Ulbricht, Karpeles, Silk Road, Gox, DPR, and Morality – Bits & Pieces #11

I recently enjoyed reading this article by Dan Krol from Bitcoin Not Bombs. The piece is about some surprising new testimony coming from the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind the Silk Road. You should already know this, but the Silk Road was a fairly large, online, underground marketplace that used Bitcoin to facilitate the trade of illegal goods like drugs. It's a fascinating article and it's extremely relevant to me, given my liberty-mindedness, but I want to share a few thoughts in response.

Mainstream media have provided virtually zero coverage of this landmark case, so allow me to summarize some of the backstory for anyone who might be out of the loop. Near the end of 2013, the FBI seized the Silk Road and arrested Ross Ulbricht after a lengthy investigation. Law enforcement claimed that he was the black market's lead operator, known as Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR), and charged him with crimes like drug trafficking and computer hacking. For a time, he was also suspected of murder-for-hire, but those charges never came to fruition.

The other relevant storyline seemed completely unrelated until just days ago. During the first half of 2014, one of the most popular Bitcoin exchanges, MtGox, faced and caused all sorts of issues, costing Bitcoin users thousands of dollars. The truth behind the situation is still quite fuzzy, but the Bitcoin community generally blames MtGox's CEO, Mark Karpeles. Either he made massive and entirely unnecessary mistakes that ran his company into the ground or he maliciously stole the coins in his exchange and tried to cover it up.

The new information is relatively simple: Ross Ulbricht and his defense team are claiming that Mark Karpeles is the real Dread Pirate Roberts. The moral issue that Krol describes in his article is that most liberty-minded people want to support DPR but we hate Karpeles. This creates a conflict if Karpeles is DPR. We also generally want to support Ross Ulbricht, but it would be wrong for him to blame an innocent man. This means there is conflict if Karpeles is not DPR.

My solution to this dilemma is not especially elegant. I propose we simply examine human nature and look for the grey area. I think most people believe that humans are capable of both good and evil; both right and wrong. We may not all agree on what is right and what is wrong, but I think it's clear that sometimes people do things that we think are right and sometimes those same people do things that we think are wrong. People that we consider good can still do bad things and vice versa.

Suppose Karpeles really was DPR. We liberty lovers have been praising DPR for ages, because he significantly reduced violence related to drug trade. Even if Karpeles did that, we can still thank him for it. A Bitcoin thief is capable of saving lives, and life saving is still wonderful, regardless of who does it.

The same idea holds even if Ross Ulbricht was DPR. We can love him for using the Silk Road to make our streets safer and we can still be upset that he would throw an innocent man under the gigantic bus that is law enforcement. Ulbricht is capable of doing both of those things.

I think a more important decision we have to make is whether or not we should support these men monetarily. If Ulbricht would tell lies that could ruin an innocent man's life, is it a good idea for us to give him money? Unfortunately, this is a more difficult conflict because it's hard to say, "I think he's sorta good and sorta bad," when giving money. Donations are usually considered a form of support and only support.

The same issue would arise even if Ulbricht was not DPR and Karpeles was. Suppose that in the future, Karpeles is taken to court for the exact same crimes. Since we donated so much to Ulbricht, should we also help defend Karpeles?

I think the only way to resolve this is on a personal level. We are missing lots of facts in both the Gox case and the Silk Road case, so personal opinions play a huge role here. If you think that the Silk Road was a really good thing and Gox was just a little, unintentional flub, then you might see fit to donate to Karpeles in the future. I probably would not do the same and I think most other Bitcoiners would never give money to Karpeles, but I can see no reason to blame anyone who did.

I suppose the importance of personal opinions is an idea near the core of the liberty movement anyway. We know that in every single situation, there is an endless list of varying opinions out there, and we believe that it's wrong to force people to believe or act a certain way. You are allowed to do as you see fit, provided you do not force anyone else to do anything.

If you want to donate Bitcoin to Ulbricht, Karpeles, or both, I cannot and should not stop you - nor do I want to stop you. I want you to have the freedom that DPR - whoever he is - put his life on the line for. He advocated free trade, the liberty community loves that, I love that, and therefore, I fully support your right to donate your time and money to absolutely anyone that you choose.

Please leave a comment and let me know your personal opinions about these events! Who do you think was the real DPR? Will you support him?

One comment

  1. Thanks for the response. I think it’s a reasonable approach. What’s most important to me is that these sorts of things are layed out with clarity as you have. What bothers me most is when people in a movement get very hyped about something and develop blind spots. Acknowledging moral grey area, and acknowledging that supporting one or the other is not clear cut, I think is good to do. To continue with the blinders, at best, leads to looking inconsistent to outsiders of the movement, in my opinion.

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