Breaking FUD – Embracing Bitcoin

Bitcoin has once again entered FUD season. It’s the time when it gets thrown in the same basket as crypto scams in order to have its technological legitimacy questioned.

“It’s been this number of years, what did Bitcoin accomplish? Here’s why it’s a wasteful ocean-boiling failed utopia for libertarians and all the people we tell you not to like”, you hear them say. These are the moments when critics and skeptics get to shine – because when the price is down from the previous highs, the number of disillusioned retail investors grows. Naturally, the majority of the attention shifts towards these poorly informed but strongly-convicted voices that tell you that it’s over and it was a bad idea all along.

Meanwhile, Bitcoin offers financial inclusion to millions of people worldwide. The unbanked, the politically oppressed, the socially and financially constrained, and the ideologically driven constantly benefit from the kind of freedom of transactions which no government or private institution will ever grant them. If the previous enumeration sounds too general and formulaic, here are some specific examples:

– the Canadian truckers, who protested for their freedom to work under irrationally authoritarian conditions in early 2022, eventually had their bank accounts frozen through political abuse. In order to be able to make transactions and receive support, they had to use bitcoin;

– the citizens of countries which experienced triple digit inflation during 2021 and 2022 protected their savings using BTC. Many such cases can be found in Sudan, Lebanon, Argentina, and Venezuela;

– in countries such as Suriname and Turkey, bitcoin’s crash from its all-time high is still not as drastic as the devaluation of their national fiat currencies;

– in El Salvador and the Central African Republic, the two countries which embraced the magic internet money as part of their official currencies, bitcoin transactions are part of daily life;

– and if you still think that Bitcoin still hasn’t proved its utility, consider this: in 2022, Chinese spies reportedly sent BTC bribes to a US double agent via Wasabi wallet. Meaning that government officials also find Bitcoin useful, in spite of the official narrative they propagate through the media.

If 2021 was filled with Tesla Cybertruck and citadel memes, then the fall of 2022 and probably most of 2023 are all about FUD against Bitcoin. It’s easier for speculators who don’t understand the purpose and ideals of Bitcoin to criticize it through half-truths and distorted facts. And it’s also extremely convenient for government officials, central bankers and private bankers to promote this FUD through their authority and the media channels they control. Such dishonest and deceitful actions effectively increase the demand for failing fiat currencies and may also temporarily boost faith in their silly money system.

But FUD, outside of its governmental weaponization, is nothing but a series of natural reactions which help us process events and phenomena that shake our worldview and system of beliefs. When we’re faced with something new and revolutionary for which we don’t possess enough information to understand, the first instinct is to be afraid of the changes it might bring to our surroundings. Fear is part of our human nature.

As soon as we learn a little bit more about it, we no longer hold strong opinions about the outcomes – which leads to uncertainty. And when we deal with a meteoric collision between our deeply-rooted system of beliefs and a black swan event, we tend to cast doubt on the contender.

FUD is part of who we are. It’s a mechanism which makes us defend a status quo and helps us approach change in a critical manner. If we embraced every new idea without applying a basic level of scrutiny, our civilization would get destroyed. On the other hand, the permanent emergence of new information helps us transcend the FUD phase in order to embrace something that’s truly revolutionary and worthwhile.

How I Broke the FUD and Embraced Bitcoin

My Bitcoin story follows the same pattern of FUD. When I first read about it in 2013, I thought it was a stupid idea. I was 21 years old at the time, and I remember staring at my laptop screen while thinking along the lines of “I have a bank account which allows me to access my funds from an internet app. I can send money to anyone I want – as a matter of fact, I’ve never faced any restrictions. Why do I need this?”. Then I looked at Bitcoin’s use cases and noticed that it’s being used on dark markets to buy drugs and guns. “I’m a good person and a law-abiding citizen”, I said to myself. So I started fearing Bitcoin and the changes that it might bring to my surroundings as a facilitator of activities I dislike.

That same year, I couldn’t pay my rent to the student accommodation company SGS Goteborg because I needed a Swedish bank account. So I went to a Swedish bank to try to open an account with them – but since I wasn’t a proper resident (I was in Goteborg as an exchange student) and had no income outside my scholarship, they couldn’t help me. That’s when I withdrew cash from an ATM and took a walk to the housing company’s office to attempt a physical payment. They told me that they can’t accept cash because it looks suspicious and I’m supposed to wire the money to their bank account. When I explained to them that my bank won’t accept transfers to their accounts (different countries with different IBAN codes) and no local bank will allow me to do business with them in the absence of extra papers that I did not have, their suggestion was to try Western Union or Money Gram.

The next day, I went to Money Gram. I took one of their forms, filled it in while waiting in a long line, accepted to pay a 30 euro transaction fee on a 600 euro payment, but still hit a bureaucratic roadblock. The lady behind the counter told me that customers from outside the Schengen area (of which Romania is not a member) must show their passport (which I did not have, since I traveled there with my national ID). I went to Western Union and found the exact same problem – I was holding Swedish crowns in cash, had no means to deposit it back into my Romanian bank account, and nobody wanted to help me pay my rent without seeing a passport.

Since my national ID was not good enough for them, I had to go to university and ask a classmate of mine from Ireland (a country which is part of the Schengen area) to fill in the Money Gram form in his name, wait in line, and make the payment with the cash I’m giving him. To perform a financial transaction as basic as paying my rent, I had to find a friendly proxy who had all the right papers to fulfil a Moneygram wire transfer (thanks, Adam Ballance!).

And yet, I still regarded Bitcoin as something dangerous and irrationally feared its effects.

Two years later, at the age of 23, I was an exchange student in France. This time, I could only pay my rent in cash because the landlord did not want to sign a contract and pay taxes. But in the absence of this funny paper, I couldn’t open a bank account and therefore had no access to student discounts for public transportation or a SIM card. For a couple of months, I had no means to use my mobile phone for calls and I paid full price for everything. That was when I figured out another way to use a proxy – a fellow Romanian classmate accepted to receive a cash payment in exchange for letting me use one of her SIM cards and would sometimes also help me get cheaper tickets for the subway train. God bless her, I hope she’s doing well these days!

The year was 2015, I was still in Paris and I was taking a class in advocacy and innovation. My professor, an American political theorist named Lex Paulson, assigned me and three other colleagues with the task of making a presentation in front of the class on the topic of Bitcoin and blockchain. It wasn’t the first time when I was reading about Bitcoin, but it was certainly strange to have this person from academia tell me to look into something that I knew was being used for drugs on the internet. Around the same time, I was an avid reader of Rolling Stone – the publication which informed me that Ross Ulbricht had received a life sentence for creating the Silk Road marketplace. But due to the fact that someone I knew and respected in real life (as opposed to some chatroom troll) told me to study Bitcoin, I no longer feared it.

I was now in the “uncertainty” phase. So I’ve become more open to the idea of Bitcoin, I went further with the process of studying its technological impact, but I failed to understand its importance in the history of money. Mostly because I didn’t know anything about economics and the financial system – I was studying political science and was stuck in this bubble of ideas about governance. I could have bought 1 bitcoin with the money I had in my bank account (about 200 euro), but I didn’t because I was a broke student who would eat 5 euro menus at McDonald’s and spend 20 euro a week on groceries. I also thought that everyone must buy 1 whole BTC, which turned out to be a terrible mistake. Had I purchased 0.1 BTC with 20 euro (4 days of skipping McDonald’s meals), today it would be worth about 100 times more in euro terms – or almost 350 times more at the November 2021 all-time high.

But the good news is that, since doing my presentation in front of the class in May 2015, I kept an eye on Bitcoin. I paid more attention to it, I even started surfing the dark web to better understand how it’s being used. By early 2016, I had returned home in Romania and my bank account was slightly more loaded. So I decided the time has finally come to buy some BTC – but that’s when I read on the news that former Core developer Mike Hearn said that “Bitcoin has failed”. So I entered the doubt phase of my journey.

You see, at the time I still believed that mainstream media channels serve the purpose of informing the masses… as opposed to pushing an agenda to manipulate markets, maintaining governments in power or else destabilizing them, and promoting the interests of their advertisers/financiers. In January 2015, the price of 1 bitcoin had doubled from the 200 euro that I remembered from 6 months prior. So if a major developer says that it’s a failed project, his opinion is reinforced by prestigious publications (Reuters, Business Insider, The Guardian) and the price is higher than the last time, then I should probably stay away and wait to see what happens. Who am I to know any better and buy bitcoin at 400 euro per whole unit?

It wasn’t until a year later, in 2017, that I finally pulled the trigger and bought some BTC. By that point, the price had exceeded the previous bull market all-time high of $1000. So ironically, it was the market that made me turn a blind eye to all the mainstream criticism. Who said that price doesn’t matter?

During the 4 years that it took me to conquer the FUD, the price had gone up more than 3 times. And it’s not like I held onto my newly-purchased coins and did not sell them later in the year for a small profit… only to buy back at a higher price in December 2017. But that’s a story for another day.

To conquer my fear of Bitcoin, I needed to receive reassurance from a person whom I held in high regard (a university professor who assigned me to study it for a graded project). To overcome the uncertainty, I spent another 6 months reading about the phenomenon. And in order to replace doubt with a buy order, I had to watch the price increase in spite of all the mainstream media coverage. I went through all the three phases of FUD only to realize how all these techniques have been weaponized against me.

I couldn’t adopt a universal form of money, which nobody can censor or take away, because I believed in the banking system that failed to provide me even the most basic services. Upon learning new information, I failed to connect the dots because I believed in the benevolence and integrity of the mainstream media. And when I was finally ready to join the revolution, I was deterred by a dishonest but vocal developer.

I honestly don’t want people to go through the same process in order to liberate themselves. The FUD is a normal reaction, but there’s no reason for it to turn into a 4-year rollercoaster that’s filled with bad experiences with banks and financial services. Which is why I’ve decided to take every misconception about Bitcoin and provide the kind of informed explanation that effectively breaks the FUD. Fearing something is only normal when it’s new and you have no means to explain to yourself what it is. Feeling uncertain about it makes sense as long as your ability to get information is unreliable. And doubt is only for those who were unable to gain any sort of confidence and conviction in the information they’ve just learned.

It’s time to break the FUD!

Vlad Costea

I'm here for the freedom, censorship-resistance, and unconfiscatability. What about you?

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