Team Slow and Steady

I’ve been finding myself dissatisfied with how the various Bitcoin tribes of the moment self-identify: the maximalists, the plebs, the ossifiers, the multicoiners, the laser eyes, the scalers, the inscriptors, the filterers, the covenants crew, etc — they all feel like they don’t quite match how I think about Bitcoin. So, per xkcd 927, I figure that means it’s time to make up my own tribal identity; hence “Team Slow and Steady“. Our logo, naturally, is a giant tortoise.

There’s a few obvious ways to think about “slow and steady” in the context of Bitcoin:

There are a variety of reasons to like those attitudes in the context of Bitcoin: as something trying to be a superior store of value, predictability and stability are very desirable; as a consensus network, avoiding breakages and incompatibilities becomes extremely important; as a global network, avoiding the cognitive load on users imposed by frequent changes is helpful; as an open source, peer to peer network, taking the time for everyone to understand and accept changes before expecting them to be adopted seems wise.

Likewise, there are drawbacks to this approach: it makes it hard to be “first to market” for new features, it means you need to exercise a lot of patience if you want to be involved, and maybe it means you don’t get the fun of being invited to all the cool parties designed to hype everyone up about the latest fads. That seems like a fine tradeoff to me.

Maybe it’s worth comparing cases where the “slow and steady” philosophy comes to different conclusions than other Bitcoin tribes.

Probably the most direct comparison can be made the the “ossification” camp. After all, what could be more slow and steady than not moving at all?

“Ossify” means “to turn to bone”, or more metaphorically, to become inflexible and unable to be changed. I’m fairly sure its etymology here is by analogy to “protocol ossification” in the Internet, where routers and ISPs that violate the end-to-end principle have caused an inability to effectively deploy new protocols, because not only do the endpoints need to change, but all the routers and ISPs in-between do too. Bitcoin does suffer from that class of problem with regard to addresses: since many people use custodians instead of interacting with the blockchain via their own software, address upgrades (such as the upgrade to segwit p2wpkh and p2wsh bech32 addresses, or taproot p2tr bech32m addresses) become difficult as they require third parties to update their software.

Ethereum and altcoiners seem to have been a big proponent of Bitcoin’s ossification, often treating it as a given that Bitcoin had already ossified (eg “Bitcoin-style ossification”, March 2020, “Bitcoin’s ossification development philosophy”, June 2021), which might be compared to a lack of contemporaneous uptake amongst Bitcoiners (eg “Ossification is stupid and suicide”, April 2021), though perhaps that has changed, with a Bitcoin Magazine article declaring it inevitable in May 2022.

Ossification advocacy generally involves a motte-and-bailey approach, sometimes arguing that it simply means change is slow but not impossible, but often implying that in reality any change is either infeasible or impossible. For anyone who wants to make the former claim, I think “slow and steady” is less misleading. As far as the latter claim goes, claiming that changes to Bitcoin will be impossible or infeasible simply seems wrong to me: we’ve seen that it’s possible historically, we know that changes will be needed in the future, and we have no way of committing future Bitcoiners to not making changes if they decide they’re desirable.

The “laser ray to $100k” meme started in Feb 2021 when the BTC price was about $50k, with the idea that hitting $100k was next. Samson Mow’s take on the same day seems representative: “It took just 52 days for #Bitcoin to go from $25k to $50k. $100k this year is conservative.” As it turned out, that wasn’t conservative, and while Bitcoin’s price rose another 40% or so, that was only after it had crashed to $31k, and it then proceeded to crash again, to an eventual low of around $16k. While it has since rebounded and hit new highs, $100k remains out of reach, at least in USD terms. That hasn’t stopped people from eagerly predicting imminent new highs: to pick on Samson some more:

  • “Soon we’ll never see #Bitcoin below 100k.” – 2021-02-18
  • “Around 6 weeks ago was the last time we saw #Bitcoin in the $30k range. We’ll likely never see those levels again. It’s same for the $50k range. There’ll be a point during the journey to $100k where we leave and never return. Stack here while you can.” – 2021-03-23
  • “Yep, #Bitcoin is going to $100k or higher this year for certain.” – 2021-04-30
  • “#Bitcoin is still going to $100k this year. Keep calm and HODL on.” – 2021-05-13
  • “$100k #Bitcoin is still in play. Easily.” – 2021-05-31
  • “66% of the way to 100k. Just 34% to go. #Bitcoin” – 2021-11-09
  • “#Bitcoin $100k by June.” – 2022-02-05
  • “$100k by end of June.” – 2022-04-15
  • “Updating my prediction to be $100k by end of 2022.” – 2022-06-16
  • “$100k is more likely than $10k. #Bitcoin” – 2023-04-12
  • ““We might go to $0.03M” is the new “we might go to $0.01M.” #Bitcoin” – 2024-01-20
  • “Now $0.1M before the halving. #Bitcoin” – 2024-03-06
  • “You know we’re still going to $0.1M before the halving right?” – 2024-03-20
  • “$0.1M before halving.” – 2024-04-15

Now, if you don’t mind being wrong on the internet, there’s not necessarily any problem to solve here. But at least to me it seems better to remember that Bitcoin’s price appreciation is fundamentally pretty slow: the market isn’t efficient enough to just recognise Hal’s insight from 2009 and immediately set a price floor of $10M per coin. Instead, prices are very unpredictable in the short term, and NGU is something only happens slowly and only looks remotely steady when you zoom out to look at the very long term.

Despite many differences, the covenant crew, the filterers and the scalers all seem to have a common attitude to their preferred features: that they should have been implemented yesterday, and since that didn’t happen, it had better be everyone’s number one priority to get it done now. For the scalers, that’s exemplified by being unwilling to wait to see how the capacity increases from the segregated witness proposal worked, instead insisting that an additional doubling be done (roughly) concurrently. For the covenant crew, the easy example of rushing things is Jeremy’s aborted UASF client in April 222 (“Within a week from today, you’ll find software builds for a CTV Bitcoin Client”), or its Dec 2023/Jan 2024 revival. The filterers, meanwhile, aren’t proposing consensus changes, but are getting pretty impatient about their issue. (Meanwhile the PR that would implement their feature waited around two months to be adjusted to not change defaults, and still doesn’t have tests ensuring it does what it intends). An impatient attitude just seems a bad fit for Bitcoin to me: this is a project that’s trying to outlive everyone that’s currently working on it — even counting the life-extension tribe; spending extra time and effort now seems a much better approach than trying to rush through a change, then getting upset when that doesn’t work the way you’d hoped. (There are plenty of other folks with pet projects who get similarly impatient; sometimes I’m probably even one of them; I’m just picking on these three because they came to mind as significant groups at present, and I’m sympathetic to their projects)

One thing “slow and steady” doesn’t do is tell you at what point “slow” becomes “too slow”. I think in practice that isn’t really hard: stopping points seem to tend to be pretty basic, like “does your code have tests?”, or “can you demo this doing anything interesting at all?”, rather than hard or esoteric like “can you prove/formally verify this?”.

A Hare was making

fun of the Tortoise one day

for being so slow.

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