Law of Life
There was that law of life, so cruel and so just, that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.
Mailer, N. (1955). The Deer Park. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Ch. 26.
History seems to be a pointless parade of insignificant events until we shape it into something that has significance for us, until we build myths out of it, until we begin using it to make up stories.
And after Sept. 11, 2001, as Latour quickly began to notice, people of all political stripes were rushing to attribute responsibility for the attacks to whatever party or supernatural force best indulged their fantasies about how the world works.
Smith, J. E. (2016, June 4). No, He’s Not Hitler. And Yet … Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/opinion/sunday/no-hes-not-hitler-and-yet.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region®ion=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region
Inevitable Way of the World
Our principles, as lofty as we believe them to be, are imperfect. Many of us have an implicit belief that wealth and merit are connected, and that this connection is preordained and immutable. One would think that the examples of Donald Trump, Brock Turner, and all the other wealthy miscreants would stifle this belief, but predestination and the other residues of Calvinism are deeply entrenched in us. As a result, too many Americans see nothing wrong or undesirable with inequality, considering it God’s will and the inevitable way of the world. This is changing, and change will continue, but too slowly.
Edsall, T. B. (2016, June 9). Separated at Birth. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/09/opinion/campaign-stops/separated-at-birth.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region®ion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region
Evil is Incremental
“We all want to believe in our inner power, our sense of personal agency, to resist external situational forces of the kinds operating in this Stanford Prison Experiment,” Zimbardo reflected. “For many, that belief of personal power to resist powerful situational and systemic forces is little more than a reassuring illusion of invulnerability.”
We take comfort in the notion of an unbridgeable gulf between good and evil, but maybe we should understand, as Zimbardo’s work suggested, that evil is incremental—something we are all capable of, given the right circumstances.
Bauer, S. (2016, July-August). My four months as a private prison guard. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/cca-private-prisons-corrections-corporation-inmates-investigation-bauer/
Culture of Grievance
One of the Arab world’s most prominent and debilitating features, I had long felt, was a culture of grievance that was defined less by what people aspired to than by what they opposed.
Anderson, S. (2016, August 11). Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/11/magazine/isis-middle-east-arab-spring-fractured-lands.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=nytmm_FadingSlideShow_item&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
For some reason I think of Yosemite Sam in that election-themed cartoon, sidling up to Bugs, saying “I lahk you, rabbit. You’re a good joe.” with broad, committed insincerity.
Lileks, J. (2016, August 16). The Bleat. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/16/0816/081616.html
Permanence a Fiction
We are conditioned to believe that art is safe, beyond the reach of the grimy world. We don’t hang the Mona Lisa next to an archery range. We put her in a fortress: walls, checkpoints, lasers, guards, bulletproof glass. There are scholars, textbooks, posters — a whole collective mythology suggesting that the work will live forever. But safety is largely an illusion, and permanence a fiction. Empires hemorrhage wealth, bombs fall on cities, religious radicals decimate ancient temples. Destruction happens in any number of ways, for any number of reasons, at any number of speeds — and it will happen, and no amount of reverence will stop it.
Anderson, S. (2016, August 17). David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/magazine/davids-ankles-how-imperfections-could-bring-down-the-worlds-most-perfect-statue.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Is that actually why you’re here? I thought it was to create staff cohesion through our shared contempt for you.
Give In to Practicality
His Adderall patients are overwhelmingly creative people who wanted to work in the arts — yet, he says, many have chosen other paths, safer paths, resigning themselves before they’ve even really tried to achieve what they hoped for. “They often give in to practicality,” he says. “Then they feel they missed out. And when they take Adderall, it makes them feel good, so they don’t focus on the fact that they feel like they sold out.” Many people are using Adderall to mask a sense of disappointment in themselves, Stratyner says, because it narrows their focus down to simply getting through each day, instead of the larger context of what they’re trying to build with their lives. “It becomes extremely psychologically and physiologically addictive,” he says. “It’s really a tough drug to get off of.”
Schwartz, C. (2016, October 12). Generation Adderall. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/magazine/generation-adderall-addiction.html?action=click&contentCollection=Europe&module=Trending&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article
Insulated from Outside Pressures
But what directly drives the attack on democracy, I’d argue, is simple careerism on the part of people who are apparatchiks within a system insulated from outside pressures by gerrymandered districts, unshakable partisan loyalty, and lots and lots of plutocratic financial support.
Krugman, P. (2016, December 19). How Republics End. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/opinion/how-republics-end.html?action=click&contentCollection=World&module=Trending&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article
Junk Food News
In the last few years, many news organizations have steered themselves away from public-interest journalism and toward junk-food news, chasing page views in the vain hope of attracting clicks and advertising (or investment) – but like junk food, you hate yourself when you’ve gorged on it. The most extreme manifestation of this phenomenon has been the creation of fake news farms, which attract traffic with false reports that are designed to look like real news and are therefore widely shared on social networks. But the same principle applies to news that is misleading or sensationally dishonest, even if it wasn’t created to deceive: the new measure of value for too many news organizations is virality rather than truth or quality.
The increasing prevalence of this approach suggests that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the values of journalism – a consumerist shift. Instead of strengthening social bonds, or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other’s beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts.
The story, as Chippindale and Horrie write, is a “classic smear”, free of any attributable evidence and “precisely fitting MacKenzie’s formula by publicizing the half-baked ignorant prejudice being voiced all over the country”.
But the age of relentless and instant information – and uncertain truths – can be overwhelming. We careen from outrage to outrage, but forget each one very quickly: it’s doomsday every afternoon.
Viner, K. (2016, July 12). How technology disrupted the truth. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth
Whatever the story, [William S. Burroughs] later remarked that the “teaching gig was a lesson in never again.”
Jones, J. (2014, March 17). William S. Burroughs Teaches a Free Course on Creative Reading and Writing (1979). Retrieved from http://www.openculture.com/2014/03/william-s-burroughs-lectures-on-creative-reading-and-writing.html