My Little Penny – Bitcoin Is Magic

“Change for the machines.” – Synners, Pat Cadigan

Theodor Adorno regarded the occult as a politically quiescent denial of alienation through a regression to animism.

“Occultism is a reflex-action to the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification. If; to the living, objective reality seems deaf as never before, they try to elicit meaning from it by saying abracadabra. Meaning is attributed indiscriminately to the next worst thing: the rationality of the real, no longer quite convincing, is replaced by hopping tables and rays from heaps of earth.”
– Theses Against Occultism, Theodor Adorno

And this is true, although as always it would be wrong to attribute a more general feature of human psychology uniquely to a single religion.

The Baudrillardian Disneyland of religion is the cargo cult, in which Melanesian islanders re-enact the long-ago observed activities of departed American troops in order to cause the vehicles that delivered wartime supplies to return. To the outside observer it is obvious that both the occult and cargo cults fall foul of the distinction between correlation and causation.

The occult, like philosophy, suffers from the semantic fallacy. This is the equivalent of the pathetic fallacy for meaning, the projection of cognitive structures of logical rather than emotional significance onto the external environment. Magick extends this with the adolescent male power fantasy of imposing one’s will directly on reality, of reducing the amount of work one has to do to get what one deserves. In this it resembles economics.

Modern economics uses statistics to model reality. Samples are drawn from populations, and various tests are used to ensure that conclusions about these samples accurately represent the wider population. Policy based on these conclusions can then be applied to the general population safe in the knowledge that they will almost certainly only be wrong a specified percentage of the time. Statistics is the state religion of economics, bringing revelation and absolution back from the numeric plane.

In “Qabbala 101”, Nick Land describes the assumptions of Kabbalic gematria. It is possible to detect a signal from outside the system from traces within the system. And this can be done using mathematics to find the contingent numeric properties of words, by counting their length or by mappings of their consonants to numeric values. In this way the text can refer outside the text. Get the numbers right and you get your cargo or impose your will. To an outside observer the obvious problem with gematria is that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

The popularity of cryptocurrencies represents in no small part a reaction to the financial crisis and austerity. That reaction takes the form of a retreat from conventional economic and political action, and represents at least an economic occult. A de-supernaturalised magic (like a de-supernaturalised economics…) has a cognitive remainder. It is a means of modulating human experience and affecting human behaviour. Belief in imaginary entities, whether thoughtforms or money, is not necessary for them to have effect.

Without the coercive power of the state backing them, cryptocurrencies’ re-enactment of the rituals of fiat currency amount to cargo cults. In their attempt to circumvent the work of economics and banking they resemble magick. But in their use of mathematics they resemble the Kabbalah. Accounts and transactions in Bitcoin are represented and protected using cryptographic hashes, a way of using mathematics to both conceal the content of and prove the identity of a piece of information. This takes place in the blockchain, a data structure built and validated by machines across the Bitcoin network. The blockchain is a fiat currency hors-texte, a monetary outside.

The Bitcoin protocol that constructs the blockchain is a set of meaningful actions that are the embodiment and amplification of human intent. It is a ritual. As with copyright in AI, the benefit of intent accrues to its human initiator. This isn’t the first time a massively distributed electronic ritual has taken place, the Dalai Lama pointed out in the 1990s that having Avalokitesvara’s mantra on your hard disk is like having a prayer wheel on your computer. In the case of Bitcoin this ritual consists of the endless mathematical and network operations that build the blockchain.

This is why Bitcoin is magic. Get the numbers right and you can signal outside the system. Get the numbers right and you can map the results back onto society from the numeric plane. Get the numbers right and you will receive the cargo you ordered. It’s a ritual to transform society.

Via Netbehaviour, last year.

Posted in Crypto, Magick

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