Pizzas, Bitcoin, and why arguments over Twitter tend to degenerate towards insults.
Where it started
A few weeks ago, I was browsing Twitter - nothing extraordinary here - and I came over a series of Tweets mocking a user who was tweeting about Bitcoin and pizzas. As an Italian, it immediately grabbed my upmost interest.
Scrolling through her profile, I immediately noticed her work on Universal Basic Income, or UBI - a subject which needs its own blog post, one day perhaps; although what struck me most was how educated and well-thought all her tweets (and also her replies) were.
I was naturally stimulated towards exchanging ideas.
Reading through the storm of tweets which were furiously being typed while I was catching up with the story, I understood what had happened.
The pizza (or better - the water)
Frances' argument used water for describing how divisibility of a physically-bound object works.
In this scenario, the pizza divided between all people in the world isn't sufficient to satisfy their needs, and with our current technologies, we can't divide it and make it as much as it was before.
If we were speaking about water, the same reasoning would apply - as minute particles of water are not sufficient to clench human thirst.
How could this possible change?
Let's suppose that, in the future, humans have reached such a level of progress that the most fundamental need of every single human being has been satisfied; in this future, in fact, people are able to live with any amount of water they ingest, no matter how small it is. There are no physical bounds, as humanity reaches over matter itself and has a way of dividing water into minutely small amounts, which satisfy every single human being in the world. Obviously, the whole water market has collapsed, as there is no more need for any infrastructure or bottling - water is no longer a finite and precious resource.
In this reality, water has now become infinitely divisible. Water is just an example, we could use any human consumable for this - the Bitcoin community enjoyed using pizza for this same analogy, for example. (I can't blame them, there is something just alien about how convincing a pizza is)
Frances used this powerful analogy to describe how Bitcoin inherently holds no value, as it is a digital consumable which can be split into consistently smaller amounts, indefinitely. This division requires no work or energy and can reliably go on for a lengthy period of time.
As a person who holds very dear the fate of Bitcoin - I felt despair, anguish, sorrow, and rage towards her for uttering such ... wait, no. What?
When did Twitter become such an aggressive social network?
The worse thing was that, as a person heavily involved in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, most of the people I was following were taking turns at raging and mocking Frances - for (and here is the bad thing) observing a real and fundamental part of Bitcoin's design.
Every single Bitcoiner which had a round at insulting Frances, not only exerts a very questionable usage of Twitter, but also doesn't understand Bitcoin at-all.
Frances Coppola is right. Inherently, Bitcoin has no value. It has always been that way and it will always be. There is nothing new there. It is currently valued at a certain amount of dollars, because the peer-to-peer network which uses it considers it an item of a certain price. We, the people, as a whole single economic force, give value to Bitcoin. This is the gift of Satoshi, the turning point which makes Bitcoin so great.
My take on it, and why i still have hope in Twitter conversations
I thought of a way of translating this in the most human-friendly terms possible (as semantics are important) by using an existing "virtual" currency as reference.
Given Bitcoin is value-less because of how it is virtual and infinitely divisible, how do virtual PayPal or Venmo euros/dollars we see in our balance any better? They are phisically backed by a real, solid, euro/dollar. No coins smaller than 1 cent are ever issued - you simply cannot go lower.
How can a piece of metal achieve a property which seems so impossible to maintain in a cryptocurrency?
The central authority which issues the coins has control over how much we can divide our money. The smallest amount is, theoretically fixed and pegged to a certain quantity of metal and if you try and do otherwise, you'll get stopped and/or put in jail.
In Bitcoin, there is no central authority. There are people, which, represented by a full-node, participate in reaching a social-consensus. Said consensus has no barriers nor entry fees, it is open to all by default, and is most effective when as many people as possible participate. This consensus is used to agree on, or validate, the existing Bitcoin chain, in all aspects; this also includes protocol-defined minimum amounts.
If 1 satoshi (the smallest amount of Bitcoin currency available right now) can be compared to 1 cent (the smallest amount of Euro currency available right now), my full Bitcoin node doesn't accept any value less than 1 satoshi in any block or transaction it receives, the same way no commercial entity will accept a physical cent cut in half - this is something which would break social consensus (when using Bitcoin) or local laws (when using Euros).
As any rational person, Frances agreed - the whole value of the Bitcoin network, the answers to all problems it may find in time, and how it plans on expanding, all depend on a single, key component: social consensus.
I felt fortunate for being able to hold an educated conversation with her while the whole cryptocurrency Twitter was attacking her. I felt ashamed for how the community I most enjoyed and which I thought could represent me just drowned in rage in insults. I can't stress how important debating and conversing is fundamental and how little it is actually done, especially online. Although that deserves its own blog post.
Frances gave all us Bitcoiners a very valuable lesson today:
Run your OWN nodes!
Seriously, do it. Nobody else can do it for you. The gift of Satoshi was creating a path for removing third parties and becoming our own central authorities, through node-enabled social consensus. Don't let anyone ever take that away from you.
Instead, I received a very tough lesson on how people can behave in strange ways on Twitter. People who received Stripe grants for Bitcoin development, like Justin Moon, core developers and other people heavily involved in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency community blocked me for having a rational argument with a "dissident" of the Bitcoin cult.
As a person who personally doesn't value religions, I reject such an idea, and hope that the Bitcoin community can slowly move to a more open to discussion and less extremist position in time.
I thank Frances Coppola for all her research, thought, and posts, as if it weren't for her none of this would be here.