If You're Not A Skeptic, You're A Sucker

Ed Zitron 6 min read

Earlier today, I answered a question about why I am so troubled by cryptocurrency after all of these years, and I came up with a simple answer: people are getting hurt, and it’s only going to get worse.

I am absolutely guilty of laughing at the many people who have lost thousands or hundreds of dollars by “losing their apes,” or “their Adidas NFT,” or any number of depressing stories around people who lost their shirt on cryptocurrency. I have made fun of these people because, on some level, I’ve seen myself as smarter - I would never do something quite so stupid as to invest in a new, dangerous market that feels like a scam. Except I have - I’ve invested, and I’ve lost (though, thankfully, I am in the green and out of it all) based on the same spurious logic construction as these people.

I recognize that a lot of cryptocurrency fans feel somewhat unworthy of your sympathy - the regular statements of whom is to make it or not make it, the laughs at the expense of those who “didn’t get in early,” and so on. I’ve mocked them, and I will likely continue to do so, but I have reached a point where I’ve realised that so much of this industry is built on actively manipulating people into joining a religion. There is a specific identity politics to cryptocurrency - something between a sports fandom and a cult - that forces people to defend the currency online and offline, making it become their personality and their purpose in life, even if said purpose is mostly to cover up the idea of “making a number go up.” They become absorbed by the idea of protecting the hazy reality of purpose and culture that cryptocurrency fundamentally lacks. There is no great cryptocurrency product, no remarkable addition to society or meaning behind any of it. The only replacement is the never-ending conversations about where a coin may or may not go, even if everybody knows none of them have any idea.

I’ve been less interested in laughing at these people because they are being exploited at scale, and thanks to scumbags like Matt Damon and Jimmy Fallon, regular people are being lured into the system. Even the most toxic, annoying cryptocurrency freak has likely got into this system through the desperation and fear of living in an inequitable society.

You see, the majority of young people are living significantly worse lives than their parents, their grandparents, and their great grandparents. Young people have an eighth of the wealth that baby boomers have, can’t buy a home because corporations are snapping up double-digit percentages of homes sold (and that’s if you can get a mortgage), and most Americans can’t make a living wage. “Getting on the board” - building one’s wealth - is incredibly difficult (especially in America, thanks to our truly abominable healthcare system), and the ways that we’ve been taught for years - go to college (very expensive), work hard (doesn’t reliably lead to wealth) and buy a house (hard to impossible) - do not work for most people.

This is why I believe cryptocurrency has grown so much. Putting aside the poisonous rhetoric, millions of people interact with these chaotic, manipulated, and kleptocratic systems because they feel they have no other choice. Every single Telegram channel and Discord I’ve been in for a project features a huge chunk of people desperate for good news about the token price - endless flows of people that have bought in at the top and watched it crash to nothing with no real idea why they did it other than vague indicators of potential success that never, ever seem to matter in reality. These people are desperate because the world has made them desperate, and cryptocurrency is a perfect response - it has made people wealthy before. And, of course, here’s an incredibly supportive community of people who will all tell you that “we are going to make it,” based on the vaguest signals possible.

One of the many problems is that, despite knowing many cryptocurrency “pioneers,” I have never met a single one of them that can tell me exactly why Bitcoin or Ethereum’s price changed. Bitcoin can grow or contract by thousands of dollars, and people who know their stuff cannot tell you why - and that’s because the forces that manipulate cryptocurrency are so large, wealthy, and evil that they are impossible to track or hold accountable. While there may be some level of supply and demand pressure, price manipulation controls Bitcoin. The market - which regularly follows Bitcoin - is quite literally at the mercy of an unseen hand.

Furthermore, the gluttony of useless tokens in the market is pumped based on herd mentality and market manipulation. There is no meritocracy because there is nothing of merit within this market, just a series of semi-plausibly justified tokens that have a value based on which exchanges they’ve worked out deals with and which coins have market-makers. This isn’t the stock market - none of these things are controlled by real events, the validity of the purpose of the company, or the utility of anything associated with them - it’s entirely manipulation and influence, benefitting those that have rigged the systems to enrich them.

My anger toward cryptocurrency is focused on the fact that so many people are at the mercy of so many unseen forces. When Matt Damon told millions of people that “fortune favors the brave,” he wasn’t just tricking them; he actively led them into peril. The era of cryptocurrencies turning a hundred dollars into a million dollars has been gone for quite some time, and those that are still doing so are effectively running insider trading operations that end with a Coinbase listing and a massive payout.

All of this is legal (for now), meaning that cryptocurrency marketing operations can pay sports stars like Steph Curry to intimate that FTX somehow keeps you “safe” as you dip into these markets. And it’s easy to dismiss these as stars getting paid, until you realise that this will convince regular people to start buying Bitcoin, Ethereum, and anything else that’s available on these exchanges in the hopes that they’ll experience the massive returns that cryptocurrency has become famous for.

Regular people are being brought into these markets - people who are not tech-savvy, who are not digitally literate enough to distinguish between a real thing and someone’s false promises, people who are victims of scams because their lives are not lived online. This is nothing about their intelligence or their life experience - they are just not prepared for the armies of people that are absolutely willing to sacrifice ethics, morals and anything else they need to for a chance to scrape money from as many people as possible.

To be blunt, we are throwing regular people into a financial meat grinder in one of the most desperate financial eras in history. Thanks to the years of media attention given to millennial millionaires that have hit it big on crypto, the average person has an illusion of proximity to success, driven by endless advertising and marketing that tells them that they’re part of the future, and it’s a future where they’re going to be rich.

Except your money can go so fast, especially considering the lack of any meaningful guidance or preparation that someone buying cryptocurrency for the first time receives. FTX, and Coinbase can afford massive prime time commercials, dressing themselves in the respectable trappings of real companies as they feed their customers junk tokens that they’ve personally invested in. The speed at which someone can lose their money in these situations is so much faster and grimmer than the stock market, with absolutely none of the legal guardrails, protections, or remedies to protect them.

This is why I find those who call people worried about cryptocurrency “skeptics” so annoying - because the alternative is only zealotry. Cryptocurrency has proven nothing - it has not been a societal positive and has only managed to enrich a choice few while crushing many millions of people through multiple scams and crashes. If you are not a skeptic, you are either ignorant, lying or scummy. Even if you believe that this is worth something, even if you believe it has utility, it is impossible to ignore the daily ways in which the average person is exploited.

By humoring Bitcoin as a valid store of value or investment, you are tacitly approving of the fact that there is no valid reason why it is worth anything, let alone tens of thousands of dollars. By having superstars talk about how this is “the future,” you are tricking the average person into believing that there is hope, all while throwing them into markets that are almost purpose-built to exploit every participant. And the more “regular” people (who perhaps haven’t even invested in stocks) you pull into this system, the more you perpetuate the lie that this is a respectable, regulated, and “safe” environment for their money.

If this continues - if this funny money is continued to be approved-of and framed as “real” and “safe,” millions of people are going to lose billions of dollars. The current crash has already deeply hurt many, many people, and it will only get worse, because people are getting more and more desperate.

I will say this: there is a special place in Hell for Matt Damon, Paris Hilton, Jimmy Fallon and anyone else leading the mass-market push for cryptocurrency adoption. No amount of loathing is sufficient for the profit-led cruelty of the already-rich seeking to monetize their influence through exploitative means. They are ignorantly or willingly endangering millions of people’s futures.

And they’re making millions of dollars doing so.

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