Monday, December 01, 2014

Memes and Money and Bitcoin and Bits and Me and You

One


Money is many things to many people - a memory system, a way of sustaining civilisation, a game. At worst, it is a religion. No, wait. At worst, it is a cult.

Money is too real these days, too alive for its own good. People stress about it, feel good about it, die for it. Money buys you food, but it turned into a simple medium for buying food later on into an entire industry in itself.

Not just an industry - a cult. Or a culture. A theme park that is more real than what it is being exchanged for. “Value for money” became a Thing. A gradual acceptance of Greed in the 80s turned into a long-term, ingrained study of personal economic efficiency. The trendsetters set the terms. Everyone else tries to fit those terms into the square hole of their lives, and gloats when a corner seems to fit. Supermarkets have become purveyors of “money hacking”.

Two


The net was always a fictional world for me. Disembodied words from strange countries I would never visit. People spilling their lives out like a book in real-time. It was more real than real, and it was never real. Real-time wasn’t real because time is warped on-line. Words do as they want.

The net was, and is, a plaything. Identities come and go. Groups gather and disperse. Websites appear, mutate, lose their way, get eaten by wolves and come out the other side as just shells. The path between idea and reality is shorter than ever, as distant as registering a domain name.

But reality itself is being forgotten. No, worse, it is being subsumed, reflected, reanimated. The illusion of the net is more powerful than the red dust of what we had before. The “twats of David (@david_cameron) Cameron’s world were born from a hyperreal society that inherently hypervalued media and attention already. We are all political leaders now. Democracy is a game, a dangerous, deadly, fucked-up game of Russian Roulette.

I was drawn into the net because it was and wasn’t real. It had weight without substance. Power without force. Violence without guns. I love living there.

Three


Bitcoin is a money that I can understand - a faith system founded in bits and rules. It is an open-source hydra, free of any responsibilities to itself, and yet self-contained to the point of nonchalance. It is sage-like in its independence. It will live or die, but care not.

It was reading about Slenderman (via James) that got me understanding: Bitcoin is a myth.

Money is a myth. A religion. A cult. It has value because people talk about it.

Bitcoin is a meme. It has value because people pay attention to it.

The net has power. It has value because people can trade words on it.

My attraction to Bitcoin is the same as my attraction to the net. Bitcoin is to money as the net is to democracy. It is real and yet not real. It is no more real than what it pretends to disrupt - or to mirror, to parody, to usurp. Reality is a bunch of crap. Reality on the net is just more obviously a bunch of crap.

Four


Bits can be destroyed at any moment, and yet simultaneously they can be created, copied, cloned endlessly forever. How can this be? No, that’s not important. The important question is: Which is the real copy?

In the real world, democracy and money are made real through guns and bars. Counterfeiting is possible but discouraged. Power struggles are contained within grandiose halls.

In the net world, counterfeiting is a way of life. Open source projects are forked like staring through a series of kaleidoscopes. Power struggles are moved into new spaces. Same problems, different approaches. Was the colonisation of America merely a fork of Europe?

If money is fungible, is creating new money a form of cloning?

Five (because four is a symbol of death)


What is real? Nothing? No, that’s not possible. Something is real because the word “real” exists. You are reading this now, aren’t you? So there is something here. Perhaps it is just that what we think of reality needs re-pointing, re-grounding.

If bits are real and not real, and the things those bits reflect are real and not real, do the bits and the things they reflect both ultimately refer to something real? Is that reality merely “us”? You? Me? Should I define democracy in terms of myself, or myself in terms of the democratic system of political inter-struggles I was born into?

If money is a memetic system, are all memes equally valid forms of defining the substances that make us up? And if so, can I choose to jump between such memes just like a can choose to convert all my Pounds Sterling into Euros?

I wish I could draw this to a halt, an artistic conclusion that leaves the reader with a sense of fulfilment. Sadly, I think there are only empty highways, scarily open fields, and the void of a space yet to be truly discovered. It is worth packing blankets at this point.

I have run out of things to say. There is only the speed of thought, and beyond that, the speed of the heart.

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