God save me from American food prices. Were there diamonds in this fruit salad?
While the Manhattan branch of Brooklyn Fare may not be an accurate representation of prices paid at farmers' markets in the flyovers, it was still a joy to come back to central London and pay a rational amount for fruit and vegetables. Go ahead and let that statement sink in. I was last in New York in November and it's noticeably more expensive just in these past four months. That's with a collapse in the oil price and a dramatic strengthening in the US dollar. Given the countries the fruit in the salad came from, you should be able to buy potato sacks of the stuff for a quarter.
Most nights I just admitted defeat and got Seamless deliveries to the hotel room. No delivery took longer than twenty minutes and after the first order (setting up the account) it was the work of moments to book the next one. In the parlance of Silicon Valley, Seamless "removes friction" from the ordering process. Removing friction is apparently how apps add value. Friction in the ordering process is speaking to a human working in his or her independent business.
The other New York observation was just how long it took to get a taxi from the airport. After my first ever surprisingly pleasant trip through customs (they still have my fingerprints and photo on file, you see) I thought I'd be out the door in less than ten minutes after disembarking. Nope. Forty five minutes in the queue for a cab. As I waited, I wondered if this was the impact of Uber on the taxi economy. Probably. A news report heard on the office radio said there are now more Uber cars in NYC than yellow cabs.
Granted, yellow cabs are nothing like the experience of London's black cabs, where the drivers train for years to acquire The Knowledge -a process which MRIs have shown actually enlarges their brains- but you will still miss them when they are gone. The unseasonable snow storm on the first day of Spring led to one colleague at work booking an Uber car to take her home. She lived three blocks from the office. She paid The Surge. 2.5 times the standard price for a little snow. How often will The Surge be applied when a single company owns 75% of New York's taxi market? Or 100%?
I hate Uber. They are the perfect manifestation of our new presiding archon appearing behind the still-dissolving-but-rapidly-outgoing archon of the AngloAmerican banking empire. Mordor moved to San Francisco a while ago and not enough people have noticed. It's time to start noticing.
I hate Uber because they are the most egregious example of the incoming archonic mindset. A bunch of white boys who all met each other at elite colleges raise money from their friends and fellow alumni to "remove friction" -ie dirty, chaotic humans- from something that has been fraught with friction since the days of Sumer. You don't think the Sumerians complained about how dodgy the litter carriers were? You don't think those litter carriers got into fights over whose fare was who's on the streets of Eridu? How grateful we all should be to these ivy leaguers for solving something that has afflicted human civilisation for six thousand years! All it took was someone else's money and the willingness to terrify your poverty-stricken workforce into submission. (So much for a 'new business model', eh?)
Honestly, I can't think of a Silicon Valley company with a greater or more annoying gap between their attempted public face and their actual operating practices. So I have been keeping a file on them.
A Surge (in nausea)
How quickly we all forget that a senior exec literally threatened a female journalist because he didn't like what she wrote!
Emil Michael, Uber's SVP of business, reportedly suggested during what he thought was an off-the-record dinner with influential members of the media, that Uber could spend $1 million to hire "opposition researchers" to dig up dirt on journalists critical of the taxi startup. He later apologized "unconditionally" for his comments and stressed that Uber would never do that.
Any mention of potentially threatening journalists who cover the company would be unnerving if spoken by any employee at Uber, but it's particularly disturbing considering that Michael was specifically hired a year ago to be "the face of Uber to our business partners and users globally." This is not just some employee; this is a face of Uber.
What hasn’t received as much attention is the other feelings that arise when people are required to pass judgment on one another, feelings that render the ratings themselves untrustworthy. I started giving out automatic full marks after an erratic and somewhat scary trip in an Uber-summoned New York City taxi with a driver who didn’t know his way around and required me to provide turn-by-turn directions, even in Manhattan. At the end of the trip, the driver turned around and begged my fiancee to give him five stars, explaining that he was one bad review away from being deactivated and losing his access to the platform. He wouldn’t let us out of the cab until she promised to do so. Afterward, we agreed: That was a pretty annoying ride, but not so bad it was worth punishing someone financially over it.
More of the same, from an actual driver.
I understand it’s perfectly reasonable in a five-star rating system to reserve your fifth star for the best situations, you know? Michelin stars for example. A four-star review in any normal situation would seem great! And, unfortunately, a four-star review on Uber’s system is a vote to have the driver fired. Basically you’re expected to get a 4.6 average, and if you go below that, you’ll get a warning before they quickly deactivate you. Uber discourages us from discussing these things with passengers. They expect passengers, I guess, to just know these things. And I feel each passenger out, to see how they’ll take to me talking about the ratings. Some people don’t like to be told how they should rate you.
One driver I spoke with suggested that Uber should allow drivers who make rush hour trips --morning or evening -- into the five boroughs to keep 90 percent of the fare. I would go a step further and say, considering they're taking in $20 million a week, they should cover all N.J. driver's river-crossing tolls. These solutions may not be Uber-perfect, but they would definitely make it more of a sustainable job for a driver than the current situation. Uber needs to treat the N.Y./N.J. area as a separate beast, different from 95 percent of all other cities, otherwise, once the high wears off, they'll find themselves with a massive driver exodus. And we all know what a shortage of drivers means for riders. $500 to J.F.K. anyone?
In addition to all that:
- They're lying to passengers about how they share tips and what information they record.
- You still have the same problems of sexual assault -and in one instance trying to put a seeing eye dog in the fucking boot- that this lovely company has allegedly removed by 'disrupting' the taxi market.
- They apply the surge during terrorist incidents when people's safety is at risk.
- The secret to the company's success is wealth inequality.
- The founder likes to joke that the company should be called 'boober' because he is so irresistible to women.
- It's promotional activity included pairing passengers with "hot chicks".
- It creepily tracks users who the company deems are of interest or high status.
- Uber's autonomous cars will destroy 10 million jobs by 2025.
Kazi drives a Toyota Prius for Uber in Los Angeles. He hates it.
He barely makes minimum wage, and his back hurts after long shifts. But every time a passenger asks what it’s like working for Uber, he lies: “It’s like owning my own business; I love it.”
Kazi lies because his job depends on it. After passengers finish a ride, Uber asks them to rate their driver on a scale from one to five stars. Drivers with an average below 4.7 can be deactivated — tech-speak for fired.
Gabriele Lopez, an LA Uber driver, also lies. “We just sit there and smile, and tell everyone that the job’s awesome, because that’s what they want to hear,” said Lopez, who’s been driving for UberX, the company’s low-end car service, since it launched last summer.
In fact, if you ask Uber drivers off the clock what they think of the company, it often gets ugly fast. “Uber’s like an exploiting pimp,” said Arman, an Uber driver in LA who asked me to withhold his last name out of fear of retribution. “Uber takes 20 percent of my earnings, and they treat me like shit — they cut prices whenever they want. They can deactivate me whenever they feel like it, and if I complain, they tell me to fuck off.”
Disruption as parasitism
If you can get your head around Uber -what it stands for and the implications of its existence- then you can understand the incoming archon in toto. As the company grows market share, where do you think the existing taxi drivers will go? To Uber. All those funny smelling, funny sounding people you are hoping to be disintermediated from will still be there. Except now you don't have to talk to them or even pay them in physical money and their job security is more tenuous.
You are paying to be disrupted from reality, distanced from it. It is still there. You are not. You have chosen the virtual. Soon you will be paying more for the virtual than the reality but you will have forgotten that you ever had the option not to.
If the universe isn't actually a virtual reality hologram built by some Demiurge -and the jury is out on that- then it appears we are going to build one for ourselves. There is a philosophical thought experiment, growing in popularity and utility, that suggests life on earth is an nth-level virtual reality simulation. What is an nth-level simulation? The thinking is this: as our ability to create better and better virtual realities grow, we spend more time in them and they get more and more detailed and become more interesting than the reality we technically live in. Eventually, they get so detailed that our characters in these realities create their own virtual realities and escape into them... the process repeats to the nth-level.
It seems to me that this thought experiment is the closest I have found to anything resembling a reasonable motive for why any hypothetical Demiurge would build a universe in the first place, as well as how it could have amnesia about what it did. ("You are mistaken, Samael.") Even if it doesn't describe reality, there is a feeling of truth to the contemplation of this thought experiment. It feels like it could be the shortcut to some kind of realisation... as well as the opportunity to unwind what should never have been wound.
Please, please read this whole piece. The Shut-In Economy:
[B]y late afternoon on a Tuesday, they’re striding into the lobby at a just-get-me-home-goddammit clip, some with laptop bags slung over their shoulders, others carrying swank leather satchels. At the same time a second, temporary population streams into the building: the app-based meal delivery people hoisting thermal carrier bags and sacks. Green means Sprig. A huge M means Munchery. Down in the basement, Amazon Prime delivery people check in packages with the porter. The Instacart groceries are plunked straight into a walk-in fridge.
This is a familiar scene. Five months ago I moved into a spartan apartment a few blocks away, where dozens of startups and thousands of tech workers live. Outside my building there’s always a phalanx of befuddled delivery guys who seem relieved when you walk out, so they can get in. Inside, the place is stuffed with the goodies they bring: Amazon Prime boxes sitting outside doors, evidence of the tangible, quotidian needs that are being serviced by the web. The humans who live there, though, I mostly never see. And even when I do, there seems to be a tacit agreement among residents to not talk to one another. I floated a few “hi’s” in the elevator when I first moved in, but in return I got the monosyllabic, no-eye-contact mumble. It was clear: Lady, this is not that kind of building.
Back in the elevator in the 37-story tower, the messengers do talk, one tells me. They end up asking each other which apps they work for: Postmates. Seamless. EAT24. GrubHub. Safeway.com. A woman hauling two Whole Foods sacks reads the concierge an apartment number off her smartphone, along with the resident’s directions: “Please deliver to my door.”
“They have a nice kitchen up there,” Angel says. The apartments rent for as much as $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom. “But so much, so much food comes in. Between 4 and 8 o’clock, they’re on fire.”
The virtual and the real
I missed seeing Peter Grey give his presentation in Glastonbury the other weekend because I was in New York trading my kidneys for a fruit salad but he has graciously put the whole text online. This remarkable piece is entirely about magic's relationship to the digital economy, to the virtual world and who it is run by, who it is run for. Let's zero in on one part:
The eye in the triangle of the security state is becoming self-aware. It has plotted your data points. It can predict your actions. It owns you and it molds you. We rebels have reason to be concerned. We are not considered the conscience of society nor transformative pioneers, we are the enemy of the corporate state which dismantles non-human and human communities alike. The state and the corporation are one and the same, the one percent. We are raw materials, production units, disposable assets or less politely, slaves.
Some will ask, what does this have to do with magic? The answer is of course, everything. The fact that such a question can even be asked shows how disconnected we have become from the world, and our perceived powerlessness in harnessing its occult virtues. Those who claim we should not be political need to answer this question: If the secret forces we connect with are sullied by acknowledging realpolitik, how can the Archons plunder the symbol set for their dramas with impunity.
The battle lines are not only drawn where we have access to the natural world, they are also drawn around the description of it. Word by word, we are losing soldiers on multiple fronts. Consider the changes to the new Oxford Junior Dictionary:
The likes of almond, blackberry and crocus first made way for analogue, block graph and celebrity in the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007, with protests at the time around the loss of a host of religious words such as bishop, saint and sin. The current 2012 edition maintained the changes, and instead of catkin, cauliflower, chestnut and clover, today’s edition of the dictionary, which is aimed at seven-year-olds starting Key Stage Two, features cut and paste, broadband and analogue.
Some may cry that the outrage these changes provoked is simply nostalgia, a longing for a more Enid-Blytonesque world. Maybe. But how do you value something you don't even have the words to describe? In a very real, esoteric sense, to remove a word is to erase something from existence. Reality is virtual.
If there is good news in any of this, it is that -on a forest rebel level- the war is far from over. As the OJD is erasing the word clover from kids, nature publishing is the new bondage fiction:
The genre’s proponents argue that it would be wrong to see the new nature writing as simply an exaltation of nature. “A lot of this writing is about questioning the values of our current society, and particularly questioning economic growth,” Barkham said. “We have to look at more meaningful ways of living. It’s not just about consumption and adding to our material wealth.”
And yes, there are potential class implications to the return of 'nature as leisure' but I think we should take the allies we can get. The new elite buying the old country piles, for instance, are far more likely to have the political clout to prevent fracking than peons like you or me. It serves our interests that they should value the natural.
So here's hoping James's new book goes well:
There is, though, a greater purpose to it than eulogising his father and grandfather. He is consciously using the book – and social media – to fly the flag for farming. In the middle of the 19th century, when accurate censuses were taken for the first time, more than 20% of the workforce in England were in agriculture. That proportion fell steadily, and by 2011 it had dipped under 1%. There are now fewer than 300,000 people in the UK engaged in agriculture and fishing, and sheep farming is especially marginalised. Rebanks reckons a sheep farmer in the Lake District will earn about £8,500 on average, which is why shepherds have to do other jobs to support their farming.
This war has also opened up fronts on a micro -an individual- basis, and it is here that we return to the Manhattan fruit salad and agrarian parapolitics. While the news programmes will tell you to be scared of deflation -or that deflation is even happening- this is what has happened to American food prices since the financial crisis.
Ground beef has doubled in price in the last year alone. That's with a climbing dollar and the largest glut of cheap fuel in about forty years, both of which are temporary economic situations. What happens when the macroeconomic headwinds really start to blow?
I probably don't need to tell my lovely Americans that food is getting really expensive, but I might need to suggest that the window is closing on your legal options to do something about it with the comparatively vast amount of house/property you have access to:
Let me ask you an archonological question. Why, when the shadow state has had rainmaking technology since the Vietnam War, has the Californian drought persisted as long as it has? It's a Cui Bono question. Who are the first to fail financially and get turfed off their land? The small, independent farmers. And who do they sell to for pennies on the dollar? Giant agribusinesses.
And what happens when you centralise the food supply around one or two giant agribusinesses? Food gets Uber'd. Here's a Monsanto exec refusing to drink a glass of Ready Round Up immediately after declaring it was perfectly safe for humans and you could drink a whole quart of the stuff with no effect. He actually says "I'm not stupid!" Centralisation leads to worse food, less varieties of it, with more genetic modifications... and we will pay a premium for it in the end.
Not only is food for the masses being centralised under an archonic regime, this is happening at the same time as people who can afford to say "I'm not stupid!" on TV are buying up properties that have their own farmland.
The agrarian is hugely political. Any individual attempt to decentralise what they are busy centralising leads to pain.
- The EPA is banning wood-burning stoves. Plug into the grid, peon.
- An Oregon man was jailed for collecting rainwater on his own property.
- Florida is challenging off-the-grid living wherever it can.
- There are multiple laws moving through various senates to ban or restrict growing food in residential areas.
The net effect of all these moves is that we will pay more and more for worse and worse food and we will let it happen because we no longer have the word for acorn. But at least the $150 vegetarian monsanchos will be delivered to your door in twenty minutes?
This does not improve or self-solve in the medium term. Get rich enough to afford proper food or get decentralising. It may not seem like it but this is actually good news. You cannot stop Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama starting his ninth Arab war but you can certainly sow a few seeds in some raised planters. It falls to you to attempt to reverse the widening trend between reality and the virtual. On an individual basis, magical folk need to close that gap. Otherwise we'll be stuck paying The Surge on everything in Creation.
Flee to the forest or flee to the virtual world. The choice is yours but you can't stay here.