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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the cringiest of them all? Is it the JPEG People? Or is it the Laser-Eyed Maxis? Or is it both?

The Bitcoin ecosystem has always had a dogmatic streak; it’s kind of an inherent part of it. It takes a certain degree of stubbornness or dogma to get involved in something like Bitcoin this early on and demonstrate the type of conviction necessary to hodl on for the ride. Bitcoin is almost 15 years old, and a lot of the newer people who just entered the space in the last few years don’t really understand how wildly different the entire landscape was even just five years ago.

You used to be able to feed a 50-dollar bill into a Bitcoin ATM and get 0.25 BTC for it with nothing but a phone number, and no filters or restrictions on burner numbers with no KYC attached. There were no nation-states adopting bitcoin as legal tender. The only ETF attempts were 100% guaranteed to be denied without a chance at serious consideration or approval. Lightning was still just a vague concept with nothing deployed in the real world. You had to be at least a little bit dogmatic to even consider for a moment putting any sizable amount of your net worth into bitcoin; there was no real indication of its success at all except belief in its design. If you didn’t have that, you likely didn’t stick around to the present day. At the very least you walked in and out the door frequently enough to wind up with much less than you could have had if you just stayed put.

That dogma was necessary — without it the people who have built this ecosystem into what it is today wouldn’t have had the motivation to do so. Without that dogma, those people would not have had customers and users to build anything for in the first place. It was the foundation of everything we have around us today.

Now the inevitable is happening: the foundation is cracking.

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Which Church Do You Go To?

The thing with dogma is that the vast majority of the time it starts to fracture; the growth of discontent and dissent within the existing dogma, it doesn’t die — it multiplies. And that outgrowth externally tends to reinforce the existing dogma within those who remain. When people in Europe started to ideologically diverge from the Catholic Church, they didn’t destroy it — they fractured off and created their own church with their own conflicting dogma. There was no death and decay of the Catholic Church as it faded off into irrelevance; instead the Protestant Reformation led to a proliferation of numerous conflicting ideologies with their own dogma existing alongside the Catholic Church.

The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s is always portrayed as being the first major dissent from the Catholic Church, painting life prior to Martin Luther as a peaceful environment of subservience to the Church. But this is not the historical reality. The Great Schism that led to the split between the Catholic Church and what became the Eastern Orthodox Church occurred approximately 500 years before Martin Luther’s famous Theses.

What was the first domino to fall in the chain reaction that led to the schism? Churches in southern Italy that conducted mass in Greek were informed by the Pope that they must start conducting their masses in Latin. From here disagreements multiplied. Was it acceptable to use unleavened bread in the sacrament of communion? The West thought it was; the East disagreed. Should priests have to remain celibate? The West thought they should, and again the East disagreed.

This ultimately culminated in a papal envoy being sent to Constantinople, where the head clergymen of the East, the Ecumenical Patriarch, had been directly voicing these disagreements to the Pope. During the meetings in Constantinople disagreements boiled up to the point of the head of the envoy excommunicating the Patriarch, and the Patriarch excommunicating the members of the envoy. This fracture never healed, and led to the permanent schism between the Catholic Church and what became the Eastern Orthodox Church.

That schism is not unlike the divide between small blockers and large blockers that culminated in a split of sorts in the 2017 end of the Blocksize Wars. Both Catholics and the divergent Eastern believers worshiped God. They both agreed on the holy divinity of Jesus Christ. There was no disagreement or rifts on core fundamental truths such as that, just like ultimately small blockers and big blockers alike both wanted Bitcoin to succeed and grow to become a dominant economic force in the world. They simply disagreed about how to go about accomplishing that.

They had the exact same goal, but differences in thoughts on how to achieve it led to an irreconcilable division that has lasted six years (or over a thousand years in the case of the churches). At least they took over the dominant dogma, right? Wrong. The estimated population of Catholics is 1 billion people today, versus some 200 million people belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Church. In both cases, despite creating a new dogma that gathered a significant number of devout believers, neither the Orthodox Church nor the big blockers actually destroyed or subsumed the previously existing dogma.

Breaking News at 10: When you tell someone everything they believe about the universe around them is wrong they dig deeper into their preexisting beliefs.

The Protestants’ Disgust With Indulgences

So now that we have established that the Protestants were not the first to diverge from the Catholic Church, let’s look at what actually happened to elicit such a harsh reaction from Udi, I mean Martin Luther: indulgences — the idea that you could just pay your way into having your sins forgiven. A common ascribed phrase to advertise indulgences often cited as one of the things that finally pushed Luther over the edge was, “As soon as the coin into the box rings, a soul from purgatory to heaven springs”. That is how boldly Catholic priests would push the idea that by giving the Church money you would automatically be absolved of your sins.

“Just follow these simple easy steps to find your guaranteed economic salvation.” Sound familiar? Just dollar-cost average, just read this book, just follow these simple steps and you are guaranteed to find your salvation. Just getting your hands on 0.1 BTC ensures you a seat at the table as a member of the economic elite of the new world order. Promises like this are completely delusional, and the parallels between that type of evangelization and the Catholic practice of indulgences are so stark they’re undeniable.

In the framework of this analogy I would say the JPEG People represent the Protestants. They are a group of Bitcoiners who are fed up with the notion that “this one simple trick” is enough to guarantee an individual’s financial success in using Bitcoin. They are especially fed up with so much energy in this space being devoted to catering to that attitude and narrative. I honestly can’t blame them, and I agree with some of the things that they criticize and are upset with.

It has not only become a dominant attitude in this space that no one needs to really do anything in order for Bitcoin to succeed, but many people with that attitude actively attack, FUD, and disrupt efforts or ideas to address shortcomings of Bitcoin that could lead to its failure. I have spoken up about this dynamic and the problems it is exacerbating many times over the years. It’s not surprising to me in the slightest to see a new subculture and dogma rise in this space defining itself through opposition to this blind attitude of preordained success.

Here’s a cold, hard reality check: Like I said earlier, the Protestant Reformation didn’t eclipse and wipe out the Catholic Church. Even at an estimated population of 800 million to 1 billion people — roughly the same size as the Catholic population — Protestants have not marginalized the Catholic Church. The Pope is still one of the most listened to and respected religious figures around the world. Catholicism is still adhered to worldwide.

And the funniest part? Shortly after Martin Luther’s death, the Church banned the exchange of money for the forgiving of one’s sins. What does this teach us? Despite the primary reason for Protestants leaving and forming their own dogma actually being addressed and forbidden by the Church, they didn’t come back. Why is that? And another factor I just mentioned above is that the Protestant population is almost 1 billion people; they are not all a single congregation or dogma. The Protestants continued fracturing and dividing, forming a large set of conflicting and contradictory dogmas over the years. They did not remain or grow into a single competitive group competing with Catholicism.

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Dissent Breeds Dissent

Does it make more sense now why Catholicism was never actually usurped or subsumed by new dogmas? Nothing ever grew to the size that it actually could, the preexisting dogma didn’t just sit around content and unchanging; it evolved around dissent strong enough to actually incite material amounts of people to challenge and leave it. If some aspect of current dogma was so disliked and disagreed with that people became dissuaded from its accuracy, eventually the current dogma changed to acknowledge that. From a cold and logical point of view, it’s simply a matter of survival.

And what of the new dogmas that were birthed before that period of adaptation and evolution? They continued on and did not simply fold back into their original belief after it conceded to their disagreement. But that dissent, that acceptance of it, the fact that to a degree the new dogma was actually defined by it, festered. This encouraged people who adapted the new dogma to dissent even from that, and this cycle repeated itself. This is why there is no single “Protestant” dogma. You have the Lutherans and the Calvanites, the Anglicans, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Methodists, etc. The list goes on and on.

We have seen the same thing with big blockers. First, the Bitcoin Cash people split from Bitcoin. Then, Bitcoin Cash split into Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV. Both of them had numerous splits from that point among themselves. Why should anyone expect the JPEG People to be any different? They, too, predominantly define themselves as “against” the Laser Eyes. They cheer themselves on as “doing what the Laser Eyes couldn’t” as they pat themselves on the back for spurring adoption. They, too, seem to base a large portion of their comradery around “owning the Laser Eyes”. Their entire dogma is almost entirely defined by its existence as an opposite to the dogma of the Laser Eyes.

That is why in all likelihood there will be no long-lasting cultural effect to come of this new dogma as it exists today. There is nothing it can define itself by in a vacuum. Every Christian ostensibly stands on their faith in Jesus Christ, but many denominations define that faith by standing in contrast to the Catholic Church. What is that in terms of the foundation for a belief? What does that really define a person as in terms of goals, motivations, or net productive output?

The JPEG People claim they are here to “make Bitcoin fun again”, to get people engaged and interested in using it, and there is undeniably a good number of people in that community who actually live by that. But there is in my experience a much larger number of people who define themselves through their actions as simply existing to “own the Laser Eyes”. That doesn’t produce anything of value. That doesn’t actually inspire people with a vision.

Movements, dogmas, cultures, any of these things that are defined solely by their opposition to other movements or dogmas or cultures lose their identity the moment the thing they exist in opposition to is defeated. To really create a lasting and transformative cultural shift, there needs to be a foundation of identity that can exist on its own.

So what is the identity of the JPEG People without Laser Eyes to troll? Is there even one there when you take that away? 

This article is featured in Bitcoin Magazine’s “The Inscription Issue”. Click here to get your Annual Bitcoin Magazine Subscription.

Click here to download a PDF of this article.

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