To be better at being anti-crypto

optical glass triangular prism Photo by Dobromir Hristov on

Molly White has a difficult read, one that I’m forced to agree with in spite of my vehemently anti-cryptocurrency position. Three representative paragraphs from her post:

I … think that [cryptocurrency-based financial solutions] are enormously attractive to people who see them as a tangible option in a world where these problems are not being solved—where we are being failed by our political establishments in so, so many ways. I don’t think they are a feasible solution, and in fact I think they will worsen many of the problems they ostensibly aim to solve, but they are certainly being sold as the solution, and a solution that people desperately need.

And I really can’t fault someone for deciding to hitch their wagon to crypto and web3 because they are hopeful that those salesmen might be on to something. I can disagree with them, I can explain my point of view, I can think that their engagement is in some small way enabling something I fundamentally disagree with and believe to be harmful—but I can’t believe that buying some crypto, collecting an NFT, or joining a DAO automatically make someone a bad person.

If you feel the urge to “cyberbully” someone in crypto, direct it at the powerful players behind crypto projects that are actively taking advantage of the vulnerable. Or, just as reasonably, direct it at the powerful tech executives, venture capitalists, elected representatives, and lobbyists who have contributed to the untenable situation we find ourselves in. Or the policymakers and governmental agencies who have failed to uphold their duty in regulating crypto and enforcing existing regulation that would protect people from rampant fraud. But not the artist who hoped to earn a few bucks selling their digital art in what is otherwise an extremely difficult field, or the person who hoped that maybe a lucky crypto buy could help them dig out of crushing debt just a tiny bit faster.

This is a sensible position – and one that’s hard to remember in the heat of an argument when the other side defends a choice to invest in or deepen one’s position on cryptocurrencies. But to this picture of two sides I’d add two more (in fact, it may well be a continuous spectrum of positions):

  1. Those who back cryptocurrencies knowing the harm it causes, to the environment as much as social justice, while also not exploring other financial options well enough.
  2. Those who invest in cryptocurrencies in ignorance of its nature, technological sophistry and ontological vacuity, and later claim they “didn’t know” but also don’t/can’t exist because they have sunk costs.

These people are certainly less in the wrong than those who are outright evil – the people deserving of our vitriol, in White’s estimation. And even between these two ‘new’ groups, I think those who are lazy are wronger than those who are ignorant. I was prompted to think of these two gradations to White’s spectrum because they describe some of my friends. In fact, I think I have at least one friend belonging to each of the four groups before us:

  • “Those without another solution available to problem at hand”,
  • “Those who trip into it even though they’re educated well-enough to not”,
  • “Those reaching for cryptocurrencies without sufficiently exploring other options”, and
  • “Those aware of the bad outcomes but doing it anyway to become richer”.

I should of course clarify that these two additional groups exist principally because of privilege. That is, they become visible when you look at White’s first group through the prism of privileges that accrue to different social groups in India, particularly among the upper class, upper caste lot: they have, without exception, passively but automatically foregone ignorance or another similar excuse for their actions. And it’s because of their privileges, and not particularly because its wanton exercise has been directed at cryptocurrencies on this occasion, that they don’t deserve to be spared our scorn.