Interview Date : 23th March 2021
My name is John Vallis, and I am from Newfoundland, Canada. I’m here now, but I’ve spent the last decade living and working in China, and have most recently been living in Thailand. I started my career in Shanghai, working in finance and wealth management, however, I did not enjoy the perverse incentives that pervaded the industry, so I switched and did a 3-year degree in Natural Medicine, and worked in that capacity for a couple of years at a private clinic, also in Shanghai.
When did you come across Bitcoin?
I came across Bitcoin pretty early, maybe around 2012, but I didn’t pay attention to it until 2014. After that, I did my first interview in 2015 with Bobby Lee. I was just having fun talking to interesting people at the time, so it wasn’t a ‘dedicated bitcoin podcast’ like I’m doing now. I would just record these conversations, and slowly but surely, I fell deeper down the rabbit hole.
In 2019, I was living in Thailand taking a break from work and I started the podcast, Bitcoin Rapid-Fire.
What form of ownership does Bitcoin permit?
Bitcoin permits the most radical form of ownership over the most important asset you have; your money which is an emblem of your time. That’s why money is so important to us. Bitcoin permits you to not only take possession of or have anyone intermediate your relationship with that asset, but they also can’t surreptitiously steal it from you as they currently do through money printing and inflation.
That is a very powerful idea that you can be sovereign over your stored sacrifices. When people feel that degree of sovereignty over something so important, I think it has a dramatic transformative effect. Different people are influenced by it in different ways based on what their backgrounds are but feeling that degree of freedom, independence and responsibility is powerful and intoxicating.
What happens when you start to understand Bitcoin’s implications?
This does 2 things. One, when you realize the extent to which the monetary system has become corrupted and how Bitcoin fixes it, you start to distrust a lot of other things. You will look a little bit more critically at all the other things in your life whether it be healthcare, education, government, etc., thinking, “if I misunderstood the truth of the monetary system so much, maybe I should look a little bit more critically at other areas.” So, you become intoxicated on sovereignty and you want to establish it in as many other areas of your life if you can.
A very simplistic image of that process is how a lot of Bitcoiners dream of the citadels where they are energy independent, they have their food, and they’re as independent and sovereign as possible. I think people want that because they realize the value and the importance of freedom. So, once you start to go down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, you start to see just how much freedom has been withdrawn in the modern era. This is not just over the last 12 months with the virus, but certainly, that has made it all more obvious.
Isn’t taking one’s own responsibility scary?
100%. The reason why we don’t take responsibility is that it is scary. This is one of the reasons why we’re in the trouble we are in. I can be as critical as I want about the monetary system, but the fact is, it is still up to each individual to relinquish the responsibility. Many say “I don’t want to take care of my health, the state medicine will take care of me if I get sick” or “I don’t want to manage my money, I’ll trust the bank with that.” Because we don’t want to take responsibility, we extend trust to so many different places in our lives, and our trust is almost always broken in various ways and degrees. Unfortunately, we tend not to notice how it’s broken because it’s obfuscated through many levels of structure.
That is why, when people come into Bitcoin, taking custody of your Bitcoin and managing yourself is a big step. However, it does speak to how much importance you place on sovereignty, and how much you value freedom. The people that currently value it the most and see the problems of not having freedom, they’re going to be the ones to take the responsibility first. They’ll pave the way for the people that come after them. They’ll make the mistakes and fix some of the problems, so that it’s easier for the next group, in hopes that it becomes less scary over time. But it’s never going to be not scary at all because freedom is a responsibility.
What if you don’t want to take responsibility?
If you’re not willing to take that, then you won’t have freedom. It also means that you don’t want it. Not taking responsibility means that you want someone else to be in control of your life. People won’t like hearing it that way, and a lot of people wouldn’t agree with that characterization but I don’t think you can dispute that.
As far as I can see from an analysis of the history of money, people today are far less informed about what money is, and the characteristics that it should have. The problem today is that a lot of people accept the status quo. They think because things are the way they are, they should be that way. And that’s a dangerous perspective to have. It assumes that nothing is to be fixed or upgraded. It also assumes the level of freedom and independence that you have, is what you should have.
People won’t admit they don’t care about freedom but they think that this is what freedom looks like. They just assume that they live in a free society, and as a result, anything that happens in that society is characteristic of a free society. That’s the intoxicating influence of the status quo, and I disagree with that perspective entirely.
Can we challenge people’s perspective or their world view?
It’s not very helpful to challenge people on their perspective and their world view. That is what people use to navigate the world, and have some sense of comfort in a crazy chaotic uncertain world.
But that’s why I think Bitcoin is so interesting because it doesn’t immediately challenge the whole world view, but just one element– the money. And when people start to understand the importance and the implications of money and how it’s been corrupted, it just seems to open up and bleed into many other areas of their lives. That change becomes almost automatic. So, as angry and frustrated as I get by some of the things going on in the world today, I try to focus on contributing to Bitcoin because that’s the best place where we’ll see the most positive and dramatic change.
How is Bitcoin a part of our evolution?
Everything is an evolution. Even our bodies and cultures are in the process of evolution. Money and economics can also be included in that basket. If you want to understand why things are the way they are, understanding how they got there and the different things that happened to get there it’s very important. When I was a kid, some of the questions that kept popping into my mind were, “why are all the countries of the world the way they are?” “why is the US English speaking and the most powerful country” “why is China Chinese speaking and have their history?” These are the big questions of trying to understand how history unfolds. I think not having a perspective on history is a problem that most people suffer from today. It’s very difficult for you to see the reason why things are the way they are, and also very difficult for you to understand how things went wrong in the past.
Are there parallels between the things happening today and the past
Even though human history is relatively short with around 6000 years of civilization, there’s a parallel for almost anything that happens today. There are parallels for various forms of governance, revolutions, money, different outcomes of wars, and certain political ideologies. . And we humans are not that different. The landscape and the environment change, and we have gone from living in stone villas to wooden houses, but we don’t act and behave much differently. Humans are meaning-making machines, and we interact with our environment on that basis more so than the objective facts.
It’s important to understand history so that you can try to avoid making some of the same mistakes made in the past, and you can cut them off before they become catastrophic. That’s one of my concerns today; we’re not paying enough attention to how this type of thinking and approach to governance has led to bad outcomes in the past.
Is there some progress made through evolution?
Even though we keep repeating the same behaviors as human beings, I still think there’s an element of progress. I’m an eternal optimist and I can’t help but hope that the arc of history does bend toward positive change. If that’s the case, then we have to be aware of what worked and what didn’t in the past, and take those lessons and apply them to the current problems and the solutions that we construct. The most obvious and beneficial example of that in the world today is Bitcoin. I don’t see anything more novel and impactful for facilitating human progress.
How do you feel about new technology like AI, robotics, etc?
All this new technology is super interesting, but there are things deeper than robotics, the internet, apps, etc., that you need to have an appreciation for so that things don’t go sour. There’s more to being a human being than new technology.
There’s a lack of appreciation by most modern people today of the important questions regarding meaning that human beings have wrestled with for our entire history. Most people today just kind of think like “whatever,” whether it’s religion or philosophy and rather focus on advancing technology. But ultimately, all of those efforts have to be grounded in meaning and something that orients your values. I think people do themselves a disservice if they don’t cultivate that in themselves before they go forward and try to extract novelty from AI, for example.
Why did you quit the financial sector?
When I was a young kid, I was interested in many different subjects, but I also had a strong desire to be rich. I got into finance because I thought working with money was the easiest way to get there. However, I soon realized that the industry did not line up with most of my values or principles, and it also attracted the kind of people I didn’t enjoy being around. Also, I didn’t see much value in the work that I was doing, because you are just taking a percentage of other people’s hard work. Lastly, I had a lot of criticisms of the monetary system generally. So, it all was pretty soul-crushing.
When I came to understand what Bitcoin was, how it fixes a lot of problems in the monetary and economic system, and how connected the problems of the monetary system are to problems in the political, social, and individual domain, it was the exact opposite of all that. The more I came to understand that, the more I was compelled to be more involved. It was basically what I wanted from the start, but I just didn’t know it existed.
Fast forward to now, and I see the potential of this technology for positive change on a social, individual, economic, and monetary level, and I just can’t think of anything more meaningful to spend my time on.
How did you develop your sovereign and critical world-view?
I developed my worldview, perspective, and critical thinking because I’ve always been very curious. I was always reading and studying a lot when I was young and that’s what helped me form my opinion of the world. When Bitcoin came along and as I learned more about it, I started to realize that it could fix a lot of the problems that I was seeing in the world.
Certainly, there are some seminal works like The Bitcoin Standard, articles, and writers in the space that helped paint the picture, but as we all know the rabbit hole is incredibly deep and it just keeps going. So, I still feel like I have a universe of things to understand about Bitcoin. The more I go deep, the more it delivers and so the more my conviction increases that it can be such a force for good and fairness in the world. It ultimately comes down to Bitcoin’s attributes and features permitting a more fair system.
Why do we have suicide and depression epidemics expanding?
The suicide epidemic in working classes in many countries including Japan, and diseases of despair, substance abuse, frustration, anxiety, and stress, etc., all around the world are all rooted in the same thing.
I don’t think it’s wise to relieve the individual of the responsibility to find solutions to these things, but it’s clear to me that the structure of the system is a huge contributor to making people feel desperate. Among other things, it causes them to work harder for less over time, and that can be very defeating.
This monetary-financial system is structured such that very few people gain the rewards of the efforts of most other people. It’s a soul-destroying feeling to think that your effort is not being rewarded in the way that it should, not in like a selfish “I deserve to be paid $1 million a year,” but simply “I’m working hard, I’m trying to focus, I’ve educated myself…, but why is that still not enough?” That stress of life gets piled on and a lot of people get consumed by it because it’s too much to handle.
What is the most interesting thing about Bitcoin?
What’s most interesting to me about Bitcoin is the transformative effect that it has on the individual. Bitcoin is just a new tool like the internet, the camera, whatever, that permits us to behave in different ways. It permits new forms of behavior, and so what I’m interested in is what those forms of behavior are, and the impact and the potential those behaviors have on the individual.
What kind of people do you interview on Bitcoin Rapid-Fire?
I speak to people from famous writers and entrepreneurs to people on Twitter with 5 followers. I can tell you that once people come into this space and start to learn about it, they start to understand what it represents and their lives get turned around. That is not because they invested and have turned into millionaires, which certainly helps relieve some of the financial stress, but it changes people’s ideology, their world views, and perspectives. It also changes their approach to their health, families, and perhaps most importantly it changes our perspective on the future.
Why are a lot of people hopeless about their future?
A lot of people today are hopeless because they look out on the world, aware of it or not, they don’t see a clear vision of a better future. However, when you start to understand what Bitcoin represents and the implications it has for a fairer monetary and economic system, people will start to have a lot more hope for the future. And, it’s the hope for the future that brings alive your present.
If you’re not hopeful for the future, everything in your present world is meaningless. If you’re not trying to pull yourself to a hopeful future, none of the information that’s contained within your environment is of any value to you because you’re not striving for anything. But if you look out in the future and you see something hopeful, and you’re enthusiastic about bringing yourself to that future in the best possible way, then everything in your environment comes to life. Everything is a potential aid in helping you get to that future faster or in a better way.
Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada
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