The Left Should Talk About Cryptocurrency
Crypto Posting is confusing and weird, but ignoring it will produce a worse internet.
Hi! Welcome to the first edition of The Draft Folder.
I’m still working out what this should be, and experimenting with some formats, so this edition might not look like others further down the line. In any case, I’m keen on feedback, so do feel free to message me here, on Twitter or via my website. Also if you’re new, and would like to subscribe, you can do so below:
How Do You Describe Web3?
At least once a day on Twitter, I’ll receive a notification that I’ve been tagged into a weird kind of post. It looks something like this:
For the past year or so, I have found myself being tagged into tweets with a number of celebrities, advertising cryptocurrency ‘airdrops’ , which, for laymen, refer to “marketing stunts that involves sending coins or tokens to wallet addresses in order to promote awareness of a new virtual currency.” For sure, some of these posts are very clearly posted by automated bot accounts, but in a lot of cases, they’re posted by real cryptocurrency enthusiasts, for whom it’s not enough to just get on particular cryptocurrency trends, but to create their mint their own coins and digital ‘products’. My assumption is that because Twitter is so central to crypto and blockchain communities (so much so that the Platform is building its own Cryptocurrency unit), and that the perceived value of new coins is directly linked to attention and hype economies, that tagging high-follower accounts and even celebrities seems as good a strategy as any to shortcut a high valuation.
Admittedly, I don’t know too much about the crypto community (and I hope future editions of this will help correct that). But, I bring this up because, whenever I see myself tagged into these Tweets, I simply have no idea what I’m actually looking at, or what I’m reading, or looking at, that would lead me to think that these digital products have a longevity that is worth amplifying. Some people would immediately dismiss this - and tell me that all cryptocurrency is effectively a scam and not worthy of attention. I get where that’s coming from, but I think it’s a misguided position to take. Not because I’m a crypto enthusiast or evangelist, but rather, that most signs of recent tech developments and ‘innovations’ suggest that we’re going to be dragged into ‘Web3’, and that a core function of this will be fully digital transactions and exchanges. I don’t think Web3 will look like Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual reality office , but I do think it will operate on similar principles, and in doing so, incorporate physical boundaries and limitations to existing online. It’s for that reason why I believe that imagining different futures requires some understanding of crypto and blockchain technologies - not just for functional reasons, but to also interrogate the language and terms of reference in which the new internet is being built.
The technology writer Max Read points out in a recent newsletter essay that part of the problem is that we can’t actually describe what, or how a new, ‘decentralised’ internet will actually work, and how it would help people’s lives get better. On Twitter, crypto enthusiasts often tell cynics that decentralised currencies aren’t subjects to the shocks and fragilities of fiat systems, with the promise of more control and stability. But this point ends up being undermined, not just by actual volatility shocks to cryptocurrencies , but also, an indecipherable lexicon used by crypto enthusiasts on Twitter and Discord, which, more often than not, becomes immersed in other niche digital subcultures, reactionary populist politics, and, most harmful, those rise-and-grind, Gary Vaynerchuk disciples on LinkedIn that all post like this:
Read’s analysis comes through observing a recent attempt by Web3 enthusiasts to “Buy the US Constitution” through a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation, with the public aim of ‘protecting it’ for future generations. The DAO lost the auction at Sotheby’s, but were quick to claim they had won in the battle of ideas , proving that there were enough of them to pose a commercial challenge, and, more succinctly, that the attention they had received was enough to prove that their ideological mission was valid. They summarised that mission as follows:
“Decentralization and cryptocurrency (web3) have created structures that allow people to self-govern with unparalleled levels of autonomy and freedom. It’s fitting that we use this technology to honor and protect the greatest historical tool for human governance: the U.S. Constitution.”
Again, this doesn’t really make a lot of sense, practically speaking. But in my view, the incoherence really doesn’t matter. What matters more is that Crypto enthusiasts, having realised that some version of a metaverse - a version of the internet that, rather than intertwining with the material world, will operate as a layer above it - is inevitable, and they are attempting to develop an optimistic political language to describe it. Certain crypto communities have been much more explicit about this, advancing an argument that at a time of democratic collapse and ecological catastrophe, any sort of material reimagining will be far too late, and that long-term political advantage will belong to people who can articulate political identities in a virtual environment. For the most part, these arguments are much more likely to be found on the Right ; A recent article in UnHerd alludes to this, arguing that this group could be considered as the “Exit Right”, who consider the possibilities of cryptocurrencies, digital tokens and Web3 to also include new (markedly, more authoritarian, and less w̶o̶k̶e̶ democratic) political structures and organisations - which could range from Monarchial, market driven city-states, to authoritarian, quasi-religious municipalities with ‘decentralised’ modes of exchange and transaction. Again, none of this is particularly coherent in practice, but I also don’t think it matters either . What’s more important is that this side of the tech adjacent right recognises Web3’s potential to inform political identities and organising principles. Acknowledging that the boundaries set by existing platforms in the current internet can be utilised to produce political outcomes, this section of the right sees Web3 as a chance to take that further - having more control over forms of digital production, exchange and value to further guarantee advantages and victories.
To me, this is extremely dangerous, and it should be obvious to the Left, who, while leading efforts to organise tech workers and highlighting the cruel, inhuman conditions of tech-based gig economy labour, are less visible in discussions around what digital environments should and could actually be. One counter-argument to this might be that the former are much more pressing and important to building a movement to counter the new wave of crypto evangelists. And a couple of years ago, I probably would have whole heartedly agreed. Today, though, my hesitancy comes from observing rapid development of crypto cultures coupled with a tech infrastructure that is both primed and enthusiastic to incorporate it into the next version of the internet that gives the industry more power and control. To me, any sort of resistance to Web3 requires setting the terms, boundaries and lexicon in which it is understood. In simpler terms, if we actually want a better internet, we first have to articulate what that is.
Miscellaneous / Detritus
To those unfamiliar with my other work, I mostly do podcasts. This week on Ten Thousand Posts, we spoke to the writer Juliet Jacques about Twee British Posting, the “Very British” Twitter account turned media empire, and looking back on it in the wake of Brexit. You can listen to it for free, here:
And, for bonus subscribers (www.patreon.com/10kpostspodcast), listen to our episode on the memeification of Critical Race Theory with the researcher Sam Hoadley-Brill, here:
Also, if you’re based in Britain, you can listen to the BBC Podcast series Human Error, that I co-host with the comedian Olga Koch, here.
Thanks for reading the first edition of The Draft Folder! Let me know if you like this format, or what things you reckon would be good and interesting to cover. And if you liked it, share it with your friends (both online and IRL. Print this and give it to them!