At first sight, a digital currency and an artificial language might not have much in common, but they do.
I have been involved in two idealistic, worldwide movements: Bitcoin and Esperanto. I don’t need to explain Bitcoin here, but maybe not everyone knows what Esperanto is. It is an artificial language that was created by the Jewish ophthalmologist Ludwig Lazar Zamenhof as a tool for international communication. He first introduced it in 1887 in the then Russian-occupied city of Warsaw as La Lingvo Internacia under the pseudonym Dr Esperanto (“The Hopeful”), which remained the name of the language.
Esperanto combines existing words, mostly from Romanic languages, many of which are familiar to anyone who speaks French, Italian or Spanish. It has a very simple grammar without any exceptions, so it is really easy to learn. I learned Esperanto when I was 19 from a self learn course and travelled around Europe with a kind of couchsurfing service for Esperanto speakers. I became fluent in Esperanto in just a few weeks.
After my trip I moved to Berlin and founded an Esperanto rock band called La Mondanoj (“The World Citizens”). We played many gigs at Esperanto festivals in Hungary, Poland, France and Germany, but also in regular music clubs in Berlin and Hamburg where most people did not speak the language. Last year may bandmates and I revived that band, we have published a single and are recording more songs.
So, what is the connection between Esperanto and Bitcoin? Both have been created to make the world a better place. They both know no borders and are made to empower people. Ludwig Zamenhof called the philosophy behind Esperanto Homaranismo, which means: all human beings belong together. The things we have in common are much more important than the ones that separate us – such as languages or national frontiers. This world view is shared by many Bitcoiners.
A topic that is very common at Bitcoin conferences is how Bitcoin can help the billions of people in developing countries who don’t have a bank account and have no access to financial services. The notion that Bitcoin can fix the flaws of the current financial system is omnipresent among Bitcoiners, much more than the desire to make money quickly, as one might expect from mainstream media coverage of Bitcoin.
The Esperanto movement had its own common currency called the Spesmilo with a similar purpose as Bitcoin. However, when it was introduced in 1907, there was no Internet and no cryptography to make it work, so it never assumed its designed role as a world currency. So far, Bitcoin has been much more successful in its mission than Esperanto, although it is only 15 years old. Esperanto became quite popular in the 1920s, but was then repressed both by the Nazis and the Stalinists. Many Esperanto speakers died in concentration camps or GULAGS.
After the second world war, with the rise of the USA and its culture of Hollywood movies and Rock’n’Roll, English became the undisputed world language, something that did not exist in Zamenhof’s days. I like English, and I think it’s better to have a bad common language than no common language at all. Actually the real world language is not English – but bad, simple English.
Have you observed, that whenever a native speaker enters an international circle, the communication that was easy before gets more difficult? That’s why native speakers tend to speak fast and use lots of words and expressions that are not familiar to anyone. This doesn’t happen with Esperanto as it has no (or very few) native speakers and it’s a neutral language that everyone has to learn consciously.
There is an interesting overlap between Libertarians and Esperanto. I was surprised to meet an Esperanto speaker at a Libertarian meetup in Berlin. I knew that many Bitcoiners are die-hard Libertarians, but I only learned from him that some Libertarians are promoting Esperanto as a means of communication and resistance against US dominated statism.
The cryptocoin Monero, which emphasises privacy even more than Bitcoin, promotes Esperanto, starting with its name, which is the Esperanto word for coin. Esperanto uses suffixes to build new words. Mono is money, the suffix -er means a part or smaller unit of something. Accordingly, the leading mobile wallet for Monero is called Monerujo, as the suffix -stands for something that contains things.
It is not a coincidence that I became active in the Esperanto movement earlier and in the Bitcoin movement now. They both seem to attract the same kind of globally minded freedom lovers. Will they reach their goals? With Bitcoin I am quite sure, although Bitcoin itself might become more of a reserve asset like gold than the electronic cash Satoshi had in mind, backing less volatile stablecoins for day-to-day payments.
I’m more sceptical about Esperanto because English is so dominant today – but that can change. The dominance of the USA as a world power will not last forever. Wouldn’t it be great to have a common world language that is equally easy for everyone to learn and that doesn’t give an advantage to those who grew up with it as children? Just like a common world currency that is the same for everyone, regardless of whether you were born in the USA or in Zimbabwe?
By Aaron Koenig