Sitting at the airport in Milan, I have a chance to reflect upon how fractured (and self deluded) the Bitcoin community has become. First off, I’d like to state for the record that I believe that many if not all of the people I had a chance to meet with this weekend honestly are doing what they feel is best for Bitcoin. But articles from media sites like CoinDesk such as this paint a very different picture from reality. They would have you believe that the world is in consensus and its time to put this block limit debate behind us. I cannot blame them for their pieces. They are indeed, a subsidiary of the Digital Currency Group, which is also a large investor in Blockstream after all. So my goal here is to paint the other side of the story, the side seen from the viewpoint of the ‘Free Speech, Free Bitcoin’ party.
First off, I would like to praise the organizers of the conference, for making it a truly interesting event, with talks which were academic and very interesting from a researcher’s perspective. In an industry filled with conferences which are more marketing trade shows of every valley startup, wall street bank, business consulting firm or no-longer-relevant tech giants of yore pandering via blockchains, it is truly refreshing to hear from smart academics about new technologies such as Schnorr signatures, bitcoin vaults, coin selection algorithms and mimblewimble*. These were well worth the flight to Italy to hear. But then you have the presentations which were more ‘works in progress’ such as the talks about Lightning network, a technology still very much in it’s formative stage, with one speaker talking so fast that I doubt anyone in the room (including himself) knew what he was saying. Lightning, as I wrote about in the past, while interesting as an eventual fast banking layer built on top of Bitcoin, isn’t quite yet ready for primetime, and some academics seem to agree with me.
Now I don’t even mind it so much that I had to hear somebody talk about the gritty details of Lightning cryptographic signing conundrums, but the fact that some other talks which dealt more specifically about scaling Bitcoin were rejected in order to make room for talks on Lightning, changing the whole mining infrastructure (and disrupting the mining business), and warm-fuzzy pep talks about how we as developers should all just learn to get along, just disappoint me.
Personally, I would have much rather have listened to talks on how to overcome the propagation delays of the GFC, streamlining the transaction format, how to streamline the mempool to optimize full-nodes, and how to improve the security of SPV wallets. Sadly none of these talks made it past the planning committee’s approved list of presentations. I guess ScalingBitcoin isn’t so much about scaling Bitcoin, as it is a Blockstream “progress report” to the world.
The difference in developer attitudes is one that I have seen afflict large organizations which have entrenched core tech teams which have built up an organizational structure of an echo-chamber around themselves, and tend to be ignorant of outside opinions in favour of trusting only on their own past experiences and expertise.
Speaking with many prominent Blockstream employees I constantly heard complains of how SPV wallets were horribly broken, mining in bitcoin is broken, and the internet itself is broken, so ‘we’ should try to dissuade/deprecate/disincentivize their use entirely. It echoed of a small team of group-thinkers who are disconnected with reality, convinced that the greater world is out to sabotage and corrupt the beautiful thing that they had laboured to develop and nurtured from infancy to gift to the unruly, ungrateful masses.
I heard talk about how evil and greedy the Chinese miners are, how incompetent they are, and how, if they were not kept on a tight leash, they may wreak havoc on the network due to their insatiable lust for short-term profit. Others saw themselves ‘victimized’ by the mining community, portraying themselves as being held hostage by the unscrupulous Chinese cartel of ‘spy miners’ who control a worrying 60% of the network.
None of these people actually took the time to speak to any of the Chinese miners who were present, instead happy to wallow in their sphere of disillusionment, while plotting different strategies which can hopefully maybe wrest control of the network back from the evil centralized forces that would (in their minds) seek to destroy Bitcoin.
To me, this is a pattern I have come to recognize in my 14 years in Wall Street. It is the difference of thinking between the academics vs the engineers. The purists vs the pragmatists. The people who have worked in the real world vs the ones who have lived apart from it, viewing and studying it from afar through their binoculars and microscopes in the ivory towers of pure academic life.
Both parties want the best for Bitcoin. But we just disagree violently on how to get there.
The only thing which we should be able to agree on is that censorship and ignorance of the disagreement (in hopes that it will just go away) is the worse way to handle contention in the community. It is only by wearing blinders that we ensure that we will lead ourselves astray, and thus continue to have misinformed articles such as this misleading the masses.