Looking at what's previously been defined as "divine," Bitcoin the technology and ideological identity fits many of the criteria.
Bitcoin As A Divine Idea
Bitcoin As Divine
Bitcoin is divine. And with all things divine, us humans form religions that try to understand the divine and venerate it, especially because of the difficulty of comprehending it in full.
There is extensive literature that describes Bitcoin as a living organism (Gigi, Quittem). These perspectives reveal that Bitcoin “grows, reproduces, inherits and passes on traits, uses energy to maintain a stable inner structure, is cellular in nature, and responds to the various environments it lives in.” Far from being just a tool or technology, Bitcoin emerges as a living being that lives in symbiosis with us. We mine the Bitcoin network for more bitcoin and it feeds us bitcoin — the carrot at the end of the stick.
Human natural history teaches us that, when we enter in symbiosis with other creatures, we soon end up venerating them as divine. The functionalist school of anthropology would see veneration as not irrational, but an evolutionarily and socially meaningful action that helps to establish a positive relationship between us and what we depend on and may have trouble understanding.
As bitcoin restructures economies, politics, geopolitics and the rest of our social order, it’s quite likely that it will also change our beliefs, rituals and even what we venerate.
First Of All, What Is The Divine?
: of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god
: being a deity
In millennia of religious practice and devotion, humans have found the divine in many places. The ancient Egyptians venerated beetles, for “distributing fertilizer more evenly among the plains and removing a food supply for flies,” and cats, for their elegance and ability to kill unwanted guests that might carry pests. The Hindus have over 18 million gods; the ancient Romans and Greeks had thousands. And of course, gold wasn’t ever just a decorative ornament but was seen as the substance of God itself.
The history of our divinities is deeply tied to the type of societies and the worlds we were living in. In purely agricultural societies, it was the cycles of nature that largely determined our lives, and thus, we venerated them. As larger civilizations came about, so came the need for emperors to structure the lives and beliefs of its citizens around the state — so the emergence of monotheistic religions beliefs like Mithraism, Judaism and Christianity. Mithraism, in particular, was interesting, as it saw the emperor as God incarnated in order to create a strict hierarchy across its military echelons.
Establishing a divinity, is how we humans establish a relationship with, recognize the importance of and our dependence on “other,” be it the natural world, other creators, the state, or something else. In some way, the functional school of anthropology will say, “Tell me who you venerate and I can explain your society.” And this lens is a powerful one.
Who Do We Venerate Today?
In our modern secular society, we tend to easily dismiss the divine and religious. We like to think we’ve overcome those irrational beliefs and rituals. But have we really? Jordan Peterson would probably say no: We have a “religious instinct” that is really, really hard to overcome, and that beliefs and religions can arise in different forms, and where we least expect it.
Anthropologist Mary Douglas does a great job at unpacking one secular area of our lives where religious priests still reign: economics.
“We may appear to live in an overwhelmingly secular society, but nonetheless we have a large and wealthy priesthood, many of whose members occupy positions of power — power in politics, in business, education, and especially banking … However, the nature of the church has changed. I myself was selected for this priesthood, the doctrines and rituals of which are taught not at seminaries, madrassas, or rabbinical schools, but in particular at the elite universities, and especially at Oxford” (Mary Douglas in a BBC interview).
Douglas describes the beliefs that this class of priests are expected to absorb in the church of economics: “theories and models” like the “indifference curve,” which rest on assumptions that every individual has similar preferences and acts rationally. And the priests consistently get wheeled out to the news to pronounce their divinations in the form of statistics and “prognostications of our collective destiny.” The economic theology professed by the priesthood rests on the belief that economic growth is paramount and for GDP to keep growing consumption must be optimized, and therefore, some inflation is “natural.” All the while things like the 2008 crisis happen.
Douglas calls them “false prophets.” False prophets of a false god of money. A fiat money they control and through which they control our faiths.
Seeing Bitcoin As Divine
If Bitcoin becomes the monetary network our society becomes increasingly reliant on, could it become a divinity we venerate? Absolutely, according to the functionalist school of anthropology. It would spontaneously generate a type of divination of it. And this divination would represent a “recognition” of importance, instilled in culture, reproduced through tradition.
So, let’s look at some of the qualities that are conducive to Bitcoin being ascribed to a god-like being.
- Bitcoin’s spirit is code: the transcendent. This propagates its unchanging and reliable truth.
- Bitcoin’s body is energy being consumed through proof of work: the imminent. Energy is matter, after all.
- Bitcoin’s creation and immaculate conception: Satoshi, Bitcoin’s prophet, never spent his coins, possibly burned them and thereby sacrificed himself for us.
What Does Bitcoin Want?
So, if Bitcoin is divine, what type of divinity is it? We can determine this based on what it wants, and its characteristics. Bitcoin feeds with energy but “demands” nothing from us. Rather, it only accepts whatever energy is given to it.
- Bitcoin is neutral:
- It treats humans all the same, each life has equal weight.
- It gives us humans the choice to transact as we wish, whatever that transaction is for.
- Similarly to the Christian God, it lets us take and deal with the moral responsibility of our actions.
- Bitcoin is fair:
- The origin story of Bitcoin, fully open source, with public disclosure of when mining would begin, with no pre-mine, six months of no market value and bitcoin-giving faucets.
- Those closest to the source, or those with large amounts of bitcoin do not have an unfair advantage to generate more bitcoin via the Cantillon effect.
- Future generations centuries from now are not “forced” to maintain the current fixed cap, but may wish to alter that based on their circumstances through consensus. This helps us appreciate Bitcoin as a global monetary government in itself.
- Bitcoin is constant:
- Like nature, Bitcoin is growing and evolving, but its core genetic code remains intact and unchanging.
- Billionaires, governments and institutions have tried to change Bitcoin and consistently failed.
- Humans look up to the unchanging as solid rock where they can build their lives on.
- Bitcoin is kind to its followers and brutal to its naysayers:
- "Bitcoin is the most brutally path dependent no second chances technology ever created." @JasonPLowery.
- Bitcoin is reminiscent of Dionysus, Greek god of grape harvests, winemaking, fertility, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy. Like Dionysus, Bitcoin is kind to its followers but brutal and merciless to its opponents.
Distinguishing The Divine And The Religious.
Since we’ve established that Bitcoin has divine qualities, it’s also easy to envision the emergence of religions around it.
Clearly, religions are a way of mediating and contextualizing the relationship to the divine. And as history shows us, religions can get quite adamant about being the “true” ones. Religions are the social institutions around the divine. While on one hand, they may help us get closer to the divine, they may also impede us and keep us blind on the way there.
It’s easy to envision how Bitcoin Maximalism is becoming (or is already) a religion as outlined by Gigi. But this discussion may be for another post.
However you may feel about the social phenomena of Maximalism, it’s important to remember the distinction between the religious and the divine. That Bitcoin is a divine entity in itself, one we are and will further be engaging in a deep and long-lasting symbiosis with.
This is a guest post by Michele Morucci. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.