Dr. Bitlove* (or how I learned to stop worrying and love XT)

So with such a contentious title which is sure to be an attention grabber aside, let me explain:

I don’t *love* XT, I love what it represents. Not specifically small blocks vs large blocks, but a counter voice in a collective democracy which is the Bitcoin community. I believe that we as a community need to have contrary views and healthy debates which voice all sides of an issue, so that we can remain impartial and objective, and resist becoming an echo chamber of unified thought, which is just another form of centralization.

In my previous writings I warned against moving into a dictatorship like model, where we blindly follow leaders.  What we must also be wary of is the propensity to naturally devolve into such a situation when all counter viewpoints are forced from the public discourse.

That unfortunately seems to be the case with Mike Hearn leaving XT, along with a lot of anti-XT vibes I felt at Scaling Bitcoin.  I think that I feel as many do, that the consensus was that a small bump in block size is not contentious, and such a hard fork should be pursued in parallel with other non-block size scaling initiatives (such as SegWit), if for nothing else but to collect data on how a non-contentious hard fork would propagate through the network, and to prove that the network has the resiliency to execute such a change if and when it is needed.

Of late, there has been an alarming ongoing campaign of censorship on /r/bitcoin of competing viewpoints that conflict with the Core agenda.  This is alarming.  Let me say firstly, I don’t see any issue with the core agenda, and a lot of the solutions that are being worked on are actually quite exciting.  That being said, I do find it disturbing that other voices are systematically being drowned out by moderators on the popular communication channels under the auspices of “anti-trolling”.  I understand that a lot of times opposing views do seem like troll attempts.  But it is exactly this process upon which the parliamentary system was built, and it is the job of the Speaker of the House (or in this case, the moderators) to allow both voices to be heard, and not to take sides.  This lack of impartiality is what is concerning, and is counter-culture to Bitcoin.

I feel to some extent that I may have been responsible in part for such a backlash against the opponents.  I did, after all write a seminal piece that ostensibly criticized the way that the XT fork was introduced and marketed.  What I was warning about was a contentious hard fork –a schism fork, which could stand to fracture the network, and I did not intend for it to become a criticism of opposing views or alternatives to the Core agenda in principle.  I think that we need opinions from all parties to make sure that the path we choose is well-balanced with the interest of the future viability of the network as a free, decentralized, and public service for benefit of everyone in the world to enjoy.

Additionally, I believe that if at any point we feel that our current consensus has been usurped (either via overt or subversive means) by actors (one or many) who do not have a long term viability of Bitcoin as a decentralized monetary system in mind, then we need to have alternatives to turn to. (we as in ALL of us, miners, nodes, wallets, and users).  In that sense I openly welcome alternative Bitcoin clients with alternative consensus rules which are available to use, whether it be BitcoinXT, NG, Unlimited, etc.  Having only one implementation, is a clear single point of failure of a system that aspires to be public, decentralized and free.

With that groundwork laid out, I’d like to summarize my personal opinions on the issues which have polarized the community.

Mining centralization:

It doesn’t worry me so much that miners are all in China,  I fear the Chinese government less than I do the USGov.  It is USD which has a lot more to lose than RMB, and China has shown time and again that they prefer capitalism over ideology in practice.  Most of all I feel that given the profits that miners are making, this capital will be capable of protecting itself if an oppressive political regime were to manifest.  In the end, I trust that money has a way of staying one step ahead of politics, better than small groups of ideological freedom fighters can. (Just look at how much tax Apple or Google pays for evidence of this).  In the end, I quantify mining decentralization by the amount of money needed to coerce miners to do something against the long term health of the network.  In that light, a small group of say 20 mining companies is just as good as 1 million individuals with CPU/GPUs, if the amount of coercion you need to exert to compromise them is the same.  It is a small task to get many people to cease doing something if you can skew their risk/reward dynamic in the way of too much risk for reward, and that is quite easy to do if you control the police.  One million CPU/GPU miners making 0.30 USD a day will disappear overnight if the State just passes a law making it a felony and liable for jail time.  The risk vs reward just isn’t worth it.  But a mining operation which is making over 200k USD a day, they will certainly be taking the necessary measures to protect their business from disruption. (and have the means to do so).

Blockstream ‘oligarchy’:

I don’t see ostensibly why we should be mistrusting Blockstream.  Just because they formed a company so that they can take contributions and funding in order to pursue their Bitcoin improvement projects doesn’t make them immediately untrustworthy.  That also doesn’t mean that we should be lax in keeping an eye on them.  So long as their agenda continues to be in the best interest for Bitcoin, and not their own shareholders, then I have no row with them.

Mike and Gavin ‘dictatorship’:

Ditto with the above, I have no reason to believe that they have any ulterior motives which are against Bitcoin.  In the past I interpreted their launch and rollout of XT as an attempt to pull coup on Bitcoin.  In time I have learned that I was mistaken…they simply have a different idea about how we can protect ourselves from further centralization forces, which is that we need as many normal regular people using Bitcoin as soon as possible.  This means keeping fees near zero for the near future.  I happen to agree with this view.   Although the way they communicated their message resulted in a lot of people being misled about their intentions.

Hard forks:

After meeting with the miners in Scaling Bitcoin, I can say that I’m pretty convinced that none of them want to be political.  They will likely just go with whatever the economic majority of the network says that they should use.  What this means is that the nodes that do the block relaying actually have a lot more power than is believed.  If a large portion of nodes were to start supporting a new Bitcoin implementation, I believe the miners will be forced to follow.  This is because miners need to constantly sell Bitcoins to pay for their operations, and they need their blocks to be accepted quickly (which is a function of propagation speed) by the network.  Each of us has a choice in the node software that we run.  If the current implementation of Bitcoin were found to be unsatisfactory, we can always decide to run nodes that reject or restrict blocks from miners mining on an alternative chain (via the minimum relay fee).  Having a choice is good, and while mining is how miners voice a vote, relaying is how nodes keep the miners behaving the way we collectively believe they should.

On the balance of block size:

I think somebody said it best, “The miners control the minimum block size, while the economic nodes effectively control the maximum”.

At the end of it all, I am pro-Bitcoin.  I have no doubt that we will push through this, and that we need all the best and brightest minds working on the problem of decentralization and fungibility.  That means including those voices who we may not agree with.  It also means standing against censorship, as much as Bitcoin fights against it on a monetary basis, we need to fight against it on the meta level, when participating in the community.  I fear the USGov forces more than foreign capitalistic ones, and I have faith in the fact that mining (and the money that is made doing it) will see to it that it remains resilient to coercion or monopoly.  Our biggest enemy isn’t opposing views, it is the loss of the network effect or the loss of our decentralized, flexible, no-censorship nature.  Freedom means having the ability to choose, and to always have viable choices to tyranny.

*For those of you old enough to catch the reference

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