On bureaucracy, new and old, and work in progress
Tomorrow, my wife and I have an official appointment with the Turkish government for a short-term residency visa. With it, we can live here in Istanbul for a year, rent an apartment, open a domestic bank account, and otherwise remove ourselves from the peculiar half-life we’ve lived orbiting the earth as digital nomads.
The Turks have shifted most of their forms online, although unfortunately, the English versions of the forms we’ve been using have strange flaws and tend to foul up my browser and crash.
If I hadn’t found a note from an English project manager who’d run the gauntlet before me, I would have given up. Apparently, the government database can’t accept certain strings of English and the secret is to switch the page into Turkish when you run into a snag. It mostly worked. After a few days of trying I snagged us an appointment with the Migration Authority.
A few steps still required human interaction. It took us two visits to the tax office to get an ID number, the equivalent of a social security number here in Turkey.
The office had the feel of bureaucracy anywhere. There was a glorious view of the Bosphorous behind the workers, but otherwise, the atmosphere could have been transplanted from a DMV in California. Minus the grubby plastic sneeze guards. Weariness and styrofoam cups of tea and petty tyrannies and piles of paperwork and rubber stamps.
Tomorrow we go for our official interview; we’ve printed out the bank forms, puzzled over our blood types, generated Airbnb records, and taken special ‘biometric’ photos for the occasion.
There’s a site that vets whether they’re acceptable or not, per Google Translate, mine wouldn’t recognize my mouth until I boosted the contrast and whited out the background. It’s an odd picture, to be sure.
Meanwhile, we’ve enlisted a friend of ours to teach us Turkish, and have made some progress. It’s a tough slog, the language is second-only to Mandarin in difficulty for a native English speaker to learn. Estimated time for fluency: 2000 hours of practice, versus 580ish for Spanish. There are suffixes and minute shifts in tone that radically alter the meaning of a sentence. I can make it two sentences into a conversation with a waiter or a shopkeeper before the gig is up and it’s obvious I can’t say much more than thank you, good morning, I’ll take a Turkish coffee.
Stability should give me a little more time to write these posts and other, more ambitious things. I’ve finally come up with a solution for taking all of the essays I’ve written and feeding them into a grinder and spitting out a delicious hamburger of a narrative project.
For over a year I’ve been trying to think of a way to structure a story that would probe web3, my own journey through it, and let me talk about some of the geopolitical changes that rewiring our economic system will bring. The challenge wasn’t the subject matter, it’s interesting stuff and I’ve been steeping in it for a while. The problem for me was that other better books had already been written and there wasn’t any point in writing the same story twice. Plus Vitalik Buterin is unlikely to sit down for an interview with a 250-subscriber newsletter. Although I will try.
One of my subscribers, Cemil Şinasi Türün, an entrepreneur and professor at Boğaziçi University, came up with an elegant solution. He reminded me of my run-in with a strange character at a tailor shop.
I was being fitted for a bespoke shirt. A man in a nicely tailored shirt, wearing two-toned shades that obscured his face emerged from the back and offered to translate. He claimed to be an attorney but when I mentioned my connection to cryptocurrency, he demanded to input his data into my phone and verified that it was accurate, and then offered me advice on currency transfers into Iran. I declined his kind offer.
“He may have been a mad man or he may have been secret police,” said Cemil afterward, “there’s a lot of interest in crypto these days.”
Nothing came of my meeting until I returned to the United States. I had trouble crossing the border. Border Control gave me a special interview. They asked how much currency I was carrying and didn’t believe the heavily bearded face in my passport photo belonged to yours truly. I was a little shaken and held my in-laws up for about an hour as I struggled to prove my bonafides and they circled the traffic quagmire that surrounds LAX.
Had the deep state taken a personal interest in me? Or was I conjuring conflating coincidences? Tallying strange happenings to root out conspiracy might be one of the few uses of blockchain technologies that I’ve been able to find for narrative prose.
You can use a blockchain to capture a unique performance; and poetry, especially short-form poetry, seems to jive well with being tokenized, decorated, and turned into an NFT, but books and stories don’t. Or at least I don’t think they lend themselves to it. People are trying. But to me, an NFT ebook doesn’t seem intrinsically different than an Amazon Kindle Single.
You can fundraise for a book on the blockchain, and you can sell electronic copies of a book as NFT editions, but you can’t really do much else with them.
Creating an indelible record of a dangerous secret does seem relevant, on the other hand, and has the advantage of actually using the blockchain. Plus it’s fun to write about, and there are dozens of weird murderers and interconnected “deep state” funders backing projects. There are good guys, bad guys, utopian visions and dystopian fears. Plus there’s the deep psychological reason I write this Substack, my post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, which comes with a version of paranoia that isn’t inaccurate, just touchy, called hyperawareness, and rather than distorting reality, I’m unusually perceptive to negative feelings. Or so they would have me believe. Hence the conversation with the TSA.
All this is to say it would be fun to wade into the murky conspiratorial side of crypto, and chat with all of the bedsit royalty and disgraced child stars behind it, and I’m planning to use that as the skeletal structure of a longer piece.
On the less murky side of things, an art project I’m working on with Benton C Bainbridge has been making progress. We’re creating an artist-run decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) called Lonely ROCKS. The original idea was to onboard artists into web3, while exhibiting well-curated shows.
We came up with two creative restrictions: the art would consist of self-portraits (in the expanded field) and would come to an end as soon the artist-curators we chose could no longer unanimously agree whether to include a new artist or artwork.
The last time I wrote about Lonely ROCKS, Benton and I had just chosen artists for the first DAO season.
We each picked 10 digital artists and used a quadratic voting system to whittle them down to five each. Since then, we’ve been meeting with our chosen artists and introducing them to the project. We’ve also been tweaking the structure of the organization as we meet with lawyers and talk to the artists, all of whom have their own experience with digital art projects, and generally try to avoid running afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission, without restricting our collection to accredited investors, as most art DAOs have done in the past.
At the center of a DAO is a tokenized voting system. These are fascinating to study because minute differences in how they’re set up can have massive downstream effects on the community that blossoms around them. You have to safeguard against malfeasance, which makes creating the bylaws of the organization a combination of game theory and programming software; and make sure you aren’t unjustly enriching any one group over another, while making sure that no one can topple your government and raid your treasury.
We’ve landed on a bicameral structure. There are two tokens controlling two government bodies, like the Senate and the House of Representatives in the U.S. government. We have a group of Patrons, and anyone can become a Patron by buying our governance tokens. These allow you to nominate art for exhibition, and give you a special pass into events that we throw, first dibs at fundraising NFT mints, and proposing ideas to the Curators.
Curators are unanimously approved by one another and receive a different governance token. To become a Curator, every token-holder who attends the meeting deciding their fate must agree to admit them. We imagine this being a kind of ritual. Curators, aside from approving one another, may also accept or reject artwork for inclusion in shows, nominate the treasury committee, and decide when, where and how to show work.
Curators receive a different token than Patrons, probably an NFT, and might also receive Patron tokens as an incentive for participating in votes.
The bicameral structure seems like the best way to avoid spam and hostile takeovers. There are dozens of sleazy NFT projects that would love to glom onto a community, and buy their way into nominating their collection of NFT drug bingo cards. But we didn’t want to exclude anyone from the project either. We wanted to keep the DAO at least somewhat open to the community, without turning it into a Reddit-like crowdsourced model, where the most popular, most SEO-friendly, meme content would “win.” Hence the need for curators and patrons.
We’re starting small, we don’t actually have the tooling for a DAO in place yet. We don’t need it yet, since we’re still dealing with small group dynamics and can vote over Zoom, but once we release our first Patron tokens, then we’ll have to set one up so they can nominate art for the next show. We’ll probably use a no-code template unless we can convince our backers to gin one up for us.
It’s been an exciting journey so far, we have an online venue picked out for our first season and plan to show our work either at Art Basel Miami or in one of the satellite fairs around it. There’s a long way to go. Of course, I do wonder at what point does governing a community shift gears from being fun to generating the cyberpunk equivalent of dreary halls and triplicate forms of a ‘going concern’ or a byzantine bureaucracy. In the meantime, before it does, if you’d like to learn more about Lonely ROCKS, come join our Discord!