Rating: 4 Stars
This is the story of Ross Ulbricht, the founder and developer of the Silk Road, an Amazon like web site in the deep web that allowed drugs, guns, and even human organs to be sold illegally.
Ulbricht is a typically smart but unfocused failure that you’ll probably see at every college in the country. A hundred years ago, when I went, I certainly saw my share. They’re very typically white, male, and from an middle to upper middle class background. They’re somewhat desperately seeking to find some meaning to their life. They believe themselves to be special and don’t want to ‘waste’ their lives living the apparently mundane everyday existence that most live.
He was a very talented physicist in training but allowed himself to be easily distracted by such things as drum circles. As is usually the way with such young men, he found himself caught up in libertarian philosophy.
I have to admit that I myself, a long time back, also caught that bug. Libertarian thinking is very seductive. It’s easy to understand. In its own way, it’s completely logical. It relieves you of the need to worry about difficult notions such as empathy and shared responsibilities. We can best serve society by each of us pursuing our own passion and serving our own best interest. There is no need to feel sorry for or to feel responsibility for those of us not able to be successful. Those of us who fail deserve to fail.
For those of us who were born on third base and thought we hit a triple, this is actually a wonderful theory explaining our rightful place.
When we first meet Ulbricht, he is very young, a former Eagle scout, known to literally help little old ladies across the street, and who never uses profanity. Within a few short years, he has agreed to order the murder of six people, has received proof of their deaths, and has paid out the contract upon the completion of the hits. The fact that no one is actually known to have died in no way changes the fact that he ordered them dead and paid contract killers to murder them.
Libertarian philosophy is at the root of this. Ulbricht believes that banning drugs is a symptom of an despotic government. Just starting from this point, this is not completely unreasonable. Adults should be able to choose what to put into their bodies. The government certainly profits from drugs like nicotine and alcohol. Is cocaine or marijuana really that different? Can anyone argue that marijuana has had a more harmful effect upon our society than nicotine?
From that basic belief, Ulbricht became propelled to gain a deep understanding of the deep web and of bitcoin. He taught himself PHP and developed the Silk Road site. He tapped into a tremendous demand for safe and reliable access to illegal drugs.
And then the slippery slope. Thousands of types of drugs, many of which are manufactured under questionable circumstances, are sold on the site. People die.
Lots of people think that anyone should be able to buy any type of guns (the whole second amendment). So, yes, let’s have a section for guns. Before long, you can buy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) on the site.
If you have money and you’re dying, shouldn’t the free market allow you to be able to jump the line and purchase that kidney that you so desperately need? Sure, so long as both parties are ‘consenting’, whatever that means. So, yes, let’s have a section for human organs.
OK, now you have the site. This site will change the world. It will bring down those despotic national governments that are oppressing people everywhere. Oh wait, you mean that there’s a person that knows something about the site that could possibly lead to its downfall? Clearly, for the greater good, it’s appropriate to order a hit on that person so that we can continue our march to greatness.
The slippery slope…
That’s the heart of the problem with being a libertarian. It tries to apply a Vulcan level of logic to a world that is messy, chaotic, and fundamentally illogical. Like all great political overarching philosophies, it is bound for the dustbin of history.
One last comment…this book is extensively researched and provides nearly a minute by minute accounting of some of the criminals’ activities. Since the criminals were so obsessed with secrecy, how was this possible? Well, it just proves that, in the age that we live, in which all communication is electronic, there really is no privacy at all anymore. Ulbricht, in particular, unknowingly left logs of every chat conversation that he ever had. He implicated himself under a mountain of evidence that the government was able to discover.
So, yes, today, there is a serious problem in the relationship between the individual and the government. The government has a level of power and control over its people that would have been unimaginable just a couple of decades ago.
Clearly, the libertarian philosophy is not the answer. But what is? I have no idea. Over the next decade or so, I think that we’ll need to come up with an answer to this or, except for the very lucky few, our future will be grim indeed.