Ask Archive RSS


A boy sells lemonade from his front yard stand on Main Street in Aspen, Colorado, 1973.Photograph by Dick Durrance II, National Geographic Creative
 8156 4th July 2014
 167934 28th June 2014

On Surveillance: A Conversation


Oh, right. I mean, of course, a down hand would be too hostile for a photo-sharing app, like Instagram. But it has been replicated across other platforms. You can like something but you can’t dislike something. And we see that mindset in the literary world right now: if you like something, you don’t need to have a reason; if you dislike something, you need to have an articulate reason. You can comment, but you can’t just not like something. Whereas you can just like something. Which is equally weird and nefarious. I mean if you like something, you’d better tell me why you like it. People liked the Nazis: a like can be nefarious, can require justification. The notion that a “like” doesn’t require justification, but a “dislike” does is ludicrous. It’s also oppressive. The message is: “If you’re with us, great; and if you’re not with us then please tell us why.”


I think one of the reasons you’re not asked to defend what you like is because it’s way too easy to discern ideological nonsense when it’s used in favor of something, whereas it’s much harder to hear it when it’s used to denounce something. So if I go, “Why do you like the candidate?” “Well, he loves freedom. He believes in families. And he has all his eggs in one basket.” And you think—Hm, you’re an idiot. But if I go, “Why do you hate him?” “He hates freedom. He’s anti-family. All of his eggs are on the floor.” Okay yeah, and I go, “I guess that sounds plausible to me.”


 I think that’s why what Uzoamaka was saying, about how social media has actually changed what we think happens in a conversation, is so important. It sounds like such a radical position, but we’re already seeing how this diminished view of conversation has infected the form of the online essay.

One of our staff writers, David Auerbach, recently pointed out something connected to this, especially as it relates to online leftism. If you look at these essays, essays that are theoretically presenting an argument, the lack of effort to persuade is striking. I think his intuition is spot on: these writers mean for their essays to be read primarily by people who already agree with them. And that does feel related to the rise of personal brand.


 Their essays are selfies; they’re indistinguishable.


Even more than selfies, the essays are “likes”—primarily functioning to align the author and reader with a certain ideology or position. Not even to persuade someone to that position. Just to say, to assure: “I’m the sort of person who holds this belief, who correctly identifies misogyny, homophobia, racism… aren’t you?”


Yeah. And I think it’s important that we are using the word “align.” Why do we have a massive social space that is mainly there for alignment? How much does that word reverberate with the notions of state control, you know? “Get in line. Stay in line.”