Note — Jan 17, 2021

Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor

In this years’s state of the world, Bruce Sterling writes “I had it figured that a failed coup would surely be followed by some kind of purge, but I didn’t get it that it would come from a united front of Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Youtube, Reddit, Twitch, Discord and Shopify.” Now read Doctorow’s piece linked above and see them as the warlords he portrays them as, shifting allegiances towards the end of a reign, following a costly mistake. It adds a layer to this view of our current predicament as serfs seeking the lords’ protection from bandits and being at their mercy.

To be safe, then, you have to ally yourself with a warlord. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and a few others have built massive fortresses bristling with defenses, whose parapets are stalked by the most ferocious cybermerce­naries money can buy, and they will defend you from every attacker – except for their employers. If the warlord turns on you, you’re defenseless. […]

Therein lies the problem with trusting warlords to keep you safe: they have priorities that aren’t your priorities, and when there’s a life-or-death crisis that requires them to choose between your survival and their own, they will throw you to the bandits. […]

That aristocratic urge is why we see lock-in, kill-switches, overcollection and overretention of data, and the invocation of state power to silence crit­ics. As with feudal aristocrats, the state is happy to lend these warlords their legitimacy, in exchange for the power to militarize the aristocrat’s holdings.