Is Bitcoin Maximalism a cult?

image.png

After the Bitcoin 2021 in Miami, there has been a fair bit of discussion on the cultish nature of Bitcoiners/Bitcoin Maximalists on Twitter. My aim here is to try to evaluate how much of the characteristics of a cult there are, for Bitcoin Maximalists in particular. The same could be done for Bitcoiners broadly, or for the crypto community as a whole, or other subgroups in crypto community.

As a former Bitcoin Maximalist who is now much more into Hive, I have a biased perspective. That doesn't mean my view should be dismissed outright, but you should understand and be aware of that bias.

It might also be fair to separate Maximalism from what is being called "Toxic Maximalism", which is not just focusing on one crypto alone, but also being actively hostile to competing cryptocurrencies and the people who use them. I like to think of this as "ultra maximalism", taking maximalism to a further extreme. It's possible that my commentary below is limited to this group, but it appears to be a loud and dominant group in Bitcoin culture now.

Characteristics of a cult

The characteristics I will discuss all come from here. I will try my best to fairly evaluate each one, and give an overall score based on a point per characteristic. This is an informal, unscientific method, but in general the more cultish a group is, the higher they should score.

The group displays an excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, and (whether he is alive or dead) regards
his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

Satoshi is absolutely treated with near religious irreverance in the Bitcoin community. Michael Saylor for example described bitcoin nodes as "shrines to Satoshi" at Bitcoin 2021. People argue endlessly about what Satoshi actually intended, using his BitcoinTalk forum posts as well as the actual source code he produced, as evidence for "Satoshi's Vision" of what Bitcoin should be.

However, despite the irreverance, Satoshi is not treated as an absolute authority, and Bitcoin maximalists are often openly willing to diverge from Satoshi when they do acknowledge that their own idea for what Bitcoin is or should be diverges from what Satoshi said. For that reason, I give this a half point.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

This is certainly true of Bitcoin maximalists today. For evidence, look at how the crowd at Bitcoin 2021 responded to Floyd Merryweather and Erik Voorhees. I give this 1 point.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, or debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

Aside from psychadelic drug use being popular among some crypto subcultures, in general this isn't a major thing. I will score this 0 points.

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (e.g., members must get permission to date, change jobs, or marry—or leaders prescribe what to wear, where to live, whether to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

I have not seen any evidence of this. 0 points.

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (e.g., the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

I have not seen much evidence of this, I will score this 0.

The group has a polarized, us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

This is absolutely the case for maximalists in particular, especially toxic maximalists. Maximalists are frequently openly hostile to groups whom they call "nocoiners", "altcoiners/shitcoiners" and the traditional establishment. There is very much a polarized, embattled mentality against the competition, the establishment and skeptics. 1 point.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

I don't think Bitcoin maximalists hold their own accountable as they should, for example BitFinex and Tether are given massively undue leeway when it comes to stolen/lost funds and lack of transparency, and indeed they prefer to attack skeptics/critics. However I will score this 0 as the point is more focused on "leadership".

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (e.g., lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

There are some of the above behaviours among Bitcoin maximalists, eg. the embracing of a strong man dictator who has seized all branches of government in his country and marched the army into parliament to pass his bills, however I don't think Bitcoin maximalists teach that Bitcoin should be promoted "by any means necessary". 0 points.

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and control members. Often this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Shame and guilt for dissent - absolutely. If you dissent from the Bitcoin narrative, even Elon Musk is not above being mobbed with abuse on Twitter. 1 point.

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

I have not seen major evidence for this. 0 points.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

There is abundant evidence for this. 1 point.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

No comment necessary. 1 point.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

Spending enormous amounts of time and money promoting Bitcoin is treated as virtuous. I don't think it's expected of everyone. I give this a half point.

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

I have not seen evidence of this. 0 points.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave—or even consider leaving—the group.

Ostracism for former Bitcoiners is very much a thing. Look at how Roger Ver was treated before and after the Bitcoin Cash split. Or even how Vitalik Buterin is treated by Bitcoin Maximalists. 1 point.

Conclusion

Totalling the scores above, the result is 7 points out of a possible 15 points. Bitcoin Maximalism does have some characteristics of a cult, but there are as many cult characteristics that don't seem to apply to Bitcoin. Would you score it differently than I did? An extension of this would be to score some groups that are widely agreed to be cults, as well as groups that are widely considered to be normal and non-cultish, to see how scores compare. As mentioned before, the method can also be applied to any subgroup in crypto, or crypto as a whole.

2 Comments