Hell is other people. But as the paradoxical nature of real life hits back to the countless bedroom philosophers who fancy themselves nihilists, turns out you can do pretty much, well nothing, without having people around you.
Lessons are difficult to take in, but there’s nothing like good ol’ fashion lived experience in meatspace to allow the point to be made. For many people school is the worst kind of environment to attempt to do group work. Mainly because unless you are starting a extracurricular club you are pretty much being ordered to do something by a superior. And as it turns out, most people don’t like each other. Sure, you may have friends in your class, but it isn’t really about friends, it’s about the end product. It’s school. It’s prison. There’s nothing funny about a grade or a bunch of shitheads not doing what they are supposed to.
Got carried away there, but passion, as it turns out, is a good point of difference between the kinds of groups or collectivities we have in meatspace life. The kids in class officially sucked but you could maneuver your way around them or simply do the job for them. The thing is that the job needed to be done, or else.
In the extracurricular club sitch there is a marked difference. People gather around, complete forms, and generally perform a lot bureaucratic work, not to mention obscene amounts of emotional labour (thank your local librarian next time you see them) in order to create something. Outta passion, as it turns out. People do crazy shit when they love something and want to create something. What they quickly find out is that love is not enough.
Wah-wah. They get over it pretty quickly. The thing about organizations and collectives that pursue the passion model is that eventually everyone gets tired. It will not surprise you to know that most people have limited energy and even the most patient and loving of people reached their limits in how much they can give in terms of time, care, and most of the time, money.
Money, yeah, that shit, that always-looming entity that can make or break people. In the organizations I’ve been a part of, it’s always been an issue of one’s attitude towards money. Do you love it, hate it, seek it, fear it, feel sad about it? People that lead passion-projects often think of money as a nuisance that should not be thought again. Life is not only about money, they say, but oddly enough, it is quite a good motivator due to it, uh, being something that can help you live on a daily basis.
It is no coincidence that organizations that pride themselves of passion are also pretty disastrous with money management.
But let’s get back to school for a moment, albeit you never really do leave it. Remember those fucking shitheads you needed to work with to hand in a group project? Well, in the best of cases, they would all realize that oh fuck we actually have to hand this thing! It doesn’t matter if Tom slept with Peter and also with Erick, and you and Mary had a thing back at math camp that no one really wants to remember (you both had braces, it was awkward). What matters is that you all have abilities and even if you don’t, some of you can do some basic shit like writing or buying stuff. Each contributes something and then something is done. If you are lucky you get that A, Erick, Peter, and Tom all start a poly-anarchist commune and you and Mary decide that you know what? Maybe you were too inexperienced to know the braces would clash. It’s all in the past.
But what really matters, despite all these good side effects happening, is that you handed in the final product.
This is not about passion, it’s about getting your shit together and working towards a common goal. You could end up incredible friends with relationships enhanced, like pretty much every Avengers film or every single episode of Dan Harmon’s Community. Or you could just feel good that you produced something, go home, come back the next morning and continue ignoring one another. Life goes on..
These are two models that can help guide the framing of collectivities forward. We can call each hot collectivities and cold collectivities.
Now how does this all relate to the blockchain? Glad you asked.
Part of the cypherpunk dream of electronic cash, besides the idea of evading taxes (mah ancapistan), is the idea that a bunch of anons and nyms can transact with one another without needing to meet each other or really have any sort of relation besides the transaction. And that’s that, whatever you do with the money, no one cares. Just go wild, beat the system, cut the middle man, become a bronie, show the middle finger to the state, and all that jazz. There’s also the idea of peers and leechers in P2P clients: you wanna watch some necrophilia, peers help you download it and you stop being a leecher once you start helping others download videos of bare dead cocks.
The blockchain enables this kind of goal-based mindset. Of course there a lot of communities out there that gather around cryptocurrencies. But at the end of the day, that’s extra information that the users chose to disclose. In the last instance, and at least in theory, the blockchain and all the cryptocurrencies that populate guarantee (some) sort of anonymity and ease for users. The blockchain is shit for many things, but in theory the ideas that made its production viable are at the very least worth mentioning as an example of cold collectives. Thank the people with mining rigs, running blockchain nodes, or giving up spare computing power. Except you can’t. And that’s by design, unless they choose to de-anonymize. Henlo taxes!
Hot collectivities are not exactly the opposite but do not function in much the same way as the cold ones. Hot collectivities are passion-projects that are to an extent functioning on someone else’s emotional labour. There’s the peer to peer nature of it. Functioning communities such as these persist due to stubbornness rather that a solid base. We have to keep on going to the meetings because we have to keep on doing this because if no one does this then we are doomed. It will not surprise you to know that this is a somewhat functional community model that has been imported to the ideology of work, specifically startups. You must work extra hours because we are a family. You must work and receive a shit pay because we believe in each other and the work we do. Religion is everywhere and what the exploiters of the heart want you to do is give more and more from yourself in exchange for a few pennies.
Despite the startup world exporting the hot collectivities model for their own benefit, people that create reading groups, support groups, NGOs, non-profits and do community work tend to know the positive creation that hot collectivities enable. Hot collectives create lasting relationships amongst people that go through thick and thin and support one another. It is the equivalent of trial by fire. There are many uplifting films about this kind of group cohesion, but the best example I can give comes from the endurance of going through a traumatic event collectively, the stuff that families are made off.
I did not have much of a relationship with my sister before my step-dad died. She is younger than me but much tougher and disciplined. When my step dad died in a car-crash on December, 23rd of 2011, we all saw my mom and my sister cry in the highway over the TV. We were devastated. It was one of the saddest Christmas and New Year’s we’ll ever have. We cried and hugged, and in general tried to get through it together. Of course it ended up being a traumatic point in all our personal histories. But now 7 years later one can see how it helped. My sister is now training for medical school and she will always be the better person of our sibling bracket. Sometimes we remember the bad times. But it now fuels us, helps us, binds us.
All of this to say, there is no such thing as good hot collectives or bad hot collectives or great cold ones and horrendous cold ones. As I type this, you can bet that the cold collectivities that enable anonymous transactions have spawned many a horrendous community. The magic internet money world is full of them. Think the sleaze of Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, except the wolf is an ‘entrepreneur’ trying to get you to get into his latest gold/mining enterprise by flaunting their money and overall believing that’s gonna help them be loved. Every cliche is there, only more disgusting and pathetic.
Same with the hot collectivities model, it’s not all bad. Relationships that are forged by fire are seldom broken. Even when you’ve think you lost touch with those relationships, they remain there. But what matters most is the differentiations we make with both models, the process versus the goal oriented modes. It is not the case that one is infinitely superior than the other. The framing in terms of winning misses the point. The more interesting questions arise once we investigate how these models interact with each other and experiment in the ways in which they could be helpfully be made to speak to one another.
In the majority of organizations I’ve worked with money seems to be the pharmakon, poison and cure. The seeming inhuman model of cold collectivities expressed by the blockchain and P2P networks seems to be a solution, infrastructurally speaking, but what matters is how this infrastructure manages to influence the structure of what for our purposes we might term culture. Political-economic relations rule our social and cultural spheres in the last instance, but how is the hot collectivity model supposed to arise from there? Trials by fire are scarce, some times. Support networks create relief out of a sense of ingroup understanding of the conditions of the members, but they do not guarantee their well-being. Capital matters, one way or the other, so we start from there, by figuring out what our relation to it is (never mind the fact that it’s watching you too) and we proceed. Alternative modes of sustaining groups are ever sprawling, but for those models to become a reality, it is necessary to not be fear, but rather embrace the factual nature of money and our relationship to it.
At the end of the day cold collectives may seem safer and hot collectivities too much of a hassle. But as things go, it turns out we cannot control our libidinal investments. Things increasingly just happen and much like in school, sometimes you get thrown into a group with lazy idiots that you have to carry and sometimes you get over that shit and start your own LLC.