A mural of Death and Children at Stift Altenberg, Lower Austria. Image Source: H. Hartmann via SAGEN.
There is an anti-statist political trend online - unconsciously mirroring the inherently anti-statist nature of the Internet - which views all government, corporate and long-standing institutions as prisons of mind and action. This is a naïve and sometimes arrogant attitude, inspired by the initial explosion of Internet power, not yet tested for its longevity. Internet pioneers break new ground, but they are wrong to think that they have found, and reside already, in the Promised Land. The best of them are challenged to embrace the very impulse they abhor: they personally need to operate under stable conditions; and they must configure structures and build communities which ensure that their efforts last. This challenge has brought Bitcoiners to a turning point at which the form of social and political behaviour simply does not mirror the innate function of their cryptocurrency. Bitcoin's administration is becoming a political problem, a philosophical challenge, and a moral and spiritual crisis.
Vinay Gupta, strategist for the cryptocurrency Ethereum and founder of the Hexayurt Project, discussed why Bitcoin is a testing ground for future political systems, and why the technical and political challenges of the cryptocurrency are not identical or symmetrical: Bitcoin Cannot Be Divorced from Pre-Existing Political Theory. (21 August 2015). Video Source: Youtube.
First, above, Vinay Gupta assesses and predicts the political problem at the heart of Bitcoin development. It is a problem of centralized authority, partly exercised by Bitcoin's miners, exercised in relation to a tool that decentralizes structures and decision-making:
Bitcoin idealists assumed that the open-source code and decentralized operational function of cryptocurrencies would dictate decentralized forms for its governance and applications. And they could, but the forms must be developed. One may as well ask, does the internal combustion engine of a car dictate the way traffic lights work? Or does the car motor fundamentally shape the thoughts of legislators who write traffic laws? Or does the basic mechanical nature of the automobile completely shape urban planning? For some, the answer is 'yes.' But over time, the further we get from the stunning initial invention, the less ensuing systems reflect the original form of the innovation. At that point of departure between the function of the technology to the form of its administration, we see the decentralized peer-to-peer technology, so radical and profound in its applications, confront the rigid authoritarian structures of human ages."[Bitcoin] is anarchist. But to accept anarchy in a really fundamental way, you have to start challenging the meaning of property. And Bitcoin sits at this very uneasy juncture that it's a bunch of anarchists cooperating to create a libertarian micro-enclave, even though they don't agree about the fundamental meaning of the word, 'property.' And this is extremely problematic. If they can get through that political storm, they might finally succeed in producing a genuinely libertarian anarchism, and that would be an extremely powerful thing. But it's more likely that the anarchists will get suppressed by the libertarians and in the long run you'll wind up with an anarcho-capitalist enclave because the Bitcoin Foundation will wind up owning Bitcoin outright and that property right will be a monopoly, which is then used to enforce their policy decisions, including collaboration with the U.S. government. And this is the real distinction between anarchism and anarcho-capitalism ... under anarcho-capitalism, you can have a monopoly that winds up controlling everything; and then they make deals that you disagree with. In anarchism, nobody has enough wherewithal in the network to be able to make a deal for everybody, and if people disagree with you, they do something else. ... [This is] because anarchism is incompatible with monopolies. As soon as you have a monopoly, whether you like it or not, you're operating inside of a power structure. You have a 'king'; the king is the guy who owns the monopoly. You have a ruler. And anarchism is about operating without rulers."
Bitcoin's invention was an engineering solution to a governance problem. We can solve bitcoin's governance challenges with more engineering— AndreasMAntonopoulos (@aantonop) January 15, 2016
Therefore, I would add to Gupta's political assessment a philosophical challenge of how institutions capture and hold cultural and political ground in societies. When one considers the enduring value of any technology, no matter what its potential political 'flavour' or initial radical impact, one must factor in frail humanity: the finite span of one human life; the difficulty in grasping larger questions; the boundaries of economic and cultural imagination; and the physical limits around performance in one lifetime.