The Internet of Beefs

You’ve heard me talk about crash-only programming, right? It’s a programming paradigm for critical infrastructure systems, where there is — by design — no graceful way to shut down. A program can only crash and try to recover from a crashed state, which might well be impossible. I came up with a term for the human version: beef-only thinking.

A beef-only thinker is someone you cannot simply talk to. Anything that is not an expression of pure, unqualified support for whatever they are doing or saying is received as a mark of disrespect, and a provocation to conflict. From there, you can only crash into honor-based conflict mode, or back away and disengage.

The connection to crash-only programming is more than cosmetic, but it will take some set-up before I can establish the conceptual bridge.

Online public spaces are now being slowly taken over by beef-only thinkers, as the global culture wars evolve into a stable, endemic, background societal condition of continuous conflict. As the Great Weirding morphs into the Permaweird, the public internet is turning into the Internet of Beefs.

The Internet of Beefs, or IoB, is everywhere, on all platforms, all the time. Meatspace is just a source of matériel to be deployed online, possibly after some tasteful editing, decontextualization, and now AI-assisted manipulation.

If you participate in online public life, you cannot entirely avoid the Internet of Beefs. It is too big, too ubiquitous, and too widely distributed and connected across platforms. To continue operating in public spaces without being drawn into the conflict, you have to build an arsenal of passive-aggressive behaviors like subtweeting, ghosting, blocking, and muting — all while ignoring beef-only thinkers calling you out furiously as dishonorable and cowardly, and trying to bait you into active aggression.

Your only other option is to retreat to a shadowy network of private spaces defended by blocks, restricted feeds, secret-group gatekeeping boundaries, and subscribers-only paywalls. A sort of underground Internet that I’ve previously called the CozyWeb.

Beefing is everywhere on the internet. Bernie and Warren beef with each other and with Trump, different schools of economists beef with each other over trade policy, climate hawks beef with climate doves. Here you see Slavoj Žižek and Jordan Peterson taking their beef offline. There you see Ben Shapiro attempt to bait Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into a live beef for the hundredth time. And over on that side, we find Jesse Singal beefing with trans activists.

And in one corner by himself, of course, is Nassim Taleb beefing with all comers on all topics.

Hulk, smash.

Taleb muddying the factional boundaries of the culture war is one of the few genuinely amusing theaters of the conflict on the IoB. The blast radius around his twitter feed is not a safe space for anyone besides members of his own cult of Mesopotamian personality.

And this is just the North American, English-language theater of the IoB (the other major one I’m familiar with, the Indian theater, is much worse).

Mooks and Knights

The most important beefs though, are not between celebrities at all, but among the anonymous masses who face off under their banners.

Conflict on the IoB is not governed by any sort of grand strategy, or even particularly governed by ideological doctrines. It is an unflattened Hobbesian honor-society conflict with a feudal structure, at the heart of which is an involuntarily anonymous, fungible, angry figure desperate to be seen as significant: the mook.

The semantic structure of the Internet of Beefs is shaped by high-profile beefs between charismatic celebrity knights loosely affiliated with various citadel-like strongholds peopled by opt-in armies of mooks. The vast majority of the energy of the conflict lies in interchangeable mooks facing off against each other, loosely along lines indicated by the knights they follow, in innumerable battles that play out every minute across the IoB.

Almost none of these battles matter individually. Most mook-on-mook contests are witnessed, for the most part, only by a few friends and algorithms, and merit no overt notice in either Vox or Quillette. Beyond a local uptick in cortisol levels, individual episodes of mook-on-mook violence are of no consequence.

In aggregate though, they matter. A lot. They are the raison d’être of the IoB.

The standard pattern of conflict on the IoB is depressingly predictable. A mook takes note of a casus belli in the news cycle (often created or co-opted by a knight, and referred to on the IoB as the outrage cycle), and heads over to their favorite multiplayer online battle arena (Twitter being the most important MOBA) to join known mook allies to fight stereotypically familiar but often unknown interchangeable mook foes. They come prepared either to melee within the core, or skirmish on the periphery, either rallying around the knights riding under known beef-only banners, or adventuring by themselves in unflagged, unheralded side battles.

There is no higher honor for a mook than to be noticed by the knights they fight for. As a result, the fealty of the mook is the currency of the manorial economy of the IoB. Mookcoins are mined by knights through acts of senpai-notice-me. Call it proof-of-favor. And on mookcoins runs the economy of the IoB.

A mook once animated by a grievance is hard to destroy.

Loyalties might shift through knightly sell-outs and betrayals, and mook allegiances might shift individually or en masse in ideologically incoherent ways, but once the psyche of a mook becomes animated by grievance-power, there is no going back. It is an almost irreversible sort of dehumanization.

The more mooks a knight of the IoB can maintain in a stable state of combat-readiness, the bigger a player they are on the IoB. If you are blessed with a better, beefier class of mook in your army, capable of sustaining and dishing out more damage points, they will even win over mooks from adjacent theaters of conflict for you, and perhaps even bait a few frustrated non-combatants (not the same as NPCs, who are in fact a class of combatant present on all sides) into joining the conflict. To the seasoned knight, it doesn’t matter whether a new mook joins on their side or the other side; the point is to grow and sustain the conflict rather than win (more on that later).

And to be a knight, of course, is to have a recognized name, and a storied reputation as a beef-only thinker to be reckoned with; one capable of owning opposed knights (and “absolutely eviscerating” them in strategically edited YouTube clips). Knights might be affiliated with a known imperial banner, or less frequently, freelancers like Taleb (the term freelancer comes from mercenary knights, with no fixed loyalties, in the medieval era).

The centrality of mooks is an important point that is often overlooked (often by knights and mooks themselves) because of the obvious insignificance of any particular mook in isolation. In aggregate, however, mook power is what the IoB is about. If the relatively peaceful web of the 90s and aughts was about civilian eyeballs, the IoB is about mook-on-mook combat clicks, and is now entering its second decade (Searing Twenties is the eyeball-roasting name I’ve entered into the naming contest; fite me irl if you disagree).

The technology of the IoB is the technology of pitting crowds of mooks against one another, as Renee DiResta presciently pointed out in her 2016 post, Crowds and Technology (now the trailhead of a 4-part primer on the IoB; read the whole thing if all this is new to you).

Conflict on the IoB is shaped not by the strategic intentions of its nominal leaders (who largely have none, beyond keeping the conflict profitably alive and growing), but by emotional energy flows in the field of mooks. The best knights on the IoB, such as Trump, operate by an entirely reactive philosophy: “there go my mooks; I must find out where they are going, so I can get out in front and lead them.”

Actual belief is a liability on the IoB. The more a knight of the IoB genuinely believes in whatever principle they think they are fighting for, the less effective they are as wranglers of fickle mook energy. Sincerely ideological players routinely overestimate the depth of intellectual coherence required to accumulate and wield mook power, producing nerdy intellectual edifices where mere covfefe gestures would not just do the job, but actually do it better.

The very best knights of the IoB carry on their beef-only cultural conflicts only because the mooks make it profitable for them to do so. For the mook, the conflict is a means to an end, however incoherent. For the knight, the conflict is the end. Growing it, and keeping it going, is something like an entrepreneurial cultural capital business model (one with no exit from the hell-market of other people; Sartre would be proud).

If conflict in any particular theater shows dangerous signs of actually resolving itself, another must be spun up to take its place, much as businesses that hope to survive must replace markets in decline with new ones.

As a result, on the IoB, the only meaningful transaction is the pitched battle between armies of mooks, the equivalent of a viral hit. The bloodier and stupider, the better for the instigating knights on all sides. The greater the futility, the more useful, since it reinforces a disposition towards conflict for the sake of conflict.

Strategy is not just absent, it is an outright liability, since it might encourage negotiation and compromise, lower the social-death body-count of faceless mooks, inhibit GDP growth in the mook manorial economy, and worst of all, potentially end the conflict.

Mook Manorialism

A common posture among the Knights of the IoB — one that is more often clueless than disingenuous — is that the mooks are not important.

That the knights are neither responsible for what the mooks do, nor accountable for the views held by mooks who fight under their banners.

That the existence of mooks is merely a sort of unfortunate and unavoidable natural side-effect, rather than the whole point.

That the work of mining more mooks through senpai-notice-me marks of favor is innocent noblesse oblige towards an oppressed population that one reluctantly leads, rather than a profitable grievance mine that one lives off.

That the excesses of one’s own mooks are both overstated and forgivable as crimes of temporary, misguided, and justified exuberance, while those of the other side’s mooks embody the spiritual, if not biological, end of humanity.

That they are engaged in high-minded cultural battles for the soul of society against dishonorable opposition fatally compromised by bad faith, while themselves only reluctantly entering the battlefield out of a sense of duty, and bound by a code of reasonable, unbiased, balanced conduct, even if it means nobly marching to martyrdom.

I call this posture mook manorialism.

The posture is similar to, and indeed overlaps with, the postures of revolutionary leaders who instigate what has come to be known as stochastic terrorism. The difference is that the Lord of a Mook Manor maintains a sanitary ideological distance from his mooks while keeping them tactically close on the IoB: close enough to hear dogwhistles and take tactical cues from their own marquee jousts, distant enough for plausible ideological deniability. Unlike the leaders of ISIS, IoB knights are not particularly eager to take responsibility for terror attacks under their banners, only to profit from their consequences.

Mook manorialism is an economy based on axe-grinding. As the peasantry, mooks do more than fight other mooks. They are also responsible for keeping grievances large and small well-nursed and alive. Occasionally, through an act like whistleblowing or leaking of confidential communications, a mook might briefly become a named player in a particular theater of conflict, but the median mook is primarily expected to keep everyday grievances alive and fight under the glare of algorithmic lights when called upon to do so, unrecognized by history, but counted in the statistics and noticed by the AIs (senpAIs?).

Importantly, unless you do something dumb that makes you vulnerable to being drawn into the mook-manorial economy against your will, such as saying something that can be used against you while in a position of authority in an important institution, the IoB is an opt-in conflict arena.

You only opt-in to the Internet of Beefs driven by a sincere grievance if you are mook enough to want to. If you aren’t, and you haven’t fallen into the IoB by becoming vulnerable or compromised in some way, you are there either because you’ve been baited in, or because you are profiting from its existence.

The arsenal of baiting techniques on display is impressive. At the lowest level, mooks are created primarily through the taunting and mockery of pre-existing mooks, and the rare notices of beefing senpais (and viral-celebrity creating senpAIs). At the highest level, women (and some men) play a particularly important role, as thirst-trap players in ideological clothing, drawing in wannabe knights eager to fight for, among other things, their honor and a higher-value currency of attention. If senpai-notices power the mooks, thirst-trap notices power half the knights. If the mooks are maintained in a state of continuous partial grievance by the knights, the knights are maintained in a state of continuously parched replyguy frustration by the thirst traps in their high towers.

And of course, behind the scenes there are organized state and non-state actors, from Putin on down, adding fuel to every convenient fire, and occasionally starting fires where there are no convenient pre-existing ones.

Cultures of Conflict

Among the most grimly amusing aspects of the IoB is that the endemic conflict unfolding endlessly and pointlessly on it is called a culture war. So what exactly is cultural about the culture war?

The nominal bones of contention, such as representation in movies, or the status of the Western canon or enlightenment values in higher-education, appear to simply be convenient recruitment hooks that conform in fairly obvious ways to mook identities. The culture wars are no more identitarian and cultural by virtue of the content than any other war, as far as I can tell. And certainly beefing on the IoB does little to satisfyingly settle questions of identity one way or another.

Given that it has few literal casualties, perhaps the conflict itself can be viewed as a form of artistic cultural production?

Maybe you enjoy the show, but I suspect most observers are with me in concluding that the Internet of Beefs is largely bereft of aesthetic merit, and infinitely more capable of producing cortisol than art. Even the actual patterns of conflict are devoid of the sort of visible strategic artistry that might warm the souls of connoisseurs of the military arts. The IoB is just relentless, ugly, shittiness, unredeemed by any actual cultural production.

So I ask again, what is cultural about the culture wars?

I suspect it is the centrality of beefing — a stylized, theatrical pattern of conflict designed to present a theater of moral righteousness, signal virtues, visibly strive towards a declared utopian condition, and most importantly, resist meaningful resolution. The conflict must be as impossible to terminate as the notional utopias being sought are impossible to actually attain. Beefing, in other words, is a lousy way to conduct or resolve an unsustainable conflict, but an excellent way to perpetuate and grow a sustainable one.

The Nature of Beefs

Let me offer a definition, inspired by Huizenga’s treatment of pre-modern conflict in Homo Ludens:

A beef is a ritualized, extended conflict between named, evenly matched combatants who each stand for a marquee ideological position, and most importantly, reciprocate each other’s hostile feelings in active, engaged ways. A beef is something like the evil twin of a love affair. A beef must be conducted with visible skill and honor (though codes of honor may be different on the different sides), and in public view. Each combatant must be viewed, by his or her supporters, as having picked a worthy adversary, otherwise the contest means nothing. The combatants fight not for material advantage, but for a symbolic victory that can be read as signifying the cosmic, spiritual righteousness and rightness of what they are fighting for. So the conflict must be at least nominally fair, hard to call decisively, and open to luck, cunning cheating, and ex-post mythologizing by all sides, in terms favorable to their own champions.

A IoB beef is not mere trash-talk among people who are obviously friends, accompanied by laughter and signs of affection. Whether real or staged, a beef must present the appearance of a genuine conflict to the mook audience. Umbrage must be taken and seen to be taken. Insults must be hurled. The venom must seem real. The mutual dislike must be palpable.

The beef then, is ideally prosecuted via a series of ideological coin-tosses, conducted with emotional sincerity and an honorable display of prowess by the worthiest and most well-matched combatants, designed to discover what the gods will for the future of humanity, and which tribe of mooks they have picked out as the chosen people, destined to survive the culture war and come out the other end (date TBD) with identities intact.

It is, of course, an absolutely silly way to conduct a conflict one intends to decisively win and replace with a pragmatic peace. In a real conflict, you would seek an overwhelming advantage, and ideally, to win without firing a shot, at no cost. On the IoB, knights seek balanced matches, actual fighting, and no outcome, at the highest cost possible.

You cannot predict the course of a culture war by trying to understand it as a military conflict. You can only predict it by trying to understand it as the deliberate perpetuation of a culture of conflict by those with an interest in keeping it alive.

Here it is useful to look at beefs in the artistic and sporting worlds.

The Beef Element in Culture

Beefs, of course, are a staple of the arts, in which we can include sports. Artists must war with words to make their presence in the world felt. As this excellent essay by Hua Hsu argues, beefs, rather than actual works of art, are the dominant currency of the creative world. You are only as good as your beefs.

Counterintuitively, to increase the beef quotient of an art or sport, you have to reduce the level of the actual conflict and skill in favor of the staged kind. That’s how you get from wrassling to professional wrestling. You have to head towards more mannered, stylized, genre forms of cultural production.

The more a scene shaped by artistic or athletic beefs conforms to a mannered and generic aesthetic, the easier it is for mook consumers to appreciate the formulaic, legible artistry on display, and tediously imitate it in their own anonymous beefing on the sidelines. What little actual taste the mook has requires highly legible conventions and tropes to feed on. Subtlety and nuance are lost on the mook. To demand imagination from a mook is to render him less effective on the battlefield. Only near-robotic programming will work.

Of course, the presence of a beef does not always indicate the presence of beef-only thinking. It might be scripted or improvised theater, it might be incompetently pursued real conflict, or it might be something in that zone of quantum indeterminacy known as kayfabe. But I suspect beefing in the creative world is more serious than people suspect. It is easier to imagine poets actively hating each other than football players.

The peculiar mix of sensitivity and insecurity in the artistic psyche is a recipe for genuinely beefy sensibilities. As Hsu observes:

It stands to reason that artists who possess a sensitivity to human nature would themselves be hypersensitive people. And it makes sense that those with gifts for storytelling and narration are capable of shaping petty jealousy into something noble and epic.

Unfortunately, unlike the worlds of art and sport, where beefing is traditionally part of the game, and central to the production of culture that enriches the life of the spectator, the Internet of Beefs produces neither great works of art, nor enthralling spectacles. It is beefing for the sake of beefing.

The use of the 🍿emoji merely indicates an active beef in progress, and some potential for schadenfreude, but you’re better off reading 🍿as a marker of crossfire danger than movie-like entertainment.

The Internet of Beefs, unlike the worlds of sport, faux-sport, and art, is full of artless, productless beefing rife with genuine, sometimes deadly, hostility. The most dangerous players are not the most celebrated knights, but the mookiest mooks, animated by a sincere belief that they too, are knights, unable to recognize their own essential inconsequentiality, and mistaking their literacy in a discourse for ironic above-the-ordinary-mook stature.

The IoB is, at its core, a vast zone of wartime fan fiction generated by copypasta mooks LARPing knightly patterns of conflict, and attempting to write themselves into the end of history as heroic Mary Sues, one meme at a time.

Being After Time

What separates the knight from the mook, of course, is not a nerdy literacy in a particular beef-only discourse, but a capacity for a profitable originality within it. The mark of a knight of the vast round table of the Internet of Beefs is the relentless pursuit of the Holy Grift. A mercantile mission for the end of history.

This is not a novel observation. Every non-combatant observer of the culture wars appears to have arrived at this conclusion, and many prominent knights have admitted it in private. The signs of a core economy of profiteering and carpetbagging are just too unmistakeable. This does not mean that there isn’t a core of actual missionary sentiment driving most knights. It just means, push come to shove, that the grifting motive will rule behavior rather than ideological ends.

The grifters keep the culture war going, but did they create it? This might be the most basic political question of our times, and I believe the answer is no.

A basic mistake made by many watchers of the culture war is to assume that grifter knights did in fact create the mook manorial economy that sustains them. That it is not only being sustained top-down, but was in fact created top-down, by design.

The story goes: state actors, media empires, and technology platform companies enable the IoB infrastructure level as an economic sector. The knights of the IoB, whether missionary axe-grinders, mercenary freelancers, or something in between, use that infrastructure skillfully to downgrade innocent humans into mooks, and keep them profitably angry and fighting.

While the mooks fight, the knights make money. While the knights make money, state actors and technology companies reshape the map of the world to rule it better.

It is a tempting theory.

There are even stylized patterns of conflict that suggest such a top-down designed order beneath the chaos of the conflict. There is the brinkmanship of cancel culture. There is the insistent baiting of “civil debate” culture. There is the presence of supposedly addictive UX patterns. There are powerful state cyberwar agencies. And everywhere, all around, there is the constant, exhausting cosmic background radiation of relentless, sleepless, slightly panicked mockery of the outgroup led by the knightly class. It is tempting to believe that this is a world in which your average mook has no agency.

Tempting but wrong; it is a theory that flatters the conceit of the knightly class and state actors that they, rather than the zombie mooks, are in fact in charge.

Mooks believe this too, because it is a pleasant conspiracy theory that lets them off the hook: regular human beings are naturally nice and peaceable, and evil powers-that-be dehumanize them into zombie-mook armies through their evil Bond-villain ex-machinations. And the only reason they are fighting on Side X is because the worst of the Bond villains are on the other side. They are merely honorably choosing the least among many evils.

Sadly, this is mere self-congratulation by self-important knights and mooks. If it were that simple, a round of tasteful guillotining would achieve peacemaking miracles, liberate the mooks, raise their consciousness, and produce the kind of utopia yellow-jacketed France is not.

State and non-state actors act to enable the IoB because the existence of the knights makes it valuable to do so. The knights exist profitably because the mooks enable them to. The IoB is an economy of opportunity created by the human condition at the end of history. It is a consequence rather than the cause.

It’s all about the mooks. It’s always been about the mooks. About the economic and political opportunities presented by the curse of downcycled human resources available for one last, long harvest before the machine butlers replace them. To mint a mook is not an act against history. Just a gentle nudge to accelerate an almost inevitable outcome.

So the question really is: where did the mooks come from? A speculative answer I’m working on takes the theories of Francis Fukuyama to a conclusion he himself has been reluctant to take them lately: The mooks were born of the End of History, as zombie Last Persons; pale shadows of dead archetypes drawn from many imagined histories. Histories that are all thirty years past their terminus.

That then is the mook: a Last Person fighting soullessly over the right to perpetuate a dead identity as a Mary Sue protagonist of unbearably bad fan fictions of nothingness.

Rebooting History

Events, even seemingly historic events, continuing to happen does not mean history is continuing past its end. I am convinced — even as Fukuyama himself (come at me bro) walks back his theories — that history did in fact end with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that the emergence of vast mook classes around the world is a natural consequence. History ends not when the stream of apparently historic events ends, but when the world loses a sense of a continuing narrative, and arrives at what psychologists call a sense of a foreshortened future.

That happened in 1989, even if took nearly 30 years for everybody to get the memo, and get Very Online to beef about it, leaving lonely billionaires dreaming of space colonies peopled — and roboted — by a less disheartening post-historical transhuman species.

The rise of the Internet of Beefs, as a direct consequence of the end of history, presents a difficult challenge for those of us who haven’t been entirely mookified yet and aren’t billionaire enough to dream of living on Mars, served by identityless robots.

Because the only way to end the endless Hobbesian war of all against all at the end of history is to reboot history.

This is not a trivial undertaking.

It is not a matter of teaching the uncouth mooks some civility.

It is not about beefing knights debating with civility and arriving at a new imaginative consensus understanding (or even a harmonious dissensus understanding) of the human condition and announcing an armistice to the grateful and exhausted mooks.

It is not about a return to broad-based prosperity driven by the reversal of climate change, the promise of space exploration, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and CRISPR.

It is not about contrite Robber Baron oligarchs suddenly growing a conscience thanks to the sermonizing and shaming of ethicists, and designing more humane technologies into their neoliberal capitalist platforms.

And it is not about guillotines, universal basic incomes, progressive taxation, free college, or debt jubilees.

We are not beefing endlessly because we do not desire peace or because we do not know how to engineer peace. We are beefing because we no longer know who we are, each of us individually, and collectively as a species. Knight and mook alike are faced with the terrifying possibility that if there is no history in the future, there is nobody in particular to be once the beefing stops.

And the only way to reboot history is to figure out new beings to be. Because that’s ultimately what beefing is about: a way to avoid being, without allowing time itself to end.

Being and Beefing

The end of history is why beef-only thinking is crash-only thinking for humans. The IoB is a way of shorting our collective humanity and crashing old ways of being entirely, with no promise of recovery and reboot.

To participate is to lose.

But building and maintaining increasingly costly defenses in the form of progressively thickening skin and strengthening force fields of passive aggressive resistance is also unsustainable.

And to retreat into what I call waldenponding or to the CozyWeb is to cede public spaces entirely to the mook-manorial economy and accelerate the crash.

It is a no-exit, hellish condition.

The conclusion is inescapable: the IoB will shut down, and give way to something better, only when we know who we want to be — individually and collectively — when the beefing stops, and regenerate into that form. Only that will allow history to be rebooted, and time to be restarted.

So where does that leave us?

We who seek to discover a future again, and ways of being that reboot history, by giving ourselves to history as beings for it to be about?

We who are Very Online and destined to eventually die on the Internet of Beefs, but do not wish to?

Like all the best questions, this one is at once intensely practical — all about digital hygiene and how to design and use devices of connection to think — and intensely philosophical — about finding ways to be reborn without literally dying.

I don’t have answers, but I like that I finally at least have a question.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Doug Strange says

    A global existential crisis coming from the individual in response to the Internet rocketing human society into a brand new context that none of us can fully grasp. I didn’t read the End of History but I’m going to have to soon. That phrase makes me think of a Zombie-pocalypse but its not so much that History ended but that our context changed so radically and the Internet gave us the power to debunk our own myths. Hypertextual post modernism. Our History is not Our History and our future will not be what we imagined either. And the problem is not just Western, its Global.

    I think it is instructive that the IOB larping involves older forms of ritualized conflict / attachment / loyalty that you’ve imagined around Medieval Knights and their squires (Mooks). Perhaps there is some amount of instinctual brilliance that. Since we can’t fully contextualize our new reality yet we regress and larp our dead identities I.E. working class MidWesterner, Cosmopolitan Entertainment Star, Marxist Political Activist like a bunch of Knights or Gladiators in the Colosseum. Maybe we need to try even more and older forms of identity / being and mix them further to accelerate the discovery. Just like we cannot just make new Art out of thin air but instead weave together the old forms in new ways until something really cool happens that none of the old genres could do on their own. Like mixing blues, classical, and a bunch of ethnic forms of folk music and BOOM: Suddenly Jazz. I’ve thought for a long time that Zuck had it dead wrong. The Internet was never about everyone having a single unchangeable identity but rather about giving us the possiblity of infinite identities.

    Thank you for the post VGR.

  2. Lamar Deion says

    Archetypes are biology. They exist as long as people do. We need to get back in touch with the cultural archetypes that define each of us.

    According to my personality structure, my archetype is that of a West African griot, a class of poet and strategist that works closely with royalty and mates within a caste system.

    Everyone has an archetype, everyone has a role. We’ve lost touch, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. The rebirth of history will happen with the rebirth of narrative.

    Story died around the time Big Bang Theory became a popular show.

    • Hybrid Nerd/Jock says

      I have a diametrically opposed view to your own, Lamar. The reason why we’re mired in endless conflict in the Internet of Beefs is precisely because we value adherance to simple defined fictional archetypes moreso than the incomprehensible complexity and opportunity of reality. Archetypes aren’t real, they’re a consequence of perpetual processing of category boundaries – every category has a theoretical most central member that serves as the prototypic image for its collective traits. But it’s important to remember that category development is an arbitrary process performed by humans with an extremely lossy compression algorithm. I value the beautiful complexity of reality over trying to compress it all down into a facsimile of a tabletop game.

      However, just in case my belief in the unique value of the human spirit loses in the battleground of ideas to LARPing as fictional heroes, I would like to state for the public record that my childhood aptitude for multiple-choice tests and cute little puzzle games – which *totally* wasn’t driven by practice and familiarity – means I belong to the archetype of “high quality person”.

      I must admit that one of my greatest joy as a youngin’ was winning (official, sanctioned) fights as an alleged member of The Archetype Of Nerd over self-proclaimed members of The Archetype Of Jock. It was hilarious to me how my friends would argue over whether I was a “Nerd” or “Jock” as I grew both stronger and obsessed over more niche interests. Those experiences showed me just how arbitrary most of these divisions are, how most people don’t cleanly fit into them, and how once you know what archetype someone is desperately attempting to manifest they become quite predictable. The Internet of Beef is simply what happens when children who grew up desperately defending constructed identities in pointless caste systems discover an entire world of combatants outside the schoolyard.

      • Interloper says

        “The Internet of Beef is simply what happens when children who grew up desperately defending constructed identities in pointless caste systems discover an entire world of combatants outside the schoolyard.”
        I like this. Occam’s razor. I agree.
        I liked the post and appreciated the metaphor but it did seem a bit fanciful. But I also don’t know what the end of history is so I may just be missing something.

      • Agreed.

  3. I find it hard to read this as anything but an enormous kafkatrap. If you have convictions and morals and open your mouth online, you are either a naive mook or a duplicitous knight, recruited into the zombie war. If you think you are not, you are just unaware of how much you are.

    The complete symmetry posited here between all beefs, making them equally meaningless and hollow, is also in complete contradiction with the way specific sides of specific beefs play the game and hold territory. It also seems incredibly provincial, confusing the particulars of meaningless political posturing in defective-by-design voting systems for the absolute best we can expect from instances of philosophical and ideological collision.

    • I would like to know which beefs you think are most meaningful and which beefs are most meaningless. It would help me think about this. TY

    • “you are either a naive mook or a duplicitous knight,”

      I disagree that these are the only options. As Venkat stated, this dynamic only works if the participants work to perpetuate the conflict. If you strike to deflate a conflict, then you are neither.

  4. > And in one corner by himself, of course, is Nassim Taleb beefing with all comers on all topics.

    Funny joke, somewhat spoiled by what I thought was bad kerning. I’d be glad if the author could correct the typo.

  5. White_Rabbit says

    As mooks would say, this is PURE GOLD.
    I only object to “supposedly addictive UX”: some UX is addictive, by conscious design.
    For some time, I’ve explained my refusal to use commercial social networks based on exploiting people’s data quoting Wargames: “The only way to win, is not to play”. Your “To participate is to lose.” resonates A LOT.

  6. > We are beefing because we no longer know who we are, each of us individually, and collectively as a species.
    IMO you’re wrong about this. Beefing is a status game – mooks gain in-group status by scoring points against out-group mooks. If they play well enough they become knights. These games have always existed, they’ve just moved online like everything else

  7. Nick Allen says

    Beef Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): the art of redirecting beef energy harmlessly.

  8. ” largely devoid bereft of aesthetic merit”
    Devoid bereft double-up. Bereft probably stays as devoid used in the next sentence.

  9. HumbleRando says

    This is a great diagnosis, but it lacks a prescription. There are plenty of people who are not beef thinkers – smart and inspiring rationalists and altruists who have the potential to advance society greatly. Why then does beef-thinking persist, nay, even flourish? The short answer is because most of those rationalists (with a few exceptions, like my man Taleb) are total fucking pussies. When they meet a beef person, they politely disengage, instead of ripping their throats out and disemboweling them. In short, they ALLOW THE BEEF-PERSON TO WIN THE CONFLICT, and this encourages more beef-thinking, because humans, like every other life-form, respond to incentives.

    There are plenty of ways for rationalists and altruists to destroy beef-thinkers because at heart, beef-thinkers are fundamentally unintelligent and predictable, like machines. Sow infohazards to destroy your enemies, manipulate crowds with propaganda, design online attention-grabbing weapons to trap beef-thinkers in cycles of endless looped insanity. The only reason this correction hasn’t happened yet is because rationalists lack the will to power. Once people with the will to correct things set the proper INCENTIVES for humanity – in other words, once beef-thinking becomes the path to a nasty end instead of a tool for winning arguments – then I guarantee you that beef thinking will stop very quickly because the mighty forces of Darwinian selection mean that after a few generations, even idiots learn to stop running into the meat grinder.

    I want to be clear here that I am not adopting a political stance here. The Red Tribe has a lot of Beef-Thinkers (typically religious in nature), but the Blue Tribe is scarcely any better, with incoherent policies like Identity Politics that seem to have no purpose other than setting followers at each others throats. I have equal contempt for Beef-Thinkers of all tribes, and look forward to a world free of Beef-Thinking.

    • Hybrid Nerd/Jock says

      I think the mistake here is to think that Rationalists don’t engage in their own beef-thinking just because they dress it up in the accoutrements of academic language. I see plenty of people constantly trying and failing to perform dunks online, poorly imitating their favorite rantsona YouTuber because they’ve highly overrated themselves.

      Actually, I just realized something amusing – beef thinking can refer to not only the mindset of endless confrontation, but also the fact that we all think with the beef that makes up our brain. We’re all made of meat! Considering this, most people could do with more humility.

      • Humility is indeed needed. Gaston Bachelard in “The Philosophy of No” was able to demonstrate how scientific progress could be blocked by our meaty mental patterns. (Thus creating the concept of obstacle ‘épistémologique’.) Homo sapiens desperately needs humility to clear out these often illusionary (and often wrongly valued as ‘truth’) mental constructions. I feel this humility applies equally to other areas of human endeavor.

    • ” When they meet a beef person, they politely disengage, instead of ripping their throats out and disemboweling them. In short, they ALLOW THE BEEF-PERSON TO WIN THE CONFLICT, and this encourages more beef-thinking, because humans, like every other life-form, respond to incentives”

      If you really believe this, you’ve never seen a beef from up close. There’s *nothing* you can say or do, unless you mean the disemboweling literally, that will stop a mook, make them reconsider their positions, and change their minds. Your best and most disarming arguments won’t even give them pause. I’ve seen it, over and over, it’s an exercise in pointlessness.

      You can’t win a beef because beefs are engineered to be unwinable. Believing that you can win is the first step to join the IoB.

      • A beautifully written article with many artistic turns of phrase. However, as a contrarian I do worry that the world has gone off or gotten soft on the overall idea of debate and disagreement. “Civil debate” has become shorthand for advocacy of a more Aspen Ideas Festival fireside chat approach to politics and culture as opposed to firmly held ideas that people would like to meet you behind the school after the final bell to come to blows about. Dude, some shit MATTERS. Not most shit, but certainly some shit. Sheeeeeeit.

        Also, as technologist I must raise objection to the idea of a “system reboot”. A reboot doesn’t change the operating system or remove any of the programs you’ve got loaded on the device. It just starts everything over again, the same as before, until the next crash. How about a dual boot instead? That gives us a half step towards weaning off our old programs and old OS. It sounds like the Cozyweb idea might better mimic that model. Google “ROAR dual power” 😉🍿

    • Yeah but too much mental veganism just gives you life anemia, and who wants that? People want to feel alive. Beef does that for them.

  10. Maybe once the government blows up, there won’t be anything left for anyone to fight over.

  11. What if I object to the article?

    • Beefs make animate. They provide identity, create time, et al, when taking place in meatspace. In cyberspace they cannot provide identity, cannot create time, et al, or they provide infinite identities, unbounded times, et al.

      Since times immemorial, it has been a choice between meatspace and cyberspace.

      • “Meatspace” is where “beef” ought to be, isn’t it? As the lady in the old Wendy’s commercial said, “Where’s the beef?”

  12. Attention conservation notice: possible nonsensical abstract musings resulting from taking a metaphor entirely too literally.

    The IoB is how the problems resulting from the failures of set theoretical logic manifest on the social layer of the reality stack. Like in math/cs, the trick is to restrict formal systems using types/categories, while allowing for the proliferation of multitudes of context-specific formal systems (and domain-specific languages as interfaces to them) that still can play nice with each other via enforced protocols. It’s relationalism curing relativism, metamodernism healing postmodernism.

    • Well, there are as many context specific rational systems as there are people. So you have ~7.7 billion domain specific languages and local ontologies – tendency growing – which need interfaces with each other. A daunting task which has been solved most imperfectly but the technologists aren’t to blame. Having an IoB looks like a minor issue in comparison. At least some people have beefs with each other.

    • @Haig

      > The IoB is how the problems resulting from the failures of set theoretical logic manifest on the social layer of the reality stack. Like in math/cs, the trick is to restrict formal systems using types/categories,

      Nothing interesting to the beef game or life in general is gonna ever be concluded with formal systems.

      The issue is not about logical errors (those exist, but are inconsequential to the battle), it’s about value differences.

  13. Maybe you enjoy the show, but I suspect most observers are with me in concluding that the Internet of Beefs is largely devoid bereft of aesthetic merit, and infinitely more capable of producing cortisol than art. Even the actual patterns of conflict are devoid of the sort of visible strategic artistry that might warm the souls of connoisseurs of the military arts.

    Yes. Unlike sports, the rhetorical sphere never fully recovered in modern times, despite the institutionalization of democracy. I don’t know for sure why this happened, why we didn’t get professional sophists who trained their skills for 6 hours a day, 7 times a week for 5 years at minimum, before they get a public engagement in rhetorical combats for the intellectual pleasure of their audiences. The best of them should be paid by millions, like famous sports or entertainment stars. The misery might have a lot to do with enlightened ideas of political representation of the people ( identity politics in a nutshell ) and our protestant heritage where personal identity and convictions do matter a lot: who we are and how we live. There are also kitschy and romantic ideas at play: we want truth from a pure and unbiased mind, from some Jesus kid who teaches the scribes or from Greta Thunberg who expresses her emotions. A girl in climate change panic. Who hasn’t the heart to believe … ? It’s all a bit silly and sentimental.

    The IoB is essentially the same but on a Big Data scale. It provides training material for the Argument Clinic of the future. I find some relief in the idea that all the beefs serve a purpose, that people are spending parts of their life time, voluntary and for no costs, as mechanical turks for the Argument Clinic. Even the lowest creatures serve a plan in the minds of the gods.

    • I spent 10 years once in an online beef with a libertarian friend. We had similar backgrounds and I was growing out of my conservative religious upbringing and he was defending his shrinking corner of it. Once I had worked through (most) of my issues with my upbringing, we were done. I voluntarily disengaged. We went our separate ways. It’s all a big training ground, you’re right. Excited to see where it goes.

  14. A ghost from the past says

    Great article, and even more glorious that after your “I don’t have answers” finale comes ready-primed MOBA links begging the reader to blast you and this very article into beef hyperspace for battle.

    One reason for popping my head back in here is the now-ubiquitous (at least during football games) State Farm commercials with Aaron Rodgers and then subsequently with Patrick Mahomes, both prominent NFL quarterbacks. The ad series’ design is so Gervais Principle that I almost can’t help but think it was designed by an acolyte of it. The QBs are alphas of an illegible loser group that face off against a clueless NFL player agent. The beauty of it is that it is ambiguously constructed to simultaneously appeal to clueless and loser. Food for thought.

  15. Fantastic analysis, well presented and articulates everything I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about on Twitter. I’ve been wrestling between cozy town and being a mook (now I have the vocabulary) for a while. More recently I’ve been getting back into the slower pace of blogging. Wish I’d never left, actually. Did you mean Berlin Wall? (War)

  16. Ralph "old dad" says

    Yesterday, after reading this post, a blue check fintwit person I’m well acquainted with posted a chart about a super tiny risky stock and inviting a “constructive respectful discussion” complete with prayer hands emoji. This is red meat for my mook instincts so I spend a half hour reviewing latest financials, etc. Noticing the company is essentially out of cash and issuing promotional press releases on a nearly daily basis, I asked “Assume we see them raise soon since they are out of $$?”.

    Coming back to the thread a few hours later, I see my response/? gone and a long stream of tweets promoting the stock as extremely undervalued, etc. By various mooks playing for attention of, if not acting in concert with, the blue check knight.

    I know it isn’t news to see folks pumping a near 0 stock but my understanding of what had just happened, being a mook whose content cut against the grain of the resident knight, leading to my purge from the discussion, made more sense to me than it would have. Thanks for adding more context for me to understand the world I’m playing in.


    • I’m going to take a bit of a tangent here but… if some near-0 stock is being aggressively pushed… wouldn’t it make sense to invest? It’s a gamble but chances are that the campaign will yield some fruits and you might get away with a bit of money. It’s not like you can stop it anyway, you might as well get some of the money :-P

  17. The IoB reminds me in many ways of a classic Oxford- or Mace-style debate forum (only the formalized structure is 280 characters or less and the vetting & moderator replaced by click-driven senpAIs) w mooks being the floor attendees (eg the audience). But alas w no decisive end nor winners declared, thus the IoB self-perpetuatingly unresolved nature and the speakers (eg Knights) desire to continually find ways to keep the discussion open w old (rebranded fresh) hot-takes.

    I most appreciate Venk’s closing. Practicality will eventually cause a reformation of this useless, destructive format lest the cycle continue ad infinitum. I remain optimistic that it will.

  18. “would i ? wood eye ?”
    “hair lip ! hair lip !”
    thank you .
    you are the paul fussell of the searing 20’s.
    come at me bro ! too funny !
    didi madloba, PatrickO

  19. After beefs is universal agreement.

    Sounds like a tall order, is a tall order. But I’m working on it.

  20. I think of it more like the “end of the future” rather than the end of history. For the last X (20? 50?) years, we knew the future even if it wasn’t here yet. Amazing technology (computers in the palm of your hand! all the worlds information! etc. were dreams long before they became reality), space travel, the utopian “The World Is Flat” (unfettered free trade and free flow of information, people, no conflicts).

    Those futures have come to logical endpoints. Some dreams like the utopian world peace are shattering, and we’ve achieved others but that void where the future used to be is painful nonetheless. The beefing is just sideshow entertainment – recreating reality TV in a different medium – a way to pass the time and numb the existential dread.

    Maybe the new future will be more like the old futures before capitalism and dreams of inevitable growth? More coziness and community, the struggle will be more humans vs. our own minds and less humans beating nature via tech.. the artists once again become more important, the business people become less important.. Most of that is already happening.

    So obviously some people are filling the void with conflict and new enemies to fight – the climate, other races, the 1%, other ideologies etc. If that gets out of hand, it could lead to disaster. If not, we might be in for a sleepy 50 years? What do you think?

    • I feel like I missed a lot of possible futures too.. i dont know. it is a fun question.. whats the future going to be?

      It might end up like dystopian version of Japan? Intense competition for resources everywhere, no growth, so nations compete like low-margin businesses, and we work till we drop dead.

      also you basically restated what everyone knows so i feel pretty goddamn mooked right now, begging senpai for attention :( i just wanna make money and be secure when the world goes to shit..

  21. Interesting thesis, but in the end it reminds me of the the old adage, ‘Never wrestle with a pig. You get muddy and the pig enjoys it.’

    My direction for 2020 is to go towards the CozyWeb, since I believe that a minimal paywall keeps out most of the trolls. Despite the slagging on Taleb’s personality, he is right on about the necessity of having ‘skin in the game,’ and the mooks are playing with none, other than some online reputation in a forums of not-so-great repute.

  22. tanveer ansari says

    I think you meant Mediterranean personality not Mesopotamian – Taleb is Lebanese not Iraqi

    • It’s not where your parents are from, it’s how many steps people have to climb to reach you. (Also, as this might suggest, not totally serious)

  23. boatinternet says

    What i want to hear more about is how this impacts the people—vast majority—who don’t partake in the battles, but spectate, sometimes vigorously. I find myself compulsively identifying with various sides, specific knights and mooks, in ever-shifting allegiances. I worry a lot about the effect this had had on my thinking—essentially outsourcing more and more of my ideology to quasi-anonymous, hysterical online battles that I have no stake or influence in.

  24. Unfortunately I think the IoB is just another sad consequence of the human condition playing out on a new battlefield. Humans are the problem. Our ‘hardware’ and ‘programming’ handed down to us through the long process of evolution traps us in patterns of thinking and action that were useful long ago but are now simply broken. I firmly believe that there is only one way forward for the human race that does not have us watching the same old boring re-runs of history with ever increasing destructive powers at our disposal. We must begin to genetically engineer ourselves to a more noble and collaborative species and ditch the fear, greed, hoarding, and tribalism of our biological inheritance.

  25. Ciaran O'Malley says

    A good paper for a philosophy 101 class but not related to reality at all. As mentioned in the article twitter accounts for the bulk of online arguments in the Western world. It simply doesn’t happen on other formats. Twitter has 300m user, with the user base declining. A smaller % again are those who actually regularly engage in never ending online arguments. So using this small cohort of argumentative people to define the entire human race, and cite it as evidence we have reached the end of history is idiotic. Ask the billions of devout religious people. The billion Chinese people in thrall to the party/state. The billions in thrall to the pursuit of money/power.

    • I think it’s a pretty good representation of how things operate within a particular bubble though, if you aren’t inclined to engage on the basis of other trends you class as historical, the whole dynamic becomes a boneless blob.

      Reminds me a little of the discussion about standards; the gamergate conflict arena began, for example, nucleating around the conception of games as art, both in a positive sense of being momentous and impactful, and in the negative sense of having expanding responsibilities. This was a potential vector for cultural significance, that gaming could teach the world something about what it is to make an activity meaningful and intrinsically rewarding, with its ideas of agency, representation, flow states, empathic impersonation, and expanding the space of alternatives in traditional narrative forms.

      And against this sense that gaming had come alive, that it now had an agenda and a purpose, this aggressive backlash developed, corroding and dragging down until many of the people originally writing about possibilities for gaming to influence the world now write about experiences of harassment and the tactics associated with it.

      Like scar tissue forming around something sharp, these kinds of argumentative strategies sink the original creative machinery of pushing for some kind of future into an obfuscatory mess.

      Twitter’s particular advantage in this context is allowing a readily available bullseye, a social identity upon which various insults can be hung. You can @ people you have no other interaction with, in an irrelevant reply to whatever they post.

      But if anything, twitter allows people to feel they have landed a blow, in ways that otherwise is only done by writing false things and hoping to spread them enough the a journalist feels compelled to mention them.

      I think if twitter didn’t exist, we would just see (even?) more five minute hate videos, and attempts at real world demonstrative actions against people, protests etc. Might be less actually, without the same loops to build up to it, but it could also be slightly more pranklike.

  26. Holy shit! Man, this is the best read I had in months. You have really caught something there….Wow, just wow!

  27. I would like to know which beefs you think are most meaningful and which beefs are most meaningless. It would help me think about this. TY

  28. Thanks for this writing. I’ve linked it around to several friends who are in communities that have been rocked by beef and we’ve all found it a good read. That said, the word ‘beef’ has hit that semiotic satiation point where it no longer looks like a word to me…

  29. Seems good fun, I like the idea of people lane pushing and picking people off as their health gets low. For the video enhanced xp.

    As I mentioned in a comment above though, I thing trying to revisit the future is a risky business, as you might find what you conceptualised as a pure arena of ritualised non-ideological combat suddenly inexplicably trying to induct you when you start making certain kinds of status quo presupposition questioning statements.

  30. An incredible read full of sly references and macro/micro scale shifts, marred only by one small typo: “history did in fact end with the fall of the Berlin [Wall]” (not the “Berlin War”).

  31. Well said. I’ve been picking at this problem for a couple of decades. I believe it’s fueled by a belief that Truth is defined by the most loquacious. I’ve a possible solution in identifying invalid sources of a sense of superiority, or at least recognizing the mechanisms by which society defines superiority.
    There are two forms of mook-argument. The first promotes a specific scale of superiority (Repugnicans are assholes!) and the other supports the scale with examples. The flaw in most approaches is that they attack the second instead of the first. For instance, the issue with politics isn’t that Reds or Blues are better, it’s that the distinction between them overwhelms sensible argument about the real issues.

  32. Truth be told everyone is a mook in some domain or another. I think there’s a bit of synchronicity going on here also – last year I wrote about ‘kooks’ who are basically the mooks as per your above article. Their behaviour was down to your fineprint above, take a look if you like – another form of internet ‘ook’ : I also added some pictures to illustrate it all. In any case, love your work, keep on keeping on!

  33. Ravi Daithankar says

    Great post, Venkat! The mook-knight metaphor really captures the essence of the IoB, but I was hoping you would peel the “IoB is a consequence of the human condition” onion a little bit more. I have always had this feeling that the mess we are in right now, is not really that different from one we have always been in, and will probably always stay in, mainly because the one constant across our horizon is the human condition. But it is infinitely more difficult to ignore it today. In that sense, the IoB is different only in proportion, not kind.

    We have always had an affinity for beefs. But historically, to participate in a beef, you had to meet a very high entry barrier: true beef-readiness. You had to seriously and consciously learn how to beef, before you actually picked one. Traditionally, achieving this sort of beef-readiness involved a heavy lift of some sort to develop beefing faculties of the physical, mental, social, or another kind. Beefs were therefore graced by respectable knights and mooks, unlike shitposters and trolls. For the same reason, beefers traditionally had an art and craft about them. Even less intense and more casual beef-arenas like English coffee-houses of the 17th and 18th centuries or the Adi Shankara philosophy debate tours several centuries before that maintained a certain standard for beefing. You couldn’t just go and pick a beef because you wanted to. What is happening now with the IoB, is that the beef-readiness barrier has all but disappeared. This sudden disappearance of a beef-readiness barrier has blown the proverbial Colosseum wide open and has overly democratized beefs. To the point where you could be cheering a drunk 45 year old dad duking it out with a zitty 14 year old teenager, on climate change or data ethics.

    Again, the human condition has always been predisposed to beefs of any kind we can find. We have always been shitposters-at-heart. The I in the IoB has simply given us access to a boundless Colosseum with 24×7 spectators. The problem now is that the arena is too low-rent, the gladiators are bad-faith, boneheaded morons, and the spectators cheering them on are exactly the same, looking to get into the arena themselves as soon as they can find someone, anyone to beef with.

    • Mitch from Melbourne says

      I don’t think that all humans are like this. History had shown that there are periods of Khans. Other periods of Renaissance. How we get from the Dark Ages to Renaissance, I wish I knew. I hope it doesn’t take another Hitler and concentration camps to get us there.

      • How we get from the Dark Ages to Renaissance, I wish I knew.

        Through the grand cathedrals.

      • Ravi Daithankar says

        That’s the question that Venkat has closed with too. My larger point is that these may be the dark ages for Venkat, you, me, and a few others. But to a vast majority out there (thousands of knights and millions, possibly billions of mooks), these are utopian times. Up until even 15 years ago, most idiots who started to talk out of their ass looking to rile up those around them were shut down instantaneously through very pointed, inescapable intellectual confrontations which could be accelerated to closure very quickly. Embryonic-stage beef abortion, if you will. We are only beginning to fathom the scale of the resentment those confrontations must have generated throughout history. Can you imagine how liberating the IoB must feel to all of them? It enables them to dissociate from their IRL intellectual and emotional handicaps and posture as passionate, intelligent beings who have any idea of what they are talking about. That is what the internet has given them…endless opportunity to beef with no entry criteria. And that’s the vast majority! These may be the Dark Ages for you, but this is very much the renaissance for that majority. The Renaissance you are talking about was an anomaly. A highly anti human-condition, anti state-of-nature, intellectually-charged state of existence that can never sustain as a ground state. Basically anti-entropy.

        Good luck to us getting over this hump.

        • Can you imagine how liberating the IoB must feel to all of them?

          There is some grain of truth in your fictionalized understanding of history.

          It wasn’t particularly difficult for Luther to have access to the printing press neither was it for the French revolutionaries who were lampooning their King. This notwithstanding, radio and television, the broadcasting media, were limiting access to the public sphere in a much more severe way than any other media before and after them. They were easy to control and they gave means to a curated public. This is the scheme we are now “liberated” from. Although there is a new kind of centralization, it isn’t one which limits bandwidth or comfort. It is not that the big players won’t try. They ban and de-platform but this is now contra natura – desperate attempts to return to the order of the 20th century.

          After the Trump election there was a lot of buzz about info wars and Russian bots and undercover manipulation by Cambridge Analytica. This was a sense making attempt by media professionals, who were grown up in the old regimes and interpreted the beginning of the great weirding in familiar terms of cold war paranoia.

          • Ravi Daithankar says

            “This was a sense making attempt by media professionals, who were grown up in the old regimes and interpreted the beginning of the great weirding in familiar terms of cold war paranoia.”

            The whole Russia affair was actually laughable to me, in that it was shocking how the whole conversation for 3 years centered around the sacrilege of a foreign state meddling in an election. Almost nobody said anything about the bigger, more fundamental issue. That if such a a sizeable section of the population is so gullible and vulnerable to one campaign, how screwed are we, really? Does it even matter that it was Russia running that campaign? What if it was a fully American interest group that engineered it instead? Would it have mattered that they could have been held more accountable, legally, than a foreign state?

            In the grand scheme of things, the problem is that it is even possible to engage a population so deliberately, and that they have no defense mechanism whatsoever against such an assault. This is not a legal problem at all. It is a much deeper social, cultural, intellectual, and actually existential challenge.

            That goes back to the beef-only thinking and the human condition. We are so naturally predisposed towards beef-picking, that for anyone who comes along and aligns that predisposition with their interests, we’re a sitting duck. That’s always been the case, of course, so it was just a matter of time before it scaled to level that we aren’t equipped to deal with.

  34. Since you mention the End of History, Trump himself was mentioned in Fukuyama’s book as the kind of person who we’d need to give space/liberty to indulge in their ego and chase their ambitions in liberal democracy. Even by 1990 he was notorious for his media squabbles, self-aggrandizement, compulsion in picking fights, and the like, this before the hip-hop-culture idea of “beefs” started bleeding into the broader culture by the end of the 90s, particularly after tragic and senseless violence and even killings over such beefs. Given how social media, especially twitter, empowered the beef culture in the way you outlined, it’s not surprising that a man who was beefing before it was even a thing managed to parlay his media power into real political power.

  35. Reed Schrichte says

    Lovely article, thank you. And great writing! A pleasure to read.
    Methinks maybe we’re getting hung up on the grinding wheel and not looking at the emerging diamond: all this friction is us, iterating our way to the next higher level of awareness and being. We are actively renegotiating our place in the universe in real time here. And natural selection is actually a fairly nasty business. The potential pitfall is forgetting that, on the other side of that car or browser window, the OTHER is HUMAN; there’s a vast amount of downside to losing sight of that truth. And yes, it may be true that I am indeed a dickhead, but that does not really alter the facts on the ground, so, “let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

  36. You think WAAYYYYYY too much.

    Interesting read though!

  37. Brilliant. I particularly love how organically modern metaphors of gaming and anime are woven in. This sentence in particular is golden: “That the work of mining more mooks through senpai-notice-me marks of favor is innocent noblesse oblige towards an oppressed population that one reluctantly leads, rather than a profitable grievance mine that one lives off.”

    Relevant links:
    – A supplement that perhaps points a way forward for those that desire an end to polarized beefing without resorting to complete non-engagement:
    – John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis: A titanic video series doing a historical and cognitive scientific diagnosis of the existential floundering of modern humanity. Cannot recommend enough.
    – On recovering deep agency and ability to maintain this in the face of beef-flinging and more subtle forms of internal modular takeover, and the second on a counterargument to the End of History (anti)narrative, in a sense, pointing to the way forward.

  38. J. Michael says

    This is one of the most entertaining and thought provoking reads I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy in a long time.

    Your work enriches my life. Thank you.

  39. Spencer Ying says

    I wrote a commentary on this article, I thought it would be helpful for the author but ultimately decide it wasn’t worth the time adding in, except to the author himself:

  40. I agree, people seem to have difficulty discussing, never mind debating, without melting down into personal invectives and name calling. Our collective level of discourse is abysmal, for sure. But to give it the pseudo-psych title “The Internet of Beef” is dismissive of the very real social issues at play. The mean distribution that characterized public opinion on all matters has spit into a “2 hump Camel”, with little Venn overlap. I think most people would agree on where we need to go, but completely disagree with how we should get there. You may critique our inability to argue these points in a civil manner and tone, but you would be mistaken to reduce our differences to a series of memes.

  41. Knight/Mook land, in its current form is just an extension of US style high school politics. So deadened is our system from a zombie public school system that hasn’t been innovative in 80 years, that it churns out millions and millions of kids whose only “real” experience is winning or losing some meaningly popularity contest for a meaningless sliver of status in high school. As a society, we are in a public school cul-de-sac where nothing happens and innovation comes to die. It seems like the end of history because we have homogenized the childhood human experience to death, such that high school is literally the defining experience of most people’s lives. Kids graduating these days are not going to put a man on the moon or revolutionize anything. All they can do is make everything in a high stakes high school popularity game. That is, in fact, all they actually do.

  42. William says

    “Where’s the beef?”