In this issue of Banter M:
How To Become Marginally Famous For Awful Things – In part one of a two part series, Tommy Christopher describes the time he live tweeted his own heart attack
Internet Outrage Culture Finally Finds a Worthy Target – Chez Pazienza sides with the internet outrage that took down Martin Shkreli, the 32 year old hedge fund manager who raised the price on life saving drugs by 5500%.
The Need For a New Economy is Now – Ben Cohen describes his attempts to build a new platform to help wean people off capitalism, and encourages you to invent new models too.
How To Become Marginally Famous For Awful Things
by Tommy Christopher
Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, words which rang in my ears five years ago as I was wheeled into a hospital operating room. As they put the mask over my face to put me under for what might have been the last time, one thought pierced the tornado of grief and regret that swirled in my head: if I die from this, it’s going to be really fucking funny.
As the modern definition of “fame” goes, I’ve had several brushes, none of them good. You can tell that just by seeing the suggestions you get when you Google my name. The first thing I ever became famous for – or at least Twitter famous – was being fired byPoliticsDaily. I’d written an article criticizing a Playboy writer for publishing a list of “Ten Conservative Women I’d Like to Hate-Fuck,” and for some reason, PolitcsDailyEditor-in-Chief fired me over it, then lied about it. For a few weeks, it was a hot story around town because I’d managed to make a few important friends, but on Twitter, it completely blew up.
That episode was a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing. I was immediately hired by another AOL site – which pretty clearly signaled that I wasn’t the one at fault, and that put me on the radar of Dan Abrams, who was starting a little site calledMediaite. Well, it was Lee Stranahan who introduced me to Rachel Sklar, who introduced me to Dan, and the rest, as they say, is history. I started off as a freelance contributor, and eventually became a full-time commentator and reporter for them.
To the extent that it was a curse, it was because so many conservatives rallied to my cause after I was fired, which was wonderful, but which also made liberals extremely suspicious of me after that. Even before the firing, though, I was already close friends with Redstate’s Caleb Howe, and Ed Morrissey was already a fan of my writing, if not my viewpoint. The friends I already had, and the ones I gained through that ordeal, far outweigh whatever detrimental effect it had on my liberal street cred, and I’ll always be grateful for the support I received.
The whole firing ordeal significantly upped my profile on social media, which in turn led to my second claim to Twitter fame: my epic Twitter fights, particularly with the late Andrew Breitbart. Early in my Mediaite career, Andrew and I got into it at CPAC in a video that went viral, and went a long way toward restoring my cred. From there, he became one of my sparring partners on Twitter, which again helped up my profile (eventually, we became the best of frenemies, right up until his untimely death).
It was with that awareness of the power of social media, and my place in it, that I went into my next brush with “greatness.” On September 5, 2010, I went to the beach with my kids, my (second) ex-wife, and some friends. We were a big group, so we needed three cars, as I recall, to take us all on the 20-minute trip to Long Beach Island. The surf was relatively rough that day, and it was fairly exhausting to hold my then-five-year-old Liam as we jumped the waves.
I already wasn’t in the best of shape, having gone off my diabetes medications a few years earlier after some significant weight loss. Some of the weight had come back, and I was also smoking about two packs of cigarettes a day. Whenever I was in DC, it was a struggle to walk the mile or so to the White House, and I would frequently have to stop to let the burning chest pain pass. It always did.
But as I drove home with my oldest son Justin in the car (and a relative of a friend whom I’d just met that day in the back seat), I started to get the same exact pain in my chest, only this time it didn’t pass. I pulled the car over on Route 9, got out, and sat on the side of the road to try and catch my breath. My ex-wife, who was a few cars behind me, pulled over, and she began insisting that we call an ambulance. “No, it’ll pass!” I gasped, angrily. “I don’t have any insurance, and we can’t fucking afford this!”
I drank some water, I help my arms above my head, but nothing would make the pain go away. I found out later that people in my condition become acclimated to the pain, though, so nothing I felt could convince me that this episode was worth financial ruin. In short order, though, one of our friends called 911, and the ambulance was there in two minutes. My ex needed to stay with the kids, and she was in no shape to drive, so I went into that ambulance alone, counter-intuitively cursing to myself “This better really be a fucking heart attack!”
Well, the paramedics quickly confirmed for me that it was, and when I asked them if I was going to die, they offered a comforting “Just keep taking the nitro.”
The first thing I did was to send a text message to my then-girlfriend Diana, who is a nurse. Well, I think I texted her, I know I wanted to. After the paramedics didn’t tell me I wasn’t going to die (pro-tip: just lie about that shit, it’s not like I can complain if you turn out to be wrong), I immediately texted my ex-wife to tell her not to worry, but to make sure Liam knew I was thinking about him. My other kids were grown and knew that I loved them, but Liam was five years old, autistic, and unable to understand yet. If the worst did happen, I wanted him to someday be able to look back and know how much I loved him.
Having accomplished that crucial task, I knew I needed a way to calm myself down, to distract from the pain and the incomprehensible grief that I might never see my kids again. The human brain is a wonderful piece of wet, squishy hardware that’s able to process a lifetime’s worth of information in an instant, and paint uncountable masterpieces with it, right when you least need it to.
In that moment, that mere second, I thought about all the shining, iridescent gems of memory that I’d built for my kids, and the way that grief would turn them into knives. I thought, briefly, of my father, who died of a heart attack on a golf course, a comforting thought that turned bitter when I remembered how I had stupidly refused to speak to him for the last several years of his life. I thought of Diana, who had come through her own cloud of grief and loss to find me. I thought of a million other things in that second, as I slumped against that dagger in my chest. The pain, all of it, was beautiful in the way that the most aching symphony is. If I could have frozen time, I could have written the most searingly lovely ode to life, love, and loss that anyone has ever read.
Unfortunately, all I had was my phone, already in my hand, and the ticking of the linear seconds that remained on my clock. It suddenly occurred to me that live-tweeting my heart attack could be the funniest thing anybody ever did, or ever would do, especially if I died. In a lightspeed cacophony, I gamed out the implications of this, weighing out the shock and grief it would cause people with the cosmic black hilarity of it. I rationalized that people were going to feel what they’d feel, but since my IRL family really didn’t know how to interface with my journalism family, this was probably the only way they’d find out with any timeliness, and they’d find out in a way that was quintessentially me.
So, that’s what I did. I fired off about five tweets as the ambulance took me to the hospital, sending my last one from atop the gurney as it paused outside the operating room. I tweeted that I was stopping because my hands were shaking, but that wasn’t really true. They’d been shaking all along. But as the pain continued, even after repeated doses of morphine, my glib self-satisfaction melted back into pure despair. I was going to die, and the only people I’d ever really loved, and all the things I’d ever done to love them, were all going to be ruined. I would live on only in their pain.
Then, as they put me under, my final thought was “If I die from this, it’s going to be really fucking funny.” It was a more comforting thought than you might think.
Internet Outrage Culture Finally Finds a Worthy Target
by Chez Pazienza
Around 48 hours. That’s all it took to force Martin Shkreli to heel.
Now make no mistake, the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager and drug company CEO lovingly nicknamed “Pharma Bro” by some in the media has only relented in his attempt to viciously price gouge the medical community and average, desperate people in need of a toxoplasmosis treatment because he was backed into a corner. As such, he isn’t the least bit sincere when he now says that “it makes sense to lower the price” of Daraprim, which just a few days ago could be bought for a mere $13.50 a tablet and was skyrocketed by Shkreli and his pharmaceutical company to $750 a pill over the weekend. It only “makes sense” to lower the price because not doing it may very well result in Martin Shkreli being beaten over the head with one of his $9,000 bottles of ’82 Lafite Rothschilde until he’s a crumpled, bloody mess on a Manhattan sidewalk. It’s simply a matter of survival at this point for him — in terms of public relations and, maybe, literally. Shkreli is currently the most hated man in America and jumping through whatever hoops are necessary to possibly counteract the image of him as a soulless sociopath is the only card he can play here.
Granted, it’s worth noting that Shkreli isn’t dropping the price of Daraprim back to what it was before he acquired it from its previous owner. He still plans to double the cost of the drug, which is still unconscionable, but this admittedly has less of offensive ring to it than increasing it by 5500%. Is his supposed compromise enough to get the dogs called off him? Apparently, the internet doesn’t think so because, predictably, Martin Shkreli has just been doxxed, with his home address and phone number made public. This was always going to happen. It was only a matter of time.
The question is, is this right? Is the internet’s collective lighting up of Shkreli — which was all but guaranteed given that his social media accounts are little more than platforms to boast about his impressive wealth and mock his critics — a moral or ethical campaign? I’ve spent the past few years condemning quick-fire internet outrage and so-called “call-out culture.” I’m repulsed by the tendency of so many to use the hyper-connectivity of the digital age to amass a torch-and-pitchfork-wielding mob every time somebody makes a joke they don’t like or wears a Halloween costume they think is tasteless. As I’ve said so many times it’s exhausting to have to say it again, there was a time before social media when, if something offended us or otherwise upset our sensibilities, we’d get angry for a few minutes then go on with our day. But now we can come together with other bored, self-righteous assholes to destroy what outrages us so that our little on-demand worlds remain completely free of language and ideas we don’t like. Sure, we don’t censor perceived ugliness the way the government can, but we still have our ways of shutting it down pretty effectively.
So where does Martin Shkreli fit into that equation? Again, is the ongoing picking apart of his life an overreaction or is it justified? Maybe it’ll sound like I’m trying to justify and my own participation in the public crucifixion of him, but there’s a huge difference between the myriad cases of social media rising up as one and trying to silence somebody who maybe said something “un-PC” — which may hurt your feelings but which isn’t legitimately injurious — and the same people putting a bright spotlight on a guy like Shkreli. We’re talking about someone who’s putting people’s lives in danger and is doing it without a single concern for anything other than his own financial gain. Shkreli is the poster boy for the worst kind of abuses by Big Pharma as well as the perils of Randian capitalism when it’s taken to its logical, most pitiless conclusion. His arrogance is matched only by his lack of concern for others which is matched only by his greed. The Washington Post has dubbed him, in fact, “A New Icon of Modern Greed,” while The Atlantic reminds us that even though he seems like a very special brand of aggravated evil, really Shkreli is “the face of U.S. healthcare,” in that he sees the system we use to treat desperate patients as nothing more than a racket. He’s to medicine what Bernie Madoff was to finance: an egregious example of malfeasance but really only one small player in a thoroughly condemnable game. He’s the face but not the body.
The thing about the Martin Shkrelis of the world is that they’re untouchable because the cards are stacked in their favor. Researchers can label him a predator and he’ll ignore it. Biotech journalists can confront him and he’ll just call them morons who don’t understand his genius. Before all of this reached a point of critical mass, average citizens could castigate him on Twitter and he’d only ridicule them, call them haters and quote Wu-Tang lyrics like he was a hardcore bad-ass and not a weasely, privileged little shit who’d turn to Jell-O at the first punch thrown in his direction. But after the details of the Daraprim hike became public knowledge — after he smugly brushed off criticism during a Bloomberg TV interview which led the internet to begin tearing his past dealings apart and exposing every dirty fact about him — Shkreli’s social media kingdom was suddenly overwhelmed by a clamoring army of the enraged as if it was fucking Hardhome. He’s now had to make his Twitter account private. He’s very likely going to change his phone number if he hasn’t already.
For all the acid I’ve spit over the past couple of days about Shkreli, no, I don’t actually want to see somebody do something insane like walk up to him on the street and shoot him (and admittedly you can never tell where these kinds of vigilante mobs will lead and you certainly can’t call them up from the depths of hell then expect that they behave, given that the internet is insane). But there was no other way to put Shkreli in his place and in the end I think justice needed to be done here — and only social media connectivity could bring enough collective fury to bear against him that it might make it clear that if America is made aware of this kind of behavior it will work to stop it. Free speech, ironically, comes with some limitations. It requires responsibility. The free market is the same thing. Sure, you can jack up the price of a drug used to treat people with with AIDS and cancer, but if it’s publicized and people are given a target to aim at, they’ll have their say about it. And you probably won’t like it. Just ask Martin Shkreli. He’s been more than happy to profit off the suffering of others. Now he gets to do a little suffering.
The Need For a New Economy is Now
by Ben Cohen
Not that I have much of it these days, but in my spare time I have been pulling together an informal team of people to help build a project I dreamt up after reading a particularly depressing article on the state of the global economy. The project is very simple – it aims to build a replicable platform for a limited number of people in a particular area to create their own, micro barter-economy where no real money is used.
I can’t go into too much detail about the project right now because it is still in its infancy and we are still working out how to build in basic functionality. But I don’t mind talking about it in general terms because I have absolutely no intention of making any money out of it and would love nothing more than to see other people jump in and make the concept better than anything I could have come up with. The project will be open source and not for profit in the hopes of rolling out its benefits to anyone who wants to use it and build sustainable communities.
As we head into an unprecedented era of wealth inequality and extreme environmental pressure, we need transitionary model to help people wean themselves of capitalism, or at the very least make them less reliant on it. My personal project isn’t just for the benefit of humanity (I’m not that altruistic) I am also looking at it as a tool to help me extricate myself as much as possible from needless consumerism and waste.
The fact is, the current economic model we are living with is now so evidently unsustainable that it is inconceivable it will be around in 50 years time. It finally seems to be sinking in to the human psyche that we have been on a terribly stupid path and need to change our ways incredibly quickly before our treatment of the planet comes back to eradicate us from existence (and yes, it is that serious).
Incredibly, it has taken us over two hundred years to figure out the very basic ecological fact that an extractive, growth based economy based on the production of material goods is unsustainable in a finite system of resources. Limitless economic growth is simply impossible when there are limited physical resources. The science on this is very clear, yet we continue delude ourselves to our own enormous detriment.
Once the majority of us come to fully realize this very simple rule of ecology, it may well be too late. So those who have figured it out better put their thinking caps on and come up with something that can either replace it entirely, or co-exist with the current system as a transitory tool to shift dependence away from extractive, global corporations inwards to our own communities and local environments.
This will not be an easy task by any means given the magnitude of the global capitalist system and the complex web of reliances individual countries depend on for their economic health. There are countries that import the majority of their food and countries that export the majority of their natural resources abroad. In the current paradigm, this constitutes good business. If I can sell my bananas to country X for ten times the price at home, I’d be foolish not to figure out a deal with a shipping company and foreign supermarket to take my product and sell the hell out of it. Of course if the members of my community relied on bananas to feed themselves, I’d also be committing an act of theft and depriving them of vital nutrients they need to stay alive. In other words, I’d be committing murder. In a paradigm of ecological responsibility and consideration for other human beings, profit would take on a completely different meaning. Monetary gain would not be the driving force behind trade. Mutual benefit and environmental sustainability would be key to ensure everyone does well out of any transactions of goods and services.
But what would doing well out of trading actually mean? This is where wealth inequality comes into play. In the current system, wealth inequality is a product of exploitation. Either human labor or the environment is exploited for the benefit of the very few, creating huge distortions in our societies that lead to increased violence, mental illness and a general sense of massive instability. Free and flexible labor markets work well for those at the top of the food chain, but present a day to day nightmare for everyone living in it. A sustainable economy would be based on balanced mutualism – no one takes too much out of the system, and everyone has to put back in.
A barter system may well turn out to be a pretty good transitionary tool to extricate us from the current system. It is by no means perfect, but given the right parameters, the concept of the non-monetary trading of goods and services would help eliminate large inequality over time, and drastically reduce our insatiable thirst for cheap consumer goods. Instead of buying a new cooker, you could offer up your old couch for a used one. That is the direction I am going in, but we need to test more ideas, and fast if we want to lay the ground work for a (relatively) painless transition.
The human imagination knows no limits and a genius somewhere might well figure out how to put an end to our environmental predicament with new technology producing unlimited clean energy. It possible that we could use the infrastructure built by industrial capitalism to transport materials to help other people rather than profit from them. It is possible that the efficiency of the global corporate system could be very handy when putting together a new pro-environmental economy. Perhaps the much vaunted ‘sharing economy’ is the start of something much bigger. If the rules are changed and profit is taken out of the equation, we have a ready made set of powerful entities that could affect enormous change.
The fact is, anything is possible and the future is not set. So get imagining, people. We all depend on it.