Barbarians Past the Gate

Legacy institutions are at war with distributed collective intelligence, but the legacy institutions are losing—badly.

2 million full-time “content creators,” outside any professional sanction; the election of Donald Trump against an airtight media consensus certain of its impossibility; mass, hysterical preference falsification due to a normalization of political correctness, with silent mass migration into countless private communities; Big Tech’s capitulation to censorship on all major social platforms; the resilient rise in the price of Bitcoin and a proliferation of durable social currencies on Ethereum; and most recently, an unprecedented execution of decentralized social intelligence, which minted more than a few millionaires out of thin air, by a niche internet community hacking the source code of finance capitalism.

Most of the essential requirements for a functioning polity—fiat currency, leaders, laws, and shared identity—have been fully decoded and open-sourced in the form of cryptocurrencies, content creators, Smart Contracts, and fandoms. It seems inevitable that our roughly 195 nation states must increasingly give way to thousands of digital micro-polities, as these embryonically political structures grow in economic and psychological power.

The only other defining characteristic of autonomous polities—a monopoly on the use of force—is increasingly obsolete as the payoff to peaceful trade raises the opportunity cost of physical violence. Hence the relative dearth of interstate war since the end of World War II.

If you doubt the claim that “content creators” are budding politicians—whether they know it or not—consider the curious case of Mr. Beast.

The most powerful Youtubers are accidentally rediscovering the nature of Aristocracy, a type of social role we like to think we abolished.

Mr. Beast is a Youtuber who currently enjoys 52 million subscribers and earns somewhere in the ballpark of $20-30 million annually at the age of 22. Jimmy Donaldson built one of the most influential and economically successful Youtube channels through a specific concept: Outrageous and conspicuous acts of generosity. His typical video involves him gifting large sums of money or lavish objects to random people, poor people, or friends.

As true aristocrats have always known, and as contemporary elites have forgotten, lavish generosity towards the needy demonstrates one’s authentic nobility, wins public attention and admiration, and genuinely improves society while increasing the political and economic power of the donor.

The so-called “creator economy” is only a becoming-liquid of the circuit connecting noble traits, admiration, and capital, such that the previously abolished form of Aristocracy re-appears in a distributed and ungovernable format. You could try to govern it, but you would need someone as organically admirable as the target, or else Mr. Beast fans will never even hear about your new law, let alone respect it (especially after they upload themselves full-time to the Mr. Beast VR pod and earn all of their income through Mr. Beast’s branded gaming engine). National law enforcement does not generally excel in the domain of authentic nobility, ergo the new form of distributed Aristocracy will not be put back in the bottle.

I am not suggesting Mr. Beast will become the effective President of a new country within the United States. I am suggesting Mr. Beast will be one of thousands who effectively constitute micro-polities, each one optimizing for different personality types and demographic buckets. Power laws dictate a small minority of creators will enjoy audiences far larger than the rest, but I suspect at least several thousands of creators will operate all-inclusive weltanschauungen for audiences of several thousands. I am pulling these specific numbers out of thin air, but I am directionally confident; I would encourage someone to explore more sophisticated modeling of this question.

If you still doubt that someone like Mr. Beast is an embryonic statesman, you might be impressed to learn about his long-term goal. His stated goal is to create a nation-wide system of homeless shelters and food banks. That’s right, he’s going to build a national system of public housing. I see no reason why he cannot succeed, given that he has already proven a business model that turns charismatic philanthropy into attention, admiration, and wealth for himself. Given that the USA Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t even try to create housing any more, it is not particularly speculative or sci-fi to suggest that Mr. Beast is on his way to becoming a kind of shadow Secretary of Housing in the United States. It’s there for the taking, it’s his stated goal, and he’s on track to do it. If he falters, it’s hard to imagine that the next generation of creators will also fail to appreciate such historic opportunities in front of them.

Bitcoin feeds directly into content creators becoming governors, not additively but multiplicatively—in a few ways. This means you should watch out for non-linear takeoffs, where things seem to be unfolding gradually, gradually… and then all at once.

First of all, Bitcoin is becoming the leading inflation-hedge asset as the US government engages in unprecedented money printing. Censorship-resistant and inflation-proof money is becoming increasingly accessible, normalized, and trusted at the same time that legacy institutions are doubling down on… censorship and inflation. It’s not inconceivable that eventually the US government needs Bitcoin—and the intellectual/communication services of leading content creators—much more than anyone needs the US government. If the US government’s balance sheet gets worse, and Bitcoin continues to get better, this alone could trigger a non-linear event where all smart money rushes into Bitcoin rapidly, and the US government’s balance sheet collapses with equal rapidity.

Second, most of the leading content creators have hardly even begun utilizing cryptocurrency. They will. Given the mimetic nature of financial value, leading Youtubers could single-handedly increase the price of any given cryptocurrency, simply by promoting it, using it, and whipping their fans into a frenzy.

Just recently Elon Musk put the word “Bitcoin” in his Twitter profile and the price of Bitcoin immediately rose 15%. If for any reason Bitcoin becomes fashionable among leading creators, the result will be non-linear. The creators would be making themselves even richer, simply by adopting Bitcoin and triggering price increases, so I consider this to be a game-theoretic inevitability (even if many don’t want to take this opportunity at time t1, rising creators who do take this opportunity at time t2 will dominate the others, which means it is hard to imagine a future in which this opportunity is not taken).

Just as we watched the Reddit community Wallstreetbets pump the price of Gamestop on the stock exchange, without a leader, any community with a leader will be all the more capable of such a feat. The Robinhood app was able to halt purchases of Gamestop, but there already exist decentralized crypto exchanges, on which nobody has the power to halt trades. Technically unstoppable versions of the Gamestop pump therefore seem inevitable on decentralized exchanges, meaning communities will eventually have unprecedented power to affect the value of assets by sheer belief and collective will.

There is already a new breed of avant-garde content creators—small compared to Mr. Beast but large enough to be dangerous—investing heavily in crypto assets and infrastructure. Consider Trevor McFedries, creator of the first CGI influencer Lil’ Miquela. He’s minted his own social currency $FWB on the Ethereum blockchain, and its value has been rising steadily as the value of his community increases. If he and his community continue to create value inside the community, the value of $FW will continue to rise, and everyone in the community will see their wealth increase in proportion to their $FWB holdings. It is hard to imagine that there will not eventually be a creator as big as Mr. Beast and as crypto-savvy as McFedries, who runs a private digital community with a market cap as great as the GDP of many countries.

The most influential content creators will build cabinets of advisors and shareholders drawn from different domains: A chief technologist drawn from Silicon Valley, a chief financial officer drawn from Wall Street, etc. This is when the political nature of content creators will become unmistakable. These companies will look and feel like small national governments, running a combination of revenue-generating enterprises for profit and philanthropic enterprises for citizen-recruitment, all organized around their own state-sponsored media.

The nation state may well persist, but only as a shell of its former self, and mainly by hitching its wagon to the leading micro-polities. One can imagine a scenario in which Heads of State and leading content creators broker an informal bargain that allow Heads of State to save face on condition they defer to the new power-holders. In the near future, the relationship of the US President and leading American Youtubers may be analogous to the relationship between the Queen of England and Parliament.

Many micro-polities will initially appear to mainstream observers as religious “cults,” driven by “conspiracy theories,” led by charismatic “grifters,” operating massive “pyramid schemes.” Eventually it will be realized that such things have always been the building blocks of nations. As the myth of Romulus attests, the founding of a nation is always a crime—until it’s the law.

Is it racist to use the Kekistani flag?

I was recently queried by a reporter in Arizona covering a story about some conservative university students who caused a scandal by displaying a Kekistani flag. It turns out that I am now the academic expert on this topic. His specific question was the degree to which Kekistan is rooted in racism. I have no idea about the specific situation at the university in Arizona, but here is what I told him (lightly edited/revised). It’s a more general point, and I'm sure he'll only use a quote or two, so I’m posting it here.

How rooted in racism is the Kekistani flag? The answer to this question depends on how one defines racism. Today, many on the Left consider nearness to racists to be racist: for instance, to speak with a racist in public is to “platform” racism and therefore promote racism. Or, to use a symbol that was one time used by one racist one year ago — this would count as some degree of racism because one is “co-signing” the racist or “dog whistling” to a racist audience. This is what I have elsewhere called a “guilt-contagion model” of racism. If that is your model of racism, then sure, the Kekistani flag will be seen as racist, because it has probably been used for pretty explicit racist signaling by some pretty explicit racists in its life as a viral meme.

The problem is that, when applied to internet meme culture, the guilt-contagion model makes no sense. Viral memes are, by definition, picked up and extended in dozens, hundreds, often thousands of different directions. In this context, even a large number of racist uses of a meme cannot disqualify the entire meme as racist, if there are way more non-racist uses of the meme. This is especially obvious when you keep in mind that memes are, by definition, radically decontextualized (any one adoption will have a very low degree of integration with, or accountability to, the previous instances; its “viral” nature is based precisely on this extreme flexibility and lack of respect for earlier instances of the meme).

When you look at the origin and history of the Kekistan meme, it’s pretty clear that it was not launched or intended as a racist project, and when you look at the available data on how it is actually used (as I have done), it’s pretty clear that racism is not even close to being one of its primary meanings. So in my judgment, I don’t think you can call the Kekistani flag racist, no. People who call the Kekistani flag racist are relying on a definition of racism that makes no sense in the internet age.

It does not surprise me that conservative college students might want to display this flag, in part because, to some conservatives, the flag now represents unfair overreach by social liberals to smear many non-racist conservatives as racist. Again, the dynamic nature of meme culture confounds our efforts to pin down a meme’s meaning, because the media response to a meme can rapidly become the basis for new instances of the meme. Of course, there might be some racist in the group, I have no idea about the situation. My point is that the meme itself simply does not give anyone sufficient evidence to infer that there must be a racist behind it, or even that it’s likely for there to be a racist behind it. It’s perfectly possible that they are signaling their belief in free speech, and that they are using this symbol precisely because they know that many on the left will (incorrectly) call it racist! This might prove their point about free speech, it might gain attention, rally members, etc. — all perfectly reasonable goals of any political organization, having nothing necessarily to do with racism.

Are the greatest beneficiaries of Effective Altruism its proponents?

[I’m not sure how much I believe this, this just barely passed my threshold of post-worthiness.]

It seems to me that the greatest beneficiaries of Effective Altruism might very well be its proponents, who help others in a linear fashion but help themselves in a non-linear fashion. This might be justified in a Rawlsian way, such that Effective Altruists should be allowed to enjoy their generosity greatly so long as it helps others sufficiently.

Effective Altruism is recursive self-satisfaction. The Effective Altruist is doing good, which feels good, which helps them do more good, which makes them feel even better, and so on. But the altruistic upshot of their exponentially positive experience is only additive, because recipients of altruism at best feel neutral about charity and at worst feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed. Malaria nets are wonderful things, and saving a life is no small feat, but one life is worth one life and if a malaria net saves one life then ten malaria nets save ten lives. For the practitioner of Effective Altruism, however, giving one malaria net is a potentially never-ending well of eudaemonia. None of this is to deny the value of Effective Altruism, it is only to observe where a large proportion of the psychological gains are really enjoyed.

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