I'm looking at an online listing for a gram of pure, uncut, black tar heroin. It's going for roughly $200, including shipping. The seller, who goes by the name "purest," has a very high rating and, in the item's description, reiterates: the advantage of their products is that they are uncut, unlike that cheap stuff you buy on the street (ick!).
No sir, theirs is a quality product. This point is proven by the pages of positive feedback ratings, all of them 5-stars except for a 1-star rating who only mentions "terrible service" as his complaint. Someone wasn't satisfied with the delivery of their uncut black-tar heroin.
Such is business in Silk Road, an anonymous online market where you can buy anything from LSD to a custom-made Australian electricity bill (in case you ever need to, you know, fake proof of residency in Australia). There are even listings for trained assassins (which goes against Silk Road's policy, but still).
Scared you'll get ripped off? There's an escrow to ensure the seller only gets the money after you get the stuff. That money is Bitcoin, a digital currency that's been all the rage lately, due to its recent surge in value. And sure, Bitcoin's recently reported $1 billion in value (more than certain countries!) is proving to be a growing blip in the radar of macroeconomics, but Silk Road is the real rockstar here.
Made in 2011, Silk Road shook some heads when it was first brought to the mainstream. Two U.S. senators made half-hearted attempts at shutting it down, but it only brought the online black market more success by giving it more coverage and increasing the value of Bitcoin.
Today, Silk Road reportedly boasts around $22 million in annual sales. That might be a tiny fraction of Bitcoin's value, but Silk Road is definitely worth more in its appeal for independent consumers.
And although that appeal is contrasted by Silk Road's recent bumps with the law, such as its first drug-related conviction two months ago in Australia (should've bought that fake electricity bill, mate!), the website has experienced mostly smooth sailings since. In fact, some of the media coverage (once again) helped shoot up Bitcoin's value. If you owned Bitcoins before the big surge, you can partially thank Australian authorities for your gains.
In the U.S., you can thank the authorities for Silk Road itself. See, Silk Road is only accessible through Tor, a heavily encrypted client software that allows the user to browse the dark little corner of the internet in which Silk Road is located. Tor was created by a U.S. Navy research team to avoid interception of communications in the early 2000s, but it became a non-profit group a few years later. The U.S. government and other international interest groups still amount to much of Tor's funding.
That same government — and many others — remains virtually incapable of systematically enforcing the law upon sites like Silk Road. Runa Sandvik, a Tor developer in London, calls it "privacy by design," assuring that there's little authorities can do to trace various Tor activities.
In the words of net neutrality's number one darling, Julian Assange, "It is easier to encrypt information than it is to decrypt it."
And that's the true appeal of Bitcoins and Silk Road: "Hey there, average millennial with some extra cash who gets high and is disdainful of the government, would you like the freedom to browse different types of drugs and practice some good ol' unregulated capitalism, the internet way?"
Naturally, I bought some Bitcoins … for the capitalism part. I swear.
But why do you think people in Cyprus bought Bitcoins? Certainly not to get high, or engage in some shady activity. They just don't trust their government. Imagine, having more trust in a digital, economic Wild West, where markets can get hacked and bring value down overnight, than in your own government.
Anyone with a libertarian streak and some extra cash should experiment with Bitcoin, if at least to shine a beacon of financial independence in the global economy. While you're at it, take a trip to Silk Road. Perhaps in the landscape of opiates, jewelry and pirated goods (there used to be guns), you'll find something that emphasizes your middle finger to authority with proper flair.
Me? I'm thinking about this listing for a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Mad Men is back on. Maybe you'll opt for the black tar heroin? After all, it's pure and uncut, the way true freedom should be.