Greedy Goblin

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How internet and shitposting killed democracy

Democracy has been the system of the richest and most powerful countries in the last century. Survival of the fittest says it's the best (among the currently available).

The economic crisis, the relative power decline versus the non-democratic China is a new thing. So is the slow but steady changing of Eastern Europe and Russia into much more centralized systems. There were economic problems before, but they hit everyone and hit non-democratic countries harder (when US citizens lost their jobs in the thirties depression, people starved to death in Ukraine by millions). Democracies were overthrew by military Juntas against the people but now people happily vote for leaders taking away more and more rights.

The solution seems obvious: take away the votes of the idiots/lazy, but it does not answer the question how did it happen. I mean the overall education level increased over the decades, the people who voted for Abraham Lincoln were surely less informed, less educated, less enlightened than those who vote various populists now. If simple dumbness would be the problem, democracy would only get better every year. Also, my idea, the welfare leeches aren't the clue for this problem: the amount of inactives did not increase that much over the decades.

I've been reading articles in newspapers, blogs, have my own blog myself. Recently I got involved to unmoderated forums. The solution was right there: shitposting. No, I'm not kidding, I really thinks that shitposting and its media, the internet broke democracy and will force its replacement.

What is shitposting? It has nothing to do with being wrong, despite shitposters call their opponents shitposters. Shitposting is simply adding an argument that has some basic logic fallacy, or adding no argument at all, but some totally random opinion or insult. Let me give some examples. They all argue for evolution against intelligent design, so I believe them to be right but they are still worthless crap:
  • Every scientists believe in evolution. [citation to some metastudy? Also, who counts as "scientists"]
  • Even the pope accepted evolution. [since when did the pope became authority on the topic]
  • There is no God, therefore there can't be intelligent design. [there is no disproof of God, also no God needed for intelligent design, space aliens could also design Earth ecosystem]
  • Only Tea Party idiots believe it. [worthless ad hominem]
  • No scientific book teaches otherwise. [just like no books taught F = m*a before Newton wrote one]
There are countless more incoherent, logically unconnected and random crap, that people capable of telling. It seems we got back to dumbness, but it's not the case. The problem is that before the internet, shitposting was more or less impossible. To reach more than a few targets, you had to be a professional journalist or book writer. Posting in these had high costs that someone had to pay. This placed a competition to writers which lead to intra-group debates. They all agreed in the point and argued over implementation or teaching methods. The shitposter was called on his action by people who believed what he believed. The wide audience only got the refined arguments. It did not mean censorship. You could write various opinions as long as they weren't trivially bad. The uneducated population had to choose between refined and properly simplified points. They could also use heuristics like "which speaker was better", based on the fact that if one speaker gave a good argument, it forced the other to think a lot or be unable to answer at all, proving that the argument was right. The "what most people believed" also worked as it was referring to "what most people who were educated and spent lot of time arguing on the topic".

The internet removed the financial barrier from posting. Everyone who has time can reach lot of people with his opinion, even if that's utterly worthless crap. Anyone can reach the wide audience with good-sounding but utterly wrong arguments. The number of arguments only tell what other uneducated people think. Ad hominem attacks became standard, in the current election people spent more time scrutinizing what Bain Capital did or if Obama is a muslim or not than their actual programs.

People did not get dumber, they can now choose from a palette holding utterly dumb options. So they do. Let's give the obvious example, the economic crisis. Before the age of shitposting there were two group of economic ideas. The "left wing" believed that high governmental redistribution leads to growth. The "right wing" believed in free market and individual responsibility. If someone would come up with the idea that "hey guys, how about throwing money made from thin air to the people, so everyone would be rich", he would have been laughed and ignored by both sides. He couldn't get his ideas posted in the books and papers of either side, nor he had the money to fund his own. In the age of internet, this nonsense became mainstream. The politician who did not offer better education/health care/welfare/jobs/defense without tax raise had no chance to win. Cheap loans that were defaulted in the minute of giving out became standard. The voices of those who told it's nonsense either from left or right was lost in the noise of millions of dumb people who couldn't add two numbers.

It will just get worse. Every day new and new people get hooked on the internet, believing that talking without having a clue or avoiding any kind of logic is the norm. The time when people honestly believe that everyone could live in wealth without anyone working is near. You can't undo internet. You can't revoke the ability of people to write to their Facebook page that Obama is a muslim nigger or Romney is evil because his kiss with his wife shows no emotion. Dumbness must be filtered elsewhere, and I have no better idea than the urns. Democracy - the system when everyone can vote - has came to the end.

Note to dumb people: I do not mean that internet is bad. Internet is good. Democracy was always bad but worked with the limitations of the information monopoly of the intelligent people. This monopoly locked out dumb and uninformed people from the decision making process, they simply followed their local (relatively) intelligent opinion leaders. This monopoly wasn't good because it locked out lot of people from information, especially those who were born into poverty.

Thursday morning report: 184.8B (6.6+2.0 spent on main accounts, 7.1 spent on Logi/Carrier, 3.8 on Ragnarok, 3.3+2.0 on Rorqual, 3.4 on Nyx, 3.4 on Dread, 37.4 sent as gift)


Anonymous said...

Nah, I think Globalism killed democracy. When companies and employers were all pretty much based in the areas where they operated, the entire economic infrastructure had an interest in the longterm health of that local economy.

But once it got easier to pay tax in a tax island, outsource jobs etc, pay consultants and agency staff rather than train new people, move profits around quickly, global operators stopped considering any local interests. Hence the financial crisis, the people operating those loans weren't working on stupid arguments - they had very clever people working out that the shit loans would make them lots of money and didn't care about the risks to the global economy. And mostly they did make lots of money.

People in general have always had access to shit arguments. The internet has an effect, but democracy was already shot.

Micko said...

You only have to look at the decline of WoW due to them listening to such idiot posters on their forums as a good example. The other problem with the internet is that not only do the idiots have a voice, but they tend to scream louder than everyone else as well.

Unknown said...

On the contrary, the internet has broken the monopoly that major media outlets once had on information. This greatly improves the ability of peoples to preserve democratic rule.

Prior to the internet, if your evening news anchor said 'this is the news', then it was (whether or not it really was truth). Nowadays, when the evening news anchor says 'this is so' you have a multitude of sources to verify if the anchor is bullshitting, or even completely ignoring newsworthy stories.

The trick as it always has been, even when major media had its monopoly is sifting the wheat from the chaff.

Péter Zoltán said...

Well, globalism may have contributed, but the shitposting argument is really well sound.
I just look at the posts on my facebook feed and facepalm with ever increasing frequency. There is so much idiocy spewing from my so called friends, it's frightening.
For example: cancer is a fungus (and you can cure it with baking soda). This dumb shit is so widespread, you even get this as first suggestion if you type "cancer is a" into google. At least I do.

Seeing how all kinds of stupidity rule the internet is the most frightening thing I have ever seen in my life. And I don't see how this could be stopped. In any subject, there is only a minority who are competent, the rest are ignorant. But everyone have the same chance to voice their opinion about it... Just look at any conspiracy theoirst. These guys are 100% sure that they know the truth, because they have spent a lot of time learning about the subject. But oh, no, they have learned from the wrong sources all the time. It's like a new religion.

Cincinnatus said...

You can avoid this problem by making shitposting a bannable act.

This already done in in the forums of Though it is the ancestral home of goonswarm there is no shitposting. I should know since I once got a month long ban for starting a pointless thread.

Gevlon said...

@Cincinaatus: not easy.
Who is authorized to make the decision?
What stops him from banning non-shitposting opposition?

Jumina said...

This would be a long discussion but I don't think current situation is unique. From the point of view of the Red Queen theory you have three options in the society.

1. Become a sucessfull male and atract a female.
2. Steal resources from other sucessfull males and atract a female.
3. Become a leader. Steal from sucessfull males. Give it to less sucessfull males. Ensure their support so you stay a leader. Atract lots of females.

Point #3 works only until the economy collapses and you lose the support. We are now at the end of the phase when economy works and socialist leaders still have the support.

Cincinnatus said...


They are called moderators

Marit said...

Surely, politicians made economically unsound promises and decisions to get (re)elected even before the 90's?

Also, I don't think most leftists believe that governmental redistribution leads to growth.
Some might argue minor effects - e.g. poor people can afford education and thus contribute better.
However, I think most agree that capitalism is very good at generating wealth - though much of it ends up in the hands of a minority.

Unknown said...

@ Cincinnatus
That last post of yours was kind of shitposting.

What does a word mean as far as credibility goes? By asking 'who' we expect to hear what kind of qualifications a person has to be a fair censor of shitposts, and how those qualifications are verified.

A job title doesn't mean much

Anonymous said...

"The "left wing" believed that high governmental redistribution leads to growth. The "right wing" believed in free market and individual responsibility."

It seems like shitposting right there. What about the conservatism of some "right wing" party ? Those aren't for a free market for sure... What about the social democraty ? Also governmental redistribution, free market and individual responsibility aren't mutully exclusive like your duality seems to imply, just look at Germany for instance...

Anonymous said...

The internet enables people in countries with a regulated or centrally controlled press to have access to stories they otherwise would not. This includes countries like the United Kingdom where the internet has defeated attempts to smother a number of stories.
The amount of people who actually visit internet forums regularly is vanishingly small. Bloggers and forumites may like to pretend that they have an audience and that their opinion matters, but it truly does not.
Shitposting is way down on the list of things that affect elections, on the other hand the internet makes it much easier to check if the candidates are butchering the truth in order to gain votes.

With no credible alternate system capable of at least paying lip service to the rights of individuals I don't see democracy going away anytime soon.

Unknown said...

There's two facets to RL economic activities, creating value and capturing value. The two facets are illustrated by Tesla's earth-broadcast power system. It would be valuable to have a power station that broadcast power to wherever someone stuck a metal rod in the ground. He is rumored to have built such a system - for argument, let's assume he did. However, he could not find investors because he could not prevent his broadcast power system from broadcasting to everyone. He could not capture the value he created.

A cell phone is convenient and useful - it is valuable. The cell phone company is in a position to cut you off from your friends and family - they can capture some of that value.

A patent troll, that specializes in making fine arguments in front of a judge, captures value without creating it. Similarly, a banker who engineers a system of loans which will either be profitable or be too big to fail and get bailed out is capturing value without creating it.

I attribute shitposting at least partially at least to systematic campaigning by corporate interests - mostly this kind of campaigning is done by corporations whose business model focuses on capturing value; though they always claim to be creating value, and it's difficult to muddle through their claims to see to what extent they're lying.

Anonymous said...

Then one of the best shitposters: Erich von Daniken?

Unknown said...

Sadly I believe you are wrong, and I base that assertion on British History.In 1688 Britain had what is termed "The Glorious Revolution". This lead to an increase in democracy in Britain.

It also lead to a huge increase in cartoons, and pamphlets. Anyone could cheaply publish pamphlets for mass distribution in cities on any subject, and all sorts of people did. These pamphlets are much like the modern internet. Full of ignorant people peddling stupid ideas, or virulent attacks on others.
A classic example was in 1708 a cobbler called John Partridge published a pamphlet called "Almanac of Astrological Predictions" which falsely predicted the death of various church officials.
The reason the Partridge work is still known is because he was put down by Jonathan Swift.

But the pamphlets and the cartoons of the time actually worked to enhance and strengthen democracy in England and they strengthened freedom of speech, and helped keep the government of the day honest (CF as an example Drapier's Letters 1724 & it's effect on fiscal propriety).

The price of the pamphlets was shit stirring and trolling, but most would argue that it was a price worth paying.


Pheredhel said...

Let me present another Explanation of the observations of Gevlon:

First of all: yes I agree that Monarchies will outperform Democracies if, and only if the Monarch acts in favor of the whole population.

If he doesn't ... well examples for the result can be seen in e.g. Africa. There some "elite" decides to abuse everyone, not caring for the future of the land. That would be "pure capitalism".

Democracies avoid this "stupid leader" problem by asking the masses and averaging.

To analyze the advantages, let's first define a measure of success.
Let's just use the GDP (and for comparisons "scaled" by the size of the country)

Now, everything that increases the GDP would be good as everyone in the Country tends to benefit from that.

In a Monarchy everyone has to "trust" that the monarch will decide what increases the GDP the most (longterm).

In a Democracy, everyone gets a word in the decision.
In "modern" democracies this vote usually by used to decide who gets to make the decisions.

Interestingly, the latter system is used in companies that whose stocks are traded (Supervisory board is elected by the shareholders).
Additional Information should in theory help the voters to get the best leaders. So what goes wrong?

There are only two ways this can go wrong:
a) the people vote for less than the best
b) every (realistic) choice is bad.

Gevlon argued that a) is the case. let's have a look at b)

Why should good people try to become the leader of a Nation?
-idealism? ... great idea...
-money? that might work, at least we're capitalists here.

But then, politicians don't get that much. If they're good, they could earn more in companies and the likes.
So the ones trying to come to power are the ones not good enough for industry, that can earn more in politics.
This also means, that their highest priority can't be to increase the GDP, their target must be to keep the position. They can do this by catering the people, say by giving money to the leeches. They can NOT do this by increasing the GDP, as if they could, the could earn more in other positions.

So Monarchy gets whoever is monarch, be it good or bad.
This usually means it's kind of lottery.

Democracy gets what it can pay for.
How to solve the problem? Let's do it the same way the companies do!
a) pay an "ok" minimum wage to politicans
b) give them substantial bonuses if they reach their goals

Given the progress in technology, we could even afford elections every year. Politicians could be realistically judged by their programs, as this is what they get paid for. If they advertais millions of things that they fail to achieve: no payday.

A successful leader that raises the GDP enough, can reduce taxes for everyone and improve public services (essentially dividends on stocks).
Gaining direct advantage from that, would lessen the support for welfare leeches, while still allowing for welfare as kind of an insurance.

Putting the "elite" in the leadership positions by giving them more power won't work. They would exploit the others till there is a riot.
Putting the "elite" in the leadership, because they get paid for pleasing everyone by reaching their declared goals: yes that might work.

Debra Tao said...

@ Pheredhel

i believe that your explanation is wrong on several key points. First of all your argumentation only relies on a pure abstract demonstration : why is idealism bad ? Are politicans necessarily looking for money ?

I think that power is what matters, not the money and by giving the president/prime minister, whatever, a great power we insure that among those who are looking to do the job there will be talented people. There are plenty of exemples : Mario Monti was a sucessful businessman before reaching the head of the Italy governement, Angela Merkel has a PhD, and in my country the president CHOOSE to be a politician as the income you can by coming from one of the most prestigious school is very nice (i am in France)

Also the GPD isn't always an accurate indicator of a fail/successful politic. Like when a country is in a transition (heavy industry -> services or young population -> old country).

I would have a lot more to say but posting a comment isn't really the best way to express a complex idea

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this in the past few days. Especially due to the elections here in the US.

It is my understanding that people have a limited amount of attention. This lack of attention (or wasting attention in the wrong areas) leads to a lot of bad decisionmaking by people. The internet is pretty bad at having lots of shiny things to waste far too much time with. But worse, most people don't bother to read/study/understand what is actually happening and they love to jump on their pulpit and start declaiming and denouncing their favorite strawmen.

Trying to figure out why people make bad decisions has been a pet study project for me for the past few years. Why do they make bad decisions? Are they really bad? What logic did they use (or not use)? How can I learn from that to make less mistakes than the next guy?

This sort of thing is why I ran for election in 2008. I was overwhelmed by stuff this year, so it became a choice between getting on the ballot, or passing my university classes, so that's why the incumbent ran unopposed this November.

I can probably write a few books, or long essays on the subject. But folks are unlikely to read them. If I wrote a guest post for you, it will probably have 69 comments that all say "TL DR." It isn't that folks don't care, I claim they don't have enough time and attention to care. It is the old Bread And Circuses. People waste so much time and attention on fashions, sports and minor political squabbles, and that lets the the political and financial classes get away with what they do.

As an anedodtal example, someone posted a link on reddit to a summary of a research article on poverty. The website that had the summary didn't even bother to read the study. As a student, I'm able to get a copy of the study through my university library, so unlike everyone else on this reddit thread, I was able to read what it actually said.

I'm serious. The folks at never read the study they posted a summary of. Since it costs money to get to the article, that meant almost no one at reddit was able to read it either. So virtually all the discussion was pure wasted electrons.

I don't believe taking the vote away from "idiots" is the proper direction. Our political system has been hijacked by special interests and become so corrupted that there is no reasonable difference between the 2 major political parties. For a longwinded essay on how the US developed the caucus and primary system we have now, I refer you to this:

Scott D said...


Interesting commentary, but I have two questions:

1) Is GDP really the best measure of economic health? What happens, for example, when a nation ramps up for war?

2) How do you ensure that the process is not corrupted and prevent moral hazard, say, in the face of declining popularity?

Pheredhel said...

Well, yes I oversimplified in many ways.

Why did I choose GDP: because it is an easy to observe measure and corresponds best to the value of a company.

Ofcourse when trying to implemnt such a system, it can'T be the only point and was more for demonstrating the paralells. Same as not all goals for CEOs are defined by growth of the company.

On the other hand: I won't claim that every politician is doing it cause they can't do better, I simplified too much. Yes, there are good politicians improving the situation of a country.

There are also good Monarchs doing that.

What I see as the problem is: beeing a good leader pays the same as beeing a bad leader. The only way for the people to choose a leader is currently "whose promises do I think are the best, and who do I trust to keep his promises" . I suggest to go with "and if they do not live up to their promises, they don'T get paid much". This would make the promises a lot more realistic (they get paid for reaching what they promise) and it would make it rather hard to try to sneak in more time in the office, because at the end the question is not "who lied less" but "what percentage of their goals did they reach".

Anonymous said...

I was going to argue with you basically saying roughly 'shitposting has always been there, just in more subtle forms,' but then I realized it wasn't worth the effort to type out carefully. Instead, I give you two minirants with suggestions for further investigation if you care.

One could look in detail at the various mechanisms by which opinions were shared prior to the internet such as political clubs, local town governments, church groups, and so on. Compare the portion of the population in one group at a rally or attending the same church in a population to the number of views on a single crappy blogpost vs the population of America. The point is that the size relative to the American population and the self-selecting nature of such political microcosms is similar to modern blogs/message boards (I leave to you checking the veracity of this claim beyond 'eyeballing it'). The only major difference for the internet is that geographical considerations are completely removed, so you really are only studying this effect in my opinion. For the effects, consider Walter Mondale's campaign against Reagan. Mondale pointed out he would have to raise taxes to cover entitlements and hilariously lost the election in a landslide. This is an example of idiots ignoring the exact point you complain about pre-internet. I claim that if you visited a parlor in the South in Abraham Lincoln's time or went to a political rally in New York in 1910 that the exact same pattern of 'shitty idiots posting shitty things' to a similar proportion of the total population would be there. These political groups are in contrast to the large scale media such as newspapers and publications, which have much larger readership than individual message boards or posters.

For something completely different but also entertaining, look at book 1 of the Republic at the scenes on the road and in the rich man's house. Socrates 'calls out' ancient 'shitposters' but in a different format. Look at Plato's 'Symposium' for another example of the ancient Athenian democracy providing an outlet for opinions that is dominated by poor arguments and logical fallacies. If you want to see tragic results following poor logic in Athenian democracy, read 'history of the peloponnesian war' by Thucydides and read the Melian dialogue, wherein the arguments the Athenians make about the appearance of strength lead to genocide, mimicking the arguments about unity and self defense that lead to the formation of the Delian which transformed into an Athenian empire, sparking the Peloponnesian War. Remember, anyone (born a citizen) could request time in the forum in the Athenian democracy.

While I cannot, a qualified individual could also point out the effect that comedic playwrights such as Aristophanes had on the political scene in Athens.

The need for quality of content in contrast to the need for (potentially intellectually handicapped) individuals within a democracy to voice their opinion has been a difficulty for 2500 year. I do not honestly think that individual posters on the internet add anything unique to this picture other than the fact that the population that reads their posts is not geographically defined (or at least not physically living within 200miles). Demagoguery will always be a problem in democracy, just in different forms.

Kevin Bullock said...

It's the M&S that kill democracy. How can any student learn when they are being taught by M&S teachers? The U.S. school system is producing M&S in droves. The health of any nation or game can be determined by the percentage of M&S. We elect good looking and slick speakers. Unqualified, but hey, they look good on TV. GOD help us all.

Debra Tao said...

@ Pheredhel

I don't think promises are a good way to evaluate the success of a governement. I will take 3 exemples.

Sarkozy was elected in 2007, back then he promised to drop the unemployment rate to 6-7% or less and also to lower the taxes but the economic crisis happened. It is totally impossible to keep up with those two promises at the same time in that context. Should politicians only make reasonnable promises ? Well the thing is it was pretty reasonnable in 2007and one can never predict what can happen in a near future.

Another god exemple is the Obama's campaign in 2008. He didn't make that many promises but the enthusiasm was so imporatant that people were bound to be disappointed. Just because people often forget how little actual power the president has and what he was really saying.

Another aspect of the topic is the case where the executivs power and the legislativ power are run by two opposing force... like in the US right now. Nobody can do anything about it.

Anonymous said...

Watch the movie 'Idiocracy'

Pheredhel said...

Sarkozy would be out of luck. Many CEOs of Banks didn't get their bonuses during the crash. Was it their fault? I'm pretty sure not in every case. This is just another truth:
To make lots of money you need to go for risks. You can try to minimize them, but I doubt anyone would have gotten a C-Level job by putting up the target of "The bank will still be alive next year".

They earn that much cause it is a high skill high risk job.
The amount they can lose is what keeps the risk at bay.

And, on the other hand, if you manage to do well despite not getting your bonus, you can be rather sure that the voters will recognize that, so the next year, your much more modest and considering the situation realistic, goals will be ok.

Right now, for people, especially the "dumber ones" it is really hard to tell who lies less in politics. Essentially every election these days is "who gets the people to believe more of the things they won't do" at least if viewed from a goblinish perspective.

Kauzmo said...

The answer is simple really. Every great civilization has a life span. While we do live in an age where access to information is higher than it has ever been, that fact does not factor here.

The following might help:
"The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1: From bondage to spiritual faith;
2: From spiritual faith to great courage;
3: From courage to liberty;
4: From liberty to abundance;
5: From abundance to complacency;
6: From complacency to apathy;
7: From apathy to dependence;
8: From dependence back into bondage."

The question you have to ask yourself is where are we on this "time line"? IMHO we are between #6 and #7 and we will move onto #8 in short order.


whatever said...

Of course, rich people didn't care about the cost of "shitposting" back then because they are rich.

So "back in the day" it is more correct to say the environment was saturated with rich shit and those that got money for writing rich shit. And this is indeed what we see."Smoot-Hawley" made the "great" depression worse. Ha ha.

And the reason you only see idiocy is because in America laws have been passed to prevent competent people without government licenses from government accredited schools and having government accredited views from saying anything. The Establishment goes after anyone who isn't an idiot with the law.

This assumes they can't get him fired from his job, which is normally the first option.

The director told Cooksey if he continued to offer dietary advice, even if it was free, the board could file an injunction against him to make him stop. If he continued to give advice after that, he could be convicted of a misdemeanor, forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines, and serve up to 120 days in jail.


In short, in American no animal is allowed to talk about diets except by the sufferance of their Lords and Masters. So anyone that actually knows what he is talking about and is against accepted wisdom gets the axe. As per above. FREEDOM! FREEDOM!

Kacper said...

Like you, I am disgusted with the barbarism of internet opinions, but that's about as much as I'm goi g to agree on.

"Democracy has been the system of the richest and most powerful countries in the last century. Survival of the fittest says it's the best (among the currently available)."
Survival of he fittest is a tautology, it proves nothing.
But you seem to suggest that democracy caused wealth and power. Correlation =/= causation.

"The economic crisis, the relative power decline versus the non-democratic China is a new thing."
Slow creep of democratic countries towards socialism and ever more bloated government is not a new thing. And do you attribute China's rise to sh*tposting as well?

"the amount of inactives did not increase that much over the decades."
Over where I live the number of paper pushers employed by the government was steadily growing since WW2, and quadrupled over the last five years. These people are at least as bad as welfare recipients from the point of view of the economy.

The scale and long recovery time of the present crisis did not come out of the blue, they are consequences of continuing trends.
I don't see any proof that policies are getting stupid any faster since the internet became popular.