A Death Toll Measured in Satoshis

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If I were an cryptocurrency investor who was trying to determine major driving factors towards crypto adoption by scanning recent articles from digital-asset publications, I might conclude that all forms of conflict, either internal or external, are driving factors towards positive price movements. War, genocide, social collapse, it would seem, are all good for Bitcoin.

Absent any positive news on price movement, publications have taken to salivating at the mere sight of a humanitarian crisis because they can then speculate on how the victims will need to turn to cryptocurrency to store or move their money safely. Widespread institutional adoption has not lived up to their expectations, so they have purchased rooms in the high-rises above an economic collapse, and they gaze hungrily down at the desperate people whom they believe will turn to crypto to secure their wealth. And when they do, there will be profit.

The article that inspired this tirade is called Iran Violent Turmoil Could Be Catalyst for Next Bitcoin Surge. Here are some snippets from this gem:

Every new crisis is an opportunity for adoption. From Iran to Hong Kong, and Venezuela, publications like CCN are churning articles out on the positive effect crisis will have on cryptocurrency adoption. A new article was released just yesterday that featured the university that was stormed by Chinese authorities in Hong-Kong. Like the article in CCN about the crisis in Iran, the author suggested that the people fleeing persecution would be well served using Bitcoin as a store of value — not that bitcoin was being widely used as such, but that it should be.

Our publications have become gypsy fortune tellers, reading adoption in tea leaves and coffee grounds — representing cryptocurrency as a panacea to calamity, collapse, and war. It is downright insane to consider this a lucrative use case. If people from Hong-Kong use Bitcoin as a store of value to sneak their money out from under the nose of the Chinese authorities, what happens to the price when the Chinese subsequently decide to crack down on Bitcoin? Does the author not remember what happened the last time authorities in China dropped the hammer? This idea that crypto exists somehow outside of the mechanisms of control of governments is fantasy. How are Iranians going to buy Bitcoin if the government has shut down internet access? Even if they see the crisis coming, how long is it going to take them to get verified on a local exchange? And how much longer would it take for the exchange to trust them enough to be able to transfer their whole net-worth into cryptocurrency?

There are a large number of individuals in the Cryptocurrency community who possess a line of thought that inexorably ties the success of crypto to some looming financial or societal collapse. Debt or inflation will burst to such unmanageable proportions that people are forced to turn to crypto to buy goods. Or an internal conflict becomes so brutal that citizens must flee to neighbouring countries, so they convert currency to crypto to preserve their wealth. Wrapped up in both of these scenarios is the idea that the intelligent crypto investor would have seen these things coming and accumulated. They cannot see a peaceful transition towards cryptocurrency adoption. There must first be some great calamitous cleansing of the unworthy. The pure of heart crypto enthusiast will be rewarded, and the unwashed masses will finally see that we were right all along.

I suppose there are two ways to look at adoption fuelled by disaster. The first is that people experiencing an economic collapse understand the utility of having a currency that isn’t tied closely to government policy. The second, more cynical viewpoint, is that only the desperate would ever want to use such a thing. I’m not sure where on the spectrum of opinion I fall. At the very least, I find a headline like Iran Violent Turmoil Could Be Catalyst for Next Bitcoin Surge rather tasteless. Then there’s the knowledge that crypto can drop 80% of its value almost overnight, but yes, by all means, store all of your wealth there.

The previous disaster-crypto news cycle hid its intentions much better. I remember reading headlines and articles about charitable donations of crypto to help citizens suffering from hyperinflation and economic collapse in Venezuela. Some of these organizations helped. Others, not so much:

Working personally as a contact for the crypto charity GiveCrypto, owned by Coinbase, during 2018, I found a common problem in this initiative that others have followed: the gigantic misinterpretation of how to help from outside.

In the case of GiveCrypto, the goal was unreachable from the start: to feed 300 people with $100 in bitcoin. That’s 33 cents per person. To anyone with an understanding of the economic situation of the country, hyperinflation wouldn’t be this underestimated. Sadly, it’s quite commonplace.”

The author goes on to suggest that a donation using the dollar would have accomplished the same thing as crypto donations. Of course, a simple dollar donation would be absent the crypto evangelism that is tied to this aid. The intent is to light the adoption spark on the kindling of desperation and misery found in a financial collapse, of the equivalent sort we see with evangelical organizations that hand out aid to people whom they view as primitives with the eventual goal being conversion.

Is it charity? Is it technovangelism? Could it be both? Do we care that a poor and starving Venezuelan may want a dollar rather than XRP or BTC? Or is our charity tied to the push towards the eventual adoption of our favourite technology? We seem to have our own pseudo-religious structures. Are we modelling our expansions after early Christian missionaries?

Our churches are the server rooms that verify our transactions. Vitalik son of Satoshi, hallowed be his name. There is no snake in the garden. Evil stems from the central banks which control monetary policy, and if we took that ability away with widespread crypto adoption, there would be no more economic recession. The great wheel of history would turn, the banks would all die, and society would transition into utopia. Unicorns would again emerge from the forest, and with their rainbow-colored mare’s milk, there would be no more illness or death.

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