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Selective Coinage and the Rebirth of Philosophy

Brett Musser

Selective Coinage and the Rebirth of Philosophy

The labyrinth of abstractions, scams, and cringe within the crypto ecosystem is potentially without end, making many of the more refined among us ignore cryptocurrency, scoff at it, and move on to seemingly more noble pursuits. The instincts for this are half-right. Money and finance should not be the raison d’être of a vital and higher form of life. Those dedicating themselves to endless accumulation are debasing themselves, to put it bluntly—and in monetary terms. But dismissing accumulation as an end in itself should not become a dismissal of the tool itself or its significance in the pursuit of a higher form of life. Powerful means are crucial for transcendent ends.

In mid-2023, Costin Alamariu’s book Selective Breeding and the Birth of Philosophy took the world by storm. At the heart of selective breeding of the title is the conscious effort to maintain and improve the quality and utility of biological material over time. For roaming pastoralists on the steppe this meant applying eugenics to the herds of horses, cows, goats, canines and other animals they came to master with unprecedented wit, will, and skill. The groups that pioneered animal husbandry came to dominate those who didn’t and as Mr. Alamariu has shown, formed an aristocracy that went on to give birth to philosophical thinking as we know it.

In conjunction with this concern for biological quality was the slow migration from the purely corporeal form of value in biological quality to a more abstract form of value. Livestock were a key form of value exchange in pre-monetized societies for fairly obvious reasons. But livestock have obvious limitations as a form of exchangeable value. Animals are resource-intensive to maintain and transport, and lacks divisibility. Compensating warriors in your mannerbund for their martial prowess and loyalty—at scale—can be quite difficult in this context.

This process of value transition, which began so long ago, continues today, with cryptocurrency. To understand how, and what the implications could be, we should look at the work of the classicist Richard Seaford, in conjunction with the work of Costin Alamariu. Over the last two decades, Seaford has meticulously detailed the rise of coinage and philosophy, showing the deep connections between the growth and spread of coined money on the one hand and philosophical thinking on the other, in both ancient Greece and India at the advent of the axial age.

The pre-Socratics and the Socratics inherited a thoroughly monetized social world. Heraclitus posited an ever living fire that acts as the medium of exchange for all transformation. Parmenides stressed the world’s un-changing regularity as the stable background of all transformations. Thales is credited with creating the first futures contract. Socrates invokes markets, coinage, and merchants in many of his dialogues, challenging the accumulation of wealth as a worthy telos. Plato’s Republic uses monetary metaphors when describing the guardian elite, the merchant middle class, and the lower castes as having gold, silver, and bronze souls respectively, implying the tight relationship between scarcity and value. Aristotle explicitly names the qualities of money that give it its “money-ness”.

The existence of a laboring class and slave class combined with highly monetized markets that operated from the Mediterranean all the way to the Indian subcontinent, provided the resources and leisure time that afforded aristocratic men from Heraclitus to Aristotle the time to think philosophically. Coinage may have been the implicit carrier of the metaphysical concepts that arose during this time.

Seaford’s evidence for the relationship between the emergence of coinage and the birth of philosophy is compelling. But what makes it even more compelling is the fact that this process didn’t just take place once. In Western history, we see this pattern emerge twice more. The Renaissance in the Italian city-states was preceded by explosive financial innovation in double-entry accounting, banking, paper currency, and a host of new sophistications. And the Enlightenment in northwest Europe was preceded by the emergence of joint stock corporations, government bonds, and modern central banking. The wealthy in ancient Greece had metal coins; in the Italian city states they had banknotes; in northwest Europe they had stock certificates and government bonds.

And now the elite netizens of cyberspace store considerable wealth in the blockchain.

This historical background should make us think twice about the purely black-pilled narratives about the end of the West, a new Dark Age, or the end of truth, etc.. In our own era, the combination of public key cryptography and distributed computation to create decentralized and programmable financial networks is a genuine innovation in computer science and financial engineering. Too many culture-makers and intellectuals fail to appreciate the significance of all this because of their distance from it, the distastefulness of money and finance and the nerdiness of computing. They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re still wrong.

Before we go any further, know this: I’m not going to tell you to put your entire net worth in digital assets. I just think you should be open to the historical significance of what’s happening and how it might change tastes, social organization, geopolitics, your own conception of value, and even thinking itself.

Nick Land, prophet of the cybernetic age and high consul of the Dark Enlightenment, is also, unsurprisingly, a prophet of cryptocurrency. In 2018, on the 10th anniversary of the publishing of the Bitcoin whitepaper, Land published a lengthy exposition titled “Crypto-Current: Bitcoin & Philosophy”.

The essay is daunting for those unfamiliar with philosophy or Bitcoin but, nevertheless, a treasure trove of insights to those who have some familiarity with either. According to Land, Bitcoin is “a philosophical automatism, a synthetic philosophical machine” that “threatens to change the way everything is thought and done.” He really means it.

But he goes even further:


“At the extreme, therefore, an identity is ventured between the invention of money and the origins of pure thought during the axial age the world begins to learn what money or abstraction can do… In the final analysis, nothing less than the nature of reality is brought into question by this event [Bitcoin]. It concerns the ‘Being of beings’ (at least)… There is no philosophical thinking of Bitcoin – in either the subjective or objective genitive–that is not also (‘simultaneously’) a re-thinking of time, or sovereign decision. ‘Re-thinking’ is a revision, but no less a restoration.”


Bringing things back down to Earth, is it a coincidence that the first statesman to make Bitcoin legal tender in his country seems to be one of the very few leaders who is genuinely re-thinking accepted regime shibboleths and has “Philosopher King” in his twitter bio? I think not.

The establishment left, its sycophants in media, and its fanatical cultural base, with some rare exceptions, are allergic to Bukele as well as Bitcoin-bros and the greater crypto-verse. This is yet another open goal for rightists. But to call Bitcoin users conservatives or rightists would be misleading.

New technical systems and incentives that imply a fighter’s chance at material gain, attract many different types. However, it is true that many within these networks are right leaning or at least open to and not openly hostile to right leaning cultural and political forces. The establishment left and its high priests’ hostility to open protocols that make accessibility and flattening old hierarchies a priority can be perplexing but, seen within a different frame, it makes perfect sense.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, masculine leftism fell with it. In the West, right and left, for all intents and purposes, are ideological masks for archetypally masculine and feminine orientations towards the world. Voting trends in the West, post-USSR, bear this out. Bitcoin and the abundance of crypto-capital it inspired is deeply ambitious, assertive, technical, action-oriented, irreverent, and energized by risk-taking. These qualities are foreign to an orientation that prioritizes safety, perpetual dialogue, social consensus, moral shaming, and the current thing. The crypto phenomena is a masculine enterprise. ​​Exceptio probat regulam.

The struggles of boys and men are well documented by this point. However, the opening of the crypto-frontier provides opportunities for financial gain, cultural patronage, as well as new forms of social organization that will serve as a powerful tool for new ways of thinking and the formation of parallel institutions that aren’t actively hostile to a more masculine orientation. To put it in internet terms we’re all familiar with, crypto is a critical tool for men and for philosophy itself to dig its way out of the 20th century “longhouse.”

The crypto-phenomenon is no silver bullet or golden ticket, either for you or the West. Even so, these new financial forms if they are not squashed or captured, will almost certainly lead to new political, social and cultural forms that will revolutionize the way people live, in the same way selective breeding and the introduction of stable coinage did, thousands of years ago. We await the philosophers and philosopher-kings of this new digital age with bated breath.

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