Interview: Stories And Bitcoin With Nelson Chen
Casey Carrillo sat down with Nelson Chen to discuss how stories convey important ideas and thoughts, and how this relates to Bitcoin.
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In this episode of Bitcoin Magazine’s “Meet The Taco Plebs,” I was lucky enough to sit down with one of my favorite contributors here at the magazine, Nelson Chen. I have worked with Chen to publish six parts of his twelve-part series about Jordan Peterson’s book, “Beyond Order.”
In his series, Chen discusses a variety of topics. Many of these topics relate back to the idea of stories told across generations — allegories and discussions that help to explain the world we live in. Chen believes that these stories are what we can use to help navigate the future, and that they are also very much related to Bitcoin and the issues we will face as we continue towards hyperbitcoinization.
Below is a written version of our interview, and be sure to check out the audio and video version of the podcast!
What’s your Bitcoin rabbit hole story?
My background: I’m a Silicon Valley techie. I have a degree in accounting, I learned how to code (have built a few full stack applications), and spent most of my career in tech sales. Lastly, I’ve always been an investor, primarily in tech stocks.
I first heard of BTC in 2015. I wrote it off because reinventing money sounded impossible, too far-fetched.
Two years later, in the summer of 2017, I’m at a pool party in L.A., a very good friend of mine asked me to take a look at ETH because I am the guy in my network with a track record of picking good investments over the past 10 years. So, like so many of us, I fell down the ETH rabbit hole first: ultra super advanced version of Bitcoin. Sounded like a no-brainer investment with potential to make a great return on investment. I didn’t understand everything but it certainly seemed worthy of an initial investment.
I bought a bunch of tokens in the bull run. Got rekt in the 2018 crash. I bought ETH purely to make money as a stock. Explosive gains. But as I continued to do my due diligence I got hung up on what differentiates ETH from BTC, and if ETH is so amazing, how come all of the smartest people in the room are focused solely on BTC? That observation from crypto Twitter was watching this war of words between these two communities made me more curious to have a deeper look at Bitcoin. Because prior to that I had pigeonholed Bitcoin as the slower, older, less nimble, less scalable network.
Bitcoin counterintuitively began to make more and more sense while ETH continued to develop into a Rube Goldberg machine rife with failures, and broken promises.
I read “The Internet Of Money,” then “The Bitcoin Standard.” Those two books clicked hard. “The Internet Of Money” simplifies Bitcoin by relating it to large historical technology arcs. “The Bitcoin Standard” provides context to what exactly sound and unsound money look like.
That’s when I realized that Bitcoin is the future of money that will maintain longevity because of its architecture and its simplicity. It’s not a complex machine, it is something you can figure out.
How has Bitcoin changed your life?
After researching it and coming to my conclusions. I dropped everything in my life to pursue this one thing. If that’s not life changing, what is?
I am a contributor at Bitcoin Magazine and that exposure helped land me a full-time job at Swan as a rabbit hole expert.
It’s changed my state of mind. Time/money paradox: You can have one at the expense of the other. Everyone knows the saying “time is money.” But I was battling this misalignment between how I envisioned spending my time and the un-winnable pursuit of enough money.
Bitcoin offered a solution to my money/time paradox: because in fiat systems time is working against you, whereas in a Bitcoin-based system time is working with you. This instantly dissolved this massive conundrum that I could not solve but fortunately Satoshi did.
It also changed my human network, my community. I discovered a worldwide network of low time preference people that share the same values and vision of the future being a better place than what we have today. Which is incredibly rare in our world which leans toward an increasingly glass-half-empty mindset. YOLO, live for today because tomorrow is not promised.
Our social contract has been broken. It’s no longer about leaving the world as a better place. It has become about squeezing every last drop out of the lemon because it’s the present that is everything and the future is not my problem. And Bitcoin restores this social contract so future generations can grow up knowing their forefathers want a better life for them and it’s shown through behavior, not empty lip service. And that attitude makes a grim present into a brighter future. Because prior to falling down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, the world is a very bleak place when you think about the future. There are a lot of problems and nearly no solutions designed for long-term success for individuals, societies and humanity as a species.
Finding a group of people who place a high premium on critical thinking, morals and values, the value of high quality, the importance of trust and truth. “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you will become.”
TLDR; bitcoin changed my life trajectory and, P.S., dollar price is the least relevant fact of it all to me. It’s about good people with strong values.
What inspired you to write your series on Jordan Peterson for the magazine?
The reason Jordan Peterson was such a mind bender for me was because I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley. The focus is entirely on technology and how it’s reshaping our futures and the entire world.
The reason Jordan Peterson’s work grabbed my attention is because he focuses on the human aspect of life. In tech, we have a tendency to believe that big technology at scale will solve all of our problems. And we have a tendency to put more trust in data than in our own experiences/ eyes. Humans are fallible, technology is not.
Jordan reframed my approach to technology as thinking of individual humans first and technology second. And he reframed my thoughts around stories vs numbers. And the reality and the importance of stories preceding numbers.
And this where Bitcoin and technology and Jordan Peterson collide and overlap. Bitcoin on the surface looks 100% like a purely technological advancement. And it is for sure the most incredible piece of software ever written, it’s not even close. But the genius in Bitcoin is its code contains an Easter egg: Bitcoin allows people to rise. And that is an unforgettable story. And the moral of the story, the Easter egg contained within it, is a formula for restoring human standards for personal responsibility, quality, morality and truth.
Bitcoin sets the bar for money and human beings rise to the level of our monetary standard.
And it is not a coincidence that these very qualities (morality, truth, quality, responsibility) are the very things we lack the most at all levels of society.
And that’s ultimately the same thing Jordan Peterson writes about. He’s offering sound ideas on how to better navigate this life by providing a foundation built upon thousands of years of ancestral wisdom. That’s a pretty solid way to structure your life.
Just like Bitcoin flows in the same direction as time, Jordan is saying there are massive patterns far greater than any individual or society that we can lean on that have been blueprints for our survival and success. So instead of reinventing everything from scratch and failing miserably at everything, use templates what we know works and modernize it.
The reason Jordan Peterson’s works are so controversial and widely consumed (just like Bitcoin) is because we live in times where nothing makes sense. Where insanity is normalized. And Bitcoin and Jordan Peterson are lighthouses that put a spotlight on timeless dependable blueprints made new again.
Both Satoshi and Jordan Peterson open up conversations that people living soft comfortable lives don’t want to have. A lot of the findings are not what people want to hear. The distortion of money has distorted everything including people’s perception of reality itself. And his emphasis on individual human beings taking our noble burden in life to be responsible, to be honest, to tell the truth, to accept the consequences of our actions. These are wildly unpopular opinions.
The ideas themselves are so old that they are new again. None of these statements were radical 100 years ago. 100 years ago these were expectations. Now, fiat currency has created a societal rot within people. So much so that these very fundamental ideas for how to build a strong society have become unpopular.
Money touches every aspect of life. It is as essential as air and water. And when money is bad and getting worse by the day, it cannot be a coincidence that everything it touches suffers Both Bitcoin and Jordan Peterson are offering solutions aimed at the root level by offering something profound that has been distilled.
One of my favorite quotes is “ the world is made of language.” Human beings terraformed the entirety of Manhattan to suit the needs of 10 million people. We did that through the use of language. That’s how powerful language is. Satoshi and Jordan Peterson deploy language, one as code, the other as a book. So, I felt deeply compelled to write this series because it might just carry the power to transform someone’s life and change their trajectory.
Going off of that, what do you believe is the most important “lesson” we have touched on in the series so far?
“Chapter 2: Imagine What You Could Be, Then Aim Single-Mindedly At That.”
Looking back and leveraging history. People as actors on a grand stage. And stories before numbers.
Imagination is human beings’ greatest asset. Great imagination: always shared in the format of stories.
“We are all infinitely complex beings. Each of us so full of potential it transcends our understanding. So, how do we figure out what we could be?”
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can stumble through life and figure it out as we go. Or we can utilize a millennia of wisdom told in the form of stories. Because our problems are ultimately human based, will never go away and the prototypical problems our ancestors faced are the same problems we face today in a new format.
In other words, we like to think of ourselves as so advanced and our ancient forefathers as a notch above cavemen. But we stand on their shoulders and they gave us the blueprint to bring about order from chaos. And the very human existential crisis we face they faced all the same.
Timeless stories are works of imagination. They are told and retold, refined and passed on through the generations. It’s easy to write off these stories as simply serving as entertainment, but beneath the fold they are unforgettable because they contain timeless lessons we are bound to repeat. And it took an untold number of years for our forefathers to figure out deep existential human problems. And they wrapped those problems in the form of imaginative stories so that we may avoid stepping on these booby traps while highlighting what it means to be successful. These stories are blueprints.
And to connect what’s old with what’s new, these stories are so vital to our existence they actually form the basis for modern societies today. The Ten Commandments is a pretty damn good way to create a protocol for human-to-human respect. That’s what it means when we say “standing on the shoulders of giants.” We are literally still using their wisdom today whether we respect and acknowledge it or not. There is no divorcing the past from the present. So, the question becomes, are you using our full collective human imagination to help you aim at what is best for yourself?
What are you most looking forward to in the Bitcoin space?
Humanity first: Our sense of community is unraveling. From the beginning of time where religion and beliefs kept communities tight, I’m looking forward to Bitcoin securing that same tightness within our communities.
I think of the Bitcoin mind virus as playing out like tag, but the specific version of it — sardines. And Bitcoin is the world’s biggest game of sardines. Bitcoin is an IQ test. It’s the world’s biggest secret in plain sight. And the last who find their way to it will be the biggest losers.
Technology second: Applications based around trust and value built on the Lighting Network. Strike and Sphinx chat are amazing products in their own respective rights. But the truth is that these apps are just scratching the surface of the Lightning Network’s potential.
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