This is an opinion piece by Nathan Cryder, COO of a renewable energy company and founder of a bitcoin-focused holding company.
It is unlikely that the mysterious pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamotoknew how many similarities Bitcoin would one day share with the world’s major religions when they first made their code public.
This “genesis block” was mined on one of Nakamoto’s computers on January 3, 2009, a day now celebrated annually as one of many Bitcoin “holidays” to commemorate the legacy of the world’s first cryptocurrency and blockchain. For some, January 3 has become “Key Proof Day” to promote the importance of holding your own private keys, instead of entrusting them to a cryptocurrency exchange or other third party. Other Bitcoin holidays commemorate the first bitcoin transaction (“Bitcoin Pizza Day”), community consensus sovereignty and the resolution of the “Blocksize Wars” (“Bitcoin “Independence Day”), and the day Nakamoto publicly released the white paper conceptualizing Bitcoin (“Bitcoin White Paper Day”).
Coincidentally, he stumbles upon on the same day, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Church of Wittenberg in Germanyultimately upsetting many of the traditions most cherished by the Catholic Church, which had barely changed in 1,500 years.
As bizarre as it may sound, if a group of self-proclaimed wizards have their way, the Bitcoin “religion” will soon recognize another holiday to mark another significant day in Bitcoin history, at least in their eyes. In a Twitter Spaces I heard Udi Wertheimer And Eric Walltwo Bitcoin Ordinals supporters who refer to themselves as “Taproot Helpers,” discuss promoting January 24 as Bitcoin “JPEG Day” to commemorate the day a user on the Talk bitcoin forum, which was called “Sabunir”, attempted to sell a JPEG in 2010 with tech support from none other than Nakamoto himself (nearly five months before the infamous pizza buy).
It is perhaps no exaggeration to see Wertheimer and Wall – with Casey Rodarmorwho developed Ordinas, and someone who goes by the pseudonym DomWHO developed the BRC-20 token standard – as the bitcoin community’s equivalent to Martin Luther. These four “heretics” succeeded in making the Bitcoin network an environment for non-fungible token (NFT) transactions, leading many hardcore Bitcoiners (often dubbed “maximalists” or “maxi” for short) to blow up a joint on Twitter.
The religion of bitcoin
I am certainly not the first person to compare the most devout bitcoin enthusiasts to religious evangelists. Michael Lewisthe author of books such as “Liar’s Poker”, “Moneyball” and “The Big Short” used this comparison on stage at bitcoin 2023. Outlining the Bitcoin enthusiast interview process for his upcoming book on disgraced FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman Fried, Lewis said:
“The feeling I have is that you can say something wrong. When I was writing ‘The Blind Side’, my main characters were evangelical Christians, but they were suspicious of me because they felt I didn’t share their belief structure…It’s not that I’m in or out when it comes to bitcoin, it’s just that I honestly didn’t give it much thought. I interviewed – I don’t know – 200 people, and quite a few of them said to me, ‘What are you going to say about Bitcoin?’… It’s interesting, it’s like a religious thing.
This “religious thing” has always irritated me, and here is why: the maximalists who have collectively created their own weird bitcoin religion have proclaimed themselves guardians of it and continually attempt to litmus test other bitcoin enthusiasts for no particularly good reason other than to bolster their “street credibility” as more hardcore and extremist than the next (I would say “guy or girl”, but maxis are mostly male).
On Twitter, you’ll recognize them by their “laser-eyed” avatars in which they’ve digitally replaced their own eyes with fluorescent reds to clearly and proudly brand themselves as part of the religion. Maxis are a disproportionate vocal minority on “Bitcoin Twitter” who seem to enjoy, above all else, trolling and ridiculing anyone they deem not faithful enough to their conspiratorial rhetoric on topics ranging from vaccinations and sunscreen to seed oils, anti-gun legislation and corporate ESG mandates. You see, in the upside-down world of laser eyes, being toxic is a virtue. Being toxic is, in a way, their way of winning hearts and minds.
To be fair, the maxis are not a homogeneous group, but they do tend to share a common view that bitcoin is the solution to many global problems and tend to subscribe to the political doctrines of libertarianism and Austrian economics, and tend to hate what they see as hopelessly corrupt institutions like the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum. This part, I like. On the continuum of beliefs shared with Bitcoiners, I generally lean into their path. I, too, subscribe to most Austrian economic principles, have many libertarian leanings, and am increasingly skeptical of mainstream media. And, more importantly, I believe Bitcoin has the potential to be the strongest currency ever created.
However, what I hate is that maxis overwhelmingly subscribe to conspiratorial rhetoric about just about anything you can imagine, many of which are non-monetary in nature and all of which are completely non-sequential as far as bitcoin is concerned. I’m sure most maxis would say that all of these things are somehow tied to the “fiat system” they want to overthrow in order to set the stage for a new world in which Bitcoin reigns supreme (“The Bitcoin Standardas described by author and laser-eyed saint Saifedean Ammous).
I would argue, however, that these are issues that the average person knows little about or cares about and focusing on them is extremely counterproductive in terms of spreading Bitcoin adoption. If the world is ever going to convert to said bitcoin standard, widespread adoption orders of magnitude higher than they are today is needed – and mindless litmus tests are a massive stoppage at worst and a massive distraction at best for all but the most extreme among us.
An ossified base layer
The parallels between Bitcoiners and religion go beyond the dogmatic group mentality of maxis. Bitcoin’s “base layer” code, for example, is in many ways akin to scripture. While many proposals have been made over the years to change it, only a relative handful of significant ones have been approved. Indeed, the Ten Commandments are only slightly less susceptible to change than the software code that runs the Bitcoin network – a feature, not a bug, in the opinion of many Bitcoiners.
The process that Bitcoin’s core developers adhere to for changing code is cumbersome by design, requiring anyone proposing a change to write a Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) that aims to gain some sort of community consensus to implement the changes. The ossified nature of Bitcoin’s base layer speaks to Bitcoin’s decentralization in the eyes of most maxis — something that sets it apart from more centralized blockchains, like Ethereum, which have a much lower threshold for implementing changes. Changes in Bitcoin’s “Layer 1” functionality will always be controversial; however, the Taproot and SegWit upgrades, designed to make the Bitcoin protocol more secure and efficient, were adopted by the Bitcoin community with relative ease and Taproot was activated in November 2021.
Therein lies the irony. If those who determined the governance of the Bitcoin network had known at the time that these upgrades would allow Rodarmor to create ordinals and signups, it seems unlikely in retrospect that the changes would have been accepted with relative ease. Church fundamentalists have been beaten at their own game, and many of them (including Greg Fossa podcaster and contributor to Bitcoin Magazine with more than 130,000 Twitter followers) have been on the warpath ever since.
The majority of Bitcoin miners like ordinals and BRC-20 tokens because they have led to higher transaction fees, while many maxis are adamantly against them, seeing NFTs as a distraction from what they see as Bitcoin’s core function as a much-improved way to send, receive, and store value. The network was designed as a monetary settlement and transaction platform, not for the tokenization of digital art or real-world assets (RWA), say the laser eyes. JPEG Day, then, might as well be called “Scam Day” as far as they’re concerned.
A Battle for the Soul of Bitcoin
While the history of inscriptions and ordinals is still being written, the reality that JPEG “art collections” and other ordinal use cases may be here to stay has resulted in another internal culture war reminiscent of Bitcoin.block warsfrom 2015 to 2017. Only, rather than “small blockers” versus “big blockers”, Ordinals pitted maximalists against NFT creators and enthusiasts.
Growing tension finally came to a head at Bitcoin 2023 in a perfectly timed on-stage event dubbed by conference organizers “The Great Ordinal Debate.” Dressed as wizards (and “dental floss” upon their arrival on stage), Wertheimer and Wall showed their mastery as hype artists while debating Matt Corallo (namely, an anti-toxic maximalist) from Block and Spiral and someone who hid their face with sunglasses, a bandana over their nose and mouth, and camouflage UASF hat (reporting himself as a “little blocker”) which is called shinobi. It was like some sort of quirky, nerdy version of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), like Don King had somehow infiltrated an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” and convinced Sheldon Cooper and Howard Wolowitz to step into the ring.
I watched from the audience, marveling at the sight of laser-eyed heretical wizards who had touted the virtues of toxicity over something I had come to love as they debated ordinals and hilariously battled for the soul of Bitcoin.
This is a guest post by Nathan Cryder. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.