The world is filled with great splits. Sometimes a split is just the best way of getting the best of both worlds. It let’s bygones be bygones and leaves freedom of choice to the market which is in the ideal position to determine the best way forward. But in Bitcoin space, talk of a split is tantamount to talking about White Privilege, racism, or dog meat as a food delicacy. Make no mistake, this is a carefully manicured and cultivated reaction culminating from 4 years of careful opinion “shaping” by interested parties, which I have written about several times in the past, but this is not a post to rehash those arguments.
Splits are Tasty. Why not in Bitcoin?
This is an attempt to examine the practical realities of a split in Bitcoin, WITHOUT any of the ethical/emotional/political/ideological baggage that so many have deliberately or inadvertently attached to the debate.
This is the fourth part of a multi-part series on the myths of decentralization. You can read the previous installments here:
Part 1 – Decentralization Redefined
Part 2 – Decentralization Myth
Part 3 – Decentralization comes with People
I’ve written quite a lot about the misconceptions and deliberate misdirection that some proponents in the Bitcoin community choose to spread around in order to shape the public perception of what makes Bitcoin valuable, and as a result change the fundamental value proposition of Bitcoin. As you all should know by now, “Value does not exist outside the consciousness of Man” – Carl Menger. So changing people’s consciousness by way of affecting their ideas, affects the value of Bitcoin. Thus it is important that we re-evaluate our notions of why Bitcoin is valuable every so often with a huge dose of skepticism.
In today’s article, I’d like to review what the fundamental security model of Bitcoin is, as intended by its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, (at least in my interpretation of it) why that model is the best we can possibly hope for, and why any further attempts at adding extra layers of ‘security’ on top of this model just ends up making it less secure by making it more centralized.
One of the heated debates that has raged over the years in Bitcoin space is whether the idea of a developer team lead by a benevolent dictator is the appropriate model to employ for a network worth more than 15 billion dollars in market capitalization. Many have cited examples of how Satoshi, and then Gavin himself were benevolent dictators, and also how some well known projects have been successfully managed under the watchful eye of a wise and benevolent (though sometimes abrasive) dictator such as the Linux project. It is also true that most civilizations evolve from dictatorships, starting with the tribal chiefs, to feudal warrior kings, to aristocratic monarchs, to emperors. The transition to a democracy is not always a smooth one, and is mired by both slippages into oligarchies, totalitarian fascism to misguided experiments into socialism. It is important then, to keep in mind that while most organized groups start as dictatorships, they eventually evolve into a system that is more inclusive of the common people’s will.
Oh, Glorious Leader, shepherd for the weak, show us the way!
Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Dictatorships are vastly more efficient than a republic or democracy. This is due to the fact there is little bounds on the leaders power, and his followers will carry out his instructions in the most expedient fashion. Contrast this to a democracy where leaders are continually second guessed by their opposition, and their political opponents who are all vying for their own chance to run the show. In a dictatorship, the only way a change of regime is possible is through open and widespread revolution. This is why despotic Chinese emperors of old made it illegal to congregate in groups of 3 or more, restrict what can be discussed in public and on occasion just committed mass murders of all the academics and scholars for fear that they may spread seeds of dissent and dissatisfaction among the peasants with their pesky logic, philosophy, and ideals of morality. Continue reading
This post is a culmination of about a year’s worth of thoughts and research that I have been informally gathering, which started with a simple question that started last year when I first read a piece which was written in the middle of the Bitcoin XT heyday describing what would be so bad about having 2 persistent forks by core developer, Meni Rosenfeld.
Forks are not scary, they are upgrades!
The post described the general understanding of forks at the time, and it was in this context that I wrote my original piece which was very much a pro-Core stance on the dangers of hard forks. I was wrong on some of my assumptions when I wrote that, which I have over the course of the year corrected, but nevertheless that original piece earned me many twitter RTs and ‘follows’ by core devs and supporters at the time (who have mostly now, funny enough, all banned me).
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.
Lightning network has been heralded as the way to scale Bitcoin into the future, but as it is starting to become apparent that two very separate camps with differing opinions on how to scale Bitcoin are starting to draw lines in the sand, it’s worth taking a pragmatic look at this technology, seeing as it seems to be shaping up that once adopted, it will be very difficult to back out¹
First off, I want to say that Lightning as a concept is pretty interesting. I think that it will have many uses in the world of Bitcoin. Yes, I have read the white paper (both long and short version) and I believe I have pretty good understanding of how it works. A disclaimer, as most of the development is happening behind closed doors via BifFury, it’s hard to comment on any of the new yet unreleased progress, such as developments on the routing algorithm.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of the Lightning overlay network.
- Unlimited txn/s
- Secure from double spends
- Requires Bitcoin to use
Slides for the seminar that I gave at BlockchainHub on March 11th
Presentation slides for the Bloomberg talk I made on Feb 24th
As the ongoing debate in Bitcoin between the Core and the Classic camp rages on, early signs of tentative order emerging spontaneously from the un-orchestrated chaos can be seen. For one, most of the intelligent proponents on either side finally seem to have recognized the fundamental irreconcilable differences of opinion on either side of the divide, having spent the last 3 months weeding through the army of trolls and sycophants which always seem to amass around idealogical movements.
The industry has started to look upon itself in a satirical way, from high profile jokers like Samson Mow, to the absurd display at the Miami Satoshi RoundTable, organized by Bitcoin Foundation Bruce Fenton, which sported such medieval artifacts as an actual suit of armour and a Bitcoin Magna Carta which would make 45 year old AD&D live roleplaying nerds giddy. The industry has certainly reached its apogee of insanity, absurdity and self flagellation, and it can’t possibly get any worse, and thus, we should expect to see things starting to come back to reality very soon.
Several promising things have been happening recently that give me cause to be hopeful that we may yet see the end of this “Rite of Passage” in the life of Bitcoin:
- Core has started to consider a hard fork proposal themselves.
- Interest in Bitcoin has been re-kindled in the form of 2000+ (as of writing) new nodes added to the network.
- Mining pools have started to implement miner voting systems within their constituents.
- New consensus tools have emerged which help bring visibility to and encourage people get involved in, the decentralized crypto-governance process.
- A total of 4 past attempts at securing industry participants into binding agreements have all failed to produce consensus.
Let’s examine each in turn.
I have often observed that disagreements between smart people inevitably devolve into a difference of opinions based on assumptions which are either ignored by one or both sides or insufficiently proven, which leads to the construction of a belief system built on top of nothing more than reasonable guesses. Because of this, it takes a long time before one can peel away the layers of conditional truths before you reach the core assumptions over which the principle disagreement is erected upon. (one needs to look no further than the renewed flat earth movement to see how you can rewrite your entire belief system to support your theory). Over the last month as I have debated with the decentralists on the foundations of their “decentralization is the most important thing about Bitcoin”* argument, I believe I have finally discovered the crux of the dispute, the mistaken assumption, upon which all other conclusions are derived upon, the genesis block of the debate, if you will.
The problem comes from the fact that the term decentralization has been overloaded to mean so many different things. From topological point of view the old graphic from Paul Baran (1964) (inset right) may seem to provide a good enough definition but only from the perspective of a network topology which is certainly not the common usage of the term today. More recently some folks have improved upon the definition to more clearly indicate that it is the notion of control (the little puppet master hands in the diagram) of the network nodes that make them more or less decentralized.