Glass Onion, the Movie: Thoughts

I saw “Glass Onion” on Netflix last night, because it was Christmas and that’s naturally the right time to watch a Christmas movie.

I laughed, I cried, I wrote bad checks, and it made me think a little bit.

I saw “Glass Onion” on Netflix last night, because it was Christmas and that’s naturally the right time to watch a Christmas movie.

I laughed, I cried, I wrote bad checks, and it made me think a little bit.

It’s a good movie. I enjoyed “Knives Out,” and while the tone of this movie was different, I neither expected nor wanted it to be the same movie as “Knives Out.”

If you’re allergic to spoilers, this is a good time to stop reading. Turn back! Click away!

Click away now!

I don’t wish to delude you
I always thought I knew you
Knew me well enough to know my heart
I’m likely to describe you
Things you didn’t want to know
And I’m warning so I’ve done my part

The neat thing about poetry is that it’s my song set to music in your head, so I hope you enjoyed that snazzy little elegant tune, but if you’re still here, that means you’ve been sufficiently warned that I’m likely to spoil the movie for you.

I’m also going to assume you’ve watched it. If you haven’t, but you’re willing to endure spoilers anyway, well, that’s fine. But go watch the movie. You’ll enjoy it, I think.

I assumed I knew who it was almost as soon as the setup was done. The movie has two “mysteries,” one of which was solved almost immediately by the pseudo-protagonist (the detective), and the best part of that was that I did not anticipate the solution of the first in such fashion. (Actually, at the start of the movie, I expected the billionaire to be dead on arrival at the island, and when he was alive and well, I was thinking “… okay, this is going to be a story of a suicide,” and it wasn’t. Not in the sense I thought, at least.)

However, that assumption played out. It was not played out like I thought it would be: I expected a labyrinthine morass of detail and observation, careful unpacking and mental gymastics.

Instead, Alexander’s approach of cutting the Gordian Knot with a sword would be a better explanation of the mystery. It was unexpected and enjoyable, really, except for a few minor aspects.

The problem with “Glass Onion” is it’s timing, more than anything else. I have seen a number of factoids about “Glass Onion” that say that the billionaire is based on Elon Musk, a”genius” who “relies on others to do the actual work.”

Combine that with my feed on Mastodon ( if you’re interested) having a significant number of posts all trying to drag Musk through the mud for his management of Twitter, including distrust of everything he’s ever done, ever, and it makes me wonder.

I’ve said here (and on the Fediverse, and on Twitter itself) that I don’t think Musk is managing the Twitter acquisition well. However, I think there’s a method being employed that mitigates some of the criticism. I still think he’s managing it poorly, but I think there’s more to the story than we’re seeing from the outside.

What’s more, his acquisition of Twitter is one failure, if it fails. Possibly a major failure, certainly not the only failure, but Musk has PayPal; I would classify that as “a success.” It may not be perfect, but it’s successful. Further, Musk has Tesla, which I would also classify as “a success,” even if it’s ongoing and the metric for success is malleable; if Tesla has accomplished nothing else it’s done a lot to popularize electric vehicles and shown that they can be commercially and existentially viable. Further, Musk has SpaceX, which is probably the preeminent private space-faring company; there are others, to be sure, but people think of SpaceX first.

Again, the metrics for success of all three of these are malleable, but I think it’s safe to say that PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla have all been massive successes, and I’d bet that most of the people whining so acidically about Musk on the Fediverse today were singing his praises about SpaceX and Tesla a year ago.

So my suspicion is that a lot of them have revised their definition of success to include something like “I have to approve of the owner for the business to be considered a success, and I have decided I don’t like Musk any more, so they were all massive failures. He’s done nothing but fail!

You’ll pardon me for not quite signing on for that particular line of thought, I hope. If you don’t, I probably won’t notice, and if I do notice, I probably won’t care unless you have better data than I do, and you show me in a way that I can understand.

So the movie bags on “Elon Musk” – note quotes – rather dedicatedly, based on raw timing. My thought is that the timing was merely unfortunate, and that the director/producer/whoever created it was actually trying to demean the “billionaire class” as being less effective per dollar than most people are – a claim that would probably be accurate, honestly.

But that doesn’t actually assert that such people are ineffective; it just says that they’re less effective per dollar, and that’s unrealistic as a measure. If it weren’t unrealistic, a poor person of relatively poor ethics – i.e., he steals only enough to keep his family alive, and no more – is a giant among us regular people, because his “effectiveness per dollar” might skyrocket. He has no money, but he’s very effective at his purpose – keeping his family alive – and thus his “ratio” would be fantastic, whereas a billionaire might waste his money on a yacht, which has little bearing on his “effectiveness.”

The movie also suggests that the CEO, the imaginer, deserves little credit for what his companies do. Bron – the CEO here – tends to send connected ideas over fax (yes, fax!) to his underlings, and expects them to make something out of them. That’s his “genius,” and it so happens that some of his ideas expressed this way actually had merit, even though he didn’t communicate the actual ideas, just sparks that turned into ideas (and in at least one case, those sparks turned into explosions.)

Bron is a moron, and I think the movie represents that well, but it also implies gently that a lot of tech geniuses are morons in the same way, and I’m thinking that might be a non sequitur. A lot of movies, classic ones, had the same kind of germination, where someone said something like “What if we … hmm, pocahontas + space,” and WHOA, WE CREATED AVATAR. (Did I just damn James Cameron? It wasn’t intentional.)

So: I enjoyed Glass Onion, and I think people who enjoy mysteries should watch it. My only criticism is when it was released, which corresponds a little conveniently to a cultural moment around Elon Musk, and that may have been intentional; I don’t know. (It’s not a new trope, after all, but … still.)


Christians SHOULD Pray for your Soul.

If you’re going to get offended by Christians, fine: choose something worth being offended about. “I’ll pray for your soul” isn’t one of them.

If you’re going to get offended by Christians, fine: choose something worth being offended about. “I’ll pray for your soul” isn’t one of them.

On the Fediverse, someone posted that they’d pointed out that they’d dared to suggest that in actuality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, and the Christians they were informing said “I’ll pray for your troubled soul.” This is a paraphrase.

To be honest, I’m offended at the entire exchange. There’s no way that the statement about Jesus’ birth was uttered in good faith, unless the speaker was an idiot. The response might not have been in good faith – I can certainly see Christians being offended at the suggestion, even though it’s pretty rational and grounded, and responding in kind…

But let’s be real. That response has a lot more chance to be in good faith than the initial jab about Jesus’ birthday. And it should be the default condition for Christians in any event.

Look: in my understanding, Jesus was probably born sometime in September, if you make a lot of assumptions about Luke’s account being true. If you don’t try to correlate Luke’s account to history (i.e., you assume it’s stuff that’s recorded and maybe representative but not necessarily true, like the story about George Washington and the cherry tree), then Jesus has about as much chance to be born in September as any other month: roughly 9%. We have no idea what day it would have been. We’re not even sure what year it was, although we can get pretty close to that one, because of the slaughter of the innocents.

So the “in reality” bit… okay, accepted. I know there’s a lot of momentum in Christian circles around Jesus’ birth being on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, and that’s fine; it’s simply unrelatable in a concrete fashion to Jesus’ actual birth date, so what.

Humanity celebrates Christmas, for whatever it is to us, on December 25. It’s convenient that way, more convenient than Easter corresponding to a date on a calendar most of you don’t pay any attention to.

But … to say so? To a person in a conversation?

Was this a stranger being talked to? If so, what kind of cad do you have to be to “well, actually” with such a potential lightning rod? Maybe the speaker was being hit on in a bar, and this was a defense mechanism.

Cruiser looking to score: “Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight…”
Speaker: “In reality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Cruiser: “Okay then, I’ll pray for your troubled soul,” moves on.

If the speaker knew their audience – or maybe even if the audience was (gasp!) family… then what could possibly be the positive outcome?

Was it a rational discussion about when Jesus was born, as one has around Christmastime?

Head of the family: “Yes, it’s time for the annual affirmation of Jesus’ actual date of birth being December 25, everyone gather around!”
Speaker: “Well, actually, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Family: “We will pray for your troubled soul.”

Somehow, I think not. A good-faith discussion would look at the available data and the source material and find no rational support outside of societal momentum for December 25. A good faith discussion wouldn’t have needed “in reality” in it. Using that is an attempt to shut down discussion, and that’s neither good faith nor a discussion.

So it had to have been a point made in bad faith (trying to get a rise from the person or people being talked to), and that’s ugly.

And the response: well, that might be ugly, too, a lot like the Southern “Bless your heart,” a sort of utility expression that goes from meaning simple pity to an aggressive “You’re going to die alone and unloved, except I’m too polite to say so out loud.”

But on its surface, it might have been a recognition that making the “in reality” statement was in bad faith, indicating that the speaker’s soul might indeed have been troubled and in need of prayer, such that it is.

And in Christian faith, prayer for others is sort of a thing that’s supposed to be the norm. They’re supposed to care about others, and let’s be real, for Christians, the soul is what matters. (Same for most people, really: there are a few people whose bodily condition history will recall – Typhoid Mary and Henrietta Lacks come to mind – but for most of us, it’s what we did and who we were, not our corporeal shells, that will be remembered, if we’re remembered as individuals at all.)

So I would hope that every Christian would pray for the souls of the people they encounter, especially if those souls show evidence of being awful in a given moment. I’m sure the speaker’s not a terrible person, just someone speaking out in arrogance and, possibly, pain or shame or whatever. And I’m not discounting that the response might have been in bad faith, too… but the initial utterance has a very low chance of being in good faith.

We should only speak in good faith. We can’t look at idiots like Trump and figure that out? Maybe we’re the stupids.

The Flaw is in Hating

I wrote a post on Facebook a long time ago (years!) about the flaw not being in WHO you hate, but THAT you hate. This is me capturing a thought line on the subject for posterity (and for the Fediverse, because I haven’t inflicted myself enough on the Fediverse for my satisfaction yet, apparently.)

“The flaw is not in what groups you hate. The flaw is in hating.”

I’d forgotten having written that, but I’m not sure it’s wrong. It also got me thinking.

It’s representative, to be sure. It’s not any better to hate one group than another, even if different groups deserve different visceral reactions.

Once you open the door to hate, it becomes a weed, a stain on your soul, spreading and growing.

So I started evaluating myself, thinking of possibilities. How do I feel about each group, and why? How compliant am I with my own assertion?

I don’t expect to be fully compliant, after all; I’m not perfect in this any more than any other way. Weeds are “a thing.” So is hate.

  1. Nazis. Communists. By extension, Leftists, and Rightists. (Think of it as a scale: Nazis, Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communists. How do I feel about the people who occupy edges?) It turns out I largely don’t care about the *people* who feel subscribe to these political movements; my only concern is how these political agendas are expressed in public life. Be a Communist if you like. Advocate Communist ideals. Be a Nazi if that’s how you are. I won’t agree with you, but I’ll certainly try to respect you, because if I don’t, how will we EVER manage to build a bridge such that we might convince each other of anything? I believe Nazism is wrong; if my goal is to convince you of that, how will my hatred further my goal at all?
  2. People of a different skin color, haha! Yeah, right. I had to throw this in, but it made me smile to write it; I have relatives of “different colors,” and the idea of hating someone because they look different would be… ironic at best. After all, *I* “look different.” And my melanin levels ain’t exactly pure, whatever that means, either. Hatred of people with different eyes, or hair, or skin, or physical attributes… hah, no.
  3. People of a different religion, or people of MY OWN religion that believe theologically incompatible things. Nope. There’s an incredible array of experiences out there, and just because someone’s different experiences lead them to different conclusions – or they’ve accepted conclusions that fit cultural influences – doesn’t give me a good reason to hate them. I can disagree with them – often energetically, I guess, because I have strong emotions myself – but hatred? Nah. After all, I’m sure I’m an apostate to someone out there.
  4. People who hate me. … Uh, no. Why would I let someone else’s emotions dictate my own? If they hate me, why would I ever let THEIR HATE guide me? if I want to be in opposition to them, why wouldn’t I simply choose to ignore their feelings of resentment? (Besides, this approach usually annoys them to no end. Not only is it less strain on my own cognitive abilities, but if they get annoyed that I don’t hate them back… I win!)
  5. People who serve me poorly, or people who treat me poorly. Nope. Can’t do it. These are usually two different groups; people who “serve me poorly” would be, like, waiters or people who fulfill my requests incorrectly. Look, misteaks happen; maybe I expressed myself unclearly, maybe they’re just having a bad day, maybe they just missed something. It’s not a big deal. I can’t understand people who go off on the service industry, no matter WHAT service industry it might be.

    And those who treat me poorly? Well, I already mentioned people who hate me – previous point, right? – but people who treat me poorly would do so without malice, I guess, just being myopic or self-serving. But if I can’t bring myself to hate those who treat me poorly deliberately, maliciously… how could I ever justify hating someone who treats me poorly by accident, as it were, because they don’t really recognize how I feel about how they act toward me?
  6. People who suffer in comparison to me, people who “have it worse.” Likewise, people who are blessed in comparison to me, those who “have it better.” Heh, no. I would love to “have it better,” and thank God I don’t “have it worse,” and I try to treat others as I’d like to be treated in their circumstance; if it’s someone who “has it worse” than me, I want to see their situation improve, and someone who “has it better,” well, if I were in their position I wouldn’t want someone tearing me down. Can’t hate either group.
  7. People who do what I wish I were able to, or people who resent what I am able to do. See prior point. I’d rather teach those who wish to do as I can, and someone who resents what I am able to do while they cannot? Well… I mean… why would I let that affect how I feel?

I identified one group that did actually cause a visceral negative reaction, and toward those I think I would have to say I have hatred:

Anyone who’d rather die than let someone else live. This covers a remarkably wide set of people, unfortunately: people who’d deliberately murder, or rape. People who would hurt a child. People who’d steal for their own amusement or benefit without need. People who consume others.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in redemption; a murderer can grow and recognize their error. A rapist is harder to forgive, but if I say redemption is possible, I either believe it or don’t. (A core political flaw I see every day on Facebook is related to this: people imply “yes, people can change, but not THAT person, ever. I will never, can never, forgive. Here’s a scarlet letter to put on your forehead forever.”)

I don’t believe in my right or ability to eternally condemn someone else. I’m not God, or whatever would be in that role – and I don’t believe society is in that role, either.

But I think that my “group of people I hate” – being those who cannot countenance others – attempts to expand itself daily. People jump into the group willingly, in the name of virtue signalling and appeal to others, others whose names they do not know, and whose approval is fickle and entirely dependent on the demonstrated willingness to disapprove.

It takes constant effort for me not to relearn resentment.


On a reread, it stands out to me in today’s political climate that I left gender and sexuality out of my list of groups that might be hated. In retrospect, that would have been somewhere in the first three or four of the “list,” I guess, being similar to the other entries in that region.

But my opinion about those of different gender and/or sexuality … well, my feelings about such people should be obvious. Why would I hate anyone because of their gender? Why would I dislike anyone because of who they like? How would that make any sense at all? Their choices and physical attributes do not affect me, why would I feel so strongly as to hate them?

Of course, there are people who act poorly – regardless of their internal or external attributes. But I covered that at the end of the original post, and there’s nothing unique about gender or sexuality that would require any additional explanation.

Solutions are not One-Size Fits All

One of the most enjoyable things about being on social media – especially a “new social media” like Mastodon – is seeing all of the energy people represent for solving the problems they see.

It’s also one of the worst things about new environments, because people have a natural myopia in how they see problems that have solutions, and they tend to see their solution – something that works – as the solution.

One of the most enjoyable things about being on social media – especially a “new social media” like Mastodon – is seeing all of the energy people represent for solving the problems they see.

It’s also one of the worst things about new environments, because people have a natural myopia in how they see problems that have solutions, and they tend to see their solution – something that works – as the solution.

When I first started writing, it was for Alan Williamson at Java Developer Journal. Alan – who is a great guy – and I had some arguments about Java’s direction and future, if I recall – Alan was seeing cracks in the edifice, and I thought his writing about those cracks was a little … overblown, shall we say, and he challenged me to put five hundred words in print for it.

I’m a sucker for challenges like that, so naturally I did it – and it turned into a series of op-ed closers for JDJ, and those turned into my joining the editorial staff as an editor for J2EE, and that eventually turned into a position as Editor-in-Chief for JDJ for a short while, until the owner and I had a crisis of intent and I resigned, because he was doing things with my name on the masthead with which I could not have approved, ever.

It was his product, and he had every right to use it how he saw fit – but I couldn’t attach my name to it. It didn’t matter if I agreed with him or not in his feelings about the matter; I just couldn’t be part of it.

But one of my favorite op-ed pieces for JDJ was an editorial called “There Is No Magic Bullet,” if memory serves. (I cannot find a copy of it online at the moment; there’s a site that says they have archives but it’s down as I write this. Joy!)

The summary should be pretty obvious: I was writing that there’s no one-size fits all solution. You get to solve each problem as it comes to you, examining axiomatically. That’s why we write new programs, day after day after week after year, because every problem is different. Even when problems have similar solutions, their starting points are not the same.

People on social media probably remember this – but social media doesn’t give you the room to observe it, so even if they remember that magic bullets aren’t real, they rarely say it out loud.

And since they can’t say it where others can see it (or hear it, I guess), they end up training themselves to stop thinking it, because it’s wasted thought.

So: want to solve carbon crisis? Electric vehicles everywhere! Today!

… Electric vehicles are a magic bullet. What works in a specific capitol city isn’t going to work in the rural areas. Fuel supply for hydrogen vehicles, even electric grid support for EVs… the problems there are going to be the same as they were for mixed-fuel vehicles. Those rural areas would be crippled by the mandates being demanded and dictated.

Here’s the thing: those rural areas, despite representing so few votes and surely being populated by GOP-voting morons, are where the cities get their food from.

It’s important to have data centers with highly paid devops staff, lawyers, accountants, high end coffee shops, clothing stores where the smallest purchase is $400 USD. But if the people who run those places die from starvation, none of those things matter. The lights go off, the cockroaches and the rats take over, the stone we’re on keeps revolving around the sun.

People in the cities who burden the people who feed them are playing stupid games and can only win stupid prizes if they lose.

The magic bullets the literati keeps suggesting, over and over again, without reprieve or reason or limit, would cripple the literati, and kill them in many cases.

That’s why the trucker protest in Canada was such a big deal, after all: Canada messed around and found out, in a very small way, what they were doing, and as a result went martial law, because why bother learning when you have political power and a system that has subjects instead of citizens, right?

Subjects can be dictated to. That’s what happened to the truckers, who had a legitimate protest.

In the United States, so far we’re still citizens. We’re a little harder to dictate to, no matter what our politicians keep trying. We comply, because we’ve had sixty years of our education system demanding compliance, but our core is still steel and what we’re seeing today is a little more spine than we’ve had for a while; compliance isn’t working, and can’t work.

It’s funny, too, because the grievance culture is planting the seeds of its own opposition: if it’s okay to protest in the name of what’s right, and what’s “right” depends on your context, well, that means a farmer actually has the moral impetus to push back when someone says something that endangers their livelihood.

The point is not that our solutions are wrong. Electric vehicles – the example I latched on early in this – are not bad things, at all. I’d prefer a hybrid, myself, but I can see a future in which an EV is right for me… but where I am, right now? An EV would cripple me. I live too far out in the boonies for the grid, and the distances EVs can travel just aren’t good enough yet.

If I lived in a city, my context would be different, and maybe the grid would be powerful enough to charge my EV (and the EVs of all of my neighbors, at the same time), and the distances wouldn’t matter enough; heck, I might just use public transport instead, really.

But … where I live, right now? There is no public transport. I can probably get an Uber or Lyft out here… but realistically, if I can’t drive my own vehicle, I’m begging one of my neighbors, with their gas-fueled cars, for a ride.

Because the solutions I see that mandate EVs are “magic bullets,” and they don’t work for where I live.

And the other thing about magic bullets is that they are, well, magic.

They’re solutions for the general case, often extrapolated from scant data (or no data, in some situations, just hopes and dreams), without testing against the actual real-world situations for which they’re offered.

I’m pretty liberal, when it comes down to it – classically liberal, really, as opposed to what people think of as liberal now. But I’m also fairly conservative in application, because I want change, but I want it to be the right change, and I want it to be advanced through observation.

We have a problem? Okay, what are our options? What do those options mean? What are the long term costs? How long do they take? How long do we have? Is there an emotional investment in a solution? If so, is that wise?

And what I see my fellow humans doing, more than anything else, is screaming “We have a problem! This is the solution!” with no thought, just… react, react, react, with no emotional restraint.

For example, I saw a post about gun control, where the poster was saying “This bad thing with guns happened to me and mine, how can people still have guns when this happened to me?”

I fully empathize. The emotion of being there is a real thing, and I have no intention of invalidate that person’s lived experience.

But rationally… guns were used to attack this person. And their response is to disarm everyone? Is that really the right response?

My thought is that while guns are dangerous (they’re weapons, and represent power, and power is dangerous), the long term response should rationally be that this person’s family should be advocating for a balance of power, not advocating against a balance of power.

You saw this when Trump took office: guns were the worst! But then… the power went to a person we did not and do not like. All of a sudden, guns were part of the resistance that prevented Trump from trying to become a dictator (because of course the military wouldn’t push back, even though it definitely would.)

And during the last six years, the party that was the most anti-gun has been purchasing new guns more than any other sector in the United States.

That’s amusing… and smart.

And it’s a message: that magic bullet (“no guns!”) was a bad solution. That’s how most such advocacy goes, and we should remember it. If it takes longer to type, or longer to say, or even diminishes the impact of your message… choose rationality over extremism.


Twitter Refugees: What Do You Want?

Seriously: what did you expect? What did you want to happen? What outcome were you looking for?

One of the things that always amused me about peoples’ reactions to Donald Trump were that they were so… catastrophic in nature. (My brother used a word the other day, “catastrophated,” and while that’s not a word, I like it. But I can’t write it without snickering to myself about it.)

The thing about Trump is that he is a narcissistic simpleton. If you wanted him to do something, he has very simple levers, because… again, simpleton. Want him to raise taxes? Well, compliment him in the process of suggesting that smart people raise taxes because… and use big words for “why,” because all he’ll hear is the implicit compliment that he’d have earned once he raised taxes.

Of course, you’d have to have countered the people who also knew how to pull his levers in the other direction, because they’re saying “smart people lower taxes because [big words that he doesn’t understand and won’t think about go here],” because just like you are not an idiot, they are not idiots either, even if Donald Trump himself is an idiot despite being such a stable genius.

But instead of thinking “how do we use this situation our media has gotten us into,” people preferred to scream and shout their frustration, chose to tweet #RESIST instead of, you know, thinking about why and how Trump got elected, chose to weaken their opponents so other populists like Trump could get elected. (And then, when Biden replaced Trump, chose to screech that resistance to the government was ethically wrong, conveniently forgetting that they were themselves “resisting” when Trump was in power.)

But… has the same problem. People are fleeing Twitter, while wishing they had what Twitter had given them in terms of audience and appeal, all because Musk took over and is doing things.

Okay, fine. What is it you actually wanted? Consider that Twitter was losing money hand over fist; consider that Twitter’s usefulness was scoped to a limited base (because it was the shill of a given political base, echoing and emphasizing things acceptable to a limited audience); it was losing trust because the people who use it most wanted it to lie to them, creating an echo chamber, and even though it sold its soul to those people it was losing money.

So change had to come. There was no alternative, if Twitter was going to survive, and given the grief people are experiencing, it’s clear that they wanted Twitter to survive.

So: let’s go back to Trump for a second. (I know, I bounce around. I see things in terms of patterns and parallels, and Trump’s a good one for Twitter, as he is for a lot of things.)

When I was watching close friends undergo Trump Derangement Syndrome, I asked some of them what Honest Donal- – ha, no, I can’t write that without laughing.

I asked what Trump could do such that he wouldn’t receive the vitriol they were hurling at him. I said to go blue sky, people! There’s no limit! Tell me what Trump could do to earn their at least silent approval, with rationality no barrier.

I got solidarity in response: “There is literally nothing he could do to earn our approval in any way.” He couldn’t dance naked in the streets, shouting that Hitler was the devil; he couldn’t raise taxes on the rich; he couldn’t release his own taxes; he couldn’t enforce the progressive agenda. If he’d have done everything on their list of what they wanted government to do – and I asked about this, specifically – he’d still have earned their hatred and resentment.

Okay, then. That’s true Trump Derangement. I get it, but it’s stupid and irrational.

Now let’s flip back to Twitter. Play the same game: what could Musk do to earn the Twitter exiteers’ approval? Anything?

The way I see it, Musk has two overriding mandates: one is to make Twitter profitable (and thus ensure its survival) and the other is to make it what it should have been all along: a melting pot of discussion.

The latter point – the melting pot – is easier, because you can get there by simply letting people discuss, instead of filtering based on bias and whether stuff is “acceptable” to the FBI or whoever is pulling strings. That’s not an easy thing to do, because when you first remove the yoke, people are going to careen past polite discussion – they’ll post actively hateful things to try to see where the lines are, you know, or they’ll do so because they’re simply hateful people – and you’ll also have people doing actively dangerous things.

Figuring out those limits isn’t easy, and Twitter’s struggling with it. But it’s doable, I think, given patience and time, as long as people recognize that it takes patience and time and tuning.

Profitability is a lot harder, especially when people have learned to expect that social media is free, free, free. It’s doable, but not painless.

But when people decide that the alternative is to flee to other social networks en masse… what do they want?

Those other social networks cannot be Twitter-ish without gaining the same negative aspects of Twitter. They’re going from the frying pan (Twitter) to … another frying pan. That’s it. The brand of the frying pan is different. And the new frying pan is going to be less experienced at being Twitter-ish than Twitter is.

Want examples? Parler is one, and if Parler’s not dead already, I’d be surprised. The Fediverse is a lot stronger than Parler, but the Fediverse is also not the same as Twitter… and it’s already showing evidence of commercial centralization, and where individual instances aren’t being commercialized, well, you’re relying on the largesse of individuals who’re hosting instances, just like you used to rely on the largesse of Twitter.

So, I ask again: consider that Twitter has no choice but to change, and tell me where the lines are that you’d find Twitter acceptable. I’m vastly interested, not because I have Twitter stock or anything (I don’t) and not because I love Twitter (I don’t care about Twitter, barely using it outside of posting links to my blog content for the most part, or trying to support some friends on the site).

I’m interested because I like understanding psychology, and the derangement syndrome that we saw with Trump and we’re seeing again with Twitter is beyond my ability to process. People aren’t as stupid as they seem, right? There has to be reason somewhere.

I want to understand, and I don’t.

Mastodon Vs Twitter

I don’t like Twitter all that much. I find that I struggle massively to write in 250-character bites; I simply hate the idea of boiling my thought patterns down to such tiny blocks, and it’s just unpleasant to me. I don’t think reality is so simple that it can be compressed like that.

But the hatred and resentment Twitter gets these days, now that Elon Musk is affecting it, is ridiculous.

Twitter’s problem was that it was popular… and manipulatable. And it was manipulated, and used to manipulate its users. I may not like writing in tiny chunks like Twitter requires, but my fellow humans seem to appreciate reading in tiny chunks like you’d find on Twitter.

And that made it a fine candidate for our upstanding law enforcement agencies (sarcasm intended) to weigh in on what was allowable discourse, so things that might have “undesirable outcomes” could be filtered out at the behest of our government, and voices that said “unpleasant things” could finally be silenced.

Twitter had become an echo chamber.

Echo chambers are bad.

When Elon Musk bought Twitter, in my opinion he not only rocked the boat (a bad thing, and a stupid thing) but he also took steps to right the ship, by removing a lot of the limits that made it an explicit and deliberate echo chamber for a … not a particular view, but I think it’s safe to say that Twitter was canted “Democrat.”

So removing the bans had a natural effect of restoring more “red tribe” voices than “blue tribe” voices, because that’s how math works. If you eliminate 50 voices from one side and five voices from the other, and restore ninety percent of the voices that were banned, you get 45 red tribe voices restored, and four (or five) blue tribe voices – the red tribe gets forty more voices restored, how COULD they be so fascist?

And if you’re of the opinion that this is somehow unfair, that’s fine, you do you, but when I was watching from the fence, that’s the impression I got, and I’ve seen no credible claims that suggest that those numbers weren’t representative. (They are made up, and the ratio may be better or worse. If you want to quibble about details, go for it, but the important claim is “more red tribe voices were quelled than blue tribe voices, so any restoration is going to look more red than blue.”)

Then you have the “but all the fascists!” claims, which are … well… look, I’m Jewish. My family history with fascists is “unpleasant” at best. I’m also a libertarian – not by party, I’m an Independent, but I lean heavily to libertarian ideals, and fascists hold ideals that I very much oppose on political grounds.

The people I see who are acting like fascists are the ones who insist on only their views being propagated, the ones who want state control of public discourse and the engines of the economy. From where I sit, if I’m being perfectly honest, the ones who told Twitter what was allowed in the common forum, and the ones protesting the most about non-approved voices on Twitter, and the ones who insist that everyone obey, obey, obey before they can enter the common forum… those are acting a lot more like fascists than the people being restored on Twitter now.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t literal Nazis or literal fascists being restored. Honestly, they probably are. I haven’t seen them or encountered them, for some strange reason… I mean, if they were infecting everything like the claims have made it sound, I’d have seen more from them, because I’m a natural target for them.

But I’ve seen nothing from them. I’ve seen a lot of crying about them, but the volume of the protest far outweighs the threat of the subject of those protests.

And finally we get to Mastodon.

I actually am enjoying Mastodon, on the whole; I still resent the 500 character limit on posts (I refuse to call them “toots”) and I understand there’s a way to change that limit, but I don’t know it. (And honestly, I wouldn’t apply it the way I’d like to, because the Mastodon convention is 500, and to go outside the lines overmuch is frowned upon and should be.)

But Mastodon is not better than Twitter in any way except in that you have a possibility of running your own server, should you choose.

That’s it. There’s the benefit. You can control your own data more with Mastodon than you can with Twitter.

You’re not protected from fascists – after all, they can run their own Mastodon instances and join the Fediverse just like you can. You can filter them out, just like you always could on Twitter. But unlike Twitter, there’s no authority that can potentially filter out illegal or threatening speech, because if you own your own voice on Mastodon, they own their own voices on Mastodon, and while they can do nothing about your voice, you can do nothing about their voices besides, you know, not listen.

Which is a feature Twitter offered you all along, and still does.

Are you “better off” on Mastodon? Well, it depends on whether owning your own voice and data is important to you or not. If you’re on Mastodon and you use one of the “big instances,” well, no, you’re not “better off” at all. You’re just in a different forum. You’re relying on someone else’s data processing power and moderation effort, and they control the voices, and you’re trusting them just like you used to trust Twitter, except chances are strong that your admins are some poor schlubs (like me) who just decided to run the ActivityPub host software.

Sure, they can boot the Nazis and not federate instance data, I guess, if you’re unwilling to filter out or block specific users yourself, but … again, this is no different than Twitter, except there’s no generalized firehose of common data in the first place.

And that firehose is the value of Twitter. With Twitter, you have a chance to say something that everyone reads. (It’s unlikely, but possible.) If you can say something so succinctly and worthwhile, you have the chance to be exposed to everyone.

If you can somehow come up with the “golden rule” that outdoes the actual golden rule, Twitter’s a workable place to disseminate it.

Unlike Mastodon, where your “platinum rule” (yes, I know, such rules have already been offered, although I find them insufficient) goes to only those Mastodon instances that federate your content or to those users who follow you.

Other users can boost your wisdom, of course, which is how the propagation occurs on Mastodon, and you might indeed change the world, but it’s more effort than Twitter requires. If history’s shown us anything, it’s that low-effort wins.

Mastodon’s propagation isn’t “high effort,” but it’s “higher effort” than Twitter, and human psychology and group dynamics make it really difficult for people to boost things neutrally; if I say something that makes the world a better place, unless you agree with me politically or whatever, you’re less likely to boost what I say, regardless of the value of what I offer.

If we’re aligned and you know it, you’re going to say “ooo my tribe has wisdom, let’s boost that” – but if I say I am independent and not interested in being a slave to your tribe’s dynamics (something I said early on in this post, if you read back or remember) then your natural inclination is to refuse to boost whatever I say, because it doesn’t aid your tribe’s perception.

And if what I say helps the “other tribe” too – then you’re likely to try to mute what I say, because defeating the other tribe is more important than anything else. That’s what being part of a limited tribe does to you. It’s comforting, because you get to look at a set of people and say, well, “there’s my people” – but it also means you look at everyone else and say “there are my people’s enemies, because they’re not my people.”

I can say with great intent that I look at humanity as “my people.” There are subsets with which I have greater affinity, to be sure, but I despise the political alignments that define the tribes, and I have friends among Democrats, Republicans, socialists, even a few communists, and probably a few fascists too, although I can’t name any fascists among my friends offhand.

(I’ve tried to figure out which of my friends are fascists; the closest I’ve come are people who would consider themselves socialists and populists, and I just can’t quite decide that they’re actually fascists. The analysis just doesn’t quite work out, and they’d also be highly offended at the consideration. C’est la vie. My conclusion is that actual fascists are really rare and don’t deserve the outsized attention they get.)

So: Mastodon versus Twitter is .. the wrong battle. It’s not “Mastodon versus Twitter.”

It’s “who controls your data,” and choosing Mastodon should mean that you’re setting up your Mastodon identity among a small like-minded group that is self-funded, not joining one of the overwhelmed “big instances.”

Those big instances are no better than Twitter for you, they’re just hammering someone else’s finances and relying on someone else’s effort, and that “someone else” doesn’t owe you anything. (Actually, you should fund your instance if you’re not running your own. Be a mensch. And hopefully my use of Yiddish didn’t offend you. If it did… let me know. Guess why I’d want to know.)

I’m happier on Mastodon than on Twitter, not only because of the 500 character post limit, but because I control my own data on my instance; I’ve posted more on Mastodon than I think I’ve posted on Twitter throughout its entire history. (I have not validated this claim, but I think it’s pretty solid. My “use” of Twitter for years has been limited to WordPress posting blog links to Twitter when I post new blog entries. In fact, I think this blog post will get posted on Twitter automagically as well.)

And to complain about the changes at Twitter? Shoot, no. Long-term, I think they’re better for human discourse than worse; I may not approve of the methodology, as Elon Musk is acting very reactively, but I also suspect he’s doing that to draw lines in the sand for the bots he’s trying to remove. But the changes, overall: I want more, not less. Bring it on, Twitter.

I’ll watch from my Mastodon instance.