Bitcoin Maximalism Dissected
Transcript By: Bryan Bishop
Bitcoin maximalism dissected
Giacomo Zucco (giacomozucco)
Good morning everyone. I am very happy to be here at Baltic Honeybadger. Last year I gave a scaling presentation. I opened the conference with a scaling presentation. This year in order to compensate, I will be super serious. This will be the most boring presentation at the conference. I am going to try to dissect and formalize bitcoin maximalism.
This is the scarriest font I found on prezi. I wanted something with blood coming out of it but they didn’t have it. So what is bitcoin maximalism? I’ll try to give you a definition and do something htat has never been tried before. I want to make an axiomatic deductive treatment of bitcoin maximalism. Let’s see if I have time.
As some background to this presentation, the idea for this presentation comes from an infamous tweetstorm. Basically, there was a day in May where basically Chris Pacia asked why do I think that bcashers are either malicious or stupid. He seemed interested in an honest debate about that. I tried to formalize my argument about why I do think that bcashers are either malicious or stupid.
This was great because it was the first one with 1000 likes, so for me as a social media newbie, it was great to have all this attention. It was first page on reddit for a while. It was very funny for me because I sit here coming for dinner just once to write two tweets and then 80 tweets with a lot of full ops. Social blogs are basically these ones; Eric Lombrozo and other people on twitter and on reddit asked me to create an article out of it. People particularly enjoyed that this kind of argument was very schematic, it was very like point-to-point, mathematically assembled into some kind of deduction. The format of trying to conduct of the debate, instead of name calling. I arrived at namecalling, but only after a process of logical links.
So they asked me to write a complete article out of it, which may be more readable than a tweetstorm. Some people were pissed that every tweet started with the word “stupid”, so they wanted something less confrontational. Over 1000 people liking it, you cannot have everyone happy. 3 people were very disappointed with my broken English, namely bcash proponent Brian Hoffman and Chris De Rose also didn’t like it. So for these three people… there was also a retweet but it’s still de Rose. For these people, I was supposed to arrive again the argument with better English or some external crowdsourcing or external review.
I didn’t. For two reasons. The next week, I was hosted by some podcast, the Noded bitcoin podcast, speaking about a tweetstorm. The discussion was about bcash. It was very soon considered irrelevant. The discussion moved to more general analysis of what is bitcoin maximalism. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Are we maximalists and are we bad persons for that? Spoiler alert, yes, but we have good reason for that. The other reason I did not write that famous article is that this user, Sosthene, basically created an article called “making the strongest case for small blocks” which was an article based on my tweetstorm and it was better than I could do so no need for me to write an article.
Since people really appreciated my tweetstorm and systematization, I’ll try to do this stuff: to review the origin of the meme “bitcoin maximalism”, and to condensate its doctrine into a few truths, to reach some triggering and shocking conclusions for bitcoin maximalism. People right now have this vision of bitcoin maximalists as something that is emotional… you might be a maximalist but you should try to reason with something dogmatic; you’re maximalist because you can’t analyze this question with an open mind, you have already reached a conclusion and you can’t change it. And maximalists are “toxic”; if you see the word “toxic”, you should walk away because it’s usually someone who can’t conversate with you logically. Some people say maximalists are creating a bad environment and people feel unwelcome because of this. Maximalist means rude; you have to be kind of a dick in order to be maximalist, and it’s like… rude… we are maximalists, we don’t eat carbs, we are sad.
Instead, I’ll try to make the point it’s actually the other way around- maximalism is a rational conclusion. I was not maximalist in 2012. I had to made a consideration to get there. It’s empirical, based on facts and logical connections between facts. It’s not toxic. It’s super healthy for the ecosystem. It’s needed. It’s part of the physiology of bitcoin and it’s not part of the pathology of bitcoin. Ultimately, it’s generous, it’s something that has an altruistic affect. It’s also sometimes considered costly for people who practice bitcoin maximalism, in order to help the greater good. It’s lots of fun, it’s not gloomy. You can have a lot of fun as a maximalist. I do.
My objective, the real purpose of this presentation is to be able to draw graphs about this. There was one from David Puell about the essence of bitcoin, based on a diagram from Pierre Rochard. I failed to make a similar diagram at 3am this morning. You could also make a taxonomy like Eric Voskuil on the libbitcoin wiki. You find not just tools but great explanations of cryptoeconomics which is indexed with this very cool titles like “Credit expansion fallacy” and “empty block fallacy” and “fragmentation principle”. The names are cool, and the content is really cool as well. Check out the “axiom of resistance” or look at “the blockchain fallacy”. I don’t agree with the “hearn error”.. the names are good. It’s a lot of stuff.. The lunar fallacy.. it’s really a lot of fun.
let’s start with the word bitcoin maximalist. Bitcoin maximalist is something that was invented by Vitalik Buterin in November 2014. He started to address another user on reddit as a bitcoin dominance maximalist. Soon later he posted an article called “On bitcoin maximalism, and currency and platform network effects”. Vitalik isn’t good at writing cryptographic systems, but he’s great at writing blog posts and systematizing an idea. This is a skill he mostly uses for marketing or scams, but it’s still a skill. I respect that. This article is so great that his idea was to shame bitcoin maximalists because they are wrong. But the systematization, the steelmanning of the argument was so good that some people enjoyed being called bitcoin maximalism.
Back then, many people reacted to this article and said yeah I’m a bitcoin maximalist. So the pejorative nickname was twisted into something that people are proud to be. In the last few months, I have people coming to me and saying they are bitcoin maximalists… but they are not bitcoin maximalists because they are talking about permissioned blockchains or something. So they are using the term because it has some legitimacy. There are some objections, like “In reality, bitcoiners are minimalists while ethereum /bcash fans are the maximalists”. Maximalism is about more is more, and minimal is less is more. If you think about block size or turing completeness or rich statefulness, it’s clear that maximalism should be in the shitcoin camp not in ours. But it’s a little bit too late to change this name after we took possession of bitcoin maximalism, culturally speaking. Also somebody started to call themselves a “shitcoin minimalist”. I’m not a bitcoin maximalist, I’m a shitcoin minimalist. It’s more consistent, but it doesn’t get a lot of traction. People still tend to call themselves a “bitcoin maximalist”. Someone else, Amelianiiusu Aglai suggested “bitcoin supremacists”. I would not be comfortable with that term, it could be a problem. My conclusion is that we can stick with “bitcoin maximalism” even if etymologically speaking it might not be appropriate definition.
So now it’s time to systematize or to create a minimal viable list of characteristics of a bitcoin maximalists. What I’m going to present here, I know many of you are buddhists, but I’m not. Buddhists were based on the four universal truths. Here’s the four universal truth of maximalists. The first turth is that everything which is not bitcoin is a scam. The second universal truth is that every attempt at changing bitcoin is a scam. The third universal truth is that every attempting at pushing people to spend bitcoin is a scam. The fourth universal truth is that we shouldn’t be nice to scammers. This can seem to you as a little counterintuitive like paradoxical even. Probably you think these are not the results of logical thinking, perhaps you think these are dogmatic or rude. What I’m trying to do here is to perform an axiomatic deduction of these four truths from first principles we can hopefully agree on.
I will spend a few minutes talking about the assumptions. I wanted to be Eric Voskuil and assign some cool names to the assumptions. The first assumption is hard-vs-easy and it goes something like this: money which is hard to create and to censor… etc.. if you don’t agree with one of these 10 assumptions, then you will disagree with the four universal truths. You’d be wrong, but you’re free to be wrong. The first assumption is that money which is hard to creat e(money trap) and to censor (financial control) is osmething difficult to have, especially in the age of the internet and under orwellian regimes. We have plenty of alternative for money which is easy to create and to censor, and when we cannot use htem it’s because we need hard money instead. It could be really disruptive. Paypal transactions are easy to censor. My point here is that we have some forms of hard money during the ages like physical gold was a very hard form of money because it’s very hard to create and to extract new gold in a way that is significant compared to the stock already in circulation, so the stock circulation rate is very high. Physical gold is hard to inflate and it’s hard to censor. If you go around with physical gold coins and you pass it to a counterparty, unless your counterparty is an undercover federal agent, it’s very difficult to censor your transaction. When we moved to the internet age where everything must be fast and must be very efficient across distances, everything is basically instanteously from New Zealand to Canada we can’t use things like physical gold or physical cash. We don’t need a technological revolution to have easy money. Oh, I’m super late.
I could prove everything I’m saying, but like Craig Wright, I’m just going to ask you to trust me. ((applause))
The second assumption is the coinbase and blockchain assumption. What I’m trying to argue that there’s two features of bitcoin is not digital signatures and existences and are not distributed systems and existing things on the internet… the really distinctive features are the supply schedule with halving and difficulty adjustment, in order to create hard production of money. So that’s the coinbase transaction. The next part is the blockchain- a way to have timestamping, proof-of-publication without any central party. Every company that uses a technical term from bitcoin as the name of the company like bitcoin.com, coinbase.com, blockchain.com, usually they are scammers. It’s a really good heuristic ((applause)). It makes sense. It’s like meeting someone who says hello I’m the CEO of internet dot com, yeah that’s fishy. If you don’t need timestamping or any of those things, then probably everything about bitcoin would slow you down and be worthless. Instead of using digital signatures, use Facebook Connect. Instead of using blockchain, use your database. Okay, let’s go.
The third principle is the cloning theorem, and I’m mocking the no cloning theorem of quantum computing. If someone can copy your scarcity system into infinite copies and then they can call it legitimate, then they will do it, and if what you’re doing is money, then there are strong incentives to do it. When you create digital scarcity, everyone will try to duplicate it and pretend that your clone is the same as your original experiment. You can’t imagine a world where you launch something like bitcoin and nobody tries to make infinite copies of bitcoin pretending the same kind of value will exist.
The fourth assumption is top vs bottom. Complex systems are usually layered. The top layers show the tendency in the long run and in the absence of exogenous sources of friction, toward competition and evolution, the bottom layers show the tendency in the long run in the absence of exogeneous sources of friction toward convergence and stability. 5 minutes, okay. You understand me. Free market tends towards uniformity at the bottom layers.
The fifth assumption is the immaculate conception of bitcoin. It’s impossible to replicate Satoshi’s opsec. It’s basically impossible. If you try to launch a new bitcoin right now, even if you’re good at opsec, somebody is already surveilling you from day one. It’s hard to reproduce Satoshi’s honest incentives. Satoshi didn’t know for sure that bitcoin was going to grow so hugely. It was just an experiment. If you’re starting something like bitcoin these days, you are going to screw up, and the incentives are broken- everyone wants to make money and buy lambos. Your team is going to be full of scammers.
The sixth assumption is that– if somebody acquires money, wealth, power, fame or lambos by selling to other people something that doesn’t work as advertised, because it cannot possibly work as advertised, and that somebody had any chance to understand this impossibility using available knowledge and logic reasoning, after a due research, then he is a scammer. You know it doesn’t work and you’re selling out anyway.
When you have to counteract social attacks (often just noise), when you are using natural langauge and whne you are discusisng complex systems, it’s often okay to ioversimplify and to reduce nuances, at least “prima facie”, in order to create a set of useful hueristics easy to communicate and to use. Everything which is not bitcoin is a scam. We are basically trying to convey a message and establish a heuristic.
Life is hard and the real world often comes iwth difficult choices and tradeoffs. When such tradeoffs are particularly demanding… you will have a conspiracy theory when the difficulty of the choice is not natural, but it’s artifically created by the elite of conspiracy conspirators. There is money for everyone, nobody needs to work, you can have universal income, but just because the 1% is artifically creating the scarcity that we are the poor. This is one of the conspiracy theories out there. There’s others out there but AXA and Illuminati and Blockstream. You have to expect the conspiracy theories.
Number 9 is social layer.. every protocol has technical layers and also social layers. You can’t establish a protocol not even bitcoin just off of cryptography and hashrate. Bitcoin works is because people are enforcing the rules and to reject scam coins. There are social layers based on taboos, customs, culture, there are twitter memes which are really powerful tools. You need to secure the social layer. You need to create a social cost to social attacks on bitcoin. You have to create social costs.
If we’re going to seek for a system in which we don’t use a government regulator, like the SEC or the Fed, then we have to self-regulate even harder. You have to call out scams. You have to call out scams even more, not less. You have to be less tolerant of scams because we will need to be self-regulating even harder.