Highlights for Surveillance Valley

The people gathered at city hall that night saw Oakland’s DAC as an extension of the tech-fueled gentrification that was pushing poorer longtime residents out of the city.
the Internet was developed as a weapon and remains a weapon today. American military interests continue to dominate all parts of the network, even those that supposedly stand in opposition.
An even more disturbing dimension of the AIR’s pacification work in Thailand was that it was supposed to serve as a model for counterinsurgency operations elsewhere in the world—including against black people living in American inner cities, where race riots were breaking out at the time.
He began to see that in a society mediated by computer and information systems those who controlled the infrastructure wielded ultimate power.
Where Wiener saw danger, Lick saw opportunity. He had no qualms about putting this technology in the service of US corporate and military power.
Indeed, intelligence agencies were among the first users of the tools ARPA’s command and control program produced just a few years later.
Like many upper-class Americans of his day, North worried that the massive influx of immigrants from Europe was destroying the fabric of American society, causing social and political unrest, and threatening the nation’s racial purity.47 This fear of immigration would become intertwined with anticommunist hysteria, leading to repression of workers and labor unions across the country. North saw statisticians like himself as technocratic soldiers: America’s last line of defense against a foreign corrupting influence. And he saw the tabulator machine as their most powerful weapon.
Deemphasizing ARPA’s military purpose had the benefit of boosting morale among computer scientists, who were more eager to work on the technology if they believed it wasn’t going to be used to bomb people.
Fliers posted on both campuses railed against “computerized people-manipulation” and “the blatant prostitution of social science for the aims of the war machine.”
Pool saw computers as more than just apparatuses that could speed up social research. His work was infused with a utopian belief in the power of cybernetic systems to manage societies. He was among a group of Cold War technocrats who envisioned computer technology and networked systems deployed in a way that directly intervened in people’s lives, creating a kind of safety net that spanned the world and helped run societies in a harmonious manner, managing strife and conflict out of existence.
The language of Licklider’s proposal—talk about propaganda and monitoring political movements—was so direct and so obvious that it could not be ignored. It confirmed students’ and activists’ fears about computers and computer networks and gave them a glimpse into how military planners wanted to use these technologies as tools for surveillance and social control.
Today, people still think that surveillance is something foreign to the Internet—something imposed on it from the outside by paranoid government agencies. Rowan’s reporting from forty years ago tells a different story. It shows how military and intelligence agencies used the network technology to spy on Americans in the first version of the Internet. Surveillance was baked in from the very beginning.
Indeed, the army referred to activists and protesters as if they were organized enemy combatants embedded with the indigenous population.
In the 1990s the country was ablaze with sweeping religious proclamations about the Internet. People talked of a great leveling—an unstoppable wildfire that would rip through the world, consuming bureaucracies, corrupt governments, coddled business elites, and stodgy ideologies, clearing the way for a new global society that was more prosperous and freer in every possible way.
Kevin Kelly, a bearded evangelical Christian and Wired editor, agreed with his boss: “No one can escape the transforming fire of machines. Technology, which once progressed at the periphery of culture, now engulfs our minds as well as our lives. As each realm is overtaken by complex techniques, the usual order is inverted, and new rules established. The mighty tumble, the once confident are left desperate for guidance, and the nimble are given a chance to prevail.”
Brand disagreed. In a long article he filed for Rolling Stone, he set out to convince the magazine’s young and trend-setting readership that ARPA was not some big bureaucratic bummer connected to America’s war machine but instead was part of an “astonishingly enlightened research program” that just happened to be run by the Pentagon.
Brand was deeply embedded in California’s counterculture and appeared as a major character in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Yet there he was, acting as a pitch man for ARPA, a military agency that had in its short existence already racked up a bloody reputation—from chemical warfare to counterinsurgency and surveillance. It didn’t seem to make any sense.
Brand took a different path. He belonged to the libertarian wing of the counterculture, which tended to look down on traditional political activism and viewed all politics with skepticism and scorn.
Neuromancer coined the term cyberspace. It also launched the cyberpunk movement, which responded to Gibson’s political critique in a cardinally different manner: it cheered the coming of this cyber dystopia.
Leverage is a good word for Kelly’s sudden religious inspiration. His faith in God matched his faith in the power of technological progress, which he saw as a part of God’s divine plan for the world. Over the years, he developed the belief that the growth of the Internet, the gadgetization and computerization of everything around us, the ultimate melding of flesh and computers, and the uploading of human beings into a virtual computer world were all part of a process that would merge people with God and allow us to become gods as well, creating and ruling over our own digital and robotic worlds just like our maker.
At Wired, Kelly injected this theology into every part of the magazine, infusing the text with an unquestioning belief in the ultimate goodness and rightness of markets and decentralized computer technology, no matter how it was used.
It seemed more a networking hub and marketing vehicle for the industry, a booster intended to create a brand around the cult of technology and the people who made and sold it, and then repackage it for the mainstream culture. It was continuing a tradition that Stewart Brand had started, overlaying an increasingly powerful computer industry with images of the counterculture to give it a hip and grassroots revolutionary edge.
Wired’s impact was not just cultural but also political. The magazine’s embrace of a privatized digital world made it a natural ally of the powerful business interests pushing to deregulate and privatize American telecommunications infrastructure.
John Malone, the billionaire cable monopolist at the head of TCI and one of the largest landowners in the United States, made the cut as well. Wired put him on the cover as a punk counterculture rebel for his fight against the Federal Communications Commission, which was putting the brakes on his cable company’s multi-billion-dollar merger with Bell Atlantic, a telephone giant. He is pictured walking down an empty rural highway with a dog by his side, wearing a tattered leather jacket and holding a shotgun. The reference is clear: he was Mel Gibson of Road Warrior, fighting to protect his town from being overrun by a savage band of misfits, which, to extend the metaphor, was the FCC regulators. The reason this billionaire was so cool? He had the guts to say that he’d shoot the head of the FCC if the man didn’t approve his merger fast enough.
That’s where Wired’s real cultural power lay: using cybernetic ideals of the counterculture to sell corporate politics as a revolutionary act.
Brand saw computers as a path toward a utopian world order where the individual wielded the ultimate power. Everything that came before—militaries, governments, big oppressive corporations—would melt away and an egalitarian system would spontaneously emerge.
People treated the search box as an impartial oracle that accepted questions, spat out answers, and moved on. Few realized it recorded everything typed into it,
The book demonstrates that Page and Brin understood early on that Google’s success depended on grabbing and maintaining proprietary control over the behavioral data they captured through their services. This was the company’s biggest asset.
One thing was certain in the wake of the AOL release: search logs provided an unadulterated look into the details of people’s inner lives, with all the strangeness, embarrassing quirks, and personal anguish those details divulged. And Google owned it all.
Taken together, these technical documents revealed that the company was developing a platform that attempted to track and profile everyone who came in touch with a Google product. It was, in essence, an elaborate system of private surveillance.
The language in the patent filings—descriptions of using “psychographic information,” “personality characteristics,” and “education levels” to profile and predict people’s interests—bore eerie resemblance to the early data-driven counterinsurgency initiatives funded by ARPA in the 1960s and 1970s.
There was only one difference: instead of preventing political insurgencies, Google wanted the data to sell people products and services with targeted ads. One was military, the other commercial. But at their core, both systems were dedicated to profiling and prediction. The type of data plugged into them was irrelevant.
The truth is that the Internet came out of a Pentagon project to develop modern communication and information systems that would allow the United States to get the drop on its enemies, both at home and abroad.
All these CIA-backed companies paid Facebook, Google, and Twitter for special access to social media data—adding another lucrative revenue stream to Silicon Valley.
From their inception, Internet companies banked heavily on the utopian promise of a networked world. Even as they pursued contracts with the military and their founders joined the ranks of the richest people on the planet, they wanted the world to see them not just as the same old plutocrats out to maximize shareholder value and their own power but also as progressive agents leading the way into a bright techno-utopia.
Snowden’s views on private surveillance were simplistic, but they seemed to be in line with his politics. He was a libertarian and believed the utopian promise of computer networks. He believed that the Internet was an inherently liberating technology that, if left alone, would evolve into a force of good in the world. The problem wasn’t Silicon Valley; it was government power.
The cypherpunk vision of the future was an inverted version of the military’s cybernetic dream pursued by the Pentagon and Silicon Valley: instead of leveraging global computer systems to make the world transparent and predictable, cypherpunks wanted to use computers and cryptography to make the world opaque and untrackable. It was a counterforce, a cybernetic weapon of individual privacy and freedom against a cybernetic weapon of government surveillance and control.
I was puzzled, but at least I understood why Tor had backing from Silicon Valley: it offered a false sense of privacy, while not posing a threat to the industry’s underlying surveillance business model.
While couched in lofty language about fighting censorship, promoting democracy, and safeguarding “freedom of expression,” these policies were rooted in big power politics: the fight to open markets to American companies and expand America’s dominance in the age of the Internet.51 Internet Freedom was enthusiastically backed by American businesses, especially budding Internet giants like Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, Google, and later Facebook and Twitter. They saw foreign control of the Internet, first in China but also in Iran and later Vietnam, Russia, and Myanmar, as an illegitimate check on their ability to expand into new global markets, and ultimately as a threat to their businesses.
China saw Internet Freedom as a threat, an illegitimate attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty through “network warfare,” and began building a sophisticated system of Internet censorship and control, which grew into the infamous Great Firewall of China.
The correspondence left little room for doubt. The Tor Project was not a radical indie organization fighting The Man. For all intents and purposes, it was The Man. Or, at least, The Man’s right hand.
Despite Tor’s public insistence it would never put in any backdoors that gave the US government secret privileged access to Tor’s network, the correspondence shows that in at least one instance in 2007, Tor revealed a security vulnerability to its federal backer before alerting the public, potentially giving the government an opportunity to exploit the weakness to unmask Tor users before it was fixed.
From a higher vantage point, the Tor Project was a wild success. It had matured into a powerful foreign policy tool—a soft-power cyber weapon with multiple uses and benefits. It hid spies and military agents on the Internet, enabling them to carry out their missions without leaving a trace. It was used by the US government as a persuasive regime-change weapon, a digital crowbar that prevented countries from exercising sovereign control over their own Internet infrastructure. Counterintuitively, Tor also emerged as a focal point for antigovernment privacy activists and organizations, a huge cultural success that made Tor that much more effective for its government backers by drawing fans and helping shield the project from scrutiny.
Most people involved in privacy activism do not know about the US government’s ongoing efforts to weaponize the privacy movement, nor do they appreciate Silicon Valley’s motives in this fight. Without that knowledge, it is impossible to makes sense of it all.
In 2015, when I first read these statements from the Tor Project, I was shocked. This was nothing less than a veiled admission that Tor was useless at guaranteeing anonymity and that it required attackers to behave “ethically” in order for it to remain secure.
The old cypherpunk dream, the idea that regular people could use grassroots encryption tools to carve out cyber islands free of government control, was proving to be just that, a dream.
Silicon Valley fears a political solution to privacy. Internet Freedom and crypto offer an acceptable alternative. Tools like Signal and Tor provide a false solution to the privacy problem, focusing people’s attention on government surveillance and distracting them from the private spying carried out by the Internet companies they use every day. All the while, crypto tools give people a sense that they’re doing something to protect themselves, a feeling of personal empowerment and control. And all those crypto radicals? Well, they just enhance the illusion, heightening the impression of risk and danger. With Signal or Tor installed, using an iPhone or Android suddenly becomes edgy and radical. So instead of pushing for political and democratic solutions to surveillance, we outsource our privacy politics to crypto apps—software made by the very same powerful entities that these apps are supposed to protect us from.
So instead of pushing for political and democratic solutions to surveillance, we outsource our privacy politics to crypto apps—software made by the very same powerful entities that these apps are supposed to protect us from.
The IBM machines themselves did not kill people, but they made the Nazi death machine run faster and more efficiently, scouring the population and tracking down victims in ways that would never have been possible without them.
But not all control is equal. Not all surveillance is bad. Without them, there can be no democratic oversight of society.
By pretending that the Internet transcends politics and culture, we leave the most malevolent and powerful forces in charge of its built-in potential for surveillance and control. The more we understand and democratize the Internet, the more we can deploy its power in the service of democratic and humanistic values, making it work for the many, not the few.

Highlights for The Idiot

Were Germans supposed to be particularly ordered and machinelike? Was it possible that Germans really were ordered and machinelike?
There was no way to go through life, in Turkish or any other language, making only factual statements about direct observations. You were forced to use -miş, just by the human condition—just by existing in relation to other people.
I liked Spanish—I liked how the donkey had a place in the national literature
How would I get anywhere in life? How could anyone ever be interested in me?
But I couldn’t stop thinking about á and à—about Europe, where even the alphabet emitted exuberant sparks—about Ivan’s mother’s Mazda, and how you were always sad when you left Rome.
“You really like this boy,” she said, sounding so sad and affectionate that tears came to my eyes.
“I feel like a kid.” “Like a little girl, huh? It must be really terrible for you.” “I learned Turkish when I was three, so I don’t know enough words. I can’t talk about anything,” I said.
“Of course he will. Womanizers always call back. That’s their best quality.”
“Stuff like that can really bring out the sadist in you,” he said. “I’m standing there thinking of all the different ways I’ll rip out this guy’s guts.”
And still no waking moment went by that I didn’t think of him—he was in the background of everything I thought. My own perceptions were no longer enough to constitute the physical world for me. Every sound, every syllable that reached me, I wanted to filter through his consciousness. At a word from him I would have followed him anywhere, right off the so-called Prudential Center.
“In Turkey? You wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown. You’d give them a nervous breakdown.” I forgave him for a lot when he said that. I forgave him for almost everything.
A less beautiful girl wouldn’t have said that, I thought. Beautiful people lived in a different world, had different relations with people. From the beginning they were raised for love.

Highlights for The Hall of Uselessness

One has the feeling that these critics do not really like literature—they do not enjoy reading. Worse even, if they were actually to enjoy a book, they would suspect it to be frivolous. In their eyes, something that is amusing cannot be important or serious.
Though, as a wise doctor once remarked, between two doctors whose medical qualifications are otherwise equal, we should trust the one who reads Chekhov.
The closer a book comes to being a genuine work of art, a true creation with a life of its own, the less likely it is that the author had full control over and a clear understanding of what he wrote.
what led them to their mysticism was simply the perception of “an intolerable disparity between the hugeness of their desire and the smallness of reality.”
Still, the notion that it is generally unwise to make pronouncements in areas that lie outside one’s expertise remains a sound principle. I only wish that Mr. Hitchens himself would abide by it.
This weird belief that a dead man called Jesus is still alive should command all the deeds and all the thoughts of a Christian.
“But if someone does not do it, how will good be done?” questioned the old gentleman in a voice full of perplexity. “Live so,” replied the Master in a voice suddenly stern, “live so that by the sanctity of thy life all good will be performed involuntarily.”
I was writing in a café; I had been sitting there for a couple of hours already, comfortably settled at a table with my books and papers. Like many lazy people, I enjoy a measure of hustle and bustle around me while I am supposed to work—it gives me an illusion of activity—and thus the surrounding din of conversations and calls did not disturb me in the least.
true Philistines are not people who are incapable of recognising beauty; they recognise it all too well; they detect its presence anywhere, immediately, and with a flair as infallible as that of the most sensitive aesthete—but for them, it is in order to be able better to pounce upon it at once and to destroy it before it can gain a foothold in their universal empire of ugliness.
And Claudel commented: “This mental process is identical to that of poetical writing . . . The impelling motion is the same. Which shows that the primary source of scientific thought is not reasoning, but the precise verification of an association originally supplied by the imagination.”
The fact is, these two arts—history writing and fiction writing—originating both in poetry, involve similar activities and mobilise the same faculties: memory and imagination; and this is why it could rightly be said that the novelist is the historian of the present and the historian the novelist of the past. Both must invent the truth.
He clearly felt that, together with the rest of the country, he was being progressively sucked into a poisonous swamp. To ensure a reasonably smooth and trouble-free existence, small compromises were constantly required—nothing difficult nor particularly dramatic; everyone else, to a various extent, was similarly involved. Yet the sum total of these fairly banal, daily surrenders eroded the integrity of each individual.
His short (unfinished), clear-sighted and sober memoir raises one terrifying question: all that Haffner knew at the time, many millions of people around him knew equally well. Why was there only one Haffner?
However, beware! Whenever people wonder “What is the truth?” usually it is because the truth is just under their noses—but it would be very inconvenient to acknowledge it.
“I do not care for scholars unless they are scholars without wishing to be or without knowing it. There is nothing easier than becoming a scholar. To acquire learning, it suffices to lock oneself up in one’s house for six months. It is far better to have a good imagination than a good memory.”
The brutalities of boarding school can routinely maim sensitive children for life; occasionally they may also breed a genius.
“Genius,” Baudelaire said, “is childhood recalled at will.”
There is no escaping the radical difference between the capacity for conception and that for execution: imagination and action are often at opposite poles. That is why novelists usually do not become millionaires, whereas millionaires do not even read novels.
Half of the misery in this world is caused by people whose only talent is to worm their way into positions for which they otherwise have no competence.
At the remotest end of Europe, Tolstoy secured without delay a copy of the book and was overwhelmed. One may say without exaggeration that Les Misérables triggered War and Peace. Giants breed giants.
Nor must we overlook the essential: he benefited from what only the warm affection of a united family can supply, a happy childhood, which arms one to face life and, once adult, to eliminate the risk of losing time in some fatuous and vain quest for happiness.
For the gift of the poet (which is also the gift of the child) is the ability to connect with the real world, to look at things with rapt attention. Both the poet and the child are blessed with what Chesterton called “the mystical minimum”: the awareness that things are—full stop. “If a thing is nothing else, that is good; it is—and that is good.”
None of the activities that really matter can be pursued in a merely professional capacity;
Thus he made the point that the man must be, to a certain extent, a specialist—out of necessity, he finds himself confined in a narrow professional pursuit, since he must do one thing well enough to earn the daily bread—whereas the woman is the true universalist: she must do a hundred things for the safe-guarding and management of the home.
He realised it was a status he could easily have achieved, had he agreed to pay the usual price—which is to isolate and emphasise only one side of the truth. This is always an easy recipe for achieving popularity and for gathering crowds of disciples; but to secure this sort of demagogic success one must mutilate a complex reality.
Generally speaking, literary people are exceedingly self-centred and vain—on the whole they are not a very attractive breed—but Chesterton did not belong to that species.
Here, Gide seems to be unwittingly joining Claudel, who held that the key metaphor with which to interpret the diverse manifestations of German culture was the sausage.
Conclusion: if one had to go out to sea in a small boat, one would not choose Orwell for skipper. But when meeting with shipwreck, disaster or other catastrophe, one could not dream of better company.
For all his gluttony and drunkenness, his passionate attachment to all things of beauty, his selfishness, his impatience, his unkindness and anger (a close friend once asked how he could reconcile his generally beastly behaviour and his Christianity; Waugh replied: “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being”), what he derived from his Catholicism was a fundamental ability not to take this world too seriously.
The latter exacted from him such an intense, nervous effort that sometimes, before starting to write, he would suffer fits of vomiting. Each time, he had to assume imaginatively the persona of his main protagonist—to become him—and then to see with the mind’s eye the world his pen was conjuring as it followed an inner dictation.
This phenomenon reached such an intensity that there were times when it scared Simenon, times when he felt drawn towards an uncertain border where his very sanity might founder.
Every life leaves behind an accumulation of broken odds and ends—bizarre and sometimes smelly. Rummaging there, one can always unearth enough evidence to establish that the deceased was both monstrous and mediocre. Such a combination is quite common—whoever doubts it needs only look at himself in a mirror.
In the eighteenth century, French was the common language of the leading minds of continental Europe; twentieth-century French intellectuals hardly noticed that times had changed in this respect; they retained the dangerous belief that whatever was not expressed in French could hardly matter.
Revel’s attempt at entering into active politics was short-lived, but the experience gave him an invaluable insight into the essential intellectual dishonesty that is unavoidably attached to partisan politicking.
Mitterrand was the purest type of political animal: he had no politics at all. He had a brilliant intelligence, but for him ideas were neither right nor wrong, they were only useful or useless in the pursuit of power. The object of power was not a possibility to enact certain policies; the object of all policies was simply to attain and retain power.
In other words, people who do not read fiction or poetry are in permanent danger of crashing against facts and being crushed by reality.
Confucius often said that if only a ruler could employ him, in one year he would achieve a lot, and in three years he would succeed. One day a disciple asked him, “If a king were to entrust you with a territory which you could govern according to your ideas, what would you do first?” Confucius replied, “My first task would certainly be to rectify the names.” On hearing this, the disciple was puzzled. “Rectify the names? And that would be your first priority? Is this a joke?” (Chesterton or Orwell, however, would have immediately understood and approved the idea.) Confucius had to explain: “If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible—and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless and impossible. Hence, the very first task of a true statesman is to rectify the names.”
Zhou Zuoren (1885–1968), summarised in one pithy sentence this living tradition of which he himself was a product: “All that can be spelled out is without importance.”
Aesthetic criteria are functional: does the work do what it does efficiently, does it nourish the vital energy of the artist, does it succeed in capturing the spirit that informs mountains and rivers, does it establish harmony between the metamorphoses of forms and the metamorphoses of the world?
Orientalism could obviously have been written by no one but a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition (here perceived through the distorted prism of a certain type of American university, with its brutish hyper-specialisation, non-humanistic approach, and close, unhealthy links with government).
He dispatched the affairs of the state with the supreme efficiency of an old Daoist ruler who knows that one should govern a large empire the way one cooks a little fish.
His unique skills made him forever indispensable, while simultaneously he cultivated a quality of utter elusiveness; no one could pin him down to a specific political line, nor could one associate him with any particular faction. He never expressed personal ideas or indulged in penning his own theoretical views. Where did he really stand? What did he actually believe? Apparently he had no other policies but those of the leader of the moment, and nourished no other ambitions but to serve him with total dedication. Yet the brilliance of his mind, the sharpness of his intelligence, the electrifying quality of his personal magnetism, eloquence and authority constantly belied the kind of bland selflessness that he so studiously displayed in the performance of his public duties; Zhou’s enigma lay in the paradox that, with all his exceptional talents, he should also present a sort of disconcerting and essential hollowness.
Twenty-three hundred years ago, Zhuang Zi, in giving advice to a king, made him observe that when a small boat drifts in the way of a huge barge, the crew of the barge will immediately shout abuse at the stray craft; however, coming closer, if they discover that the little boat is empty, they will simply shut up and quietly steer clear of it. He concluded that a ruler who has to sail the turbulent waters of politics should first and foremost learn how to become an empty boat.
To reconcile such paradoxes, one must either learn the mental acrobatics of a very sophisticated game played by the enlightened vanguard and called “dialectics,” or, more vulgarly, face the fact that rather than being the prophet-philosopher as described by his worshippers, Mao was essentially always and foremost a practical politician for whom what mattered above everything was power—how to obtain it, how to retain it, how to regain it. In order to secure power, no sacrifice was ever too big—and least of all the sacrifice of principles. It is only in this light that it becomes possible to understand his alternations between compromise and ruthlessness, benevolence and ferocity, suppleness and brutality, and all his abrupt volte-faces: none of these were ever arbitrary.
Without an ability to decipher non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on blank pages, no one should ever dream of analysing the nature and reality of Chinese communism.
For Truth, by its very nature, is ugly, savage and cruel; it disturbs, it frightens, it hurts and it kills. If, in some extreme situations, it is to be used at all, it must be taken only in small doses, in strict isolation, and with the most rigorous prophylactic precautions. Whoever would be willing to spread it wildly, or to unload it in large quantities, just as it comes, is a dangerous and irresponsible person who should be restrained in the interest of his own safety, as well as for the protection of social harmony.
Kazimierz Brandys summed it up neatly (with the clear-sightedness that characterises so many Polish intellectuals, who on this subject have acquired a bitter expertise): “Contemporary history teaches us that all you need is one mentally sick individual, two ideologues and three hundred murderous thugs in order to take power and gag millions of people.”
Democracy is the only acceptable political system; yet it pertains to politics exclusively, and has no application in any other domain. When applied anywhere else, it is death—for truth is not democratic, intelligence and talent are not democratic, nor is beauty, nor love—nor God’s grace.
I am of course referring to the time before independence; for today, even if there should still be any enterprising Greek merchants around, I doubt very much that they would find passable tracks to reach these distant hamlets.
The most depressing thing is to watch these crowds of tourists, who paid a not inconsiderable amount to come here and secure for themselves eight days of happiness. In the motley uniforms of holiday convicts, they patrol lugubriously this huge Luna Park while trying hard to persuade themselves that they are getting their money’s worth of fun.
Literary scholars are particularly adept at cultivating this sort of nonsense: they seem permanently drunk on the psychedelic milk they keep sucking from the twin mammelles of Freud and Marx.

Highlights for The Chapo Guide to Revolution

You find yourself in the dumbest of all possible worlds, clowns to the left of you, Re-thug-licans to the right.
Official state religion is Shia Scientology.
We’ll focus entirely on liquidating the “legitimate news” part of the media, along with its revolting acolytes, known as “journalists.”
Our rival Nazi Germany had collapsed after it overleveraged risky investments in Eastern European “living space,” while Japan—once an aggressive competitor to America—was defeated due to a certain killer app developed in a cutting-edge incubator in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Despite that, the European Central Bank responded to the ’08 crisis with a Wahhabist-style neoliberal austerity that even the moderate consensus-makers in Washington didn’t have the stomach for.
How much safer would both America and the rest of the world be right now if our government’s response to 9/11 was to pretend it didn’t happen and do absolutely nothing?
The War on Terror is the bathtub our empire lies in, surveying a sunset over a wheat field in the Cialis commercial that is our twenty-first-century international statecraft.
Conservative pundits love to compare America to Rome, mainly because they want to be allowed to drape sheets around their asses and bring back slavery and man-boy love. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a useful analogy. Like Rome, we’re a deluded and decadent empire in terminal decline.
Republican voters were offered everything they had ever wanted—a new era of brutality and the repudiation of the symbol of Obama—while Democrats were served up four more years of morally incoherent and procedurally feckless liberalism. It was the logical conclusion, and the facts sure as shit didn’t care about anyone’s feelings.
Fact-checked, focus-grouped, data-driven Clinton lost to the most deranged presidential candidate ever: a clown, a fraud, a sexual predator, an inveterate liar who has faked every single thing he’s ever done—a giant cube of flesh who embodies all our vilest instincts and our ludicrous celebrity culture.
They do get something tangible from this deal: resistance against bathroom sickos, the petty privilege of being white, and the cathartic sadism of American military conquest and warfare.
For a long time they masterfully triangulated racial and class resentments to enrich the upper classes while the Democrats gave up trying to offer alternatives.
Hoppe correctly realized that the total abolition of the state in favor of a strict regime of private property and laissez-faire economics would involve the brutal curtailment of the freedoms of speech, movement, and bodily autonomy for the vast majority of people, and that was a good thing.
But for both Ezra and Matt, supporting the Iraq War was never a moral failing on their part but an analytical one.
As J. Galt, Megan cultivated a unique blogging style that perfectly matched being stupid with thinking your readers are stupid.
Gawker was a genuine example of an independent media company that skewered basically all the right assholes sucking off the political and media establishment.
It was embraced by middle-class hippies whose demands were not material and collective but aesthetic and individualist—which, once you smooth off the edges, is just libertarianism.
That’s because capital has no problem assimilating pop-cultural rebellion and antiauthoritarian imagery. In fact, that stuff creates all kinds of new markets, new consumers, new suckers.
It may make you feel better to watch a show that’s calling out Trump, or oppression, or our podcast—but if you stop there, you’re demobilized as a political actor.
the contemporary American right-winger is congenitally incapable of being funny, entertaining, or interesting in any of the ways art demands, relying instead on ham-fisted sentimentality and self-abasing ressentiment.
first, we realized that the way things worked on The West Wing wasn’t the way they worked in the real world; then we realized things had never worked that way; then finally we realized things should not work that way.
The premise of this cant was to assure people that they didn’t have to bother with challenging literature or indie cinema; television could provide all their cultural vitamins and minerals without their having to strain their eyes or leave their houses.
and there is no faker friend than your boss, no faker crew than your workplace.
You’re doing something very noble, and that’s why your boss cashed out to the tune of a few hundred million and you have to sublet your closet.
the scholarly professions are now all about getting tenure, doing safe spaces, and getting triggered by logic.
Content—be it a think piece, a call-out tweet, or something really degenerate, like a podcast—is one of the only real, tangible products we make anymore. But its creation also puts more physical and mental demands on workers than the most grizzled military operators have to endure.
In a sense, content makers are more troop-like than troops themselves, as information is the battlefield of the twenty-first century.
Lefties are again at the tip of the spear against a desperate capitalist system that’s readying a blood-soaked, militarized response to climate and economic catastrophes.
Spending every single moment thinking about politics (particularly on the Internet) will turn you cynical, hysterical, and probably reactionary. Let’s avoid that.

Highlights for The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

Call birth, “birth,” and death, “death,” without seeing one as good and the other as evil and your children will be at home with life.
If you teach them to achieve they will never be content. If you teach them contentment, they will naturally achieve everything.
You do not live your life through your children. Therefore they are free to find their own true fulfillment.
If you overly protect your children they will fear failure and avoid pain. But failure and pain are twin teachers of important lessons. Unless your children fully experience both how will they know they have nothing to fear?
Parents who hide failure, deny loss, and berate themselves for weakness, have nothing to teach their children. But parents who reveal themselves, in all of their humanness, become heroes. For children look to these parents and learn to love themselves.
Whatever they are doing, they are learning. And it is, for them, pure joy.
All of your “God” words will not teach your children as much as will your nurture, and your love, and your cherishing.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.
And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Don’t make parenting harder than it needs to be. It only requires focus. Worry is not focus. Attempting to control is not focus. Distracting yourself is not focus. Relaxed, non-fretful, attention to what is in front of you right now, is focus.
If you take the bait the battle rages. Instead step back, breathe deeply, relax, and stay at your center. Battles require two parties. One fighting alone soon tires.
A problem is not an interruption to a serene and happy life. A problem is an ordinary part of such a life.
You do not have to make your children into wonderful people. You only have to remind them that they are wonderful people.
But the Tao teaches that games are for fun, that business is for the common good, that no one wins at war, and that love endures for all.
Every moment is a death of all that has gone before, and a birth of all that is to come.

Highlights for Ghachar Ghochar

The woman had not abused us. She had not come here to pick a fight. We were thrown off balance by her love for one of us, and so we tore into her with such vengeance that she collapsed to the ground, sobbing.
It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.
I’ve longed often for a comparable experience, but there seems to be none. That sense of strangeness, surrender, dependence, compassion, entitlement and a hundred other sentiments bundled together cannot possibly be relived.

Highlights for Woken Furies

That, of course, doesn’t apply to Envoys. We just used to go silently, crush the odd planetary uprising, topple the odd regime, and then plug in something UN-compliant that worked. Slaughter and suppression across the stars, for the greater good — naturally — of a unified Protectorate.
The Envoys came and they tore your world apart. It wasn’t that simple, of course; the truth was far more complex, and ultimately far more scary. But who in this universe wants the truth?
‘Well, Quell looked back at this black-clad man and as she stared into his hot jet eyes she knew that he spoke the truth, that he was a man of his word. So she looked at the revolver in her hand and then back at the man. And she said then you are a fanatic and cannot learn, and she shot him in the face.’
The Quellists meanwhile simply slipped away, disappeared, abandoned the struggle and got on with living their lives as Nadia Makita had always argued they should be prepared to do. Technology has given us access to timescales of life our ancestors could only dream of, we must be prepared to use that timescale, to live on that timescale, if we are to realise our own dreams.
Just reminding you, is all. This life is like the sea. There’s a three-moon tidal slop running out there and if you let it, it’ll tear you apart from everyone and everything you ever cared about.’
‘So maybe some other time,’ he said quietly. ‘When you’re not carrying so much.’ ‘Yeah. Maybe.’ It wasn’t any other time I could usefully imagine, unless he was talking about the past, and I couldn’t see any way to get back there.
The Harlanites recognise it as well as we do, and they have already made their move. It only remains for us to make ours. If in the end I have to fight and die for the ghost and memory of Quellcrist Falconer and not the woman herself, then that will be better than not fighting at all.’
But in one of her less passionate moments, Quell herself once offered an escape clause for situations such as these. If the facts are against you, she said, but you cannot bear to cease believing — then at least suspend judgment. Wait and see.’
It was a confirmation that the time had come, that the political pot was boiling over. Of course it was going to spill, of course it was all going to fall in the same direction, onto the floor. Where else could it go?
Who ever gets a second shot at these things? Sooner or later, we all get in up to our necks. Then it s just a question of keeping your face out of the swamp, one stumbling step at a time.
‘I think she might be some kind of weapon, Sylvie.’ ‘So? Aren’t we all?’
I’d felt twinges of the same thing after, the fresh growth of comradeship and united purpose — and I’d ripped it up by the roots every time. That shit will get you killed. Get you used.
Everyone scrabbling for cash. Oligarchical caretakers. Piss-easy control system.

A Case for Permeable Borders

Events of the past months have sharply brought into focus the need for passable borders. I’m not coming out for fully open borders. That still seems somewhat extreme and too dismissive of borders (which contrary to some people’s opinions definitely are not arbitrary). I just think that keeping borders hermetically closed will exact a moral cost from us that nobody should be willing to pay.

There are tons of arguments in favor of cross-border movement of people. I want to focus on two which are directly applicable to recent crises in the USA and Europe.

Internationalism

Open borders are a stopgap so that we might have international relations that are just. People trapped in a country that offers no prospects should have the option to vote with their feet. Whether they move as war, political or economic refugees, they do so because they really have to.

The flows of these people are an indication of global injustice and at the same time an incentive to do something about it1. The people moving about would likely prefer not to have to leave their homes to go to another place where they may or may not be wanted.

We could have done something about the countries these people come from decades ago. Unfortunately most foreign policy and development aid revolves around short-term national interests and the propping up of dictators2. Closing borders would remove this final incentive to work towards globally positive outcomes.

Virtue Ethics

Open borders provide everybody an opportunity to become better people. Like we have seen they also provide people an opportunity to become worse people. If you work for an organization that is a modern day equivalent of the Gestapo, like ICE is, then you have lost everything.

Becoming a better person is the ultimate goal in life and as such every opportunity to do so is a welcome one.

This is not just a demand on the people in the receiving countries, it is also a demand on the people migrating. Whatever the reason, their country was and probably still is backwards and broken—otherwise they would not have moved here. Let’s welcome them and transform them into the best person they can be3.

Most migrants are already focused on this because they want to work, to educate themselves and to raise their kids in safety. We could make that social contract explicit and truly live it, providing vast and equal opportunities to everybody willing to live by our principles.

In the best possible case, Europe can be a life raft for the world and Europeanness can be an inclusive and expanding idea. Welcome aboard. Here’s an oar. Start paddling.

  1. I’m thinking that any country sending flows of people out is also broadcasting a desire for external interference in their affairs. Clearly things are not going well in a country where people do not want to be and we should do something.
  2. Dictators are a lot cheaper to deal with than democracies.
  3. Something I’ve in the past half-jokingly have called the Europhany.