I was on the Soft Money segment of Coinbase’s recent Consensus: Distributed conference. It was hosted by Joon Ian Wong and Annaliese Milano and the question they posed was: ‘Does it matter what money is made of?’
I think it does and I argued that the aesthetic qualities of money are important in ways we don’t necessarily understand. The day after, Joon tweeted a link to a review of Yuk Hui’s On The Existence of Digital Objects. That got me thinking so I wrote this short piece.
If reason and matter — maths and physics — are all there really is, if these are ‘the truth’ from which everything has evolved, then the individuation of the digital object — its manifestation in time and space — is surely upon us, now.
And let’s be honest. When we talk about ‘the digital object’, we really mean cryptocurrency. And when we talk about cryptocurrency, we really mean bitcoin. All Hail, Bitcoin!
Bitcoin eats the materiality of the world. Currently, it consumes energy at the same rate as the entire population of Chile. The energy is used mainly for mining; an epic battle of logic and falsifiability on the one side and on the other, a mathematical puzzle so complex it borders the mystical. It is this process that anchors the abstract in the concrete and the rational in the material.
Planetary sacrifice feeds the magickal child. And the stronger it grows, the greater our subjugation to the immaculate logic of its conception.
Bitcoin is most definitely ‘a thing’.
The avowed intent of the Lords of Bitcoin is for it to become The God of Money; for Central Banks to kneel before it, and worship it as The Valuer of All Values. To be truly free, they claim, we must enslave ourselves to Bitcoin. We must trust in math.
And yet, whatever system of thought is encoded into Bitcoin — or, for that matter, whatever system of politics is encoded into Fiat currency — it remains merely the message in the medium of Money.
All the Gods we’ve ever made to Money — whether they be metal, paper or digital — are false idols.
Money has forever shaped us and our world. It has always been our second self; with us in every waking moment and in every experience of life, even in its absence, its presence is felt through our denial of it. The real crime of Economics has been to hide the truth of Money. It is neither neutral, nor a veil. It is an aspect of our very being.
It is an egregious mistake to believe that Money is reducible to its content. The revolution will not be televised.
Money is not a child of the rational. It is it’s parent. It made mathematics. We counted before we knew what numbers were. Money made metaphysics. Presocratic philosophy arose in the psycho-social fissure created by the first coins. Money nurtured proto science. The rapid monetization in the Middle Ages had a transformative effect on Universities.
Money bears senstate witness to all modes of knowing. It contains the entire universe. Everything; the hard, clear-as-day, quantifiable bits as well as the soft, fuzzy, qualitative bits; the contradictions and oppositions, as well as the harmonies and resolutions; our emotions and feelings, as well as our thoughts and deeds. Every coin ever minted bears testimony to money’s miraculous ability to resolve the irresolvable. Heads or tails? Money decides.
Money has always blessed us with Divine knowledge. It has always revealed to us that which it brings back from beyond the limits of epistemology. And it tells us these great secrets willingly. It wants us to know. It is our own failing that all we see is price. The materials of money are rich with meaning. The inner lives of Nation States are laid bare on every banknote. They display capitalism ‘in solemn earnest’, as Walter Benjamin once said. Gold and silver have spoken sensuously to us for millenia. We understood through them, the reverence that was due to the miracle of Money. This reverence is what was remembered by Bitcoin.
But it is not a perfection of the money form because it lacks a proper aesthetic. It lacks a body. Money’s ability to express itself is impaired by bitcoin’s digital nature. As with music, only after the leap to digital do we release what we miss in analogue. And understand that — somehow — the beauty of music is more manifest within those low-tech vinyl discs than in the servers of Spotify.
Money is not man-made. Currencies evolve — or are designed — to attempt to connect to a phenomena that is ineffable. To believe that any currency — the dollar, bitcoin, or gold sovereign — can perfectly capture the essence of Money is hubris; hubris was the anti-God for CS Lewis and the worst of sin of all for the Ancient Greeks. We risk the most severe of punishments.
To escape the wrath of the Ancient Ones and to avoid extinction as a species, we must expand rather than limit the way we experience Money. Bring on bitcoin’s physical manifestation. Let me burn it. Let me confront the logic of capital with the logic of sacrifice.
And please, for the sake of your own soul and my children’s future let’s stop pretending that the financial speculation driving the rise and rise of bitcoin, and demanding an ever greater share of the energy we produce, has anything to do with freedom, equality or any other noble aim. Those were the dreams some of us had back in 2009. But this is just business as usual.
It’s time to wake up.