Like We’re in a Fistfight with a Fog

“There is war, but always elsewhere,” poet Jillian Weise says of reading The Economist. Americans have been watching the world on television since about the late 1940s, and this mediation has pervaded the culture ever since: a plastic wall between us and everything, a world under a dull magnifying glass, whether it’s the inherently distant and artificial (online pornography) or the bracingly, seemingly immediate (Twitter, live video, etc.). We know Brexit is happening, or not happening. We know that people are being starved and otherwise killed in Yemen. We know that Gordon Sondland is a total snitch, but in a hilarious way that only incredibly incompetent and irresponsible rich white men can be.

Yet the war is at home too. In America, there is a settled acceptance that random violence for no reason will just be a thing for the foreseeable future. We’re on the battlefield alone, and still there are casualties in a war of none. “We live in an exceptionally lonely time,” as Felix Biederman has said. In spite of all the connection, we’re disconnected. The Robert Putnam thesis about Bowling Alone seems shallow and nostalgic (our problem is not that we need more Elks Lodges) but something about neoliberal marketization of everything reduces people to a singular dot: a metric, a like, a tweet, an advantage. When Donald Trump said his impeachment-causing discussion with Vladimir Zelensky was a “perfect call,” he was speaking as someone who thinks every single conversation is either won or lost. And he thinks he won.

A lonely speck in the universe, with no thirst for context. No one really wants to be a hungry dot, except for Pacman and the president of the United States.

With that buzzkill, here are our editors’ picks for the week: