Since the publishing of Tactical Social Media, I haven’t been able to shake that atmosphere of thought. Perhaps part of me knew that I hadn’t pieced together all the parts of the mystery in a way that struck definitively towards the heart of the matter. There was a good dichotomy set for which we could drop the media we encountered into neat little buckets; but sorting all the skittles out by their color didn’t lead anyone closer to the understanding the taste of the rainbow.
I think that article was able to tell us that Col. Mustard used the Pipe Wrench in the Observatory, but what any case needs to make a murder charge stick is motive.
I dug deeper into that train of thought on why we respond to the sorts of things on social media in the manner we do. And furthermore, why we crave such curated news feeds, or find ourselves searching for ever-more esoteric niches. Now, I’m no sociologist. I’m just another guy writing stuff on the internet. I’m a dime-a-dozen, so forgive me my armchair psychology as I take another stab at this phenomena in less objective terms than I had in the past.
This path began in researching our biological need for belonging to groups; and furthermore how our modern ideas of identity evolved from that. I was venturing into graduate level reading that was, admittedly, above my head in most of cases. I decided to backburner most of that because I just didn’t want to believe that the pursuit of echo-chambers and glitzy, unrealistic media was such a basic, childish yearning for some simplistic and comfortable worldview. Tactical Social Media called out even those I’m good friends with, and to an extent myself. My friends aren’t dumb people, and they’re certainly not afraid of things being a bit uncomfortable ideologically.
They’re principled, idealistic, and complicated folks in their political and social motivations. Most people reading here are, too. Something so basic as a spoonful of confirmation bias with their medicine every night just seemed wrong. Then a lightbulb hits. I had actually already known of a place where a community of varied and idea-focused people came together to close the blinds on the outside world. They did this because what they created in their own house was more useful truth. Better yet, there was already a name for this.
What is Kayfabe?
Kayfabe comes from the wonderful world of professional wrestling. And I ain’t talking about the Olympics.
The Rock, the Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Rick Flair, Vince McMahon, et cetera, et cetera. Giants in the world of entertainment and turning the concept of “you can’t be hypnotized unless you want to” into a global affair. The term is defined as the “portrayal of staged events within the industry as ”real” or ”true.” Of course, we know that it’s all a big-show of spandex and steroids.
I’m not a wrestling guy, but I have read Camus, so let me wax poetic about the benefits of “buying-in.” It’s inescapable that the matches are choreographed, the drama is professionally written, and the entire season has been decided before the first event. No shit. Duh. That’s not the point, though, is it?
People find the stories compelling. They like that there are good guys and bad guys, and that the good guys have to fight to beat the bad guys. And that sometimes, just when all hope seems like it’s lost, the good guy gets help from an unsuspecting ally to help them finally overcome their greatest rival. The people that deserve to win, do. The ups and downs are stratospheric or absolutely rock bottom. The betrayals are earth-shattering. Deus-ex Machina is a feature of your every experience. The story is fun. Remember fun? Truly?
Have you ever witnessed a WWE fan being told that wrestling isn’t real? It’s an event that happens on several levels of deep consideration. Because, of course, they know. But they don’t know how to tell you that they know, because they know that you just. don’t. get. it.
Buying into the narrative is a prerequisite to participate in the culture. I once had a roommate who was deep into wrestling. He’d talk about the narrative and the meta at the very same time in a linguistic balance that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. Imagine a President could sell you their platform and talk about their donors at the same time in such a way that you’d actually be okay with it. That is what wrestling fans accomplish on fucking Reddit. Pro wrestling needs to be studied.
The whole point is that the utility that comes from accepting the image, regardless of how utterly ridiculous it is, provides something of value higher than the value of objective truth – at least, to whomever is consuming it. When the provider and the consumer get together to revel in it together, that’s a transaction. When that transaction becomes a community? That’s kayfabe.
Rick Ross is a rapper and he is filthy rich.
He raps about his lucrative, extravagant adventures in the drug trade. He’s the kingpin of whatever medicine cures your ails, and he’ll deliver it in whichever Italian supercar tickles your fancy. Except, of course, he was never a drug dealer…
…in fact, in 2008 it headlined that he was a corrections officer. He didn’t even have a possession charge. He was, ironically, enforcing the law for those who had too many possession charges. How did his fans repay him? In his 2009 album he discussed that job and sold 439,000 copies. Addressing that seems like bad press, right? Well, the rest of the album was about cocaine-slangin’ and his 2010 release was rewarded by selling over 700,000 copies as of 2012. It may be platinum by the time this article is published.
His fans just don’t care that he wasn’t actually the Scarface he says he is. They care about the music, what it does for them in the moment they want to hear it, and the character that Rick has made which allows them to think that they’re listening to the King of Snow Mountain in Miami. He’s got blow, cars, and ass. And, of course, sex sells. His kingpin persona is a more useful truth to his listeners.
Attention is a currency. Here’s a challenge, pause here and open up Instagram. What is the currency of your attention buying?
This isn’t a moral grandstand. I’m an idiot, too. My feed is full of $500 bushcraft axes, as if I needed to make a luxury car payment in order to have a campfire. I see pictures of expensive backpacks, as if those were a requirement to cook my eggs and bacon in a $20 cast iron pan. If my life was tanned leather, waxed canvas, and Scandinavian steel, would I enjoy the outdoors more? If I said no, you’d know I was a liar. That’s stuff I know is unnecessary, but I’ve bought in. It makes me happy, I like the story and history even if it is mostly marketing. When I meet others who will echo back the same mantra, I’ll have found my kayfabe.
The Broken Clock
“A broken clock is still correct twice a day.”
I’ve kept this phrase in my repertoire but it’s one I’m hesitant to pull out of the bag. Gell-Mann Amnesia is certainly something I try to keep forefront in my mind when considering sources. What I think the saying does do, however, is illustrate the forgiveness we extend ourselves when we encounter a clown but want to call him a philosopher.
Cue my favorite internet expert on amphibian sexuality, Alex Jones. He has gone on four-hour tirades on Joe Rogan about “human-animal chimeras,” warned his listeners of secret meetings among the political elite to worship a giant Owl God, and has tried to convince the world of (and this is my favorite) “literal potbelly vampire goblins.”
You know it’s ridiculous. Even in his own custody case, Alex’s counsel argued that he was a ‘performer.’ The man sells his own brand of feel-good placebo medicine between hours-long rants about the existence of interdimensional demons. However, I have witnessed on more than a few occasions with friends, that upon hearing Alex say something disparaging about Hilary Clinton, a friend would say “He’s right, you know…”
At the intersection “platform” and “crazy” you’ll find a lounge where the cognizant rub elbows with the deranged. This is a space where, just like other kayfabe, the utility provided by the narrative is of a higher value than the truth. Thus, you dispel the baggage that comes with being a madman to hyperfocus on the one or two bits that support your world view; and all parties agree to consider those views suddenly “legitimate.”
Alex is a man who, after putting his hand on a bible in a courtroom, told the Judge and his God that what he says into a microphone for a living is for pure entertainment. It’s not real politics, he’s not a truth-speaker. He admitted that to the world. Just like the world knows wrestling is fake and that Rick Ross isn’t a drug dealer. But it doesn’t matter, does it?
His listeners have become very well adapted to chew the meat and spit out the fat. There are those who will say that he specifically engages in the crazy stuff to gain an audience for his “real message,” which is “exposing Washington,” or whatever. And before you say that his listeners are all ironic or themselves crazy, consider that InfoWars has over 1 million hits a day and that 58% of his listeners are millennials. The WWE drew between 1-1.8 million viewers in it’s September 2021 events. Mostly millennials there as well. Fun coincidence, eh?
Get any Alex Jones listener one-on-one and ask them, “you know Alex Jones is fake, right?” I’ll bet you’ll mostly find that they agree, “except though, you know he’s got this one thing that he’s got some really good points on…”
Kayfabe in Our Backyard
We’ve been kicking around the idea of what ISG classes or events would look like for a couple months now. It’s been difficult to find our value-proposition as to what we’d offer that people would feel is worth their money and time, and likewise that we would be proud to call ours. Those things are important to us. Anyone who contributes here has taken many classes and taught before. We can be paralyzed with self criticism at times. If we send people home from having parted with part of their paycheck to gain an experience we were offering and they didn’t leave happy, we’d never live it down.
Could we do a rifle course? Definitely. We’ve got folks that teach that stuff for a living. But could we do it with the same level of facilities? Probably not. Likewise, as qualified as any instructor in our group is, folks will always find value in the bullet point of “prior SF” in just about any other course of similar price in the area. Your first tennis lesson certainly doesn’t require the expertise of Roger Federer, but shooters the nation-wide are convinced that they need their baby-steps overseen by someone who has been to Multicam Wimbledon.
Why? I used to think that folks just liked niche celebrities, and that selfie with the guy they see on YouTube was worth the extra travel and course cost to them. But perhaps there’s something deeper. Maybe there’s a useful narrative in there that is more valuable than the truth. I’ll demonstrate my current thinking on this via a question: If a green beret taught you to hold a rifle, does that mean you now hold a rifle like a green beret?
It may very well be the case that what that prior snake eater taught you was a technique he picked up from a 3-gun shooter at a match. That 3-gun shooter may have been an accountant. But hey, it works well and it got incorporated into the green beret’s technique. As a result, you may have had a green beret telephone-game you a technique he got from an accountant. Is that bad? Hell no. That’s someone who knows how to use a rifle refining their craft and utilizing any-and-all sources they can. That’s awesome.
But what’s a more useful truth when selling the course? That you’re getting instruction from someone who is pooling together experiences from shooting disciplines across the military, hunting, and competition? Or that it’s a course from an OPERATOR? Considering the copycat crowd of office workers in Crye pants that dominates our social media spaces. What value do you think they’re more willing to throw their money at?
Don’t forget, sex sells. In a course on Urban Sustainment you can have absolutely zero mention of what to do with your waste when the sewers and garbage trucks stop running. Instead, you’ll spend multiple days practicing for gunfights in warehouses. Did the people living in Chechnya stop cooking over open flames and start sleeping in their load bearing equipment every night? Of course not. Bosnians didn’t suddenly start getting into weekly raids as a matter of trying to find canned food with a squad of their well armed friends. How many people in Damascus today will tell you about how they spent the last decade slicing the pie and utilizing their Jiu Jitsu?
We could run a course on creating group latrines in the field. We could run a course on how to create a short term landfill for a group commune. We could run a course on gray water management. But we wouldn’t see a dime. The truth just isn’t fun. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite. And maybe worse, it’s not profitable. We’ve got plenty of guys on the team who’ve worked hurricanes that wrecked infrastructure for a month or more. Likewise we’ve got guys on the team who’ve worked contracts in unsavory places where people dump their dishwater in the streets to this day. Most of the stories we swap among each other are so far from the realm of direct-action team CQB tactics it may be another planet entirely. But that’s not what the public wants.
Kayfabe requires the echo of reassurance. And the “are you bought in, too?” sonar has pinged back so hard and often that teachers can’t get you to sign up for a sustainment course without the promise that you’ll expend a couple hundred rounds of your rifle ammunition. Will surviving in a city under duress require you and your friends to all don plate carriers and raid a building? The chances of that are infinitely small; but even those near-impossible odds have become the focus of so much attention that the signal has been amplified to become the entire point.
We tell ourselves small half-truths to justify this, too. We take courses on clearing structures in 8 man teams in which the instructor will download you with all the LEO/Military skills you’re willing to pay for under the guise of, “I believe everyone should be a prepared citizen.” Prepared for what, exactly? Should I inform my employer that at any moment I may get a call that there’s a Blackhawk waiting to take me to some assault? Of course not, but we all want to wear the slick gear we saw on the cover of Recoil and sweep rooms together. And these classes allow us a more useful truth to justify our want to do so.
“Train how you fight,” you’ll hear from someone teaching you about solo room clearing. As if I sleep in my carrier, helmet, ear pro, and NODs. I’m unsure what your situation is, but if I ‘trained like I fought’ I’d be at a tactical course asking for a mock-staircase to descend while barefoot in my boxer-briefs. But we still show up in full kit and practice in plywood office buildings and we all agree that this is “what it’s all about!” We’re all still bought in together, right?
Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game
It’d be easy to assume I hate social media gun and tactics personalities. Surprisingly, I don’t. Because I don’t think they’re to blame for this. We are.
Ex-CIA guys teaching you solo room clearing knows you’ll never use it. I suspect that if they had their way, they may never teach it again. However, they’ve got a living to make and they spent a couple decades in a sector that left with skills that aren’t marketable to the civilian world outside of a gun range. They have to get boots on their tiles somehow. They’ve got a car loan and a mortgage. Just like Hulk Hogan, if he wants that paycheck he’s not allowed to break character.
This is because we are a consumer base that knows what we want but not what we need; and good luck selling people what they need. Survey a hundred Glock owners on whether they’d like to receive a free course in long term storage of food and water or a free course in advanced pistol marksmanship. I think you get my point.
We are not short on smart people with the knowledge and experience to teach us how to rebuild a broken society. That’s the entire Green Beret mission, after all. But the guys that could teach you how to set up a reliable radio network with janky equipment will never get the chance, because our community just cannot stop tugging on their shirt sleeves to settle arguments over whether high-ready or low-ready is better in a stack.
Plenty of kids sat in the back seat with their younger sibling and cooked up every reason in the world why their parents needed to go to McDonalds for dinner. Imagine if those kids never got shown how to cook because they never asked. Now they’re 16 and have a driver’s license. If that kid is your friend, I hope you like fast food.
Did a crew that taught an “urban sustainment” course in which half the class was Tom Clancy’s Urban Exploration do their students a disservice? No, I don’t think so. I think those students saw the course description before they bought a seat and were entirely satisfied that they had a safe space to walk around with their rifle and chest rigs just like they absolutely wanted to do.
Let’s say I had a fishing stand by a swift river and folks kept buying my bobbers, I’m not about to try and tell them what they need is a fly fishing setup. Fly fishing is hard, and they’re happy with their purchase. If they ask me questions about which bobbers work best in which water speeds, I’ll give them honest answers. We can talk about the surface water tension characteristics of different plastics until the sun sets. They’re the customer, and the customer is always right, right?
A Return to Sincerity
T.S. Eliot said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
For every selfie someone took in Afghanistan on their way to a remote base, there are hundredfold more of some guy wearing the same gear in their living room. How do you believe they would like to be viewed as they pose by the couch? Are they being a good poet? Are they sharing it among a society of bad ones?
In our current political context, how ironic is it that “taking the red pill” itself is a participation in a group, a simulacra in its own way? The most popular film we have that illustrates heroes breaking out of a network of constructed narratives has itself become an icon that makes no attempt to represent any tangible entity.
In the history of war, despite all the cannons, nukes, and guns – disease is still the biggest killer of man. And yet when we discuss protecting our homesteads, we look to articles on RECCE rifles. Considering our horizons and what is, in all likelihood, the start of the great American Fourth Turning — it’s time to cut the shit.