The way people are drawn to anonymity, you would think they do something very interesting and naughty every day, and the way they react to security, you would think some transaction vanishes from their digital ledgers every day. In reality, most people are mostly dull. Yet, there is no doubt the world is in the grip of a Bitcoin mania. And it is entirely a creation of extraordinary storytelling. It has a hero who is mysterious, brilliant, moral, austere and philosophical.
His name is certainly not Satoshi Nakamoto. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, a person who went by that name created, completed or revealed an elaborate computer programme that cryptographers say is an exquisite piece of work, and he also wrote a series of essays laying out the moral reason for a new kind of money—governments and central banks were corrupt and unfit to regulate money.
And he raised a philosophical question: Do we need the inconvenience of trust to transact? What if computers make a dishonest transaction so mathematically improbable that it is impossible, and also grants anonymity? He has since vanished, leaving us a revolutionary monetary system that is today worth nearly $1 trillion.
Nakamoto showed that absolute anonymity was possible and not always shady. He even made it look sacrificial in a world desperate for fame.
Some people believe he is too good to be a single person; that he is probably a group of people. What if Nakamoto is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)? Or something like that? After all, the National Security Agency of the US did ponder the idea of cryptocurrency in an academic paper years before Nakamoto published his essay on it.
Creator of cryptocurrency is not known defeats the very freedom Bitcoin stands for. This is why the government always wins. It has a face, however ugly. And the face reassures a majority.
History is filled with wild things that were supposed to be free, but eventually got regulated by governments. The internet itself was supposed to diminish government control, as no single power can destroy it. Yet, every government has the power today to regulate it.
Social media, too, was expected to transform the world, especially through photogenic rebels on Twitter and Facebook. But these platforms are now begging governments to let them be. Streaming channels were suppose to force conservative societies to accept the freedom of artistic expression, but, as evident in India, they have meekly agreed to censor themselves to massage the thin skin of a majority.
Cryptocurrencies, too, will fail. You may argue that they’ll survive in a less rebellious form. But then a crypto has a binary quality. Either it is entirely free of state control, or it’s just another fiat currency in digital form.