Saturday, August 19, 2017

after seeing a trailer for American Assasin, a thought or two on American exceptionalism as a spectrum-spanning thing, we get trailers for American Assassin, not American Court Stenographer

Whether it was "make America great again" or a rejoinder of "America is already great" the exceptionalism itself was beyond question.

This year I saw a trailer for a film I don't have any plans to see, called American Assassin.  It looks for all intents and purposes like one of those films where once you see the trailer you've seen the entire film. 

I think I might have seen the trailer before some friends and I were catching Dunkirk and I leaned over to tell one of the friends that it's always something like an American assassin or a sniper or a glamorous this or that.  We don't get films like American file-clerk or American stenographer.  Nobody's going to go out and make a movie called American piano tuner or American line cook or American forklift operator.

But even if there were a movie called American crossing guard, and let's say it was made ten years ago, it might have starred someone like Shia LaBeouf and there'd have been a trailer that would read vaguely as follows:

We might hear some voice over that says

VOICE-OVER:  In a world as big as the world we live in, even the simplest seeming jobs can have stakes of life ... and death.

CROSSING GUARD: [to children]  GO! GO! GO! GO!
children diffidently walk across the street

CROSSING GUARD braces for an impact off screen and is standing in front of children who have crossed the street

cut to pillar of fire explosion

Don't let anyone tell you to not dream big, after all. 

Perhaps no mainstream art is particularly concerned with capturing and exploring the humdrum in our era but if there is an art form as practiced in the United States that seems most explicitly inimical to the truly quotidian that would be film.  Nobody really wants naturalistic realism in film because all that would require is watching eight to twelve continuous hours of surveillance camera footage in a grocery story.  That might have been something of an Andy Warhol era experimental film, perhaps, but not something anyone would do either within mainstream Hollywood or even in what is ostensibly independent film-making. 

Concerns about American exceptionalism that have been expressed in editorials and articles of late seem too bound to consider a Trump administration rather than Clinton administration and, worse, too apt to consider the vices of American exceptionalism as emblematic of society rather than of the individuals who make up that society.  There may be no more street level American exceptionalism comparable to the exceptionalism of the corporate office than the conviction that rules should exist and people should be held to them ... except ... maybe ... for me. 

As easy as it is to make fun of mainstream American film for transforming our collective imagination into a big adventure of explosions and speeches and being true to ourselves this isn't necessarily not the case in other settings.  When The New Yorker has features on innovative developments in the adultery novel that presupposes that novels about adultery or so commonplace that the only reason to discuss yet another adultery novel narrative is for what makes it special compared to all the other ones already out there.  Book reviews of reasons people choose to not have children don't seem, as best I've been able to infer from reviews, to be collections of the reasons virgins have explained for why they don't believe they would ultimately make good parents. 

But on the whole the exceptionalism seems to work itself out in the arts through the exceptions that can be considered historic.  In a lot of ways that makes sense.  The exceptions that come to define whatever becomes a shared history is what we could expect of the arts.  We may not have epic poems and epic songs but we have epic movies just as in earlier days there were epic novels.  But can anything be epic and quotidian at the same time?  That may be an oxymoron greater than the oft-alleged oxymoron of military intelligence.  Then again ... I don't want to be too confident in such a surmise since Don Quixote might well be simultaneously quotidian and epic and I just don't know this for sure because that's one of the classics I haven't gotten to. 

But I would venture to guess that that's not an American approach to the arts.  The quotidian so often seems to be presented as a basis for suffering in American popular art, whether that art is considered lowbrow, middlebrow or highbrow.  If Jesus' instructions warned us that whoever is faithful with a little will be faithful with much the American response has so often seemed to be "Whatever, I want much now, already." A certain former megachurch pastor from the Seattle area relaunched himself as a preacher elsewhere and one of the axioms he had was you have to dream so big that if God doesn't make it happen it can't even work.  Yes ... that does sound like the American way a little bit, doesn't it? 

I've noted in the past how some authors have asked why science fiction can't seem to find a future beyond capitalism and I think that kind of question might be the sort that contributors to The Baffler would reflexively ask.  I think a more pertinent question, in light of the longevity of a franchise like Star Trek is whether Americans can envision a world worth living in and a human race worth saving that isn't ultimately the distillation of American mores and social values.  We've kept coming back to the dystopian and utopian science fiction tropes of the Reagan and JFK/LBJ eras, as though our collective national imagination is trapped in the red state and blue state civic religious eschatons without any room for a futurism in which the United States is altogether as has-been civilization. 

Who's to say whether or not it already is a has-been civilization?  We're a culture that may be determined, in our art if not necessarily always also in life, to stick to the rock and roll axiom that it is better to burn out than to fade away when the more equitable path that would benefit the most people would be to choose to fade away rather than insist on burning out.  Seeing trailers for films this year, whether high or low or mainstream or indie, it seems that that will not be the American way.  We'd rather imagine the end of the world than a world without US.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

a guest piece at Mere Orthodoxy regarding social conservatives vs tribal nationalism name-drops Edmund Burke but I wonder whether some of Burke's ideas have been summarily dropped by neo-cons long ago (as in never held to to begin with)
Specifically, social conservatism was the political theory of Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Russell Kirk: the belief that tradition, family, mores, and religion are essential for justice, liberty, and flourishing. Law should protect and favor them. And government governs best when it governs closest to the people. William F. Buckley, a Roman Catholic, introduced the Burkean approach to the emerging conservative movement starting in the 1950s.

Now I admit, I really like a couple of things Edmund Burke wrote.  He's not always the easiest to read but you don't exactly expect a treatise on the distinction between the beautiful and sublime to be page-turning material, do you? 

But I was reading his address to Parliament on the topic of American taxation over the last year and one of the things that jumped out at me is a passage that doesn't get mention in, say, a Wikipedia entry on the address.  It's this part:


But I hear it rung continually in my ears, now and formerly,--"The preamble! what will become of the preamble, if you repeal this tax?"--I am sorry to be compelled so often to expose the calamities and disgraces of Parliament. The preamble of this law, standing as it now stands, has the lie direct given to it by the provisionary part of the act: if that can be called provisionary which makes no provision. I should be afraid to express myself in this manner, especially in the face of such a
formidable array of ability as is now drawn up before me, composed of the ancient household troops of that side of the House and the new recruits from this, if the matter were not clear and indisputable.
Nothing but truth could give me this firmness; but plain truth and clear evidence can be beat down by no ability. The clerk will be so good as to turn to the act, and to read this favorite preamble.
"Whereas it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in your Majesty's dominions in America, for making a more certain and adequate provision for defraying the charge of the administration of
justice and support of civil government
in such provinces where it shall be found necessary, and towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the said dominions." [emphases original]

You have heard this pompous performance. Now where is the revenue which is to do all these mighty things? Five sixths repealed—abandoned—sunk—gone—lost for ever. Does the poor solitary tea duty support the purposes of this preamble? Is not the supply there stated as effectually abandoned as if the tea duty had perished in the general wreck? Here, Mr. Speaker, is a precious mockery—a preamble without an act—taxes granted in order to be repealed—and the reasons of the grant still carefully kept up! This is raising a revenue in America! This is preserving dignity in England! If you repeal this tax in compliance with the motion, I readily admit that you lose this fair preamble. Estimate your loss in it. The object of the act is gone already; and all you suffer is the purging the Statute-book of the opprobrium of an empty, absurd, and false recital.

There are a couple of passages that are considered wiki-worthy adjacent others that didn't get quoted, but those are the passages most salient to Burke's practical arguments.  Let's see ... :

Whether you were right or wrong in establishing the colonies on the principles of commercial monopoly, rather than on that of revenue, is at this day a problem of mere speculation. You cannot have both by the same authority. To join together the restraints of an universal internal and external monopoly with an universal internal and external taxation is an unnatural union,--perfect,  uncompensated slavery.  [the usual pull-quote stuff] You have long since decided for yourself and them; and you and they have prospered exceedingly under that decision.
Let's zero in on the following passage:

This nation, Sir, never thought of departing from that choice until the period immediately on the close of the last war. Then a scheme of government, new in many things, seemed to have been adopted. I saw, or thought I saw, several symptoms of a great change, whilst I sat in your gallery, a good while before I had the honor of a seat in this House. At that period the necessity was established of keeping up no less than twenty new regiments, with twenty colonels capable of seats in this House. This scheme was adopted with very general applause from all sides, at the very time that, by your conquests in America, your danger from foreign attempts in that part of the world was much lessened, or indeed rather quite over. When this huge increase of military establishment was resolved on, a revenue was to be found to support so great a burden. Country gentlemen, the great patrons of economy, and the great resisters of a standing armed force, would not have entered with much alacrity into the vote for so large and so expensive an army, if they had been very sure that they were to continue to pay for it. But hopes of another kind were held out to them; and in particular, I well remember that Mr. Townshend, in a brilliant harangue on this subject, did dazzle them by playing before their eyes the image of a revenue to be raised in America. [emphases added]

Here began to dawn the first glimmerings of this new colony system.  ...

The Empire had a new bad-ass array of regiments with officers capable of seats in Parliament.  Everyone was stoked about this new development and Burke's wry observation was to say that everyone was all applause so long as they would not be taxed for the upkeep of this notably expanded military presence that would maintain imperial activity abroad. 

The too long/didn't read conclusion Burke reached was to point out that the taxation that was installed and repealed for the purpose of providing the administration of justice and civil government in the American colonies was a sham. The real reason for the taxation was to maintain the standing military presence the English empire believed was necessary to maintain power in the new world.  You can't promise them by dint of an appeal to the need to tax them that they will have the rights and liberties of citizenship if the real reason you're taxing them is because you're treating them like a simple revenue stream.  If you try to do both of these things at once you'll get a rebellion on your hands.

It probably doesn't need to be said that Burke was right about that.  People don't mind paying taxes quite so much if in exchange they see some kind of benefit for it.  People mind being taxed if they feel like they won't benefit from it (or someone they know).  The emphasized passages are what I've been thinking about--Burke was pretty direct in pointing out that the men with wealth and property who would otherwise refuse to fund an army were stoked about this new army.  Why?  They didn't have to pay for it, it was going to be paid for by taxation on the American colonists.  Let's tax them for the upkeep of our army! 

Now I know that progressives tend to think of Burke as some stinky old dude who was opposed to democracy because he didn't like where he thought the French revolution was going to be going.  But if this is the same Edmund Burke who was sympathetic to American revolution against the royal tax policies; who urged tolerance for Catholics and Jews; and who advised that people in India defy the East India Company are we ... sure that Burke was the kind of conservative that contemporary American social conservatives present him as having been?  I was talking to one of my friends from the Mars Hill days who's always been a self-identified progressive (though a moderate one) for as long as I've known him and I told him that it seems as though if you sit down and read Edmund Burke without the dogmatic lenses of the contemporary left and right that progressives might find some of Burke's criticisms of imperial practice weirdly salient to our own time.  Raising revenue to maintain an army for national defense that is needed is one thing, exacting revenue from colonies to pay for your armies so you can keep having your colonial empire is another matter.  Now, sure, there's no reason progressives won't think lowly of Burke because of how long he's been invoked by the right but what if, to the extent that Burke can be thought of as having ideas worth studying, we need to temporarily shake off the canards of the left and right or the red and blue about Burke to reconsider what he actually had to say?

It's hard to imagine someone taking the ideas of Burke's condemnation of the policies of taxation on the American colonies as something that automatically defends the kind of military adventurism we've had over the last twenty to thirty years (or, really, everything going back to Kennedy and Johnson for that matter). 

Why couldn't people on the left invoke Edmund Burke to propose that if Americans are going to be taxed it should be for an infrastructure that will be beneficial to them rather than, say, for the defraying of a globe-spanning military empire?  The problem of trying to balance guns and butter isn't going to go away and at some point social conservatives might have to consider the possibility that the hawkish stance we've had over the last half century is going to ultimately be inimical to social conservatism if by that we mean actual stability of families and domestic life.  I don't consider myself particularly progressive overall but I'm curious, and because I'm curious I've been reading Burke in the last couple of years.  So I'm not always sure that what Edmund Burke said he meant about a few topics is necessarily the same as what mainstream right-leaning press says he meant.  Or as Jonathan Haidt has been putting it, there's a difference between respecting the intellectual heritage of conservatives and taking the Republican party seriously as a manifestation of those ideals and traditions.  So let's get back to the Mere O piece.

Burkean conservatism worried that family breakdown, secularization, cultural atrophy, administrative centralization, and the loss of citizen-shaping education would lead to damaged souls, damaged communities, and a damaged nation. As I’ve argued elsewhere, these ideas can be tested with the tools of historical investigation and social science. To the extent that they have been, socially conservative ideas have usually been vindicated (with nuance, qualification, and exceptions). On the whole, it is better for families to stay together, for schools to teach with rigor and have high academic and ethical standards, for a robust civil society to exist, and for religion to inform the conscience of a nation. And it is better for public policy to foster and encourage such things.

By 2016 it had become evident that Burkean conservatism—its intellectual coherence, philosophical depth and rigor, and consonance with Biblical political theology—was the working ideology of a tiny circle of intellectuals, not the voice of a broad movement. Evangelicals as a group either did not understand or did not care about the deeper ideas supposedly beneath their own movement. There is still widespread opposition to abortion and (decreasingly) gay marriage, but little evidence that such opposition is rooted in the ideas that were supposed to have animated social conservatism.

As quoted above, Burkean conservatism also proposed that taxing colonists under the pretense of providing civil government to them when the real reason for the taxation was to maintain a standing military force was going to end badly, probably with some kind of rebellion.  If some of the contributors past and present wonder how and why evangelicals who "should" be more sympathetic to red state values on both family and foreign policy seem more open to progressive fiscal policies I'm going to be just impudent enough to suggest that if they were really reading Edmund Burke and thinking about possible applications of his response to his times this might be a little less mysterious. 

Okay, as someone who's been going through Burke's thoughts on the French revolution it's certainly true Burke was against the abolition of all the institutions, customs and traditions that provided the social cohesion of a society.  This didn't mean that he didn't think that the way the British empire handled American taxation or its treatment of Catholics and Jews was exemplary.  As someone who still thinks of himself as an evangelical Protestant in the Reformed stream it seems ... nearly impossible to believe that what's colloquially known as the Religious Right embodies ideals of religious toleration after the manner of what Edmund Burke was advocating for in his own era.  In a way it's a little mysterious, reading Burke, how it is that conservatives in the United States manage to see him as their intellectual forebear on the one hand, and how progressives can somehow see Burke as an enemy of democratic processes or progressive ideals.  Was making a case for religious tolerance for Catholics and Jews in the 18th century an anti-progressive cause?

See, refract Edmund Burke through the American Puritan Roger Williams and it's hard to arrive at a conclusion that the power of the state should be used to give people much trouble. 

Now I agree that Americans wrongly equate loyalty to the United States with loyalty to the church. The problem is that there's a blue state as well as a red state version of this and in both cases the red and blue partisans who have decided they want Jesus on their side have reverse-engineered a Jesus who will get their platform across. 

So as I was talking with one of my progressive friends from the Mars Hill days I suggested that if actual Burkean style conservatives and progressives could manage to work together to scale back military adventurism that might be something.  The reason it seems so unlikely to happen is that we've got a left and right with people so devoted to totalitarian scorched earth methods the possibility of forging what would obviously be ad hoc and short term alliances toward common policy goals may never get to happen. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fredrik Deboer on recalibrating social media use, but first, some stuff from jazz blogger Ethan Iverson and revisiting a Pierre Bourdieu quote for some table setting

Now I've regularly enjoyed and benefited from reading Ethan Iverson's blog over the years.  His plug for Louise Talma's piano sonatas was persuasive enough I gave them a listen.  His interview with Terry Teachout about Teachout's Duke biography was fascinating. I particularly liked his interview with George Walker and advocacy for Walker's piano sonatas, and I now own recordings and scores for all five of those.  Iverson has had some misfires, the most notorious of which, on the blogosphere, had to do with a certain interview that people either already know about or don't need to know about.

Yet there are times I find Iverson frustrating.  It's not a pedantic streak.  I expect people interested in teaching to have a finely honed pedantic streak, in fact anyone who does any kind of teaching probably should have some of that in them. No, it's more in passing bromides about how people should go to the opera at least once a year or about how terrible it would be if culture turned into Star Wars movies and video games.  I mean, Episode VIII wasn't quite as lame as South Park signaled they thought it was.  It had its flaws but those were more clearly elucidated by Film Crit Hulk. 

But the way I hear it and see it Star Wars is just carrying the torch lit by Wagner's operas.

And then Iverson's got stuff like this ... :

Smart people knew all along that Trump’s supporters were motivated by racism or racism as a business. Historically, the broke and ignorant will take any excuse to blame “the other” for their predicament. Historically, the enfranchised stoke xenophobic fears in order to keep their own hoard growing.
The broke and ignorant possessing extra amounts of outward aggression became empowered after Trump became president.
Smart people were sure Trump had no chance of winning the nomination, let alone the electoral vote.  yet here we are.  Somehow the priesthood of entertainers didn't call this outcome. 
Having said that, when I've tried to think of ways to articulate what seems to be the difference between a liberal and a leftist to conservative friends and relatives it seems Iverson's done me a kind of favor.  The glibness with which Iverson assumes that smart people know that the poor people take refuge in racism in voting for Trump.  Iverson, at least, got in the cross hairs of self-identified leftist composer John Halle as in the orbit of what he called "jazzbros", which is a whole other topic. But where Iverson's recent tossed off lines seem pertinent is in light of something Halle quoted from Pierre Bourdieu on "racism of the intellect":
(Translation of Bourdieu’s 1983 Racisme de l’intelligence republished here.)
It is necessary to understand that there is no such thing as racism. Rather there are racisms-as many racisms as there are groups which need to justify their status, which is the usual function of racism. It seems to me therefore very important to apply the same analysis to forms of racism which are undoubtedly the most subtle, the most elusive and therefore the most rarely denounced, possible because usually those making the denunciations are themselves inclined to this form of racism. I’m referring to the racism of the intellect.
Racism of the intellect among the dominant classes is distinguished in several ways from that which one typically designates as racism, namely, the petit bourgeois form which is the target of most critiques, most notably beginning with that of Sartre.
This form of racism is characteristic of a dominant class whose maintenance depends to some extent on the transmission of inherited cultural capital understood as inherent and therefore natural and innate. Racism of intelligence is that through which elites aim to produce a “theodicy (rationalization) of their own privilege”, as Weber characterizes it, which is to say a justification of the social order which they dominate. It is this which makes elites convinced of their own inherent superiority.
All forms of racism are based on essentialism and racism of the intellect is the rationalization of the social order characteristic of the elite class whose power resides in the possession of credentials which, as do scholarly credentials, are supposed to confer the possession of specialized knowledge. These have taken the place of aristocratic titles of previous epochs in many societies-and confer access to positions of economic power-in the same way that the latter did.

So if Bourdieu was on to something about what he called the racism of the intellect and Iverson wrote so readily about the kind of racism that Bourdieu said is a favorite whipping target of the petit bourgeois then was what Iverson wrote a candidate for an overt and casual display of "racism of the intellect?"  Iverson might propose "no" because he doesn't consider himself to be really an academic in the official scholarly sense but who would insist that the racism of the intellect Bourdieu described is necessarily that of scholars?  Scholars of autism surely don't look down on those in the autism spectrum simply by dint of being scholars.  Or to put it another way, contemptuous elitism looking down on the unwashed masses can happen from within the middle class as well as the upper crust.

Now if there is something to this argument then perhaps the kind of assertions we would expect to see among those who harbor what Bourdieu described as a racism of the intellect would be to condemn those they regard as ignorant as being anti-intellectual.  Of course ... it's possible that this mutual animosity could be described as not necessarily being just about race but about, yes, you guessed it by now, class.  In a Venn diagram class and race can overlap but aren't necessarily always overlapping.  Which might get to the next detour before we're getting to Deboer's blogging, the recently reported concern some folks have about suburban grade inflation making inequality bigger and badder than it would have been in contexts where grade inflation wasn't the thing it's been over the last twenty or thirty years.

Here’s the latest, more profound way in which wealthier students have an advantage over lower-income ones: Those enrolled in private and suburban public high schools are being awarded higher grades—critical in the competition for college admission—than their urban public school counterparts with no less talent or potential, new research shows.
It’s not that those students have been getting smarter. Even as their grades were rising, their scores on the SAT college-entrance exam went down, not up. It’s that grade inflation is accelerating in the schools attended by higher-income Americans, who are also much more likely than their lower-income peers to be white, the research, by the College Board, found. This widens their lead in life over students in urban public schools, who are generally racial and ethnic minorities and from families that are far less well-off.  [emphasis added]
The grade-point average of students at private high schools who took the SAT climbed between 1998 and 2016 from 3.25 to 3.51, or almost 8 percent, the College Board found in research to be published early next year.
In suburban public high schools it went from 3.25 to 3.36.
In city public schools, it hardly budged, moving from 3.26 to 3.28.
“If there were a uniform upward drift, then we would have one problem,” said Michael Hurwitz, the senior director at the College Board, who led the research. “But this drift causes another problem: The variation does seem aligned with wealth in a very troubling way.”
These findings are troubling, but not surprising, said Richard Weissbourd, the director of the Human Development and Psychology program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “To be attractive to parents,” private schools in particular, Weissbourd said, “need to be able to tout how many of their students went to selective colleges. So they’re incentivized to give better grades.”
The same concern about college admission drives parents of students in suburban schools to pressure principals and teachers, he said. “It becomes very high maintenance for schools to deal with aggressive parents. So that can also push grades up.”
Then the cycle repeats. [emphasis added]
“This is one of those things that works like a contagion,” Weissbourd said. “If you’re an independent school or a suburban school and you’re giving Bs and the school in the next community is giving A-minuses, you start to feel like those kids are going to get a leg up. So you start giving out A-minuses.”
 Of course we've linked to this Fredrik Deboer post "The Academic “Success Sequence” – Get Lucky at Birth, Mostly" before.  I've sarcastically but also seriously proposed that one of the problems with liberal arts studies and vocational entertainers in the current socio-economic climate in the United States and the United Kingdom is that they don't recognize they are part of a priestly ruling caste because they embrace an ideology of liberalism or progressivism but, more crucially, the art-religion they espouse in some sense exempts them from being a ruling caste because of inherent definitions.  So a Jennifer Lawrence can make more money per film than a million men or women might make in ten years but she is concerned that she's being underpaid compared to male co-stars.  It's not that there isn't an inequity in that so much as that the inequity in the amount of money entertainers get paid compared to the people who may clean their houses might be a sticking point to the point that people might have decided to note keep voting for the Democratic candidates the mainstream entertainment and DNC people told them to keep voting for. 
So in a way we're finally ready to pivot over to the recent Fredrick Deboer blog post.
What were other people thinking about, at least as far as could be gleaned by what they shared online? What appeared to be a big deal to them and what didn’t? I had lost my sense of social proportion. I couldn’t tell if the things my friends were obsessing about were things that the rest of the world was obsessing about. Talking to IRL friends that don’t post much or at all online helped give me a sense that I was missing something. But I didn’t know what.
No, I had to use the tools available to me to dramatically change the opinions and ideas and attitudes that were coming flowing into my mental life. And it had become clear that, though I have an RSS feed and I peruse certain websites and publications regularly, though I still read lots of books and physical journals and magazines, the opinions I was receiving were coming overwhelmingly through social media. People shared things and commented on what they shared on Facebook and Twitter, they made clear what ideas were permissible and what weren’t on Facebook and Twitter, they defined the shared mental world on Facebook and Twitter. They created a language that, if you weren’t paying attention, looked like the lingua franca. I’m sure there are people out there who can take all of this in with the proper perspective and not allow it to subtly shape your perception of social attitudes writ large. But I can’t.
 That these linguistic/conceptual bubbles exist on the left, right and center and whatever bubble you may be able to identify seems reliably given.
So I set about disconnecting, temporarily, from certain people, groups, publications, and conversations. I found voices that popped up in my feeds a lot and muted them. I unfollowed groups and pages. I looked out for certain markers of status and social belonging and used them as guides for what to avoid. I was less interested in avoiding certain subjects than I was in avoiding certain perspectives, the social frames that we all use to understand the world. The news cycle was what it was; I could not avoid Trump, as wonderful as that sounds. But I could avoid a certain way of looking at Trump, and at the broader world. In particular I wanted to look past what we once called ideology: I wanted to see the ways in which my internet-mediated intellectual life was dominated by assumptions that did not recognize themselves as assumptions, to understand how the perspective that did not understand itself to be a perspective had distorted my vision of the world. I wanted to better see the water in which my school of fish swims.
It’s all particularly disturbing because a lot of what you see and don’t online is the product of algorithms that are blunt instruments at best.
So I set about disconnecting, temporarily, from certain people, groups, publications, and conversations. I found voices that popped up in my feeds a lot and muted them. I unfollowed groups and pages. I looked out for certain markers of status and social belonging and used them as guides for what to avoid. I was less interested in avoiding certain subjects than I was in avoiding certain perspectives, the social frames that we all use to understand the world. The news cycle was what it was; I could not avoid Trump, as wonderful as that sounds. But I could avoid a certain way of looking at Trump, and at the broader world. In particular I wanted to look past what we once called ideology: I wanted to see the ways in which my internet-mediated intellectual life was dominated by assumptions that did not recognize themselves as assumptions, to understand how the perspective that did not understand itself to be a perspective had distorted my vision of the world. I wanted to better see the water in which my school of fish swims. [emphasis added]
I was prepared for this to result in a markedly different online experience for me, and for it to somewhat change my perception of what “everyone” thinks, of what people are reading, watching, and listening to, etc. But even so, I’ve been floored by how dramatically different the online world looks with a little manipulation of the feeds. A few subjects dropped out entirely; the Twin Peaks reboot went from being everywhere to being nowhere, for example. But what really changed was the affect through which the world was presenting itself to me.
I never managed to get on the Twin Peaks train.  This year the big revival of a classic television show that had me excited wasn't Twin Peaks, it was Samurai Jack. While I could write about how much fun season 5 was I'll spare you that if you haven't seen it yourself.  Instead we'll get back to the post.
You would not be surprised by what my lenses appear to have been (and still largely to be): very college educated, very left-leaning, very New York, very media-savvy, very middlebrow, and for lack of a better word, very “cool.” That is, the perspective that I had tried to wean myself off of was made up of people whose online self-presentation is ostentatiously ironic, in-joke heavy, filled with cultural references that are designed to hit just the right level of obscurity, and generally oriented towards impressing people through being performatively not impressed by anything. It was made up of people who are passionately invested in not appearing to be passionately invested in anything. It’s a sensibility that you can trace back to Gawker and Spy magazine and much, much further back than that, if you care to.
Perhaps most dramatic was the changes to what – and who – was perceived as a Big Deal. By cutting out a hundred voices or fewer, things and people that everybody talks about became things and people that nobody talks about. The internet is a technology for creating small ponds for us to all be big fish in. [emphasis added] But you change your perspective just slightly, move over just an inch, and suddenly you get a sense of just how few people know about you or could possibly care. It’s oddly comforting, to be reminded that even if you enjoy a little internet notoriety, the average person on the street could not care less who you are or what you do. I recommend it.
Everyone knows, these days, that we’re living in digitally-enabled bubbles. The trouble is that our instincts are naturally to believe that everyone else is in a bubble, or at least that their bubbles are smaller and with thicker walls. But people like me – college educated, living in an urban enclave, at least socially liberal, tuned in to arts and culture news and criticism, possessed of the vocabulary of media and the academy, “savvy” – you face unique temptations in this regard. No, I don’t think that this kind of bubble is the same as someone who only gets their news from InfoWars and Breitbart. But the fact that so many people like me write the professional internet, the fact that the creators of the idioms and attitudes of our newsmedia and cultural industry almost universally come from a very thin slice of the American populace, is genuinely dangerous. [emphasis added]
I suppose I could queu up a quote from Jacques Ellul about how journalists and entertainers are inherently part of that new post-industrial aristocrat caste known as propagandists ...
Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

from footnote on page 252... The propagandist is a technician and a member of an aristocracy of technicians that establishes itself above the institutions of a democracy and acts outside its norms. Besides, the employment of propaganda leads the propagandist to cynicism, disbelief in values, non-submission to the law of numbers, doubts on the value of opinions, and contempt for the propagandee and the elected representative; he knows how public opinion is fashioned. The propagandist cannot subject himself to popular judgment and democracy. Finally, the propagandist is privy to all State secrets and acts at the same time to shape opinions: he really has a position of fundamental direction. The combinations of these three elements make the propagandist an aristocrat. It cannot be otherwise. Every democracy that launches propaganda creates in and by such propaganda its own enemy, an aristocracy that may destroy it.
When it's put like that perhaps the creepiest thing about the current executive is that he's emerged from within the propagandist caste and so other members of the propagandist castes recognize one of their own?