I vividly remember the first time I saw the Silk Road in mid 2012. Like a timid fawn venturing out into an unknown meadow, I fired up the Tor Browser, entered some gobbledygook into the address bar, and took my first peek into the darknet.
When I finally logged in, it was like witnessing a miracle. The variety! The selection! “Crack?” I said to myself. “I can buy crack here? I’ve never even seen crack in real life!” I was awestruck. For a few hundred dollars, I could have reams of LSD blotters. There were things, like ketamine, that I, a libertarian activist, had never even heard of. I’m not much of a drug addict, but for a moment, I felt like Hunter S. Thompson.
All at once, so many things that I had always been told were evil, forbidden, taboo even to investigate or discuss rationally were now available on the cheap, and at the push of a button! The brilliant thing about the Silk Road is that it operates just like a normal business. It operated out in the open, in defiance of the entire drug war, and invited anyone to participate. It staked its reputation on quality and low prices. This is what freedom feels like.
When I saw it, I immediately knew the rules had changed. It opened its doors like any ordinary business. It let people interact without fear. We now know that it brought peace to the illegal drug wholesale market and furthermore that it made enormous profits doing so. It was, furthermore, infinitely reproducible. Thus, even though it could not exist with complete impunity, it could be recreated again and again. This is, I suppose, why its mysterious founder chose the name Dread Pirate Roberts for himself. As in the film from which the name was taken, imitators would replace him even if he himself were to be caught and humiliated. His name is a statement of both economics and of a defiance that is unstoppable.
Each iteration of the Silk Road would make the industry more peaceful, more secure, and more ordinary. It was one act of defiance, but nothing could stop the imitation that it would provoke. The more accessible to ordinary people that illegal drugs become, and the more that the drug market can operate like an ordinary business, the less will people be able to maintain a conceptual separation between recreational drugs and other business. Once that conceptual separation has been broken, the drug war will end because it will simply make no more sense to anyone.
The biggest problem with the Silk Road, I thought initially, was that of exchanging Bitcoins for dollars. That was a real inconvenience. But the more I pondered it, the less of a problem it seemed. In fact, it was not a problem. If the Silk Road was attracting business that means that going through the Bitcoin network was worth the inconvenience of doing it. That meant that there was profit to be made helping dealers spend their Bitcoins—which could be done by just doing more business in Bitcoin! Because the drug market was using the Bitcoin network, that would draw more opportunities within it, which in turn would draw in more, and so on. These were my thoughts over the next several weeks. Of course, that’s not quite what ended up happening, but I think I was pretty close. Bitcoin is now roughly one hundred times more expensive and there are now several competing Silk Road incarnations.
The Dread Pirate Roberts changed the world in two different ways. He communicated the idea of the Silk Road’s business model and produced the first sustainable source of Bitcoin profits. When the Silk Road first came online, Bitcoin could not compete with credit cards and traditional banking because Bitcoin services were so sparse. It was where these services were excluded—on the black market—that Bitcoin could be most useful. This was its path of least resistance upward. Before the Silk Road existed, Bitcoin was little more than a curiosity. Afterwards, Bitcoin was something the world needed. This was understood my some people at the time: the opening of the Silk Road sparked the first Bitcoin mania in 2011.
Every Bitcoin venture must build upon Bitcoin’s former successes because each step in Bitcoin’s growth makes Bitcoin more useful and makes new opportunities possible. Without the early proof, courtesy of the Silk Road, of Bitcoin’s viability, Bitcoin would not have attracted the investors that it did then, and consequently would not now be attracting the investors that it does today. All Bitcoin entrepreneurs today build on top of the success of the Silk Road. His made their work possible.
I confess, I never actually bought anything at the Silk Road and I never engaged with the community there. Now that the opportunity is lost forever, I really wish I had. However, I did do some things. It was shortly thereafter that I gave a presentation to the Libertarian Longhorns in which I advised them to cease all political activity immediately and focus entirely on crypto anarchy. A libertarian victory was no longer impossible, but nigh inevitable. Shortly thereafter another group I attended, The Mises Circle at UT, became the first Bitcoin student group that I know of, and not long after that we started the second Bitcoin student group I know of (The Cryptoanarchy Club at UT). The first group was for economic discussions and the second for cypherpunk discussions. Finally, we started the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute in mid 2013.
When Ross Ulbricht was caught in late 2013, I was surprised because I had met Mr. Ulbricht briefly in 2009, at an event called 3-Day Startup. If he is really the Dread Pirate Roberts, then I had met him before he was famous, before he had created his great work. This is not so unlikely; we did have some unusual interests in common. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember our meeting very well, but a friend recalls me telling him that digital currencies are a stupid idea. That’s how life is sometimes.
The evidence strongly suggests that Ross Ulbricht and DPR are the same person. If this is true, then DPR is a political prisoner, and he is nearly alone when he deserves the whole of the agorist and Bitcoin communities to honor him as their master. I wish I had written this article for him sooner, but it is easy to get caught up in day-to-day concerns and forget what is most important. He is the greatest agorist of our times, and probably who will ever live, and I would rank him as the second most important Bitcoiner after Satoshi Nakamoto. Please support his cause at freeross.org.