Welcome to Up for Debate. Each week, Conor Friedersdorf rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Question of the Week
If there were a Hall of Fame for song lyrics and you got to make one nomination, what would it be and why? (The linguist John McWhorter might pick something from Steely Dan.)
Send your responses to [email protected].
Conversations of Note
Here at The Atlantic I made the case this week that most of the money that companies are spending on DEI consultants ought to be redirected to the poor. For the main argument, I hope you’ll check out the article. I’ll whet your appetite with my gloss on how the DEI industry exploded so rapidly:
On rare occasions, a depraved act captures the attention of a nation so completely that there is a widespread impulse to vow “never again” and to act in the hope of making good on that promise. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination prompted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, triggered a global war against al-Qaeda, among many other things, including the tenuously connected invasion and occupation of Iraq.
[George] Floyd’s murder was similarly galvanizing. Arresting, trying, and convicting the police officers involved, and implementing new police training, was the most immediate response. But Floyd’s story suggested some additional possibilities. With several criminal convictions in his past, Floyd tried to turn his life around, preaching nonviolence in a neighborhood plagued by gun crime, serving as a mentor to young people, and trying to stay employed. He also struggled with drug addiction, layoffs due to circumstances beyond his control, and money problems that presumably played a role in the counterfeit bill he was trying to pass on the day that he was killed. If a callous police officer was the primary cause of his death, secondary causes were as complex and varied as poverty in America.
So how strange––how obscene, in fact––that America’s professional class largely reacted to Floyd’s murder not by lavishing so much of the resources spent in his name on helping poor people, or the formerly (or currently) incarcerated, or people with addictions, or the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers, or children of single mothers, or graduates of underfunded high schools, but rather by hiring DEI consultants to gather employees together for trainings.
At best, these outlays symbolize something like, We care about DEI and we’re willing to spend money to prove it. A more jaded appraisal is that they symbolize not a real commitment to diversity or inclusion, let alone equity, but rather “the instinctive talent that college-educated Americans have for directing resources to our class in ways that make us feel good.”
Won’t Anyone Think of the Children?
In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown argues that in the name of child protection, Congress and many states are considering legislation that would fundamentally alter the internet as we know it. She cites age verification as an example, writing:
Proposals at both the state and federal level would require age verification on social media. Age verification schemes create massive privacy and security concerns, effectively outlawing anonymity online and leaving all users vulnerable to data leaks, corporate snoops, malicious foreign actors, and domestic spying. To verify user ages, social media companies would have to collect driver’s licenses or other state-issued ID from all users in some capacity—by having users directly submit their documentation to the platform or by relying on third-party ID services, potentially run by the government.
Alternatively they may rely on biometric data, such as facial scans. Several such proposals are currently before Congress. For instance, the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act (S. 419), from Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), would ban people under age 16 from social media platforms. To verify users are above age 16, platforms would have to collect full names, dates of birth, and “a scan, image, or upload of government-issued identification.” The requirement would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and a private right of action. (In the House, the Social Media Child Protection Act, from Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stuart, would do the same thing.) The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act (S. 1291), from Sen. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii), is another bill that would explicitly require social media platforms to “verify the age of their users.” This one would ban children under 13 entirely and allow 13- to 17-year-olds to join only with parental consent, in addition to prohibiting the use of “algorithmic recommendation systems” for folks under age 18 …
Commerce would allegedly keep no records where people used their digital identification—though considering what we know about domestic data collection, it’s hard to trust this pledge. In any event, administering the program would necessarily require obtaining and storing personal data. If widely adopted, it would essentially require people to register with the government in order to speak online.
The Rolling Stones Revisited
With this week’s question about music, I was reminded of a great 2010 article that the journalist Bill Wyman published in Slate, creatively written as Mick Jagger’s thoughts on Keith Richards.
Here he is making the case for Richards’s talent:
As a pure rock (not folk or pop) songwriter, I think he is not just without peer. I think he is unrivaled in depth and growth, from “As Tears Go By” to “Satisfaction” to “Jumping Jack Flash” to, I don’t know, “Gimme Shelter. ” “Monkey Man.” “Street Fighting Man.” The primal feel of the chording. The musicality of the intros and breaks. The innovation of the recording—cruder, no doubt, but I will argue far more emotionally powerful than the Beatles’. The winding, intermixed guitars he almost desperately loved. Without him, what would I have been? Peter Noone? It is hard to use a word like integrity about a band as compromised, as self-bloodied, as we were. But for some years, unlike any other group, the Beatles included, we declared war on that silly, hypocritical, repressive, and arbitrary society in which we lived. The only ammunition we had were Keith’s songs. The lyrics, I confess now, may have been in their defiance just épater la bourgeoisie and in their poesy derivatively Zimmerman-esque. Even when they weren’t, no one would have paid attention if the chords weren’t arresting, irrefutable. The songs spoke primarily through their music, not their words. Keith’s doting fans nattering on about the ultimate avatar of rock ’n’ roll authenticity irritate me, it’s true; but he may to this day be underappreciated.
Casey DeSantis Makes Her Pitch
In National Review, Michael Brendan Doughtery flags some oratory from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s wife, who said in a recent appearance:
When you look at Covid, the world descended on Florida. You had the corporate media, the Left, the White House, Fauci, Birx, all prognosticating that every bad thing would happen unless the governor followed their dictates, and their politicized, unscientific orthodoxy. But he held the line in defense of the liberties of the people he represented. He never backed down. He took their livelihoods and their happiness above his own. You can take the path of least resistance. You subcontract your leadership to the medical bureaucracy. You can aim for self-preservation. You can be more interested in your political career. Or you can hold the line. Do you defend the rights of the people? Their ability to earn a living, to be with their loved ones, especially in their final moments. Do you fight for our children to be in school, to breathe without a mask being forced on their face? Do you ensure that people have the choice as to whether or not they want to take an mRNA vaccine and certainly not make it contingent upon their job? At the end of the day, it’s what you do in the moment that matters.
Dougherty goes on to argue that the COVID pitch is perhaps DeSantis’s biggest strength:
Now, many liberals and some conservatives reading this list will shrug. They were happy to mask their kids for two years. They credit the vaccines with ending the public-health emergency.
But for a huge swath of voters, this issue really did bond them to Governor DeSantis. At the moment that Casey DeSantis mentioned masks on children, the crowd spontaneously started roiling with noises of anger at the pro-mask policies—and approval of the governor, for rolling them back.
Those days three years ago really were the moment that many families started wondering whether they too should join the scores of thousands of other Americans who were moving to Florida during the pandemic. This was the moment that made Ron DeSantis a national figure. These voters credit Florida—and to a lesser degree Georgia and Texas—with normalizing the country after the pandemic. These voters knew what the experts also knew but refused to admit publicly: that they didn’t need the vaccine because they had already contracted Covid and had natural immunity; or that they were young and not vulnerable to severe Covid. They knew, long before the experts admitted, that the Covid vaccine did not stop transmission, and that the logic of mandates was therefore mooted. In their hearts, these voters knew that expert opinion was a kind of guild conspiracy that—when joined with the force of government—directly threatened their livelihood, their family, and the well-being of their children.
And DeSantis took unorthodox steps to protect the social fabric of Florida. He used the emergency powers the public-health crisis granted to him to mandate that schools remain open, and to mandate that schools not impose their own mask mandates on children. Any fool—even Dr. Fauci himself at the start of the pandemic—could figure out that child-sized cloth masks bought at a sunglasses stand were not an effective public-health measure against an airborne virus. But only DeSantis and a handful of other governors ever acted, and acted vigorously, on this obvious truth. By using his powers in this way, he pioneered a model for how he would begin using constitutional executive power to prevent the ideological contagions of the left from seizing all the institutions of public life.
It will be interesting to see the DeSantis campaign attack Donald Trump not as irresponsibly lax on COVID-19, but rather as the president who ostensibly presided over needlessly draconian COVID shutdowns and kept the distrusted-by-right-populists Anthony Fauci in his job.
Provocation of the Week
In From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, the late historian Jacques Barzun wrote the following:
With so much knowledge written down and disseminated and so many ardent workers and eager patrons conspiring to produce the new, it was inevitable that technique and style should gradually turn from successful trial and error to foolproof recipe. The close study of antique remains, especially in architecture, turned these sources of inspiration into models to copy.
The result was frigidity—or at best cool elegance. It is a cultural generality that going back to the past is most fruitful at the beginning, when the Idea and not the technique is the point of interest. As knowledge grows more exact, originality grows less; perfection increases as inspiration decreases. In painting, this downward curve of artistic intensity is called by the suggestive name of Mannerism. It is applicable at more than one moment in the history of the arts. The Mannerist is not to be despised, even though his high competence is secondhand, learned from others instead of worked out for himself. His art need not lack individual character, and to some connoisseurs it gives the pleasure of virtuosity, the exercise of power on demand, but for the critic it poses an enigma: why should the pleasure be greater when the power is in the making rather than on tap? There may be no answer, but a useful corollary is that perfection is not a necessary characteristic of the greatest art.
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Source: The Atlantic
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