The convoy has been dispersed. Yet Tyler Cowen was clearly correct that this will be a very important event. The story has barely begun.
[Writer’s Note: This post violates some of the usual lines that I set for myself regarding politics, because I do not know how to communicate the situation without doing so, nor does it seem like a situation one can safely ignore. I did my best to keep it to a minimum. As before, I will be staying out of the comments, and ask that related discussions be confined to related posts and conducted to minimize the political component, but I acknowledge that this may not be fully possible in this case and will use discretion.]
Previously in Convoy and Convoy Continued, the puzzle was what was happening and what might happen next in response. Authorities were uncertain what to do. The situation was somewhat out of control. Violence was a distinct possibility, or at least the fear of such violence was informing decisions and rhetoric. There were big disputes over the essential nature of the protest, the protesters, what they wanted and why they were there. As far as I could tell the protests were unpopular but that too was disputed. Every edit seemed like it reflected more information from more sources, but more often that not that only meant increased uncertainty.
Most of that is now resolved. The convoy has been broken up by police without incident and with zero violence (or at least, zero violence that didn’t involve police acting like police usually act), only minor threats to permanently confiscate people’s dogs, in exactly the most basic and obvious way. A few people are still hanging around, but they no longer threaten public order. The three leaders have been arrested. When one engages in civil disobedience and makes oneself intentionally obstructing traffic for weeks, one eventually gets arrested and faces the consequences of being briefly in jail and having a record, and perhaps more if one committed more serious crimes and the state can convince a jury of that. That’s how it’s supposed to work. There were less than 200 arrests and they towed less than 50 trucks.
Before breaking up the protest, as I noted last time, Prime Minister Trudeau1 invoked the Emergencies Act.
The Emergencies Act may have been a little bit about the need to commandeer towing capacity, but we can now be very certain what it was centrally about.
It was about money.
In particular, it was about giving the government of Canada the permanent power to freeze, without trial or legal recourse, all the bank accounts and other assets of anyone it decides was ‘directly or indirectly involved’ in an ‘illegal protest.’ In practice this translates to ‘freeze the assets of the families of anyone that power or the government dislikes.’
In particular, this clip makes it very clear that it is intended to include anyone who donated to either of their crowdfunding campaigns. If you give the wrong amount of money to support a protest the Canadian government decides it dislikes, they may well freeze your bank accounts and you will have no recourse even if it was in error. In that clip they also say that they are doing this without the Democratic process in part ‘because an opposition party exists to frustrate any government attempt to pass legislation.’
In pursuit of this, they have tasked not only the banks but a wide variety of payment processors and others who handle money, including those handling cryptocurrency, with spying on their customers to determine which ones participated in activities disapproved of by power or the government, and freezing their accounts.
If one’s accounts are frozen and one is both left without resources and without the ability to transact, it is at best extremely difficult to participate in society. One cannot easily hold a job or raise a family, and buying a tomato may prove tricky.
Family members having trouble living their lives is being treated not as a bug but as a feature. The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children, it seems.
This extends as noted above to those who provide financial assistance to those engaging in disapproved activities, and that such retaliation will continue to happen after the activities in question cease, so not only is one without one’s money and other assets, and without the ability to spend what one does have, others may reasonably fear that helping you not end up on the street might land them in the same situation.
Meanwhile, our systems are moving steadily away from cash or any other way to pay for things if one’s accounts are frozen, including the mortgage or the rent. Ending up losing everything is a real possibility.
Again, this is happening in many cases without anyone ever being charged with any crime. Even when crimes are charged, even if the government gets convictions, the punishment here is orders of magnitude out of line and sets the worst kind of precedent. If such folks are guilty of treason or rebellion or terrorism, then charge them with that and see what a jury has to say.
Freedom to Transact
This is the reality that Canada, and perhaps soon the rest of the world, now faces.
This thread is long (thread unroller version here), but it is important. I have never seen a Twitter thread be retweeted with explicit endorsement by so many accounts that I respect, including many that I would not normally expect to understand how toxic and dangerous the situation threatens to become. Here are some examples of what people said when retweeting.
To make damn sure, I will put it here in its entirety. If you have not yet already, please read the whole thing. I would quibble over some minor details as I of course always would, but they matter little. This is the message everyone needs to hear.
I turn the floor over.
When 6529 wrote that thread, the convoy was still a going concern. It was still plausible that however awful the precedent set by the financial authoritarianism and disregard for the rule of law, that one could be sufficiently terrified of a physical solution to think that such actions were necessary or at least useful.
I was already confident of quite the opposite. Taking these actions galvanized people’s worst fears throughout not only Canada but the world. However much forceful dissent and distrust of the system was present before, it will doubtless be much, much more present going forward. The only way that is in the government’s interest is if it wants this fight in order to further suspend freedom and democracy and destroy the rule of law that much faster.
To the extent these people are capable of having points at all, the suspension of freedom and democracy and the destruction of rule of law is the point. Setting a precedent that the government can cast out your entire family and anyone helping you on a whim is the point.
How can I be confident that we know this?
The protests were broken up only days later by arresting those present and towing trucks. Those invoking these financial penalties and requirements doubtless knew that this was the plan. Given that this was the plan, the financial measures were clearly completely unnecessary – things would have played out on the ground in exactly the same way.
The financial actions doubtless made it harder to hire lawyers for those arrested, but that hardly seems like a motivation that should make us feel better.
The authorities said that they would be imposing these measures retroactively on people who left voluntarily and thus avoided being arrested.
That is the opposite of what you do to break up a protest, because you withdraw the motive to go home. I can’t help but notice the penalty for lateness is death when they intend to actively hunt after the protestors who leave without any need to arrest them.
The authorities said after the protests were broken up that the situation that required the Act was still present. What else in the world could this be referring to? Is this a permanent emergency because people might try something again at some point in the future? Or was the thing that required the act the institution of these financial measures on a permanent basis?
Part of my explanation for this is motive ambiguity. One shows one’s dedication to the cause by intentionally inflicting maximum harm, thus proving one is not going to be distracted by worries about morality or what third parties might come to harm. The more damage one can do, the better the demonstration – the cruelty is the point, not because one values cruelty, but to show one is not against cruelty or not supporting freedom, the best proof of which is to go as far as possible in the other direction.
I say ‘to the extent these people are capable of having points at all’ because they importantly have lost at least some and perhaps all ability to have points. This is important.
Three Sides to Every Story
The counterargument is presumably some form of ‘they know not what they do’ where those involved are so lost they have no ability to think or reason on such levels, and they are doing things of the form ‘convoy bad, people no like convoy, what tools we have to hurt convoy’ without any model of why such actions would accomplish anything or much care about whether they do. Slash perhaps the idea that one must Take Action and this is action, demands by various enforcers for More Power and More Authority to Do Something, with or without the general instinct that fear will keep the local systems in line without thinking that anything will slip through their fingers.
In that model, these dynamics need not involve much agency or intent. The thing ramps up continuously on its own through people following local incentive gradients, resulting in a state that no one especially wanted, but also that they did not concern themselves much with avoiding until it was far too late and the frog was already boiled to death. On my stack is writing the post Policy Debates Should Appear One Sided (the flip side of this), but (and also because) there is still always (at minimum) another side to the story.
I noted last time that the reason Trudeau and the Canadian Government seemed to be so taken by surprise, had so much paralysis in terms of getting together a physical response and ended up flailing around with financial assets was because such people have often lost the ability to reason at all about underlying physical reality.
Thus I frame the heart of the conflict between different simulacra levels. The fight is between those who live primarily in simulacra levels one, where they interact with and attempt to model and alter physical reality, and those at simulacra levels three, where one cares mostly about signaling group memberships and loyalties, and often also level four where they end up using vibes and associations of various level three moves in an instinctual way that they have learned is associated with success, and lose all ability to reason or make plans in a coherent way at all, let alone model the physical world.
An alternative framing of a similar divide by The Upheaval is ‘the Physicals versus the Virtuals.’ In this divide, The Virtuals deal with information and effectively form a ruling class, but because they still depend on physical reality they must continue to rely on the Physicals, and we all know how such science fiction tales usually end.
But have a little sympathy for them: they do this not just because it is cynically convenient (though it is), but because this is literally the only way they know how to navigate and influence the world. The post-modern fish swims in a narrative sea, and their first reaction is always to try to control it (through what the CCP calls “discourse power”) because at heart they well and truly believe in the idea of the “social construction of reality,” as Lasch pointed out in the quote at top. If there is no fixed, objective truth, only power, then the mind’s will rules the world. Facts can be reframed as needed to create the story that best produces the correct results for Progress (this is why you will find journalists are now professionally obsessed with “storytelling” rather than reporting facts).
That Trudeau’s government would choose to jettison any remaining illusion of Canada still being a liberal democracy just to harm their political class enemies isn’t too surprising. It’s their method of doing so that is particularly striking: control over digital financial assets is pretty much the ultimate leverage now available to the Virtuals. We should expect more use of this tool around the world anywhere the Physicals continue to revolt against their masters.
The Physicals must be concerned with non-socially-constructed Truth because otherwise reality will bite them in the ass. The Virtuals have their asses covered, so they are unconcerned.
There is a lot of merit in this framing, but it still seems important that those who are concerned with Truth and who do not wish it to be socially constructed should then side with the Physicals, even if in their world they deal with information. And indeed, the first reply to the person who linked me to this says ‘I am a Virtual yet still side with the protesters.’
Another recent version of the same thing was, yes, wordcels and shape rotators. Shape rotators concern themselves with reality, wordcels only with symbols.
And mysteriously, despite information being what most of Twitter and everyone I know do all day, everyone wants to think of themselves as a shape rotator.
The rotator ↔ wordcel axis also happens to map to some other common ones. I might expand on these later but I’ll just list them for now.
spacing guild v. bene gesserit
autism v. schizophrenia
san francisco v. new york
intuition v. formalism
empiricist v. rationalist
deep learning v. crypto
capitalists v. socialists
apolitical v. political
geometers v. algebraists
I am confident that the person who wrote that list thinks of the lefthand shape-rotator side as ‘the good side’ and the righthand wordcel side as ‘the bad side.’
Here’s one of them as text, by the author of the piece above:
The list is a broad-based statement of values and world models. It is a claim that empiricists make the important discoveries and build great world-changing capitalist companies using their intuition to work on geometrically-based deep learning algorithms while all having autism and living in San Francisco and staying apolitical. In their spare time they read Dune and root for the spacing guild.
Whereas when Vitalik saw this he said ‘wait crypto is shape rotation,’ the same way I see it and think ‘New York and rationalist (and also empiricist though) are shape rotation and San Francisco is wordcel.’ And if you ask a socialist familiar with the terms, I predict most of them will claim socialism is shape rotation and capitalism is wordcel.
Who is a ‘real American’ versus whatever the other option is? I’ll tell you who isn’t not one, it’s whichever American is speaking. You know who is ‘out of touch’? Not my friends and allies, that’s who. There is a right amount of touch to be in, it isn’t maximal, but that is never what people are debating. Same principle.
The initial dialectic tactic was to take a superficial division between one simulacra-3/4 alliance of wordcels/virtuals/politicians/whatevers and another that is also that, and frame it as your side being spare rotators/physicals/outsiders/whichevers, and that everyone has to pick a side or the awful other side full of wordcels/virtuals/politicians will win.
The new tactic is to deny that there were ever any meaningful physical reality at all.
Framing this as a battle between teams, of course, is playing into the whole idea of socially constructed reality and virtual wordcels operating on Simulacra-3, whereas the whole point of noticing the divide is to do the other thing. Putting more of the right people in your coalition or having the right symbolic associations does not make one right – or if you think it does, then you have already chosen your side.
In this context, we can revisit the Tyler Cowen concept of looking for the strong analytical thinkers.
Look for strong analytical abilities, and if you don’t see it, run the other way.
Now it makes more sense, although it risks continuing to play into the underlying problem by looking at coalitions and choosing sides on that basis.
In that light, it is important to note that this principle has now reversed itself.
When one looks at the original convoy, one indeed struggles to find strong analytical thinkers.
Yet the same can be said for Trudeau and the rest of the government response. In no way does it reflect strong analytical thinking or thinkers.
The Canadian government, not the convoy, is the relevant actor here. It no longer much matters how it started, only how it’s going.
In the early stages, the strong analytical thinkers had a wide variety of reactions to the situation. But you know what all the strong analytical thinkers are doing now, after the freezing of bank accounts?
As far as I can tell, at least in the informational world I have constructed for myself, all of them stand united. I have not seen a single attempt, however weak, to defend the actions taken or even to claim they are of minimal importance.
Including people whose views mostly differ strongly from most others in my orbit. Whatever they think off arresting the protestors and of the original convoy, everyone’s reaction to the freezing of accounts is the same, and looks like some version of these examples.
It might be time to run the other way, and perhaps shout it from the rooftops.
What To Do Now?
There are two categories of things to do, the general and the personal, with some amount of overlap.
The general would involve political action, with some combination of education, persuasion, awareness raising, voice raising, lobbying, working with those who set such policies in various capacities, academic work, voting, lawyers and so on to combat the rise of such authoritarian policies and protect the freedom to transact, the rule of law, the right to due process and so forth. Hopefully without getting your accounts frozen. Others can speak better than I can on this, but I will note that I consider this policy debate sufficiently one-sided that I would support it being what the EAs call a ‘cause area.’
The personal involves protecting yourself and those you care about against the threat of such actions coming for you. At some point in the future, this could happen to you. What is acceptable now may not be acceptable in the future, in a ‘first they come’ kind of way, and such winds can change quite fast. Or at a minimum, the need to ensure that this does not happen will constrain your behavior and your freedom and cause you much stress.
It need not be about taking explicit political or other action. Sometimes this will be a pure misunderstanding or other error. People get frozen out because of mistaken identity or an ‘abundance of caution.’ A very good friend of mine had it happen due to a tax dispute in which the government was neither correct nor communicative and it caused tons of trouble, although this has since been cleared up.
Thus, the value of taking actions to minimize one’s vulnerability to such actions was already important, and seems that much more important. Think about what would happen if your assets, and those of your family, were frozen right now. Your bank accounts are gone, your credit cards do not work. You can’t get new ones. What would you do? How would you keep a roof over your head and pay for food?
Ensure that you have answers to those questions. There are a variety of ways to at least partially protect yourself, including self-custodial cryptocurrency and cold hard cash or other physical assets, especially ones that travel.
I’ve seen a bunch of ‘guess it’s time to get into crypto’ sentiment recently, and I am surprised it was not reflected more in prices. For example:
(Nothing here is ever investment advice and that goes double for crypto, but in case anyone was confused about this, such posts are Not The Way. Asking the internet in general is definitely not the way to get good information or advice on such matters. Find someone you trust who knows their stuff and can walk you through it or point to a trustworthy guide.)
One additional important way to deal with this, that is a complement to your own safe assets, is to have people you can trust to come to your aid, despite the situation. Having true friends and family at your side is one of the best defenses.
At Substack the site has expressed a strong commitment to resisting censorship, but they use Stripe as their sole payment processor, and Stripe has made it clear they play ball. Getting cut off from writing income is not the same as having one’s bank accounts frozen, but it is a clear point of vulnerability especially if Stripe was told to cut off the entire site until the disapproved content was taken down. It needs to be fixed.
Is it a pain to have three distinct copies of every post in different places? Yes it is quite the pain especially when I need to edit to fix mistakes. Yet I do not make one or two of them into link posts, because this way provides a robust backup system. In order to take me down, one would need to take down all three copies.
Additional Convoy Links and Thoughts
Rather than decry such moves, instead mainstream media has joined the move against those who donated money.
Good to see Representative Ilhan Omar standing up for the obvious even with rolls reversed, which is sadly a rarity these days. Such principle is not by default rewarded. Replies are full of demands that she do things such as ‘stay in her lane.’ Getting praise from Fox News does not exactly make her life better.
The journalist in question moved her tweets to protected before I could write this post, losing us a number of details, which is my fault for not getting the screenshots right away.
There is also the obvious, which is that the word ‘freedom’ has now been associated with the convoy, and has always meant freedom, from the Washington Post editorial page:
The logic in the post, as far as I can tell is:
- Canada (and the USA) restricted the freedom of non-white people.
- Thus, freedom is white.
- Thus, a claim of entitlement to freedom is white supremacy.
- Freedom is slavery, and presumably ignorance is strength.
The response to this was the stage-1-clown-makeup that no one actually believes this, it’s some sort of ingroup virtue signaling cascade causing such words to be written, but somehow that does not bring me comfort. It brings up the question a commenter asked me a while ago about why New York Times is on the banned list but other places like Washington Post are acceptable. I’d like to say it’s a matter of degree and that I’ve found Washington Post’s news reporting to mostly be acceptable, and also editorials mostly don’t count it’s fine to air different points of view, but ‘Scott Alexander was my friend and it is personal’ is doubtless doing a bunch of work.
From January 10, Unheard lets some participants talk. Big ‘and you can’t make me’ energy combined with ‘well actually sure you can, I need my truck.’
Pirate Wires covers the situation before the full ‘freeze all the bank accounts’ plan became clear, is mostly already there anyway.
I guess the faith in freedom was all in the beard.
Justin means ‘just, upright or righteous.’ I checked for nominative determinism regarding Trudeau and no one knows the origin but to me it seems to be obviously ‘true water’ from the French ‘tru’ and ‘deau’ from which here clearly represents the righteous filtering out of the undesired or impure.