Skip to main content

Home | Blog  |  Contact Us

flows, value and evaluation

Posted in

Over on his webisteme blog, Eli has written some very interesting thoughts about the MetaCurrency Projects' definition of currency.  The definition of currency we've been using is:

Currency: a formal system used to shape, enable or measure currents.

And Eli's proposing a more limited definition:

A currency is a commonly accepted formal system which shapes the flow of value.

Eli calls for this focus, because, in part, our definition seems to stretch the meaning too far from the familiar and thus makes it "possible for language differences to become an obstacle to sharing and evolving understanding."  He says that our definition makes things like "traffic lights, thermometers and air traffic control systems" into currencies, and that's just too broad.

In our discussions over the years we have been painfully aware that our definition of currency stretches the bounds intelligibility of for folks of what we are talking about. We've often discussed if strategically it's been the wrong move to try to push language that far for the very reasons you delineate in this post. Arthur's reply to Eli's post explains how indeed in some contexts we indeed do just that, and focus on the "value" side of things.  But he also explains that it's really not so easy, because "traffic lights, thermometers and air traffic control systems" are precisely tools that help us increase value in the context of certain flows, so even with the addition of "of value" to the definition, those those tools (to the degree they are formal systems) could still be seen to count as currencies!

But I think there's also another reason for not tacking the "of value" on the end of this definition. Doing so perpetuates the fundamental map-territory blurring that monetary currencies have so deeply engrained in us. The notion of "flows of value" hides the crucial distinction between what flows from our evaluations of the flow. Value is revealed by evaluation. So to the extent that "value flowed", it's a mental or social construct associated with a flow. An indicator of this truth is that valuation is always perspectival, the same flow in the world has different values to different parties, and even to the same party as evaluations of particular flows change over time.  So where was the "value flow?" It seems to be more a perception of a flow, than a flow itself.

Now of course it is the case that our evaluations themselves can be made to flow (as bills do from wallet to wallet) for many purposes.  But separating out in our definition the map from the territory (the evaluation from the flow) is crucial.  Keeping these level distinctions is both crucial, and powerful. The point of "formal systems" is that their formality allows them to be more easily adopted socially (because of the clarity of formality) for performing evaluation.  Most importantly, the raising up of our ability (individually and socially) to create these formal systems into a fluid expressive capacity, is what yields most power in the value domain.  And that's what the MetaCurrency project is all about, creating an expressive capacity for creating the evaluation systems.  Built into that expressive capacity is a knowing of when and how the evaluations themselves should flow so that they increase value rather than destroy it. For example, our living systems model of wealth gives us a basis for knowing when the evaluations could appropriately flow as "trades" because they are at the parts & products level of systems, but show how evaluations at the performance level of systems, should not flow the same way: we don't trade grades.  Holding and embodying this kind of knowledge into an expressive capacity, is squarely in the value domain.  What it could do, is give us that broader context and view, embodied in a functional capacity, of the deep value that living systems create.

As I've been writing this post, yet another reason occurs to me as to why it's good to push the language of currency out so far.  It's because that degree of push actually matches the degree of change that I believe is necessary.  So yes it's a stretch, but it's an appropriate one.