The King is Dead: Long Live the King

So The Expanse got canceled. And then Jeff Bezos bought it for Amazon Prime Video. Cool. I like The Expanse. It’s a great show, but this situation got me thinking. This is like Shakespeare’s The King’s Men. The King’s Men was a royal theater company of King James I (KJ) (I’m not British, I don’t care). One day they just decided they should make stuff, and KJ paid them because he liked what they made. That’s what JB (see, I don’t care) did, which is kind of startling. This was wholly a business decision. I’m sure it’s going to make money, and I’m sure JB is aware of that. However, if he wanted to make the show for business reasons, JB could have tried to outbid SyFy before the show was dumped. I think this was more of a whim. He says one of favorite shows was going away, so he just fixed that. This means JB has a power that was previously limited to monarchy. A kind of new technocratic aristocracy, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

To be clear, what I’m referring to is not just the money, or the political power, or the access to leveraging the means of productions. I’m referring to the authority to shape social standards. That power has existed to various groups throughout history. Merchants had money. Landlords and Warlords had the political power. And ironically, peasants and plebeians had the means of production since they were the ones operating them. Religion tended to enforce the social standards. However, monarchy concentrated that power in one person. Queens and Kings could control, leverage, and motivate all of those at once. American Liberalism defined itself by abolishing the idea of an inherited elite status. By doing so, American Liberalism defined a government that distributed that power. At the time, it wasn’t really feasible for one person to control that much economic power. Sure, someone could try to corner the market on anything, but the technology made it prohibitively difficult to enforce any sort of exclusive monopoly without a military. That’s why the Dutch East India Company was able to have such global dominance. The had the British military helping them handle all the aspects of such a massive organization that would have made it prohibitively difficult. Now we have the tech to make that concentration possible again.

Violence, theft, and war are at an all time low. It’s not like Amazon needs to maintain a security force for its inventory. The internet means they don’t have to sponsor expeditions and caravans to do business. The versatility of our technology means that infrastructure Amazon builds for itself can be re-leveraged and resold. That’s how banks started. Rich people needed to build a vault to hold their money. So they built a bit bigger and offered to hold other people’s money, too. So Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and their ilk are kind of a new technocratic nobility. All of them are changing the world on a whim. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I mean, we do want a meritocracy, right? Social safety nets, sponsored education, and healthcare are whole other matters. However, we all kind of want the best doctor to treat us. The best mechanic to fix things. In all those cases, we can choose which service provider is the best by our own metric. What JB et al. are doing is different. They have the power to effect change without consulting us (supervillain vibe optional–more in the style of Saint-Sauvage silliness then tyrannical type). I’m pretty sure they’ve got generally good intentions, but we’re back to a point where singular people have the ability to change the entire world on a whim, or by accident. EL shot a car into space as a surprise. Almost definitely folks at NASA approved it. However, I realized I have no actual idea. Our technological advancement has gotten to the point where a dude can put a car in space and I had no idea it was going on. It wasn’t the result of a distributed system that had to figure if they wanted to put anything into space. If they did, what would they want to put up there? How would they put it up there? The task was difficult enough that it took major cooperation to even plan it out. Let alone do it. Then again, these guys do seem to know what they’re doing. And no, I don’t care what commies have to say. JB, EL, BG, Steve Jobs all changed the world for the better. Steve Wozniak, Tim Paterson, Richard Stallman, Jack Kirby all did too, but it was a team effort. The business and promotion folks helped. The Woz was content to putter around at college for the most part. But similar to past royalty, now the business and promotion people can effect change we’ve never dreamed of. Now it’s rockets. Soon biology.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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