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Free Minds & Free Markets

Fear of a Free, Prosperous Internet

Big tech businesses serve America. Should we be alarmed?

The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, by Noam Cohen, The New Press, 256 pages, $25.95

The New PressThe New PressSay you've sprained your ankle. You consult Google, where you find copious information about using compression bandages to stabilize your sprain. But you'd like some back and forth with someone who has experience. You post about your injury on Facebook, triggering a real-time conversation with volunteer first responders offering pro tips.

You then pop over to Amazon, because the nearest drug store is more than 16 miles away and you don't want to drive with a sprained right ankle. You've got too much debt riding on your credit card to add to it blithely, but no problem—you use PayPal to get a bandage delivered to you that same day. And if your sprain leads to hard-to-handle bills, you can put out a call for help using GoFundMe.

A totally banal incident, and unimaginable at every step just two decades ago. Our abilities to learn, discuss, buy, receive, and give have changed magnificently for the better because of the behemoth internet companies on which every step of that dull anecdote hinges.

Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, spent years covering the tech industry for The New York Times. His book is, in large part, a compact history of such companies, their founders, and the ideas that animated them. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Peter Thiel of PayPal all get their own chapters.

The analogy Cohen thinks best explains those companies—the analogy that starts his book and shapes his perspective—is the hoary old Damon Knight short story "To Serve Man," as adapted on The Twilight Zone. You know, the one where technologically superior aliens fool us into thinking they're helping us when they actually intend to eat us. ("It's a cookbook!")

Cohen is a deft storyteller, and The Know-It-Alls reveals a lot of fascinating information about the business and technological contingencies that led his characters to their prominence. But as the book's title implies, Cohen thinks Silicon Valley visionaries have a hubristic sense that they know what's good for everyone else and are out to impose that vision on us. Yet their successes, as Cohen's own narrative shows, came from offering services that were eagerly and freely embraced by millions and that have constantly adjusted to keep audiences satisfied.

Although Cohen's policy prescriptions are thin and underargued—and fortunately don't often mar his storytelling—they show far more signs of the know-it-all. Cohen laments what has largely been a free cultural choice to embrace these online services, and he prefers an (ill-explained) European model that gives the government more control over how people are allowed to use the internet.

And then there's his subtitle: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. Where is the evidence for that power, that wreckage? Not in this book.

Cohen claims his characters are pushing us toward "a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away." But while he finds some evidence of libertarian leanings among some of his subjects/villains, there is little evidence here that they have done anything in electoral politics to shift America in that direction. Indeed, with the exception of Peter Thiel's leap onto the Trump train, he shows none of them publicly working against even the Democratic Party's agenda. Silicon Valley may be in some respects a "political powerhouse," but it's not one dragging us toward "absolute freedom"—more's the pity. (He does call Amazon's Jeff Bezos to task for having donated to Reason Foundation, which publishes this magazine.)

Cohen writes that in the internet world, "taxes are in effect replaced by monopoly profits—everyone pays their share to Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal." Yet for three of those companies, users need pay nothing toward this profit. And the fourth case, Amazon, dominates by offering the lowest conceivable prices and better customer service than its competitors.

When it comes to the "social wrecking ball" part, Cohen tosses out crumbs of accusatory social critique. "After so much Internet-based 'disruption,'" he writes, America "lack[s] the stabilizing influences of traditional news-gathering organizations and community groups, vibrant local businesses, strong labor unions, aggressive government regulations, and engaged political parties."

Those costs, and their connection to internet disruption, are casually asserted, not demonstrated. Only one—the damage to traditional news media—seems reasonable to blame on the web. What aggressive government regulations he thinks have disappeared, much less why it's the internet's fault, is never specified. As for the effect on local businesses and unions, online commerce still accounts for less than 9 percent of U.S. retail sales.

Cohen holds the internet and its ideological pioneers responsible for one social ill in particular: He indicts the early computer scientist John McCarthy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford for McCarthy's role in leading "the fight against censorship of the Internet." Yes, Cohen thinks that's the foundational sin of the internet era.

Cohen believes it wrong to wave the flag of free speech to defend people's right to say things online that others might find offensive or hurtful. He disapproves, for example, of McCarthy's role in a mini–culture war over Stanford's attempt to cut off campus access to a UseNet humor group. The dispute involved, in Cohen's words, "a dumb joke about a cheap Jew and a cheap Scotsman." McCarthy was appalled by the censorship effort in 1989, writing that "newsgroups are a new communication medium just as printed books were in the 15th century…Setting up an index of prohibited newsgroups is in the same tradition as the Pope's 15th century Index Liber Prohibitorium."

Centuries of Western political and moral philosophy regarding the right to think and speak freely as a political and moral good—indeed, as a core part of human selfhood—is nothing more to Cohen than an excuse for cruelty. This was especially so in the late-'80s context of campus debates over multiculturalism and its attendant "racial tensions." Cohen doesn't hem or haw a moment in declaring that unrestricted internet chat that offends certain people shouldn't be allowed. The precise mechanisms by which he'd like to enforce such strictures on offensive expression are not described.

The rogues' gallery in this book isn't limited to internet industrialists. Cohen sees two overriding problems with the internet age—"hacker's arrogance and…entrepreneur's greed." He traces the first back to McCarthy, whom he criticizes for inculcating the pernicious hacker mentality whose "individualistic, anti-authoritarian ideas would…spread across the globe," and the second to Frederick Terman, a former provost of Stanford. Terman is charged with forging an objectionable alliance between academic computer science and for-profit business, which led to the crisis of Zuckerberg, Brin, Page, and Bezos becoming enormously wealthy.

Cohen's brickbats frequently rely more on personal pique than social critique. Often he tells stories with blithe assurance that readers will get the point, not bothering to explain what's allegedly objectionable about his subjects' behavior. He sides, for instance, with those who prevented Mark Zuckerberg from providing free access to a limited version of the internet (including Facebook, of course) to millions in India. Such a move is problematic because, well, why should Zuckerberg be able to fool India's unwired poor with the idea that "Facebook and the Internet are one and the same"? As Zuckerberg has noted, that position ignores direct harms to, for example, a poor Indian farmer who might have been able to check price and weather data but now can't.

The author's animus against many prominent "Web 2.0" companies is rooted in a truculent inability to admit that services he condemns for relying on user-created content, such as YouTube and Yelp, do provide tools and an audience that their users rightly value. He even plays to the clichéd suggestion that the desire to "disrupt" is a resentful revenge of the nerds on a culture that mocked them as outsiders when they were kids.

Cohen is not wrong that his subjects changed the world, or even about many of the ideas that animated them. But his reflexive hostility seems studiedly ignorant of just how much value tech giants offer to regular people on the internet.

Photo Credit: The New Press

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  • ||

    "But his reflexive hostility seems studiedly ignorant of just how much value tech giants offer to regular people on the internet."

    The consumer surplus must be in the 100s of billions of dollars. If a paid subscriptions were required, how much would people pay to have access to the various Google services?

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    When it comes to the "social wrecking ball" part, Cohen tosses out crumbs of accusatory social critique. "After so much Internet-based 'disruption,'" he writes, America "lack[s] the stabilizing influences of traditional news-gathering organizations and community groups, vibrant local businesses, strong labor unions, aggressive government regulations, and engaged political parties."

    So this book can be found in the fiction section.

  • Finrod||

    Yep. If he was the one getting no-platformed by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, he'd be whining like a stuck pig. But since it's just those icky Team Red people, he doesn't give a fuck, or doesn't even know.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    What is it with nannies and their hunger to control others? (A rhetorical question!) I can vaguely understand people who are baffled by 23 kinds of deodorants; I was pissed when my favorite shampoo disappeared and there were too many choices to investigate, or when I looked for whisks on Amazon and found a zillion choices. But the last thing I want is for anyone to limit those choices to one single choice, especially me -- not only might I want a different one later, I sure don't think I know what other people might want or need, and it would suffocate innovation.

    And yet here is one of them publishing yet another book on how the world needs more censorship and less choice and less innovation. Maybe he should have set an example starting with his own book.

    Must be real fun at parties. A good co-worker.

  • Finrod||

    Some people are just authoritarian fuckwits. That's why our government is in three branches, to make it harder for the authoritarian fuckwits to take it over.

  • CptNerd||

    What if Facebook has restricted your posts because of past postings that violated their ever-changing standards, can you meet those helpfull responders? How much is Google changing your search results to help certain paid sites over others? I'm not calling for government regulation, but if the "natural monopolies" that develop become harmful to individuals, what recourse would we have? Without effective competition, what prevents increasingly bad behavior? Certainly there are smaller alternatives now, but what do we do when the bigger ones buy them out? Is building a new PayPal from scratch realistic now?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There have been no monopolies of the kind everyone fears. They are a figment of the control freaks' imagination. All real monopolies are created by governments, by patents or specific laws.

    MegaCorp buys products for $10, sells them for $20. Joe cuts overhead, invests $100K, and sells the same product for $17. MegaCorp lowers their price to $10 and drives Joe out of business, losing $100K. Joe goes bankrupt. MegaCorp now raises their price to $30 so they can recoup that lost money. Meanwhile, Sue, who bought Joe's assets cheap, has even lower overhead, and sells that same product for $15.

    The market has not been idle either. People stocked up on the cheap product, generally at the expense of other competing products. Those other producers streamlined their processes. When MegaCorp raised their price to $30, they found no takers, not only because the price was ludicrous, but also because other products became more attractive as production costs dropped. If MegaCorp instead raises a lot of prices on unrelated products to get the money back, that will just leave new openings for other competitors. MegaCorp will never get back that $100K they lost driving Joe out of business.

    How many times can MegaCorp drive more competitors out of business? I say none -- they won't even try to drive Joe out of business, because this is such a fundamental exercise that they'll know it ahead of time.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    First off, you don't seem to understand the argument you're making.

    MegaCorp buys products for $10, sells them for $20. Joe cuts overhead, invests $100K, and sells the same product for $17.

    MegaCorp has economies of scale in its favor. They can have significantly lower overhead per unit than a smaller competitor, and likely pay less for their inputs due to volume discounts and/or exclusivity agreements with suppliers. So your basic premise makes no sense.

    I think you're misremembering a classical argument (which depends on assumptions that do not hold for web 2.0) for why a monopoly cannot take advantage of its market power to artificially raise prices on its products. But that argument does not show that market dominance is impossible, it just shows that it does not drive prices up.

    In the web 2.0 world, remember, the user is not the customer. The advertiser is the customer, and the user is the product. Facebook does not buy its raw inputs, it attracts them; and its cost to attract them is orders of magnitude lower than the cost a small competitor would have to pay. Even assuming Joe's Social Media is just as technically advanced as Facebook (unlikely), if he has 20 users and Facebook has a billion, which network would be more attractive to join?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "But that argument does not show that market dominance is impossible"

    No it does not. However, history does show that nearly every true monopoly that has ever existed was created by the use of governmental force.

    Market dominance, to the point of creating a real monopoly (zero competitors), may not be completely impossible without government backing but it is difficult to the point of being exceedingly rare, and there is zero evidence that the internet age has made it any easier.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Then you should be concerned about the current situation given how much incest there's been between google and the DNC and former administration.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    I do not suggest an internet search with the terms 'Hillary Clinton', 'incest', and 'DNC'.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    If, instead, you're worried that no one will ever rise up to compete with Google or FaceBook or PayPal, what makes this point in time so special that those companies could start from nothing but no one else ever will again? I don't know what will replace them, but Alta Vista and MySpace didn't know who would replace them either. I had an account at one of the first ever Internet banks, and they were fine until they were bought up by some idiots who thought they had such a lock on the concept that they could start charging $47 (yes, $47!) a month.

    Creative destruction happens all the time. We do not happen to be the first society ever which has seen the end of innovation and the creation of the first true monopolies. I'll bet you a paycheck that all three of those companies will be distant memory within a decade.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    If, instead, you're worried that no one will ever rise up to compete with Google or FaceBook or PayPal, what makes this point in time so special that those companies could start from nothing but no one else ever will again?

    This point in time isn't special. Rather the time when online search was competitive, and when social media was competitive, was special, and isn't coming back.

    I don't know what will replace them, but Alta Vista and MySpace didn't know who would replace them either.

    AltaVista was never dominant in search -- Yahoo would be a better example, and they never had the level of market dominance that Google enjoys today. Google's dominance in search and advertising began less than a decade into the existence of the commercial Internet.

    Similarly with Facebook in social media... MySpace only held a dominant position in social media for the first few years when it looked like a passing fad. By the time the industry exploded in 2006-07, Facebook had already superceded them.

  • BigT||

    Sears. Kodak.IBM.

    Need I go on?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    2 disrupted by technology and the other lost its way. But google doesn't care about the underlying transport. For all the talk of disintermediation we're seeing the opposite.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Yes, exactly.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Sears has never dominated the department store industry; if you're referring to its former dominance in the mail-order catalogue industry, that industry has been dead for decades. Ditto for Kodak's film photography and IBM's typewriters and mainframes.

    So yeah, if the Internet goes kaput or people stop using search and social media, Google and Facebook are screwed. No argument there, but that eventuality is highly unlikely without a major societal collapse.

    (IBM was also severely damaged by a 13 year DOJ antitrust investigation. This led to the disastrous decision to use open standards for the PC, and use Microsoft's OS and Intel's processor even though they had a better OS and processor in house.)

  • ||

    Sears has never dominated the department store industry;

    Sears was the largest retailer in the United States as recently as 1990 and its mail-order business permanently fell below half of its overall sales starting in the 1930's.

  • chemjeff||

    and isn't coming back

    How do you know?

  • chemjeff||

    and isn't coming back

    How do you know?

  • chemjeff||

    Well, the squirrels are still here

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Can you present a plausible way that online search and social media can become competitive again?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Social media is competitive. Instagram/Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter are all major groups in opposition. Hell, Facebook is already not super popular with young kids these days.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Instagram is owned by Facebook, it's not a competitor. Twitter isn't really a competitor either. Snapchat was always just Instagram with a gimmick and now that Instagram has adopted the gimmick, it's doomed. Pinterest has a relatively small niche in food and decor.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    And those are The Last Internet Businesses That Will Ever Be Successful.

    The End.

  • Sevo||

    "...but if the "natural monopolies" that develop become harmful to individuals, what recourse would we have?..."

    What "natural monopolies"?

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Monopolies created and sustained by the nature of the industry.

    Like a movie theater in a small town.

  • Sevo||

    So not a monopoly at all. Just called one.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Where I come from, a business with no competitors is a monopoly. What definition of the term are you using?

  • ||

    What definition of the term are you using?

    Subadditivity.

    Do you seriously think Netflix, Amazon, DVDs and myriad other ways to watch movies on your 65" big-screen television at home do not put pressure on a movie theater in a small town?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Just like the proliferation of free streaming porn online out pressure on Cinemax's late night softcore erotic films.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    Shhh....who they gonna believe? The tech barons or their own lying eyes?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Is building a new PayPal from scratch realistic now?

    Not only is it realistic, it's probably easier, because it's been done once and the underlying technologies are more mature.

    Let's take a step back before we start talking about natural monopolies and a lack of effective competition. Amazon went public in 1997, Google in 2004, and Facebook in 2012. If they were people, the oldest of them would barely be old enough to drink, and the youngest would barely be able to write a sentence.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Not only is it realistic, it's probably easier, because it's been done once and the underlying technologies are more mature.

    Technologically it might be easier, but that's a very small part of the question. Any potential competitor would first have to navigate the patent minefield and then have to compete with an already entrenched PayPal. That's very unlikely to happen unless you have Apple or Google's capital.

    If they were people, the oldest of them would barely be old enough to drink, and the youngest would barely be able to write a sentence.

    Strange to use the IPO dates. Facebook in particular had been dominant in social media for several years before going public. Regardless, you aren't giving credit for how quickly industries can consolidate in the Internet era.

  • LynchPin1477||

    But his reflexive hostility seems studiedly ignorant of just how much value tech giants offer to regular people on the internet.

    It doesn't sound so much like ignorance as resentment.

  • Jerryskids||

    He's a NYT tech writer, the Know-It-Alls title is meant to be ironic. Cohen knows who the real know-it-alls are.

  • Sevo||

    BTW, at least one ISP wants to stay in bed with the government:

    "Sonic CEO Dane Jasper relishes role as net neutrality defender"
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/
    business/article/Sonic-CEO-Dane
    -Jasper-relishes-role-as-net-12760253.php

    He seems to think it'll keep other start-ups from competing with him.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Exactly. NN is a mixed bag for the big ISPs -- they don't like the fact that Netflix could burden them with mountains of extra traffic at no cost, but they do like the fact that it erects an enormous barrier to entry into the ISP market.

  • Ken Shultz||

    My understanding is that if you use your PayPal account to purchase a firearm, ammunition, or any firearm related accessories, PayPal will revoke your account permanently.

    I wrote earlier this week about how Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google screw us on privacy in various ways. They're tracking every aspect of our lives and associating with our unique identities--with what's on our phones, in our calendars, what's in our email, etc.--and they're selling it to advertisers and sometimes handing it over to the government.

    Few of us would argue that the government has no business interfering in a robbery case because it would be interfering in the lives of private parties. I'm not willing to say the government never has any business protecting our right to communicate independent of Google or Apple, either--certainly not just because protecting our rights would make the government interfere with private parties. If government has any legitimate purpose at all it is to protect our rights, and "our rights" are the right of private parties to make choices for themselves.

    If you want to use a smartphone, I'm not sure being free to choose between getting screwed by Apple or getting screwed by Google is really much of a choice. I'm glad we aren't there yet. There are other options--for the time being. At the moment, some new ones are emerging.

  • silver.||

    Local NC cops use Google's location information to seek suspects and witnesses to crimes.

    It also happens to a well-researched article from a traditional news-gathering organization of the type that Mr. Cohen fears is disappearing.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Cohen is not wrong that his subjects changed the world, or even about many of the ideas that animated them. But his reflexive hostility seems studiedly ignorant of just how much value tech giants offer to regular people on the internet.

    Just like farmers provide value to their livestock before slaughter.

    Facebook, Twitter, and Google/YouTube have become the de facto gatekeepers of speech on the internet. They can shut down free speech any time they please. The fact that they're technically private companies is little more than a fig leaf at this point. They are very much aligned with a particular partisan faction in world politics.

    Even if Facebook, Twitter, and Google/YouTube were currently benign, apolitical, and committed to freedom of speech, and had "the right people in charge", that doesn't last forever. Governments that were caught off-balance when the Internet proved a boon to free and anonymous speech, are now breathing a sigh of relief that they only need to talk to one of three CEOs in order to effectively shut down speech they don't like, as evidenced by the Fuhress' discussion with Suckerberg at that one conference.

  • Cy||

    +1

  • Cy||

    I believe that once a corporation hits a certain size it should be forced to observe the bill of rights. Corporations enjoy an extremely large amount of legal leeway, in exchange for that leeway, they should be held to the standards of a powerful entity like a government.

    The examples of today, where governments are just using corporations as 3rd party tyrants in restricting people rights "because their private" is bullshit. I relate it to separation of church and state.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Or you could just uninstall FB from your phone, delete your profile and stop using it. Trying to force government to force companies to "observe the bill of rights" (whatever that means, because they have no authority over me like government does) is not just a ridiculous idea. It has unwanted implications, including these companies getting even cosier with government than they already are.

  • Cy||

    Tell that to the Sheriffs paid to stand guard at stores and forcibly 'check receipts.' Tell that to my tax filings that get funneled to private organizations, including the ones that subsidized the internet's infrastructure, on the wrong end of a government gun. Tell that to the thousands of people each year who are killed by corporate negligence and at worse they cut a check to the USG and the victim's family. Tell that the the bailed out banks. Tell that to the millions of workers who aren't allowed to carry in the vast majority of public places, "because their private property." Tell that to all of the taxpayers who 'bailed out' multiple states and cities with billions of dollars that went to only protectionist contractors. Scream it at the taxpayers who subsidize most minimum wage workers through forced taxation for school systems & the laundry list of welfare programs that indirectly subsidizes places like walmart and mcdonalds.

    If government money touches ANY corporation, that corporation is a defacto government entity. It shouldn't be able to tell you how to think or how you can speak or how it'll allow you to defend yourself. It shouldn't be able to hire armed thugs to ignore the 4th amendment. It shouldn't be able to deem what you can or cannot say on the internet that was created through government eminent domain and federal grants. I could go on, but i'm sure you've cherry picked something by now for your reply.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    You know what else government money has touched...?

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Yes, but strippers usually have magnetic stripe readers down there now.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    ...I knew that.

  • chemjeff||

    I'm compelled to obey government laws.

    I'm not compelled to obey Facebook's content standards.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    At this point, you can't get your message to a mass audience without going through FB, YouTube, or Twitter. Period.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You have no right to be able to get your message to a mass audience.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    I believe that once a corporation hits a certain size it should be forced to observe the bill of rights.

    That's one option. Personally I would prefer a rule that once a business gets to control 2/3 of its industry, it has to split in half.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    By the way, even this ostensibly "libertarian" outfit isn't that much different from the big companies you mentioned. They've started banning people around here for saying things they don't like.

    That's what inevitably starts to happen when you sell out your influence to George Soros and Prince Alaweed.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I suppose "threatening to use your 'professional software engineering skills' to dox Crusty Juggler" could technically be described as "saying things they don't like".

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Joke was on Mikey, anyway. Everyone already knows Crusty lives at the back of a pet store in a discarded chinchilla cage.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    A pet store with no address...?

  • Ken Shultz||

    In the meantime, while it's true that we can communicate and trade like never before, it's also true that the government can track our location, reading material, media consumption, finances, purchases, income, and relationships with other people like never before, too. While we can choose to do some things we couldn't before because of the internet, the internet also led to a society with a government that can monitor our activities like never before. The Fourth Amendment doesn't seem to have helped much--when the technology advanced to the point where monitoring our activities became possible and was no longer cost prohibitive, the Fourth Amendment was rationalized away.

    Tools are neither good nor evil. It's about the people who use them. Mass media can be used to educate the public, or it can be used to propagandize them like Stalin did. Guns can be used to rob banks or liberate concentration camps. The internet can be used to give us more freedom or to put us under mass surveillance. Ultimately, whether any technology is good or evil depends on how people use it.

    But technology will never be an adequate substitute for people who are committed to liberty and justice.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    OT: Hey, what happens when the self-confessed racist policies of your administration cause a famine that kills 4 million people? You get called a tyrant and a butcher, right?

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Bengal_famine_of_1943

    Wrong.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ 100_Greatest_Britons

    1. Guess who.

  • Sevo||

    So you screwed up the link, and I'm guessing you are trying to justify your fave mass-murderers by pointing out the Brit government can starve people too?
    What a slimy piece of shit you are.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I forget where this was, but I stumbled on a thread related to that Death of Stalin movie and it was full of people calling Churchill a war criminal for the exact same thing.

    Hey, maybe he is, and maybe we shouldn't lionize him. I'm not only fine with elevating ideas over people, I applaud it. Doesn't make Stalin any less of a monster.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    Yep, I don't know how anyone could misconstrue my message on this subject-- which is, don't get so fucking cocky. In the words of Dear Leader, we've killed plenty. Hey, if that Alzheimer's-addled brain can get it you'd think the finest minds at Reason's comment board could get that too.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Yep, I don't know how anyone could misconstrue my message on this subject

    The username and overall enthusiasm for socialism might have something to do with it....

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "We" are British now?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    AmSoc, commit suicide. You are valueless trash"

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    So you like colonial britain now, right?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Is this guy trying to defend Stalin?!

    Is that what's going on?

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    Nope... despite the ways my views on the subject have been twisted and misinterpreted I have never tried to apologize for dictatorships or for military campaigns against peasants. I'm fundamentally against all forms of government oppression, which does not include the collection of taxes to help poor people feed their kids or allow old people to go to the hospital.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    How anyone misses your point is beyond me. It's crystal clear.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I agree with Robert Conquest. In modern times there is no such thing as a "natural" famine. All of them are the result of policy. In Churchill's case, the motivation was pretty clear...

    Winston Churchill, the hallowed British War prime minister who saved Europe from a monster like Hitler was disturbingly callous about the roaring famine that was swallowing Bengal's population. He casually diverted the supplies of medical aid and food that was being dispatched to the starving victims to the already well supplied soldiers of Europe. When entreated upon, he said, "Famine or no famine, Indians will breed like rabbits." The Delhi Government sent a telegram to him painting a picture of the horrible devastation and the number of people who had died. His only response was, "Then why hasn't Gandhi died yet?"

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    It just makes sense!

  • JoeBlow123||

    I wouldn't give the Bengalis shit either. Britain was fighting for their lives and 1943 was a pretty dark year.

    I was unaware of this famine, but hard choices have to be made when faced with obliteration.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I'm fundamentally against all forms of government oppression, except the ones I accept the moral rationalizations of and excuse-making for

  • Don't look at me.||

    Effing idiot.

  • Libertarian||

    OT.

    I see yet another sequel in the Harold and Kumar movie series.

    http://www.foxnews.com/food-dr.....urant.html

    White Castle customer caught making meth in restaurant

  • Ken Shultz||

    I suppose this is kinda on topic.

    Not only would Hillary have beaten Trump if it hadn't been for Steve Bannon and Donald Trump working with the Russians to trick people by way of social media, if it hadn't been for Steve Bannon and his mighty but secret army of programmers, the people of the UK woudn't have voted to leave the EU, too.

    That's if you read The Guardian:

    "The Cambridge Analytica Files"
    'I made Steve Bannon's psychological warfare tool': meet the data war whistleblower

    https://tinyurl.com/y733xra5

    Ten years ago, circa 2008, you guys remember how we wouldn't complain at all about Obama squandering our future paychecks bailing out Wall Street and nationalizing GM--if only it hadn't been for the Koch brothers?

    Steven Bannon and Putin are the new boogie-man. They're to blame for . . . everything--especially voters in the UK being fed up with the EUs refugee policy and especially for the American people rejecting Hillary Clinton.

    The more the elitists try to walk back how much contempt they have for average people, the more apparent their attempt becomes.

  • Ken Shultz||

    ". . . the more apparent their attempt [contempt] becomes"

  • Sevo||

    "Steven Bannon and Putin are the new boogie-man. They're to blame for . . . everything--especially voters in the UK being fed up with the EUs refugee policy and especially for the American people rejecting Hillary Clinton."

    Brendan O'Neil on the left's slow implosion through TDS:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkltx4owq0k

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I'm with you... why blame Russian intelligence when the real culprit lies with native racism and bigotry. That's not Putin's fault.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    RAAAAAACISSSSSSSMMMMMMMMM!

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    I'm with you... why blame Russian intelligence when the real culprit lies with native racism and bigotry. That's not Putin's fault.

    There can be multiple reasons for catastrophic events happening. Mentioning one doesn't mean we're ignoring or excusing the others. I don't know about you, but I'm the type of Hillary voter who can spread the blame around. She lost because of Putin and racism and bigotry. Also sexism, Islamophobia, media bias, GamerGate, and the Comey letter.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I'm sorry. I'm just not used to people making sense here on this comment board. Don't you have some ax to grind about how you hate Lefty college students or something? Frankly, I'm lost when it comes to you.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I guess she is really perfect then...

  • StackOfCoins||

    I somewhat doubt the "value" Facebook adds to the world. Granted, I am no longer a user of Facebook. FB is a somewhat odious empire, one that I believe has fueled rampant partisanship by giving everyone a soapbox. Without touching upon the dubious and sinister manner in which FB was founded (on a stolen idea), I could see it resigned to the dustbin of history and shed no tears.

    Amazon I have little problem with. It's unique useful; I spend hundreds of dollars a year on goods and have probably saved nearly that much in gas. Amazon provides real value for me, by shrinking the distance between my location and what I want to inches. All Facebook ever did was remind me how clueless my neighbors and coworkers were, all the while collecting untold amounts of data on me and sharing it with any number of unnamed actors.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Facebook will wither and die , just like all its predecessors. What replaces it will no doubt be even worse for society.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yep, to give people even more of want they want, good and hard.

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    I somewhat doubt the "value" Facebook adds to the world.

    Racy pictures of sluts in their 20s who don't know or care how to use privacy settings.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    After all this is done, I never want to be lectured by some evangelical on what family values are and i never want to hear how a businessman will run things better than a politician.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    My bitching goes one way only!

  • Brian||

    Communism deserves more debate time though despite the 20th century, because.... FART. Or something.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    You mean how communists were basically on the right side of every domestic issue (opposition to WW1, trade unionism, the dangers of German fascism, civil rights, the anti war movements opposed to the Vietnam and Gulf Wars) in the country you and I live in? Yeah, I agree, they pretty much were right on.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Just ignore the mass graves.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    In the U.S.? Where are those?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Merely in the realm of the hypothetical.

    You can thank capitalism for that, though.

    (BTW, outside of trade unions [which I think libertarians shouldn't be quite so hard one] your list is also pretty libertarian)

  • Brian||

    I just love how WWI, Vietnam, and the Gulf War are domestic issues.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    Oh excuse me... I didn't know you were such a prissy bitch. I meant the invasion of both of those countries by the US military Try and not be mendacious, ok?

  • Brian||

    Let me google "domestic" for you.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    And when you're on google maybe you can search for who pays for those wars and then google "domestic communists and the civil rights movement"

  • Brian||

    Why don't I just google "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, technically the US did not invade any of those countries; they were invited in.
    Unless you want to take the position that north and south Vietnam were a single country regardless of international treaties and somehow north was more equal than south, and that WWI is somehow a country (we were invited into France, you know).

  • Brian||

    Apparently we're not totally agnostic when it comes to bullshit lectures.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    How do you feel that you are being lectured to? I want to accommodate you in whatever way possible. We know what kind of political leaders you start to support whenever you libertarians start to feel neglected so let me know if there's anything I can do. We're already dealing with the consequences of insufficient empathy towards Randian douchebags and four years is enough.

  • Brian||

    I just wish we could invade Afghanistan or something.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I was against that in 2001. Got a face full of tear gas protesting that one. Where were you guys? I didn't see you Ron Paul fanboys out there until 2007. I was left marching with a bunch of socialists and communists, who... this always happens!... were right again

  • Brian||

    I was too busy jerking off to videos of Hinds firing rockets onto villagers.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    Can you define libertarian for me? Maybe I'm in the wrong place.

  • Brian||

    I'm a communist, dude.

    I was just romancing the Communist invasion of Afghanistan, comrade.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I stand by my "try not to be mendacious" comment. Anything else?

  • Brian||

    I'm a libertarian communist.

    That means that I agree with communists on practically everything... except where they disagree with libertarians, in which case, I'm more libertarian.

    That makes me a libertarian communist.

    Listen: I agree and give full credit to how awesome communists are when they agree with libertarians historically in the USA.

    Which just goes to prove my theory: communists are best behaved when they have no political power.

    I think that's it. You can go now.

  • Sevo||

    "Which just goes to prove my theory: communists are best behaved when they have no political power.
    I think that's it. You can go now."

    Would that commie-kid learned the lesson.

  • Sevo||

    "You mean how communists were basically on the right side of every domestic issue (opposition to WW1,"
    They were were until they were not.

    "trade unionism,"
    Not good.

    "the dangers of German fascism,"
    Until they weren't and then they were again.

    "civil rights,"
    Yeah, ask the Ukrainians how the commies were for civil rights.

    "the anti war movements opposed to the Vietnam and Gulf Wars)"
    Chechnya, Afganistan...

    "in the country you and I live in?"
    Oh, NOW you pick the cherry!
    Fucking scumbag.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    A thorough and complete list of their preferred policies, to be sure.

  • Sevo||

    What's more is that you'll note none of these are what commies *did*; they were not actions taken by anyone in a position to really do anything at all. Every one of these are (claimed) to be positions commies "supported", and let's be honest, commie scumbags did largely support those positions along with many other people who were not commie scumbags. I'd bet you could claim people with red hair did so as well as claim commies did.
    But per my list above, once commies had the power to actually enforce their policies, they changed from PR-based "feelz" to murderous actualities.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I was referring only to the political platform of the American communist parties, who were (mostly) denied the opportunity to fill ditches.

    He is correct that some "communists" in the USA provided aid to the civil rights movement, if I recall correctly. My point being that his references to their policy platform were highly selective, leaving out as he did the desire of those same organizations to, say, collectivize US agriculture, allow the USSR to occupy Europe, collectivize US industry, collectivize US insert additional economic sector of your choice, etc.

  • Sevo||

    "He is correct that some "communists" in the USA provided aid to the civil rights movement, if I recall correctly. My point being that his references to their policy platform were highly selective, leaving out as he did the desire of those same organizations to, say, collectivize US agriculture, allow the USSR to occupy Europe, collectivize US industry, collectivize US insert additional economic sector of your choice, etc."

    Agreed: Even without being in power the commie thugs *promoted* policies which would have been far more harmful than even FDR managed.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    "You mean how communists were basically on the right side of every domestic issue (opposition to WW1, trade unionism, the dangers of German fascism, civil rights, the anti war movements opposed to the Vietnam and Gulf Wars) in the country you and I live in? Yeah, I agree, they pretty much were right on."

    That's one way of looking at those things. Kind of like saying how John Gary was good with young boys because he worked part time as a clown for children's birthday parties.

    Seriously, AmSoc, go fuck yourself. You are one of the most vile individuals I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Commit suicide now.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    A businessman won't. The businessmen will.

  • Sevo||

    Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot|3.18.18 @ 4:41PM|#

    BTW, shitbag, a businessman will run things better than a politician.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So... Jeff Bezos voluntarily donated money to Reason Foundation, hence is the bad guy. Richard Nixon, who signed the Anti-Libertarian Law of 1971 robbing all Americans to subsidize looter electioneering in the media is... is what? Champion of Democracy and organizer of the My Lai Massacre?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Who are you responding to? Bezos is a bad guy for bailing out WaPo and turning it into a bigger disgrace of a prooagamda mouthpiece than it already was. Not sure why you're bringing Nixon up so much lately. No one else is.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    the stabilizing influences of traditional news-gathering organizations and community groups, vibrant local businesses, strong labor unions, aggressive government regulations, and engaged political parties

    Oh, the euphemisms!

  • Eidde||

    -"traditional news-gathering organizations" - Liberal-arts majors in suits deciding what the people need to know about.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    It's a good thing Facebook, Google and Youtube have put an end to that for good, eh?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    But as the book's title implies, Cohen thinks Silicon Valley visionaries have a hubristic sense that they know what's good for everyone else and are out to impose that vision on us...

    ...Cohen claims his characters are pushing us toward "a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away"

    REGULATION IS AUTONOMY

    PERSONAL FREEDOM IS IMPOSITION

    CONSUMER CHOICE IS IMPOSITION, TOO

  • ||

    To reasonalbe people, this sounds like a contradiction. However the author doesn't beleive people should have "absolute personal freedom" and that government regulations withering away is a bad thing. So in his wee little mind, he's consistannt.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Cohen holds the internet and its ideological pioneers responsible for one social ill in particular: He indicts the early computer scientist John McCarthy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford for McCarthy's role in leading "the fight against censorship of the Internet"

    I don't think "McCarthyism" means what Mr. Cohen thinks it means.

  • Eidde||

    "The dispute involved, in Cohen's words, "a dumb joke about a cheap Jew and a cheap Scotsman.""

    And the Scotsman wouldn't even leave a tip for the sheep?

  • Emotional Opposition Animal||

    Stinkier than the inside of Mel Gibson's kilt.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Clearly not a real Scotsman, then.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    If it was a real Scotsman, the sheep got more than just the tip.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    That would be more the Jew's kind of thing.

  • Eidde||

    Somehow, I almost feel responsible for the way this subthread degenerated.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Humble-bragging is still bragging.

  • mtrueman||

    " Yet for three of those companies, users need pay nothing toward this profit."

    Not quite. They pay in time and attention. Two things they'll never get back.

  • Sevo||

    Thank you, oh pedant master.
    Get lost.

  • mtrueman||

    You're boring me already.

  • Sevo||

    You're a stupid piece of shit and always have been.

  • mtrueman||

    And you're repeating yourself.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    So? It's their time and attention to do with as they choose.

  • mtrueman||

    Well, aren't they special.

  • Sevo||

    "Well, aren't they special."
    Well, aren't you the ignoramus.

  • mtrueman||

    Thanks for your input. Anything else to offer?

  • Rich||

    Cohen doesn't hem or haw a moment in declaring that unrestricted internet chat that offends certain people shouldn't be allowed. The precise mechanisms by which he'd like to enforce such strictures on offensive expression are not described.

    Because such description offends certain people, DUH!

  • Homple||

    If a kumpny duz it, it's good becuz Muh Marketz.

    QED

  • Eidde||

    Government is good because it protects us from powerful, monopolistic organizations.

    QED

  • Sevo||

    "If a kumpny duz it, it's good becuz Muh Marketz."

    If a gov't does it, it's good because if you don't agree, they can, and will kill you.
    Just so you know.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Libertarians don't believe that just because something is available on the free market, it is good. That is a foolish strawman to conjure. Rather, libertarians believe that if you don't like something being offered for sale on the market, you do not have the right to use coercion to remove it from the market.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's not that everything markets do is good, it's that solutions based upon market price signals and cooperation are almost always better than outcomes based upon politics and force.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Lose the "almost".

  • DenverJ||

    Before commenting I searched for the word "porn". I got one hit. I am very disappointed. Very. Disappointed.

  • DenverJ||

    Before commenting I searched for the word "porn". I got one hit. I am very disappointed. Very. Disappointed.

  • JeremyR||

    OTOH, Facebook, Google, Paypal, Amazon, all decide what sort of posts and products/services are acceptable, even if they are legal.

    Let's say you are having trouble with squirrels. You decide the best course of action is to shoot them. You want to order a gun. But Amazon doesn't sell them. Paypal won't let you pay for one with it.

    The problem is that once Google, Amazon, etc, are the only options, they will be able to control our lives even more so.

  • sarcasmic||

    *wind the clock back 50 years*

    The problem is that once department stores like Sears, Montgomery Ward, etc are the only options, they will be able to control our lives even more so.

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