Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Protection's Price

Elites always create the "free rider problem" that justifies their police powers. Junk paper mail is caused by elites having the USPS provide delivery to certain preferred organizations at a substantial loss; consumers thus learn to ignore most mail, raising the financial bar required to get someone's attention, and making honest grassroots attempts to create awareness of anything else seem suspicious. Rousseau said it already, but it's useful looking at this again in light of the destruction of most of the good parts of the internet.

The same thing happens with "spam," as e-mail providers control and sell lists of addresses in order to facilitate spam, and other b.s., that causes people to be mistrustful of things they find on the internet. For their own safety, people migrate to "trusted" venues, which makes them a captive audience for later manipulation. Reliance on certain communication venues--e-mail or networking accounts--places data in the hands of the gatekeepers who have promised to protect you from the spam-wave they created. Not only do you now have to see the ads, you're also steered into the virtual Superdome with frightened, petty humans who gnash their teeth at difference and thrive on the protective aura of six or seven artificial personalities.

"The Division of Labor," by keeping people sparkly-eyed and ignorant about the institutions and technologies that govern their lives, is a way of producing not efficiency, but captive audiences, always awaiting Form 261-7B.4 from HR.

The original version of this, as far as modern civilization goes, was of course the highwaymen and caravan-raiders who crushed small traders, forcing people to rely on "safe" toll roads, and pay protection money to lords, who would then convert their highwaymen to armies, and villages to walled towns under military control. Not only did this allow markets to be controlled, it allowed crime to be controlled--"independent" highwaymen, unable to muster the resources of the nobles, fell to the larger armies. Merchants who resisted tolls became, to elite definition, first smugglers, then highwaymen themselves, starved to the point of rebellion. Peasants who resisted resettlement became gypsies, goyim, gremlins or goblins, untrustworthy and unwashed, their meddling blamed for all the problems that happened inside the walls. No doubt those roving Romani are the explanation for those missing pots and pans, and God knows those damned Bedouin and their olive trees are ruining the trade in Phoenician fabrics.

The independent spammers can now be vigorously resisted, because they lack political power. The real spammers are now not only respectable, but un-removable and un-ignorable: the standing professional army of admen, whom we absolutely had to let inside the gates, in uniform, to protect us from the bandits who stole all our crops last season. This is why modern armies required vigorous shaving and clipping--so that you would see absolutely no connection between those hairy, dirty bandits, and the valiant soldiers, equipped with their tiger-protection rocks, who keep the bandits away.

Before he gets popped, Guido hears the Don say, "I heard you was using the deli to run your own small-time scams." And Guido thinks, "But idn't dat whut you say wuz da way ta git ahead in dis world?"

7 comments:

  1. The internet example is plausible, but it is more complicated than that. The problem is, that there is very little meaningful and reliable info on the internet. Instead, there is a huge variety of small-time sources or individual bloggers that only very rarely produce rigorous enough analysis of anything - yes, peer review is horrible, and is by definition gatekeeping, with all the perverse motivations that come with it, but it is still better than the unverified and sensationalist drivel that constitutes most of the 'independent traffic'.

    Worse, the small players often have the exact same distasteful motivations as the 'big players' - notoriety, or more often - simply traffic and advertising pennies. To achieve that, they will publish anything that has a chance of picking interest - typically half-backed stories with high emotional content that make people angry, but upon closer examination turn out to be complete bullshit.

    One easy example is the proliferation of sources on 'healthy eating' and avoiding 'the dangers of the industrialized food system'. I can't dispute the fact that there are many things wrong and scary with food distribution, but that does not make what they do right. Headlines of the type "OMG, such and such additive will kill you and give you cancer"! based on a 'study'. In most cases, if you actually bother to read the study, it turns out that it is based on rats, given thousanfold larger dose than likely to be found in any regular application.

    Heck, a cup of coffee contains hundreds of known cancirogens. But it won't kill you. So people who are somewhat educated, and pride themselves in finding real, independent information on the interwebz, end up prliferating outrageous bullshit that accomplished absolutely nothing other than undermine confidence in real expertise *even more*. than is the case now.

    Yeah, expertise is undemocratic - that's why it is expertise. But internet made things worse - fringe groups, sufficiently motivated, can actually skew the conversation in extremely irrational directions. That's why I do in fact want to go to the official sources - but by that I don't mean the NYTImes or WSJ, but actually pick up a good book or an actual academic article, and then attempt to sift through the bullshit - it is still overwhelming even there, but at least there is some semblance of standards. Most of the stuff on the internet has none, or if it does - like this blog to a substantial degree - it is not going anywhere in terms of wide audience. If there is no tiltilating title and easy to digest short content (500 words max), fuggetabaoutit - there will be no trading up the chain (of blogs to bigger blogs, to national media)

    One recent example is the circumcision debate:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/09/intactivists_online_a_fringe_group_turned_the_internet_against_circumcision.html

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    1. There's a plausible argument to be made that fringe groups are, whatever their errors, an inappropriate overreaction to something that does, nonetheless, need reacting to. Say, the IRA in 1919, hammering out the knees of Royalists. Were they wrong? Yes, in those actions, but the larger scheme of things places fault with the English for the system in which the act occurred (just so if any other citizen of an occupied country over-resists against a representative of her/his occupiers).

      It's difficult to decide whether to blame David, or Goliath, for the broken window next to the coliseum, particularly, if the stone came from David's sling. He's literally and necessarily guilty of the window breaking, and maybe he should've taken a few more practice shots out in the wilderness before winding up for his big moment. Of course, this one would, in approaching the situation, weigh the components, then conclude that Goliath was responsible for all antique glassware destroyed during the battle, regardless of who actually did the smashing of any individual piece.

      (C.E. 1980s example: inner city drug crime. Do we blame first/only the feuding dealers, or instead the local political cartel that crushed the economy and set up the prohibition regime?)

      If the Goliaths were all removed, the other problems would vanish on their own. Some free riders are purchased by power, but many create themselves independently as means of surviving a corrupt regime. As long as we blame both, with the heavier emphasis on the more powerful set of creators, no stones are left unturned.

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  2. Maybe my use of 'fringe groups' is imprecise, but the reason I am inclined to treat many with disdain is the fact that they pursue misguided causes for misguided reasons. Your latest post related to the nuclear mess is a good example. If we assume that humanity, regardless of political direction, needs a sustainable source of energy to maintain 11-12 bn people in comfort, it is generally straightforward to show that nuclear power is the only viable option for centuries. The 'fringe opposition' on the interwebs is not really 'fringe' in social class sense as, just like in the case of organic food, the most vocal opponents (and proponents) respectively are white middle class liberals who do not actually have to worry about having electricity go out, or not having enough to eat. So under the guise of heroic fringe opposition to the inhumanity of the mainstream is simply an infuriating display of status seeking and conspicuous consumption. (hey, look at us tirelessly working for clean energy and clean food, and when are you unenlightened poor bastards going to realize the right way?)

    The general issue thought is that any opposition that has no more in-depth theory of the place of man in society and the world is a lazy pastime at best, and a further poisoning of the public discourse at worst. It is empty (and often factually incorrect) rhetoric, disconnected from any realistic vision of society and people's place in it. Accordingly, even people with the 'right ideals' often end up being simply annoying, dangerous, or both, and thanks to the internet, they can easily be both.

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    1. The propertied backlash against the ephemeral concept "nuclear power" stems from ignorance--not of the need for it ("need" as in, "if we wish to keep throwing out leftovers and playing with our computers"), but of the safety issues. It could be done safely, but only when it is being done by people thinking, and spending, generations ahead. Our current economy is designed around selfishly genetic self interest, ergo in quarters, or at best years, so nuclear power will--like everything else--be invested in with those standards in mind. The masses tacitly accept that it must be necessary, and defend it, like Walmart, not seeing how poisonous its current version will be in the long run, while the propertied ignorantly claim that it can never be done safely.

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  3. And as an example of an actual David, what about groups such as the Black Panthers? They had a seemingly commonsense mission (black empowerment, finally), but again, they did it without any particular thoughtfulness and systematic analysis - they simply went on to harass some whiteys, in some cases to the detriment of humane learning in general, such was the case with the Cornell incident - threats, occupations, weapons, etc. to which the universities capitulated.

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    1. We run into the "means to an end" dilemma there, of course. White America likes to pretend that it was its own sense of ethical growth, helped out a little bit by MLK's speeches and marches, that caused the end of formal African American segregation, but what if it were, instead, the recognition that real rebellion was coming otherwise? Minor harassment, like its macrosocial counterpart "name-calling," is a prelude to systematic violence.

      Gorillas may throw leaves, stamp their feet, and do the intimidate charge before they actually bite and kill. Real revolutions have periods of years of discontent, minor effrontery to State forces, and finally, a tipping point. In the case of "U.S. Civil Rights," the Powers-That-Be may have realized that even the deaths of high profile leaders would fail to stem the fomenting rebellion, and so capitulated. It only serves their interests to tell people, "Nonviolent marches solve problems"--look at the past twenty years of wars, spy state, and reduced wages. It's possible that, not given legislative changes, the Black Panthers would have needed to be more formally put down.

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    2. (...which is all to say, if the Black Panthers were jerks, then they were jerks, but if they were jerks in response to bigger jerks, "primarily" historical fault should rest with said bigger jerks.)

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