense. You just needed a decent graphics card, an internet connection, and a computer you could leave switched on 24 hours a day. In the words of legendary punk zine Sniffin’ Glue: this is a cord, this is another another… now form a band.

Alas, nothing good can ever last. If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that Bitcoin has failed miserably in its original objective. It was supposed to be a decentralised form of digital currency, not a stock, driven by market sentiment.

As I continue to see my news feed clogged with posts by high school peers who can’t believe they didn’t buy a couple of bitcoins back in 2012, I can’t help but think to myself, “Bitcoin was supposed to be money, right?”

And yet everyone, from your average joe, to experienced traders and learned economists, are treating it like some speculative stock a few people happened to get lucky betting on. Its value to people is literally how much it’s currently worth in regular, old fiat currency, and everyone’s waiting on the right time to “cash out”.

That’s not how it was supposed to be. Bitcoin was supposed to be money.

Instead, it’s just like any other stock, operating entirely on speculation and sentiment. Back in September, Twitter became furious at JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon after it appeared his bank was buying up Bitcoin products right as Dimon himself was telling the press that Bitcoin is “a fraud” and a bubble “worse than tulip bulbs”.

Many assumed Dimon’s comments were an attempt to talk down Bitcoin in order to reduce its value and buy low in secret. It turned out the screenshot of transactions that triggered the firestorm was not of transactions conducted by JPMorgan.

And yet, the short saga illustrated perfectly the issue with Bitcoin. After all, talk all the smack you want about the American dollar.

For all the progress made in blockchain technology, it seems we simply can’t detach ourselves from thinking in terms of conventional fiat currency–the USD and AUD we all know and love.

We’ve known for some time that eventually the bauds and nodes of technology would outpace the synapses of the brain, that the human machine was no match for its technological counterpart. But what we couldn’t anticipate was that one of the great philosophical questions of the modern era wouldn’t be whether technology has the potential to displace us, but whether we have the potential to truly leverage the technological might we’ve been able to forge.

There’s no question whether the tech is there, the question is whether we’re smart enough to properly use it, whether a shift in consciousness will accompany the leap in technology.

But as humans, we tend to stick with what we know. Bitcoin isn’t money, it’s just another stock to funnel your money into and cash out at the most opportune time. Then, once you’ve “sold” all your bitcoins in a manner no different to forex trading, you’ll go and buy that red Lambo you’ve always dreamed of.

So silly. You were supposed to just start a band and not care whether you sounded punk. That was the whole point of punk. You were supposed to buy that red Lambo with Bitcoin.

But punk, alas, is dead, and so too, it seems, is Bitcoin.

Image: Bruno Moraes

Gregory Moskovitch