Social Media and the New Man, Part III

Would you please at least open this and give it a try?

WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU READ THIS?

I met my friend Phiroze in a bookstore in Paris when I was nineteen, and we’ve had a long and storied friendship. For more than thirty years, unless we’ve been in the same city, we’ve exchanged letters regularly—and, in recent years, emails.

He’s been on the mailing list for this newsletter since its debut. I therefore assumed he was reading it. But yesterday, he dropped me an e-mail. “For the first time I read one of these things. I quite liked it.”

I nearly plotzed. I’ve been sending him newsletter after newsletter, but he hasn’t been reading them? And this is my friend—someone already disposed to read letters from me. He has a long, proven history of reading letters to me.

Who else on my mailing list isn’t reading this? How do I persuade them that if only they’d try it, they’d like it?

“Why didn’t you read it before?” I asked him. He wasn’t sure. But he liked it.

I think your tone is very well suited to your audience, warm, chatty, friendly, knowing, post graduate, a little self deprecating but then suddenly confident and informed.

This response suggests the newsletter itself isn’t displeasing—but for some reason, people don’t open it.

Perhaps people are so deluged with information that the arrival of a newsletter feels like a burden, a demand for attention that no one has left?

Or might readers fear it will be boring? Or depressing?

What can I do, I wonder? Better headlines? A different color? I’ve tried, as you see, changing the color scheme to red.

Any idea what I could do to persuade people just to give it a chance?

Could I ask you to try sharing it again, with your friends, with a note reassuring them that it isn’t boring?

Share Claire’s Invariably Interesting Thoughts


FAITHFUL READERS: PLEASE SKIP TO THE JUMP

If you’ve been reading since the beginning, just skip this part. This is for those of you only now decided to read this newsletter.

Welcome, new readers! Let me explain what you’ve found. This is a newsletter, which like any newsletter treats the news—that is, current events—from the perspective of an expatriate, a scholar of international relations, and an ardent defender of liberal democracy.

So it is an extremely alarmed perspective. It’s true that the news is depressing. The only good news is that the future is uncertain. Nothing is written. The future depends what we, ordinary men and women, decide to do about it.

But this is not just a newsletter.

Since 2016, I’ve been working on a book about the New Caesars, the rise of illiberal democracy, and the death of freedom. The project has been wholly crowdfunded by my readers. Here is the précis.

The election of Donald Trump has shaken Americans to their roots. Many are now thinking deeply about politics for the first time in their lives. Others are questioning everything they thought they knew.

Claire Berlinski, a historian by training, has been a foreign correspondent for thirty years. In Stitch by Stitch, she places the breaking news that flashes and flickers incessantly over our cellphone screens in a wider historical and global context. This context is often absent from our discussion of the news, but without it, we cannot make sense of it.

From this context we can see that events that seem to us new are not. They recapitulate distinct, recurrent patterns, and from these patterns we can discern, step by step, what is likely to happen to us next.

What many Americans see as a uniquely American crisis is no such thing. Since the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy has come under threat the world around. It is now in particular danger—and in some places dead—in Europe. The rise of anti-liberal political movements and regimes in Europe is a more direct threat to Americans than they realize, and it is closely connected to their own recent political experiences. Europe’s past and its recent history suggest lessons to Americans who are struggling to respond intelligently to Trumpism.

Stitch by Stitch argues that threat to liberal democracy comes in the form of a distinct, rival ideology that is at once historically familiar and genuinely novel: the New Caesarism, or illiberal democracy—a hollow form of democracy that spreads mimetically and consolidates itself through the new technologies of the 21st century. When American pundits and journalists call the Trump presidency “unprecedented,” they do their audience a disservice. There are countless recent precedents abroad, and they are often eerily similar.

The idea that our experience has no precedent and no analogue is bound up in a particular notion of American exceptionalism, one that has persuaded us we exist outside of time, history, and the world—an idea that is not only wrong, but harmful. It deprives us of the ability to learn from the experience of other countries and from historical evidence that is not only abundant, but relevant to us.

The author is intimately familiar with the recent precedents she describes. She has lived through every stage of the new Caesarism: She watched it arrive in Turkey, where she spent a decade reporting on the rise and consolidation of the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Millions of others have lived through a similar chain of events in in a long list of countries from Hungary to the Philippines.

Most importantly, they have lived through them in Russia. Russia is the pioneer, and the chief global exporter, of this empty form of democracy, as well as the ideology upon which it rests and its techniques of control.

The new Caesars are learning from each other. Above all, they’ve learned the recipe for creating an illiberal democracy from Vladimir Putin, the ur-Caesar. The steps are distinct and predictable. First, rewrite history. Then foster nostalgia for an authoritarian past. Exploit ethnic, racial, religious, and class divisions. Magnify fear of foreigners and outsiders. Enter Caesar—the voice of the “real people”—in a struggle against a nebulous class of “elites.” Conflate entertainment and politics. Create chaos, confusion, and a sense of permanent emergency. Destroy confidence in the idea of objective truth. Humiliate or destroy the people who are better fit to be leaders. Gain control of the media to starve adversaries of access to the public. Discredit what media you cannot control. Reward loyalists with government tenders. Punish the disloyal with punitive taxes and lawsuits. Stack the courts. Jigger the constitution so that opponents have no hope of coming to power through democratic means. Erode critical civil rights and freedoms, stitch by stitch—until elections still happen, but denuded of everything that makes elections meaningful.

If we fail to understand how and why liberal democracy around the world is collapsing, we have scant hope of preserving ours. If we fail to understand why the West, in particular, has come under attack, we have no hope of responding intelligently or organizing ourselves to defend it. Stitch by Stitch shows that Europe—the other half of the West, from which we have been deliberately and systematically alienated—is now the central battlefield in the war for liberal democracy. The crisis in Europe has become so acute that its long postwar peace, the basis of the postwar global order, is under threat.

To survive, illiberal democracies—and Putin’s regime in particular—must undermine liberal democracies. Successful liberal democracies are an inherent threat to these regimes. Their existence refutes the story the Caesars tell their citizens about the world. This is why Russia is working assiduously to discredit liberal democracies and replace them with illiberal regimes sympathetic to the Kremlin. To do this, he must alienate the United States from Europe, and alienate European nations from each other. This is precisely what is happening, putting our security and the world’s at risk.        

Claire Berlinski is an essayist, literary critic, novelist, travel writer, and biographer. She brings thirty years of personal experience with the new Caesarism to vivid life, showing readers exactly what it is like to live in the kind of society we are now on the path to becoming. The result is a book that falls under no conventional category: It is a work of scholarship that is informed by her background as a historian and the academic literature about this regime type. But it is also riveting journalism, a memoir, a warning, and a step-by-step guide to escaping the trap.

(Doesn’t that sound interesting? If you’d like to contribute, please do.)

Contribute to STITCH BY STITCH

This book now exists, as a manuscript that requires some proofreading, but is basically done. I could just publish it, as a traditional book.

But I’ve decided instead to publish it in this newsletter. You will discover that interleaved with my commentary on the news, there is a book. You don’t have to read it cover-to-cover to understand it, but if you’d like to read it that way, you can: It has a unified, coherent structure. I’m rewriting a bit as I go along to ensure each newsletter also stands on its own—I assume that many readers will read them that way, and perhaps share them—but basically, I’ve already written most of what you’ll read. I’m also, of course, adding material that’s in the news. It’s a news letter.

You’ve caught this train mid-chapter. You can read the first two parts of Social Media and the New Man here:

You can read the introduction to the book here:

And the first chapter, here:

You might be interested in this chapter, too:

But you don’t have to. You can also start with this.

The newsletter is free, but it’s entirely supported by my readers’ voluntary contributions—and if you find it useful or enjoyable, I’d sure be very grateful for yours. Those of you who contribute make it possible. So if you’re reading this and you haven’t contributed, please thank the people who did, because they’re subsidizing you, you freeloader.

If you’d like to contribute to this historic literary experiment and be a respectable member of society, however, here are the links to contribute via GoFundMe, Paypal, and Patreon. (I should remember always to put these at the beginning of the newsletter, in case you get bored before the end).

FAQ

Claire, why are you publishing a book as a newsletter? This is unwieldy and hard to follow. I want a book, with pages that turn.

No worries. When it’s done, contributors get a copy of the book. A printed one. It will be better owing to my readers’ enthusiastic copy-editing.

But why are you doing this at all?

Because it’s an experiment in publishing—a delicate undertaking, one never before attempted in the history of literature:

Yes, but why?

Because I’ve convinced myself my own arguments—which you can read by following the links above—-are correct. I’m very worried about the future of liberal democracy. I’d like this book to be my small contribution to preserving it. I don’t think it can be of any use at all, though, if no one reads it.

Why wouldn’t people read it?

Well, one of the key arguments I make is that the Internet has profoundly changed the way we understand political arguments, our attention spans, our cognition, and the nature of literacy. The truth, though few of us care to admit it, is that it is growingly difficult for most of us to read an old-fashioned printed book cover-to-cover, save under punishment and duress.

This does not mean we no longer read. I spend no less time reading than I used to. I spend all my time reading, as I have since I was a toddler. But I now read almost everything on a screen, and the way I read is different.

Even when I read a printed book, I find myself reading it differently. The absence of hyperlinks frustrates me. I can’t instantly check the sources, which I’m now accustomed to doing. Footnotes are profoundly inefficient. I’m irritated by my inability to search for keywords.

My brain has now adapted to favor the screen and the Internet over print, and almost certainly yours has, too. The human brain is highly plastic; new connections among neurons form; the internal structures of the synapses change; synapses strengthen or weaken; old neurons are pruned; functions can be transferred from a damaged (or disused) region of the brain to another. It’s a matter of habituation and the environment. When I first began the shift from print to the screen—anyone else remember word processors?—it was the opposite way around: I found it far more difficult to read from a screen. I well remember complaining of it and printing out documents so that I could understand them better.

OK boomer.

Nope, I was born in 1968. But basically, yes.

But I still don’t get it: Why are you sending me a newsletter?

Because I just have a grim feeling no one will read yet another book about what’s happened to liberal democracy. My most devoted readers—the ones who’ve chipped in to GoFundMe or support me on Patreon—might read it to be sure they got their money’s worth, but this means the audience for the book will be very limited. There’s no way the book will have a significant cultural impact like that.

The market is already saturated with books about this. Some of them are very good, too, but who reads them? Far more people read Scott Adams than Levitsky and Way—I know because whenever I point out, on Twitter, that we seem determined to enact every stage of Competitive Authoritarianism, someone pops up and tells me I should read Scott Adams.

This pains me, but this is the way it is. You’re more likely to read and share something on a screen than you are to read and share a book. Publishing a printed book will ensure everything I say disappears into oblivion. Now, this newsletter might disappear, too. But it will have a fighting chance.

Is everything in the newsletter out of date, then?

No! This is the beauty of it. I found, writing this book, that events kept overtaking me. I’d finish a draft only to realize that the first chapter already seemed like the distant past. I at first thought this was my fault, for having tied the first chapter to an obviously evanescent event, but when it happened several times running, I began to suspect it wasn’t me. It was history. History, and the pace of change, are now moving uncommonly quickly. This happens at times—it would have been hard to write a book about current events during the years from 1789 to 1795, for example. I revised it many times before realizing that the problem wasn’t me, but something external. This realization was spooky. I resisted it for a long time, thinking, it was obviously narcissistic, our times could not be that interesting, every generation thinks that, there’s nothing new under the sun. But increasingly, I’ve been persuaded that this is a genuinely revolutionary moment—as significant as the French or the Scientific Revolution. The evidence of it just keeps coming in. We live in a Chinese curse. But the bright side of living in interesting times is that they are, at least, interesting.

So I’m updating the book as I go along, in light of the news and in light of the questions you send me.

Will this work, as a book or as a newsletter? I don’t know: We’ll find out together.

I just couldn’t bear the thought of no one reading it, though, especially because so many of my readers contributed to the book campaign. That really touched me. I owe it to them to do something that makes some kind of useful difference and helps us better to think through the problems we’re facing.

But is this book intellectually inferior because I’m reading it on a screen?

Absolutely not. That’s silly.

Why do I feel that way, then?

Because a taste for printed books is a mark of class and social status.

Are you sure that’s the only reason? I feel guilty, somehow, for reading this on a screen.

Yes, I’m sure. I could print it all out right now and show you that it’s the same damned thing as a book. The ideas are no better or worse. There’s no reason to think reading this is an intellectually inferior experience because it’s on your screen.

But it’s in bite-sized chunks. It’s not painful to get through it.

There’s no shame in that. Dickens serialized his books, too. That it’s interspersed with contemporary commentary makes it look more like a blog, but it’s a book, deep down. And I really think you’ll like it, if only you’d read it.

Okay, Claire, I’ll give it a try.

Great! It’s best if you sign up now so you never miss a newsletter. That way all my references to arguments I’ve made in previous newsletters will make sense. I’ll recapitulate the context briefly as I go along, but I don’t want to do that excessively; that would punish the faithful readers who’ve already heard those arguments, and they’re the ones who least deserve it.

What if I don’t like it, though?

If you don’t like it, the “unsubscribe” button is at the bottom of this e-mail. I won’t be offended. I won’t even notice, frankly.


WELCOME BACK, FAITHFUL READERS

I make a point of not noticing who is and isn’t reading this newsletter.

But I could, if I wanted to, learn a lot about who you are. To send this newsletter, I use a handy application called Substack. Substack eagerly offers me information about you so that I can better target you with marketing and figure out what you like. It would take me only a few clicks to figure out who, exactly, you are, where you are, whether you’re reading this carefully or just skimming, how often you open my newsletters, how many times you open it, and what links you click on once it’s open.

Should I ever have advertisers, that data would be of interest to them. Substack offers all of it to me, for free. They asked me no questions at all about how I planned to use it. No one thinks that’s strange. No one thinks that should be illegal.

But I shouldn’t know this, should I? Did you realize you were signing up to share that with me? It is sinister and dystopian—and of course, it’s exactly the same way with every other website or newsletter you read. I’m fully compliant with the GDPR, but I still have access to all of this, and we now accept this as a matter of course. If you read the previous installment, you’ll know why I think this is sinister. This is how Americans have come to live in two separate realities, each not only with their own interpretation of politics, but with their own facts.

I don’t look at your data. You may have agreed to share it with Substack, but you didn’t agree to share it with me, and it’s not my business. But mind you: This scrupulosity puts me at a disadvantage against competitors who would study your data as a matter of routine. Not a big deal for me, because I have no competition. I enjoy a natural monopoly on Claire Berlinski. But what if I were selling cars, or plane tickets? I’d have to invade your privacy, or I’d go out of business.

These are serious questions, and we hear vague murmerings from time to time about this being a problem—maybe even a massive, quasi-theological problem—but we aren’t even in the time zone of thinking about this seriously. We haven’t yet had the hundreds of years we really need to think this through.


PRIVACY AND PRECURSOR AUTHORITARIANISM

It’s not an accident that privacy and liberal democracy find themselves in their death agonies simultaneously. We’re allowing our natural sense of the individual to disappear. While it’s true that in the West, so far, these enormously elaborate surveillance powers have not been used in a manifestly totalitarian fashion—as they are in China—living like this primes us to accept ever-greater authoritarian incursions, ones that only recently would have appalled us.

We can’t opt out. It’s no longer possible to have a professional life without an Internet and social media presence. And thus a whole generation of adults has now grown up without any natural, robust, and intuitive sense of “privacy.” This may well be one reason why collectivist politics strike millennials as appealing, rather than repulsive. Of course we’re all one big collective, we’re all hooked up to the same machine, right?

We now, each of us, leave a permanent, indelible, daily record of our thoughts—a record more truthful than any written diary has ever been. If you want to peer into my soul, have a look at my search history. Think how useful this information would be to despots of every stripe. Here’s a random sample of “What Claire Berlinski secretly thinks.”

It would not take long to identify dissidents this way, would it?

There is now a detailed, extant record of every citizen’s preoccupations, curiosities, and thoughts. I leave a physical record of every political, economic, or spiritual question I ask myself, large or small. You probably do, too.

That this is an incipient instrument of authoritarianism or totalitarianism is so obvious it barely needs stating, yet the prospect doesn’t seem much to trouble us. Our notions of privacy, human dignity, independent thought and freedom of expression have to varying degrees been rendered obsolete.

We have no new doctrines to replace them.

MORE INFORMATION, LESS FREEDOM

WHAT’S MORE, you no longer have to throw these dissidents in jail—or do anything especially crude or violent—to minimize the odds that they’ll get in your way politically.

Peter Pomerantsev’s work on Russia remains the best and most insightful treatment so far of the relationship between propaganda and the new authoritarianism. His parents, Soviet dissidents, were harassed and eventually deported by the KGB for “the simple right to read, to write, to listen to what they chose and to say what they wanted.”

They have those rights in Russia now, to a large extent. But they’re meaningless. More information has not meant more freedom. The Soviet Union controlled the narrative by silencing its opponents. Putin does this, too, but far more rarely. Instead, Russia confuses its population—and its adversaries’ populations—by snowing them with lies, half-truths, alternative narratives, and alternative facts. (I am not sure whether Kellyanne Conway chose the phrase “alternative facts” in deliberate homage, or whether she happened upon it independently. Probably the latter, but the phrase isn’t a mistake.)

Pomerantsev left Russia in 2010, dismissing Russia as a “sideshow, a curio pickled in its own agonies.” But it wasn’t.

Suddenly the Russia I had known appeared to be all around me: a radical relativism which implies truth is unknowable, the future dissolving into nasty nostalgias, conspiracy replacing ideology, facts equating to fibs, conversation collapsing into mutual accusations that every argument is just information warfare . . . and just this sense that everything under one’s feet is constantly moving, inherently unstable, liquid.”

Dissenters are no longer silenced so much as they are drowned out. States have moved, as Tim Wu puts it, from “an ideology of information scarcity to one of information abundance.”

In a review of Pomerantsev’s work, Douglas Smith writes,

Russia was the birthplace of what he calls “pop-up populism,” pseudo and forever mutating notions of what, and whom, constitutes the “people,” all artfully curated by media and political strategists to meet specific goals. This amorphous mass is assembled around some notion of the enemy — in the Russian case, first oligarchs, then metropolitan liberals, and, most recently, the West. None of this need be coherent. What matters is connecting with people on a profoundly emotional level. And, in what is among the most disturbing aspects of the book, thanks to social media, our deepest emotions are not merely online and for sale, but they can be manipulated in extremely precise ways without our knowing it.

In this new world, censorial limits on information have given way to “censorship through noise” and “white jamming,” a tactic associated with the Russian media analyst Vasily Gatov that involves surrounding people with so much conflicting and confusing information — information intended to play to their fears and cynicism — that they are left feeling helpless and apathetic and convinced the only solution to their problems is a strongman, be it Putin, Duterte, Bolsonaro, or Trump.


THE WORLD WE CAN STILL REMEMBER

A PAUSE for nostalgia. My youth has vanished into the mists of time. No, really, it has vanished. No one no knows what I did, for example, during the summer of 1995, when I took off for India. My communication with the West was limited to an occasional fax I managed to send my parents every few weeks from various village PTTs. No one will ever search my Twitter feed and discover that while I was there, I said something offensive.

Nor did I know what the rest of the world was thinking. This was, I suppose, the downside. When I returned to Bangkok that fall, I had no idea what had happened in my absence. This was a normal phenomenon.

“I can’t believe it!”

“Yeah. It’s really sad.

Seriously? Jerry Garcia’s dead?

You will never know what I did that summer unless you ask me. There is no way to reconstruct my journey. There’s no way to figure out where I stayed, to whom I spoke, with whom I traveled. I took no photos. I posted nothing on social media. I wasn’t “taking a break” from social media. Social media didn’t exist. The human norm was privacy.

No one could take a journey like that now.

And no young person could now understand the feeling of being that free, and thus he couldn’t know to yearn for it. Our identities are now nearly inseparable from that digital footprint. How will liberalism, with its emphasis on the individual, survive something like the eradication of privacy?

(Even if you don’t find the privacy implications disturbing, don’t you think the people using it should be paying you for all your data?)

But Claire, we have laws against using that data in an authoritarian way. We’re safe.

You sure?

AMERICA FIRST VERSUS REALITY

TRUMP and other populists can bang on all they want about the failure of “globalism” and the wonders of nationalism, but this just means they’re inhabiting a fantasy world and they wish you to share it. Globalization isn’t an ideology. It’s a fact. The world has become globalized. The technologies that have made this possible—the Internet and container shipping—are not going to go away.

And the past decade has seen a global authoritarian revolution. These political transformations have been taking place in a highly similar way around the world because they emerge from the same global economic and technological forces. A very particular form of authoritarianism is triumphing—an entertaining but empty form of democracy denuded of everything that makes democracy meaningful.

This is the New Caesarism. Caesarism, because it arises in circumstances reminiscent of those that destroyed the Roman Republic.

The founders of the United States, avid students of classical history, knew the story of its downfall. They fully understood that democracy and freedom were not identical, and indeed in tension. They grasped the implications of this. “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics,” Alexander Hamilton warned, “the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” What Hamilton feared is precisely what is now happening to established constitutional orders the world around—including ours.

New because genuinely new species of Caesarism, one even the founders could not have imagined. We have been slow to recognize the threat it poses because in key respects it genuinely is unlike anything humanity has seen before. It is something new under the sun.

We’re confused because these regimes are genuine democracies, where rulers enjoy real popularity. But liberal rights and freedoms have vanished in them—and the ruler’s popularity is based on a system of surveillance, propaganda, and thought control that we’ve made possible through the invention of the 21st-century’s revolutionary new communication technologies.

The New Caesars are learning from each other. The Internet has made their ideology—and they do have a coherent ideology—virulently contagious. Such regimes, Putin’s in particular, harness formidable state security apparatuses to spread their form of governance. The New Caesars employ similar, almost stereotyped, strategies to gain power and keep it.

In the global war between liberal democrats and the New Caesars, Europe is the critical battlefield. Authoritarian movements and political figures now endanger Europe’s democracy and its long post-war peace, the basis of the post-war global order. We take this order, the only world our generation of Americans has ever known, for granted, even though we can’t flourish and may not survive in its absence. The battle to control Europe’s future urgently demands our attention, both for this reason and because it shows us what to expect next.

But at the very moment events abroad most demand our attention, we have none to give. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has retreated to an archipelago of cultural isolationism, marked by a progressive loss of interest in the world. In the era of Walter Cronkite, more than 40 percent of broadcast news was international. This figure is now barely four percent. Trump’s election accelerated our path to national solipsism by transforming the White House into a near-preternatural attention vortex: None of us can take our eyes off of it.

We can’t afford this self-absorption. The real story is not Trump. He is a symptom, not a cause. The real story is the rejection of liberalism in the West—and this is the most momentous story of the millennium, for if these ideals fail in the West, they stand no chance anywhere.

We are profoundly affected by events in the rest of the world. Because we have paid so little attention to the global authoritarian revolution, we’ve failed to learn from it. This is why we lacked the imagination to envision Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. This is why we find ourselves daily astonished by the Trump presidency, even though he is playing from a handbook—one with predictable rules.

Understanding what has happened abroad in these past ten years is key to understanding what is happening to us now. The daily news cycle and its associated culture encourage us to understand these events and their relationship to our recent experiences only poorly and superficially. But when we connect the dots, we see that Americans are not living through unprecedented events—not whatsoever.

Our constitution, culture, and geography are safeguards—they are what will save us, if we can be saved—but we can’t repose in them all our confidence. Turkey, too, had strong constitutional, cultural, and geographic safeguards. They failed. Our safeguards should have kept Trump out of the Oval Office in the first place. They didn’t.

We’ll continue in the next newsletter.


OF NOTE

President Trump Says He Is Weighing Putin's Invitation to Russia Victory Day Parade

Kyiv Post: Ukraine and Trump

Pro-Orban media moguls who destroyed Hungary’s media now targeting European outlets

INTERGENERATIONAL MOBILITY OF IMMIGRANTS IN THE US OVER TWO CENTURIES

Co-founder of Syrian 'White Helmets,' James Le Mesurier, found dead in Turkey


MEANWHILE, don’t forget! Please tell your friends this newsletter isn’t boring:

Share Claire’s Invariably Interesting Thoughts

And don’t be a burden on other readers!

Contribute and Save Liberal Democracy!


PS: LETTERS FROM MY READERS

SOME of you have sent me very good emails with excellent questions and criticism. (Haven’t forgotten yours, Eric.) I think I’ll give over the newsletter, once a week, to your letters and my answers. Tomorrow, perhaps.

TYPO POLICY: Special Broadcast

I just sent out a newsletter riddled with typos again. This time, it wasn’t owing to my neglect. Or at least, it’s not that I didn’t see them: I just seem not to have saved my corrections properly. You just received my penultimate draft, not my final one.

Worrying about this will result in my never again sending out the newsletter for fear it hasn’t yet been properly proofread. So here’s my new policy:

This is an artisanal product. The imperfections are part of the charm. This is a deliberate part of my marketing strategy:

Imperfect or “unperfect” products are becoming increasingly appealing to many consumers, who relish the fact that these offbeat products are unique and aren’t typically replicated. In fact, as we have seen from a growing number of company examples we have been tracking through our research, consumers not only love to associate themselves with these products but will also become, in effect, their brand ambassadors.

Also, any typo-ridden newsletter may be exchanged, one day later, for the copy-edited Internet version. Free of charge.

Because the typos actually make me insane.

Social Media and the New Man, Part II

Faithful readers,

It’s taken me forever to put out the next installment of this newsletter because I’ve had too much to say. I can’t quite figure out how to make a chapter flow coherently over a series of newsletters. Perfectionism will be the death of this project, though, so I’m going to hit “send” on this today, whether or not it’s the best I can do. I know it’s too long. But just save it and read it in parts over the next few days, okay?


And please don’t forget the immortal wisdom of Dr. Johnson: No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money!

Send Claire money!


Here’s Part 1 of Social Media and the New Man.

Growingly, I see the Internet, and particularly social media, as the primary cause of our breakdown into mutually hostile camps, each of whom views the other as complete lunatics. I don’t think we’ve fully appreciated how revolutionary this technological change is and the degree to which it has introduced into our lives something the human race has never experienced, and for which it hasn’t developed institutions or long-standing mores with which to cope.

With the invention of social media, we had a revolution. People of a conservative temperament hate revolutions for a reason. If you had asked me, when Facebook debuted, “Does the world need a revolution? Because that’s what this product entails,” I would have said, “Strangle it in the cradle.”

None of us realized how much social media would change our relationship to the world, each other, and the truth. None of us had the sense to say, “Yes, this could be an enormously useful product, but it should be slowly introduced to humanity over a period of 200 years, not suddenly unleashed on an innocent public that has no idea how to cope with it. It will take us two centuries to develop all the laws, wisdom, and institutions we need to make sure this is a boon to us, not our downfall.”

But history doesn’t work that way, alas. We had a revolution—we’re still having one—and it has changed everything. Old rules no longer apply. We’re living in a new epistemic and social world, one for which we’re simply unprepared.


Are we on the verge of civil war?

Speaking of polarization, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service recently released a poll. They asked 1,000 Americans to rate the acuity of our political divisions on a scale of 0-100, where 0 indicates “no social tension at all,” and 100 indicates “on the verge of civil war.” 

The mean response was 67.2. 

Countless news outlets reported this thus: 

Here is the poll itself.

Take some time with it. Compare what it actually says to what the headlines say. 

What I printed above was only a small sample of the headlines I saw. I must have seen about fifty—all equally wrong, and not just wrong, but shockingly innumerate in a way that makes me wonder how we’re sustaining an advanced industrial economy. Why aren’t our airplanes just falling out of our skies? 

These headlines appeared in outlets spanning both partisan and class divides. The headlines were wrong in both the low-rent Internet tabloids and in the coastal-elite media: No one read this poll carefully.

Blame it on the pollsters, in the first instance. The more attention this kind of research gets, the easier it is for them to get the next round of funding. That’s perhaps why they sent out a press release with a sensationalist headline that failed to represent what people told them.

So, the press release:

NEW POLL: VOTERS FIND POLITICAL DIVISIONS SO BAD, BELIEVE U.S. IS TWO-THIRDS OF THE WAY TO “EDGE OF A CIVIL WAR” 

That’s wrong. Completely.

Then we can blame the journalists. Perhaps they didn’t read the press release, no less the poll itself. Had they read through to the third paragraph of the press release, they would have seen this: 

These observations contribute to the Civility Poll’s additional finding that the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war. On a 0-100 scale with 100 being “edge of a civil war,” the mean response is 67.23.

Are you not immediately seeing the problem? I’ll walk you through it.

There’s a scale from 1-100, with 0 representing “no social tension at all,” and 100 representing “the edge of civil war.” When asked where we were, the mean response was 67.23. 

That’s the mean response, not the median or mode. In other words, they added up all the responses and divided them by the number of respondents. What value would make this number meaningful, and what value is not offered? Class? Anyone?

That’s tight. Range. If I have a hundred dogs, and I want to know their mean weight, I can add up all the dogs’ weights and divide the number by 100. Suppose I find that the mean dog is ten pounds overweight.

Does that tell you, “MOST OF THESE DOGS ARE 10 POUNDS OVERWEIGHT?”

No, it doesn’t. We don’t know the range. It’s possible that every single dog was ten pounds overweight. Then it would be fair to say, “Most dogs are ten pounds overweight.” But it’s every bit as possible that no dog was ten pound overweights. Say a lot of them were skinny. But the majority were obese.

It’s possible that every single respondent replied, “67.23.” It’s equally possible that half replied “34,” and the other half replied, “100.” (I’m rounding.) If it was the former, not a single American polled believed we were on the verge of civil war. If it was the latter, half of Americans polled believed we were nowhere near civil war, and half believed we were on the verge of civil war. 

That the mean value was 67.23 does not mean that “a majority” or “two-thirds” of Americans believe we’re on the verge of civil war. It doesn’t tell us anything at all unless we know the range. 

If 100 percent of Americans had replied “67.23,” it would not entail that two-thirds of Americans believe we’re on the verge of civil war. It would suggest that all Americans think we’re two-thirds of of the way toward being on the verge of a civil war. 

And it is a meaningless question in the first place. What does “two-thirds of the way toward a civil war” mean? How did respondents understand the question? Did they think, as I would, that “0” would be just as dystopian a number as “100,” given that a nation with “no political divisions” would comprise the null set and otherwise be entirely inhuman? How are we defining “civil war?” 

The whole poll is a gumbo of meaninglessness. It leaves us with some data suggesting, maybe, that some Americans are feeling a bit of agita.

Here’s the stupidest part. No one noticed this: 

So a more accurate headline by far would be, “Belief that America is close to civil war falls dramatically.” 

Or perhaps, “Who the hell knows what this poll means?”


You’re the center of the world

So why did you see all of those obviously sensationalistic and mathematically illiterate headlines? 

Because you click on them. 

Your desire to be outraged and sensationalized creates a market for the outrageous and sensational. 

Although we’re not on the verge of civil war, we are polarized, politically, and we’re profoundly ignorant about what’s really happening beyond our borders. These are problems. They make it impossible for us to govern ourselves, and they make for disastrous foreign policy.

Why?

Simply put, cable, the Internet and other technological revolutions in news gathering have resulted in too much consumer choice, which gives consumers who are in no position to determine what’s newsworthy all the power to decide what they think is important. That they’re in no position to determine what’s newsworthy is not because they’re stupid. It’s because, by definition, they are news consumers. They wouldn’t be trying to get the news if they already knew it, would they?

News consumers now customize the information they receive to an extraordinarily high level of precision and ignore everything else. Because stories are no longer bundled together in a single physical item—nightly news, the newspaper—the reader no longer has to slog through, or at least cast his eyes over, stories about high-level meetings on arms control negotiations to get to the sports page. We choose each item with a mouse-click—goodbye, list of boring economic indicators. Hello, American Civil War!


Advertisers carefully measure the amount of time you spend looking at any given page on the Internet. They’re interested in only one thing, and it’s not, “Does it leave you better informed?” No, they couldn’t care less if you read it backward instead of forward. The only thing they care about is this: “Does it convince you to linger on the page long enough to click on the ad and then buy the product?” 

Eyeball time on the page is linked to your propensity to click through the ad. Clock how long your eyeballs rest upon any given story. The advertisers truly don’t care if you’re pleased or enraged by it. If something gets your attention, from their point of view, that’s good. They’ll show you more, in particular, of the thing that most enrages you. By reading that story, you’re telling advertisers how to get your attention, and it doesn’t matter if the attention is good or bad. It’s good for them.

Humans prioritize news that enrages them. We seem to be designed to do this. The reasons for this are probably self-evident.

The New Yorker ran a good piece about all of this recently. It may even seem to you like an apology, of sorts:  

Chartbeat, a “content intelligence” company founded in 2009, launched a feature called Newsbeat in 2011. Chartbeat offers real-time Web analytics, displaying a constantly updated report on Web traffic that tells editors what stories people are reading and what stories they’re skipping. The Post winnowed out reporters based on their Chartbeat numbers. At the offices of Gawker, the Chartbeat dashboard was displayed on a giant screen.

Think of your attention the way you’d think of cold, hard cash. Advertisers now know everything about you. They know exactly which stories are alluring to you and where you are when you click on them. They know your history of online purchases and your zip code. They know all the demographic data that you willingly shed into the Internet, every day. They spend a lot of time analyzing it. They can judge with considerable confidence what kind of story is going to get you to do what they want. 

They want you to buy what the advertisers are selling. They don’t care about the political consequences of the stories they’re using to sell their products.


So they want you to linger on that page until you notice the ad—the one that informs you about a sale on power tools at the local mall; or the latest white-cropped skinny jeans; or a report, at the low, low price of $1,459, about the online advertising market

This is called “behavioral advertising.” It leads to a higher “conversion rate,” as they call it. It’s better than billboards, better than radio, better than the Goodyear blimp. There’s nothing like it.

Advertising is no longer based on a hunch. It’s not even based on polling data. It’s based on you. You’re seeing ads that reflect the amount of time you’ve spent on every page you look at on the Internet. 

They know the route you took to get at those pages. Did you get there by means of Drudge? By MSNBC? That’s information you willingly provide to big data whenever you buy something online. 

Do you get outraged when you read about Trump? Or the “coup against Trump?” Well, stories about Trump being Trump and the “coup against Trump” are what you’re going to see, every time you look at the news, until you’ve spent your last disposable dollar and you’re lathered into a violent frenzy.


Consider this. If you buy those skinny jeans, that information is going to be used to sell you health insurance. 

How? Well, if you can fit in those jeans, you’re not overweight. (Data point 1.) You’ve already told Facebook that you’re 23. (Data point 2.) Tinder knows that you’re actually attractive, as opposed to just thinking you are. (Data point 3.) 

You shed data like dandruff. You don’t have a long commute. You’re less likely to die in a car accident. You’ve never searched for, “I’ve just been diagnosed with glioblastoma.” (Good sign.) Are you shopping for “x-treme paragliding gear?” Your life expectancy just went down.

Remember, all of this is information someone actually has, and you willingly agreed to share it. Yes, you did. You just didn’t read that long contract very carefully. 

So now you can be bundled with other healthy young people like you into a low-risk, low-cost health insurance pool. And you’ll love it. 

Skeptical? Fine, but note it down. When they debut the product, you can say, “I guess she was right.”


Chomsky and Herman were partly right

Reporters and editors used to drive the news agenda. But for the most part the media was, contra Chomsky, a liberal and dutiful class of people who strove earnestly to inform you about things they believed were important—and who were not nearly as stupid as Chomsky believes they were. Yes, they were selling a product. No, they were not just selling a product.

Journalists don’t drive the agenda that way anymore. You do. You click, we give you more of what you clicked on. 

Occasionally, “news” organizations break even by chasing #Trump or the #crazythingswokepeopledo. Then a high-minded editor might have the very rare privilege of paying a real reporter to do a real news story—usually supplemented by a philanthropist who gives the reporter a grant. 

But there’s not much left of the news gathering and reporting apparatus that existed when we were kids in America. The old guard, which liked to think it had a higher calling to report “the news,” has mostly died, or been forced out, or overruled. What’s being sold to you now as “the news” is, for the most part, “politics-flavored entertainment.” Every story is chosen on the basis of how likely it is to make you click on it. 

A few years ago, the predictive algorithms became accurate enough to say, to a high degree of specificity, not only what people would click on, but what kind of product they would buy when they clicked on those stories. 

The algorithms match the kinds of stories the customer likes, the kind of mood the customer likes to be in before he or she spends money, the customer’s tastes in consumer goods, his income, his purchasing patterns, and even the desires he isn’t consciously aware he feels, using a surveillance apparatus more totalitarian and dystopian than anyone ever had the imagination to foresee.


The outrage du jour

I belong to a friendly e-mail list comprised of people who like to share thoughts on strategy and national security. Because everyone on the list is human, though, half as often as not the topic of discussion is the outrage du jour. There is always an outrage. 

A few weeks ago, the outrage was the local hero in Iowa who raised a million dollars for a children’s hospital. Do you remember that one? 

What started as a quest for a little extra beer money has evolved into a million-dollar gift to children in need.

Carson King went viral last week with a homemade sign asking viewers of ESPN’s College GameDay to donate to his Venmo account so he could afford to stock up on beer. ….

By the end of the day, he’d accumulated more than $1,000—and quickly realized that the fast-growing cash would be put to much better use at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, as opposed to his wallet.

And what does the media do? They scour our hero’s Twitter feed and find—miserabile visu!—that at the age of 16, he Tweeted something racist. Then they publish his adolescent Tweets, prompting ritual expressions of shame and apologies all around. But too late! Anheuser Busch drops its matching donation. Rough luck for the kids with cancer. The public is outraged, and naturally, the outraged public scours the reporter’s Twitter feed only to find that he too had said something racist as a teenager. The newspaper bravely fires their reporter. 

This story got my friends hopping mad. “The editor who signed off on the piece should also be fired. Everyone who was involved should be fired. This isn’t journalism,” one wrote.

Not to be outdone, another friend replied, “Whenever there is a major disaster like the Challenger explosion or 9/11, it is common for there to be a blue ribbon commission to look into how it happened and what can be done to prevent similar things in the future. We need such a commission to figure out what happened to journalism.”

Save the commission. I can explain.


Here’s what happened to journalism

It turns out that everything you hate about the media is your fault.

Let’s begin with foreign news coverage. I moved to Turkey in 2005. For a few years, I was able to support myself as a freelance writer. But after the financial crisis, almost every news outlet to which I had sold news articles about Turkey went under. Those that survived, and they were few, had a single message for me. “We’d be interested in publishing something by you, but we’re not interested in Turkey. Could you pitch something else?” 

That year, I published an article in City Journal titled Less than Splendid Isolation

The explanation for the decline of professional journalism is by now so familiar that it hardly needs rehearsing. (Internet, recession.) Harder to explain is the decline in the ratio of foreign to domestic news. The phenomenon is particularly striking if you live, as I do, in a country that has largely dropped off the media’s radar screen. It’s still more obvious if you’re a journalist: no one wants stories from Turkey these days. 

Days before, the spokesman for the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee had addressed a group of journalists in Istanbul. His topic—“Is Turkey drifting away from the West?”—struck me then, and still seems to me, important. But no one from a major US daily or news station attended—even though journalists from Britain, Belgium, Spain, and Greece did. “The Americans never come,” the organizer said. 

I could not give this story away to Americans. “Sorry, Claire,” wrote the editor of one news magazine, to whom I pitched the story. “We’re not interested in Turkey stuff.”

By 2012, by my rough count, about half of the Western journalists based in Istanbul had taken the bait and gone to work for al-Jazeera. They were the only ones hiring. Everyone else was shutting down, or “not interested in Turkey.” This was especially remarkable because the Syrian civil war was obviously becoming one of the most significant stories of the century, and just as obviously, Turkey was critical to this story.

In-depth international news coverage was vanishing from America’s mainstream news. What little made it into the news wasn’t sufficient to permit readers to grasp what was happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. Worse, a lot of it was just wrong. Factually wrong. The phenomenon was non-partisan. It was as true at The New York Times as it was at Fox. The way The New York Times was wrong was usually much more subtle, but it doesn’t matter: wrong is wrong.

But this was odd. It was counter-intuitive. This was the era of the Internet, mobile phones, social media, citizen journalism. In theory, it was easier—far easier—to learn about the rest of the world. Why then, in practice, was news about the rest of the world disappearing?


Television, foreign news, and nuclear war

One might argue, and some have, that the phenomenon requiring an explanation is not Americans’ loss of interest in the news from abroad, but the brief period—during the Cold War—during which Americans did exhibit this interest. It is probably not a coincidence that this was the television era, and not just the television era, but the era of the broadcast cartel.

In 1963, NBC and CBS doubled the length of their nightly news programs from 15 minutes to 30. The networks were unsure whether there was an audience for a longer program. To prove their value, they began bulking up foreign coverage. Having a network of foreign correspondents, news editors believed, was proof of credibility, a sign that the news organization spared no expense to be on the scene wherever important events were taking place. 

By the 1970s, the development of satellite technology made same-day coverage possible, and television had lost the Vietnam war. 

As Garrick Utley wrote in 1997, 

The mass public in the United States has never shown much sustained interest in what is happening abroad. Throughout the nation’s history, the American sense of self-containment has rarely been challenged, and then only by direct threats to U.S. interests. The Barbary pirates’ “terrorism,” the War of 1812, and the sinking of the Maine were international punctuation marks of the nineteenth century. In this century, too, Americans’ interest in foreign affairs has generally been limited to war and the threat of war. The longest of these conflicts, the Cold War, coincided with the growth of television, from the late 1940s to the late 1980s.

During this period, however, for the first and last time, Americans took a keen interest in news overseas. 

Utley believes this was because “nuclear weapons were aimed at American communities.” 

Could that be? 


No. This hypothesis doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If Americans paid attention to news from overseas chiefly because nuclear weapons were aimed at their communities, they would be keenly interested in news from abroad. 

Our loss of interest in the prospect of nuclear war is one of the great mysteries of the modern era. Regularly, I see such constructions as this in the media: “Back during the Cold War, when we were threatened with the prospect of nuclear annihilation … ” As if, truly, this prospect had come to an end.

Russia regularly threatens to vaporize American cities. The number of countries capable of annihilating the United States has grown. The major powers have been upgrading their arsenals. They have been testing, producing and deploying new weapons with an uncertain effect on traditional deterrence doctrines. Arms control efforts have serially failed: a qualitative global nuclear arms race is now underway; the world’s nine declared nuclear states are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to improve their arsenals. Tensions between nuclear-armed states are sharply on the rise. India, Pakistan and North Korea are enlarging their nuclear arsenals as fast as they can. Key treaties have been broken or are under threat. The US has withdrawn from the INF and Open Skies Treaty. START is headed for a similar fate. 

The Trump Administration has begun rolling out low-yield nuclear weapons and writing first-use doctrines for them. This idea had been entertained during the Reagan era; the Administration conducted extremely elaborate war games to see what would happen:

The result was a catastrophe that made all the wars of the past five hundred years pale in comparison. A half-billion human beings were killed in the initial exchanges and at least that many more would have died from radiation and starvation. NATO was gone. So was a good part of Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union. Major parts of the Northern Hemisphere would be uninhabitable for decades.”

This is why a shaken Reagan emerged to say, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” He reaffirmed this, with Gorbachev, on signing the INF treaty in 1987.

Both the United States and Russia retain launch-under-attack postures that increase the risk of miscalculation. The international system has been profoundly destabilized. 

Serious voices in Germany are calling for the acquisition of the Bomb. So are serious voices in Australia. Likewise South Korea and Japan.

Donald Trump has absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons, without anyone else’s consent. He has reportedly asked why, if we have nuclear weapons, we can’t use them. His supporters aver that this is fake news. It may be. But that’s not the point. The point is that we can all imagine him saying such a thing. His temperament is such that this seems, very much, like something he would say.

No, we are now more at risk of nuclear war than ever before in the history of the human race. 

So why is there still so little coverage of events overseas?


Certainly, Americans no longer fear nuclear war as they once did. An analysis of word-use frequency in The New York Times certainly suggests we have larger preoccupations:

(Note that the values on the y axis are not held consistent.)

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of acculturation: We’ve managed to go this long without a nuclear exchange, people think, so it can’t happen. 

Or perhaps it’s because we no longer receive news from abroad.

Perhaps Garrick Utley has it exactly backward.


Cable, the VCR, and Satellite

In 1989, ABC broadcast 3,733 minutes of foreign news into American households. By 1996, the number had declined to 1,838 minutes. 

During the Cold War, every major American newspaper and television station covered foreign news, particularly from the Soviet Union and Europe. American television networks set the standard for global news coverage and drove the global news agenda. All the major networks had bureaus across the globe, staffed by correspondents who had long been on the ground. Whether they were in Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul, or Moscow, they knew their region, they knew the people, they spoke the local languages, and knew the history of the stories they covered.

Even small local papers had bureaus overseas. They hired foreign correspondents, paid them a living wage, and sent them—and their families—to foreign countries with generous expense accounts and housing allowances and a budget for interpreters and fixers. Their reports ended up on the papers’ front pages, or, in the case of television news, at the top of the hour. 

What happened between then and now? 

The big three broadcasters were a cartel. In 1980, more than 90 percent of Americans watched ABC, NBC, or CBS during prime time. With essentially captive audiences, they could afford to compete against each other to do expensive things, like covering the news abroad.

By 2005, the number had fallen to 32 percent. 

The explanation for their demise is largely technological. The rise of new cable networks and the widespread penetration of the remote control device offered viewers the chance to see something else. New broadcast networks, such as Fox, Telemundo, Univision, and Azteca, cut into the big three share, but overall, the audiences were lost to cable, the VCR, and satellite. 

Consumer and advertiser spending on mass media has remained relatively constant. But these resources are now spread over 90 channels instead of three. Voilà: there are no resources left for foreign news coverage. 

Foreign news coverage is the most obvious example of “how competition made television much more entertaining but much less good at conveying the news.” But it’s the same across the spectrum: The resources for reporting on the United States itself are similarly spread thin. 

It’s common to say that people have lost confidence in the media because the media isn’t trustworthy. It’s much more accurate to say that the media has become untrustworthy because doing good reporting is resource-intensive and no one wants to read, or watch, good reporting. “Watching it” is paying for it. Given the choice between carefully reported, professional, fact-checked news programs and 120 much more amusing shows, people decide not to suffer through “the news.” “The news” now has to compete with “the best television shows ever made, streaming in on Netflix,” and everyone seems to like the show about the woman with dragons more. 

Don’t blame Fox, by the way. I know everyone thinks Fox has stolen their parents and turned them into drooling zombies, but no one actually watches Fox, either. 

As for the decline of print media, this one’s quite obvious: It’s the Internet. 


What that blue-ribbon commission would tell you

Cable, the Internet and other technological revolutions in news gathering have resulted, to put it simply, in giving consumers who are in no position to determine what’s newsworthy too much power to decide what they think is important.

News consumers may now customize the news they receive to an extraordinarily high level of precision and ignore everything else. Because stories are no longer bundled together in a single physical item—the newspaper—the reader no longer has to slog through, or at least cast his eyes over, stories about high-level meetings on nuclear disarmament in order to get to the sports page. We choose each item with a mouse-click—bye-bye, Open Skies, hello American civil war. 


It’s damn good for CBS

It’s one outrage after another, isn’t it? What the media did to those Covington boys, right? Not just obscene, but painfully stupid. For days, journalists of every political disposition could not stop banging on about those Covington kids in MAGA hats who harassed a Native American veteran at the Lincoln Memorial. The media managed somehow to turn that story into the week’s most important news and a sign of our terrifying times even though it was not true; an equal number of column inches were then devoted to denouncing the journalists who denounced the teenagers. 

The media has persuaded a whole generation of kids that we will all, literally, boil to death in eleven years, even as it systematically ignores the growing threat of nuclear annihilation. 

And let’s not forget: the media put Trump in the Oval Office. Chasing ratings, it gave him two billions dollars worth of free coverage. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” said Les Moonves:

Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun.

I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.


The Centre d’analyse, de prévision et de stratégie and the Institut de recherche stratégique de l’École militaire co-wrote a report describing the scope of the problem. They specifically use the phrase “epistemological crisis.” That there is such a crisis is well-known among people who work in the media and the military, but I don’t believe it has truly filtered down to most mass media consumers, who still believe they’re savvy enough to distinguish real from fake reports. 

Most people now get their news from social media, not from established newspapers. But most people don’t realize that established newspapers rely on Twitter for a very significant proportion of their foreign news coverage. (Have you noticed how often the dateline, in newspapers like the Times and the Post, is not the city or country in question?) 

I don’t think people truly realize how weird the situation is—yet. I think that as of now, people still think they’re getting a “pretty good sense” of what’s true and what’s false from what they read on the Internet. Trump’s supporters read Breitbart and Drudge, watch Fox, and follow right-wing accounts (of which a sizable proportion are Russian). The rest of America reads the Times and the Post, watches CNN, and follows mainstream or left-wing Twitter accounts. (Much of the far-left on the Internet is also Russian: They’ve just dusted off the COMINTERN files.) 

People express disgust and distaste for “the media,” and claim that the opposite side is fake. They don’t yet fully realize how fake it is and how much of what they think of as their own side is fake. 

In the coming few years, this will become clearer to people, especially when people start seeing a lot of deep fakes. Then they’ll really get it that the line between true and false has been hopelessly blurred.  

I don’t think people will like that feeling. I certainly don’t. 


How to get better journalism

Here’s how to make journalists stop doing things like “publishing a vaguely offensive thing that a local hero said on Twitter when he was sixteen.” It’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it. 

Never, ever click on stories about that kind of thing.

Think of your attention the way you’d think of cold, hard cash.

They’re measuring the amount of time you spend looking at stories like that. The amount of time your eyeballs spend on the article or articles about the article is all they care about. By “they” I mean advertisers, and it doesn’t matter if you’re pleased or enraged. If something gets your attention, they’ll show you more of it. They’ll show you more, in particular, of the thing that most enrages you. By reading that story—and—this is key—stories about that story, you’re telling advertisers how to get your attention, and it doesn’t matter if the attention is good or bad. It’s good for them.

This truly isn’t a conspiracy theory of any kind, as fantastic as it sounds. 

You saw that “America on the verge of Civil War” headline, whether you’re on the right or the left. 

You saw it because you wanted to see it. Your fantasy created it.

Your outrage has been successfully manufactured.

Social Media and the New Man, Part I

Would you please share this newsletter with your friends?

My readers are generous. If everyone were as altruistic as my readers, my world would be a better place. (So would yours.)

No one would be the wiser if you hadn’t contributed. No one but me knows who chipped in. You could have kept reading this newsletter for the rest of your life without paying. Only you would have known, although the newsletter would have ceased to exist.

But many of you thought it over and did the honorable thing. Without anyone watching.

We are not living in the worst of all possible worlds. Yes, the world is full of infinitely depressing evil. But it’s not the whole story. We’re also a good species, sometimes as heroic one. There’s honesty, honor, and spontaneous altruism everywhere.

We’re worth saving. We’re not so rotten that the planet would be an improvement without us. We’re really not.

I’m immensely grateful to everyone who contributed for making this newsletter possible. And if you’ve not yet contributed, it’s not too late:

The Easy Way to Send Claire Money

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Share Claire’s Invariably Interesting Thoughts

Thank you.

Seriously: My gratitude is sincere, personal, and deeply-felt.


So you say you hate the media?

I believe I know why.

What follows is an n-part essay, which mostly comes from my book, but I’ve adapted it in light of recent news.

The economic and technological transformation of the mass media is a key aspect of the story of the decline of liberal democracy.

Note: It is not irreversible. Nothing is written.

But do not assume it will all work out well.

Some of you may know parts of this story; others, different parts. I’m going to try to draw it together here in a way that, I hope, provides a useful overview.


The Liberal View

In the liberal view, freedom of expression is to be treasured for two reasons. The first is inherent: It is an aspect of freedom, and freedom is inherently—self-evidently—good.

The second is utilitarian. Freedom of expression, in the liberal view, gives rise to a marketplace of ideas.

The metaphor of a market comes to us from Milton, who in Areopagitica deplored Parliament’s 1643 Ordinance for the Regulating of Printing.

Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?


Ideas and Markets

The analogy to a marketplace is interesting, suggestive, and flawed. There is in fact no market, in the classical sense, because there is no price mechanism. Milton acknowledged as much:

Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks.

Knowledge and truth, in Milton’s view, are similar to goods one might trade in a marketplace, in that competition gives rise to better products. Yet they’re also different: they are not ordinary commodities.

Liberals have long believed that if ideas are allowed to compete freely, the truth will emerge. The public will weigh and measure ideas, opinions, proposals, policies and Weltanschauungs. The better ideas will naturally win. They will become laws and policies.


The Fourth Estate

The term “Fourth Estate” reflects the liberal precept that the media, in a healthy polity, plays a critical role—one as weighty as the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary.

The term is a neologism. In medieval Europe, the First Estate was the clergy; the Second, the nobility, and the Third the peasantry.

Wikipedia tells me that Carlyle was the first to use it to describe the press. I haven’t confirmed this, but it’s probably true: It’s somewhere in Sartor Resartus. I find Carlyle unreadable, so you’ll have to check for yourself.

In the liberal view, the media serve as guardians of the public interest. A free press affords the public the opportunity to supervise and scrutinize those who hold power. It is an essential component of the system of checks and balances designed to proof democracy against despotism.

Jefferson, particularly, averred with a faith and urgency that no one alive now feels that truth would emerge from freedom of the press:

“The art of printing secures us against the retrogradation of reason and information.”

“To preserve the freedom of the human mind ... and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.”

“Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”


Manufacturing Consent

In 1988, Chomsky and Herman published Manufacturing Consent. The title comes from the phrase “the manufacture of consent,” used by Walter Lippman in 1922 in the book Public Opinion. The consent in concern is the consent of the governed.

The ideas are not original. (Chomsky says Herman wrote most of it. I believe him.) It’s a standard neo-Marxist analysis. But Chomsky’s fame propelled the book to enormous prominence. It’s now the best-known objection to the liberal view of the media. Or the second-best, perhaps. I suppose the best-known objection is Donald Trump’s.

Chomsky are Herman argue that the marketplace of ideas is, indeed, a market. It is not a metaphor. But just as there is no reason to think a market for broadcloth and woolpacks would give rise to truth, there is no reason to think truth would emerge from a marketplace of ideas.

The American mass media is not censored in the Soviet style, they argue. But it functions even more effectively as a comprehensive system of propaganda.

Their model is “simply a free-market analysis of the mainstream media,” they claim, and the results were “largely the outcome of the working of market forces.”

Contrary to received wisdom, they argue, the media is neither liberal nor dedicated to the public interest. It is profit-driven, and operates according to the logic of “market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship.”

“The mass media,” they write,

serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda. In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control over the media, often supplemented by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the limited nature of such critiques …

… The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news ‘filters,’ fall under the following headings:

(1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;

(2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;

(3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and ‘experts’ funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power;

(4) ‘flak’ as a means of disciplining the media; and

(5) ‘anti-communism’ as a national religion and control mechanism.

These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print.’ …

Journalists, they argued, were riddled with false consciousness:

…. The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news ‘objectively’ and on the basis of professional news values. …

… Advertisers will want, more generally, to avoid programs with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the ‘buying mood.’ They seek programs that will lightly entertain and thus fit in with the spirit of the primary purpose of program purchases – the dissemination of a selling message.’

… Economics dictates that they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular conferences are held. The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, in Washington, D.C. , are central nodes of such news activity.

If you like your books in cartoon form, this will do:

Yes, yes, I do see the irony: Al Jazeera, of all organizations, produced that cartoon.


What’s the Alternative?

Chomsky and Herman make an implicit argument. Were the media to cease manufacturing consent, the scales would fall from our eyes, and something better would emerge.

It’s self-evident, or trivially true. Absent the media’s propaganda, we’d see the diminution of class and hierarchically-organized social orders and the spread and deepening of egalitarianism.

In 2008, Chomsky was asked whether the rise of the Internet might be significant:

It’s now 2019.

We can now see, with miserable clarity, that politics were not “secondary at best.” We now have a keen insight into the alternative to manufactured consent.


Manufacturing Outrage

Part II, coming tomorrow.

If you'd like to know what happens next


PS: The Claire Berlinski Matchmaking Service

In principle, you can leave comments at the end of the newsletter. In practice, though, none of you do. Why not?

I think you should. That way, you and I can chat a bit, and my readers can get to know each other. I think you’d like each other. You’re the kind of people who do the right thing even though no one’s watching. You’re interested in the same things. And you like to read.

Of course, since this is the Internet, you may prefer to comment using a pseudonym. But if at any point you’d like to get to know someone you meet here in the real world, I’d be happy to serve as a matchmaker. If you both want to meet each other, I’ll give you the others’ e-mail addresses. Like Tinder. (I think.)

I probably don’t have enough time to orchestrate a marriage by the year 2020, but let’s say by the summer of 2020?

Go on, introduce yourselves. Have a great time.

I’ll be back tomorrow.


America First means Nuclear War

So, Mexico

Dear new subscribers: Welcome! I had mixed feelings when I woke up and saw that yesterday’s guest post by El Anti-Pozolero was the most widely-read item, by far, in the history of this newsletter. I’m delighted you found it interesting. Indeed, it was interesting, wasn’t it? That’s why I published it.

On the other hand, I didn’t write it. I don't know anything about Mexico.

But if you want to know whether Erdoğan’s really going to build the Bomb, read on.


First, though, I keep forgetting that I need to ask for money in every newsletter, several times. Believe it or not—well, I guess you’ll probably believe it, it’s not so surprising—there’s a direct relationship between the number of times I post the link to my PayPal account, the visibility of the “Pay” button, and the number of people who contribute.

Actually, I guess that’s just “Online marketing 101.” But as a literary and aesthetic matter, I think “asking for money” has to be cleverly integrated into the text, you can’t just suddenly interrupt

Become my Patreon Patron!

Anyway, recall the wisdom of Dr. Johnson. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Claire's not a blockhead!

I totally think she's a blockhead.


We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming

The US just deployed a battalion of troops and dozens of tanks to Lithuania, at their request. The six-month rotation is “unprecedented.” Good.

Headlines like this? Not good.

Ben Hodges, the former US Army commander in Europe, has says it’s a “manifestation of American commitment to continued deterrence along NATO’s eastern flank.”

It is.

“Nobody, including the Russians, should be confused by the Americans’ commitment to NATO despite what was I think a mistake of pulling out of Syria,” Hodges said.

But they are confused. You don’t have headlines like that unless there’s massive confusion.

It’s going to take a lot more than this to restore confidence in America’s commitment to NATO.

This is clear in every conversation I have with anyone in Europe. I spoke to a Polish workman in my building yesterday. He said what everyone else does. “We just don’t know anymore.” And he said, of course, the obvious: “Some people” back in Poland are asking whether they now need the Bomb. He said this shaking his head. How crazy the world has become.

But this is where “America First” leads. It’s the natural logic of it.


If you’ve ever walked through any small town in Europe, you’ll have seen the memorials, however small the town. Every single time, you’ll be struck dumb at the catastrophe that befell this continent.

Related imageImage result for france memoriale de la guerre villageImage result for france memoriale de la guerre village

For Americans, the memories of these wars are fading. But they can’t fade here. The wounds are too deep, there’s too much blood in the soil.

I feel confident in saying that if the American nuclear umbrella is in doubt—and it is—then it is a matter of time, and not much of it, until every nation in Europe insists upon an independent nuclear deterrent. Because they will never, ever, go back to that.

I say this based on fact. There is discussion of it in the European media, previously unthinkable. But also based on introspection. Consider the reaction I had to the news recently. It wasn’t a rational one, but it I suspect it was a common one.


You may recall that there was a ghastly ISIS attack—as if there’s any other kind—in France in 2016. The terrorists slit the throat of an elderly priest, Father Jaques Hamel, during morning mass, in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray.

It was an attack meant not just to terrorize, for its own sake, but to desecrate, as it did, and it was part of a deliberate strategy to radicalize the French public. ISIS hopes attacks like this will result the massive repression of France’s Muslim population, which will in turn encourage Muslims to join their cause.

This is explicitly detailed in their strategy documents. In Abu Bakr Naji’s Management of Savagery. (The pen name of a strategist from the Mesopotamian wing of al-Qaeda that became ISIS.) ISIS explicitly reiterated this strategy in Dabiq, their online magazine, in an article titled “The Grey Zone.”

The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufrī [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffār [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens... Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilāfah, as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands so as to force them into a tolerable sect of apostasy in the name of “Islam” before forcing them into blatant Christianity and democracy.

I’m not providing links because they can spread their own damned propaganda. The point is that this particularly gruesome attack was meant to have a particular psychological effect; their hope is to bring a government to power that will so indiscriminately punish Muslims that it will radicalize more than it represses.

That was when President Hollande declared that France was “at war” with the Islamic State, which it is.

In the chaos of our sudden withdrawal from northern Syria and Turkey’s incursion, an unknown number of ISIS fighters, predictably, managed to escape. Among those who may have escaped—no confirmation yet—were Adrien Guihal and Thomas Barnouin. The former is the so-called Voice of ISIS. He’s part of the Artigat network, which includes Mohammed Merah, who shot up a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. Guihal claimed responsibility for the attack in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, as well as the infamous truck massacre in Nice, as well as the killing of a police officer and his wife in Magnanville. They were murdered in front of their toddler. French counter-terrorism officials were negotiating to have them both extradited to France. It’s not clear what role, precisely, Guihal played.

As Libération delicately put it, the French services sought to “neutralize” these terrorists in Syria. The number of captured prisoners made this, I presume, a bit delicate.

I don’t know anything about the negotiations that were underway, and neither do you, but I’m sure they were complex, and I am 100 percent certain that France was not indifferent to their fate.

Trump didn’t warn Macron, no less discuss with him, his decision to withdraw American troops and wave Turkey in. Macron learned about it from Trump’s Twitter feed.

Contrary to Trump’s belief, he didn’t end an endless war. Those troops aren’t coming home. ISIS has not been defeated, a fact acknowledged by everyone in the world but the President, so Defense Secretary Esper has been in frantic negotiations with the Iraqi minister of defense, trying to work out a plan to reposition US forces in western Iraq so they can keep doing the thing they were there to do. Fight ISIS.

But their job has now become much more difficult:

Fighting IS from Iraq will be “more dangerous,” a senior US official told Al-Monitor, because American forces will cede access to territory won in the four-year campaign to Russian, Syrian and Turkish forces, leaving American troops to conduct “infrequent” cross-border raids.

“IS will grow and those [forces] will not stop them,” the official said. “And this will spread back into Iraq.”

It was not immediately clear how many US forces left the region on Sunday. A senior US official said the withdrawal was believed to be the “majority” of approximately 1,000 American troops in northern Syria, though cloudy weather was making American air cover less effective. The Kobani facility “remains open to facilitate the additional movement of troops and equipment outside of Syria,” said Caggins.

So not only was this a betrayal, and a horrific and ghoulish one; not only was this a gift to ISIS; not only is a gift to Russia and Assad, but it puts those troops in even greater danger.

This headline is a joke, but it’s not far from reality:


So, obviously, we also put French special forces who were working with us in the region at similar risk.

The American media landscape is now so polarized and partisan that it’s possible to be an American who doesn’t know this. The rest of the world knows it. The French know it.

I don’t know whether these terrorists have in fact escaped, but the possibility they had was widely reported in France. I’m sure you can imagine the effect that had on Nice.


When I realized what Trump had done, I felt betrayed. I have, of course, been immensely critical of decisions made by any number of American administrations in foreign policy. I’ve sometimes thought they were bad, even terrible, for our national security. But I’ve always trusted the United States to be sincere in its desire to keep Americans safe. Not necessarily competent, but really very sincere.

A state exists to provide for the common defense. That’s why you have a state. That state has one job. This was not a good faith screw-up. This was not, “a catastrophic error in judgment, but one I can understand, if I look at it through the eyes of the people making the decision at the time.” The president simply did not care.

There’s no other way to understand it. His advisors told him, “If you do this, ISIS will regroup, and obviously, because this is what they do, they will kill innocent people, among whom will be US citizens. And no one will ever trust the US again.” Trump heard that, nodded, and decided, “Yeah, well, screw it.”

I understand foreign policy screw-ups based on faulty intelligence, bad strategy, bad soldiering. I study these. I’m fascinated by the way they happen. These are human mistakes, not betrayals. This wasn’t a normal screw-up. This was a betrayal.

And if I—a United States citizen—felt this about the United States, how do you think French citizens felt?

How about the rest of Europe?

TRUMP: Well they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes. But Europe didn’t want them for months. They could have had trials, they could have done whatever they wanted, but as usual, it’s not reciprocal. ... 

The only part of this that’s true is, “They are going to be escaping to Europe.” The rest is a lie, or an expression of a half-understood thing in a fashion such that it means the opposite. Some significant part of America believes it’s true, which makes me insane, because they’re the only ones in the world who think this.

The rest of the world is looking at the United States, and saying, “Wow. If the US doesn’t even care about the security of its own citizens, why would it care about ours?”

Here’s where a devout cadre of Trump’s supporters jump in on Twitter and say to me, “Great! All these freeloaders can start paying for their own defense!”

No. That’s not what’s going to happen. No single country can conceivably match the power of the full NATO alliance. That’s why we had it.

My first thought, when I realized what the President had done, was, “Thank God France has an independent nuclear deterrent.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in France to think that. If the world is going to be chaos and anarchy from now on, and if America’s just handing whole regions over to Russia, then, damned straight, we are grateful to Charles de Gaulle for the foresight of insisting France have its own nuclear umbrella.


An alliance with the United States was so valued that when, on September 11, we were attacked by terrorist in Afghanistan, Albania volunteered to send 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight with us.

We are the only country ever to have invoked Article V. Do you think Albania sent its troops to Afghanistan because they thought it over carefully and concluded, “What a superb idea?” Albania, having only recently been liberated from the yoke of communism, was at the time findings its efforts to emerge from autarky and put the country on the path toward a market economy quite challenging. In fact, it resulted in so much chaos that the UN security council had to send an Italian-led multinational military and humanitarian intervention to stabilize the place. Former communists and state security members were busily trying to take back the state by force. They’d only just had the first election in their history judged by international observers to be “acceptable.” And they literally couldn’t feed themselves unaided. “But hell yes, our biggest challenge lies in … Afghanistan. Let’s go, men!”

No folks. That’s not what happened.

Albania sent 3,000 men to fight our war with us because it had just joined NATO.


It would be a catastrophe if every country with the ability to do it acquired the Bomb. Never mind whether they would use them in anger, it would multiply the risk of an accident, which we already know is insanely high.

But they’re going to to do it if we keep this up. Any American who owns a gun, even though rationally they grasp that fewer Americans would die if there were no guns in America, should understand the calculation other countries are now apt to make.

Is it a rational thing for the world to do? No. Rationally, the world will be, objectively, less safe if everyone acts on that impulse.

But the world isn’t a rational place. People want safety for themselves, even if it means putting the world at greater risk. The inevitable end point is uncontrolled nuclear proliferation. What “America First” means, in the end, is “Nuclear war.”


And so to yesterday’s article, on the front page of The New York Times:

Of course he does.


Post-script. An interesting interview with Edward Lucas on Brexit, Donbas, and Ukraine. Lucas is vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank dedicated to promoting the transatlantic relationship. Tough job these days.

Watch it all, if you have the time. For those who don’t, I transcribed a bit:

Interviewer: Ukraine now has also been dragged against its will into the center of this political scandal, political storm in the United States. Do you think that might have an impact on US bipartisan support to Ukraine? There are some fears in Ukraine that that might be the case.

I think this is an absolute nightmare, because whatever you do, you offend someone very important. So if you cooperate with President Trump, you infuriate the Democrats, and you need the Democrats both in the future, because they might be in government, and right now because Congress votes the money through for you. But if you annoy President Trump, well, he’s the guy in charge, so it’s a lose-lose situation. I feel very sorry for Ukraine that you’re in this, and I don’t think you could have done anything differently. I think this is fundamentally not Ukraine’s fault. There’s no point you can say ‘Well that was a big mistake.’ You just got sucked into this.  

What do you think Ukraine should do at this point? Should it just wait until the 2020 elections with its fingers crossed? 

I would suggest that you rename the NATO operations center near Odesa as Fort Trump and try to attract President’s Trump attention with some bright shiny thing that he will like, or rename the…

You know there’s a cafe somewhere in Ukraine already named ‘Trump.’

Yes, I would rename the road from Boryspil Airport to Trump Highway. And just ... I mean you just have to try and play this game, and do something that will attract his attention.


Since you were so interested in El Anti-Pozolero’s views, I thought I’d publish some of your questions for him and his responses. I’ve taken the liberty of editing these to conform to the Claire Berlinski’s Invariably Interesting Newsletter’s in-house style guide, which this week has banned the use of semi-colons on the grounds that we don’t punctuate like wusses around here. I may change my mind; we’ll see.

All typographical errors are my fault. All names are pseudonyms.

Shulamith Feigen-Bogen y Santísima:

First of all, I want to thank your correspondent for an excellent article: both thought-provoking and extremely informative.

I am torn about the prospect of a flood of refugees moving north. My first reaction was optimistic: There will be a brain drain north as the best and brightest flee (I am in Germany now and can still see the contributions of the Huguenots from Frederick II’s time).

On the other hand, a failed state to our south will attract the mischief-makers in a way that will make Venezuela look benign.

But. I am confident that the US has very poor nation-building skills, and the urge to intervene will be irresistible to politicians.

A national effort in Mexico will consume all of our energy; by default, we will forfeit in Asia.

Does your correspondent have suggestions?

El Anti-Pozolero:

Interesting. We can handle Mexico and China at the same time in theory, given sound and competent strategic stewardship ... so maybe not. 

Claire:

My guess is that if this starts spilling over in a fashion such that Americans notice it, there will be indeed be an irresistible urge to intervene. Could we even conceivably do that competently?

El Anti-Pozolero:

My great fear is that an intervention goes two ways. We enter them, and therefore they enter us. 

If we think American soldiers and lawmen are intrinsically less corruptible than Mexican ones have proven, we are mistaken. The difference between them and us has been our much stronger institutions—and you know how well those have been doing lately.

A local sheriff’s department bought by the Zetas—as actually happened in Hidalgo County, Texas, a few years back—is a survivable event. What if it’s an entire state National Guard though? What if it’s an entire FBI region? What if it’s a whole federal-court district? 

In this light the metric of success or failure of our Mexico policy is the extent to which we do not intervene. 


Ludwig X. Fensterwasser:

It’s amazing this article never mentions Trump’s instinct about why we need border security.

El Anti-Pozolero:

I don’t understand what this correspondent means.


Humphrey Zappa:

This was fantastic.

El Anti-Pozolero:

Tell him if he really loves it he can donate to you. 

Claire:


Oh, yes, that’s true! Please do. I appreciate it so much.

If you love me, do the right thing!

Babette Ignatius:

Excellent read.  We’ve been focused largely on Europe and Asia for so long, we’ve lost track of our own neighbors, and it will hurt us.

El Anti-Pozolero:

Very much so. 


Priscilla Smythe-Steele:

Against all expectation, Trump and AMLO seem to actually have a good relationship. This seems to be an opportune time for the USG to work with Mexico to head off possible military incursions 5-10 years from now. If that’s possible.

El Anti-Pozolero:

I actually think USG would do it. I don’t think MEXGOV would. 


Theobaldus Æðelwine:

I’ve engaged in some study of Plan Colombia with great interest, given the unrest building directly to our south. Suspending reality for a moment and pretending we had leaders in both countries with the strategic vision and intestinal fortitude to execute a sort of Plan Mexico, is there some version of such a plan that could even work? To put it another way: is the bigger roadblock to a Plan Mexico the lack of a workable plan, or of the leadership required to make it happen?

El Anti-Pozolero:

Plan Colombia presumed and actually had a fully cooperative Colombian state ready and willing, though not at the outset able, to reassert its sovereignty. 

I don’t think the Mexican state is there yet. 



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