06 February 2016

Neoreaction and Twitter

The ideas that became neoreaction were blogged, but neoreaction as a conscious intellectual movement started on twitter.

I'm not at all sure it could have come about in the same way without twitter. My aim was to speak to the group of people who read and commented on Unqualified Reservations, who were secular, libertarian or ex-libertarian types. Aretae, Nydwracu, Foseti, Devin, etc. But what gathered round the neoreactionary label were a number of young dissident rightists who were without a movement [1]. These young men even a decade earlier would have been ordinary Christian conservatives, but, alienated from mainstream thought by the progressive overreach which characterises the Obama era, they grabbed onto the Moldbuggian diagnosis of the modern state in spite of the fundamental difference in outlook [2].

There is still doubt on both sides as to whether this collision of philosophies, which produced what we now call "NRx", constitutes a valuable synthesis or a distraction. But for better or worse it was a product of twitter, which by its unique features causes blurring between distinct but proximate communities. The enforced brevity makes it practical to follow hundreds of people, and the way responses work make conversations public. (In contrast, if I share a remark on facebook, and you comment on it, the originator of the remark doesn't see your comment). The one-way nature of following means you don't need to ask for permission to connect to a social group. The encouragement of multiple pseudonymous accounts made it a first choice for dissidents. The fact that it worked by linking rather than hosting content meant it meshed with the pre-existing blog networks of libertarians and Moldbug's readers.

That is now history; over the last year or two many active neoreactionaries have left twitter. Their departure is in part a way of making the point that neoreaction is not and does not intend to be a mass movement, in part a way of excluding the less intelligent of the alt-right, and moving on from the same old repeated arguments. However, I did not follow. Though neoreaction cannot measure its achievement in terms of numbers of contributors or readers, it needs to be a live movement, and that means it needs to expose its ideas to outsiders and be exposed to the ideas of outsiders.  It is tempting to run away from troublemakers and communicate with a closed group, but I have seen such closed groups shrivel and die. I do not aspire to a mass audience, but I want a growing audience.

Also, to my mind, neoreaction is not primarily a community or an embryonic organisation, it is a set of ideas--incomplete, still under construction, but capable of standing by themselves. The long-term goal is not completely clear, but one plausible path is gradually spreading those ideas among the influential. I am greatly encouraged by the rate at which this is currently happening: a few people like Ed West and Sam Bowman are, without adopting the NRx identity, absorbing some of the ideas and leaking them into the mainstream. Moldbuggian concepts like the Cathedral, and recent NRx concepts like virtue signalling are becoming part of the general vocabulary. This spread is happening largely via twitter.

I am not opposed in principle to raising private channels of communication in parallel to public, but in practice I have found it difficult to be active on both. There is also one more beneficial attribute of twitter which is its disguise: I can access twitter from an office network and all the network sees is SSL traffic between me and twitter.com--there is no indication of what I am communicating or with whom. In contrast, connections to private sites are potentially more embarrassing to explain.

The context of this examination of the importance of twitter, is obviously, the fear of losing it. There is a three-pronged threat: first, the deliberate political attempt to exclude right-wing activity from twitter; second, the evolution of twitter, driven by profitability, in a direction which makes it a more effective disseminator of advertising and a less effective enabler of overlapping communities, and thirdly, the fact that the business itself is in difficulties and might not survive in its present form.

I have previously discussed alternatives to twitter, but they are not yet useful, because they don't have a user base. The value of twitter I have outlined above all relies on having a wide base of users; neoreactionaries can migrate to one of several platforms, but once moved we will be isolated from the mainstream journalists, the other dissident rightist groups, that twitter currently connects us to.

On the other hand, twitter is, from a technical point of view, easily replicable. Facebook is a leader in technology; its data centre technology is cutting-edge, it faces enormous demands in streaming and storage capability, and its automated management of the user experience is driven by immensely sophisticated software. In contrast, twitter, particularly in its 2011 form, is a much more straightforward technology. The original rails app was supplemented with a scala-based event stream, and obviously anything operating at that scale constitutes a technical achievement of a kind, but twitter is, fundamentally, the almost mythical thing that people imagine start-up successes to be but which they almost never are, a good idea. The explanation for its exceptional status is that its good idea, microblogging, doesn't really sound like a good idea, even a decade later. That, of course, is the big problem for twitter as a business: the company and its assets contribute relatively little to the value of the service, and it is stuck in a cycle of adding sophisticated profit-creating new features that its existing user base doesn't have any use for.

So technically replicating retro-twitter is very feasible, but without the user base it doesn't get anyone anywhere. There is room in the market for a retro-twitter, because it needn't have high costs: the twitter company is trapped by its valuation as a facebook-challenger; a rival could be run on a small budget like wikipedia.  It is plausible that the Mozilla Foundation [3] or DuckDuckGo could roll out a twitter-clone, maybe even with federated features such as those of GnuSocial.

The missing step is getting the user base. Ironically, the situation facing NRx on twitter resembles the situation facing NRx as a concept: things have to get worse before they can get better. Just as we can't fight the progressive mainstream for power, but must "become worthy" to step in once it fails, we cannot fight twitter for audience, but must wait for it to fail and take our place in what replaces it. The way things are going, we may not have to wait too long.


Notes

1. Nydwracu is as young or younger than the newcomers, but he's a prodigy, and under suspicion of being a genius.

2. There was conversation between Moldbug and his followers and Christian reactionaries--people like Bruce Charlton and Lawrence Auster--before twitter NRx, but they were still consciously separate from each other.

3. The Mozilla Foundation is identified as an enemy over the Eich affair, but it does have strong princpled ideas about freeing internet users from monopoly businesses, so I don't rule it out.

01 February 2016

Archiving

A couple of casual online conversations:

First, journalist Jamie Bartlett banging on on Twitter about blockchain.

It became fashionable in 2015 to dismiss bitcoin but get excited about blockchain.  I never really got it, because what makes the blockchain work is the fact that there are rewards for building it.  I can download the blockchain and not even know who I am downloading it from, but, because (a) it takes enormous resources to create that data, and (b) that enormous effort is only rewarded if the recent blocks were added to the longest chain that other bitcoin users were seeing at time, I can be very confident that the whole chain, at least up to the last few blocks, is the same one anyone else is seeing, though I don't know who I got mine from and I don't know who they would get theirs from.

A blockchain without a cryptocurrency to reward the miners who create the blockchain is just a collection of documents chained by each containing the hash of its parent. In other words, it is just git.

What I hadn't realised is that the people so excited about blockchains actually didn't know about git, even though this aspect of bitcoin's design was explicitly based on git, and even though git is about 100-1000X more widely used than bitcoin. They maybe knew that git was a source control system, and that you could store and share stuff on github.com, but they didn't know that it is impossible to publish a version of a git project with a modified history that wouldn't be obvious to anyone who tried to load it but who previously had the true version of that history.  If you publish something via git, anyone can get a copy from you or from each other, and anyone can add material, but if anyone tampers with history, it will immediately show.

So, when Bartlett said "Parliament should put its records on a blockchain", what I deduced he really meant was "Parliament should check its records into git". Which, if you happen to care for some reason about the wafflings of that bunch of traitors and retards, is a fairly sensible point.

So much for that. On to incidental conversation the second.

P D Sutherland has been in the news, speaking in his role as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. @Outsideness highlighted a tweet of his as "possibly the most idiotic remark I've ever seen"


The interesting thing is I distinctly remember a post on Sutherland, probably 2-3 years ago, on one of the then-young NRx blogs, and a bit of discussion on the comments. It's interesting because Sutherland is such a stereotype Euro-politician ( Irish bar -> Fine Gael -> Trilateral Commission -> European Commissioner -> United Nations ), to be worth attention. Further, it would be interesting to see what we saw and to what extent we might have anticipated the present.

However, I couldn't find the post or discussion. Blogs come and go, writers change personas, and either it's gone or the search engines couldn't find it.


Putting these two together, we need to archive our valuable materials, and the proper tool for a distributed archive is git. Spidering a blog might work for a dead one like Moldbug's, but is a poor way of maintaining a reserve archive of numerous live ones.

I've written some ruby scripts to convert blog export files and feed files into one file per post or comment, so they can be archived permanently.  All a bit scrappy at the moment, but it seems to work.

The idea (when it's a bit more developed) would be that a blog owner could offer the blog as a git archive alongside the actual web interface. Anyone could clone that, and keep it updated using the feed. If the blog ever vanishes, the git clones still exist and can be easily shared.

(I wouldn't advise posting the git archive to a public site like github. The issue is not privacy--the data is all public in the first place--but deniability.  If you decide to delete your blog, then a recognised public archive is something people can point to to use the content against you, whereas a personal copy is less attributable. Of course, you can't prevent it, but you can't prevent archive.org or the like either)