Swedish Pirate Party's Founder: Bitcoin Community Has Political Problems

Swedish Pirate Party's Founder Rick Falkvinge is a political evangelist and IT entrepreneur. He explains to Cointelegraph why he is not satisfied with the Bitcoin situation today and what to expect in 2017.

Falkvinge was presented at the Satoshi Roundtable III in Cancun, Mexico last week,  the annual elite Bitcoin event where the Bitcoin community discussed major issues. This time the discussion evolved around the scalability of the network that has been discussed intensively and with acrimony in 2016.

Deadlock

Cointelegraph: You don't seem satisfied with the outcome of the just ended Satoshi Roundtable III. Why?

Rick Falkvinge: Oh, I was extremely satisfied with the outcome on a personal level - I met many amazing people and have about a dozen leads and opportunities to follow up on. Plus, the conference was superbly arranged in a really good location. ‘

"However, the Bitcoin situation overall right now is frustrating, with a political deadlock at the same time as many in the community dismiss politics as unimportant even beneath them. This is fundamentally no different from the frustration technicians feel when three-piece-suit MBA types dismiss technology as something beneath them."

Bitcoin is a multidisciplinary phenomenon in society, not a multidisciplinary technology. There are multiple stakeholders, multiple-layer client classes of rational actors, some of which can nudge development, others with the ability to veto certain paths of evolution. This makes conflict resolution skills and Fingerspitzengefühl absolutely crucial and it's sorely lacking in today's community.

In fact, everybody I have seen trying to argue those points tend to be shut down with the message of "you don't understand the technology, so don't believe for a second you have anything to contribute; go away." Or in a kind moment, "read up and come back."

Fostering that attitude for years has consequences for a community. When you have technical problems, you call a technical expert; when you have financial problems, you call a financial expert.

The Bitcoin community has political problems, and this situation was reflected in the meeting.

"Governance of something like this is paramount and resilience expert Vinay Gupta predicted years ago that social issues would be a major obstacle for Bitcoin development, possibly just because of the false belief in the technology as conquering every other obstacle, specifically including our human nature."

I would have been very surprised if the conference had not reflected the situation at hand. However, given those input values, the conference was very productive.

Hostility

CT: Were you expecting to witness the hostility that has characterized the Hard Fork discourse at the event?

RF: There was little to none of the hostility seen in online forums when people meet face to face, which is one reason it tends to be very productive when you want people to work together. Most if not everybody behaved like humble and worthy thought leaders - but alas, in the end, repeated the same arguments we've all heard as much as La Macarena was overplayed everywhere around the turn of the century.

"Repeating the same data points will not change minds in a room full of intelligent people who have heard those data points before. Still, meeting, shaking hands and having a beer with people diametrically opposed to your viewpoint while discussing for an hour is fundamentally a sign of something very, very civilized."

Core problem

CT: In a recent blog post, you stated that Bitcoin lacks project management. Could you throw light on that?

RF: When you ask what the major selling points of Bitcoin is, who the intended user is, what the path of adoption is with a front bowling pin customer and what problem it aims to solve, you're going to get many, many different answers. This is the principal problem behind the disagreement on which path to upgrade the network protocol. I mean, it's absolutely fundamental, that as long as people have different ideas of what problems they want Bitcoin to solve or prioritize Bitcoin to solve, they're going to come up with different solutions.

And herein lies the core issue: it is not, and was never, about which solution is the best. Each solution argued may be perfectly suited for its identified problem. Instead, the divide is about what problem is the most valuable to solve.

And just to preempt a common misunderstanding, I don't know anybody who thinks "get rich quick" is the answer to that. People who have been in Bitcoin for years don't care about the exchange rate for themselves anymore, but do watch it as a measure of adoption of the overall ecosystem.

"It's not unlike the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when seven and a half million years have been spent coming up with the Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything and then the scientists realized they need another ten million years because they hadn't bothered to figure out the initial problem enough to understand how the solution to it made any sense."

System behavior

CT: Let's look at your 'Toyota Boardroom Model' parallel you used at the Roundtable. What does it imply?

RF: I'm basically making the point that Bitcoin, by design, is built to have individual rational economic incentives work in alignment to create an emergent behavior for the system. It is specifically not designed to have people collude to override such incentives as a group, such as happened in the Hong Kong agreement. That will probably never happen again with that experience in the luggage.

Therefore, when people are sitting in a room and saying "the market should adopt Segwit because we think it's a good idea," that's not very different from a hypothetical Toyota boardroom saying "every family should buy our newest car because we think it's a good idea." It's just as ridiculous.

"Miners are a layer of the customer of the service (the code), and they get to run whatever code they want on their machines, just as a family gets to buy what car they want."

If you want miners to activate a particular protocol upgrade, you need to understand that miners will run code they think is better for them, not code that you think is better for any reason.

The same goes for all other layers of clients to customers in the ecosystem.

The future

CT: Do you think Hard Fork is achievable in 2017 and how does the future of Bitcoin look?

RF: People hold over $15 bln worth of Bitcoin taken together, many of them developers, and that's the biggest insurance and assurance I have that people will work really hard to find a protocol upgrade path out of this stalemate.

I'm not going to commit to a firm date, but I can see some sort of tipping point arriving in the three-to-six-month time frame when it becomes obvious which path the upgrade is going to go. This doesn't mean the upgrade executes at that point, of course, but it should mean more certainty and momentum for the future.


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