Taming the beast

The image of Wall Street's charging bull, sitting as it does at the world’s financial centre, captures the essence of the deepening global crisis. 

Nozomi Hayase
9 June 2015
Charging bull. Flickr/Sam Valadi. Some rights reserved.

Charging bull. Flickr/Sam Valadi. Some rights reserved.It was recently reported that a number of top world banks pleaded guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. These included Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland. Here are some familiar faces carrying on the same old cycles of corruption and lawbreaking, with no recourse. Not much has really changed since the 2008 financial meltdown. Back then no one went to jail and banks were bailed out. At the onset of the Occupy movement, while protesters gathered in lower Manhattan, police put barricades around the iconic sculpture of the Charging Bull. The image of the guarded bull at the world’s financial centre captured the essence of the deepening global crisis; rapidly growing greed and ruthless aspects of humanity that are protected by those in power.

Some call it capitalism or neoliberalism, while others call it statism or corporatism. Whatever names are used across ideological lines, more and more people are beginning to recognize this oppressive force that tends to drag all into an abyss. The question of our time which engages us with the problem of this growing beast is the following: what is the dark force symbolized by the bull and how can it be tamed?

Perhaps this wild creature represents primitive animalistic parts of man that have become the shadow of current civilization. In Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, John Ralston Saul (1992) described how the west strove to conquer the savage within and that its conception of civility was defined by the triumph of reason in a “struggle against superstition and arbitrary power.”

The mechanical vision of Newton’s universe with its law of cause and effect replaced the forces of chaos and unpredictability. Western rationality appears to rule over instincts now. Yet the primitive man denied by modern society still thrives. It is an irrational drive beneath consciousness, which from time to time threatens the supremacy of reason. While the advancement of thinking opened up the possibility for freedom, at the same time it caused suppression of feeling and brought a sense of alienation. The hyper-individuality prevalent in the west has made man a sophisticated social animal with an overgrown head. This has created a trend of psychopathy within society that emphasizes antisocial traits and characteristics such as egocentricity and absence of empathy.

The false creed of objectivity

The aggressive, darker side of our humanity, now wrapped in a mask of civility, has become an invisible force of control. In western societies where a semblance of democracy is maintained, natural selection in the Darwinian jungle has shifted into conquest through intellectual persuasion, debate and trickery. Unbridled instincts have morphed into commercial interests and the barbarian within has found its most effective incarnation in corporate personhood as a legal fiction. With the rationale of ‘profit at any cost’, these artificial entities with limited liability extend their callous reach beyond borders to prey on the weak and enact a kind of financial colonization, while covering up their crimes with plunder-friendly laws.

WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange came to recognize trends of government secrecy and corruption that have become a hallmark of our era. He pointed out how authoritarian regimes work as “the agent of deception and information restriction.” Those in power use language, not for the sake of communication, but to create distortion and confusion. They use their intellectual capacity to serve their insatiable desire and hide their hypocrisy and dirty deals. In this, the notion of objectivity is used as a weapon.

The creed of objectivity is a dominant presumption in positivist and empiricist epistemology taken up by social and political sciences. It claims impartiality for researchers, as if they are free from their own agendas and biases. In Democracy Inc., David Allen (2005) pointed out how efforts to place the law under the discipline of science was done with an aim to create expert knowledge and a class of professionals that are divorced from the interests of common people. Allen described how this creed is also used as the professional methodology of journalists, noting how this purported objectivity has become a “strategic ritual”, which in the words of sociologist Gaye Tuchman, journalists use to “turn facts into truth.”

Yet the creed of objectivity is simply a pretence. We are inherently subjective beings. To claim that we can be completely neutral is to quit being human. As Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, pointed out, value-free objectivity of researchers is simply not possible. At best all we can do is to strive to be objective. With the cloak of objectivity, subjective perspectives are presented as facts. This creates false reason that is used as a powerful shield to cover the motives and influence of special interests or a particular ideology.

Autocratic de-risked capitalism

Whoever claims objectivity has the power to assert truth and dictate narratives. Increasing secrecy combined with corporate media’s perception management have broken the systems of checks and balance of power that is the bedrock of any truly democratic society.

Central authority using the creed of objectivity closes the system from any meaningful feedback. In the existing financial system, with money as legal tender declared from above, subjective value is fixed by states and private banks. Sovereign currency has become an instrument of control and the legitimacy of central banks' monetary policy is backed up by the pseudo-science of modern economics. The predators within these individuals have taken hold of levers of control over the ledger and manipulate numbers at will. They enact financial wars to perpetuate a pyramid debt-based Ponzi scheme for the survival of the crudest and the most cunning.

The corporate managers behind central banks direct the flow of finance to transfer the world’s wealth from the bottom to the top 1 percent. Investment firms like Goldman Sachs now act as financiers of authoritarian regimes. They fund the Pentagon propaganda machine to manufacture public consent for their never ending resource wars and imposed petrodollar hegemony that allows much of the world’s elite to live parasitically. Through insidious corporate branding, those in power package their profit motives so as to invade and colonize the innocent mind.

These psychopathic characteristics of narrow-sighted impulsive acts are rampant in Wall Street speculation, carried out at the expense of ordinary people’s hard-earned money. This has turned whole societies into parasitic systems, where wealth creation more and more equals extraction, rent-seeking and weapons of debt. The result is the creation of autocratic de-risked capitalism, where risks are removed from the system and investors get free gambling money with few or no consequences for their bad decisions. Through government deregulation such as repealing the Glass-Steagall Act and gutting usury laws, the spontaneous force of democracy that could hold the market accountable has been systematically dismantled. Unbridled greed has met no boundaries and trespasses on local communities, plundering through privatization what in the past was preserved as the commons.

Cryptography as a shield

2014 Flood Wall Street. Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian. Some rights reserved.

2014 Flood Wall Street. Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian. Some rights reserved.The ever hungry beast in sheep’s clothing moves in for the kill, devouring much that is good in humanity. The cold and calculative mind has no mercy and cannot hear the voice of conscience. Human subjectivity becomes a point of attack. Our trusting and empathic nature makes us vulnerable to this vicious manipulation and being taken in by superficial charm. With the veneer of professionalism, those devoid of empathy that head banks, transnational corporations and governments provoke fear and channel unconscious desires to keep the populace under their thumb. What could bring immunity to this systemic deception and free us from the age-old logic of control and domination?

Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1993/1997) pointed to reason as the primary force at the very foundation of Western individuality. He describes it as a double-edged sword; on the one hand it contains “our potential for the divine” but on the other hand it can lead us to “selfishness”. Coercive forces of false reason can only be accounted for with true objectivity. Mathematics is incorruptible and free from subjectivity. No person can claim full objectivity, but the indisputable intelligence inherent in math can bring a pure form of abstraction that can shield thought from man’s personal agendas and biases.

As one of the original contributors to the Cypherpunks mailing list that uses cryptography to protect individual freedom, Julian Assange described the power of immutable math: “If there is a modern analogue to Orwell’s ‘simple’ and ‘democratic weapon’, which ‘gives claws to the weak’ it is cryptography…” Assange saw encryption as an “embodiment of the laws of physics” that “does not listen to the bluster of states, even transnational surveillance dystopias.”

With the idea of becoming a press for the people, WikiLeaks used cryptography as a shield against the powerful governments of the world. Encryption technology empowered by the heart of the common man has opened up a space outside the centralized trust of patronage networks of corporations and states. Anonymous secure communication that is immune to counter-party attacks helps free the conscience within institutions that have been systematically suppressed.

WikiLeaks, with the method of transparency, aims to place the claim of objectivity where it belongs, which is in authentic documentation provided by its sources. Journalist Sarah Harrison explains how WikiLeaks engages in scientific journalism by publishing full archives with the conviction that they belong in the public domain. This is based on the premise that through disclosing all data, people can make their own independent assessments about what the media reports.

Through this practice, the whistle-blowing site challenges official narratives and their pretence of objectivity. As a result, it weakens networks of secrecy that are often delinked from conscience, bringing the source of legitimacy back into the hands of ordinary people and turning truth into a process of becoming through consensus.

Blockchain, path towards decentralization

From Chelsea Manning to Edward Snowden, waves of whistle-blowers have challenged the state-sponsored corporate information cartels in recent years. Along the line of this cryptographic revolution, another force of disruption based on encryption has emerged. In the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown, the open source protocol for a public asset ledger called the blockchain was put forward. The core of this invention was distributed trust, which enables a platform for decentralized consensus on a large scale.

A path toward decentralization is now being bootstrapped. Just as Occupy’s leaderless movement spawned horizontal organizing, this ingenious protocol of a decentralized ledger instigated a spontaneous circle of consensus with computers from across the globe. Bitcoin, as the holy grail of the Cypherpunks with currency as its first application, challenges the central banks’ objective claim of value creation that operates with opaque monetary policy and is subject to inflation through elites’ grandiosity. It lifts up the barricade that guards the too-big-to-jail Wall Street bulls, effectively dispersing the tendency toward concentrated greed.

This breakthrough of imagination in computer science brings a creative way to tackle the uncontrollable power of the bullish beasts that are taking over so many aspects of society. Historically, societies have dealt with the dark side of humanity by suppressing, shunning or outlawing them through regulatory or coercive tools. Yet this in turn created levers of control which have repeatedly been abused. This is manifested within the current two-tiered justice system, where white collar criminals walk free, black lives don’t matter, and the poor and disadvantaged are criminalized. Meanwhile, regulatory agencies are lenient with, for example, HSBC’s illegal money laundering for Mexican drug cartels.

When punished or neglected, the instinctual, mammalian parts within us often gain the upper hand. Honest accounting for, and acknowledgment of, the individual pursuit of personal gain mitigates potentially destructive forces such as greed and desire that tend to careen out of control and compromise entire systems. Instead of trying to deny or eradicate man’s lower attributes, by maintaining a conscious relationship to the potentially dark side of our human nature, those wild beasts that are socially destructive can be tamed. 

Descent, the mother of ascent

Charging bull. Flickr/Randy Lemoine. Some rights reserved.

Charging bull. Flickr/Randy Lemoine. Some rights reserved.In order to rise higher, we must first descend into the primitive parts of ourselves that were condemned and rejected. On the surface, Bitcoin’s particular design with fixed supply appears as if it is mimicking a gold-like commodity, attracting speculators and investors. Yet this is a vital incentive structure that provides a way for us to get in touch with and redeem the estranged antisocial and instinctual parts of ourselves.

The dark sides of our individuality are not bound by communal ground and are often cut off from empathic reality. In Without Conscience, psychopathy expert Robert D. Hare (1993) explains how “psychopaths seem to know the dictionary meanings of words but fail to comprehend or appreciate their emotional value or significance.” He points out their lack of ability to imagine consequences of their own actions and how for them “concrete rewards are pitted against vague future consequences – with the rewards clearly for the stronger contender.”

The fallible parts of man are blind to the light within and this darkness does not comprehend the words of the heart. The language of emotions such as guilt and shame does not reach them. Those among us who exhibit overly individualistic tendencies and are rather insulated from the reality of other people can easily become deaf to the cries for social change coming from those who are abandoned, disadvantaged and stuck at the bottom.

From the horizon of a privileged first world, those who are subjugated to corporate led globalization and its idea of development have become invisible. While voices of these oppressed bounce off the hardened heart of the ruling class, the concrete language of risk and reward captures their attention and can make them vicariously respond to the demand for decentralization.

Distributed accountability

The mining at the heart of the Bitcoin ecosystem performs the issuing of money and also the clearing of transactions, but most fundamentally it secures and maintains the integrity of the system. Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and author Andreas Antonopoulos acknowledged how the creator of Bitcoin technology Satoshi Nakamoto not only invented a new currency, but gave us the world’s first perfect market. Antonopoulos described how Bitcoin mining is built around a valuable currency and the basic economic principle of risk and reward that incentivizes miners to work honestly.

Based on the principle of game theory that creates fairness, miners in the pursuit of profit engage in a broadcast math competition known as ‘proof of work’. Every ten minutes, problems are solved by chance through computers giving significant computational power to find a numeric solution to a specific algorithm. Whoever solves the problem wins a fixed number of Bitcoins. Difficulty is adjusted according to demand with a tight feedback loop every two weeks, keeping the mining profitable.

In this mining competition, players mostly act out of self-interest. Yet the reward for playing by the rules is set higher than potential gains one may achieve by attacking or subverting the network, so each learns to self-regulate their personal desires and work so as to not unduly benefit from the good will of everyone else.

The objective law of math taken up freely by each person brings back a force of spontaneity that has been eliminated by the clockwork universe. Out of the chaos, a higher order now emerges, creating a new network that corrals these now liberated bulls. By each player voluntarily choosing to work honestly, the bulls within us can be placed inside the cage of the mining ring and accounted for with each transaction. This brings a new system of distributed accountability, where all who choose to join commit to the rule of consensus, and through each playing honestly, undue self-interests are naturally regulated.

Paving a way for altruism

In Bitcoin’s decentralized ecosystem, individual’s isolated self-interests are placed in relationship to the whole to serve for the imagination that infused this innovation. Psychopathic tendencies as the side effect of extreme individuality can be brought into balance within a new social contract, enforced by Satoshi’s perfect market with its equilibrium of supply and demand. Characteristics that are often considered negative in society such as risk taking, calculated selfish acts and profit motives can now be channeled to serve a larger shared vision of a more free society.

The global mind of the world’s largest supercomputer network takes charge of the drive for competition with complex abstract calculations, digesting many ruthless and callous aspects of human nature. This in return can free humanity from forces of aggression and the logic of conquest and pave a way for people to work altruistically. Instead of arms races and financial wars, with Bitcoin the competition for solving a mathematical problem helps to achieve a global level security infrastructure. This new flow of currency has the potential to end financial apartheid and begin serving the unbanked and underbanked that have been excluded from the current financial system. It can free those who are restrained by rent-seekers and subjugated to financial colonization. Out of the torrents emerging through the massive hashing power, the torus of a new heart grows and with every beat expands our collective goodwill to flow throughout the entire network.

The western pursuit of knowledge through the ethos of duality bore fruit that has enlightened the world in many ways. Branches of science, technology, engineering and chemistry have increased humanity’s potential, making it possible to overcome natural disaster and disease and live more comfortably in what can be seen as a harsh physical reality. Yet, at the same time, the west’s aspiration toward the light has cast out the darkness. In the name of progress and the effort to free the world from religious dogma, the reason that has remained tied to man’s fallible nature has become a tyrannical force that has dominated the world.

What are these unruly bulls that turned the morality of the world upside down? Vulture capitalism and this pathological pursuit of power is a symptom calling for our attention. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us of the old myths of dragons that transformed themselves at the last moment:

“Perhaps all dragons in our lives are really princesses just waiting to see us just once being beautiful and courageous. Perhaps everything fearful is basically helplessness that seeks our help”.

Taming the beast of illegitimate corporate power calls on us to tend the urge to seek control. Through yielding the might of the sword for love, we free our beasts and allow them to find their true masters. In return, they will guard us in our quest on the path toward civilization. Technology and science can be used in the service of the principle of cooperation and consensus that have long been upheld by the First Nations. The courage to understand and integrate what has become so dark in us can give birth to a new ethical individualism. We can begin again by more firmly rooting ourselves in the ground of our true nature and our light from the darkness within can then enlighten the world.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData