From a Strawman to a Steelman

A crooked picture I took from a book by S. C. Paul & G. M. Collins called "Illuminations."
A crooked picture I took of a page from a book by S. C. Paul & G. M. Collins. There is a quote which does not appear here, saying "Your beliefs select the reality you see."

As preparation for writing about web3 skeptics, I did a lot of reading of content from web3 critics. While doing this reading, I realized it is very easy for me to dismiss their position. I am invested in building web3 technologies, so dismissing critics is my automatic choice, my instinctive reaction whenever I encounter an opinion dissenting with mine. The deeper my conviction about web3, the easier it is for me to disregard the view of an outsider.

Common ways to dismiss critics is by demeaning, minimizing, or misinterpreting their ideas in unfavorable light. This is similar to dismissing an argument by appeal to a strawman.

Dismissing arguments that are not aligned with my worldview can be rash. Shielding myself from unfavorable opinions can conceal valuable information, or the truth.

One thing I remember learning about Dostoevsky’s way of writing, is that he used to approach difficult subject with a technique that is the opposite of a strawman. Instead of dismissing opponents, Dostoevsky would offer them the best chance they have, would fortify their position. He would help opponents formulate their arguments with the same good faith and strength that he would put in his own beliefs. Then he would try to dismantle that position fairly.

This is called the Steel Man technique, or steelmanning. A good resource I found on this topic is here.


Viewed in this light, skeptics are very interesting because they are the richest source of feedback. For instance, a common theme of criticism is that web3 services are saturated with financialization and gambling. This is something that worries me often, and my intuition is that web3 builders (as a community) are insufficiently aware of the risks with this approach.

Like most cult-like groups, web3 believers are necessary but insufficient. To mature a movement from a cult into a reality with tangible benefits –  bringing improvements to society – we need the skeptics and other types of non-believers. Like I wrote in an earlier post:

It’s true that the viewpoint of skeptics is usually distorted towards criticism, sometimes unfairly so. Similarly, exuberant believers have distorted views towards positive sides of web3. The truth is in the middle. (Ref)

This is similar to the dialectical approach. We look at the arguments, then we look at the counter-arguments, and obtain a more comprehensive understanding of reality. Skeptics provide us with a much needed opposition. A synthesis of the two is very often invaluable.

I believe designing technology products in this way can be very fruitful.


Having said all the above, filters also come in handy when dealing with criticism. This is because skeptics themselves also appeal to strawman too often when criticizing web3. The majority of critical writing tends to be on the lame, emotional, or rhetorical side.

Crypto skeptics are very fond of saying “Bitcoin is dead”, for instance:

Perhaps only Prometheus has been felled, only to regenerate, quite so many times. (Ref:


As a web3 builder, I want to encourage skeptics to think hard, to press their arguments boldly. One of my primary lessons from compiling the post on skeptics was that criticism tends to cluster around a very few ideas. Just like web3 applications tend to concentrate on a few use-cases and has not breached mainstream, criticism is similarly stranded on a few islands of thought.

The issue is that criticism tends to start from a position of attack. I would love to see a web3 critic take this technology seriously: learn what it is about, steelman it, then knock it down fairly. Now that would be a formidable opponent!