Everyone knows that bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. But we don’t know much else about the history of Nakamoto or bitcoin, beyond the fact that Nakamoto first discussed the idea on a cypherpunk mailing list. For their part, cypherpunks had long wanted anonymous, cryptographically-secure, peer-to-peer digital money, but why?
To answer this question and to tell the rest of the story, New York University historian and media scholar Finn Brunton traveled to prepper and libertarian enclaves, spoke with people who mint their own silver coins, who want to live forever, and strongly endorse bitcoin. Amidst this tangle of alternative lifestyles, Bruton also uncovered bitcoin’s connections to agorism and extropianism—ideologies for a market society free from intrusion of the state (agorism) and a trans-humanist refusal to accept the limitations of human life (extropianism). Brunton says that, together, these ideologies influenced the development of bitcoin, dark markets, and ironically, the mainstream crypto industry which then stole the show. Brunton describes this history in his new book Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency (Princeton University Press, 2019).