Big tech has no power at all
The basics of tech censorship and the structure of the cathedral.
|Jan 12|| 153||105|
We are terrible at seeing power. Or in other words: power is great at not being seen.
Because power is a human universal, all thinking is within the field of some power. Thoughts that go along with the field are obvious and soar up instantly like birds. Thoughts that flow against the field are as slow and impossible as arthritic turtles.
The thought of studying itself is inherently foreign to power. Power does not want to know itself. The most powerful powers do not even think of their power as power. If power does know itself, it keeps that knowledge to itself; but mostly, it really does believe its own official myths. The real O’Brien is a rare figure.
The thought of studying its enemies, however, is very satisfying and natural. Power has to know its enemies—any competing power—to fight them; also, to demonize them. Every power structure which is found in the enemy is suffused with a malign glow, as if our doctrinal immune systems were warning us of alien coronavirus spikes. Ideally, this same structure is not also found in itself; if so, the two must be well-distinguished.
This is why people think Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos have power—political power, to be exact. (They obviously have professional power.) They look like something that your immune system is looking for. Actually, they are unimportant, harmless bacteria. You are right that you have a fatal disease. It is one your body recognizes as self.
To the fully enlightened observer, the crackdown of 2021 proves just the opposite: the tech “oligarchs” have no power at all. Mostly, if they could blink T-O-R-T-U-R-E at you in Morse code, they would. You don’t believe me but I’ll show you why you’re wrong.
Our form of government
There are three forms of government: monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. Our form is an oligarchy, with vestigial elements of both monarchy and democracy. Kids should be taught this in third grade but for obvious reasons are not.
(A vestigial organ is one that could be removed without any serious change to the life of the organism. Anyone who knows anything about Washington can tell you that, if anything, it might work better without any White House at all. Certainly this is true in domestic policy, ie, the only policy that matters. Since the Presidential election is the last election that anyone in this godforsaken country still cares about, if the President does not really matter—nor do any elections. The whole show is a tempest in a teacup.)
There are various forms of oligarchy with different kinds of players. Our oligarchy is a polycentric institutional oligarchy powered by informal prestige. Various institutions have various informal prestige levels; they confer formal credentials on the players, who then get to claim that prestige. Mostly these institutions are “nonprofits” of some kind—our version of the great Islamic waqf tradition. The Catholic Church is a vaguely similar structure, but obviously monocentric and highly formalized.
Our oligarchy makes legitimate decisions through formal processes of prestigious institutions. We do not usually think of this as power, though of course it is. Tracing the reason why a given panel made a given recommendation may make understanding the court of Henry VII look straightforward. But some bastard always stacks the panel.
Oligarchy cannot eliminate power, but is masterful in camouflaging it. And if an attack evades the camouflage, oligarchy is inherently redundant. Monarchy can perish by the sword—but only all-consuming fire can clear away an oligarchy. As Carlyle said of the Foreign Office, “the only reform for it is—to set a live coal under it.” Let’s just make sure no one is still in the building when that finally happens.
Power through the lens of oligarchy
When we think about power in an oligarchy, we do not think about the oligarchical building blocks of power: for us, process and prestige.
We think about the democratic and monarchical building blocks of power. And we hate them with a savage passion. We always associate power with evil on one side, and with these alien forms of government on the other; thus, these alien forms are deeply evil. It does not occur to us that this passion, which we feel in ourselves as justice, is actually a deeper expression of loyalty: in Gaetano Mosca’s term, a political formula.
Our most virulent hatred of power is hatred of democratic power. There is nothing we find more despicable than spontaneous collective action motivated by collective self-interest among a homogeneous consensus. On the scale of a country, such action is populism, nationalism, even racism. On a small scale, it is a lynching or a pogrom.
Lynching is a perfect example of our hatred of democratic power. Any lynching is of course a form of capital punishment inflicted for some real or purported crime. But the punishment is illegitimate, because it is inflicted by a collective consensus. If capital punishment is legitimate at all, it must be inflicted by an oligarchical process: a trial. But an oligarchical process must decide whether the death penalty is legitimate at all.
Our second most virulent hatred of power is hatred of monarchical power. This hatred always strongly partakes of the charming human emotion we call envy. We are always looking for tyrants, kings, tycoons, and other mighty villains. It is difficult to imagine a movie in which the antagonist is not a person, but a system—even The Matrix has to go pretty far into weird sci-fi for that.
You may not think of Mark Zuckerberg as a villain. But he is a lot like a king. Certainly he has the professional power of a king over Facebook. He is also rich as hell, and the word “powerful” comes right out of your mouth after “rich and.”
In short: he matches your pattern of what power looks like. Since this pattern is an oligarchical pattern, it is always looking for monarchical and democratic threats. (The worst possible threat is monarchy collaborating with democracy against oligarchy—as if the king whipped up a peasant mob to torch the high temple of the priests. Hm.)
Therefore, when you art a shitlord, and you still hath a Facebook account for some reason, and on that account you do shitpost, and Zuck and his minions do ban you—naturally you feel you art banned by the power of King Zuck.
So it seems obvious and straightforward to say that Mark Zuckerberg has power. It could not be more wrong, though.
Mark Zuckerberg has no power at all
You wouldn’t say that his minions have power. Not that they identify themselves—but no one blames their Facebook ban on the moderators. The power that banned you is not their power; they operate under the dominion of Zuck, the absolute monarch of Facebook. Power is always the ultimate cause of action.
So what is the cause of Zuck’s action? It must be him. He’s the boss, isn’t he? Well… there is no power over him. There is no one who gives the mighty Zuck commands.
That is—there is no monarchical power over him. He has no even more monarchical boss—no Palpatine to his Darth Vader. But there are two other forms of power.
Is there any democratic power over him? We could easily imagine a Facebook election which chose a powerful tribune of the people—or at least, a tribune of the profiles—whose power would override the CEO’s on social-governance issues. This does not exist and no one is asking for it—probably because it would be insane. But maybe fun.
Is there any oligarchic power over him? Well—we can’t be sure. As we observed earlier, while we find it easy to see monarchical and democratic power, which we hate worse than Tolkien’s goblins hated the swords Biter and Beater, we normally do not process oligarchical power as power per se.
Because of this camouflage, we cannot just look at it. We must discover it, carefully as an archeologist.
However, if Zuck is subject to some kind of oligarchic power, he is in exactly the same position as his own moderators. He exercises power, but it is not his power, because it is not his will. The power does not flow from him; it flows through him. This is why we can say honestly and seriously that he has no power. It is not his, but someone else’s.
Why doth Zuck ban shitlords? Is the creator of “Facemash” passionately committed to social justice? Well, maybe. He may have no power, but he is still a bigshot. Bigshots often do get religion in later life—especially when everyone around them is getting it. But—does he have a choice? If he has no choice—he has no power.
The essence of oligarchical power
The best way to describe the oligarchical power over Mark Zuckerberg, or any CEO of a major company, is that the CEO is accountable. In principle, accountability is a good and necessary thing. The optimal management structure is the accountable monarchy, which is precisely why most successful organizations, large or small, use it.
There are two kinds of oligarchical power: formal power, which is decided by process, and informal power, which is decided by prestige. The two formal processes to which the CEO of a company is accountable are the board of directors and the courts.
Zuck’s magic shares give him control over his own board—not much accountability there—but he can no more flout a court order than some homeless guy under a bridge. Actually the homeless guy stands a better chance.
As for the informal power of prestige—well, of course, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? How did it take this many words to understand what’s going on?
The CEO and the press
Zuck doesn’t want to do any of this. Nor do his users particularly want it. Rather, he is doing it because he is under pressure from the press. Duh.
He cannot even admit that he is under duress—or his Vietcong guards might just snap, and shoot him like the Western running-dog capitalist he is.
And what grants the press this terrifying power? The pure and beautiful power of the logos? What distinguishes a well-written poast, like this one, from an equally well-written Times op-ed? Nothing at all but prestige.
The difference between formal and informal oligarchical power, process and prestige, is not as great as it may appear. Both are arbitrary consequences of historical events, often quite distant in the past. Both can be extremely compelling.
In normal times, every sane CEO will comply unhesitatingly with the slightest whim of the legitimate press, just as they will comply unhesitatingly with a court order. That’s just how it is. To not call this power government is—just playing with words.
Learning from North Korea
Part of Facebook’s problem today is that today’s press has learned the irritating but sensible North Korean negotiating strategy of “not taking yes for an answer.”
American corporate culture today always stresses the importance of complete and obsequious appeasement of the press, which is normally prudent indeed. But just because these people have MBAs, wear khaki pants, and often really do remind you of Jared from Silicon Valley, doesn’t make them stupid.
When every act of appeasement is followed not by peace, love and harmony, but by a new and more brazen demand, coupled with more and more vitriolic aggression, until you have Kim Jong-Un ready to nuke Seattle unless we throw in a passionate weekend with Melania—it starts to feel like something is wrong with the negotiation.
The more Facebook censors, the clearer it becomes that Facebook is an accessory to murder and profits routinely from hate. Corporations are used to dealing with rational powers like the state, for which compliance decreases pressure. They are not at all used to dealing with the psycho type of power, for which compliance increases pressure—like Tony Soprano busting out a sporting-goods store.
Regulation is hard, especially if it has to work
It is also essential for anyone trying to produce a regulatory and/or legislative fix to the problem to recognize that, since the problem is not Facebook’s own will, any power that works by compelling Facebook’s will is powerless.
If you want Facebook to be able to stand up to the press, you need to give it a way to stand up to the press. There is no such way—especially since Facebook has such a large, energetic internal contingent of Jane Fonda Vietcong symps. Or you need some other power which can compel it more strongly than the press—such as the courts.
Some have suggested this—”section 230” and the like. This is all 100% snake oil. I know a lot of people working on this stuff. I’m sorry. It’s lame. There, I said it. The Untergang of the Trumpenreich is your chance to throw in the towel on “section 230.” (I always confuse this with the section of the Nazi penal code on pedophilia, anyway.)
Pause, for a moment, to consider the probability of the American courts defying the press in order to defend some Maganazi. It’s… possible? Now, divide the number of times per year this could possibly happen, by the number of Facebook accounts banned per hour. Don’t worry about the unit mismatch—it doesn’t really matter.
Essentially, it is wrong to blame social-media regulations on social-media companies, or even worse their CEOs. You are blaming the windmill for the wind. This is a cope. Losers cope and winners don’t. You are engaged in this cope to avoid blaming the real cause of social-media censorship: always and everywhere, the power of the press.
Misunderstanding the power of the press
But if we just stop our search for causality at “the press,” we are still in the dark. It seems this bitch of a question matters—we have to chase it down to the ugly end, and get our gums around its plums.
What, then, is wrong with the press? Is it controlled by—by the Jews? Even in this dark fantasy, we imagine a nonoligarchic power—our enemy is a race, which is a democratic power. If we are battling the Jews, we are battling the Jewish demos.
Indeed a lot of Jews own newspapers and stuff. This does not necessarily prove that they enforce their opinions, presumably super Jewy opinions, on their own news desks. In fact, anyone who knows anything about journalism knows they don’t and can’t. And the propensity of Jews to own things is easily explained by our notorious cleverness.
I’m not counting Rupert Murdoch garbage, which is not journalism. Also, Murdoch may be a Scotsman, but every communist is an honorary Jew—and, Wikipedia notes, at Oxford “he kept a bust of Lenin in his rooms and became known as ‘Red Rupert.’” There is a lot of bad information on Wikipedia—you can always rely on “Early Life.”
There is just one newspaper baron still allowed to manage his own newspaper. It’s the most prestigious newspaper in the world, of course—and already was before any of us was born. He’s in charge of it because he inherited it from his father, who inherited it from his father, who inherited it from his father.
If our only political plotline is larping the American Revolution, and we need to find a George III to blame social-media censorship on—here is a more logical candidate: not King Zuckerberg, but King Sulzberger. All those bergs! Don’t it jog the ol’ noggin?
But this is also lame. We have been learning to correct this bias of seeing democratic and monarchical power, but not oligarchic power.
The fact is that even if the Times and its hereditary absolute dynasty just vanished—perhaps disappearing down some kind of ginormous Midtown suckhole—the press would be the press. And if all these media companies were owned by Aryans so Aryan they made Max von Sydow look like Danny deVito—the press would be the press.
(Dear anti-Semites: I do appreciate the undeniable sincerity of your anti-Semitism—while there were a lot of fake anti-Semites in the Third Reich, today there is no view more self-evidently sincere—but you are simply barking up the wrong tree. Sorry.)
Understanding the power of the press
Why does the press attack Facebook? I don’t know—why does a shark eat seals? Is it hungry? Does it like the taste of seal? Or does it just like killing the little fuckers? Probably a bit of all three.
The press attacks Facebook because it can. Facebook, like anything big, is used for many things. Some are good, and some are bad. Every day, somewhere in the world, Facebook is used to save an adorable little puppy. Occasionally, really not often at all, Facebook is used to organize a ruthless massacre of the innocent. Which is the press more likely to write about? Huh?
In all seriousness, the press attacks Facebook because it can either attack Facebook, or not write about Facebook at all. There is no market at all for pro-Facebook journalism. The concept is ridiculous. But what motivates journalists to attack Facebook?
First, their motivation is deeply oligarchic. It acts at an individual level. The journalist is not ordered by anyone. He feels an opportunity to attack; he is not a soldier in a war, obeying the commands of a general; he is a predator in the wild, open ocean, tearing huge, delicious blubberhunks from the vast flank of a mortally-wounded blue whale.
Monarchical power works by compulsion: commands and orders. Oligarchic power works in two ways—by compulsion, or by attraction. The journalist is attracted to the opportunity to compel Facebook. Or rather, to compel its users—much juicier.
Moreover, the path of power does not stop at the journalist—the journalist, too, is a mere conduit. While he may personally desire power, he works for a business, and the business of that business is selling power, or at least its smell—to the readers. Who, when they read some hitpiece, feel their balls swell, as if they had pulled that hit.
Hence the long chain of power that runs from a retired proctologist reading the Times in Great Neck, to Sulzberger XVII in his ornate den of barbaric splendor, to some hack adjunct journalist who makes $87K a year and spends it all on childcare and $12 beers, to Facebook which is bigger than Australia and Mark Zuckerberg who could put Italy on his MasterCard, to a 67-year-old grandma in St. Louis who just wanted to talk trash about the libs and is too stupid and uneducated to understand how that can make her a dangerous domestic terrorist whom AI has already automatically reported to the FBI.
Isn’t this whole loop lovely? Didn’t I mention all-consuming fire? But that’s a copout. Let’s look at a couple of ways in which this could be fixed—by cutting the circuit.
If the reader had no power over Facebook, he would care less about things he has no power over, and reduce his demand for hitpieces on Facebook. This would make these pieces less attractive to the journalist.
If Facebook had no power to censor its users, it would not be able to censor them at the request of journalists. It would not be an attractive target for journalists, because journalists could not compel it to do anything, and through it compel its users.
Ultimately we can sum up the relationship between Facebook and the press by saying that Facebook leaks power. It offers a conduit by which journalists can exercise power over Facebook users—by pressuring Facebook or its CEO.
Since there are a lot of Facebook users, a lot of power wants to rush into that conduit. It goes through Facebook, down to the user, up his digestive tract and out his mouth. Zuckerberg could no more block this power flux than he can block a lightning bolt.
Power and ideology
Belief is always and everywhere a consequence of power. If militant Buddhists conquer America, kill our leaders and convert our children to Buddhism, our grandchildren will grow up as Buddhists. That’s just how it is. Some will try to think for themselves—not very many, and not very well.
The strange idea that there can be “no compulsion in religion” makes no sense and is essentially an anti-religious idea. The root lig is the same as in ligature. If religion is a personal philosophy, not a mandatory tie, there is no such thing as religion. This can certainly be tried, and has been.
But belief is not only a consequence of compulsory power. Belief can also be produced by attractive power. People always want to believe things that make them feel powerful.
So the victim creates the bully. The fact that Facebook can be bullied makes people—both journalists and their readers—want to bully Facebook. Facebook’s power leak produces a kind of oasis of power—water in the desert. The water causes the palm trees; the palm trees don’t cause the water.
Facebook was not designed to be a device for managing the minds of billions of people. But as that ape-man in 2001 taught us—if anything is a weapon, some ass-bandit will eventually figure out how to use it as a weapon.
Is there a coordinated attack on Facebook? Yes: the leakage pond is surrounded by a perfect circle of palm trees—anything but a random pattern. No: the trees need no tree-general to order them where to grow.
Facebook is indeed surrounded by enemies, but they are enemies of its own creation. Its business model creates a gigantic stash of power with no real way to defend it. It was keeping big bags of In-n-Out Burgers—animal style—in its tent in bear country. Now the bears are in the tent.
And the same is true of tech as a whole, if we define “tech” as the business model of “pack N users onto 1 giant logical server.” In retrospect, it would seem obvious that some kind of forest beast would want to share any such platform-burger. But, as in any survival experience, mistakes were made and here we are.
Big tech is not being attacked because it is powerful. It is being attacked because it is defenseless—and has a whole lot of potential power that it can’t use to defend itself. Every burger in the bag will be devoured by the strongest, hungriest bear. And once the bag is empty—you’re still in the tent with the bears.
Explaining the bear party
What we see here is a case of spontaneous coordination. The palms were not ordered to grow around the leakage pond; the bears were not invited to a bear party. When we try to understand what happened, we must start from two axioms: that there is order here, and that there is no center to the order.
The fact that Facebook could be bullied made journalists want to bully Facebook. It literally evolved their perspectives toward hating on Facebook, because Facebook’s enormous power leak emitted a pheromone that made all the haters in the world hard. Journalists, like political pornographers, had no choice but to service these super-needy readers: if one journalist didn’t, the next five would.
What we see here is a form of ideological coordination that, oligarchically, gets the same result as monarchical coordination, without any coordinating center. No one ordered all these journalists to start thinking Facebook is bad. Maybe Facebook is bad; but if it wasn’t, the incentive structures of journalism would make it look bad anyway.
The bully does not create the victim—the victim creates the bully. Of course, plenty of victims genuinely deserve to be bullied. But deserving is not an incentive.
Other cases of oligarchic coordination
This is interesting, because we also see other cases of apparent coordination where no obvious coordination mechanism exists. Some of them may even be more important.
For example: why the heck is everyone and everything getting all woke right now? No one ordered them to change their minds in this direction. Are they just opening their souls, independently, but at the same time, to the lovely light of reason? If so—why didn’t we all do that a long time ago? Maybe after that ‘80s Coca-Cola commercial?
Perhaps here we see another case of attractive coordination. Nazi Germany had a process called Gleichschaltung—which is sometimes even translated as coordination, and which simply meant forcing everything to be Nazi. There could be no soccer—only Nazi soccer. Soccer fans today are not at all familiar with this process.
Just kidding! Actually, as a proud American, who nonetheless lets his son play soccer, every Premier League game today opens with a kneeling benediction against racism, which is at apparently as dangerous as drugs were when I was his age. At least, we’re supposed to say the same word to it. They also wear armbands, etc—full Pyongyang.
What caused this to happen? Who is the Nancy Reagan of racism? Who ordered everyone to agree that racism is way worse than drugs? What would happen if Man United, Chelsea or even Brighton Hove Albion was like: “erm, actually, we’ve ‘ad a meetin’ and desoided as, drugs is woise. We’ll ‘av ‘at on the shirts, guvnor, eh?” And finally: what could this possibly have to do with anything that happened in Wisconsin? There are no good or obvious answers to any of these questions.
We cannot identify any sort of command structure in this rather startling instance of coordination on a literally global scale. Orthanc may shake, but the program will suffer not a hiccup when George Soros passes. The Elders of Zion are not regrouping on the Dark Web. No one and nothing is in the driver’s seat—this is true spontaneous order.
Maybe no power ordered this Wokeschaltung, as Goebbels ordered his Gleichschaltung. Maybe this extremely nonrandom pattern is another case of attractive coordination. Or to put it differently: perhaps the problem is the burgers, not the bears. Perhaps now, with the Internet, a bear can smell a bag of burgers from across the Atlantic.
To confirm this hypothesis, we need to find a power leak—a source of free power, like the free power available to anyone who can bully Facebook. But more. We’re looking at quite a forest of palm trees over here—so there must be some serious water around.
You’ve probably heard of the marketplace of ideas. Maybe you’ve even shopped there. Consider a small, important boutique in that market: the minds of tech journalists. These people are not hacks. They genuinely believe in their ideas. But they all buy their ideas in the same market.
In that market, an idea which is true has an advantage. So does an idea that is powerful—for example, the idea that Facebook is complicit in murder if it lets gamers say the “gamer word.” These powerful ideas excite the journalist and his readers—sometimes with some gastric discomfort, if their truth titers are just crazy low. Of course, the most successful ideas are both true and powerful. But frankly: how common is that?
Every marketplace of ideas is a Darwinian meme pool. What this tells us is that evolution in this pool doesn’t just select for truth, but also for power. You think Darwin’s lab is developing a therapeutic vaccine—it’s evolving a biological weapon.
A powerful idea is simply an idea that justifies the exercise of power. Powerful ideas are the building blocks of political formulas, which are ideas that justify the legitimacy of a government. In the 20th century, legitimate governments exercising power created far more mortality and morbidity than all pandemics put together. Of course, they did plenty of good things too.
Making an impact
If one were to recruit a group of wokies, carefully so as to not reveal any subversive intent, and ask them why it feels good to be woke, they would be slightly puzzled at the question. They certainly don’t associate their passionate commitment to social justice with anything so crass as mere pleasure. That’s what their bongs and vibrators are for.
But if you could calm this unease with a multiple choice test, like—(a) because I feel like I matter; (b) because it’s important to me to make an impact; (c) because I always wanted to change the world when I grew up; (d) because I believe we have to help other people; (e) all of the above—you probably would get a lot of (e).
What you would be getting is a several different versions, some franker than others, of: I like to feel powerful. And don’t we all. It definitely seems as if wokeness is a tree that grows well by the shores of a power-leakage pond. And there’s a lot of those trees.
What is leaking? What gives people the power to feel powerful? Only government—whose business it is to contain all the power—to maintain a monopoly of power. But if government did not do this business perfectly—it would leak. It would allow external forces to exercise power outside it—or even to exercise power over it.
For example, the Mafia makes a living by exercising power outside the government—if you have a business in the wrong part of New York, you pay two tax collectors. But the amount of winning available this way is dwarfed by the amount of winning available to any power that can get power over the government—which can, after all, do anything. And—does the government do anything that doesn’t leak?
Explaining the cathedral
Facebook leaks power and so does DC. They leak in extremely different ways. DC is a lot more complicated.
But the basic dynamic in the marketplace of ideas is the same. A power leak, which allows outside entities to capture power over the organization and/or its users, releases free power into the market. This power poisons the market—instead of a market for truth, it becomes a market for power.
No one can avoid playing this game and thinking the powerful ideas. Inevitably, the powerful ideas succeed in the market and become prestigious ideas.
All institutions which are part of the same marketplace of ideas must think the same ideas, which is why all our universities, newspapers, and foundations seem to agree with each other. Because we assume that these markets are markets for truth, we reason that this just means they are all very, very right. And sometimes they are.
The apparent redundancy of the whole network is completely factitious. There is no real room for intellectual heterogeneity among either institutions or individuals. It is all the same whether thirty universities, or one university, endorses some doctrine. Actually there is only one university anyway. Every sample has a sample size of one. They all agree with each other, not because they are all ordered to agree with each other, but because they are all chasing the same power leaks.
If we model all our prestigious intellectual institutions as a single institution—which some call the cathedral—and we ignore the atheistic character of its doctrines, it is very easy to observe the fundamentally theocratic nature of this form of government. Then again, America has been the world leader in theocracy for the last 400 years, since the Pilgrims came ashore and started burning witches. Maybe these things never change.