Anarcho-Tyranny And Infrastructure
An academic friend has been stressing over the weekend in private messages to me that Trump’s Twitter and Facebook bans aren’t the real story. The real story, he says, is “infrastructure” — that is, the means by which all of us do business. If those who control the infrastructure choose to punish conservatives, it’s a much more serious thing. For example, it’s probably bad if publishers decide that Author X is blacklisted, but it’s infinitely worse if Amazon, which sells the overwhelming majority of books in America today, decides that books by Publisher X will no longer be sold by Amazon. You see the difference?
We have a shocking example today, said the professor. He texts:
The number one thing driving innovation in software the last 15 years has been the servicization of everything. You might have heard of “software as a service” (the business model). What that means is that rather than code my own email system, login system, marketing analytics, etc, I pay another company to do this and just insert their code into my website. There are tons of benefits to this but also a number of downsides.
Parler, which claims to have over 10 million users, has lax rules over content, making the platform very attractive to far-right groups. Google and Apple removed Parler’s smartphone app from their app stores, claiming that the platform allowed posting that seeks to “incite ongoing violence in the U.S..” Amazon took similar measures, removing Parler from its hosting service.
Reddit users claim that the scrape was made possible due Twilio, an American cloud communications platform that provided the platform with phone number verification services, cutting ties with Parler.
In a press release announcing the decision, Twilio revealed which services Parler was using. This information allowed hackers to deduct that it was possible to create users and verified accounts without actual verification.
With this type of access, newly minted users were able to get behind the login box API used for content delivery. That allowed them to see which users had moderator rights and this in turn allowed them to reset passwords of existing users with simple “forgot password” function. Since Twilio no longer authenticated emails, hackers were able to access admin accounts with ease.
These hackers will have enough information now to dox everyone. This, I am told, “is a version of what some on the online right have dubbed anarcho-tyranny: actions of a private company create a space for illegal actors to do things for which no one will be punished by the state for ideological reasons.”
As far as I can tell, the term “anarcho-tyranny” was coined by the late far-right writer Samuel Francis. In this 1994 essay, he explains:
In the United States today, the government performs many of its functions more or less effectively. The mail is delivered (sometimes); the population, or at least part of it, is counted (sort of); and taxes are collected (you bet). You can accuse the federal leviathan of many things—corruption, incompetence, waste, bureaucratic strangulation—but mere anarchy, the lack of effective government, is not one of them. Yet at the same time, the state does not perform effectively or justly its basic duty of enforcing order and punishing criminals, and in this respect its failures do bring the country, or important parts of it, close to a state of anarchy. But that semblance of anarchy is coupled with many of the characteristics of tyranny, under which innocent and law-abiding citizens are punished by the state or suffer gross violations of their rights and liberty at the hands of the state. The result is what seems to be the first society in history in which elements of both anarchy and tyranny pertain at the same time and seem to be closely connected with each other and to constitute, more or less, opposite sides of the same coin.
This condition, which in some of my columns I have called “anarcho-tyranny,” is essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites: the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding and, simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability or the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection or public safety. And, it is characteristic of anarcho-tyranny that it not only fails to punish criminals and enforce legitimate order but also criminalizes the innocent.
Francis cites as an example Keith Jacobson, a farmer in the Midwest who was a pedophile (though the farmer claimed that he never acted on his perverted urges), who was arrested in a government sting operation in which he was induced to buy mail-order child porn (this was before the Internet era). The Supreme Court eventually exonerated him, but his life was destroyed. Francis writes that the laws against child pornography are certainly justified, but it does not follow that because the state cannot get at the overseas producers of the stuff, it should entrap American citizens with it. Francis goes on:
The Jacobson case is particularly important because, in a way, it was a kind of prototype for the later cases of David Koresh and Randy Weaver, and it may reflect a deliberate strategy by which admittedly bizarre people are selected for persecution. Few people can be expected to rush to the defense of a religious crackpot like Koresh, a white separatist like Weaver, or a pedophile like Jacobson when their rights are threatened. And, conservatives in particular can be expected to overlook the procedural irregularities in these cases if they disapprove of, or condemn, the substance of what the targets are doing. But, once these cases become precedents, citizens who are considerably less bizarre in their personal habits and beliefs than many conservatives will be safe for the anarcho-tyrants to hit.
The definition of “anarcho-tyranny” that my correspondent uses seems to have developed into something a bit different from, but obviously related to, what Sam Francis said back then. The Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Anarcho-tyranny is a concept, where the state is argued to be more interested in controlling citizens so that they do not oppose the managerial class (tyranny) rather than controlling real criminals (causing anarchy). Laws are argued to be enforced only selectively, depending on what is perceived to be beneficial for the ruling elite.
Anyway, something to think about.
What the forthcoming doxing of Parler users will do is foment civil war. Not just this particular instance, but the habit of doxing. I know of a person in Washington who is a Trump appointee working in the federal bureaucracy, nobody you or anybody else would have heard of. I looked up the person’s job title, and it is about as benign as you can imagine. This person is in the process of getting their family out of Washington, anticipating hackers, Antifa, or some other actors putting the family’s home address online, and left-wing ragemonkeys showing up at their house to teach “collaborators” a lesson. Is this person paranoid, or prudent? What would you do if you worked in Washington for the administration? Do you think your low level and your relative anonymity would protect you and your family — not from the state, but from these rogue actors.
The far right is going to start doing it back to people on the Left who are not involved at any high level in the state, or in corporations (but I repeat myself). If you were in management at Amazon Web Services now — AWS booted Parler — or at Twilio: how safe would you feel from doxxing? Could you protect your family if armed right-wing extremists showed up on your doorstep? What if some Antifa monsters, using the information they gathered from the Parler hack, show up at someone’s house and burn it down, or harm them or their family? What if they get the Parler person fired, and put him and his family into poverty? You think people are just going to sit back and take it?
And vice versa: people on the Left are not going to sit back and take being threatened by right-wing extremists.
This is how we are going to end up with an American version of China’s social credit system, as a means to control violence. I don’t anticipate that the state will implement it, as in China. I believe it will be instituted — and is now in the process of being instituted — by corporate America, led by Big Tech. Everyone who lives any part of his or her life online — and that’s most of us — is part of the network, and is traceable. There are going to be penalties for being associated with anybody connected to Trump or the Trumposphere. I’m not saying there should be; I’m saying that it’s coming, and that they’re going to do it legally, under the American framework. If you can be found online linked to any “problematic” people, well, you may not be able to shop on Amazon, or your shopping will be limited. You may not be able to get access to the infrastructure that makes the economy run. Maybe the Right will build an alternative institution — but how will those alt-builders get access to the infrastructure? If you were a young techie, how willing would you be to make yourself unemployable by helping Deplorables build networks within which they can shop, and find employment?
You see how this works? The government doesn’t have to get involved at all. It only cares about Evangelical Christians who won’t make wedding cakes for gay couples. It doesn’t care if Amazon decides to cut off problematic publishers or people from the electronic economy. Under our system, if Amazon (or any company) is not cutting you off for civil rights reasons — that is, for being a person of color, a woman, LGBT, etc. — then, broadly speaking, they can do it with impunity. This is what was annoying about Sen. Hawley’s denunciation of Simon & Schuster for dropping his book deal the other day. It wasn’t “Orwellian,” as he claimed, nor was it illegal. It’s perfectly legal. Whether it should be legal is an interesting question, but the plain fact is, corporate America has that power. The way it’s exercising it now, and will be doing in the days and weeks to come, is why I call it soft totalitarianism.
Conservatives are about to find out what it means when the power of corporate America is turned against us. Ask yourself: what would you do if your church found itself unable to participate fully in the economy because some of your parishioners had been on Parler, and companies that service your church found this out, either because someone doxxed them and made the connections, or the companies found out on their own? Would you stand by those parishioners, even though it imposed a cost on your church? These are the kinds of dilemmas we are going to be facing. The stuff I talk about in Live Not By Lies — it’s going to be very real here, starting right now. Watch the infrastructure.