I’ve been floating around in the Discord server for Praxis, trying to get a feel for what exactly it is. It began almost like an ARG, a handful of cryptic tweets with little instruction. Recently, Praxis uploaded a manifesto about what exactly it is, and it’s uh, well…

Praxis is a grassroots movement of modern pioneers building a new city. We are technologists and artists, builders and dreamers. We are building a place where we can develop to our fullest potentials, physically, culturally, and spiritually. Bitcoin was developed as a financial technology with political goals identical to those of the Founding Fathers: liberation. The ultimate end of crypto is the possibility of a future for humanity unshackled from the institutions that seek to limit our growth. Our ultimate goal is to bring about a more vital future for humanity, and we will use technology to achieve this righteous end.

If your eyes glazed over at the introduction of Bitcoin as well, let’s be friends. But onward:

Praxis is a grassroots movement of modern pioneers building the city-cryptostate. We are currently organized as a membership-based community. To help us build the city, you must join as a Member. From establishing our culture and researching ancient wonders to visiting prospective city sites and designing our urban infrastructure, every Praxis Member has a role to play in the development of our future home.

Definitely read the whole thing, it’s a ride, though it sounds a little “decentralized UBI based on crypto and gaming that I can’t explain” to me. Merits or demerits aside, what fascinates me more than the idea of a crypto-geological metaverse is, of course, the aesthetics chosen for it.

The Discord server for Praxis has an #aesthetics channel, in which pre-applicants, deemed “thresholders”, can collect ideas for what the concept looks like. The overarching theme appears to be a manner of eco-accelerationism. Urban decay reigns in images of San Francisco overtaken by ferns, Soviet war memorials, museums of Roman statuary. Scenes from fine art depict virile athletes, warfare, and, perhaps worryingly, executions. I cannot yet tell whether the blood-and-soil implications of the Rome and Western-civ worship are intentional. Overall, the theme is consistent: from the ashes of our civilization will rise a new one. Call it doomer solarpunk, or the rebirth of the West.

Already, these aesthetics feel like a setup to me. Any legitimate culture will have its own art and memes; images and aesthetics are means of sociocultural transmission. A new culture reliant on old symbology will likely inherit the cultural maladies those symbols previously accompanied. A meme is a bindrune; by invoking a charged image, you invoke a sense of place, time and importance. You graft that image’s implications onto whatever circumstance you have deployed it under. Traffic too heavily in images that already have consistent implications and underlying mythologies, and you will likely wind up with a rebranded variant of the old culture. From the ashes of a restrictive, fully enervated culture comes a decentralized, quasi-utopian version of that same culture.

There’s nothing new under the sun, and there is especially nothing new on the internet, so Praxis cannot be faulted for drawing on existing imagery. However, putting the cart before the horse by attempting to determine the aesthetics of a culture before the culture determines what it, itself, is…it can’t ever work. Those thresholders in the #welcome channel will behave differently once they’re full-fledged members participating in digital civics, and will seize on different memetic and aesthetic cues. The reality of the project may evoke aesthetic principles different from those originally imagined. After all, much of what we consider culture is a reaction to societal influences, a recontextualization of shared experience. It can’t be centrally planned. Until a society is more than conceptual, genuine culture cannot arise. Until then, it’s only branding.