Barbara Kruger: THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. 2022. Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

Barbara Kruger: THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. 2022. Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

Counterculture is not Subculture

According to a recent article from a digital publication for marketing, Gen Z expects brands to “champion social causes.”1 This is an abandonment, if not a reversal, of the originary expectation that “the whole reason subcultures emerge – groups of people, typically teens, actively separate themselves (to varying degrees) from the wider mass because their values are diametrically opposed to those of the mainstream.”2 In contrast, Gen Z “strives to represent brands that feel authentic to their identities,” thus, the values of the brands—mainstream or not—are the values of their consumers.3 Rather than subcultures subverting mainstream values, in the mid-2010s, brands position themselves against each other, with Gen Z staking out their values by choosing among the brands on offer.

For example, Douglas Holt notes that “Old Spice branding piggybacked on hipster sophistication with a parody of Axe and masculine clichés.” Holt ties each deodorant brand to a corresponding subculture: Axe is the “lad crowd,” Dove is the “body-positive crowd,” while Old Spice, obviously, is the “hipster crowd.”4 Yet this logic only makes sense when in a store choosing between deodorants or when planning a campaign for an advertising agency. Insofar as “hipster values” are opposed to the mainstream (if only ironically), those values don’t lead straight to Old Spice. Think of it this way: what is the smell of a hipster? It is fully circular: the smell was constituted by Old Spice. It can only be described as Old Spice. This is what Jean Baudrillard means by the hyperreal:

Useless to ask which is the first term, there is none, it is a circular process—that of simulation, that of the hyperreal. The hyperreality of communication and of meaning. More real than the real, that is how the real is abolished.5

Rather than judging a brand based on the product that is on sale, Gen Z places its hopes—at least according to Suss, the writer of the marketing piece—on the paradoxical idea that subculture as counterculture can be turned mainstream. Comparing the two, W. David Marx notes that “In sociology, subculture has become more associated with the working-class negation of mainstream praxis, while countercultures are middle-class groups focused on negation of mainstream beliefs.”6

In the food industry, counterculture—or “countercuisine”—got its start back in 1968 with The Whole Earth Catalog, which sought a “rural-oriented ecoculture”7 based on “organic agriculture” that “threatened the existing food distribution system.”8 But by the 1980s, the labels of “natural” and “organic” foods did in fact turn mainstream, as Warren Belasco details in Appetite for Change:

Those familiar with the way General Mills, H.J. Heinz, and Kellogg’s profited from Upton Sinclair’s whirlwind will not be surprised that some of the biggest “organic” producers nowadays are yes, General Mills, H.J. Heinz, and Kellogg’s—along with Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Tyson, Cargill, and ConAgra. While the food industry consolidates, organic force fragments into piecemeal pragmatism.9

Yet the middle-class roots of the countercuisine stunted its revolutionary potential. Only the middle class could afford to pay more for food that was also more perishable. So in the end, the countercuisine only “convinced middle- and upper-class people that their dietary choices prove that they are smarter and more self-controlled and thus deserve whatever social rewards they get from eating the way they do.”10 This individualized, consumerist aspect of eating is taken to another level in the work of Michael Pollan, who offers “a way for readers to assess the authenticity of their own eating pleasures. Pleasure depends on knowing the ‘true cost’ of a meal.”11 Rather than judging a dish primarily based on the vulgar materiality of what is perceived by the palate, “ethical consumerism” demands that we grasp the entire supply chain that led to what is on the plate.

But rather than restoring the “the face-to-face intimacy lost in mass-scale supermarkets and mass society in general.”12 Consumers who had come to rely on brands for an assurance of safety and quality also expected brands to align with their countercultural beliefs. The counterculture no longer does the hard work of creating countercultural values, following through with countercultural activism, etc. Now, the consumer simply aligns the brands they purchase with the social causes they believe in, and the brands will do the rest of the work. No longer does one have to get their hands dirty in a rural commune to practice a radical politics.

But we are not quite there yet, according to Toby Shorin’s essay “Life After Lifestyle”:

People are looking for more meaningful narratives and communities than brands can offer, and companies want to supply this “meaning demand”—but are structurally disincentivized to do so. Today, “brand values” and “activations” that are the closest brands get to living up to their subcultural affiliation.13

Although Shorin probably does not intend for every brand to be associated with a “subculture”—Coke is perhaps the paradigmatic mainstream cultural brand—the path forward for brands is littered with the impossibility of meeting this ideal of “meaningful narratives.” Subcultures, especially those with working-class origins, also have difficulty reaching this positive ideal, since they primarily consist of an inchoate political resistance, a reaction to the dominant narrative without the more coherent beliefs (and capital) of counterculture. This is how the original subcultures of punk, metal, goth, etc. of the 1980s have become captured by “capitalist realism,” “offering products that give the feelings of political resistance without threatening the status quo,”14 becoming what Shorin calls “consumerized subcultures.”15

Yet brands, nevertheless, seem to draw on this feeling of “political resistance” for “meaningful narratives.” Slavoj Žižek provides one example:

Here is an exemplary case of “cultural capitalism”: Starbucks’ ad campaign “It’s not just what you’re buying. It’s what you’re buying into.” After celebrating the quality of the coffee itself, the ad goes on: “But, when you buy Starbucks, whether you realise it or not, you’re buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee. You’re buying into a coffee ethic. Through our Starbucks Shared Planet programme, we purchase more Fair Trade coffee than any company in the world, ensuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work. And, we invest in and improve coffee-growing practices and communities around the globe. It’s good coffee karma. … Oh, and a little bit of the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee helps furnish the place with comfy chairs, good music, and the right atmosphere to dream, work and chat in. We all need places like that these days. When you choose Starbucks, you are buying a cup of coffee from a company that cares. No wonder it tastes so good.”16

Thus Pollan’s “true cost” becomes what Žižek calls “‘cultural’ surplus”: “the price is higher than elsewhere since what you are really buying is the ‘coffee ethic’ that includes care for the environment, social responsibility towards the producers, plus a place where you yourself can participate in communal life.” This is precisely how Shorin misinterprets the commodity when he states that “the hipster’s moral aversion to commodities and the processes of cultural capitalism is observable in their selective consumption practices.”17 In fact, commodity fetishism is when “individuals themselves, in their daily lives, relate to themselves, as well as to the objects they encounter, as to contingent embodiments of abstract universal notions.”18 Their “moral aversion” becomes a “coffee ethic,” a dedication to an “abstract universal notion” of “a fair price for their hard work.”

From a Bourdieusian perspective, this moral aversion is not driven by values beyond the reach of capitalism, precisely because it is possible to purchase it. S. Margot Finn says “When the moral valence of a cultural sign shifts with the class status of the person, that’s probably a good sign that the normative judgment associated with the sign has more to do with social hierarchies than with any real moral logic.”19 This is why the sign of ethical consumerism is to pay more for a dish (what Pollan calls the “true cost”). As Richard Kestenbaum says, “identifying consumers who share a brand’s true, fundamental beliefs, enhance[s] profitability.”20 Although “There is no doubt that good information, initiative, and good personal choices are necessary for building a better food system, but given the system’s structures, these alone are woefully insufficient for ending hunger, poverty, and environmental destruction.”21

But it is important to be careful here: is a positive political resistance alone equivalent to “subcultural affiliation?” No, a subculture is more than the individual practice of politics. Subculture is a resistance to the dominant culture, or “the conventions of a community, which guide individuals into regular behaviors and provide communal meanings and values.”22 Shorin infers that this “guide” is a form of control, noting that “Since [Matthew] Arnold, politicians and government leaders have always understood culture as their tool for producing a type of society, with types of people.”23 Thus, in this formulation, subculture is a resistance to control from the state, an alternative form of “meaning making.”

In turn, Žižek asks of Arnold’s “type of society”:

Is not the rise of modern nations (as opposed to premodern “organic” communities) co-dependent with the rise of capitalism, that is, of commodity production? Is not “nation” the undead spectre of a Community which starts to haunt us after the market economy has killed the “living” organic communities? Nation is an “imagined community” not only in the sense that its material base is the mass media, not the direct mutual acquaintance of its members; it is “imagined” also in a more radical sense of an “imaginary supplement” to the social reality of disintegration and irresolvable antagonisms. Nation thus functioned from the very beginning as a fetish: the point is not to believe in the National Cause, but to use this belief as a prop which enables us to engage in our egotistic pursuits (“we are really doing it for our nation”).24

The transnational appeal (but perhaps not the reality) of subculture is its radical resistance to “culture” as such. Subculture as praxis is not the petite bourgeoisie jostling to maintain their class status through the negation of “mainstream beliefs.” As Pascale Joassart-Marcelli writes, “Once something becomes mainstream, mass-produced, and accessible to most, it also becomes vulgar and is no longer appealing to cultural elites. Thus ‘good food’ must be constantly rediscovered or reinvented in order to confer status.”25 Subculture’s radical potential was its negative political resistance, a sense that nothing could change and that the system was broken. The late Mark Fisher reminisces on his blog:

When youth culture was interesting it was because of alienation, not pleasure-seeking: the sense both that the young were not adequate to the world and also that the world was not adequate to them. I am nothing and should be everything. In their different, and often awkward ways, Metal, Goth and even, God help us, Emo, are still animated and enervated by that sense of abandonment and maladjustment, still prepared to be deformed and made ridiculous by their drives and disaffections.26

Subculture is thus the “nation” stripped of our egotistic pursuits, not only leading to the “pleasure principle,” but how that libido is stunted by capitalism. Is this not what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari mean by the subject-group?

A subject-group, on the contrary, is a group whose libidinal investments are themselves revolutionary; it causes desire to penetrate into the social field, and subordinates the socius or the form of power to desiring-production; productive of desire and a desire that produces, the subject-group invents always mortal formations that exorcise the effusion in it of a death instinct; it opposes real coefficients of transversality to the symbolic determinations of subjugation, coefficients without a hierarchy or a group superego.27

It is here that we recover the real that was abolished by the hyperreal. For Fisher, it is hipster that “never entirely rids itself of anxiety, of course, and worries over status, over measuring up, roil away beneath the conspicuously apathetic surface, but never in a way that threatens to undermine a centred sense of belonging and entitlement.”28

When Shorin writes that “Bourdieu would have it that class and specialized cultural knowledge are tightly coupled, but even this link has been broken by the subcultural explosion,”29 it is necessary to define the difference between punk as subculture and hipster as subculture. It is the hipster who needs Old Spice, who needs to locate their identity in symbolic space in relation to the dominant culture, who has no smell except through branding. It is the punk who resists “specialized cultural knowledge.” As Vivek Chibber notes,

Hence, perhaps ironically, the class that actively consents to capitalism is not the working class but the class that rules over it. The problem with cultural theory is not that it highlights the importance of consent but that it seeks it out in the wrong class.30

It is the hipster who ties class and specialized cultural knowledge together through a false consciousness. This ties back to W. David Marx’s assertion that the difference between subculture and counterculture is a matter of class. The “negation of mainstream praxis” is what “causes desire to penetrate into the social field.” Punk subculture, from its origins in the working class, is what breaks the cyclic relationship between culture and counterculture. In fact, Bourdieu recognizes the subversive nature of those who “sacrifice most to material foods, and to the heaviest, grossest and most fattening of them, bread, potatoes, fats, …”31:

The art of eating and drinking remains one of the few areas in which the working classes explicitly challenge the legitimate art of living. In the face of the new ethic of sobriety for the sake of slimness, which is most recognized at the highest levels of the social hierarchy, peasants and especially industrial workers maintain an ethic of convivial indulgence.32

Belasco concurs, noting that “Thus at restaurants, while white-collar consumers ordered ascetic salads, blue-collar customers seeking immediate gratification filled up with foods that, however unhealthy, tasted good.”33 The countercultural middle class, suppressing the vulgar tastiness of sugar, fat, and meat, not only seeks to challenge the dominant narrative, but also seeks to distinguish itself from the lower class.

Thus, when properly defined, subculture is more than resistance in the countercultural sense. The “meaning” of subculture does not come from “moral injunctions like leaving no trace, practices that involve taking care of the earth like shitting far away from fresh water,”34 but to be brought together by a desire to shit in fresh water. In turn, Naomi Klein’s No Logo, just like the countercuisine that championed “organic” food before it, is primarily a work of counterculture, because it lacks a fundamental critique of the dominant ideology. Instead of saying that “maybe the most helpful thing brands could do for all of us is shut the fuck up,”35 it only demands that brands change their behavior, in the Gen Z sense. Fisher clarifies:

Klein and her ilk appear to favour a return to ‘old style socialism’ (more State intervention, higher taxation etc), whereas the anarchos seem, as ever, to oscillate between blanket nihilistic negativism and unrealistic utopianism. Both seem to make the error of treating capitalism as if it were some sort of conspiracy of the elite. In other words, they do what [Karl] Marx warned against, and make a moral, rather than a systemic, critique of capitalism.36

This connects perfectly with Baudrillard, who writes:

One could say along with Bourdieu: “The essence of every relation of force is to dissimulate itself as such and to acquire all its force only because it dissimulates itself as such,” understood as follows: capital, immoral and without scruples, can only function behind a moral superstructure, and whoever revives this public morality (through indignation, denunciation, etc.) works spontaneously for the order of capital.37

Thus, the battle between culture and counterculture is a battle of “morals” that does not disturb the neoliberal order. In fact, this conceptualization of morality is totally subjective, leaving it up to the individual to choose the “right” brands and the market to serve as mediator of various moralities. This is what Wendy Brown means by how “liberalism represents itself as cultureless: namely, that liberalism presumes to master culture by privatizing and individualizing it, just as it privatizes and individualizes religion.”38 With this privatization of culture, Shorin can place religions and cultures on the same ideological plane:

And there is a second common story, one about the decline of religion and the disappearance of civic culture in the US. While America used to be known for its rich culture of voluntary associations, Robert Putnam showed in his book Bowling Alone that these aspects of American life have deteriorated. Beyond our workplaces, what else is stepping in to provide a sense of community and belonging?39

As Chibber reminds us, it is the capitalists and the petit bourgeoisie who are the most invested in the dominant ideology of culturelessness. Today, they have taken up the mantle of countercultural cosmopolitanism. Isabelle de Solier writes:

True cosmopolitans, according to [Ulf] Hannerz, seek out difference, such as culinary difference. This cosmopolitan taste distinguishes foodies from another type of enthusiast for this material object, the “food chauvinist,” whose passion for food is confined to his or her own ethnic cuisine.40

This omnivorousness “promotes fluidity across the spectrum of high and lowbrow tastes,”41 which seems to represent the destruction of a “high and low culture” and a “single class hierarchy.”42 But there is still a significant class element to this behavior, at least in the world of eating:

Demonstrating one’s omnivorousness might seem like a way of resisting traditional cultural hierarchies, but it also indicates a breadth of cultural experience that is now associated with the elite in part because it required exceptional resources. Lacking an appreciation for diverse cultural forms and showing a parochial attachment exclusively to the lowbrow, the mainstream, and the mass produced is now the mark of the lower class.43

The working-class culture that provided a sense of belonging is being actively destroyed not only by an economic hollowing out, but also a bourgeois snobbishness for their parochial way of life. What has become more important to the omnivorous bourgeoisie is the freedom to choose between cultures that have been “privatized and individualized.” According to Sylvia Ferraro, this “transnational consumerism has led to ethnic foods being ‘disembedded’ from their original contexts and reembedded in new contexts where the identities of individuals and the peculiarities of food can be renegotiated and adapted.”44

These “organic communities” continue to haunt the “cottagecore,” “witch girls,” and other internet subcultures, which exist primarily as “disembedded” aesthetics. It takes a certain cosmopolitan frame to produce “completely invented subcultures.”45 Žižek extends this contrast between a person in a parochial culture and an individual in a cosmopolitan culture:

The difference is the same as the one between a Chinese farmer eating Chinese food because his village has been doing it from time immemorial and a citizen of a Western megalopolis deciding to go and have dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. The lesson of all this is that a choice is always a metachoice, a choice of the modality of the choice itself; it is only the woman who does not choose to wear a veil who effectively chooses a choice. This is why, in our secular societies of choice, people who maintain a substantial religious belonging are in a subordinate position. Even if they are allowed to maintain their belief, this belief is tolerated as their idiosyncratic personal choice or opinion; the moment they present it publicly as what it is for them (a matter of substantial belonging), they are accused of fundamentalism. This is why the display of religious symbols and prayer in public schools are such sensitive topics; their advocates open themselves to the reproach of blurring the line of separation between private and public, of staining the neutral frame of the public space.46

This neutral, public frame is the frame of “multiculturalism.” Crucially, it provides the battleground for culture and counterculture that permits someone living under a liberal order to choose between multiple cultural options. It is in this world where the “explosion of internet subcultural life forms” happened.47 The “Chinese farmer” cannot grasp these subcultures since he has no knowledge of the options nor the ability to choose. Although the number of internet subcultures seems limitless, maintaining “a substantial religious upbringing” is beyond the pale. Or as Amanda Mull writes of the Dove’s attempts to woo the body-positivity crowd: “Contemporary body positivity makes it incumbent on people with nonconforming bodies to change their own self-perception without requiring anyone with any power to question what created the phenomenon in the first place.”48

Thus, internet subcultures can only produce “types of people,” types that are chosen through “idiosyncratic personal choice” yet with no tolerance for proselytizing. The feeling of alienation associated with subculture is still there, but without the drives and political resistance it was once associated with. Instead, commodity fetishism is fully embraced through starter pack memes, in which people relate to brands as “contingent embodiments of abstract universal notions.” The real has been abolished.

The Counterculturalization of Politics

What happened to political resistance? Žižek, using Brown’s phrase, suggests that it is the “culturalization of politics”:

Political differences, differences conditioned by political inequality, economic exploitation, and so on, are naturalized and neutralized into cultural differences, different ways of life, which are something given, something that cannot be overcome, but must be merely tolerated. … The cause of this culturalization is the retreat and failure of direct political solutions (the welfare state, socialist projects, and so on).49

Through this, the counterculture makes perfect sense as a depoliticized political movement. For the countercuisine, the “properly political” project that threatens the status quo is to reform the food system so that every dish is natural, organic, and ethically produced. Instead, General Mills, H.J. Heinz, and Kellogg’s, as well as other food conglomerates, sell organic and non-organic foods, just under different brands. Žižek defines this lack of the properly political as parapolitics, where “One accepts the political conflict but reformulates it into a competition, within the representational space, between acknowledged parties/agents for the (temporary) occupation of the place of executive power.”50

Culture, used in this way, is essentialized as a communal culture—to use W. David Marx’s term— “an unconscious storehouse of behaviors, rules, and norms that guide individual lives.”51 This corresponds to the “types of people” living a particular lifestyle. Yet the unconscious, parochial aspect of this communal culture obscures the other, more salient explanations for why people do what they do. As Brown writes:

The culturalization of politics analytically vanquishes political economy, states, history, and international and transnational relations. It eliminates colonialism, capital, caste or class stratification, and external political domination from accounts of political conflict or instability. In their stead, “culture” is summoned to explain the motives and aspirations leading to certain conflicts (living by the sword, religious fundamentalism, cultures of violence) as well as the techniques and weapons deployed (suicide bombing, decapitation).52

This is how Shorin can put QAnon, a political movement linked to an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, on the same diagram as Crossfit, a group fitness program whose raison d’être is a more intensive workout. This “horseshoe theory of brands,” however crude, essentializes “the practices, the stories, the people and places and rituals” as mere facets of hyperreality.53 QAnon is a threat to the liberal order precisely because its “communal meanings and values”—the conspiracy theory—is not simply a “way of life” for its members. The insurrection breaches the limits of “postpolitical liberal tolerance,” erupting into what Žižek calls

Schmittean ultrapolitics—the radicalization of politics into open warfare of us-against-them discernible in different fundamentalisms—is the form in which the foreclosed political returns in the post political universe of pluralist negotiation and consensual regulation.54

This is what makes QAnon a subculture par excellence, providing one of the “meaningful narratives and communities” that is “enervated by that sense of abandonment and maladjustment,” manifesting in an act of political revolution rather than mere cultural capitalism. Unsurprisingly, brands are “structurally disincentivized” to supply this sort of “meaning demand,” so they are left producing a form of culture that reduces difference to cultural difference, as some idiosyncratic personal choice.

The “cultural production service economy” functions through brands marketing lifestyles precisely because the real (functionality of the product) matters much less than the symbolic gestures of the counterculture, while the libidinal investments of subcultures lack the capacity for a “systemic critique of capitalism.” In the roots of the countercuisine, studies from the 1970s “found that younger, college-educated shoppers were much more likely to read labels than were those of low ‘socioeconomic status.’”55

In contrast, immigrants and low-income people have a “reasonable and contextualized understanding of healthy food that centers on home practices,” with no need to avail themselves of symbolic labels that only make sense through “public health campaigns.”56 Although countercultural foodies may give the impression that they care about “flavor, smell, and appearance,” “these judgements are influenced and sometimes short-circuited by other factors such as the mode of production and distribution through which additional values are placed on properties such as fresh, local, seasonal, traditional, small-scale, and artisanal.”57 This marks a “shift from the primary stratum of meaning—the sensible properties of food—to the secondary level of meaning—the stylistic properties, which is characteristic of the taste of reflection.”58 Is it not the latter register that the “culture” produced by the cultural production service economy operates on?

In fact, branding is performed by capitalism itself, as the philosopher Yoshiyuki Sato writes:

Hence, it is the capitalist system that represses the multiple economic subject and reduces it to the topical unitary subject. At the same time, oedipalization forms the ‘subjected group’ by making subjects identify with the same ‘group’ (such as race, nation, religion) integrated under a transcendent signifier.59

Is a brand not yet another transcendent signifier? If “lifestyle” is only legible through “identification” or branding oneself, where does it leave unconscious communal culture? Where does it leave the sensual properties of food? Where does it leave the political resistance of subculture? What, exactly, is the “culture” that is being produced by the cultural production service economy?

Apparently, it is “a sense of consistent space and ritual that inculcate deep loyalty and community” or online events that “create a feeling of rare community, connection, and spiritual aliveness.”60 This leaves individuals on the endless path of “purpose-finding” rather than the end goal of purpose defining. It is also a misreading of the origins of communal culture (now we understand why W. David Marx calls it communal). Only by breaking from our unconscious conventions towards a conscious cosmopolitanism do we end up thinking that “owning products does constitute one form of cultural participation”61 because “my desire is experienced as contingent because my desire is conceived as an abstract formal capacity.”62

In fact, it is precisely the lack of personal meaning—the absence of commodity fetishism—that constitutes the very parochial communities that are dismissed from the multiculturalist’s “privileged empty point of universality.”63 Those unconscious behaviors that make up communal culture are also known as habits:

Habits are thus the very stuff our identities are made of; in them, we enact and thus define what we effectively are as social beings, often in contrast with our perception of what we are. In their very transparency, habits are the medium of social violence.64

The hipster’s habits are precisely what they are not self-aware of. Although it’s the case that “people are always seeing and being seen,”65 habits are what we don’t see in ourselves, but what other people see in us. This can be viewed through the lens of a story in Chapter 20, Section 8 of the Zhuangzi,66 as interpreted by Hans-Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio:

Concretely, the story about Zhuang Zhou’s hunt is not about eating and being eaten; no eating takes place. As far as the narrative goes, it is about seeing and being seen, and about seeing others see. It is about second-order observation. No arrow is shot, no cicada is caught; instead, we watch others watching others watching others without realizing that they, too, are being watched. We are invited to conclude that while we see what others see and what they cannot see, we are being observed in the same manner. By seeing the blind spot of others, we understand that blind spots are part and parcel of any observation, including the observation of blind spots. The story critically points to the blind spots of others only to invite a self-critical reflection on one’s own inescapable blind spot.67

The “blind spot” of habit introduces a radical gap between self-identification and categorization and breaks with the ideal of authenticity. Rather than “extrapolating all sorts of conclusions from an imaginary ‘truth’ at your ‘center,’”68 we are forced to confront the categorizations that are imposed on us by the “cultural production service economy,” which is “about sorting consumer demographics into niche categories.”69 Is this not what Gen Z is doing by trying to be more “inscrutable online”? But this Gen Z attempt at resistance is futile, as it “also makes the idea of ‘personal branding’ sound voluntaristic, as if it were something one chooses rather than something that also happens to someone.”70 As Emma Stamm writes:

In shielding us from the feelings associated with being manipulated, self-obfuscation becomes a false proxy for a more forceful renunciation of digital capitalism. But this shield works only at the level of individual experience. For practical purposes, it makes us accessory to our own commodification.71

Habits, on the other hand, rather than being self-conscious, are unconscious, and rather than being obfuscated, they are public. The public, unreflexive nature of habits is an essentialism without essence.

Belonging to a society involves a paradoxical point at which each of us is ordered to embrace freely, as the result of our choice, what is anyway imposed on us (we all must love our country and our parents). This paradox of willing (choosing freely) what is in any case necessary, of pretending (maintaining the appearance) that there is a free choice although effectively there isn’t one, is strictly codependent with the notion of an empty symbolic gesture.72

These “empty symbolic gestures” are the cultural artifacts that define communal culture without having any meaning. For example, it is common for Americans to greet each other with “What’s up?” without answering the question. You are “free” to respond, but to properly recount what is going on in your life is a violation of American social norms. This is exactly the form that a ritual takes. Baudrillard takes this further (note that “symbolic” for Lacan and Žižek is not the same as “symbolic” for Baudrillard, who uses it to mean an intersubjective value):

In any case, the very ideology of “cultural production” is antithetical to all culture, as is that of visibility and of the polyvalent space: culture is the site of the secret, of seduction, of initiation, of a restrained and highly ritualized symbolic exchange.73

When viewing the “cultural production service economy” through the commodity production of “abstract universal notions” (to use Žižek’s term), or “transcendent signifiers” (to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term), direct-to-consumer brands are valued by their position in the symbolic order, the “existing cultural contexts.” In the “new order,” where “culture has become the product itself”—“life after lifestyle”—habit itself is fetishized. The job of a “branded subculture” “is not to drive value, but to add another layer of depth to the community, to enshrine the practices.”74

Such a job only makes sense if culture is deconstructed as something that “makes sense”:

Cultures have their own language, objects, and knowledge; their own stories, aesthetics, practices, people, and places that all make sense together in a coherent way. They have behaviors they condone and reward, and behaviors they deem unworthy. And each has its own moral sensibility.75

By essentializing culture as something “coherent”—positing that rituals and habits are coherent—Shorin works “from a kind of empty global position, treats each local culture the way the colonizer treats colonized people.”76 This essentialization is what Rogers Brubaker calls “‘groupism,’ by which I mean the tendency to take discrete, bounded groups as the basic constituents of social life, chief protagonists of social conflicts, and fundamental units of social analysis.”77 Rather than analyzing a culture as a formal organization, it is necessary to look at the extracultural factors that drove their formation and the habits that constitute their identity as contingent.

For example, The Jam’s “Going Underground,” a part of postpunk subculture, can be analyzed as “a very early response to Thatcherism, or, perhaps more pertinently, as an analysis of why the working class was too exhausted and disillusioned to muster a concerted response to Thatcher’s neoliberalism.”78 Or more broadly, the growth of the “countercuisine” can be sourced to the ascendence of environmentalism, which “filled an oppositional void left by dissatisfaction with the civil rights and antiwar movements, far-leftist revolutionary socialism, and the druggy urban counterculture.”79

Shorin’s analysis of the explosion of direct-to-consumer brands locates the revolutionary moment: “API-ification has happened across the entire supply chain.” But “In the new cultural economy, the culture is the product. It is composed of practices, ideas, and discourses.”80 The impetus for this shift away from physical products is people’s desire for more “meaningful narratives.” But the cause of decline in previous forms of meaning are the same neoliberal capitalists that are supposed to fulfill the post-lifestyle “meaning demand”! As R. Pope writes:

Today, subcultures may be said to be everywhere and nowhere, the very basis of the economy being the production and dissemination of the identities formed through subcultural activity, be they Zen-inspired, Goth, or latte-induced; every lifestyle a subculture, and every subculture a lifestyle, sustained through the ‘subcultural industry’. This is a logical development: as the “general culture” ever more fails to provide for meaningful integration, and so is itself both everywhere and nowhere (for instance, at once quasi-national, quasi-global, and “local”), people migrate towards this or that lifestyle/subculture as (temporary) means of sustaining identity and securing meaning.81

Hence the culturalization of politics. The major political movements of the 20th century: localism, environmentalism, even Klein’s alter-globalization—the same movements that railed against the major corporations behind the brands of their day—are depoliticized and aestheticized, then repackaged as a “subculture” that anyone can “choose” to purchase. As Shorin notes, “the practices and the moral premises of a subculture always are deferred when put in company hands.” How are the moral premises of these past political movements filled by the “cultural production service economy” or what comes after it? The rituals and practices that once served political projects and “organic” communities are repurposed in service of brands, which is the only way to land on the interpretation that “‘culture’ is a social engineering project.”82

The Instrumentalization of Culture

What does it mean for culture to be a “social engineering project”? By deconstructing culture into “stories, aesthetics, practices, people, and places,” Shorin proposes that culture can be reconstructed for new communities through some definable process. These communities—whether started by brands trying to cultivate loyalty, hobbyists looking for fellow hobbyists, or ideologues initiating a new religion—all share these components in common, which allows Shorin to attribute the effectiveness of these communities at creating a sense of meaning and belonging to the components.83

This process seems to reflect a “tendency to instrumentalize, or to treat something as a means or resource for achieving some end goal, [that] shows up in the personal lives of many technologists.”84 It is tempting here to riff on Susan Sontag’s famous line: in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of culture.85 Culture, especially subculture, resists interpretation. If punk music is enjoyable, it is not because it espouses political opinions we agree with, or even that it “means” something. If anything, according to Pope, “subcultural activity should be interpreted not as meaningful resistance to dominant forces but as an expression of the disappearance of the space of the Political proper.”86

In the context of the decreasing influence of shared values, customs and rituals, subcultural activity should not be so readily assumed to be inclusive of meaning, as it may well have more to do with an expression of the failure of meaning and Symbolic efficiency.87

In the excavation for meaning, the “analysis of culture becomes suffused with politics; the cultural analyst practices politics.”88 Thus, if “meaning” is to be an end goal, there needs to be “ethical grounds requisite for principled construction.”89 It is necessary to consider meaning for belonging, since, as Shorin says, “without effort dedicated to our own emotional and spiritual development, founders like you and I risk becoming hubristic and manipulative when put in positions of moral authority.”90 Yet this development is fundamentally political, as the process of meaning-making can open up or foreclose avenues of political action. As the philosopher Charles Taylor writes,

A fragmented society is one whose members find it harder and harder to identify with their political society as a community. This lack of identification may reflect an atomistic outlook, in which people come to see society purely instrumentally. But it also helps to entrench atomism, because the absence of effective common action throws people back on themselves.91

This purely instrumental view of society—without politics—is demonstrated by Nadia Asparouhova’s notion of “idea machines,”92 Venkatesh Rao’s notion of “lorecraft,”93 and Other Internet’s notion of “headless brands.”94 By defining some pipeline from input to output—ideology to outcome, “raw lore” to “organizational life,” or token distribution to “ossified protocol”95—a process can be developed with discrete steps and components, allowing any community to generate ideas or manage organizations. Part of this focus on mechanistic relations may be due to the neoliberal frame of tolerance and freedom of choice, so if the essence of a culture serves as the input into some explanatory process, then the explanation can also belong to the “neutral” frame.

Thus “meaning demand” is fulfilled by “meaning making” as if culture is a product of a desire for community rather than community being the product of being born into a society with a communal culture. It is rhetorically convenient to slip “people” into “culture” but the relationship between community, a group of people, and culture, the practices of that community, is difficult to untangle. What should be clear is that the relationships between people are not confined to cultural conventions: they may be economic, political, physical, sexual, and so on. It is not even clear that culture is the dominant mediating factor between members of a community. As David A. Banks and Britney Gil write:

Referring to a community’s “goals,” “culture,” or any other characteristic means not having to deal with its internal strife, its toxicity, its oppressive or coercive dynamics among individuals. In turn, the amorphous community can be conceptualized as somehow outside of society, or naturally in opposition to it, or being purely beneficial to it, depending on the intentions of the entity declaring the existence of said community. Community implies a condition beyond politics where a collectivity automatically shares values and agrees on how to realize them. What community actually entails is precisely the process and capability of working these disagreements out.96

This is perhaps why Shorin gravitated toward studying cults through a “business model canvas type of template to build out a pitch deck for a whole cultural system” as part of his “Cult Design Workshop.”97 By breaking up a cult into a “target demographic,” “format,” “mechanics,” and “pitch,” there’s no room for economic exploitation or physical violence. Just as importantly, the members of a community that isn’t a cult should play a role in shaping the “pitch deck,” if they are not executing the “business model.” What can be more of an “atomistic outlook” than viewing people as cogs in the machine of some cultural system? If anything, it is the cult of capitalist ideology that “that manipulates its subjects to engage in great orgies of unnecessary sacrifice and ecstasies of blind accumulation.”98 On the other hand, there is no machinery that makes a cult operate unconsciously.

Perhaps the outsider’s aversion to cults comes from the coercive control needed to keep members in conformance.99 Culture, on the contrary, is heterogeneous and always in contest. Brubaker reminds us that “From below, we can study the ‘micropolitics’ of categories, the ways in which the categorized appropriate, internalize, subvert, evade, or transform the categories that are imposed on them.”100 This is what Venkatesh Rao means, when describing the culture of companies, by “Lore has to emerge from day-to-day life, as people adapt at a micro-level to the lousiness of minutes, attempting to elevate them to non-lousiness, and looking for ways to insert greatness where possible.”101 Crucially though, Rao ignores the political aspect of lorecraft, which Michel Foucault ascribes to the “exercise of power”:

There can be no possible exercise of power without a certain economy of discourses of truth which operates through and on the basis of this association. We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.102

Thus “lore” is only powerful if it is recognized as “truth.” It is not the case that power operates from being forced to accept lore from above, as Rao writes: “A dictator, or authoritarian head of HR pursuing a political agenda, who can force you to pretend that lies are truths, and behave accordingly (all the way to repeating those lies without smirking), has proof of their real power over you.” The authority has already accounted for the dominated’s interpretation that “the result is a campy, cringey theater of absurd falsehoods that demands to be taken seriously.”103 It is force that gives authority its authority; authority doesn’t need proof. It is ironic that, in an article about irony, that Rao misinterprets Žižek’s critique of cynicism. Žižek says that the falsehoods are the exercise of power:

Is then the only issue left to us to affirm that, with the reign of cynical reason, we find ourselves in the so-called post-ideological world? Even Adorno came to this conclusion, starting from the premiss that ideology is, strictly speaking, only a system which makes a claim to the truth - that is, which is not simply a lie but a lie experienced as truth, a lie which pretends to be taken seriously. Totalitarian ideology no longer has this pretension. It is no longer meant, even by its authors, to be taken seriously - its status is just that of a means of manipulation, purely external and instrumental; its rule is secured not by its truth-value but by simple extra-ideological violence and promise of gain.104

It is a classic Žižekian move, a “‘180-degree turn’ on traditional forms of ideology critique, which assume that social practices are real but that the beliefs used to justify them are false or illusory. Such arguments are practised, for example, by some labour process theorists within the realms of organization theory.”105 For example, the military, perhaps the paradigmatic example of organization, already operates this way, as Jak Ritger sums up Žižek’s analysis of the film Full Metal Jacket in A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology: “This [ironic] distance allows for the soldier in order to carry out their duty and function effectively within the force. In this way, the obscenity and ironic detachment are crucial to the reification of the ideology of military discipline.”106

But where can ideology be found? Rao puts forth the idea that “raw lore” is “the collection of adopted postures and working fictions that people use to navigate uncertain and ambiguous piles of truth, lies, and bullshit, in order to get to behaviors that feel effective, purposeful, and aligned with their values.”107 “Lorecrafters” then use this source material to influence communities, such as “cultish subcultures,” “midwit companies,” or “Silicon Valley.”108 The process for “cultish subcultures” is to leverage a complicated fear, produce some plausible lies, add unnecessary details, link to some habits, and provide a room for discussion. Is this not reminiscent of the “abstract universality” that we identify with under commodity exchange?

Ultimately, lorecrafters “intervene at a superficial, symptomal level. They amount to ‘doing things not in order to achieve something, but to prevent something from really happening, really changing.’”109 The problem from conspiracy theories to Silicon Valley mythologizing is that “Cynical distance is just one way—one of many ways—to blind ourselves to the structuring power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.”110 What Rao describes as a shift from a “managerial class” to “lore stewards”111 is simply the process of changing what W. David Marx calls organizational norms. As Marx describes it:

Finally, in recent years, there has emerged a new usage for culture, most notably on non-fiction bookshelves: the organizational norms within large companies. … Companies instead created Chief Culture Officer roles based on this fourth definition of culture; CCOs are a common name for the top Human Resources position — “an organizational leader who reviews a company’s goals, values and day-to-day practices and better aligns them.” While organizational culture can be bad or good (there can always be a “culture of corruption”) the CCO’s goal is to encourage good culture that nurtures employees and raises productivity. Corporations in the 21st century, then, aren’t just responsible for running the cultural industry, but have even commandeered the very concept of “culture” as corp-speak.112

Is a “Chief Culture Officer” just another “authoritarian head of HR”? Or are they a “lore steward”? Rao proposes that “kool-aid” is the “top-down evil twin of lore,” and that only by restructuring to be non-hierarchical can organizations enter “a complex superposition of drinking/not-drinking the kool-aid” and achieve “organizational life.”113 The idea here seems to be a democratic bottom-up “management” through lorecrafting, yet the initial explanation of lore itself, through “imaginative irony,” positions lore as resistance to hierarchy. It is hard to see how lore, so loosely imagined, leads lorecraft to anything other than rationalizing what we are already doing and obscuring the politics that led to the organizational norms in the first place.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, referencing Jo Freeman, notes that “any group of people interacting with each other will structure itself in some way or other, whether consciously or unconsciously, leaving only the question of how that resulting structure distributes resources, responsibilities, attention, and power.”114 Here we can extend the earlier quote from Banks and Gil and add that communities are also not organizations. Here, lore is at its weakest. What matters consciously are the material outcomes of the organizational structure. What works unconsciously are the habits, the parts of our identity that are the most difficult to change.

The organizational structure, the formal procedures, and the instrumental reasoning are not the catalysis for culture or meaning. The members of an unstructured community or a structured organization are always still enacting the mechanistic processes, even whether or not they create lore as justification, “cope” via ironic detachment, or earnestly drink the “kool-aid.” Catherine Liu provides an illustrative example from Occupy Wall Street:

The highly educated members of Occupy fetishized the procedural regulation and management of discussion to reach consensus about all collective decisions. Daily meetings or General Assemblies were managed according to a technique called the progressive stack. Its fanatical commitment to proceduralism an[d] administrative strategy suppressed real discussion of priorities or politics and ended up promoting the integrity of the progressive stack itself. Protecting the stack became more important than formulating political demands that might have resonated with hundreds of millions of Americans whose lives were being directly destroyed by finance capital.115

According to Liu, the “progressive stack” was not up for debate, the members entered the Occupy movement with certain beliefs—those of the “professional managerial class”—and the development of the procedural regulation only served to codify those beliefs, if not obscuring them too. This is an exact reversal of Rao’s thesis of lorecrafting: a decentralized management used (progressive) lore to organize a community, and despite the dysfunction of the resulting structure, the lore remained intact!

This too, applies to liberalism. Splitting democracy between its procedures—free elections, freedom of speech, etc.—and its substantive outcomes—equality of man, proper representation in decision making, etc.—makes clear the gap between what liberals claim is democratic (the “lore”) and how it functions in practice. As Žižek writes:

At an even more general level, a certain tension which is immanent to the very notion of parliamentary democracy is gaining visibility today. Democracy means two things: the “power of the people” (the substantial will of the majority should express itself in the state) and trust in electoral mechanism (no matter how many manipulations and lies there are, once the numbers are counted, the result is to be accepted by all sides). This is what happened when Al Gore conceded defeat to Bush, though more people voted for him and the counting in Florida was very problematic. Trust in the formal procedure is what gives parliamentary democracy its stability.116

Thus, to analyze a culture, organization, or even a community as coherent is to fail to analyze it on its own terms, “the way the colonizer treats colonized people.” As Stuart Hall says, “Cultural identity, in this second sense, is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past.” But to form a community, to craft lore, it is necessary to also acknowledge that “Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories.”117 The habits that people bring into a community are often a source of disagreement, yet they may not have meaning until the unconscious is brought into the conscious.

But “Communities can be rife with friction, discord, difference, and pain … [while] still being overall a force for good.”118 The challenge of politics is not to fight over process, but to fight over what is “good.” It is a fight for the substantive over the doldrums of the procedural. As Táíwò elaborates:

Rules and procedures can help keep these ventures stable and well directed. But Robert’s Rules of Order cannot do much to constrain toxic organizing cultures. We will have to think more comprehensively. … A constructive political culture would focus on outcome over process—the pursuit of specific goals or end results rather than avoiding complicity in injustice or promoting purely moral or aesthetic principles.119

The result of a properly political project is a new universality, not a new perspective on the world that determines right or wrong, but the background frame that separates true from false. For example, the Enlightenment brought forth “modern freedom” by unlinking people from “a cosmic order, a ‘great chain of Being’” that had kept people “locked into a given place, a role and station that was properly theirs and from which it was almost unthinkable to deviate.”120 In our contemporary frame, is it not capitalism that is keeping us locked into a given place? As Ian Write argues:

To add to the confusion and mystification, capitalist ideology promotes the idea that our commercial culture is fundamentally a rational and secular endeavour. But the opposite is the case. The rationality of capitalism is not human but alien, and we do not control it, but it controls us. Capitalist ideology refuses to see the “real God” that is capital, and our subordination to it. The god is real, but hidden, hiding in plain sight. And in this sense, capitalism is an occult, not a secular, mode of production.121

This is how the new spirituality and religion within multiculturalism are the same. We are free to privately choose between a variety of “meanings” if we do not “stain” the neutral frame of capitalism. On the other hand, Islam is a threat to the liberal order by “forcing” meaning out into the public. The veil, rather than being an idiosyncratic personal choice, is now a disruptive threat to our (previously meaningless) ability to make fashion choices. There is always a substantive, moral frame—such as “multiculturalism” or the “progressive stack”—that prefigures the “social engineering project” and its mechanisms. But if we accept both the substantive frame and the instrumental explanation, then “meaning making” becomes a project of crafting the right stories or properly structuring an organization, of becoming a type of person.

The key moment of any theoretical (and ethical, and political, and—as Badiou demonstrated—even aesthetic) struggle is the rise of universality out of the particular life-world. The commonplace according to which we are all irreducibly grounded in a particular (contingent) life-world, so that all universality is irreducibly colored by (embedded in) a particular life-world, should be turned around: the authentic moment of discovery, the breakthrough, occurs when a properly universal dimension explodes from within a particular context and becomes “for-itself,” directly experienced as such (as universal).122

The threat of the political is the insistence that a particular meaning is universal, or the reverse, that the current universality is only particular. Is this not the reasoning behind the punks appropriating abhorrent symbols?

To be sure, the endless performativity of ‘communicative capitalism’ does hollow out meaning, but in the very process of doing so it believes itself full of it. In wearing the swastika, by contrast, punks were not engaged in anything like branding. They did not ask for the swastika to be taken as a meaningful component to their identity; on the contrary its effect was to confuse the terms by which one might have made sense (out) of their style. Being meaningless, the punk usage of the swastika had more to do with a sort of expression of the very demise of Symbolic efficiency than any productivity of language.123

This “staining” of the public space ruptures the little public meaning left in liberal multiculturalism. It calls into question the neutrality of proceduralism, the substantive outcomes of “identity,” and the purpose of “recognition.” As Judith Butler notes, “social categories signify subordination and existence at once.”124 Today, it is the state that supplies meaning through the procedure of recognizing minorities, which paradoxically reinforces the power of the state as the arbiter between groups.

The postmodern identity politics of particular (ethnic, sexual, and so forth) lifestyles fits perfectly the depoliticized notion of society in which every particular group is accounted for and has its specific status (of victimhood) acknowledged through affirmative action or other measures destined to guarantee social justice. For this kind of justice to be rendered to victimized minorities, an intricate police apparatus is required (for identifying the group in question; for punishing the offenders against its rights; for determining how legally to define sexual harassment or racial injury, and so forth; and for providing for the preferential treatment that is intended to outweigh the wrong this group suffered).125

The punks, of course, were not accounted for and were not guaranteed social justice. Thus, the politics of recognition requires an interpellation of the dominant ideology. As Liu observes, “For Emma Sulkowicz, everything that happens to her can be instrumentalized and turned into fodder for publicity and prosecution. The lack of boundaries between the personal and the political is the poisoned fruit of contemporary neoliberalism’s metabolization of the historical counterculture.”126 The political has become personal, the end state of the new order after the “cultural production service economy.”

What better example than the “e-girl” influencers for the U.S. military? The idea the military could be paying service members to influence its own citizens as part of a “psy-op” is already standard conspiracy, if not outright mainstream acceptance of propaganda. But the supposed “psy-op” is out in the open. As Ritger says:

Whereas past influencers in this position would have perhaps pushed past the controversy, trying to clear the air and divert attention away towards other content, Lujan instead leaned into this revelation and owned the label of being a Psy-Op specialist. In doing so, Hailey Lujan successfully recuperated the anti-establishment currents of post-irony memes and the latent paranoia that characterizes online life.127

Thus, the overt politics of being a servicemember is now the quotidian lifestyle of just another influencer. As researcher David Noel tells journalist Günseli Yalcinkaya: “While people debate what’s real and what’s fake, the real psy-op is the normalisation of military recruitment through social media.”128 A critique of the military is privatized and depoliticized to a critique of Lujan herself, a critique of a “way of life.” Is the military “e-girl” not the “introduction of aesthetics into political life”?129 To be caught in the debate of whether or Lujan is real or not, psy-op or not, ironic or not, is to be caught in the counterculture. Perhaps “the military state is the closest thing to full socialism existing in American Capitalism by providing jobs, meaning, healthcare, to a mix of classes together under a unified structure,”130 but is this what Shorin had in mind when writing about fulfilling “meaning demand”? Is psy-op specialist just another “type of person”? What is the social cause that Gen Z expects the U.S. military “brand” to champion? Is it the national fetish?

This is perhaps why Taylor asks us to consider the substantive meaning of the choices we make:

The agent seeking significance in life, trying to define him- or herself meaningfully, has to exist in a horizon of important questions. This is what is self-defeating in modes of contemporary culture that concentrate on self-fulfilment in opposition to the demands of society, or nature, which shut out history and the bonds of solidarity.131

The point of a political project is that it is not personal—it affects everyone. As Žižek says, “totalitarian power is not a dogmatism which has all the answers; it is, on the contrary, the instance which has all the questions.”132 “Questions of what constitutes a good life” must not be banished to “the margins of political debate.”133 Instead of focusing on meaning-making, we should focus on question-asking. It is only then that we can resuscitate the radical potential of subculture.

Governance without Politics

One of the newer combinations of liberal proceduralism and neoliberal market rationality is token-based governance for decentralized autonomous organizations. As Shorin summarizes:

In the 2020s, financial mechanism innovation is opening up the space for incentivized ideologies, networked publics, and co-owned faiths. Liquid cryptocurrency tokens empower speculative cultural projects with monetary policies that create FOMO (e.g. Ethereum, FWB); NFTs enable membership and monetization of whole aesthetics (e.g. Milady, Nouns).134

The process by which this is supposed to happen is through “market-product fit,” where “In a highly decentralized system, these operations invert such that the community finds product solutions themselves: ‘market-product fit.’ Cryptoeconomic protocols are market frameworks looking for potential product applications.”135 A follow-up post dives more specifically into the crypto protocol details, breaking up the process of protocol development into “promise distribution,” “utility discovery,” and “ossification” of the protocol. The cultural component of this development is the narrative:

However, at early stages, the notional value of tokens is determined almost entirely by narrative rather than utility. The zeitgeist of an incipient token can be understood as a kind of decentralized branding, whereby permissionless narrative formation is driven by speculative desire. Whether financial, social, or owing to a genuine affiliation with the world a token proposes, desire is the animating force that drives initial adoption and a flourishing of supporting narratives.136

This connects Rao’s notion of “lorecraft” with the idea of branding, and both seek to explain how communities operationalize as organizations. But instead of working with “raw lore,” “the normative dimension of the protocol stabilizes our behaviors and assumptions around how exchange occurs and tokens can be used.”137 The protocol is much more restrictive about what is possible than physical reality—there are many ways that recycling could work, to use Rao’s example. Thus, the “ideologies,” “faiths,” and “speculative cultural projects” are extremely limited in their revolutionary potential if they are to be funded by “liquid cryptocurrency.” Shorin, Lotti and Hart pose some reservations:

The crypto community ostensibly holds an ethos of liberalism, where “decentralization” frequently stands for community self-sovereignty. With the wealth creation in the space, there is no reason crypto shouldn’t be able to build goods for the diverse values of its different communities. There’s even a popular meme that “crypto allows communities to encode values into money.” But in practice, little space has been made for different values to be discussed or enacted. Which is why, in the absence of ways to enact our shared values, we default to the lowest common denominator: profit.138

Yet the originary “shared values” of the “crypto community” can be summed up as personal “wealth creation”! The belief that values can be encoded into money is commodity fetishism. There is “little space” for different values because those values are banished to the prior, parochial communities that crypto members previously belonged to. Thus, crypto is left with the universalism that is capitalism, which portrays itself as the “lowest common denominator.” Žižek adds:

Paradoxically, fetishism reaches its acme precisely when the fetish itself is “de-materialized”, turned into a fluid “immaterial” virtual entity; money fetishism will culminate with the passage to its electronic form, when the last traces of its materiality will disappear—electronic money is the third form, after “real” money which directly embodies its value (gold, silver) and paper money which, although it is a “mere sign” with no intrinsic value, still clings to its material existence. And it is only at this stage, when money becomes a purely virtual point of reference, that it finally assumes the form of an indestructible spectral presence: I owe you a thousand dollars, and no matter how many material notes I burn, I will still owe you a thousand dollars—the debt is inscribed somewhere in virtual digital space.… 139

The blockchain is the apotheosis of a fetish for commodity relations: a fetish for formal proceduralism, a techno-populist echo of Liu’s observations about Occupy. Siddarth, Allen, and Weyl term this variant of “decentralization” as “distributed redundancy,” where one of the factors is “Maximally removing data from social context. (All interactions are boiled down to transactions as recorded in the ledger, with outside context unable to be represented in the technical architecture.).”140 If it didn’t happen on the ledger, it didn’t happen at all. As Bob Greenlee writes, “there is a profound difference between solving for trust in transactions and creating trust in relationships, let alone in organizations or communities. People gain economic value from transactions, but they gain other, different kinds of value from being a part of relationships and organizations.”141

Yet despite this incongruence, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) seek to encode decision-making through smart contracts on some blockchain. At the time of writing, Ethereum is the most popular blockchain for DAOs.142 Vitalik Buterin, a co-creator of Ethereum, divides “blockchain governance” into two types: the “decision function” view that “treats governance as a function … of various legitimate stakeholders … and the output is the decision,” and the “coordination model” of institutions, each “with an established culture” (italics in original), that “create focal points around how and when individuals should act to better coordinate behavior.”143 Buterin’s preference is away from the naked proceduralism of the “decision function” and towards the coordination model. As Kyle Chayka notes:

Vitalik Buterin … said, in a recent interview, “You can’t just have a DAO to be a DAO. You need a DAO to do something.” But the ultimate achievement of a DAO like F.W.B. is the community itself, which comes with its own set of challenges.144

Shorin’s essay, “Life After Lifestyle” was “first delivered as a talk at a festival by Friends With Benefits, a digital community that promotes cultural creation on web3. But where are FWB’s products? Instead, the culture seems to be the main thing, the product itself.”145 The slippage between “community” and “culture” is evident here. From the outside, it is perhaps the culture that is the product, such as the events and physical products; whereas from the inside, it is perhaps the community that is valuable, such as the meaning (in culture-making) and the sense of belonging. But whether or not FWB is a community or a culture, it operates on a “token-based business model of expanding belief,” which Buterin critiques as a coin-based “decision function”:

Coin voting governance empowers coin holders and coin holder interests at the expense of other parts of the community: protocol communities are made up of diverse constituencies that have many different values, visions and goals. Coin voting, however, only gives power to one constituency (coin holders, and especially wealthy ones), and leads to over-valuing the goal of making the coin price go up even if that involves harmful rent extraction.146

This opens a gap between the bounded sense of community-as-organization (or community-as-group) and the unbounded sense of community-as-culture. Shorin’s vision sutures this gap through a narrow vision of what culture can be, the depoliticization of cultural identity as just a “type of person.” It is a form of “cultural capitalism,” where the naked exchange between cultural and economic capital is registered as a transaction on the blockchain. When Shorin et al. write “to have an economy in alignment with our own values, we need a stronger coupling between our idea of the public interest and how decisions are made on this public’s behalf.” If we wish to build a culture that lasts, members must identify with one another along dimensions beyond that of a “tokenholder,”147 the key word is beyond, which belies the fact that being a tokenholder serves as the fundamental form of identification with the community. Is this not an example of what Ian Wright means by the “hidden god” of capitalism?

Capitalism does not transcend religion. It is merely its inverted opposite. We have not yet rid ourselves of spirits, gods and demons. Our world remains enchanted, but darkly. Capitalism is an occult mode of production with a hidden god and a Dark Eucharist. For any sufficiently advanced religion is indistinguishable from economics.148

That’s why “the drop in $FWB’s price had worried some of the group’s leaders.” Is there any better example of commodity fetishism than a putting a price on your friendships? That’s what one member, Alex Zhang, states: “The value of friendships — that’s all now being captured by the network.”149 At the same time, it is obvious that it is the relationships that make FWB work at all, since the issues with blockchain governance that Buterin notes, such as plutocracy, collusion, and naked self-interest, are harder to execute when members are meeting up in person for parties. But the parochial communal culture that would corrupt the governance of FWB is obscured by what Buterin calls “credible neutrality,” which states that “when building mechanisms that decide high-stakes outcomes, it’s very important for those mechanisms to be credibly neutral.” Buterin elaborates:

Essentially, a mechanism is credibly neutral if just by looking at the mechanism’s design, it is easy to see that the mechanism does not discriminate for or against any specific people. The mechanism treats everyone fairly, to the extent that it’s possible to treat people fairly in a world where everyone’s capabilities and needs are so different.150

Is this not a reversal of Táíwò’s precept that we should focus on “outcome over process”? If the mechanism is credibly neutral, then everyone should accept the outcome, no matter how unfair it is. It is also notable that to make this argument, Buterin needs to retreat into liberal individualism. It is here that the difference between W. David Marx’s definitions of culture as communal culture and organizational norms is crucial. To focus on outcomes over process means that when the procedures of an organization bump against a community’s moral values, the procedure is “bent” for the sake of morality. This is precisely what did not happen when Bush was elected over Gore: the procedural norms of democracy won over the substantive vision (the electoral college over the popular vote).

Anthropologist David Graeber, whom Buterin “frequently cites,”151 ties together many of the threads discussed so far:

If democracy is communal self-governance, the Western individual is an actor already purged of any ties to a community. While it is possible to imagine this relatively featureless, rational observer as the protagonist of certain forms of market economics, to make him (and he is, unless otherwise specified, presumed to be male) a democrat seems possible only if one defines democracy as itself a kind of market that actors enter with little more than a set of economic interests to pursue. This is, of course, the approach promoted by rational-choice theory, and, in a way, you could say it is already implicit in the predominant approach to democratic decision-making in the literature since Rousseau, which tends to see “deliberation” merely as the balancing of interests rather than a process through which subjects themselves are constituted, or even shaped. It is very difficult to see such an abstraction, divorced from any concrete community, entering into the kind of conversation and compromise required by anything but the most abstract form of democratic process, such as the periodic participation in elections.152

Thus, when Buterin writes of “neutrality,” it is the same “neutral frame” explicated by Žižek—that is, not neutral at all, but the frame of a Western neoliberalism that espouses multiculturalism, the “progressive stack,” freedom of religion, and so on. The center of this neutral frame is the rational individual, whom Nathan Schneider calls homo cryptoeconomicus153 and Jacob Silverman calls homo crypto-nomicus.154 Both are echoing Foucault’s notion of homo economicus, in which a person is “an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself.”155 This pursuing of economic interests by individuals is only productive within the bounds of economic rationality, but is ultimately destructive to civil society:

But the economic bond plays a very strange role within civil society, where it finds a place, since while it brings individuals together through the spontaneous convergence of interests, it is also a principle of dissociation at the same time. The economic bond is a principle of dissociation with regard to the active bonds of compassion, benevolence, love for one’s fellows, and sense of community, inasmuch as it constantly tends to undo what the spontaneous bond of civil society has joined together by picking out the egoist interest of individuals, emphasizing it, and making it more incisive. In other words, the economic bond arises within civil society, is only possible through [civil society], and in a way strengthens it, but in another way it undoes it.156

Here the incommensurability of economic reasoning and the force of habit are thrown into sharp relief. Democracy must exist within and between “concrete” communities. The only way to achieve a “credible neutrality” is to destroy the communal culture that defines the parochial way of life.

Buterin’s response to Schneider only digs into Brown’s Undoing the Demos, and makes the mistake of conceiving markets as something “surrounding” democracy:

There is one key difference between blockchain political theory and traditional nation-state political theory - and one where, in the long run, nation states may well have to learn from blockchains. Nation-state political theory talks about “markets embedded in democracy” as though democracy is an encompassing base layer that encompasses all of society. In reality, this is not true: there are multiple countries, and every country at least to some degree permits trade with outside countries whose behavior they cannot regulate. Individuals and companies have choices about which countries they live in and do business in. Hence, markets are not just embedded in democracy, they also surround it, and the real world is a complicated interplay between the two.157

Of course, Buterin is correct to say that democracy is not the “base layer” of society, but neither is the market. The reason that Schneider, Brown, and Silverman return to Foucault’s term is that homo economicus is specifically a way of relating to the world, a replacement for what Taylor calls a “great chain of being.” As Foucault describes it: “Homo economicus is someone who pursues his own interest, and whose interest is such that it converges spontaneously with the interest of others.”158 Once one accepts this worldview, Buterin’s description of existing political and legal systems as functioning because “the lack of transferability allows governance power to be given to specific actors whose intrinsic motivations we trust, avoiding governance power always flowing to ‘the highest bidder’” makes total sense. This is not to say that lobbying and corruption aren’t real problems, but that intrinsic motivations and self-interest are not concomitant.

The “reality” (or “truth”) that markets surround democracy is a recent one, as Foucault tells us:

In other words, instead of accepting a free market defined by the state and kept as it were under state supervision—which was, in a way, the initial formula of liberalism: let us establish a space of economic freedom and let us circumscribe it by a state that will supervise it—the ordoliberals say we should completely turn the formula around and adopt the free market as organizing and regulating principle of the state, from the start of its existence up to the last form of its interventions. In other words: a state under the supervision of the market rather than a market supervised by the state.159

Thus, neoliberalism (or what Foucault terms ordoliberalism) is precisely the ideology that reversed the idea of markets embedded in the state in favor of the notion of the state embedded in markets! Does this not mean that “blockchain political theory” is just neoliberalism? No wonder why Patrick McGinty, in a review of Buterin’s recent book, Proof of Stake, says that he is “shockingly bereft of a political vision to achieve [the society we want to see].”160

Although Buterin is skeptical of cryptoeconomics, his concern with collusion lies completely within economic reasoning. Collusion violates the sanctity of competition, the inviolability of the procedure of market mechanisms to produce outcomes. Yet “If a system gets taken over by a harmful coalition, the dissidents can come together and create an alternative version of the system, which has (mostly) the same rules except that it removes the power of the attacking coalition to control the system,” an extra-market mechanism known as forking.161 This is the reasoning behind the lack of on-chain governance of Ethereum:

All of these things mean that blockchains are a powerful basic substrate that could be used to host the governance logic of other applications, but also a complicated thing that requires a new and different form of governance in itself. We’ve seen both Bitcoin and Ethereum have “constitutional crises” of various forms, most notably the Ethereum DAO fork and the Bitcoin block size debate. In both cases, there were groups on both sides who had strong and differing beliefs about what values the project should embody, and both ended up resolving in a chain split. What is interesting is that Bitcoin and Ethereum both eschew formal governance; there is no specific person or council or voting mechanism that has an established legitimate right to decide on which protocol changes become official.162

This is ironic because Buterin also advocates that DAOs should be designed like “‘first-order’ (sovereign)” organizations (using Curtis Yarvin’s terminology), “because DAOs do not have a sovereign above them, and are often explicitly in the business of providing services (like currency and arbitration) that are typically reserved for sovereigns.”163 Buterin’s argument is that

this growth has also made existing blockchains too “thin” to be good network states. Ethereum has so many different communities of users, and many of these communities deeply disagree with each other (there’s definitely “woke” and “anti-woke” Ethereans, for example, not to mention international divides). There’s a strong overriding point of agreement around defending the integrity and operation of the chain, as we’ve seen with the recent community solidarity around preventing on-chain censorship, but not enough solidarity to form something like a country.164

So, to sum up, Buterin says that the Ethereum blockchain should eschew formal governance, while the DAOs built on the blockchain should have a “sovereign” “multi-layer hierarchy” with decentralized core governance on top of autonomous pods. Shorin concurs in a recent podcast, noting that “protocols are extremely minimized. We talk about governance minimization but they have a very small surface area for what they actually do, what they permit, to be done, on chain.”165 Buterin notes that even though this may seem to be the case because blockchains “are a piece of infrastructure that is difficult to change and would lead to great harms if it breaks,” he also adds that a significant amount of functionality is required for the “protocol layer”:

“Keep layer 1 simple, make up for it on layer 2” is NOT a universal answer to blockchain scalability and functionality problems, because it fails to take into account that layer 1 blockchains themselves must have a sufficient level of scalability and functionality for this “building on top” to actually be possible (unless your so-called “layer 2 protocols” are just trusted intermediaries).166

But as this protocol layer gets more complex, the gap between the intentions of the developers and the capability of the code grows wider. Or perhaps to be more precise, the code is capable of more than what the developers intend. Shorin reintroduces the substantive notion of value, value other than exchange-value:

Values are not a protocol concept, they are a linguistic concept and a human concept. At this current point in time, they can’t be embedded, they can’t be baked in. It all is on the intention layer. People […] who have very good intentions are not thinking in sophisticated ways about how to actually make that happen. They are letting the idea of the protocol do the work for them.167

It is here where Yarvin’s critique of the Ethereum DAO fork comes in. Yarvin references Carl Schmitt:

We have a complex system of laws, which are not formal code but in some ways aspire to be; above it, we have a judiciary system that can decide arbitrary exceptions to those laws. Pure rule of law, Schmitt tells us, is always and everywhere an illusion. We can and should strive to approach this limit, but it’s an infinity that we can’t actually reach.
Schmitt’s exception principle can be rephrased as “sovereignty is conserved.” There is always someone who answers to nobody. We cannot eliminate government; the best we can do is tame it.168

Is Buterin and Ethereum’s lack of formal governance not evidence of a group that answers to nobody? Urbit, which was founded by Yarvin, serves as a counterpoint to Buterin’s lack of “political vision.” The documentation for Urbit explicitly states that “Urbit is designed to achieve decentralization” even though it is currently centralized.169 According to Francis Tseng, the design itself intentionally “grants political power proportionally to ownership, ‘[f]or the interim, full authority is held by the (Roman style) consulate.’”170 The politics of Urbit are not hard to discover, even though Yarvin tried to obscure its roots only reluctantly:

Yavin refers to his brand of political philosophy as “neocameralism.” Neocameralism, as described in his essay “Against Political Freedom,” is a political philosophy arguing that state should be run like a business, (i.e., with a CEO at its head and no democratic mechanisms). His ideas are credited as being foundational to the “neoreactionary” movement, which could be described as a neo-monarchist movement (though Yarvin himself doesn’t identify as a “monarchist” because of its association with a constitutional monarchy and not absolute monarchy).171

Thus, not only is Urbit’s formal governance clear, but so are Yarvin’s desired outcomes. Perhaps this is why McGinty admonishes Buterin’s lack of politics: “Whether the aim is better currencies or bolstered social welfare spending or more equitable economic policies, a better world is not possible if we bypass the arduous, valuable work of making political arguments rooted in an articulation of political and moral principles.” On the other hand, The Ethereum DAO fork, even if framed as a solution to a technical problem, suggests that there is some sort of substantive political vision, even if it remains unarticulated. The miners who refused the fork view that the fork “undermined the core principle of Ethereum, which was, after all, to bypass all the meddling humans,” and it “create[d] a precedent that the code would be changeable.”172

FWB is more explicit in its politics, it “has a strict code of conduct against harassment, racism and other forms of abusive behaviour.”173 In 2021, “members voted to remove Cooper Turley, a crypto-world influencer, after decade-old, bigoted tweets of his surfaced.” This, at the very least, is evidence of outcomes over process, even though the minimal procedure more closely resembles shunning from a cult than any notion of “credible neutrality.” Yet at the end of the day, FWB is still “an exclusive members club that costs thousands of dollars to join.”174 As Táíwò reminds us, “The facts that explain who ends up in what room shape our world much more powerfully than the squabbles for comparative prestige between the people who have already made it inside.”175 The process of capitalism remains undisturbed.

One gets the sense that Buterin is being diplomatic to not alienate the different political factions of Ethereum supporters. But that only leads credence to the cynical notion that Buterin is protecting his “investment.” Even less charitably, McGinty hypothesizes that “You could view Buterin’s approach as a timeworn libertarian trick: remove politics from every scenario, then bask in the regulation-free utopian reality you have created.”176 But Žižek has an even higher charge:

While I fully endorse the well-known thesis that the very gesture of drawing a clear line of distinction between the Political and the non-Political, of positing some domains (economy, private intimacy, art…) as ‘apolitical’, is a political gesture par excellence, I am also tempted to turn it around: what if the political gesture par excellence, at its purest, is precisely the gesture of separating the Political from the non-Political, of excluding some domains from the Political.177

What else is procedure fetishism other than a politics of obscuring the fundamentally political project of the blockchain ledger: the continuation of neoliberalism. The possibility of accomplishing something by manipulating the procedure is beyond the pale. Perhaps “deep down, knowingly or not, people want to create organizations that are owned, run, and governed democratically that can potentially make collectively more responsible decisions for society rather than profit-maximizing corporations,”178 but this retreat toward intrinsic motivation can succumb to a “techno-proceduralism, as seen in the obsession with methods and the comparative neglect of substantive demands beyond the very demand of democracy 2.0.”179

This is the core difference between cooperatives and DAOs, as Austin Robey writes in an article on FWB’s website: “while cooperatives tend to be less successful in securing funding, they are also more likely, through their sober rejection of capitalist realism, to correctly address the root causes of inequity.”180 It needs to be clear that if a DAO is for “democratic collective ownership,” it “is a political act … not simply based on some vague apolitical do-gooderism.”181 Cooperatives, historically, are not structured in an “autonomous” manner:

Finally, cooperatives tend to have more complex governance processes than companies with simple top-down management structures. The challenge for co-ops is to ensure that the often pluralist values of their members are accurately represented and upheld, while also preserving operational efficiency. Many successful cooperatives have therefore combined formal management hierarchies with thoughtful permissioning by members (as opposed to flat, direct democracies).182

In fact, Graeber recognizes the properly political dimension of a democracy:

it is much easier, in a face-to-face community, to figure out what most members of that community want to do, than to figure out how to change the minds of those who don’t want to do it. Consensus decision-making is typical of societies where there would be no way to compel a minority to agree with a majority decision; either because there is no state with a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has no interest in or does not tend to intervene in local decision-making. If there is no way to compel those who find a majority decision distasteful to go along with it, then the last thing one would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose. Voting would be the most likely means to guarantee the sort of humiliations, resentments, and hatreds that ultimately lead the destruction of communities. As any activist who has gone through a facilitation training for a contemporary direct action group can tell you, consensus process is not the same as parliamentary debate and finding consensus in no way resembles voting. Rather, we are dealing with a process of compromise and synthesis meant to produce decisions that no one finds so violently objectionable that they are not willing to at least assent.183

This is where Buterin clashes most vividly with Graeber. Although, at first glance, the lack of formal governance over Ethereum is “consensus,” it’s important to remember that it is a small group deciding for a vast community, not face-to-face. And not only is voting imperfect, according to Graeber, it is inherently divisive. To fork a blockchain is to deprive money from those you disagree with. This is reiterated by Shorin, Lotti, and Hart:

But while voting is symbolically powerful, this model misses an important truth: we do not discover shared values through individually revealed preference. If public goods are to satisfy shared values, then public discussion of what’s of value matters! Many protocols are already learning this lesson with regards to governance: discussion and consensus-building is a necessary precursor to voting. Likewise, discussion of values is as important, if not more so, than the act of voting itself. A value system is fostered through storytelling and negotiation in forums of public discourse.184

This is a more detailed formulation of Buterin’s “coordination institutions,” but is still, fundamentally, an elaboration of mechanisms. As Shorin demurs, “But with things like QAnon, we’ve seen that creating culture doesn’t always lead to good outcomes.”185 It is necessary to question what constitutes the outcome of governance—the “good life”—rather than simply just the values that go into governance. Shorin et al. note that “Public libraries, public education, national artifacts, and clean running water are four public things that exemplify the moral basis of public goods,” but argue that these are “they are objects that satisfy values that are shared.”

Of course, their very existence suggests shared values, how else would they still exist? But one can’t surmise a community’s shared values by looking at their public goods, nor can one infer what public goods will exist from some set of shared values. They are irreducibly intertwined. Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom uses a different set of examples of public goods: “peace and security of a community, national defense, knowledge, fire protection, weather forecasts, etc.”186 A key insight of Ostrom’s framework for “polycentric governance” is to feed the outcomes back into the “attributes of community.”187 Weather forecasts don’t exist because of shared value for knowing the future—perhaps a form of secular divination—but because knowing the weather is just useful!

Yet as Schneider summarizes,

a growing body of analysis interprets cryptoeconomics and its associated technologies as engines of commoning, in the spirit of Elinor Ostrom. There is much to commend this approach, as participant-governed blockchains do seem to resemble common-pool resources. Yet there are respects in which cryptoeconomics also resembles an opposite of the commons: the enclosure, in which what was once held in common becomes subdivided into ownable, tradable assets. Under cryptoeconomics, things previously difficult or impossible to buy or sell, from cryptographic computing power to real estate in digital games, have become the basis of markets.188

What is more remarkable is that the tokens are an enclosure of resources that have no use value! This makes any substantive discussion of outcomes nearly impossible. Shorin comments:

You know, I don’t hate to say it, but if you have values about financial equality or maybe collective data ownership or something like that, the existence of your protocol does not necessarily account for manifesting those values. What ultimately does at the end of the day is spend. If you are not allocating capital towards people who are solving those goals, in my opinion, you are not doing it at all.189

For example, FWB speaks of “democratizing knowledge, revolutionizing journalism, even paying DJs equitably.”190 How are the outcomes of these goals supposed to feed back into the values of the organization? Buterin comments that “it is also true that financialized systems are much more stable if their incentives are anchored around a system that is ultimately non-financial.”191 One can only imagine a smart contract that kicks out members if they harass someone on Twitter.

Thus, it may behoove us to heed Ostrom’s “important questions”:

The most important lesson for public policy analysis derived from the intellectual journey I have outlined here is that humans have a more complex motivational structure and more capability to solve social dilemmas than posited in earlier rational-choice theory. Designing institutions to force (or nudge) entirely self-interested individuals to achieve better outcomes has been the major goal posited by policy analysts for governments to accomplish for much of the past half century. Extensive empirical research leads me to argue that instead, a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans. We need to ask how diverse polycentric institutions help or hinder the innovativeness, learning, adapting, trustworthiness, levels of cooperation of participants, and the achievement of more effective, equitable, and sustainable outcomes at multiple scales.192

This sharply contrasts with Shorin’s criterion for judging “culture designers”:

In the best version of this world, culture designers are inculcating people who are caring, giving, and selfless, or who take action to improve the world and the lives of those around them in some ways. Encouraging practices that are lifegiving and loving and meaningful on their own merit. [Effective Altruism], to its credit, has something to admire here. The judge of a subculture is not its stated axioms, but the type of people who identify as its members.193

To reduce “public policy” to “culture design” is the culturalization of politics par excellence. Shorin hedges by adding “Perhaps in the future FWB will extend its culture to new types of civic participation or mutual aid,”194 but are “civic participation” or “mutual aid” simply forms of “culture”? Is Effective Altruism simply a subculture (or more accurately, a counterculture that emerged out of Oxford195)? Even the precursors to the contemporary crypto movement, the “cypherpunks,” have their own manifesto dedicated to advancing privacy and resisting the state.196 These practices, organizations, and movements have notable material impact even if they are working within cultural capitalism.

To draw a distinction between “people who are caring, giving, and selfless” and those who are not is what Brown would call the “essentializing of difference,” turning those who are not into a “tolerated subject [that] is not just disliked but disliked because it is different, and different by virtue of its practices and beliefs.”197 Yet people “who take action to improve the world and the lives of those around them in some ways” are fundamentally performing a political act, they are imposing their beliefs onto others by staining the public frame, by rupturing the (perceived) inaction of those around them.

This is how Shorin’s analysis of Extinction Rebellion is off the mark:

But a record label like Factory Records is very different than an activist group like Extinction Rebellion. [Extinction Rebellion] promotes culture of a fundamentally different sort. The knowledge they share is awareness of climate disasater [sic], the people are leaders and participants, the places are government centers where activism takes place, and the practices are demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience. You may not agree with Extinction Rebellion’s approach, or even its premise, but you cannot deny that it is qualitatively different than a record label, and that its purpose is somehow higher. If Extinction Rebellion is creating culture, it is inculcating a “type of person” who cares about something greater than him or herself, and who takes action in service of all beings.198

Of course, a record label and an activist group are culturally different, but their primary difference is that they each produce different outcomes, or at least strive to. At the bare minimum, Extinction Rebellion can still be successful even if not everyone joins them, because “Extinction Rebellion demands that governments act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero as soon as possible.”199 It is not same as buying Starbucks’ “coffee ethic,” or that “ecology itself is branded as a new lifestyle.”200

This is the larger political project espoused by Taylor:

What we ought to be doing is fighting over the meaning of authenticity, and from the standpoint developed here, we ought to be trying to persuade people that self-fulfilment, so far from excluding unconditional relationships and moral demands beyond the self, actually requires these in some form. The struggle ought not to be over authenticity, for or against it, but about it, defining its proper meaning. We ought to be trying to lift the culture back up, closer to its motivating ideal.201

Taylor then supposes that “Perhaps the loss of a sense of belonging through a publically defined order needs to be compensated by a stronger, more inner sense of linkage.”202 What should bind us together is not allegiance to some brand, or positioning ourselves in the symbolic order, but the proper politics of a struggle to define what makes a good life, not only a sense that we are all “in this together” but a sense that we fight because we care about each other. Shorin’s concept of “digital faiths”203 only continues within the liberal notion of faith that relegates meaning to each individual’s private sphere.

A radical notion of meaning needs to cut across essentialized cultural difference to define belonging between communities. Žižek elaborates:

Again, the crucial point here is that subjectivity and universalism are not only not exclusive but are, rather, two sides of the same coin. It is precisely because class struggle interpellates individuals to adopt the subjective stance of a proletarian that its appeal is universal, aiming at everyone with no exceptions. The division it mobilizes is not the division between two well-defined social groups but the division, which runs “diagonally” to the social division in the Order of Being, between those who recognize themselves in the call of the Truth-Event, becoming its followers, and those who deny or ignore it.204

Building on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of transversality, philosopher Yoshiyuki Sato calls this the transversal collective struggle:

Proletarian struggles and minority struggles must therefore be articulated in a transversal manner. In order to overthrow capitalism, the majority just become minoritarian and de-subject itself in forming the subject-group … actual neoliberal politics individualizes us through its principle of competition. It is exactly for this reason that transversal collective struggle becomes essential. 205

Is that not what life after lifestyle should be?

Politics on the Blockchain

If, for one reason or another, we accept the neoliberal philosophy of the blockchain model, is it possible to purse politics proper on the blockchain? To return to the meme mentioned above, if “crypto allows communities to encode values into money,” how would this be pursed in practice? As Chris Dixon summarized back in 2018:

[Cryptonetworks] are kept in check through mechanisms for “voice” and “exit.” Participants are given voice through community governance, both “on chain” (via the protocol) and “off chain” (via the social structures around the protocol). Participants can exit either by leaving the network and selling their coins, or in the extreme case by forking the protocol.206

But as the publication Voice Over Exit notes, “culturally, crypto is all about the exit: the frictionlessness of markets is often seen as a paramount good.”207 But as Graeber argues, voice is not as simple as a democratic voting process, there is “the need to maintain some kind of mechanism … to ensure that the voices of those who would normally find themselves marginalized or excluded from traditional participatory mechanisms are heard.”208 On the other hand, “[Layer-1 projects with on-chain governance deal with a narrative fork] by internalizing the option to exit and reformulating it as a stronger form of voice, not unlike the unifying effect of universal suffrage in modern constitutional democracies.”209

The question is whether the “proper” terrain of political struggle is between groups or individuals. If it is between groups, then individual “voice” is constituted through representation, so that an individual is only heard if they have representation. Yet this ideal seems to undergird E. Glen Weyl’s notion of Plurality:

[Plurality] will need to build closely on the subsidiary tradition that was core to the imagination of the internet as a “network of networks” with diverse networks local to physical and organizational (academic, government, etc.) communities agreeing to interoperable protocols to enable their heterogeneous networks to interoperate. The thin protocols developed in this first wave will need to be extended to empower a broader range of fundamental rights such as association, property and personhood, in the digital realm through decentralized by social systems of identity, data sharing, payment and so forth.210

Although the individual might technically be able to choose which community they are a part of, the community is the institution by which an individual’s “rights” are made legible. This is reminiscent of the strategy of multiculturalism, in which liberalism functions as the “interoperable protocol” for “organizational communities.” This risks essentializing the individual as part of a “culture,” circumscribing the political to the tolerance of cultures, disabling the possibility of organizing “diagonally” across networks.

But with the revival of tolerance by multiculturalist discourse, the notion of tolerating the group rather than the individual—or more precisely, of tolerating individuals as representatives of particular groups—has returned to the fore. … Tolerance rooted in respect for moral autonomy is addressed to individuals as bearers of such autonomy. When tolerance is proffered for practices, beliefs or behaviors associated with attributes tied to race, ethnicity, or sexual practice, tolerance is at risk of enshrining that which cancels what it claims to value: ascription or attribute triumphs over choice. This is one reason that liberals, when considering group rights and other ways of legally or politically accommodating culture, are always so anxious to establish that individuals must have autonomy signaled by “exit” options.211

Thus, the notion of tolerance forecloses the political. Extinction Rebellion is a political movement precisely because it does not tolerate climate collapse and biodiversity loss. The claims of Extinction Rebellion are that it speaks for all of us, its goal is hegemony. As Ernesto Laclau explains: “In order to have hegemony we need the sectorial aims of a group to operate as the name for a universality transcending them—this is the synecdoche constitutive of the hegemonic link.”212

So, when Buterin writes of an “attack” or “collusion” against a blockchain, he is using technocratic language that obscures the substantive reasoning behind such coordination. According to Buterin, “The current norm in many communities is that if a 51% attack wins, then that 51% attack is necessarily the valid chain.”213 Of course, majority rule is far from perfect, as Graeber showed. It involves the majority imposing their opinions on the minority, and then that opinion needs to be enforced, either through code or by force. Is this not what Extinction Rebellion is trying to accomplish? Yet democracy is remarkably stable, as noted by Žižek, because its formalism does not preclude the possibility of change—of a new ruler or rules—that is enabled by following the procedure. The blockchain also has a similar source of stability:

If enough users are validating, then instead of defaulting to victory, a contentious attempt to force a change of the protocol will default to chaos. Defaulting to chaos still causes a lot of disruption, and would require out-of-band social coordination to resolve, but it places a much larger barrier in front of the attacker, and makes attackers much less confident that they will be able to get away with a clean victory, making them much less motivated to even try to start an attack. If most users are validating (directly or indirectly), and an attack has only the support of the majority of miners, then the attack will outright default to failure - the best outcome of all.214

Such “out-of-band social coordination” does not have to be a strictly conservative defense against attackers. Yet much of the coordination that happens in the crypto space happens within DAOs, partly because of technical reasons, such as the presence of on-chain governance mechanisms and faster layer-2 transactions, but also because it is simply easier to coordinate a smaller group.

ImpactDAOs, for example, “defined as any DAO (a decentralized autonomous organization) that creates net positive benefits for the ecosystems around it, are the scalable, atomic building blocks of the regenerative crypto-cconomic movement.”215 They are an attempt to “align our values with our actions”216 in the crypto space, putting money towards grants that help other DAOs develop the ecosystem. Yet the (neoliberal) cryptoeconomic thinking constrains DAOs to using money as influence. This seems to be fine if it is in the “public”—Buterin often writes about the perils of collusion. Yet there is little appetite to change public frame itself, to change money itself, even if Impact DAOs are trying to “encode values into money.” As Kevin Owocki, a proponent of “taking the green pill,” or “regenerative cryptoeconomics”217 writes:

One way to reinforce coordination is to realign the economic incentives that support a system. By doing so, we create a systematic economic incentive for work to support that system.218

Yet what is the system that most of humanity is most coordinated on? Capitalism, the system of economic incentives itself! It is not enough to only think in terms of economic incentives, it is necessary to restructure economic thinking, the same way that the ordoliberals reframed the state as a guarantor of the market. Thus, a properly political project would put politics back into the realm of economics. As Andreas Weber writes:

Economic thinking in the existing paradigm is not likely to generate sustainable solutions because it is reluctant to recognize any meaningful role for self-organized human purpose and meaning in socioeconomic decision making. The purpose is always the same and always known in advance: unfettered economic growth. Therefore, even those who are desperately looking for change will typically overlook entirely feasible solutions and fail to catalyze systemic change because they are locked into a stunted worldview. Real solutions will not emerge unless actors first reframe their vision in a different paradigm.219

The raison d’etre of a political DAO should be to reformulate the terrain of the underlying blockchain, to encode the substantive values of a political polity in a procedural form. While libertarian crypto advocates refer to the Federalist Papers to advocate for a smaller government,220 The Bill of Rights serves as an example of enshrining the values of liberalism into the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps here we can also lean into a libertarian way of thinking: if money is speech, then why not use money to change the “voice” of money itself? Could we find a sense of belonging from a DAO dedicated to a political struggle to change the future of the underlying blockchain? What better way to put the “punk” back into cypherpunk?

  1. Brandon T. Suss, “Gen Z: Obsessed with Brand Authenticity and Activism,” September 2022,

  2. Aleks Eror, “Let’s Stop Pretending That Streetwear Is a Subculture,” May 2017,

  3. Suss, “Gen Z: Obsessed with Brand Authenticity and Activism.” 

  4. Douglas Holt, “Branding in the Age of Social Media,” March 2016,

  5. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser, The Body, in Theory - Histories of Cultural Materialism (Ann Arbor, Mich: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2019), 81. 

  6. W. David Marx, “What Is Culture? Part Six: Defining Cultural Phenomena,” March 2022,

  7. Warren James Belasco, Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry, 2nd updated ed (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 27. 

  8. Ibid., 73–74. 

  9. Ibid., 254. 

  10. S. Margot Finn, Discriminating Taste: How Class Anxiety Created the American Food Revolution (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2017), 215. 

  11. Heidi Zimmerman, “Caring for the Middle Class Soul: Ambivalence, Ethical Eating and the Michael Pollan Phenomenon,” Food, Culture & Society 18, no. 1 (March 2015): 43,

  12. Belasco, Appetite for Change, 74. 

  13. Toby Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle,” September 2022,

  14. Emma Stamm, “Who Can It Be Now,” August 2022,

  15. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  16. Slavoj Žižek, “Fat-Free Chocolate and Absolutely No Smoking: Why Our Guilt about Consumption Is All-Consuming,” May 2014,

  17. Toby Shorin, “After Authenticity,” April 2018,

  18. Slavoj Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 4 (2008): 668,

  19. Finn, Discriminating Taste, 212. 

  20. Richard Kestenbaum, “How Politics Influences Branding,” September 2022,

  21. Eric Holt-Giménez, A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat (New York: Monthly Review Press ; Food First Books, 2017), 143–44. 

  22. W. David Marx, “What Is Culture? Part Seven: Summary and Bibliography,” April 2022,

  23. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  24. Vladimir Lenin and Slavoj Žižek, Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings (London: Verso, 2011), 284–85. 

  25. Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, The $16 Taco: Contested Geographies of Food, Ethnicity, and Gentrification (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 162. 

  26. Mark Fisher, “I Am Angry, I Am Ill and I’m as Ugly as Sin…,” August 2008,

  27. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 348–49. 

  28. Fisher, “I Am Angry, I Am Ill and I’m as Ugly as Sin…” 

  29. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  30. Vivek Chibber, The Class Matrix: Social Theory after the Cultural Turn (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University press, 2022), 113. 

  31. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, 11. print (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984), 179. 

  32. Ibid. 

  33. Belasco, Appetite for Change, 198. 

  34. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  35. Amanda Mull, “Body Positivity Is a Scam,” Vox, June 5, 2018,

  36. Mark Fisher, “Anti-Capital (Some Modest Beginnings),” August 2004,

  37. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 14. 

  38. Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006), 21. 

  39. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  40. Isabelle de Solier, Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture, Materializing Culture (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), 59. 

  41. Peter Naccarato and Kathleen LeBesco, Culinary Capital, English ed (London ; New York: Berg, 2012), 75. 

  42. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  43. Finn, Discriminating Taste, 186. 

  44. Joassart-Marcelli, The $16 Taco: Contested Geographies of Food, Ethnicity, and Gentrification, 33. 

  45. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  46. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 663. 

  47. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  48. Mull, “Body Positivity Is a Scam.” 

  49. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 660. 

  50. Slavoj Žižek, “A Leftist Plea for ‘Eurocentrism,’” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 4 (1998): 991–92,

  51. W. David Marx, “What Is Culture? Part One: The Word,” February 2022,

  52. Brown, Regulating Aversion, 20. 

  53. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  54. Žižek, “A Leftist Plea for ‘Eurocentrism,’” 1002. 

  55. Belasco, Appetite for Change, 194. 

  56. Joassart-Marcelli, The $16 Taco: Contested Geographies of Food, Ethnicity, and Gentrification, 115. 

  57. de Solier, Food and the Self, 99. 

  58. Ibid., 92. 

  59. Yoshiyuki Sato and Étienne Balibar, Power and Resistance: Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Althusser (London ; New York: Verso, 2022), 52. 

  60. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  61. Ibid. 

  62. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 668. 

  63. Slavoj Žižek, “Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” New Left Review I, no. 255 (September 1997): 44. 

  64. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 679. 

  65. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  66. Zhuangzi, “Zhuangzi : Outer Chapters : The Tree on the Mountain - Chinese Text Project,” trans. Legge James, accessed February 10, 2023,

  67. Hans-Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio, You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021), 246. 

  68. Shorin, “After Authenticity.” 

  69. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  70. Rob Horning, “Methexis in Darkness,” September 2022,

  71. Stamm, “Who Can It Be Now.” 

  72. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 676. 

  73. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 64. 

  74. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  75. Ibid. 

  76. Žižek, “Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” 44. 

  77. Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups, 1. Harvard Univ. Press paperback ed (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 8. 

  78. Mark Fisher, “Going Overground,” January 2014,

  79. Warren Belasco, Food and the Counterculture: A Story of Bread and Politics, The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader (New York: Wiley, 2004), 226. 

  80. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  81. R. Pope, “Realizing the Scene; Punk and Meaning’s Demise,” International Journal of Žižek Studies 3, no. 1 (2009): 4. 

  82. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  83. Ibid. 

  84. Jasmine Wang and Jasmine Sun, “⚡ Value Beyond Instrumentalization,” August 2021,

  85. Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 1. publ (New York, N.Y: Picador U.S.A, 2001), 14. 

  86. Pope, “Realizing the Scene; Punk and Meaning’s Demise,” 2. 

  87. Ibid., 5. 

  88. Ibid., 3. 

  89. Wang and Sun, “⚡ Value Beyond Instrumentalization.” 

  90. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  91. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, First Harvard University Press paperback edition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2018), 117. 

  92. Nadia Asparouhova, “Idea Machines,” May 2022,

  93. Venkatesh Rao, “On Lore,” April 2022,

  94. Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti, and Sam Hart, “Headless Brands,” October 2019,

  95. Sam Hart, Toby Shorin, and Laura Lotti, “Market-Protocol Fit,” April 2020,

  96. David A. Banks and Britney Gil, “Community,” July 2019,

  97. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  98. Ian Wright, “Dark Eucharist of the Real God,” 𝗗𝗔𝗥𝗞 𝗠𝗔𝗥𝗫𝗜𝗦𝗠 (blog), November 25, 2021,

  99. Shane Satterley, “Religious Lies, Conmen and Coercive Control: How Cults Corrupt Our Desire for Love and Connection,” The Conversation, July 10, 2022,

  100. Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups, 13. 

  101. Venkatesh Rao, “Mopium, Copium, Hopium,” April 2022,

  102. Michel Foucault, “Two Lectures,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon et al. (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 93. 

  103. Venkatesh Rao, “Lore as Imaginative Irony,” March 2022,

  104. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, The Essential Žižek (London New York: Verso, 2008), 27. 

  105. Steffen Böhm and Christian De Cock, “Everything You Wanted to Know about Organization Theory … but Were Afraid to Ask Slavoj Žižek,” The Sociological Review 53, no. 1_suppl (October 2005): 284,

  106. Jak Ritger, “‘Because Physical Wounds Heal,’” January 2023,

  107. Venkatesh Rao, “Raw Lore,” March 2022,

  108. Venkatesh Rao, “Dark, Gray, and Light Lore,” April 2022,

  109. Böhm and De Cock, “Everything You Wanted to Know about Organization Theory … but Were Afraid to Ask Slavoj Žižek,” 286. 

  110. Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 30. 

  111. Venkatesh Rao, “Towards Management Metamodernism,” April 2022,

  112. Marx, “What Is Culture? Part One: The Word.” 

  113. Rao, “Towards Management Metamodernism.” 

  114. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took over Identity Politics (and Everything Else) (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2022), 74. 

  115. Catherine Liu, Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional Managerial Class (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021), 25. 

  116. Slavoj Žižek, “The Limits of Liberal Democracy,” October 2020,

  117. Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 225. 

  118. Matt Prewitt, “Why Should Institutions Be Transparent?,” January 2023,

  119. Táíwò, Elite Capture, 112. 

  120. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 3. 

  121. Ian Wright, “Marx on Capital as a Real God,” 𝗗𝗔𝗥𝗞 𝗠𝗔𝗥𝗫𝗜𝗦𝗠 (blog), September 3, 2020,

  122. Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” 670. 

  123. Pope, “Realizing the Scene; Punk and Meaning’s Demise,” 8. 

  124. Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997), 20. 

  125. Žižek, “A Leftist Plea for ‘Eurocentrism,’” 1006. 

  126. Liu, Virtue Hoarders, 71–72. 

  127. Ritger, “‘Because Physical Wounds Heal.’” 

  128. Günseli Yalcinkaya, “How E-Girl Influencers Are Trying to Get Gen Z into the Military,” January 2023,

  129. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970). 

  130. Ritger, “‘Because Physical Wounds Heal.’” 

  131. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 40. 

  132. Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 203. 

  133. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 17–18. 

  134. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  135. Shorin, Lotti, and Hart, “Headless Brands.” 

  136. Hart, Shorin, and Lotti, “Market-Protocol Fit.” 

  137. Ibid. 

  138. Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti, and Sam Hart, “Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods,” July 2021,

  139. Lenin and Žižek, Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings, 286–87. 

  140. Divya Siddarth, Danielle Allen, and E. Glen Weyl, “The Web3 Decentralization Debate Is Focused on the Wrong Question,” Wired, accessed January 31, 2023,

  141. Bob Greenlee, “DAOs as the Future? Hard Pass, Thanks,” TechCrunch (blog), December 1, 2021,

  142. Brian Newar, “Is Ethereum Really the Best Blockchain to Form a DAO?,” April 2022,

  143. Vitalik Buterin, “Notes on Blockchain Governance,” December 2017,

  144. Kyle Chayka, “The Promise of DAOs, the Latest Craze in Crypto,” The New Yorker, January 28, 2022,

  145. Ibid. 

  146. Vitalik Buterin, “Moving beyond Coin Voting Governance,” August 2021,

  147. Shorin, Lotti, and Hart, “Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods.” 

  148. Wright, “Dark Eucharist of the Real God.” 

  149. Erin Woo and Kevin Roose, “Friends With Benefits Social Club Runs On Crypto and Vibes,” The New York Times, March 2, 2022,

  150. Vitalik Buterin, “Credible Neutrality As A Guiding Principle,” Nakamoto, January 4, 2020,

  151. Andrew Thurman and Sage D. Young, “Vitalik Buterin, Crypto’s Public Intellectual?,” March 23, 2022,

  152. David Graeber, “There Never Was a West: Or, Democracy Emerges From the Spaces In Between,” in Possibilities (AK Press, 2007), 339. 

  153. Nathan Schneider, “Cryptoeconomics as a Limitation on Governance,” 2021. 

  154. Edward Ongweso Jr. and Jacob Silverman, Crypto Is Making Everything Worse, interview by Daniel Denvir, March 10, 2022,

  155. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. Graham Burchell, 1st pbk ed., [Repr.], Lectures at the Collège de France (New York: Picador, 2008), 226. 

  156. Ibid., 302. 

  157. Vitalik Buterin, “On Nathan Schneider on the Limits of Cryptoeconomics,” September 2021,

  158. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, 270. 

  159. Ibid., 116. 

  160. Patrick McGinty, “There Is No Leftist Case for Crypto,” Jacobin, October 10, 2022,

  161. Vitalik Buterin, “Coordination, Good and Bad,” September 2020,

  162. Vitalik Buterin, Interview: Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum, interview by Noah Smith, September 2022,

  163. Vitalik Buterin, “DAOs Are Not Corporations: Where Decentralization in Autonomous Organizations Matters,” September 2022,

  164. Buterin, Interview: Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum. 

  165. Kevin Owocki, “Other Internet | Toby Shorin,” GreenPill, n.d.,

  166. Vitalik Buterin, “Base Layers And Functionality Escape Velocity,” December 2019,

  167. Owocki, “Other Internet | Toby Shorin.” 

  168. Curtis Yarvin, “The DAO as a Lesson in Decentralized Governance,” June 2016,

  169. Curtis Yarvin, “Common Objections to Urbit,” June 2016,

  170. Francis Tseng, “Who Owns the Stars: The Trouble with Urbit,” May 2019,

  171. Ibid. 

  172. E J Spode, “Trust: The inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Ethereum | Aeon Essays,” Aeon, February 14, 2017,

  173. Andrew Ryce, “Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and the Promise of Utopia · Feature ⟋ RA,” Resident Advisor, September 15, 2021,

  174. Woo and Roose, “Friends With Benefits Social Club Runs On Crypto and Vibes.” 

  175. Táíwò, Elite Capture, 78. 

  176. McGinty, “There Is No Leftist Case for Crypto.” 

  177. Slavoj Žižek, “Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, Please!,” in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), 95. 

  178. The Blockchain Socialist, “DAOs: Anarcho-Syndicalism In a Digital World,” February 2022,\_D5gM1fZmcxstb1VuQdLm-JBjgKE

  179. Paolo Gerbaudo, Populism(s) 2.0: Social Media and the Symbolic Battle for the “People,” ed. Christian Fuchs and Daniel Trottier, Social Media, Politics and the State (New York: Routledge, 2015). 

  180. Austin Robey, “What Co-Ops and DAOs Can Learn From Each Other,” January 2022,

  181. The Blockchain Socialist, “DAOs: Anarcho-Syndicalism In a Digital World.” 

  182. Jesse Walden, “Past, Present, Future: From Co-Ops to Cryptonetworks,” March 2019,

  183. Graeber, “There Never Was a West: Or, Democracy Emerges From the Spaces In Between,” 341. 

  184. Shorin, Lotti, and Hart, “Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods.” 

  185. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  186. Elinor Ostrom, “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems,” American Economic Review 100, no. 3 (June 2010): 645,

  187. Ibid., 646. 

  188. Schneider, “Cryptoeconomics as a Limitation on Governance,” 5. 

  189. Owocki, “Other Internet | Toby Shorin.” 

  190. Ryce, “Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and the Promise of Utopia · Feature ⟋ RA.” 

  191. Buterin, “On Nathan Schneider on the Limits of Cryptoeconomics.” 

  192. Ostrom, “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems,” 664–65. 

  193. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  194. Ibid. 

  195. Linsey McGoey, “Elite Universities Gave Us Effective Altruism, the Dumbest Idea of the Century,” Jacobin, January 19, 2023,

  196. Eric Hughes, “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto,” March 9, 1993,

  197. Brown, Regulating Aversion, 45. 

  198. Shorin, “Life After Lifestyle.” 

  199. Alison Lowe, “XR Fundamentals: Act Now,” August 2020,

  200. Lenin and Žižek, Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings, 284. 

  201. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 73. 

  202. Ibid., 91. 

  203. Owocki, “Other Internet | Toby Shorin.” 

  204. Žižek, “A Leftist Plea for ‘Eurocentrism,’” 1003. 

  205. Sato and Balibar, Power and Resistance, 261. 

  206. Chris Dixon, “Why Decentralization Matters,” February 2018,

  207. Voice Over Exit, “Voice Over Exit: Toward Crypto’s Public Sphere,” May 2022,

  208. Graeber, “There Never Was a West: Or, Democracy Emerges From the Spaces In Between,” 329–30. 

  209. Shorin, Lotti, and Hart, “Headless Brands.” 

  210. E. Glen Weyl, “Why I Am a Pluralist,” February 2022,

  211. Brown, Regulating Aversion, 34. 

  212. Laclau Ernesto, “Identity and Hegemony: The Role of Universality in the Constitution of Political Logics,” in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), 57. 

  213. Vitalik Buterin, “A Philosophy of Blockchain Validation,” August 2020,

  214. Ibid. 

  215. Kevin Owocki, “How Crypto Can Do Good for the World,” CoinDesk, June 6, 2022,

  216. Scott Moore, “DAOs Are the New Way of Impact Work,” July 1, 2022,

  217. Crystal Kim, “Public Goods Devotee Pushes Green Pill in Crypto Development,” Axios, August 23, 2022,

  218. Owocki, “How Crypto Can Do Good for the World.” 

  219. Andreas Weber, Enlivenment: Toward a Poetics for the Anthropocene, Untimely Meditations 16 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2019), 122. 

  220. B. K. Marcus, “If Men Were Angels, We Wouldn’t Need the Blockchain | B.K. Marcus,” September 14, 2015,