I think it’s probably a little better at The New Yorker in 2023 (see this Salman Rushdie piece). That said, activism remains a source of renewal for true-believers. This creates enormous downward pressure upon independent thought and creative expression (the kind of which the New Yorker has traditionally supported in long-form writing and the visual arts). Activist editorializing is probably a lot like going to Church, where inward reflection occurs in song and sacrament, chanting and togetherness. Beneath the political ideals, liberals and radicals often have their ‘hearts and minds’ in similar places.
The blind spots: People, ideas and the world outside of these beliefs and convictions, like all of us, to some extent.
My deeper take: Much of this view gets human nature badly wrong (the depth of evil and the problems within hearts and minds…explored in literature, poetry and the visual arts).
It also turns (H)istory into a kind of ideo-theology, abstracting (M)an into an endlessly perfectible and managerial product. This partially explains why our ‘post-modern’ lives become full with nihilistic ‘presentism’ and (S)elf-performance with a shitty, divided politics.
I hope this isn’t true, but it just might be:
Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
It just might be possible to nurture experimental literature, poetry and the ‘avant-garde’ without explicit political bias:
‘Is it necessary for us to have a conservative voice or something like that? We’ve discussed it, but I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. I think The New Yorker’s niche is pretty comfortably in this progressive space and it’s much less of an issue to us than it is to The New York Times.’
I actually might agree on two fronts: The New Yorker definitely caters to progressive political ideals (a long-term winning market strategy?) AND that there’s something loathsome about hiring just to fill quotas. The idea of letting other people live their own lives and make their own decisions is so crazy it just might work.
The latter is lost on many true-believing progressives, as the presupposed rigged ‘system’ of the oppressor justifies all manner of intrusion into existing institutions through protest, radical unrest and forced quota-systems.
Beware those who would make you care:
Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
In the meantime, check out this tweet from Peace Pavilion West (my fictional community of back-to-nature collectivists exploring the Self).
What started out as Peace, Love and Inclusion at the Human Pagoda, a community transcending all human limitations, a buzzing colony building eco-pods to the very Heavens, devolved into ever stronger chaos and ever stronger central authority.
After our liberation, the promise of equality always seemed shimmering on the horizon.
It takes a big man to tweet at The New Yorker:
At Peace Pavilion West, we have banished all free enterprise, becoming a ‘closed community.’ Collective love and our Supreme Leader’s revolutionary teachings shall guide us. Namaste, Eustace.
— Chris Navin (@chris_navin) February 22, 2019
Thinking one has actionable knowledge of (M)ankind’s ends while implementing those ends into political revolutions has ended up very, very badly these past generations.
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