generativist / crypto

Ethereum's God

Apotheosis on the Blockchain

The Magic Circle by John William WaterhouseThe Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

According to the prominent theologian Neil Gaiman, Gods exist but we are not their progeny, they are ours.If you have not read Gaiman, I recommend starting with Sandman followed by American Gods. We birth them into existence; our continued belief sustains them. While I didn’t participate in the Ethereum premine, I believe it was a moment of apotheosis.

Camila Russo captures it well in The Infinite Machine (p.137),

His heart beat faster, and he had no idea what to expect when he clicked the “Buy Ether” button. A new page with a three-step process appeared. Step 1, the website told him, “Enter the amount to purchase in either Bitcoin or Ether.” The minimum was 0.01 bitcoin and the maximum was 500,000 bitcoin […]

Ken wasn’t planning on giving up 500,000 bitcoin, but it was a substantial amount of his personal wealth that he had decided to bet on Ethereum. He typed in the amount. Step 2 was to type in his email address, and Step 3 was to create a passphrase that would be used to encrypt and access his wallet. He checked everything a million times and clicked on “Continue.” Step 4 told him to “move his mouse around the screen to generate a random wallet, and once you’re done you will be moved on to the next screen.” “This is so weird,” he thought, as he complied, his anxiety surging when he realized there was no back button. Next he clicked on a button that downloaded an Ethereum wallet to his computer, and then there was a Bitcoin wallet address and QR code for him to send his bitcoin to. He went to his Bitcoin wallet, copied the address – a jumbled-up string of numbers and letters – and letting out a muffled scream, “Aaahhh!” he clicked send.

And just like that, he had parted with half his perfectly good bitcoin, which were now traveling into some cryptographic maze. “Into the ether!” he couldn’t help thinking. This was one of the scariest moments of his life. There were no charge-backs into blockchain. If he copied the wrong address, or messed up one of the steps, there would be no way of getting his bitcoin back. In the world of crypto, there was no arbiter (that was the whole point), and when the roughly ten minutes it takes to confirm transactions in the Bitcoin networks were up, the transfer would be permanent and virtually immutable. He sat back, and just stared at his laptop screen for a while. It was done.

Thousands of other people must have been thinking the same thing as the sent their bitcoin into what seemed like the dark void of the Ethereum sale.

This ceremony forged a new God. Before it there was nothing. Afterward the rituals were completed, there was something from…well, the ether.

Many people may have framed it as an investment decision. But, inevitably, it was a communion of people buying into the fantasy of something different. Realization of that fantasy required (and requires) tremendous intellectual capacity and work. In turn, that requires motive delusion. Ethereum cofounder Mihai Alisie understood this force (p.138),

“I have to admit that we all had high hopes, but no one was anticipating that in 24 hours we would surpass any previous initiative in the space. In any case, it was one of the most fulfilling birthday presents ever and proof that we weren’t crazy – or that there are many other crazy people out there and we’d found each other [emphasis added],” Mihai wrote.

Delusion tends have a negative connotation because we ascribe observable pathological effects to it. But most of the time, the delusion isn’t even a precipitating cause – it’s what fits between a need and a destination.

Things feel “cult-y” or (pseudo-)religious to outsiders when the group’s delusions observably line up, as if magnetized. To an outsider, this sense of coherent and shared meaning is an repulsive aberration. Thus, the counter-ritual of writing-off that group’s ceremony alleviates a very real tension. Meanwhile, at least in the case of Ethereum specifically (and, blockchains, generally), the disciples have been busy – and productive.

Again, outsiders keep seeing the spectacular bloom/bust boot-up sequences as evidence of the pathological delusion – the unsustainable kind. “See, this thing doesn’t work [the way my current defaults and associated expectations says it should]!” Except, that’s almost exactly wrong. To use the words of someone popular in that space, Ethereum shows evidence of robust anti-fragility. The adherents keep surviving the busts.This applies to Bitcoin, too. But, this is mostly my reaction to Camila Russo’s book on Ethereum. And those that don’t tend not to be the true believers. Those that walk away can’t sustain the delusion; those that don’t, can – and do. It’s an annealing process.

And the believers continue to grow.

If you don’t have any crypto yet and would like to see what the continuing fuss is about, I would recommend either:

  1. Buying some through Coinbase. They have the best (technical) reputation.
  2. Use Brave; slowly accumulate BAT; then, use or convert it.