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Why Nike Knew it was on to an Easy Winner With Colin Kaepernick

Much of social media has been transfixed this week by Nike’s “brave” decision to sign Colin Kaepernick for its latest ad campaign. Kaepernick had reached fame – and simultaneously destroyed his career in American football – by kneeling during the national anthem at games in protest at anti-black discrimination and violence in America.

The american sprinters Tommie Smith,John Carlos and Peter Norman during the award ceremony of the 200 m race at the Mexican Olympic games. During the awards ceremony, Smith and Carlos protested against racial discrimination: they went barefoot on the podium and listened to their anthem bowing their heads and raising a fist with a black glove. Mexico City, Mexico, 1968 Mexico city, Mexico, 1968

Kaepernick’s action aroused a level of annoyance for “disrespecting the anthem”, being anti-patriotic, or simply bringing politics into sport. Of course some of this backlash was driven by racism, but not all of it. Unlike other similar protests – like the iconic black power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics – Kaepernick’s protest was repeated at game after game.

The first thing that became apparent was that Nike had played their move to perfection. They had, no doubt, researched the idea impeccably before putting it into action. The game-plan rolled out roughly like this:

  1. Nike announce they signed Kaepernick.
  2. An unknown number of angry people (though probably not many) burned their Nike shoes, filmed it, and published their videos to social media.
  3. Donald Trump tweeted about it.
  4. Liberals mocked the protests online, made memes, and generally enjoyed themselves while massively amplifying the protests out of all proportion to reality.
  5. The mass media, always worried it’s missing out on something, piled in to amplify the issue further.
  6. Pundits argued over whether this was a good move for Nike, or not: would it lose or gain sales?
  7. Sales of Nike products rocketed by a reported 31% almost immediately.
  8. (Probably) The marketing dude at Nike got promoted.

Nike had smoothly played a game based on what might be referred to as “information arbitrage”. Arbitrage is the act of profiting by exploiting price imbalances across markets – buying something cheap and then immediately selling it at a higher price elsewhere.

Imbalances in information can be valuable. In rural Africa, before the introduction of mobile phones, a farmer might have sold his corn cheaply to a merchant, unaware that the merchant could sell it for double the price only a few kilometres away. So, the introduction of mobile telephony in Africa was greatly beneficial to subsistence farmer, and cut the profits of middle-men.

In the case of Nike and Kaepernick, the information imbalance relates to American racism. Social media, combined with the dominance of “liberal” thought, has spread the idea that black people in America are subject to terrible, ongoing racism in their daily lives. This idea originates in the very real racism that was endured by black Americans for most of American history, from the earliest days of the slave trade until the post-Civil Rights era. Information was key to ending the segregation and oppression of black people in the US South: specifically, the arrival of cameras to cover civil rights protests exposed a horror that many Americans had been previously unaware of.

The civil rights movement didn’t end racism in America. It only began the cultural processes that began to diminish racism. Such changes must occur across generations. But certainly, racism did begin declining from the 1960s, and that decline was significant and ongoing. Like all vaguely-defined concepts, racism itself is hard to measure, but it can indirectly measured by asking people whether they would be happy living next door to, marrying or voting for someone of another race. And sure enough, such attitude surveys exist. Such surveys show that racist attitudes have been in steep decline since the social upheavals of the 1960s.

For example, the proportion of white southerners who would vote for a black President has risen from about 70% in the 1970s to over 90% now. It’s worth considering these numbers for a moment, because many or most people today would guess at far lower numbers, given the widespread belief that most Americans – especially American southerners – are deeply racist. Why do we tend to overestimate the levels of racism in America?

Movements don’t just decide to pack up and vanish when their goals are reached. This was especially true of the civil rights movement. Having succeeded, in the 1960s, in shining a light on racism, and winning the passage of civil right legislation, the movement continued to roll forward into the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Ironically, as racist attitudes slowly declined, the perception of racism went in the opposite direction. The less racism there was, the more people believed there was. This was fueled by a new generation of civil rights leaders, such as Al Sharpton, who would jump on any incident, publicise it, racialise it, and monetise it.

By the present decade, this movement (more correctly described as a “grievance industry”) was finding racism everywhere, and the mass media was willingly reporting all this “racism” without question. To make things worse, social media appeared. The public tends not to understand the difference between anecdotes and evidence, and so social media became swamped with anecdotes that further exaggerated the perception of American racism. Every video of a police shooting became “proof” that all black people were at constant risk of being shot by police (although in reality, two white people were being shot by cops for every black person). When social media got bored of police shootings, it moved on to get outraged about increasingly trivial examples, like some student wearing blackface or a klan outfit to a Halloween party.

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When even trivial examples of racism became hard to find, completely non-racist things were deemed to be racist. White people wearing dreadlocks, white people wearing hoop earrings, in fact by 2017 pretty-much-fucking-everything had become “racist”. This mania wasn’t just spread by bored students, but became the mantra of once-sane liberal publications like the Guardian and Salon, which hired black columnists (on the condition they wrote about how damn racist everything is all the time).

Quietly, black people who didn’t feel like the victims of continuous, 24/7 racism were being pushed away from the left bit by bit. They are spoiling a perfectly lucrative oppression narrative. Wealthy and successful black people, and especially those that don’t back the oppression narrative of the new left, are a threat to the profits of the grievance industry.

Here was the information imbalance used by Nike: the American (and global) public believed racism to be far higher than it really was. Nike signed Kaepernick knowing that, inevitably, some idiots would burn their shoes and post the videos to social media. The public and the media, who generally don’t realise that anecdotes aren’t  evidence of a trend, believed that the videos constituted a widespread racist backlash against Nike. And so in turn, a tiny backlash created a huge counter-backlash: first on social media, and then in shoe stores.

Nike’s strategy couldn’t have worked without the information imbalance. If American society was really as racist as many now believe, the campaign would have risked losing them significant sales, and they wouldn’t have been able to risk the brand damage. If on the other hand, the public was aware of how small the racist backlash was, there wouldn’t have been a counter-backlash.

All this is fine: Nike’s campaign has demonstrated, again, how weak true racism now is in America. Kaepernick gets a good paycheck, and Nike’s shares rise. Everybody happy. Furthermore, this strategy will only work temporarily, while the information balance persists. The more it’s exploited by advertisers, the less effective it will become. Black people will get tired of being presented as victims, and white people will tire of being saviours. One day, a campaign such as this will generate a broad response from black people: “Stop using your anti-racist virtue signalling as a way to sell shoes!”. And then perhaps, we can finally move on into the postracial era that was prematurely announced with Obama’s election in 2008.

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Three Massive Threats to Online Liberty in the UK

For British users at least, the Internet as we know it is about to change fundamentally. This development isn’t sudden: I’ve tracked the rising censorship regime for 10 years, from its early days as a voluntary pilot project called BBFC Online. But to most people, used to having access to most online content, the changes due to begin later this year will be seismic.

This shift represents a significant power-grab by elements of the British state that have resented their loss of power as the Internet has come to supplant TV, radio and newspapers. In particular, this refers to the media regulator Ofcom, which has amassed huge power to censor TV and radio, and has seen itself diminished by the rising power of the digital network. The rise in censorship is, in part, due to Ofcom (and its government supporters) trying to rebuild its old powers of control. But the coming changes go far further than that.

Threat #1: The Digital Economy Act (2017) introduced an official online censor

This issue has been one of my primary focuses. As presented by the government, the DEA simply introduced steps to protect children from viewing pornography. But this misses the point. In fact, the DEA creates the role of online content “regulator” (i.e. censor), with the power to block websites that don’t comply to its rules. Initially, its rules relate to sexual content (not just porn), so can be presented as sex-related. But the rules can – and will – be changed easily. The key change is the appointment of the BBFC, under the aegis of Ofcom, as the country’s first official Internet censor.

Although the law was passed in 2017, it was due to go live in April 2018. This was delayed, most likely for technical reasons, and is now expected in late-2018. When it goes live, most sexually explicit content online will be blocked by ISPs. The only content to be allowed through will be hosted on the handful of sites that age-verify their users.

This significant change to British culture has largely been dismissed by news editors as “ah well, it’s just porn”. Likewise, campaigning organisations like the Open Rights Group have focused too narrowly on the threat to pornography rather than the far broader threat to free expression. Yet Ofcom and the government haven’t tried hard to disguise the fact that the regime will be extended beyond sexual content in future – porn is just the testing ground.

Threat #2: the drive towards “online safety”

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This month, the government announced ominous plans to improve “online safety”, while exhibiting a shyness to explain what that actually means. This new law will take a couple of years to put into place: the likelihood being that this will be the second, far broader wave of censorship following the “porn block” test phase. As I describe in Porn Panic!, sections of the feminist movement in particular have been keen to describe speech as “online violence” to deliberately blur the line between expression and action. This law signals an extension of existing powers against hateful or merely offensive content.

Threat #3: laws against “sex-trafficking”

As everyone knows, sex-trafficking is one of the great threats of the 21st century. Except it isn’t. Fueled largely by anecdotes rather than solid data, the anti-prostitution and anti-immigration movements have united to create a scare-story that has gripped the media and political class. Upon the back of this myth rides a huge new industry – dubbed the Rescue Industry by researcher and author Laura Agustin.

The shortage of victims doesn’t stop the Rescue Industry – it simply raises its rhetoric to ever greater levels of hysteria to drown out sober commentators. And now, sex-trafficking is the excuse for America’s greatest ever attack on Internet freedom. The FOSTA act, signed recently into law by President Trump, criminalises online platforms for enabling sex trafficking. In practise, this means that not only escort listing services, but hookup and dating sites, and even Google, have been forced to censor their platforms. Craigslist closed its personals section in the UK as well as the US. Now, in a huge escalation of the porn panic, all sex might be sex trafficking, and so all online attempts to find sexual partners may criminalised.

In the short term, should this idea cross the Atlantic, this raises a threat to British escort listings sites like AdultWork and Viva Street (the latter is already likely to struggle to implement the age verification measures within the Digital Economy Act). This, despite the fact that prostitution is broadly legal in the UK, unlike in America. In the longer term, any site with user-submitted content, from social networks to forums, may face problems.

The principle that platforms are now responsible for the content they host will inevitably seep into UK culture. Combined with the blocking effects of the Digital Economy Act and the planned drive towards “online safety”, the direction of travel is obvious: only those sites – like Facebook  – that can spend vast amounts of time and money policing their content can be confident they will survive.

Incel, Sexual Frustration and Male Violence

The aftermath of the recent van attack in Toronto, which resulted in the deaths of 10 people, followed a now familiar pattern. Immediately after the attack, people divided into their rigid political tribes. Right-wingers expressed the belief (possibly even the hope) that the attacker was an Islamist. Even if he wasn’t, they said, this is surely the modus operandi of the Islamist terrorist. Similarly, left-wingers quietly hoped they could somehow pin this on the alt-right.

Such is the sad state of political discourse today: blaming the opposite side has become more important than respectfully remembering the individuals who died. The need for “our side” to be good and “their side” to be evil is now stronger than the need for compassion and human kindness. Politics is no longer politics: it has become religion.

The attacker, it turned out, was declared to be an Incel: an involuntarily celibate man. Incel is defined by Wikipedia as: “online communities whose members define themselves by being unable to find a romantic or sexual partner”.

This news was seized on with enthusiasm by the identitarian left. It perfectly fitted the “toxic masculinity” and “systemic misogyny” narratives of neo-feminism. And it gave a chance to mock those who had confidently pinned the attack on Muslims. Like most political narratives today, of left or right, it was sneering, hateful, triumphant, and an excuse to hate a broad group of people for the actions of one person. This is all so predictable now. If Owen Jones hasn’t yet penned a Guardian opinion piece on how all men need to take responsibility for this murderer, he will soon.

But there is a broad truth here, about humans as a species, and it’s about sex. If the mass media and the political establishment weren’t so tightly wed to social-construction theories of human behaviour, they might realise that evolutionary, genetic and psychological science has far better explanations for these occurrences than sociology can provide.

I have said, repeatedly, that a rise in violence is the inevitable outcome of attacks on sexual freedom. In my 2016 response to Ofcom’s consultation on porn regulation, I warned the regulator as follows:

“…the government’s own research suggests that restricting sexual imagery to teenagers may result in a rise in sexual violence…”

The government ignored such feedback, and has pressed ahead with censorship plans that will cause a rise in sexual and other violence: we must hold them to account for this.

Involuntary celibacy isn’t new: it is an ancient condition of mankind. Sexual relations between humans, in all societies, are defined by the fact that women, not men, choose mates. Given a free choice, women will opt for the genetically and socially fittest mate, even if he already has other mates. So polygyny (one man with multiple mates) is the predominant form of family unit in ancient societies. Recent genetic research has revealed the astounding fact that, 8,000 years ago, women were 17 times more successful at mating than men were. In other words, for every man that mated, there were at least 16 who never did. This gross inequality in the distribution of sex has defined the human state for most of our existence.

Women, past or present, have had no problem finding mates: the issue for women is to find the best available mate. For men, on the other hand, the issue has been simply one of mating at all. The rise of civilisation in the Middle East gave rise to new ideas, including egalitarianism. For the first time, societies recognised the unfair distribution of sex, and set out to balance this. This can be clearly seen in the writings of the Abrahamic religions: ancient Jewish law is inclined towards monogamy, and Christianity strongly so. Islam imposes a limit of four wives.

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Although state-imposed rules on marriage are increasingly seen as outdated, the imposition of monogamy was radical and egalitarian. It recognised that most men were losers in the mating game, and that this situation created grave problems for society, including sexual violence.

Put simply, a truth about humanity is this: the more sexual frustration that exists, the more violent society will be. Anyone who has travelled in sexually repressed cultures will be aware of this: for example, while we travelled in Morocco, my partner was groped repeatedly, even in my company. When I attended a hip hop festival in Morocco, fist-fights broke out constantly around me, despite the almost complete absence of alcohol. Sexually frustrated men are more likely to be violent, it’s this simple.

The Incel phenomenon isn’t just confined to angry western men. The promise of “72 virgins in heaven” to Al Qaida terrorists was a strong motivation for their mass murder. The promise of sex slaves in Syria was a motivation to go and fight jihad there.

The rise in sexual freedom since the invention of the pill has created new problems to solve. Monogamy is declining, and the number of single men has increased, especially among those with autistic and other social disorders. There are remedies to this new sexual tension: free pornography, legal and destigmatised sex work, and (in the near future) realistic sex dolls. The easier and cheaper sex and relationships (even virtual relationships) are to find, the less sexual frustration we will have to deal with. And the less frustration, the more peaceful and safe society will be.

Later this year, the British authorities will attempt to block pornography from exactly that segment of the population that is most inclined towards violence: 15-18 year old teenage males. They are creating a tinder box. Please help me fight back.