Vitalik Buterin wrote the Ethereum white paper when he was just 19. His aim was simple yet comprehensive, to create a ‘world computer’ that was designed to be a flexible base layer for all online applications without the need of any third party. Since its inception in 2015, Ethereum has become the most active and largest smart contracts platform, but has it achieved the ‘world computer’ goal?
Vitalik says yes and no. In this interview, it seemed like almost a given to Vitalik that Ethereum will achieve this goal. The bigger concern is not whether the network becomes a settlement layer and decentralized engine for smart contracts used globally, but how much value and impact applications running on top of it will bring.
Vitalik explains the significance of the upcoming merge between the proof of stake chain and its application layer, walks us through the different stages of the process, and provides guidance as to when it will happen. We also discuss why decentralization matters anyway, and whether the user experience of web3 could ever be the core appeal of decentralized apps, beyond censorship resistance. We talk about the current regulatory status for crypto and how, to him, it risks falling into an “anarcho-tyranny.”
Vitalik also takes on criticisms and explains why he believes Ehereum’s design is a sustainable way forward. We discussed the tradeoffs in a multi-chain future, cancel culture permeating into the Ethereum community, and stick around till the end when Vitalik comments on what makes him defiant.
The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov and Daniel Flynn. Transcript was edited by Samuel Haig.
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👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.
Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum Will Most Likely Be Mainstream and the Most Secure Base Layer
Cami Russo: Welcome, Vitalik, to The Defiant Podcast. I’m so thrilled to have you here!
Vitalik Buterin: Thank you very much, Camila. It’s good to be here.
CR: For those of you who don’t know Vitalik— I’m sure everyone listening will know him — but Vitalik Buterin wrote the Ethereum Whitepaper in 2013 when he was just 19 years old. He inspired a group of dreamers to help him build this new blockchain that was meant to be a flexible base-layer on top of which to build decentralized applications — a so-called “world computer” that could run any program built on top of it without the need of a third party.
So Vitalik, Ethereum launched in 2015 — in the almost seven years since would you say it has succeeded in becoming a ‘world computer’?
VB: I think it’s definitely succeeded at a lot of things. I think [Ethereum has] definitely succeeded at kind of making… most of the applications that were described in the original whitepaper actually happen, and people actually being able to use them, and seeing what they would actually look like. And a lot of them have quite a few people either playing around with them or using them to do things that they really need.
The thing that it hasn’t really accomplished is getting to the entire world. If the concept of a world computer in the sense of it’s a computer that anyone in the world can look at and has at least some basic ability to send programs into and not just read from it but also write to it, I think Ethereum has done that.
There’s also this kind of more expansive meaning that I think a lot of people read into it which is ‘the world only needs one computer now and it can be Ethereum’ — that was never the intent, I don’t think Gavin was thinking about that at all when the term came up.
But then there’s also this idea that’s been in the project since the beginning that this its supposed to be a platform that is really accessible to the world, and not just in a theoretical way but also in a very meaningful way where lots of people can and are accessing it and there aren’t big barriers standing in the way.
And I think there’s definitely quite a bit of progress that has been made. About a month and a half ago I visited Argentina and I saw first-hand the kinds of diverse people that were using both Ethereum and other blockchains of different kinds as just a regular part of their lives and their businesses and their attempts to save money, start projects, pay people, and just do all kinds of normal things.
But at the same time, there are these high transaction fees, there’s all of these usability barriers, and there’s all of these problems that are still left. If we want to really fully achieve that vision, I do still think that there’s quite a lot of work still left to go — obviously work that we had hoped would be finished by now or even by 2016. Software always takes longer to develop than people predict, so that’s fine. But obviously the sooner we can actually get all of that work being done, the better and the closer that Ethereum can come to actually reaching this bigger part of its original vision.
CR: Yeah, I totally agree with that view of Ethereum achieving its vision of becoming a world computer in the sense that it really has achieved most of the applications that and you even listed in the original Whitepaper. And I just went back and looked at those applications — you had said Ethereum would be good for token systems, for derivatives and stablecoins, for identity and reputation systems, decentralized file storage, DAOs, savings, insurance, decentralized data feeds, multisig, cloud computing, gambling, prediction markets, and decentralized exchanges.
Maybe some are to a greater extent than others, but all of those applications are being built on top of Ethereum. But I think you’re very right to say [that] while it has become this infinitely flexible platform for builders, it’s not really accessible to everyone in the world as you and all of the builders of Ethereum had hoped for.
That takes me to the next question, which is: the next phase of Ethereum, which is meant to achieve this scalability, The Merge of the proof-of-stake consensus layer with the application layer currently on the proof of work chain, and of course this is a huge undertaking
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it hasn’t really ever been tried before, right? To kind of splice blockchains and piece them together to make a new blockchain — super complicated stuff — and of course that’s why it’s taken years to get to the stage where we’re finally very close to seeing that happen.
So the whole point of this is to allow Ethereum to scale and while also increasing decentralization. So what are the steps missing for The Merge to happen?
Progress toward The Merge
VB: At this point, it basically is testing. At this point, there are already some basic testnets and full implementations of everything that needs to happen for The Merge. There’s implementations of the consensus clients, there was implementations of what we call execution clients now — so Geth and Nethermind are the bigger ones.
Peter Salaggi, the lead dev of Geth, just tweeted out a few days ago that Geth is basically one PR away from being ready for The Merge. So PR means ‘pull request’ — it’s basically a big piece of code that gets suggested to be added to Geth project and then it’ll actually be added and included at some point fairly soon. But obviously there’s still quite a bit of testing left to go.
The piece that has seen the least testing and where there is still some finishing touches being done right now is what we call the initial sync process. This is when a node joins the network for the first time, how do they download the existing stats, what the existing account balances, contracts, code, and all of those things are so that they can then be part of the network and go from there,And there’s just some subtleties, the interaction between how the formerly proof-of-work side does it, and how the proof of stake side does it? So a bunch of technical stuff there, but also huge amounts of progress being made on it.
I think generally people are feeling very good about The Merge right now, it’s just a bunch of technical work, a bunch of testing, a bunch more testing, and hopefully we’re gonna be merging pretty soon.
CR: Okay, obviously the big question is when do you think that that’ll happen?
VB: Some people are saying June, some people say July or August — I don’t know.
CR: Once this happens it’s not like devs can just pack up their bags and go home, right? This is kind of the first step of a multi-year and very complex process.
Can you summarize the different stages that will happen post-merge until you think: ‘okay, Ethereum is finally complete’? I don’t know if you would ever be able to say that Ethereum is complete, but at least complete in this vision of it.
VB: I guess the closest thing we have to that summarized in the roadmap diagram that I tweeted out back in December, was the one that talked about the five buckets I used to organize what was left to be done.
You had The Merge, which was basically proof-of-stake. The Surge, which is increasing the capacity of the chain, basically doing sharding and doing a little bit more stuff before that, and some more stuff after that. Then there is The Verge, which is Verkle trees, basically a technology that makes it easier to validate the chain so nodes don’t have to be so heavy and require as big computers as before. Then there is The Purge, which is making the chain lighter and making the code lighter by not requiring every node in the network to process and store all of the old history. And then there is The Splurge, which is just everything else.
There’s a lot of different buckets there, there’s upgrades to the EVM, there’s proposer-builder separation, and there’s this fairly long list of various, miscellaneous buzzwords and fun items of different kinds. Then there’s longer term things, like ZK-snarks which are probably going to be everywhere in the Ethereum protocol five or ten years from now.
But that list of things — switch to proof-of-stake, add sharding so we have some scaling, make sure we have good rollups that are actually taking advantage of the sharding, make it easier for people to run nodes, make sure that we don’t centralize as a result of MEV and those kinds of issues, try to make the protocol less complex instead of more complex over time, and then make the EVM better — I think if we do all of those, and we just do the things that we know we have to do today, then Ethereum is in a place where [even] if nothing else is done… then we’re already in a great place.
If all we manage to do is a proof-of-stake and sharding, then I still think we’re still in a good place. There is a sense [that] there’s basic things that we can do, and then there’s extras, and then there’s extra extras. And the more extras we can do, in some ways the better the protocol Ethereum becomes, and even the simpler a protocol Ethereum becomes.
So there is this tradeoff where if we’re willing to accept more temporary complexity in the development process, then we might get out more long-term complexity in the protocol design. But if those don’t get done, then that’s also fine, so there is value in trying to solidify as many parts of the protocol as soon as we can, just so that people can feel safe and know this is actually how it is going to work for the long term.
CR: So basically you have a set of must-haves, and a set of nice-to-haves in this entire roadmap. Is it fair to say the must-halves are a proof-of-stake and sharding, and then all the rest would be good to have?
VB: I think so.
CR: When sharding is working and there are rollups to further increase scalability,
do you think that at this stage, Ethereum would be able to be the single settlement layer for global economic activity?
VB: I think it’ll definitely be big enough to be able to do that. I mean there is still obviously the question of ‘will everyone be willing to move all of their activity onto the same blockchain, or even any blockchain?’ But just from a pure ‘can it handle the transactions’ point of view, it will be able to.
CR: Would that be the most desirable outcome for you?
VB: That’s a good question, ‘what would a long-term desirable outcome be for Ethereum?’ I guess aside from ‘are people using Ethereum,’ there is also the question of ‘how are people using ethereum,’ and ‘are people actually getting benefits from stuff being on the blockchain instead of stuff being done in some other way?’
For example, there’s a lot of projects that started off making kind of private blockchains, and that stuff basically just turned into basically creating centralized systems that might have like. A couple of extra signatures and a couple of extra hashes at a few places, but users never actually see and never actually really get any real security, or autonomy, or privacy, or any kind of benefit from that.
Once Ethereum becomes mainstream, then I personally will definitely start caring much of less about ‘is 30% of the world on Ethereum, or ‘10% of the world on ethereum’, and much more [on] what actual value Ethereum [is bringing] through these applications?
And that is something that I think is definitely really important to think about now. The bigger Ethereum gets, the more important it becomes to keep thinking about that issue.
CR: So for you, the most desirable outcome for Ethereum comes not through looking at the amount of people or the percentage of the world that’s using Ethereum, but what they are using it for. What would you want to see people using Ethereum for?
VB: Some of the things that I think people are using Ethereum for already… are valuable. One is obviously just a currency use-case, I think a lot of people do have needs that are just paying people, moving money between countries, savings, and while just ETH by itself provides a lot of that, there’s obviously a lot of people who don’t want to handle that much volatility, so stablecoins — whether it’s things like USDC or whether it’s the more decentralized ones like DAI and RAI. I think they provide a lot of that for people already. So that’s one.
Another would be DAOs. DAOs are being used to pool capital together to do interesting and meaningful things. CityDAO was one of my favorites, a DAO that’s actually trying to go through the Wyoming DAO law legally own and govern a new city. There is VitaDAO, which is funding life-extension research. I guess the one that kind of got big [recently] was AssangeDAO — that was funding legal defense for Julian Assange, and it looks it’s been getting a lot of money so it might even end up branching out beyond that, it depends what the community decides it’s going to be.
ConstitutionDAO I think was an interesting experiment, [but] I don’t think you know there is much direct social value that comes out of literally just owning a piece of the constitution, but just as a demonstration of ‘hey, the crypto community can get out there and basically outcompete wall street moguls and win and own big and important things’ — I think it was valuable as a demonstration and I think hopefully can give momentum to things like CityDAO and all these other experiments that could be really interesting.
I definitely want to see more DAOs of different kinds and DAOs being used to help people do things that they would not otherwise be able to do.
Prediction markets — I’ve been a fan of prediction markets for a long time, the idea of using economic incentives to encourage people to make predictions that are as accurate as they can.
One of the big problems right now with just listening to the media as it exists today is that people have these pressures… to make these really confident statements that make them sound like this really impressive alpha-reporter that knows their stuff, but when six weeks later it turns out to be complete bullshit people don’t really remember. And prediction markets, I think, are one really valuable experiment in seeing [if we can] create something better and create a tool to help people understand what’s more likely and less likely to happen in the future, that is more likely to give numbers that are actually sane and just not completely crazy.
Ethereum Name Services (ENS), I have always been a fan of. The concept of having names that are not owned by any one company, whether it’s a traditional DNS system or whether it’s Google or Facebook or any existing company, a name that you can actually own and trust that it is going to be yours and it doesn’t depend on any authorities to be able to continue to exist — I think it’s obviously been finding a lot of use within the Ethereum ecosystem.
I mean, if someone wants to send me ETH for whatever reason, which you I don’t totally don’t need anymore of, but if people wanted to, then they could just type in Vitalik.ETH in their Ethereum wallet and it would just resolve to my address automatically. That’s powerful and that’s really useful, but it’s also useful in a lot of other cases right. There’s chat applications where that just is what your username is, there’s a bunch more things that.
Sign-In With Ethereum, this movement that’s been growing in the last half year. Being able to use your Ethereum account to log into things as your kind of web identity, directly competing with Google identity and Twitter Identity and Facebook Identity. I think Sign-In With Ethereum is a really powerful tool because of how it composes with a lot of other things. When people use sign-in with Google for example, they’re often not just looking for ‘is this the same account that signed into this account [and] created this profile the first time right’ — often they’re looking for anti-spam, they don’t want people to be able to make 100,000 accounts and use them to make fake post fake posts or fake uploads for a whole bunch of things. And Google have this very weak form of KYC right, so you can get two or five accounts, but it’s hard to get 100,000 accounts.
That is something that the Ethereum ecosystem can provide as well, 100,000 accounts that have an ENS name [—] that’s just really expensive to do. It’s hard to get 100,000 proof-of-humanity profiles, it’s hard to get 100,000 Proof-Of-Attendance Protocol tokens…
I just think the Sign-In With Ethereum thing is a good example of how all of the different applications can start really start coming together and building on top of each other — so I think that’s really good and valuable too.
Some of the privacy-preserving decentralized voting stuff, the CLR funds would be one example, there’s a bunch of these quiet experiments. So far, they haven’t really gotten too far, but I think it’s also a great use-case of blockchains combined with some of the unique privacy-preserving Zerko-Knowledge stuff to basically make better governance tools.
So there’s this big list of what I think are actually interesting things that are happening more and more in Ethereum. And if we had even more ability for people to just to use cryptocurrency internationally, or use DAOs to organize — whether it’s businesses, or whether it’s new cities, or local projects, whether it’s a nonprofit, or not nonprofits, or activism, or funding scientific research, or whatever else — I think that would be really amazing to have.
The other one I think I didn’t mention, it’s this really interesting double-edged sword — is NFTs. It’s fascinating how they both end up funding completely crazy stuff and creating these embarrassing multimillion dollar splats on the internet, but also NFTs have funded a lot of really important things — they funded science research, they funded activism, they funded artists, they funded writers, and I think all of that stuff is really important too.
I think those kinds of things are growing, and I think being able to create applications that are actually meaningful and valuable [but] also that have that factor of getting degens excited, is something that would be really cool to see more of and I hope somehow the Ethereum ecosystem can figure more of that stuff out.
Why decentralization is critical to Ethereum
CR: It’s very notable that all the things that you mentioned are actually already happening on Ethereum because we could have had this conversation back in 2017 when there was and a lot of activity on Ethereum and a lot of speculation, but a lot of it was just speculation — fundraising is a use-case but that was pretty much it.
But now you mentioned all these things, a currency with cross-border transfers, remittances with stablecoins, DAOs, prediction markets, ENS, sign-ins, NFTs — all these things are actually happening. Even if some are smaller and just getting started, it’s very encouraging to see all these use cases actually working at the moment.
So to have all of this activity on Ethereum, going back to the previous questions [concerning] everything that needs to happen for Ethereum to scale and support all of this wild demand for block space to support all of these use-cases — someone might think ‘why not just increase ethereum block size… and instantly scale it?’
To summarize that thought, why does decentralization matter? I wanted to connect this question with your recent trip to Argentina — you mentioned there has been a lot of increased adoption of crypto in Argentina, but I heard you say in an interview… that a lot of it is happening on centralized exchanges.
So why is decentralization important? And how do you balance the fact for builders and people inside the space — for many of us it’s clear why — but for the end-user, it sometimes isn’t?
VB: I think decentralization is one of those things that’s difficult to understand why it’s important until suddenly it becomes really obvious why it’s important.
The most important thing is just being able to build on a platform and an ecosystem where you know it’s not just going to go in some completely different direction that breaks everything that you were trying to build on top of it just because it’s in some small groups or group of people’s interests. Or even just because some group of people get lazy and decide to stop maintaining something that they were maintaining.
So decentralization being about long term stability is something that I think is really important, especially decentralization as a long-term stability even in the face of often very strong incentives. So there’s a lot of examples of people building on top of Twitter or Facebook and they built entire businesses around the APIs of these companies, and then suddenly the companies themselves decided [to] shut down those APIs.. for whatever… reason. And these people’s life’s work just ends up being completely destroyed. And even if that doesn’t happen, then when these things become very single these single central points of failure, then often there end up being these other forces that end up leaning on them.
And one of the challenges when you start having lots of these centralized intermediaries is that there’s a lot of people in the world who want lots of different kinds of groups of people to not be able to transact, not be able to live regular economic lives. And this group of people is much larger than any group of people that would dare write a law write making it illegal, the set of things that are censored is much much bigger than the set of things that’s illegal. There’s a lot of very legal industries — whether it’s political activism, or sex the industry, or psychedelics — that end up getting targeted often through these very non-transparent and very non-democratic channels where they just lean on a couple of people that are high up in the middle of some payment processor… Often centralized companies will just decide to not serve entire countries because they just decide that entire country is too much of a money laundering risk or whatever, and that’s something that ends up hurting and excluding often hundreds of millions of people. I mean, I was born in one of these countries that gets discriminated against in this way quite a bit.
So if you’re on a decentralized system, then you know that you’re not going to be singled out in that way just because of either who you are, or just because who you are ends up vaguely falling [into] a category that someone somewhere decided that they don’t like. So I think creating this kind of counter pressure against what I think would very easily emerge if everything [were] dependent on centralization — where there’s like five different people in between every transaction and if you just lean on any one of the give hard enough, then people can just lose their ability to transaction — is something that’s important.
And even in the absence of that kind of pressure. I think just creating things where you know that they will keep existing in the same form five years from now is something that a lot of people just underrate and that I think is really valuable… I think the Internet Archive makes life a lot a lot easier for people because sometimes someone wrote something, and then that thing that someone wrote becomes really important, and everyone starts building on top of it. And then, for whatever reason— it could even be that their hosting provider just went out of business, or some totally stupid reason — that page is not accessible a good ten or fifteen years in the future.
And often the links break, which is really sad, and I think more decentralization, not necessarily blockchains but things like IPFS, could actually fix. But you have the Internet Archive and at least you can go and find something that existed ten or fifteen years ago, But where is the Internet Archive for programs? What if I want to build some financial thing, and I want to build my financial thing on top of Uniswap because my financial thing needs just some ability to trade tokens around, then I would feel much easier if I knew that Uniswap would actually exist five years from now or 10 years from now. Because otherwise, for every single dependency that I add, I’m basically taking on the responsibility that ;oh they might decide to change or disappear and then I’ll have to scramble and figure out some new thing to go and replace it with. So that is something that I think is important for applications — it’s definitely important for applications that are building on top of other applications.
So, to summarize, there are different reasons why I think decentralization can be important for different people, and I do think that all of them are valuable. I think decentralization is more valuable the closer you are to doing something where you really need to be sure that the thing that you’re doing will continue to be possible to do two years or five years from now. If it’s the sort of thing where you’re just doing some one-time thing, if it stops working you can switch to doing a different thing tomorrow then you don’t actually necessarily need much decentralization — maybe you just need competition. And you could say competition is actually a kind of decentralization.
But on the other hand, if you are doing something you need to commit to for a long time, it’s better. Especially if you know that it’s the sort of thing where powerful interests might want it to not exist, then decentralization is useful for you. But also if you’re doing something across a large community, where it’s difficult for you to agree on exactly which centralized app authorities should be trusted — that’s a place where decentralization becomes more and more important.
Does everybody need decentralization?
CR: So you mentioned all of these reasons why decentralization is important, of course for communities and groups of people in repressed or censored societies it’s super important for developers or builders who need to be sure that their rules aren’t going to be changed in the future, or that their application can keep running forever — that’s super important. But do you think there’s a set of people or applications that simply don’t need decentralization? Because right now, I think there’s just this push to… ring every application of the internet on top of blockchains… Do you think that’s necessary?
VB: There’s definitely lots of applications that don’t need decentralization. There are also a lot of applications that I think could use partial decentralization, but probably don’t need a very purist approach of ‘no servers, ‘we do everything on IPFS and on-chain’.
So social media might even be a good example of that. I think there could be a lot of benefit from creating some kind of social media ecosystem where if I make a post, then that post’s ongoing existence does not depend on one single company deciding that it should continue existing, and the post and the hash of that post just lives on its own, and other people can link to it, other people can like it, other people can retweet it,and you would have these different and often centralized algorithms and interfaces for interacting with that content. But because they don’t kind of control the content to the same extent, it would be easier to move between them — I think that vision is valuable. But to get the value, you don’t really need to go to 100% decentralization — there is a lot of value that you can gain from 20% decentralization or 40% decentralization, I think that’s totally fine.
Another example might be websites for booking flights, because the thing that you’re ultimately buying is still a centralized thing — it’s a promise from a particular company to give you a seat. If one of the platforms for doing this breaks or decides to censor you, you can just go on the three or four other ones anyway, and there’s even more than three of four of them at this point. So things that — when you’re just interacting with something kind of one-time — then often decentralization is not really needed. If… the things that you’re doing kind of follow along very established patterns that are very similar to what plenty of other people are doing, and that has a lot of mainstream support, and your entire life is that — then you might not benefit from decentralization that much.
But even there, you could make the case that you should get an ENS name and start setting up your profile just in case that’s something you want in the future, or that you should put at least a couple percent of your money in cryptocurrency just in case something happens to your to your local fiat currency. But there’s definitely a lot of people that don’t really have… this large value that they get from blockchainifying their lives. And then there’s other people [who are ignorant] to blockchain… and I think there’s [also] an entire spectrum in the middle.
CR: Do you think there’s a case to be made for blockchain and web3 to be used not because of its censorship-resistance properties, but just because it’s better [and] easier. For example… interacting with DeFi applications — for me, that’s just better than having to have a password and email and you log-in code for every different web 2.0 application. I could see having this integrated value layer on the internet being better than having this kind of separate financial system that is also segmented by geography — and that’s a lot clunkier than to transact online in a way that’s not natively online.
So do you think there’s a case to be made that maybe web3 is just better, even if some people don’t require the decentralization aspect?
VB: Yeah. I think for international money transfer, crypto is often already better than the banking system. I actually even had to deal with this fairly recently [while] trying to send money to a friend who had a bank account with one of the smaller banks that you can’t easily route things directly to, and so we have to use some corresponding banking thing. I ended up figuring out how to make a banking transfer so it would get there from my Singapore bank account, but it was really complicated — when I did it I wasn’t even sure that I was doing it correctly, and it ended up taking something two weeks to arrive, and that entire process was fairly stressful. So I basically told them ‘hey, can you please set up a channel to accept at least USDC or DAI or [another stablecoin]’.
For me personally, even just as someone who donates to charities quite a bit for example, crypto is a vastly better channel than anything in the banking system, despite [charities] having no need for censorship-resistance.
You could obviously argue that in some ways it’s still benefiting from censorship-resistance indirectly because traditional finance just inherently relies on all of these different intermediaries. that are based in different countries, and that adds some inherent friction — and just the way that crypto works is much more based around ignoring all of that, and gets efficiencies that are really valuable even just for these fairly simple and boring use-cases.
I guess there’s a lot of use cases that aren’t so much being actively discriminated against by the financial system as much as they’re just not being served because [these] systems are complicated and hard to fix it from within the context of the existing system, and there’s not much of an incentive to do it.
For accounts and web3, I think I’m definitely very bullish on the Sign-In With Ethereum thing. I actually think that accounts are this one centralized thing where there is this theoretical argument that people make that ‘users are not very good at maintaining their own passwords’… or ‘their passwords are going to get stolen,’ so you need the friendly big brother to be able to recover your account if anything goes wrong. And this is the sort of standard argument for why Google and Facebook accounts and all of these things have their value.
But the problem with this theoretical argument is that it doesn’t actually match a lot of people’s life experience — even right now, for me, two days ago my Amazon accounts just got suspended because their AI suspected fraud of some kind when I was just trying to buy a new phone. And I just don’t really have a good way of getting it back and that’s been inconvenient for me. I’ve known friends who just lose their Google accounts, forget their password, and they contact support and they just can’t get it recovered at all. So these kind of friendly big brothers that are supposed to help you recover everything, they’re surprisingly negligent a lot of the time.
I think Sign-In With Ethereum plus better wallet technologies, so things like social recovery wallets, could create a much better product for a lot of people. That would also be one good example of… partial decentralization — you could still have centralized accounts with centralized websites, but you can use your Ethereum account to sign-in. I think that’s also definitely a really valuable use case.
I definitely do think that things like Sign-In With Ethereum are going to be especially valuable to people who are having a hard time getting a phone number for whatever reason. And a lot of these [centralized] systems [do not work as expected] — sometimes these phone number verifiers work well in the big mainstream countries, but they end up not working well at all in the smaller countries that people forget to think about, so I do think that if you’re the sort of person that depends on censorship-resistance or depends on this kind of global accessibility that comes from decentralization, then it’s even more valuable. But it is one of those things that definitely has at least some value for everyone.
CR: I agree. So increased adoption for crypto is coming from grassroots communities and from the private sector you saw in Argentina and we’re seeing in even The United States. And in other countries, it’s coming from more of the top-down — El Salvador are adopting bitcoin as legal tender, other countries are evaluating whether to issue CBDC.
So where do you think the biggest wave of crypto adoption will come from in the future? Will it come from these grassroots adoptions and private sector, or from top-down governments adopting crypto for their own national currencies? How do these two things interact?
VB: I’m definitely expecting the grassroots stuff to be more effective. I think we have even seen this year things like the .eth names for example, that just kind of spread out all the way across Twitter and there’s plenty of people who have those names. NFTs have [also] spread very widely all on their own.
So I think blockchain applications that just find that niche and find that way of both having value and being able to really express and present that value to a lot of people can very easily break out.
And I could easily see that happening in more cases. I could even see Sign-In With Ethereum, for example, helping to lead this big wave of Ethereum as an identity taking off and being used much more.
[In] cryptocurrency… I don’t really necessarily think we need big coordinated efforts. I think when people find it valuable, they’ll find a way to use it, and it’s going to just keep growing organically over time. I do think that there can be a value in coordinated efforts, like the kind that create a local district where all the shops accept Bitcoin, or Ether, or whatever else. And that’s valuable as a community thing, saying ‘hey this district is kind of now a crypto-heavy district so people that are enthusiastic about crypto things — we’d all move there and that could create these interesting networks. I do think things that can actually be valuable, it’s kind of like creating a city but it’s a much lighter version of that. But there’s no other ways of doing that as well, and I hope we yeah experiment with all the approaches.
The whole crypto-gaming thing is another one that’s trying to find it’s a niche, and there is a big chance it just breaks out into something fairly successful at some point soon — [I’ve seen] hundreds of different models, and any one of them could be really successful.
I think the big challenge with institutional adoption — I guess the value that institutional adoption can provide is that it can really reduce friction and make it easier for organic adoption to happen. But institutional adoption by itself, when there isn’t an organic will, I think is something that can just kind of very easily kind of just sputter out and stall. There’s a lot of cases of these big companies that started accepting crypto for payments with a lot of fanfare, and then a couple years later they realized ‘wait,we have like 45 customers that actually use that option.’ So I think it’s different in different cases.
In the case of countries like El Salvador just making it outright mandatory, that’s definitely something where I’m more definitely more skeptical and more concerned — because when you… start forcing people to accept it, then you’re pushing a technology on people who don’t really care much about it, and they basically are not even given the option to kind of pass by it and not really care. So exposing people in that way in large numbers to something that they don’t understand — there’s just so many ways in which that can end up going wrong, and that can end up just leading to people losing money, or getting scammed, or even just getting disillusioned. People end up even thinking that cryptocurrency equals this thing that these nasty right-wing people want to push, or this thing that these nasty whatever political tribe that is running a country that wants to push wants — so it could even end up having some negative effects on adoption in the long term.
But there are good things that can happen too, I think Wyoming’s DAO law is an excellent example of government-level crypto supportiveness. They just created this law that allows DAOs to be incorporated entities and legally own stuff, there’s lots of people that are building on top of that — CityDAO is building on top of that, a lot of projects are building on top of that — so that is definitely an example of a good model that I would hope for people to be following mor.
Miami… is interesting… It definitely really helps that they have Francis Suarez, a mayor who is really enthusiastic about being tech positive and pushing all of those things forward there. And there’s MiamiCoin, and then there’s more and more of these vocal crypto things happening, so it would definitely be lovely to see if any of those experiments end up turning out.
So I think there’s great ways for institutions to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the crypto space. There’s good ways, there’s okay ways, and then there are also ways that do risk being really counterproductive.
CR: I think that’s a really fair take. So genuine adoption comes from grassroots individuals, groups of people, and communities wanting to use crypto. And then institutions can help that by encouraging it, establishing the infrastructure, or investing in startups, or just making a regulatory framework that encourages innovation. So institutions can help these grassroots adoptions by just helping it thrive, but then there’s the wrong way to do it — which is pushing crypto on people.
The looming threat of heavy-handed crypto regulation
CR: Related to this, I wanted to get your thoughts on the U.S.regulatory environment around crypto… It seems that recently, the approach to crypto has been a bit more negative, or skeptical, or aggressive by many of the U.S. lawmakers and politicians. So if the U.S wanted to really crack down and limit the growth of crypto, do you think they could be able to limit its impact, and force it to be this very niche thing? Or do you think that crypto is strong enough and decentralized enough that even if the U.S took this very hard approach on crypto, it could still evolve to become mainstream elsewhere?
VB: I think if the U.S. takes a very hard line approach, it would definitely be difficult for a lot of very important crypto things to be done in the U.S. um, but it will definitely still continue in full force.
Outside of the U.S. I think a world where lots of countries ban crypto and try really hard to ban crypto is definitely a world in which it’s much harder for crypto, and especially if good things are being built on top of crypto and attempts to stay connected to the existing world prosper. I think one of the tragedies that the current regulatory status quo risks falling into, is this problem that you might call anarcho-tyranny.
So anarcho-tyranny is this kind of.political buzzword that people have been using — I forget exactly who coined it — it’s been around for 50 years. But it’s basically the idea of this state of government that is basically like an anarchy in the bad sense toward people who are doing bad stuff, but then it’s a tyranny toward people who are trying to do meaningful stuff.
Sometimes San Francisco even gets described in this way — it’s very tolerant toward even people who are trying to steal things from stores to the point where they often have to put everything behind locks and even close their hours. But then, if you want to open a new restaurant, good luck going through $100,000 of permits. And that’s backwards, right? We want the robbers, not the restaurants, to have to go through hundreds of thousands of dollars in permits, and hopefully the robbers never get them.
The analog in the crypto space is, if we look at just fundraising for example — the problem there is that what happens a lot of the time is that we have projects where in order to comply with securities laws, those projects end up explicitly saying ‘this is a token that has no value. We are not connected to it in any way, we make no promises, and if you’re buying it you’re basically giving us a donation.’ So the legal structure that bans basically this large category of things without going through this registration process that’s basically not realistically possible for crypto projects, ends up pushing a lot of projects into these alternative structures where they end up either basically not being open to the public at all, and only being open to this severely limited set of investors — and basically you have this situation where the rich people get in at the front, and then the thing opens up to the public, and the public can only buy in when it’s at an all-time high, and so the public are ones that get fleeced anyway, but just a bit later. Or they create these structures where basically the public, instead of buying into something where they have actual kind of assurances of something, they’re basically buying it to something where they have no assurances at all except the developers’ goodwill.
So people like Uniswap in these very well-meaning DeFi projects are getting subpoenas and have spent huge amounts of money on lawyers, but then we have outright criminals that are stealing millions of dollars that are just roaming free. And I feel that if it was the opposite — if the DeFi projects did not have to deal with so much of this regulatory stuff, but at the same time there was more work going into going after all these multimillion dollar thefts — that would be a world that is better for everyone.
But the challenge is that the reason why anarcho-tyrannies happen, is that they’re just easy. Because if you want to do something meaningful, then in some sense you have to make yourself vulnerable — you have to have a presence, you have to do things that require long-term plans, you have to have a team — and so doing meaningful and valuable things makes you more vulnerable than just doing totally destructive things.
Basically, the trap that’s often very easy to fall into, is a trap that’s kind of harder against the first thing, than against the second thing, and that is, I think, a real risk that I do see a lot of regulatory regimes falling into — [the trap] of creating more barriers in the face of meaningful things.
And then in the face of things such as these thefts and scams that realistically nobody wants to see existing… I think that there just is a need to create and agree on some kind of structures that satisfy just enough of regulators’ concerns, and that the crypto community is willing to participate in so there actually can be a better alternative. And this is a hard problem — the reason why it hasn’t been solved yet I think is that it’s a hard problem, butI do think it’s something that’s worth more people thinking about and looking into.
CR: One-hundred percent. It’s so ironic because regulators criticize crypto for being a wild west — but it’s because they are making it a wild west. They’re just refusing to properly regulate it, and by not addressing the problem and not creating any structure around it, projects are kind of left with having to do these weird structures where they’re guessing what a security looks like but nobody has ever told them. So they do these things like you were saying — not give their investors proper ownership because it looks a security, and [say]ing these things like ‘oh maybe it’s attached to future revenue but not really’ — and it just leaves everyone unprotected, so I don’t know what the outlook is.
I don’t know if you agree, but it’s a bit bleak because it seems there’s no way forward — nobody is giving any guidance that we might ever come out of this situation, at least in the U.S.
VB: One answer might be that places other than the U.S. might actually be kind of easier to influence and easier to suggest and actually try approaches that manage to be better for everyone. So the only way to convince is through successful demonstration — that might actually be one of the answers.
I guess, given that both of us have substantial [backgrounds] outside the U.S, we’re definitely in a better position to look at those options than [some] — a lot of the loudest voices in crypto are people who have basically spent their entire lives in the U.S. and don’t really think much about anything outside of it.
Either you are convinced through words, or you are convinced through demonstration, I guess. But the way that you would convince through words that would actually work at this point, is basically suggesting some new alternative enough people find reasonable enough that it succeeds, and it kind of moves the needle forward.
It also doesn’t have to be a federal-level thing, maybe there is something that could be done at a state level. As I mentioned, the way that Wyoming had created the DAO law… As far as I can tell I don’t think it has enabled any bad stuff that would not have existed otherwise, but it has enabled plenty of meaningful stuff — as I mentioned, CityDAO being a good example of this, and I feel there is definitely going to be plenty of other examples of that.
So maybe this is just a problem that we need kind of more minds to be focusing on and looking into.
Vitalik fires back at Avalanche on L2 scaling
CR: So I’ve recorded interviews with other guests recently, and I wanted to hear your opinions on some of the arguments they made — arguments that are somewhat against how Ethereum is is doing things.
One of these guests was Emin Gün Sirer of Avalanche, and he had this very incendiary argument saying that ‘any Layer 1 blockchain that relies on Layer 2 scaling solutions has given up.’ His argument is that relying on Layer 2s drastically reduces security, increases complexity, and he argues that blockchains should be able to scale from their core mainnet layer.
VB: To me, that sounds like any country that relies on companies to provide any of people’s basic needs has given up, right? To us, that’s a statement that sounds unrealistic — I mean, obviously there are a few communists that probably believe it very sincerely — but we see how it’s not true.
Layer 2s are part of the greater ecosystem of a Layer 1, and I think that ecosystems [are] symbiotic with other ecosystems… I think the Arbitrum ecosystem is part of the Ethereum ecosystem, the StarkNet ecosystem is part of the Ethereum ecosystem, the Optimism ecosystem is part of the Ethereum ecosystem, and same with the Loopring ecosystem, and Polygon.
I think there’s nothing wrong with relying on this kind of beneficial interaction between different parts and the whole, and I even think that there are important benefits that can come from it. For example, the Ethereum Foundation historically — business development is historically not one of its strengths, and you could argue that part of it is a genuine desire to maintain you know neutrality and purity and other important things, but part of it is probably alos us not having certain kinds of talent.
For example, Polygon actually do have business developments, and they have been pretty successful recently at that. And it’s not just them, there are plenty of other Layer 2 projects as well.
So I think there’s nothing wrong with scaling through Layer 2. We need to stop looking at chains as chains, and need to start looking at them as ecosystems, and different parts of an ecosystem definitely can provide important tools and compliment each other really well. And I think that’s perfectly healthy and perfectly fine.
CR: Do you think that’s secure way to move forward and to build?
VB: There’s no technical reason that makes anything about layer 2s not secure. Technically, the logic for how they work — whether it’s rollups or even whether it’s the lighting network — that stuff has been understood and around for many years.
So I don’t really see safety risks from Layer 2 scaling that don’t exist in Layer 1 scaling. I actually think layer 2 scaling is better for experimentation because you can roll out different approaches to scaling in parallel, and you don’t really need to put all of your eggs into one basket to the same extent. So yeah, I don’t think that’s an issue.
CR: Okay, I guess maybe usability is the issue at the moment with Layer 2s?
VB: Yeah, I think that’s a real issue. I think there’s definitely more that we can do to improve it. I think there’s more that we can do to improve people’s ability to say move assets between different Layer 2s. There’s more that we can do to improve people’s ability to move between the different Layer 2s safely. I think there’s a big difference between say being on Loopring or Arbitrum, and being on Avalanche.
[With] Avalanche, you’re bridging into a separate Layer 1, whereas with Arbitrum, you’re basically moving onto a platform that actually is secured by the underlying blockchain. Right now, Metamask and the other browsers don’t really [do] a good job of making that distinction clear to users, and I think it’s important to make that distinction clear to users…
There’s definitely a lot more usability work that can be done. Both on just plain old regular usability of the ecosystem to make it easier for people to just understand the concept of hopping between chains and what happens when they hop between chains, but also the usability… and making it clearer to users what’s going on — and in what cases are they actually safe and in what cases are they not safe, but these are all things that lots of people are working on.
The security failings of a cross-chain world
CR: So this is very much related to a post you recently wrote [where] you said ‘the future will be multi-chain, but not a cross-chain.’
You said that there are fundamental security limits to bridges between chains. As you were explaining, you don’t think there’s security compromises on moving between Ethereum and Layer 2, but there is on moving between Ethereum on and other chains. And I guess you were proven right recently with the hack to the wormhole bridge — that happened a few days after you posted that so it was like ‘oh, Vitalik was right.’
But it makes sense that it’s a lot riskier to live in this cross-chain world. But if that’s the case, and the future is living on these Layer 1s, and there are Layer 2 scalability solutions, and maybe there are different communities using different blockchains — do we lose out on this key feature of blockchain and crypto [in] composability? And wouldn’t we go back to just another set of walled gardens?
VB: I think bridges will continue to exist. As I think I mentioned in my post, one of the conclusions of this thinking is that there’s this kind of anti-network effect to bridge security where bridges become less safe if lots of people are using them, but that also means that they become very safe if not that many people are using them.
So there will still be some use of them. Even if there aren’t any bridges, there will still be decentralized exchanges, so… it’s not going to be that… there are these walled gardens and you can’t move things between them at all. You will be able to have your Solana coins on Solana, and then you’ll be able to decentral[ly] trade them into Ether on Ethereum, and then trade that into Bitcoin on the Bitcoin network — the tools for doing that are getting more efficient and I think they’ll only continue to get more efficient.
So it definitely still will continue to be possible to be someone who is a multi-blockchain hopping person where you have to do some of your stuff on some ecosystems and some of your other things on other ecosystems and you just kind of hop between them as you need to.
The only thing that we will not see much of is Ethereum-native assets being on applications on Solana or vice-versa — but I don’t even necessarily think that we need to.
If your application uses Ethereum-native assets then it can be on Ethereum, but if your application uses a lot of Solana-native assets they can be on Solana. And if people want to borrow both, then they can just use an application that does both on both sides. I think [what] we lose from that kind of interoperability, versus maximum interoperability where every asset can just be be teleported everywhere, is not actually that high. And the reduction in tail risk and systemic risk to the ecosystem is definitely pretty significant.
I think one way to think about the analogy would be one way to do walled garden would be if you take Twitter and Facebook um, and then you make it possible for people to have pieces of content that points to pieces of content that were created by other platforms. But then another kind of interoperability might be if Facebook gains the ability to have an API call where you can just make retweets, and you can see how that second one is more dangerous than the first.
In the case of cryptocurrency, there’s a difference between messages and assets. Once you start moving assets over, then you get this kind of higher level of trust that doesn’t that you would otherwise not be getting.
This is a really complicated, fun, technical rabbit hole. Lots of lots of things in crypto are these technical rabbit holes where its not easy to make one single conclusion where we can say ‘yay, one word’ and ‘boo, another word’ — it really depends on the case.
You will still be able to interoperate and you can interoperate in a lot of ways, but this one particular thing of jumping assets around is something that is always going to have this inevitable risk-premium attached, I guess is the conclusion.
Ethereum versus Bitcoin
CR: Yeah makes sense. So the other guest I had on that I wanted to get your thoughts was Edan Yago — who is building a DeFi application on top of Bitcoin. He… thinks that Bitcoin is the only legitimate layer for decentralized applications on web 3 to be built on because it is the most trustworthy blockchain, its the most decentralized, it’s the most secure. So, to him, if we’re going to be rebuilding the financial system, it should be on top of the most secure blockchain — and if he were to build his application on Ethereum, he would be using an unreliable foundation. And I think this kind of echoes a lot of bitcoin maximalist views.
VB: I guess I have two ways of replying to that. One is a little bit more troll[ish] and the other one is meaningful.
The troll[ish] one is that this year, Ethereum is switching to proof-of-stake, and proof-of-stake is better and more secure. So, after The Merge, Ethereum will actually be the most-secure base layer. It’s troll[ish] because Bitcoiners are going to just yell and scream and say ‘we disagree with this,’ but it is my belief and I’ve written big long pieces about why in a whole bunch of places.
The other, more meaningful answer that I think gets at some interesting differences — this gets to a post that I wrote a couple of years ago called Base Layers and Functionality Escape Velocity. The core idea basically is that it’s not enough for a base layer to be decentralized; the base layer also needs to have the ability to build things on top of it without adding extra centralization in the middle.
So one possible analogy for this would be, imagine if you had a country where that country followed very kind of true libertarian rules about political morality — very strong property rights, if you have a piece of property you can do whatever you want on top of it. But a piece of property is indivisible and the only property lots that exist are property lots that are the size of a city, so the only plots of lands that currently exist and have property rights attached are the size of ten by ten square-kilometers and you can’t split them up. The only thing that you can do is you can make legal contracts that would get enforced by a court system, but even there people might get bankrupt and weird things could happen.
In that kind of world, it looks like the base layer perfectly respects property rights, and it looks like the base layer does everything that someone who cares about that sort of thing would really want. But because the base layer only deals with property in these institutionally large chunks, from the point of view of a person experiencing living inside of this country, they might not actually experience that much freedom.
And the reason why they might not actually experience that much freedom, is because if they want to actually live, they would have to live inside of basically one of possibly a few thousand private cities, and those private cities might have whatever rules that they have, and possibly if the underlying culture is fairly authoritarian and if the culture is fairly conformist, then it’s possible that all of these cities are actually going to be fairly crappy and not do a good job of respecting people’s rights.
So the moral is that even if your base layer is decentralized, in this particular case it doesn’t have enough functionality… allowing people to actually own their own property and not just basically have relationships with people that own these incredibly big, city-sized chunks of land. Because it doesn’t have that functionality, it turns out that the experienced level of freedom and sovereignty and whatever you want to call it living in this country is actually not very high.
So I think with Bitcoin, it’s kind of similar in that the Bitcoin base chain does not support the complicated scripting — it doesn’t support what we call rich-statefulness, and because of that it’s not possible to create a rollup on top of Bitcoin. The only scaling solution that it can support is the lighting network, you can’t create a rollup on top of Bitcoin, you can’t create a plasma chain on top of Bitcoin, you cannot create complicated smart contracts on top of Bitcoin.
So if, for example, let’s say you take the Ethereum Foundation multisig. The way the Ethereum foundation multisig works is that there are seven participants, and you need four out of seven to move large amounts of money. But any one out of seven can withdraw small amounts of money up to a maximum of a certain amount every day. And the problem is that this ‘up to a certain amount every day’ thing — doing that requires being able to remember that you already made a transaction and you already made a transaction of this size.’ That’s not something that the Bitcoin scripting language is really able to process.
So if you want to build that kind of design on top of Bitcoin, you have to build it on top of a system that exists on top of Bitcoin. But then that system actually has to add its own trust assumption. So if you take Liquid for example, Liquid is a multisig. It basically is a permission-to-consortium blockchain, but it’s run by permissions, people that the Bitcoin community trusts, and so it doesn’t get lumped into the same category as what some of the banks are doing right.
CR: Is Rootstock the same?
BV: I think, in its current form, yes. I believe their long-term vision is that they actually want Bitcoin miners to be able to enforce the connection between Bitcoin and Rootstock, but I actually haven’t checked Rootstock in a while. If you get a Rootstock person on, we would be happy to be corrected by them.
But if they can get miners to agree on enough things to make Rootstock what I would call ‘trustless’, then they would have essentially turned Bitcoin into something very different from what Bitcoin is today. That basically is like doing a soft fork, which would be an interesting way of upgrading Bitcoin, but we have to call it what it is — which is it’s upgrading Bitcoin, and if you upgrade Bitcoin, then you can give it Functionality Escape Velocity.
So I guess Bitcoin in its current form doesn’t have Functionality Escape Velocity. It definitely does have a lot of genuine decentralization that plenty of chains really don’t have, but it doesn’t have this other thing. So because it doesn’t have this Functionality Escape Velocity, because it doesn’t enough functionality to be able to kind of build whatever Layer 2 you want to do whatever what the Layer 1 doesn’t on top, the the level of self-sovereignty experienced by users ends up being heavily mediated and much less than the level that’s offered by the chain in theory. And if Bitcoin wants to improve on that, then it has to add functionality. And I do know that there are some people that want to do that, which I think is good, but that’s the situation where it is today.
CR: It’s interesting because they’re building on top of Bitcoin because of all these different features, but to do that they need to build on top of Layer 2s, and they are giving away those features when they do that.
Cancel culture converges on Ethereum?
CR: Before we run out of time, I wanted to get your thoughts on the latest Ethereum crypto-Twitter controversy. There have been different tweets or statements or comments that people have made in the past that were racist or misogynistic or just stuff that other people in Ethereum community disagreed with, and so those statements have been met with those people who made them getting fired or removed from their roles and so on — so basically ‘cancel-culture’ coming to Ethereum.
Probably the most notable case happened with someone from ENS, which you’ve mentioned. On 2016, he said homosexual acts are evil, transgenderism doesn’t exist, abortion is murder, contraception is perversion — all this stuff that goes against a lot of the values of, I think, many of many people in the Ethereum community. So he lost his role because of saying that.
I think it’s a very tough issue. I’m one-hundred percent a free speech advocate — I would want everyone to have the right to say whatever without fear of retaliation. But at the same time, I also see the point of people who say ‘these are public figures, they are building for a community that wants to be inclusive, and they are saying things against many members of their communities, and they’re feeling hurt and so on, and they’re not good representatives of Ethereum or of the apps that they’re working with.’ Where do you stand on this?
VB: Yeah I guess I definitely have some different, complicated, and nuanced opinions on this. I guess one of them is that I think Brantley’s failing over this last week was definitely not just having opinions that lots of people disagree with. I think his other big failing was that when the whole drama happened, he responded by first having this Twitter Space where he didn’t just double-down on the opinions, but doubled-down on them in a very ham-fisted way — a lot of hiding behind ‘my religion tells me to believe this, so I believe this,’ and in a way that didn’t really make people feel he understood or engaged with these opposing perspectives.
Ultimately, he is a major delegate, he is a representative of a company, and he is also a delegate within the ENS DAO, and when you have a political role, then it is part of your job to be able to handle controversies well.
So I don’t think you can even claim that he got kicked out because of something that’s not relevant to him being able to do his job well — I think in some ways it is relevant right. So that’s one nuanced point.
I guess another nuanced opinion… that often gets overlooked here is that there’s this kind of U.S.-centric aspect to the culture that unfortunately gets played up every time things happen. And if you follow these recent de-platforming debates closely one of the things that you find is that the people who are the most strongly against the de-platformings are often foreigners, and are often even foreign dissidents that are escaping from cancel-cultures that are shall we say intense than even things that the U.S. has.
So Alexei Navalny, the Russian dissident who has um unfortunately been languishing in that prison for the last year or so, he was one of the strongest opponents of Donald Trump being kicked out of Twitter about a year ago right because ultimately precedents do matter, and when you do something you are legitimizing that action being done in general, including that action being done in the long term Alexei Navalny often by other people who you don’t like and you can’t control.
That is something that I think people need to constantly have their attention to and also be concerned about. And just from my own personal observation, I’ve seen Latin American Ethereum community member, there were Chinese Ethereum community members that had definitely not a knee-jerk hostile perspectives to what happens, but definitely perspectives of like ‘off, we need to be careful about this.’
So when things like this are done, it’s important that they are done in a way that clearly signals what actually is being done, what are the values behind what’s being done, and why this doesn’t set a precedent that, say for example, in the future, like the ENS DAO might make a protocol change that would take away the .eth name of someone that they decide has bad opinions…
Very few people want ENS to go in that direction — I certainly don’t want ENS to go in that direction — but that needs to be clearly communicated, why what was done this week is not the first stepping stone to doing something like that. And I believe that can be clearly communicated, but it has to be. So that’s, I guess, nuanced opinion number two.
Nuanced opinion number three is I personally favor at least having 14-day cooldowns before anyone is fired because of a scandal. I personally would love it if that was a general social rule that everyone had, numbers even higher than 14 would be even better.
And yes that does mean that there’s going to be people that are very uncomfortable that will just have to sit on their discomfort for a while. But at the same time, I think sitting on the discomfort and not making knee-jerk decisions is something that’s very healthy, and that’s… a muscle that we need to exercise, and I think that is something that would also be better at clearly communicating to the community that what was done was the result of a kind of a well-considered deliberation — and not ‘oh, the cultural revolution is coming to Ethereum now’ or whatever.
But nuanced opinion number four is that I think one of the beauties of the ethereum community is that it is this diverse, and it has these different subcommunities, [but] Ethereum is not any one of its subcommunities. I think that does give permission for subcommunities to be more opinionated.
There have been people that have been ‘quote’ canceled from some Etherum subcommunities that do continue to prosper in other Ethereum subcommunities. Ameen might be one good example of that, there’s plenty of woke and social justice-leaning people that have various reasons to dislike him. But at the same time, he’s got RAI, there’s The Money God, and Moloch DAO — all of these projects. There’s plenty of people who are happy with him being him, and he continues to prosper in that way.
So I think it’s important to not over-catastrophize and overinterpret an Ethereum subcommunity acting in a particular way [and think] ‘oh, these are the values of Ethereum now.’ Ethereum is big, and Ethereum values are big, and I don’t think either myself or any Ethereum subcommunity really have the right to define what all of Ethereum stands for, I think it’s healthier that that is the case. But also it does… mean that we should be careful to protect the Ethereum base layer from falling into controversies like this.
For example, sometimes people argue in favor of the idea [we] should print more ETH in order to fund some base layer public goods at the protocol layer. This is actually one good argument against, do we really want the entire ethereum community ending up… basically being forced to create this kind of big collective social signal that Ethereum stands in one direction or another direction on just some issue that ends up being totally globally controversial.
I think a lot of people do come to Ethereum as a refuge from whatever their local political issues are. The world is a big place and there’s plenty of cases in which seeking refuge from your local political issues is a totally legitimate thing that should that should totally not be denigrated, and Ethereum turning into just a reflection of… this one very particular slice of the world that cares about some particular issues and not other issues is definitely something that could also limit its potential.
So, yeah, I don’t know — this is unfortunate. I’m not going to wave the ‘free-Brantley’ flag or the ‘get rid of Brantley’ or the ‘let’s go Brantley’, or whatever flags. Unfortunately, [I’ve] just got complicated perspectives because this whole thing is a complicated space.
CR: Yeah, I agree. It’s a topic that needs to be treated with nuance — I don’t think there is one straightforward answer to it.
I hate that we’re running out of time, I had so many more questions [but] I actually have to get on a Twitter Space with your mom now, so I don’t want to keep her waiting.
One quick final question to wrap this up. So I’ve been asking each guest what makes them defiant, in-line with the show’s name. So what makes you defiant?
VB: What makes me defiant? That’s a good question. I feel I defy lots of things — I defy coin voting governance, I defy a lot of people’s desires to take very short term actions that push the crypto space in a direction that looks nice in the short term but isn’t really sustainable.
What else have I defied recently? I guess I defied Avalanche on Twitter yesterday, that was definitely defying.
See this is the other thing, I feel I don’t really stand for one radical thing as much as I just try to think about different issues and whatever my perspective is, that’s what my perspective is. It’s almost the more that you can’t predict someone’s opinions from their other opinions, the more valuable those opinions are. So I definitely try hard to actually think about things separately and not let any of people’s existing boxes guide me.
I feel you’re not going to get one thing, but you are going to get a very long list, and if you want to find out what that long list is, then I’ve written and twittered a bunch of stuff for a while and I probably will keep doing that.
CR: Yes, please do! They’re the best.
Okay Vitalik, it was so great chatting, I wish we had more time. Hopefully you’ll be back on The Defiant podcast some other time and we can continue this conversation. [It’s] really a pleasure chatting with you — such interesting takes on everything.
Again, appreciate you taking the time, thanks so much, and see you soon!
VB: Thank you too. This has been great.