Bitcoin Supremacy History (Part 1) The Cultural Origins of BTC is the Only Valuable Coin

“Maximalist culture” is not always conducive to the adoption of Bitcoin.

Written by: Jameson Lopp

Translation by: Eric, Foresight News

Over the past decade, the scale and complexity of the cryptocurrency ecosystem have exploded. While most projects can be considered scams or simply bad ideas, a small percentage of projects have managed to innovate and find market-fit products.

Bitcoin maximalism has evolved as a result, but with the emergence of forks, it has become more complex. Unfortunately, as I will explain throughout this article, certain aspects of the well-known “maximalist culture” are not conducive to the adoption of Bitcoin.

This article will cover:

  • Milestone events in the history of Bitcoin maximalism

  • Describing the pros and cons of different variants of maximalism and bad behavior

  • Providing warnings and recommendations for moving forward

History of Bitcoin MaximalismGenesis

Long ago, before “Bitcoin Twitter” formed as a community, the epicenter of Bitcoin discussion and culture was the BitcoinTalk forum. It was a simpler time, with hundreds of new networks being launched regularly, and their creators promoting them with [ANN] posts on the altcoins board. Almost all of these projects were simple modifications of the Bitcoin codebase, with the main changes being marketing-related and lacking substance. The term “shitcoin” also originated in this context of creating valueless Bitcoin clones:

Most altcoins were pump-and-dump schemes, and a culture of defense arose as a result of many Bitcoin users being scammed and harmed by unfair economic models. We agreed that “premine” token distributions to insiders were unethical, and many believed that even if altcoins managed to innovate and create value, that innovation would eventually be absorbed by Bitcoin, making them essentially Bitcoin testnets that would be discarded. Altcoins included scams and some meaningless attempts, making them junk coins that were not suitable as sound money or investments.

Extremism certainly existed in the early days, although the term had not yet been coined. When faced with valueless altcoin projects, minimalists tended to firmly say “no, thanks”. Many of us found it distasteful that some people believed they could quickly get rich from Bitcoin clones.

In the early post-Satoshi era of protocol development, when Gavin Andresen was the project maintainer, there wasn’t much organized development team. Everyone who contributed to the codebase was a volunteer – there was no money to fund development. Therefore, Bitcoin needed a developer culture. One way to attract and retain talent was to discourage people from joining other projects by describing altcoins as useless scams (which they often were).

In the early years, various aspects of the network were weak, so it was crucial to avoid the vampire effect of altcoins. Without the methods mentioned above, Bitcoin’s development may not have been self-guided in the next few years. We saw a significant improvement in the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the protocol by the talent pool.

By 2014, Bitcoin had a fairly active group of technical contributors. The future started to look bright after the release of the sidechain whitepaper: we finally found the answer to how people could innovate within the Bitcoin ecosystem without risking harm to Bitcoin itself. In 2015, the Lightning Network whitepaper demonstrated further innovation in low-latency, large-scale transactions. Maximalists were delighted as the super-bitcoinization was clearly underway.

Of course, just a few months later in 2015, we saw the launch of Ethereum, a new approach to cryptographic asset protocols. This marked a significant shift in the development of cryptographic asset protocols.

“Toxic” Bitcoin Maximalism

Mircea Popescu is a leading figure in early Bitcoin maximalism, even before it became a term. He is a prolific writer who has spread some ideas that have had a lasting impact. At least some of his followers from La Serenissima are still active today and have gained influential positions on social networks…

Mircea’s followers, sometimes referred to as #bitcoin-assets residents (in their IRC space), have formed a unique culture. In their eyes, if you don’t have a GPG key on the WoT (Bitcoin-OTC trust network), then you are not “one of them.” If you do manage to join the WoT, you need to engage in meaningful interactions and transactions to earn recommendations from other WoT users.

Popescu is the administrator of that IRC room, and if you don’t adapt to their culture, understand their jargon, and have a high tolerance for bias, misogyny, and racism, you may find it difficult. Mircea doesn’t pay much attention to his communication effectiveness and often makes statements in an exaggerated and difficult-to-understand manner without concern for how others interpret them. For example, in his article opposing SegWit, he decided to “explain” his viewpoint by offering a bounty to assassinate a protocol developer. Although he did this to present an interesting point about verifiability, most readers didn’t pay attention to this point due to his shocking values and lack of detailed explanation.

The #bitcoin-assets team strongly opposes any changes to Bitcoin to the extent that they forked Bitcoin Core 0.5, created the “real” Bitcoin Foundation, and maintained their own full-node implementation.

Due to significant internal friction and poor external outreach, this group remains relatively niche. Although Mircea himself failed to expand his influence beyond the IRC room (he was banned from using Twitter for death threats against Andreas Antonopoulos), some of his followers have imitated his behavior on other platforms…

“Bitcoin Maximalism” is becoming popular

Vitalik Buterin popularized the term “Bitcoin Maximalism” in 2014:

“There has been a recent idea that has gained some attention in parts of the Bitcoin community, which myself and others have described as ‘Bitcoin Maximalism’ – essentially, this ideology believes that having a multi-competitive cryptocurrency environment is undesirable, and launching ‘another token’ is a mistake, and Bitcoin’s monopoly in the cryptocurrency field is legitimate and inevitable.”

Although Buterin did not create this term (it was already in use before, as you can see from previous blog posts), he did play a role in positioning Ethereum and its views on cryptographic assets as mainstream views, under the mainstream idea that “altcoins are unethical scams”. Maximalism as a derogatory term is clearly meant to remind the Bitcoin community of some kind of closed-mindedness or lack of imagination, and can even be said to be anti-free market.

In the following years, as countless projects were launched, some Bitcoin maximalists updated their views and became more nuanced, but still considered themselves Bitcoin maximalists because Bitcoin was obviously different from all other projects and had no real competition in the currency field. The views of other extremists became more extreme, as they believed that everything outside of Bitcoin was actually a scam and focused on shaping a narrative to support this view.

Bitcoin Scaling War

By 2015, we saw a massive migration from BitcoinTalk to Reddit forums, which had accumulated over 150,000 subscribers at the time (now nearly 5 million). While BitcoinTalk did have administrators, it was also a forum composed of many sections targeting different topics, so as long as you posted in the appropriate section, you didn’t need to be too restrained. Reddit, as a platform, was different. Due to the presence of moderators and rules in different sections of Reddit, along with the ability to modify the visibility of content through voting, I see Reddit as a platform for incentivizing group thinking and emotional feedback rather than rational speculation. The end result of this is that large sections inevitably become “echo chambers”, and if you try to discuss a contradictory idea, your post will be downvoted and forgotten without much discussion.

As the debates around how to advance Bitcoin’s scalability grew, the moderators of /r/bitcoin decided to ban discussions of hard fork proposals. And “technological maximalism” (everything will become Bitcoin sidechains) became a turning point in imposing its views on mainstream discussions. Why? Because the moderators of r/bitcoin were influenced by Theymos and immersed in technical discussions on development mailing lists. So they simply brought their norms to a larger audience on Reddit.

Naturally, the decision by /r/bitcoin mods to ban discussion on certain topics caused strong opposition and prompted many people to migrate to /r/btc. Now, 7 years later, users of /r/btc are still “howling” over losing the scaling war due to the “censorship regime”. If you want to delve deeper into their dissatisfaction, you can check out “A History of Censorship in /r/Bitcoin”. Personally, considering that discussions on Bitcoin scaling have taken place on various platforms that are not controlled by Bitcoin supporters, such as Twitter, I think it is foolish to dwell on this. The key is that anyone who cares about the scaling debate is well aware of both sides’ positions.

During the scaling war, a large community formed on Twitter and sparked many debates. While this was undoubtedly a positive factor for Bitcoin’s cultural genes, helping us reach millions of people and strengthening their awareness of Bitcoin, there are also reasons to believe that the quality of discourse on Twitter is a negative factor. Reddit’s mechanisms and algorithms tend to suppress controversy and create an “echo chamber,” while Twitter’s participation mechanisms have been optimized to increase the impact and engagement of controversial posts. Combined with the limited length of tweets, many tweets may have high spread but lack substance. Although this can be an interesting game, it is not particularly healthy for the quality of discussion.

Getting Rid of Derogatory Language

The history of cultures redefining derogatory terms is long-standing. I think this also makes sense in the context of Bitcoin maximalism, as we are talking about ideological differences: what many people find repugnant Bitcoin maximalism is actually highly desirable for the acknowledged crowd. I also think that although minimalism is one way to govern the crypto ecosystem, it is also an ideal. Please remember that Vitalik’s use of the term was for “maximizing dominance,” meaning that the crypto ecosystem would be dominated by Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin still undeniably dominates 14 years later, it is not as desired by many minimalists.

During the scaling war and the ICO frenzy in 2017, the use of the term “Bitcoin maximalism” regained its significance. It seems that in mid-2018, the use of “toxic” Bitcoin maximalism as a descriptor word started to rise again. It is worth noting that Bitcoin maximalists were later vindicated when it was discovered that 80% of ICOs were scams.

In the scaling debate, we saw Samson Mow start producing hats as a new form of social signal. The first hat was “Make Bitcoin Great Again” and “Make Ethereum Immutable” (mocking The DAO fork incident).

The hat manufacturer Mow has sold more than 10 styles in the following years. At the end of 2019, we saw Samson Mow wearing a hat with the words “toxic extremism” because this term was being used more frequently. It is a social signal that indicates which camp you belong to, whether you only use Bitcoin or multiple tokens.

It is fair to say that around 2017, the redefinition of extremism saw a resurgence of this ideology. This was a response, in part, to the failure of technical extremism to deliver the promised explosion of Bitcoin-related innovation through sidechains. But compared to the stagnation of sidechains, Ethereum and other protocols saw increased adoption and iteration of new features. As the narrative of technical extremism gradually lost its ground, people needed a new narrative that could succeed without sidechains. This is where Mircea, with his adoption of the style of #bitcoin-assets users, provided a response by imposing it onto the discussion.

By redefining this derogatory term, Bitcoin holders use it as a social signaling mechanism. We also see extremists sending similar signals when expressing the view that “Bitcoin is not a cryptocurrency.” Although this statement is not technically accurate, it implies the significance of the deep-level differences between Bitcoin and all other cryptographic asset protocols.

One World

In 2018 and 2019, we saw the emergence of the next wave of typical Bitcoin maximalism. Bitcoin standards were released, and countless new memes were created and entered the public eye.

The Bitcoin scaling war did not end in a blaze of glory but rather came to a halt amidst years of “whimpering.” By 2020, it became clear that the numerous large-block Bitcoin forks did not have strong appeal. Many OGs who were actively involved in the Bitcoin scaling war became weary, but this provided an opportunity for newcomers to fill the void. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity, with many authoritarians facing criticism and the printing press going into overdrive.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the accelerated development of extreme lifestyles, benefiting from the strengthening of certain extreme cultures (such as “laser eyes” and political populism).

It should be noted that I myself have participated in some of the activities mentioned above, and this is not a judgment on any of the topics mentioned.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the evolution of the Bitcoin maximalist ideology, shifting from traditional face-to-face activities to new media forms such as virtual reality. The chaos caused by the pandemic made it crucial to explore other content distribution channels, and those who participated through social media became the primary beneficiaries. A large number of newcomers with limited knowledge of Bitcoin took the lead in these new arenas, while other Bitcoin enthusiasts sought information and entertainment on these stages. Due to the borderless nature of Bitcoin interest groups, Bitcoin enthusiasts have gained the upper hand in this new era of network interaction. Early Bitcoin users were often intelligent and contrarian thinkers who were eager to discuss and innovate on authoritarianism related to the pandemic.

The travel restrictions during the pandemic have also played a significant role in shifting people’s attention towards the United States. This has helped improve the image of Americans who are less affected by the lockdown, thus making the narrative after 2020 largely inclined towards digital gold. This claim is not new for Bitcoin (it has always dominated), but logically, it is more attractive to those who can use modern financial infrastructure, as well as those who need to pay US taxes.

During this period, I also observed an accelerating trend of “thought leaders”. I saw educators and builders being overwhelmed by those who seem to be artists and performers. Those who excel in “growth hacking” have accumulated a large audience despite providing shallow content. This situation existed before the pandemic but has become more severe now.

The problem is that (and still is) the lessons of the “scaling wars” are very complex and not easily understood. If you want to increase your engagement and influence on social media networks, this content is not suitable for you.

What happened next?

New platforms focus on storytelling. Some “old-timers” began telling “great war stories” to naive newcomers. Then the newcomers started participating in oral storytelling, recounting the traditions of the previous generation, but they did not have firsthand information, so their perspectives lacked any innovation, just like copies.

These platforms (Clubhouse, SLianGuaices) are designed for lengthy monologues, so their participation mechanisms only further stimulate this behavior.

Mainstream Bitcoin culture has thus degenerated from the expression of ideas (the debates of 2017) into the reproduction of old stories. Old enemies have been replaced by new enemies that are more in line with the trends of the times, but we have retained the atmosphere of “Bitcoin players against the world” from the past, leading many newcomers to over-defend their beliefs. It is worth noting that this is a recurring cycle, as in 2017, people talked about how good the discussions in 2014 were, and in 2014, people reminisced about the discussions in 2011. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs as a community transitions from niche to mainstream.

The counterattack of anti-extremists

The toxic extremism of extremist extremists makes many moderate supremacists uncomfortable. Those who dare to speak openly about extremism have accumulated a large audience, and they must make a decision: whether to continue discussing what they find interesting and accept criticism, or to self-censor and confine themselves to the echo chamber of Bitcoin? From a cultural perspective, this is somewhat regrettable, as it will certainly have a chilling effect when some public figures succumb to the captives of their audience.

Some moderate extremists have turned into provocateurs of extremists, and these people are called “anti-extremists” (Antima). They like to point out the weaknesses/hypocrisy/disgusting behaviors of more extreme supremacists and provoke them by all possible means. Nowadays, this also includes “using” Bitcoin in ways that pure extremists despise (such as Bitcoin NFTs).

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