Crypto and other New Faiths
People need to believe in something
the Internet today is full of strange new quasi-faiths, many offering competing narratives of what went wrong after 2008, each offering a secret knowledge—a gnosis—through which an enlightened few can hope to escape and purify themselves.
…Such monumental shifts in economic reality invariably produce dramatic shifts in people’s social reality, as old expectations and beliefs no longer match up with the way things are. In earlier eras of American history, major crises, as well as the ideological and religious revivals that often followed them, played out in streets, churches, tent meetings, and lodges. Now the process takes shape primarily online, where the new Gnostics preach.
According to Olson, the average profile of someone inside the more speculative part of the crypto boom was as follows: middle class, but downwardly mobile, with a susceptibility to the confidence tricks and fraud endemic to the crypto market, stemming largely from unfamiliarity with the actual economy, the challenges of running a business, and so on. . .these people tended to exhibit the unstable emotional mix of hope, confusion, and righteous fury that Olson identifies.
Kyeyune refers to a video lecture by Dan Olson.
I would argue that this was also the demographic and personality type of people who fell for multilevel marketing scams in the 1970s or the Internet stock bubble of 1998-1999.
‘Adam Smith’ (George J.W. Goodman), who wrote the 1960s best-seller The Money Game, later wrote a much less successful book, Powers of the Mind, which takes the reader on a tour of the odd spiritual movements that emerged in the 1970s. The book is a gem if you can find it. Or read Tom Wolfe’s classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, about the early faith in LSD. And note that psychedelics are making a comeback.
In fact, the one thing I would question about the Kyeyune-Olson thesis is the suggestion that there is something unusual about the present time in this regard. People need faith. In prior centuries, for most people, institutionalized religion seems to have addressed people’s need to believe. Perhaps. Or perhaps the various religious spin-offs and heresies that have appeared throughout history show that there has always been an alienated segment of the population seeking an alternative faith.
In any case, my theory is that the demand for exotic faiths comes from people who are personally far from the social median. People who are especially unhappy. People who are especially mentally unstable. People who are especially disconnected from the mainstream community.
How societies perform is likely to depend on the extent to which alienation is channeled constructively—or else suppressed. If you think that you want the mainstream faith (in government and banks, for example) to get wiped out, be careful what you wish for.
I am not sure that 'alienation' is the biggest problem here. Exotic faiths, exotic currencies, exotic tastes in music and art -- this is always how the hoi oligoi have signalled their superiority over the hoi pollloi. (So is using terms such as 'hoi oligoi'. :) ) We now have a large surfeit of people who were raised to believe that they are, or ought to be, part of an elite administrative ruling class. Since they haven't clawed their way to the top on their own merit -- or even what they perceive as their own merit -- they need a way to distance themselves from the herd.
I think you are on to something here, Arnold, but at the same time one should ask whether one should have faith in e.g. government and the banks. Having faith in something is all well and good, but not all things one can have faith in are equally good, and some downright bad. It is proper to lose faith in government, banks, or existing religions for that matter, when they become corrupted or otherwise damaging. Best to move to something good, of course, but it is always worth remembering that just because there is a current faith doesn't mean it is worth having. Sometimes people want new faiths because the current ones are deeply broken.