Censorship has been a plague on the bitcoin ecosystem. It has caused many people in the community to fall prey to the perils and pitfalls of human psychology. It has incited bitcoiners to believe half-truths, falsehoods, and boldfaced lies. The censorship took advantage of their most primitive thought processes, molding them into an army of conformists and lemmings.
Theymos and a Campaign of Censorship
For anyone unfamiliar with the censorship, here is some backstory. A user that goes by the handle Theymos has been running the r/bitcoin sub-Reddit as the head moderator for several years. He also has influence over the bitcointalk.org and bitcoin.org forums. Ever since the bitcoin scaling dilemma surfaced, Theymos and his staff have been actively censoring opinions that remotely relate to expanding the block sizes or forking the bitcoin protocol, which was once called bitcoin improvement proposal 101 or BIP 101.
Theymos admitted to using censorship tactics on November 4, 2015, saying, “You can promote BIP 101 as an idea. You can’t promote (on /r/Bitcoin) the actual usage of BIP 101. When the idea has consensus, then it can be rolled out.(archive)”
He attempted to downplay the censorship by suggesting what he did was merely “moderate” rather than censor. In other words, he played word games to dilute the gravity of his actions. Nonetheless, evidence of censorship is legion on the r/bitcoin Reddit. For example, Brian Armstrong and company Coinbase strongly supported block-size extensions. Their content was deleted and Theymos later banned them from r/bitcoin.
Compiling an exhaustive list of the censorship, bannings, and subterfuge enacted by Theymos over the years would take many articles to fully express (which it has). For more evidence of censorship and control committed by Theymos and other dictatorial autocrats on r/bitcoin see John Blocke’s informative two part article on the history of the subject.
How Censorship Manufactured Consent in the Bitcoin Ecosystem
Over time, Theymos and his campaign of censorship manufactured the bitcoin community’s consent. It prompted bitcoiners to accept a plan of downgrading to Segwit and emboldening everyone to disembark from Satoshi Nakamoto’s original road map. Now the community enthusiastically rejects larger block sizes and instead embraces a suicidal course toward bitcoin centralization.
How did this happen, though? How could the smartest, brightest, and most innovative be plainly duped into undermining bitcoin? It turns out they were manipulated rather easily. It did not take any amazing cunning or sleight of hand on part of Theymos. It just required his politically-motivated censorship campaign.
As his campaign gradually infected the community, human psychology did the rest. Certain individuals praised Segwit and spun myths about its capabilities, while everyone else was effectively tongue-tied by “moderation.” These Segwit supporters hyped it as a superior upgrade and leveled hate speech against the few who managed to get a word in edgewise on expanding the blocksize.
Informational Conformity and the Bandwagon Effect
Without dissenters able to speak out, people began to embrace Segwit. This occurred by way of what psychologist Solomon Asche called informational conformity. It is a psychological effect that suggests people conform to others just because they provided information and no one refuted it. In the bitcoin space, it means just because Segwit promoters said positive things about Segwit, it convinced community members it was correct and good.
The absence of countervailing opinions—due to the rampant censorship—was enough to create the aforesaid psychological effect, leading to blind adoption of Segwit and the current toxic trajectory of bitcoin.
A quote from Asche eloquently expresses how smart people in the community were likely led astray:
The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.
After so many in the community were indeed willing to call white black, what happened next was likewise natural. The bandwagon effect took hold. This cultural phenomenon suggests people do something merely because others do it. It manifests within fields such as politics and consumer behavior, which means the bitcoin ecosystem is certainly susceptible to its influence. Jihan Wu, in his recent talk at The Future of Bitcoin Conference, said this is one of the premier biases that people in our tech-savvy environment have to be wary of and acknowledge.
Arguably, informational conformity powered by an ongoing bandwagon effect has perverted the way bitcoiners think about their beloved protocol. It is the psychological explanation why otherwise intelligent people decided to adopt an “upgrade” that neuters bitcoin’s decentralized nature and paves a dangerous path for the network.
Consensus Trance and The Future of Bitcoin
The bitcoin community, then, is currently trapped in what some psychologists refer to as a consensus trance or consensus delusion. This is a state of consciousness where people passively believe what they are told, rather than what they themselves think. They are not reacting out of their own volition. They simply accept what others say without critical analysis.
This unfortunate fact is what has driven some of brightest in the community to support an unnecessary and destructive implementation. It is the road that has led to the current predicament, where centralized adaptations for a decentralized network have been heralded as innovative. And where people who want to maintain bitcoin neutrality are erroneously accused of wanting to control the platform. The irony is a tragic symptom of the consensus delusion bitcoiners suffer under.
If the community wants to survive this onslaught against bitcoin, they must snap out of their drunken haze and attend to the facts. They must remember the road map Nakamoto designed, and recall that on-chain scaling solutions and block-size expansions were a normal part of the upgrade process. They should overcome the tendency to conform and acknowledge that rampant censorship has placed bitcoin in the hands of usurpers who possess motivations that are suspect.
No one wants high fees. No one wants slow transactions times. No one wants Fascist Coin. People want bitcoin, and not all is lost. The network can be salvaged. The future need not be dark.
Below are informative videos illustrating experiments in conformity and the bandwagon effect. Education is the best medicine for recognizing our own psychological pitfalls.
How can we help bitcoiners to wake up to what is happening in the community? Let us know in the comments below.
Images via Shutterstock
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