‘There’s nothing new in this world,’ says Yusko on blockchain rivalries

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“We’ve talked about this over and over,” says Mor­gan Creek Cap­i­tal founder Mark Yusko. “You can go back 2,600 years. Humans do what humans do. A thou­sand years ago, same thing. A hun­dred years ago, same thing. Now, the same thing.”

“And that is where we are.”

Speak­ing on the On the Mar­gin pod­cast (Spo­ti­fy/Apple), Block­works co-founder Michael Ippoli­to notes that the numer­ous rival­ries between blockchain ecosys­tems are not a unique phe­nom­e­non in human behavior. 

As has hap­pened so often in the past, the dis­tinc­tions between fac­tions are usu­al­ly based on sub­tle dif­fer­ences that even­tu­al­ly spi­ral into broad­er competitions.

“When it expands to the lev­el of some­thing like Bit­coin or Ethereum or these sort of inter-ecosys­tem com­pe­ti­tions,” he says, “the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple don’t even under­stand what orig­i­nat­ed the argu­ment to begin with.”

Ippoli­to points out that the “sin­gle biggest argu­ment” cen­tered on blockchains is based large­ly on a ques­tion that traces back to the orig­i­nal Bit­coin block-size wars: “How expen­sive should the require­ments be for users to val­i­date the network?”

Blockchain net­work par­tic­i­pants have to choose hard­ware to val­i­date com­pu­ta­tions and ensure the network’s integri­ty based on agreed-upon rules for a shared data­base, which leads to a fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge, Ippoli­to explains. 

“If you want peo­ple like you or me […] to [par­tic­i­pate in secur­ing the net­work],” he says, “I’m not going to go buy some fan­cy piece of hard­ware that costs tens of thou­sands of dol­lars and pay a bunch of electricity.”

“Civ­il wars” have bro­ken out across ecosys­tems over hard­ware require­ments — whether to keep them acces­si­ble and how to do so in a scal­able envi­ron­ment, Ippoli­to says. He admits he’s being “a lit­tle reduc­tive” in his argu­ment, “but that is the biggest dif­fer­ence between dif­fer­ent ecosystems.”

Fewer differences than similarities

Yusko observes that debates of this nature often take on a “reli­gious fer­vor.” The process resem­bles the con­tin­u­ous branch­ing of monothe­is­tic reli­gions into care­ful­ly delin­eat­ed sub­sets — divid­ed by what would be con­sid­ered minor dif­fer­ences by the out­side observer. 

“Methodists and Epis­co­palians and Protes­tants and Catholics and Jews […] there’s less dif­fer­ences than sim­i­lar­i­ties,” he says.

Ippoli­to points to the exam­ple of a range of reli­gions evolv­ing from Judaism to Chris­tian­i­ty and then branch­ing into Protes­tantism and Catholi­cism — all while adher­ing to many of the same core beliefs.

A com­par­i­son can be made, he says, to rival­ries between Bit­coin and gold com­mu­ni­ties, both found­ed upon prin­ci­ples like hard mon­ey, per­son­al auton­o­my and a healthy wari­ness of author­i­tar­i­an over­reach and cor­rup­tion. “The core belief sys­tem is real­ly, real­ly sim­i­lar,” he says.

Yusko notes that, whether it’s a reli­gious sect or a new­ly bro­ken-off frag­ment of a blockchain com­mu­ni­ty, it usu­al­ly boils down to humans cre­at­ing dis­tinc­tions that are dri­ven by per­son­al moti­va­tions. “They kind of want to be popular.”

“They want to have a fol­low­ing,” he says, “so there’s a lot of ora­tion and preach­ing and you know, stim­u­lat­ing fol­low­er­ship, even if it bor­ders on exag­ger­a­tion or hyperbole.” 

“Or,” he empha­sizes, “say­ing the oth­er one is wrong. But you were part of that [com­mu­ni­ty] before you left,” he says. “You were part of that.” 

“There’s noth­ing new in this world.”

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