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Human Rites

When Proof of Work is abolished at the anthropological layer, it reappears at the managerial layer: A theory of Higher Education and signaling games run amok.

We have demonstrated that Proof of Work is a general mechanism that underlies any stable value system—not just financially, in the context of blockchains, but also culturally, in the context of anthropology. Proof of Work is the ultimate material grounding for whatever a civilization values, and for the differences in rank among those things that a civilization values.

From within our peculiar, modern, rationalized civilization, Proof of Work appears irrational. Really it is the extra-rational foundation of our whole system of values, its hidden underwriter. From a rational point of view, it looks like sheer madness: senseless animal sacrifices, suicidal voyages to unknown lands for improbable rewards, etc. As modernity rationalizes everything, all of those Proof of Work processes that made modernity possible later appear to the post-Enlightenment mind as nothing but wasteful lunacy, immoral and insane practices that need to be abolished for the sake of "progress."

As we dismantle and prohibit every last instance of "irrational" sacrifice, we have unwittingly created a catastrophic problem: the impossibility of grounding any values at all.

When a society removes all of the underlying mechanisms that once quietly grounded its value system, what happens is endless cycling through signaling games that never settle in consensus. We unconsciously evolve new Proof of Work competitions, but now they become more barbaric than any pre-modern warlord could have imagined—for now they never stop, and never cash out.

One of the most striking examples today is Higher Education. Pre-modern initiation rites are essentially outlawed, so a 16-year-old boy today is not allowed to become a man through grounded Proofs-of-Work arranged by his father and tribe. But since we cannot do without such value proofs, we generate confused and obfuscated equivalents. Now, every young person must endure 20 years of daily ideological exercises just to become eligible for an entry-level job.

As Ivan Illich writes in his book Deschooling Society:

"The American university has become the final stage of the most all-encompassing initiation rite the world has ever known. No society in history has been able to survive without ritual or myth, but ours is the first which has needed such a dull, protracted, destructive, and expensive initiation into its myth. The contemporary world civilization is also the first one which has found it necessary to rationalize its fundamental initiation ritual in the name of education.

When Proof of Work is abolished at the anthropological layer, it reappears at the managerial layer—more dull, protracted, destructive, and expensive.


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