inside 1984 – The Book, Not the Year – The way the evil totalitarian regime “Big Brother” maintains its power is through something called “doublethink.” It is the practice of holding contradictory beliefs in tandem: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” “ignorance is power,” “2 + 2 = 5,” to use examples from the book. It worked because when our minds—our rationality, our morality—are compromised, it’s easier to control them.
Considering the events of the last few months, you could interpret doublethink to mean things like “the metaverse is the future”, “people will pay millions of dollars for crappy industry” or “this crypto billionaire must have my best interests at heart”. Treat references, but that’s just the sort of thing that makes sense. Somewhere along the line, the American public was tricked into believing that these things could be true, even though, well, they weren’t.
On November 11, the 30-year-old CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, resigned after his firm filed for bankruptcy. Before its explosion, Bankmann-Fried (colloquially known as SBF) was considered a boy genius in the crypto world, not only because of his billionaire status but also because he was widely regarded as “one of the good guys”. who advocated for more government regulation of crypto and was a leader in active altruism. Effective Altruism (EA) is part philosophical movement, part subculture, but generally aims to create evidence-backed ways of doing the most good for the greatest number of people. (Disclosure: This August, Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic family foundation, Building a Stronger Future, awarded Vox’s Future Perfect a grant for its 2023 reporting project. That project is now on hiatus.)
Instead, Bankmann-Fried did the opposite: he tanked and defrauded the savings of over a million people. In a conversation with Vox’s Kelsey Piper, he basically admitted that a well-functioning personality was a job (“Fuck Regulator” he wrote), and said that he “got to be good” at talking about ethics because of this “dumb game” we wake up in the West. Tuli where we say all right shibboleths and so everyone likes us”).
In terms of corporate wrongdoing, the SBF debacle is arguably on par with Enron and Bernie Madoff. Here was a dude who marketed himself as a philanthropic billionaire and convinced others to invest their money with him because he was worth $26 billion (at his peak). He’s partnered with celebrities like Tom Brady and Larry David to make crypto — a highly risky investment that relies on shaky technology — seem like the only way forward. Both Brady and David, among several other famous people, are now being accused in class-action lawsuits for defrauding investors amid FTX’s collapse.
But there are other examples of technological doublethink in recent history. Over the past year, Mark Zuckerberg has campaigned so hard for the mainstreaming of the “metaverse” that he changed the name of one of the world’s most powerful companies to reflect his ambitions. His metaverse, though called Horizon, would end up looking like a less fun version of The Sims, a game that came out in 2000 (but even The Sims had legs). The strategy, as of publication time, has not paid off. The company lost $800 billion.
What’s ironic, though, is that anyone with eyeballs and a brain could simply tell Zuckerberg that Horizon is terrifying. Not only is it ugly and functionally useless, it’s also expensive (VR headsets cost at least several hundred dollars). People asked him to confirm that – since its rollout, the platform has been widely mocked in the media and Online – It’s true that Zuckerberg didn’t listen.
Technology has this thing where entrepreneurs tell themselves that their job is to innovate. They are the builders, they say, setting the path forward for the next generation of rubes who will follow them, years later, in the future. But often what they’re doing is following wherever the money is, wherever god-like venture capitalists decide to turn on the spigot. They believe they can predict what’s coming simply because “that’s where the money is” and are surprised when the money ends up in something completely meaningless.
The most convincing argument I’ve ever heard about Web3 is that “well, that’s what all the smart people are doing.” In February, I attended a meetup for crypto-curious women at an expensive, trendy hotel bar where everyone was super cool and nice. The part that stuck out to me the most was when the host said on the mic, “Whether we like it or not, it’s happening.” The pitch was because all these finance bros were getting rich in crypto and NFTs, maybe we could catch them.
What wasn’t said, but what I heard, and what I always heard when someone explained Web3 to me, was: “Yeah, we know this all sounds stupid. We know that most NFT art is ugly and the idea of someone paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. We know that this whole system is basically a pyramid scheme and is bad for the environment and no one has come up with a good use case for it. But that’s where the money is.”
I don’t think anyone invested in crypto is an idiot; In fact, I believe the opposite. After attending the meetup I was convinced that enough people would buy into this type of fear and FOMO marketing that within a few months I would be paying for my coffee in Ethereum. Of course, I didn’t really understand what was so useful about crypto or DAOs or whatever, but these women seemed smart and normal and human. was Earn a lot of money
The problem is that engineering is very bad at teaching that marketing isn’t just TV commercials and pretty packages. NFTs weren’t marketed based on how cool they looked (which was: not at all). They were marketed by rich dudes, or supposedly rich dudes, who positioned themselves as the only people smart enough to know where the world was going. “You think it is only A jpeg?” they seem to ask. “Enjoy being poor.”
But any woman with a Facebook account would have known that this is precisely the tactic used by multi-level marketing companies shilling protein shakes and leggings. Every get-rich-quick scheme is an exercise in doublethink: “This may not make sense in any logical way you’re used to, but look at my new car! You can have one too!”
Did anyone really think that a billionaire could be philanthropic? Did anyone think the horizon is the future? Did people think Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover was going to go any normal way? probably We lie to ourselves all the time. In a world where liberal arts colleges and the humanities are increasingly demonized as “factories of enlightenment,” it’s the technocrats who are thought of as rationalists. Those who criticize them are naive, or ignorant, or afraid of improvement, so much so that sometimes, we believe ourselves instead of believing our own eyes.
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