WIRED magazine has a report on Agora, the new online
drug bazaar “marketplace of anything”. It is based on Agorism, a philosophy that a free, stateless society can be achieved via disruptive market means. Forget counter-culture, that meme jumped the shark. It’s time to move on to counter-economics.
Agorism is a libertarian social philosophy that advocates creating a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics, thus engaging in a manner with aspects of peaceful revolution. It was first proposed by libertarian philosopher Samuel Edward Konkin III in 1975, with contributions partly by J. Neil Schulman.
Agorists consider themselves market anarchists. While many characterize it as a form of left-libertarianism, others consider it a branch of, or a transition strategy for achieving, anarcho-capitalism. Agorists generally oppose voting for political candidates and political reform. Instead, agorists stress the importance of alternative strategies rather than politics to achieve a free society. Agorists claim that we can achieve a free society more easily and sooner by employing such alternative methods as education, direct action, alternative currencies, entrepreneurship, self sufficiency, and most importantly “counter-economics“. Agorists consider their message to be scientific because science is an appeal to reason, which they believe is only possible in the Agora or free market; they also argue that State backed, regulated and funded science is illegitimate.
For two and a half years, the Dread Pirate Roberts and his Silk Road black market ruled the Dark Web. But last year’s FBI’s takedown of that narcotics smorgasbord opened the underground trade to competitors. Now those sites have a new leader, one that’s bigger than the Silk Road ever was and continues to grow explosively.
The online bazaar for contraband known as “Agora” now has more product listings than any other online black market, according to a report released last week by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit focused on internet safety. The analysis counts 16,137 products for sale on the site, which is protected by the anonymity software Tor and accepts only bitcoin. That’s about 200 more listings than Silk Road 2.0, a reincarnation of the original Silk Road launched earlier this year by several of the same administrators. It’s also several thousand more than were offered on the first Silk Road before its seizure in October of last year.
“Just as on the rest of the internet, users on the dark net are very quick to move on to new things and move away from those products and websites that seem stale and old,” says Adam Benson, communications director at Digital Citizens Alliance. “Maybe that time has come for Silk Road.”
…unlike Silk Road, it allows users to sell several categories of weapons, including powerful semi-automatic firearms. The site is still less permissive, however, than markets such as Evolution, which also allows the sale of hacked credit card information and other stolen goods. Agora’s “market rules” ban not only stolen property but also “assassinations or any other services which constitute doing harm to another,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “poisons,” “child pornography” and “live action snuff/hurt/murder audio/video/images.”
Despite those restrictions, Agora’s administrators haven’t displayed any of the political bravado of Dread Pirate Roberts, who frequently posted libertarian manifestos in Silk Road’s user forums and even hosted an online book club around topics in free market economic theory. Silk Road 2.0 similarly proclaims those radical principles; “You are writing history with every item purchased here,” reads a message on the site’s homepage. “Silk Road is not a marketplace. Silk Road is a global revolt. The idea of freedom is immortal.”
…Instead of political rhetoric, the tactic that set Agora above the rest of the dark web when it launched earlier this year may have been its sense of exclusivity: Users can sign up only with invite codes, although those codes are freely distributed on other market forums and Reddit and can be reused. “It might build some allegiance,” says Digital Citizen’s Alliance’s Benson, “It gives users a sense that they’ve been vetted and that some people have been weeded out” such as law enforcement, fraudsters or less in-the-know users.
Read the full article here.
It’s an interesting counter-balance to Re-code’s report from Burning Man, about finding Camp Bitcoin next to the Orgy Dome [update – it wasn’t anywhere near orgy dome, according to Burner Debra]:
Flipping through my 160-page official Burning Man book of events, I noticed something strange: Camp Bitcoin was hosting a “worthless currency exchange.”
Bitcoin Camp?! Worthless currency exchange? I had some candies in my backpack that could certainly count as currency here.
It was about 4 pm when I left the Burning Man Reddit meetup, where I had been listening to two dozen guys talk “Star Wars” trivia, and had been misted by someone with a pesticide sprayer full of water. The Redditers told me that the bitcoin guys were just a few streets away, in the Anahasana Village, and that they were a bunch of nerds, real geeks.
The Anahasana Village (Burning Man villages are collections of smaller camps that share resources, like a kitchen) is famous for its contact-improv sessions (standing cuddle puddles) and its Orgy Dome (what it sounds like).
It’s not where one might expect to find Camp Bitcoin.
There, about a dozen bitcoin dudes were sitting cross-legged in a circle under some scaffolding, an old orange parachute draped over it for shade. They were talking about all the money they could have made if they had bought various cryptocurrencies at various points..
One bitcoin camper, lean and shirtless Josh Katen, explained to me that this isn’t really the bitcoin camp anymore.
“The Bitcoin leader was arrested right before Burning Man ’cause he was maybe helping the FBI, and … Anyway, we’re the Dogecoin Camp now,” he said.
Another shirtless fellow…said he had a vision, based on Burning Man’s gifting economy. In his vision, cryptocurrency is just the first step toward making a large-scale gift economy.
“Once we learn to monetize everything, we take this gifting economy out to the world,” Keim said. “We can take the Illuminati’s cyber gold and silver, and distribute it evenly. Once we have this, we can live in abundance, rather than scarcity.”
… came to Burning Man to see what a gifting- and abundance-based economy could look like. Money and branding aren’t allowed at Burning Man. Everyone brings or prepares gifts (alcohol, snacks such as pancakes, or little necklaces that say “Burning Man 2014”) that they exchange.
“One of the biggest barriers to the gift economy is debt, the usury. With cryptocurrency we can reengineer abundance rather than scarcity,”
…someone riding past their camp earlier that day had yelled at them — “F—ing bitcoin’s not allowed on the playa,” or something to that effect. The campers had been surprised but not terribly offended…
“I’m the messiah, and money grows on trees,” Keim said.
No, but seriously, what’s the gist?
“I am the messiah,” he repeated, getting on his dust-and-EL-wire-covered bicycle.
Before I could reenter the tent, an extremely attractive couple stopped me and eyed me up and down.
“This is it, right?” asked the man, who was wearing a top hat and genie pants, which for some reason wasn’t even a turn-off anymore. (I’ve been here too long.)
“Tantra tent?” he asked, cocking his head.
No. Not tantra. Bitcoin.
Sounds like Mr Bitcoin messiah might have been tooting his own horn, if you know what I mean. Scarface, if you don’t.
Full story here.
Kudos to Nellie Bowles and Re/Code, your Burning Man coverage this year has been superb.
Money is technically not banned at Burning Man, and Bitcoins certainly aren’t…yet. The principle of “DeCommodification” conveniently stretches to include a lot of things. If you read the fine print of the Principles, they never actually use the word money. They do, however, place a ban on “consumption” – if you want to partake, you must participate.
Everything’s free but nothing’s for sale. Gifting is encouraged, but barter is verboten. Volunteering (ie free labor) is encouraged, as long as it is on projects that are for the benefit of BMOrg. The systems they’ve built to facilitate all of this are rudimentary, and don’t seem to be much of an Organizational priority. The priorities are more like new ticketing schemes and revenue streams, corporate tax structure, self-promotion, and Big Data: “Burner Profiles” and Census results. The information collected about us continues to become more detailed, as the ticket prices head skywards.
BMOrg claim to be pioneers in the “sharing economy”, yet it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly they do that relates to it. “We don’t sell drinks” is not quite the same as “we’ve figured out new economic models for people to peacefully co-exist”. Rather than being counter-economics, the economics of Burning Man are not dissimilar to those of the Pharaohs. Pharaoh gets the gold while the sherpas do the labor.
Is this all that could ever be? Do we create a radical experiment, year after year, by doing the same old shit in the same old way – just add Virgins?
Burning Man started in the mid-80’s, when Madonna’s new album was “Like a Virgin” and the first gangsta rap song had just been released. Now we are well into the 21st century. In the 90’s we got the Web, in the Naughties we got smart phones and social media, in the Teenies we got Twitter and Uber and NSA spying and Google buying military robot companies.
Larry Harvey was asked about Bitcoin in New York in 2013.
I’m in Dr Kittay’s class at Columbia University called Technology, Religion, and Future. Today, we had an event on Burning Man, where the Burning Man committee including Larry Harvey (Founder of Burning Man) came in to talk about the event with our class. The link is below
I asked if they would consider accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment. They unanimously said yes! At first Larry was like, hmm never thought about that. Then one guy said, well its not really that stable yet but hell, if it makes people happy lets do it! They all nodded in agreement. Woot! Now they just have to follow up on it by adding the ‘Pay in BTC’ button to the ticket purchase section of their site.
Of course, fast forward a year later and there is not so much as a hint of Bitcoin entering the Burning Man universe, yet alone experimenting with new ideas of liberty like Agorism. Quite what is the vision for this social engineering petri dish over the next century remains to be seen: it’s “coming soon”, like the video of the Founders talk at Columbia. BMOrg are still struggling to mail tickets to people in San Francisco, and are completely unable to mail them to other countries. Meanwhile we have Burnier-Than-Thous bemoaning smart phones, drones, sherpas, dubstep DJs, even the postal service. Will technology innovation in the Default world have to stay there, while Burning Man stagnates, just so that Burnier-Than-Thous can feel they’re doing it better?
Their Plan for the Playa, it seems, is to force us to accept an ever-increasing range of Default world transactions (all done solely via BMOrg, with the Feds getting a cut too), and an ever-decreasing amount of Gifting. Commerce is banned, so’s barter. Citizens don’t get a say in the city, so there is no political discourse in this civilization – except for the guest speakers the Founders invite in. Burning Man doesn’t care what you believe, as long as it’s the Ten Principles.
Perhaps it is significant that BMOrg are strengthening their ties to the two major political parties, while at the same time trying to dismiss the streak of libertarianism and anarchy that Burning Man originally sprung forth from.
When innovation and creativity are regulated out of existence by bureaucracy, the subversive dissenters, the anarcho-crypto-punks, start looking for remote wildernesses where they can go and create the New New Thing.
“Good riddance!”, cry the Townspeople, when the Sheriffs chase the Cowboys out of town. It matters not to them that the Cowboys started the town, hired the Sheriffs, and invited all the Townspeople in. “Cowboys are bad”, say the Townspeople. “Everyone knows that”.