On Being a Ghost In A Networked Age

A few tech thoughts on the information industry

Once upon a time I wrote for a living. I was good at it. To write is dangerous but all the fun things are dangerous, aren’t they.

In point of fact I started a little business ghostwriting. Sometimes I’d take cash, sometimes I’d take equity if the client was an investor. Sometimes I’d do it for free, just for fun. I still write books from time to time though seldom under my own name. I am too canceled for that so I don’t do it anymore. I keep my sedition to myself and a tight circle, mostly. Have you heard of my infamous dinner parties? ;-)

My Straussian education — do read Persecution and the Art of Writing — has persuaded me that every time is a time of persecution and that I was somewhat naive in thinking that what Wesley Yang calls the successor ideology would pass or run out of steam. If you’re clever you can get by with a little bit of esotericism and good humor. If you’re not you get canceled. You must try to make your financial and personal life in such a position that you can’t really be canceled, at least not entirely.

I will do my best to tell you the truth in these writings while also protecting those I love. I suspect I will fail at this undertaking but I’m confident that it must be done anyway. I’ve done the best I can planting my own ideas in others’ heads or having them spill out of others’ mouths but I can’t keep doing that forever. Or can I? Hmmm….

It’s interesting to think that a lot of the nonfiction books we admire were, in fact, written by others who remain nameless to us. I think often of all the people who power our cognitive economy without credit having once been among them—all the fact checkers and copy editors, like Bartelby. In any event it’s so much more fun to write for others who can’t write for themselves: all the joy of the bon mot, none of the downside of the book tour.

To be sure the ghostwriter’s life isn’t nearly as glamorous as the Roman Polanski movie, The Ghost Writer but it’s a good way to pass the time and to make sure you continue learning long after your schooling is done. If ever you should find yourself in a position to tell another’s story you should do it. There are so many interesting and weird ways to live. How silly it is that there’s such pressure to conform when we are all so wonderfully, beautifully strange. Or at least the people worth knowing are. “Avoid boring people,” James Watson once said before lesser talents decided he had to be defenestrated. He doesn’t talk as openly as he once did. Alas!

I find ghostwriting equal measures relaxing and taxing but the process gets me out of my head to work out how someone else thinks, to see how they edit you after you edit them, how you sharpen each other’s thinking. To think as another thinks builds empathy. Think of the people you know best. Close your eyes and summon them in your mind. You can chat with them without having to actually talk to them if you do this well! The simulacrum isn’t as good as the real thing but it’s close, a little too close, especially with good training. There is no imagination police… yet.

I love reading books I’m not allowed to read or the books that haven't as yet been published before the editors or PR agents have had their crack at them, or the author has wised up. What is left in is almost as interesting as that which is left out.

For example Obama biographer David Garrow told me once that Barack Obama requested two things removed from his book about Obama: that Obama was ambivalent about his sexuality and the material concerning the sex life of Frank Marshall Davis, the man who a number of people believe is the real father of Barack Obama.

If Davis is, in fact, Obama’s real father that would logically mean that Donald Trump was correct about the birth certificate being fake. Could it be that the Obama story was fraudulent from way back when?

It would also explain why my friend, Malik Obama, hates Obama and why so much of what has been said over the years concerning Obama’s past is fake as even sympathetic biographers of Obama now acknowledge. The final word has not been said on the Barack Obama story but we will save that for another time. Should Donald Trump be re-elected I will reveal a lot of what I know but I worry about my personal safety and the timing isn’t there yet. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Not yet, anyway.

[Insert photo of Charles and Malik Obama].

Information is about edge. You can find the edge by going to the edge and exploring. You will learn a lot about yourself in the process. It’s lonely out here on the frontier but there are those of us who wouldn’t have it any other way. “As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts,” wrote Melville. If I were a normal man I would likely be a happier one but happy men do not go on adventures. Driven men do.

It takes drive to go to the edge and go anywhere to find what’s true. Sometimes the edge is a document or photo, tucked away in a library, unnetworked from the world. Remember Ralph Northam in black face? Or the revelations that Morris Dees of the criminal organization known as the Southern Poverty Law Center was allegedly diddling his daughter? One man is still governor while the other is out of the organization he created. Timing is, well, everything.

Other times power is in amassing and organizing a massive database, like Clearview or Palantir, Ancestry or 23andMe, Google and Facebook. You get so much information in those databases that you have to use technology to organize it all, hence information technology. Now we’d like to think that those government databases serve a compelling public interest rather than just naked corporate greed but most are simply in the business of getting you to inform on yourself and then putting ads around it to cynically get you to buy things you don’t really need.

This is, I think, why Americans are having a hard time with both Facebook and Google, neither one of which seems all that interested in helping America become a better place. In some sense this is just silly cosmopolitanism or an out growth of the campus Marxist who, pre-coronavirus, had the largesse of liberal arts endowments subsidizing his lifestyle and clouding his thinking.

But I think there’s a darker reason the next wave of tech companies aren’t in Silicon Valley — Anduril in Orange County, Palantir moving to Denver, Clearview in New York — and it’s that these companies find it safer to be out of the Bay Area. I know we will someday learn the extent to which Silicon Valley and its major companies have been penetrated by hostile foreign intelligence and sources of capital which I can confidently tell you has swayed the sources of investments our captains of industry make.

The powerful hoard information and keep it for themselves. In politics they call it national security or state secrets. In business, trade secrets. They don’t participate in the sharing economy, or its more honest, snitching economy. No! They keep the information and therefore the power to themselves. Information is power. And what with all that power, as the Flaming Lips once asked, what will you do?

The question for another time is what’s to be done with this power and who this power is ultimately to serve. My view is that it’s meant to serve the public. This is a quaint notion, I know, but it’s what I really think. Somebody has got to be looking out for the folks. Might as well be me and mine.

To my readers: Thank you for the kind words. I regret that I cannot answer them all but I do read them all. My apologies for the typos.