Ukraine, Crypto, and the Brevity of Life
Life is short // Is this conflict bullish for Crypto? // Ukrainian Artist Spotlight
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On the Brevity of Life and What to Do About It
Tim Urban, creator of the Wait But Why blog, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled “How Covid Stole our Time and How We Can Get it Back”.
The piece riffs on some themes that long-time readers of Urban will be familiar with. One of these is his concept of “The Tail End” - the idea that we won’t get to do things we love that many more times.
Urban gives this example: “I love going to the American Museum of Natural History, and I’ve been three times since I moved to New York in 2009. If that rate continues, I’ll step into the museum 12 more times. For an activity I think of as ‘something I like to do,’ that number seems shockingly low.”
Life is short. We all know this. But how short?
Urban puts the brevity of life into sharp relief by easily depicting the number of weeks in our life on a very small chart:
And that is a 90-year life.
But what about a 22-year life?
That chart is shockingly small.
Because that is the approximate age at which young soldiers are dying right now in Ukraine.
Look at those squares again. Each one of those is a week is a very finite life.
Imagine that first square: The week that the future soldier was born. His parents met him for the first time. They held him. They fell in love with him.
And during many of those weeks of his life, they probably got mad at him, were distracted by work or their devices, or ignored his bids for attention.
But if they could have seen this chart, would they have changed anything?
More importantly: do those who perpetuate conflicts and send soldiers to war in the first place properly comprehend how few boxes they’ve lived?
You are also living through your own tail end. How many little boxes are left in your chart?
Imagining a different future for ourselves can be hard. As Urban writes:
“We underestimate future possibilities for the same reason we overestimate the time we have left with those we love: our intuition is not very imaginative. It’s a human instinct to believe the life we’re used to is how things will always be, both the good parts and the bad.”
The changes we can make don’t have to be heroic for them to have a massive impact on the math of our own tail end.
Urban, who lives in a separate state from his parents, observes, “At our current pace of [seeing each other] 10 to 15 days per year, my parents and I have at best a couple of hundred days left to hang out. But there’s nothing stopping us from changing that equation. Agreeing upon an additional annual family week each summer would almost double our remaining time together.”
Right now a lot of people are scared. A lot of people are dying. A lot of people know people who are either scared or dying.
It’s a good opportunity to zoom out and take stock of what is truly important.
We are all living through our own tail end - how do we want it to look?
Is this Conflict Bullish for Crypto?
Over the past week, lines at ATMs in both Ukraine and Russia were around the block. Banks were facing liquidity issues. Both governments took moves to limit withdrawals and currency exchanges in their respective countries. The Ruble tanked, losing up to 25% of its value within hours. The Russian stock market was frozen. Fear and uncertainty gripped regular people as they realized that their assets may not be available to them.
This is, sadly, not an uncommon occurrence. Political instability is a massive risk for residents of less stable countries. Migrants and refugees often have to leave their countries on relatively short notice.
If most of your wealth is 0s and 1s inside the computers of a centralized bank, what happens when there is a run on that bank?
What happens when that bank is not open?
What happens when the state seizes control of that bank?
What happens when your money is denominated in a currency that is getting heavily sanctioned?
What happens when you don’t have time to go to the bank before you need to leave your country?
For those of us in stable and peaceful countries, these questions may seem esoteric, or even borderline conspiratorial. But for people who live in places of instability and conflict, these are very real questions.
This is one of the promises of crypto.
With just 12 or 24 words, you can instantly restore access to your assets anywhere in the world, without anyone’s permission.
Sure, there may be downsides to this (i.e making it easier for bad actors to avoid sanctions), but as a general principle, I believe we should focus policies more on optimizing for upside/good actors rather than on minimizing the more rare negative use cases.
In what I believe might be a historical first, the Ukrainian Government tweeted out their crypto addresses and directly asked for donations.
Contributions poured in from around the world. All transactions were:
Transparent and publicly viewable
Nearly instant (no settlement times)
How cool is that?
In addition to ETH, people also sent a bunch of other tokens, including USDC, and NFTs, including some ENS names:
Beyond donations, the Web3 and NFT communities rallied in many ways, big and small, to support Ukraine.
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, who was born in Russia, quickly declared his position on the invasion and has been signal-boosting a bunch of great initiatives.
Meanwhile, a bunch of artists came together to quickly form a humanitarian aid initiative called RELI3F. The artists (some of whom were Ukrainian) created and sold new pieces as part of the inaugural RELI3F collection, with all proceeds going to aid.
They quickly raised around 370 ETH (~$1M USD), and so far have deployed half:
Bigger artists like Pak stepped up and made massive donations:
And across NFT Twitter, people were furiously supporting Ukrainian artists.
Because everything is happening on the blockchain, all donations and art purchases are transparent. We can all watch the cascade of support in real-time.
It’s very inspiring and makes me feel optimistic and more bullish about the role of crypto in the future.
Finally, a word of warning: Amidst the inspiring groundswell of support and positive action, there is grift (there is always grift). The con artists and scammers are taking advantage of the moment - posing as fake Ukrainian artists, sending out fake relief ETH addresses, and trying to sell assets like “Ukraine.eth” for exploitative prices. So before you donate or purchase, make sure you know who you’re dealing with.
🍣 Salmon Bites
A few quick morsels of intrigue before I sign off.
1. On SWIFT
Confused about SWIFT? @punk6529 has a good thread here:
2. Ukrainian Artist Spotlight
I am mesmerized by the work of Ukrainian photographer Artem Humilevskiy.
He has been very active on Twitter throughout the invasion - @humilevskyi.
A shout out to artist Matt Kane for bringing Humilevskiy to my attention.
3. Tweet of the Week
What did you think about this issue of The Monty Report? 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 🐾
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