THE DANDELION KNIGHT: A brief lesson on the Hypnagora

One interesting side effect of a swiftly rotating government constituted of officials with no past or future is that it is possible, at least in principle, to have both a command economy and a robust stock exchange. This was proved mathematically by Dufond and Melchior after it was empirically observed in contravention of then-current economic theory; the proof was dismissed by old-guard theorists as argument to a conclusion, which was perhaps unavoidable, and much was made of the theorem’s fierce limiting conditions at the time of publication, although future breakdowns turned out to correspond reasonably well to violations of those conditions — as when then Minister of the Economy Huahui Fleurdelabonté famously convinced a mentally fragile Minister of Health to rule all beef cattle unsafe to eat and genetically unsound, creating an epic bubble in soy and mycofoods futures that ruined thousands of speculators and, non-coincidentally, her husband, a beef tycoon who had publicly cuckolded her on numerous occasions. (This, incidentally, led to the suppression of real names and photographs of faces in the news media for nearly a century, at which point a similar thing happened again anyway, and the synod accepted that reason imposed certain limits on their ability to insulate themselves from traces of their forgotten lives. A rumor persists among economic historians that a dandelion was pinned to the clipping of the article anonymously mailed to Fleurdelabonté, but this has never been verified.)

Another prediction of the Melchior-Dufond theorem was that the exchange’s predictability would limit its appeal among investors with an appetite for risk. Since no more risky exchange existed, they saw fit to create one—or, more accurately, to assemble one from the dozens of small gambling rings already infesting the then-squalid area of Xianzai-Aujourdhui on and around the Rue Lenoir.

The art markets had already taken reasonably sophisticated form. They had begun as a way for painters, playwrights, and their backers to support themselves by gambling on attendance at their exhibitions, and had self-organized a set of rules and a subclass of accredited observers and enforcers to ensure that the game was rigged only in ways that would contribute to its continued efflorescence. This, of course, had required the influx of a few high rollers — many of whom went on to leave the game, ironically if predictably, after the very stability they had brought to it had eroded their ability to direct its dynamics. But that boost was enough. Once a group of people had devoted their energies to propagating the game itself — rather than trying to promote a particular outcome — the size of the market was limited only by demand. Of course, demand is writ in water, and the economists’ fusion of the markets and generalization of the principle into ever more abstract conceptual realms was a Pluyal torrent on fertile matrix. What grew from it was the Hypnagora.

With the will to measure came the means. The rise of individual paintings and actors was now fair game for gambling, with crude voting systems set up at the door to theaters and galleries. Media monitors were seduced away from their holy toil to develop and then apply metrics for the salience of concepts in the culture, a move that spawned a flurry of insider trading rules as a few of Altronne’s cultural heavyweights began trading on themes of their upcoming blockbusters—Quillhoner’s classic analysis of Dahan and the Bricklayer Cycle is of course the standard text on conceptual anti-trust, although Eser Atanas is more famous (by Hypnagoric metrics) for his essay, “Betting on Emine,” and his concomitant rise to prosperity having cannily bet, not only on Emine, but on “betting on Emine” and “betting on ‘Betting on Emine.'” The lawsuits brought against Atanas for this maneuver failed, but they did establish useful precedents on the legality of higher-order gambling (outlawed from then on, to the general social good and the continuing dismay of bright young philosophers and mathematicians with visions of a life of ease) and the sequestration and suspension of market privileges of all participants in an insider-trading case (lest the case ignite the popular consciousness and the defendant profit from his own actions in court, as Eser Atanas did on the ruinous day when he answered all questions on the cross-examination with the phrase “a mismatched pair of socks, one white, one green” and realized a ten-thousandfold return on the corresponding bet, placed the night before — incidentally the source of the terms “greenfoot” and “greenhopping” as they relate to manipulation of the Hypnagora or any other market; the etymology is unrelated, whatever the glib theories of contemporary historians, to the color of money, which has always been as variable in Altronne as it ever was in civilized nations.)

It sometimes pleases exponents of the Hypnagora, usually those peddling complex financial instruments to the uninitiated, to refer to that market as “the only free market in Altronne.” Here “free” can almost be tolerated if it is taken to mean “autonomous” (for the most obviously destructive and manipulative bets are, as detailed above, prohibited), but in truth the government’s involvement is substantial, if largely irrelevant to individual investors. The synod holds heavy stakes in various patriotic concepts, including “patriotism” as well as “Imen,” “ram,” “lightning,” “Glisters,” and so on. The purpose of these holdings is less to manipulate the market (although the synod has historically received considerable income from its holdings) than to reassure the public of their faith in the endurance of these values. A similar motivation underlies the only prohibition on a first-order concept that the government imposes. In the Hypnagora, to the unending hand-wringing of a small but vocal coterie of theoretically doctrinaire economists, it is illegal, on pain of summary execution, to bet on the Dandelion Knight.

(© Matt Weber, 2009)

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