“Without common ideas there is no common action, and without common action there are still people, but there is no social body. In order for there to be a society, and even more so for this society to flourish, it is therefore necessary that all the heads of the citizens are always brought together and held together by some basic ideas. “- Alexis de Tocqueville,” Democracy in America “
After reading the above quote from the always forward-looking Alexis de Tocqueville, it strikes me that the nature and content of such ideas must be extremely important if some basic ideas are to hold a society together. When these ideas lose their strength or become distorted, society inevitably deteriorates. Here in the United States, this process seems to be playing out before our eyes, and we are in dire need of new ideas and a renewed commitment to a shared ideal.
Fortunately, our society is changing in such a way that a kind of “start-up” appears possible in the near future, but only if the right idea is widely accepted. Perhaps the importance of a low time preference, understood through the glasses of Bitcoin, can be one such basic idea that brings people together and leads not only to a great American revival, but also to a golden age of human prosperity. However, powerful ideas sometimes depend on tangible metaphors to gain wide acceptance. I suggest that planting sequoia groves and hosting public Bitcoin nodes in the middle of those groves can serve as a physical manifestation of this “basic idea” known as low time preference. Allow me to examine this concept in more detail below.
Delayed gratification is the foundation of civilization. Future planning and postponing consumption are prerequisites for raising children, agriculture, technology, cooperation and the construction of every tool, every building, every work of art ever created. In short, all good things take time.
Conversely, instant gratification, when let up too much, brings with it a litany of evils that manifest themselves at all levels of the human condition, from poor personal health to crumbling infrastructure to the breakdown of the political process. Taken to extremes, the high time preference kills human progress by reducing the complexity of our endeavors. Without the ability to lessen one’s time preference and therefore exert effort over time, humanity would simply be a gathering of larger, less hairy chimpanzees doomed to struggle against the elements and against each other on earth. However, the ability to modulate our time preference leaves us with a choice. By tuning this mental faculty, we can either embark on a course towards civilization or barbarism.
Unfortunately, our society is leaning towards barbarism as we continually prove unable to carry out the kind of projects that have shaped great civilizations throughout history. Our streets and bridges are crumbling, our children are being raised by screens and strangers, our floors are being eroded, and what counts as art today is often an unskilled discharge of profanity or sheer entropy. We post selfies, eat fast food and watch Netflix while demonizing the most successful among us.
The causes of today’s pandemic of instant gratification are many, but giving up healthy money is at the heart of it all. As the collection of graphics on wtfhappenedin1971.com so clearly shows, foregoing mental health in monetary terms has wrought immeasurable damage to human prosperity over the past 50 years. But why?
Civilization is a highly complex and dynamic process that requires the exchange of information and values across time and space. When the medium through which information or values are exchanged is degraded, civilization inevitably declines. The introduction of pure fiat money in the 1970s led to massive distortions in the transfer of value between individuals and institutions and led to a society that is dependent on a high degree of time preference behavior. Fortunately, however, Bitcoin fixes this, but the erosion of the institutions that previously tied and propelled us will remain a problem until we follow our low time preference and build new institutions that will stand the test of time.
Although I am naturally skeptical of all things collectivist, the fact remains that we are social animals instinctively drawn to community ventures. We have the same latent capacity for greatness as the people who built the Taj Mahal, Hagia Sophia, the Golden Gate Bridge and sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon with slide rules and protractors. It is therefore up to us, as bitcoiners at the beginning of a new age, to fill the vacuum that the declining institutions of our time have left by building new institutions according to our own specifications and holding on to our own values.
These institutions must span the gamut from local meetings, schools, and civic organizations to national media, colleges, and full-fledged governments. These institutions must preserve individual sovereignty. These institutions need to encourage people to lower their time preference and get involved in tasks larger than themselves that require a great deal of time and effort to bear fruit. By pooling resources while maintaining individual freedom, we can build civilization to new and greater heights.
I’m not claiming to have the exact blueprints for these new institutions, but I think it’s natural to start at the most local, most basic, and basic level and then build from there. I have an idea for such an institution that could at least help stimulate further ideas in this area. The working title for this idea is Bitcoin Tree Forum, or BTF for short (Bitcoin Tree Cathedral or Local Bitcoin Forum are other possible names that correspond to the intention). A Bitcoin Tree Forum consists of a grove of trees planted by Bitcoiners with a publicly accessible Bitcoin node in the middle – or to begin with, a QR code from a dedicated public node. If Bitcoin evolves into the global public service we envision, then it should have some kind of public interface in every human community.
These BTFs could simply be places of education, discussion and long-term planning. However, I feel like some exciting new use cases could envision using public nodes anchored to a particular geographic community. The trees – you can call them Nakamoto trees – that are planted around this node should be the largest and longest-lived species that can thrive in the local climate. For much of the United States and Europe, the giant sequoia would be the tree of choice. In the long run, BTFs can serve as important physical and social anchors for any community, but in the short term, they can act as places of education and inspiration for the many people who have not yet realized the importance of Bitcoin. If this idea resonates with you, I invite you to visit BTreeC.com and sign up for the newsletter. You can also follow me on Twitter @btcfangorn.
I hope that this idea will at least inspire other attempts to build new institutions that will serve us better in the decades to come. And if all that remains from the effort is groves of old trees, then consider them a gift to our descendants, an outward manifestation of the civilization enriching values that Bitcoin helps convey to all those who take the time ( try) to) understand.
This is a guest post by Fangorn. The opinions expressed are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.