FORWARD BASE B

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State Capitalism in the Internet Age

In 21st century societies, we must consider the commanding heights the state must jealously guard also consists of social media, search, and online retail.  The lords of facebook, twitter, google, and amazon are gatekeepers of communication with enormous power over culture.

While anyone would be wary of government control over these services, the obvious approach is to maintain these systems without interfering with their function.
They were developed in private shops just as the telephone was but likewise cannot remain solely private.

Social media in modern society is part of the basic communication grid like landlines are.
Would we rather have government or Zuckerberg with power over the telephone service?

Since we consider telephone a utility, how about we ask the same question about other utilities?  What if Zuckerberg could turn off your water or electricity if you say something he doesn’t like—Total Recall-style?
In real life, facebook is a private business that can refuse service.  The only real deterrant against dictatorial control is the potential for poor service to encourage the rise of competitors.  

However, when there’s an entrenched monopoly it is much harder for a correction to take place through market forces.  This is why, even though governments are flawed, it’s necessary to have firm regulations in securing these vital arteries.
For many, facebook is almost a prerequisite to participate in normal society.  Imagine if the DMV could refuse to issue you a driver’s license because they don’t like you!

The core problem is that some services are natural monopolies.  We refer to many of them collectively as “utilities.”  It makes sense to have an electrical grid, railroads, waterworks, sewage, trash under one organization.  These are domains where the barrier to entry is high and where bottlenecks mean competition can clutter or even cripple the system.  The last thing anyone wants is 20 different companies building competing pipelines or powerlines.

On the internet, no one wants to go back and forth between 20 different search engines. I’m sure plenty of readers here remember switching between webcrawler, altavista, askjeeves, yahoo, and about a dozen others before google got in front of the pack and never looked back.

Who looks back nostalgically to a time when you couldn’t get amazon’s low prices, unequaled variety, and numerous product reviews?  Remember when people got movies and video games hoping they’d picked something decent?  Or back when many people got thick consumer reports magazines in the mail?

Perhaps even more importantly, amazon’s natural monopoly of internet retail has become a platform for countless small merchants and authors.  Why not just make some regulations to prevent abuses and keep this mostly the way it is?  The government could even use amazon as a dial to control incentives for a micro-merchant economy.

It’s good to let a natural monopoly be, but as we can see with water or electricity, we can’t play the market game of price discovery.  The solution is to have the state regulate prices, allowing the monopoly a modest profit.  To some this might sound like some kind of commie plot, but just think for one second what the electrical bill would look like without government price controls.

Beyond prices, we should consider that an area’s water supply can’t be switched off on a whim.  Even when people don’t pay their bills, there must be fair warning.  This strikes no one as being outlandish or communist.  We intuitively understand that basic infrastructure must be protected by special rules.

While the natural monopolies of the internet are mostly free for users, we can see there are still prices in a less tangible way as we depart from an enlightenment-materialist mindset.
If we extend the anti-abuse principle we realize there must be strict anti-manipulation policies for social media and search just like there is for the stock market.

On Twitter, shadowbanning, promoting the tweets of dectractors while burying supportive tweets, or manipulating the list of trending hashtags aren’t that different from insider trading. One party rigs the game for unearned monetary profit, another tries to manipulate a collective culture to serve a private agenda.
Both are means of subverting the entire society.
Some kind of government SEC would watch over natural internet monopolies and punish those who try to cheat.

What cannot be allowed is for these private mass entities to run rampant with no control at all.  Even if we have a perfectly selfish ruler who just wishes to stay in power, ceding control of the commanding heights is dumb and suicidal. 

When was the last time the electric and water companies were a serious threat to the power of the state?
What about social media tycoons, big banks, the insurance industry, or the military industrial complex?
The answer speaks for itself.
The ruler who does not control the commanding heights creates a free market for the control of government.

Internet Benefits People Asymmetrically

I saw a great article at Return of Kings a little while ago about how the internet is the “great equalizer.”  This is true insofar as internet is the next printing press.  It’s true like all revolutions in communication that it raises all boats, but as always, some more than others.  Every change in a given environment favors species in some niches over others.
Let’s face it, most internet users stay obediently on the designated pasture of facebook, social media, and its attendant shared games.  Those who are able to explore further are affected very differently.
The constant flow of information can give someone a trans-human sort of consciousness or riddle their mind with irrelevant details and outright falsehoods.
In real life and on the internet, I see many people who still don’t get it.  They complain about how the online world has degraded the quality of content and has enabled short attention spans.  That speaks more to the content they choose to interact with than what is actually available.  Someone with a naturally critical mind and inquisitive nature can tear through a hundred different sources, taking note of the bias of each and arrive at a synthesis.  Those who thrive on the internet understand every piece of information has strengths, weaknesses, and biases.  There is no holy gospel or answer to everything.  Those who deal in nuance do well.  Those who can’t handle it end up indignant and frustrated waxing eloquent about the good old days when a few printing presses in New York controlled the entire flow of the written word.  Or they end up in an echo chamber where everyone tells them what they want to hear—but that’s no different than what most people already do in real life.
For anyone willing to learn the internet has made almost any field of knowledge accessible at any time.  Outliers intuitively understand this means a potential path around the usual gatekeepers who weed them out and make would-be-apprentices grovel for their secrets.  Hands on instruction guided by experienced teachers remains important for mastery, but is no longer necessary to get an introduction and crack open the realms of theory.  The more autonomous the individual the greater the benefit derived.

Those who swim in the ocean of information like a natural habitat become a new aristocracy as they wield disproportionate influence over cultural ideas and public opinion.  Anymore the next trend in politics, art, or culture begins far out at sea as a ripple until finally it hits the teeming coral reefs that hug the shoreline as a towering wave.
As time goes on, those who can’t survive outside the safe coral reefs of facebook and instagram get left further and further behind getting liked by all their “friends” while those on the outer rim create the discourse and therefore weave the very fabric of their social reality.  For herdlings, social opinion and consensus are truest reality and a fist to the face, bitter cold wind, fatigue after hard labor, or even the piercing pangs of hunger or the need to breathe are but flimsy dreams compared.

Politics is Changing Because of Internet and Social Media

It has been a delicious spectacle to watch new competitors not only messily shit all over business as usual in politics, but actually take over the existing party machinery for themselves.  There’s something poetic about that since the established parties protected their mediocrity by rigging the system against competitors.  It ends with their own weaponry turned against them.
I have been typically apathetic towards politics, but it has been a particular fixation of mine to watch the consensus that has existed all my life begin to finally burn down.

There’s a lot of talk as to why this movement is finally happening now even though people have complained about “choosing the lesser evil” for decades.
It’s simple.
a) enough people are getting desperate enough.
b) more importantly, the internet is maturing as a technology and we are beginning to feel its true impact.

The internet is the new printing press. It changes society by dramatically increasing people’s access to information. The original printing press set up the right circumstances for the emergence of mass literacy. The trouble with mass literacy was that traditional monarchy, religion, and social mores were predicated on most people having very little access to information.
The change was slow but steady and sure. Over a few centuries, more abundant information made kingdoms and empires non-viable. In the age of the railroad and telegraph, nation-states began to replace the old kingdoms in earnest and WW1 settled the matter.
The emergence of radio and television provided more access to information but ended up bolstering the power of nation-state because both mediums were very easily controlled from tiny centralized sources.
The internet as a decentralized medium was always going to be a challenge to the order of nations.
It was already beginning to destabilize things as a minority of curious people browsed nerdy websites on their PCs. This was the printing press. Then “mass literacy” began to take hold with the advent of social media that involved ordinary people in online discourse. In 2008, Barack Obama soared to victory as the candidate of the internet. Around 2011-2012 we saw twitter riots in Tunisia and Egypt spread to the Western World as Occupy Wall Street. This spate of activity was startling but not enough to upend business as usual. One more development was needed. The spread of smartphones has finally sealed the deal. No longer can “soundbites” on TV and radio, or “experts” in the newspapers decisively control public opinion.
It took over 300 years for the implications of the printing press to be felt in full. The internet in 30 years is making an impact much faster since it is
a) orders of magnitude beyond previous breakthroughs—even the printing press at first just gave people access to the bible, a few classics, and public posters and pamphlets.
b) starting off with a society that already has orders of magnitude more information and wealth than was available in 15th century Europe.

Even so, we are just beginning to understand how big the implications are. I’ve already guessed that nation-states and their political systems will be replaced altogether by more cohesive “tribe-states” steadily over time just as a literate public inevitably led to empires being replaced by nation-states. Each increase in access to information has made possible finer gradations of mass political organization:
Empires – Political associations decided by force of arms.
Kingdoms – Association often decided by some precedent of cultural cohesion at least in a core region, with subjugated peoples surrounding.
Nation-states – Association decided by common language, culture, and in varying degrees, ethnicity.
Tribe-states – Affiliation by one’s natural proclivities and values within a larger population. Ordinary people with incredible logistical capabilities and access to information allows cohesive bands to avoid being subjugated by massive bureaucracy-bound states. The development of politics goes full circle from small tribes that were subjugated by empires based in the first cities.

Politics has always been about “choosing the lesser evil.”
Empires/Kingdoms – The ruler taxes people to bare subsistence, but if you don’t back him, his competitors’ armies will destroy what little you have.
Nation States – Any sort of republic leaves most people mostly unsatisfied but properly implemented can maintain a tepid status-quo.
Tribe States – Most people get the society they want; that’s what defines this type of association.

Each upgrade in access to information enables people to pursue their interests more effectively. This is why the ruling classes have always wanted the masses to remain hobbled by ignorance but once a major new advance spreads, they can only struggle to contain it until they finally cease to be relevant.

There has been a growing inability of US political factions to reach compromises as each insists on fully realizing its agenda. When representatives have tried to behave more moderately, their constituents have denounced and abandoned them.
Not only is a shrinking pie making people more urgent, fewer are satisfied with getting only a part of their demands met. The masses begin to intuitively sense that it is now viable to associate more finely to more effectively get what they want. There’s no more Soviet Union, nukes make conventional wars unlikely, and internet allows people to associate with those most like them and pursue their shared objectives.
From now on, the alignment of tribes, not of entrenched parties will be the shaping force in the politics of nations.

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