“Rooting for the Future.” Current, a new website edited by FPR fellow-travelers Eric Miller and John Fea, is now live. Eric describes his vision for the website in his opening essay. Also among the opening slate of essays is “Rooting for the Future” by Susan McWilliams Barndt, a longtime contributor to FPR. She points to data suggesting Americans are moving less often, and she argues that’s a good sign: “The longer we stay in one place, the deeper our relationships are—both with the other people who live in that place and with the place itself. The more we see our future as linked to that of our neighborhood or our place, the more we have reason to care for our neighborhood, our place, and the other creatures who inhabit it.”
“Seeing Clearly and Making Do.” This week I responded to all the responses to my initial essay on the digital public sphere and community: “The state of our digital public sphere is indeed cause for concern. But that does not mean our situation is hopeless. As long as we can clearly see its dangers and imagine ways to make do—with humor and creativity—there remain grounds for hope.”
“New Study Shows the Growing Risks of Pesticide Poisonings.” Anna Lappé interviews Wolfgang Boedeker and Emily Marquez about a recent study they contributed to regarding the dangerous consequences of pesticide exposure.
“Dana Gioia on Becoming an Information Billionaire.” Tyler Cowen interviews the polymathic Dana Gioia about everything from his work at General Foods to the importance of beauty.
“Breakfast at Kim’s.” Elizabeth Corey articulates the goods of third places: “Third places like Kim’s are institutions that bridge the gap between the spheres of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Neither home nor work, they offer companionship and a sense of solidarity among people who have something—not everything, and not nothing—in common.” (Recommended by Jeff Polet.)
“Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords.” There is much discussion right now about how to rein in human users of social media, but Adam Elkus warns that we should not expect machines to solve this problem for us:
Primal terror of mechanical menace has given way to fear of angry primates posting. Ironically, the roles have reversed. The robots are now humanity’s saviors, suppressing bad human mass behavior online with increasingly sophisticated filtering algorithms. We once obsessed about how to restrain machines we could not predict or control — now we worry about how to use machines to restrain humans we cannot predict or control. But the old problem hasn’t gone away: How do we know whether the machines will do as we wish?
“Hard Liberty.” Cassandra Nelson draws on Milton and Marlowe to diagnose the hellish form of freedom offered by the Internet: “What remains when laws are abolished is not freedom, but bondage, to harmful internal and external forces that a properly developed conscience would keep in check. And what remains when the concept of rightful authority has been dismissed – as Milton’s Satan and Plato’s Republic both show, in very different ways – is not equality, but tyranny.”
“Martha Lou Gadsden, Luminary of Downtown Charleston Soul Food Scene, Dies at 91.” Hanna Raskin remembers a legendary cook and person. The Southern Foodways interview with her from a few years ago is worth revisiting.
“In a Pennsylvania Town, A Facebook Group Fills the Local News Void.” Brandy Zadrozny describes how Facebook groups have played a key role in spreading news—and confusion—in a community whose newspaper is shrinking.
“An Unbroken Grace.” Fred Bahnson describes his conversations with Barry Lopez in 2018 and reflects on the vocation of a writer: “In the weeks since Barry’s passing I’ve been returning again to his pressing question, the question of service, what he called in Arctic Dreams ‘the desire for a safe and honorable passage through the world.’”
“The Woke Meritocracy.” Blake Smith writes about the narrative he sees forming his students’ sense of self:
What is new about education’s turn to woke identity politics is not the fact that administrators and faculty are influencing students’ sense of self, but rather the sort of values that the new ideal personality is supposed to uphold. The contemporary ideal, increasingly, is no longer someone so charmingly personable that others forget he is in fact a ruthless competitor, but a person who so convincingly narrates her having overcome some kind of social injustice that others forget she is in fact a beneficiary of systems of privilege.
“Desert Island Books.” Inspired by a BBC radio feature, Brian Miller asks a provocative question: “if I could choose only eight books (single-volume titles only) to accompany me in an exile, what would they be?”
“In Praise of Reading Aloud.” Ali Kjergaard argues that the pace and intimacy of reading books aloud together makes for a more powerful experience than silent, private reading.
“A Tale of Two Curricula: General Education at St. John’s College and the University of Chicago.” Brandon Shin recounts a vision of Great Books education and its tumultuous history at two institutions.
“Republicans’ Fake Crusade against Corporate Power.” Ryan Cooper looks at the recent controversy in Georgia and concludes that “a consistent Republican push against the political power of big corporations is not at present on the horizon.”
“The Next New Urbanism.” James Howard Kunstler takes stock of New Urbanism: “If we’re to build back better, as the Biden regime now says, it better be at a scale consistent with the zeitgeist, which is telling us that the age of giantism is over.”