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Is Blockchain a narrative technology? Interview with Creston Davis (Part 1)

Is future real?

Blockchain came to address some of the most pressing problems of society. Just as revolutionary as the internet, the emerging of Blockchain triggered a rethinking of self, individual and society. These are all philosophical inquiries. In one of our previous episodes in ShirYaKhat, Shayan and I interviewed Professor Creston Davis from the Global Centre for Advanced Studies. Davis studied philosophy at Oxford and Duke and is a distinguished philosopher who has been working for many years on advanced technologies and human consciousness. Davis is also known for his work on French post-structural philosophy and Christian theology.

We prepared all materials for the interview in two articles. In the first article, you can read Davis ideas on Pandemic, decentralization, the power of intermediaries, capitalism and the tokenized economy! hope you enjoy the discussion.

Creston Davis is an Irish- American philosopher, psychoanalyst, and writer known for his work on Christian theology and continental philosophy. He is a prolific author whose last published book was Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology. He is the founder and the director of the Global Centre for Advanced Studies and the Chancellor and CEO of GCAS College in Dublin. A research institute and a graduate college created to experiment with collective pedagogy and crypto-economics. He currently researches future consciousness, sustainability and advanced technologies.

Salman Sadeghi is a Coiniran collaborator, and researcher at the GCAS College of Dublin focusing on French post-structural philosophy, political economy and Cryptoeconomics. He currently researches Money, Tokenomics and future consciousness.

Shayan Eskandari holds a PhD from Concordia University. He is the founder of the Shir Ya Khat podcast. He is a Coiniran collaborator who is now working as a security engineer with ConsenSys Diligence. He currently researches Security in Bitcoin and Ethereum Blockchain. He is a specialist in decentralized technologies.

We will be free one day!?

Salli:

Adam Greenfield, in his book “Radical Technologies”, describes Blockchain as the first technology that is fundamentally difficult for otherwise intelligent and the highly capable people to understand. I as many suppose that Bitcoin, as the first use case of Blockchain technology, is an expression of extreme technological libertarianism, the school of thought that one may call anarcho-capitalism or markets anarchism. In this philosophy, you distrust a state in favour of individuals, somehow we can call it the sovereignty of individuals in the free market. For an anarcho-capitalist, neither states nor corporations are acceptable intermediaries.

So the first question appears here Professor: What is the problem with intermediaries and third parties?

Creston:

It’s a great question and I think at this time in history with these technologies coming to fruition and by technologies, I mean decentralized ways of organizing ourselves along with the World Wide Web. You do end up confronting new ways of thinking, new ways to interact with one another and as a result, new possibilities emerge with these new technologies and it’s always been the case, it’s nothing new under the sun. But what is especially interesting here is that when you look at the ways in which intermediaries function, oftentimes you have whether it’s an ideological structure in capitalism or even in communism, you have these intermediaries and another way to speak about them would be a bureaucracy. Of course, we all want equality, we want to be able to trust one another but then again where highly intelligent individuals need to be able to make decisions on their own without undue influence from intermediaries, such as bureaucracies and this slows things down ultimately the intermediaries. It slows things down, it also in some respects when you look at it from a bird’s eye point of view, a lot of times in societies where you have really smart people, a few one-twos per cent of the population becomes like genius level thinkers or innovators, but not all, of course, genius-level thinkers or innovators are courageous. So, that even narrows the percentage even more bold thinkers or creative thinkers, but also need to have the courage to do they think is right.

In a lot of times, you have these intermediaries preventing these geniuses with the courage to interact and to implement new technologies or new ways of doing things and in the end, it’s a conformist structure, it arrests creativity, it makes the creative minds shrink or going to non-existent modes. As a result, intermediaries have really I think been part of a major problem with advancing new technologies, new ways of thinking, a new consciousness, new levels of interactions. So, for me, although intermediaries can be healthy and good at minimal levels like namely making sure fraud doesn’t happen, but unfortunately, the state apparatus is such a monstrous structure. Asimov once said in one of his novels I can’t remember which, the great science sci-fi writer, his plot structure was humans have developed this machine that’s so complicated, they forgot where the on/off switch was and I think this is apropos to intermediaries where it’s so complex for anything new to happen immediately stifled by the tyranny of bureaucracy.

When you look at the state apparatus siding decisively with centralized entities, institutions like banks, the Federal Reserve or big corporations, like for example say Amazon or Apple or Google, you have the state apparatus side with them over against what’s good for society, what’s good for innovation and what’s going to advance us beyond some vexing problems that humanity faces and when the state apparatus decisively sides with the corporate structure bailing banks out, for example, bailing corporations out for example, what this does is it puts even more of a burden on the individual in that society across the horizon of society as a whole and as a result, it undermines and destabilizes new modes of creativity and again when that happens new decentralized formations should be constructed in a way that can advance us beyond the state apparatus.

Shayan:

So one thing you mentioned right before we start recording was about the measures, France is taking for the Covid-19 and the stuff, I want to link this conversation to the recent events a bit and we’ve seen a lot of privacy issues with the measurements that the governments are taking, and I really want to know your opinion about what implicit outcomes would you see from this enforced social distancing and this unprecedented economic measures that we’re seeing due to Covid-19. Clearly, we’re seeing some more out-of-the-box socialist movements from capitalist actors, but are they for the same reasons, are they sharing the fundamental values that many values origin, they just like kicking the can down the road and trying to like survive?

Creston:

The Covid-19 issue, the pandemic and all the critical structure, the post-truth, the media, the conspiracy theories, they run wild. This is in fact a petri dish for perfect scenarios for dystopian structures and one of the things that’s really important for me as a philosopher and people who are dedicated to truth is precisely being able to present truth, to understand and interact with media, with texts, with information and be able to make decisions based on the accuracy or the falseness of said information. And again, what you have here, especially with the new fascist structures and leaders in countries taking hold with isolationism, nationalism, the xenophobia that’s going on and this only exacerbates people with different backgrounds and different ethnicities and so on.

So you have this kind of a perfect storm for distrusting information more and more and as a result, you fracture in the epistemological structure of society, what we as a society can believe in, what we as a society is humanity with our minds can trust or not and this can only play in the power of those who have access to that power and that’s becoming more and more narrow, fewer and fewer people have more and more power whereas the many, the population has less and less power and so you have a perfect storm for major problems. I think what’s really most dangerous about this situation is how it can be used for power to be concentrated more and more especially with the militarization of the police force and so on. So, it seems to me that we’re in a pretty tough situation especially when you consider the way we’re communicating together now in this podcast through the World Wide Web and if you think about who owns the fiber optics that is literally connecting us right now is corporations or it’s States and you think if you do something incorrect or an error or something that might be challenging to the ones in power, your access to technology such as the World Wide Web could easily be canceled, just like you have Facebook jail, you have all these policing structures that oftentimes are arbitrary and so it can be really dangerous because this is the only way we can connect with one another and if that connection is severed, then who are you? Are you even in society?

As Aristotle once said in the beginning of politics book on politics, he says “the ones who live outside society are either gods or beasts” and for a society to function, you have to be able to trust and distrust post-truth structures are happening with Fox News, with CNN, even the New York Times, all the major media sources are all playing into this echo fragmentations of epistemological claims and this becomes deeply problematic which again gets us back to Blockchain in the sense of how do we communicate and what can we trust and distrust and decentralizing doesn’t mean fragmentation.

Decentralizing precisely is a way of connecting with other people that can circumvent false claims conspiracy theories, because precisely you’re talking to someone with whom you can check on their background, check their credibility and therefore trust factors are built into Blockchain exchanges, smart contracts or even education structures like the one that GCAS College has developed, so yeah.

How about you? What do you think? What’s your take on the virus in Montreal?

Shayan:

That’s kind of thing like one of the fundamentals of the democracy is like gossip and social interactions that without that, there is no decentral communication, right? Like it’s interesting that before even this Covid-19, a lot of like future visions were dystopian and now even a lot of those are happening right now, like even walking the street and seeing everyone walking in masks, like if you go back in 90s movies whenever they show any future dystopian. It’s really scary regarding like the fake news and like media, it’s really sad to see. I would consider myself an open-minded that let go through the details of like news and now even if someone with a PhD degree comes to me said like this is the vaccine, I would say be like I’m not sure, how can I verify? And that’s the hard and sad part that there’s no easy way to verify these days, unless you have these role models that you believe in and you can listen to. One of the things that we try to do and share podcast is kind of follow the radical exchange movement if you know about that, it’s more about like it says it’s not radical to criticize the society, it’s radical to come up with solutions. So one of the things we try to do is now we criticize what is happening now and we almost see what is happening but as for solutions, to be honest, I’m not sure what the solution is; one thing that we’re trying to do is to put everything out there, put information out there, point out to scams, fraud, say these are the things not to say, name them, just teach people how to identify them. But regarding the news and where to get the news, not to consider like investment and cryptocurrencies, that’s a whole different world, just like truth. I’m not sure these days what can be done.

Creston:

This is the quintessential question and it goes all the way back to civilization when we start to be able to communicate through letters, through distance and the trust factor has gone to be there and I think this is one of the reasons why in a way philosophy at least in Athens was so distrusted by the Senate and this is kind of a famous retelling of this was by Plato and his apology where his teacher Socrates, the great war hero, and by this time an old man was considered a big threat to the Athenian city because precisely, he was teaching students how to think critically and how to question whether what justice is for example and some very basic questions or thematic of existence and his very ability to teach young people how to think critically about social organization, about truth claims was considered a great threat. So when you put that together with the distrust that’s happening here is a good thing I think in general, what the enlightenment taught us to be skeptical of apparatuses of power in the sense that or at least critical of apparatuses of power, the church for example, religion, or the state with the French Revolution, the U.S. Revolution in the 18th century. In one sense, this is good, it’s really good to be critical, and the question is: what kind of critical apparatuses or structures or habits does one have and is it coherent, is it enough just to criticize? In fact, I think what philosophy has always tried to do is think through ways of solving, adding to the question of knowledge rather than simply just criticizing and the troll has emerged with the World Wide Web. We’re all familiar with the Troll.

So you’re familiar with Trolls, with the vulnerabilities in digital connections, and I think you’re right about the approach should be; how can we offer solutions and that’s one of the things that when we came up with this idea of a college, GCAS, was not simply to criticize the university structure and the debt that’s required for students to go through uni and to attain degrees, but rather to offer a solution that includes the students with the faculty together, working together in a way that the general goal or mission of the Global Center for Advanced Studies which I call GCAS College is working together as a solution in the very process of developing knowledge. So the end of knowledge isn’t simply enlightenment for an individual, although it can be an outcome, but here in the structure that we put together in GCAS, the end goal is solidarity with each other and offering a platform through which new innovations can continually be developed and so it’s not simply: “Oh, it’s me with my degree”, but rather it’s: us with new ways of communicating, new ways of developing the human consciousness and solutions.

Salli:

First, your labour, Then your capital!

Back to intermediaries and our main topics, bank and the financial institutions work as intermediaries in financial capitalism. We’re familiar with the idea of exploitation by Marx: “You as a proletariat work hard and spend less to make some surplus value”. You work hard for money or as Marx said you exploited for it in the sense that you get less than you should, then you put this surplus-value in banks and institutions. Thanks to Fractional Reserve Banking, you are exploited again here, first, it was your labour and now it is your money. What do you think Professor? Are they, I mean financial intermediaries, a secondary exploiter of human labour?

Creston:

Yeah, I mean when you look at the shift how capitalism and you were quoting Marx there with your intervention of his volume one of capital about the exploitation of the labor and you just give the laborer just enough to keep reproducing themselves but no more so they can’t grow as individuals, they can’t develop new possibilities, new real estate, new different ways of living their life, they’re dependent on the owners of the factories and therefore are enslaved. And I think when you look at the stretch of late capitalism and into neoliberal structures where things are more and more financialized, then you do have major corruptions that start to take place in ways that attempt to enslave the consumer, right? So first you train the consumer to want and buy more and more and more and this becomes a habit to buy more you need to go into debt so you create the debt margin in the 70s with the credit card and then over time you spin the consumer into a web of indebtitude that is financial. So in one sense, it doesn’t feel like you’re enslaved to the factory or to working conditions that might be horrible, although many still face that, but you’re indebted in an invisible way financially and this invisibility doesn’t register with the human consciousness, the brain, in a way that the physical enslavement registers and yet the dangers are surmounting. If you look at different court cases that have emerged in recent times where people are going to jail for debt and this can over time be used as a leverage to target specific individuals in society and it just gives the means of power in an imbalanced way towards those who are in power to be able to leverage that power in more and more ways. So yeah, I agree that the financial indebtitude is very much real, yes.

Salli:

And I think banking loan always goes to those who they don’t really need it. I wish everyone read the article wrote by the great British writer, Bernard Russell, “in the praise of idleness” . there he just brriliantly clarifies how the secondary exploiter of human labour works.

Back to the concept, the fact that you can still look for the emancipation of human subject within the market, I mean by you, those anarcho-capitalists who are still looking for salvation of human subjects within the market, Maybe itself at the centre of philosophical debates. what do you think Professor? will we be free one day, with the market?

Creston:

One of the things that the market does is that it really can if it was really for a free and open market, it can isolate and identify those who are really hard workers, who are clever, who come up with new ways of doing and solving certain situations and in a way that say communism could never do, because it would be a threat to the central committee the centralization. So yeah, I think that there can be ways that you can understand markets to work in beneficial terms but too often those terms are hijacked by the few and so in the name of the ideology of the free market, free and open unregulated market it’s really a code word for those who are in power and there are just a few should be able to continue increasing their power and this precisely what we’ve seen since neoliberalism began in the 70s that you have this privatization of public assets and it’s controlled more and more by fewer and fewer people, but this is where I think the promise of why we’re here meeting today and precisely the motif of this podcast is the heads and tails is precisely looking at decentralization, looking at the potential ways of disrupting intermediaries, disrupting centralization and connecting with one another across the globe in ways that you can build projects constructively with incentive. That’s the other thing, humans need incentivization, they’re not going to just sit on their fat ass watching The Simpsons all day long, that’s the general mode of a consumerist culture is precisely a passive mode, think of the grunge band, Nirvana, it smells like teen spirit, the main lyric is, entertain us entertain me, I’m a passive subject, I’m only good to receive and to consume rather than what I think our curiosity as human beings is discovered, to break open new horizons and to move forward, yeah.

Shayan:

Is it the best way to allocate resources?

That’s an interesting point you said about the free markets like one of the discussions that we had in the previous episodes was about exactly that. We’ve seen in stock markets that there is a lot of regulations like secret breakers preventing some stocks I guess, here some stocks while ago to go down more than 7% and all these and we’ll compare that to cryptocurrency markets that there is no regulation. It’s a bit chaotic; exactly a rollercoaster and we were discussing which one is closer to the definition of free markets. There is still manipulation in that, but isn’t that manipulation a part of the free market or not?

Creston:

Wow, that’s a good question and I’m no economist so my answer can only be really amateur at best, but yeah, when you look at like the Bitcoin market, its fluctuation. But then you map it on the recent oil market and you’re thinking wow the oil markets fluctuating dramatically, therefore the fluctuation in some flex reflects like the value of that market itself and in fact, I think one could argue that the more fluctuation a market has, its potential value I think can be seen as enhanced in some ways. Okay, sure you can’t predict it but isn’t that precisely what interesting markets do, it’s the role of the dice, it’s the whole thing of risk and you hear the capitalists’ ideologies or the ideologue talking about: “yeah we need risk, we need risk” and rather than the government backing us all up, but look what happened with the government badly now constantly bailing out the banks, constantly bailing out the corporate world. So I’ve got myself away from answering your question about the fluctuation of markets, but I do think there can be manipulation by thinking about what sorrows did in the early 90s into the British stock market he almost sank it. As I understand it. So there are actors who can manipulate things like the Republican congressman who pulled out of their investments a couple days before the markets fell and having some inside information. So I think you’re always going to have manipulation and I guess always the questions going to constantly be to what degree can you have a certain form of regulation that allows for the maximization of risk, the maximization of profits, of gain, but without it being deregulated where in which case it becomes mafia, it becomes just three or four actors at the end can manipulate massively. So where is the balance between regulating things and the pure free unregulated manipulative Mafioso market?

Shayan:

Exactly, one of the examples in short selling that it’s not possible for most people to do and short selling is basically going against a stock or some investment and you have to have some degree of credibility or investment portfolio to be able to do that and that goes against the free market.

Creston:

Absolutely, another example to that in fact is, it used to be the case when you started a start-up, only people who could invest in it because it’s not public, it’s not IPO, it’s a private company and the only people who could really invest were accredited investors and since been relaxed recently, in the past, couple years where you can have people, any average guy invest in a company that’s not your friend or family. Okay, again, you have possibilities of scams and frauds, they always will exist, but at the same time having the ability to crowdfund start-up is also I think a really good move forward.

Salli:

Thank you. Creston, this is what I get from you, about the market, that every economy is Libidonal, am I right? What do you think?

Lyotard, Libidinal Economy

Creston:

Are you referring to Lyotard’s notion of the Libidonal economy?

Salli:

Yes, but the problem of the idea of Lyotard I think, is the distinction between these two facts, these two axioms, we should suppose that every economy is Libidonal or every libido is economy? And I think you mentioned that every economy is Libidonal, right?

Creston:

Yeah, that’s where I would go with that, although of course, Lyotard was a mostly literary philosopher of the literature, literary horizon, there’s something to that and in fact, there’s something to the notions that come out of psychoanalysis, they can diagnose or help us understand better notions of markets from debt drive to risk factors and to how we think and consciously process risk vs security, yeah, for sure.

This is the end of the first part of the interview.

Watch the full video on YouTube:

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Independent Persian Educational group, Covering Cryptocurrency, Blockchain and Dapps

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Researcher at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies (GCAS), College of Dublin

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