Sherry Wong + Eryk Salvaggio

  • Today, “revolutionary” discourse is often attached to the decentralization of financial institutions in the cryptocurrency space, despite lacking any truly revolutionary ideological innovations. At the heart of most popular cryptocurrency discourse today is a desire to transform everything in the world into a simpler tool for automated accountants.

    We propose a decentralized peer-to-peer Situationist blockchain. The Situationist International was a French anarchist movement inspired by surrealism, Dada, and libertarian Marxism. They proposed that we navigate the world through a "mystifying illusion" of spectacles present in advertising, films -- even vacations and leisure -- that consolidates control in the name of economic productivity. This is true on its face: we spend hours of "free" time on social networks, for example, turning that leisure into data which is collected and sold by those providing us with "leisure." This is, fundamentally, an employee relationship being given freely to corporations. UX interfaces and digital interactions extend the spectacle, rewarding users with illusions in exchange for distracting them from the ways they wish to actually live.

    Abandoning the spectacle of economic productivity, our “Proof of Non-Work Consensus Protocol” turns devices into an otherwise useless object, or “brick.” Users, liberated from the spectacle of electronic interfaces, pursue other dreams. Meanwhile, the devices mine and create cryptocurrencies only to be immediately burned. The devices are essentially frozen and interfaces made inaccessible. The CPU power processes at full capacity, and cannot be turned off. Eventually, they burn out, and with it, so does any currency it has produced. This perfects the process of automating human leisure, mining and destroying wealth in an endless parody of economics.

  • In 2009, Bitcoin was introduced to the world through a white paper published under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The paper's rejection of centralized banking, and its links to the cybersecurity and privacy movements, soon led to its embrace by a cadre of techno-libertarians and anarchists. Bitcoin proposed a "trustless" method for securing the exchange of funds without intervention by a third party. Along the way, this decentralized alternative to banking accumulated a veneer of revolutionary potential, as many technologies do. The rhetoric of liberation, freedom from work, and shared prosperity surrounding Bitcoin was difficult to disentangle from its origins in radical anarchist politics.

    But Bitcoin rhetoric is often decisively libertarian, market-focused, and capitalist in its assumptions. Freedom is economic freedom. Shared prosperity is really only shared between investors: everyone will get rich. And while there is some discussion of how things might be different when banks are replaced by decentralized nodes on a network, there is precious little discussion about what those changes might look like, or how its benefits might be equitably distributed. It appears that, rather than reinventing the financial system, cryptocurrency discourse is dedicated to rebuilding it with new owners.

    Meanwhile, critiques of cryptocurrencies abound. Michel Bauwens writes that "cryptocurrencies are a disaster" from a psychological view: “On the one hand, they are a very powerful agent towards the ‘transactionalization of life’, that is of the fact that all the elements of our lives are progressively turning into transactions. Which overlaps with the fact that they become ‘financialized’. Everything, including our relations and emotions, progressively becomes transactionalized and financialized, and the Blockchain represents an apex of this tendency. This is already becoming a problem for informality, for the possibility of transgression, for the normation and normalization of conflicts and, thus, in prospect, for our liberties and fundamental rights, and for our possibility to perceive them (because we are talking about psychological effects).”1

    We wanted to reappraise the rhetoric of blockchain revolutions from another set of priorities, and so we turned to another set of origins. The Situationist International was a French anarchist movement inspired by surrealism, Dada, and libertarian Marxism. They proposed that we navigate the world through a "mystifying illusion" of spectacles present in advertising, films, even vacations and leisure, which consolidates control of our free time and orients it toward economic productivity.

    We spend hours of "free" time on social networks, for example, turning leisure time into data which is collected and sold by those providing us with a distraction we never seem to really want or enjoy. This is, fundamentally, an employee relationship being given freely to corporations: time spent on networks is pro bono data collection work. UX interfaces and digital interactions extend the spectacle, rewarding us all with illusions in exchange for distracting us from all the ways we actually wish to live.

    Situationists saw the individual as more than “workers,” more than tools for economic prosperity. Rather, we could be agents directing our own lived experiences. We are, however, constantly being diverted from those lives by a series of endless distractions, or “spectacles.” For the Situationists, both capitalist and communist ideologies ignored this facet of human experience, redirecting human being into an instrument of productivity. Debord wrote that the Situationists aim "to abolish not only the exploitation of humanity, but also the passions, compensations and habits which that exploitation has engendered."2 At the same time, it was acknowledged that the Spectacle was too powerful an enemy. Any resistance would quickly be recuperated into the Spectacle itself. Instead, resistance was a constant struggle for moments of autonomy, and the concept of recuperation could be wielded both ways.

    As the Situationists sought to center the vitality of lived experience as the aim of revolutionary action, we aim to center it in the aim of a Situationist blockchain.3 LutteCoin is a cryptocurrency reimagined from a Situationist position, embraced as a tool for producing new life experiences. LutteCoin reimagines blockchain as a tool for rejecting coerced economic productivity and exchange. This proposal questions whether blockchain can create a governance structure that achieves the opposite of its original ideological intent, which is complete financialization — the ledgerfication of the world.

    LutteCoin turns to the tools of the Situationists, such as the "detournement," a tactic of reclaiming tools of "the spectacle" and transforming them into something more useful. Situationists took advertisements and comic strips, erasing words to replace with their own propaganda. Likewise, we borrow the iconography of cryptocurrency’s spectacle: motivational photographs of office workers, posing Christ-like in short moments away from offices. Promotional videos. Our white paper steals the format of the Bitcoin proposal, down to its structure and the selection of its fonts. And, of course, the tool itself, a crypto wallet.

    The Situationist Blockchain is a way of reconciling the idea of revolutionary liberty defined by the crypto scene with the revolutionary liberty of the Situationist Internationale. If the rhetoric of crypto-revolutionaries is deeply rooted in conservative concepts of economics, exchange, commodification and profit, then the idea of the Situationists is a constant search for moments of reprieve from the psychic damage of those concepts. It is a retreat from the idea that "‘having’ (the products of dead labour) becomes more important than ‘being’ (satisfied and integrated into one’s living labour)," as described by Keir Martin.4

    What does that look like? We began with an idea of resisting economic incentives for participation. Whereas Bitcoin relies on Proof-of-Work (POW) as its method of validating a mining node’s version of the ledger as accurate — to establish trust — we turn to Proof of Non-Work (PNW). PNW brings elements of the pure gift to the Blockchain. It is an alternative to extracting and burning resources as the sacrificial evidence of your commitment to the ledger.

    Instead, as a gift freely given, you sacrifice your own devices. As engines of productivity, the laptop, smartphone and wearable device are a deeply ingrained delivery vehicle for spectacle and distraction. Designed as tools of ever-increasing productivity, in which social interactions are commodified through digital social networks and surveillance capitalism, today’s modern computing devices offer a trade-off between social interaction and creativity on the one hand and endless manipulation and spectacle on the other. They are relentlessly optimized to polarize, distract, and inflame, hijacking lived time to provide fragments of your life to be analyzed and sold back to you through marketing. These devices and platforms are, to state the obvious, transforming your time and leisure into "commodities." The Situationist Blockchain beckons you toward severing your relationship to the tyranny of interactive productive spectacle, to bite the hand that feeds you — perhaps even to bite your own hand.

    The Situationist blockchain refuses to participate in remote work, social surveillance and data capitalism. Having already accumulated these machines, users are able to fulfil their purpose of profit-making completely. By downloading our cryptocurrency "wallet" (a program for mining and holding cryptocurrency) you agree to dedicate 100% of your system's resources to the single activity of accumulating wealth that can never be spent. The device becomes "bricked," useless for any other task, fulfilling your obligation to the "Proof of Non-Work Consensus Protocol." If the wallet is running, you're not on your phone.

    As you brick more of your devices, you accumulate more cryptocurrency. Your device is mining while you do something else – anything else. The machine dreams of labor on your behalf. You can play, sleep, love, eat, and pursue any spontaneous volunteer action that moves you. That is, for Situationists, the act of liberation, however temporary.

    Meanwhile, your wallet accumulates wealth which is endlessly destroyed in a parody of economics. In a strange quirk of markets, the more currency that is destroyed, the more valuable the currency becomes. Following the dream-world logic of surreal situations, this means that a cryptocurrency that is constantly destroyed and never spent should be the most valuable currency in the world.

    In the dream logic of surreal situations, the pure gift replaces existing economic models, and vast sums are accumulated by tech giants such as Facebook or Google by turning off the engines of their networks. Bricking cloud servers and iPhones is the ultimate gift, an act of de-commodifying commodities in ways that absolutely cannot be returned by the receiver. In exchange, they receive an inordinate sum of social capital. This would be reflected in the massive sums of cryptocurrency they would instantly acquire, as hundreds of thousands of their machines mine dead time for a dead currency. Acknowledging the uselessness of this wealth is the final step of the Situationist revolution, an unattainable dream.

    The Situationist Blockchain is presented as a Non Fungible Gesture, a gift given freely with the aim of imagining a world beyond financialization and commodities. It reclaims the rhetoric of radical change and dares the dreamers to dream of something aside from a salvation to be delivered through financial instruments. To reassess the waiting game of accumulation, the constriction of light flickering from glass boxes, and pursue the richness of the moment’s immediate possibilities.

    What happens then?

    1 Bauwens, Michel (2017). “The Financialization of Life,” P2P Foundation.

    2 Debord, Guy (1957). Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's Conditions of Organization and Action.

    3 See Alastair Hemmens and Gabriel Zacarias (2020) “The Spectacle,” in The Situationist International: A Critical Handbook.

    4 Martin, Keir (2012). The ‘potlatch of destruction’: Gifting against the state. Critique of Anthropology. 2012;32(2):125-14