Submitted by frlarry on Sun, 03/14/2021 - 14:35

Gamesters have traded in virtual goods for some time, now, although (not being a gamester) I’m just now learning about it.

More recently, however, there is a new category called non-fungible tokens, and one of the more important types is digital art. What makes the idea work is the use of blockchain technology (the securing technology of digital currency, like bitcoin).

So, if an artist creates a digital work of art, he or she can secure unique title to it using blockchain technology, and, in particular, make sure that any digital copy has valid provenance in order to be legally owned. See, also, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was intended to protect digital copies of music (e.g., to combat Napster), video, ebooks, etc.

What separates works of art from bitcoin is that there is inherent value in these works, albeit in the eyes (or other senses) of the collectors. Compare this with the value of a quantity of gold, silver or platinum, all of which have a value inherent in their inherent properties. These properties will continue to exist regardless of what happens to human civilization.

By contrast, virtual goods, non-fungible tokens and bitcoin lose their existence if the digital technology that supports them universally fails. In other words, if our civilization collapses, so do these digital assets.

According to the available evidence, Homo Sapiens have been around for about 300 thousand years. Civilization, itself, is far younger than that, even it its most primitive forms. Indeed, civilizations could, theoretically, have risen and fallen many times without leaving significant traces. (See the Cradle of civilization.) This is the premise of Walter M. Miller, Jr’s 1959 science fiction novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz. In a sense, it also relates to the legend of Atlantis invented by Plato. It also relates to the story of the great flood in Genesis.

There is a fundamental problem with human civilization. We can see it in the postmodern culture of political correctness and cancel culture. It feeds on the tribal instinct, fear, narcissism and the lust for power. Human beings have only so much tolerance for individuation. The more subdivided "tribes" become, the more likely it is that "tribal" wars break out. The top dog in any such structure always senses that he, she, etc. must control that tendency in order to maintain power. This is how and why we have developed intersectionality and cancel culture.

The concentration of such power, however, is always unstable. It is the fundamental reason that civilizations rise and fall. China, Russia, and, now, the US, are all increasingly concentrating power. (The same may be true for the European Union, India, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, and is certainly true of Iran.) All three, apparently, see digital technology as the invulnerable source of maintaining and growing that power. All are developing weapons to attack that technology in competing empires and to secure their own. All are increasingly diminishing individual and small collective freedoms. All are working feverishly on AI technology (and most likely believe we are approaching a technological singularity).

I have posted before on the fragility of our Constitutional system. As hard as the framers worked to develop and to maintain it, even they recognized that its survival depended upon fundamental virtues that mitigated against tribalism, fear, narcissism and the lust for power. In our preoccupation with easy life and digital entertainment, we may lose the discipline required to develop such virtues.