On the NFT, an analysis of the latest market obsession

Gannon Patrick, Staff Writer

The modern economy can be summed up as the production and consumption of commodities that would seem dystopian just 30 some years ago. Non-Fungible Token(s) (NFTs) seem to be the latest example of the most pathetic and depressing commodity that has entered the market. The NFT can be summed up as the buying of proof that you have a claim of ownership over a digital piece of art. That is right: there is a market for buying receipts now. I could in fact list the various critical theorists that have predicted this sad advancement in market economies and the enslavement to the commodity form (the Frankfurt School), but for this piece, that isn’t necessary. This piece goes out to those who value creativity- those who value art, the production of art, and the ability to express oneself creatively. Our contemporary capitalism is the primary opposition to those very things. To explain why, let us look at the cultural values that the market had to instill into us before the NFT could even be a desirable commodity to consume.

Let us start with the desire to be apart of a system of scarcity. In our capitalism, commodities are desired insofar as they are overtly scarce. For example, if the various pieces of clothing that your favorite celebrities wore for example were given to everybody for free, these pieces of clothing would not hold an ounce of the cultural value that they do- scarcity is desired.

Next, we see a general desire to appear as an owner of a good.The distortion of the relationship between man-nature as done by capitalism has been written about and studied for 2 centuries now- it is not my job to resurface said analysis. Yet, I think it is necessary to add on to said analysis. In our contemporary capitalism, actually owning said good (exerting sole control over an object in the world) isn’t the sole desire anymore in society. The primary desire in society seems to be to appear as the owner of a good; to appear as the person who has and controls said object.

Finally, we see the desire to accumulate capital as the sole desire of life. This one is known quite simply by all of you already- capitalism makes us put money at the center of our world. Yet, there are some necessary additions to this analysis once we consider the cultural trends from the 1970s onwards (the creations and application of neoliberalism). Whereas in industrial capitalism laborers labored to accumulate capital to spend on commodities and have a good life, accumulating capital now is seen as an end in and of itself. In other words, money is no longer seen strictly as a means to a certain desired end, but the end in and of itself. To explain this, let us consider Byung-Chul Han’s analysis of our current achievement society, which has created a hyper-labor culture with pathological effects: “The society of labor-
ing and achievement is not a free society. It generates new constraints; exploitation is possible even without an overt capitalist domination. Here, Han is suggesting we’ve moved far beyond the capitalism Marx analyzed, where the capitalist at the top of the pyramid ordered around and dominated the laborers at the bottom. Han is suggesting that we have now entered a very specific epoch in capitalism where everybody is simultaneously the master and the slave: they must master their own body and mind to achieve the wage-slave’s end… everybody must simultaneously be the capitalist and the worker- they must dominate themselves. Grind culture. Hustle culture. These are what these terms and cultural movements represent.

This specific culture produces a discourse in which anybody-can-do-anything. Most importantly here, the subjects internalize the “can” as a “should.” This is because in economic reality, that is precisely what the “can” means. When one sees a mother in poverty, they could get another job! When one sees a student who has been forced into debt, they could’ve just not gotten an education! The “can” has replaced what used to be spoken as a “should,” and this has
disastrous effects on the mind of the individual in which,“the achievement-subject competes with it-
self; it succumbs to the destructive compulsion to outdo itself over and over, to jump over its own shad-
ow. This self-constraint, which poses as freedom, has deadly results.” (Han) The achievement-subject finds itself fighting with itself. For the modern achievement subject, there is no end to this accumulation. of capital- because there can’t be. You can always do better. There is always more to do. There is no objective end to this accumulation.

The NFT then must be viewed as a specific manifestation of these cultural structures we’ve just outlined:

As to the desire to be apart of a system of scarcity, the NFT quite literally is the production of artificial
scarcity. It is clearly motivated by a desire to apply scarcity where there needn’t be any; to replicate physical property norms onto a digital space which has largely made them obsolete. That is to say that there is no innate scarcity to art pieces that are produced and reproduced digitally- any scarcity surrounding the NFT must be and have been artificially produced.

In relation to the desire to appear as an owner of a good, the appeal of the NFT is to show the world that you appear as the owner of this commodity that is scarce.

And finally, for the desire to accumulate capital as the sole desire of life, the NFT is inseparable from the grind-culture that has infected the youth. One must accumulate NFT’s like they accumulate dollar bills and shares of stock. “What are you doing with your life if you haven’t tried investing in NFTs? Don’t you have a college education to think about?”

The NFT is the moment that the desire to accumulate capital has permanently infiltrated the world of art. The NFT glorifies possession and consumption of an absolute nothing; it is a moment of exclusivity without meaning; receipts over artistic creation; resale over appreciation. The NFT is the manifestation of a society that must devalue art and funnel money to those who already have it to make sure that capital can infiltrate all walks of society- to make sure that
profit and the accumulation of capital can enter any sphere of life at all.