A Lockean Theory of Digital Property

Alex Jones and his show have been banned from Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, YouPorn, and Pinterest, and people have Opinions.

CENSORSHIP, his defenders cry.

Private companies enforcing private rules on private property, detractors reply.

Maybe they’re both right.

Cullen Roche likens Alex Jones to a guest pissing on the carpet. If someone pisses on your carpet, you kick them out of the house, no problem.

BUT! Suppose Cullen lived in San Francisco, where pissing on the ground is the norm. Suppose Alex Jones showed up at Cullen’s house and pissed on the carpet, and Cullen did not object. Suppose Alex showed up the next day and pissed, and Cullen still did not protest. Suppose Alex shows up day after day, and Cullen allows the behavior to pass.

And suppose this continues for many years, until one day Cullen decides that piss puddles are no longer welcome in his house.

You’ll need to find somewhere else to piss, Cullen might say to Alex.

No, Alex might reply. I’ve become accustomed to using your carpet as a chamber pot and quite like it here. I think I’ll stay.

TOO BAD, Cullen would say. THIS IS MY HOUSE. GO BUILD YOUR OWN HOUSE TO PISS IN.

Not so fast, Alex could reply. I’ve been marking my territory for many years. As a result, I now have a prescriptive easement. This spot of carpet is mine to piss on.

Right, that’s a thing. According to state law, an entity can earn an interest in the property of another through regular use*. In California, if you use someone’s carpet as a toilet for at least five years, you establish the right to continue doing so. This is also known as squatter’s rights.

Squatter’s rights don’t often come up in disputes because people are generally quick to remove strangers who urinate in their homes. THEY DON’T WAIT FIVE YEARS TO FORCE PAST BEHAVIOR TO CONFORM TO THE SHIFTING STANDARDS OF SOCIAL JUSTICE.

Use-rights appropriation isn’t just Marxist bullshit; John Locke’s labor theory of property also applies: An individual owns their own labor, and has a right to any mixing of their labor with property. I don’t know about Alex Jones, but I put a lot of work into my Twitter account! Nine years of careful supervision, to be exact. Witticisms needed my re-broadcasting, funny memes my endorsement. I tilled the soil, sowed the seeds, trimmed the flowers, watered the weeds. Today I have 20,000 followers. They may not matter to Twitter, but they matter to ME. If Alex Jones worked as hard on his accounts as I have on mine, I daresay he’s earned the right to continue using his plot of virtual real estate.

* Remember when people got all worked up after Vinod Khosla bought some beachfront property and blocked off access to Martins Beach? The California Coastal Commission claimed that families had been accessing the shoreline via that land since the 1920s. Thanks to a compulsory easement, Khosla was forced to open his Private Property to all manner of derelicts, many of whom probably pissed on it (this is San Francisco, after all).

DIY Firearms

While everyone’s freaking out about 3D-printed plastic guns, here’s a long-forgotten gem from the US Army:

Kids, don’t try this at home.

How to make explosives out of bodily fluids. Your parents’ tax dollars paid for this:

TM 31-210. Department of the Army Technical Manual

Why I Am Leaving Silicon Valley

The rent is too damn high.

Every couple years the lease runs out, the rent goes up, and I migrate further south to cheaper pastures. It got to the point where I was living closer to the Central Valley than the Bay, so I figured I might as well get the jack together and have a little house and a couple of acres. I’d have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens, and when it rains in the winter, we’ll say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof AN’ LIVE OFF THE FATTA THE LAN’!

I went to public school at the height of the Environmental movement; we learned how to build birdhouses and sprout seeds, set up compost piles and sort the recycling and all that other Green and Sustainable stuff. Figured I’d be living off the grid no problem.

Six months in — the vegetables have been decimated by deer, the chickens won’t stop laying in the weeds, and the rabbits were ready for the spit four months ago but I just can’t do the deed. If it weren’t for the fact that I live 20 minutes from a Safeway, I’d have starved.

This is a good thread and I recommend reading the whole thing:

California is still recovering from a six-year drought emergency; it’s ridiculous that I use municipal drinking water to irrigate lettuce and tomatoes. The only plants that grow well in this climate are dry scrubby brush. Humans can’t digest brush, but ruminants can. The Greenest thing to do here is to eat the deer, then buy vegetables imported from wetter climes.

They outsourced the air pollution to China. They sent their homeless people there as well.

Turns out sustainable living — the comfortable kind, with iPhones and electric scooters — requires a lot of outsourcing. Aside from food production, there’s the fact that I live in a house full of stuff. Coastal citydwellers like to talk about their walkable streets and energy-efficient density, but all that densely packed shit has to be manufactured somewhere. My new solar panels were made in Shanghai, so I can virtuously signal carbon neutrality while criticizing China’s contribution to planetary destruction.

Last week, WeWork banned meat from company events and expense accounts in order to reduce their environmental impact and score points with environmental justice peeps. But being headquartered in New York City, there isn’t enough space to grow crops for their 2,000 employees. They would have to truck in produce from afar at a huge carbon cost. To minimize environmental impact, WeWork employees should make use of Manhattan’s locally sourced quarry. In other words, WeWorkers should simply Eat the Rich.


Or eat roadkill. The Joy of Cooking was first published during the Great Depression, which is why it has a whole chapter on cleaning and dressing rodents.

Universal Basic Bullshit Jobs

A bullshit job is one that is useless, that the worker knows is useless, and that, if eliminated, would leave society none the worse. I wasn’t a huge fan of David Graeber’s Debt, but just had to pick up Bullshit Jobs because it’s always refreshing to read an author writing from firsthand experience.

Despite massive increases in productivity and overseas manufacturing, we’re all working just as much as we were a century ago. Some attribute this to the rise of the service sector – waiters, hairdressers, Uber drivers and such – but service staffs have stayed fairly constant as a proportion of the workforce. What we really have is a proliferation of information workers: admins, accountants, flak catchers, and paper pushers. These are bullshit jobs.

Graeber proposes that we do away with bullshit and give these otherwise-useless humans a universal basic income. Set them free to write poetry, start a band, or patronize cafes in a sort of uroboric form of economic stimulus.

Ugh. If you give the commoners a basic income, they’re going to ask for free health care. If you give them free health care, then they’ll want free education, free housing, more income, better health care, higher education, and so on. It’s like giving a mouse a cookie.

In doing away with bullshit jobs, Graeber misses the most important part of mass employment: Nobody wants an idle populace. At best they’ll scurry underfoot; more likely they’ll attempt to assemble and overthrow the ruling class. You can’t provide free bread unless you have free circuses to keep them occupied!

Give the Mouse a Job

That’s why Democratic candidates are running on a platform featuring a universal job guarantee!

I support a job guarantee for the same reason I support compulsory K-12 education and our prison system. Like, I wouldn’t want my own family members to partake in these facilities, but I recognize that there is some portion of the population that can’t be trusted to roam the streets. Just look at what David Graeber did when he had some free time in 2011! He took up vagrancy in Zuccotti Park and became a public nuisance.

Now, we can’t imprison everybody that society deems useless (although lord knows we try), but we can do the next best thing: Give ‘em all a job!

But what kind of jobs? Agricultural jobs, like the poorhouses of yore? Public works projects, like those administered by the WPA? As the employer of last resort, the federal jobs program will invariably end up loaded with subprime workers. You know, the kind that might otherwise be shooting up or urinating on the sidewalk, and that probably shouldn’t be trusted with critical infrastructure or anything with moving parts. To minimize societal harm, the guaranteed jobs will need to be bullshit.

We can’t call it that, of course. No one wants a low-wage makework job, especially if means-tested benefits are still on the table. Workers need Dignity and Purpose to help them swallow their bullshit wages. For inspiration we turn to academia, which is where most of these dumbass ideas originate.

Consider David Graeber. As a tenured professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, he holds a much-coveted guaranteed job. But not only is his field of study complete bullshit, the entire industry is bullshit as well!

Academia is a magical place where bright young narcissists forgo 6-8 years of present income in order to forgo a lifetime of future income. More importantly, they voluntarily incarcerate themselves in ivory towers to avoid inflicting harm on the real world.

With some ivied walls and clever marketing, any shit-wage makework can gain the illusion of influence. Arcane job titles, for instance, are a great way to impart a heightened sense of status. Associate Professor. Chancellor. Postdoctoral Scholar. Emeritus Fellow. What do these words even mean. I don’t know, but they have a lot of syllables so they must be important. An adjunct professor has the same approximate salary and job function as a substitute grade school teacher, but only the former would be invited to a gourmet sandwich shop with ingredients like soppressata, capicollo, and a striata baguette.

Government-guaranteed jobs are totally doable; just dump them all in the hallowed halls of higher education. Taxpayers currently subsidize both public and private institutions, so the cash spigots are already pointed in the right direction. WOW, all of a sudden universal free public college doesn’t seem so out of reach either! Damn. Sometimes I feel like central planning would be awesome, if only I were the one in charge of planning.

The New Roving Bandits

I can’t help but admire the way Amazon has Seattle firmly by the balls. Back in May, the City Council unanimously approved a per-employee tax on large employers to help fund affordable housing and homeless shelters. After Amazon halted construction on its new 17-story tower and threatened to take its jobs elsewhere, council members folded like a cheap tent encampment and repealed the tax. Ain’t nobody gonna tell Amazon what to do.

Wait… It’s supposed to be the government that bullies local businesses, not the other way around! As stationary bandits, they extort tax dollars from subjects under threat of violence. As greedy, profit-maximizing bandits, they maintain a monopoly on theft and keep other bandits at bay. As clever, forward-thinking bandits, they provide public goods and law and order to encourage future taxable income.

Agricultural societies benefit from the protection of a stationary bandit. Industrial economies do too. We tend not to find capital-intensive operations in undeveloped slums – with no one to monopolize theft, roving bandits compete to loot and plunder. Such is anarchy.

But stationary bandits require stationary subjects. If an aircraft manufacturer takes issue with local tax rates, it can’t just pack up and move its facilities to Mexico. I mean, it can, and many US companies did, but the capital outlay limits the credibility of the threat. An information-based company like Amazon, on the other hand, can drop a lease and move to Bangalore before the next City Council meeting.

The switching costs are lower.

Information technologists are no longer subjects to be governed, but customers in voluntary exchange. And a dissatisfied customer will happily take their business elsewhere. As we speak, there are twenty major cities bending over with bids to host Amazon’s next HQ. Chicago even offered to let Amazon keep $1.32 billion of the income taxes paid by its workers each year. The mayor might as well step down and install Amazon as the new autocrat.

sovind

So here we are in the utopia described in The Sovereign Individual, where jurisdictions compete to provide protection to paying customers. I daresay it sort of sucks.

(If we were having this conversation on Twitter, here is where people would chime in and blame capitalism.)

The best way to deter bandits is to make the target look as unrewarding as possible. When the Roman emperor Julian embarked on a campaign against the Sassanid Empire, the Persians burned their crops, chased the livestock away, and deserted the villages. The citizens would rather live in a wasteland than submit to Roman rule. With nothing to conquer and no provisions to steal, the Romans had no choice but to retreat.

As the coastal cities turn themselves into third world slums, I wonder if that’s been the plan all along. Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, NYC — they may be shitholes, but at least they’re our shitholes.