Small thought on calls for societal discussions on the ethics of cryptosystems

When people say that we should involve society in discussing the ethics of cryptosystems and blockchain, we should ask ourselves why society is suddenly paying attention to the strides we’re making in the cryptospace. Where does this attention come from?

Back in 2011, society was considering us weird and misinformed. Encryption, digital money, anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero knowledge, reputations, information markets, black markets, collapse of governments were spoken about openly in the cryptospace and no one paid much attention.

6-7 years later, after Bitcoin has shown it’s not just a fad, some groups within society have particularly paid close attention to cryptosystems and are now leading the discourse of what they call “discussions for society’s sake”. Who are they and what are their interests? Banks, central banks and national governments. They’re trying to shape the discourse around cryptosystems, because (a) banks are afraid of becoming obsolete by cryptosystems, (b) central banks are afraid of losing control over monetary policy, and (c) governments are afraid that their national currencies will be outcompeted by cryptocurrencies and their inability to tax and trace crypto payments. When they call for societal discussions about the ethics and consequences of cryptosystems, they thus enter the discussions from a position of fear. Can we then really have substantial discussions with them?

Or will they enter the discussions already motivated to overregulate cryptosystems – spoiling everything beautiful about cryptosystems so that their operations are not threatened?

My main point: be careful of those who say we need more public discussions on cryptosystems. Their calls sound noble, but they may have hidden agendas and don’t enter discussions with an open mind to learn about the beauty of cryptosystems.

Example case of this: Benjamin Lawsky and BitLicense.

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