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NFTs, Opinion

Metaversal barbarians at the gate

Behold us barbarians of the metaversal fields, wild and cultured all at once!
William M. Peaster William M. Peaster Oct 7, 20214 min read
Metaversal barbarians at the gate

Dear Bankless Nation,

We are the metaversal barbarians at the gate.

No, we’re not savages. We’re outsiders, so we have a different language and different systems than many in the mainstream.

Yet our minor language is in the process of producing a major literature. And some people in the old world are hailing us as dangerous invaders accordingly!

As such, here’s my call for us “barbarians” to stick together ...


What are we waiting for?

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.”

So starts the first lines of one of my all-time favorite pieces, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” a 1904 poem by Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy.

I reckon it would resonate with many in our “rebels with a cause” ecosystem. Why? As writer Lidija Haas noted in The New Republic last year, one powerful message from the poem is as follows:

The so-called barbarians stand in for that other, lesser person—coded as foreign, threatening, criminal—who can be used to scare the populace and justify any authoritarian measures. This person doesn’t exist but needs to be invented.”

Think about how Ethereum, DeFi, NFTs, etc. have increasingly started facing painfully uninformed, and at times flat-out unfair, regulatory heat. Or how some normies have been blanket accusing anything related to NFTs as thoroughly-scammy, rotten-to-the-core cons.

Sure, there are plenty of criticisms we could field and debate, and many Web3ers and NFTers are happy to do so. But whether the naysayers realize it or even care, there is an anti-liberty undercurrent to their most venomous invectives, and it’s starting to feel like us crypto nomads are the barbarians in this equation, right. We’re due now, our cue is now.

Look, there are plenty of reasons to take the high road, to engage in good faith with these difficulties, to keep explaining the things that others don’t know! On and on and on!

Yet to be holistic we have to be realistic. We’re increasingly being cast as modern barbarians. And there are interesting subtleties to what I’m getting at here, so I’ll explain further in the next section. But what are we to do in response?

I say first we should recognize the position we’re in. Then act accordingly.

Why we’re the barbarians

From the “Barbarian Clans” definition on Civilopedia.

We’re the Web3 barbarians, the metaversal barbarians, or call it whatever you’d like. I’ve admittedly been thinking about it lately after restarting legendary strategy game franchise Sid Meier’s Civilization. I was reviewing the Civilopedia wiki and found a … surprisingly authoritative and fair definition of barbarians.

Here, some key conclusions to note:

  • The etymology of “barbarian” comes from ancient state insiders literally not understanding what their nomadic outsiders were saying/speaking. The outsiders weren’t dumb, they simply spoke a differerent language and lived per a drastically different (and freer) culture.
  • Accordingly, barbarians weren’t backwards or uncontacted but instead were non-state peoples “that existed in tandem with nations.” Resisting clean rule, barbarians were sometimes pirates and at other times key extenders of diplomatic networks and trade networks.
  • So there was back and forth, and nations tried to “control and appropriate” the barbarians’ surplus productions. Yet ultimately the two sides were interdependent and did live in tandem.

Of course, to compare the barbarians of yore with us metaversal, crypto-savvy adventurers today is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but there are some compelling similarities here.

Indeed, we today may be mavericks on the frontier, so to speak, but our relationships with the “insiders” is one of interdependence. Us “outsiders” may speak of things like Web3 and NFTs that they don’t understand yet, but we can extend their cultural and trade networks. It’s just a fact. Our systems may be different, but they aren’t backwards.

And we may have already had our share of inner-outer disputes, but together states and us modern barbarians can make things better for everyone. So it was in the past, so it is now.

Going mainstream

“Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.

And some of our men just in from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?Those people were a kind of solution.”

These are the final lines of Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians.” They describe how the menacing barbarians that everyone had previously feared never actually existed at all. Instead, the savages were more fable than reality.

To that point, that’s how I’m reading much of the mainstream accusations and critiques against Ethereum and NFTs lately. Some insiders are drumming up us outsiders as monsters that we’re not. And as we “monsters” continue to not arrive at the gate because we were already inside the city walls the whole time, more and more folks are going to realize that the metaversal barbarians never existed at all.

So circling back, we’ve recognized our position but what do we do now?

The stakes are high, because if we make many missteps then crypto and NFTs may simply give way to central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and Fortnite + Facebook’s closed metaverse over time. That’s not the future that any of us here believe in; it’s not what we became Bankless for and “barbarians” for in the first place.

So here’s what I say we do: we go high where they go low. We educate where they misinform. We build where they wither. We evade where they go all-out. We become diplomats where they engage. And if we keep doing these things, then there’s a decent chance we change the course of human history for the better of all.

They can see us as barbarians, and fight us like we’re savages. But we’re really just rebels with a powerful cause. And that cause is the liberty that calls out in every human heart. Freedom of association, freedom of commerce, freedom to dream new ways. To us wild folk, that makes all the difference in the world.

Action steps

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William M. Peaster

Written by William M. Peaster

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William M. Peaster, Senior Writer, has been with Bankless since January 2021. Immersed in Ethereum since 2017, he writes the Metaversal newsletter on the onchain frontier, covering everything from AI projects to crypto games, as the team’s lead NFT analyst. With a background in creative writing, he writes fiction and publishes art on Ethereum in his free time. He lives in Washington.

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