Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

Originally published as “Flaws in Proof of Work Consensus,” by Chris Troutner. There are a lot of weird theories floating around #cryptotwitter about Proof of Work (PoW) consensus and justification for attacking minority chains. The whole BCH/BSV chain split has shined a spotlight on PoW consensus shortcomings, and rather than acknowledge potential vulnerabilities, zealots are using religious appeals to justify digital violence against minority groups.

More Spice: Bitcoin White Paper Webcomic by Comics Legend Scott McCloud

Against Digital Violence

Many of Bitcoin’s early proponents, like me, were attracted to the idea in 2009 because it proposed a solution to US hegemony and a way for individuals to protect their assets against banks ‘too big to fail.’

Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

Later, when payment processors unjustly cut off Wikileaks funding, for example, it again provided individuals a way to fight back. Silk Road did much to bring Bitcoin to center stage, empowering individuals to supersede the law and buy illegal products and services.

Bitcoin owes much of its success to libertarian ideals. It was born from the cypherpunk movement. For me, the essence of Bitcoin is individual sovereignty. It’s important to keep this history in mind, because forces are working hard to pollute the original ideals of Bitcoin.

Ivory Tower vs. Gut Feel

Morality is a very difficult and murky topic to discuss intelligently. Let me start by differentiating two distinct types of morality: ‘Ivory tower’ morality and ‘gut feel’ morality. An example of ivory tower morality might be the subject of lab-grown mean and whether it is kosher. Who cares. This level of moral discussion is inane.

Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

In contrast, gut-feel morality supersedes religion: Don’t kill people. Don’t hurt people. Help those who are suffering. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.

No one needs to tell you these things, the gut-feel sort. They are part of what it means to be a human. These ideas largely encompass the non-aggression principal adhered to by many libertarians.

The Argument for Attacking PoW Chains

A recent exchange on a Twitter inspired me my thinking on the subject (see below). Here is the obvious gut-feel response: any group of developers and users, peacefully working on their own crypto-coin idea, who have been attacked, would disagree with Javier.

Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

I’m sure Javier’s a smart person, but I’ve never seen a better example of doublespeak. The thing is, he’s not completely wrong. Just as religious leaders engage in all sorts of ivory-tower logic to justify dietary restrictions, adherents to the Cult of Craig Wright are fond of justifying the right to attack minority chains.

The BCH/BSV split showed powerful state actors, or deluded billionaires, can pose a significant threat to PoW chains. Even BTC is not safe, as the original BSV attack plans could easily be scaled up by a government, or governments, to disrupt the majority chain.

Avalanche as an Answer

Here is an all too common scenario: A small group of developers have an idea for a new cryptocurrency. Because Bitcoin is the most successful and well understood, they fork the code base and start working on their idea. They spend a couple years working hard and growing their user base. Suddenly a third party with a lot of hash power comes in and shits all over this group’s work, justifying it with doublespeak about PoW consensus.

Against Digital Violence: PoW, Avalanche, and the Freedom to Create

Is the problem with the group, peacefully engaged in innovation, or is the problem with the PoW consensus mechanism itself? Thankfully, a new consensus mechanism has appeared on the horizon called Avalanche.

It’s still early days. There may be undiscovered flaws, but some of the most brilliant minds in the distributed computing space are working hard on creating new cryptocurrencies around this consensus protocol. From my understanding, Avalanche may protect minority groups from the kind of PoW flaw described above.

Natural Gravitation and Thousands of Flowers

As the Avalanche technology matures, I expect to see smaller cryptocurrency projects naturally gravitate towards it … if for no other reason that to shore up the shortcomings of the PoW consensus.

Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let minority groups innovate and explore their ideas so we can all be enriched by them and individual sovereignty can be protected.


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