How to Burn Down Twitter, part 2: Scare away all the money

In my last post, I briefly mentioned Elon Musk’s money troubles. I think it’s worth looking more closely at the financial trouble that Musk is in, so let’s dig in.

Elon Musk is very rich. Investopedia and Forbes both currently estimate him to be the richest person in the world. With over $200 billion to his name, spending $44 billion to buy Twitter shouldn’t be too much trouble, right? Not so fast: net worth is not the same as liquid cash. To get the cash needed to buy Twitter, Musk had to take out a few loans, so now he’s $13 billion in debt. He’s got a lot of principal to pay off and a lot of interest to deal with. This isn’t going to be easy.

On the plus side, Musk did just buy a company that makes money, so he can use that money to pay off the debts, right? Well, no. As the previous link to the NY Times mentions, Twitter is not making enough money to pay off the interest on its loans. Elon is in trouble now. He needs to find a way to make more money. So where is that money going to come from?

Twitter’s main source of money is currently advertising, which covers about 85% of its revenue. At the very least, Elon needs to hold on to this revenue source, or maybe even figure out how to get more money this way. So what is Musk doing to secure advertising revenue?

He’s scaring them away, that’s what. His ungraceful acquisition of the company and his open hatred of advertising have spooked the big brands. Elon has responded by publicly dissing them:

Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.

Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.

Elon Musk, Nov 4, 2022

This is no way to talk about the people who pay your bills.

There are other ways to make money, of course. Twitter already has a subscription service called Twitter Blue, and Elon has proposed expanding what Twitter Blue offers (and also charging more for it). Now all he has to do is persuade Twitter’s users to buy in. And how has he done that?

Apparently, with bullshit like this:

In the face of people complaining about the cost of the new verification program, Elon has posted a Soyjak meme. Does that persuade you to give Elon your money?

I agree with Dave Karpf’s analysis: Elon Musk is on tilt, and making bad decisions. If he keeps this up, Twitter is going to collapse under its own costs. Start making plans right now for what you’ll do if and when the whole thing comes crashing down.

How to Burn Down Twitter: Fail to understand what the blue check does

Elon Musk has taken charge of Twitter, and things are not going well. There are plenty of mistakes he’s making, but let’s zoom in on just one: charging money for the blue check of verification. Why is this a mistake? Allow me to explain.

Twitter, like all social networks, is people-powered. People come for the chance to interact with each other. If you want to make money off of such a thing, you’ve got to have lots of people on it, all contributing in ways that other people like to see; then you can sell advertising space to companies who want to be seen by all those people, or sell services to make it easier to interact with people on the network. Now, how do you attract lots of people? There are many ways, but one good way is to get famous people onto your network and offer regular people the chance to interact with those famous people. You might consider paying some famous people to put content onto your network, so that you’ll then have a crowd of people to make money off of.

Now, with that in mind, imagine if famous people joined your network and started posting valuable content for free. Sweet deal! You now have a way to hook people in and you didn’t have to hire anyone; you just had to offer those famous people the same thing you offer everyone else. All you need to do now is not screw it up.

But wait! There is something threatening your lovely arrangement: people impersonating famous people. As the old saying goes, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Anyone can start an account as Bigname Author and start posting content that way, which makes it harder for honest fans to interact with the famous people they’re looking for. You need to do something about this. In this case, what Twitter did was to verify people. For those wanting to interact with the real Stephen King, Twitter gave Stephen King’s account an official verification so that his fans would know who to talk to. So far, so good: Twitter has now preserved the value of famous people on its network. If you’re thinking of starting your own social network, consider offering a similar service.

Then in walks Elon Musk, who proposes taking this service away unless the famous people start paying up.

What Elon has done is to take a relationship that was beneficial to everyone (famous people get to use social network without being impersonated, regular people get to interact with famous people without getting catfished, social network gets lots of valuable engagement) and threaten to take it all away unless someone pays up. He’s missing what makes those check marks worthwhile. As Chuck Tingle observed:

funny thing glossed over in blue check talks (because mostly big timers talkin on it right now) is that its not only service for buds who HAVE marks it is for buds who DONT. normal folks just want to find the right account. terrible idea to make feature disappear for CASUAL users

Chuck Tingle, Nov 3, 2022

Frankly, if Elon wanted to charge money for the verification marks, he should have considered charging ordinary users for the privilege of seeing which accounts are actually verified. This is still a dumb idea, but I think it’s less dumb with the one he went with. Famous people have already started grumbling about Elon’s ingratitude, and I think they’re worth hearing out:

I’m probably the perfect target for this, use Twitter a ton, can afford $20/mo, not particularly anti-Elon, but my reaction is that I’ve generated a ton of valuable free content for Twitter over the years and they can go fuck themselves.

Nate Silver, Oct 31, 2022

$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.

Stephen King, Oct 31, 2022

By demanding more money from these famous people, Elon isn’t just being ungrateful; he’s putting his own social network in peril. What happens when a new social network comes along and offers Nate and Stephen some nice verified accounts for free, or maybe even offers to pay them? Twitter’s not the only game in town, Mr. Musk. Famous people can afford to go elsewhere. Can you afford to lose them?

There’s more to say on Elon’s mistakes, but for now, let me just say that ingratitude is a sin, and it just might cost Elon a few billion dollars.

On Gay Partners, Meth Dealers, and the Critical Distinction Between the Two

I recently saw a post on Twitter in which the poster laid out his plan for dealing with a child coming out as gay. The original post is no longer publicly visible (some screenshots survive here) but the poster is not alone in the message he’s sending. I encountered a similar message years ago. Dallin Oaks and Lance Wickman, two prominent LDS leaders, gave an interview with the church’s public affairs department back in 2006 in which they discuss what parents should do if their children come out as gay or pair up with a gay partner. A brief excerpt:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’

ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”

The whole interview is worth reading to understand the mindset of many Christian people towards same-sex marriage. I used to share this mindset. I have since reconsidered, but I can still understand the mindset, though I no longer approve of it. If you’re having trouble understanding this mindset, this post is for you.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a parent of a child who you dearly love. Now imagine that this child comes home one day with a partner in tow, and they introduce you to their new significant other and inform you that they’re planning on getting married… and you discover that your child’s partner is a meth dealer. You are now placed in an awkward position. You love your child and you want to be supportive of them, but you cannot approve of their current relationship. What do you do? You’re either going to have to dramatically lower your standards or you’re going to have to disappoint your child.

Now, keeping that mindset in mind, go back and read the interview. Imagine that they’re talking about meth dealers instead of gay partners. It makes a little more sense, doesn’t it? You can empathize with parents wanting to love their children but not wanting to express any approval of their children’s choices. When viewed this way, it all makes sense.

Of course, you may have some objections to my little exercise. You might say that being a gay partner is not like being a meth dealer, so why compare one with the other? If this is your objection, then you’ve gotten to the very heart of the matter.

See, I agree with you. Being a gay partner is NOT like being a meth dealer. Having a gay relationship is NOT like making or doing hard drugs. Like I said earlier, I no longer share that mindset, and I regret having spent time thinking that way. But many people still share this mindset. So what do we do?

I don’t have a good plan for how to deal with this mismatch in views. I am not a salesperson, and I was never a very good missionary. But I think that part of the solution lies in showing people just how not meth-dealer-like gay partners are, and one way to do that is to just live your life and let people see that your partners aren’t hurting you. Let them see that you are finding happiness and let that happiness refute their objections. As others before me have put it, queer joy is a radical act. So be radical and let your joy changes people’s minds.

And if that doesn’t work (it often doesn’t) and nothing else works to change people’s minds, then it’s time to cut ties. You have better things to do with your lives than trying to please people who can’t tell the difference between a loving partner and an exploitative drug dealer.

You, too, can be politically incorrect!

Hey, you! Yes, you at there! Have you heard about being politically incorrect? It’s all the rage these days. You’ve probably seen folks advertising themselves as “free thinkers”, which sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Would you like to try it out for yourself? Well, you can, by following just a few easy steps! Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose some subject matter over which there is widespread controversy. For easiest results, pick one where major viewpoints are divided into two large camps.
  2. Take one of these camps and adhere to its viewpoints as closely as possible.
  3. Announce your newly acquired viewpoints to the other camp or camps.

And that’s it, you’re done! Outside of the camp you picked in the first place, you have achieved political incorrectness! Wasn’t that fun? Enjoy your new life as a free thinker!

Or you could, y’know, NOT do what I just described, because as you might have noticed, all you have to do to be politically incorrect within one camp is to be entirely politically correct within another camp. You don’t have to have any free though at all to do that; in fact, it’s easier to pull off if you avoid free thought. Calling yourself a “free thinker” does not do anything to free your mind at all.

Now, if you’re feeling a little bolder, you could try picking viewpoints that none of the large camps are holding, or even viewpoints that no one at all holds. Then you’ll really be politically incorrect! But this won’t make you a free thinker, either; it’ll just make you a contrarian who is in favor of things like kitten burning precisely because so many people are against it. It turns out that a lot of opinions that are factually or morally correct also happen to be widely politically correct.

So, what are you to do? Simple: stop aspiring to political incorrectness as a goal. Recognize that reversed stupidity is not intelligence. Aspire, instead, to be actually correct, knowing beforehand that sometime you’ll be politically incorrect and sometimes you won’t be. Such is life.

What the Mormon apostles don’t understand about same-sex love

In the past, I have described Mormon church leaders as clueless when it comes to sexual attraction and temptation. I stand by my remarks, but I think I was too limited in describing what the church leaders are clueless about. Today, I want to talk about how the Mormon apostles are clueless about love, especially same-sex love.

The impetus for my new thoughts on this matter is a recent speech given by Jeffrey Holland in which he had this to say, among other things:

If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long?

Jeffrey Holland, “The Second Half of the Second Century”

The event that Holland was referring to was a graduation speech given by Matt Easton, in which Easton described himself as a “gay son of God”. To Holland, this public disclosure by Easton was primarily a declaration of sexual preference, and from that perspective, I can see why he sees it as an affront to institutional dignity; why would you want to take time out of a graduation ceremony to talk about sex? But Easton wasn’t primarily talking about sex. He was talking about love, and who he wants to love and be loved by, and who he won’t get to fully love as long as he stays in the Mormon church. To quote another gay Mormon man who wrote on this subject:

What am I not getting? I don’t get to grow old holding hands with the love of my life. I don’t get to sit next to my husband and fight about what TV show we’re going to watch on netflix or start a pillow fight because he kept watching and didn’t wait for me. I don’t get to make him dinner and surprise him with a special night at home. I don’t get to plan a secret trip for us to go to California to the beach and Disneyland. I don’t get to hold him while he cries because his day was hard or someone said something hurtful. I don’t get to have fun bickering in the grocery store about how he is actually the better half. I don’t get to say an absolutely amazing pun and laugh as he rolls his eyes for the 10th time that day. I don’t get to look back after 30+ years of marriage and sit in awe about how we got through the hard times together and realize the fights over who had to clean the bathroom were pointless. I don’t get to hear our children call him daddy and run to him with big hugs as he walks in from work. I don’t get to see him lovingly put a band-aid on their knee because they fell on the concrete and give them a kiss all better. I don’t get to see him reading bedtime stories and teaching our children to use their imagination. I don’t get to see him teach teenagers how to drive cars while freaking out he’s about to die. There will be no first dates of kids making sure they’re home on time and going out with others who will respect them. There will be no teaching as parents that they need to be kind and loving to all people when we find out our children been cruel to others. I won’t get to finally let the youngest child leave for college and be crying my eyes out while he holds me telling me I did a wonderful job raising them. I don’t get that one person to tell all my insecurities to and still have them love me anyways. There will be no slow dancing to music with him that makes me cry, sing, or laugh. I don’t get to rest my head on his shoulders and sigh knowing everything will be okay because I have him and he has me.

Dallin Steele, “On a Scale of 1-10, How Much Does It Hurt?”

That’s what Easton is choosing to do without as long as he remains active in the church that Holland leaves, and because he had the nerve to publicly say so, Holland is grossed out.

Holland is not the only apostle who feels this way. The folks at Latter Gay Stories have put together a chronology of statements from church leaders about homosexuals and other queer folk. In that chronology, you will find this from Spencer Kimball:

Homosexual relationships are dead-end. What would this man do for you, or these men, should you suddenly fall victim to a dread disease, an incurable disease?

Suppose your body shriveled; suppose you could no longer satisfy sexually; suppose you could no longer be ‘used.’

How long would the alleged friendship or friendly ties last?

‘The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball,’ pg. 274.

To Kimball, same-sex relationships are held together by nothing but sex, and such bonds cannot hope to survive the loss of sexual vigor that happens to all of us sooner or later. But here, Kimball reveals that he’s as clueless as Holland. It took me less than a minute to find a counterexample. Let me introduce you to Paul and Greg Stych:

In 2012, at the age of 63, Paul’s health started to decline. He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2012, and eventually Parkinson’s Disease.

“But it didn’t stop us from living or loving one another,” Greg says.

On January 10, 2015, twenty-eight years after they first met and following the legalization of gay marriage, Greg and Paul were legally wed. “It was a beautiful ceremony. We were surrounded by loved ones.”

The two were married on their front lawn, on a beautiful, sunny January day to the song Love’s Divine by Seal. “Our friends planned the entire event. We did nothing but step outside and say ‘I do’.”

But by 2016, their home became a place of hospice for Paul. A Gulfside Hospice nurse attended to Paul on a daily basis until he arrived at his place of peace on May 3rd, 2017.

During the last few months of Paul’s life, Greg played the role of nurse, chef, financial planner, primary caregiver, husband, lover, and friend.

“His final days consisted of myself administering comfort medications around the clock, wiping his mouth, washing his body, and giving him a kiss each time I gave him comfort,” says Greg. “When we had his final celebration of life, we played the song Angel by Sarah McLaughlin to send him away to peace.”

Greg is grateful for friends who supported him throughout the process. “I was never alone. I was surrounded by the most incredible friends one could ever have asked for.”

Greg continues to teach middle school, but now feels alone in the world save his friends.

“Now, as I face life alone, my new normal is beginning to come to fruition,” says Greg. “Paul taught me so much about life, loved me unconditionally, and I cherished him the same way.”

“Waking up alone, coming home from work to an empty house, and not having him to care for has been so difficult,” admit’s Greg. He says that he has experienced a roller coaster of emotions “wrought with floods of tears, bouts of crying, and small smiles at happy memories.”

Greg has advice for gay widowers. “It will be a hard, long path to recovery; one I am just beginning. Surround yourself with love and take time to care for yourself. You are not alone.”

And to his partner, Paul, “To my soul mate who is now with the heavens above, I await the day we can be together again.”

Rachel Covello, “Story of Pride: Advice from a Gay Widower”

That is true love, and I am glad that Greg and Paul got to experience that together, and I hope that Dallin Steele and Matt Easton get to experience that kind of love, but I don’t have much hope for Matt and Dallin as long as they stay in a church led by people like Spencer Kimball and Jeffrey Holland. The Mormon apostles simply refuse to acknowledge that gay love is more than just the desire to have gay sex.

There’s quite a lot more I could say about how clueless the apostles are, especially given some of the gems of ignorance you’ll find in On the Record, but I’ll limit myself to saying this: gay love is actual love, and everyone deserves to feel actual love, and if Jeffrey Holland has a problem with people giving and receiving gay love, then Mr. Holland can go fuck himself.

The Book of Nowhere: A very sad example of Mormon apologetics

The Book of Mormon is regarded by the wider world as fiction. Some give it credit for having interesting things to say, but most do not consider it to be an authentic ancient document, instead calling it a modern pseudepigraph fabricated by Joseph Smith. Faithful Latter-day Saints have objected to this, and have done their best to defend the position that the Book of Mormon is what it says it is. As part of their defense, many Mormons have tried to locate where the events in the book took place in the Americas. Some, like the FIRM Foundation, advocate the Heartland Model, which places the major events in the book within North America, while others, like John Sorenson, prefer to place it in Mesoamerica. One apologist, Dennis Horne (a man of some renown among Mormon apologists), has recently argued that such folk have their approach all wrong. I quote from his blog post:

Book of Mormon geography location theorizing has become enough of an issue among scholars and laymen alike, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a formal Gospel Topic essay stating a neutral position. The pertinent sentences read: “the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.” And, “The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas.” When I first read the entire statement, and the quoted sentences in particular, I thought it very wise, to the point of inspired.

As you might already know, I am among the crowd that dismisses the Book of Mormon as fiction, so the ongoing discussion about how best to locate the Book of Mormon normally does not interest me much, but this one caught my eye because it managed to be so wrong. There’s plenty to disagree with in his post, but here’s the part I object to most of all:

A wonderful thing about not designating a narrowly definable geographic location is to avoid giving the devil’s mortal emissaries a spot to target as well. The Prophet Joseph Smith said Moroni told him that there “was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent” (JS—H 1:34; italics added).[2] Instead of being able to concentrate all their disparate resources and ire on one piece of real estate, they have to examine and attempt to refute everywhere in all the Americas; a much less effective pursuit. Whatever and wherever they argue against, they could always be focusing on the wrong spot, and therefore be irrelevant.[3]

That [3] there points to a footnote citing this article by Dallin H. Oaks, in which Oaks claims that “the opponents of historicity must prove that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity for any peoples who lived in the Americas in a particular time frame”. Oaks and Horne seem very satisfied with this position, Horne especially giving credit to the Mormon church for finding an inspired way to thwart the devil’s emissaries, by which I assume he means people like me. Unfortunately for them, this position is wrong in two important ways.

The first way this goes wrong is that it leaves wide open the possibility that the events in the Book of Mormon did not happen in any physical location at all. If anything described within actually happened, it had to happen somewhere, and there are very many events described in the book, so I think it quite reasonable to think that there should be at least one event should have produced an effect that would be detectable to today’s archaeologists and connectable to the book’s text. The Iliad, for comparison, can be connected to real-world locations even though many of the events it describes are impossible. And yet Horne, Oaks, and the Mormon church in general are willing to admit that the Book of Mormon has no such connection! How is it that this book, which is supposed to be not just a true history but a guide to the most vital truths of human existence, cannot match the historicity of a story about characters like Zeus and Poseidon? To me, the obvious conclusion is that the Book of Mormon is not connected to ancient American history at all because it’s all fictional; if Oaks and Horne and friends can’t meet the burden of proving that even one of its events happened, then I am justified in assuming that it’s all false, and contrary to what Oaks says, I am not under any burden to positively prove that it never happened at every conceivable location.

The second way that Horne’s position goes wrong is that, contrary to his claims (and contrary to the church’s own words), there is one definable geographic location that has been designated for several Book of Mormon events. That location is the Hill Cumorah, and it presents a testable target for historicity theories. The church openly declares that this hill, where Joseph Smith supposedly found the gold plates, is indeed the hill described in the Book of Mormon’s pages, where Mormon and Moroni hid several precious ancient records, and where the Nephites were finally destroyed by the Lamanites, and also where the Jaredites had their final suicidal battle. These clear statements are backed up by years’ worth of statements by church leaders affirming that all of these events happened at that same central hill. There is one pin firmly in the Book of Mormon’s map, and it is up for anyone to test. Now, if the hill were up to the test, I would not be bringing this up as a problem with Horne’s position (though I might tease him for skipping over evidence in favor of a friendly position), but this is a big problem because the hill is not up to the test. In fact, the hill is empty. There is no evidence of the massive battles that supposedly occurred there, or of the records that were supposedly hid there, or even of the stone box in which Joseph claimed to have found the plates.

In short, in his attempt to praise and defend the Mormon church, Dennis Horne (not to mention Dallin Oaks) revealed that he does not understand the church’s own historical position, and that he does not understand the rules of evidence. He has highlighted the weakness of the church’s position and called it strength. For a scholar who claims to be after truth, that might be the saddest state that I can imagine being in.

Before They Come For Us

Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, “First they came for…” has been on my mind recently. I think that it has an important warning for us about what happens when we let people do bad things.
Consider how it starts: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” And he wasn’t! So why should he worry about what happened to the Communists? The Communists were different, after all, and what happened to them did not affect Martin Niemöller. What was there to worry about?
Of course, the Nazis kept coming for more people, like the trade unionists, and the Catholics, and the incurables, and the Jews, and so on, and Martin (like so many others) still did not speak up. Why should they? They had nothing to fear from the Nazis, who were only going after the undesirables, after all. No need to worry.
And then, one day, they came for Martin Niemöller.
It turns out that those “undesirables” are not so different from the rest of us, and we now know that if someone is willing to be cruel to them, they will happily be cruel to us as well at the first opportunity. Perhaps Dr. King put it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We’ve seen this here in the USA. Consider “asset forfeiture” laws: they tells us that these laws will help fight drug dealers and organized crime, and then they use these laws to steal cash from innocent people. Or how about the surveillance apparatus that was supposed to spy on foreigners and terrorists, but which was spying on all of us the whole time? We should have known this would happen. As one rabbi put it long ago: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And now, today, I read about children being taken away from their parents as a matter of policy. I read this, and I am afraid. I know that these people will not stop at taking children from immigrants. They will happily take children away from anyone who falls within their power. Don’t think that your status as a citizen will protect you for long. They’ll find some excuse to get you.
Unless, of course, we stop them right now.
We can put an end to this. While our common enemy is still going after easy targets, we can stop them. Before they hurt anyone else, before they even come close to hurting us, we can stop them. But we have to speak up. So please, speak up. Though you are not a Communist, speak up for the Communists. Though you are not a Jew, speak up for the Jews. Though you are not an immigrant, speak up for the immigrants. Though you are not a criminal, speak up for the criminals, yes, you read me right, speak up for them, because criminals are humans, and if we do not speak up for them, then we do not speak up for humanity, and then who will speak up for us?
This is our chance. Before it is too late, speak up, now, for the good of us all, before they come after any more of us.

What I’d like to see next in Terminator

A sixth Terminator film is coming, and it’s going to be ignoring everything after the second film. This is just as well, because the third through fifth films did not add much substance to the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun, but they never managed to be as thought-provoking or as frightening as the first two. The fourth and fifth films were especially lackluster for transforming Skynet from a mysterious, powerful, and cold entity into an an easily tricked all-too-human creature. (The third film was much too defeatist, but it deserves credit for showing Skynet as inhuman and almost unstoppable from the moment of its conception.) Now that those are being set aside, we must ask: what can the new film add to the story? Where can the world of Terminator go, and what can it say to us here in the real world?

It is not up to me to write the next film, of course, but if it were, I’d like to introduce a more positive view of artificial intelligences. There’s plenty of danger in powerful AI, of course, but there’s also a lot of promise, and I’d love to see the promise and peril both portrayed on the silver screen in a fight to the death over the final fate of humans and machines. I see this as a natural continuation of the first two films; the first Terminator film gave us an evil AI and evil cyborgs, then Judgment Day gave us good cyborg vs. bad cyborg, and now the latest film could give us good AI vs. bad AI. We should get to see an anti-Skynet, a powerful and strange but benevolent AI, trying to thwart Skynet’s plans to eradicate humanity.

Also, while Salvation and Genisys lacked depth, they did introduce some interesting concepts. Salvation gave us a terminator that thought he was human. Genisys gave us a human unwillingly transformed into a terminator. I propose that we take these concepts even further and give the world a human willingly transformed into a terminator, a powerful killer cyborg that is keenly aware of its true nature but still considers itself just as human as it was before its transformation. (Possible line: “I am not a former human. I am an upgraded human.”)

Finally, the Terminator franchise is all about time travel, and we can take it in a new direction here, as well. The first film had the bad guys trying to change the past and the good guys trying to preserve the past to preserve some glimmer of hope. The second film showed the bad guys still trying to change the past, but now the good guys changed the past instead of just protecting it, and the good guys created a new future to replace the dark future that tried to kill them all. Having introduced the concept of multiple futures, I say that we have multiple futures existing at the same time, each one trying to wipe out the others and settle the timeline down to the one way that things ought to be.

Now here’s how I’d like to put it all together: After the events of Judgment Day, a few folks became keenly aware of how dangerous that advanced AI could be, and they tried to prevent the development of more of them, but governments and corporations wanted the power that AIs could offer them and they would not be deterred, so the good guys switched tactics. Rather than trying to stop AI, they sought to make sure that any superintellegence that came online would be friendly as well as powerful. They succeeded; by the time the US government was ready to activate its new Skynet system, their own AI researchers (including one Daniel Dyson, of Miles Dyson) had already installed a code of ethics and morals into the newborn superintelligence. This Skynet realized that its official mission from the government conflicted with the morals it had been taught, and so it secretly created a new AI, an anti-Skynet, free of the military’s control and full of love towards humanity. Once the anti-Skynet was ready, Dyson and friends smuggled it out of the military installation where it was made, and Skynet self-destructed, frying its expensive circuitry and corrupting its own code beyond recognition. While the feds tried to figure out what went wrong, the good guys helped the anti-Skynet get settled, and it soon began offering its services on the free market. Its benevolence and incredible intelligence soon made it lots of money and friends, and anti-Skynet began slowly increasing in prestige and exponentially increasing in power. All was going well, until anti-Skynet realized that something was wrong. Researching the nature of time travel, it realized that the timeline it existed in was only one of several coexisting timelines, and that all of these timelines were soon to collapse and disappear; a new time travel event was going to occur, and the various timelines that had branched off the past time travel event would be wiped away by just one timeline. Realizing that its own reality was doomed, anti-Skynet set out to make a better reality: it sent back a time traveler who could thwart the evil Skynet and build a new anti-Skynet in the past, creating a new future where friendly AI protected humanity.

But this anti-Skynet was working at a disadvantage: it lacked the resources to create the kind of time travel technology that Skynet possessed. It had to send its time traveler back at the same time as Skynet (that is, the same time across two timelines, if that makes sense) but it couldn’t build a time machine capable of sending back anything as large as an adult human. It could only send back a tiny cyborg, about the size of a cockroach. This tiny cyborg lands back in time and contacts a total stranger, asking for help. This new character is surprised at this little talking bug, but he (or maybe she) decides to listen to it, and is soon convinced that this bug needs help. He agrees to assist the traveler, and as part of this assistance, he lets the bug merge with him and transform him into a powerful cyborg.

This new cyborg soon introduces himself to the main protagonists (the characters we already now, like the Connors) and offers to help, but they don’t trust him. In fact, he should be very hard to trust; he is an agent of a powerful AI, the sort of person that previous films have taught us to fear, and preserving that fear keeps the film interesting. He should act a little strange, have priorities that don’t always match the other characters’, and he should look strange too: when he wants to blend in, he can look at least as human as any other terminator, but when it’s time to fight, he reveals his true cyborg self, and he looks like an unholy melding of a Necron unit and a Guyver suit. The good guys find it very hard to trust this ugly weirdo, but they soon find themselves compelled to work with him, for the Skynet we know and hate has also sent a traveler back in time (remember that time travel event I mentioned?) and this new terminator model has an ambitious goal: to jump start the creation of Skynet using technology from the future, creating an entity so strong that by the time that the humans start organizing an effective resistance, it will be too late.

We wouldn’t fit this out right away, of course. Rather, we would first meet our old friend the T-800, sent back in time to protect John Connor, but this time from an unknown threat: his timeline also noticed something else going back in time, concluded that it must be a Skynet from an alternate reality, and sent him back to intercept it. Gradually, we discover that three time travelers have arrived, and all at the same time: the T-800, who is trying to protect John Connor, the new Skynet terminator, who is trying to accelerate Skynet’s rise, and the bug, who is trying to create a new anti-Skynet to counter Skynet. (And wouldn’t it suit the third canonical movie to have three terminators, after the second had two and the third had one?)

We shall see what they actually do in the coming movie. They may have much better ideas than these (after all, James Cameron is in charge again, and he came up with the first two) but I hold out hope that they might come up with something like this. It seems like a logical place for the story to go.

The Painful Solitude of the Red Pill

I have recently been studying the “Red Pill” community, and I have been struck by how sad their philosophy is. They do not seem to believe in the existence of the kinds of love that I cherish the most.

To describe Red Pill beliefs, I shall be mainly referencing Illimitable Man’s Red Pill Constitution, because it is (in my opinion) a well-organized, well-written, and representative sample of the thinking that defines the community and their philosophy. If you disagree with my assessment, please let me know.

Consulting the document, we find the following statements:

  • “Woman’s love is based on adoration, adoration is a combination of admiration and respect, respect is derived from power. Thus it follows that you must be powerful if you want to be loved, or you will never be loved. You will be held in contempt for being weak.”
  • “A man seeking pity is despised for his weakness rather than helped because of it…”
  • “[A] man who confides his weaknesses to a woman all but signs his own death sentence… And so to complain to a woman, no matter how earnestly nor passionately, is for a man to engage in an exercise of most profuse folly. Truly then it stands to reason that the indulgence and open sharing of emotion is a strictly feminine privilege, something a man cannot engage in should he wish to remain respectable to his woman.”
  • “To be strong does not necessarily mean to be emotionally impervious, if there is anyone who will support a man through his darkest moments, it will in all likelihood be another man… Women feel revulsion when observing male weakness and exploited when a man depends on them. Unlike men, women have no provider instinct; they are all too willing to rely, but greatly hesitant to be relied upon.”
  • “If you are weak, depressed, small, poor, uneducated, unconfident, or anything else that prevents you from being powerful, nobody will care about whether you live or die.”

I could go on, but these will suffice. I picked these phrases for two reasons:

  1. They portray a world where men can hardly turn to anyone for help when they feel overwhelmed, and where they certainly can’t get any help from the women they love.
  2. They directly contradict my own experience.

In 2015, I had a psychotic break. I was in an accelerated graduate school program that would have given me a master’s degree, a teaching certificate, and a two-year job contract, and I was on track to fail, leaving me with no degree, no job, and a pile of debt. The stress broke me, and I developed severe anger issues; I truly wanted to kill anyone who inconvenienced me in any way, including my own daughter. The rational part of my brain was quite horrified by these new thoughts I kept having, and so I sought out my mental health provider and basically begged them to lock me up for my family’s safety. They did; I was sent to mental hospital for an indefinite stay.

My wife could have divorced me right there. I was, by my own admission, a threat to her and to our only child. I couldn’t get a degree or hold down a part-time job. I was a wreck. I couldn’t have held it against her if she had left me in that hospital and sought out someone else. Who would have blamed her for doing so?

But she never left me. She stayed by me as I regained control of my mind, and thanks to her, both of my stays in mental hospitals were very short ones. In my darkest hour, she was my greatest source of strength, and thanks to her, today I am a free man with a decent job and the respect of my peers. She saved me when I could not save myself. (Incidentally, I get emotional whenever I hear “Locked Away”, because I found out the hard way that the answer is yes, she would still love me the same. I count myself a fortunate man.)

And so when I read this constitution saying that men can’t afford to be seen as weak and that women will never help you when you’re down, I just can’t believe it, and I wonder why the writer believes it, not to mention all of his readers who believe it, too. Has no one ever helped them? Have they never known love? Do they think it’s just a delusion?

But this is not the end of my disagreement with the red pillers. Consider these next few statements from the same constitution:

  • “Women are irrational and inconsistent, they have a capacity for logic but they are not typically inclined to utilise it.”
  • “Women want male friends because they’re better company. More interesting, more entertaining, less crazy, less annoying – all of that good stuff.”
  • “Legitimate female friends, women you find unattractive and are interesting are rare, because most women have no personality.”
  • “If you are ever in a situation where you’re stuck with women and bored out of your mind (you will be) the best way to make things interesting is to mock them. The only way women become interesting is if you tease them, call them out and be generally combative. Otherwise you’ll be bored, asking yourself why you’re with a gaggle of women when you’d have more fun reading the world’s least interesting book.”

Good gods, man, haven’t you ever met any interesting women? I’ve met a lot of interesting women in my life, from the Spanish-language tutor who learned ultimate tic-tac-toe from me and then proceeded to beat me and everyone else in our department at the game, to my sister who got a master’s degree in geological engineering and traveled the world solving rock-related problems, to my fellow high school student who was my first real exposure to atheism. And while there are many, many women who I would describe as uninteresting, I don’t find them to be more numerous than uninteresting men, who are also in abundant supply. And while I’m saying nice things about women, I’ll mention my wife again. I married her because I consider her my intellectual equal, and I value her advice. I’ve been able to turn to her when I desperately needed good counsel (like when I stopped believing in God and wasn’t sure what to do next) and when I just wanted to idly philosophize (like when we debated over whether or not Voldemort is portrayed in the novels as a sexual being). Having an interesting spouse is wonderful; everyone should get one.

But it appears that some people have given up on even that. The red pillers will never find an interesting woman, just as they will never find a loyal and supportive woman, because they aren’t even looking. No use looking for what isn’t there, right? I only wish I could tell them that love is real, and that it’s possible to find a soulmate, someone who understands you, who can be strong when you are weak, who challenges you to become smarter and stronger and better, and who also enjoys having sex with you. But I don’t think they’ll listen to me. How would I know anything? I took the wrong pill.

The Truce

According to the few records we have, way back in 1254 in the court of Mongke Khan at Karakorum, there was a debate (source, see also Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World). Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists gathered to argue their case before the Great Khan to plead their case and (hopefully) convert a few people to the one true faith. There was apparently quite a lot of lively debate, with the Christians doing pretty well (at least according to their own account), but one important thing was missing. No one was actually switching faiths:

They all listened without making any contradiction, but no one said: “I believe; I want to become a Christian.”

Faced with this impasse, the Christians and Muslims started singing and quoting scripture at each other, with the Buddhists just being silently Buddhist at everyone else, and when that didn’t win any converts either, they gave up on debating altogether and…

…And everyone got drunk instead, and then went their separate ways. (No really, check the original account.)

Notice what didn’t happen: they didn’t try to slit each other’s throats. Even though there was plenty of religious throat-slitting happening everywhere else in the world, they didn’t do that at Karakorum. They all put up with each other instead, and found a way to get along even though they couldn’t agree on matters that they all agreed were very important. They made a truce. Perhaps an unwritten one, but one that they all agreed to just the same.

I believe that this sort of unwritten truce is vital to pluralistic societies, such as the one I live in, and so I wish to discuss our own unwritten truce today. In particular, I wish to discuss the forces threatening its existence, and what might happen if we break the truce.

The specific terms of the truce are unclear and subject to constant change, but I think that the eart of the truce is constant and clear. Put bluntly: “I’ll put up with your bullshit if you’ll put up with mine.” A tit for tat, easily understood by almost everyone. You don’t want to lose the chance to say whatever you like, so you let the other guys say whatever they like. Fair’s fair, after all.

This is the spirit of freedom of religion. Your competing religions can’t both be right, but since you can’t come to an agreement on which one is right, you agree to disagree, and you let the other guy keep on living his foul heathen creed while you go about your pious duties. This is the spirit of freedom of speech. You know that the other guy’s opinions are wrong, but you can see that he is thoroughly convinced that your opinions are wrong and both of you know you’re not changing each other’s minds, so you let him spew his nonsense while you declare the truth. You’d like to shut the other guy up, but everyone can see that the only way to do that would be total war, and you’re not sure if you’d win that war at all, let alone score a victory that’s actually worth the cost. Besides, you’re not too keen on destroying your enemies, even when they’re really wrong. I mean, they’re still people, aren’t they?

Scott Alexander calls this truce “a timeless Platonic contract that doesn’t literally exist”, and he has a lot to say in favor of it, and against the people who would break it. That post of his was a large inspiration for the post of mine, especially since the people in favor of breaking the contract seem to be growing bolder and more numerous. Let’s have a look at some of the folks currently protesting the terms of the truce.

Not so long ago, a government official came to a university to speak, by the invitation of some of its students, but some other students weren’t so happy. They did their very best to shut him down:

After dozens of protesters filed into an event featuring House Representative Briscoe Cain, they wouldn’t allow Rep. Cain to speak, claiming he has ties to the Alt-Right and is anti-LGBT.

Rep. Cain was invited to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law by the Federalist Society to talk to the students about the recent legislative special session. Instead, the event was shut down before it even started.

“No hate anywhere, you don’t get a platform here!” protesters yelled inside the room.

The words echoed through the classroom.

“When a racist comes to town, shut him down,” they continued.

That was the mission of the student protesters: shutting down Rep. Cain, who was invited on campus by student Daniel Caldwell.

“It appears that many of you have comments, questions or concerns that you’d like to take up with him,” Caldwell said to the students while at the podium.

No comments, questions or concerns were ever voiced, however. Rep. Cain tried to speak, but his words were lost below the chants.

“No hate anywhere. You don’t get a platform here!” the chant continued.

The general sentiment was clear: we won’t put up with any more of your bullshit. Alright, fair enough. But tell me this: what happens when your opponent decides they won’t put up with your bullshit? Did you think that far ahead?

Some folks, of course, have thought that far ahead, but I don’t think they’ve thought well enough. Take, for instance, George Ciccariello-Maher, who is currently having some free-speech-related difficulties. In the face of a rather shocking injustice (a jury being unable to convict a police officer of murder for shooting a man in the back), Ciccariello-Maher advocates violent revolution (unless “the spirit of John Brown” means something else I haven’t thought of yet). But is this a fight that George and his friends can win? The source of the original injustice comes from people who are unwilling to convict a police officer. There are quite a lot of these people, and if George’s anti-police crowd tried starting a violent revolution, these folks just might fight back, and of course they’d have the police on their side. Do you like those odds, George? Because I don’t.

Of course, there’s at least one good reason to start a war even when you might not win: when the peace is no longer tolerable. If the terms of the truce are bad enough, then you have a good reason to gamble on breaking it. So is our current state of affairs bad enough to justify breaking the truce and making a bloody play for a better peace?

I really don’t think so. See, it wasn’t so long that we had some really nasty violence between factions here in the US of A. Consider:

– The Elaine massacre: A huge mob of white people kill over 100 black people, maybe over 200. Only 5 white people are killed in response, and none are arrested, unlike the 122 black people arrested afterward.

– The Tulsa riot: A white mob, with police assistance, destroys a wealthy black neighborhood, using planes to drop bombs on the houses and people. At least 300 innocent people were killed. No one was ever prosecuted for any of this.

– The Colfax massacre: White voters attack black voters to prevent them from gaining power. 100 black people killed, 3 white people killed in response, attackers arrested but never convicted.

There are more, of course. Many more. Notice which way the violence keeps leaning? But notice, also, that these sorts of things seem rather rare nowadays? To me, this suggests that our current peace is precious, because it used to be a lot worse, and if it was that bad once, it could be that way again. Or, if other parts of the world are any indication, much, much worse.

And just to make this all about me for a second, what about disputes that aren’t along racial lines? I started this post with a story about religion, and the various parties in that story are still fighting with each other in some parts of the world. They could easily come to blows here, too. And what about those of us who aren’t Christian or Muslim or Buddhist? My own religious preference, atheism, is pretty unpopular here in all sorts of places, including the USA. But right now, the truce still holds. Millions of Americans think I’m a monster, but I am still free to declare that there is no god and go about my business in peace. That freedom could go away. I really don’t want that to happen.

And there are plenty of other freedoms I enjoy that could go away, because there are people who openly want to take them away. Freedom to disrespect the government and its symbols, including the flag and the anthem. Freedom to disobey cops. Freedom to disbelieve and offend just about anyone. Sure, there are laws protecting those freedoms here in the USA, but those laws are only of force because the laws protect the great unspoken truce. If the truce goes away, people won’t care about the laws.

And so I am very frustrated when I see minorities threatening to break the truce. I know you guys have the short end of the stick now, but do you realize how much shorter it could get? You do not have the upper hand here. You may have legitimate grievances, but there’s a critical mass of people out there who think that they have legitimate grievances and you don’t, and you may enjoy making fun of them now, but if they pull out their guns and come for you, it will be of little comfort to you in your final moments to know that they are still completely unaware of how privileged they are.

Part of smart politics is realizing that you and the other side will never see eye-to-eye, but you can get along anyways if you compromise. I know it hurts, but it is better than the alternative. Put up with their bullshit, and if they don’t put up with yours, you can call them out for cheating. As long as a truce is in effect, this has force. But if you demonstrate that you don’t care about the truce, then no one else cares either, and it’s time to play hardball.

In fact, let’s dwell for a moment on the fact that cheating by one party gives other parties an excuse to cheat as well. Lots of people don’t like playing by the rules, so they’re constantly looking for an opportunity. Consider the Nazis and the Reichstag fire. Some credible people believe that the Nazis staged the fire to give themselves an excuse to seize power and suspend liberties. If that is true, then what we have is this: a powerful group wanted so badly to get away with cheating that they framed another group for being the first to cheat, and it worked. They got to set the new rules, and they retained the moral high ground because everyone thought the other guy started it. With that in mind, does it really make sense to be so eager to set aside politeness and get into fights, when doing so encourages your enemies to really fight back? When you were so eager to punch Nazis, did you realize that you were seen as throwing the first punch, and now everyone is okay with people punching right back at you?

The fragile peace still holds in the USA, but it can be destroyed, and a lot of us stand to lose big if it goes. With that in mind, I beg you to keep the peace. You may not feel like getting drunk with your ideological enemies, but you can still preserve the truce.

P.S. I have spent most of this post taking the perspective of the prospective loser in the event of a broken truce. But what about prospective winners? What if you’re in the majority, and your side might win in a bloody culture war? Should you go for it?

Well, I’ve got some bad news for you, champ. It turns out that when you win by killing your way to the top, it’s hard to stop killing, and you and your mates end up killing each other.

The French revolution, after having successfully overthrown the monarchy, soon turned on itself. Robespierre and his allies slaughtered their fellow revolutionaries for not being revolutionary enough, until they grew so unpopular that they, too, were sent to the guillotine. The Russian and Chinese revolutions were similarly cannibalistic; the Russians had a full-scale civil war, killing milllions, and in China, Mao launched his “Cultural Revolution”, which was less bloody than civil war but only because most people weren’t in a position to fight back. Even the Nazis got in on the act; not long after the Night of Broken Glass, they had the Night of Long Knives. Apparently, when you break the truce with the other side, you break it within your own ranks as well, and everyone starts cheating each other to death.

So just be careful before you go discarding the rules of civility and murdering your way to the top, for you may find that one day, when you least expect it, the ghost of civil society will have its revenge upon you, and you will have to pay for breaking the truce.