Turnabout is Fair Game

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What happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy.

Have you seen this? You must have seen it, or else you heard something, I’m sure.

What this subreddit crew did was give hedge funds a taste of their own medicine, yet if you can imagine, they also put the people at Gamestop, and AMC, and BlackBerry too, into awkwardly middle positions they undoubtedly never asked to find themselves, to face grave uncertainty they definitely never expected, the likes of all this being rather unprecedented. The lives and livelihoods of those company people were taken for a joyride, which seems detached from what the redditors were out to defend. Where some Wall Street practice is questionable, doesn’t it remain questionable when practised by anybody else, likewise? Robbing the rich to give to the poor… it does have that certain romance, doesn’t it? Even so… ask yourself whether it comes justifiably at Gamestop’s expense. Gamestop and these other companies, it seems to me, already shorted and suffering, were basically used.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

All this began with a tweet from Chamath Palihapitiya, if I’ve understood the news correctly, which was answered by followers who must have thought how clever it would be to stop the hedge fund game this way. [*NB as of Feb. 03, 2021: read here a little more about the origins of this incident.] With no one from these ‘saved’ companies having a say, no one asking Gamestop’s permission, but simply hoisting them up onto heroic shoulders of retail… surely this would become momentum trading at its finest. Incidentally, I watched a live interview with Chamath Palihapitiya on CNBC while the Gamestop action was churning away on January 27 – it was truly fascinating television – and I will say that Palihapitiya stuck to a thesis that was clear and detectable in every statement he made. Also note that whether you agree with his thesis is beside the point that he had one and stuck to it.

Several times Palihapitiya explained what he’d ‘bought’ with his involvement. He said he’d learned more about the redditors – the range of who comprises their community, and the various motives they have. And he said he’d come to see more clearly the need for total transparency by all market participants – institutional as well as retail – if it’s to be an equitable venue for trade. As for me, I knew nothing about Palihapitiya before today and found him compelling and persuasive and, from his position, fully able to let anchor Scott Wapner dig himself deep into a hole with a +1 spade of ignorance. That was my interpretation, anyway, with no real dog in the fight – watch and judge for yourself.

Historically, the culture of the stock market has changed over time, particularly as the modes, tools, and products of investment and trading change with the times. Meanwhile, liars, grifters, and cheaters have always posed a problem; stock markets simply provide them a more sheltered, organised venue in which to ply their trade. But that’s no indictment of stock markets and honest practice; rather, it’s a call to regulators and enforcement officers, and an appeal to the measures of esteem and self-control by which any participant is willing to conduct themselves – and by ‘any’, of course, I mean ‘every’. In another context, I might well agree that some hedge fund is managed by a$$holes who deserve their come-uppance. However, the concern remains about Gamestop being taken up and used, and this remains whether hedge funds are right or wrong – even Palihapitiya didn’t address this question to my satisfaction.

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

In a world with no hedge funds or shorts, saving Gamestop rests with Gamestop, full stop. What’s been demonstrated by the redditors as the power of ‘the people united who’ll never be defeated’ is the power of mob mentality. In fact, what actually happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy. That so much support of the r/wallstreetbets trading action doesn’t reflect that Wall is a two-way street suggests to me a position equally destructive for being equally one-way, just coming from another direction. One wonders if this game of chicken is, or ever really was, about Gamestop at all.

Somewhere along the way, this incident made me think that Occupy Wall Street had finally found a concrete objective which, you’ll recall, so few were able to assign ten years ago. I’m fully against the avarice of shorting more stock than exists, especially in the name of “our pensioner clients” and so forth… yet even as I can read that and roll my eyes, the defence of r/wallstreetbets – good intentions and all – is just as misguided. The road to hell with good intentions or, as some redditors have even said to Wall Street, be careful what you wish for.

On Free Speech: III. Craft Displacement

Remembering the Information Superhighway… next stop: Democracy!

Featured Image by Radek Kilijanek on Unsplash

Click here to read Pt II. The Speech of Free Speakers – “A Delusion of Certitude”?

On Free Speech III. Craft Displacement

“I think what we’re learning is that, particularly when they get a choice, a lot of people decide to believe what’s more comfortable for them, even if it’s not the truth.”

– Ellis Cose

In his interview, Ellis Cose attributes greater allotment of free speech to those with media access and financial clout, such as politicians, corporations, and individuals who may control either or both of these. Where something can’t be more free than “free,” let’s take his point to mean that more free speech is more opportunity, more prominence, a wider audience – “more” essentially being more accessibility. We might expect more accessibility to translate into more impact, simply by sheer weight of volume if not vetted credibility. Into the larger consideration of free speech Cose offers this nuance of accessibility against an historical standard, below, by which free speech, being free, is a great equalizer:

“Speech may be fought with speech. Falsehoods and fallacies must be exposed, not suppressed, unless there is not sufficient time to avert the evil consequences of noxious doctrine by argument and education. That is the command of the First Amendment.”

American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)

Against this notion, Cose points particularly at the Internet and its associated media. A consideration of its global spread and interminable flow, put to use by nearly everyone – particularly by those politicians, corporations, and controlling individuals – ought to give everyone pause:

  • voices previously unheard can today access audiences previously unreachable
  • page views can be drummed up algorithmically, or simply go viral all their own; in either circumstance…
  • the potential for rapid profit now tempts an irresponsible publisher toward more revenue-generating click-bait; thus…
  • nothing less than spectacle, vitriol, or fill-in-the-blank will do
  • all this occurs, as anything must, in the zeitgeist of the times, which these days is decidedly emotional and specifically angry

Let me digress a moment and open a new window on financial incentives, algorithmic or otherwise… the flipside for publishers, media, and really any private business is that something unpopular corresponds to lost revenue. And if that’s an equal yet opposite incentive, it’s also just as mercenary. Not to be forgotten, either, is what the “free” in speech really means according to the First Amendment, specifically that government can take no action, outside a few negotiated exceptions, to deny people their public voice. This defines the boundaries of the freedom to speak in the public sphere. And what defines the boundaries of the public sphere? Questions, questions.

Meanwhile, in the private sphere, there are laws apart from the First Amendment that prohibit injurious and obscene forms of expression. Although, as in the public sphere, what’s injurious and obscene these days is up for negotiation, whether in court or, more and more commonly, pretty much anywhere and everywhere. And meanwhile, what even counts as “the private sphere”? Evidently, that’s subject to debate. Lawsuits, lawsuits. Oh, what a tangled web we’ve woven (… and, incidentally, it’s Freund’s book that provides the subtitles for Part I and Part II of this series).

In any case, despite a somewhat different standard, we still find within this wider scope of the rule of law a context for understanding the accountability of private media and publishing companies. Maybe, being as market-driven as anything else, we could consider the incentive to proffer appropriate free speech more wryly as “profit speech” – nothing less than popular, trendy flavour-of-the-month will do. I say maybe because not every company has a stellar record of accountability, which is a topic for another day but does implicate all that access and clout. On that score, since some private corporations and individuals have been known to bear an influence on politicians, we may also question how this conflation of public and private spheres affects free speech in either one.

For that, let’s go back to the Internet, which has massively amplified and accelerated all that access and clout, on top of the slew of details already mentioned. Engineered for uncomplicated access, rapid dissemination, unprecedented reach, and ubiquitous spread, the worldwide web has since become a relatively lawless e-zone, still a little beyond government regulatory control and lying in the hands of various… privateers? who are open for business. Once upon a time, a privateer was commissioned by a ruling power; today we might argue the reverse or, if we simply eliminate the state, as the Internet has arguably done, we could say that privateers are the ruling power. I’m not so sure they ever really weren’t.

Whatever… we can argue the Internet’s historical precedents. There’s even one vestige that remains a notable rival: the influence of talk radio may not have on-line profusion but, spanning decades and geography, it was making waves as the local toxic underbelly long before on-line Comments ever floated to the surface. Talk radio is fully immersed in access and clout as well as, in recent times, free speech – and, while we’re on the topic, how about complicity? Move over, financial incentives, now there’s something meaner: legal exposure. With that said, if you think talk radio’s strictly a conservative platform, let me assure you the most dominant station in these parts has long been a news-talk format that is today unabashedly liberal.

But again, I digress, again. Where was I?

Of course, the Internet. Free speech, other people. Curiously, what Cose offers about the Internet in a free speech context is all the more ironic since, once upon a time, the Internet was the great democratic equalizer. I suppose it still is, or else it can be, though like any tool, its effective usage takes some bit of skill.

Who ever thought, driving the ol’ information superhighway, we’d need winter tires? The worldwide web comes at great cost of responsibility as well as consequence, not only for the unprepared but for everyone alongside them.
Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

For its accessibility and scope, on-line media amplifies and accelerates all our published speech as never we’ve known before: be it truth or falsehood, correct or misleading, accurate or mistaken, it’s all there, instagrammatically. And, apparently, we haven’t really been growing into the role of mastercrafting this tool, even while learning on the job – not building the plane while flying, to use the stale phrase.

Maybe that’s because what this tool we call the Internet imparts, as much as anything, is disembodiment. If there can be a divide between free speakers and the audience in the same room, what on earth could we expect in a chat room? Yet this consequence, like any other, is there to be understood and reckoned as we will, or as we won’t. Hard to blame the tool when it’s the craft.

Click here to read Pt IV. Grounding Movement Control

On Free Speech: II. The Speech of Free Speakers – “A Delusion of Certitude”?

Featured Image by Lynn Melchiori from Pixabay

Click here to read Pt I. The Free Speakers of Speech – “Strands in the Web of Freedom”

II. The Speech of Free Speakers

“A Delusion of Certitude”?

“I think what we’re learning is that, particularly when they get a choice, a lot of people decide to believe what’s more comfortable for them, even if it’s not the truth.”

– Ellis Cose

Is any look at speech, free or otherwise, fairly completed before considering the listening and the thinking that the speech provokes?

From the context of his interview, Ellis Cose’s statement above seems less about how freely people do or don’t speak than about how the rest listen, and cope, and think. It’s about how readily people arrive at some assurance and, from that position, rest in acceptance of only certain other perspectives. As I mentioned in Part 1, his statement (for me) is about bias, as in what was learned from the speaker’s education that now prompts the message they speak aloud. And hey, from any given perspective, as we can never be two places at once, so we can only utter (or write) one thing at a time. “Perspective” has to mean something. So maybe what Cose calls “more comfortable” we might term less generously as “lazy” or “narrow-minded,” as in Hey, if you plan to see from any other perspective, you need to get up and move.

And I can imagine the anti-them us-approving fist-pumps spurred by the previous sentence. Is it some “immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment”? Rather than wholeheartedly agreeing, from your current perspective, that the prescription to get up and move is antidote for others, consider how well it applies to any perspective at all. Consider that it may well be directed at you as directed by you… which is not to challenge anyone’s morality so much as note that morality can be challenged. Surely, though, getting up and moving yourself is more humble and accommodating than expecting or demanding it of others – isn’t it? It’s the difference between being humble and being humbled, and I think we’d all prefer the former, if that choice were all we had.

I suppose what I’m advocating is a thorough investigation of alternatives, even ones we might have thought objectionable, before we opt for anything more drastic. And look, nobody needs to invite their opponents over for nachos and board games just yet. Even so, ask yourself, “What small space can I clear for people that, up til now, I just haven’t allowed?” Is such space even conceivable, at all?

On the other hand, if we’re flat-out convinced, and some other perspective feels equally immovably justified, and there’s no recourse but to fight it out, well… it has been known to happen.

Judgment [of free speech] is… solicited on a conflict of interests of the utmost concern to the wellbeing of the country. This conflict of interests cannot be resolved by a dogmatic preference for one or the other, nor by a sonorous formula which is, in fact, only a euphemistic disguise for an unresolved conflict. If adjudication is to be a rational process, we cannot escape a candid examination of the conflicting claims with full recognition that both are supported by weighty title-deeds.… Full responsibility for the choice [belongs] not to the courts [but] to Congress.

Dennis vs United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951)

For me, though, what Cose elucidates above all else is nuance. Its laced throughout his interview. He himself has an informed take on the history and the context of an issue that, on its face, we call “free speech.” It bears mentioning that “free” is not meant in the sense of getting a free burger at McDonald’s but, rather, getting a public opportunity to say or write what you believe, unhindered by government on the basis of content. What is prohibited is the act of government censorship, with some qualification reserved for government to negotiate with the speaker (via judicial systems) on such bases as common obscenity, so-called “fighting words” of hatred, malicious defamation of public officials, and more generally the balance in likelihood between the “gravity of the ‘evil’” and whatever “invasion of free speech” might be deemed necessary, say if someone were inciting others toward government overthrow.

Of course, neither government nor citizen has full and unbridled ability to act. The balance is contextual, and it’s usually lawyers who argue before judges and juries who decide. Here is a good discussion on that note.

And of course, in the Cose interview anyway, the entire topic is steeped in the conflated history of America’s socio-economic politics, including other Constitutional concerns such as citizenship, due process, and equal protection under the law, which fall under the Fourteenth Amendment. As Cose explains, “free speech” today and historic First Amendment protected speech aren’t necessarily the same thing.

As for me, I’m no expert lawyer, I just watch them on television. So I fear my attempted definition here is hardly precise enough. But how else can we discuss such topics unless we try to be more than just forthcoming? We must also try to be more thorough. In fact, that’s one reason, maybe the main reason, why I started this blog. But my mono-blog is only one voice in our dialogue, so please offer to this discussion whatever informed-slash-substantive insight you have.

As every one has a right to be heard, let us hear from every one, that we might hear from everyone.

Click here to read Pt. III Craft Displacement