A wise meme once said that you should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. If you want to know who said that, you can look it up online. But you don’t need to look it up online, because the internet has freed us all from the bonds of copyright law and common decency. If you did look it up online, you will find that this aphorism was originally popularized in the 1980s in The Jargon File, a computer programmers’ handbook.
So needy were the nerds to avenge themselves on the physical world, source of their steamy-spectacled, spotty-faced humiliations, that they tossed this aphorism around without tracking down its source. The Wikipedia entry calls it ‘Hanlon’s Razor’, maybe because some dude called Hanlon thunk it up, maybe because Robert A. Heinlein said something similar in a short story. The Jargon File thought that William James might have said something similar too. The computer programmers could have looked that up but, teenage boys all, they were too busy working out how to avenge themselves on womankind by streaming pornography to handheld phones. Whatever.
Is the moral vacuum at the heart of the internet the creation of malice or stupidity? Here’s a thought, and you can have it for free, because digital copyright is for old people: Never attribute to malice or stupidity that which can be adequately explained by greed.
The leaders of the computer revolution still claim to be driven by noble motives — the conquest of new frontiers, the uniting of humanity, even the regulation of democracy. But lust for power, good old analogue libido dominandi, was driving the whole business all along. What else, apart from the power of lust, was driving Mark Zuckerberg when he thought it would be fun to create a site that allowed male Harvard students to rank the hotness of female Harvard students?
Another wise meme says that great power comes with great responsibility. Again, it’s up to you whether you attribute it to Voltaire or Spiderman, or just pass it off as one of your own. Just do your thing. The internet is that kind of space, right? Do what thou wilt, but ‘Don’t be evil.’ No wonder the digital Caesars wield unparalleled power, but have no idea how to handle its responsibilities.
On Monday, it was the turn of Airbnb to demonstrate its moral infantilism and real-world incompetence. Airbnb will take a cut of hiring out anyone’s sofa anywhere in the world — except, that is, if the sofa belongs to a Jew living in Judea and Samaria, which is what the ‘West Bank’ was called from, like, thousands of years ago to, like, 1948, when the Jordanians illegally annexed it after failing to destroy Israel at birth.
Airbnb has been pressured by the digital pogromchiks of the BDS ‘movement’, one of many digital proofs that what was sold to us as the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is nothing more than the idiocy of the mob. It has also been suggested that Airbnb are trying to ‘get ahead’ of an imminent report from the comedians of Human Rights Watch, which is sure to identify the 200 Jew sofas of Judea and Samaria as a well-sprung ‘obstacle to peace’.
Airbnb says the Jew sofas — sorry, Israeli settlements — are ‘at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians’. They’re not, unless you’re Hamas. In the various and variously failed negotiations that came out of the Oslo Process, final borders between the State of Jewish Sofas and a Palestinian state weren’t the issue, except in the Old City of Jerusalem. The real obstacles were Muslim refusal to share religious sites with Jews and Christians, the ‘return’ of Palestinians to their grandparents’ sofas in what is now Tel Aviv, and the explosive veto of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Old City was the one place where borders were irresolvable. Yet Airbnb still accepts the custom of Jew sofa-renters in the Old City and the settlements of East Jerusalem. It also accepts Jew sofa-renters on the Golan Heights too. From this we conclude that Airbnb takes a tougher line on the West Bank than Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, but supports Israel’s annexation of the Golan, the Old City and East Jerusalem. The Israeli government is threatening legal action, but these aren’t bad terms from their point of view. Not that Airbnb is trying to further Trump’s ‘deal of the century’. Like I said, it’s not malice, just stupidity and greed.
Airbnb has no problem with Turkey’s ethnic cleansing and occupation of Northern Cyprus, and Morocco’s genocidal annexation of Western Mauritania, where you can rent a blood-soaked sofa for as little as $20 a night. Perhaps it’s us who should be teaching Airbnb a lesson about boycotts, rather than letting Airbnb preach to us. Most people can live with stupidity and greed, if only because they like being stupid and greedy. But most people will not put up with being preached at by people who clearly don’t have their interests at heart — and, indeed, seem to embody the lust for power that fills that moral vacuum at the heart of the internet.
Which brings us to Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to humanity. On Tuesday, it emerged that a Facebook user in South Sudan had used Zuckerberg’s ‘platform’ to ‘auction’ a child bride. Thanks to Facebook’s integrated technology, five men, including government officials, were able to bid for her. The winner paid 500 cows, three cars and $10,000.
Suzy Natana of South Sudan’s National Alliance for Women Lawyers said that this was the highest bride price ever paid in South Sudan, and objected that ‘it makes you more of a commodity than a human being’. But making you a commodity is the whole point of the internet — just as it was in Facebook’s initial interaction in that Harvard dorm.
‘Any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads or groups is not allowed on Facebook,’ a Facebook peon clarified today. We have yet to hear Zuckerberg’s thoughts on this latest proof of Facebook’s ability to bring people together in rewarding ways. Perhaps he’s busy, booking a sofa on Airbnb in South Sudan. Perhaps he thinks it’s not his problem, and that the ‘hysterical’ media are being unfair. Perhaps he doesn’t care at all. Not malice, just stupidity and greed. But then, you don’t have to be malicious. As some English dude once tweeted, evil happens when good men do, like, nothing.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.