Down with Bitcoin Core! (As a noun used to describe people)

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Bruce Fenton

As the never ending capacity debate continues, there are many ideas for how we can improve the dialogue. One simple suggestion is that we all stop referring to “core” as a group of people, especially a monolithic group who acts or thinks the same way. Instead of talking about a group, let’s hold individuals accountable for actions they are actually responsible for.

In the earlier days of Bitcoin, the term Core was not yet used. It was just called “Bitcoin” and that was better. Diverse opinions cooperated under the same banner. There’s a good chance that some of the division we see now comes from viewing “core” as if it is a group of people because it creates an “us vs. them” mentality. The Bitcoin Core software project is open source and it belongs to all of us

Do we need diversity and decentralization of developers just like other aspects of Bitcoin? Of course. The mechanism for striving for such diversity is right before our eyes and was set up by Satoshi in the form of the open source process by which protocol improvements are made.

How do you govern the ungovernable? If we stepped back and were to try to design the ideal system by which improvements to Bitcoin could be made fairly, we’d probably come up with something pretty similar to what we have now. How about we work to strengthen and improve it rather than tear it down.

Bitcoin improvements should be open, fair, scientific and transparent. Anyone should be able to submit ideas and the users should be able to decide what code they wish to support. That is basically the way it is now. We just need some improvements, perhaps better communications and more people focused on ensuring high scientific standards

One criticism I’ve heard of “core” is that some hold themselves out as a group when convenient while acting as a non-entity when convenient. This should stop as well. The standard goes both ways: it is unfair to criticize the acts of “core” when referring to select developers or supporters…and it’s also not ideal for any dev to hold themselves out as “core” for the purpose of speaking as a group, signing an agreement or other interactions.

It’s been very unfair for people to criticize “core” as a group of people. Worse yet, in some cases people are not even upset with any actual developer but supporters of some devs. Statements like “core censors” are not accurate or fair. It’s more the type of language used in politics to purposely divide. Censorship for example is a massive problem…but holding those actually responsible is a lot more fair than generalizing a group, some of whom don’t have anything to do with the issue.

As an industry we should really strive to hold people accountable for their own actions alone. On the flip side, people should also avoid acting as if core speaks with one voice. A good example of this is when we see statements claiming that “core built Bitcoin to the level it is now” while conveniently cherry picking which devs are on the ‘in crowd’. Clearly if a dev is one of the top contributors to the core project for example, one can’t pretend he never did the work just because he’s been inactive lately or because someone disagrees with his ideas. And this is the whole point.

The point is that Bitcoin belongs to all of us: Greg Maxwell, Roger Ver, Gavin Andresen, Adam Back and millions of others. If you have the aptitude and ability you should be able to put out code to be fairly reviewed by peers and, if safe, have that code put into the repository and have users decide if they want to use it. For the most part, and despite a mess of problems, this is the way it does work now.

Science, not politics should drive decision making. If there is an issue with proposals not being fairly and scientifically reviewed then we should raise holy hell. My activist minded friends would put energy to better use imho if we focused on improving the current process rather than scrapping it.

After all, for those who want to “replace core”, what does that actually mean? Who specifically are the problem devs and why? With a new system, how would you fairly evaluate proposals from them? Would they be banned from contributing? This creates obvious problems. If not banned then you’d need some sort of fair system to review proposals. Peer review makes sense for this but who would be the lead maintainer?

There isn’t any magic bullet here to solve this issue. It’s technically and socially complex with increasing layers of additional intricacies. What we can do is think about what kind of governance structure we want to see for this decentralized money. In this process we can strive for improved science and to hold people accountable for their actions and only their actual actions or words. And by the way, let’s dial down the animosity just a touch. It’s easy to be ticked off at certain things people have done but we need to move forward.

Bitcoin belongs to all of us. When man decided to go to the moon, scientists had fierce debates, some almost coming to blows, about the best way to do that. They didn’t get into camps based on rocket preference and try to sabotage, censor, badmouth, ridicule, fire, destroy or antagonize the other scientists… they shouted and argued and fought out their differences. Despite disagreements they helped each other and helped the project, put the damn mission first and launched that rocket to the moon.