Let's make this the biggest and best issue of THE ZONE of all time - that's right, ALL TIME!
Obligatory shilling. A busy week here. I wrote a short post for UnHerd about the legacy of last year's Black Lives Matter protests.
I reviewed Bo Burnham's creative sadboi comedy special Inside for Spectator World.
I wrote for my paying subscribers about the release of Giovanni Brusca, the Sicilian Mafia and the grubbiness of justice.
I also wrote about the legacy of an old chemical plant in my town.
Grinding and grifting. In the latest issue of American Affairs, Malcolm Kyeyune reflects on grifting:
“Grifters,” as typically understood, are particularly shameless individuals whose greed or ambition drives them to find easy marks and parasitize on political movements. The grifter, in this telling, is at least partly responsible for the failure of everything from left-populism to the incompetence of the Trump administration and beyond.
Kyeyune goes on to argue that “grifting” is a structural problem rather than merely a question of bad actors. I agree with that. Indeed, if one's income or status depends on writing and talking about politics and culture one must be alert to the grifter within oneself: the temptation to produce insincere and insubstantial content for profit. Yes, my friends, we all have him, and we all must slay him.
Modern moralism. A typically brilliant, wide-ranging essay by Justin E.H. Smith about the HR-ification of culture:
We have, today, a Zhdanovshchina suited to the particularities of our times, one that promotes not so much an “engineering of souls” as a “human-resources management of souls”.
Don't just grandstand there. Richard Hanania is frustrated by right-wingers complaining about “cancel culture” without thinking of specific ways to deconstruct it. He takes a legal approach:
Rolling back overbroad interpretations of the Civil Rights Act and previous Executive Orders won’t change the culture overnight for a movement that has let things get this far. But that is the obvious place to start, and would at least give conservatives a chance in the fight for institutions.
I think Hanania has a rather limited definition of “woke”, which it would take a motte-and-bailey fallacy to defend. Still, he is right that one cannot merely drift about the marketplace of ideas. Similarly, British right-wingers too often gripe about “wokeness” without focusing on specific means of curbing the excesses of the cultural institutions we know as “the blob”. It is not everything - but it is something.
The great white nopes. Philip Bunn addresses the boxing match between 50-0 boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and 0-1 YouTube idiot Logan Paul:
Effectively achieving our human ends requires concerted effort against the algorithms that seek to keep us enthralled. This reclamation of my time and attention is a project I intend to undertake with gusto, right after I watch Logan Paul get knocked out.
Predictably, even the latter desire was thwarted. As I have written before, the less that people watch pro wrestling, the more that other sports - and other spheres of life - appear to imitate pro wrestling. It is a shame they do it so badly.
Not cricket. English cricket player Ollie Robinson has been suspended from international cricket after someone with too much time on their hands searched back through his decade-old tweets, from when he was 18, and found some adolescent, Sickipedia-style jokes (“my Muslim friend is the bomb” et cetera). Apparently, this warrants an “investigation”. You can’t be too careful! First you let people get away with making edgy jokes ten years before, and then you, er - well, then I'm sure something bad would happen.
Get da fuck outta here. Rob Henderson asks why viewers of The Sopranos find Tony Soprano likable and theorises that it is because of pity. He had a difficult background, after all, and suffered trauma. True enough, and he certainly thinks he is deserving of pity. But I suspect the main reason for his appeal reflects worse on us. It is the same reason people cheered Stone Cold Austin. We like to watch people who have the same troubles as us - business troubles, family troubles et cetera - but are not held back by the rules of polite society. Of course, there are limits. Tony never hits his wife, which such a man probably would have done but which would have swiftly turned the audience against him. Yet we still have a guilty fondness for people doing whatever the hell they want.
Salo-ns. Anglo-hating, women-baiting Croat nationalist Niccolo Soldo passes the most essential test of the Internet which is being entertaining. How he has managed to get people from Glenn Greenwald to Marc Andreesen to not just appear but to be enthusiastic participants in his joyously scabrous and scurrilous interview series is beyond me but you have to read it anyway. Here is one question, to Andreesen:
Without you there's no LinkedIn. No Tumblr. No Reddit. No Instagram. No DeviantArt. How responsible do you feel for the horrible state of the world as it is today? Feel free to apologize to everyone.
Questioning civilisation. The incomparable Henry Hopwood-Phillips reflects on narratives of decline:
Complexity somehow breeds further costs and inefficiency as the system fails to critique itself or, if it succeeds in this, is even less able to perform the necessary surgery on itself. In short, marginal returns on complexity decline, offering lower benefits at ever-increasing costs.
Potshots. Peter Hitchens criticises the British government's strict internal regulations related to COVID and lax border security.
Poppy Coburn mocks the phony iconoclasm of modern art.
Oliver Wiseman asks why the world's most modern city, San Francisco, is falling apart.
Have a lovely week,