Posts Tagged ‘Listicles’

My inquiries into media theory long ago led me to Alan Jacobs and his abandoned, reactivated, then reabandoned blog Text Patterns. Jacobs is a promiscuous thinker and even more promiscuous technologist in that he has adopted and abandoned quite a few computer apps and publishing venues over time, offering explanations each time. Always looking for better tools, perhaps, but this roving public intellectual requires persistent attention lest one lose track of him. His current blog (for now) is The Homebound Symphony (not on my ruthlessly short blogroll), which is updated roughly daily, sometimes with linkfests or simple an image, other times with thoughtful analysis. Since I’m not as available as most academics to spend all day reading and synthesizing what I’ve read to put into a blog post, college class, or book, I am not on any sort of schedule and only publish new blog posts when I’m ready. Discovered in my latest visit to The Homebound Symphony was a plethora of super-interesting subject matter, which I daresay is relevant to the more literate and literary among us. Let me draw out the one that most piqued my interest. (That was the long way of tipping my hat to Jacobs for the link.)

In an old (by Internet standards) yet fascinating book review by Michael Walzer of Siep Stuurman’s The Invention of Humanity: Equality and Cultural Difference in World History (2017), Walzer describes the four inequalities that have persisted throughout human history, adding a fifth identified by Stuurman:

  • geographic inequality
  • racial inequality
  • hierarchical inequality
  • economic inequality
  • temporal inequality

I won’t unpack what each means if they’re not apparent on their face. Read for yourself. Intersections and overlapping are common in taxonomies of this sort, so don’t expect categories to be completely separate and distinct. The question of equality (or its inverse inequality) is a fairly recent development, part of a stew of 18th-century thought in the West that was ultimately distilled to one famous phrase “all men are created equal.” Seems obvious, but the phrase is fraught, and we’ve never really been equal, have we? So is it equal before god? Equal before the law? Equal in all opportunities and outcomes as social justice warriors now insist? On a moment’s inspection, no one can possibly believe we’re all equal despite aspirations that everyone be treated fairly. The very existence of perennial inequalities puts the lie to any notion of equality trucked in with the invention of humanity during the Enlightenment.

To those inequalities I would add a sixth: genetic inequality. Again, overlap with the others is acknowledged, but it might be worth observing that divergent inherited characteristics (other than wealth) appear quite early in life among siblings and peers, before most others manifest. By that, I certainly don’t mean race or sex, though differences clearly exist there as well. Think instead of intelligence, height, beauty, athletic ability, charisma, health and constitution, and even longevity (life span). Each of us has a mixture of characteristics that are plainly different from those of others and which provide either springboards or produce disadvantages. Just as it’s unusual to find someone in possession of all positive characteristics at once — the equivalent of rolling a 12 for each attribute of a new D&D character — few possess all negatives (a series of 1’s), either. Also, there’s probably no good way to rank best to worst, strongest to weakest, or most to least successful. Bean counters from one discipline or another might try, but that runs counter to the mythology “all men are created equal” and thus becomes a taboo to acknowledge, much less scrutinize.

What to do with the knowledge that all men are not in fact created equal and never will be? That some are stronger; more charming; smarter; taller with good teeth (or these days, dentists), hair, vision, and square jaws; luckier in the genetic lottery? Well, chalk it up, buddy. We all lack some things and possess others.

Got one of those chain e-mail messages from who knows who or where, ending with the exhortation to pass it on. My comments follow each of the titular things. Read at your peril. (I could nit-pick the awfulness of the writing of the quoted paragraphs, but I’ll just let that go.) Before commenting, however, let me point out that the anonymous writer behind this listicle assumes that systems will function long enough for predictions to prove out. The last two years have already demonstrated that the world is entering a period of extreme flux where many styles and functions of social organization will break down irreparably. Supply chain difficulties with computer chips (and relatedly, fossil fuels) are just one example of nonlinear change that is making owning and operating a personal vehicle far less affordable (soon impossible for many) than decades past. Impossible to predict when breakdown reaches critical mass, but when it does, all bets are off.

1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills. 

Despite its popularity among the general public, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS link ends in .com, not .gov) has been under attack for generations already with the ostensible goal of privatizing it. Financial trouble is by design: the USPS is being driven to extinction so that its services can be handed off to for-profit alternatives, jacking up prices in the process. So yeah, it might fail and go away like other cherished American institutions.


A listicle called “10 Things We Have Learned During the Covid Coup,” supporting text abbreviated ruthlessly:

1. Our political system is hopelessly corrupt …

2. Democracy is a sham. It has been a sham for a very long time …

3. The system will stop at nothing to hold on to its power …

4. So-called radical movements are usually nothing of the sort …

5. Any “dissident” voice you have ever heard of through corporate media is probably a fake …

6. Most people in our society are cowards …

7. The mainstream media is nothing but a propaganda machine for the system …

8. Police are not servants of the public but servants of a powerful and extremely wealthy minority …

9. Scientists cannot be trusted …

10. Progress is a misleading illusion …

Years ago, I broke with my usual themes and styles to offer a listicle, mostly inanities and hyper-irony, which began as follows:

  • All cats are girls, all dogs are boys. Everyone knows this from childhood. Additional discussion is moot.

I’m not a good writer of aphorisms, so I haven’t returned to that brief experiment until now. For inspiration, I’m quoting numerous examples by Caitlin Johnstone, who is a frequent and fantastic writer of aphorisms under the repeated subtitle “Notes from the Edge of the Narrative Matrix.” The long-running theme we share is that we are all being programmed and propagandized continuously through the shaping of narrative by folks with obvious agendas. Johnstone believes we are collectively waking up — as if from a nightmare — to the dark realization that our minds have been colonized (my term) and that a worldwide transformation of consciousness is currently taking place. I don’t quite see it yet, but I’m sympathetic to the possibility that, as in the famous rant from the 1976 movie Network, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

  • The essential character relationship of the 1% to the rest of us is predator/prey or strong/weak. Strong predators behave precisely as one would expect.
  • Trying to restore peace using the same violent police force whose violence disrupted the peace in the first place is a bit like trying to put out a fire using lighter fluid. The same lighter fluid that was used to start it. (Johnstone)
  • Rioting and looting are not constructive responses to society’s ills, but then, neither have various nonviolent forms of protest and dissent been effective at petitioning government for redress of grievance. Packing up and going home merely cedes the field of play to bad actors already stuffing everyone down.
  • Believing cold war is no big deal because nuclear war hasn’t happened yet is the same as believing your game of Russian roulette is safe because the gun hasn’t gone off yet. (Johnstone)
  • According to the movies, realizing one’s potential is achieved by developing punching/fighting/domination skills sufficient to force your will upon others, which is true for criminals, saints (good guys), men, and women alike.
  • Ecocide will be a problem as long as ecocide remains profitable. War will be a problem as long as war remains profitable. Politicians will cater to profit-seeking sociopaths as long as profit determines what drives human behavior. (Johnstone)
  • The most influential news outlets in the western world uncritically parrot whatever they’re told to say by the most powerful and depraved intelligence agencies on the planet, then tell you that Russia and China are bad because they have state media. (Johnstone)
  • Wanting Biden because he’s not Trump is the same as wanting cancer because it’s not heart disease. (Johnstone)
  • Capitalism will let you starve to death while sitting meters away from food. (Johnstone)

I wish more of them were my own, but the opportunity to choose some of Johnstone’s best was too good to pass up.

A listicle for your (more likely my) amusement:

  • All cats are girls, all dogs are boys. Everyone knows this from childhood. Additional discussion is moot.
  • Money is virtue. Those who earn (or inherit) the most money are the most virtuous and obviously get to make all the important decisions.
  • Sexual intercourse occurs late at night, lights out, in bed under the covers, man on top. The result is either disease or pregnancy, sometimes both.
  • Everything of value below ground and underwater is there for us to dig up and harvest to burn, smelt, eat, or exploit at will. It’s all within our domain with no boundaries whatsoever.
  • Jesus loves you. And when you die, you will go to heaven as reward … for … um … what, exactly?
  • Pointy-headed, ivory-tower, nerd academics and scientists have nothing to tell us about the world that we can’t figure out using our own minds. Interior, passionately felt “understanding” has far greater authority than expertise.
  • Alternatively, what the media, government, clergy, teachers, parents, and friends tell you are the important things needing knowing, especially if they come loaded with salacious, scandalous, envious, fear- and guilt-mongering content. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.
  • Rights are best articulated through an incoherent mashup of nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and more. None, however, compares to the right of the consumer to buy, have, and enjoy any damn thing he or she pleases. Consequences do not exist.

Life on Edge

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Consumerism, Media, Nomenclature
Tags: ,

/rant on

There is no love lost between me and the mainstream media. Although journalism has had its high and low points over the decades, my finding is that, commencing sometime in the mid-80s perhaps (the Challenger disaster was a notable low point), it began a steep decline and has now reached a particularly deep nadir. The competing dynamics of quality content creation, democratization of production, and instantaneity of reporting (often premature reporting before facts are known reliably, such as with recent shooting at the Washington, D.C. navy yard where the body and shooter counts changed hourly) no doubt have conspired to make it difficult to provide quality. (Note I didn’t say maintain quality.) Further, the heavy intermix of politics and commerce creates an atmosphere where the media conspire with politicians and advertisers to manage perception. The worst examples may be reporting the controversy where none exists, misreporting scientific findings out of sheer incompetence, and a noticeable conspiracy of silence regarding threats to our very existence. Indeed, it’s impossible anymore to say who is carrying water for whom, and the hope or expectation of honest reporting slips a little further with each passing season.

Accordingly, I do my best to avoid polluting my thinking with the twin devils of debased content and manufactured desire. That doesn’t mean I live in a vacuum. In fact, I gather quite a bit of information in the course of a week, month, and year; but I select my sources with a healthy disdain for being made into either an advertising mark or a dupe of some political hack. Yet even with that, I’m subjected to a plethora of headlines and commercial impressions accompanying news items and posted on gateways to my e-mail accounts, especially on Comcast and Yahoo! (Why Google, the mother ship of clickable ads, doesn’t get in on the act is beyond me.) Many of them take the form of what I’ve heard called “listicles” (lists + articles = listicles).

The standard not-really-news approach is to suggest a number of ways one might adopt some how-to-succeed blueprint according to models, patterns, and behavioral norms — essentially living (or painting) by the numbers. I used to read a few of these at, which were at least funny and informative, but I’m growing particularly annoyed that whittling down the diversity of American (or First World) life to a series of banal expectations (family, career building, overconsumption) passes through the editorial decision-making process without difficulty. Listicles succeed primarily at an adolescent game of “made you look” where no payoff exists except for those commandeering via click-throughs the eyes of a witless public.

It also has the (intentional?) effect of making those whose lives do not conform appear to be failures, as though everyone automatically seeks fame and fortune and cachet. A few iconoclasts can still achieve notoriety, riches, and some ineffable cool factor while defying the forces of conformity, but most of us are pounded remorselessly into the form and shape recommended in listicles and, curiously, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was updated earlier this year to its fifth edition with a greatly expanded list of pathologies and disorders. Whereas most criticisms of this expansion go to diagnostic creep, I can suggest two other criticisms worthy of consideration: increasingly crazy-making conditions of postmodern life (life continuously on edge) and casting a wider net to ensnare those on the fringes (who are all by default potential nutjobs who will shoot up a public place).

If there are underlying causes and treatments for people unable to feign normalcy (because after all, when insanity is normalized, who wants to join that party?), they have far less priority than distracting people with crude entertainment, buying them off with electronic gadgetry, medicating them into submission, and if those fail, corralling serious malcontents before they cause too much consternation among those who prefer to pretend that everything is rosy and business as usual can continue unaffected into the foreseeable future.

/rant off