As Vladimir Lenin said, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. What makes our times particularly turbulent is that we are simultaneously at the late stages and transitional moments of three big cycles:
- Carlota Perez’s technological revolutions / financial capital cycle (50-60 years)
- Strauss–Howe generational cycle (80-100 years)
- Ray Dalio’s empire / reserve currency cycle (200 years)
If you don’t understand these cycles and how they interact with each other, you can’t understand what’s coming at you. Collectively, they explain the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, the clash over Hong Kong, political extremism across the world, and the rise of Bitcoin. It is in moments of greatest danger like ours where once-in-a-lifetime opportunities lie.
The other day I was reading Albert Camus’ classic The Rebel. His exposition of Nietzsche’s philosophy pretty much sums up my state of mind amidst these turbulent times – think in terms of an apocalypse to come, not in order to extol it, but in order to avoid it and transform it into a renaissance.
To borrow observations from crypto thought leaders Nic Carter and Ryan Selkis, the past week has seen the world gradually coming to terms with the reality that the next decade will look incredibly bleak. The coronavirus, while not the Black Swan in itself, is going to bring our already fragile systems – deep distrust in governments, overstretched monetary policy, and social polarizations – on the brink of collapse.
But like Ryan Selkis, I remain optimistic and excited, not because people are suffering, but because crisis brings opportunity to revamp broken systems. In the coming months and years, we will only see more dysfunctional monetary stimulus and financial turmoil. For me, I’m going to stay even more committed to Bitcoin and crypto, as decentralized finance is our best bet to a more ethical, resilient, and self-empowering post-crisis future.
To accurately characterise Bitcoin and predict its trajectory in the decade ahead, it helps to revisit the message embedded in its genesis block: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.
Bitcoin kicked off the blockchain revolution and became a poster child of fintech. Over time, it is regarded as a monetary technology for its value as sound money. Eventually, people will realise that it is the most promising Dissident Tech of our time. This occurs in the context of the enormous social problems and inequalities created by the Cantillon Effects of unprecedented global liquidity – a redistribution from the poor to the rich.
In other words, Bitcoin is a technological breakthrough, but it is first and foremost a political and ideological movement.
As a polymath and Bitcoin maximalist, I see Bitcoin as a portal to ideas of great thinkers of which I’m a student: Gustave Le Bon’s crowd psychology, Eric Hoffer’s fanatical mass movements, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s antifragility and skin in the game, Friedrich von Hayek’s distributed knowledge and monetary competition, Jorge Luis Borges’ illusion of reality, Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power, John Nash’s game theory, and much more that I’m yet to discover. It never fails to amaze me to see how these ideas, through Bitcoin, are playing out everyday right in front of our eyes, and I’m grateful to be part of the greatest social revolution of our time.
It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British Government administrations.
Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her, can do nothing wiser than to throw away these ladders of her greatness, to preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in penitent tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error, and has now for the first time succeeded in discovering the truth.
When Friedrich List wrote these paragraphs in The National System of Political Economy in the 19th century, the U.S. was a newly industrializing nation. Today, it is at the pinnacle of technological achievements. Here are the hard truths about national economic development: climbing your way up requires unorthodox tools; staying on top takes hypocrisy to deny latecomers those very same tools.
Fanatical experiments cannot be sustained without creativity. To paraphrase a wise man from the last century, the way the Nazis or the Communists sell their holy causes is no different from the way capitalists advertise their Gucci bags or cigarettes. The techniques we found in the imperialistic tendencies of the Nazis and the Communists are in fact based on the methods of industrial enterprises.
Today, when theorists in Beijing talk of socialism with Chinese characteristics, they are perhaps admitting that the success of the authoritarian experiment will always depend on the creativeness proceeding in the outside non-authoritarian world. If there were no free societies outside of China, they might have found it necessary to establish freedom by coercion.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb uses two criteria to filter ideas and books. First, the Lindy Effect: the more the book has been around, the longer its future life expectancy. Second, the more skin in the game, the more convincing the idea is. In practice, I am attracted to books that look ancient, and look at how far the author is prepared to pursue his/her ideas.
In most Chinese cities, I seldom find bookstores where you can buy the Book of Lord Shang (商君書) and Guiguzi (鬼谷子) together, except in Beijing. I think the only reason is that readers in Beijing have skin in the game as they rub shoulders with Leviathans and Machiavellis every day.
Shang Yang (商鞅) and Guiguzi (鬼谷子) predated Thomas Hobbes and Niccolò Machiavelli by over 1,500 years. And unlike today’s members of the “intelligentsia”, they have real skin in the game, more so than their rival Confucians. Shang Yang was literally torn to pieces for executing his reform ideas which paved the way for Qin’s universal rule. Guiguzi bred Su Qin (蘇秦) and Zhang Yi (張儀), two preeminent rhetoricians that are rivalrous yet mutually-reinforcing in the Warring States period. In the end, one was (again) torn to pieces, the other died in exile.
Therefore, their books are great, per Lindy Effect and skin in the game. The same principles apply to other fields. Among Republican China’s men of letters, I think Wang Guowei (王國維) is the best. He was a rarity by drowning himself in Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace in 1927. Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹) personally experienced the fall of his illustrious family from its height, dying in poverty. Hence, I think the Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) is infinitely better than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. I too love Nietzsche, who died of insanity, and Yukio Mishima (三島由紀夫), who committed ritual suicide.
Skin in the game is something to aspire to.
Büro Ole Scheeren took the needle of the tower and bent it back into itself to create a loop. There is no beginning or end. Walk around the base of the tower, and you see it go from strong and imposing to unstable and fragile. It’s the perfect symbol for a post-truth world.
In Richard Dawkins’ conception, human being is the medium through which information and ideas, or memes, spread. However, we constitute a poor medium which favors the spread of untruth rather than truth. As pointed out by Curtis Yarvin, human beings find nonsense as a more effective organizing tool than truth. To believe in truth is easy, but to believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. History is full of examples of this phenomenon in action: all organized religions (such as Christianity), Soviet Union, China’s Cultural Revolution, and today’s mainstream media and academia (what Nassim Nicholas Taleb called the Intellectual Yet Idiots).
We can also reinterpret the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. For kids, the moral is honesty and courage in speaking the truth. For adults, it is that the best proof of a cadre’s loyalty is her dedication to the absurdity and stupidity of the leader.
Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
Reading chapters from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and Trump’s press conference, you will conclude that a nation’s decline is the reverse – it is a close-up comedy and long-shot tragedy. Trump has turned White House into reality comedy shows.