Nice, healthy elephants — not extinct. In the Greater Kruger Park, 2009
There’s tons to write about Twitter and Elon’s recent takeover, and I’m attempting to get through a longer, memetic war post on Elon, Trump, and agents like Paul Krugman. But this is ripe, as it were. Will Twitter collapse and everyone move to Mastodon, or actually, one of the other alternate platforms, like Parler or TruthSocial?
Never say never, of course. But the odds of everyone fleeing Twitter and moving to Mastodon, because of the created furor over Musk not driving the algorithms toward supporting the Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme, which is inherently institution-supporting, is pretty low. Everyone on the ostensible Left loves to underestimate Elon, partially because he represents publicly as a flawed human, while at the same time being the richest man in the world. This scrambles the status-driven circuits of the pundit class. But if you know anything about any of his companies (I have worked with SpaceX) his success is actually due to the fact that he operates them in a Performance/Goal-Driven (Orange) v-Meme, while possessing awesome reflective Guiding Principles insight on how all of it works. I highly recommend various Elon videos on the design process to my design class, primarily because he has the best advice (bar none) on how to accelerate the process of successful performance-driven design.
For those wondering what that might be, it’s basically SpaceX is more than happy to blow rockets up, learning all the way along the path toward rapid iteration. If you don’t believe me, then watch the video below.
People in Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme structures (like the current version of NASA) cannot learn enough about new systems because they refuse to push them at appropriate times to failure. And no — I’m not talking about when humans are aboard. But you don’t have to look far (about as far as the most recent Artemis program) to see that a status-driven organization that cannot tolerate failure just can’t learn and explore enough in the design space to push the envelope in space flight. We don’t only learn from failures, of course. But failures matter in broadening the envelope of the possible, as well as potentially illuminating Black Swans that show up out of nowhere.
But back to Twitter and Mastodon. From all outward appearances, Twitter was a bloated piece of Silicon Valley agitprop, a place heavily laden with status-driven thinking. It really hit its stride at the beginning of the Trump era, when no-reputation journalists and academics found they could gain some kind of a reputation through Twitter’s infamous ‘Blue Check’ verification process. I’m on Twitter, and the hassle of getting said Blue Check just seemed like a big pain in the ass (I am notorious, however, in not caring much about status.)
As I wrote in this piece, journalism (and the academy) has been adrift for a while. And its current mode has been cemented through learning that the path to status-driven heaven (actually perdition) is having access to famous people, and repeating whatever the most famous authorities would want them to repeat. You look at the embarrassing doubling-down of the journalistic and academic castes on the whole COVID lab leak fiasco, and I’m floored. It’s not that it’s 100% that COVID came from the Wuhan lab (I’m pretty sure it did) — it’s just the people the journalists and academics ended up defending, like the China’s CCP, as well as our own CDC, are so obviously off the rails when it comes to anything having to do with promoting agency of individuals, or any Enlightenment values. The CCP is competing with North Korea for the most oppressive state in the world when it comes to civil rights. Yet I’ve seen reporters from Nature, the pre-eminent scientific journal in the world (well, formerly) defend the CCP, even though the most conservative (not political, but truly conservative) viewpoint on the whole lab leak fiasco is that the affair is unsettled. The mind reels. Talk about memetic alignment.
At any rate, this sub-class has been seeing favorable algorithmic treatment on Twitter, which has turned Twitter into what John Robb calls the ‘network swarm’. And through its lack of grounding, coupled with the Ukrainian crisis, and its hatred of Trump’s anti-elitism, driven the world to the edge of a nuclear exchange. I could march through the whole list of issues that the current version of Progressivism has doubled down on (they’re even going in big on castrating young children in the name of reducing childhood depression) but I think it would just make me ill.
Twitter, though, likely due to its longevity and expansive user base, has resisted an overt takeover by the Progressive class, though one could argue only weakly. That has led to the binning of Left/Right opinion due to power law/Pareto dynamics. And with the ascension of the Biden claque, a group largely kidnapping an old man with obvious dementia, to use as a power token, their psychopaths, facilitated by the COVID pandemic, were making large inroads on collapsing the US, at any rate, into a true Authoritarian state. Musk derailed their plans (sometimes it helps to have $215B in your pocket) through Twitter’s purchase.
And almost immediately, that entire group were quickly threatening to leave Twitter because of so-called immoderate moderation. It’s all ridiculous — anything resembling real results of gross algorithmic change would at least taken a couple of months to show up. My feed, which is really Space Alien v-Meme stuff, changed nary at all. So it’s impossible to believe that somehow anything REAL happened.
But lower v-Meme systems exhibit radical bifurcation/switching behavior. And once the switch was thrown, the class of Twitter Progressive Illiterati were all threatening to leave for Mastodon, the ostensible champion of Truth, Justice and the well-moderated content Holy Grail.
Now it’s time to consider a.) the actual behavior of Twitter Illiterati, Robb’s Network Swarm, and what fuels their dynamic, and b.) what might happen if the group of journalists move to Mastodon.
Regarding a.) — it’s highly unlikely that most of the journalists will move off Twitter. Twitter is really great in providing both an echo chamber for journalists and academics that were previously unconnected (confession — I got on Twitter to reach out to people outside my own academic web.) What happened when they found each other is what happens in any memetic system where you actually create a place for Birds of a Memetic Feather to flock together. They, well, flocked. And having i.) a place where status is constantly being reinforced, and ii.) where they feel like they found their ‘Tribe’ and felt safe — something they could never delude themselves with if they went out into the Real World, they started enacting on their obliviousness and confessing their deepest intrinsic biases to each other. How anyone can believe anything, after reading many of their Twitter feed (there are notable amazing exceptions, BTW) these people write as anything other than an op-ed column is beyond me.
And on the darker side, Twitter also fed/feeds their intrinsic narcissism. This is a bad thing. If you are basically a Maoist, or anyone to the Right of that, you can find some sense of belonging on Twitter. The problem with that connection is it is not remotely grounding in others’ more diverse experience, or grounded to anything in reality. You really can form an empathy bubble on Twitter. And worse, it will be reinforced in 280 character Tweets (Authority-driven knowledge structure) over and over. It’s a potent, collapsing feedback loop, and really explains how even in the end of the pandemic, none of them will apologize for anything. It also puts their personal growth in suspended animation, and reinforces the mental age of the Authoritarian/Legalistic v-Meme, which centers around 16 years of age. If you wonder why this entire caste acts like teenagers, it’s because, well, they’re trapped in some kind of self-fulfilling suspended animation where teenage behavior is constantly reinforced. Mean Girls indeed.
Things were made worse by the pandemic, which gave a moral sense of purpose to ordering take-out and quite literally e-mailing it in. The ‘laptop class’ as pal Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford in public health calls them, really are just that. And humans have to be remind of physical reality in some form or another, or it all turns into one big LARPing exercise.
Regarding what happens if they migrate to Mastodon, and they actually do it, nothing good will come out of that either. First off, it’s extremely unlikely, for the reasons above. And there is the base-level Survival v-Meme fact that the platform is new and simply can’t be very good. The construction of the Twitter platform, like it or not, has refined lots of parts of it so that it is extremely reliable, and works well. That cannot be true of any of the Twitter migration paths (Mastodon, Parler, etc.) because refinement, especially in dealing with things at scale, is HARD. Ask any computer scientist. Low probability events pop up and must be dealt with. But in order to really get at low probability events, they have to occur. And that means lots of cycles/Tweets/whatever to ferret them out.
Secondly, though, if a platform establishes itself already in a relationally destructive v-Meme box, as Mastodon has had to do, it then ends up with other Pareto/power law anomalies in the information stream. All those comments (whatever they call them at Mastodon) are run through relatively strident algorithms about ‘disinformation’ or some such icks. They can’t be very evolved. And to top that off, if you’re stuck in the Legalistic v-Meme (at least on the surface) there’s simply no knowledge structure that can handle event probability. Someone raises their hand and screams that disinformation got through, instead of understanding there’s a law of statistics involved, ANOTHER rule has to be created. Populations and actual information diversity really don’t exist in their minds. They have an anecdote, the anecdote proves the rule, and as such, Mastodon has to come up with something because they have PROOF. This was an amazing quote/Tweet that just popped up today. Purity tests beget more purity tests.
This also gets reinforced by the set beliefs of the journalistic and academic castes about how AI works (or actually, really doesn’t work.) Current SOTA machine learning is really just fuzzy linear (or meta-linear) interpolation. And to make the extremes happy (trust me that Mastodon will at least initially attract its share of High Conflict psychopaths — it’s inherent in the social structure of the thing) you’ll see opinions on a whole raft of issues converge to a Singularity relatively rapidly. Well, assuming the platform holds up. This geometric/Pareto distribution thing is real, whether anyone outside a small group of us can understand it. Not good. So you end up with the largest amount of people with extreme views on the edge of the distribution. That’s the bottom line.
And then things will get boring. Boring is bad. Boring means your core empathy-disordered folks are simply not entertained. And boring means that the inherent narcissism that runs a base layer in social media also goes away. That means clicks go down. And the Network Swarm moves back to Twitter, though in an attenuated form.
Emergently, the Network Swarm realizes this. Which is why they’re/it is hollering so loud to give them their Twitter back. They can’t vocalize, nor describe this. But you as well can’t describe most of how your body works, nor anticipate much besides being hungry or having to go pee. There really is so much we don’t know about emergent behavior of social networks.
Interestingly enough, the conservative/Right social media, mostly existing in the Authority-driven space, actually has more opportunity for thought diversity (not to be confused with the whole DEI mess) than the liberals. The problem is that since it is even more fragmented, you might end up with some more empathetic, personal perspectives than the Left might put forward. But lots of these folks will be utterly bonkers, as actual Authority shifts back and forth to whoever can tell the best story. Which then puts you down in the Tribal v-Meme, and the land of myth. Short version — more diversity and different ideas. More crazy.
Will Twitter survive? The best somewhat-contemporary author, that I enjoy as a childish pleasure, is Michael Moorcock, who describes the universal fight as one not between good and evil, but Law and Chaos. To the extent that society captures that conflict (and that really is profoundly enhanced in the dynamic by free speech) and learns something from it, we can move forward. Twitter might yet do that.
Will Mastodon survive? To end with some kind of analogy, mastodons require a great Ice Age in order to survive. And as things warm up, with the memetic dynamics described above, it is looking like a warming trend. I’m betting on its extinction, or at a minimum, a placeholder at the polar caps of the meme-sphere of planetary debate.
3 thoughts on “Quickie Post — The Memetic Death of Mastodon”
Well I am not sure this qualifies as a quickie – but a goodie. As a person who is more focused on cattle grazing and healthy soils, you help explain what is really going on in the macro/memetic world.
Great to see the streaming post from a beautiful mind!
On Sun, Nov 20, 2022 at 7:00 PM It’s About Empathy – Connection Ties Us
Hey man — we need to connect over the holidays for a call. Hope all is well!
Great synthesis. You’re exactly right. And I still don’t believe you’re a liberal.
On Sun, Nov 20 2022 at 6:00 PM, It’s About Empathy – Connection Ties Us