What is a ‘crypto native’?
What does it mean to be a crypto native? Does it mean waking up every morning in bed, and reaching out to check Crypto Twitter on your phone? Does it mean holding all your savings in Bitcoin and Ether (and perhaps stablecoins if you’re the risk averse sort)? Or maybe it is spending Sundays at the local crypto exchange, trading your hard-earned money for that new shiny coin you’ve been eyeing all week. Or all-day yield farming to feed the family for the upcoming crypto winter.
Or is it something deeper, an innate recognition that the blockchain, as exemplified in Bitcoin and Ethereum, has the capacity to change the relationship between individuals and the state? The German Weimar Republic’s hyperinflation taught us that savings held in the bank can devalue beyond recognition almost overnight. Modern governments have taken to populist money-printing as well, most notably the U.S. Federal Reserve’s continuous monetary expansion, even now in full swing. If there ever was a bank run in a state experiencing hyperinflation, governments can theoretically freeze your assets. Perhaps intuitively, the fiscally responsible crypto native senses that when a government irresponsibly inflates the money supply, there needs to be an insurance policy against inflation.
Or perhaps you just think that the technology is cool. A way to transact with one another based on code, and not law, across time and space. Whether it is transferring a billion dollars of Bitcoin or providing a small loan of Ether for 7% interest. Or for those more artistically inclined, a way to create and imbue pictures of cats with value, or immortalize your status as MetaKovan did, the archetypal crypto collector who bought $69 million worth of digital bragging rights in the form of an NFT (non-fungible token).
These are all signs of a person deep in the crypto space. But to me, to be a crypto native goes beyond, to a belief in common ideals.
Beyond hard money, to shared beliefs
To understand what it means to be a crypto native, we have to dive a bit deeper into the recent, and distant past. The early investors into Bitcoin and the broader crypto industry can broadly be described in three categories. First, the geeks, those who understood the cryptographic principles behind Bitcoin, the technology of the blockchain, and how it could improve the peer-to-peer transfer of money without a centralized trusted authority. Second, the finance industry professionals, some of whom saw very early on the potential of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as an asymmetric bet on a new financial system, and a hedge against inflation post the great financial crisis of 2008. Third, the libertarians, who saw in Bitcoin the chance to take more control from the state and place it in their own hands.
While these reasons drew people in, what makes them stay in the ecosystem (beyond the money), is a set of common beliefs. Just as the great nations of the world, notably the United States, are built on shared beliefs, so too is the beginnings of a new Crypto Nation. The Crypto Nation is built on the ideas of freedom and inclusion.
Freedom comes in the ability to choose, within boundaries, the course of action which is right for you. We might add one qualifier, this ability to choose should not harm others. For example, we might choose to grow our hair a certain outlandish way, or choose certain clothes, so long as they do not affect the daily lives of others in any significant way. This freedom extends not just to outward actions, but our own thoughts. The utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his essay On Liberty, asserted that:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Perhaps Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, had this in mind in writing the Bitcoin white paper. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies give us an option to choose how we store our economic productivity and transact with another. It gives us an option to participate in a parallel system to the current banking system. So long as there is no harm done to others, this right should be protected.
Beyond freedom, the crypto native believes in inclusion. The ethos of the Crypto Nation is one of acceptance. A programmer might contribute to the open-source code of numerous projects. The rise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) as governance mechanisms for projects have given the smallest members a code-based, non-judgemental way to express their views on the direction of their communities.
No one feels this more acutely than the marginalized communities in troubled states like Venezuela who have access to an alternative savings and remittance system with Bitcoin. However, it is crucial to note that this inclusion is marked by equality of opportunity, and not outcome. Virtually anyone can participate in this parallel financial world, but one has to study hard to understand the intricacies of this system, in particular the security elements, to fully participate in its spoils.
Trustless, permissionless, and fearless
Underpinning the ideas of freedom and inclusion is blockchain technology. An analysis of the features of Bitcoin shows that the power of this technology comes from the enabling of trustless and permissionless transactions.
Bitcoin is trustless in that we don’t need to trust a centralized entity like a bank or a government to secure the value of the currency. It is also permissionless in that there is no need to ask anyone’s permission to get Bitcoin or take part in the Bitcoin network. Nor is it a necessity, it is an entirely voluntary act. Bitcoin is non-violent, protects individual rights, builds communities and is dependent on communities. It does not discriminate, is self-organizing, and is beyond the laws of any one nation. These qualities make it a special form of human cooperation. A country’s government cannot go into the Bitcoin community and mandate that one person or account transfers Bitcoin to another.
In essence, the meaning of the crypto industry is to provide a global, voluntary, rule-based form of human cooperation, beyond the nation state. The hard truths of the industry are predicated on proofs, not promises. The trustless, voluntary nature of the transactions being built on the cryptocurrency industry mean that it offers a parallel world to the world of centralized democratic governments offering promises at election time, then failing to deliver, or centralized authoritarian states offering a portion of the truth that best suits at any one particular point in time.
Because it is trustless, permissionless and governed by a decentralized network, Bitcoin is fearless. It fears no individual, company or state. If one state were to ban Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies, as India has tried to do for example, another country like El Salvador might gladly take up the mantle, attracting entrepreneurs building on the blockchain, or the miners attracted to the geothermal energy of the country. Even if all the governments of the world were to come together to ban Bitcoin and associated cryptocurrencies altogether, crypto would be marginalized, but not eradicated, so long as there remains connections and communications between individuals in society.
Civilization and its discontents
To understand why this is a precious thing, we need to take a brief detour through the history of forms of human organization. To paint in broad strokes, the evolution of human organization can be described as follows.
First, from the Stone Age to about 10,000 B.C., Hunter-gatherer societies were the norm. People organized themselves into tribes, ate what they could gather, forage or hunt for, leading non-sedentary lifestyles with little means for storage and the accumulation of wealth. In the famous words of the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, life was “nasty, brutish and short.” People lived in tribes, did not have a governmental form of organization, and one-third of men died in violent confrontation or warfare.
Second, from about 10,000 B.C. to the Industrial Revolution, we lived through what can broadly be categorized as feudal agricultural societies. Agriculture and the storage of surplus grain and food meant that the accumulation of wealth could take place, and people could specialize in various roles in the economy. Naturally, there arose in society people who thought it more worthwhile to steal and rob, rather than produce. One theory goes that the strongest robbers became kings, who protected communities from other robbers, thus becoming the feudal lords and creating the earliest forms of political organization, the forerunner of governments.
Third, from the industrial revolution onwards to today, we have started to see forms of representative government, in particular modern democracies. In modern democracies or republics, the nation state’s governance mechanisms reflect the broad will of the people.
Finally, in the fourth stage of evolution, broadly from Bitcoin’s creation in 2009 to the present, the crypto industry and the creation of decentralized blockchain networks has created rule by code. The emergence of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) has created a new form of organization of human productivity. This rule is permissionless and voluntary, and it signals the advent of a rule by autonomous code and contracts in which humans participate through their own free will.
The first three stages we describe above can be categorized as rule by violence. The state mandates the laws, and enforces them with coercion and the threat of violence. The last stage is a truly non-violent one, where people are ruled by code and contracts entered into willingly, not the threat of force.
Therefore, the meaning of blockchain is closely tied to the evolution of human organization. The dawn of the crypto industry signifies a new chapter in the way we organize, punish, relate and create.
The rise of the Crypto Nation
A nation can be defined as a tightly-knit group of people who share a common culture. In the case of the Crypto Nation, it is a group of people who believe in the power of the blockchain to provide a decentralized form of cooperation and trade. Thus, to be crypto native, one cannot be just here for the promise of wealth or income, although it is a part of the initial attraction. To be a crypto native, to be part of the Crypto Nation, is to believe in freedom and inclusion. It is to believe in the power of trustless and permissionless forms of organization, especially, but not limited to the financial sector.
Does this mean that we will do away with centralized governments, and centralized banks, altogether? That we will live purely by the Rule of Code, and not the Rule of Law? This situation is highly unlikely in the near future. Until we live purely in the realm of science fiction, with our virtual identities overtaking our physical bodies long after they have decayed, there will be a need for the government of the day to control and provide essential services such as defense, healthcare, education and infrastructure works. The very foundation of our civilization as it stands is predicated on the idea of the state, a powerful entity with authority over the use of violence and force to regulate the activities of society. This ceding of the use of violence to the state, and the right and requirement of the state to provide public goods, ensures the continued running of modern human society.
The Crypto Nation will exist in parallel with centralized states. At times, states will welcome the rypto Nation when it is politically expedient, as is the case with the recent announcement of President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador that he would push to make Bitcoin legal tender in the country, allowing anyone to pay legally with Bitcoin. Or the case of Malta, which through its regulations is encouraging the setting up of blockchain-related businesses. Or it may be that the state, alarmed by the threat to its control of the issuance of money, issues plans for an outright ban on cryptocurrencies, such as is the case in India, although this plan has been scaled back recently to merely a panel investigating the proper regulation of cryptocurrencies.
Yet just as ethnic nations such as the Jewish Diaspora, the Chinese people, or the French nation sometimes go beyond the state, or have no state at all, so too does the Crypto Nation exist as a closely knit ideal that transcends borders. The Crypto Nation is diverse and widespread, but it does have some unifying customs that are still evolving at the time of writing. It is inhabited by the independent thinkers of the world, who believe that we are free to choose our own way of storing the fruits of our labor and transacting this value with others, so long as we do not harm others along the way.
Just as the idea of America is built on liberty from physical dominion, a hard-fought battle over 200 years, the idea of Bitcoin is built on liberty from mental dominion, that we have to adhere to the current global financial system without an alternative form of expression. The Crypto Nation believes in the freedom of expression inherent in our code, in our dress, in our accents and in our actions. It is the freedom of the creators of the meme Shiba Inu token to gift Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, a ton of those tokens as a marketing tactic, and the freedom of Vitalik to gift a billion dollars worth of those tokens to fight Covid-19 in India with a single transaction and a simple tweet. The rise of the Crypto Nation is driven by the technology of the blockchain. It is driven by the hunger for an alternative form to the global financial order, if not a supplanting of it. It is driven by a desire for human cooperation that is inclusive, voluntary and not based on the whims of any one member. There is a lot of work to be done to make the system more secure, less environmentally harmful, and more powerful in its applications. But it is an idea whose time has come. History suggests that the Crypto Nation, those unicorn-drawing, hard-coding, meme-creating dreamers, will take their place alongside the great nations and diasporas of the world. Their country is code, their ideal is humanity, and their time is now.