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The ways of the feud

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted August 8, 2016

In last week's piece, I noted that widespread crony capitalism turns the two-party system lopsided. One party specializes in getting the spoils, and young ambitious folks figure out that a person on the way up had better join that party or at least treat with it. Not only because the "Winner Party" has access to the gravy, but also because the movers-and-shakers who don't spend much time reflecting on their actions join it. This party, regardless of its name and platform, becomes the Pragmatist Party: the natural home for ambitious folks who want to get things done and for ordinary folks who want to feel like winners. They tend to have an easygoing and utilitarian view of corruption: it's only bad if it gets out of hand or gets detached from the grease that keeps the wheels rolling. Not only in the partisan sense, but also in the accomplishment sense. True: part of the corruption they tolerate is vote-buying, but even dishing out sinecures or running political machines can be cast as pragmatic if it keeps the Winner Party winning elections.

The other party becomes the Party of Principle. Its members tend to be morals-driven rather than pragmatic, so they see corruption as a blotchy stain on the flag. Rather than a tool, corruption is seen as an outrage. Consequently, there's a lot of attention paid to the question of purity. In the Principle Party, the movers and shakers always see a trade-off between purity and electability – and there are always the voices who say that the party isn't electable because it compromises too much. Interestingly, the Principle Party always presents itself as the better voice for the poor and disadvantaged.

Although the present situation is muddied, in part because one of the sources of Donald Trump's popularity is "I'm A Winner," it's clear that the Pragmatist Party is the Democrats and the Principle Party is the Republicans. If you've been paying attention, you know that the Dems have a far greater tolerance for hypocrisy than the Pubbies. In fact, one kind of hypocrisy-over-time is a rite of passage for the Dems: idealistic radical turned join-the-Establishment greybeard. Another is a Tribune-of-the-Poor type who turns to living large. Observe that the parallel hypocrisy from a Pubbie is a straitlaced socon turning into a gadabout. The double standard meted out is obvious. Considering the insistence of the Dems for more and more tax money, their tolerance of tax-dodging Charlie Rangle is revealingly at odds with the Dems' incessant demands. Newt Gingrich cheating on his wife destroys him politically, while Charlie Rangel laughs off cheating on his taxes. This double standard shows quite clearly that the Clinton-Cash Democrats are the Pragmatist Party. So long as Rangel keeps winning his gerrymandered district, so long as the voters in his district don't seem to mind, they don't care. He's a "winner"! Neither did the Democrat Party care to throw out Marion Barry even after he became a convicted drug criminal. Better a convicted-felon mayor than risk losing to a Republican. 

Over on the Pubbie side, it is evident that they're the Party of Principle. Why did Ted Cruz get flayed for working the Colorado delegation rules? If the Republican Party has been the Pragmatist Party, he would have laughed it off with: "All right, so I worked the rules like Donald Trump worked the NYC zoning laws." His then-supporters would have accepted it and stayed in his camp. As all those shrugged-off scandals clearly show, the Dems are the ones who believe that winning excuses almost anything. The Pubbies are not.

Interestingly, the Republican think-tank circuit keeps churning out policy proposal after policy proposal aimed at raising up poor folks. Although a Berniebot will tell you different, the labours and accumulated pages on the subject are much too large for this to be a CYA maneuver. No, it's a major priority. It's given a lot more attention than it would have had it merely been a matter of "hand it over to HR" kiester-covering. All of these proposals, significantly, chide the Dems for pushing programs that don't achieve their stated goals. It may only be politesse, but none of them delve into the question of whether or not the stated goals are the real goals. "Well-intentioned" is so reflexive, so easy a habit to fall into, that it looks like displacement.

Why does the Dems' go-to "linguistic kill shot" work so well? Why do they gain such an advantage by accusing Republican of not caring for the poor? Not because it's true, but because it makes the Pubbies flinch. The targets start acting like "apologists" - i.e., they get defensive. Instead of turning the tables, they get rattled and fumble. This "magic" wouldn't work if the accusation were true.

More primally – and this shows in technicolour in the Never-Trump circuit – Republicans have an almost reflexive need to show they're on the side of Charles Murray's Fishtown. So much so, that the confessions of failure from the Never Trumpers who've stood down often admit that they read Fishtown wrong! Their mistake was assuming that Fishtowners supported free trade, etc. Their mistake was that they didn't listen to Fishtowners closely enough.

Granted that the Pragmatic-Principled template doesn't fit perfectly, in large part because the Republican Party is a welcome home to folks who've made it big in the private sector, but it fits close enough to be jarring. Close enough to make one suspect that the Clinton-Cash Dems' real heart lies in Belmont, which has a nice fat neighbourhood for well-connected crony capitalists.

But there's more to the story which reflects our human nature. As a place where de facto anarchy reigns, the interior of the alternative-cryptocurrency nano-sector makes for a revealing sandbox showing our ways as political animals. Since there is no governance in the altcoin interior, there are no spoils to fight over. From the materialist "real interests" perspective, there should be no politics. Any apparent politicking has to be motivated by greed and nothing more.

That materialist theory is wrong. Despite there being no spoils, there is a lot of politicking. There's even a government-free Pragmatist-Principle divide. Interestingly, this divide shows in a long-running feud.

Meet The Hatfields…

From a pure market-cap perspective, the altcoin Dash is a great success. Its market cap has been in or just below the top 10 for about a year and a half. The value of each Dashcoin has fluctuated between 0.01 BTC and 0.02 BTC for so long, anyone who bought some below 0.01 BTC snapped up a bargain. Despite recurrent prophesies of doom, it more-or-less stays in the Top 10. As you'll see, the grounds for those doomsayings are revealing. 

It started small, on January 18th of 2014, and it started with a different name. In its early days, it was called XCoin and its claim to be innovative was a set of eleven chained hashing algorithms which became known as X11. The launch was actually botched; wallets and source code were not made available at the go-time. Also, more seriously, the miners had trouble getting their mining programs to work. This bobbling resulted in a fustercluck where the dev and a few others got the bulk of the first-mined coins. From then on, XCoin bore the stigma of "instamined." That didn't make for much of a scandal at the time, but – as sure as shootin' - it became a big scandal when XCoin made it big.

It did so through both rebranding and upgrade. Sensing an opportunity, its dev – a man named Evan Duffield – decided to add anonymization to XCoin and rename it Darkcoin one month and ten days after launch. The anonymization consisted of taking the code for a Bitcoin mixer named CoinJoin and adding it to Darkcoin's code. To make it work – most commercial implementations of CoinJoin rely on centralized servers – Duffield used a quasi-federated system called Masternodes to do the mixing. Running a Masternode requires the user to have and hold at least 1000 Darkcoins/Dashcoins. But as long as that criterion is met, and as long as the user is running the Masternode node code (typically on a virtual private server) and it's connected to the rest of the network, (s)he is eligible to receive a share of 45% of the mining rewards of each block. This addition made its price take off.

In keeping with the rebranding to Darkcoin, Duffield added an instant-transaction feature called InstantSend (originally called InstantX) which uses a lock mechanism and Masternode consensus to make sure that no counterfeiting has taken place. If the consensus fails to materialize, then the instant-transaction is aborted and the sender has to wait for one or more confirms.

Although Dash does have its innovative chops, Duffield has paid a lot of attention to branding. Not just itself but also its main features have been renamed. It's also been controversial; in fact, it's one of the more heavily criticized alts. Not only for that botched launch but also for having a cryptographically inferior anonymization feature and a possibly flawed instant-send feature.  Its community, unlike virtually all others, has a striking way to fend off the criticism. In a nutshell, "nothing succeeds like success." This line is used to turn away all criticism of it.

There's also a standard tactic, deployed whenever anyone seriously claims that its DarkSend anonymizing feature (now rebranded to PrivateSend!). A loyal Dasher will pop up to offer a spot bounty: "Provably de-anonymize any Dash transaction and I'll send you some Dash." In other words, "Run your hypothesis like you're running your keyboard and you'll get rewarded." This challenge has been offered more than one time, and the bounty has not been won yet.

Clearly, Dashers are the Pragmatists of the altcoin space. Those not enthused by Dash have labelled its community an Evan Duffield cult.

…And The McCoys

Monero also began with a checkered mining history, but with a more malicious core. Dash's start could arguably be chalked up to screw-ups, but there was no doubt with regard to Monero. Its original dev, nicknamed Thankful for Today, had supplied miners that were crippled. He and his cohorts used ones that were optimized.

When this cheating was figured out by the community, they got behind a rare sight in cryptocurrency land: a community takeover. When Thankful For Today launched it, it had been named BitMonero. After his chicanery was discovered, BitMonero was forked and relaunched as Monero. Uniquely, Monero was a coin that hit the altcoin big-time after its original dev had been booted out. That's because its parent coin, Bytecoin, was based upon a new technology called CryptoNote. Cryptonote attracted a lot of attention from the hardcore programmers in the altcoin space, including from real cryptographers. All of them declared its ring-signature anonymization feature was cryptographically sound. Those declarations were not forthcoming for Dash.

Because of this innovativeness, the community-takeover squad was made up of serious professional programmers. One of the brags from Monero supporters is how much work the team has put into it. But all that work has not included an official GUI wallet. There are unofficial ones, and a semi-official Web wallet, but the official wallet is only command-line.

This is a point of pride in the Monero community. To them, it proves that the Monero deva are very serious about improving and optimizing its guts – and that they're in no way sleazy marketers. Its official Website stands out for two reasons: its pages include a very large welcome mat for techies, and it supports an initiative called Open Alias to shorten the very long addresses used by all Cryptonote coins. Not just Monero, all of them.

They're also the most vocal clan in the feud. If you bump into someone trash-talking Dash, he's likely to be a Monero supporter. But leaving aside the feud, Monero is very clearly a community that welcomes the Principled person. One of its devs goes out of his way to not recommend buying any Monero!

Despite that reticence, Monero's stayed in the top 20 market-cap wise and it's often been in the top 10.

Winners And Paladins

Far, far removed from any kind of crony capitalism, we see the same dual template. On one side we have the Pragmatists, basking in the feeling of being winners. Other than defensive measures like deleting any trash-talkers from Dash's announcement thread, the Dashers have tended to proceed as if they were above it all. We be winnas, they be hatas. Plus, Dash works; what more do you need to know?

On the other hand, the Moneroites have been very vocal for a very long time. Interestingly, the Principled community uses scoffs; the Pragmatist community relies on disdain. Each instance of doomsaying implies that Dash will fail because it should fail. "In a just and rational world…"

The altcoin interior, because of its anarchic environment, is supposed to be a place with no politics if the materialist (I dare say "venal") theory of politics is correct. And yet, in this altcoin feud we not only see politics but also a two-party framework that bears a striking resemblance to the two sides in our crony-capitalist system. This finding also coheres with what de Tocqueville saw in early America. If the materialist theory were right, he should have seen very little politicking. At a time when most yeoman farmers only bumped into the federal government on voting day and when the mail came ‘round, they should have had little interest in politics because there was precious little gravy to be fought over. And yet, he reported that politicking was as popular as television is today. Even when the spoils were small-to-nonexistent, politics was a popular passion.

Instead of the moderns, the one who got our number is Aristotle. "Man is a political animal." Rather than entering into politics for what we can get out of it, we take to politics like the proverbial duck takes to water. We politick because politicking is part of our nature.  ESR

Daniel M. Ryan, as Nxtblg, is shepherding the independently-run Open Audi Initiative Prediction Market Shadowing Project. He has stubbornly assumed all the responsibility and blame for the workings and outcome of the project.





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