Last week’s letter netted me an equal amount of new readers and unsubscribes. No loss, I figure. If you can’t handle the heat, the kitchen door is right there.
I knew I was doing taboos. Not supposed to talk about class. Not supposed to speculate about economic collapse, unless you’re making billions of dollars doing it. Don’t be political, you’ll alienate your customers.
Of course, that’s all a front. Polite society is a social construct designed to protect the status quo. Nothing is apolitical. Power is everywhere, and politics is about taking a moral stance toward power.
Today is election day in the United States. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are doing their one civil duty, relieved to be free of the burden of caring about other people for another year. Having entered the sacred booth and made their private confession, they are washed of sin and anointed with the holy “I Voted” sticker. Thus can they go forth and abase the sinners, in full knowledge of each other’s righteousness.
I’ve written about my stance against voting , and I stick by it. Voting is the least practical political action you can take. By the time you vote, every possible plot is in motion, from advertisement to gerrymanders to hacks. If you want to swing an election, the voting booth is the last and weakest opportunity to do it. Besides, you can buy a roll of “I Voted” stickers from China for a couple bucks. That’s the joy of capitalism.
This isn’t the same as not believing in politics. It’s just a rational analysis of power. I do think that politicians have power, although certainly not as much as people give them credit for. In the USA most of them are corrupted by lobbying interests, and the rest have their hands bound by majority rule. But politicians do make some decisions, and for my entire lifetime those decisions have been hurting regular people more and more. So if you have a chance to make a Hail Mary vote against some villainous mayor or district attorney, go for it. But while you’re in that peaceful, contemplative high school gymnasium, give some thought to how you could make change between now and next November.
You are more powerful than you have been told. The powers-that-be would never admit how much one person, or a small dedicated group, can change the world. Their incentive is to maintain the fraud of voting, to tell the story that our only choices are made in that booth. Not only do we have more options than they will admit, we have more than we can imagine. Every day, humans discover new ways to bend reality. What hubris, to think we have found them all.
The End of History is a myth. The people on top of the Ferris wheel, enjoying their view, persuaded everyone else that the machinery had broken. But the people on the bottom can reach the lever that begins the revolution again.
The right has recently adopted the tactics of narrative warfare. Andrew Breitbart’s motto encapsulates this perfectly: “Politics is downstream from culture.” The stories we tell define the way we think about ourselves, our society, and the relationship between.
This is why Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer bought Cambridge Analytica. They wanted the power to micro-target people based on personality profiles, so they could tailor their messaging to people individually. That’s a missile-guidance system for narrative war.
The Trump campaign has since claimed that it didn’t use Cambridge Analytica’s data at all. Not because of lack of interest – they just found that Facebook’s native tools worked better. *(Of course, they would say that either way
This points to the real reason that Facebook (wait, they just changed their branding to FACEBOOK, as if they needed more boomer energy) banned Cambridge Analytica. It wasn’t their manipulation of elections. It was because they stole FACEBOOK’s data.
Briefly, Cambridge Analytica made a personality-quiz app and gathered the profiles of all the people who took the quiz. That’s perfectly normal as far as FACEBOOK is concerned. But they used an exploit in the app system to also collect data on their users’ friends, attempting to reverse-engineer the relationship web that FACEBOOK had mapped. They got 87 million people.
FACEBOOK couldn’t have that. Their entire value is wrapped up in their power to precisely target advertisements at appropriate victims. Cambridge Analytica had become the competition.
In the last month, the Zuckerbot has been totted out to parrot automated vagueries about connection and community and free speech. In the process, he’s admitted that FACEBOOK will not fact-check ads from political candidates.
Sure, it would take an army of human investigators to validate political ads. But if anyone has the cash to fund that army, it’s FACEBOOK. The real reason is that it contradicts their business model. Electoral rhetoric tends to be light on facts and strong on emotions. People vote with their feelings, not their brains. FACEBOOK sells access to people’s feelings.
Fortunately, it’s 2019, and the tools of propaganda are available to everyone. When Zuck admitted that his company would let politicians lie in paid ads, the internet immediately aimed for this loophole. Campaign strategist Adriel Hampton, longtime veteran of the narrative wars, filed paperwork to run for governor of California. His platform: regulate FACEBOOK. His tactic: run false ads.
Hampton has created a paradox for the ad-targeting company. If they allow him to run ads, knowing he intends to lie, he could destroy trust in their platform. He could even win the governorship, if his fictions are effective enough, and if they’re targeted to the right voters. On the other hand, if they fact-check his ads, they’re proving that they have the capacity to do so, and revealing their bias in the process.
The PAC associated with Hampton’s campaign, The Really Online Lefty League (TROLL), has already run a fake ad in which Republican Senator and known shitworm Lindsey Graham appears to support the Green New Deal. It’s fake, of course, but not obviously so. If I saw it in my feed I would be surprised, confused, but not immediately skeptical. It’s scary good.
FACEBOOK blinked . They banned the ad. Then they declared that since Hampton started his campaign solely to run fake ads, he’s not a real political candidate, and thus not exempt from fact-checking.
They fell for the trap. Hampton now says that he’s a serious candidate for governor. He has to, if he wants to challenge their paper-thin excuse. But with the current backlash against FACEBOOK, he could find himself riding a wave of support right into the governor’s mansion.
The really online lefties are taking back the weapons of narrative war. Can they defeat the populist right at their own game? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, there are better ways than voting to make change. Craft a fake ad for your favorite anti-establishment candidate. Run for office and produce your own ads. Talk about class in polite society.
It’s a good thing that politics is downstream from culture. Not everyone can be a politician, but we all build culture together.
Thanks for reading,
###### SCIOPS is a weekly letter that is exempt from fact-checking. Feel free to forward it, or share it, or float it into the political discourse. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .
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