Bitcoin’s need for Anarchy


Nobody votes to adopt anarchy, it just happens.  It is emergent, it is organic, and that is exactly the way it should be.

If you asked anyone what was the most innovative thing about Bitcoin, you would likely get an answer such as “censorship resistance” or “financial disintermediation” or “deflationary money”.  But the truth is that the biggest innovation of Bitcoin is the fact that it is headless.  In fact most of what makes Bitcoin capable of delivering on the aforementioned promises is the fact that there is no company owning Bitcoin, no CEO to sue, or entity to hold accountable.  Bitcoin is simply a protocol.  Unlike previous protocols like TCP/IP however, this is a protocol that can represent money directly, and as such is likely to have a lot of politics embroiled with its implementation.  In the project’s nascency it was just Satoshi who maintained the software, and after his disappearance that torch was placed on Gavin Andresen, and subsequently Wladimir van der Laan.  As the project grew in popularity and media coverage, more developers came forth taking on more active roles in its development and maintenance.  This is a good thing.  The progression went from solo designer, to committee stewardship during the first 5 years of it’s life.  Like any committee tasked with such a heavy burden of safeguarding over 6 billion dollars in value, bureaucracy does what bureaucracies are arguably designed to do, slow down innovation in the name of conservatism.  For example, the current standing feature change policy enacted by Wladimir, is intended to only allow non-contentious features to be brought into the code base.  While this protects the status quo, it also effectively means that the system will cater to the lowest common denominator and prioritize preservation over dynamism and progress.

“Bitcoin will either grow to a million dollars per BTC, or go to zero…”

This is a fine opinion that any person or group is entitled to have, but certainly to impose that ideology onto the network would be in itself an act of oppression, yet we find ourselves presently with a dearth of viable alternatives should we choose to disagree with the conservatism of the Bitcoin Core team (a few of which work for Blockstream).

Thankfully, that situation is about to change.

In the last 2 weeks there has been several new projects that are forking off the reference client*.  I think that is extremely good to finally see biodiversity starting to emerge in the ecosystem.

Two recent projects have launched each with its own take on how to handle Bitcoin governance.  Each has a different opinion on how to manage code changes and steering direction of the project.  Both focus on being responsive to the community and centre around allowing everyone to take part in the decision making process.

Bitcoin Unlimited  subreddit: /r/bitcoin_unlimited

I mentioned this initiative last week, which focuses around making the block size settings a command line configuration.  This presumably allows for node operators to signal to the network the maximum block size that they are willing to support.  Additionally there is a setting which will allow a node to come into consensus with the network if the block which they have previously rejected has been unanimously accepted by the network (signalled by having a default depth of 100 blocks).  This is the node of choice for operators who want full control of what they want to accept, with ultimate freedom in expression.  Critics claim that allowing every node to set their own maximum block size will cause a flood of network forks which could destabilize the network.  Whether it will, or whether it can be mitigated with judicial use of block size acceptance signalling and/or block depth acceptance triggers has yet to be seen.  BU’s governance model is based loosely on that of a corporation, with members voting on issues through a formal system of proposals and hierarchy.  It also plans on operating a non-profit pool for users wishing to contribute hash power to the project’s initiatives in support of its feature set and development.  They have published an Articles of Federation which read somewhat like a mission statement or a statement of beliefs.

Bitcoin Classic subreddit: /r/bitcoin_classic

Classic, which tends to evoke images of the wildly successful “Coke Classic” after the disastrous introduction of “New Coke” in the 80s, aims to set itself apart from other Bitcoin implementations by setting in stone several tenants inspired by Satoshi’s original vision which the project members pledge to abide by.  BC looks to classify members of the community into 4 “Pillars of Governance”; developers, miners, businesses/users and a forth meant to represent Satoshi’s original vision.  It will be first Bitcoin implementation to codify a constitution, and will use it as a guiding influence in all decision making (by means of the 4th “pillar”), which will be decentralized and trust minimized by principle.  The use of emergent consensus tools such as public voting mechanisms will be used to facilitate the decision making process of the developers in terms of features to prioritize.

Diversity makes the system stronger

I believe 2016 is going to be a pivotal year in Bitcoin space, with many developers coming forward with interesting new ideas in the community which can only help augment the good work being done by the legacy Bitcoin Core team.  Moreover, I think that we are starting to take our first promising steps into a new world of decentralized governance within a shared network environment.  It is not often that we have the chance to define how an industry evolves and comes into its own within a new paradigm.  It is equally rare that a single network protocol’s development has been overseen by more than one major implementation team*.  The fact that it can actually be done successfully is a foreign concept to most people, but indeed it is exactly that which is the core innovation of Satoshi’s Bitcoin, and the Proof of Work system of consensus building.


*Arguably the real reference client is not even Core’s! It is this: Bitcoin Reference Client , just as Satoshi left it, and still being maintained by the Stewards of Purity, The Bitcoin Foundation.
*Kind of harkens me back to the days of all the flavours of Unix.

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2 thoughts on “Bitcoin’s need for Anarchy

  1. Pingback: Begun, this Bitcoin Clone War has!

  2. Pingback: Begun, this Bitcoin Clone War has! | Wall Street Technologist

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