Now more than ever, we must endure the claim that everything is now more than ever. The past recedes, weak precedent to what is supposedly unprecedented. Equanimity is a crime. A smooth forehead suggests a hard heart.
The Intellectual Situation
Is now, more than ever, our moment to yank the Democrats back from decades of rightward drift? It’s an old, even farcical question for the left. Keith Ellison’s lead for DNC chair gave us momentary hope: when Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and much of organized labor endorsed him, it seemed as though the Democrats were finally coming around. But then Obama deputized labor secretary Tom Perez to stop the Ellison wave — a signal to cool our hopes.
Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.
Among the confounded political analysts, what followed Trump’s victory was an epidemic of self-castigation. “We” had failed to “listen” to “white working-class” voters. Since the inauguration, however, elitism in the guise of centrism is once again on the move. Democracy, they say, is under threat from populism, and only a defense of norms and institutions can exorcise the specter of a reckless citizenry. But what if the truth is the opposite, and populism is not the problem but the solution?
Fiction and Drama
The first decision I have to make is bits or brawn, as they say. For me, that one’s a no-brainer. I decide right away I don’t want to go digital. I guess you could say I’m a traditional sort of guy in that respect. Plus, once I’d made up my mind to build, Parm gave me a copy of this book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it really got me thinking. I don’t want to just download a life. I want to build my man from the guts out, really get my hands bloody.
She stepped back and took my hand. “Baobei, you can sleep with your nainai if you want, but your brother will, too. I don’t know if three will fit, but I’m very happy to try. Does anything make your nainai happier than having her two grandchildren by her side? Your brother will sleep with me until he’s old enough to sleep in his own bed. Most people say 13 is the age when a child learns to sleep on their own but most people are selfish and looking out only for themselves. Not me. I say 16. I say 17. I say 18. And if he needs me to, I’ll gladly sleep with your brother until he’s 21!”
A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.
The house in Raipur that we moved into later has verandas that are more like rooms. It’s hard to say why they aren’t rooms, or what makes them verandas. One of them is called the old veranda. The house was built slowly and all at once.
Even with this elaboration, one detects a mismatch between the simplicity of the message and the convolutions of the plot. If you stray from the straight and narrow you’ll get raped, and your life will be ruined, and we’ll all blame you: there’s a short, sharp shock for you, cognitively speaking, especially if you’re, like, 5 years old. Threats of violence and draconian sanction tend to stick in the mind all on their own. No need to construct a baroque and bulky narrative edifice.
Keith Richards is a hero to many of these folks because he had the courage to live out the late-stage consequences of his self-mythologizing without recourse to golf or Xanax, even after his wife got cancer. How many in this desert can say the same? A few, perhaps. Some may count themselves young at heart, but they are clearly in transition, as we all are, beneath the banners of aging and departed greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Weiskopf, the golfing champions of yesteryear who lend their names to the streets of PGA West, the gated community with the nicest lawns.
Never does the film allow that maybe people can like both a-ha and Thelonious Monk, or that there’s a time and a place for everything. That is a hard-won sentiment, but it’s in great supply in American musicals of the 1950s, where frivolity and maturity play on a soundstage more level than this one. Here, the director is happy, but his characters are not. The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.
The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.
By the end of the book, we’ve learned all manner of detail about the Acacia tree genus, made up of fifteen hundred species, living in climates ranging from desert to tropics and found in ice cream, beer, and postage stamps. We learn about the Pimoa chthulu spider, Haraway’s neighbor in the North Central California redwoods and another inspiration for the Chthulucene. We learn about the history of Premarin estrogen tablets, made out of horse urine, and their effects on both midcentury reproductive politics and Cayenne Pepper’s bladder.
Presidential campaigns name their technical instruments colorfully: Houdini in 2008, Golden and Narwhal in 2012, and Ada in 2016. David Auerbach’s criticism of the Clinton campaign’s use of Ada (“Confirmation Bias,” nplusonemag.com) — particularly the campaign’s preference for expected outcomes — is in many respects harrowingly correct. But his final admonishment, against analytics, would be better aimed at the puzzle of learning from failure.