Here’s looking at you

“We have come to take for granted comprehensive lateral surveillance. We have grown used to regarding friends as also spies, whose allegiance is uncertain; they are agents who are liable to identify us in photographs, keep tabs on our whereabouts, spread misinformation or disinformation in permanent, public forums on our behalf — or to our detriment, who can be sure? Even intimates can become inadvertent double or triple agents in the infinite regress of strategies and counterstrategies in our intricate social-media self-presentations, which we can never really be sure aren’t false-flag operations. Why do people share what they share? And since they know I will be asking that question, how has that affected their choice to express that enthusiasm over that Stanley Cup playoff game, or Obama’s kill list, or the kale they had for dinner? How do I respond? Everything is a move in a complicated game that social-media surveillance makes sure we are always playing. Control over even our own identity slips away from us, as we lose sense of what is spontaneous and what is mere tactical performance in the midst of such recursive reflexivity. We sense our own fragile fakeness, which can only confirm our suspicions of others.” – Rob Horning, “Agents Without Agency”

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)

And none of them involve snark attacks

“Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day.” – Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University commencement speech, 2012.

We’re all girls now

“That spirit of performativity you have about your citizenship now? That sense that someone’s peering over your shoulder, watching everything you do and say and think and choose? That feeling of being observed? It’s not a new facet of life in the 21st century. It’s what it feels like for a girl.” — Rahel Aima, “Desiring Machines”

Pretty people earn more

“In the world of women’s work, how one looks is as important, if not more important, than what one does: The existential anxiety of identity creation is also economic and social anxiety, because the penalties for nonconformity are so high. Feminine mystique becomes identity itself. The woman who does not possess it, the ugly woman, the overweight woman, the older woman, the woman of color who will not straighten her hair or bleach her skin, is assumed, in a very real sense, to be invisible. She is overlooked on the street, at parties, on dating websites, at job interviews. She is dogged by a feeling of unreality; she does not exist, and if she dares to ‘be herself,’ she is stunned to find that, since her social legitimacy is contingent on artifice, that self is not a legitimate social construct.” — Laurie Penny, “Model Behavior”

Penalties assessed for failure to comply

“When beauty becomes mandatory, it ceases to be about fun, about play. Dressing up, playing with gender roles, doing your braids badly in the mirror, and eating half your mother’s lipstick in an attempt to get it on your face: Do you remember when that used to be fun? And do you remember when it stopped? Like any game, the woman game stops being fun when you start playing to win, especially if you’ve got no choice: Win or be ridiculed, win or become invisible, dismissed — disturbed.” — Laurie Penny, “Model Behavior”

And there are no secrets

“Maybe I can describe it this way.  I like to play chess.  I moved to a small town, and nobody played chess there, but one guy challenged me to checkers.  I always thought it was kind of a simple game, but I accepted.  And he beat me nine or ten games in a row.  That’s sort of like living in a small town.  It’s a simpler game, but it’s played to a higher level.” – Ken Jenks (as quoted by Peter Hessler in “Dr. Don”)

We left it lying around here somewhere

“No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance, not a leaf nor a tree.  There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn.  What matters is justice.” – Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

The cascading double-dog dares

Ninety-eight years ago on this very day the so-called Great War (aka, the World War, aka the First World War) “broke out,” as wars are said to do.  How did this misfortune come about?  Through an unstoppable cascade of double-dog dares, to wit:

A Serbian nationalist assassinated an Austrian (aka, Austro-Hungarian) duke;

The Austrians (aka, Austro-Hungarians) demanded some stuff from the Serbians for reparations;

The Serbians said, No way, man;

The Austrians (aka, Austro-Hungarians) said, You don’t give over, we’re going to attack;

The Serbians said, So attack, we double-dog dare you;

The Russians said to the Austrians (aka, Austro-Hungarians), We be friends with the Serbians and if you be attacking them, we be attacking you;

The Austrians (aka, Austro-Hungarians) said, So attack, we double-dog dare you;

The Germans said to the Russians, We be friends with the Austrians (aka, Austro-Hungarians, though we prefer the Austrians) and if you be attacking them, we be attacking you;

The Russians said, So attack, we double-dog dare you;

The French said to the Germans, We be friends with the Russians, since their dukes and duchesses and stuff all speak French, and if you be attacking them, we be attacking you;

The Germans said, So attack, we double-dog dare you;

The British, who more or less wanted to stay out of things–or, truth be told, wanted to play all these other folks off against each other so they could scoop up the pieces–said, We don’t really have a dog in this fight, but we do be friends with the Belgians so if anyone (and Germans, we mean you) thinks to march through Belgium to get to, oh, let’s say France, perchance, well, you see, it would be a terrible bother, but we can’t see how we would have any choice other really, than to come to their aid, what with it being impolite to do otherwise;

To which the Germans said, We double-dog dare you, you irrelevant English swine (which was fisticuffs-provoking insult to those British who were not English).

All the double-dog dares being in place and ignored, the attacks and counterattacks and countercounterattacks and countercountercounterattacks ad nauseam began and forty million (40,000,000) dead people later they ended.  Along the way, Japan and the United States entered the war, also as part of the double-dog-dare cascade, to wit:

Japan saw an opportunity to pitch in with the what were called Allies and scoop up German territories in the Pacific.  They double-dog dared the Germans to try and stop them, to which the Germans muttered, We cannot stop you, all our dogs are in other fights.

The United States just wanted to make money and when the Germans started fucking with the money-maker by sinking United Stateser ships, the United States said, Stop it or we’ll pitch in with the what are called Allies and we will show you a thing or two.

The Germans said, You are degenerate Americans and we double-dog dare you.

So the degenerate Americans from the United States Thereof pitched in and the what were called Allies won and the decline of Western Civilization, which began on this date ninety-eight years ago, continued apace, with the American Empire coming along after yet a second world war (they couldn’t get it right the first time?) to shine and burn brightly as the final efflorescence of what for a half-millennium had been a powerful civilization pretty full of itself but quickly at its end going to the dogs.

Lemmings on parade

“‘The market’—like ‘dialectical materialism’—is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question).  It has its true believers—mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow travelers—who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom in the US especially have dutifully swallowed the pill and proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.” – Tony Judt, “Captive Minds”

Souls on sale

“Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today.  For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.  We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth.  We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good?  Is it fair?  Is it just?  Is it right?  Will it help bring about a better society or a better world?  Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers.” – Tony Judt, “Ill Fares the Land” (emphasis in original)

Decisions, decisions

“Whether we should endure the violence of the state, as a defense against the yet more fearful violence of our neighbors, and whether there comes a point where the violence of the state must be resisted are great recurrent questions of moral and political life.” — Robert Bartlett, “Lords of ‘Pride and Plunder'”

In the land of mocha

“Under our Constitution there can be no such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race.  That concept is alien to the Constitution’s focus upon the individual.  To pursue the concept of racial entitlement–even for the most admirable and benign of purposes–is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred.  In the eyes of government, we are just one race here.  It is American.” — Anthony Scalia, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Mineta, 534 U.S. 103 (1995)

The Congress is in session

“Most legislators have been men of limited abilities who have become leaders by chance, and have taken scarcely anything into account except their own whims and prejudices.  They seem not even to have been aware of the grandeur and dignity of their task: they have passed the time making puerile regulations, which, it is true, have satisfied those without much intelligence, but have discredited them with men of sense.” —  Montesquieu, “Letter 125,” Persian Letters (trans. Betts)

E pluribus unum, people

“If Americans seriously want the United States to continue to exist in something like its current form, they had best respect the fundamental tenets of our unlikely union.  It cannot survive if we end the separation of church and state or institute the Baptist equivalent of Sharia law.  We won’t hold together if presidents appoint political ideologues to the Justice Department or the Supreme Court of the United States, or if party loyalists try to win elections by trying to stop people from voting rather than winning them over with their ideas.  The union can’t function if national coalitions continue to use House and Senate rules to prevent important issues from being debated in the open because members know their positions wouldn’t withstand public scrutiny.  Other sovereign democratic states have central governments more corrupted than our own, but most can fall back on unifying elements we lack: common ethnicity, a shared religion, or near-universal consensus on many fundamental political issues.  The United States needs its central government to function cleanly, openly, and efficiently because it’s one of the few things binding us together.” – Colin Woodard, American Nations

Tea, anyone?

“Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won.  It’s been a rout.  You have seen a period where American workers generally have gone no place, and where the really super rich as a group increased their incomes five for one in this rarefied atmosphere.” — Warren Buffet, quoted in “Returns ‘Terrific’ as U.S. Workers Suffer,” Bloomberg News, 11.15.11

Yee-haw! Git along, little dogies

“The best way to do good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” — Benjamin Franklin (quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVIII, Ch. XXIV, Sec. 3)

What’s the role for unpopular information?

“A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”  — James Madison (quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 18)