Fnords of the Times

Owning Tesla luxurious liberal status symbol wealth. Different persona Elon Musk 34 million followers red pill Ivanka Trump President Trump. The Matrix online forums Musk Trump. Tesla Musk liability Resistance Handbook Fight Trump Tesla SpaceX.

Red pill the right Reddit 4Chan. Gender feminism scam weak. Misogynistic racist incels MGTOWs conferences. Republican Brietbart skeptical of experts hypocrisy liberalism.

Musk celebrity fans memes Reddit. Skeptic coronavirus panic deaths anti-lockdown virus authorities. X Æ A-12 visionary complain Silicon Valley James Damore engineer biological differences Red Pill tech mainstream media.

Tesla COVID-19 future survivors idiot. Words are weapons Trump Elon Musk fan club politics CEO.

This is from today’s New York Times article on Elon Musk with the fnords removed, the “filler words and transitions between ideas and thin veneer of argument”. You are not meant to read those anyway, they’re just there to hypnotically transition you between the affect-laden words I left in my summary.

My summary is exactly 100 words long; the article itself is 1,500. Go ahead and read it. See if there’s a single bit of information in it that you couldn’t predict from my summary above. A single sentence that surprised you.

Please note also that this is not an op-ed, it’s in the news section. The author “covers tech and internet culture from San Francisco” — ostensibly a reporter, live on location. But there is no reporting in the article, only emotional affect. The goal is to make you feel, on a level below knowledge, that you should dislike Musk, Republicans, Tesla owners, online culture, and Silicon Valley.

To sum up: the “tech and internet culture reporter” for the New York times is not reporting on tech and internet culture, but trying to hypnotize you into hating tech and internet culture.

This article is posted once per week each on the New York Times, on Recode, on Wired, etc. Not “an article in this vein” but basically the same exact article with the same list of triggering words. What do incels have to do with Musk or Trump? Nothing, except that you need to be reminded weekly to hate all three. If you only hate one of them, the association will be hammered into your mind until you can’t tell them apart.

But really, no one even reads the article — all the fnords are exhausting and make the reader uncomfortable. Here’s the Times’ summary of the article in a tweet:

nytimes musk

That’s it, just one clean sentence that starts with “Tesla” and ends with “racist”. Perfection.

There are also other words in that sentence, words like “connotations”, “reference” and “discussed”. These words actually give away the game, they’re literally an admission that the author isn’t reporting on any particular racism exhibited by Musk or Tesla but is merely tying them together with a ribbon of semantics and association. But it’s OK, no one reads those words anyway, not in a sentence that has Musk and misogyny and scare quotes in it.

The year is 2036. President Ivanka Trump congratulates Elon Musk on landing the first human mission on Mars. The New York Times reports:

SpaceX trillionaire hypocrisy wealth.

Trump Musk Trump Musk Trump Musk COVID-34.

Misogynist racist Silicon Valley speciesist antimortist.

Please consider supporting our reporters with a donation of a few millisatoshis in this unprecedented time.

I wish there was some convenient metaphor for suddenly seeing through this naked narrative manipulation, like a thing that opens your eyes to a larger truth or something. Maybe there was a movie with a similar idea? Gosh, I can’t remember now.

25 thoughts on “Fnords of the Times

  1. I think you’re attributing too much malice to the NYT here. If Elon Musk is going to tweet things that seem like endorsements of a particular ideology, it’s fair game to report on that. My guess is that many NYT readers don’t know what the red pill signifies, and the article is attempting to explain. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the red pill folks tend to support things that would be considered misogynistic, at least to the median NYT reader. If Tesla drivers tend to be on the left, it’s reasonable to think that they might not be thrilled with Musk vocally supporting the red pill ideology.

    The NYT certainly has a viewpoint, but I’m not sure what part of this strikes you as not being newsworthy. If the CEO of some company that made a right wing coded product tweeted out “Workers of world, unite!”, I would expect reporting on that as well.


    1. Tesla drivers tend to be on the left, it’s reasonable to think that they might not be thrilled with Musk vocally supporting the red pill ideology.

      Fascinating premise. On the face of it, it seems strange that someone would care about a CEO’s politics when buying a car. How many Ford buyers think about Henry Ford’s raging fascist anti-Semitism, and not mundane things like price and fuel efficiency and comfort? And yet, not only does it seem unremarkable to you that a Tesla buyer should care about Musk’s politics, but it’s also unremarkable that no other car company CEO’s politics are ever mentioned or discussed.

      Elon Musk is in the car business. The Times are in the narrative business — they’re the ones telling you that you should care about a CEOs tweets and politics, and they tell you exactly how to feel about them. But they pretend to be in the news and reporting business. That’s what I’m calling them out on.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What other car manufacturer’s CEO is vocal in the slightest sense? If a company’s CEO was caught in blackface, there would be a strong chance people would try to distance themselves.

        When did “vote with your dollar” disappear? That seems to be what you’re implying. It’s the only voting in America that seems to have any value anymore.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “On the face of it, it seems strange that someone would care about a CEO’s politics when buying a car….it’s also unremarkable that no other car company CEO’s politics are ever mentioned or discussed.”

        Are there other car company CEOs that are similar to Musk? He has one of the most followed Twitter accounts in the world, and he frequently behaves in ways that seem atypical for a CEO of a major corporation. If you can find evidence of another car company CEO that is comparable to Musk, I’m happy to reevaluate my position.

        “How many Ford buyers think about Henry Ford’s raging fascist anti-Semitism, and not mundane things like price and fuel efficiency and comfort?”

        Henry Ford has been dead for seventy years. If the current CEO of Ford somehow gained a huge social media following and started acting like Musk, I absolutely think that many people would care.

        “Elon Musk is in the car business. The Times are in the narrative business — they’re the ones telling you that you should care about a CEOs tweets and politics, and they tell you exactly how to feel about them.”

        I don’t think you can say that anyone with 30 million Twitter followers is just in the car business. At some point, Musk is as much a public personality as he is a CEO, and he seems happy to play into that perception. People already care about Musk’s tweets, as evidenced by the fact that so many have actively signed up to see them. He’s tweeting out endorsements of controversial ideologies to 30 million people; it’s not like they’re digging up some obscure internal memo and broadcasting it to the world.

        If your point is that the NYT has a decided political slant, I am happy to agree. I also agree that the framing of the story as being about liberal Tesla owners is a bit weird, but that only makes up 3 of the 13 sentences in your fnordless summary, and their claims seem generally reasonable, if somewhat vacuous. However, the actual content is mostly an explanation of a controversial tweet by Musk, which seems like a perfectly fine thing to report on. I think their description of the red pill seems broadly accurate, but I’m open to a correction if you are more knowledgeable in that area. As far as I can tell, this is just another mildly biased but generally reasonable news story, just like the ones that every media outlet produces all the time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This is not about the NY Times being liberal (that’s beside the point, and conservative media does the same thing). And it’s not about them lying (in a strict sense, they usually aren’t).

          It’s about Musk tweeting “take the red pill” and the Times publishing a story that goes “Tesla used to be a liberal symbol … [1,000 words of associations and connotations] … misogynist and racist forums” in the “tech news” section. If this is the technology news that you’re interested in reading to stay on top of what’s new in technology then congratulations, you found your paper.

          But consider unsubscribing anyway — I’m sure you can write these articles as easily as they can. There’s nothing about news or technology you need to know to do so.


          1. I don’t think this article was written for me; it was written for people who might interested in Elon Musk but don’t already know what the red pill is. For someone in that demographic, the article is providing useful information, at least to the extent that any kind of minor news article provides useful information. Whether or not it should be in the technology section is a fair question; I don’t have a good sense of whether non-tech stories about prominent tech-related people are usually included there.

            If you think this is just a mediocre article that shouldn’t be in the tech section, I don’t think we have much disagreement. Based on your post, it seemed like you thought the article was reporting disingenuously on Musk, or reporting on something that was not fair game for a news article, and that’s where I’m not convinced.


    2. “I think you’re attributing too much malice to the NYT here.”

      I’m not sure this is possible. (And yes, that’s mildly tongue-in-cheek.)


  2. Love the post! I think you are picking a very legitimate bone with the coverage. I agree with the other commenters that Musk coming out and endorsing alt-right or whatever ideology is associated with the red pill would be a story, as would any other CEO that did the same thing. But Musk said 4 words! Maybe he had just watched the Matrix, maybe (my guess) he was talking about seeing through the narrative on covid since most of his activity lately has been about the topic, and he is at odds with CA government. The story never considers this and instead focuses on reminding its readers that things associated with the “red pill” metaphor are doubleplusbad, and therefore some of that negative affect should be moved onto Elon. It even interviews random people with no knowledge of Tesla about their new impression of Musk after this negative affect has been incorporated. No mention of whether events at Tesla could explain this tweet, or how this might change Tesla’s future outlook. Just “Tesla owners, this offends you and makes you question Elon! Right? Right?”

    As you said, conservative media does the same thing. It is just a shame that news has reached this point, connecting feelings together without any analysis. To me that seemed like the point you were trying to make, and it resonated.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. First, this story is hilarious. Elon is mostly just shitposting. That said, it IS news, not that NYT caught the good bits.

    This is a prescient tactical move to increase demographic appeal of Elon’s businesses. Elon has used narratives to power his businesses in a phenomenal way. If he hadn’t tapped into narrative fuel, Telsa would be bankrupt for sure by now; Tesla stays afloat because everyone believes so hard they will eat the worthless balance sheets and cashflows(I haven’t actually looked at these in a while, but they were a disaster when I last checked several years ago). Elon is subtly tapping a new market for his products via the shitposting. He has the environmentally conscious. He has the space nerds. Now he’s going after the based bloc. This matters, because some people in the demographic were actively avoiding Tesla vechicles because they are associated with outgroup shibboleths. This subtle narrative cue allows certain demographics to buy Tesla vehicles while saving face that they are doing it for his redpilled outlook, not his environmental stewardship. It’s so subtle it won’t even register as counting against the other narratives he uses to move product. But someone at NYT noticed, and is upset that Elon is cheating with a narrative mistress. But really, he played them. This hot-air piece is exactly what Elon needs to have it both ways. The NYT says he supports RED TEAM, so reds can buy CYBERTRUCK. But BLUE TEAM still points to his actions and other words so blues can buy a S3XY car.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to say, I really wondered who the target market for the Cybertruck was supposed to be. A pickup truck that looks like something out of Blade Runner? I mean, there’s probably some GenX computer programmer in Alabama who’s really psyched (people who don’t fit stereotypes genuinely exist!), but the pickup market’s generally way too practical to blow what is it, 70K on an unreliable vehicle?


  4. That isn’t a version with the fnords removed, it’s a version with everything except the fnords removed. (The fnords are the words whose purpose is to make you feel a particular way without noticing what’s being done.)

    I agree with all the other people who said you’re being unfair to the NYT here. If Musk says “take the red pill” without further explanation, it quite likely is a deliberate invocation of the mens’-rights-alt-right circle of ideas. I think Musk is too much Aware Of All Internet Traditions to be unaware of that usage of “red pill”, and too smart to be aware of it but not realise that his words would be interpreted that way. So he meant them to be interpreted that way. Maybe sincerely, more likely trollingly; but one cost of trolling is, and should be, that some people will take you at face value and think worse of you as a result.

    I also think the “remove everything but the fnords” trick is generally unfair, in that you can do it to anything written by someone who has opinions about the merits of what they’re writing about and isn’t hiding them. For instance, we could do it to this very article, getting something that might begin like this:

    New York Times thin veneer not meant to read hypnotically affect-laden. a single bit of information you couldn’t predict. no reporting. make you feel. below knowledge. trying to hyponotize you into hating. once per week same exact article triggering words. admission that the author isn’t reporting.

    What’s that you say? The stuff I missed out wasn’t just filler and included some things one might not be able to predict from reading the fnords? The same’s true of the NYT article. To take the most glaring example, the actual news in the article is that Elon Musk put out a tweet that just said “Take the red pill.” and the rest of the article is mostly providing context to explain what significance the reporter thinks that has; your just-the-fnords-ma’am condensation doesn’t mention that. Since most of the rest of the article is providing context, readers (like e.g. most people reading this blog) who already know that context won’t be surprised by much of it; but that’s not because the article is just fnords plus filler, and we’d have been just as unsurprised reading the article without having read your fnordification.


    1. How do the words “affect”, “reporting”, “knowledge”, “predict”, “week”, “article” make you feel? Well, that depends on the context, plus all of them have something to do with the topic of the post.

      Now how are the words “Trump”, “incel”, “Damore”, “Breitbart”, “MGTOW”, “4Chan”, “feminism” supposed to make you feel? And what exactly do any of them have to do with Tesla owners?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Those words on their own don’t do much. The phrases “affect-laden”, “no reporting” (applied to a newspaper article), “below knowledge”, etc., do have an emotional effect.

        Again, you seem to be applying a different standard to these two cases. Plenty of the fnords in the NYT article don’t do anything in particular to my feelings in isolation: liberal, forums, The Matrix, Resistance, conferences, experts. (Actually, several of those have a bit of positive affect for me, and probably for most NYT readers.)

        What do they have to do with Tesla owners? Not much, but “Tesla owners” aren’t the topic of the NYT article so why should they have? The topic of the NYT article is Musk’s alleged plunge into the arms of Weird Modern Internet Right-Wing Lunacy, and they are absolutely related to that topic. E.g., the first instance of “Trump” is there as part of “Ivanka Trump”, and she is in the article because she responded approvingly to the tweet that is the main bit of news in the article and not mentioned in your just-the-fnords version. Why is it news that Ivanka Trump did that? Because Ivanka Trump is a princess and princesses are news. (Which may or may not be reasonable, but it has nothing to do with the NYT hating Musk or Trump or anyone else.)


        1. I should maybe clarify that “Weird Modern Internet Right-Wing Lunacy” is also “alleged”. That is, I am neither endorsing nor rejecting any part of that characterization of the set of ideas Musk is alleged to be maybe kinda sorta embracing, merely describing what I think the NYT expects its readers to think of them.


          1. I think characterizing “Rich celebrity tweets something politically incorrect,” as tech news is the issue. “Musk/Tesla develops X battery improvements” is tech news. “Musk/Tesla responds to supply chain disruptions by Y,” is business news. “Musk tweets Z, which resembles the beliefs of the following negatively-viewed communities” ought to be filed under culture war churn instead. “Musk tweets Z, thus we ought to adopt view A and consumption behavior B” is opinion. Calling any but the second example tech news is misleading in my view unless my definitions are too narrow.

            My expectations of “tech news” vs. “culture war churn” are very different with respect to information and emotional affect. I think disputing the catagorization concedes the news-worthiness that you maintain while not letting the NYT off the hook.


  5. Jacob,

    Thank you very much for your perspective and articles. I don’t read a lot on the internet but I visit your site, and I feel less lonely knowing that you are seeing “through the veil” like I feel I am when seeing things like this NYT article.

    I’m too tired to give the article it’s proper rationalist breakdown/reply and I’m also just not experienced enough of a rationalist to be able to do that properly. Still, thank you.

    “Fear is the mind-killer”


  6. For me the Red Pill does not call to mind sexual politics. Especially since the advent of locked-down masked culture, I’ve gotten obsessively into NWO (new world order) alarmist culture online. The NWO conversations online will often refer to Red Pills vs everybody else. I have no idea the sexual orientation of the participants (incels? whatever). I think the common thread of NWO alarmists is that they identify as tin-foil-hat wearers. So this association of red-pill <=> incel seems bizarre, in this blog post as well as the original “news” piece.


  7. New York Times fnords hypnotically affect-laden. No reporting emotional affect make you feel. Culture reporter New York Times trying to hypnotize you hating. Same exact article triggering words hate hammered into your mind. Exhausting uncomfortable. Ribbon of semantics scare quotes. Naked narrative manipulation.

    Sorry, I had to :-)


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