Sunday Musings On Nihilism and Bitcoin

3 minute read


I ran across this reply last night in this thread by Travis on the logical fallacies committed in defense of Bitcoin as a store of value and found it interesting enough to contemplate. I think at the heart of what Travis tries to do regarding the status of Bitcoin is point out that because it is currently a sort of nihilistic investment (no one yet clearly understands the Tether relationship, there are no investor protections around the entire space, e.g. there is no meaning built in by regulatory or legal means), it therefore is important to try and understand the underlying rationale for Bitcoin before investing.

First, nihilism as defined by Wikipedia is “a philosophy…that rejects general or fundamental aspects of human existence such as objective truth, knowledge, morality, values or meaning.” Ironically, I imagine that many proponents of Bitcoin would argue that it is not nihilistic because of the objective truth regarding the underlying definition of what a Bitcoin is. However, I think a careful reading of Travis’ arguments over the last year on Twitter would say he believes the concept of Bitcoin as a store of value is what is nihilistic.

Regarding Christopher, the person who he’s referring to and his statement, it’s clearly based in nihilism whether the author recognizes it or not. Basically translated, it’s ok to make be wrong as long as you make money doing it. Now, the modern and postmodern world would largely agree with this statement. Nihilism is one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism and modernity to a lesser degree. Interestingly, in the thread continuing down the nihilism road, Christopher continues to argue from a nihilistic position which is probably why those two are never going to come to some agreement. “Was it right? Was it wrong? Who cares I made money!” is nihilism.

So what would a non-nihilistic, possibly Platonist (Travis mentions this later down thread) view of Bitcoin specifically and the broader market more generally look like? First, one would have to have a well defined personal philosophy defined by something other than “As long as I make money, it’s all ok.” Travis clearly has this as expressed in numerous explicit and implicit comments on Twitter. That definition might have a premise like “To be considered a store of value, the investment vehicle must have some intrinsic or extrinsic protections built into it for the investor class” e.g. be free from fraud. This could be the start of a moral framework within which you could make decisions about what to invest in. Carried to the extreme, you might only invest in companies fighting climate change or companies trying to provide worker protections, etc. Most people in the market would say this was both ridiculous and pointless because they believe the primary reason to be in the market is to make money. But someone investing only in green technology has a different primary reason, a moral framework defined by societal goods, and she operates within that framework. This is a perfectly acceptable idea and it leads to a more congruent personal life infused with meaning that combats the nihilism of postmodernity.

I think at the core of Travis’ writings is this honorable fight against some of the nihilistic underpinnings of the marketplace and our modern world. If you make money in Bitcoin because you were lucky enough to get in early but then later people are wiped out because they got in at a time when perhaps the government began regulation of the space or it turned out Tether was the fraudulent system the entire Bitcoin regime was based on, yes it’s totally fine for you but has moral and social implications in the larger view. Note: neither of these things has happened but they are within the realm of possibility. By ignoring these (and by having a society that ignores them, collectively saying “was it right? was it wrong? who cares I made money!”), it is possible that underlying foundations of our civilization can become weak leading to even more nihilistic exploitation possibly leading eventually to collapse.