Freedom Fighter Seeks to Return Blockchain to Radical Roots
According to a fascinating article published in Wired, one of bitcoin’s key technical innovators is seeking to recruit an “army” of politically-aware “hacker monks” to spark, in his words, “complete collapse of the world state system.”
Leveraging blockchain and other 21st-century tech breakthroughs as well as a unique, egalitarian form of governance forged in the fight against ISIS in Syria, hacktivist Amir Taaki aims to foment a peaceable transition towards a more free and democratic century ahead amidst a world threatened both by Orwellian state and corporate institutions, and violent ideologies such as ISIS and today’s burgeoning extreme-right movements.
A Londoner with Persian and British parents, Taaki took an early interest in coding and software development. In the early 2010s following a stint in professional poker, he become involved in the open-source free software movement—a community steeped in ideology as much as innovation—which gave rise to bitcoin and other projects conceived to decentralize and democratize computing power. Lauded as “a figure of worship in the bitcoin community,” Taaki developed some of the bitcoin network’s early improvements and standards, helping the cryptocurrency to gain traction and adoption more than half a decade before 2017’s profit-driven “crypto craze” which saw the currency and its myriad copycats skyrocket in value.
After helping to establish crypto exchanges in the UK, Taaki co-founded Dark Wallet, an innovative bitcoin tool that allows for anonymous, untraceable transactions on the network. Like other prominent blockchain networks, bitcoin suffers a potential Achilles’ Heel in its architecture: since a blockchain records all transactions on an open and public ledger, state authorities or criminal hackers can track people’s transactions with relative ease, once identified. Dark Wallet’s initial success even earned Taaki recognition on Forbes’ prestigious “30 Under 30” list of young entrepreneurs in 2014.
At the end of 2014, however, Dark Wallet received negative press and government attention following news that ISIS and other criminal organizations were using the technology to launder money and evade tracking. Similarly, OpenBazaar, a decentralized online market and offshoot of another of Taaki’s projects, attracted its share of controversy for many of the same reasons that its infamous predecessor Silk Road and other “dark markets” did—namely, that OpenBazaar was facilitating sales of drugs, weaponry and even bespoke criminal services such as contract killings.
Far from supporting ISIS and other criminal entities, however, Taaki was actually fighting the Islamic State. After disappearing from his online communities shortly after his fortunes shifted, Taaki “resurfaced” in the hackitvist community in 2015 with news that he was on the ground in Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria. Inspired by the communalist political structures championed by the Kurds during their beleaguered fight for survival against ISIS, the Syrian regime, and other extremist adversaries, Taaki was eager to participate in what he calls “the most important revolution of this century.”
While assisting Rojava with technical development and even fighting ISIS on the front lines as a member of Rojava’s YPG militia, Taaki began to theorize how the Kurds’ successful implementation of a political system known as “democratic confederalism” might inspire what he envisioned as “the solution for lasting peace in the middle east, and the way forward for our crisis of civilization in the west.”
Above: A Primer on Rojava, which has created a sustainable feminist, multi-ethnic haven amidst the chaos of the Syrian Civil War.
Worried by the abuses of neoliberal state and corporate power as well as the threat of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and grassroots fascist movements in Europe and the U.S., Taaki believes that the present global order is becoming dangerously untenable. In the interview with Wired, he expressed plans of how he aims to combine new ideologies such as democratic confederalism and technologies including blockchain and other p2p tech to create a revolutionary hacker dojo-cum-coding camp where other “autonomous polytechnics” can theorize, train and code in an ascetic environment.
According to Wired, Taaki is starting in Catalonia, where he assumes spartan quarters in an activist squat and is seeking to begin his project by recruiting five people—ideally from diverse backgrounds and genders—to explore how new technologies and ideas can further the cause of Catalonian autonomy and shape how other units of “hacker monks” might advise and assist similar self-governance movements around the globe:
“We want to establish a headquarters here in Catalonia. To gather together a team of hackers, that we can then train and send to manage our projects,” [Taaki] says, in English. “It will be like a startup accelerator, only a politicized one. Not driven by profit, but by social change.”
Defining “freedom” as “the ability to satisfy our needs at a local level,” Taaki sees a brighter future in decentralized, autonomous, and locally-governed regions following Rojava’s model, where shared power is derived at a local level upwards rather than from strong centralized governments or corporate dominion:
“First of all, there would be a very strong rural movement of agricultural producers. There would be strong local and national identity in culture and fashion. People would organise politically, democratically at a local level. […] As long as Catalans keep eating McDonald’s, buying clothes from H&M, watching MTV, they won’t be free.”
Likening the present global social, economic, and political zeitgeist to a “second version of the Roman Empire” in decline, Taaki warns that western political powers have yet to address the present system’s fundamental flaws, leading to mass dissatisfaction and the dark allure of racist and fascist ideologies which—with growing and worrisome success—seek to allay wavering confidence in the world’s current economic model. Taaki argues that mainstream politics should address valid critiques of capitalism before reactionary movements such as the far right or ISIS begin to gain traction, noting that “unlike those forces [of fascism, white supremacy, ISIS, et al], I am on a side that doesn’t seek open conflict with the state. We should start a conversation.”
In terms of the technology, Taaki sees a great deal of promise in furthering bitcoin and other blockchain projects—not only for developing feasible stateless currencies that can operate at scale, but also for non-monetary purposes such as decentralized markets, messaging systems and infrastructure services. In a way, Taaki is taking many of the aspirations of his contemporaries in the free software movement to more ambitious and global ends.
While Taaki and others of his ilk in the growing blockchain revolution owe much to the hacktivists and crypto-libertarians who fostered the technology in its early days, Taaki expressed concern that the cryptocurrency space is corrupted by greed and cutthroat individualism, or quoting Wired, “a hodgepodge of day-traders, Lamborghini buffs and token-peddling chancers.” According to Taaki:
“Bitcoin doesn’t have any vision behind it, any vision of where it’s going […] All the original ideas about using bitcoin for challenging power — or privacy, or new forms of economic systems — are falling by the wayside. Now it’s simply a small community obsessed with the price going up.”
Taaki and his crypto-comrades hope that ultimately the lessons learned from Rojava can help to foment peaceful, tech-driven revolutions not only in Catalonia but also, revealed in Wired, “in politically fractious regions such as India’s Kerala, Mexico, and Argentina”—before it’s too late.
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