Self Custody: The Future Of Defense

Imagine a hypothetical world where there is no established medium of exchange. In this imaginary world, people are simply bartering. However, someone approaches you and tells you, “Hey, you know tomorrow we all move to using gold as money, right? You should acquire as much as you can now before tomorrow comes.” Assuming you trust this individual, any rational person would want to run to a gold mine and purchase as much gold as they could reasonably afford. This part is easy; the trouble comes after. Imagine someone, with their horse and wagon, slowly treading down the road home with a mountain of gold shining in their cart. What happens? Bandits spring out of nowhere and rob the person blind. To avoid this, the healthy action to protect wealth is to purchase one gold coin, conceal it at home, create a safe place to store it, and then purchase more. Once one becomes more adept at keeping it safe, they can buy more. In other words, there is a direct relationship between how large their stack of gold can be and how capable they are at keeping their pile safe and secure.

Let us now consider the nature of power and resources in the context of human civilization. According to Major Jason Lowrey’s power projection theory, under the second law of thermodynamics, the universe organizes itself so that energy(power) is used to establish dominion over other energy(resources)1. For example, a cell membrane projects power as a barrier to contain molecular resources that allow cellular life. Power projection is used by a wolf, in either the form of pure aggression or the simple snarling and showing of a fang, to claim ownership of a recent kill when facing a potential thief. Not only does this help explain the development of molecular biology and behaviors of the animal kingdom, but the reader can undoubtedly understand how this truth applies to the context of human life. If I were to approach someone standing in front of a treasure chest, and they lifted their shirt to show me a pistol hidden in their waistband, I would surely think twice about trying to take the treasure. The risk of dying may outweigh the benefits of the treasure, depending on the bounty. This is the nature of power. Power is used to claim dominion over resources. It always has been and always will be.

At the same time, this is an unfortunate truth that most people find somewhat discomforting. Most of us would prefer a world where the ownership of resources is managed peacefully, without the need for violence. We would prefer disputes over property ownership rather than violent competition. Most prefer these disputes to be handled in a civilized manner. Notice how the term ‘civilized’ represents our attempt to organize society around the ability to manage our resources through a mechanism that does not require kinetic violence. Major Lowry calls this abstract power projection1. Over the ages, we have constructed language, stories, rule sets, institutions, and so on that aim to organize ourselves more peacefully. However, nature only understands physical power projection. Abstract power projection is only a projection of our minds. Therefore, physical power tends to play the most prominent role in resource allocation.

Consider the term ‘sovereignty’. Sovereignty is defined as “supreme power” and “freedom from external control.” Today, we typically use the word in the context of nations. A sovereign nation is a nation that is autonomous and free from the domination or control of another nation. That being said, a sovereign is also used to refer to a monarch. The king or queen of a fief was a sovereign because they were the one individual free within the political body. Everyone else below the sovereign was a subject. Consider this scenario’s power and wealth dynamics: those with adequate might tend to concentrate the wealth. Wealth and power go hand in hand. In other words, power tends to be either physical or abstract in the form of money. One is nature’s form of power, and one is the product of human civilization. Nonetheless, both are influenced by one another and are two sides of the same coin. Those who maintain physical dominance over others accumulate most of the wealth. At the same time, those who can hold onto tremendous amounts of wealth wield significant power.

Bitcoin is commonly viewed as a tool that can grant sovereignty to an individual. This is typically articulated because it is a financial vehicle that can be self-custodied. No longer does one have to give all their wealth to a bank; you, the key holder, own the asset yourself. However, this barely scratches the surface of the degree to which Bitcoin grants sovereignty. As Jason Lowry outlines in his thesis, Bitcoin is a revolutionary technology that allows humans to manage and allocate resources through physical power projection rather than relying upon abstract power projection as our peaceful yet frail alternative1. Mining bitcoin and owning bitcoin, in this sense, is real power. The same kind of power sovereigns used to physically control their resources.

Great power comes with great responsibility. Returning to the analogy at the beginning of this article, when someone becomes solely responsible for defending their resources, “How much?” is not the question, but “How do I defend it?” is. Like a sovereign, moats, walls, guards, etc, were all employed to defend their wealth and power. When military offensive technology improves, the defenses need to follow suit. Fortress walls worked great until the invention of the canon. The existence and perseverance of a sovereign, whether a kingdom, nation, or individual, relies upon their ability to constantly monitor, refine, and improve their capability to protect their resources. This responsibility and diligence falls upon everyone in this new era where Bitcoin grants individual sovereignty.

This new form of defense does not involve walls or moats. Though some degree of self-defense is engaged, it largely highlights the importance of technological sophistication that allows someone to be at the forefront of self-custody practices. Self-custody is not something that can be set up once and become something that is out of sight and out of mind. A few years ago, cold storage involving a wired connection was typically considered state-of-the-art. Then, companies started inventing signing devices that were air-gabbed entirely. Now, even these types of devices are shown to be problematic, as storing a seed phrase on the device itself opens it up to various attack vectors. This means that stateless signing devices and scannable metal QR codes are starting to take the lead. In the future, the state of the art will change. Security of resources is an ever-evolving physical process that each must take to become and stay sovereign.

We truly live in an incredible time. Hundreds of years ago, the planet was full of a select few sovereigns who reigned over giant areas of land and people. Due to technological advancement, individuals can project physical power and take custody of their resources. It signifies a changing world that will bring freedom, prosperity, responsibility, and diligence. We must once again become the protectors of our own estates.

My work often returns to philosophical questions regarding the mind. In this case, while discussing physical defense, bushido(武士道) comes to mind. Bushido roughly translates to ‘the way of the warrior,’ and many claim it encapsulates Japanese cultural beliefs2. The eight virtues of the samurai code are justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty, and self-control3. These virtues are crucial not only for the samurai to conduct himself properly in society but also because refinement of the mind is vital for a warrior’s survival and his ability to defend what is important to him. These virtues were crucial for a samurai and became essential as we slowly entered an age of unprecedented sovereignty and responsibility on the part of many more individuals. As we enter the future, we best not forget the wisdom and teachings of the past. 


Lowry J. Softwar: A Novel Theory on Power Projection and the National Strategic Significance of Bitcoin: Lowery, Jason Paul: 9798371524188: Amazon.Com: Books. Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2023.Benesch O. Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan. 2011.Nitobe I. Bushido. Shambhala Publications; 2005.

This is a guest post by Sydney Bright. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.