What Nihilism Is Not – The MIT Press Reader

In order to preserve nihilism as a meaningful concept, it's necessary to distinguish it from pessimism, cynicism, and apathy.

By: Nolen Gertz

Nihilism, not unlike time (according to Augustine) or porn (according to the U.S. Supreme Court), is one of those concepts that we are all pretty sure we know the meaning of unless someone asks us to define it. Nihil means nothing. -ism means ideology. Yet when we try to combine these terms, the combination seems to immediately refute itself, as the idea that nihilism is the ideology of nothing appears to be nonsensical. To say that this means that someone believes in nothing is not really much more helpful, as believing in something suggests there is something to be believed in, but if that something is nothing, then there is not something to be believed in, in which case believing in nothing is again a self-refuting idea.

It is easy therefore to fall into the trap of thinking Everything is nihilism! which of course leads to thinking Nothing is nihilism! Thus in order to preserve nihilism as a meaningful concept, it is necessary to distinguish it from concepts that are often associated with it but are nevertheless different, concepts such as pessimism, cynicism, and apathy.

If optimism is hopefulness, then pessimism is hopelessness. To be a pessimist is to say, Whats the point? Pessimism is often likened to a Glass is half empty way of seeing the world, but since its only half empty this scenario might still be too hopeful for a pessimist. A better scenario might be that, if a pessimist fell in a well, and someone offered to rescue him, hed likely respond, Why bother? In the well, out of the well, were all going to die anyway. In other words, pessimism is dark and depressing. But it is not nihilism.

If a pessimist fell in a well, and someone offered to rescue him, hed likely respond, Why bother? In the well, out of the well, were all going to die anyway.

In fact, we might even go so far as to say that pessimism is the opposite of nihilism. Like nihilism, pessimism could be seen as arising from despair. The fact of our death, the frustration of our desires, the unintended consequences of our actions, the tweets of our political leaders, any or all of these could lead us to either nihilism or pessimism. However, where these two roads diverge is over the question of whether we dwell on our despair or hide from it.

To be with a pessimist is to know that you are with a pessimist. But you can be with a nihilist and have no idea. Indeed you could yourself be a nihilist and have no idea. Such a lack of awareness is the point of nihilism, as nihilism is all about hiding from despair rather than dwelling on it. This difference was illustrated by Woody Allen in his movie Annie Hall (1977) when his alter ego Alvy Singer has the following exchange with a couple he stops on the street for advice:

ALVY (He moves up the sidewalk to a young trendy-looking couple, arms wrapped around each other): You-you look like a really happy couple. Uh, uh are you?


ALVY: Yeah! So h-h-how do you account for it?

YOUNG WOMAN: Uh, Im very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.

YOUNG MAN: And Im exactly the same way.

ALVY: I see. Well, thats very interesting. So youve managed to work out something, huh?


Alvy Singer is a pessimist. The man and woman are nihilists.

What is most illuminating about this scene is that it shows how a pessimist can reveal the identity of a nihilist, just as it might be argued that the pessimism of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer helped reveal to Nietzsche his own nihilism. Before they are confronted by Alvy, they are just a happily shallow and happily empty couple. However, when he asks them to explain their happiness, they are no longer shallow and empty; they are instead forced to awaken from their reverie and to become self-aware. It is not that they are happy that reveals their nihilism; rather it is their attempt to explain to a pessimist why they are happy that reveals their nihilism. On the surface, they are soul mates who have found each other. But surface is all that they are. The attempt to go any deeper reveals that there is nothing deeper. And it is precisely a pessimist who, when confronted with such a happy couple, would ask the Why? that reveals their nothingness.

If, as I suggested earlier, nihilism and pessimism are opposites, then nihilism is actually much closer to optimism. To see the glass as half full is to think that we should be happy with what we have rather than focusing on what is missing. But being happy with what we have can also be a way of remaining complacent, of ignoring what is missing so as to avoid having to seek change. Similarly, to believe that everything will work out in the end, that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, is to believe that life is teleological, that there is some goal or purpose whether God or Justice operating invisibly behind what we experience.

It is by believing in the existence of superhuman goals and superhuman purposes that we lose sight of human goals and human purposes. Likewise, when we elevate someone like Martin Luther King Jr. to the status of a saint or a prophet, we see him as more than a mere mortal, thus freeing ourselves from the responsibility of trying to emulate him since we simply have to be hopeful that someone like him will come again. If optimism leads us to be complacent, leads us to wait for something good to happen, or for someone else to make something good happen, then optimism leads us to do nothing. In other words, it is not pessimism but optimism that is similar to nihilism.

In Ancient Greece, a Cynic was someone who lived like a dog (the Greek kynikos means doglike), or, to be more precise, was someone who lived by the Cynic philosophy of staying true to nature rather than conforming to what that person saw as social artifice. Today, a cynic is similarly someone who looks down on society and sees it as fake, though not because the cynic sees society as unnatural, but because the cynic sees the people who make up society as fake. To be cynical is to assume the worst of people, to think that morality is mere pretense, and to suppose that even when people seem to be helping others they are really only trying to help themselves. Believing in only self-interest, the cynic appears to others to believe in nothing. Consequently, cynicism can appear to be nihilism. But it is not nihilism.

A cynic can even enjoy life. In particular, a cynic can take pleasure in mocking those who claim that altruism exists, or that politicians are self-sacrificing public servants, and especially finds laughable the idea that we should try to see the good in people.

Cynicism, like pessimism, is about negativity. However, whereas pessimism is about despair, about the feeling that life is pointless in the face of death, cynicism is instead much more about disdain than despair. A cynic wouldnt say that life is pointless but would just say that what people claim about life is pointless. A cynic can even enjoy life. In particular, a cynic can take pleasure in mocking those who claim that altruism exists, or that politicians are self-sacrificing public servants, and especially finds laughable the idea that we should try to see the good in people.

Pessimists are not nihilists because pessimists embrace rather than evade despair. Cynics are not nihilists because cynics embrace rather than evade mendacity. A key part of evading despair is the willingness to believe, to believe that people can be good, that goodness is rewarded, and that such rewards can exist even if we do not experience them. But to a cynic such a willingness to believe is a willingness to be naive, to be gullible, and to be manipulated. The cynic mocks such beliefs not because the cynic claims to know that such beliefs are necessarily false, but because the cynic is aware of the danger represented by people who claim to know that such beliefs are necessarily true.

A skeptic waits for evidence before passing judgment. A cynic, however, does not trust evidence because the cynic does not trust that anyone is capable of providing evidence objectively.

A skeptic waits for evidence before passing judgment. A cynic, however, does not trust evidence because the cynic does not trust that anyone is capable of providing evidence objectively. The cynic would prefer to remain dubious than risk being duped, and thus the cynic sees those who do take such risks as dupes. For this reason the cynic is able to reveal the nihilism of others by challenging people to defend their lack of cynicism, much like how the pessimist reveals the nihilism of others by challenging people to defend their lack of pessimism.

Perhaps the best example of the revelatory abilities of a cynic is the argument between Thrasymachus and Socrates in the opening book of Platos Republic. Thrasymachus is first introduced as mocking Socrates for questioning others about the definition of justice and then demands that he be paid in order to tell them what justice truly is. Once appeased, Thrasymachus defines justice as a trick invented by the strong in order to take advantage of the weak, as a way for the strong to seize power by manipulating society into believing that obedience is justice. Thrasymachus further argues that whenever possible people do what is unjust, except when they are too afraid of being caught and punished, and thus Thrasymachus concludes that injustice is better than justice.

When Socrates attempts to refute this definition by likening political leaders to doctors, to those who have power but use it to help others rather than to help themselves, Thrasymachus does not accept the refutation like the others do, but instead refutes Socratess refutation. Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of being naive and argues that Socrates is like a sheep who thinks the shepherd who protects and feeds the sheep does so because the shepherd is good rather than realizing that the shepherd is fattening them for the slaughter. Socrates is never able to truly convince Thrasymachus that his definition of justice is wrong, and indeed Thrasymachuss cynicism is so compelling that Socrates spends the rest of the Republic trying to prove that justice is better than injustice by trying to refute the apparent success of unjust people by making metaphysical claims about the effects of injustice on the soul. Socrates is thus only able to counter cynicism in the visible world through faith in the existence of an invisible world, an invisible world that he argues is more real than the visible world. In other words, it is Thrasymachuss cynicism that forces Socrates to reveal his nihilism.

Here we can see that nihilism is actually much more closely related to idealism than to cynicism. The cynic presents himself or herself as a realist, as someone who cares about actions, not intentions, who focuses on what people do rather than on what people hope to achieve, who remembers the failed promises of the past in order to avoid being swept up in the not-yet-failed promises about the future. The idealist, however, rejects cynicism as hopelessly negative. By focusing on intentions, on hopes, and on the future, the idealist is able to provide a positive vision to oppose the negativity of the cynic. But in rejecting cynicism, does the idealist also reject reality?

Nihilism is actually much more closely related to idealism than to cynicism.

The idealist, as we saw with Socrates, is not able to challenge the cynics view of reality and instead is forced to construct an alternate reality, a reality of ideas. These ideas may form a coherent logical story about reality, but that in no way guarantees that the ideas are anything more than just a story. As the idealist focuses more and more on how reality ought to be, the idealist becomes less and less concerned with how reality is. The utopian views of the idealist may be more compelling than the dystopian views of the cynic, but dystopian views are at least focused on this world, whereas utopian views are, by definition, focused on a world that does not exist. It is for this reason that to use other-worldly idealism to refute this-worldly cynicism is to engage in nihilism.

Along with pessimism and cynicism, nihilism is also frequently associated with apathy. To be apathetic is to be without pathos, to be without feeling, to be without desire. While we are all occasionally given choices that do not particularly sway us one way or another (Do you want to eat Italian or Chinese?), such disinterestedness is what someone who is apathetic feels all the time. To be apathetic is thus to be seen as not caring about anything. The pessimist feels despair, the cynic feels disdain, but the apathetic individual feels nothing. In other words, apathy is seen as nihilism. But apathy is not nihilism.

The pessimist feels despair, the cynic feels disdain, but the apathetic individual feels nothing.

Apathy can be an attitude (I dont care about that) or a character trait (I dont care about anything). However, in either case the apathetic individual is expressing a personal feeling (or, to be more precise, feelinglessness) and is not making a claim about how everyone should feel (or, again, not feel). The apathetic individual understands perfectly well that other people feel differently insofar as they feel anything at all. And because the apathetic individual feels nothing, the apathetic individual does not feel any desire to convince others that they should similarly feel nothing. Others may care, but the apathetic individual does not, and because they do not care, the apathetic individual does not care that others care.

Yet apathy is still often seen as an affront, as an insult, as a rebuke by those who do care. For example, in MTVs Daria (19972002) a show about a highly apathetic high schooler Daria Morgendorffer and her friend Jane Lane have the following conversation:

DARIA: Tragedy hits the school and everyone thinks of me. A popular guy died, and now Im popular because Im the misery chick. But Im not miserable. Im just not like them.

JANE: It really makes you think.

DARIA: Funny. Thanks a lot.

JANE: No! Thats why they want to talk to you. When they say, Youre always unhappy, Daria, what they mean is, You think, Daria. I can tell because you dont smile. Now this guy died and it makes me think and that hurts my little head and makes me stop smiling. So, tell me how you cope with thinking all the time, Daria, until I can get back to my normal vegetable state.

DARIA: Okay. So why have you been avoiding me?

JANE: Because Ive been trying not to think.

The apathetic individual can thus, like the pessimist and the cynic, reveal the nihilism of others, though, unlike the pessimist and the cynic, the apathetic individual does this without actually trying to. Whereas the pessimist and the cynic challenge others to explain their lack of either pessimism or cynicism, the apathetic individual is instead the one who is challenged, challenged by others to explain his or her lack of pathos. In trying to get the apathetic individual to care, the person who does care is forced to explain why he or she cares, an explanation which can reveal just how meaningful (or meaningless) is the reason the person has for caring.

The apathetic individual doesnt care. However, not caring is not the same thing as caring about nothing. The apathetic individual feels nothing. But the nihilist has feelings. Its just that what the nihilist has feelings for is itself nothing. And indeed it is because the nihilist is able to have such strong feelings, strong feelings for something that is nothing, that the nihilist is not and cannot be apathetic. Nihilists can have sympathy, empathy, and antipathy, but they cannot have apathy.

Not caring is not the same thing as caring about nothing. The apathetic individual feels nothing. But the nihilist has feelings.

Nietzsche tried to demonstrate the feelings at work in nihilism in his argument against what he called the morality of pity. The morality of pity holds that it is good to feel pity for those who are in need, and it is especially good to be moved by such pity to help those who are in need. But, according to Nietzsche, what is often motivating the desire to help is how we are able to see ourselves thanks to how we see others in need, in particular how we see ourselves as capable of helping, as powerful enough to help.

The morality of pity is for Nietzsche not about helping others, but about elevating oneself by reducing others, by reducing others to their neediness, to a neediness that we do not have and that reveals how much we do have by contrast. Pity is nihilistic insofar as it allows us to evade reality, such as by allowing us to feel that we are better than we are, and that we are better than those in need. Consequently, we are able to avoid recognizing that we have perhaps only had better luck or have been more privileged.

The morality of pity drives us to feel pity and to feel good for feeling pity. Having such feelings is worse than feeling nothing, for if we feel good when we feel pity, then we are motivated only to help the individuals we feel pity for rather than to help end the systemic injustices that create such pitiful situations in the first place. Whereas apathy may help us to avoid being blinded by our emotions and to see situations of injustice more clearly, pity is instead more likely to motivate us to perpetuate injustice by perpetuating the conditions that allow us to help the needy, that allow us to see ourselves as good for helping those we see only as needy.

This is not to suggest, however, that we should try to achieve apathy, that we should try to will ourselves to feel nothing. Popular versions of Stoicism and of Buddhism advocate for calmness, for detachment, for trying to not feel what we feel. To force oneself to become apathetic is nihilistic, as to do so is to evade our feelings rather than to confront them. There is thus an important difference between being apathetic and becoming apathetic, between being indifferent because that is how one responds to the world and becoming indifferent because we want to be liberated from our feelings and attachments. Similarly, to become detached, not because of Stoicism or Buddhism, but because of hipsterism, is still to try to detach oneself from oneself, from life, from reality. So pursuing irony can be just as nihilistic as pursuing apatheia or nirvana.

Nolen Gertz is Assistant Professor of Applied Philosophy at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and author of Nihilism, from which this article is excerpted.

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What Nihilism Is Not - The MIT Press Reader

Sea Girls face the slippery slope of nihilism on ‘Ready For More’ – Vanyaland

This may have just gotten lost in our Christmas shuffle, but we could have sworn Sea Girls had a show planned in Allston last month, one that apparently dropped off the calendar before we had a chance to swing down the holiday lights off Harvard Avenue. Were bummed about that, but quickly put at ease as the UK alt-rock band continue to provide a steady stream of radio-ready anthems, this time coming correct with the electric Ready For More.

The new track follows Septembers Violet and serves as a taste of Sea Girls forthcoming LP Under Exit Lights, set for release March 6 via Polydor.

Ready For More is the bad apple of the EP, says Sea Girls singer Henry Camamile. It looks and sounds sweet, but its basically staring into this abyss of nihilistic behavior and being scared that I couldnt change it. This song practically embraces the slippery slope I was on.

Sea Girls, named by its members after a misheard Nick Cave lyric, are poised for a wild 2020 breakout. Ready For More? You fucking bet.

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Sea Girls face the slippery slope of nihilism on 'Ready For More' - Vanyaland

Avenue 5’s Zach Woods and Rebecca Front on nihilism and pet peeves – The A.V. Club

Why does every waiter act like they needs to explain how menus work now? Theyre menus. Appetizers up top, desserts at the bottom. We get it. That topic and more are covered in our interview with Avenue 5's Zach Woods and Rebecca Front, above. On Armando Iannuccis new farce, premiering this weekend on HBO, the pair play against each other as a nihilist customer service representative and a busybody passenger, both of whom are now stuck on what amounts to a damaged cruise ship languishing in space. Its a great premise for the two to play with, especially since theyre both veterans of the Iannucci-verse. In the clip above, the pair talk about their relationship with Arm, as Woods calls him, and well as who theyd ultimately find themselves becoming if they were trapped with strangers for the foreseeable future.

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Avenue 5's Zach Woods and Rebecca Front on nihilism and pet peeves - The A.V. Club

Revealed: The fight to stop Samuel Beckett winning the Nobel prize – The Irish Times

Fifty years after Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature, newly opened archives reveal the serious doubts the Nobel committee had about giving the award to an author they felt held a bottomless contempt for the human condition.

Announcing that the Irishman had won the laureateship in 1969, the Swedish Academy praised his writing, which in new forms for the novel and drama in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.

But with Nobel archives being made public only after five decades, documents have now revealed there were major disagreements within the Swedish Academy over the choice of the Waiting for Godot author. According to Svenska Dagbladet, the split was between Beckett and French writer Andr Malraux, with other nominations including Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Graham Greene.

Four members of the committee supported Beckett and two backed Malraux, with the primary objections to Beckett coming from the Nobel committees chairman, Anders sterling, who had campaigned against the playwright for years. sterling questioned whether writing of a demonstratively negative or nihilistic nature like Becketts corresponded to the intention laid out in Alfred Nobels will, to reward the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction.

While sterling acknowledged the possibility that behind Becketts depressing motives might lie a secret defence of humanity, but in the eyes of most readers, he said, it remains an artistically staged ghost poetry, characterised by a bottomless contempt for the human condition.

But Becketts main supporter on the committee, Karl Ragnar Gierow, felt that Becketts black vision was not the expression of animosity and nihilism. Beckett, he argued, portrays humanity as we have all seen it, at the moment of its most severe violation, and searches for the depths of degradation because, even there, there is the possibility of rehabilitation.

Beckett was rejected for the prize a year earlier, in 1968, but a year later his champions won out. sterling did not give the speech presenting him with the award. That was done by Gierow, who expanded on the arguments he made to the committee, saying that Becketts work goes to the depths because it is only there that pessimistic thought and poetry can work their miracles. What does one get when a negative is printed? A positive, a clarification, with black proving to be the light of day, the parts in deepest shade those which reflect the light source.

Beckett himself accepted the prize, but he did not come to Stockholm to receive it, or give the traditional winners lecture. And the division among the jury remained secret for half a century unlike today, when the split over the decision to award the 2019 prize to the Austrian writer Peter Handke prompted the boycott of the ceremony by Peter Englund, the former permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, and further resignations. Guardian

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Revealed: The fight to stop Samuel Beckett winning the Nobel prize - The Irish Times

How Broadways Jagged Little Pill tries to reinvent the jukebox musical – Vox.com

Broadway seems to get a new jukebox musical every few months: There are ersatz Chers and Tina Turners and Carole Kings and Jersey Boys all over Times Square. Still, there was something a little shocking about the very idea of Jagged Little Pill, the new jukebox musical based on Alanis Morissettes seminal 1994 album that premiered on Broadway in December. Jukebox musicals, surely, were for nostalgic baby boomers with tourist money to burn. They can be well executed, but traditionally they are painfully sincere hagiographies that wedge their songs into their subjects lives with much, too much, literalism. So what was Alanis, the poster girl for Gen Xs ironic nihilism, doing on Broadway?

Then Jagged Little Pill opened in Boston in 2018, and the rumors began: As jukebox musicals go, the early buzz whispered, Jagged Little Pill was actually not that bad. It had some astonishing performances. It had fixed the jukebox musical.

Part of what made Jagged Little Pill so exciting, according to those early out-of-town reviews, was that it eschewed the traditional biographical jukebox musical plot (And then they said I shouldnt be myself, but I was! And then I won a thousand Grammys! is usually how you can summarize a typical plot.)

Instead, first-time playwright Diablo Codys book tells the story of a suburban family caught in contemporary malaise. Perfect mother Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is drowning under the weight of keeping up appearances, and shes become dependent on opioids. Shes also struggling to connect to her daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), a committed activist who sings to Mary Jane that shes frustrated by your apathy. But both Mary Jane and Frankie have to reconsider their understanding of each other after Frankies classmate Bella (Kathryn Gallagher) is raped at a party.

Its still rare and unusual for a jukebox musical to have an original plot not focused on the artist themselves, so for many critics, Codys involvement was already an enormous step forward for the genre. But after the show moved to New York and was met with initial raves, a counternarrative began. For some critics, Codys book was the shows weak link that let down Morissettes music, a shaky and contrived mess of confusion and occasional silliness.

One month after the shows Broadway debut, the conversation about whether Jagged Little Pill is worth swallowing has calmed down a little. So Vox culture writers Constance Grady and Aja Romano decided to take this time to talk through Jagged Little Pill and the problems of the jukebox musical. What makes them work, what makes them not and is this particular musical any good or not?

Constance: In the month and change that Jagged Little Pill has been out, weve had time for a rough consensus on the show to develop among critics, and it goes a little something like this: The performances are brilliant, but the book is overstuffed at best and a shapeless mess at worst. Where you fall on the musical overall seems to depend upon which aspect of the show youre willing to give the most weight to.

Ill put my cards on the table. I think Jagged Little Pill is a mess, and I love it with my whole heart. I had a blast at this show. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I have only a glancing acquaintance with Alaniss original album (I was slightly too young and way too uncool to listen to Jagged Little Pill very much in the 90s), but the music is so undeniable, and the young cast so strong, that it was easy for me to let myself get swept away by everything that was happening onstage.

Like, try to sit there while Lauren Pattens heartbroken Jo absolutely shreds You Oughta Know and not start screaming with catharsis. You cant! Its physically impossible! Thats why the show has to stop dead for a standing ovation every night as soon as shes finished.

On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that this show suffers from the standard jukebox musical problem of forcing its characters into position to sing a particular song. And because this particular example is trying to do so much at once, giving every single character a disconnected subplot of their own, it doesnt quite have time to pay off the tensions its songs set up.

You Oughta Know is a bit of a case study in this problem. An Alanis musical absolutely has to have someone sing You Oughta Know, because its one of her best and biggest hits. To set up the song, the show puts together a love triangle, so we see Frankie become torn between her girlfriend Jo and new kid Phoenix. But at the same time, the main concerns of Jagged Little Pill as a play are Mary Janes opioid addiction and the ripple effects from Bellas rape, and it really doesnt have time to make the love triangle feel like anything more than an afterthought.

The aims of this show as a jukebox musical and the aims of this show as an original musical are at odds, and as a result, its center of gravity is warped. This giant showstopper of a number is embedded in the slightest and weakest arc of the show. And the only conclusion Jo gets after the heartbreak and rage of You Oughta Know is half a verse in the finale, which is a pretty weak conclusion.

Having said all that, I actually think that as far as this genre goes, Diablo Codys much-maligned book is pretty solid. If nothing else, Cody managed to people the cast with characters who all have different personalities, but who all believably feel like they are the kind of person who would break into an Alanis Morissette song if given the chance. Thats such a monumental achievement for a jukebox musical that I have to give her props for it.

Aja, where do you fall on Jagged Little Pill? Does the critical consensus feel correct to you? And do you love it in spite of the structure or hate it because of it?

Aja: Ill be very upfront and say that I grew up with an unshakeable, nay, zealous, faith in the thoroughly integrated book musical, whose songs evolve organically from the book and the characters. So the last two decades of musical theater have been pretty fraught for me, because I deeply resent the rise of the jukebox musical. Its a regression in form! Its everything Broadway aspired for decades to evolve beyond, now wrapped in a fancy marketing package as a cheap trick to get people into theaters! Its cheating, Constance!

So, with all that said, I really do appreciate the spirit of Jagged Little Pill. Its aims are pure, its ambitions are to become a real musical, and Im mostly in its corner. The creative team understands that you just shouldnt treat Morissettes music like that in any other pop biopic. Most jukebox musical scores are light even if the subjects are serious, but Alaniss music is raw emotion. Its the classic Gen X mix of depression and angst, infused with societal malaise and a touch of addiction.

Even its upbeat moments veer into neurotic, manic, difficult. JLP really couldnt ever be a jukebox musical in that sense, because whos actually gonna play Alanis on a jukebox? You play Alanis while screaming into your pillow at 3 am over a dirty breakup. You play Alanis while eye-rolling at each other about how ironically self-aware youre being about playing Alanis a move the musical itself parodies, in a scene meant purely to lampoon the cultural reaction to Ironic.

But the fact that Im talking about how a musical is breaking the fourth wall to answer the longstanding cultural perceptions about one of its songs is part of the inherent problems you run into with musicals like this one. You have to work much harder to create characters the audience cares about as much as the songs themselves, and especially to get those characters to fit the situations prescribed by those songs.

You Oughta Know is one of the most glaring examples of this, because this song is meant to be the shows climactic showstopper, but it just doesnt fit. You Oughta Know is full of the kind of deep bitterness that results from a relationship thats lasted years, not the uncertain, relatively new relationship its assigned to onstage.

Lauren Patten acts the hell out of Jo who I read as emphatically nonbinary, FWIW and she also gets one of the shows other big numbers, One Hand In My Pocket. But her role is frustrating, because even though shes one of the most compelling actors onstage, shes working hard to fill a very thinly written part. Remember, Jo is the strongest leg in that ultimately weak love triangle Constance mentioned, and the character seems to have been created just to deliver strong (low-key queer) anthems, not to do much of anything else.

We barely get glimpses of her life outside their relationship with Frankie, and we really dont even understand that relationship before it starts falling apart. Ultimately, the contrast between these giant, overly emotive songs and such an underwritten part just highlights just how lacking so much of the book is. (Next time, just make the whole musical about the misfit genderqueer kid! Done!)

Diablo Codys book is overstuffed with too many social issues and too many characters, and its really obvious that much of this bloat is about finding ways to shoehorn in all the Alanis songs you know, whether or not they make sense and fit the plot or its characters.

Head Over Feet bizarrely gets split between two couples at once, as an attempt to give our main character, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), some backstory with her husband. Only this random nostalgia break abruptly happens in the middle of a bitter couples therapy session, where its placement makes no sense. Similarly, turning Ironic into a purely throwaway meta-number seems like a wasted opportunity, but thats what happens when youre trying to match characters to songs instead of letting songs grow out of character.

Additionally, Tom Kitt of the Pulitzer-winning Next to Normal did the orchestrations and arrangements for JLP, and I felt like Next to Normal heavily influenced this show in spirit without influencing its approach to characterization and story structure so I felt the ghostly imprint of a much better show about family dysfunction bleeding through at every turn.

Even so, theres a lot to like about JLP. The staging and choreography, together with the additional music by Glen Ballard (Morissettes co-writer and Jagged Little Pills original album producer) and Kitt are all fantastic and full of pulsing energy and heart. Even though the characters are all little more than ciphers, Mary Jane in particular is the classic unlikeable Diablo Cody protagonist. Shes really hard to take until she becomes almost heartbreakingly vulnerable, and Elizabeth Stanley really nails that performance.

I wasnt as moved as other audience members were by the scene where Uninvited invites us into the darkness in her head, but boy did I appreciate it as a way of drawing out that songs complex, layered meanings, and as a way of elevating the jukebox musical itself. If we have to have jukebox musicals, and it seems we must, Id rather have a dozen Jagged Little Pills that dont quite work than a dozen blander, frothier musicals that do.

Constance: I absolutely agree on Jagged Little Pills massive ambitions, and I think youre correct, Aja, that they are both its saving grace and one of its biggest problems. We can see this basic paradox not only formally but also thematically, because whoa, boy, does this musical have ambitions of handling a lot of different social and political themes. And it honestly only really has space for maaaaaaaaybe one and a half of them.

Most obviously, this is a musical about the opioid addiction crisis. Frankies mom Mary Jane is addicted to pills, and over the course of the show, we delve into Mary Janes addiction, its roots, and all the ways its begun to warp her ostensibly perfect suburban mom life. That plotline works nicely, I think: Smiling in particular, in which we see a disoriented and alienated Mary Jane going backwards through her days routine, really succeeds at making Alaniss music feel fresh and new and character-based, is staged in an inventive and effective way, and is also genuinely moving.

Weve also got the date rape plotline, which I would say is handled in a way that feels basically fine. Sure, some of the protest scenes are a little cringe-inducingly earnest, and yes, songs like Predator and No get extremely literal interpretations (Predator can more or less survive it; No cant). Still, Codys book gets nicely nuanced in the way she talks through the concerns here, especially when it comes to who believes whom and why. The plotline plays into Mary Janes addiction story in a thoughtful way. And Kathryn Gallagher gives a really grounded, smart performance as Bella throughout this subplot.

And then, sort of stuffed into the corners of the play, weve got Frankies political activism, and that just does not work at all. This plotline seems to want to cover basically all the progressive causes du jour, including climate change and, in a very bizarrely weighted moment, school gun violence.

Theres also the barely-sketched-in subplot of Frankies angst as a black girl adopted by a very white family, plus the sexual politics of her queer love triangle between Jo and Phoenix. Those issues are just kind of there. They take up space, they inspire some extremely energetic rage-dancing but theres no room for the show to explore them as fully as they deserve. It begins to feel as though its just going through a checklist of issues for the wokeness street cred, rather than caring about those issues for their own sake.

Aja: And that is, wait for it, the ultimate irony of Jagged Little Pill: The show doesnt care enough about any of the issues its cycling through to make them meaningful when the whole point of the Jagged Little Pill album is the terror of caring too much.

Alaniss album was an instant legend in part because it captured the zeitgeist of a generation that had turned toward ironic detachment to cope with the lack of control they felt over the world and their own lives. Alaniss songs explicitly voiced the terror and anxiety of letting yourself care for anything at the end of a century in a culture increasingly veering towards nihilism. Her lyrics embraced her own neuroses and the power of her own bitterness in ways that also enhanced and amplified her hesitant, constantly-deflected shows of genuine affection and positive emotion. They made us feel how hard it is to love and care for anything.

And look, everyone knows that a suburban nuclear family is always a deceptively idyllic allegory for larger societal disquiet, right? Thats the trope. But when we look at the vast pantheon of stories that use this trope, too often suburban malaise itself is treated as the problem and not a symptom of something larger.

I think thats the basic mistake Cody makes here: She treats most of her characters like theyve been inducted by default into the national suburban burnout epidemic, and thats the reason theyre all in individually self-absorbed hazes that keep them from connecting to each other or even listening to each other half the time. (On that front, I also think her storyline is strangely non-critical of the male members of our family, who both are actively dismissive of the pain of the women in their lives until they magically arent anymore, in ways that arent really fully examined or dealt with.)

These characters are performing their default identities, both individual and collective, and hitting their trope marks so they can get into position to sing their big Alanis number: the angry adopted child rebelling through feminism; the overworked absent dad who resents his depressed wife for not making him feel loved; the all-American jock who implodes under the pressure of getting into a top school by going to a dangerous high school party. It all feels perfunctory. But a cast full of characters truly inspired by Alanis Morissette would be fighting with themselves every step of the way about where they wanted to go, and why, and why theyre even this invested when its clear nothing matters at all.

Jagged Little Pill, the album, isnt about characters performing simulacrums of humanity while being stuck in a bucolic modern hell: Its about characters loudly and angrily trying to fight through that malaise to something better and more authentic. But here the characters struggles collectively feel far more performative than sincere. In a musical full of fight songs, theres very little fight at all.

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How Broadways Jagged Little Pill tries to reinvent the jukebox musical - Vox.com

Middle Class Joe Biden has a corruption problem it makes him a weak candidate – The Guardian

Democrats are trying to choose a candidate to beat Donald Trump, the most corrupt president in history. Some think nominating Joe Biden, a moderate white man who calls himself Middle Class Joe, makes sense.

But Biden has a big corruption problem and it makes him a weak candidate. I know it seems crazy, but a lot of the voters we need independents and people who might stay home will look at Biden and Trump and say: Theyre all dirty.

It looks like Middle Class Joe has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans. Converting campaign contributions into legislative favors and policy positions isnt being moderate. It is the kind of transactional politics Americans have come to loathe.

There are three clear examples.

First, Bidens support for finance over working-class Americans. His career was bankrolled by the credit card industry. He delivered for it by spearheading a bankruptcy bill that made it harder for Americans to reduce their debts and helped cause the financial crisis. He not only authored and voted for that bill, he split with Barack Obama and led the battle to vote down Democratic amendments.

His explanations for carrying water for the credit card industry have changed over time. They have never rung true.

Nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump

The simplest explanation is the most likely: he did it for his donors. At a fundraiser last year, Biden promised his Wall Street donors that nothing would fundamentally change for them if he became president. Now the financial world is raising huge money for his campaign. It clearly thinks hes going to be its friend if elected. Most Americans, who get ripped off by the financial sector on a daily basis, arent looking for a candidate who has made their life harder.

Second, healthcare. On 25 April, the day he announced his campaign, Biden went straight to a fundraiser co-hosted by the chief executive of a major health insurance corporation. He refuses to sign a pledge to reject money from insurance and pharma execs and continues to raise money from healthcare industry donors. His campaign is being bankrolled by a super Pac run by healthcare lobbyists.

What did all these donors get? A healthcare proposal that preserves the power of the insurance industry and leaves 10 million Americans uninsured.

Third, climate change. Biden signed a pledge not to take money from the fossil fuel industry, then broke his promise. Right after a CNN town hall on climate change, he held a fundraiser hosted by the founder of a fossil fuel conglomerate. He is pushing climate policy that has gotten dismal reviews from several leading environmental groups.

There are plenty of other examples that raise questions, like housing and social security. Big real estate moguls are playing a major role in Bidens campaign. Unlike his rivals, he has no comprehensive housing plan. When he pushed for cuts to Social Security, was he serving donors or his constituents?

I can already hear the howls: But look at Trump! Trump is 1,000 times worse!

You dont need to convince me. I have spent my life writing about and fighting against corruption, and in America I have never seen anything like the current administration. In the last three years, I have made combatting Trumps corruption the heart of my work.

I was on the first lawsuit against him for corrupt constitutional violations and I ran for attorney general in New York on a platform of pointing out just how dangerous he is, and how important unused state laws are to stopping him. My work on corruption was cited in the House judiciary committees report on impeachment.

2020 should be about a crystal clear contrast between truth and lies, corruption and integrity, compassion and cruelty

But heres the thing: nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump. It will allow Trump to muddy the water, to once again pretend he is the one draining the swamp, running against Washington culture. Trump and the Cambridge Analytica of 2020 will campaign, as they did in 2016, on a message of radical nihilism: everybody lies, everybody is corrupt, nothing matters, there is no truth.

Corrupt politicians always use whataboutism. With Biden, we are basically handing Trump a whataboutism playbook. The comparison wont be fair, but if you think he wont use Bidens closeness to donors as a cudgel to try to keep people home, you havent been paying attention. Unlike Democrats, who must give voters a reason to come out, Trump doesnt need voters to love him. He just needs to convince people the whole game is ugly.

Whether or not Biden is making choices to please donors, there is no doubt his record represents the transactional, grossly corrupt culture in Washington that long precedes Trump. We cannot allow Trump to so lower our standards that we arent even allowed to call out that culture, which has not only stymied progress but also harmed the Democratic party.

The good news is that we still have time to break with this culture of corruption. We dont have to choose Bidens way, which would give Trump a perfect foil. The 2020 election should be about a crystal clear contrast between truth and lies, corruption and integrity, compassion and cruelty.

We have a rare opportunity to end a larger culture of corruption and we should take it we will regret it if we dont.

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Middle Class Joe Biden has a corruption problem it makes him a weak candidate - The Guardian

Why the attack on JNU is hard to digest – Gulf News

JNU professors during a protest organised by the teacher's Association of JNU against the resignation of Vice-Chancellor, outside the School of International Studies in New Delhi Image Credit: ANI

It was the autumn of 1994. The campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the southern fringes of New Delhi was abuzz with just one thing: The plague scare that had created quite a panic in the western and northern parts of India. JNU wasnt immune to the perceived threat of a looming epidemic and the university authorities declared a weeks holiday.

In the midst of all the chaos over whether one should leave the campus or stay put, one batchmate of mine at the School of Languages had a very innocuous query for one of the senior students in the School for Social Sciences: How serious is the plague threat? Pat came the reply I can only talk about the political angle of plague leaving the questioner befuddled.

My first brush with campus agitation was barely within a few days after I joined the university, when I saw a bunch of students skipping lunch to attend a demonstration outside the vice-chancellors office, demanding sufficient hostel rooms.

Later that day, as dinner was served at the mess in Narmada Hostel, where I was a resident, cyclostyled pamphlets being distributed among students caught my attention. A closer look revealed a charter of demands from a Left-leaning students outfit, asking the World Bank and United States to refrain from their pro-corporate and anti-proletarian policies towards the Third World.

Hyper-sensitive culture

In a nutshell, that has always been the JNU story. Scarcely will one come across an educational institution in India that is politically so active, aware and sensitive. And the best part of this hyper-sensitive political culture, so to speak, was the fact that every single voice, every single shred of opinion was allowed unfettered space and attention without fear or favour.

A JNU Students Union election was the best example of this inclusive atmosphere where two students JNUSU presidential candidates for two different students outfits propounding two opposing views in a fiercely fought presidential debate, would finally be seen having a good laugh at each other over steaming cups of tea and plates of bread-pakoda (a light snack) at the iconic Ganga Dhaba in the middle of the night.

And on the night the ballots were counted in multiple rooms on the first floor of the Administrative Block, or Ad Block in popular JNU parlance, groups of students from rival outfits would sit together in huddles in the courtyard and share their anxiety over cups of tea or coffee as the late-autumn night would progress.

There was political rivalry in JNU; there was a point-counterpoint contour to academics in JNU that went far beyond pedagogy; there was a clash of ideologies among a section of students in JNU the list is long. But there was never an eye-for-an-eye brand of nihilism among a section of JNUites as I presume exists today.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined students and faculty being chased around by masked iron rod- and hockey stick-wielding goons. Never ever could I have imagined blood-soaked faces of members of rival student groups spewing venom at each other on social media.

Rival factions

One major reason why JNU managed to maintain a sense of decorum and sanity amid its super-charged political milieu is the fact that Left-leaning ideology always held sway over campus life in general and its political climate in particular. The rival factions would most often be aligned to Leftist thought, thereby acting as a foil to one another.

Battleground JNU was primarily dominated by either All India Students Association (Aisa) or Students Federation of India (SFI) the former affiliated with the ultra-Left Communist Party of India Liberation and the latter being the students wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad, which owes its allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and National Students Union of India, the students wing of the Congress, were largely bit-players in this amphitheatre.

And SFI, in particular, with its moderate and more nuanced approach to socio-political issues, served as a perfect antidote to the Aisa brand of gung-ho scepticism, whereby, even the slightest hint of nihilism or anarchy would be nipped in the bud not through stick-wielding outsiders or militant insiders, but through a healthy practice of debate, discussion and a majority-endorsement of views and issues.

Us vs Them

With Aisa and SFI acting as a foil to one another, there was no us-vs-them dialectics on campus. Moreover, neither did the Central Government of the day really feel any serious need to get involved with campus politics, nor did the student outfits on campus ever allow any serious disruption of the academic pursuit in order to promote their agenda.

Since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, two worrying trends have coalesced. Firstly, there has undoubtedly been an attempt to saffronise campus politics by forces outside JNU. Secondly, student politics within the campus has turned increasingly disruptive even to the extent of holding academics to ransom.

If masked goons wreaking havoc in JNU is a poor commentary on the political establishment trying to co-opt intellectual space and free speech, then students trying to disrupt the registration process for new admissions, in order to press with their demand for a rollback of higher fees, is no less worrying a sign of decadence.

Time has come for political forces within and outside the campus to answer this simple question: Do they really want the name JNU to be revered and sought-after; or do they want it to be just a relic of its past glory? That shouldnt be too hard a choice to make.

The writer is a former student of the Centre for Linguistics and English at JNU. Twitter:@moumiayush

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Why the attack on JNU is hard to digest - Gulf News

The Districts have debuted a brand new track, ‘Cheap Regrets’ – Dork Magazine

It's the second single to arrive from their new record 'You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere'.

The Districts have debuted a brand new track.

Titled 'Cheap Regrets', it's the second single to arrive from their new record 'You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere', and follows up on last year's lead offering 'Hey Jo'.

Singer and guitarist Rob Grote explains: ""Cheap Regrets" is some late capitalist nihilism channeled into a Districts dance party. It's about the extremes of American culture constantly reinforcing the self. The mirror reconfirms you. It's all iPhone, selfies, and mirrors. Sell yourself baby. The consumer gets consumed. I wanted people to dance together to a song about alienation to find some collective transcendence in that."

'You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere' is set to be released on 13th March. You can check out 'Cheap Regrets' below.

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The Districts have debuted a brand new track, 'Cheap Regrets' - Dork Magazine

Jenee Halstead eyes the vacuum of the Internet age with ‘Disposable Love’ – Vanyaland

Sponsored by Studio 52. A community artist space located in the heart of Allston, and is proud to support the Boston music scene and local artist community.

Theres a certain freedom in acknowledging were all fragments of disposable data. Sure, weve all been slapped with an inevitable expiration date, but so has all human life since the dawn of time (and, come the information-harvesting, climate-crisis-ridden age of 2020, isnt it a relief that no one was built to last forever?) Call it cheerful nihilism, if you will.

Thats the exact lens though which Jenee Halstead chooses to view the world in her new tune Disposable Love, out today (January 17).

Disposable Love is an attempt to capture the hollowness and horror of the dark side of the digital/social media age, Halstead tells Vanyaland. Artificial Intelligence and big data serve as our new guiding principles and a compass for making sense of the world. This is a world that promises ease and accessibility, at the behest of turning over our valuable personal information. The dangers of a world driven by algorithm serves only to turn us further into consumers commodifying every human interaction and need as transaction.

Halsteads lyrics stalk her pop-rock noir melodies, eventually constricting the dampened heartbeat of this photoshopped hero wandering through the Internet age. Its morbid, yes, but its also revealing a kernel of truth.

Social media in particular plays off and takes advantage of our fundamental human needs: A desire for connection, to be informed and for recognition and relay with one another, Halstead adds. The companies behind these platforms manipulate our basest egoic nature seeking to profit off an environment steeped in voyeurism, comparison and competition. Digital devices further separate us into worlds of our of imagination, a hall of mirrors. Its lonely out there.

Fill some of the void with Halsteads new tune below, and catch her performing with Melissa Ferrick at The Burren for her single release party on Thursday (January 23).

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Jenee Halstead eyes the vacuum of the Internet age with 'Disposable Love' - Vanyaland

Malami: Bring It On… Or Go To Blazes! By Bayo Oluwasanmi – SaharaReporters.com

All things considered, General Muhammadu Buharis regime is an anathema. General Buhari as President, continues to govern Nigeria as a nation where the lion is led by monkeys.

Buharis attorney general of the federation Abubakar Malami, is one of the most infamous members of Buharis cabinet. Malami always search for a banana peel to step on. When he cant find one to step on, he supplies his own. While we are yet to recover from his juvenile and primitive interpretation and application of court orders that granted Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare bail, he came out like a confused lost cow and declared Amotekun illegal.

Amotekun is the security outfit established by the six governors of south west states to protect lives and properties of their citizens. Amotekun was conceived and birthed due to the abysmal failure of Buharis regime to secure life and properties of Nigerians. Political science 101 informs us that any government that fails to discharge the primary function of protecting life and properties of its citizens should cease to exist.

Only cowheads like Malami, Ibrahim Babangida and other backward feudal herdsmen terrorists need be reminded that as oxygen is to life, so also Amotekun is oxygen to Yoruba people for security. Malami, from time to time, believes administration of justice should be rationed selectively to different parts of the federation. He sees the application of justice as his prerogative to dispense to the ethnic group or groups he favours or the ones his northern terrorists recommend.

Malami is the worst unintelligent and professionally crude attorney general in modern Nigerian history. Malamis ethical and professional flagrant dishonesty in handling important national legal and constitutional issues that border on rule of law, equal justice, and the upholding of the constitution, shows how crooked the justice system has become under Buhari.

At every opportunity, Malami has managed to rewrite the constitution and redefine our laws: RUGA, court orders on bail, the supremacy of SSS, the illegal detention of Nigerians. The list goes on.

Malami has installed two systems of justice in the country - one for the south and another for the north with the north as superior to the south. As far as hes concerned, the north should be treated with special favour. Few examples will suffice: the security outfits of Hisbah and JTF in the north are legal and constitutional. Whereas Amotekun in the south is illegal and unconstitutional. Miyetti Allah is legal, but IPOB is a terrorist group.

Malamis ethical nihilism, his utter indifference to ordinary norms of professional behaviour, and his prostitution of justice, spell doom for the unity and co-existence of multi ethnic, multi culture, multi religion of different groups that make up Nigeria. Malami as the arrow head of northern feudal jihadists, is carrying out the larger agenda of the northern emirates: to suppress, oppress and subdue the south and Islamise Nigeria. This is why hes so concerned about the security and safety of northerners. But when it comes to the security of life and properties in the south, hes not affected. He could care less!

Malami has insufficient intelligence experience. As a lawyer and attorney general, he lacks the strong intelligence background to serve as attorney general. He does not represent the collective view of Nigerias intelligence community that believes in a fair, objective, and impartial one justice system for different ethnic groups in the country.

Justice security are key to a united Nigeria. Without justice and security, there can be no peace. Without peace, theres no Nigeria. Malami cannot sit in the comfort of his Abuja office and decree who has the right to live, who to wipe out, who Fulani herdsmen terrorists to kill or spare, where to deploy the police, which security agencies are legal or illegal. Yorubas will defend Amotekun with their last breath. No one can stop Amotekun. Amotekun is here and here for good and for life. Malami, bring it on... or go to blazes!

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Malami: Bring It On... Or Go To Blazes! By Bayo Oluwasanmi - SaharaReporters.com

Post-Christendom and the Return of Paganism in the West – National Catholic Register

French philosopher Chantal Delsol discusses the roots of de-Christianization in the West and the new challenges facing the Christian faithful.

The first post-Christian generation has officially emerged in America: According to a 2018 study, a majority of the so-called Generation Z all Americans born from 1999 to 2015 rejects the idea of a religious identity. This generation includes twice more atheists than the adult population, and 37% of them believe there cannot be any certainty of the existence of God.

This alarming tendency is already widespread in Europe, where a majority of young adults have no faith, as a recent report showed. But it didnt arise out of the blue, as it results from a long process that started in the 18th century and became dominant in the 1960s.

As this topic is subject to passionate debates in the West, French philosopher Chantal Delsol offered a stimulating reflection about the mechanisms and implications of the phenomenon during a lecture she gave at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, in the framework of a Nov. 29-30 conference promoted by the Institute for Legal CultureOrdo Iuris. Entitled The House on the Rock: Axiology of Law for the Europe of Tomorrow, the event focused on the current stakes and the future of cultural and social life in Europe.

A Catholic philosopher and columnist well-known to the European public, Delsol is the author of a number of books and articles focusing on European identity in the age of secularism and relativism and on the origin of the political and religious crisis the West is going through.

While stating that Europe has officially entered a post-Christendom era, Delsol highlighted the fact that the end of Christendom by no means implies the end of Christianity in the West. However, this situation requires that Christians acknowledge their minority position and correctly identify the new forces and ideologies at play.

The Register interviewed her at the conclusion of the conference.

In your speech entitled After Christendom, you noted that Christianity was no longer the master nor the inspirer of our Western societies. In your opinion, this state of affairs is the expression of the so-called post-Christendom. In this respect, you speak about a reversal of the situation that occurred in the fourth century, when pagan myths were transformed into Christian truths: Today, Christian truths are gradually being transformed into myths. How is this transformation articulated?

Humans need to make their lives meaningful, to question their roots and future, to know why they are here. All societies meet this need through stories which are neither true nor false and that we call myths. Regardless of whether they are true or false, they are meaningful. We dont know if Achilles really existed, but it doesnt matter: he gives meaning to human courage and to its struggle against adversity.

But with ancient Greeks and Judeo-Christians came the notion of truth: Christ is no longer a myth but a true story. Christians, when they settled down and took power (during the fourth century) did not make a clean sweep of pagan myths; this wasnt possible because they were too deeply rooted in the hearts and minds. Therefore, the Christians took up these myths and made them truths. For example, the story of the virgin-mother existed as a myth and became a truth: For a believer, the Virgin Mary really did exist.

Today, we are witnessing the opposite movement: For our contemporaries, Christ becomes a mythical character, who is neither true nor false, giving meaning to life (compare Tolstoys book on the life of Christ). It is this ebb and flow that interested me. It means that we are definitely on the way back to a pagan mode.

What makes you think that our society is currently falling into paganism, more than into nihilism, as many elements in our societies suggest?

Nihilism means that we seek to break or bypass the very structures of anthropology; it is what sociologists Marcel Mauss and Claude Lvi-Strauss called base, which is made up of three essential polarities: life and death, man and woman, and filiation. This is why, for example, incest is prohibited in all human societies. We can identify such a base thanks to its permanence over time (which is called natural law; that can be identified because all people follow it it is an anthropological permanence). To be nihilistic is to want to challenge this base. Marriage between two persons of the same sex is typically nihilistic. Nothing of this sort existed in human history (except one case: Neros buffoon marriage with his catamite).

The situation is quite different for other so-called societal measures such as abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide. In contrast to same-sex marriage, infanticide, euthanasia and suicide can be found in all human societies except Judeo-Christian societies (which is well documented, for example, in the famous Epistle to Diognetus). When we implement such measures, it is only a return to paganism, which precedes us, and which spontaneously and naturally returns when Christianity fades away.

Why is atheism now so specifically present in societies with Judeo-Christian roots, in your judgment?

It is because only the affirmation of the truth can produce its negation. There is no atheism in paganism, in which there are a multitude of divine or sacred myths that overlap and are worshipped with more or less ardor, in a kind of polyphony in which we do not know who believes in what. Historian Paul Veyne addressed this question in a book entitled Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?: An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination. In the society of myths, everything is relative, and syncretism reigns which is very different from tolerance; that can only be exercised within the regime of truth. On the contrary, the affirmation of the unique, exclusive truth (which comes from the jealous God of the Bible) can produce atheism; that is, exclusivity into its opposite.

Aggressive secularism which is rampant in France and spreading to an increasing number of European countries seems to want to purely and simply eliminate any reference to religion within societies. I am thinking especially about the recent controversy in France over a nun expelled from an elderly home because of her veil, the ban on crches in town halls or the removal of the cross from St. Nicholas mitre in Belgium. ... Since nature abhors a vacuum, another form of religiosity is necessarily taking root in our Western societies. You often mention the secular religions peril. What is their relationship with paganism, and why are they so specifically hostile to Christianity?

Secular religions are paganisms, of the very ordinary kind. They favor attachment to all kinds of myths and stories that are more or less sacred, such as radical ecology, glorification of whales or dolphins. In short, we create all kinds of idols. All the prohibitions against religion you mention are real, of course: They embody refusals of the founding religion, which is considered oppressive, and which we must get rid of if we want to be able to indulge in the delights and disorders of paganism.

The question of truth, which was discussed above, is very important here: Because there is one Truth, the Christian religion is exclusive. We must never forget that the word heresy comes from the Greek word airesis, which means choice. The fight against the cross of St. Nicholas, and other fights, is a refusal of the exclusive truth, always suspected of intolerance. And it is a way of making Christendom which has not stopped dying for the past two centuries disgorge definitively.

You are rather critical toward our Catholic clergy, who tends, in your opinion, not to take stock of the minority position of Christianity in todays society. At the same time, the most traditionalist parishes are statistically the ones that massively attract young people. What approach would you recommend, in this respect?

I think our clergy is very sick. An all-too-big part of it is haunted by power and dominated by sexual passions of all kinds, in the midst of the vow of chastity. One need only look at the way Catholic institutions work, how poorly they are governed, with secrecy and appetite for power. The Church has known many other misfortunes and will experience a rebirth that may come from monasteries. But for the time being, it is natural that a clergy that is so busy with power and worldliness does not realize that it has lost power over society. Problems come from far away. The reason why the youth prefer a traditional Church is because they feel a more genuine fervor, more distant from worldly attractions: The Catholic clergy has long been flirting with Marxism, in order to be fashionable, and today it is flirting with contemporary art, for example, once again to be fashionable. Young people who hope for the Churchs holiness, and not its worldly success, are very reluctant to embrace all of this.

Speaking of monastic revival, what do you think about American writer Rod Drehers insights about the future of Christianity in the West, in his famous The Benedict Option?

Rod Dreher and I talked a lot, and his book is very interesting. We could believe that he calls for the creation of fortresses where children would be raised far away from a depraved postmodern society. Its not really that. The man is more open than his book may suggest. It only means that in the post-Christendom disarray, Christians need groupings around strong spiritual centers; in other words, monasteries. And I think hes right.

Solne Tadi is the Registers Rome-based Europe correspondent.

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Post-Christendom and the Return of Paganism in the West - National Catholic Register

The West and Iran: Catholic Wisdom in Uncertain Times – National Catholic Register

President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 8, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP/via Getty Images)

COMMENTARY: The just-war tradition has much wisdom to offer in this moment of heightened tension between the United States and Iran.

Msgr. Stuart Swetland

We live in an age best described as post-Christian. The moral and anthropological truth of the Judeo-Christian tradition is no longer generally accepted in our society.

Walker Percy described our age as demented because of its loss of confidence both in faith and reason:

The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterized as dementia.

Pope Francis confirmed Dr. Percys diagnosis in his recent address to the Curia:

Christendom no longer exists. Today we are not the ones who produce culture, nor are we the first or the most listened to. [Christianity], especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West, is no longer an obvious premise of our common life, but, rather, it is often denied, derided, marginalized or ridiculed.

The loss of Christian vision is evident everywhere: There is rampant consumerism and materialism, self-centeredness and individualism, relativism and nihilism. These false ideologies lead to numerous social pathologies: abortion, murder, euthanasia, suicide, drug addiction, despair, divorce, sexual abuse, disregard for the poor, crippling isolation and disabling loneliness.

Fortunately, there are still some echoes of the Judeo-Christian moral vision generally accepted today. One area where this is seen is in the ethics of war and peace. Here, at least, a remnant of a workable ethic is still generally agreed upon (if not always acted upon). Perhaps the wisdom found here may serve as a steppingstone toward rebuilding a holistic vision of a just and caring society.

In particular, the just-war tradition has much wisdom to offer in this moment of heightened tension between the U.S. and Iran.

Generally, President Donald Trump, in his actions (but, sadly, not always in his rhetoric), has respected the tenets of the just-war tradition. He has generally refrained from the use of deadly force when other options (such as dialogue, sanctions and embargoes) have been available. While he has blustered about major attacks (on North Korea and Iran, for example), he has shown restraint and pivoted toward other options (sometimes at the last moment).

When force has been used, it has usually been proportionate to the actual threat (think ISIS in Syria, for example). Many in the military have been frustrated by the way Trump makes decisions (the decision to leave Syria, for example), but generally the president has kept his campaign promise to de-escalate U.S. military commitments in the Middle East and beyond.

In light of this history, many see his most recent action as more problematic and even reckless. Other administrations have had the opportunity to attack Gen. Qassem Soleimani and have chosen not to, despite the unanimous opinion that he is directly responsible for ongoing unjust aggression against the Iranian people, the U.S. and allied forces, and numerous other innocents throughout the region. However, if what the administration has shared is true, given the increase in direct attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf and U.S. bases and personnel in the region, and Trumps clear warning (and a red line, if you will) about the consequences of any American casualties, one can make a strong argument that it was justified to interrupt ongoing, imminent action against actual innocents by disrupting the command, control and communication of this unjust aggression personified by Soleimani. One could surmise that his action was a proportionate and necessary response to Iranian escalation of hostility in the Gulf of Iraq and that further restraint or appeasement would only embolden Iranian aggression.

However one interprets the presidents orders, now is the time for all to revisit the wisdom of the just-war traditions where the following lessons could be learned.

Like in many areas, Congress refusal to engage in actual problem-solving (think immigration reform, criminal-justice reform, health-care reform, infrastructure repair, deficit control, gun control, environmental issues, all of which need comprehensive, bipartisan, workable solutions) has led to drift and more and more governance by administrative fiat or worse, judicial overreach. It is time for Congress, the peoples representatives, to do their constitutional duty and have serious debate about and oversight of the use of force. Our military deserves this basic service.

Msgr. Stuart Swetland is the president of Donnelly College. A 1981 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served six years as a line officer in the U.S. Navy.

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The West and Iran: Catholic Wisdom in Uncertain Times - National Catholic Register

Steve Sanders: Mayor Pete, McKinsey and dishonesty on the left – Indianapolis Business Journal

Early in his career, Pete Buttigieg worked for 2-1/2 years as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co. That history is being mined by Mayor Petes lefty opponents to create dishonest attacks that exploit peoples lack of understanding of how providers of professional servicesconsultants, lawyers, accountantsactually work.

Media outlets and some of his criticsespecially his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warrenhad been demanding that Buttigieg release a list of the McKinsey clients he worked for, and he has done so. The list includes Best Buy, an insurance company, a supermarket chain and several federal agencies.

Buttigiegs work for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has generated the most attention. Ten years ago, the insurer raised premiums and laid off 10% of its workers. But those decisions can hardly be pinned on a nerdy junior associate whose three-month assignment, according to Buttigiegs campaign, involved analyzing things like rent, utilities, and travel costsespecially since the layoffs occurred two years after Buttigieg left McKinsey.

Still, the outrage machine cranked up immediately, and a Politico headline captured the unscrupulous nihilism of the whole imbroglio: The left nukes Buttigieg over McKinsey work. Wrote a blogger on the progressive site Common Dreams, Buttigieg helped an insurance giant increase profits at the expense of workers. According to The New York Times, the client list is likely to provide ammunition to those in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party who have sought to tag Mr. Buttigieg with the pejorative Wall Street Pete.

Many people believe a clients conduct should be imputed to any lawyer, accountant or consultant who works for them, and Mayor Petes critics are doing their best to stoke such misconceptions. But that is not how business works. Entry-level associates in particular have little control over their assignments and clients. You work under a partner, who has the authority to make actual decisions and recommendations. As another former McKinsey associate wrote on the website MarketWatch, You have absolutely zero power and very little influence.

To be fair, Buttigieg once touted his McKinsey work for the insights it gave him about management and problem solving. He probably overstated the scope of his experience.

Contrast Mayor Petes low-level McKinsey work with Warrens longtime side hustle while she was a well-paid law professor, earning almost $2 million representing some of the same types of corporate interests she now rails against. Unlike Buttigieg, Warren had complete freedom to choose her projects and clients, and, owing to her stature, more power to influence their behavior.

When I was an associate at a large law firm, I was assigned to write a brief arguing that a lawsuit against our client, a railroad that had contaminated some land, should be dismissed. I did not choose the client, and the argument I developed involved a perfectly legitimate application of relevant law. Yet if I ran for office today and the matter came out, the line of attack would be (cue ominous music and stock video of toxic waste), Sanders believes dirty, disgusting polluters shouldnt being held accountable.

And so it goes with Mayor Pete. From the snarky attacks and indignation, you would think he had ordered those Blue Cross layoffs personally.

These portrayals of Buttigiegs short, wonky, unglamorous stint as a management consultant are irresponsible. They demonstrate that some on the Democratic leftwho demand ideological purity and scorn the more analytical, pragmatic politics of someone like Buttigieghave the same situational relationship with facts and candor as the Trumpian right. Progressives should be better than that.


Sanders is professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. Send comments to [emailprotected]


Steve Sanders: Mayor Pete, McKinsey and dishonesty on the left - Indianapolis Business Journal

The 8 Most Important Memes of 2019 – WIRED

Nowadays, memes go through the internet like excrement through the titular character of the The Untitled Goose Game. As were rocketing through this information superhighway like fish in a tube (remember when the people of Twitter longed to be salmon?), clasping onto bits of digital detritus just long enough to see if they spark joy before discarding them, trying to remember even last weeks best meme can feel hilariously futile. (You know, like a woman yelling at a cat.) Once you start scrolling back through the year in memes, though, its a bit like trying kombucha for the first timeby turns, disorienting and potentially gross, then rather pleasing.

The year 2019 has been a difficult and uneven one. Online, political memes flew back and forth like spitballs, and even some of the most innocent ones (like that fish tube) took on a sense of ecstatic nihilism. People also had fun this year, finding joy in the mundanely bizarrelike watching hundreds of gummy bears appear to be singing along with Adele. Here are some of the years most important memes, great and gross alike.

30 to 50 Feral Hogs

In early August, the nation was grieving two back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, and country musician Jason Isbell tweeted in support of banning assault weapons. In response, Arkansas dad Willie McNabb authored a now-famous tweet: Legit question for rural Americans, he wrote. How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?" The phrase 30 to 50 feral hogs swiftly became a meme, a kind of latter-day thoughts and prayers, a way to express frustration with Americas gun-control laws in the face of preventable violence. As I wrote at the time, The banality of mass shootings and politicians' callous response is brain-breaking, and so is the diversity of experience in America. It's hard to find consensus when one person's absurdist image is another person's backyard.

Baby Yoda

If the internet had a favorite child in 2019, it was the Child: the breakout star of The Mandalorian, the tiniest, greenest, most lovably bat-eared Force user in the Star Wars universe, Baby Yoda. Without a word (and with some very cute sips of soup), Baby Yoda conquered the internet with memes. People Photoshopped the little cherub into every situation you can imagine, went mad captioning screenshots, professed undying love, and thenas things hit Peak Weirdpeople started admitting that they wanted to breastfeed it. Baby Yoda is still a young meme and the The Mandalorian isnt over, so this internet culture moments future is hard to see. One thing remains clear: Love Baby Yoda, you must.

Epstein Didnt Kill Himself

Disgraced financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in prison last August while awaiting trial for trafficking minors. Because Epstein was connected with powerful figures, and because the guards outside his door were asleep and the cell contained no cameras, his death sparked conspiracy theories repeated by journalists and politicians alike. The theories (which suppose anyone from President Donald Trump and the Clintons to the deep state might have wanted the guy dead) are united by a single sentence that has become a meme: "Epstein didnt kill himself." Its appeared in news clips, on sweatshirts, and most recently, defacing a piece of art valued at $120,000 that happens to be a banana duct-taped to a wall. Its like a billboard for disillusionment and mistrust, I wrote this November. And its everywhere.

Storm Area 51

When Matty Roberts created a Facebook event this June proposing that the American people storm Area 51, notorious fount of alien-related conspiracy theories, because they cant stop us all, he was joking. Then 2 million people said they were going, and 1.5 million more were interested. The flurry generated media attention, stern warnings from the US military, and so many alien memes you hoped somebody would beam you up to get away from it all. When the scheduled date for the event arrived this September, only 134 people showed up and none made it inside, though about 1,500 more attended Storm Area 51 meme-themed music festivals that day. No aliens were discovered, but it was a lesson in the powerand at times, strange pretendnessof internet culture.

OK Boomer

If youre over 40 and have displeased a teen this year, you may have even heard this meme aloud. After years of stuffy, out-of-touch articles about how millennials (and now Gen Z) are killing off industries from diamonds and real estate to napkins with their frivolous ways and politics-infused complaints, younger generations came up with this blunt dismissal of their own. Its intergenerational tension boiled down to a single phrase: OK boomer. Its been used to protest racism and climate change denialism almost as often as its been a snippy response to an uncle. Each time, though, it hits the mark.

Hot Girl Summer

Everyonemen and women, young and old, from the Kardashians to Tom Hankshad a hot girl summer this year thanks to Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion. The MCs catchphrase became a go-to Instagram caption, YouTube video title, tweet, headline, IRL quip, and marketing slogan. It was a chance for everyone to embrace their own sexy in a season often filled with potential body shaming, and for Megan Thee Stallion, it was a business opportunity. Embracing a trend among meme creators (and meme creators of color in particular), she quickly trademarked the phrase, avoiding the all-too-common fate her predecessors have faced: a corporation something you created and monetizing the crap out of it by selling merchandise without offering you a cent. Her fans were thrilled.

Sorry to This Man

The setup sounds like internet culture Mad Libs: Hustlers star Keke Palmer was taking a lie detector test as part of a Vanity Fair interview when she was asked if her character True Jackson from True Jackson, VP was a better vice president than Dick Cheney, and then was shown a photo of Cheney. Palmer genuinely had no idea who the former vice president was. I don't know who this man is, she said. I mean, he could be walking down the street, I wouldn't know a thing. Sorry to this man. The phrase became a meme, used as a stock reply to anything confusing or worthy of dismissal, a wholly unapologetic sort of apology often with a feminist bent. Its easy to see why it went viral: Sometimes, I wrote this September, ignorance is diss.

The Game of Thrones Cup

Of all the many memes that accompanied the final season of Game of Thrones, none was quite so emblematic of the experience of watching the show as the very anachronistic white coffee cup viewers spotted on a table beside Daenerys Targaryen. It was a crowning embarrassment for HBO in an already poorly received season, and a bitter disappointment for fans who felt that a story they had been invested in for a decade was being given a slapdash finish. It was also Photoshopped into oblivion and sparked a great many jokes: Was it a flat wight, or perhaps a Lord of the Light roast? At the time, the only winner I saw was Starbucks, who many assumed were the purveyors of the cup: They've gotten an estimated $2.3 billion in free advertising, and the cup isn't even theirs. As for the rest of us, our watch is over.

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The 8 Most Important Memes of 2019 - WIRED

‘Mr. Robot’ Is the Defining Show of the 2010s – VICE UK

How much trauma can you take? To what degree can an individual change society for the better? What would that change even look like? Is the world, increasingly chaotic and painful as it seems to be, worth living in? These are all questions posed by the fourth and final season of Mr. Robot, which will provide a cultural gavel bang for the 2010s with its last ever episode on Sunday.

A drama about a hacktivist group called fsociety whose goal is to erase the worlds debt, Mr. Robot began as nihilistic commentary on late capitalism; Fight Club for the Anonymous age, striking a similar balance of psychological distress and revolutionary ideas communicated through medicated monologues about why we should fuck society. Its less topless and self-serious than Fight Club, which is primarily a critique of male violence. Instead, Mr. Robot is concerned with the human cost of wealth inequality on all sides.

Its a fitting show to wrap up the decade. Airing from June 2015 to December 2019 just before the US presidential election put Donald Trump in the White House to just after the UK election that gave Boris Johnson a landslide majority Mr. Robot has overseen the Wests greatest lurch towards the right since the 70s. Whether its a rise in the number of billionaires, the near total eradication of the welfare state, the fact that our collective heads of state look like a sentient piece of Bristolian street art or the culture of distrust fostered by clashes between social and traditional media, the 2010s has been entirely reflected and in some cases foreshadowed by Mr. Robot.

For the first two seasons, the show seemed to align with reality in terms of the stakes. Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer and the leader of fsociety, spends his spare time hacking pedophiles and miscellaneous strangers he views as deserving of comeuppance. He also hacks his therapist, who accuses him of playing God without permission, and his childhood friend Angela in an attempt to cancel her student debt. Elliot suffers from social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, delusions and paranoia.

Carly Chaikin as Darlene. Photo courtesy of USA Network

Its later revealed that he has an alternate personality known as Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) seen on screen as a separate character assuming the form of his dad. His sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin), also a member of fsociety, is equally damaged but not delusional, making her the more reliable narrator. In the beginning, the stakes seem pretty low: a small group of lonely hackers against the most powerful forces in the world, but they rise over the course of the series, eventually transcending the battle for wealth equality entirely and entering more philosophical territory.

Fsocietys ultimate goal is to set in motion the single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history by targeting E Corp an international mega-conglomerate that owns 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry. The hack, referred to as Five/Nine, was designed to destabilise the financial markets, destroy all financial records and redistribute wealth in America. They pull it off at the end of season one, but things immediately go to shit. E Corps EVP of Technology shoots himself in the head on live TV after stating the situation is hopeless. Everyone involved in fsociety is picked off by the FBI, leaving only Elliot and Darlene.

Mass unemployment, homelessness and civil disobedience turn New York City into a ground zero of tents and burning rubbish. Hard cash becomes obsolete and the Chinese government bails out E Corp to create a digital currency called Ecoin, making people even more reliant on E Corp than they were before. Anger leads to destruction which leads to chaos. Most anarchist narratives depict the struggle to throw off the old world order. Mr. Robot goes beyond that to wrestle with the even greater problem of starting over.

After Five/Nine ostensibly makes things worse, fsociety shifts their focus onto the Deus Group an elite cabal of billionaires run by Zhi Zhang (BD Wong), the Chinese minister of state security. The plan this time is to target the groups members individually and transfer everything out of their accounts. Again, they manage to pull it off. In episode 10, Darlene sits on a park bench and transfers all the money they stole from Deus Group to the public, like Robin Hood in heart-shaped glasses (trust me when I say it brought a tear to my eye after I watched it approximately ten minutes before looking at the UK exit poll).

When the money gradually pops up in peoples Ecoin wallets, Dom an FBI agent initially tasked with investigating Five/Nine, whom Darlene becomes involved with looks at her phone and asks: Did everyone get this much? What started as nihilistic commentary on late capitalism eventually becomes a utopian fantasy. While season two showed us the consequences of quite literally blowing up one target and hoping for change, season four showed us what it would be like to actually win.

Of course, its not quite as straightforward as that. Winning becomes an increasingly confusing prospect as the concept of heroes and villains, good and bad, collapse in on each other. The most significant sub-plot running through Mr. Robot is that of Zhi Zhang, who is the public-facing persona of Whiterose a transgender woman who leads the Chinese hacker group the Dark Army. Long positioned as the final boss, Whiteroses cause becomes more sympathetic as Elliot goes increasingly off the rails (Whiterose refuses multiple times to kill Elliot off while Elliot seduces a Deus Group-adjacent woman, who then tries to kill herself, in order to pull off the final hack). Eventually, they meet in the middle.

BD Wong and Jing Xu as Zhi Zhang and Wang Shu. Photo courtesy of USA Network

The penultimate episode features an emotional conversation in which Whiterose and Elliot exchange worldviews. Whiterose believes she is acting out of altruism. Forced to live publicly as a man her entire adult life, she sacrifices everything including her partner to bring order to the worlds chaos. Elliot, on the other hand, is a lone wolf motivated by his own fear of people. Whiterose believes people are inherently good, trying their best when theyve been dealt a bad hand by a world unfit for us. Elliot believes they are mostly bad, saying people that Ive loved, people that Ive trusted, have done the absolute worst to me. Ahead of the finale, were left with a blue pill / red pill conundrum. If you were offered everything you thought you wanted stability, sanity, a timeline in which you were not hurt by the ones you love would you take it?

Generally speaking, most decades tend to be responses to the ones before them. In reaction to 90s counterculture full of nihilism and slackers, the 00s doubled down on aspirational lifestyles and the fetishisation of wealth. The most watched shows were teen dramas like The O.C., Dawsons Creek and Gossip Girl, or reality shows like The Simple Life, Big Brother and Jersey Shore (et al): total escapism in the lives of the rich and famous, or the spectacle of working class people elevating themselves into those lifestyles.

Watching a show like The O.C. back today is a wild ride, with any common ground felt with Bright Eyes-loving Seth or tragic Marissa melting into the background of their huge fucking mansions and people writing half-a-million dollar cheques like theyre handing over 2.50 for a McMuffin. If the 00s were about escapism, then the 2010s were the decade reality caught up. Relatability previously a valueless currency as people watched TV either to look up or down is now the only thing that matters.

Rami Malek as Elliot. Photo courtesy of USA Network

The growing divide between the one and 99 percent has been baked into post-Occupy American TV this decade, to the point that Vogue coined an inequality entertainment trend in 2015, citing shows like Silicon Valley, High Maintenance and Show Me A Hero alongside Mr. Robot. Sadly the same cant be said of the UK, where were still stuck on the middle-class whimsy to poverty porn binary. A few shows like Derry Girls, Chewing Gum, This Country, My Mad Fat Diary have worked to subvert that, portraying average people with comedic empathy, but they operate within narrower contexts. By and large, we dont do wider commentary on wealth inequality. Im not sure how much that actually matters (although it's worth saying that, with politics and the media being the way they are, there is a greater need for pop culture to communicate ideas that help people make sense of things). A TV show won't make radicals of us all, but its certainly the most tapped into the zeitgeist. In that sense, it often feels more comforting than escapism at a time when turning a blind eye seems to be the bewildering default.

In a 2017 interview, Sam Esmail, the shows creator described Mr. Robot as a period piece of today, which rings true. The world is so heavily influenced by technology and it has started to feel like its not on solid ground, he said. The world has become unreliable, unknowable. Facts are vulnerable and things you have come to rely on are no longer there. Its an overlap that Im not going to be so bold as to say I predicted, but that was what I was thinking about when I constructed the character of Elliot.

As always, its hard to know what exactly will happen in the finale on Sunday though Esmail has said the clues have been there all along, and the Mr. Robot subreddit has gone into hyperdrive trying to piece everything together. But either way, the point has largely been made already. In the penultimate episode, Elliot counterbalances his hatred of people in his monologue to Whiterose with a call to arms: Were all told we dont stand a chance, and yet we stand. We break, but we keep going, and that is not a flaw. Later in the episode, when it seems like Elliot about to die, his final words are Its an exciting time in the world.

That might be hard to believe at the moment, especially in the UK. In a post-election blog for Verso, Lorna Finlayson writes: It is difficult to hope now. We knew the system was closed. It was more closed than we knew. But if theres any broad takeaway from Mr. Robot, its that change doesnt happen immediately with a bang. You cant change society unless you change people. Its unclear what the general public in Mr. Robot actually want, but its interesting that the show has moved away from anger and towards more empathetic dialogue when reality has done the opposite. Regardless of what happens in the finale, the overall tone of Mr. Robot been one of galvanising optimism. Even when faced with the most insurmountable demons, both internal and external, the central characters doggedly pursue their convictions.

Even if you dont buy into its earnestness, you cant argue with its bittersweet irony. As much as Mr. Robot is the definitive show of the decade, its also an apt parting message that the revolution is something to be observed from the couch, as streamed on Amazon Prime.


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'Mr. Robot' Is the Defining Show of the 2010s - VICE UK

MGTOW How Anti-Male Feminism Is Driving The Growing Trend Of Anti-Female Subcultures – Fathers4Equality

Men are disgusted by women in almost every way today. These were the words of a distressing, yet eye-opening conversation I recently had with a long time male buddy of mine.

It came about when he was voicing his frustration for failing to dissuade one of his friends from joining the MGTOW Movement. It was distressing to him because he was upset he lost another friend to this vile subculture, and it was distressing to me because Ive noticed how this trend is growing significantly, albeit quietly.

Imagine yourself as a woman who had been disappointed by her romantic history. She turns her bitterness towards all males by deeming men to be horrible, irredeemably predatory scum. She became this way after being indoctrinated by an ideology that preaches the inherent evilness of masculinity and therefore must be destroyed. Wed call her a bitter man-hating, radical feminist. The MGTOWs are essentially the same.

MGTOW is short for Men Going Their Own Way and its followers pursue a lifestyle of dealing with women as though women are the enemies of all men. Theyre basically the male version of the man-hating radical feminist. The males of MGTOW view all women to be worthless parasites, hell-bent on destroying the lives of men. Therefore, they Go Their Own Way and avoid building relationships or friendship with women.

The MGTOWs are merely one subset to a growing movement of an underground anti-women subculture. The others are the Incels (Involuntary Celibates), and the PUAs (Pick Up Artist). These males, like their feminist sisters, are people who are corrupted by the least intelligent and utterly damaging ideas of nihilism.

These males, like their feminist sisters, are people who are corrupted by the least intelligent and utterly damaging ideas of nihilism.

During the conversation, my buddy explained how despite persuading his friend against becoming MGTOW, he was still sympathetic to his friends excuse for doing so. In his words Men are disgusted with women in almost every way today and are finding happiness in just cutting them out of their lives. He continues, And I cant really argue against anything they (MGTOW) say because I relate to it all myself.

I pressed harder to ask if he could elaborate on exactly what he meant by that. Look around you. Every girl acts like a dude and has to have more guy friends than her actual boyfriend. Relationships are no longer partnerships. Theyre just mutual debauchery based on meaningless sex and fickle mind games. And in most relationships, I see the women being an overbearing*constantly humiliating their dudes.

Relationships are no longer partnerships. Theyre just mutual debauchery based on meaningless sex and fickle mind games.

I stood in momentary silence because I was unsure of how to respond to that. I wanted to hear the uncensored truth from him because he (unlike the women hating MGTOWs, Incels, and PUAs) had never viewed women in this way before. He was brought up in one of those traditionally wholesome, family oriented, Christian household, whereby the reverence for women was ingrained in him since a young age.

His father and male relatives were his role models for they knew exactly what it meant to be a protector and a provider. Consequently, the women in their lives (like his mother and grandmother) cherished and respected their men for that. It was then that I realized were in a turning point of history where men no longer held a reverence for women like they did in a previous generation.

It was then that I realized were in a turning point of history where men no longer held a reverence for women like they did in a previous generation.

The answer is blatantly clear. Men are losing their reverence for women because feminist ideology promotes the culture of anti-male nihilism through the feminization of men. By extension, it is actively destroying everything that is sacred about women since it robs femininity and masculinity of any meaning.

For instance, when my friend mentioned his observation of wives and girlfriends humiliating their partners, this is, in essence, a reflection of the larger cultural trend where women are encouraged to emasculate men.

The culture establishes that the ideal woman is smarter, stronger, better than the men in every way, and you can always depend on her to swoop in and save the day. This trope is apparent in just about any family sitcom, movies, music, and the literature we consume today. Thinkthe bumbling fool of a dad in contrast to the highly efficient mom.

The problem when we constantly showcase women in this way is how we are presenting women as nothing but a mother figure. This is perilous because it pushes men to subconsciously embrace the role of the Puer Aeternusthe eternal boy. The man need not grow up because why would he? He has women to bear the burden of life for him. He was raised in a culture where he primarily understands women to be his mother protectorthe mother superior. He fits perfectly in the feminist world as the subjugated son of the matriarchy. The ultimate feminists triumph against their imagined patriarchy.

The man need not grow up because why would he? He has women to bear the burden of life for him.

Every cause has an effect, and the effect derived from the feminists cause against masculine strength, independence, and ability is the wholesale embracing of the Puer Aeternuss (Eternal Boy) psychology by men. The clearest manifestation of this is observed in the sordid subcultures of the MGTOWs and the Incels. Mainstream male culture isnt immune to the feminist rot either. Absentee, deadbeat fathers refusing to give up their hedonistic lifestyle is another manifestation of the Eternal Boy psychology.

In these mens mind, why would they even worry about raising their child since the female form of the childs mother is thought and shown to be better than the male, and thus fully capable of running everything by herself? A child is incapable of raising another child, and hence the eternal boyhave no business raising children. This thought is terrifying in itself. If you remembered, Hillary Clinton once wrote a book which sounded benign, but holds a deeper, frightful seed called It Takes a Village. The title refers to the saying It takes a village to raise a child.

In these mens mind, why would they even worry about raising their child since the female form of the childs mother is thought and shown to be better than the male, and thus fully capable of running everything by herself?

When the childs own father is incapable of raising his children, he hands over his responsibilities as a father to the villagenamely, the governmentwhich will assist the childs all-capable mother to raise his offspring. In doing so, the man also relinquishes his adulthood because he accepts his role as the eternal boy. Hell never have to grow up, and hell never become a man.

It is not a coincidence that feminism brands strong, capable, action-oriented masculinity as toxic because feminism scorn men for being men. The excesses of the Puer Aeternus psychology, in turn, created the woman-hating subcultures of the MGTOWs, Incels, and PUAs. These manboys behave in hideous, imbecilic, vulgar and obnoxious fashionin short, theyre borne out of their defective philosophical motherthe radical feminist.

Just observe the outcome from their ideology by their lifestyle choice of idle and witless amusementunthinking video games, absurd genres of porn and unpalatably barbaric music. These are the effects of a mind corrupted by the destructive ideas of the feminists anti-male nihilism.

After calming down from the initially passionate outburst, my friend mentioned there was a time when he, along with his group of friends, wanted so many things in regards to their relationship with womenthey wanted to build families, raise children and provide a home for the women they love because this is how they could establish a supportive, lasting relationship with her.

Todays anti-women movement like the MGTOWs is contrary to these natural masculine desires. And it is feminism which most blatantly attempts to annihilate these desires. He explained to me how there is nothing more grotesque than a man who is incapable of picturing himself in the natural role of providing protection and support to the women he would love. The world may be falling apart, but a true man will continually preserve what he loves. True. I replied in admiration, Its just sad how there is so much working against men from achieving that dream today, women included. I added.

There is nothing more grotesque than a man who is incapable of picturing himself in the natural role of providing protection and support to the women he would love.

It doesnt matter, he says, finally. Despite the abhorrent state of affairs today, he isnt about to give up on women because The problem isnt women. The problem is feminism.

By SG Cheah Apr 22nd 2019

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MGTOW How Anti-Male Feminism Is Driving The Growing Trend Of Anti-Female Subcultures - Fathers4Equality

Rick and Morty Is Nihilistic, Self-Destructive, and Still Hilarious in Season 4 – The Escapist

Rick and Morty recently returned for its fourth season.

Like a lot of successful and beloved pop cultural phenomena, it can be hard to separate Rick and Morty from the noise around it. It is entirely possible that people might only have heard of the series through the controversies generated by the more extreme elements of its fandom like the debacle surrounding a McDonalds promotion or the harassment of its female writers.

This is a shame because Rick and Morty is worthy of celebration on its own terms. The premise of the show is a disarmingly simple riff on the familiar framework of beloved properties like Back to the Future or Doctor Who: Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) is a brilliant and nihilistic inventor who embarks on a series of adventures with his grandson Morty Smith (also Roiland).

As one might expect from an animated television series co-created by Dan Harmon (Community), Rick and Morty is impressively pop culturally literate. In some ways, it feels like the perfect television series for the internet age; like Steven Moffats Doctor Who or Sam Esmails Mr. Robot, it is designed for viewers with an understanding of how these kinds of stories work so it might play with them.

Episodes draw on inspirations as ubiquitous as Jurassic Park (Anatomy Park) and as niche as Zardoz (Raising Gazorpazorp), including nods to directors like David Cronenberg (Rick Potion No. 9) and even casting Werner Herzog (Interdimensional Cable 2). Even the interdimensional Council of Ricks seems to have been drawn from writer Jonathan Hickmans Fantastic Four run.

While it might be possible to position Rick and Morty close to the riff on pop culture template of Seth MacFarlane projects like Family Guy or American Dad, it is attempting something slightly more nuanced and intriguing. It takes familiar genre elements and then twists them in a variety of interesting ways to play with underlying assumptions.

A large part of the appeal of Rick and Morty comes from its application of a cynical view of human nature to these familiar genre templates. Over the course of the shows first three seasons, Rick and Morty develops its two leads from the familiar archetypes suggested by the premise through subtle but committed character work amid high-concept comedy.

Ricks cynicism and nihilism is portrayed as toxic and damaging to both himself and the people around him, with the show repeatedly emphasizing how empty and hollow his worldview truly is. This is perhaps most explicitly articulated in the third season standout episode Pickle Rick, which paired the mimetic joke of the title with an insightful family therapy session.

Simultaneously, Morty finds himself increasingly traumatized by these weird episodic adventures, as each madcap journey inevitably culminates in an absurdist high-stakes drama requiring a horrific resolution. Over the shows three seasons, Morty has suffered a tremendous amount. While the show has a loosely episodic format, it never loses sight of the cumulative nature of that trauma.

With its title characters, Rick and Morty isnt just playing with genre archetypes, but exploring them. Rick is a deconstruction of the jaded genius archetype, while Morty is a humanized peril monkey sidekick. A lot of the comedy and a surprising amount of insightful, humanist pathos arises from the juxtaposition of that character work with ridiculous science-fiction plot elements.

Of course, it helps that Rick and Morty is consistently funny. Over its 30+ episodes, the series has developed its own rhythm and language. It has developed an impressive supporting cast and a reliable catalogue of recurring jokes. More than that, like the best television series, it has found a niche that makes it unique in the television landscape.

This gets at the beauty of Rick and Morty. There is nothing else on television like Rick and Morty, even if the shows strength comes from its unique approach to tried-and-tested genre elements. The show consistently uses familiar elements in new and interesting ways, pushing them in strange directions to fascinating effect.

Its good to have it back.

The fourth season of Rick and Morty is currently airing on Adult Swim on Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET. Previous seasons are available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Netflix internationally.

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Rick and Morty Is Nihilistic, Self-Destructive, and Still Hilarious in Season 4 - The Escapist

The Smaller Lights of Democracy Need to Stay Bright, Too – Washington Monthly

The last decade has proven more challenging to the news industry than any since the end of the early 20th centurys yellow journalism era. The reasons for this reality could fill volumes. But stated briefly, they include: 1) the destruction of revenues from print and from web advertising; 2) the predation by vulture capital firms and the expensive legal hostility from litigious billionaires; 3) the control of content visibility by impersonal social media companies more interested in engagement than in the public good or the sustainability of news organizations; 4) the explosion of free media sources, both of high and dubious quality; and 5) the fragmentation and partisanization of news consumers, naturally limiting any one organizations potential audience.

The radicalization of the conservative movement and the Republican Party also play a key role. If news and opinion organizations decide to call out their descent into nihilism for what it is, they get dismissed as partisan rags of the left. If they bend over backwards to be balanced, they invite justified outrage by failing to adequately inform readers of the reality of the situation. The New York Times, for instance, has consistently chosen to softpedal their coverage of the Trump Administration, especially in the headline department. Many customers have chosen to speak with their wallets by unsubscribing.

Still, the big newspapers like New York Times and Washington Post are not seriously in danger. Its the local papers and smaller online publications that are.

Facebook continues to prioritize garbage conservative content over more honest smaller publications, and the well is drying up for outfits that provide an alternative to what the big behemoths are offering in both reporting and opinion. Those that responded by pivoting to video turned out to be victims of Facebooks data fakery. Those that sensationalized content and headlines for clicks slowly destroyed their own reputations. Turns out, theres enough good content out there that paywalls tend to be a self-destructive proposition.

Our magazine doesntdo any of thatand we feel we serve an important purpose in the media ecosystem. We offer innovative policy dives from a variety of ideological viewpoints that are rarely found elsewhere, and in thePolitical Animal section of our website, were one of the few left-of-center places remaining where you can find old-fashioned blogging. We pull no punches and avoid the equivocating tropes of leading opinion pages, while, at the same time, maintaining high standards of accuracy and freshness of perspective. At least, I like to think so!

The banner head of the Washington Post rightly claims that Democracy Dies in Darkness. Here at the WashingtonMonthly, were a smaller light, but one that serves an important role in keeping our democracy alive.

Ultimately, the only tried and true way of sustaining that light is through the generous contributions of our readers. So please,make a donationduring our holiday fundraising drive.

Give whatever you can$10, $20, $100, $1,000and for a limited time only your contribution will be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous challenge grant from NewsMatch. If you give $50 or more, youll receive a complimentary one-year subscription to the print edition of the Washington Monthly.Your contributions are vital, tax-deductible, and much appreciated.

We cant keep this light on without you.

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really worksand how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

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The Smaller Lights of Democracy Need to Stay Bright, Too - Washington Monthly

‘Joker’ and the Weak Nihilism of Todd Phillips – Pajiba

Its official: Joker has now earned one billion dollars worldwide, making it not only the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time but, according to several sources, the most profitable comic book movie ever made. After weeks of hot takes and fears over its content and all manner of online nonsense, film has done all that Warner Bros. wanted it to and more. Todd Phillips, the director, took to his Instagram account to thank fans for bringing the movie to this point. Joker is easily the highest-grossing film hes ever directed, having made a hefty $400 million more than 2011s The Hangover Part II. Its fitting that those two movies will stand as the ultimate testament to whatever legacy Phillips leaves behind as a director or, yes Im going there, auteur. That duo of movies exemplifies everything he has delivered to audiences, the messages he wants to convey, and the methods he uses to do so. Of course, when that message is one of pure undistilled nihilism, what else can one do but sigh?

Critics and fans have spent many weeks trying to dissect what the overall themes and morals of Joker are. The lions share of criticism the film has faced is rooted in that ideological muddle. Some feared the movie would incite incel violence while others saw it more as an Eat The Rich fable. Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have been happy to encourage multiple readings of the movie, which isnt a bad strategy, but it overlooks the truth of Joker: The message is nihilism itself, even as the script tries to quickly tack on a social message about isolation and the wealth gap. Nothing matters. You wouldnt get it.

Truthfully, I dont even think Joker is the bleakest of most nihilistic movie Phillips has ever made. For me, that dubious honor falls to The Hangover: Part II, film so unrelentingly dark and bitter that you walk away from it wondering if Phillips yearns for the annihilation of humanity. The first Hangover movie, released in 2009, was never my thing my parents love it but I understand its appeal. There are plenty of solid jokes, the characters are all well-defined and the entire affair reeks of morning-after regrets of a night out that you cant decide whether or not youre glad you forgot about. Its dark but not inescapably so and rises to the level of charm through sheer force of personality thanks to the combination of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Making a sequel to such a lightning-in-a-bottle movie, one with an inherently one-off gimmick premise, became inevitable once the box office numbers continued to grow and it won the freaking Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical.

Two years later came the sequel, moving the action to Thailand, a concept in and of itself that inspired unease over the potential for inevitably racist, transphobic, and xenophobic jokes. In that aspect, Phillips and company certainly didnt let anybody down. Plot and joke-wise, its more of the same, but with a hefty side-order of bigotry of nearly every flavor. The trans sex worker scene is played for hilarity and revulsion, playing into the dangerous trope of cis men being tricked into sex with trans women and encouraging true disgust at the prospect. Thailand itself is depicted as nothing but a toxic sex den where anything goes. Every character is either utterly useless, purely decorative, or depraved in ways that leave a nasty stain on the imagination. Everyone and everything is bad and the explicit aim of each moment is just baseless provocation. Oh, and Mike Tyson returns because turning a convicted rapist into a cuddly meme of a man is one of this franchises many crimes.

In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert said The Hangover: Part II plays like a challenge to the audiences capacity for raunchiness. He also draws attention to a moment in the credits where the characters recreate a very famous war photograph by Eddie Adams featuring the public execution of a Vietcong prisoner by police chief General Nguyn Ngc Loan. Thats Phillipss philosophy in a nutshell: poke and prod and goad people into offense for its own sake. The satisfaction comes from ensuring people are angry or shocked and Phillips seems to prize that more than long-term thought. Escape from the world by embracing the notion that it does nothing but confirm the worst thoughts we have about it.

There is something to be said about using nihilism as an artistic tool. It can be extremely effective in the right hands. It makes sense for a lot of Phillipss stories too. What is The Hangover if nothing but a reminder that the American comedy blockbuster is built on the backs of imbecilic frat bros who get away with the most disgusting behavior because they learn a vague lesson at the end, only here, the overgrown man-babies of Phillipss world learn nothing, to the point where they repeat all their worst mistakes twice over. Indeed, Joker is at its most effective when it has the nerve to commit to nihilism as Arthur/Jokers only salvation from a world that has used and abused him. Of course, the problem with Joker and Phillipss wider philosophy is that he so often chickens out from carrying it through to its logical storytelling conclusion. Joker has to pretend to be about something.

Hollywood is built on misanthropes. The history of directors working in the medium could easily be boiled down to a history of cranky old dudes getting their way, even as the world around them changes at a quicker pace than theyre ready for. Nowhere was this more evident with Phillips than when he went on his recent rant about how woke culture has ruined comedy and rendered him unable to make the films he wants to. Strong words coming from a man working in the traditional studio system whose last movie made a billion dollars. If nothing else, that quote certainly gave away why Phillipss work is the way it is. Its all very Ricky Gervais, isnt it? No depth, no concern for appropriate targets or wider ideas, just meanness because if he cant be bleak all the time then f*ck everything.

Nihilism is one thing, but the diluted attempt to wield it as a political and creative tool while lacking the guts required to truly commit is just sad. Phillips wants the provocation without the purpose. He wants to mean something while saying nothing. Its all a big fat joke but the punchline never made an appearance. Its okay, though: That just means we dont get it.

Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

Header Image Source: Getty Images.

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'Joker' and the Weak Nihilism of Todd Phillips - Pajiba

The Republicans Impeachment Shrug – The Bulwark

On Tuesday morning, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer detailed to the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified in the House impeachment hearings. Both were on the July 25 phone call in which President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the favor of investigating Joe and Hunter Biden. Their testimony was not earth-shattering, but it did damage two of the Republican defenses to the Trumpian quid pro quo that Democrats are now characterizing alternately as bribery and extortion.

Last week, Republicans complained that the Democrats only presented weak hearsay evidence. The testimony of Vindman and Williams took that defense off the table, because they both have first-hand knowledge of the July 25 call. Vindman also attended a July 10 meeting involving a Ukrainian delegation in which the quid pro quo was first discussed.

The second defense that was rendered inoperable is the Republican argument that the Ukrainians didnt know that the president was holding up diplomatic and financial goodies unless they complied with his demand to investigate the Bidens. How could there be a favor for favor, they asked, if the Ukrainians werent even aware that they had to launch investigations if they wanted the nearly $400 in military aid that Congress had authorized in the spring of 2019?

Vindmanwho speaks fluent Ukrainian and Russiantestified that Zelensky mentioned the company linked to Hunter Biden by name on the July 25 call. The name Burisma is not one that would have come up had Zelensky not been briefed on it, Vindman explained, and he wouldnt have been briefed on it if it didnt matter to President Trumpand therefore to Ukraine. For her part, Williams also confirmed that Burisma was expressly mentioned on the call, although the word didnt appear in the White Houses call summary. (Vindman testified that he failed in his internal attempts to have Burisma explicitly mentioned in the call summary before it was released.)

A lawyers instinct in watching the impeachment hearings is to look for whether there is a defense on the meritsthat is, whether there is an alternative version of the facts that makes sense.

The evidence presented so far shows that a White House meeting for the newly elected Ukrainian presidentand the military aid needed to defend the country against Russian aggressionwas withheld pending Zelenskys public announcement of investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. The evidence also shows that the presidents personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was given substantial foreign policy authority that was ultimately exercised in a manner demonstrably at odds with the official U.S. policy towards Ukraine.

So far, there is no meaningful defense on the merits. None.

The one question remainingreally the only oneis: Who cares?

Or as some people frame it: Is the presidents established conduct impeachable?

If you wanted to answer this question on the merits, youd have to keep in mind that the president takes an oath of office to uphold the Constitution on behalf of the United States of America. Scholars have likened the presidency to a fiduciary relationship or a power of attorneythe idea being that the holder of the office is empowered only to act on behalf of his constituents. Unlike a monarchy, the presidency is not a divine grant of power to a particular individual.

Imagine, for example, that a trustee is charged with managing a $10 million trust fund until the beneficiary turns 18. The fiduciary needs cash to launch his own start-up company, so he takes the $10 million and invests it in the company for his own benefit. Clearly, such self-enrichment would be a violation of the fiduciarys legal obligation to act solely in the interests of the beneficiary.

Likewise, the facts so far establish that Trump used his office to try and secure his own power in 2020. He did this in a way that undermined the written national security policy of the United Stateswhich the president himself signedas well as the interests of the American people.

And again, there is no alternative version of events offered by Republicans.

Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee attempted to challenge Vindman for bias and leaking (there is no evidence for either suggestion). Devin Nunes railed against the media and assailed Robert Muellers investigation into Russias interference in the 2016 election. Republicans made a great deal of noise about matters that have been reported in the press. (Which is odd, since just last week Republicans were wailing about the lack of witnesses with first-hand knowledge of events.)

But through it all, Republicans have not put even a dent in the central story of abuse of office by the president of the United States.

The only Republican argument left is a postmodern nihilism: You cant make us care.

And its true. Nothing can make Republicans take abuse of power by this president seriously. They too are elected to represent the people, but seem more eager to focus their attention on sudoku or cribbage or whatever wealthy old men in a minority party do to fill the time.

But when we refuse to care is the basis of an entire political partys view of a constitutional crisis, then something has gone very, very wrong. And the problem does not stop with the president.

Reason and argument are the only guideposts which prevent politics from devolving into pure will-to-power. When one of our political parties openly abandons even the pretense of reason and disdains even the idea of argument and instead retreats into the smug assertion that they simply will not countenance either evidence or the law, we are in dangerous territory.

UPDATE (7 p.m. EST): Republicans had the best run to date with the two witnesses who testified Tuesday afternoon, former special envoy Kurt Volker and national security aide Tim Morrison. This was as expected.

Heres the alternative defense narrative that finally squeaked out:

Volker testified that Trump was distrustful of the Ukrainians based in part on bogus conspiracy theories peddled by Rudy Giuliani and others. He suggested that the military aid was held up until September 11 because Trump was skeptical about the Ukrainians in general. When Zelensky convened a parliament on September 2 and began anti-corruption initiatives, Trump released the aid a little over a week later.

For his part, Morrison testified that he believes the July 25 call was not inappropriate (even though he went to National Security Council lawyers about concerns with political fallout from a leak of the call record). He explained that, at the time of the call, he didnt have an issue with Trump asking President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, but admitted that Trumps asking for an investigation of someone like Nancy Pelosi or Kurt Volker would not be acceptable.

Morrison also said that the burying of the whistleblower complaint on a top-secret server by NSAs top lawyer was a mistake (according to that lawyer, John Eisenberg).

Heres the nagging problem for Trumps defenders: These were the best witnesses on the roster for Trump so far, and the central narrative has not changed.

In fact, like Gordon Sondland before him, Volker changed his original testimony today. At his October 3 deposition, Volker said he had no recollection of Gordon Sondland bringing up the Burisma/2016 election investigations at the July 10 meeting in the White House with a Ukrainian delegation. Volker also testified that he had no recollection of then-National Security Advisor John Bolton abruptly ending that meeting with the now-famous drug deal jab. Today, however, Volker said that his recollection was refreshed by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindmans testimony that Sondland did in fact raise the investigations on July 10.

Volker also testified that he didnt understand Trumps sought-after investigations of Burisma to mean investigations of the Bidens, but that in hindsight he should have made that connection. He added that a presidents getting a foreign government to investigate a political rivalparticularly a former vice presidentis inappropriate, and that this is what he later saw recorded in the call notes of the July 25 conversation between Zelensky and Trump.

Morrison testified that he was on the July 25 call, that the Bidens were mentioned, that the word corruption was not, and that he had a sinking feeling after GordonSondland told him that a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens was necessary as a condition to Trumps release of the aid.


One thing remains crystal clear and unrebutted: Every witness to date concurs that the promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine is in Ukraines and Americas interest, and antithetical to Russias interestand that Trumps withholding of Ukrainian aid was bad for both Ukraine and America.

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The Republicans Impeachment Shrug - The Bulwark