Pluralistic: The internet is not a (link)dump truck (30 Sept 2023)

Today's links

A blanket covered in miscellaneous flea market electronics.

The internet is not a (link)dump truck (permalink)

The second decade of the 21st century is truly a bounteous time. My backyard has produced a bumper crop of an invasive species of mosquito that is genuinely innovative: rather than confining itself to biting in the dusk and dawn golden hours, these stinging clouds of flying vampires bite at every hour that God sends:

Here in the twilight of capitalism's planet-devouring, half-century orgy of wanton destruction, there's more news every day than I can possibly write a full blog post about every day, and as with many weeks, I have arrived at Saturday with a substantial backlog of links that didn't fit into the week's "Hey look at this" linkdumps.

Thus, the eighth installment in my ongoing, semiregular series of Saturday linkdumps:

This week, the miscellany begins with the first hesitant signs of an emerging, post-neoliberal order. The FTC, under direction of the force-of-nature that is Lina Khan, has brought its long-awaited antitrust case against Amazon. I am very excited about this. Disoriented, even.

When was the last time you greeted every day with a warm feeling because high officials in the US government were working for the betterment of every person in the land? It's enough to make one giddy. Plus, the New York Times let me call Amazon "the apex predator of our platform era"! Now that it's in the "paper of record," it's official:

Now, lefties have been predicting capitalism's imminent demise since The Communist Manifesto, but any fule kno that the capitalist word for "crisis" also translates as "opportunity." Like the bedbugs that mutated to thrive in clouds of post-war DDT, capitalism has adapted to each crisis, emerging in a new, more virulent form:

But "anything that can't go on forever will eventually stop" (Stein's Law). Perhaps our mistake was in waiting for capitalism to give way to socialism, rather than serving as a transitional phase between feudalism and…feudalism.

What's the difference between feudalism and capitalism? According to Yanis Varoufakis, it comes down to whether we value rents (income you get from owning things) over profits (income you get from doing things):

By that metric, the FTC's case against Amazon is really a case against feudalism. Through predatory pricing and acquisitions, Amazon has turned itself into a chokepoint that every merchant, writer and publisher has to pass through in order to reach their customers. Amazon charges a fortune to traverse that chokepoint (estimates range from 45% to 51% of gross revenues) and then forces sellers to raise their prices everywhere else when they hike their Amazon prices so they can afford Amazon's tolls. It's "an economy-wide hidden tax":

Now, feudalism isn't a straightforward proposition. Like, are you sure you mean feudalism? Maybe you mean "manorialism" (they're easy to mix up):

Plus, much of what we know about the "Dark Ages" comes from grifter doofuses like Voltaire, a man who was capable of dismissing the 800 year Holy Roman Empire with a single quip ("neither holy, roman, nor an empire"). But the reality is a lot more complicated, gnarly and interesting.

That's where medievalist Eleanor Janeaga comes in, and her "Against Voltaire, or, the shortest possible introduction to the Holy Roman Empire" is a banger:

Now, while it's true that Enlightenment thinkers gave medieval times a bum rap, it's likewise true that a key element of Enlightenment justice is transparency: justice being done, and being seen to be done. One way to distinguish "modern" justice from "medieval" trials is to ask whether the public is allowed to watch the trial, see the evidence, and understand the conclusion.

Here again, there is evidence that capitalism was a transitional phase between feudalism and feudalism. The Amazon trial has already been poisoned by farcical redactions, in which every key figure is blacked out of the public record:

This is part of a trend. The other gigantic antitrust case underway right now, against Google, has turned into a star chamber as well, with Judge Amit P Mehta largely deferring to Google's frequent demands to close the court and seal the exhibits:

Google's rationale for this is darkly hilarious: if the public is allowed to know what's happening in its trial, this will be converted into "clickbait," which is to say, "The public is interested in this case, and if they are informed of the evidence against us, that information will be spread widely because it is so interesting":

Thankfully, this secrecy is struggling to survive the public outrage it prompted. While the court's Zoom feed has been shuttered and while Judge Mehta is still all too willing to clear the courtroom during key testimony, at least the DoJ's exhibits aren't being sealed at the same clip as before:

In 2023, the world comes at you fast. There's an epic struggle over the future of corporate dominance playing out all around us. I mean, there are French antitrust enforcers kicking down doors of giant tech companies and ransacking their offices for evidence of nefarious anticompetitive plots:

As ever, the question is "socialism or barbarism." But don't say that too loud: in America, socialism is a slur, one that dates back to the Reconstruction era, when pro-slavery factions called Black voting "socialism in South Carolina."

Ever since, white nationalists used "socialism" make Americans believe that "socialism" was an "extremist" view, so they'd stand by while everyone from Joe McCarthy to Donald Trump smeared their opponents as "Marxists":

As Heather Cox Richardson puts it for The Atlantic, "There is a long-standing fight over whether support for the modern-day right is about taxes or race. The key is that it is about taxes and race at the same time":

The cruelty isn't the point, in other words. Cruelty is the tactic. The point is power. Remember, no war but class war. All of this is in service to paying workers less so that bosses and investors can have more.

Take "essential workers," everyone from teachers to zookeepers, nurses to librarians, EMTs to daycare workers. All of these "caring" professions are paid sub-living wages, and all of these workers are told that "they matter too much to earn a living wage":

The "you matter too much to pay" mind-zap is called "vocational awe," a crucial term introduced by Ettarh Fobazi in her 2018 paper:

Vocational awe is how creative workers – like the writers who just won their strike and the actors who are still fighting – are conned into working at starvation wages. As the old joke goes, "What, and give up show-business?"

In this moment of Big Tech-driven, AI-based wage suppression, mass surveillance, corruption and inequality, perhaps we should take a moment to remind ourselves that cyberpunk was a warning, not a suggestion. Or, more to the point, the warning was about high-tech corporate takeovers of our lives, and the suggestion was that we could seize the means of computation (a synonym for William Gibson's "the street finds its own use for things"):

We are living in a lopsided cyberpunk future, long on high-tech corporate takeover, short of computation seizing. This point is made sharply in JWZ's "Dispatch From The Cyberpunk City," which is beautifully packaged as a Hypercard stack that you run on an in-browser Mac Plus emulator from the Internet Archive:

Cast your gaze ahead, to the near future: Public space has all but disappeared. Corporate landlords use AI-powered robots to harass the homeless. The robots, built slick and white with an R2-D2 friendliness now most resemble giant butt plugs covered in graffiti and grime.

Science fiction doesn't have to be a warning. It can also be a wellspring of hope. That's what I tried to do with The Lost Cause, my forthcoming Green New Deal novel, which Bill McKibben called "The first great YIMBY novel":

Writing a hopeful novel of ecological, social and economic redemption, driven by solidarity, repair, and library socialism, was a powerful tonic against despair in this smoke-smothered, flooded, mosquito-bitten time. And while the book isn't out yet, there are early indications I succeeded, like Kim Stanley Robinson's reaction, "Along with the rush of adrenaline I felt a solid surge of hope. May it go like this."

And now, we have a concurring judgment from The Library Journal, who yesterday published their review, which concludes: "a thought-provoking story, with a message of hope in a near-future that looks increasingly bleak":

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Bruce Sterling's 10 technologies that deserve to die

#15yrsago Adventurer’s Club at Disney World closes

#15yrsago MPAA spokeslawyers insist that they not be identified by name in reports from press-conference

#15yrsago Reuters sues academic for making a Firefox plugin that lets you annotate and reference articles

#15yrsago HOWTO Make a dollhouse out of a gourd

#15yrsago Terry Pratchett’s NATION: moving and sweet young adult novel about science, superstition and decency

#10yrsago The Incrementalists: Steven Brust and Skyler White’s novel about an immortal secret society

#5yrsago Matt Damon’s eerily good Kavanaugh SNL sketch

#5yrsago $100 bills outnumber $1s, and they’re stuffed in our mattresses

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Kottke (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: How To Think About Scraping
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

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

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

(Latest Medium column: "How To Think About Scraping: In privacy and labor fights, copyright is a clumsy tool at best

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

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