“Without common ideas, there is no common action, and without common action there are still men, but not a social body. Thus, for there to be a society, and all the more so for this society to prosper, all the citizens’ minds must always be united and held together by a few ideas of principle. Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America”
Having read the above quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, always prescient, it seems to me that if a society is to be maintained by some ideas of principle, then the nature and content of those ideas must be extremely important. Moreover, if these ideas lose their power or become distorted, society necessarily deteriorates. Here in the United States, this process seems to be unfolding before our very eyes, leaving us in desperate need of new ideas and a new commitment to a common ideal.
Fortunately, our society is evolving in such a way that some sort of “refoundation” seems possible in the near future, but only if the right idea is widely adopted. Perhaps the importance of low time preference, understood through the lens of Bitcoin, can be one of those principle ideas that brings people together and leads not only to a great American revival, but to an age of d gold of human development. However, powerful ideas sometimes depend on tangible metaphors to be widely adopted. I propose that planting redwood groves and hosting public Bitcoin nodes in the center of those groves can serve as a physical manifestation of this “principle idea” known as low time preference. Let me explore this concept in more depth below.
Deferred gratification is the foundation of civilization. Planning for the future and postponing consumption are prerequisites for children’s education, agriculture, technology, cooperation and the construction of every tool, every building, every work of art never carried out. In short, all good things take time.
Conversely, instant gratification, if over-practiced, results in a litany of evils that manifest at all levels of the human condition, from failing personal health to collapsing infrastructure to the collapse of the political process. Taken to the extreme, high time preference reverses human progress by reducing the complexity of our efforts. Without the ability to reduce its time preference and, therefore, invest effort in time, humanity would simply be a collection of larger, less hairy chimpanzees, doomed to roam the Earth in a constant struggle against the elements and against each other. The ability to modulate our time preference, however, gives us choices. By adjusting this mental faculty, we can chart a course towards civilization or barbarism.
Sadly, our society is on the verge of barbarism as we continually prove ourselves unable to undertake the types of projects that have defined great civilizations throughout history. Our roads and bridges crumble, our children are raised by screens and strangers, our soil is eroded, and what passes for art now is often a clumsy dump of obscenity or mere entropy. We post selfies, eat fast food, and watch Netflix while demonizing the most successful of us.
The causes of the current instant gratification pandemic are multivariate, but the abandonment of healthy money is at the heart of it all. As the collection of graphics on wtfhappenedin1971.com so clearly illustrates, the abandonment of reason in monetary matters has done untold damage to human flourishing over the past 50 years. But why?
Civilization is a highly complex and dynamic process requiring the exchange of information and values over time and space. If the means by which information or value is exchanged deteriorates, then civilization inevitably declines. The introduction of purely fiat money in the 1970s produced massive distortions in the transfer of value between individuals and institutions and led to a society addicted to time-preference behavior. Fortunately, Bitcoin solves this problem, however, the erosion of the institutions that bound us and helped us move forward will remain a problem until we act on our weak time preference by building new institutions that will bear the havoc. time.
While I am inherently skeptical of anything collectivist, the fact remains that we are social animals instinctively drawn to community enterprise. We have the same latent capacity for greatness as the humans who built the Taj Mahal, Hagia Sophia, Golden Gate Bridge, and who used slide rules and protractors to send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. . It is therefore incumbent upon us, as Bitcoiners at the dawn of a new era, to fill the void left by the declining institutions of our time by building new institutions to our own specifications and adhering to our own values.
These institutions should cover the scale of local gatherings, schools and civic organizations, national media, higher education and full governments. These institutions must preserve individual sovereignty. These institutions must encourage people to reduce their time preference and participate in tasks larger than themselves that require a lot of time and effort to bear fruit. By pooling our resources while preserving individual freedom, we can elevate civilization to new heights.
I don’t claim to have the exact blueprints for these new institutions, but I think it’s natural to start at the most local, the most basic, the most popular level, and then build from there. I have an idea for such an institution which, at the very least, could help stimulate more ideas in this space. The working title of this idea is Bitcoin Tree Forum, or BTF for short (Bitcoin Tree Cathedral or Local Bitcoin Forum are other possible names in accordance with its intention). A Bitcoin Tree forum consists of a grove of trees planted by Bitcoiners with a publicly accessible Bitcoin node operating at the center – or to start, a QR code from a dedicated public node. If Bitcoin evolves into the global public utility that we envision, then it should have some kind of public interface in every human community.
These BTFs could simply be places for education, discussion and long-term planning. I have a feeling, however, that there are some exciting new use cases that could be imagined that utilize public nodes that are rooted in a specific geographic community. The trees – you can call them Nakamoto trees – planted around this node should be the largest, most durable species able to thrive in the local climate. For much of the United States and Europe, the tree of choice would be the giant sequoia. In the long term, BTFs can serve as important physical and social anchors for a given community, but in the short term, they can serve as places of education and inspiration for the many who have yet to grasp the importance of Bitcoin. If this idea sounds like you, I invite you to visit BTreeC.com and sign up for the newsletter. You can also follow me on twitter @btcfangorn.
I hope this idea will inspire at least other attempts to build new institutions to serve us better in the decades to come. And if all that remains of the effort are groves of long-standing trees, then consider them as a gift to our descendants, an outward manifestation of the enriching values of civilization that Bitcoin helps instill in all who take time to (try to) figure it out.
This is a guest post from Fangorn. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.