Thursday, June 22, 2023

I love a good villain

I love a good villain. They can and do and should exist. The only problem we face is there are not enough of them. Disagree? Because for all their faults, villains break the facade. Villains poke at the myth that humans are "innately good," which is merely a mistaken assumption for the reality that cooperation with others aids self-preservation. A common complaint with writing is that villains are almost always more interesting. The problem is good and purity are simple. Meanwhile, villains have horrendous self-justifications and traits but with it, they have a few good points. There's entire online communities dedicated to the idea that Thanos did nothing wrong. We're familiar with the yin and yang. Most know the second most popular book after The Bible.

Technology: more dangerous then, or now

I despise Stephen Pinker's simplistic, forward-looking, forced optimism he maintains to sell books. Yes, because of technology, things are people more safe and predictable on a day-to-day basis. Because of cameras and the easy travel of information, it's harder to get away with things. Serial killers like so many other things are all but retired thanks to advances in technology. The cult leader is an endangered species because now you can double check their claims of a space-gate created by aliens. Jim Jones killed over 900 people convincing them to drink cyanide-poisoned Flavor Aid. It's reasonable to assume this type of crime would be difficult to pull off in the era of cellphones and lightning quick media dissemination. It's easy to draw a conclusion that the world is made safer by this proliferation of technology. This may not be the case.

Imagine this as a thought experiment. I will use two examples to please both sides of the unhinged political isles. Antivaxxers: imagine a media personality shilling minimally-tested vaccine use to the masses to cause harm and/or for personal gain. Provaxxers: imagine a media personality advocating against vaccine use to the masses to cause harm and/or for personal gain. Now keep in mind even the most sound science is contested and repeated proof is integral to the process. New science by its nature will be hotly contested and more so if its in light of a global health crisis where time is paramount. Also keep in mind in the U.S. as example trust in government institutions has been around 20% for a long time (Pew Research), this is not the domain of a fringe political party, it represents the vast majority. In this environment, what is the equation for how much damage one media personality can cause? I imagine it's not quantifiable. But if thousands can be willingly convinced to poison themselves with detergent as happened with the "Tide Pod challenge," I believe a motivated person with a platform of millions and a good enough narrative could outdo the mere 900 deaths of Jonestown by multiples.

Speech: more dangerous consolidated, or free

Free speech I believe is the most important thing to secure but I also understand the trepidation against it, and the hysterical headlines associated with it. Sure, people kill people, and guns more efficiently, but the propaganda of say, "stopping the spread of Communism" is what sold the ideological motivation to do it at a mass scale. The proliferation of the internet is free speech incarnate. If you were born into the ruling class and powers that be, free speech should terrify you. Why wouldn't it, it means upheavals, it means any injustice that created your comfort may be exposed, and the more well-off you are, the more you're under the microscope of the down-trodden and dispossessed. Also, because of you're privilege, it's harder to see their point of view, or how you too could benefit from a more balanced society. Think of it this way: would you rather be the richest man in a war-torn country with no running water, or an average man in an apartment with WiFi. Kim Jung-un may run his own country, but I imagine most people from western countries wouldn't trade into his poor infrastructure, isolationist position if they are even moderately wealthy.

The internet provided a balancing and reshuffling of power. More accurately, though, it came in conjunction with the cellphone, its pictures and videos, and the ease of data distribution. You can mark the beginning in 2007-8 with the release of the first iPhone and social media platform Facebook inching closer to critical mass. In November 2006 comedian Michael Richards went on a racist tirade that was recorded on a low-quality cellphone video, sparking likely the first instance of "cancel culture" as we know it today. With this technology rose content creators and their own personal brands each with their armies of fans. The strength of the internet, by some, can be seen as a weakness. With podcasts, blogs, and streamers, everyone has access. Even the nastiest personalities have a contingency to make profit via crypto. This dynamic causes discomfort and contention between different factions in the largest social platform ever created, where people argue how to police and vie for power while promoting themselves in what could aptly be called an information war.

Alex Jones

Alex Jones once famously and astutely described himself with, "I'm kinda retarded." It's notable because "retarded" itself as a word is on dividing line between what's proper and poor taste. Alex Jones himself seems to be the battleground between appreciation for free thought and ironic veneration versus censorship and fear for speech to cause real world harm. What makes Alex Jones compelling is not that he's crazy, the mentally ill screaming in a padded cell won't sustain a crowd, it's that he's precisely half-crazy. When you're half-crazy you have the unpredictability that makes you indefinitely compelling. Here you have a figure who has undoubtedly caused harm in the world that's quantifiable and by his own admission. The related matter is how much importance we place on individual human agency. Perhaps Alex through naming names triggered the pre-disposed to harass families of Sandy Hook, but it does not seem intentional and does seemed informed by his own mental illness. The fevered fight over words makes itself apparent in the lawsuits. If there was criminal negligence on an aircraft a payout per death would max at $500,000 on the high-end. The successful suit against Jones for causing distress reached a verdict of about one billion dollars, indicating to anyone of sane mind a failure of justice.


Alex didn't shy away from controversy even as his trials remain on-going, he hosted Ye. The new mainstream liberal thought is there are no benevolent billionaires, and billionaires shouldn't exist. If this is true, they should love Ye. He rejected billionaire status, after all. I recognize him as a villain but can't help but admire him. He did what we all preach and espouse which is to shun money and material possessions in the name of integrity and personal beliefs, it just so happens many of his are reprehensible. He's a racist, a tragic figure, refreshingly honest. He trolled with intentionally inflammatory language suggesting his love for Hitler and the Nazis, under the guise of "loving everyone." Clearly, he's attention-seeking, amusing himself, and to some degree believes anti-Semitic tropes. But his sin at the end of the day is merely speaking his mind which contains incredibly ignorant insights. The ownership of any hateful act he inspires, though, lies within that individual. Chris Brown beat a beloved black artist and can still tour America, I doubt Ye the same. Many with domestic violence charges rebound. George Floyd was exalted of horrendous crimes upon his death. Many people beat, kill, steal, or sexually assault, and receive more empathy than a man who's merely a wrong and outspoken bigot.


During Ye's downward spiral he kept in close touch with other undesirables. One was Nick Fuentes, a hispanic white supremacist and self-professed incel who is canceled by banks, on a no-fly list, and hosts a popular show from his parent's basement. I find his unhinged, petty hatreds compelling to listen to in small doses. Reviewer Roger Ebert once said, “The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil. It is a great film that argues for evil.” There is an equal elegance for a bad cause here. Nick is young, bright, charismatic and attuned to irony, making a lot of his reprehensible beliefs memefied and digestible to his audience. He reminds me of a young David Duke, the hate coursing through his ice-cold veins not yet crystalized and deforming his face into something demonic and unrecognizable. It will likely get there. Why free speech is important is that bubbles like these will form unchallenged and hence grow in strength and numbers to zero defense or counterargument. There's also a cynicism in throwing these people aside, as total cancellation suggestions that those wrong cannot change. When I see Nick I see a projection of isolation, an island made by his own intelligence, too stunted by alienation or insecurity or sexual hangups. He reeks of someone who sought acceptance and mentorship, was met with rejection, and tripled down into an even more hateful mess for validation and attention.

Roger Stone, Stefan Molyneux, Martin Skhreli, and the rest

Who could not love Roger Stone, the deranged drug-using bisexual, with Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, seething, shouting and grinding to teeth to nubs during the videos of his deposition? Or Molyneux, whose hate and insistence on IQ and genetics undermines the fact both his parents were institutionalized. Who could not admire Milo Yiannopoulos's feeble attempts to rage-bait himself back into relevance, or the way his legitimate intelligence tries to fight a worldview at odds with his sexuality. Who could not like Steve Bannon (#BanosDidNothingWrong) as he fights for the Little Man with his background in Harvard Business School and Goldman Sachs, using Bill Clinton's rape victims to undermine his wife's presidential aspirations, or trying to arbitrage digital assets in World of Warcraft. Who could not be charmed by the self-persecution and the unconscious self-parody of Andrew Tate. Who is not a fan of Martin Shkreli's attempt to make blatant the fraud that is generally par-the-course for American business.

The age of the villain

Villains are important, and not only because they are an inevitable bi-product of free society. A smart citizen will understand "the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance." It's a heavy cost, but preferable to the cost of a life suffering from a total lack of spontaneity and surprise that a focus on safety and surveillance would entailan ever-encroaching movement where every aspect of life is tabulated, categorized, and rendered inert. The distinguishing element in my chosen villains, is they exhibit a form of honesty about their villainy, if not forthright then by the brazenness and transparency of their behavior. Villains exist no less predictably than predators in wilderness. Unlike those predators, they operate camouflaged and cloaked from discovery, in a trend that's slowly changing with the increased access of information. Not only is this preferable from a diagnostic perspective, the world is more interesting when it shows its cards.

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