Crypto-Current (042)

§4.3 — To propose that the political controversy associated with Bitcoin can be expected to escalate in approximate proportion to the crypto-currency’s success, as quantified by its total market value, is unlikely to provoke feverish dispute. Yet such distribution concerns are comparatively trivial – at least at the level of political principle – when set alongside the questions of sovereignty that crypto-currency raise. Bitcoin is a limit strategy of depoliticization, which – at the cliff-edge of historical irony – announces an ultimate political contest. No stroke can be more intensely politicized than one threatening to sweep away a whole field of political decision-making. As a purely ideological challenge, therefore, Bitcoin organizes a terrain of political antagonism in advance, provoking (in reaction) a defense of politics of unprecedented conceptual purity. Crypto-currency self-regulation elevates the menace that has long-spooked left-articulated[1] political interests under the guise of the autonomization of capital to an almost parodic height. It ceases entirely to be answerable. Dialectic loses all purchase. This is widely grasped, even though the thing itself cannot be. Bitcoin is a game-changer.

§4.31 — It can easily become confusing to talk about games. An allusion to non-seriousness need not be a great problem – what, after all, is seriousness? More obfuscating is the invocation of rules. Insofar as a ‘game’ is thought to be essentially rule-bound, the train of associations is guided in a direction that is radically misleading. Games are defined by rules, but they are determined far more informatively, by the absence of rules than by their presence. The game occurs in the unruled area – and insofar as further subtraction of rules can be achieved, the game is thereby intensified. Rules set the boundaries of a game, but the strategies that compose the actual (or executed) game’s positive characteristics substitute for a rule. They are synthetic. There is a difference, therefore, between transcendent and immanent principles, or – more strictly – between rules of transcendent and immanent genesis. The former, determined in advance of ‘play’, set fixed parameters, or ideal competences, comparable to axioms and exposed in advance to analysis. The latter emerge – synthetically – from the performance of the game, as demonstrations, or discoveries. A game is always improved, qua game, when its set of transcendent principles is reduced, through conversion into immanent principles (or emergent outcomes). While there is a Bitcoin protocol, Bitcoin is not reducible to it. Bitcoin is rather the outcome of being ‘played’, in conformity with those rules that the protocol – firmly but non-comprehensively – establishes.

§4.32 — When games turn back upon their own rules, absorbing them into strategies as variable outcomes (of performances), they pass into politics, on their way to war.[2] It follows that politics makes itself difficult to talk about, since the analytical frame necessarily becomes a disputed frontier. If the games that matter were comprehensively structured by uncontested explicit rules, they would not be happening at all. There would be no field of contestation, and thus no contest. Loyalty to the game, as such, has become the axis of potential defection. Strategies marked as ‘cheating’ within a commercial context are elaborated, and acquire a very different self-representation, as resistance. To thus identify game-theoretic defection with social solidarity – or collective refusal – demands a thorough re-organization of meaning, and eventually nothing less than a cultural revolution.

§4.33 — A very brief digression into the articulation of politics – which is also the politics of articulacy – imposes itself at this point, beginning with the ‘structural linguistics’ of Ferdinand de Saussure,[3] a theoretical framework which attained a voguish authority over the politicization of commanding cultural institutions during the second half of the 20th century. In the non-STEM fields of the western academy, in particular, the influence of these ideas is difficult to exaggerate. A ‘structure’ in this specific theoretical sense is a system of differences – or significant discriminations – which distributes meaning within a hierarchy of contrasts. Its semantic atoms are produced through relations of reciprocal determination, most commonly represented by ‘binary oppositions’. Within an opposition of ‘A’ and ‘B’, ‘A’ is ‘not-B’ and ‘B’ is ‘not-A’ – and this exhausts their production of meaning, when extended across the concatenated differentiations of the linguistic totality. Saussure insists there are no positive terms. Signs acquire significance only through their distinctions, as these are applied to an intrinsically amorphous world, sub-dividing it into ‘signifieds’ – reciprocally demarcated plots or allotments of meaning.[4]

§4.34 — If we ask – in the degraded ideological mode (alert only to power-oriented, motivated reasoning) – why this type of linguistic theory rose to such an extraordinary position of cultural dominion, suspicion properly falls upon one particular assertive presumption: the arbitrary nature of the sign.[5] As the mantra of choice for a radically-generalized anti-naturalism, this doctrine lays down a welcome mat to politicization, and has thus contributed immensely to the self-consciously Gramscian reconstruction of the western academic humanities and social sciences during the mid- to late-20th century. What was being said about signs in this context and what was being done with them evidently interconnected, but only indirectly. The highly-formalized – and thus conveniently replicable – ideological signaling system that had been put in place by this cultural revolution established the rules of a new game, or rather, submerged those of the old one. The new dispensation was not to be predicated upon the formulation of protocols, but upon the management of faction. Friend-foe identification procedures rapidly attained uncontested authority, invigorated by blind convergence upon the essence of the political (as found in orchestrated in-group / out-group antagonism).[6] The practical economy was impressive, and in fact irresistible. To obstruct the process of identification was to identify oneself (as hostile), and thus to auto-eliminate the obstruction. In the name of an overturning of ‘privilege’ the new order of institutional-cultural meaning had privileged absolute, unchecked (or ‘arbitrary’) political discretion in the last instance, and through retro-projection. There had never (any longer) been anything but politics. The political collectivity alone decides, overcoming its alienation or false-consciousness in the dissolution of objective nature and complementary recognition of its own (naturally and traditionally) untrammeled power of reality-production. This commitment defines the Left, in its critically-coherent manifestation. It describes a generalized absorption into politics that the Gramscian (or Left-hegemonic) academy self-consciously facilitates, under the banner of the arbitrary or illimitably contestable sign. Across large swathes of the contemporary academy, such thinking has manifestly triumphed. Academic authority, and even the strictest kinds of academic credentialization, has been increasingly digested by it. Everything that organized intellectual activity touches upon is to be democratically challenged and policed, under the direction of the dominant – mass – faction, though (of course) through its institutional representatives. All values are resolved into ethico-political obligations, and thus submitted to inflamed moral struggle (recognizably post-theistic Protestant in type). The institutional consequences have been starkly evident. Polemic inflates along an axis of raw signal-amplification – which is finally shouting. When Bitcoin secures itself against voice, this is what it effectively succeeds at ignoring.[7] No shouting can conceivably be loud enough to perturb it. Like the crew of Odysseus, bypassing the Sirens, its ears are sealed. A certain strategic desensitization approaches its limit.

§4.35 — An overtly differential – and volatile – polarization of meaning follows upon the politicization of signs, when they are taken up as markers of organized antagonism, functioning as rallying points and signs of aversion, comparable to heraldic devices on a medieval battlefield.[8] The partisan adoption of linguistic signs, as ‘flags’, destabilizes them in peculiar ways. Structural determination is systematically aligned with faction, and subsequently warps in accordance with political vicissitudes. Ideological terms are driven into unusual migrations of meaning, through rapid twists, turns, and complicated zig-zags, which model – non-coincidentally – a dialectical process of development, in which everything becomes its opposite, on the way to absorption into totality. The word ‘liberal’ (and its associates) – for important reasons – provides the most remarkable case, pressed into crazed meanderings across nearly the entire field of political significance, even as this domain asserts itself as all-encompassing. ‘Liberal’ and ‘anti-liberal’ are terms that have evolved – or degenerated – to such a point that they have become near-perfect synonyms, serving only as indications of evanescent factional identification. The meaning of ‘federalism’ has undergone a comparable process of structural devastation. It is natural then, to expect the signs of pure political polarization to manifest an extreme degree of semantic instability, and this is precisely what we find with the words ‘right’ and ‘left’ (in their political usage).[9] Unsurprisingly, these words are regularly denounced – from all sides – as mere triggers for conflictual group dynamics, and as an invitation to intellectual chaos. The semiotic in-group / out-group rituals of micro-sociology have a far firmer grip on such terminology than that enjoyed by political philosophy. As is typical of political language, these words have become signals of group belonging, while only very secondarily preserving the capability to designate any definite grounds for the social or cultural categorization in question. Flagged allegiance (‘us’ or ‘not us’) swamps – and drowns – all positive meaning. Insofar as the intrinsic interests of philosophy are concerned, therefore, it is impossible to over-emphatically denounce the cognitive destructiveness of partisan identification. This is the basis for the admirable maxim adopted by the rationalist website LessWrong: “Politics is the mind-killer.”[10] It is also why the very idea of intrinsic philosophical interest has to be systematically derided from the side of politics (typically, as the mask for a hidden or crypto-politics).

§4.36 — If every discussion of money is vulnerable to corruption by politics, politics itself is pure corruption, at least from the classical liberal perspective that is re-animated in crypto-libertarianism (even if there are far more complimentary ways of expressing this point). Politics is the place where language goes to die, sacrificed – by necessity – to ulterior motivation.[11] The evidence of linguistic history could not be more unambiguous in this regard. Whatever is seized with partisan enthusiasm becomes – almost immediately – philosophically unusable. It is proposed here, therefore, that thinking the political spectrum through Bitcoin, is an approach with inherently superior prospects to the extant – and almost certainly doomed – alternative of attempting to conceptualize Bitcoin politics through a system of ideological articulations which has already been broken. Such an undertaking can only be impure, which is to say (at least) double. It cannot avoid assuming terms of contention, even while pursuing that which eludes them. There is a game within, and also over – or about – the rules. No simple denunciation ‘from without’ can suffice. Though pontification from a place beyond faction is a tantalizing ideal, it is also a transcendent pretense. We are lost in the world of games. There are no referees. Nothing could be more laughable than the claim to represent the voice of neutrality (only the blockchain – or emergent consensus – can do that).

§4.37 — If there is to be a double game, it has to engage those most inclined to defect in advance – or at least enough of them to sustain credibility as a site of unrigged competition. Bitcoin’s primary lines of absorption, then, are both predictable and comparatively easy to detect. It was along these paths of assimilation that it drew a supportive constituency into the germinal crypto-currency – as designers, miners, speculators, users and promoters – on the basis of pre-existing dispositions. In this regard, Bitcoin politics has been flavored by a number of supportive ideological themes, among which decentralization and deflation are by far the most emphatic. Both of these themes cater initially to the arch-liberal right, represented by classical liberalism, libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, and affiliated to the right-wing antipolitics of economic autonomization, deregulation, disintermediation, distributed production of security, and – at the limit – algorithmic governance (or local political extinction). The decentered commercium, intrinsically secured against political intervention, is the incarnated ideal of arch-liberal order, and Bitcoin has been seized upon, in very substantial part, due to its conspicuous affinity with this social model. It has been adopted as a path to the realization of apolitical distributed governance, in compliance with the techonomic partial-teleology of a sovereign spontaneous order (oriented inherently to the programmatic dehumanization of power[12]).

§4.371 Decentralization is a highly-contested ideological term. Its alignment with ‘the right’ is pronounced, but nevertheless controversial. The existence of ‘left libertarian’ factions and affinities is the most obvious indication of its complexity.[13] It requires diagonal (critical) apprehension. As Bitcoin demonstrates, it passes between the global and the local, the integral and the disintegrative, at an oblique. A multiplicity (considered as a substantive) draws the same line, which every flat network is pulled onto. To promote decentralization is to multiply, cohesively, without tolerating the arising of super-ordinate nodes of unification with quasi-transcendent functions.

§4.372 Deflationism, as overt valorization of capital, is less ideologically ambiguous than decentralization. It directly aligns with property, and against politics, by seeking to exempt monetary signs from the domain of discretion. In order to defend money against fiat, its supply is either subjected to systematic constriction in accordance with counter-inflationary policy or, more radically (as with Bitcoin), deleted entirely from the list of policy-sensitive economic variables. Money is thus strengthened in its function of unilateral social command, as a super-political criterion, or economic reality signal cleansed of all interference. It becomes essentially policy-insensitive, against the predominant grain of 20th century political economy. Any crypto-currency with intrinsic deflationary bias is a right-wing revolt against macroeconomics. It takes itself out of political and administrative service, which is to say, in a philosophical register, that it secures its transcendental function relative to the social process.[14] At the level of its real abstraction, property places itself beyond question, through the closure of negotiable issuance. Naturally, precious metals anticipated this socio-political function exactly. Bitcoin’s actual deflationary bias is a strict consequence of its metallist model, which was (of course) selected for precisely this purpose.[15] The great enemy, then, against which Bitcoin explicitly defines itself, is the principle of discretionary money-production, or monetary socio-political dependency. It thus corresponds to an absolute re-commercialization, without possibility of compromise. (Mere possibility, in this context, would already be compromise.) No one is under any illusions about this fundamental orientation. Unsurprisingly, the objections of ‘gold bugs’ to the Bitcoin protocol tend to be technical, tactical, and transient. Their favored asset now has a digital or (superficially) ‘non-physical’ competitor, which flatters by emulation.

§4.3721 — It is no coincidence that ‘Neoliberalism’[16] – the (defeated) counter-revolution against the Keynesian politicized economy – broke into the public sphere with a disinflationary macroeconomic platform. Comparatively ‘hard’ (non-inflationary) money was advanced as a direct object of policy, under the label of ‘monetarism’. While still representing a massive concession to the principle of macroeconomic management, the limited monetarist proposal to subtract discretion from national currency administration was a sufficient departure from the post-war academic-bureaucratic consensus to remain tainted by intellectual scandal. Monetarism threatened the principle of monetary politicization, by removing the inflationary option from the macroeconomic tool-kit, and re-installing monetary integrity as a meta-political axiom. Since what was thus envisaged was a permanent self-binding of political authority by itself, in respect to monetary management, the political incoherence of the project are easily seen. An enduring political hegemony aligned with the monetarist analysis was implicitly presupposed as a condition of monetary stability, grounding money supply – and therefore value – in regime security. The foundations of monetary integrity remained entirely politically conditioned. Clearly, the crisis of economic liberalism – resulting from its formal subsumption into democratic mass politics – had not been significantly reconfigured. Monetary value was still held hostage to a popular vote. Even a gold-standard is grounded in the preservation of political commitment. It rests upon politically-revocable decision. By any reasonable definition of neoliberalism, therefore, Bitcoin is something else (as BitGold already was).  

§4.38 — The apprehension of Bitcoin politics as a re-animation of hard-libertarianism is an attractive simplification, reinforced by a great deal of supporting evidence. It remains a simplification, nonetheless. The Bitcoin event – in its full historical expression – overspills all guiding purposes. In this regard, it is closely analogous to the Internet, or indeed – following the nested sequence further out, and in reverse – to the conflicted installation-processes of electronics, electrification, and ultimately self-propelling industrialization as such. Even if (as seems eminently plausible, in each case) the machinery has a radical capitalistic affinity,[17] its development is not susceptible to detailed ideological direction.

[1] From a certain perspective – which is not itself isolable as a ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’ theoretical orientation – there is no right-wing politics. The political, by its own dialectical logic (of organized controversy and reconciliation), can only reach conclusion on the left. Insofar as social process conforms to a structure of argumentation, its sinister destination is assured originarily, as the Left Hegelians were the first to distinctively, if only implicitly – and not (of course) at all uncontroversially – comprehend. For the right, agreement to pursue the social argument is already to lose it. The position of the right, most definitively in the case of established property distributions, is that there is nothing to discuss. The absence of any opening for discussion is what property rights ultimately mean. Whatever is unable to escape argument remains unsettled, framed by an implicit re-distribution which merely awaits actualization upon the collective horizon that is defined by the final scope of controversy or – restated exactly – the political totality. Under such conditions, which are conceived by the left as universal, private property is only ever held on trust, as a contingency of revisable political arrangements (or a debatable social allocation). Controversy – even ideological controversy – falls short of the difference referenced by autonomy. From the side of privacy, there cannot be any encompassing negotiation or ‘dialectical relation’ – between the public and the private. Privacy, private interest, cannot be protected – or even rigorously articulated – within a sovereign public forum. As soon as it makes a case for itself through political argument, or ideological commitment, which could only ever be ambiguous, it submits to the final authority of the conversation, and thus to the collective. Its sole defense lies in exemption from politically-significant social discussion, an avoidance that is not (merely) anti-dialectical, but positively exo-dialectical, requiring something other than opposition. Non-dialectics is not a higher level of argument, but an escape from the oppositional relation (into Outsideness). This exit from the political sphere is concretely instantiated by hard crypto-security. Bitcoin epitomizes such a meta-strategy. (Hence the extremity of its political-economic provocation.)

[2] Whatever the positive semantic associations accumulated by the word ‘war’, its most rigorous meaning is negative. War is conflict without significant constraint. As a game, it corresponds to the condition of unbounded defection, or trustlessness without limit. This is the Hobbesian understanding implicit in the phrase “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes), in which “the state of nature” is conceived – again negatively – through a notional subtraction of limitation. Treachery, in its game-theoretic sense, is not a minor theme within war, but a horizon to which war tends – the annihilation of all agreement. Reciprocally-excited mutual betrayal in departure from an implicit ‘common humanity’ is its teleological essence. It is worth emphasizing this point, in the interest of conceptual integration. The game-theoretic definition of mutual military escalation – and thus the inner-principle (and intrinsic motor) of war – is reiterated double-defection. This is a conclusion explicitly rejected by Carl von Clausewitz is his treatise On War, even as he acknowledges the cybernetic inclination to amplification (or “tendency to a limit”) which drives it in the direction of an absolute. “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” he insists, because it is framed by negotiation (book-ended by a declaration of war, and a peace treaty). According to this conception, it is an interlude of disagreement, which nevertheless remains irreducibly communicative, and fundamentally structured by the decisions of sovereign political agencies. Even as it approaches its pole of ultimate extremity, it never escapes its teleological dependency, as a means (or instrument) of rational statecraft. There is a stark arbitrariness to this assumption. If there is an inherent limitation to military escalation, restricting it within the bounds of political direction, Clausewitz never explains its principle. The reduction of war to instrumentality is not immune to criticism. Philosophical radicalization, alone, suffices to release war from its conceptual determination as ‘the game of princes’. Sovereignty has military, rather than political, foundations. Hence the reversal of dependency, which is captured by Michel Foucault’s notorious inversion of the Clausewitzean formula into the maxim: “Politics is war by other means”. If political sovereignty is ultimately conditioned by the capability to prevail upon the battlefield, the norms of war can have no higher tribunal than military accomplishment, in reality. No real authority can transcend survival, or survive a sufficiently radical defeat. There is thus a final incoherence to any convinced appeal to the ‘laws of war’ (when inclined to the objective, rather than subjective, genitive). Quite simply, unless war restrains itself it is not restrained. Nothing is able to transcendently impose upon it. Any realistic conception of ‘limited war’ subsumes that of ‘war lawfully pursued’ (with the latter properly categorized as an elective limitation). Unless war has a master, ‘just war’ is ontologically restricted to the status of a tactic. War has no master. There is strictly nothing that could be asserted with greater confidence. “War is the Father of all things,” (Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ) Heraclitus asserts at the dawn of philosophy. Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden is more succinct still: “War is God.” If it has ever seemed otherwise, it is because the essence of war – as Laozi (among others) has told us – is deception. 

[3] Saussure’s A Course in General Linguistics (1916) was compiled from lecture notes (by his students Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye). Its historical coincidence with the origin of macroeconomics merits explicit note. The United States Federal Reserve System, established on December 23, 1913, had scarcely begun operating when Saussure delivered his lectures on the arbitrary nature of the sign. In both cases, a spontaneous order falls under a commanding narrative of discretion, and management of value. The directing impulse – in modern no less than ancient parlance – is Promethean. The resonances between the new monetary order and structural semiotics are not limited to their implicit managerial orientation. They proceed in concert to the horizon of collective-volitional anti-naturalism (dismissing all intrinsic assets and positive terms). It would not be reckless to predict that the theoretical foundations of the macroeconomic epoch will be retrospectively understood as monetary structuralism (and – in its deutero-decadence – ‘post-structuralism’).  

[4] Grasped in terms of its abstract principle, Saussurean ‘structuralism’ (i.e. semantic constructivism) is the dominant paradigm – or meta-paradigm – governing the conceptual order of the postmodern western academy. ‘Post-structuralism’ has only deepened its dominion. Because its programmatic anti-naturalism dovetails so perfectly with the institutional task of defensive demarcation, over against the ascendant hard sciences, it has acquired a super-biblical authority within the modern humanities and soft ‘sciences’. This enterprise of demarcation is no younger than the modern university itself. It acquires 18th century articulation as a conflict of the faculties. The extraordinary importance of structuralism as a cultural influence thus descends from its (implicit) status as a vulgarization of transcendental philosophy, facilitating the general application of critique across the entire domain of humanistic study. By theoretically severing the production of articulate meaning (phenomenon) from an inaccessible – formless – reality (or “thing-in-itself”), it established constructivist principles applicable to the general study of signs, sparking a ‘semiological’ revolution of extraordinary influence. De-naturalization became a cognitive reflex, and a matter of zealous dogma. The ‘natural’ – as that which eludes political adjudication – is identified as the mark and mask of conservative obstruction. Revolutionary denaturalization approaches tautology. In its most rigorous formulation, systematized by Jacques Derrida under the flag of ‘deconstruction’, critical anti-naturalism proceeds through a series of methodical steps. It first identifies a privileged norm (metaphysical object) within the transcendental matrix of semantically-productive differences, before successively inverting the conceptual hierarchy (through the dialectical performance of antinomy), and then liquidating it under the evanescent label of a non-representable absolute condition of production (which never bears this name). Critique is thus regenerated as pure schematics of cultural subversion. Notably, it is weaponized primarily against structures of conceptual articulation, and only very derivatively against their (hazily envisaged) institutional manifestations, such as ‘patriarchy’ or ‘neocolonialism’. Deconstruction is thus to be contrasted against more thoroughly-materialized tendencies of critique, in which the supreme instance of social metaphysics is stubbornly identified as the state, and the institutionalization of ‘trusted third parties’ in general. When critique is subjected to academic professionalization as a bureaucratically-regularized deconstructive practice, the state ceases to be its target, and becomes its occult-transcendental agent. Fortunately, the subordination of critique to the agenda of what Schopenhauer describes bitingly as ‘university philosophy’ has been far from complete, and increasingly looks uncompletable. As it advances, it incentivizes route-arounds. This opportunity has already begun to be seized.

[5] The ‘arbitrary nature of the sign’ is treated at once as a sacred and scientific principle by the descendants of the structuralist revolution. The idea is, however, properly understood as a dogma. It is not argued, but assumed. The most firmly-grounded line of criticism is directed towards the hyperbolic formalism it exemplifies. In dissent, it might be noted that the phonic and graphic materials employed for linguistic encoding are no more ‘arbitrary’ than comparable monetary media. As we have seen, there has been nothing arbitrary about the selection of precious metals as money. Rather, they were advantaged by definite, positive (non-formal) qualities. Linguistic signs are no different in this – abstract – respect. For instance, they need to be compact, memorable, and executable, as well as distinctive. They are often positively suggestive, in ways partially captured by the over-stressed term ‘onomatopoeia’. Much basic vocabulary seems to be genetically promoted (i.e. to some remarkable degree ‘innate’). Stutter stutters. Slithering is self-decoding. The non-arbitrariness of the sign is typical. Nothing much beyond ideological convenience says otherwise. Structuralist methods, then, are not discoveries, but motivated impositions. They suppress ‘positive terms’ as a matter of principle. Obdurate substantiality of the semiotic medium is frictional. It offers impedance. It gets in the way of something. The anti-structuralist criticism is thus drawn into a more symptomatological mode of suspicion, as soon as it is asked: What is being obstructed? What is the plan? Social construction is the discursive complement to fiat currency. In both cases, the politicization of values is untethered from natural constraint (with all reference of the former to the latter denounced as pre-critical error). What the figure of the ‘gold-bug’ is to the Keynesian financial establishment, the ‘naturalist’ is to the social-constructivist critic. In each case, there is a (supposed) fetishization of a ‘barbarous relic’, eclipsing a process of collective, cultural-institutional fabrication. Within the overtly dominant strand of the critical tradition, what occurs is a definite triumph of the will. The thing-in-itself is implicitly identified as practical substance, manifesting the world out of mass volition. Contextualized in this way, all objectivity is cast as essentially modifiable, in accordance with political decision. ‘Nature’ is denounced as the mystified representation of alienated collective desire. This is sheer Schopenhauer, in an ironical, communistic configuration. The deep structure of critique has pre-programmed it, by setting the topic for a multi-century project of institutional absorption (whether conceived as a process of statist-Hegelian formation applied to critical-Schopenhauerean matter, or as a political-institutional interiorization of the thing-in-itself). There are, however, definite indications that the zenith of this assimilation process has passed, among which the emergence of Bitcoin – entirely outside it – is exceptionally striking. The dissolution of precious metals into a bureaucratic apparatus of macroeconomic expertise was not supposed to end this way, with techno-synthetic money bypassing the state and its orbital institutions. The conversion of money into a tool of centralized social administration led to another money. “We need a better barbarous relic,” the crypto-anarchist whispers had long insinuated, but they had been pitched-down below the threshold of public audibility. According to all accredited perception, ‘improvement’ had been heading in an entirely different direction. That is why Bitcoin performs, at once, a capitalist comedy and a socialist tragedy, attained through a surprising reversal of apparently-settled fortune. The mediation of naturalism through traditional cultural institutions can expect similar (or more generalized) relegation. Decentralized commercial genomics would be one relevant field to watch.


[6] The point is Schmittian, but the Left has been far more adept at assimilating it than the Right.

[7] “How did we get from the academy to the economy?” it might be asked. The social function of academically-credentialized expertise does that, when it operates within an institutional context of super-economic oversight. Once again, in the great scheme, macroeconomics is the bridge. As a central trust-management institution (historically supplanting the role of the church), the university is clearly situated in the crypto-currency flight-path. 

[8] For an illustration of tribal polarization in the realm of political signs, it would be hard to improve upon the example identified by this pseudonymous Internet comment, on the topic of the ‘Obamaphone’: “Do you find it entirely implausible that the program was promoted under the Obama administration, that it being Obama’s administration doing the promotion helped it go viral in the recipient community, and that all the reasons it went viral as a positive thing for the recipients made it go viral as a negative thing for conservatives? … There’s no distortion, no lying. What one side sees as a good thing is PRECISELY what the other side sees as a bad thing.”

[9] The Left / Right distinction is regularly derided as a mere anachronism, without consistent meaning beyond its historical reference to ‘the seating arrangements of the pre-revolutionary French National Assembly’. Relatedly, the notion of a ‘modern right’ is easily dismissed as a compact self-contradiction. Yet, insofar as modernity has exhibited internal ideological polarization – rather than merely incarnating the triumph of the left – some such distinction is inescapable. The intrinsic arbitrariness of the left-right terminology is in this respect an opening for productive abstraction. It is proposed here that ‘leftwardness’ on the principal political dimension is measured by the degree of attachment to a presumption of altruism, typically identified with the possibility of a comparatively unproblematic political expression of collective purpose. The ‘right’ is thus naturally identified with a constitutive cynicism. Given its apparent reference to definite incentives, the Marxian (or ‘scientific socialist’) conception of ‘class interest’ might be taken as a repudiation of altruistic presumption from the left. In this – crucial – case, however, the perfect coincidence of individual and collective interest attributed to the universalized – and thus simply ‘human’ – classless masses that have descended from capitalism’s industrial proletariat serves as the proxy for an altruistic orientation, structurally indistinguishable from that traditionally promoted in a more unapologetically sentimental and religious vein. The expectation that a history of industrial cooperation will have fully educated mankind out of all narrow self-interest is, at the very least, a bold one. Dreams of a ‘new man’ have been consistently disappointed, however elegantly they have been justified by socialist philosophy, within the historical context of concrete initiatives promoting collectivist economic reconstruction. Predictably, socialist management authorities have relapsed into mafia organizations, as resilient private incentive-structures re-assert themselves. There is much truth – and in fact nothing less than a robust conservation law – in the leftist moral accusation that the larval condition of capital is crime. The game of private interest can be trained by accommodative legal structures. This is what ‘rule of law’ realistically means. The principle of conservation, which adopts criminality as a back-up reservoir, ensures – nonetheless – that fragmented self-interest proves predictably invulnerable to legal abolition.

[10] The phase is an adaptation from Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune, in which the Bene Gesserit say: “Fear is the mind-killer.” The core text at LessWrong (written by Eliezer Yudkowsky) begins: “People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation … When, today, you get into an argument about whether ‘we’ ought to raise the minimum wage, you’re executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed. Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!” As the discussion thread to this post soon demonstrates, the denigration of partisan signaling is itself readily dismissed as partisan semiotic maneuvering at a meta-level – perhaps an attempted pacification of language in the covert interest of the status quo. The politics of depoliticization is not aufgehoben. There is no short-cut leading off the long road. (Depoliticization requires machinery.)

[11] When Modernity is apprehended under the aspect of political history, it exhibits a tendency to the limit, at which point honest public pronouncement is a transcendental impossibility. This is widely – and cynically – recognized. Nobody describing a discussion as having ‘become political’ is thereby suggesting that its commitment to principles of epistemic rigor have been deepened. ‘Politicized science’ – for instance – is quite simply no longer science, and this is exactly the sense in which the expression is used. Whether epistemological, or even merely administrative, the political process is strictly indifferent to effective performance, unless this is itself folded into a calculation of partisan advantage. What use is truth or competence to us? Schumpeter peerlessly elucidates the concrete mechanism as it has operated in modern times in his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.

[12] A structural suspicion of, or impatience with, human limitation – conceived as a tragic propensity to subvert the foundations of liberty – is a trait connecting libertarians and transhumanists. It has been an explicit theme within the American experiment since its origin, initially elaborated in the discussions that immediately preceded the framing of the Constitution. The Founders achieved consensus on the principle that human agency, especially when invested with social authority, requires immanent structural constraint. It needs to be checked, and balanced. The great complementary dangers are monarchical and popular discretion. No regime is truly republican unless it protects itself, equally, against both. Thus the essential reference of power to a meta-political protocol, or constitution, whose independence (from the political process) strictly coincides with geopolitical independence of the republican polity itself. It is the constitution, and no longer – immediately – the demos, that defines the subject of security. Survival of the people is downstream from that of the polity. Suspension of the political within a war of independence is perhaps the necessary condition-of-articulation for such a republican order. The Dutch, no less than the American example, suggests so. Liberty conserves itself in, and by way of, a practical inhumanity. Primatologists, no less than parents, understand that ‘fairness’ is the typical stake in a squabble. Nowhere is the primate heritage of the human animal more obviously displayed than in the political sphere. Homo sapiens has no uniqueness as ζῷον πoλιτικόν (“the political animal”), a characterization which extends beyond hominids, and social primates, to social animals in general. Except for those convinced of the fundamental nobility of the chimpanzee, there is no compelling case for investing this particular aspect of human existence with any extraordinary dignity. Even less persuasive is the attempt to align it with some effective egalitarian implication. Machiavellian incompetence is no less socially-disabling than its commercial or industrial counterparts, however strongly attached intellectuals may be, typically, to the contrary hypothesis. Taking games into the wild tends only to sharpen their consequences. It is only within the squabble, that the squabble over fairness could appear neutrally leveling. Rather, to the extent that it sorts hierarchically, it is by the criterion of competence at squabbling, which is to say: by political talent. Admiration for political talent is, at least implicitly, the essential characteristic of the left, and the enemies of the left themselves become leftist to the extent that they emulate it. There is no leftist hero, in the entire history of the world, who was not a political leader. Beside musicians, it is only the Machiavellian manipulator who makes it onto student T-shirts. Within the leftist camp, this valorization of the squabbler-king appears so perfectly natural as to escape explicit notice. It is natural (in fact zoological, primatological, and anthropological). As a consequence, the right is guided inevitably in an antihumanist direction, typically against its own explicit (and romantic) inclinations. It has to cut the controversy to advance by even the slightest step. … Technological Singularity …

[13] Left libertarianism has a relevance to this question that is at least double. Firstly, it extends suspicion of government to coagulations of private (economic) power. Secondly, it places ‘the left’ within a lineage of socio-political dissent opposed, originally, to the structures of concentrated authority represented by the institutional pillars of the European ancien régime – monarchy, aristocracy, and clerisy. The meaning of feudalism in this context is not at all straightforward, since it can be aligned either with centralization, or with decentralization, to some significant level of plausibility. In any case, historical criticism of a broadly Marxian type is not easily avoidable here. The affinity between the left and an ideal of centralized authority is not historically constant, but tends rather to rise in comparatively strict relation to the social influence of capital (against which it counter-balances). Consistent orientation to decentralization – conceived here as the absolute right – challenges the libertarian left to embrace a cold indifference to its consequences. Such unconditional commitment to disintegration can, no doubt, be turned against any actual configuration of the ‘right’ – and will be. Considerations of regime security necessarily lean against it. Nevertheless, the drivers of disintegration – the Internet most prominently – are gathering such momentum that dilemmas of this kind are unlikely to long be avoidable. The registration of fragmentation in-itself as a cause, irrespective of the ideological factions it divides, marks an escalation of critique, or accommodation to the transcendental. Sovereign multiplicity serves nothing beyond itself. The erosion of extraneous agendas, therefore, becomes a critical (‘accelerationist’) historical symptom. Division escapes the relativity of faction to operate as an absolute productive power. Ideological self-comprehension is strictly secondary.

[14] A fully self-secured transcendental commercial medium (and store of value) is the nightmare that the Left, in its ‘scientific’ manifestation, has envisaged from its beginning. If there has been a diagnostic or analytical error from this party, in this respect, it has been rooted in the premature attribution of such an autonomous power to prior forms of radically insecure, socio-politically dependent property formations. ‘Property rights’ already imply insecure (non-autonomous) property. Autonomous Capital, however, is a technical experiment (or synthesis) that defies all merely speculative anticipation. There can be no definite idea of the way it can be done, prior to its being done. As with Intellectual Intuition – non-coincidentally – its conception and realization are indissociable. ‘Property’ is not an invariant conceptual category, available for deployment within historical analysis, but rather the critical variable itself. The theoretical inversion required to make the essence of property a constant conforms to the pattern of historical dependency, which is equivalent to the marketing of innovation. The actual is solicited by the virtual, in terms that appear to ensure continuity, and even deference to established modes of existence. “This is what you need,” sells. “This is what you’re becoming, or being swapped-out for,” really doesn’t.

[15] Nick Szabo is unambiguous on this point in his discussion of Bitcoin-precursor ‘Bit Gold’: “In summary, all money mankind has ever used has been insecure in one way or another. This insecurity has been manifested in a wide variety of ways, from counterfeiting to theft, but the most pernicious of which has probably been inflation.”

[16] ‘Neoliberalism’ is a word that is easy for those outside leftist intellectual micro-cultures to laugh at. Comparatively rare attempts to specify its meaning have, in general, been primarily comical. When applied with some theoretical consistency, the term refers to a failure of liberalism under the sign of liberalism, or a restoration of markets under government direction. In this respect, it denotes a paradoxical authoritarian liberalism – perhaps speculatively extrapolated into ‘anarcho-fascism’ – which conforms to Marxian expectations that (bourgeois) freedom presupposes coercion, as its condition of existence. It is notable that the horror of deflation, rooted in the left-managerial (and administratively macroeconomic) historical interpretation of the Great Depression, has retained its overwhelming cultural hegemony. Whatever is made of ‘neoliberalism’ or – perhaps more narrowly – the ‘supply-side revolution’ beginning in the early 1980s, it signally failed to shift the terms of public debate to any significant degree in this respect. It has taken Bitcoin to do practically what market-oriented political-economic ideology has failed to do in terms of the philosophy of monetary management. Neoliberalism was still politics, so it wasn’t the solution to the problem it identified. A mere politics of depoliticization falls prey to its own contradictions, as its leftist critics have gleefully – but not unrealistically – noted. A techonomic mechanism of depoliticization presents the Keynesian economic-administrative establishment with a far more formidable antagonist.

[17] For criticism from the Left along these lines, see David Golumbia’s ‘Bitcoin as Politics: Distributed Right-Wing Extremism’ (here compressed into a quote-stream for effect): “Bitcoin can be seen as a technical object that is structured to an unusual extent by politics. … Bitcoin is politics masquerading as technology. … Bitcoin itself is now promoted by banks, investors, and venture capitalists. … The lack of any valid, non-conspiratorial analysis of our existing financial systems means that Bitcoin fails to embody any substantial alternative to them. … [E]nthusiasts demand we understand Bitcoin as a welcome political intervention, but when pressed for details about that political intervention, its advocates unfailingly turn back to technical and engineering matters. … [In] December 2013, half of all Bitcoins were owned by approximately 927 people, such fight-the-power revolutionaries as the Winklevoss twins of Facebook infamy among them). … If Bitcoin becomes regulated enough to serve as a stable store of value and to ensure debacles like Mt. Gox don’t happen in the future, it may be useful as a global system of payments (but so are generally non-transformative technologies like PayPal and Dwolla). But that will hardly shake world political structures at their foundations. If it remains outside of all forms of both value and transactional regulation, Bitcoin will continue to be a very dangerous place for any but the most risk-tolerant among us (i.e., the very wealthy, whose interest in Bitcoin should indicate to advocates how and why it cannot be economically transformative) to put our hard-earned money. … The problem with ‘fiat currency’ is value fluctuation. The most dangerous kind of value fluctuation is the deflationary spiral… Which world currency is currently experiencing among the most dramatic deflationary spirals anyone has ever seen? Bitcoin itself, the ‘existential threat to the liberal nation state.’ … [The] problems with currencies actually aren’t formal, or mechanical, or algorithmic, despite what Bitcoin propagandists desperately want us to believe. They are social and political problems that can only be solved by political mechanisms.” – A cry of pain, then. We shall hear many more of them.


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