The Big Blockchain Lie

Now that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted from last year’s absurdly high valuations, the techno-utopian mystique of so-called distributed-ledger technologies should be next. The promise to cure the world’s ills through “decentralization” was just a ruse to separate retail investors from their hard-earned real money.

.. Faced with the public spectacle of a market bloodbath, boosters have fled to the last refuge of the crypto scoundrel: a defense of “blockchain,” the distributed-ledger software underpinning all cryptocurrencies. Blockchain has been heralded as a potential panacea for everything from poverty and famine to cancer. In fact, it is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.

In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank).

.. Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalized, and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralization of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers, and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralization and democracy; it is about greed.

For example, a small group of companies – mostly located in such bastions of democracy as Russia, Georgia, and China – control between two-thirds and three-quarters of all crypto-mining activity, and all routinely jack up transaction costs to increase their fat profit margins. Apparently, blockchain fanatics would have us put our faith in an anonymous cartel subject to no rule of law, rather than trust central banks and regulated financial intermediaries.

A similar pattern has emerged in cryptocurrency trading. Fully 99% of all transactions occur on centralized exchanges that are hacked on a regular basis. And, unlike with real money, once your crypto wealth is hacked, it is gone forever.

.. Moreover, the centralization of crypto development – for example, fundamentalists have named Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin a “benevolent dictator for life” – already has given lie to the claim that “code is law,” as if the software underpinning blockchain applications is immutable. The truth is that the developers have absolute power to act as judge and jury. When something goes wrong in one of their buggy “smart” pseudo-contracts and massive hacking occurs, they simply change the code and “fork” a failing coin into another one by arbitrary fiat, revealing the entire “trustless” enterprise to have been untrustworthy from the start.

.. Lastly, wealth in the crypto universe is even more concentrated than it is in North Korea. Whereas a Gini coefficient of 1.0 means that a single person controls 100% of a country’s income/wealth, North Korea scores 0.86, the rather unequal United States scores 0.41, and Bitcoin scores an astonishing 0.88.

As should be clear, the claim of “decentralization” is a myth propagated by the pseudo-billionaires who control this pseudo-industry. Now that the retail investors who were suckered into the crypto market have all lost their shirts, the snake-oil salesmen who remain are sitting on piles of fake wealth that will immediately disappear if they try to liquidate their “assets.”

.. Moreover, in cases where distributed-ledger technologies – so-called enterprise DLT – are actually being used, they have nothing to do with blockchain. They are private, centralized, and recorded on just a few controlled ledgers. They require permission for access, which is granted to qualified individuals. And, perhaps most important, they are based on trusted authorities that have established their credibility over time. All of which is to say, these are “blockchains” in name only.

Betrayed at the Polls, Evangelicals of Color at a Crossroads

But then the grumpy drunk stumbled over, pointed at the beanie on George’s head and barked, “Why don’t you take that hat off. You look like a fucking terrorist.”

The white partygoers grew silent and waited for George to react, which he eventually did, diffusing the conversation with politeness. Though he lowered the heat a few notches, the man continued to call him a terrorist so many times that George realized something that hadn’t occurred to him, “He was concerned that I might have actually been a terrorist.” Still, nobody came to George’s defense, leaving him alone with this angry, potentially-armed man. “I didn’t feel like he was going to kill me,” George says, “but he wanted to intimidate me.”

.. So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers

.. Their endeavors run the gamut, but the ones gaining steam include leaving evangelicalism altogether, reframing the evangelical world as a mission field as opposed to a place for spiritual nourishment, creating ethnic safe spaces or staying firmly planted in evangelical community to combat racism from within.

.. Many describe these moves as “divestment” from white evangelicalism: they’re moving money, bodies and souls elsewhere.

.. “I was working on a book that was marketed toward evangelicals and I’m no longer doing that because I think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think they’re ready. I’d rather work with folks who are ready.”

.. White male evangelical neglect of issues concerning black evangelicals and evangelical women prompted these groups to turn to their own coalitions. As a result, the progressive movement lost its minority and female constituency and faded into the shadows just as the religious right was born.

.. Bill McCartney, the white leader of Promise Keepers, made this subject a focal point at his stadium-packed events in 1996, he reported that about 40 percent of participants reacted negatively to the theme, likely leading to the drop in attendance the following year.

.. white evangelical “racial reconciliation” lacked rigor. It focused on building personal relationships between races, not addressing the systemic inequalities that devastate communities of color. This led minority evangelicals to question whether “racial reconciliation” was simply a convenient vehicle for white absolution and, given the long history of white oppression within the church (using the Bible to justify slavery, supporting Jim Crow segregation, condemning the Civil Rights Movement, to name a few), to what exactly were they “reconciling” in the first place.

.. “For those of us who have been doing this for a while – making the circuit, speaking to crowds – it almost feels like it was all for nothing,”

.. “It was a blatant ignoring of everything we’ve been trying to teach for decades now. Maybe I was being naive; I thought after the election people would have a little more remorse…this is white evangelicalism revealing itself in ways that are deeply dysfunctional.”

.. these groups never invited her to create something that actually corrected the problems she called out; they listened to her critique and they thought that was enough.

.. While Johnson believes that folks in her circles “didn’t necessarily vote for Trump,” they are part of a larger culture that made widespread white evangelical support for Trump possible. By staying in this environment, she hopes to attack one of the root causes of this problem: “An impoverished theology where people don’t understand a ‘God of the oppressed.’”

Whereas, “as black folks, we’ve always had to hold onto this God of the oppressed…a God who interacts with the systems around us.”

.. If anything, white evangelical support for Trump has prompted a “big ideological shift” in her work, from an interest in producing “do gooders” to a generation of Christians willing to work for the liberation of other people.

.. “everyone is reconsidering whether or not they want to remain under the moniker ‘evangelical,’” including minorities, white people, the young and the old, “because the word ‘evangelical’ has been truly hijacked by a movement to maintain the political, economic and social supremacy of whiteness.”

.. her desire to reclaim “a movement that was about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the flourishing of the image of God on Earth,” as well as the release of the image of God from captivity

.. For those staying, they must contend with a dominant white theology, shaped in the cauldron of privilege, which suggests that a successful life springs from an individual’s good, moral choices alone. It fails to recognize how unfair policies and societal structures harm the economic and social wellbeing of those subject to those systems.

Those who stay must also contend with a politicized evangelical movement fundamentally shaped in the late 1970s by a desire to preserve segregation. As documented by historian Randall Balmer, the religious right galvanized evangelicals into a political movement when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax exempt status of racially discriminatory Christian schools. Today, evangelicals of color staying to “combat racism from within” are working against a deeply entrenched culture.

.. But even if a demographic shift seems inevitable, the question is: will the power shift be inevitable? Do white evangelicals have the capacity to share power at scale?

.. baked into the culture of evangelicalism is a distrust of non-evangelical voices, even those who have been doing the work of social justice for decades. But the threats of this new administration might change all that.

.. George Mekhail struck an invitational tone in an attempt to “figure out this guy’s deal.” Sure, George felt “humiliated” by the man’s insistence that his hat made him look like a terrorist, but what could he say? Only a white partygoer could rebuke the man because, “as the brown guy in the room, I can’t be that voice [without coming across as] the agitator.” In a final act of submission, George yanked the beanie off his head and asked, “There, is that better?” The man took a good look at George, his youthful brown eyes, his thin trail of a beard and his short black hair unwinding from hat head.

“No,” the man replied. “You still look like a terrorist.”

.. George decided to leave evangelicalism, though he remains firmly in the Christian tradition, working to hold the faith community to a higher standard.

.. Ambiguous church policies hurt congregants, George argues. For example, most churches claim to “welcome everybody,” but quietly hold policies that exclude particular communities. For the gay person who devotes his life to a church only to discover years later that their pastor won’t baptize him or marry him, “just create[s] so much humiliation and shame

.. Demand clarity without judgment. He’s not trying to convince anyone to change their policies, even if he disagrees with them

.. His long-term vision includes a database that houses the policies of churches. “If we can do that, then we let people vote with their feet.”

.. George, who has lately been asking, “if there is anything redeemable about evangelicalism.”

“I think evangelicalism is the empire that’s about to fall,” he says. “It needs to be dismantled because it’s too powerful and it’s all about money.” Rather than centering the needs of the marginalized and justice work, George sees a toxic faith system that platforms capitalism, unsustainable growth, a prosperity narrative, flashy services and pastors who hang with celebrities. To George, “everything” is at stake.

“We’re at the part of the story where Jesus goes into the temple and flips over tables.”