Is Toxic Bitcoin Maximalism Getting Less Toxic?

As BTC gets Wall Street approval and developers build new applications on the network, bitcoiners are ditching some of their previous siege mentality.

AccessTimeIconMar 18, 2024 at 8:35 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 14, 2024 at 4:52 p.m. UTC

Next month, the Bitcoin network will undergo its fourth halving since its launch in 2009. In honor of that occasion, CoinDesk is publishing a month-long editorial package covering everything from Bitcoin’s changing cultural scene to the technical advancements being planned today.

This column is part of CoinDesk’s “Future of Bitcoin” package published to coincide with the fourth Bitcoin “halving” in April 2024. It was previously published in The Node newsletter, a daily roundup of the most pivotal crypto news on CoinDesk and beyond. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here.

There’s a lot happening all at once in Bitcoin-land these days. Following the launch of spot market exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the U.S., bitcoin’s price has been rocketing up — regularly setting new all-time highs. Some of the world’s most influential figures — from former President Donald Trump to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink — have lately been praising crypto. Banks are building ways to give their clients exposure to the coin.

Perhaps the most significant shift, however, has been the changing culture around the first and largest cryptocurrency. For years, Bitcoin culture has been dominated by Bitcoin maxis, which when worn as a badge-of-honor by insiders means they believe Bitcoin is the only blockchain worth building but is also a pejorative to say someone has a toxic attachment to bitcoin.

However, is it too much to say that these fans of hard money are going a little … soft? If “the class of Bitcoin 2021” was dominated by laser-eye maxis who only ate beef and attacked people on Twitter, today it seems Bitcoin is far less aggro.

I’m not the only one who senses the vibe shift. In a recent interview with Stacks creator Muneeb Ali, he mentioned that he has been getting a lot less hate on X. Although a Bitcoin maximalist in the sense that Ali thinks anything other cryptocurrencies could do could be imported to Bitcoin, and that BTC is superior money, Ali has spent the last decade as a blockchain developer essentially getting harassed by his peers for launching an altcoin.

“Honestly, it's getting much better. It was the Dark Ages of Bitcoin before,” Ali said in a recent phone interview. “It's getting a lot better because there are new builders coming and new tools being built. There’s excitement in the builders community.”

Ali is referring to the spurt of activity on Bitcoin ever since Casey Rodarmor launched the Ordinals protocol, which opened the door to “inscribing” NFT-like data on Bitcoin and inspired a host of other innovative ideas to try out.

Mind you, not everyone is happy about this. Ever since Casey Rodarmor launched the Ordinals protocol there has also been a raging debate within the Bitcoin community over exactly what Bitcoin is for. The debate is essentially between two ideological camps, money crypto versus tech crypto (to bastardize a term coined by CoinDesk contributor and ConsenSys lawyer Bill Hughes).

To find where you stand on the spectrum, ask yourself whether Bitcoin is just and only “savings technology,” a hard money solution to ever-inflating fiat currency? Or, is it also a platform to build fun or useful applications? For years, Bitcoin culture had been dominated by the former, in part because there wasn’t much you could do with Bitcoin.

“Money Bitcoin” people are those today who complain about things like Bitcoin-based NFTs and BRC-20 tokens “clogging up the network.” Everyday, it’s getting harder and harder to say whether they are the loudest or most influential voices in the room. That’s because fighting against technological innovation is an uphill battle (and also a bit hypocritical, considering the Bitcoin network was designed not to discriminate against anyone, no matter how they use it).

To be fair, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with taking the position that bitcoin’s first and primary objective should be creating a new monetary paradigm. But there is something uncouth about telling people to “have fun staying poor” or to “stay toxic.”

It’s common to hear that bitcoiners developed a hard shell (to keep it politic) in response to the criticism they received from non-holders over the years. Being proven right again and again (at least in terms of price) likely also helped foster a greater sense of smug self-satisfaction. There’s also the fact that, until recently, adopting bitcoin was genuinely a bit counter-cultural – a way to “drop out.”

“Bitcoin’s original culture was a synthesis of determined cypherpunk and thoughtful libertarianism. It drew on previous movements, certainly, but this combination was completely ex nihilo, a once in a generation cultural event,” crypto researcher Paul Dylan-Ennis wrote in 2022.

May it continue to evolve.

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.