Bitcoin has a lot of brains, but does it have any heart left?
I became obsessed with Bitcoin almost 4 years ago which puts my entry somewhere smack in the middle of Bitcoin’s lifetime. In that limited time I’ve seen lots of brilliant research and products, tons of scams, met many interesting people and even managed to start my own Bitcoin-based company OB1. There is one thing though that bothers me though about the Bitcoin project and community and no, it’s not the block size. The community has observed an amazing sense of narcissism creep into it’s contributors.
Narcissism is defined in psychology as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type”. It’s always been clear to anyone with half a brain that the Bitcoin and related projects have attracted some of the most brilliant computer scientists and cryptographers on the entire planet starting with the creator him/herself. Go through the list of code contributors yourself (https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/graphs/contributors) and you’ll find many amazing programmers not to mention all of the people who have helped in areas other than code that have amazing backgrounds. With all of that firepower though there’s a critical component missing in many of the discussion within the space and that’s empathy.
In many instances fostering empathy among individuals needing to form consensus can be achieved through face to face activities. This has been attempted through the Scaling Bitcoin conferences as well as the Satoshi Round Table last month. I think we can all agree that while it’s possible some progress was made in certain areas, that the most contentious issues were not resolved and could possibly be even less resolved than before those meetings. I will caveat these statements by saying that I did not attend either event and my assessment is based on second-hand accounts, streaming video, and written descriptions. So if face to face meetings won’t work what’s next?
I worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for over 10 years and I never noticed a lack of diversity because they actually work on it. In fact I met my wife at Booz, who is Persian. I had no idea what that even meant at the time, but over the years I would come to appreciate the value of different cultures and perspectives. Learning to absorb other viewpoints and backgrounds I believe is a mark of a successful leader. Diversity increases the richness of those perspectives and viewpoints and enhances your ability to think about problems in new ways. I feel that the Bitcoin community has suffered from a staleness of perspective and one huge cause of that is the lack of inclusion and narcissism exhibited by many of the most influential participants.
Last night I tweeted out a request for any lists anyone had of women in the Bitcoin space and I received a bunch of responses. This Google spreadsheet (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1AYtjueV3beCDBAyspZXc-Dhlf1fWRuqNcEdakofmKJY/pubhtml) has a very nice compiled list of women who are making impactful contributions to the industry. It’s by no means exhaustive and fully encompassing as I’m sure there are many missing who deserve to be on there, but what’s unfortunate to me is that I have very rarely heard their voices rise above the noise on many of the most contentious issues affecting our space. I don’t believe this is due to lack of knowledge or willingness to provide an opinion, but due to the fact that there are many others who would rather speak than listen and are not interested in soliciting more feedback.
If you bought me a beer I could sit down and walk you through my Hall of Shame list of people over the years that I’ve found violating positive community best practices (heck I’ve put myself on the list several times), but I really think until we start to work on ourselves we’re going to have a hard time improving the community as a whole. One of my favorite comments I’ve heard recently was from a very prominent technological mind who told me (and I’m liberally paraphrasing) “If the other side doesn’t care to realize how right we are, then they deserve to be denigrated”. I don’t think this opinion is a unique one and is shared by many other frustrated souls in this battle, but the fact that a prominent voice trusted by so many others is so flawed in my eyes makes the road ahead so murky.
I started this article with the hopes that it would somehow come to a happy conclusion about the future of Bitcoin development, but I actually ended up with the suggestion of a novel idea: spend some more time listening to others, go out of your way to find diverse opinions and stop talking for a moment. Maybe you’ll realize that you’re so called brilliance could actually grow through your newly found empathy.