The vast right wing conspiracy

Imagine, if you will, a vast right-wing conspiracy.

They infiltrate the summer camps and youth organizations of promising leftist children. Then they go to work defanging them. They teach these children that gaining power is bad. Don’t become a CEO, don’t get money, don’t get elected, don’t enter the powerful parts of society. They introduce terms that will make those kids sound ridiculous or even slightly sinister to the vast majority of the population. They make sure that only a few orthodox tactics are taught — a brittle monoculture of “how to make change” develops.

These dastardly right wingers do a purposefully terrible job teaching the leftist children social skills. These innocent children are taught that hate and distrust — of each other! — is the only way to be safe. To be constantly on edge. In some sick Milgram experiment, they “learn” that other people might say they’re friends, but never can be trusted. Everyone, including your best friends, should automatically be under suspicion. Denunciation and severing relationships is the only way to survive.

But it gets worse. Imagine that, before they are returned to broader society these children are carefully coached into powerlessness for the rest of their lives. The only virtuous career choices are librarian, teacher, nurse, or professional do-gooder, and maybe not that last one either. The only way to rebel in this society is to do so through a complicated process where means are ends, ends are irrelevant, and winning means selling out. If you don’t have very little money and organization; if you’re not rooted in the most powerless people — well, you might as well give up now.

Imagine that the indoctrination works. The kids grow up and believe not only all that, but also that this is the only way to be a true leftist. And anyone who says otherwise is confused at best and an enemy at worst.

Imagine that.

Now, imagine that there’s no conspiracy at all. It all just happened … naturally. Which is worse?


The system lacks legitimacy

Some thoughts rattling around in my little brain:

We face a crisis of elite impunity in this country. This isn’t new. Chris Hayes laid it out unsparingly in his excellent 2012 book, Twilight of the Elites. (Don’t want to read the whole thing? Freddie DeBoer had an excellent essay and critique that is arguably better than the book he was reviewing)

We face a crisis of elite impunity inside big companies. Even tech companies. Andy Rubin. Joel Kaplan. Golden parachutes.

Even in the last few months, we saw how corporations can fleece their customers during good times (they’re a monopoloy, what are you going to do), and then get bailouts in bad times. And don’t get me started on the lies that corporations tell to get mergers approved, or “economic development” funding or tax credits, or the post-2008 wave of legal immunity for fraud. Again, just read Twilight of the Elites.

We also face a crisis of impunity for our elites even in new, supposedly fair places, like social media.

These are related.

A cable news host’s facebook page will get better treatment than a normal person would. If their traffic goes down, they will complain to someone who will try to find out why, and fix it. If, say, the President lies on the platform, the platform will shy away from enforcing its own rules.

Epstein was a great encapsulation of elite impunity. He had so many accomplices! So many powerful friends. So many connections. And now — no followup.

Trump is a great symptom of this epidemic of white-collar lawnessness. In a world that prosecuted him for mob connections in the 80’s and 90’s, he would not be president.

Cops have also had impunity for a long time. Lately, they’re ratcheting up that impunity. Shooting journalists on live television is relatively new and a dangerous escalation. If they get away with it, we are one step closer to the police state.

Protests are happening because, in part, the lack of accountability for anyone in power who does things that are wrong.

Even the Iraq war cheerleaders are still literally the same people in the media, and those who dissented were fired.

All this was predicted.

I’m old enough to remember blogs, and civil liberties groups yelling about:

  • Sending military surplus gear to police departments.
  • Militarization of police post Miami
  • LRAD cannons being bought years ago
  • Surveillance of activists
  • Qualified immunity for police brutality
  • “Occupation corrupts, and the tactics used in Iraq will come home to us”
  • Even during Occupy, we said: “If they do this brutality to us, they’ll do it to you”.

It’s important to acknowledge that it was predicted. Predicted by leftists specifically, and also the free-internet, Edward-Snowden-is-good, crowd. Too often, the online civil liberties people and the left don’t see themselves on the same side.

This isn’t the first time that police in america have killed people on camera, beaten up bystanders, attacked the press. This isn’t the first time that they’ve attacked a peaceful march, unprovoked, and then blamed the violence they themselves instigated on “rioters”.

I want to be very clear about that. The model is now: people nonviolently march. Police march in and attack them. All is confusion and teargas. The news covers it as “protests get violent”. This was true before 2020. Luckily, it seems like more people are realizing it.

It is so important not to shame people for figuring it out now, rather than earlier. Convincing people is the main strategic goal of most political activity.

But convincing doesn’t happen without work. My twitter feed is full of videos of cops doing horrible things to unarmed, nonviolent people. The biggest Facebook pages are pushing out stories about evil looters and rioters. Even as television news hosts are being arrested or *literally shot at* on live TV, the dominant narrative is about riots, clashes, and violence. This is a great example of how the ownership of the mass media (corporate, conservative) matters much more than the views of labor (people who were just attacked by police) in how they slant coverage.

We’ve seen a ratcheting up of police terror. We’re seeing a ratcheting up of propaganda by the republican party. Now US Senators are calling for the military to shoot american citizens for the crime of believing in anarchism. Being “anti-fascist” is now … terrorism? It’s all bluster, and legally unenforceable. Until, of course, it isn’t.

The Erdoganization of the US continues. We should be excited that people are still willing to brave the streets, even though it means facing death by coronavirus and death by cop.


A fun personality test

Sarah and I were taking a stroll tonight, when we came up with a lighthearted but also insightful way to categorize our friends. Here it is.

Knowledge, Skills, Insight, Wisdom. These are different kinds of intelligence. You can understand some people by figuring which of these four they value the most.

Let’s imagine someone named Steven. Steven lives in SF. He is a hacker and loves building things. He has a book club, and handpicks the people who he invites. He might value skills, then knowledge, then insight, then wisdom.

Let’s imagine someone else named Ingrid. Ingrid is an academic with a side hustle of being a columnist for a publication that sees itself as the next Slate. She writes hot takes and also avidly consumes advice columns. Ingrid values insight by far. Then wisdom, knowledge, and lastly skills.

Steven might not really understand Ingrid. Or vice versa. They’re both smart! They both are intellectual, even. But they value different things.

So, what are these axes? Let’s go deeper.

  • Skills: The obvious one. Doing things.
  • Knowledge: Being a collector, almost aesthete, of facts. This could be metadata or non-traditional facts too.
  • Insight: Being able to understand situations and systems. An analytic understand of models of how everything functions
  • Wisdom: The sense of what’s important now. Intuition. Knowing the real question that is being asked when someone asks for advice.

Wisdom is the trickiest to define, so let’s give an example:

Someone with high insight, but low wisdom, would be able to explain office politics amazingly well, but not be able to actually thrive in the system.

Someone with high wisdom, but low insight, would be able to do the local more-or-less optima in each situation they found themselves in, but maybe wouldn’t bother thinking about the question in the first place.

Thinking about different kinds of leftist is a useful illustrative example.

Leftists with high insight would be able to explain capitalism, various smaller systems (prison industrial complex? city politics) and explain what’s happening and how it fits to bigger ideas.

Leftists with high wisdom would be the nice ones. They mediate a lot. They have good gut feelings about which people to talk to, about what. (This is the hardest to put my finger on.)

Leftists with high knowledge know every organization, know the heads of organizations. Know all about what happened in the october revolution. Have read Capital.

Leftists with high skills can actually organize.

Values vs Identity

Here’s the catch, though! What you have is not always what you value.

For example: I really value wisdom. I seek advice from elders, peers, strangers, etc. I constantly worry that I’m doing the risky or wrong thing, and respect people who have that ineffable aura of having life figured out.

I value it, but I think it’s clear that I have more insight than wisdom. That’s why I get into trouble sometimes in social or political situations.

Similarly, I am high skilled. I can code, data crunch, write, political campaign, email blast, social butterfly, etc. But I value knowledge more. That’s why I read history books for fun, collect JustSeeds posters, and my arduino kit is still unopened.

Understand relationships, not just people

It’s great to use this as a tool for understanding people, but perhaps it’s even more useful to think about how this relates to people’s relationships with *each other*.

Are two people not getting along? Maybe one just doesn’t value the sort of intelligence the other has. Maybe it’s the opposite, and they’re feeling threatened. Imagine a person who highly values knowledge, but feels like they have very little. They might have a weird relationship with a very knowledge-heavy person. Etc.

It also covers relationships with the self. I can think of a few people who have healthy self esteem off the top of my head. All of them seem to value the sort of intelligence that they seem strongest in.

Where to go from here

It’s a fun game to think of people in your life, and then rank them. What do they value most and least? What do they have most and least?

Once you’ve done so, compare notes with them. Does their self-assesment match up to what you thought?

On that subject, what is your self-assessment? What do you value? What are your actual attributes?

Here’s a caveat: this isn’t meant to be a unified theory of all personalities. Some people value, say, Charisma! Or loyalty. There are tons of different qualities. But it does serve as a useful map for understanding a certain type of people.

Does that make sense? Questions? Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.