‘Animal Farm’ and Bitcoin Core

I read Animal Farm for the first time since 7th grade on my flight from Tokyo yesterday and it struck me as the “must-read” book for people who want insights into the methods by which Bitcoin Core has controlled the narrative about BTC and Bitcoin Cash. [1]

Writing about the Russian Revolution’s failures, Orwell imagined a rebellion led by two pigs and farm animals against their human owner that replaces him with a commune of animals running his farm. For a while, things appear to be going well. The farm reorganizes along ostensibly egalitarian lines with the animal workers being rewarded for their labor according to need. Morale is high, food is plenty, and the animals are proud of what they have done.

Mirroring Russia, where Stalin replaced Trotsky and Lenin’s vision with the Gulag camps and a system of brutal corruption and repression, one of the leading pigs ousts the other and declares him an enemy of the farm. He then sets up a dictatorship that gradually rewrites the farm’s original egalitarian codes to justify the takeover while pretending the rules were always that way. [1] A ruling class of pigs emerges that lord over the other animals with claims of higher knowledge and importance to the cause. [2]

The leaders of Animal Farm maintain thought control by obscuring the facts with smokescreens, rewriting history, creating conspiracy theories about pending attacks, faking victims, slander, scapegoating, murdering opposition, outrageous public works projects to keep the animals busy, and through a large group of useful idiots  — sheep — that spread their message unthinkingly and distract dissenters. By the end of the book, Animal Farm has been renamed Manor Farm and the ruling pigs are walking on two legs like the humans they overthrew. All pretenses of the original egalitarian utopianism are gone and the animals are weak, starving and downtrodden.

In these ways, the allegory to Bitcoin Core is almost perfect. The pigs in our BTC story are Core developers who stole Gavin Andresen’s commit access on the false grounds that his account was “compromised” and created the narrative that he was out to destroy Bitcoin. Figures like Mike Hearn, Roger Ver, or thousands of people on r/bitcoin are the dissent that is ousted. Instead of egalitarian codes, they rewrote the Bitcoin code and pretended that 1mb blocks were a core feature, not a temporary measure, and that Bitcoin was always meant to be slow, expensive digital gold. They even discuss “updating” the white paper and changing the Proof-of-Work, similar to how the pigs in the novel regularly repaint their public list of “commandments.” At one point, the pigs claim that dissent is an attack on the entire farm instead of reasonable attempts to preserve the original goals of the farm. Core sees criticism of their agenda as an attack on the idea of Bitcoin itself.

Throughout the book, the pigs tell the animals that the other farms are “about to attack” to create fear and revolutionary sentiment. In our story, Core spreads fear of any and every business in the Bitcoin space that decides to accept Bitcoin Cash, labels them scammers or criminals, and pushes the false idea that they are colluding to destroy Bitcoin Core. [3] The ousted leading pig is never seen again but he is said to be always around the corner ready to attack the animals, though like Core’s claim that Bitcoin Cash is making people lose money, no victim is ever supplied. When things don’t go well with their farming methods and their public works projects, the pigs claim the animals need to work harder towards salvation. They demand they give more of themselves instead of questioning the system itself, which is uncomfortably similar to Core’s constant admonitions that people be more patient with Segwit and Lightning Network, and their years of promises that the fix is right around the corner. They say to put more work into it instead of opting out for the obviously easier solution of raising the block sizes.

False victory narratives are created to hide losses. In one such example, the pigs put food at the top of buckets full of sand to pretend they are producing plenty. In our story, Core claims Segwit has fixed the block size debate when it is really the transaction volume that has dropped. If questioned at all, the pigs argue that they are smarter than the rest of the animals and that they couldn’t possibly understand, while Core tells us not to question their decisions because they “are the most competent developers in the world.” The similarities are uncanny.

Orwell even anticipated the masses of Core trolls on Twitter. One of the pigs’ propaganda tools are the sheep on the farm who take to baaing “four legs good, two legs bad” whenever a discussion might happen about the direction in which the farm is going. In our reality, “four legs good, two legs bad” has been replaced with “bcash bcash bcash” but the effect has been roughly the same: distraction. Another propaganda tool is the character of Squealer, a fat spokespig for the ruling class that is “charged with the task of reconciling the irreconcilable and parsing the absurdities of non sequitur pronouncements from the pigs’ administration.” I’ll leave it to my readers’ imaginations to find the Core counterpart…

And by the end of it all, we have a settlement layer that resembles Lightning Coin more than Bitcoin. It is unreliable, often slow and expensive, and is used almost exclusively to trade digital tokens on exchanges instead of the revolutionary decentralized digital cash we were promised.

We’re told by the pigs that this was always the plan and that it was achieved by “consensus.” Apparently some Bitcoiners are more equal than other Bitcoiners.

But like the donkey Benjamin in Animal Farm who cryptically says “donkey’s live a long time,” we know better.

Like this essay? You can support my Bitcoin Cash writing here. Also see Re: Bitcoin Core and ‘Animal Farm’ for a response to a popular criticism of this essay and further elaboration on the points.

[1] I don’t mean to compare everyone to communists here. Communism and Bolshevism were great evils that were vicious in theory and disastrous in practice.

[2] Two quotes from the novel are illustrative:

No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be? – Orwell, Animal Farm

“Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples.’  Orwell, Animal Farm

[3] The list grows longer every day but here are some links: boycott BitPay, boycott Coinbase, boycott Bitcoin.com, and boycott Shapeshift.