Thursday, June 27, 2024

Not Even Masters

“Debates” are the purest expression of performative system-worship in an era where performative system-worship is the driving force behind everything that’s going to kill us. Fuck. That. Noise.

We pretend they’re debates. I’m not a young man, and for my entire adult life, debates have been gamed, optimized, and fake. They’re an excuse to spout rhetoric in the guise of policy answers. There are no rules, and when there are rules, they’re not enforced, and when they are enforced, they’re enforced not to be enforced, but to create drama. There is no referee, no system by which performance is judged, just an arbitrary claim of winner and loser that’s predetermined by the preferences of whoever’s providing the judgment.

We pretend they matter. We point to Nixon sweating and “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” as totemic examples of debates mattering, but the first one was the first ever televised debate, and the guy who told off Dan Quayle lost to Dan Fucking Quayle. And that’s before you get to the myth and fallacy of the convincible independent swing voter in 20-fucking-24. The electorate is made up entirely of preconceived notions that will watch the debate to have them confirmed and low-information or survival-mode voters  who will definitely not be tuning in because the debates are on one channel and there are tens of thousands of other ways to spend that time even if you’re in front of a screen.

We spend weeks pretending everything around it matters. Debate prep. Expectation-setting. This year, charges that (checks notes) Joe Biden will be hopped up on energy drinks, giving him an unfair advantage over a lump of orange goo that thinks fisherman will get eaten by sharks after being forced to use electric boats that won’t float.

We do these things for the same reason we pretend that the 2024 election is a gentlemanly, sophisticated contest between two fine fellows who disagree on tariffs. Because if we acknowledge in any way what’s actually happening, it brutally exposes the myth that America, as they say in the housing market, “has good bones”. That no part of the core is rotten, there’s just a few unsightly blemishes on the surface that if we wait long enough and polish hard enough, will go away on their own.

We do these things because the entire industry that’s supposed to be telling us that the core is in fact rotten and we’re all in grave danger is so financially locked into The System Working that pointing out the truth would be, for all practical intents and purposes, professional suicide. They don’t tell the truth because there’s no incentive system for it, and the idea that anyone in the past three to five decades would do a thing they weren’t incentivized to do just because it’s “right”? Well, that’s just another tenet from the big book of performative system worship. People do it, but the kind of people who do it aren’t the kind of people who gain the kind of power where doing it would really mean something.

The debate’s going to be inescapable for another 48-72 hours, so get through it as best you can. The only way it’ll be talked about longer than that is if SCOTUS rules that presidents have immunity and Biden brings two dueling swords to the debates stage, and even then, don’t expect it to move the needle between now and November.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

One Reason Why You’re Tired

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but the Amazon “Just Walk Out” revelation really crystallized for me why life in 2024 is so fucking exhausting. And it’s due to the fact that everything is rigged and nothing can be trusted.

I mean, was I SURPRISED when I learned that Amazon’s magical shops where you walked in scanned a QR code to identify yourself, grabbed things off the shelves, and left with the amounts automatically being charged to your account was in fact powered by the “technology” of 1,000 low-wage workers in India watching you shop on a video feed? No. And also yes.

I mean, I expected it to be a stunt, but I expected it to be a less audacious, more predictable kind of stunt. It’s like when Elon Musk showed off his “robot” and it was a hired dancer in a robot suit. First, how do they think they can get away with it, and then second, oh, wait, they did get away with it. Everyone’s still gonna one-click buy for two-day shipping and Elon still has all his sweet government contracts for rockets and satellite internets and chargers.

Everything is manipulated and gamed for maximum short-term benefit, creating layers and layers of systems that instantly lose their meaning. Five-star rating systems? Seems reasonable on the face of it, but then the people implementing the systems started to make hiring and firing decisions and suddenly 5.00 became “fine” and 4.99 stars became “fire this cretin” and why are we even bothering at this point?

Algorithms game our content, and our content games the algorithm and now I can’t even mindlessly consume social media without wondering whether every benign, mildly amusing post is a genuine, sincere life experience or a carefully crafted simulacrum of a sincere life experience because someone else’s sincere life experience got engagement or  maybe is just straight up copy/pasting someone else’s sincere life experience that got engagement OR MAYBE IT’S JUST A COPY PASTE OF SOMEONE ELSE’S FAKE SINCERE LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT GOT ENGAGEMENT BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW PEOPLE ARE DRAWN TO SINCERE LIFE EXPERIENCES …

And the screaming starts and never stops.

Inflation is when prices go up so now that there’s some inflation let’s make prices go up and blame it on inflation. Let’s violate the spirit of the gag order and not the specific letter of it so they have to change the gag order to account for my loophole and then I’ll violate it again and rely on institutional caution to avoid consequences. 

Is this e-mail real, fake, or a fake fake my boss sent me to see if I’m good enough at spotting fakes? Is this ad for a product real or fake? Is the store selling it real or fake? Is the product the same as the picture and description? Check the reviews! Oh wait the reviews might be fake too! And these are just the day-to-day low-stakes decisions. Get sick? Interact with law enforcement? Get laid off? Not only do the decisions have bigger consequences, but the systems you interact with will be even more rigged against you.

You want to create exhausted nihilism? You can’t do much better than a system where the only real thing is the constant suffering of the people so powerless they have to engage with these systems and play by their “rules”. Where, if you’re even lucky enough to have media literacy, you have to keep it going with every single word you consume.

And just when you think you’ve got the hang of that, bam, deepfakes and AI waltz in and now you’re counting fingers on every picture you see.
Where you can’t even walk out of a store with a loaf of bread without  eight different ethical quandaries, seven of which you’re not even given the information you need to resolve. No wonder we’re all fucking tired.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Vot1! Now Here’s What That Won’t Fix

Love to see it. Weeks of people on social media drooling in anticipation of Trump actually facing consequences, only to have those consequences reduced and delayed at the last minute. Followed by the usual exhortations to VOTE AS HARD AS YOU CAN and the explanations of why this isn’t as bad as it so obviously, clearly is.

It’s true that the “only thing” that will save us from Trump is voting in November. And obviously, I encourage that and hope it happens. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a shitty, stupid thing to rely on to save us from the most idiotic, obviously criminal, fascist movement in America’s history.

First, it’s craven buck-passing. Every institution in America, from Congress to the courts to the media, is passing the buck on to you to do the right thing, and if that doesn’t happen, guess who’s fault they’re going to decide it was? Yep. Yours. 

But also, you know what even a 75-25 nationwide Biden/Congress landslide isn’t going to fix? It’s not going to fix? The fact that none of our institutions are even remotely up to task of dealing with any of this shit. Corruption, buck-passing, inefficiency, decades of unopposed gaming of every system in place to keep bad actors in check, none of that changes when Biden wins a second term. It’s not even going to get better.

Because fixing it would mean acknowledging that the problem exists, and even though it’s obvious to every clear-eyed outside observer how broken this shit is, everyone whose continued existence is predicated on pretending it’s not will keep pretending it’s not. And that’s not just the broken institutions, that’s also everyone who, for understandable reasons, needs to believe that the institutions aren’t THAT broken just to make it through the day. And that’s a lot of people.

So, yeah, vote, but just like the win four years ago, 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Codifying Your Disappointmnet

 This one’s for the  young idealists.

Here’s the thing. As someone who’s political leanings cause you to vote for Democrats, there are certain issues where you have to be prepared to be perpetually disappointed. That’s part of the bargain. These issues are, in decreasing order of how disappointed you’ll be, are:

  1. Immigration
  2. Israel
  3. Dropping Bombs For Freedom
  4. Crime and Policing
  5. Finance and Corporate Regulation
  6. Everything Else
Those are the big four. Maybe it’s decades of inculcated subservience to how they think the Old White People In An Ohio Diner feel. Maybe it’s innate to the mechanisms that put Democrats in positions of power. Kinda doesn’t matter. 

End of the day, the Democratic Party will always be more anti-immigrant, pro-Israeli government, pro brown-bombing, pro-cop, and pro-business than you or I want them to be. 

And if you’re feeling disappointed now, wait ‘til I tell you that the answer is not, and never will be, your Tulsi Gabbards, your Andrew Yangs, your Marianne Williamsons, or any of the other people who’ve staked out, at one point or another, a leftist or pseudo-leftist position during the Dem primaries and attracted the perennially disappointed with an appealing stance on one or more of the above issues.

This includes Bernie Sanders.

Does this suck? Absolutely. Are many of the people and group of people I listed above grifters who’ll change allegiances at the drop of a hat once one group of marks dries up? Absofuckinglutely, with the nigh-sole exception of Bernie. And that also sucks.

But what it doesn’t mean is that the two parties are the same. “Both disappointing” and “equally disappointing” aren’t synonyms, for one thing. And for another thing, the “Everything Else” above covers a wide range of policies and a much wider disappointment gap between Democratic candidates and Republican ones. Like abortion. Or LGbTQIA+ rights. Or a general attitude towards racial equailty, fascism, and how many good ideas Adolf Hitler had.

I’d love a different system. I’d love a viable leftist party at the presidential level. But you’re not gonna get one without a viable third party at the congressional level. And you’re not gonna get THAT without a viable third party at the state level. And you’re not gonna get THAT without a viable third party at a bunch of different local levels. 

If 2017-2021 proved anything, it’s that the idea that “the Dems will lose and they’ll see how bad things can get and the public will see how bad things can get and this will provide the mainstream support for the massive structural changes our society needs” is bullshit.  Because it turns out that you can’t hit a point that bad without driving past “fascist dictatorship that refuses to give up power” and suddenly the structural changes you’re getting are VERY disappointing indeed.

This doesn’t mean “give up on your idealism”. We’re never going to fix the Overton Window without strong voices pushing for leftist ideas and getting them out there in the public discourse. 

All I’m saying is that the disappointment you feel is natural and warranted, but also exists in a context that is unfortunately and repeatedly incredibly dangerous to ignore. A context that took decades to establish, is a context that won’t be turned around in a single, top-down, magical epiphany because the guy who talked about UBI got six percent.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Nostalgia, 2024 Edition

 Not trying specifically to be shitty, but Jon Stewart returning to The Daily Show, and the joy with which the announcement was received, feels to me like a very reactionary sort of center-left nostalgia for the “halcyon” days of the pre-Trump 2010’s when we could still pretend one political party in America wasn’t engaged in an all-out war against every single marginalized group in the country.

I mean, maybe he’s learned his lesson and no longer thinks that if both reasonable sides just turned down the rhetoric, talked things through, and found common ground we’d reach Utopia? But the Jon Stewart Daily Show was emblematic of a particular mindset that utterly failed to see how bad things were getting until it was far too late. Going back to that is comfort food for those of us who live in the back half of the First They Came For quote.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Three-Party System

 Functionally speaking, America has three political parties, not two.

One party believes that the systems that hold up our society are fundamentally broken and crumbling around us, and need to be drastically overhauled to ensure our continued survival.

One party believes the systems that hold up our society are fine, and just need small tweaks, and for us to all agree to follow and live up to them, to ensure our continued survival.

The third party believes that the systems that hold up our society are fundamentally broken and crumbling around us, and that they can use this to increase their own money and power, whether we collectively survive or not.

Two of these parties field candidates, have positions represented in the national media, and do everything in their power to keep one of them from having a voice, either out of misguided and entrenched devotion to their belief in the system, or because the first party is the biggest threat to their gravy train.

People in that first party are constantly forced to support the second in the hopes of staving off the third long enough for the second to realize maybe the first are right.

The best thing about this framing is that it’s very easy to quickly identify which party someone is in. You don’t have to play around with stupid labels like “moderate” or “maverick” or “resistance”. 

The worst thing about this framing is it reveals very quickly how outnumbered you are.

Friday, January 12, 2024

SETTLED: Separating Problematic Artists From Their Work

You all suck at arguing, so I guess I’m going to have to settle your shit for you. Today, let’s settle “Separating Problematic Artists From Their Work”, AKA The JK Rowling Conundrum