Cycles Of Life And Emotion

The path of continuous improvement is always far from level. In spite of our aspirations to flatten the contours, the breakthroughs and setbacks arrive in groups, like the red buses that convey me from Streatham Hill to Brixton.

In parallel to the cycles of fortune and misfortune that weave their way as unbroken threads through our lives, we experience waves of emotion that are to some extent concomitant.

Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They can be constructive or destructive depending on how we handle them. It is not just a question of whether the emotion is “positive”, as joy, love and optimism are generally perceived, or “negative”, as in the case of anger, fear, guilt or hatred. If we know how to respond, we can derive as much – or even more  – value from the latter than the former.

How can this be true? Can guilt, with all its destructive potential, really be a benevolent agent? Instead of allowing the sharpened chisel of guilt to gouge pieces out of our soul and the blunt instrument of shame to bludgeon it mercilessly, we can adopt a different perspective. By treating these apparently pernicious emotions as assets, we can use them to build our character.

In order to do this, we need to understand and control our emotions. Guilt and shame offer us a valuable opportunity – the opportunity of forgiveness. As The Knot Garden does not recognise the need to practise forgiveness of others, as it does not apply blame to them, we need only consider here the act of forgiveness in relation to oneself.

Guilt is serious stuff. It should not be ignored or taken lightly. Whereas anger must be controlled, we should strive to eliminate guilt in its entirety, otherwise it will fester deep inside us as a malignant sore, sucking up more and more of our energy. Unlike anger, which is usually a short term phenomenon, guilt requires persistent effort to overcome. To remove guilt and other malevolent feelings, we have to understand their cause. As with a serious illness, treating the symptoms will cause us to neglect the source.

If we examine our guilt in earnest, rather than being repelled by it, we will discover what lies at its root. We can then take well-directed action to improve the way we live, reinforcing the principles and values that we have placed at the centre of our belief system. Rather than attacking the guilt head-on, we can erode it by re-asserting our beliefs.

The Knot Garden considers the so-called negative emotions to be signposts directing us to aspects of our life that need attention, in the same way that pain makes us aware of physical and physiological issues.

If we can be the master of our emotions, smoothing out the cycles rather than making futile attempts to eliminate them altogether, we can remain attuned to our belief system. If we allow them to get the upper hand however, they will run riot and cause havoc in our lives.

In Whom We Trust

Someone once expressed in a book the idea that the love of money is the root of all evil. If this is true then politicians, central bankers and, before them, monarchs must have proven themselves virtuous beyond measure through their acts of monetary debasement.

The spectacular rise of cryptocurrencies compels us to ask the question “What is money?”. I wonder how many people reflect on the purpose of money and its true nature. I do so frequently because I consider money to be one of the most fundamentally vital elements in our society. It is truly the lifeblood of any nation because it enables commerce and enterprise.

According to conventional wisdom, money has three primary functions, each of which is universally understood. It serves as a medium of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account. In order to deliver these services, money must have certain attributes. The most important of these are stability, because that is the bedrock on which trust is built and universal acceptance, which flows from that trust.

On the face of it, fiat currencies are stable and universally accepted while cryptocurrencies are not. But if you take a longer term view it is clear that pounds, dollars, yen and euros lose their purchasing power over time through the corrupt operations of those we have elected as their custodians. By contrast, it is notable that the bitcoin, of which five thousand were required a few years ago to buy a pizza, are now worth a thousand pizza’s each.

The emergence of cryptocurrencies is being driven by two powerful forces – firstly the betrayal of trust by the operators, driven by greed, of the world’s banking systems and secondly the accelerating juggernaut of technology, which refuses to abandon Moore’s Law.

The volatility of cryptocurrencies and their low level of acceptance prevent them from serving the purpose of money at present. But this will gradually change as more people develop an awareness of the power of the blockchain and understand the advantages that it can provide in the areas of security, reliability, efficiency and cost effectiveness. Banks and other influential institutions are already taking tentative steps to invest in the new technology.

It remains to be seen whether one or more cryptocurrencies will replace the form of money that is widely used today, which is controlled by governments, banks and the other intermediaries who muddy the waters of finance. The infrastructure is still early in its development and the altcoin markets are a long way from shedding their wild west image.

The Knot Garden believes that people will ultimately prefer money that is digitally “mined” in strictly limited quantities to that which is spewed out in torrents from the printing press at the whim of bankers. The replacement of fiat currencies by their cryptographic equivalents will result from a long term shift in faith from the powerful authorities who manipulate our money supply to the distributed networks of private enterprises that operate the blockchain.

Wealth And Motivation

There is a sharp irony hidden in the actions of those who indulge in conspicuous consumption. The process of self-aggrandisement is intended to demonstrate the importance of the individual concerned to the world at large. A more accurate interpretation would be precisely the opposite – that they are actually diminishing their true worth by acting in this way.

I remember watching a television programme about so-called successful entrepreneurs, which reported on the spending habits of one wealthy businessman, a serial collector of Rolls Royce motor cars. It was not simply a matter of the number of vehicles. Each one had to be unique and special, differentiated from the “ordinary” versions of the vehicle by some sort of extravagant embellishment that served no practical purpose.

People who engage in such levels of ostentation reveal their motivation openly. They have chosen to use their wealth to create an impression of social prestige, power and celebrity. These are hallmarks of the cult of personality rather than the character building ethic. “Look at me” they say, “I am better than you – more successful, more important, more powerful”.

The Knot Garden prefers the approach employed by Andrew Carnegie, who spent the latter years of his life disposing of ninety per cent of his considerable, self-made fortune through philanthropic projects. Such a model of wealth deployment has inspired the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, who are likewise working for the benefit of others through their foundation.

There is no law or moral code that requires the quantity of wealth owned by an individual to be balanced by their sense of public duty. And yet such symmetry is surely a highly desirable characteristic of financial success.

Those who exhibit profligacy in their affairs are guilty of wasting time, money and opportunity. Instead of working to improve the world in which they live, giving something back, they are merely constructing a graven image. They are telling us that they have chosen shallowness instead of value creation. Acts of apparent generosity towards their children, whom they shower with expensive trinkets, are more likely to hinder the personal development of the recipient rather than promoting it. And so these, too, turn out to be selfish gestures.

The Knot Garden believes in wealth as a power for good. For this to work, the individual must develop a well balanced outlook in which the industry that they direct in acquiring their riches is ultimately matched by their resolve to enrich the lives of others. As with nobility, wealth brings with it responsibility. If we cannot recognise this then we are lost, regardless of the trappings of success.

When Tradition And Technology Meet

For those who are interested in technological innovation, we are living in exciting times. We are witnessing the emergence of an electronic tour de force that will transform commerce. Enabled by the Internet, it will change forever the manner in which wealth is stored and transactions are conducted.

This invention is the blockchain, brainchild of the cryptographic mastermind known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The mystery surrounding his (or her) identity is reminiscent of the question in the opening of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged: “Who is John Galt?”.  Nobody knows. But we will discover in time the immense value of their contribution.

My understanding of blockchain is rudimentary, to say the least. However that does not prevent me from glimpsing its potential. While I improve my technical knowledge I will assess its importance to mankind against the fundamental principles on which we build our belief systems. This may sound a bit excessive for an entity considered by many to be a fad or a fraud and by others as a device for facilitating criminal transactions. It is nonetheless important that we do not lose sight of the tenets by which we live.

Rather than simply getting caught up in the cryptocurrency feeding frenzy, we should ask “how can the blockchain improve our lives?” and before that “what is the fundamental nature of the blockchain?”. One answer, based on my very basic level of understanding, would be that it is decentralised, unregulated, secure and (at least potentially) efficient and cost-effective. We can therefore postulate that the blockchain might address the concerns of those who contend that governments, central banks and retail banks have too much control over our money and are debasing the currency through their meddling.

You may believe that cryptocurrencies are based on nothing more substantial than thin air – a notion perhaps reinforced by the name of the entity known as Ether, the fuel for the promising Etherium platform. But that is not necessarily so. The Royal Mint, that venerable British institution that has its origins in the ninth century, has announced the imminent introduction of a new form of digital gold, implemented using blockchain technology, called the “RMG”. This offering combines ownership and deliverability of the physical precious metal with the security of a cryptocurrency.

I wonder what Isaac Newton, who introduced the Gold Standard during his wardenship of The Royal Mint,  would have made of this? Given his forward looking nature, creative mind, mathematical prowess and his undoubted interest in cryptology, I think he would have approved.

The direction taken by The Royal Mint should be considered an endorsement for the blockchain. Furthermore, The Knot Garden pays attention when tradition and technology meet in order to collaborate on important themes. And, unless you live in a tent or a monastery and completely reject the  material world, few themes are more important than the nature of money.