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Moral relativism and the power of unstoppable code on the Ethereum network

Nawaz Sulemanji

Speaking at the recent ETHDenver conference, Andreas Antonopoulos gave a charismatic keynote speech on the importance of “unstoppable code” for the future of smart contracts on the Ethereum platform.

The Mastering Ethereum author started out his talk by saying that he brings a certain perspective to the topic of unstoppable code from his fascination with the cypherpunk ethos that began in the early 1990s.

Antonopoulos said that the initial conversation was around “using cryptography as a defensive mechanism in order to claim, assert, and enforce our human rights”. However, to an individual, “it brings an awesome power that rivals even the state or the most fearsome conglomerates”.

He clarified that “it doesn’t matter how annoyed, angry, or violent” someone may be, “cryptography gives individuals this ability to assert power and sovereignty” over any opposing force.

A moral relativist

Andreas stated that he considers himself to be a moral relativist “not because I believe that moral relativism is the moral choice,” but because “moral relativism is the pragmatic recognition that, when I look around me, read my history books, and look at other cultures or religions, people with other capabilities and chances than I did – they don’t share my morality.”

“I am hard-pressed to find any two people who share everything in their moral code. This is where the crux of governance versus unstoppable code comes to a head.”

Unstoppable as a slogan for Ethereum

What fascinated Andreas about Ethereum from the very beginning was the ‘unstoppable’ slogan used in the context of applications on the project’s website during launch. Andreas said that he thinks this value reflects a lot on the people who were involved in the project early on. Being unstoppable and uncensorable are increasingly important features to have according to the Internet of Money author.

He said: “We are seeing a rise of totalitarianism. It has never been more important to give people all over the world the tools to express themselves, assert their rights, and to be sovereign.”

Illegal where?

When it comes to drug markets, Andreas stated that he is a pragmatist.

“There is a reason people want to use online markets. The reason is really simple: you can’t be stabbed over TCP/IP. It immediately removes violence, which decreases the risk-based premium, and drives prices down and drives organised crime out of the market.”

Andreas thinks that the power of unstoppable code could give birth to a new generation of autonomous and self-executing decentralised marketplaces, the use cases of which could include the exchange of potentially banned or illicit substances.

The Mastering Bitcoin author said: “Every time someone says, ‘That is illegal,’ your response shouldn’t be, ‘Illegal where?’ – If you understand one thing about the law, you know that is the most important question.”

We already have stoppable code

Andreas compared the popular quote “The only speech worth protecting is the speech people don’t want to hear” to the parallel notion that “The only code that needs to be unstoppable is the code that someone is trying to stop.”

Antonopoulos told the primarily Ethereum developer-based audience: “Don’t give yourself the power to stop unstoppable code. Embrace the fact that what we are doing is important.”

“It will require courage. Before long, we will hear some very non ‘kum ba yah’ sounds from the Enterprise Alliance, the corporate partners, senior executives, and board dudes, the consultants and all of the MBAs.

“While we don’t share morality, one of the common themes of humanity is goodness. The vast majority of people, given unstoppable code, will create applications that enable them to give their family a future, their children an education, health care, sanitation, housing, and opportunity. That is what people do with freedom.

“We need to remember why we are doing this, why we are building this because there is no point in building stoppable code…we already have that.”

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