Libertarianism For Me, But Not For Thee
Cryptocurrency has perfected crony-capitalism and sold it to the desperate.
Once upon a time, there was a monkey. Well, to be more specific, a picture of a monkey. Okay, okay, to be a little more specific, a token that was a digital certificate of ownership for a picture of a monkey. Anywho, said token - a non-fungible token - sold for roughly $304,000 some time ago and then sold for $3066 in December, with a $34,000 transaction fee to ensure they were the only ones to buy the ape. To quote CNET’s explanation:
The transaction appears to have been done by a bot, which can be coded to immediately buy NFTs listed below a certain price on behalf of their owners in order to take advantage of these exact situations.
"How'd it happen? A lapse of concentration I guess," Max told me. "I list a lot of items every day and just wasn't paying attention properly. I instantly saw the error as my finger clicked the mouse but a bot sent a transaction with over 8 eth [$34,000] of gas fees so it was instantly sniped before I could click cancel, and just like that, $250k was gone."
"And here within the beauty of the Blockchain you can see that it is both honest and unforgiving," he added.
What is incredible is that I wrote every one of these words about a different token-of-ownership-of-a-picture-of-a-monkey. I assumed that the CNET article about someone accidentally selling something worth $300,000 for $3000 would be about the monkey-token situation I was thinking of. There was another NFT - of another monkey worth $300,000 or so - that was accidentally sold for a lower price. Twitter user @dunnothem had a good explanation:
Another important detail: he had to pay someone $38,000 to retrieve said monkey token which, and I quote, “could’ve been worse.”
If you’re confused, that means your brain has not experienced enough trauma to rationalize spending vast amounts on JPEG-receipts and being so laissez-faire with said ape-tokens that you kept them listed at a lower price than you intended.
The magic of the blockchain is such that these are irreversible, unregulated, unstoppable transactions that are recorded on an immutable ledger (unless enough people decide that they don’t want it to be). It is the libertarian dream writ large - a lawless world where facts do not care about your feelings, and Big Government can’t reverse some snowflake’s transaction because they don’t like it.
I was about to write “the problem with NFTs,” but that would suggest there was just one. One of the problems with NFTs is that these are volatile assets (just like a lot of crypto) with absolutely no logic or reason behind their valuations, purchased, moved and sold in exactly the same way - interactions with a smart contract. Said contract’s contents are not always immediately obvious, and even if they are, if you’ve agreed to their terms - even if said terms are activated by a later thing (say, if someone wants to buy your monkey picture for the $3000 price you set months or years ago), and you forgot you agreed to them. And despite these being, by definition, very expensive one-of-a-kind items, there are no regulations to reverse or stop a transaction.
What we see with crypto and NFTs is the actual result of libertarianism. While there may be a way to sue someone for something if your ape is sold for too little, I can’t imagine there’s an apparent theft that occurred here - though one might say these are stolen goods, the actual terms of the smart contracts are such that I can imagine there’s an argument that if you approved the transaction, you’ve said that you are willing to send the money/monkey to someone else. Not being a lawyer, I can’t tell you if it’s technically theft if you told someone you’d send them $50,000 of Ethereum for a monkey, you sent it, and then they never sent you the Ethereum - but basic intuition suggests that, well, if you listed the monkey for $3000 and someone bought it, you sold it willingly. The law doesn’t appear to give much of a shit if you did it by accident.
But that’s beside the point because this is a libertarian system - pull up your big boy pants! Quit crying! This is precisely what you wanted - to leave the terrible world of the mean-hearted money-men and bathe in the unrestricted freedom of crypto, which means that nobody can “take” your money - especially not the government (well…)! Unless you are tricked into sending it through a confusing smart contract, or you agree with some guy on Discord to send the monkey and then receive the Ethereum, and the guy lies to you. Or if you decide that you want to keep it in a system that does exactly what you tell it to with absolutely no oversight or quality control, selling said asset for nothing, with no way to cancel the transaction or fix an error.
Except, well, wait, hold on a second. The biggest marketplace for selling your NFTs is banning people who are selling fake Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs.
Wait - hold on a god damn second. Isn’t this specifically what crypto doesn’t do? I thought this was about not having to get people’s permission to do stuff! Wait, wait, and they also froze transactions of “stolen” apes? What the hell? Isn’t the point of crypto that it eschews that painful government oversight that gets in the way of innovation and free markets?
Wait, what you’re telling me is that crypto is unrestricted and unchangeable, but companies can choose to control what happens within their ecosystems based on their judgment?
Because that, my friends, is the core problem you are seeing grow within crypto - they got their libertarian hellscape where anything can happen, where they can make any choices they want (as long as they have enough tokens to make said things happen), and must suffer the consequences alone. The problem is that individuals and companies also can act in whatever way they want, meaning that they can choose not to accept your business based on their own rules that they’ve made up.
While this is theoretically great if you’re a victim of fraud, it also is the natural law of libertarianism - that anyone can do anything within an open, lawless, and free system, including close said system and add laws to it that you have to abide by. Heck, smart contracts themselves are tiny bits of law themselves (however, the “code is law” idea is stupid) - laws that people willingly agree to it at times without understanding the contents, kind of like paper contracts.
OpenSea choosing to freeze transactions is the antithesis of what blockchain stands for, but also exactly what was always going to happen - none of these people actually believe in true freedom, true libertarianism (and to be clear, I am not a libertarian and think it is bad), but in trying to rig systems as much as they can in their own favor. They want things to work in the way they want when they want them to work, and to not restrict their ability to do the things they want - wrapped in a shell of vague statements about how the government makes rules that are bad for you and the only good rules are those made by guys who got rich making their computers yell numbers at other computers.
The more crypto grows, the more it resembles the absolute worst parts of government and capitalism. These people absolutely want laws - for example, that if you acquire a monkey picture in the wrong way you must hand it back, for free - they just don’t want the laws that mean they have to pay tax, or anything that might slow the flow of money into their corrupt systems (which of course is nothing like any corporations you might have heard of), even if said flow-slowing might protect people from being scammed or harmed.
None of this is “true” libertarianism - it’s old, boring, scummy opportunism. The obsession of crypto with metaverses and web3 isn’t anything to do with human contact, it’s an intentional attempt to create separate, unregulated societies through which to monetize and exploit people. It may have a different process, but this is just a messy mixture of company towns and lobbying - creating little societies where you control the economies and can arbitrarily influence or outright change the rules to match whatever belief system you’ve chosen today.
Anyone claiming that crypto is “different” isn’t seeing the current state of crypto for what it is - manifold ways to extract, store, exploit and obfuscate capital. The evil bankers and hedge fund managers and their shareholder meetings are replaced with people with ugly portraits that post “GM” and vague platitudes about how they’ll change the world. The key difference is that there are so many suckers who are willing to market these concepts for free, and willing to go to war on social media with those who don’t buy into the spurious visions they poorly describe. It’s because they’re truly invested in the outcome and that they can manifest destiny through the power of posting and vaguely suggesting that you might become a multi-millionaire - that you are “going to make it.”
Who is going to get rich off of all of this? The same fucking people who were rich already. Sure, some people got wealthy as a result of gambling on extremely stupid and pointless shit, but the people who are actually making money are generally a small group of people manipulating a system to their advantage. For every person whose life was changed because of their childlike sketch of a person sold for $50,000, hundreds of thousands of others are desperately talking about how they are going to make it and that their particular picture will be what makes them one of the elite.
And those that were not rich already that become rich through these systems simply become the same people that they claim to hate - they want the systems to change to support their worldviews, laws to exist within a lawless system that benefit them, and the world to contort to their obtuse worldview. It is corrupt and dishonest, worse than hedge funds, worse than private equity, worse than all the ghouls they despise, because at least they’re honest. At least they admit that this is all about enrichment.
On top of that, there’s a thin layer of morality to these crypto communities. If you doubt them, you’re “not going to make it” - you are destined to lose, and indeed deserve to for not having the foresight to back “the right side of history.” While they are happy to critique the unfair systems that exist today - and they are unfair! - they lack the introspection to take the same level of critiques for their own systems, along with the ability to prove value for them beyond “well, you remember that there were some people who doubted the internet.”
The assumption that many libertarians make is that it’s good to have less rules, and thus that a libertarian system would eschew laws entirely. The reality is that libertarian systems absolutely have laws - these laws are simply made and policed by those who have the resources to establish them, or create the systems that others must operate in.
Cryptocurrency has become both a libertarian paradise and the most vulgar capitalist society you’ve ever seen. Every single action is a financial transaction and said transactions can be made faster by spending more money. Access within this so-called egalitarian system is entirely based on how many resources you have and how quickly you can mobilize them, which is alarmingly similar to the systems that crypto zealots claim to despise. And the more popular a system is, the more money that’s required to spend to make things happen on it. It’s also important to remember that the only way into these systems is either through farming coins using computers that cost money, or paying money to acquire tokens to use within the system.
The consistent pro-crypto argument is that big companies control the platforms we use every day, and decentralization is the only way for us to be truly “free.” The problem is that there is no real difference between a web3 company that has transferrable ‘votes’ and a regular company - those with the money still have the power, except they have the ability to directly monetize each vote. Democracy is quite literally for sale by the company (and regularly sold to wealthy investors before anyone else!), and those buying votes under the auspices of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ are really just participating in an even more corrupt and punishing system than we have in the real world.
What’s amazing is how blind the average crypto users appear to be to the naked industrial cronyism. Who gets access to hot tokens early? Investors and friends of the developers. Who gets early knowledge that things will get listed? Investors and friends of the project. There are no insider trading laws that stop this from happening, because we’re in a beautiful libertarian paradise where anything goes, because of how good freedom is.
This is why there is so much money going into it despite the extremely questionable nature of the majority of products - it is a monetary system that is legal to exploit and rig assuming you have the money to do so.
The really ironic part of all of this is the general sense within crypto communities that they’re counter-cultural, all while they work feverishly to promote an entire industry dominated by rich people, using centralized, VC-backed products like Twitter and Discord. These people are being used - they have been sold a dream of freedom while trapping themselves willingly in an ecosystem that literally monetizes every single action you take within it, sending money to whoever can afford lots of computer parts - people with resources!
It sucks, because when there’s a big crash, the people that really suffer are the majority - because it’s a libertarian system. There are no regulations to save you from your ApeSec issues, no bank to call if you lose your wallet and its private key, no police to call if someone messes with your account. If you send your monkey-receipt to someone, you don’t know who they are - you don’t have their bank account, you just have their wallet address, and while you can follow transactions across the public blockchain, there are a million little ways that someone can obfuscate where the money (or monkey) went after they stole it.
A good universal rule to follow is that if something seems too good to be true, it likely is. While average people may have a chance to get wildly rich within the crypto systems, they are extremely unlikely to do so, but to get people into the system, those already trapped within it have created cult-like explanations of “community” and “freedom” and “escaping the man” to cover up for the fact that you are absolutely still giving money to the man. The man, in this case, is simply a different man - maybe he’s got a picture of a monkey with gold teeth, or someone who says the right things in just the right order to make you forget to think rationally.
If you want to know why I find this all so vile, it’s because it’s obvious exactly who will be hurt when the world of crypto has its next collapse. The richest crypto people extol the benefits of patience because they can afford to be wrong. The majority of people using crypto are not rich and likely will lose a great deal if they chose to be patient for too long. Even those who are well-off but perhaps not rich are losing college funds and mortgage payments because of these chaotic, punishing systems, and so many people are joining them for their chance to escape the doldrums of a normal life.
And when the end times come, they will be washed out. When things start crashing, transaction prices go up, meaning that those with the resources will be safe and, as with many systems, those without resources will be left for dead.