It occurs to me that the experience of watching so-called Berners, (or Bros, or Bots, whatever) posting on Facebook, or blogging, or debating online on Youtube with Hillary Boosters ( or HillBots, whatever) sounds remarkably similar to a situation that occurred only a few years ago about a crappy book. I don’t expect most people to have a long memory, or even a short memory. The situations are different enough and in many ways small-scale enough they don’t immediately appear to be related. The key though is that the overall pattern is.
In 2006 a man named Tucker Max wrote a book titled “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell”. It was based on a blog by the titular character living the exploits of the worst type of drunken and debauched 20something. It sold over 1 million copies worldwide and made the New York Times Best Seller List. It even led to a feature film. The detail is, it was all a lie. It was such a lie that the publicist for Tucker, Ryan Holiday, appeared as a featured reference story in the film “(Dis) Honesty: The Truth About Lies”. The film centers on the work of Duke Professor Dan Ariely and his research into how markets are not ‘fair’ because markets are run by people and people lie. They don’t just lie to each other, they lie to themselves.
Holiday’s story is important because he used what is now usually called guerilla and viral marketing to help create and popularize the Tucker Max Brand. An example of which was hanging posters for the upcoming Max movie around Chicago that contained offensive quotes such as “Deaf girls are great, they never hear you coming”. He then defaced them with anti-sexism graffiti and had his staff call the Chicago Transit Authority to complain about the posters and request they be taken down. Those complaints and the subsequent local news story about those complaints became free advertising for the film.
What Holiday did not necessarily anticipate, but likely hoped, was what had started as a spoof of every ‘Dudebro’ ever became a social event, complete with protests and backlashs. Protesters such as rape survivors loudly objected to the open misogyny and chauvinism of the stories, which in turn fed the machine and strengthened the Brand. From the backlash came the inevitable charge of humorlessness and so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ trying to pick a fight over harmless fun, strengthening the Brand further still.
This isn’t the only time Holiday has discussed how those who are passionate are easily manipulated. In the cleverly titled 13 Jun 2016 article “Don’t Follow Your Passion, It’s What’s Holding You Back” Holiday urged ThoughtCatalog readers to recognize the difference between the passionate disaster that was the Iraq War versus the driven and methodical Eleonore Roosevelt.
Perhaps Holiday’s clearest statement on exactly how he feels about public relations generally and online PR in particular is his book “Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator”. If the point needs be made any clearer the book was featured in the 2 Aug 2012 Business Insider article “The 10 Biggest Lies Told by American Apparel’s Top PR Man”. The very first of which is “Because he encouraged ‘false perceptions’ through blogs, one of his clients ended up being branded a ‘known rapist’.” Eventually ‘Tucker Max’ himself admitted to the pure nonsense that was his persona in the 18 Jan 2012 Forbes article “Tucker Max Gives Up The Game: What Happens When A Best Selling Author Stops Playing?”
Heady stuff…? Not particularly, this is absolutely nothing new. During the non-scandal euphemistically called “#GamerGate” blogs, a few game reviews, and 4chan discussions were the entirety of ‘the story’. Perhaps, some tiny nugget of a glimmer of truth existed somewhere in the the accusation that game reviews had been manipulated because one reviewer wanted to get into some other reviewer’s girlfriend’s pants. However, the stockmarket did not crash, no one’s XBox exploded, neither Mario nor Pikachu died, and yet people still threatened lives over it. Not surprisingly it also meant the traffic to all of the various click-bait sites discussing the topic went through the roof. There’s a fair chance I’ll even get some attention because it’ll come up if someone happens to be in the 15th page of a Google Search at 3am…
One person connected to stoking the fires of #GamerGate, Milo Yiannopoulos, has been in the news recently for helping to inspire so many people into harassing Leslie Jones from the all-woman “Ghostbuster’s” remake he ended up being banned from Twitter. Yiannopoulos, like Holiday & Max before him, is probably correct in his assertion this will significantly add to his popularity.
Humans are prone to such behavior, dog-piling on something seemingly irrelevant with all the fervency of a religious experience. We are a social animal, we desire to be accepted by our fellows and when we feel our ‘tribe’ has been threatened we freak out. All of the social sciences, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, have at their core one fundamental truth: Humans do dirt stupid things because they think others will like them for it, or because they think they can get away with it.
The key is most of the time humans aren’t being overtly malicious, sometimes they’re not even being particularly thoughtful, but they convince themselves they are. We convince ourselves the reason we’re doing the thing we’re doing is because it makes perfect sense. In the city of Strasbourg in 1518 there was an outbreak of uncontrollable dancing. Some people literally danced themselves to death. Seriously, Yahoogle that craziness! It was so out-of-control even the City Council got involved. At no point did anyone suggest just having a fiddler go out and start playing slower and slower music until finally stopping. That would have been reasonable. Humans are not reasonable, so solutions were things like possession by demons because it couldn’t possibly be that the whole town had just locked in and danced away with itself with absolutely no basis, especially since many were quite coherent at the time and couldn’t say why they were doing it.
Certainly there’s the work-horse of mass insanity, the collective hallucination that was the Salem Witch Trials. Some have conveniently blamed LSD from the rot on some rye, but the dosages necessary would have the townspeople eating enough convulsion inducing ergot infused rye to shit themselves to death long before they were able to build the scaffolds to hang the first set of women, let alone carry enough rocks to crush a man under a door (no kidding, they crushed a man to death by slowly putting more rocks on him until he died).
Humans also do things completely reasonable, but at unintentionally cross-purposes. The Berners Street Hoax (how perfect a name is that for a corollary to our current political situation…?) was perpetrated by Theodore Hook in 1810 England. He made a bet with friend Sam Beazley that he could select any house at random and make it the most famous house in all of the British Isles.
He spent a week planning the ‘event’ and when the day came twelve chimney sweeps, cakemakers, shoemakers, several fish-sellers, over a dozen pianos, and a host of other service providers arrived at the address exactly as they were requested. A woman only recorded as Mrs Tottenham of 54 Berners St, London had abjectly no idea what the hell was going on and so she rightfully called for the authorities.
When all was said and done what looked every bit a riot randomly breaking out in the city brought a third of the town to a standstill and the Lord Mayor to her front door. By the way, Hook was there the whole time, watching the chaos unfold and I’m sure quite pleased with himself. Not a blog in sight, but definitely guerilla marketing at its finest. Did he succeed? You tell me, 54 Berners Street now has its own Wikipedia page and was featured on the British comedy quiz show QI for just happening to be the address this sociopathic ass decided to pick from a map, and poor Mrs Tottenham has now been recorded for 206 years for exactly that same non-reason.
None of those people who arrived at 54 Berners St had any ill intent, they weren’t even acting inappropriate to their normal behavior, they weren’t even working against the forces of another person. They were told to show up at this house at this time to deliver a piano. They went to a perfectly logical place at a perfectly logical time for a perfectly logical reason and all hell broke loose.
Now, consider for just the briefest of moments that you like Hillary Clinton as a presidential nominee, or you like Bernie Sanders as a presidential nominee, or you like Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz, or Jill Stein. If you say that openly, I now know that. I don’t need to know anything else about you. Like making a riot at some random address, I don’t need to hire a bunch of brawlers to come and beat up each other.
All I have to do is hang one rude poster and then deface it myself…
All I have to do is convince one other person that you’re a ‘bot’…
All I have to do is make one fake blog post about how you lied…
You know that you are telling the truth about what you want and why you want it. You have No. Proof. At. All. the other person you’re talking to is being honest about their feelings. You don’t even have proof the person on the other end is the friend they claim to be. All that you know is you. Don’t think for a second you can’t be brought into a fight that’s of someone else’s making for someone else’s entertainment. After all, that first guy with a piano thought he was just making a delivery.
If it looks like you’re being baited, it’s because you are. If it looks like an email leak is a little too conveniently timed, it’s because it was. If the only reason you believe something is because you have ten other people on your Facebook feed telling you they believe it too, they don’t.
Tucker Max and Ryan Holiday used made-up stories about women being sluts, to silence women who objected to his assertion that women are sluts, all the while slut-shaming women. It was a lie, flat out lie, it was a calculated and formulated lie that was self-perpetuating. Any feminist who decried his rampant misogyny was immediately shut-down with the reply ‘Then how does he keep getting laid???’ and the answer was: HE WASN’T. Interesting fact, there are still current fans of Tucker Max who to this day inquire on his blog if he made everything up… Did I mention Tucker Max got brought into the Gamer Gate fiasco? Of course he did, for precisely the reason he should be brought up, because his faux-misogyny was used to justify actual misogyny and perpetuate a bullshit expectation of women based on bullshit. Not surprisingly, the ‘real’ Mr. Max has tried vehemently to distance himself from such attitudes, but can he really…?
If it looks like you’re being baited, you are. If it looks like an email leak is convenient, it was. If the only reason you believe is the ten other people, they’re lying. That’s the difference between a skeptic and a conspiracy believer. Conspiracy requires that humans be highly organized, meticulous, unwavering, borderline emotionless, and above all fully united. A skeptic recognizes humans are deceitful (sometimes maliciously, sometimes not), scattered, silly, emotional, distracted, silly, beautiful, silly, and easily conned by someone who makes them feel like they’re in on the joke.
I’ve been in at least a dozen conversations in the last week that were indistinguishable from a Tucker Max marketing campaign. I have been in half a dozen more that were as reasoned and thoughtful as 500 people dancing in unison to a daemon possession. I have been in at least two that were fully identical to a witch trial, replete with spectral evidence that people could ‘feel’ through the ‘voice’ of documents details that literally were not there in print.
Be a skeptic, be in on the greatest joke of all: we’re all flawed, some of us are flat out sociopaths and will lie for abjectly no reason at all, most of us love at least one other person genuinely and deeply and will agree with them just because we think we should, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel because There. Is. No. Tunnel. There’s just the great, gorgeous, panoply of humanity hoping to make tomorrow a little better than yesterday. Anyone who says we’re more organized than that is literally trying to make money off of you.