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! The way they talk about it non-stop and get defensive if you say anything bad about it kinda makes them sound like bitcoin is a cult.
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-evangelists that you might recognize, and offer some explanation for those behaviors.
And if you learn anything from this article, it should be that you do not have to go all in and be part of this fanatic group of bitcoiners in order to benefit from owning and using bitcoin. Much like gold, dollars, and other forms of money, all types of characters use money.
Are you in the same group as rapper who throws dollars into the air at the club? No. Are you responsible for terrorists who get paid in dollars and gold? No. Does it matter what anyone wearing gold jewelry does if you own some gold in a safe? No.
Similarly, if you own bitcoin, you do not have to associate yourself with what’s typically portrayed as a bitcoin-bro or whatever else.
That being said, we’re always happy to have another orange-pilled psychopath join our ranks, so keep learning about bitcoin and you might just fit in.
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.
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. 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 de facto “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. There have been some strong voices over the years, but many have come and gone. In fact, Class of 2023 bitcoiners might not even recognize some of the names.
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 is just a guy who likes Bitcoin, likes buying bitcoin, and likes talking about Bitcoin. There are thousands of people who are more influential in actually writing bitcoin code. Saylor is just an advocate and educator.
Bitcoin Influencers Hold Divergent Opinions
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, progressives, 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.
To Leave Bitcoin, Just Sell Your Bitcoin
One of the common signs of being in a cult is that it’s hard to leave.
If you don’t want bitcoin anymore, you just sell your bitcoin and then you’re done. Easy. Nobody knows you exist.
What you see sometimes online is that if you are a big Bitcoin influencer and suddenly become anti-bitcoin, there will be be some social consequences.
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, Roger Ver, 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.
It may seem harsh, but it makes clear who is advocating for bitcoin, and who’s getting paid to promote dog shit online so they can get paid behind the scenes, 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 honest folks who are simply ignorant to what they’re promoting. They’ve seen trends come and go, so, when they see shit they don’t like, they call it out. Some people refer to this as toxic maximalism, but being mean doesn’t mean you’re in a cult.
3. There Is No Requirement To Buy Into Bitcoin 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 a curiosity about what might happen in the future.
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 for the same bitcoin as hydro and nuclear power plants?
Everyone brings something different to the table, and there’s no one single way to be a bitcoiner.
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).
Yet, the other day I saw a bitcoin influencer saying he wanted to buy a Ford Raptor, one of the most expensive trucks available. He’s a bitcoiner as much as the guy who lives in a run down trailer in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming.
What you see online is just social media jokes and 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. If you step outside that bubble and go to some in-person meetups, people are pretty normal.
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.
Inscriptions, Taproot, and The Blocksize War
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.
Even more recent, and still ongoing (2023) is the topic of inscriptions, which are being used to place code for images on the blockchain. It’s causing fees to spike, but paying miners more, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it (yet). Some people love it, some people hate it.
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
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-Like Attributes Of Bitcoin Subculture
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.
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 And Conspiracies
Discovering what money is, was a truly eye-opening experience for me. I had never really considered things like how money is created, and how it’s been manipulated in a way that helps the rich.
For myself, and for many others, a distrust of traditional financial systems where it stops.
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.
Some go deeper.
I guess my answer here is that this stuff is not limited to bitcoin culture. We see extreme ideas on all sides of the political and cultural spectrum. With bitcoin appealing to such a broad audience, there are going to be some nutty personalities.
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 use is 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.
Nouriel Roubini And Nassim Taleb
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.
Somehow, both of these numbnuts found their way to a BSV conference.
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 physicality of it.
Personally, I think he’s just farming engagement on social media for fun and exposure, but who knows? After all, he recently promote an NFT collection on bitcoin, so I guess if he’s paid enough he’ll decide to be on team bitcoin. Yikes. What a douche.
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.
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.