Thursday, February 18, 2016


1. Matthew Yglesias thinks America's constitutional democracy is going to collapse. On this topic, he writes:
Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies — there is going to be a collapse of the legal and political order and its replacement by something else. If we're lucky, it won't be violent. If we're very lucky, it will lead us to tackle the underlying problems and result in a better, more robust, political system. If we're less lucky, well, then, something worse will happen. 
Very few people agree with me about this, of course. When I say it, people generally think that I'm kidding. America is the richest, most successful country on earth. The basic structure of its government has survived contested elections and Great Depressions and civil rights movements and world wars and terrorist attacks and global pandemics. People figure that whatever political problems it might have will prove transient — just as happened before. 
Rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right.
But voiced in another register, my outlandish thesis is actually the conventional wisdom in the United States. Back when George W. Bush was president and I was working at a liberal magazine, there was a very serious discussion in an editorial meeting about the fact that the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship. The idea that Bush was shredding the Constitution and trampling on congressional prerogatives was commonplace. When Obama took office, the partisan valence of the complaints shifted, but their basic tenor didn't. Conservative pundits — not the craziest, zaniest ones on talk radio, but the most serious and well-regarded —compare Obama's immigration moves to the actions of a Latin-American military dictator. 
In the center, of course, it's an article of faith that when right and left talk like this they're simply both wrong. These are nothing but the overheated squeals of partisans and ideologues. 
At the same time, when the center isn't complaining about the excessively vociferous complaints of the out-party of the day, it tends to be in full-blown panic about the state of American politics. And yet despite the popularity of alarmist rhetoric, few people act like they're actually alarmed. Accusations that Barack Obama or John Boehner or any other individual politician is failing as a leader are flung, and then abandoned when the next issue arises. In practice, the feeling seems to be that salvation is just one election away. Hillary Clinton even told Kara Swisher recently that her agenda if she runs for president is to end partisan gridlock. 
It's not going to work.
Click on the link above to find out exactly why Matthew Yglesias believes what he believes, and try not to panic too much. Twas ever thus.

2. Personally, I have only seen just under half of the films on this list of The Fifty Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Thanks to my friend Spidey for sending me this, because the next few months of my movie watching life just got an incredible boost of weird-ass mind-bombs injected into it. I mean, who can resist such out-there fare as the recently deceased Andrzej Zulawski’s Jerzy Żuławski's On the Silver Globe, described here as: 
A three-hour spaceman journey straight into the center of Zulawski’s poetic heart, On The Silver Globe is the director’s most phantasmagorical film. In 1976, Zulawski embarked on the largest-scale film production in Polish history, and over the course of two intense years, executed an eye-popping, grandiloquent sci-fi epic concerning astronauts who crash-land on the moon and kickstart their own bizarre, primitive society. Sadly, the Polish government deemed the film subversive, shut the production down just before shooting was completed, and destroyed its film print materials, sets and impossibly lush costumes. Ten years later, using secreted footage, Zulawski was able to piece together a version of the film that came as close as possible to his original vision—and the results will defy your mind, as even in its reconstituted form, On The Silver Globe is a true brainquake that effortlessly takes you to dizzying heights, and just keeps on elevating.
And that's one of the LEAST bizarre films on this list. Watch at your own peril! Viewer discretion is advised.

3. I found the experience of reading Tony Schwartz' New York Times essay "Addicted to Distraction" to be a profoundly disturbing experience. It begins:
ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.  
I was horrified. All my life, reading books has been a deep and consistent source of pleasure, learning and solace. Now the books I regularly purchased were piling up ever higher on my bedside table, staring at me in silent rebuke. Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.” ... 
“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” Nicholas Carr explains in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.” 
Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction. 
According to one recent survey, the average white-collar worker spends about six hours a day on email. That doesn’t count time online spent shopping, searching or keeping up with social media. The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect. 
Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out. 
I’ve known all of this for a long time. I started writing about it 20 years ago. I teach it to clients every day. I just never really believed it could become so true of me.
I urge everyone to read this essay in full. It's a sobering rumination on what's happening to all of us, at all times, in this Brave New World of ours. The ramifications are, potentially, devastating on a civilizational level.

No comments:

Post a Comment