Halloween Longread. The Myths and Legends in Cryptotechnologies


Any activity having something romantic around it, will inevitably grow a mythological network. Most of those myths can be classified as urban legends, even though there might be no city involved. American urban legends are known to everyone – even those who never saw America with their own eyes.

The story about a couple of teenagers who went to a remote cliff seeking a calm environment for losing their virginity in a car, but who failed to do that thanks to an unknown serial killer, appeared in movies so often that now it is a worn-out cliché used only as an ironic second-level reference.

Mining of gold (the non-virtual one, and not 2.0) has lots of latrine rumors and legends involved. The gold rush period in the U.S. is itself cloaked in a ghostly haze of romanticism. Most of those legends can be subdivided into two major categories.

Legends of the first category are not viable in the course of time. They are hardly interesting to anyone. Their plot is non-elaborate, and one may easily find its analogues in completely different stories told overseas. Arithmetic average of the plot looks more or less like that: a poor young boy (times were bad, and women, of course, were interested in ready-made gold only, yeah) who earned his bread by constructing rat kings for a sottish owner of a hardware store, finally runs away from troubles, adversities, and his mom’s postmodernist jokes into wild prairies of Arizona, where all of a sudden finds a ton of gold. Further development of the plot depends on the story they try to tell, and the final may vary from “and then he returned to the town, bought it, and exploded the fuck out of it” to “this boy was Albert Einstein”.

Legends of the second category are also variations on archetypical plots of different eras, and are mostly concerned with ghosts. As opposed to the first category, such legends survived to this day. The gold rush left lots of abandoned mines and ramshackle ghost towns. Visiting a ghost town is spooky of its own accord, and abandoned mines still keep spirits of perished miners. They were dying with the thoughts of gold, and for that reason cannot leave the world of mortals.

Everybody likes comparing technological processes around bitcoin with mining. The very word implies the analogy was pre-determined. However, the virtual nature of the process deprives the industry from the slightest chance to grow cultural connotations.

The need for legendarium is integrated into humankind’s cultural code, regardless of the culture we speak of. Whether a person is a right-wing radical, cryptoanarchist, or a fat troll from the web, he or she will be pleased to hear a myth related to their interests. Meanwhile, the goddamn bitcoin does not allow cryptocurrency enthusiasts to obtain their own mythology. A world-beaten person will hardly find loads of bitcoins hidden in a wild prairie, and the only thing that might perish during coin mining is, probably, a CPU.

Of course, one may imagine a high-school geek, who couldn’t stand derisions from cheerleaders and went to the woods hoping to commit suicide right at the spot where recently a psycho stabbed a couple of teenagers to their death, but who found a previously undiscovered 50 MW data center. One may also imagine that somewhere in the web there is a public key to a block full of ghosts of unborn coins created many years before bitcoin that had never seen the light. Unfortunately, it all sounds like one of postmodernist jokes by the mom of that boy who had run away from them into the prairie.

The only myth actually existing in cryptocurrency industry is Satoshi Nakamoto. However, it’s easy to see that he has nothing to do with aforementioned categories of myths. It falls into a completely different kind of myths: the religious ones.

He is a person no one had ever seen. He had been the originator of what later became a great community. It was he who established the basic principles underlying the interaction within the community. Having done his work, he vanished leaving behind nothing but his name. Everything that he left was words. Doesn’t he resemble someone, huh?
Having based everything on a religious myth about Satoshi, the crypto-community in some way equaled itself with monotheistic religions and became a kind of an enormous, and notably decentralized, order.

However, basic myths about the founder have never been sufficient for a religion. For instance, in Christianity, gospels are supplemented by the Acts of the Apostles, works by the Church Fathers, and lots of legends whose protagonists have nothing to do with the original works. If we speak of an order, there should be even more grounds for spinning yarns.

Legends are not only for fun. They maintain cultural unity of people who may differ from each other in all other matters. Considering fundamental decentralized organization of crypto-community, it needs its own legendarium going beyond tales about the mysterious originator. However, I never heard nothing like that, and it is sad.

Jenny Aysgarth exclusively for ForkLog

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