Breaking through the blockchain echo-chamber: what I learned from arguing with visionaries on the internet

It's been a harrowing and lengthy internal debate for me trying to decide whether to publish this post. On the one hand, I've annoyed somebody very influential and this is likely to be seen as "poking the bear". Or it could be viewed as the plaintive whining of a someone with a fragile emotional constitution. It might not be a great career move.

On the other hand, it's clear to me that something is very wrong with how things unfolded. There are aspects of power imbalance, racism, privilege, suppression and misinformation at play here. It's not ok. The world should not be like this. Innovators should be supporting innovation, not stifling it.

It's been said before that blockchain is a 1% conversation, but in my experience the percentage is even smaller. There are a lot of hidden interests in the space— particularly people with huge financial investments and a lot to lose who don't take kindly to being challenged on their versions of progress. Not even by those who travel in their circles. If I am being attacked and silenced - as a white male software engineer - then what hope is there for anyone in a marginalised group to be heard?

Maybe all that writing this will achieve is that I look a bit silly, make an enemy and my life gets slightly more difficult. Maybe I've already made an enemy and writing this will make no difference at all. Who knows. I'm sure all of us involved are already more than a little ashamed of some of the things we said. I can only hope the overall outcomes of this piece will be constructive rather than destructive.

Because in the end, I have to go with "fuck it". This article isn't for that person. When I sit back and ask myself, "why did it matter so much", there's only one way to go with this. This article is for others with big ideas and small voices who would let themselves be pushed out of the debate. So I'll try to leave emotion and names out of it, and discuss what happened in the abstract. These themes affect all of us. It's important.

You don't have to accept baseless accusations from powerful people

This is really the entire reason I engaged with the debate in the first place. When someone is well known and well respected, there's a way that people will take what they say as gospel without actually stopping to question it. Having a lot of followers is a great responsibility, but I think a lot of people don't take it very seriously.

If you observe something that feels to you like a misrepresentation of truth, you don't have to just let it pass by. You're allowed to ask for clarification and explanation. You're allowed to press people on their opinions. It's potentially a very dangerous and vulnerable thing to do, but that option is open to you.

Your heroes are just like you

It's a mistake to place anybody else above yourself. We all have strengths and weaknesses and exceed each other in different ways. Don't ever feel like another person is universally better than you- they aren't. Don't expect that someone will behave politely, responsibly and intelligently just because they're an intellectual. Some intellectuals are assholes.

It's a very strange feeling to have your perception of someone slip from hero all the way down to petulant child in the space of a few hours. I'm not saying they are a petulant child, but they can certainly behave like one- we all can. Again, we're all just people and are all prone to the same weaknesses. Your heroes are just like you. Expect the worst traits from them as you would anyone else, so that you're almost always pleasantly surprised when they turn out to be genuinely nice people.

Your opinion matters

Don't let anyone push you out of the debate or make you feel small. Don't let them condescend to you or tell you that you have no voice. Especially if you are a woman, a minority, younger than they are or simply have fewer credentials— your opinion is even more important if you identify with a group who's voice is typically unheard.

If what you have to say feels important to you, it is absolutely worth saying. Be ready to be humble. Be ready to be wrong. But never let that stop you having a voice. At worst you will learn something and offer the same learning to those who read it. You will still be acting in service to yourself and to us all. Make your voice heard.

Experts can be stupid

Let's acknowledge the idea that experts don't have all the answers. The concept of "expert ignorance" is now fairly well travelled, and I can give an example from my own life:

One night, some friends and I were sitting around at home waiting for another friend to arrive. She was lost, and we had to send her a map. "I've got this!", I exclaimed, "I'm a geek!". I looked up Google Maps on my phone, but couldn't remember how to take a screenshot. I switched to the computer to take a picture there, but didn't have a USB cable handy to transfer the image over. Eventually we ended up drawing an awful hand-drawn map, took a photo and sent her that. She called us shortly after— "This is illegible. Why don't you just take a photo of the computer?"

And that's the thing; as a career software developer, someone who has had the experience of working for places where people would send in photos of their goddamn PDF files... I'd blocked that from my solutions thinking because taking a photo of a screen seemed so ridiculous to me. I was blind to it.

Sometimes fresh opinions are the best opinions. Sometimes dumb ideas are just brilliant things we haven't thought of yet. It goes both ways. Let's keep our ears open. All opinions and perspectives are valid.

Debate is never easy

Debating a topic in front of a global audience is good and bad. On the one hand, it forces people to be accountable. When they get off track, ask for clarification. Calm and conscious communication is a lifelong skill that you will never master.

It's like popping a pimple. People get shitty when you press them, but eventually you break through and everyone's forced to calm down and run through their reason— in the end you come to some gentler place where we all seem to basically see eye-to-eye and at least amicably disagree on the few points we still differ on.

So when you're sworn at, diminished, condescended to, racially judged, abused for being racist and anything else the world could throw at you (because it might)— make yourself heard, keep calm, take breaks, sit in the forest, go to comedy shows, slow down, dig deeper and repeat your need for clarification when you're not being acknowledged. Force them to engage with you. Pop the pimple, clarity will come.

Eventually you can come to some consensus, and with the right tools based on the right ideas we might even just be able to co-create those futures.

Getting to the truth of things is worth the fight

It's a hard fight, to be sure— but when you come out the other side the world will be better for having that knowledge.

In the end, people will appreciate that you put in the effort:

Whether or not we get the future we deserve is entirely dependent on whether or not we, collectively, engage with this process. On how closely we relate with these experiments, and on how deeply we inspect and question what they're doing. If we — as a people, as a species — allow others to go off into virtual ivory towers and build as they please without our understanding, comprehension or feedback; we'll get the future they decide. Whether it's the software engineers or the bankers or cypherpunks or corporations or communities.

It doesn't have to be a "war" between opposing interests. If you want to build something that works for everyone, just make sure everyone is engaged in building it.

So get off your asses, get off your high horses, realise that the social contracts we engage with and the interactions built into our society are now entirely open for review and come help upgrade them with us.

Otherwise, we will.