One theory for how internet trolls get power

The upside-down OK sign (the one many guys can remember punching others/getting punched after showing/seeing it; at my high school I think we called it “the asshole” but I don’t remember for sure) was co-opted by 4Channers or some such trolls so that now people are being banned for life from Cubs games. This has got me thinking: Why do companies capitulate to these frenzies?

What’s going on with the trolls is easier to understand: they identify a symbol for whom no spokesperson can come forward and disavow anything (at the moment white nationalism is popular as a thing nobody would want to be publicly associated with, but theoretically it could be anything at a similar distance from the Overton window, so we’ll just call it X), then the trolls use internet memes and such to tie that symbol to X and laugh and eat popcorn while their society reacts by going crazy. It’s like Project Mayhem only involving cultural memes instead of private property, which in a way is even worse because it means nobody has a personal financial incentive to step forward and stop it. (Pepe the Frog, for instance, has Matt Furie and his lawyers suing people for copyright infringement because Furie created Pepe for a web comic back in 2005.)

The chain must go something like this:

Trolls make jokes involving cultural symbol and X. Joke becomes meme. Meme gets shared on social media. Journalists see meme and miss the joke, if the joke wasn’t missed already. Journalists write articles about the meme as if it isn’t a joke. People read the articles. Some people are very keen to identify and become outraged by anyone who seems to be even ignorant of, let alone OK with, symbols of injustice, inequality, hate, etc. And some people in positions of power are very intimidated by the outraged people and/or their lawyers. (Sometimes this is helped along by legit Xers earnestly adopting the symbol.)

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the Cubs business ops brass decided to ban that fan for making that hand gesture. What might have been the actual conversation? What factors played into their decision that we never hear about? I imagine they’ve got the legal, marketing, and accounting teams there debating the expected fallout if they do this and not that or whatever, but maybe it’s just a single executive acting on his own judgment. Who knows.

Now, a question: suppose it was discovered that this fan didn’t have a Twitter account or a smartphone, so he couldn’t instantly find out that people were reporting him to security, so he couldn’t get out of Dodge quickly before security found him and got his real identity. But then suppose he had a credible claim to be ignorant that the hand gesture had any affiliation — legitimate or otherwise — with white nationalism. For instance, he can show that he has no social media accounts, that he doesn’t visit news sites, etc. Is he at a disadvantage because he can’t stay one step ahead of the angry mob, or is he at an advantage because he has plausible deniability? Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for doing illegal things, but ignorance of cultural memes surely is an excuse for doing things that make a small portion of loud people outraged. Right?

Also: What if companies weren’t constantly checking Twitter, or taking to heart everything that’s written online by journalists?

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“Happy Friday eve!” *puke*

This is your life. Don’t waste it. I hate hearing people at work say “It’s almost Friday” on Thursday or “Four days to go” on Tuesday or referring to Wednesday as a hump. Yesterday someone walked by my desk and asked if I was having fun; I guess I must have been staring at my screens with a serious expression on my face. I turned, looked him in the eyes, and said earnestly “Yes. Always.” We only get this time, and once it’s gone that’s it. Every day doesn’t have to be sensational, but if I wasn’t fundamentally enjoying what I come in to work and do, I’d find a new way to spend my waking hours.

Awkward social microinteractions, part XLVII

I tend to be pretty happy and content even if there are problems I’m thinking about and working on, but others around me seem to be counting the hours until they can do something else (grumbling about it being only Monday or Tuesday, for example). In this context I’m never sure whether it’s better to be one with my fellow humans by commiserating with them, or to set a positive example by being true to myself alone.

Are we electric caterpillars?

In his podcast episode with Nicholas Christakis, during which he might have been quite high for all I know, Joe Rogan says he has a problem with the concept of “artificial life” (link takes you to 2:04:40 when he says it) — specifically with the “artificial” part. If we can create a sufficiently advanced technology, how can it be distinguished from something that is biologically alive?

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” asked the same question in an episode called “The Measure of a Man”. To answer it, the show (through Picard) had to argue that the things we normally call “sentient life”, including ourselves, are merely a kind of advanced technology.

I don’t know if Rogan is a Trekkie, but less than a minute later on his podcast he postulates that homo sapiens is an “electric caterpillar” species, and once we develop sufficiently advanced technology we will be transformed into whatever silicon-based butterfly we are destined to become.

Joe’s vision strikes me as wrong, although I know probably it doesn’t seem wrong to a lot of other people. I’ll have to do a follow-up post on why it strikes me as wrong. Not tonight though!

What do you call the genre of viral Tweets that are like a spoiled brat whining about the few toys he doesn’t yet have?

“Perseverance porn” is apparently the name given to heartwarming news stories about the minor successes of blighted people/organizations within the larger systems that have failed them. Here’s some Canadian journalist giving what he claims are two examples:

I can’t speak to all examples of course, but in the first one his reaction strikes me as dead wrong. It’s a miracle that we have a society in which such advanced technology exists such that a severely disabled 2 year-old can achieve mobility, at any price. A couple hundred years ago that kid would probably be dead even if he was royalty.

Now, on an emotional level of course I want that sweet little boy to have everything his family wants for him, and I can speculate on all the complex reasons why his wheelchair should cost $20K and why his family can’t get one through the standard avenues: maybe it’s a tragic failure of our healthcare system; maybe it’s that those kinds of wheelchairs are very sophisticated and they simply can’t be made/tested/distributed/sold any cheaper; probably it’s a little of both, plus other things.

But if we’re going to describe observable trends in media, how about the one where people act as if the material benefits and comforts of modern society are nothing but basic needs that may be taken for granted, and bitched about when someone doesn’t have some of them?

What Elon Musk and Tim Pool don’t understand about journalism

As you can probably tell, Youtube has been recommending a lot of Tim Pool to me lately, and I’ve been watching some of it. A week ago he posted a video, which I just watched, about Elon Musk’s vow to create a website where people can rate the truthfulness (or bias, or something) of news articles.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but it’s mostly a waste of time. This is because Musk’s expectation of what journalism is supposed to be (disinterested, fact-based reporting that conveys the truth about important things going on in the world) is a complete fantasy. What people forget is this:

Journalists are a bunch of failed English, Acting, and Poli-Sci majors who got together and put on a show where they pretend to be the experts. That’s all the news is.

Journalism isn’t failing to live up to Musk’s standards; it never had standards in the first place.

A controversial statement [updated]

“Access to Twitter is essential for meaningful participation in modern-day American Democracy.”

From a complaint filed by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) on March 25,2019.

[ADDED on MARCH 31, 2019] Taken out of context, that statement is indeed controversial. The phrase “participation in democracy” is somewhat vague, and at first blush I think it means something like being an upstanding citizen, with room for debate about whether that necessarily includes voting.

In context (which you can quickly access by plugging the quoted passage, with quotes, into the search engine of your choice), I believe the statement is meant to be specifically about things like campaigning and interacting with the public as a political candidate. I’m still not convinced the statement is true, but I don’t know how many people would agree with me. Ultimately it probably depends on people’s willingness to go somewhere other than Twitter to read things.

I’ve changed my mind about drug laws

I used to say we should make our drug laws more permissive so long as we can find a way to make our culture more restrictive about drug use. Now I think we should make our drug laws more permissive regardless, and we should do so as soon as possible.

The damage done from our drug laws outweighs even the worst-case scenario of heroin being sold in brightly colored packaging next to Tic-Tacs and Milky Way bars at the grocery store checkout, with every pop music icon and movie star encouraging kids to try it.

The longer we keep drugs illegal, the worse the problem will get because the drug cartels are using their drug money as a platform from which to diversify their holdings. If we legalized drugs tomorrow we could pull the rug out from under them before they have time to become competitive in other areas.

Some dating advice for Tim Pool

I like what Tim Pool represents in terms of being an alternative to traditional journalism. He’s basically doing the same thing journalists do, but he strips away the pomp and suits and globes spinning in the background and the sing-songy voice and the pseudo-academic facade. He’s a regular guy like you might have known in college, a pretty bright guy, who has a camera and talks about stuff that’s going on. He’s also willing to go to dangerous parts of the world, or to confront very powerful people and ask them the questions that are on lots of people’s minds. But I also like to rag on Tim Pool because for some reason he comes off (to me anyway) as the dopey kid brother of the so-called “intellectual dark web.”

Today I watched a video in which Pool talks about why millennials aren’t getting married as early or as much as people in previous generations. To make his point, he discussed his personal experience looking for a girlfriend: he goes to OKCupid or some such dating site, and it asks his ideological stances on things: he’s sort of moderate left-wing on social and economic policy, he’s anti-war, he’s a secular atheist, etc. The dating site proceeds to recommend girls who are either extreme far left-wing, or very religious and pro-war. From this, and from some statistics he got (I forget where), he concludes that there simply aren’t enough women in his age range (he’s 32 so he’s looking for women who are about his age or a bit younger) with whom he’s compatible. He then rang the alarm bell that millennial women are extremely far left and that his generation is politically polarized along gender lines so the on-average conservative men don’t like them, plus a few other things like both men and women being too busy with their careers, and that this is why millennials aren’t getting married.

Caveat: I have zero first-hand experience dating as a fully-formed adult; I was effectively engaged at 21 and before that most girls, except for a handful in high school, took very little interest in me. (I had no money, no prospects, I dressed like a homeless person, and I was also scrawny and eccentric; I don’t blame them.)

That said, what I do have is fourteen years in a stable, happy, productive, monogamous relationship. I’m pretty sure no dating site would ever have matched my wife and me together. Therefore I propose that Tim Pool’s first mistake was going straight to the internet to find a serious romantic partner. (From what I hear the internet is a fine place to find a one-night stand, if you’re into that kind of thing and aspire to one day attract the rage of the MeToo movement.) Tim Pool lambasts Twitter’s and Youtube’s algorithms all day; can’t he see the OKCupid’s might not be great either?

Pool’s second mistake is to assume the best match is someone he agrees with on everything. He said he’s kind of burned out on the culture war (understandable, given his job) and doesn’t want to have to debate it with a hypothetical girlfriend.

My grandparents have been married something like 70 years. All they do is argue: about politics; about art and music; about what to cook for dinner. But they love each other dearly. I’ve seen few couples who are so compatible. So even if Tim comes home every night to Mrs. Pool and they debate politics and war and religion, Tim might still find it to be a very rewarding relationship.

Pool’s third mistake is to assume there would be arguments at all. Just because someone responds to a multiple choice question on a website doesn’t mean their answer is the thing they are most interested in and always want to talk about. Tim Pool demonstrates this himself, since he answered those same questions and then said he doesn’t want to argue about the culture war with his girlfriend!

I said earlier that no dating site would have ever matched my wife and me together. We’re different politically, religiously, and we’re different races too, with very different life experiences to boot. Our tastes in music and movies etc. overlap in critical places but are still quite divergent.

What we agree on are the values with which we raise our children, what’s important in our lives, what we’re willing to do to make our relationship continue to work, and that we always support each other — those kinds of things. These are what matter in the end, not politics or religion or if we like the same books.

The point of marriage isn’t to find someone who’ll validate all your opinions, and it’s frustrating to see people close to my age walking away from the institution that holds society together just because they don’t understand this.

As he himself admits, Tim Pool doesn’t realistically have time for a girlfriend. The guy puts out like twelve videos a day or something; he’s always working, and he travels a lot too. And that’s fine; he doesn’t have a ticking clock in his abdomen. But if the day comes when he decides he’s interested in getting serious and settling down, he should look for ways to meet women organically, or maybe connect more deeply with a woman he already knows. He should keep in mind that there’s bound to be lots of discussion topics he and any given woman disagree on; that’s normal and doesn’t by itself indicate a lack of compatibility. Mutual respect and admiration, and a willingness to work together and be present with one another, are far more crucial.

The final thing to consider is that people change. Their politics change, what they’re interested in or consider important changes, and who you start dating is often not the person you marry, is often not the person you’re married to 1, 5, 10, or 50 years later. (People tend to get more conservative as they age too.) Aside from always continuing to change on your own, you change each other, and the things you experience as a couple change you together.

I sure hope Tim changes his hat, though. Otherwise I can’t imagine what that thing must smell like.

Feminism, social justice, and state power

I heard Rebecca Traister make an interesting point on Sam Harris’s podcast. It was about the way men who’ve criticized, downplayed, or tried to inject levelheadedness into the conversation about sexual harassment/violence/discrimination (i.e. the MeToo thing) have been characterized as victims of mobs, as having been guillotined, lynched, etc. when in fact mostly what they’ve experienced amounts to having had angry words directed at them on Twitter. She mentioned that even among the actual men who’ve had accusations leveled at them, only two (prominent ones) have gone to jail, a few lost their jobs but quickly gained other ones, some had their reputations damaged a bit, and that’s about it.

Traister related this to coverage of protests such as those in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, where protesters who threw rocks or broke windows were called instigators of violence; Traister points out they actually have very little power and were protesting in response to violence wielded by the much more powerful system of law enforcement.

I think protesting in the streets and writing call-outs on Twitter are not worthwhile activities, and people who engage in stuff like this tend to lose my sympathy. But, I also think Traister has a point: the power dynamics conveyed in narratives are seldom accurate. Now, I happen to think power dynamics are a lot more nuanced than simply who has the most guns or the most money, but it is hard to deny that control of guns and money mean an awful lot.

With that in mind, it’s hard to understand how feminists and social justice people justify their (typical) support for big government. Feminists want laws that ensure a bigger piece of the pie for women; social justice people want the same for racial minorities, people who aren’t heterosexual, who don’t present as their biological sex, and a growing set of other groups. At the end of the day what delivers these things — the machinery at the other end of the levers they want to pull on — especially if you’re against capitalism, is a state monopoly on violence.

There’s a legitimate conversation to be had, I suppose, about whether historically powerful groups have tended to use their power in benevolent ways vs. in ways that are purely selfish, although I think the pattern is most people within those groups try to use it in the former ways and a few bad apples manage to use it in the latter ways, and on net those powerful groups have created a tide that has lifted all boats. But with feminists and social justice people, inasmuch as they are politically on the Left, I’m having trouble seeing how their cause is anything other than a selfish and ultimately malicious and divisive power grab.

I want to see things realistically rather than through the distorting lens of cynicism, so if someone can provide a valid counterargument I’d appreciate it.