Hello faithful readers,
Religion is a topic that never seems to go out of fashion. After all, only 16% of the world’s population claim to reject or be indifferent to any religion at all. A vast majority of them live in China. It says something about how deep an insecurity or hope it touches, that religion still holds such a massive sway among large parts of the world. Or maybe our brains are all innately wired to believe in religion.
In any case, I am not a complete moron. I am not going to open that can of worms here. I won’t be the smiling town-idiot who crosses the warning signs and walks into a minefield while the townsfolk scream from the sidelines.
Instead, with a prayer on my lips, I am going to talk about certain other religions. Around the world, the so-called rational minds are detaching themselves from the mystic and are clinging on to the cryptic. Ok, that doesn’t mean much.
I am talking about religion in the loose meaning of its latin etymology - ‘religio’, translating as ‘in awe of gods.’ The modern gods come in many forms. Some are anthropomorphic. Some are just ideas. And some may soon take over our world. They have their frothing-at-the-mouth followers, zealots and armies waging their holy war.
Christianty had Jesus. Islam had Prophet Muhammad. Bitcoin has (had?) Satoshi Nakamoto. You would think in the modern era it’s not possible to be so shrouded in mystery but till date no one knows who Satoshi - the original creator of Bitcoin and the miner of the genesis block - is. Think of the words you would use for any of these prophets and it applies to Satoshi - reverence, faith, hope, admiration, etc.
People frame the original whitepaper he wrote. Who knows, perhaps in another 20 years, we will find copies of this whitepaper as indoctrination into the new crypto realm.
Satoshi was active until 2011 after which he disappeared from the digital realm without a trace. This is fascinating in itself and in my more fantastical musings I often wonder if he was an alien who came to seed the next big disruption for Earthlings to move civilization forward. The carefully constructed mysticism, the ahead-of-its-times initial thoughts in Bitcoin forums about security and scaling which wouldn’t be needed until a decade later and the sudden disappearance of Satoshi all add up to an almost carefully constructed religion experience.
The question is: who constructed this?
It helps that there are vociferous skeptics too. The Charlie Mungers of the world and the big institutions who keep screaming that it would fail. Like any religious movement, the skeptics make the faithful cling to their belief even stronger. I mean, the very first block that Satoshi mined called out bank bailouts and took the war to fiat currency from the get go. Like other religions, this one has a self-identified righteous war to win against the vested interested, evil governments and the elite.
Personally, I owned 0.5 bitcoin between 2015 to 2017. Selling it all in 2017 is among the stupidest things I have done in my life. Like for some, this religion could have been very lucrative for me.
In another era, you could confuse libertarians for the hippies. Back in the 60s, the Hippies were anti-authoritarian, popularised free thought unshackled by dogmas, discouraged meddling in other countries and had a general ‘leave me alone to do my thing’ attitude towards governments and policies. The only difference - hippies were for social fixes by the government while libertarians believe that the free market is the only solution for all woes.
The libertarians would claim that it is “based on the moral principle of self-ownership. Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.” But really, it’s just a market worshipping cult that proposes questions like ‘why should the government control the license of car drivers.’ It is filled with such whackjob preachers with proposals ranging from the idiotic to downright dangerous.
The greatest trick Ayn Rand pulled was covering up how bad a writer she was by focusing everyone’s attention on her puerile and narcissistic philosophy of individualism and nothing else. Here’s a libertarian proposing monarchy is better than democracy because, you know, the government is evil and democracy sucks.
Like most religions, this one too hates paying taxes. For libertarians though not paying taxes to the government is like dipping in the Kumbh or visiting Mecca. The religious faithful here look at the big government with their furious red-eyes and call ‘shame.’ Why not? After all, all the hardcore libertarians often tend to be well-do-do rich people who’d rather not part with their money.
The libertarian version of virgins in heaven is the magical, fairy land of utopian capitalism with no laws and rules:
Welcome to Cancers’R’Us. We are offering you the best cancer cure in the country. Now for just 99.99 you can get a combo package of cancer treatment and weight reduction. If you are a platinum member, we offer you the top rated doctors. This offer lasts only for the week so move quickly.
Who knew we had a god among us all the time and it was the free market.
At this point, some of you reading this may be fidgeting. Or perhaps if you were woke-enough, you may have already dismissed me even without going any further. But hear me out. All I am saying is that there is a new religion in town and it goes by many names but thanks to the modern meme-world we all live in, it has this perfect term ‘woke’ to define a whole series of emotions.
I am not sure if woke liberalism is a cult or a religion. There are certainly aspects of a cult like a shared commitment to seeking superiority. It certainly involves an element of drinking the ‘kool-aid’, of believing you are part of changing the world radically for the better and having exacting moral, ethical and equality standards that may even seem unreasonable at times.
There’s a lot of emotional exploitation. You are 100% radically woke or not at all. An ambivalent statement might have the social hordes descending on you demanding that you clarify your ambivalence. “X showing its true colors”. You are hardly ever allowed into the group if at any time in the past you voiced disagreement with it. “You were complicit in a crime and now you are changing your tune”
It’s definitely performative. The loud, dramatic group purging of individuals when they do or say something reprehensible or deemed unacceptable has ritualistic overtones.
Don’t get me wrong. Woke liberalism was the outcome of genuinely horrifying things that continue to exist in the world including racism, religious authoritarianism, casteism, sexism, etc. But instead of nuanced, topic by topic discussion on issues around these, the world has coalesced for and against cults. The war-like tone of their stance pretty much cuts off people at a local level (all the families that fight on different dogma) and makes any real progress difficult if not impossible.
Instead we have mobs with pitchforks engaging in the purge. Eventually, when we have only the purest souls left, perhaps we could gather around and talk about whether this cult is actually helping us.
I recently read that people are considering cancelling Newton’s laws of motion because Newton was, well, a pro-colonial racist (duh!). Sounds like a perfect plan. Between right-wing nuts, all the libertarian crap and a feelings-led world of woke, we all seem to be collectively waging a war on science, rationalism and logic.
That Elon Musk commands an enormous global cult is a strange sign of the times. He’s done stuff that reeks of genius but also stuff that makes him look like the world’s biggest idiot. On the one hand he puts rockets into space and on the other hand manipulates markets and preaches anti-vax theories. Perhaps he is perfectly crafted for this moment in time and space.
But why does he have a god-like reverence and an enormous global cult.
There’s definitely a messianic aspect to Elon as he has chosen to pick up the largest problems of the world for solving like interplanetary travel, climate change and even Neuralink. In a way he is here to ‘save’ us - only instead of spiritual guidance he just pushes science and technology in a way that’s not done before.
He’s manifested fantasies. Every time a SpaceX rocket lands successfully back, it reinforces Elon’s fantasy-like proclamations of humans reaching Mars in our lifetime.
He’s not it in for money. There’s some credence to it as repeatedly he’s ploughed back winnings into more and more complex undertakings. He could have sat back and sipped cocktails on a beach for five generations with the wealth he made early in his career.
There’s, however, an argument to be made about ‘without Elon we’d never have made any progress on these issues’ statement which elevates it to a cult. Late stage capitalism certainly has religious overtones and Elon is the perfect figure head for it.
For one, he has high profile disciples who propagate his cult and lash out at anyone who dares to question. Here’s Sam Altman, president of Y combinator by day, Elon bro by night.
The thing that makes Elon equivalent to more a religious messiah is that he is so out there proposing quack-like theories of existence one moment to sharing silly stolen memes to the masses. I believe at some point he promised that a human trip to Mars would happen as early as 2025. His work on Neuralink and dreams of hyperloop and boring tunnels underground are all fantastically optimistic promises that it is not much more than fantasy at this point.
It is perhaps this messianic belief that convinces people to turn on the self-drive in their Tesla’s that seem to have hurriedly come onto the real world when all other companies spend quite a few more cycles testing and perfecting it.
Even more so, he manipulates markets to his will. He’s turned Tesla into a bitcoin trading company as much as a car company and no one even seems to blink. And now he’s taking SNL over? SNL’s gone to the Doges.
Maybe, Technology is the new religion
Every year, the big companies make product announcements that garner millions of hits of viewers. In the pandemic-induced emptiness of Bangkok, the only store that still has a queue that stretches outside is an Apple store. Try talking trash about Apple or Samsung or any of the technology brands and you will see the angry warriors of faith descend on you like the crusaders. Increasingly, with the rise of AI and inscrutable software, technology has become mysterious, powerful and sometimes scary. All the markings of religious reverence.
The culmination and where I believe all of the above movements are likely heading us towards is in the rise of AI and our increasingly digital enabled lives. As cars drive themselves and automated algorithms solve our medical problems and plan our future, we will increasingly look at amazing technology much the same way humans looked at the forces of nature and religion - with awe and bewilderment.
Then, much like the ancient texts prescribed, we would likely leave the pains and troubles of our physical existence and instead live in the fully digital world of virtual simulation.
Maybe. Or maybe, we will set up a Kailasha in the blockchain and promise deliverance through digital blessings.
Could be worse,
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