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S9 E2: Vlad Zamfir on The Philosophy of Absurdism & Szabo’s Law

When I first tweeted about having interviewed Vlad Zamfir on a Bitcoin podcast, the reactions ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. But we all know that Bitcoin is anti-fragile and doesn’t care about our opinions – and therefore, we can talk about anything and take ideas to any extreme without affecting the consensus rules, the network’s decentralization, or the views of sovereign miners and node operators.

Vlad Zamfir was never known for agreeing with the ideas of his peers, and it’s for this exact reason that I wanted to debate him on topics about which he usually doesn’t get the chance to talk about. Not much is known about his early days as a bitcoiner, and the views that he expressed during various blog posts were presented without many explanations beyond the written words (as Vlad would admit later in the interview, he is also a fan of the oral tradition of teaching, specifically thanks to the interactive way of extracting information that’s interesting to the individual).

What surprised me is the Vlad Zamfir and I agree on many topics and he is a lot more optimistic than me in some regards. He mentioned that the current model for CBDCs has poor privacy features that we might have enabled with our recklessness and suggested that Bitcoin could add some Zcash-like optional privacy features – which I agree. He also agreed that private US companies like Microstrategy are doing the regulatory work that the Federal Government doesn’t dare to attempt (and 3 months ago I wrote an article on the topic). Furthermore, we agreed that we are still in the early days and there’s a lot more to figure out along the way.

On the other hand, we disagreed about hard forks (I’m not a fan, but he is) and the principles of code is law. Vlad Zamfir also provided a definition of what he calls “Szabo’s Law” (a framework in which governments and corporations get pressured to work around the immutable code) and suggested an alternative which is rooted on existing legal frameworks that I didn’t understand very well and therefore didn’t debate (but according to my limited comprehension, he implies that we should consider international law and other supranational frameworks that can’t get changed by single entities).

It doesn’t mean that I’m less of a supporter of Nick Szabo’s approach (which has proven to work pretty well for longer than a decade) and that I would desire some other type of experiment to take place on Bitcoin. But I still found it interesting to discover a different approach which is designed to protect developers and the entire network single nation state pressure. Yes, the application of international law (including human rights law) is debatable and varies in every jurisdiction according to the amount of treaties that got signed and the will of the powers that be. And yes, it’s likely that Zamfir’s law will spawn some experiments whose evolution will be interesting to observe.

I hope that you will enjoy my interview with Vlad Zamfir, as it goes beyond the usual LARPing and dares to think outside of existing boundaries. It also proves that we can all have reasonable debates if we try to not label each other and try to differentiate between theory and practice.

Listen to Vlad Zamfir on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!

Also, please don’t forget to subscribe and leave feedback. It only takes a minute, but helps others discover my work more easily when they search for keywords such as “Bitcoin podcast”. Feel free to explore my back catalog, as there’s a lot of good stuff – and if you feel like this one interview doesn’t reaffirm your toxic maximalist views, then you’ll find other recordings with guests such as Francis Pouliot and John Carvalho.

If you’d rather listen to this episode in cypherpunk mode with absolute privacy and without having to subscribe to any corporate service, then feel free to use this web player. It also happens to be the source from which Apple, Google, and Spotify get the audio. And you can even download the recording locally in order to listen on an offline device like an mp3 player or non-smart phone.

Use the Tor browser to listen to the pod, as it grants you the best privacy and I will not know where you come from. Your privacy is much more important than the accuracy of my statistics and I believe that free information should be available unconditionally. I’m also happy that my sponsors understand this approach and support it, so even people living under authoritarian regimes that ban bitcoin can listen without encountering issues.

And if you are a fan of the Lightning-powered Podcasting 2.0 experience, then you’ll also find all of my podcast episodes on Breez, Sphinx, and Podcastindex. I’ve written an article to help you understand how this works.

This episode is sponsored by Vaultoro & Wasabi Wallet

Joshua from Vaultoro is a big fan of the show and I’m happy that he sees potential in my work and supports it without caring about numbers and growth statistics. So I must thank him for his generosity and invite you to check out Vaultoro – the exchange where you can trade with honest money (bitcoin, gold, and silver). 

None of this is financial advice from me, but I’m pretty sure that the shiny rock is a better store of value than any fiat currency or “stablecoin”, so maybe it would be wise to use this commodity to preserve your purchasing power during bear markets and get back into bitcoin as soon as you’re convinced that the downwards movement are over. You can also have the gold bars delivered to your house… because you know, if it’s not in your safe then it’s stored somewhere in Switzerland where you can’t touch it whenever you please. For more information, check out Vaultoro’s website.

Also, Joshua from Vaultoro is sponsoring a Lightning Network faucet – he hopes that Bitcoin’s second layer will one day become potent and popular enough to replace the smart contract and tokenization features of Ethereum. And he also supported Giacomo Zucco’s layer 3 RGB Spectrum experimentation from 2019. So if you’d like to get 10 bits/100 sats on the Lightning Network, you’re gonna have to listen to the latest Bitcoin Takeover Radio broadcast and be the first to figure out the secret.

And if you would like to increase your network-level and transaction privacy, you should download Wasabi Wallet on your computer. It routes your connection through the Tor network to hide your IP, it downloads block filters so you validate your own transactions locally without appealing to a trusted third party, and it also connects to your own full node to boost your financial sovereignty. Extra features include advanced hardware wallet integrations, easy UTXO management, address reuse prevention, and even a lurker wife mode.

Wasabi is best known for its link-breaking CoinJoins, which are giving a hard time even to the EuroPol. Use the wallet to increase your financial sovereignty, but don’t do any illegal stuff – use your financial sovereignty with responsibility (also read the Wasabi terms of service).

Interview time stamps:

03:00 – Is the Bitcoin space absurdist?

06:44 – Vlad Zamfir as an early bitcoiner

10:00 – Exchanges are the new big banks

11:53 – Law, conflict, and governance 

14:42 – Code is law?

18:38 – Bitcoin as an oracle of non-partisan objectivity 

22:40 – Soft forks vs hard forks

26:40 – Bitcoin vs dollar: which one is gonna fail first?

29:00 – Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) and privacy

32:37 – Adoption peaks?

37:00 – Michael Saylor, Marathon mining & OFAC compliance

41:38 – In the US, private companies are regulating bitcoin

45:51 – Privacy needs to be normalized inside and outside of Bitcoin

58:15 – We’re still very early

1:01:39 – Bitcoin network incentives after the block rewards are smaller than the fees

1:05:22 – Zooko’s dilemma 

1:07:39 – Is Ripple a scam?

1:10:00 – MimbleWimble?

1:11:21 – Szabo’s law

1:26:00 – Open source software monetization

1:30:44 – Book recommendations for philosophy and law

1:38:21 – Post-post modernism 

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

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