Life as LARP

Corporate media must be stoked. After an interminable hiatus, they’ve finally returned to their post as Gatekeeper of Information, the authenticated authoritative source, slow-dripping ballot counts to the unwashed masses. This isn’t like COVID-19, where people can do their own research and run with their own facts. Nope, election results must come through official channels, and MSM is the exclusive intermediary. Who’s gonna challenge their authority? This guy?

Four years ago, I made fun of Silicon Valley people for threatening to secede the Union. Good luck with that, I said. But maybe I was wrong.

Maybe they did secede. Not just Silicon Valley, but the entire technocratic elite. And not only did they secede, they managed to transcend this world and escape into an alternate reality.

That’s not just a figure of speech. Nations and borders are a relic of the past, back when society relied on manufacturing and agriculture. In a knowledge-based economy, physical infrastructure doesn’t matter. Corporations are headquartered in tax havens like Ireland and Bermuda; employees work remotely from wherever they please. With no industrial facilities to protect, borders are irrelevant. In fact, they’re racist.

The media accuses QAnon adherents of participating in an elaborate live-action roleplay, or LARP. But who are the real LARPers? The ruling class is immersed in a storyline where evil Russians want to destroy the world through disinformation, and only the enlightened philosopher kings can save democracy. As a bonus, noose-wielding Nazis lurk behind every corner waiting to terrorize women and minorities. It’s kind of like playing Wolfenstein 3D after smoking a big bowl of crack, which is apparently now legal in Oregon.

At this point, both Biden and Trump supporters are convinced that their team has won. In other third world countries, a disputed election might lead to a coup. But maybe we can have it both ways.

The late and great David Graeber once said of politics:

If you managed to convince everyone on earth that you can breathe under water, it won’t make any difference: if you try it, you will still drown. On the other hand, if you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were King of France, then you would actually be the King of France. (In fact, it would probably work just to convince a substantial portion of the French civil service and military.)

This is the essence of politics. Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. 

Here’s what happens: Trump and Biden both win. Neither concede. Their supporters retreat to their respective filter bubbles and continue down the rabbit hole. Big Tech supports Team Biden, so social media platforms will unite to purge political dissent. Any skepticism towards Biden’s legitimacy will be condemned as “election denialism” and hate speech. Problematic publishers like the New York Post will be permanently banned.

Trump supporters will seek refuge on Telegram or 4chan and see President Trump as their one true leader in the battle against satanic pedophiles. Media outlets will continue covering Trump’s every word, because it’s good for ratings and Biden is a corpse. Heck, they’ll hold off on reporting election results until 2024, just so they have an excuse to keep covering Trump. Meatspace will still exist, but only as a peripheral tourist destination, a quaint backdrop for TikTok videos and Instagram selfies. National infrastructure will be reclaimed by the earth, shelter-in-place will extend to forever, and nature will heal.

Liability for Thee but not for Me

Many years ago, my boss at a tech startup received a letter from Comcast accusing us of sharing copyrighted content. This was before home broadband, and employees were taking advantage of 10-gigabit work internet to download pirated movies over Bittorrent.

The letter listed a whole bunch of pornographic titles among the infringing content, and we all learned an important lesson about VPNs. Our manager taped the letter to the office fridge as a passive-aggressive warning to never do it again.

Why the hell was our internet service provider deputized to enforce copyright law? Because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act imposes indirect liability on any service that facilitates copyright infringement, and a broadband provider is guilty by association1. The DMCA is very different from Section 230, which grants internet service providers immunity from user content. Section 230 is why Twitter can’t be sued for hate speech, and Amazon isn’t held liable for products that spontaneously combust. They’re just a neutral platform, man. (Note that this defense did not work for Ross Ulbricht. It only works for rich people.)

For lack of better options, copyright claims have become a de facto tool for censorship. It costs $10 to send a DMCA takedown notice; thousands to sue for libel. People have been trying to get Trump banned from Twitter for years, but only managed to get Trump’s tweets deleted through copyright complaints.

The cost of defamation lawsuits is a feature, not a bug. It allows billionaires like Peter Thiel to bankrupt their opponents even if the case is stupid. And maybe we like Peter Thiel because he’s on Team Bitcoin, but the same thing is happening right now where Craig “Faketoshi” Wright is suing Peter McCormack for calling him a fraud, and BSV people are suing various exchanges for refusing to list their shitcoin as “Bitcoin”. The goal is not to recover damages; it’s to inflict as much pain as possible on the defendant so that future critics will remain silent2.

In a post-Section 230 world, social media platforms might make libel claims as easy as a DMCA takedown. More censorship is bad, but existing defamation laws are unevenly enforced. Might as well democratize it. Might even catalyze a shift to decentralization.

1. And that’s why GitHub removed Youtube-dl, a helpful python script for schoolchildren to download lecture videos from Youtube. Among other things.

2. This practice is so common that many states have enacted anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statutes to shift the burden of the lawsuit to the plaintiff. But that makes it harder for poor people to sue.

The government can weaponize legal costs too. Operation Chokepoint was a DoJ initiative to “investigate” banks who did business with firearm dealers, payday lenders, and other politically incorrect companies. Many financial institutions dropped legitimate customers to avoid the hassle.

Fooling the Classifiers (part 3)

Lyft, 2012

Lyft and Uber notoriously disrupted the taxi medallion monopoly by providing a cab-like service and calling it ridesharing. But the bigger trick they pulled was employing drivers and calling them independent contractors, thus avoiding overhead costs like health insurance and social security and workers’ comp.

To the drivers, Lyft and Uber position themselves as “platforms”, a place where enterprising individuals could be their own boss, work their own hours. For a time, Uber referred to its drivers as “Partners”. Partners with no equity, but whatever.

The East Coast creates value through laws and restrictions that lead to artificial scarcity. Silicon Valley creates value by disintermediating the rent-seekers. The US economy is just a line of people digging up holes and filling them back in.

AB 5 is a bill that reclassifies contract workers as employees, forcing employers to pay all the benefits that entails. Uber and Lyft have just been ordered to comply, but company spokespeople seem confident they’ll find a way out. Most likely outcome is that we’ll be stuck with all of the unintended consequences of AB 5 and none of the benefits.

Regulators tend to fight backwards-looking battles. Meanwhile, Uber has been shifting its engineering jobs to India, which led to the resignation of CTO Thuan Pham. Maybe the end game is that all the engineers will become contractors while drivers are full-time employees.

In other tech news, there’s some antitrust noise going around. The NY Post Hunter Biden story sheds some light on the power of social media monopolies.

Clearly, not powerful enough! Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook removes 89% of hate speech before anyone sees it on the platform. As if that’s a good thing, where problematic user content instantly redirects to a sinkhole.

The government pretends to be anti-monopoly, but what they actually dislike are unorganized monopolies. The ideal scenario is to have all the competing entities assembled in a cartel, kind of like the banking system and the Federal Reserve. Instead of hauling bank CEOs before the Senate every time shit goes down, the Federal Reserve holds regular Open Market Committee meetings to decide how to best manipulate the market.

Tech regulation is already well underway. The social media coalition that was formed to “secure the election” will become a permanent fixture that decides what to preemptively censor next. Maybe they’ll call it the Federal Free Expression Committee.

OnlyFans, but for Everything

If there’s one thing this country is good at, it’s rationalizing downward mobility. Personal debt used to be an act of desperation, a hail Mary pass before selling your flesh and blood into slavery. Now it’s a rite of passage. If you don’t have a mortgage and six-figure student loans, can you even call yourself an adult?

Some people are bothered by the suggestion that young women can pay for college by doing porn. We think pornography is the domain of the déclassé, a seedy enterprise relegated to the ass-end of Los Angeles. This person is educated, intelligent, and resides in a cosmopolitan coastal city. Expecting the urban elite to do OnlyFans is like asking prep school grads to cover tuition with a ROTC assignment in combat arms.

(Just kidding, we’d rather tell young men to become women. And then they can go do porn.)

They’re not pornographers; they’re content creators! It’s all very empowering.

Speaking of the back orifice of Los Angeles, producers are renting houses in Sherman Oaks and filling them with TikTok influencers. They call these “collab houses”. I imagine it’s something like Jack’s house in Boogie Nights, only with more teeny bop and less disco.

It’s not just smut that’s capturing societal failsons. There’s an odd trend in news media where journalists have increasingly impressive credentials while the quality of journalism has fallen off a cliff. Right-leaning outlets accuse the national papers of exclusively recruiting from elite universities, but that gets the causality backwards.

The vast majority of Starbucks baristas hold college degrees. It’s not because coffee shops actively recruit at campus career fairs, but because coffee shops have become a dumping ground for unemployed degree-holders.

Same with journalism. Society keeps pumping out Ivy League grads who aspire to elite positions, but there are only 100 seats for senators, only 500 Fortune 500 companies in need of CEOs, only 922 individuals in the NYTimes “Faces of Power”. (See also: Elite overproduction)

Given the paucity of positions where you can impose your views on others — most of which are occupied by boomers who refuse to die — we see overflow into journalism, academia, NGOs, even tech. Hence the trend of downwardly-mobile thought leaders trying to leverage their role as an engineering cog to engage in social activism. Good luck with that.

I used to think the decline of journalism was a result of Silicon Valley’s capture of ad revenue, when in reality no amount of money can save an industry overrun by trust fund brats. Serious Writers have been pushed into the independent newsletter business, waving digital begging bowls like derelicts on the New York Metro. Sure, some of them are like the concert violinist who makes more busking than playing Carnegie Hall; the rest barely collect enough to cover the bus fare home.

It’s hitting Silicon Valley too. Engineers quietly suffered the indignity of moving from Aeron-equipped offices to cubicles, and from cubes to shared desks. Now you don’t even get a desk. Buy your own desk and work from home. Remote work obviates the coordination benefits of full-time employment, so everyone’s a freelancer now! How liberating.

But maybe this is intentional. Keep everyone at home creating and consuming intangibles, where they can’t cause trouble. We made a mistake earlier this year by giving people free money without anything to keep them occupied, and disturbance ensued.

So here’s how we distribute the next COVID relief package: Don’t. Instead, run a lot of ads like this:

People will work to meet imagined demand. Create state-sponsored bots that open Substack newsletters, tip the OnlyFans pornographers, download the podcasts, click all the things. Did you know that 71% of ad impressions are served to bots?

See, we don’t need a billion Americans to beat China. And we’ll all live prosperously ever after.

National Security (part 2)

I don’t like political posts, but this question has really been bugging me:
Why do we have unqualified respect for members of the military, but not for police officers? Aren’t they similarly dedicated to protecting our rights and freedoms? Why do cops get such a bad rap, while service members get a national holiday, priority airline boarding, and a 10% discount on Apple products?

Easy. Our troops only fight Bad Guys: Terrorists, who hate us for our Freedom. Commies, who hate us for our Values. Fascists, who hate us for our Diversity. There’s no reasoning with these savages, so of course they should be bombed back into the Stone Age.

Police officers, on the other hand, beat up on Good Guys. Especially helpless minorities. Maybe those minorities were caught doing not-so-legal things, but that’s a natural response to systemic oppression. An armed robbery should make you stop and think about why the robber felt that was their only choice, and how the system failed them.

Maybe the media has something to do with prevailing attitudes. Here in the US, an arsonist who throws explosives at a police station is a “mostly peaceful protester.” In Iraq, a civilian who opposes foreign occupation is a dangerous extremist. One nation’s political dissident is another country’s terrorist, the only difference is marketing.

Foreign aggressions benefit a coterie of special interest groups: Defense contractors, Bankers who finance defense contracts, corporations ready to exploit the resources of an overthrown regime.

Sane people don’t risk their lives to line the pockets of oligarchs, so we have to manufacture a mortal enemy. In the leadup to World War I, newspapers ran stories of German soldiers cutting the hands off of children and skewering babies on bayonets. Then there were North Korean soldiers feeding babies to dogs, Iraqi soldiers pulling newborns out of incubators, Saddam Hussein stuffing babies into wood chippers, Libyans taking Viagra to rape children en masse, and other unverifiable tales. No matter how ridiculous, if the media repeats it often enough it becomes Fact, and anyone who questions the propaganda is a traitor. You’re not a genocide denier, are you?

Why is it always babies?

A free and independent press might challenge state propaganda, but no one would ever mistake ours for one.

Embedded journalists accompany military units and filter appropriate information to the public. Release of unauthorized content is a violation of the Espionage Act, which prohibits the communication of classified information for reasons of “national security”. Hence the persecution of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange. Pretty much anything can be classified for reasons of “national security”, especially information that might shift public opinion about our troops.

Police officers mostly do protect and serve their communities, but oligarchs gain nothing from that, so there’s no need to promote respect for local law enforcement. In fact, let’s encourage infighting amongst the locals so no one notices all the stuff happening abroad.

The Soviet Union collapsed after decades of expensive proxy wars drained their resources and demoralized the population. Is that where we are now?

See Also:
Death of the Unfettered Press
War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

Here’s a video clip of a North Korean citizen discussing Human Rights issues in the US:

American citizens are afraid of their own police, because American cops look like they’re going to pull a gun out any second. American cops shoot their own people when they look suspicious. Whenever someone goes near their pockets, they get shot and killed. Little children are arrested if they don’t obey the police, even little girls. Huge cops who look like pigs beat people to a pulp and handcuff them.

Is that human rights?

I think we sent them the wrong propaganda.