I’ve been sitting quietly on the sidelines for some time now, kicking my heels and fetching water for the real players. Yelling encouragement while they make the big tackles and wow the crowd with all their wonderful magic tricks, D-apps, conferences, coindesks, congresses, and dev-cons. It has been good fun. But it is beginning to get frustrating.
Regulators are getting in the way, banks are hijacking blockchains and watering them down to make the concepts palatable for consumers too lazy to learn just enough to realise how powerful virtual currency, decentralization, and cryptography really are. Too lazy, for that matter, to care about the vast and coordinated collection of all their data by governments brazenly violating almost every single civil liberty that the men and women they like to celebrate on their few holidays fought and died for.
But enough of that disgrace. I am here to talk about the power of nothing. I am here to talk about nothing because the economic argument is not the one that people who believe in Bitcoin and Ethereum and all these other cool projects should be trying to make. People working on these projects should not be in it for the money ‘” if ‘˜we’ create a society of abundance, then what does being rich even mean? Wealth is a relative concept based on the (politically-created) scarcity we live with today. ‘˜True’ wealth has another name in Africa. Here, we call it ubuntu.
I have been trying to make this sort of social argument for some time now, but people just call me idealistic and tell me to find a real job because you can’t eat ideas, ideals, or any other dream I care to come up with. I tell them that at least ideas are bulletproof, but the reference mostly sails over their heads. The social argument ‘” i.e., that decentralized currency, which you (yes, you) can control and manage and send to whomever you want, and trade for whatever you want without interruption from a government or institution ‘” is the one that people should listen to. The argument that everybody should realise is perhaps the only thing that could heal this sick and cynical world I have had the misfortune of growing up in, but it just does not seem to register with ‘˜normal’ folks. They seem oblivious to the all-too-obvious fact that we are already dealing with disaster in any one of a number of spheres ‘” from the financial, to the ecological, and political ‘” and that the only way out of the world we are busy ruining for future generations is to incentivise positive behaviour. And the only way to do this on a sufficient scale is to take back control of the money supply and hand it over to the People. To unbank everyone.
But greed has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness has made us hard and unkind. And the real players, the really intelligent folks who should be working together to create one, truly epic system, instead seem to each want their own startup, blinded by the bloody economic incentives again, rather than seeing the larger social picture.
So I am left with nothing. But you have no idea how powerful nothing really is. “Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed,” wrote Blaise Pascal, and it is with great hope that I turn toward the void.
Have you heard about Bhopal, I wonder? It is the site of the largest industrial catastrophe in history ‘” worse, even, than Chernobyl. Oh, you haven’t? Well that’s because Union Carbide was responsible, and they were American ‘˜scientists’, not Russian ones. Nearly 10,000 people died because of Union Carbide, with a further 558,125 injuries reported over the next few years. But it is a forgotten place, swept over by the forces of capitalism as the pesticides they made there continue to poison the planet. The people of Bhopal have learnt about the power of nothing.
There is a heartbreakingly, destructively beautiful book written about Bhopal called Animal’s People. Above the city gates is an inscription, which a cagey old beggar translates as, ‘œYou are entering the city of the elect, whereof the mystery is shouted from the rooftop, but none may decipher it, yea, except within their own souls’ (118). Tread carefully as you read on.
At the centre of this disabling book is a horribly disfigured, two-headed foetus, preserved in a jar for scientific study. Hear what he has to say:
‘œI am the egg of nature, which ignorant and arrogant men have spoiled. I can be a friend to humans, especially the poor, for money doesn’t interest me. Your Khaufpuri politician […] people like him should fear me, I’m a fire that will burn up his five senses. As for you, poor fuckwit, you think you’re an animal, I am your mother and father, I was you in your childhood, I’ll be you when you’re old. Dead am I who never lived, wasn’t buried, waits to burn’ (139).
Do you hear the power of nothing yet, or does the anger of too many years of silence and oppression distract your well-bred and softened ears? This world is waiting to burn, is burning already, has been burnt over and over. Will you stand up yet and douse the roaring flames?
‘œI try to imagine the womb and realise that it’s an empty space, which means there’s nothingness at the very source of creation. […] It contains the whole world plus heaven and hell beside, in its depths is the whole of the past plus all that will be’ (243′”4).
Ah, the zero, the omphalos, the womb that contains us all, that begins us all and welcomes us back when we have lived through whatever heaven or hell we make of this one life we are given.
Did you know that each block has a hash with about seventeen zeros at the front of it, and it is the difficulty of finding a nonce to produce exactly such a hash that is at the root of what clever folks call the proof-of-work computations that secure transactions on the blockchain? It is those zeros that dictate who is doing the work and who is trying to cheat. It is those zeros that dictate history, and that secure that history from pretty much any attack. The world is coming together in ways we can’t even begin to imagine ‘” all you have to do is listen, for there is something in this sort of music that forgets the individual. When you listen though, we are all remembered.
It is the zeros that protect the past from the tyrants of the future. From nothing, we have made abundance, and it is the power of nothing that guarantees that abundance in perpetuity. The whole of heaven and hell beside is in there, and in the depths of the blockchain ‘” there with multisig wallets and relative time-lock algorithms ‘” the whole of the past plus all that will be.
And what an all it could be, if we would but shake the dust and stretch our hands toward it, fingertips trembling, though they may be. It is only by the power of nothing that we can overcome this centralized, power-hungry, and corrupt world. For we have nothing with which to fight ourselves. Think about that for a moment.
Think about all the people from Bhopal that you never heard about. Think about the fact that, just three days after Charlie Hebdo, 2000 people were massacred in Nigeria by Boko Haram. That is 117 times the cost in human life to what happened in Paris. Did you hear about them? Je suis les fantƒmes de l’Afrique.
We do not hear about these things, or we do not pay them enough attention and care, because the majority of us have to spend our lives constantly working and worrying in order simply to pay the rent and ensure that those in our immediate circles are looked after, educated, and safe. But the world cannot carry on like this.
In America, they kill innocent kids on the streets, or innocent women in police holding cells, and then cover their tracks in the darkness of another human being’s skin. Where I live, they gunned down thirty-four miners live on national television three years ago and no-one has yet been held truly accountable. No-one. We have to make them responsible, these governments that do not govern their people, but demand obedience with guns and spilled blood. We have to make them pay. Again, the only way we can write such a cheque and cash it is by taking back control of the money supply. And if you think bitcoin comes from thin air (it doesn’t ‘” consensus algorithms and electricity bills are responsible for the value of the system), then perhaps you should ask the Federal Reserve what quantitative easing is, and where all the dollars they’re printing ‘˜come’ from.
We have to open-source our humanity, our past and our present, and we have to secure it cryptographically so that the voiceless are not forgotten like they are today, and so that the parts of our history ‘” the right side, the longest chain that proves that we exist and that we exist only because each can validate all ‘” are not swept aside by capitalist tyrants and machine men with machine minds and machine hearts. To do this, we need the power of nothing ‘” of all those seemingly inconsequential zeros ‘” for it is only when there is nothing left to lose that something truly valuable may be gained. As Chaplin once put it:
The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in humans, for universal brother- and sisterhood, for the unity of us all. Even now, my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. For those who can hear me, I say, ‘œDo not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass.’
The universe believes in us. We cannot fall, simply land.