The Dangers of Cult-Like Language in Crypto
Crypto has a big problem with language. If it wants to truly go mainstream, it’ll have to find a way to solve it.
The chasm between crypto and non-crypto folk is vast. I put much of this at the feet of the language used within the crypto community.
Often speaking in undecipherable phrases and acronyms, toxic positivity, and dismissive of all criticism, the crypto community employs cult-like language, and it could be doing substantial harm to our industry.
As a young boy, I used to go to bed obediently, then slither under the frame with the latest Goosebumps novel and a torch and read until I fell asleep.
In the grotty undercarriage of my racing car-themed child’s bed grew a love for words. Although I can’t help but be a pedant, I’ve never recoiled in disgust at new slang as it crops up – it’s how language has always developed.
I do have a bugbear with language, however, and that’s when it’s used to exclude.
Regular readers of mine (there must be one) will know I’ve been involved in crypto for over 4 years at this point, and there’s one thread that’s consistently run through the space that both irks and worries me.
It hasn’t necessarily got worse in recent years, but it certainly hasn’t got better either.
Every community will have some identifying characteristic with language I suspect, but too many nuances and it becomes its own language of sorts, and one that’s both insulating and alienating.
This result isn’t always an accident, and it’s been identified as one way that cults are effective at keeping their members close.
Whilst I don’t believe there’s some large conspiracy within crypto to indoctrinate – although I suspect some crypto detractors may feel differently about that – the results can be the same: insulate members in an echo chamber and alienate those outside of the community.
If the aim of crypto is mainstream adoption – which isn’t everyone’s vision but it’s where I want to see most sectors go (blockchain games, NFTs, and so on) – then walling it off with language is detrimental. It undermines many of crypto’s successes by presenting the space as a caricature of itself.
What Is Cult-Like Language and How Does it Relate to Crypto?
There’s several great books on the subject of language within cults – Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell being the one I refer to the most. These people know far more than I ever will on the topic, but fortunately, you needn’t dig deep to spot why it’s relevant to the crypto space.
The first important note to make is that a cult doesn’t necessarily mean the Peoples Temple in the Jonestown compound – that’s an extreme example.
As well as outcome and strictness, there’s characteristics that are common throughout many groups that are identified as cults, one of which is language. The objective is primarily coercion, and this isn’t necessarily damaging; it can be used for beneficial outcomes too.
Nevertheless, there are ways in which language can be used that only benefit the cult, and there are two that apply alarmingly well to large parts of the crypto community.
The second is a criticism levelled at Scientology in particular.
In the paper, Understanding Scientology by Margery Wakefield, there’s an example sentence that anyone in Scientology can understand, but people outside of it have no chance of following.
Here’s an extract: “I’ve been a bit out ruds because of a PTP with my second dynamic because of some bypassed charge having to do with my MEST at her apartment.”
This persistent use of acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms isn’t by accident, it’s part of a cult’s linguistic toolbox (alongside redefining existing words and creating entirely new ones), and it serves several purposes.
Firstly, it allows anyone who understands the sentences to feel a part of an exclusive club and a member of something bigger than themselves. Secondly, it obscures the conversation from the outside world – like when teenagers used to learn pig Latin. Thirdly, and connectedly, it insulates the group from those outside of it.
It’s this third point that I believe applies most to crypto, and whilst the other two may be true, they’re largely inconsequential.
Wakefield’s example sentence above means nothing to me – it might as well be in Sanskrit. However, if someone typed to me “GM HODLers! Remember, ignore FUDsters, BTD, and DYOR; WGMI! To the moon!” I would know exactly what they’re saying – I might even be tempted to holla back, “when Lambo?”.
This isn’t wholly negative, but it’s undoubtedly contributing to the divide between people inside and outside of crypto.
Many of these phrases also fall squarely within the bounds of toxic positivity too. This goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned thought-terminating clichés.
For example, BTD (Buy the Dip) is wielded as a shield against market downturns, and whilst it is sometimes sound advice, it’s also seen around doomed projects – anything that’s heading south in crypto that has nervous investors.
Similarly, FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is thrust in the face of anyone who raises any sort of criticism towards a project in the space.
I’ve joined a blockchain game’s Discord, asked a question about the project on something that concerns me, and have been immediately accused of spreading FUD. This toxic positivity and block on criticism is not healthy for anyone within the space.
My Ironic Hesitation
I began writing this article in my head some months ago and have been subconsciously adding to it ever since. I’ve mentioned parts on the Mint One podcast and have had a document I would drop thoughts into regularly.
When my urge to write the article could be ignored no longer, I began, only to stop moments later.
I considered for a moment the reaction to this piece; I would likely come under fire as being some sort of crypto detractor for calling the language in the space cult-like. I then realized the irony of not writing this article because of the potential backlash for criticizing a group that has members who combat all criticism as ignorance or FUD.
The truth is, the crypto community, by and large, is one of the best and most exciting groups I’ve ever had the good fortune to be a part of.
I work full-time in this industry and at present, I foresee the rest of my working days (which is likely multiple decades) dedicated to furthering it and enjoying it. Nevertheless, like every industry, it has its flaws, and the strange cult-like language nears the top of the list from my vantage point.
Crypto is decentralized, transparent, and borderless. It’s built on inclusion, and alienating anyone who isn’t already a part of the space, or demonizing anyone who dares to criticize it is not in crypto’s best interests.
But, what do I know? I’m just a FUDster. DYOR. WGMI!