Though some people are denouncing Bitcoin Maximalism, the ethics of Bitcoin are stronger than ever and the number of Bitcoiners is only growing.
This is a transcribed excerpt of “Bitcoin Audible” Guy’s Take #59 – “We’re Not Going Anywhere” by Guy Swann, adapted into article form for Bitcoin Magazine.
We’re gonna do a “Guy’s Take” today and we’re going to do it on Bitcoin Maximalism.
I think there is a difference between Bitcoin Maximalism and Bitcoin Maximalists. There is a subset of “Bitcoin Maximalists” who have been in Bitcoin for like a year and they have embraced the culture of anti-crypto without even being able to argue why; they’re Bitcoiners because they came into Bitcoin. My view of Bitcoin Maximalism is different from these types of people. I have a really strong idea of what Bitcoin Maximalism is — and it did not change in the last two years with all of these new people who are jumping on the bandwagon and using it as a bludgeon on Twitter.
I want to use Pete Rizzo’s “How To Be A Bitcoin Maximalist” and Nic Carter’s “Setting The Record Straight” as a foundation to start. One of the things that Rizzo did in his piece was to separate “Maximalist” from “Maximalism.” I want to argue the “what” and the “why” of Bitcoin Maximalism as I see it, the reason that I am only focused on Bitcoin and why I think it’s both a logical and morally sound position to hold.
Some general points I want to cover:
- Where did Bitcoin Maximalism come from, and why did the anti-crypto culture of animosity arise?
- Where did crypto go wrong?
- What is Bitcoin Maximalism?
- What is the goal and the fundamental reason for Bitcoin Maximalism?
- What is the risk of Bitcoin failing?
Where Did The Toxicity Come From? Where Did Crypto Go Wrong?
Let’s start with where all the animosity came from. It came from multiple cycles of watching an entire market of nonsense: scams, Ponzi schemes, the massive initial coin offering (ICO) bubble, thousands and thousands of tokens, obvious copy-pastas of other projects, brazen attempts at constant seigniorage, etc. People who got into this space were getting obliterated. They were getting robbed, and they were looking at crypto and saying, “Man, I hate Bitcoin,” when it had always been Bitcoiners that specifically were trying to call out and stop that sort of behavior.
Going all the way back to the beginning, there were ethics built within the Bitcoin space because of the example of Bitcoin not being pre-mined and the project being made public from the very start. Satoshi Nakamoto kept the project running for two years when it was worth $0, while he was making absolutely nothing. It was an experiment; it was a completely fair launch. There were no investors and he didn’t seek a company to buy it out. It was just an open-source project. Nakamoto was trying to see if people could come on board to support this thing and to test it out to see if it actually worked.
As we got into 2012-2013 and the space changed, people started thinking about how you could use this technology for something else. Then these attempts of using the same structure to create an entirely different network for an entirely different purpose. All of those early projects tried incredibly hard to be very ethical; they were actually honest attempts at creating a new project and at fairly releasing another one of these cryptocurrencies. They didn’t start with pre-mines; that was part of the presumed ethics. There were a lot of those unspecified rules.
Crypto just threw it out the window when a mass of people showed up and said, “Screw it, we’re gonna ICO, we’re gonna issue everybody our new tokens.” It was easy in the flood of fresh users with no understanding, so they dismissed Bitcoiners’ denouncements by saying, “Oh, all the old Bitcoiners are just curmudgeons.” But many of us were saying, “No! You’re paying for something that somebody else made for free!” This is the whole problem that Bitcoin is trying to solve, and all they did was copy and paste the Bitcoin code so that they could recreate the fiat system where they are the masters, where they’re the ones at the top of the ladder. That is what 99.9% of those projects are still doing.
I dealt with the personal dilemma myself. I could have easily made a copycat coin and tried to sell it. I could have made millions of dollars. Anybody could have. In 2011-2014, you could have made any dumb coin for any dumb excuse. In fact, all the way into 2017, you barely had to have any competence. There were websites where you could just punch in characteristics and settings and it would spit out a client that had a fork of Bitcoin with a different mining algorithm, or a different block time, or a different block size. You could start mining it yourself from the beginning. You could pay $20 on Fiverr for a website, and then you could make millions, some even billions of dollars.
So, if you're wondering where the “toxicity” and animosity comes from, it is not due to a lack of knowledge; it is due to too much. I am not going to suddenly forget how scammy these projects have been and how this all started. How they bastardized the ethics of the space. In cryptographic communities, there were always rules that you never roll your own crypto, you never design your own system; you always design it out in the open or it’s never going to be properly tested and you’ll never know if it’s secure. These were basic rules and anyone who came in and created their own algorithm was thought of as a crank.
Bitcoin Is A Moral Imperative, Not Socially Motivated
What you believe is moral or ethical should not change based on social acceptance. That’s exactly why I’m still a Bitcoin Maximalist: because my ethics didn’t change. The leaders of these projects — Ethereum being a prime example — used their position to explicitly break the rules of the system for their own benefit. I can’t just pretend that all of that didn't happen or that somehow it doesn't matter anymore because there’s so many new people that nobody even knows about it! That doesn’t change anything for me. I don’t throw away my principles just because abandoning them has been normalized and no one else cares anymore. If I had done that, I never would have been a Bitcoiner in the first place.
This is one of the appeals in the idea that “Bitcoin Maximalism is dead.” People frame it like, “The numbers are dwindling, you should get out while you still can.” I find that funny, because it is the exact appeal to social acceptance, to the norm. I actually believe in what I believe for a reason and the fact that someone else thinks people are walking away from it doesn’t change my mind. If it did, then I didn't believe anything in the first place — I was just following the crowd. I have not engaged in the exploration that I have for tens of thousands of hours to reach the conclusion of Bitcoin Maximalism so that I could get approval from people! I actually think it matters.
I don’t know of a better way to help Bitcoin succeed. If I get ostracized by “Bitcoin Maximalists,” it will not change my perspective on Bitcoin Maximalism — on being bitcoin-only. And if it does, I should rightfully be called out for it. I was never a Bitcoin Maximalist because I thought they were the “in-group.” I believed in Bitcoin for years while I saw a system of property rights, a system of money where the state was not involved and their political control was made obsolete. I gladly held my position and I gladly took on my exploration while everybody thought I was stupid. I am not confused about why I am here.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t respect the opinions or perspectives of the people who offer legitimate arguments, who have a completely different perspective and different belief about what crypto is. There are plenty of “crypto” people who have solid opinions and whose thoughts I value. I’ve read articles and pieces by a lot of these people on “Bitcoin Audible.” I actually appreciate the pushback, the challenges, against those who call themselves Bitcoin Maximalists. I think a useful Bitcoin Maximalist will take legitimate concerns and recognize where there are trade-offs, limitations and places for improvement. If Bitcoiners aren’t the ones trying to figure out where Bitcoin is subpar or needs to be improved, we are a vulnerability and we are lowering its defenses. Bitcoin is an anti-fragile thing; it thrives under attack and under adversarial thinking. Where we have lost that, we owe it to ourselves to do better. There are a lot of “Bitcoiners” who just don’t want to talk about uncomfortable things.
What Is Bitcoin Maximalism?
The idea that Bitcoin Maximalists are some homogeneous group that all cultishly believe the exact same thing is laughable. I know Maximalists who are carnivores; I know some who are vegan. I know some who are politically liberal and some who are full-on MAGA Trump lovers; some who are libertarian and others who are die-hard anarchists. I know some who are policy makers and think we need to change the state and I know some who think talking to politicians is the most profound waste of time. I know some who are environmentalists and I know some who would literally buy a poster that says, “Fossil fuels are the greatest thing that have ever existed on this planet.” I know some Bitcoiners who are devout Christians, Muslims or subscribe to numerous other religions that are historically in conflict with one another, but will sit across the table laughing and joking.
I log in to Twitter and I see these people argue with each other all the time. I go to conferences and listen to them argue. And yet, the crazy thing about it is that they all agree on one thing: Bitcoin. They can argue about all of these other issues, but know that they don’t matter because something that matters more keeps them together as a community. Bitcoin Maximalists are not some homogeneous group who believe or behave or think all the same things. I actually think of them as people who don’t agree on anything, except for the fact that Bitcoin is the most important thing to focus on. That’s the only thing that I think they generally agree with!
What is Bitcoin Maximalism? This is where Matt Corallo surprised me with his thread about maximalists on Twitter. He posted a poll giving people two options to define Bitcoin Maximalism:
- I’m disinterested in non-Bitcoin cryptocurrency systems because I’m only interested in payment tech and not other uses of cryptocurrency systems.
- Cryptocurrency systems outside of Bitcoin need to be fought because they’re scams and hurt Bitcoin.
If people think that either of these options is the definition of Bitcoin Maximalism, then we have done a horrible job at communicating it. There are so many attempts at trying to define it and trying to narrow down exactly what it is, but I’ll be completely honest, this really did surprise me. I answered as best as I could:
3. “The reason #bitcoin is revolutionary is because it has the potential to separate money & state. None of the centralized shitcoins have a ghost of a chance of doing that, most are scams anyway, therefore they are largely irrelevant & uninteresting until that problem is solved.”
It’s almost like it’s uncomfortable to mention that the reason Bitcoin is such a potent tool — the reason it is fascinating and revolutionary as a technological system — is that it is a system that establishes property rights. It establishes a monetary base that is external to the political system. It is a consensus mechanism that isn’t reliant on the state. It is a cryptographic system that acts as a tool for political liberation.
Bitcoin Maximalism is an anti-authoritarian movement.
It is not left versus right, it is bottom versus top; it is the money subjects versus the money masters. Bitcoin’s continued spread and adoption as a network and as a monetary base alters how power is maintained and funded in the political sphere. The most powerful tool in the modern age is the counterfeit machine and Bitcoin takes that machine away. This is about undermining the most potent tool of the most powerful institutions in the world who demonstrate over and over that they have no qualms with lying, killing and attacking innocent people to keep that power.
The point of Bitcoin Maximalism to me is clarity. The point is focus: focus on the single most important mission that we are here for. Proof-of-work, no compromise on running a node, mining power in every jurisdiction on Earth, everything about bitcoin is designed for one ultimate purpose: To create a money that no one, not even the most powerful and violent government on Earth, can make more of for free. It is the separation of money and state. It is monetary assurance without monetary masters. Rules without rulers. If it is not contributing to that purpose, it is uninteresting to me; it is doing nothing of great consequence, and it is just a toy.
Bitcoin Maximalists are the only community with a die-hard commitment to supporting Bitcoin and nothing else, and who are not afraid to be unpopular in that stance. If they change their views because everyone’s renouncing maximalism, then they did not have a real reason to be a maximalist in the first place. When Vitalik Buterin was trying to normalize pre-mining and trying to normalize ICOs, he was trying to excuse it by demonizing Bitcoiners. He used “Bitcoin Maximalism” as an insult. That’s why we’re referred to as Bitcoin Maximalists. We didn’t choose that word; we got called that word when we attacked an absolute, obvious scam. So I don’t care what you call us. Call us “bitcoin-only,” call me a “Bitcoin miser,” a “Bitcoin Maximalist,” a “Bitcoin fundamentalist” — it does not matter. It is about the principles that lead me to think Bitcoin is the only thing that serves the mission that is important to me about this space. I think the reason Bitcoin Maximalists (or whatever you want to call us) have adopted a culture of pushing back, of making people uncomfortable, is because that mission is more important than people’s feelings. We’re not going to tolerate scams, we’re not going to allow the message to be diluted and we will not compromise on what matters. If that means we miss out on a billion-dollar NFT market, fine! Do you really think NFTs are some secret piece of the puzzle to solve billions of people living under double-digit inflation? The people who have to suffer through economy-obliterating capital controls? The majority of the world that is suffering the never-ending consequences of the horrible political monopoly over money? Go ahead and try, but I’m not going to refrain from telling you that I think it is a huge waste of time and resources.
What Is The Goal Of Bitcoin Maximalism?
I think this is a game of survival and the only money that can survive this is one that is radically neutral. Political systems are destroying the world. They are destroying the safety, assurances and any sort of guarantees that our economy has been able to provide us. It is breaking down everywhere. The only solution is to achieve a consensus that does not have the problems and the insanity of the current political systems. We need an alternative. The political divisions are growing. We are not getting more aligned with things that are prosperous, we are doing the exact opposite: We are destroying investment in infrastructure, we are splitting up all over the place, conflicts are growing everywhere. What we need is something external to them to solve this problem.
It seems obvious to me that almost nothing else we do will work over the long term if we don’t fix the money first. It is the foundation for every higher-layer solution. No solution can be sustained without a robust, global, censorship-resistant and radically neutral money. How could we possibly succeed if the state can counterfeit trillions of dollars out of thin air, at no cost, buy up everything we’ve built and turn it around to use against us? Until we destroy the money printer, we will never be able to do anything or be anything but servants. This is about independence.
What Happens If Bitcoin Maximalists Are Wrong?
The ultimate asymmetry of the debate about Bitcoin Maximalism is: What happens if I am wrong? What happens if there’s actually tons of great crypto out there? That the government is going to embrace cryptocurrency, we’ll get some regulatory clarity and it will all work out? I would lose out on some decent investments. That’s about it. I am totally fine with giving up that opportunity.
However, if cryptocurrency fanatics are wrong, then we have a real fight ahead of us. If I am right in thinking that we are up against the most powerful adversaries in the world, who do not give a crap about us and see us as annoying little peons who need to eat the bugs so we don’t get in the way of their grand “Build Back Better” plans for the future, who will gladly shut down our networks, destroy our savings and claim that we have to pay 10 times the price of energy as a sacrifice in order for them to maintain control over the world’s political and monetary levers, then you just divested from the best chance we ever had at removing money from the hands of the state.
If I am wrong, I lose a bunch of money, and I’m OK with that, but if you are wrong, then we could lose everything. Sorry, not sorry: Bitcoin Maximalism isn’t going anywhere.
And I guess I’ll leave you with some final thoughts. Ask yourself if you see any truth in my opinion that we live in a world that is increasingly authoritarian, that is financed and funded through the monopoly on money. They have colonized us; we are the colonies that produce the resources for their empire. We give their money value. Bitcoin is the foundation of our independence. If we don’t take this opportunity, we might not get another chance; we might end up with total surveillance in a completely permissioned system with carbon allocation and social credit scores. Bitcoin is our best hope at obsoleting that future before it gets here. If I am right about that, then that’s just not something you go half-in on.
This is a guest post by Guy Swann. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.