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).
Picture above: 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 symposium at Waseda University where I was working as a Gaikokujinkoshi,
an Associate Professor, where another Nobel laureate, Kenzaburō Ōe and he were giving a
reading. Heaney was inspired to write “The Grauballe Man” on the basis of the bog man that he
had seen in a book of prehistoric times, but the troubles in Ulster were alive in him, too:
As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel
like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.
Talking of Japan here, methinks, is an aculeate observation of Japan:
Cross the intersection at Shibuya Station in Tokyo on a forbidding wintry evening — touted as the world’s busiest cloverleaf — and you will feel this is Eliot’s London Bridge revisited, with quaggas (think half zebras) preserved in the tar of the five crossings; — flattened ebon bones dreaming the dreams of Pleistocene mammoths — as the mass of the dead mill past you, chasing some mirage, and often accompanied by a revenant that must have been disgorged from a
Pachinko parlour. Blanched lilacs float in minarets of light beyond these bituminous quaggas, bidding the odd-toed ungulates in their psychotropic dernier cri and fuddy-duddies in theirstygian suits to sup here or buy over yonder: all tethered to their devices. One might be surprised that no cracks are forming at these arced crossings with strange requisitions folding into the hiemal air. And yet it is still more odd that so few people see this as a primped and pimped
potter’s field, a graveyard for those who’ve lost their way. We’re living in an age where the
multitude of the dead are pacing among us in perdurable trysts with other zombies.
The above text is from one of my unpublished works; again it speaks to me – and perhaps to you – about the quiddities of this age. There is a distinct sense of zombification taking place on the planet at the moment. Is your lineage that of Dolly, or are you magnificent and free?
Do you have any theories about who Satoshi is?
I don’t really, though I follow the haughty chit-chat at times, especially in the jejune forums LinkedIN provides. I think the person has a good reason to remain concealed (forever), but that is also a major factor why I have never fully trusted bitcoin as an investment proposition.
Keeping the provenance concealed suggests a number of things, none of them conducive to embracing bitcoin as a common form of payment.
What do you think about the prospects of gold in connection with the uncontrolled money printing by different Central Banks?
Gold is what BTC can never become, especially when its provenance remains totally unclear – as well as its likely endgame! Central Banks engage in quasi-criminal activity – and one hopes the future prudent regulator won’t be making it too difficult for people to hold gold bullion. The Perth Mint might be a splendid little dot on the global map, but beware of holding your assets in the form of gold coins: many governments will regard them as forms of payment, and may impose all manner of restrictions on the possession of it.
Let's dream a little. How stablecoins can be used after 5 years from now?
I believe the great RESET is coming – even Davos and the U.N. are alerting us to that. The Covid19 panic has been declared by more than 1500 German physicians as a “global Mafia-style deception”, and while Big Pharma and Bill Gates will likely earn trillions of dollars by the useless and potentially dangerous vaccines that will be foisted on “free”
citizens, the finance system as a whole will need to be RESET. We are already receiving an inkling of how draconian and void of reason and concern for the people most governments of the world are reacting to a harmless lab-manufactured virus (virologist Prof Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate in medicine in 2008, said that), so it’s possible that regulators may become more tyrannical, and under some pretext or other forbid the use of alt-coins. STABLECOINS can be over-collateralized, allowing absorption of pricing fluctuations, but it will be hard to call. I believe many are bound to fail, and that even earlier, despite all their most valiant efforts: as soon as the RESET comes, which is likely to come with all manner of encumbrances. There are many reasons for the issuance of stablecoins, some having opposing views, but all are dependent on trust – and we don’tknow yet if digital currencies that governments will issue will by regulatory over-reach (including absurd compliance requirements) displace other contenders, but you can assume that the tyrannical forms of governance we are currently experiencing suggest that all kinds of skullduggery are possible.
Do you see the problem of fiat stablecoins in the fact that annual inflation constantly depreciates them? An investor who bought $1000 USDT now and sold these tokens in 10 years for $ 1000 will receive much less money.
The problem occurs if we’re converting things back into payment forms that are fundamentally flawed. Inflation and Black Swan events are the major threats to stablecoins, and tethered crypto-values to natively burdened propositions recalls my earlier idea that we have not yet cut the umbilical cord to bitcoin. On the other hand, stablecoins in their current flavour are perhaps best viewed as transitional schemata that will need later revisitation.
You are a very successful Crypto and ICO Advisor, what is the secret behind this success?
I’m not sure if I’m very successful, but I always try to shoot a straight ball. Here are two instances where my input has not been heeded in any way.
I recall one of the first ICOs I advised. I was sitting with the owner on a Telegram Channel, and after some power Q&A sessions online, we were literally hearing the millions of dollars tumble in neat digital hashes into the inbox within a couple of hours of the ICO opening. He had a bottle of Scotch on his table, and by the end of the session he had reached his hard cap and was besotted to boot! The age of digital money had placed the foolscap on his pate, but the script was
no longer legible. I cannot determine if his sobriety ever returned. The prudential advice I had been giving him previously – and that we had discussed in great depth -- was over coming weeks thrown out of the window, and I assume other bottles of Scotch ended up on his desk and didn’t last long.
Here is another example. At one time a well-known ambitious individual in the U.S. cryptospace, a young lawyer, asked me if I wanted to start a crypto compliance organisation with him.
When I think of him now and the feathery assistants he congregated around him, I think of the lines in Dickens’s “Bleak House”: “Mr. Tangle’s learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.”
Simply to continue serving wine from the same sour vats won’t do. I saw that as a prospective idea, and offered some important advice to get the ball rolling. Soon we had recruited many eager beavers to the exercise, and there was talk of it becoming an influential body. I was naïve enough to assume at the time that my co-founder, a black college
asketballer with body tattoos who had a write-up in a major paper on account of his ambition and aggression, was actually interested in asking some fundamental revisionary questions about compliance in relation to the freedom of the citizen. When I suggested we don’t just copy the traditional compliance template and rather probe more deeply, he became insolent and very aggressive. That confirmed my instinct that most ambitious players in the crypto-space are actually dyed-in-the-wool bourgeois, and don’t care about improving the system itself.
What is your advice for upcoming Crypto startups and investors?
You might know the technology well, but do you know the business? Does it really deeply address, even solve, a problem? How much life experience do you have, and how well do you know the market? Can you create a market for your product or services? If yes, how will you do that? Have you only got yes-men around you, or are you willing to
listen to those who speak Tacheles to you? If you’ve come to water the plant of your ego, your business will flounder. Most achievers keep their ego initially in check, and get the work done.
For investors the answer I would give is rather complex, but here’s a brief response: often the mandate of investors is very narrowly girded, and they trust their old boy networks, and rarely venture out and follow their instincts. That is foolish, and also the recipe for a dull life.
Perhaps a general observation that everybody might ponder with profit is the idea that we know really so very little of the world; that the news and information we are are offered and digest, even when it is tendered by so-called ‘experts’, is often seriously ignorant. It seems our perspective is getting narrower all the time, as if our mind is shrinking and we
block out knowledge.
Let me give another current reference point. In 2020 everyone is fearful of viruses. Viruses currently have a bad rap! We have no idea what they actually are. We are always hobbling around with our fearful partisan gaze, and what is good today becomes bad tomorrow. Yet viruses are adroit and malleable messengers of inter-species DNA, in some sense regulating vast populations of organisms. Think of them as cellular simpletons: mere protein shells with few genes, but endowed with the ability to replicate easily despite their paucity of genetic instructions! They form alliances, you might say, with other forms of life. And they are deeply mysterious to our acquisitive and ignorant segmenting intelligence: how can the papillomavirus cause horns to grow on rabbits; and at the same time cause hundreds of thousands of cases of cervical cancer every year? Is one good and the other bad? It would seem so. Such simple summary, like Pinker’s
reductionist view of the world, might becalm for a moment, but does not offer lasting satisfactions. To read the world along the axes of like and dislike, as the Buddha had warned us, leads to great suffering.
I’m told by someone who met Bill Gates a long time ago that the man was apparently even then obsessively fearful of viruses (imagine a pendant to Lady Macbeth, continually cleansing his hands). But do we have any clue what viruses actually are, and how they benefit us all in so many incalculable ways? When the child crawls around, it picks up
antigens (bacteria and viruses) and on that basis builds its immune system. At various points of that contact and exchange new forms grow, and other forms decay and die. Like CO2, viruses are suddenly declared dangerous and that we need to shield ourselves against them. Yet how many people know that marine phages rule the world, and rule the
sea? This was not discovered until 1986. An electron microscope showed that every litre of seawater contained up to one hundred billion viruses, almost as much in dollars as BillGates expects to make off vaccines in 2020. If you put these viruses end to end, they would stretch out forty-two million light-years! Viruses offer stunning genetic variety, and they are the very pulse of life! When viruses swallow oceanic microbes, they release a billion tons of carbon every day: imagine squalls of marine snowfalls, powdering the porous sand of the deep. Imagine the white nights of St Petersburg under water, celebrating the magic of life with the same skill and abandon as the Mariinsky Theatre, to an audience of gastropods, deep-water fish and lovelorn mermaids.
Seamus Heaney, when he passed in 2013, spoke the word Noli timere (“Do not fear”) to his wife as he breathed his last. Instead of being fearful, we might do well to assert that we understand nothing of the manifold wonders of this world! Let us cultivate the virtue of wonderment, and fear will find no habitation in our house:
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
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