Back in April, I attended Bitcoin 2022, held in Miami, where I spoke with today’s guest, who is the CEO of the publicly traded company that owns more bitcoin than any other. Can you guess which company that is? It’s not Tesla, Square, or Coinbase. It’s MicroStrategy, which is based in Virginia and provides business intelligence, mobile software, and cloud computing. It owns about 2 1/2 times as much bitcoin as the next closet company, which would be Tesla.
The reason MicroStrategy is so long on bitcoin is because its 57-year-old billionaire CEO, Michael Saylor, had an epiphany in 2020, when COVID-19 had shut down most of the country. Bitcoin, he tells me, “is an approximation of a perfect monetary system because it is correct. It has no inflation in it. It’s not corruptible because it’s decentralized.” He believes bitcoin is the last, best hope of creating an economy that is independent of the machinations of politics, central banks, and connected investors who rig the system to benefit themselves at the expense of regular people.
While the economy tanked due to external factors, Saylor directed MicroStrategy to keep buying bitcoin regardless of the price. The company is committed to “hodling” for the long term, a position Saylor believes in now more than ever as inflation takes hold.
And he’s still saying that today, even as bitcoin has slid down to just $31,000 as I write this—down from its peak of almost $68,000 last November. Saylor’s Twitter account is a beauty to behold, with him recently quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes to the effect that “youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all” and posting a picture of him working at a McDonald’s saying it’s “time to get back to work.”
So bitcoin’s bear market is actually a perfect time to release my interview with him from Miami in April, where he explains why he’s all in on bitcoin, how his training as an engineer informs his worldview, and his belief that one thing holding back the mass adoption of a non-state-backed currency is a lack of clarity in how the U.S. government will regulate it.
I’m joined for a second time by James as we discuss what it means to be human and why this is worth holding on to as the tide of technology threatens to sweep us away. We also speak about technology as both tool and master, the future of one religion or many, the religious wars of the future, the old gods and the new, anarchoprimitivism, the power of images, permanent hysteria, and much more. James Poulos is a writer, the founder, and editor of the American Mind, founder and publisher of Return.life, the author of The Art of Being Free, and his most recent book: HUMAN, FOREVER – THE DIGITAL POLITICS OF SPIRITUAL WAR
Published in 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ described a world in which he saw the 70+ year struggle between the authoritarian styles of government meeting an unequivocal end with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. What triumphed – principally the American system of ‘liberal democratic capitalism’ – was a model that in many ways proceeded to envelope the rest of the world in the coming years. For this, Fukuyama gets much right, but as the title of the book implies, the notion of an end to all other forms of civilization is questionable, and in the light of the rise of rival development models in Asia and a tentatively resurgent Russia, the thesis appears inaccurate at best, or grossly absurd at worst.
Who rules? That’s what we all want to know. The Managerial Revolution, James Burnham’s still-influential 1941 book (the subject, for example, of recent pieces by Aaron Renn and Julius Krein), gave that eternal question a fresh answer. Broadly speaking his was, we can see eighty years later, indisputably the correct analysis. Burnham agreed that capitalism, private enterprise as the engine of the ruling class, was dying, the usual opinion in that tumultuous time, but made the entirely new claim that what would replace it was not, as most assumed, socialism, but a new thing. Namely, the ascent of managers, a new ruling class, who would hugely expand government and use it to mold society into new forms for their own benefit.
The Managerial Revolution is a cousin to Burnham’s 1942 The Machiavellians, in which Burnham more completely laid out his theory of the ruling class, through a Gnostic examination of history. In The Managerial Revolution, he treats as axiomatic that every society must have a ruling class, but this book looks not backward, rather forward, to what our specific new ruling class will be, and how it will rule. Both books suffer somewhat from a belief that human social and political relations can be reduced to an objective science; in 1941, unlike today, an author could still believe the precision of his predictions was only limited because of the “relatively undeveloped stage at which sociological science today rests.” Burnham always aspired to be a pure rationalist, but that made him unable to appreciate that human beings are not machines, and therefore their actions cannot be reduced to the same analysis as physical processes (to be fair, a common error also made by some on today’s postliberal Right). Hence, his claims about the future were wrong in many details, but that does not really detract much from the value of his book.
Part 1: The Dark Enlightenment and the Digital Prison.
Platos cave is an allegory for the liberatory power of rationalism, however as history shows, rationalism isn’t always enough. Once rationalism fails, humanity regresses into what Nick Land calls a “dark enlightenment,” in which people revert to pre-rational mindsets. However, we can never really go back to the way we were in Platos Cave, and we enter novel forms of delusion. Philip K. Dick says we become trapped in the “iron prison” or rigid thought forms, however we are beyond even that – now we find ourselves more and more locked in the Digital Prison of an always online world.
Part 2: The Astral Flight Simulation
We trace the trajectory of several Science Fiction stories concerned with Artificial Intelligence antagonists, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Neuromancer, Tron, and The Terminator, to The Matrix, Ex Machina, and God Shaped Hole. In so doing, we see how humanities will is superseded by that of technology, how like Faust we hand over our autonomy – our eternal souls – in exchange for the promise of technology, and are thereby locked in the digital prison. Once there we are in a new Platos cave, in which digital shadows play out on the walls, in a mimicry of the fulfillment of a religious or even a rational world.