- Mar 2019
When I interviewed Buterin in Cancun in 2017, I asked what he had been reading lately. Reddit and a stuff by this economist Glenn Weyl, he said. Two years later, this has turned into Buterin's entree into wider socio-political thought, as Morris points out.
King George III
More of that dry humour.
There’s no such thing as society.
The social aspect of crypto network development is something that has crept up on the groups involved, and is now rapidly becoming the major focal point of work. Early bitcoiners' resistance to notions of community are proving unsustainable in the face of competition from new networks who do pay attention to community building.
he’s still charmingly awkward, he’s infinitely more confident and comfortable in his own skin
Buterin's evolution from mailing list poster to the leader of a multi-billion dollar blockchain has been fascinating to observe. I saw him speak live at Devcon 3 in Cancun in 2017. He was already an able and confident speaker by that time, easily holding the room during his keynote address. He threw in a few wry jokes too.
announce Ethereum in 2014
This is an interesting slice of crypto history. Morris' account of the North American Bitcoin Conference and Buterin's appearance there is one of the few I've seen.
Understanding Monetary Premiums in Programmable Value Networks
The TLDR is: Zuller proposes that social capital and financial capital form a virtuous circle for cryptonetworks, allowing first movers such as ethereum to gain a decisive advantage against competitors. Ethereum's accumulated social and financial capital make it difficult for a challenger to emerge as a general-purpose decentralised smart contract platform.
My thought is Zuller's analysis of social capital ignores the long established body of work on on the topic, and this analysis could be better applied in the case of ethereum. I also think bitcoin is an interesting study in the effects of social capital and the viability of a decentral crypto network.
Does physical capital lead to social capital, or does social capital lead to physical capital? Or is the relationship between the two circular?
There is a large body of work in sociology and critical theory focused on this very question, spanning decades. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu analysed the relationship between social elites and their social capital, and concluded that class status is inextricably intertwined with social capital, allowing elites to leverage their "connections" to obtain disproportionately larger amounts of financial capital.
In other words, well-connected, wealthy individuals are already endowed with large amounts of social capital, which they can then use to continue to obtain more financial capital.
DFINITY, Near, Polkadot
These projects are all funded or founded by individuals with significant social and financial capital. They are therefore well positioned to challenge ethereum's dominance.
By contrast, consider Satoshi Nakamoto's launch of the bitcoin network. As a pseudonymous persona with no history attached to it, Nakamoto had no social capital to speak of. This social capital had to be bootstrapped through a corpus of communications on the cryptography mailing list, and other fora.
So bitcoin was launched with minimal social capital, by contrast to ethereum.
extremely large social capital base.
An analysis of ethereum should start with an analysis of the founder's social capital: Vitalik Buterin already occupied a rarefied position in the technology industry because of his Thiel fellowship, obtained as an adolescent.
He then burnished those credentials by starting a publication, Bitcoin Magazine, which did not attract financial capital, but boosted his social capital through increased visibility and connections to the bitcoin world.
Having leveraged his social capital in this way, he now made the leap to monetise it by finding collaborators to launch ethereum.
Individual actors then use their association with the ethereum network to increase their own social capital. This in turn attracts investors of financial capital.
Affect Theory and the New Age of Anxiety
The TLDR here is that this piece has little directly to do with cryptocurrencies. But it happens to sit at a weird intersection of stuff I happen to be interested in.
So here goes: Affect theory says how we feel explains what we do. That’s what explains populist/popular movements like Occupy, Trump supporters, and other loosely organised, mass movements that all seem to originate on the internet before meta sizing beyond the network.
Affect and politics could also be what explains the popular appeal and the movement behind cryptocurrencies. It could also explain why crypto proponents are particularly resistant to criticism: a surgical takedown of bitcoin’s monetary policy problems matters less than how stateless coins make its proponents feel.
Anyway, my previous snippet got lost on the WiFi, so this is a rather disjointed recollection of it. And this is my summary of the day.
Again, the popularity of cryptocurrecies might be understood in terms of these other, popuist/popular, movements as well. Movements formed as a reaction to something.
They saw our world as shaped not simply by narratives and arguments but also by nonlinguistic effects—by mood, by atmosphere, by feelings.
Per the notation below, this might describe what the crypto world is all about. Less about monetary policy—more about how monetary policy makes them feel.
🔗 The theoretical schools around affect )are interesting rabbit holes to explore here, with apologies to my postgraduate lecturers!
Where did the seeming surplus of emotionality that we see on the Internet come from, and what might it become?
This particular line resonates with what happens in Crypto-land, I think. For a couple of reasons: Crypto-land itself is largely constituted of online interactions. Secondly, crypto-land is nothing if not overflowing with a “surplus of emotionality”. Perhaps this is why we see an overlap of communities interested in Trumpian politics and ideas, and cryptocurrencies. They might be interested or attracted to the same thing: how these subjects make them feel.
🔗 Brian Massumi has much to say about politics and affect. His idea is that the pre-emptive policies of post-9/11 counter-terrorism creates an atmosphere of “low-lying fear”—an affect of terror.
EXCLUSIVE: The inside story of Spankchain
The TLDR of this is: Spankchain has found a "product-market fit" between people who are shut out of the conventional financial and banking system, and technologies that route around that system.
What's good about this piece is the amount of detail and colour contained in it about ethereum mogul Joe Lubin—for instance, I've never heard such interesting quotes from Lubin before, who tends to be rather careful and bland in his public statements.
The piece also gets into some of the usually obscure internal decision-making mechanics at ConsenSys, which is an entity worth following closely in Crypto-Land, because it has recently carried out a number of lay-offs, and is a barometer for the health of the ethereum blockchain and cryptocurrencies in general.
Lastly there is a nice segue into some of the philosophising behind this venture, which unfortunately for me, leads us to notions of all-powerful artificial intelligences saving the world.
“token curated registry”—basically a listicle, with equity.
This is probably the clearest and most pithy description of a "token curated registry" I have read. And I tried very hard to explain the concept in articles like this one, about Civil.
🔗 Here's the canonical thing on TCRs, by Mike Goldin.
“Meditations on Moloch,”
Clicked through to the essay. It appears to be mainly an argument for a super-powerful benevolent general artificial intelligence, of the sort proposed by AGI-maximalist Nick Bostrom.
The money quote:
The only way to avoid having all human values gradually ground down by optimization-competition is to install a Gardener over the entire universe who optimizes for human values.
🔗 This is a great New Yorker profile of Bostrom, where I learned about his views.
🔗Here is a good newsy profile from the Economist's magazine on the Google unit DeepMind and its attempt to create artificial general intelligence.
slow, deliberative work ethic
I'm not sure I've ever heard ConsenSys described this way. Most accounts I've heard are more along the lines of "confusing" or "chaotic".