Hello from unseasonably cool Philadelphia, where it’s 76° and gray. I’m sitting outside and the pup is drowsing quietly next to me.
Some weeks back I read Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean and have been thinking about it since. MacLean systematically dug through the papers of the late political economist James Buchanan and excavated his vision of a libertarianism freed from the constraints of democracy. She directly connects Buchanan’s work with the effort to resist integration after Brown v. Board of Education, an argument that fits neatly with Carol Anderson’s White Rage, who describes the ways in which the purported end of segregation invigorated the white resistance. MacLean draws a straight line from Buchanan’s philosophies to current efforts to undermine unions, privatize schools, and eliminate Medicare and Social Security.
Then this week I read this piece by Aram Roston and Joel Anderson about William Regnery II, who founded multiple organizations dedicated to white nationalism, including one that named Richard Spencer its leader. Roston and Anderson argue that, in part, it was Trump’s campaign that set fire to those efforts, bringing racism out into the light as an acceptable, mainstream outlook. (Of course, this was after a few precious decades during which outright racism was gauche and you needed to express it in barely-coded language that literally everyone understood.) Regnery boasts that he’s been more effective at spreading white nationalism than the Koch brothers but in a contest of who’s burning hotter in hell, who cares who wins, really.
As all that rolled around in my head, I read this piece by Julia Carrie Wong about how hate groups make excellent use of Facebook. She writes:
But what’s striking about the newly political Zuckerberg is precisely how un-political he manages to be. “I used to think that if we just gave people a voice and helped them connect, that would make the world better by itself. In many ways it has, but our society is still divided,” he said at the communities summit. “Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. It’s not enough to simply connect the world, we must also work to bring the world closer together.”
Both versions of this mission statement lack any kind of political framework to discern that, actually, the world might be better off if some people remain disconnected and far apart.
So much better off, in fact! And this has me wondering: is it even possible to design a communications system that brings some people together while keeping others disconnected? Along class lines, sure—you can build tools or systems that require money to participate in and handily exclude the poor. But could you exclude the rich? And what about blocking access along ideological lines? Could you design a platform (sorry for using that word sorry sorry) that helped spread democracy and socialism but was useless or even hostile to white supremacy? What would that look like?
Ian Bogost asks a similar question in a response to that vile-and-yet-oh-so-familiar anti-diversity document leaking out of Google:
Men—mostly white, but sometimes Asian—have so dominated technology that it’s difficult even to ponder turning the tables. If you rolled back the clock and computing were as black as hip-hop, if it had been built from the ground up by African American culture, what would it feel like to live in that alternate future—in today’s alternate present? Now run the same thought experiment for a computing forged by a group that represents the general population, brown of average color, even of sex, and multitudinous of gender identity.
Something tells me the outcome wouldn’t be Google and Twitter and Uber and Facebook.
No I think the outcome would be very, very different, indeed.
“It might have been quick to write, but it was not quick to get to the point that you could write like that.” Excellent behind-the-scenes on Ann Helen Petersen’s epic Charlize Theron piece. (More writing like this please!)
“And as urban infrastructure erodes, CEOs are driven to work by commuter shuttle drivers who can barely afford the bus fare to work.” Michelle Chen on why Facebook’s cafeteria workers voted to unionize.
“As digital culture becomes more tied to the success of the platforms where it flourishes, there is always a risk of it disappearing forever.” Jenna Wortham on SoundCloud.
“From the colonial era to the Civil War, to the frontier to modern suburbia, some lives have mattered more than others, and for all the lofty rhetoric to the contrary, our courts and norms have only really respected certain selves as worthy of defending.” Patrick Blanchfield on the racist and patriarchal origins of self-defense.
“But there is no model of economic equality that does not reckon with ‘identity politics.’ There is no economic equality without the ability to terminate a pregnancy. There is no economic equality without the overthrow of white supremacy.” Lindy West on fire.
“But the more monstrous, the more horrific the subject, the greater the aesthetic demands that it places on a filmmaker.” Richard Brody with a scathing review of Detroit.
“From last century’s The Birth of a Nation to this century’s Gods and Generals, Hollywood has likely done more than any other American institution to obstruct a truthful apprehension of the Civil War, and thus modern America’s very origins.” Ta-Nahisi Coates on Confederate.
“Men are the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action in college admissions: Their combination of test scores, grades and achievements is simply no match for that of women, whose academic profiles are much stronger. Yet to provide some semblance of gender balance on campuses, admissions directors have to dig down deep into the applicant pool to cobble together enough males to form an incoming class.” Carol Anderson on the politics of white resentment. (Seriously, read White Rage.)
“We should reflect, I think.” Mary Beard, ever wise.
Rereading the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, in anticipation of the third book coming out soon. (Can’t wait!)
I love just about all variations on the Negroni, and this one is no exception. Cynar (chee-NAHR) is deliciously bitter and infinitely adaptable and definitely worth keeping around. After you’ve made this, try swapping Cynar for vermouth in a Manhattan.
1 oz gin
1 oz Cynar
1 oz sweet vermouth
Lemon peel, for garnish
Pour gin, cynar, and vermouth into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled to the brim with ice and garnish with the lemon peel.
Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this, share it with a friend. As always, reply with what you’re reading or drinking. Cheers, m
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