Yes, I’m a leg man. I confess.
Female legs are a sexual eccentricity. Identical to male legs, they elude the scrutiny of the erudite scholar who tries to pin down their appeal. Amazingly, throughout much of history, from the Byzantine Empire under the Justinian dynasty to Chiang Kai-shek’s Old Shanghai, women’s legs were subject to the same cultural taboos surrounding more globular body parts, tucked behind petticoats and under long dresses until they became objects of fantasy and desire.
The fascination with legs peaked in the Victorian era. In his A Diary in America, Captain Marryat recounts a time when a young woman he was accompanying scraped her knee at Niagara Falls. When Marryat asked if her “leg” was okay, she sheepishly answered that a gentleman should only refer to “limbs” in the presence of a lady, and never “legs,” even when discussing armchairs. Clearly, to utter the word leg in polite society was borderline scandalous—even in private bedrooms, the word made for good dirty talk. Yet, more than a century and two world wars later, the appeal of legs remains at a pico top.
This piece is part two of Eulogy for my Non-Fungible tokens:
Read part one first, here.
“May I, monsieur, bring my glass next to yours without running the risk of intruding? No no, I’m not trying to sell you my NFTs—it is only that solitude is unfavorable for digestion. Oh, my lantern? Do not mind it. Are you waiting for someone? Let me guess—your plus one for the after-party at Marquee? In the meantime, grant me the pleasure of keeping you company. Ah, you smile! May I assume that I am not the oddest fellow you have met all week?”
“Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.” ― John von Neumann
Ah, the good old staircase wit.
You’re in the shower after a long night out, and you remember how you bombed explaining mfers to your friends. You recall the concern that flashed across their faces as they nodded along to your whimsical assertions. You recollect your nervous shuffling when your (now) ex questioned you why rent money was blown on a monkey picture. Then, all of a sudden, it hits you. The lightbulb flashes in your head and you’re like: shoot, I wish I’d said this instead! If this feels like deja vu, this guide is for you. Here are the things I keep in mind whenever I explain why I proudly own NFTs.
Things fell apart on my 21st birthday. Now I am become man, destroyer of pie. And, as is the case with young men of vanity of person and of situation, I find adulthood to be very much in bad taste. My whole life I have struggled with mediocrity with varying degrees of success. I have no doubt become a finely-packaged bachelor if one were not to look too closely at the label. I had earned an agreeable following through my work, sweated away fifty pounds, conquered a voguish depression, and made and lost great fortunes worthy of gilded age gossip. Yet now, on this 17th of June, the eve of my birthday, I lie awake, suffering from some quarter-life crisis that refuses to be washed away by youthful exuberance before the coming of midnight.
When I was a little boy, my father would make me listen to tapes of the Three Kingdoms. My favorite character was Liu Bei, then it was Cao Cao, and now it is Sun Quan. My father was a professor of business strategy who gave fairly dry lectures that made good cures for insomnia, and for a long time I went to bed early. Whenever he wrote case studies, his prose marched in soldierly fashion across the page, the formation only broken by elaborate streams of formulas balancing epsilon and delta. He must’ve believed that a poem was an enigma of words with a tricky meaning tucked surreptitiously into its folio, like treasure on the ocean floor below a surface of galloping rhymes. But he always wanted to write poetry, and I guess it rubbed off on me.
One Sunday morning, when I was maybe twelve, I was sitting on the marbled living-room floor next to an expensive porcelain vase that my father had obtained from some celebration. The drapes were shut tight because my parents worried that the sun would fade the Ming Dynasty rosewood furniture, but nonetheless, a bright bar of light cut through a gap in the curtains, and that’s where I sat when I heard the ascending footsteps of an angry tiger-mom. I don’t know why the episode sticks with me today—if not for the thrashing she gave me for missing math tutoring, but time and time again I revisit the phantom memory and attempt to beat some meaning out of it. Maybe that was the day when I decided I no longer wanted to be the man my mother wanted me to be and live the life she wanted me to live, although that is exactly what I ended up doing anyway, nine years later. I hope she is content, knowing that a remarkable mediocrity is the antithesis of true brilliance.
It seems to me that the literary man leads a very romantic life. Perhaps that is who I become in my dream, the same way a primrose dreams of Baudelaire. Sure, you were not ever going to be as famous as Paul Newman, but you could enjoy an undisturbed afternoon in some Viennese coffeehouse on NanChang Road lost in the pages of Proust or fleeing from Faulkner’s great lexicon of despair. You were never going to have the power of a statesman or the command of a general, but you were free to doze off into a dozen dreams. You were condemned to forever wander the Hochschwarzwald without having mastered the mathematical secrets of the universe (which are, I am told, inconsistent anyway), but you could always catch dasein in the rye. Yet, I am now old enough to appreciate that life is always in bad taste in so far as every being is never satisfied with the path it eventually chooses.
Despite its sirenic wiles, Romanticism remains the most poisonous antidote to man’s search for ontological meaning in an absurd world (to Camus’ dismay, anyone has yet to die for it). Our rebellious fathers, themselves the great sons of the enlightenment, brushed off the creed of rationality and truth to instead worship the sentiments of the individual. Slowly, art became the performative enterprise through which voyeurs announced themselves to the world in hopes of vindication from the goliaths on Olympus. Objective works of beauty and the sublime were discarded in favor of acts of desecration. The treacherous romantics have stolen fire from Prometheus: we have slain the steward of our higher aspirations.
McGoblintown airdropped McGoblin Burgers to goblins today. If anything can count as art, what is the point in trying to achieve that distinction? We are left with the vapid observation that some people look at some things and other people others. The suggestion that art aims to provide objective values and lasting monuments to the human condition and cultural zeitgeist is dismissed out of hand as dependent on an antediluvian conception of the artwork that was washed down the drain of Duchamp’s fountain. The argument is enthusiastically embraced since it appears to liberate people from burdensome notions of culture, telling them that venerable masterpieces can be dismissed without repercussions, that Trolls or literal “pieces of shit” are on par with Azuki and gnomes the equal of Fidenzas, since nothing is better than anything and all aesthetic claims are equally valid outside of the kingdom of god in the realm of man and goblins.
Introibo ad altare Dei. Glory be to ShitGod, my Lord, my Executioner! Raise me from this wasteland as thou raised NFTs from the dead. Release me from the ineluctable modality of the visible. Purge the infidels from thy domain so that none are left who do not submit to thy scent. Oh, Lord Most High, Creator of desolation, great Harbinger of doom, thou has already triumphed in thy Manichaean struggle against Matt DesLauriers and Tyler Hobbs. I pray thee have mercy on my fallen brethren and listen to my eulogy in silence.
In the struggle between individualism and collectivism regarding the mode of production, collectivism has the last laugh. Pushing past the economics of Ronald Coase, Armen Alchian, and Harold Demsetz, American philosopher Elizabeth Anderson reveals a striking American contradiction: that modern workplaces are “private governments,” or, more specifically, communist dictatorships that can order you around and sanction you for non-compliance. Rule-making is not up for deliberation. Whereas enlightenment philosophers since Locke have rejected kingship and absolute monarchies, no one has yet questioned the sector wielded by CEOs over low-ranking employees.
Adam Smith believed that markets would be devices in the service of emancipation. He wanted to empower ordinary people because he trusted the rationality of their judgment. The neoliberalism that stems from his thought attempted to reimagine the firm as a nexus of contracts—an arrangement of individuals organizing themselves according to their desires in a free market where workers enter voluntarily and are free to exit as they please. Analogously, a boss’s orders are akin to a price for a good, which a customer is free to refuse. Yet, the new kinds of institutions that arose from the onset of the industrial revolution due to economies of scale and increasing returns to scale (firms/corporations) betrayed motivations behind markets: they have organized hierarchically.
At present, as a consequence of the employment-at-will rule, executives may fire workers for their sexual activities, partner choice, religion, Twitter posts, gender identity, etc., unless the state has an explicit law banning discrimination on such grounds. Clearly, workplace authoritarianism is still lurking beneath a facade of democracy. Though Anderson cannot reconcile a justifiable view of entrepreneurship and free enterprise with Republican liberty, I argue that blockchain technology absolves this antinomy: Web3 democratizes these regimes and restores agency to workers who now have the positive liberty to do more than establish or join another dictatorship or escape into the jungle while protecting private property rights and ownership over the means of production.
Dictatorial regimes are unimaginable in the crypto world of sovereign individuals. By allowing people to freely monetize and tokenize their creative faculties, the Web3 creator economy empowers self-employment, liberating workers from such veiled forms of iron-fist authoritarianism (everyone can be their own boss). Working in Web3 means democratizing information and reducing friction in the labor market. It means more than a right to complain without getting fired; it symbolizes flipping the entire hierarchy. Chris Dixon said it best: “Web3 combines the decentralized, community-governed ethos of Web1 with the advanced, modern functionality of Web2. Web3 is the internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens.” Ultimately, the gradual development of DAOs and decentralized governance will allow for the formation of environments in which workers have a nonadversarial voice in workplace governance without raising concerns about monopolization. As more and more laborers catch on to what we are building, we can (alas) make Karl happy.
Yesterday was the worst day of my life. I lost four ultra-rare NFTs in a blip. All of a sudden, my heart and brain felt like they didn't belong to the same person. My hands were shaking. I cried and dried my eyes only to wet them again. On the plane home, the nice Jetblue lady asked me if I was okay and gave me a cup of water. I didn't know what or how to respond. I don't even remember her name. All I remember was replaying the scenario over and over again in my head, fantasizing about rewinding time, if only for 9 seconds. Eventually, I realized that stands aren't real and settled for the next best thing: sublimating all of my destructive emotions into an essay as they flashed through me. I hope the sharp blade of my pen and the red ink on my paper will serve as a gaping reminder of the perils of greed and allow me to heal and become a better person.
This morning, the scammer sold my BAYC #7954 for 74.2ETH on LooksRare. I've had my Prussian helmet ape since early last summer. I had just finished my econ final and was locked and loaded after flipping one of my mystic Axies. I remember staying up all night scurrying through the jungle, trying to snipe something off the floor. After chugging a Red Bull, I narrowed it down to my two favorite traits: the Prussian helmet for 3 ETH and the commie hat for 4. Then I pulled the trigger. I have held him through every boom and bust cycle from then to now. So many nights I have resisted the temptation to paperhand him, only to lose him to a carefully contrived scam.
I've had my Bob Ross cool cat the day the project launched on July 1st. It was on a hot midsummer day in Beijing, and I sat down in the lobby of the Puxuan hotel. I was refreshing OpenSea like crazy, and my VPN was bugging out. I finally found someone who got lucky with a Bob Ross TV head cool cat and decided to sell it for 2 ETH. I bought three cats that day and flipped one for profit, and I've held onto the other two till now, until yesterday. I still remember vividly the day someone offered me 100ETH for it (coincidentally, it happened to be the day I broke up with my ex).
The decline and fall of the Roman republic is a focal point in Machiavelli’s The Discourses on the First Ten of Titus Livy. He goes to great lengths to commend the superior historical legacy of Rome while drawing connections to critique the contemporary Italian geopolitics of his time; as such, a cursory glance would suggest that he looked to Rome as a guide for its restorative nature and tenacity while blaming its fall on inauspicious circumstances. Yet, a close reading of the Discourses reveals Machiavelli to be a disillusioned romantic who believes that although a corrupt republic can be cured of its corruption, it is practically impossible: the best one can do is to stop people from becoming susceptible to corruption in the first place.
It is first imperative to pinpoint exactly what Machiavelli means when he speaks of corruption. In one instance, he defines corruption in opposition to virtue, which he loosely takes to mean pride, alacrity, and even the willingness to do evil when necessary; in another, he intends it to mean moral degradation—the egomaniacal acts of persons fallen from grace. It is used to label both state institutions and individuals, as in I 18 (In What Mode a Free State, If There Is One, Can Be Maintained in Corrupt Cities) and I 42 (How Easily Men Can Be Corrupted). In piecing together scattered evidence from throughout the text, however, I think it is fair to conclude that when talking about institutions, Machiavelli associates corruption most pertinently with the lack of desire for and attachment to freedom and one’s agency to “enjoy one’s things freely, without any suspicion, not fearing for the honor of wives and that of children, not to be afraid for oneself” (45). In other words, corrupted people forget how to reason about “public defense or public offence,” instead preferring the repressive life (if unwittingly) found under the yoke of tyranny (44). When he talks about corrupt individuals, he refers to those who are working actively to subjugate people out of their own desire for power and glory, as opposed to those who out of goodness keep people free and work towards “a good end,” even if by bad means (48).
As such, we are ready to first discuss why Machiavelli believes that corrupt people can never gain freedom under princes. In I 16 of the Discourses, Machiavelli claims that people used to living under a principality cannot expect to maintain their freedom even if they are freed out of a stroke of luck. Since these people no longer embrace public, republican virtues, they quickly return to subjugation as they have been too corrupted by the long period of tyrannical rule and have thus lost the desire to live freely. As soon as the balance is tipped—when there is more “of the spoiled” than of the “good”—a republic becomes degenerate and virtually irredeemable (44). On one hand, the corrupt people are in their stupor; on the other hand, old guards of the prince who profited off the regime will be compelled to “take up the tyranny again so as to return to their authority” (45). The only reason that Brutus was able to transform Rome into a republic, reasons Machiavelli, was that the Romans were “not yet corrupt” when the old Tarquin monarchs were driven out, and the sons of Brutus (corrupt princes) were eliminated (47). If two or such despots were to rule Rome in succession, the balance would be tipped, and their corruption would quickly and irreversibly infect the whole of society. In I 11, Machiavelli goes so far as to argue that, just as how a sculptor would find it easier to artifice a statue from “coarse marble than from one badly blocked out by another,” whoever wished to make a republic in the present times would find it easier among mountain men, where there is no civilization, than among those who are used to living in cities, where civilization is corrupt” (35).
Now that Machiavelli has established that a corrupt principality cannot be redeemed, he offers a thin sliver of
The End of History
I once boasted on a date that Hegel invented history. The gross over-exaggeration on my part led only to rolled eyes, nervous laughter, and unreturned texts. But in a sense, Hegel did develop a teleological view of history that imbued progression with a sense of purpose. An enlightenment theorist at heart, Hegel’s philosophy is distinctively evolutionary: human societies—from surviving sabertooth tigers to agribusiness, Hammurabi’s code, the Renaissance, and finally fully-fledged financial systems built upon decentralized public ledgers—stride through Sturm und Drang to attain self-transcendence. Men are born free but do not know that they are until they push upon the limit of their freedom in some meaningful way. People achieve this self-realization through a dialectical process, which relies on the life-and-death struggle between two contradicting orders until the unity and sublation of the opposition (synthesis) is achieved, and we proceed to a higher, more sophisticated condition. Hegel wrote: “Thus Spirit is at war with itself; it has to overcome itself as its most formidable obstacle.” Hegel applies this idea to states and argues that history ends when nations perfect their nature by overcoming themselves.
We now stand upon a point in history where the tension between the two opposing ideologies has reached a breaking point. Behind us rests the glaring inefficiency, opaqueness, and failure of the capitalistic society. In front of us lies a forked path: one, Web3, and the idealized, enlightened, freed, and transcendent sovereign individual. A step down this path means embracing and tackling the problems that may stop us from the reunion of supply and demand in modes that are both genuinely productive and compatible with decentralized, autonomous organizations. This has already occurred to some degree. The other leads down Artificial intelligence-enabled faked decentralization backed by totalitarian regimes and technocratic monopolies. A step down this path will lead to an Ai turbo-boosted Hobbesian Leviathan that will exert its influence from the shadows. This has also already occurred to some degree. Naturally, the question is, how did we get here, and where are we headed? Let me explain.
In Hegel’s day, the spirit expresses itself in the state, declared by Hegel to be “the march of God on Earth.” But what does this final expression of the state look like? I believe Hegel was wrong when he claimed that it would look like a monarchy, especially one under Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. For me, it’s paradoxical. On one hand, it would entail the ultimate dissolution of the state: in not anarchy, but transcendental individual sovereignty.
Sunny-Side Up: Breakfast At Tiffany’s and the American Slumber
Whenever I talk about movies with friends, I always circle back to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I will be the first to admit that this is because Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly (as a friend puts it) “is super hot.” Sporting a black Givenchy princess dress, crowned with a mini tiara, and hugged by a string of white Tiffany pearls gleaming under the morning sun while devouring a danish out of a paper bag, Hepburn’s Holly admires not only her own stunning reflection but also a world of wealth worthy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald fiction—which eludes her by the length of a fingertip—through the jeweler’s window.
Like The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany’s confronts the dark underbellies of American romantic consumerism. The film is unapologetic about the nature of its characters: Holly is no wealthy heiress but a run-away child bride who seeks to strike gold in the city of sin by marrying rich while hopping from man to man. Paul is a pen and penniless writer who prostitutes himself to rich housewives from the Upper East Side. Yet, Holly is complicated: she is independent, strong-willed, and carefree. She will not yield to the will of patronizing men. She is also unfinished—she finds herself torn in a world of antinomies, stuck between the debaucherous manor of the wealthy gentlemen she exploits and the melancholic dump-of-an-apartment of the mistress fallen from favor.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky presents two competing views on humanity and its road to salvation: father Zosima’s and Ivan Karamazov’s. Ivan presents his view to Alyosha through a poem that describes a time when Jesus Christ himself returned to the world during the Spanish inquisition, but, instead of being worshipped by the church, is thrown in prison by the Grand Inquisitor. The Inquisitor launches into an impassioned monologue, berating Christ for his damning actions and his wrongful view of humans as strong and noble beings who “live not by bread alone” (219). Instead, he argues that humans are weak and servile rebels who need to be subdued by “miracle, mystery, and authority” and managed like sheep (222). Father Zosima, however, presents a different belief in his memoirs. He sees people as confusions of both good and evil, strong and weak, figures who are constantly torn by the fight between God and the devil on the battlefield that is the “heart of man” (98). For him, the road to salvation lies in healthy lamentation, or confession, through which one is opened up to a type of active love that allows for “grief” to be transformed into “quiet joy” (48). This love allows one to redeem oneself from corruption and is, in a sense, a miracle that Zosima gives and passes on.
Though both views on human nature are insightful, the Grand Inquisitor’s view fails to consider that men can perform existential miracles through practicing active love and lamentation; they can reach existential paradise here on Earth through what I term existential resurrections. Thus, they do not need the church to lead them and bestow biblical revelations upon them when they have the potential to save themselves and be their own miracles. In this paper, I will first explain what the Grand Inquisitor thought about Christ and his answer to him. Then, I will attempt to demonstrate that his vision is flawed and inferior to Zosima’s by discussing the mysterious visitor and Alyosha and Grushenka.
First, I will explicate the Grand Inquisitor’s position. He states that: “There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—those forces are miracle, mystery and authority” (222). He declares that although Christ rejected these principles in the name of freedom, the church has since “corrected Thy work” by refounding it upon them by turning to the devil’s side (223). In his old age, the Inquisitor has “reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life” for the feeble “creatures created in jest” (227). Convinced of this, he uses “lying and deception” to lead men “consciously to death and destruction” while “[deceiving] them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led” and may “at least on the way think themselves happy” (227). This is his chosen path to salvation for humanity. The Inquisitor sees no “great moral blessedness” in attaining freedom if “at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God’s creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom” (227). The Inquisitor’s feeling about mankind is one of deep pity: he believes that men do not have the freedom to save themselves and cannot be happy unless the church is there to guide them with deception. Yet, through two examples, I will attempt to refute this claim by showing that people can redeem themselves by performing miracles that the Grand Inquisitor believes impossible through the practice of Zosima’s active love.
In the course of his philosophical inquiry in Fear and Trembling into the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac, Soren Kierkegaard proposes a concept called the teleological suspension of the ethical. Some individuals, writes Kierkegaard, dubbed the knights of faith, are “higher than the universal” and are exempt from general moral obligations for reasons incomprehensible by principle to others living in the universal (95). They are then free to commit immoral acts in the name of a higher purpose as defined by a unique and devoted commitment to something or someone. Kierkegaard offers Abraham’s attempted murder of Isaac as a prime example of such a teleological suspension because he deliberately transgresses the universal moral injunction not to murder—let alone his son—due to his unyielding commitment to God. Over the course of this essay, I first explain the universal, the knight of faith, and why it is that a knight can suspend the ethical. Then, I argue that although the teleological suspension is restrictively inapplicable and logically incoherent, it remains a persuasive explanation of Abraham’s seemingly paradoxical actions.
To examine the phenomenon of the teleological suspension of the ethical, we must first understand the foundation that Kierkegaard is building upon: what is the universal and the ethical? In Problema I, Kierkegaard writes that “the ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone” and “applies at every moment” (83). It is all-encompassing in that it has no telos (end) outside itself. Kierkegaard believes that we all live within this universal, and our ethical duty is to surrender our “particularity”—or our individualism—so as to become part of this collective world governed by a system of common morality (82). Kierkegaard notes, however, a noble exception: the knight of faith and his particular existence. The knight is an a person who possesses “the strength to concentrate the whole of his life’s content and the meaning of reality in a single wish” (72). In other words, through his commitment to someone or some interest that is so passionate that it defines the meaning of his reality, the knight can transcend the collective and perform acts of individualism that break with morality. Kierkegaard argues that we cannot choose our commitment but are found by it, much like how we fall in “love” (70). Paradoxically, the committed individual maintains his unwavering commitment despite “every moment [seeing] the sword hanging over the loved one’s head” (79).
Who, then, possesses such strength and can lead this life of particularity? For Kierkegaard, Abraham is such a knight. After all, it was by faith alone that Abraham left the “land of his fathers to become a stranger in the land of promise” and became God’s chosen (50). After entering a covenant with God, Abraham is promised the fate of becoming the father of many nations and is gifted a son, his firstborn; “no son was the child of promise in the sense that Isaac was for Abraham” (55). Abraham discovered such a defining commitment to his Isaac through his absolute relation to God and became a knight of faith; because of the vulnerability and finitude of Isaac’s humanly existence, however, Abraham lives in fear and trembling, facing the lonely distress in solitary joy, living happily in the finite despite knowing that at every moment Isaac could perish or be taken away from him. Yet Abraham could never have imagined that God himself would be the one to demand him to murder his son. Now all was lost—how terrible! But Abraham did not “doubt” or “challenge heaven with his prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty that tried him, he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him, but he also knew that no sacrifice was too hard when God demanded it—and he drew the knife” (55).