Vitalik Buterin: L2s are ‘cultural extensions’ of Ethereum

    30 May 2024

    Ethereum layer-2s aren’t just about scaling — they’re also a rallying point for “subcultures” that grow the Ethereum ecosystem more than the single chain could do alone, says Vitalik Buterin, one of the creators of Ethereum.

    In a May 29 blog post on Buterin’s self-hosted blog, the Ethereum co-founder examined the benefits of layer-2 blockchains outside of technical innovation, arguing that this layer also serves as a breeding ground for crypto subcultures.

    One of these subcultures includes old-school “cypherpunks”—who build infrastructure and tools but are hands-off about how they are used, while the philanthropic “regens” are focused on providing the community with public goods.

    Then there are also speculation-driven “degens” that seek to profit from trending memecoins or nonfungible tokens.

    Buterin explained that these subcultures, first identified by Ethereum researcher Prof. Paul Dylan-Ennis, have resulted in several different approaches to scaling, virtual machine design, and application choices.

    It shows how layer 2s have become “the ultimate playing field for action,” Buterin said.

    “[For example], institutional profit-oriented groups and people buying pictures of monkeys are very very culturally different.”

    Design decisions come at a cost

    However, Buterin warns that blockchain developers should understand that the decisions they make to attract a certain audience could also exclude others.

    “If a blockchain becomes publicly understood as being ‘the casino chain’ and nothing else, it becomes hard to get non-casino applications onboard.”

    These protocols would also find it much more difficult to attract non-mercenary core developers and researchers, he added.

    Buterin preaches ‘cultural pluralism’

    Buterin is optimistic that all subcultures on Ethereum layer 2s can be balanced by the concept of “cultural pluralism,” which would ultimately benefit the Ethereum ecosystem.

    “[Cultural pluralism allows] one subculture to focus on core development while another focuses on growing the ‘edges’ of the ecosystem,” Buterin explained.

    Buterin highlighted that few cultural specialties have emerged on Ethereum’s layer-2s, such as more women taking up more leadership roles at Optimism and ZKSync’s commitment to remain “simultaneously cypherpunk and user-friendly.”

    He also acknowledged many challenges lie ahead from clashes between these subcultures as a result of “incentive misalignments” — but he’s confident they can be resolved in due course.

    “Ethereum is an ongoing experiment, and part of what excites me about the ecosystem is its willingness to tackle difficult problems head-on.”


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