As a believer in Bitcoin, the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency, I hope to see it continue to flourish and eventually become the backbone of many facets of daily life, from banking, ownership, to gaming. But a toxic movement, mostly on Twitter, of Bitcoin maximalists threatens this vision with their extremism.
What Is Bitcoin Maximalism?
To maximalists, who include some of Bitcoin’s early miners and adopters, Bitcoin is the only true cryptocurrency, and all others are distractions and/or scams. Now, possibly due to complacency, or out of habit from the older days of the block size wars, they’ve settled on an argument that Bitcoin should strictly stick to being a digital asset, and not become an ecosystem enabling blockchain applications such as decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — utilities that enabled the rise of competing blockchains such as Ethereum and Solana.
I should say off the bat that there’s nothing inherently problematic with being a “bitcoin maximalist.” After all, the dictionary definition of a maximalist is a person who is not prepared to compromise, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But the maximalist movement has been hijacked by a small vocal minority of toxic maximalists. The silent majority of Bitcoin holders want to see Bitcoin grow, and for the premier cryptocurrency to be more than just “digital gold.” Ultimately, however, there’s a limited market capitalization for gold. The ceiling for an asset that could serve as the foundation for an entire digital economy is significantly higher.
Bitcoin’s future should neither be threatened nor held hostage by toxic maximalists. Most people I speak with, whether online or at developer conferences, want their Bitcoin to be more productive, and they want to see more innovation, with decentralized apps built on top of its reliable and secure blockchain. Why should Bitcoin be left out of the kinds of capital and talent influx we see in other ecosystems?
Failure to take control of the narrative will stymie Bitcoin’s potential. Despite the beliefs of these toxic maxis, Bitcoin will not magically keep growing more and more valuable. Even if these maximalists believe that other projects would never take over Bitcoin in terms of market cap, data shows that people are already using Ethereum more, as revealed by transaction fees and settlements.
Why does Ethereum have higher usage? It’s been easier to develop for. (That changed within the past few years for Bitcoin with the launch of Stacks’ Mainnet, Lightning Network, and RSK.) Bitcoin has historically lacked developers, and this has created a self-fulfilling prophecy where Bitcoin projects lack funding, leaving potential improvements for Bitcoin in the research and development phase instead of shipped to production. Bitcoin developers within the Stacks ecosystem have told us that toxic maximalists are pushing them to work on other blockchains.
We need to be open to what the data around blockchain usage is telling us: that a blockchain such as Ethereum, inviting more innovation, more developers, more use cases, and more applications helps it grow and stay competitive with other projects.
I like to think of myself and others who agree with me as “Bitcoin Optimalists.” An optimalist (a concept I learned about from angel investor and entrepreneur Balaji S. Srinivasan) is open and curious, and seeks constant growth and improvement. They ask questions such as, “How do we grow the GDP of Bitcoin? How do we bring more builders?” Diversity is better, not worse. We need more ideas on Bitcoin, not less. History is full of once-successful companies that went out of business because they stopped innovating. “Optimalism” is also distinct from just “optimism” — you can be an optimist about Bitcoin’s future, but an optimalist is more pragmatic and action-oriented.
This isn’t an unrealistic concept. Zest, Satoshibles, and StackerDAO Labs respectively show that DeFi, NFTs, and decentralized autonomous organizations can not only be built on top of Bitcoin, but thrive.
The ideas behind Bitcoin and crypto at large have gone far based on people’s beliefs — that the world benefits from a currency that can’t be manipulated by central authorities and moves at the speed of information. But the Bitcoin maxi community must continue to evolve and embrace innovation, or risk becoming irrelevant. The community needs to leave behind the idea that Bitcoin will continue to grow in value just because it popularized cryptocurrencies — optimalists need to keep pushing it forward.
As Bitcoin optimalists, we need to take back the narrative from a toxic minority who keep getting in the way of Bitcoin’s progress.