Below you’ll find of some of the best stuff I’ve read and watched recently. I’ll be doing this weekly. Hope you get something out of it.
Best stuff I’ve read:
The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills
I’ve been reading this for the past few weeks. It’s dense with jargon, and it doesn’t flow that well. But that’s pretty much what you might expect from a sociological analysis of American society. It is nonetheless fascinating and immensely helpful in, you guessed it, understanding power in America. Some of it is undoubtedly outdated (it was first published in 1956), but its main tenets still ring true. I’m going to try to write a book review making connections to today’s America, but I might end up scrapping it simply because I feel I’m not knowledgable enough to do it justice. For now, here are some passages I’ve read in the past few days that I find especially interesting.
- On the rise of the military and the decline of diplomacy:
“The military ascendancy and the downfall of diplomacy have occurred precisely when, for the first time in United States history, international issues are truly at the center of the most important national decisions and increasingly relevant to virtually all decisions of consequence. With the elite’s acceptance of military definitions of world reality, the professional diplomat, as we have know him or as we might imagine him, has simply lost any effective voice in the higher circles.”The Power Elite, p. 206
- It’s hard to argue with this:
In America, diplomacy has never been successfully cultivated as a learned art by trained and capable professionals…The Power Elite, p. 211
- A quote from a demoralized Albert Einstein in response to the neglect of fundamental science in favor of the militarization of science:
In the context of distrust, no less a scientist than Albert Einstein publicly asserted: ‘If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.’The Power Elite, p. 217
I’m a big fan of Freddie deBoer. He consistently produces some of the best commentary on American life in a sea of self-proclaimed experts that think they know what the hell is going on. He’s on the money yet again with this essay.
“Look past self-interest and self-preservation and you’ll find that everybody knows that the way left spaces work now is horribly broken and dysfunctional. The problem is that thinking people who would ordinarily object don’t because they’ve been convinced that this is some sort of special moment pregnant with progressive potential, and that is more important than rights, compassion, or fairness. So we maintain a shared pretense that things are cool the way you go through the motions on an awful date where you’re both aware you’ll never see each other again.”Freddie deBoer, “The Age of Kayfabe”
Best stuff I’ve watched:
Like most of what Thomas Frank writes, his collection of essays published in 2018, Rendezvous with Oblivion, turned out to be prescient. I watched a talk he gave on that collection earlier today, and his reading of a passage on the sad state of journalism from a 2016 essay stood out to me:
Meanwhile, between journalism’s insiders and outsiders—between the ones who are rising and the ones who are sinking—there is no solidarity at all. Here in the capital city, every pundit and every would-be pundit identifies upward, always upward. We cling to our credentials and our professional-class fantasies, hobnobbing with senators and governors, trading witticisms with friendly Cabinet officials, helping ourselves to the champagne and lobster. Everyone wants to know our opinion, we like to believe, or to celebrate our birthday, or to find out where we went for cocktails after work last night.
Until the day, that is, when you wake up and learn that the tycoon behind your media concern has changed his mind and everyone is laid off and that it was never really about you in the first place. Gone, the private office or award-winning column or cable-news show. The checks start bouncing. The booker at MSNBC stops calling. And suddenly you find you are a middle-aged maker of paragraphs–of useless things–dumped out into a billionaire’s world that has no need for you, and doesn’t really give a damn about your degree in comparative literature from Brown. You start to think a little differently about universal health care and tuition-free college and Wall Street bailouts. But of course it is too late now. Too late for all of us.Thomas Frank, Rendezvous with Oblivion
“Do concentration camp guards have the right to self-defense?”