Category Archives: Literature

Emergent propaganda.

Thus the very common type of Twitter user who expresses himself or herself almost completely in hashtags: pre-established units of affiliation and exclusion.

And yet — Russian bots and political operatives (who have turned themselves into bots) aside — social media lack the planned purposefulness intrinsic to propaganda. So they must be a different kind of thing, yes?

Yes and no. I think what social media produce is emergent propaganda — propaganda that is not directed in any specific and conscious sense by anyone but rather emerges, arises, from vast masses of people who have been catechized within and by the same power-knowledge regime. Think also about the idea I got from an Adam Roberts novel: the hivemind singularity. Conscious, intentional propaganda is so twentieth century. The principalities and powers are far more sophisticated now.

–Alan Jacobs, propaganda and social media


“The explanation rests.”

It is a significant commentary on the present state of our culture that I have become the object of hatred, smears, denunciations, because I am famous as virtually the only novelist who has declared that her soul is not a sewer, and neither are the souls of her characters, and neither is the soul of man.

The motive and purpose of my writing can best be summed up by saying that if a dedication page were to precede the total of my work, it would read: To the glory of Man.

And if anyone should ask me what it is that I have said to the glory of Man, I will answer only by paraphrasing Howard Roark. I will hold up a copy of Atlas Shrugged and say: “The explanation rests.”

–Ayn Rand, “The Goal of My Writing,” from The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (The World Publishing Company, 1969), p. 174

A long-term abusive relationship.

The best I could do as moderator some days was to keep the conversation from completely turning into a flaming cesspool. Last month, I was speaking to a friend, describing my long-held hope that things might someday improve, that every time a conversation in comments went really well, maybe it signaled a turning point—that from then on, things would get better. As soon as I said that aloud, I realized that it sounded as if I had been living in a long-term abusive relationship.

–Alan Taylor, For Ten Years, I Read the Comments

The supreme culprit.

The Ad:

The Context:

Entropy, agency, and determinism.

Nothing is more characteristically American about science fiction than its explicit activism and the faith which its writers have expressed that events can and will be moved in desirable directions by a strong-minded people. Yet entropy is a law of nature standing athwart the history that such people might make—and a law not so easily finessed with a vaguely defined ‘warp drive’ as is Einstein’s universal speed limit. […]

Although he defined his own personal faith as Deist, Campbell’s own opinion of human nature added to an Old Testament view of divine justice a very Augustinian sense of human depravity, a Puritanical acceptance of Apocalypse as no more than people deserved. Similarly mixed were his views on the consequences of science and technology. They were at once the highly desirable goal of human struggle, the producers of the mechanized luxury of decadence, and the revealers of entropy with all its terrors for the rationalist.

The ultimate inevitability of entropy made Campbell a determinist about human history, despite his personal distaste for determinism and all his attempts to deny that he was a determinist. The attempts at denial, moreover, were rooted in what was most conventional about his Americanism: problem-solving activism, optimism, hope (if not necessarily faith) in the ability of the right kind of people to master their physical environment.[…]

Left to themselves [in a closed system], Campbell was saying, people cannot reform, rebuild, or revitalize their own lives, their own societies. That has to be done for them—or to them.

–Albert I. Berger, The Magic That Works: John W. Campbell and the American Response to Technology (1993), pp. 27, 31-32

Not what you’d call “a reader.”

Ahead of the election, the editors of this magazine wrote that the Republican candidate “appears not to read.” Before the inauguration, Trump told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In February, The New York Times reported that National Security Council members had been instructed to keep policy papers to a single page and include lots of graphics and maps. Mother Jones reviewed classified information indicating Trump’s briefings were a quarter as long as Barack Obama’s.

In March, Reuters reported that briefers had strategically placed the president’s name in as many paragraphs of briefing documents as possible so as to attract his fickle attention. In September, the Associated Press reported that top aides had decided the president needed a crash course on America’s role in the world and arranged a 90-minute, map-and-chart heavy lecture at the Pentagon. And amid the hype over Wolff’s book, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough wrote a column Friday saying that in September 2015, he confronted Trump over poor debate performances, saying, “Can you read?” Met with silence, Scarborough pressed again: “I’m serious, Donald. Do you read? If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?” Trump replied by brandishing a Bible from his mother and saying he read it all the time—probably a self-aware joke, given Trump’s proud impiety and displayed ignorance of the Bible.

The Scarborough anecdote is the strangest of these. This is not only because Scarborough held on to the story for nearly a year and a half, and continued to hype Trump’s candidacy on air and advise him privately. (As James Fallows notes, the real scandal of the Wolff book is that so many people have such grave misgivings about Trump but have kept their heads down.) It is also unfortunate because Trump is clearly, in strictly literal terms, literate. He displays his basic grasp of the language—if in sloppy, often typo-ridden ways—on Twitter on a roughly daily basis. Such stories, by dint of their hyperbole, offer a bit of a distraction from how serious the problem is.

–David A. Graham, The President Who Doesn’t Read

Imaginative exercise and practice.

There’s a tendency in American culture to leave the imagination to kids — they’ll grow out of it and grow up to be good businessmen or politicians. […]

But much of it is derivative; you can a mash lot of orcs and unicorns and intergalactic wars together without actually imagining anything. One of the troubles with our culture is we do not respect and train the imagination. It needs exercise. It needs practice. You can’t tell a story unless you’ve listened to a lot of stories and then learned how to do it.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, interviewed by David Streitfeld