Monday, April 02, 2018

This Century's Fight Is The Fight Against Parasitism

TechCrunch |  There’s a new playbook for oppression today. Instead of outright totalitarian rule, you construct the appearance of democracy, while controlling it by subtly — in some cases perhaps not even consciously — restricting the options available to individual voters; by controlling a tiered system of “representative” electors behind the scenes; or by simply outright stuffing the ballot box. (There can be much sound and fury about the distinctions between the available candidates, but if you’ve done your job correctly, and made democracy as awful as possible, in general only establishment candidates or easily manipulated narcissists will ever be nominated.)

Then you give your people enough freedom to thrive; to create, to disrupt, to innovate. And you siphon as much as you can of that created wealth.

You don’t give them enough to actually seriously challenge the establishment, of course; to, say, remake the system so that the siphoned wealth goes to its poor and oppressed people instead of its silent, invisible masters. That is a red line that must not be crossed. But the beauties of this system — call it parasitism — is that it is very rare to encounter a challenger who cannot be co-opted. It vampire-squids enough wealth for its upper-tier members and their families to live lives of extraordinary, gilded luxury, without the unpleasant threat of being assassinated or deposed that comes with outright fascism or totalitarianism.

These parasitic systems couldn’t exist without today’s technology. They are mostly networked, not hierarchical. They watch, they adapt, and they distract. They construct shell corporations that shuttle gobs of money around the globe like 747s. And they very rarely need to resort to violence, because, like the Borg, and like capitalism itself — from which it is distinct, although there are places where it has been so successful that people rarely recognize any difference — parasitism usually has the capacity to absorb all those who confront it.

I’m not saying fascism and totalitarianism are things we should be completely unworried about. They’re out there, they’re real, and they’re terrifying. But there are playbooks for how to fight them. Parasitism, though, seems almost unstoppable. Presumably the solution is a technological one; let’s hope it’s discovered soon.