In the Metaverse, thanks to NFTs, everything is commodified. NFTs have become the bridge that turns a graphic element into a commodity: the drawing of a bag into a bag, the drawing of sneakers into sneakers, and an avatar into an avatar. All with its price, which can be bought and sold directly in the Metaverse itself. The Metaverse is both a factory and a commodity arena. Every image is a commodity. Everything is a market. The Metaverse is, above all, a Mercaverse. A space directed towards the market and, with it, perhaps it is inaugurating a new phase of capitalism.
Metaverse and NFTs
The commodity is the heart of capitalism. For this reason, the first chapter of Capital, by Karl Marx, is devoted to the conceptual configuration of merchandise. It is true that his apparent intention and he uses the term fetishism, to emphasize that, behind the value of merchandise, there is another merchandise that, according to his analysis, gives value to all of them, which is labor power. Leaving the latter momentarily in parentheses, the development of capitalism, for better or for worse and it must be recognized that it is the system that has generated the greatest well-being and freedom, can be understood as a process of commodification, of making things count through the market.
The fetishism of merchandise tried to denounce that this commodification was based on the fact that capitalism had managed to commodify an activity that, according to the Marxist anthropological vision, could not be commodified, such as work. It is in the commodification of work, where the capitalists, the owners of the means of production, obtained surplus value.
Everyone serve Leviathan
According to Marx, the development of capitalism was due to the evil -according to his moralized vision- ability of those owners of the means of production to extract surplus value and generate goods and capital. Now, from his beginnings and hence his special interest in initially accompanying capitalism, the main extractor of surplus value is the State.
The state institution extracted the surplus value previously extracted by the process of the production process. If the owners of the means of production are the extractors of surplus value, assuming the Marxist maxim, the State is the extractor of that surplus value. A kind of meta-extractor, a second degree exploiter, in a dialectic of the negation of the negation. In a way, Pier Paolo Passolini, who would now be a hundred years old, was right, in a comment on the Italian student mobilizations of March 1968, the real proletarians were the police, who were forced to repress these mobilizations. The proletarians are those who serve the State and, directly or indirectly, we all serve Leviathan.
The commodification process
A State that historically takes this behavior to a paroxysm mainly from the displacement of private initiative, trying to become the only extractor -without intermediaries- of surplus value -everyone working directly for it- but without the engine of commodification. The other way around, until the Chinese state reconverted to its state capitalism, under the slogan of a supposed decommodification of society, which led to commodification in the underworld and the inefficiency of black markets and fictitious markets, dominated by powers originating outside the markets themselves. Capitalism goes from freedom to merchandise. The state collectivist decommodification from merchandise to totalitarianism
The history of capitalism is the history of the process of commodification and the obstacles to its mercantile logic. But let’s return to the present. In its phase prior to the internet, the market progressively turned every thing or practice with use value into merchandise, turning it into goods and services. Its strength lies in the need for continued expanded reproduction of capital. The capital, made up of merchandise, had to be reinvested to continue functioning. This is one of the ways of its enlarged reproduction. The other is by expanding the spectrum of merchandise. Turning everything into merchandise. As we have said, transforming things and practices into goods and services.
Relatively recent theorists echo this integrating capacity, to turn everything into merchandise and, therefore, into capital. Thus, we speak of social capital, cultural capital, symbolic capital, erotic capital, linguistic capital. Everything that can acquire value and the ability to differentiate us from one another has the possibility of becoming capital and, therefore, having money as its ultimate general equivalent. Each capital with its particular market; but with a market after all. Capital is an irresistible concept because we cannot resist it. It makes us grow. It makes us grow in a continuous process of commodification. What capital does, as a system, is that everything that is socially valued can be converted into money.
Here comes the present. In platform capitalism, commodification basically consists of managing, through the Internet, to convert goods or services that previously appeared outside the market into merchandise: a room, a house, a space in the car for a trip, a used dress, a bicycle that is no longer going to be used. We surprised ourselves seeing how we could commodify our immediate environment, just by putting it on one of those platforms on the internet.
Well, the Metaverse is commodification on the web. Not only through the network anymore. For example, it is not about buying a ticket for a music concert through the internet, but about acquiring an NFT that allows access to a concert on the internet.
Avatars that become brands
On the internet, especially with social networks, we were pushed to become a brand. A brand of ourselves. They pushed us to use social networks as a means of promoting “our personal brand”, to act offline. The market was out. In the Metaverse, we become avatars that, in turn, become brands, which, in turn, can be sold instantly, either totally or partially, giving up image rights, as is happening with the already popular bored apes, so some of these NFTs are used to promote brands and products.
Located in the commodification of the digital, the Metaverse can go towards a centralized market or a decentralized market. There is no doubt that, after this dilemma, questions arise. Can this further expansion of commodification and markets take place without regulation? Would decentralized self-regulation suffice? That ghost that, for the Marx of The Communist Manifesto, covered the world, such as merchandise, is now also found in the digital world.