Gavin Wood, Buzz Feed, Vitalik Buterin: Does Crypto Have a Libertarianism Problem?
Gavin Wood is not F. Scott Fitzgerald. His breach of taboo to provoke debate in “Elizabeth” was misguided indulgence in unrestrained freedom, towed by a news outlet to a sickening and needless denouement; a product of a mindless commitment to liberty-without-boundaries. Does crypto have a libertarianism problem?
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UPDATE: September 23rd, 2018: The story has been updated with a response from Ryan Mac from Buzz Feed News on the outlet’s decision to run the story.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Buzz Feed News broke a story about the re-emergence on Reddit a year ago of–and last week’s apology for–a story about an 18 year-old man who had sex with a minor because she had AIDS and wanted “to know love” before she died.
The author of the article, Ryan Mac, couldn’t resist the urge to follow up with Twitter posts that appear to indicate he senses an ingrained sickness within the early Ethereum community. Questions about co-founder Vitalik Buterin’s preparedness to cover up his colleagues’ misbehavior are obviously raised in this tweet:
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) September 20, 2018
Gavin Wood and His Insights into a Modern World
Gavin Wood wrote what he calls works of fiction on his blog post in 2013. “Elizabeth” was one. It followed “Sexism and Physics” and “Lolita Justice”. “Elizabeth” is the story at the heart of this present descent into depravity. Written in first person, it describes an 18 year-old agreeing to take the virginity of a girl he had once babysat, aged around ten-to-twelve at the time, because she had AIDS.
Wood claims victimization by aggressive reporters with the intention to “disparage and slander”. He has apologized for the story and seems to genuinely regret writing it. His Twitter feed continues his pleas for forgiveness and claims of innocence of any wrongdoing:
Years ago, I wrote a piece of fiction and posted it to my blog. Recently, several reporters have been pursuing it based on false information being spread by people who wish to damage my reputation. Here’s what happened: https://t.co/13vBiYsb9S
— Gav “No Giveaways” Wood (@gavofyork) September 19, 2018
When the Trees of the Sordid Obscure the Forest of the Message
Wood argues that the story–which he is at pains to remind readers was a work of fiction–was intended to “provoke intellectual debate and discussion around generally taboo subjects like the nature of consent”.
The story does little to arouse debate on the issue of what consent means or who is considered capable of offering it. For all of Wood’s claims of “Elizabeth” being “a made-up story meant to spark debate and conversation”, the specific combination of a cruel, grisly disease, impending death, and pedophilia reads more like a school boy’s tasteless attempt at film noir than debate-sparking insightfulness.
The debate he sought to fuel gets lost in a host of other questions. How did such a young girl get AIDS? The era is 2013 and the jurisdiction England. We are well into the age of antiretrovirals. We are not taken, in “Elizabeth”, to Botswana circa 1980.
How did she get HIV? (Wood claims she inherited it from her father, which is medically impossible.) Why would one knowingly have penetrative sex with someone very close to death due to AIDS?
Why publish it? Is it fact or fiction? If true, “Elizabeth” is a pedophile’s journal entry. If fiction, it betrays a mind too concerned with sensationalizing despair to be teasing out a complex ethical issue.
“Elizabeth” is not only disturbing, but absurdly incredulous–why would a dying young girl be thinking about sex? His previous piece, “Lolita Justice”, clearly references Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. Perhaps in Nabokov’s more skilled hands, “Elizabeth” would have been a valid vehicle with which to drive a debate about the cost of tabooism.
Cryptocurrency’s Libertarian Pedigree
While hardly heartening, Wood’s most credible defense of his story is:
“My only position here is that rigorous, rational and unrestricted discussion on all topics is generally a requirement to make informed decisions as a society.”
The main problem with this defense is that Wood misdiagnoses pedophilia as taboo. Few in society are left to broach it. Even fewer condone it. Once again, “Elizabeth” only takes us back to England in 2013. This is not Elizabethan times.
As Peter Thiel, crypto advocate, libertarian, and former PayPal co-founder, said during a public debate at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute earlier this year, “Crypto is libertarian, AI is communist”. Cryptocurrencies are typically open-source, decentralized, they can be forked by disgruntled users, they cannot be confiscated, and they are not subject to government approval or oversight (though that appears to be under threat).
Satoshi Nakamoto famously added the message “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks” to the bitcoin genesis block, suggesting an anti-state, anti-Central banking agenda. He also wrote that peer-to-peer electronic cash is “very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it properly” in 2008.
A 2013 online survey found that almost 45 percent of bitcoin users identified as libertarians. Yet, the anarchist underpinnings of crypto’s earlier years appear to be gradually fading as interest in it broadens.
The Hill published a recent survey counting eight percent of crypto users as anarcho-capitalists, 24 percent libertarians, 21 percent conservatives, nine percent centrists, 27 percent liberals, nine percent socialists, and three percent nihilists. While libertarians remain prominent, the rise of self-identified liberals among crypto enthusiasts is noteworthy.
Does Crypto Have a Libertarianism Problem?
The core tenet of libertarianism is, of course, liberty. Libertarians emphasize the goals of political freedom, autonomy, voluntarism, and a rejection of state power and coercive social institutions. But libertarianism is not a blank cheque for “anything goes”. Advocates likely support gun ownership rights. But few would support the right to wanton murder.
A side-effect of the cocktail of libertarianism and relative anonymity is that it permits behavior people might otherwise be reluctant to engage in “when the cameras are on”. Permit does not mean encourage. In fact, prominent cypherpunk co-founder Tim May authored “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto”, which did concede the possibility of the cryptocurrency revolution aiding and abetting nefarious activities:
“… crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be trade freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of crypto anarchy.”
The captivating liberty afforded by the cryptocurrency movement being celebrated in the Gavin Wood saga is little more than an indulgence in the grotesque and the gratuitous. Freedom does not have to mean moral decay. Just because you can revel in your own unpleasantness, doesn’t mean you should.
Dragged Into the Gavin Wood Fray, Vitalik Buterin Also Overlooked the Dignity of Restraint
The “Elizabeth” story Ryan Mac so shamelessly slapped the crypto community with also managed to drag in Vitalik Buterin. Not only for his alleged disappearing of the more egregious meanderings of his colleagues on r/Ethereum, but also for his own questionable posts on child pornography.
Since deleted, Buterin became engaged in a discussion–widely–about the legacy of personal freedom crypto promised to deliver. He issued a comment:
“Plenty of bitcoiners advocate legalization of all drugs. I don’t see legalizing possession of child porn as more radical than heroin.”
In context, the Russian-Canadian is responding on-topic to a Twitter user asking why the BCH team are to be trusted when “one was on the most wanted list, one called for legalization of child porn (I’m a libertarian and don’t support it), and it goes on.” (The reference to bitcoin cash proponents that support legalizing child pornography is to Rick Falkvinge.)
Does The Internet and Crypto Make This Stuff OK Because it Makes This Stuff Possible?
I ask the same question of Buzz Feed as I do Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood: why are you even talking about these things? This is not about censorship. It is about self-censorship and decency. Because surely one of the benefits–not responsibilities, necessarily–of increased freedom is the freedom to choose restraint when good taste warrants it. There is nothing wrong with exercising decorum and etiquette even if you don’t have to.
(Note: Bitsonline reached out to both Ryan Mac and Gavin Wood for comment. While Wood failed to respond, Ryan Mac said, “We had many discussions about how this story should be treated. Ultimately we decided it was newsworthy because it involved an influential cryptocurrency figure, one who helped create Ethereum, describing what is by U.K. law a crime. As with all our stories, we treated the topic very seriously and did the necessary reporting to investigate.”)
Sound off below. Can libertarianism and self-censorship live in the same world or does the freedom to do whatever we want call on us to exercise that freedom to its fullest extent?
Images via Pixabay