The Blockchain Wars

There’s a dark irony that casts a shadow over the current cryptosphere. While the blockchain was supposed to be the thing that finally united us, that brought us all together, at the moment, the environment is proving to be just another cesspit of greed, malice and tribalism — another vehicle through which we express the worser demons of our nature. Rather than focusing on how we might leverage the blockchain to solve the great coordination problem, once and for all, we’re focusing on which blockchain will “win” instead. While everyone espouses the various problems of the nation state, and the zero-sum nature of the games they play, we find ourselves embodying the very same pathology. Instead of embracing projects that embody differing ideas and values — whether that be a base-layer protocol or some other higher-level application — we’re tearing them down. Either they’re inferior to our preferred holy project, our chosen religion, or they’re downright fraudulent. In both cases, they’re destined to fail.

The notion that “there can be only one” is the problem here. That is, the notion that there can be only one blockchain, one layer 1 to rule them all. To be sure, it might actually be the case that, given the network effects at play and the relevant security logic, there will be one layer 1 that captures a disproportionate percentage of the protocol pie. But even if that is the case, we shouldn’t be fighting over it. Wars are precisely the kind of thing the blockchain is intended, by a great many of us, to prevent (holy wars included).

Many of us are excited by the notion that we’re here laying the foundations of a new world order — something like civilisation 2.0. And while the technology substrate of this civilisation matters, the values of this new civilisation matters more. We should expect the best technology to win out here. If the virtues of decentralisation and security are real, then the most decentralised and the most secure protocols will stick around. Over this, we shouldn’t lose any sleep. What we should be concerning ourselves with, however, is whether or not we’re displaying the kind of humanity we wish to see embodied by this new world we’re creating. Do we want the founding story of this new society to be one marked by intellectual feuds and warring factions, a repeat of the same vicious historical forces we’re seeking to transcend? Or one marked by love and compassion instead?

The progress of technology is inevitable. But the progress of our humanity is not. That’s what we’re learning here. The forces of history will always place in our hands increasingly powerful tools, technologies that have the capacity to answer all our prayers. Whether or not these prayers are actually answered, in the end, will have to do with how we use these technologies, the humanity we apply to them (or don’t).

Technology is never a panacea. It is a possibility. A possibility to change, to better, to meet our situation anew. Whether we realise that possibility, or fumble it instead, is on us. As it’s always been, as it always will be.

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