I was going to write about the Upanishads because I haven’t focused much on Indian culture, and they had a huge influence on Silk Road trading, goods, art, and ideas. But when I looked up Upanishads, I read that they were an ontological….and Schopenhauer Vedic brahman interconnected universe … and my eyes rolled back in my head.
So in lieu of discussing very important but abstract Indian spiritual philosophical concepts, let’s talk about pirates instead.
Technically, Ulbricht is Silk-Road-related. Not that 12th century Silk Road, though. This is the dark web Silk Road.
Ross Ulbricht is a software developer (trained as a physicist and engineer) who chose to apply his talents to creating a dark web website called Silk Road. He styled himself as Dread Pirate Roberts and built out a marketplace where anything could be for sale without being traceable.
Naturally, it quickly became a site known for narcotics trafficking, where you could buy any and every kind of heroine, cocaine, meth, and opiod imaginable. There was likely an index and a robust search function. Alexa, where can I get some undetectable bricks of the Horse with No Name? The site doled out advice to buyers and sellers as to how to avoid detection, like vacuum sealing bags to avoid dog sniffers or using P.O. Boxes.
Ulbricht was highly influenced by a book called Alongside Night which was inducted into the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Hall of Fame. I didn’t know there was or could be something like the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Hall of Fame, but since Libertarians posit that anybody should be able to do whatever they want, it’s not surprising that they’d create their own hall of fame.
The FBI tracked movements on the site for years, developing a case that in 2014 prosecuted Ulbricht for drug trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, and murder for hire. His mother says those last charges were never proven. But as for the others, the jury took a day to convict him on all counts, and the judge sentenced him to more time than the prosecutors asked for, a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Someone might have told him that the Silk Road wasn’t actually a free-for-all. In fact, when certain groups came along, like the Mongol empire, they kept it free of pirates. Merchants faced fewer dangers under the Pax Mongolica because of the harsh consequences faced for transgressions, not because the Silk Road was an anything-goes kinda place.
Non-violent Drug Offenses… Is that What We’re Calling It Now?
Meanwhile Ulbricht, his mother, and the libertarian community have been playing the aggrieved violin sonata in the eight years since his conviction. He appealed the ruling by arguing that the judge was too harsh. He wasn’t represented adequately by the defense. These were “non-violent” drug offenses. It’s rather appalling to see a wealthy white over-educated dudebro try to plug into the bandwagon that’s attempting to overturn discriminatory sentences handed down for a few ounces of marijuana.
Still, Ulbricht has had several profiles done on him by national magazines and news outlets. At one point, the Coen brothers were thinking about a movie script. He has a Twitter account and posts at will, posing often for pictures with the other nonviolent drug offenders.
A Twitter account. In prison. The Mafia has become the victim. Ulbricht created a website with the express goal of hiding it from law enforcement because that’s what heroes do, don’t they? There are multiple GoFundMe accounts raking in the money to help this poor fellow, whose conditions are apparently dire, with poor sanitary facilities, according to his chronicles. Again, I note that he has a Twitter account.
BitCoin Bites You in the End
The best part of the story comes last. Another techie, James Zhong, stole $3.6 billion of digital currency from the Silk Road. The Justice Department finally caught up with 2022 and managed to recover a big chunk of assets from the website paid in Bitcoin. They began slowly converting the synthetic funds into real funds and negotiated an agreement with Ulbricht for this seizure to pay the $183 million fine which accompanied his sentence.
Here’s what’s awesome about this finale:
- Ulbricht got ripped off by someone smarter than him.
- In theory, he couldn’t do anything about it without the help of law enforcement.
- The amount stolen was worth a lot more by the time DOJ caught up with Zhong, so the feds made money on the deal.
Yeah, they’re from the government, and they’re here to help you! all this means that we the taxpayer ended up with the funds from all the libertarian drug traffickers, who continue to whine about the unfair treatment.
Smells like cinnamon and black pepper to me!