Popular philosopher Slavoj Zizek has occasionally spoken up about the emancipatory potential of cryptography in the age of digital control but he is not easily convinced by Bitcoin and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). In a recent RT essay, Zizek argued that it’s naive to believe that digital assets bring freedom.
Zizek placed futuristic technology, including artificial intelligence and brain-machine interface, under Marxist-Hegelian scrutiny before in books such as ‘Hegel in a Wired Brain (2020)’ and ‘Like a Thief in Broad Daylight (2018).’
His 2020 ‘Pandemic!’ also rallies cypherpunks like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden as a key line of defense against state opacity and high-tech manipulation.
Zizek’s latest op-ed, however, is nowhere near the crypto enthusiasm of his Wikileaks allies who have previously used bitcoin to evade financial censorship.
“The best indication of the changes affecting our financial system is the rise of two new interrelated phenomena — Cryptocurrency and NFTs. Both emerged from a libertarian idea to bypass state apparatuses and establish direct communication between concerned parties,” he explains.
He proceeds to give the classic Marxist explanation of ideology that “for the system to function, we have to remain formally free and perceive ourselves as free.” Zizek says that this condition is enabled by bitcoin and NFTs on behalf of the digital control and manipulation that sustains libertarian capitalism.
Continuing his Marxist reproach to digital assets, Zizek argues that NFTs and crypto have no value in themselves but rather represent self-referential exchange value and capitalist speculation.
He also criticizes the mining of bitcoin as a form of exploitative hierarchy and as an ecological burden on the planet.
‘NFTs have no use-value’
Marx famously critiqued commodification as the passing of goods from their use-value to their exchange value. Zizek noted a similarity between the blockchain and how stocks are priced:
“However, one difference is that — at least, in principle — the value of stocks is not purely self-referential, it refers to investments that are expected to generate profit from ‘real’ production.”
What is intriguing in NFTs is the idea of taking a digital asset that anyone can copy and claiming ownership of it. An NFT has almost no use-value (maybe it brings some social prestige to owners), and what sustains it is its potential future exchange-value. It is a copy with a price, an item of purely symbolic ownership that can bring profit.
“The key Hegelian insight here – just as in the case of bitcoin – is that, although bitcoin and NFTs appear as an anomaly, as a pathological deviation of the ‘normal’ functioning of money and commodities, the two effectively actualize a potentiality that is already contained in the very notion of commodity and money,” he argued.
Crypto insider and co-founder of Switzerland-based Castello Coin, Sven Wenzel, responded to Zizek, in an interview with BeInCrypto:
“Zizek’s comments on the environmental impact of Proof-of-Work fining are fair, but many other important technologies are also energy-intensive. Plus, renewable energy sources for mining are becoming increasingly utilized across the industry — just look at El Salvador’s move to mine Bitcoin from its volcanoes,” he said.
Wenzel argued that traditional central bank-backed money can equally be said to lack inherent value whereas bitcoin derives its value from community values.
“As well as being a store of value, bitcoin is a social movement; its value is derived from the community’s belief in the power of a hard, censorship-resistant form of Internet money,” he said.
“NFTs can also be thought of as a cryptocurrency, one that’s been particularly powerful for creators looking to monetize their medium. Thanks to NFTs, digital artists, musicians, and other artists have been able to ascribe value to their work like never before. As we saw, they exploded in popularity last year. The community’s belief in the technology is proof enough that they have value,” added Wenzel.
Crypto lovers seek to own capitalism, not end it
While Zizek’s Marxist intervention hints at the failure of cryptocurrency as a radical alternative to money, it does not offer a different solution to the problems of financial censorship and state authority addressed by Bitcoin and its derivatives.
Zizek’s dismissal of crypto highlights cracks on the digital left and the cultural left. After a century of Marxist sentiment made possible by the very capitalist infrastructure it claims to fight, new romantics and revolutionaries of the left, including crypto enthusiasts and pop supporters of NFTs, perhaps positing that the point is not to end capitalism but to own it.
Adam Jeffcoat, CEO and founder of StudioNX, an NFT-focused project, told BeInCrypto that Zizek’s argument that “crypto is merely a vehicle for speculation is not entirely untrue.”
“As this asset class is still in its nascent stages, early adopters are placing their bets on where they believe the technology could go – often in hopes of striking it rich,” he said, adding:
More than just a speculative asset class, crypto combines philosophy and politics. For its most ardent proponents, it’s a vote against the traditional finance system that’s locked so many out for millenia. Even today, in many countries, the general population is unable to access a bank account. But bitcoin and other assets are completely permissionless – anyone with an Internet connection can participate.
The blockchain has its flaws as a radical alternative to the traditional idea of money and property but its democratic infrastructure is a fair starting point for conscientious progress.
All the information contained on our website is published in good faith and for general information purposes only. Any action the reader takes upon the information found on our website is strictly at their own risk.
Wait, what? Former Bitcoin bull Raoul Pal only owns one Bitcoin?
Former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager and cryptocurrency bull Raoul Pal claimed in a tweet that he now only owns a single Bitcoin.
As the claim was made in the heat of a Twitter fight with self-proclaimed “Bitcoin Strategist” Greg Foss it’s not entirely clear whether it’s an exaggeration or an accurate statement about his holdings. Pal is the founder and CEO of Real Vision and Global Macro while Foss is an executive director at Validus Power Corp.
The revelation of his apparently small holding certainly caused uproar and angst among Bitcoin true believers, who’ve looked at Pal askance ever since he started calling Ethereum “the greatest trade” and predicted that ETH and altcoins will eventually outperform BTC.
Fascinating to see that since inception ETH has outperformed BTC by 250%. It only fell below its initial price in BTC for the first 5 months of its existence in 2015.
Let that put rest to the idea that all other tokens trend towards zero in BTC terms. pic.twitter.com/ulCpsjG8up
— Raoul Pal (@RaoulGMI) April 7, 2021
Pal first purchased BTC in Nov 2013. He sold for a 10X profit in the so-called “fork-wars” of 2017 (missing out on an even bigger gain later that year) before adding to his collection in 2019 through 2020. In May 2021, he confirmed that he owned more ETH than BTC. At time of writing, Bitcoin (BTC) is worth $40,925.
The barney was instigated by Foss, who tweeted “Raoul is soft” followed by another intellectual tweet, “Raoul sucks and blows” shortly after. After some back and forth between Pal and the Bitcoin maxi, Pal posted that people like Foss and the Bitcoin community’s exclusionary ideology are why he only holds one Bitcoin.
And that is your issue. I don’t share your philosophy, so you attack me? Really? This is why I hold only one bitcoin, the community has lost sight of inclusion and you sir, are helping reduce the network effects by excluding people who dont share your view from the network.
— Raoul Pal (@RaoulGMI) January 20, 2022
This upset the Bitcoiner community, many who claimed he had let emotion cloud logic. “His feelings are hurting his future,” commented one user Emanuel in a reply to Bitcoin Meme Hub tweet. “I knew when he started to sip Vitalik’s coolaid he was a goner,” added another user, Jalan Foster.
The founder of Synaptic Ventures Marc van der Chijs complained that the fact Pal only owns one BTC based on the makeup of the community and not on the potential return “goes totally against the gospel he preaches on RealVision.”
However, some defended Pal, pointing to his impressive track record and reminding followers that he is in fact a trader, not a holder. Crypto analyst and founder of Crypto My Way “Coach T” wrote that he appreciates Pal’s “diverse views and intelligent thinking.”
Foss vs. Pal: a Twitter feud
It appears that the argument was in response to a disagreement on Pal’s stance on inflation and bonds as a trading vehicle. Foss explained that he didn’t support Pal promoting his trading strategy to others who don’t entirely understand how it works.
Pal disagreed, explaining that his views on bonds are “a trade, not a philosophy.” Despite this, in a following comment on the thread, Pal claimed that he doesn’t own any bonds.
Ok, lets do math. If Im right and bonds can rally 20% in 12 months (just use TLT) that is faster than the balance sheet expansion, thus its a net win to your purchasing power. If you hold bonds to maturity you lose. Issue?
— Raoul Pal (@RaoulGMI) January 20, 2022
Three hours after posting the original tweet attacking Pal, the argument eventually culminated in Foss tweeting an apology saying that he “regrets his actions,” adding that he “made a rookie error” and that he has “bigger battles to fight.”
Just weeks ago, Pal said that he believes there is a “reasonable chance” that the crypto market capitalization will increase 100 times by the end of this decade. Hoping he’s right about that is perhaps something on which we can all agree.
Cointelegraph reached out to Raoul Pal via Real Vision and will update the story with any response.
Multichain hacker returns 322 ETH, keeps hefty finders fee
Owing to a security vulnerability in six tokens, Multichain users lost more than $3M over the week. A white hat hacker returned 322 ETH, but in excess of 527 ETH is still exploited.
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In a dramatic twist, one of this week’s Multichain hackers has returned 322 ETH ($974,000 at the time of writing) to the cross-chain router protocol and one of the affected users.
However the hacker kept 62 ETH ($187,000) as a “bug bounty”, and a total of 528 ETH (worth $1.6M) remains outstanding after the exploits.
Earlier this week, news emerged of a security vulnerability with Multichain relating to the tokens WETH, PERI, OMT, WBNB, MATIC, and AVAX, and $1.43 million was stolen. Multichain announced on Jan. 17 the critical vulnerability had been “reported and fixed.”
However, publicity about the vulnerability reportedly encouraged a number of different attackers to swoop in, and more than $3 million in funds were stolen. The critical vulnerability in the six tokens still exists, but Multichain has drained around $44.5m of funds from multiple chain bridges to protect them.
Yeah, bridge contract need pause function. https://t.co/lPjLsE5EtR
— Zhaojun (@zhaojun_sh) January 20, 2022
One of the hackers, calling himself a “white hat” has been in communication with both Multichain and a user who lost $960,000 in the past day or so, to negotiate returning 80% of the money in return for a hefty finders fee.
According to a Jan. 20 tweet from ZenGo wallet co-founder Tal Be’ery, the hacker claimed they hadbeen “saving the rest” of the Multichain users who were being targeted by bots, in an act of defensive hacking.
The funds were returned across four transactions. On Jan. 20 the hacker returned 269 ETH ($813,000) in two transactions directly to the user he stole it from and kept a bug bounty of 50 ETH ($150,000).
The relieved user responded to the hacker:
“Well received, thank you for your honesty.”
Overnight, the hacker also returned 50 ETH ($150,000) across two transactions to the official Multichain address, and kept a bug bounty of 12 ETH ($36,000).
Multichain (formerly Anyswap) aims to be the “ultimate router for Web3.” The platform supports 30 chains at the moment, including Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Avalanche (AVAX), Litecoin (LTC), Terra (LUNA), and Fantom (FTM).
In a tweet on Jan. 20, the Co-Founder and CEO of Multichain Zhaojun conceded that Multichain bridge contracts need a pause function to deal with similar incidents in future..
Cointelegraph has contacted the project for comment.
Australia’s plan to create a crypto competitive edge in 12 steps
In October 2021, the Senate Committee for Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre released its much-awaited recommendations for how cryptocurrency should be regulated. The 168-page final report boils down to 12 recommendations aimed at striking the right balance between creating legitimacy without stifling innovation.
This is a landmark report that demonstrates Australia’s clear efforts to put itself at the forefront of crypto investment globally. The chair of the committee, Senator Andrew Bragg, believes that “Australia can be a leader in digital assets” and is confident that it can particularly “be competitive with Singapore, the UK and the US.”
Four key recommendations
First, the introduction of a range of new crypto-specific licenses and regulations. For too long, regulators around the world have been trying to put square pegs (cryptocurrency) into round holes (traditional financial regulation). This approach underestimates the fundamental differences that exist as well as the potential that digital assets have to transform the world. This report acknowledges crypto’s potential and calls for a range of bespoke cryptocurrency licenses in Australia. It recommends a specific market licensing regime for digital exchanges as well as a bespoke custody regime for digital assets. Details will still need to be fleshed out but if we get these frameworks right, then this will create the legitimacy that the sector needs to take off into the mainstream.
Second, the introduction of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) entity type into Australian corporate law. This recommendation is a very big deal, as it shows that the Australian government is open to decentralized finance (DeFi) as well as crypto innovation. Wyoming is the only region I have heard of that has something like this in place, so this could put Australia on the front foot. If approved, DAOs could provide a unique utility that may bring the Australian economy a decade ahead into a decentralized future. However, this will also be the hardest thing for the Committee to get approved, as changes to the Corporations Act are infamously rare in Australia. If anyone can do it, it’s Senator Bragg though.
Third, improved tax rules for crypto-to-crypto transactions. Recent Finder research shows that over 17% of Australians own cryptocurrency — the third-highest rate of adoption in the world. However, this growing group has had to grapple with tax rules that are confusing at best. Historically, crypto-to-crypto transfers have been considered a capital gain by the Australian Tax Office. The new recommendation calls for tax only when there has been “a clearly definable capital gain or loss.” Again, the devil will be in the detail on this one but active Australian crypto users could be the real winners.
Fourth, new tax incentives to encourage green crypto mining. The Committee recommends a 10% company tax discount for crypto mining businesses that use renewable energy. This looks like a smart move to support two high-growth Australian industries: renewable energy and cryptocurrency. This will be especially important as the Committee tries to get these recommendations signed off against a backdrop of COP26 and rising concerns about climate change.
Three tough issues
- Timelines for turning recommendations into law. Right now, these are all just recommendations, and are worth as much as the political will that exists to enact them. As with other countries, politics in Australia moves slowly and this will be no different. Senator Andrew Bragg is bullish that he can get all the recommendations passed in 12 months and I back him to get it done. His cause could also be supported by a growing view that crypto innovation could be a vote-winner with young Australians in a looming federal election, as nearly a third of Generation Z already own cryptocurrency.
- Implications for crypto businesses during the pre-reform period. If it takes a year to introduce new laws then there are still questions about what crypto businesses can do in the meantime. Many submissions called for a “safe harbor” against regulation until rules had been finalized but this was not explicitly recommended by the Committee. However, the direction of travel has been set and there is clear support for crypto innovation and an acknowledgment that new rules and licenses are needed. I would be surprised if we saw much in the way of regulatory action until then.
- Specifics for the licensing and tax proposals. Many of these recommendations were light on detail and it looks like the Australian Treasury will now lead on these matters. The industry will be very interested to know what the requirements for being a custodian or digital exchange will be, particularly when it comes to capital requirements. If there’s too much regulatory burden, then businesses will move offshore. Likewise, consumers will need more clarity on what a “clearly definable capital gain or loss” is for tax purposes. In many ways, the work starts now.
Learnings for governments around the world
The crypto industry is ready to talk policy. It’s fair to say that this Select Committee was inundated with engagement from crypto businesses, academics, peak bodies and regulators. More than 100 written submissions contributed and there were three full days of public hearings. It’s not often that an industry is asking for more regulation but that is what is happening here. The crypto industry around the world wants clarity and is ready to have a conversation about policy.
Broad reviews are more effective than siloed approaches. One key reason that this consultation had so much engagement was that it looked at the digital asset industry holistically rather than from one angle only. A problem we’re seeing around the world is regulators interested in looking at crypto assets from their specific regulatory view, but broad innovation shouldn’t be assessed through such a narrow lens. This consultation managed to look at the industry holistically while still getting into the specific issues. I welcome more reviews like it around the world.
Bespoke digital asset policy approaches will be needed. Digital assets have hit critical velocity and the revolution can no longer be ignored. Piecemeal changes to legacy financial services policy will not work. We need policymakers around the world to work together to create bespoke policies that are fit-for-purpose. Coinbase captures this well in pillar one of its Digital Asset Policy Proposal (DAPP). The DAPP calls for “a new framework for how we regulate digital assets” that “will ensure that innovation can occur in ways that are not hampered by the difficulty of transitioning from our legacy market structure.” These recommendations in Australia are an attempt at doing exactly that which many can learn from.
What is clear is that the world is changing. This Senate Committee in Australia should be applauded for taking a holistic approach and recommending bespoke policy instruments. It’s time for policymakers around the world to follow suit and take a broad look at their approach to digital assets.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Fred Schebesta is an Australian-born entrepreneur and early-stage investor, founder of global fintech Finder, now worth over half a billion dollars. Fred recently launched blockchain investment fund Hive Empire Capital and co-founded Balthazar, a DAO platform for NFT gaming. With 22 years of experience in building businesses, Fred just released a Number One Amazon Best Selling book, Go Live! 10 Principles to Launch a Global Empire.
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