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The Crypto Reformation

5 min

What we should learn from the Medici's transvaluation of values, how Martin Luther was a literal shitposter, and how crypto onboards people into esoteric philosophy.

In my latest podcast with former historian Joshua Rosenthal—The Crypto Reformation—there were some gems I want to share with you.

Below I've collected some highlights in text, for your reading convenience.

Martin Luther was a literal shitposter

JM: Listening to you talk about Martin Luther, it sounds like he was literally a memelord shitposter?

JR: [Laughs.] That's absolutely fair. Academics always try to polish. We use fancy language which reflects culture and status. But, yeah, Luther was a shitposter, and he was a master at it.

I don't even mean that in the abstract. A good chunk of his memes were peasants pooping in the papal tiara, the sign of authority; or it was them flatulating...

One [of Luther's memes] is called The Birth of the Papal Curia, which was wildly popular. It's demons birthing, aka, pooping out... clerics. And a Medusa figure is suckling another cleric. He was masterful at saying:

"What's the most important locus of control, and what's the image that best represents that? And then let me just use scatology, use pooping and farting and vile and profane acts as an ideological weapon."

That's not something academics like to talk about, Lutherans aren't really into that, but that was Luther 1000%. Luther would say, "Hey, it's not just me. That's like Saint Paul." If you read him, he talks about shit. Paul's like, all things are shit...

What the crypto community should learn from the Medici's transvaluation of values

JR: The narrative usually goes—by people outside historical circles and people in the crypto NFT world think about it this way—people made a bunch of money like the Medici, now they're going to buy their way into class by... hiring Michelangelo and da Vinci and painting the Sistine Chapel and blah, blah, blah... That's a gross Machiavellian gloss. It's not actually what happened.

What they did is they co-opted some of Luther's ideology and they basically did a few different things...

One, they uncovered or—back to the sources—they renaissanced these artistic techniques, which were technology. In the middle ages, it was like 2D, right? Symbolic. You've never really seen glass or a mirror. And so maybe going to church you get some other idea of transcendence. But now you're looking at oil and you're seeing realism and it's like our version of AR or VR. And the Medici are having their avatars painted in the pictures, and so there's this idea of going back and forth between it.

And then they basically adopted this idea of what was sacred versus what was profane. Out of Luther, straight out. Which was crazy. Luther, as a previous monk, you were supposed to be outside the world. In the medieval stack, the most grace was by the people either in the church or in monasteries or nunneries outside the world, you'd pray to every pository grace, it would trickle down. And Luther said no no. Not only is the cosmic hierarchy flat, but there's this doctrine of vocation where you do your job... It's not more holy to be at a monastery. It's just as holy for the milkmaid to be milking or for you to be a shop owner, or for you to exercise a role within family or within commerce.

And as a result, all these things where art was sacred on only the religious domain, all of a sudden the Medici start unpacking the common flowers... So you see this influx of all this content; what constituted art was opened up.

It wasn't only shitposting, it was this theology of creation, even the crazy stuff—like the Greek pagan narratives—had meaning. And so the Medici used art to not only co-opt their status, but they re-interpreted what was good versus what was bad. Us versus them, kind of.

Concretely, the financiers took off like a rocket. And they also funded the old world nobility of the sword. And that was the genesis of this triangulation of political infighting which became the wars of religion. But the financiers co-opted the old world and then they reinterpreted what had value in it, which is a crazy story.

How crypto onboards people into esoteric philosophy

JR: These new technologies, just like in the Renaissance and Reformation, they start out in finance, because that's the economic engine that allows this other activity to happen, right? And then they move into communication, and work, and coordination. Do I work for a company? Do I work for a corporation? Do I work for a medieval lord? Do I work for a miniature corporation as a part of protocapitalism? Do I work for a company today or do I work for a DAO, right?

That's the next phase. Where we move into this role of identity, where things get super crazy, and it's almost an on-ramp...

So one, you definitely have this tribalism, like wars of religion, like hey, I'm a Catholic, I'm a Protestant, you're not the right kind of Protestant, I'm this other kind of Protestant... Now that there's something new, it's open landscape, you don't know the mental topography, right? So you have to chart it out, and you chart it out through difference. So you'll definitely have people using zealous religious language. That's fine.

Then part of it is on-ramping, not just into finance and technical trades, but on-ramping into what currency is and what the political nation-state is, where it's shared consensus. To average Joe or Jane on the street, say, hey you know that dollar? That's a piece of paper, and it has this image on it, it's off gold standard, and we have faith in the political institution, right?

The phenomenology of it maps pretty closely to religious phenomenology. We just never think of it, just like a medieval farmer wouldn't have thought of hey, can I actually read scripture myself? And should there be a priest of all believers? That doesn't enter his head, right? So we're using crypto as onboarding to say: Wow, a lot of the knowledge... It's like a 101 in philosophy and epistemology, right?

A lot of the knowledge we think we have isn't directly experiential or observable, and so now, all of a sudden, our world is getting not so mechanistic just out of the gate, right?

Like crypto's almost this forcing function for onboarding "how do I know what I know?" What role does authority have in it? What's the role of consensus and identity construction?

It's not just 'cause I'm reading Baudrillard all of a sudden. This actually has economic value in my wallet, right? I have a reason for learning this esoteric philosophy, which is craziness.

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