Weekend Reading

May 16th 2021

Human sacrifice of the week

Just as those who trade and invest in property or beef or AI open up the Financial Times to be informed on the important things happening in their world, the oversubscribed and hyper competitive lower ranks of the educated creative and knowledge economy need to keep up to date with the fluctuations in the prestige values they need to survive in theirs. This is what Twitter and the liberal press is for. The clearest measure of how the prestige markets are doing can be gleaned from the news of who is being cancelled at any given time. This week it has been Antonio Garcia-Martinez. To cut a long and familiar story short, a supposedly sexist passage was unearthed from his 2016 bestseller Chaos Monkeys.

Matt Taibbi has detailed it all here. What’s interesting about this piece though is the personal note it ends on. A project to cancel Taibbi went on for years over a similar kind of thing. He apologized and then, as far as I could see, just avoided the topic as much as possible for years until it eventually sort of went away. I wondered how he must have privately felt. Did he not want to vengefully lash out? I also understand the desire to just move on or the fear that even mentioning it would give opponents a chance to reopen it all over again. Anyway, he ended by saying:

“When I was caught up in my own cancelation episode, I was devastated, above all to see the effect it had on my family. Unlike Garcia-Martinez, I had past writings genuinely worth being embarrassed by, and I felt that it was important, morally and for my own mental health, to apologize in public. I didn’t fight for my career and reputation, and threw myself on the mercy of the court of public opinion.

I now know this is a mistake. The people who launch campaigns like this don’t believe in concepts like redemption or growth. An apology is just another thing they’d like to get, like the removal of competition for advancement. These people aren’t idealists. They’re just ordinary greedy Americans trying to get ahead, using the tactics available to them, and it’s time to stop thinking of stories like this through any other lens.”

I’m glad Taibbi stuck around.

Why I Love Trains

I recently took a nine hour train journey in America. I didn’t want to deal with airports during the Covid crisis and train journeys really are the best way to know a country and to see how real its national wealth is. Everyone I mentioned it to commented on how strange and old fashioned this was. One stranger I talked to thought I might be going by train to avoid getting the new “Real ID” identification card. He said this was a wise way to travel from now on if so because the government were going to use these new ID cards to track and monitor us by micro chip. This is how ordinary Americans talk all the time now. Fear and distrust of the managers is everywhere.

I can see why Americans don’t love trains like Europeans do. The Amtrak is expensive and slow. The carriages are too dark and the windows are too small. I still absolutely loved it, certainly far more than any flight I’ve ever taken. It was like a nine hour meditation. I got to see the rivers and forests and all the small towns along the way. I was also reminded of this beautiful piece by Peter Hitchens called Why I Love Trains.

On Sahra Wagenknecht

Gregor Baszak has written about a new book by Sahra Wagenknecht in The Bellows that is causing the usual fighting and outrage on the German left and among the political establishment.

“Wagenknecht lays the blame for this stagnation at the feet of what she calls a ‘lifestyle left’ of mostly university-educated urbanites with “left liberal” persuasions that has captured her party no less than it has the Greens. This lifestyle left promises higher food and gas prices to combat climate change but has nothing to offer German workers in terms of better wages and job security. It is no wonder, she concludes, that these voters are increasingly turning toward the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany)—just as much as working-class voters in America have turned out for Trump, in France for Marine Le Pen, and in Hungary for Viktor Orbán… To reverse course, Die Linke would need to defend the national sovereignty of the German state against global financial and corporate interests. This would mean reducing immigration to manageable levels in order to boost the bargaining power of low-wage workers.”

I think her opponents know she and anyone who starts to talk like this is close to a political formula that would be absolute dynamite if it really got organized. That’s why they fight her as hard as they do and why they can never give it an inch. I’ll be dusting off my terrible school-level German to read the book this week.

And lastly…

I’ve been listening to and highly recommend Alex Kaschuta’s interviews with interesting writers, which you can find on her Patreon here and her Substack here. I am by far the least impressive guest she’s had on.