Courtesy of the Review – subscribe and invest in media, whatever it is you read. The NYRB works for me – a review/discussion of two new books about the history of Silicon Valley. You’ll never guess the rationale behind the creation of Stanford the University. Wait – yes, sure you will:
Stanford wanted to breed stronger horses, faster. There was a clear business rationale: at the time, horses were essential for transportation, agriculture, and war. He proposed transforming horse production in the same way that the production of so many other commodities was being transformed during the second industrial revolution: with modern techniques and technologies. This modernizing mentality, as Harris demonstrates, was visible everywhere in California, which has been “a high-technology zone from the beginning of Anglo colonization.” Because there were never enough wage workers, the state relied particularly heavily on “labor-saving machinery” in agriculture, which by the 1860s had overtaken mining as its main economic driver.
The Palo Alto Stock Farm turned out to be a big success. The principal innovation was the Palo Alto System, which involved teaching horses to trot when they were young. That way, Stanford and his operatives could identify the promising ones early, train them intensively, and then use them as studs to produce more promising colts, thereby transmitting talent via superior genes. “Instead of optimizing for adult speed, they optimized for visible potential,” Harris writes.
The Palo Alto System didn’t stop with horses. It became the guiding philosophy of the university that Stanford carved out of his estate in 1885. Harris focuses in particular on David Starr Jordan, the university’s first president, whom Harris credits with bringing the Palo Alto System “out of the barn and into the classroom.” Like many self-styled modernizers of the period, Jordan loved eugenics. Under his direction, Harris argues, “the small, young university became a national center for controlled evolution.” Young white people with potential would be identified and intensively trained, in the hope of staving off racial decay.
One of the features of the Palo Alto System as it applied to horses was an obsession with quantification. As the system migrated to humans, this quantifying impulse turned toward intelligence testing. Lewis Terman, a psychologist who joined Stanford University in 1910, helped popularize the notion that intelligence could be expressed in a single number, such as an IQ score. He was especially interested in high-IQ children. “Budding geniuses needed to be identified and elevated,” Harris writes, “while young degenerates needed to be corralled where they couldn’t dilute the national race or turn their underachievement into social problems.”
And… once again, here we are. Racism continues to be our fundamental foundation, regardless of region. There is no realm in which the wealthy can’t channel their profits into their hatred. Great job, everybody.
There is so much of this flying around our ‘culture’ right now, it can almost be too much. It’s like everyone is walking around dizzy from the constant eye-rolling, but can you blame us?
So this is really perfect, plus an expert book review:
By incoherence I don’t mean an “extreme” position or the shriek of the provocateur, but a specific genre of chin-stroking, brow-furrowing, “eye opening” sophistry that’s now robustly represented in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Fluttering near the political center (they refuse to be pinned down!), the exponents of the new incoherence look at the Right’s mushrooming despotism, then at the enfeebled, regrouping Left—and, with theatrical exasperation, declare that both are a bit tyrannical. These pundits are the opposite of adherents; all hail the Incoherents! Like the dadaists and the X-Men, the Incoherents are bound by a shared mission: in their case, the valiant disputation of other people’s missions (which we now know are really “orthodoxies”). Anecdotes and dazzling inanities draped over an individualist common sense—this is the technique favored by the scramblers of our discourse. Faced with Incoherent writing, the reader embarks on a psychedelic saga: the truly trippy liquefaction of virtually all of social reality, especially those parts that have been politicized by the Left. So if you crave a “fresh” opinion, feel free to open the New York Times—on class, read David Brooks; on gender, read Bari Weiss. And on race, read Thomas Chatterton Williams, who has now published his second book.
It has been interesting, at the very least, to observe Williams’s ascent. His first book, released by Penguin in 2010, was the memoir Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture—the subtitle is now Love, Literature and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd—which strode boldly, if rather late, into the “conversation” about black youth culture. (The Washington Post had run Tipper Gore’s famous op-ed “Hate, Rape, and Rap” a full twenty years before.) The volume’s original cover was a picture of the author in a suit: jacket collar popped, tie whipping in the wind. Behind him is a building emblazoned with graffiti.
Read the whole thing. Actually, read other book reviews, too. Hell, read books – but choose wisely! Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Mr. Haslett.
As if we need reminding (ed: we do!), set aside how much we hate women and remember how racist we are! The discussion about American universities – especially our oldest, most venerable institutions of higher learning – and their deep connections to slavery has barely begun to break through, even and especially at our oldest, most venerable institutions. So, while the public remains largely unaware of the history, we might wonder how universities have for so long escaped scrutiny about the past – about how they were built, how they succeeded, who they succeeded for, and how so much of this was connected to buying and selling people to use as free labor. The NYRB dives into a four new books, and sets the stage rather clearly:
One reason, perhaps, that academic institutions were spared from scrutiny was that they seemed, by design, to be physically removed from the vulgar transactions of commercial life. The trading houses where merchants contracted for consignments of cotton, rum, molasses, and human chattel; the insurance firms that indemnified slave owners for loss of human property; the clothiers that manufactured coarse smocks for enslaved field hands—all these were likely to be found among shops and markets, close to the banks from which they obtained credit and the wharves where human goods were loaded or unloaded for sale.
Think, on the other hand, of our early colleges: Harvard on its bluff above the Charles River, or Yale looking across New Haven Green toward the Long Island Sound, or Brown atop the heights of Providence. Their architecture (ecclesiastical) and setting (pastoral) seemed to say, “We stand above the fray, removed from the workaday world, in a high-minded sphere of our own.” For people like me whose shelves are filled with books about these colleges, it’s not a bad idea to paste a note every foot or so along the edge of the shelf bearing this reminder from the novelist James McBride: “The web of slavery is sticky business. And at the end of the day, ain’t nobody clear of it.”
And friends, of course it’s not just the Ivies. The preponderance of screaming denials (CRT!) and counter-recriminations (Woke!) arise out of fear and cowardice about facing this history as it bleeds to profusely into our present. Can’t stop the bleeding without finding the wound, cleaning it carefully, repairing as much damage as possible, dressing it and providing all available care for full recuperation. Only then can we attend and check on the healing.
Lots of talk/pixels about ‘getting back to normal,’ the ‘new normal,’ and returning to a time when things/life were somehow better because they were usual. Primarily related to the pandemic, it’s also an opportunity to unpack a sympathetic but highly questionable sentiment. So this interesting tweet, highlighted by Bloomberg, serves as a good remedy for that nostalgia for normal:
Sometimes I think about how Deepwater Horizon was a huge environmental disaster that killed 11 people and cost BP more than $65 billion — but if that oil had been captured, sold, and used, it would be worse for the environment, killed more people, and BP would have made money. pic.twitter.com/oZFevTy96r
Happy talk about way-back-when presents recklessness on many fronts – political, racial, economic – but it is also woebegone in terms of environmental devastation and the slow thoughtlessness that has brought us to exactly here. No one* wants to go back to Jim Crow and no one should want to go back to the normal, daily burning rates of our fossil-fueled civilization. As the article demonstrates, and this is a note to hit over and over again, the [high] costs of slowing down and reversing the effects of climate change are actually a bargain. Slice it however you want – we’ve already gotten far closer to the tipping point of better and cleaner far faster than imagined. Looking away and ignoring now requires more effort. That normal is depressing – and it should be. Our calculations of the impacts of the burning have become far less abstracted, to the point of easily transposing the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster onto methane well leakage and carbon emissions just by looking at the numbers.
Unfortunately, our numbness to the staggering total of COVID deaths resembles our shruggy attitude to climate-related externalities. We get used to them, consider that state ‘normal,’ and long for the days.
But we shouldn’t, and we can’t go back, the comforting but perilous blindness of ‘normal’ notwithstanding. Instead of normal, how about a different better? As our friend says, Don’t Be Afraid.
That’s where we are now, or one of the places, so sayeth Matt Levine:
Basically it is easy, using blockchain technology, to create scarce claims. You could I suppose use this technology to create scarce claims to scarce resources: You could put, like, housing deeds or shares of corporate ownership or cargo-container manifests on the blockchain. This would — people have argued for years — have benefits in terms of efficiency and legibility and tradability. It would create value by improving the processes by which real-world assets are transferred and allocated. Classic financial-services stuff. Nobody talks that much about this anymore.
Instead, people like to use blockchain technology to create scarce claims to abundant, or infinite, resources. There is absolutely no shortage of JPEGs, they are infinitely reproducible more or less for free, but that means — or meant — that you couldn’t become a millionaire by having good taste in JPEGs. But now people can create a unique non-fungible token representing ownership of a JPEG and use it as a status symbol or a speculative asset. Nobody will pay you for a number in your computer’s memory, but people will pay you for a scarce number in your computer’s memory.
Stop shaking your head – it’ll hurt your neck. Or just wait.
Theoretical normal person: If you could do a thing that wasn’t just bad for but ruinous to your country’s political system – but it was very good for your profits, would you do it? Our actual media: Do what?
Such is our national media paralyzed on the question of how to cover Biden, how to normalize authoritarian white nationalism and get Trump back. Ratings are down and they’re in a bad way, which means they’ll gladly put us [all] in a worse one to keep the eyeballs rolling in and the clicks coming.
At the risk of sounding like some past (and very likely coming to screen near you in the adjacent soon) Mercedes Benz and/or other brand advertisement, the luxury of being in a position to do something about climate change is also a handy rationale to not do that something. Worry over the future of polluting industries and their investors as equal to concerns about the planet implies a false choice. And we love those:
The story of tonight?
McAuliffe is running a bit ahead of Biden among non-white voters in Virginia. He's behind a few with white men. But he's getting clobbered by white women. https://t.co/2JJq8F4MS8
Humm recently shifted Eleven Madison Park from an omnivore’s menu to one focused on plants, a change that took effect this summer after his restaurant reopened from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. Hearst has focused much of her energy on reducing waste in the New York design house that bears her name, as well as at Chloe, the Paris-based luxury firm where she is creative director. In October, Chloe became a certified B Corporation, which means it meets independent standards for environmental and social performance, as well as transparency.
“It’s not only about climate change, but it’s also about what does luxury mean,” Humm says about their upcoming conversation in Glasgow. “I think we both realize that, you know, not everyone — or only a few people — have access to our restaurant or Gabriela’s clothes. But we do have these incredible resources and this incredible platform that people are actually paying attention to.”
“Some of the ideas of luxury are old ideas that have to be refreshed,” Humm continues. “For example, we are still celebrating caviar as a luxury ingredient … and there is nothing luxurious about caviar. It’s farm-raised. It’s flown in. It’s not rare at all. And it doesn’t even taste good. This is an old idea.”
A future is not THE future. Reckoning with the many complications of the actual problem of a warming planet caused by out-of-control carbon emissions will re-define luxury, and perhaps even put the concept out to pasture. We will realize that enjoying privations is not luxury but sociopathy. Basking in a scarce resource – whether it be time, security, clean water, or perceived reasonableness – has to be treated as wasteful, if not immoral. Like shrugging before you give your vote to a soft authoritarian. That’s a luxury you can’t afford.
Pass the COVID-19 relief bill without Republicans, show and tell (over and over) the public how important the bill was, make republican candidates whine about in the mid-terms.
Merrick Garland ftw. His shameless interlocutors on the R/Q/T side are on halfway down the path to defending white supremacy, contradictory examples of the concept though they, and all defenders thereof, may be. Let them go all the way or turn back on their own.
And Neera Tanden, at least she punches up and at times sideways. Count this blog and its owner as objectively #pro-aggressivewomen:
There is no polite way to capture what Republicans in power have done and continue to do. Tanden can be fairly accused of many things, but she cannot be accused of being soft on the party that just gave us four years of Trump’s misrule, culminating in the attack on the US Capitol last month. With regard to Republicans, at least, she has consistently told the truth, and it’s very revealing that telling the truth is the one thing she’s done that’s a dealbreaker for a majority of the Senate.
Today, who we are gives way to who we would like to be. That violent scene on Jan.6, that’s us in every way – armed, ignorant and preferring to follow rather than think. There’s no back in the bottle for the white supremacist urge. It must be watched, left out in the sun, allowed to finally wither and die.
The new administration gives voice and presence to wisdom, empathy, courage and humility. We pitched in to make it happen, and we’ll have to continue to do a little bit of that everyday even though we aren’t obliged by new atrocities to pay attention every second. Get used to that, remember it’s a luxury, and use the time better than we quite know how, better than we have. The constitution is not magic, and the bald eagle has no special powers. Those are yours.
Get back in the game. Push back. Don’t put up with nonsense, and reserve the benefit of the doubt for only when it’s absolutely warranted. Make, share, give, help, and mask up until we can plant big kisses everywhere.
For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendtexplained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:
Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.
We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.
In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.
Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.
Raise your hand if you thought the original Juneteenth date was a coincidence. Wow. No Takers.
The absurdism of this fascist performance art expresses the thin smallness of this entire four-year escapade of MAGA authoritarianism led by a needy, under-educated man-child. We can be grateful in many ways for the incurious incompetence on continual display. People joke about slogans that sounded better in the original German, but the sheer unstudied pettiness of it makes the earlier epoch seem practically elegant by comparison:
ONE HUNDRED years ago, on the early morning of March 23, 1919, a small crowd gathered in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, a few blocks west of the Duomo. Many had arrived from other cities the night before, drawn to hear a charismatic young journalist, former socialist, and recent war veteran, who—with a vigor that would mark his discourses for two decades to come—duly trumpeted the ambitions of a new political movement. As a self-declared “anti-party,” Benito Mussolini’s Fasci Italiani di combattimento (Italian Combat Fasci or, simply, Fascists)1 aimed to yoke growing social unrest to an unabashed nationalism, freshly stoked by the country’s victory in World War I alongside the Entente powers (Britain, France, and Russia). Dubbed the Sansepolcristi for their presence at this fateful first meeting, the so-called Fascists of the first hour counted among their number syndicalists and ex-soldiers, even a few women and Italian Jews, as well as artists and writers such as the painters Achille Funi and Primo Conti and the Futurist poet-impresario, F.T. Marinetti.
For the preceding ten years, Marinetti’s Futurists had upended Italian culture in every imaginable domain, from painting and poetry to clothing, music, architecture, photography, and theater. A political phenomenon as much as an aesthetic crusade, Futurism lent Fascism much of its early ideological impetus: anti-Communist and anti-clerical, interventionist and irredentist, hostile to academic pedantry and cultural patrimony alike.
Substitute ‘reality TV’ for ‘Futurists’ in the above for a more accurate, recent rendering.