The following is a conversation with Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer at the Human
Rights Foundation and the Oslo Freedom Forum.
In recent times, Alex has focused on how cryptocurrency, and especially Bitcoin, can be a tool for
empowering democracy and civil liberties in the world, most crucially, parts of the world
that are living under authoritarian regimes.
As a side note, let me say that I have been learning a lot about the ways in which money
can be used to amass power, and in the same way, the decentralization of money can be
used to resist the corrupting nature of this power.
Alex and I do not agree on everything, but we strive for the same betterment of humanity.
He is sensitive to the suffering in the world, and is dedicating his life to finding solutions
that lessen that suffering.
Whether Bitcoin is one such solution, I don’t know, but I think it has a chance, and that
means it is worth exploring deeply.
I’m staying in this path of learning, patiently, and with as little ego as possible, I hope
you come along with me on this journey as well.
This is the Lex Friedman Podcast, to support it, please check out our sponsors in the description.
We recorded this conversation a while ago, and I thought I lost the audio, and was really
disappointed with myself for messing this thing up, but luckily, last week, I found
it, and so, rescued from out of the abyss of nonexistence, here’s my conversation with
What are some universal human rights that you believe all people should have?
So free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, freedom to participate in your
government, the freedom to have privacy, the freedom to own things, property rights, these
are all basic, fundamental, negative rights, what we call them.
These are the basic, fundamental human freedoms.
What does negative rights mean?
Negative rights are liberties, and positive rights are entitlements.
So after World War II, when the UN came together, it was largely a compromise between the communist
Soviet Union and the, you know, free United States, right?
So the US had, on its side of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, a bunch of liberties, essentially,
things like free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly.
The Soviets wanted entitlements, like the right to work, the right to have housing,
the right to water, the right to a vacation.
So if you actually read the UN Declaration for Human Rights, it’s a negotiation between
the Soviets and the Americans.
Later, there was another document in the 70s released called the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights.
And this is what HRF uses as its sort of like lodestar, its founding document.
And this is like, essentially, an international agreement on the negative rights.
Those are the things we choose to focus on, because essentially, authoritarian regimes
can commit fraud and claim they’re giving the positive rights, the entitlements, without
having any of the negative liberties.
And they can do that because they don’t have any like free speech or press freedom.
When you take people’s basic fundamental freedoms away, it’s quite easy to make like a Potemkin
village and pretend that there’s the entitlements and that we have good health care and, you
know, it’s the same sort of thing that authoritarians have done for decades, Cuba and Venezuela
and the Soviet Union.
Do you think it’s possible for authoritarian regimes to manipulate, to kind of lie about
the negative rights as well, by saying that the people have free speech, the people have
the freedom for assembly and all those kinds of things, can’t you still manipulate the
idea that citizenry still has those rights?
The opposition leader of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, he once told me the funny joke that, you know,
in my country, we have freedom of speech, we don’t have freedom after speech.
So yeah, they can absolutely manipulate whatever they want.
But I’ve done research into socioeconomic data.
And I guess what I’m telling you is that authoritarian regimes, which make up 53% of the world’s
population across 95 countries, about 4.3 billion people, those who live under those
regimes are subject to massive fraud when it comes to things like literacy rates, life
expectancy, any sort of socioeconomic data, economic growth.
They can do this because there’s no free press.
So for us at the Human Rights Foundation, and for people like me, we believe that the
negative rights, the liberties, the things that are in, for example, the Bill of Rights
in the US Constitution, these things are the table and then we can build on top of that.
We can build the rest of our societies on top of that.
The freest countries in the world have both the negative liberties and the entitlements
like Norway, for example, but there’s a big difference between Norway and North Korea.
In North Korea, they only claim to have the entitlements and they definitely don’t have
Do you think there’s one right that’s more important than others?
You kind of suggested the freedom of the press, maybe freedom of speech, that if you take
that away, all the other ones kind of collapse along with like from a ripple effect.
Is there something fundamental that you like to focus your attention on to defend, to protect,
to make sure it’s there?
Yeah, I think free speech is probably the most fundamental.
It’s probably why the founders chose to make it into the First Amendment.
A lot of things are downstream from there.
Property rights are also very, very important.
Obviously we’ve seen the toll of violent redistributionism, you know, in over the last hundred years,
whether it was Lenin or Stalin or Mao or other regimes and everywhere from Ethiopia to colonialists
everywhere to North Korea, it’s not a pretty legacy.
Is free speech clear to you as a concept?
There’s been quite a few debates, especially in the digital age, what it means to violate
freedom of speech.
There’s been a lot of new, like novel mechanisms for people to communicate with each other,
like especially on social networks.
And it seems that unclear because a lot of times those are managed by private companies.
It’s unclear how much protection do the citizens have to have when they’re communicating.
A lot of people are being censored on these social platforms.
Some people, even presidents get removed from those social platforms.
Have you thought about the freedom of speech in the United States, but in the world?
As it’s implemented in the 21st century, given the internet and all those kinds of things?
There is a Soviet dissident named Natan Sharansky who survived the regime and he wrote a book
in which his thesis was essentially the way that you can define a free society is through
something called the town square test.
Can you go to a public space where you live and criticize your ruler loudly without fear
If you can do that, you have free speech.
I think that’s a pretty good litmus test.
Most people in this world cannot do that.
If you live in Havana, if you live in Moscow, if you live in Beijing, you cannot do that.
And that’s not a free society.
In Austin, Texas, in Boston, Massachusetts, in London, in Santiago, Chile, in Tokyo, Japan,
in many democracies, you can do that.
And I think that that’s a really helpful basic sort of litmus test.
Does the content of the criticism matter?
Can it be complete lies, meaning conspiracy theories that involve claiming that the leader
is, let’s say, a lizard slash pedophile slash, you know, I’m not saying that those are lies,
look into it, but they’re very unlikely phenomena.
So like, does that matter?
I think it ends poorly when the state tries to restrict speech.
I think that’s kind of how I would define censorship.
I think censorship and deplatforming are two different things.
Private companies, you know, they get to make up their own rules about what’s allowed on
And I think that’s very different from a government with guns and an army restricting the speech
of its citizens with threats of violence.
These things are different for me.
That violence is a fundamental difference.
I don’t know, I’ve gotten the chance to have dinner with Alex Jones and I’ve talked to
him a few times offline and it does, I understand why people are so off put by him, but it does
bother me that he’s universally removed from every platform.
It feels like there’s many more evil people, bad people compared to Alex Jones who still
are given a voice on these platforms.
And so I’m uncomfortable with the universality of the application of the censorship by these
But on the flip side, you’re right.
There’s not a violence, there’s not tanks, there’s not guns behind that censorship.
It’s a bit of a generalization, but Alex Jones would be in prison or dead if he were in North
Korea or in Cuba or in Russia or in China, that the authorities would not tolerate him
to do what he did.
And here he can kind of do what he wants.
He’s encountering some resistance in the marketplace of ideas, large organizations, corporations,
and a lot of public sentiment in different parts of our country don’t like him.
They’re doing their best to drown out his voice, but that’s very different from a violent
threat of censorship from the state.
And that’s what we study.
That’s what I study are these, you know, what is the state doing?
That’s kind of paramount for me.
And that’s true because in the marketplace of ideas, there could be a company that springs
up that gives Alex Jones a platform and the United States is not going to prevent those
companies from functioning.
Of course, there’s from a technology perspective, there is AWS removing Parler from the platform
and gets a little weird, you know, as you get closer and closer to the computer infrastructure,
because then you get closer and closer to the state, actually, the more you get to the
infrastructure that’s usually managed by the state, the closer it gets to then the control
of the state.
I would argue AWS is pretty damn close to infrastructure that’s kind of controlled
by the state.
If you especially look at other nations, China, Russia, there’s, I don’t know who runs the
computer infrastructure for Russia and China, but I bet the state has complete oversight
And so that level of computer infrastructure, having control about which social networks
can and cannot operate is very uncomfortable to me.
But you’re right, I think it’s good to focus on the obvious violations of these principles
as opposed to the gray areas.
Of course, the gray areas are fascinating.
You mentioned HRF, Human Rights Foundation.
What is it?
What is its mission?
Yes, I’ve been working for HRF since 2007.
We are a charity, a nonprofit, a 501c3 based in New York, and our mission is to promote
and protect individual rights and freedoms in authoritarian societies around the world.
So again, we define about 95 countries as authoritarian, meaning it’s either a one party
state or opposition politicians are outlawed or persecuted, there’s no real free speech,
there’s no press freedom, there’s no independent judiciary, there really aren’t checks and
balances and even trying to create like a human rights organization or like an environmental
group would be illegal.
And the majority of the world’s population lives in that environment.
That’s very important.
You said 53%.
53%, 4.3 billion people.
And I saw you outlined a lot of different sources of suffering in the world.
And then you sort of put people living under authoritarian governments as like more than
all of them.
I forget all the examples you provided, but then…
I mean, it’s…
Yeah, maybe you can mention if you remember.
The number of people who are refugees, the number of people who suffer from natural disasters,
the number of people who live under abject poverty, the number of people who don’t have
access to clean drinking water, all of these are dwarfed by the number of people who live
And yet it’s not something that we talk about a lot because people are mercantilist and
the powers that be are happy to sacrifice freedoms and privacy for money.
We live in a profit seeking world.
To get evidence of this, take a look at the list of sponsors of the upcoming Olympics
in China where the CCP is currently committing genocide against the weaker population or
look at the number of people and the famous investors who went to Saudi Arabia a couple
months ago for the Davos in the desert.
I mean, Ray Dalio was there, all kinds of people were there, or at least they were invited
and they said they were gonna go.
And this is a government that at the time was torturing a female activist who just wanted
to drive a car.
This is a government that had murdered Jamal Khashoggi in a brutal fashion just a couple
So, I mean, at the end of the day when it comes down to brass tacks, I mean, the powers
that be, even the free countries are led by people who are very, very happy to sacrifice
all these pretty words about human rights when it comes down to profits, unfortunately.
So, do you think capitalism, that’s maybe one of the flaws of capitalism is it turns
a blind eye to injustices against human nature, against the human rights, like it turns a
blind eye to authoritarian governments?
Look, I think that at the end of the day, like free trade is actually really good.
And you can just look at France and Germany as an example of how like a capitalist structure
If you have two capitalist actors, they’re very unlikely to fight each other.
There’s very unlikely to be violence, right?
These are two countries which basically murdered some large percentage of each other’s male
population three times in a hundred years in three different wars, right?
And now today, war is like unthinkable and a lot of that is because of increased collaboration,
So, when you have two capitalist actors, they act in a very productive way with each other.
But as soon as you introduce an authoritarian actor, all bets are off.
So, I think what you have is a conflict between capitalist actors and authoritarian actors.
And at the end of the day, people need to, yes, have more than just capitalist intentions
in the geopolitical level I’m talking about, they need to actually take a stand for principles.
Otherwise, you have athletes and businesses and governments that are all too happy to
do business with the Chinese Communist Party, for example, right now.
I think that there is a little more than just kind of the pure profit, yes.
You mentioned what are the signs that the state is an authoritarian state.
How do you know if you’re living in an authoritarian state or when you study another nation and
analyze the behavior of another nation, how do you know that’s an authoritarian state?
Is it as simple as them having a dictator?
Is it as simple as them as declaring that they don’t have a democracy or is there something
There’s a couple of good litmus tests.
One is actually, can you have a gay pride parade?
It actually lines up perfectly, it doesn’t matter what religion the dictatorship is.
They don’t like minorities and they love to scapegoat, whether it’s gays or religious
So it lines up pretty well.
That’s really interesting.
If you cannot have a gay pride parade in your country, because you’re fearful that you’re
going to get the crap kicked out of you, probably live in an authoritarian regime.
I’m sure that’s not just about some kind of homophobia.
Why is that?
That’s really interesting.
Because that’s right.
I’m going through…
Fascism scapegoats minorities.
There’s an other, you create an other group and then you…
Yeah, I mean Uganda is a great example of this, but so is Saudi Arabia, so is China.
I mean, so is Cuba.
I mean, these are all regimes which demonize the LGBT communities.
It’s interesting because maybe you can correct me, but from my very distant outside of perspective,
the sort of the way that certain authoritarian governments speak about gay people is it’s
almost like, what is it?
We don’t have gay people in our country kind of idea as opposed to scapegoating, which
Total denial is the most powerful form of demonization.
I mean, this is what the Iranian dictatorship does.
A few years ago when Ahmadinejad, who was then sort of the de facto leader, he came
to Columbia University and he tried to give a speech, which you can look up and he tried
to claim that there were no gays in Iran.
And that’s the most powerful form of demonization is trying to just wipe out your utter existence.
There’s other good litmus tests too.
For example, you can think about comedy.
Can you make money making fun of your government on television?
If you cannot, you live in a dictatorship most likely.
I mean, it’s shocking to people that I work with who live in dictatorships when I tell
them that not only are comedians able to safely make fun of our government, but they get paid
very well to do so.
That’s a hallmark of our free society.
That’s another good litmus test.
Hear that Tim Dylan, you should go to North Korea, check it out.
And look, there are tons of flaws with democracies.
This is a really good test by the way.
The United States is a deeply flawed country in many ways.
Our prison system is a disaster.
There’s a horrible war on drugs.
We committed a grievous crime in my opinion by invading Iraq.
We did a lot of problematic things, but our core architecture is still an open society.
The people who criticize the US the most usually live within it.
And if they were to move to a different country and try to use that criticism against their
new rulers, they wouldn’t fare so well.
So whether it’s Chomsky or whomever, if they were to go to Cuba and live in Cuba and try
to criticize Cuba like they do America, it wouldn’t last very long.
So I think what’s important to distinguish between open societies and closed ones or
like free societies and authoritarian regimes, it doesn’t mean that your government’s going
to be good all the time.
What it means is that the citizens have a way to push for reform, have a way to hold
the rulers accountable.
So even if you don’t like what the US government does, whether it was under Biden or Trump
or Obama or Bush, we can rotate them through voting.
And we have an independent Supreme Court that rotates over time.
And we have people that we can elect directly to serve our interests.
And then there’s like a free press and there’s lobbyists and all kinds of people that jostle
So there’s a separation of powers.
And I like to think about a free society really as like at the bottom of the foundation of
the pyramid really would be free speech.
And then you would have civil society, like for example, human rights organizations, environmental
groups, stamp collectors, athletes, any groups that come together beyond the government’s
sort of strict instruction.
And then on top of that, at the third level, you have separation of powers, again, what
So authoritarian regimes don’t really have any of these layers to them.
And then at the top, then you put elections, but the elections are meaningless if you don’t
have the foundation below.
Every dictator gets elected.
Kim Jong Un gets elected.
He’s the only person on the ballot.
Every dictator from Hitler to Chavez, they all got elected.
Elections on their own mean literally nothing.
You have to have these other layers beneath to actually be an open and free society.
I think it’s very important for people to understand.
Although Hitler in an interesting way, at a certain point just said, I’m going to be
a ruler forever, which is interesting.
There’s an important switch that happens when you, as opposed to having a facade of elections,
you just put that aside and saying basically like, we’re not even doing this.
There’s like a ladder that you climb the election and you pull the ladder up and then no one
else can climb up.
This sadly happened in Egypt and it was quite predictable.
After Mubarak was ousted after the Arab Spring, Morsi came in and it looked like the Muslim
Brotherhood was not really going to be very democratic.
But it didn’t really matter because then the military came back and now we have Sisi who’s
even worse than Mubarak.
So a lot of times in these regimes, unfortunately, it’s very difficult for people to build that
democratic society afterwards.
Some people have told me that when you live in a totalitarian or authoritarian regime,
it’s kind of like a political desert.
What grows in the desert?
Scorpions and cacti, right?
So basically people with very extreme views because you as an authoritarian ruler, your
best method for control is to get rid of the moderates.
You have to crush the moderates.
That’s very important.
You want to have the only opposition to you be extremists.
That way when you go and have negotiations with the United States, you can kind of hold
up the terrorists or whomever, the extremists and say, it’s either us or them, right?
And then the realists who run the US government are going to choose you.
And that’s why, one of the reasons why the US government has supported so many dictators
around the world over the last few decades.
Do you think authoritarian systems emerge naturally, like that’s the natural state of
If you incorporate what human nature is, is there always going to be corrupt people the
rise to the top?
And we almost have to construct systems that protect us against ourselves kind of thing.
Another way to ask that is what kind of systems protect us from our own human nature?
We started with authoritarianism or autocracy, right?
Ruled by one or a small group oligarchy, and all humans lived under this structure for,
you know, the virtual, you know, bulk of all human existence.
Only until pretty recently did we start having actual democracy.
The idea that we should be ruled by rules, not by rulers, very powerful.
Invented in many places across the world.
Western Africa had this idea and so did the ancient Greeks.
And they started to implement it.
Although as most know, we didn’t have full democracy for a long, long time because it
was only property owners or only men, only people of a certain race.
But this idea that we can like rotate our rulers and that we could be ruled by rules
is extremely powerful and it really like for me, the ideas behind this, I think unlocked
a lot of the industrial revolution, these small personal freedoms that were allowed
in some countries, but not others.
And they unlocked a lot of the scientific innovation over the last few hundred years.
And to me, there’s like a really straight line between like scientific inquiry, free
speech, freedoms, and then more prosperity and more effectiveness as a civilization.
So I think that democracy, you know, ruled by the people is definitely an upgrade from
autocracy or oligarchy, you know, which would be ruled by one or ruled by a small group.
And I think that the democratic revolution has been an incredible thing for our world.
And it’s, you know, you can do half class full, half class empty.
The half class full is that almost half the world lives under democracy.
Like that’s an incredible achievement.
But just under half.
Just under half.
But that’s billions of people.
It’s billions of people.
And if you look at the progress of things, it’s getting better and better and better.
I mean, if you, you know.
We’re a little bit of a stalemate here.
Democracy’s really blossomed between World War II and the year 2000, especially in the
eighties and nineties, you had an incredible wave of fall, you know, where many, many authoritarian
regimes fell and were replaced by democracies.
I think around 2015, the acceleration kind of came to a standstill a little bit.
There’s some good news in some countries and there’s bad news in others.
Like in the last 10 years, you’ve had, for example, the Philippines has gone backwards.
Thailand has gone backwards.
Bangladesh has gone backwards.
Turkey has gone backwards.
That’s like a half billion people right there.
So you’ve had some positives, like, you know, there was positive movement forward in Armenia,
Malaysia, some other countries, but we’re kind of at a stalemate right now.
And what most people fear about where we are right now, who I respect, is what is the digital
transformation of the world due to this like progress of democracy or of open societies.
And that’s what concerns me the most.
So I’ve, and we’ll talk about one of the most fascinating technologies, which is Bitcoin,
how it can help.
But I have a sense that technology, like most technological innovations will give power
to the individuals, will fight authoritarian governments as opposed to give more power
to authoritarian governments.
But your sense is there’s ways to give for technology to be utilized as a tool for the
abuse of the citizenry.
I’ve seen both.
In my work at Ahrefs, I started by helping to put together backpacks with foreign information
that we sent to the Cuban underground library movement.
So in Cuba, you know, to own a book at the time, you had to have the government’s permission.
There’s very little internet penetration.
So we would send in movies, you know, V for Vendetta, dubbed into Spanish, and people
would sit inside their homes and they’d watch it and they would answer questions with each
It was awful.
And then after that, I worked with people inside North Korea.
We would send in flash drives.
We have this program called Flash Drives for Freedom.
We’ve sent over 100,000 flash drives in our work into North Korea, a country of about
25 million people.
That’s a lot.
It’s a big, big difference.
That’s, you know, many, many millions of hours of films, books, movies, etc.
So I’ve seen the power that technology can have where, you know, in the 60s and 70s,
you know, to get to break an information blockade, you had to like send in crates of books into
a communist country.
So now all of a sudden, you can send the entire contents of what was once the Library of Alexandria
on something the size of your thumbnail, like that’s remarkable.
So obviously, I’ve seen the positives of technology and we’ll certainly get into Bitcoin.
But I’m, you know, very concerned about essentially big data analysis, like what people call AI
or general, you know, specific kinds of AI, like very concerning.
I think these are very authoritarian.
I mean, it’s very hard to make a case that AI is going to be good for human rights.
Very difficult, in my opinion.
It may be good for health.
It may be good for our efforts to protect the planet.
It may be good for a lot of scientific things.
I find it very hard to believe it’ll be good for civil liberties.
Oh, that’s fun.
This is fun because I disagree.
Give me your examples.
What AI applications will improve civil liberties?
I thought you meant examples of stuff that’s already out there, because I can give you
examples that, for example, the kind of things I would like to work on, but also the kind
of things I’m hoping to see, which is AI could be used by centralized powers, by governments,
by big organizations like Facebook and Twitter and so on to collect data about people.
I believe there’s a huge hunger among people to have control over their own data.
So instead you can have AI that’s distributed or people have complete ownership of their
little AI systems.
So like the kind of stuff that I would like to build or like to see it to be built is
you could think of it as personal assistance or AI that’s owned by you and you get to give
You have complete control over all of your data.
You have complete control over everything that’s learnable about your day to day experiences
that could be useful in the market of goods and ideas and all those kinds of things.
So it has to do with, so I know you talk about the surveillance, which is very interesting.
It’s who gets to have control of the data.
And I think, I believe there’s a lot of hunger in among regular people to have control over
their data such that if you want to create a business, you have a lot of money to be
made from a capitalist perspective by providing products that let people control their data
where you have no control.
Sounds like to me you’re describing encryption or at least the ability to encrypt, the ability
to use digital keys to secure your property.
And that to me is a very powerful force for individual rights, very powerful.
And it’s what animates Bitcoin ultimately, which we’ll get into.
But for me, at least the way I look at it today in 2021, the threat from big data analysis
used by governments and authoritarian regimes is terrifying.
I mean, to actually see what the Chinese Communist Party is doing where they have hundreds of
millions of cameras overseeing society, cameras that can tell who’s a Uyghur and who’s a
Ham, that to me is terrifying and everything is sorted instantly.
There are supercomputers that are built in Urumqi, in Xinjiang for this explicit purpose.
And it allows the government to quickly sort and basically commit genocide a lot faster
and it’s really scary.
So I do agree and I’ve seen personally how powerful technology can be as a force for
freedom, but I’m very, very worried about big data analysis in the hands of governments.
See, that’s funny because I tend to see governments as ultimately incompetent in the space of
technology to where there will always be lagging behind.
So you look at what the Chinese surveillance systems are doing, I believe once it starts
getting bad enough that technologies would be created to resist that.
So to mess with it from the hacker community, but also from the individual community.
So surveillance is actually very difficult from a centralized perspective to collect
data about you, to detect everything you are because you can spoof a lot of that information.
So I believe you can put power in the hands of the citizens to sort of feed the government
fake data to confuse it at a mass scale to where it’ll make their surveillance less effective.
That could be very sort of hopeful.
I mean, the practical application in Xinjiang, which is a territory the size of Alaska, where
a large percentage of the population has been put into prison camps.
The current issue of the New Yorker has an absolutely harrowing essay that tells the
story of one such woman who in, I believe, 2017 got sucked into one of these camps and
it took her a year or more to get out.
And she’s talking about how in each home in Xinjiang, each home has a QR code on it that
the police can scan and get like a quick instant download of who lives there.
Each car has, you know, like a scannable code.
Every single person has their DNA taken and the DNA is being sifted through and analyzed
So this is like the Chinese government’s laboratory for how can we use technology to oppress.
It’s like sort of like digital Leninism.
And that to me is one of the biggest risks in our world today and it’s not talked about
So technology is basically enables the automation of oppression.
But to define technology, big data analysis and, you know, maybe specific AI, etc. does,
but encryption allows us to fight back.
It’s very important people understand we have tools to fight back.
The, you know, big brother can only grow if it can feed on your data.
If it can’t get your data, it can’t grow.
So you have to willingly give up stuff to the cloud for this monster to grow.
We can like make the monster hungry and shrink it if we give it less data.
And I think that’s where I would agree with you in terms of like wanting to empower people
to be able to do stuff on their own terms in a sovereign way.
And yeah, maybe you’re kind of thinking like the personal assistant who helps out Tony
Stark or something like that.
And that’s, yeah, as long as there’s no back doors and that’s a sovereign thing that you’ve
popped up and created and you have the keys to, absolutely.
But practically speaking, if we’re talking about the world today as is, we need to be
concerned about the way that authoritarian regimes are using big data analysis and they’re
going to buy this software and this equipment from the Chinese government, they’re already
State level surveillance has already been purchased by governments everywhere from Latin
America to Sub Saharan Africa to the heart of Europe.
There’s been huge scandals in Britain over their purchase of Chinese surveillance technology.
Part of the Chinese government’s Belt and Road campaign, which is basically to build
the infrastructure of this century and to be in control of it, part of that idea is
to ship out and install surveillance technology both at the telecom level and at the surveillance
level across dozens of countries around the world and have that back door.
There’s this national security law in China, which states that companies that are Chinese,
which are abroad, are mandated to send data back to Beijing.
So they are building this huge global surveillance state.
And again, not talked about enough, you should go Google and research the Belt and Road.
I think it’s very important that we confront this.
Yeah, I’m really glad you’re talking about it because it’s probably important to understand.
I’m also hopeful that as people get educated about how much their data, when collected,
unencrypted, but in general, can be used to harm them.
I mean, it’s almost like an education.
I feel like if you know, it’s a double edged sword because I feel like people become fearful
too easily and that actually has a very negative effect on the quality of life.
In some sense, you want to have tools that allow you to live freely as opposed to live
If you live in fear, it’s not a good way to live.
So it’s a balance.
It’s a free society versus a fear society.
Yeah, fear society.
And look, people are, it’s all about the trade offs you make in your daily life.
Like living more privately with more freedom is less convenient.
You trade freedom and privacy for convenience and comfort and speed.
And the engineering decision and everything that you do.
In the West, in advanced democracies, we have not necessarily personally seen the results
of that trade off because we live in these free societies that have these checks and
balances and freedoms.
But as soon as you step into an authoritarian state and you make those trade offs, your
life immediately becomes more restrictive.
And what people are worried about is that even in advanced economies, market democracies,
etc., people are worried that they might not survive the great social digital transformation.
You know, look at what the NSA is capable of doing.
I mean, for now, it’s not that big of a problem because we still have free speech.
But it’s deeply concerning what Snowden revealed.
And it’s a nice reminder that we need to be focused on privacy and encryption and on helping
users become more sovereign regardless of where you live.
It’s kind of like a crutch to live in a free society.
Like, you know, it’s almost like a free lunch in a way.
You’re not going to be sent to a prison camp because of the color of your skin or your
beliefs or what you say about the government.
And you’re very lucky.
Again, most people do live in a society where you can be persecuted for those things.
And I feel like, especially in America, we forget that we’re distanced from that really
strong reality, you know.
On the topic of Snowden and the NSA, what should we be thinking about?
Because that feels like already an outdated set of conversations because of the information
we’ve gotten from the past.
It feels like everything’s gotten quiet now in terms of how much we actually know about
No, it’s hugely important.
I think the two lessons from Snowden are, A, the Patriot Act and the War on Terror and
mass surveillance are not necessary for our democracy and for our freedoms.
This was a false choice.
We never had to sacrifice them to be safer.
And we’ve seen that.
The government has spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on these like surveillance
programs that you can read about have amounted to very little, except for tremendous bureaucratic
waste and, you know, erosion of our freedoms.
But at the same time, we need to practice more privacy.
And the dramatic increase in the usage of Signal, for example, has been really, really
great to see.
It’s fantastic that tens of millions of people are downloading Signal and using it.
You should try to be onboarding more and more of your conversations onto Signal, for example,
where governments can’t see what you’re saying.
Maybe they can see the metadata.
Maybe they can see that you sent your phone number, sent a message to someone else’s phone
number at this time, but they can’t see what’s inside.
So using encryption in your life is very, very important.
That’s a good starting point.
I would say that’s kind of step A.
The ideas of democracy, the ideas of the balance of power, all the ideas that we were talking
about, the constructs, were inventions.
I wonder if there’s other inventions that will allow us to sort of not engage, not give
governments or any centralized institutions so much power.
Why do citizens have to use Signal?
Because it’s an effort.
You have to understand exactly why.
So that’s a nice little solution for a particular set of problems.
But there’s a million other ways that data, I’m sure, is being collected constantly.
If we don’t create a system that prevents the establishment of these centralized powers,
then we’ll always have this problem.
Yeah, I think we can keep it simple for the purposes of this conversation.
You have politics, information, and money.
Those are the three things I would encourage us to focus on.
In politics, yes, someone invented democracy.
I mean, whether it was the Greeks, the West Africans, or many others around the world
around the same time invented this idea that we should be ruled by rules and not by rulers.
And that has evolved dramatically.
And then you have information.
Information also used to be highly centralized, right?
Think about how rich you had to be to gain access to a library before the printing press,
or how much money you had to have, or how close to the king or the feudal lord you had
to be to be able to have that ability.
But now, the majority of the world, billions of people have access to all information in
their pocket, and they can set up an account on social media and get their word out.
So not only politics, but information has been dramatically decentralized.
And I would say that encrypted messaging is kind of a corollary to that second innovation
in as much as now people are like more effortlessly, like Signal is a lot easier to use than PGP,
They’re more easily able to practice privacy when it comes to having private messages globally.
These are all good things and we need to keep pushing.
And I think money is like, honestly, maybe the most important piece.
And that’s why I spent so much time thinking about Bitcoin.
Okay, so politics, information, money, yes, let’s talk about money.
What is money?
Why is it important to think about in the context of human rights?
I have witnessed money be peripheralized, it has taken a backseat in the human rights
The idea of currency, who makes the money, who makes the rules, who issues it, who sets
the interest rates, all these things, it is not on the menu of human rights activists.
If you just do like a systematic study of like the human rights discourse over the last
several decades, money is not there.
It’s also not really taught in schools.
Like children don’t really learn about money, where does it come from?
It’s kind of hidden from a lot of our discourse.
Only really when I got into Bitcoin did I started learning more about money.
I spent 10 years at the Human Rights Foundation and we did all kinds of programs around the
We convened Oslo Freedom Forums in different places and I got to meet hundreds of dissidents.
And very rarely did they ever speak about currency or bank accounts or moving money
from one place to another.
But when I started asking them, they always had amazing stories about money, always.
I mean, my friend, Ivan Mawire, who started the This Flag movement in Zimbabwe, which
ended up toppling Robert Mugabe, when I asked him to come to San Francisco to give a talk
about hyperinflation, which he lived through.
He said, no one’s ever asked me to do that before, but I’ll come.
And he came, this was about three years ago.
And the first thing he did when he got on the stage is he opened up a shirt and he brought
out a necklace that had the 1980 Zimbabwean dollar on it.
And he said, we in the activist community wear this as a symbol of where our country
used to be because the Zimbabwean dollar used to be worth two British pounds.
And then of course, over the next two and a half decades of economic mismanagement and
corruption by Mugabe, it got inflated out of existence, right?
You’ve seen those like a hundred trillion dollars in Zimbabwean notes.
So he had to live through that, which was terrible and crushing, but he is an expert
If you actually talk to human rights activists about money, they know a lot about money.
They’re just not usually asked to talk about it.
So for me, when I study money or look at money, it’s really about control, who’s creating
it, and how much does the population know about the creation of that money.
And when it comes to Bitcoin, it’s really the people’s money.
Like there is no shadowy force in charge of it.
We all know the rules.
We all know how it’s going to get minted and how it’s going to get printed.
And you know, that information is out there for everybody to see.
And there’s no like special group of rules for one group of people or another group.
You know, a billionaire and a refugee are the same in the eyes of the protocol.
This is a rather revolutionary concept.
And in the same way that democracy allowed us to decentralize politics and have checks
And in the same way that the internet is this culmination of technologies that allowed us
to decentralize information, access to and control over it, Bitcoin, you know, decentralizes
I mean, no longer, again, is there one group of people who can just change it arbitrarily.
We’re all in the same playing field.
And I think that that is a tremendous innovation.
You know, from one perspective, money and inflation, hyperinflation is a kind of symptom
of corruption, as opposed to the core of the corruption.
And at the flip side, in terms of resisting the corruption, resisting the abuse of human
rights, it’s interesting to think that fighting inflation or fighting the mismanagement of
the money supply is a way to fight back authoritarianism or to fight authoritarianism.
And that’s an interesting concept that I think was introduced to me by just plugging myself
intellectually into the Bitcoin community, but also just cryptocurrency in general, is
to like, it’s not that money is a symptom.
You know, money is a tool to fight back, too.
So in what way can Bitcoin be used to fight authoritarianism, not just in the United States,
but all of those 53% that you’re referring to, how can Bitcoin help?
So we talked about authoritarianism, and we talked about the surveillance state.
To me, Bitcoin has two kind of key mechanisms through which it can help us.
Number one, it’s a sovereign savings account.
It’s debasement proof, meaning the government cannot print more whenever they want.
This is very, very different from fiat currency, which by its very name, its very nature can
be issued on sort of demand, right, by the rulers.
And while I live in a country where the rulers do a reasonable job managing the money, most
people aren’t so lucky.
So only 13% of humans in the world live in a country that’s a liberal democracy with
property rights and has what we call a reserve currency, meaning a currency so stable and
desirable that other countries save in it at the central bank level, right?
You basically have the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Switzerland, the Euro, and Canada.
I mean, those are like reserve currencies.
And these are liberal democracies where people have reasonable guarantees over property rights.
Everybody else either lives under like a weaker currency or an authoritarian regime.
That’s 87% of the world’s population, almost 7 billion people.
So for them, a sovereign savings account that’s permissionless, meaning you don’t have to
have ID to use it, is a big, big deal.
And a lot of people talk about Zimbabwe or Venezuela as some like isolated cases.
Oh, well, you know, hyperinflation only happens in those two countries.
I actually did some research into this and there’s about one point, over, you know, close
to 1.3 billion people who live under double or triple digit inflation.
This is not an isolated instance.
We’re talking huge countries, Nigeria, 200 million people, 15% inflation, Turkey, 15%
inflation for 100 million people, Argentina, 40% inflation for a country of 45 million
So you can go down the list, there’s about 35 countries where like people’s earnings,
their wages are literally disappearing in front of their eyes over a matter of weeks
or months against things like the dollar or gold or real estate, right?
So this is a huge issue.
It absolutely is a human rights issue for me.
I mean, when it comes to your time and energy, having control over that or having it stolen
from you, I think this is pretty clear.
And Bitcoin is like an immediate, low cost, easily accessible solution for people.
And I’ve learned this not from my own assumptions, but by talking to people, by interviewing
dozens of people, whether it’s in Sudan, which currently has triple digit inflation, or people
who’ve escaped from Syria, who have used Bitcoin to get their wealth out of the country, and
then also to make payments back to people inside, or Venezuela or elsewhere.
It’s very, very powerful.
I think some very small percentage of people who have used, have owned Bitcoin was something
like 1%, right?
Of the world, whatever that number is, it’s small.
Call it 2% for the purposes of our, about a little under 200 million people.
At most, right now.
So if we look at Zimbabwe, Sudan, if we look at…
Small percentages of people.
Do you think the technology is mature enough?
Because it’s not just about the idea, it’s also about the implementation of it.
Like Bitcoin, for the most part, requires access to the internet.
And what do you think about accessibility of this technology now as a method of activism
in the worst parts of the world?
We often think like all the conversations we’ve had about Bitcoin is essentially middle
class, like wealthy people relative to the rest of the world.
They’re kind of talking sort of investment and high concept ideas.
Then there’s also the people in the world who are suffering, who are living through
They may not have a computer or access to the internet.
How do you think Bitcoin can help there?
So again, we have one clear use case, which is a sovereign savings account that you can
The other use case is an unstoppable payments network.
This is very important for people who live behind, for example, sanctions, like the US
like basically weaponizes the dollar and like sanctions different countries.
And instead of sanctioning like a handful of rulers, for example, which I would support,
this is like a Magnitsky or smart sanctions.
Sometimes we’ll just say, we’re just going to shut off this whole country.
So the people suffer.
Cuba or Iran are good examples.
Average people suffer, right?
So people in those two countries I just mentioned, Cuba, Iran, or even Palestine, which is also
sort of like blockaded by the Israelis.
So you have Cuba, Iran, Palestine are three good examples where people inside all three
of those countries now are using Bitcoin to do commerce, do their business, send money
back and forth.
So sanctions resistant.
It does not get stopped by sanctions, right?
And also it’s, again, remittances are extortionate.
I mean, the average remittance, you know, costs has a high fee, takes several days.
If your family is in Ghana or something like that, or Nigeria, and you live in the United
States, it can take time to use Western Union.
Sometimes it gets paused, it gets lost, there’s issues, you have to deal with customer service.
I mean, you know, if the person has a cell phone, which increasingly is the case, I mean,
by the end of next year, more than five or six billion people depending on different
estimates will have smartphones basically by the end of 2022.
We’re talking like the vast majority of humans will have access to smartphones.
They can all have sovereign Bitcoin wallets.
And there’s even ways to access Bitcoin without the internet.
But I mean, we can get into that.
There’s like hardware wallets and so on.
What do you mean by sovereign Bitcoin wallet?
You know, most users today are using Bitcoin in a custodial manner.
So this is kind of like having a bank account where you have a deposit account at a bank,
So you have a claim, right?
You go to the bank and they have some of your money and you take it out, right?
With an ATM.
So what I would call noncustodial Bitcoin use would be similar to withdrawing cash from
You have it.
It’s a bearer instrument.
OK, so when I…
That’s what it’s called.
It’s a bearer instrument.
I’m outside this community.
I’m in a bar of gold or a banknote or Bitcoin that you control, meaning you have the seed
Which for the listeners essentially is 12 to 24 English words that you write down on
a piece of paper.
That’s your like password to get into your Bitcoin account.
And that gives you that bearer instrument quality, right?
But unfortunately, most users still use Bitcoin in a custodial way, meaning they buy it on
Coinbase or Square or something like that.
You would put into the custodial into the custodial category like a bank.
And look, the good news is you can withdraw to your own control.
And in the Bitcoin community, we try to teach this idea that it’s not your keys, not your
coins in the same way that if you deposit your money at the bank, you might not get
I mean, it’s low likelihood, but it’s very possible.
Same thing in Bitcoin.
Like if you want to get the full experience, you want to actually custody your own Bitcoin.
You want to put it whether it’s on an open source software wallet, like the blue wallet
is a good one for people to check out or a hardware wallet like cold card, for example.
There’s different ways to do this.
But essentially, like around the world, people are innovating.
Like don’t think so low of your fellow man.
You know what I mean?
Like people are able to figure this out.
You know, I get a lot of flak from people saying, oh, Bitcoin is so hard to use.
I read this article in the New York Times saying this guy in Silicon Valley lost all
of his Bitcoin.
That’s because he was a moron and didn’t care about it.
This guy lost all this Bitcoin because it wasn’t worth much 10 years ago and he, you
know, he forgot the password.
But if you’re like receiving your remittance from a family member, you’re going to lose
And you trust in the basic intelligence of people to figure this out and to innovate
and so on and figure out.
We’re watching it, man.
You know, I’m, it’s kind of funny that, but people in the United States are not very savvy
It’s exactly the way you’re describing is like when you have very little money, you’re
going to be savvy with money.
You’re going to understand exactly the mechanisms that work, that are resistant to the corruption
that’s around you.
I mean, I remember sort of growing up in the Soviet Union, the general bureaucracy and
the corruption of everything around you, you figure out ways around that.
You figure out ways how to function within that kind of system to survive under inflation,
under hyperinflation, under all like basically being unable to trust any kind of, even the
police force and all those kinds of things.
You figure it out and that same way, perhaps Bitcoin could be all the different ways to
store and gain Bitcoin.
These mechanisms could be something that’s figured out in the third world as opposed
to in the United States.
Oh, I mean, I would say the capital of Bitcoin could easily be Lagos and not San Francisco
And again, the two use cases as a savings account and as an unstoppable payment rail.
These are the two ones that you should really think about, this is how people are using
Now, when it comes to, could it possibly be adopted by like a sufficient majority of the
I say, yes.
And it’s very similar to the way the mobile phone spread.
At the beginning, the cell phone was only for rich people, it was only for the elite,
it was huge, it didn’t work very well, the interface sucked, it was clunky.
Over time, it got smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper and easier to use and
easier to use.
And today, everyone benefits.
So you’re going to watch a similar technology upgrade process with Bitcoin.
Already in the last 10 years, Bitcoin has gotten so much easier to use.
I mean, there are now mobile wallets that are so slick.
There’s one called Moon M U U N wallet from a team in Argentina.
And these guys created it because they saw their own currency devalued like three times
in the last 20 years.
And they’ve had a hell of a time trying to get their money back and forth in different
So they were like, let’s make this easy for people.
Again, you know, this is the people’s money.
This is something that cannot be controlled by governments or corporations.
And that makes it very powerful.
And I think it’s actually quite exciting to be here in the adoption phase.
In the early days.
Yeah, man, this is the early days.
And you also mentioned that Bitcoin is the mechanism of a peaceful revolution.
So it’s a way to resist authoritarianism in a peaceful way.
It’s ultimately, you know, you mentioned sort of politics, information, and money.
It seems like in the space of money, this is one of the peaceful mechanisms.
It’s a way to opt out.
You can opt out peacefully from the system.
And yeah, it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.
So Bitcoin is currently by far the most popular sort of dominant cryptocurrency.
That said, and I look forward to your letters, Bitcoin maximalists.
That said, you know, Internet Explorer was the most popular browser for quite a long
And then other browsers came along that out competed it like Chrome, Firefox, People’s
It’s a great browser.
I think it’s my favorite browser at this point.
Anyway, so why Bitcoin?
Why not another cryptocurrency?
If you look in the next 10, 20, 50, 100 years, do you think it’s possible for another cryptocurrency
like Ethereum or something that it’s not even here yet to overtake Bitcoin as a mechanism?
When you say overtake, what do you mean?
What do you mean overtake?
You mean number of users?
Do you mean a price per coin?
Yeah, the number of users, because we’re talking about 1%, 2%.
And if we are serious about this being in the space of money as a way to give individuals
power, fight the centralized powers that use the money system and so on, how do we get
from 2% to 50%, right, to 60%, to 80%?
At that jump, is it obvious to you, not obvious, but do you think Bitcoin is the way to get
from 2% to 50% or are there going to be other cryptocurrencies that may emerge that get
us to 50%?
I mean, Bitcoin is the innovation.
The innovation is in having the decentralized mint.
No one can change the monetary policy.
Everything else is downstream from there.
In Bitcoin, the mean would be 21 million.
There’s never going to be any more than 21 million.
Every other cryptocurrency either has an inflationary policy, meaning there’s going to continue
to be more and more of it over time, or its monetary policy can be changed by a small
group of people.
This is vividly on display in Ethereum, which is like the second largest and second most
robust cryptocurrency, right?
I’ve talked to senior Ethereum engineers over the last couple of weeks trying to figure
out what is the monetary policy of Ethereum?
No one can tell me.
No one knows how much ETH is going to be minted in 2022 and 2023 after they shift to proof
I’ve seen estimates that range from 100,000 to 2 million.
So at the end of the day, you’re going to be trusting a small group of people to make
That is what we are escaping with Bitcoin.
So all these other cryptocurrencies, they might have their use cases, virtually all
of them are not.
It’s very important for people to know that if you take like the 4,500 cryptocurrencies
on CoinMarketCap, almost all of them are scams straight up.
Even the ones that have like noble intentions, I just don’t think are going to add that much
I think Bitcoin to me is the innovation and you know, that’s because it has a monetary
policy and an issuance schedule that cannot be changed.
And that’s what gets me so excited about it.
I mean, that’s why it’s such an important tool for human rights.
Yeah, it’s interesting because when you grow from 2%, when you grow in the number of people
using it at the scale, they’re using it, it’s going to need to be resistant to governments
and institutions messing with it.
So it’s interesting to see what kind of cryptocurrency would be resistant to that.
Obviously Dogecoin is going to win.
Let’s be honest.
Well, I mean, look, the number two cryptocurrency in the world, probably by like how useful
it is to people is Tether, which is totally centralized, has blacklists.
So I’m not saying there won’t be like new digital assets that are lumped into this category
that have usage, but they’re not, they’re not, it’s not the same innovation as Bitcoin.
It’s just sort of building on this idea of like a Euro dollar, maybe like a dollar that
is minted outside of the control of the US Federal Reserve, right?
It would be a Euro dollar.
So stable coins are kind of like Euro dollars just minted by private actors in a way, right?
But they’re still tied to the dollar.
They’re pegged to the dollar.
They’re not escaping the system.
Escaping the system is Bitcoin.
We aren’t reliant on the dollar.
We have our own, you know, full store value, medium of exchange, unit of account eventually.
And you know, the Bitcoin world will be denominated in different terms.
And I think everyone, everything else will be tied to it.
I really do.
It does feel currently like Bitcoin is like, like pirates or something like that.
And there’s still like the central banks that are like the main navies of the, of the different
It’s just this, if you talk about scale.
So there’s going to be a moment if Bitcoin continues to grow in its impact, when governments
are going to seriously contend with, you know, what do we do with this?
Do you think about those moments?
Is Bitcoin, is the cryptocurrency world in general going to be able to withstand the
serious legal pushback from countries, from nations, especially authoritarian nations?
It’s been interesting.
It’s been 12 years, okay?
More than 12 years since Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin and they haven’t been able
to stop it.
They have tried.
They have tried a lot.
I wrote a long essay for Quillette on this, like, like why haven’t governments been able
to stop Bitcoin?
And my thesis is essentially that there’s been like this mix of different kinds of technical,
social and economic and political incentives and disincentives that make it very difficult.
And I think to me, the best way to think about it is that Bitcoin is like a Trojan horse.
So just to actually tell that story just a little bit, because I think it’s important
to understand the classical mythology tale, I find this very interesting.
Of the actual Trojan horse?
Of the actual Trojan horse.
Which was told in the Aeneid actually by Virgil, right?
And the idea was the Greeks had been like trying to take the city of Troy for like a
decade at these like impregnable walls and they couldn’t do it.
And Ulysses and the rest of the Greek army were like, we don’t know what to do.
So Minerva, the god of strategy and war, you know, kind of like they get this idea from
her, I guess, to actually try to use subterfuge and trickery to take over the city.
So the idea is to, and this was sort of hatched by Ulysses, right?
To put this horse together that would kind of be like a gift.
So the idea was the Greeks just like pretended to leave, right?
They left behind one soldier and this horse and the Trojans looked at it and they were
like, what’s going on here?
And they brought in the soldier and the soldier’s like, look, they left.
They’re so sorry for all of the desecration and blood spill.
This is their gift to you.
It’s, you know, honoring Minerva, you know, it’s like this like, you know, trophy for
And there were actually people inside Troy, Cassandra, a prophet, as well as Laocoon,
who was like a priest who said, no, no, no, this is obviously a trick.
This is obviously a trick.
But they were like dispatched and ignored because the horse was like, it was just like
so bad ass.
So the Trojans were like, I’m bringing it in the city.
So they brought it in themselves.
No blood spilled at all.
In the middle of the night, of course, what you realize is the horse was packed with Greek
soldiers and they come out and they let the army in, which was like hiding behind an island.
So this idea that like something could be so attractive that you really can’t say no,
even if you know what’s inside of it, is at play in Bitcoin.
So like in Bitcoin has this number go up technology, right?
It is what we call it in sort of shorthand NGO, NGU, right?
But what people don’t realize is that NGU is like the Trojan horse.
Inside the Trojan horse is FGU, Freedom Go Up technology.
So dictators and rogue regimes and corporations are going to buy, mine, tax, accumulate this
thing because it’s the best performing financial asset in the world.
What they don’t realize or they’re going to have to ignore is that they’re also aiding
and abetting this freedom technology, which allows individuals to be sovereign and eventually
erodes their power.
There’s no question that rogue regimes and bad actors have already used and will continue
to use Bitcoin.
The thing is when you think about a North Korea or a Venezuela and that government instructs
some of its bureaucrats and cronies and officials to start stealing Bitcoin or accumulating
it or whatever for short term gain to get around sanctions and use it to buy dollars
or something like that, right?
Which they can’t get normally.
Well, guess what?
All those people who the regime has instructed to like figure this thing out and use it,
they’re all going to realize, oh my God, this is money the government doesn’t control.
And it’s going to spread like a virus.
So this is like the idea of the Trojan horse allegory, why I think it’s so important and
powerful with Bitcoin.
All the people talking about Bitcoin today on TV, they don’t care about freedom and privacy.
They just care about number go up.
But what they don’t realize is what’s concealed within.
And that’s very, very powerful to me.
So the people talking about Bitcoin on TV are maybe investor types.
Yeah, professional investors, corporations and soon governments.
I mean, you just had today this morning on CNBC, the leader of the Republican leader
of the House of Representatives, a congressman saying, like, we need to be pro Bitcoin as
And the other day, Peter Thiel had a very interesting comment where he was basically
like, let’s not fall behind China in this race.
So you have influential people in our government, like sort of posturing for this, like, you
know, Bitcoin race that’s going to happen in the next 10 years.
You’re going to see this.
You’re going to compete to stack Bitcoin.
So you believe the the thing that’s shiny and sexy, like the Trojan horse, the number
It’s too hard to ignore.
And for it to do to define that a little further as meaning it does seem like the more people
get excited and start using Bitcoin, the more its value grows.
So it’s just a good feedback loop.
Yeah, it’s a feedback loop.
And then the reason you’re excited about it, especially is that F.G.
Freedom go up.
Freedom go up, which is it ultimately gives power to the individuals to so decentralize
the entire system.
Yeah, I mean, like when Tesla stacks Bitcoin, they’re just doing that as self interest.
They think it’s going to be a good inflation hedge.
But what they maybe don’t care about, don’t realize or they don’t need to care.
I mean, Bitcoin’s power is it like co ops people into promoting a freedom tool, even
if they don’t care about or even if they hate freedom, doesn’t matter.
So when Tesla stacks Bitcoin and the price goes up and more interest goes up and more
people around the world are like, wow, Bitcoin, then more people get involved again.
More adoption, more price, more developers, better user interface, more privacy tools,
more mining, more network security.
It’s just this like positive feedback loop that continues to grow and it will grow intensely
in the next decade as we go through the adoption cycle.
And the reason why I’m so excited about this is the human rights world, again, to get back
to our previous conversation, is very hard to find people who have, you know, the empathy
or the altruism to actually make a difference abroad in places like China or Saudi Arabia
or North Korea.
People are very quick to just like, they’ll just quickly toss off the pretty words that
they care about human rights as soon as profits come into play.
So there’s no alignment of incentives, right?
The reason why Bitcoin is so powerful is that it aligns the incentives.
All of a sudden, they can be as greedy as they want.
They are being forced to promote a freedom tool.
This I’ve never seen before and it makes me, it gives me a lot of like excitement.
It’s very refreshing because we’ve been laboring in the human rights space, you have to like
raise money and it’s all like nonprofit work and you’re like begging for people to make
a difference for you.
Here you have this like incredible asset which people will accumulate out of self preservation,
self interest and greed, and yet it will strengthen the power of the individual.
That is what we need to fight, big brother.
That’s what we need to fight, like what I’m scared is happening in China, like this growing
authoritarian state which is powered by big data analysis.
This is our way to fight back and it runs on this like really interesting engine again
that like takes advantage of our base nature as humans and I know that it sounds terrible
for me to say this, but I mean, ultimately we are self interested and it is hard to get
people to care about others living a thousand miles away.
We are kind of localized in our empathy.
Being as someone who works to help people who live in like a hundred different countries,
it’s very difficult to get Americans to care about what’s happening in Belarus or in Kashmir.
It just is.
But guess what?
They’re going to definitely care about Bitcoin because they want to see their net worth go
up, they want to do better for their family, et cetera.
They’re going to get into this thing and it’s really going to like make that powerful tool
for everyone else who’s using it.
So this interplay dynamic is fascinating to me.
Yeah, I have to, I’m somebody who doesn’t like the corrupting effects of greed, but
it is also human nature.
Yeah, I don’t like it either, but we have to be realists.
You have to acknowledge it and then maybe use it for your advantage.
And it’s not just Bitcoin itself.
Like exchanges today are adopting something called lightning network, which is a way to
scale Bitcoin on a second layer.
Much like we had gold bars, which we scaled with paper money and then we had visa credit
cards, which were a way of scaling the paper notes, Bitcoin scales through lightning network.
It’s a private instant globally final settlement network.
It’s something you all should check out.
It’s very, very interesting.
The exchanges aren’t adopting lightning for its privacy benefits.
Like lightning operates off the chain, meaning surveillance companies can’t see, they can’t
do chain analysis on lightning because it’s on an onion routed second layer kind of that
works kind of like the Tor project.
The exchanges don’t care about privacy.
They’re doing it because it reduces fees.
Lightning is cheaper and faster.
So again, we have this really interesting alignment of incentives where like the freedom
tech is being promoted by people who don’t, I don’t, it doesn’t matter what their incentives
I could care less if they were altruistic or not.
And I think this is, and you’re going to maybe see this even in the future.
There’s more things coming in Bitcoin down the pike.
Lightning was enabled by an upgrade called Segwit, right?
Which took place a few years ago, which was the culmination of the block size conflict.
There’s another thing coming up called cross input signature aggregation, which may, if
it takes effect in the next few years, it may compel exchanges to collaboratively spend
all their Bitcoin together in a way that really protects our privacy and fights surveillance.
But they’re not going to do it for moral reasons.
They’re going to do it because it’s going to save them money and improve their bottom
Can you speak to that kind of collaborative so that you can have multiple parties in a
single transaction kind of thing?
Like you could do that today.
It’s called the CoinJoin, for example.
But right now it’s more expensive to CoinJoin in Bitcoin.
You have to pay a premium for your privacy.
This would flip that on its head and would basically say, if you have one transaction,
hey, pile them all in, have as many parties as you want.
The more parties you get in, the cheaper it’s going to be per party.
And that’s not possible in Bitcoin today, but it might be in the future.
But again, the beauty in Bitcoin are these ways that it just aligns human incentives
and it aligns our most base desires and needs and realities with freedom and privacy.
That I’ve never seen before.
And that’s why I think it’s so interesting.
So somebody like Eric Weinstein actually spoke to this, the idea of blockchain in general.
From a 10,000 foot view, the blockchain is a centralized place to keep the record of
everything that ever happened and does that concern you from a privacy perspective, from
a control perspective, even though it’s managed, especially given the low frequency of transaction
for Bitcoin, you can have a lot of small computers across the globe contain the entirety set
of transactions, all of those kinds of features.
Does that concern you that there’s one place where everything is made public in terms of
everything that ever happened?
And I’ll give you two reasons.
Number one, the Bitcoin blockchain is ultimately a settlement layer.
It’s kind of like something like Fedwire in the United States.
It’s a way for like institutions to settle with each other.
That’s what I think it’s going to be like in 20, 30 years from now.
The average person is never going to touch the Bitcoin blockchain probably.
They’re going to use things like lightning or unfortunately, they may use Bitcoin banks,
but they’ll either use custodians or they’ll use second layer noncustodial solutions to
The main chain is going to get very expensive.
It’s going to be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars or even more if the dollar
starts to weaken to make a transaction on the main chain.
And that will be reserved for like very large transactions or transactions that need final
final settlement, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that that’s fine and that’s okay.
And it’s very important that that ledger, that settlement layer be kept by thousands
of people around the world.
The Bitcoin blockchain is not centralized.
It is decentralized.
It is run by people like me who run a node at home.
I run a personal server.
I run the Bitcoin blockchain, no one else.
You run it.
That person runs it.
There’s no one in charge.
Well, you have a full node?
I run a full node.
That’s great, man.
You run it and that way you can be sovereign over all of your usage, right?
And you can run it on a Raspberry Pi with less than 150 bucks of equipment.
And that’s so important because again, there is no Amazon web service vulnerability here.
That is a problem.
And I agree with you.
We’re trending in a bad direction.
We’re like, the government could just turn off a big important website or a news source.
Well, they can’t turn off Bitcoin because it doesn’t live on AWS, it lives with us.
We are Bitcoin.
And I think that that’s very, very powerful.
And then you can have something like a lightning network where you can escape some of the constraints
of the blockchain, depending on your needs of the privacy and all those kinds of things.
Everything’s an engineering trade off, but yeah, you can trade off some of the assurances
of the base layer to go into lightning, for example, and there you can get more speed
and more privacy.
And the things that Bitcoin lacks, speed and privacy, for example, you can get on these
So there’s all kinds of cool engineering things that people are coming up with.
But I also want to say anyone who says the blockchain, like that’s a red flag for that
person doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.
Like Satoshi didn’t use the blockchain in the white paper.
Blockchain was a marketing term that people came up with later to try and do this thing
that was kind of like it peaked in 2015 and it continues to be an issue today of it’s
blockchain not Bitcoin.
And that was like a very corporate kind of social attack on Bitcoin to say we could take
this ledger part of this radical thing that’s for criminals and all these bad people, but
we could take one part of it out and we could bring it over here and we could make it safe
The real McCoy’s Bitcoin, I mean, Satoshi referred to it as the time chain.
I mean, really what they’re talking about is just these blocks that are connected chronologically
It’s really not that exciting.
The exciting part of Bitcoin is the proof of work where the transaction processing is
done by mining and by energy and by real world expenditures instead of like, you know, some
And you know, when you remove the blockchain from Bitcoin, it’s not very, to me, it’s just
not that interesting.
I don’t know, to me, blockchain or time chain, whatever, as it philosophically is a pretty
I mean, it’s pretty simple, but it’s nevertheless as beautiful from a big database person.
It’s an interesting way to store information that, especially that’s totally publicly accessible.
It’s I know that to Bitcoin proof of work is the fundamental idea, but to cryptocurrency
and digital money in general and to money, the blockchain is a really interesting idea
The way I think about it is it’s kind of, you know, physics.
And I like that there’s a place that you can rely on that’s very difficult to mess with.
What it’s not though, like it’s outside of maybe Ethereum.
Every other blockchain is easy to mess with.
So you’re saying that proof of work is what makes it hard to mess with.
Proof of work is the key.
And Ethereum is about to leave proof of work.
So it’s about to go to proof of stake, which is literally the existing system where a small
group of people get to decide the monetary policy.
Reputation has a lot of value there and that you could be, it could be manipulated.
I may sound brutal, but I’m coming at it from a political science perspective.
For me, it’s all about freedom versus dictatorship.
And that’s why I find it so compelling that regardless of how much power or might or how
many armies you have, you can’t change the rules of Bitcoin.
If you’re wrong about Bitcoin, what would that look like?
What kind of thing that in 10, 20 years that you, you’re not wrong.
It doesn’t pan out.
It doesn’t pan out, but other things that actually make you feel good about all the
hard work you’ve done do pan out, something you haven’t expected.
What might that be?
Well, as we’ve talked about, my career started in human rights and in promoting individual
freedom and fighting authoritarianism.
That fight will continue on no matter what happens with Bitcoin.
I think it would be a massive failure and a tragedy if this project like didn’t work.
The Bitcoin project.
If the Bitcoin project didn’t work, we would, it would, honestly, it’s one of the only
things that gives me hope because it is an effective way to push back against the creeping
If for whatever reason, and I can’t really see, one of the reasons I’m so into it is
I can’t really see how it’s not going to work.
Again, I think the Trojan horse allegory is too powerful.
These big centralized actors are going to be too greedy and they’re going to want some
as opposed to banning it.
It’s way easier for them to buy it than to ban it.
I think that’s just what’s going to happen.
But if, but if whatever, for whatever reason it failed, I would have very little hope left
because really, I mean, the Chinese model of like centralizing all of your data and
controlling it, I mean, ultimately is, is a very, very powerful sort of like arch force.
And I would be concerned that that would be all of our, of our sort of destiny.
I do have to sort of push back at a style of communication and you, you’re not doing
You’re doing, you’re being exceptionally eloquent and arguing these ideas.
But me, especially just from studying history and being very skeptical from growing up in
the Soviet Union, I’m very skeptical and cautious when I see a community of people being very
sure of an idea.
Doesn’t matter what that idea is.
And there’s a huge amount of certainty around Bitcoin.
Part of it is an important feature because you, it’s number go up.
Number go up is a really important part of the mechanism to make sure that it, it grows
in impact, network effects, because I mean, it’s really important to get excited about
idea for take hold, that’s the way human nature works and so on.
But I also get, even something that you mentioned that, you know, others may not, you know,
if you mentioned blockchain, you’re sensitive to the attacks that have been, that have been
mounted or the word blockchain have been used.
People have been fooled.
I mean, like people in the humanitarian sector have been fooled into thinking that some centralized
blockchain project is going to help some refugee all collapsed.
There’s a huge, it makes me sad that there’s a huge number of scams.
Like you know what makes me really sad and just a tiny little tangent.
There’s been recently, I guess with the growing platform or something, there’s been a bunch
of fake Lex Friedman accounts.
And have a million, but not only do they do stupid stuff, but they’ve been messaging people
like on LinkedIn and people write to me and they’re saying like, I think it gets people.
I think they click on stuff.
I think they were not sure.
And it makes me think like, people are gullible or not gullible, but like, they’re just like
I am, which is they’re like hopeful about the world.
They’re optimistic about the world, naive about the evil that’s out there.
This is what goes wrong with Bitcoin.
And I’ve seen it.
People fall for these like, I mean, like in these different countries, I’m trying to like
talk to different people about Bitcoin and like the amount of like MLM schemes, pyramid
schemes, Ponzi schemes, there are just so many of them.
And there’s plenty here too.
But like in Zimbabwe, I was talking to this guy who is a reporter who studies the effects
like the foreign currency exchange markets.
He’s just saying one of the main reasons people don’t want to get into Bitcoin is because
they’ve been scammed so hard by all these other things.
So I would say that that’s one way it could go wrong is that like people just continue
to be like afraid of it because of things that are like that in the past.
So that not, it’s not just the volatility, it’s just the, you know, yeah, having like
If you think it’s a pyramid scheme, you’re not going to want to get involved.
And in some sense, if I were to speak to the Bitcoin Maximus community is to maybe ease
up on the certainty because that gives me the signal that it’s a scam, to be honest.
So whenever somebody, whenever there’s a lot of people being cultishly excited about something,
I start being very skeptical.
It’s like, you know, I used to like Green Day before they became really popular.
And then the moment they became really popular, I’m like, I don’t know, he started wearing
mascara and I was like, I don’t like him anymore.
So I’m very skeptical about evangelists of an idea because I think Bitcoin on its own
is just a powerful idea that stands.
But I also understand that in a world of a lot of competing ideas where there’s a lot
of scams and a lot of money to be made through those scams that you have to be, that you
have to be innovative in the kind of mechanisms you use to break through the scam, the ocean
I took this personality test and I’m a 99 skepticism.
So I was first, sadly, cause I was first introduced to Bitcoin in 2013 and I was like, ah, whatever.
And it took me four years to actually get into it, to go down the rabbit hole.
I didn’t really start to grasp it and start getting excited about it until 2017.
So I was regrettably very, very skeptical for a long time.
And I just thought it was like, whatever.
So I appreciate that.
And you should be skeptical.
But ultimately you got to believe in things like I believe in democracy, I believe it’s
good for people.
I believe it’s better than tyranny.
I believe in the internet.
I know that we’ve had issues with centralization of the internet, but I still believe it’s
better to be connected than to have bridges between us.
And I believe in Bitcoin.
And to me, it’s like a very similar progressive force that we’re encountering.
But yeah, be skeptical, nothing will befall you.
That’s bad if you’re like cautious and skeptical.
That’s like a good mentality to have.
One thing we haven’t talked about all the violations of the human rights that authoritarian
There’s a, not a positive, but there is a, you mentioned that nationalism is a drug.
There’s something beautiful about loving your country, having pride in your country, loving
the, there’s a feeling of belonging.
It could be country, it could be tribe, it could be family.
That’s really powerful.
And that speaks to human nature as well.
And that can sometimes overpower everything else.
Patriotism, and you know, sometimes it can be seen when you study history, when you look
at Stalinist, the Soviet Union, or you can even look at Hitler and Nazi Germany, we tend
to paint patriotism in a negative light.
And then maybe when we look at the United States, but even here in the United States,
people often paint patriotism in a bad light, you know, every time I say I love America,
also as an immigrant, I love this country.
It’s funny how that’s taken as a political statement that, you know, people, I guess
on the right has been, have been more active in saying that they love the country and people
on the left have not sort of, it’s almost become a weird slogan as opposed to a statement
of just love.
And I understand that patriotism can be a slippery slope into letting your government,
I mean, it’s exactly what you’re saying, the value of freedom of speech is you hold your
government to account for all the ways they mess up.
I mean, look, you have patriotism and then you have jingoism, right?
It’s very important that we stay on the patriotic side.
Like as an American, I’m very patriotic in terms of, I love the values that this country
was founded on if you read the Bill of Rights.
And I love the fact that it was just flexible enough that we were able to change it to grant,
or at least to try to grant all people the same rights.
It was not the original plan of the founders, right?
It had to be changed.
But since then we’ve remained, those laws have remained and they’re very good.
And I’m very proud of that.
What I’m not proud of is the jingoistic part of our country where we invade other countries
and bomb other countries.
I’m not proud of our prison system.
I think it’s a huge stain on our nation.
I’m not proud of a lot of things.
So I think you can be patriotic, but you can be critical of your country.
And that’s important, I feel like the jingoistic thing is the thing that we need to watch out
That’s just my own personal take.
Out of all the projects that the Human Rights Foundation works on, what’s the most important
one to you right now?
Like what that’s been occupying your mind?
Yeah, I just read again this New Yorker piece that just came out that you should read.
It’s called Ghost Walls.
And it’s the story of how the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide right now, just
like other regimes did and the Turks did to the Armenians and the Nazis did to the Jews.
And it’s happening again right now.
We said never again, and you know, that’s just not true.
We’re letting it happen.
And again, with the business stuff, like Airbnb is like a sponsor of the Olympics, like what?
At the individual level, at a business level, how does somebody like me, who’s just one
little ant, how does somebody like Elon Musk, who is in charge of 10,000 ants, fight it?
How do we push back?
A great blueprint is the fight against the South African apartheid.
So we did a few events down in Johannesburg, and I’ve had the pleasure of being able to
go to the apartheid museum several times.
And it really does a good job of chronicling how they were able to do it.
It took a while, there’s no doubt, but the way it was done was good.
Peaceful action from abroad was very important.
So there was like the Sullivan principles.
So like you can peacefully protest as a company, particular regimes, and it’s very effective.
And not just corporations, but like the Olympics is a great example.
Like Chinese government should not be able to host the Olympics.
The IOC should say no, not until you close down those prison camps.
This is a perfect, peaceful way to push back.
No one gets hurt.
Same thing when we had the Korean Olympics a few years ago, North Korea should not have
been allowed any sort of symbolistic kind of hosting rights there.
They have prison camps, gulags that we can see from outer space very clearly.
And their regime is the cruelest one on the planet probably.
Why were they able to sit and cheer and get to sort of cohost the Olympics?
This is spineless.
Like the IOC, the Olympics, and major corporations should stand up, especially in the cultural
sector where you don’t lose anything, or you shouldn’t have to lose anything.
So I think if we look at the way that we forced the apartheid regime out, this international
solidarity of musicians, athletes, performers, celebrities is very, very powerful.
Unfortunately, today’s celebrities are doing the opposite.
We just had this press release go out yesterday about ACON, and he’s off whitewashing the
crimes of the dictator of Uganda and trying to build a future city there with him.
If this was the 1980s, ACON would be raising his fist and saying, we need to fight the
How do we get back to that?
We need to think about that.
We have to figure out how to harness celebrities, influencers, and companies and get them to
actually stand up for something for once.
I mean, that’s something we’ve lost.
We’ve really had a spine against that, and we’ve lost it.
And you lose things.
You lose them forever.
Look at Tibet.
Tibet was a big cause for people in the 90s.
You used to go to colleges and kids would have the Tibetan flags all over the dorm rooms.
Go ahead, we’d have Tibet on the stage, and everybody wanted to, you know, free Tibet
was a big thing.
Well, guess what?
Like, we lost it for some reason.
It’s not a thing anymore, and Tibet has been totally colonized, you know?
So I think it’s important that we find a way to unlock an interest in the celebrity classes
among athletes, singers, presidents.
You know, we need to find a way to punish these people.
Yeah, it’s surprising because we’ve become more and more connected so we can communicate
more effectively at a large scale, and yet we seem to be worse and worse at real activism.
It seems like the outrage that’s overtaken the communication channels has been very US
focused and often more about outrage and less about productive activism.
I’m very jaded.
I mean, it’s very difficult to do these things at scale effectively.
I do not believe we will be successful in boycotting the Chinese Olympics.
We weren’t in 2008.
I don’t think, and they’re much more evil now, and I don’t think we’re going to be able
to do it this time.
And again, to go back to the Bitcoin piece, that’s why I’m like very interested in this
thing because it doesn’t require my altruism.
It doesn’t require some famous singer or some corporation to sacrifice anything.
They’re literally just going to follow their own profits, seeking self interested motives,
and they’re going to end up making a stronger human rights tool for other people.
Freedom go up.
Do you think we’re, it’s kind of a dark question, but do you think we’re headed towards a war
with China, the United States versus China?
I hope not.
In the cyberspace and potentially even a hot war.
I think there’s too many people with too much money to be lost to go to a hot war on both
sides, but eventually we’re just going to, someone’s going to have to stand up.
I mean, the subjugation of Hong Kong and the genocide of the Uyghurs and the colonization
I mean, Taiwan is the next big thing.
I mean, Xi Jinping has made it very clear, you know, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan.
So we’re going to have to stand up for Taiwan for different reasons, both for moral reasons,
but also for semiconductor reasons.
We need TSMC to be on our side, not have China take over TSMC.
So there’s different reasons why we’re going to have to protect Taiwan.
And you just hope it’s not a hot war.
I mean, at this point, well, but also from inside the governments of China and Russia
as well, but China I guess is the powerhouse here, is how do these governments get reformed?
Is there a hope for them to become democracies, like true democracies, representative democracies
and sort of reform them to be ethical players on the world stage?
No empire lasts forever.
And it’s impossible to predict when these regimes fall.
I mean, no one thought the Soviet Union was going to fall when it fell.
Like that, like if you study like the news and the scholarship of the era, no one knew
that the Tunisian government was going to fall after Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on
No one predicted that that would become what we now know as the Arab Spring, right?
These things are impossible to predict.
And one day the Chinese regime will fall.
I just, we don’t know when.
You know, but, and there’s quite a few folks who talk about the fall of the American empire.
And it also concerns me that we don’t know when that might fall.
You assume me as a very excited, naive American, I’m very excited by this project that I think
is the beacon of hope in the world still, but that’s probably how you feel before it’s
Yeah, the party, you want to leave the party before it starts to deteriorate.
I think America could continue to have like a major, major leadership role for a long,
I think certain things we do will become maybe no longer possible in terms of the way we
intimidate people on the world stage and especially the way we use our currency as a weapon.
I think that that’s going to decline over time as we become more of a multipolar world.
But I do still believe in America and the values that were founded on despite all the
I believe in us and I would prefer us absolutely to be the most prominent of the multipolar
world vis a vis a regime like Russia or China.
There’s no question.
So we’ve been talking about states and nations, but can we just briefly talk about Facebook
and Twitter and companies that have a huge impact on the world as well.
And actually one of the things that make America a great nation is it is the place from which
these great companies have sprung up.
Is there, from a human rights perspective, is there something that bothers you about
Facebook about these large companies?
Is there something we need to fix?
Something we need to be upset about, fight back on, reform, do some sort of real activism
I’m very concerned about social media platforms and companies.
It almost feels like we’re losing the golden age of the internet.
You know, we could like go online and interact with each other and share and not be worried
It feels like that was a golden age, like in the late nineties, the two thousands, and
now everything is becoming very politicized.
And I’m not sure that there’s a solution.
Like I don’t think there’s a button we can press to fix it.
I’m kind of afraid that this is sort of just what happens when societies digitize.
Like I think that certain opinions just become demonized in the room and then the social
room that we have on the internet.
And I don’t know if there’s a magical solution there.
I do know that there’s technological solutions that will allow us to continue to communicate
and for creators to reach their audiences without censorship.
And that’s very exciting.
Like right now you could be deplatformed from your, you know, from like whether it’s Patreon
or YouTube or whatever, and your bank account can be closed down, right?
There are emerging ways that Adam Curry, like the Podfather and a bunch of other people
are experimenting with, where you can essentially have your audio podcast across a whole bunch
of different, you know, platforms.
So you know, it’s censorship resistant, and then your audience can pay you over lightning
in streaming money.
Like they can stream you money as they listen.
So you’re removing the whole advertising piece.
You don’t need to do advertising anymore.
You have this direct relationship with your audience.
And this is possible with something like lightning where you can do streaming money that’s censorship
And a lot of the people who are building a lightning network, for example, Elizabeth
Stark who, you know, started Lightning Labs and has done within her company that people
that work with her have built a huge part of the lightning infrastructure, you know,
what animates her is this idea of like, again, artists and creators being able to have that
direct ability to reach out and have that peer to peer relationship with their audience.
And I’m excited for that.
And I do think that’s coming, but I am very worried that the golden age of like centralized
social media platforms is kind of behind us.
And I’m not sure how to fix that.
I don’t know if that’s like a fixable problem.
I have a hope that it’s a fixable problem.
I think it’s fixable because there’s demand for it to be fixed.
That’s the way I think about it.
Well, is Twitter that bad right now?
Like, I mean, it’s fixable in as much as you can do a verification.
So you can give a blue check to someone and then that person is like more credible and
they go to the top of the comments and there’s like tweaks you can do.
You can continue to improve it, but it’s not going to fix the fact that like Twitter can
decide to kick off the president.
And like a lot of people are going to be upset by that, you know, like there’s ways you can
improve the UX over time and they continue to do so.
Like Clubhouse is a lot of fun, great phenomenon.
So is Twitter spaces.
So they continue to iterate, but the censorship deplatforming piece, I’m not sure it’s fixable
because if you, I mean, you watch the US government haul these people, haul Zuckerberg and Dorsey
and whatever in front of Congress, they want more censorship.
I mean, our elected leaders want more censorship, right?
See, I just believe censorship is a really harsh word.
I believe it’s possible to create technologies where it’s not Twitter doing the censorship,
but it’s individuals doing their own selection of what they want and don’t want to see.
So for example, if you get sick and tired of Donald Trump and whatever he says, or you
love Donald Trump, you get to select yourself.
Like you get to have more control over what you consume.
Twitter tries to do that a little bit, but they obviously fail where ideas infiltrate
our view that misinformation spreads really fast and conspiracy theories spread really
fast to where the immune system that Twitter has created to try to censor conspiracy theories
and misinformation is over firing and you’re now censoring too many people.
So it’s exactly the same intuition as you said before.
If the state is doing it, in this case, Twitter is kind of the state that’s not going to work
But if you give power to the individuals to do this sort of the, not even censorship,
but incentivization and deaccentivization of great thoughtful content and terrible low
effort content, then I feel like that’s going to create a system where there’s going to
be a much more open discourse of ideas, dangerous ideas, difficult ideas, controversial ideas,
and people in a decentralized way will be able to use their own intelligence to select
content to share content, spread content.
Let’s keep it simple.
Let’s look at one example, Twitter and Jack Dorsey.
And I think it’s quite clear that what he believes is the solution is as you’re kind
of hinting at a more kind of like regionalized system, which is not have one we call federated
Which does not just have like one company in charge of everything, but there’s an open
protocol and then there’s like different instances, right?
So Twitter may, you know, Jack’s dream for Twitter is that Twitter is this open protocol
that the Russian government can use and the Chinese government can use and the Iranian
government can use and the American government can use and then Twitter as a company is going
to use too.
And you as the customer decide which implementation you want to join and there’s going to be different
censorship on each instance or each federation, but the protocol itself would be like untouchable.
This is kind of like the idea behind the internet, right?
There’s like different parts of the internet that are censored, but like at the very bottom
of the very bottom of the backbone of it, it’s like this globally connected relatively
unstoppable thing, right?
So I think that’s a pretty good vision and Twitter is working towards that with the blue
I’m a little skeptical that it like works out because I’ve used Mastodon, for example.
Mastodon is an example of a federated social media.
Now it’s ruled by a benevolent.
Each instance is ruled by a benevolent dictator.
It’s just like I happen to like this one, so I know.
So rather than trust one dictator, Twitter, you could choose which dictator you want to
trust and that’s kind of the federated model and maybe we head that way, but you lose things.
When it’s federated, you lose the UX, you lose the slickness and the feel and all the
millions of dollars they spend on developers.
Like Mastodon is like not anywhere close to as nice to use as Twitter.
So I feel like it’s, again, it’s this trade off that we make with everything where it’s
convenience, comfort, speed versus privacy and freedom, right?
It’s very hard to have something that gives you both.
I don’t know.
I think, I think, uh, yeah, it is a trade off.
Have you used one of these things that I feel like is good?
The federated, they’re not, they’re not, they’re not, but the federated, I don’t think it’s,
it’s a good, I think, uh, it requires genius, it requires skill, it requires great design
to come up with a way to, you know, there’s a Pareto front here, there’s a right way to
hit that trade off.
And I honestly think there’s the UX, the experience should be centralized, should be designed
by the company, but the data and like a lot of stuff that could be used to violate your
basic rights should be owned by the individual.
And I think there’s a way to decouple those, like create an incredible experience to where
you go there and you enjoy the market where you can share your data and have complete
control over it and always have, I mean, there’s a lot of basic UX ideas, like just as an example,
I think there should always be in everything you design, a one button that’s always there
that says, forget I ever existed, delete everything you know about me.
And maybe it’s, maybe it’s one button that you click and it asks, are you sure?
And you have to be able to say yes.
Like that’s a feature that’s fundamental to a good social network, I believe.
Like currently social networks, first of all, most of them don’t allow you to do that.
They don’t make it transparent how much data they had, who they shared it with.
And they also make it exceptionally difficult to delete accounts.
So like that’s a very basic starting point, but that having that button means that you
have control, but that’s step one of the control.
There’s a transparency of knowing exactly when, what data is being shared about you,
how much data is already being recorded about you, all that is transparency.
And I believe in the, I believe that’s a really good business model, because when there’s
transparency and control, people would be willing to give over a lot more data as long
as they know what they’re given over, as long as they know what they can delete.
I guess maybe you’re more optimistic about people caring about, I feel like not so few
people actually care about their privacy and freedom.
I’ve just watched everybody give it up, you know, but we’ll see, I guess just to book
in that I think we’re at this moment where obviously the centralized platforms are just
so much easier and better to use and to strike it out and, you know, adventure out and use
a like a federated instance or something even like Keybase, which is kind of like a cool
encrypted way to like have group chats.
It just requires like a lot of your time and a lot of people don’t have that time.
But I will say one thing, like I do think there is this future where we do go into more
of this like, it’s called a tribal model or like tribes, which is this social environment
being built on top of lightning by an app called Sphinx.
And the idea is like kind of like it’s like a decentralized Slack, like you have your
Slack instance, which has like a bunch of people in the community and you have different
ways to message each other and it’s all encrypted.
And then it has like plugins for like things like Jitsi instead of Zoom.
So like an open source encrypted video messenger.
It has ways to like plug in the content you want to get from like different platforms
that you follow, like podcasts, things like that.
And again, it allows you to pay those people directly in a censorship resistant private
So it’s really nice to connect to the lightning network.
So it’s all sort of built on lightning, but the idea you can think about it as like you’re
slowly starting to build up the idea of a WeChat, but with freedom principles.
Because right now, WeChat’s like the king of convenience and comfort, but of course
it’s feeding all that data to the big brother and the surveillance state.
And then we have like our own versions over here in America that are not quite as convenient
or amazing, but like we give up slightly less privacy and freedom.
But this thing has a lot of promising features to it.
It’s worth checking out.
It’s very like early days.
Like it feels like, I mean, I was pretty young, but it feels like the nineties in the internet.
Like it has that feeling where you, yeah, you know it’s rough around the edges, but
you can feel the magic.
It’s pretty cool.
I’m very much like with Steve Jobs on this.
I think the founding principles are exceptionally important, but at the end of the day, the
design of how sleek it is, how easy it is to use.
And that’s not just like pretty icing on the cake.
That is the icing is the cake because like how easy it is to use, how natural it is.
It’s the Trojan horse thing.
Like you don’t get, it has to be pretty and shiny and it has to have, it has to fundamentally
connect to the basics of human nature, which is what is pleasant to use, what feels good
You have to, you know, to trick people into eating the broccoli, you have to put like
a delicious whatever on it.
Well, again, PGP is a kind of a pain to use, right?
For if you want privacy.
So Signal is an upgrade.
Signal is way better.
I mean, and it’s way better than it was five years ago and it’s, it’s not quite as good
as like not quite as seamless, right, as like a WhatsApp yet, but it’s almost there.
And they were able to do it and you’re going to see that with, with Bitcoin wallets as
I mean, they’re, they’re almost there.
They’re like, if you use like a moon wallet is like, I mean, it’s so cool looking and
it’s so seamless and they’ve spent so many hours thinking about your experience.
We are getting there.
Whereas 10 years ago, it was like impossible to use.
One of the things that Signal doesn’t have, and I believe these kinds of applications
need to have is like a, I hate the term, but killer app, which is like a dumb, but very
viral and popular reason to switch it.
I didn’t see exactly, I mean, I’ve been using Signal, but I haven’t seen a you know, a big
reason to, to switch.
Well, you’re on it, man.
I mean, the reason.
But I haven’t switched everything to it, you know what I mean?
The exodus to Signal was in, in January, they had a huge user surge for two main reasons.
One hilariously enough, of course, was Elon tweeted, like you should use Signal, right?
Which is not insignificant.
And then the other one was that like WhatsApp changed kind of some of its terms of service
and like, you know, announced to all of its users in this little pop up that it was going
to be sort of like changing the way it handled your data.
That spooked a lot of people.
So these two things really combined and tens of millions of people in the following weeks
between January and February joined Signal.
It’s like it really has had its day in the sun and they are like frantically trying to
keep up with it.
Like, and it’s really nice to see that, that, that this encrypted messaging service, which,
which prioritizes your privacy in a way that, you know, you know, the government again may
know like the metadata, but doesn’t know exactly what you’re saying unless they can get your
hands on your phone.
I think that’s very, very powerful.
So it can be done.
I don’t want to be too jaded here.
I think it can be done.
Yeah, I think so.
I think we can fight back and I think we can make, continue to make these digital communications
tools and platforms in a way that, that, that really benefits us.
I’m not, I’m not sure, but I’m hopeful as well.
I’m hopeful that if you look at the trend of technologies, they ultimately are ones
that respect privacy, respect security and basic human rights.
I mean, that’s at least the hope.
So Gary Kasparov, I’m Russian.
He means a lot to me on a personal level.
He is the chairman of a human rights foundation.
What does Gary have to do with anything?
What’s your relationship like with him?
Do you like chess?
What are his specific focuses and ideas around the HRF?
Can you just speak to it in general?
Yeah, so our chairman at the human rights foundation was Václav Havel, who of course
was like the famous Czech democracy activist who, you know, helped lead the Velvet Revolution
and then ended up becoming the first democratically elected leader of the Czech Republic after
the Soviet Union fell.
He passed away in 2011 and it was very difficult to find a replacement because who can fill
Havel’s shoes, you know?
But if one could, it would be Gary, right?
So we like really tried to get Gary to join and thankfully he agreed and we’ve had an
amazing relationship with Gary over the years.
I mean, he’s been relentless in his pursuit of freedom.
I mean, he could have retired and taken his career in a different direction and he could
be hanging out with Putin and have a pleasure yacht and all kinds of stuff, but he decided
to risk it.
And if you actually study like the times when he was running for president in Russia, Amash
Gessen followed him around in The Man Without a Face, it’s a great, great book about Putin.
There’s a fabulous chapter where she’s following around Gary when he’s campaigning and I mean,
he risked a lot.
I mean, he can’t go back to Russia anymore, he gave up his country, he’s given up a huge
amount to be able to speak his mind and to have this dream, this beautiful vision of
a free and democratic Russia, he really believes in it.
It’s been a great experience, I work very closely with Gary, we talk a lot, we do different
things around the world together.
He’s come out to a lot of events in different cities around the world.
And he’s been a very active chairman, this isn’t some figurehead, he’s very involved
and it’s really, really great.
I mean, everything he’s involved with is, as one journalist who attends our events says,
when he walks in the room, the average IQ of the room goes up pretty significantly.
I’m not a big chess person, unfortunately, so I have not been able to connect with him
on that, but I think he probably would prefer it that way.
All he gets is people who want to talk to him about chess.
So here we can talk about human rights strategy and how to improve our fight against dictators.
But he really has that moral clarity that I really appreciate.
Yeah, he has a lot of fascinating ideas about artificial intelligence as well.
Please open my eyes a little bit to the state of Russia today, because I’ve read most books
on Putin in the English language, in sort of trying to understand things.
And I try to look at it from a historical perspective, almost like we’re living a hundred
years from now, and I look at Putin as an important figure in the history of human civilization
and study it in that way.
I think the way Gary looks at it, he probably doesn’t appreciate me looking at the way I
do, but the way he looks at it is we can still change the direction of Russia, and we individual
human beings and we communities and we nations can take actions, have policies that can change
the direction of Russia.
To me, I take a sort of going to the library, passive view of studying fascinating aspects
To me, Russia means like most of my family suffered through the Soviet Union, and I see
beauty in suffering, the poetry, the music, the stories, and just there’s so much love
that emerged from the pain that I just enjoy the music of that.
But to Gary and to many activists that I speak to, to them, they love not just the Russia
of the past.
They have a vision and a hope for Russia of the future.
And they criticize me a little bit for being a little bit too scholarly about the past
and ignoring the future, and there’s something to that.
So he opens my eyes to look to the future of Russia.
Gary and a handful of other Russian activists that we work closely with, including Vladimir
Karamurza, who again, I mean, it’s just incredibly heroic, the man has survived two poisonings
They like to say that, you know, Russians will bring democracy to Russia on their own
They don’t need our help.
This is what Vladimir especially says.
But what he does say is that we should stop propping up Putin.
Like that’s kind of his, stop kind of legitimizing him.
That’s kind of his argument.
Is like, we don’t need your foreign interference.
We don’t need your ideas.
We don’t, you know, we don’t need your help.
We can do it on our own, but please stop like propping up our, you know, illegitimate ruler.
That’s kind of like his point of view, which I think is interesting and fair.
Let me just say on one unrelated comment, some people criticize me and others like Joe
Rogan for giving people a platform.
I think in some cases that’s applicable, but I think in most cases, knowledge is power
and there’s no such thing as giving a platform.
The conversation just shines a light as long as you shine the light well.
And as long as in shining the light and having the conversation, you reveal something fundamental
about the state of things, about the people, whether that’s Putin or some of the other
controversial figures that have come up in a possible future conversation.
So I don’t like this kind of platforming idea.
I think conversations save us.
They don’t destroy us.
I mean, that’s, that’s journalism though.
I mean, that’s very different from, you know, advocacy or strategic thinking about what
to do with Russia.
We should interview everybody and everybody should know exactly what they’re thinking.
I think, you know, journalism to me has become a dirty word because, because it’s done so
poorly by so many people that, you know, I listened to sometimes certain programs, like,
I don’t know, like, uh, meet the press and the Fox Sunday program, just certain things
just to tune in and see what different news medias are paying attention to.
And the kind of interviews they do, you know, is like five minutes at most, but usually
it’s like one minute it’s these quick clip things and it’s very gotcha and they’re looking
for ways to sort of grab almost a misstatement.
They want to catch you off guard.
They want to ask the quote, like, like the harsh question, but without any of the, like
the dance of conversation that reveals the truth, you know, you can’t just get to the
truth by asking it.
You have to sneak up on it.
And I think that’s an art form.
And I think that art form involves long form conversation.
Like I’m a huge believer in just, I guess that’s, what’s called, I don’t know, in depth
journal or whatever, like where you spend months or years on a story in that same way.
I think of long form conversation is like you spend many hours and you spend months
and years preparing for those many hours, but like, it’s not this like short form trying
to, trying to get the most controversial little tidbit of a story out.
And unfortunately the funding mechanisms behind journalism are such that they are incentivized
clickbait journalism versus like in depth long form digging for the truth.
I have a conflicted relationship with journalism because to me, press freedom is so core and
independent journalists around the world are so brave, especially in countries like Russia
or China, et cetera.
And really good journalism is still something I absolutely, I love and I enjoy.
Like this, especially like to say again, this New Yorker piece on what’s happening to the
Uyghurs is incredibly well reported.
However, on the other hand, you have this sort of clickbaity journalism that’s all about
sensationalism and that gets used as a tool.
I mean, whether it be against things like privacy or Bitcoin or whatever, you have like
people who sensationalize and it gets used in the service of the surveillance state,
the war on terror or whatever.
You know, it’s difficult, but you know, I think journalism is essential to a free society.
But it can sometimes be, it can wear my patience thin sometimes.
Like it’s been, to be honest, it’s been a huge burden on me personally, if I were to
just turn this into a therapy session for a brief moment.
When I look at people, when I interact with people, I’d like to see the best in them.
And the burden that weighs heavy on me is sometimes people I talk to may not be good
And I don’t, I’d love to, I believe everybody has good in them and I try to focus on that.
The burden that weighs on me is sometimes that there may be conversations where that’s
irresponsible, where I have to also call people out.
I have to do enough of the hard lifting and the hard work of knowing exactly what are
the bad things that that person has done.
And I also have the responsibility to call them out on it.
And that’s for me personally, just an unpleasant feeling.
That’s where speaking to journalism, like I think journalists are too much focused on
the bad things a person has done and not enough on the digging into the full complexity of
the human being behind all the things that have been done.
But at the same time, you know, I can’t have a conversation with Hitler and not ask about
the prison camps.
So from the human rights perspective, one of our programs is we like, we try to go after
people who do like PR for dictators.
So like, like then a lot of people do like PR firms in Washington get hired by all these
dictators and make a lot of money to make them look good.
It’s called whitewashing or putting lipstick on a pig or whatever you want to do.
Astroturfing is like the fake, make like fake social media accounts to make it seem like
But whitewashing is a huge issue.
So I think it’s completely fair to interview like dictators and stuff like that.
Amanpour does a pretty good job.
She’s really good.
She makes sure that there’s no messing around.
I mean, her interviews of Museveni recently, the Ugandan dictator was very good.
I mean, she’s basically like, well, like, well, why are you rigging another election?
Please tell us, you know, and she’s fearless and she’s good and that can be a helpful thing
to have on YouTube as a resource.
But it’s, it’s, it’s quite clear when, when it descends into a PR session and you just
have to be like very careful about it.
Like Asma al Assad, the wife of the butcher in Syria, you know, was like profiled by Vogue
and it was this whole rose in the desert things, a bunch of nonsense, terrible, terrible, terrible,
But a like honest interview where you, you know, you’re asking about all the tough questions.
You know, so I think, I think it’s just a matter of like content.
Is this, is there a good resource to study whitewashing?
Like to know what manipulative PR looks like?
I think you just, you should know if you’ve researched the topic, you should know it inside
you because it would be, is there anything you’re afraid to ask?
That would be it.
Make sure you’re asking all the questions.
As long as you’re asking all the questions that you have, you’re good.
But if there’s something you’re afraid to ask, then, then maybe you’re self censoring,
That’s a good way.
It’s, it takes us back to that, like what is it that litmus test about is your country
a lot to have a gay pride parade?
So there’s like obvious things that might be on your mind that you just want to ask
and you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t run from them.
As long as you feel like you’re a free person when you’re interviewing, I think you’re good.
That’s beautifully put.
Are there books, technical fiction, philosophical that had an impact on your life that you recommend
or even resources like blogs, films?
I have four books I’ll briefly mention.
Number one is The Fear.
The Fear had a deep impact on me.
The Fear was written by Peter Godwin.
It’s about the systematic dismantling of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.
Peter is Zimbabwean and it is a riveting book.
I think everyone should read it because it helps you understand what it’s like to go
through not just authoritarianism, but also hyperinflation.
And I mean, really, you know, at the end of the day, what The Fear describes is how Mugabe
took this country in the 1980s and he actually brought it back in time to the 1920s in terms
of infrastructure, literacy rates, health rates, all these things.
He stole so much from the people.
And it’s a heartbreaking book, but it’s a very important book.
And it’s a way to do excellent, excellent journalism.
So The Fear is a good one.
And it’s a personal story?
Because he was, it’s part of his whole family story and he’s in there.
He’s interviewing people personally.
So I would say that one.
Is it also connected, sorry to interrupt, is it, from the inflation perspective, is
it a good study of hyperinflation and the effects?
Does Bitcoin at all come as a discussion of money?
Does that come into the, or is it purely the experience of inflation is almost a symptom
of an authoritarian government?
A little bit, a little bit.
I would say it’s not deep.
I have another book on that, which I’ll recommend in a second, but I would just say that it’s
a very powerfully written book about how society can basically deteriorate and how you can
The second book is, I just mentioned it, but The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen.
Incredible book about modern Russia and Putin.
Just a masterpiece.
So that one is.
Could be one of your favorite books about Putin and Russia.
That one’s the best.
I mean, she’s just so fearless.
She interviews Putin in the book at the end.
It’s really good.
The third one is a fiction book called The Mandibles written by Lionel Shriver.
This one’s good.
It’s a good gift book.
It’s witty, but it’s about the United States losing its status as the reserve currency
and going into hyperinflation.
And what’s interesting is that the characters in the book map where we are today.
The book itself is about the late, I think it’s the late 2020s.
And we have a populist president who decides to announce that the United States is like
basically going to default on its debts.
And the rest of the world comes up with like a new currency and everybody switches to that
one and the dollar like overnight becomes worthless.
And all these like economists are saying, no, it’s fine.
Like inflation won’t be a problem.
And there’s this one character who’s an economist who’s like an economist.
And he’s basically he gets to the point where he’s living as a refugee in Prospect Park
in Brooklyn and he’s still saying everything’s fine.
You know, so it’s like it’s dry, it’s witty, but it’s also about the surveillance state.
It’s about centralization of power.
It’s really good.
So The Mandibles, I would highly recommend.
So those three books.
And then on the topic of Bitcoin, because we talked about it a lot, I would just say
that my portal into Bitcoin was The Internet of Money by Andreas Antonopoulos and I did
it by audio book.
And I just think this is an important one for people to start with because he goes through
all the main concepts, whether it be proof of work or how the network functions.
But he does it in a way that’s extremely engaging and really fascinating.
And it really just kind of like sparked my curiosity.
Is it discussing the technical sides or also the philosophical?
Because a lot of people mentioned sort of the Bitcoin standard is the philosophical
entry into the whole Bitcoin world.
Very different from the Bitcoin standard.
It’s more for like the average person.
It’s not a history book.
It’s a collection of his talks that he gave over like two or three years.
It’s not very technical.
It’s very approachable.
And some of it might be dated now because it’s like 2015, 2016.
But I mean, it’s great to hear a shout out for Andreas because he seems to be one of
the seminal figures to sort of make Bitcoin ideas accessible.
Andreas is the goat.
I know a lot of people will have issues with some of his like more recent work, but Andreas
is the goat.
He’s the reason I’m in Bitcoin.
I mean, he’s the reason I’m in Bitcoin.
And it’s funny to watch the Bitcoin maximalist immune system also attacking him.
And this whole feedback mechanism is working together.
Well, I probably consider myself a maximalist, but I really like Andreas.
So I think there’s room for nuance.
There’s room for nuance in this world.
I’m glad to hear that.
If people are fascinated by your work, what is the way to get more of Alex?
So two years ago, I came together with seven other people from around the world and we
wrote a book in a book sprint.
We lived in a house for four days.
We wrote a book together.
It was really cool.
It was like a design sprint, but we did it in book format.
And my coauthors are from Nigeria, Venezuela, the Philippines, from former Soviet Union,
from all over.
And it’s called The Little Bitcoin Book, and I’m still proud of it.
It’s a hundred pages.
It’s something you give to somebody who knows nothing about the topic.
And it’s not a technical book.
It’s about the sort of social political aspect of it.
Like why is it important for you, for your finances, for your freedom, for your future?
And we’ve translated it into like a lot of languages by now.
I think English, Spanish and Portuguese are for sale and littlebitcoinbook.com, you know,
you go buy it.
We’ve made it as a free PDF in Mandarin, Hindi, Punjab, Korean, Uyghur, which I was really
excited about, Arabic, Farsi.
And I mean, it spreads, man.
It’s been really, really cool.
So I’m proud of that.
I also made a video that did very well for Reason magazine called Why is Bitcoin Protecting
Human Rights Around the World?
It’s five minutes.
And it just, I feel like I tried to boil everything that I want to tell you into this five minute
So there’s that.
I would recommend that.
And then if you’re interested in the why have governments not stopped it, which I think
is really intriguing, I wrote this long essay in Quillette in February called, you know,
why haven’t governments banned Bitcoin?
And maybe that’ll be a helpful guide to some folks.
Is this speaking to the Trojan horse idea that there’s something enticing about it?
Yeah, at the end, it does get into that.
But it really also just kind of goes through technically, why is it hard to do a 51% attack?
Like if a government wanted to, could it really get all that equipment?
There’s a semiconductor shortage, like it can’t.
There’s like certain things that stop governments from doing it.
And same thing with like this idea of a 6102, which would be based on the idea of the executive
order 6102, which is from 1933 when FDR made holding gold illegal in the United States.
The idea is that like banks would go around now with governments and try to like steal
Well, in Bitcoin we have like a practice called proof of keys day every January 3rd, you know,
which is coinciding with the launch of the Bitcoin blockchain, where we all like withdraw
our keys from exchanges and we’d be sovereign users.
What we are doing is we are preparing for a 6102 attack, which will one day probably
So the essay just goes through all of the like possible attacks and it runs through
like the ones that happened, like the Chinese and Indian governments, the two largest governments
in the world, both tried to attack Bitcoin by banning their citizens from exchanging
fiat for Bitcoin.
It didn’t work.
Interest instead exploded.
It’s like the Barbra Streisand effect where, you know, by making something public and saying
you shouldn’t do X, it actually increases attention about X a lot more, right?
So I think there’s a lot of interesting game theory there that people would enjoy.
Do you think, are you seriously concerned about this kind of thing where the idea is
a sovereignty and that Bitcoin espouses would actually one day be tested?
Do you have like a legitimate concern because you said like one day very well might.
Do you think it might go down?
First of all, Bitcoin has been attacked again, many times and we talk about the, you spoke
about this with Nick Carter on your show, the sort of protocol wars or conflict or whatever,
And Bitcoin almost died a whole bunch of times during that and ended up surviving.
I didn’t, I didn’t know how bad the blocks at that point was.
Oh it got really bad.
It was, it was a sort of a very existential threat and Bitcoin survived and that’s why
I’m so intrigued by it is that it basically survived an attack in an environment several
years ago when Bitcoin was much more vulnerable than it is today.
It survived an attack by a conglomeration of Chinese billionaires, Silicon Valley corporations
and a ton of people who owned the majority of the hash rate and all this infrastructure.
They had 83% of all the hash rate and they couldn’t get what they wanted and that was
so intriguing to me.
Like why didn’t it, why didn’t it get killed?
So as Nick said, I think you should read The Block Size War, which is a book on that you
can get on Amazon by Jonathan Beer.
Really good, kind of like really important to understand the, the, the, the scaling conflict
and the visions over the different visions of what Bitcoin should be.
And you know, again, people like me believe it should be a freedom tool, not like a payments
technology for retail.
And I’m just, I’m glad it worked out the way it did because it almost didn’t.
Do you think a human’s civilization will destroy itself?
So if we think about all the threats facing human civilization, nuclear war, natural or
engineer pandemics, you know, we talk about human rights violations.
We talk about authoritarian governments taking control of the money supply, but do you have
grander concerns for the future of human civilization?
Do you have hope for us becoming a multi planetary species?
Yeah, I mean, I, I guess longterm we’d want to decentralize, right?
We don’t want a single point of failure in the earth is a single point of failure.
But no, I mean, you look at all this kind of like space fiction and I mean, who would
want to live on Mars, man?
It’s like a fricking desert.
I mean, the earth is so beautiful.
I hope we can save it.
You know, it’s just so gorgeous when you look at the earth compared to any other like exoplanet
or whatever you look at it, I mean, the earth is so spectacular and wondrous and singular.
I think we got to do everything we can to save it here.
I mean, I’m sure a lot of people would have said that about Europe before the explorers
ventured out Columbus and the rest out into the unknown.
The thing about human nature is that we are explorers too.
Some small fraction of us are insane enough to explore in the most dangerous grounds and
I’m pretty sure there’s quite a few people that would love to take the first step on
Mars, the first few steps on Mars in the harshest of environments, even when the odds of survival
And I’m thankful for those people because I sit back and drink my vodka back here on
earth and enjoy good friendships because I think ultimately that step to Mars is going
to be a first step into exploring and colonizing the rest of the galaxy.
Mars might be a harsh environment, but maybe space is not like other planets, other exoplanets,
but also forget planets, just creating colonies that flow about in space.
There’s exciting technologies that are yet to be discovered, yet to be engineered and
built that I think require that first painful step.
The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and I think Mars is that first step.
Yeah, no, I was born the day before the Challenger blew up and it was always so tragic for me
to look back on that because that really altered our arc in terms of space exploration.
That had not happened.
We’d be on a very different arc and I do respect and admire people pushing for exploration,
but at the same time, I just want to recognize that we know how unique Earth is and I do
think we got to do everything we can to protect it.
But I think you’ve already answered the question if we’re going to destroy ourselves.
Oh, yeah, I guess.
Are you hopeful?
If we do not decentralize properly out into different physical spaces, probably, I guess,
I mean, do you have concerns that are immediately facing you, so not in terms of the injustices
on the world, but nuclear war?
Yeah, look, I’m a lot more concerned about what’s happening right now.
Like, what is destroying ourselves?
If you were to go and see what’s happening in Xinjiang or North Korea right now or Eritrea,
that is destroying ourselves and it’s already happened.
So I guess the end, that’s why I said, yes, I mean, if you don’t decentralize and power
is completely under one person, life is destroyed as we know it.
And you don’t have to go into science fiction to know what a totalitarian hellscape dystopia
There’s several that exist already and let’s try to help those people at the same time
as we’re trying to push out into space would be my counter, I guess.
Yeah, I agree with you.
In my mind, destruction and suffering are next door neighbors.
So we don’t need to destroy all of human civilization.
If much, a large fraction of it lives in conditions that we would equate to suffering, that’s
not a good world.
Is there advice that you would give to young people today about life, about career, about
how they can help a world where 53% are living under authoritarian governments, but in general,
a world that’s full of injustice, but also full of opportunity?
Just thinking about my own upbringing, I went to a public school here and we never learned
It was never part of our curriculum.
Even personal finances was not part of our curriculum.
You could take like an optional course to learn about like business or something.
And I think that that would be really valuable as a young person or as a teenager to start
incorporating into your children’s lives is like a curiosity about what is money, I think
would be very healthy, regardless of what path that takes them down.
Because we don’t think about it enough, either from an administrative sort of personal finance
thing about like responsibility, or more fundamentally, like, what is it and who creates it?
Where did it come from?
Both of those things are very important.
So my advice to a young person would be to get to the point where you feel like you can
answer the question, what is money?
So you ultimately see money as a kind of power and freedom and a mechanism of suffering.
It is so core to everything.
The United States, whether you want to call it the Pax Americana, the Empire, the hyperpower,
whatever you want to call this moment in time where the US is dominant around the world,
it is because of the fact that we have this petrodollar system, where we are able to force
the Saudis and other oil producing nations to sell their oil in dollars.
That is really inescapable, inseparable from our power.
And that’s very rarely talked about.
And it’s very important to understand.
So yeah, if young people could start thinking about that stuff, it’d be good.
I remember being, it sounds silly to say, but I remember being really uncomfortable
that I was dependent on my parents at a young age for like financial.
You need to be 18 to have a bank account or whatever.
One of the people that we supported at Ahrefs through our, we do software development funding
for people in Bitcoin, open source projects.
And one of the guys we funded is this very young, smart sort of prodigy.
He’s like 17.
But one of the reasons he got into Bitcoin was because he wanted to have control of his
money when he was like 14.
I mean, if you think in history, people who invented all kinds of incredible contributions
to science or math, I mean, a lot of them did it before they were 15.
So think about that maturity that is capable and possible in many people.
Like I’ve participated in some of the years ago, some of the sort of selection processes
for like the Teal fellowship, which is like really amazing.
Like these people who are 14, 15, 16, who don’t need to go to college, they’re already
like so smart, they can figure it out, but they wouldn’t be allowed to have a bank account.
So hey, that’s kind of cool.
Like now you have a permissionless money, you can open up yourself without permission
from your parents.
That’s kind of cool.
That’s fascinating to me.
I feel like I would have loved my parents more if I had freedom to fully realize myself,
because I felt like I was a little bit trapped by, I don’t know, it’s not explicit, right?
It’s a little bit, it’s like a subtle push that you’re somehow dependent on them.
I mean, part of that is like, I think it actually very much has to do not talking about money.
Like what does it take to operate as an individual entity in this world?
Like knowing that when you’re 10 years old, knowing that when you’re very young, so that
you’ve, then you see the, how amazing it is to have the support of your parents until
Like have that freedom, have the freedom to appreciate the value your parents bring.
And at the same time, the freedom to leave in some capacity to carve your own path.
I mean, like just all of that, I think for weirdos like me, especially because I was
a very nontraditional path that I think it would be very empowering and certainly would
be empowering in the third world.
Not just weirdos like you.
I was going to mention one of the people I got who taught me about Bitcoin, her name
is Roya Mapoob.
She’s an Afghan technology CEO, and in 2013 she started paying her employees in Bitcoin
because they were not allowed to open bank accounts, the women that worked for her.
She started the country’s first female, like all female software company.
And if they brought cash home, their like husbands or uncles or brothers would steal
it from them.
There’s like a power patriarchal dominance thing going on.
But they had phones and she was able to pay them in Bitcoin and no one knew, and it gave
them that power.
And that’s always stuck in my mind as a very interesting effect of this kind of thing of
permissionless money, like that it can be an empowerment tool.
So in your own personal life, where did the deep concern for the suffering in the world
Where was that born?
I was going to be an engineer actually, and then in 2003 we invaded Iraq and I got very
interested in why we did that as a nation and I switched my focus of study to like international
relations and that’s how I kind of went down the kind of political science democracy rabbit
hole and ended up getting a job at the human rights foundation.
So that I’m a very much a child of like 9 11 and the Iraq war.
Those are the two really formative events for me personally.
Can you break that apart a little bit?
Like what illusion about this world was broken apart by the invasion of Iraq?
Well I think first of all, 9 11 just shifted the world dynamics completely from a focus
on big power politics between the US, Russia and China to this new threat of Islamic terror.
And a lot of it we learned later, a lot of the things we did, we were manufactured, choreographed,
like there were no WMDs in Iraq.
Like the reason our rulers said we needed to invade and destroy this country was a lie.
And that I think has really been forgotten.
Like I think a lot of like the Zoomers like today don’t really know a lot about that time
I mean it’s pretty crazy.
Unanimously, I mean Democrat, Republican, like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, like and
the Republicans, everybody wanted to invade this country and it’s a confusing time.
There’s a really good book by Ian McEwen called Saturday, a fiction book that takes place
during I think 2003 and it’s one day in the life of the doctor in London.
It’s really good though to revisit this time because he has two characters, he has characters
in the book, one of whom is very pro war and one of them is very against war.
Basically he, the father himself is pro war and his son is against it and they have all
And it’s nice to go back to revisit but that time was, it’s really crazy and it really
showed you that like the media could be captured into like helping promote this idea of like
invading another country.
So I was very curious about why we did it and like who was pulling the strings and what
are the reasons that we went.
And what’s really interesting is that like I took all these courses on and interviewed
all these decision makers, whether they were like neocons or whatever, different people
who were involved.
And the whole like dollar reserve currency thing like really never came up until like
I learned about it more recently because of Bitcoin.
And today when I look back, it seems kind of obvious that the reason we invaded Iraq
was because Saddam Hussein wanted to sell oil in euros.
It seems really obvious when you go back and look at the chronology of it and we were like,
no, we actually don’t want you to sell dollars in euros because that would threaten the dollar.
So we’re going to invade you and then you’re not going to do it and then no one else is
going to like sell dollars in euros, just oil in euros, right?
I guess you could say the same thing about Qaddafi, but we as a nation have very much
protected our reserve currency, let’s put it that way.
Yeah, actually one of the things that Bitcoin community has motivated me to do is to look
back to the histories that I have studied myself from just even the two world wars,
the history of the 20th century from a perspective of the monetary system of money.
And it’s interesting.
It’s interesting to look at human history in the context of money.
Can’t we be patriotic and be pro America, but like not want the petrodollar?
Like I should be proud of my country.
Why do we need to be propping up the Saudis?
Why do we need to be, you know, threatening to invade other countries if they sell their
oil for a different currency?
I think we can be just as powerful as we are today, if not more powerful in a Bitcoin world.
If you think about the infrastructure Americans are building, all the innovations we’re building,
all the wealth we have, I think we’ll be fine, better than fine.
And we won’t have these horrible negative externalities.
It’s really an optimistic vision for the future.
I thought we learned the lesson of 9 11 and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But we’re leaving and you know, Biden announced we’re leaving Afghanistan this year, 20 years
The Taliban are going to take over.
Well, I mean, that’s at least a good, the longest war, right?
The forever wars.
I feel like the past 20 years or whatever it is, 18 years, 19 years, we’ve been very
skeptical about invading other countries, about, we’ve been skeptical about military
intervention in other nations.
Well, our leaders certainly haven’t, we have like seven active wars right now, and neither
the Russians and the Chinese, everybody’s starting to invade everybody else.
I mean, so yes, but I meant to a degree that I was worried about like conflicts with, hot
conflicts with Iran, with North Korea, those kinds of things.
That there was not as much war mongering as I was afraid about.
But yes, you’re absolutely right.
We’re still, there’s a big presence by the United States and other nations and across
the world that’s military.
The military industrial complex is a thing that has huge detrimental ripple effects throughout
the entirety of our governments.
So the big question is how do we prevent the rise of this like authoritarian surveillance
state in China while at the same time kind of diffusing the military industrial complex
on our side?
That to me is like the biggest challenge of our time.
I don’t have the answer, but we should keep digging.
I believe there’s technological innovations.
You’re suggesting that perhaps one of the technological innovations like is Bitcoin.
It’s a big part of it.
On the money side, I think the information side, there’s innovations that are open, that’s
And the political side, I’m the most skeptical about.
I just feel like there’s, without hot wars that we don’t seem to make any kind of progress.
Cities just grow, corruption and greed grow and human nature does not do well in the political
So I hope technology can outpace the darker sides of human nature.
So you’re busy fighting the demons, the darkness that’s out there, but looking in the mirror,
you’re a finite being.
Unfortunately this ride ends for you pretty soon.
Do you ever ask yourself about the meaning at all of why the hell us descendants of apes
are even on this thing, striving so hard to make a better world for ourselves?
I don’t often zoom out that much.
I feel like my day job is pretty interesting.
It keeps me very engaged with all the stuff we’ve been talking about.
As far as the meaning of life though, it seems quite clear that we do have the possibility
as a species to create these beautiful communities and constructs and to share an exploration
of the world together that is often marred by cold realities that we’ve discussed.
But I do feel like in a way that the meaning of life is that pursuit, of course biologically
is to spread our species, but also to pursue knowledge and science and innovation and freedom
I think freedom has to guide us or else we end up with prison camps.
If we don’t let freedom guide us, we end up with the prison camps.
So we need to have scientific innovation and adventurism and colonization of the stars,
but without the slavery and without the prison camps.
I think that’s so key.
There’s something about the creation of beauty that seems fundamental to human nature and
what seems beautiful is these communities that don’t have suffering, they don’t have
And we have some kind of inner sense of what is injustice.
I don’t know, like some of the human rights that you’ve mentioned earlier, they’re just
philosophical constructs, but they’re also seem to be somehow deeply in us too.
We have a sense of what is right and what is wrong.
It’s not just a kind of illusion that we’ve all agreed on.
Yeah, arbitrary power, torture, executions.
We know these things are wrong.
I mean, we know they’re wrong.
We don’t have to read a book to know that.
But you do need to…
People can get brainwashed.
I mean, you talk to people who’ve grown up in North Korea, they don’t know any better.
They don’t know what’s going on in the outside world.
So they’ve never experienced anything differently.
So that’s why, look, technology can play a big role here in terms of the meaning of it
It can really help emancipate, liberate people, at least so that they can make their own choices
about what to do, at least so that we’re on a level playing field.
So technologies like the internet and Bitcoin, they can at least give you the option to do
things your own way on your own terms.
And then from there, we’ll see.
I think it’s important that we have design choices where we can have a little more say
and not everything be preprogrammed for us.
That would be very disappointing.
So I mean, the open web and encryption in Bitcoin, these are things that help prevent
social engineering and that promote more freedom and more possibilities, honestly, and more
entrepreneurship and more creativity and more scientific inquiry.
I mean, think about the people who tried to shut down scientific inquiry 500, 600 years
ago or whatever that were trying to say the earth was the center of everything and they
And then all these conservative religious types throughout history have always said
that there’s no value in science and there’s no value in technology and they’ve been wrong
the whole time.
So let’s continue pushing here.
Let’s continue pushing.
It’s kind of scary to me sometimes, humbling, beautiful, but also scary to think of.
You mentioned North Korea, people are kind of living in ignorance.
It’s scary to me to think about how much ignorance there is in the world today, like how little
I know personally, or us as a human civilization knows there’s yet to be discovered to that
Well, there’s a difference between laziness and ignorance, right?
So I would be lazy if I didn’t take advantage of the internet, right?
Someone in North Korea doesn’t have the option.
They don’t have the option.
There’s literally no way for them to access the internet.
So there’s kind of like social laziness that philosophers have warned about forever that
we basically become sheep, okay, and then there’s actual like brainwashing and censorship that’s
possible like by closing off your population and keeping them off like the internet, right?
So I think these are two very different concepts.
But I also mean just like not even laziness, but cognitive limitations and just historical
scientific limitations like, you know, we’re a very young species, like all of the exciting
stuff we’ve been talking about have happened on the scale of decades, maybe centuries.
We’re very young and all the cool stuff we’ve come up with and it’s just humbling to think
about how little we know, but you’re right that, you know, ultimately having the freedom
to keep exploring, keep venturing out, even if we later discover that a lot of the stuff
we’ve been doing now is ethically horrible.
If you think about animals or I think about robots a lot, the kind of things we might
be doing to other consciousnesses that are here on earth might be, we might see as atrocities
later on, but ultimately you have to have the freedom to explore those kinds of ideas
and without that freedom, you don’t even get the chance to be lazy.
I mean, look, don’t be a sheep.
It’s easy to be a sheep.
No offense to sheep.
And there’s some practical things, man.
Get on signal, start encrypting your messages, take control over your privacy.
The media doesn’t want you to, but check out Bitcoin.
You can be your own bank.
You can transact with people around the world and no one can stop you.
This can put a stop to a lot of arbitrary power and a lot of human rights violations.
Don’t use WeChat, question more, research what’s happening in Xinjiang, I mean, learn
about what’s happening in the genocide in that country and let’s think about how we
can build our societies so that we never have that kind of power concentration ever again.
Each of us can make a difference.
Alex, it’s a huge honor to talk to you.
I’ve been a fan of your work.
A lot of people spoke really highly of you as one of the beacons of hope for our human
So I’m really glad we got a chance to talk.
Thank you for wasting all this time with me today.
It’s been an honor.
A lot of fun.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Alex Glastine.
To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description.
And now, let me leave you with some words from Alice Walker.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.