Immutable platforms & privacy coins resist censorship in different ways. Do we want the future they promise? (on Bitgenstein’s Table, the Crypto Philosophy Podcast)
That’s not patriotic! That’s sedition! That’s heresy!
For thousands of years, people have questioned the decisions of their overlords and have been suppressed. Sometimes by burning at the stake, or machinegun fire, sometimes by secret agents and subversion, sometimes by financial sanctions and sabotage.
Immutable platforms and privacy coins resist censorship in different ways. Do we want the future they promise?
On Bitgenstein’s Table, we consider 2,500 years of human thought in philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics, and more to make better decisions. Some episodes will focus on investment decisions, but most will focus on product decisions: what kind of world we want to build with decentralized technologies, in particular cryptocurrency.
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Policing the thoughts of the people has always been a difficult and bloody affair.
For most of human history, the suggestion that you were guilty of heresy, sedition, capitalism in the Soviet Union, or communism under McCarthy, meant death. Or at least social death.
Whoever holds power believes that their thinking is right, obviously, and that the thinking of all others is wrong and should be suppressed.
No major power-seizing movement I know of has been an exception to this rule.
Under Roman Imperial dominion, Christians were massacred.
Under Christian dominion, Arians were massacred.
Under Islamic Mongol dominion, Christians were first treated well — and then, they were massacred after a battle in Turkey went the wrong way, and the tolerance of Christians was blamed for the defeat.
Violence between religions continues in various ways today in Nigeria, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
But suppressing the thoughts of others isn’t just about heresy.
Censorship isn’t just a religious tendency. It’s a general human tendency.
Governments have long feared those who speak out against their practices. “Sedition,” they call it.
Some in the American colonies were hanged for it. Some in pre-revolution France and Russia were executed for it.
As the tide turned in all three countries and the revolutions began to succeed, the murders swung the other way.
Suspected Tories were lynched, suspected monarchists were slain by the guillotine, and suspected tsarists and capitalist spies were shot and shipped to Siberia by the thousand.
Governments are terrified, and so, they decide they must also be terrifying.
Sometimes, these acts of terror seem to work.
You’ve probably read 1984. Big Brother wins in the end, and thought rebellions are squashed. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.
Other times, government suppression backfires, and the flames of criticism are only fueled as martyrs are created and the cause grows more powerful.
In both my digital and physical circles, there are recent stories of specific individuals being censored by corporations.
The two recent stories I’ve followed most closely involve two very different people, and the censorship was conducted by two very different organizations. But for the same reason.
Censorship is a single phenomenon that can cut both ways.
Rob Rogers is one of the two people. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. For 34 years, since the year 1984 — hey, look at that, 1984 again — Rogers has drawn political cartoons for the press in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area in the United States. (1984 was the year President Ronald Reagan was reelected.)
Rob Rogers was fired earlier this year, and the “final straw” in the story seems obvious: a political cartoon Rogers drew that was critical of United States President Donald Trump.
Shortly after this happened, another story broke. Divisive right-winger Alex Jones had his social media accounts shut down on multiple platforms. Whereas in the first case there was little outcry from the right side of the spectrum, this time there was little outcry from the left side.
Censorship can cut both ways on every subject.
Politicians and people, fads and fashions, moral standards and sensibilities are things that shift like sand. Often, they rock back and forth from one generation to the next, like pendulums.
You might be free from censorship today, but that’s no guarantee for tomorrow.
Of course, some people argue — and they’re legally right about this, whether they’re ethically right or not — that private corporations have the right to censor content on their platforms. To take an extreme case, what if Twitter became a platform for neo-Nazis, or on the other side for some genocidal planet-saving cult out of a Tom Clancy novel? What if this group growth hacked their way to a position louder than all the other groups there?
Maybe Twitter really does want to protect society from turning into something out of the Handmaid’s Tale. But even if they don’t care about that, wouldn’t everyone to the left of the neo-Nazis or to the right of the genocide cult abandon Twitter as it becomes known for extremism? To protect its business, Twitter has to protect its brand, right?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, likewise, has a large number of Trump supporters or at least sympathizers among its readership. They’d be risking their place in the already-struggling newspaper business if they kept Mr. Rogers on.
So perhaps the places we get our media, the places through which we see the world, shouldn’t be run by corporations.
Can we create organizations and platforms that are uncensorable?
We’re trying. Early decentralized social networks are starting to come online, and they resist censorship with permanence.
One such network is Peepeth, a decentralized alternative to Twitter. The “eth” ending is a nod to Ethereum, the network Peepeth operates on. Peeps on Peepeth are forever. Once they’re written to the blockchain, there’s no taking them back, barring some massive network-wide event like the sun going supernova.
As we all know, in most blockchain projects, information can never be removed from the blockchain once it has been added.
Source: ICO Alert