You Had A Stamp Collection?


This is not an article about Bitcoin.

This is not an article about the people who buy and sell Bitcoin. It’s not about hodlers. It’s not about traders. It’s not about crypto bros.

This is an article about the people who have NEVER bought or sold Bitcoin.

This is an article about “no-coiners” – people who, for whatever reason, never bought or sold Bitcoin, but just watched it from afar. I am a no-coiner, btw.

“You had a stamp collection?”
Gary Coleman:Right now you are down and out and feeling really crappy
Nicky:I’ll say.
Gary Coleman:And when I see how sad you are
It sort of makes me…
Gary Coleman:Sorry, Nicky, human nature-
Nothing I can do!
Making me feel glad that I’m not you.
― Avenue Q (2003)

Leave it to a Broadway play with puppets to write the best song ever about schadenfreude, the second most powerful other-regarding emotion.

Since January of 2018, schadenfreude – the taking of pleasure in other people’s pain – has been the overwhelmingly dominant behavioral driver of “no-coiners”. 

But we all know that it wasn’t always this way.

“It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis
But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
Cause I’m Mr. Brightside
 Killers, “Mr. Brightside”

Leave it to a Vegas band to write the best song ever about jealousy, THE most powerful other-regarding emotion.

Up until January of 2018, jealousy – the taking of pain in other people’s pleasure – was the overwhelmingly dominant behavioral driver of “no-coiners”. 

You know it’s true.

A year ago I wrote a note called Sheep Logic, about the other-regarding behaviors that dominate our markets and our politics today. Here’s the money quote:

We think we are wolves, living by the logic of the pack.

In truth we are sheep, living by the logic of the flock.

A flock is a social structure designed to promote other-awareness. It has no goals, no coordinating purpose other than communication. A flock simply IS. A pack, on the other hand, is a social structure designed to harness self-aware animals in service to some goal requiring joint action — the raising of cubs, the hunting of meat, etc. Both the flock and the pack are extremely effective social structures, but they operate by entirely different logics.

The logic of the flock has two main drivers – jealousy and schadenfreude – and it struck me today how much of the mainstream presentation and representation of Bitcoin! as a meme over the past two years or so has been intentionally framed within these two other-regarding behaviors. I mean … I think of myself as being pretty self-aware when it comes to the means and modalities through which I am nudged into flock behavior, but it struck me today how little I’ve thought about this when it comes to Bitcoin.

I think it’s because Bitcoin is so PERFECT an instrument for those who benefit by encouraging other-regarding flock behavior. As Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland, there is no there there with Bitcoin. It is entirely (and intentionally) a constructed artifact with absolutely no real world connection or point of attachment. Bitcoin is an idea. Bitcoin IS a meme. Sure, it’s also a tradable thing for those few people who buy and sell it. But that’s a minor aspect of what Bitcoin means for markets writ large. Its primary impact on markets is as a powerful meme that reinforces our other-regarding flock emotions of jealousy and schadenfreude. Not among the small minority of people who are Bitcoin hodlers and traders, but for the vast majority of people who never have and never will own Bitcoin or any crypto. The deep meaning of Bitcoin, in its presentation and representation, is spectacle. Something for us to laugh at or be jealous of. 

It’s a subtle point, but I think it’s incredibly important.

If Bitcoin did not exist, the Nudging State and Nudging Oligarchy would have to invent it.

Not to create a security for us to buy or sell. That’s nothing! But to create a meme that trains us even further in the ways of the flock. 

As usual, we are being played.

But we can change all that. How? Clear Eyes and Full Hearts. Even with Bitcoin.

Especially with Bitcoin.


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2 years ago

Being able to inhabit the emotional space that other types of wealth have long dominated is perhaps the most important prerequisite of having joined the club. I am still largely amazed at the tremendous scale of bitcoin computing and yet there is no CEO or industry organization with any fiat authority over it. For better or worse, this seems to say something about the ongoing power of fictions to supersede reality. Despite geography being a tangible fact we’ve nonetheless organized the world around imaginary national and political boundaries to the benefit and detriment of many. Is cryptocurrency more akin to something like the adoption of Westphalian sovereignty that rearranged how the fictions of imperial kingdoms worked? Does that imply a Thirty Years War needs to happen before major adoption takes place? I at least am of the mind that self-regulating systems are likely going to be a necessary corrective against the easily gamed world of human hierarchies.

Full disclosure: I do have a small coin collection largely by happenstance of a free-thinking Army techie who sent me some a long time ago. But my laggard interest in accumulating great wealth hasn’t led me to do anything much with it. Probably because my prospects for participating in vicious conflict have not been limited on account of having a fat bankroll.

2 years ago

“You can’t own everything.” When I started on Wall Street in the early ’80s, it was the same game then as today, like football is the same game then as today – yes, no, maybe. Back then, there were a lot of cranky senior men in the industry (being outwardly cranky was allowed back then) who had internalized their experience and wisdom – today we’d call their thought process algorithms – and who would spit out small pearls of wisdom, like the quote above, leaving you to fill in the blanks (or badger them for additional explanation which might or might not come). I’ve taken the “you can’t own everything” meme (definitely didn’t call it that back then) to mean there’s only so much you can understand / follow / study in the detail necessary to be a good trader and investor in it. Kind of a Wall Street version of don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none. Despite fancying myself a macro-strategist / allocator, there are entire product categories I all but ignore as I don’t believe I’d either be good at them or that the time investment they’d require is worth the value they might provide to my investing. A few years back, when I first really looked at Bitcoin, I realized it was one of those things that wouldn’t work for me. If it was a currency – money – it didn’t meet my small brain’s Economics 101’s three tests for being money. And,… Read more »

Victor K
2 years ago

I’m not a no-coiner. I admit to taking a little schade thinking you meant ‘something to laugh at and be jealous of’. I look at BTC like trophy art; I just can’t afford the latter.

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