Bitcoin, Personality And Development Part Four — Bitcoin, Religion And Morality
This is an opinion editorial by Aleks Svetski, author of “The UnCommunist Manifesto,” founder of The Bitcoin Times and Host of the “Wake Up Podcast with Svetski.”
Part 4, Chapter 4 of the JBP series.
The series continues. If you’ve not yet read chapters one through three, you can find them here, and of course make sure you’ve read Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this chapter.
Quotes with no source underneath are attributed to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.
In the previous parts we explore value, games, action, aim, focus, attention, truth and speech. We uncovered the sources of nihilism and examined the “Unholy Trinity” of the static apparatus known as “The State.”
We’re going to close this chapter out by reviewing Bitcoin’s relationship to religion, the Bible, and its semblance to Old Testament God through the reintroduction to economic consequence.
Shinobi, whom I have deep respect for, recently said that he’s not seen a space or industry with more of a disparity between understanding and confidence, than Bitcoin.
To a large degree, I would agree.
Although Bitcoiners differ in that, I believe it’s actually a positive thing. This kind of disparity will naturally unnerve an engineer or a technician, but for the kind of phenomenon Bitcoin is, the existence of religious-zealot-like acolytes adds to its overall strength.
It’s the power of narrative and myth in action.
Bitcoin’s core principles representing “the good,” give it an aura of religious fervor that transcends the purely empirical domain of the technician. You have people willing to tie their identities to this thing come hell or high water, and for a phenomenon that must overcome the greatest collective lie of all time, this is the sort of moral, economic and memetic impetus that’s required.
I’m not sure anything more powerful exists — and I say this as a non-religious person.
“Religion concerns itself with the domain of value, ultimate value. That is not the scientific domain. It’s not the territory of empirical description.”
A religious Bitcoin acolyte is often similar to a religious theistic acolyte in their belief of the discovery of some form of veil-piercing truth.
In the beginning they just blindly parrot what they’ve seen or heard on Twitter: “digital gold,” “only 21 million,” “censorship-resistant,” “store of value,” “stock-to-flow,” etc.
They become dogmatically obedient to these ideas, often ignorant to their meaning and in some cases to their own detriment, but over time they have the opportunity to discipline themselves. They learn (via podcasts, articles, books, etc.) and transcend the frame of “dogmatic acolyte” to become the “sovereign Bitcoiner” i.e., the kind of person measuring their wealth in bitcoin, running a full node, CoinJoining, who understands the nuances of a BIP and can effectively participate in the subversion of the corrupt statist paradigm.
This in a general sense is a net positive. We all must start somewhere, and we must have a pathway worth walking.
Bitcoin is that, and in many ways it’s a religious canvas against which we can paint our individual journeys toward sovereignty and truth.
“It is therefore necessary and desirable for religions to have a dogmatic element. What good is a value system that does not provide a stable structure.”
Bitcoin and the story of Satoshi are poetically religious and mythic.
From the disappearance of the founder, to its stable, inert structure, and the offer of a form of economic salvation against the backdrop of an “evil” enemy, Bitcoin has all the ingredients for a narrative powerful enough for a critical mass of followers to emerge.
And they have.
They don’t need to initially “know” everything. In fact, they cannot know it all. But the kernel of truth they find in some article or podcast resonates enough with them, that they keep digging.
They already possess the necessary precondition for this journey, i.e., the intent to become a better person, and some form of attraction to truth or integrity, so their instinct tells them that this may be a way.
Their initial obedience turns into discipline, and in time they become the low time preference “chad” or “trad wife” equivalent that the more “based” of us aspire to be.
“A genuine religious acolyte isn’t trying to formulate accurate ideas about the objective nature of the world (although he may be trying to do that too). He’s striving, instead, to be a ‘good person.’ It may be the case that to him ‘good’ means nothing but ‘obedient’ — even blindly obedient. Hence the classic liberal Western enlightenment objection to religious belief: obedience is not enough. But it’s at least a start (and we have forgotten this): You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored. You will not know what to target, and you won’t fly straight, even if you somehow get your aim right. And then you will conclude, ‘There is nothing to aim for.’ And then you will be lost.”
Of course this does not happen to everyone. For every one of these, there are 1000 Vitalik Buterins and Sam Bankman-Frieds who are more interested in unicorns, printing their own money and frying Beyond Meat sausages.
You can’t save everyone. Nor should you try. Bitcoin is for anyone, but not for everyone.
For those with the necessary makeup, even the not-so-high-IQ of us, Bitcoin represents so much more than just a ticket to get rich quick or a technology. It’s a religion of sorts which if approached in the right way can enhance one’s understanding of self, deepen their relationships to that which matters most and ultimately make them a better person.
It’s an extraordinary thing to see.
Economic Religion And The Understanding Of Self
An idea I’ve been toying with for a while is whether economics is simply a religion of action? The more true and accurate it is, the better the aggregate result of the players, students, acolytes and thus society.
It rings true in the classic idea of, don’t tell me what you believe, show me your bank account and I’ll tell you what you believe.
And is further echoed by Dr. Peterson in Chapter 4 of his book “12 Rules For Life”:
“You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.”
This is why I believe the study of human action is not just important, but foundational. Actions resemble our truest beliefs, money is how we measure them, and economics is how we attempt to come to an understanding of it all.
Hence my assertion that it is religious in nature.
Now here’s the mind-blowing part:
Bitcoin is a new form of religion (and thus chapter in human history) because unlike prior attempts to distill and pass values, ideas and ledgers onward via the written or spoken word, we now have a network which resembles the physical direction of time (forward) as an incorruptible, imprintable medium on which these ideas can be recorded. The result is real economic feedback driving one to better orient themselves in society (morality).
This is why I’ve said that a post-Bitcoin world will look very different to a pre-Bitcoin world.
“We have been watching ourselves act, reflecting on that watching, and telling stories distilled through that reflection, for tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. That is all part of our attempts, individual and collective, to discover and articulate what it is that we believe. Part of the knowledge so generated is what is encapsulated in the fundamental teachings of our cultures, in ancient writings such as the Tao te Ching, or the aforementioned Vedic scriptures, or the Biblical stories.”
While the Bitcoin white paper is not explicitly in the same form or category as one of these ancient writings, it has formed the theoretical basis for the practical manifestation of something that orients us implicitly toward heaven.
It does so by virtue of fusing the metaphysical game of life to the physical bounds of reality, as I’ve explained in prior chapters. Or in other words, its incentives are such that you must act morally in order to make progress across more timescales.
The possibilities are fascinating and endless; the ramifications, mind-boggling.
As I see it, like the Bible, Bitcoin has emerged from the depths of the collective human psyche.
Like the Bible, Bitcoin’s origins are somewhat shrouded in unknowable detail and both involved multiple otherwise disconnected participants who each brought a key, or a portion of the whole, over time. Their emergence is irreproducible and much like the Bible, it’s my belief that we will look back on Bitcoin’s genesis as something that directed the course of broader human society for millenia to come.
The difference this time, and why it will last, perhaps forever, is that language, morality, values and ethics are also infused with money (action), as explained above.
Bitcoin as money is the language of value, action and attention. This living, breathing network comprises not just digital nodes in the form of miners and computers, but human nodes in the form of users, thinkers, coders, writers, custodians, and entities of every kind.
It’s a deep idea, and not for the faint of imagination.
“[The Bible is] the product of processes that remain fundamentally beyond our comprehension. The Bible is a library composed of many books, each written and edited by many people. It’s a truly emergent document — a selected, sequenced and finally coherent story written by no one and everyone over many thousands of years. The Bible has been thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which is itself a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time. Its careful, respectful study can reveal things to us about what we believe and how we do and should act that can be discovered in almost no other manner.”
What does this mean?
Of course much that we’ve already explored, so I’ll close out with an analysis on the “consequential” nature of Bitcoin and God.
While reading Chapter 4 of “12 Rules For Life” the similarity between Bitcoin and Old Testament God, via their relationship to consequence, dawned on me.
Old Testament God was complex and multifaceted. On the surface brutal, unforgiving, and prone to severe acts of punishment and wrath, while at the same time, consumed with care for the world and its inhabitants with a capacity for great acts of mercy and kindness.
It’s the former wrath and vengeful nature of Old Testament God which most people acknowledge and contrast against New Testament God who they view as more forgiving, kind and loving.
Most people think Bitcoin is like New Testament God; some magical panacea to all of our problems and a pathway to a future “Utopia.”
It’s my contention that Bitcoin is far more like the complex, Old Testament God. When you stray from the path, when you disobey the covenants, injunctions and commandments of the natural way of things, then you, your children and your children’s children will suffer.
Old Testament God would bring his wrath upon you through plagues and famines, while Bitcoin will deliver it upon you through poverty and sharp economic consequences. The difference being that the former was a written or spoken warning for sinful behavior, while the latter is a direct result of the actions you take.
Don’t believe me? Go send your Bitcoin to the incorrect address or try calling “support” once you’ve lost your private keys. Or maybe you can try to contact the Bitcoin Central Bank to print more bitcoin to bail you out when you made a poor decision. Good luck with that.
“Nonetheless, when His people strayed from the path — when they disobeyed His injunctions, violated His covenants, and broke His commandments — trouble was certain to follow. If you did not do what Old Testament God demanded — whatever that might have been and however you might have tried to hide from it — you and your children and your children’s children were in terrible, serious trouble.”
The importance of texts like the Bible will continue to increase in a Bitcoin-dominated world because these lessons and stories are true. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but in the meta sense. They are modes of being, which if understood and integrated into your person, you, your children and children’s children have the opportunity to prosper.
Bitcoin is an economic manifestation of the consequential Old Testament God, and in the same way is a “force of nature.” They say that “Bitcoin just is” for a reason. Approaching it with a malevolent or scheming heart will only lead you to ruin. If you orient yourself as per the implied instruction you receive via direct economic feedback, or take note of the explicit instruction of the wise (i.e., the ancient texts), you may just prosper.
“They were wise. He was a Force of Nature. Is a hungry lion reasonable, fair or just? What kind of nonsensical question is that? The Old Testament Israelites and their forebears knew that God was not to be trifled with, and that whatever Hell the angry Deity might allow to be engendered if he was crossed was real.”
Which brings me to …
Faith is found in commitment to the good, despite the evidence of the bad.
Once again, Bitcoin is a manifestation of faith. Something so good has emerged from a social soil so toxic.
It’s done so because the roots of goodness run deep. Faith is what helps it flourish, and Bitcoin is a beautiful example of what’s possible when we take that seriously.
“Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being.”
To believe that Bitcoin can win, is to have faith in the capacity for goodness to prevail. I’m not sure it’s something you can rationally calculate. Bitcoin history is littered with the corpses of those who thought they figured it out; whether on the side of Bitcoin or not. See everyone from Paul Krugman and Peter Schiff on the “against” side, or Plan B’s S2F or Willy Woo’s on-chain analysis, on the “for” side.
A belief in Bitcoin requires something more than empiricism. It’s perhaps why otherwise smart people (e.g., Eric Weinstein) who should be enthralled at its emergence, are instead bitterly engaged in its dissemination.
“You might start by not thinking — or, more accurately, but less trenchantly, by refusing to subjugate your faith to your current rationality, and its narrowness of view. This doesn’t mean ‘make yourself stupid.’ It means the opposite. It means instead that you must quit maneuvering and calculating and conniving and scheming and enforcing and demanding and avoiding and ignoring and punishing. It means you must place your old strategies aside. It means, instead, that you must pay attention, as you may never have paid attention before.”
These people seem to be too cerebrally oriented to experience the holistic, practical perfection that is Bitcoin.
They are not paying true attention, because they are too busy with “gauge theory” and an attempt to square it into their own rational paradigm. Or they’re spineless fence-sitters like Lex Fridman who refuse to take a moral stand.
Either way they refuse to have faith because they are afraid to trust their instinct and their intuition. They lack the courage to burn the boats.
In doing so, they are unwittingly going down in history as one of the wealthy Romans that nobody remembers, whose lineage died off as Christianity emerged.
As you begin to take Bitcoin or Old Testament God seriously, you begin to orient yourself in such a way that goodness flourishes in your life.
As your faith pays off and rewards you for your honest, moral efforts, you find that not only does Bitcoin begin to feel like New Testament God, but that you have begun to embody the virtues so eloquently described throughout the ages, across all of the great scriptures.
You begin to embody the goodness.
“Instead of playing the tyrant, therefore, you are paying attention. You are telling the truth, instead of manipulating the world. You are negotiating, instead of playing the martyr or the tyrant. You no longer have to be envious, because you no longer know that someone else truly has it better. You no longer have to be frustrated, because you have learned to aim low, and to be patient. You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do. You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely. You are less concerned with the actions of other people, because you have plenty to do yourself.”
This brings us full circle to the genesis idea of this entire chapter analysis..
“Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.”
Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it may just open.
Come with the willingness to enter, and you may just discover something of such depth and value that you’ll wonder how you fell for such a charade in the first place, and why you stayed there for so long.
Yes Bitcoin is a cult, as in, a subset of a culture.
Bitcoin is a new, emergent culture, founded on a bedrock of core principles; Bitcoin principles, such as truth, integrity, transparency, freedom and responsibility.
This kind of emergent culture has been absent for a long time.
Bitcoin may just be what tilts the world back toward a culture of greatness, morality, meaning and excellence — and I’m here for it.