Note: This is a summary of several posts I wrote in late 2007/early 2008
I was watching Channel 4 news, and what struck me for the first time was that Channel 4 appeared to have a more clearly defined and clearly expressed position on the issue they were reporting than did any of the politicians they were interviewing.
But why should that be surprising? Channel 4 has more resources to devote to policy than does any political party. Channel 4 spends 54 million pounds a year on news, documentary and current affairs programming. The two main parties each spend something like 10 million a year, but most of that is spent not on “content”, but on content distribution – posters, leaflets, etc.
British political parties’ policies are being constructed on an almost totally amateur basis, compared to the media – and I think it shows. There are think tanks, but I don’t think they turn over tens of millions a year.
(It must be noted that in the US they spend a lot more on politics, but don’t seem to get noticeably better policies.)
MPs get paid by the government, which is extra resource to the parties not counted in their budgets, and The civil service plays a role in developing policies for the ruling party, but MPs are paid to be MPs, not to develop policy, and the civil service has its own goals and constraints and is not under the control of the Labour party.
It seems that Channel 4’s 2007 policy on higher education was the product of more research and investment than went into the Labour party’s. It’s also relevant that political parties have an incentive to be vague about policy, whereas media organisations can afford to be more specific and clearer – they gain more by being provocative than by being right. This means that media are in a way more motivated to work out detailed policies than parties are
What does this mean?
First, I should be less sceptical than I have been about the “power of the media”. I previously felt that, since the media is constrained to doing what gets it audience, its independent influence on policy is small. However, if what it needs to do is to provide some alternative policy with which to challenge politicians, but it has relative freedom to choose which alternative to develop, then its independent influence is greater than I had thought.
Next, why is it the case that we (as a society) invest more in reporting politics than we do in politics itself. Either something is seriously screwy, or we value politics as entertainment more than as a way of controlling government. Or both.
I think it’s quite clear that the population does treat politics mostly as entertainment. The resemblance between Question Time and Never Mind the Buzzcocks is too close to ignore. If someone arrived from another planet and had to work out which of the two concerns how the country is governed, I think they might find it tricky. (I think they get similar numbers of viewers). There are even hybrids like Have I Got News For You to make it more difficult still.
Further, I think voters are correct to see politics primarily as entertainment. Since my attempt to construct an argument that voting could have a non-negligible probability of affecting an election – the infamous correlation dodge – died a logical death, I am left with the usual reasons for voting – primarily how doing it makes me feel. Those reasons apply equally well to voting for Big Brother or Strictly Come Dancing.
Boris Johnson’s election as Mayor of London in 2008 is consistent with the theory that politics is a branch of the entertainment industry. Boris won because people liked him on TV, not because they had any confidence he’d do a good job. In fact, it simply doesn’t matter whether he does a good job or not.
Whatever the budget of the GLA, the actual amount of cash he can shift from one activity to another over the next four years is probably on the order of only a few millions. He can change a few buses, approve a few “don’t knife each other, there’s good chaps” posters, approve or deny one or two large buildings.
On the other hand, he will be on television a lot, and get a lot more attention, because now he’s (drum roll) In Government. And if you treat each of his appearances as a light entertainment programme, value it as equivalent to an equally entertaining non-political celebrity appearance, and multiply up the number of such appearances over the four years, his entertainment value to the voters easily outweighs whatever costs might be imposed on the voters if he is a Bad Mayor in a policy sense.
And in fact the predictable cost of Boris vs Ken is near enough zero. Who knows, Boris might even be better. While the predictable difference in entertainment value is huge – not only is Boris more entertaining than Ken on a level playing field, but more importantly the Ken show has run for eight years and we’ve seen all the best bits.
My point is that (a) Boris has been elected because he’s funny and people are bored of Ken, and (b) This is, with apologies to Bryan Caplan, rational voting.
And of course, it is nothing new: Ken was elected in 2000 for just the same good reason.
In conclusion, I think our system of government is one which selects leaders and policies as a byproduct of the entertainment industry. This might not be a bad thing: the traditional alternative is to select leaders and policies as a byproduct of the defense industry, which has its own problems.
Original three posts:
- December 13, 2007 News and Politics and Money
- December 15, 2007 Democracy and Entertainment
- May 4, 2008 Entertainment and Policy
One of the most critical features of the Modern Structure is the relationship between the media as a capitalist business and the media as a channel of the Cathedral.
There’s a ton of history here. I saw it suggested recently (by @clarkmicah ?) that the BBC was deliberately constructed as a counterbalance to the right-of-centre newspaper industry. Hearst newspapers in the US also had a right-of-centre bias.
(I’m using the term “right-of-centre” not to imply that some tendencies on the right are closer to an objectively determined “centre” than some others on the left, which I don’t think is even meaningful, but because subjectively from an #nrx point of view, things like Fox News are still leftist, just a little less so.)
Since the early 20th C, the Cathedral has increased its control over media industries, but not completed it. In both Britain and the USA, Rupert Murdoch has established media business with right-of-centre alignment and significant market share.
There are two forces pushing these businesses to the right: First, the owners of media businesses tend to be right of centre, particularly in the 20th C, because the left and the right largely lined up with interests of labour and capital respectively, and business owners are by definition capitalist. Secondly, because the cultural elite are always to the left of the population, there is market pressure pushing media businesses towards the right to attract audiences.
In the 21st Century, the first of those forces has declined to the point that it can be practically ignored. What is crucial is the tension between market forces impinging on media and Cathedral orthodoxy.
It has been suggested that key parts of the media industry, notably Hollywood, are effectively insulated from market pressures. @Stoner_68 said on twitter:
“It takes more than cocktail parties to convince studio execs to take multimillion-dollar losses, over and over again.
It’s as if risk isn’t even a factor. But that can’t be true. They know someone will reimburse their costs.”
I remember Spandrell claiming something similar a month or two ago.
The theory is that either the government or another source of funding (Soros is often mentioned) are subsidising the media; that the only goal of Hollywood etc. is propaganda, and they are only pretending to be profitable businesses.
This is not insane. Obviously, the BBC is, by design, almost totally resistant to commercial pressures. A rich guy can own a newspaper and run it at a loss as a propaganda organ. It would be possible to subsidise movies that pushed a favoured point of view.
A key fact is that the movie industry is extremely opaque financially. Much is written about “Movie A cost X dollars” or “Movie B lost Y dollars”, but these are always guesses by people writing without direct knowledge of the actual receipts and spending on the movie. It is therefore not impossible that the movie industry is running on hidden subsidies and would otherwise be losing money.
However, I do not believe that is what is happening. The general assumption is that the studios are secretive about money because they are ripping off minor investors, writers, actors and everybody else in the world. That seems to me the more likely explanation. The stories become public often enough: The Lord of the Rings went to court and was settled, also the TV series Bones (good detail here),
The main reason for believing that American movies and TV are profitable industries is that they behave like profitable industries do. They pay shitloads of money for top performers. They copy the most successful products until everyone gets sick to death of them. Several of the big studios are public companies with very large market capitalisation.
That is not to say that the movie industry is solely motivated by profit and uninfluenced by ideology. That is obviously untrue. The people in the industry are overwhelmingly left-wing, and their bias clearly influences their product.
There are films made which are not intended primarily, or necessarily at all, for commercial success, but to validate the film-makers view of themselves, and to impress their social and professional peers. “Oscar bait” and art house films both fall into that category. However, while not aimed at profit, these movies are made on limited budgets to at least limit the losses, and to make it possible for them to be profitable.
The big budget films are quite another matter. They are clearly made for profit, because they are managed in the same way as other profit-making enterprises. Actors are paid their market rate based on how likely they are to make the film successful. Huge amounts are spent on promotion and marketing. The studios push some of the financial risk onto top actors and directors by paying them percentages, and those actors and directors are willing to take the percentages because they expect them to be valuable, which they usually are.
Even these big movies carry political bias. They are made by the same people as the more indulgent films, but with the addition of big money and big investors. There is also the influence of the media culture, which also has a left-wing bias and therefore will reward bias in the films with favourable publicity. A film that is seen as having right-wing elements can cause social and professional problems for those involved.
But in spite of all that, nobody is putting hundreds of millions into movies that they don’t expect to make them a profit, and nobody is deliberately wrecking big-budget movies for political motives. Occasionally they accidentally wreck them, but not as often as some people seem to think.
The finances of movies are somewhat opaque, but there’s a lot of business interest and they’re not completely secret. There’s a rule of thumb that a film will break even if its worldwide box office gross is about two and a half times its production budget. That’s taking into account the cost of marketing and distribution, the payments that are made as percentages of the gross, and the other income from TV, DVD rights, spinoffs and so on.
This is a good site with estimates of movie financials.
It’s not possible to validate the truth of that rule of thumb, but the industry acts as if it’s true. Movies that appear to make profits are treated as successes, the people involved and the ideas involved are used again. Movies that appear to make losses by this rule are treated as failures; they aren’t repeated and the people involved will command lower payments for future projects. There are sometimes disputes about the shareout of the profits, these go to court with expensive lawyers and are generally settled quietly.
For this to be all an illusion would involve so many people that faking the moon landings would be easier. Most big-budget movies are profitable. The Last Jedi grossed 1.3 billion from a 220 million budget, so by the rule of thumb it made over half a billion in profit. 2016 Ghostbusters grossed 230 million from a 144 million budget, so it lost the studio money – one of those accidentally wrecked by political bias, in my view. Note that if The Last Jedi had lost money, that would also be put down to its social / political agenda, but the studios believed it was a good investment despite that agenda, and they were right.
Because of the big money going to the most successful, “tournament” style economics apply. Many of those involved in the industry outside of the blockbusters are doing badly; they are underpaid for their work, or losing money on their investments, but they accept that because they are trying to win their places in the top rank that makes the big money. Most fail, but the few who succeed make enough to make entering the tournament attractive. That is one part of the basis of the “art house” sector.
Could a less politically-correct Star Wars have made even more money? Quite possibly, but they would have needed actors, writers, and so on that would have been affected by media opposition to political incorrectness, and managing high-value, temperamental stars is difficult enough at the best of times.
As far as spending money on propaganda goes, blowing tens of millions of dollars on big-name actors who are already on your side anyway just isn’t a sensible use of funds. A few foundations like Soros’ are spending tens of millions a year on propaganda, but they’re making much better use of it than that.
The really interesting question is about the trends. Hollywood is making big money, but sometimes losing it too, and the business side can be held hostage by the demands of politically biased creatives. Audiences might get so irritated by the industry’s politically correct smugness that they lose interest. Ghostbusters is evidence that that is possible. Alternatively, someone might be able to compete with the whole Hollywood establishment by producing movies with the same attractive features but a political tone more in line with the audience. It’s easy to say that the iron grip of leftists is too strong to allow that, but don’t forget Rupert Murdoch managed to do it to the newspaper and cable TV industries. I think it’s significant that newspapers, even in the 1980s, were in decline, while cinema is strong and growing, but the precedent is there.
I have long ago observed that, whatever its effect on government, democracy has great entertainment value. We are certainly being entertained by the last couple of days, and that looks like going on for a while.
From one point of view, the election is a setback for neoreaction. The overreach of progressivism, particularly in immigration, was in danger of toppling the entire system, and that threat is reduced if Trump can restrain the demographic replacement of whites.
On the other hand, truth always has value, and the election result has been an eye-opener all round. White American proles have voted as a block and won. The worst of the millennial snowflakes have learned for the first time that their side isn’t always bound to win elections, and have noticed many flaws of the democratic process that possibly weren’t as visible to them when they were winning. Peter Thiel’s claims that democracy is incompatible with freedom will look a bit less like grumblings of a bad loser once Thiel is in the cabinet. Secession is being talked about, the New York Times has published an opinion column calling for Monarchy. One might hope that Lee Kuan Yew’s observations on the nature of democracy in multi-racial states might get some currency over the next few months or years.
So, yes, President Trump may save the system for another two or three decades (first by softening its self-destructive activities, and later by being blamed for every problem that remains). But Anomaly UK is neutral on accelerationism; if the system is going to fail, there is insufficient evidence to say whether it is better it fail sooner or later. If later, it can do more damage to the people before it fails, but on the other hand, maybe we will be better prepared to guide the transition to responsible effective government.
We will soon be reminded that we don’t have responsible effective government. Enjoyable as fantasies of “God Emperor Trump” have been, of course the man is just an ordinary centre-left pragmatist, and beyond immigration policy and foreign policy becoming a bit more sane, there is no reason to expect any significant change at all. The fact that some people were surprised by the conciliatory tone of his victory speech is only evidence that they were believing their own propaganda. He is not of the Alt-Right, and the intelligent of the Alt-Right never imagined that he was.
For the Alt-Right, if he merely holds back the positive attacks on white culture, he will have done what they elected him to do. Progressives can argue that there can be no such thing as anti-white racism, and that whites cannot be allowed the same freedoms as minority groups since their historical privilege will thereby be sustained. But even if one accepts that argument, it doesn’t mean that those who reject it are White Nationalists. Blurring the two concepts might make for useful propaganda, but it will not help to understand what is happening.
My assessment of what is happening is the same as it was in March: I expect real significant change in US immigration policy, and pretty much no other changes at all. I expect that Trump will be allowed to make those changes. It is an indication of the way that progressive US opinion dominates world media that people in, say, Britain, are shocked by the “far-right” Americans electing a president who wants to make America’s immigration law more like Britain’s–all while a large majority in Britain want to make Britain’s immigration law tougher than it is.
The fact that US and world markets are up is a clue that much of the horror expressed at Trump’s candidacy was for show, at least among those with real influence.
The polls were way off again. The problem with polling is that it is impossible. You simply can’t measure how people are going to vote. The proxies that are used–who people say they support, what they say they are going to do–don’t carry enough information, and no amount of analysis will supply the lacking information. The polling analysis output is based on assumptions about the difference between what they say and what they will do–the largest variable being whether they will actually go and vote at all. (So while this analyst did a better job and got this one right, the fundamental problems remain)
In a very homogeneous society, polling may be easier, because there’s less correlation between what candidate a person supports and how they behave. But the more voting is driven by demographics, the less likely the errors are to cancel out.
If arbitrary assumptions have to be made, then the biases of the analysts come into play. But that doesn’t mean the polls were wrong because they were biased–it just means they were wrong because they weren’t biased right.
On to the election itself, obviously the vital factor in the Republican victory was race. Hillary lost because she’s white. Trump got pretty much the same votes Romney did; Hillary got the white votes that Obama did in 2012, but she didn’t get the black votes because she isn’t black, so she lost.
So what of the much-talked-of emergence of white identity politics? The thing is, that really happened, but it happened in 2012 and before. It was nothing to do with Trump. The Republican party has been the party of the white working class for decades. Obama took a lot of those votes in 2008, on his image as a radical and a uniter, but that was exceptional, and he didn’t keep them in 2012.
The exit polls show Trump “doing better” among black people than Romney or McCain, but that probably doesn’t mean they like him more: it’s an artifact of the lower turnout. The republican minority of black voters voted in 2016 mostly as before, but the crowds who came out to vote for their man in 2008 and 2012 stayed home, so the percentage of black voters voting Republican went up.
The big increase in Trump’s support over Romney from Hispanics is probably not explainable the same way. A pet theory (unsupported by evidence) is that they’ve been watching Trump on TV for years and years and they like him.
The lesson of all this is that, since 2000, the Democratic party cannot win a presidential election with a white candidate. There’s a reason they’re already talking about running Michelle Obama. They’ve lost the white working class, and the only way to beat those votes is by getting black voters out to vote for a black candidate. While we’re talking about precedents, note that the last time a Democrat won a presidential election without either being the incumbent or running from outside the party establishment was 1960.
Update: taking Nate Silver’s point about the closeness of the result, my statements about what’s impossible are probably overconfident: Hillary might have squeaked a win without the Obama black vote bonus, maybe if her FBI troubles had been less. Nevertheless, I think if the Democrats ever nominate a white candidate again, they’ll be leaving votes on the table unnecessarily.
I repeated on twitter a point I’ve made before:
I consider local stories from far away as none of my business and refuse to consider them
It was a response to bswud talking about the “Clock Boy” story / hoax
If someone were actually concerned to assess a situation accurately and respond with appropriate action, individual outrages, such as Clock Boy or Tamir Rice, would not be of any use. Instead, you would need actual statistics of how often various kinds of event occurred. Selecting only newsworthy events for your data set would be counterproductive.
There are two problems with ignoring outrage stories in favour of statistics. The obvious one is that statistics do not arouse the general public in the way outrage stories do. So, if your intent is propaganda rather than assessing the situation, statistics are less useful. The second problem is that statistics are more obviously mediated by others who may or may not be trustworthy than anecdotes are. What the stories above suggest is that outrage stories are in reality no more likely to be accurate than published statistics, but it doesn’t feel that way. You are always conscious that a statistic is potentially suspect, but a story of a reported event feels more like a fact than a claim, even though you read it from the same page as the statistic.
To emphasize, the real problem with outrage porn is not that it is not true. Reasoning based on selected outrage stories would be wrong even if they were all true and accurately reported. They are less akin to lies, and more akin to Frankfurterian “bullshit”, in that it is irrelevant to the purposes for which they are used whether they are true or not.
For now, propaganda by outrage story is working, but the tenuous link between outrage and truth, because it is not a fundamental requirement of the process, can be completely broken. This seems to be what some on the WN side have undertaken to do:
Outrage stories are, necessarily, retailed and commented on without scrutiny, actual scrutiny being impractical. But there is still a widespread assumption that, while slanted reporting and hoaxes happen, most stories (or at least, most stories that are useful to my propaganda purposes) are somewhat true. That assumption can be attacked by flooding social media with false stories. If the public doesn’t know what to believe, and is unable to ever find out what is actually going on in some town a thousand miles away, and aware of that inability, then they would actually be better-informed than they are now.
As a postscript, do note that outrage porn is common across the political spectrum. Cologne New Year’s Eve is outrage porn.
If I do comment on outrage porn, what I am interested in is patterns of reporting. Not the truth, or even the relationship of the reporting to the truth (since I don’t know the truth), but the way reports are promoted or suppressed, and their relationships with each other. It is interesting that the Cologne story was kept quiet for a week, then escaped and became major (but not dominating) news. It is interesting that the BBC quoted a police officer one day that police said the attackers were mainly migrants carrying migrant papers, and reported the following day that there was no evidence they were migrants. If I draw conclusions from outrage porn, I am looking for conclusions that are independent of the validity of the reporting.
Back then, the main threat I was concerned with was state action directed against service providers being used for copyright infringement. Since then, my political views have become more extreme, while the intolerance of the mainstream left has escalated alarmingly, and so the main threat today is censorship by service providers, based on their own politics or pressure from users and/or advertisers.
Actually publishing content has become easier, due to cheap virtualised hosting and fast residential broadband, making a few megabytes of data available is not likely to be a problem. The difficult bit is reaching an audience. The demise of Bloglines and then Google Reader has been either a cause or a symptom of the decline of RSS, and the main channels for reaching an audience today are facebook and twitter. I don’t actually use facebook, so for me twitter is the vital battleground. If you can build up a following linked to a twitter ID, you can move your content hosting around and followers will barely be aware it’s moved. Last week’s Chuck Johnson affair defines the situation we face. We require a robust alternative to twitter—not urgently but ideally within a 12–24 month timeframe.
I’ve been running the Twister peer-to-peer twitter clone for a couple of weeks, and I think it is OK.
Primarily, it is built on top of the bittorrent protocol. Messages are passed from node to node, and nodes collect messages that are relevant to them.
In addition, it uses the bitcoin blockchain protocol. This is not for content, but for the ID database. Content published by an ID must be signed by the key associated with that ID, and the association of keys with IDs is made via writing entries into the blockchain. Ownership of IDs is therefore “first come, first served”, with the ordering of claims determined by the blockchain (just as the order of transaction attempts is determined for bitcoin, preventing double spends).
As an incentive to build the blockchain, each block can include a “spam message” which will be presented to users.
What that means is that there is no authority who can disable a user ID or take it over. If the ID is registered on the twister blockchain with your public key, it is yours forever.
The application runs, like the bitcoin reference client it is based on, as a daemon offering a JSON-RPC socket interface. It also serves some static web pages over HTTP on the same port, providing a working twitter-lookalike web client.
As far as I can see, it works properly and reliably. I am running it over Tor, and that works fine.
It’s still treated as experimental by the authors, so it’s not surprising if it’s not complete.
The biggest shortcoming is that it’s inconvenient to run. Like bittorrent, it needs to find peers and build a network to exchange data with, and, like bitcoin, it needs to keep up with a blockchain. (It is not necessary to “mine” or build the blockchain to use the service). You really need to start it up and leave it running, if not 24/7, at least for hours at a time.
For the same reason, it doesn’t run on mobile devices. It could be ported, but staying on the peer-to-peer networks would be an inconveniently heavy use of data, battery and processor resources.
Fundamentally, you don’t see all the traffic (that wouldn’t scale), so you can’t conveniently search it. You need to advertise that you are interested in something (by following a user, for instance), and gradually it will start to flow your way.
The network is currently very small-scale, so it remains to be seen how well it would scale up to a useful size. I don’t understand the torrent / DHT side of things all that well, but as far as I can see it should hold up.
The ID blockchain functionality seems more reasonable. If each new user requires of the order of 64 bytes of blockchain space, then ten million users would need about a gigabyte of disk space to archive. A lot, but not prohibitive. As with bitcoin, the hope would be that users would be able to use lightweight clients, with the heavy network functions semi-centralised.
[The useful feature of a peer-to-peer protocol for us in this scenario is not that there is no trust in the system at all, or that there is no centralisation at all; it is that there is no single thing that must be trusted or relied on. The user has the option of doing everything themselves, and, more useful to the ordinary user, they have the option of temporarily and conditionally trusting a provider of their choice]
Also as with bitcoin, the most difficult obstacle is key management. When you want to start using twister, you generate a key pair, and post a transaction associating your public key with your chosen twister ID. You need the private key to post twists, or to see private messages. If you lose the key, you’ve lost your ID. If someone gets your key, they can post as you and read your private messages. Handling keys securely is difficult. For a casual user who isn’t too concerned about surveillance or censorship, it’s prohibitive.
Like bitcoin, the network node, blockchain archive and wallet (user ID) are all managed by a single process. Logically, the private operations of creating authenticated transactions/messages ought to be separate from the maintenance of the network node.
Twister is designed for those who are concerned about surveillance or censorship, but we need to be able to talk to those who aren’t. It needs to provide security for those who need it, while being as easy as possible for those who don’t.
The system seems fairly robust to attacks, including denial-of-service attacks. Media companies have attempted to interfere with bittorrent, but have not as far as I know blocked an actual running torrent, rather concentrating on the chokepoints of communicating knowledge of specific torrents.
The ID subsystem could be flooded with new id requests. There is a proof-of-work requirement on individual “transactions” (new id assignments), separate from the actual block proof-of-work, but that cannot be too onerous, so a determined adversary could probably produce tens of thousands. However, miners could respond by being fussier about what they accept, without breaking the protocol.
The blockchain itself is vulnerable. The hashrate at present is about one quarter-millionth of Litecoin’s (which uses the same hash method), so one block of the twister blockchain currently costs about the same in compute resources as a thirtieth of a cent worth of Litecoin. (I have mined dozens of blocks myself over the past week). Anyone with a serious GPU-based mining rig could mine hundreds of blocks in minutes. The incentive for legitimate miners is always going to be weak, since a customised client can trivially ignore the “spam” messages. However, it does not seem obvious that that is a real problem. The value of the blockchain is that it established ownership of IDs, but an ID is not really valuable until it has been used for a considerable period, so to take over a valuable ID, you have to fork the blockchain from a long period in the past. Even if you have the hashpower to do that, your blocks are likely to be ignored simply by virtue of being so old.
However, there is another requirement to do that, which is more sophisticated key management. Mobile devices and third-party service providers would hugely improve the convenience and usability of the service, but at a cost of crippling the security, since neither one is sufficiently trustworthy to hold the private key.
What I have suggested is a system of subkeys, with restricted delegated authority. I create my key pair and post it to the network with my chosen ID, as per the current protocol. Then, I can create a new key pair, and create a transaction signed by my original key (which I call the “master” key), delegating the authority to make posts for a limited time (a week, say) to this new key (which I call a “subkey”). I transfer the private key of the subkey to my phone app, or to a service-provider I trust, and can then make posts using the subkey.
After the week, that subkey is expired and posts made with it will no longer be accepted as valid by other clients or network nodes. If the key is compromised, the damage is limited. I could even post a “revoke” transaction signed by my master key.
@jokeocracy has pointed at Trsst. Also, GnuSocial is quite well established. Both of these are federated client-server architectures. See quitter.se as an example GnuSocial-based service provider. (It would be funny if we were to all move en bloc onto some lefty-oriented “free from capitalism” platform, and perhaps instructive, but not necessarily a long-term solution).
There is some resistance to censorship there, in that if one service provider blocks you, you can switch to another. However, your persistent ID is tied to the service provider you choose, which could take a dislike to you or (equally likely in the early stages) just go away, so it makes it harder to maintain continuity. Also, the federation model does not necessarily prevent the consumer’s service provider from censoring your messages to its customers. The customers can switch if they want to, but not trivially.
In the case of Trsst, it strikes me that this is a mistake: users have private keys, but the association of keys to IDs, unlike in the case of twister, is made by the service provider. If mentions, replies, and subscriptions were by public key instead of by “nickname”, users could migrate more painlessly. However, that registry would have to be distributed, adding complexity.
In the long run, what I would hope to see is a service that looks like quitter.se or Trssst, but acting as a proxy onto the Twister network, ideally with short-lived subkeys as I describe above.
Other relevant projects not ready yet would are Urbit (of course), and chatless (by @_raptros).
Moldbug’s coining “The Cathedral” has caught on and been the subject of much debate, but his other term “The Modern Structure” less so, which is a shame.
The Modern Structure is the constitution of the United States of America, in the sense that that term was originally used — a description of how the government of that country operates. Other Western Democracies have very similar constitutions.
The centre of the Modern Structure is the Civil Service. They actually carry out the business of government.
In theory, they are under the control of Politicians, but in reality the politicians are at most peers of the civil service, and in many cases completely subservient.
In theory again, the Politicians are controlled by the Electorate. However, the influence of the Electorate is slight: enough to tip the balance occasionally when the issue is close, but not to dictate anything. Further, on any issue, the majority of the electorate are completely ignorant, and depend on the media for information about the issue and how they should vote.
Meanwhile, business has at least as much influence on the politicians, and additionally has direct influence on the civil service (through lobbying and other forms of corruption).
In terms of power over government policy, then, the map of influences look something like this:
That is less than half the story, however. In the long run, what matters is not how the noisy controversies of the moment get resolved, but rather what is or is not controversial in the first place. That is the matter of the dominant ideology — what all the people in this network believe about what is and what should be.
The ideology is not fixed: it has changed enormously over mere decades. Who has influence over ideology?
The high status of the organs of the modern structure make them significant, but there are other important influences, and other directions of influence within the network.
This diagram shows the flows of ideological influence. For this purpose I have broken out of “Education” the most crucial organ of ideological influence — “Elite Academia”. This is where ideology comes from.
It is true that, in a sense, everything influences everything else. However, a fully-connected undirected graph has little information content, so the diagram only shows what I think are the biggest influences on what people believe.
I have left out business from the ideology diagram. My view is that while business and lobbyists are able to significantly affect policy, they has very little influence on what people believe. They perhaps have the capability of causing such influence, but in practice businesses are primarily in competition with each other, and it is much more profitable for each player to spend his influence on favouring his own narrow interests rather than on promoting a general business-oriented ideology. To the extent that a business-oriented ideology exists, it is developed by enthusiasts, and funded more by a few eccentrics such as the Kochs rather than by moneyed interests as a whole.
However, this is a disputed point, so here’s the diagram with them added back in, and with the Conservative media broken out from the respectable media.
With or without business interests, it is in the network of ideological influence that we see “The Cathedral” — Elite Academia and Respectable Media — at the core. Ideology flows out from them.
It should go without saying, that this is not intended to be the last word: it is my interpretation of what is mostly general knowledge, and there is a lot of room for refinement, correction and expansion.
My twitter stream tells me that three hundred odd years of a free press are at an end, that blogs like this one are going to be regulated by the government.
It might even be true. The establishment is quite capable of riding a popular wave and then doing something completely unrelated when they actually get around to acting. After the Dunblane massacre, the government banned crossbows. After the World Trade Centre bombing, the government passed a law giving itself the power to seize the assets of Icelandic banks. It is perfectly plausible that the government would respond to the News of the World accessing Milly Dowler’s voicemail by silencing bloggers.
On the other hand, the cross-party negotiations that produced the agreement yesterday appear to be the usual symbolic battle about nothing at all, this time in the form of a pointless distinction between “statutory” and “non-statutory” regulatory frameworks. Some some of the commentary takes that argument seriously, making me doubt whether the commentators concerned are actually paying attention.
I don’t know. I’m perfectly fine with not knowing. If this new thing really is going to restrict my blogging, I’ll find out soon enough. The only case in which I would need to know now would be if I could actually do something useful about it. It is that illusion that causes all the ignorant flapping speculation about something that will be perfectly obvious within a few months.
In any case I can’t get too worked up because, while I believe that basic freedom of communication is an important freedom which governments should respect if they want the society and economy to function smoothly, I don’t believe in the “political right” of free speech as a way of opposing the government. I don’t believe in any political rights, and if the government tries to shut me up, it is making my own argument for me.
Effectively, my ignorance is doubled. As well as not knowing whether the government is or isn’t going to seriously clamp down on the press and/or blogs, I do not know, in the full context, whether that would be a bad thing or a good thing. I might be fairly sure that, other things being equal, it would be a bad thing, but other things are not equal. The end of press freedom might cause a major reactionary swing, which might hasten the downfall of the democratic regime and the restoration of Royalism, which might be a good thing. It might cause a major liberal swing, which might preserve the democratic regime longer than otherwise, which might cause a better successor regime to replace it than would otherwise be the case, which might be a good thing. Not only can I not judge how likely these outcomes are, I can’t imagine the depth and breadth of knowledge that would make it possible to judge how likely those outcomes are. It’s preposterous for me to sit here and claim to know whether this is good or bad.
Finally, of course, and looking only at the short term effects that it is actually possible to estimate, the government is far too incompetent to actually be able to suppress opposition media. Not only that, Western governments have gone to great lengths to provide mechanisms for dissidents in non-democratic countries to publish electronically without effective control. Either we can use those, or the non-democratic governments themselves will provide a mirror-image in order to show up the incoherence of the West. Imagine the UK trying to lean on China to shut down websites used by British dissidents — they would laugh their arses off.
The real suppression we face is by society refusing employment or otherwise acting informally against those who hold unfashionable opinion. That is the reason I write anonymously. But that exists already, and we are coping with that — I don’t think the law will produce nearly as much oppression as exists already in the form of unwritten liberal blasphemy law.
I maintain that day-to-day party politics is completely unimportant. Because of that, when the name “Louise Mensch” kept cropping up on twitter I didn’t know anything about her: I gathered that she was an MP, and more or less got it straight in my head that she was a Tory, and that was about it until she hit the headlines this week for resigning to spend more time with her family.
It was only at that point that I discovered she was a successful novelist, writing books under the name “Louise Bagshawe” which I have seen people reading on the train.
Having missed the fuss when she ran for and won the seat of Corby, I was not in a position to make the link to Esther Rantzen, who ran as an independent in my own constituency (and therefore had come to my attention).
I have suspected for a while that media figures are capable of moving into politics very successfully, through the more normal mechanism of joining major parties rather than running as independents. In the long run, the question is not so much whether celebrities will be able to win seats in parliament, as why they would want to.
Had I known what was going on in Corby, I might have said something prophetic…
I wrote in the last post that the unthinkable can become thinkable shockingly fast.
We can see an example of that on any day’s news at the moment. As the current Private Eye reports, in 2002 the Mirror Group Chairman held a lunch, at which the then Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan made a speech featuring jokes about various celebrities, based on the voicemails he had heard. These included even references to messages between then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and former TV weathergirl Ulkrika Jonsson, who was present at the event.
Private Eye is bringing it all up to prove the dishonesty of all those who are now denying that they knew or suspected anything at all of such outrageous activity as phone-hacking going on. But to me the fact that they’re now hiding it is much less significant than the fact that only ten years ago they didn’t feel any need at all to hide it. Almost overnight (and I particularly noticed how sudden it was because I left the country for three weeks in 2011 and it happened while I was away), what had previously been taken for granted became a huge scandal.
Another example was raised recently — that within living memory, leading US evangelical Christians were in favour of legalising abortion. I read an article a month or two back which explained how, like the 2002 Mirror Group lunch, writings of prominent protestants have been dropped from the narrative, not because they’re embarrasing to the people involved, but because they simply does not make sense in the context of the narrative as it is presented today by everyone.
The conventional wisdom, as modulated by the popular media (but I’m not sure their role is all that vital) is governed by the following constraints.
- Everyone wants to say something interesting
- Nobody wants to be seen to be wrong
- People have very short memories
The result is that there are remarkably few public arguments about substance. It is much more effective, whether you are a media pundit or a political practitioner, to show that you are the most in tune with the conventional wisdom than to claim that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Since everyone important agreed with the conventional wisdom of five years ago, it is in nobody important’s interest to remind people that it’s the opposite of what everyone agrees with today.
Where there are disagreements, the number of things that have to be assumed on all sides — because they are part of the current conventional wisdom — but which are blatantly untrue make realistic argument about the facts impossible. So instead, we have emotional arguments about meaningless abstractions — things like “Austerity” or “Europe”, that are safely divorced from the things that are actually going on, and can be consistently supported or opposed while one fictional narrative after another sweeps through the newspapers.
(It is also safe to argue about weak foreign countries. It doesn’t matter what’s really going on in Bosnia or Egypt or Syria: we can have an argument about who to kill, based on our fantasy conventional wisdom, and nobody who matters will ever know or care what was actually happening.)
There is, at the same time, a kind of debate among the elite that deals with facts rather than imaginary narratives, but it is not independent of the fantasy. It would be nice to think that the people who really run things could get together at a Bildeberg meeting or something and actually try to work out what real solutions exist for real problems, but if that was ever the case, it probably isn’t now. I rather suspect that that was always an aspiration for those meetings rather than a reliable achievement.
As I said in a comment recently, P.R. is fundamental to government. Most of the hard problems in government are about how you get group X to accept A or group Y to support B. Many of the people who rise high in the elite are those who are able to solve those hard problems, and in many cases I suspect they are good at that because they honestly believe the fantasy narratives. If the media and the mob were really having their strings pulled by a secretive cabal of cynical technocrats, things would probably work a lot better than they do. It’s much more likely that the tail is wagging the dog.
But the upshot of all this is that democracy can be thrown under the bus just as quickly and as decisively as The News of the World and Yugoslavia were. It doesn’t even have to be for a good reason. By 2017, saying we should still have elections for government would be as odd as saying that journalists guessing celebrities’ voicemail passwords isn’t a big deal or that Yugoslavia was a sovereign country and forcibly breaking it up from outside was illegal.
Unfortunately, while I can see that it could happen, that’s not the same as knowing how to make it happen. Predicting herd behaviour, contra Isaac Asimov, is probably the hardest thing there is.
It might be worth collecting a list of huge non-partisan shifts in belief.
- I’ve mentioned previously the idea that humanitarian political action can only be taken with UN approval. That went from not being suggested at the time of the bombing of Belgrade, to being generally accepted by the buildup to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
- The notion that children up into their young teens can never be left unsupervised (as opposed by Lenore Skenazy) has arrived somewhere in the last 20 years, not sure exactly where.
- a large portion of the US Democratic party was pro-segregation within living memory, so much so that they formed a breakaway party based pretty much on this.
It would be neat in a literary way to show that these three withdrawn honours are part of the same thing, but it’s more interesting, and more true, to see how they’re all different.
Going in reverse chronogical order, Huhne is in some ways the most straightforward. He was in a position of trust, and he is accused of criminal dishonesty.
On more detailed reflection, oddities emerge. For one thing, while it would be nice to think that laws and policies are being made by people who are honest and trustworthy, the idea that any of his rivals or colleagues are honest enough to admit their mistakes or crimes is laughable.
For another thing, why is it the decision of the police to prosecute that triggers his resignation? The facts are not really any better known than they were before.
I suspect that what forced him out was the media deciding to claim that he must be forced out. That doesn’t necessarily indicate any particular animus to him on behalf of the media; a cabinet resignation is worth pushing for just for story value. It might be that earlier, there were reasons for the press not to try to do him in, but those are now gone.
I could suggest a couple of possible reasons: one is that the media seemed somewhat invested in the coalition, but is now more soured on it. (The 2010 story of David Laws tells against that theory somewhat, but he might have been more specifically unpopular to the media). Another theory might be that Huhne’s activity on climate change protected him, but that has mysteriously become less of a concern.
Ultimately, I don’t think we can know what’s really going on, and that’s why day-to-day party politics isn’t worth paying attention to.
On to Goodwin then. On the one hand, if Goodwin was rewarded for benefiting British Banking, it is fair to say that the any benefit he bestowed was more than undone. On the other, the whole process did not seem to have much to do with either justice or wise decision-making; rather it had all the appearance of a stampede.
Whatever knighthoods are for these days, it can’t be what they were originally for. It’s a bit murky. Interestingly, knighthoods would fit well into a formalist system, as a treatment of the coalition problems I just wrote about. It could serve as a formalisation of informal power: a recognition that the recipient has some power, is loyal to the sovereign, and is being rewarded for that loyalty. If that were the basis of honours, they would not be withdrawn for incompetence, or even for criminality, but only for disloyalty. It would mean that that person ought not be permitted to obtain any power again.
Finally Hester. Hester is CEO of a bank which is making modest profits in a difficult market. As such, he would normally expect a substantial bonus. The same stampede which took away his predecessor’s knighthood took that as well.
There are legitimate questions about the amount of money made by banks and their employees, which I am not going to address — anyone worth reading on the issue would be either more knowledgable or less personally interested than me.
The question of bonuses per se is a separate one, though. What it amounts to is that companies that award large bonuses (relative to salary) are run in a more formalist manner than most other corporations. In many organisations, valuable employees are rewarded with more responsibilities, or better job security. Arnold Kling recently raised the point that this can produce bad outcomes. These companies avoid that, giving responsibilies as tasks rather than rewards, and rewarding valuable employees more directly with cash. This is the appropriate response to the sort of issue that Arnold Kling raised, and which Aretae picked up on as a widely applicable example of bad governance.
The fact that this formalist measure to improve governance arouses such opposition (again, independently of the actual sums involved; Hester’s salary for 2011 was over a million pounds, and attracted little attention), says a lot about what is wrong with modern political culture.
So, three very different honours: a minor position in our corrupted and ineffective system of government, an anachronism that might once have been a formalist recoginition of power and reward for loyalty, and a straightforward, honest payment for value. All removed, for better or worse, in the same way, by an unthinking popular stampede, triggered by a media driven not primarily by ideology but by a need for drama.