I run a civil engineering business in the US, and have been including a note on my invoices that I accept crypto and there's a 10% discount if they pay in crypto. Unsurprisingly, I've had no takers (since 2013!) I'm thinking maybe it'd be a good idea to include a QR code on each invoice, a payment QR code to a wallet, in the amount of 10% less than the invoice. The QR code would provide visibility (no one reads fine print) and if someone scans it it would take them to the edge of the crypto rabbit hole. submitted by
Is there a good tool for doing this? I imagine the wallet for the code would have to be a BTC wallet, but if they called me and wanted to pay in some other currency, I could set it up. The tool would need to run on PC, since I create my invoices in Excel.
I can make a very simple logo for a small amount of bitcoin. It won't be the greatest, but I can still use Paint.net or maybe even blender to make a pretty ok logo. It would cost around 0.0003 BCH. submitted by
[Video Essay Script] - Links will be used in video as images and segments. https://docs.google.com/document/d/12OX9TTfLhgNEfdDaMWfsHYyAMzTx9G7bSwu_0Ke1Ksc/edit?usp=sharing
Introduction to Modern Fascism
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”- Nazi Propagandists, Joseph Goebbels.
Axioms are our base assumptions about the world. They act as filters for new information coming into our consciousness.
In classic philosophy, an axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question. As used in modern logic, an axiom is a premise or starting point for reasoning.
We use these axiomatic assumptions to build our internal models of the world around us. They allow us to compare new information we receive from the outside with our internal narratives, which helps us to decide whether to reject or accept that new information. They are, for want of a better world, your "common sense" beliefs.
So how do you go about changing a relatively normal person's core beliefs and base assumptions to the point of rejecting their fellow citizens as traitors, committing acts of murderous terrorist or vigilante violence like Fascist white supremacists running down protesters in acts of terror, ISIS beheadings or mass genocide?
Shock Treatment and Slow Repetition
When I was a child I was subjected to regular mental and physical abuse from my dad. I would also see my mother repeatedly beaten up and then flee to a women's refuge where I would stay with her.
Each time my mom left, whenever I visited my dad at weekends, he would constantly try to pressure and manipulate me into convincing my mom to get back together with him.
This never worked of course. But what it did do, is make me highly sensitive to manipulation techniques.
I was fascinated by people like the magician Derren Brown and the economist Naomi Klein - who both reveal the tricks of the trade used in the advertising and marketing industries to convince people.
One way of changing people into killing machines or obedient sheep is through a big shock to the system, like how electroshock therapy allows for a clean slate to rebuild peoples intern mental models.
Psychedelics are another way, having a similar effect in the brain. Encouraged by the alt right and alt-light influencers like Jordan Peterson and Rebel Wisdom as they try to “Red Pill” people (an expression taken from the film The Matrix as a metaphor for revealing revealing the truth about the world).
They use this shock and disorientation as a way to prepare a “blank-slate” in order to rebuild peoples internal axiomatic models with different core beliefs.
Remaking people by shocking them into obedience and gas-lighting them about their existing internal models, making them seem irrational, silly or outdated. Reducing them to a mental state of a child and then rebuilding them with a new ideology and worldview, known as “shock therapy”.
As Naomi Klein explains
in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
, these techniques work on larger scales with use of trauma and shock to influence political outcomes has been used since at least Milton Friedman coined the term “Economic Shock Treatment”. He advised that politicians push through painful and unpopular policies all at once during a time of crisis, before people could regain their footing.
The technique is used in economic markets on the large scale, and also against individuals on a small scale with individuals too. Economics and politics is just human interaction on a larger scale, after all.
Regular repetition and gentle suggestions of ideas can also instil new axiomatic models and core beliefs into people's minds. As Derren Brown demonstrates how powerful subtly suggestions can be alone, without the need for hypnosis, shocks or drugs.
But used in combination, shock and repetition can shift people until they have moved their positions, perceptions and beliefs about the world, to a place they could never have imagined.
But luckily once you deconstruct the deception and understand how the trick works, the illusion falls apart.
Defining and Deconstructing Modern Fascism
Firstly, we must define Modern Fascism. Modern Fascism ticks every box of the traditional definitions in Umberto Eco’s essay Ur-Fascism
, and not only does it fulfil every criteria, it reveals other motivational forces and has evolved to include new aspects, and has changed into something worse, while it’s main weakness remain the same - the fact that it is primarily motivated by weakness.
As General Franco
said in a 1938 interview with Henri Massis: "Fascism presents, wherever it manifests itself, characteristics which are varied to the extent that countries and national temperaments vary. It is essentially a defensive reaction of the organism, a manifestation of the desire to live, of the desire not to die, which at certain times seizes a whole people. So each people reacts in its own way, according to its conception of life… What can it have in common with Hitlerism, which was, above all, a reaction against the state of things created by the defeat, and by the abdication and the despair that followed it?"
This quote perfectly illustrates the transient nature of the ideology, but also the core motivations of Fascism. It is an ideology based on the assumption of weakness which yearns for restoration of a past greatness or to get revenge and recognition. But the way that it manifests itself is different in each place it takes hold.
Therefore the aim of this isn’t to make the case that any particular party or country has embraced out-right fascism (plenty of other people
have made that case already), the aim is to reveal the underlying motivations, highlight threats and weaknesses and analyse the less obvious negative effects of Modern Fascism.
History Doesn’t Repeat, But It Rhymes
A false equivalence that is often used is that Liberal Imperialism is just the same as Fascism. And while it is true that imperialists use fascist dictators to extract cheap labour and resources and also dominate smaller counties in a similar way to how fascist empires aspire to rule, the key difference is that the populations of those countries are not gripped by the same fear based delusions.
And therefore more Liberal democracies are better equipped to hold their imperial position of power long term because they are better able to assess risks and react accordingly, rather than over-react based on paranoia and competing egos under excessive pressure.
This false equivalence was also used in 1930’s Germany, because far-left Communists had been co opted and infiltrated by Fascists. They would repeat the mantra that “the Social Democrats were the real racists”.
Contrary to the assumptions of most people, Fascism, as an ideology and political system of government is very distinct to white supremacy. It does of course include white supremecists, but In fact includes many other groups who have been co-opted by Fascist propaganda
, or who implicitly support and enable their agenda
Examples of modern opposition which has been repeatedly infiltrated or just simply made up by Fascists include innumerable conspiracy theories, police groups like Blue Lives Matter, militant Black nationalists, the Boogaloo movement who call for a race war, the “Proud Boys” and even sometimes supposed Anarchists
, far-left Communists
and Left Accelerationists
Motivations of Fascism
Fascism distilled down to its core reason for existing is the suppression of opposition who represent workers rights and economic justice. So they patently DON’T look after their own people. They con them into submission of the state by generating jingoistic fear of “the other” - whoever is convenient on that day to blame for their problems.
Fascism is is an economic shock doctrine upon the inhabitants of the country. We don't spread fascist propaganda in tip-pot dictators because we care about the indiginous people there. We install Fascist dictators in order to remove workers rights and open up access to their natural resources.
Artificial moral panics can be engineered and real disasters used to allow corrupt oligarchs
and financial predators to consolidate power further by buying up small innovative businesses who don’t have the excess capital to survive the turmoil on their own without external support. Or as a way to eradicate public services by sabotaging them and building mistrust.
They are used to erode faith in public services and institutions by rich people who simply want to pay less tax and don’t see why they should subsidise other human beings who haven’t had the same luck as them. So a major motivation of fascism is to suppress the opposition left-wing party who represent workers rights and egalitarian freedoms.
Populists claim to be against free trade and to some extent they are, but whatever they do will fail because they are interfering with the markets, so they will retreat to the power of market domination. They use their threats of trade barriers as more just more shock treatment for markets, rather than protecting actual jobs or industries.
This is a trick that has been played by Neoliberals too
. But while Neoliberals use fascism as a tool for opening markets to Imperialism, they differ from Libertarians, not only because they embrace guns and weed, but they are starting from different positions to achieve the same goal;
Neoliberals seek to remove already existing public services and workers rights that lift bargaining power. But Libertarians want to STOP the government from ever providing those services and investments into the poor or enshrining workers rights.
Modern Fascist Ideology has TWO Core Reasons to Exist; Fear and Freed.
I have been researching and analysing how economic systems differ, using a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threads). For each economic system I tried to be as neutral, fair and balanced as possible - which included Fascism.
I might seem strange that someone who is anti-Fascist would want to explore the strenghts and opportunities of Fascist ideologies, but in doing so it reveals the real weaknesses and threats which are too important for us to ignore.
So what exactly IS Fascism? Is it just an economic doctrine or a personal philosophy about the world? The answer is both.
The ideology has TWO core reasons to exist, and TWO distinct audiences types - with one based primarily on fear and the other greed, with each having a malignant and symbiotic relationship
with each other. Fear -
Authoritarian/Conservative Fascists Greed -
There are very few people who actually buy into full Fascist ideology, most believe a watered down version of which resembles Conservatism or right-wing populism or accelerationism, and most of them genuinely believe they aren’t fascist, even though they are being constantly fed subtle suggestions fascist ideology or that align with their plans.
But the most ironic thing is that these groups are mostly being used by the second group of rich Libertarians globalist elites pulling a confidence trick on the host nation. Often posing “anti-establishment” conspiracists who actually uphold the establishment through misinformation. See: Russia Today and Youtube Bitcoin and Gold shills who subtly suggest fascist talking points.
With those rich Libertarians at the top more than happy for those below them, who they deem less worthy, living in even more delusional ideologies with fake enemies to fear, often resembling traditional Christian but values wrapped in modern conspiracies with added elements of “satanic panic”.
Modern Fascism has clearly inspired the modern day equivalents of Brownshirts and Blackshirts, self-styled vigilantes like QAnon, The Proud Boys and “The Boogaloo” - white nationalist violent extremists who want to accelerate towards a full-on race war.
It has also infiltrated numerous alternative groups, such as hyper-evangelical “end times” cults, alternative health scenes, internet conspiracy scenes like flat earth
and occult magic.
A commonly missing hallmark of fascism that is present in history during the rise of fascism is a controlled opposition and explicit suppression of opposition. This distorts a healthy society and has unforeseen consequences and blowback.
Fantasies and political thought bubbles are self delusional custom realities resembling an episode of Black Mirror
. They act as coping and escape mechanisms. Especially during the Covid 19 lock-down, these tendencies have gone into overdrive
with massive events entering the real world featuring David Ike leading protesters alongside fascists as people ignore rising Fascism
, climate change destruction and Covid deaths tolls.
Using disasters like Covid or irrational scare tactics such as the "Satanic Panic" style Fascist propaganda from QAnon
, can shock people using their fear and disgust response, while making them distrust the news - allowing the government to evade valid criticism from experts while suggesting to people that government public services are inherently evil or Communist.
This type of propaganda is a Libertarians wet dream - making a population not only give up on tax funded public services, but actively fear
them. An example is Trump trying to discredit and defund the US Postal Service and other public institutions and regulatory bodies.
Anti Semitism has been used throughout history by those in power to provoke an “us vs. them” mentality, leading to today's establishment still sanctioning and allowing Qanon on major media platforms, provoking and agitating terrorist attackers from the far-left
and the far-right.
Those in power in fascist regimes allow and encourage mistrust in the mainstream media, while the long-tail niche political and interest groups keep people separated from each other, who each live in their own custom realities while the real elites continue to dominate and increase their power.
With each bubble framing realities based of identity, race, class, nationality, or even subculture special interests like alternative medicine and “gamer bro” culture, so that when they interact in real life or online, they are speaking past each other because they don’t even agree on the basic principles of how they view society.
The Fatal Flaws of Living in a Fantasy
While the main flaws and weaknesses of Fascism remain the same, they are in-fact exacerbated by this new hybrid model. It’s main weakness is the very fact that it is motivated by weaknesses, fear and greed - rather than true strength, self-confidence or heroic benevolent power, as their adherents like to believe.
A misconception of fascists themselves that it is based on strength, when it is actually based on weakness - even when the driving force is greed rather than fear. Libertarian fascists want to extract labour and materials at cheaper prices, while inflating their own asset values.
In other words; international financiers with little allegiance to any country. Ironically the very type of people who Conservative fascists
claim to be opposed to.
Fascism claims to make society more successful, but it actually accelerates the destruction of the culture, country or people, rather than preserving and conserving it, because it betrays a fundamental weakness of insecurity. Competitors and rivals can easily see through the charade of and take advantage.
If anything does the exact opposite. Russian and China are clearly goading Western nations into becoming more divided and totalitarian, as they themselves benefit from becoming more Liberal and open and reap the competitive advantages that brings. See Kraut’s excellent video about Trump on China
as an example. Keynesian investment
in the country and people, giving workers more rights, opportunities and a more bargaining power is what makes a country successful and innovative, rather than the faux Keynesian policy of giving kickbacks to corrupt officials for government contracts and widening inequality by supporting the already rich, rather than the ordinary people.
Who Benefits in This Memetic War?
Who is going to war with who? Who is winning? A modern adage is that tankies are just fascists because of their support of authoritarian proto-fascist leaders and regimes who often claim to be Communist.
But from my experience talking to actual fascists, they crave a more multi-polar world where other strong leaders rise up as competition and form alliances with dictators.
So to me, it looks like Fascists are the real Tankies; wishing our enemies be stronger and wanting to accelerate towards race war or civil war that weakens the society.
Not only did Donald Trump have knowledge of Russia allowing ISIS bounties on US troops and withhold that from the public while courting Putin, I have personally heard white supremacists backing extremists Islamists in Discord servers.
Trump jumped to the defense
of the people who put a 17 year old with a gun against civil rights protesters and assumed the intent before saying that the outcome should be decided by the legal system.
They share common values and beliefs like Anti Semitism, accelerationist end-times fantasies, patriarchal traditional values and a fear of outside progressive cultures. In fact modern extremists white supremecist groups share recruitment and terrorist strategies and tactics with militant islamists.
You could argue that it was inflicted by Russian or Imperialist propagandists onto the German people in order to take control of larger areas of Europe after the destabilisation of war.
Hitler and Stalin came to a non agression truce called The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact
, which as was a secret non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that enabled those two powers to partition Poland between them.
The pact, signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was officially known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
They divided Poland under the banner of fighting “Polish Fascism” nearly a century ago with both sides ultimately lying to their own people about spreading freedom while being authoritarian to their core and being able to blame “the other” as being the cause of all their problems.
But these days fascism seems to be a rogue meme
that no longer serves any particular group. It is pathologically damaging to any society that it happens to grip.
Even the aforementioned Libertarians and accelerationists who think they are benefiting are only temporarily gaining by market price volatility. They ultimately lose through the blowback effect of the whirlpool they create.
Psychopathy, Alienation Nihilism and Insecurity
It is well established
that Fascist dictators are driven by psychopathic characters and tendencies. They either don’t care about the truth, or disregard it if it’s not convenient to their narrative.
In totalitarian despotic societies
facts are reversed. As George Orwell proclaimed throughout his writings; “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”.
Similar to how authoritarian Starlinist Communists harnessed people’s alienation and tricked them into thinking that it’s possible for the state to fully decommodify everything without having markets, money to account for things
, domination or hierarchy or try to convince people that a revolution is just around the corner
But of course, a council representative is still the head of an organisation, for all intents and purposes, because they wield executive power over others, even if the name has changed. Markets are emergent properties when groups of humans want or need a certain commodity when it becomes available.
But while both Communist and Fascist ideologies are based on lies that harness peoples alienation, fear and envy, Fascism is also especially to the weak. It is attractive to those who want to be strong again (or were never to begin with), or those who want to have a strong leader to help them.
Fascism betrays to others the inherent weakness. Like the insecure kid in school who lashes out - others around can see that it is because of their own insecurity which makes them appear even weaker. Fascism is a psychopathy driven by insecurity.
When people become so absorbed in an ideology there is a phenomena of people to self identify as an actual ideology? This produces a phenomena called Identity Protective Cognition
, where people's self worth becomes attached to a belief system or ideology. So that when new information contradicts their worldview it is seen as an attack on the person themselves.
Therefore irrational, emotional quick fix thinking is the default when there is too much pressure and they feel attacked. They no longer use their slow effortful reflective thinking. (See Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow
This approach has parallels in evolutionary biology, in which a central issue is the ability to adapt to changing environments. Competency - over-competitiveness in management causes chaos which STOPS hierarchies of competence. (Insert video clips of Sapolsky on Chaos vs Reductionism etc. timestamps linked).
Fascists try to reduce variability in culture and outcomes - causes weakness of less adaptability - because as Sapolsky explains, the variability is not just noise in that type of system CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems
) - the variability IS the system
. It is fractal and scale free. The noise and variability is an intrinsic part of the system.
But the system doesn’t function properly when the agreed-upon parameters that individuals believe to be true aren’t universal enough to have any form of group coherence. Birds and swarms
of animals can produce amazing complex phenomena, which are greater than the sum of their individual parts. There is a “network effect” once a certain threshold and certain conditions and rules are met.
These rules can be very simple, like repulsion or attraction, or staying a certain distance apart while traveling in a similar direction, but collectively they create patterns that emerge with complexity
and I dear say, a certain amount of beauty
So what happens when millions of people are being brainwashed and misled by cults that are leaving them with a reduced ability to make decisions?
Giving them shit-for-brains just so that some rich people at the top can pay a few percentage less tax? That is the sign of a deeply sick system that cannot continue to function effectively. It is sick on so many levels.
Emergence, Complexity and Human Evolution - A Social-Biological Analysis
The problem with viewing the world through only one lens of analysis (or bucket of knowledge) is that you can fall into unnecessarily reductive thinking. (Sapolsky clips)
I describe myself as a philosophical anarchist. Which does NOT mean I want total chaos and disorder - it means I want the optimal solution to emerge - including the influences and experiences from the bottom-up.
I also think that a bottom-up (or anarchist) lens of analysis is necessary for society to run cohesively in an optimal state. If it is repressed it distorts the overall picture of reality for everyone - similar to a CEO that doesn’t listen to employees and workers on the ground.
I interpret as constantly holding authority to account - to justify its existence and reason for dominating others. I also believe it is every citizen's responsibility to hold authority to account. This would be necessary under ANY economic system or society.
Anarchists also believe in stigmenric, rhizomatic action to make the world better, organically, not from a top-down authority, which fascism seeks to instill on society.
Human beings are collectively parts of a bigger chaotic but stable system known as a CAS (Complex Adaptive System
). CAS’s are chaotic systems that can reach periodic steady states of equilibrium
As Professor Sapolsky explains, humans uniquely exist with a mixture of both communal and individualistic tendencies; known in the scientific world as Tournament vs. pair bonding
All the evidence suggests that this tendency has greatly improved our success as a species. But those tendencies distorted too far one way or another lead to pathologies and the worst collective misdeeds and wars.
Because as Professor Sapolsky also explains in his brilliant lecture series (which I have condensed the pertinent parts of into a 4 part
YouTube video) about CAS; the signals coming from the randomness is being suppressed or repressed, it interferes with the functioning of the system.
Pressure in the system makes the patterns more complex but at a certain point
of increasing pressure in the complex system, it stops being linear and the doubling of patterns and periodicity totally stops. Order completely begins to break down because of the butterfly effect.
Fascist regimes fettishise order and rigidity but in a complex adaptive system, the noise IS the phenomena, not a byproduct to be discarded, ignored or repressed.
The majority of people on the right genuinely want to help society by bringing order, using top-down draconian measures if necessary. Whereas the left generally wants to help society by proactively building from the bottom up.
I think both of these approaches are necessary to be balanced properly for a healthy functioning society to emerge.
It seems our tendency to harness both traits and to focus intently on one or the other is our greatest collective strength, while also being our greatest weakness.
And similarly, on an individual level I believe our greatest strengths and weakness are the fact that our brains work efficiently by categorising information to filter out the unimportant bits that slow us down.
As the book by Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow
, brilliantly explains, slow deliberate, consideration thinking takes energy and time, so our brains developed filters which come out as biases. This is an inherent weakness of the human brain.
Now imagine the butterfly effect on the life of just one person who is influenced by the brainworms of QAnon cults or conspiracies
which distorts their internal models of the world which they use to filter information about the world
The sad and shocking stories on forums like QanonCasualties
show the devastating effects on their close friends, family and work life - amplified by their ever increasingly disconnected lives. (insert Flat earther clip - zoom in on idiot rolling head
Now scale that up to the level of a whole of a society, a country, or the world? This is a collective madness to cope with and avoid the reality facing us as a species.
Only collective action with agreed basic facts to work from will do to avoid the total descent into actual chaos and destruction.
TLDR; Conclusion and Final Thoughts
In this essay I will have put forward the case for the following four key arguments being true and I have present supporting evidence to explain the logical reasoning for why our current definitions need updating and the threat levels reassed, from a non-hysterical but critical perspective. The overall claims I made are:
- Modern Fascism has taken over right-wing populism and bears all the hallmarks of early 20th Century Fascist ideologies.
- The ideology has two main reasons to exist, and two distinct audiences which both have a symbiotic, pathological relationship with each other.
- The main flaws and weaknesses of fascist ideology remain the same as ever - that fascism is motivated by irrational fears, greed and self deception.
- Modern Fascism has major unforeseen damaging consequences for individuals, governments, organisational dynamics, and society at large.
This reality is something I think a lot of fascists, ultra-nationalists and people who have been influenced by the propaganda know deep down on some level already - that they are avoiding the realities of pandemics and ecological harms of ignoring science and reality as it is.
They ignore it because fantasies are simpler to understand. And a narrative based on fear of the other is a simpler way to to process a complex world.
It is also attractive to the part of us that is drawn to conflict and drama - that hunger for something genuinely interesting to happen.
But I would argue from my experience that the beautiful complexity of life in all it’s shades of grey is much more interesting, fun and genuinely fulfilling to understand and engage in, even if it might be harder to deal with and even harder to explain
I believe doing so is also vital for the very survival of our species - we can no longer afford to live in a fantasy, we need to collectively take responsibility for the world as it exists in reality.
Thank you to my two Patrons: Carmen Jongepier E.V. Roske Original Script on Patreon
I've got some serial stories I'd like to tell about living with (and in) technology and the industry. submitted by
Do autonomous trucks dream of CW McCall?
“For a bright shining moment, we added a lot of shareholder value”. Falstaff had a comic with that caption in his double sized cubicle, the kind reserved for senior engineers. For a while he thought it showed that he didn’t fully buy into the corporate line, but that he’d still do as he was told as long as he had a shot at the big payout. RSUs, the big acquisition. The end of year bonus. That was the deal in the before time, when things mostly worked out for most people it seemed.
Falstaff knew he wasn’t the smartest, but he didn’t complain, didn’t pick fights and lived pretty well. His bad habits didn’t impact his work life and he still might hit it big enough to quit and try something else. To have options.
Then everything happened at once. The fires. The diseases. The chaos. Nobody knew who was in charge for a year or so. Things came back. A few years passed and the wealthy parts of the coastal cities looked shiny again. Most people called it normal. To the casual eye, it was. You could still get sushi delivered to the office late at night, ski in the Rockies if you could take the time off. Things were pretty good if you stayed where you belonged and kept your metrics up. Things fell off as you went East or to the not-so-quaint rural areas that couldn’t swing a music festival or good photo opportunities for social media. Go far enough and you found the places where the Feds just walked away. Not our problem any more.
That’s how Falstaff saw the world and his place in it. He had’nt had much sleep. Drugs, risky behavior and the self-loathing kept him occupied, making his morning commute that much less pleasant. He stopped staring at the RVs and tents parked on the land next to the on-ramp as he got on the 101. He jabbed the infotainment system to find some noise to sooth or at least distract him.
“Today, the Department of Energy announced that repairs have been completed ahead of schedule for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Radiation levels are now below acceptable levels for the first time in three years”
“We’ve got an autonomous truck accident with a car by Exit 6 on the 280 Eastbound, so expect delays while CHP and a support team from Freightliner gets that cleaned up”
It didn’t work. He still felt adrift and unhappy in the morning commute, so he silenced the radio and drove to the office.
The office was uneventful. Park, security checkpoint, a long walk to his building, a coffee on the way to his cubicle. He pulled the privacy screen closed behind him and sat down. A quick scan of his eyes and there was his project- a payment processing application that would cut out another payment application for a small percentage of a massive stream of money.
He looked over last night’s chatter, split the tasks into ‘do the work’ and ‘show that I’m adding value’ categories.
The fear and sadness caught up with him. He wasn’t ever going to get out. If he ran as fast as he could, he’d stay exactly where he was until his rent outpaced his income. His stock options would vest just fast enough to keep him going, but he’d never get out.
The morning dragged. Tweak this, report this to someone else. The bureaucratic minutiae and make-work washed over him until lunch. He looked forward to lunch with Tran, hoping that might get him out of his funk. Tran wasn’t so much a friend as one of the few people who admitted how screwed up everything was, so there wasn’t any danger of speaking the obvious and getting a negative reputation.
Tran was out today, so Falstaff ate leftovers and instant noodles in his cubicle.
His phone buzzed. There was a message on MomTalk, a chat for wealthy mothers to discuss brunch, day drinking and their children.
An engineer friend of Falstaff’s set it up as a joke to lampoon the women she couldn’t stand and her friends played along, adopting over the top personae and complaining about nonexistent spouses and domestic staff. After things came back, it was a way to talk freely, if in code.
Heather: Hey. I’m in deep trouble. The Nanny’s unhappy and I need someone to pick up the kids.
Falstaff sighed. Tran must need something.
Sheila: Missed you for lunch. Not feeling well?
Heather: Serious. My kid is stuck under my desk and I need him to come home. UNDERSTAND? NOW!
He got up, took his brown cardboard biodegradable instant noodle container and walked a few rows over to Tran’s cubicle. Where Falstaff’s cube was disorganized and well worn, Tran’s was sparse with better furniture. Falstaff felt under the desk and noticed a decal with one end loose. A quick pull and the label peeled off into his hand, along with a small flash memory card, the size of a fingernail.
He stood up and quickly looked up and down the aisle between the cubicles. Nobody noticed. Nobody really paid much attention to him on a good day unless they needed something from him anyway.
Back in his own cubicle, he went back to the chat:
Sheila: How urgent is this? Chip can have dinner with us or we can drop him off on the way to fencing class.
Heather:NO TIME. FAMILY’S HERE AND THINGS ARE TENSE.
Heather:RUN. GET OUT NOW.
Falstaff was concerned. Tran didn’t make jokes. Laughing at Falstaff’s attempts at humor was enough. He had figured that Tran’s talk of ‘having gangsters in his family’ was an attempt to seem dangerous despite being a cubicle denizen, the way middle aged men bought loud motorcycles that they never rode.
He folded the decal over the card, pressed the sides together and dropped it in the instant noodle cup, then pushed it down with the corn-plastic chopsticks.
The background chatter got quiet and multiple employees raised their heads prairie-dog like. Several members of the company security detail were looking through Tran’s cubicle. Geoff, the brush-cut ex-cop security guard for this building was standing in the aisle attempting to look like he mattered to the operation as the more polished and definitely better paid detail carefully boxed the contents of Tran’s cubicle.
Falstaff picked up his phone and noodle container and started walking towards an exit away from the commotion. Geoff noticed and walked briskly after him. As Falstaff walked out of the building, Geoff called out his real name, then jogged behind him, puffing his half a size too small corporate logo’d golf shirt.
Ironed golf shirt.
Falstaff heard Geoff behind him, but decided to ignore him. Geoff was a blue-badged contractor, safely ignored. Normally.
Geoff ran in front of him and blocked his path to the parking garage.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where Tran is, would you? I’ve seen you with him ”
Falstaff tapped on his white badge. “You’re not my real dad. You can’t tell me what to do”
Falstaff squeezed past him into the parking garage’s doorway.
Geoff glared at him while Falstaff got in his car and put the noodle carton in the fancy retracting cupholder. He started his car and drove off as calmly as he could manage. Despite his attempt at seeming indifferent, his mind was racing. He attempted to make good time without getting attention. Luckily, silver Porsches were a cliché and therefore almost invisible in the Valley.
Twenty minutes later, he was in his mid-grade two bedroom apartment overlooking the parking lot. His cat, Hank, greeted him with a raised head and half open eyes.
Falstaff gave the cat some perfunctory petting, while trying to sequence the next few tasks.
He went to the refrigerator in the kitchen, carrying the ramen cup in one hand. He selected a can of energy drink and thought for a second.
His smartwatch and phone went in the freezer. Fishing the wrapped memory card out of the cup, he picked up the can and walked to his couch, where a bestickered high end laptop rested. Debating between speed and security, he turned off networking on his laptop, then inserted the card into the laptop gingerly, mounting it read-only in case Tran left something aggressive on the card.
Huh. A couple really large encrypted files. And seven smaller files with long filenames of seemingly random numbers and letters. He ejected the card and gingerly placed it on the arm of the couch.
The file names were bitcoin addressses. A lookup showed a total value of almost $600 million in value there.
The files themselves were encrypted. Falstaff stared at the wall for a minute or two, then realized that Tran had decided to quit and take an unauthorized retirement bonus from their shared employer. Enough money to kill for.
Who knew about this, and more importantly, who knew Falstaff had the key? Tran did. Perhaps his gangster friends knew.
He pulled his phone out of the freezer. A few project related emails and three MomTalk direct messages.
Heather:I have investors. They’re quite insistent. They’re on their way to you.
It was time to go. Now.
Falstaff put the laptop down and ran to his bedroom. He pawed through a closet and pulled out the giant duffel he used to carry two week’s laundry from his grad student apartment to the cheaper off-campus laundromat. He quickly shoved a variety of clothes, some scuffed hiking boots and some corporate branded technical outdoors gear into it.
Behind a shelf, he found a long, antiquated Russian bolt-action rifle and a few paper-wrapped boxes of bullets. It wasn’t the firearm someone on the run would want, but it’s what he had. It went into the duffle bag, which he dragged into the living room. Hank jumped down and inspected the bag.
“Hank, I’ll hook you up in a second”
A quick scour of the kitchen and Falstaff had two thick trashbags and a box of water jugs with his current employer’s old logo on them, which he emptied into the sink and turned on the faucet.
As the sink filled, he filled the trashbags with whatever looked useful- tools, hobby electronics, his laptop and cat food. He pulled out a fat stack of cash from the bottom of his drug stash box. He contemplated forced sobriety, then carefully closed the box and put it in the bag, along with the cash.
Don’t change everything at once, he thought. Now isn’t the time to risk sobriety.
Falstaff rummaged around in the hall closet and dug out a bright pink cat carrier and stuffed Hank into it, then turned to the overflowing sink in his kitchen. He opened and filled the bottles in what he hoped was an efficient use of time, then pushed them back into the box.
His phone buzzed again. He contemplated throwing it back in the freezer, then thought better of it, shoving it and the watch back in his pocket.
Hank started meowing.
“We’re not going to the vet today, dude. Shut it for now”
Falstaff looked out his window. Typical traffic. Typical parking lot. A few charging stations, a fence and tents on the other side. He opened the window and threw the bags into the bushes below. He picked up Hank’s carrier, his laptop and looked at the box of water bottles.
Wait. Stop. Think. Breathe.
Tran’s card. A minute of searching found where he left it on the couch. He stuck that in his pocket, then ran out of his apartment. He considered the elevator, then decided on the stairs as they were closer to the bags and his car.
A few minutes of pushing and shoving had the trash bags in the front trunk , the oversized duffle in the passenger seat and Hank’s carrier seat belted in the tiny back seat. He spun the tires and entered the flow of traffic, such as it was.
He looked at his phone. More people seemed to want a response. Ignoring them, he found the closest florist’s shop and fifteen minutes later, pulled into the strip mall that contained it.
A few minutes later, he was in possession of three “Birthday Balloon Extravaganzas”, finishing off the shop’s tank of helium and a bit of Falstaff’s cash. He tied the strings around his smartwatch and let it rise and drift past the confines of the parking lot. The hastily constructed wad of tape and ribbon connecting his phone to the other two Extravaganzas generated a more labored flight, but eventually it drifted away. He looked into the shop’s camera and flipped it the bird as he left and jumped back in his car.
Soon he was back on the road, relaxing with his elbow out the window. Despite the stop and go traffic, he felt safe enough to relax and make longer range plans. Even Hank had settled down for the moment. The hot air felt less oppressive somehow. He contemplated the right set of music for an escape from civilization, trying on a few genres to decide. The screen also showed that the freeway was less than a quarter mile on the right and traffic would be light.
Then he looked again at the screen and thought about antennas. His radio talked to the cell tower, which talked to the Internet. Every application knew where he was.
Which meant Tran’s investors or their ex-employer could know as well.
One hand on the wheel, he looked around for something to pull the radio out of the dashboard. Hank meowed.
“You have an idea? No? Please be quiet”
Rummaging around in the glove box, he noticed an old folding knife. Falstaff slowly pried the radio from the dashboard while occasionally looking up at the tailgate of a modern SUV ahead of him. Realizing there was a rear-facing camera on the SUV staring at him, he slid down below the dash as best he could.
A few more stop and go cycles and the radio was free of the dash. He unplugged cables by feel, but one took his attention away from the road while he pried at it with his knife
He was distracted by a horn blast by his ear. Another SUV was forcing itself into his lane while the driver gesticulated at him.
Falstaff reciprocated by waving angrily at him, knife still in hand. The driver of the SUV held the horn down, angering Falstaff enough to open the window and throw the now free radio at the noise.
Feeling the embarrassment, he jerked the wheel to the right and accelerated into the bicycle lane with a chirp of tires and howl from the engine behind him.
A minute later, he was on the highway, quickly leaving Silicon Valley. He hoped to make the Nevada line before anyone figured out what he was doing.
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