Skip to main content

Ever wanted to see the biggest collection of punchable white people? Watch this documentary.

Here's what kismet means.  Almost two weeks ago, I wrote a post about subtlety and scheduled it for this week, totally at random.  Then just this past weekend, I looked for a movie to write about today and settled on The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin.  Subtle it ain't.

Bitcoin purports to be a detailed history and examination of bitcoins and their place in the world.  But make no mistake - this is pure propaganda.  It's the worst possible combination of libertarian ranting swirled with vacuous smile-babble dripping from open-mouthed grins.  The whole thing smacks of robes and laced Flavor-Ade.

I hate to be incendiary and I don't want to personally attack anybody because of their politics, but holy crap, these people make some obnoxious faces.  Nobody acquits themselves well.  Everyone is a sneering, self-righteous jerk who just can't wait to tell you how much they loooooooove bitcoins and how much they haaaaaaaaate banks and regulations.  Hell, even the title is masturbatory: "The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin - because it could never possibly fall, right guys?!?!?!?!"

And yet, despite all of their love and hype and cynical fawning dressed as optimism, the documentary barely answers any basic questions.  The bitcoin geeks constantly roll their eyes and say, "Gawd, trying to explain bitcoins to the uninitiated is like trying to explain the Internet to my grandparents!"

Okay.  Fine.  I'm an uneducated twat who doesn't know what bitcoins are.  But seeing as how this is your documentary, it's your job to explain it, asshat.  Don't just titter like a seventeen year-old in the comments section.

I'm not opposed to hearing somebody else's viewpoint, but I need them to state their opinions - and their evidence - clearly.  Otherwise you're just wasting our time.  The main question I have, which the documentary never actually answers, is this: Why are bitcoins better than regular money?

Bitcoin has no shortage of praise.  They're digital!  They're independent from banks!  They're international!  They're anonymous!  They're finite!

But those aren't answers.  Credit cards and online banking have rendered virtually all money digital as it is.  Independence from banks only sounds good until you realize that banks are better at managing money than you are - you don't want to take loans from sharks, and your money won't do shit if you stick it under a mattress.  International?  Please, everything's international.  Anonymity?  Use cash.

Finite?  Bullshit.  Money is never finite because it's impossible to put a limit on value.  Even if there's only 21,000,000 bitcoins that can ever exist, people will just end up trading in smaller and smaller fractions of bitcoins in order to achieve the true function of representing value.  All you're doing is a math trick to put the decimal point further left or right.  Applying scarcity to money is a self-defeating mechanism - which you might recognize as one of the primary reasons we took money off the gold standard in the first place.

The only real argument that gets made is that bitcoins are "free" somehow.  All the anti-government children who leer smugly at the camera are happy to tell us this.  But I got some sad news for you, guys.  Time for me to sit you down and give you a harsh lesson about the real world:

Any infrastructure you create for bitcoins is still a banking system.

This right here - this is the reason I'm so frustrated.  The minute you start making this assumption, you just go around in a circle.  "Bitcoins are better because they're free from regulations!"  "Okay... how are they free?"  "Because they're free!"

Listen, guys - it's just a parlor trick.  All you're doing with bitcoins is taking a system of publicly controlled mechanisms (i.e., government regulations) and replacing it with a system of privately controlled mechanisms (i.e., the bylaws and corporate charter of the company handling your bitcoins).  They're still controlled, guy.  What makes you think a group of private investors is more trustworthy than any other collection of assholes?  Replace the government with a corporation or even just a bunch of anonymous drones on the Internet and you're not re-balancing power, you're just giving it to people who don't have to be held accountable.  How is that any better?

Hell, the movie even makes my own point and doesn't seem to acknowledge it.  At one point, a bitcoin enthusiast convinces a shop owner to start accepting bitcoins as payment because it'll free him from obligations to the banking system.  His evidence?  Credit card companies charge him 3-5% to process payments.  What does a bitcoin service charge?  One percent.

....okay?  So?  Where's the freedom?  Yeah, I get that it's cheaper, but if you still have to pay a service charge to process bitcoins, then you're still constrained by other people who provide a service.  What's to stop the bitcoin-to-dollar administrators from marking up the rate to 15% once bitcoins catch on?  You already said there's no regulation or oversight, so they can do whatever the hell they want, right?  Why is that better than the credit card companies?  No, no, no, don't cut to that guy's basement - dammit, you're showing me his mining computers again.  Bad documentary.  Bad.

Sure, banks have issues.  Greed, corruption, and a lack of transparency have led to a lot of shitty wheelings and dealings.  But the solution to that is more regulation and oversight, not less.  You think impoverished people in third-world countries without access to the benefits of banking have it bad now?  You haven't seen anything yet.  Wait until those folks are systematically extorted of their precious bitcoins by a military dictatorship that now has a massive pool of anonymous funds it can use to buy illegal arms and fund terrorist cells all over the world.  Tyranny thrives on opacity and self-delusion, and this documentary suggests that bitcoins provide both.

And for the love of god, stop making that face!

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)