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We Now Know
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Yesterday, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide for Donald Trump’s chief of staff, provided a key piece of evidence connecting Trump to an attempted coup after the 2020 election. We will learn more in the days to come, but we know the most important things now.First, here’s more from The Atlantic. A withering indictment of the entire GOP This fall will be a vaccination reboot. The evidence for a possible criminal case against Donald Trump is piling up. Sometimes, the sudden presentation of truth about a terrible thing—such as Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony—provides a kind of tipping point, where revelations finally move people from denial to acceptance. Think back to the Cold War, when Americans argued over whether the Soviet Union was as bad as the American government portrayed it. There were a lot of unanswered questions: Did the Soviets or the Nazis kill thousands of Poles in the Katyn Forest in 1940? Were the Rosenbergs really guilty of stealing atomic secrets? Indeed, a notable 1990 book even suggested that we might never know who really started the Korean War; there was enough blame to go around, and so we shouldn’t even ask the question.When the Soviet Union fell, however, the Russians opened some of their classified archives, and we got answers to all these questions. (Stalin ordered the Polish killings; the Rosenbergs were guilty; the Soviets and the North Koreans started the Korean War.) The Yale historian John Gaddis summarized it all in the title of his 1997 book: We Now Know. These revelations made a lot of people embarrassed and angry—perhaps more so in the West than in Russia.Which brings us to the work of the January 6 committee and Hutchinson’s testimony. From practically the moment he descended the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015, Trump’s supporters have been in denial about Trump’s emotional instability, his malignant narcissism, his fascination with violent rhetoric, and his hostility to the American constitutional order. But without a peek behind the Oval Office curtains, suspicions were only conjecture. We didn’t know for certain if Trump, after he lost in 2020, was trying to subvert the vote or seeking only to exhaust all his legal remedies. We didn’t know if he truly understood that the mob on January 6 he’d summoned was armed and dangerous. We didn’t know if he actually agreed with the chants to hang Mike Pence.We now know.Let’s leave aside the stories of Trump’s emotional derangement, such as his throwing food like a bratty toddler. It isn’t an actual violation of the Constitution to be a whiny, immature jerk.Instead, Hutchinson’s testimony gives us the last pieces we needed to see the full picture of the most important story in modern presidential history. In six simple steps, here is what we now know so far from the January 6 committee, capped by Hutchinson’s testimony. Trump knew—or refused to hear—that he did not win in November 2020. Trump directed his loyalists to launch a barrage of schemes to invalidate the vote in multiple states. Trump tried to capture the Justice Department as part of his plan to overturn the election (and he nearly succeeded). Trump on January 6 aimed a violent crowd at his own vice president and the members of the Congress of the United States. Trump knew that this crowd was armed and dangerous. Trump wanted to personally lead the mob to stop the Congress from meeting and thus end the threat to his continued rule as president. We now know what we need to know about Trump. These revelations should also convince millions of people who were willing to give Trump a second chance to rule that he is too mentally unstable ever to be allowed again near the machinery of government.My Atlantic colleague Molly Jong-Fast is optimistic that the truth is getting through to the public. I am not so sure. Will Trump’s supporters and elected Republicans finally accept the truth? Have they finally heard enough? Or will they be like the last blinkered apologists for communism who went to their graves refusing to accept the magnitude of Stalin’s massacres or believing that the Soviet Union was framed for its crimes?Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to all of these questions.Further Reading: The dumbest coup attempt The reason Liz Cheney is narrating the January 6 story Kevin McCarthy, have you no sense of decency? Today’s News Sweden and Finland have been formally invited to join NATO, as the alliance promises more support to Ukraine. The journalist Maria Ressa said that the Philippine government ordered Rappler, her news organization, to be shut down. Rappler has exposed President Rodrigo Duterte’s disinformation campaigns and his administration’s use of violence. The Department of Health and Human Services is expanding availability of the monkeypox vaccine as part of a new vaccination plan. DispatchesThe Weekly Planet: Corporate climate action has become a job perk, Robinson Meyer argues.More From The Atlantic A gross sense of entitlement How the rest of the world is returning to the office Twice a year, reindeer eyes pull off a wonderful magic trick. Culture Break Netflix Read. In Mieko Kawakami’s novel All the Lovers in the Night, each sentence is one you can feel.Watch. Did you skip the Netflix show Love Is Blind when it came out? It’s worth returning to as comfortably familiar reality fare—but also as a radical treatise on the barriers to love in a screen-mediated, swipe-happy dating world.Some readers who follow me on Twitter (where I am @RadioFreeTom) have noticed that on Saturdays, I post a lot of strange tweets about mostly forgotten 1970s pop-music hits. That’s because I and many other folks are listening to rebroadcasts of random years of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on SiriusXM’s “70s on 7” channel. You should join us (at #AT40) if you want to listen along as we count how many times Kasem mentions that an artist is “from England!” or tells us a meandering story that only leads to some truly awful single. The music can be torture, but it’s still a nice break from the dismal political news.— TomKatherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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theatlantic.com
If the January 6 Hearings Don’t Change Minds, Nothing Will
At the Global Fact international fact-checkers’ conference I attended in Oslo earlier this month, there were workshops on digital investigation, lectures on media literacy, even sessions devoted to hateful social media of the kind that sometimes gets directed at people who check facts for a living—and there are now many such people. Fact-checking is now a sophisticated, high-tech profession, with members in places all over the world—Colombia, Canada, South Africa, Taiwan. What they can do with tiny scraps of evidence is almost unsettling. Fact-checking websites and fact-checking columnists can tell you how to identify a video that has been manipulated, how to spot a fake social media account, how to geolocate an atrocity just by examining a single photograph that has appeared online.But despite all of this knowledge, fact-checkers can’t always get people to believe them. This isn’t their fault. As the writer Jonathan Rauch wrote last year in his prescient book The Constitution of Knowledge the production of verified information, as well as of public trust in that information, is a complex social process that relies on a huge range of institutions, from grand juries and inspectors general, to independent fact-checking operations and peer-reviewed academic journals. In many countries, and most dramatically in the United States, that complex social process has broken down, in part because of deliberate, targeted political assaults on precisely those institutions. And no wonder: For would-be authoritarians, the destruction of organizations dedicated to finding out what actually happened is an obvious part of the path to power. If leaders can convince people not to believe anything at all, then they can substitute the false narratives that justify their own limitless power. [Read: America is running out of time]In modern America, the best example of this phenomenon is the 35 percent of surveyed Americans—one third of the country, and two thirds of the Republican Party—who aren’t sure who won the 2020 election. As the pollster and analyst Sarah Longwell has explained, their doubts come not from their misunderstanding of specific vote counts, but from the context that they live in. Surrounded by social-media influencers and authority figures who have repeatedly attacked the veracity of the electoral process since 2016, they have come to treat with suspicion anyone who points out the absurdity of the many electoral conspiracy theories out there (Hugo Chavez manipulated the voting machines years after his death; Italian defense contractors altered the result via the internet). They simply feel doubt. Not only do facts and fact-checkers not change doubters’ minds, they harden their views. As a woman from Arizona told Longwell, “I think what convinced me more that the election was fixed was how vehemently they have said it wasn’t.”But if facts alone won’t make anyone reconsider their view of January 6, a deeper, more thoughtful, more nuanced effort to tell the story might—at least in theory. Rauch, Longwell, and the large community of fact-checkers who think about reaching that skeptical 35 percent have often argued that shouting about the objective truth will never work and that what is needed instead is the construction of trust. The designers of the January 6 committee’s hearings have taken that argument to heart. In essence, they have created a giant fact-checking project designed not only to write an accurate account of what happened in the run-up to the Capitol attack, but to convince people to believe it. The point is not to establish whether some detail that one witness reveals is true or false, but rather to tell a larger story, using a wide range of perspectives, delivered in a manner optimally designed to create trust. Towards that end, the hearings offer not just a single point or argument that can be disputed, but instead seek to embed all of the different facts into a coherent narrative. This is an evolving story, a puzzle being put together using a range of different pieces. The story begins not just when Trump lost the election, but when people whom he knew well—his daughter Ivanka, his adviser Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Bill Barr being the most notable—told him that he had lost. Having established that truth, the committee went on to show how, despite having been told that he had lost, Trump sought to steal the election anyway. Each phase leads to the next, and all of them are bound together by a single narrator: Representative Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chair, provides a single, authoritative voice that unifies the different parts of the story. Equally important is the fact that this narrative is being offered in a format that people can understand. Yes, these hearings are being run much like a Netflix series. They have a plot. It has twists and surprises—for example, the unexpected appearance of Cassidy Hutchinson, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’s executive assistant, who happened to be in several rooms where things were happening on January 6. “Episodes” sometimes end with cliffhangers—for example Cheney’s hints Tuesday that later hearings may reveal attempts to intimidate witnesses. Each set of hearings is short, offering the story in bite-sized chunks that people can absorb and then discuss before moving on. Bits of the story are sometimes leaked in advance on social media, in order to get the audience’s attention. Themes from one hearing recur in later hearings—for example, the many people around Trump who sought pardons, knowing that they had broken the law.These techniques have elicited some mockery, but the mockers are wrong. For most Americans, the format of a typical congressional hearing is hard to watch and harder to understand. The rules, made for a pre-television era, are nonsensical. The order in which things happen does not build the story or add tension. The politicians quizzing the witnesses might or might not be good at eliciting information. These formats might have worked 50 years ago, for audiences who were physically in the room and had more time and attention. They don’t work now. Instead, making the hearings seem less alien, and more like other television that Americans watch, is a way of building trust between the speakers and the audience.All of this material is being delivered on platforms that Americans actually use. It’s always been possible to watch congressional hearings on C-Span, though not many people do. The January 6 hearings are available, by contrast, on dedicated YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages. Short highlight collections assembled by TikTok users have garnered millions of views. But although the pacing of the January 6 hearings is different from what most recent congressional committees have put together, the physical location is the same. This fact-checking operation isn’t being held just anywhere; it is taking place in the halls of Congress, with American flags, with familiar backdrops, with scenery that we know from the past. The formality with which each hearing begins and ends is also an important part of encouraging viewers to trust what they are seeing.[David A. Graham: The most damning January 6 testimony yet]Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this story is being told almost entirely by Republicans. Cheney might not be popular in her own party, but nobody can deny that she is a Republican, from a famous Republican family, whose interests cannot be described by anyone as purely partisan. The most important witnesses are Republicans close to Trump. The testimony of Trump’s children, Trump’s lawyers and Trump’s Cabinet cannot be wished away as something from a left-wing fever dream. Trump’s lawyers are effective because they are Trump’s lawyers. Cassidy Hutchinson, despite her youth and lack of celebrity, made a deep impression with her testimony partly because she followed in a long line of more famous Republicans, and partly because she was clearly a Republican insider herself. That gives her words more weight.Will those for whom Hutchinson’s testimony was so carefully designed even listen? Will any of the 35 percent change their position? At least a few of the early signs are positive: Some media outlets that the 35 percent are likely to watch, including Fox News, are willing to show and discuss the hearings. One polling company has already shown that three in five Americans have heard about the investigation and that majorities support the investigation and oppose the actions of Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol.But what really matters, in the longer term, is whether the remaining two in five eventually learn about the hearings and decide to watch them, and whether the one in five surveyed Americans who believe that Trump’s coup d’état was justified change their minds. The committee is making the most elaborate, careful and nuanced attempt to reach those Americans that anyone has yet designed. The presentation will be studied, and copied, for a long time.Aside from everything else, it seeks to restore a common framework for generating knowledge—that is, a network of people and institutions and fact-checking mechanisms whose overall story should resist even the attempts to cast doubt on one or another witness. Should, of course, is the operative word here. The Trump family, and Trump’s supporters, will indeed try to pick apart the committee's work, to break up the narrative, to criticize one line in someone’s testimony, to describe the whole effort as biased or unfair. They have already smeared Hutchinson, and won't stop there. But if the committee’s guess is right, it won’t be a single person’s testimony that matters—not Ivanka Trump’s, not Hutchinson’s—but rather the combined weight of dozens of witnesses. These accounts will at least make it difficult for anyone to defend Trump’s behavior on that day, and in the days that followed. Those who aren't convinced by this testimony never will be.
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theatlantic.com
Vodou Probably Isn’t What You Think
Though Alain Pierre-Louis grew up in a Haitian family that attended Catholic church services most Sundays, he always felt a spiritual pull toward something else. Vodou, a Haitian religion rooted in ancestral remembrance, nature, healing, and justice, was embedded everywhere in his Boston childhood—in the traditional rasin, or “roots,” music blaring from the living-room speakers, and in the Haitian-folkloric-dance performances he would go to with his relatives. But though the art influenced by Vodou was celebrated, the religion itself was considered taboo and a nonstarter at home. “There was no explanation; it was just, ‘No, you don’t need to learn that,’” Pierre-Louis, a 31-year-old environmental educator, told me. “[My parents] wanted me to embrace my culture except that part, our spirituality.”The anti-Vodou sentiment Pierre-Louis encountered from his parents is part of a long tradition of misinformation and discomfort about the religion. Tracing back to the 1600s, Vodou was founded as a unifying religion among enslaved Africans who had previously practiced different spiritual systems in their respective ethnic groups on the continent. Yet since its inception, it has been dogged by propaganda that paints it as diabolical sorcery—the perpetrators of chattel slavery led the earliest campaigns to portray Vodou as sinister. In his observations of the Africans living in Saint-Domingue (which would later become Haiti), the Martinican enslaver Médéric Louis Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry wrote, “In a word, nothing is more dangerous, according to all the accounts, than this cult of Vaudoux. It is founded on the extravagant idea, which can be made into a terrible weapon, that the ministers of the said being know and can do anything.” That characterization has endured for centuries, with modern-day popular culture depicting the religion’s followers as people who engage in black magic or demon worship. (One of the most common portrayals of Vodou in American film, for instance, is that of evil spells cast by practitioners using needle-poked dolls, a falsified representation of Vodou rituals.)But a contingent of Vodou devotees in the U.S. is trying to dispel those misconceptions and reclaim the public narrative about the religion. “I have taken some of my friends to ceremonies, and they come to understand Vodou differently … not from the perspective of Hollywood or white people,” Pierre-Louis said. “Vodou is very big on respecting nature, remembering the ancestors, and the rhythm and vibration through dance, song, and the drum. Vodou is energy.” He’s part of a growing group of Haitian Americans who are challenging harmful stereotypes about Vodou and creating communities to learn about this complex system of Black spirituality and cosmology for themselves.In 1804, Haiti became the first and only Black republic formed by people who had successfully overthrown their enslavers. One of the events credited as a major catalyst for the Haitian Revolution was a Vodou ceremony at Bwa Kayiman, a wooded area on the island. The leaders of the insurrection were Vodou practitioners, and it is believed that on that night they called on all of the Vodou lwa, or “spirits,” to guide and protect them as they took up arms in resistance.The fallout from that hard-won liberation was swift. In the anthology Vodou in Haitian Memory, the historian Brandon R. Byrd explains, “In a world dominated by slaveholding powers, the prevailing wisdom was that Haitians had all but eliminated their chances for future progress by liberating themselves from bondage and asserting their independence … By the late nineteenth century, journalists, businessmen, politicians, and travel writers from the United States and Western Europe came to identify Vodou as the primary cause and the most damning evidence of Haitian barbarism.” That scaremongering persists today, especially among the American evangelical Christians who establish churches and nonprofits across Haiti. Repeating a popular line of thought, for instance, the televangelist Pat Robertson falsely declared that the country’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake—which decimated its capital and killed hundreds of thousands of people—was caused by the Haitians who “got together and swore a pact to the devil” to attain their freedom. And recently, in videos posted to social media, Pastor Keion ​​Henderson, who heads the Lighthouse Church in Houston, blamed poverty and disease in Haiti on “voodoo.” (Henderson has since apologized.)Outsiders have held an oversize role in defining Vodou in the public consciousness, which has in turn affected the way many Haitians and Haitian Americans themselves view the religion. Father Jean Fritz Bazin, a Haitian Episcopalian priest in Miami, told me that in his conversations with fellow Haitian priests and parishioners, he’s found that they believe in Vodou, but only within the context of harm. For example, if someone experiences financial hardships, falls ill, or dies suddenly, Vodou is commonly blamed. “The Church becomes a refuge because people fear Vodou. [It] is presented as evil,” Bazin said. Christian churches in Haiti have long used Vodou as a recruitment tool by presenting it as “against God.” And when the religion was slandered as “uncivilized” by Western nations, past Haitian governments sought to allay foreign fears and exert control over practitioners by criminalizing Vodou in the country. Still, cultural remnants of Vodou are present in the everyday lives of many Haitian Christians—whether they admit it or not—according to Bazin. A popular saying on the island goes, “Haiti is 90 percent Catholic, 10 percent Protestant, and 100 percent Vodou.” For his part, Pierre-Louis was determined to explore Vodou for himself and delve more deeply into the religion that had always existed in his periphery. In college, he educated himself through academic texts, and he continued his learning under the tutelage of Haitian elders in Miami, where he now lives, and in Haiti, where he frequently visits. He became a houngan, a Vodou priest, and last year, he co-founded Lakou Ti Ayiti, a Haitian cultural organization that hosts online and in-person gatherings to teach Vodou philosophy, rituals, and art. A lakou, the Haitian Creole word for “family compound,” is a physical communal space where traditions and historical knowledge are shared and preserved. But Lakou Ti Ayiti’s digital component has expanded that reach exponentially. It “has springboarded how we educate and touch people worldwide,” said Pierre-Louis. “I have people from Brazil who’ve reached out to me, after seeing us hold on to our culture in the United States.”The same calling that gripped Pierre-Louis also came to Portsha Jefferson, a 50-year-old professional dancer and choreographer living in Oakland, California. At least once a month, Jefferson convenes performances, dance-movement sessions, or virtual lectures about Vodou. I attended one of her Zoom talks, which drew about 50 participants from across the U.S. and featured a discussion on Ezili Danto—the Vodou lwa who embodies motherhood and love for her children. The guest speaker, Charlene Désir, a manbo, or Vodou priestess, and professor of education, gave an impassioned address about how Danto was one of the lwa called on by Haitians ahead of the revolution that culminated in 1804, underscoring the importance of women in both the religion and Black liberation.A few days later, I spoke with Jefferson by phone about holding a public space to discuss and learn about Vodou, a religion that historically has been practiced in secret in this country, partly because of the stigma. “As Vodouisants we have a duty to uphold and preserve this tradition because there is so much misinformation,” she said, using the Haitian Creole term for a Vodou devotee. “We have to talk about the goodness of it, the healing in it. And so I created a digital lakou for us to come together, learn, study, and to be together.” Vodou scholars, healers, and practitioners are invited to lead discussions and workshops in Jefferson’s lakou; each of her gatherings tends to attract dozens of people from various backgrounds.Jefferson’s entry into Vodou was through dance—she took a Haitian-folklore-dance class in college where she learned about the deeper spiritual meanings connected to the movements. Her extensive research (and her mother’s revelation that Jefferson’s great-grandmother was from Haiti) then led Jefferson to take a trip to the country in 2003. After later attending a series of Vodou ceremonies in New York and Boston, Jefferson said that she felt called to become an initiate. In the book Nan Dòmi: An Initiate’s Journey to Vodou, the Haitian singer and anthropologist Mimerose Beaubrun writes that there are many openings and invitations into Vodou: “Dance is a passport that permits you to take long journeys into the unknown.” As such, Jefferson also runs Rara Tou Limen, a Haitian dance company, in her neighborhood. “Dance, for me, is Vodou and it’s a way of life,” she said. It’s “how you move, how you breathe.” Sharing her spiritual journey through dance and hosting her online lakou are how Jefferson says she can make a true image of Vodou accessible to a wide group of people.For Riva Nyri Précil, a 32-year-old visual artist and singer, working against hundreds of years of indoctrination to demystify this Haiti-born spirituality is no small feat. “There’s been so much work done against Vodou, so it’s a bold choice to do this in the open,” Précil, who was born in New York and raised in Haiti before moving back to the States as a teenager, told me. “I believe in practicing Vodou as my birthright as a Haitian. Vodou is our lifestyle. We practice it through the food we eat, the language we speak, and through our music.”Weeks ago, Précil hosted a celebration on a Brooklyn rooftop to honor Kouzen Zaka, the Haitian spirit of agriculture and farmers, for whom the month of May is feted. To her more than 99,000 Instagram followers, she extended an invitation encouraging them to bring offerings for Zaka—tobacco pipes, corn, and fruit—for a community-built altar. About 150 people showed up, some wearing Zaka’s signature denim clothes and straw hat. At one point in the evening, attendees formed a cluster dancing and singing to the rhythms of live drums. “It’s very fulfilling for me to do this work, because it’s necessary,” she said. “I’m inspired every day to learn more, create more, teach more, and to help others regain our identity proudly.” In asserting themselves as the ones who get to rightfully tell the Vodou story and correct decades of distortion, Haitian Americans like Précil are employing the same liberation ethos upon which the religion was born.
theatlantic.com
National Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic Announce “Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery”
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic announce a new, multi-platform collaboration titled “Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery.” As part of the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent-collection galleries, the Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic will highlight a selection of the country’s founding voices in literature, politics, philosophy, and culture with interpretive wall texts written by The Atlantic’s contemporary writers and editors. The project will premiere in person and online beginning July 1 with the reopening of the museum’s “Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” exhibition, and it will coincide with the magazine’s 165th anniversary year.The collaboration will present commentary from The Atlantic’s writers reflecting on the work and legacy of prior Atlantic contributors whose portraits are on view at the museum, such as Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis. The new wall texts, written by The Atlantic’s journalists, will draw connections between the magazine’s historic focus on abolition, its current engagement with social justice and civil rights, and the museum’s many portraits of diverse activists. Also included will be the likenesses of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, three of the founders who established The Atlantic in Boston in 1857.Visitors will be able to experience these portraits at the museum or virtually through an online tour, available now, complete with audio descriptions read by each author. Beginning July 1, eight portraits will be on view in “Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” on the Portrait Gallery’s first floor, with five others installed in the museum’s second- and third-floor galleries. The online tour includes the 13 artworks on view in the museum alongside additional portraits for the project’s full suite of more than 20 sitters and a project video. Other newly interpreted portraits will be installed throughout the museum in the coming years.“History is always changing and evolving depending on who holds the pen,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with The Atlantic’s writers for their perspective on these historic figures.”“The Atlantic has been central to the intellectual, cultural, and political life of our country for 165 years,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s editor in chief. “Our partners at the National Portrait Gallery have performed a great service by highlighting our writers and their contributions to the progress of the American experiment.”“Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery” is the latest endeavor between the museum and The Atlantic. The two entities will also collaborate on public programs in the coming year, and the Portrait Gallery will host writers on Season 4 of the museum’s PORTRAITS podcast.“Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” is sponsored by Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff and the Terra Foundation for American Art.NOTE TO THE EDITORS:Portraits to be on display as of July 1Sitters & The Atlantic WritersLouisa May Alcott & Adrienne LaFrance, executive editorFrederick Douglass & George Packer, staff writerRalph Waldo Emerson & Vann R. Newkirk II, senior editorNathaniel Hawthorne & Ann Hulbert, literary editorJulia Ward Howe & Anna Deavere Smith, contributing writerMartin Luther King Jr. & Peter Wehner, contributing writerJohn Lewis & Ibram X. Kendi, contributing writerHenry Wadsworth Longfellow & Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chiefA. Philip Randolph & Caitlin Dickerson, staff writerCarl Sandburg & Anne Applebaum, staff writerHarriet Beecher Stowe & Drew Gilpin Faust, contributing writerHarry S. Truman & Yoni Appelbaum, deputy editorBooker T. Washington & Adam Harris, staff writerNational Portrait GalleryThe Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story.The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G Streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.The AtlanticSince 1857, The Atlantic has been a magazine of ideas—a home to the best writers and boldest minds, who bring clarity and original thinking to the most important issues of the current times. Through its journalism, it aims to help its readers better understand the world and its possibilities as they navigate the complexities of daily life. Record audiences and numbers of subscribers have turned to The Atlantic’s exacting coverage of the pandemic and its consequences, of threats to global democracy and issues of race and inequity. Jeffrey Goldberg is The Atlantic’s editor in chief; Nick Thompson is the CEO. The Atlantic earned the top honor for magazines, General Excellence, at the 2022 National Magazine Awards.Press Contacts:Concetta Duncan | National Portrait Gallery202.633.9989, duncanc@si.eduAnna Bross | The Atlantic202.680.3848, anna@theatlantic.comCredits of Portraits Above: “Harry S. Truman, 1884–1972,” by Jay Wesley Jacobs / “Louisa May Alcott, 1832–1888.” Cast after: Frank Edwin Elwell; Foundry: Roman Bronze Works Inc. / “Richard Wright, 1908–1960,” by Carl Van Vechten / “Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910,” begun by John Elliott; finished by William Henry Cotton / “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882,” by Thomas Buchanan Read / “Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1835–1910,” by John White Alexander / “Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804–1864,” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze / “Frederick Douglass, 1818–1895,” by Unidentified Artist / “Booker T. Washington, 1856–1919.” Cast after: Richmond Barthé; Foundry: Modern Art Foundry.
theatlantic.com
How the Rest of the World Is Returning to the Office
Across much of the industrialized world, with notable exceptions, everyday life has returned to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. Travel restrictions have largely been lifted. In the West at least, masks have mostly disappeared from shops and public transport. Restaurants, theaters, museums, sports stadiums, and concert halls are once again brimming with locals and tourists alike.But one place hasn’t reverted to its pre-pandemic status. Starting in March 2020, COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions of office workers around the world out of their workplaces and into their living rooms, kitchens, and, for the luckier among them, home offices. So began the great remote-work experiment that nobody asked for—one that is still going on for many white-collar workers. Only now, it’s by choice and habit. Despite the fact that many workplaces have reopened their doors, a significant proportion of workers—not to mention some of their employers—have been reluctant to return to the office five days a week. Some have sworn off ever going into an office again.In the United States, about a third of office workers had returned to fully in-person work by the end of the first quarter of this year, according to unpublished data shared with me by Future Forum, a research group at Slack that surveyed more than 10,000 knowledge workers across six countries. And the rest of the world isn’t rushing back to the office either: Only 26 percent in Britain, 28 percent in Australia, 32 percent in Germany, and 35 percent in France have done so. Japan is a bit of an outlier—there, more than half of white-collar workers are back in the building—but elsewhere, most employees either continued working fully remotely or split their time in a hybrid model; more than three-quarters of those canvassed in a separate, published survey from Future Forum said they liked this flexibility. Although exclusively remote working is still common enough in the U.S., Australia, and Britain (where about a quarter to a fifth of workers don’t go into an office at all), the practice has dwindled in Germany, Japan, and France (averaging about one in 10).The type of industries a country has, and the makeup of its workforce, account for some of the differences. Wealthier countries tend to have more of the kinds of employment that lend themselves to remote work. When I asked experts about the main reasons driving preferences for hybrid and remote work, the most common answer had to do with commuting. Although those who live within walking distance of their workplace may find it convenient to return to the office, many others who have to brave traffic congestion in cars or journeys on crowded public transportation may be less inclined, especially five days a week. This is particularly true in countries such as Britain, where before the pandemic, workers would on average spend more than an hour commuting each day—time that has since been repurposed for catching up on sleep, doing household chores, or caring for family members and pets. In London, despite an extensive mass-transit system, nearly three-quarters of workers say they’ll never go back to their pre-pandemic ways.The question of returning to fully in-person work also comes down to very practical considerations such as the size of peoples’ homes, their living situations, and the reliability of their internet connections. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist and a co-founder of the WFH Research project, told me that rates of remote working are relatively low in Southern European cities, for example, because apartments tend to be smaller there than they are elsewhere on the continent. The same may be true of countries such as Japan, where notoriously cramped living quarters have also made remote work less desirable. Age and family circumstances also play a role: Young people are generally more eager to return to the office, but workers with children tend to place a premium on working from home at least part of the time.Differences aside, one trend is clear: Around the world, office workers prefer a hybrid model that allows them to split their time between home and the office by having an option to work remotely at least two days a week, according to a WFH Research survey of nearly 33,000 workers across 25 countries. So valuable did those surveyed consider this flexibility that, on average, they’d trade a 5 percent pay raise to have it.[Read: There’s a perfect number of days to work from home, and it’s 2]“Flexibility is now basically table stakes for the vast majority of the knowledge-worker population,” Brian Elliott, the executive leader of Future Forum, told me. This shift is forcing employers to rethink not only where work happens, but also when. Although an emphatic 79 percent of people want flexibility about location, Elliott added, an even more significant 94 percent want flexibility about their schedule.“Most people do value the interaction they get, and the networking and the socializing and the learning that they get, in the office; they just don’t want to do it five days a week,” Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago and a co-founder of WFH Research, told me. The presenteeist bureaucratic model that has defined office work over the past several decades “has certainly broken,” Davis added, “and I don’t expect it to return.”That isn’t a belief that all companies, let alone world leaders, seem to share. Many top executives have stressed office-working as important for cultivating collaboration and innovation (despite the fact that nonexecutive employees are nearly twice as likely as executives to be working from the office five days a week, according to the Future Forum survey). Another striking discrepancy emerges in employer and employee attitudes about how efficient remote work is: More than half of the business leaders surveyed for Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index expressed fears that productivity had taken a hit as a result of the shift away from in-person work, but 80 percent of employees surveyed said they were just as, if not more, productive.[Read: Why managers fear a remote-work future]This new age of work may favor workers more than their bosses. If a business such as Tesla mandates that its employees return to full-time office work, those employees do not lack other options. (In Elon Musk’s case, this uncompromising message may have had less to do with an antipathy toward remote working than as a way of shrinking the payroll without having to make formal job cuts.) Not only have numerous companies already announced longer-term flexible-working arrangements, but some are also using them as a recruitment tool to draw talent from their competitors.In May, Airbnb said that its careers page received 800,000 visits following the company’s announcement that the majority of its roughly 14,000 U.S. domestic and international employees would have the flexibility to continue working from home, or anywhere else, on a permanent basis. Future Forum’s survey found that those who don’t get the flexibility they’re looking for are more than twice as likely to say that they will “definitely” look for a new job in the next year. Jane Parry, an associate professor in the business school at Britain’s University of Southampton, told me that work arrangements are becoming a top issue for job candidates in interviews.As employers reckon with what a shift to more flexible working arrangements will mean for the future of the office, they must also consider the impact that resisting this move could have on business. This is particularly true of companies in countries such as Japan and Germany, which are already experiencing shrinking workforces as a result of aging populations. According to Steffen Kampeter, the head of the BDA, Germany’s employers’ association, accommodating arrangements and “respectful attitudes toward the wishes of employees … to keep them in the organization” will now be “the new normal.”Whether the change proves permanent is another question. As my Atlantic colleague Derek Thompson writes, if a looming recession materializes, that could put power back in the hands of employers, giving them the leverage to halt or reverse a global shift to hybrid work. But the way many of the experts I spoke with see it, the trend already has an unstoppable momentum.Recession or no recession, “top talent is always in demand,” Future Forum’s Elliott said. “If you lose the wrong people in a downturn, things get worse, not better.”
theatlantic.com
The Conservative Women Radicalizing Amish Literature
On a chilly morning this past January, the writer Lucinda J. Kinsinger strapped her baby daughter into her car seat and drove two-plus hours from her home in rural Oakland, Maryland, to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. She was headed to a day-long women writers’ gathering at a private residence, where the atmosphere ended up being part networking event, part craft workshop, part casual mom hang (a trio of babies sat gumming toys for the duration). All clad in floor-length dresses, the 15 or so women present talked about topics that would be familiar to most writer moms, such as sticking to deadlines when domestic duties called and how to nurture a love of writing and reading in their children. But then they asked one another a question perhaps less expected: If writing was such a meaningful part of their lives, why did they avoid the topic with their church friends?The women are all members of Conservative Anabaptist churches, and they’re part of a growing network of professional female writers intent on enhancing the quality of Plain Anabaptist literature. In Christian terminology, Plain refers to Anabaptist sects like Conservative Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish. The groups share roots in Radical Reformation-era Switzerland, a period rife with religious movements whose leaders claimed Martin Luther hadn’t gone far enough in his efforts to revolutionize Christianity. The word Anabaptist is derived from their founding belief that only baptisms performed on adults were legitimate, a deeply heretical position at the time. Today, Plain Anabaptists have many beliefs in common, including pacifism, strictly defined gender roles, a “plain” style of dress, and a wariness of individualism and technology. But because each church is self-governing, there’s a wider array of practice than outsiders might readily pick up on. For example, some Mennonite churches leave technology usage up to members’ discretion while others explicitly disallow unfiltered internet or social media. And some Amish churches might permit laptops for work purposes, but not smartphones. (TV is verboten across the spectrum of Conservative Anabaptism.)Historically, Anabaptist literature has largely consisted of “idealized Sunday-school stories,” as Kinsinger put it to me. A high degree of cultural conformity, plus a desire to maintain a wholesome image, means there’s typically been little room for storytelling that doesn’t reflect positively on the collective. There is a sense “that writing is just a little bit of a suspicious pursuit, and you shouldn’t do it unless you have a really good reason and you write something that’s maybe specifically evangelistic, about Jesus, about your Christian life,” Dorcas Smucker, a former newspaper columnist from near Harrisburg, Oregon, told me over Zoom. “If you can maybe prove that it really blessed somebody, then okay.”But a new crop of ambitious Plain women writers like Kinsinger is striving to create a literary canon that shows true Plain life, warts and all. Smucker is compiling her seventh book of personal essays based on the columns she wrote for The Register-Guard, which cover both the mundane––like berry picking with her family––and weightier topics like a relative’s death by suicide. (The death happened generations ago, but “my aunt was very upset at me,” Smucker told me of that essay’s original publishing.) Shari Zook is a blogger and the author of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church leadership. The author of a book about recurrent miscarriages, Stephanie J. Leinbach, maintained a blog about the challenges of parenting a child with severe epilepsy––or did, until her Mennonite church sent out guidance forbidding social media, prompting her to shut her site down. (She continues to email her work to subscribers, which is seen as less public.) Meanwhile, the memoirist and food writer Sherry Gore does something many might find surprising from a religious woman who wears a bonnet and an apron: She posts selfies to Instagram.These women are deeply committed to their religious values, but they sometimes struggle to reconcile them with their professional aspirations. They’re a part of a community that believes that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission” and that they cannot “assume authority over a man,” as it says in 1 Timothy, but they also want to be a public voice. They strive to live simply and to not set themselves apart from the group, in accordance with what they view as New Testament commands, but they write about themselves and engage in self-promotion to get their work noticed. In a culture where large families are the norm, day care is virtually unheard-of, and the standards for domesticity are high, they pursue a career that requires spending long stretches of quiet time alone.[Read: How a polarizing best seller became required reading for Orthodox Jewish women]In the face of such tension, loose constellations of support have formed. The women email or WhatsApp one another, promote one another’s work on their blogs, and meet up at writers’ groups in Anabaptist strongholds across the Midwest or at the annual Christian Light Writers and Artists’ Conference, in Virginia (a sample seminar title from this year’s conference: “Turning Life Experiences Into Stories”). They commiserate when others in the community chide them for spending their time on something so untraditional or dismiss their writing as a hobby, or when projects don’t come to fruition. “We email each other all the time, checking on, like, ‘How are you doing after that post blew up in your face? How are you doing in your church situation?’” Zook told me. “There’s a whole bunch of encouragement and joy that is happening behind the scenes.”Professional Plain women writers are not an entirely new phenomenon. Smucker remembers her mother reading books by Christmas Carol Kauffman and Clara Bernice Miller, both of whom wrote lightly fictionalized stories about their Plain upbringings. Kauffman’s and Miller’s works are predecessors of Amish fiction, a popular romance subgenre often pejoratively dubbed “bonnet rippers” because the covers invariably feature a young female model wearing a gauze head covering and a wistful gaze. Often marketed toward middle-aged evangelical female readers, the stereotypical bonnet romance features a chaste courting scenario between two Plain teenagers; sometimes, the protagonist finds herself tempted by the trappings of mainstream culture, perhaps in the figure of an intriguing “English” stranger, as the non-Amish are called, but rarely does she ever flee the Amish entirely.But few popular writers of Amish fiction are Plain themselves, and this newer generation of Plain writers is almost universal in its dismissal of the genre, which is “written by people who do not know the culture,” Smucker said. The Amish writer and artist Amy Schlabach told me over the phone that she worries that the genre simultaneously demonizes the Amish (by focusing too much on things like shunning) and fetishizes them. Once, Schlabach saw an ad in her local paper for a book talk given by the non-Plain author Shelley Shepard Gray and decided to attend, because she’d recently enjoyed Gray’s series set in Gilded Age Chicago. She hadn’t realized Gray also wrote Amish fiction. At the event, Schlabach struck up a conversation with a non-Plain fan of Amish fiction, who began waxing poetic about how “romantic” it was to do laundry with a Maytag wringer washer. “I was like, It’s just laundry!”The Plain women writers of today are not content to churn out the same old evangelizing, moralistic stories. Their role models are thinkers like Dickens, Steinbeck, and Austen––hardly salacious by 21st-century standards, but containing far more conflict than your average Amish romance novel or inspirational Christian text. And they view literature as a tool to broaden one’s mind (college attendance is uncommon, particularly for women, but it’s becoming slightly more accepted in certain Mennonite circles; it’s still rare for an Amish person to attend school beyond the eighth grade). Growing up in a Mennonite household, Leinbach recalls being able to “disappear” inside a story. “I wanted to make magic for other people in the same way that I found magic between the covers of my favorite books,” she told me. Many of these women dream of writing the Great American Anabaptist Novel, even if that means depicting flawed characters or posing questions that aren’t neatly answered by scripture. “I’ve been talking for years about writing Mennonite fiction,” Smucker, who was raised in an Amish family and married into a Mennonite one, told me. “Not only because I want to develop that skill, but because if I’m going to fuss and rant about Amish fiction, I really ought to provide an alternative.”Providing that alternative, though, can be complicated. These women recognize that there are some practical advantages to being Plain writers, such as having a ready-made audience of voracious, Netflix-less book buyers. “With marketing, it’s wonderful because there’s such a network,” Smucker said. “If I published a new book, I have no trouble getting the word out in the Mennonite world, because there’s just connections everywhere.” But though it’s easy to reach others like them, many of these women strive for a broad, diverse readership. “I wish I could get a book accepted by a non-Mennonite publisher or press,” Leinbach told me, mostly because she craves a more rigorous editing process. In Kinsinger’s memoir Anything But Simple, she writes of an aspiration somewhat at odds with simplicity: “to be listed on the New York Times bestseller list, to be placed in anthologies and translated into Portuguese, to be discussed in colleges 120 years from now.”What’s more, writing rarely pays well, and can pull you away from your family even when your home life is your material. “It’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be to juggle everything with a baby,” said Kinsinger, who, in addition to her three published works (two memoirs, one children’s book), develops creative-writing curriculums for Christian Light, a religious publisher and homeschooling resource, and writes a column for Anabaptist World. She and the other women I spoke with cut corners to make sure they have time for both writing and housework. They outsource their sewing, or buy produce rather than grow it all themselves, or ditch cloth diapers for disposable ones. In some cases, their choices have elicited judgment specifically from other homemakers. “The times that I’ve been criticized for writing came from women,” Leinbach said. But she, like many of the other women I spoke with, has learned to tune out most of the communal disapproval, whether explicit or inferred. “I have decided that when it comes to what people think about my writing, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m answerable to God and to my husband for how I use my time,” she said. “And if both of them are happy with me, then it doesn’t matter what other people think.”A number of Conservative Mennonite and Amish leaders––who are all laymen, chosen by lot––recognize the tension in being Plain and pursuing writing. “It has more to do with the tone of the writing,” Henry Schlabach, an Amish minister from Wayne County, Ohio, said. (Amy Schlabach, his sister-in-law, translated his responses from Pennsylvania Dutch.) “Are they sharing personal experiences or promoting themselves?” Ryan Jarmon, a minister at a Conservative Mennonite church in Coleman, Michigan, expanded on this in an email: “Anabaptists strive to be practical, humble people. They generally have a strong work ethic and value excellence in what they do. However, there is a feeling that success in writing or singing (really the only common artistic forms in our communities) can lead to pride,” a serious infraction.Jarmon also wondered about the subject matter of the new work coming out. “There has been an increase of personal ‘tell-all’ stories about neglect or abuse of various sorts,” he wrote. “While some feel there is value in opening up and sharing these experiences in a discreet manner, these books are generally quite controversial. We acknowledge that we have our flaws, but we prefer positive and encouraging writing rather than muckraking expose.” None of the men who weighed in thought there was any particular issue in being a woman writer.Regardless of whether there’s a consensus on the theological gender-specific issues with writing, Conservative Anabaptist women writers still face unique work-life barriers. Maybe it would be easier for them if they were part of the mainstream; they could hire a housekeeper, boast about their accomplishments online guilt-free, or write about anything they please, no matter how transgressive. But these women don’t want to escape; their whole lives are bound up with their communities. “My people are so rich and warm,” Kinsinger said. “I love them so much.” Broadly speaking, they view many of their restrictions as grounded in wisdom rather than unnecessarily onerous. “There’s so much out there that people are really slaves to,” Amy Schlabach said. “It’s really freeing to not be under those obligations.” Even Leinbach is sanguine about having to give up blogging because of the social-media ban: “Doesn’t make it easy,” she said. “But I’m okay with it. I don’t hold any resentment.”From the outside, the dilemma of Plain communities might seem like the parable of the little Dutch boy: If they don’t keep that finger firmly plugged in the dike, their society will be inundated and destroyed by modernity, whether the subtle creep of American individualism or the more overt one of technology. But Plain people have been navigating these tensions––between public and private, sacred and profane, analog and high-tech, personal desires and communal ones––for centuries. In the future, further shifts will undoubtedly occur. The range of acceptable subjects for writing might widen slightly, and the wariness of social media might lessen. But like the Dutch boy, they will continue to restrict themselves so as to prevent catastrophe, even if that sometimes involves sacrifice, because they value their way of life too much. The water will still come in, of course––it always does––just in a trickle, not a flood.
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theatlantic.com
The 10-Year-Old Tweet That Still Defines the Internet
Though everybody complains about Twitter, no one can deny that it has brought some amazing phrases into our lives—things we can’t imagine having read in any other place, or at any other time in history. Near the top of any list of the most treasured sentence fragments posted there, the now-defunct account @Horse_ebooks would have several entries. Twitter users still recirculate strange classics like “(using fingers to indicate triangular shape) SMELL SMELL SMELL GOOD NEW NEW NEW slice drink MATCH SPARKLER (thrown in air) STARS STARS STARS.” But the best-known @Horse_ebooks tweet, posted 10 years ago today, was astounding in its clarity and salience. It described both the internet and our entire human world. “Everything happens so much,” @Horse_ebooks tweeted on June 28, 2012.The tweet was an immediate success, generating thousands of retweets and spreading across the site like a copy-pasted prayer. Its renown has only grown since then. Over the past 10 years, “Everything happens so much” has been turned into a shrine and a site of pilgrimage for those who spend their lives in front of a computer. When the news is not just bad but overwhelming, people search out “Everything happens so much” and reply to it or repost it to their feeds, often with a note like “now more than ever” or “the eternal mood.” These messages acknowledge what feels like ancient wisdom: The absolute best we can say about this moment in time is that everything is happening, as it always has and always will, so much.The reposts of the tweet provide, in combination, a cryptic catalog of recent history’s most dizzying events. A retweet on January 30, 2017 likely had something to do with President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and the subsequent protests at New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport. One from September 25, 2019, seems connected to the announcement of the first Trump impeachment inquiry. The replies and references to “Everything happens so much” in March 2020 marked the onset of the pandemic, while a February 24, 2022, reply surely commemorates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.When the sacred tweet first appeared, it was understood to be the product of an algorithm. The account, @horse_ebooks, had started as a spambot, pulling text from an e-commerce site and posting it as marketing. It developed a following because it was poorly written, and because its random phrases sometimes read like the mystical mumbles of a sleeping fortune-teller. But then in September 2013, just 15 months after “Everything happens so much,” fans of @Horse_ebooks learned the truth: The “bot” had, in fact, been dead for years. In 2011, the account had been taken over and turned into a performance-art project run by Jacob Bakkila, and his friend Thomas Bender. Bakkila had purchased the account from the e-commerce spammer, and started tweeting snippets of found—but carefully selected—text from all over the internet, including instructional e-books and scans of public records. Bakkila told The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean that he couldn’t remember exactly where his most famous tweet had come from, but thought the original context might have been, “Everything happens so much faster when you’re retired.” In chopping that sentence in half, Orlean noted, Bakkila had made it koan-like. “I was trying to wrest wisdom from these wisdomless piles of information,” he agreed.For many fans, the reveal ruined everything. “We believed we were watching the digital work mutter happily to itself about us, its anxious masters,” my colleague Robinson Meyer wrote at the time. “We thought we were obliging a program, a thing which needs no obliging, whereas in fact we were falling for a plan.” The fact of this disappointment betrays a funny optimism, circa the early 2010s, about the power and promise of passing human intelligence through a machine in order to distill or expand it. By the middle of the decade, we’d figured out what really happens when computers are programmed to make use of wells of human-generated content: They end up spewing hate speech, or collecting invasive amounts of data, or producing racially biased outputs. But for a time, @Horse_ebooks seemed to be doing just the opposite. It was sifting through our mess of online chatter and transmuting it into aperçus that could be beautiful and oddly true. “Unfortunately, as you probably already know, people,” it said in July 2012. “We all agree, no one looks cool,” it tweeted five months later. And then: “Avoid situations.” Finally, the “algorithm” turned out to be just some guy, whose identity was revealed in coordination with a same-day performance at a Manhattan gallery.We seem to have gotten over the insult. With time, @Horse_ebooks regained its status as a mysterious source of wisdom and art, and “Everything happens so much” came to be a mantra. Twitter users have called it the “general tweet of the decade” and “the defining text of our age.” It has been used as the title for essays, songs, at least one novel, and an orchestral arrangement. Recently, I emailed Bakkila to ask how he feels about this legacy. “Whenever someone uses a Horse_ebooks tweet from 2012 to respond to the everything that, despite our efforts, continues to happen so much, they’re adding another sedan to the infinite re-re-recontextualized pileup,” he responded. “It’s as good as any way I’ve seen to respond to the shocking future we live in.”Oddly, our shocking future has ended up producing a moment of renewed wonder at the mystery of machines and their connection to humanity. When a writer tried to reanimate his dead girlfriend with an AI text generator, some found it haunting and beautiful. When a Google engineer became convinced that a company chatbot had become sentient—a conclusion he arrived at “in his capacity as a priest, not a scientist,” as The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku reported—that was fascinating, too. OpenAI’s GPT-3 and DALL-E 2 programs, which produce realistic text and images, have enchanted not just nerds, but everyone; the latter was used to create a cover for the current issue of Cosmopolitan, showing a woman in a slim-fitting spacesuit marching toward the viewer. An OpenAI employee, quoted in the magazine, described that picture with stars in her eyes: “That badass woman astronaut is how I feel right now: swaggering on into a future I am excited to be a part of.”That sentence was published during the eight-week span between the revelation that Roe v. Wade would be overturned and last week’s official declaration that it was. The only response I could muster to reading it was to use the public version of DALL-E, now called Craiyon, to generate nine slightly different images of Carrie Bradshaw jumping off a cliff. At this particular moment, our AI toys aren’t doing a very good job of reflecting us at all. They are just doodling absurdities.If @Horse_ebooks did share some real, human wisdom, maybe that’s because it had a real, human author. “Everything happens so much” captures the way that horror recurs even as it always feels final. When the Roe decision came down, I was knocked off my feet, even though we knew it would happen and even though it had kind of already happened before, and I was also knocked off my feet that time. The tweet can always be said to describe “this week”; it always makes sense to be “really feeling this today”; and it is constantly the case that it “has never been more true than now.”
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theatlantic.com