They shoot Keurigs, don’t they?

Still from the “Where Are They Now?” montage at the end of American Psycho

Here’s how a scandal works in 21st-century America. First, a series of women came forward to say that senate candidate and hairless southern cowboy Roy Moore tried to mess with them when they were teenagers. Then Sean Hannity said they were probably in it for the money, or Democrats. Then Keurig, maker of coffee machines for Air BnBs, stoped advertising on Hannity. This led certain conservatives to boycott Keurig, or do whatever the version of a boycott is where you have already bought the product and simply destroy it.

This is like when Martin Luther King bought thousands of Montgomery city bus passes and then burned them to protest racism. All funning aside, though, it’s a classic example of backlash to backlash. Hannity the conservative icon said something most people found disagreeable; a brand punished him for it, and that brand became an icon of people who find conservatism disagreeable. Enter the iconoclasts, because if contemporary conservatism is about anything, it’s about gleefully defying people who disagree with conservatism.

Maybe that’s why this video of a man throwing a Keurig off a balcony is packaged the way it is. “Liberals are offended by this video of a Keurig being thrown off a building,” young Colin Rugg says. “Please retweet to offend a liberal.” I question how many liberals would describe this video of a man dropping his coffee machine of a balcony as “offensive.” I’m no scientific pollster, but I think you’d get “baffling” and “badass” first. Rugg is sure these liberals have followed the Moore/Hannity/Keurig news as closely as he has, though, and this video has them twitching. He includes “politically incorrect” in his Twitter bio, so the idea that liberals are scandalized by what he does seems like an important component in his sense of himself.

That’s the thing about conservatism today: it feels so self-conscious. Maybe that’s just because we see it through the lens of social media, where everyone performs themselves. Yet lifestyle conservatives consciously identify with particular signifiers—guns, trucks, uniformed service, that goddamned frog—in ways that lifestyle liberals do not. Liberals may be known for their organic diets, effete childrearing, and fuel-efficeint cars, but that’s not how they think of themselves. These signifiers are ascribed to them from outside—not embraced as public expressions of their liberality, as things they do to drive the conservatives nuts. I guess what I’m saying is that liberals don’t have a persecution complex.

Maybe they do, and I don’t see it because their politics is closer to mine. But when was the last time you saw liberals defying conservatism by smashing things? They burned one limo in Washington, and they’re still fretting about it. I don’t see the analog to Keurig-destruction videos on the left. Maybe liberals aren’t doing that because they’re winning, and they feel no need to perform their defiance. Or maybe there’s something antisocial about contemporary conservatism.

Friday links! Daze of future passed edition

Two thousand and six

Remember like 14 years ago? We were all so innocent then. A new President Bush had just discovered secret proof that we were about to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A new housing market was revitalizing American cities by adding value to what people owned already. A new kind of publication, the blog, invigorated public discourse with its jaunty tone and periodic slander. Everything seemed fresh and exciting, which is weird, because 2003 is actually old. There’s just no way to argue that it’s still happening now. Yet one cannot ignore the feeling that we remain mired in the last decade: fighting the same wars, smugly denouncing a president who could only appeal to idiots, and putting skulls on everything. Today is Friday, and everything old is not so much new again as stubbornly still here. Won’t you survey the leftovers with me?

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Vote for me to control the weather and end government overreach

It’s snowing in Missoula as I write this—just one more example of Mayor John Engen’s failure to guide this city toward a better future for all of us. It literally never did this before the mayor was elected. In addition to snow, we’ve had to contend with property taxes, out-of-control housing prices, and too-thoroughly-controlled everything else. I, for one, am sick of the mayor’s tax-and-spend progressive agenda. The time is right for new leadership, which is why I’ve announced my own candidacy for mayor, city council, US Senate—whatever I can do to help, really, so long as it puts me in a position of leadership with salary and benefits. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I describe my platform of controlling the weather, halting immigration from other states, and ending government overreach. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Let’s talk about this conservative meme

A meme tweeted by Turning Point USA

According to its Twitter page, Turning Point USA is a student movement for free markets and limited government whose members are “the community organizers of the right.” According to Wikipedia, Turning Point is a 501(c)3 organization that took in $78,890 in 2012 and $5 million in 2016. Its tax status keeps it from participating in political campaigns, but it can issue broad statements of ideology like the meme above. The @TPUSA Twitter account tweeted it a little after noon in the One True Time Zone. It’s a picture of some labor protestors and some soldiers: one side “fights for $15 to flip burgers” while the other “fights for your right to be an idiot.” That’s what is written, but what does it say, man?  It’s never an easy question to answer, but lucky for you, I’m a nearsighted palmist. That’s right: I like to do a close reading.

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What do algorithms give us a reason to do?

Screen shot from BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video

I’m a modern guy, so when I read a title like “BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video,” my first question is who came up with it. Shows you what I know. If I were a postmodern guy, I would realize nobody was behind the decision to call a video “BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video.” Algorithms settled on those words, and the only human decision involved was the decision to follow the algorithms. Stop what you’re doing and read James Bridle’s essay about automatically-generated YouTube videos for small children. It is the directest look yet at what is wrong with the internet. Bridle uses these videos as a case study in how automation turns what everyone wants into things no one wants, e.g. hourlong videos of Peppa Pig getting her teeth pulled out or million-person conspiracy theories about pedophilia in a pizzeria. Here’s a quote:

Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against.

The more we turn over the content of the internet to automated systems, the more we make the internet into the maximally effective version of something weird and disturbing to us. The things people want most are branded characters, certain screaming sounds, bright colors and simplistic violence, so here’s a video of Marvel villains burying people alive. It feels awful because few humans were involved in creating it, and those who were involved ceded their agency to an algorithm. Anyway, this essay seems like one of those ideas we’re going to refer to in the future, so I encourage you to read it. I’m glad I did.