The cancellation of the final season of The Apprentice.
The coal industry would be thriving this year.
The only economic theory more useless than socialism is trickle-down economics.
Commence soap-box opinion mode.
On paper, both can seem to have merit.
Socialism advocates governmental leveling of prosperity to ensure a kind of blanket equity for all, from those who are disadvantaged in the system to those who are not. This comes at a direct short-term cost (ie tax hikes) to those who are thriving in the system with the academic assumption that lifting the standard of living for all will fuel economic growth and have eventual long term benefits to everyone. Kumbaya.
Trickle-Down Theory strives to push all prosperity through those who are thriving most, and is done with the academic assumption that providing short-term benefit (ie tax cuts) to those who are in the best position to take risk and make investment will “trickle down” and spur economic growth. This comes at a direct short-term cost to those who are already disadvantaged but is justified by a model that suggests sustainable growth will partner with eventual long-term benefits to all.
Both theories suffer from the same delusion: that all people are inherently good and everyone in the system is working for the same positive mutual win-win state of economics for everyone. Both assume that no one ever lies, cheats, games, or robs from the system –or if they do that there are strong enough punitive consequences in place to limit the effects of these as mere outliers that don’t greatly affect the system.
In other words, socialism without meaningful and legal incentives tends to lead to players breaking the rules to provide personal payoff for any perceived risk, or results in those in a better position to take risks to avoid risk altogether (ie what’s in in for me to work hard syndrome.) Taken together, this often manifests from something as simple as hoarding to more complex forms of political corruption. In its extreme, this in turn leads to supply shortages and economic collapse.
Likewise, trickle-down economics without meaningful and legal boundaries, usually in form of binding regulation, tends to tempt players to ignore what might be defined as an intangible moral imperative to participate positively in society usually for the stated benefit of a more measurable system feedback (ie shareholder value or executive compensation.) In its extreme, this leads to a hoarding of capital in the hands of a small cadre of powerful people who are usually unable to fully divest that wealth in a meaningful or equitable way (as the theory intends) even if they wanted to (which history tells us they don’t always want to) leading to economic collapse.
I tend to think of myself as a centrist, in that moderate taxes support a fair society that provide a balance: the government can invest in projects that make society better but have little tangible short-term market value, investing publicly in things such education, transit, health, defense, or incubator or transitional technologies. On the other hand that same tax obligation is not so much a burden as to disincentivize the risk taken by business to provide goods and services that can be sold for profit (and employment opportunities) to those with the means to buy and also fair payoff to those who took the risk.
It’s a balancing act. Not an easy one either. It’s the economic equivalent of a jumbo jet control board with hundreds of sliders and knobs controlling the inputs and outputs of a multitude of instruments and systems and millions of passengers on the plane, all in an attempt to produce a smooth, safe flight that all can enjoy.
Of course, this has all been commentary on the kamikaze american tax bill of late 2017 where in an act of desperation to appeal to a small subset of donors riding in first class, the lawmakers have slap-grabbed the control board with both palms and dragged a bunch of the knobs and sliders into a cacophony of engine groans that looks a lot like a hasty attempt at course change towards trickle-down economics (and potentially a crash-landing on a small island in the pacific where the strong will hunt the weak for food and sport while the pilots stand atop their volcano lair and laugh at us all squabbling below.)
So… hold on folks, buckle your seat belts, secure your wallets and take a deep breath from that oxygen mask… no matter where you live, we’re all headed for some turbulence.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the wholesale assault on the free internet that is happening in the budding fascist land to my south, it’s worth noting that on Thursday afternoon the cadre of wannabe-criminals who are in charge of protecting consumer rights (at least with regards to communication and media down there) set up camp in the land of corporate protectionism. Well, more than set up camp. It’s more like they revealed that they actually own a two-story house with a picket fence and have been going to PTA meetings for a decade.
The American FCC killed net neutrality in the United States on December 14, 2017, a date that you should remember because it became the day that everything you think of as good and open about the net (and make no mistake, most of the english-speaking net still lives within those borders) and everything that you take for granted about opening any network connection and having equal access to post, share, read, view, download, or upload anything and everything without the people you pay to make those connections asserting their opinion into the mix… this is the day that died.
There are arguments for & against on both sides, but as someone who has struggled to be an independent content creator for most of his internet life, I’ll freely admit that I’ve set up my own tree fort in the side of pro net neutrality. I don’t have a powerful media conglomerate behind me. People like me now have one more massive hurdle to deal with to get from zero to something.
The good thing for me (specifically me) is that I don’t actually live in the Corporate States of America. Thus, I’m moving my business (because that’s how I think of my independent work) out too. I’m taking my ball and coming home. As of reading the news about the hostile corporate takeover of the internet, I’ve bought and paid for a new web hosting package on Canadian soil and over the next month I’ll repatriating my websites, cancelling all web business I do with US companies, and doing something I should have done years ago, but have been far too lazy to start: moving all my websites back to Canada.
This is all speculation, of course. The optimist in me wants to think that corporations could and will make the net better through investment and enhancement. But the realist in me knows that corporations are not charities, and their sociopathic tendencies tend to drive hard against the best interests of what’s good for society, people, children and communities. In it’s prime the net was a place where anyone could make anything, a good idea could be scaled up into a meaningful business or service, a kid could become a millionaire for playing videos games, or a dad could cobble together a small audience of people with whom to share a laugh or two. In the coming years you’ll find that the only people who can see that content are those who are willing to pay a bit more for the independent, fringe stuff. Basic web packages will let you shop at a short-list of retailers, interact on a select collection of social medias, and cap how much music you stream. American WiFi is about to become as restrictive as a cell phone data plan: and the trickle down, no matter where you live, is that a huge audience has just been silenced.
Me moving doesn’t fix anything, but it’s the only vote I have.
I would turn up the dial on empathy. I think it’s a little too low these days.
I was reminded recently of an insightful quote (and comedy bit) from the late-great George Carlin. He joked: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” The podcast where I heard it was using it as a metaphor for the current political era, in that it’s the same perceptual mistake we all make when was say something like “anyone who thinks right of me is a fascist and anyone who links left of me is a socialist.” We all think we’re driving the exact right speed, just like we all think we are the only person being perfectly rational in our political viewpoint. Unless you’re the fastest car on the road, you’re too slow for someone else, and unless you’re parked, you’re a maniac speeder. It’s all relative.
Your anger is priceless.
Well, actually that’s not entirely correct. Your anger has a very specific value, almost certainly and without a shadow of doubt calculated to a fraction of a cent in a market of digital ideas, clicks, advertisements, and crafty book deals.
Not to me. I’m not buying. But… well… let me start again.
You probably didn’t notice but I’ve been avoiding posting much on social media these days. Why? Because after a few initial and what I considered at the time to be tactical outbursts of my own in the wake of the blossoming crazyness around the world in 2017, I –aiming for a personal target of rational, clear, level-and-balanced, hardheaded thinking that is markedly rare online these days– realized that I was not a player but instead just another pawn.
So I retracted to redefine my own personal approach…
…via a tangential upsight…
…in the form of a novel.
My favourite book for nearly the last decade, without question, is a massive science fiction tome by Neal Stephenson called Anathem. I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Without spoiling it, I will say that it is stuffed to overflowing with rich ideas paralleling the conflict in our modern society between intellectual pursuits versus populist sentimentality. The society in the story which exists in a kind of literal parallel to our own is flipped on it’s head: science is a kind demonized pursuit where the robed monk-like protagonist is cloistered with his fellow cerebral-minded outcasts into one of many technologically barren convents to ponder the deep questions of the universe while keeping their dangerous thinking physically walled off from the sport-casino-consumer-gadget culture that has evolved outside the gates.
The story is long and complex, but it has many branching ideas that are often followed to a purpose in the story, and one of those branches is the idea of information purity on (their version of) the internet.
See where this is going?
Eight years before manufactured outrage stoked by false information spawned political movements strong enough to begin the dismantling of at least two world super-powers, Stephenson had written about the notion of the market value of fake information online. It was little more than a plot aside, a point directed at a completely different notion in the novel, but the sentiment (and the backstory that bolstered it in the narrative) was almost eerily accurate having read it again a couple weeks ago. False information created so much noise and generated so much anger that, as a side effect of minimal importance to the story other than as historical backdrop, the anger broke society by fueling those who would use it in nefarious ways to enrich themselves.
The simple point being: Your anger is priceless.
…and getting mad is making the crazy people more powerful.
But perhaps you prefer a more accessible analogy than an obscure novel you probably haven’t read?
Fine: Monsters Inc.
You’ve seen that movie, right?
A bunch of fun-loving monsters live in a parallel dimension (that seems to be a theme here, too) and fuel their society off of the fear of children. They have an economy and a technological backbone built upon the notion of opening portals to the bedrooms of sleeping human kids for the sole purpose of scaring them and milking their screams for their energy.
In this analogy, the internet trolls are the monsters, and every time you (yes… YOU!)
scream click and type an angry response when they jump out of your closet iPhone screen, someone makes electricity money.
…or builds the potential to make money from the dribble of fame you’ve added to their troll buckets.
(This is straying a bit, so… analogy switch number three: go.)
Now this is the tough part… What do we do?
See, the trolls are already kinda in charge. They’ve won the battle. They’ve stormed the castle and are chewing on the walls as they throw rocks down on we townsfolk below. They still need our anger, true, but they know how to trigger it with efficiency and accuracy. They are milking our screams for their fame and riches. And every time they trigger that outrage we, all of us who click and rant and rage against the falsehoods get a tiny little gush of oh-so-addictive brain-gush from the experience.
It feeds us with the good-feels feel-goods that a good outrageburst can have… which inevitably fades in a few short minutes. It feeds the trolls with money and fame and clicks and power… which lasts a lot longer.
I really do appreciate the seeming irony of writing about this is a way that might evoke your precious anger. But I don’t know either… what do we do?
What do we, the townsfolk who are aiming for a that target of rational, clear, level-and-balanced, hardheaded thinking… what do we do?
It won’t necessarily go away if we ignore it.
But neither do we want to feed it.
In the movie Monsters Inc, the monsters themselves found a more valuable fuel in the form of children’s laughter. I don’t think that’s an option, even metaphorically, for us.
In the novel Anathem, the implication was that the battle was never really won, but that better tools were built to filter and attack the false information. That sounds lovely, but that idea takes the responsibility away from most of us.
I’m not done writing about this, but I think what is starting to come into focus for me after a few weeks of deliberately withholding my outrage from the trolls, what I’m going to be writing about more in the coming weeks, months, or years, is that all of us need to act, no matter what so-called side you are on: it’s in all of our best interest to sour the source and taint the fuel.
It’s up to all of us to make our anger a lot less valuable.
Paranormal sci-fi pre-post-apocalyptic quasi-horror political thriller.
Reality is not an emotional state. Facts don’t care if you like them. Objective truth persists even after you stop defending it.
If someone trains their body, practices daily physical exercise, learns muscular control and athletic skill to the point of being the best, we put a gold medal around their neck on TV. If someone trains their mind, practices daily rational thought, acquires knowledge and technical skills to the point of being the best, we go online to call them elitist and tell them to keep their opinions to themselves.
It’s that time again. Every three hundred years or so the human race collectively decides that the order and structure it has carefully created for itself is looking, well, a little shabby to be honest, and needs to go. As it turns out we’re not a fixer-upper sort of species.
We like new and shiny things. We tell ourselves that we all work so hard and deserve the best of the best: New shoes. A better phone. Smarter friends. A government that listens to just us.
Out with the old and in with the new. After all why patch a hole or mend a seam when a brand new pair of pants is just hanging there on the rack at the shop?
But I digress. You are, after all, here to read about how to to overthrow a democratic society. I don’t need to know your reasons. I suppose you could always comment below if I haven’t covered something that is important to you, but generally folks like you are interested in world-crumbling chaos because you (a) crave power/revenge/fame or (b) feel disenchanted by a system of government that didn’t give you what you felt you deserved from it… usually just a lighter version of power/revenge/fame. Or money. People sure like money. We do too, but we’re not here to judge, so… y’know, down to business.
I mean, the current iteration of society has worked out pretty well for a lot of people. We went to space, extended our lifespans, figured out how to travel around this little rock of ours with a speed that would blow the minds of the last guys, put instantaneous communication in nearly everyone’s pockets, and some of our music was pretty good too… but hey, who doesn’t want an extra scoop of ice cream on their sundae, amiright?
So, how do we get rid of it? How do we quietly purge this thing so we can put something new in its place. I mean… hypothetically. We’re just idea people here. Implementation is up to our clients. After it’s done things will be better… perhaps. Probably worse though — we don’t know. And we’re not going to be around to help you after this is all over. Folks like us don’t really pull through this kind of transition. Part of the job.
So where to start.
Step 1 – Distract Everyone
This is the key to getting things rolling. See, people notice things. People don’t really like change, as much as they claim they do. So you need to distract everyone. No single tactic is going to work here. Past clients have had success with either of two approaches.
On one side there is the fun stuff: give a society enough toys and it will happily play while you work through the rest of your plan. Professional sports worked for the Romans. We see great potential in this thing called “reality television”… we don’t watch much of it ourselves, but it seems like it could really work for this purpose. Definitely set up a lottery because it’s super-fun and gives people lots of false hope (which is very useful later on) so… doubletap!
On the other side there is fear: this is more difficult to pull off, but if you can take advantage of growing instances and random acts of crime and terror (you can’t control these, but they just happen everywhere so keep your eyes open to opportunity) to reinforce the notion that everyone should be afraid to go outside, eventually no one will… and then they can stay inside and watch reality television. The advantage to fear is that it’s like the gift that keeps on giving: eventually you can milk it (in later steps) and keep building on it to…
Step 2 – Stir Up Arguments About Things No One Actually Controls
Want to start a pointless fight? Talk about the economy. Or jobs. Everyone has an opinion but even the so-called experts are just making guesses. (Though to be fair, their guesses are generally more accurate than the rest of ours.) But people will bicker about these things as if there is room somewhere with a bunch of buttons and levers and if THEY were in charge, then…
There are actually quite a lot of these topics that conveniently act as ideas that are vague enough and enough misunderstood that everyone thinks that (a) they are an expert and that (b) everyone else is wrong about it. Usually these topics come in the form of abstractions: measures of something virtually intangible that no one actually controls, but everyone watches to gauge how healthy the society is. It matters, sure, but it’s just an indication of which way everyone is collectively thinking about things, and acting on stuff as individuals making a bigger picture of all the people together that we all try too hard to read into.
If it helps, think of it like trying to predict where a school of fish will swim, or a flock of birds will fly. And then think how silly it would be to blame a single fish or a single bird for controlling that movement. Yeah… we know. Pretty crazy huh?
But these ideas are useful. They stir up distrust and resentment. Friends argue with friends about political correctness while families bicker over the abstractions rather than things they can actually control and understand. Parents fight with children over concepts like gender equality and then don’t speak for months because of some idea none of them can even comprehend why.
All of these are abstractions that are not things, but powerful ideas that work stage your next step in the process which is to…
Step 3 – Reset the Meter On Tribalism
It would be nearly impossible to collapse a society if everyone was working together. How many films have you seen on the indomitable strength of the collective human spirit? We’ve seen a bunch, and they all end the same way: humanity prevails… and we can’t have that if our plan is going to work, can we?
There are countless ways to stoke tribalism. The simplest work well and have been tested by the efforts of time immortal: for example, you can make gaping generalizations about segments of your population based on things like the geographic coordinates of where they emerged from their mother’s womb, or whether or not their DNA contains a slight code deviation from another group (which usually results in a trivial difference in how much pigment their skin cells produce or the way their strands of their hair reflect light producing the effect of colour.) These are obvious, and many people will object.
On the other hand, tribalism comes in many other convenient and subtle forms: you can sow division based on what part of the landmass your nation claims it controls that people live: were they born in the west part or the middle, did they arrive inside the area after they were born or did previous generations make that trek? Do they live stacked on top of each other in cities or spread out on agricultural land? How about the minor differences in how they’ve decided to interpret their ideological textbooks: there is a bunch of potential there and this method has proven successful for many past clients. And don’t forget politics: using the tiny differences in how people think the current society should be slowly nudged forward using the rules of the current system, the one that you are trying to destroy, these can cause incredible levels of tribalism and name calling and ultimately support you when you…
Step 4 – Destroy Dissenting Ideas
There was some famous thinker from some previously collapsed society who said something about “he who controls the facts controls the truth…”
Or maybe not. See what we did there? We pretty much made that up that “fact”, but it sounds about right… right? In fact, it sounds like your new best friend: common sense. Common sense is the automatic fallback when people no longer trust all those pesky foundations that will prevent the thorough destruction of your democracy: the media, science, and objective truth.
This one is tough, but if you keep pushing and provide many alternative forms of the truth — ahem, your truth– to the various tribal-type groups you’ve created, eventually this will become a self-sustaining feedback loop, no one really knowing what is a fact and what is a feeling, many people believing that we can no longer, never could, measure reality with our tools, and definitely, absolutely no one trusting the people who have crafted their jobs around the notion of gossiping about people who do noteworthy things. Up will become down, day will become night, cold will become hot. And even the sanest people will think they are becoming crazy as decisions based on measurable facts are replaced with things that make everyone feel good and seem like common sense.
This is about where things start to spiral out of control (for your now failing democracy) and our services are no longer required. All that is left for you is to wait and…
Step 5 – Surround Yourself With a Personal Army
Because bickering will turn into fighting and fighting will eventually devolve into killing and killing will turn into battles and wars and the guy with the most friends is the guy who will win it all.
Please refer to our follow up article, So Now You’re A Warlord: Six Simple Steps to Establish a Dystopian Dictatorship coming next month… if we’re still around to write it.
Yes, I hate the carbon tax, too. Am I happy that our society has reached this point where we need to put a price on our own wastefulness? Hardly. Is it the best option? No. Is it going to hurt? Yeah. Will it disrupt the way our lives go forward for here? That’s kinda the point. Will that be uncomfortable? No shit, Sherlock. But is it the right thing to do? Probably. Am I willing to chip in a little bit more on that gamble if it’s really meant to improve the future of our society? Well, until someone comes up with a better idea, and since I don’t qualify for the rebate, I suppose I’m going to do just that. Everything has a cost to something, someone, somewhere. You may not feel that cost. You may never pay it. But someone, somewhere pays for your cheap gas, your plastic toys, and your discount t-shirts. That cost may be money, time, or the health of people or our environment. And we’ve been deferring, offsetting, skipping out on the bill as it grows and looms and grows some more over future generations. You don’t have to understand it or agree with it: but pretending that it’s a lie or a conspiracy makes you into the fool. So, drive a 4% less, eat a few less calories, put on a sweater and some cozy wool socks and turn the heat down a degree or two, and maybe stop buying so much junk: we’ve been trying that for years, and it isn’t as painful as you imagine. Really.