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December Recommended Readings
From crypto to Scipio
Earlier this month I went through Lost in Thought by Zena Hitz. It’s about intellectual life and the sins and distortions that threaten it.
Hitz is an Aristotelian, naturally, she defends intellectual life as an ingredient in a good one. Not thought for the sake of anything else – just thought for itself. Learning matters for its own sake.
The most interesting part of the work is the exploration of forces that distort learning. Social and personal projects hang over intellectual work, constantly threatening to make it serve something else. Perhaps one learns something to become impressive and win or one studies something else because it's what will most likely bring tenure and prestige or one promotes an idea because it will improve the world – each of these uses of ideas are just that uses that twist away from the activity of thought.
Consider St Augustine’s criticism of curiositas – what Hitz calls the love of spectacle. This is as “a disordered love of knowledge, the love of learning degenerated to ‘lust of the eyes.’” Augustine uses the example of lurid curiosity over the Gladiatorial games. Hitz mentions rubbernecking at car accidents as the paradigm example. One could also focus on exploring ideas because they are edgy. It’s too easy to prize thought for the experience it brings and have our attention moved from truth to sensation. After reading this passage I shelved the term the love of spectacle because it’s useful and descriptive of important phenomenon – and an hour later found myself absorbed in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I wasn’t learning anything. Curiositas is difficult to escape. What I, we, need to cultivate is the virtue of seriousness, studiositas. The virtue is “a desire to seek out what is most important, to get to the bottom of things, to stay focused on what matters.”
Hitz may underrate work and competition in Lost in Thought. Social competition can be in the service of intellectual achievement, it doesn’t always need to be the other way around.
But Lost in Thought is challenging, a raising of the bar in some ways. For that, and the strong influence of Aristotle and Augustine, it earns a recommendation.
Around The Web
This paper ultimately doesn’t deliver, but is worth skimming for the sake of the premise alone.
Useful account of one of the most promising crypto projects, covering the bear and bull case.
Do Kwon returned again and again to Singapore. In particular, he frequently referenced Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), founder of the city-state, describing him as an "idol."
What Kwon seemed to admire most about LKY was his efficacy in setting the incentives for Singapore to flourish. He noted that the state did not naturally lend itself to becoming a business hub: it had natural enemies, a torrid, tropical climate, and little tourism traffic. To compensate, LKY forged favorable conditions, including a strong, business-friendly rule of law, a fair bureaucracy, and a favorable tax structure.
"One of the things that Singapore did really well is understand that Singapore is a platform," Kwon said. "Empires don't think of how to attract users."
Kwon thinks of Terra similarly. Though Terra is keen to facilitate a grassroots revolution, its early "policies" were, by necessity, top-down. The way the project speaks of its currency mechanics, market modules, and treasury is often in the language of nations. In many cases, Terra seems to serve a similar purpose to a central bank, stimulating progress in the manner it considers most advantageous.
Liron Shapira on the bear case for web3. Key excerpts:
I'm not inspired by Web3’s vision because the end state that it’s supposedly aiming for — regardless of whether the technology to get there makes sense, and whether the various execution challenges are feasible — is super vague.
I see Web3 as the epitome of our era of Indefinite Optimism, as defined in Peter Thiel’s smart and highly original book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.
I think it should be possible to understand Web3’s vision without going down a rabbit hole, because that’s the case for any other inspiring vision I’ve ever seen.
Scipio Aemilianus dreams of touring the celestial heavens, lead by his grandfather, Scipio Africanus. Pierre Hadot describes this dream as taking the view from above – “the philosopher looks down at the earth and at mankind, and judges them at their true value.” From this distance, Rome is insignificant.