"We Can Link Just As Fast As The River Is Strong, And We'll Link Till We're Gone" Edition
Well, that was another depressing week. I can’t remember what inspired me to end all of these newsletters with “have a lovely week” but it's clearly not paying off. I'll have to mix things up around here.
Obligatory shilling. This week I wrote for UnHerd about the Taliban, social media and propaganda.
Credentialist follies. Richard Hanania discusses the various follies of trusting the experts:
I think I’ve been right on Afghanistan and other American interventions because of good intellectual habits, including a genuine concern with what is true. But that has little to do with any training I got from political science.
Of course, one should be wary of taking an impulsive anti-expertise stance. Robert McNamara, key architect of the Vietnam War, came from the world of business and had famously little experience in politics. Still, Hanania makes good points about the perverse incentives of academia, and the failure of the proliferation of experts in fields that straddle the border between science and the humanities, like criminology and psychology, to have an obvious beneficial impact on the world.
Dis info. In a similar vein, Joe Bernstein reflects on the anti-disinformation industry:
The media scholar Jack Bratich has argued that the contemporary antidisinformation industry is part of a “war of restoration” fought by an American political center humbled by the economic and political crises of the past twenty years. Depoliticized civil society becomes, per Bratich, “the terrain for the restoration of authoritative truth-tellers” like, well, Harvard, the New York Times, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In this argument, the Establishment has turned its methods for discrediting the information of its geopolitical enemies against its own citizens.
Again, one could take this too far. If one believes in, say, the regulation of pharmaceuticals, one believes in some kind of “establishment” which determines what is and is not true. But the establishments we have are far too committed to falsity, both unconsciously and, as Adam Elkus writes with reference to the War on Terror, quite deliberately. Elkus writes about where “idealism – or, less charitably, fanaticism – [meets] with cynicism”, which might sum it up.
Quintessentially aristocratic. Justin Murphy explains NFTs:
NFTs are, in fact, quintessentially aristocratic. Extremely expensive trifles, conspicuous consumption, exclusivity that's valuable because it is possessed by those people who are valuable. The more trivial the better, as the triviality increases the costliness of the signal for the buyer. Georges Bataille called this kind of exuberant, conspicuous wastage "expenditure without reserve."
Going viral. Katherine Dee reflects on new research into Internet-induced social contagiousness:
Research began when a high number of young patients were referred to specialised Tourette’s clinic, having already proven resistant to traditional medical treatments like anti-psychotic drugs. But when it was discovered that the patients presented symptoms identical to those of Tourettes sufferer Jan Zimmerman, a popular German YouTuber, the researchers realised the problem: the patients did not actually suffer from Tourette’s, but were mimicking Zimmerman’s vocalised tics that they saw on his videos.
Confined to regional TV news. Patrick O'Flynn discusses the constant flow of illegal migration across the English Channel:
Almost nobody in the broadcast media or the House of Commons wants to talk about it. Nigel Farage on GB News is the foremost voice of dissent. Occasionally BBC News is shamed into running a story from its excellent south east of England correspondent Simon Jones who painstakingly records the numbers arriving. But normally his reports are confined to regional TV news and the Kent news section of the BBC website.
Lift, laugh, love. Freddie deBoer argues that there is no single route to gym success. Personally, I hope to find at least one.
Have an awful week,