Social Attacks vs. Cyber Attacks
Ordinals & Inscriptions Part 2
In my previous post, I jotted down some of my initial thoughts on ordinals and inscriptions. Naturally, as a novel concept with new challenges to understand, my thoughts are continuing to evolve as I learn more. This post is an update of where I am today, about a week after the first post. This past week, I have had many conversations with people on all sides of the issue. That includes Bitcoiners who are pro- and against, and shitcoiners who are coming to Bitcoin for the purpose of shitcoining.
Here’s where I am today: if you tow the line “inscriptions are valid transactions and pay the fee, I don’t care what’s in them”, you are being manipulated. Ordinals are a social engineering attack, with the (often explicitly stated) goal of introducing ex-protocol social consensus elements into the Bitcoin ecosystem. If this is successful, I think there is good reason to anticipate further changes to the protocol down the line, brought about by this new social consensus. I do not see any reason to believe that those changes would be beneficial for Bitcoin.
NFT degens: “NFTs have value because of social consensus about provenance and traceability, not because of cryptographically enforced scarcity, Proof-of-Work, and Nakamoto Consensus.”
Also NFT degens: “Even Bitcoin is ultimately a social consensus. You can have scarcity (etc.), but without a social consensus around Bitcoin as a store of value or money, it wouldn’t be worth anything.”
Still NFT degens: “If inscriptions are valid transactions and pay the fee, why should you care what’s in them?”
Do you see? They are using your willingness to separate cold hard code from human reason as a wedge. On the one hand, everything is a social consensus and it only has value because people believe it. On the other, when it comes to the code, well code is the absolute law of the land and dictates what we must believe. This is a false dichotomy, presented in order to manipulate and trap you, and we are watching people fall for it in real time.
There are elements of both social consensus and mathematical or scientifically observable reality in everything. Intelligent people look at a question and ask: which parts of this question are answered by social consensus, and which are observable facts?
That the network currently accepts inscriptions is observable fact. The code enables it. However, the fact that the network currently accepts them says nothing about the social consensus (or lack thereof) around them. On the other hand, while it is true that Bitcoin relies on social consensus (as any money does), it also relies on certain observable realities such as PoW and block size limits.
One thing we are confident of, as Bitcoiners who have studied the history of money and seen the flaws in previous iterations, is that social consensus must somehow be tied to the physical world of observable reality. Without that link, the money or monetary network will eventually break down into power struggles between large actors trying by hook or by crook (or by atom bombs) to force the social consensus to back their side. By tying the social consensus layer to the real world, especially as Bitcoin does by tying it to the only truly decentralized resource that takes real money to obtain, we are able to have some confidence in our interpretation of market choices as based on the real value of things, rather than power struggles through manipulation, persuasion, marketing, or even physical violence.
(By the way, there is another well-known ideology that promotes the idea of the primacy of social consensus above all else, with complete and total disregard for the facts of observable reality. You may have heard of it: Communism.)
So you are currently being manipulated or conditioned to accept this contradiction: that everything is a social consensus, including Bitcoin, but that the code is not, and you just have to accept that (also by social consensus, oddly enough). Once you have bought into this doublethink, it’s going to be very hard to claw your way back out. You may even start enjoying this type of NFT shitcoinery. Luckily, under the current protocol—what is possible within the existing code—I don’t see this attack as presenting too much of a problem. It will be priced out, hype will die down, witness data will eventually be prunable (so much for permanent storage of your JPEGs, by the way), hardware costs go down, internet speeds go up, etc. However, I do see a problem in the future where some new vulnerability opens an even more problematic use case, and a community of users that have largely given up on the idea that Bitcoin is only and explicitly money. To combat that eventuality, I see a growing camp of people who want ossification so that no such vulnerability might ever come up. Both views are incorrect, and this kind of polarization could lead to a social and ultimately a network fork.
I don’t care what others use Bitcoin for, but I do care that it is (almost always if not exclusively) used as money. The reason for this is simple: things that do one thing can do it very well. Things that do two (or more) things will suck at each. So this is not a contradiction, and this is not a call to censorship. If you think that Bitcoin was designed to be money, intended by the developers to be money, and expected by the users to be money—and you yourself expect it to be money—then you are well within the realm of logical consistency to support both of these ideas.
So you may think that playing along with the NFT hallucination is fine, and maybe it is. Until it’s not. And at that point, there may be such a large social consensus built up around Bitcoin as the “anything goes blockchain” that its use as money and a generational store of wealth will take a back seat to whatever new fads are hot in the moment. This will cause ongoing strife, infighting, speculative booms and busts, and tarnish Bitcoin’s no-nonsense reputation in a way that pushes out big money traditional investors who don’t want to touch the chaos. It may eventually lead to significant damage to the Bitcoin-as-money social consensus, the network, or both.
In my view, a good outcome of this current battle is that newer Bitcoiners will learn what an attack looks like and what tools are at their disposal to combat it as network participants. An even better outcome would be that some newcomers arrive for the wrong reasons, educate themselves, and stay for the right reasons. If we do things right, the social consensus around Bitcoin as the base layer for the world’s money could strengthen tenfold.
But right now, it doesn’t look like we’re going that way. Even if this attack does not have legs and will not last—and I believe that it does not and will not—I am of the opinion that it is still worth the time and effort to expose it and raise awareness. We should simply be aware of the fact that adversaries do not always come dressed in military garb and bearing arms, shouting for our heads. Especially for Bitcoin, adversarial thinking as the default lens will never be a bad thing. Everyone seems to think that hallucinating about NFTs and inviting crypto shitcoinery pump-and-dumps to Bitcoin is just A-OK, because “it’s the code, dummy”. Sorry, but you’re the dummy. If you run a node, you are the code. If you run a miner, you secure the network (including your future ability to redeem your own mining rewards for more energy & profit). If you think Bitcoin is money, you’re not wrong. You had some fun. Time to snap yourself out of it and get back on the grind. Stay humble, stack sats, and don’t shitcoin, even when that shitcoin is Bitcoin.