In 1882, Fredrich Nietzsche wrote the Parable of the Madman, where he infamously proclaimed that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
The meaning of this, often overused, phrase is that the idea that a unified concept of morality, social construction, and especially religion has dissolved. The madman has recognized that the society he lives in is in the process of losing the very thing that holds it together. Bear in mind, at the time when Nieztchse was writing, practically everybody took for granted the idea that civilization was held together by the notion of God– a higher being where all our positive attributes derive from.
When the madman says that “we have killed” God, he means that the human race has successfully de-coupled itself from the idea God, and is slowly drifting away from the notion of a higher being. This was triggered by developments in science, altered philosophical views, and changes instigated by The Enlightenment Period. While The Age of Reason definitely predates Nietzsche’s work, its effects were felt for a deeply extended time, and are still being felt to this day. In particular, this period brought about a wave of secularism. This might sound relatively insignificant, but it was not so much that religion was stopping to matter, but rather that the things that we often attached to religion were stopping to matter, too. For instance, morality: the historian of philosophy Stephen Gaukroger has noted that “[i]t was generally assumed in the 17th century that religion provided the unique basis for morality, and that without religion, there could be no morality”.
Another major factor that gets lost when religion is lost is that of community. In the past, churches were commonly used as third places, which are places other than home and work, where people feel a sense of belonging. The loss of religious communities also means that people may face diminished health, as they have been linked to far greater mental and physical health.
And so, when Fredrich Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead, what he was really saying is that the core bindings of life at that time were falling apart, leaving the people to live in a reality that is far less interlocked and attached than it used to be.
Something similar is happening again, only this time it does not relate to religion…
The Lives and Deaths of 2008
In 2008, the world faced the largest economic fallout since The Great Depression. The reasons behind this are unimportant, save for the fact that it was triggered by banks, governments, and other corporate and centralized bodies. Not only did these organizations instigate the financial crisis, but the public was deftly aware of this, as it was public knowledge. This was arguably the first instance during peacetime where the world was so outrightly exposed to, and conscious, of the greed, arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence of the corporations that rule over them. Note also, this was not some abstract concept that had no effect on the average person (such as when the stock market fluctuates). This crisis caused the loss of a significant amount of elderly people’s pensions. Some of the most vulnerable people in our world were left penniless by the figures at the top.
Bear in mind, banks and governments rule the world. We all know this, and we are all taught to have faith that they have our best interests at heart. To see these institutions fail their citizens so openly and unapologetically was cataclysmic. It opened peoples’ eyes up to the current shape of the world.
Something else happened in 2008: the Bitcoin whitepaper was published. Within it, a system was laid out that showed people how to create, manage, store, and distribute wealth in a way that entirely sidestepped the corporate villains who spread poverty around the globe. It gave people hope that they could escape the Bosch-esque economic landscape that 2008 had become.
These two events dealt a blow to the financial world. One that I argue was fatal. In fact, I believe the 2008 financial crisis, along with the birth of Bitcoin, caused the death of fiat as we know it.
The All-Mighty Dollar has Fallen
This statement might sound outlandish, considering that practically everybody uses fiat cash, and every government, bank, and company functions primarily on fiat. But remember, when Nietzsche wrote that God is dead, religion was still a major part of everyday life– and still even is to this day. Nietzsche was not saying that the idea of God would be eradicated or even placed on a backburner, he was saying that the significance of God as a grand, unified concept was no longer there.
With this in mind, I believe the grand unifying idea of a centralized and government-controlled form of money is simply no longer present. Fiat definitely still exists, and will definitely exist for the foreseeable future. But the general public is no longer under the illusion that fiat can ever be the core of our financial world. People are fearful that another financial crisis will occur, and they are fearful that it will be triggered by the very institutions that rule over us.
That type of fear never disappeared. Thirteen years later, and that fear is still strongly held. A 2021 poll found that 48% of people who understand what the US Federal Reserve is, do not trust it. With the rate of inflation climbing, and the COVID-19 pandemic being mismanaged, the general public has lost faith in the corporations that hold us together.
The All-Mighty Dollar is looking less mighty than ever before. It is no coincidence that during this time, the cryptocurrency industry has broken records throughout the years of the pandemic. As public trust in fiat dwindles, it appears that interest in crypto rises.
But What Comes Next?
People often misalign Nietzsche as being a proud advocate of atheism. They see his scornful critiques of religion and jump to the conclusion that he is actively trying to eradicate religion from the world. But this is not true. While Nietzsche was perhaps the most important critic of religion, he was never exactly pro-atheism. In fact, Nietzsche was afraid of the loss of religion. For him, the death of God was the death of society as we knew it, and he never wanted that.
Nietzsche was concerned about what the next stage in human life would look like. The death of God means we must now find our own values, our own communities, and our own moral compasses. This is a battle that will be felt in both the heart of each country, and in the heart of each person. We must build our own ideals.
A good way of illustrating this is with Gil Scott-Heron’s famous song: “The Revolution will not Be Televised”. In one sense, the revolution will not be televised because it will occur underground, away from centralized media, only to bubble and bubble and explode into the mainstream, where it will take over and further consume the media. But in another sense, the revolution will not be televised because it will happen internally, within each individual who recognizes injustice and aligns themselves with their own conception of justice.
But revolutions are not friendly, and changes like the ones discussed here do not come pleasantly. The death of fiat is the death of the financial custodian. The middle-man has been murdered. The people are now figuring out how to control their own wealth, meaning they are learning how to imbue and empower themselves with the powers that the state is often so used to. And sadly, in the process, people are learning just how hard it is to control your own wealth. When you manage all your money, you are the only one to blame when things go awry. There is no intermediary out there who will fix things: it’s all on you. That’s terrifying, but the death of fiat has meant that we must all march forward, as centralized forces can go awry, too.
The question of what comes next is a tough one. The simple answer is that the world will move further towards economic autonomy, de-coupling itself from the banks. But the tougher answer is that many people will find themselves damaged by this de-coupling and autonomy, leaving behind scars. We have been taught for countless generations to hand our money over to somebody else, for they would know what to do with it. When our money fully touches our own hands, we are lost. It’s not our fault; we’ve never been told what to do.
Not only this, but the seismic wealth inequality and moral displacement of the world means that there are vicious and harmful bodies in the water, ready to exploit us wherever they can. Just recently, Solana’s Wormhole protocol was hacked, leaving the crypto world a little shaken. Situations like this may be much, much smaller than a global economic crisis, but without centralized institutions, they were much more commonplace.
We are leaving behind a concept so widespread that it was there in ancient Rome: centralized and government minted money. The transition to something else will be tough, fraught, and uncomfortable. But ever since 2008, the world is awake to the harm that our institutions can cause us. And so, we must march forward!
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