If you’re alive and read things, you’ve probably heard of cryptocurrency, or at least bitcoin. Opinions vary on the efficacy, future and utility of cryptocurrency*, but few can deny it has the potential to change the financial world. Several prominent venture capitalists** and institutions* are calling cryptocurrency the ‘next internet’. The concept is young; the original bitcoin whitepaper was only published in 2009. There have been controversies**, and the whole thing might not work on a global scale. Maybe the bubble will burst, leaving only gigabytes of worthless data. Or maybe it will help change everything*.
If you are using the dollar or any other fiat currency you are helping to finance animal exploitation and suffering… Do you really want your money to contribute to bankrolling that slaughter?
Cryptocurrencies are complex (though far less complex than the banking system) and I won’t attempt to explain how they work in much detail here. Briefly, a cryptocurrency is a secure, digital form of money that isn’t issued or controlled by a central authority*. Funds are in the direct control of their owners, and can’t be confiscated or transferred without consent. Money is stored in digital wallets (which are vaguely analogous to bank accounts) and ownership of these wallets is completely anonymous. Funds can be sent almost instantly to anyone in the world for a nominal fee (the amount varies, but it’s generally tiny fractions of a penny). No registration is required, and no personal details need to provided at any time. You can think of cryptocurrency as digital cash. It’s fungible, nearly untraceable, and you can loose it if you’re not careful.
There are many, many cryptocurrencies aside from bitcoin*. The value and utility these currencies (sometimes called ‘altcoins’ to distinguish them from bitcoin) vary dramatically, as does their seriousness*. And now there’s a vegan altcoin called Voin. We caught up with its creator, Sextain, to find out how a currency relates to veganism.
PMF: Hello Sextain! What is Voin, and how did you become involved in cryptocurrency?
Sextain: Voin is short for VeggieCoin. It is a currency designed to incentivize veganism. Voin cannot be used for purchasing products that involve the exploitation of animals including dairy and eggs. It is a clone of bitcoin with a few tweaks to make it vegan.
There is already a Vegan Coin, so the name Veggie was used instead of Vegan. Vegan Coin is no longer in circulation but it seemed better to use a different name.
I’ve been interested in cryptocurrencies and cybercurrencies for a while — in part to try to find a convenient way to make internet payments.
I first learned about bitcoin and cryptocurrencies from listening to the financial journalist Max Keiser. Even though I’m a Luddite and a technophobe at heart, Max waxed so lyrical that I decided it was worth checking out. The technology is brilliant. This is clearly where the future of money lies. The entire functionality of the banking system can be implemented using a relatively simple open source algorithm. The fact that it is open source is significant. Open source is more reliable and secure although it used now mainly by big companies.
My only complaint with bitcoin is that there is no ethical component to it. People in the cryptocurrency space are libertarians mainly, followers of an Ayn Rand type philosophy. They have no interest in animal rights, the environment, health, or any of these kind of issues. Also the huge fortunes that were made by early adopters of bitcoin have had the unfortunate effect of attracting large numbers of people hoping to get rich quick. Cryptocurrencies are the new gold rush. A world where bitcoin were king wouldn’t be much different to the world we have now.
This is why we need to create a vegan currency. Currency is more than a medium of exchange. It’s a great source of power and animal advocates need to recognize this is a new frontier for activism.
PMF: Some exponents of cryptocurrency don’t see it as a replacement to fiat currency, so much as a natural compliment. Several cryptocurrencies were designed with specific tasks in mind. (For example, Auroracoin is specifically intended for use in Iceland; Ethereum was designed to power smart contracts; mining CureCoin contributes to medical research in the form of protein folding, etc). What are the goals or intended uses of Voin, and where do you see it fitting in?
Sextain: Voin can be used for buying or selling anything that does not exploit animals. Its aims accord with Donald Watson’s when he created the original Vegan movement. Ultimately it will be a way of crowdfunding vegan projects.
Voin could be used for monetizing web content as an alternative to adsense, which is not vegan. Its very difficult to get people to pay for content, but if the fee was sufficiently small, maybe they would be willing to do so. Micropayments are very easy with Voin.
Voin could be used in social media as a way of rewarding people. People do this a lot in the cryptocurrency world. If someone has helped you debug your program you send them some bitcoin. If someone has been helpful in giving you some information, such as a vegan recipe for example, you could send them a few Voin.
Another use might be buying and selling fruit and vegetables and seeds. Some organic farmers already use bitcoin as a way of selling their produce directly to customers without fees and middlemen. In some countries bank regulations are massive and can stop people starting small businesses. In developing countries the middlemen take almost all the profits. The farmers make virtually nothing.
Voin might also be considered an investment. Holding Voin is equivalent to going long on veganism. It is the equivalent of a vegan electronic funds transfer.
PMF: Why not just use bitcoin?
Sextain: The bitcoin protocol works best when the currency has a small number of users. Once a cryptocurrency gets too big it becomes unmanageable and difficult to use.
Bitcoin stores every transaction in an encrypted ‘blockchain’, and this blockchain is distributed to everyone on the network. The blockchain quickly grows in size. bitcoin itself is already too big. The blockchain is now 40 GB. It would take at least a week to download it. Using it totally locks up your PC. It has grown by 20 GB in the last year. Soon it will be yottabytes! Even a supercomputer would be unable to process it.
Imagine there was only one web page in the whole of the internet, and to access the web you needed to load this page. It would take forever to load and be difficult to find the information you need. It makes no sense. This is what having one cryptocurrency would be like.
The only practical way for most people to use bitcoin at the moment is through third party services but this is risky as users of Mt Gox will testify. These companies need some form of oversight by regulators but this totally defeats the object of a cryptocurrency, as it would no longer be a decentralized open source currency. You are back to square one.
The only reason to have a single monolithic currency is to reduce currency conversion costs. But as there are no transaction costs in switching between cryptocurrencies and it can be done instantly so there is no reason not to have as many currencies as are needed. The more the merrier.
Fiat currencies will go the way of the dodo. You cannot stand in the way of progress for ever. A system where banks can effectively create as much money as they want and lend it to whoever they want is not sustainable. With Voin the money supply is limited to 3,203,357,613 coins. That is the maximum number of coins that can ever be created. (If you want to know why that number was chosen convert it to hex*). Voin is open source and transparent. In terms of securing your deposit, it is actually safer than fiat money.
PMF: Historically, currencies have been freely exchanged between social groups as much as possible. Voin is different. It insulates wealth within a very specific social sphere (that of veganism and vegan causes) and creates a sort of ethically-driven micro-economy. If Voin were very successful, how do you think it would affect the cause of veganism and its public perception? More importantly, how effective do you think it would be in furthering vegan aims?
Sextain: If Voin were successful it has the potential to totally transform veganism. It would create the investment capital to enable vegan businesses to compete with the meat industry so instead of 1% of the population being vegan it might be more like 30% or 60% or 80%. The real competitive advantage that companies like McDonalds and KFC have is their access to cheap credit, rather than that their food tastes so good. A vegan currency would change all that.
To have capitalism you need capital. To have vegan capitalism you need vegan capital. There are many vegans eager to start vegan businesses. They have passion and commitment. What they lack is capital. Currency is the biggest capital market in the world. Its bigger than the stock, bond and commodity markets all put together. Its massive. If even a tiny fraction of this was diverted into a vegan currency (or currencies) it would be create a source of investment capital that would enable an ethical micro-economy to take root and flourish. Money rules the world. Creating your own money is one way to be sure you have enough to make a difference.
A compassionate economy would create a compassionate society. Instead of rewarding people for their ability to work the system, as the current system does, people would be rewarded for their moral worth.
PMF: I have an early release of the client software, which is compiled for Windows only. Do you plan on releasing Voin-branded client and node applications for other platforms, and will the project be open source?
Sextain: Voin is currently only available on Windows and Linux. It needs Windows 7 or above. The project will be released on other platforms and it will also be open source. The only reason for the delay is that there are only so many hours in a day. It will be uploaded to github shortly. The main focus on my efforts from now on is going to be to document the code and instructions on how to build it as fully as possible. I want Voin to be the best documented cryptocurrency out there, so others can build on what I’ve done.
I also want it to be a template for others to create niche vegan currencies. You could have a rational vegan coin, a raw vegan coin, a fruitarian coin, a rawtill4 coin and so forth. If I have a complaint with bitcoin it is that it’s very difficult to understand how the code works. I shall go through as much of it as I have time for and explain how each procedure works. Ultimately I am hoping to attract some fellow vegans much cleverer and more knowledgeable than myself willing to work on the project and make it a reality. And if anyone wants to create an alternative vegan currency I am more than happy to help in any way I can.
PMF: I’ve restricted myself to one technical question for the sake of the reader. Voin is derived from bitcoin, and presumably shares the same SHA-256 hash algorithm implementation. Given the hardware arms race in the bitoin world and the enormously high mining difficulty of that network, there are hardcore professional miners out there with incredible hardware that’s no longer efficacious for mining bitcoin. Are you concerned that some non-vegan crypto-golddiggers might quickly dominate the network? Do you have a strategy for getting Voins into the hands of people who want them, and no one else?
Sextain: The main problem with controlling access to a cryptocurrency using the bitcoin protocol is that it allows multiple public addresses.
With bitcoin it’s possible to use a different public address for each transaction – and some people do so for additional privacy. However, it’s not really necessary as there is no way to connect the private key of the sender to the public address.
The reason bitcoin has multiple addresses is to prevent an outsider from finding a pattern of purchases from one address. Given that the main use of bitcoin currently is in the black market this is maybe useful. However for a vegan coin it’s hard to see why this would be important.
Once you remove multiple public addresses there are a number of ways to stop unauthorized access to the network. You could build up a database of undesirable addresses and block connections to the network from those addresses using a Bayesian filter similar to a spam filter. If necessary you could create a bot that spiders the web looking for rogue addresses. Another possibility might be to model Voin on a club where members introduce new members through making transactions with them. There are a number of possibilities. I doubt it would be a problem.
PMF: Finally, the Voin elevator pitch. You’re going down in an elevator with someone who you know is vegan. They seem nice. You got on at the 30th floor, and when the doors open at the bottom you probably won’t see them again. They’ve told you that they have a cursory grasp of cryptocurrency, and they’re generally interested in the idea. There are twenty-nine floors left now, time is ticking. How do you tell them what Voin is and why they should care before you reach the lobby?
Sextain: If you are using the dollar or any other fiat currency you are helping to finance animal exploitation and suffering. If you deposit money into a bank they don’t just put it into a safe. They lend out your money to anyone who can pay the interest on the loan and that includes slaughterhouses and factory farms, fur farms and vivisection labs. And because of the way the banking system work a multiple of your actual deposit is created to add to their capital reserves. Without this system of banking the industries that exploit animals wouldn’t exist.
If you don’t like the idea of your money being used to:
- Grind up baby chicks alive
- Boil chickens alive
- Tear new born calves from their mothers and put them into veal crates
- Keep pigs in cages so small they cannot move
- Skin animals alive in fur farms
- Torture animals to death in pointless scientific experiments
then you have to use a vegan currency, and at the moment Voin is the only choice. 50 billion animals are killed every year in conditions of unimaginable cruelty. Do you really want your money to contribute to bankrolling that slaughter? If not, use Voin and insist that others do the same. Demand that Voin be included as a payment option.
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