Vitalik Buterin, Crypto’s Public Intellectual?

Ethereum doesn’t need a figurehead, but crypto might need this savvy voice.

AccessTimeIconMar 23, 2022 at 11:30 a.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:32 p.m. UTC
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There are a lot of things that the blockchain faithful, myself included, have been right about. Many of the predictions I made years ago about the popularity of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and the rise of DeFi (decentralized finance) have borne out. In turn, my conviction about the inevitability of these technologies borders on the pathological.

But in spite of that conviction, sometimes it’s still so strange to see it all play out. Take, for instance, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin – previously best known on social media for this dance – on the cover of Time magazine:

The accompanying piece was an evenhanded treatment from staff writer Andrew Chow, as evidenced by the fact that it made both blockchain fans and skeptics extremely angry. It was also a sign of a possible pivot from Buterin, one that I think would be good for both his career and for Ethereum: his increased willingness to work in the spotlight as a public intellectual.

This article originally appeared in Valid Points, CoinDesk’s weekly newsletter breaking down Ethereum’s evolution and its impact on crypto markets. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday.

“One of the decisions I made in 2022 is to try to be more risk-taking and less neutral. [...] I would rather Ethereum offend some people than turn into something that stands for nothing,” he said during the Time interview.

More than a talking head with Vulcan cheekbones

While the 29 year-old Canadian was discussing stepping more into the public light in the context of guiding Ethereum’s development, I would encourage Buterin to consider pivoting to a role as a cultural commentator.

If he chooses to take up the mantle of a public intellectual, he would be imminently qualified.

As a writer, he’s been a hidden gem for the better part of a decade, commanding not just vast technical knowledge but also possessing the unique gift of making esoteric topics digestible. He can single-handedly establish disciplines – and I would argue he did just that with DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) following the publication of “DAOs, DACs, DAs and More: An Incomplete Terminology Guide” – as well as with advancing the discourse around an existing topic, as he did with Endgame, a piece speculating on the future of the multi-chain world.

His detractors, however, will say he’s too orthogonal of a thinker to be a popular commentator (which is the nicest way I can think of to say “the dude is pretty f**king weird”). Whenever his name comes up trolls are quick to point toward a tweet he made years ago arguing that the consumption of child pornography is less ethically odious than the consumption of heroin.

Likewise, another tweet at the end of last year about the importance of artificial wombs prompted a range of angry reactions, with some observers accusing Buterin of misogyny while others simply seemed to be exhausted with how bizarre and unprompted the conversation was to begin with.

Personally, I think the good outweighs the bad. While profiles tend to center on his libertarian influences and leanings, he is immensely well-read across the ideological spectrum: He also frequently cites anthropologist David Graeber, and some of his best s**tposts are plays on British philosopher Derek Parfit thought experiments, including the Teletransportation Paradox and The Repugnant Conclusion. That’s the good kind of weird, and the kind of breadth I like to see in commentators.

All that esoterica and knowledge and talent devoted simply to thinking things and relying those thoughts – there aren’t many technologists, writers and thinkers of his caliber – and it would be a gift to have him touring universities and writing op-eds for a few decades.

The wider public would be lucky to have him.

Pulse check

The following is an overview of network activity on the Ethereum Beacon Chain over the past week. For more information about the metrics featured in this section, check out our 101 explainer on Eth 2.0 metrics.

(, Etherscan)
(, Etherscan)
Valid Health 0322.jpg

Disclaimer: All profits made from CoinDesk’s Eth 2.0 staking venture will be donated to a charity of the company’s choosing once transfers are enabled on the network.

Validated takes

  • Ethereum scaling startup Optimism closed a $150 million Series B funding round at a $1.65 billion valuation. BACKGROUND: Paradigm and Andreessen Horowitz, two giant Silicon Valley investments firms, co-led the funding round to help Optimism address user demand on the Ethereum blockchain. With about $367.04 million in total value locked (TVL), according to DeFi Llama, Optimism is continuing to play an essential role in the future of how Ethereum will address its ability to expand its rapidly growing network.
  • Leading lending platform, Aave, launched its V3, the latest version of its protocol. BACKGROUND: With about $20.08 billion of locked liquidity across seven networks and more than 13 markets, Aave’s third iteration “provides greater capital efficiencies, increased security, and cross-chain functionality.”
  • Owners of the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFT collection were airdropped 10,000 ApeCoin each. BACKGROUND: Even though Yuga Labs, BAYC’s parent company, said it will use ApeCoin for new products and services, the ERC-20 token is owned and operated by ApeCoin DAO, where holding ApeCoin is the only requirement for DAO membership. Data from CoinGecko indicates that ApeCoin, the latest instance of a meme-driven token, has a market capitalization of $1.49 billion making it the 76th largest coin as of March 22.
  • Andrew Yang, former U.S. presidential candidate, launched GoldenDAO to focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues. BACKGROUND: GoldenDAO is intended to be a platform based on Web 3 infrastructure for AAPI solidarity. Joining GoldenDAO requires the purchase of a membership NFT, with public minting slated for March 31. The advent of GoldenDAO reflects the growing trend of how DAOs are being used as vehicles for social activism.

Factoid of the week

(Coin Metrics)
(Coin Metrics)

Open comms

Valid Points incorporates information and data about CoinDesk’s own Eth 2.0 validator in weekly analysis. All profits made from this staking venture will be donated to a charity of our choosing once transfers are enabled on the network. For a full overview of the project, check out our announcement post.

You can verify the activity of the CoinDesk Eth 2.0 validator in real time through our public validator key, which is:


Search for it on any Eth 2.0 block explorer site.


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Andrew Thurman

Andrew Thurman was a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.

Sage D. Young

Sage D. Young was a tech protocol reporter at CoinDesk. He owns a few NFTs, gold and silver, as well as BTC, ETH, LINK, AAVE, ARB, PEOPLE, DOGE, OS, and HTR.

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