We here at The A.V. Club would never suggest that cryptocurrency as a whole is functionally a scam, one in which various participants take turns being con artists and dupes, all racing to be the next person to happily burn large portions of the planet’s resource in pursuit of a classic Get-Rich-Quick scheme barely obscured by a modern patina of memes and Reddit-friendly libertarianism. We would never suggest that.
Anyway: The Guardian has a fascinating piece this week about the Satoshi, the first hypothetically independent living community operated by a bunch of gullible get-rich dopes burning untold resources on a woefully optimistic scheme powered by their own purported genius who just happened to also be a bunch of cryptocurrency guys. That is, it’s the story of the efforts to operate a crypto-run cruise ship where people would live, forever, free from taxes, and also the burden of being allowed to cook their own food, because it was a cruise ship. It is, in case you were wondering, exactly as weird and circuitous and frankly dumb a story as all those words in the description make it sound
Written by Sophie Elmhirst, the article tracks the probably-inevitable collision between a trio of crypto dudes and the seasteading movement, the libertarian ethos that argues that the only possible freedom from all these dang governments that own all the dang land is to move out onto the ocean, and then, probably, drown. (It’s the kind of theory floated by people who say stuff like “Let’s think of government as an industry, where countries are firms and citizens are customers!” without snickering, to give you a mental picture.) Three such crypto-rich seasteaders ended up running one such venture off the coast of Panama, a few years ago and decided to goose things forward by buying a cruise ship on the cheap (COVID) in order to get some occupants on the books. (This, despite the fact that one of the tenets of the whole seasteading thing is that you can just pull anchor and float away if ad hoc governments start getting too restrictive, something typically seen as very difficult to do with an aft cabin that’s two floors down from the lido deck.)
At the risk of venturing into spoiler territory, this was a terrible idea, with the Satoshi—named for the largely anonymous creator of Bitcoin—turning into a sort of elegantly crafted, floating metaphor for crypto itself: Kind of appealing from a distance, but ultimately disastrous to keep running, and financially ruinous for many involved. (There were also water slides.) At the same time, it’s a fascinating look at the kind of optimism that probably powers some version of the future, annoyingly—even if, 99 times out of 100, it’s directed at trying to convince the Panamanian government that your cruise ship isn’t actually a ship so that they’ll let you dump your poop runoff without having to sail out into international waters.