The Silk RoadMonday, Oct 7, 2013 · 1300 words · approx 6 mins to read
I guess this post is one of the most timely I’ve ever written. I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences using The Silk Road (SR), the recently shut down anonymous online marketplace, and Bitcoin, SR’s only operating currency, for a while now. I’ve used it multiple times to buy drugs, and each time I’ve learned a little bit more about what it means to be a modern citizen of the Internet.
Even more enlightening, for me at least, if not you reading this, is that I’ve learned a lot more about what it means to be an intelligent adult human being in the process.
Seeking council from my trusted circle of close friends about whether I should pen a post about buying drugs on what’s now the World’s most scrutinised and opinion-generating anonymous online marketplace has been enlightening too. Let me try and sum it all up.
Anonymous Online Marketplace
That phrase, one I’ve been careful to repeat a few times already, is key to the whole thing. All of the press about The Silk Road so far has been drugs related, and even though I only ever shopped there to get some myself, the idea behind SR truly is one of something more general: an online marketplace where you can be as anonymous as you like, where nobody other than the seller knows what you want or where you want it sent, and how you pay for it, with Bitcoins, can be as anonymous as you like within the confines of a truly public transaction log like the blockchain.
If SR sold PlayStation Vita games, pods for my Tassimo coffee machine, or Lego — all things I’ve used Amazon for recently — I’d likely have used it for that too, despite a likely markup inherent to any incumbent to online retailing that wants to take on Amazon and its army of retailers. The interaction with SR because of its privacy protecting properties, where I can’t be tracked, advertised to and terribly predicted in terms of my shopping habits, by the market, is truly alluring. I don’t want to come across as someone jumping on a bandwagon of modern sentiment about the erosion of my personal privacy online, but it’s a very real thing for many of my generation and we’re only going to demand it back as time advances. It’s just a matter of when. I see SR as the progenitor of the future in that sense.
My bank doesn’t need to know where my money ends up, nor does any other entity, even those with a incredible vested interest, like governments. The vendors on SR could pay sales tax in their country of origin or business without giving up the identity of their buyers. The blockchain provides that for free, and we all retain our privacy.
The Silk Road was an anonymous online marketplace. I repeat it again because it’s important to me that it’s understood what it was and what it wasn’t. I look forward to replacements showing up en masse. I look forward to being able to buy Vita games, coffee and Lego bricks just as easily as I buy them on Amazon.
The Drugs Aspect
Basic economic theory would have predicted that the primary use in the beginning would have been drugs, so it shouldn’t be any surprise. Understanding that, yet also knowing that SR was also much more than a conduit for certain substances, lets the World discuss the fact that it was used for that primarily.
In my personal case, it allowed me to import a substance only nominally available under prescription here in the UK but that isn’t a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. That substance is all I ever bought on SR. I bought it after 7 (yes, seven) months of on-and-off research into a problem I’ve known I’ve had for a while.
That means I used SR completely legally, and I certainly didn’t use it lightly.
Much much much more importantly, I was completely safe doing so. I was able to purchase something safe to ingest, bought and used for its normal prescriptive effect on my brain chemistry as a doctor would supply it to me, in a controlled way, under my own steam, without having to resort to traditionally unsafe methods of sourcing.
That simple truth, that I bought drugs legally and completely safely from the comfort of my Aeron while sipping tea, underpins my core understanding of what worked so very well for me on SR, and what I look forward to repeating in the future on new anonymous online marketplaces. That experience was only aided by the initial economic factors on SR that allowed a drug trade to flourish, not forced by SR itself in any way; I could get the drug elsewhere of course, just less safely or anonymously.
The importance of anonymity
That brings me neatly back to anonymity, and my position there is simple and has no moral or legal aspects other than the obvious. If I can do something morally and legally OK, with privacy, without anyone knowing who I am or why I’m doing it, I should be able to. It should be my business and nobody else’s, as an informed, intelligent adult. My bank shouldn’t know that I paid someone for something. My government shouldn’t know either by virtue of being able to ask (or not, it’s unclear what happens there) my bank. And the marketplace that allowed the transaction shouldn’t know either.
Nobody should, unless I give informed consent to the knowledge being spread, as someone who understands their own privacy and its value.
Should I write this with my name attached?
Of course I should. I didn’t do anything wrong and I seek to educate after being educated. It doesn’t devalue my position, personally or professionally. Any other position is cowardly and we must talk about this stuff in the open.
The Silk Road let me repeatedly legally buy something I wanted with my privacy and anonymity completely intact. I understand its primary use wasn’t legal, but mine was completely, so I look forward to the day when I can replicate that use at the coming new crop of anonymous online marketplaces that will show up to replace it.
As a final note, I don’t have much more to say here other than what should be the absolute common sense position when it comes to taking drugs: despite believing alcohol is absolutely one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced, for example, either actively through my own consumption or passively via the horrible effects of other people’s, I firmly believe in a human being’s own basic right to choose whether it’s a substance they want to consume, if they’ve educated themselves properly about doing so. It’s not my choice. It shouldn’t be anyone else’s but the individual. Leave us alone. We’ll deal with the consequences as we always have done.
Until that common sense prevails, long live all of The Silk Roads.
Feel free to apply that common sense liberally to almost everything. Felix Baumgartner educated himself about the facts as he could understand them of jumping out of a small capsule on the edge of Space. He took his time to learn. Then, knowing everything he could possibly know, he jumped.