Cryptocurrency is to money what the internet is to information. It is a powerful and potent technology, with the power to transform the world. It is an evolutionary tool in the sense that it is already propelling humanity forward. Crypto will help human beings abolish banks, governments, and other organizations with single points of failure. Nonetheless, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and iconoclasts cannot let the utility of this tool cause them to let their guard down. They cannot let themselves be swept away in the hype, because cryptocurrencies are not invulnerable. In a way, Bitcoin, the initial cryptocurrency, was damaged in a hacking maneuver against it, demonstrating that these tools are not impervious to attack.
Also Read: Poor Communication Undermines the Bitcoin Ecosystem
The Infiltration and Subversion of Bitcoin
It is true the technology that allows bitcoin to function—the blockchain—is antifragile and resilient, but it still has an Achilles tendon. There is at least one attack vector that can harm bitcoin. Matter of fact, when someone creates an allegedly unassailable technology, it practically invites people to launch attacks against it.
However, the weakness attackers exploited was not based in code or mathematics. Instead, the attackers targeted a more vulnerable aspect of the technology: the community.
The attackers infiltrated the community and compromised bitcoin to alter the cryptocurrency’s original purpose. They changed bitcoin from a threatening, extremely efficient, peer-to-peer cash system, into a less frightening, slower and more cumbersome cryptocurrency. It is now called “Bitcoin Core” or “Segwit Coin,” rather than Satoshi Nakamoto’s amazing invention, “Bitcoin.”
The attack happened almost imperceptibly, somewhat slowly, dragged out over the course of time. The attack was so successful that many people do not feel bitcoin was attacked at all. This is because the psychology of the community has warped in the process.
The Scaling Debate
It all started with a debate on how to scale bitcoin. A fiery discussion on how to bring bitcoin to the masses erupted between 2014 and 2015.
The scaling debate took place primarily on Reddit and bitcointalk.org, because these sites are where the community has regularly convened to discuss matters within the ecosystem. Shortly after the debates started, individuals appeared to rally to the side of the Core development team, as well as the Blockstream company, who promoted the notion that bitcoin cannot scale by increasing the block size.
The Core spokespeople said bitcoin can never reach the throughput transaction level that the Visa and Mastercard networks achieve by scaling on-chain. In order for bitcoin to reach this level of growth, second layer solutions would need to be deployed. This would occur by the addition of a protocol referred to as Segwit. It would solve the transaction malleability problem, and allow for the clean addition of second layer protocols, they said.
Core supporters vehemently argued against any and all block size increases. They said it is not a solution that allows for exponential growth. It would also cause more mining centralization in bitcoin, leading to the possibility of a 51% attack.
For anyone paying attention, these arguments would have sounded odd, because bitcoin was intended to scale on-chain. It is true there was a block size limit of 1MB, but this hard limit was only implemented to prevent network spam. The hard limit was meant to be increased as the network expanded.
The fear of centralization is also misguided. Bitcoin can scale on-chain without much centralization, because technology grows at an exponential rate. This is expressed in both Moore’s Law and The Law of Accelerating Returns as demonstrated by Ray Kurzweil. In this sense, technology would keep pace with bitcoin growth to curb the possibility of increasing centralization.
From the vantage point of an outsider, it would have certainly looked like the Core supporters were winning the debate and gaining more traction. All across popular forums where the bitcoin commentary raged, there seemed to be no defense of on-chain scaling.
In fact, the forums would have looked like an echo chamber to most people. However, in reality, Core supporters did not have consensus. There were a lot of people singing the praises of Satoshi by pleading for an on-chain scaling solution. They wanted to expand the blocksize to meet market demand. They were even willing to compromise whereas Core supporters were not.
The reason it looked like Core supporters were winning is because they had began censoring posts they disagreed with. As soon as people created a post about on-chain scaling, moderators deleted those posts. They made claims that scaling on-chain wasn’t the goal of bitcoin, and those wanting to scale on-chain were essentially talking about another coin or “fork.” Moderators and Core supporters got it into their head that scaling bitcoin on-chain was somehow antithetical to bitcoin.
They used this excuse to delete posts containing arguments for on-chain scaling. The leader behind this agenda was Theymos. He was known for moderating the r/bitcoin subreddit. John Blocke wrote an in-depth article on Medium about Theymos and this censorship campaign. He also cited a ton of evidence, including screenshots. He said:
Since the limit was introduced in 2010, there have been countless discussions on the necessity as well as the methods that would be used to increase this limit, and Bitcoin’s transaction processing capabilities with it. Those attempts have repeatedly been blocked by a small group of developers, and in recent years discussion of increasing the limit has been censored from some of Bitcoin’s largest discussion forums, all of which are moderated by the same individual, who posts using the handle Theymos. What is forbidden includes any discussion of code changes that propose increasing the limitation.
A Hegemony of Developers and Bitcoin Crash of 2017
It should now be clear how bitcoin was compromised. A group of developers and Segwit devotees gained the trust of the community in order to divert the path of bitcoin. These developers and their followers used censorship to obscure the truth about the scaling debate. During this timeframe, many of the original developers were expunged from the project. This includes Mike Hearn and Gavin Andresen, who Satoshi himself appointed to keep bitcoin on track prior to leaving the project.
The insurgent developers did not share Satoshi’s vision. They did not believe that bitcoin could or should scale so that everyone can use it as cash. They believed bitcoin should be a store of value or commodity. They even suggested that high fees and slow confirmation times are a good thing for bitcoin. These developers were either economically ignorant or purposely maneuvering to destroy bitcoin.
Their ideas about harming bitcoin came to fruition. During the winter of 2017, bitcoin reached its highest price level, nearing the $20,000 mark. However, during this time bitcoin fees also skyrocketed. They reached an average of $28 dollars per transaction while confirmation times slowed to a snail’s pace. At the beginning of January, the damage was felt across the ecosystem as the price collapsed and the whole cryptocurrency market felt the reverberations. In March, CNBC wrote that bitcoin retraced 70% of its value since the start of the crash.
It is true that bitcoin’s price has collapsed as much or more in the past, but this particular collapse has been partly blamed on the “scaling debate” and high fees that plagued bitcoin.
Truth and Divisiveness
It is not known whether the Core team, including Blockstream, purposely undermined bitcoin. Still, well known people like Jeff Berwick have suggested Blockstream was compromised, because they were bought out by AXA Insurance. Berwick goes on to say the head of AXA is the same person who heads the Bilderberg group. According to Berwick, it appears that central bankers bought out Bitcoin in order to destroy it or hamstring it.
In a Dollar Vigilante article Berwick said, “Blockstream is the biggest funder of Bitcoin Core and employs many of the developers. Who owns Blockstream? Well, one of the main shareholders is insurance giant AXA. CEO and Chairman of both the Bilderberg Group and AXA are the same person, Henri de Castries. Yes, essentially, the person most in control of bitcoin development is the Chairman of Bilderberg; the place that I have gone for the last three years to expose from the outside! And, even one time, briefly, from the inside. If the globalists wanted to destroy bitcoin, they would do exactly what they are doing with Blockstream.”
Others have stayed more conservative, saying if governments or other entities wanted to harm bitcoin, they would likely do it by causing major divisiveness within the community. They would slowly build a community of distrust, and cause a break in mutual understanding throughout the ecosystem. This would allow for bitcoin to be made vulnerable and thus diverted from its course.
Whether it was diverted on purpose or by coincidence is still up for debate. The point is that cryptocurrencies can be harmed if they are not protected and nurtured. If the community lets their guard down for a moment, it’s possible to damage cryptocurrencies either by negligence or infiltration. Being mathematically stable and secure is not enough. The communities behind these protocols need to be strong, united, and open to communication. If not, they will leave glaring weaknesses in the network. They will allow the network to fall victim to nefarious actors.
The Salvation of Bitcoin
On the bright side, not all is lost. Even though the first iteration of bitcoin was practically co-opted, it was born again in the form of bitcoin cash. The community redeemed itself with upgrading the bitcoin protocol by implementing a hard fork and creating bitcoin cash.
Bitcoin cash has kept the promise and vision of Satoshi Nakamoto alive. It leverages on-chain scaling to grow the network and incentivize adoption. At this point, bitcoin cash has instantiated itself as the salvation of bitcoin. It is the true bitcoin that intends on freeing humanity from the clutches of centralized bankers and governments.
However, the community must remain vigilant. What happened to Bitcoin Core should be a lesson to all. If a community falls prey to predatory communication tactics and censorship campaigns, they may lose their cryptocurrency to an attack.
They should maintain a healthy community and pay attention to the course of the technology. If they lose sight and vision, their dream will turn to ash. It will get steamrolled. It will be forgotten and placed in the dustbin of history. Everyone must always remember technology is not automatically impregnable. It needs a strong foundation of good people.
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