Please stop falling for conspiracy theories
I'm a pretty gullible person.
When I was a kid, my sister told me that there was a monster inside the toilet. For years after I'd flush and then run out of the bathroom in panic. As a teen, I discovered the James Randi forums and immediately became a true believer in the power of skepticism.1 Skepticism is great! It'll keep me from falling for flimflam anymore. If I follow the principles of skepticism then people will stop thinking I'm gullible. Hooray!
In other words, I was gullible enough to believe in the skepticism ideal instead of the Skepticism identity. You're only supposed to be skeptical of what the community considered valid targets. Like if somebody pulls out a paper disproving astrology, you shouldn't then point out that the researcher screwed up their χ² test and also was later caught fabricating data. Stuff that debunked pseudoscience was allowed to be "sloppier" because it served the Skeptic mission.
It was only years later that I realized I was doing skepticism wrong, but by that point the damage had been done. I fell for the ideals so wholeheartedly they became principles: spreading misinformation is wrong and debunking it is virtuous, regardless of what the misinfo is. Turns out this is really hard to do! We're much better at seeing flaws in positions we disagree with than positions we like. It's just part of human nature to be easier on "our side".
Which brings me to this tweet:
1/There are people who are genuinely trying to talk intelligently about cryptocurrencies, but can’t because they don’t have historical background. This thread tries to correct that by suggesting required reading. First, it’s necessary to know what problem it attempts to solve.— Dave Troy (@davetroy) January 3, 2022
What starts as the crypto "historical background" quickly spirals into conspiratorial ravings that weld crypto to fascism, eugenics, and the fate of democracy. A quick outside check will tell you something's wrong, and any kind of analysis confirms that.2
I can't believe I'm about to defend crypto.— Inactive; Bluesky is @hillelwayne(dot)com (@hillelogram) January 8, 2022
This thread is completely nonsensical conspiracy-mongering. But because it's on "our side" people are gonna keep spreading this without asking "is it misinformation?"
I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M ABOUT TO DEFEND CRYPTO https://t.co/ShpRDXegjC
(Some people defended the rant as "essentially true", because there's lots of libertarians and goldbugs in Bitcoin. No! That's like saying The Protocols are "essentially true" because lots of bankers are Jewish. Don't give loons the benefit of the doubt!)
But deconstructing the argument isn't the point of this newsletter. I'm not bothered by the original tweetstorm.
I'm bothered by the retweets.
Kelsey Hightower. Grady Booch. Tim O'Reilly. Those are just the names I recognized! Scrolling through the quote tweets there are tons of people I don't recognize, but with huge audiences, uncritically supporting the conspiracy theory. And while there are people rejecting it, they're all cryptos.3 Whether you believe in the conspiracy is a partisan issue. Either you're against crypto and accept the conspiracy, or for crypto and reject it.
This horrifies me. Rejecting conspiracy theories shouldn't be partisan. No matter what we think of Bitcoin, we shouldn't be celebrating someone who thinks it's an ExxonMobil plot!
I don't want to shame Kelsey et al, that's not my intention. They're all much smarter and more insightful people than I am. But it's clear they made the same mistake of uncritically accepting evidence that favored their worldview. We all have that same pernicious seed, the yetzer hara that makes us sloppy about "our side". Why rock the boat and debunk something that so viciously tears apart the bad guys? All we'd be doing is helping the cryptobros out, you know, those guys burning up the planet to trade jpegs of apes?
This is why I care so much about skepticism. Misinformation is corrosive, regardless of who it's from. It festers in the community, pushing it towards full-blown delusion. Is it frustrating to defend crypto? Yes. Is it better to let wild conspiracy theories run free? Hell no.
I realize I'm fighting an impossible battle against human nature here. And I don't think I'm immune to this type of thinking, either— maybe a little more resistant than the average person, but I can't change my nature any more than others can. But I still think it's worth it to uphold these principles, regardless of who will listen. I am, after all, a pretty gullible person.
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Teaching a TLA+ workshop.
James Randi was a debunker of paranormal claims, like psychic reading, evidence of ghosts, or alien abductions. He mostly famously had a million dollar reward for anybody who could prove they had paranormal abilities. ↩
Because someone's gonna dig it up: DISCLAIMER I've consulted for a couple of blockchain companies. ↩
Okay, some of them are just regular ol' Nazis. They still might be into crypto! ↩