Big Government and Big Tech versus the Internet and Everyone

Governments around the world began trying to bring the Internet under control as soon as they realized the danger to their power represented by unfettered public access to, and exchange of, information. From attempts to suppress strong encryption technology to the Communications Decency Act in the US and China’s “Great Firewall,” such efforts have generally proven ineffectual. But things are changing, and not for the better.

The European Parliament recently passed a “Copyright Directive” which, if implemented, will force Internet platforms to actively monitor user content instead of putting the burden of proving copyright infringement on those claiming such infringement. The Directive also includes  a “link tax” under which publishers will charge aggregation platforms for traditionally “fair use” excerpts.

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment is attempting to force the sale of Grindr, a gay dating app, over “national security” concerns. Grindr is owned by a Chinese company, Beijing Kunlun. CFIUS’s supposed fear is that the Chinese government will use information the app gathers to surveil or even blackmail users in sensitive political and military jobs.

Those are just two current examples of many.

Big Governments and Big Tech are engaged in a long-term mating dance.

Big Governments want to regulate Big Tech because that’s what governments do, and because, as with Willie Sutton and banks, Big Tech is where the Big Tax Money is.

Big Tech wants to be regulated by Big Governments because regulation makes it more difficult and expensive for new competitors to enter the market. Facebook doesn’t want someone else to make it the next MySpace. Google doesn’t want a fresh new face to send it the way of Yahoo.

It’s a mating dance with multiple suitors on all sides.

The US doesn’t like Grindr or Huawei, because FREEDUMB.

The Chinese don’t want uncensored Google or Twitter, because ORDER.

The EU is at least honest about being sexually indiscriminate: It freely admits that it just wants to rigorously screw everyone, everything, everywhere.

Big Tech wants to operate in all of these markets and it’s willing to buy every potential Big Government as many drinks as it takes to them all into the sack.

Everybody wins, I guess. Except the public.

Governments and would-be monopolists are fragmenting what once advertised itself as a Global Information Superhighway into hundreds of gated streets.

Those streets are lined by neatly manicured lawns per the homeowners’ association’s rigorously enforced rules, and herbicide is sprayed on those lawns to kill off the values that made the Internet the social successor to the printing press and the economic successor to the Industrial Revolution.

As Stewart Brand wrote, “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. … That tension will not go away.”

Big Tech and Big Government are both coming down, increasingly  effectively,  on the side of “expensive” and on the side of Ford’s  Model T philosophy (“you can have any color you want as long as it’s black”).

They’re killing the Internet. They’re killing the future. They’re killing us.

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The Depression Preference

When I describe mental illness as “an extreme, socially disapproved preference,” the most convincing counter-example people offer is depression.  Do I really think people “want to be depressed” or choose depression as a bizarre alternative lifestyle?

My quick answer: These objections confuse preferences with meta-preferences.

No one chooses to have the gene for cilantro aversion.  Yet people with the cilantro aversion gene are perfectly able to eat this vegetable.  They just strongly prefer not to.

Similarly, when I say that alcoholics are people who value heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages more than family harmony, this doesn’t mean that they like having these priorities.  If they could press a button which would eliminate their craving for alcohol, I bet many alcoholics would press it.  But given their actual cravings, they prefer to keep drinking heavily despite the suffering of their families.

The same holds even more strongly for the typical person diagnosed with clinical depression.  Most people with loving families and successful careers are happy.  Clinically depressed people, however, often have both loving families and successful careers, yet still want to kill themselves.  Their preference is so extreme that it confuses the rest of us.  They’d almost surely rather have a different preference.  But it is their preference nonetheless.

Not convinced?  Think back to the early 1970s, when psychiatrists still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.  I object, “Mental disorder?  No, it’s just an extreme, socially disapproved preference.”  When critics incredulously respond, “Do you really think people choose to be gay?,” I say they’re confusing preferences with meta-preferences.  To be gay is to sexually prefer people of your own gender.  This doesn’t mean that gays want to feel this way.  If a gay-to-straight conversion button existed in the intolerant world of 1960, I bet that most gays would have gladly pushed it for themselves.  Even today, I think many gay teens would press the conversion button to fit in and avoid conflict.  But so what?  Hypothetical buttons can’t transform a preference into a disorder.

Is this all just a word game?  No.  The economic distinction between preferences and constraints that I’m drawing upon has three big substantive implications here.

First, people with extreme preferences could make different choices.  People with cilantro aversion are able to eat cilantro.  Alcoholics are able to stop drinking.  The depressed can refrain from suicide.  And so on.  This is fundamentally different from my inability to bench press 300 pounds – or live to be 150 years old.

Second, as a corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – respond to incentives.  People with cilantro aversion are more likely to eat cilantro if other foods are expensive or inconvenient.  Alcoholics respond to alcohol taxes – and family pressure.  Depressed parents may delay suicide until their kids are grown.  Even in a tragic situation, incentives matter.*

Third, as a further corollary, people with extreme preferences can – and routinely do – find better ways to cope.  People reshape their own preferences all the time; perhaps you can do the same.  Failing that, perhaps you can discover more constructive ways to satisfy the preferences that you’re stuck with.  For example, if you’re extremely depressed despite great career success, you really should try some experiments in living.  Perhaps you’ll be miserable whatever you do.  But if you’ve only experienced one narrow lifestyle, how do you know?  Maybe you’d feel better if you tried putting friendship or hobbies above “achievement.”

It’s tempting to insist that there’s something pathological about having conflicting preferences and meta-preferences.  On reflection, however, these conflicts are a ubiquitous feature of human existence.  Almost everyone would like to feel differently in some important dimension.  Almost everyone reading this probably wishes they were less lazy, more patient, more outgoing, more loving, more ambitious, or more persistent.  But you still are the preferences you really have.  There’s plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean you’re sick.

* I’m well-aware that many physical symptoms also respond to incentives.  You can pressure a diabetic to lose weight, which in turn reverses his diabetes.  But all of these incentive effects require time to work.  The symptoms of mental illness, in contrast, can and often do respond to incentives instantly, because they are choices that are always within your grasp.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop drinking right now” is a viable threat.  “I’m divorcing you unless you stop being diabetic right now” is silly one.

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I’m Shocked — Shocked! — that Wealthy Parents Love Their Kids Too

In the film version of Forrest Gump (but not, if memory serves, in the novel), Forrest’s mother tries to convince the local elementary school principal that her son belongs at  his local elementary school rather than at an institution for what we would now call “special needs” students. The two reach an understanding on Mrs. Gump’s remarkably squeaky bed while Forrest waits on the front porch.

That scene popped to mind uninvited in early March when fifty parents, test administrators, and college sports coaches were indicted in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

Coaches allegedly took bribes to accept students as fake athletic recruits to get around academic standards. Test prep services supposedly taught students how to cheat on tests and bribed proctors to smooth the way for the cheating. An “admissions consultant,” William Singer, is accused of orchestrating the scheme to the tune of $25 million.

None of which, obviously, is According to Hoyle.

I’m surprised, though, at the vitriol directed at the parents in particular.

I suspect most movie viewers empathized with the fictional Mrs. Gump, who did whatever she felt she had to do to secure the best education possible for her child.

Real-life parents like actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman — the two most famous of the indicted parents — did whatever they felt they had to do to secure the best educations possible for their children as well.

The difference, of course, is that the fictional Mrs. Gump was poor, while Loughlin and Huffman are wealthy.

The public heartburn over Loughlin and Huffman seems less about them bribing their kids into good schools than about them being able to AFFORD to bribe their kids into good schools.

Suppose the scandal had unfolded in a different way. What if, instead of rich people writing checks they could afford,  it was working class parents scraping together money they really couldn’t afford, or trading menial work or even sexual favors a la Mrs. Gump, for illicit “admissions assistance?”

In that alternative scenario, I suspect most would regard the parents as victims, not as evil-doers.

In that alternative scenario, I expect that most parents could see themselves doing exactly the same things in the same circumstances.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me.” True. But not when it comes to loving their children. I won’t condemn them for that.

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Worse Than Sexual Predators

It seems that every day there’s yet another sexual predator exposed. Good. They need to be exposed and stopped.

The problem is, there’s an even worse kind of predator; a type which doesn’t have to be exposed because so few people recognize what they do as predation that it isn’t hidden. It is carried out in the open, and many people even admire them for it.

Few see it as wrong. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong.

Once upon a time, few people saw slavery as wrong. But it was.

These predators of whom I speak are those who use politics “legally”. All of them. They are political predators and they are molesting you and your loved ones right this minute.

Political predators are bad guys who need to be exposed– by having the veil of legitimacy stripped from them– and they need to be stopped.

The thing with sexual predators is that sex itself isn’t inherently wrong. It can be consensual and mutually voluntary. Sexual predators are bad because they skip the consent and use the political means against their victims. Just like other political predators do.

Politics can never be truly consensual and mutually voluntary. Otherwise, politics wouldn’t be necessary. You could simply agree to a relationship. Politics is never like this. Politics is non-sexual (usually) rape. Politics is slavery. Politics is theft. Politics is the realm of the predator, exclusively. Good people use the economic means when dealing with others; bad people use the political means. Anyone who uses the political means is a political predator.

Yes, this means muggers, thieves, rapists, murderers, kidnappers, and all those people are, at the foundation, political predators. But so are people who aren’t considered necessarily bad guys by the public at large. They are the “legal” political predators.

Police are political predators.
Politicians are political predators.
Bureaucrats who work in government are political predators.

Do you want these people around your kids? Or yourself? I sure don’t.

Stop giving political predators a pass they don’t deserve.

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One Institution at a Time

The institutions of America are crumbling, it says here, but none so time-honored and none so precipitously as the Fourth Estate.

I’m not sure when I stopped reading newspapers, but they fell out of my favor when I was a freshman in college.  My professor for Advanced Composition used the local papers in every class to present to us examples of horrendously poor writing.  Sometimes he would even use the eminences such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Louisville Courier-Journal.  He implied that eventually we would become dolts, as a national population, because of the habitual trashing of the language.  And, no, he wasn’t a grammar zealot.  Rather, he was one who suggested that the media were pursuing false ideals.

For the next decade, I got my news from Rolling Stone and National Lampoon.  We did not own a television.   News was like tuning in to a soap opera every year or so — the plot lines were still the same, as were the lack of quality.

But my purpose here is not to write a history, but to examine where we are today.  To do this, I have decided to review a typical day’s throughput on popular WWW newsfeeds.

Here are the headlines, except for sports-related ones which could be written by reassembling confetti:

  • [A celebrity] pleads not guilty to multiple charges of criminal sexual abuse — Undeveloped Sex Drama (to be continued)
  • [An alleged disruptor] was carrying toy gun, police reveal after shooting him dead — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • [National] police detain hundreds in [provincial] sweeps — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • Pro-life movie ‘Unplanned’ gets unexpected R rating — Divisiveness Drama (to be continued)
  • A stern memo about [a convict to be sentenced] says he ‘brazenly violated’ law — Veiled Courtroom Drama (to be continued)
  • Every Angle of the 2019 [new product] — Untried Consumer Product Drama (to be continued)
  • [A country’s] [royal personage] becomes country’s first [female] ambassador with [another country] role — Veiled Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • The [nationality] do not have a moral compass in the way they do business — Abstractly Referenced International Commerce Drama (to be continued)
  • AOC: ‘Is It Still Okay to Have Children’ in the Age of Climate Change — AOC/Fear/Climate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • ‘Unhinged madman’: Former U.S. budget director says [POTUS] is ‘conducting 4 wars on the economy’ — Opinion on Opinion (to be continued, incessantly)
  • Airlines admit having cameras installed on back of passengers’ seats — Anti-Corporate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • [A national capital city] Postcard: Children hope to give [a leader] comradely welcome — Opinion on Sideshow / Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Oscars 2019: The worst-dressed stars including [celebrities A, B, and C] — Opinion on Sideshow / Celebrity Drama (likely to be continued, incessantly)
  • Tunnels, civilians slow capture of [militant group]’s last [a nation] pocket — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • [A celebrity]’s alleged plan to manufacture outrage diminishes impact of real hate crime — Opinion 0n Hate Crime Drama (to be continued)
  • Tornado tears through [a locale] leads to first tornado death of 2019 — Weather / Fatality Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Flood threat persists in [a region] while severe storms diminish in the [larger region] — Weather Futurism Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Snow emergencies in [northern latitude] — Weather Persistence Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • [A military] officer, self-described white nationalist, planned terror attack to ‘kill almost every last person,’ feds say — Terror / White Nationalism / Fed Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Harry and Meghan meet Moroccan girls during official tour — Royal Drama (never ending)
  • [A politician] attracts crowds in [a primary state], but leaves questions about what she believes — Unsupported Assertion / Unverified Supposition Political Drama (never ending)
  • [A country] breaks diplomatic relations with [another country] over aid, [a politician] says  — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Iceberg twice the size of New York City about to break off Antarctica, says NASA — Help me!  I’m melting!  (Every earthly ice mass has an edge from which pieces break)

As Cliff Arquette might have said, “it goes on … ”

I once lived in Manhattan, NYC, for 3 months in 1985.  It was the apparent practice of every “news” outlet to have at least one story every day for both Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani.  I learned subsequently that each of those egomaniacs probably planted those stories.  Today’s news mavens, it seems, have taken pages from those books by making sure that certain genre of accounts appear in every release.

— Verbal Vol

 

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Against “Guilty Pleasures”

I have a burning hatred for the idea of the “guilty pleasure.”

Oh, I understand the concept. You take pleasure from something for which you also feel guilty for enjoying – from watching YouTube cat videos to eating chocolate ice cream.

But as anyone who indulges in these “guilty pleasures” could tell you, the mixture of guilt and pleasure generally cancels out the pleasure. The idea itself is a contradiction, so this should come as no surprise.

Pleasure was meant to be pleasurable. Guilt was meant to be, well, bad.  I think we’re able to live with the contradiction only because we’ve accepted contradictions in our moral standards.

If you feel a “guilty pleasure” for eating chocolate, maybe you need to drop whatever moral standard has told you that eating chocolate makes you a less valuable person. Or maybe you just need to stop eating chocolate. But as long as you have the contradiction of “I like this” and “I think this is bad” going on, you’re just going to spiral into more pain.

If you feel a “guilty pleasure” for having sex, maybe you need to question the assumptions and training which told you that you should feel bad for sexual desire. So many people treat their whole sexual lives as “guilty pleasures” without bothering to consider whether they *really* have a reason to feel guilty (post-religious folks especially). At the same time, many people should probably listen to what guilt might be trying to speak out – pleasure is not the end-all, and so much can go wrong (to yourself and others) in the realm of romance that many moderns fail to consider.

When you feel a guilty sense of pleasure, you should know that you’re being called to go deeper into the feeling, and into your conscious and subconscious values. Then eliminate the contradiction. Let pleasure be pleasure again, and let guilt be guilt.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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