The Autocracy App

The Autocracy App
By Jacob Weisberg OCTOBER 25, 2018 ISSUE
The New York Review of Books

A review of:

  • Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
    by Siva Vaidhyanathan
  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
    by Jaron Lanier

…A professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, Vaidhyanathan is a disciple of Neil Postman, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. In that prescient pre-Internet tract, Postman wrote that Aldous Huxley, not Orwell, portrayed the dystopia most relevant to our age. The dangers modern societies face, Postman contends, are less censorship or repression than distraction and diversion, the replacement of civic engagement by perpetual entertainment.

Vaidhyanathan sees Facebook, a “pleasure machine” in which politics and entertainment merge, as the culmination of Postman’s Huxleyan nightmare. However, the pleasure that comes from absorption in social media is more complicated than the kind that television delivers. It encourages people to associate with those who share their views, creating filter bubbles and self-reinforcing feedback loops. Vaidhyanathan argues that by training its users to elevate feelings of agreement and belonging over truth, Facebook has created a gigantic “forum for tribalism.”

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…What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.”

Full implementation is not expected till 2020, but the system is already being used to mete out punishments to people with low scores. These include preventing them from traveling, restricting them from certain jobs, and barring their children from attending private schools. In the West online surveillance is theoretically voluntary, the price we pay for enjoying the pleasure machine—a privatized 1984 by means of Brave New World.

Male Trouble

Male Trouble
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
New York Review of Books
OCTOBER 11, 2018 ISSUE

A review of:

The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It
by Warren Farrell and John Gray
BenBella, 493 pp., $25.95

Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into—and Out of—Violent Extremism
by Michael Kimmel
University of California Press, 263 pp., $29.95

White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out
by Christian Picciolini
Hachette, 275 pp., $15.99 (paper)

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My letter:

Dear Arlie

I very much appreciate your important and insightful “Male Trouble” in the New York Review of Books.

In addition to the “roots” you address in the section on solutions, I recommend more attention to cultural changes. Beyond making it “heroic to be a great dad,”  a new paradigm of modern humanity could replace Faludi’s “paradigm of modern masculinity.” The biological differences between men and women are relatively insignificant, so far as I can tell. Our shared humanity is key.

Moreover, we need to redefine the American Dream, or perhaps return to its original definition, which assumed a gradual accumulation of wealth. Widespread, rabid greed is a relatively new phenomenon. The drive to climb social ladders and look down on and dominate those below is deadly.

Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” aims to contribute to that kind of transformation. If you will, please consider signing it. (BTW, the other day, I sent you an email about it with a bad link. Sorry about that if you tried it.)

Carry it on,
Wade Lee Hudson

Imperial Exceptionalism

By Jackson Lears
New York Review of Books
February 7, 2019 issue

A review of:

Empire in Retreat: The Past, Present, and Future of the United States
by Victor Bulmer-Thomas
Yale University Press, 459 pp., $32.50
and
Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition
by David C. Hendrickson
Oxford University Press, 287 pp., $34.95

To read, click here.

Irrational Politics

Human beings join tribes. This instinct is biological. Tribes assume moral superiority over and seek to dominate other tribes. Winning is primary. The price of victory is secondary. These battles produce strong emotions that distort reality.

When tribes join with other tribes into super-tribes, a threat to one tribe is a threat to every tribe. Life becomes more dangerous and irrational. Republicans and Democrats are super-tribes. They focus on winning the next election.

The development of these electoral super-tribes has undermined the ability of legislators to compromise, which is the heart of democracy. Legislators must compromise to address difficult problems, but increased polarization has made it more difficult. Tribalism is pulling the country ever deeper into a downward spiral of bitter gridlock.

Compromise is not always timely. Militant activism can help bring attention to pressing issues and build pressure for stronger improvements. But outside the electoral arena, on the left and the right, doctrinaire, victory-centric tribes have also formed super-tribes. They demonize opponents, resist all compromise, and disregard the consequences of their actions. The result is profound fragmentation.

The time has come for everyone to step back and engage in critical self-evaluation. Learning to overcome arrogant, hyper-competitive, domineering tribalism is essential in order to unite and transform this nation into a compassionate community.

Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason analyzes Republicans and Democrats. Her book applies to other tribes as well.

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Mason argues:

A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preference as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood, and favorite grocery store. This is no longer a single social identity. Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity.

Mason calls this dynamic “social polarization.” The convergence of multiple identities into one mega-identity leads to greater stereotyping, prejudice, and emotional volatility — and makes us “increasingly blind to our commonalities.”

READ MORE

Political Action: A Practical Guide to Movement Politics

New from NYRB Classics

Political Action
A Practical Guide to Movement Politics
Michael Walzer

Buy now

Written at one of the darkest moments of the Nixon administration, Political Action is as timely, intelligent, and useful today as it was then. With clarity, wisdom, and wit, Michael Walzer lays out the practical steps for keeping movement politics alive both in victory and defeat. Political Action addresses important questions such as:

  • What do people need to do when out of outrage or fear of looming disaster they come together to demand change?
  • What can and can’t be accomplished through electoral politics?
  • How can movements operate democratically?
  • What is effective leadership?

Both an indispensable resource for activists and a lasting call to action, Political Action is an inspiring book for our times.

 

“The idea of republishing this book came from some high school students in Los Angeles. They were part of a social justice group at their school, and most of the projects they were contemplating involved organizing of some kind. To help them think about that, their faculty adviser photocopied parts of Political Action and handed it out. ‘This is really good!’ they told him. ‘This is what we need.’ What the kids said next became the impetus for this new edition: ‘Why is there nothing like this?’”

– from the new introduction by Jon Wiener

“Walzer’s first political call to action resonates as much in today’s tense, precarious climate as it did when the author originally crafted it… An authoritative master plan for forming effective, influential citizen activism.”

– Kirkus Reviews

 

For a limited time, Political Action will be available at 30% off.

Joe Henry

Joe Henry (born December 2, 1960) is a great singer-songwriter and producer. He has released 13 studio albums and produced multiple recordings for other artists, including three Grammy Award-winning albums. This video begins a YouTube mix playlist.