Bitcoin Culture: Burn it to the Ground
My Bitcoin Improvement Proposal
We are deep in the crypto bear market, and there likely is more pain ahead. Bear markets are incredible opportunities for self-reflection: both individually, and as a community. The great error of the bear market is to care about your portfolio value. To focus on price comes at the expense of your mental health, will probably result in you selling the bottom, and you squander this opportunity for self-reflection. As bitcoiners, we should reflect on the culture of our community. Our current culture is severely limiting bitcoin’s appeal and chances for further success.
We should burn it to the ground.
But first, a disclaimer. I do not speak for bitcoin. This should be obvious, but if I’m not explicit about this fact someone with a 🥩 in their bio will claim the opposite. I can only speak to my experience with bitcoin as a self-identified bitcoiner who has been here a long time. I mention this “long time” not to imply that I’m a super-important OG and you must heed my edicts, but because it means that I knew bitcoin before this current flavor of bad culture was stapled onto it. I also have watched bitcoin pivot and adapt when old narratives and use cases didn’t work out. This long perspective has further convinced me of bitcoin’s incredible resilience, both as an asset and as a community of bitcoiners. We survived MtGox and the Blocksize war: I’m sure we will do the same as we excise this bad culture from bitcoin.
Before we get into the details of bitcoin culture (and why it should be cast into the fires of Mt Doom), does culture matter?
Yes, absolutely. A comparative example can show why.
I went to a bitcoin maximalist steak dinner in March of 2019 (1 BTC = $3,500). It was dimly lit, all male, the only meal option was steak, and we talked about professional wrestling. The guy across the table told me the various health benefits he attributes to eating only meat and then handed me a faux gold stainless steel business card that was so sharp that it cut my hand and I was bleeding onto the white tablecloth. No one seemed to notice or find it curious that we were all dudes around the same age eating the same thing while trying to size up each other’s bitcoin stacks. Perhaps I was too busy trying to stop the bleeding.
Contrast this with SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas. I attended a token-gated party for the Doodles NFT. I personally don’t own any of Doodles NFTs, but a friend has multiple which was my ticket in. This party was awesome. They brewed coffee with your personal NFT printed on top. There was a ramen noodle bar and a place to scan your badge to watch your individual NFT take off in a spaceship. I stood in line to have my NFT painted on my nail by a manicurist while chatting up a 20 year old college student and nocoiner about her study of the Jewish community in Mexico.
Of course, this isn’t just about who can throw the best party: it’s about who has the biggest tent. There were all kinds of people at the Doodles party: different ethnicities, different genders, men having their nails painted (gasp!), music and dancing and creativity. No one tried to sell me diet fads or give me health advice or limply flex their supposed masculinity. And even more than that: there was a line around the block full of crypto-curious normies. These are new people coming into the community that we bitcoiners ward off with our bad culture.
Bitcoin culture, as it exists today, is a new phenomenon. Its various precepts include: insecure masculinity, aversion to experimentation, conspiratorial politics, internet cancel mobs, pseudo-science, and affinity scams. I can’t stress this enough: these should have nothing to do with bitcoin. Bitcoin was doing just fine before this festering garbage was stapled on. In fact, these things are an attack on bitcoin in the same way that the New York Agreement or S2X were.
Closed-mindedness about things happening on other chains is also quite limiting. Newcomers to bitcoin may not realize that NFTs and DeFi were OG bitcoin concepts. And now, bitcoin “influencers” seem to insist that no one should like these things or risk cancellation by an angry mob of laser-eyed nyms. When bitcoiners look at the undeniable success of NFTs and DeFi on Ethereum, we should congratulate them and either (1) try to build them in a way consistent with a bitcoin ethos, or (2) acknowledge that we can’t bring these things to bitcoin and find ways to integrate/interoperate bitcoin with their networks. I don’t have the technical expertise to determine which of these two paths will work, but I know smart bitcoiners on both sides that deserve our support.
Insecurity around masculinity is everywhere in today’s bitcoin culture. It is the origin of the “meat maxi” fad diet. It’s in weird tradwife views on relationships, booth girls, waifus, shirtless spartan memes, stanning strongmen, or classic misogyny against valuable female voices in our community (eg, @jyn_ruso, @Marketsbylili, Sarah Satoshi). Non-adherents to the bitcoin diet are emasculated as “soy bois.” This fad diet is paired with other health delusions like anti-vax, sunscreen denial, and seed oil alarmism1. These are marketed by aspiring bitcoin influencers on ad-supported podcasts and books (available for purchase with your fiat credit card!). Bitcoin pseudo-science isn’t limited to health claims: whole chapters of our most notorious books are devoted to climate change denial. Alongside this are get-rich-quick schemes dressed up as “economic models,” like the notoriously failed Stock-to-Flow model (originated, of course, by a vocal vaccine opponent). As Heidi Porter wrote in Bitcoin Magazine: when it comes to these non-bitcoin topics, Bitcoiners often find that “it’s easier and faster to just trust instead of verify.”
So, listen: let’s burn this all to the ground.
It’s worse than worthless: it is driving open-minded people away. People that otherwise need bitcoin lose interest when they see this culture. Bitcoin luminaries like Nic Carter are roughed up by toxic internet hordes. Natural allies like Nassim Taleb are driven away by the associated pseudoscience. Normies don’t want to touch this stuff. Fuck, I don’t even want to touch it and I’m definitely not a normie. There is a tiny sliver of people that this stuff appeals to, and it’s only shrinking. Due to the insecurity of those driving this culture, there is a constant race-to-the-bottom resulting in a culture that only gets more extreme with vanishingly minuscule appeal.
What should replace this bad culture? We should be a welcoming, permissive, and inclusive community. To start, let’s return focus to things that have been part of bitcoin since the beginning: “don’t trust, verify,” the primacy of self custody, a conservative approach to development, the human rights achievements, and even the less serious feel-good memes of the past (“hodl,” “this is gentlemen,” Dorian Nakamoto’s free lunch, Rare Pepes, etc). I don’t know what comes next, but we should be open minded. New memes will take root. “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” In the spirit of permissive experimentation, we should celebrate when some ideas fail and others succeed. And to jumpstart this new culture, I will throw the first post-toxic bitcoin party. We don’t have to paint our nails but maybe we can drink orange tequila sunrises, have regular food like Laszlo’s bitcoin pizza, invite the normies (and girls!), and make fun of that time I cut my hand on a faux gold business card at a boring steak dinner.