The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 29. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.
Letter from the Editors
[Anastasia Berg and Becca Rothfeld]
We are Callard’s friends, and yet here we are, ignoring her injunction. Why? Because we do not believe that the only way to meet the challenge posed by zombies is to remain silent or passively await the next attack.
Linus: These baseballs are no good. After about three innings they come all apart.
Charlie Brown: I know what you mean. This is what is called “planned obsolescence”!
Everything is Hyperpolitical
A genealogy of the present
Today everything is again political, and fervently so. But despite borderless passions overtaking and remaking some of our most powerful institutions, from art institutes to political parties to supranational bodies, very few people are involved in the sort of organized conflicts of interests that we would once have described, in a classical, twentieth-century sense, as “politics.”
On Loving White Boys
Eros and identification
In the paranoid script about white-male/Asian-female relationships, I am represented. How thrilling, to be granted a character that is explicitly an Asian American woman! But alas, as I discovered, the paranoid script is not a very good one.
Or, blessings for atheists
I had so often heard of how healthy it was to make a practice of “gratitude”—I assumed it would be like that.
Symposium: What is tech for?
[Min Li Chan and Meghan O’Gieblyn]
It recognizes contactless, copypasta and deepfake, but tirelessly corrects English phrasings that were common in previous centuries. It has tried to improve the words of God himself. Did Christ perhaps mean to say, “Do not be anxious about how you are to speak or what you are to say…” it asked, just the other day, and I blushed on its behalf. Forgive it, Father, for it does not know…
The Virtual Condition
VR poses some novel ethical challenges, Chalmers concedes. He devotes one of his three chapters on value to the question of the moral worth of simulated beings. Do simulated lives matter? He quotes MLK. The arc of the universe bends toward justice for sims. This seems to be sincere.
The point is not that our digital-media environment necessarily generates vice; rather it’s that it constitutes an ever-present field of temptation, which can require, in turn, monastic degrees of self-discipline to manage.
Silicon or Carbon?
The Network State is an exemplary salvo in a debate playing out in tech today over which type of world we want to live in: A world of Atoms, or of Bits?
The present air of excitement surrounding AI cannot be chalked up simply to familiar tech boosterism. Even those skeptical of the new technology’s advance on the grail of genuine intelligence remain deeply agnostic on the question of whether, in principle, genuine artificial intelligence is achievable. This, in turn, reveals a radical transformation in the way we have come to understand ourselves.
Working in Tech
“Do I believe that technology has the ability to improve people’s lives? Sure, why not? Do I think the technology industry—the one associated with Silicon Valley, venture capital and offices with coffee bars and open-concept seating arrangements—has an ability to change the world for the better? Probably not.”
A conversation with Tyler Cowen
[Tyler Cowen and Jon Baskin]
“Ask random immigrants or would-be immigrants: Would you rather migrate to Fairfax County or, you know, to Tolstoy’s Russia? It’s not even a choice. I don’t think you’d get many people going to Tolstoy’s Russia. And that, to me, suggests the importance of progress.”
Among the Reality Entrepreneurs
Urbit goes downtown
The “downtown scene” was something you could make fun of in Brooklyn and be a part of in Berlin: either way it was the internet where things seemed to be happening. And yet: the internet itself seemed to be, somehow, “happening” more intensely in New York. Urbit imagines itself as a new and fully virtual world, but for now, the vibes still needed a medium, and New York was the ultimate test.
Elizabeth Hardwick’s “I”
The mind’s life was not reducible to being born in Boston, sailing around for a while, and then returning at journey’s end. But it did have something to do with such things. Melville’s “I” let the body’s biography in to the right degree and at the right time to capture the biography of the mind. This feat—how others achieved it, and how she might—was among her most lasting concerns.
Online, the girl proliferates herself as a meme, she overidentifies (“it me”), she felt cute might delete later. These girlish strains of narcissism are so endemic to social media that even as girls purportedly lose on the internet, a girlish mode of expression and Goffmanian self-presentation have won out among swelling ranks of users—including many who are not themselves girls.