• Jenny Zhang Doesn’t Care if You Feel Comfortable in Electric Lit

    The American Dream is a self-flattering myth, and too often America’s literature of immigration whitewashes the experience, as if the indignities faced by immigrants are temporary, a smooth trajectory from foreignness to assimilation, and the rewards always worth the sacrifices. From the first story in Jenny Zhang’s new collection, Sour Heart, these tropes are challenged. We see just how much dirt is underneath, how low the wages really are, and how ambivalent the immigrant feels, but it is also a collection that chimes with the voices of young Chinese American girls who are lonely, brash, crude and loved — full lives that don’t offer neat conclusions, or let anyone off the hook, but demand the reader’s attention to the end.

    …I was and am interested most in “minor literature,” small lives, writing and living in the margins. “Pity us who fight always at the boundaries,” Apollinaire writes in his last poem and I took it personally. I felt very much like a misfit of misfits .
    When I was writing about, say the abject poverty that many immigrants experience, sometimes my peers at Iowa would look at me askance and imply or even say outright, “But you don’t look like someone who has suffered much.” I hated giving in to their demands that I make my suffering visible in order to have the right to write about the things I write about in this book. That isn’t to say anyone can write about anything and expect to be rewarded…I don’t think the question of autobiography will be resolved in my work so long as women and people of color are seen as memoirists no matter what kind of writing they may be doing and white men are seen are innovative experimentalists no matter how explicitly they’ve mined their personal lives. That said, when writing these stories, I decided I wasn’t going to be afraid of being read autobiographically. Every story is in the first person.
    ..I sometimes side-eye the “reading fiction makes you more empathetic!” argument for why fiction is “necessary” (which is a whole other can of worms, e.g. why does fiction have to be “necessary” or instructive?) because just as many people read fiction to validate and confirm what they already believe.
    ..I felt large as a girl but was often treated as if I were tiny, fragile, stupid. It was safer in my head, there were less limits, more possibilities. I was drawn to the theatricality of girlhood — there are so many ways to perform femininity, to regurgitate youth, so many lies we must accept in order to be an acceptable girl. Anyone who has ever experienced pain (which is to say everyone) knows the temptation to escape, to forget, to feel into a fantasy life that is free from pain. The irony, of course, is that we just create a different kind of a pain, a more glamorous one…Fantasy often isn’t about creating the polar opposite of what you know but what you believe to be a better version of what you know, a version where you are in control. To some extent, as a girl, I wasn’t in control of my body, my safety, and my well-being. Other people were and sometimes those people caused me harm, or didn’t know how to protect me, or were trying to do the best they could with what they had. In my fantasies, I wasn’t helpless, but rather fearless, strong, desired, and respected. That version of me embraced hardship, experienced pain is a kind of romance.
    I did want to write without fear — without fear of being seen as limited because I found young girls to be a worthy fictional subject; without of being marginalized because often only white characters are considered “universal” subjects.

    Which brings me to something you wrote about a Tracy Emin photograph in your essay, “How It Feels”: “…The photo is so much that it becomes a statement against allowing others to tell your story, against those who would insist on your victimhood.” In these stories were you writing against any particular narratives or attempting to present an alternative narrative? If so, what were you writing against? And if not, was there anything you were writing toward?

    JZ: I’m writing against oversimplification, I’m writing against crude stereotypes, a culture that does not extend Whitman’s multitudes to immigrants and people of color. I’m not interested in perfect villains and perfect victims. I didn’t want my characters to have to be “good” immigrants in order to be worthy of having their stories told. Their stories cannot be reduced to: we came, we suffered, we persevered. In these stories, the American dream, if achieved at all, is achieved at great cost, only after immense casualties. There are entire stories that can be told in the humble interstices of the more well-known stories about immigrants and young girls. The English canon is full of vile protagonists, narcissists, con-men, despicable anti-heroes, but once we turn the gaze to what is considered “ethnic” literature or “immigrant” literature, we are less willing to be challenged.
    …From the moment I was born, I was loved. It was all I ever knew. As I got older, I resented how much I was loved. I wanted to be loved less by my family and loved more by others — friends, lovers, basically anyone who wasn’t related to me. The more I understood how white supremacy operates in this country, the more I understood I would always be hated. When you grow up knowing you are considered lowly and inferior on the explicit basis of race and ethnicity, how are you supposed to love yourself and the family you came from?
    …When I tell the story of my family to someone who didn’t grow up Chinese-American, it can feel like I’m selling them out. So many people have offered (well-intentioned!) sympathy, but when they say something like, “That must have been terrible to grow up like that,” I feel protective of my family and my upbringing. I want to say it back. It’s very Western to idealize a kind of love that does not come with any expectations, that still permits both the giver and recipient to be completely free. To this day, I know my parents would go hungry so that I could eat more. They would sell all their earthly possessions so I could have whatever I want. It’s intense to know that they would work themselves to death if it meant I could live well. Now, things aren’t so desperate.
    …Post election, it seems like the American people — at least those of us who were greatly disturbed by the election results — are reaching for poetry again. Poetry is great in a time of crisis. Dystopian despair matches well with poetic idealism.

  • Displacing Whiteness in the Arts in Peril

  • Haunting Legacies  in Going Down Swinging

    We all carry broken things. Because of my family’s history, I’ve often wondered what kinds of memories manifest from wounds and ruptures, from layers of pain and assault so great there are no words.
    ..my parents tried to seal away their dismemories – their too-painful-to-remember memories – but through deafening silence, fragmented recollections, emotional distance, and at times, unbearable protectiveness, the ghosts of the past took up residence in my life. My parents’ dismemories found a way to seep out of the vessels that contained them. When these ineffable memories travel across time and space, they can take on different forms – they’re incubated, transmitted and embodied by subsequent generations.
    As Grace Cho poetically argues: “Transgenerational haunting creates a scattering of memory that is material and affective, even if not fully articulated. This memory lives in the bodily matter of the survivors and in the earth from which ghost flames arise, and it stretches across time and space.” Without the vocabulary, this “scattering” can feel like a haunting. In my case, it takes the form of unanswered questions, the black-and-white photographs of deceased relatives silently looking on, casual references to “the war”, the hoarding of rice and canisters of fresh water, stories of the dead visiting in dreams, the faded blue ink on my dad’s shoulder and chest. These “haunting legacies” are nowhere and everywhere, occurring outside but experienced within.

    I have been haunted by ghosts my whole life: the figurative, the immaterial and the literal.

    Guilt born out of privilege is a very interesting thing. The ghosts compelled me to come back to Australia, to work with immigrant and refugee women. Women, who like my mum, carry the scars of trauma and dislocation. And now, they are with me while I study my PhD, walking the halls of academia, pushing me to explore bigger questions about trauma, memory and identity.

    In grappling with her own experiences of inherited trauma, Grace Cho asks: “How does one work through this paradox of telling a story about loss that is unnameable and trauma that is dislocated and materialises in the forms far removed from the traumatic event itself?” In other words, how do I describe a sensation that feels scattered, incomplete and probably not even mine to begin with?

    I try to embody “better life” every day, but in bearing witness to my parents’ pain, I have grown up with the legacies of trauma; I carry them with me everywhere I go. Despite my parents’ greatest efforts to protect me, traces of historical trauma have crucially informed my biography. They are a part of me; they have left their imprints on me, inscribed my body and manifested themselves in the way I move through the world…Like a lot of children of migrants and refugees, the knowledge that my ‘good life’ in Australia has come at a huge expense is overwhelming and something I continue to negotiate. Over the years I have learnt that guilt can be productive, or it can suffocate. Often, the line is very fine.

    Toni Morrison points out how “invisible things are not necessarily not there”. I have been obsessed with this question of “invisible things” for a long time: what do we miss if we devote our attention only to what we can see? To what we can touch, or to what is tangible? What gets lost if we ignore the murmurs and the impulses, the feelings that are too hard to express, but are nonetheless unshakable?

  • Is there any point in protesting? By Nathan Heller in the New Yorker

    For centuries, on the right and the left alike, it has been an article of faith that, in moments of sharp civic discontent, you and I and everyone we know can take to the streets, demanding change… Still, what has protest done for us lately? Smartphones and social media are supposed to have made organizing easier, and activists today speak more about numbers and reach than about lasting results. Is protest a productive use of our political attention? Or is it just a bit of social theatre we perform to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right?

    question the power of marches, protests, and other acts of what they call “folk politics.” These methods, they say, are more habit than solution. Protest is too fleeting. It ignores the structural nature of problems in a modern world. “The folk-political injunction is to reduce complexity down to a human scale,” they write. This impulse promotes authenticity-mongering, reasoning through individual stories (also a journalistic tic), and a general inability to think systemically about change. …The difficulty, in their eyes, is that the left, despite its pride in being progressive, is mired in nostalgia. “Petitions, occupations, strikes, vanguard parties, affinity groups, trade unions: all arose out of particular historical conditions,” they say. They think that modernizing these things for an internationalized, digitized world will free us from what they vividly call our “endless treadmill of misery.”…their portrait of a mindless, knee-jerk activist left “predicated upon critiques of bureaucracy, verticality, exclusion and institutionalisation” seems grounded and real. Can protest be made great again? Or are the people simply raising their fists to the skies? 
    It’s often assumed that today’s style of protest flowed naturally out of the nineteen-sixties. But Kauffman sees the end of that decade as a kind of meteor strike that left radicalism atomized, chaotic, and fractured.

    She places its start at the moment of a famous failure: the Mayday Vietnam protest of 1971, when twenty-five thousand people blockaded bridges and intersections around Washington, D.C. A manual describing the demonstration’s tactics allowed Nixon’s Attorney General to summon the police, the military, and the National Guard preëmptively. More than seven thousand protesters were arrested. Mary McGrory, a journalist who was sympathetic to the cause, described it as “the worst planned, worst executed, most slovenly, strident and obnoxious peace action ever committed.”

    Kauffman disagrees. The spectre of the protest rattled the Administration, she points out. What’s more, it marked the shift toward the tactics-driven approach that we still follow today. “The last major national protest against the Vietnam War, Mayday was also a crucial first experiment with a new kind of radicalism,” she writes. It was less about moral leadership than about the fact of obstruction. It embraced whatever—and whoever—forced the hand of power. “You do the organizing,” the Mayday manual read. “This means no ‘movement generals’ making tactical decisions you have to carry out.”

    …Movements might have lost their leaders, gained force, and offered personal autonomy. Yet they hadn’t acquired the crucial thing—a good crack at success.

    Democratizing technology may now give the voiceless a means to cry in the streets, but real results come to those with the same old privileges—time, money, infrastructure, an ability to call in favors—that shape mainline politics.

    Hardt and Negri, as well as Srnicek and Williams, rail at length against “neoliberalism”: a fashionable bugaboo on the left, and thus, unfortunately, a term more often flaunted than defined. (Neoliberalism can broadly refer to any program that involves market-liberal policies—privatization, deregulation, etc.—and so includes everything from Thatcher’s social-expenditure reductions to Obama’s global-trade policies. A moratorium on its use would help solidify a lot of gaseous debate.) According to them, neoliberalism lurks everywhere that power resides, beckoning friendly passersby into its drippy gingerbread house. Hardt and Negri dismiss “participating in government, respecting capitalist discipline, and creating structures for labor and business to collaborate,” because, they say, “reformism in this form has proven to be impossible and the social benefits it promises are an illusion.” They favor antagonistic pressure, leading to a revolution with no central authority (a plan perhaps more promising in theory than in practice). Srnicek and Williams don’t reject working with politicians, though they think that real transformation comes from shifts in social expectation, in school curricula, and in the sorts of things that reasonable people discuss on TV…Change does arrive through mainstream power, but this just means that your movement should be threaded through the culture’s institutional eye.

    The question, then, is what protest is for…Much of their book attempts to match the challenges of current life—a shrinking manufacturing sphere, a global labor surplus, a mire of race-inflected socioeconomic traps—with Marx’s quite specific precepts about the nineteenth-century European economy. They define the proletariat as “that group of people who must sell their labor powers to live.” It must be noted that this group—now comprising Olive Garden waiters, coders based in Bangalore, janitors, YouTube stars, twenty-two-year-olds at Goldman Sachs—is really very broad. A truly modern left, one cannot help but think, would be at liberty to shed a manufacturing-era, deterministic framework like Marxism, allegorized and hyperextended far beyond its time. Still, to date no better paradigm for labor economics and uprising has emerged.

    What comes undone here is the dream of protest as an expression of personal politics…The recent studies make it clear that protest results don’t follow the laws of life: eighty per cent isn’t just showing up. Instead, logistics reign and then constrain. Outcomes rely on how you coördinate your efforts, and on the skill with which you use existing influence as help.

    If that seems a deflating idea, it only goes to show how entrenched self-expressive protest has become in political identity. In one survey, half of Occupy Wall Street allies turned out to be fully employed: even that putatively radical economic movement was largely middle class. (Also, as many noted, it was largely white.) That may be because even the privileged echelons of working America are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. But it may also be because the social threshold for protest-joining is low.

    …“The role of social movements in American history, while important, has been seriously inflated by left-leaning activists and historians,” he writes. “The age of movement politics is over, at least for now. We need no more marchers. We need more mayors.” Folk politics, tracing a fifty-year anti-establishmentarian trend, flatters a certain idea of heroism: the system, we think, must be fought by authentic people. Yet that outlook is so widely held now that it occupies the highest offices of government. Maybe, in the end, the system is the powerless person’s best bet.

  • A New Approach to Culture in the conversation

    If governments today are grappling with a set of issues from climate change to wage stagnation they seem powerless to redress, it is in part because this concept, which should have pride of place in all policy domains, has been displaced from its key informing position.

    Australian culture is more than series of market preferences. It is more than a list of its impacts on well being, social cohesion, education levels, and the interstate sale of hotel beds. These kinds of things are useful to known. But an approach to cultural policy that is genuinely new must match the silver flutes of methodological verification with the golden trumpets of political change. It must change our idea of culture, not just the way we measure it.

    That’s a goal that goes beyond the generation of data, though it certainly includes it. It’s about giving voice to culture as culture, and to the people who create it, promote it, and participate in it, on the same grounds. It’s about evidence of value, but also about the value of that evidence, and what vision of Australian society we want it to be serving.

  • What a Fraternity HazingDeath Revealed About thePainful Search for anAsian-American Identity  in the New York Times by Jay Capsian Kang

    Chun Hsien (Michael) Deng, like the Pi Delta Psi brothers charged with his murder, was a Chinese-­American student from the outer boroughs. His father, a businessman in China, secured one of the visas allotted by the Immigration Act of 1990 for highly skilled workers and moved with his wife to Long Beach, a waterfront Long Island town near the southern end of Kennedy Airport. She found the transition more difficult than she had imagined. ‘‘I was pregnant and had food cravings — American food was so bland to me — and I always felt hungry,’’ Ms. Deng told me in a mix of English and Chinese. (She requested that her first name be withheld because the Dengs want to maintain as much of their privacy as possible.) Long Beach did not have any semblance of an Asian community or any acceptable Chinese restaurants, so the expecting couple moved to Flushing, a neighborhood in northern Queens full of immigrants.

    When Chun Hsien was born in 1995, his mother realized that he would need an American name. She found a ranking of the most popular names for American boys and chose ‘‘Michael’’ when she saw it at the top. While Michael’s father flew to and from China for work, young Michael and his mother trudged through the mundane adjustments and small humiliations of life in America — new grocery stores, new bus systems, a Balkanized gathering of fellow immigrants who may look like you but who are not like you in the ways that matter.

    Michael quickly became ensconced within the Asian bubble of Queens. In 1990, Asians made up 22.1 percent of Flushing’s population. By 2010, that figure topped 70 percent. The population began to creep out into nearby middle-­class neighborhoods like Bayside, where the schools were better and the relatively spacious houses sat on quiet streets with tidy, uniformly rectilinear front lawns. By the time Michael entered Middle School 74, in Bayside, the school’s population was majority Asian.

    Michael’s mother left her job and studied up on the subjects Michael was taking in school. ‘‘Math and science, of course I could help him with that,’’ she said. ‘‘But English and history — those things — I could only encourage him and try to keep up.’’ In his free time, Michael roamed the handball courts in Bayside and became a formidable player. In eighth grade, he took the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test and placed into Bronx Science, which is in New York’s top tier of selective public schools, with Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

    Like Middle School 74, Bronx Science’s student body is majority Asian. There are all-­Asian cliques from Flushing, all-­Asian cliques from Manhattan, all-­Asian cliques from Sunset Park in Brooklyn. These groups might be created by immigration patterns, school districts and real ­estate developments, but they are reinforced through long hours in standardized-­test tutoring, weekends spent at Chinese- or Korean-­language classes and long subway trips up to the Bronx

    …Asian-­American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-­American, nobody sits down to Asian-­American food with their Asian-­American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-­America. Michael Deng and his fraternity brothers were from Chinese families and grew up in Queens, and they have nothing in common with me — someone who was born in Korea and grew up in Boston and North Carolina. We share stereotypes, mostly — tiger moms, music lessons and the unexamined march toward success, however it’s defined. My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.

    Discrimination is what really binds Asian-­Americans together. The early scholars of Asian-­American studies came out of the ‘‘Third World Liberation Front’’ of the late ’60s, which pushed against the Eurocentric bent of the academy. When Asian-­American-­studies programs began spreading in California in the early ’70s, their curriculums grew out of personal narratives of oppression, solidarity forged through the exhumation of common hardships. ‘‘Roots: An Asian-­American Reader,’’ one of the first textbooks offered to Asian-­American-­studies students at U.C.L.A., was published in 1971; the roots of the title referred not to some collective Asian heritage but, the editors wrote, to the ‘‘ ‘roots’ of the issues facing Asians in America.’’

    The project of defining Asian-­American identity was largely limited to Ivy League and West Coast universities until 1982, when Vincent Chin, who worked at an automotive engineering firm in Detroit, was beaten to death by assailants who blamed Japanese competition for the downturn in the American auto market. When Chin’s killers were sentenced to probation and fined $3,000, protesters marched in cities across the country, giving rise to a new Pan-­Asian unity forged by the realization that if Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, could be killed because of Japanese auto imports, the concept of an ‘‘Asian-­American’’ identity had consequences.

    ‘His death was this great moment of realization,’’ Christine Choy, a Korean-­American filmmaker and former member of the Black Panther Party, told me. ‘‘It galvanized a lot of people who said they can’t stand by anymore and let things go without any sort of legal or political representation.’

    Chin’s death came at the beginning of a huge demographic shift on college campuses. The children of the hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants who flooded into the country after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had grown up. Between 1976 and 2008, the number of Asian-­Americans enrolled in four-year colleges increased sixfold. Many of these young men and women had graduated from the same magnet schools, attended the same churches, studied together in the same test-prep classes, but their sense of Asian-­ness had never been explained to them, at least not in the codified language of the multicultural academy.

    They found themselves at the center of a national debate on affirmative action. In the mid-’80s, students and professors began to accuse elite colleges like Brown, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, of using a quota system to limit the number of Asian-­American students. As colleges responded with denials, a movement began on campuses to demand the creation of more Asian-­American-­studies programs and Asian-­American clubs, student organizations, social clubs and, eventually, fraternities. The debate remains open and tense. In 2014, a group that opposes affirmative action sued Harvard, accusing it of discriminating against Asian-­Americans in its admissions process. That suit, which is still unsettled, inspired a coalition of 64 Asian-­American groups to file a complaint against the university the following year. Both cases received renewed attention this month when the publication of a Department of Justice memorandum led to the disclosure of the agency’s plans to investigate the 2015 complaint.

    ‘‘Who Killed Vincent Chin?’’ a 1989 documentary directed by Choy and Renee Tajima-­Peña, was shown in Asian-­American-­studies classes across the country. Over the next decade, a rhetoric took hold that argued for a collective identity rooted in both the death of Vincent Chin and the debates over affirmative action, but it still felt strange to those who had grown up Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino. Whether expressed through scholarship or private, daily conversation, this vocabulary was imprecise and cloistered within the academy. By the early ’90s, when the Los Angeles riots thrust Asian-­Americans onto the national stage, the brio of ‘‘Roots’’ had mostly been supplanted by a shy, scholarly neurosis that sought to figure out why Asian — particularly Korean — businesses had been targeted by rioters, but lacked the platform or the confidence to ask.

    … the pledge is supposed to be thinking about his parents and the sacrifices they made as immigrants, the humiliations they faced and the oppressive invisibility of Asian lives in America. The pushing, the tackling and the racial abuse are meant to be the physical expression of their struggle. That final walk, in which the pledge is shepherded to his Big by all of the fraternity’s members, is intended to teach him that solidarity with his fellow Asians is his only hope of making it in a white world.

    Asians are the loneliest Americans. The collective political consciousness of the ’80s has been replaced by the quiet, unaddressed isolation that comes with knowing that you can be born in this country, excel in its schools and find a comfortable place in its economy and still feel no stake in the national conversation. The current vision of solidarity among Asian-­Americans is cartoonish and blurry and relegated to conversations at family picnics, in drunken exchanges over food that reminds everyone at the table of how their mom used to make it. Everything else is the confusion of never knowing what side to choose because choosing our own side has so rarely been an option. Asian pride is a laughable concept to most Americans. Racist incidents pass without prompting any real outcry, and claims of racism are quickly dismissed. A common past can be accessed only through dusty, dug-up things: the murder of Vincent Chin, Korematsu v. United States, the Bataan Death March and the illusion that we are going through all these things together. The Asian-­American fraternity is not much more than a clumsy step toward finding an identity in a country where there are no more reference points for how we should act, how we should think about ourselves. But in its honest confrontation with being Asian and its refusal to fall into familiar silence, it can also be seen as a statement of self-­worth. These young men, in their doomed way, were trying to amend the American dream that had brought their parents to this country with one caveat:

    I will succeed, they say. But not without my brothers!

  • We Just Feel Like We Don’t Belong Here Anymore’ by Becca Andrews in Mother Jones

    Since Trump’s election, there has been ample coverage of white people—the rise of white nationalism, the white working class that makes up Trump’s core constituency, the 53 percent of white women who voted him into office. Much less has been written about the people of color who live and work amid the rising tide of white nationalism in rural red states.

    I grew up in a town called Bells, one of the five small towns that make up Crockett County in West Tennessee. The county is 83 percent white—I am also white—14 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic. (For comparison, according to 2016 Census data, Tennessee’s population is only 17 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.) The median household income is $35,000, and 19 percent of the county’s 14,411 residents live below the poverty line. Most of the people I went to school with are still there. The area is deeply rural—the main highway that winds through the county is framed by cotton fields and pastures where cows keep a lazy watch over passing cars. Friday night football reigns supreme; game attendance is only second in importance to church. Many families have been here for generations, passing down their farmland and businesses to their children and grandchildren.

    It can be a lovely place to live, but in counties like Crockett, it’s hard to be anything other than white. So I decided to go back home and talk to the people I should have been talking to all along—people of color who live and work and go to school with white Trump supporters. They told me how it feels to live among neighbors who voted against their best interests and—worst case—their basic existence.

  • Keeping a Safe Distance: My Friend Dahmer, true crime, and the ‘what if’ buffer by Liz Flux in Kill Your Darlings
    We all have ‘what ifs’ gnawing away at our cores. It’s what makes us cross the road when we spot someone vaguely shifty looking. It’s what makes us grumpily trudge along the well-lit ‘long way’ rather than the shadowy shortcut.

    It’s also what fuels our appetite for crime in entertainment; the closeness we all feel to the darker side of the human experience needs an outlet. The result is four CSIs, two NCISs, six Law and Orders and enough Agatha Christie books in the world that we could build our own St. Mary Mead out of pulp and references to Poirot’s moustache.

    Despite the fact that we are fully aware of the realities, most of us find it difficult to believe that the really bad stuff could ever truly intersect with our own lives. Yes, these things happen, but not to us. Yes, monsters hide in plain sight, but not within our field of vision. Subconsciously, we believe in the flimsy layer of glass that protects us. This is not to say we need to amp up the paranoia; it’s just a fact. It’s hard to imagine something from outside our realm of experience until it actually happens.

  • Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War? By Robin Knight in the New Yorker

    How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.

    America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse…Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.

    “We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it.

    Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.

    President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy.

    In the eighteen-fifties, Blight told me, Americans were not good at foreseeing or absorbing the “shock of events,” including the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, the John Brown raid, and even the Mexican-American War. “No one predicted them. They forced people to reposition themselves,” Blight said. “We’re going through one of those repositionings now. Trump’s election is one of them, and we’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s not new. It dates to Obama’s election. We thought that would lead culture in the other direction, but it didn’t,” he said. “There was a tremendous resistance from the right, then these episodes of police violence, and all these things [from the past] exploded again. It’s not only a racial polarization but a seizure about identity.”

    We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” The nation witnessed tectonic shifts on the eve of the Civil War, and during the civil-rights era, the unrest of the late nineteen-sixties and the Vietnam War, he said. “It did not happen with Bush v. Gore, in 2000, but perhaps we were close. It is not inconceivable that it could happen now.”

    In a reversal of public opinion from the nineteen-sixties, Blight said, the weakening of political institutions today has led Americans to shift their views on which institutions are credible.

  • Reunion Episode by Eloise Grills in Scum 
    a quarter-life crisis outstaying its welcome seeping like cask wine through a carpet i can’t write anything honest i’m always imagining someone reading and loving/hating me you are supposed to write first and edit last but you can’t live like that always surging forward guns blazing and then sweeping up the mess of the past no you no you have to carry it with you rolling in it like a slug in a dustpan encased in grime
    it is my birthday in two days and i will be the same age as romy and michele when they went to their reunion i will no longer be the same age kurt cobain janice joplin uh jimi hendrix were when they joined that club i would not want to be part of any club that would have me as a member/remembered
    …the older i get the more i hear the cacophony of doors slamming on me and the older get the less people i have to pretend to care about it in front of and the older i get the more i think it’s so boring to write about ages and the ideas attached to them like ill-fitting collars i am ageing out of my identity and it feels hopeless but fine i am farting in my bedroom i am taking a mental health day listening to lana del rey singing in sad aphorisms like inverse motivational quotes


    at the age where i tell younger people i remember what things were like before

    like i remember how that apartment block used to be a market

    i remember when that apartment block used to be a restaurant

    or a school or an art gallery or when it belonged to someone other than a developer

    i remember when these younger people took my word for it

    and now they just look at me kind of funny i’m

    at the age where i try to give less of a shit what people think though i’m

    scared shitless of making mistakes but the biggest one i could make is the one i am right now which is doing nothing I want to make something just for me just for once but this is not something i can bring myself to deserve

    a reunion episode is supposed to be like a before and after

    old lives held up limply on new bodies like jeans in a jenny craig ad

    but life is a timelapse that you press play on and the pause key breaks and you’re chasing it it’s chasing you

    there are winners and losers and then there are people who sit in their pyjamas at home and pretend not to exist

    these people are the extras who didn’t turn up to the shoot

    these people are the scenes on the cutting room floor

    these people are the characters who did not survive the writers’ room

    i am twenty eight today now and i was twenty seven when i started writing and both of these facts remain relevant and alive for now

    …there’s no comfortable song lyric to swathe myself in nobody likes you when you’re twenty three when you’re twenty one you’re no fun but nobody likes you or writes about you when you’re twenty eight and no fun

    all i want is a warm bed to lie in or a field

    i am flat on my back watching the clouds moving imperceptibly time carrying meaning like an empty shopping bag drifting no need to be fulfilled the older I get the more i cannot live within my brain scoop me out like a pumpkin put me on your doorstep deride my hollow americanism under your breath my candle flickers with the breath of an insult i can no longer register.

  • What it’s really like to live with drone warfare Rachel Ang illustrations



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