Ridiculous, Dangerous, Or Self-Evident?

Jeremy Epstein Blockchain, Business

The following post comes from a new eBook,  Blockchains in the Mainstream, which features 33 of the top thinkers, entrepreneurs, and investors in the world of decentralized systems.

You can read all of the entries from the “Blockchain Dream Team” in the FREE PDF here.

Today’s author is: Primavera De Filippi, Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard University

According to Arthur Schopenhauer, all groundbreaking ideas pass through three fundamental stages:

First, they are ridiculed. As new ideas are created, they often do not fit into the existing frameworks of society. As a result, they are often mocked and regarded as absurd or impossible.

Second, they are violently opposed. Once an idea acquires a certain degree of popular support, it might encounter resistance from those who see them as a threat. People are accustomed to familiar concepts, and are often reluctant to adapt to something new. Although many ideas will be recognized as viable, those with the potential to disrupt the status quo will be strongest contenders to find opposition, particularly by people in power.

Third, they are accepted as being self-evident. As more evidence is released to substantiate these particular ideas, they progressively enter the mainstream and eventually become accepted as a given.

If we were to look at how blockchain technology’s perception has evolved throughout the years, it seems that it has now passed the ridicule stage. Although Bitcoin was initially perceived as a farce when it first came out in 2009, due to its unlikely attempt at replacing the established financial system, after 7 years of operations, it is no longer perceived that way. Bitcoin has not only proven to be a viable tool to transfer value around the globe in a secure and decentralized manner, it also inspired the emergence of many other blockchain-based applications, introducing a new layer of trust in decentralized peer-to-peer networks.

Although blockchain technology is past the first stage in Schopenhauer’s theory, it now has entered the second stage: opposition. The benefits of this technology, in terms of disintermediation and trust, also constitute a threat to many established institutions and incumbents that operate as intermediary middleman. This introduced the first wave of opposition by financial institutions and some governments. These institutions initially condemned the technology, labeling it as a “tool to support criminal activities” such as tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing.

Interestingly, although the backlash of the technology was strong, the same institutions that initially opposed blockchain technology are the same ones that eventually pushed it through the third phase. After the initial backlash, it soon became evident that financial institutions, companies and corporations, as well as a variety of public administrations could significantly benefit from the use of blockchain technology in order to increase the efficiency, transparency and accountability of their daily operations.

Although we are still at an early phase of experimentation, it is not unconceivable that, one day, blockchain technologies will be regarded as a “given”, just like other communication technology of our everyday life.