Keep It Simple: Bitcoin is…

8 min read by Ben
published 2 years ago


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Image: Bitcoin Bunny, 2022 by Charlotte Rose

There are widespread misconceptions about what Bitcoin is. These misconceptions, when peddled as the truth and mixed with people who have power to control others, makes for a toxic cocktail that can potentially hurt millions of innocent people. Rather than accept that Bitcoin has a fixed nature that has nothing to do with their pet beliefs and living with it, people substitute their inability to control Bitcoin with a worthless desire to control the way something is said, rather than the substance.

The problem here is the mistaken idea that there is a standard way for people to talk to each other, across all populations, cultures and subcultures. This idea is wrong. For example, people who work for the UN have an understanding of how people should speak to each other that is descendent of generations of international diplomacy with its roots in court manners. The language on the more brusque edges of IRC are a quite different matter, and between UN diplomacy and IRC, you find a huge spectrum of different expectations and standards, and that is just only the line between the UN and IRC in English. There are many lines stretching in all directions, and at every extreme is the worst (or best) form of behavior and standards. Most of the time, these constituencies never mix, but in Bitcoin they do. Because the smell of money is in the air.

The idea that forms of interaction with speech should be standardized is generally the same position that the EU/UN type takes when it comes to the “regulation” of Bitcoin. These bedfellows with Luddites think government is the solution to every problem between people, and that it is an automatic stakeholder in everyone’s business and product, no matter what it is. 

Of course, they are completely wrong.

First, Do No Harm

Bitcoin is not about free speech in the way some people describe. I make the argument that Bitcoin is speech – in the software sense – in order to explain why it cannot be regulated in a free country. People who are talking about harming other people are intolerable.

The root of the problem in people forcing others to call Bitcoin “money” is that it leads directly to the sorts of abuses that no decent person wants to see in society. It’s very important in the discussion of Bitcoin to not conflate different aspects of what everyone is working on, and not to apply thinking that is inapplicable. Bad thinking inevitably leads to calling for the harm of others based on a mistaken idea of what software and Bitcoin are.

Bitcoin is not Reddit

Bitcoin is not a forum where people debate, and there are no arguments (!) in math and software. Only proofs on paper and running code. People’s opinions are irrelevant in math; the idea that “everyone’s opinion counts” is a side effect of the false idea that Bitcoin is a community. It isn’t. All of the people who think they should “have a say” in Bitcoin do not raise their voices on any other software matter, like email encryption, SSL, the shape of browser tabs or anything else that is done in software. They simply take what they are given and use it. This is exactly what they should do with Bitcoin.

When Apple releases an upgrade to OSX, everyone just accepts it and uses the new version. You don’t get a bunch of people believing that they have a right to demand that Apple change the way OSX works; they understand that if they don’t like the new OSX, they can simply not upgrade, buy a Windows computer or go Linux. Also, the idea that if you own Bitcoin you are somehow a “stakeholder” is absurd. Owning Bitcoin is no different to owning a copy of OSX and using it. Using Bitcoin grants you no rights of any kind, or any guarantees. You can only do one thing with it; transmit signed messages to be broadcast to the network for inclusion in the public record. People really need to embrace this truth. Once they do, they will not bother with the inner workings of what Bitcoin is, and instead, concentrate on building businesses on top of its attributes. Using Bitcoin in whatever way they see that it fits it into their specific needs.

Bitcoin is Software

Bitcoin is a software project, like any other, except that it has uniquely caused widespread confusion about the nature of this software in the minds of people who don’t have any experience with it, and who can’t make the connection between the software that is given to them in their phones, laptops, and indeed Bitcoin. The illusion of money has made them think differently® and inappropriately when it comes to Bitcoin. Some of these people are very dangerous (such as the EU/UN types mentioned above), because they use their misunderstanding as the basis for approaches and recommendations to the legislature, with consequences that are very negative for everyone. 

See also, The Protocol Rules: Dunning Kruger and the Ship of Fools.

There is History in Permissionless Innovation

Uber and Skype both started their software products and released them without permission. They captured the market and changed everyone’s lives for the better. Had Skype gone to the legislatures and explained what they were planning to do, the eyes of the legislatures would have glazed over, and they would have intoned; “You sound like a telephone to me. It even rings like a phone!” and Skype may never have succeeded.

This is the explicit account of Skype’s founder, when he explains why they did not seek permission to launch. Also, all the descendants of Skype, from FaceTime to Jitsi to AppearIn would suffer from the precedent Skype set that you have to get permission to launch a telephony service. All of them, and all future VOIP apps, would have been burdened from being mischaracterised by a single act of snivelling, lickspittle cowardice by Skype. But Skype didn’t do that. Skype released their app without permission. It went viral, and became a hit and a fact of life. The Skype network relied on the users for the infrastructure, meaning they didn’t have to build huge data centers to handle all the calls. Does that sound…familiar? It should. 

Bitcoin’s architecture is distributed in the same way, with no single point of control. The legislatures didn’t consider that Skype was telephony. It just “was”. Now, it never even enters the mind of anyone wanting to start a chat app, or video call app that they should seek a “license” before releasing their app for free. The idea would be laughed out of the room. This is exactly what should happen with Bitcoin.

You Are Most Welcome

No normal man sits quietly and lets his business, work and opportunities be destroyed with a smile on his face. And it is for the people trying to regulate software to show restraint and not run to legislators to spoil the market before it even exists, not developers and entrepreneurs, who create the markets, who concentrate on bringing new services to it and who harm no one; we are not doing anything harmful to other people they are. We are the ethical ones, not them. And anyone who makes excuses for them, and tells the people who are exposing their naked corruption to “be nice”…has some thinking to do.

If you want to participate in Bitcoin, then you are most welcome. You have many opportunities and choices, and everyone can bring their expertise to the table; but you can only do so through software. If you want to bring Bitcoin to remote parts of the world, you need to write software and create a service to do that. You do not have endless meetings and go to the State for its blessing; you write software and create a service that people need. Google didn’t ask permission to enter every country on earth with its search and email products, it just did it by virtue of the nature of the Internet. Bitcoin is no different to this in any way, and no one should be running to legislatures and lying that it is.

Everyone needs to understand that the new way of mediating between people is software. Buyer and seller conflicts on eBay are resolved internally to everyone’s satisfaction, without ever invoking the law. Eventually, everyone will understand this, as the transformation begins to take root, and all market actors who are not in software begin to understand that their actions are producing nothing.

Because it replaces money as the thing everyone exchanges for goods and services, Bitcoin will be the biggest software project in the history of the world. It will touch more people than even the television did, and it is spreading prosperity everywhere at the speed of light, eliminating payer and identity fraud, opening the third world to e-commerce, and saving everyone billions in the process. Anything that attempts to stop this or slow it down, increases friction, or seeks to prevent Bitcoin’s spread is anti-human. 

Bitcoin is, and that is more than enough.

Bitcoin is not what you think it is. It is what we say it is…

This is a guest re-post from a classic Bitcoin essay by Beautyon from 2017 on why Bitcoin is, and that is enough. Republished with permission from Beautyon. Thank you, Beautyon, for allowing us to republish this timeless wisdom. You can read the original here, in all it’s glory. 🔶

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