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Think Instrument: Tokens Aren't Just Securities

Mapping one thing to another is always risky.

When done reasonably, the end result is useful. But when the cartographer forgets the point of the map, the end result is, at best, unwieldy.

“What a useful thing a pocket-map is!” I remarked. “That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?” “About six inches to the mile.” “Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all ! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!” “Have you used it much?” I enquired. “It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.” from Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter XI, London, 1895 Sylvie and Bruno, Original Cover Artwork

This particular map lost its purpose because it swallows its subject, so it can’t be used without destroying the thing it is meant to depict. The same problem arises in the context of tokens, as we’ve collectively struggled with the question, “is it a security?”

In the process of trying to answer it, we’ve created a map as big as the territory, and have latched onto the idea that a token can be one of two things:

A Security A Not-security

This map, unlike the map in Carroll’s story, has been spread out, and unlike the farmers, we have not objected to the loss of light. The cast of its shadow has led us to conflate the map with the territory, and in so doing, we’ve lost sight of an important question: In the broadest sense, what is a token?

In this post, I will make a case for an answer implied by the ‘...

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