On Trust

that's WEIRD

Religion must be ethics, ethics alone is religion. - Feurbach 

One should be an egoist. Many 19th century German intellectuals thought egoism was the way to fill the void left by religion. You are not more wise than them. So, an egoist it is.

The void left by religion needs to be filled with something, rather than nihilism, one should embrace benign an egoist. At least the egoist is constantly trying to better oneself. If one does not find hope in god, one needs to find hope within oneself.

The Will to Power, ubermensch, arete etc. From the ancient Greeks to the moderns, personal excellence has been the way for a very few to overcome the tantalizing allure of nihilism. Egoists do not live in solitude, rather they are social animals that need to be stimulated through interaction with other fellow humans

So, in a circuitous way, if everyone is an egoist, then everyone will be better off. The more refined or great someone is the more one has to offer the world. Initially one might assert that this is a selfish way to live, that is an ignorant view and the person making this assertion needs to read Max Stirner.

Stirner asserts that the egoist supports others because the egoist wants others to be as gratifying to the egoist as possible. Ie the people around an egoist should be cultivated to be beautiful, intelligent, healthy, and humorous because the egoist will derive the most satisfaction from the people who are also egoist striving to become the neat version of the make a possible.

One might be too trusting in others and not trusting enough in oneself. Egoism sounds bad, but it is one of the traits that might make one more successful than their counterparts in developed nations. Success in modernity is predicated on talent, cunning, and strength.

Trust your gut, not someone else’s. Did they eat steak or Doritos for lunch? It matters, but I digress. In modernity we trust others more than in any other time in history. A lot of this is obfuscated by “trusted” third parties and institutions. The USG tells you how much purchasing power you have, the FDA tells you what you can ingest, and the NYT tells you what to think… What could go awry? Everyone trusts three letter organizations. Until one realizes these organizations are filled with liars and that sees oils are TERRIBLE.

Historically trust was only extended to ones in group (extended to Dunbar #), globalization has changed this for many people in the developed world. We trust others with our society, our health, our money, our education, and our children ad infinitum with no accountability.

The over extension of trust, which is a trait of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) individuals has led to countless modern ills. Don’t trust, verify.

The Ancients

The ancients went about things a bit differently. This is a Hobbesian view, but it illustrates a stark contrast about the reverence for other people our ancestors had vs today. The saying - Homo homini lupus: meaning "A man is a wolf to another man," or more tersely "Man is wolf to man” immediately springs to mind.

This ancient sayings meaning shines in reference to situations where people are known to have behaved in a way comparably in nature to a wolf. The wolf as a creature is thought, in this example, to have qualities of being predatory, cruel, inhuman i.e. more like an animal than civilized. This is an ancient take appropriated by Hobbes to show that man is born with a certain amount of evil within and that society is what suppresses this evil.

The condition of man... is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. - Thomas Hobbes

The Moderns

We again turn to the German thinkers for a modern take on trust and between man. What do you know about CRT? What are the odds that the often loathed ubermencsh philosopher that only cared about the will to power was really the catalyst to post modern critical thought? Odds are high my friend.

The modern saying, tweaked from the ancient saying is - Homo homini deus: Man to man is a kind of God. Used by Feurbach and other 19th century intellectuals to display the change from guarding against ones fellow man to turning inward to accept oneself as a god. One’s body is a temple which worships itself. Egoism is useful in modernity for those with not only a healthy dose of ego, but also a high capacity for sociopathy and self discipline. The cousin to the dark triad if you will.

Such is the way of the modern Western world. We are gods and gods are good. Right? Not so fast, are you familiar with the Greek gods or their Roman counterparts? They were not all benevolent do gooders, oh no, they ran the spectrum of good and evil. The ancients were not Pollyanna by nature, nor are you.

Nietzsche himself loved to wax poetically about Dionysus and Apollo. Man is both good and evil, it is our transcendence beyond this dichotomy that has led us to material prosperity. You have a nice TV or computer, but do you call you mother? One should study Nietzsche intently as he possessed one of the most gifted minds in history, be cautious though, as it is easy to fall in love with his reasoning and overarching will to power

One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. "Good" is no longer good when one's neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a "common good"! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche loves to wax poetically about the gods Dionysus and Apollo. The juxtaposition of these gods shows mans innate nature to be both chaotic and ordered. That one cannot exist without the other in a healthy person. Man is both good and evil, it is mans transcendence beyond this dichotomy that has led to material prosperity. You have a nice TV or computer, but do you call you mother? One should study Nietzsche intently as he possessed one of the most gifted minds in history, be cautious though, as it is easy to fall in love with his reasoning.

Globalization

It is true that trust acts as a lubricant to trade, growth and prosperity. But at what cost? One is no longer able to support oneself with basic skills and como sense of their ancestors. 

The age of information is upon us. This has been both a blessing and a curse. What happened to our long-term memory and our attention span? What happened to being able to trust the news anchor on TV?  

We live in an era of deep fakes and hyper-realistic computer simulations. An age where fact-checking is a bygone art, replaced by something like proof of attention.

But somewhere beyond the noise, we know that society needs trust and truth. There’s no way that a single person can become an expert on all topics or a specialist in all disciplines. It’s been that way since the agricultural revolution. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, these trends are accelerating like never before.

Issues with trust and truth are deep ones that get more complicated as time passes. In fact, an entirely new vocabulary has arisen around the topic. Truthiness, Alternative Facts, Deep Fake, Simulation, Plausible Deniability, Instagram Reality, Filter Bubble, Real Donald Trump, Fake News, Phishing Scam, Crowds for Hire, Counterfeit Money, Antitrust, and the list goes on. 

Dealing with this has not been easy for any of us. But when it comes to software, solutions need to be explicit. For example, how do you know what time it is? You’re probably looking at your smartphone or the clock on your computer. But how does a computer know what time it is? It turns out this matter is nontrivial.

Bitcoin has a clever solution to this problem that involves “stopping time” once every ten minutes or so. Then, a block is created from the valid mempool transactions that will provide the most economic benefit to the miner that discovered it. This new block is broadcast to the network and if the block is valid, miners around the world will accept it and arrive at what’s called “Nakamoto Consensus,” that is to say, the longest chain is the valid one. 

This timestamping process may not seem like a big deal, but it comes back to trust once again. How do I know that the Bitcoin you just sent me wasn’t already spent? Logically, if two transactions try to spend the same Bitcoin, then only one of these transactions must be valid. This is called the double-spend problem and a timestamping blockchain is the ideal solution to prevent it. Once Bitcoin is spent, the ability to spend it again is transferred to the new owner. But without a source of ground truth about what time it is, how can you determine the order of blocks containing the transactions?  

Bitcoin is full of simple and yet elegant solutions like this. These solutions ensure that each UTXO (unspent transaction output, the actual Bitcoin) can be traced back to its origin. They enforce the hard limit on the number of BTC in circulation, which will not exceed 21 million. In contrast, think about the task of trying to determine how many US dollars are in circulation. Are we talking about M0, M1, M2? How do we know how many bills in circulation are fake? And perhaps the most daunting question of all, how can anyone determine the size of the Eurodollar market? Once a US Dollar leaves American soil, it’s no longer bound by domestic banking regulations. Jefferey Snider calls the Eurodollar the world’s reserve currency, not the US Dollar. If determining the exact number of dollars in circulation is not possible, and determining the number of Eurodollars is even worse, then what happens when we project this forward in time? Will this problem get better?

For these reasons and many others, I believe that all currencies will eventually become digital currencies. Countries around the world are in a race towards this goal as we speak. But beware, because these new digital currencies are not free and open like Bitcoin. They will come at a cost. What will the cost be exactly? We don’t know. But I would venture to guess that the answer has something to do with less freedom, less privacy, and no guarantee about the amount that will be digitally minted.  

Bitcoin is a different animal. It comes from the wilds of the last frontier, the internet. It gets attacked every day and, in every way, imaginable. There’s the “criminal use case” attack. Interestingly, Pandora’s box was opened when we created currency, not when we created Bitcoin. When money is introduced to monkey tribes, the first thing they invent is strong-armed robbery, followed by prostitution. Sound familiar? But we haven’t done away with money, and I don’t see the idea of value transfer as one that will be sunset any time soon.

We could go on and on about these attacks on free and open money, decentralized stores of value, etc. (which I don’t mind doing when it’s appropriate). But that would be missing the big picture. The big picture is that we have for the first time a way to store value in a digitally native asset. That asset can act as a form of money. The money can be sent or received anywhere in the world where there’s an internet connection. I’m talking about Bitcoin here, but that does not mean that other technologies will not emerge in the future or might not become more significant over time. One such example is the ability to write smart contracts on other blockchains, like Ethereum and have a reasonable degree of certainty that it will be executed as written. Or to even transmit Bitcoin over the Ethereum blockchain or use that wrapped BTC to anchor the value of another platform or even currency.

If you think about it, we have good reason to trust open-source software over closed-door fed meetings. We have good reason to trust the science of cryptography over the promises made by politicians. Is it any wonder then, that Bitcoin is front and center in the trust revolution?

The trust revolution is about putting trust at the base of the pyramid. This is completely upside-down from the way things work now, where trust is assumed because verification is simply impossible. If you go far enough down the rabbit hole, you will eventually find that the emperor has no clothes and that the great Oz is simply an old man behind a curtain. What comes next could shake the world to its very foundation. And I think it all starts and ends with trust. The trust that comes from knowing, not from being forced to comply.

That’s why we say, “don’t trust, verify.”