While it may seem strange for a pair of privacy-extremist cypherpunks to record a podcast that will be shared with the internet at large, Braun and Smuggler have their reasons. After all, nobody pops out of the womb as a cypherpunk, per se, and without meaningful connections and material available to learn, the path to such knowledge would be much more darkly lit.
Frank Braun and The Real Smuggler explained recently to news.Bitcoin.com their reasons for starting the Cypherpunk Bitstream podcast, as well as their individual journeys to becoming cypherpunks.
The Cypherpunk Bitstream podcast is a relatively new program that’s just released its fourth episode. The hosts, known as Frank Braun and The Real Smuggler, are so-called ‘privacy extremists’ and dyed-in-the-wool crypto-anarchists concerned with exposing cypherpunk ethos to a wider audience. Braun and Smuggler took time out recently to discuss their journeys to crypto-anarchy, the benefits of dropgangs for delivery of goods, and what crypto needs to succeed in bringing more economic freedom to more people.
Journey to Crypto-Anarchy
News.Bitcoin.com (BC): What did the philosophical journey to cypherpunk/crypto-anarchist look like for you guys?
Frank Braun (FB): My formal background is in computer science and in university I got interested in Libertarianism and Austrian economics. From there I went to Anarcho-capitalism and wondered how we could get to more freedom in our lifetimes, but I didn’t really connect it with computers at all. At the time I was interested in Seasteading, but didn’t really think I could contribute something meaningful there. Then I moved to Berlin and met Smuggler by accident, who introduced me to the concept of Cryptoanarchy, which totally clicked for me. The rest is history…
Smuggler (SM): It’s been a long journey. Half of it less conscious than one would like to present it in hindsight. It all started with the fascination with computers and communication tech, throw in some inspiring sci-fi, and then of course reading all the techno-libertarian, anarcho-capitalist and crypto-anarchist texts I could get my hands on. Then add thousands of hours of conversation over mailing lists, invisible IRC, and in person to end up where I am now. Makes me wonder where that all will lead in the long run.
BC: Though you both wish to protect your privacy and identities, you mentioned in the first episode of the Cypherpunk Bitstream podcast that there’s also a feeling of wanting to share your knowledge – to help others live more freely outside the purview of the state. Is that why you started the podcast?
FB: Yes, the two of us spent around 10 years discussing a wide variety of topics in the area of Crypto-anarchy, liberty, privacy, etc. and we wanted to bring some of these ideas to more people. We had our fair share of private discussions, but given the depth of some of the topics that didn’t really scale and it sometimes really requires hours of talking to paint the vision sufficiently. Giving talks at conferences, mainly HCPP, was well received, but talks are not that useful for more “visionary” topics.
I think podcasts are a good medium to spread some of these ideas, because they are easy to produce, easy to consume, and, most importantly, just having voice without images/video allows the listener to bring the vision in his imagination to life. I believe that is hugely important, we will work to get to a better future only if this future is enticing.
On Dropgangs and Dead Drops
BC: Your most recent episode focuses on solutions to facilitating free market exchange of illicit goods, such as dead drops and dropgangs. Do you think these methods are going to become more prevalent as the darknet is increasingly surveilled by government agencies?
FB: Not so much because of surveillance of the darknet, although Tor certainly has its problems. I see the future of dropgangs mostly as a product of different market forces: How well does the postal service work for shipping illicit goods (this seems to go down due to better surveillance technology), density of the market (dropgangs work better in larger cities), penalties for getting caught with illicit goods, consumer demand, and how the tech develops (e.g. for drop localization). I think especially in the drug market timely delivery is a huge bonus; in larger cities dropgangs can have fulfillment times of under an hour.
SM: For me the possible application of these methods outside of the “illicit goods” trade is more important. I find it inspiring how people use technology and organizational methods to overcome constraints. The application of anonymous communication, cryptocurrencies, and cheap electronics to solve questions of decentralized logistics is fascinating. With the decentralization logistics, new ways of trade, even for legal goods, become possible. That’s where I think the focus should be. It’s wrangling the physical out of the hands of the state and big corporations, and that’s really a critical field of action.
BC: What are some future topics you guys are looking to explore?
FB: What needs to be done to have security in the future, digital currencies (DBCs, Scrit), Rulescaping, “Why the Internet is actually broken”, alternative identities (online and offline), prepping (for the end of the world and for the info apocalypse).
SM: I think we’ll also have a few episodes on our specific world view, like how things work, and where we think some trends might lead us. We’ll probably have episodes on the future of warfare and structures of power as well. We like to speculate and just share perspectives.
Beyond Crypto Tribalism, Into What Matters
BC: Looking at the crypto space today, there’s a lot of division surrounding BTC maximalism and accusations that any other coin is shit. What are your thoughts on this current climate of discussion?
FB: I think the current climate of discussion is abysmal, which is also caused by the fact that a lot of interactions these days happen on social media. In fact, I got so annoyed by the apparent tribalism in the crypto space that I wrote a short essay about “Cryptocurrencies as Cyberstatism.”
In a nutshell, I believe that there is way too much infighting and not nearly enough focus on actually building usable solutions for everyday people that would grow the market. One cornerstone of liberty in a cashless society (which is unfortunately where we are heading) will be the widespread availability of untraceable, anonymous digital payments. And currently we are not even close, I just see a lot of talk about hodling and store of value. The end user doesn’t care about any of that, he wants his problems solved.
SM: Maybe I don’t spend enough time on social media, or maybe I just don’t grasp what all the fuzz is about. There are lots of creative and super intelligent people out there that don’t take part in any of these discussions but instead just do their own thing and write code. Those are the people that will matter most in the long run. All else is just a distraction in my opinion.
BC: How can someone interested in crypto-anarchy, networking with other cypherpunks, or setting up their own TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone), learn more and move forward into this vision of greater privacy and freedom?
FB: My number one recommendation is to meet likeminded people in the physical world, there is nothing that is more important if you want to build more freedom in your future. We cannot do it alone. Apart from that, reading up on the theory and doing stuff. Just do something and take it from there.
Too many people are waiting for somebody else to free them … Instead, one has to act with all the imperfect knowledge one has, incrementally creating actual liberty for oneself and one’s friends. That comes with effort and cost.
SM: I agree. Building meatspace friendships and taking the time to think things through for oneself, in interaction with others, is crucial. But it may not stop there. Too many people are waiting for somebody else to free them, or they are waiting for the perfect solution that fixes everything. Instead, one has to act with all the imperfect knowledge one has, incrementally creating actual liberty for oneself and one’s friends. That comes with effort and cost.
Government Regulations and Societal Changes
BC: What would you say to people who protest that there must be government regulations on crypto so bad actors don’t abuse the tech?
FB: That’s like pleading to the wolves to not eat the sheep. The government is one of the largest bad actors there is, all the KYC/AML regulation already shows that the government doesn’t have the best interest of the population at heart. More regulation will almost certainly make it worse.
SM: There’s a fundamental mismatch of interests at work. Governments predominantly are in the business of selling the feeling of security and safety to the population. They are deeply conservative, even reactionary, because change challenges this feeling. Change also threatens the design and even the existence of established institutions. Institutions however act like organisms in that they are predominantly interested in securing their own survival.
It is also true that a lot of change is happening, and even more is coming. Technological developments, social and cultural turmoil, and a hundred other things. That change leads to increasing tension between our old understanding of government, safety and security. Sooner or later this tension will break the old. That means that yes, we have to consider abuse of tech as an actual problem. But it also means that we might have to just live with it, or look for very different methods to deal with it than old ideas of regulation.
BC: What’s the most critical issue for pushing crypto forward in 2020?
FB: More widespread availability of privacy coins and/or ways to use more traceable coins in a private fashion and the ability to exchange in and out of these coins. We are already seeing some pushback against privacy coins on the regulatory and exchange side and this might lead to a split: Only traceable coins on regulated exchanges and privacy coins only via cash deals or crypto to crypto on distributed exchanges.
SM: Increasing the focus of cryptocurrencies for payments, preserving privacy and fungibility, decentralized secure person-to-person exchange methods. In the longer run we also have to rebalance our understanding of trust and the limits of trustless designs.