Brave New Money

I am not an investment advisor, financial analyst, accredited investor, or any other imposing title. This is just my opinion; always do your own research.

For the vast majority of my working life, I’ve been consummately conservative when it comes to investing. VOO & QQQ (S&P and NASDAQ index funds) have been my idea of risk exposure, and I always squirreled away a stack of silver as insurance again them. Consequently, like many others I instantly ruled out Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as Tulip Mania.

It wasn’t until I thought to sit down and read the white papers (formal business proposals) of Bitcoin and Ripple [XRP] that I began to decouple the thing itself from the greed-hysteria surrounding it. Satoshi Nakamoto’s paper read like a practical Wittgenstein, packing so much condensed brainpower that some have argued–ala Shakespeare theorists–that it must be the product of a group rather than an individual. And Ripple’s read like the cynical–and thus realistic–appraisal of Satoshi’s ideal. When I was done reading both, the comparison that sprang to mind was MP3 technology and what it did to the music industry–at first transgressive and terrifying in the guise of Napster, but quickly coopted and commodified by the likes of Itunes.

Like Napster’s triumphant P2P file sharers, quite a few early crypto adopters–particularly those branded “Bitcoin maximalists”–seem to labor under the impression that the banks of the world will willingly throw themselves upon Satoshi’s sword. The sentiment seems to be that regulators and old money are so slow and so stupid that they will never be able to catch up with this innovation or dream up a way to stop it. I would humbly suggest that however dimwitted the average politician may or may not be, the persons who really fund their reelection campaigns bear little resemblance to them.

Facebook’s Libra is a prime example. No one in D.C. (not even the politicians in sync with Zuckerburg’s stereotypical Silicon Valley politics) seems to welcome the thought of a tech corporation competing with central banks. To me, this suggests that Mark once again prioritized coding over communication. He lately seems an unintentional, even bewildered Ayn Rand protagonist, backed into a corner not because he was unwilling to grease palms but simply because he forgot.

Unfortunately for the proof-of-work cryptos like Bitcoin (indeed, perhaps almost all of them excepting Ripple’s XRP and Cardano’s ADA), Libra has brought them the wrong sort of publicity and attention despite how little they have in common with it. The bear has been poked, metaphorically and perhaps economically. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that if someone got it in their head to take out all cryptos that don’t cater to Uncle Sam, a good place to start would be the dubious if not downright fraudulent Tether stablecoin that props much of this speculative market up.

But despite D.C.’s curmudgeonly view of Bitcoin, Libra, and co., that doesn’t change the fact that blockchain technology stands to make them and more importantly their puppeteers a lot of money in the coming years. Remember, you can get rid of Napster but keep MP3. Or, to bring things even closer to home, you can screw over a Tesla if you have an Edison.

I am of course referring to Ripple and their XRP (“booo, banker sh*tcoin!” echoes down from the rafters). Ripple CTO David Schwartz is a mind powerful enough to give Satoshi a run for his tulips; heck, some think he is Satoshi. But, far more importantly, he is surrounded by a team of cold, hard, Machiavellian pros who knew the second they read Bitcoin’s white paper that they should keep the MP3 and ditch the Napster. You know that Hollywood “7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” thing? Well, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Ripple is fintech’s and maybe even business’s current Kevin Bacon. It is downright bizarre just how many known names in finance and law have left behind “sure thing” positions to join Team Ripple. And there are several characters outside of staff, most noticeably the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, who are clearly playing favorites with them at every turn. (Listen for “level playing field” in financial/political discourse going forward–I am personally convinced this phrase is a substitute when referring to Ripple).

Alright, but what does XRP actually do? Well, unlike speculative cryptos that are merely “stores of value,” XRP is positioned to solve specific problems. Most pressingly, these are international remittance (banks and other financial institutions like Western Union and Moneygram moving money across global borders) and nostro-vostro accounts (the necessity of one bank having to keep a large sum in another bank so it can cover remittances that it sends into that other bank’s jurisdiction, basically). But there is also the futuristic proposition of “universal liquidity”–something like a global, digital reserve currency that can seamlessly transition payments from one currency to another, be it fiat or crypto. (“…Or crypto” meaning XRP’s success does not necessarily mean BTC or anyone else’s demise). These are the problems that stand in the way of instantaneous transaction, or money changing hands as quickly as texts and emails do.

When you combine what XRP does (or can do) with who Ripple is, it becomes clear that Ripple XRP is an attempt to make Satoshi’s tech palatable to central banks and thus governments. Whether they have already succeeded is the juicy question. I believe the immediate fate of Moneygram will be an excellent indication. Western Union and Moneygram are the big boys in the world of non-bank remittance. Western Union halfheartedly “tested” Ripple’s tech, panned it in the press, and kept doing what they’ve always done. Moneygram, on the other hand, has recently embraced Ripple tech with open arms, which sent Western Union’s CEO scrambling to the nearest journalist to proclaim that he and Ripple could sign a deal any time if the price is right. Point being, if the underdog Moneygram suddenly seems as though it has a mysterious advantage over Western Union (current stock prices circa $2.00 and $20.00, respectively), this will be the best and perhaps final hint that Ripple has already sealed the deal with the powers-that-be behind closed doors. But if they have, the amount of ironclad NDAs that have gone out recently must be record-breaking.

So, with all that hinting, flirting, and general beating around the bush out of the way, I’ll now take a proper guess 25 years into the future. We’ll see if I look back with pride or embarrassment…

Bitcoin is a relic, but a very expensive one. Ripple is THE fintech company, with whole XRP tokens at a very respectable (but nowhere near 20K BTC) price. They’ll go public at some point, and the stock will be worth more than the token. What with instantaneous transaction now being taken for granted, they are primarily known by businessmen as the universal liquidity behind Quant’s Overledger (or something like it that hasn’t yet been invented). The average person won’t think about XRP at all; they’re getting paid and paying with cryptos such as or similar to Cardano’s ADA and even BAT, funneled through Overledger but meant to be nothing more or less than digital money mostly paid out in fractions. Amounts, to a certain extant, have become meaningless to regular folks–watch enough ads, post enough cool content, or do enough community service, and your creature comforts are covered without much thought. Indeed, buying things is nearly antiquated; now you mostly just subscribe to tokenized services. You don’t buy groceries; you subscribe to Walmart or Amazon and the drone drops your foodstuffs off every-so-often. But how will you get what you like? Easy; algorithms. Products trend and go viral; every object and software reports back collective metadata, rearranges itself to be optimal, becomes inherently desirable thanks to this automatic molding by the market’s “hive mind.” Conspicuous consumption on steroids? Yes, but tempered with self-righteousness. If California crops had a rough year, that popular bottle of Merlot will have to wait. Indeed, if you take one for the team and preemptively defer that Merlot, your stream of micro-payments will get a handsome boost, and pump some social credit-score along with it. Like a spooky synthesis of hardcore capitalism and hardcore socialism, the corporate-government is the godlike provider without whom all will starve, but it also inherently obeys the “free market” by “giving the people what they want” whenever possible.

…So, full disclosure: I own some XRP and Moneygram, but, as Ripple’s own Bob Way has put it, “not enough to make me worth kidnapping.” I also plan on acquiring some apartment REITs and BOTZ (a robotics/A.I. index). Now you know why.

Musings Upon the Mandela Effect

lion & lamb

Lion & Lamb: a photo I took outside of Sight & Sound Theater in Branson, MO.

The Mandela Effect is a phenomenon where one’s memory of the past does not correspond to the evidence one can produce of that past. Most examples are inconsequential, like whether James Earl Jones while voicing Darth Vader famously uttered:

“Luke, I am your father.”

or

“No, I am your father.”

(Apparently it was the latter, though many fans, and the actor himself, recall the former).

Other examples, however, involve historical and even religious truths. The Effect itself is named after the mass belief that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s, although his current death-year is given as 2013. And many a Christian has been disturbed by the realization that their collective recollection of Isaiah 11:6, which opens with the utopian statement that

“The lion shall lay down with the lamb…”

actually reads

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb…”

This replacement of the remembered lion with the apparent wolf is potentially upsetting because, in Judeochristian symbolism, the lion is often equated with God, while wolves are only ever equated with the Devil. To a paranoid eye–perhaps such as mine–it looks like someone decided to engage in a little nefarious editing to reference Aesop’s fable “The Wolf and the Lamb” while simultaneously giving the Lion of Judah/Aslan connotation the boot.

These are but a few examples of a veritable avalanche of surreal and even downright disturbing incongruities between recollection and reality that the internet has compiled since around 2012 (oh yes, we can’t get this weird without the Mayan calendar being involved).

Most explanations of the phenomenon appear to be either secular or metaphysical extremes:

  • that human memory is even more fallible than previously believed, or
  • that science/tech like CERN has opened portals to alternate dimensions, merged timelines, etc.

Briefly entertaining the thought that every KJV Bible in my possession–and perhaps in the world entire–has mysteriously been tampered with, was sufficient evidence that this Effect has the potential to send imaginative people straight to the funny-farm.

Yet, the madness of a thing is not sufficient to disregard it–not in a modern age where quantum computing/artificial intelligence wizards like Geordie Rose must turn to H.P. Lovecraft’s horrifying Great Old Ones as the only sufficient metaphor for what their creations will be like in relation to human beings.

So, for now at least, I want to propose a moderate theory which bridges the Effect’s extreme explanations.

  • Because we humans, for the first time in our existence, cannot in anywise foresee or guess at our own future (it is as though the future merely reads “Here There Be Monsters,” like old ignorant maps), perhaps we are suddenly forced to look back at a hazy past. What do I mean by “hazy past?” We have in effect severed all of our ancestral ties. Few humans in the developed world know much about their family beyond their grandparents or great-grandparents. And perhaps even fewer still believe or think like those unknown ancestors did. The developed world starting with or since the 1990s has been so forward-focused that we have neglected all which came before. Only now that we have accelerated technology to the point that we can no longer chart its trajectory are we rebuffed, and forced to look over our shoulders into the proverbial “haze” for some point of reference. But that which is neglected rarely welcomes the negligent. We find “the good old days weren’t always good” (as Billy Joel puts it in his song Keeping the Faith). And, especially for those who are recollecting something from childhood, we find the subjective sheen and grandeur of innocence is shed, replaced by adulthood’s cynical appraisal. Thus, those who seek a firm foundation in nostalgia find only shifting sand. Perhaps only now do we fully understand why the ancients were so all-fired adamant that one should keep in close contact with their tribal history and myth.

This of course does not placate those who are dead-set that the fabric of reality is already coming unwound pre-Singularity (see Ray Kurtzweil’s books and interviews for more on that idea). I am even willing to concede that it might be. But, I believe my explanation at least serves as a useful caveat. If the past is decaying, it is due to our overemphasis of the future; and the sole way to combat it is by genuine, rather than merely reactionary, reconciliation with that past.

For example: if Jesus’s quotations are (or will be) corrupted and lost, then one had better be sure they have Him in their hearts, rather than depending upon an “infallible” text to preserve His reality for them. True, he did say “my Word will never pass away…” But He Himself is that Logos or Word…

I would also recommend to anyone who can remain entirely unaffected by this Effect (and similar phenomenon in the coming years) to be patient with those who cannot. Even if the Effect is utter tripe–an internet conspiracy conflagration based on memory’s fallibility–the environment in which such Effects are possible is unquestionably trying to introverted personality types. It is relayed by some zookeepers that apes in captivity display hair loss, impotence, and sometimes even insanity. From a purely cold and clinical perspective, this Mandela Effect could be a human comparable to “captivity” in a post-tribe, post-scarcity, post-history environment.

I.E. this is but the tip of an iceberg that our Titanic has already struck. When “deepfakes” fully arrive, all bets will be off in regards to the validity of visual media. The Mandela Effect is but a largely analog precursor to this digital crisis, wherein the average person will not be able to discern a screen or hologram’s fact from fiction. Even if we have begun by distrusting arguably trustworthy forms of media, the principle of general distrust towards media may prove invaluable in an all-too-near future.

The choice is coming sooner than expected:

  • to continue consuming content one knows, deep down, is false and/or harmful, or
  • to endure the silence of no content at all, and discover what awaits there.

I’m pleased to say that my upcoming booklet treats of this general subject matter almost exclusively, although (synchronicity?) I wrote it before learning of the Mandela Effect. I expect it will be out in June or July of this year, as a free PDF here and physically on Amazon for circa $5.00. Now, I guess we just have to hope that what I wrote there continues to be what appears upon the page…