The origins of our current Cultural Revolution
Biden’s handpicked banker declares war on digital freedom.
It’s a tale of two crackdowns—and two cultures. While Beijing scrambles to stamp out immaturity and laziness among its males, Washington is terrified of… wait for it… cryptocurrency.
Gary Gensler, Joe Biden’s deeply establishmentarian SEC head, has dropped a bomb on the crypto community with his sudden attack on Coinbase, the leading crypto platform. Perhaps it was naïve for some in the space to have imagined Gensler, once the co-chief of global finance for Goldman Sachs, to be a promising appointee because he spent time teaching and studying crypto at MIT.
But it wasn’t until China crushed out their booming crypto economy that American policymakers faced the decision that seems to have led to Gensler’s rash and punitive move.
Beijing’s successful anti-crypto turn flowed logically from their statecraft model: crush alternate sources of power and authority for intimately Chinese reasons, then spin it in ways that pressure America to behave counter to national interest. In this instance, ridding China of crypto holdings and mining meant strangling a rival to the Party’s social credit system in its crib. For the Chinese leadership, crypto is just another destabilizing Western innovation, upsetting cosmic harmony—not to mention regime stability—by taking an excessively instrumental view of the power of technology.
But for Western audiences, a crypto crackdown can be marketed and propagandized as a heroically ethical defense against eco-unfriendliness and social inequity. And that’s just how it has been portrayed. That’s despite bitcoin consuming less energy than fossil fuels, the petrodollar, or, say, China, even without taking into account how long a way even a little nuclear power could go toward reducing emissions for miners as well as the rest of us.
And more important still, it’s to fly in the face of the simple fact that, in a digital age, Americans face a well-nigh impossible task in preserving their way of life without the rich ecosystem of creating memorable and valuable culture through crypto.
The reason is this: there’s no more powerful tool or weapon today than the datacenter. Unlike previous tools and weapons, however, datacenters are all-purpose and interoperable. Their computational force can do just about anything in our almost fully digitized world. But, at least for now, thank God, that force must be told what to do by human operators.
That means if you’re not telling a datacenter what to do, someone else is… and if you’re not telling the datacenters your data is in what to do, someone else is telling those datacenters what to do to you.
At the same time, digital technology is drying up twentieth-century forms of socioeconomic agency, as everyone now sees but many struggle to understand what to do about. Amid the collapse of “good jobs” and all that comes with it, damaged woke obsessives desperate for the control over the bots, and the safety from digital disenchantment they think that control will bring, are fighting full tilt to re-found America on a basis of (delusional) spiritual purity and punitive purification.
But digital, of course, isn’t at all sapping the strength of bitcoin or the datacenters it runs on, and it doesn’t disenchant our cultural practice of making, sharing, and exchanging soul-nourishing products and services. Quite the contrary. Without the ability to participate in this durably human form of life—without the ability to compel datacenters and compute to serve us in this way—ordinary Americans will grow ever more captive to people and institutions who wish to use digital technology to terraform us into a new, ultimately subhuman kind of submission.
Gensler may not see himself as this kind of digital villain. But his biography suggests that, even if his intentions are better, his outrageous intervention into the crypto space is all but certain to enable the villains. His experience in crypto—via the MIT Media Lab, a fluffy outfit tarnished by the proximity of its former head to Jeffrey Epstein—is relatively shallow and, judging by the Media Lab program on crypto, has always been fundamentally adversarial.
And his fanatically partisan history—as part of the Goldman group that injected big bucks at a helpful time into the Obama campaign, reaping rewards like Gensler’s appointment by Obama to lead the obscure agency tasked to overhaul regulations after the 2008 financial crisis—is hardly encouraging. The fact is that Democrats today are the party of untrammeled corporatist power as an arm of the woke state, a schema totally at odds with both the basic freedom and the organic prosociality of bitcoin and crypto-backed agency.
There’s no better way for Americans to reclaim control over their destiny in the digital age than by using crypto to command compute to serve our soulful, human purposes. It’s not a surprise that the Biden administration has placed itself at such radical odds with our values and interests. But it is unacceptable. And without a concerted response, the onrushing subhuman future being manufactured for us will only accelerate.