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§0.91 — The word ‘Bitcoin’ is itself a terminological wager. It is used in this work in a number of senses, or concentrations. Qualifying these, instance-by-instance, is impractical. The function it bears most consistently in Crypto-Current is prospective. It corresponds to the question what will Bitcoin become, and thus have been? It refers, then, to those current and impending processes distinctively initiated by the 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto paper of that name. Bitcoin names a specific crypto-currency, but also more loosely and generally any distributed ledger governed by Nakamoto Consensus. It thus abbreviates Nakamoto Consensus Governance.

§0.92 — Political terminology is peculiarly resistant to coherent usage (for reasons touched upon in Chapter 4 of this book). In Crypto-Current, ‘liberal’ is used consistently in its European, rather than its American sense. (Philosophical consistency is otherwise impossible.) It designates the cause of the autonomous economy, and thus the politics of screening private transactions from public consideration. By celebrated world-historic irony, this approaches the opposite of its dominant contemporary – and especially America – sense. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ are taken to be defined, respectively, by opposition to, and practical advocacy for, maximally-permissive capitalistic activity. Variation on the ideological spectrum – or principal political dimension (PPD) as it is called here – is thus articulated in broadly Marxian fashion, between (classical) liberal and socialistic poles.

§0.93 — The attempt has been made to privilege logical over traditional syntax consistently (most pointedly in the placing of quotation marks). While initially set upon the course of a pitiless war of annihilation against semi-colons, those wheezing vermin that scratch out a wretched persistence among the unflushed sewers of punctuation, the noble enterprise has allowed itself to be side-tracked on occasions by the depravities of common usage.

§0.94 — Compressed date format (####/##/##) throughout this book is consistently: year / month / day, unless year only, or year / month only.

§0.95 — Since it would probably sound absurd to say that Satoshi Nakamoto has triggered the single greatest thing to happen on this planet since the origin of life, we will not say it (unless cryptically).

[Preface ends. Agonizing dilemma about how to proceed which I’ll say more about in a moment …]

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§0.86 — From a certain perspective, that is not altogether reducible to dialectical illusion, the history of Bitcoin is structured by a limited number of dominating controversies, at a variety of levels. The spectrum extends from ideological disputes in the grand style of classical political economy to the detailed practicalities of investment decision-making. Three principal modes of hostile response can be isolated,* and sequenced roughly as phases, corresponding to guiding attitudes of dismissal, antagonism, and condescension. Each of these objections can be expected to rise in public prominence in the years ahead, as Bitcoin attracts increasing attention. Since publicity has some (strong) correlation with positive network effects, even opposition can be perversely supportive. The old saw that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ is highly-attuned to network dynamics.**

§0.861 — Dismissal, at its most emphatic, coincides with the prediction that Bitcoin will not – and cannot – succeed. When sincerely maintained, it is no more an argument against Bitcoin than atheism is an argument with God. The stakes are low, the occasion for fervor limited. The most facile dismissal of Bitcoin derides it as a scam – perhaps a pyramid scheme. It appears to be based on nothing beside the production of confidence in itself. Such criticism reveals more than it seeks to about money in general, and its attendant superstitions. Ironically, it revives the crudest metallist metaphysics in defense of a threatened post-metallic monetary status quo.

§0.8611 — Given the rapid emergence of crypto-currency as an asset class, it would be peculiar if questions had not been raised about the adequacy of Bitcoin as money. Among the most vociferously noted of these has been directed toward the extreme volatility of the bitcoin price. Further grounds for dismissal include socio-political and technical scaling problems. The in-built deflationary bias of the currency has also been a source of persistent concern, although this tilts quickly into more radical zones of ideological criticism. Bitcoin is only actually deflationary when it works. It cannot, therefore, be the impracticality of the currency that is really targeted here, but rather its potential malignancy. When deflation is identified as the enemy with which Bitcoin – potentially – collaborates, a new pitch of criticism has been reached. The plausibility of all these arguments is in direct, inverse relation to the development of Bitcoin, as indicated by the rough proxy of its total market capitalization. They rule out a future in which Bitcoin features prominently. It is judged to be mere hype,*** or a ‘craze’.

§0.862 — Antagonism takes Bitcoin seriously. It is not a matter of derision, any longer, but of hostility. Additionally, in crossing this threshold, the hostility previously masked as derision ‘comes out’. The inadequacy of contemptuous laughter is recognized. More is required to make Bitcoin stop. It is at this level that the greatest philosophical hunting grounds are opened. With the elevation of ideological intensity comes the lucidity of overt denunciation – an imperative to know one’s enemy, and to share what is known. Bitcoin, according to these critics, is a bad thing. Criticism now becomes interesting. Perhaps the predominant future of technically-competent left-wing Marxism belongs to this track.

§0.863 — Condescension corresponds to a project of assimilation. It is a concession, even a defeat, subject to a strategy of misdirection. If Bitcoin cannot be ignored, or stopped, perhaps it can be adjusted to convenience. According to this conceptual and rhetorical orientation, Bitcoin is neither a hoax, nor a malignancy. It is merely limited, or immature. It is then to be re-conceived as a stepping-stone to greater things. Condescension does not originate on the left, but from what might be called – with no small measure of reciprocal condescension – the establishment right. It is essentially conservative and pragmatic, perhaps even opportunistic. Defeat is refashioned into a take-over bid.**** Condescension is the attitude towards Bitcoin characterizing the Mainstreamer camp, as described in the fourth chapter of this book.

§0.87 — Among the controversies intrinsic to Bitcoin, or proper to it, and thus exceeding the schema sketched above, none comes close to matching the importance of the ‘block size debate’. In broaching this subject, it is crucial to note, from the beginning, that the nature of Bitcoin necessitates that any debate is essentially peripheralized. Bitcoin has its own proper dispute resolution procedure – it might be more accurately said that the protocol is a dispute resolution procedure – which works through decentralized consensus production and forks, not through dialectic and political reconciliation. Its relation to argument is one of techonomic substitution, rather than politico-philosophical subordination. In this regard, it epitomizes the work-around.*****

§0.88 — In actuality, Bitcoin falls short of itself, inevitably. Its potential remains only very partially expressed. This is a criticism that only makes sense with reference to a teleological construction. What – in the end – is the purpose of Bitcoin? In selling itself, Bitcoin answers this question in a piecemeal way. It promises and – to some lesser but already non-negligible extent – actually delivers various services, primarily associated with monetary modernization on the cryptic mainstream of the deep industrial process. It defends capital from inflation-oriented political discretion, protects transactional anonymity, ensures contractual execution without reference to financial authorities, and refines currency to facilitate micropayment capabilities. It is, however, far more than any – or all – of this, because decentralization has never been done this well, at least within a social context. Bitcoin is thus nothing less than an escalation of multiplicity. Its potential necessarily escapes any conveniently-traced horizon.

* Only three, why not five? Our list does not describe a full process of grieving for the fiat currency order, but restricts itself to partial articulation of the Bitcoin controversy. It nevertheless unmistakably truncates the celebrated (and much-parodied) ‘five stages of grief’ outlined by Elisabeth Kübler Ross. Denial, Anger, and Bargaining take us from derisive laughter, through heated ideological opposition, into mainstreaming schemes, even if it would be over-hasty to assume these responses were tidily organized as sequential phases. Depression and – finally – Acceptance begin on the far-side of all argument, with the updated presumption that Bitcoin has unambiguously won. Crypto-Current returns from Acceptance, but (in accordance with its nature) it hides the details.

** This is exemplified by the ‘Streisand Effect’.

*** Hype-cycles are serious things. Every emerging technology of profound consequence is, during the early-phase of its introduction, over-sold. Such promotional extravagance is thus an indicator of considerable ambivalence. It predicts – simultaneously – a short-term correction, medium-term resilience, and long-term take-off. If this is the sense in which Bitcoin is being hyped, it will eventually be huge, beyond even anything the hype-phase anticipates.

**** By analogy to a successful business competitor greeted by the words: “Okay, you’ve proved that you’re good enough to work for me.”

***** The greatest anti-capitalist joke known to history runs: Capital interprets morality as damage and routes around it. The rightly-celebrated maxim which this witticism plays off is discussed directly in Chapter 4.

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§0.71 — Three appendices are gathered in the penultimate section of the book. The first is devoted to a slightly larger reading of the Satoshi Nakamoto Bitcoin paper than that undertaken in Chapter-3. The second, folded into two sub-divisions, engages diagonal method (the principal procedure of modern philosophy), and its application to the techonomic integrity of the modern industrial process. The third discusses the geopolitics of Bitcoin in reference to concrete contemporary issues of currency hegemony, the status of the US Dollar, and the economic rise of China.

§0.72 — The apparatus includes a Bitcoin Time-Line, very short briefings on Coins, Organizations, and People, a Glossary, and References. This information is suggestive, more than exhaustive. The scale of the crypto-currency phenomenon already exceeds any realistic prospect of comprehensive purchase, or fine-grained general introduction.

§0.8 — Finally (but also before), there’s another thing. It might even be regarded as the main thread. Historically, it will have been. We can be exorbitantly confident about that, with such anticipation being the entire point. There is something more than a progressive causal series at stake in the arrival of Bitcoin. Preliminarily – and from historical necessity – this concern proceeds under the sign of teleology. It has to be noted clearly from the beginning, however, that an unambiguous defense of teleology would be no less unbalanced than its simple negation, amounting to mere regression. Between final and efficient causation it does not suffice – either in the end, or effectively – to choose. The philosophical obligation is always diagonal. In this case, Bitcoin entrusts us with the teleo-mechanical line, which inherits and protracts the fundamental modernistic pseudo-paradox of mechanistic liberalization. There is no real freedom outside the innovation of machines. Yet to recover teleology is simultaneously to attack it. As with anything worth defending at all, when teleology is critiqued, it gets stronger. It needs to be gnawed at more aggressively, which means – first of all – pulling it back off the shelf (or out of the fridge). Teleology is re-animated as a question when the end is intuited at work. Which is to say, in the working-out of the process the pretended sovereignty of the beginning is dethroned. We cannot but ask: What is Bitcoin becoming? This question is itself a piece of fate.

§0.81 — It cannot be sufficiently stressed that teleological thinking typically goes wrong. If it had not been prematurely dismissed, its structural failures would have been better understood. Modernity has not harried it enough. The principal teleological error is hubris (which is known to philosophy, in its general theoretical manifestation, as ‘metaphysics’). In this case, it manifests as the pretense to adequate apprehension of the telos, whatever its variant, as if it were an object.* This error is profound, and might easily seem to provide ample justification for the programmatic extinction of teleological thinking without remainder. Yet such a response – which has in fact predominated within modernity – is hyperbolic. It leads predictably, which is to say inevitably, or in fact by ultimate irony finalistically, to a cognitive vulgarization (and typically a geometricization) of time, in which the defining asymmetry of the temporal axis is extinguished. Transcendental temporality cannot be reduced to the correlate of a purely mechanical process – for instance, to a dimension – without obliterating its time-signature entirely. Radical space-time distinction is a Kantian inheritance that critique cannot elect to abandon. Once time is freed – again – from geometry, it announces itself through certain definite quasi-teleological or historically-anomalous effects. Minimally, it allows for something new. It thus lends itself to teleology in its rigorous employment, which is bound to the disingenuously innocent question: What is happening? Such interrogations conform to the eventuation (or emergence) of an entire ontological topic, delivered by the problematic – or non-objective – thing.

§0.82 — It might very reasonably be asked: Why clutter an already over-crowded book with an insistent sub-theme in partial defense of teleological thought? The primary response: Bitcoin is – finally – more intelligible in terms of its destination than its genesis. The more attentively it is examined, the more inescapable the question: What is it becoming? What does Bitcoin lead to? This is not a secondary, supplementary, or ancillary puzzle. The ‘network effects’ locking Bitcoin into history are exactly the same thing, seen differently.** Bitcoin makes historical sense, when it can be seen that it was expected, or anticipated (if only by a virtual subject, whose actuality is itself outcome-dependent). The attractor exceeds the protocol. It was a piece of destiny from the beginning. Capital Teleology is the guide. Reciprocally, what Capital has been about is unanswerable without attention to Bitcoin. Nothing denominated in money can be realistically apprehended without recognition that the nature of money is undergoing the single most catastrophic revolution in its history, and is thus ceasing to support expectations that rely upon the simple tracking-forward of precedent. Since Capital-process societies have long been denounced, understandably, for ‘attempting to put a price on everything’ the scope of this revolution is not readily bounded.

§0.83 —The story of Bitcoin, however enthralling it might be, cannot provide the central preoccupation of a book devoted to the philosophical meaning of crypto-currency. While it is a (subordinate) purpose of this work to recommend Bitcoin for dedicated historiographical attention, it does not pretend to execute such research in any serious way. Initially, the problem is quite straightforwardly practical. The extraordinary dynamism of Bitcoin makes it a moving target. It generates more history than can be humanly absorbed in real time. In other words, it escapes. Yet, while at one level this comparative paucity of historical resolution follows from an economic decision (about the distribution of time), it also doubtless reflects an essential philosophical prejudice, prioritizing abstraction. Despite firm conclusions regarding ultimate path-dependency, Crypto-Current cannot be primarily historical, because it is drawn into the idea of Bitcoin, in something far closer to the Platonic sense of this term than its epistemological, or even merely psychological, successor. Its topic envelops temporality, and engages the production – rather than the unfolding – of time. In this respect, it adheres to the mainstream of the critical tradition, for which primordial temporalization is the key. Crypto-current is chronogenic process. It is that – alone – which cannot assume time. History is grounded by critique, as in an abyss.

§0.84 — It might be asked, pointedly, in rejoinder: Is not time, in the end – or in the closure of the circuit – produced historically? While this question is incisive, and even irresistible, it is – notably – not itself historical, but rather dynamically meta-historical. No historian can ever confirm its force through accumulated evidence, since it would remain unsettled after even the most extravagant factual illustration. Historiography is disturbed by it no less than philosophy. When history descends into it, it is on an approach to its ultimate criterion. Such a question cannot, then, amount to a deflection from the philosophical task of thinking time as such. Tightening nonlinearity ensures that even if time itself has thresholds of emergence, marked by dates – such as ‘October 31, 2008’ – the dating-system provides no stable frame, but is plunged into immanence, and thus absorbed into the vortex of irreducibly cyclical dependency. There is nothing historical that can be known about time in advance. Bitcoin intensifies this problem – which is that of modern philosophy in general – towards its limit. Artificial time leaves no context unconsumed. It is transcendental, if it is time at all. No story of any kind can be adequate to it.

§0.85 — Such reservations do not suggest, even remotely, that the prospects for a history of time can be simply dismissed. Precisely because time is a transcendental horizon, time cannot be found anywhere other than in time. Nonlinear history, to employ Manuel DeLanda’s term in its most radical sense, comprehends the philosophy of time, through the exact real coincidence of its twin terms. It is only that, when historiography reaches this threshold, it has already become something else. The work of Peter Galison is a particularly remarkable case. His magnificent study of Einstein and Poincaré, which grounds the time-relativity problem of early 20th Century mathematical physics in the techno-administrative imperative to synchronization, is an exemplary excavation of chronogenetic circuitry. The point of theoretical climax is marked by an irreducible co-dependency of historical process and time-production, in which each finds its grounds within the other. Neither pole in this circuit submits to its alternative without cascading confusion.

* There are two basic types of teleological metaphysics. Both involve an untenable objectification. In the classical case, exemplified by Aristotle, it is the goal of a process that provides its intelligible object. In modern variants of teleological thinking, metaphysical objectification more commonly invests a purposive substance, or essence (an ‘entelechy’). Critique dismantles both. It strips teleology down to raw singularities. There are no general goals, or generic purposive forces. The sheer thing that is becoming is not an instance of anything other than itself. The event coincides exactly with its causality. Its power is its sole identity.

** This claim will strike many as completely wrong. For instance, it might be asked: Are not complex eventuations the precise opposite of teleological processes? Yet, if they seem so, it is only because teleology has been drastically misconceived. Teleo-process, sketched epistemologically, is nothing at all more than that which increases in intelligibility with reverse time-signature. It lends itself to modeling as a convergent wave. In other words, it is characterized by comparatively obscure – diffuse or loosely-connected and highly heterogeneous – precursor states. Every complex emergence exhibits such a pedigree, and production pattern. The mechanistic sciences – understood in the programmatically anti-teleological sense – are incessantly scandalized by such things, and will continue to be. Reciprocally, the concept of ‘emergence’ cannot – by the same necessity – be expected to achieve full scientific respectability, short of a theoretical and historical re-ordering of time. It can be confidently predicted, in short, that crypto-teleological agitations will continue to recur, that the natural sciences will not find them to be suppressible, and that they will each time, and essentially, be aligned with dissent against modern intellectual orthodoxy. There is no crypto-teleological ‘paradigm’ that could be recognized, and then comfortably installed. After all, the inadequacy of the actual is the phenomenon. What counts as currently-demonstrated depends on the time-frame. The scale of ‘now’ is problematic, so every ‘yet’ also is. What, or how much, has happened yet? Even without a causal framework oriented by the privileging of precursor states (or ‘efficiency’), this problem would remain irreducible. A mechanistic perspective attentive to teleo-process would already be something else. Furthermore, it would be something that could grasp itself. Mechanization as the supreme teleo-process is the final cosmic irony.

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§0.6 — Chapter Six closes the Bitcoin cycle, by attending to the absorption of socio-economic identity into cryptography, the matrix of philosophy. The Bitcoin wallet is a mask. Asymmetric cryptography formalizes irreversibility at an unprecedented level of techonomic intensity. It initiates the age of the open secret (or of masks). Bitcoin is its currency.

§0.61 — Cryptography envelops philosophy, in reality. The practical processing of secrecy defines a transcendental horizon. Epistemology is broken by its own naivety when it assumes an object without intrinsic impulse to escape. To know is to capture, grasp, or seize. It is thus, at least roughly, to fight.* Bitcoin, whose lineage is cryptographic, inherits better instincts – by far – in respect to knowledge, and truth than those typifying professional philosophy. It expects trouble, and not only difficulty. Its technical specifications are strategic, at the root. Rather than seeking shelter, Bitcoin makes cryptographic attack an intrinsic part of its security infrastructure. Its miners are poachers made game-keepers.

§0.62 — The twin-key cryptography which Bitcoin builds upon is a philosophical innovation of extraordinary – and still enormously under-estimated – importance. Recursively, it is itself a key, to the secrets of the dyad. The crudity of dialectical and structural articulations is comical in comparison. The cryptographic lineage directs application of this machinery, initially, to the public / private distinction, which it practically and conceptually solves.

§0.63 — Bitcoin significantly accommodates agent-identities to the rising Age of Masks, in which digital avatars implement the ‘empirical ego’ of transcendental philosophy. Identity, address, and account (‘wallet’) are brought into exact coincidence. All are a single fully-publicized disguise.

§0.64 — The concept of property remained weakly defined prior to the age of advanced cryptography, and the rigorous abstract determination of keys.** It is upon lockings and unlockings that the entire reality of property is built. When critically collapsed onto the plane of cryptographic immanence, privacy and property are indistinguishable. Both are accounted in keys. No other valuables in reality exist.

§0.65 — Asymmetry, as operationalized within public key crypto-systems, is an implementation of time – a temporalization, or current. Things go one way rather than another. It is cryptography, then, finally, that unlocks the historical meaning of philosophy, by retrieving the keys of time. Bitcoin realizes absolute succession as accomplished artifice. The cycle is closed.

* Perhaps Francis Bacon never proposed that nature be “hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets.” Regardless, the culturally long-sustained plausibility of this quote is itself suggestive. Secrecy, and not mere ignorance, was the topic. The object of systematic knowledge was recognized as positively elusive. Modernity in science germinated in realistic soil.

** The historical precursor to the cryptographic key is the seal. Between the two, the functional analogy is striking, but a seal falls short of a crypto-key due to its dependence upon transcendent authorization. Seals distribute permissions, not capabilities. A seal does not protect itself. It presupposes an extraneous apparatus of authority and enforcement. In this respect, the comparison to the pre-cryptographic history of property rights and protections is only strengthened. What crypto-protection affords, sealing the first true property, is immanent security. The demand for cooperation is relieved.

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§0.5 — Chapter Five is concerned with the function of Bitcoin as money. Theoretical articulation of this problem requires a transcendental deduction of money, as the condition of possibility for commercial calculation. Within this deduction, the six traditional ‘qualities’ of money – durability, scarcity, divisibility, communicability, fungibility, and verifiability – occupy the place of structurally-inevitable forms, or categories. In other words, and with some qualification, they are predictable (a priori) aspects of money, rather than its mere empirical features. They are mathematically conditioned, and only occasioned by historical causality. Once grasped conceptually, they are confidently expected. Nothing could be money otherwise (with only notably bizarre exceptions). It follows (in accordance with a priori synthesis) that a robust cryptocurrency will take the form of artificial gold.

§0.51 — Money has six categories. The three indispensable monetary functions – as a store of value, means of exchange, and unit of account – are presumed to be structurally indispensable to this analysis. They are diagonally complicated by stock and flow (the pseudo-synonyms of value storage and exchange), to generate an architectural principle.

§0.511 — The concept of money is not rigorously delimitable. For essential reasons, it has never been captured by a definite idea. We still do not know what money can do.

§0.52 — The story of money – which coincides closely with history as such – can be told in many different ways. There are primarily anthropological, economic, technological, and political versions, among others. Crypto-Current tells a number of these, very briefly.

§0.53 — Abstraction emerges within the historical process, as an immanent product. The monetization of human societies during the Axial Age (~2,500 BC) inaugurates it, triggering the innovation of philosophical and mathematical thought. Money thus conditions the birth of philosophy before becoming a philosophical object, and mathematizes before becoming a regional application for mathematics.*

§0.531 — Money thinks. In fact, it out-thinks us, insofar as reflection is brought to it late, after its own cognitive operation has been long at work, and ultimately perhaps also in other ways, yet to be apprehended (from our side). It has already made sense of things, before we have begun to make sense of it. We have no grounds upon which to affirm, with confidence, that money and general intelligence can be finally distinguished. The institutional separation between artificial intelligence research and crypto-currency innovation is not rooted in philosophical principle.** The expectation that catallaxy, distributed commercial learning, or price discovery encounters a limit short of the question of the price of being finds its sole resilient foundation in moral indignation. Since Bitcoin demonstrably does ontology, and even ‘fundamental ontology’, the status of normative revulsion in this domain is irredeemably dubious.

§0.532 — Having yet to think money, beyond a preliminary stage, we are poorly positioned to set hard boundaries around what money itself can think. Meditations upon the ultimate conceptual relation between money and social identity are inhibited – or interrupted – by an indignant retraction of self from configurations of crystallized value. Yet money, already pre-empts this recoil, and with greater effectiveness, through its insinuation of liquidity, and consequent socio-cultural intensifications of liquidization, liquification, and liquidation. All that is solid melts into a liquid, wherever money touches it. Money dissolves stuff. Currency says this, realistically. To be insulted by monetary denomination of sacralized values, then, is to assume far too much. There is a definite metaphysics at work here, which is to say an image or objectification of money that cannot survive critical scrutiny, or – more importantly – critical social process.

§0.533 — Our dominant models are undergoing rapid obsolescence. For instance, money does not reduce to the concept of credit, even though this reduction has made itself – at least momentarily – inevitable. As the most recent and most complex episode in the history of money, financialization dominates its contemporary conceptualization, and this development was, until very recently, expected to further escalate in the same direction, determined increasingly by invisibility, credit facilitation, and institutional trust. Money appeared to be converging with the function of a bank account.*** This apparent teleology – guided to invisibility – was extraordinarily vivid. Crypto-currency ironizes and derails it. This is why the history of money has now to be retold.

* References to the lineage of this idea (most recently relayed through the work of David Graeber), which is entirely non-original to this volume, are included in the body of the text.

** That the commercial process is, from the start, artificial intelligence production is a long-standing suspicion within the Austrian economic tradition. For a recent example, from Hunter Hastings, see: https://mises.org/library/entrepreneurial-super-intelligence-praxeology-age-ai

*** It will entertain future historians that science fiction money was so often denominated in credits. Financialization makes money, fundamentally, a ledger entry, with physical cash tokens marginalized as anomalous relics. To use money is to access an account. As a digital emulation of gold, instantiated upon a public ledger, Bitcoin insolubly fuses primitive and futuristic elements. It exemplifies an alternative financialization, hostile to institutional discretion. There is not retreat from the identification of money with its registration upon a ledger, but rather a radicalization. Yet at the same time its characterization as credit (i.e. bank money) is brought into extreme practical question. The distinction amounts primarily to the subtraction of discretion, which eliminates fractional reserve money creation. The modern bank account is not only a (comparatively complex) ledger entry, but also a permission to borrow, defined by a credit limit. Bitcoin, in contrast, restores money to a positive asset, without counter-party obligation, economically equivalent to abstract precious metal.

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§0.4 — Chapter Four approaches Bitcoin as a contribution to – and problem for – the theory of games. Such a contextualization is ineluctable. The Byzantine Generals’ problem, which prompts the Bitcoin solution, is a model game-theoretic quandary, situated within the project of formalizing distributed coordination, which has accompanied Modernity from its inception.

§0.41 — The Bitcoin protocol is designed as a game. Incentives are built into its infrastructure. It only works when it is played. The distinctive feature of the Bitcoin game is that it produces binding decisions without a referee, or dependence upon prior agreement. Coordination is neither presumed, nor invoked, but produced. The absence of all superior authority makes Bitcoin transcendental in the philosophical sense, and adapts it to anarchy in the rigorous sense this term carries in the field of international relations theory. Any player is welcome to cheat. No moves that are possible are forbidden. Do your worst is its open invitation. This is what trustlessness means.

§0.42 — Social analysis is a regional application of game-theory. There is no conception of ‘the social’ extricable from the domain of games. Transcendental philosophy can be hashed into a game-theoretically tractable vocabulary, which facilitates its general social application. The meaning of ‘spontaneous order’ is finally indissociable from, and co-elaborating with, that of ‘games’. In both cases, what is posed is the strategic problem of multiplicity, or primordial non-coordination. War, politics, and formalized commerce stack successively upon it.

§0.421 — Consensus, as technically formalized within Bitcoin, is game-theoretic coordination, or the solution to a collective action problem. It thus unlocks the most basic problems of social science. Money games, especially, require hard commitments. The DSP is conceived in these (game-theoretic) terms as revisability. It is the negative of a hard, or irrevocable, commitment. Unambiguous irrevocability, then, sets the Bitcoin engineering problem. Lock-in is its specialism.

§0.422 — More particularly, the whole of Bitcoin politics belongs here, including both the conflicts over and within the crypto-currency. From the side of Bitcoin, the initial and framing challenge of the game is to get itself played. This unfolds ‘in the rough’ where (to mix metaphors) ‘turning over the table’ remains an option, at least in appearance.

§0.4221 — There is necessarily a question, defining of the left in this domain, whether Bitcoin should be allowed at all. The ideologically basic issue is permission. At this level, the game is existential for Bitcoin, and everything it carries, meaning the occult liberal tradition.* Mere survival counts as a win. If permissionless process can establish itself, a great veto is irreversibly nullified. The political sphere is downsized.

§0.4222 — If this trend were not resisted, liberalism would have no enemies. Prevention of Bitcoin, however, looks to be already a lost cause. What Bitcoin essentially is cannot easily be distinguished from this anticipated outcome (which is to say, from its bare survival). Existential security was baked into the protocol originally.

§0.4223 — If rejection proves impractical, might there be moderation? ‘Within’ Bitcoin itself, there is almost everything to play for. Crypto-destiny appears to bifurcate, even before it forks. The relevant spectrum of variation separates Mainstreamers from Ultras. The dominant topic here is assimilation or, reciprocally, regime change. Is Bitcoin a tool, or a weapon? This question is folded into Bitcoin’s Block-Size War, which is as important as any conflict of our age.

* That the term “occult liberal tradition” conservatively re-phrases crypto-current is not meant as a secret here. Between liberalization in reality (rather than declaration) and the practical history of cryptography, there is no difference. As the Ancien Régime already knew, Illuminism provides the dramatic mask.

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§0.3 — Chapter Three engages semiotics – or signs about signs. It concentrates upon the status of Bitcoin as a solution to the double spending problem (or ‘DSP’). A case is made for the extreme generality of the DSP as a practical semiotic quandary, roughly coextensive with the existence of life. Resolution of the DSP through a crypto-secure proof-of-work protocol is thus an episode in terrestrial bio-history, and not merely a drastic anthropological – or mature industrial capitalist – innovation (even if it is also both of these). What the protocol addresses is no less than virus, in its broadest extension. It corrects the intrinsic economic crisis of the sign. Semiotic values are instructions, and necessarily coinages. They make a difference, of ‘economic’ consequence. Duplicity – ‘hijacking’ – is thus automatically incentivized. To capture instructions is to command resources. This strategic option is no younger than the organism.*

§0.31 — Potential duplicity is a foundational semiotic concept, with extension far beyond the anthropomophic sphere. Virus already effectuates it (without any recourse to metaphor). The sensitivity of any system to code is, primordially, a vulnerability to capture. The programmable is the reprogrammable. Zoosemiotics is enveloped by this dilemma. No organism that takes advantage of clues, or cues, escapes their strategic ambiguity. Reading risks misreading essentially, and long before language. The hazard of trickery, by mimics, or deceivers, was not an invention of man, still less of digital information systems.

§0.32 — Spam, nevertheless, dramatizes the inherent tendency of the duplicitous sign with peculiar sharpness. It is no coincidence that the genesis of Bitcoin is deeply-interconnected with the practical problem of spam filtration. Spam experimentally demonstrates anti-money. In this, it has been a great teacher. Any functional system of message value credentials, negatively determined against spam, is already an embryonic digital currency.

§0.33 — Robust credential production makes money, whose ultimate basis is counter-duplicity. Bitcoin variants, or ‘alt-coins’, belong firmly to the same field of problems. Alt-coins are, at least partially, duplications – quasi-copies, or rough clones. The superiority of Bitcoin, in respect to competitive ‘alt-coins’ can rest only in its originality, or ‘first-mover’ advantage, since nothing precludes the emergence of a perfect copy. The eventuation of network effects – i.e. raw or irreducible singularity – does everything. Coinage has no essence beyond its event. From an exact date, something happens. There is no doubt more that can be said, but it cannot stretch to full-specification of the phenomenon, even in principle. Bitcoin is, both rigorously and redundantly (or in multiple senses), a production of singularity. Non-duplicity captures this in its most generically-intelligible dimension. A DSP-solution defines a semiotic, irreducible to the signifier or the index (to sense or reference), and already tacit in the nature of the monetary sign.

§0.34 — Explication of the ‘double spending problem’ (or ‘DSP’) necessarily produces, or reproduces, an economic theory of the sign. It restores exclusivity, or – in the language of the economists – the rivalrous sense of the semiotic entity, as commercial token. Resolution of double spending can only be a compression to singularity, as grammatical function and implicit concept, but more basically as practical resource. The conservation of value establishes its real and intrinsic – i.e. autonomous – ground. In this way (alone) it establishes its conditions of existence, in a circuit, by resourcing itself.

§0.35 — The generality of the DSP is evident in many other dimensions. The double opens the door to proliferation without limit. In this respect, double-spending invokes the double of the doubling period, rather than that of double-checking, or double-entry book-keeping, both of which figure on the other side of the account. According to the defining procedure of double-entry book-keeping, whenever money is added, on one side of a ledger, it is subtracted on the other. This requirement implements a distinctive semiotic procedure, irreducible to either signification or designation, which can be named allocation. It is only with regard to its allocative function that a sign can be spent, which is also to say, function as a rivalrous good in the economic sense. To transmit a sign, while still keeping it, in the fashion of language, is the essence of the DSP. A DSP solution, such as Bitcoin, is therefore – by necessity – an assault upon the linguistic model of the sign. Money is not a language. Insofar as it rises to prominence within semiotic theory, it necessarily dethrones the linguistic ideal. Within the anthropomorphic domain, it is precisely in becoming non-linguistic, and non-representational, that signs start to work. Signs are operators, which makes them worth stealing. They are keys, or passes. Virus grasped this more than three billion years ago.

* Deleuze & Guattari thematize this topic as the surplus value of code, as illustrated by the sexual instruction capture, or hacking, of the wasp by the orchid. The sign, duplicity, and resource acquisition are compactly integrated within the very widespread phenomenon of mimicry.

Crypto-Current (008)

§0.2 — Chapter Two explores the reciprocal application of transcendental philosophy and the Bitcoin protocol to each other. It is proposed that the critical triple skein of ontological difference, subtraction of transcendence, and temporalization can be pursued, without significant interruption, into the analysis of Bitcoin. It takes Satoshi Nakamoto’s (2008) Bitcoin paper as its basic text, since this is what the word Bitcoin – by informally-standardized cultural convention – names.

§0.21 — Bitcoin is first broached as a philosophical topic, and thus, subsequently, as a mode of philosophical access to other things. Philosophy is required to concede much, in following this track, especially in regard to the traditionally-conceived cultural and institutional bases of its own authority. The order of discussion follows the course of the problem – the double-spending problem (DSP) as it is nominated – which is understood critically, not only as a practical obstacle to functional cryptographic currency, but also as a philosophical topic of radical generality. Duplicity in its deepest and broadest sense is the target.* The DSP cannot be resolved, then, without simultaneously bringing singularity into the fold of formal engineering. The concrete execution of the Bitcoin protocol provides a peculiarly vivid demonstration of the socio-technical (machinic, or techonomic) production of abstract singularities. Anything else would be cheating.

§0.211 — Critique – the critique of metaphysics – is philosophy (as a current undertaking). It is what philosophy has irreversibly become. Insofar as these terms still diverge, however minutely, there is a task that remains uncompleted. Philosophy establishes itself in modernity by way of auto-critique. ‘Like’ Capital it is a path with firm direction, but without destination (the path is the destination). It exists only by perpetually overcoming itself. Critical – or diagonal – method is a tool through which philosophy is definitively exhausted. Its sole product is immanence. The rigorously complementary formulation asserts: Residual transcendence is the negative of the philosophical undertaking. The systematization of the synthetic a priori is the model of diagonalization in philosophy. Bitcoin is therefore in the very strictest sense a critical enterprise, targeting “trusted third parties” as superfluous metaphysical structures. Immanence is its techonomic – or socio-historical – rather than its merely reflective-conceptual output (or production).

§0.2111 — Critical method coincides exactly with diagonal argument. It identifies pseudo-tautologies and proceeds through their complementary pseudo-paradoxes. The synthetic a priori is the model. Circuits are diagonals.** They do not resolve in one way or another, but always between, either in a hunt for equilibrium, or a flight through inter-excitation.

§0.22 — Analytic-synthetic difference registers cryptographic asymmetry within philosophy. It marks the irreversible. In keeping with the mainstream critical tradition, the formulation of methodical procedure is subsumed into the problem of time. The philosophical problem of time, it might be said, if this were not an invitation to misunderstanding. Restoration of transcendental temporality, or absolute succession, is a philosophical achievement only insofar as the process of philosophy has been thoroughly dis-anthropomorphized, technicized, economized, and (thus) spontaneously materialized. The realization of the idea is only accomplished in the machine. Auto-materialization is so essential to the critical process that it amounts to an intrinsic destiny. Critique cannot consolidate itself other than as historical modernity. It would be a redundancy, or merely emphatic, to add: in reality. Mechanization is nothing but mechanization in reality, and in fact compresses further, to sheer realization, or production.

§0.221 — Natural philosophy – which achieves intellectual autonomy as physics – lies directly in the path of the question of time. In particular, it has radically re-framed transcendental aesthetic within cosmological spacetime, where absolute temporality finds no place. Bitcoin can only interrupt this apparent tendency to theoretical detemporalization, since there can be no resolution of the DSP without strictly determinable succession. Bitcoin and time restoration are finally indistinguishable.

§0.23 — Network thinking – as instantiated by the Bitcoin protocol – complies with the pre-eminent contemporary operationalization of transcendental philosophy (which is considered here, with a maximum of strategic vehemence, to be exactly synonymous with critique). A reliable expectation follows, that Internet production is accompanied by format / data differentiation (into ‘layers’), eradication of transcendence (absence of ‘critical’ nodes), and temporalization (primordial production of absolute succession, or post-relativistic order). The network – radically conceived – is a quasi-teleological manifestation, tending towards the actualization of a principle that is itself emergent, and which functions as a criterion of intelligibility.*** In consequence, any network can be evaluated with reference to an abstract model of self-reproducing decentralization. Bitcoin exemplifies – which is to say realizes – this process with exceptional starkness.

* Duplicity is not merely error, but the malicious instigation of error. Once again, cryptography schools philosophy in realism here. ‘Confusion’ is, in this case, primarily enemy action. An effective response therefore exceeds epistemology, or cognitive self-correction. Doubling spending is more than a mistake. The requirement is not only for intellectual adjustment, but for a procedure that automatically secures resilient singularity, against attack. Knowledge is situated on a battlefield. It is this that constitutes Bitcoin’s principal achievement.

** “I think this is a reference to Bishop in Aliens,” suggested the anonymous ‘ClarkHat’ ingeniously, when this proposition was initially floated on Twitter. (Such entirely supplementary semiotic production exemplifies the surplus value of code.)

*** Given sufficient – i.e. radical – critical correction of classical conceptions, the network is an Idea in the strong (Platonic) sense and, still more definitely, an Aristotelian causally-efficient End (telos). It allows for judgments of adequate approximation and actualization, respectively. Subtraction of super-ordinate instances – i.e. metaphysical impositions – is the criterion, in either case. Through elimination of privileged or commanding nodes, a network is unambiguously improved, relative to its model. It is no less unambiguously enhanced relative to its intrinsic finality. Flatness is the ideal, and the goal. This is not, of course, to be confused with any psychological conception of purpose, or adequation. It is ‘merely’ the directive influence of equilibrium, or – to invoke a more recent coinage – ‘attractor states’ upon the partially-coherent evolution of a system. There are better (or worse) networks, independent of any reference to subjective judgment. In consequence, there is a real gradient to modern history. Only at the most superficial level of evaluation is Bitcoin a popularity contest. The conflict it survives is far more serious.

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§0.1 — Chapter One provides an introduction. It takes a short Satoshi Nakamoto text* as its point of departure, in order to capture Bitcoin as larva.* Its intimate relation with the history of cryptography is supplemented by something hidden, working out through it. Word becomes code.

§0.11 — At the beginning there is a yet-underestimated philosophical work. Whatever happens to Bitcoin, its status as a decisively important document will be secure. Furthermore, reflexively, what is meant by a ‘document’ will never again be the same, after logical envelopment by the category of the ledger entry. Documentation has crossed a new threshold of mechanization. Bitcoin the documentary is thus an exposé in which nothing is hidden, unless behind a fully-manifested mask. It binds publicity to security. All Bitcoin does is secure documentation, which is enough.

§0.12 — The entire cycle is captured by this preliminary diagram, as an “electronic cash system”. In the closure of this cycle, a rupture – or irreversible occurrence – has taken place, comparable in structure and scale to Gödelian transcendental arithmetic, and to Public Key Encryption. Money changes phase, with an abrupt radicality from which there can be no return.

* ‘Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper’ (2008/11/01)
https://www.mail-archive.com/cryptography@metzdowd.com/msg09959.html

** A larva is a mask, and a cryptic (infolded) potentiality.

Crypto-Current (006)

§0.06 — Crypto-Current is organized into six sections, which together compose a cycle. The analytically dismantled circuit of Bitcoin – with each segment seized as a philosophical provocation – finally closes upon itself in an attestation of its positive groundlessness. The loop of Bitcoin auto-production knows nothing of transcendence, at any stage. Whatever might have sought to intrude, representing an extrinsic authority, is dismissed as a superfluous ‘trusted third party’. The circuit is the entire thing.

§0.061 — On the path to a philosophical hash of Bitcoin as a transcendental horizon, Crypto-Current commits itself to a number of interlocking but isolable propositions. Among these, the most intensely exploited – which is to say, those found indispensable for our purposes – are advanced here, in the approximate order of their introduction. Compressed in this way, they can only appear ill-grounded, or dogmatic. They are anticipated in this way for the purposes of convenient preparation, not persuasion. (Digits from the first decimal place map to sections of this book where the relevant discussion is found.)