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Defacing the Currency (How Academia Got Pwned 9)

This is the ninth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. This will probably become a book. If you'd like to hear about that when it happens, be sure to subscribe.


"Interesting points," you might be thinking, "but why must you speak and act in ways so obviously doomed to get you in trouble?" Am I an earnest but naïve young man, who seriously thought he could act and speak this way without getting fired? Am I trying to become a martyr to win donations of pity and sympathy? Am I a cynical manipulator enacting a Trumpian gambit to gain power, or what?

I could just tell you how I understand myself, but you wouldn't believe me, and you'd be wise not to. We don't always understand ourselves, first of all, and even when we do, we love to lie about ourselves.

All I can say is that, whatever it is I am doing right now, it's something I've done at least three times before in my life. A few stories about how this particular political-behavioral pattern has recurred periodically throughout my life should be enough to assure you that — whatever I am doing — it is no opportunistic ploy or gimmick. In no way does this guarantee the goodness of my life choices: it could very well be a consistently perverse, pathological thread in my life. But if this thread turns out pathological, I am sure as hell not going to let anyone think it's merely a short-term, opportunistic paroxysm of pathology. No sir.

I will tell you the story of my life, but it will take a while, because it starts in Ancient Greece.

I am engaged in what the Ancient Cynics called “defacing the currency.” There is a whole secret history of this practice through the ages, which I can give you if/when these posts get compiled into a book. For now I just want to give you the basic schema of this strange operation. The phrase is most famously associated with Diogenes of Sinope, and the practice is understood as something akin to killing false idols, or altering widely held social values, especially those that are false or hypocritical, and typically through some kind of transgressive behavior. Otherwise the idea remains poorly understood in academic philosophy — when it is even considered a philosophical idea, which is rare. The concept is even less understood by social scientists — when it is even considered as a political mechanism, which is never, as far as I know. Well, there is this (shameless self-citation).

“Defacing the currency” is a type of political action: a particular set of individual-level behaviors, which under certain conditions, produce predictable society-level consequences. Defacing the currency is a demonstrable, and replicable tactic for concretely overthrowing institutions. One act of defacing the currency does not necessarily overthrow an institution, of course. Rather, defacing the currency is a tactic that produces real empirical effects tending toward the actual overthrow of institutions.

Here’s how it seems to work.

Step 1: Invest in a group of people, genuinely, wholeheartedly. The concept of social capital is useful here, for investing in a group means you are growing your social capital in that group. If all you’re doing is looking for social capital, that is not genuinely investing in the group, which will reveal itself, and then you won’t gain social capital. But if you are genuinely committed to the group, unconditional on the instrumental value of your social capital (i.e. what you can get or do with it outside of immanently enjoying it), ironically this gets you the most social capital. Why exactly things work this way must remain somewhat mysterious for now, but as far as I can tell this is a general and real empirical phenomenon.

Step 2: After you have accumulated social capital, performatively demonstrate a lie that the group tells itself. All groups tell themselves lies, for the in-group cannot be different from the out-group without at least some hidden fiction somewhere (in the words of E. E. Schattschneider, “organization is the mobilization of bias”). You can’t just speak the lie to the group, because talk is cheap. Game theory shows that cheap signals are uninformative. In practice, “uninformative signals” are signals that fail to move bodies. Cheap talk leaves things unmoved, whereas costly signals have the strange property of altering the state of the world, and therefore altering behaviors, whether people like it or not.

Step 3. The consequences. The results will depend on a few variable magnitudes, but we’ll focus on two. First, how much social capital did the actor accrue in Step 1? Two, how impressive was the performance? By impressive I mean some weighted function of how big and deep were the lies it revealed, and how grandiose, costly, and aesthetically forceful was the performative activity? As the actor’s initial store of social capital increases, and as the performative magnitude increases, the result is increasingly likely to deface the currency.The implication of a defaced currency is that the truly operating norms, predicated to some degree on lies, become less effectively operative. Their empirical, operating reality decreases, potentially to the point of vanishing. In short, “defacing the currency” is the only theoretically and empirically sophisticated form of protest behavior worthy of normatively positive adjectives such as “progressive,” “emancipatory,” etc., that is known to history (as far as I can see). But in any given case, to any bystander, it just looks like some crazy asshole shitting on a stage. Diogenes of Sinope literally shat on a stage at the Isthmian games, by the way. I have a post in my drafts that will tell this story later.

I know what you’re thinking, what could this possibly have to do with me? “Didn’t you just get popped doing drugs and calling people retards? How dare you place yourself in some illustrious history of subversive philosophers and revolutionaries! You can’t just do that, you have to, like, publish in New Left Review ten times at least. You can’t just become a significant revolutionary, how criminally narcissistic can a person be? A publisher will never give its stamp of truth to such delusions of grandeur…”

Oh but I do dare, I am so arrogant, and criminally narcissistic, disgustingly so, as most intellectuals are, and no publisher should or could ever tolerate it, except that I am the publisher. I am indeed participating in a grand history, though I would be the first to admit I am only a minor and recently enlisted combatant in this millennia-long war on the world. All that is new with me, perhaps, is the degree of engineering transparency with which I am conducting these campaigns — or rather, with which these campaigns are conducting me.

Soon I'll tell you how I've done this all before, on a few different occasions.

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4 comments on “Defacing the Currency (How Academia Got Pwned 9)”

  1. So I'd take your metaphor for our roles in the culture war and add the language of veteran to describe you and similar intellectual mercenaries who have been through past conflicts.

    And that experience and wisdom of how to mobilize and take action may call for you to rise to the rank of Captain.

    But we can objectively evaluate your actions and the needs of the current level of organization.

    First, your interpretation of these three steps have models that are not well applied to our history. Shitting on a stage requires you to have admittance onto an academic forum to discuss freely what the audience would find reprehensible. You're telling tales in the alley down the block from the venue. Holding up as a token of your credibility your academic position that has had its legitimacy for the most part rescinded.

    Second, the lie you must tell that your group holds, that is a cynical vestige of your particular chosen sides. Communist revolutionaries, street organized riots, popular uprisings, anti globalist protests are all structured around a culture of a unified belief that cannot be true and so must agree on the foundation upon which agreement can be shared. That is the reason for your experience telling you that there must be at the bottom a _lie_.

    Three, your insights on this process has failed to actualize into a useful narrative as demonstrated by your statement that "to any bystander, it just looks like some crazy asshole shitting on a stage". It's hard to straighten such a tangle. No bystander sees what is on a stage. Stages are the focal point of performance venues where audiences assemble to experience a presentation by an artist or intellectual. You are not on this stage, you do not have the attention of any bystanders, and you are not the publisher. You abuse the term enlisted in the a passive tense without a subject acting on you, the implication that your superiors' condemnation of your expressed blatant disregard for the welfare of your own organization is the force which enlisted you, or the world at large, or God himself, or those fans and audience of the OL...

    And it's unfortunate that you so brazenly say that in your narcissistic way, you have led ineffective protests, where you don't recall having communicated with those you endeavour to influence. You have a people's movement attitude that puts you as the self appointed mouthpiece of a group of followers allured to gather under your banner. This you exclaim is done not because it's right or of wisdom or having earned it, but precisely in defiance of those virtues. This understanding serves to explain to me why I failed to appreciate the interest of those in your community have in Nihilism and There Is No One. You have been acting out the story of the anti value revolutionary who purposefully declares your commitment to narcissistic behaviors on behalf of the greater good.

    The conclusion I submit is a response to the premise that you posit in this post. That you must invest in the community but not receive in return, give to the group without demands, conform to the objectives without challenge, and that only through this process of submission to the will outside of the individual can one unite in solidarity. This my friend is the call of a organizer of a mob, a seemingly selfless leader of thugs with the expectation that they do his bidding and continue to hire him to do what they could not do for themselves.

    You have a particularly conspicuous absence of presence in your open Discord community. You seem to withdraw until begged to grace us with another bit of content. And the hypocrasy of declaring how one must serve others while making standing requests to pay you any amount possible so that you can enjoy the support and continue to prosper. You are quick to ask questions, you decline reciprocal questions. You are regularly inquiring of others' opinions which you are grateful to receive, but your decline to consider their concerns and are judicious with what you would feel is warranted.

    This is not a simple dilemma because those patterns of behavior are wholly consistent with the proper roles of executive leadership. But they are antithetical to the cause you yourself want to contribute to, as well as all those here, and all those who received an invite but who see that there is no community here.

    There is something missing for you for me for all sorts of people. And in a surprising way I think it is right in front of us. You describe the the components of the motive forces that are integral to a successful movement, but at each step, you have the motivation inverted. I'm going to have to return to suss them out more precisely, but I'll point to an example. You proudly state that your intentions are unholy and it is your base desires that lead you and it would be futile to attempt to discover your purpose and you'd be a liar if you had to say. It only makes sense that you follow this pompous narcissistic treatise of the need to give and not receive with a plea for donations to fund the ongoing effort. Only after you get that in is there a form to submit comments, which is never used because it's never responded to, because that's the deal you're offering, nothing for something. That's not good for me, and I'm sorry for the people that's good for.

    It comes down to this. I'm not trashing you. But this path you're taking is trying to capitalize on nothing, and not collaborating to create something worth capitalizing on. You have a gift of time where you are free and maintain an income to develop something of value and going public with publishing nothing is trying to cash in a check with nothing in the bank. It's no more then the crypto currency song and dance, dreaming to issue everyone on the ground floor an investment in the coming wealth. On YouTube there are ads all over that show expensive lifestyles and a guy that doesn't know anything more than the viewer, but look at what his life is like, it's way better and he'll show you how. But, here's the catch, this business plan doesn't come prepackaged, it's not a scam, it's like everything else in life, if it's worth having then it's worth putting in time and energy for. So you have mimicked the most ever present get rich quick organizational scheme that literally has as an example of the end state of a perfectly developed vision, in Scientology. You're a fledgling reform Scientologist.

    1. How about you create something affirmative, Tom, instead of spending all your time writing long responses to other people? No offense, but I'm never going to take time away from my own work to respond point-by-point to constant, long, barely comprehensible, foaming-at-the-mouth, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink critiques of my project. I'm more open and available than most, but you're going to have to do better than this if you want me to play ball with you.

      1. Hah, that's a mature answer. How about it's like this. Long distance relationships better be already locked down and have survived tests. Pen pals don't start friends. Asking an aquaintance how they're doing, works as long as they don't tell you. Movements get started by organizations that form by people who meet and discuss what they will do. Actors with agency who are enlisted to serve are the furthest thing from an individual who joins with others who seek shared objectives and a way to unite their will and converge their various maps of understanding into a sensible and agreed upon foundation.

        In other discussions last month, I ran into a continuous debate about competition and cooperation and there is an answer, or rather each answer can be chosen and what the impact is can be anticipated. The core to religion is that cooperation comes first. There is a God means the world is real. To use our intelligence and interact productively, we must live the moral life, which is to cooperate first and then compete.

        It's an all in group dynamic of meetings in the taverns to discuss the issues and hammer out an accord that has objectives and proposed structure for the organization to grow. This was the American founders, the great awakenings, all four of them already by individual Intellectuals in the US in modern history. But like you know, it's not for everyone, but it is for all of us, all of us who CAN.

        I don't have the answer for you and I to do. But I know that you and I can find it, and it's probably going to involve Justin Greenhall and Eric Weinstein.

        1. Taking this further, I've often managed teams of people and am a sharp evaluator of people's inclinations and skill sets. So it's one of those things that can't be known or told ahead of time. It's how it happens when it gets discovered. And the initial formation of an emergent life form, an idea held by a single individual or much more commonly is held in the collective conscious, is the hardest most difficult process that takes the most time and energy by those most capable and willing. It's like the incubation time when you need to have shelter while devising, or really creating, a plan. Both of us have volumes of material we have already 'devised' and yet we have no plan.

          And I'm apologetic for causing expected offense. And I would wish for myself that politeness was part of this process. But as we are personally well aware and globally bearing witness to, the cost of an unpleasant conversation is too high for those who have closed their minds off.

          In concrete terms I am not interested in working to fund raise for you. I also do not have a position to hire you for or to offer your as a freelancer.

          Also I do not have a sales pitch for a get rich program.

          It's the wish to come together and do what can be done that has brought together those throughout our history. And it always works. Because it is WHAT WORKS. I just saw your were at Temple in Philadelphia, and so you may be aware of the Masonic Temple next to City Hall. That is our heritage. And it sits there empty.

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