The War for Bitcoin: A Conflict of Visions
Throughout it's turbulent history, a theme from the past has shown itself to be at Bitcoin's center. In his 1987 book, "A Conflict of Visions", Thomas Sowell describes a fundamental impasse that has set the stage for all manner of conflict, including the recursive fracturing of Bitcoin.
When BCH split into opposing forks, they took the same two paths Sowell described decades ago. In fact, the BTC/BCH split fits nicely into Sowell's dichotomy as well. The following summarizes the two points of view, as described by wikipedia (emphasis mine):
Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as "the self anointed." Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society.
Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept, this video interview with Sowell helps clarify his postulation:
"Bitcoin is All About Power."
When we say "constrained" and "unconstrained", we are not talking about block size. We are talking about governance. Is the "God in the protocol" constrained or not? Think of the constraints a constitution imposes on a government. Setting up fair rules that allow natural incentives to play out, instead of favoring top-down decision making.
The authoritarians of our society prefer the latter. They would like to see a world where they may bend the constitution to suit their ideas, compulsions, and morality. Hard lines are not something a subscriber to the unconstrained vision can stomach.
In Bitcoin, we debate whether it is appropriate to alter the core design of the protocol. Should we violate the constraints implied by the whitepaper? Should we take the unconstrained approach and leave it to the super smart people to do what is right?
Think about this quote from Sowell as it relates to the "laws" of Bitcoin:
"Nobody believes the law should remain fixed as it was at some given point in the past. The question is who shall have the authority to change that law, and with what constraints on that person, so that person is not just giving vent to his own feelings or imaginings or theories."
In the case of Bitcoin, there are changes that are being made to restore the protocol in such a way that it rings true to the spirit and core design of the original whitepaper. Opponents of BSV have used this opportunity to claim BSV is hypocritical. They scrutinize small changes being made to restore the protocol, claiming BSV violates its own constrained vision. They fail to understand that the constraints are not simply based in the data type of a specific variable, but the context in which that variable exists. The core design. The big picture. The spirit and tradition of Bitcoin. To finalize the protocol is a critical check against the power of the super smart and benevolent developers. The problem is, you must trust them. Not history.
It is a curious phenomenon that so many intellectuals appear to gravitate toward the unconstrained vision despite the many lessons from history... but that is a topic for another post.
Bitcoin Cash (ABC) is scheduled to undergo a routine hardfork on May 15th. Against the backdrop of BSV's massive scaling achievements since the split, the upgrade roadmap has had some time to settle, and some may now be questioning the path forward. In a recent breakdown of the upgrade's focus, Schnorr signatures were at the top of the list. You should recognize some of Sowell's buzzwords apply here.
Here's a recent example, showcasing this conflict re-emerging in BCH:
Despite @deadalnix's (lead developer for Bitcoin ABC) comment above, BSV is not struggling with internal conflict. It's very purpose is to follow the "constrained by the whitepaper" vision, and avoids this all together. Those supporting BSV have, by association, agreed upon the constrained vision as Sowell describes it.
BCH has many roots in this vision, but has already fractured once thanks to this age old stalemate. If such a conflict surfaces in BSV on the other hand, it is more likely to be rejected immediately. Since change was always an option for supporters of the ABC chain, it became the only option for those who champion the unconstrained view as they are unwilling to focus on empirical evidence, or compromise. After all, they know better.
When the door is left open, some will always believe the rules should not be followed with rigidity, and the battle lines begin to form, again and again. Combine that with an "upgrade" scheduled every six months and you have a recipe for never ending conflict. We are now seeing this play out in BCH, once again.
In contrast, the constrained vision rejects any potential foothold for central control to take root:
"It's all about power. See... what people don't understand is, Bitcoin with a stable protocol takes away power. If no one can change the protocol, not me, not God, there is no power in money. Money is all about power, and this is one of the things Bitcoin has done. It has removed that power. It will remove that power globally. - Craig S. Wright
Bitcoin's Conflicted History
Bitcoiners have been discussing the nature of its many conflicts for years now. Mike Hearn said it best during his AMA on r/btc. He mentions Thomas Sowell and the book in relation to competing camps in Bitcoin and their struggle with governance. When asked about who was to blame for the fork, he responded:
Another example is this post written during the run-up to the bch/btc fork:
The nature of Bitcoin is such that once version 0.1 was released, the core design was set in stone for the rest of its lifetime. - Satoshi Nakamoto
If the Bitcoin protocol can be set in stone as Satoshi Nakamoto suggested it should be, we refuse to feed the beast. We do not open a window of opportunity for control. There is no division if we have settled the debate once and for all. Now is the time to argue over what should be built on top of Bitcoin, and disregard the calls by those who want to "fix" it.
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