Last week we talked with our adviser and CEO at Nusantara Trust Dr Walter Tonetto. He answered a number of questions that interest our customers.
How did you land in the cryptocurrency / blockchain space?
I was advising startup businesses in the technology space, and when 2016 came around, I asked Scotty, the feisty chief engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, to beam me into the heart of the finance system; I felt more and more the irresistible tug towards remodeling the current toxic financial system. Purposive remodeling, of course, is going on all the time, and it’s a knife that cuts into two directions. The vast majority of the ‘woke’ crowd actually believe that they can ‘disrupt’ the power of the elites that control all money flows. Bathing limestone statues – registering about 4 on the Mohs scale and 0 on the scale of reason -- of past leaders in district waters may give you a feeling of breathing the air of revolution and tiring unknown muscle-groups in your shanks, but think of it like a father watching his child toss around shovels of soil in a sandbox; he smiles benignly from afar, knowing it won’t change a thing; all the luxurious appointments at home won’t get touched. It is a grave illusion to suppose that by playing around with payment systems and technologies we will actually change the role and the emission of money. You may be permitted to become the shoe-shine boy in the royal household, but don’t think you will marry the princess and dilute the royal blood! But understanding the constitutive parts of power aggregation, and working over significant time-frames, allows for approaches and solutions; -- but these should come not from another adversarial position, thus merely marking a displacement of the incumbent, a change of guard, but from an authentic re-orientation, of making benefits much more widely possible and not creating monetary systems that are grossly imbalanced and highly destructive. That, and not building tech stacks, is the challenge!
What was your initial reaction to bitcoin?
Well, I was following the file-sharing service Napster since it started, around 1999 – when the U.S.S. Enterprise was sitting pier-side at Huntington Ingalls Newport shipyard, rusted and gutted, and to me the P2P sharing paradigm was always present in my mind, shining buffed and radiant, so even the centralized Napster was something wholly natural to me – Dr Sheldrake calls it morphic resonance. We live with a great deal of blurriness, though. On the one hand, we think of the virtues of sharing; on the other, there is a seemingly indefatigable impulse to control and dominate. Sean Parker, after founding and floundering with Napster, became a cocaine-snorting egotist and president of Facebook. Collecting money for a charity, he gets aggressive with people who do not follow suit. A control-freak in overdrive. Notwithstanding the technical variations, BTC, seemingly freeing us up from fiscal controls and yet showing our craving for money, exemplifies the flawed perception at the root of things. Monero, which sounds like a much faster, highoctane vehicle, a CV8-Z of the crypto-track, beats BTC in regard to privacy and fungibility, though BTC has advantages in other areas.
Which is a much more common trend nowadays?
It’s hard to make out the shapes of wild-life in the current kangaroo market we’re in. The bulls and bears have mauled one another, and the kangaroo, bereft of oxygen on account of wearing a tight mask, is hopping wildly everywhere. But clearly the possibilities of digital currencies became un-tethered via Bitcoin and the querulous and hidden Satoshi. I like to think of him more as an idea rather than as a person; an idea is generally more malleable and consequential. For instance, rather than laud the benefits of crypto for FX and cross-border payments, the possibilities of a central-bank issued digital currencyENCOMPASS THE POTENTIAL to inscribe new roles for programmable money; for how money is issued, how it is used, and what role custodial mechanisms (traditionally in the hand of commercial banks) might have. I see HUGE potential for private firms to enter the equation here, but we need more open-minded and intelligent regulators that do not always look for the rungs of the career-ladder in any move they make! A DAO could be most helpful here, but we are currently under the terror of algorithms that are not concerned with the welfare of the greatest number of people. If I had the time I would coauthor a book on this theme with a skilful mathematician (perhaps with my son, who is completing a Ph.D in near-term Quantum Algorithms).
In 2018 I was keynote speaker at the BlueWhale forum in Seoul, and I spoke about an Algorithm of Peace. I had a clutch of people approach me straight after the talk, some from Korea, others from the U.S., and ask me to develop my ideas in book form.
Where do you see the price of bitcoin going over the next few years?
I wouldn’t speculate, but since everyone is shilling it, it is bound to keep pushing north, occasional blockages otwithstanding. I always look for twists and incongruities in the usual narratives on offer. Many BTC fans talk about the unbanked, but BTC is held by what will become another elite in due course, and the unbanked will later be serving them the chilled drinks between innings, as usual.
Do you think that there’s a time for altcoins to break out and move away from the movements of bitcoin? What’s that tipping point that needs to take place?
I have some notions under which alt-coins can take the lead and leave bitcoin behind, but it’s too complex to explain the conditions for that to occur. Once very solid use-cases have been established with a clutch of alt-coins, bitcoin might begin quavering in his boots. That alt-coins should take BTC as a benchmark speaks volumes about the lack of maturity of this young and over-eager market. The fuzzy umbilical cord is always present like a foot-tangle; alt-coins must find their own ground, and clip the connection to a vagrant father. Finance needs clarity and not fuzziness. Keep in mind that many sovereign nations bridle at the calamitous influence of the US on payment systems, so nations are building their own messaging systems outside SWIFT, and their own securities exchanges are following. But remember: these are all crumbs: the U.S. can shut down payments to any recipient accounts by informing the payments company and doling out threats. And since all alt-coins and fiat currencies are connected to payment gateways in some form, the U.S. would have to begin reforming its archaic ACH structure to enable efficiencies in the financial pipes, which does not offer real-time payments functionality. This accounts for the relative simplicity (and success) of the PayPal business model (which Venmo and Dwolla later emulated without using credit cards). But understand that the elites will always protect the real crown jewels, and incite wars (or street battles and racial squabbles, as we’re witnessing in the U.S. in mid 2020) so that they can get away with major financial heists in broad daylight. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and scorched talons if you look closely: you cannot trust the reflection you will receive on a smoky pane. Only the big players know the predetermined outcome.
One fundamental misprision occurs amongst alt-coin apologetes: they fail to understand how markets move and what the designated role of money is in markets. Even if you want to displace something, you first need to understand exactly what you’re dealing with, but that is rarely the case. Yes, banks are structurally and constitutionally part of the problem, but no government will dare cross swords with them: there is still too much aggregated power. Ripple and Stellar are two Blockchains that are working with, and not against, banks, and that likely makes them much better candidates for wide acceptance.
What’s one must-read book you recommend to everyone?
That depends so very much on who’s sitting opposite me! I wouldn’t push what is not naturally aligned. But I would push a couple of films urgently, as essential viewing for everyone:
“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” (and a sequel), which profoundly shocked me, but confirmed my suspicions. Talking about books: one gets a good sense of the kind of books I would counsel people not to touch, unless an overweening impulse bade them otherwise. For instance Steve Pinker, a favourite author of Bill Gates. Pinker in Gates’ hands explains a lot about the character of the reader, the latter of whom I consider one of the most dangerous people on the planet at the moment. If we stay with Pinker for a moment, since he’s famous and fashionable (Harvard professor with a Medusa hairdo and an effete libertarian air, who in “Better Angels of Our Nature” has affirmed that man is not innately good), we note in his presentation in regard to his ineptly titled book “Enlightenment” that he falls prey to the very flaws he chastises, the classic Münchhausen trilemma (in Jakob Fries’ phrase). Picture Baron Münchhausen pulling himself out of quicksand by his own hair! That he is beholden to neoliberal befuddlement becomes clear when two of the opening images of his talk show Vladimir Putin with a rifle andDonald Trump speaking on a podium. The classic neoliberal Harvard think-tank shows reason to be failing and drowning in pious gestures to the cognoscenti and anointed. I like to look for effective counters for specious and shallow argument: for instance, Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion” is a splendid book that bucks the Dawkins’, Pinkers and other materialists of this age. You see, if one listens to Pinker with the head alone, his pedestrian epistemology might not irk, and some ideas might appear plausible enough in a desultory encounter, but if you really want to know the meaning of things, and discover how it relates to the heart, you feel betrayed and given short shrift by him. Among the platitudes he gives out in carefully parsed syllables, the movement of his forehead and eyes betray the spirit behind the façade. Yet I always look, like Yeats, for those who “had changed their throats and had the throats of birds”!
What’s the rainbow trout of the year? Nut-like flavour, the eye still gleaming, with tender, flaky flesh? There are many books I could cite for different genres. The vast majority of modern writers, for all their accomplishments, lack genius, don’t really understand the art of writing, and so cannot hold my attention for long. For those who are open-minded and spiritual, “A Course in Miracles” cannot be bested, but don’t touch it unless you’re really willing to dive deep. There is no need to save the world, since it is nothing but projection; there is no world. You might experience the deepest sigh of relief, as if Atlas had cast off a burden after the Titanomachy. Paul Celan once remarked that “reality is not simply there, it must be sought for and won.” Snorkeling near the surface and blowing bubbles won’t cut it.
We are living in times of great manufactured unrest, which will only heighten in coming months and years, and so I would offer a guernsey to Seamus Heaney. I had met him many years ago, alas cursorily, at a