by Jessie Roberts
Brett Scott draws on Rousseau and Hobbes to explain Bitcoin:
Bitcoin has one very interesting attribute and, to understand it, we should look to the theoretical disagreement between the Enlightenment political philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hobbes was a pessimist. In order to escape the ‘war of all against all’ that he believed was the natural state of human existence, he thought that individuals ought to submit to the will of a central sovereign who could act as arbitrator in disputes. We’ve traditionally associated this with political authoritarianism, but it also serves quite well as a description of mainstream money. Most of our money nowadays is electronic, ‘stored’ in an oligopoly of private banks that are themselves connected via a central bank. We rely on these institutions to keep an accurate score of our electronic money. Brett has £97, they say. Trust us, we have it recorded in our IT database.
Rousseau had the radical idea that Hobbes’s arbitrator needn’t be a single dictator or oligarchy. Instead, it could be the collective, or the general will. So it goes with Bitcoin. In place of a centralised, hierarchical group of banks keeping score of the money, a decentralised network of individuals records every transaction on a virtual ledger called the blockchain. Brett has 3.8462 BTC, the network says. We’ve collectively kept score of that. In this scenario, my ‘account balance’ is less like the ruling of a sovereign and more like the result of a popular democratic vote, mediated via a computer network.
(Photo by Flickr user BTC Keychain)