The Year the Narrative Became the Truth

Bitcoin proved it could change how people think. But will the new system it enables be "better" or just "a system that better serves me"?

AccessTimeIconDec 29, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:49 a.m. UTC
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The year 2020, as told by the Crypto Believers, will most certainly go down in history as the year the curtain was finally pulled back.

For so long we sounded the alarm about the threat of centralized entities. For so long we warned of the unsustainable monetary policy of the United States Federal Reserve. And then, suddenly, a global pandemic begets “money printer go BRRR” begets endless inaction by those who claim to be our leaders. Finally, those outside our bubble began to question what they once knew.

This post is part of CoinDesk's 2020 Year in Review – a collection of op-eds, essays and interviews about the year in crypto and beyond. Taylor Monahan is the founder and CEO of MyCrypto, a simple dashboard for managing all your Ethereum-based assets.

There were signs of a new, shared realization as non-believers began to quip, "If we can just print money, I shouldn't have to pay taxes" and, "This is unsustainable. We're screwing ourselves." There were also signs they began to see how much absurdity dominates our lives. Discrimination didn't end in 1863 or in 1964 or in 2019. We have never had “the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.” The stock market is not the economy. Their truth is not true.

Moreso, the truth seemed to be whatever those in power wanted it to be. Or rather, the truth is whatever we, those not in power, believe it to be. So long as enough people believe it to be true, it is true.

Our new reality manifested in everything from increased anxiety and depression as the world remained in a state of locked-down uncertainty, to debates about masks and potential COVID-19 treatments, to the Black Lives Matter movement coming back with a vengeance. 

One of the least-complex manifestations of the power of shared belief was the curious case of Hertz's stock price pumping 900% in the weeks following its bankruptcy filing. It left otherwise rational, mature, market-minded adults (and Hertz itself) bewildered. As far as anyone has been able to sort out, after a lifetime of believing The Adults knew what they were doing The Kids realized the truth and took action on the not-so-secret secret that you don’t win the market by betting on the future – you win when you bet on what other people think will happen in the future. The Kids also happen to know, more than any other generation, that technology is the key to changing what other people think.


The Hertz moment

I actually completely missed the Hertz situation when it first made headlines. I’m sure I saw the articles as I doomscrolled through another day of lockdown. But, as the story is so familiar, I didn’t even bother registering it to my memory. Crypto has been pumping and dumping and re-pumping and re-dumping empty shells of coins for years.

Hertz was especially uninteresting as it followed the classic pump-and-dump scheme, like what might be found on in 2013. Today’s decentralized finance (DeFi) token schemes are wrapped up in automated market makers, interoperability and yields, often making it hard to discern whether the shared delusions of the players are giving the tokens value, or if the perceived value of the tokens are creating the shared delusion. To complicate things, there is a third, meta layer: The players are aware they are playing a game and can predict the cycle of their shared delusion. The whole thing is a grotesque ouroboros – all simultaneously feeding itself, and feeding off itself, and birthing itself in some eternal, cyclical, scammy mindf**k.

Well, maybe not “eternal.” The folks who “aped into” the DeFi things this summer had such a finite view, usually minutes or hours rather than months or years. It’s hard to grok how any DeFi thing could survive once the heavily subsidized reward period wore off. Especially if two or three or 10 freshly subsidized DeFi things had launched since. Yet they somehow did ... sorta.

It’s even harder to understand how this became a dominating force of 2020 considering the intense individualism and selfishness that it both fuel, and is fueled by. We've managed to build thousands of "every man for himself" sub-networks on a sprawling, decentralized, cooperative, consensus network. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily if we value our humanity, decentralized consensus networks don't care about the morality of the things running on it.

And, as much as they continue to fight me on it, I remain convinced that these half-baked farming games are unsustainable in the same way initial coin offerings (ICOs) are unsustainable, in the same way hacked smart contracts are catastrophic, in the same way the money printer cannot go BRRRRRR forever and in the same way the serpent cannot devour itself in perpetuity

Better system?

Bitcoin has seemingly solidified its place as an alternative, though still slightly experimental, store of value. I would talk more on this but literally everyone is talking about it and I have nothing original to add. I will admit I was wrong in 2015 and 2016 and 2017 when I said the digital gold narrative will never be more valuable than the digital cash one. Any narrative that becomes truth is more valuable than the narrative that fades from memory.

I do wonder what will ultimately become of our historically most persistent narrative, that we are creating a better world. Have we made real progress on banking the unbanked, unbanking the banked, breaking down borders and removing power from repressive regimes and corrupt cabals?

For me, crypto is a worthwhile endeavor because it can provide a viable alternative to the existing systems. Crypto can give people the gift of choice. And with that choice we can opt into the systems that benefit us and opt out of the ones that oppress us.

I wonder if this system will ever be a ‘better system’ or just ‘a system that better serves me?’

This is valuable as we all strive to be, well, valuable. We want to be worth something and, as social creatures, to know that we are worth something. We want our existence to matter. How this manifests varies greatly across time and place. How you measure your value determines how you pursue value; both are shaped by the culture of the society in which we exist.

Today, in the West, we often measure ourselves by our salary: This person has deemed my worth to society to be this many dollars, therefore I am. We carry this in us and it muddles everything up and causes us to see worthless, expensive things as more valuable than worthwhile things. In other places or times, you may measure your worth by the animals you hunt or your ability to bear children, or your ability to be born into one life and level up into an entirely better life.

When we have no choice or control over our own worth, we have no motivation to attempt to increase our worth. We are oppressed. Choice in itself does not satisfy our desires, though. It simply gives us the autonomy, and therefore the motivation, to pursue what we desire. 

See also: CoinDesk's Year in Review 2020

Between the diminishing returns on truth, the ever-increasing individualism, and our submissiveness to life’s cycles, I wonder if this system will ever be a “better system” or just “a system that better serves me?”

This is important. In one, we aim to remove the system's very ability to have a 1%. We attempt to break the cycle of oppression. We create systems to humanize any and all participants and prevent ourselves, the early adopters, the influencers and the Believers, from gaining power on the backs of others.

In the other, we simply shift the power from the oppressors of today to the oppressors of tomorrow. The oppressed devour the oppressors. The oppressors are reborn as the oppressed. The cycle continues. And then, one day, some kids show up and it is the Crypto Believers who this time must shout, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”


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