Pics or It Didn’t Happen


Lots of good comments on this week’s ET Brief, “Burn. It. Down.“, and it reinforces my belief that the Epsilon Theory commentariat is the best thing happening on the internet today. Seriously.

Here’s the core question on the site:

What does it take to burn down the system that protects oligarchs like Jeffrey Epstein and the two guys pictured above?

I was thinking about that question when I heard the Kareem Hunt news on my sports radio station yesterday afternoon. For ET readers not immersed in all things football-related, Kareem Hunt is the star running back for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, an offensive juggernaut of a team picked by many as the favorite to win the Super Bowl this year. This past summer, the team announced that Hunt had been involved in a hotel “altercation” back in February, but that both “law enforcement” and the NFL had “investigated” the incident, that no charges had been filed, and that Hunt had “learned a valuable lesson”. All good!

But yesterday, TMZ released a hotel security video they had obtained, showing Hunt knocking down and then kicking a woman. And when I say kicking … it’s not a tap. It’s a brutal attack. Later that afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs said that the video showed that Hunt “had not been truthful” with the team in his description of the “incident”, and that the team was firing him immediately. No good!

For TMZ or NFL fans, all of this was a carbon copy of the Ray Rice “incident” from 2014, where an initial NFL investigation gave the Baltimore Ravens running back a slap on the wrist for beating up his fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel. After a security video of the attack was released, however, showing Rice dragging the unconscious woman from an elevator, the team immediately fired Rice.

Now the NFL, one of the richest and most powerful and security-savviest collection of oligarchs on the face of the earth, claims that they never saw either of these videos as part of their official investigation. If true, the only possible reason is that they DID NOT WANT TO SEE the videos. The only possible reason is that they REFUSED TO SEE the videos as part of their “investigation”.

Were charges filed? Did the police write up a report? No and no, you say? Well, then, nothing to see here! Let’s move along, please! Let’s sit down with Rice and Hunt and make sure that they have “learned their lesson” and go play some football!

NFL Commissioner Goodell

The videos changed everything.

The video was the catalyst for the creation of common knowledge regarding Kareem Hunt and Ray Rice – where now everyone knows that everyone knows that Hunt and Rice attacked women – and it is ONLY that common knowledge that changed the NFL’s behavior.

This is the Common Knowledge Game, and it’s the most powerful engine for crowd behavior in any social system.

It’s not enough for lots of people in and around the NFL to know perfectly well that Hunt and Rice physically assaulted women. It wasn’t a secret. But that’s not enough.

Just like it wasn’t enough for lots of people in and around Hollywood to know perfectly well that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted women. It wasn’t a secret. But that’s not enough.

Just like it’s not enough for lots of people in and around Washington and New York and West Palm Beach to know perfectly well that Jeffrey Epstein and his oligarch friends sexually assaulted women. It’s NOT a secret.

But that’s not enough.

NFL behavior did not change until common knowledge was created, until everyone knew that everyone knew that Kareem Hunt and Ray Rice beat up women. Hollywood behavior did not change until common knowledge was created, until everyone knew that everyone knew that Harvey Weinstein raped women. American electorate behavior WILL not change until common knowledge is created, until everyone knows that everyone knows that there is a ruling class of wealth and statist influence that runs roughshod over our most basic human rights.

How is common knowledge created?

First, you need a Missionary – a person or organization with enough celebrity or broadcasting power so that everyone thinks that everyone else has heard the message. This is why celebrity is the most valuable currency in the world today. In a mass society driven by the Common Knowledge Game, the ability to control your own cartoon is THE secret to political and economic power.

Second, you need that message to possess informational power – the ability to change prior beliefs, typically through what we generically call “credibility”. Does the message ring true? If not, is there some appeal to technology or impartiality that can be made? To be clear, informational power has nothing to do with truth. Informational power is simply the degree to which information changes our minds from what we believed before.

Put these together – a powerful (famous) Missionary and a powerful (credible) message – and you create common knowledge, something that everyone thinks that everyone thinks. For Harvey Weinstein, the Missionary was Rose McGowan and the credibility was derived from her “statements against interest”, to use a legal term. McGowan was getting nothing but pain and risk from what she did. That’s credible. For Kareem Hunt and Ray Rice, the Missionary was TMZ, a for-profit muckraker with little inherent credibility. Here, though, the credibility is derived from the perception that security videos are “hard evidence” and are unimpeachable.

In both cases – and this is going to be important, so bear with me – the prior beliefs of everyone regarding Weinstein, Hunt and Rice were lightly held. In other words, it didn’t take an enormously powerful Missionary and an enormously credible message to make everyone think that everyone thinks that Weinstein, Hunt and Rice are monsters.

Our prior beliefs about oligarchs like Trump and Clinton are not lightly held. They are very strongly held. Maybe you love one and hate the other. Maybe you hate them both. But you don’t NOT have a strong opinion.

What that means is that the haters of, say, Trump won’t need a particularly credible message to keep hating. But the lovers will. And the haters know that. When we say that common knowledge exists when everyone thinks that everyone thinks something, that everyone includes lovers and haters. Common knowledge on Trump is what everyone (lovers and haters) think that everyone (lovers and haters) thinks about Trump. And that ain’t much.

There is very little common knowledge about Trump because the haters know that only the most unimpeachable message will change the lovers’ minds. And the lovers know that only the most unimpeachable message will change the haters’ minds. 

Unimpeachable messages are hard to come by these days. Email? Maybe. Video and photographs? Yes.

Pics or it didn’t happen.

And that’s why the “unimpeachableness” of in-the-wild photographic or video evidence must be destroyed.

My prediction – the word “doctored” will be the 2019 Word of the Year, as every mainstream media outlet, from WaPo to the WSJ,  highlights the “dangers” of faked videos and photos, mostly constructed by those subversive Rooskies or their stooges, I’d imagine.

This isn’t a Left thing and this isn’t a Right thing. This isn’t a Trump thing. It’s a Power thing. It’s an Oligarch thing. You think Bezos or Bloomberg or Zuck or Benioff or any of the umpteen media-savvy billionaires running around today wants some stray security video that’s embarrassing to themselves or their family or their company to “accidentally” make its way into the wild? You think any sitting governor or senator or president wants that? You think Palantir or the NSA wants that? Pfft.

Is there a danger from faked videos? Yes, there is a clear incentive for partisan crazies and foreign mischief makers to fake videos and photos in hopes of creating useful common knowledge for their cause. What I call Counterfeit News.

But there is an even greater incentive for the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy to discredit ALL non-state sanctioned video and photographic messages. Because this is the source of common knowledge risk for the entire system.

What can we do? 

I think there’s a distributed ledger technology (DLT) solution that can be applied here. I think it’s part and parcel of Taking Back Our Data.

I think we’re just getting started in finding new stories for crypto, stories that aren’t based on Price, but on Liberty and Justice For All.


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Mark Kahn
Mark Kahn

Since I comment regularly (probably too much for most people’s taste) and don’t say, “I thought that before you said it” often (most of the time, I don’t even understand it the first time Ben or Rusty says it), it won’t seem made up here, but I’ve been thinking for some time that Team Elite has to destroy the credibility of picture and video evidence as you can already feel that starting to happen with some trial-balloon articles I’ve read (but don’t remember where).

Oddly, IMO, it was the Al Franken picture that deeply alerted Team Elite to the risks and need to destroy picture and video evidence. While he made my skin crawl before that pic surfaced, he was toast once it did. It appears he was considered a rising liberal star, so his demise really anger the left which – once the left saw the damage it did – took a lot of steam out of the doing-very-good-work MeToo movement.

Sorry if this is partisan, but I believe it’s accurate – too many important liberals where being brought down by MeToo (and photos) for the left to let it go on. I’m sure Trump and others on the right taking body blows from MeToo and pics were and will be happy to play along, but the catalyst was when MeToo started gunning down important liberals.

Ben, I hope you’re right about DLT’s capabilities to stop Team Elite from undermining picture and video evidence because, otherwise, we will have lost, what is possibly, the last tool for preventing Team Elite’s complete ascendancy and permanency as “our betters.”


You can root for Sergeant Slaughter, you can root for the Iron Sheik. Either way your money is going in Vince McMahon’s pocket. Vince knows how lucrative a rivalry can be and does what he can to keep it healthy.
Similar to the “existential crisis” maneuver, a pundit’s announcement of some kind of “tipping point” is often a red flag that you’re being sold something.


I am not sold on anything crypto yet, maybe a future version but not the illusion we see currently that is nothing but libertarian fantasy…

Vargas: Should you have jurisdiction of cryptocurrency?
Powel: “That’s a deep question (struggling). We’re not seeking it.”
Vargas: “But should you?”
Powell: “I’m not going to say ‘yes’ today. We’re not looking to… you know, it’s right in the middle of the SEC’s turf, the investor protection aspects of it, I think Treasury and Fincen (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) and other people have… I think it should be well-regulated, but I don’t see us as the right group to do that.”

I still think that cryptocurrencies are more like a religion or a cult than a rational economic phenomenon. They are a lousy investment.
I still await my enlightenment. —Jon Danielsson

Taking our data back is an initiative in the right direction but…Unfortunately, in  a relatively hierarchical, stratified society, which ours still is (there aren’t that many chairs for senior executives) that means a majority of the population is being shoved around quite a lot.

Maybe the first step in societies evolution is a new algorithm of thinking…Algorithmic complexity cannot be computed for most objects, but it can be approximated to, say, study gene regulatory networks. Recent work suggests that researchers might improve genetic algorithms by biasing evolution in favor of changed that lower their algorithmic complexity. “Algorithms to Live By – Computer Science of Human Decisions” by Brian Cristian and Tom Griffiths


I get the distributed ledger stuff, it moves us in the right direction…from a recent podcast I listened to. It might help get people in the right frame of mind.

Dan Smith, “but poker players call it ‘leveling.’ Level one is ‘I know.’ Two is ‘you know that I know.’ Three, ‘I know that you know that I know.’ There are situations where it just comes up where you are like, ‘Wow, this is a really silly spot to bluff but if he knows that it is a silly spot to bluff then he won’t call me and that’s where it’s the clever spot to bluff.’

A dominant strategy is the best one no matter what your opponent does.

Asking someone what they want to do, or giving them lots of options, sounds nice, but it usually isn’t. It usually transfers a burden, from you to them. Don’t transfer burdens. Give them simple options where most of the work is already done.

People are almost always confronting what computer science regards as the hard cases. Up against such hard cases, effective algorithms make assumptions, show a bias toward simpler solutions, trade off the costs of error against the costs of delay, and take chances. These aren’t the concessions we make when we can’t be rational. They’re what being rational means.

Multiple COA’s is Optimum, Two is one and One is None! Two is one and one is none’ doesn’t just mean get two things. It means have at least two ways to perform a certain function, which when combined, will expand your capabilities beyond what having one will do.

Rob H.
Rob H.

Deepfakes are getting awfully good —

Almost makes you wonder if the technology was released in the wild just to allow plausible deniability to Team Elite……

Victor K
Victor K

(So I am guilty (also of over-posting) – I suggested the Lolita Express logs were ‘doctored’ (which of course is not yet Common Knowledge since no missionary has, as yet, come forth.))
How do we determine whether a missionary is a truth-sayer, a psy-op, or a sycophant? Or does that not matter as long as we recognize their status as a missionary in the Common Knowledge conundrum?

Ian VanReepinghen
Ian VanReepinghen

I worked in a place where by luck or by action the management succeeded in suppressing a vibrant, connected or “viral” rumor mill and general “engagement” of employees in what’s happening “above” — to me it was a very, very siloed place. But I’d worked in places where there were strong silos yet rumors and “information” would pass freely, energetically and easily between people, departments, teams because we all knew we were just cogs in the wheel and it was fun to hear about and speculate on the validity of latest gossip or generate gossip too based on some minor amount of info (like seeing your boss’ or their boss’ calendars and then speculate on what might be going on).

However, where I worked recently, the first I might hear of a major event or change would be the announcement of the event or from someone else well after it occurred and the associated backstory had minimal details or information. Someone was just asked to leave etc. And people there were resigned to “well there’s a lot of turnover here” or “constant change here”; so in essence people had been desensitized to major changes in their company even though that factor was affecting their jobs tremendously.

So there, senior people had no accountability to make positive changes or had no balancing factor to their whims; there was no fear of the lower people being unhappy. “Morale” was a non issue for them because it didn’t go viral – even if the whole company’s morale was in the dumps the silos were strong enough to stop a psychological mutiny because everyone was disconnected and had weak or no discussions on and information about the future. It didn’t occur to people to keep track of and talk in depth to others about potential future changes as THE factor driving their work experience.

Obvious I guess but makes me think, silos are powerful and keep us from vibrantly pondering what’s next from above.


Doesn’t fit quite exactly here, but here Scott Galloway alludes to images of Khashoggi facing a bone saw getting our neurons firing in the same way your memes do, and also I’m seeing “Video!” here and Team Elite as the USA Inc. Board of Directors and wow, would MBS et al scream “Fake!” if such a video ever were to surface…

“There is a time when it no longer makes sense to invest in a brand, but to harvest it: reduce marketing expenditures for the purpose of maximizing cash flow. The euro, Cadillac, Campbells, Outback Steakhouse, Crocs, and the Clintons are all brands whose stakeholders have decided to milk them while their owners see better places to invest. If the US were a company, it would appear that its board (fiduciaries for stakeholders) had consciously decided to harvest the brand. Adding a trillion in debt and not making the requisite investments in the brand association of moral leadership when the economy is strong are the equivalent of a private-equity guy on your board deciding, “We need to get our money out even if it constrains future growth.”

This isn’t necessarily the wrong strategy. It all comes down to one question: Is the US a growing or mature brand?

The capital allocation reflects fiduciaries (our leadership) representing the 1%, who have given clear instructions: “If the brand survives, great … but we want our money out, now.” However, there is also a large cohort of people, from both parties, who believe the US is a growth brand that warrants continued investment. Fiscal responsibility and moral leadership are expensive, and worth it.

As such.

The US needs to suspend all arms sales, freeze assets, and impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia. The easiest way to validate this notion is to call on millions of neurons, informed by the history and code of the strongest brand in the world, the US. How to summon the neurons? Easy, think of two words: 1. Bone 2. Saw.”

Flat Arthur
Flat Arthur

If you ask me, everyone already knows that everyone knows that both Trump & Clinton are womanizers. The Access Hollywood tape, Monica Lewinsky, etc, etc, etc. It is already part of the common knowledge surrounding both of them, and yet they both still win support from broad swathes of the country. To me, the thing that is not common knowledge yet is that our criminal justice system has been consumed by politics – to the point that it is now a farce when someone powerful enough ends up running afoul of it. It’s not easy to change people’s common knowledge about the justice system because it is part of the foundation of our society, most of us have too much to lose if we burn it down.



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