Interview with SmokeTooMuch part II
Tuesday 18 August 2015
Six years, thousands of bitcoins and a lot of spliffs later, SmokeTooMuch has learned a lot about crypto, a lot about politics and a lot about money.
Here's the second part of the interview with SmokeTooMuch, an early bitcoin adopter, courtesy of Christoph Bergman and Bitcoin.de.
Smoke is an enthusiastic advocate of the darkmarkets
‘You used to be ok, but since you got rich you’ve become an asshole.’
Smoke needed two years ‘to REALLY understand bitcoin.’ He started the German subforum of bitcointalk, answered questions by newbies and invested his bitcoins in software projects. He spent 292 bitcoins on the Namecoin project, but never did learn if that money was used. He also tried to spend 500 bitcoins on the Chaos Computer Clubs, but his email was never answered.
In the early days Smoke gave away bitcoins to his friends. ‘Certainly I raved about bitcoin. But my friends weren’t interested, so I stopped talking about it.’ With hindsight, says Smoke, he would have been more careful who he told about his bitcoins. ’Sooner or later you lose control of who knows about it.’ Maybe some people he didn’t really know asked Smoke if he would give them ‘a few bitcoins’ during the great bubble 2013.
Smoke likes to talk about his passion for bitcoin, but he doesn’t like to give numbers. ‘One reason is security. I don’t believe I have enough bitcoins to get ransomed or kidnapped. But people have been killed for smaller sums.’ Another reason is that knowing about someone else’s wealth often alters the perceptions about that person. ‘And suddenly they say: “You used to be ok, but since you got rich you’ve become an asshole.”’
‘In a repressive system you can only act freely under the umbrella of anonymity.’
Since the beginning of bitcoin, Smoke has separated his real name from his bitcoin identity. ‘In the early days the future legal position of bitcoin was far from clear. Such a disruptive technology could easily have been banned. This was the main reason for the separation.’ Smoke never presented himself as a bitcoin evangelist and he has never attended a bitcoin conference. ‘For me, bitcoin always was an “underground” thing. Also, I’m not a person that seeks the limelight or wants to communicate excessively with other people.’
However, he spent much time in the community. He hoped that bitcoin would initiate some kind of change – that it would enable grassroots participation and break the domination of the established system. Partly, thinks Smoke, this has come about. ‘A practical example for the progress of society are the darknet markets. They help to disempower the drug cartels and stimulate the self-confidence of consumers, who no longer have to meet shady people to buy expensive drugs of questionable quality.’
Crucial elements are anonymity and the lack of a middleman. ‘In a repressive system you can only act freely under the umbrella of anonymity. And without a middleman you can be sure the vendor really receives his money.’ Smoke thinks that in the medium-term bitcoin will end the war against drugs and bring about complete legalisation.
Bitcoin doesn’t need mainstream success
However, Smoke is deflated now. Maybe even disappointed. ‘In the beginning I thought, bitcoin might be the magical patch you stick on a broken world and everything will be better. Now I don’t believe this any more.’ Smoke engages less in the community, ‘less and less, the more I see the impact of negative aspects, such as the centralization of mining, but also, that the community seems to measure the success of bitcoin by the number of merchants who accept dollars via BitPay, or by the number of millions that investors have given to some start-up. For me these things don’t sound like bitcoin. We still haven’t broken the power of bankers or denuded states of the instrument of inflation.’
Smoke regards bitcoin as a multi-tool that, he says grudgingly, is used by different people for different purposes. ‘So today you don’t fight against the financial system or repressions of the state over the best method to buy a coffee.’ And if you give centralized processors the same power that previously the banks had, it doesn’t matter, because it helps bitcoin reach the mainstream.
In Smoke’s view bitcoin doesn’t need to celebrate mainstream success to be a durable currency. ‘This was bitcoin from the very beginning.’ He wishes a return to principles like decentralization. All users should keep control of their private keys, and projects like OpenBazaar and DarkWallet should enjoy more support.
‘Furthermore we have to free ourselves from the idea that the success of BitPay or Coinbase reflects the success of bitcoin itself. The merchants using them to process payments don’t care about bitcoin.’ However, the most important aspect of decentralization is not to ‘let the large and powerful dictate how you use bitcoin,’ he concludes.
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