So here I was reading this long piece about Bitcoin and its internal struggles and I was trying to think to myself: what does this remind me of? And as I was getting out of the shower, it struck me that the correct way to see Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is as just another manifestation of internet fandom culture.
Internet fandoms are notable for the fervor with which their participants engage with the content, and also for the relative meaninglessness of the engagement outside the fandom itself. After all, nothing of any substance depends at all on which view about Harry Potter, Star Wars, or My Little Pony triumphs on the message boards. If one engages in this at all, it should be in full realization that this is just entertainment, a harmless bit of time wasted dissecting the cultural ephemera of late capitalism. Likewise, Bitcoin and various derivatives are so decoupled from the normal economic processes that make money into, well, money, that engagement with this enterprise can only be understood as a particularly involved form of cosplay. Instead of dressing up as a fictional character and hanging out at cons with other people doing the same, or conjuring imaginary relationships in fan fiction, the Bitcoin people are role-playing as visionary cyberpunks out to Create The Bold New Future.
Like all libertarian projects, Bitcoin can only exist as a parasitic phenomenon on the body public. It’s a charming conceit that you can pretend to exchange these toy tokens for actual goods and services, but it all falls apart without the infrastructure of a real economy, governed by real circulating money to support it. As Bitcoin is intentionally difficult to acquire because morons think deflation is good, about the best that it can possibly be is a scam in which those who got in on the ground floor when it was just an academic game eventually cash out into real money by selling off their shinies to the latecoming masses.
The degree of fervor with which Bitcoin’s true believers are fighting it out over the direction of their hobby and the larger irrelevance of the whole thing to real life is why fandom is the correct lens for analyzing it. None of this shit matters; the Wall Streeters will come in sooner or later, part some fools from their (real) money, and the rest will be left fighting about whether the original white paper is “canon” or not. A mere decade or so after its initial introduction, the entire “community” has been reduced to various squabbling factions, each fighting over the right to control a resource originally designed to be uncontrollable. The irony levels would be toxic to most normal humans, but fortunately for our brave miners, they are unlikely to know what it is.
Like other fandoms, ultimately, Bitcoin is a testament to the necessity of governance. The idea that you can engineer purely technical solutions to what are fundamentally social problems is a delusion and the cryptocurrency people are deep in its thrall. Every new modification to blockchain carries with it additional problems which will never be solved because there is no authority that could solve them. What will happen instead is what always happens in toxic fandoms, which is that the myriad factions will continue fighting it out amongst themselves, endlessly churning the waters while pretending that they’re accomplishing something of import.