Form is function

“It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form—an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s. What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are.” – Adam Gopnik, “Being Honest About Trump”

Not the building of walls

“Cosmopolitanism is not a tribal trait; it is a virtue, as much as courage or honesty or compassion. Almost without exception, the periods of human civilization that we admire as we look back have been cosmopolitan in practice; even those, like the Bronze Age, that we imagine as monolithic and traditional turn out to be shaped by trade and exchange and multiple identity.” – Adam Gopnik, “Being Honest About Trump”

He could hide, but he couldn’t run

“After 9/11 in New York, a horrific but specific injury was deliberately levered into an apocalyptic panic. In the annals of courage and utter cowardice, none are more vivid than the contrasting pictures of Churchill on the rooftop of 10 Downing Street, coolly watching the Blitz, and Dick Cheney cowering in a bunker to make his fear contagious. “ – Adam Gopnik, “A Point of View: Four Types of Anxiety and How to Cure Them”

We play the lottery to benefit the fund

“There was a period in my life when I was spending time among great sleight-of-hand men, card magicians, in Las Vegas, and one of them slipped me a guide to card cheating that had been privately printed by a professional card cheat. (Card magic and card cheating are Siamese twins, and no great card magician has not flirted with fiddling his neighbours).

It was a sour piece of work, but it taught me something vital. Since a card cheat can only cheat effectively on his own deal, unless he has the cards marked (hard to do) the rest of the time he has to just play smart, and this means fully internalising, as instant reflexes, all the statistical probabilities of card playing. I recall the cheater’s insistent formula about these odds, almost his precise words, with indecent clarity: If the odds on whatever it might be—say, drawing to an inside straight—are 10-to-one, you’ll see it this week; if it’s 100-to-one, you won’t see it this week, but you will see it this year. If it’s 1000-to-one you won’t see it this year, but you will probably see it once. Anything more than that—10,000-to-one, 100,000-to-one—you’re never going to see at the card table. It’s just never going to happen. Yeah, but it will happen, to someone you say! Someone draws an inside straight. Yeah, he said, but you won’t.” – Adam Gopnik, “A Point of View: Four Types of Anxiety and How to Cure Them”

Teaching to the choir

“Editorial writers can seem the most insipid and helpless of the scribbling class: they sum up anonymously the ideas of their time, and truth and insipidity do a great deal of close dancing–the right thing to do is often hard but seldom surprising.  Good editorial writing has less to do with winning an argument, since the other side is mostly not listening, than with telling the guys on your side how they ought to sound when they’re arguing.” — Adam Gopnik, “Facing History”

Wait till you see what’s for supper before you decide

“The big question Camus asked was never the Anglo-American liberal one: How can we make the world a little bit better tomorrow?  It was the grander French one: Why not kill yourself tonight?” — Adam Gopnik, “Facing History”

A usual cruel punishment

“Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in ‘supermax’ prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo ‘exercise.’  (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.)” – Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”

Welcome to Lockuptown

“For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say.  For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones.  More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives.  Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.  In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then.  Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.  That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.” – Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America” (emphasis in original)

Rising and falling

“We sometimes think that the historical imagination is the gift of seeing past — seeing past the surface squalors of an era to the larger truths.  Really, history is all about seeing in, looking hard at things to bring them back to life as they were, while still making them part of life as it is.” — Adam Gopnik, “Inquiring Minds”

Followed by the cold vacuum of excess

“It takes more than full bellies to make fulfilled lives.  Without enough to eat, life is nasty; with merely enough to eat, it feels empty.  The escape from not-enough can highlight the emptiness of only-enough.” – Adam Gopnik, “Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat”

Our best Other friend

“Cats and birds are wonderful, but they keep their own counsel and their own identity.  They sit withing their own circles, even in the house, and let us spy, occasionally, on what it’s like out there.  Only the dog sits right at the edge of the first circle of caring, and points to the great unending circles of Otherness that we can barely begin to contemplate.” – Adam Gopnik, “Dog Story”

Fingerpaints and doodles

“Whatever sense of professional competence we feel in adult life is less the sum of accomplishment than the absence of impossibility: it’s really our relief at no longer having to do things we were never any good at doing in the first place—relief at never again having to dissect a frog or memorize the periodic table.  Or having to make a drawing that looks like the thing you’re drawing.” – Adam Gopnik, “Life Studies”

The gleanings

“We have been outsourcing our intelligence, and our humanity, to machines for centuries.  They have long been faster, bigger, tougher, more deadly.  Now they are much quicker at calculation and infinitely more adept at memory than we have ever been.  And so now we decide that memory and calculation are not really part of mind.  It’s not just that we move the goalposts; we mock the machines’ touchdowns as they spike the ball.  We place the communicative element of language above the propositional and argumentative element, not because it matters more but because it’s all that’s left to us.” — Adam Gopnik, “Get Smart”

Riddle me these

“Why do classical economists believe that free trade is good for everyone?  Why does the amount of gold kept in the treasury not make much difference to a country’s wealth?  Why don’t better machines for making pins eliminate jobs for good, instead of making more jobs of another kind?  Why, for that matter, does it not matter whether we’re productive in farming or manufacturing so long as we’re productive?  What does productivity even mean?” — Adam Gopnik, “Market Man”