For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions-universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”-conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.
But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart. Michael Lind explains this better than anyone else:
The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members-a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce-than they did under Herbert Hoover.
This was the tinder. The tech revolution was the match-one-upping the ’70s economy by demanding more efficiency and more speed and more boundarylessness, and demanding it everywhere. They introduced not only a host of inhuman wage-suppressing tactics, like replacing full-time employees with benefits with gig workers with lower wages and no benefits, but also a whole new aesthetic that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives-a set of principles that collectively might be thought of as flatness.
It seems to me like another way of thinking about this flatness that Newhouse is talking about is in terms of commodification. The goal of this system is to turn everything in it—not just products and objects, but (and maybe most of all) people and ideas—into interchangeable pieces that can be arbitrarily priced and traded.
This one is decent, though. They are nothing if not consistent.
Blaming social media is too easy an explanation for the terrible situation we collectively find ourselves in as a nation. According to polling this week, 7 in 10 Republicans believe Biden was not legitimately elected. For many Republican politicians, there is little incentive to challenge this false narrative: due to gerrymandering, winning their primary is equivalent to winning re-election, and no one wants to alienate 70% of their voters. Whether we “fix” Facebook or YouTube, whether or not we deplatform more QAnon folk or drive militia members into encrypted chat spaces, two more years of elected leaders repeating disinformation is going to hurt us as a society.
In general, I have been feeling lately like political disinformation on the American right is not a supply problem, but rather a demand problem. People are looking for stuff that will support what they already believe, or make them feel better about themselves for believing it. Cut off the supply of the disinformation in one place, and some new source will pop up to meet the demand.
That said, I don’t think it should be just one or the other. The fact that the demand remains consistent does not mean we should not work to reduce the supply. That is especially true for social media companies like Facebook, whose business models depend on amping up and spreading this sort of garbage as widely as possible.
I bought it on CD when it first came out, but then there were quite a few years that I didn’t have a CD player, and the album was not available on any of the streaming services.
Happily, both of those problems have been remedied.
My rule of thumb is that I need to give a new novel at least 100 pages before I decide to stop reading it. For this book, I still had my doubts at the 100-page mark, but I kept plowing ahead. Reading the book was feeling increasingly like a chore, though, and I finally gave up and switched to the next novel in my pile. I find myself no longer dreading my evening reading hour, so it definitely feels like I made the right call.
The main character is an older white guy—he is married, but that relationship seems like an afterthought. Going about his mundane days, he finds himself getting drawn closer to a self-help guru and his cult that have taken up residence nearby. There is a secondary plot about a drug-addled young woman who finds herself hooking up with a homeless drifter type; he is part of the aforementioned cult, the “Sun Collective” of the book’s title.
A year or two ago, I decided that I was going to stop reading “literary fiction” by straight white men. I have mostly stuck to this rule and felt good about it, but The Sun Collective somehow slipped through. I think I read a review of it in the NYT book section, or maybe in one of the new books flyers my library sends out. I requested it from the library without really stopping to think about it. In addition to reaffirming my strategy of not finishing books that are not good, The Sun Collective has also reminded me why I decided to stop reading books by old white guys.
There are some exceptions, of course, but these books always seems like thinly-veiled fantasies. A middle-aged or older white man is dissatisfied with his life in some regard and then goes off on some rebellious quest to find himself. Along the way, there is usually some sexually attractive and available younger woman. I flip to the back of the book, take a look at the author’s photo on the dust jacket and think, “Yep—you’re writing about yourself, aren’t you?” These stories have been told a billion times, and they are tiresome. I feel like most of these authors would have gotten a much better return on their time and investment by just going to see a therapist than by continuing to churn out this type of book.
I know that it is hard to leave—“I have to be there because that’s where all my friends are!”—but it you stay there and you keep contributing to it, then you are part of what enables it to keep going. You are part of the problem.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. Keep your account if you feel you need to, but don’t post stuff. Don’t comment on posts you see. If you have the need to post your thoughts and opinions and stuff you find interesting, find another place to do it and point people there from Facebook. Is it more work? Sure. Will fewer people comment and give you likes? Probably, but if that possibility bothers you enough to keep you on Facebook, then maybe you don’t hate it all that much.