Before the Beatles became the most popular band ever, they were the mainstays of a hole-in-the-wall club in Liverpool called The Cavern. Between 1961 and 1963, the boys played rock-n-roll every night for a small but dedicated audience of fans. Those lucky enough to see The Beatles during this time understood that they were witnessing something special and spreading the word of the band to their friends. Over time, crowds grew larger, and the Beatles eventually became too popular for their hometown location. Not six months after playing their last show at the Cavern, they had a number one record and were playing for millions on Ed Sullivan’s show. That’s hyper-Beatlization for you.
This post is part of CoinDesk’s 2020 Year Review – a collection of editors, essays and interviews for the year in crypto and beyond. Justin Wales is a lawyer and co-chair of Carlton Fields’ national blockchain and virtual currency practice. He is the author of “Bitcoin is Speech Notes Towards the Development of Conceptual Contours of Its Protection under the First Amendment.”
I can assure you that this article is about Bitcoin.
For those lucky enough to see The Beatles in Liverpool, watching them go on to become “bigger than Jesus” must be a mixed bag. Seeing something you loved first accepted by the whole world is valid, but it also means that that thing is no longer for you. Now you have to share it with the world and that risks losing the qualities that attracted you to it in the first place. Before you know it, your favorite band used to sell socks is just a corporate brand.
Thinking about what it was like to watch The Beatles play some grimy bar is a good analogy of what many Bitcoiners are going through at this very moment. In the past few months, it feels like the location has become overcrowded and that it’s time for Bitcoin to leave to conquer the world.
New voices have come into space and changed the way we talk about Bitcoin. The conversation is dominated by those who speculate about the use of bitcoin as an investment vehicle for the already wealthy. Fewer and fewer people are preaching its role as a tool for democratizing finance. It is vital throughout this bull run, as we celebrate the rewards of being in the right place at the right time, that we remember what makes Bitcoin unique and fight like hell to keep it that way.
Bitcoin is a network. That’s her magic. It’s not like stock or bond or even like gold. It is just a powerful system that allows people all over the world to interact privately with one another in a way that is completely isolated to whether or not any organization or government likes it.
That is the revolution.
Bitcoin is not a big PayMent [trademarked] processors that allow its customers to buy, but never hold, bitcoin directly or the marginal efficiency available to those who wish to transfer millions of dollars between corporate treasures. Those kinds of things, and the general influx of institutional investors looking for a hedge against the dollar are all right and maybe even necessary for hyper-Bitcoinization to happen, but it’s not what makes Bitcoin in particular.
The ability to negotiate directly and sensibly with each other is what makes Bitcoin special. It is essential for all of us lucky fools who came to see Bitcoin while it was still playing in the Cave to remind people why that was, and still is, so important.
See also: Justin Wales – Why Bitcoin is Protected by the First Amendment
Next year will be a lot of fun, but also a time when many new voices will have a place to offer ways to go mainstream Bitcoin. In the goal of attracting institutional investors, many will shout regulations that undermine our ability to negotiate with Bitcoin without institutional or governmental approval. In other words, regulations that aim to change the basic feature that made Bitcoin special in the first place.
We are already seeing this happening with rumors of upcoming regulations on the ability to send money to self-sustaining wallets from money service businesses and exchanges. Such restrictions are bad for Bitcoin and privacy in general and will require much more than retweets. With your new earnings, I recommend giving money to groups like Coin Center that fund research and advocacy focused on upholding the principles of freedom and privacy that were so essential to founding Bitcoin.
One last thing about the Beatles: I really love them. No better music is made as far as I am concerned. Because being a Beatles fan is so central to my identity, I’ve been gifted with many Beatles merchandise over the years. Last year, someone bought me a collection of officially licensed Beatles costume socks back before virus regulations closed my law office. Not 10 minutes after I had worn a pair of these socks, I felt a tear, and sure enough, I ripped a hole in the sock. I sat there looking down at my big feet popping out of John Lennon’s torso under the words “REVOLUTION.” I realized at the time that these socks had nothing to do with The Beatles. It was just a product created to make a booth without offering me anything that made The Beatles special apart from its branding.
It was product masquerading as something revolutionary. So pathetic.
My bet is that Bitcoin will be around for a long, long time. As CNBC’s large organizations and crowd continue to recognize it as an investment opportunity, there will be an increasing number of ways for people to interact with “Bitcoin.” But at some point, we will need to ask ourselves whether the things we brand as bitcoin are so centralized and over-regulated that they are no longer working towards Bitcoin’s original goal of triggering a financial revolution.
As these “bitcoins” are incorporated and regulated into the mainstream, it is essential that Bitcoin’s first objective of democratizing finance through disinfection continues. The alternative is that Bitcoin loses the very innovative principles that allowed it to grow in the first place and become just another product masquerading as something revolutionary. How pathetic would that be?