Bankless - Nic Carter | Layer Zero

Primer: In this episode of Layer Zero, David interviews Nic Carter, a prolific writer and content producer in the Bitcoin space. They discuss various philosophical topics including the Cypherpunk culture, Bitcoin and religiosity, and many more.


  • Prolific writer and content producer

  • Bitcoiner in the Bitcoin space

  • Works at his fund Castle Island Ventures

  • Has a podcast called On The Brink

Moving To Miami

  • Burgeoning crypto community in Miami

  • Operate remotely now due to COVID

  • Has spent 4 years in Boston and wanted to try a new place to live in

  • Crypto has a very heavy Latin American influence. One way to get in touch with that group is to have a Miami office

What's Your Deal?

"What's your deal?" is the very first question David asked Nic 2 years ago
  • 2 years ago, Nic's response made David reconceptualize what crypto is and think of crypto as more of a political movement than a technological one. Bitcoin instantiates a lot of values that Nic has (unprintability of money, strong property rights, etc.)

"That's deeply insightful. Two years ago, me was a genius. I don't know about present day me, I think I've lost some brain cells. And that time, but that's still my deal." - Nic Carter

  • Still holds true for Nic today. Is still a resident enthusiast and skeptic bundled into one. More open-minded than 2 years ago

Is He Part Of The Ethereum Community?

  • When David pitched Nic to come on the show, Nic wasn't sure whether is he part of the Ethereum community

  • Likens it to the guy heckling the performers in a theatre production. Is that guy part of the production?

  • Some Etherians tolerate him while others write him off as a hopeless Maxi, which he is not

  • Is just on the sidelines

Would He Resist If Someone Considered Him Part Of The Ethereum Community?

  • In terms of a Venn diagram, nobody would say he is an Etherean

  • Certainly used Ethereum more than the average global citizen

  • Has invested in many companies building on Ethereum

Crypto And Cypherpunk Culture

Bitcoin And Ethereum Culture Is Just Downstream Of The Cypherpunk Culture

  • Bitcoin and Ethereum share a common ancestor in the Cypherpunk culture

  • However, it is a mistake to say that Bitcoin is the sole inheritor of Cypherpunks as there's a lot of Cypherpunk stuff that has nothing to do with the blockchain

  • Important to remember that the Cypherpunks are not a heterogeneous group

  • Tenets of Cypherpunk belief:

    • Digitally native cash

    • Strong importance of anonymity

  • Bitcoin has reasonable pseudonymity and is a bearer instrument. Has very different features to the private digital cash that Cypherpunks had in mind

  • Thinks that what cypherpunks want would resemble a stablecoin

  • Bitcoin gives monetary independence. This idea was so strong that it blotted out the other Cypherpunk idea (building dollar-stable instruments to transact privately)

  • If there were billions of private stablecoins floating around, that would be a win for freedom and sovereignty

Crypto Community Retroactively Saying That Their Values Are Cypherpunk Values

  • Doesn't think that there are many true Cypherpunks in crypto

  • A lot of people profess themselves to be Cypherpunks, but it's mostly a branding exercise

  • A lot of the original Cypherpunks have completely denounced cryptocurrency

"One thing that crypto has done is put public private key into the hands of everyone that uses crypto. And that is absolutely like a Cypherpunk thing. Like now we all have private keys. And we can build on top of that and go from there." - David Hoffman

  • Crypto facilitated the consumerification of public key cryptography. Millions have been introduced to it because of crypto

Bitcoin At 12

Article written by Nic illustrating Bitcoin as a Cathedral that is being built by many different individuals, with many builders not being able to see the fruits of their labour because a cathedral takes hundreds of years to build
  • David: How many hours does Nic work on Bitcoin?

  • Spending 5-10 hours each week writing and funding Bitcoin start-ups

  • His focus is broader — funding start-ups for the crypto space at large. Is not limited to Bitcoin

  • David: Does Nic Carter move the needle for Bitcoin?

  • Nic thinks that Bitcoin is absolutely fine without him

The Layer Zero Of Bitcoin?

David: We fundamentally accept the Layer Zero of Ethereum, which is its people. Is there such a concept for Bitcoin?
  • The establishment view is that it stops at the code. Bitcoin does not need anyone to propel it into the future

  • Bitcoin also has value primacy — values supersede the code, especially in a time of crisis. The code is just an encoding of its values

  • Bitcoin has the social element, but people conveniently pretend that it doesn't exist

  • Thinks that this is not just a Bitcoin question. Monetary theorists have been puzzling over how monetary systems are built, specifically how the people in control cannot tinker with the parameters excessively to benefit themselves

  • In history, there have been movements to get on the gold standard. This requires governments to have an ongoing commitment to surrendering power

  • What we saw in history is governments going off the gold standard for a bit before calls were made to go back on it. Bitcoin is the same thing. There needs to be ongoing vigilance and commitment to not changing anything

The Recent Bitcoin Energy FUD

  • Felt it was very weird. The FUD reached a crescendo for some reason

  • Guessed that it could be due to Elon Musk

  • Spoke to the press every day and couldn't do his job at that time

  • For the last 2 months, he has been saying no to all press enquiries

  • Wrote a paper on Bitcoin and energy. Will be out sometime this month

  • Did not enjoy the limelight of being a Bitcoin spokesperson. Felt more like an obligation

Bitcoin And Religiosity

  • Observed that Bitcoiners tend to go to church on Sundays, more so than the rest of the industry

  • Bitcoiners are more conservative

  • Not currently attending a church, but is religious

"It's [Bitcoin] technologically forward, but it restores more ancient values." - David Hoffman

Is Selecting A Church Like Picking Your Tribe In Crypto?

  • No, people don't normally pick and choose a church in this way

  • Was baptized into the Anglican Church in England. In the US, that would map on to the Episcopalian Church

Debate With Frances Coppola

  • Frances Coppola said that, as a Christian, she rejects Bitcoin because the doctrine of absolutism specifies that only God Himself is absolute

"It [Bitcoin] inspires feelings of sublimity and, you know, something truly awesome in sort of the Baroque meaning of the word awesome." - Nic Carter

  • Was baffled by the response. He sees Bitcoin as a human institution, something that is created that supersedes our base human desire

Can Divine Terms (e.g. Omniscient, Omnipotent) Be Applied To The Blockchain

  • Bitcoin does not make any metaphysical claims

  • Always held up the mysterious origins of Bitcoin as a strength

The Bible And Blockchain

  • A charitable secular description of the Bible as a set of heuristics that we have learned over thousands of years and incorporated into stories as guidance as to how to live

  • The religious version considers it as genuinely the received word of God

  • Rules are similarly encoded in blockchains. Transactions have to be crafted in a certain way for it to be valid

Considering Bitcoin And Ethereum As 21st Century Religions

  • Mixed on the merits of Bitcoin/Ethereum as religions

  • His preferred analogy would be a political one

  • Blockchains are not complete in the sense that a nation is, but 100 million or so people worldwide have kind of subscribed to a concept of the Bitcoin nation

"I think the truest definition of the Metaverse is a congregation of people that are gathering in a certain venue where that new digital identity supersedes the old identities that they sort of had or subscribe to." - Nic Carter

  • The concept of the nation state is starting to become obsolete too. The crypto community is global and yet have much more in common with one another than their fellow countrymen

  • Crypto affiliation is the strongest because it's deeply tribal and the stakes are financial in nature

What Happens When It's Playtime

  • Going mountaineering

  • Good excuse for him to turn off his phone

  • Tries to do it once a month

  • Good friend of his divides fun into 3 types:

    • Type 1 fun — Pure straight hedonic fun

    • Type 2 fun — Challenging in the moment and may not seem fun. But afterwards, you are sort of glad that you did it

    • Type 3 fun — Feels miserable and terrible at the moment. Upon reflection, you want to do it again

  • Categorizes mountaineering as type 3 fun

Memory And Crypto

  • David realized that his memory has gotten worse after he got into crypto. Thinks that is due to using multiple devices to outsource his memory functions

  • Nic thinks that as more external storage becomes available, people just externalize more. Eventually, the brain just becomes an index of how to find information

  • Nic thinks that mentally speaking, he is at his worst

What He Is Doing This Weekend

  • Would try to do something outdoors if he finds a spare weekend

  • Most of the time, he reserves his weekends for writing because that is the only time he can get into deep work

Does He Actually Like Coors Light Or Is It Just A Meme?

  • Actually quit drinking, but if he had to drink, he would drink Coors Light

  • When he was an undergraduate, he wrote most of his papers drunk and edited them when he was sober

  • These days, he has to get into a flow state to write. Doesn't try to rush it

What Do You See On The Horizon For Our Industry And Bitcoin

  • Bitcoin is becoming more predictable and widely understood

  • Cuba passing a Bitcoin law cements the notion of Bitcoin as not that interesting. This is good for Bitcoin overall. Gold is extremely boring and is worth 11 trillion dollars

"The future of Bitcoin is just going to be this onward march towards respectability." - Nic Carter

  • Always been more on the conservative side and is wary of financial regulators. Think that there will be some reprisal from the state. It will be extremely painful but we can survive it

  • 60% of the crypto industry is America-based and is very exposed to what happens in the US. Have to reimagine what it's like to build uncensorable protocols and critically examine some of the choke points that regulators will go after

What Adds More Risk? Bitcoin Or DeFi?

  • Bitcoin will suffer collateral damage by association

  • Lightning operators will be lumped in together with DeFi if something adverse happens to DeFi

  • Seems to him that DEXes would be the primary target

Favourite Music Artist

  • Huge Beatles fan. Love Pink Floyd, Eagles, and Tame Impala. Big fan of Kanye

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