I first learned about Jason Stanley when he appeared on the “Deconstructed” podcast. On that podcast (from 3 years ago) he was pretty coy about calling Trump a Fascist. There are other elements at play now in our society besides Trumpism, such as Christian Nationalism (or as I like to call them, Nat-C’s). Anyway, this is how Fascism works, and I am pretty sure it fully manifested about 2 years ago.
I have read and listened to Joseph Bernstein talk about Facebook being a propaganda tool. There is a lot of defining what misinformation is, and what disinformation does, but it’s mostly political. In my opinion, that makes it propaganda. My take away from Bernstein is that the existential threat of Facebook is also propaganda, from Facebook.
One very interesting fact about the Facebook whistleblower disclosures to the SEC, and one that got almost no press attention, is that she claims, based on internal Facebook research, that they were badly misleading investors in the reach and efficacy of their ads. And to me, the most damaging thing you could say about Facebook is that this kind of industrial information machine doesn’t actually work.
Knowing that some of Facebook’s power is a lie is somewhat reassuring. It’s not reassuring enough for me to go back or anything, but it does help me to not look down on the people that still use it.
I am also a big fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. A few years ago, he blasted Facebook for basically ruining western civilization in order to make money off of advertising. There’s way more to it than that, but basically the huge troves of information that Facebook gathers in the interest of targeted advertising has cause all kinds of negative externalities. Much in the way that hydrocarbons have destroyed the environment for the purposes of selling cheap plastic shit.
Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray. It’s a tool for finding people who possess uncommon, hard-to-locate traits, whether that’s “person thinking of buying a new refrigerator,” “person with the same rare disease as you,” or “person who might participate in a genocidal pogrom,” and then pitching them on a nice side-by-side or some tiki torches, while showing them social proof of the desirability of their course of action, in the form of other people (or bots) that are doing the same thing, so they feel like they’re part of a crowd.
I have done more than my fair share of my own complaining about Facebook. It would appear that Facebook is not the all-powerful propaganda machine that it has been made out to be, and if its stock price is any indication, Facebook may very well be on the decline.
Facebook now has to somehow retain users who are fed up to the eyeballs with its never-ending failures and scandals, while funding a pivot to VR, while fending off overlapping salvoes of global regulatory challenges to its business model, while paying a massive wage premium to attract and retain the workers that it needs to make any of this happen. All that, amid an exodus of its most valuable users and a frontal regulatory assault on its ability to extract revenues from those users’ online activities.
I thought this 2020 bullshit was over with the arrival of 2021.
I probably said this before, but I don’t see how the next couple of years don’t bring about more sectarian violence. My anxiety since the election began is that we are headed for one of 3 outcomes:
- A Trump Win – which would ramp up Black Lives Matter protests even more than this summer, with even more crackdowns.
- A Biden Win – which ramps up the 2nd amendment and anti-lockdown protests at state houses and the like <-you are here
- No Clear Winner – which results in a full blown civil war.
I was not expecting to be right, or for the bullshit to kick in so fast. It really made my head swim.
Now I have to pack up my shit and be ready to go fight somewhere. I’ve been learning about amateur radio, and I think that I could revive some of my military communications skills and serve as an Radio Telephone Operator for BLM protests and the like. I also had some emergency medicine training, so maybe I could put that to use. I’d really like to get through this without a gun if the universe would allow it.
A couple of
years months have passed since the initial COVID-19 lock down, and my personal bout with the illness. Now the darkest timeline has moved on to protesting, I thought I would put down my thoughts about my experience before moving on to something more important, like how Black Lives Matter.
Looking back on the events, I don’t think that our healthcare system was prepared for what happened to us. It was impossible for me to get tested for COVID, even with the help of a doctor. I was very fortunate to be able to keep working. Having served in the Ohio Army National Guard, I did some disaster relief work in Nicaragua. There I experienced both tropical disease and life in a failed state. My COVID-19 experience was eerily similar on both fronts.
My Daughter Probably Had COVID-19 A Month Before Anyone Took It Seriously
On February 17th, my 7 year old daughter became extremely ill. She had flu symptoms, including extremely high fevers, but she tested negative for the flu. She was admitted to the hospital on the 24th of February, when her temperature hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit. She remained there for 4 days. She was ultimately treated for pneumonia and given two different rounds of antibiotics. She came home late on the 27th. This was two days before the first confirmed U.S. Corona Virus death in Seattle. The story is that it concentrated in the New York City area, but we live in Cincinnati.
I took most of the week off of work to help keep an eye on my daughter at the hospital. In our family, we have a “no one stays in the hospital alone” policy. My 2 year old son went to school the whole time, but we kept him home the Friday after my daughter came home from the hospital.
The first week of March, my daughter returned to school, and on the 12th of March, my wife and I decided to keep the kids home from school for the rest of the week because of all the school closings. On March 15th, the schools officially shut down. That day, I started feeling ill. The kids have yet to return to school.
I Got Turned Away From The ER With A High Fever
The week of March 15th, my son and I were pretty sick. I was completely exhausted, I had a cough, and I kept getting fevers. Whenever I took Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, I would get these terrible sweats, followed by intense chills. By Thursday, March 19th, my wife took my son to the ER. Later that night, my temp hit nearly 104 degrees Fahrenheit and I went to the ER as well. I was triaged in a tent in the parking lot, and I sat in a bed for 20 minutes before a doctor told me I probably had it, but they couldn’t test me. Like, get the fuck out basically. That visit cost me $800 after my insurance, BTW.
I was sent home with an information packet about Corona Virus, and told to quarantine for 2 weeks. Then next 15 or so days were awful. I would get these coughing fits where I couldn’t
catch my breath. Everything smelled and tasted awful. My son was on an intense antibiotic that gave him diarrhea, and changing his diapers would make me gag and dry heave. Once my fever cleared up, was still exhausted and I still had a horrible cough. At one point, we had groceries delivered to our front door. I carried them to the kitchen and I got so out of breath that I started vomiting. It felt like times that I had overdone it while sprinting or weight lifting.
My wife, my son, and I all got sick in within two weeks of my daughter’s return home from the hospital. My daughter did not get sick again. It would appear that we had whatever she had, and that she had some sort of immunity.
I began working from home on the 15th of March, and I didn’t go into the office again until mid April, out of sheer necessity. I had to oversee a fiber optic network install for a new office.
I never got a COVID test; my antibody test came back negative
One of my trips into the office, I got a prescription for COVID-19 testing. I saw a testing place near Dayton, but it was always closed down when I went by. I tried calling the Ohio Board of Health about where to go, or how to schedule. They didn’t answer the phone. When they called me back they referred me to the Butler county board of health, who also did not answer. When they called be back, they didn’t know where testing was happening.
Meanwhile, a convicted rapist and a tiger at The Bronx Zoo was able to get a COVID test. This whole situation felt like a massive failure on all levels of the government and healthcare system. And I came through relatively unscathed. I was incredibly fortunate. So many other are not.
Two weeks ago, I got an antibody test that came back negative. My family doctor is thoroughly convinced that my daughter had COVID-19, and that the rest of us probably did too.
It probably won’t go away, and if it does, it will probably come back stronger
Between the botched response to the pandemic and the pressure to reopen the economy, I think we are virtually guaranteed to see either low to no decrease in new cases, and/or a second wave of infections. If the Spanish Flu was any indication, the second wave is probably going to be even worse. Between the 100k+ deaths so far in the US, the economic collapse, and the absolute cash grab by corporations following the bailout, I can’t help but feel like the United States has descended into a failed third-world state like Brazil or Venezuela. Oh, yeah, and during all of this, the two presidential candidates with plans for healthcare reform got pushed out of the primary. FANTASTIC.
Also, those 100k+ deaths are disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color. Of course it does. That has to be the most American thing that I have ever heard.
With the death toll in the U.S. ratcheting up past 100,000 and the estimated mortality rate of somewhere between 1% and 3%, that means that somewhere between ten and thirty million people have gotten the virus. Those numbers are staggering. Somewhere close to the number of seasonal Flu cases each year. Flu is so prevalent that there is a major push each year for people to get the annual vaccine, and sometimes I get the flu anyway. Right now, there is no COVID19 vaccine.
That was my COVID19 experience, which was basically reliving a bout with a disease in a Third World country, only this time it was the US. The only thing missing from this occasion is the leftist guerrillas.
One of the unique ideas posed by “Hypernormalization” is the contrast between John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace and William Gibson’s Neuromancer where corporate networks control all commerce in secret. For most of my adult life, I have always been able to reconcile both ideas: that the compulsion of corporations to amass data in secret – which translates to wealth and power – and the duty of hackers to expose it, and for pirates to redistribute it. I was comfortable with the idea of the gentrified surface web was a front for the deep web (not necessarily the dark web), where the real shit gets done. Lately, I feel like I have lost that faith in… pretty much all of it.
Over the years, the struggle hasn’t just been about The Web. As software consumes more and more of our lives, there is no real difference between life at the keyboard and away from it. Most of us carry at least one Internet-connected computer our person most of the time; before you know it, it’s no longer going to be the Internet of Things, it’s going to be Software Defined Existence. Before I get all singularity on this, I want to call attention to the idea that advocacy for privacy and free speech, and against copyright and surveillance is rapidly becoming less about protecting people’s online lives and more about protecting “the real world” from being eaten by shitty software. I feel like I fought hard against Things That Suck on the Internet, just to have all of those things spill out into my daily physical life.
There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from
My life as a hacker, a pirate, and a crypto-anarchist has always centered on the belief that I was part of a movement that was changing things. I knew that the corporations and governments would do their best to to turn the Web into “TV with a BUY button.” But, I also knew that people like me would keep Barlow’s “Home Of Mind” alive by resisting that gentrification at every turn. There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from, and I was part of a kind of “Fifth Column” of pro-privacy, anti-copyright, and pro-free expression dissidents, rallying others to fight that war. The people like me were the tip of the spear, but there were also larger and mainstream forces at work. Mainstream forces like Silicon Valley were also doing the pushing. Sure, Google and Facebook were slowly eating our privacy for their own ends, but that was just the surface. Deep below the surface, the hackers, the pirates, and the crypto-anarchists were all keeping it real.
Lately I can’t help but feel like that is no longer the case. Silicon Valley *is* the Gentrified Web. It’s Google Safe Search. It’s the Facebook news feed.. It’s Amazon’s Choice for buying cheap plastic shit. It’s using Instagram to post pictures of the things that we love most: ourselves, at the expense of the things that matter the most: everyone else. Silicon Valley betrayed us. It was bad enough that Hollywood tricked us into working jobs that we hate to buy shit that we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like. Silicon Valley has managed to weaponize that very same cocktail of envy and ennui to the point that we are living under the tyranny that is Fear Of Missing Out. The revolution is over. The good guys lost. Nothing left to do now but take a bunch of Xanax and
watch American Idol on television watch clips of other people going to Coachella on your phone.
Occupy Wall Street and the Anti-SOPA movement were the peak. It got everyone organized, but no one could get their minds around the idea of a real conversation between real people. They can’t do it because no one can really imagine anything other than submission to the same old power of the centrally planned, corporate-sponsored, government state. Big Tech is just going to keep doing the same old rent-seeking and extraction-capitalism that everyone else has done for centuries. Big Tech isn’t revolutionary. It’s evolutionary. They will keep doing it because no one has any idea what something else looks like. Revolutions have been fought, but the infection of the old tyranny persists. The broken machine will stay broken; it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the drivers’ seat.
I don’t got time for your petty thinking mind, son. I’m bigger than those…
I guess that this is the essence of The Great Big Thing(tm): that it doesn’t matter what you do, you are part of it. If you support these broken systems, you are part of it. If you fight the broken systems, you are *still* part of it. There is no “capital T” Truth, there is just the pro-machine propaganda locked in a scorched-earth conflict with the anti-machine propaganda. No one can see a way around it; everyone just seeks to stabilize it. The thing is, it won’t stabilize – because it’s broken. Broken systems do not function as designed. They malfunction.
For every good thing the hacker community does, there are these epic dramas between [fragile] egos, and the [toxic] cliques built around those egos. It’s exhausting to be part of it. Part of washing out of Facebook was also washing out of the hacker community. I just don’t have any more patience for dorks with Asperger’s syndrome failing at interacting with other dorks. It’s a lot of talking, and not a lot of hacking. There are a few people out there (most of them female, BTW) that are doing things, but for the most part it’s 10% doing something once, and then 90% holding court. I just can’t do it anymore.
I have spent the last year angry at basically everyone I know for participating in this Facebook Fake News/Russian psychological warfare campaign. I washed out of Facebook because convincing my friends and relatives that they’d been conned was slowly bleeding away my will to live. I also left because of the revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in swaying the election through targeted marketing. Just logging in to Facebook made me complicit in the whole campaign. As time goes on, it would seem that the HyperNormalization of Facebook users has been manipulated to one extent or another to sway a few key votes. Not sure how that helps me to be honest.
I don’t yet see a causal link between Cambridge Analytica, the Guccifer2.0 email leaks and APT28 hacking the DNC, but there does seem to be a fair amount of correlation. If it wasn’t a coordinated effort, at least a few people must have known they were happening. At the very least, some decision maker was advised by someone who was aware of these operations. A fair amount of my existential angst over the past year has been the polarization of the views of my Facebook friends. I don’t know if it helps me or hurts me more to know that at least part of it was a deliberate and cynical attempt by well funded groups to make it happen. On the one hand I can feel smug and superior that I am a freethinker that didn’t get caught up in Russian PsyOp. On the other hand, feeling smug is pretty much all I’ve got, and it’s just not worth it. The way that HyperNormalization works is being for a group or against the group doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are interacting with whatever it is. It could be Nationalism, it could be political corruption, it doesn’t matter because it needs both supporters and opponents to continue to exist. Fighting it only makes you a part of it. Also, being in exile from Facebook has forced me to confront the fact that I’m a really shitty friend.
The Russia Thing
So my friends and family aren’t idiots, they’re just pawns in someone else’s game. That’s a relief, I guess?
That still leaves the whole Mueller investigation and the steady flow of soul destroying information that comes with it. As I have stated before, I don’t care about the Trump presidency. They had Richard Nixon dead to rights and all he did was resign and be pardoned by his successor. All the pee tapes and white-hot smoking guns in the world won’t make Trump suffer a single bit. So it’s not worth even daydreaming about. Also, if you think Trump is empowering White Power and Christian Identity Nationalism, wait until President Pence takes over.
What I *do* care about the collateral damage Russia and Cambridge Analytica have caused and will continue to cause. I also care about how we as an electorate deal with the huge vulnerability social media poses to democracy. Allowing the United States to descend into fascist tyranny is a hell of a price to pay for a couple of tax cuts. I like it when the government stays out of basically everything, but replacing the government with unchecked corporate power isn’t even remotely a good idea. On the list of “Top 10 Corporations that shouldn’t be in charge of the United States” Facebook owns at least two of them.
The thing that worries me the most is the fact that 12 of the Russians indicted in the Mueller investigation are officers with Russian Military Intelligence. Meaning that this was basically a military operation. Maybe GRU is military in the way that the NSA is – national level not operational level – but that still doesn’t make me feel good. If Russia was a country full of brown people, the US would be invading it right now. Fortunately for the world, US foreign policy is pretty racist and Russia is a Caucasian ethno state, so two nuclear superpowers probably aren’t going to go to war directly.
Intelligence isn’t evidence
My involvement with the American intelligence community was minimal at its very best about 20 years ago. I am not an expert on the subject, but I do understand a couple of basic concepts of military intelligence, such as casus belli. Before you can perform a military operation, you need to have intelligence to justify its necessity.
The difference between intelligence and evidence is that intelligence is information that something either has happened, is happening, or will happen. Evidence is proof of what happened and of the damage done as a result. As we learned about the Gulf Wars, the burden of proof to justify a war is far lower than the burden of proof for a judgement in an American court of law. Also, an indictment is a far cry from a conviction, but an indictment of 12 foreign nationals probably still requires more evidence than it takes to sanction any kind of military operation. Usually spies just get traded back to their home countries under diplomatic cover.
This is why the Russia thing is so concerning. Of course the US interferes in foreign elections. Of course the US is conducting PsyOps of its own against other countries. Of course the US is conducting like 6 shadow wars in Central Asia and North Africa. All that shit is proxy for conflict with Russia. APT28 and APT29 are taking direct action against the US which is threatening the delicate balance of terror between the US and Russia. Even without full-scale invasions, proxy wars between the US and Russia are sending the world into chaos. Just look at the baffling situation in Syria.
I can’t help but fear that the pieces on the chess board are lining up into an Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand-type situation. The elements are starting to form: trade disputes, economic sanctions, complicated [even contradictory] diplomatic alliances, and clandestine military operations on foreign soil. The scary thing isn’t a new WWI, it’s the genocidal chaos that followed WWI. Oh, and that it led to WWII and even more genocide.
It’s been a little while since I have been destroyed by existential dread, but when it comes to meaningless suffering, the western world never seems to disappoint. My issue dejour is that some beta chauvinist spent too much time on 4chan and then drove a van through a crowd of people. In an age of mass shootings, murdered journalists, and white power marches, I now have to contend with radicalized misogyny as well. Thanks Obama!
Somewhere along the way, weird white dudes stopped being trolls and started being terrorists. Somehow the Autism spectrum has been weaponized.
As a weird white dude, this disturbs me more than Nazi Bullshit because I can’t help but feel that something that I was once a part of has been co-opted for truly awful purpose. The alt-right using memes to spread their bullshit was bad enough. Memes never did anything to anyone but be awesome, so why drag them into your racism? This is something much worse. It’s some kind of gateway drug to indoctrinate nerds into this weird form of Radical Fuckery.
Back story time
You will have to forgive my linking to one of those Alt-underground blogs. I am keenly aware of the tendency of crazy blogs to reference other crazy blogs. This particular post captures something that I have been thinking about for a couple of years now: the radicalization of the bowels of the Internet, my former home. Years ago, before I found a home with the hacker community, life “Away From the Keyboard” was tough for me because I felt very much like an outsider. I felt that I was connected to something not of this world. Not just to technology, but to the pro free speech, pro privacy, anti intellectual property and anti corporate counter-culture of the Internet. It was a connection that made me feel like some sort of alien in my Midwestern/corporate/suburban surroundings.
I also felt (and still feel) that the Internet is being slowly ruined by a kind of corporate-led gentrification. The Internet was once the wild west. It was full of weird, dangerous, and scary things that corporations have felt the need build firewalls around, in both the technological sense and the metaphorical. Google safe search and the Facebook news feed are the ultimate expressions of those same metaphorical firewalls. These companies are complicit in the algorithmic dismantling of the open Internet in to “TV with a buy button”. They are hijacking people’s thought processes. And, they are neutering one of the last places in the world where Free Speech is possible. In response, I was determined to “keep it weird” by trolling the “Normal People” that would wander in to deep end of the pool. I and others like me would ridicule them for being, for lack of a better word, unenlightened. Trolling people was my way of “Freaking out Squares” like Homer Simpson did in that one episode of The Simpsons:
“Copyright is based on censorship man!”
I was having a few laughs at Normal People on the Gentrified Internet who weren’t at all equipped to deal with “The Real Internet” creeping into polite society. Dabbling in a bit of satirical and ironic homophobia is not a nice thing to do, but back then, I was not nice. I was angry and territorial. As coping mechanisms go, going on the Internet and ruining someone’s day is basically like shooting Heroin. Life Away From the Keyboard was filled with Normal People which was a source of frustration and alienation. Pointing out that Normal People don’t belong on the Internet because they’d be happier somewhere else was form of stress relief for me. I mean, I always knew that everyone belonged on the Internet, I just didn’t want the normies to accidentally fuck it up for the rest of us by confusing the Internet with television.
Fake Internet points are cool and all, but have you ever made someone really mad? When I finally found a place to belong to, I mostly put trolling behind me. Mostly. I had matured. Mostly. I learned to let other people enjoy things. I learned that being yourself on the Internet is actually really brave and that ridiculing normies was just me being one of those Gen X Cool Guys that doesn’t believe in anything. I also learned that while starting arguments and saying crazy shit in public forums is fun, that same behavior is being directed without satire or sarcasm at people who are trying to make the world a better place. Also, deadpan sarcasm is great way to make your Facebook friends think that you have severe mental problems.
They don’t think it be like it is but it do
My point here is that there is a major difference between rudely reminding someone that you can Internet better than they can and what is happening today. Like so major.
You see, the awful parts of the Internet used to be a place of perpetual flux. Sure, there were people stumbling in there to be weird and angry at the world, but there were others there who were making fun of those weirdos and celebrating their failures. Whatever you tried to do, it failed. Being an EdgeLord and trying to make a shocking statement always drew mockery and criticism. Either someone found fault in your logic and you got mocked for it, or someone went harder at it than than you and they mocked your lack of conviction.
There was no recognition; there was only mockery. In that mockery, I think that growth was supposed to happen. Getting housed by people that Internet better than you forces you to think harder about what you are doing and saying. It sounds awful, but the process of being mercilessly mocked [hopefully] matured you into a calmer, more enlightened person. At least that’s what it did for me.
Today 4chan and other awful Internet spaces are basically terror training camps for weird white dudes to become… Some kind of Autistic version of Al Qaeda I guess? For a lot of these dudes, once being white and male is no longer a competitive advantage, they won’t be able to compete at all. Sure, they’re the master race or whatever, but based on the pictures I’ve seen of their Nazi marches, those bros are inferior specimens. Take away their racism and sexism and all you have left is crippling anxiety and bad skin.
Something happened in the decade between my time as a troll and now. It went off the rails somewhere. Maybe too many people like me abandoned the Real Internet and the EdgeLords took over? I parted ways with that form of Internet culture years ago, and now I feel like a significant piece of my history has been stolen from me. And, maybe I am partially responsible? I don’t really know.
What I do know is that what I once was, is not what this is. Doing it for the lulz, however mean spirited, is not the same as doing it specifically to harm others. Even if there are people still doing it for the lulz, those lulz are somehow empowering other people to do awful things. It was lulzy when I did it, but it’s not lulzy anymore. I was not an incel. I was not a Nazi. These assholes have stolen my history.
Film as a medium is in a state of decline and it’s the fault of people like me. I don’t turn up to the theater except for big productions like Star Wars and The Avengers. That means that market forces have driven films into being flashy CGI messes. I accept my responsibility for that. I am not perfect, I just don’t have the time and money to turn up for films that I can more easily enjoy on my TV at home. I’m flawed.
In talking to a friend about Flawed Paladins I remarked that taking the whole Dudley Do-Right idea and adding flaws and nuance made MCU Cap one of the best characters ever. I love that MCU cap is an exemplar of the American Spirit who is now at odds with modern American society and government. He’s a manifestation of our WWII American Exceptional Narrative of the US saving the world from insensate evil. Cap is fictional, but so is a good deal of the narrative of American Exceptionalism. Cap is an all-American kid from Brooklyn, desperate to serve his country in the face of unfathomable evil. He sees people being hurt, and he steps up. Like 70 years later, he gets thawed out and he’s appalled by what he sees. He says “When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”
In Cap’s heart, and at the heart of the narrative, is the idea of freedom. I would define this freedom as the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from need. I would posit that modern America runs on religion and fear, is perplexed by freedom of expression, and actively hates the idea of freedom from need. Obviously you need the press and courts and all that other bullshit, but the blueprint is those four basic freedoms. MCU Cap is the personification of the idea of America and his “America is great, but this shit here isn’t America” struggle makes him perfectly imperfect. He has to do what he thinks is right, even if it means working for a group like S.H.I.E.L.D. that he doesn’t trust.
MCU Cap’s internal conflict between his duty as an American hero and the shift in American society after The Avengers [a metaphor for 9/11] is absolutely brilliant. He is at odds with Tony Stark when he hacks S.H.I.E.L.D.’s computers but ends up at odds with Nick Fury by the time he sees what Fury is really up to [a possible metaphor for Snowden/Manning]. Then all that gets pushed aside by the attack on New York. By the time we see cap again in The Winter Soldier, Cap has made a compromise: he is being a hero for America by working for S.H.I.E.L.D. but he is deeply uneasy about the duplicity he keeps seeing. By the time we see him in Civil War, Cap is completely done with S.H.I.E.L.D. (and presumably with being a hero) in order to help Bucky, and they’re coming to get him.
I can’t think of a better criticism of corpofascist America than an all-powerful private army trying to take over the country, and hunting down two of America’s original war heroes in order to do it. Sure, there’s Hydra and Ultron manipulating everything, but the real story is Cap trying to reconcile loving his country, mistrusting his government, and looking out for his best friend, none of which ever truly get reconciled. I can’t think of anything more human than that.
In other posts I have bemoaned aspects of our government, our society, or our political process. I don’t know that I have ever stated that the reason that I hate all of it: the NSA, the TSA, the drones, the torture… Obviously it violates our privacy, free speech, and our freedom from fear. But I also hate all of it because that’s not what America means to me.
I did my best in a previous rant to point out the [possibly malicious] polarization of the national conversation. I tried to express my concern over the simplification of complex ideas into rhetorically convenient narratives. Unfortunately, my self-righteousness got the better of me and I don’t think I quite captured that the heart of the issue is a reduction of ideas. This essay really captures the issue for me without needing to watch 3 hours of Adam Curtis documentaries to achieve understanding. In essence, the essay likens the focus by Western Society on [predatory] exponential financial gain to the mutation of cells into a form of cancer:
Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don’t belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.
Reducing the American experiment down to unfettered corporate growth is a gross reduction of ideas. Reducing ideas essentially reduces people. Reducing humanity down to statistics is dangerous because it eliminates most, if not all, of the complexity that makes humanity so different from everything else. I did a fair amount of whining about the hypocrisy of our polarized media landscape without talking about how absurd it is to reduce people down to being cogs in a machine. I have touched on this idea in the past pondering the nature of freedom. This reduction is absurd because the idea of advancing one ideology (which is really just a subset of human struggle) at the expense of another ideology (which is itself another subset of human struggle) is basically pitting half of society against the other half, while deliberately ignoring everything that they have in common.
Rejecting absurdity means embracing irreconcilable ideas
Much like the geardo cargo cult that worships gun culture, there is another cargo cult that worships technology. Much like the cult of the gun that has no real concept of military doctrine, the cult of code has no real concept of software engineering. Just like guns are falsely ascribed the power to help realize white-male-power fantasies, math is also falsely ascribed the power to achieve techno-Utopian fantasies. I understand how seductive both kinds of fantasies can be. The cult of the gun seeks to take control over the violent chaos that threatens to destroy so much. The cult of code wants to cede control to powerful algorithms that promise logic and objectivity and free us from the responsibility of making hard choices. The gun can’t protect you from an uncaring universe, and algorithms just crystallize the biases of their creators.
The desire to take control from those we perceive to be tyrants and to give control over to systems we believe to be objective is a paradox. Like the idea of a benevolent dictator or a truly free market, the perfect system is a great idea that always fails when implemented. Any complex system, be it an economy or a social network, was engineered by people to be used by other people. Engineers are as flawed and fallible as anyone else ergo the systems they build will also be flawed. End users aren’t the sheep that engineers wish that they were. Any imperfect thing (i.e. all things) will eventually be misused by someone with an understanding of its flaws. This isn’t hacker self-righteousness, just look at all of the government programs that get defrauded or the tax increases that billionaires find ways of avoiding. These are flawed systems designed by people that other people have chosen to capitalize on. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort, and money you put into developing a system, someone will invest more in order to exploit it.
The problem with both cults is that neither the gun nor the algorithm is a substitute for humanity, nor is either a hedge against tyranny. In fact, with frightening frequency, both tools harm humanity and encourage tyranny. Guns empower tyrants and are mostly brought to bear against the innocent. Computers empower the reduction of ideas down to data sets, where they confine us to platforms run by big corporations, another form of tyranny. The AK-47 was supposed to be a Communist gift to liberate oppressed peoples, but they mostly got used by death squads. Facebook was supposed to help us to connect with each other, but it mostly pits us against each other while shady marketers peddle divisive media for money and political influence.
Like most of my pseudo-intellectual deep thoughts, the thought began with watching an Adam Curtis documentary but is became fully actualized by watching Rick and Morty. The Adam Curtis idea, that there is a “positive liberty” which is born out of violent struggle, and a “negative liberty” which is born out of apathy. In Rick and Morty, Rick is the epitome of both the gun and the code cults. He has all the weaponry and all the technology, yet most of what he uses it for is to allow himself to get drunk and watch TV. He literally sells a gun to an assassin so he has enough money to spend the day at an arcade. He gets involved with all manner of epic adventures, mostly so he can be an asshole to everyone close to him. He is forever ridiculing the beliefs of others, yet he believes in nothing.
This is probably where I should look to the Asian philosophies I studied as part of my martial arts training should come into play, but Confucianist parables and Taoist paradoxes just aren’t the right medicine for this species existential dread. I’m pretty fucking far from being an Uncarved Stone and trusting the process. If anything, I am an *over* carved stone, and the process is light years away from trustworthy.
I have been unable to write for a while now, and so I figured I would just write about not being able to write. That ended up being this long rambling screed about my frustration with my friends and family over their obtusely two-dimensional socio-political views. It came across really angsty and disjointed. Then all this Nazi bullshit happened and I just kind of retreated again.
Getting into the Nazi thing is kind of a waste of my time. I’ve dealt with Nazis in one form or another for most of my early adult life. I had a few clashes with Nazi skins when I was a teenage punk, and when I went into the military I clashed with a few more in the US and in Germany. Beefing with German skins was weird. What I didn’t realize, was how prevalent these hard right-wing white power types were in the Ohio National Guard. I had a squad mate that was an ex-skin and he and a few like him were treating their Guard service as free training for their race war. They were conservative gun nuts prepping for a “Shit Hitting The Fan” scenario. This was in the late 90’s. I know these dudes didn’t go anywhere, they just got pushed into silence by polite society, and the specter of a global Islamic Jihad deflected the world’s attention from them. I figured that at some point those dudes would get their lives together, but not only did they not, I guess they all had kids?
I spent a lot of time with these dudes; I got to know them. One guy hated blacks because he was divorced and his wife was dating black dudes. Another was raised to be that way by his father who was a blue collar guy who got laid off in some recession and he blamed immigrants. All of it just sounded like fear and weakness to me. These guys hate people of color because people of color have the power to make them feel inferior. Good job Master Race! You’re doing a great job! It’s no different than those “nice guys” that hate women because women have the power to make them feel lonely and pathetic. It’s ironic when you think about it, white supremacy threatens the lives of so many, yet all it does is protect the egos of a few. Also, these dudes go on and on about liberty, but they are the worst sort of authoritarian apologists.
Maybe I am lucky to have more than one identity, or I’m just lucky that my identity isn’t threatened by women or minorities. Being a geek is a pretty white identity, but it’s not like John Boyega, Gal Gadot, or Rochelle are going to take that away from me. Glenn from The Walking Dead can kill all the zombies and bed all the white women he wants, it doesn’t affect me in any way. The same goes for female Ghostbusters, Daisy Ridley or Imperator Furiosa.
One thing that this new Nazi bullshit did was cause more debate about the First Amendment. The Intercept was nice enough to illustrate my point about how controlling hate speech ends up suppressing progressives, which confirms my bias on these things and helps me feel a little vindicated.
The other thing about Nazi bullshit that pisses me off is that it takes so much Nazi related self-aware/ironic humor off the table. You can’t deliberately invoke Godwin’s Law anymore. You can’t dismiss Xbros as “Filthy Console Peasants”. I have to work so much harder to be simultaneously pretentious and fake-edgy. It’s BULLSHIT.
What disturbs me the most about all this Nazi bullshit isn’t the presence of White Power. You can’t police thought, so you can’t eliminate hate. It’s the lack of conscience on display from leaders of all kinds. Of course the President had nothing to say, those Fashy creeps put him into office, but what about basically everyone else? A bunch of corporations took a stand, and that is probably the worst possible result. They’re Nazis For Fuck’s Sake. They are literally the worst human beings there are. The USA fought a war against them. They’re the definition of an easy target. There will never be any collateral damage when you take a swing at them. They are literally Hitler, literally. When the organizations whose General Counsel advises them against any course of action, any course of action that a corporation ends up taking is the absolute least that could be done. Where in the fuck is everyone else?
My lamentations about corporate power also seem to have been vindicated a little, again thanks to The Intercept. I get that we as a country have lost faith in the political process, but corporate oligarchy is not the answer. Let’s not forget that no one served any time for crashing the economy in 2008. Let’s not forget that everyone looked the other way in the interest of keeping “the system” stable. What else are we going to look the other way on? Using a private army to violate the civil liberties of a group of indigenous people? Those people aren’t white, BTW. Just thought somebody should know that.