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Thumbs' Update: Pillars of Support

Building for good.

Hey friends 👋

I've always been a leftist. My single mom was a union member, I leveraged student loans and other socialist benefits throughout my life to get to where I am today, and I believe strongly that public goods are good. More on that later.

One thing that has changed throughout the years is my belief that the state (which many conflate incorrectly with leftism) is capable of reflecting the will of the people or providing for their needs. I came to the realization that centralization, in any form, is undoubtedly a corrupting force.

The irony of this newfound belief is that for years I told anarchist friends that there was no way their ideals could materialize, that anarchy instinctively gives way to chaos and that in chaos violence thrives. I felt that if we removed the centralized power, there could be no countervailing force to protect this idyllic anarchy from those who would enforce a new feudalism. I feared a Mad Max, anarchocapitalist future, where the greedy reign supreme. At times, I still do.

However, one thing has happened since I got into crypto. I discovered the beauty of decentralization; how when given the tools, individuals can protect themselves from the overreaching state or corporate entity, and how, with this protection in place, they could choose what they truly wanted to be or to do. In a surprising number of cases they chose to do the unexpected...

Sharing is Caring

There's a lot of misconceptions about anarchism. In the June 2023 issue of this newsletter, titled "All Together Now," I addressed my own misunderstandings:

If you’re anything like me, you grew up associating the word anarchy with chaosdisorder, and no-good-very-bad things. As it turns out, this is part of a careful indoctrination process enforced by Western thought leadership.

The real history of anarchism is perhaps one of the most interesting subjects that one can study. It’s a history of worker-led movements to take back control from their exploiters. In fact, there are a few things that feel as socialist nor as crypto, as anarchism, or as Chomsky prefers to define it, libertarian socialism.

At the time I had just finished a short but succinct book by Noam Chomsky called On Anarchism. It features excerpts from his essays, books, and speeches and references to a number of iconic moments in anarchist history. I definitely recommend it.

Recently I picked up another text on this subject: an english version of a french book whose translated title is Anarchy Explained to My Father. In it, Francis Dupuis–Déri, a professor of political science, specializing in anarchy debates with his father the merits of anarchism, citing historical movements, academic writings, and rationalist arguments.

It was through this book that I learned about Pyotr ("Peter") Kropotkin, the geographer and anarchist philosopher who debated Marx and other prominent socialists and communists. Like Mikhail Bakunin who I wrote about in “All Together Now,”

Kropotkin was a proponent of a decentralized communist society free from central government and based on voluntary associations of self-governing communities and worker-run enterprises.

Wikipedia

Elements of anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, and market socialism can be found throughout crypto, even while many of its loudest proponents decry these ideologies. But debating the merits of socialism versus capitalism is not something I intend to do in this particular issue of the newsletter. Rather I've brought up Kropotkin because of a specific book that he wrote.

Kropotkin's work in the sciences led him to examine the writings of Darwin and his contemporaries through a socialist lens. In one of his most well-known books, Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution (available for free here, or to purchase from AK Press here), he points to the flaws in what would later be come to be known as social darwinism. He notes that in The Descent of Man, Darwin himself backtracked on the idea of survival of the fittest from his earlier work On the Origin of Species—on which social darwinists base their entire worldview.

He argued that Darwin could point to far more examples of pluralism in nature than of individualism. Species that survive often do so by providing forms of mutual aid to the neediest amongst them.

Kropotkin was using science to explain the virtues of socialist and communist principals. And while I won't claim his assertions are without their own flaws, one thing feels true to me: helping others feels natural, moral, and right; whatever any of those words truly means.

I suspect that this is why, when blockchain technology entered the fray, it wasn't long before people came up with ways to use it for collective, not just personal gain; for support, not just transactionality.

Let's look at some examples of this.

Onchain Support Systems

Regardless of your feelings about the term, we are in the midst of the transition to web3. This is in part because so much of the web can now interact with blockchain, and in part because so much of the web (outside of twitter, google, and facebook's platforms) can interoperate. You see I would argue that data portability is as much a feature of “web3” as blockchain. And it all began with Bandcamp.

Well perhaps, not Bandcamp, but it was an idea, forged in the successes of that platform, fuelled by the dream of direct artist-to-fan relationships that inspired a movement, no exodus, from gate-kept marketplaces who stole the lion's share and could make or break an artist's career, to so-called “patronage platforms.” The most notable of these platforms is Patreon (although Substack comes close).

The idea is simple: you like what I do? Support me, so that I can continue to do so. This works well for established creators who can bring an audience with them, releasing themselves from the shackles of big platforms' terms of service and monopoly rents. But, interestingly, these platforms provide something that the algorithmic feeds and ad-powered models can't: a sustainable business model for niche creators.

I've written a lot about my belief in the patronage model, including why I believe web3 is a better home for it, and why blockchain is the perfect tool for creatives. I consolidated the majority of these opinions into my blog post ”The Next Chapter”.

In that post I talk about an idea I've espoused on social media dozens of times: that NFTs are nothing more than a proof-of-payment, which makes them the perfect technology for patronage. Think about it: each time I write these articles, if you like what you read, you can mint them on Mirror or Paragraph, support my work financially, and get an onchain collectible that essentially says to everyone who sees it that you are a fan, a believer, a patron.

Every time you encounter an NFT of a song, an artwork, a piece of writing, etc you can decide, all hype aside, whether or not you want to support the person who minted that NFT. If the answer is yes, and you can afford to, you know what to do. If the answer is no, then you'll have to either decide if you want to speculate on its future value, or quell your fomo some other way.

I would suggest logging off.

Crypto Philanthropy

Blockchain cryptocurrencies can be sent near instantly across borders to anyone with a wallet. That means they are, by far, the best means of providing support of the most socially acceptable variety: charitable giving.

We've seen the power of this unleashed since the war in Ukraine began with organizations like The Giving Block coming to the forefront to provide cryptocurrency donation services for traditional non-profits. In fact, if you want to support Palestinians in their time of need—aside from calling on your politicians to demand a permanent ceasefire—you can use The Giving Block to donate to the UNRWA (link) or Doctors Without Borders (link) to name just a couple of organizations.

Because of the way cryptocurrency works, allowing for peer-to-peer payments, it's also perfect for direct giving in circumstances where you know the address of the person or group you want to support. Just be aware of the consequences of publicly surveilled blockchains and absurdly capricious regulators. It’s in your best interest to be aware of rules around international money transfers in your jurisdiction before sending crypto. And obviously you want to know who you're sending to and not support anyone doing anything illegal or against your own principals and morals.

Funding Collectively

As Kropotkin suggested, support is an inherent social behaviour, so its no wonder that with the advent of blockchain technology that online social communities sprung up and created tools for onchain mutual aid. There are a number of such tools but perhaps the most well known are Gitcoin, clr.fund, and Giveth.

The key distinction between onchain mutual aid and onchain venture capital (as we see with ICOs) is the expectation of profit. Givers on platforms like Gitcoin are helping to reward and finance underfunded projects, usually in the open-source world. They provide funding, without the expectation of any return, for what are called public goods.

In economics, a public good (also referred to as a social good or collective good) is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Users cannot be barred from accessing or using such goods for failing to pay for them. Also, use by one person neither prevents access by other people, nor does it reduce availability to others.

Wikipedia

Essentially public goods are those which are freely available and not limited in supply like air. Digitally speaking, we think of open-source software as a public good but interestingly, since the advent of funding mechanisms like Gitcoin, the discussion about “what is a public good” has evolved.

People wonder if a public good can have a fee attached, if it can be profitable, if it has to be broadly useful or if niche goods, when available for everyone, qualify. This is even more contentious thanks to Optimism, or to be more specific, the Optimism Collective.

The third round of Optimism's Retroactive Public Goods Funding (RPGF3) experiment is currently in the voting phase and debates about what qualifies as a public good are getting heated. In many ways, the debate is about what should be funded at all. Is it those things that match the strictest definition of a public good? Do voters consider financial need?

It's a complex subject and I won't claim to have the answers. But I will say that I believe there are some projects which are definitely worth considering for votes. These projects offer something of value, for free, like, for example, educational content, and are not funded by some larger, more extractive entity.

Of course, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek. You see I am a nominee for RPGF3 in the Education category. Several months ago, I looked for good content about Optimism's modular OP Stack and what it would mean for the future of Optimism as well as the rest of the Ethereum ecosystem. I couldn't find a single article that did a good job of explaining this complex system. So what did I do? I spent a full month, perusing every doc, gathering every blog post, watching every video from developer conferences, and listening to every podcast episode, and I wrote what I believe is still the most informative and easy to read explainer on the OP Stack to date.

In fact, that article, all about PoolTogether v5, became by most collected article by far earning me over $1000, which I combined with basically every dollar of my savings to purchase a refurbished Macbook Air M2.

So while the campaign was not exactly successful and I am still in a financially tough position, I am no longer reliant on a work laptop and thus have a certain amount of security to continue this project into the foreseeable future. So thank you to everyone who minted that article 💚

I've already been using my new laptop to make content, including my first Youtube video in a year! Check it out

Don't forget to like and subscribe! And if you want to collect this video as an NFT, check it out on tape.xyz.

If you like what you've read and seen and you want to contribute to help me replenish my savings and fund other costs of this project like website domain renewal, software subscriptions, gas costs etc, consider minting my articles on Mirror.

Alternatively you can mint my patronage NFT on Optimism, Base, Zora, or Ethereum. I worked together with a skilled animator named Joshua Franco, who worked on Robot Chicken and several other shows, to create a charming animation out of real clay which serves as the visual for this onchain token of support.

In the future, this token could unlock special perks like airdrops and token-gated extras, but for now it offers one unique perk...

Q&A

This month's question comes from the incredibly talented elle, whose writing was actually one of my recommendations in last month's newsletter. elle contributed to the laptop crowdfunding, and I'm beyond grateful for the generosity, not to mention the excellent question. So let's get into it!

elle asks:

do u think ai is positive or negative for the (human) internet as we know it? will it be more the evolution of the ability to share/discover information or the advancement of undiscernable bot activity?

This is such a perfect question, especially with all that's been happening around OpenAI. I think we're all worried that AI is going to be in the hands of people who really don't care about the quality of its inputs or outputs or the safety of its use cases.

I could answer your question sarcastically, by simply saying "yes," but I won't do that. At least not in so few words 😉

You know, I always say about web3 that “it's just the internet.” It's an evolution of what came before; a stepping stone towards whatever comes next. I think in a lot of ways this era of AI can be viewed in the same way.

Some people might be inclined to call this era “AI 1.0” but I think that's giving too much credit to Sam Altman and not enough credit to Alan Turing. Even if we ignore the 20th century advancements that paved the way for modern AI, that modernity should still be considered nearly 20 years old.

The techniques that GPT and Dall-E use are the closely related to what we've seen in so many other places, without ever calling it AI. YouTube's caption generation, Facebook's facial recognition and tagging, Snapchats "augmented reality" filters all make use of deep-learning, large language models, and computer vision. The core strength of OpenAI's software, however, is the interface.

It looks like a chat window, complete with the illusion that the AI is typing its response. This makes it feel human. Sometimes disturbingly so. But it's still just a really good transformer large language model. The uncanny humanness of it, combined with tons of marketing, and market mania has led to a huge influx of capital, and so the pace of advancement has accelerated and will likely continue to accelerate for years to come.

So back to your question: do I think AI is good or bad for the internet? Yes.

It will undeniably be both. In ways that create their own unique externalities. The way we solve each of the negative outcomes will determine whether we view it in a more positive or negative light, but regardless of our views, there will undoubtedly be as much good as there is bad.

And as far as indiscernible bot activity: that's another resounding yes. But, you know, look at spam email. It's horrible. But we accept that it exists and we have found ways to circumvent it. We'll just need to add some tools to help us filter the spam and teach ourselves not to engage with scams.

The thing is, the internet was always a dangerous place, so the important thing is to arm ourselves with knowledge, skepticism, patience, and kindness. In other words: humanity. So long as we have these tools, we should be just fine poking around the AI-hivemind that is the future internet.

I hope that answered your question. If not, I'm sure GPT-4 can do a better job 😜

I feel like I've been talking forever though, so let's wrap this up with some...

Recommendations

In October, venture capitalist Marc Andreesen wrote a so-called Techno-Optimist's Manifesto which was not so much about techno-optimism as it was an incessantly pro-capitalist scrawl. I read that long and repetitive piece of crap twice start to finish and it left me less bullish technology than I have ever been.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone in that sentiment and there have been countless critiques of Andreesen's "manifesto." There have also been so many memes and parodies; my favourite is this redaction poem by Ben Grosser.

A few days ago, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin shared his take on techno-optimism. While I don't agree with all of it, it's far more coherent and well-reasoned than its inspiration. I read it three times, and I would say that if you read one piece on techno-optimism, make it this one

Next up, I wanted to share this little blog post from Cory Doctorow, the prolific writer and author of How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, Chokepoint Capitalism, and The Internet Con.

The post, called "The (open) web is good, actually" ponders where we lost the soul of the internet, it's open roots. Here's a quote from the article that I loved.

The great irony of the platformization of the internet is that platforms are intermediaries, and the original promise of the internet that got so many of us excited about it was disintermediation – getting rid of the middlemen that act as gatekeepers between community members, creators and audiences, buyers and sellers, etc.

Check it out here

And finally, something completely different. Ever since Elon took over twitter, I've found social networks tire me out, mentally. I think it's good, like a sign that I've broken the addiction or the spell that held me captive on the feed. I find myself wanting to do other things. I take a phone-free hour every day now. I go for more walks, read more, and recently started playing video games again.

I own a Nintendo Switch and I've been enjoying the recent remake of Mario RPG, a game that I absolutely loved to play on the Super Nintendo when I was young. As I'm over halfway done, I decided to take a break and I've been playing a newly discovered (but actually old) gem of a game: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap for Gameboy Advance.

I actually posted on Farcaster about it because I was so surprised that I'd never played this game before. I can't put it down, I'm enjoying it so much. So my recommendation, besides that you should go out and get yourself an emulator and a rom of this game (sorry not sorry, Nintendo), is that you should check out this wonderfully nerdy episode of the Vergecast about video game preservation and emulation

And with that, happy holidays, and until the new year,

Thumbs Up


If you enjoyed this blog post, consider collecting a copy. It's like tipping and receiving a unique digital collectible as a receipt.

To become a patron and unlock special perks, like Q&A in the newsletter, you can mint my non-fungible patronage NFT on OptimismZoraBase, or Ethereum

And for the cypherpunks, I accept anonymous tips with Zcash to my shielded address:

zs17a2mhl6xeu56cqqeqync9kddyg8gggcy6253l5evjdyw8l8j8f60eg40exr4wk27hnvfgkkgnju

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