I thought I was in hell, but it’s only purgatory


I’m in an airport. I’ve been in an airport all afternoon. Airports are terrible places, vacant and uninteresting, where people only go to get out of them as soon as they possibly can, and the height of misery is being compelled to stay in one longer than planned. But I find a moment of grimdark happiness in reading an article by Laurie Penny, in which she is trapped in an even worse place: a cruise ship. And just to double-down…a cruise ship full of cryptocurrency fanatics.

On this half-empty passenger ship with its swirling ’80s carpets right out of The Shining, there is very little sober talk of blockchain’s obstacles or limitations. Nobody mentions how wildly ecologically unsound the whole project is—some estimates have bitcoin burning as much energy as the entire nation of Ireland for a relatively small pool of users. Instead, the core and only existential question is which of the various coins and ICOs (initial coin offerings) will make you the richest the fastest before dawn.

Freedom here means freedom of money, and only freedom of money—and what freedom of money means is the freedom to amass great stocks of it without being taxed or traced. Occasionally, people even talk about this on panels, though nobody is really here for the conference part of the conference.

At least nobody in this airport is talking incessantly about money…or rather, there are such people, but they roam the place like Martians, easily avoided because they wear bluetooth ear-pieces and their mouths constantly move as they prowl about, focused entirely on the conversation they find so important. Nobody talks to much of anyone here. They move. They squat next to precious electrical outlets. They hover morosely over luggage they’ve been warned will be confiscated if they leave it untended.

Another thing we lack, mostly, in airports is women in obvious bondage.

One of the ways men bond is by demonstrating collective power over women. This is why business deals are still done in strip clubs, even in Silicon Valley, and why tech conferences are famous for their “booth babes.” It creates an atmosphere of complicity and privilege. It makes rich men partners in crime. This is useful if you plan to get ethically imaginative with your investments. Hence the half-naked models, who are all working a lot harder than any of the guys in shirtsleeves.

The cruise’s panelists all tout decentralization’s promises of shared responsibility, community, and freedom, but the version I see here means that nobody knows precisely who is responsible for all of this. It’s nobody’s specific fault that we’re trapped on a floating live-action walkthrough of how un-trammelled free-market capitalism can be bad for women, given that money and power are things women tend to have less of.

See? It could be worse, I tell myself, while checking the clock again for that moment of transition when I get to leave the land of dull carpet and interminable chairs to be confined in a tube with virtually no freedom to move for 3 hours.

48 minutes to boarding, O Blessed Sweet Relief from Waiting.

No, I don’t want a lecture from John McAfee to ease the boredom.

Comments

  1. gijoel says

    The bit coin market is imploding at the moment. The only people who seem to use it these days are people paying off ransom ware

  2. says

    And the closer your get to xmas, the worse it gets trying to fly. You miss a connection when traveling on xmas eve, you’re well and truly screwed. And in Canada you have practically zero consumer protections when an airline decides to stick it to you if a delay is due to their cause, such as a late flight crew or a maintenance issue.

  3. ridana says

    I haven’t flown since shortly after 9/11 for my father’s funeral, not because I’m afraid of being blown up, but because of the Terrorist State Apparatus. I have almost zero patience for security theater, and I know I’d end up being hauled off for being verbally abusive or otherwise uncooperative.

    There was a time though, when I used to really enjoy going to airports, especially while traveling by car around the country, not to catch a plane, but simply to have a drink at the overpriced bars, take in the art installations and ads and tchotchkes for sale at 800% markup, watch the planes and the people, and maybe strike up a random conversation with a random stranger that obligated me to nothing but holding up my end for a little while. Can’t really do that anymore. Much too suspicious.

    I kinda miss it.

  4. says

    Thank you for posting this! I’d been looking forward to Penny’s piece on that Bitcoin cruise since she announced she’d be writing about it, but assumed it was going to run in the New Statesman, The Baffler, or one of the other places her work has previously appeared.

    And I sympathise with your plight completely. I hate hate hate airports. I despise the security theatre, the sterile hostility of the décor, the smug assumption that they are free to waste your time with impunity (dunno what the rules are for flying internally within the US are, but here in Europe you’re expected to be in the airport an hour before departure and two hours before flights to the US) but if there’s a delay on their side, well, they’ll get around to telling you about it… eventually…

  5. says

    My wife and I felt that flying a Redeye would allow us to sleep during the flight. Unfortunately, we were seated next to the guy who records cartoon snoring effects. I hate flying.

  6. anthrosciguy says

    Want a real conversation from hell? I know a guy who can, and will if you sit for it, talk for an hour or more about how to amass the most points on credit cards.

    It’s a two or three sentence conversation, tops. Worse than the average SNL sketch-to-movie.

  7. says

    I can top that. I was flying from Miami to LA and this Hemingway wannabee spent the whole flight standing in the isle and pontificating on the whole sport fishing/bullfighting/macho BS.

  8. magistramarla says

    Ah, but the reward on the other end of all this hell is a grandbaby!
    Our reward for travel hell in a couple of weeks will be two pre-school granddaughters and their teen-aged big brother.
    That makes it all worthwhile, and I’m sure PZ will agree with me.

  9. jrkrideau says

    Oh, I don’t know. I had a 4 hour layover in Rome once and as I wandered about, I stumbled over a mob of French-Canadian women. Just hearing the language was fantastic. I don’t speak French very well but it was HOME.

  10. methuseus says

    I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get into the initial Bitcoin rush and become comfortably wealthy from it for no reason, but yes, it’s extremely irresponsible to use any cryptocurrency today with how much power is required. That’s why I didn’t get into it in the first place; it would have roughly doubled my power consumption for 6 months to a year to get a few bitcoin worth. Which would have actually paid off if I sold when they were worth thousands, but I didn’t know that was going to happen. And I could have held onto it for too long, too.

    As for the booth babes thing, I liked them at one point, because I was deeply entrenched in the whole toxic masculinity thing where it was expected of games and other tech stuff. But I’ve grown since, luckily. Free-market capitalism is horrible for everybody bar a few elites.

  11. angela78 says

    At least nobody in this airport is talking incessantly about money…or rather, there are such people, but they roam the place like Martians, easily avoided because they wear bluetooth ear-pieces and their mouths constantly move as they prowl about, focused entirely on the conversation they find so important.

    Yes PZ: that’s people working, you know. Not everybody gets to travel for leisure. When I’m on business travel I try to optimize time, and that includes lots of phone calls.

    The cruise’s panelists all tout decentralization’s promises of shared responsibility, community, and freedom, but the version I see here means that nobody knows precisely who is responsible for all of this. It’s nobody’s specific fault that we’re trapped on a floating live-action walkthrough of how un-trammelled free-market capitalism can be bad for women, given that money and power are things women tend to have less of.

    Oh my…
    Blockchain in itself was a great idea, and opened up a lot of possibilities. The problems it has are not inherent to the concept (for example: there already are models which don’t rely on the resource-intensive “proof of work” mechanism.
    Bitcoin is an example of blockchain implementation that started as geeky plaything and became financial speculation scam. So are most cryptocurrencies todays -and yet there are “ethical” ones.

    As for the last sentence on free-maket capitalism, it does not make any sense.

  12. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Airports are terrible places, vacant and uninteresting,

    I really don’t understand this. I know it’s a common opinion, but not one I’ve ever shared.

    Airports are full of people from a wider cross section of the world than you’ll see just about anywhere else. It’s fascinating to watch how different groups deal with the peculiar circumstances of the airport experience.

    Sure there are plenty of bored disaffected travel veterans in departures, but there are also folks for whom this is the first time, who are sometimes literally bouncing with excitement.

    There are people dreading what awaits them at the end of the flight, and ones who’s whole being yearns to get there. Look around and you can see a whole bunch of the human experience in unnaturally close proximity.

    Arrivals are even better, though you have to be quick to catch it. Separation from those you love and are loved by in turn sucks. But coming back together is better than almost anything. Where else are you going to get to witness as a third party that most sublime of moments: the instant when one is once again in the arms of a love?

    Fuck cynicism, airports rock.

  13. unclefrogy says

    well when you are trying to get some where and are forced to wait for long hours instead of traveling it could be very frustrating.
    I tend to feel like FossilFishy though I kind of like airports there is an ebb and flow to them. there is one thing I do not like however I have not been to all of the airports there are it is the noise there are parts and terminals at LAX that are as loud and noisy as any factory floor. I was picking up some friends coming back from a long trip to Europe and I was early and had to go and find someplace mostly deserted to stop my ears from ringing.
    uncle frogy

  14. says

    One thing I especially HATE about airports is the absence of wall clocks– you know, the ones that stick out from walls or pillars that are easily seen when one transits from terminal to terminal, desperately hoping to make the gate for your connecting before it closes? Sure, I have a 3 x 5 inch pocket watch, but is really so much to ask that airports make the The Time, perhaps the most important item of interest to to its visitors, whether departing or greeters, readily available? Drives me crazy!

  15. =8)-DX says

    I dunno, airports are fine apart from the expensive coffee, a bit more of a thrill, but really quite just the same as any other kind of transport if you bring a book.

    That cruise ship though? Sounds like a prison.
    =8)-DX

  16. Sean Boyd says

    I feel fortunate that I have not needed to fly anywhere since 2009. I found dealing with TSA to be annoying and ridiculous then; I can only imagine it is worse now. I never minded waiting, though…waiting simply meant that I was not late, and gave me time to read or what have you.

  17. says

    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) @ 13: I take your point– airports should be a melting pot, with people from all walks of life with time on their hands coming together; and there is still some residual romance associated with flying that its modern incarnation hasn’t altogether managed to destroy. But I find airports themselves too alienating for any of that. Perhaps its my own incipient tendencies towards social anxiety but the constant vibe in airports for me is that the time there is theirs, not mine, so the idea of relaxing and getting to know someone else is usually the last thing on my mind. They are threatening, inhuman places to me, I’m afraid.

  18. Dunc says

    Blockchain in itself was a great idea, and opened up a lot of possibilities.

    Blockchain is a hammer in search of a nail. It’s an interesting and very clever application of technology, but after more than ten years of trying, nobody’s really been able to come up with a use for it that doesn’t create more problems than it solves, with one single exception: concealing illegal transactions.

    It’s a perfect case study of what happens when you focus on the technology more than the problem you’re trying to solve.

    Blockchain study finds 0.00% success rate and vendors don’t call back when asked for evidence

    I don’t entirely exclude the possibility that somebody will come up with a decent use for it one day, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.

  19. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’m with FossilFishy, I love airports. I find the airport bar, buy a round or two for some strangers and listen to their stories. I go very early for my flight so I have time to drink and chat. Where else can you meet people who were on the other side of the world as recently as that morning? Or people who come from the same place as you do, when you are far from home? And as a bonus, a few beers makes it real easy to sleep on the plane. Next trip is already planned, St Lucia in Feb, yay! If I see any of y’all in an airport bar along the way, your drinks are on me. Cheers!

    To be fair though, I do pay extra to route my flights around the US. Your TSA is fucked and I want nothing to do with it. I’ll start visiting your country again when you get your shit together.

  20. Dunc says

    Where else can you meet people who were on the other side of the world as recently as that morning?

    I live in a tourist hotspot (Edinburgh, Scotland) so the answer to that for me is literally everywhere.

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