NFTs and the Simulacra of Hell

by Guy Walker

There’s something worse than the burning of books and famous paintings, as the Nazis famously did. Because in these actions, there’s always the unavoidable revulsion of response in its popularity, through whatever libidinal temptation and payoff it promised. Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was banned; Shakespeare’s King Lear was banned; so was Darwin’s Origin of Species; D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Ginsberg’s Howl; Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. The list is endless, and only demonstrates the resilience for knowledge and art and the unshackling of our primordial armory. In the end, the art or the science or the poetry almost always won. What’s worse than banning it or burning it is the indifferent disregard for it. If Guernica were painted today, if Moby Dick were written today, barely anyone would notice. Maybe you’d see the painting on your phone for two seconds, maybe a hundred professors would listen to a third of the book during a long car ride, but other than that any pièce de résistance will shrivel like a discarded foreskin under the gargantuan trauma and schizophrenia of a generation cursed by its own madness, by knowing they lost the world and will never get it back.

We destroyed this world, so we invented a new one. The internet isn’t real, in any real sense of the word—it’s the imaginary pixelated nebulae of an entire species, a mockery-tableau, as if it were our one and only collective magnum opus, a sprawling scroll of illiterate infinity. Whether we know it or not, we are haunted forever by the dungeons of coruscating shadows that we manufactured: the ejaculatory infinity of TikTok dances mashed together with political tantrums on Twitter, and Youtube tutorials on every conceivable topic or videos of Jordan Peterson sobbing as he talks about postmodernism, hammered together with the edifying immortality of amateur pornos and dizzyingly grotesque flip books of 2am dickpics sent through iMessage. Christopher Columbus thought the New World was in the Americas, among the terraqueous loamy horizons where rivers of gold could be made up and never realized. Look at us now—this frontier of digitized horror is beyond what the peasantry of early explorers could ever imagine.

But then again, the internet is real. Bitcoin is real in the sense that its servers demand more energy than entire countries. It exists somewhere, electrical currents surging like mycelial monstrosities gorging through entire mountain ranges of coal. So, the new craze of non-fungible tokens (NFT) are our Lascaux cave paintings of this new world—the first, already-primitive doodles of an era dominated by fraud.

Schopenhauer famously believed the only redemptive mode of the orgiastic nihilism that devours us is through art and the aesthetic experience. Faint quivers of meaning and awe can be felt in these triumphs; and although a symphony or painting is meaningless in every definitively reductive way, it still signals the titillating siren calling us to carry on. Love, for example, is a ridiculous drive made up of complex synapses surging with a supply of vasopressin and oxytocin, but we still crave it even when we know it’s just our programing. The same is for art. It may just be a single frame of mirthful diversion hanging on an eggshell Swiss Coffee wall, but you still need it. Without it, the debilitating void of a blank wall looms over you like a blizzard of realized misery reminding you that you’re not interesting enough to buy something from Ikea to fill that rectangle of space. If you told someone just a few hundred years ago that a blank wall was the equivalent of a traumatizingly banal existence, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. NFTs are the first iteration of what you never knew you needed. 

Because the original image on a screen is the same as the jpeg or a screenshot of it, the owning of whatever the image or gif or text is, is the drama of our new dementia.

We have already bridged the gap that the screen that you’re staring at right now (and the screen at work, and at home, and in bed, staring at your phone while the tv is on and your laptop is idling by, and as you stare down at it in your car as you’re weaving in and out of traffic) is identical to the real world of loamy empiricism. Twitter is just more of a deranged form of the original chatrooms that existed when the world wide web first started. TikTok is the new Jazzercise studio, the new university classroom. NFT galleries are the new Musée du Louvre of today. And that’s not being hyperbolic.

Baudrillard’s treatise on the simulacra of our day-to-day couldn’t be more accurate in its ubiquity and its evilness. In Simulacra and Simulation, he describes the simulacrum as the total unraveling of originality into false premises. There are four stages of this. The first, rendering as a reflection of our reality. The second, a perversion or distortion of this into a fake reality. The third stage, a copy with no original. And the fourth and final stage is pure simulacrum, or, the signs and images that are totally divorced from reality itself—the rendering of something that has no original. A new truth. This is only possible in the postmodernity of Late Capitalism, where the terraqueous landmarks of the reality that has given us life evaporate under the influence of our false renderings. There’s no longer paintings of real places. And there’s no longer money that represents real value somewhere. The value is strictly perceived, and perceived in the future. And the art—if we can call it that anymore—is a formless perversion of nothing anymore. Our renderings of feigned chimera may as well rule over us. We spend more time in these strange artificial empyreans than everywhere else combined.

One of the largest NFT projects is Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), whose description on the homepage of their website is “A limited NFT collection where the token itself doubles as your membership to a swamp club for apes. The club is open! Ape with us.” It’s just a collection of thousands of individual poorly rendered apes dressed in strange clothes. It’s a deck of virtual baseball cards—that’s what all NFTs are in essence. You know the masses of devotees are the same people who ran the Pokémon Go craze—otiose nerds wandering in public and across crowded lanes of traffic like drugged pigeons, telling you through visible cloudbursts of spit, that no, you just don’t get it, it’s revolutionizing both art and finance into one!! They’re unique digital assets! These people are monstrous actually. Every article you read that describes what NFTs are compares real paintings to real NFTs. One compared DeKooning’s Interchange (which sold for $300 million) to Chris Torres’ Nyan Cat NFT ($600,000), which is one of those blockish rudimentary-pixelated renderings of a cat with a poptart for a torso, flying through the night sky, trailing a rainbow behind it. It says that the copy of these two images are the same on your screen, and therefore the originals are the same because they’re originals. They both have “original traceability.” This is incorrect. The DeKooning is clearly real, in that it was made with oil paint, on canvas, and it hangs on the wall. And the original NFT is quite literally the same thing as the copy—an amputation from the real. The simulacra is all-consuming now—a vast cosmic void that has pulled us into its control like the demonic forces in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. This is, indeed, the new flesh.

So let’s get it over with. Let the museums hasten their rot. Their transition from the démodé formality of canvas and paint and the appreciated renderings of their subjects are already giving way to the pixelated grisliness of our modernity. The museums will soon turn to fortresses of rubble, ornate ceilings ruined into spiderweb-cracked plaster, marbled columns now only partially standing like the brittle anorexia of empires. The grandest scale paintings of Thomas Cole and Frederic Church have been ripped from their frames and eaten through by moths and silverfish, and are now used as the simple dish rags and tattered ponchos for the homeless. The once famously grandiose auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s give way to the sanguinary gore of crypto bros lecturing to chicks about the blockchain.

The sun sets with a violent crimson filling the sky. The armies of NFTs have arrived at the doors of all the great artistic venues, and they’re here to revolutionize the financial world through the most childlike finger doodles. Jack Dorsey’s first tweet that he sold as an NFT for over $2.9 million summersaults down the crowding hallways of the British Museum. CryptoPunk #7523, which sold for $11.8 million, scatters its large pixelated blocks across the floor like confetti. The NFT for the World Wide Web source code ($5.43 million) digitizes the air into noxious perfumes, and the world’s last remaining rodents suffocate under the drama’s grotesquerie. Ten thousand Bored Apes enter the bombed out doors of the MET. One is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and ushanka hat, with a slice of pizza dangling from his mouth the way Clint Eastwood holds a cigarette in the old westerns. Another ape is wearing bunny ears, and has X’s over his closed eyelids. Another is clad completely in leopard print, drooling from his mouth, rubbing his genitals all over Da Vinci’s Vergine delle rocce. Strange amoeba-like creatures bounce around like gleeful villains, demanding that they want more money, or rather, they want more digital coins.

We lost the future long ago. The phytoplankton will soon disappear entirely from the ocean, starving every living thing from its oxygen. The forests are burning in the Arctic. What were once the lush dew-drenched canopies of oaks and moss and the deafening chorus of towhees and tanagers and red-capped woodpeckers, are now graveyards of split and splintered trunks and maybe a gaunt coyote sucking on a petrified dead rat. The gurgling riverbeds that swayed with overgrown green reeds are now mass graves of fossils and skeletons. So you wait for the next vacation. You buy a hologram for a wife. You buy some digital image on your phone with a made-up currency while hunched over on the toilet, taking a shit. You are the future, and you have arrived.

The Cult of Neoliberalism

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by Guy Walker

On the television, a blonde, big-titted newscaster with brightly lacquered teeth, smiles. She adjusts herself in her seat, then looks into the camera—no, she looks directly at you—and says with imperious eruditic poise, “James Franco reveals his new tattoo, paying homage, respect, what have you, to Emma Watson.” She dawdles on, her various grunts and farts of the English language make sure that now you know things. You roll your eyes. You’re better than this: you read Camus and roll your own cigarettes. You can say ‘grandiose’ and ‘ubiquitous’ in the same conversation. You gave your Facebook profile a rainbow filter for a week. You don’t like the Koch brothers. You are a liberal and you care about the issues.

A girl you’ve been seeing texts you, and you respond “omg, I was JUST thinking about you,” in a novel unparagoned display of dank haecceity, that your synchronicity is not just fun as others have it, but it’s most likely fate or love. You’re going to see her tonight, and you have a pretty good theory about pheromones, so you only shower today with water, confident your b.o. will work its cavorting physiognomic magic, corralling her into your gallant arms, your libidinal steam rising off of you under the neon lights. You piss, shit, and jerk off all in the same toilet, the pool of scummy toilet paper and turds swirling away into the distant netherworld of sewers, nightmares, and overweight rats. You change the channel to CNN, then CNBC, then Fox, then MSNBC. It is all the same. The same white-fanged automatons hunched over their papers discussing the most recent GOP debate. Anderson Cooper turns to his colleague and asks, “Now Mason Lovebottom, on a scale of one to a hundred, how shitty did Jeb Bush perform last night?” Mason puts on his glasses, mutters a prayer under his breath, then looks up to Anderson and replies, “Well Anderson, what we have here is a queer dialectic of brothers and personalities. It’s a love story. No, maybe a coming of age story, in which two brothers clamor for beauty. George Bush has already won—he is painting dogs in his apron. Jeb will have to suffer under his shadow, wrestling with Pan in abandoned meadows. Trump on the other hand …” Their talking fades away into the sky of billions of others’ exclamations, the whole world digressing and chewing up the evening sky, as a night bird flies by, catching a mosquito in her mouth.

How exactly did the Republican Party contort itself into such a cryptofascist—and sometimes so overtly fascist—ideology? How did the so-called liberal class push so far right, especially when it comes to globalized free trade? There are landmark policy changes, such as the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, large-scale privatization of prisons, the passing of NAFTA and the WTO, the signing of Contract With America (the conservative agenda Newt Gingrich more or less copy-and-pasted from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address, detailing what the Republicans would accomplish if they became the majority party in Congress) that all occurred under President Bill Clinton for example. Critics of President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership call it his Trojan Horse, his corporate preference over sweeping democratic opinion, putting 40% of the world’s economy into the hands of 800 corporations. But these are merely the symptoms of an overall shift towards feudal tyranny. The Republican Party deformed into a circus of idiocy partly because of the rightward feudal shift of the Democratic Party, but more so because of the ideological nature of the beast of politic. Free trade—or the marketplace, more generally—is the idol of worship in all of this. To turn every action into a market transaction. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are generally regarded as the initial leaders in the cult of neoliberalism, in which the marketplace is god, and no thing can obstruct its growth. As an ideology, the marketplace is incontestable. And like all ideologies, its truth and power is a facade.

Baudrillard postured it as, “what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum.” A church or temple or mosque is the architecture not of faith itself, but of the signs that constitute faith. Women in their sundresses and their after-church banter are merely the tragic spectacle of faith, morality only a wad of swollen panties. In neoliberalism, the marketplace has replaced god, into flawless inevitability, into an incontestable declaration of truth. It’s another ideology of temper and balding reason. John Ralston Saul, author of Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, describes neoliberalism as an ideology where there is no memory. A refusal of history, in which fuck-ups are not questioned against the system of belief. When a child of a frantically religious family dies, after prayer and worship, the family doesn’t usually question their own faith. They move on, regretful only that they didn’t pray harder. When the United States has faced three financial collapses in the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, our political and financial leaders do not question the despaired fuckery of their own ideology. Adam Smith has been jerking them off with his invisible hand for over three centuries. And even though every free market economist praises Adam Smith as their cult leader, no one ever actually reads him. Margaret Thatcher carried The Wealth of Nations around in her purse, but she only did in the way a twenty-five-year-old wearing a fedora brings Heidegger to the café, never actually reading it, but using it more as a prop to help create the facade of intellectualism and intrigue. The truth is Adam Smith was distrustful of businessmen, stating that “the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” It’s no surprise then that the average compensation of worker to CEO salaries increased from 30:1 in 1970 to 500:1 in 2000. It’s no surprise that Dick Fuld, then-CEO of Lehman Brothers, was paid $484 million from 2000 to 2008, when the company finally collapsed. It’s no surprise that while dealing with the 2008 collapse, constituents called their representatives one hundred to one against the bailout, and were obviously not represented.

Neoliberalism is radically different from classical liberalism. Classical liberalism (historically, political and economic liberalism were the same, as economics was distinguished as a separate discipline in the middle of the 19th century) is more anti-utopian, more about process than outcome, in response to the over-regulated Communist centrally-planned societies. A moderate distribution of wealth is justified, because of the nature of the market: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Neoliberalism on the other hand, ultimately wants every action of every human to be a market transaction—every fuck, every sunrise, every poem, every wave, dream, heartache, laugh, shit, must feed back to the market. Because the market is a drunken god, never to be questioned.

In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal—stimulating the economy through free trade, while the wealth was constrained and distributed through programs and regulations. From WWII on, the wealth of the top one percent stayed more or less stagnant, until the 1970’s, when growth collapsed and inflation skyrocketed, diminishing the wealth of the top one percent from 35% in 1965 to 20% in 1975. It was because of this dramatic plunge that the superwealthy attacked for the privatization of everything, to turn everything into a commodity—prisons, healthcare, education, war, dick.

The tendency towards ideology is inherent in American politics. There isn’t a single Congresswoman or Congressman today who is an admitted atheist or even agnostic. Belief in the illusory and wretched is a prerequisite for those who seek power. In Hobbes’ Leviathan, the beast is merely an artificial beast of power and strength, the representation of god. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is perhaps more a metaphor for the huge than its reality. Jacques Derrida, in The Beast and the Sovereign, describes the power of the facade, perhaps the abstract reality of the simulacrum: “In all cases it has to do with know how to cause fear, knowing how to terrorize by making known. And this terror, on both sides of the front, is undeniably effective, real, concrete, even if this concrete effectively overflows the presence of the present toward a past or future of the trauma, which is never saturated with presence.” The sovereign is able to transform itself into the form of the animal, while at the same time commanding over all the animals. Neoliberalism is god only insofar as it is believed to be god. The sun still bleeds at night. The animal is always singing. The cult of neoliberalism is powerful only by the death of men.

The Dawn of Fetishism

by Guy Walker

This man wants to rule the world.

After the initial depression-induced hilarity fades from watching a Republican Governor who is running for President do push-ups in a miasmic display of retarded cryptofascism, and you are left wondering what obscenity did you just witness, wondering if you should call your children to come inside and lock all the doors, if you should drink a handle of whiskey immediately, if you should punch a wall, or even worse, post it on your Facebook page  .  .  .  after all that fades, you are still left wondering, How did we degrade the body politic into such an androgynous ass of failure? How did this man (if what he is can be called a man) corral the masses to elect him as their guardian and governor?

I wonder sometimes if Jefferson and Paine feared the inevitable collapse of Reason, if they knew the Dawn of Fetishism was near the horizon. My elders tell me it’s always been bad, we’ve always been dissatisfied and antagonistic towards the State, that my despondent routine is nothing original  .  .  .  even Plato believed all existing governments were cheap corruptions of virtue, and beyond redemption. In Greek, The Republic can also be translated as The Ideal State  .  .  .  Plato was a philosopher of idealism, of unachievable Arcadias, unmolested landscapes for Pan. Given this pretext, humans are flaccid emerald-nutted slaveholders, dressed as clowns, twirling in their tents. Bobby Jindal doesn’t have a chance at winning the presidency. But his cruel attempt at trying to be fun and relatable isn’t the exception. Ted Cruz did impressions of characters from The Simpsons; he also grilled bacon wrapped around the barrel of a machine gun as he fired it, saying that this is how Texans grill bacon. Donald Trump hailed his elephant-killing sons as great Americans. Jeb Bush sung “Slow Jam The News” with Jimmy Fallon, as The Roots played the harmonies and Jimmy Fallon did his predictable almost-laughing side-act, in a sort of new-age nostalgia for dystopia.

The cartoonish perversion of politicians’ attempts at being fun and relatable through social media is the caliginous simulacrum of retardation. They treat us like children from the 1990’s, sucking on popsicles in front of Nickelodeon. Are we supposed to laugh? Are we supposed to turn to our girlfriends, and discuss how his relatability now outshines the entire GOP’s misogynistic platform? But then again, Jindal and others are speaking directly to us; they are articulating a very sullen modernity of performance and fetishism, projected through Buzzfeed videos and emojis. Guy Debord calls it “the principle of commodity fetishism” that dominates our society. The tangible real world of women, men, poverty, heartache, literature, police killings, Sibelius, death, incest, enormous fields of wild flowers, they are all exchanged for this awful fraudulent world of viral videos and listicles. Videos such as this impose themselves onto our reality, like a cave of shadows and shackles. But they are self-imposed. More Huxlian than Orwellian, a kind of self-imposed fetish with stupification and apathy. Every time I open Facebook I regret it. Another video of a raccoon eating grapes at the dinner table, or a cockatoo screaming into a cup. The world disappears into a sempiternal feed of viral commodity, of tufted caricatures flexing their Botox brawn. The man smiling like a pedophile and then doing push-ups against Buzzfeed employees is no longer the man who hates gays, hates women, hates Mexicans, defunds public education, requires schools to teach intelligent design, refuses government funds to expand Medicaid, votes to extend the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (rejecting provisions under the Geneva Convention), among various other fascist attempts of governing. He is no longer that man. He is an intangible abstract détournement who has nudged the United States a little further towards the edge, into the Abyss of Fuck. Jindal isn’t even interesting enough to talk about. He, like Trump, is so ugly that it has caused him to hate the world. But it is interesting to examine how far we have come: Howard Dean was ruined when he screamed a little too flamboyantly back in 2004, whereas today, Donald Trump can call Megyn Kelly “bleeding from her eyes, bleeding from her wherever,” and somehow get away with it. This is the man who owns Miss Universe. When he called Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig and a disgusting animal, the attendees of the debate roared with enthusiasm. They loved it. In the secondary GOP debate, with the lower-polling candidates, one of the questions was to describe Hillary Clinton in two words—a question that can only serve baseless name-calling. It’s a performance of cruel perversions, like the rape of Reason under a melancholy dawn.

The principle of commodity fetishism is the force on the other side. It allows insane men and women to come to power, to become fascists, to star in viral videos as they do it. There is nothing real anymore. Modernity itself seems fraudulent. Even sex is becoming a sordid wet humping, a pornographic imitation of what we saw on PornHub. Fake people with fake profiles ensue. A girl who I apparently slept with made a fake profile on Facebook and contacted at least several women I’ve slept with recently and told them to no longer fuck me. My love life totally sucks now, and I totally want her back, whoever she is. But this is the sort of unprovocative simulation of lust and ownership that Baudrillard wrote about, in that symbols and signs are now the content of the world, and they act and react merely as a simulation of reality. There are no actual bodies doing anything, no mad mad dancing in the middle of the night  .  .  .  just a peasantry of emojis and asses on Instagram.

Bernie Sanders is right, in that it’s the billionaire class that needs reform, it’s the bankers who were never prosecuted, it’s the blatant assault of wealth and power in this country that has ruptured stability in America. And the growing momentum of support for Sanders is coming from people’s awareness of this. There is more awareness that Hillary Clinton is a fiscal conservative, and always has been, that she has accepted bribes from the fossil fuel industry and terror regimes around the world. Even Eric Holder has now returned to a job at the corporate law firm Covington & Burling. And the everlasting War on Terror follows the One Percent Doctrine that Cheney established, in which he described if there were even a one percent likelihood of Pakistani scientists helping al-Qaeda develop a nuclear weapon, US intelligence has to treat it as a certainty, and respond accordingly. This thinking has spread to all forms of conquest and threat. If a cop fears there is a one percent chance a black man has a gun, he sees fit—necessary even—to shoot him dead. In contrast, it’s been reported incessantly that 97 percent of scientists agree with anthropogenic climate change. That number is in fact false. Of the 69,406 authors named in the peer-reviewed scientific articles regarding climate change, a total of four of those authors rejected any human influence. Less than one one-hundredth of one percent. It’s an assault on reason, yes, but the force from the other side, the force that makes any of this possible, is that of commodity fetishism. Bernie Sanders can’t say people are terrible for their obsession with the trite and shallow. And he can’t advocate for any barrier against this freedom. Because we are free to worship the trite, and no freedom of this sort should be taken away. But I know of no reasonable explanation why hard work is so hard, why it’s easier to gaze at butts on my phone or at the strip club than it is to write a symphony. But so it is.

No one said it better than Louis-Ferdinand Celine:

“The worst part is wondering how you’ll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you’ll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows. And maybe it’s treacherous old age coming on, threatening the worst. Not much music left inside us for life to dance to. Our youth has gone to the ends of the earth to die in the silence of the truth. And where, I ask you, can a man escape to, when he hasn’t enough madness left inside him? The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death. You have to choose: death or lies. I’ve never been able to kill myself.”