Culture Feature

Late Capitalism Diaries: The Worst COVID Scams

There is no cure for the coronavirus, but these people still think you should give them money.

If there's one thing that can save us from a global pandemic, it's capitalism.

Maybe you think that a sense of shared humanity uniting us in collective action — with those least at risk looking out for the most vulnerable — would be a better approach than embracing greed and short-term profit. But you're wrong.

Capitalism teaches us that money is the only thing that's real and the only solution to every problem. So when people are desperate and afraid because a deadly and wildly contagious virus is killing hundreds of thousands and ravaging the global economy, what they really need is someone to give their last few dollars to.

Thankfully, the ancient, venerated tradition of the snake oil salesman is alive and well, and the following good Samaritans were more than happy to strip confused and struggling people of every last dime in exchange for "cures" that primarily treated the problem of having too many dimes.

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Culture Feature

Late Capitalism Diaries: Doritos Locos Tacos, Girl Scout Cookies, and the Horror of Brand Collabs

Brand collaborations move us one step closer to the erasure of all culture

Today the world is celebrating the fact that Girl Scout Cookies are being sold online and Taco bell is giving out free Doritos Locos Tacos for Taco Tuesday.

It makes sense to celebrate. Free food is a blessing at any time, and more so now—amid unprecedented layoffs and financial uncertainty. Likewise, the convenience of an exclusive seasonal snack now being delivered to your door will be a welcome comfort to many people who are stuck inside under quarantine—and no one will need to be coerced by a small child into buying more than they actually want. But what many people may not have realized was that there was already a way to order your Thin Mints online—as long as you could stomach the idea of eating them in a bowl of milk.

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Late Capitalism Diaries: Disney Owns Your Life

Among the Disney Corporations latest acquisitions are all your private hopes and dreams

From that moment, as an infant, you are laid upon a Minnie Mouse Buddy Blanket to absorb the sights and sounds of Bambi blasting at you from your family TV, your life belongs to Disney.

Swaddled in your Dumbo onesie, drinking from a Tigger bottle, and squeezing a Simba Cuddleez plush, you are innocent of the world's woes, and with the help of Walt Disney's Imagineers, you can remain that way until your dying breath.

Obviously the infinite expansion of Disney's media empire has stunned the whole world in recent years—with Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox all being subsumed by the undying hunger of Walt's frozen zombie head. But you don't just have to limit yourself to watching Disney movies and TV Shows in theaters, on dedicated Television networks, and on the Disney+ streaming service.

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Late Capitalism Diaries: Zola Jesus Calls Grimes the Voice of "Silicon Fascist Privilege"

Zola Jesus and Grimes are both electronic-indie artists, but they have drastically different viewpoints on the role of AI in the music industry.

Day 1939042909311112094 under late capitalism.

Grimes and fellow musician Zola Jesus have gotten in a Twitter argument about whether artificial intelligence will wind up replacing human musicians.

Grimes Argues That AI Will End Live Music

It started as most debates do—in a podcast—this one hosted by theoretical physicist Steve C. Carroll. In the interview, Grimes claimed that live music will soon be "obsolete" (she later retracted that statement, stating that "obsolete" might've been a bit extreme), but the headlines latched onto the comments, and soon enough, Zola Jesus launched a critique of the artist known as c.

Grimes & i_o - Violence (Official Video)

In Jesus's defense, Grimes' comments were deeply dystopian. "Once there's actually AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), they're gonna be so much better at making art than us," she said. "Once AI can totally master science and art, which could happen in the next 10 years, probably more like 20 or 30 years."

It almost felt like she was parodying the worst kind of Instagram influencer, or one of the people in the Black Mirror episode "Nosedive." "Everyone wants to be in a simulation," she said. "They don't actually want the real world. Even if they think they do and everyone's like, 'Yeah, cool, live music!' If you actually look at actual numbers of things, everyone's gravitating towards the shimmery perfected Photoshop world."

Grimes - We Appreciate Power (Lyric Video)

Zola Jesus Connects Silicon Valley to Fascism

Jesus had a lot of thoughts about Grimes' comments. "Approaching the future of music and art with so much cynicism can only come from someone who really has nothing to lose," she wrote. "Danger comes from unchecked wealth and power." Grimes, she stated, was the embodiment of "Silicon fascist privilege."

She went on to clarify what she meant by "Silicon Fascism," defining it as "the neoliberal tech takeover by privileged individuals, creating miniature oligarchic kingdoms of power that will inevitably control once-democratized systems." She then posted a long-form essay on Patreon in which she expounded on AI and Silicon Valley's disconnect from reality and parallels to fascism.

"Everyone wants to be the next Apple or Facebook. They all want a place in history by contributing to a Better Tomorrow," she wrote. "This utopian excitement for the future makes me think of Italian Futurism. Futurism was a movement in 20th century Italy that very quickly became the face of Fascism. And today, it feels like a bit of a reprise as we emphasize innovation as an inevitability."

Zola Jesus "Vessel" (Official Music Video)

Jesus's argument about Silicon Valley's dominance, fascist tendencies, obsession with growth, and lack of ethics is a very valid and important point. The public is waking up to Mark Zuckerberg's chokehold on our information, but Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg. Technofascism is becoming more and more of a reality as the major tech companies gain power over worldwide industries and political elections. It's been proven that governments are using AI to commit human rights abuses, and law enforcement algorithms have been proven to display racist biases.

Yet all this feels strangely familiar. These sicknesses—human rights abuse, racism—aren't new. Perhaps they're just evolving. The truth is that despite its disturbing implications and the hegemonic nature of the companies that will control most of our AI, more often than not, AI merely reflects and magnifies preexisting human biases and flaws inherent in already fascist-leaning and capitalist states.

Zola Jesus - Exhumed (Official Music Video)

A Cyborgian Possibility: The Problem With Fearing AI (But Not Humans)

While Jesus's points about Silicon Valley's fascist leanings are valid and vitally important, her arguments about the importance of "humanness" feel less solid. She throws around descriptions about "working-class people" and marginalized groups, yet seems to have an idealized view of human failure. "We all strive for success, but inevitably we all fail. And embracing those failures is what makes life so f*cking beautiful," she writes.

That's a wise and valid sentiment, but then again, it's easier to fail if you have a support system and health care—and of course under late capitalism, so many people don't have the disposable income, time, or ability to experience live music.

Many of us react adversely when we hear critiques of idealized humanness, but what is humanness, anyway? Isn't the idealization of some ideal of civilized, unnatural humanness above all other things what got us into our current mess? Certainly, Jesus wasn't arguing for civilized behavior; if anything, she was arguing for the opposite; but still, the answer can't be as simple as clinging to some abstract vision of unchecked human expression and distrust of technology as the answer to all our problems.

Zola Jesus - Seekir

To argue that humans should return to a raw, analog human state located somewhere in the past is, to put it bluntly, to idealize a past wherein America was (arguably) even more homophobic and overtly racist than it is now. To over-idealize humans, with our volatile emotions and biases and tendency towards destruction, is to ignore the reality of who so many of us we have been and what civilization has always been doing, at least under the clutches of capitalism and colonialism.

That's not to say we shouldn't critique AI and the major tech companies, or that we should listen to people like Grimes who envision an AI-dominated state in the near future. It is to say that instead of blatantly resisting AI simply because it threatens old ways of life, we need to be looking closer at what kind of future we want to see.

In this spirit, many posthumanist scholars argue endlessly for a different perspective on a cyborgian future, one that blends humans and artificial intelligence in conjunction with ethics and democratic decision-making. If we can create AI that has an innate moral compass, that's helmed by diverse and compassionate leaders and elected officials, and that—most importantly—isn't built to mirror capitalism (a system designed to uplift a small few on the bodies of a disadvantaged mass, a system designed to make us pursue evolution and development at all costs), maybe then we're talking.

All this is easier said than done, and perhaps hopelessly idealistic, but you have to have some hope, right? Right? (Or is that what the basilisk wants us to think?)

Grimes - Oblivion

Post/Humanism: Live Music as Resistance

At its core, Jesus's central argument is a humanist one. Human compassion and the connection that arises from live music, she seemed to be implying, must not be replaced by soulless artificial intelligence. Live music is antithetical to Silicon Valley's pristine, gilded ethos, she argues. It's true: Few things make us feel more human than live music, with all its searing emotion and audience-performer transference.

Zola Jesus - Siphon | Sofar NYC

Yet as with anything in this wheelhouse, the truth (and music) is not divisible into good/evil binaries. Live music is powerful, but it is not a solution to the ravages of systemic injustice (not that anyone was implying it was), especially when it exists within a profitable system wherein artists are forced to tour relentlessly and sell tickets and merchandise for thousands of dollars. And of course, the music industry is not, and has never been, an entity that uplifts human emotion and expression above all else.

For her part, Jesus is rejecting the music industry's algorithms by supporting herself via Patreon donations, but that's also an impossibility for so many dedicated and hardworking artists.

That said, her essay and comments are brilliantly written and bring up vital points that absolutely merit continued discussion. It's all too easy for posthumanists locked up in their ivory towers to imagine futures of sublime cyborgian evolution while only analyzing ethical and emotional implications of AI in theory, so going forward, we absolutely need the kind of transparent analysis Jesus and Grimes' debate is presenting.

So, diary, I have chosen the hill I will die on today, which is: We need antitrust and regulatory policies and some seriously hard-working ethics in Silicon Valley.

Grimes - Genesis (Live on KEXP)