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Feb 14, 2023
3 min read

Wendell Berry, Proto-Bitcoiner

"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." - The Tempest

Wendell Berry might be the most unlikely Bitcoiner ever.

While the philosopher-farmer, poet, novelist, environmentalist, and sober-minded cultural critic has written extensively throughout the second half of the 20th century, the fifth generation Kentuckian whose family has lived on and farmed the land in the same county for 200 years famously has not typed a single word of any of them on what many would see as the period’s greatest invention: the personal computer. Berry writes with pencil and paper. When he’s ready to send something to his publisher, he entrusts his hand-turned thoughts to the same person he presented the rest of his person to half a century ago: his wife, Tanya. She faithfully transcribes her husband’s inner workings on a Royal Standard manual typewriter.

He has also written critically at great length regarding the overwhelming human and environmental costs that corporate America has been willing to pay with other people’s money while suffering none of the consequences. He is a fierce enemy of coal, which is one of the sources of energy used to mine Bitcoin. He has even been willing to put his person where his pen is and practice civil disobedience in protest over policies that he perceives to be unconscionably opposed to the public good.

So, what on God’s good earth could lead me to think about Berry as a proto-Bitcoiner? There are far more reasons than I have listed below, but here are a few.

  • His life and work have prioritized restoring the dignity of people and places used, abused, and forgotten by the powerful and shortsighted. So does Bitcoin.
  • He pleads with his readers to acknowledge and embrace the limitations inherent in place, relationship, and nature. We shouldn’t strive to defeat reality but submit ourselves to it and reap the benefits. So does Bitcoin.
  • Bitcoiners are a crowd that understands the reasons for its discontentment.
  • Bitcoiners understand that a debt-based economy where loans (and money in general) are created ex-nihilo (rather than lent out from the deposits of others) ultimately pits neighbor against neighbor. They understand that it eventually makes two different sets of rules; one for the rich and connected and another for everyone else. This phenomenon drives up prices of scarce goods over time and widens the gap between the rich and the poor, leading to worse educational outcomes (read: more easily manipulable people). The poor are less able to live according to sustainable low-time preference priorities (healthy food prepared in healthy ways, having children and prioritizing their care and education, etc.). They’re more likely to become consumers of cheap, easily prepared food that destroys both their bodies and the land upon which they live but (in the overwhelming majority of cases) do not own.
  • Berry mused that an economy based on energy would do less damage both to the environment and its inhabitants. Bitcoin effectively monetizes energy.
  • Berry understood the exorbitant costs associated with fiat currencies (including altcoins).

I could go on, and perhaps another day I will do a Part 2. Berry and Bitcoiners have their differences, but as the Shakespeare quote above rightly states, misery acquants a man with strange bedfellows; we all see the damage that fiat money and fiat men have wrought upon the world and are eager to see it restored to its nature embracing senses.

So I hold out hope that we’ll win him over, even if it takes a while. And if not, I’ll still be content to give Berry the same treatment that Dante gave Socrates and Plato: at worst, he’s in limbo alongside Gary North and virtuous no-coiner economists who lived before Bitcoin.

If you’re a Bitcoiner looking for a natural intro to Berry, I recommend Home Economics.

Written by Jordan Bush

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