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The Currency of Faith. Jamie Dimon, John McAfee and the battle over Cryptocurrencies.

“The money could always be arranged. Especially in a foreign country.”

— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

“I’ll see it when I believe it.”

— Anonymous


In a recent article by James Risberg, originally at,

Risberg highlights the public spat between John McAfee and JP Morgan Chase corporate boss of bosses, Jamie Dimon.

Risberg’s take on the war of words is worth reading as it highlights a central issue in the emergence of cryptocurrencies – namely the question of risk and faith.

Normally one thinks of faith in relation to religious questions. That’s normal but here we’d like to take a moment to address the unspoken question of faith inherent in the current (dominant) financial system and the future of crypto currencies.

Dimon, a tribal chieftain of the establishment, is here cast in the role of financial Papal advocate, cheerleader for the system and scolding ayatollah (If you’ll forgive the mixing of religious titles) admonishing the flock that McAfee is a heretic and that cryptocurrencies will not get you through the gates of financial heaven.

Granted McAfee is a heretic; a kind of cross between Hunter S Thompson coming down off an ether binge and Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz after consuming a wee too much home-brewed jungle juice.

But the world (and history) are full of people who were weird and brilliant and if being weird or cantankerous was a barrier to cultural relevance the world would be a fairly boring place and everyone would still be getting around in ox driven carts.

That Dimon, as Risberg’s article makes clear, is against cryptocurrencies should come as no surprise. That McAfee is in favor of them should also surprise no one. What concerns us though is the extent to which we can frame the argument as a repetition of any number of other confrontations between establishment and rebellion.

It’s not that by being an alternative and thus subversive that cryptocurrencies establish their legitimacy. Plenty of things have been subversive of authority without being legitimate. Being in opposition to what’s old or in favor of something new doesn’t make you right. On the other hand asked what he was rebelling against, Brando in The Wild One says: What have you got?

It’s not really a question so much as it is a declaration of existential rebellion. It says the entire system is so shot to hell and such a mass of obvious contradictions and blatant hypocrisies that rebellion as a way of life is the only ethical position open to anyone with a soul.

After all Jamie Dimon as a tribal chief is about one bad day away from having to do his best Nixon imitation and declare: I am not a crook. Speaking about cryptocurrencies Dimon said: “If you’re stupid enough to buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one day.”

Well, even if you grant his point (and we’re just speaking hypothetically) the fact is you can say that about the stock market but Dimon doesn’t get paid to slag off the saints in New York or in London.

And by that we don’t mean to suggest Dimon is a crook, exactly, but we do mean to say is that, is there any rational and intelligent person anywhere who believes the world wide banking system isn’t being held together with tape and good wishes?

Back in 2008 when the system was heading over a cliff and bankers everywhere were screaming like the evil witch in The Wizard of Oz, I’m melting, George W Bush said if they weren’t careful people could lose faith in the free enterprise system.

Well, ol W wasn’t right about a lot but he sure wasn’t wrong about that. But what certainly never occurred to him is that faith in the “invisble hand of the market” or the “free enterprise system” isn’t intrinsically very different from any other faith based system. Sure you can hold a dollar or a Euro or a penny in your hand but the world is full of people who hold books or other objects in their hands and say it proves that the world was made in six days or the rain is falling because the rain god is feeling frisky.

Of course people on the side of cryptocurrencies will say, correctly that blockchains and assorted algorithms are not a matter of faith but science; they are fact based. And we don’t disagree but what we do mean to point out is that belief in a system’s ability to function as means to organize society is very much a question of everyone buying into to that particular faith.

Cryptocurrencies may crash and burn; they may come to replace the centralized top down regulatory-heavy system we currently have. Or they may morph into some hybrid or into something completely unforeseen.  It’s impossible to know for certain and not even McAfee with his algorithms and his off-kilter intelligence knows with certainty exactly what’s going to happen.

But what we do know is that power never surrenders its power willingly nor does it surrender it to anything except greater power. Jamie Dimon and the rest of the establishment chiefs will not go quietly or easily.

The thing is, people get complacent and corrupt and corpulent and the last thing they want to do is change. As a result, change happens to them like an earthquake or a revolution.

As Risenberg puts it:

“Arguably, the constant deluge of negative opinions works to keep the excitement levels down, leading to more organic growth. However, it may also serve to keep financially conservative or risk-averse citizens out of the market while early adopters and those with higher risk tolerance accumulate crypto-wealth.

How this will shake out in the long run, only time will tell. For now, at least, it seems Bitcoin isn’t going anywhere.”

Well, there’s no (legitimately) arguing with any of that.

And it is crucial to add that as a kind of formula Risenberg’s analysis is applicable across the centuries. Substitute any number of words for Bitcoin and you have the nature of subversion versus establishment from one social upheaval to the next.

We began with a line from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to contextualize an idea. Facing a collapsing system and a porcine establishment that, as they used to say about the old Bourbon monarchs of Europe, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, Hemingway was focusing his (and our) attention on the long view; the idea that systems fall apart and new ones take their place. The money could always be arranged because like gravity it isn’t going anywhere and especially in a foreign country because off the establishment radar, people get itchy and irritated by systems that not only don’t work but by cheerleaders for systems that don’t work. As a result, they try other things. McAfee may be a nut but so was Newton. And Jamie Dimon sounds like a thousand other establishment figures who looked at a crowd and said it’s just a riot only to be told by their advisors, no sire, it’s a revolution.

Cryptocurrencies aren’t going anywhere and neither is the human push to change.

11 comments on “The Currency of Faith. Jamie Dimon, John McAfee and the battle over Cryptocurrencies.

  1. About faith, I was reminded of currency and bitocins in a post I read elsewhere:

    It’s a rather simple piece and not perfect. But it brings up a view that interests me. Any currency is a social construct. The writer of this piece prefers to put it in the context of thought-forms, egregores, and semiotic ghosts. Same difference, although the emphasis brings out the undercurrent of capitalism as black magic.

    It relates to memes while going beyond that level. An egregore is something collectively created which then takes on a life of its own. It challenges our very sense of identity. In a literal sense, money is a god we worship and we’ve built a complex religious around it with attendant dogma and rituals.

    There is a danger that goes unseen. When we imagine an egregore into existence, it doesn’t only change the social reality we imagine ourselves in. More profoundly, it transforms us. We become something else and all memory of what we were before is erased, becomes unimaginable. The imagined takes control of our imagination, like an ephemeral psychic vampire who convinces us that it is us, a dark vision of Tinkerbell possessing our souls who dies if we stop clapping our hands.

    Our entire social order is a semiotic ghost. It hangs mid-air through the power of conviction alone. A single well-placed doubt can shake its structure, sending the true believers into a panic. And eventually, as with all belief systems with so little holding them together, it will fall apart. But that can be a slow lingering process. We don’t give up on our beliefs easily, as we will die defending them.

    As for us whose minds have become unmoored, it’s not hard to imagine other possibilities. Currencies aren’t only subjective and mutable but also arbitrary. I’m thinking of the blue glass of the ancient Egyptians which was traded as far as northern Europe, at a time when other cultures had no word for the color blue. The rarity of blueness was perceived as of great value, especially when magically captured in glass. The imperial power that could control the color blue could dominate the trade of the time. But in that control, the very concept of blueness was invented.

    Abstractions have immense purchase on our minds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      Interesting points. Coincidentally I was reading a Ziziek essay yesterday and he was on about Marx and commodity fetishism.

      I think the first or primary building block of the cult of capitalism stems from artificial scarcity. That sets in motion two parallel social constructs.

      First it creates the black magic quality where everyone is forced/coerced into a system of make believe. A long long time ago I worked at Macys and was talking to a salesman who explained the 750% mark up on a sweater. And this was pre NAFTA and the sweater cost about 2 dollars to manufacture and the rest was transportation and then the pure piracy of a monopoly structure that had the blunt power to set an insane mark up which created two values. The first value is the artificial but paradoxically actual cost and the second was the ephemeral or fetish cost which is attached to the brand name.

      As a side note I think that adds a third value-fetish-magic aspect which is the (in good old structuralist PoMo style) text or narrative of the brand – the entirety of the advertising and the set of associations made with what it “means” to wear brand x vs brand y.

      Baudrillard is useful in this regard if a pain in the ass stylistically and prone to some very loose verbiage but what’s on point connects to what you’re saying – it’s all essentially bullshit.

      There usually is a quality difference the more one spends as there are better materials in use and the manufacturing is at a higher level but that’s a reflection of the system that controls the access to and flow of the superior quality material and the relationships between the power groups – say, the German government and the car manufacturing unions so Volkswagen is good and relatively inexpensive and BMW is usually very good and far more expensive.

      But again there’s an entire system of narratives attached to those objects (Marx and fetishism) and it’s all based on power but the power also uses a narrative to convince everyone that it’s all occurring organically.

      I’ve noticed an area where this is breaking down. Book reviews and the marketing of books.

      The Guardian has a standard issue book review section – that means it’s a corrupt adjunct to the publishing/entertainment corps and the “reviews” are shallow hack work designed to generate clicks.

      But when one reads the comments of readers there has been a steady increase in people pointing out the boilerplate nature of the “reviews” and attaching them to detailed excavations of how the media in conjunction with the publishers are selling an entire narrative – i.e., and e.g., the writers are predominantly in their 20s because that means they will produce more product than a writer who’s older, they tend to be female because that’s what’s being sold under the aegis of “women need to be heard” and the writing itself is the same as every other piece within this system and the “reviews” are not only all essentially identical but the content of the books all sound homogenous.

      Taken altogether what comes across is that the narrative – “This is a great new novel and you should buy it (reading it is irrelevant) and thus attach yourself to the wider narrative of being the type who buys this type of product” is breaking down from overuse and because the method has become so generic and indistinct from the selling of any other fetish that people have caught on.

      I think a deeper reason for the increase in overt criticism and rejection of the fetish is the general tension in the economy and the assorted related issues – Brexit Trump, environment etc.

      Of course there are billions of people who are locked into the “Matrix” and keep taking the illusion supporting pill in the form of any number of fetish commodities.

      Yesterday I spent some time looking at clips from and about the films of Terrance Mallick. Like his work or not is not an issue per se but what struck me about his films – especially the late recent set from the last ten years – is how they are subversive not only of what is now the standard concept of the format but of the system that sells that format and everything attached to it – the fetish product of “movies” which not only have a set structure but have a set of established corollary products like set piece “interviews” on chat shows. The interviews are all scripted, the shows are designed to fill space between commercials, the commercials are targeted to a specific audience, who are being manipulated by narratives 24/7 and driven to attach themselves to the show, the commercials, and the “films” and the “actors” who in turn are controlled as products by vast armies of lawyers and insurance companies and PR hacks, and agents, and to cite a recent example – a major talent rep company announced publicly that it was looking at how to return a 400 million dollar investment from the Saudis in the wake of the Kashogi murder. Of course no one in the media is about to say – hey, why are you taking money from gangsters and what effect does that have?

      Mallick in contrast has done one interview in about 50 years. His films come and go, get some hype, and most people ape the standard bullet points about pretension and convolution (themselves manufactured consensus within the system). This of course is designed to prevent a “Mallick narrative” from becoming part of the “conversation” because the system would breakdown if it allowed for a hybrid that is commercial (there’s still a lot of money involved with Mallick if not on the scale of a Marvel movie) but you can’t wrap “sales” around his work – no marketing, no product placement, no identity for the actor to sell – “hero” “villain” etc.

      Your example of “blue” is a fascinating point generally but as an antecedent of this contemporary issue. The creation of value is of course also the creation of “not valuable” and “less valuable” and entire narratives and hierarchies of meaning.

      I’m working on what’s becoming a longish piece about the deeper context for the emergence of the Postmodern aesthetic in France specifically and everywhere else generally and one aspect I keep running into is the tension that results from the system enforcing the fakery of assorted fetish narratives – all sinister but some more sinister than others. as you say: “Abstractions have immense purchase on our minds.”


      1. I like this angle: commodity fetishism, artificial scarcity, fetish cost, value-fetish-magic, text or narrative of the brand. “First it creates the black magic or egregore quality where everyone is forced/coerced into a system of make believe.” The question then is what is that force. “But again there’s an entire system of narratives attached to those objects (Marx and fetishism) and it’s all based on power but the power also uses a narrative to convince everyone that it’s all occurring organically.” Right there, that is what fascinates me.

        Sure, “it’s all essentially bullshit.” But powerful bullshit. And this links up to Harry Frankfurt’s bullshit-sincerity axis, what the modern mind is obsessed with. In turn, what is sincere is also about what is perceived as real and genuine, obviously touching upon all the surrounding issues of value, currency most of all. Yet, I might add that Frankfurt concluded, “Sincerity is bullshit.”

        That doesn’t stop it from having real world results. It’s bullshit that gets on everything and seeps down into every crack and cranny. “There usually is a quality difference the more one spends as there are better materials in use and the manufacturing is at a higher level but that’s a reflection of the system that controls the access to and flow of the superior quality material and the relationships between the power groups”

        Bullshit can be fertile, even as it stinks. But it doesn’t create out of nothing. There is a hidden history of primitive accumulation through privatization of the commons, land theft, resource exploitation, genocide, indentured servitude, slavery, and on it goes.

        There is an additional point to my blue glass example. The color blue did gain powerful associations in early symbolic thought, specifically within religion. It came to represent higher states of mind and spirit, of the divine and enlightened. That is about the only thing that could explain large numbers of people risking their lives to transport blue glass over such vast distances. It obviously was highly prized beyond its mere aesthetics.

        As I say, “Abstractions have immense purchase on our minds.” On a related thought, as Julian Jaynes said, “Abstract words are ancient coins whose concrete images in the busy give-and-take of talk have worn away with use.” That is to say abstractions have a direct relationship to the concrete, being born out of concrete conditions and in turn altering those concrete conditions. The abstract is the more-than-concrete, all the compelling power of reality but without the problematic details to clutter the purity of the ideological mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. rauldukeblog says:

        In a nice bit of synchronicity I was listening to Strawberry Fields when I saw your post.

        Seinfeld popped into my mind. Actions or what I have started to call “gestures” inside systems have two levels: the intentional and the accidental. Seinfeld of course is “about nothing” which was used as a form of plausible deniability but that of course allowed for a commentary on the current era – capitalist realism, bullshit, fake sincerity as follow on to the era of genuine imitation leather – with that phrase being an artifact from the “Madmen” era. (to clarify: the emergence of “genuine imitation leather” as a joke and as a narrative that highlights the insincerity of the system is an example of how these controlling phrases/systems run their course and people begin to get “hip to the jive” and respond in different ways)

        So the show tackles fakery but also accidentally reveals other issues that float within this hall of mirrors.

        As to “Gesture” – it’s a rough idea. I mean the sense that the “individual” who in a Hume sense doesn’t exist completely, is both an effect of an unseen action and is also the cause of an action…the scientists hate it when the “artsy” types appropriate their patois but this strikes me as akin to entanglement and spooky action at a distance. Of course they can dislike it but when told by Popper that they were repeating Parmenides, Einstein and Bohr agreed.

        Regardless, “Gesture” then is this half in half out state where the provisionally actuated individual/group does something – this something is half authentic and half not. The reason being that the “individual” is both autonomous and not so everything is compromised.

        This is a rough idea and I may not be able to fully articulate it.

        Your comments about abstractions are what I’m riffing on. The power of an abstraction as a reflection of how the “individual” is an abstraction.

        No accident that “modern art” with its concerns and anxieties about the self, and the group, perception and the conflict between objective and subjective comes up at the same time as the industrial age.

        One of the earliest examples is a famous “koan” from Rimbaud: “I is another.” No one really knows what he meant but I think that essentially is the point – the self is not only itself but networks and associations so we have created a mirror system that both reflects this condition but also produces a perpetual state of anxiety about it because it means were always chasing our tails.

        Also there’s the blunt reality of the bs system – nothing abstract about the state terror system filtered through paying the rent or for food or wondering if the water is safe to drink etc.

        The two issues – the hall of mirrors abstractions and the blunt realities – coexist.

        So back to the system insisting it’s all happening organically. A perfect example is the cult of Adam Smith and the “invisible hand of the market.” Anyone else spouting that sort of “mumbo jumbo” would be laughed off the scene but of course power has the final word.

        Baudelaire famously said: The greatest trick the devil ever performed was to convince everyone he didn’t exist.

        That’s capitalism – among other things – claiming its all happening naturally; that the market exists autonomously and will correct itself etc.

        No accident that Baudelaire happens as industrial mass society is beginning to gain momentum. He lived through Baron Hausman’s raising of medieval Paris and the establishment of the vast network of boulevards designed to facilitate the rapid movement of troops and to deprive the peasants a supply of bricks torn from the pavement to use as weapons etc.

        I’ve been thinking about “blue.” I’m guessing that the power of experiencing the sky must have had a tremendous impact. Now we take it for granted. But it was then to the ancient mind surely either alive or a manifestation of a higher or transcendent consciousness. To “capture” that and make it something one could carry must have been one of the great transitional moments in the evolution of the mind and how it perceived itself and the world.

        The Jaynes comment is fascinating. In and of itself he’s correct as over time the meaning of a word changes or vanishes. Etymology is a wonderland. It’s also amusing and irritating that his comment fits perfectly with the issues raised by Foucault & co – the numerous ways in which the singular (a word) is also a multiplicity – an entire system or set of narratives. The singular word is a set of other words that are unspoken but implied.

        I’m working on the concept/word “Occupation” vis France during the war. To say “The Occupation” is to also say, “Liberation” “Collaboration” and “Resistance.” To say any one of those words is to imply the other three. So abstraction and concrete at the same time.

        “The abstract is the more-than-concrete, all the compelling power of reality but without the problematic details to clutter the purity of the ideological mind.”

        The reactionary and the apathetic liberal (who is also in this sense is a kind of reactionary) and the “pure” leftists are all acting to crush the abstract. The religious “fanatic” is the same – the violent insistence on strict cause and effect.

        To be authentic is a issue for some time now. Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

        There’s a line at the beginning of Moby Dick where “Ishmael” says he always knew it was time to go back out to sea when he had the urge to run into the street and start knocking people’s hats off their heads.

        There has been a consistent anxiety about authenticity vs insincerity for some time now and I’d venture that we’re in an acute phase and there’s no genuine way to determine how it will play our and resolve itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Besides the post I mentioned on the color blue, specifically about linguistic relativity, I have a couple other posts about the weird phenomenon and cultural artifact of the blue fairy. In its modern scientific guise, it relates to emerging alien mythology and cultism, from the men in black to the grays. But others have noted that these imaginal trickster beings are interpreted differently in other cultures, depending on the dominant paradigm.

        I don’t exactly know how this is relevant to your post. I’m just thinking about the power of the mind, far beyond individualism. And I’m thinking about the significance of the blue/black dynamic in human perception. It’s plain fascinating in its high strangeness.

        It’s not hard for me to find connections, of course. As this post is about faith, it is a small leap to the imaginal at the heart of any faith. Social constructs, memes, thought forms, egregores, etc are ways of talking about the imaginal, what is hard to otherwise pin down.

        That this is the territory of the trickster is also relevant. There is nothing quite so tricksy as currency, upon which new worlds can be envisioned and invoked out of the ether. Currency is never about what it seems and, as such, so much of the debate within capitalist realism is a distraction (i.e., symbolic conflation).

        There are symbols so powerful that it is unclear what is the referent, assuming there is one. Maybe it serves as its own referent, in bootstrapping itself into existence. Then, in our identifying with them, we like to believe that we have taken on that power, rather than having been possessed by it.

        I might throw out one other fun bit. The blue fairy, men in black, and other such imaginal beings play a dual role. They can make things real, at least in the mind. But in their influence over experience, they can drive humans mad. They mirror back our desires and fears in distorted form.

        To speak of such things in these terms is a way of touching upon the strangeness of the psyche and of the entanglement of the world. The phenomenon itself doesn’t require you believe in any given thing (e.g., blue fairies) for it will adapt to any beliefs you have. But its useful to speak of blue fairies for the simple reason that most of us in the modern world can hold belief in blue fairies at a distance. Talking about other people’s beliefs is easier than talking about our own beliefs that we don’t perceive as beliefs.

        This would go back to conversations we’ve had about bitcoins and religiosity. I recall speculating that cults already have or would become drawn into this psychic vortex of bitcoin mania. The trickster is afoot. And as with mothman, when that is the case, it might be the sign of a coming disaster.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. rauldukeblog says:

        “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

        It is odd from an evolutionary point of view the consistency with which people believe in things that are not real but act as if they are. At the same time there’s a paradoxical issue at work in that the belief in the illusion or “faith” are genuine experiences.

        While continuing to excavate the issue of mirrors for the eventual expansion of Faulkner’s Sparrows I kept coming back to an example of that duality with the first postmodern works of art – paintings that contained mirrors and in the mirrors were visible figures and perspectives that were outside of the visual frame of the person looking at the painting. The firs appears to be Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait around 1450.

        The result is the genuine illusion or the false fact.

        But the experience of reflections is far older and I’ve been thinking about the myth of Narcissus which must be several thousand years old. No doubt there are fascinating issues waiting to be excavated from the topic.

        As to the zeitgeist and the trickster and a looming sense of catastrophe – there’s no doubt that something is percolating. One could ’round up the usual suspects’ but that doesn’t mean those issues aren’t to be factored into the social equation. “Trump” by which I mean the entire narrative from the man himself to the “opposition” and so on represents a clear deconstruction is under way of the system and in such an environment it would be expected to see people inventing narratives to explain it.

        Of course it’s not uncommon. There’s a quote I’m fairly sure I posted from Hegel’s last lecture at Jena in 1806 where he says it’s the end of the world as it’s been known and something new is emerging – he wasn’t wrong.

        Nothing else to add at the moment but that doesn’t mean closure only having to regroup and ponder further.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Let me clarify something about the color blue. I go into detail about it in the post I wrote about the topic, but I won’t bother linking to it again. I’ll quickly summarize my point.

        It wasn’t only that something in nature, the blueness of sky, was captured in man-made technology, blue glass. In a real sense, blue didn’t exist prior to a word designating its existence. This is demonstrated by the fact that, across cultures, it is one of the last colors to be labeled with a specific term.

        Furthermore, research in linguistic relativism shows how our language shapes our perception. This is as true for color as anything else. The color blue, in the sky or elsewhere, is surprisingly uncommon. We only think of it as common now because we’ve bred blue flowers to put in our gardens and have synthesized blue pigments to put on anything we desire.

        It’s hard to get past our own language. Try it. Go for a walk in nature and look for the color blue while, as a thought experiment, imagining you have neither word nor concept of the color blue. When you look more closely and allow your mental chatter to calm down, you’ll notice that the sky is rarely blue — more often white, gray, or black.

        Even more intriguing, many languages seem to conflate blue and black. And this conflation is even found in human experience (a religious example of this is that of Krishna being blue and being black). It appears to be a hard distinction to learn. Children can confuse the two, even after learning the word for blue and black.

        Before blueness can be captured, it must be invented as a category within thought and perception, which is to say as a color term. It’s maybe similar to how money captures value by creating a system of value. Before the first coins, that kind of value was unimaginable because on the most basic level it didn’t yet exist. A new idea can contribute to a new mindset.

        You might recall the following passage Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics:

        Liked by 1 person

      6. rauldukeblog says:

        “In a real sense, blue didn’t exist prior to a word designating its existence. This is demonstrated by the fact that, across cultures, it is one of the last colors to be labeled with a specific term.”

        Have you come across anything that looks into or suggests that there was/is an evolutionary connection to the emergence of “blue?” Just spit balling but I’m wondering if there was a period where “blue” was not visible even if It existed or perhaps changes in diet are connected to changes in visual perception?

        Regardless there is certainly something to be said for the issue of how the thought creates the “truth.” Once the thought or the idea is entered into the system “reality” follows. Thus: “A new idea can contribute to a new mindset. “


      7. “Have you come across anything that looks into or suggests that there was/is an evolutionary connection to the emergence of “blue?” Just spit balling but I’m wondering if there was a period where “blue” was not visible even if It existed or perhaps changes in diet are connected to changes in visual perception?”

        As one would expect, there is plenty of speculation out there. But I don’t know that anyone has found a specific reason why ancient humans might not have been physiologically able or prone to perceive blueness. I wouldn’t be too surprised, if that were the case.

        Maybe hunter-gatherer diet for some reason (ketosis? nutrient density? microbes?) makes certain colors stand out less clearly. It’s certainly not that they didn’t see a wide variety of colors. Rather, it’s how they thought about colors. Blue was typically conflated with green (i.e., grue) or, as I already pointed to, conflated with black. Blueness as such didn’t have its own separate and independent reality.

        Whatever the cause of this, it does seem odd, considering how central blue has become to modern society. Then again, it’s not as if perception of blue adds much survival value, as sources of food and sources of threat rarely come from anything that is blue (other than a few rare poisonous frogs and snakes). It’s not all that useful of info. Hunter-gatherers love to create gather vast amounts of knowledge, but they do so because it is or might be useful. Between blueness being rare and being useless, what is the point of designating a word for it, that is until a blue pigment is developed which then would make it common.

        There is more to it than this. Colors in general as we experience them didn’t seem to exist in the ancient world. The earliest Greek texts don’t appear to have abstract color terms. What we interpret as colors had complex and nuanced meanings that overlapped with multiple possible colors, intensity, texture, affects, etc; as part of a cultural system of values. The same thing is seen with the languages of some hunter-gatherers, not only with colors but also numbers.

        Meanings were concrete, rather than abstract, and that significantly changes how language is used and how the world is perceived.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. rauldukeblog says:

        Just a guess but I’m wondering if in the era of emergent consciousness – not completely out of the bicameral reality – there was an intense if not manic desire for the concrete.

        Plato is a great example with his strident attitudes and his sacrifice of “Socrates.”

        But I’ve also been rethinking the episode in the Odyssey with the Sirens. I mentioned that Adorno and Horkheimer have a lengthy and sleep inducing piece on Ulysses but what struck me after reading it was that the Sirens might represent the experience of bicameral external voices and Ulysses in this scene represents the desire to hold on to the experience of the external voices.

        In such an environment it might make sense for people to want to or even demand concrete cause and effect and utilitarian ideas and “color” as abstraction would have been unacceptable.

        On the other hand perhaps there was more of a particular type of gas in the atmosphere and the sky was not as “blue” and perhaps it tended towards a darker shade?

        Regardless it’s all interesting. You’re on to something with the abstraction of “blue.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll start a new comment thread. I wanted to pull out the initial idea of your last comment: “I’m wondering if in the era of emergent consciousness – not completely out of the bicameral reality – there was an intense if not manic desire for the concrete.” That intuitively feels like a good explanation. If so, then maybe we live in a time of a craving for the abstract that is overwhelming. And to run with that interpretation, I’d add that faith is a creature of abstraction, in the sense that there was no word for religion as a separate category until the Axial Age, no more than earliest humans had a separate category for blueness.

    Abstraction requires faith in order to function. That is not the case with concrete thought. This might relate to how stable bicameral societies were, for millennia, until suddenly they collapsed. Post-bicameral societies, instead, embraced a more dynamic approach and maybe abstraction was a necessary component (i.e., abstract thought relates to fluid intelligence). The relationship of the establishment and the subversive is simply the product of this dynamic instability, similar to the relationship Jaynes posits between authoritarianism and individualism. It’s sort of irrelevant that one currency is dominant and the other in a position of a challenger. In the end, they are both abstract systems that require faith. And the nature of abstract thought inclines toward the demand that there be one abstraction to rule them all, but abstractions come as easily as they go. The particular abstraction we have faith in is less important than that we have some faith-based abstraction to cling to.

    The very proclivity toward authority and authoritarianism, motivated by that clinging, is what precipitates instability. That is why abstractions seek ideological realism in order to create the image of the concrete, the only thing upon which their authority can rest. The concrete is the ghost of the bicameral mind that still haunts us. That is why an abstraction such as blueness can seem so real to us that many moderns have a hard time imagining it not being concretely real in some basic sense. On a more important level, it is why currencies hold so much power over our minds, determining even our sense of personal value — an abstract other defining the concrete self such that our lives can be sold away hour by hour, something likely unimaginable to the concrete mind of archaic humanity.


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