Everybody Hates Crypto Except Josh Harris

A conversation about the current state of the crypto community

Published June 6, 2023
USURPATOR sat down with friend of the mag, Josh Harris, and had a conversation about the down-trend of crypto, what’s still going on in the space, and what keeps him involved.

You can listen to an extended version of our conversation on Spotify, where we talk about NFT’s, poker, and the AI panic.

You can also follow Josh on Twitter.

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USURPATOR: I’m here with the crypto connoisseur, the captain of the sinking ship, savant child, rich in crypto but poor in USD, Josh Harris.

JOSH HARRIS: I’d say poor in spirits as well. [laughs]

U: Thanks for coming, Josh. I know you’ve told me already about your journey into crypto, but I called you a savant child because when you were 20 you had already been working in crypto for over a year.

JH: Yeah, I got an early start, unfortunately, but mostly doing technology stuff. Only when crypto started going downhill was when I thought “Oh, I think I’m actually into this.” At some point, you have to own what you do. You can’t keep chasing the next new thing, that’s a terrible way to live your life.

U: I mean, that’s what it seems everyone is doing now. They’re pivoting from crypto to AI.

JH: And now they’re gonna do VR because of Apple’s new headset.

U: Yeah, for real. Their start-ups stay the same, they just change their tagline to include AI so they can get VC funding.

JH: Well, yeah, it’s a grift-y lifestyle. You get money from a VC, you get an office, and one of those togo couches.

U: So when did the crypto ship start sinking?

JH: Oh man, honestly, a while ago. I think when there was a lot of hype and excitement around crypto, that’s when it started sinking. You can mark it by the prices but also the obscene, gaudy displays of wealth. People were just gambling.

U: So, as soon as it hit its peak?

JH: Even on the upswing, it felt like kind of a disaster. Bitcoin was never ready to become our global store of value. Everyone I know who has a ton of Bitcoin is a terrible person. If this was the financial global standard, that world would suck.

U: But, why is that? Is it something about the crowd that it draws, or is there something about the culture that forces this kind of personality?

JH: Yeah, if you’re interested in libertarian hyper-finance, you tend to be an unsavory person. It attracts a bad crowd, not to hate too much, because I’m a part of that crowd. We have a ways to go before we become palatable.

U: I guess the reason why I describe it as a sinking ship is just because I stopped hearing about it. I feel like most people hopped off, or lowered their involvement, pivoted to something else.

JH: People are often confused when I tell them I still work in crypto. In regards to the ship sinking, the ship has already sunk. It’s hit the ground floor, this is the lowest point. It’s actually a positive, you can shed all the unnecessary parts. There’s no more hyper-speculation, you actually get a chance to say “Hey, what are we doing here? Is this useful? Is this going to do something for the world?” When you have a ton of attention, and everyone and their grandma says “Yeah, I’ll throw some money in,” well, that’s just gambling. When all that goes away, you get to see what actually matters, and that's what I think the space is going through currently.

U: How are these things funded? Is VC money still funding crypto projects?

JH: If you’re trying to chase VC dollars to fund your lifestyle, there’s probably better spaces to be in. There’s still capital. But even one of the biggest and best funds, Paradigm, made the announcement that they’re now a crypto and AI fund. It was a blow to our ego [laughs]

If you’re just trying to get VC money, crypto isn’t a good place to be right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead space.

U: I was wondering if you have any opinions about the user experience of crypto, and whether or not it’s accessible. Everyone knows that it’s very male-coded. I know how to set up a wallet and stuff, but trading seems like such an ordeal. 

JH: No, it’s a huge pain in the ass. I recently onboarded my sibling, and I gave them a Trump NFT just as a joke, which is really annoying to get into real money. You have to sell the NFT, bridge it to the correct chain, then swap it for something you can sell for real money. Going through that with them, I was just like, “Man, this shit sucks.” Crypto is not an easy process. I wouldn’t want crypto to become mainstream in its current state. I keep 90% of my money on-chain, but I wouldn’t want my mom or my dad to do this.

U: Why?

JH: Because it’s so brutal! Everyone’s constantly trying to scam you, the amount of security I have is batshit paranoid. There’s hacks happening all the time, there’s so many things in the space that are trying to just maliciously screw you in the most brutal ways. It’s a total dark force.

U: Then why are people hanging on to it? Because it’s easier to make money through crypto?

JH: Well, it’s interesting. If you’re young and on the internet, this is like the wild west. Every generation wants new frontiers, because that’s where exciting stuff happens. There’s cool stuff going on– crypto is kind of like a massive video game where you can make money. There’s so many different roles you can take. There’s always new protocols popping up that you can make money from by farming them; you can be a yield farmer, an investor, you can be a gambler, you can lend your money out. If you’re interested in money and the internet it’s like a whole new terrain.

U: Do you think this is still a way to get rich quick?

JH: Yeah, for sure. There’s no other field that has as much spontaneous wealth. The only reason I don’t want to work in another field is because I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life working. This is a space with asymmetrical upside. There still aren’t many other fields where people will blow up and become millionaires off the top and then retire, and that happens a lot in this space. That can still happen even right now, when we’re at the lowest of the low in cryptoland. And people are just playing around with dumb shitcoins, with really basic tokens that have no functionality, and they’re constantly blowing up. I even made a few anonymously– I coded it up in 2 hours and we made $3 million worth of transaction volume… and like, I made a lot! It’s not hard to make a lot. I just had a coin that I sold for $2000, and I realized that if I had held it for 2 days longer it would have been worth $100,000.

U: It’s probably always that way though.

JH: Oh, for sure, that’s just the space. But that’s what’s so electric about it. I think one of the few things we’ve found that people want to do in crypto is gamble. But that doesn’t mean that’s all there is. But I think that was a good lesson in the last couple years, like, what are we doing here? We’re gambling, and you have to recognize that head-on. I don’t want people to be lied to about crypto. There’s a lot of philosophical claims being made about how this could be the biggest thing ever, and maybe we’ll reach that, but right now it’s just a casino. An absurdly fun casino. The challenge of the next couple years is to figure out if we can do things beyond that.

U: I feel like a year or two ago, everything was linked to a DAO and it was going to be the future. But it seems like DAOs have really fell off.

JH: Oh totally, they’re actually pretty labor exploitative. They’re just not realistic about how work happens. They just kind of try to get you to do work with the promise that you’ll be rewarded, and that ideal is just not how they’re structured. It’s like group-project vibes in college. I just think it’s a terrible structure to work for as an employee. For the most part, they’ve failed as this new model for how work should operate. I think there are really cool use cases for DAOs, but I think crypto needs to be dead-honest and say: “Hey, this doesn’t make sense as a decentralized thing, it shouldn’t be a decentralized thing.” Like, does this need to be a DAO? Most of the time, no. Just like how most of the things we make in crypto don’t need to be on-chain. It just increases the money you make, so you put it on-chain.

U: Yeah, it felt for a while that any kind of community or group that came out of crypto was gonna be a DAO.

JH: There’s this specific side of crypto that touts these lofty philosophical claims… it’s like the Williamsburg crypto elite. It really failed on a big scale. A lot of these DAOs have terrible structures. I was a big hater on DAOs, mostly just because the project needs to make sense as a DAO. There are a bunch of really cool ones too, but most of the big DAOs we know are not good examples of this.

U: Which ones are?

JH: NounsDAO started by trying this NFT-a-day model, and basically everyone lost money. But this weird autonomous organism has now popped up and is stumbling around. It’s a huge treasury that no one can control– if you have an NFT, you get a vote. It started by people just having greed and speculation, which is not bad, but someone took all that greed and crafted a living organism that is a massive treasury that fends for itself and no one person controls it. That’s an interesting application of DAOs. It’s fun because no one owns it.

Nowadays, I don’t even think people care that much about decentralization. It’s kind of like when you grow up a Christian, you just kind of take it for granted. You know what I mean?

U: No.

JH: Basically, I grew up religious, and if you haven’t heard the message of Christianity before, it’s pretty interesting. But when you grow up in it you take it for granted. That’s why churches are constantly getting replenished with new people, and most people who grow up in the faith typically leave it, for the most part.

Right now, I think crypto is kind of the same way. I don’t think most people give a fuck about decentralization. They might say they do, but especially these people out here in New York. They’ve never had to deal with a government that was truly unstable. They’ve never had to see their currency go to zero. I have a few friends who are from truly unstable nations, or seen their currency go to zero several times in their lives, and I get why they would be into decentralization.

However, I think a lot of people are in crypto because it’s interesting, it’s entertaining, they want purpose, a community, or a way to make a lot of money. That’s what they’re still in it for. What I care about now is making interesting stuff on the internet.

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

Run by @hard_boiledbabe