Forget populism – crypto-anarchists are the new masters

grarpamp grarpamp at
Fri Sep 15 08:25:26 PDT 2017

Many are concerned about the internet’s role in politics. But more
worrying is the digital tsunami poised to engulf us, as machine
intelligence and a rising tech elite radically restructure life as we
know it


Consider for a moment how your life has changed thanks to digital
technology. You can become friends with 2 billion connected people,
chose your own news, and watch/date/order whatever you want, on
demand. Infinite choice and control is now the norm, and yet formal
politics has barely evolved since the days of Robert Peel. Our modern
political system came of age in the industrial revolution, which was a
time of massive organisations and centralised control. We are now,
however, firmly in a new industrial revolution, characterised by
endless choice, digital technology, data, automation and artificial
intelligence. The economy, identity, political allegiances, perhaps
even the essence of what it is to be human, are all starting to
change, and our politics will have to change with it. The current
set-up, including the populist right, will cling on for a while, like
a legacy IT system that’s too pricey to update, but it will shortly
become redundant.

Crypto-anarchy is taking over the world – millions now unwittingly
rely on it for online security

So what else might follow?

In October last year, while researching my new book, Radicals, I was
invited by a Slovenian hacker in his late 20s called Pavol to a place
called Parallel Polis, a three-storey building in Prague that includes
a 3D printer workshop and the “Institute of Crypto-Anarchy”.
Crypto-anarchists are mostly computer-hacking, anti-state libertarians
who have been kicking around the political fringes for two decades,
trying to warn a mostly uninterested public about the dangers of a
world where everything is connected and online. They also believe that
digital technology, provided citizens are able to use encryption
themselves, is the route to a stateless paradise, since it undermines
government’s ability to monitor, control and tax its people.
Crypto-anarchists build software – think of it as political computer
code – that can protect us online. Julian Assange is a
crypto-anarchist (before WikiLeaks he was an active member of the
movement’s most important mailing list), and so perhaps is Edward
Snowden. Once the obsessive and nerdy kids in school, they are now the
ones who fix your ransomware blunder or start up unicorn tech firms.
They are the sort of people who run the technology that runs the


A representative from something called “Bitnation” explained to
Parallel Polis how an entire nation could one day be provided online
via an uncontrollable, uncensorable digital network, where groups of
citizens could club together to privately commission public services.


At some point, and probably sooner than we think, the current left and
right offerings of the major parties, including (perhaps especially)
the populist, will start to appear ludicrous and unworkable. New
political movements and ideas will arrive before long for this
industrial revolution, especially once the majority of the population
will soon have grown up online. It will be a politics that offers
solutions to the challenges society will face, and be bold enough to
steer technology rather than be led by it, to harness it rather than
dismiss it, to see it as a motor of social change, not just a job
maker. Perhaps there will be some back-to-the-earth, off-grid thinking
reminiscent of the 1970s. (There are already small hints of it if you
look in the right places: bricks through Google bus windows and
digital detox days). I’m not sure. More likely is that groups like the
Prague crypto-anarchists, who will embrace the changes and experiment
with entirely new forms of governance and society, will emerge. After
all, they were right about digital technology, about surveillance and
bitcoin and most of us ignored them. And for better of worse, I think
they’re probably right about this too.

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