In the previous article we explored how blockchain, in finally holding The Powers That Be accountable for their crooked ways, might provoke an “empire strikes back” defensive response. Because indeed, corrupt industries that feed off taxpayers and destabilize nations will not give up the golden goose easily, and therefore we should prepare for a fight.
But assuming that the juggernaut of this public-ledger technology ultimately wins out against the monolith of military, government, and big banks, let's consider how blockchain might affect us on the micro level. While digital developers are usually earnest, cerebral people who tend to come from a naively idealistic perspective, in an ironic twist it is the likes of pornographers and drug dealers that often first adopt and enhance their technological “gifts to the world.”
So the question is how will vice—not to mention people just trying to get by in an imperfect world—be affected by and react to the purifying sunlight of blockchain? Is our human essence endangered at this intersection of amorality, immorality, pragmatism, and idealism? Will we all forfeit the chance to grow or be forgiven when our every fault is hanging out on this figurative clothesline?
It's as if blockchain by definition is on a collision course with human nature itself, where in making our every action public that last bit of wild animal is re-engineered out of us. Will such scrutiny cause us to lose the magic that edgy, non-conformists create? Will abstract mental leaps that we often make when intoxicated or uninhibited be stifled by self-consciousness imposed by the hyperlinked public spreadsheet?
In today's global village, you might never see the same face at the grocery store, and you honk at other drivers because you don't know any of them personally. But the ledger of the blockchain may force our psyches back into what life was like in the days of “The Scarlet Letter.” Or to paraphrase the Borg, “You will be moralized.”
Because blockchain could be seen on the micro level as a forced return to chaste, small town living where shame is the motivating factor in people's behavior. Where everyone knows each other's business and is judged for their smallest actions. However, in the past this was done for the greater good of the town's survival—everything was interconnected, each craftsman and farmer was in business together, and there was no centralized power grid or foreign factory to rely on for goods and services.
So the danger now lies in the fact that while the ability to know our neighbors' foibles increases—think online stalking times a hundred—since we don't need to trust each other, we're allowed to recoil in horror rather than empathize, forgive, or help them. If we're not careful we might turn into monsters, ruthless and righteous toward each other without the context or personal connection that would soften such haughty judgments.
On the other end of the spectrum, this could all lead to a rebirth of the Ben Franklin Renaissance Man spirit and a return to eighteenth or nineteenth century style of local control. Where each town has a unique identity, its own currencies, its own beer and whiskey recipes. The ultimate form of decentralization and empowered communities as the human animal is unyoked and unleashed to create and share.
A final consideration: once we start turning over rocks high and low, there's no telling where it will stop or what we will uncover. Just how dark is the dark web, and do we really have the stomach to look? Are we ready to know just how many foreigners are squatting across the country? Do we really want to try to rein in the various underground economies? What percentage of storefronts exist solely for money laundering purposes?
Hopefully open discussions about such implications will help us monitor blockchain technology's impact on us, because I believe ultimately the takedown of large-scale corruption will be a net-positive resulting in a cornucopia for all. If we can manage the effects on our private lives to ensure human dignity, the bigger payday is a release from the compounding weight of corruption, debt, and hidden perversion that has us in a vise grip. Already trillions of dollars have been stolen, countless lives have been needlessly redirected and stunted by state power—imagine the possibilities if we are liberated from so many middle men, regulations, and the hundred ways our money is siphoned off.
Maybe the best way to use the blockchain revolution as a controlled burn against the old way of doing business is to offer blanket immunity on a national level. Amnesty from malfeasance and repudiation of all debts. A backdated reprieve for every pen we stole from our employer and every mansion a member of the Pentagon's brass paid for with “black budget” funds. Everyone goes free for the sake of the future.
And if that's what it takes to harness the clearer future that blockchain's elegant simplicity promises, then we would be fools to waste years seeking righteous punitive measures. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and if we are not biologically wired to live in an all-seeing, all-listening, all-storing surveillance state, then we are definitely not prepared to have our drawers and spreadsheets put under the public microscope.
The young generation of today seems fueled by a philosophy of specialized idealism that is so optimistic because they have flipped the power of the state on its head, personally empowering themselves with the same technological tools that were meant to enslave them. Can the rest of us find some of this fearless zest to overcome skeptical dread of the unknown? Because the next block on that chain truly is unwritten...