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Bitcoin, schmitcoin

A very small, modest, home-size “mining” rig for bitcoin. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We are surrounded by crazy people and fanatics. Fanaticism, of course, is found in many varieties. Some varieties are much more dangerous than others. Here’s my list of the top three categories of crazy people and fanatics, ordered by the danger they pose to the rest of us:

1. Right-wing fanatics. Subsets include Republicans, Trumpists, white supremicists, neo-Nazis, militias, radical libertarians, and right-wing and libertarian billionaire activists.

2. Religionists. Subsets include so-called evangelicals, all proselytizing religions including jihadists, those caught up in moral panics such as book-banning and policing bathrooms against transsexuals, and all those who are trying to use the law to impose their religion and wrongthink on others.

3. Techno-utopians. Subsets include bitcoiners and all those who believe that technology can solve all problems. Billionaires with rockets are in this category.

There is a great deal of crossover, of course, because fanatic personalities are drawn to multiple types of fanatacism. There are many religionists who also are right-wing fanatics, and many techno-utopians who also are libertarian fanatics. The nature of fanaticism is such that all fanatics proselytize, and all fanatics are eager consumers of proselytization. I also can’t help but notice that the conflict caused by the three types of fanatics listed above drives about 75 percent of each day’s news. Fanatics are always in our faces. All of them are threatened by reason; all of them are empty of compassion.

I have paid very little attention to the bitcoin hype. But yesterday Vox carried a piece that I deemed worth trying to plough through. It’s “Web3 is the future, or a scam, or both: So what exactly is Web3, and why is everyone in Silicon Valley obsessed with it?

Do I understand bitcoin or “Web3” after reading the Vox piece? No, I don’t, not really. Web3 appears to be nothing but hype closely connected with bitcoin, and if anything ever comes of it, no doubt we’ll find out about it. But there is a very concrete element to bitcoin, though, in the form of entire warehouses full of computers sucking electricity and “mining” for bitcoin. The word “mining” is deliberately misleading and is part of the hype. The nature of bitcoin is such that every single transaction with bitcoin must be encrypted and stored by every bitcoin server in the world. That’s supposed to be a feature, not a bug, because the control of the currency is shared by many people rather than by any government or central bank. Government, to libertarians and most techno-utopians, is a dirty word. Instead of governments, bitcoin invites us to invest our trust in the corporatized fanatical nerds who can raise the money to build huge data centers full of bitcoin computers. To me, a currency that requires computers that suck up unbelievable amounts of energy is ridiculous. An article at CNet attempts to quantify the energy cost: “Here’s how much electricity it takes to mine Bitcoin.”

The CNet piece says:

“The Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index estimated that one Bitcoin transaction takes 1,544 kWh to complete, or the equivalent of approximately 53 days of power for the average US household.

“To put that into money terms, the average cost per kWh in the US is 13 cents. That means a Bitcoin transaction would generate more than $200 in energy bills.

“Bitcoin mining used more energy than Argentina, according to an analysis from Cambridge University in February [2021]. At 121.36 terawatt-hours, crypto mining would be in the top 30 of countries based on energy consumption.”

We’re talking about 53 days of power for a single transaction. And that’s only one reason why you will never use bitcoin to pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Even the fastest “mining” computers need about ten minutes for the computations that “validate” a transaction. This is explained in the Wikipedia article. Would Starbucks customers wait ten minutes for their receipt after whipping their bitcoin Gold Card out of their “wallet”? Does it make sense to burn $200 worth of electricity in Texas and Kazakhstan to log a $5 transaction for coffee in Palo Alto?

And you knew there was a pyramid element to bitcoin, didn’t you? I won’t try to explain it, but the nature of the algorithms is such that “mining” bitcoins requires an increasing amount of computing power as the number of transactions grows. That is, those who mined bitcoin early did so cheaply, but it’s much more expensive now, and it will be even more expensive next year. How the ten-minute waits and $200 transaction costs are supposed to work with Web3 are not explained. One thing is clear to me, though. There are plenty of people out there who are eager to start selling us virtual stuff that doesn’t exist. That’s why we are hearing so much hype about the metaverse, or Facebook’s “Meta.” People like Mark Zuckerberg plan to make a killing selling us non-existent stuff in a non-existent place. Non-existent stuff may not clutter our landfills like stuff from China, but it does burn electricity and transfer money from prey to predators.

The moral question of tolerance is complicated and subtle, and I won’t digress into that here except to say that tolerant people are not required to tolerate any old thing that some human beings might want to do. I’m not very tolerant of people who abuse cats or beat their children or who lie to the public or rip people off. It’s not just that fanatics are different. It’s that, cognitively and/or morally, there is something wrong with every single one of them. For the most part, bitcoin fanaticism is something that we can ignore by not giving them any money, unlike white supremicism or moral panics, which we cannot ignore. How do we oppose them? Ridicule, and our contempt, are a start.


  1. Malinda wrote:

    Hi David 🙂

    I’m not sure whether you intend it or not, ha, but your lacerating wit in these political and cultural matters from time to time make me belly laugh (and it’s priceless! so thank you). At any rate, I much enjoy your wary and astute commentaries now and again about the fanatics (as I, too, am sensitive to your angst about them because it’s also mine) . . . but that said, the whole blog is great and a joy to follow.

    I propose a fourth category to add to your collection:

    4. Conspiracy Junkies & QAnon Cultists.

    They could easily go as a subset under your fanatics of the right-wing, of course, but I just mention because after the Jan 6 Insurrection at the Capitol, they might deserve their own standing for how dangerous and wide-spreading they proved to be. I haven’t spent any time on it recently, but would you say QAnon is just as stubbornly with us as before (only quieter now perhaps, at least superficially) and just patiently grinding its teeth till Trump “reascends” or attempts to run again? (Which reminds me that I recently saw a report that Cheeto-man mob boss declared if he’s re-elected next cycle, he will pardon the insurrectionists. I could only pah!, roll my eyes and grumble because it passes over one that it’s disgustingly mundane that his over-the-top profane circus act doesn’t even register shock anymore. I know it’s your prediction that the Trumps will flee the country once they are cornered legally, so let’s hope sincerely any number of things occur toward conviction or evasion just so that he doesn’t ever run again. It’s maddening to accept that we had a QAnon president as leader of the free world, and how does that dovetail with technology’s rapid advances in social bubbling and twittering ‘gotcha’ culture wars which seemingly hamper a massive portion of us from thinking basically, critically, and clearly?)

    Speaking of advancing tech . . .
    Read the Vox piece you included. My take on the current rage over Web3, NFTs, and crypto without knowing too much either is that one day “blockchain” will be remembered as a dirty word synonymous with the evils of earth death, Big Oil, Big Manufacture, Big Factory Farms, and Amazon deforestation as the worst spearheads of CO2 and CO2e saturation — simply because of the insane levels of energy it gobbles (putting out the equivalent emissions of a whole country’s output per year is criminal and recklessly immoral as you stated above). I notice with trepidation in the article that they only breeze by the mentions of “energy-efficient” NFT collectives or communities or companies (or whatever they are) without ever explaining at all exactly *how* they’re energy-efficient. And under what standard ‘efficient’? How about no energy? How about just say no. (Like you said.)

    This Web3 — is like the new Wild West with willfully no over-sight and that seems to be the attraction. These techno-wizards seem to think that their new frontier is the way for the ‘smaller’ (or merely semi-rich) people to have a chance to blaze their way in a new world with stars in their eyes, inventing a new reality that’s more egalitarian . . . which admittedly sounds like quite heady stuff. Except watch the corporate giants scramble to maintain their hegemony in the melee. Something tells me though (like the hunch of the article-writer) that this enticing new frontier is going to end up just as hazardous and fraught with snares and pirate-raiding in more creative ways as has always played out. Eventually consolidation and new invented ways of dominating take over.

    I like the all-for-one, one-for-all storytelling they’re giving it — but for the fact that — at this late stage in our climate chaos — how could anyone not see that blockchain is pure evil if not the most arrogant disregard? Like the hubris of inventing H-bombs when we already had the atomic power to destroy earth. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to talk like that about blockchain if this Web3 is taking off as widespread as they intend it to and I’m assuming here — that Web3 operates entirely on blockchain. (The new gas guzzler). At what point on the timeline is Web3 and Bitcoin going to be putting out more CO2e than say, all of one continent combibed? Is that a possible reality if in some remote 20-30 years everyone is forced onto blockchains against their liking when it becomes the entwined, lauded, inevitable reality of the Silicon Valley tech-messiahs? I mean god — I hope not. It just seems to me that at the rate that fads and new markets move with novelty addiction, this new Web3 madness is here to stay and grow monstrously more perverse. I’m just unconvinced that they’ll ever truly run it “energy-efficiently” when we can’t even get off the fossil stuff or outpace emissions build-up with the green stuff as it is. When people adamantly refuse to stop eating more than one meal of animal products per day?

    Can you imagine that that blockchain guy paid $69.3 million recently for an NFT artwork done by someone only so far mainly known to that world (I believe) when Monet’s ‘Nymphéas’ only sold for $54 million in 2014? — At some point we crossed over on the timeline of significant events when a digital artwork that you can only touch on a screen became more precious and desirable to own than what exists in our actual beautiful, tactile, sense-grounded reality . . . .

    Saturday, February 5, 2022 at 12:44 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Malinda: Thank you for this! The most frightening flaw of Americans, in the aggregate, is their inability to deconstruct and reject hype and propaganda, and to hold accountable those who lie to them. Instead, lying to Americans is one of the fastest ways in the world to get rich, to join the jet set, and to pose as either godly (like Trump) or oracular (like Elon Musk). Your 4th category above arises from this same flaw of gullibility. Our media are complicit, partly because they too gull up much of the propaganda and partly because they’re afraid of losing web clicks. Those few of us who are not susceptible to manias and psychic epidemics are mice squeaking in the wilderness. But squeak we must.

    Saturday, February 5, 2022 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  3. Malinda wrote:

    Agree 100 percent — independent news sources and ethical journalists putting in the good fight day after disillusioning day (and doing without the sell-out salaries provided by profit- and bias-driven corporations) are like our only landmarks in these disorienting media wastelands of cult and crazy.

    I like your mice image — it makes me think of ‘Maus,’ which is fitting to this conversation in that the raving fanatics have targeted it in Tennessee. It seems to be lost on the book-banning saints of censorship that it’s ironic they’re banning what looks like an allegory about teaching the lessons of nazis (who banned and burned books). The consolation prize is that it looks like due to the controversy, sales of ‘Maus’ have gone up 753% in January alone. Of course by banning the books, it only ensures the kids will go looking for them.

    We mice win small victories, lol.

    Saturday, February 5, 2022 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Malinda: Go mice! Yes … the more right-wingers violate the norms that have helped keep America civilized, the more they overreach, expose themselves for what they are, and reap the blowback. They still don’t understand that Trump lost the 2020 vote because of overreach and blowback. Their minds are so small that they just can’t imagine why anyone other than criminals and devil worshipers would see things in a different way than they do.

    Sunday, February 6, 2022 at 8:45 am | Permalink

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