There was a time in human history without war. Really. It also just so happened to be the most decentralized period of human history.
This is no coincidence.
The pre-agricultural period known as the paleolithic — or “hunter-gatherer” era – has been inspiring modern humans to improve their lives as of late. People who adopt paleolithic diets suddenly find themselves looking fit. Those who adopt “primal” postures notice a decrease in back pain. Even paleo-inspired romantic lifestyles known as “polyamory” are changing many lives for the better.
But does the hunter-gatherer lifestyle have anything to teach us about digital currency? If we're talking about the Bitcoin block size debate, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Time to Decentralize
Paleolithic and even modern hunter-gatherer tribes did not expand indefinitely. In fact, the scientific Dunbar's number explains that our brains can't keep track of more than 150 relationships at a time because our ancestors would split — or “fork” — if tribes ever got that big.
Let's examine the following three conditions that indicate that Bitcoin has reached its forking time:
1. Battles Among Would-Be Chieftans — Where leaders emerge in small groups, it is typically because there is nearly-unanimous or unanimous consent that it is profitable to follow a certain person. Someone's who's proven himself wise and judicious and brave. These leadership emergences are not political, as followers voluntarily support and even desire a tribal leader.
But when a tribe gets too large, multiple would-be chieftans begin to fight against one another.
This scenario has been comically played in the Bitcoin space recently. “Mike Hearn wants Gavin Andresen to revoke commit access!” “Peter Todd has been paid off by anti-blockchain corporations!” “Gavin Andresen admits that playing 'dictator' is an attractive option!”
The hunter-gatherer approach is the only one that restores peace among the factions of battling chieftains. The tribe must fork, so those who wish to follow Plan A may do so, and those who wish to follow Plan B may do so. And those who want a wholly different plan? They start their own tribe (hello, altcoins).
Forking is the most literal kind of decentralization there is. And it keeps the peace.
2. Irreconcilable, Competing Interests — The larger a group is, the more varying interests are introduced into the equation. Bitcoin has reached a point in which its users' interests no longer align.
Some want a 1MB cap to ensure that individuals can run a full node on their home computers. Others want a 20MB cap to ensure that Bitcoin can scale to global demand. Still others say that blocksize caps themselves are based on economic fallacies and should be done away with.
All of these views are valid, and all are in direct conflict with one another. A solution cannot be reached which appeases all interests.
But a tribal split would appease all three. There need not be a loser — everyone can win.
3. Increasing Scarcity — The anthropologic studies explored in the book “Sex at Dawn” suggest that primitive birth control took place among tribes to keep their growth rates stable. A baby-boom is not desirable if available resources — and the ability to acquire them — remain the same.
As we've seen, full Bitcoin nodes have become more scarce over the past year, even as the number of users has increased. Single miners have also become more scarce as they've pooled together to stabilize their payouts.
In other words, the two most sacred resources in Bitcoin — nodes and miners — have not grown at the rate of the “baby boom” happening at the user base.
This is no reason to panic, and certainly no reason to lament. But it is yet another reason to fork. When too few resources are being competed for by too many tribal members, a split into different regions can restore the peace and plenty.
Forgotten Wisdom for Modern Times
The difference being that unlike in 12,000 B.C., where tribes were isolated from one another and hence unable to trade, the year 2015 and beyond can be markedly different. We can divide into our respective tribes, yes, but because of Internet and blockchains, we can still trade with one another. A lot.
If that seems like having the best of both worlds, it's because it is. If that sounds an awful lot like everyone winning, it's because it is. I almost dare not hope it, but maybe humanity could once again experience an era without war.