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Mandatory Redistribution Party

Monet Money Monkey

Why are millionaires displaying the worst artwork you’ve ever seen? Why is my worst uncle trying to sell me imaginary internet money? Welcome to the year of the NFT.

NF Ts mandatory redistribution party

25th January 2022. Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton reveal to an audience of millions they both own similar images of a disassociating monkey.

A stuttering, inorganic cheer is eked out by some unseen stagehand, pointing silently but emphatically at an applause sign.

The apes are not nice to look at. They look like default avatars from a games console aimed at private school delinquents. Each ape cost around a quarter of a million dollars.

Welcome to the year of the NFT.

The NFT Revolution is nothing new — it’s the digital evolution of art laundering. The dull world of art auction houses have long been a playground for international mucky coins, transforming famous works of art into unobserved canvasses languishing in the back of shipping containers; artworks reduced to financial trading tokens so millionaires can launder money, inflate asset valuations and scam one another in a space that is opaque and fundamentally subjective. After all, who can say the true value of a painting of a little duck? It's a mystery. Art is ineffable.

After the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016, the EU clamped down on international art sales with new regulations. In 2017, the first mainstream NFT website, Cryptokitties, launched.

The difficulty with translating a financialised art market into an online space is that a digital image is not like a painting. If I have a picture of Mr Bean on my computer and I copy that file, there are now two identical pictures of Mr Bean. What does it mean to own a perfectly replicable image?

That’s where things get a bit complicated. This is where the algebra flashes across the screen over a looping image of my eyes nervously darting around. This is where we shift gracelessly to our B plot: the libertarians are trying to decentralise money.

Jimmy and paris NFT monkeys

Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon with their NFT monkeys.

The desire to decentralise money is, in part, due to a real problem. Money — the metal discs we rely on to buy (amongst other things) one-litre cartons of Guava Rubicon — is at the direct manipulation of governments. And governments are famously prone to excess, corruption and jamming their colossal thumbs onto the scales of the economy.

Unfortunately, the proposed solution is to transform all currency and exchange into a wild west free from oversight, regulation or even transparent standards. This is powered by blockchain technology which combines encryption (making data tamper-proof) with consensus algorithms (getting vast amounts of computers to agree on automatic decisions that don’t require human input). The resulting cryptocurrencies represent a technocratic anarcho-capitalist ideology. The other incentive for the crypto fanatics to push this system is that it massively benefits early adopters — so much so that it is regularly, and correctly, described as a pyramid scheme.

Anything can be written to the blockchain. So what if, instead of saying, 'Claire owns this CharlieBitMyFingerCoin,' it says, 'Claire owns A Picture Of A Lion Smoking A Bong'? Buddy, you’ve just got yourself an NFT.

That’s all it is. That picture of a lion can then be traded for bonko sums in online auction houses because that blockchain ownership receipt provides enough market trust to constitute ownership. The Bong Lion might not be good artwork — it almost certainly won’t be — but if you’re willing to pay £16,000 for it, it’s plausible someone else might pay £17,000. Or you could sit down and listen to people reassure you the value of assets backed against your preferred cryptocurrency is guaranteed to increase perpetually. You will become a millionaire — just as long as you never cash out.

This trust is perpetuated by hierarchy-enforced positivity; everyone benefits when new users come and convert all their savings and creating the new lowest row on the pyramid. The amount of hacks and scams that rumble through NFT news outlets on a weekly basis would ordinarily be enough to make anyone think twice, but crypto-land was designed to be a wild west. Here, everyone is the main character.

This is where the bottom falls out. This is where a gentle breeze sends all your uncle’s monopoly money flying out of the window and into a polluted river; the security of the blockchain is fundamentally overblown. It’s like me telling you that because I keep my tax records in a huge vault, anything written in there must be true.

What would happen, for example, if someone wrote a lie in there? Like when, in 2018, artwork was stolen from a dead artist and pieces she made about her own stage 4 cancer were minted into NFTs without the consent of her family? Or the numerous hacking scandals where hundreds and thousands have been ‘stolen’?

Except they’re not really stolen. With no central authority, ownership is determined by what’s in the blockchain. If that gets altered, even through illegal means, then ownership is transferred. If there was someone who could mediate, then we’re just back where we started; currencies overseen by centralised authorities, back to Big Government, back to George Orwell’s 1984, when apparently we’d rather live in CD Projeckt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, a broken virtual product about a virtual broken world.

The consensus algorithm that powers most crypto blockchains is called 'proof of work'. It’s a lottery whereby processors need to crunch through an endless universe of junk calculations, with the crunch-champions receiving an opportunity to mint a new crypto coin to the database. This process is designed to, amongst other things, keep the influx of new coins stable.

But as demand has increased with crypto hype, the amount of processors whirring at white-hot speeds worldwide is producing the carbon dioxide equivalent of a small country. This is a vision of the future: an army of crypto millennials riding through a scorched earth with the power of internet coins. An endless wall-projection of endangered animals fed into the chattering gob of a low-poly magenta vaporwave skull pointed at by a forty-year-old nephew.

“I own that. That’s mine.”

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