SALON: How Bitcoin made right-wing conspiracy theories mainstream -- Propaganda Analysis
It's not often I get stricken by something I’ve read to the point where I have to reread it additional times to fully appreciate the language play at work… but this was one of those articles:
While reading this piece, I came to the hard conclusion that I am a propagandist. I have been for years, having been blessed with an agile understanding of the English language and as a result, have learned to write to influence and persuade -- propaganda by its definition.
As a result, I can recognize when others have this skill.
Both Keith Spencer and Professor Golumbia he interviews are true propagandists as well... or at least Salon's editors are.
Please take a look at the shining gems of manipulation below. Bonus question for the class: This was written to target a specific audience. Name that audience in the comments below for fun and prizes !
On to the fun!
When Bitcoin first came into existence, it was a definitively fringe idea, boosted by libertarians and paranoiacs who had a deep mistrust of the government and generally far-right (even anti-democratic) beliefs about society.
Insert golf clap. Bravo. We didn't even make it past the first paragraph before we're greeted with a barrage of words chosen to evoke emotional responses in the reader. "fringe", "libertarians and paranoiacs", "deep mistrust of the government", and "far-right (even anti-democratic)" even!
Terrifying. Shocking. Can't you just feel the collective blood pressure rising in the people reading this for the first time?
Yet the extent to which cryptocurrency applications have entered mainstream politics belies its right-wing underpinnings.
No evidence or argument yet. Just matter of factly states that there are right-wing underpinnings to cryptocurrency applications. Interesting.
The two of them [May's and Hughes] wrote these manifestos that were all about how government was the most evil thing that ever happened and taxation was the most evil thing that ever happened, and Crypto – encryption technology, which they loved – was the new weapon that was going to allow them to tear all this stuff down.
I love when my ideological enemies only possess basic arguments devoid of any nuance. It makes turning them into caricatures of terrible monsters that much easier!
It’s true that there are some leftist anarchists, but these were not leftist anarchists. May himself has turned out to be a pretty racist, sexist, very disturbing guy. They were the center of a certain kind of hacker, radical, extremely aggressive form of thought.
Well, I guess we better ignore any ideas that persons ever had. Wouldn't want to risk cross-contamination of ideologies now, would we Mr. Golumbia?
You get these great Reddit threads where tax accountants on there who will tell you, “Look, Bitcoin is an asset, you sold it you made a profit. Doesn't matter what asset you sell and make profit on. You owe taxes on it.” It’s like selling a bike, or a painting. The Bitcoin people can’t get their heads around it.
What if I traded a bitcoin for a bike or a painting? Really poorly constructed strawman argument, but it serves its purpose for the sake of further convincing a reader who has made it this far.
[Digital gold and E-Gold] were all pretty lame projects, and of course they all were shut down because they were immediately used by people for illegal activities. Bitcoin is like, iteration 12.
I sure hope someone doesn't take this as a research prompt and actually understand what happened in previous cases and where illegal activities come from primarily.
Now you have actual Nazi groups being in favor of Bitcoin.
My God. Actual Nazis? With armbands and everything? WTF I hate bitcoin now!
When you put it all in context, it is kind of fascinating just how much so many people who consider themselves liberal or even leftist are enamored of Cryptocurrency; it's kind of surprising. I would be very suspicious of it if I went into it knowing all of that.
Nicely done. You planted the true purpose of the seed deep inside another paragraph and subtly passed right by it. What the purpose of this piece is to convince any true 'liberal or leftists' that cryptocurrencies are bad because it comes from the people you are supposed to hate. Get back in your ranks!
I mean, can Bitcoin be used for leftist projects or for non-far right projects? I guess you can make $10,000 off your trading and go give it to some cause that you believe in. I don't know what that proves.
In some places, $10k USD worth of an asset would be worth one year living like royalty. I don't know what that proves either.
In order to do that, you really have to teach yourself finance. One thing I learned at that time was that there are all these conspiracy theories that lurk around the edges of finance — many of which have to do with gold and some of which have to do with the Federal Reserve.
Ah yes... the Sacred Conspiracies of Finance. I didn't make it that far in finance so I missed that class. I'm sure there is no evidence based in reality that supports outrageous conspiracies of these sorts, speculating that power concentrated and control over the money supplies is a very tightly controlled global operation. Dubious claims, no doubt. Conspiracies are called conspiracies because, if they were real, journalists would have reported on it by now.
In the case of the gold standard, there is this very odd conspiratorial belief that anchoring the value of currency to an underlying asset like gold somehow guarantees the price of the currency in a special way that you can't get otherwise.
Note how he deftly injects a conspiracy implication into the notion that assets have intrinsic value that underlie how they are priced. Equally as deft, he quickly implies that pricing currencies is done in another way that is just as effective, but without mentioning it: fiat.
When we moved to the gold standard, it was thought that the Rothschild banking family controlled all the silver and they were somehow moving us off the silver standard because they were all going to get rich. So you had all these anti-British, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories then.
We've entered into conspiracy of conspiracies territory. Excellent. This is like three layers of possible deception that the reader or listener has to decode through. We're getting into the 'drinking from the firehose' portion of this impressive demonstration of information operations.
They never tell you, “Here's a chart of the price of gold over time,” which wobbles just about as much as everything else does. It doesn't really do what it says.
PRICE OF GOLD VERSUS WHAT?!
Sorry. I lost my composure. The speaker demonstrates a disdain for the competing viewpoint, which puts anyone who holds any appreciation for the historical Value base of gold, as a sort of absurd oddity to anyone who absorbs the framework of this article.
Then there's the Federal Reserve conspiracy theory, which is much more directly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory — it has to do with central banking, which is a longer story.
Good thing you don't have much time to tell a longer story.
There was an element of truth to the idea that at one point in time central bankers were also the people who owned the real banks and might be personally profiting off some of what the central bank was doing as far as monetary and fiscal policy. Those days are long gone. The Federal Reserve is a tightly regulated organization.
Beautiful. 'All is well. Go back to sleep, children. The grownups are watching over your future.' Nicely done.
I am not saying the Federal Reserve is beyond criticism. Like any other agency, it deserves to be criticized. I'm not in any way saying that its specific policies or those of other central banks are the right ones, but it is not a cabal of evil like “corrupt bankers" who are manipulating all of these world events.
Aren't you being a bit anti-semitic for criticizing the Federal Reserve, Mr. Golumbia? I know you're not. Just playing the game along with you!
[Right-wing economist] Milton Friedman liked to say that inflation was only caused by printing of dollars, which is just a sort of ideological view that is not connected to reality.
The implications are not subtle, but they don't have to be. If you believe in "right-wing" economists like Milton Friedman, your views of (at least) inflation are "not connected to reality", read: insane, worthy of scorn and being committed. Translation: Don't believe these things. Effective technique.
That is, in half a year, Bitcoin inflated by hundreds of percentage points.
Sorry, lost it again.
And if you say to them, "What are you talking about, Bitcoin inflated hundreds of percentage points in a time when the U.S. dollar hardly moved at all?" They will say, "What do you mean? Only a few more Bitcoins were mined in that period of time. That's nothing." It’s a misinterpretation of inflation that is mind boggling.
Convolution of a message is useful when you're hinting at a point topic that is tricky to bypass without tipping your hand. If Mr. Golumbia pointed out that the different types of inflation were complex and based on a number of variables, it would weaken his argument. Instead he opts for a 'razzle-dazzle' approach and bypasses any logical gaps altogether.
From the moderate right all the way to the left, the general accepted definition of money is that it has three functions: the “store of value” function, the “medium of exchange” function and the “unit of account” function.
Until this evening, I had never considered politicizing the very definition of money. Truly masterful work.
In general, currency is mostly about the medium of exchange function. The medium of exchange function means you can use this token to buy and sell stuff. That’s what the developers tell you Bitcoin was designed to do; it’s why we call it a “cryptocurrency.” But in reality, this kind of use has not in any way lived up to the advertising.
Arbitrarily stripping the basis of what developers designed bitcoin for to merely 'buying and selling stuff'. Excellent method of degrading opposing arguments and facts.
Even though going up sounds great, as people like me and a lot of economists have said, something that goes up is also going to go down. There is no such thing as a financial instrument that just goes up. It might look great while it’s going up, but it's not going to look great when it’s going down.
Completely ignores that it’s going up against something else to measure its value, the way markets work. Acts as if that's not even part of the conversation. Well played.
It is very interesting to argue with people over this definition of money because it isn't a prescriptive definition of money — it is a descriptive definition.
For people who don't understand money or can't explain how it works, don't research your way through truly understanding the topic, just accept what was said in this article and build on it.
His partner Balaji Srinivasan, also CTO of one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, Coinbase, is more deeply into these conspiracy theories than Andreesen is.
Balaji Srinivasan is apparently on someones target deck for something he wrongthinked.
... consultants and the vice presidents and everybody, they want to know what your blockchain strategy is. This happens with every new technology, development paradigm, and business model. That's somewhat dumb, but it's understandable, and I'm sure that people will come up with some very interesting but non-revolutionary uses for some part of the technology that way.
'Don't even attempt to do something revolutionary because the technology isn't capable and the power structure is way stronger than you'll ever be!' Demoralize the opposition and anyone in contact with the opposition by 2nd and 3rd order effects.
[Andreesen Horowitz has] to understand some of the fundamentals of finance and you really . . . it's hard not to wonder if they're kind of knowingly peddling some of this stuff, knowing that it is really not true.
'They can't be that stupid to believe bitcoin has a future, so perhaps they're lying and stealing from you?' Implying a conspiracy while mocking all conspiracy. Absolute madman.
I started to wonder if when people use the word like “middle man” that isn't at some level a kind of conspiracy theory — I mean, in the context of Bitcoin.
‘Middle-men are conspiracies’. Truly raising the bar for the 'conspiracy of conspiracies' angle.
"Oh, that horrible middle man, we need to get rid of them.” There is at least a hint there of “illegitimate/parasitic profit takers interfering with an otherwise-honest transaction,” which is a classic form of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
Really remarkable work on conspiracy thread in this article.
Nick Szabo called it a “smart contract.” That makes people think a “smart contract” is the same thing as a contract between human beings, which it’s not. Of course, Szabo called it that because contracts play a really important role in right-wing political philosophy.
Simple contracts between humans have now been politicized. Your move.
I don't discount that blockchain might do something useful. But I think it can't possibly live up to the hype about what it is supposed to be able to do. The hype is very political and often very destructive. ...the history is absolutely clear about who built this, why they built it, what it was for — ripping the state apart. Given that, is cryptocurrency really going to fix any of our social problems?
As we approach the finale, the enemy is being clearly defined and the marching orders for the reader is receiving the final touches.
We keep getting these technological promises that are supposed to somehow meet everybody's political needs and they keep not working. People like me and others keep saying, “Will you stop listening to these promises? They're garbage to begin with, unless you share the politics they were built out of.”
'No good will come from cryptocurrencies and if you doubt this, you are OUR ideological enemy.'
The promises are almost more the problem than the actual technology. It's interesting how personally hurt people get when you just say, “Look. These are right-wing nut-cases who want to tear apart the state and who want to tear apart democratic governments, who hate democracy, who hate equality. Why are we even giving them the time of day?”
'OUR ideological enemies want to literally tear my life apart with their technological developments.'
As my friend David Gerard says, the whole point of mining is to prove how much power you can waste, and the more power you can waste, the more resources you get for yourself. It’s just a terrible model for any kind of software.
'The infrastructure to mining is killing the planet and going to kill all of us as well.'
You should be asking, what is the problem that you're trying to fix? Rather than the other way around — the blockchain people are often like, “What can I use this for?” That's a terrible question for any technology. The right question is always, “Here's the problem, how do I fix this?” That's how good technology gets built, for the most part.
'Stop seeking the truth. Stop trying to build new things that people hadn't considered before. The old world wants to keep you safe and warm. Stay with us.'
Commentary: This was very tongue in cheek, but also a serious assessment of the propaganda at work in this article. These sorts of things happen in nearly everything you read and write. This is especially true for things that challenge established hierarchies.
Some propagandists are more adept than others, and the best ones are the hardest to identify.
Did you identify who this was written for? Who was the intended audience and what was the purpose?