Twitter. After more than a decade of contented blogging, I tried it last year, and was almost immediately chased off the premises by a persistent sociopath who needed to be there far more desperately than I did. I’d been onboard long enough, though, to realize that what made Twitter valuable was its omnipresence. It saw everything everywhere all at once, and was both faster and less timid than any curated medium was at reporting what it saw. Despite its flaws, Twitter always knew what was up, and it was always eager to tell everybody about it.
Being able to eavesdrop on the entire world in real time, or as close to real time as human perception and internet data transmission allow, is intoxicating in both the good and bad senses of the term, which is undoubtedly why Twitter can sometimes appear to us as a fountain and sometimes as a cesspool, and sometimes as both at the same time. Despite attempts by management to police vile and unpleasant behavior, there has never been any credible gatekeeper on Twitter, no credentialing, certification, or approval process that couldn’t easily be circumvented. The reason for this was the sheer scale of the task. The universe of discourse on social media in general, and on Twitter in particular, was and is too large and too fast to control, even with the assistance of computer-driven algorithms. Unlike the editors of the New York Times, Jack Dorsey and his staff had no illusions about their ability to monitor, let alone enforce, cultural norms at scale. On Twitter, civilized discourse was an option, but it was never the only option. Caveat lector was the rule.
And so it was until Musk, full of who knows what except himself, decided to cast his bread upon the waters. Given that we’re only a few days into his reign, it’s hard to predict the outcome of his dalliance with any confidence, but at the moment it seems unlikely that he’ll ever find that bread again, at least not all 44 billion dollars worth of it. What the rest of us will find is even more uncertain, but I suspect that even after Musk has done working everything over from top to bottom with his libertarian hatchet, Twitter will remain pretty much what it always has been, the human comedy entire, in all its tawdry glory. It’s also a fair bet, I think, that Musk the reformer isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and it won’t be all that surprising if, in the waning days of his epiphany, he turns out not be as solvent as he thought he was either.
All that aside, what I found useful about Twitter last year is still just as useful, and I know my way around the place now. I no longer need to browse except when the mood strikes me, I’ve found a place where the sociopaths can’t get to me, and if Elon ever tires of his pet project, or surrenders it to the bankruptcy courts, I’ll still have Mastodon, or something very like it, to fall back on. Caveat lector is working out just fine for me. YMMV.
A meditation on Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia
Is the logic of capitalism the logic of the germ cell or the cancer cell? If it actually turns out to be both, what does that augur for our future?
Social democracy demands consensus. Fascism demands obedience. Neither has much respect for the richness of human intention.
We are a mercurial species. Cats are actually easier to herd than we are. Sooner or later, this drives the zealots, ideologues, and bureaucrats of every religion and ism around the bend. If they weren’t so vicious in their disappointments, they’d deserve our sympathy.
There are echoes of an eloquent despair in DeLong’s perceptions, something prophetic, something like an eternally acerbic Brechtian irony:
Wäre es da—Bertolt Brecht, die Lösung
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?
Would it not in that case
Be simpler for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
If in the end democracy isn’t robust enough to save us from the metastatic influence of 21st century technologies on our nastier impulses, what then? Even if human evolution were proceeding according to our fondest hopes, could it ever be quick enough to make Brecht’s tongue-in-cheek option a viable one? Clearly not.
I don’t care. I’ve just finished reading Slouching Towards Utopia, and I’m putting away my lantern. I’ve found an honest man. To return to Brecht again:
In den finsteren Zeiten
Wird da auch gesungen werden?
Da wird auch gesungen werden.
Von den finsteren Zeiten.
In the dark times—Bertolt Brecht, Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik
Will there also be singing?
There will also be singing.
About the dark times.
“It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit,” Alito, who penned the decision reversing Roe v. Wade last term, told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line,” he said.
—CNN Politics: Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter, 8:51 AM EDT September 29, 2022
Ask Ron DeSantis. Also ask him why he wants to turn America into a place where he can wear one just like it.
Ask Newt Gingrich, the world-renowned historian. I’m sure he can explain precisely how and why we’ve all lost our way since the time when men could wear hats like this without getting laughed at.
Ask Sarah Palin or Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene. I’m sure they’d give up their present gigs in a heartbeat to be the consort of a man with a hat like this.
Dulce bellum inexpertis
War is sweet to those who haven’t experienced it.
—Pindar, Fragments, 110,109
The six right-wing ideologues of the U.S. Supreme Court have arbitrarily declared war on millions of people who’ve done them absolutely no harm. Although they may presently consider themselves personally immune to the consequences of their vile self-righteousness, an unbiased reading of history suggests that in the end they themselves will suffer something of the agony they’ve inflicted on others. May that day come sooner rather than later.
The Democrats’ characteristic form of cowardice is risk aversion. For the Republicans, it’s moral weakness.The Rotten Core of Our Political System, by George Packer, The Atlantic May 18, 2022
George Packer’s two-sentence bon mot is as perceptive a summation of our present political ignominy as any out there, which makes it especially welcome in times like these, when two sentences are about as much punditry as anyone can stand. Does anyone still doubt that our pundits are as clueless as our politicians are about what’s coming, or believe that they have anything to tell us that we don’t already know? Yes, we’re aware that it’s coming. No, don’t bother, we’ll figure that out when it gets here. In the meantime, we just found these truly awesome earplugs on Amazon….
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition….