A Letter to the Skeptics
Our historical tendency to fight cultural and technological progress
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1. The Bonfire of Vanities
Today is the 524th anniversary of a day I remember well.
I was a young pup, and the fair city of Florence was my home. The House of Medici had ruled the city for generations, but our power was in decline.
We had, for the past hundred years, been the primary sponsors of art and architecture throughout the city. We spent lavishly on commissions from previously unknown talents including Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Our patronage kickstarted a movement, and a renaissance was underway. Creativity and progress were bursting at the seams. More artists were making a good living than at any time since Ancient Greece.
But not everybody understood our aims or believed in our goals. Indeed, to many, we were doing the devil’s work.
One man, in particular - the preacher Girolamo Savonarola - had rallied the citizenry around the idea that secular art and creative expression were nothing more than sin.
Like a virus, his message spread: Money spent on art is wasteful. All the time spent playing these new “card games” is indulgent and ridiculous. Books encouraging and promoting secular art and culture are satanic.
To Savonarola and his followers, we were undoubtedly headed down a path of vanity, excess, and waste. Nothing would convince them otherwise.
On the 7th of February, 1497, it all came to a head. Savonarola and his followers marched throughout the city, collecting all of the “vanities” they could get their hands on - paintings, sculpture, cards, games, secular books, mirrors, perfumes, poetry, drawings, musical instruments - and piled them high into a great pyre.
Once the heap grew to 100 feet wide and 60 feet high at its apex, it was doused with oil and torched. The assembled crowd roared, chanted, and sang with glee.
In a single day, this Bonfire of Vanities, as it came to be known, destroyed countless relics of art and culture.
The puritans may have won the day, but as I trotted back home through the smoky air, carefully avoiding those who might recognize a Medici hound, I took solace in knowing that over the long run, the fire makers would be on the wrong side of history.
2. The Haters Gonna Hate
“Emotions in this game run deep so before these haters kill me in my sleep I'd like to say, it's been a pleasure.” - Drake
There is a long and well-documented history of the masses dismissing anything that smells like progress.
Sometimes this dismissal shows up in the (mostly) harmless forms of teasing or condescension. But sometimes it rears its head in more aggressive ways - with insults and threats, blame and outrage, accusations and scare words (scam, ponzi, fraud, etc).
The truth, however, is that a changing order inspires fear. The benefactors of the current system dread a future in which they have less control and less power.
@punk6529 recently retweeted this response that Alexander Graham Bell received when attempting to sell his telephone patent to a telegram company:
Just replace the words and you sum up the response to new things throughout history.
“The idea of people owning “NFTs” is idiotic… Why would any person want to pay for a digital image when they could right-click and save-as that same image for free? This ‘NFT’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a thing of value. The technology is inherently of no value to us.”
Guess what happened when VOIP emerged? The telephone industry simply borrowed a page out of the telegram industry playbook:
This grand dismissal happens often with new technology. But as we saw in the 15th century Florence of my youth, it also happens with new culture and art. There is nothing that the haters love more than policing one’s leisure time.
Here is a serious newspaper article from The New York Times in 1925 about crossword puzzles. I urge you to stop and read the whole thing, because it is wild.
“Primitive Sort of Mental Excercise”
All from a publisher that today might very well be the world’s largest peddler of this sinful puzzle waste. Ah, how the tables have turned!
If you’ve been hanging around the NFT space for a while, the tenor and tone (and even the exact rhetoric) of some of these articles might sound familiar. Articles like this are being written about NFTs every day.
There is even a pervasive culture of the art community fighting tooth and nail against its own self-interest.
I was talking to a photographer friend of mine the other day, and when I suggested that she might want to explore selling non-fungible tokens of her work, she replied and said, “My socially-minded photo agency is set dead against them.”
The agency claims to be against NFTs for social reasons, but the harsh reality is they are against NFTs because they are scared. They are scared of a future in which artists are empowered to own their own work, earn meaningful royalties, and build loyal audiences without the need for an agency.
Here’s my advice to the agencies: Adapt or die.
While I believe it is a terrible long-term business strategy for a legacy agency to be against NFTs, it is at least somewhat understandable. If they fail to innovate, it will mean less profit for them.
However, there is also a more mind-boggling phenomenon of the artists themselves actively fighting against their own self-interest.
Again, this is nothing new:
Even Wikipedia, a supposed bastion of neutrality, has refused to categorize NFTs as art. Can you imagine how laughable and backward this will seem to future generations?
I mean, tell me with a straight face that this beautiful piece by Leah Ibrahim Sams that I just bought last week is not art, simply because it exists as a digitally unique object, rather than a physical one?
3. Get Curious
If they had their way, there are many people who would be more than happy to collect all of our nonfungible vanities, pile them up, and burn them.
Luckily, this is impossible.
In the face of relentless skepticism, it is up to us, the optimists, to keep on doing our very best to build, create, improve, experiment, and push the boundaries of what a better version of the web can be.
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a Web3 optimist.
But if you’re not - if you are a skeptic - my call to action for you is something I heard once: “Get Curious.”
Look, I understand the instinct to resist change, hunch your shoulders, and dig in your heels.
This is a natural evolutionary response to perceived threats. Those threats used to be lions and bears, and now they are new industries and unfamiliar cultures.
Rather than succumbing to these primal desires to protect your status quo, I urge you to get curious about the future.
Be like Dean Samed, a digital artist, photographer, and YouTuber who posted this on Twitter:
He got A LOT of responses. And guess what? Dean did something people almost never do anymore - he changed his mind.
Yes, the crypto/NFT space is full of scams and spam and theft and actual real ponzis and bad actors and shameless money grabs.
But that’s just one page of a much larger story.
What else is part of the story? What real value might exist? What innovations might improve our lives? How are people using this technology?
Sometimes the answers are uplifting and inspiring, like many of the ones that Dean received.
But sometimes the answers are just a lot more boring than the haters might like to imagine, as neatly summarized by this comment from Artist Matt DesLauriers (a generative artist who I am proud to have supported):
Not exactly catchy right?
If you’re a publication incentivized to maximize clicks and views, then it’s much easier to just write about how cartoon apes are destroying the world.
But if you’re an individual or an artist or a photo agency or an environmentalist who thinks NFTs are a scam, you owe it to yourself to get curious and to do the work of engaging honestly with the space with an open mind.
Otherwise, you’re no better than Savonarola and his followers.
🍣 Salmon Bites
A few quick morsels of fun before I sign off:
Next week I will feature my first artist interview. You will be hearing from an incredible artist whose work is iconic. I can’t wait to share it with you.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Here’s my most popular Tweet from the past week:
In the first issue of The Monty Report, I highlighted a French artist whose work I’ve been following - Mr. Costard. Today, I am giving away a piece from his latest drop.
It’s called “The Red Night” and he did an edition of 35. It sold out in 2 minutes.
All you have to do is share The Monty Report on Twitter, and tag me @montymedici, by end of day Wednesday (PST).
On Thursday I will randomly select someone and send them an edition of The Red Night (you will need a Tezos wallet).
Did you enjoy this issue of The Monty Report? Do you have any feedback or questions? Anything you’d like me to write about?
Whatever you have to say, please head over to Twitter and let me know. Be sure to tag me - @MontyMedici - in your post so that I see it.
Until next Monday.
🐾 Monty 🐾
p.s. One final note: I wanted to give a shout-out to LIT - the memecoin/token project that I once described as “contemporary performance art.”
Well, the performance continues! Over the weekend, they airdropped two pieces by the ingenious Rata (the artist behind my PFP) to all LIT holders. Included with the drop was an “invitation to kindness.”
Specifically, they invited everyone who received the drop to gift one of the NFTs to someone who is brand new to the space. If you’re reading this and you’ve never purchased an NFT or set up a wallet, and you would like to receive the LIT Rider by Rata (see below) as your first NFT, simply reply to this email and let me know… I’d love to help you out.
This Report is provided for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. I may or may not have positions in any projects, tokens, securities, or art that I mention. You should always do your own research, make your own independent decisions, and consider consulting with legal or financial advisors before engaging in any financial transactions.