June 4 2021, Bitcoin Conference, Miami, Florida: Max Keiser strides onto the stage, clad in a white suit, in triumphant fashion, yelling,
“YEAH! YEAH! WE’RE NOT DONE! WE’RE NOT DONE! F*CK ELON! F*CK ELON!”
This clip attracted plenty of online criticism, perhaps most from those already looking for something to criticise, but also from some who are pro-Bitcoin. But what was the impact? And how badly can Bitcoiners hurt Bitcoin?
I’ll have more on Max Keiser later.
Bitcoin’s most underrated facet is its fully distributed (frequently also described as decentralised) nature, both in terms of the miners and node operators. But this concept of decentralisation also extends to Bitcoiners themselves: The core developers, the miners, the podcasters, educators,media personalities, the traders,on-chain analysts, venture capitalists and the plebs are all certainly cohorts. However, because of the “opt in” nature of Bitcoin, attempts to typecast Bitcoiners typically fail.
How can Bitcoiners harm bitcoin? I think it’s a hard question, but best considered when turned around. If you were a secret agent and could send someone to undermine bitcoin – who would you send, and what would they do?
Let’s consider a couple of recent candidates. The author Nassim Nicholas Taleb covered many topics in his books (such as “Fooled by Randomness,” “Black Swan,” “Antifragile,” and “Skin in the Game”) which resonate with Bitcoin principles. He was for many years loosely a Bitcoin advocate, and he wrote the foreword to the best known Bitcoin book of recent years, “The Bitcoin Standard.”
As is well known, Taleb fairly abruptly announced he had sold all his bitcoin in February, 2021, and doubled down by writing a “black paper” denouncing the true value of bitcoin as zero. This would certainly appear harmful to Bitcoin. However, the concepts expressed in his paper do not suggest a wealth of new insight suddenly having been gained from being some kind of Bitcoin insider. His arguments need to stand on their own merits (or lack of) either way. I’d argue that Taleb has simply joined the ranks of existing Bitcoin detractors, of which there are already plenty.
Many of Taleb’s ideas within his books still resonate. He was once famously asked his view on Microsoft as a stock, and remarked that since he was neither long nor short on the stock, he wasn’t qualified to give his opinion on it. Skin in the game matters.
The irony is that he has written a “black paper” denouncing the value of bitcoin as zero, and yet now appears to be neither long nor short on bitcoin. He has no discernible skin in the game there, then.
Let’s consider another potential secret agent – Elon Musk! What better way to belittle Bitcoin than to endlessly plug Dogecoin and label it in with “crypto,” essentially calling into question the notion of bitcoin’s digital scarcity? The reason being, if dogecoin is a comparable investment to bitcoin, why not also baby doge? And so on. Secondly, he has very publicly questioned Bitcoin’s environmental impact.
Many involved with Bitcoin will have found Musk’s actions pretty frustrating; at best it could be described as learning in public, and he’s not there yet. One thing I would point out is that actions speak louder than words. In terms of just his actions, in 2021 Elon Musk has personally bought and still owns a large amount of bitcoin, as do Tesla and SpaceX. I suspect we haven’t heard the end of this story just yet.
Taking Elon Musk’s environmental comments, in recent months there has been tangible pushback against this narrative from others. For instance, Lyn Alden remarked earlier this year that Bitcoin’s energy use may not be an actual problem, but general perception of its energy use is. Bitcoiners are now error correcting.
Returning to the idea of Bitcoiners criticising Bitcoin, I think there is an interesting contrast here to a recent BBC documentary shown in the U.K. which Sir Michael Palin presented on North Korea. When he asked his guide why North Korean citizens never criticise their leaders, she replied that the leaders represent the nation, of which they are all an intrinsic part, adding “Criticising our leaders is like criticising ourselves, too.”
This was to a small extent a compelling expression of unity, but scratch beneath the surface and it’s a pretty torrid state of affairs. There is no opportunity for debate or error correction, and indeed North Korean citizens have little choice but to belong to the nation, not having free borders.
Bitcoin is the total opposite. Bitcoin in itself presents no barriers to entry – or exit. It is now perhaps the embodiment of leader-less free speech and error correction.
Bitcoiners could only harm Bitcoin in sizable numbers. I would recommend reading “The Blocksize Wars” by Jonathan Bier, for anyone looking to understand the events of 2015–2017 around proposed changes to Bitcoin’s protocol. The fact that this seems a long way away from happening again today is perhaps yet another example of Bitcoin’s antifragility.
Bitcoin in its operation could be seen as a one-way valve. It has the capacity to take on board improvements from benevolent actors, but shakes off those who seek to harm it.
Having considered all that, let’s think back to Max Keiser and his striking entrance at the Bitcoin Conference. Of course, he may have his own reasons for making a lasting impression! As for the impact, in my opinion:
(1) It had absolutely no impact on Bitcoin. Max Keiser knows he – or indeed anyone – could enter onto that stage however they like and it won’t make a scrap of difference to Bitcoin’s future.
(2) The added genius of Max Keiser is that he appreciates that the moment an observer fully clocks point one, they are a step closer to understanding Bitcoin themselves.
To summate, toxic maximalism really has no larger impact on the success or failure of the technology itself, and is merely a facet of an impassioned community.
This is a guest post by BitcoinActuary. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.