Thursday, April 20, 2023
I suppose the last straw for me was requiring young children to wear masks all the time, when the science about their efficacy was far from proven, and which has since been proven to be useless. We tear down playground equipment to avoid injuries, which certainly have happened; but, at what cost to our children? So, while we laugh when George Burns tells Carson that his Doctor is dead, it is a fact that some of us live a long time, and some of us don't. Don't neglect to live while worrying about what you eat or how you play.
In any case, the fantasy of the relentless muckraker has been quietly discarded in the digital age. Journalists are now meek handmaidens to the elites and bland deniers of scandal. Democracy, in their view, demands the public’s permanent genuflection before the ruling class. Any other posture smacks of populism or even fascism. The hero is no longer the investigative reporter but the “fact-checker”—a dull but peevish beast whose task it is to count the lies of Donald Trump and dismiss reports of corruption in high places as “conspiracy theories” and “disinformation.” Such naked prostration before the establishment, it should be noted, has less to do with journalistic principles than with a desperate need to attract a paying audience.
-Martin Gurri, from this essay
A vast apparatus of control—an octopus-like conglomerate of institutions that includes the federal bureaucracy, the news media, and the digital platforms—has been deployed to stop the populist wolf from crashing through the door. The panic evoked by Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter betrays an unhappy suspicion that the beast will break in anyway. The system is as nakedly rank-based as Marie Antoinette’s France. Having assumed guardianship over the complexities of twenty-first-century life, the elites govern because they are who they are.
-Martin Gurri, from here
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
It is a marvelous testimony of the weakness of our judgment that it recommends things for their rarity or novelty, or even for their difficulty, even if they are neither good nor useful.
-Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Works, Book 1, Chapter54
That boy, as Franklin later recalled in his Autobiography, was "extremely ambitious" to become a "tolerable English Writer." Although literacy was relatively high in New England at this time—perhaps 75 percent of males in Boston could read and write and the percentage was rapidly growing—books were scarce and valuable, and few people read books the way Franklin did. He read everything he could get his hands on, including John Bunyan's Pilgram's Progress, Plutarch's Lives, Daniel DeFoe's Essay on Projects, the "do good" essays of the prominent Boston Puritan divine Cotton Mather, and more books of "polemic Divinity" than Franklin wanted to remember. He even befriended the apprentices of booksellers in order to gain access to more books. One of those apprentices allowed him secretly to borrow his master's books to read after work. "Often," Franklin recalled, "I sat up in my Room reading the greatest Part of the Night, when the Book was borrow'd in the Evening & to be return'd early in the Morning lest it should be miss'd or wanted.
-Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
Nature transcends our tendencies to label and classify, to reduce and limit. The natural world is unfathomably more rich, interwoven, and complicated than we are taught, and so much more mysterious and beautiful.
-Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being
The opposite of "true" is not always "false". Sometimes, the opposite of one kind of truth is truth of a different kind, most clearly seen in the difference between literal and metaphoric truth. Fairy tales dwell in the latter world; they are true but unreal. To children, this distinction is important and they need no help in understanding it, although this is a complex idea.
Many adults know the situation, when they are telling (not reading) a story of the fairy-tale kind and the child interrupts to ask: "Is it true?" (If the adult is reading, it is clear to the child that it is from the story world and they don't ask.)
Is it true? the adult wonders, thinking about his goblin neighbors, troll boss, and the princess he has been secretly in love with for years, and answers thoughtfully, "Well, yes, it is true, in a way. In its own way it is true."
"But is it true like in real life?" the child persists.
"No," the adult will say, the distinction clear. "Not like in real life."
The child's question is not one of disbelief, but rather comes from the important need to clarify what kind of truth it is and therefore what kind of belief to give to it.
-Jay Griffiths, A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World
Detachment is the cost of our wondrous, liberating mobility, the price we pay for living untethered. Connection to place is replaced by inhabitation of space, bringing to near-culmination what Rosalind Williams describes as "humanity's decision to unbind itself from the soil." The tempo of travel blurs the landscape, and our vehicles increasingly enfold us in a bubble of remove. "The sights, sounds, tastes, temperatures, and smells of the city and countryside are reduced to a two-dimensional view through the car windscreen, something prefigured by the railway journeys of the nineteenth century," notes John Urry, echoing Nietzche. The portable soundscape of the Walkman-turned-iPod puts much of life at arm's length, creating a "fragile world of certainty within a contingent world," writes Michael Bull in Sounding Out the City. We are distancing ourselves from knowledge of our own bodily selves and our earth, as Bill McKibben observes. We live in an era when "vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach," he writes. "An unenlightenment." Pause is increasingly absent in a temporal sense, too. A culture of constant movement, in part fueled by a love of instant gratification, cannot bear the mystery and unpredictability inherent in the idea of pause. "For the sake of speed, in the interest of not wasting time, we sacrifice the sensuous richness of the not-yet," writes Noelle Oxenhandler in her essay "The Lost While." We live in a culture of "becoming" but never arriving.
-Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
Sunday, April 16, 2023
For most of human history, we lived in a world defined by scarcity: could we accumulate enough resources to survive the day? But now? We are drowning in an abundance of everything. A tsunami of notifications and distractions and a million intrusive everythings vying for our attention. When we have access to a near-infinite fountain of entertainment and distractions, the ability to focus and avoid distractions is one hell of a competitive advantage.
-Jack Raines, from here