Epitaph For A Small Loser
by Aaron Jai Lee
Being middle class is out of fashion. It’s Beta. The new dream is to live long enough to experience the singularity and get rich enough to buy immortality tech when it comes online. It’s an accidental religion espoused by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, Ross Ulbricht ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh68DDUYVPM ) and cited in the New York Times article Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker? (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/business/eagle-scout-idealist-drug-trafficker.html) It’s a motive which seems to have totally eluded David Segal, who wrote the otherwise thorough and interesting story.
“Far from the bloodless kingpin portrayed by the government, Ross Ulbricht, by the accounts of friends and relatives, was soulful and sensitive. In a conversation with his childhood friend Rene Pinnell, recorded in 2012 through StoryCorps, a national oral history project, and still posted on YouTube, Mr. Ulbricht said that in college he initially refused to sleep with the woman he described as his first love, for fear that he would wind up heartsick.
“We didn’t have sex for like three months,” he said. “But we’d make out, and really, like, get close but never go there. And when we finally did, it was amazing.”
It seems nearly impossible to reconcile the government’s version of Mr. Ulbricht with the warm, compassionate person that others describe. Which leaves at least three possibilities.
One, that the government has, in fact, collared the wrong man.
Two, that Mr. Ulbricht is a sociopath who concealed a dark side from everyone for years.
Three, that Mr. Ulbricht is Dread Pirate Roberts — and that the two are not really that different.
“He later returned to Austin and was a co-founder of Good Wagon Books, which collected used books from around the city and sold them online, donating 10 percent of profits to charities. But the venture failed, and Mr. Ulbricht started what he described to acquaintances as a hedge fund, trading stocks and currencies, including Bitcoin. Friends had the impression that it was not going well, especially after other people started to give him money to invest, which made him overly cautious…
“The 2012 StoryCorps video ends with Rene Pinnell asking where Mr. Ulbricht hopes to be in 20 years.
“Twenty years, uh,” says Mr. Ulbricht, tugging at his facial hair and looking sideways. After a pause, he looks directly at Mr. Pinnell and says, “I want to have had a substantial positive impact on the future of humanity by that time.”
Mr. Pinnell laughs, because that sounds so ambitious that it initially comes across as a joke. But Mr. Ulbricht isn’t laughing.
“Do you think you’re going to live forever?” Mr. Pinnell asks, getting serious.
“I think it’s a possibility,” says Mr. Ulbricht, allowing a grin.Again, his friend chuckles.
“I honestly do,” Mr. Ulbricht says with a smile. “I think I might live forever in some form, by that time. I mean technology is changing so fast.”
Mr. Pinnell does not pose the obvious follow-up — what are you talking about? How exactly do you plan to transition from day trader-with-a-laptop to historical figure? None of Mr. Ulbricht’s friends, it seems, had an answer for that one, perhaps because they didn’t know enough about his interior life.
But the limits of technology are only part of the reason that another Silk Road is unlikely anytime soon. To function, such a site needs a leader who is dedicated to the point of fanaticism, and, more important, has a strange kind of integrity. Dread Pirate Roberts did not take the Bitcoin and run because he was a true believer first and an outlaw second. He was a rare set of contradictions, a humanitarian willing to kill, a criminal with a strict code of ethics. ”
Amusingly enough, David Segal commits the same error he criticizes in Mr. Pinnell: he thinks Ulbricht is talking about historical greatness. That’s totally asinine. Ross Ulbricht was your normal all American boy and he didn’t get the girl, his good intentions were thwarted by a system stacked against small enterprise, and the war on drugs is bullshit so he decided to follow his ideology. And his ideology is Science with some Libertarianism thrown in for good measure. Money.
The mainstream media—playing the conman as always—mocked this aspiration as ‘weird.’ Well, as Paul Valéry said “A confidence always aims at glory, scandal, excuse, propaganda.” And this con is important because a third of the US economy is dependent upon finding new suckers to get married, get houses, get loans, get old, and of course, get fucked. Say no to drugs. Say yes to debt. When guys like Ross Ulbricht get thrown in the trash, that’s not an anomaly, that’s a warning sign that America has no need for Eagle Scout Engineers unless they follow a specific script. And the powers that be don’t understand that for those outside the power structure, science is the only salvation we have left.
So if you can’t be immortal and can’t bang sluts you hate yourself for wanting to bang, then what’s there left to do? In the old days, hedonism was more democratic and possibly political with Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll. But these days, most men get by with Porn, Drugs and Video Games. Why not? What’s the point? When even Ross Ulbricht can’t win, what chance do the rest of us idiots have? Those with a chance at life pray to the technocracy or Rand Paul. Everybody else is a rejectionist.
As the kids like to say, you can’t fail if you don’t try. They probably saw me sweating in my suit and fedora, lugging my briefcase all over San Francisco and decided that wouldn’t be them. Too bad. It builds character. I thought I just needed to show up and try hard and I’d be set. That’s how they hook you. The first one’s free. Just like gambling, but with my life. Why didn’t I double down and just write? Because I wanted respectability? Bullshit. I wanted a family, that’s why. They gave me a sweet condo in downtown San Francisco and I was even able to afford three grand for a bullshit midwife who didn’t do anything but chat a little bit with the doctor at the hospital when the home birth went sour. That was a fortune to me then and is even worth more to me now, despite inflation. That’s how they hook you. I was all about baby health insurance, auto insurance, life insurance—pay as you go assurance that turned out to be as durable as yesterday’s sunrise.
The kids don’t want families. I can’t say I blame them. My ex is a great person, but we parted anyhow. We’re the offspring of divorces. Some of us are the offspring of divorced parents themselves the offspring of divorces. Marriage ends in divorce and everybody cheats because nobody is trustworthy and if you don’t cheat, you’re a born loser anyhow so fuck off and die, right? And then even if you do manage to have a real job and manage to raise the kid to school age, you’ll find out school seems inadequate to the challenges of our times. They’re waiting until the end of high school to teach American kids calculus when they’re competing against a world that wants what we have and is willing to work harder for less to get it? I’d like to think it’s the stupids who make all the problems, but no problem is that simple.
You can’t fail if you don’t try.
Life in a suit is the forever value chase. Become more valuable. Chase valuables. Money money. Chase chase. Whatever whatever. The show must go on. A real job for a real mortgage and a real car and a real vacation and a real retirement and real old age with real insurance and ultimate safety for kids and a happy ending for all. Ha ha. Is it even possible I once believed in this like a religion? When it falls apart, most older people will figure something out: they’re survivors by virtue of their age. They’ll fight for that middle class lifestyle of yore no matter what. Not for these kids. They want sexbots and video game work and singularity derived immortality. That’s the new middle class dream. The old one is trash.
In Machado de Asis’s novel Epitaph For A Small Winner, the narrator, the ghost of an upper class bachelor Braz Cubas also despises the middle class life and its comforts. They are merely the foundation for life’s nothings, idiocies, and sufferings. He considers himself to have won a bit in life because he had no children and thus didn’t pass the curse of life onto the next generation. He’s a sly ghost. Laconic. Ironic. A 19th century Brazillian hipster, who was so into life before you even heard about living and he is so over it now.
The jobs market sucks: is there such a thing as a non-college pathway to an upper middle class lifestyle that doesn’t involve sales? Marriages are ephemeral, even when they work, the world created is fleeting. Housing is a sham, it’s a rip off designed to suck out all your spare cash. Obviously the answer is to commit to nobody, and to live nowhere and everywhere forever. Ross Ulbricht is a martyr for this new religion. A founding saint. Like Moses, he might not make it into the promised land, but he lead others to it to claim for themselves. I pity the fool who thinks living on a vent farm until God or the Singularity strikes is the answer to all that ails him. Even if he got everything he wanted, what is so great about a life one is too afraid to get too attached to? What good is immortality if there is nothing worth living for? For the person who values nothing in life other than himself, nothing at all has very much value and even he has only marginal value. Therefore at best, Ross could only have obtained a small win. Logically, losing his freedom and presumably the chance for immortality, he is a small loser.