Cypherpunks - who are they and why do they matter?
"A cypherpunk is any individual advocating widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political change. Originally communicating through the Cypherpunks electronic mailing list, informal groups aimed to achieve privacy and security through proactive use of cryptography. Cypherpunks have been engaged in an active movement since the late 1980s."
Much has been made of the ‘movement’ around crypto. Those who believe tend to really believe and there’s lots of justifiable chatter about the increasing self-interest in promoting cryptocurrencies by those who hold cryptocurrencies. Hard to argue that at least some of this has a self fulfilling feel to it, and ‘maximalism’ certainly persists:
The original Cypherpunks
These strong beliefs must be grounded in something, right?! Absolutely - the crypto movement is not a fluke or accident. According to a fascinating story about one of the original Cypherpunks:
Bitcoin was the culmination of decades of accumulated research and discourse within the Cypherpunk community.
The reality is, the crypto movement got started and continues to grow on the back of a fast-growing and committed group of believers. The Cypherpunks matter because they were the original rebels, told constantly that this would never succeed, shunned by friends and governments, who continued to soldier on.
The story continues to say:
To synthesize and implement the myriad ideas Bitcoin was based on, that person or group of people would have required a unique combination of expertise spanning public key infrastructure, academic cryptography, P2P network design, practical security architecture, and privacy technology. They would likely have been deeply engrained in the Cypherpunk community and adjacent to the figures who proved to be major influences on cryptocurrency. Finally, they would have needed the ideological conviction and hacker ethos to ‘roll up their sleeves’ and anonymously build a real-world version of ideas that had previously been relegated to the realm of theory.
Unpacking the ethos
Here are a few thoughts that are important to take away:
- The original Cypherpunks were fundamental to the creation of Bitcoin, and came from a diverse and multi-faceted set of backgrounds
- Those who submit to this ethos are committed to significant and systemic change, are willing to work hard to make this change happen and are not solely motivated by money
- There is a consistent thread here that relates to independent and open financial systems and solutions, which are not controlled by any government entities
Recently, Avicenna wrote about the emerging Decentralized Finance (DeFi) economy and the Cypherpunk mentality is well reflected in what is happening there. Smart and committed people, motivated by a financial future that is open and provides more opportunity for the participation of the masses, are building new financial ecosystems by the minute.
There are deep-rooted beliefs driving the crypto economy that are grounded in openness, true connectivity, and access for all. New Cypherpunk movements are propping up everywhere, and while the ecosystems they are creating may look niche right now, they matter!