Palimpsest (September 4 – 10, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

Cohen, Rich. “The Ballad of Downward Mobility.” Atlantic. August 2022.

“If America were a person, I’d hug them and say, ‘Sit down. You look exhausted.’”

The story of limitless prosperity has been America's favorite narrative. When the party's over, someone(s) get stuck with the check.

“How Do We Face Loss with Dignity?” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug12.

“If we build a society run on self-interest, then we’re vulnerable to the fact that the self ends. And so you build a society unbelievably terrified of ending.”

Ezra Klein interviews author Mohsin Hamid. Their wide-ranging conversation covers a lot of interesting ground. Hamid talks about the concept of "whiteness" as being assumed a default condition and what it felt like for him as a Muslim-American to navigate sudden changes in how he moved through society after 9/11. The experience, in part, informs his novel The Last White Man which centers on Anders, a white man who wakes up to find he is no longer "white".

Comparison is made between the transformation of Anders in Hamid's novel and the transformation in Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Kafka's novel being a response to the sense of alienation that arose from industrialization, Hamid poses his novel as a response to the dominant technologies of our time, which are sorting technologies that lead us to think of our friends, family, entertainments and lives as acts of sorting (I like this; I don't like that) and how algorithms function behind the scenes not to serve us more of what we actually want but to make us want more of what's available.

They talk about Hamid's belief that future humans will look back on our fear of migration as a moral failing somewhat akin to slave-owning in the way that is warps moral codes and forces societies to shape themselves into prison states as a way to preserve arbitrary borders.

There is also a lovely discussion of what Toni Morrison offered Hamid as a mentor.

Most profound for me was the discussion of how fear of death is an organizing fact of American society and imagines ways to organize society with a more generous, less fearful experience of aging and death.

What I’m Reading

  • 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

What I’m Watching

  • American Horror Stories (Season 2)
  • The Sandman