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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Bitcoin Culture War Won’t Win Mass Adoption

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Prominent Bitcoiners, many of whom advocate “lifestyle maximalism,” may be hurting adoption by leaning in one political direction.

This is an opinion editorial by Trey Walsh, the senior director for youth programs at the MassHire Metro North Workforce Board in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Since its inception in 2009, Bitcoin has caught the world by storm, leaving many stumped by its continued adoption and growing number of use cases, and leading many others to continually dismiss it or manufacture cultural and political narratives about it to satisfy their own agendas.

We will never know the true intentions behind the creation of Bitcoin due to the pseudonymity of its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, but it is widely believed that Bitcoin was created in response to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and a widespread distrust of traditional financial institutions. Since 2008, this distrust of financial institutions, our political system and global organizations such as the World Bank and World Economic Forum has arguably continued to grow, while Bitcoin gains steam and interest continues to pique in its direction.

As more and more folks begin to notice Bitcoin, they also tend to notice what I consider to be Bitcoin’s “social layer” — and in this context, I’m referring to the range of social and cultural norms and values that have emerged among its users and biggest voices.

Every movement — in this case, a technological and monetary revolution — has a social layer and culture. Bitcoin is a complex and evolving phenomenon, with many nuances, but I would argue it is one that has been dominated, at least in the context of the United States, by those on the political right — ranging from those with far-right wing, fringe ideologies to Libertarians to mainstream Republicans.

This dominance resonates for liberal democracies throughout the West, but as an American, I will focus on the U.S. While Bitcoin users and holders may vary greatly across the social, cultural and political spectrums, many of Bitcoin’s biggest proponents and greatest public figures would identify most often with the political right and are predominately white men.

This is a value-neutral statement; an observation of the current demographic and ideological camp of prominent Bitcoiners. However, many people I know have been “turned off” from Bitcoin because they don’t see their values represented in the community. Those from marginalized groups, the LGBTQ+ community, progressives and many others can become distracted and outright dismiss Bitcoin as one of the fringe or radical ideas that have come from prominent Bitcoiners or prominent conservative politicians who express support for Bitcoin.

I would perhaps be saying the same thing if prominent Bitcoiners were arguing for far-left, fringe ideas as well. It doesn’t help that many in the mainstream media have associated Bitcoin with white supremacy fundraising, escalating global warming concerns and a range of other biased attacks. But in any case, I believe that, for Bitcoin adoption to grow, Bitcoiners — and, in particular, prominent Bitcoin educators, public figures, etc. — must focus on the ideals, values and benefits of Bitcoin for everyone. In doing so, we may build the greatest and most diverse coalition of people fighting for a cause that our nation or world have ever seen. This coalition and community should have their values rooted in the fundamentals and spirit of Bitcoin, not merely in what has been viewed as mainly conservative ideology.

This Progressive’s Bitcoin Battle

Speaking from my own experience, when I really began to study Bitcoin in the spring of 2021, the first place I went to to learn more and get recommendations on who to follow, which books and resources to read, etc., was Twitter. Prior to my journey down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, I viewed crypto as something for “crypto bros,” number-go-up technology and generally something I didn’t personally align with as a progressive and nonprofit professional.

Thankfully, I soon discovered folks like Alex Gladstein, who spoke of Bitcoin’s human-rights-promoting qualities, and Willy Woo, who spoke of Bitcoin on-chain research. Soon after, I purchased “The Bitcoin Standard” by Saifedean Ammous and was captivated by the history and the argument for the economics of Bitcoin and explored more concepts in Austrian economics. I was sold on the benefits and arguments for Bitcoin, and since then I have read countless other books and articles that have deepened my knowledge and conviction for Bitcoin.

At the time, I peripherally understood that the Bitcoin community and many of its main proponents in the West and United States leaned Libertarian. Once you go down the Bitcoin rabbit hole and are convicted enough to label yourself a Bitcoiner, it’s hard not to accept some Libertarian-leaning arguments and become skeptical of our current system. Bitcoin is, after all, the separation of money from state, and decentralized to the point that it is censorship resistant and holds firm to many economic principles sought after by the Austrian economic camp.

As I continued to trek through a wide variety of content from Bitcoiners, I noticed many seemed to be focusing a lot of time and energy on things that had little to do directly with Bitcoin and much more to do with a disdain for progressives, vaccinations and the LGBTQ+ and trans communities, and the promotion of gun culture, a carnivore diet, many far right, anarcho-capitalist ideals and more.

For me, as a progressive, it was distracting and at times deeply infuriating. Surely everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I personally am a bit of a free-speech maximalist, but many of these folks have prominent Bitcoin podcasts, books or articles, and have professed that they want to increase Bitcoin adoption and have the world move toward a Bitcoin standard. One such interaction early on convinced me to explore the cultural/political side of Bitcoin more, as I felt it posed a significant threat to increased adoption and was much more likely to be co-opted by political factions, partisanship and nefarious actors.

I was following Ammous on Twitter. I have since been blocked so, unfortunately, I am unable to quote the exact tweets, but he was tweeting about a carnivore diet, the benefits of this and the risks of veganism, etc. As a vegan and Bitcoiner, I responded, as I believe “thought leaders” in the space should be exposed to a wide variety of views and the experiences of their audiences and others in the community. I was respectful, but responded stating that I am a vegan and I grow weary of associating Bitcoin so strictly with any diet or lifestyle, as he was arguing, and also associating particular diets with a “fiat” mindset, as he has in countless talks, articles and his book “The Fiat Standard.” He responded by stating that, because I was vegan, I was malnourished and he seemed to have a distaste for my presence in the community of Bitcoiners. Now, with his book being the first that I read in the space, it was a bit shocking to see how quickly he attacked a view that dissentented from his own. Surely, Bitcoin is for everyone and that community is going to have a diverse set of opinions and perspectives, right?

This is just one example of many that I have witnessed. I’m not here to harp on toxic Bitcoin Maximalism, personal stories of silly, unkind interactions on a social media app, but there are questions to be asked about when and why this community evolved into its current form, dominated by right-leaning ideology, while the general population of crypto and bitcoin investors is actually quite diverse politically, ideologically, racially, etc.

When Did Bitcoin Become Associated With The Right?

For that, I would refer you to Jameson Lopp’s recent article, “A History Of Bitcoin Maximalism.” As I mentioned, I began studying Bitcoin in early 2021 — so much of this culture and evolution occurred prior to my time in the Bitcoin social space. But it’s worth noting that, circa 2018 and on, “Bitcoin Maximalism” as many know of it today really gained steam and transformed into what Lopp calls “lifestyle maximalists,” who are focused on things such as a carnivore diet, conservative Christian identities, “traditional” values, weightlifting, guns, etc. This was further amplified by COVID-19, with lockdowns, government intervention, vaccines, etc. This exists to this day, but is slowly evolving with the understanding that more diverse voices are entering the space, such as progressives and environmentalists who see the humanitarian and positive environmental benefits that Bitcoin offers.

As I’ve stated, I personally identify as a progressive, but my intention is not to have progressive voices (which span a wide variety of perspectives and opinions, I should add, for those who have cast all of “us” as the same) be the dominant voices, but rather for the Bitcoin social community to reflect a more inclusive body of constituents, regardless of their political/lifestyle choices, which can all agree on the fundamentals of Bitcoin: the non-partisan, freedom money tool.

Bitcoin is for everyone, and its loudest champions and voices with the largest audiences should keep this in mind if they profess themselves to be Bitcoin Maximalists, freedom maximalists, seeking a bitcoin standard, seeking mainstream adoption, etc. I would ask these folks (many of whom I respect): What do you value more? Bitcoin education and its increased adoption to create a better world, or your audience-capture bent towards “lifestyle maximalism”?

Since Bitcoin is for everyone, we all must be aware of the diversity of views and identities out there. If you’re immediate rebuttal is, “Well, stop trying to make Bitcoin political,” or, “If someone’s opinion gets in the way of someone getting bitcoin, then they don’t deserve it anyway,” ask yourself two things: Do you come from the “dominant” position within the outspoken Bitcoin community (right leaning and/or libertarian)? And what is your opposition to helping onboard folks to Bitcoin who may be turned off by views they consider fringe or off putting?

I fear many prominent Bitcoiners are not taking seriously enough this “social layer,” as a factor in Bitcoin’s global adoption and ultimate success, exclaiming things like, “Bitcoin has already won,” “you can’t stop Bitcoin,” “everyone gets bitcoin at the price they deserve,” etc.

As great as a technology is and can be, one that all us Bitcoiners see endless possibility and hope for humanity in, I do worry that we are at a critical point — one that I believe will succeed ultimately, by the way — where culturally, the Bitcoin community must broaden its horizon, become more inclusive and mainstream with its narratives, or else adoption could slow or stop altogether. I know that many media outlets will not stop their false tirades against Bitcoin, but the community doesn’t help itself if prominent Bitcoiners continue to obsess over diets, anti-vaccine takes, patriarchal traditional values, attacking and dismissing anyone that doesn’t agree with their political perspective as “brainwashed by the fiat machine.”

Bitcoin And The ‘Climate Crisis’

One such example that many prominent Bitcoiners are adamant about refuting is climate change or the “climate crisis.” As a progressive, vegan and environmentalist, I am deeply concerned about the data-supported climate change that we are seeing and I do see this as a crisis that is in need of creative solutions (many of which, I think, can be found in bitcoin mining).

I do believe there is much to be debated in terms of addressing this issue, but the fact of the matter is, the majority of Americans believe climate change is happening and that more should be done to address this. However, many prominent Bitcoiners have argued there is no climate crisis, and some in fact have argued that more carbon is good for our planet.

While I believe that much of the rhetoric from Bitcoiners combating the notion of a climate crisis is in response to governments who may be taking harsh stances against fossil fuels, which could put the stability of grids at risk or force reliance on other nations’ energy sources, this type of rhetoric can turn away large portions of the population. With increased attacks on Bitcoin from politicians like Elizabeth Warren and news outlets such as The New York Times, it’s important for Bitcoiners to set the record straight while also putting forth arguments that many Americans can grasp and understand from their political worldviews.

In fact, many environmentalists who support Bitcoin see huge potential in bitcoin mining and its ability to utilize more renewable energy sources, and more focus on this argument from folks like Troy Cross, Margot Paez and Daniel Batten is helping the mainstream audience see Bitcoin as a potential tool in the renewable energy transition.

Folks arguing against labeling our climate change as a “climate crisis” are free to express their views, but must also understand the effect this may have on increasing Bitcoin adoption among a population that predominantly believes climate change is real and that we must do more to address fossil fuel/carbon emissions.

The fact of the matter is that the average American does not care about the Bitcoin white paper, best practices for privacy, the Bitcoin block size or most of the “lifestyle maximalism” takes. And I believe many will be among the last to realize the importance of Bitcoin because they have a fairly stable currency, comfortable living standards, etc.

But what people can start to gravitate toward are what all of us gravitated toward from the beginning: Bitcoin is a great savings account, it protects human rights globally, it has a fixed supply so it’s deflationary, it’s easy to use and send domestically and globally and you can own it in self custody — no bank IOUs and no trust!

With our focus on the fundamentals of Bitcoin, we may begin to move past and beyond its political, partisan takes and into mass global adoption.

The Road To Mass Adoption

As we’ve seen, there is evidence to suggest that support for Bitcoin from the general population is more varied across the political and identity spectrums than one might think if they only pay attention to Twitter, mainstream media articles and the loudest voices. As many know at this point, social media is a poor indicator of where the majority of people lie on issues. Social media tends to bring out the most extreme views — for instance, those from the far right and far left — creating arguments that generate engagement rather than true representation of the diverse community that tends to lean toward a moderate view.

I would argue that Bitcoin, just like many other issues in our world, has been co-opted by political extremes and by “lifestyle maximalists,” and that the road to mass adoption is in ensuring that we explain the fundamentals of Bitcoin that appeal to the masses, rather than the co-opted fringe views that have little or nothing to do with Bitcoin.

This is not about censoring views or speech, but rather about encouraging those Bitcoiners in positions of power and influence to keep in mind the diversity of our population and the hope for Bitcoin’s mass adoption. In politics and in life, those in positions of power often engage in rhetoric and topics that are actually a distraction from the real issues average citizens face. As folks continue to wake up to this reality, as inflation grows, the state of our economy continues to erode, more folks continue to ask questions — the same questions being asked after the 2008 financial crisis. Why is wealth inequality so high? Why are my savings dwindling and affording things is growing harder by the year? Do politicians even care?

As the distrust in government and financial institutions continues to grow, we have a real opportunity to present folks with the alternative and the hope that Bitcoin brings to our world — a tool that separates money from the State; doesn’t require trust; is verifiable and decentralized through the blockchain, miners and full-node operators; and provides people with savings that won’t erode over time to reward their hard work.

Bitcoin is non-partisan, and I don’t think fringe arguments from Bitcoin “lifestyle maximalists” that go against majority-held beliefs and opinions help Bitcoin’s continued widespread adoption. Luckily, more folks in the Bitcoin community are waking up to this, and more diverse opinions and perspectives are flooding into the Bitcoin community to truly represent the masses, the everyday citizen. Bitcoin is for everyone, and the more that the Bitcoin community reflects that, the closer we will be to mass adoption.

This is a guest post by Trey Walsh. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Walsh’s employer, BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.



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