animated gif of letters 'MC'
24 Apr 2019

beefy_cabbage and Assassination Politics

Back in January 2019, Reddit user beefy_cabbage posted this image on Reddit's /r/me_irl subreddit.

beefy_cabbage.jpg

It was a prediction that the Queen of England would die on January 5th, 2019. Then a lot more Reddit users posted memes about the Queen's death or about how beefy_cabbage would probably be arrested. A lot of commenters argued that the meme implied a threat, while others claimed that it was obviously just a joke. Still others claimed that predictions couldn't possibly be a threat, and that's simply not true. Acutally what beefy_cabbage created could definitely imply a threat: a maket for the assassination of the Queen of England.

Crypto anarchist Jim Bell has an essay about assassination markets entitled Assassination Politics. In the essay he outlines a system by which the political landscape can be controlled via political assassination. Using an anonymous currency system and cryptograpy, an organization can "bet" on when a political figure will die. Whoever "guesses" the correct date gets the money. If there is a significant amount of money for a certain political figure on a certain date, then that may motivate an assassin to take action against that figure. The assassin kills the political figure on the correct date and collects the money.

Death markets take more forms than Bell's version. His idea was informed by "dead pools," where people bet on when someone such as a celebrity will die. These dead pools function more like regular betting pools. Bets are made and if you guess the correct date the celebrity dies, you collect the money. They have existed online in various places for a long time. According to the Wikipedia entry on dead pools, Rotten.com (a now-defunct, rather grody website known for its alarming content, but which also had an amazing section of essays on pop culture, politics, and history called the Rotten Library) operated the largest celebrity dead pool in the world. Macabre websites run these dead pools as just a bit of dark "fun." It isn't implied that any entity will act on any of the bets. You would assume that you would need a system like Bell's to make the leap from simple betting to assassination.

Maybe not if there is a motivating factor beyond money. What if there was an assassination market that didn't need money at all? An assassination market that didn't even need the crytography or the anonymity necessary to power Jim Bell's proposed system? I think an assassination market based on accrued fame could function the same way. Replace actual money with likes, subscribes, karma, or whatever social media currency we are interested in. A lack of anonymity would be preferred to truly collect your fame, and so could be implemented as easily as the simple dead pools that we've seen. Someone posts a meme predicting someone else's death. Another entity kills that person on the correct date and gains all the likes or karma or whatever.

It isn't a new observation that people will do just about anything for likes. Even though people don't do just about anything for likes, and those kind of observations are usually made by disaffected cranks that just want to deflate everyone's fun (not me of course…). The difference in this incident was how closely it resembled assassination politics, which is pretty funny. Beefy_cabbage's meme was a joke, and I think that is pretty obvious in its current cultural context, and because the Queen is still alive. But it is close enough to some sort of system for a new kind of assassination market, that I think we should take care. Once we meme ourselves into dystopia, I'm not sure it will be as funny. Or maybe it would be even funnier. I can't tell anymore.

Tags: thought