Villainous Hero

With an increasingly polarized world comes the dangerous tendency to impulsively bucket people through the binary lens of the hero and villain archetype. Truly determining whether a person or their ideas actually promote the net good requires a nuanced study of perspectives and second order effects. However when we hastily attribute either a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ label, we use support of popular opinion as a mental shortcut for presuming good and consequently assume malintent from anyone with an opposing view. The rigidity of this system risks the silencing of essential contrarian thought — someone with a fresh take on solving complex issues might be demonized and disregarded for their heterodoxy. I’ve recently been thinking of a model to include those who promote the contrarian good in these scenarios — the villainous hero.

Traditionally, the hero is defined by his preservation of the status quo — he works to bring peace and promote the net good (return society “back to normal”) and is deemed a “hero” by public opinion. In contrast, the villain is defined by his rejection of the status quo — he is devoted to the pursuit of some maniacal society-altering plan whose intentions might not necessarily be for the net good. The villain represents deviation from the norm and so tends to be unpopular — he is therefore forced to forfeit social approval and be driven by ego or faith in vision. What I suggest is that there exists another dimension to this dichotomy that offers much-needed nuance. The villainous hero is he who is perceived by the public to be bad but whose intentions are inherently good at heart. He is fundamentally misunderstood by the masses and despite overwhelming disapproval he remains committed to the cause he firmly believes is good.

Megamind Director Tom McGrath Interview - DreamWorks Megamind 3D Movie

The true hero isn't the most heroic hero it's the villainous hero. Similarly, the true villain isn't the most villainous villain it's actually the heroic villain. If that didn’t make sense, bear with me. The true hero is concerned with real progress and real progress often involves doing things that don’t fit the bounds of the current status quo. The heroic hero whose identity is wrapped in being perceived as a hero is less likely to do anything that might diminish their reputation or risk them losing social approval. In contrast, the villainous hero is indifferent to the attitudes of the public and isn’t afraid to be perceived as a villain to pursue what is ultimately the net good. For instance, a heroic hero in order to support an important cause (and protect their “hero” status) might publicly donate large sums to non-profit orgs with fancy marketing engaging in empty “awareness” gestures. A villainous hero might disregard any such attempt to signal virtue and instead work relentlessly against public vilification to address a root problem.

Taking the converse, true villains are always careful to never openly reveal their villainy. In order to shroud themselves from suspicion the heroic villain will pose as an upstanding, model citizen and concern themselves with social causes enough that the average person would scoff at the thought of their villainous intentions (“International Money Man of Mystery”, *cough* Bill Gates lol jk…or not?). The point of introducing this idea is not to say that everyone neatly falls into either bucket here, but to suggest that it might be worth to lend more due consideration to every “radical” entrepreneur with an unorthodox plan and cultivate a healthy skepticism towards every media darling promising to be the answer to all our woes.

What I’ve been consuming recently

In With The Out Crowd

Come For The Network, Pay For The Tool

Idea Laundering in Academia

Alinea Cookbook

Making of Limited Edition Air Dior

Personal update

been busy working heads down this month

also been learning to skateboard - i got a decent ollie going which is cool

in case anyones wondering i look alot like this guy now lol

Globalization Retreat and Tech Politicization

Last week, an important underreported release from the European Union Parliament detailed a plan to introduce a government controlled Internet similar to the Chinese firewall. This news along with India’s recent ban on Chinese apps (including Tik Tok) represents a global shift towards the territorialization of cyberspace — the Internet becoming disjoint segments of sovereign spaces or a “Splinternet”. More countries have started to recognize the economic value left on the table from not investing in digital technology at home and seek to replicate the tech boom in the US. In their effort to aggressively fund local early stage companies and increase competition, digital policies inspired by the Chinese firewall mark a retreat from globalization to artificially constrain foreign competition. In addition, social media and online forums are being recognized by governments as weapons for propaganda and more countries are seeking “cybersovereignty” to suppress foreign ideology and impose cultural protectionism.

The dominance of US internet companies has indirectly led to the spread of American politics and culture overseas, influencing the mainstream even in non-Western countries — eg: countries around the world such as Japan & NZ are marching for BLM, Indian youth in rural conservative towns are adopting liberal progressivism such as support for LGBT causes and heck, even a guy I met last Dec from a small town in Lithuania keeps up with the Kardashians. To a foreign regulator, the open internet is a sort of euphemism for an American hegemonic internet. Nations that regard exposure to American culture as incompatible with nationalism and state-sponsored cultural values are thus increasingly seeking refuge from American “cyberimperialism” to assert control over all online influences on the public (Turkey, Singapore). If American politics is any indication, it’s plausible for a foreign government to interpret a “free” and unregulated internet as a potential threat to power. The message to tech companies is now to build backdoor provisions for government censorship or be exiled from the country’s cyberspace.

The politicization of cyberspaces will have far-ranging consequences on the tech industry. For long Silicon Valley has enjoyed the financial benefits of free internet distribution in a pro-globalization world. A startup working out of a garage in Mountain View has been able to access an expanding global market of online consumers, generate more revenue worthy of higher valuations and increase wealth in the national economy (via venture capital returns). As a result, US entrepreneurs blessed with friendly TAM math have been able to raise millions on a globalization dependent narrative. Uber (in contrast to Lyft) took on a globalization strategy of rapidly expanding internationally to justify its much higher valuation similar to Notion which only receives 18% of its web traffic from the US (#2 being China with ~9%). As more countries and territories like the EU choose a protectionist digital policy to contain consumer spend leaving its borders, we will see more tech companies with globalization dependent growth experience a severe correction.

What I’ve been consuming recently

True Believer by Eric Hoffer

Risk At Sea

Origins of Economic Disparities

Kanye West’s Website Turns Shopping Into Art

Bruce Hornsby Violin Solo at Elijah Protest

Personal update

excited to return to my roots. reply if you wanna beta test something in the next couple weeks.

Identity Innovation Zone

An interesting trend I’ve observed lately is the return to the pseudonymous digital identity — the alt account (the finsta, the private snap and the alt Twitter account). Reminiscent of a MySpace/SocialNet era, we’ve come back full cycle after experiencing the consequences of permanence and the saturation of modern social network feeds. Signing up for Facebook today is much like going to the DMV as an obligatory ritual for establishing real world identity. In the last decade of social networks we’ve succeeded in connecting with our IRL social graphs online, bringing people from different facets of our life to our single unified profile. However it appears we’ve re-discovered — we have different identities associated with different people in our lives. Having a single feed for the personas we have with family, work colleagues and crazy high school friends tends to either dilute our voice or force us to migrate to new social networks / group chats dedicated to a specific subset of our social graph. The return of the alt signifies that we want pseudonymous identities that allow us to curate our audiences, explore obscure interests and share our minds with greater freedom.

In many cases, presenting our real world identities on social networks can prove to be more of a burden. For instance, an ambitious high school student might like to participate in intellectual forums without revealing her age. An art enthusiast might prefer to share her critiques without revealing she was only educated as a "soulless" business major. Or a small business owner from the South might like to contribute his views to the global political discussion without his livelihood being put at risk. Being able to explore and connect to different communities on the internet shouldn’t come with the baggage of who you are in the real world. ‘Identity hopping’ online should be as seamless as joining a different clique at recess by changing your outfit.

There will always be innovation in social networks as long as profiles get saturated with enough groups of people with whom you need to manage multiple identities. Typically we see this cycle manifest in the form of network migration where people continually move to spaces where they have finer control of their own perception. As platforms get saturated, people continue to move.

The social platform that can adapt to accommodating new identities and its associated audiences will be everlasting. Such a platform would serve as an innovation zone for self-discovery allowing users to spin off new identities and tap into new social graphs while limiting the connection to their real world identity (why im long on twitter, discord and a potential tumblr revival).

What I’ve been consuming recently

Absolutist Sovereignity

Growing The Internet Economy

The American Press Is Destroying Itself

Why Walking Helps Us Think

Gucci Mémoire

Personal update

rediscovering that california is more than hipsters and avocado toast

Invisible Authority

Contrary to the expected dynamic of a democratic society we are ruled by an invisible authority — one that governs our tastes, forms our opinions and lends us our identities. Unlike the Pravda or the CCP, our invisible governor does not disseminate its propaganda from a single discernible source rather it exploits our consumerist culture to subtly manipulate our shallow identities and manufacture consensus. An assortment of diverse lifestyles and identities are generated to offer us a spiritual direction representative of our individuality. However this diversity is as superficial as the soda aisle at a supermarket — different packaging for the same underlying product. Its true purpose is to provide the illusion of choice to disguise a hidden agenda to breed ideological conformity.

The subconscious manipulation of the masses via our corporations hinges on the nature of consumers to build their ego around the things they consume — the same tendency for someone who watches Jon Stewart or listens to Joe Rogan to consider themselves part of the Inner Party Intelligentsia. A member of such a Party might also read the NYT, eat at Sweetgreen and shop at Outdoor Voices — brands that will all use the same bold messaging regarding social and political issues to signal their alliance with the party line. Consumption becomes a means to signal in-group status leading to a hypersensitivity to social differences associated with our cultivated identities —members might be trained to recognize a fellow Party member by their $120 leggings and someone wearing non-eco-conscious trainers or shopping at Walmart as a Fox News watching credulous moron. All the while, members would be convinced of their individuality (after all they did select these products from a wide array of options) and reinforced of the sociopolitical opinions that make them a Good Person™️ without ever questioning the external forces that conspired the promotion of that consensus.

Bernays – Comm11110 – Lisa's Public Relations Blog

Companies using social causes to manipulate the masses and create natural demand for their own products is a strategy that has been well documented. In the 1930s when women smoking cigarettes was a cultural taboo perceived as classless and unladylike, Lucky Strike cigarettes launched a PR campaign designed to expand their market. Using the platform of female equality, their cigarettes were rebranded as “torches of freedom” — empowering women to smoke their cigarettes as a bold statement against patriarchal norms. Opposing women smoking Lucky Strike became synonymous with opposing feminism (how could you possibly be against that?) and so women consumed more cigarettes out of rebellion to their naysayers and pride for their newfound liberation.

Ben & Jerry's Latest Flavor Pecan Resist Wants To Inspire Activism ...

The Lucky Strike case shows how corporations market products bundled with grander personal causes in order to appeal to our carefully cultivated identities. These are usually causes with taboos around their critical scrutiny or special resistance to contradiction (any obviously good idea). That way any objection to the product or its mechanics of consensus manufacturing is interpreted as an attack on the morality of the consumers who “chose” the product as representative of their identity. And when the identity comes under threat, the impulse is to consume more of the product in defiance to signal loyalty to Party values. The more the identity is under attack, the more the emotional response to consume. It’s important to note that this leads to the perverse incentive for the profiteers of our consumption to actually seek conflict that keeps our identities under constant threat.

What I’ve been consuming recently

The Engineering Of Consent

Viva Las Vegas

What It’s Like To Get Doxed For Taking A Bike Ride

Rebuild Our Youth!

Foursquare COVID Recovery Index

Personal update

strange time for america. some of the most optimistic people i know who have long been ardent supporters of american values for the first time have expressed concern & uncertainty for the future.

lots of ugliness online must retvrn to beauty

Digital CAC Problem

With impending recession fears causing growth stage startups to tighten the belt, the problem of rising customer acquisition cost (CAC) and the overdependence on digital ads is growing more apparent. According to @chamath, $0.40 per $1 of venture capital raised by startups is spent on digital advertising on FB, Google and Amazon. Newly funded startups tasked with finding rapid growth have instinctively looked no further than digital ad platforms that take money and spit ROI faster than a slot machine. But when a long line of cash-flushed companies compete online for attention from the same niche customer, the cost per click steadily increases. This ultimately creates a vicious cycle where acquisition cost dwindles any actual margin while leaving the digital ad giants even larger.

The allure of digital ads especially for data-obsessed marketing teams is the quantifiable feedback. Ad platform dashboards that break down $X of spend into an observable Y% conversion rate create an intoxicating positive feedback cycle that rewards the short term gratification of naive ad strategies over other long term sustainable marketing strategies. Sure there are plenty of traditional offline channels (billboards, event promotions, swag giveaways, etc), but the problem is these channels are hard to reliably measure and therefore scale. Companies with larger experimental budgets will throw large $ sums of money at them, but that spend is still a minority chunk compared to the > 50% of marketing spend allocated to FB/Google ads. The trap with digital ads however is that over time, niche target audiences become saturated and all of a sudden a startup looking to scale finds itself spending higher CPM for a worse conversion rate.

Customer acquisition costs are increasing exponentially.

The limitations of digital advertising long term forces startups today to think critically about organic distribution and sustainable marketing channels. The ideal marketing channel must not only offer wide reach and targeting of niche audiences but must be able to attribute and numerically report its own value (downstream conversion %) to justify spend. Granted it could reliably perform below the CPM for the average FB ad, such a service would be able to subsume the large marketing budget traditionally spent on those ads. This is why I’m relatively bullish on influencer marketing as a long-term channel (although not convinced there will be a scalable FB-style software-only influencer marketing platform to provide this). Companies like b8ta and Storefront are offering a return to offline brick-and-mortar stores but are equipped with data to track impressions/conversions that incentivizes brands to increase spend (their big insight is framing rent = CAC). I feel certain there are other similar opportunities to solve both the online conversion problem and the associated attribution problem that could potentially topple the digital ad monopolies.

What I’ve been consuming recently

Innovation Can’t Be Forced, But It Can Be Quashed

America’s Havana

People Are Failing AP Tests Because Of The iPhone’s HEIC Format

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage


Personal update

busy week. got to spend some time at the beach. so ready to reclaim this summer.

also lana is a kween

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