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Tag: anarchism

Heed the Memes

I’ve encountered some delightful little creatures called memeballs, and apparently these ones represent different strains of anarchism. You can tell by the colors. My partner showed me the first specimen for reasons that will become obvious immediately:

when your crush hooks up with some diskhead jock with poorly optimized security software so you replace all of his childhood memories with a boot prompt for an industrial paint mixer

He had it coming, right? Besides, future industrial paint mixers could lead happy lives. Our protagonist might have done the diskhead jock a favor.

When you send your son to his room for being naughty and he creates his own state and attempts to annex your fridge so you fire a tomahawk missile at him

This also seems completely justified and not an overreaction in the slightest.

My resolution for 2017 is to look at more anarchist memes. (Does it matter how well they hew to the actual philosophy? Probably not.) I’ll get my partner to curate them for me, since I can’t stand 4chan myself.

Jokes aside, I do think that memes are important. Both in the original Richard Dawkins sense — the meme as a knowledge unit that reproduces — and in the “humorous captioned image” sense. RIP Harambe.

I don’t know much about their impact in other countries, but memes were important to the US election. “Meme magic” is truly potent — Tara Isabella Burton wrote a great article about this. Reality is a mutual social creation.

What remains to be seen is whether the mainstream can harness meme magic to fight the insurgent fringes, or whether their efforts will remain consigned to /r/FellowKids.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ tfw asymmetric information warfare is a feature, not a bug

“Strange dueling subcultures and their own narratives, folk beliefs, superstitious techno-animism, language-games — to the extent that any kind of ‘database culture’ can be called a narrative as opposed to simply just a collection of memetic primitives — have taken control of the means (perhaps now memes) of knowledge production.” — Adam Elkus

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Controlling the Opposition to Some Extent

This quote is often attributed to Vladimir Lenin: “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” He speaks of puppet movements and useful idiots. (The latter term is also Leninese, as it happens.) There is a less-popular companion statement, which seems to have bubbled up from the frustrated id of anonymous extremists:

"All opposition is controlled opposition." Made with Buffer's Pablo.

“All opposition is controlled opposition.” Made with Buffer’s Pablo.

The idea behind this maxim is that the state allows a certain amount of opposition to exist, and often infiltrates protest movements or steers them from afar. (Anarchist groups have developed what they call “security culture” as a way to guard against this.)

Dissidents are permitted to bleed off tension without actually endangering the regime. People with the savvy and energy to organize real trouble are swallowed up by doomed groups fighting for doomed causes.

For example, the “controlled opposition” interpretation of the #NoDAPL protests would be: The activists feel like they’ve won a victory, but the pipeline will just be slightly rerouted, built eventually, and imperil the groundwater in due time. The tribe’s supposed success serves to placate the public. Behind the scenes, the state and its capitalist cronies do whatever they want.

Some observers interpret mainstream political parties as controlled opposition en masse. Show contests orchestrated by the deep state in order to keep the voters occupied. Wars are engineered by corporate interests. According to this paradigm, we don’t just swoop in and crush ISIS because the military-industrial complex thrives on hot wars.

I think “all opposition is controlled opposition” is a bit like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Both sayings are nonsense when interpreted literally, but they’re catchy ways to encapsulate an emotionally compelling idea.

Yes, clearly controlled opposition does exist. But genuinely disruptive fringe groups also exist. The English government didn’t benefit from the IRA, and the French Revolution managed to behead a couple of monarchs (plus many unfortunate members of the aristocracy). Mao Zedong’s rise to power was not controlled opposition.

In general, I think people tend to see conspiracies where there are actually incentive structures. Of course the state has to strike a balance between crushing dissent entirely and allowing it to enter society’s memetic bloodstream. If the politicians and bureaucrats err too far in either direction, the state loses its power.


Header photo via the euskadi 11.

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I Swear I’m Not a Statist

Allow me to string some ideas together, using technology as a metaphor:

“A world where people, businesses, and governments rely on IT for almost everything they do is a world where SIGINT will be the most important form of espionage.” — John Schindler on “SpyWar”

“If you’re not looking for the structure, you won’t find it. If you are, it’s obvious.” — Scott Alexander on his mystical universe

“Only machines that can be inventoried and centrally managed can reasonably be secured against advanced attackers.” — Brandon Wilson on enterprise security

The community of Bitcoin developers is currently struggling to decide between a couple of different technical directions that I don’t understand or care about. The interesting parts are the human conflicts and what the whole brouhaha says about group politics. When I wrote “Power Is Necessary”, this controversy was on my mind.

Wind turbine photographed by Paulo Valdivieso.

Wind turbine photographed by Paulo Valdivieso.

There is a reason why centralization happens over and over again in human history. We didn’t invent the Code of Hammurabi out of the blue. Monarchy did not develop randomly, and republics require executive branches. Centralized power is efficient. Hierarchies of decision-makers, each able to dictate and veto the level below, allow for instructions to be disseminated and enforced.

“It is generally considered that there are four forms of structure employed by terrorist groups: conventional hierarchy, cellular, network & leaderless resistance. The decision to employ one of these formats is grounded in the security/efficiency trade-off of each; conventional hierarchy providing the most efficient and least secure, leaderless resistance the opposite: highest security, least efficiency.” — Tom Hashemi on guerilla warfare

I love the ideals of anarchy, but it fundamentally doesn’t work. Neither does direct democracy or its hands-off “don’t tread on me” equivalent. Coercion is a basic component of societal structures that accomplish things and manage to self-perpetuate. Are fear-based incentives good? Are they virtuous? No, of course not. But they get the job done.

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Who’s In Charge, Anyway?

“Any form of protest can be effectively prevented if the state is willing to employ the full range of its resources for authoritarian repression and control. The only form of ‘direct action’ which cannot be contained by the state is popular revolution. […] We can win the cooperation of the police for precisely as long as we fail to genuinely threaten the existing social order.” — Rob Sparrow in “Anarchist Politics & Direct Action”

Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Photo by Cory Doctorow.

I tend to be a cynic, like I said earlier this week. So I agree with these specific fatalistic sentences from Sparrow’s article (and a few of his other statements). However, I’m doubtful that an anarchist revolution is feasible, and revolution is Sparrow’s overall goal. Then again, plenty of smart people disagree with me. Theorists, organizers, and perhaps an economist or two — they believe in better governance by the people, for the people. I mean, democracy was supposed to fill that niche, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Remember how the Ferguson protests didn’t show up on Facebook because the News Feed algorithm doesn’t like ~negative~ content? I don’t think the state needs to employ its full range of authoritarian resources. We’ve constructed systems for ourselves that do the job just fine. When we gave up our lives to corporations, it was a sign that we like control — at least most of us — and we don’t want to make our own decisions in every instance. Who has the energy to choose, choose, and choose momentously again?

Quote from The Intercept.

Quote from The Intercept.

I don’t believe that we entirely lack autonomy. Free will is a myth, of course, which I’ve written about extensively. But there’s grey space between humans as automatons and humans as gods, masters of our own fates. We’re somewhere in between — more like pre-programmed machines executing decisions in reaction to various stimuli.

What do you think? I genuinely want to know. Just email me. (But I can’t guarantee that I’ll agree with you…)

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