Did the Ethereum Merge Go Wrong?

Ethereum is in a state of instability as a result of the merger. Was it all worth it? Some Ethereum supporters aren't so certain.

What are your thoughts on the merger? I recently asked William "Wills" de Vogelaere, co-founder of Spankchain and likely a half-dozen more protocols in the vile Ethereum underbelly, inadvertently.

Naturally, I was referring to the eagerly anticipated software upgrade that, on September 15, booted Ethereum's miners and replaced them with a group of stakeholders that cared about the environment.

"You mean the illusion of Ethereum?" De Vogelaere chimed in angrily.

“Oho!” I pondered. This may be interesting. De Vogelaere, it turned out, was expressing an opinion that was rarely made public: that the merger was a mistake. If not a typo in italics, some other pointless diversion.

He raged, "Really, it didn't bring anything of value other than the environmental issue.

De Vogelaere believed that the entire endeavor had been a naïve submission. He claimed that those in positions of power who were concerned about Ethereum's massive carbon footprint were only only doing so to further their own cynical agendas. No one really cares if anything is green as long as it functions, he added. "As long as they can be represented as caring, corporations don't fucking care."

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Maronn’! The price of ETH has plummeted since the combination took place, therefore it's understandable why folks like de Vogelaere are upset. Supporters of bitcoin are mocking the modification. Even the most seasoned Ethereum experts have become alarmed by whispers that Ethereum is now a "security"; some have even been moved to welcome a group of fervent Ethereum militants who were once scorned. (That will be covered.)

De Vogalaere informed me that the idea that Ethereum's reputation will improve after the merger may have been a hoax. The authorities, he claimed, are unlikely to change their minds now that this particular environmental complaint has been resolved, especially given their newly discovered readiness to classify it as a security.

And certainly, the merge was a fantastic demonstration of technological prowess. We're told that merging Ethereum in real-time is like changing the engine of a car while it's speeding down the freeway. From an R&D standpoint, it is revolutionary, but the atom bomb was also.

De Vogelaere feels that the alleged technical advancements of the merge are overstated despite this. It was intended to make it easier to implement various modifications that would increase network efficiency. De Vogelaere, however, asserts that similar solutions have long existed in the shape of sidechains—additions to the main network that employ various forms of validation—like Polygon. He claimed that the switch to Ethereum's "Virtual Machine," which serves as its computing environment, is the only one that truly has value the staking model. 

He also (thank heavens!) noted that those who lack the required amount to independently stake—32 ETH, which is roughly $42,500 at the time of writing and is dropping—must do so through centralized exchanges like Coinbase. The majority of Ethereum would thereafter be traded on a corporate exchange with a single point of failure.

We now know that the price of Ethereum has plummeted, and the authorities are acting. But is de Vogelaere's viewpoint only an outlier?

Not so! Long-time Ethereum miner Kristy Leigh-Minehan, who may be a little predisposed, isn't quite as hostile to the merger as our de Vogelaere. Instead, she questions whether it happened a little too soon. According to her, "the switch to proof of stake is a core component of Ethereum's DNA and was always intended." The question that everyone needs to ask oneself is: Was this the correct time? "It was necessary and required for future optimizations and scalability features."

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Minehan is not confident. In the current regulatory environment, "I personally do not think it was," she said. The possibility of ETH being officially classified as a security raises the possibility of "scare[ing] validators, operators, and entrepreneurs," she wonders. She continued that it can be unsettling when American regulators have such a dominant role. There is no doubting that Ethereum has established itself in the USA—that will be both its biggest strength and weakness, she added, echoing de Vogelaere.

At least some reputable Ethereum supporters are upbeat. Mat Dryhurst, a left-leaning podcaster and one of the early users of NFTs, speculated, "It could be the case that this has some impact on regulatory decision making." But to be completely honest, I don't get the feeling that the developer side is that worried about this. People are eager to expand the network's utility, and the integration seemed like a celebration of a significant development on a long road ahead.

But isn't it, as you concede, a little overrated? Dryhurst disputed, saying, "I don't think it was intended to be a major technological innovation. Rollups, zkEVMs (zero-knowledge virtual machines), and other scaling techniques are still required. If anything, in my opinion, it merely creates credibility for this particular area of crypto and boosts trust in the viability of other ideas that are being considered. He continued, saying that when he had just visited ETH Berlin, the vibe there was "as upbeat as ever."

The jubilant elderly guard

There is, maybe, a single cohort that wholeheartedly concurs with de Vogelaere and his ilk's pessimistic assessments of the merger and is openly delighted about them. They are the guardians of Ethereum Classic, an older, abandoned iteration of the Ethereum network whose supporters are arguably the most OG in the brief but dramatic history of Ethereum politics. They contend that Ethereum Classic was betrayed by the greedy handlers of Ethereum proper, just like the miners were.

Following a malicious attack of The DAO, the first decentralized autonomous organization on the Ethereum network, Ethereum Classic was created in 2016. The majority of mainstream Ethereum developers opted to "roll back" the hack and compensate the victims, which some purists saw as a fatal breach of Ethereum's fundamental concept of immutability. Because they adhered to the outdated, compromised network, Ethereum was split in half. Since then, they have been anticipating the merge in the hope that recently laid-off miners, whom they aggressively attempted to court, would migrate to Ethereum Classic in search of fresh sources of income.

Amazingly, they were correct after six years of patient anticipation.

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