Do you know someone who won't shut up about Bitcoin? No matter what the conversation is about, somehow, they bring it back to Bitcoin!
Maybe you just think the idea of digital money is crazy. How can it be money if it's not backed by anything?
You aren't the only one who says that Bitcoin is a cult. People so crazy about this thing, to the point of it being almost like a religion.
I think there are a couple of different angles to look at here. First, I want to look at what a cult actually is, and provide some clear reasons why Bitcoin is definitely does not fit the definition of a cult. Then, I want to analyze some of the behaviors of bitcoin-enthusiasts that you might recognize, and offer some explanation for those behaviors.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to do anything other than own bitcoin, in order to benefit from bitcoin as a money. You can hold it in secret and not become a Bitcoin Guy™. You won't need to go to any events or care about what's happening in the space. Of course, you need to learn the basics of how to buy, store, and spend your bitcoin smartly, so some basic participation may be necessary, but beyond that, how much you get involved is up to you.
4 Reasons Bitcoin Is Not A Cult
Writing an article like this comes with the risk that someone will respond with, “You know you're in a cult when you start denying you're in a cult”. This is inescapable circular logic: Denying the existence of something is proof of its existence. I guess the only way to escape that type of accusation would be to not write this article, but here we are. Let's talk about cults.
There actually are some general characteristics to consider if you suspect a group you are part of is displaying cult-like behavior. Steve Hassan, a former cult member and now cult expert, uses the BITE model. Although there's no universally accepted definition of a cult, the BITE model has some useful ideas. Namely, it looks at Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional Control.
Using that framework, it's hard to see Bitcoin as a cult.
There are many levels of participation in the Bitcoin network, none of which can be controlled by anyone but yourself. You can do the bare minimum of buying bitcoin and leaving it on an exchange, or you could be writing code for Bitcoin core. You could be mining bitcoin in your garage or building a bitcoin-focused company. It's all voluntary and pseudonymous.
There are no requirements to join, and that is one of the core tenants of Bitcoin. Unlike the traditional banking system which requires an ID and a minimum amount of cash to start an account, you can participate in Bitcoin with as little as $1 and a smartphone. Unlike a bank, which will monitor your transaction activity and ban you for “bad behavior”, Bitcoin makes no judgment on what you do with your money. It's completely neutral.
Perhaps the banks are cults!
Seriously though, a permissionless, open, pseudonymous network can hardly be considered a cult.
To be honest, those who say Bitcoin is a cult probably do not mean it's a literal cult. They probably just mean it's an irrational, fanatic group of people, but I wanted to see if there were any actual cult-like characteristics to identify.
1. There Is No Central Leader Or Doctrine
Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin, but didn't seem to have much to say about what one should or should not do in their life. At that time, Bitcoin had barely just been invented, so there wasn't really much of a “Bitcoiner culture”, aside from maybe cypherpunk culture. You didn't need to give any money to Satoshi in order to participate. You didn't need to renounce anyone or anything. You didn't have to sell your possessions or leave your family.
The Bitcoin code was open source and anyone, anywhere in the world could run it.
Now, Satoshi is gone and nobody knows where or why. He doesn't dictate which direction Bitcoin should go, let alone how bitcoiners should act. For a short while, many looked to Gavin Andresen as the defacto “leader” of bitcoin, but after the blocksize war, and a few other incidents, he's no longer relevant.
Since then, there didn't seem to really be a “leader” who has any amount of direct control over Bitcoin. Some might say that Michael Saylor has recently taken the mantle due to his infectious enthusiasm and ability to speak about Bitcoin in creative ways.
However, consider that Saylor doesn't have any influence over your decisions. He's just a guy who likes Bitcoin, and likes talking about Bitcoin.
Within the Bitcoin space, there certainly are thought leaders and influencers. There are podcasters and book writers. There are some voices that are louder than others. However, they do not control anything individually. They are just voices, and you can choose to not listen to them.
Most importantly, the message they overwhelmingly present is not one of control, as you might see with a cult.
They are not asking you to donate your life savings to them. They are not telling you to cut ties with your family and join a commune in Arizona. In fact, many are preaching the opposite: get your personal finances in order, save money for the future, build a strong family and community, and do what matters most to you.
What's more, when you start looking at influencers in the community, there are a lot of divergent opinions and ways of life. Some people believe in hyperbitcoinization, whereby the US dollar hyperinflates to nothing and is replaced by bitcoin as the standard unit of account and medium of exchange. There are others who say this is pretty extreme for our lifetimes, and we'll likely just see bitcoin as a widely used store of value, while the dollar continues to dominate as a medium of exchange.
There are bitcoiners who are on a strict carnivore or keto diet, and others who are not. There are liberals and conservatives. There are Christians and atheists.
Bitcoin Is Money For EnemiesBitcoin Proverb
In terms of a central doctrine to follow, there's The Bitcoin Whitepaper, but that's a technical document explaining how Bitcoin works. It doesn't tell you how to live your life. There's no way to live life as a “bitcoiner”, and no punishment for not adhering to any specific lifestyle.
2. There Is No Barrier To Entry, And No Consequences To Leaving
You don't need to own bitcoin to be a bitcoiner. One of the best examples of this was Andreas Antonopoulos, who has been one of the leading voices and teachers in the Bitcoin world for a very long time. There was a controversy a few years back where he mentioned that he didn't actually own any bitcoin. How did that happen? He explains in a tweet below.
Afterward, he ended up receiving tons of bitcoin donations from fans, and has since set up a seemingly successful Patreon, but the story is still interesting; someone who has understood and advocated for Bitcoin for almost a decade wasn't actually getting rich from it. He just thought it was important and interesting.
In other words, it will cost you $0.00 to join the Bitcoin community.
I'll also add here that there are many people who support and believe in Bitcoin who are not just “buy and hold” bitcoiners watching the price go up. People are dedicating their lives to building Bitcoin infrastructure, like Ryan Leachman, who moved his whole family to Wyoming to build mining facilities with JAI Energy.
He's just one of thousands (tens of thousands?) of people who are working on Bitcoin in some capacity. I find it hard to believe that Bitcoin would have grown to a size of this magnitude if it was actually just a cult, and there wasn't something deeper at work.
One of the common signs of being in a cult is that it's hard to leave.
Here, it really depends on how deep you are into the Bitcoin community. If you are just a person who owns bitcoin, then you sell your bitcoin, there are no consequences. Nobody knows you exist. If you are a big Bitcoin influencer and suddenly become anti-bitcoin, then perhaps there would be some social consequences, and you may receive negative messages online.
An example of this can be seen in some Bitcoin influencers who have been accused of “Shitcoining” or promoting non-bitcoin tokens. Examples could be Trace Mayer, Robert Breedlove, and Eric Voorhees. They were, at one time, loved by the community for their support and enthusiastic promotion of Bitcoin. However, after they moved away from a Bitcoin-only philosophy, they were swiftly criticized and to some degree, ostracized.
There are two sides to consider here. In 2020, Bitcoiners adopted the moniker of cyber hornets, courtesy of Michael Saylor.
Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom, feeding on the fire of truth, exponentially growing ever smarter, faster, and stronger behind a wall of encrypted energy,Michael Saylor
This name probably originated from the whizzing, whining sound that ASICs make as they mine Bitcoin. However, it also applies to the fast moving and ferocious way that bitcoiners swarm to defend the network from enemies. You can see this on Twitter when misinformation spreads in the MSM about Bitcoin's energy use, and you see this when Bitcoiners start shitcoining.
There's a narrative out there will be a “multi-coin future”, where there are many cryptocurrencies out there, and everyone can pick which one they want to use based on the utility of that crypto. From a Bitcoin maximalist perspective, that future is not possible, because societies converge on one single money, as worse moneys die out. Look at the demonetization of silver versus gold as a store of value for example.
That's a best-case scenario for altcoins. Many times, there are shady deals being done behind closed doors, or people are promoting things they don't really believe in. The reporting requirements of the legacy financial system do not apply to the world of cryptocurrency, so that influencer promoting some kind of new bitcoin might be getting paid to do so, as we saw with John McAfee.
After a decade of scams in the space, bitcoiners are no stranger to affinity fraud. They are also well versed with well-meaning folks who are simply ignorant to what they're promoting. They've seen trends come and go, as Bitcoin keeps ticking along, block by block.
3. There Is No Requirement To Buy Into “The Culture”
If you took a survey of public bitcoiners, you'd probably find some commonalities: an interest in finance and technology, distrust of the government, and eating lots of red meat. I'm sure you could find some other surface-level similarities as well, but if you dig deeper, the similarities stop looking so similar.
What other niche community could serve both the college-educated tech and finance guys, as well as the code-is-law cypherpunks? Where else do you see gun rights advocates and world peace advocates in the same room, arguing for the same things? How is it that oil & gas companies are cutting methane and carbon output with mining bitcoin, while hydro plants and nuclear facilities are doing the same?
There are many such contradictions in the bitcoin space, even down to the protocol, which makes bitcoin perfectly scarce, yet infinitely divisible, but that's what's cool about Bitcoin. Everyone brings something different to the table, and there's no one single way to be a bitcoiner.
The fact is, nobody can control you because holding bitcoin is private. There may be some cultural trends in the bitcoin space you don't like or don't agree with, but you can just ignore them.
For example, it's pretty common for bitcoiners to advocate for a relatively minimalist lifestyle, saying you should sell useless things to buy bitcoin, and that you should forego luxuries of life in order to buy more bitcoin. In fact, there's a website called Bitcoin Or Shit which tells you exactly how much bitcoin you'd have right now and its dollar value if you hadn't bought popular items like Airpods. For example, if you had bought bitcoin instead of a Shakeweight in 2009, you'd have 13 billion dollars (no joke).
However, this is just social media jokes and online shit talking. Nobody is going to come to your house and monitor what you buy. Many times, you only see this type of behavior on sites like Reddit and Twitter, whereas you'd see less of it on the Bitcoin Talk forum or specialized Telegram groups.
If you want to be social in the bitcoin community, you don't have to reveal anything about your lifestyle. Just operate under a nym. Alternatively, you don't have to be social at all. You can still benefit from bitcoin ownership simply by using bitcoin, and nobody has to know you're a bitcoiner.
4. Bitcoin Welcomes Adversarial Thinking & Anti-Fragility
Bitcoiners recognize the fact that in order to create a permissionless money that can't be taken down by adversaries, you need to be engaging in adversarial thinking. In a digital world with a trillion dollars at stake, it's very important to listen to criticisms that could threaten the security of the bitcoin network. Bitcoiners are always thinking about what could go wrong, and how to get ahead of it.
There is a ton of internal arguments and bickering factions about what's good or bad for Bitcoin. One recent example was the Taproot upgrade, where the actual soft fork was not contentious, but the mechanism for signaling for the soft fork was causing some disagreement. Everyone was aware that this method for soft forking could be used as a precedent for future soft forks, and possibly some kind of future attack. There were lots of extended discussions about how to signal for Taproot.
There was an entire book written about the lore of the 2017 blocksize war, and these internal arguments go back to 2011.
Here's an example of an exchange between two bitcoiners, debating whether or not Twitter implementing lightning payments is good or bad. On the one side, it helps with bitcoin adoption. On the other side, it forces anon Twitter users to KYC themselves (have their real identity known) in order to use the service. Notice that they are both on side of Bitcoin!
Where bitcoiners get labeled as toxic maximalists is that they just don't have the patience for outdated, tired, or nonsensical arguments. For example, the idea that it's impossible to send bitcoin if your wallet is offline.
Criticisms like this are just dismissed with catchphrases and memes like Have Fun Staying Poor, but keep in mind that there is no central “bitcoin council” to represent the whole. Each person is an independent participant, and for every person saying some bullshit online, there are 10 people who are holding bitcoin but not even on Twitter.
After hearing tired arguments like “bitcoin has no intrinsic value” or “bitcoin will consume the worlds energy”, clearly from people who haven't done the research, I think it's easy to understand why they are straightforward or even mocking in their answers.
Bitcoiners welcome adversity because ultimately, the meme of this is good for bitcoin is true. Negative things are good for bitcoin because it makes bitcoin more resilient against future attacks.
An example would be in 2021 when 50% of the hashrate left the network after China banned bitcoin mining. The possibility of a 51% attack was concerning for some, and others were simply not sure what would happen as the network experienced the biggest downward difficulty adjustment ever in Bitcoin's history.
In the end, everything was fine, and we learned that Bitcoin can survive a 50% hashrate reduction with no disruption.
Some Cult Similarities Worth Acknowledging
Have you heard the joke about how do you know if someone's a bitcoiner? The punchline is that you don't need to know because they're going to tell you anyway. You could swap out a lot of things in that joke though, including vegan, keto, or Joe Rogan fan. As someone who has done the keto diet AND is a Joe Rogan fan AND is a bitcoiner, I have some experience with this personality trait. What I've settled on calling it is something like an “enlightenment mentality”.
The idea behind it is that the mainstream method of doing something is all wrong, and you've discovered the truth.
To be fair, I actually do believe that saturated animal fat is good for you and The Joe Rogan Experience is a great podcast. I actually do believe that a diet full of grain and sugar is bad for you, and that mainstream news has a lot of hidden corporate and political influences. But I also recognize that telling other people about it all the time is annoying. Sometimes being normal is OK.
I see this trait in bitcoiners as well. We are very deep down the rabbit hole, and we see Bitcoin Fixes This™ everywhere. I have a running joke with my dad about how long we can have a conversation before I bring up Bitcoin.
Bitcoiners love to spread the good news about Bitcoin and how it heals what ails ya'. We've seen the light and want to spread the word.
Hop on board, or have fun staying poor.
I don't think this qualifies as making us an actual cult though. Talking about Bitcoin all the time is just annoying habit many bitcoiners have. Take a look at the religion section of Bitcoin is the Mycelium of Money for some expanded ideas around this.
Fear & Conspiracies
As a middle-aged man, discovering what money is, was a truly eye-opening experience. I had never really considered things like how money is created, and how it's been manipulated to help the rich and powerful since the beginning of money itself. I had always been skeptical of government power and preferred individual liberty over the collective good, but going down the Bitcoin rabbit hole really supercharged those ideas. I would imagine it does the same to others as well.
For me, and for many others, that's where it stops – a distrust of too much power in the hands of too few, and a longing for a society where we can save hard money in peace.
For others, it turns into a bit of zealotry. Some people in the bitcoin space think there is a global conspiracy to put us in pods and make us eat bugs. I think these people are just loud voices, and do not represent the majority of rational bitcoiners, but they may seem overrepresented in this group due to how social media tends to amplify things.
To be honest, many “conspiracy theories” turn out to be true. Even some that sound so dumb to be possible, are also true. So, anything is possible. But it's important to take wild ideas with a grain of salt, especially when a video is shared on Twitter without context. For example, one time I saw a video being passed around showing people erecting a guillotine, claiming it was French citizens protesting against their politicians. As it turns out, it was from a Belgian comedy series.
Things being posted out of context or in a manipulative way is not limited to the bitcoin space, but many bitcoiners are attracted to that type of media.
I don't think this makes bitcoin a cult, but as I said above, I'm just trying to look at it from all angles. I guess someone looking at bitcoin Twitter from the outside would see us as a bunch of conspiracy nuts, so it's worth mentioning.
For what it's worth, personally, I don't think there's any global government conspiracy to control us. I do, however, think that there are a lot of incompetent people trying to look competent and keep their job at any cost, and a lot of rich people trying to stay rich at any cost. When the incentives are fucked up, the results are fucked up too.
Is Being Anti-Bitcion A Delusion?
If you want to find a Bitcoin critic, there are plenty out there. In fact, many of them are credentialed! Some of the loudest anti-Bitcoin voices include:
- Paul Krugman
- Peter Schiff
- Nouriel Roubini
- Nassim Taleb
Roubini has a PhD in international economics from Harvard. Taleb is a successful writer, popularizing the term “Black Swan”, and coining the term “Antifragile”. Peter Schiff is a popular personality on a variety of business and economics programs. Paul Krugman, of course, is a Nobel Prize Winner and columnist for the New York Times.
Each one of them seems to have what we lovingly call in the Bitcoin space, Bitcoin Derangement Syndrome.
Paul Krugman said that Bitcoin is evil. That's a bit of an exaggeration, don't you think? That was in 2013. In 2021, he doubled down, and said “BTC isn't a new innovation; it's been around since 2009, and in all that time nobody seems to have found any good legal use for it.”
Look at this guy – even as I write this, on August 26, 2021 he's still ripping on Bitcoin, saying its only useis tax evasion. He just can't let it go. Classic Bitcoin Derangement Syndrome!
For a Nobel prize winner and NYT columnist, it sounds like he hasn't done even a little bit of basic research to discover that Bitcoin is being used around the world by a variety of people. Folks are sending remittances from the US to El Salvador via Strike. Gamers are earning bitcoin by playing CSGO and Mario Kart on Zebedee. Indians are earning Bitcoin by helping AI learn via StakWork.
All of that is aside from the fact that savers are now able to keep their wealth safe from inflation by holding bitcoin in cold storage.
This is happening just 12 years after the invention of Bitcoin. This is the internet in 1997. What happens in the next 20 years?
It seems to me that he's actively trying to ignore what Bitcoin has done, what it's currently done, and where it appears to be going.
Roubini on the other hand, just won't admit he's wrong about the bitcoin price being a bubble. Since 2013, he's been saying that bitcoin is worth nothing and that it cannot function as a money. He celebrates each time the price crashes, then it's crickets when the price surpasses previous highs.
Bitcoin's price may suffer 80% corrections at times, but each low is higher than the previous one, and if you hold for a period of more than 4 years, then you're pretty much never holding underwater.
Nassim Taleb on the other hand, had a complete meltdown on Twitter, calling people “amoebas” and “fucking idiots” for believing that bitcoin has value. This is despite writing the original foreword to The Bitcoin Standard. Instead of dealing with competent rebuttals to his criticisms, he simply blocked people and called them names like “overripe cucumbers” or Russian spies. Most of his criticisms of Bitcoin have been addressed in the past, but he doesn't seem to acknowledge these responses.
Schiff on the other hand is a whole different beast. Although he doesn't seem to be so easily offended as Taleb, he hasn't changed his mind for more than a decade that bitcoin has no value because you can't touch it. The drum he beats sounds something like “It can't be money because it has no intrinsic value.” and “Gold has intrinsic value because it can be used for jewelry and industry.”
He's engaged with bitcoiners so much, that I find it hard to believe that he cannot recognize the intrinsic value comes from the service it provides, not the physical utility. As of 2021, it's pretty obvious that being able to transfer digital points around the globe without an intermediary, and without fear of arbitrary inflation is a service that people want. The points themselves don't have value, but the function they perform helps us achieve many things, including global final settlement within minutes, micropayments, and peer-to-peer digital payments.
The network is called Bitcoin, and the points are called bitcoin (lower case ‘b'). That's digital money, baby! Try sending $0.30 worth of gold through the internet and see what happens.
Personally, I think he's just farming engagement on social media for fun and exposure, but who knows?
These are really smart, successful people who simply refuse to acknowledge any kind of value being attributed to bitcoin. There are legitimate criticisms of bitcoin worth considering, but “being a bubble” and “having no value” is no longer a valid argument. Maybe in 2010 or 2013 you could have said something like that, but by now, it's clear that bitcoin is not going to zero.
Bitcoiners Are Passionate About Changing The World For The Better
Bitcoin is not a cult, but once you take the orange pill and go down the rabbit hole, you start to see the world through a different lens. Money is arguably one of the founding pillars of any society, and when the money is corrupted, the incentives are corrupted as well. This is how many bitcoiners see things. Fix the money, fix the world.
Whether that's true or not, bitcoiners are passionate about it and their goal is ultimately to make the world a better place by separating money from state. By getting incorruptible money into the hands of everyday people so they can trade peer-to-peer, without the permission of a corporation or government, the world will become a wealthier place.
Some bitcoiners do this by mining with off-grid energy, reducing methane emissions, or by helping city power grids with load balancing. Some bitcoiners do this by abstracting away complicated processes into an easy-to-use iPhone app. Some bitcoiners do this just by creating funny, viral memes that keep others from wasting money on scams.
There are bitcoiners who own very little bitcoin, and there are bitcoiners who are incredibly wealthy. There are bitcoiners who are public influencers, and those who are completely anonymous.
It's a very diverse community. We're just passionate about being the positive change we want to see and doing the work to make it happen.