Pluralistic: 12 Nov 2020

Today's links

Constantly Wrong (permalink)

In "Constantly Wrong," Kirby Ferguson continues his brilliant mashup video work on conspiracy theories with a new, 47 minute documentary that contrasts real-world conspiracies (crimes) with conspiracy theories.

Ferguson says you can tell the difference because conspiracies collapse as the complexity of maintaining secrecy among conspirators reaches unsustainable levels, while conspiracy theories posit that there are long-lived conspiracies that somehow solve this problem.

It's an argument others have made, but he makes it very well, in part through of his dazzling video-editing and encyclopedic storehouse of snippets that go into his mashups. It's what made Ferguson's "Everything Is a Remix" videos so stunning.

Ferguson's upfront that he's not looking to convert conspiratorialists into skeptics – rather, he's wants to equip skeptics who've lost loved ones to conspiracism with arguments that they can use in compassionate dialogues to try to bring those people back up the rabbit-hole.

Ferguson doesn't dwell much on why people become conspiracists, but to the extent that he does, he attributes it to trauma – in emotional wounds that demand succour. He's echoing Anna Merlan's hypothesis from her brilliant 2019 book REPUBLIC OF LIES.

Namely, that a rise in conspiracism comes from a rise in actual conspiracies, and the trauma these engender. For example, there was and is a conspiracy to allow powerful people to sexually abuse children with impunity, from the church to Jeffrey Epstein.

And beyond – to the unwillingness of authority figures to punish abusers (parents, teachers, coaches). Many suffered directly (and even more indirectly) from these conspiracies, and the combination of trauma and real conspiracies makes people vulnerable to Qanon nonsense.

Or the disregard for human life displayed by pharma giants – think Oxycontin and the Sacklers – and the indifference of regulators both traumatizes people and primes them to believe anti-vax, whose core is "Pharma will kill you to make a buck and regulators don't care."

Both Merlan and Ferguson point to conspiracism as a problem of epistemology, not belief. Rather than focusing on what conspiracists believe, focus on why they believe:

  • the ubiquity of real conspiracies (which we also call "corruption"), and

  • the trauma these create.

Ferguson's work is always a delight. That said, I have a quibble with his litmus test for sorting conspiracies from conspiracy theories: if the difference is that conspiracies eventually come to light but theories go on forever, what about a pre-exposure conspiracy?

He cites Jeffrey Epstein as an example of a conspiracy and not a conspiracy theory because Epstein was eventually exposed. But there were years when Epstein was committing crimes with impunity thanks to complicity from law enforcement and politicians.

Epstein – like other conspirators – used legal threats and worse to attack people who threatened to expose him (think of Harvey Weinstein hiring ex-Mossad agents to harass women who publicly accused him).

So there was a period when Epstein was a "conspiracy theory" (because his crimes hadn't been brought to light and publicly acknowledged) and then they became a mere "conspiracy" – in public view.

In that period, how could you determine whether Epstein was a "conspiracy theory" or an underripe "conspiracy"?

Without a good answer, I fear that conspiracists will simply argue that Q or Pizzagate or anti-vax are still ripening and will bear fruit in the future.

Xi on interop and lock-in (permalink)

Back in April, Xi Jinping gave a (just released) speech about his "dual circulation" plan for China's economy:

  • stimulating consumer spending and reducing China's dependence on trade, and
  • increasing other countries' dependence on Chinese tech."

The strategy speaks volumes about the issues of most urgency in our current political economy, grounded as it is in competing bids to strengthen one's own autonomy while reducing other economic actors' capacity for self-determination.

Think of California's Prop 22, which stripped employees of the right to organize, to earn minimum wage, or to receive benefits – and gave gig companies the assurance that their power to exploit and abuse workers will never face organized resistance.

Or how HP forces you to pay stonking monthly ink-fees, denying you access to competitors' ink.

You lose the autonomy that comes from shopping around, they gain the self-determination of being able to bank on your monthly payment.

"Lock-in" and "interoperability" are the twin poles of self-determination and autonomy. You would like Google Photos to continue to have unlimited storage (locking Google in); Google would like to prevent you from switching to a competitor when they jack up prices.

Hence Xi's pronouncements: "For industrial & national security, we must focus on building production chains and supply chains that are independent, secure and reliable, and strive for important products to all have at least one alternative source."

The idea that important state procurements should allow for alternate sourcing is old and important. Back in the US Civil War, the Union army sourced clones of the Springfield rifle from 20+ alternate vendors.

Today, that lesson is largely lost. We sometimes entertain notions of mandated interoperability (as with the ACCESS Act), but lose sight of the power of procurement to shape markets.

Think of the imprudence when school districts source thousands of Ipads without extracting a guarantee that they can sideload apps. That failure exposes the whole system to risk in the event that Apple capriciously decides to remove an app that these classrooms depend on.

By contrast, remember how the Obama admin's procurement requirements shifted Google in 2009: after Obama took office, he abandoned his weekly Youtube "fireside chats," citing the privacy problems from embedding Youtube videos on pages.

Youtube – not wanting to lose its status as a supplier to the US presidency – rolled out a no-surveillance version of the service,, which every person in the world could make use of for their videos, too.

In the years since, the US presidency has de-emphasized protecting people from commercial surveillance and Google appears to have quietly sunset its surveillance-free version of Youtube.

Xi's insistence on second-sourcing for key industries is going to meet with stiff headwinds from industrial execs who want to maintain their monopolies, but it's absolutely the right thing to do – a grand American tradition, forgotten at home, renewed in China.

But let's not forget the other half of Xi's "dual circulation" plan:

"We must tighten international production chains' dependence on China, forming powerful countermeasures and deterrent capabilities based on artificially cutting off supply to foreigners."

This is the other end of the self-determination see-saw: Xi wants to strengthen China's resiliency by making other countries fragile.

Left to their own devices, the powerful always seek to move risk to other peoples' side of the ledger.

By permitting the growth of lock-in fuelled monopolies at home, the US has allowed its large corporations to do to the American people what Xi now proposes to do on a global scale.

US government apparatchiks will doubtless be horrified at Xi's plan to strengthen China by making American's vulnerable to lock-in – but lock-in is lock-in. Xi Jinping doesn't care about your thriving or self-determination.

But neither do Google, Apple, Facebook or HP.

Governments can intervene directly in lock-in by mandating interoperability and carving out exceptions to copyright, patent, trade secrecy and cybersecurity laws to permit interoperability – but these are slow-moving wrangles that must get through Congress.

But there's a faster and almost as powerful lever that local, state and national governments can yank on to make change NOW: procurement rules. The same procurement rules that helped the Union army beat the Confederacy.

Xi wants these interop rules for China, but wants the rest of the world to have the opposite – lock in. American officials can give us the freedom that Xi would deny us simply by spending our money prudently and refusing to buy products without a promise of interoperability.

Anti-bear robo-wolves (permalink)

Bear attacks have spiked in the Hokkaido city of Takikawa, likely due to climate change, which has reduced the bears' supply of pre-hibernation forage. After two fatalities, city officials turned to Ohta Seiki, makers of the "Monster Wolf" robot.

Monster Wolf is a motion-activated, roaring, snapping, blinking scarecrow for bears (scarebear?) that substitutes for the wild Japanese wolves that were hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.

Ohta Seiki has sold 70 Monster Wolf's nationwide; two are in use in Takikawa. The robots were installed in September and there have been no reported bear-attacks since.

The video that The Guardian shot of the robot in action is amazing:

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago How big offshoring companies pwned the H-1B process, screwing workers and businesses

#5yrsago Edward Snowden’s operational security advice for normal humans

#5yrsago Councillor who voted to close all public toilets gets a ticket for public urination

#5yrsago Female New Zealand MPs ejected from Parliament for talking about their sexual assault

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Fipi Lele, Waxy (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 553 words (83128 total).

Currently reading: The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson

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