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Earlier this month, a shadowy group used Bitcoin in a mysterious way. Through a special computational protocol that had gone underutilized until this year, the group added some controversial information to the Bitcoin blockchain, protecting it from editing, deletion, or removal.
It now appears that information was part of America’s so-called Afghanistan War logs, a trove of classified information that Wikileaks posted on the internet back in 2010, touching off a firestorm and a considerable, ongoing government backlash. An individual involved in the group, calling itself "Project Spartacus," reached out to Bitcoin magazine to claim responsibility.
In effect, the protocol, called Ordinals, is being used to make Bitcoin work as a publishing platform free from the controls of the major institutions that shape the official and unofficial rules of the traditional publishing game – ranging from the big New York publishing houses and the journalism industrial complex to Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and the online and offline political groups bent on policing content.
With so much attention – and computing power – shifting this year from cryptocurrencies like Ethereum to the training and utilization of artificial intelligence, most Americans haven’t had their attention drawn by tech or media to the way Bitcoin’s use cases have expanded rapidly beyond peer-to-peer digital currency.
But Bitcoin developers themselves are partly to blame for the ignorance. Much of the work in Bitcoin has focused disproportionately either on encouraging people simply to buy, driving dollar-denominated spot prices up, or adding more layers to the original protocol to reduce fees and encourage Bitcoin’s use as online money.
Neither of these two approaches has been particularly successful or groundbreaking. But Bitcoin’s cash value has not suffered like many cryptocurrencies, and interest in using Bitcoin as something other than a store of value remains strong in the community.
Whatever you think about Wikileaks, and whomever Project Spartacus might turn out to be, the reality of the freedom Bitcoin confers in an increasingly oppressive digital world is considerably more important than the now-stereotypical “crypto” hype about getting rich quick or replacing the dollar.
And for some – myself very much included – that fact, driven today by Ordinals in the news, was clear enough years ago for me and others to act on in a powerful way. In 2021, I published my most recent book, "Human Forever," on the Bitcoin blockchain and priced it exclusively to sell in Bitcoin. (Through Canonic, the platform I used, you can do this too.)
No classified information or pseudonymous monikers were necessary for me to publish and sell "Human Forever" direct, free from all but the remotest risk of any tampering, editing, deletion, cancellation, or other 21st-century nonsense from the myriad institutions using the internet to impose a post-American social credit system on every facet of our lives. While, theoretically, a very highly motivated organization with extremely deep pockets and access to copious amounts of electricity could at least attempt the digital equivalent of a “hostile takeover” of the Bitcoin blockchain, even under those circumstances, the prospects of forcibly breaking into and altering or destroying the on-chain text of my book are remote.
That’s to say what we already should know: No technology, however “advanced,” is a silver bullet capable of perfectly neutralizing all potential threats to our free way of life. For that, as always, we have to rely on human beings, however imperfect, specifically ourselves and one another.
But it’s also to say that Bitcoin currently offers Americans a lot more immediate access than AI to the kinds of tools we need to build commercial markets and cultural institutions we can profit from – while protecting what we hold most dear.
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James Poulos is the editor at large of Blaze Media, the host of Zero Hour on BlazeTV, and the founder and editorial director of Return.