Ossification is a frequently asked word in bitcoin. “Protocol will be ossified.” “Ossification is good.” “Bitcoin does not need to change, it is maximizing it now.” Bitcoin is a skeptical group of people, and as such they are naturally skeptical of change. There’s a very good reason for this: Block War was an effective mixture of certain developers (fortunately gone now) and influential personalities trying to arm people and force them to adopt harmful change through threats and disinformation. After such a major attack, it is only natural to view each proposed change as a slightly better hidden and hidden mechanism that can be used to undermine the system as a whole.
In theory, bitcoin is something that can be upgraded and changed forever; As long as the vast majority of participants choose to make a change, and they all voluntarily embrace and enforce that change, Bitcoin can incorporate it. At the end of the day, Bitcoin is just a protocol and software used to enforce and interact with that protocol. Any arbitrary change can be made to the protocol as long as people are willing to adopt and implement it.
The catch there is that people will all join the change? If history shows us anything, the hypothetical answer is no, not without a very convincing argument for value added which does not create any new externalities or negatives.
So what does this mean?
Grandiosity is not a culture, it is an incentive
Ossification is often discussed as a cultural phenomenon; For example, “Bitcoin should have a culture of ossification!” I think this completely misses what the original discussion about ossification of the protocol indicated in terms of social dynamics. The debate about ossification had nothing to do with people intentionally building a “no change” culture, or consciously deciding that “Bitcoin is good enough!” – It was about the basic incentives around the growth of the system. The more participants involved, the more people had less understanding of the trade-offs of potential changes. When someone enters this space, they begin to learn about Bitcoin as it is now and trade things off as it is now. It takes time for them to understand beyond that, to analyze trade-offs about how things might be.
Add to those very clear historical examples of people who have tried to move forward with changes that would have been very detrimental to the system, and the natural tendency in a growing environment is for changes in an approximate approach to be impossible. why? Not because of a culture that says “Change is bad!” Because the natural incentive if something is working properly to preserve or grow your wealth is not to mess with it unless he stops doing it successfully.
People will not participate in the change until they are sure that the change under discussion is net positive for their economic value. This isn’t culture, or “the extremes of Bitcoin,” it’s just pure economic incentives.
The rock and the hard place
Bitcoin will naturally ossify eventually; If not, the entire system somehow ended up being influenced or controlled by a central group of people who are able to push changes without any hesitation or suspicion from the broader user base. If this is the future of Bitcoin, I would personally consider the entire system a failure.
So in the end, if it doesn’t fail, Bitcoin will cease to be something that can be fundamentally upgradeable at the protocol level. There will be a point where the consensus rules don’t change anymore, and everyone has to settle for what Bitcoin is at that time. What’s the problem with this?
At the moment, Bitcoin is not expanding. If we end up finding that Bitcoin is petrified as it is now the next time we try a soft fork, it won’t scale even to a small part of the planet if everyone tries to use it in a self-guarded way. So, if Bitcoin is petrified today, the whole dream of money that anyone can keep themselves and effectively be free from third party risks is dead for most people on this planet.
Bitcoin will eventually stop changing, but if you get to this point too soon, there are major downsides. Bitcoin where only 5% of the world can hold themselves may continue to make a massive change in the world by being a neutral platform that opens up competition for custodial services, but it is not the true sovereignty revolution that many Bitcoins are out to. It is one thing if many people consciously choose not to self-arrest; It is quite another matter if most people are not given this option.
Changes to Bitcoin must undoubtedly be treated with caution and discretion, but this must be balanced against the dynamic of approaching ossification. Bitcoin has many shortcomings, especially in terms of scalability, and these flaws must be addressed as much as possible in a secure manner before it reaches the point of ossification. Discussing and educating about proposed changes is the single most important and most important aspect when lobbying for an improvement in the protocol change; Without a basic understanding of how the proposed change works and what it does, the natural response of people is to reject that change. If the system works, and properly secures its value, there is no reason for any rational actor to support change without the perceived benefits of its monetary value outweighing any perceived negative effects.
This presents challenges and vectors of attack for the consensus-building process. It is essential to inform users before any opportunity to enact change occurs, but this provides the opportunity for malicious actors to spend their time misleading users in order to prevent positive change or create support for negative change.
Bitcoin will have to be careful and cautious when it comes to the proposed changes to the protocol, but at the same time we will have to change Bitcoin in order to address the scalability shortcomings. The only other alternative is to accept it and close the door on a Bitcoin protocol that could actually provide the ability to hold their own money for everyone. One day it will stop changing, at which point there will be a set bar for the number of people who are able to interact with the system locally and sovereignly. We should not rush to put this tape on prematurely.
If Bitcoin is going to succeed, in my opinion it will eventually petrify, and if not, I will personally consider Bitcoin a failed experiment. But we should look to make the system as scalable as possible without damaging or destroying the basic characteristics that make it valuable in the first place. the clock is ticking; This does not mean that we should rush into reckless action without caution and careful thought, but the clock is still ticking.
This is a guest post by Shinobi. The opinions expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.