FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY EIGHT

Adam Phillips in the Paris Review via Austin Kleon (emphasis his).

“[I]f you live in a culture which is fascinated by the myth of the artist, and the idea that the vocational artistic life is one of the best lives available, then there’s always going to be a temptation for people who are suffering to believe that to become an artist would be the solution when, in fact, it may be more of the problem. There are a number of people whom you might think of as casualties of the myth of the artist. They really should have done something else. Of course some people get lucky and find that art works for them, but for so many people it doesn’t. I think that needs to be included in the picture. Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.”

FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE

From Henry Farrell‘s “Philip K. Dick and the Fake Humans.”

Standard utopias and standard dystopias are each perfect after their own particular fashion. We live somewhere queasier—a world in which technology is developing in ways that make it increasingly hard to distinguish human beings from artificial things. The world that the Internet and social media have created is less a system than an ecology, a proliferation of unexpected niches, and entities created and adapted to exploit them in deceptive ways. Vast commercial architectures are being colonized by quasi-autonomous parasites. Scammers have built algorithms to write fake books from scratch to sell on Amazon, compiling and modifying text from other books and online sources such as Wikipedia, to fool buyers or to take advantage of loopholes in Amazon’s compensation structure. Much of the world’s financial system is made out of bots—automated systems designed to continually probe markets for fleeting arbitrage opportunities. Less sophisticated programs plague online commerce systems such as eBay and Amazon, occasionally with extraordinary consequences, as when two warring bots bid the price of a biology book up to $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).

….

In his novels Dick was interested in seeing how people react when their reality starts to break down. A world in which the real commingles with the fake, so that no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins, is ripe for paranoia. The most toxic consequence of social media manipulation, whether by the Russian government or others, may have nothing to do with its success as propaganda. Instead, it is that it sows an existential distrust. People simply do not know what or who to believe anymore.

FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY THREE

From Jason Mark’s Satellites in the High Country

“When I think about wildness as a civic good, Thoreau’s famous dictum—”in wildness is the preservation of the world”—takes on yet another layer of meaning. Perhaps it was not written by Thoreau the naturalist or Thoreau the poet. Perhaps instead it was written by Thoreau the tax-resister, the philosopher, the dissident.”

FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN

From Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, via The New York Times.

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN

A nice piece on Germany’s Center for Political Beauty and “Aggressive Humanism, by David Kretz.

The Center has risen to new national prominence during the recent refugee crisis. In May 2014 the German Ministry for Family Affairs, headed by center-left secretary Manuela Schwesig, announced on a new website that it would offer asylum to fifty-five thousand Syrian children—1 percent of the five million who would need it according to UNICEF. This was in the build-up to the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, months before Merkel’s exhortation “We can do it.”

The website, which offered online forms for Germans to register as host families, went viral on social media. A video showed happy, grateful children in Aleppo thanking Secretary Schwesig for her initiative. Large crowds spontaneously assembled in front of the offices of the Ministry for Family Affairs in Berlin, celebrating and leaving an ocean of flowers and teddy bears. Such is the political beauty that the Center imagines. It was they who had created the website, as well as a complete Federal Emergency Program, including IT infrastructure, a ready-to-implement legislative framework, extensive PR materials, active hotlines with actors answering questions about the program, and contacts with schools and other organizations inside Syria—a hyper-real theater performance. The Ministry could have played along but chose not to. Embarrassedly and awkwardly, they declared a day later that, no, they would not save the children.

….

As is often the case in the Center’s work, the shining example comes with a warning: to underscore the beauty and nobility of some acts, they contrast them with the cynicism and brutality of others. As part of the Kindertransporthilfe, the Center set up an installation at Berlin’s central Friedrichstrasse Station, close to Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture “Trains to Life—Trains to Death.“ Meisler’s work commemorates both the ten thousand children who were saved from the camps, and the 1.6 million who were killed in them. The Center set up two blue containers in front of the station with pictures of wounded and mutilated Syrian children. Each picture came with a phone number, which passersby could dial to vote on who should receive asylum and who should not: one in a hundred would be saved, the slogan went—and 99 would not. Nearby was a “medical tent” where Syrian doctors who had fled to Germany would take care of Germans for whom the pictures were too disturbing. While they treated them they told stories of the children they’d had to abandon in the ruins of Aleppo’s bombed hospitals.