Laurie Penny (previously) got sent on the 2018 CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise -- a four-day cruise filled with "starry-eyed techno-utopians and sketchy-ass crypto-grifters" who solved the fact that there almost no women signed up using the "free market": they paid teen sex workers from Ukraine to ship out with them.
Penny is a superb writer, a master of empathizing with terrible people (that is, understanding where they're coming from) without sympathizing with them (forgiving them for their terribleness) -- it's a rare skill, the sort of thing that makes her essay collection Bitch Doctrine so essential.
She set sail on the cruise at an odd moment in the cryptocurrency bubble: with crypto valuations way, way down, cryptocurrency is getting harder and harder to sell as anything but a ponzi scheme. The "investors" on the trip are often very newly wealthy, and they are furiously engaged in attempts to convince one another to "invest" in new schemes that will shift the wealth that cryptos sucked out of the masses into fewer and fewer hands.
The grifters and true believers that Penny met onboard (sometimes the same people are both!) split their time from using Telegram to procure the services of sex workers and shouting at each other about block sizes. Penny gets right into the psyches and the compartmentalization that powers the whole scene.
On most ideological bandwagons, there is usually a distinction between grifters and true believers. The grifters are in it for the fame and the money and will say any old bollocks to get either. The true believers accept the money and fame as an inevitable proof of their genius. And then there is a rare subset of incredibly dangerous sociopaths soaked in Dark Enlightenment nightmare libertarianism for whom grifting is true belief. For many of them, including not a few on this boat, screwing over other people for your own gain is not just a side effect of economic philosophy, or proof of concept. It is a sacred calling. To them, the presence of thieves and Ponzi scheme dealers means the new free market is thriving.
Roger Ver is a true believer. “My ideal future,” he tells me, about 10 seconds after I turn on the recorder, “is that each individual has 100 percent complete control over their own money and they don’t have to get permission from any politician or banker or anybody at all to send or receive that money with whoever they want anywhere in the world. I’m trying to build the tools to enable that for everybody all over the planet.”
He’s not a libertarian; he prefers the term “voluntaryist.” “The idea is that all human interaction should be on a voluntary basis or not at all. For example, for this interview you asked me to have an interview, you didn’t tell me that I have to. Yet so many people don’t seem to apply the same moral standards to governments, when governments force people to do things against their will.”
It takes about half of my allotted 15 minutes to clock Ver as a hard introvert. This would be more obvious if it weren’t for his college-sports-star good looks, with those scary too-perfect American teeth and the perma-tan of a person who will always be considered an expat, never an immigrant. He is legally a resident of St. Kitts, presumably for tax purposes. But he’s not fantastic at eye contact, and his body language shifts as soon as I ask about the favorite science-fiction books he mentioned in passing on stage.
I think this is the first time all week he’s met someone else who has read Robert Heinlein. It’s the first time all week I’ve met someone who is actually interested in talking about economic philosophy. Or feminism.
Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche [Laurie Penny/Breaker]