51% Attack

in partiko •  last month

No, Not That Kind of 51% Attack

In the crypto world, a 51% attack is when an entity or conspiring group gains control of 51% or more of the mining capacity. When that happens, the chain is under their control. They can take it in a new direction, use it for their personal gain, or effectively shut it down. Blockchain developers and users all want to avoid this. We put safeguards in place to prevent such a thing.

Democracy is Vulnerable

The United States has a democratic process of electing leaders and to some extent determining public policies by voting. But we are a a republic, not a democracy. You've likely heard that before, so I wonder if you've stopped to question what that means. I've been thinking about this lately.

In a democracy, the majority rules. If we could assume that the process of voting is never corrupt and the vote always reflects the true will of the voters (we cannot), the moment 51% of people elect something it becomes law. Just as it is in the blockchain example, whatever the other 49% want becomes irrelevant. In a true democracy, the 51% sets the direction for everyone else.

That's good, right?



Democracy and Centralization

I live in one of the red counties on the map above. They obviously cover a lot of land area, and also a good chunk of people. Close to half the country, though the people in blue areas with their densely populated cities do outnumber the red. For the sake of this article, let's say it's about 51%.

There's a tendency toward centralization when large groups of people are working together towards common goals. It's efficient. It works, at least for a while. But sooner or later, centralization always jumps the shark. I think it's a natural process. What goes up must come down. What grows must eventually decay. In a natural ecosystem, many life forms coexist at different stages of growth and decay. This decentralization allows an ecosystem to be very resilient, while individual structures rise and fall.

The republic I know as the United States of America was created to be resistant to central control. We have several protections in place to prevent a 51% attack. One of these I perceive to be currently under threat: the Electoral College.

Maybe it's not under threat and maybe it's all just talk, but we are hearing "get rid of the electoral college," to the cheers of the 51%, said by people with political power and influence, not just Millennial college professors.* Interestingly, while this article still sat in draft mode, I came across a new video on this topic: https://partiko.app/@deanlogic/politically-correct-the-after-show-why-we-hae-an-electoral-college
I haven't watched it yet, but it does show I'm not alone thinking about this.

* (Yeah, I said professors. I turn 40 this year, and Millennials right behind me. We have to stop thinking of them as a bunch of kids.)

In my voting lifetime, this protection against 51% attack has kicked in twice. The last time was in 2000. Each time, members of the 51% get resentful that they weren't able to assume control, and they talk about dismantling the protections. Even though I'd voted with the blue team, I looked into it and decided those protections are there for a good reason. The more recent time was in 2016. Again I had voted with the blue team, but with a lot less conviction. And as the inevitable backlash to our security measures ramped up, I read and shared this article about the urban/rural divide which, whether the author intended it or not, makes a damn good argument for why an electoral college is important.

The 51% Attack

Why is a 51% attack a bad thing in crypto? If someone has more than half the mining power they get to determine what to do with it, right? Isn't that how it should work?

Sure, as long as you're not anyone else with a stake in the blockchain. You saw the image above with all the red counties, where the little blue ones have more people so they assume they should have all the power and influence?

That was from 2012, a year when the blue team won without question. The map below is from 2016.

Looks like the blue team got hollowed out a bit, eh? Especially around those big lakes, the northeast, pretty much the whole east coast.

And this is the one that the 51% is so pissed off about that they think it's fine to just fork the chain to get what they want. Well, you won't get what you want. Forking the chain just cause you don't want to do the work of making it better weakens the whole ecosystem.

That's about all I have to say on this topic today; it's time to publish. But I feel unsettled. I fear there is another, more surreptitious attack going on. I haven't read the Cracked article I linked in over two years. I noticed the author changed the name. The article link shows it was once titled "6 Reasons For Trump's Rise That No One Talks About." He changed it to be far more disparaging of the simple country folk that he (for now, anyway) describes early in the article as "the good guys in movies" and stories. Now it reads "How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind." Did he change the article text as well? I wonder. I certainly read it differently, after the events of the last two years.

Why is it that authors, artists, and journalists everywhere are quietly changing their own work, censoring it to be more in line with the 51%? I feel like we missed a vector of attack somewhere. It is not surprising that there's an urban/rural divide, but the cities should not be so uniform and authoritative in their views. It's chilling.

Hell no, I do not want to see the majority rule.

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I recently heard a podcast which describes the method of redrawing of election boundaries. The first but was... What? You put the elected political class in charge of that process? Well, that is just a bad bad start...

Hell no, I do not want to see the majority rule.

Oddly, the majority doesn’t want to see the minority rule either.


Fair point. I don't want to see anybody rule, so I think it's healthy that we have a system that tends to alternate between simple majority and regional majority. When a minority of districts contains a majority of the population, what then? In Rome, they voted for bread and circuses. I like that sometimes the vote swings in favor of the majority of regional districts, instead of all districts being ruled by their central cities.

Lately it feels like the majority doesn't want the minority to rule over even their own lives. That's what I meant by that last comment. Thoughtful authors I used to like are now changing their own articles, going along with the narrative, censorship and deplatforming - it's weird, and it makes me distrust the whole notion of majority rule. There should never be a 51% so uniform. There are just different people, from all over. Good ideas should bring in enough people from enough places that the support is obvious and it isn't forced.

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