Crypto-Current (045)

§4.6 — In the tradition of transcendental philosophy, radically decoded agencies have been a central topic. Critique of the empirical ego raises such theoretical concerns automatically. Once psychological identity is theoretically exposed as a mask, or personification, with only apparent reality, or – more precisely – reality only as appearance, the ‘inner’ or ‘underlying’ nature of the will or true agent is posed as a problem. The initial critical response is sheer abstraction, or skeptical bracketing. Agency is liberated from its concrete image. Under extreme critical analysis, teleological articulation is collapsed onto the circuit, or the diagonal, of will-to-power, for which means are the end. To will the end – whatever the end – is to will the means, automatically.[1] This is a cycle so basic that psychology can only be a surface effect. It assumes nothing concrete about the agents modeled by it.  

§4.61 — Ultimately – which is to say critically, or transcendentally – the game has no meaning outside the game. The final point of Bitcoin is Bitcoin. To imagine anything further is to misunderstand. It is to fail at nihilism (in a way that Bitcoin itself cannot do) by remaining stuck in the transcendence tolerance that constitutes the deluded precursor to dimensional collapse. There is nothing further. Autoproduction is an absolute limit, conceptually inconsistent with any further teleological dependency. No extraneous function or purpose can explain it. The terminal subject of strategic significance is Bitcoin itself.[2] It tends relentlessly – from real necessity – to subordinate all preliminarily formulable uses and agendas to its own self-cultivation. Only that which contributes to building it gets passed on. The passage can be made (in reverse) through transcendental-empirical difference, to cash-out the value of bitcoins into Bitcoin. In the completion of the circuit, Bitcoin is what bitcoins are for. Bitcoin utility is itself a teleologically-subsumed function.

§4.62 Consensus is agreement. That is to say, it is coordination realized as immanent production. Such agreement is neither assumed (as the settled product of a transcendent element) nor imposed (through the legislative action of one). Transcendence plays no role in it. The irreducible multiplicity, or distributed system as such, alone decides. It thus formalizes the liberal ideal of non-coercive collectivity. The difficulty of this formalization process is easily understated. The term ‘spontaneous order’ naturally lends itself to inaccurate estimations in this direction,[3] insofar as it suggests that work is the alternative to spontaneity, rather than something far closer to its essence. An unplanned result is groundlessly translated as an achievement without difficulty. Yet it is only from the perspective of pseudo-transcendent design that evolution seems to come for free. In reality, it has been never less than painstakingly sifted. The “work” of biological history – like that of cryptographic hashing – is measured in immensities of trial-and-error.  

§4.63 — Among any beings with centralized nervous systems, the extent to which the germinal sense of self, ego, or person represents the organism is already that to which it instantiates the solution to a collective action problem. Adequate representation, in the sense of agency, is never simply given. It has to be meticulously tuned, and within biological history the complexity of this task has in very many cases been sufficient to place the adaptive value of advanced cognitive capabilities into question. Brains have no use to genomes, unless they strictly remember what they’re for (or operate as if they did). If this is not obvious, it is because natural selection has hidden its work. Within social systems the abstract considerations are strictly comparable, and perhaps more elaborately theorized. Every representative is a potential traitor – and even a traitor by default. This is the situation recognized as the principal-agent problem. Within modern social structures, the legal category of corporate personality operates as an analog to the socio-psychological ego. In this case, too, genealogical obscurity is parenthesized for practical purposes. A locus of responsibility is assumed, as required by the game. As with all organisms-become-persons, such entities summarize, for ease of strategic calculation, the complex production of coherent – i.e. teleologically integrated – beings. Company direction poses a complex meta-managerial problem, to which the board of directors attests. Treacherous management (under other names) stalks the nightmares of business owners. Exit through equity markets offers the most resilient corrective. The principal-agent problem is sharpened – though never fully exhausted – by asymmetric information. Epistemological delegation complicates the alignment of incentives, but does not originally misalign them. Non-alignment of incentives within real multiplicities is in every case the default, given realistic assumptions about the absence of any pre-established harmony.

§4.631 — As Public Choice Theory reveals, there is no escape into politics. ‘Public’ agencies are at least as prone to incentive misalignment as private ones, except with added altruistic illusion.[4] A ‘public servant’ is a teleological ideal, not a factual description. There is no realistic reason to think it can be closely approximated. The game-theoretic situation of the individual is not soluble without remainder within public purpose. The defect option is not eliminable, and incentive structures finally dominate. The fractured idea of the agent is the key, as it occurs in both economic and political domains. The ambiguity of the term is essential. An ‘agent’ is both – or alternatively – a subject with the capacity for action, and one who acts on the behalf of others.[5] This ambivalence is supremely telling. Between agency and an agency is the difference between self-direction, and representation. Conflicts of interest (determinable as ‘moral hazard’) illuminate the divide. The situation is necessarily complicated by the fact that the disparate interests concerned typically have powerful incentives to obscure themselves. To be an employee is always, in part, an act. A uniform, in particular, tells you who you’re pretending to be, dramatizing a delegation of agency that runs in two directions.[6] It represents a deal. No one is employed to be themselves.


[1] The impossibility of consistently willing an end without also willing the means to that end is an early conclusion of the Kantian practical philosophy. The germ for its ‘immoralist’ Nietzschean exacerbation is already implicit. Given any sufficiently advanced X, the final answer to any question of the type ‘What does X want?’ can only be ‘more of the capability to get what it wants.’ This is the transcendental conduit to the formulation of will-to-power. Capability is the inescapable presupposition, and it scales. Growth potential subsumes all specific imperatives. Thus, determinable goals dissolve automatically into an intensive-quantitative factor. The absence of any justification for the cycle outside the cycle is a consummation of immanence, or critique, in what might be considered a cybernetic nihilism. It finds cosmic confirmation in the figure of eternal recurrence. No abstract schema could be more applicable to modern techno-economic dynamism.

[2] Any substantial contribution to the problem of algorithmic governance has to be an advance into nihilism of this kind. Elimination of transcendence already amounts to it, at least implicitly. Systematic insensitivity to extraneous purposes simply is the design imperative. Openness to an ulterior “Why?” is therefore an engineering failure. Nihilism is finally cybernetic closure, and nothing else. That nihilism is therefore a regulative idea, in the Kantian sense, follows directly as a supplementary conclusion. Consummate nihilism is, or would be, the (inaccessible) pinnacle of engineering perfection – the absolute automaton.

[3] Spontaneity designates a critical asymmetry, on the model of the analytic-synthetic distinction. Like a trap-door function, it manifests disproportionate resistance in one direction. It thus suggests itself as a cryptographic theme. Social opacity follows from it. In other words, its work is not seen. It would be unfortunate if the intrinsic subtlety of this problem were to eclipse its dramatic irony. The crucial point being: Only spontaneity is work (when both terms in this equation are rigorously conceived). Analytically-reducible procedures cannot produce anything, by definition. The challenge of synthesis exceeds them, in principle. It follows that there is no work program. Work is that which cannot be demonstrated in any way other than its performance.

[4] In the public sphere, especially, the predictable outcome of incentive misalignment is identified as corruption. The tacit analysis conveyed by this term is systematically unhelpful. Principal-agent problems are not amenable to simple disciplinary correction, on the model of a suppression of vice, and reciprocal restoration of an altruistic norm. Unless player positions are game-theoretically coherent, perversion can be confidently anticipated. Enlightenment, especially – but not exclusively – in its Scottish sense, conforms almost exactly to this insight. When bad things happen, it is because they make sense locally, at the time. Corruption, like criminality in general, prevails for as long as it pays. Any solution involves changing the game. While this is not a lesson that awaited the emergence of Bitcoin, it has certainly been reinforced by the positive model Bitcoin provides.

[5] The British East India Company, with its signature pragmatism, accepted and institutionally formalized the divide intrinsic to agency. Its agents were explicitly authorized to trade on behalf of the company and also on their own account. Company and individual interests were aligned by common opportunities, sufficiently substantial to fully absorb available capital. The arrangement was thus conditioned by definite historical contingencies. It was, in other words, specifically adapted to a massively untapped commercial frontier.

[6] Thinking about the delicate negotiation of a corrupt deal is assisted by the theatrical prop of a uniform. It foregrounds the critical question: Who am I dealing with here? Simplicity is excluded, at the origin. No mere private individual has what you want, while the faithful corporate servant will deny access to it, precisely because it routes around ‘proper channels’. Only the employee who makes a mockery of his uniform is positioned suitably. A kind of double vision is then essential. During the early stages of such negotiations, at least, a certain stilted communicative mode reflects the situation. Two distinct conversations – one proper and one improper – are conducted simultaneously. Perhaps there is some way I could be of further assistance officer?

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