A short analysis (and critique) of a pathological sentiment among Ethereum developers

I'd like to present my simple-minded analysis (and critique) of a recent article by Kent Barton, titled "Scaling Civility: How to Preserve Ethereum's Most Crucial Strength". I'm doing this not to offend or insult but because I believe it showcases a pathological sentiment among a radical subset of developers and points to a deeper socio-systemic issue.

The article begins with a rather deceptive platitude to get everyone on the same page:

Throughout most of its existence, Ethereum has been a place where crypto adventurers of all stripes can explore, build, debate, and learn within the confines of a friendly, respectful, and non-judgemental community.

I called it deceptive because it appears to be a safe space fantasy born from someone with a conference-going sense of identity. Kent is the founder of Ethereum Denver. He has a rather peculiar, interpersonal, perspective of a certain part of the "Ethereum developer community in Denver" (and one might assume on GitHub and other similar online dev circles). And yes, perhaps, his view of the "community" is more expansive than that, but I strongly doubt it, for all the reasons I'll elaborate in this response.

For one thing, Someone with a genuine sense of the scope of the Ethereum community would understand it's a diverse global movement embracing various subcultures with their own distinct ideologies and preferences. To be a member of the Ethereum community isn't to abandon your own cultural identity. There's no reason to think someone's membership in the community is contingent on being a developer or being a person who is uncritically "friendly, respectful, and non-judgmental" (and frankly, it should go without saying that one shouldn't have to be). If some part of the community has an issue with another person or company, it's their natural civil right to express it (whenever and wherever they please). Shaming, silencing, or ostracizing them by labeling them as a non-dev or as "unfriendly, disrespectful, or judgmental" is most definitely counter-productive to the kind of culture I understand the Ethereum community to be aspiring.

Kent is most certainly speaking about a highly narrow subset of the development community when he talks about the "fertile ground for innovation" and "salubrious climate", which he reduces quite casually and without thought to things like: "the relatively massive number of active developers on github and at conferences/hackathons"; or once again the "proliferation of projects and emergence of entirely new proto-industries". This is Kent's rather distorted context.

From this twisted lens, it's clear to see why Kent can't grok the events of the past few weeks (with regard to the Afri debacle, conflict of interest debate, Ryan Zurrer issue, and ensuing moderation discussion. He speaks of these events as "ugly" and a "very different picture" (comparing it to his own "awesome and enjoyable" atmosphere). Perhaps Kent wasn't here for the DAO fork debate, which was far worse by practically all standards. Anyway, bewildered by these differences, Kent wondered about the cause and what he (and presumably other developers) can do about it.

He cites the Status survey on "Ethereum values" to articulate his explanation. Kent claims one of the key takeaways from this survey "was a strong sense that Reddit is no longer a place for positive and constructive discussion". He then tries to summarize this supposed sentiment by cherry picking an anonymous responder, who said:

The online community is beset by trolls who I feel manage to have an outsized impact on the community. We need tools that can represent stakeholders better than whoever posts most frequently on Reddit.

This is a very misleading statement for at least 3 important reasons: 1) the majority of respondents who bothered to fill out the survey were members of the development community, 2) the survey only covered about 200 people (not at all a representative sample), and 3) contrary to what Kent says the survey is very much undecided about Reddit.

There is a total of 26 instances of the keyword "Reddit" in the survey. After parsing these results for sentiment, I found 9 negative, 8 positive, and 9 neutral/ambiguous. In the negative set, there were a few common sense concerns about trolls, 1 person complained about a toxic reaction on Reddit over the Parity fund recovery issue, 2 people had something bad to say about the Reddit user Deviatefish (they gave him as an example of a bad community member), 1 person felt unhappy about the original community losing their sense of group identity to the newcomers, 1 person claimed the threads were manipulated, with the very last person (Taylor Monahan as it turns out), gracing us with the following in response to the question "Is there anything in the community that exhausts or tires you?":

"Going on reddit. Literally. I'm a fucking reddit moderator and opening reddit exhausts me these days. It's so sad. It used to invigorate me to talk and connect with random people but these days theres so much hate. And not hate as in questioning projects or questioning why something is or isn't a certain way, but just straight hate and ulterior motives."

This is a disturbing statement coming from a community moderator, in my opinion. But regardless, I wouldn't call these negative remarks indicative of the belief that Reddit was "no longer a place for positive and constructive discussion". It's my observation rather that discussion simply dissipated when the "dev community" decided to jump onto Twitter, where they can just isolate themselves in their little safe space cocoons. That, plus the split into the Ethereum Magicians forum, is what stifled community discourse on Reddit if I'm not mistaken. The community here has very little blame to shoulder.

Moving on to the positive set I found 3 people who cited Reddit as one of the communities related to Ethereum, 1 person had something good to say about the Reddit user DCinvester, 1 person had something good to say about the Reddit user Deviatefish, 1 person talked about how it was nice to put faces to Reddit profiles, 1 person offered participation on Reddit as an example of what a good community member would do, and 1 final person said one of their happiest memories was on Reddit. I'd like to mark out for special attention the person who offered Deviatefish as a good community member (or role model). Here's the reason they gave for choosing this person:

"His tendency to dissent from the majority opinion using logical arguments is beneficial to avoiding groupthink in our community."

Groupthink is indeed the right word to describe what many people have observed recently. I think, contrary to the dev's posturing regarding the so-called toxic Reddit mob mentality, it's actually the devs who have fallen prey to this mentality. In their escape into the Twitterverse, insider-hopping conference circuit, magisterial council of the Magicians, and other privileged zones, the devs have forgotten all about the unsung forces who made Ethereum a global phenomenon. Many devs indeed have forgotten who this infrastructure was meant to serve. It's very likely many of these devs just cashed in on the crypto bubble and had a nice laugh building their "start ups" or whatever it was they thought they were doing by breaking people's trust and taking the public for granted. Many of these devs have simply assumed we would have their back, but it need not be that way if we all decide it to be otherwise. It's time you recognize the extent of your self-serving insulation and mean-spirited aversion toward the very people who make up the lifeblood of this ecosystem.

Never assume Ethereum is so glorious and self-sufficient that it can't be reduced to a momentary craze; a nowhere cult with no real destination. Never assume you're a protected class with a higher calling or status than the rest of us.

Continuing my analysis (or is it a critique at this point?), the article doesn't aspire to a cohesive global community identity. It actually praises the opposite: a proliferation of communication mediums and fracturing of all discourse. Kent seems to think everyone gets a bubble of their choosing: Twitter for some folks, Magicians and Ethresear.ch for others, or why not just keep all the "meaningful discussion" in back channels or private rooms? Where the big bad mob can't hear you? That seems to be where this line of thinking is going, I believe. The social "vacuum" Kent speaks about is actually populated by more than mere "newcomers", "people who are simply in it for the money", and rancid "trolls"… My goodness Kent, don't you realize the "community" is larger than your imaginary technocratic bubble of crypto-nobles? Many of us know exactly what's going on and we don't care to be your serfs in the New Kingdom you're building. Don't pretend to speak for "us".

At this point, I'd like to simply solve the puzzle and offer this rather unsurprising possibility. Kent (whether consciously or unconsciously) wishes to disempower and marginalize the community voice because he's: 1) good friends with people at Parity (or the Web3 Foundation), 2) biased about Parity's multisig fund recovery efforts, and/or 3) invested in the Polkadot Network in some manner. Before you go off saying, "that's his choice", understand that I know it's his choice. It's perfectly fine if he's "diversified", but then he shouldn't be pretending to speak about what's best for the Ethereum community and rallying the troops against people who have no interest whatsoever in supporting the Parity trifecta of doom. You see, it's also my choice to view this as a threat (and have good reason to view it as a threat) and then also alert people to the best of my ability that it is in fact a threat. My hopes and dreams and fears (and those of countless others) can't just be wished away just because Kent is a reputable figure in the community and I'm not; or because there might be rampant infidelity in this ecosystem and people need to cover their asses by shutting everyone up. Please assess the content of what's said (and the larger context in which it is being communicated) rather than the person saying it.

Allow me to elaborate a bit more. On Twitter, Kent introduced his article with this statement:

"Occasional community drama is inevitable. A steady decline into maximalism, personal attacks, trolling, and dogmatism is not."

Sound familiar? This is the confused anti-maximalist Parity narrative I mentioned in another thread. Thankfully, a user by the name of "CRN" caught on to this disturbing statement and questioned Kent further to find out what he meant by the "strong hints of tribalism and maximalism", arguing "You give no support for this as a root cause. If you provided some, we could argue them. Without any there's nothing to rebut. Remember Hitchens's razor: that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

In response to this, Kent said:

I was thinking specifically about the "PARITY BAD! PARITY EVIL!" knee-jerk reaction (by some) that led to the Afri situation. [we might reasonably assume all other negative sentiment regarding Parity, past and present, is also presupposed by this remark]

And in the article itself, he says:

Newcomers who are less informed, have no idea about the context and history regarding something like Parity and their plans, and are easily swayed by vocal, noisy shrill opinions. [are we starting to see the pattern here? the plebs just don't get the grande design, you feel me?; we're uninformed bag holding idiots according to this fellow]

Followed by this:

"Anything that feeds that narrative (You can’t sync a full node! Sharding will never work! Polkadot will replace Ethereum!" [my emphasis; again, he's trying to gaslight us, as if there's no competition to speak of]

And then this:

"Most relevant for our current problem are the zero-sum fallacy (Polkadot’s gains are Ethereum’s losses), and the echo chamber created by shrill trolls on reddit." [again, my emphasis; more condescension and gaslighting]

And why not throw this one in too (because we're being so "friendly, respectful and non-judgmental", right Kent?):

We should remind people not to conflate the assholes who post on /r/ethereum with the broader Ethereum community.

I don't think my blood is the only thing boiling when remarks like this get flung about so carelessly by such a "high ranking and trusted" figure. It boils all the more when I think about how this kind of sentiment has likely already taken root in the mind's of other impressionable devs in the community. There's so much venom in this man's words you'd be forgiven for thinking you were engaging with one of the fabled Reddit trolls he hates so much. Seriously, please do read the entire article. This man is absolutely livid. His "polite" discourse conceals nothing.

If you can't smell something is rotten with this Parity/Polkdaot/Web3 drama, you're really not paying attention. There are many conflicted devs working in this space right now who seem completely oblivious to the perverse incentives to which they're exposed and are actively trying to create this silly narrative about how the ignorant masses just don't get how cool life will be with Polkadot and company running the show. We're all just newcomers, get-rich-quick nutters, and idiot trolls with no context, remember? Only the crypto-nobles understand the "master plan", you see?; the plan that was supposed to make them a fucking fortune. So you better fall in line and drink the Polkadot Kool-Aid.

Honestly, I've been in this space way longer than most of these self-righteous devs and I can say without a doubt there's some trippy brainwashing/propaganda going on here. It's like Invasion of the Blockchain Body Snatchers out there.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Submitted March 13, 2019 at 08:02PM }
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