To say I’ve been skeptical about Bitcoin and the rest of the crypto universe would be an understatement of epic proportions. Since the early 2010s, some of my most ferocious Twitter battles have been against the HODL army with the laser eyes.
There’s just so much to oppose: Bitcoin’s grotesque energy consumption, the ridiculous transaction fees, and low throughput, the incessant pump’n’dump schemes in shitcoins, the wild price swings in the main coins, the obvious fraud that is Tether, the lack of real decentralization in most of the current web3 infrastructure, and on, and on, and on.
Beyond all these very real problems and challenges, my bigger beef was actually fueled by a lack of imagination. I could see the fundamental promise of a digital currency free of banks if you were living in a failing state like Venezuela or an overtly authoritarian one like China or Iran, but how was this relevant to the vast number of Bitcoin boosters living in stable Western democracies governed by the rule of law? Beyond the patina of philosophical respectability it could apply to yet another get-rich-quick scheme?
Now, what’s that saying again. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. It’s starting to smell like that. Just because Bitcoin’s most virtuous argument was presented – in if not bad-faith then in fig-leaf-faith – by get-rich-quick boosters, doesn’t mean it isn’t true!
Enter the trucker protests in Canada. In just three weeks of honking, blocked streets and bridges, bouncy castles, and flag-waving, this peaceful protest movement managed to provoke the most shockingly authoritarian response from the Canadian government.
First, the Ottawa police department got GoFundMe to confiscate donations with the intention of redirecting them to other causes, then after an outcry, they backed down to merely blocking the money for 7-10 days before refunding. That seemed like a draconian escalation completely at odds with the tens of millions of dollars raised for social justice causes during the protest summer of 2020. But at the time, I thought it was something another fund-raising platform – one less likely to collaborate with the Canadian authorities – could route around. And GiveSendGo indeed started doing just that.
Turns out the concern over the donations was quickly rendered insignificant, as just a few days later, the Canadian prime minister imposed martial law on the protestors. Through powers intended for catastrophic events, he took to freeze the bank accounts of both Canadian protestors and donors, to compulsorily demand that tow-truck operators clear the streets, and forced insurance companies to drop policies for the protestors.
That “worked”. Together with police storming the protests with pepper spray and stun grenades, the area in front of parliament was cleared. But even that wasn’t enough. Even with the protests cleared out, the police vowed to press their new financial powers against anyone involved for months to come.
So Canadians who donated to the truckers should now sleep with one eye open for the next several months, lest they have their bank accounts frozen, and indictments filed on the basis of laws enacted to prevent financing of terrorism? Or maybe their bank will simply preemptively cancel their accounts if they appeared on the hacked list of donators from GiveSendGo?
This is crazy. Absolutely bonkers. Terrifying.
I still can’t believe that this is the protest that would prove every Bitcoin crank a prophet. And for me to have to slice a piece of humble pie, and admit that I was wrong on crypto’s fundamental necessity in Western democracies.
And that it was the Canadians who brought this on? You might as well have told me that it was really the Care Bears who ran Abu Ghraib.
Especially since I had some sympathy with fears projected by the US progressive left who spent four years fretting Trump might pull stunts like these. Then it turns out that the worries of an authoritarian overreach would be fulfilled by Trudeau to the North instead? Who’s writing this script? M. Night Shyamalan?
Meanwhile, plenty of American commentators are cheering this on. Those terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad truckers got what they deserved! To protest for a repeal of pandemic restrictions, so as to live the life enjoyed in Denmark by a population less vaccinated than the Canadians? That’s clearly beyond the pale!
But in a weird way, I’m glad we all got this warning from Trudeau in Canada and not Trump in America. It would have been far too easy for Europeans, in particular, to dismiss authoritarian assertions of martial law from Trump as being irrelevant to the European experience. Just like I had for so long deemed the practical desire of people in Venezuela or Iran or China for crypto irrelevant to the entire Western experience.
Is France really that different from Canada? Is Austria? Is Denmark? This is a real wake-up call.
It reminds me of the Snowden revelations. Prior to him bringing proof, the idea that America was processing all the emails in the world, recording any phone call anywhere at will, and monitoring all internet traffic just seemed so hyperbolic. I remember discussing this with a friend in the 2000s when the rumors of Echelon had gained some traction. I just didn’t seem believable until it was undeniable.
I’m sitting with that same feeling here. Even just a few months ago, I would not have found it credible if you said a three-week peaceful protest in Canada could have lead to martial law, frozen bank accounts, and terrorist-financing laws being used to hunt protest donors. Unbelievable then, undeniable now.
I don’t think we have any idea what kind of radicalizing seeds have been planted by Trudeau with these actions. This is one of those world events that you can imagine a documentary of the future opening with: “It all started when…”.
But wherever this leads us next, it’s clear to me now that I was too hasty to completely dismiss crypto on the basis of all the things wrong with it at the moment. Instead of appreciating the fundamental freedom to transact that it’s currently our best shot at protecting.
You don’t need laser eyes or an NFT avatar to appreciate that.
David Heinemeier Hansson