Crypto-Current (010)

§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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