Snitch Culture

I’m thinking about taking up cockfighting. Sure it’s illegal, but who isn’t these days. The Founding Fathers were into it, as were the ancient Greeks and Romans, and they seemed a classy bunch.

Roman rooster money, AD 138

Cockfighting ceased to be an aristocratic pastime around the same time gentlemen stopped settling personal conflicts with a duel, and opted to take their opponents to court instead. The new high society preferred sports with rules and referees, where the loser doesn’t die, but goes home and has the opportunity to redeem themselves in the next match.

The progression mirrors our cultural shift from one of honor to dignity. Honor Culture arises in lawless societies, where people rely on their buddies to get their back. Violent retribution demonstrates your value as an ally, and deters future attacks.

In Dignity Culture, the state has a monopoly on violence. Vigilante justice is not tolerated, thus the desire to punch the guy who insulted your mother must be sublimated into a stiff upper lip. Society values thick skin and self-restraint.

In the 60s, a new phenomenon emerged where sports players pretended to suffer a foul inflicted by the opponent. In basketball it’s known as a flop, in soccer it’s a dive. The goal is to feign injury so that the ref will issue a penalty to the other team.

Where it was once a point of pride to take your knocks with dignity, now it’s more rewarding to collapse and go into death throes.

Scholar‘s Stage describes this as Victim Culture. The purpose of a moral culture is to come to consensus when resolving disputes, but as industries grow, people spend more time interacting with faceless bureaucracies than other humans. Conflicts that once settled with a face-to-face chat now now require an appeal to authority. More administrators are hired to deal with complaints, and people are conditioned to become whiny and helpless in the face of an amorphous blob. Competitive victimhood ensues.

The Original Karens

But Victimhood is only half of the equation.

Remember the first lesson we learned on the schoolyard? Don’t snitch. If the class bully just gave you a beatdown, that’s a normal part of sorting the pecking order. Tattling to the yard teacher is a betrayal, not just of the bully but of the entire class tribe.

In a culture of Honor, the only thing worse than losing is being a snitch. Snitches get stitches. That’s how drug lords and crime bosses avoid being outed by captured henchmen. Detainees know that any punishment meted by the criminal justice system is nothing compared to the retaliation that awaits. (That’s why CIA interrogators resort to torture.)

Cops have the Blue wall of silence; the mafioso have Omertà. Even in the corporate world, silence was self-enforcing. Employees who expose their boss’s dirty laundry would never find another job, because no one wants to hire a traitor.

TIME magazine promotes the sexist “Karen” stereotype

In modern society, we’ve dressed up snitches and deemed them whistleblowers. White House leakers used to get prison time; now they get book deals. Disgruntled tech employees used to end up in the unemployment line; now they take their grievances to the New York Times and get diversity offers. The SEC has paid out $330 million since the pandemic started, for people to rat out their bosses. This should be a sign of serious dysfunction, but the result of societal atomization is that no one is loyal to anyone, except perhaps the State*.

Feeling left out? Join the #CitizenArmy where you, too, can help doxx your seditious friends.

In short, we’ve adopted the moral values of a middle-aged spinster, pretty much the paragon of social isolation. The good news is, other countries have been through this and managed to recover. The bad news is, there was a lot of death and destruction along the way.

*Don’t get me wrong — Edward Snowden is a hero and martyr. Objectively, Snowden did betray the trust of the American Empire, and exile to Russia is pretty much what you’d expect from a vengeful State.

Guilt by Association

Guilt by association is a relatively modern concept. Back in the olden days, people were free to fraternize with criminals and terrorists, as that was our First Amendment right.

This was primarily a consequence of the unreasonable burden of trying to police such activity. A self-interested government tries to maximize economic output, to generate more tax dollars to pilfer. A ban on doing business with Bad Guys imposes transaction costs, as every business would have to conduct a background check before accepting a customer.

In fact, the government was so adamant in prioritizing free-market trade that even social justice warriors were told to stand down. In 1966, the NAACP tried to organize a boycott of racist businesses in Claiborne County, Mississippi. The merchants sued for tortious interference (the boycott interfered with the merchants’ business relationship with their customers) and won in the Mississippi Supreme Court1. BUT! In 1982, the US Supreme Court reversed that decision.

A lot happened between 1966 and 1982. Information moved from filing cabinets to IBM mainframes. Businesses began collecting vast quantities of location data, spending history, and demographic information, all in a conveniently searchable database.

By 1970, it was no longer unreasonable to expect banks to record the source of customer funds. So money laundering laws were invented to create Guilt by Association. It costs nothing to deputize the banks, and the War on Drugs is more important than our First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.

The internet further changed our notions of indirect liability. Lack of knowledge has always been an affirmative defense to possession of illegal contraband (“These aren’t my pants, officer. I had no idea there was a sack of freebase in the back pocket!”).

But that doesn’t work if you’re an internet service provider with activity logs. If illicit data passes through your servers, you knowingly possess that data. By 1998, “I had no idea my customer was downloading Metallica bootlegs” was not an affirmative defense2.

Even if Googlebot comes across child porn when crawling the web, it has a legal duty to report3. Indirect liability may violate our Fifth Amendment rights, but you want to stop Child Porn, don’t you?

Anything that can be deputized will be deputized. We take it for granted that businesses know about every criminal that uses their service. But wait — Big Tech companies have made a business of predicting exactly what people want. It’s no longer unreasonable to expect companies to detect when people are wanting to do Terrorism.

That was the justification for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping after 9/11. We were outraged when word first got out, but now it’s accepted as a part of life. In fact, we literally demand that social media platforms police people who think Bad Thoughts.

Laws are a codification of social norms. If technology changes those norms, then it’s inevitable that laws soon follow.

“Federal law enforcement is currently working to identify any suspected extremists who may pose a threat at the planned armed demonstrations.”FBI Bulletin, January 12 2021

Preemptive policing! Lock up those criminals before they even commit a crime. You want to stop Domestic Terrorism, don’t you?`

References:
1. NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.
2. Digital Millenium Copyright Act
5. 18 U.S.C. § 2258A

When Dissent is Labeled as Domestic Terrorism, only Domestic Terrorists will Dissent

I was innocently browsing the internet yesterday when I came across the first sensible column describing recent events.

Over the past few months, the internet has become unreadable. My Twitter newsfeed is a nonstop freakout, as if costumed Trump clowns were really going to seize control of the government. And somehow even ice cream brands are weighing in? It feels like everyone’s on an acid trip and I wasn’t invited.

And finally a voice of reason. I scrolled up to find the author of the piece — To my shock and horror, it was a neo-Nazi. My web browser had unwittingly strayed to a white supremacist website (why doesn’t Google Chrome block hate sites by default??). I immediately deleted my browser history, sprayed my eyes with Lysol, and donated all my money to the ADL as penance.

But wait a minute. Assuming I haven’t completely lost my mind — is the Daily Stormer seriously the only sane thing left on the internet?

I’m not going to link to it, but here are some excerpts:

I think we can all agree it was catharsis {sic} to watch these people rush the Capitol. And according to polls, 45% of Republicans said they supported the rush.



There is nothing in that building, anymore, that deserves our respect. It is a joke, but it is also a monument to, and the center of, terror and oppression.

These people were invited into the Capitol, most of them had no idea what the legal ramifications of this would be. They were angry and they were in a frenzy. It was total mob psychology, something that we understand well. None of them had bad intentions – which we know, because there wasn’t even any vandalism, let alone violence against people.

Now, they’ve fully demonized Trump supporters as basically a terrorist, insurrectionist force that needs to be dealt with using any means necessary. They are now justifying an absolute crackdown, and a total transformation of law enforcement in America.

The takeaway that everyone can agree on is this: America is no longer governable.

The only way that the Democrats are going to be able to lead is through brutal tyranny. They are convinced that this will work.

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.