a way to avoid being, without allowing time itself to end
January 22, 2020 8:48 AM   Subscribe

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.

By Venkatesh Rao of The Gervais Principle renown.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs (98 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I predict this thread will end up providing an example of what the article is about, but I'd love to be wrong!
posted by tobascodagama at 8:52 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]


Possibly eponstyrical.
posted by theora55 at 8:54 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


No it isn’t.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:59 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


I'm staying out of this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:06 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


And the only way to reboot history is to figure out new beings to be.

I have found that the intellectual groundwork necessary for this effort has in fact been done by a couple of Jewish Spinozists who were responding to the "end of history" experienced by Jews a century ago. Constantin Brunner and Harry Waton are the individuals I have in mind.
posted by No Robots at 9:13 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


tl,db (too long, didn’t beef)
posted by adrianhon at 9:17 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


This habit of demonstrating "cleverness" by assigning your own trade terms to everything is very Tom Friedman in the gassiest way.
posted by selfnoise at 9:19 AM on January 22 [26 favorites]


This is the difference of opinion fallacy manifest in text, a shallow, privileged look at conflict with no real desire to actually understand what is going on, using the term "beef" as a thought terminating comment. Look at this statement:
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.
There are genuine issues being argued here, but Rao deigns them unimportant, so they don't matter in his analysis - and in doing so shows the shallowness of his own position. Perhaps instead of complaining that people are arguing, the time would be better spent learning why they are.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:21 AM on January 22 [56 favorites]


I didn't really like this, it seems to me he's ignoring the major reasons behind it. Social media in general, and Twitter in particular, likes to drive engagement with enragement. The UIs are designed to make it hard to block annoying people by groups. The algorithms are designed to push annoying stuff into your face to make you click and reply. Everybody has a phone now, and the phone and app designers try to make them as addictive and stimulating as possible.

Instead his idea of explaining the reasons is:
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.
I think it's more likely that people fight partly because they actually care, and partly because if you have a normal 21st century social life the tools you use to communicate deliberately shove a load of annoying crap in your face to get you to tap and click more than you need to.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:21 AM on January 22 [14 favorites]


Oh selfnoise, what a typical comment from the CozyWeb.
posted by gwint at 9:22 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


beeves
posted by cortex at 9:22 AM on January 22 [51 favorites]


I was hoping this post was Beef and Dairy Network adjacent.

The article itself is a bit too broad - I agree that bringing political issues that actually impact peoples' day to day lives into a spiel about Knights of Beefs and Lords of the Mooks is a bit much - but if you lower the stakes to fandoms and various celebrity stans it makes sense.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:25 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]


I think it's important as well to note the similarities between fandom beefs and political "beefs" as they play out on social media.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:27 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Here you see Jordan Peterson taking their beef offline

Ah, the meat clogged specter of the literal beef-only thinker is raised
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:28 AM on January 22 [23 favorites]


Sure, this is from someone who fancies themselves a writer but has never met an editor, but the thesis is not wrong. Aren't the megathreads the basic proof of concept of their point?
posted by 99_ at 9:35 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Veganism is getting beef-heavy with Beyond and Impossible dominating the space and centering the palates of meat eaters rather than actual vegans.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:35 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


peaceful web of the 90s and aughts was about civilian eyeballs

ok, zoomer
posted by 99_ at 9:37 AM on January 22 [19 favorites]


I have a suggestion! And my suggestion is this:

That this article does in fact describe some of the psychic economy of the internet pretty well, but that it's too totalizing and falls down badly in the solutions department.

I've been Very Online for a while, and I do think that there are certain depressing patterns into which empty conflict seems to fall - where everything is Very Important and Very Serious until the next thing, and after a while you realize that a lot of what keeps the conflict going is the psychic and material economies of conflict.

There are real actual debates on the internet, but my experience on tumblr, for instance, was within a pretty homogeneous ideological space which none the less was rife with huge, world-altering conflicts...that everyone forgot about as soon as the next thing came along.

So to give a sort of low-stakes example:

Like, we'd devote a week to a really upsetting argument over a popular writer/artist/show/person, dividing into factions, talking about how the failings of the writer/artist/etc had hurt us as people, talking about how the hurt people were too sensitive or bourgeois or whatever, and the impression I'd walk away with, time and time again, was that the writer/artist/show was CANCELLED. That we'd all agreed that it was VERY BAD and that if you went on liking or watching or talking about it you were a BAD PERSON who trampled on and ignored the pain of others.

And I'd do that thing - the person/book/show/music was dead to me. I didn't engage with it, because I thought that dropping it was the moral thing to do. And then a few months down the road, the same group would start talking about the person/book/show etc again like it was totally okay to like it. And I'd feel like, wait, didn't I just purge something I actually enjoyed because I didn't want to be a bad person? And I felt really cheated a lot of the time, because I realized that I and I alone took that stuff seriously.

And you can repeat that a lot. It's the form that a lot of conflicts take on my social media, whether over philosophers or history or writers.

I don't mind cancel culture, but I'd like things to stay canceled, because I find these really high stakes argument extremely exhausting and upsetting and just really painful and very rough on my anxieties and tendency to self-doubt.

And maybe it's too soon, but consider Isabel Fall and the attack helicopter short story - we the internet revved from zero to a million over about a week, accused some poor trans woman of being a literal Nazi TERF to the point where she de-published her story and now we've moved on. It would have been sufficient to say, "hey, this story has some inconsistencies and ideas about gender that don't work very well" or even "I really don't like this story, I think the title is provocative and dumb", but the psychic economy of the internet demands that for two days Isabel Fall should be the Worst Person Ever and her story the literal apotheosis of oppression.

There is such a thing as [a tesseract, if only I could tesser away from here] a set of patterns of conflict (or "beef" if you will) that are bad, that are describable and that are not in fact really about actual conflict but instead about the internal economy of the internet.
posted by Frowner at 9:38 AM on January 22 [74 favorites]


I predict this thread will end up providing an example of what the article is about, but I'd love to be wrong!

Looks like you're right:(
posted by No Robots at 9:39 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


but if you lower the stakes to fandoms and various celebrity stans it makes sense.

No, it really doesn't. All the piece comes across as (at least to me) is just another version of the tired chestnut of "interpersonal conflict is inherently bad!", which is a take as wrong-headed as it is ossified.

Sure, this is from someone who fancies themselves a writer but has never met an editor, but the thesis is not wrong.

No, it is wrong, because it starts from a position of " why the conflict exists does not matter, only that it does," which is a tired way of closing off debate on a matter. Hell, the term he uses - "beef" - is one of trivialization, of saying "the actual matter of the argument is beneath my notice."
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:40 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]


Hell, the term he uses - "beef" - is one of trivialization, of saying "the actual matter of the argument is beneath my notice."

What he is saying is that the "beefs" are devoid of any "sense of a continuing narrative." If we take a racism as a legitimate beef, for example, there is general failure, despite the best efforts of anti-racists, to understand racism as the fundamental continuing narrative of the entire global civilization.
posted by No Robots at 9:49 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Hell, the term he uses - "beef" - is one of trivialization, of saying "the actual matter of the argument is beneath my notice."

I take the point to be that a significant portion of the participants flatten the engagement solely to the theater of engagement, and I think that's accurate, so using terms that are relatively valueless and superficial is fair because it reflects the stakes the participants place in it.

And it might be that the people litigating beefs in the most committed and animated way who have little investment in material outcomes contribute negatively, just as people who are doing it for real, harmful, material ends. The question of course is to what degree is this participation a hindrance? In Godwin terms: if you punch every Nazi and we still have Nazis, then what amount of self-examination of our praxis are we obliged to do?

The too clever by half framing hurts the argument, which I don't think gets aired enough or given enough credence. The author would have been well served by reading better version of this category of essay before setting off.
posted by 99_ at 10:00 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure his mooks and knights framing doesn't always apply. If I understand 4chan correctly, they're playing to each other, not to celebrities.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:03 AM on January 22


The other big thing that caught my eye was the field of textual red flags in the form of the various terms he uses. For example, I doubt that his choice of "knight" to describe a movement leader is coincidental, especially given his definition of beef as ritualized, extended conflict where those involved 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.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:06 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


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.

The phrase "beef-only thinker" reminds me of the phrases like "women only like assholes", because they both require a lot of assumptions about other people's motivations. Like, when he describes "beef-only thinkers", he's assuming that the reason that the other person was willing to get into a disagreement was because there wasn't enough unqualified support, when there are other reasons why the might have disagreement occurred. "I can't even talk to you, you are getting mad because I don't agree with you 100%" is the kind of thing I've heard Condescending Assholes say to immunize themselves from having to think "I wonder if the reason that people get into disagreements with me is because of the *way* I express my opinions and not my actual opinions themselves".

I tried getting through the piece, but had to give up on it.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:18 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]


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.

Wow. It seems like there's a lot at steak.
posted by chavenet at 10:23 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


beeves

NOT THE BEEEEEVES!!!

posted by Greg_Ace at 10:26 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


Being anonymous and using a keyboard to convey thoughts in real time is something that we are still grappling with in our Internet society.

There is no delay, and there really is no other feedback coming to you in a chat room or comments section. Nobody sees your face, hears your voice, watches your body language...all forms of feedback that take place in person. This creates a completely separate reality, one in which the individual gets to fill in the missing pieces - including the meaning of another person's argument or point.

The ability to argue in person, using speech vs. writing, separates people who are good at that from others. That ability positions people in society differently.

Beefing online is a feedback loop, fueling narcissism and the entertainment value of trolling. At least in the US, there is a strong pull to be proven fucking right all the time...being right is more important than anything else. It's how we wind up with people who virtually come to blows in arguments where they are saying, essentially, the same thing. Happens in every forum.

How many times do you hear the advice, "Don't read the comments," every week? There's a reason for that.
posted by Chuffy at 10:41 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


whoever beefed on the internet please waft the portal
posted by scruss at 10:54 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


So the beef is a conflict that masquerades as a serious conflict about its content but is actually not that. Not all arguments on the internet are beefs; not all people participating in a beefish argument are in fact beefing. An argument that is about its content but not actually serious is not a beef. A beef is something that purports to have direct consequences that relate to its content but in fact does not - if it has consequences, those consequences are not about the content.

Someone might in fact believe their position in a beef but not believe it as strongly as they advance it. So I might believe that Labyrinth (hear me out!) is actually a deeply anti-feminist, anti-woman movie and that it's actually kind of yuck once you look closely at it, but in beef, I might say that everyone has to accept this as the dominant reading and if you don't, you are a bad person who hates women, even though I don't actually believe those things. What elevates my argument from critique to beef would be the fact that I don't really believe that Labyrinth fans are history's greatest monsters.

So people might beef for all kinds of reasons - careerism/raising one's internet profile; getting the attention of someone you like; hurting people you don't like; hurting people because you like hurting people; because you're bored and not very self-aware; because you have a lot of anger that you can't resolve; because you're hurting in some way that you can't address directly; because you have learned that all ever you get is negative attention so you're going to get as much of that as you can, etc.

I think it's worth distinguishing between material reasons to beef and psychic ones. Material ones might be things like needing to attract attention to attract jobs, wanting to draw attention to your paid work, wanting to damage someone's reputation in order to get them fired or reduce their influence; getting a chance to meet someone you want to meet and so on.

Psychic ones might be fairly ordinary - to feel important, to take out on someone else what was done to you, to advocate for someone else so that they don't suffer what you suffered, etc. But then there's also the whole "we don't have third spaces, unions, churches, clubs, familiar neighborhoods or any other way for ordinary people to find a place or to rise so people try to find places or rise on the internet except the internet is kind of bad for that" thing.

I strongly suspect that the more you are able to know yourself and find peace with yourself, the less you need to beef for psychic reasons, and the current all-solid-melting-into-air/in-the-interregnum-morbid-symptoms things are a lot about people not knowing themselves and not having the tools to build new lives or senses of self in a rather unpleasant and shifting world.

~~
On another note: yes, the rhetoric of this piece fails to charm and I strongly suspect that I wouldn't like what I found if I poked around on this guy's website. But the phenomenon it describes isn't imaginary and IMO shouldn't be dismissed just because it may not be advanced totally in good faith.
posted by Frowner at 10:57 AM on January 22 [35 favorites]


The other big thing that caught my eye was the field of textual red flags in the form of the various terms he uses. For example, I doubt that his choice of "knight" to describe a movement leader is coincidental, especially given his definition of beef as ritualized, extended conflict where those involved 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.



Agreed. This is where I went, too: "Knight?" As in "white knighting" or "social justice warrior?" Not a good look. I get the author's point, but every online "beef" isn't a performance and believing that it is says lot about the author, empathy, and the privilege not having to care about what you dismiss as "beefing."

Also, yes, I have looked up its history, but as an Italian-American the use of "mook" makes me very uncomfortable.
posted by camyram at 11:15 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Selfnoise and Nox, I think you guys have nailed it.

I've read a number of Rao's pieces now. Each time I come to the conclusion that he has been seduced by the internal consistency of his own models.

Class map != territory, problem.

And for Rao it doesn't matter if the map corresponds to the territory -- cuz the map is so COOL.

Also because proving out his model would require lots of ethnographic-ish work -- citing actual examples of mook behavior (with screenshots), tracked engagement stats, proof that knights are benefitting economically, etc -- that he doesn't seem interested in doing.

Its arm chair sociology for the Dilbert-lovers IMO.
posted by seinwave at 11:49 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


On another note: yes, the rhetoric of this piece fails to charm and I strongly suspect that I wouldn't like what I found if I poked around on this guy's website. But the phenomenon it describes isn't imaginary and IMO shouldn't be dismissed just because it may not be advanced totally in good faith.

No, we should absolutely dismiss arguments that are made in bad faith, even if we might think that there is a possible nugget of truth in them. Otherwise, we reward bad faith argumentation by saying that it should have a place in the conversation, which just reinforces it. If there is merit in the concept, then it can be forwarded in good faith - conversely, if the argument seems to only be brought up in bad faith, that says something about the argument in question.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:53 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


I find that programmers usually do not have a good grasp of computer science or logical fundamentals. The author could have asked themselves if writing the piece proves their argument inconsistent, because the piece itself would be a perfect representation of unsustainable "beef".

That said, my first thought is that cutting out all the jargon the author is saying that internet culture seems to be unsustainable and polarizing, etc. My opinion on that is there's a problem of taking the meta-position where a centrist in a given conflict gets to decide that some aspects of conflict are legitimate and other's aren't. It's disingenuous but a centrist either cannot see that or is unwilling to admit it. Who gave them that permission to decide such things?
posted by polymodus at 12:12 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


My opinion on that is there's a problem of taking the meta-position where a centrist in a given conflict gets to decide that some aspects of conflict are legitimate and other's aren't. It's disingenuous but a centrist either cannot see that or is unwilling to admit it. Who gave them that permission to decide such things?

Our culture did, with its focus on comity and compromise. We have defined culturally the center as being inherently right, regardless of the argument.

Yes, this is as stupid as you think.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:19 PM on January 22 [8 favorites]


This is super lazy. You identify a few speakers who you think are unreasonable and a few arguments that you think are more trivial than the heat they generate and then declare every argument a "beef" and head over to the lounge for mid-afternoon martini. Your work is done. Checkmate.
posted by straight at 12:36 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


history has not ended - it just smells funny
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


So the beef is a conflict that masquerades as a serious conflict about its content but is actually not that. Not all arguments on the internet are beefs; not all people participating in a beefish argument are in fact beefing. An argument that is about its content but not actually serious is not a beef.

Sounds like you disagree profoundly with the author of the linked article, then, because that is sure as hell not how he's using it. He's flattening all conflict into content-less performance of form. He literally uses politicians with substantive and meaningful disagreements about how to carry out their jobs as democratic representatives as one of his first examples.

Also, the whole knights/mooks thing really just sounds like the 4chan/MRA Chads and NPCs thing. Any schema for dividing up people that involved categorising large swathes of the population as some form of serf, servant, or deceived is... unpalatable.
posted by Dysk at 1:07 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


I have a much simpler explanation for all of this. People don't get into online fights because of some sort of holy war between "mooks" and "knights." They do it because they think their opinion matters. I mean, don't get me wrong, everyone's opinion matters. But unless you're some sort of prominent, well-known individual, merely expressing your opinion doesn't change anything or influence anybody. But the people fight online don't think of it that way. They're under the impression that they have some quantity of cultural influence. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. Engaging in an internet argument is unlikely to persuade even one person, let alone a crowd. Honestly I think this is just part of the fundamental illusion of the internet -- because we have the ability to make our words available to millions, it's easy to think those words have the ability to influence people. I mean, the internet is still a relatively new thing, and you almost can't fault us for falling for this illusion.

I guess there's another motivation, too, where people don't even care whether or not they influence anybody. They argue because it feels good. Or they're under some sort of misguided punk rock notion that just by making noise and being angry, they're somehow going to make a difference. I dunno, maybe like 50 years ago that was true. Sadly, this mindset completely fails to take into account the modern trollworld that we live in -- where the other side is always feeding off your anger, and it makes them dig in even harder. Maybe what's different is there used to be more agreement on who "the establishment" was, whereas now both the red team and the blue team insist that the other is the real elite.

There is an answer, but it's not terribly satisfying. The answer is to just accept the futility of expressing your opinion, except for the rare circumstance where people are already open to changing their minds. And unfortunately, most of those opportunities are still IRL. Another answer is to express your opinion through your actions, like voting, not eating meat, or contributing to causes that you believe in. But I would say that right now opinions are probably the single most overvalued commodity in the world, and investing a lot of emotion in expressing your opinion is only effective in raising your heart rate and shortening your lifespan.
posted by panama joe at 1:12 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


Sounds like you disagree profoundly with the author of the linked article, then, because that is sure as hell not how he's using it. He's flattening all conflict into content-less performance of form. He literally uses politicians with substantive and meaningful disagreements about how to carry out their jobs as democratic representatives as one of his first examples

Yes, and that's why I'm trying to extract from this essay what I find useful rather than throwing the whole thing out. He's saying "all arguments are beefs, defined as follows"; I'm saying "not all arguments are beefs, but beefdom incontrovertibly exists, let's think about that". That is, I'm trying not to choose between cheering this dude on and saying that he's the absolute worst, etc.

I look back over my time on social media and a lot of the toxicity came from people's need to build an identity, participate-without-suffering-attack or gain status through performing for the crowd.

Where I differ from, apparently, almost everyone: I don't think that seeking status, building an identity or keeping yourself safe by performing for the crowd are some kind of inexplicable moral failings. They're things that people do because people have real needs to belong, to stay safe, to make roles and space for themselves. Because we live in a society where it is extraordinarily difficult to do these things unless you're already very privileged, it comes out on the internet. Someone who would previously have worked their way up through their church, union, hobby club, whatever, or who would have been able to find actual paid employment as a writer pretty much out of school now has a different, harder way to make.

Where I probably also differ from almost everyone: I remember perfectly well that there have been times on social media where I've felt pressure to say things more strongly than I believed them, or to heighten the rhetoric, or to denounce something when I actually felt that a nuanced criticism would do. This does not mean that strong denunciation is always bad or that heightened rhetoric is ipso facto uncivil; it just means that I think there's a dynamic which can develop pretty easily even in social circles where people pretty much agree with each other and very little is materially at stake that is pretty toxic and crummy.
posted by Frowner at 1:17 PM on January 22 [38 favorites]


Also, I think it's incontrovertible that internet social circles have people who set the tone - whether those people are famous-famous, internet famous or just the glibbest and fastest on the keys. "Knights" is a stupid way to put this, but "some people have a lot of influence on the discourse and many others respond and/or seek their attention" is just fact. Or at least, it's my twitter feed.

And again, I don't think this means that famous twitterers are bad and everyone else is stupid; if I'm following, eg, an expert in their field, I take my lead from them about their field, that's why I'm following them. And if I were to tweet something and they were all impressed by it, I'd be pretty stoked! If I tweeted so well that I got an offer of publication or a chance to meet my heroes, I would also be stoked!

I think that the actual problem with this piece isn't so much its content qua content as the underlying assumption that being a heroic individual with no needs is possible - that if you're, eg, taking your lead from someone else, you're some kind of idiot. Or if you're trying to get the attention of someone interesting, you're also an idiot. Or if you are seeking a sense of identity, ditto, etc etc etc
posted by Frowner at 1:23 PM on January 22 [15 favorites]


Yes, and that's why I'm trying to extract from this essay what I find useful rather than throwing the whole thing out. He's saying "all arguments are beefs, defined as follows"; I'm saying "not all arguments are beefs, but beefdom incontrovertibly exists, let's think about that". That is, I'm trying not to choose between cheering this dude on and saying that he's the absolute worst, etc.

People aren't saying that he's the "absolute worst", they're pointing out the bad faith and red flags present in the piece destroys any actual value in it. As I pointed out earlier, the phrase "knight" isn't just "stupid" as you put it, but in light of the rest of his argument comes across as a rather blatant dogwhistle,and that's only one of the red flags dotting the piece.

Part of what helps enable bad faith arguments is this desire (amplified by our cultural leaning towards comity) to give the benefit of the doubt to bad faith actors, even when they show that it's unwarranted. And thus they're given a seat at the table when they shouldn't be. Not every argument needs to be rescued.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:32 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


pyramid termite: "history has not ended - it just smells funny"

it beefed
posted by chavenet at 1:41 PM on January 22


pyramid termite: "history has not ended - it just smells funny"

That's spoilage.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:19 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I find that programmers usually do not have a good grasp of.....logical fundamentals.

my personal favorite :

if (someBoolean != false)

which is, perhaps, harmless on its own; but a person who would write that has almost certainly applied the same kind of over-complicating inversion to complex tests, has written deeply nested if-else structures without considering if the tests could be logically simplified and flattened, and so on.
posted by thelonius at 2:21 PM on January 22


But unless you're some sort of prominent, well-known individual, merely expressing your opinion doesn't change anything or influence anybody.

This statement is false. My mind has been changed by the opinions of people who are not "prominent" in the sense I imagine you mean.
posted by straight at 2:40 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I think several of us here don't agree with "the bad faith and red flags present in the piece destroys any actual value in it." Some of us are finding value in some the author's analysis and thoughts, though we may be less impressed with the way they are framed.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:42 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


My mind has been changed by the opinions of people who are not "prominent" in the sense I imagine you mean.

Who were these people? Did you know them personally? Did this happen online or in person? And what mindset were you in at the time? Furious debating? Or open-minded dialogue?
posted by panama joe at 2:44 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Going through an argument like this in search of 'red flags' so that it can be dismissed without further thought is one way of proving it correct, I guess.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:50 PM on January 22 [11 favorites]


I came to this piece of writing a bit late, and agree it has some flaws - often the same flaws that emerge from every effort to think analogically or to develop a homebrew taxonomy that purports to explain more simply and comprehensively a complex set of phenomena. That said, I'm depressingly surprised at the lack of charity given by most of the responses here, which - aside from Frowner and PhineasGage and a few others - seem to do more to affirm Rao's conjecture than they do to counter it.
posted by hank_14 at 2:57 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


In that sense, it's quite a clever argument, in a way - deliberately constructed so that any disagreement is a gotcha.
posted by Dysk at 3:01 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Going through an argument like this in search of 'red flags' so that it can be dismissed without further thought is one way of proving it correct, I guess.

I actually read the whole thing, which is why I found the intellectual argument to be puffery. But when the author writes this:
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.
Exactly how much more blatant does the dog whistling have to get?
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:04 PM on January 22 [24 favorites]


Yeah, that's a pretty horrible set of sentences.

On the other hand, engaging with what Frowner said, rather than the fact that they used this article as a jumping off point, might be better than immediately jumping on them for... using it as a jumping off point?

(I had to quit reading ribbonfarm because it basically feels like SlateStarCodex in a different guise)
posted by sagc at 3:10 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Just another tech blogger who's life-goal is to definitively fail the Voight-Kampff test.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 3:16 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


No, I think there's plenty of room for disagreement. There are simplifications that do the argument a disservice, and chunks of the knight/mook structure requires significant fleshing out, and would benefit from empirical examples that might require more segmentation.

But it's astonishing to me, given the argument being made in by Rao, that the MeFi response includes a variety of claims that flaws in the argument imply - these are just from this thread - that the argument is "destroyed" by itself, that it reads like the gassiest version of Tom Friedman, that it lacks any real desire to understand (because assignation of intent is simple and easy, apparently), that it's as stupid as you (the presumed audience of like-minded folk) think, and an example of armchair sociology for the Dilbert crowd.

So let's not confuse any disagreement with a clever catch-22 and affirmation of the argument, a sort of closed loop. Instead, some folks here engaged in disagreement in a specific way that the author describes as beefing; others didn't.
posted by hank_14 at 3:16 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


Instead, some folks here engaged in disagreement in a specific way that the author describes as beefing; others didn't.

My objection was that the author describes all conflict as beefing because of his obsession with form over content, so yes, any disagreement would qualify here.
posted by Dysk at 3:53 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Beef has a fairly well-developed meaning, and it isn't just disagreement, or even thoughtful argument. To have beef with someone is to have a grudge or a conflict - the word conveys emotion and implies some additional charged-up rhetoric.

I can disagree with someone about the definition of the word, "Beef," online and walk away from the disagreement with a more well-formed or at least deeper understanding of its meaning and/or how it's used without beefing about it. But if some muthafucka comes at me because I used the term in the wrong context, probably because I'm some [insert inflammatory stereotype], we got beef.
posted by Chuffy at 3:55 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


But it's astonishing to me, given the argument being made in by Rao, that the MeFi response includes a variety of claims that flaws in the argument imply - these are just from this thread - that the argument is "destroyed" by itself, that it reads like the gassiest version of Tom Friedman, that it lacks any real desire to understand (because assignation of intent is simple and easy, apparently), that it's as stupid as you (the presumed audience of like-minded folk) think, and an example of armchair sociology for the Dilbert crowd.

Why is it astonishing that people would point out that a badly flawed argument doesn't hold up? And yes, Rao's argument is a catch-22 because it engages in the difference of opinion fallacy, dismissing the content of arguments in order to dump them all into a nebulous status of beef - thus if you disagree and state it, you are entering into the "Internet of Beef". Beyond that, the argument of how the "IoB" is structured sounds a lot like the style of argument that Ian Danskin dissected in his "The Card Says Moops" video, where individuals involved don't actually honestly hold positions but instead look to lead consensus.

Which leads back to that quote from earlier, where Rao uses a long-winded explanation to say that many of these people are engaged in "white knighting". And that is where my patience runs out. I have no desire to engage with an argument that uses arguments and ideas linked to abusive, misogynistic movements - especially when the author further engages in deception to hide such usage (which is what that quote was - his hiding the term "white knighting" by using fifty words in place of two.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:04 PM on January 22 [9 favorites]


My objection was that the author describes all conflict as beefing because of his obsession with form over content, so yes, any disagreement would qualify here.

From TFA: 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

My read of this is that there were models of interaction that weren't/aren't pointless, but monolithic platforms are systemically abetting the degradation of actual difference into meaningless stanning.

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.

That doesn't read to me like a too clever by half irony bro. That reads to me like someone arguing that enabling private platforms to drive the majority of social interaction risks flattening discourse into meaningless feuding for eyeballs and clicks.

That might not be everyone's personal experience of the internet, but it surely covers a significant majority.
posted by 99_ at 4:09 PM on January 22 [10 favorites]


Dysk, I am genuinely confused. We're reading the same piece, yeah?
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.
Doesn't "slowly being taken over" imply that there are public spaces in which conflict is not just beefing, or not yet beefing at least, and that there are non beef-only thinkers? Instead, the piece is suggesting that beef-only thinkers benefit from the currencies and structures that animate online activity.
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.
The above seems to suggest pretty explicitly that even the things that look like beef-only conflicts might not actually be, so that doesn't sound like he's saying "all conflicts are beefing."

And here, Rao suggests that beefs are part of a dominant currency, not the exclusive currency:
As this excellent essay by Hua Hsu argues, beefs, rather than actual works of art, are the dominant currency of the creative world.
Is there some genuine benefit to transforming Rao's argument into hasty generalizations about its core tenets? Asking seriously.

Look, I have some real disagreements with this piece, and while I'm not positive I can locate its politics, I don't think I like the vibe I get from them. That said, I fail to see what justifies the aggressive, totalizing, and often incorrect dismissals offered by a number of respondents in this thread.
posted by hank_14 at 4:11 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


It's not perfect, but I like his feudalism analogy. Marx described feudalism an economically-driven response to the scarcity of productive land, and looking at online culture as an endless series of League of Legends matches fought mostly over that scarcest of forms of online capital, attention, is at least interesting.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:18 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


He acknowledges the existence of non-beef conflict mostly as being disingenuous, and uses political disagreement between politicians as an example of beef. Overall it means that said acknowledgement feels itself like a disingenuous sleight of hand - it's possible to have genuine conflict (just never defined) and here are some examples of genuine conflict categorised as beef.
posted by Dysk at 4:20 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Will everyone please remember that they are addressing the Internet, the world's greatest deliberative body?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:23 PM on January 22 [13 favorites]


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.
The above seems to suggest pretty explicitly that even the things that look like beef-only conflicts might not actually be, so that doesn't sound like he's saying "all conflicts are beefing."


No, he's just saying "all conflict is illegitimate." Note the three categories he gives - theater (which is artifice), incompetent conflict (which is rendered illegitimate by said incompetence), and kayfabe (which is just theater again.)

looking at online culture as an endless series of League of Legends matches fought mostly over that scarcest of forms of online capital, attention, is at least interesting.

No, it isn't. It's chan culture (as Danskin explains in the video I linked.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:24 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Who were these people? Did you know them personally? Did this happen online or in person? And what mindset were you in at the time? Furious debating? Or open-minded dialogue?

I'm talking about reading the words of random people online that I've never met but found persuasive. I don't know what my mindset was but that has nothing to do with the ridiculous, obviously false claim that all discussion online is pointless because nobody's ever persuaded by anything. You didn't say "sharing your opinions is pointless unless you're talking to people who are open-minded." The whole deal with sharing things online is you can't know how many people will come to your words with in open mind. Some will, some won't; the claim that it never happens faces an impossibly high bar of proof and is disproved by even one counter-example.
posted by straight at 4:36 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


And I guess sentences like this one:

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.

...to me read as very strongly implying that conflict is effectively synonymous with beef. So does the following:

For the mook, the conflict is a means to an end, however incoherent. For the knight, the conflict is the end.

...and several other places where he seems to use conflict to mean beef - literally using the terms interchangeably. The rise of the IoB and beef-only-thinkers is the rise of conflict - the absence of beef is the absence of conflict. He does not once provide an example of any kind of conflict that is not beef (except where he posits that things resembling beef could actually be disingenuous, which would disqualify them from being beef purely because of the absence of true conflict). His schema seems to categorise any and all heart-felt conflict as beef (all while undermining the legitimacy of the same).
posted by Dysk at 4:52 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


I started my subscription to the London Review of Books as I was concerned that as I increasingly was using online media, my points of reference were too US centric. I started my subscription to The Baffler as I realised that my appreciation of US culture was lacking critical appreciation.

The article reminds me how trained professionals grapple with problems, "When all you know how to use is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail." It deeply irked me that my supposedly well-educated legal professional peers had limited/no knowledge of technology, literature or culture. I was furious that dumbed-down management reduced everything to "what does it cost?". And I designed my own decision matrices just so I could steamroll the next treacherous suggestion from consultants.

So, I think there are some useful concepts, but applied too broadly. The hammer has struck a few nails. But stating that we are at "The End of History" - nup. The best summary I can remember is that Fukuyama's thesis is that neoliberal democratic capitalism has flattened the future into that single possibility - and I look at climate change, inequality, information access and what lies ahead - and I think a post-capitalism world is emerging.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:09 PM on January 22


hank_14 said: That said, I fail to see what justifies the aggressive, totalizing, and often incorrect dismissals offered by a number of respondents in this thread.

We're all different people, and we all don't have to focus of the same thing. Like, I feel completely justified in not completing an article that strongly implies that any conflict is a beef. I won't get any value from an article like that, especially since the way some people are getting value from the article is to acknowledge that not all conflicts are beefs, but to note that beefs on the internet are real and a negative thing. I mean, okay, sure, but to me, that line of thinking also seems like they have no use for the article, as they're ignoring one of the main points in it. So like, what's the point of discussing the article if we have to ignore major points in the article and end up discussing Internet Beefs in General, which is going to lead to pretty much each individual having a different idea of what "beef" implies, because it's not what the article implies (conflict = beef)?
posted by 23skidoo at 5:16 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this article is irredeemably tainted by its associations, but I do think there's a discussion to be had about the way that social media structurally rewards escalation and habituates its users into using escalation as the default conversational strategy. And yes some arguments do deserve to be had in the most forceful terms possible, but it's an unhealthy dynamic when even in conversations among allies every participant is in the back of their mind looking for an opportunity to get in that "perfect dunk" that will go viral.
posted by Pyry at 5:20 PM on January 22 [8 favorites]


There are genuine issues being argued here, but Rao deigns them unimportant, so they don't matter in his analysis

I feel like the obvious thing an essay like this should be about is the way the internet channels people's real material conflicts into a morass of symbolic conflicts. I don't think the author gets around to addressing this in any deep way, but in all honestly I found his writing style almost too tedious to get through.

The other big thing that caught my eye was the field of textual red flags in the form of the various terms he uses.

I do want to say though that while looking for "red flag" terminology might be a perfectly useful heuristic for, say, quickly identifying right-wing twitter accounts, I'm not sure it's a productive way to approach writing that is long and serious enough to be able to explain itself. I mean if it can't it's... already not very good.
posted by atoxyl at 5:28 PM on January 22


People seem to be reading a lot of moralising into this piece which isn't really there. I don't think Rao is saying that all conflict is bad, or that arguing on the Internet makes you a bad person. I take him as arguing that there's something about the structures in which much online discourse takes place which makes any conflict tend to take the form of "beef". He seems to mostly have Twitter in mind (Metafilter is part of the beef-reduced "cozyweb") and it's hard to spend more than a few minutes on Twitter without seeing plenty of examples of exactly the kind of behaviour he describes.

Also, he's pretty clearly trying to channel Nietzsche, and unfortunately his only solution is basically the bringing about of the Internet of Ubermenschen. Which is not a solution.

Where he really goes wrong is the end of history stuff. There are plenty of good arguments linking the rise of early 20th century fascism with the new disruptive media technology of radio, and you don't need to be Karl Marx to see echoes of history repeating itself.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:28 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


The writer provides a specific definition for "end of history": "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." The term itself is perhaps overwrought and over-used, but the phenomenon as defined is certainly compelling.
posted by No Robots at 5:53 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


People seem to be reading a lot of moralising into this piece which isn't really there.

I think it's the preponderance of heavily loaded terms - senpai-notice-me, thirst-trap players, mooks, even the term beef itself. And then paragraphs like this:

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.

I find it hard to conceive how you could read that as anything other than making a value judgement.
posted by Dysk at 6:01 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


It appears that applying a metaphor from software software development has failed to describe a nuanced human situation. How cybernetic...
posted by hilberseimer at 6:15 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I find it hard to conceive how you could read that as anything other than making a value judgement.

Maybe. But that's very different from saying that "all conflict is illegitimate" or that all online discussion is pointless.

"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."

The problem I have with this is the implication that the world having a "sense of continuing narrative" is the usual state. Maybe if he talked about an end of history as something that happens anytime a long-standing narrative is disrupted, I'd find this bit more convincing. He'd have to drop the reference to Fukuyama, though, because Fukuyama really did mean The End of History.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:28 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that generating hugely generalised metaphors from software development, an industry made almost entirely from fail, is a great idea.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:32 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


The problem I have with this is the implication that the world having a "sense of continuing narrative" is the usual state.

Lyotard defines postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives," principally religion and science. This is an atypical condition, historically speaking.

I'm not sure that generating hugely generalised metaphors from software development, an industry made almost entirely from fail, is a great idea.

How can anyone deride software development in toto, in view of its overwhelming success by any metric? We need more systems thinking in sociology. This seems to be an area where software developers might be able to provide some real assistance. If we expect software developers to make progress in artificial intelligence, why can't we ask them to turn this around and apply some of their insights and techniques to assist in the understanding of actual human behavior?
posted by No Robots at 6:43 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Maybe. But that's very different from saying that "all conflict is illegitimate" or that all online discussion is pointless.

Yeah, I'm getting that now from the combination of the condemnation of beefing that I just quoted, and his complete conflation of beef and conflict earlier on the article. Beefing is pointless, also all conflict is performative beef, that rather does all but state that all conflict is pointless theatre.
posted by Dysk at 6:44 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Lyotard defines postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives," principally religion and science. This is an atypical condition, historically speaking.

Yes, this part makes more sense if you assume that he means the postmodern end of history and just threw in Fukuyama's name to make himself sound cleverer. Which is probably what happened.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:09 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


How can anyone deride software development in toto, in view of its overwhelming success by any metric?

I'm using the only metric that should actually matter - the subjective experience of using the software. It may be the glue that holds the world together, but using it is almost always like crawling over broken glass.
A large, and growing, proportion of the human race already has to spend it's days in virtual worlds designed explicitly to be anti-human. I see no reason the designers of those worlds should be allowed anywhere near actual baryonic matter.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:25 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


If beefing = fighting and porking = fornicating, what meat product represents feeding?
posted by drivingmenuts at 7:38 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Definitely not ham, since hamming = overacting.
posted by Dysk at 7:42 PM on January 22


Once more with vealing, I submit
posted by CrystalDave at 7:49 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Now you're just hotdogging.
posted by cortex at 7:50 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Enough with the fishing for compliments.
posted by medusa at 7:53 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


This is getting too much, I'm ducking out.
posted by Dysk at 8:00 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Everyone in the thread is a mutton for punishment.

I'll be a lamb and show myself out
posted by sagc at 8:04 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Bologna!
posted by captain afab at 8:32 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Do y'all remember how in Ender's Game a major plot point is that Ender's genius siblings convince everyone on the internet that they're right in some manner I don't really remember the context of anymore? That was a pretty optimistic book, huh?
posted by Caduceus at 11:17 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


hank_14 and A_Thousand_Baited Hooks, I don't even know if I disagree with Rao's premise here. Who could deny that there are pointless arguments on the internet?

What I find objectionable is the lack of rigor that went into constructing his model. It makes it effectively impossible to debate with him.

Without any examples of the phenomena he's trying to describe, or evidence of the dynamics he sees at work, where is there room for argumentation?

It's like trying to argue with Freud.

"That's just your Superego at work, pal."

The IoB model, the Gervais principle, etc are effectively religious arguments. Like psychoanalysis or Objectivism. They're playing with symbols — symbols that I have been given no reason to believe actually track to what they signify.

The noxious, "here me sheeple", and yes, Dilbert-ass tone, is just the cherry on top.
posted by seinwave at 2:52 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


What I find objectionable is the lack of rigor that went into constructing his model. It makes it effectively impossible to debate with him.

Without any examples of the phenomena he's trying to describe, or evidence of the dynamics he sees at work, where is there room for argumentation?


Well, he does give a few examples, mostly at the start. But I don't think he's trying to produce a "model" that can be tested rigorously so much as a set of metaphors, and metaphors are the kind of thing that some people are going to find interesting or useful and other people aren't. Doesn't necessarily make them pointless.

Me, I liked bits of it, and I've definitely seen the behavioural structures he describes play out (especially on Twitter, which seems to have been designed to produce them), but I don't agree with all of it and I didn't love Rao's obnoxious tone either. I've mostly just been pushing back against some of the sillier and more pointless misunderstandings that developed above.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:33 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


I'm in full agreement with A Thousand Baited Books on this.

I think that when one reads something like this and has some degree of critical acumen, real life experience, or academic background, they can look at it in a couple of different ways. There's an approach that attempts to extract value from a thinker or argument that negotiates its flaws, gaps, and miscues, and there's an approach that directs those same criticisms towards the act of dismissal. If I remain disappointed about this particular thread it's that I think Rao is keying on a phenomenon that we would do better to attempt to understand and engage, and instead it seems like many of the reactions here are bent on being the fastest or wittiest journey to denounce the piece altogether.

I think this relates to the overall idea of beefing, but whatever; maybe that's an unnecessary feedback loop.
posted by hank_14 at 6:46 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


and metaphors are the kind of thing that some people are going to find interesting or useful and other people aren't. Doesn't necessarily make them pointless.

His metaphor is misogynistic, having come from a movement that engages in attacking women - and it's clear that he knows this, as he actively conceals that metaphor through textual ledgerdemain. Why should we treat it as anything but toxic?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:00 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


He would certainly have helped himself by explicitly connecting the Internet of Beefs to misogyny and racism. Thanks, Nox, for the reference to Ian Danskin.
posted by No Robots at 8:49 AM on January 23


xkcd: https://m.xkcd.com/386/

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong.
posted by Billiken at 11:05 AM on January 23


I'll say this: Whether I buy what he's selling in this piece or not, it helped me to think. Specifically, to think through some phenomena that I see from time to time that didn't have a framework by which they make any kind of sense.

Things like this help me update my mental models. Not because I believe (actively or passively) the argument, or even disagree with it. It's because it identifies domain objects and modeling possibilities that I couldn't come up with on my own before.
posted by Citrus at 7:27 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


The term itself is perhaps overwrought and over-used, but the phenomenon as defined is certainly compelling.

Yes to the first part and not really to the second.

(And Fukuyama was and continues to be pretty much full of shit. Am I beeving right?)
posted by aspersioncast at 7:50 PM on January 23


For me, the fall of the Berlin Wall was truly an "end of history" moment. There were a number of other things that happened that year: career, marriage and health failure; my discovery in a small library of Mandelbrot's The Fractal geometry of nature. All this did lead me on a quest to figure out a new way of being. I thought the Internet would be a great way to help others on this path. We'll see about that.
posted by No Robots at 8:34 PM on January 23


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