The Dangers Of Falling Prey To My Libertarian Upbringing When Applying Technology

A couple years back I was working on publishing a guide to payment APIs, and I had what I thought was an interesting idea for an underground book on digital payments and currencies. I possessed a lot of knowledge around payment related APIs on a variety of platforms, and countries, and had brainstormed some interesting approaches to automation around these systems, and thought it would make for some good knowledge to share with the underground world. Helping folks understand how they can move money around online, and offline, allowing them to evade detection, and basically launder money in this new high tech environment.

I grew up with a heavy libertarian upbringing. I was taught how the government is bad. I was taught how to live off the land, exist off the grid, told not to pay my taxes, and rely on myself to make my world go around. I happen to also grow up on the Oregon and California border in a massive pot growing community–one of the largest on the west coast in 70s and 80s. I spent the first decade of my adult life living and working in the drug trade, growing, distributing, and being immersed in the world of marijuana. I still have an affinity for this world, even though I’ve been out of it for almost 20 years, and still know and love many folks who are still actively living this life.

It seemed ike a good idea to create a manual that would help these folks navigate the world of digital currency, and assist them in taking their cash derived from their illegal crops, and essentially launder it via digital channels, enabling them to live an untraceable, cash flow positive lifestyle. The folks I know in this world are good people, who are just making a living, that just happens to be deemed illegal by our government. As this world moves out of the shadows, many of them are facing competition, regulation, and scrutiny in new and terrifying ways. I wanted to just help them keep their world afloat, and become a little more competitive in this new and changing landscape. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to help. I’m a good guy!

This is my naive, blinders on, 25 year old self speaking. My 45 year old, slowly waking the fuck up, and seeing the bigger picture self, knows what bad would come of this. First, I’ve learned a significant amount about how white supremacists this version of libertarianism that I was steeped in as a child was. After working in the federal government I’ve learned that government isn’t bad, and that it is our only defense against corporations, and the only thing that stands between the poor, and people of color in this world, and the white supremacist machine completely chewing them up. Sure, government isn’t all good, but it isn’t all bad. I just happen to be fed a very dark vision of the world, and was willfully blind to how much damage this way of life causes other poor people, women, and people of color.

In my life I have seen libertarian folk begin growing pot, trafficking in meth, and engage in prostitution, because we all have the right to do what we want, without interference, right? We have the right to ride our motorcycles without helmets–even if the government is who cleans us up off the road. Our hard money shouldn’t be taxed–even though we take full advantage of roads, hospitals, Internet, and other things these taxes pay for. Drugs markets are good, until they destroy our communities, family, and lives. I mean they are just free markets right? I’ve learned a lot in the twenty years I’ve been out of the scene, and I don’t think that all drugs are bad, or all underground markets should be eradicated, but I think we have to open our eyes to the wider damage that occurs in and around these markets, communities, both on and offline.

As I worked a draft of my payments API book I began to think deeply about how this could be used for harm. I had developed ways of turning cash into digital currency using the point of sale systems at Walmart, Target, Dollar Store, and other retail outlets. Then once it was online it could be exchanged as credit, converted into cryptocurrency, or legitimized by selling of digital art, music, podcasts, and other online businesses. I could help my friends establish legitimate businesses that would have products that would be code for purchasing their weed, attending raves and outdoor parties. It was genius. It would totally work. Then I started thinking about the world of meth and how it has devastated so many in my life. I started thinking about prostitution, and sex trafficking, and how this guide to payment APIs could be used to do harm, and protect some very awful people.

I quit working on my guide. My idea was a great one. I’m confident in my ability to deliver it. If I simply kept my free market, I’m white and this won’t affect me, libertarian hat on, it would have been fine. I would have made lots of money, and not seen any of the negative effects. Out of sight, out of mind. I’m white. I’m smart. I’m an individual just making my way through the world, right? However, I would have been giving a very powerful tool to some very bad people who would have hurt women, children, and potentially destroy communities around the country, or even the world. This is the damaging effects of libertarian gone awry. It’s very white. It’s all about having your blinders on. It’s all about ignoring how we are actually all in this together. Whether or not we live out in the woods, or in Los Angeles, or New York City. We aren’t immune from the damage we do, there is a tax on our soul, and it is something will come back to us at some point, in our communities, with our children. Somehow. Some way. It will fuck us.

I am still unpacking much of what I was programmed with in rural Oregon growing up. I’m traveling around the country, and the world thinking deeply about myself. I’m having conversations with all types of people about how they see the world. I’m also seeing how “well meaning”, “smart”, libertarian folks are wielding technology right now without much consideration for the negative side effects. I refuse to continue being complicit in all of this, beyond just being white and benefitting from the machine. I’m going to do whatever I can to reverse the damaging views I’ve held for so long, and if it means me being financially poorer because of it, so be it. I’ve seen enough to know that I’ve been asleep for many years, and that I have a serious amount of waking up to do. I’m just going to do whatever I can, and not writing this book, and sharing this knowledge is a good way to minimize the damage I do as a white person in this world.