As I’m watching men struggle on the mechanical bull (thinking, shouldn’t they only be using one hand?) at Bitcoin 2022 in Miami last week, a thought from the deep recesses of my mind emerges: What is all this for?
A documentarian who has been patiently listening to another one of my cynical rants echoes my thoughts and asks: “So why are you still here?”
And I have to admit that, well, I haven’t really thought about that in awhile. And then I also have to admit, that the reason why I haven’t been thinking about whether all this aligns with my principles and goals, is probably that, well, the money’s good here.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
Ohhhhh shiiiiit. Am I a grifter?!
“Look at all my shit.”
Let’s get a few things out of the way: This piece really isn’t about chiding Bitcoin Magazine’s conference (like I did last year). All that BS still remains, but it has taken a bit of a backseat. It isn’t about that ugly-ass eunuch bull or the confusion of telling your attendees to never sell while also hurraying innovations meant to make bitcoin the payment method for your morning coffee or evening beer. This isn’t about any of the actual content.
Bitcoin 2022 is only here as the catalyst for my most recent existential crisis.
What is all this for?
Not Bitcoin itself, no, that I understand and it was perfectly memed by Crypto Twitter king and Coin Center Director of Communications Neeraj Agrawal recently:
What I mean to ask is what is all this mechanical bulls and glowing, gassing volcanos and millions of dollars of expo hall and it’s not just this event, but yachts and booze, pick your poison, and IVs for the morning after and tons and tons of TV screens and everyone throwing around terms like “innovation” and “world-changing” and “peace” and just the most exhausting lineup of EDM and where’s the Molly and so many coins and tokens and it’s all a fucking casino.
“This is my fucking dream yall, all this shit.”
For nearly a decade, I’ve watched both friends and enemies and all kinds of good and bad people make so much money in Bitcoin and the derivatives it’s spawned, and they use it to buy more shit, more tokens, more NFTs, more investments – so that they can appreciate in value and allow us to buy more tokens and NFTs and investments.
It used to be precious. I used to think things were sacred — Bitcoin’s mission, then Ethereum’s mission, journalism, ethics even.
But I won’t lie. I took the black pill.
Dipping toes in the trash moat
At a happy hour, someone tells me they won’t step foot at the Bitcoin conference because they don’t want to support populist ideals and Tucker Carlson was specifically mentioned. I hadn’t heard he was walking around the conference, and I too, was nauseated that I would step foot in a place that would welcome him.
But the thing is: Surely most of these Bitcoiners don’t support him, right? So then, what is with all this bloviated, try-hard, ass-kissing bullshit?
I don’t mind us making ridiculous sums of money, but pandering to the fucking trash moat? Come on!
These people don’t care about us. Where’s Chopra now? Barstool Sports David Portnoy didn’t even show up for his mainstage session “Bitcoin is f*** you money.” According to FastCompany, Portnoy spent that afternoon tweeting about the PGA Masters Tournament.
“Bitcoin’s attempts at going mainstream feel like a real two-steps-forward-one-step-back situation,” wrote FastCompany reporter Ryan Broderick.
When I mention that Nayib Bukele, the President of El Salvador, who last year embraced Bitcoin, has shown plenty of movement towards the authoritarian monster side of the political spectrum, I’m told, “Well when he does something wrong, Bitcoiners will drop him so quick.”
I mean… In February 2020, Bukele sent soldiers into the Legislative Assembly to goad politicians into passing a bill. That action started a political crisis that continues to this day. Oh also, you don’t even have to take it from me, Bukele labeled himself “dictator” and “the coolest dictator in the world” on Twitter in September last year.
Just trolling? Maybe. Seems offensive, but this is crypto and nothing is sacred.
A suspect crowd
Crypto has always brought around a suspect crowd, and it’s an open system, so what are you gonna do, but I don’t think it’s going to help to become their fairweather friends. Because who you associate yourself with, does matter.
Take it from Satoshi. When former Bitcoin lead developer Gavin Andresen said he was going to talk to the CIA about Bitcoin in 2011, Satoshi was like, “Uhhh what the fuck bro?!” and then left the ecosystem to never return.
“Seeing populist politicians and quasi-political folks like Jordan Peterson turn up is definitely a bad sign,” says Dr. Paul Dylan Ennis, a long-time bitcoiner and associate professor at University College Dublin.
Again, it’s not just the Bitcoin ecosystem. Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of crypto exchange FTX, tweeted about the keynote speakers for the Crypto Bahamas conference, hosted by FTX and SALT, happening later this month. The lineup includes Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, two of which have received plenty of criticism.
Just because someone can spell crypto, doesn’t mean they really know anything about crypto and, more importantly, are good role models for defining our vision.
“My main concern recently is that all of this is a sign that people don’t know what crypto is supposed to be for anymore,” says Dylan-Ennis.
He thinks we’re at a cultural fork, where either the blurring of crypto into grift continues or there’s a renaissance of philosophies to try and save it.
Don’t point and laugh just yet…
But wait, there’s no reason to point and laugh and cringe at the desperation that Bitcoin seems to be reckoning with today… Because it’s coming for us all!
This might sound to some like an Old Man Yells at Cloud take, but I know most people reading this feels it. This confusion. This hollowness, emptiness. This space devoid of meaning.
It’s pervasive throughout the industry, every chain, every community. It’s rampant in NFTs. Everyone’s just meme-ing and shitposting and brownnose-ing celebrities. Everyone’s traveling all the time so they don’t have to think about it. And everyone’s exhausted.
Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin feels it too. It was obvious in the TIME article. It’s not just the headline — The Man Behind Ethereum Is Worried About Crypto’s Future — but in his comments too. “If we don’t exercise our voice, the only things that get built are the things that are immediately profitable. And those are often far from what’s actually the best for the world,” Buterin told TIME.
Do anything for clout
Is any of this best for the world? I want to still believe so.
I didn’t come here to be all doom and gloom. I came here because I care, as disgustingly mushy as that sounds (or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better). I came here because I hope we can work ourselves out of this.
The hype can’t last forever. It seems like one of the reasons we keep nurturing these silly friendships with grifters is because we’re trying to keep the ride going faster and faster, higher and higher. Up only.
We do anything, spend so much time, on clout.
The Time is Now: Web3 Must Make Good on its Promise of Inclusivity
It’s been a long bull market. Maybe we have enough investors now that we won’t see a serious bear again, like we have in the past. And if that’s the case, we really gotta decide for ourselves, we gotta have some self-control to sit down and build. And build doesn’t mean launching a whole zoo full of pfps by copy pasting code, dammit.
I don’t want us to manufacture toxicity that pushes people away, I don’t want us to create jargon and memes that lock people out, I don’t want this technology to be relegated to a new breed of financial elites that think we’re all smarter and worked harder than everyone else on the planet just because we’re rich.
Glitz and Glory
I want this to still be a revolution… for good… for helping real people in need. I do think crypto does already, but I also think we’re getting carried away by the glitz and glory. We’re quickly becoming out of touch.
“I’m taking bets on how long these guys can stay on,” says a friend at the side of the mechanical bull ring. “I’ll take whatever; Litecoin, Dogecoin, Bitcoin.”
Hmmm… I like gambling and I’ve got crypto money to throw away.
I’m thinking over how much I want to put on what.
He continues calling out his bets, hoping he can sucker someone else into the game… just for fun. This is all for fun, because throwing money around is fun.
And money and fun help calm an existential crisis.