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Anonymity is the place of cowards and crime

This article was first published on Dr. Craig Wright’s blog, and we republished with permission from the author.

Ketelaar (1993) provides a translation of the works of Nakamoto that detail his thoughts, and provides them in English. Nakamoto’s philosophy was one of openness. Nakamoto explained that “hiding is the beginning of lying and stealing…” and that “depending on those habits alone is extremely harmful.” Other translations (Nakamoto & Shūichi, 1967) reference and expand upon the same concepts. Nakamoto practised “the way of truth.”

The difference between the perspective of those who reference cypherpunk ideas of anonymity and the ideas manifested in Bitcoin permeates all aspects of the technology. Not only are the concepts of Nakamoto based on openness, as with the blockchain and its system of traceability, but it is also proposed to normative systems. Yet, Nakamoto was frequently critical of normative approaches and promoted a positive or descriptive system based on empirical evidence.

To the normative philosopher, things are expressed as good or bad and referenced relative to some standard. In the BTC Core world, it is referenced in terms of opposing government and cypherpunk ideas of rebellion and anonymity. In such an approach, those who do not follow the standard will be shunned. But, Bitcoin is designed with an open protocol. As such, it becomes a descriptive statement and an account of a system, without including that which is good or bad itself.

Rather, Bitcoin allows external parties, such as governments and courts, to decide between right and wrong. In Western societies, the rule of law and the decision of the people matter, and concepts of “code is law” are not allowed to subject others unduly. Therefore, Bitcoin, as such, is amoral and not immoral. The decisions of developers are irrelevant, and the rule of law applies.

A fixed protocol was created so no individual or small group could subvert Bitcoin and impose their value judgements on others. Yet, that does not mean that Bitcoin is not subject to the law or that the morality and legal frameworks of society as a whole cannot apply. Rather, Bitcoin remains neutral, allowing the existing structures to apply. The white paper expressly documents the concept of ownership (Wright, 2008). Ownership is not possession. While similarly possessing an item comes with a level of control, you do not gain legal ownership merely from holding.

Plato (1993) demonstrated a position analogous to Nakamoto’s early in his writings. For example, when Plato discussed the story of Gyges of Lydia and referenced the story told by Glaucon of a magical ring that allowed the wearer to become invisible, the story evolved into a horror story. Gyges uses the power of anonymity to murder and steal. Both Nakamoto and Socrates would argue that justice does not derive from a social construct and that the abuse of power merely enslaves us to our appetites.

The control of our rational nature referenced by both Aristotle and Nakamoto requires that we forego anonymity. As Glaucon posits in the Republic (Plato. & Allan, 1993, pp. 360b–d):

Suppose now there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.

Then the actions of the righteous would be like those of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.

For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine anyone obtaining this power of becoming invisible and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

The temptation of anonymity cannot be controlled. While privacy is a fundamental human right, anonymity extends the concept into secrecy and provides a foundation where people can engage in activities without censor, even when they negatively impact others. It is a state that leaves all of us open to our baser instincts. Because of this, it is the foundation of all that is wrong in society.

Reviewing such topics, Marcus Tullius Cicero’s story of Gyges in De Officiis investigates the concept of complete immunity from punishment. The necessity of morality and the need to interact openly with other people mean that one of the positive outcomes of removing anonymity lies in the creation of more positive influences and the development of a society based on ethical principles. Leading a virtuous life is nearly impossible with anonymity, if not so. The temptation will always apply to those who can get away with the action, and human psychology dictates that we will justify such actions.

It is for the same reason that the Japanese philosopher Nakamoto saw anonymity and secrecy as an ill that damaged society and corrupted the individual. Therefore, I chose the name Nakamoto, because of the reference to the philosopher. In seeing a philosophy of truth, I see the core values of Bitcoin and hence a system that is private, but not anonymous.

Ketelaar, J. E. (1993). Of heretics and martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and its persecution (1. Princeton paperback print). Princeton Univ. Press.
Nakamoto, T., & Shūichi, K. (1967). Okina no Fumi (The Writings of an Old Man). Monumenta Nipponica22(1/2), 194–210.
Plato., & Allan, D. J. (1993). Republic. Bristol Classical Press.
Wright, C. S. (2008). Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. SSRN Electronic Journal.

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