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How Do You Solve A Problem Like Craig Wright?




In pushing for a Bitcoin Cash hard fork, Craig Wright seems to be sacrificing the potential of a functional currency so he can instead lord over an impoverished fiefdom.

There's a famous quote, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt but likely originating elsewhere:

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

Forgive me for being small-minded, but we have to talk about Craig Wright. Because his ideas probably aren't all that great.

Before we get there, let's take a detour: My master's degree is in nationalism studies. Not the most useful advanced degree, to be sure, but I did learn a few things about how nations (or as Benedict Anderson calls them, "imagined communities") coalesce and persist. It turns out it's not so straightforward.

Take Switzerland, for example. Its population is divided into French-, German-, and Italian-speaking citizens. Though it no doubt took some work to turn a collection of cantons into a nation, Swiss people today come together around a sense of shared institutions. In other words, people can speak entirely different (primary) languages and still function as a group.

Right now, people are speaking different languages in Bitcoin Cash Land, with two sides pushing mutually incompatible clients for the BCH protocol (though, with some pruning and compromise, they could work together, according to a third client). It appears unlikely that they can find a way to work together as a group. The reason: Craig Wright.

3 Reasons Why

When Amaury Séchet's Bitcoin ABC node released its updates, Craig Wright hated it so much that he put forth a competing client, Bitcoin SV, which has since been released (as an alpha). This isn't to say that Bitcoin ABC's updates didn't have drawbacks or even that they should be implemented. But Craig Wright is not the person to point these out. Three reasons why:

  1. He has a reputation for belligerence.
  2. He may not know what he's talking about.
  3. He's pushing for dilution/secession, where compromise would be more fruitful.

Shepherding community-wide changes to completion relies on creating consensus through dialogue. Craig Wright has not shown he can do that. On the first point, here's a sampling of his social media presence from just last Thursday:

In one tweet, he resorts to aggressive name-calling that seeks to divide people. It doesn't make me want to follow his movement.

In a second, he denigrates Nick Szabo's contributions to cryptocurrencies (though, to be fair, Szabo has referred to BCH as "centralized sock puppetry").

And when even mildly challenged on technological merits, he relies on blocking people (see full thread):

Obviously, it's no fun getting critical feedback, but Wright could be using some of these opportunities (the ones that aren't classic trolling) to win over skeptics. His unwillingness to engage in technical discussions with people who disagree with him leads me to the second point, which I'll preface by saying that I'm not a developer or computer scientist (see aforementioned degree). Several prominent people in the space, among them Vitalik Buterin and Emin Gün Sirer, have been sounding the alarm on Wright for a while:

Why might one trust them over Wright on this issue? Perhaps Wright's defensiveness. But also the apparent fraud. His Satoshi story just doesn't add up, although there is some evidence for his claim, and I could see how people would contort themselves into believing it. The debate over the Bitcoin inventor's identity is fertile ground for confirmation bias; each piece of contradictory evidence fits into a conspiratorial narrative to prove one's assumptions.

But that's not the biggest reason that Wright is a problem – after all, nearly every cryptocurrency attracts a mixture of legitimate developers and con artists. The biggest problem is that his actions related to the impending Bitcoin Cash hard fork may be putting the ecosystem at risk. Because it's fragile.

Here are some statistics taken from a snapshot on Friday, August 31 at 11:47 am:

Sure, BCH is sometimes being used more often than BTC (however, note that this is the exception more than the rule), but even then it is by far fewer people. (And, sure, some of these numbers have noticeably shifted over the weekend, but that's the topic of a different article.)

This isn't meant to throw shade at BCH or its potential – there's an argument to be made that it's a superior protocol and that, over time, it can cultivate converts. Rather, it's indicative of the uphill climb any upstart faces when trying to unseat a first mover. It's also precisely why a fork at this moment is so dangerous. Cryptocurrencies that seek to be used in a manner similar to cash (as opposed to utility or security tokens) need users.

And Bitcoin Cash certainly wants to be used as cash. (It's in the name.) It increased block size in a bid to lower transaction fees and allow it to be used for everyday spending (like a cup of coffee). But for that mission to be completed, Bitcoin Cash needs a lot of people to accept it.

Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, framed the danger perfectly: "If you don't have the community, you don't have the ecosystem. If you don't have the ecosystem, you can't create an economy."

In other words, if this were Switzerland, the French-speaking citizenry should think twice about seceding. Without the German and Italian speakers, they're just a bunch of people talking the same language without the infrastructure to go anywhere.

Jeff Benson

Jeff Benson is Managing Editor of ETHNews. He's worked as a writer and editor everywhere from Sudan to Reno. He holds a bachelor's in politics from Willamette University and a master's in nationalism studies from University of Edinburgh. When he's not in the newsroom, he trots the globe and writes about it. He holds a bit of value in ETH.

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