Cypherpunk: A person who uses encryption when accessing a computer network in order to ensure privacy, especially from government authorities.
– Oxford Dictionary
CRYPTO 101 recently sat down with Casa infrastructure engineer, Jameson Lopp. Yeah, that’s a pretty significant understatement. As you’ll hopefully read below, there is much more to discover about Jameson as a person and much to learn from the content-rich digital trail he has blazed for most of his professional life. The curious thing is though, that’s probably how Jameson would introduce himself to a stranger these days – “Just Jameson”. It sounds like an 80’s sitcom if you say it outloud. Let’s try to stay focused.
There’s quite a few resources and articles out there to help you follow Jameson’s trail. But while they tend to focus on shop talk and whatever the “crypto” issue was at the moment, CRYPTO 101 wanted to take a slightly different approach; to try and get a better feel for the man behind the public persona. What makes him tick and what does he really think…about the world, and about society. Where is he from and how did he get here? How has he changed along the way?
Hailing from North Carolina in the United States, Jameson is a well-known Bitcoin enthusiast and successful entrepreneur. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2007 with a degree in computer science and worked for Bronto Software as a software engineer until 2015. His affinity for cryptocurrency’s flagship protocol started in 2012 and he hasn’t taken his foot off the mental gas pedal since.
Jameson founded Bitcoin SIG in December of 2013, a central hub that functioned as both public access to a well-curated library of bitcoin-centric resources and a connection point for fellow certified MENSA members (with similar Bitcoin interests) via a private special interest group. Full disclosure: most of us are still “on the outside looking in” for that fellowship. Perhaps for the best, but it must be interesting to read through some of those posts. In the meantime, we’ll continue our studies and Jameson’s Bitcoin Resources is a great place to start.
And Mr. Lopp was just getting started, too. Further inspired to grow accessibility and overall knowledge level of the Bitcoin network for both users and noobs alike, Jameson began asking himself in 2014 – how could he gain more insight into the internal operations of Bitcoin nodes? By June, he had his answer in Statoshi, an open source fork of Bitcoin Core that he created to log network metrics into a usable format. This gave Bitcoin node operators a mechanism by which they could measure their interactions with the greater network. As a follow-up, Jameson created a publicly accessible version of this platform at Statoshi.info. It translates the data into beautiful graphics via Grafana, an example of which can be seen in the image below.
How does one size up this guy? Essentially, Jameson is an avid communicator when it comes to sharing his views on just about anything – but especially cryptocurrency, and specifically Bitcoin. Backed by his technical credentials, Jameson has established his public presence via podcasts, interviews, articles, and social media appearances. He is often armed with well crafted presentations and some thought leadership that makes no apologies to those on the opposite side of a debate.
Debates? He’s had a few of those, with some other well known personalities in the space. A quick search will turn them up and most of them are really entertaining. Or, for some folks – maddening. Case in point, he was a victim of swatting last year as the heated scaling debate surrounding Bitcoin reached critical mass prior to the SegWit2X hard fork’s ultimate cancellation. This type of prank is pretty dispicable. It’s dangerous for all involved and creates a safety risk for others by locking up valuable public resources. In news coverage of the event, Jameson came off as handling it with a very cool head. That actually seems very cypherpunk of him, but it must have denied somebody, somewhere, the result they were seeking.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Jameson joined BitGo in 2015, a company that was founded in 2013 and is best known for their multi-signature bitcoin wallet. He played a key role in developing the company’s flexible model and could often be found spreading word of the company’s product(s) as a colorful ambassador. At this point, he was already deemed by most to be a knowledgable leader within an industry experiencing exponential growth. That’s a powerful combination, so it should not have been a total surprise when he recently announced his departure to join the team at Casa. As a new startup, Casa is only about seven months old, but boasts some impressive bench depth.They’re hoping to take the secure wallet game to the next level, in direct competition with storage options like Coinbase Custody.
But what about the man?
Jameson can trace both sides of his family lineage back to the late 1700’s, consisting of a rich tradition of rural farming and agriculture. He is the self-professed urban and “techie” prodigal son of his kin, having left the staunchly conservative environment of his youth to make his way into a more diversified world, via the contrasting lens of a liberal institution of higher learning. Jameson credits his “real world” experiences post-Chapel Hill with further molding his personal ethos as a libertarian before finally settling into his comfort zone as an anarcho-capitalist. Coupled with his field of study and professional path after college, an eventual intersection with the bubbling genesis of Satoshi Nakamoto’s brain child seemed quite the fait accompli.
Throughout that journey, Jameson recalls that his growing attachment to and reliance upon such basic principles as the scientific method and logical reasoning continuously challenged his perception and put him at odds with many ideologies – like the religion from his past and the political or financial system(s) he had come to question as an adult. This is a personal journey that many of us are familiar with but Jameson’s unique approach begins to take shape when he refers to himself as an “equal opportunity offender” when it comes to his views these days.
Whether it is a topic like Bitcoin scalability or Second Amendment rights, Jameson knows exactly what he believes in and, perhaps most importantly, why. You might not agree with him, but you won’t have to deal with a changing baseline or vanilla talking points on loan from ‘the movement’. Jameson’s thoughts are his own and he has plenty of them; what his audience does after they hear them is up to them. He bases his ideologies upon the principle of non-aggression, which…to an extent, conflicts with the pervasive behavior model for most of the world’s nation states (particularly the powerful ones). On face value, this principle might even seem to be at odds with his belief in the right to bear arms. Does this expose Jameson as a confused or misguided imposter?
Not so fast. With regards to gun control, he is quick to admit that he would completely support the idea of removing guns in totality, for everyone. Since this is simply not possible, his support of the Second Amendment stems from a drive to see an even distribution and protection of all types of power among everyone. Financial power, political power, and yes, even power of deadly force. This is a very controversial topic and it should be emphasized that it is not the intent of this article to dwell on this issue as a primary focus or give the impression that this defines Jameson anymore than his other beliefs or causes. It is one of many, but one that simultaneously demonstrates his passion for the distribution of power while also providing some insight into how he views and thinks through complicated matters.
Speaking of views and topics filled with complicated matters, he sees digital currency as a means by which some of this aforementioned power can be retained by average citizens and inherently protected from institutional abuse without risk of harm. It is the relationship between these personal beliefs and his technical acumen that has fueled his participation and advocacy in the rise of Bitcoin and other blockchain applications.
“I am striving to bring crypto-anarchy to the world,” Jameson told CRYPTO 101. He hopes for that world and its population to enjoy the activities, freedoms, and fruits of commerce and communication without the threat of third-party oversight and its potential responses to those transactions. Not surprisingly, he views Bitcoin as both an inspiration for this pursuit and a tool with which to achieve the endgame. Since Bitcoin’s beginnings in 2008, a portion of the movement’s participants viewed the currency as a means to disrupt nation state-issued currencies. Along with many others, Jameson sees these currencies (and their abuse) as contributors towards the existence of welfare states and a harmful military industrial complex.
But if it is the use of debt, taxes, and central bank manipulation of currency that serves as a mechanism for nation-state power retention, how can blockchain technology possibly hope to have an impact on that scale? Jameson sees the key value-add residing in the removal of the proverbial middle man. Most present-day services and systems rely on the convenience provided by specialized third parties but usually have to sacrifice some degree of anonymity or sovereignty (or both) in return.
For example, a bank can safeguard some of your assets from cunning thieves in a cutting-edge vault. This is highly desirable but you may not have access to those assets on a Sunday afternoon or, if the asset is fiat in an interest-bearing account, the bank is obliged to report that interest to government regulators. An average person may not necessarily have a problem with those limitations, but would they feel the same way if they lived in a country with a more volatile currency or dictatorial government? One can’t help but acknowledge that Jameson has a good point in this regard, and at least recognize the potential for blockchain technology to fill the role of today’s third-party trust system.
The practice of personal data mining and its manipulation for profit by corporations is a very hot topic right now. When considering the potential role of digital currency and blockchain technology in solutions for returning that profit to the data generators themselves, Jameson takes a macro-view and practical approach. Embracing his roots as a programmer, he sees potential in the use of these advanced networks, algorithms, and protocol for the digitalization of skills and trades. What does that mean, though?
Building upon his example, think of your craft being turned into a matrix of inputs and outputs with some decisions along the way. Uber and Lyft are seen as modern, progressive companies on the cutting edge of technology, right? But what if things were taken a step further? What if the cars were driver-less and there wasn’t a requirement for centralized administration of the system – no single point failure that could take down the whole system?
An electric autonomous car company might take in blockchain-driven customer data and be better equipped to meet the client’s needs as a clean energy transportation solution while also improving the life of their passengers through safety and productivity. The interactions could be seamlessly integrated and fair through smart contract execution.
Despite these highbrow concepts and ideas, Jameson is quite humble when the subject of conversation turns to his social media popularity and overall impact. He has reached the 150,000 follower plateau on Twitter and has engaged in discussions and debates with other power players like Litecoin creator Charlie Lee and early Bitcoin investor Roger Ver. But his social journey in public forums hasn’t alway been so…rosy. Jameson readily admits that he was very angry and a bit extreme in his early days as an online personality in the space, but says that he now realizes this wasn’t at all productive. Yes, he was upset with the direction of Bitcoin. He was at odds with a faction of its community and some decisions that were being made regarding the future of the network. But he became aware of the echo-chamber that he was a part of and the “negativity cycle” that it created. He decided to abandon his early approach and try instead to focus on the positive, productive aspects of what he and his constituents hoped to accomplish – mostly through education and awareness. Again, with more than 150,000 followers on twitter, you could say that his awakening and new approach has enjoyed some success.
Jameson drew an interesting parallel between modern political activism and similar upheaval in the online crypto community over the years. Both scenarios usually involve a lot of passion and are motivated in part by some altruistic intentions of very intelligent and generally nice people. Unfortunately, both scenarios also have very loud, angry mob components that may sometimes join in. These groups drown out the true stakeholders and are frequently clueless when it comes to the real issues being discussed. But in Jameson’s opinion, the similarities stop there.
While activism that relies on its volume can sway political actions based on voter accountability and a natural inclination for elected officials to stay in office, Jameson reminds us that Bitcoin and other crypto asset networks just don’t work like that. Their natural attributes of distribution and consensus not only ensure the preservation of accurate data in their blockchains, but they also provide a natural impediment to change that only solidifies under pressure from activism that does not involve diplomatic discourse. The SegWit2x campaign last fall was truly a high water mark for discord and debate within the community. Regardless of one’s own view on such topics, it should be reassuring that such sweeping change, though nearly initiated, was never an absolute given. Checks and balances, if you will.
CRYPTO 101 is grateful that Jameson took the time to speak with us. While many may disagree with him on numerous issues, he justified his positions logically during the conversation and was always willing to continue a discussion on any topic. He seems to say the things he says because he truly believes in the personal creed that he has developed over many years while living in many different environments. It’s all too rare to encounter anyone these days who can explain their beliefs and actually adjust their positions as their understanding evolves. There is no sense of a “damn the torpedoes” mentality when you peel back the layers of this self-proclaimed cypherpunk, and that should be a pleasant surprise. Most importantly, a lot of his efforts center on education – something we can all agree on and recognize that this space needs now more than ever, and for many years to come.
About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing, and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter, @ryanlamonica.