Crypto-Current (033)

§3.3 — Grasped abstractly, the most powerful functional innovation of the Bitcoin protocol is the binding of currency issuance to the servicing of system integrity, which twists the process into a consistent circuit. It is this loop that enables the protocol to achieve autonomy, or – in a reflexive articulation – self-reliance. Because industrial incentives cover all regulatory requirements, self-reproduction is embedded within the process of bitcoin production. The protocol makes it impossible to produce bitcoins without automatically policing Bitcoin. Primary wealth extraction cannot take place without verifying transactions – through the validation of blocks – and thus tending the system as a whole, consistently and comprehensively (as if with an invisible hand). Stated succinctly, Bitcoin instantiates immanent economic government.

§3.31 — This auto-productive economic security circuit is evidence for the fundamental integrity of the Bitcoin blockchain. Currency and distributed public ledger are a single functional system, with neither making coherent operational sense without the other. This is a point made with exceptional cogency by Bitcoin commentator ‘Joe Coin’:

Given the crucial requirement to preserve decentralization, the problem Satoshi had to solve while designing Bitcoin was how to incentivize network participants to expend resources transmitting, validating, and storing transactions. The first step in solving that is the simple acknowledgement that it must provide them something of economic value in return. … The incentive had to be created and exist entirely within the network itself … any instance of a blockchain and its underlying tokens are inextricably bound together. The token provides the fuel for the blockchain to operate, and the blockchain provides consensus on who owns which tokens. No amount of engineering can separate them.*

§3.32 — The threshold crossed here is both subtle and immense. Retrospectively, it will have been almost nothing, since the techonomic circuitry it invokes was – now demonstrably – already the operational principle of modern civilization (capitalism). It is only through Bitcoin, however, that the essential techno-commercial integrity of capitalism is brought into crisp focus, and extracted from speculative debate. When the machine is theoretically apprehended, ‘holistically’, as a real individual – or, far more consequentially, implemented as such – neither its technical nor its economic ‘aspects’ can be diverted into transcendence, or contingency, as extraneous, mutually-independent factors. Incentives are inherent to the machinery.** In a sense more complex – and involving – than anything the harsh paradox of the term immediately communicates, Bitcoin is a purposive mechanism. The conclusive action of the Bitcoin system – block validation – which seals each cycle of its reproduction, is a non-decomposable teleo-mechanical step (a diagonal escalation, or transcendental synthesis). It is industrialism, the mechanizing market, distilled to a previously unrealizable quintessence.

§3.33 — ‘Capital’ means – simultaneously and indissolubly – technological assets (machine-stock) and comparatively illiquid money (investment). Between these twin aspects there is only formal (and not real) difference. Their real integrity is demonstrated by techonomic machinery. The economic analysis of capital is diverted through technology, since wealth cannot be grasped substantially except in its cycle through productive apparatus, but technological analysis is drawn, reciprocally, into economics by the integration of rewards into the machine. At the level of philosophical reflection, under the cognitive conditions inherited from its mainstream European traditions, such techonomic integrity is difficult to hold together. To fuse mechanical causes with behavioral incentives in a techno-strategic assembly is to meld registers that have been determined as mutually inconsistent since antiquity.

§3.34 — Techonomic apprehension runs into a direct collision with the commanding dualism of the modern mentality, by insisting upon a re-animation of the compact between efficient and finalistic action. According to the complacent tenets of the new (or ‘enlightened’) cultural settlement, based upon the drastic demotion of scholasticism and its displacement by a substitute theo-scientific division of labor,*** the bridge from mechanism (cause-effect) to teleology (means-end) had been definitively dismantled. Each was henceforth to be compartmentalized within a distinct, wholly independent dimension. Their sole residual relation was orthogonal (or demarcated). The realms of directed liberty, and of instructed mechanism, were to be perfectly isolated from each other, and mutually withdrawn beyond all possibility of reciprocal interference. In this arrangement was to be founded the modern peace, of no lesser consequence than that of Westphalia, and something close to a genuine social contract. Through it, an amoral techno-science was co-produced beside an agnostic politics. Two complementary templates for expertise arose, each pledged to silence in the house of the other. This compact has been at once the condition for the gestation of an autonomous industrial power, and – on exactly the same grounds – an obstacle to its cognitive digestion. With the surfacing of the concealed techonomic entity, it buckles, loses coherence, sheds explanatory credibility, and undergoes accelerating social desanctification. Modernity’s axial, though predominantly inexplicit, concept of the mechanical instrument – whose self-contradiction had been concealed as if within a collapsed dimension – escapes its bonds and re-emerges to break the basic categories of Occidental thought. That is where we are now.

§3.35 — The intellectual crisis stimulated with ever-increasing intensity by techonomic escalation (that is, by capitalism, or efficient critique), has fertilized a luxuriant foliage of ‘deconstruction’. Yet, the untenability of orthogonal conceptuality does not necessitate a subsidence into cognitive dilemma, or aporia. Even when the problem is restricted within the narrow bounds of its philosophical formalization, it opens a positive path – pursued since the inception of the process – into diagonal action, or individuation. It is surely implausible to decry as ‘unthinkable’ what has been demonstratively operationalized. Bitcoin attests to such a process with each cycle of block validation and Nakamoto Consensus. The process demands something structurally and functionally indistinguishable from transcendental philosophy, insofar as it is to be constituted – even very approximately – as a coherent object of thought. What it makes of this ‘philosophy’, however – as it pushes through upgrades into successively ultra-radicalized immanentizations – is rarely self-advertized as such. What it apparently offers, instead, is ‘technology’ – a term that is a near-exact synonym for ‘instrumental mechanism’, and one that undergoes comparable internal schism, across the same conceptual rift.

§3.36 — In any approach to the techonomic entity – plotted as if from outside – the notions of emergence (or individuation), diagonal process, teleo-mechanical causality, integral nonlinearity, and transcendental escalation begin to exhibit a general inter-substitutability. All of these things, among many others, are convertible by simple transforms into immanentization, or the real operation of critique. An efficient side-lining of pseudo-transcendence – achieved by way of a dynamic flattening – is the reliable signature of the trend. The solution to the DSP is a diagonalization.

* Source. The importance of this argument is almost impossible to over-estimate.

** A (2014/10/29) tweet by Balaji S. Srinivasan describes the diagonal succinctly: “Bitcoin allows algorithms to act on incentives.”

*** That which is settled by the formalization of techno-political compartmentalization is, of course, the great war of religion that inaugurates European – and thus global – modernity. In a way still stronger than that outlined by Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), self-propelling industrialization coincides with a break from the Catholic civilization of the West. The consolidation of an immanent techonomic principle (‘growth’ or positive cybernetic nonlinearity) presupposes a drastic contraction of the sphere of ecclesiastical cultural authority. Capitalism is that, by essence, which is not answerable to anything beyond itself. Its incremental actualization, therefore, presupposes social fractures, from which superordinate moral agency has receded. Among the major civilizations of the world, only Europe – under the impact of Reformation – realized this condition during the early modern period. A broken religion is a basic requirement of modernity, which Protestantism pioneered uniquely. (The work of David Landes explores this catalytic dissociation in detail.) Modern social institutions thus formalize and entrench a disconnection between what is and should be. Science is freed, in principle, to tell ugly truths. Engineers are freed to devise machines whose purposes the uncontaminated dynamic of capital accumulation alone dictates. Modernization calls for nothing other than this. The division of labor, or authority, between (traditional) religious doctrine and (modern) techno-scientific investigation is philosophically consolidated into the distinct spheres of practical and theoretical reasoning (to employ the Kantian vocabulary, as concretely instantiated in the topical differentiation between the first two Critiques). In very recent times, this enduring demarcation is faithfully reproduced – without notable modification – by Stephen J. Gould’s conception of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), which divide religion and science, values and facts, in the same way, and with the same crypto-political emphasis upon jurisdictions. Given the historical status of this argument, as a near-perfect restatement of the original critical settlement, laid down in the final decades of the 18th century, it is surely extraordinary that Kant is nowhere mentioned in Gould’s essay.

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