Pluralistic: 06 Apr 2020

Today's links

  1. The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots: My latest podcast, on a redefined form of abundance and luxury.
  2. Illinois reinstates physical restraints for special ed kids: Revenge of the "quiet room."
  3. Youtube vs 5G arsonists: There's plenty of things wrong with 5G, but coronavirus isn't one of them.
  4. Hamilton original cast reunites on Zoom: A ray of sunshine at a dark time.
  5. This day in history: 2015, 2019
  6. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots (permalink)

My latest podcast is a reading of my 2017 Locus Magazine column, "The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots," which investigates the nature of scarcity and abundance, and the relationship they have to coordination, the internet, and our economic system.

The thesis of the essay (also explored in my novel Walkaway) is that we might someday reimagine what we mean when we think of luxury: not being able to get everything when we want it, but rather great outpourings of materials and leisure tied into the rhythms of the world.

Maybe we'll all be summoned to work when renewable energy is available ("make hay while the sun shines") but we'll also be furloughed with all the food, friends and fun we want when it's not (and someone else will be called to work).

It's a very old kind of abundance, one that we only gave up because industrial production required that we trade our individual autonomy for efficiency in producing material goods that made our lives, on balance, much better.

But with networked computers, we can have a post-industrial world that marries our pre-industrial rhythms to our industrial production efficiencies. After all, the thing networked computers do is make it cheaper and easier to coordinate our work.

This was speculative in 2017. Now, in pandemic lockdown, we're learning just how much of our synchronized labor – the things we all do in the same place at the same time – was the result of inertia and habit, and how much it can be jettisoned to allow us to work as we will.

It's a bizarre and amazing time. Terrifying, yes. But the dislocation is also redefining what we think of as possible, desirable, and necessary.

Here's the MP3:

And here's my podcast feed:

Illinois reinstates physical restraints for special ed kids (permalink)

Late last year, Propublica published a deep, blockbuster investigation into the use of brutal "discipline" techniques in Illinois's special ed classes, some of them so extreme as to qualify as torture.

These techniques, including physically restraining children and locking them in small isolation rooms, sometimes for whole days, or even for whole consecutive days, had been strictly limited or eliminated altogether in the rest of the US, but not in Illinois.

Instead, Illinois had passed a rule requiring schools to document the use of force against children with learning disabilities. As a result, Propublica was able to FOIA thick sheaves of handwritten notes documenting children's pleas for release at mandated 15-min intervals.

It was real Banality of Evil stuff, and it shed light on mysterious broken bones and bruises that parents had been told were self-inflicted. In the ensuing scandal, the state banned the use of these techniques, finally catching up with the rest of the nation, 20 years on.

But, it turns out, they didn't.

Thanks to intense lobbying from Illinois private schools, notably Giant Steps and Markland Day School, and the public A.E.R.O Special Education Cooperative, some of the physical restraint tactics were reinstated.

Notably, face-down restraint – a tactic banned in 30+ states due to the high risk of asphyxiation – is once again permitted in special ed programs.

We can thank Rep Jim Durkin [R-82] for this. He sits on Giant Steps's board along with 5 former colleagues from state government.

His chief of staff was an ardent advocate for reinstating face-down restraint in Illinois schools. He declined to comment to Propublica.

Youtube vs 5G arsonists (permalink)

There are plenty of things wrong with 5G.

It's incredibly insecure:

And easy for law-enforcement to spy on:

It's a smokescreen for underinvestment in fiber by monopolistic, awful telcos, and its promised benefits will not materialize without fiber backhaul:

On the bullshit scale of lies, damned lies, and telcoms lies, 5G represents a kind of peak bullshit:

But 5G doesn't give you cancer. It won't make you sick. And…god, I am getting stupider just thinking about typing this, coronavirus is not a false-flag op to disguise the illnesses that 5G is secretly creating.

The reason I have to mention that is that the conspiracyverse is full of that specific theory, and it's inspiring people to COMMIT ARSON and torch 5G towers.

No, seriously.

In the wake of multiple attacks on 5G towers, Youtube has announced changes to its moderation guidelines. It will allow 5G conspiracy theories, just not ones that (oh god my fingers are seizing up from the stupid) link 5G with coronavirus.

Youtube gets blamed for spreading conspiracies but that's not the whole story. Youtube – Big Tech in general – is a machine for finding people, much more than it is a machine for convincing people. Youtube is not a mind-control ray that bypasses viewers' critical faculties.

5G conspiracy theories are new, but Flat Earth conspiracies are not, nor is antivax. These have been around for a long, long time. Even a cursory perusal of the arguments for these conspiracies reveals that they have not gotten better, even as they've gained traction.

If the same arguments are attracting more adherents, then one of two things is going on. Either:

  1. Youtube is a mind-control ray that can turn rational people into believers in facially absurd ideas that have failed for decades, or

  2. The number of people to whom these ideas seem plausible has grown and/or Youtube has made it more efficient to reach those people.

I think it's 2. I think that the rise of conspiratorial thinking is connected most closely to a rise in actual conspiracies.

Not elaborate flying saucer conspiracies, but everyday ones, like the Sacklers conspiring to get rich by lying about the safety of opioids, or prosecutors and lawmakers covering up for their pals like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.

Conspiracies to ignore the evidence about Flint's water, or the failures of Universal Credit in the UK, or to pretend that private equity funds are anything but engines for turning productive companies into mangled wreckages while enriching plutes:

Why do people believe in public health conspiracies, from antivax to 5G? Well, maybe because public health authorities spent two decades ignoring the opioid crisis in order to protect ultrarich opioid profiteers.

Maybe they doubt journal articles because major journal publishers have repeatedly published fake journals through their marketing divisions that allowed pharma companies to pay to publish unsubstantiated studies.

Maybe they don't believe in their doctors' advice because their doctors accept a continuous stream of payments from pharma companies, and then prescribe in ways that fatten their bottom lines.

Maybe they don't trust regulators because they sign off on procedures that kill people, despite a lack of evidence for their safety AND a wealth of evidence about their risks:

One of the best books I read in 2019 was Anna Merlan's Republic of Lies, a history of conspiratorial thinking in America and a look at the rise of conspiracism in the 21st century:

Merlan describes how conspiracists aren't ignorant, but rather lavishly misinformed. UFO conspiracists can go chapter-and-verse on aerospace conspiracies, of which there are so. many. including, most recently, the 737 Max scandal.

Antivaxers know tons about opioid coverups and other medical malpractice. People who believe that the levees were dynamited during Katrina to drown black neighborhoods and spare white ones know all about when that actually happened in Tupelo, MS.

Susceptibility to conspiratorialism arises when someone is exposed to actual conspiracies, and trauma. And while both have been abundant during the neoliberal era, coronavirus is peak trauma and peak conspiracy.

Just think of the spectacle of official inaction, combined with official calls for all the old people to die, combined with the annihilation of huge swathes of the economy, combined with a stream of revelations about corruption and profiteering in the response.

No wonder so many people are primed to believe in conspiracies at this moment, and so maddened with grief and anxiety that they take rash – and foolish – action.

Which brings me back to what Youtube is doing.

Youtube is not a mind-control ray, it's a people-finding machine. That's because advertisers need people-finding machines. The median person buys <1 fridge/lifetime, so it's really hard to find people thinking of buying fridges.

That's why fridge ads appear on highways near airports: "People who fly have money, people need money to buy fridges." Those ads have 0.00000000000000000001% conversion rates.

Targeting ads to people who've searched for refrigerator reviews can make them thousands of times more effective, and even if the new rate is only 0.000000000001%, that's massive improvement for fridge advertisers. YT is ad-supported so it is good at finding people.

Ad-tech companies make two claims, though: the first is that they know where to find your customers. The second is that they can convince them of things that are otherwise unsupportable.

This was Cambridge Analytica's pitch: not that they would find racists and tell them about Trump, but that they would make decent people into Trump voters.

There's some narrow truth to this Running ads that tell lies (especially harmful ones) is often illegal. At the very least, it can mire you in scandal. Targeting allows you to place secret ads: ads whose content is only seen by people who won't narc you out. That gives targeted ads a persuasive advantage that billboards can't have.

Finding people who want to believe lies and lying to them is not mind-control.

It's fraud.

Because everyone in the entire history of the world who'd claimed to have invented a mind-control ray was a fraud, from NLPers and PUAs, to Mkultra and the Cultural Revolution.

Back to conspiracies, Youtube, secrecy and people-finding.

There are lots of things wrong with Youtube (spying, monopolization, and its hospitality to copyfraud and censorship), but people-finding and spying are both double-edged swords.

People-finding is how fringe ideas accumulate adherents, yes. Some of those are terrible, like "scientific racism." Some are laudable, like the rise of trans identity.

Privacy is how lies are spun, but it's also how truths are whispered before they can be spoken aloud.

Secrets like "I believe interracial marriage should be legal" or "cannabis isn't harmful" or "gender is not a binary."

There are lots of things we should do to fix Youtube and tech, but on balance, finding people who share your ideas is a force for good.

Debunking false conspiratorial beliefs is important, but not as important as ending actual conspiracies among wealthy and powerful people to corrupt our political and economic system to enrich themselves regardless of the consequences to the rest of us.

Fighting conspiracism is like fighting a wildfire. When the town is on fire, you have to put it out. But if you want to keep your town from catching fire again, you have to eliminate the fuel that causes it to burn, clear out the brush.

The problem with locating the problem with Youtube – instead of seeing Youtube and its monopoly as a consequence of policies that promote inequality and monopolism – is that it's just fighting blazes, not preventing them.

Hamilton original cast reunites on Zoom (permalink)

Aubrey is a 9-year-old who had birthday tickets to see Hamilton in Florida, but it was cancelled, so John Krasinski invited her to his online show, "Some Good News," and revealed that she was getting Broadway tix to see it after the emergency lifts.

Aubrey was obviously very pleased by this. Then Krasinski revealed the kicker: Lin Manuel Miranda himself was on the show with her, videoconferenced in to sing the main theme from Hamilton.

Which was pretty amazing.

But then, as the song went on, more and more of the original cast of Hamilton conferenced in, singing along with Lin Manuel, until the entire original cast was on the call, singing along.

It is an astonishingly great video to watch, a ray of sunshine in a dark time.


This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

#1yrago How the super-rich defeated the IRS's crack Global High Wealth unit

#1yrago Airbnb guest uses network sniffer to find hidden webcam, Airbnb finds no wrongdoing

#1yrago Occupy Gotham: my essay about the class war at the heart of Batman

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Alice Taylor (

Currently writing: I'm getting geared up to start work my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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