Wednesday, November 16

Flashes of clarity:

It’s probably time to treat the network we have as a failure mode.

A pathological network may be an existential threat to the project of democratic governance.

Whatever anarchic inclinations I’ve had over the years: I have a hard time imagining that any preferable alternative emerges from the large-scale failure of a democratic state. At least not this one, however imperfectly democratic it has been in fact.

Ok, let me think for a minute.

Much of the American political system has been captured by a combination of populist authoritarian racists1 and a dangerously deteriorated Republican Party. That’s one thing that’s happening. It would be a bad idea to downplay it.

Beyond that, but also all wrapped up in it: It feels like there’s this intensifying of in-group / out-group dynamics like I don’t think I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Of course that’s an old process. American ideological polarization has roots centuries older than this election cycle. In a nation-state founded in the context of slavery, genocidal colonization, cycles of mass migration and social upheaval, and grand-scale ideological/religious ferment — how could it not?

But above and beyond the American historical background radiation:

From outside it but not outside its reach, the dominant right-wing discourse appears as a cesspit of disinformation and resentment. It abhors moderation or nuance. The guffawing idiocy of talk radio and shit-tier web forums has consumed institutions for which those things were once just useful instruments of propaganda. It’s become a determining norm. Even conservative cultural outlets and individual voices that buck this trend seem complicit with its aims or incapable of exerting any moderating influence.

Left-wing discourse (even though smart people in it will explicitly and thoughtfully reject this assessment) seems locked in a cycle of conflict between factions and individuals whose goals and values are often indistinguishable to outsiders. The parsing of text for adherence to a constantly shifting and sometimes arbitrary standard of correctness consumes vast resources, alienates potential allies from one another, and poisons efforts at basic empathy. It’s almost impossible to address this pattern within the norms of left-wing discourse, because it will be parsed as a regressive defense of incorrect postures or identity relationships which in turn reduces to a right-wing argument about “political correctness”. (Without those norms, it tends to reduce itself to that sort of thing.)

Some of the left-wing / social-justice internet has simply crawled up its own asshole into absurdist theatrics. Considerably worse, some of it feels like it’s curdled into a culture of weirdly exaggerated mob discipline, dogpiling, and absolutist territorial infighting. This pattern seeps into the language and behavior even of lots of intellectually rigorous people who try hard to communicate in good faith. (And also probably the behavior of me.)

It’s early in a bad time, but most of these things feel unlikely to improve under the constraints we now face. Or to stop feeding one another.

The network now defines, if it doesn’t yet thoroughly own, the space we occupy in reality. Too much of the network space encourages adversarial communication as the only means of participation. Just existing without engaging some conflict narrative is possible within a lot of physical rooms. It’s a lot harder on a lot of the internet. This alone is almost a deterministic guarantee of fighty bullshit.

Two bumper stickers on a car in the Post Office parking lot the other morning:

TRUMP: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

And:

If Guns Are Outlawed What Will We Shoot Liberals With?

🌲

Charlie Loyd, Some memories of my grandmother:

It’s not enough to remember Nazis as symbols of evil. What happened to six million people was not done by metaphors for wickedness, it was done by other people with hands and brains like ours. They were infected with the idea that there are intrinsically good people and intrinsically evil people. They were extremely evil, but not intrinsically. They were wrong in ways that you and I can be wrong. This is the most terrifying thing I know, and I know it from Grandma. What do “it can happen here” and “never again” mean? I can’t know the way that Grandpa did or Grandma did.

From there, it’s obvious that she did not let go, was not subsumed into the history textbook subheds of the century; she was always moving under her own power, in catastrophies and in merely imperfect systems. And so was everyone. Grandma was special in many ways, but point to anyone and so are they. Some of us are lucky enough to get to a place where our work can accrete, where we can build a piece of the world we want. Many of us are not. War is only one of the forces that can destroy a person’s chances, or a generation’s work, or a generation. The weight of history is intolerable, an ocean-trench pressure, if we try to take it as a weight. Talking with Grandma helped me take it as a liquid, something that we can equalize against without being crushed, something whose unintelligible mass we can, with luck, push through and move within.

I’ll leave it on that one. It’s more useful than any thoughts I’m having.

1 Only _some_ members of this movement are self-declared Nazis, in the Klan, or activist antisemites, so I guess we're still collectively on the fence about whether "pack of fascists" would be appropriate terminology.