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In the Beginner's Mind There Are Many Possibilities

Post #1599 • April 17, 2013, 11:04 AM • 1 Comment

In this installment: a bit more about bitcoin, and a profile of Walter Darby Bannard.

This week Boston was subjected to the sort of calamity for which words fail. No one I know was harmed in the attack, but my thoughts go out to those who were. I go along with the response from an electricians' union in Dorchester who posted this on their electronic billboard facing I-93.

[Image: ]

May those responsible be caught, tried, and hanged from the Citgo sign.

A Bit More About Bitcoin

A few days ago, Paul Krugman thought to weigh in.

The biggest declared investors in bitcoins are the Winklevoss brothers, wealthy twins who successfully sued for a share of Facebook and were made famous by the movie "The Social Network" — and they make claims for the digital product similar to those made by goldbugs for their favorite metal. "We have elected," declared Tyler Winklevoss recently, "to put our money and faith in a mathematical framework that is free of politics and human error."

The similarity to goldbug rhetoric isn't a coincidence, since goldbugs and bitcoin enthusiasts — bitbugs? — tend to share both libertarian politics and the belief that governments are vastly abusing their power to print money. At the same time, it's very peculiar, since bitcoins are in a sense the ultimate fiat currency, with a value conjured out of thin air. Gold's value comes in part because it has nonmonetary uses, such as filling teeth and making jewelry; paper currencies have value because they're backed by the power of the state, which defines them as legal tender and accepts them as payment for taxes. Bitcoins, however, derive their value, if any, purely from self-fulfilling prophecy, the belief that other people will accept them as payment.

This morning, an essay appeared from an actual libertarian person at the Mises Institute.

Contrary to the recent hype, we hold that Bitcoin is not money but rather a new way of employing existent money in transactions. The fact that the price of bitcoins has jumped massively lately implies that people assign a high value for the services it offers and nothing more.

Paul Krugman has many faults. He's a partisan, he caricatures his opponents and argues in bad faith against the caricatures, and he deals poorly with criticism. But his basic fault is incuriosity, which I now realize having witnessed the same failing in the form of Frank Shostak over at Mises. I can see one's weariness and skepticism growing over time as one newfangled development after another comes to grief, just as your preferred theories predicted they would. But what kind self-regard prompts you to think that you can opine usefully for a thousand words about Bitcoin without acquiring some and trying to spend it? Krugman didn't even bother to find out if the Winklevosses were typical of libertarians on this matter.

The lesson here is never to let theory trump practice. You only need theory to sum up lived experience well enough to save yourself from the troubles that accompany innocence and ignorance. Any more than that and your imagination grows sclerotic. Don't be such an expert that you can't be surprised.

Case In Point: Darby Bannard

My friend Brett Sokol penned a lovely profile of Walter Darby Bannard for the magazine of the University of Miami.

He’s been featured on the cover of Artforum magazine, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other national awards, and exhibited his work everywhere from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to Manhattan’s Whitney—all while continually violating the cardinal rule of the marketplace: When you find a style that sells, stick with it. Instead, Bannard has been intent on blowing up his brand and following his muse wherever it leads. ...

Still, Bannard’s anti-philosophical take on painting is a philosophy in itself—as discovered by Franklin Einspruch, M.F.A. ’94, a Boston-based painter and the creator of a website dedicated to Bannard’s pithy classroom provisos.

Einspruch, now an art instructor in his own right, particularly remembers one of Bannard’s visits to his UM studio. “He said, ‘You’re like Jonas Salk. You have penicillin growing in a petri dish in the sink’—he pointed to a passage in one of my canvases—‘while you work on some other experiment that isn’t amounting to anything.’

“Over time I learned that when it comes to art, what you see is more important than what you think, and you cling to your ideas at the peril of missing out on vital discoveries.”

[Image: Walter Darby Bannard, Saratoga, 2013, acrylic on canvas]

Walter Darby Bannard, Saratoga, 2013, acrylic on canvas

By way of apology, it has been pointed out to me already that Fleming is responsible for penicillin, not Salk. Assume that the error is mine.

Quote of the Week

"You must remember that I am two people rolled into one."—Gauguin

Comment

1.

Walter Darby Bannard

April 20, 2013, 11:19 PM

Many thanks for posting the UM magazine spread. I think they did a nice job, even if I am somewhat robotic in the video.

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