Authored by Karl Montevirgen, Halifax America

“Indeed, the direction of the future is only there in order to elude us.” 
― Georges Bataille

It seems as if everywhere you turn, someone is talking about cryptocurrencies. And whether the person speaking is a novice investor, finance professional, economist, or so-called “crypto expert,” it seems as if people are incapable of discussing cryptocurrencies without some kind of pronouncement on its finality: a certain permanence of existence (“it will define the future”), or a certain death (“it’s going to collapse eventually”).

After all, didn’t all major cryptocurrencies “die” at least 200 times? Wasn’t Bitcoin just pronounced “dead” yet again earlier this week before somehow miraculously rising? (shout-outs to Cointelegraph’s William Suberg and Darryn Pollock.)

Of course, the state of cryptocurrencies can never be one of mere “illness”—not even a questionably terminal illness—nor can it be one of a fragile recuperation. It’s either a ground of permanence within which the “seeds” of the future are sown, or it’s a “body” that contains the “seeds” of its own demise.

“Uncertainty” is like an unwelcome guest that never gets invited into the conversation.  Yet uncertainty–change, indeterminacy, potentiality, relative states of non-knowledge–comprises the “territory” upon which we’ve merely drawn a “map.” And it appears that we have a tendency to mistake the map for the territory.

Just listen to what many “experts” are saying:

  • Nobel laureate Robert Schiller (from a CCN article by Josiah Wilmoth) states, “It has no value at all unless there is some common consensus that it has value. Other things like gold would at least have some value if people didn’t see it as an investment.”

Beyond gold’s industrial and ornamental use, what distinguishes gold’s value from those of other precious or base metals (such as copper,   which,  for 60 years was viewed as a type of currency)? Accounting for gold’s “scarcity,” which implies a labor-value linked to the mining and refinement process, isn’t gold’s valuation also a matter of “common consensus that it has value”?  

Doesn’t Bitcoin and various altcoins (most though not all) have correlated technological blockchain or blockchain-like applications that, although separate from their values as “currency,” are nevertheless linked to their commercial functions (hence, fundamental value beyond investments)?

  • From the same article, Joseph Stiglitz who won the Nobel in 2001, is quoted as saying that altcoins “ought to be outlawed” because they don’t “serve any socially useful function.”

Money is a social technology. So too are cryptocurrencies and their underlying non-monetary technologies. Their development and implementation, however nascent, are geared toward purposes of current commercial (hence, social) use.

But there’s something else to be said about Stiglitz’ statement. Perhaps he is implying that altcoins don’t “serve any socially useful function” at the current time. This is tantamount to saying that the (potential) future must resemble the present. Who can truly say what route the future will or “should” take?

And who defines what is “socially useful” other than those who actually use things in a social context or certain legislators who have the power to coercively impose what is and what isn’t to be used within a social context (Stiglitz seems to prefer the latter).

  • From a Market Insider article by Will Martin, Paul Donovan, UBS economist, speaking of a “fatal flaw” in cryptocurrencies (note the metaphor of tragedy and finality embedded within that statement), says “A currency has to be a widely used medium of exchange. Cryptocurrencies are never going to achieve that. Period…Cryptocurrencies…will not be accepted by governments for tax payments. You are therefore removing one of the main sources of demand for a currency.”

In other words, Donovan is making a “prediction” based on a “model” of convention or preference (his, of course). It does not take into the account that the model he has in mind just might be disrupted and that the future he is envisioning might not be a mechanistic replication of the present.

By the way, such statements betray a form of future-telling but one that works backward:  the future has already been written based on the coding of the present.

In each of the cases, the factor of uncertainty and unknowing remains absent. Experts would rather “know” incorrectly than admit, perhaps more correctly, that there are many things they do not know.

What’s lacking in this black/white context are all the grays.  By declaring a vision of the future based on present knowledge, both novices and experts are merely emphasizing the negative space of a much larger and more pervasive absence that is perpetually materializing itself.

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