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Don’t Vote for Trump By the Editors

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Silicon Valley’s Best Minds on:

Marissa Mayer Peter Thiel Theranos Driverless Cars Sexism Slack Robots Augmented Reality The Sexiest Start-ups Apple and the NSA Microdosing Mushrooms

David Brooks on Bruce Springsteen The Most Influential Politicians Ever How America Outlawed Adolescence

N OV E M B E R 2 0 1 6 T H E AT L A N T I C .C O M






© 2016 Rackspace US, Inc. All rights reserved.





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Niya Kenny was one of more than 1,000 students arrested for disturbing school in South Carolina last year.


56 The Binge Breaker BY B I A N C A B OS K E R

Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.

66 The View From the Valley What does Silicon Valley think of Peter Thiel? Why did people fall for Theranos? And what’s in store for Marissa Mayer? In our third annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, tech executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in.

70 War Goes Viral B Y E M E R S O N T. B R O O K I N G A N D P. W. S I N G E R

How social media is being weaponized—and making global conlict more likely

84 A Pocket Guide to the Robot Revolution BY I A N B O G OST

Sorting the good from the bad, the creepy from the adorable

86 How America Outlawed Adolescence ANDRÉ CHUNG


More than 20 states make it a crime to disturb school in ways that teenagers are wired to do. Why did this happen?




©2016 City of Hope



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34 Even Bugs Will Be Bugged Exploring the next frontiers in surveillance BY M AT T H E W H U T S O N


19 Making Up Is Hard to Do



This election has cleaved Americans like few in history. Can we put the country back together again?

How Avik Roy realized that his beloved GOP would be capsized by racial resentment




38 The Greenhouse Effect Repurposing abandoned houses in Detroit




Why For-Profit Education Fails Moguls’ good intentions too often betray them. BY J O N AT H A N K N E E





The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Losers, Weepers

Pastafarians get organized.

How voters respond to electoral defeat





12 The Case for Hillary Clinton—And Against Donald Trump 8


14 The Conversation



112 The Big Question

96 Evening Wind

Who is the most inluential politician in history?


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Brokerage Products: Not FDIC Insured â&#x20AC;˘ No Bank Guarantee â&#x20AC;˘ May Lose Value To see how Schwab stands by our word, visit &KDUOHV6FKZDEUHFHLYHGWKHKLJKHVWQXPHULFDOVFRUHLQWKH-'3RZHU)XOO6HUYLFH,QYHVWRU6DWLVIDFWLRQ6WXG\EDVHGRQUHVSRQVHVIURPáUPVPHDVXULQJRSLQLRQVRILQYHVWRUV who used full-service investment institutions and were surveyed in January 2016. Your experiences may vary. Visit There are eligibility requirements to work with a dedicated Financial Consultant. Wealth management refers to products and services available through the operating subsidiaries of the Charles Schwab Corporation of which there are important differences including, but not limited to, the type of advice and assistance provided, fees charged, and the rights and obligations of the parties. It is important to understand the differences when determining which products and/or services to select. 7KH&KDUOHV6FKZDE&RUSRUDWLRQSURYLGHVDIXOOUDQJHRIEURNHUDJHEDQNLQJDQGáQDQFLDODGYLVRU\VHUYLFHVWKURXJKLWVRSHUDWLQJVXEVLGLDULHV,WVEURNHUGHDOHUVXEVLGLDU\&KDUOHV6FKZDE  Co., Inc. (â&#x20AC;&#x153;Schwabâ&#x20AC;?), Member SIPC, offers investment services and products, including Schwab brokerage accounts. Its banking subsidiary, Charles Schwab Bank (member FDIC and an Equal +RXVLQJ/HQGHU SURYLGHVGHSRVLWDQGOHQGLQJVHUYLFHVDQGSURGXFWV$6.48(67,216%((1*$*('2:1<2857202552:LVDWUDGHPDUNRI&KDUOHV6FKZDE &R,QF Š2016 The Charles Schwab Corporation. All rights reserved. (0516-FTV3) ADP77864-02


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The Culture File


40 When the World Is an Arcade The psychogeography of Pokémon Go BY J A M E S PA R K E R FILM

48 The Master of Highbrow Horror Guillermo del Toro’s movies i nd the childlike fascination in fear. BY TE R R E N C E RAF F E RTY


52 Dating, Disrupted



Why is inding love in the app era so hard?

No Surrender


Bruce Springsteen turned to rock and roll to create order out of a chaotic life. B Y D AV I D B R O O K S


98 The Prophecies of Jane Jacobs She is renowned for championing urban diversity, but her real prescience lay in her fears about the fragility of democracy. BY N AT H A N I E L R I C H




On the Cover Illustration by Edel Rodriguez




My American vodka beats the giant imports every day. Try American! It’s Better.


One of the animating causes of this magazine at its founding, in 1857, was the abolition of slavery, and Lowell argued that the Republican Party, and the man who was its standard-bearer in 1860, represented the only reasonable pathway out of the existential crisis then facing the country. In his endorsement of Abraham Lincoln for president, Lowell wrote, on behalf of the magazine, “It is in a moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong that the chief strength of the Republican party lies.” He went on to declare that Abraham Lincoln “had experience enough in public afairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.” Perhaps because no subsequent candidate for the presidency was seen as Lincoln’s match, or perhaps because the stakes in ensuing elections were judged to be not quite so high as they were in 1860, it would be 104 years before The Atlantic would again make a presidential endorsement. In October of 1964, Edward Weeks, writing on behalf of the magazine, cited Lowell’s words before making an argument for the election of Lyndon B. Johnson. “We admire the President for the continuity with which he has maintained our foreign policy, a policy which became a worldwide responsibility at the time of the Marshall Plan,” the endorsement read. Johnson, The Atlantic believed, would bring “to the vexed problem of civil rights a power of conciliation which will prevent us from stumbling down the road taken by South Africa.” But The Atlantic’s endorsement of Johnson was focused less on his positive attributes than on the laws of his opponent, Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona. Of


I 12

N OCTOBER OF 1860, James Russell Lowell, the founding editor of The Atlantic, warned in these pages about the perishability of the great American democratic experiment if citizens (at the time, white, male citizens) were to cease taking seriously their franchise:




In a society like ours, where every man may transmute his private thought into history and destiny by dropping it into the ballot-box, a peculiar responsibility rests upon the individual … For, though during its term of oice the government be practically as independent of the popular will as that of Russia, yet every fourth year the people are called upon to pronounce upon the conduct of their afairs. Theoretically, at least, to give democracy any standing-ground for an argument with despotism or oligarchy, a majority of the men composing it should be statesmen and thinkers.

he traics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indiferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read. This judgment is not limited to the editors of The Atlantic. A large number—in fact, a number unparalleled since Goldwater’s 1964 campaign—of prominent policy makers and oiceholders from the candidate’s own party have publicly renounced him. Trump disqualified himself from We think it unfortunate that Barry Goldwater takes critipublic service long before he declared his presidential cism as a personal afront; we think it poisonous when his candidacy. In one of the more sordid episodes in modern anger betrays him into denouncing what he calls the “radical” American politics, Trump made himself the face of the sopress by bracketing the New York Times, the Washington Post, called birther movement, which had as its immediate goal the and Izvestia. There speaks not the reason of the Southwest demonization of the country’s first African American presibut the voice of Joseph McCarthy. We do not impugn Senator dent. Trump’s larger goal, it seemed, was to stoke fear among Goldwater’s honesty. We sincerely distrust his factionalism white Americans of dark-skinned foreigners. He succeeded and his capacity for judgment. wildly in this; the fear he has aroused has brought him one step away from the presidency. Today, our position is similar to the one in which The AtlanOur endorsement of Clinton, and tic’s editors found themselves in 1964. rejection of Trump, is not a blanket disWe are impressed by many of the qualiThe Atlantic has endorsed only three presidential candidates in 159 years. missal of the many Trump supporters ties of the Democratic Party’s nominee Abraham Lincoln (1860) and Lyndon who are motivated by legitimate anxietfor president, even as we are exasperB. Johnson (1964) were the first two. ies about their future and their place in ated by others, but we are mainly conthe American economy. But Trump has cerned with the Republican Party’s seized on these anxieties and inlamed nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might and racialized them, without proposing be the most ostentatiously unqualified realistic policies to address them. major-party candidate in the 227-year In its founding statement, The Atlanhistory of the American presidency. tic promised that it would be “the organ These concerns compel us, for the of no party or clique,” and our interest third time since the magazine’s foundhere is not to advance the prospects of ing, to endorse a candidate for president. the Democratic Party, nor to damage Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than those of the Republican Party. If Hilearned, through her service to the counlary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, try as first lady, as a senator from New or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, York, and as secretary of state, the right for that matter, any of the leading candito be taken seriously as a White House dates Trump vanquished in the Repubcontender. She has flaws (some legitilican primaries, we would not have mately troubling, some exaggerated by contemplated making this endorsement. her opponents), but she is among the We believe in American democracy, in most prepared candidates ever to seek which individuals from various parties of the presidency. We are confident that diferent ideological stripes can advance she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of that she will apply herself assiduously to ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, the problems confronting this country; a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is and she has demonstrated an aptitude spectacularly unfit for oice, and voters— for analysis and hard work. the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot Donald Trump, on the other hand, box—should act in defense of American has no record of public service and democracy and elect his opponent. no qualifications for public oice. His afect is that of an infomercial huckster; — The Editors Goldwater, Weeks wrote, “His proposal to let field commanders have their choice of the smaller nuclear weapons would rupture a fundamental belief that has existed from Abraham Lincoln to today: the belief that in times of crisis the civilian authority must have control over the military.” And the magazine noted that Goldwater’s “preference to let states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia enforce civil rights within their own borders has attracted the allegiance of Governor George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birchers.” Goldwater’s limited capacity for prudence and reasonableness was what particularly worried The Atlantic.





Are We Any Safer? In the September cover story, Steven Brill documented the U.S. government’s eforts— and the enormous sums spent on them—to defend the nation against the threat of terrorism in the 15 years since 9/11.

Kudos to Steven Brill for focusing on the worst terrorist threat we face—not a dirty bomb, but overreaction to the radioactive materials spread by such a bomb. That is the lesson of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear-reactor disasters. Most experts agree that the greatest damage came from panic and mass evacuations. Social dislocation and anxiety alicted millions, causing far more health problems and deaths than the radiation itself. Spencer Weart HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.

When Steven Brill described the layers of security at America’s airports, he missed an important one. After passengers have surrendered valued privacy and Fourth Amendment rights and have withstood invasive initial searches, they remain subject to further, arbitrary searches. Passengers who decline to again waive their rights are denied access to their lights and are reported to local lawenforcement agencies.



Terrorism will not destroy America as a whole, but terrorism does threaten individual Americans, and the government is right in taking reasonable steps to protect us. I draw the line at frenzied crusades that corrode our civil rights. David N. Blair ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Steven Brill wrote: “A Victim Compensation Fund was conceived of and passed by Congress in 10 days and became the nation’s single greatest act of tort reform. To the dismay of many trial lawyers, it allowed victims’ families to seek millions each in uncontested claims directly from the federal Treasury (and also bailed out the airlines).” The Victim Compensation Fund was the brainchild of thousands of American trial lawyers acting through the American Association for Justice. They—not Congress—conceived of it, and Congress compassionately included it in the


airline-bailout bill. AAJ then created Trial Lawyers Care, which became one of the largest pro bono legalservices projects in history, with 1,100 lawyers volunteering for years to provide legal help for 1,700 victims. The fund paid out $7 billion, saving thousands of people from inancial ruin. Julie Braman Kane and Leo V. Boyle PRESIDENT AND PAST PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE WASHINGTON, D.C.

The expansion of air marshals in the early 1970s was not in response to hijackings to Cuba, as Steven Brill writes, but to the hijacking of multiple aircraft by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in September 1970. Although the Cuba explanation has been published multiple times, it is a case of one erroneous report fostering another. I was one of the original federal agents assigned. After several months, the U.S. Customs Service hired permanent employees; the Federal Aviation Administration

later assumed the duties but greatly reduced staing. William J. Vizzard SACRAMENTO, CALIF.

Steven Brill replies: William J. Vizzard is right. Thanks for correcting me. Julie Braman Kane and Leo V. Boyle are rewriting history. I reported on this extensively for my book After. The impetus for the victims’ fund came from lobbyists for the airlines and their insurance companies, which feared being on the hook for billions of dollars in lawsuits. Late into the night of September 21, as the bill establishing the fund was being negotiated, the airline lobbyists were gathered in Representative Tom DeLay’s oice, helping to draft it. In that sense, it is these airline and insurance lobbyists who “conceived of ” the idea, although it was an aide to then–Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott who irst suggested the basics of how the fund would work in a way that avoided litigation—and he did so because Lott feared that trial lawyers would otherwise cash in on the tragedy. It is true that



OCTOBER 23-25 2016











once the fund was established, many trial lawyers admirably agreed to help victims’ families ile claims, often pro bono. But it is also true that other trial lawyers, including many in the small group that specializes in suing airlines after crashes, fought the fund, initially urged the families to avoid it and instead go to court, and to this day consider its legacy a threat to the American tort system.

Historical Wisdom In September, Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson proposed that the next president establish a Council of Historical Advisers (“Don’t Know Much About History”). The authors’ call for a White House Council of Historical Advisers displays their ignorance of “applied history,” or, as the many skilled practitioners of this type of history prefer to call it, “public history.” A signiicant number of contemporary public historians are policy experts who provide invaluable advice to government agencies, municipalities, lawyers, courts, and businesses. In fact, the federal government employs hundreds, if not thousands, of historians (including independent contractors). There is even a Society for History in the Federal Government, which has existed since 1979. As Allison and Ferguson might have mentioned, the State Department has an excellent Oice of the Historian, and the branches of the armed services also employ numerous historians. These public historians collect and edit primary resources and prepare historical studies intended to support and



guide policy makers. Perhaps a Council of Historical Advisers could bring needed attention to the ine work of existing public historians and attract larger budget allocations and more talent to the ield. However, such an efort should acknowledge that bringing historical insights to bear on contemporary decision making is a complex and fraught proposition. William S. Walker ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, SUNY ONEONTA COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.

If history teaches us anything, it is that reasoning by analogy is a dangerous business, reducing the speciicities and contexts within which groups form and operate to supericial similarities. The appeal to analogical reasoning also rests on the notion that there can be singular understandings of historical events when, in fact, there is vast interpretive disagreement among historians about the causes of, motives for, and outcomes of those events. The controversial writings of Professor Ferguson are a case in point. A Council of Historical Advisers would simply be a political arm of the administration it was serving, legitimizing the actions of the state. That Henry Kissinger is cited as “the most inluential modern practitioner of applied history” is perhaps the most telling aspect of this proposal. Kissinger was a canny diplomat whose policies were directed toward advancing the imperial interests of the American nationstate. His actions undoubtedly made history, but they were hardly inluenced by it. This is not to say that politicians don’t operate with


THE BIG QUESTION On, readers answered October’s Big Question and voted on one another’s responses. Here are the top vote-getters.

Q: What concept most needs a word in the English language? 3. There is orphan, widow, and widower—but no word for a parent who has lost a child, or a word for that child (unless it was stillborn). — Frank DiSalle 2. The second-personplural pronoun! English has long been groping for a word distinct from our second-person-singular pronoun. We just need to

a vision of history, one that is often self-serving and lawed. But a Council of Historical Advisers is not the remedy. If there is a role for history in a democracy, it is a critical one, exposing the presumptions of present politics, not sustaining them, and thus enabling movements of protest and opposition to inluence the direction of policy and diplomacy in ways more peaceful, just, and equitable than might otherwise have been the case. Joan W. Scott, Andrew Aisenberg, Brian Connolly, Ben Kafka, Sylvia Schafer, and Mrinalini Sinha EDITORS, HISTORY OF THE PRESENT NEW YORK, N.Y.

As Ferguson and Allison envision it, the council could help presidents avoid unforced historical errors, like the invasion of Iraq. When Bush “chose to topple Saddam Hussein,” they write, “he did not appear to fully appreciate … the diference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims,” and “he failed to heed warnings that the predictable

settle on a lexical permutation such as y’all or yous, or make up a new word altogether. — Mike Jones 1. We desperately need grown-up equivalents for the words girlfriend and boyfriend. Beau? Lady friend? Too old. Bae? Too young. Lover? Ick! — Heather Woodford

consequence of his actions would be a Shiite-dominated Baghdad beholden to the Shiite champion in the Middle East—Iran.” It’s a fair critique, but neither Ferguson nor Allison is in a great position to make it. It wasn’t what either of them [was] saying at the time. During the war fever of 2002–03, Ferguson wasn’t urging the administration to rethink the Iraq adventure, lest they inadvertently empower Iran—he was cheering the disaster on. “By showing them just how easily Saddam’s vicious little tyranny could be overthrown,” he wrote in the Daily Mail, “Mr. Bush has made it clear to the leaders of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia that he is in deadly earnest. If their countries continue to sponsor terrorism as all three notoriously do Saddam’s fate could befall them, too. Such sabre-rattling evidently works.” Further: “Historians may well look back on 2003 as a turning point in the troubled


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politics of the Middle East. And they will give much of the credit for that transformation to the courageous and undoubtedly risky strategy adopted by President George Bush.” Just the hard truths Bush needed to hear! … Graham Allison was much less exuberant about the Iraq War, but he wasn’t against it. When you’ve got “rattlesnakes in your backyard, backing of and hoping they slink away is not the answer,” he wrote in October 2002 … So when Ferguson and Allison write in The Atlantic that “applied historians will never be clairvoyants with unclouded crystal balls,” they’re putting it mildly … If they’d had the president’s ear at the time, he’d have gotten extra doses of alarmism and delusions of grandeur … In fact, there was a toplight Middle East scholar, fully up to speed on the diferences between Sunnis and Shiites, who had the administration’s attention in the run-up to the war. That was

Bernard Lewis … who [wrote] pro-war think pieces in The Wall Street Journal … So one potential problem with the CHA idea is that the president would get to pick the historians. Personnel is policy, and presidents might staf the council with scholars who feed them even crazier ideas than they’ve already got. Gene Healy EXCERPT FROM A CATO INSTITUTE POST

The two professors suggest that, if a future U.S. president were to create a Council of Historical Advisers, one of the key questions she or he should ask the historians is whether, given the current rising tensions between the U.S. and China, the security commitments which America has made to countries such as Japan are as dangerous to peace today as the pledge which Britain made to defend tiny Belgium in the Europe of the 19th century. This is a classic example where the choice of the

comparison decides the outcome of the argument. For the security guarantee which Britain gave to Belgium is now considered a silly, frivolous move which acted as the fuse pushing Britain into World War I in 1914, and ultimately cost the lives of millions. Any comparison between the British guarantee to Belgium in 1914 and the U.S. guarantee to Japan today will produce the conclusion that the best thing the U.S. should do if it wishes to avoid a war with China is to dump Japan. However, what if the U.S. guarantee to Japan and the similar American security guarantee to South Korea are not compared to Britain and Belgium a century ago, but to the U.S. security guarantee to Europe after World War II? That was a guarantee which worked as intended, and which consolidated a peaceful Europe despite the risk of war. Choose your historic analogy, and you get a diferent answer. Jonathan Eyal EXCERPT FROM A STRAITS TIMES ARTICLE

Niall Ferguson replies: Gene Healy is guilty of something that historians are taught not to do: selective quotation that serves to misrepresent a writer’s position. In my 2003 book, Empire, I wrote that the U.S. “will always be a reluctant ruler of other peoples. Since Woodrow Wilson’s intervention to restore the elected government in Mexico in 1913, the American approach has too often been to ire some shells, march in, hold

elections and then get the hell out—until the next crisis.” In my 2004 book, Colossus, I repeatedly pointed out that the U.S. was highly unlikely to make a success of its imperial undertakings in Iraq and Afghanistan, because it lacked the resources and, more important, the political culture to sustain the long-term occupations that history strongly suggested would be necessary. Unfortunately, my warnings that the Bush administration was biting of more than it could chew went unheeded. Almost no attention was paid in Washington to the lessons of the British experience in Iraq. Instead, the American public was treated to bogus analogies to the liberation of Western Europe in the later stages of World War II. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Corrections “Are We Any Safer?,” by Steven Brill (September), stated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a unit of the Energy Department. The commission is an independent agency. The article also stated that the Attack 2 ire truck in Rappahannock County, Virginia, was paid for by a $185,000 federal homelandsecurity grant. In fact, the grant was $160,000, which partially covered the total cost of the truck, $375,000.

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“Eventually, someone might be able to point a phone at you … and see a bubble over your head marking you as unemployed or recently divorced.” — Matthew Hutson, p. 34


Making Up Is Hard to Do This election has cleaved Americans like few in history. Can we put the country back together again? BY CO N O R F R I E D E R S D O R F


R E Y O U E V E R nostalgic for the bygone days when the cable networks sorted Americans neatly into a red team and a blue team, and we fought over the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, and gay marriage? There was a lot to lament. Many people felt anxious about how divided the country seemed. But then a charismatic young man with a white mother and a black father tried to comfort us. “The pundits like to slice and dice our country into … red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats,” he said. “But I’ve got news for them … We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got gay friends in the red states … We are one people.” Back in 2004, we didn’t know whether Barack Obama was right, but

Illustrations by EDMON DE HARO

no matter. “Try to see it my way,” the Beatles counseled. “Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong. While you see it your way, there’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long.” So we made him a senator, and then the president. There was still a lot to lament. But his successor will be someone Americans like less: This year, both major presidential candidates surpass all predecessors in the dislike they engender. So I’m nostalgic for the days when the country appeared united, or at the very least united in halves. Today, people who recently seemed as though

they were on the same team are at odds. (Even Jay Z and Beyoncé seem shaky!) In politics, the GOP coalition that married on Fox News in 2000, honeymooned in Baghdad, and separated during the Tea Party was, by the time it convened in Cleveland in July, divorcing. Many social gatherings got awkward. Was it weird to invite pro-Trumpers and Never Trumpers? Then Hillary Clinton went to Philadelphia to accept the Democratic nomination. Some Bernie Sanders supporters declared that the primaries had been rigged. One crowd in a public






square cheered a speaker who vowed that there would be “a massive deregistration” from the Democratic Party. Another crowd with BERNIE OR BUST signs chanted “Revolution!” On campus, kids of the same generation, who chose to enroll at the same colleges, having been selected by the same admissions oicers, based largely on their similar cognitive proiles, spent the last school year feuding about the inclusiveness of their communities and how to regulate one another’s speech. We have witnessed Occupy Wall Street protests that viliied “the 1 percent.” The treatment of cops who have killed young black men has divided dozens of municipalities: Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee have erupted into riots. On the far right, dozens locked to Ammon Bundy during his armed standoff with law enforcement in Oregon. Confronted with a Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a Dylann Roof, or an Omar Mateen, Americans remain united: At minimum, the penalty for lethal terrorism or mass murder should be permanent removal from the community, regardless of the perpetrator’s allegiances. But many people now seem inclined to favor banishment for ideological infractions, too. A common theme is ight or light. Campaign events come to blows. An anti-Hillary faction has taken to chanting “Lock her up!” during Trump rallies. Some anti-Trump voters swear that, this time, they really will move abroad if he is elected (for more on this phenomenon, see “Losers, Weepers,” page 33). Some college students believe the penalty for hate speech ought to be expulsion; others say they need “safe spaces.” Libertarians have debated the wisdom of loating ocean platforms that are states unto themselves. On the secular left, many believe a Christian bakery that declines to bake a cake for a gay wedding or a Catholic hospital that doesn’t perform abortions should

be compelled to do so. Rod Dreher, a thoughtful religious traditionalist, is leading a group of thinkers who believe the only way forward is withdrawal into enclaves apart from secular culture. Perhaps a lucky few Americans really can lee into what they regard as utopias. But for most, the impulse to withdraw, or to force the withdrawal of others, is rooted in a reluctance to face this reality: No matter who wins the election, or the next skirmish in the culture wars, most Americans must live together, and will




live together, within these borders, with people whose actions or views are anathema to them. O W, T H E N , can we get along? Many believe the country would be at peace if only we better educated our children. On the right, one ideal is for more kids to learn from both a mother and a father; attend Sunday school; study civics; and, in college, glean wisdom from the Great Books. Aristotle! Plutarch! Montesquieu! What could be a better foundation for good


citizenship? Progressives, for their part, might propose a Montessori education, a gay-straight alliance at a diverse high school, college classes that teach “cultural competency,” time abroad, and a workplace where new hires go through sexual-harassment training. In either case, trying to teach our way out of this problem could doom us to failure. Karen Stenner, a political psychologist, has spent signiicant time studying the people who express an outsize share of political, racial, and moral intolerance. The threat this cohort poses to liberal democracies springs not from lawed or inadequate socialization, she argues, but from a largely immutable characteristic: They are inclined to want oneness and sameness. As long as they perceive their country to be suficiently uniied and in consensus, that need is met, and they are relatively tolerant. But when their need for unity is threatened, as is inevitable in liberal democracies, they lash out. They may demand racial discrimination, restrictions on immigration, limits on free speech, stricter policies on homosexuality, and harsher punishments for criminals. Stenner says that these people have a psychological predisposition to “authoritarianism”—and whole countries sufer when it is activated. This is not, to be clear, a political designation. Nor is it akin to conservatism, false stereotypes to the contrary. Regrettably, nothing is more certain to trigger authoritarianism “than the likes of ‘multicultural education,’ bilingual policies, and nonassimilation,” Stenner writes. “Our showy celebration of, and absolute insistence upon, individual autonomy and unconstrained diversity pushes those by nature least equipped to live comfortably in a liberal democracy not to the limits of their tolerance, but to their intolerant extremes.”

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By contrast, she notes, “nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes.” Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, believes that Stenner’s theory helps explain Donald Trump’s embrace of authoritarian logic and rhetoric. When the Democrats adopted “We are stronger together” as a convention slogan, Haidt observes, it was almost as if they were heeding the advice of scholars like Stenner to suppress intolerance by celebrating sameness. In Haidt’s telling, the convention’s most successful moment was when Khizr Khan stood onstage with his wife, brandishing a pocket Constitution and declaring, “We are honored to stand here as the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, and as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.” If progressives balk at this prescription—if they resent the idea of parading sameness or of dialing down the type of multiculturalist rhetoric that’s been shown to provoke the intolerant— they might reflect on Stenner’s warning: Given that immutable attributes constrain a person’s ability to deal with differences, “well-meaning programs celebrating multiculturalism … might aggravate more than educate, might intensify rather than diminish, intolerance.” Progressives may find comfort in the fact that ideological conservatives wishing to fight balkanization must swallow an equally bitter pill. According to Stenner, another thing that triggers intolerance is the perception— promoted by many on the right since 2008—that a polity’s leaders are failing and untrustworthy. Most conservatives will rightly decline to cease all criticism of politicians. But they could, while still holding oicials accountable, cut out lies and wild hyperbole. Our ability to live together as a country is harmed when prominent intellectuals on the right assert, as Andrew C. McCarthy did in his book The Grand Jihad, that President Obama is





today’s divisions. After studying postallied with America’s Islamist enemy, or, conflict Bosnia, Borislava Manojlovic, as Dinesh D’Souza has, that Obama’s apa researcher at Seton Hall University, proach is best explained by African antifound that members of the generation colonial ideology—just as it was harmed that started the Balkan wars now tend by those who compared George W. Bush to be more tolerant toward one another to Adolf Hitler or insisted that his adminthan their children are. A 24-year-old istration plotted the attacks of 9/11. explained why to World Affairs: “The The incentives to spread polarizing people who fought the last war had lived allegations would shrink if the right reversed one of its biggest strategic errors: together for forty-some years,” he said. retreating from shared institutions, espe- “They still have memories of the good cially in academia and the mainstream old times … We are a ticking time bomb.” media, to create shadow In the U.S., the World alternatives. The highWar II generation worked Today, even together by necessity. water mark of the Reagan people Revolution preceded the Perhaps we shouldn’t be who recently surprised that, as that genrise of right-wing talk raeration passed from the dio, Fox News, and Breseemed scene—succeeded by Baby; movement as though Boomers, who began comconservatism has declined they were in the new, fragmented on the same ing of age in the polarized 1960s—the country began information ecosystem. team are to splinter. This fragmenMeanwhile, the dearth at odds. tation has brought more of ideological diversity intolerance. Indeed, the harms both the media Baby Boomers’ kids, the Millennials, and academia, which are less rigorous are more likely than past generations to than they would otherwise be, less likely favor political intolerance in the form of to grasp conservative principles, and less free-speech restrictions. likely to unify people. Even if America is unlikely to descend The left can help reintegrate conserinto another civil war, our present trajecvatives into institutions where they face tory carries huge risks. Millennials may a hostile climate. This process should be take charge of the country without much eased by the realization that authoritarmemory of a functional Congress, tolerian psychology, not conservative ideolant public discourse, or social circles that ogy, is the main driver of intolerance. transcend our atomized subcultures. In fact, traditional conservatism has Today’s college students can scarcely rethe potential to combat intolerance: call a life free of internet trolls! Laissez-faire conservatives are predisThe good news is that counteracting posed to reject coerced sameness. Stapolarization is not a lost cause, if only tus quo conservatives, meanwhile, can be an important check against new de- Americans are circumspect enough to recognize what we have in commands for intolerance. mon. American identity—unlike, say, Reformers on the left and right alike Danish identity—does not revolve must give up the fantasy that humans around shared ancestry, or a culture that are blank slates who can be overwritten is existentially threatened by changing with ideal values, however discomiting demographics. Rather, it is grounded in or disappointing the realization may be. a shared if unrealized aspiration to guarAs Stenner puts it, we can moralize all antee the rights to life, liberty, and the day about how we want ideal citizens to pursuit of happiness. be, “but democracy is most secure, and Nonauthoritarians on the left and tolerance is maximized, when we design right will always clash on how to achieve systems to accommodate how people that goal. But better to cooperate with actually are.” those you believe to be misguided than Nor can we take for granted that to risk mutual destruction. the next generation will overcome

its purpose has shifted somewhat, with followers using it to test the relationship between Church and state in countries ranging from relatively secular France to heavily Catholic Poland. There’s no oficial count of Church membership in Europe (or anywhere else), but “Pastafarian” Facebook pages from countries across the Continent have accumulated thousands of likes while, country by country,

because “our god was faster than the other gods, and he finished with the creation of Earth earlier”). The flagship German church, in Brandenburg, features a weekly mass modeled on the Catholic celebration, but with noodles and beer in place of bread and wine. FSM oficiants even conduct weddings in several countries; this year, New Zealand became the first to legally recognize these marriages. In Austria, a onetime church leader named Niko Alm started a tradition of “religious headgear” (an overturned colander), winning the right to wear it in his ID photo. “Headgear is not allowed in driver’s licenses except for religious reasons,”

Alm says there is “high variation” in Church practices by country, save for some common elements like pirate costumes and beer. Austrian Pastafarians, he said, don’t do a weekly service like Brandenburg’s Nudelmasse; instead, “we meet, like, three or four times a year and drink beer.” And whereas the Austrian Church concentrates on changing laws, he maintains that the British “only do the fun parts.” In Russia, where the Church is particularly active, eight Pastafarians were detained for holding an unauthorized “pasta procession” in 2013; on a more recent visit to the country, Alm “signed hundreds of colanders.”

FSM members have waged and even won legal battles for the privileges enjoyed by other religions. Along the way, something funny has happened to a movement founded in large part to critique organized religion: It’s gotten organized, and has taken on both the trappings and some of the social functions of a real religion. FSM has its own iconography (the deity features, in addition to spaghetti, two meatballs and a pair of eyes) as well as a Sabbath (Friday,

he explained. “So I invented a religious reason.” Since then, he told me, the headgear has been adopted in “virtually every country that has Pastafarianism”—with some countries allowing it in oficial photos. Even as a U.S. court this year denied a Nebraska prisoner’s request to practice the Pastafarian faith, ruling FSM a parody and not a religion, the Netherlands chamber of commerce went the other way, becoming the first country to grant Pastafarians “oficial status.”

FSM’s big idea, in Russia as in Kansas, is that “nothing is inherently sacred; it’s sacred by virtue of the fact that people agree that it’s sacred,” says Douglas Cowan, a religious-studies professor at Renison University College, in Canada. As if to underscore the point, the Church may be the only one in the world with a God-back guarantee: If you’re not satisfied, Henderson has pointed out, “your old religion will most likely take you back.” — Kathy Gilsinan





HIS SPRING, the Infrastructure Ministry in Brandenburg, Germany, found itself litigating what counts as religion. The ministry typically concerns itself with worldly issues like road signage. But then the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) sought a road sign of the sort that local Catholic and Protestant churches receive from the German state. The ensuing legal skirmish—a court ultimately sided with the Infrastructure Ministry, which argued that FSM wasn’t “a recognized religious community”—was the outgrowth of a diferent controversy more than a decade ago and 5,000 miles away. In 2005, the Kansas Board of Education voted to let public schools teach the creationist theory of intelligent design alongside evolution, arguing, among other things, that you couldn’t prove a supernatural being hadn’t given rise to life. A 24-year-old with a degree in physics named Bobby Henderson responded on his website that you also couldn’t prove a flying spaghetti monster hadn’t created the universe. Why not teach that theory as well? The Kansas board reversed itself within two years, but the semi-parodic Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has outlasted the dispute, spreading via the internet to countries around the world. As FSM has taken root in Europe, where evolution is fairly uncontroversial,






The Doomsayer How Avik Roy realized that his beloved GOP would be capsized by racial resentment B Y M O L LY B A L L


VIK ROY, DISAFFECTED Republican, surveyed the upstairs room of a tony Palo Alto restaurant where a group of journalists and conservative intellectuals was sipping cocktails before a private dinner. “It’s like that scene in Titanic,” he remarked to me, “where they know the ship is going down, and the conductor decides there’s nothing to do but keep the orchestra playing.” In an alternate universe, Roy, who is 43 and whose irst name is pronounced “Oh-vick,” might be spending his autumn pushing policy papers as an adviser to Republican presidential nominee Marco Rubio. The dinner we were attending—the prelude to a policy seminar at Stanford’s Hoover Institution— might be teeming with excitement about




the intellectual possibilities of a Rubio administration. Roy, a health-care expert who has advised Rubio, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney, once looked forward to 2016 as a year of Republican opportunity, when the party would choose a leader capable of reorienting it toward the future. But in the real world, Donald Trump was running on a platform directly opposed to the pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-small-government ideology of conservatives like Roy. Many of those at the Hoover gathering, Roy included, feared they would not have a party to come back to post-Trump. They are among a class of conservative operatives, thinkers, and staffers who have spent the campaign season adrift, pondering the causes of their party’s disruption and looking

nervously to the future. Fifty Republican national-security experts signed an open letter declaring Trump a danger to the republic; several stafers quit the Republican National Committee rather than work to elect Trump. Allegiances have been sundered, and professional trajectories thrown into confusion. One former top RNC stafer told me he no longer speaks to his once-close colleagues; a conservative policy expert who runs a think tank in Washington, D.C., says he’s become adept at steering conversations away from politics and toward college football. Several Republicans I know, inding the campaign intolerable, have rediscovered old hobbies. Of the various explanations that have been advanced in such quarters to explain Trump’s hostile takeover

Illustration by JOHN CUNEO

of the GOP, Roy’s may be the most explosive. Although he was originally drawn to the party for its emphasis on economic freedom and self-reliance, he now believes that a substantial portion of Republicans were never motivated by those ideas. Rather than a conservative party that happens to incorporate cultural grievances, today’s GOP is, in his view, a vehicle for the racial resentment, nationalism, and nostalgia of older white voters. The element of the party that he once dismissed as a fringe, in other words, now seems to form its core. “Trump showed me that white identity politics was the dominant force driving the Republican grass roots,” Roy told me when we met a couple of days later at a cofeehouse and co-working space in Palo Alto. Young women with adventurously colored hair pecked away on laptops; youths of South and East Asian descent streamed by our table, sporting giant headphones. Roy, who has a round face and a serious manner, wore a longsleeved dark-blue Izod polo, his tortoiseshell sunglasses hanging from the collar. Over a mug of skim-milk cappuccino, Roy explained that, while many fellow partisans still see Trump as an anomaly, he now believes Trump is the “logical end point” of the GOP’s long history of racialized politics. “Barry Goldwater was wrong to oppose the Civil Rights Act in 1964,” Roy told me. While the Arizona senator personally supported racial equality, he opposed the landmark legislation on constitutional grounds. His selection as the GOP nominee that year set of a slow-motion realignment of the parties, as the Democrats—once the party of southern segregation—became the party of minority rights, while the Republicans became dominant in the South. For a time, attracting white voters was a winning national strategy for the GOP. But today, Roy believes, the party inds itself not just electorally deicient but morally compromised. “If we aren’t going to confront that history as conservatives and Republicans,” he said, “we don’t deserve minority votes.” Since Roy began elaborating his critique—in interviews with outlets like Vox, in speeches, and in columns for

Political Union, a debating society with Forbes, where he is the opinion editor— a reputation for lively intellectualism, the reaction has been intense. Liberals and eventually became the head of the have saluted him; Paul Krugman, Roy’s union’s Conservative Party. When he frequent antagonist in health-care graduated, in 2000, biotechnology was debates, lauded his “moral courage.” booming, so he decided to put his medi“Krugman has never said anything nice cal training to work in inance, and took a about me before!,” Roy marveled. He job as a biotech investor for Bain Capital. posted Krugman’s praise on Facebook, In 2009, Roy began writing about with the comment “Hell has frozen over.” health-care policy, first on his blog, On the right, Roy has encountered and later in commentaries for National more resistance. Interviewing Roy on Review Online. His ideas the conservative Ricochet gained the notice of healthPodcast, Peter Robinson, Roy believes care wonks and soon the a Reagan speechwriter, political world, and in accused him of naively the GOP’s 2012 he began advising the adopting the left’s critique anti-elitism of the right, and using the has blinded Romney campaign. After the election, he continued GOP’s hateful fringe to it to the to work on the issue, writtar its decent mainstream. glories of ing a report for the Manhat“Now it is apparently the meritocracy. tan Institute called “Tranpopular thing on our side to scending Obamacare ,” say [to the left], ‘… You’ve which argued for a market-based system got us dead to rights, whoa, we’re awful like Switzerland’s. people,’ ” Robinson lamented. His coRoy never went back to inance. In host, Rob Long, asked Roy, “Why can’t 2015, he moved from New York to Austhe Republican Party have a winking, tin with his then-iancée (now wife) to nodding relationship to its crackpot raserve as the chief policy architect of cial separatists, in the same way, let’s be Rick Perry’s second presidential camfrank, that the Democratic Party has with paign. Eager to overcome his image as theirs—use their energy when we need to an airhead, the Texas governor wanted get out the vote in certain places and reto run a substantive campaign based on pudiate them when we’re forced to?” an innovative policy vision. For his part, “That’s exactly what the Republican Party has been doing for the last sev- Roy was excited by the prospect of putting new conservative ideas before the eral decades,” Roy replied. The result, electorate, despite the fact that Perry’s he explained, has been an increasingly electoral chances looked slim. homogenous party that considers Iowa Even before his move to Texas, Roy the “Real America,” and writes off told me, he had begun struggling with the urban and suburban places where the GOP’s civil-rights legacy. He was minorities live. “White identity politics particularly troubled by party leaders’ has permeated our rhetoric,” he said. rhetoric emphasizing states’ rights, a When I spoke with him, Roy stance he considers alienating to Afrihastened to add that he doesn’t believe can Americans. “How do you sell the Republicans are all or even mostly racist. Tenth Amendment to a community that But nor does he believe the Republican was liberated by the federal governParty can go back to business as usual afment from state-sponsored terrorism?” ter the election. “The cleavages Trump he asked me. Perry had written a whole has revealed are too deep,” he said. book trumpeting the Tenth AmendH E S O N O F Indian immigrants, ment, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America Roy grew up in the suburbs of From Washington. But it turned out that Detroit, and initially set out to become his thinking on the issue had evolved. a doctor. He was always interested In July 2015, Perry delivered a speech, in politics, though. During medical of which Roy was the principal author, school at Yale, he joined the university’s saying the GOP had neglected African





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What is the most important information I should know about ELIQUIS (apixaban)? For people taking ELIQUIS for atrial fibrillation: Do not stop taking ELIQUIS without talking to the doctor who prescribed it for you. Stopping ELIQUIS increases your risk of having a stroke. ELIQUIS may need to be stopped, prior to surgery or a medical or dental procedure. Your doctor will tell you when you should stop taking ELIQUIS and when you may start taking it again. If you have to stop taking ELIQUIS, your doctor may prescribe another medicine to help prevent a blood clot from forming. ELIQUIS can cause bleeding which can be serious, and rarely may lead to death. This is because ELIQUIS is a blood thinner medicine that reduces blood clotting. You may have a higher risk of bleeding if you take ELIQUIS and take other medicines that increase your risk of bleeding, such as aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (called NSAIDs), warfarin (COUMADIN®), heparin, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and other medicines to help prevent or treat blood clots. Tell your doctor if you take any of these medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure if your medicine is one listed above. While taking ELIQUIS: • you may bruise more easily • it may take longer than usual for any bleeding to stop Call your doctor or get medical help right away if you have any of these signs or symptoms of bleeding when taking ELIQUIS: • unexpected bleeding, or bleeding that lasts a long time, such as: • unusual bleeding from the gums • nosebleeds that happen often • menstrual bleeding or vaginal bleeding that is heavier than normal • bleeding that is severe or you cannot control • red, pink, or brown urine • red or black stools (looks like tar) • cough up blood or blood clots • vomit blood or your vomit looks like coffee grounds • unexpected pain, swelling, or joint pain • headaches, feeling dizzy or weak ELIQUIS is not for patients with artificial heart valves. Spinal or epidural blood clots (hematoma). People who take a blood thinner medicine (anticoagulant) like ELIQUIS, and have medicine injected into their spinal and epidural area, or have a spinal puncture have a risk of

forming a blood clot that can cause long-term or permanent loss of the ability to move (paralysis). Your risk of developing a spinal or epidural blood clot is higher if: • a thin tube called an epidural catheter is placed in your back to give you certain medicine • you take NSAIDs or a medicine to prevent blood from clotting • you have a history of difficult or repeated epidural or spinal punctures • you have a history of problems with your spine or have had surgery on your spine If you take ELIQUIS (apixaban) and receive spinal anesthesia or have a spinal puncture, your doctor should watch you closely for symptoms of spinal or epidural blood clots or bleeding. Tell your doctor right away if you have tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness, especially in your legs and feet. What is ELIQUIS? ELIQUIS is a prescription medicine used to: • reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in people who have atrial fibrillation. • reduce the risk of forming a blood clot in the legs and lungs of people who have just had hip or knee replacement surgery. • treat blood clots in the veins of your legs (deep vein thrombosis) or lungs (pulmonary embolism), and reduce the risk of them occurring again. It is not known if ELIQUIS is safe and effective in children. Who should not take ELIQUIS? Do not take ELIQUIS if you: • currently have certain types of abnormal bleeding • have had a serious allergic reaction to ELIQUIS. Ask your doctor if you are not sure What should I tell my doctor before taking ELIQUIS? Before you take ELIQUIS, tell your doctor if you: • have kidney or liver problems • have any other medical condition • have ever had bleeding problems • are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. It is not known if ELIQUIS will harm your unborn baby • are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if ELIQUIS passes into your breast milk. You and your doctor should decide if you will take ELIQUIS or breastfeed. You should not do both Tell all of your doctors and dentists that you are taking ELIQUIS. They should talk to the doctor who prescribed ELIQUIS for you, before you have any surgery, medical or dental procedure.

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Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including prescription and over-thecounter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Some of your other medicines may affect the way ELIQUIS (apixaban) works. Certain medicines may increase your risk of bleeding or stroke when taken with ELIQUIS. How should I take ELIQUIS? Take ELIQUIS exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Take ELIQUIS twice every day with or without food, and do not change your dose or stop taking it unless your doctor tells you to. If you miss a dose of ELIQUIS, take it as soon as you remember, and do not take more than one dose at the same time. If you have difficulty swallowing the tablet whole, talk to your doctor about other ways to take ELIQUIS. Do not run out of ELIQUIS. Refill your prescription before you run out. When leaving the hospital following hip or knee replacement, be sure that you will have ELIQUIS available to avoid missing any doses. If you are taking ELIQUIS for atrial fibrillation, stopping ELIQUIS may increase your risk of having a stroke. What are the possible side effects of ELIQUIS? • See “What is the most important information I should know about ELIQUIS?” • ELIQUIS can cause a skin rash or severe allergic reaction. Call your doctor or get medical help right away if you have any of the following symptoms: • chest pain or tightness • swelling of your face or tongue • trouble breathing or wheezing • feeling dizzy or faint Tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away. These are not all of the possible side effects of ELIQUIS. For more information, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088. This is a brief summary of the most important information about ELIQUIS. For more information, talk with your doctor or pharmacist, call 1-855-ELIQUIS (1-855-354-7847), or go to Marketed by: Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Princeton, New Jersey 08543 USA and Pfizer Inc, New York, New York 10017 USA COUMADIN® is a trademark of Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharma Company.

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Americans by putting states’ rights above equal protection. The speech, which opened with a powerful description of a lynching in Texas, impressed political elites on both the right and the left; The Wall Street Journal excerpted it on the op-ed page. But Trump had already begun to dominate the primaries, and by September Perry was out of the race. In retrospect, Roy believes Perry’s fate was sealed in 2011, when he defended in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants by saying his opponents didn’t “have a heart.” Why, Roy found himself wondering, did this issue inspire more passion among the party’s base than did an issue like health care? Why, for that matter, was a candidate like Marco Rubio, a onetime conservative darling, being heckled and booed for having previously advocated immigration reform? After Perry dropped out of the race, Roy went to work for Rubio, who lasted until March. By then, Roy had concluded that “the conservative grass roots viewed questions of national identity with far more priority than questions of economic policy.” I asked Roy whether his own ethnic identity had afected his analysis of the GOP. Might he have been more attuned than others to the party’s tribalism precisely because, as an Indian American, he wasn’t a member of the tribe to begin with? Being nonwhite, he said, had exposed him to experiences most whites haven’t had, like the time he was kicked of a light to London with no explanation shortly after 9/11. “My mother is a deeply religious person who works hard, has never taken a handout, and is strongly family-oriented,” he said. “Her values are my values. They’re conservative values. She should be a Republican, except for one thing: She’s a Hindu. What she hears from the Republican Party is that she will never be a real American, even though she’s an American citizen who’s lived here since she was 19.” As a result, he told me, his mother is a passionate Democrat. Roy insists that politics doesn’t have to be a zero-sum contest between competing tribal interests. “Economic growth in America has benefited

everyone,” he said. The GOP’s antiintellectualism and anti-elitism have blinded it to the glories of American meritocracy, he said. “A son of Chinese immigrants who gets into Harvard hasn’t left Real America. That’s the best of America. That’s what America is,” he told me, his Apple Watch jiggling as he gestured for emphasis. “Look around this café: You see Indian kids on their computers who feel just as American as everyone else. The younger generation doesn’t see the world as a collection of ethnic groups ighting for the spoils.” Though Roy believes the GOP is “imploding,” he has, after a period of grief, regained his optimism about conservative ideas. In September, he and several other prominent conservatives launched a new think tank, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, which aims to promote policies that will

Illustration by JOE MCKENDRY

help people with below-median incomes or net worth. Whether Trump wins or loses, the White House will not soon be inhabited by a conservative policy wonk. But Roy believes that the foundation could still make a mark: He notes that what he considers the landmark conservative policy achievement of the past 25 years, welfare reform, passed under a Democratic president. When I asked Roy whether he stood a chance of convincing anyone, he paused for a long time. There was, he felt sure, a constituency for his ideas. But a plurality of Republican voters clearly hadn’t found Trump’s divisiveness as troubling as he did. “My goal is to persuade those who disagree with me that we ought to reorient the conservative movement to embrace the diversity of America,” he said. “But I don’t know if the Republican Party is capable of doing that.”


THE WORST DEAL IN BASEBALL that Major League Baseball spends annually on pitchers’ salaries is ive times more than the combined cost of every starting quarterback in the NFL. It exceeds the top 200 NBA salaries put together. When I call the pitching arm the most valuable commodity in sports, it is not an exaggeration. And yet the most overanalyzed sport in the world, with an industry of bright minds studying its intricacies, loses half a billion dollars a year to injuries. More than 50 percent of pitchers end up on the disabled list every season, on average for two-plus months, and one-quarter of major-league pitchers today wear a zipper scar from Tommy John surgery along their elbows. T H E $ 1 . 5 BI L L IO N

— From The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, by Jef Passan, published in April by Harper






Why For-Profit Education Fails Moguls’ good intentions too often betray them. B Y J O N AT H A N A . K N E E

ARLIER THIS YEAR , LeapFrog Enterprises, the educational-entertainment business, sold itself for $1 a share. The deal came several months after LeapFrog received a warning from the New York Stock Exchange that it would be delisted if the value of its stock did not improve, a disappointing end to the public life of a company that had the best-performing IPO of 2002. LeapFrog was one of the very last remaining of the dozens of investments made by Michael Milken through his ambitiously named Knowledge Universe. Founded in 1996 by Milken and his brother, Lowell, with the software giant





Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison, as a silent partner, Knowledge Universe aspired to transform education. Its founders intended it to become, in Milken’s phrase, “the pre-eminent for-proit education and training company,” serving the world’s needs “from cradle to grave.” Knowledge Universe businesses included early-childhood learning centers, for-proit K–12 schools, online M.B.A. programs, IT-training services for working professionals, and more. Milken’s penchant for secrecy makes a comprehensive assessment impossible—most of the businesses were privately held and some were sold to private buyers for undisclosed sums. But of the companies about which there is public information, most, like LeapFrog, ended badly. Education remains untransformed. Milken was far from alone in the belief that education could be revolutionized through radical new business models. In 2012, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein established the Amplify division within News Corp. At the time of his initial investment, Murdoch described K–12 education as “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Their idea was to overturn the way children were taught in public

schools by integrating technology into the classroom. Although inspirational, the idea entailed competing with a series of multibillion-dollar global leaders in educational hardware, software, and curriculum development. After several years and more than $1 billion, with no serious prospect of ever turning a proit, Murdoch and Klein sold their venture for scrap value to Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’s widow, last year. Indeed, over the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts. JP Morgan backed Edison Schools’ illconceived effort to outsource public education in the late 1990s and saw the business lose 90 percent of its value during its four years as a public company; Goldman Sachs was one of many privateequity firms that came up empty after betting on the inevitable ascendance of for-profit universities; the billionaire Ronald Perelman shut down his futuristic K–12 educational-technology company, GlobalScholar, after spending $135 million and concluding that the software was faulty and a “mirage”; by the time the hedge-fund titan John Paulson was able to sell the last of his stake in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2015, he had likely lost hundreds of millions inancing the company’s misguided mission to remake textbook publishing. Not all inancial investments in education end badly, but the number that have is notable, as are the magnitudes of the iascos, in stark contrast to the successes of many of these same investors in other domains. The precise sources of failure in each instance are diverse, as are the educational subsectors targeted and the approaches pursued. But what many share is the sweeping nature of their ambition. OU CAN SEE this ambition in both the scale and the scope that many of these ventures sought out—often simultaneously. Scale can be an important


Illustration by JUSTIN RENTERIA




driver of sustainable proitability, but it or run a proitable business; he wanted is striking just how many for-proit eduto transform education by also delivcational ventures—particularly those ering an entirely new, proprietary, allcentered on bricks-and-mortar educadigital curriculum. tional services—have confused scale, A competing business, Connections which is a relative concept, with absolute Academy, started later but decided to size. For services like day care and classconcentrate on perfecting its technology room education, local or regional denservice and simply adapting the best of sity of operations can be advantageous, existing curricula to its digital environbecause it enables efficient management. Even at a fraction of the size of ment of personnel (by far the largest K12, Connections Academy had a higher cost), the sharing of ixed expenses like proit margin, and ive years ago, it sold marketing, and sometimes even pricfor a price far higher than K12’s current ing power. The benefits of a national valuation. Today, K12’s stock trades at a footprint are seldom as obvious. Yet it is price far below that of its 2007 IPO. national scale that many There is reason to susventures have sought. pect that ego has played a Investors For example, Milken’s meaningful role in many of aiming to effort to roll up many of these investments. What start an the nation’s day-care cenelse, for instance, could exters began in 1998 and plain the consistent fascinaeducation reached its zenith with tion with business models revolution the $1 billion purchase of that hinge on relationships have, with KinderCare in 2005. The with elite universities? Great regularity, inherently local nature universities have a number lost their of this business, however, of exceptional qualities, but shirts. ensured that its profitthey are not good organizaability did not improve as tions with which to partner. it grew larger. When Milken inally sold They are generally much more interthe business last year, he received less ested in protecting their exclusivity than than what he’d paid for his day-care acin growing, and their bureaucratic deciquisitions over the previous 17 years. sion making leads them to act slowly Scope, meanwhile, can be the enemy and cautiously. These inclinations serve of scale, particularly when pursued at them just ine: Exclusivity and reputathe same time. Spreading investments tion are essentially self-perpetuating across a variety of segments can imfor top schools, as relected in how rarely pede the achievement of scale in any of university rankings change signiicantly. them and also scatter the attention of But that also means the outcome of any executives. Time and again in educacommercial arrangements the universition, big-name investors have launched ties enter into are likely to be lopsided in companies with the broadest ambitions, the schools’ favor. only to be undone by more-focused An extreme example of this unhealthy players. For example, an early Milken preoccupation with the most-selective investment wisely targeted a growing institutions is a Milken-backed business population of families who wanted to originally called Knowledge University, homeschool their children and were which agreed to inance the expensive increasingly eligible for public funddevelopment of online-M.B.A. course ing through distance-learning charter material and then share revenues, largely schools. The business, founded in 1999 in exchange for simply being able to and called K12, managed the technolmention its association with institutions ogy, teaching, and curriculum needed like Columbia, Stanford, and the Univerto deliver the full educational experisity of Chicago. When Columbia Busience to kids online. The problem was ness School, where I am a co-director that Milken wanted to do more than of the media-and-technology program, provide a technology-enabled service signed its deal with the company—which




guaranteed a minimum payment of $20 million over five years—my colleague Bruce Greenwald was quoted as being supportive because the deal “looked like money for nothing.” It was, and the company eventually pivoted to another business model (and then collapsed in the face of a federal civil fraud lawsuit). The carcass of the business was sold to K12 for a nominal amount. E T D E S P I T E T H E FA C T that ego and the drive for status are inseparable from many of these ventures, and that they are for-profit enterprises, my own study of these businesses and the people behind them strongly suggests a genuine—and in many cases intense—desire by the founders and investors to improve education. That desire is often associated with deep-seated beliefs about what is wrong with the current system. The evidence suggests that the intensity of desire and belief can cloud the judgment of even the most sophisticated investor. The pursuit of high-minded ideals and the belief that the status quo is so bad that it can’t be hard to improve upon causes many investors to devalue execution—yet execution is particularly crucial to the survival of organizations that take on overly broad mandates. Should anyone care that a bunch of very rich people have failed in these ventures? In fact, this should matter to anyone concerned about education. That failure, repeated so consistently, has given credible fodder to people who resist the active participation of forprofit enterprises in the educational sphere. But that sphere will always comprise public and private, nonproit and for-proit institutions, and for-proit businesses play an essential role. Publicsector funding is subject to political whims, and the nonproit sector’s funding sources are also typically uncertain. Advocates of for-proit education often understandably emphasize the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency. But the most constructive role the for-proit segment may play is in providing a unique level of stability to the educational ecosystem when (and



only when) it establishes sustainable business models. Regardless of whether investors try to do well by doing good, with respect to the operation of for-proit ventures, one basic fact is incontrovertible: One cannot do good for very long if the business does not do well enough to survive. The possibility of doing good would expand exponentially if more investors and managers shifted their attention toward the question of what qualities are most important in building a successful educational franchise. The greatest educational-business successes have come from a series of targeted, incremental steps forward within tightly deined markets. Recent examples include a business based on plagiarism detection; another that provides tools to high-school students and guidance counselors for college and career selection; and another that delivers day care and early-learning programs sponsored by employers. It is no coincidence that Laurene Powell Jobs insisted that News Corp radically contract the scope of Amplify’s operations before she agreed to buy the company. Since the purchase, she has continued to spin of marginally related businesses and has greatly narrowed the subjectmatter and grade-level focus—targeting middle-school reading, for instance. It is precisely the exit of Amplify’s two original visionaries—Murdoch and Klein—that has created the possibility of a successful and socially beneicial future for the company. As frustrating as they may be to education investors, modest, incremental successes can serve as both a platform and a stimulus for broader transformations to come. Without a sustainable business model, however, even the most inspired investors and entrepreneurs will ultimately only build a legacy of disillusionment. Jonathan A. Knee is a professor of practice at Columbia Business School and a senior adviser at Evercore Partners. This article is adapted from Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, published in November.

I l l u s t r a t i o n b y J A M E S WA LT O N

Losers, Weepers

How voters respond to electoral defeat BY B E N R OW E N


HE “DISCOVER Canada” page on the country’s immigration website—which had a dramatic trafic surge after Donald Trump’s success on Super Tuesday—reminds those seeking citizenship that “the right to vote comes with a responsibility to vote.” Maybe Americans pondering a postelection escape north should heed this advice. After all, voting is a lot easier than moving, and very few U.S. citizens follow through on threats to emigrate postelection, according to Canadian census records. But if few citizens flee after their candidate loses, voting for a loser can change citizens’ lives in other ways. According to one study, Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat decreased Republicans’ happiness twice as much as either the Boston Marathon bombing afected Bostonians’ happiness or the Newtown school shooting afected American parents’. The anguish of losing an election likewise exceeded the joy of winning— but the efect was short-lived: Within a week, voters returned to their THE STUDIES: [1] Pierce et al., “Losing Hurts” (Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2015) [2] Stanton et al., “Dominance, Politics, and Physiology” (PLOS One, Oct. 2009)

emotional base level. [1] Voting for a loser isn’t just mentally taxing. The day before and the day of the 2008 general election, researchers gathered multiple saliva samples from voters. Among men (but not women) who voted for a losing candidate, testosterone plummeted once the election was called, to a degree expected of actual contestants in a competition, rather than vicarious participants. [2] Backing a losing candidate can also damage voters’ trust in the political system. An analysis of surveys from 1964 to 2004 found that over time, voters who supported losers were less likely than others to see the electoral process as fair. They also tended to be less satisfied with democracy generally. Notably, in 2004, John Kerry’s supporters rated

[3] Craig et al., “Winners, Losers, and Election Context” (Political Research Quarterly, Dec. 2006) [4] Nadeau et al., “Elections and Satisfaction With Democracy” (presented at the 2000 meeting of the American Political Science Association)

their satisfaction with democracy 0.55 on a scale of 0 to 1, compared with George W. Bush supporters’ 0.77 rating. [3] This disafection is magnified when voters are startled by a loss. Among voters who backed losing candidates in Canada’s 1997 federal election, 72 percent of those who weren’t surprised remained satisfied with democracy, versus just 57 percent of those who were surprised [4]— an important finding given that analyses of the 1952–80 [5] and 2008 [6] U.S. presidential elections suggest that a solid majority of voters believe their candidate will win. How can you avoid the pain of backing a loser? You could simply stay home on Election Day (the Canadian website’s nagging about voting be damned). Indeed, one body of research on decision making suggests that when you don’t care for your options, abstaining may be your best bet: Whether a choice is trivial (deciding between disliked pasta dishes, say) [7] or serious (taking a baby of life support), [8] people are most at peace with a negative outcome when they didn’t choose it themselves. Nonetheless, do vote. While the sting of voting for a loser is fleeting, the damage inflicted by a bad president endures. Besides, if the outcome is truly unpalatable, Canada won’t want you unless you do.

[5] Granberg and Brent, “When Prophecy Bends” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Sept. 1983) [6] Krizan et al., “Wishful Thinking in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election” (Psychological Science, Jan. 2010)


[7] Botti and Iyengar, “The Psychological Pleasure and Pain of Choosing” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Sept. 2004) [8] Botti et al., “Tragic Choices” (Journal of Consumer Research, Oct. 2009)





Even Bugs Will Be Bugged Exploring the next frontiers in surveillance B Y M AT T H E W H U T S O N


H E N Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of himself on Facebook in June, a sharp-eyed observer spotted a piece of tape covering his laptop’s camera. The irony didn’t go unnoticed: A man whose $350 billion company relies on users feeding it intimate details about their lives is worried about his own privacy. But Zuckerberg is smart to take precautions. Even those of us who don’t control large corporations have reason to worry about surveillance, both licit and illicit. Here’s how governments, terrorists, corporations, identity thieves, spammers, and personal enemies could observe us in the future, and how we might respond.





Cameras Will Be Invisible

Many of the cameras that can be pointed at us today are easy to spot. But researchers are developing recording devices that can hide in plain sight, some by mimicking animals. A company called AeroVironment has produced a drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird. Engineers at Carnegie Mellon, NASA, and elsewhere have designed “snakebots” that can maneuver in tight spaces and could be adapted for surveillance. Robotic bugs are in development, too, and engineers at UC Berkeley and in Singapore are developing cyborg beetles—real insects that can be remotecontrolled via implanted electrodes and that might someday pack cameras.

5000 B.C.: In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes about the need to use five diferent classes of spies.






CIRCA 520 B.C.: The Old Testament’s Book of Numbers describes Moses sending men ahead of his people to surveil the Canaanites.



Your Past Will Be Omnipresent


We’ll Let Spies In

Imagine this: You walk into a car showroom and before you say anything, the dealer knows your name, employment status, car-buying history, and credit rating. Such a future isn’t far of, says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the ACLU. Already, data brokers such as Acxiom and LexisNexis compile reams of information on all of us. Clients can purchase a dossier on your criminal, consumer, and marital past. Soghoian thinks it’s only a matter of time before data brokers begin drawing from online-dating proiles and social-media posts as well. Right now, clients have to log in and search for people by name or buy lists of people with certain traits. But as facialrecognition technology becomes more widespread, Soghoian says, any device with a camera and the right software could automatically pull up your information. Eventually, someone might be able to point a phone at you (or look at you through smart contact lenses) and see a bubble over your head marking you as unemployed or recently divorced. We’ll no longer be able to separate our personae—our work selves from our weekend selves. Instead our histories will come bundled as a pop-up on strangers’ screens.

This January, a spate of news articles reported that a search engine called Shodan allows online voyeurs to browse password-unprotected baby monitors

1919: The U.S. creates the Cipher Bureau, a precursor to the NSA. Western Union and other companies allow it to monitor telegraphs.

civilians in London.


I l l u s t r a t i o n b y A LVA R O D O M I N G U E Z


If even an insect is too obvious, Kristofer Pister, an engineer at Berkeley, and David Blaauw, an engineer at the University of Michigan, are developing “smart dust” and “micro motes,” respectively: tiny computers mere millimeters wide that can be equipped with cameras and other sensors. One can (or can’t, as it were) see where this is going.


and watch strangers’ children sleeping in their cribs. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise: Unsecured webcams of all sorts are findable through various search engines, including Google. Still, the news was a reminder of how easy it is to spy on people through the gadgets in their homes—a problem that’s likely to grow as more devices are connected to the internet. With the advent of the Internet of Things, appliances and gadgets will monitor many aspects of our lives, from what we eat to what we lush. Devices we talk to will record and upload our conversations, as Amazon’s Echo already does. Even toys will make us vulnerable. Kids say the darndest things, and the talking Hello Barbie doll sends those things wirelessly to a third-party server, where they are analyzed by speech-recognition software and shared with vendors. Even our thoughts could become hackable. The technology company Retinad can use the sensors on virtual-reality headsets to track users’ engagement. Future devices might integrate EEG electrodes to measure brain waves. In August, Berkeley engineers announced that they had produced “neural dust,” implantable electrodes just a millimeter wide that can record brain activity for scientiic or medical purposes. Then again, you don’t need brain implants to have your mind read. “Google knows more about me than my wife does,” says Bruce Schneier, a computer-security expert at IBM. “No one ever lies to a search engine. It’s not a neural implant, but it’s freakishly close.”


and Society in an Age of High Technology. Algorithms are already used to identify potential terrorists, as well as to generate credit ratings and parole recommendations. Chicago police use an algorithm that analyzes arrest records, social networks, and other data to identify future criminals. Soon, bots will likely guide many aspects of personnel management, such as hiring and iring. Researchers have called the scenario in which humans are removed from the decision loop the “machinereadable world.” “Basically,” Schneier says, “we’re creating a world-size robot,” a system with sensors, processors, and actuators that can manipulate the world by, say, approving loans or steering cars. Such automation may increase eiciency, but it won’t eliminate injustice. For one thing, algorithms make mistakes. “If Facebook gets your profile wrong, they show you an ad for a Chevy you don’t want to buy,” Schneier says. “If the Department of Defense gets your proile wrong, they drop a drone on your house.” Algorithms also embody the prejudices of their programmers, or generate their own—a point that was driven home in May when ProPublica exposed how a correctional tool used across the country to inform sentencing decisions overestimates the recidivism rate of black defendants. Maciej Cegłowski, a blogger and programmer, has called machine learning “money laundering for bias.”

Machines Will Decide Our Fates

As the data collected by all the devices around us become overwhelming, we’ll increasingly rely on artificial intelligence to sift through them and make decisions, says Gary T. Marx, the author

robot intended for spying. It’s later discontinued because it’s hard to control in wind.


Society Will Be Safer but Creepier

Studies show that security cameras reduce street crime in urban areas, but surveillance also tends to suppress certain types of noncriminal activity, creating a chilling efect on our freedoms. For instance, after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the National Security Agency’s spying on citizens in 2013, Google searches for terrorism-

1996: A German company starts selling a device that mimics cellphone towers to covertly scoop up data from mobile phones.


suggesting an inhibition of free inquiry. Moxie Marlinspike, Twitter’s former head of cybersecurity, has written that we should also protect privacy for the sake of illegal activity, so as to allow nonconformity. In the U.S., for example, laws governing marijuana use and gay marriage might not have changed if fear of prosecution had kept people from ever trying pot or forming samesex relationships. Marlinspike further argues that with constant surveillance, law enforcement will have dirt on everyone, at which point enforcement will become selective, and likely biased. Annoy the wrong person and you’re in trouble. But along with surveillance comes “sousveillance,” the ability to watch our watchers. David Brin, a scientist and the author of The Transparent Society, predicts that eventually we’ll solve more crimes and need fewer cops, and also have a lot less police brutality. (Phone cameras have already helped give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.) A Big Brother society results not from being watched but from one-way observation, he says. “We don’t want blinded watchdogs. What we want is a choke chain around the watchdog’s neck.” Perhaps we’ll also see a shifting of social norms. If everyone’s embarrassing behavior is accessible in perpetuity, we may become inured to employees’ college benders and even to senators’ sexts. Will paranoia reduce misbehavior, or will humans be humans and maintain our blithe and blundering ways? “It’s hard to change our daily habits,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “I don’t know if that’s a reason for optimism, because it means we’re not going to be chilled, or pessimism, because we appear to be resigned to losing our privacy without thinking it through irst.” Matthew Hutson is the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking. 2016


2030: “Smart dust” becomes commercially available. People use it to monitor their rivals, exes, and nemeses without fear of detection.










That’s why “micro loans” to aspiring small-business

a small business, one critical necessity

entrepreneurs who don’t yet qualify for traditional

trumps all the rest: the need for capital. And

bank loans have economic and social impact far

for people of color, that need has grown more

beyond their face value.

acute. Data shows that, during the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the Small Business

Access to capital is especially crucial for businesses

Administration (SBA) increased its loans to African-

in distressed communities, where the need for jobs

American-run businesses by 60 percent, four times

is greatest and conventional small-business loans

the rate of increase to Caucasian-owned irms. But

can be hardest to get. To meet that challenge,

after 2008, when the black community lost half its

JPMorgan Chase & Co. supports community

total wealth, SBA loans to African-American-run

development inancial institutions (CDFIs), non-

irms dropped by almost half, even as the SBA’s

proit sources of inancing for businesses that

total loan volume increased by 25 percent.

don’t qualify for traditional funding. CDFIs also ofer hands-on help with business plans, market-

Beyond the crucial issue of equal opportunity,

ing, inancial management, and other “back-oice”

there are important economic reasons to work

disciplines required for success. As Janis Bowdler,

against that disparity. Small businesses create

head of small business initiatives for JPMorgan

about two-thirds of all new jobs in the private

Chase, puts in their latest Corporate Responsibility

sector, and many of those jobs are in businesses

Report, CDFIs are “basically an on-ramp that

with fewer than ive employees, such as local dry

enable entrepreneurs to turn their business idea

cleaners, hairdressers, shoe stores, and diners.

into a reality.”

These so-called “micro businesses” carry outsized economic weight. If a third of them hired a single

Small business is a driving economic force both at

person, according to the Association for Enterprise

home and abroad. JPMorgan Chase is empowering

Opportunity, there would be full employment in the

independent entrepreneurs around the globe with

United States.

Small Business Forward, a ive-year, $30-million global initiative that addresses access to flexible capital and targeted technical assistance.

Michael Elliot is one of the entrepreneurs whose business was made possible by inancing from a CDFI. Read his story, and more like it, at WWW.THEATLANTIC.COM/CITY-MAKERS

Michael Elliot, Founder and CEO of Hammer & Nails Salon Group Before Michael Elliot became the president of a national company, he just wanted a manicure. He was soon pitching his idea—a nail salon for men—to investors and local banks in Los Angeles. He didn’t qualify for traditional loans, but someone mentioned the Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC), a CDFI with funding speciically for African-American entrepreneurs. The same year, with VEDC’s help, Elliot opened Hammer & Nails, a salon that not only ofers nail treatments for men, but also ofers wellpaying jobs for African-American women in


the community.



The Greenhouse Effect Repurposing abandoned houses in Detroit


HEN STEVEN Mankouche first saw the house at 3347 Burnside Street in Detroit, in 2013, it was buckling and scarred with burn marks 1 . An artist named Andy Malone, who lived nearby, had just purchased the lot for $500 and was hoping to find some 2



way to bring it back to life. Mankouche, an architect, and his partner, Abigail Murray, a ceramicist 2 , floated a proposal to do just that, by commandeering the house’s foundation and repurposing it as a sort of plant nursery. The following year, a team set to work dismantling the empty house, and in 2015, a new frame went up 3 . By the time I visited, in June of this year, a new exterior had taken shape, with a fluted-plastic roof and wood siding. Like the old walls, the siding was charred, but deliberately so, via shou sugi ban, a Japanese technique that singes wood to render it resistant to rot. Despite summer’s heat and humidity, the interior of the structure was temperate.


Come winter, Mankouche told me, “it will be hot enough for plants, but not for people.” That’s fitting, because the structure’s future inhabitants will include species that can’t usually weather Michigan winters, like fig trees 4 . With the help of his design collaborative, archolab, Mankouche—a professor at the University of 3

Michigan—is building a sunken greenhouse he calls Afterhouse 5 , which he hopes will serve as a prototype for other projects across the city and beyond. Two years after Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, its urban-farming scene is flourishing, with some 1,400 farms and community gardens spread across the









city’s 139 square miles. Many local growers worry that they will be uprooted as the city woos development projects, and with them, much-needed taxes and jobs. But green spaces don’t have to be at odds with revitalization, says Maurice Cox, the city’s director of planning and development, who notes that farms and gardens are a key element of the Detroit Future City plan, a blueprint for diversifying local land use. In some parts of the city, farms span entire blocks, conjuring an urban prairie. Afterhouse’s neighborhood, by contrast, remains densely populated. Rather than plunk down a building that was 5


discordant, or turn the land into a meadow, Mankouche wanted a structure whose scale and shape would evoke the bungalow that was once there 6 . “It doesn’t have this kind of massive, spaceshiplike landing of something of a completely diferent scale,” he says. With the help of local masons, Mankouche, Murray, and Malone preserved the

house’s foundation, fortifying it with steel rebar 7 . The team also recovered materials from demolition sites, enlisting an artisan at the ceramics studio Pewabic Pottery to concoct black, white, and blue glazes for salvaged bricks 8 . The colors were selected with an eye toward modulating temperature: Due to the roof’s angle and the structure’s orientation, the sun will strike the black bricks only in winter, when the greenhouse needs extra heat. This and other passive-design elements are meant to keep the building insulated year-round. A neighbor—Kate Daughdrill, who runs Burnside Farm on the lot next door—will use the structure to extend her growing season. Through an ongoing blight-eradication campaign,

Detroit plans to raze 5,000 vandalized or dilapidated homes this year. Going forward, Afterhouse’s design could ofer an alternative to full demolitions, which typically cost more than $12,000. (Demolition expenses include dismantling each foundation, treating lots for contaminants such as lead and asbestos, and hauling in fresh dirt and topsoil to stabilize the land.) Mankouche hopes that eventually, building foundations will be repurposed for uses beyond horticulture—for example, as skate parks, or pools, or root cellars. “There’s so much investment in these structures already,” he told me. “Concrete, human labor, plumbing, and memories. We can harness and harvest something from it.”






HEY STARTED APPEARING outside our kitchen window during the summer, often at dusk, in wary twos and threes: shamblers, lopers, skulkers, wobblers, blipping and tweaking on some new and apparently enhanced neural network. They consulted their phones every few seconds, but they weren’t in full-on, street-oblivious phone mode. They pointed at things (what things?), they got excited, they made little rushes back and forth across the road. Earlier in the year, before all these people began showing up, I’d challenged a man who was standing in the darkness outside our building, motionless, staring at something, a igure of freaky ixity wearing a hat with pulled-down earlaps. When I asked him what he was doing, he turned slowly and—face bracketed by the earlaps—addressed me with icy ceremoniousness: “Do we have a connection?” His question haunted me for days. Had he been some kind of omen or advance guard? They were, of course, PokéPeople. My 14-year-old son explained it to me. They were votaries of Pokémon Go, on the hunt for low-hanging Pokémon and drawn in shifty clusters to our street corner because (he further explained) it is not a mere PokéStop but a PokéGym: Old Cable Box Gym, to be precise. If you don’t know about Pokémon Go, I salute you in the splendor of your isolation and beg permission to explain. Downloadable as an app on your smartphone, Pokémon Go launched itself worldwide in July and instantly coated 75 percent of reality with a

thin, sticky, brightly colored ilm of weirdness and distraction. The game uses your phone’s GPS to locate you inside an onscreen map of your environment—you walk down the street, your avatar walks down the street; you turn left, your avatar turns left—and then populates this map with Pokémon, or “pocket monsters”: fabulous animated beings, dropsical-adorable in aspect, from the decades-old, massively successful Japanese gaming franchise. You capture these Pokémon, you train them, they (and you) rise through the levels, and eventually you launch them into bloodless combat with another player’s carefully cultivated stable of bubble-beasties. The point of the game, its big thing, is that you have to go out into “the world” to play it. A PokéStop is a place—it might be a restaurant, or a park gate—where you pick up the Poké Balls necessary to apprehend your Pokémon. And a PokéGym (represented on your screen as a radiant swirling power-node, iercely patrolled by upper-level Pokémon) is a site of battle. As you move across the Pokéscape, your phone will buzz— anxiously, ferally—to alert you to the nearby presence of an untrained, or “wild,” Pokémon that you might add to your personal herd. You ind the creature on your screen-map, you tap it, point your phone at the corresponding real-world location, and there, there—in your phone’s camera-eye, superimposed onto whatever random sliver of actual life it happens to be looking at—is a perfect, buoyant little Pokémon, blinking at you genially and fluttering its appendages. A Pokémon loating by the mailbox: the real mailbox, in its rusty civic blue. A Pokémon dangling in a bush: a real bush, with leathery leaves and dark city lungs. Hallucinations. Juicy, inviting,


Illustration by ZOHAR LAZAR


When the World Is an Arcade The psychogeography of Pokémon Go BY J A M E S PA R K E R




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bulbously discrete hallucinations. A psychotic break, if you like, for your handheld device. The irst thing to say about Pokémon Go is: Kids, don’t play Pokémon Go. Read Hamlet. The second thing to say is: Wow. I went out one hot August night, late in the craze, with appropriately stuttering tech—my son’s iPhone, cracked screen, dying battery—and caught myself a Weedle, a Pidgey, and a Caterpie. Base-level Pokémon, nothing to write home about, but at the sight of that Pidgey, levitating brightly between a smear of asphalt and a lamppost, I literally gasped. Skunks were abroad that night, large and sumptuously striped real-world skunks shuling under parked cars with exquisite skunk etiquette, and here—obviously fake, wildly bogus, but no less present to my wondering brain—was this glowing bird-thing. They call this “augmented reality,” and we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. The harmlessly bobbing Pokémon, trailing their clouds of gamer nostalgia, are harbingers no doubt of far heavier perceptual tamperings and disruptions. (Zombies. Porn. Snickering mind-gaps to haunt your handheld.) “We came with an idea about seeing the world with new eyes,” says John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, the creator of Pokémon Go. “The basic notion was there’s a lot of cool history and lore and unknown secrets in your own neighborhood that you don’t know about.” PokéPeople have told me of their enriched attachment to their surroundings, their eyes opened by the game to local curiosities. But later that night, further on in my Poké-odyssey, wandering between PokéStops on an especially dowdy stretch of Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue and peering into the sterile phone-world I was holding in my hand, I sufered acutely from the opposite sensation: that once you’ve bought into the game, once you’re out there on the Pokésavannah, looking for boosted reality, a street devoid of Pokémon is lifeless, and basically pointless. I thought then of the British writer Iain Sinclair, and something he wrote in last year’s London Overground. The book describes a walk—a plod, a drift—along the route of London’s newest rail network, and at one point (plodding and drifting up the Old Kent Road) Sinclair relects upon the city’s cyberkids, their tapping and swiping, their heavily interfaced mental environment. “They muddy perception,” he writes, “with pictorial degradation, looped sound, weird fragments … Ordinary working streets, if they encounter them, seem perversely undercooked.” And this was 2015: Sinclair had yet to meet a roaming, jittering, iending-for-pink-elephants Pokémob. Sinclair is London’s leading practitioner of psychogeography (although he’d reject the title),




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Once you’re looking for boosted reality, a street devoid of Pokémon is lifeless, and basically pointless.

the precarious discipline deined in 1955 by the French theorist Guy Debord. Debord needed something, some science or poetics, that could account for “the sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places.” You do psychogeography on foot, like Pokémon Go—but there the similarities end. The psychogeographer rambles, he moseys, undetermined and almost neurotically available to the prevailing vibe. Here he bristles, there he is happily saturated. If he locates a grid, he falls of it immediately. He seeks not Poké Balls but traces, lavors, essences. The goblin particularity of a freshly painted handrail might blow his mind. What if, by spreading its Day-Glo palimpsest of Croconaws and Pikachus across your local sites of interest, Pokémon Go is actually disenchanting them, draining them of mood and aura? Thirty years ago, in my bland and blameless youth, there was no overlap between games and the world: You played a video game in an arcade, for God’s sake, with clanking buttons, screaming armpits, and coins banged into slots, while the world hummed along outside. The world was something that you reentered, blinking and slightly scorched. With Pokémon Go, the world peeps through the game-layer, uncertain of its own powers—you, meanwhile, are a mighty illusion, stomping around the Poképanorama in your electric boots. Anyway, now I know that the homely cable box outside our apartment is an interdimensional portal. One evening I saw my friend Dan standing there, phone aloft and glowing in the twilight like some kind of glacial kernel. Dan is younger than I am; he grew up with Pokémon: the game, the trading cards, the TV shows, the movies. Bulbasaurs assisted at the genesis of his imagination as Donkey Kong assisted at the genesis of mine. Now he was at the PokéGym, siccing his obese but battle-hardened Snorlax on a … I can’t remember what. A Slurvert. A Brosupial. An Oblongata. Dan was tapping his screen, an educated frown on his face; the Pokémon were invisibly exchanging their nonlethal rainbow energy blasts; and somewhere in outer space the PokéSong was playing: It’s a whole new world we live in! It’s a whole new way to see! But my reality is unaugmentable. I turn away, I lower my earlaps. Me and Pikachu: Do we have a connection? I think, on the whole, not. James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.



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No Surrender Bruce Springsteen turned to rock and roll to create order out of an anxious and chaotic life. B Y D AV I D B R O O K S


N 1943, HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK, then the pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church, published a book called On Being a Real Person. He argued that “the primary command of our being is, Get yourself together, and the fundamental sin is to be chaotic and unfocused.” We are all born, he wrote, with diferent selves, tastes, talents, fears, competing desires, and possibilities. Over the years, our job is to integrate our many parts, which entails choosing the goals and tasks we consider most important. Three types of people, Fosdick observed, emerge from the struggle: those whose lives remain scattered and inefectual; those who focus on a low purpose, like money or status; and those who, inding a vocation guided by a high purpose, corral their conlicting selves “suiciently to make a concentrated impression on the world.” Bruce Springsteen’s frank and gripping memoir, Born to Run, is an intimate portrait of one man’s lifelong attempt to follow that primary command. People who choose rock and roll as their vocation are usually trying to break free from constraints, to smash things, to stir up a little turmoil in their souls. Springsteen entered a world of chaos and turned to guitars and ampliiers and lyrics to create order.




Starting with Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) and Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) and on through The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) and Wrecking Ball (2012), Springsteen has often written songs in the voice of the unlettered working-class outsider, which he was. Now he’s a 67-year-old multimillionaire with a mansion and horses. He is a literate, artful, and even urbane writer (there is no way this book is ghosted) who has reaped the sorts of insights you get from more than three decades in therapy. He is still tortured and haunted, but he has gotten himself more or less together. The journey from obscurity to rock-androll fantasy is not as important in this book as the internal journey from anxious urgency to some sort of self-forgiving peace. Born in 1949, Springsteen was the eldest of three children, and the only son, in a workingclass Catholic family in Freehold, New Jersey. The house in which Springsteen spent his early childhood was literally a ruin, the walls slowly collapsing. A subsequent house lacked running hot water, so the family illed the single tub with pots heated downstairs on the gas stove; the kids took turns bathing in the same water. Family relationships lacked stability. Bruce’s grandmother was devoted to him, and his mother was loyal to her brooding and unstable husband, but rules were



nonexistent. At 5 and 6, Bruce was staying up until three in the morning and sleeping until three in the afternoon. He ate when and whatever he wanted. “It was a place where I felt an ultimate security, full license and a horrible unforgettable boundary-less love,” he writes. “It ruined me and it made me.”

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N S P R I N G S T E E N’ S E A R LY M U S I C , his father is a silent presence, sitting at the kitchen table in the dark with a cigarette in his mouth, often depressed and harshly judgmental. In life, the memoir reveals, the uncommunicative Douglas Springsteen occupied the emotional foreground for an unsteady, impressionable boy. His father, Springsteen writes, spoke fewer than a thousand words to him through his childhood (and much later, after Douglas had moved away, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia). On one occasion he broke down weeping in front of his son. “It shocked me,” Springsteen writes, “made me feel uncomfortable and strangely wonderful. He showed himself to me, mess that he was. It was one of the greatest days of my teenage life.” Unmoored and anxious, Springsteen got the name “Blinky” in school because he blinked uncontrollably, “hundreds of times a minute.” He chewed his knuckles until they were covered with marble-size calluses. Yet in his gregarious mother, a legal secretary named Adele, Springsteen saw an embodiment of willpower. “She willed we would be a family and we were. She willed we would not disintegrate and we did not. She willed we would walk with respect through the streets of our town, and we did.” Not least, she got him his irst guitar when he was 7 and a decade later borrowed money to help him buy a better one. His father might not talk back, or even react, but in the songs young Springsteen began to write, he was determined to speak to his father and make him at least hear his son’s point of view. The adolescent ferocity of commitment he brought to music is still fresh, and I read the irst half of the book feeling inspired to rededicate myself maniacally to my work. Springsteen discovered rock as many did, irst through Elvis, on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 (Springsteen was 6), and then through the Beatles on the same show in 1964. Night after night in his bedroom, he taught himself to play songs, falling asleep with his guitar cradled in his arms. Plenty of teenagers do that, but Springsteen was tyrannically demanding, of himself and of others. He was not in it for the drugs or the sex (though he had some sex). He was in it for the rock and roll. Springsteen ired treasured

As a boy, Springsteen chewed his knuckles until they were covered with marble-size calluses.


bandmates if they weren’t committed enough or talented enough to go where he needed to go. Springsteen is an exemplary version of a very humble type, the journeyman bar-band singer, but Springsteen the memoirist shows that the urgent compulsion to be not just good but great made him imperious and obsessive. From the start, sheer willpower drove his music and the stories he sang. The propulsive lift of “The Rising,” which he wrote after 9/11, was there in the kid who wants to explode out of a town full of losers in “Born to Run,” but it didn’t come easily. Springsteen describes spending months in the mid-1970s trying to create the wall of sound that became that song. “I started out with cliché, cliché, cliché and then I caught a piece of myself and the moment. ‘In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream …’ It’s a ‘death trap,’ a ‘suicide rap.’ ‘I want to guard your dreams and visions.’ ” He knew, when those phrases inally came, that he had a great song. “A smash feels like it was always there and as if you’ve never heard anything like it before.”


H R O N O L O G I C A L L Y , Springsteen belonged to the Baby Boomer moment, and Vietnam obsessions were his signature as he emerged in the ’70s. But he didn’t aspire to be the next Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or Mick Jagger. He wasn’t looking for ininite freedom or trying to break the strictures of bourgeois society. The “dreams and visions” he wanted to guard had a 1950s whif. He was not rejecting working-class ideals but fulilling them—more Johnny Unitas than Joe Namath. We don’t need his memoir to reveal the importance to him, musically and personally, of feeling anchored to a place: That his creative roots lie in the shore towns of central New Jersey has been obvious for decades. From those communities, with their high quotient of eccentrics (is it that not so many people there had been polished by office-park culture?), he drew material for two commercially unsuccessful albums and then, in 1975, Born to Run. After that breakthrough hit, grabbing for a global audience with broad, uplifting stories would have been a natural step. He didn’t take it. Darkness on the Edge of Town was a stripped-down album about people who stay home and search for identity and battle their own cynicism. Springsteen’s memoir exposes how agonizing his own search for identity continued to be. I found myself reading the second half of the book inspired by an energy in his later years equal to the early zeal that launched his music, only now dedicated to family. By his 30s, Springsteen had music and he had Jersey, but he wasn’t sure he




had a life—a life outside the studio or beyond the stage. Driving through a small town in Texas at 32—the year he was working simultaneously on the spare Nebraska and the lush pop sound of Born in the U.S.A.—he sufered a full-blown emotional crisis. “I’ve just pulled a perfect swan dive into my abyss,” he writes. “My stomach is on rinse cycle and I’m going down, down, down.” Springsteen began therapy, probing the “mess that he was,” to borrow the phrase he uses for his father. As he describes his habit of cutting off romantic relationships after a couple of years, he’s clearly still wrestling with that “horrible unforgettable boundary-less love” from the past: I wanted to kill what loved me because I couldn’t stand being loved. It infuriated and outraged me, someone having the temerity to love me—nobody does that … and I’ll show you why. It was ugly and a red lag for the poison I had running through my veins, my genes. Part of me was rebelliously proud of my emotionally violent behavior, always cowardly and aimed at the women in my life.

The tale of his ultimately happy marriage may sound too good to be true (and rumors to the contrary are easy to ind), but Springsteen’s tribute to Patti Scialfa anchors the second half of the book. His four-year marriage to the Chicagoborn actress and model Julianne Phillips in the late 1980s had ended in divorce. Scialfa, from New Jersey, was a singer in his E Street Band. He recognizes how lucky he is. She is incandescent enough to live alongside a superstar, tender enough to provide patient care, talented enough to share the stage, and tough enough to endure his depression and self-absorption. Which isn’t to say peace reigns. He has known better than to be a


War Diaries, 1939–1945 A S T R I D L I N D G R E N, T R A N S L AT E D B Y S A R A H DE AT H YA LE U N I V E R S I T Y P R E S S



IF YOU TURN TO Astrid Lindgren’s wartime journals curious to learn about the origins of her famous literary creation—the rule-defying supergirl named Pippi Longstocking—you may at first feel shortchanged. Lindgren, a young mother and aspiring writer in Sweden, gets four and a half years into her diary before she briefly mentions Pippi, in 1944. She’s “having


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Onstage at the church services he calls concerts is where Springsteen reaches full coherence.

silent, brooding husband. “Back at home, Patti and I fought a lot, which was a good thing. I’d never argued much in most of my other relationships and it had proved detrimental.” Springsteen endured a massive depression after turning 60, and solving the problem of himself is work that he clearly feels isn’t over. He is still trying to keep himself together by writing new music. But he sounds less desperate, less in need of escaping something. “Feeding your children,” he writes, “is an act of great intimacy and I received my rewards, the sounds of forks clattering on breakfast plates, toast popping out of the toaster, and the silent approval of morning ritual.” Springsteen can’t resist reaching for a grander benediction: “There is a love seemingly beyond love, beyond our control, and it will take us through our lives bestowing blessings and curses as they fall.” But onstage at the church services he calls concerts is where Springsteen reaches full coherence. For the musician—as for the memoirist—that is not at all the same as bliss: “Onstage your exhilaration is in direct proportion to the void you’re dancing over,” he writes. He remembers one concert during which he had the sensation that things were falling apart. He was thinking about himself too much, volleying the voices in his head, instead of just performing. Yet decades later, when he went back to listen, that was the concert with extra power and resonance. That was one of the legendary shows his fans talk about and claim to have attended. “One must still have chaos within,” Nietzsche wrote, “in order to give birth to a dancing star.” David Brooks is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Road to Character.

really good fun” with her. “That bad child” barely comes up again until Lindgren goes out the following year to buy a copy of her own “jolly funny book,” just published. Instead, Lindgren is intent on bearing sharp-eyed witness to the real world. The incongruities are jarring. Chaos spreads in Europe, while neutral Sweden remains a surreal oasis of comparative calm and

comfort. In back-toback entries in 1942, she takes note of “completely lunatic amounts of blood” in Stalingrad and of her cozy family Christmas in Stockholm. Lindgren salutes, but also scrutinizes, her country’s refusal to engage. A bystander’s unillusioned record of a war-ravaged, refugee-strewn world resonates these days. And Lindgren’s

bracing testimony sheds unexpected light on outlandish Pippi after all. Her upstart orphan has always seemed so, well, un-Swedish— with her antiauthoritarian zeal, her kooky autonomy, her glee in wreaking havoc on adult tidiness. But as a child born of a war-haunted imagination, Pippi and her zany gumption make perfect sense. — Ann Hulbert




The Master of Highbrow Horror How the childlike fervor of Guillermo del Toro’s imagination turns genre ilms into art BY TE R RE N C E R A F F E RT Y


H E D I R E C T O R G U I L L E R M O D E L T O R O won’t have a feature ilm out in 2016, but his brand—and his spirit—seem to be everywhere. His sumptuously gruesome vampire/plague TV series, The Strain, is currently in its third season. In recent months, an exhibition called “Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters” opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and a boxed set of his Spanishlanguage horror ilms, Cronos (1993), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), has been issued by the Criterion Collection, just in time for the holidays (Halloween and Day of the Dead, that is). In December, Netlix will stream the original animated series Trollhunters, produced by del Toro and based on a 2015 young-adult novel written by him and Daniel Kraus. Next year, the museum show will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto. This isn’t exactly world domination of the sort that the villains and monsters in The Strain and his 2004 ilm, Hellboy, crave, but for a ilmmaker who has directed only nine




movies in 23 years, the reach of his name as a guarantee of a certain kind of genre entertainment is pretty impressive. Just as Alfred Hitchcock—about whom he wrote a short book as a young man—was the master of suspense, del Toro is as close as we’ve got right now to a master of horror. Hitchcock and del Toro aren’t similar artists at all, really, except in their common dedication to purely visual, and visceral, storytelling. (And, okay, their common girth: They are rotund men.) I think it’s fair to say that both ilmmakers transformed their chosen genres by bringing to them a more personal intensity than the weary old forms had been accustomed to. All horror traffics in fear, but the fear in del Toro’s work isn’t simply the something’s-out-to-get-you feeling of conventional scare pictures. It’s fear mixed with fascination, a childlike wonder at the strange shapes reality can take. In the poem “Children Selecting Books in a Library,” Randall Jarrell writes, “Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres / Because their lives are: the capricious infinite.” That’s where the best moments of del Toro’s ilms always seem to be taking place—in the capricious ininite as it is apprehended, warily, in the mind’s eye of a child. “At Home With Monsters” is, in a way, a look inside del Toro’s own peculiarly configured

Illustration by TIM McDONAGH

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“Monsters are, to this day, true family to me.” consciousness. Most of the exhibit consists of the actual contents of a house—called Bleak House—that the director keeps in a suburb of Los Angeles. It’s essentially a boy’s macabre playhouse, stuffed with horror memorabilia, including life-size eigies of famous creatures like Frankenstein’s monster and famous writers like Poe and Lovecraft (which are only slightly less alarming). In his foreword to the exhibition catalog, del Toro writes: “Monsters are, to this day, true family to me. They are not eigies collected for proit or due to a completist mania. In Bleak House, I have built a temple to them, and within [it] I have built devotional shrines.” He was raised Catholic, in Mexico. Horror’s his religion now.


UT T Y AS THAT SOUNDS, a measure of quasi-religious devotion isn’t the worst quality for a ilmmaker to have. (Besides, nothing in movie history suggests that a gooball can’t also be an artist.) Right from his irst movie, Cronos, del Toro’s weird faith seemed to set his work apart. You could feel something buzzing in there, like the blood-hungry insect living inside the beautiful little machine that, in the movie, turns people into vampires. There’s an obsessiveness in the design of that small contraption, in its

glittering golden surface and its mysterious and lovingly photographed clockwork mechanism: It’s a Fabergé egg with a stinger inside, a horror so lovely that it’s impossible to resist. Only a mad monk like del Toro could dream up an object like that, and make a ilm that works just like it. Del Toro’s approach in Cronos, romantic and funkily lyrical, was clearly something diferent in the genre, which in the early 1990s was still dominated by teen-centric slasher pictures of the Halloween/Friday the 13th/A Nightmare on Elm Street variety (though their popularity had begun to fade). And yet Cronos isn’t entirely an art-house film, either. It’s too outrageous, too gleefully bloody. For del Toro, as for many ilm artists (Hitchcock, De Palma, and Peckinpah come to mind), the higher and lower impulses coexist peacefully in his creative sensibility. There are moments of breath-catching beauty even in Mimic (1997), a movie about giant cockroaches, and in the comic-book extravaganza Hellboy; and moments of hide-your-eyes gruesomeness even in the graceful fables Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. Although the ilms in the Criterion box, called Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro, seem more serious than a monster-movie blowout like Paciic Rim (2013), none of his pictures are austere, exactly. Everything he does has the profuse, spilling-over quality of a hyperactive kid’s imagination. His most recent ilm, Crimson Peak (2015), is a Victorian ghost story, which suggests a certain gentility, but there’s nothing genteel about del Toro’s revenants, nothing wispy or discreet. They crawl, they grimace terribly, they trail strings of ectoplasm like the tatters of a shroud. The atmosphere is hushed, the settings are elegant, and the camera movements are silky-smooth, but del Toro’s creatures never respect niceties of tone. They’ll crash any party and don’t mind making a mess. Before del Toro came along, that sort of playfulness, that dark exuberance, had been missing from horror for too long (with sporadic exceptions like Kathryn Bigelow’s hallucinatory vampire road movie of 1987, Near Dark). Because fear is such an easy emotion to evoke in a movie audience, horror can be the most cynical of genres. Any ilmmaker with a bit of technique can get a nice satisfying reaction out of us—a shudder, a scream, or a heartfelt “Ewwww!”—without much efort, and after a while (if not sooner) a certain contempt for the audience can set in. The fright becomes mechanical, just an exercise in stimulus and response; the horrors are engineered rather than imagined. That’s never the case in a del Toro movie. The ghastly sights he puts on the screen feel as




if they’ve sprung from his dreams. (What nightmares a sleepover at Bleak House might induce … ) His images are irrationally, often surreally, awful. The vampires in The Strain, for instance, do their killing not by delicately sinking fangs into a victim’s neck, but by extruding a disturbingly long, thick, purplish tongue, forked at the end like a snake’s. The heroine of Pan’s Labyrinth, who is played by an 11-year-old, at one point inds herself in the lair of a thin, pale, hairless creature that has no eyes in his face but sometimes has eyes in the palms of his long-ingered hands. It’s a tough image to shake. And that’s just as it should be, in horror. At its infrequent best, the genre is more about imagery than narrative, closer to poetry than to fiction. What we remember from horror movies are moments of keen, concentrated fear; lashes of appalling beauty; and of course the monsters, whose function is to incarnate forces that cannot be understood. Del Toro takes great care with his monsters, that “true family” of his. (He once studied with the great special-effects makeup artist Dick Smith, of Exorcist fame.) They come in diferent shapes and sizes, from the nasty bug in Cronos to the massive Kaiju of Paciic Rim, which rise from the ocean and can level cities. He favors creatures that sport nonhuman extensions of the body—tendrils, tentacles, tails, all kinds of appendages that reach and probe and disturb the air. There are things with horns and things with wings. He looks at these fantastic beings as the children in Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth look at them: with some fear, and more curiosity.


I S S E N S I BI L I T Y I S N’ T, perhaps, to everyone’s taste, but it is, I think, an artist’s sensibility, and it’s unmistakably his. Del Toro is one of those fortunate moviemakers, like Hitchcock, who happened on a popular genre that suits his deepest, oldest preoccupations—all the childish things he never cared to put aside. Hitchcock’s obsessions are a shade more grown-up, but just a shade—adolescent anxieties in which sex and guilt and the possibility of punishment are all jumbled up together and ind their clearest expression in the taut, nervous form of the thriller. Horror is for those whose sense of dread is more primitive, or less mundane. It’s for people who never outgrew their belief that the world is ininitely mysterious, and that its unknowability is the source of both terror and pleasure. It’s for people like Guillermo del Toro. Not that there are many who can match the boyish fervor of his imagination. That’s probably just as well; a world full of del Toros would be exhausting, maybe deranging. But it’s good




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At its infrequent best, the horror-film genre is closer to poetry than to fiction.

to have one of him, at least, to remind other artists, and audiences, that horror movies can be more than just scream machines, that they can sometimes transform our fears and fantasies into beautiful monsters. Since he came on the scene, the overall quality of the genre has ticked up, slightly but measurably, and more ilmmakers seem to be telling horror stories about children. He has acted as a producer on some of those movies, such as J. A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007), Troy Nixey’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010), and Andrés Muschietti’s Mama (2013). You can also feel his inspiration, if not his direct inluence, in quite a few others. The subdued palette and muted tone of Tomas Alfredson’s tween vampire tale, Let the Right One In (2008), for example, aren’t del Toro–ish at all, but in some peculiar way the kids’ attitude toward the world’s terrors is. Like the responses of the young protagonists in The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, their reactions to dire experiences mix dread, detachment, and a strange sort of hopefulness. And in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), a 6-year-old Australian boy who passionately believes in monsters learns that some demons—the domestic kind that beset his widowed mother—can’t really be defeated. They can only be contained, locked away in a corner of the cellar; if you’re careful, you can live with your family monster. That’s an idea the custodian of Bleak House would approve of. And in Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015)— subtitled A New-England Folktale—the question of belief in monsters, the basic del Toro theme, takes on a different sort of urgency, because the children here belong to a family of devout 17th-century Puritans settled on a sere, ungiving patch of land. Their brand of religion, which lacks devotional imagery, and their spare and dutiful way of life leave them oddly defenseless when bad things start to happen and the world (or God) seems to turn against them. In the absence of art and play, their belief in evil becomes something unendurable, a pure torment. Although The Witch has a creature in it as sinister-looking as anything del Toro has dreamed up—a goat called Black Phillip, which may be the devil itself—the spirit of this great horror movie is so unlike his as to seem almost a backhanded vindication of his lamboyant aesthetic. If only this unfortunate family had pictures to look at, eigies, shrines to what they fear, they might be able to survive the evil around them. That’s how frightened kids survive their childhoods, and how a master of horror can help us all, at any age, get through our scary days. Terrence Raferty is the author of The Thing Happens, a collection of writings about movies.

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Dating, Disrupted Why is inding love in the app era such hard work? BY J U D ITH S H U LE V ITZ


MERICANS ARE NOW C ONSIDERED prime candidates for dating from age 14 or younger to close to 30 or older. That’s about 15 years, or roughly a ifth of their lives. For an activity undertaken over such a long period of time, dating is remarkably diicult to characterize. The term has outlasted more than a century’s worth of evolving courtship rituals, and we still don’t know what it means. Sixthgraders claim to be dating when, after extensive negotiations conducted by third parties, two of them go out for ice cream. Many college students and 20-somethings don’t start dating until after they’ve had sex. Dating can be used to describe exclusive and nonexclusive relationships, both short-term and long-term. And now, thanks to mobile apps, dating can involve a succession of rendezvous over drinks to check out a dizzying parade of “matches” made with the swipe of a inger. The purpose of dating is not much clearer than its deinition. Before the early 1900s, when people started “dating,” they “called.” That is, men called on women, and everyone more or less agreed on the point of the visit. The potential spouses assessed each other in the privacy of her home, her parents assessed his eligibility, and either they got engaged or he went on his way. Over the course of the 20th century, such encounters became more casual, but even tire kickers were expected to make a purchase sooner rather than later. Five decades ago, 72 percent of men and 87 percent of women had gotten married by the time they were 25. By 2012, the situation had basically reversed: 78 percent of men and 67 percent of women were unmarried at that age. The obvious reason for declining marriage rates is the general erosion of traditional social conventions. A less obvious reason is that the median age for both sexes when they irst wed is now six years older than it was for their counterparts in the 1960s. In 2000, Jefrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University, coined the term emerging adulthood to describe the long phase of experimentation that precedes settling down. Dating used to be a time-limited means to an end; today, it’s often an end in itself. Yet the round-robin of sex and intermittent attachment doesn’t look like much fun. If you’re one of the many who have used an online dating service (among those “single and looking,” more than a third have), you know how quickly dating devolves into work. Tinder’s creators modeled their app on playing cards so it would seem more like a game than services like OkCupid, which put more emphasis on creating a detailed proile. But vetting and being vetted by so many strangers still takes time and concerted




attention. Like any other freelance operator, you have to develop and protect your brand. At its worst, as Moira Weigel observes in her recent book, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, dating is like a “precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship. You cannot be sure where things are heading, but you try to gain experience. If you look sharp, you might get a free lunch.” In Future Sex, another new examination of contemporary sexual mores, Emily Witt is even more plaintive. “I had not sought so much choice for myself,” she writes, “and when I found myself with total sexual freedom, I was unhappy.”


E ARE IN THE EARLY STAGES of a dating revolution. The sheer quantity of relationships available through the internet is transforming the quality of those relationships. Though it is probably too soon to say exactly how, Witt and Weigel ofer a useful perspective. They’re not old fogies of the sort who always sound the alarm whenever styles of courtship change. Nor are they part of the rising generation of gender-luid individuals for whom the ever-lengthening list of sexual identities and

ainities spells liberation from the heteronormative assumptions of parents and peers. The two authors are (or in Weigel’s case, was, when she wrote her book) single, straight women in their early 30s. Theirs is the “last generation,” Witt writes, “that

Illustration by RUNE FISKER

lived some part of life without the Internet, who were trying to adjust our reality to our technology.” Weigel, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Yale, embarked on her charmingly digressive, nonacademic history of American dating after being strung along by a caddish boyfriend torn between her and an ex-girlfriend. His conidence that he was entitled to what he desired (even if what he desired was to be indecisive), compared with her inability to assert her own needs, dismayed her. How retrograde! The sexual revolution had failed her. “It did not change gender roles and romantic relationships as dramatically as they would need to be changed in order to make everyone as free as the idealists promised,” she writes. To understand how she, and women like her, came to feel so dispossessed, she decided to investigate the heritage encoded in the rituals of dating. Witt, an intrepid journalist and mordantly ambivalent memoirist, looks forward rather than back. With no serious boyfriend in sight— “love is rare,” she writes, “and it is frequently unreciprocated”—she set out to examine alternatives to a “monogamous destiny,” eager for a future in which “the primacy and legitimacy of a single sexual model” is no longer assumed. Adopting the role of participant-observer, she moves through an assortment of sexual subcultures. Many of these are artifacts of the internet, from online dating to sadomasochistic feminist pornography sites to webcam peepshows such as one called Chaturbate. She hopes to ind clues about what relationships might look like in a postromantic, postmarital age.


E I T H E R W I T T N O R W E I G E L is naive or nostalgic. If you tested them on their knowledge of Jane Austen and gender theory, they’d almost certainly get A’s. They understand that mating practices have always relected economic conditions and been openly transactional for women whose lives and livelihoods depended on their outcome. I imagine the two authors as undergraduates writing papers about the romantic ideal as an ideological construct and bridezilla weddings as its death throes. But life isn’t graduate school. It’s life. As knowing as they are, Witt and Weigel start their projects feeling “lonely, isolated, and unable to form the connections we wanted,” in Witt’s words, and they know other women feel the same way. Both of them want to discover more-authentic ways to bond. As Weigel tells it, dating is an unintended by-product of consumerism. Nineteenth-century industrialization ushered in the era of cheap goods, and producers needed to sell more of them. Young

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“Most of my friends agreed that dating felt like experimental theater.”

women moved to cities to work and met more eligible men in a day than they could previously have met in years. Men started taking women out to places of entertainment that ofered young people refuge from their sharp-eyed elders—amusement parks, restaurants, movie theaters, bars. “The irst entrepreneurs to create dating platforms,” Weigel calls their proprietors. Romance began to be decoupled from commitment. Trying something on before you bought it became the new rule. Then as now, commentators fretted that dating commercialized courtship. In the early 20th century, journalists and vice commissioners worried that the new custom of men paying for women’s dinners amounted to prostitution. Some of the time it surely did—just as today, some dating websites, like SeekingArrangement, pair “sugar babies” with “sugar daddies” who pay off college debts and other expenses. “Ever since the invention of dating, the line between sex work and ‘legitimate’ dating has remained diicult to draw,” Weigel writes. Well before app users rated potential partners so ruthlessly, daters were told to “shop around.” They debated whether they “owed” someone something “in exchange for” a night out. Today, as Weigel notes, we toss around business jargon with an almost transgressive glee, subjecting relationships to “cost-beneit analyses” and invoking the “low risk and low investment costs” of casual sex. Weigel worries that the naked mercantilism of recreational sexual encounters coarsens us and reinforces stereotypes. Those who try to wriggle out of the old gender roles end up skittish and confused. “Most of my friends agreed that dating felt like experimental theater,” Weigel writes. “You and a partner showed up every night with diferent, conlicting scripts. You did your best.” Dating may have morphed into improv, but that hasn’t made matters easier for women. If anything, today’s sexual norms favor men. Women must cope with two intense time pressures: to make a good impression in a matter of seconds, and to pair of before the biological timer runs out. Now more than ever, they have to discipline their bodies and restrain their longings—avoid being “too fat, too loud, too ambitious, too needy,” in Weigel’s words.


ITT, TOO, IS IMPATIENT with the failure of gender equality to create sexual equality. Even adventurous women, she notes, still take on the bulk of whatever emotional burden comes with casual sex— “trying to control attachment, pretending to enjoy something that hurt or annoyed them, deining sexiness by images they had seen rather than knowing what they wanted.” She’s looking for an




empowered version of uninhibited sexuality, or free love, as it used to be called. Oddly, though, the free love she inds is rarely free. Witt mostly trains her attention on sexual interactions that are explicitly commercial. (The exceptions are a polyamorous threesome and Burning Man, the sex-and-drugs-and-self-actualization festival held yearly in the Nevada desert.) She wants to know whether women who use sex to make money, or who exploit men for pleasure, somehow develop more sexual conidence, have a greater sense of sexual agency. A writer of many registers, Witt conveys amusement, bemusement, disgust, and sympathy all at once. She ights her reluctance to go on dates arranged through OkCupid, and ends up enjoying some of them. She befriends women who do a great many strange things in exchange for micropayments from customers on Chaturbate (baking cupcakes with bared breasts; telling followers about one’s existential crises while sitting nude on a bed). Witt lets one of these women talk her into doing her own show, though Witt is too nervous to do more than chat with a man who is lying in bed naked except for a pair of Ray-Bans. She goes further at OneTaste, an organization that sells workshops on something called orgasmic meditation, which is meant to train people, particularly women, to focus on their own sexual pleasure without the distraction of emotions, expectations, and inhibitions. Witt signs up for stroking sessions—15 minutes of clitoral manipulation—which she receives at the hands of Eli, an Apple employee turned OneTaste staf member. The irst time he strokes her, she experiences a “deep, intense comfort” that she traces to her neither wanting nor being required to have sex with Eli; when she has an orgasm during the third session, she’s left feeling sad. OneTaste is obviously preying on the sexual desperation of the lonely, but Witt also gives its practitioners credit for trying to “arrive at a more authentic and stable experience of sexual openness … Their method was strange, but at least they believed in the possibility.” Delving into the deep web and its more extreme forms of pornography, Witt discovers not just the reinforcement of oppressive standards but also their subversion—“a wilderness beyond the gleaming edge of the corporate Internet and the matchstick bodies and glossy manes of network television.” In addition to the usual bondage and discipline, this sexual hinterland features bushy pubic hair, tattoos, bodily luids, Mexican wrestling masks, birthday cake, ski goggles, and more. The indexes on fetish-speciic sites include big clit, chubby, pufy nipples, farting, hairy pussy, fat mature, and ugly. Witt is taken aback by her own




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positive response. “In looking through all this I found unexpected reassurance that somebody will always want to have sex with me,” she writes. “This was the opposite of the long road toward sexual obsolescence that I had been taught to expect.”

B Should marriage be downgraded to a joint custodial venture for raising kids?



U T W H A T A B O U T the road toward greater sexual equality? I hope I don’t sound like an alarmed old fogy when I say that the lessons Witt takes away from her journey aren’t very comforting. I doubt many people will share her hopes for the future of marriage and love. Witt, consistent in her ambivalence, doesn’t sound too enthused about them herself. Marriage could be downgraded to a joint custodial venture for the raising of children. We could practice “the emotional management of multiple concurrent relationships.” That doesn’t sound fulilling; it sounds exhausting. It’s telling that the only time Witt inds joy is at Burning Man, the pop-up city that she recognizes for what it is: “rich people on vacation breaking rules that everyone else would sufer for if they didn’t obey.” Still, the psychedelic drugs, the guru, the instant bond with the guy she meets and accompanies to the orgy dome—the experience “felt right” to Witt, and inspires a tentative vision of a more unfettered sexuality. Perhaps the generation after hers would “do their new drugs and have their new sex. They wouldn’t think of themselves as women or men. They would meld their bodies seamlessly with their machines, without our embarrassment, without our notions of authenticity.” Well, maybe. But then what? Weigel, by contrast, doesn’t give up on the quest for lasting afection. She has no brave new world to propose, just some ixes for the current one. As her historical survey makes clear, love will never rid itself of economic considerations. Her advice for today’s daters is to embrace the fact that dating is indeed a transaction, that it involves work. Only then can they focus on making the change that counts: approaching romance not as a consumer but as a would-be producer. What would they produce? Care. “Love consists of acts of care you can extend to whomever you choose, for however long your relationship lasts,” Weigel reminds her readers. Yes, care involves as much labor as pleasure, but it’s the best kind of labor there is. The future—our future and the next generation’s—depends on it. If dating for women and men alike became less callow and more careful, less like a shopping spree and more like training for the rigors of intimacy, maybe the whole business wouldn’t be so unsatisfying.

Judith Shulevitz is the author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Diferent Order of Time.

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N A RECENT EVENING in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.” Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words FACE DOWN, a reminder of the device’s optimal position. I followed him into a spacious venue packed with nearly 400 people painting faces, illing in coloring books, and wrapping yarn around chopsticks. Despite the cheerful summer-camp atmosphere, the event was a reminder of the binary choice facing smartphone owners, who, according to one study, consult their device 150 times a day: Leave the WMD on and deal with relentless prompts compelling them to check its screen, or else completely disconnect. “It doesn’t have to be the all-or-nothing choice,” Harris told me after taking in the arts-and-crafts scene. “That’s a design failure.”

Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co-founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a inger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked of what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us. Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certiication standards,” 58



he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.” Joe Edelman—who did much of the research informing Time Well Spent’s vision and is the co-director of a think tank advocating for more-respectful


L L T H I S TA L K of hacking human psychology could sound paranoid, if Harris had not witnessed the manipulation irsthand. Raised in the Bay Area by a single mother employed as an advocate for injured workers, Harris spent his childhood creating simple software for Macintosh computers and writing fan mail to Steve Wozniak, a cofounder of Apple. He studied computer science at Stanford while interning at Apple, then embarked on a master’s degree at Stanford, where he joined the Persuasive Technology Lab. Run by the experimental psychologist B. J. Fogg, the lab has earned a cultlike following among entrepreneurs hoping to master Fogg’s principles of “behavior design”—a euphemism for what sometimes amounts to building software that nudges us toward the habits a company seeks to instill. (One of Instagram’s co-founders is an alumnus.) In Fogg’s course, Harris studied the psychology of behavior change, such as how clicker training for dogs, among other methods

A “Hippocratic oath” for software designers would stop the exploitation of people’s psychological vulnerabilities. software design—likens Harris to a techfocused Ralph Nader. Other people, including Adam Alter, a marketing professor at NYU, have championed theses similar to Harris’s; but according to Josh Elman, a Silicon Valley veteran with the venture-capital irm Greylock Partners, Harris is “the irst putting it together in this way”—articulating the problem, its societal cost, and ideas for tackling it. Elman compares the tech industry to Big Tobacco before the link between cigarettes and cancer was established: keen to give customers more of what they want, yet simultaneously inlicting collateral damage on their lives. Harris, Elman says, is offering Silicon Valley a chance to reevaluate before moreimmersive technology, like virtual reality, pushes us beyond a point of no return.

of conditioning, can inspire products for people. For example, rewarding someone with an instantaneous “like” after they post a photo can reinforce the action, and potentially shift it from an occasional to a daily activity. Harris learned that the mostsuccessful sites and apps hook us by tapping into deep-seated human needs. When LinkedIn launched, for instance, it created a hub-and-spoke icon to visually represent the size of each user’s network. That triggered people’s innate craving for social approval and, in turn, got them scrambling to connect. “Even though at the time there was nothing useful you could do with LinkedIn, that simple icon had a powerful efect in tapping into people’s desire not to look like losers,” Fogg told me. Harris began to

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Harris gives off a preppyhippie vibe that allows him to move comfortably between Palo Alto boardrooms and device-free retreats.

see that technology is not, as so many engineers claim, a neutral tool; rather, it’s capable of coaxing us to act in certain ways. And he was troubled that out of 10 sessions in Fogg’s course, only one addressed the ethics of these persuasive tactics. (Fogg says that topic is “woven throughout” the curriculum.) Harris dropped out of the master’s program to launch a start-up that installed explanatory pop-ups across thousands of sites, including The New York Times’. It was his first direct exposure to the war being waged for our time, and Harris felt torn between his company’s social mission, which was to spark curiosity by making facts easily accessible, and pressure from 60



publishers to corral users into spending more and more minutes on their sites. Though Harris insists he steered clear of persuasive tactics, he grew more familiar with how they were applied. He came to conceive of them as “hijacking techniques”—the digital version of pumping sugar, salt, and fat into junk food in order to induce bingeing. McDonald’s hooks us by appealing to our bodies’ craving for certain flavors; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter hook us by delivering what psychologists call “variable rewards.” Messages, photos, and “likes” appear on no set schedule, so we check for them compulsively, never sure when we’ll receive that dopamine-activating prize. (Delivering rewards at random has been proved to quickly and strongly reinforce behavior.) Checking that Facebook friend request will take only a few seconds, we reason, though research shows that when

interrupted, people take an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task. Sites foster a sort of distracted lingering partly by lumping multiple services together. To answer the friend request, we’ll pass by the News Feed, where pictures and auto-play videos seduce us into scrolling through an ininite stream of posts—what Harris calls a “bottomless bowl,” referring to a study that found people eat 73 percent more soup out of self-reilling bowls than out of regular ones, without realizing they’ve consumed extra. The “friend request” tab will nudge us to add even more contacts by suggesting “people you may know,” and in a split second, our unconscious impulses cause the cycle to continue: Once we send the friend request, an alert appears on the recipient’s phone in bright red—a “trigger” color, Harris says, more likely than some other hues to make people click—and because seeing our name taps into a hardwired sense of social obligation, she will drop everything to answer. In the end, he says, companies “stand back watching as a billion people run around like chickens with their heads cut of, responding to each other and feeling indebted to each other.” A Facebook spokesperson told me the social network focuses on maximizing the quality of the experience—not the time its users spend on the site—and surveys its users daily to gauge success. In response to this feedback, Facebook recently tweaked its News Feed algorithm to punish clickbait—stories with sensationalist headlines designed to attract readers. (LinkedIn and Instagram declined requests for comment. Twitter did not reply to multiple queries.) Even so, a niche group of consultants has emerged to teach companies how to make their services irresistible. One such guru is Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, who has lectured or consulted for firms such as LinkedIn and Instagram. A blog post he wrote touting the value of variable rewards is titled “Want to Hook Your Users? Drive Them Crazy.” While asserting that companies are morally obligated to help those genuinely addicted to their services, Eyal contends that social media merely satisfies our appetite for entertainment in the same way TV or novels do, and that the latest technology tends to get viliied simply because it’s new, but eventually people

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ind balance. “Saying ‘Don’t use these techniques’ is essentially saying ‘Don’t make your products fun to use.’ That’s silly,” Eyal told me. “With every new technology, the older generation says ‘Kids these days are using too much of this and too much of that and it’s melting their brains.’ And it turns out that what we’ve always done is to adapt.” Google acquired Harris’s company in 2011, and he ended up working on Gmail’s Inbox app. (He’s quick to note that while he was there, it was never an explicit goal to increase time spent on Gmail.) A year into his tenure, Harris grew concerned about the failure to consider how seemingly minor design choices, such as having phones buzz with each new email, would cascade into billions of interruptions. His team dedicated months to fine-tuning the aesthetics of the Gmail app with the aim of building a more “delightful” email experience. But to him that missed the bigger picture: Instead of trying to improve email, why not ask how email could improve our lives—or, for that matter, whether each design decision was making our lives worse? Six months after attending Burning Man in the Nevada desert, a trip Harris says helped him with “waking up and questioning my own beliefs,” he quietly released “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention,” a 144-page Google Slides presentation. In it, he declared, “Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in SF, aged 25–35) working at 3 companies”—Google, Apple, and Facebook—“had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention … We should feel an enormous responsibility to get this right.” Although Harris sent the presentation to just 10 of his closest colleagues, it quickly spread to more than 5,000 Google employees, including then-CEO Larry Page, who discussed it with Harris in a meeting a year later. “It sparked something,” recalls Mamie Rheingold, a former Google stafer who organized an internal Q&A session with Harris at the company’s headquarters. “He did successfully create a dialogue and open conversation about this in the company.” Harris parlayed his presentation into a position as product philosopher, which involved researching ways Google could 62



adopt ethical design. But he says he came up against “inertia.” Product road maps had to be followed, and ixing tools that were obviously broken took precedence over systematically rethinking services. Chris Messina, then a designer at Google, says little changed following the release of Harris’s slides: “It was one of those things where there’s a lot of head nods, and then people go back to work.” Harris told me some colleagues misinterpreted his message, thinking that he was proposing banning people from social media, or that the solution was simply sending fewer notiications. (Google declined to comment.) Harris left the company last December to push for change more widely, buoyed by a growing network of supporters that includes the MIT professor Sherry Turkle; Meetup’s CEO, Scott Heiferman; and Justin Rosenstein, a coinventor of the “like” button; along with fed-up users and concerned employees across the industry. “Pretty much every big company that’s manipulating users has been very interested in our work,” says Joe Edelman, who has spent the

Society; the O’Reilly Design Conference; an internal meeting of Facebook designers; and a TEDx event, whose video has been viewed more than 1 million times online. Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media and an early web pioneer, told me Harris’s ideas are “deinitely something that people who are inluential are listening to and thinking about.” Even Fogg, who stopped wearing his Apple Watch because its incessant notiications annoyed him, is a fan of Harris’s work: “It’s a brave thing to do and a hard thing to do.”


T U N P L U G S F, a burly man calling himself “Haus” enveloped Harris in a bear hug. “This is the antidote!,” Haus cheered. “This is the antivenom!” All evening, I watched people pull Harris aside to say hello, or ask to schedule a meeting. Someone cornered Harris to tell him about his internet “sabbatical,” but Harris cut him of. “For me this is w-talk,” he protested. Harris admits that researching the ways our time gets hijacked has made

Snapchat’s tactics for hooking users may make Facebook’s look quaint.

past ive years trading ideas and leading workshops with Harris. Through Time Well Spent, his advocacy group, Harris hopes to mobilize support for what he likens to an organicfood movement, but for software: an alternative built around core values, chief of which is helping us spend our time well, instead of demanding more of it. Thus far, Time Well Spent is more a label for his crusade—and a vision he hopes others will embrace—than a fullblown organization. (Harris, its sole employee, self-funds it.) Yet he’s amassed a network of volunteers keen to get involved, thanks in part to his frequent cameos on the thought-leader speaker circuit, including talks at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet &

him slightly obsessive about evaluating what counts as “time well spent” in his own life. The hypnosis class Harris went to before meeting me—because he suspects the passive state we enter while scrolling through feeds is similar to being hypnotized—was not time well spent. The slow-moving course, he told me, was “low bit rate”—a technical term for data-transfer speeds. Attending the digital detox? Time very well spent. He was delighted to get swept up in a mass game of rock-paper-scissors, where a series of one-on-one elimination contests culminated in an onstage showdown between “Joe” and “Moonlight.” Harris has a tendency to immerse himself in a single activity at a time. In conversation, he rarely breaks eye contact

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and will occasionally rest a hand on his interlocutor’s arm, as if to keep both parties present in the moment. He got so wrapped up in our chat one afternoon that he attempted to get into an idling Uber that was not an Uber at all, but a car that had paused at a stop sign. An accordion player and tango dancer in his spare time who pairs plaid shirts with a bracelet that has PRESENCE stamped into a silver charm, Harris gives of a preppy-hippie vibe that allows him to move comfortably between Palo Alto boardrooms and device-free retreats. In that sense, he had a great deal in common with the other Unplug SF attendees, many of whom belong to a new class of tech elites “waking up” to their industry’s unwelcome side efects. For many entrepreneurs, this epiphany has come with age, children, and the peace of mind of having several million in the bank, says Soren Gordhamer, the creator of Wisdom 2.0, a conference series about maintaining “presence and purpose” in the digital age. “They feel guilty,” Gordhamer says. “They are realizing they built this thing that’s so addictive.” I asked Harris whether he felt guilty about having joined Google, which has inserted its technology into our pockets, glasses, watches, and cars. He didn’t. He acknowledged that some divisions, such as YouTube, beneit from coaxing us to stare at our screens. But he justiied his decision to work there with the logic that since Google controls three interfaces through which millions engage with technology—Gmail, Android, and Chrome—the company was the “first line of defense.” Getting Google to rethink those products, as he’d attempted to do, had the potential to transform our online experience. At a restaurant around the corner from Unplug SF, Harris demonstrated an alternative way of interacting with WMDs, based on his own self-defense tactics. Certain tips were intuitive: He’s “almost militaristic about turning off notifications” on his iPhone, and he set a custom vibration pattern for text messages, so he can feel the difference between an automated alert and a human’s words. Other tips drew on Harris’s study of psychology. Since merely glimpsing an app’s icon will “trigger this whole set of sensations and thoughts,” he pruned the irst screen of his phone to include only apps, such as 64



Uber and Google Maps, that perform a single function and thus run a low risk of “bottomless bowl–ing.” He tried to make his phone look minimalist: Taking a cue from a Google experiment that cut employees’ M&M snacking by moving the candy from clear to opaque containers, he buried colorful icons—along with time-sucking apps like Gmail and WhatsApp—inside folders on the second page of his iPhone. As a result, that screen was practically grayscale. Harris launches apps by using what he calls the phone’s “consciousness filter”— typing Instagram, say, into its search bar—which reduces impulsive tapping. For similar reasons, Harris keeps a Postit on his laptop with this instruction: “Do not open without intention.” His approach seems to have worked. I’m usually quick to be annoyed by friends reaching for their phones, but next to Harris, I felt like an addict. Wary of being judged, I made a point not to check my iPhone unless he checked his irst, but he went so long without peeking that I started getting antsy. Harris assured me that I was far from an exception. “Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives,” he said. “And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time.” URIOU S TO HEAR MORE about Harris’s plan for tackling manipulative software, I tagged along one morning to his meeting with two entrepreneurs eager to incorporate Time Well Spent values into their start-up. Harris, flushed from a yoga class, met me at a bakery not far from the “intentional community house” where he lives with a dozen or so housemates. We were joined by Micha Mikailian and Johnny Chan, the co-founders of an ad blocker, Intently, that replaces advertising with “intentions” reminding people to “Follow Your Bliss” or “Be Present.” Previously, they’d run a marketing and advertising agency. “One day I was in a meditation practice. I just got the vision for Intently,” said Mikailian, who sported a chunky turquoise bracelet and a man bun.


“It fully aligned with my purpose,” said Chan. They were interested in learning what it would take to integrate ethical design. Coordinating loosely with Joe Edelman, Harris is developing a code of conduct—the Hippocratic oath for software designers—and a playbook of best practices that can guide start-ups and corporations toward products that “treat people with respect.” Having companies rethink the metrics by which they measure success would be a start. “You have to imagine: What are the concrete beneits landed in space and in time in a person’s life?,” Harris said, coaching Mikailian and Chan. At his speaking engagements, Harris has presented prototype products that embody other principles of ethical design. He argues that technology should help us set boundaries. This could be achieved by, for example, an inbox that asks how much time we want to dedicate to email, then gently reminds us when we’ve exceeded our quota. Technology should give us the ability to see where our time goes, so we can make informed decisions—imagine your phone alerting you when you’ve unlocked it for the 14th time in an hour. And technology should help us meet our goals, give us control over our relationships, and enable us to disengage without anxiety. Harris has demoed a hypothetical “focus mode” for Gmail that would pause incoming messages until someone has inished concentrating on a task, while allowing interruptions in case of an emergency. (Slack has implemented a similar feature.) Harris hopes to create a Time Well Spent certification—akin to the LEED seal or an organic label—that would designate software made with those values in mind. He already has a shortlist of apps that he endorses as early exemplars of the ethos, such as Pocket, Calendly, and f.lux, which, respectively, saves articles for future reading, lets people book empty slots on an individual’s calendar to streamline the process of scheduling meetings, and aims to improve sleep quality by adding a pinkish cast to the circadian-rhythm-disrupting blue light of screens. Intently could potentially join this coalition, he volunteered. As a irst step toward identifying other services that could qualify, Harris has experimented with creating software that




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would capture how many hours someone devotes weekly to each app on her phone, then ask her which ones were worthwhile. The data could be compiled to create a leaderboard that shames apps that addict but fail to satisfy. Edelman has released a related tool for websites, called Hindsight. “We have to change what it means to win,” Harris says.


H E BI G G E S T O B S TAC L E to incorporating ethical design and “agency” is not technical complexity. According to Harris, it’s a “will thing.” And on that front, even his supporters worry that the culture of Silicon Valley may be inherently at odds with anything that undermines engagement or growth. “This is not the place where people tend to want to slow down and be deliberate about their actions and how their actions impact others,” says Jason Fried, who has spent the past 12 years running Basecamp, a project-management tool. “They want to make things more sugary and more tasty, and pull you in, and justify billions of dollars of valuation and hundreds of millions of dollars [in] VC funds.” Rather than dismantling the entire attention economy, Harris hopes that companies will, at the very least, create a healthier alternative to the current diet of tech junk food. He recognizes that this shift would require reevaluating entrenched business models so success no longer hinges on claiming attention and time. As with organic vegetables, it’s possible that the irst generation of Time Well Spent software might be available at a premium price, to make up for lost advertising dollars. “Would you pay $7 a month for a version of Facebook that was built entirely to empower you to live your life?,” Harris says. “I think a lot of people would pay for that.” Like splurging on grass-fed beef, paying for services that are available for free and disconnecting for days (even hours) at a time are luxuries that few but the reasonably well-of can aford. I asked Harris whether this risked stratifying tech consumption, such that the privileged escape the mental hijacking and everyone else remains subjected to it. “It creates a new inequality. It does,” Harris admitted. But he countered that if his movement gains steam, broader change could occur, much in the way Walmart now stocks organic produce.

Currently, though, the trend is toward deeper manipulation in ever more sophisticated forms. Harris fears that Snapchat’s tactics for hooking users make Facebook’s look quaint. Facebook automatically tells a message’s sender when the recipient reads the note—a design choice that, per Fogg’s logic, activates our hardwired sense of social reciprocity and encourages the recipient to respond. Snapchat ups the ante: Unless the default settings are changed, users are informed the instant a friend begins typing a message to them—which efectively makes it a faux pas not to inish a message you start. Harris worries that the app’s Snapstreak feature, which displays how many days in a row two friends have snapped each other and rewards their loyalty with an emoji, seems to have been pulled straight from Fogg’s inventory of persuasive tactics. Research shared with Harris by Emily Weinstein, a Harvard doctoral candidate, shows that Snapstreak is driving some teenagers nuts—to the point that before going on

companies face a brain drain. The more people recognize the repercussions of tech irms’ persuasive tactics, the more working there “becomes uncool,” he says, a view I heard echoed by others in his ield. “You can really burn through engineers hard.” There is arguably an element of hypocrisy to the enlightened image that Silicon Valley projects, especially with its recent embrace of “mindfulness.” Companies like Google and Facebook, which have ofered mindfulness training and meditation spaces for their employees, position themselves as corporate leaders in this movement. Yet this emphasis on mindfulness and consciousness, which has extended far beyond the tech world, puts the burden on users to train their focus, without acknowledging that the devices in their hands are engineered to chip away at their concentration. It’s like telling people to get healthy by exercising more, then ofering the choice between a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder when they sit down for a meal.

Harris hopes that companies will offer a healthier alternative to the current diet of tech junk food— perhaps at a premium price. vacation, they give friends their log-in information and beg them to snap in their stead. “To be honest, it made me sick to my stomach to hear these anecdotes,” Harris told me. Harris thinks his best shot at improving the status quo is to get users riled up about the ways they’re being manipulated, then create a groundswell of support for technology that respects people’s agency—something akin to the privacy outcry that prodded companies to roll out personal-information protections. While Harris’s experience at Google convinced him that users must demand change for it to happen, Edelman suggests that the incentive to adapt can originate within the industry, as engineers become reluctant to build products they view as unethical and

And being aware of software’s seductive power does not mean being immune to its inluence. One evening, just as we were about to part ways for the night, Harris stood talking by his car when his phone lashed with a new text message. He glanced down at the screen and interrupted himself mid-sentence. “Oh!” he announced, more to his phone than to me, and mumbled something about what a coincidence it was that the person texting him knew his friend. He looked back up sheepishly. “That’s a great example,” he said, waving his phone. “I had no control over the process.” Bianca Bosker is the author of Original Copies and the forthcoming Cork Dork. She is the former executive tech editor at The Huington Post. T H E AT L A N T IC





What’s the most exciting start-up right now? TOP ANSWERS






“Deep Mind, which is owned by Google. As artificial intelligence becomes the new oil, its algorithms could end up generating the major part of the wealth of one of the wealthiest companies in the world.” — Kevin Kelly, senior maverick, Wired

“Enigma. It’s an MIT-spawned company doing super-interesting work in anonymity and privacy— an important social and business problem.” — Mike Olson, chief strategy oficer, Cloudera

“Dropcam. Seeing my daughter go to bed or wake up while I’m on the road is amazing.” — Rachel Holt, head of U.S. and Canada operations, Uber



“I’ve been impressed by uBeam and its goal of creating a world without wires for electric charging.” — Mohan Patt, vice president of product and shopping experience, eBay

“Glow, which leverages data science to help women get pregnant.” — Sylvio Drouin, vice president, Unity Labs

Do you own a Tesla? “Yes, I am a living stereotype: CEO of a tech company called Rocket Fuel and driving a Tesla. But the torque is mind-blowing!!”



— Randy Wootton, CEO, Rocket Fuel

What does Silicon Valley think of Peter Thiel? Why did people fall for Theranos? And what’s in store for Marissa Mayer? In our third annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, more than 50 tech executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in. ILLUSTRATIONS BY ZOHAR LAZAR




Which new app or product is about to become a household name? TOP ANSWERS

Amazon Echo/ Alexa

Augmented reality

“If I knew, I’d be rich.”





years has most of life? TOP ANSWERS


In what year will more white-collar Americans telecommute than work in ofices?


2018 3% 2020

and apps



Updates to iPhones/ iPads

Which company will be the first to bring a fully driverless car to market? TOP ANSWERS


65% Google

13% Mercedes-Benz

6% Uber

6% In what year? 2017 2% 2018

In 2014, Theranos (a blood-testing company) was valued at $9 billion. Two years later, it was under criminal investigation. Why didn’t more people see its meltdown coming?


Which was worse?

Peter Thiel’s endorsement of Trump: 56%

— Jef Rodman, co-founder, Polycom

“Theranos had name-brand investors, name-brand partners, and a superaccomplished board. The company had major media covering it. And everyone was asleep at the wheel.”

18% 2030 6% 2050 9% Never/not in my lifetime

I’d even take a poorly written PHP script over Trump. — David Cann, CEO, Double Robotics

“No one seems to be able to quite figure out why he did it. I’m sure he has a nonobvious plan.” — Eric Wahlforss, founder and CTO, Soundcloud

Peter Thiel’s war on Gawker: 36% “Choosing to privately fund an attack on the media ecosystem goes against the very promise of technology.”

13% 2019 16% 2020 36% 9% 2022 7% 2023 4% 2024 4% 2025 9%

Whom will you vote for in November?

“Wanting to believe in Santa Claus. There are uncomfortable parallels to Trump here, actually: hiding the underlying data beneath the pretense of confidentiality, and a strong ‘This is really exciting, trust me’ message. In both cases, nobody pushed hard enough or dug deeper.”

— Carl Bass, CEO, Autodesk



2022 3% 2023 3% 2025

— Danah Boyd, founder, Data & Society

Neither. I approve of both: 8% “More people should have the courage to put their money and reputations behind their beliefs.” — Andrew Thompson, CEO, Proteus Digital Health




Do you own a robot?

Should Apple have unlocked the San Bernardino shooter’s phone?

No: 78% “A back door is a back door, period, and unlocking this phone would have set a deeply harmful precedent.” — Katherine Maher, executive director, Wikimedia Foundation

Yes: 22% In what year will a majority of American households have one?

“Silicon Valley has come to see the government as the enemy, not a public service often trying to keep us safe.” — Glenn Kelman, CEO, Redfin

2018 5% 2020 9% 2021 5% 2022 9% 2024 2% 2025

Seriously, the NSA can’t crack an iPhone?!?! — Josh Leslie, CEO, Cumulus Networks

Which tech companies have reputations as being good places for women to work? TOP ANSWERS


31% Google/Alphabet

26% “I can’t think of one.”

17% Apple

17% Slack

10% Microsoft


33% 2026 5% 2030 9% 2035 2% 2050 5%

Has the tech industry made meaningful progress in addressing sexism in the past three years? “Civil society and feminist organizations have made great progress in getting their ideas heard, but Silicon Valley is reluctant to change.”

It already happened/ depends on the definition

— Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation

How much time does Marissa Mayer have left at Yahoo? (posed soon after Verizon bought Yahoo)

Weeks: 7% A few months: 34% Six months to a year: 39% “She has engineered a great result for a company that should have gone out of business two years ago.” — Christian Reilly, CTO, Citrix

Verizon will keep her on: 20% “Do you really think Verizon knows how to run Yahoo any better?” — David Cann, CEO, Double Robotics

Which tech company (besides your own) is the most prestigious to work for? TOP ANSWERS


30% Google/Alphabet


“We continuously redefine

Facebook half century, or we will never have robots.” — Waldo Jaquith, director, U.S. Open Data

23% “Look, 10 years ago no one even talked about the fact that I was the only woman in the room. Now we talk about it a lot. That is progress, folks.” — Leyla D. Seka, senior vice president and general manager of, Salesforce






What’s the most Silicon Valley–ish thing you’ve ever seen someone say or do? “ ‘We are going to disrupt the pettransportation industry.’ ” — Mike Ghafary, CEO, Yelp Eat24

A banker recently said the words ‘Right now in the unicorn space, we are seeing …’ — Zander Lurie, CEO, SurveyMonkey

“A founder told me he was getting his entire start-up to try microdosing mushrooms to improve focus.” — Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Internet of Things and applications division, Cisco

Who has the best job in Silicon Valley? TOP ANSWERS

Elon Musk


Is Silicon Valley a meritocracy? “Silicon Valley is a small bubble of existence that mixes meritocracy with luck.” — Jason Holmes, executive vice president and COO, Marketo

Mark Zuckerberg

12% Jed York

The realestate agents

5% Marissa Mayer

5% “At least from the point of view of economics.” — Mark Bregman, senior vice president and CTO, NetApp

Brian Chesky (CEO OF AIRBNB)


— Danah Boyd, founder, Data & Society

“A prominent venture capitalist said to me while trying to invest in my company, ‘You know how venture is— all those geeky guys holed up in their offices and hot assistants tripping around on high heels.’ ” — Kieran Snyder, CEO, Textio



“It’s a state of mind: thinking that technology can solve everything, that tech is a meritocracy, that tech is inherently progress, that efficiency is inherently good, etc.”


Verbatim quote from a venture capitalist: ‘Call me if you have other investors interested.’

— Kieran Snyder, CEO, Textio

— Mike Olson, chief strategy oficer, Cloudera

“A lot of people have incredible narratives, but most of the people at the top were always going to be the people at the top—they had uncomplicated access to opportunities that women and people of color and other minorities simply don’t.”

“Taking a Lyft to your Tesla, which is Luxe valet-parked.”

— Rob Markman, manager of artist relations, Genius

— Sara Haider, head of mobile engineering, Periscope

“I’ve seen someone buy a tech company that wasn’t worth more than $10 million for more than $100 million because they liked the company’s (then) CEO.” — Mike Bell, president and CEO, Silver Spring Networks

‘My MVP was DOA, so until I figure out my next pivot I’m driving for Uber.’ — Tim Wilson, partner, Artiman

The Panel Steven Aldrich, chief product oicer, GoDaddy, Jonathan Badeen, co-founder and chief strategy oicer, Tinder, Carl Bass, CEO, Autodesk, Mike Bell, president and CEO, Silver Spring Networks, Steven Boal, founder and CEO, Quotient, Danah Boyd, founder, Data & Society, Mark Bregman, senior vice president and CTO, NetApp, David Cann, CEO, Double Robotics, Steve Carlin, vice president and general manager, SoftBank Robotics America, Mike Curtis, vice president of engineering, Airbnb, Scott Dietzen, CEO, Pure Storage, Tyler Droll, co-founder and CEO, Yik Yak, Sylvio Drouin, vice president, Unity Labs, Sara Gardner, CTO of social innovation, Hitachi, Mike Ghaffary, CEO, Yelp Eat24, Tom Gonser, founder, DocuSign, Sara Haider, head of mobile engineering, Periscope, Gavin Hall, CTO, TED, Aaron Harris, partner, Y Combinator, Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development, Nvidia, Jason Holmes, executive vice president and COO, Marketo, Ryan Holmes, CEO, Hootsuite, Rachel Holt, head of U.S. and Canada operations, Uber, Waldo Jaquith, director, U.S. Open Data, Matt Jones, CEO, E8 Security, Richard Jonker, vice president of SMB product-line management, Netgear, Kevin Kelly, senior maverick, Wired, Glenn Kelman, CEO, Redfin, Philip Krim, CEO, Casper, Josh Leslie, CEO, Cumulus Networks, Chris Livesey, chief marketing oicer, Micro Focus, Zander Lurie, CEO, SurveyMonkey, Katherine Maher, executive director, Wikimedia Foundation, Rob Markman, manager of artist relations, Genius, Neha Narkhede, co-founder and CTO, Confluent, Mike Olson, chief strategy officer, Cloudera, Cindy Padnos, founder and managing partner, Illuminate Ventures, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director, Code for America, Mohan Patt, vice president of product and shopping experience, eBay, Christian Reilly, CTO, Citrix, Jeff Rodman, co-founder, Polycom, Leyla D. Seka, senior vice president and general manager of, Salesforce, Clara Shih, founder and CEO, Hearsay Social, Kieran Snyder, CEO, Textio, Andrew Thompson, CEO, Proteus Digital Health, Chris Toth, president, Varian Oncology Systems Americas, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Internet of Things and applications division, Cisco, Eric Wahlforss, founder and CTO, Soundcloud, Kira Wampler, chief marketing oicer, Lyft, David Weinberger, senior researcher, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Tim Wilson, partner, Artiman, Randy Wootton, CEO, Rocket Fuel, Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation






WAR GOES VIRAL HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IS BEING WEAPONIZED By Emerson T. Brooking and P. W. Singer Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez




LIKE MOST EVERYTHING TODAY, THE CAMPAIGN WAS LAUNCHED WITH A HASHTAG. But instead of promoting a new album or a movie release, #AllEyesOnISIS announced the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq—a bloody takeover that still haunts global politics two years later. Revealing a military operation via Twitter would seem a strange strategy, but it should not be surprising given the source. The self-styled Islamic State owes its existence to what the internet has become with the rise of social media—a vast chamber of online sharing and conversation and argumentation and indoctrination, echoing with billions of voices. Social media has empowered ISIS recruiting, helping the group draw at least 30,000 foreign fighters, from some 100 countries, to the battleields of Syria and Iraq. It has aided the seeding of new franchises in places ranging from Libya and Afghanistan to Nigeria and Bangladesh. It was the vehicle ISIS used to declare war on the United States: The execution of the American journalist James Foley was deliberately choreographed for viral distribution. And it is how the group has inspired acts of terror on ive continents. So intertwined are the Islamic State’s online propaganda and real-life operations that one can hardly be separated from the other. As ISIS invaders swept across northern Iraq two years ago, they spammed Twitter with triumphal announcements of freshly conquered towns and horriic images of what had happened to those who fought back. A smartphone app that the group had created allowed fans to follow along easily at home and link their social-media accounts in solidarity, permitting ISIS to post automatically on their behalf. J. M. Berger, a fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, counted as many as 40,000 tweets originating from the app in a single day as black-clad militants bore down on the city of Mosul. Media reports from the region were 72



saturated with news of the latest ISIS victory or atrocity, helping to fuel a sense of the Islamic State’s momentum. There was no time to distinguish false stories from real ones. Instead, each new post contributed to the sense that northern Iraq had simply collapsed in the face of the ISIS onslaught. And then it did. Terror engulfed Mosul, a city of 1.8 million people. The 25,000-strong Iraqi garrison may have been equipped with an arsenal of American-made Abrams tanks and Black Hawk helicopters, but it was disoriented by reports of the enemy’s speed and ferocity. Already beset by low morale and long-festering corruption, it crumpled under the advance of a mere 1,500 ISIS ighters, equipped mostly with small arms. The Islamic State was left to occupy the city virtually uncontested, seizing vast quantities of weapons and supplies, including some 2,300 Humvees. In the abrupt surrender of Mosul and collapse of defending Iraqi forces, one could ind echoes of the similarly shocking fall of France to the 1940 German blitzkrieg. The Germans relied upon the close coordination of tanks and planes, linked together by radio. Radio gave their forces speed—and also the ability to sow fear beyond the front lines. ISIS spread a similar panic online. Immaculately staged photos, filtered through Instagram, transformed a ragtag force riding in dusty pickup trucks into something larger than life. Armies of Twitter bots twisted small, one-sided skirmishes into significant battlefield victories. Hashtags were created and pushed (and others hijacked) to shape and hype the story. Through this fusion of activities, ISIS stumbled upon something new. It became, in the words of Jared Cohen, a former State Department stafer and now the director of Jigsaw (Google’s internal think tank), “the irst terrorist group to hold both physical and digital territory.”

It will not be the last. The fate of the self-declared caliphate, now under the assault of nearly two dozen national militaries, is uncertain. Yet the group has already proved something that should concern any observer of war and peace, law and anarchy. While the Islamic State has shown savvy in its use of social media, it is the technology itself—not any unique genius on the part of the jihadists—that lies at the heart of the group’s disruptive power and outsize success. Other groups will follow. And not just terrorist groups. This is only the beginning of a larger revolution, one that is already starting to reshape the operations of small-time gangs on one end of the spectrum, and the political and military strategies of heavily armed superpowers on the other. More than a year ago, we set out to understand the use of social media as both a tool in conlict and a shaper of it, tracking how online chatter has begun to intersect with real-life violence in dozens of armed confrontations around the globe. In doing so, we sought to untangle a seeming contradiction. The internet has long been celebrated for its power to bring people together. Yet as it turns out, this same technology is easily weaponized. Smartphones and social apps have clearly altered the nuts and bolts of violent conlict, from recruiting to battlefield reporting. But the greatest efects may be more fundamental, expanding the causes and possibly the incidence of war, and extending its reach. Social-media platforms reinforce “us versus them” narratives, expose vulnerable people to virulent ideologies, and inlame even long-dormant hatreds. They create massive groundswells of popular opinion that are nearly impossible to predict or control. Social media has already revolutionized everything from dating to business to politics. Now it is reshaping war itself.

“A BOND OF PERPETUAL PEACE” War, as the 19th-century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, is simply the continuation of politics by other means. Social media, by democratizing the spread of information and erasing the boundaries of time and distance, has expanded the means, transforming war to an extent not seen since the advent of the telegraph.

In 1838, Sidney Morse wrote to his brother Samuel to congratulate him on the recent unveiling of the telegraph, which Sidney called “not only the greatest invention of this age, but the greatest invention of any age.” He prophesied, “The surface of the earth will be networked with wire, and every wire will be a nerve. The earth will become a huge animal with ten million hands, and in every hand a pen to record whatever the directing soul may dictate!” In his 1998 book, The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage describes how starkly and suddenly the telegraph altered many aspects of life. A culture of tinkerers and hackers arose around the device, with its own lingo and even its own courtships and romances, conducted in Morse code. Businesses could track their supplies with a level of accuracy hitherto unimaginable, and coordinate far-lung operations more closely. Newspapers, which had barely contained any international coverage before, were suddenly stuffed with reports of recent events taking place thousands of miles away. Overnight, these distant occurrences assumed great weight in political discourse, even though their actual efect on people’s lives had not changed at all. As telegraph cables crisscrossed the globe, many observers felt that history had turned a page. According to the historian Johanna Neuman, great thinkers of the day believed that “the knowledge relayed by the telegraph would make nations so conversant with the national interests of their one-time enemies that war would come no more.” The first transatlantic cable was laid between North America and Europe in 1858. In an exchange of congratulations, President James Buchanan expressed to Queen Victoria his belief that the telegraph would “prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument designed … to difuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world.” Within a few days, Britain would use the same cable to send orders to its military. The telegraph swiftly became an important new tool of war. Beginning in the Crimean War (1853– 56), what might once have been broad instructions, traveling weeks by sea, became, to the lament of oicers in the ield, micromanaged battle orders sent by cables from London to Russia. A new kind of

Tweets, photos, and other visuals from ISIS and ISIS-friendly accounts feature a mixture of slick production and attempts at intimacy and personal connection.

generalship emerged during the Prussian Wars of Uniication (1864–71), as the movements of whole armies were coordinated in real time. In the American Civil War (1861–65), Confederate and Union soldiers, each seeking an edge over the other, laid some 15,000 miles of telegraph wire. The telegraph also reshaped the public experience of war. One journalist marveled, “A battle is fought three thousand miles away, and we have the particulars while they are taking the wounded to the hospital.” This immediacy, in turn, introduced new opportunities for ideologues and media entrepreneurs to stoke public outrage and even enthusiasm for war: The competitive “yellow journalism” that preceded the Spanish-American War (1898) is the classic example. As news reporting increasingly became a contest of speed, accuracy became a secondary concern. Members of the Associated Press were so intent on keeping readers informed of every lurid detail of the conlict with Spain that they chartered boats that

sailed frantically through naval battles to reach the nearest telegraph station. Citizens around the world were suddenly privy to “news”—whether true or not—that had once been the exclusive domain of monarchs and ministers. Meanwhile, information obtained by newspapers could drive government action. The world had shrunk. The pace of international events increased.



changes are now being wrought by social media. Today, there are 3.4 billion internet users, rendering Sidney Morse’s bold prediction of “ten million hands” rather modest by comparison. Roughly 500 million tweets are sent each day. Nearly seven hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube each second, in up to 76 diferent languages. With 1.7 billion active accounts, Facebook is the largest “country” in the world. According to Pew, clear majorities of American Twitter and Facebook users now get their news from these platforms. T H E AT L A N T IC



Fifty-nine percent of American Twitter users rely on the service to follow news events as they happen in real time. Yet we are not at the crest of the wave. Nearly half of the world’s adult population is still not online. Many of the new connections will be concentrated in regions most susceptible to violence and conlict. According to the International Telecommunication Union, internet use in the developing world grew by an average of 16 percent each year from 2005 to 2015. The U.S. National Intelligence Council has estimated that more people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East have internet access than have electricity. Such global connectivity has long stood as Silicon Valley’s holy grail, in the pursuit not just of proits but also of peace. It is why Google seeks to release giant balloons into the stratosphere,

The duality of human nature is readily apparent when social media ixates on conlict. Thanks to the internet, war crimes have been laid bare by citizen reporters examining evidence from thousands of miles away, and a voice has been given to sufering civilians who previously had none. Strangers can be moved to tears by the image of a drowned Syrian toddler washing up on the shores of Turkey, and the world has never seemed so small. But social media has also opened new avenues for extraordinary cruelty. In January, Syrianregime loyalists, learning of a rebel-held town that was starving under siege, taunted the residents by posting pictures of what they were eating for dinner. Indeed, the more we’ve learned about behavior on social media, the more apparent it has become that the mirror is distorted—or rather, that it

The concepts behind ISIS’s viral success are the same ones used to push a new Taylor Swift album. beaming internet access down to people who lack it, and why Facebook is building solar-powered drones to do the same. In 2005, when “The Facebook” was still a Palo Alto start-up, a college-age Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed by camcorder in the oice lounge, red Solo cup in hand. “The goal wasn’t to make an online community,” he explained of his new platform, but “a mirror of what existed in real life.” Social media is indeed a mirror, one that relects all manner of human interests and ideas, invariably extending into the realm of politics and violence. Last year, the most-talked-about event on Twitter was not a silly meme or a feelgood story: It was the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed by a coordinated team of ISIS gunmen. Millions watched as images and snippets of video captured the chaotic scenes. The most-powerful updates came from the victims trapped in the Bataclan theater, who naturally turned to social media to plead for help, even as jihadist murderers stalked the halls. 74



distorts us. For all the hope that comes from connecting with new people and new ideas, researchers have found that online behavior is dominated by “homophily”: a tendency to listen to and associate with people like yourself, and to exclude outsiders. Social networks are bad at helping you empathize with people unlike you, but good at surrounding you with those who share your outlook. The new information ecosystem does not challenge biases; it reinforces them. A review by the analytics irm Gnip (since acquired by Twitter) of 11.5 million tweets during and about the November 2012 Israeli-Palestinian clash, for instance, found that only 10 percent of this conversation occurred between supporters of the opposing sides. A similar examination of online activity during the 2014 race-related protests in Ferguson, Missouri, found that liberals and conservatives in the U.S. cited or put forth completely diferent facts and arguments and seemed hardly to acknowledge each other’s existence. Since May of this year, The Wall Street Journal has run a project

called “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” showing side-by-side Facebook streams of news sources popular with, respectively, liberal and conservative audiences. The resulting social-media feeds look like they’re from two parallel universes. Within a circle of friends or likeminded acquaintances, social media certainly fosters connection. But the further one zooms out—to whole societies or the course of global afairs—the more this connection is marred by tribalism and mutual mistrust. This problem is particularly disturbing because of another feature of social media: Its users are not passive consumers, like TV viewers or radio listeners or even early internet users. Via platforms that range from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and Weibo, we are all now information creators, collectors, and distributors. Civilians in conlict areas can take and publish inlammatory photos of collateral damage; suburban teens in Marseille or Seattle can follow the lives and losses of individual combatants and interact with them directly. And of course, messages that resonate can be endorsed, adapted, and instantly ampliied. Both ends of the communications process have been democratized in a way that no prior technology has accomplished. Social media has made a great many of us participants in, as well as observers of, conlict. The implications of this wide-scale participation extend far beyond the virtual realm.

WAR: THE VIRALMARKETING CAMPAIGN How can a group use social media to involve people deeply in a distant conflict—and even persuade them to join it? As a case study, consider the Islamic State. The ISIS propaganda machine is equal parts frightening and surreal: Prisoners who are about to be beheaded are fitted with lavalier microphones; synchronized murders are set to booming chorales; brutal clips of death and martyrdom are stitched together with Final Cut Pro. Just how did a throwback death cult with a seventh-century worldview come to dominate 21st-century social media so swiftly and completely? While ISIS may represent something new in its targeting of both physical and digital domains, it hasn’t, in fact,

invented anything new. Its members, in the words of the Australian counterterrorism researcher Haroro Ingram, are “more strategic plagiarists than geniuses.” ISIS has simply adapted the time-tested tactics of terror to the new rules of the social-media age. Terrorism has always been theatrical. Some 2,000 years ago, Jewish zealots known as the sicarii, or “dagger men,” stalked Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Rather than killing quietly in alleyways, they made sure to slay Roman sympathizers before a crowd. The aims of these town-square assassinations were the same as those of the Islamic State’s YouTube beheadings: to send a signal to as large an audience as possible. It was inevitable that terrorists, eager to spread their message, would be among the irst to recognize the promise of social media. What we know as the

McCants downplays the suggestion that this formula makes ISIS some kind of social-media innovator. The technologies to create these types of videos are now cheap and readily available. “It’s not mind-blowing—it’s what a normal PR irm might do.” Indeed, strip away the religious claims and the on-camera killings, and the ISIS online playbook looks much like any of the dozens of social-mediamarketing “how-to”s circulated by consultants. The principles that have guided the Islamic State’s viral success are the same ones used to publicize a new Taylor Swift album or the latest Star Wars movie. They are out there for anyone to copy. Two media specialists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson, have studied how the Islamic State builds its message, and discovered a consis-

Other extremist groups are already using ISIS’s playbook to win converts— and seem to be succeeding. Islamic State emerged from a mix of former lieutenants of Saddam Hussein and vicious jihadists of al-Qaeda in Iraq. They found common cause in Syria, broke with al-Qaeda, and were joined by a fresh wave of Millennial-generation recruits who had come of age during the 2011 Arab Spring—and who had seen the attention-grabbing power of Facebook and Twitter irsthand. William McCants, a scholar of militant Islam at the Brookings Institution, has tracked the evolution of terrorist propaganda, from audiotapes passed around by hand to hour-long sermons on VHS snuck out of Afghanistan to digital videos that look like movie trailers, tailored for sharing. ISIS mastered the latter, and this mastery, McCants says, helped it supplant al-Qaeda as the brand in favor among a new generation of jihadists. “Al-Qaeda videos look like something you’d see on Charlie Rose or PBS NewsHour,” he says. “ISIS videos have more of a Vice feel about them: They’re very visceral, very immediate. They’re from the battlefield.” But 76



tent and conscious efort to mimic the “Hollywood visual style.” Colors are saturated, contrasted, and crisp; subjects are kept in clear and tight focus. A former ISIS cameraman, now in a Moroccan jail, described to The Washington Post how he worked with nine other crew members to document the massacre of 160 captured Syrian soldiers in the desert south of Raqqa. Like the camera operators who ilm The Bachelor and other reality shows, they wove among “participants,” recording from a host of diferent angles, seeking the perfect shot. A study of 1,300 ISIS propaganda videos by Javier Lesaca, a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Afairs, found that 20 percent were directly inspired by Western entertainment: Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, American Sniper. The irony is as rich as it is gruesome—a group that sprang from al-Qaeda in Iraq copies shots from a Clint Eastwood ilm about an American serviceman who won glory while ighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Islamic State’s careful audiovisual

engineering hints at a future of war propaganda that will lean almost entirely on evocative and shareable images— everything from doctored photographs to video screenshots to infographics. ISIS militants have discovered, as marketing experts have long known, that compelling imagery matters far more than any accompanying text in determining whether or not something goes viral. Indeed, when the Turkish military launched an August ofensive into Syria to sweep ISIS militants from its border, it cribbed many of the very same online tactics, creating a Twitter account for the operation that pushed out everything from soldier selies to dramatic, staged videos of commando raids. But the Islamic State also understands the importance of intimacy and authenticity to social-media outreach. Professionally choreographed videos are complemented by rougher, firstperson shots of chaotic gun battles. And both are posted by actual ighters, who also opine on everything from religion to potato-peeling duty. For years, a Dutch jihadist ighting in the ISIS ranks maintained a personal Tumblr bursting with arresting images: his fellow ighters at rest; his newborn baby; even his cat, stretched alongside a suicide belt. These qualities have lain at the heart of the Islamic State’s success in online recruiting. Contact with sympathizers has often been made in an open forum, and then moved to private message exchanges. Plenty of radicalized Westerners, pulled back from the brink of recruitment, have described online relationships that unspooled over weeks or months. In time, the jihadists living on the other side of the world (or in some cases, pretending to) ceased to be seen as recruiters. They became friends—or at least the social-media version of friends. While choreography might seem to be in opposition to authenticity and intimacy, their clever combination is actually how the pop singer Katy Perry has accumulated more than 90 million Twitter followers, more than any head of state. Her tweets are usually casual and abbreviated, as if dashed out to a small group of friends. They intermix promotion with mundane, real-life moments. Likewise, the ISIS fighters who talk up the glory of the caliphate also muse online about, say, the death of the actor Robin Williams and their

childhood love of his movie Jumanji. This sense of authenticity wins and inspires followers in a way that oicial government press releases cannot. The scale of the Islamic State’s online eforts has been striking, relecting the group’s recognition of social media’s importance to its ends. In an October 2015 study for the Quilliam Foundation, the terrorism analyst Charlie Winter found that in a one-month period, the group released nearly 1,150 “propaganda events”—batches of related videos, articles, photos, and essays— originating from 35 different mediaproduction units. This cascade splashed through tens of thousands of accounts associated with ISIS, strewn across more than a dozen social-media platforms. Most of these releases never go viral, but then again, neither do most of the more than 200 articles a day posted by the online publishing giant BuzzFeed. Like BuzzFeed, ISIS appears to realize that while the internet never forgets, it is also true that people have never so quickly forgotten the things they see on the internet. (Remember Kony 2012 or Cecil the Lion?) Peter Bray, a socialmedia analyst, has found that the average tweet reaches the zenith of its popularity just 18 minutes after it’s sent. ISIS keeps its content fresh and in front of viewers by making many small bets, knowing some of them will pay of big. The group also tailors some of its propaganda to be picked up directly by the mainstream media, baiting them into amplifying the message further. There was initial puzzlement, in the hours following the August 2014 release of the horriic video showing the beheading of James Foley, as to why these brutal ISIS militants had not made the footage more gruesome, in the style of al-Qaeda’s past executions. Why had ISIS instead cut to black right as the murder began? Some news outlets unwittingly provided the answer by posting graphic stills on their websites and linking to the full video: The event had been ilmed in such a way as to make it shareable by conventional media outlets. Why do the hard work of spreading propaganda when others can be relied upon to do it instead? This same thinking has informed the Islamic State’s stratagem of hijacking breaking news. ISIS supporters have appropriated hashtags for global events like the World Cup, regional news like

The Israel Defense Forces is very active on social media. During conflicts, “war rooms” of Israeli soldiers and students vie with Palestinians to shape global perceptions.

an earthquake in Napa, California, and even events as inconsequential as an interview with a minor YouTube celebrity. Each of these tiny invasions has generated its own echoes in the press— including this article. The Islamic State’s online information war has unquestionably been effective. The past three years have seen a marked increase in local acts of terrorism “inspired”—but not directed—by the Islamic State and other entities. (In the U.S., the number so far in the 2010s is already more than twice that of the previous decade.) While a vast majority of people—Muslim and non-Muslim—reject the group’s toxic ideology, social media has nonetheless enabled ISIS to ind sympathizers and converts all over the world. Over time, this online propaganda— and the heightened visibility of terrorism itself—has burrowed deep into the psyches of people far beyond the Islamic State’s physical control. According to public-opinion research by Gallup, over the past two years, American fears of

terrorism have risen to a height not seen since the aftermath of 9/11. Even when violence is isolated and sporadic, social media ensures that it is never far from people’s minds. That in turn encourages ugly stereotyping and harmful overreactions by citizens, media, and politicians. The result is a widening of divisions and the spread of anger and fear—an ecosystem in which ISIS thrives. Other extremist groups are already using elements of the Islamic State’s playbook to try to win converts and attention—and seem to be succeeding. A recent paper by J. M. Berger, the expert on extremism at George Washington University, tracked the coordinated use of social media by American whitenationalist groups, whose ranks on Twitter have increased by 600 percent since 2012. Members, Berger wrote, push out hashtags and messages “in concert at high volumes” in order to build enough momentum to grab the attention of mainstream media outlets. They use platforms like Reddit for broad messaging— but also to draw individual users further T H E AT L A N T IC



into their web. Controversial and vibrant images are engineered to go viral, while videos and songs build on the success of existing memes: everything from spoofs of the Matrix movies to racist reworkings of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen.

NETWAR IS HERE More than a quarter century ago, two defense analysts with the Rand Corporation began to think seriously about how conlict might be shaped by the nascent internet. In their groundbreaking article “Cyberwar Is Coming!,” published in 1993, scarcely two years after the irst website had been created, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt predicted a future of military operations in which software code would be used as a means of attack. They also went a step further. Just as militaries might clash in cyberspace, they argued, entire societies would collide in a phenomenon they called “netwar.” In this sort of conlict, reality itself would be up for grabs. Netwar, they wrote, “means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population ‘knows’ or thinks it knows.” Information could be

The flagship of the Russian propaganda machine is Russia Today—or just RT, as it is emblazoned on New York City buses and street signs lining Fifth Avenue—which promises the timehonored service (and perceived truth) of “the second opinion.” A glitzy and contrarian news service that received roughly $250 million in government subsidies for 2016, RT injects Russian state opinion into international reporting; it broadcasts in English, Arabic, and Spanish, and posts additional items online in Russian, French, and German. It has become the most popular television news network on YouTube. Yet Russian information operations are like icebergs: RT and other branded propaganda outlets are just the small part that is visible. Beneath the surface, Russia maintains a vast digital network of bloggers and paid social-media commenters, many of whom do not advertise themselves as Russians at all. It is surprisingly easy to draw their ire. Just post something unfriendly toward the Russian position on Crimea or the 2014 shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine and you will soon

After the U.S. election, we should not be surprised to see mysterious internet users driving talk of resistance. fashioned into a dangerous weapon. Today, netwar is a daily reality. After lingering in the shadows of Russian military planning for decades, Soviet-style “information warfare” entered a period of renaissance in the past decade. Russian officials felt increasing pressure from the forces of Western liberalization and internet technology as they watched “color revolutions” engulf many nations of the former Soviet bloc. So they set out to harness the power of the internet to their own ends, controlling it at home and using it to divide foes abroad. An association of nearly 75 education and research institutions was devoted to studying the iner details of how the internet works, coordinated by the Russian Federal Security Service—the successor to the KGB. 78



find yourself receiving insulting messages from people you’ve never met and friend requests from mysterious lingerie models eager to change your mind (and keep a closer watch on you besides). Many of the real people behind these fake accounts are young and chic— aspiring writers who show up each day to work in “troll factories,” darkened oice buildings nestled in the suburbs of Moscow and St. Petersburg. They manufacture dozens of online personae, working 12-hour shifts. From cramped cubicles, they vent fog into discussions about geopolitics, NATO, Ukraine, American elections, and everything in between. As a European Union oicial who studies Russia’s propaganda put it, “The aim is not to make you love Putin. The aim is to make you disbelieve anything. A

disbelieving, fragile, unconscious audience is much easier to manipulate.” In the past, information-warfare campaigns have typically come at great cost and had little prospect of success. Even if the propaganda reached its intended audience and found a sympathetic ear, what then? How could dissidents locate one another, much less coordinate enough to have a meaningful political efect? Not so today. Thanks to social media, this same sort of propaganda effort can be conducted cheaply and almost invisibly. Even the most trivial sign of a political fissure—a few hundred angry users in an internet forum—represents a potential opportunity to sow discord and chaos in a rival nation. Sometimes, the goal is simply to stack tinder, throw matches, and see what happens. Far-right political parties (nationalist and isolationist) in countries such as Hungary, Greece, and France have been bolstered by Russian cash, accorded disproportionate coverage by Russian media, and then spun up with social-media support. In the United Kingdom, the unsuccessful 2014 Scottish-independence referendum was loudly condemned as “rigged” by Russian observers seeking to delegitimize democratic processes and stir the pot of resentment. The 2016 “Brexit” campaign calling for Great Britain to leave the European Union was similarly lavished with attention by the Russian press and backed by an army of trolls and Twitter bots. Other times, the misinformation campaign works toward narrower policy purposes. This summer, a small, peaceful anti-U.S. protest outside Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base was transformed, in characterizations by Russian media and internet trolls, into a much larger mob riot—portrayals that filtered into U.S. media and online discussion. Soon after, patently false rumors spread via social media that American nuclear weapons kept in Incirlik would be relocated to a military base in Romania—the same base where, in fact, a U.S. antimissile system had just been activated, over angry Russian objection. The aim of these falsehoods was to exaggerate the “disintegration” of U.S.-Turkish relations and to incite Romanian resentment against the NATO missile shield, in order to weaken acceptance of the U.S. military presence in Europe.

Information warfare can also serve more-chilling ends. Russia’s iniltration and invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine was preceded by a relentless online campaign to stoke pro-Russian protests and cast the new (Westernfriendly) Ukrainian government as, quite literally, a bunch of Nazis. What appear to be Kremlin planning documents, later leaked online, describe the campaign as playing on the “centrifugal aspirations” of Ukrainian minorities in order to initiate a “pro-Russian drift.” Similar smoke-and-mirrors efforts appear to be under way against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, each of which has a large ethnic-Russian population—and each of which is a member of NATO. Few targets loom larger than the United States. This election cycle, Russian hackers targeted the U.S. political system, digging up embarrassing information and spreading it as widely as possible. Russian trolls posed as angry U.S. supporters of one or another political campaign while outlets like RT leapt to enlarge the divisions that other parts of the propaganda machine had helped create. What felt new and strange to many Americans followed a familiar script: provoking restive minorities, strengthening the hand of potentially friendly politicians and political movements, undermining trust in democratic processes, and generally raising the volume of anger and dissent. The ultimate intent is not so much victory for a certain side, but a loss for everybody: sapping the credibility of U.S. institutions and tearing open as many wounds as possible. After Election Day, we should not be surprised to ind a vocal group of internet users with mysterious IP addresses decrying the result as a fraud and driving talk of conspiracy— and even of resistance or secession. In time, we may see a multiplying number of homegrown violent extremists (along the lines of the infamous Oregon militiamen), encouraged by the subtle manipulation of a certain rival government.



has pioneered this modern version of information warfare, it is hardly alone. Following a series of anticorruption protests in Turkey and a spate of critical international media coverage, for instance,

During a recent campaign in Syria, the Turkish Armed Forces borrowed a page from ISIS’s playbook, using social media to instill a sense of unopposable force.

the Turkish government hired thousands of professional trolls in a bid to build a social-media army. In Venezuela, authorities have used pro-government Twitter bots to manipulate one of the few news sources not already controlled by the state; the fake Twitter followers of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro were so loyal that he became the third-most-retweeted public figure in the world, behind only the king of Saudi Arabia and the pope. All of these efforts share the same two broad objectives. The irst is to overwhelm the state’s adversaries, be they foreign or domestic, with misinformation: to challenge the very basis of their reality. But the second is just as important: to mobilize their own citizens and supporters and bind them to the state. The power of social media is used to intensify nationalism and demonize the enemy. In this strategy, homophily is not something to be feared or avoided. It is the goal. The combination of untruth and homophily—set against a global battle of competing narratives—hints at a dark

future. A world without facts, cleanly segregated by ideology and national allegiance, will be a more dangerous one. Such cynical use of the internet not only threatens to keep people in a perpetual state of mistrust; it may also increase the likelihood of conlict itself. When it comes to social-media mobilization, China stands in a league all its own. The Chinese Communist Party has long stoked the fires of nationalism among the 700 million Chinese internet users in order to bolster the state against the perceived threats of outside information. The strategy is equal parts censorship and manipulation. China employs as many as 2 million internet censors and trolls, who, far from operating in the shadows, have their own system of professional certification. In the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the ultimate goal of online expression must be “condensing public opinion into consensus.” This apparatus will hit its next stage with the planned implementation of a national “social credit” system, in which T H E AT L A N T IC



the government will score citizens for trustworthiness and civic “goodness.” Akin to an Orwellian Klout score, the measure will draw from a combination of factors ranging from an individual’s employment history to her online behavior to even that of her friends and family, creating a self-policing system. In turn, the score will be used to determine real-world beneits and punishments. Such programs ofer the lure of control, which is growing ever more attractive as China enters a period of economic and political uncertainty. Their danger is that the regime will instead ind itself in a position of “ٍᤱ㉳Լ,” a proverb dating back to the Jin dynasty (A.D. 265– 420) meaning, literally, “Riding a tiger and it being hard to get of.” China’s cybernationalists have been shaped into a potent force, but they are also a hive that erupts angrily at the slightest perceived provocation from the United States, Taiwan, or Japan—and not always at their masters’ bidding. During this year’s Taiwanese elections, one of the most popular phrases on the Chinese social-media service Weibo translated as “Use force to unify Taiwan.” And while China was in discussions with its neighbors over disputed islands, Chinese networks commonly featured messages such as “Even if China is a graveyard, still need to kill all Japanese. Even if no grass grows in China, still need to recover Diaoyu Islands.” Following a July ruling by the International Court of Justice, which rejected many of China’s sweeping territorial claims to the South China Sea, Chinese social media exploded with hundreds of thousands of furious comments, many calling for war. The anger spooked senior party oicials; censors and state media worked overtime to restrain the very forces they had once helped unleash. Notably, the hive no longer roils at foreigners alone, but also at any Chinesegovernment actions that fall short of the most stridently patriotic standards. Following the October 2015 transit of a U.S. destroyer through contested waters, the fury of Chinese social-media users was directed not merely toward the United States, but also toward their country’s own military—once an unassailable institution. “Stop boasting and fight!” became a common refrain. Such loud and abrasive internet users will not cause a war on their own, 80



but they will complicate diplomats’ future eforts to avoid one. For the Chinese government, dependent above all else upon the illusion of consensus, the spontaneous political movements enabled by the internet represent a potentially existential threat. When the crowd cries for violence, its desires cannot be satisied—but neither can they be wholly ignored. “Domestic voices calling for a more muscular Chinese foreign policy have created a heated political environment,” Thomas Christensen, a Princeton professor and former State Department oicial for China policy, has written in Foreign Afairs. “Gone are the days when Chinese elites could ignore these voices.” It has become a cliché among international-relations scholars to draw parallels to 1914 Europe, but the potential challenges posed by social media make the comparison apt. Then, as now, regimes toyed with the power of nationalism, ampliied by new communications mediums, in order to maintain stability at home. They discovered too late that the popular forces they sought to manipulate were beyond their control. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914, few thought that global conlict was at hand. But over the next several weeks, diplomats and monarchs were left feeling helpless as their nations barreled toward World War I. For some, the prospect of disappointing their own nationalist citizens scared them more than the war itself. German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg lamented how the public clamor for blood constrained his choices, while Russian Tsar Nicholas II feared the very loss of his throne if he chose any other option than a march to war. He chose war, and the people eventually toppled him all the same. Reading the frantic diplomatic missives that traversed the telegraph lines in the inal days before hostilities commenced, one is struck by how the threat of conlict quickly adopted its own terrible logic and momentum. Impassioned populations and real-time reports of mobilizations and countermobilizations helped fuel a sense that, far from a conscious choice, war had become inevitable. Notably, this was the prevailing mood in an age when all the European royal families were related, when diplomats hailed from the same genial institutions, when governments exercised vastly

more power over the popular press than they do now. Lines of communication were largely controlled by the state, and formal correspondence usually unfolded over days, not hours or minutes. Today, national leaders engage in Twitter spats, and rapid-ire hashtags draw international attention. Public sentiment can be readily manipulated or even manufactured. And events, iltered through social media, can quickly go viral—the very deinition of spinning out of control. Perhaps the greatest danger in this dynamic is that, although information that goes viral holds unquestionable power, it bears no special claim to truth or accuracy. Homophily all but ensures that. A multi-university study of five years of Facebook activity, titled “The Spreading of Misinformation Online,” was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Its authors found that the likelihood of someone believing and sharing a story was determined by its coherence with their prior beliefs and the number of their friends who had already shared it—not any inherent quality of the story itself. Stories didn’t start new conversations so much as echo preexisting beliefs. This extreme ideological segregation, the authors concluded, “comes at the expense of the quality of the information and leads to proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust, and paranoia.” As smartphone cameras and streaming video turn every bystander into a reporter (and everyone with an internet connection into an analyst), “truth” becomes a matter of emotional resonance.


News of the meeting between the U.S. Army colonel and the unpopular governor of Kirsham province had seeped into social media long before the colonel’s convoy arrived in the muggy town of Dara Lam. Angry citizens began organizing a demonstration in front of the consulate building. Their #justice4all hashtag, which had begun trending around the world, did not escape the notice of the local Faqih insurgency. Rebel proxies iniltrated the online discussions, seeking to whip the protesters into a frenzy. Their plan was to ambush the U.S. troops as they exited the

building, using the protesters as human shields. Cameramen stood ready to record the attack and post it quickly to a network of rebel social-media accounts: The massacre would be live-streamed, and it would likely go viral. But others had also noticed this flurry of social-media activity. At the U.S. Army brigade’s tactical-operations center, news of the brewing online storm was passed swiftly up the chain of command. The colonel and his escort cut the meeting in Dara Lam short and discreetly left through a back entrance of the governor’s mansion. The attack was averted. The Faqih propaganda machine was out of luck. You will not ind a record of this event in the news, just as you will not ind the town of Dara Lam on a map. It is a fake settlement in a fake province in a fake country, all part of a fake war that breaks out every few months in Louisiana, at Fort Polk’s 72,000-acre Joint Readiness Training Center.

Internet Replication,” SMEIR is a fake internet of blogs, international media outlets, and social-media accounts, all woven together to form a virtual battleield atop the physical one. Units go out on patrol, villagers tweet about their movements, and the insurgents reshape the story to aid their recruiting—just as in real life. Major Marc Meyle, an Army intelligence oicer who helped create these scenarios, told us the idea is for the soldiers to be “challenged in a full environment: good guys, bad guys, people that can be swayed either way, multiple means of communication being thrown around.” He said that’s just “the way the world is today.” There is yet no consensus on how the U.S. military should operate in an environment saturated by smartphones and near-universal internet access. Each brigade rotating through Polk handles the experience diferently: Some shift their operations as a result of online chatter; others ignore it.

The Chinese internet hive no longer roils at foreigners alone, but also at China’s own military. Fort Polk has played an outsize role in U.S. military history. It was the site of the “Louisiana Maneuvers” in the early 1940s, when the Army made its transition from horses to armored tanks and trucks as it prepared to plunge into World War II. The fort has since become the military’s training ground for new kinds of conflict—first the simulation of Cold War– and Desert Storm–style mechanized maneuvers, and then, after 9/11, the complex counterinsurgency operations of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is replete with fake villages, “opposing forces” that use the tactics of the Taliban and ISIS, and even actors playing local civilians and hard-nosed journalists. And it is at Polk where the U.S. military is now learning how to ight a social-networked war. When units deploy into the simulated battles of Kirsham, they must navigate a new addition that mimics what is happening in the real wars beyond: the SMEIR. Short for “Social Media Environment and 82



This experiment at Polk represents a irst, small step in tackling a vast new operational challenge. Soldiers are learning that social media is an efective way to keep track of the enemy—but also that they are likewise being tracked. Yet even this challenge pales in comparison to the questions that will soon confront the nation that sends these soldiers into battle. When information carries so much power, who, exactly, is a combatant? Will it ever be an American duty to defriend enemy citizens on Facebook? To enlist in “information brigades” to help push back against hostile propaganda? These questions are no longer so fanciful. In recent conlicts, Israel has established Hasbara (the Hebrew word for “explanation”) war rooms, filled with university students and soldiers who tangle with Hamas and Palestinian sympathizers over what, exactly, is going on in their perpetual war. The scale of this online jousting is astounding.

During the 2014 flare-up in Gaza, for example, the two sides’ competing hashtags, #GazaUnderAttack and #IsraelUnderFire, racked up some 5 million uses. The Wikipedia page about the conflict has been edited and reedited more than 7,000 times. Even the ranking and targeting of enemies has begun to change. Take the case of Junaid Hussain. A British Muslim former “hacktivist” (who went by the handle “Trick”) and wannabe rapper, Hussain went to jail in 2012, at age 18, for hacking the personal information of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. In prison, he was radicalized and, once out, was seduced by the Islamic State’s online appeals. He went to Syria and set to work spreading ISIS propaganda across social-media platforms. “You can sit at home and play Call of Duty or you can come here and respond to the real call of duty,” his new “Abu Hussain al Britani” persona tweeted to his followers. “The choice is yours.” By August 2015, Hussain had reportedly become the third-most-important name on the anti-ISIS coalition’s “kill list”—behind only the Islamic State’s self-declared caliph and its top battlefield commander. Rather than any battleield skills or strategic brilliance, however, it was his social-mediamarketing skills that led military planners to prioritize his killing. Ironically, it was also his nonstop internet use that enabled his execution. Hussain was reportedly tricked into clicking a link in a messaging app that had been compromised by British intelligence, allowing him to be geolocated and killed by a Hellfire missile. (A year later, ISIS posted new footage of a young, blueeyed British boy executing a prisoner with a bullet to the back of the head. British media reported him to be the son of Sally Jones, a former punk rocker who had fallen in love with Hussain online, then joined him in Syria, her 10-year-old son in tow.) The convergence of online speech and physical violence creates new dilemmas not only for nations, but also for the companies that created and are now responsible for the digital landscape. The small start-ups that have blossomed into tech giants must navigate the limits of neutrality in a digital battleield of their own design. This is not just a matter of policing

social networks for violent, extremist content—a tough enough task already. If terrorists are to be banned from many popular platforms, for instance, who constitutes a terrorist? An ISIS fighter? An abortion-clinic bomber? An alt-right neo-Nazi? An activist from China’s long-restive Uighur minority? A Black Lives Matter protester? These decisions can carry extraordinary political consequences. Some experts argue that the focus should be not on the group, but on the content. Yet where should these lines be drawn—and by whom? Banning videos of killings might seem reasonable as a means of curtailing ISIS horror shows, but consider the July Facebook live-stream that showed Philando Castile, bloodied and dying, after being shot by a Minnesota police oicer. That video was as brutal as those produced by some terrorist groups (and was briely removed by Facebook moderators), yet it also prompted renewed discussion in American society about issues of race and policing. These questions already seem intractable, but what of something we have not seen since the internet came into existence: a war between great powers? Most of us did not associate Twitter with terrorism until the Islamic State stormed into Mosul. We have given similarly scant thought to what might happen if the wondrous tools of the 21st century are ever paired with the scale and intensity of the conlicts that deined the 20th. What might the responsibility of social-media giants be if a naval skirmish in the Paciic escalated into confrontation between the U.S. and China, or if the conflicts in the gray zone of Ukraine or the Baltics spiraled toward hostilities between NATO and Russia? With its user base of 1.7 billion, Facebook, for instance, can afect the tone and tenor of national debates with even tiny tweaks to the algorithms that govern its News Feed. This power has already become a point of concern in domestic politics, but what of war, during which subtle changes to the flow of information might grant an immense boon to one side over the other? In such a charged environment, remaining “neutral” would itself be a momentous choice. As Zeynep Tufekci, an expert on the inluence of technology on politics and

Russian social-media users and allied accounts seek to manipulate opinion and sow dissension in enemy states.

society at the University of North Carolina, has observed in The New York Times, “What we are shown is shaped by these algorithms, which are shaped by what the companies want from us, and there is nothing neutral about that.” And inally, what of the most drastic measures: Could the United States government, under great duress in some future conlict or catastrophe, censor or nationalize the social-media industry? Extreme as it may sound, there is ample precedent. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered the censorship of telegrams. Twelve days after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt formally established the U.S. Oice of Censorship— its official motto was “Silence speeds victory.” Would such control of social media be advisable? Would it even be possible? None of these issues has an easy answer. Yet these are the dilemmas that will come to deine the social-media age as it confronts the timeless challenge of war. National leaders will have to reckon with a social-media environment that seeds violence through vast digital networks and a public that has never spoken

with so loud and so immediate a voice. And they will face new kinds of conlict shaped by the internet’s next iteration. The emergence of a truly interconnected world has long been hailed as a step toward cross-cultural cooperation and global enlightenment. As societies communicate more freely, the thinking has gone, empathy will be nourished, the truth will be easier to ind, and many causes of conlict will wither. Thanks to the mobilizing power of social media and the resultant “wisdom of crowds,” citizens will exert more direct control over their governments, helping solve disputes without need for violence. The age of social media, in other words, should be an age of peace and understanding. The same was once said of the telegraph. Emerson T. Brooking is a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Peter Warren Singer is a strategist at New America and the author of multiple books, including Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know and Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. T H E AT L A N T IC








Furby (1998)


Sorting the good from the bad, the creepy from the adorable

A hamsterlike toy robot that could gradually learn to speak English. Tens of millions of them were sold in the late ’90s.

Roomba (2002)

This vacuum cleaner is just a disc on the floor. Even so, many owners get attached, and cringe when it bumps into things.

Paro (2003)

ASIMO (2000)

Designed as a prototype human assistant, it can walk up and down steps, dance—even conduct an orchestra.

R2-D2 Aibo (1999)

Sony’s robot dog was cute, but not $2,000 cute.


Nintendo ROB

This humble droid from Star Wars established that machines need not seem even a little human to be relatable.

The Robot Operating Buddy never worked very well, but it did help Nintendo sell video-game systems.


Kirobo (2014)

This one-foot-tall Japanese robot spent 18 months doing chores on the International

Eric Robot Simon (2009)

A research robot that’s supposed to learn how to interact with humans, Simon sends social cues via its expressions and gestures.

WALL-E (2008)

Pixar’s forlorn romantic had a Sisyphean task— to clean a dead Earth abandoned by humans— that suggested human decline is the prerequisite for robots’ rise.

Shakey (1966) (2011)

This tiny military robot can jump up to 30 feet over a wall or onto a building—a reminder that, like spiders, the smallest things can be among the most frightening.

that could reason about its future


One of the world’s first humanoid robots, Eric was built as a surrogate for the Duke of York and appeared in his stead at public events. Its head and limbs could

Replicants, Cylons, and other robot humans The ultimate nightmare: that ordinary people might really be robots.

movements, which and unsettling.

TE R R I 84


IGN Moley Robotic Chef (2017)

A pair of robotic arms sticking out from the kitchen backsplash, it promises to produce Michelin-star-worthy food. We’ll see …

Lego Mindstorms NXT

Kompaï (2010)

A service robot for elderly and disabled people, it looks like a shell-shocked vacuum cleaner forced into human servitude.


This system made programmable robotics accessible to kids, but it was finicky—a reminder that humans and robots will never fully understand each other.

Stacy (2016)

PETMAN (2011) (2001)

Sojourner (1996)

The NASA rover landed on Mars in 1997 to take pictures. Expected to work for just a week, Sojourner toiled for 85 days before shutting down.

Made by the same company as the Roomba, PackBot searched the World Trade Center rubble after 9/11 and helped Iraq War soldiers dispose of roadside bombs.

HRP-4C (2009)

Also known as Miim, this humanoid robot can sing and dance. Some have called it “hot.”

C R E E PY Nanobots




HAL 9000 (1968)

A glowing red lens with a calm voice, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey showed that the terror of robots is not just physical but existential: logic stripped of human reason.

If you were lost, would you let this search-and-rescue robot carry you to safety?

BigDog (2005)

This U.S.-military robot is meant to carry loads for soldiers, but it looks (and moves) like something out of an apocalyptic thriller.

Molecular-scale robots might have lifesaving applications, but the idea of billions of robots invisible to the human eye is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl.

In the 1886 novel The Future Eve, a fictional Thomas Edison creates this machine woman in order to avoid the “flaws” of a real one.


Pole-dancing robotic strippers. Nobody asked for this.


Hadaly (1886)

Lexy and Tess


A soft, tiny robot that can scale walls and traverse narrow passages. Someday it might be able to sneak through vents to watch you.


Also known as the Predator B, this drone ushered in a new era of modern warfare, in which machines can do the fighting for us.

Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921)

The Czech writer Karel Čapek coined the word robot in his play R.U.R. His “roboti” rose up against and annihilated their human overlords.




Despite its appearance, PETMAN is a friendly helper: It sacrifices itself for the good of humans by testing hazmat suits.




How America Outlawed Adolescence




One Monday morning last fall, at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, a 16-year-old girl refused to hand over her cellphone to her algebra teacher. After multiple requests, the teacher called an administrator, who eventually summoned a sherif ’s deputy who was stationed at the school. The deputy walked over to the girl’s desk. “Are you going to come with me,” he said, “or am I going to make you?” Niya Kenny, a student sitting nearby, did not know the name of the girl who was in trouble. That girl was new to class and rarely spoke. But Kenny had heard stories about the deputy, Ben Fields, who also coached football at the school, and she had a feeling he might do something extreme. “Take out your phones,” she whispered to the boys sitting next to her, and she did the same. The girl still hadn’t moved. While Kenny watched, recording with her iPhone, Fields wrenched the girl’s right arm behind her and grabbed her left leg. The girl lailed a ist in his direction. As he tried to wrestle her out of her chair, the desk it was attached to lipped over, slamming the girl backwards. Then he reached for her again, extracting her this time, and hurled her across the classroom loor. The other kids sat unmoving, hunched over their desks. The teacher and the administrator stood in silence. As Fields crouched over the girl to handcuf her, Kenny tried to hold her phone steady. Her legs were shaking and her heart was hammering in her chest. If this was really happening, she thought, someone needed to know about it—someone, apparently, outside that room. “Put your hands behind your back,” Fields ordered the girl, sounding excited, out of breath. “Gimme your hands! Gimme your hands!” Finally, in an unnaturally high voice, Kenny blurted: “Ain’t nobody gonna put this shit on Snapchat?” The administrator tried to quiet her down, saying her name over and over, but she would not be silenced. “What the fuck?” she said, her voice rising further. “What the fuck?” Then she hit the Post button on her phone’s Snapchat app. Videos taken by Kenny and other students ended up online, and the story went viral that night. The girl who was thrown was black, like Kenny, and the footage of her being lung across the classroom by a white police oicer inlamed debates about race and law enforcement. Hillary Clinton tweeted that there 88



was “no excuse” for such violence, while the singer Ted Nugent praised Fields for teaching a lesson to “a spoiled, undisciplined brat.” After Fields handcufed the girl, another deputy arrived to escort her out of the classroom. She would be released to her guardian later that day. Then, according to Kenny, Fields turned to her. “You got so much to say?,” Fields asked. “Come on.” Kenny did not speak. She got up and put her hands behind her back. N E X T D AY, the principal called the incident “horriic,” and the school-board chair said it represented an “outrageous exception to the culture, conduct, and standards in which we so strongly believe.” Richland County Sherif Leon Lott, who oversees the oicers at Spring Valley, said he was sickened by the videos and was investigating his deputy’s actions. He added in passing that Niya Kenny had been arrested for “contributing to the chaos.” None of the other oicials mentioned her name. Kenny’s case did not receive much attention from oicials because it was not unusual. Her arrest was based on a law against “disturbing school,” a mysterious ofense that is routinely levied against South Carolina students. Each year, about 1,200 kids are charged with disturbing school in the state—some for yelling and shoving, others for cursing. (In fact, the girl who was thrown from her desk was charged with disturbing school too, though the public uproar focused on the use of force.) State law makes it a crime to “disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school” or “to act in an obnoxious manner.” The charge, which has been iled against kids as young as 7, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, is punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 ine. At least 22 states and dozens of cities and towns currently outlaw school disturbances in one way or another. South Dakota prohibits “boisterous” behavior at school, while Arkansas bans “annoying conduct.” Florida makes it a crime to “interfere with the lawful administration or functions of any educational institution”—or to “advise” another student to do so. In Maine, merely interrupting a teacher by speaking loudly is a civil ofense, punishable by up to a $500 ine. In some states, like Washington and Delaware, disturbingschool laws are on the books but used relatively rarely or not at all. In others, they have become a standard classroom-management tool. Last year, disturbing school was the second-most-common accusation leveled against juveniles in South Carolina, after misdemeanor assault. An average of seven kids were charged every day that schools were in session. Each year in Maryland, Florida, and Kentucky, about 1,000 students face the charge. In North Carolina, the number is closer to 2,000. Nationwide, good data are hard to come by. Some states, like Nevada and Arizona, do not track how many times juveniles are charged with this ofense. (In Arizona, a court oicial would tell me only that the number is somewhere between zero and 5,375 arrests a year.) But igures collected by The Atlantic suggest that authorities charge juveniles with some version of disturbing school more than 10,000 times a year. This number does not even include older teenagers who are charged as adults.


When teenagers talk back, scream obscenities, or otherwise behave badly, adults must call them out and hold them accountable. That’s how kids learn. In time, most kids outgrow their delinquent ways. Police and policy makers who defend these laws say they make classrooms safer. But the laws have also been used to punish behavior that few reasonable people would consider criminal. Deiance is a typical part of adolescence, so putting teenagers in jail for swearing or refusing to follow an order is akin to arresting a 2-year-old for having a meltdown at the grocery store. It essentially outlaws the human condition. And the vagueness of the laws means they are inevitably applied unevenly, depending on the moods and biases of the adults enforcing them. In South Carolina, black students like Kenny are nearly four times as likely as their white peers to be charged with disturbing school. O R I G I N A L S C H O O L “disturbance” in South Carolina, the one that started it all, was lirting. During the Progressive era, with women beginning to vote and race riots breaking out across growing urban centers, lawmakers seized on lirting as a menace to social order. New York City police set up lirting dragnets, using “pretty blonde girls as bait,” according to a syndicated newspaper column from June 1920. “The enormous recent growth of the crime of lirting … must be ascribed to a growing laxity of conduct in general, and also to the rise of the short skirt,” the article continued. “It should be promptly and drastically suppressed.” In 1919, a South Carolina state lawmaker and attorney named John Ratchford Hart, distressed by incidents of men lirting with students at the all-white women’s college in his district, proposed a law to prohibit any “obnoxious” behavior or “loiter[ing]” at any girls’ school or college in the state. Violators would face up to a $100 ine or 30 days in jail. From the beginning, the disturbingNiya Kenny and her mother, Doris Ballard-Kenny, school law was intended to keep young in Columbia, South Carolina, August 2, 2016 people in their place. But it would evolve with threats to the status quo. Forty-eight years later, after black students organized Over the years, judges around the a series of nonviolent marches against segcountry have landed on various definiA S DEPUT Y FIELDS regation in the rural enclave of Orangeburg, tions of disturbance. In Georgia, a court South Carolina, the county’s representaconcluded, a ight qualiies as disturbing CROUCHED OV ER tive in the statehouse—a former teacher school if it attracts student spectators. THE GIR L named F. Hall Yarborough—proposed a But a Maryland court found that attractbill to broaden the law to criminalize obing an audience does not create a disturTO H A NDCUFF HER, noxious behavior at all schools, single-sex bance unless normal school activities are K ENN Y TR IED and coed. Yarborough was alarmed not delayed or canceled. In Alabama, a court only by the uprisings in his own district found that a student had disturbed school TO HOLD HER but by civil-rights and antiwar protests on because his principal had had to meet PHONE STEA DY. campuses across the country. He spoke with him to discuss his behavior; an appeals court overturned the ruling on the obliquely of the activists he hoped to fend grounds that talking with students was of with the expanded law. “I’m interested part of a principal’s job. in keeping outside agitators of campus,” Just this summer in New Mexico, a federal appeals court uphe told the Associated Press. The bill sailed through the statehouse. No hearings were held. held a school police oicer’s decision to arrest and handcuf a Not long after that, black students from South Carolina 13-year-old who had repeatedly burped in gym class, ruling that State College led a multiday protest against a segregated bowl“burping, laughing, and leaning into the classroom stopped the ing alley in Orangeburg. One night, after the protesters had low of student educational activities, thereby injecting disreturned to campus, someone threw a banister that hit a state order into the learning environment.” The decision reads like trooper in the head. Police opened ire, shooting 30 unarmed an Onion article, albeit one that goes on for 94 pages.









Egan, a public defender for juveniles in Maryland who regularly represents clients charged with disturbing school. “That’s not a coincidence.” The maneuvering was part of a broader legislative cold war: As Michelle Alexander documents in her book, The New Jim Crow, after the Civil Rights Act dismantled formal segregation, politicians stopped demanding “segregation forever” and began calling for “law and order.” In September 1970, President Richard Nixon’s Commission on Campus Unrest reported that more than 30 states had passed nearly 80 laws to counter student unrest. It warned that “legislators in a majority of states have passed antistudent and antiuniversity laws that range from the unnecessary and ill-directed to the purely vindictive.” Amid the hysteria, some legislators proposed laws that were already on the books: In Kansas City, Missouri, Above: A student-led civil-rights protest in police came out against a new disturbOrangeburg, South Carolina, in 1968, during ing-school statute because it would have which police killed three black teenagers. An expanded disturbing-school bill duplicated not one but ive existing city was signed into law soon after. Opposite laws. Maryland lawmakers worried that page: Sheriff Leon Lott, who oversees the officers at Spring Valley High School, has the state’s disturbing-school law “could criticized the law. “You could chew gum be applied to a kindergarten pupil throwand be arrested,” he says. ing a temper tantrum.” Still, the laws did not become integral to school discipline until the 1990s, when students and killing three black teenfears of rising gang- and drug-related agers, in what would become known as MARYLAND violence—followed by a series of highthe Orangeburg Massacre. The governor proile school shootings—led to the widesigned South Carolina’s newly expanded LAWMAKERS spread installation of police officers in disturbing-school bill into law three WORRIED THAT school hallways. By 1998, more than 100 weeks later. South Carolina school districts, includIt’s hard to overstate the tension that THE STATE’S ing Niya Kenny’s, had brought in police, crackled through the country back then. DISTURBING-SCHOOL formally known as “school resource oiPeaceful protests far outnumbered violent ones, but it did not necessarily feel cers.” After the Columbine High School LAW “COULD that way. From January 1969 to April 1970, shootings in Colorado the next year, BE APPLIED TO more than 8,200 bomb threats, attempted South Carolina’s Safe Schools Task Force bombings, and actual bombings were attrirecommended increasing the number of A KINDERGARTEN buted to student protests. “These are not officers, and the state’s Department of PUPIL THROWING A Education requested $14 million to pay just college students out on a panty raid,” for them—double the previous year’s a Texas legislator warned his colleagues. TEMPER TANTRUM.” budget. (The fact that a full-time oicer “These are revolutionaries dedicated to was employed at Columbine but was undestroying our system.” able to stop the shooters did not seem to In the midst of the turmoil, the U.S. discourage hiring in other districts.) Supreme Court ruled in 1969 against a Des Moines, Iowa, By the early ’90s, America’s juvenile crime rate had begun school district, finding that students had a right to protest to drop, a trend that would continue for the next two decades. peacefully on school grounds. In this case, the Court said, the It would be logical to assume that school police oicers conteenage plaintifs could wear black armbands in protest of the tributed to this decline. But there is little reliable evidence to Vietnam War, as long as they did so without “materially and support or refute that theory. What we do know is that the drop substantially” disturbing class. Justice Hugo Black issued an in crime began before police arrived in most schools. And once ominous dissent. “It is the beginning of a new revolutionary police were in place, they tended to keep busy. According to an era of permissiveness in this country,” he wrote. “Groups of analysis of 2,650 schools published in the Washington University students all over the land are already running loose, conductLaw Review earlier this year, students at schools with police oiing break-ins, sit-ins, lie-ins, and smash-ins.” cers were signiicantly more likely to be reported to law enforceFollowing the federal ruling, state and local oicials passed ment for low-level ofenses than students at schools without a lurry of laws that would punish students who were disturbing police, even after controlling for the neighborhood crime rate, class, anywhere from universities to elementary schools. At the the demographics of the schools, and a host of other variables. time, it’s worth remembering, black students weren’t just proPreviously, principals had needed to call the police to make testing; they were also integrating white classrooms, backed an arrest; by the late ’90s, in many schools, the police were alby the federal government. “As soon as we started introducing ready there. And while they were not technically supposed to get black bodies into white schools, we got these laws,” says Jenny

involved in workaday school-discipline issues, the disturbingschool laws rendered all manner of common misbehavior illegal. Some oicers worked hard to build relationships with students and resolve problems before they escalated. But most did not have adequate training to manage adolescents, who are wired to proclaim their independence. “Most law-enforcement oicers are trained to assert authority, to take control of the situation,” says Mark Soler, the executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, who has trained school police oicers. “In a school context, that’s bad advice.” From 2000 to 2016, according to South Carolina’s data, the disturbing-school charge was iled against students in the state 33,304 times. HANDCUFFS Deputy Fields used on Kenny were tight, pressing against her skin. “I just had this one tiny hope,” she told me later, “that he might just try to scare me and let me go.” This was Kenny’s second time taking Algebra I. She’d failed it as a freshman, too busy socializing to do math. But as a senior, she was more focused: She had to pass the class in order to graduate. Until that morning, everything had been going according to plan. She had an A, and the teacher seemed to like her. If, for example, she took out her phone in class, he would give her a look, and she’d put it away. Fields took her to another room, where Kenny says he and the administrator started yelling at her. “What did you think you were doing in there?,” Fields asked. Kenny started to wonder whether she had misjudged the situation. If the deputy’s actions were so wrong, why was she the only one saying so? “I started thinking I was the bad guy,” Kenny told me. “Like maybe I’d done the wrong thing.” Suddenly she thought of what her mother would say about her arrest. She started crying,


and Fields asked for her phone. She handed it over but admitted that she’d already posted the video. Around 12:30 in the afternoon, another deputy led Kenny outside—still in handcufs—to meet a police van. (Oicers at Spring Valley can decide to release a student to a guardian after an arrest, as they had done with the girl who was thrown, but not with Kenny.) Standing there, in front of her school on Sparkleberry Lane, where she’d run cross-country and sung in the gospel choir, she started sobbing. The handcufs were not a prop. She was going to jail. That’s when she decided she would never come back to Spring Valley High School. As with many kids who get arrested at school, something shifted in her head, and she concluded that she did not belong there anymore. Kenny climbed into the police van, which took her to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, in Columbia. She had recently celebrated her 18th birthday, and would be processed as an adult. Inside the facility, an oicer ordered her to take of her boots so they could be searched. Then she was ingerprinted, photographed, and led into a holding room with about 20 other detainees. The room was frigid, and she crossed her arms to keep warm. Someone asked her why she was there, and she said that she’d yelled at a police oicer in school. “Yelling?” a correctional oicer said. “And they booked you in here for that?” After a bond hearing, where she was told she would be let go until her court date, Kenny was sent back to the holding room to wait for release. With nothing else to do, she watched a TV mounted in the corner, which was playing the evening news on mute. That’s when Kenny saw a video of her Algebra I classroom lash across the screen. “Did you see that?,” Kenny shouted. “That’s my classroom! That is why I am in here!” The other detainees looked over to watch. “Everybody was like, ‘Are you serious? You don’t need to be in here,’ ” she told me. “I





was like, ‘All right, I’m not going to get in trouble with my mom.’ ” Shortly after 8 o’clock in the evening, about nine hours after her arrest, Kenny was released. Her mother, Doris BallardKenny, hugged her in the parking lot. “I saw the video,” Ballard-Kenny said. “I am proud of you.” Standing outside the jail’s barbed-wire fence, Kenny looked tired but resolute as she spoke to a TV reporter. “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl,” she said, shaking her head back and forth. “A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. It was like, no way, no way. You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl.” That night, Kenny couldn’t sleep. She had a crushing headache, the kind that Clockwise from above: The gym at Spring comes from crying for too long. In the Valley, Niya Kenny’s school; Aleksandra morning, she asked her mother to take Chauhan, a public defender in South Carothe day of work to be with her. For the lina, says that classroom arrests should not serve as ejection buttons for educators irst time since elementary school, she who run out of patience; protesters at the was scared to be home by herself. Columbia courthouse ask for disturbingschool charges to be dropped against “Before this, I had a sense of pride Kenny and the girl who was thrown. for Spring Valley High School,” Kenny’s mother told me later. “It’s one of the better schools in Columbia. A lot of the aluent kids go there.” Spring Valley regularly makes The Washington Post’s list of AmerIN NEW MEX ICO, ica’s “most challenging” high schools, A FEDER A L A PPEA LS based on the number of advanced tests taken by students. It is not a violent COURT UPHELD school or a destitute one. But in the A POLICE OFFICER’S course of a single day, it had unraveled About 100 Spring Valley students—some some of the most important lessons she DECISION of them football players who had been had instilled in her daughter. “She has TO A RREST A ND coached by Fields—walked out of class always been taught to speak up for people. in protest of his dismissal. No one was arIf you see an injustice being done, help H A NDCUFF rested. An email from the school-board the person,” Ballard-Kenny said. “That’s A 13-Y EA R-OLD W HO chair, released to The Atlantic in response what she was doing. And it’s almost like to a Freedom of Information Act request, it’s making what I taught her obsolete.” H A D REPEATEDLY shows that administrators knew about the Kenny’s arrest was not the first disBURPED protest in advance but felt that stopping ciplinary controversy in her school disit would have caused “more disruption of trict; in fact, a group of black parents had IN GYM CLASS. school” than allowing it. already created an association to help “We were just upset,” says Caleb, a black students who felt they’d been unfairly student who helped organize the walkout. disciplined under the disturbing-school (He requested that I use only his irst name.) He acknowledged law and district policies. In the year leading up to the incident, that Fields had used “deinitely, probably, too much force—a the district had set up task forces on diversity and discipline, little bit,” but, he said, “we didn’t think he deserved to be ired.” and hired a chief diversity oicer to help address these concerns. Caleb did not know Kenny, but he had seen the video from the But the law-and-order culture remained powerful at Spring classroom, featuring her yelling “What the fuck?,” and he had Valley—as it does across the state. Although Ben Fields was ired little sympathy for her. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if sometwo days after the incident, he was not accused of committing one had said, like, ‘Man, this isn’t right,’ ” he says. “But cursing, any crime. Nor was the teacher or the administrator, both of yelling, screaming like that deinitely was not necessary.” Like whom kept their jobs (the administrator has since transferred other students I met, Caleb seemed to expect more self-control to a school about an hour north of Spring Valley). None refrom a teenage girl than from a sherif ’s deputy. sponded to requests for comment. In a survey of South CarolinAs a society, our understanding of teenagers has not caught ians conducted by Public Policy Polling shortly after the videos up to the science. In the past 15 years, neuroscientists have diswent viral, almost half of the respondents said they opposed covered that a teenager’s brain is diferent in important ways the decision to ire Fields. Only a third supported the decision.

from an adult’s brain. It is more receptive to rewards than to punishment, and the parts that control impulses and judgment are still under construction. Which means that back talk and fake burps are predictable teenage acts—to be corrected, not prosecuted. In September, almost a year after the arrests, the local solicitor, Dan Johnson, dropped the disturbing-school charge against the girl who had been thrown. The girl had indeed disturbed school, Johnson wrote in a 12-page explanation of his decision, but the case had been “compromised” by the iring of Fields—a punishment that might prejudice “prospective jurors” against the deputy’s side of the story. (The fact that this girl was underage and therefore would have faced a judge, not a jury, went unmentioned.) He also noted that hospital X-rays taken after the arrest suggested that the girl’s wrist had been fractured, but he declined to charge Fields, citing insuicient proof of a crime. (His report included a statement from Fields claiming that the girl had resisted arrest and punched him twice during the encounter, and that her desk had fallen over “because of the momentum that [her] movements had created.”) Johnson also dismissed the disturbing-school charge against Kenny. “There is simply not enough evidence to prove each and every element” of the alleged ofense, he wrote. Kenny’s attorney had expected such a dismissal, which happens in about one-ifth of juvenile arrests in South Carolina. But damage had already been done. Regardless of GPA, race, or prior ofenses, students who have been arrested are nearly twice as likely as their peers to drop out of high school, even if they never go to court, according to a 2006 study by the criminologist Gary Sweeten. “Just being arrested can have long-term consequences,” says Josh GuptaKagan, an assistant professor specializing in juvenile justice at the University of South Carolina School of Law. “Teenagers start to see the school as out to get them.” “America generally loves crime and punishment—this idea that punishment somehow corrects behavior, that it teaches

kids a lesson,” says Jenny Egan, the Maryland public defender. In reality, the more involvement kids have with the legal system, the worse their behavior gets. Kids who get arrested and appear in court are nearly four times as likely to drop out of high school, Gary Sweeten found. But most people in the chain of decision making—from the state lawmaker to the teacher to the principal to the school police oicer to the prosecutor—do not realize how much damage their actions can do, Egan says: “I don’t think a majority of people in the system understand what it does to a child to put him in handcufs and take him to court—at the very moment when he is trying to igure out who he is in the world.” Kids facing disturbing-school charges in South Carolina are typically ofered punishment outside the court system, such as community service. If they’ve already taken this option in the past—or if they’ve been convicted of other charges on top of disturbing school—they can be incarcerated or placed on probation, a layer of surveillance that boosts their chances of getting re-arrested for things as trivial as missing a day of school. In many juvenile cases, judges will make parents a party to the case, meaning that they are legally bound to report a child who comes home after a court-ordered curfew or violates any other probation condition. “It’s so easy to get into the system and so hard to get out,” says Aleksandra Chauhan, a public defender for juveniles in Columbia. The system clings to kids. Which is why advocates like Chauhan argue that arrests should be a last resort, the nuclear option reserved for truly dangerous cases, not ejection buttons pressed whenever adults run out of patience. “We criminalize juvenile behavior that is considered normal by psychologists,” she says. “We are creating criminals. I really believe that.” U N E X P E C T E D S T A N D O U T in reforming disturbing-school laws is the state of Texas. Until recently, Texas had one of the worst records in the country on juvenile justice. Police were charging 275,000 kids a year with “disrupting class” and other low-level ofenses. Nearly three in ive students were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade, according to an in-depth analysis of nearly 1 million Texas students that came out in 2011. Over time, the Texas school system had become a quasi-authoritarian state, one that punished some kids far more than others. When it came to clear-cut ofenses, like using a weapon, African American students were no more likely than other students to get in trouble in Texas. But they were far more likely to be disciplined for subjective violations like disrupting class. Even after controlling for more than 80 variables, including family income, students’ academic performance, and past disciplinary incidents, the report found that race was a reliable predictor of which kids got disciplined. Then, ive years ago, a juvenile-court judge invited Wallace B. Jeferson, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, to spend a day observing her courtroom. Jeferson watched in silence as parents and children, most without lawyers, stutterstumbled through formal legal rituals many of them did not seem to understand. He was startled not just by the power imbalance but by the fact that he hadn’t known about it before. The irst African American on the state’s Supreme Court, Jeferson had spent most of his career defending organizations





were hopeful that reforms would inally happen, given all the and corporations, not children. He’d never realized how the bad press that the viral videos had brought to the state. Even legal system was funneling kids from schools to detention cenSherif Lott, the oicial in charge of the oicers in Kenny’s disters. “These are families in distress—very often uneducated trict, has called for changes. “You could chew gum and be arparents trying to deal with troubled youth, many of whom have rested, technically, for disturbing school,” he told me. “There’s mental-health issues,” he told me. “If it were my kid, I would be too much discretion.” in that courtroom iling pleadings to dismiss. But many of the In April, a bill that would have eliminated the charge for kids were from broken homes and very modest inancial means.” students at their own school, like the one Texas had passed, After his day in juvenile court, Jeferson met with Texas legislacame up for a subcommittee hearing in the South Carolina legtors to see what could be done. It turned out that many were as islature. A solicitor and former teacher named Barry Barnette disgusted by the status quo as he was. They were tired of reading testiied against the proposal. “There’s kids that will not obey news stories about kids getting charged with disrupting class for the rules. And you’ve got to have discretion for that oicer,” he spraying perfume or throwing paper airplanes. It was a waste of said. “I wish it was a perfect world where the students were taxpayer dollars, not to mention embarrassing. always well behaved and everything. It’s not that way.” A rep“I guess it made some people feel good, like they were tough,” resentative of the South Carolina Sherifs’ Association issued John Whitmire, a state senator who joined forces with Jefera statement arguing that the disturbing-school law should stay son, told me. He had chaired the Texas legislature’s criminalin place because without it, oicers might be forced to charge justice committee for almost two decades, and no one would students with more-serious ofenses—like disorderly conduct have called him soft on crime. “I’m as tough as anybody there or assault and battery. is on adults and on juveniles who will cut your throat and hurt This argument sounds sensible, but in you violently,” he said. “But the screwfact both of those charges can carry less ups, whether adult or juvenile, I believe serious penalties under South Carolina we have better results if we work with code than the disturbing-school charge— ’em.” Like other lawmakers I interviewed, a point that was not made at the hearing. Whitmire made a point of mentioning Chauhan, the public defender in Columthat he himself may have been charged STUDENTS bia, testiied in favor of the bill, as did an with disrupting school if the law had been AT SCHOOLS W ITH ACLU lawyer. In the end, it never made it enforced during his own childhood. past the subcommittee. It took a lot of “talk, talk, talk,” as POLICE OFFICERS This year, lawmakers in Massachusetts Whitmire put it, but lawmakers on the WERE SIGNIFICANTLY and Virginia also tried to reform their left and the right answered Jefferson’s disturbing-school laws. In each case, critcall. Among other changes, they reined MORE LIKELY ics repeated the same essential objection: in the state’s law against disrupting class. TO BE REPORTED Police need to have this tool in their toolkit. Texas students could no longer be charged TO LAW It didn’t seem to matter that police have acwith this ofense at their own schools. Nor cess to hundreds of other tools, from discould students younger than 12 be charged ENFORCEMENT. orderly conduct to disturbing the peace to with any low-level misdemeanor at school. a variety of other catchall charges. Before charging older kids, oicers had to In August, frustrated by a lack of acwrite up formal complaints with sworn tion, ACLU lawyers iled a federal lawsuit statements from witnesses—and some against the state of South Carolina, allegschools were required to try commoning that the disturbing-school law is overly vague and violates sense interventions (like writing a letter to parents or referring due-process rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendthe student to counseling) before resorting to a legal charge. ment. “The Disturbing Schools statute creates an impossible The reforms took efect on September 1, 2013, the beginstandard for school children to follow and for police to enforce ning of a new school year. Two months later, David Slayton, the with consistency and fairness,” the complaint said. The lead head of the Texas Oice of Court Administration, checked the plaintif is Niya Kenny. charging data for juveniles. “I was loored,” he told me. “It had dropped like a rock.” He asked his staf to send him the data I LAST SAW KENNY, in March, over dinner at each subsequent month to make sure the numbers weren’t a a Red Lobster near Spring Valley High School, luke. They weren’t. That year, the number of charges iled she was wearing oversize glasses, a knit carfor minor ofenses like disrupting class dropped 61 percent. digan, and purple Puma sneakers. Her mother sat next to her, Thanks to the reforms, some 40,000 charges were not iled wearing an #EveryBlackGirl T-shirt. Kenny ordered raspberry against kids. And there was no evidence that school safety lemonade and seafood pasta, apologizing for how tired she was. sufered as a result. The number of juvenile arrests for violent She hadn’t slept the night before. A childhood friend had been crimes, which had been declining before the reforms, conrobbed and shot to death a few days earlier, and she’d come tinued to fall, as did the number of expulsions and other sedirectly from the funeral. rious disciplinary actions in schools. “It’s been a remarkable After dropping out of high school, Kenny had started taking achievement for our state,” Slayton said. “The pendulum has classes four days a week at a continuing-education center for swung back a little bit.” adults. Getting a GED had seemed like the fastest way to move Over the years, South Carolina lawmakers have tried to do on with her life. Still, she was aware that she was missing out. what Texas has done. After Kenny’s arrest, several told me they






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“I should be prom-dress shopping,” she told me. “Paying my senior fees to get my cap and gown.” Instead, she was spending most of her time outside of her GED classes working at a fast-food restaurant a mile from the high school. Every week or two, a stranger would recognize her: “Are you the girl from the news?” Sometimes, depending on her mood, she’d say, “No, that’s not me.” Kenny said she was thinking about joining the military. Her arrest record should be expunged under South Carolina law, now that the charges have been dropped, but she will still have to disclose the arrest before she can enlist. This is not the irst time someone in her family has been accused of disturbing school, as it turns out. In 1968, the year South Carolina enacted the expanded disturbing-school law, Kenny’s great-great-granduncle, the Reverend H. H. Singleton II, sent his children to a white school for the irst time. Someone burned a cross on his lawn and another outside the church where he preached. Twenty years later, Singleton was ired from his job as a middle-school teacher, accused of causing a “disruption”— through his involvement in the local NAACP chapter, he had supported a group of black high-school football players who were protesting a coach’s decision to bench a black quarterback. It took two years, but a court eventually ruled that he’d been wrongfully terminated, and he returned to school. Now Kenny and her mother are hoping the ACLU lawsuit will interrupt this pattern. “I’m looking at it long-term,” Kenny’s mother said. “Ten years from now, when kids are reading their South Carolina history, they will read the name Niya Kenny.” When I asked Kenny what else lawmakers should do to ix the system, besides changing the law, she answered without hesitation. Take police oicers out of schools, she said, and replace them with counselors. It sounds sensible, particularly in schools, like Spring Valley, that have relatively few violent incidents. Starting this school year, the U.S. Department of Justice, which helps fund the oicers in Richland County schools, is requiring more outside oversight and training to ensure that they are not involved in enforcing classroom discipline in the future—the result of an audit that began before Kenny’s arrest. (The department is also conducting a civil-rights review of what happened at Spring Valley.) But the idea of removing oicers altogether is not being considered in her district or across most of the country. Once police are invited into the schoolhouse, they’re rarely asked to leave. Debbie Hamm, the superintendent of Kenny’s district, is quick to note that Spring Valley is a “very orderly school.” But she would not recommend removing the officers: “The safety and security—and the feeling of safety and security—in our schools is really, really important.” Sherif Lott says he has never considered removing the oicers from any Richland County schools. “That one incident doesn’t deine our program,” he told me. “Every day, we have 87 school resource oicers who are doing a great job. Our focus is not on how many kids we arrest but on how many problems we prevent.” Last school year, according to the sherif ’s department, deputies “successfully resolved” 6,251 conlicts. Lieutenant Curtis Wilson, a spokesperson for the department, told me that a successful resolution includes a range of outcomes, from counseling students to arresting them. “Let’s say you have a victim,” says Wilson, “and we are able to successfully identify the [perpetrator] and remove him from the school. Now school can continue. So that is a successful resolution.” 96




is the title of one of Edward Hopper’s black-and-white etchings, which I spent some time looking at in a gallery on the far west side of town. Hopper could have called it Totally Naked Woman Crawling Into an Unmade Bed on All Fours, for she does occupy the foreground fully, so it was only later that I noticed the curtains behind her being lifted by what must be an evening wind. Then I noticed that the woman appears to be looking at those curtains, her face hidden by the dark curtain of her hair. Or is she looking beyond the curtains at a jagged outline of city buildings, topped with water tanks in silhouette? It was not until I closed my eyes and imagined her gradually falling asleep after sliding naked under the covers that I could see the evening wind, not just the wind as revealed by the curtains, but the invisible wind itself blowing right through the room of this ingeniously titled drawing. — Billy Collins Billy Collins’s most recent collection is The Rain in Portugal (2016). He served as the U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003. In September, Kenny moved to New York City for an internship at the African American Policy Forum, a think tank. After moving her into a Brooklyn apartment, she and her mother went to a nearby Chipotle. Kenny, social as always, chatted easily with one of the employees. The woman suggested that Kenny come work there for extra spending money, and they set up an interview for the next day. “They didn’t even know who she was,” Kenny’s mother told me happily. Amanda Ripley is a senior fellow at the Emerson Collective and the author of The Smartest Kids in the World.


The most important stories of the moment




Prophecies Jane Jacobs of

She is renowned for championing urban diversity, but her real prescience lay in her fears about the fragility of democracy. By NATHANIEL RICH Illustration by Josh Cochran

T 98


H E Y E A R S H E T U R N E D 18, Jane Butzner traveled from her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Appalachian hamlet of Higgins, North Carolina, where she encountered a mystery that haunted her for the rest of her life. It was 1934, the midpoint


of the Great Depression, a diicult time to hold a job, even an unpaid one. Butzner—later Jacobs—had been laid of from The Scranton Republican after almost a year working without pay as a cub reporter. At her parents’ suggestion, she went to live in the mountains with her aunt Martha Robison, a Presbyterian missionary. Robison had come to Higgins 12 years earlier on a mission and was so staggered by its poverty that she refused

to leave. There were no paved roads, school was rarely in session, the illiterate preacher believed the world was lat, and commerce was conducted by barter. Robison built a church and a community center, adopted children, and established classes in pottery, weaving, and woodwork. Nevertheless, the townspeople continued to live a primitive existence in which, as Robison’s niece later said, “the snapping of a pitchfork or the rusting of a plow posed a serious inancial crisis.” Jane Jacobs wrote about Higgins in Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984) and Dark Age Ahead (2004), but its negative example looms over her entire body of work. Higgins had not always been backwards. In the early 1700s, as Jacobs noted in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, its founders, three English brothers named Higgins and their families, possessed a wide range of knowledge and skills: spinning and weaving, loom construction, cabinetmaking, corn milling, house and water-mill construction, dairying, poultry and hog raising, gardening, whiskey distilling, hound breeding, molasses making from sorghum cane, basket weaving, biscuit baking, music making with violins …

By the 1920s, the brothers’ descendants had lost nearly all of these, apart from making molasses, which was sold in the county seat, Burnsville, 12 miles away. Most residents had never traveled that far, however, because the only way to get there was by mule on a rough mountain track. Candles were a vanishing luxury. After the few remaining cows died, there would be no more milk or butter. One woman still remembered how to weave baskets, but she was close to death. When Robison suggested building the church with large stones from the creek, the community elders rebuked her. Over generations the townspeople had simply forgotten how to build with stone. They had lost the knowledge that such a thing was possible. How had Higgins fallen so low? Mountain isolation contributed, but it was not the only factor. The same fate, after all, had befallen much larger cities, and even empires—Rome, the Olmecs, the New Kingdom of Egypt, 100



and perhaps other civilizations, like the people who painted the Lascaux caves, for which we don’t even have names. “Suppose, hypothetically, that the world were to behave like a single sluggish empire in decline,” wrote Jacobs. Such a thing could happen if cities in too many places stagnated simultaneously or in quick succession. Or it could happen if the world were to become, in fact, one single sluggish empire … We all have our nightmares about the future of economic life; that one is mine.

BECOMING JANE JACOBS PETER L . LAURENCE University of Pennsylvania Press

manifestation of democratic ideals: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” When cities fail, they fail for the same reasons democracies fail: corruption, tyranny, homogenization, overspecialization, cultural drift and atrophy. In a year when American democracy has courted despotism, Jacobs’s work ofers a warning and a challenge. Her goal was never merely to enlighten urban planners. In her work she argued, with increasing urgency, that the distance between New York City and Higgins is not as great as it seems. It is not very great at all, and it is shrinking.

In the centenary of her birth, Jacobs has been reEYES ON THE membered as our Solon STREET: THE LIFE of cities: a shrewd theorist OF JANE JACOBS who revealed how cities ROBERT KANIGEL Knopf OUR NEW BOOKS work, why they thrive, and are united in their why they fail. Jacobs lived to determination to the age of 89, long enough undermine the seductive myth that to see her renegade theories become Jacobs, as her biographer Peter L. Lauconventional wisdom. No one quesrence puts it, “was primarily a housetions anymore that lively neighborwife with unusual abilities to observe hoods require diversity of use and and defend the domestic surroundings function, that more roads lead to more of her Greenwich Village home.” This cars, that historic buildings should be line was codified in 1962 by The New preserved, that investment in pubYorker’s architecture critic Lewis Mumlic transportation reduces traffic and ford in a 30-page review of Death and Life that called the book “a mingling of sense and sentimentality, of mature judgments and schoolgirl howlers.” (If Mumford was responsible for the article’s headline, “Mother Jacobs’ Home Remedies,” he seems to have regretted it. In his 1968 collection, The Urban Prospromotes neighborhood activity, that pect, it appears under the moderately “lexible and gradual change” is almost less chauvinistic “Home Remedies always preferable to “cataclysmic,” for Urban Cancer.”) The allegation of broad-stroke redevelopment. amateurism often went unchallenged Urban life was Jacobs’s great subject. because most of Jacobs’s considerable But her great theme was the fragility of body of writing before The Death and democracy—how diicult it is to mainLife of Great American Cities had been tain, how easily it can crumble. A city published without a byline. ofered the perfect laboratory in which Two new biographies—Laurence’s to study democracy’s intricate, interBecoming Jane Jacobs, a close, vivid study connected gears and ballistics. “When of Jacobs’s intellectual development, we deal with cities,” she wrote in The and Robert Kanigel’s broader Eyes on the Death and Life of Great American Cities Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs—as well as (1961), “we are dealing with life at its an anthology of previously uncollected most complex and intense.” When cities succeed, they represent the purest articles and speeches, Vital Little Plans:


When cities fail, they fail for the same reasons democracies fail.

The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, and Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations correct the record. By the time she published her masterpiece, at the age of 45, she had been writing about urban redevelopment for nearly a decade in dozens of lengthy articles for Architectural Forum. Before that she had written about, and in direct service of, American democracy. After her six-month purgatory in Higgins, Jacobs moved to Brooklyn with the goal of becoming a writer. Within a year, she began writing a succession of Lieblingesque columns for Vogue about New York’s fur, diamond, leather, and lower districts: “All the ingredients of a lavender-and-old-lace story, with a riproaring, contrasting background, are in New York’s wholesale lower district.” She signed up for classes at Columbia’s University Extension Program, many of them in economic geography, the interdisciplinary study of economics, history, culture, and the environment. (She would later call herself a “city naturalist.”) In one of these courses, Jacobs likely encountered Henri Pirenne’s Medieval Cities: Their Origins

and the Revival of Trade (1925), which explained how cities promoted democratic values, and which she cited frequently throughout her career. But it was a pair of classes in American constitutional law that inspired her irst book. Constitutional Chaf was published by Columbia University Press despite the author’s age (24) and lack of a college degree. It is a compilation of failed proposals from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, such as a third house of

Jacobs was likely one of the names on Joseph McCarthy’s infamous list. Congress and direct election of a Senate that never went out of session. In her introduction, Jacobs argued that the vigorous debate over the text of the Constitution relected the soul of American democracy as vividly as the ratiied document itself did. The losers deserved to be heard, even a century and a half after their arguments had been defeated. It was a sentiment the Founders,

at pains to protect the rights of minority factions, would have cheered. After writing about the United States government, Jacobs went to work for it. She spent most of the next decade as a professional propagandist. At the U.S. Oice of War Information, which she joined in the fall of 1943, she wrote articles about American history, industry, and politics for placement in the foreign press. Her bureau chief praised “her quick grasp of the propaganda job to be done.” After the war, she was hired by the State Department to join the staf of Amerika, one of the more glorious efforts in auto-mythopoeia that the nation has produced. The publication, which originated in an agreement between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Yalta to expand cultural diplomacy between the two nations, was designed to resemble Life magazine, with illustrated features about Radio City Music Hall, Benjamin Franklin, Arizona deserts, and the Senate. The circulation was initially limited to 10,000 copies, not nearly enough to satisfy demand; Laurence writes that though the official




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price in 1946 was 10 rubles For her devoted, thought(83 cents), it sold on the ful work in service of Ameriblack market for 1,000. can mythos, Jacobs came (The Soviets produced a under federal investigation counterpart publication, for suspected ties to the Soviet Life, but despite Soviet Union. At the State its editors’ best efforts— Department, she’d had the “L eonid I. Brezhnev ’s misfortune of serving under Reminiscences,” “A Guide Alger Hiss. When she tried VITAL LITTLE to the 15 Union Republics,” to travel to Siberia in 1945 PLANS: THE SHORT WORKS OF JANE “Tashkent, Seattle’s Sister to report a freelance article, JACOBS City”—it somehow failed she asked Hiss for help seEDITED BY SAMUEL ZIPP curing a visa. As Hiss was to attract a commensurate AND NATHAN STORRING Random House already under secret investifollowing in the U.S.) In gation for espionage, the rea Manhattan office building near Columbus Circle, quest roused the suspicion Jacobs wrote articles about of the FBI. Jacobs, Laurence American cafeterias, the writes, was likely one of the World Series, and modern names on Joseph McCarart, and modeled materthy’s infamous list of known nity clothes for a feature on Communists “working in women’s fashion. and shaping policy in the She was sensitive to State Department.” J. Edgar reader opinion. Kanigel Hoover demanded to overmentions one criticism that see her investigation himself. JANE JACOBS: THE may have helped shape During the course of four LAST INTERVIEW her later career. In 1949, years, Jacobs was required to AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS V. Kusakov of the Acadsign multiple Oaths of Oice, Melville House emy of Architecture in the declare that she was not a U.S.S.R. complained in a Communist or a Fascist, and Soviet publication about endure a series of interrogatwo articles, uncredited but written by tions by the State Department’s Loyalty Jacobs, praising the work of Frank Lloyd Security Board. At least 13 of her friends, Wright and other modern architects. Kufamily members, and colleagues were sakov attacked Amerika for neglecting interviewed by FBI agents. One inforto cover the more important story: “the mant said that he believed her to be a ever increasing housing crisis which Communist sympathizer because she the cities of America are experiencing.” lived in Greenwich Village. American capitalism, Kusakov wrote, By 1952, she’d had enough. After “dooms the majority of the population yet another inquiry—requesting her to a negative existence and death in illviews on, among other things, the Marsmelling cesspools, in slums deprived of shall Plan, the United Public Workers air, sunlight, and trees or shrubs.” of America, and atomic energy—she The column unsettled Jacobs, who sent the board an 8,000-word defense responded with a thorough investithat remains the most powerful decgation of life in America’s inner-city laration of her moral convictions. “I neighborhoods. In her article, she was brought up to believe that there proposed slum-clearing and the conis no virtue in conforming meekly to struction of high-rise apartment towthe dominant opinion of the moment,” ers, remedies she would later excoriate. she wrote, defending her integrity and Kanigel suggests that Jacobs was even shaming her inquisitors. then not entirely satisfied with these I was encouraged to believe that arguments. “This seemingly narrow simple conformity results in stagnaquestion would slip out of its original tion for a society, and that American borders,” he writes, “become someprogress has been largely owing to thing big to chew on, broaden into one the opportunity for experimentaof the biggest questions of all: What, tion, the leeway given initiative, and really, was the Good Life?” How, in other to a gusto and a freedom for chewwords, could urban policy promote life, ing over odd ideas. I was taught that liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? the American’s right to be a free




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In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs sought to translate these principles of individual liberty into urban design.


H I S WA S N O T an intuitive process. What ratio of green space to residential acreage was most conducive to individual liberty? Did tenement buildings or highrise towers create better opportunities for experimentation? What block length, what width of sidewalk, what frequency of stoplights best encouraged the chewing-over of odd ideas? She pursued this line of questioning at Architectural Forum, the leading architectural publication of its day, after resigning from the State Department in 1952. The magazine was edited by Douglas Haskell, whom Laurence identiies as the crucial figure in Jacobs’s intellectual maturation. Like Jacobs, Haskell lacked an academic pedigree and paired “an anti-utopian streak” with a faith in the power of architecture to bring about social change, for better and for worse. Shortly after her hire, Haskell

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announced that Forum would intensify its emphasis, already significant, on “the problems of cities.” Was urban renewal—which James Baldwin would later call “Negro removal”—improving the slums of America’s great cities? If not, what else should be done? Jacobs wrote numerous un-bylined articles in favor of theories she would later ridicule. She lionized her future nemeses, the city planners, writing that “the irst—the most elementary— lesson for downtown is simply the importance of planning.” She continued to argue in favor of superblocks and for demolishing entire neighborhoods of blighted buildings. In a 24-page feature about shopping centers, she called for downtowns to model themselves after suburban malls. The flaw in her




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thinking was not purely ideological; she did write critically of the “homogenized simplicity” of new developments and praised planners who made a token efort to preserve older buildings. But poor journalistic habits cost her. She didn’t always travel to see the cities and building projects she wrote about, relying instead on the sketches, photographs, prospectuses, and blueprints sent by architects to the magazine. She violated one of the eventual maxims of Death and Life, that “no other expertise can substitute for locality knowledge in planning.” A revelation came during a tour of Philadelphia—a tour she may well have taken only after she published a laudatory essay about the city’s redevelopment efforts in 1955. Her guide was


Philadelphia’s planning-commission director, Edmund Bacon, “the grand poobah” of American planning, who would later appear on the cover of Time as the face of urban renewal. Bacon took Jacobs on a before-and-after tour of his city. “Before” was represented by a street in a condemned black neighborhood; “after” was a towering new housing project. Before Street, Kanigel writes, “was crowded with people, people spilling out onto the sidewalk, sitting on stoops, running errands, leaning out of windows.” After Street was lat and deserted, with the exception of a lone boy kicking a tire. “Not only did [Bacon] and the people he directed not know how to make an interesting or a humane street,” Jacobs later said, “but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care.” In early 1956 she took a series of tours of East Harlem led by William Kirk, a community activist and the director of the Union Settlement Association. He showed her how the construction of 10 housing projects had destroyed not only the neighborhood’s small businesses but the communities they had sustained. A more personal incitement came from Robert Moses’s long-standing plans to redevelop Jacobs’s own beloved neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Moses proposed extending Fifth Avenue

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through Washington Square Park in the form of a sunken highway, and razing 26 blocks to clear space for a pair of gargantuan housing projects. When Douglas Haskell asked Jacobs to take his speaking slot at an urban-design conference at Harvard in April 1956, before an audience of the nation’s most powerful planners and critics, she let them have it. Her 1,500-word speech, a version of which appears in Vital Little Plans, became the basis for The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Her main argument was Kirk’s: Small neighborhood stores, ignored by the planners in their grim demolition derby, were essential social hubs. She added that sidewalks, stoops, laundries, and mailbox areas were also indispensable centers of community activity, and that sterile, vacant outdoor space served nobody. “The least we can do,” she said, “is to respect—in the deepest sense—strips of chaos that have a weird wisdom of their own.” That “weird wisdom” was the wisdom of crowds: the customs and habits that people in cities, left to their own devices, developed while living in close proximity to one another. The planners had been guided by aesthetic concerns, favoring clean lines, geometric shapes, and vast boulevards that were beautiful so long as they were seen from the window of an airplane. But Americans didn’t need a new utopia. They already had a system that, while messy and imperfect, produced a thriving society. In Death and Life, Jacobs converted democratic values into design policy. This was no magic trick—it was achieved through close observation. Through better reporting, she became a better theorist. The vitality that planners like Bacon and Moses hoped to create already existed. She had seen it herself, not only in the tenements of East Harlem but in Greenwich Village. The two neighborhoods— one doomed, one celebrated for its bohemian spirit—were more alike than not, just as the blocky brick towers of Stuyvesant Town, the celebrated middle-class development where Jacobs’s sister lived, were as dreary as Harlem’s carceral George Washington Houses. Reduced to a word, Jacobs’s argument is that a city, or neighborhood, or block, cannot succeed without diversity: diversity of residential and commercial

use, racial and socioeconomic diversity, diversity of governing bodies (from local wards to state agencies), diverse modes of transportation, diversity of public and private institutional support, diversity of architectural style. Great numbers of people concentrated in relatively small areas should not be considered a health or safety hazard; they are the foundation of a healthy community. Dense, varied populations are “desirable,” Jacobs wrote, because they are the source of immense vitality, and because they do represent, in small geographic compass, a great and exuberant richness of diferences and possibilities, many of these differences unique and unpredictable and all the more valuable because they are.


A M E S M A D I S O N couldn’t have put it better, though he tried. He addressed the issue in Federalist Paper No. 9, his effort to answer one of the most vexing problems facing the Framers of the Constitution: how to safeguard their new democracy against insurrection or despotism. Madison argued that as you increase the “variety of parties and interests” contained within a republic, “you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.” Jacobs saw that the same principle held in cities. It is not a coincidence that she described city planners, and the businessmen and politicians who enabled them, as tyrants: “neurotic,” “destructive,” and “impossibly arrogant.” “We need all kinds of diversity,” Jacobs concluded in Death and Life, “so the people of cities can sustain (and further develop) their society and civilization.” In later books, particularly The Economy of Cities (1969) and Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984), she expanded this point, arguing that the fate of a civilization rested on the vitality of its major cities. In her inal

book, published in 2004, she applied her analysis to our own civilization. What was the current condition of our great cities? How did America stack up against Rome, Mesopotamia, Babylon? What future could we expect if we continued on our current path? She called the book Dark Age Ahead. Her Cassandra tale is given greater credibility by the fact that many of her direst predictions have already been realized. Within three years of publication, “the miracle of money growing on houses” was revealed to be a mirage that threatened to take down much of the inancial system with it. Gentriication, which Jacobs irst warned against

Jacobs warns of allowing political campaigns “to construct new reality.” in Death and Life, was exacerbated in New York City and elsewhere when local governments failed to set aside suficient afordable public housing. The Total Information Awareness program, a government data-mining surveillance system that she warned against on the book’s inal page, morphed into PRISM, the classified surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden. These seemingly disparate dangers, Jacobs argued, rose from a common cause: a moral weakening, or drift, accelerated by cultural rot. In her comparative study of fallen empires, Jacobs identiies common early indicators of decline: “cultural xenophobia,” “self-imposed isolation,” and “a shift from faith in logos, reason, with its future-oriented spirit … to mythos, meaning conservatism that looks backwards to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.” She warns of the proligate use of plausible denial in American politics, the idea that “a presentable image makes substance immaterial,” allowing political campaigns “to construct new reality.” She finds

further evidence of our hardening cultural sclerosis in the rise of the prisonindustrial complex, the prioritization of credentials over critical thinking in the educational system, low voter turnout, and the reluctance to develop renewable forms of energy in the face of global ecological collapse. No reader of Jacobs’s work would be surprised by the recent inding by a Gallup researcher that Donald Trump’s supporters “are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones.” These zones are latter-day incarnations of Higgins: marooned, amnesiac, homogenous, gutted by the diminishment of skills and opportunities. One Higgins is dangerous enough, for both its residents and the republic to which it belongs. But the nation’s Higginses have proliferated to the point that their residents have assumed control of a major political party. In the foreword to the 1992 Modern Library edition of Death and Life, Jacobs likens cities to natural ecosystems. “Both types of ecosystems,” she writes, “require much diversity to sustain themselves … and because of their complex interdependencies of components, both kinds of ecosystems are vulnerable and fragile, easily disrupted or destroyed.” Dark Age Ahead reminds us how many powerful, technologically advanced cities—and empires—have come before us, only to fade to dust. When they fall, they do not recover. The vanished way of life “slides into an abyss of forgetfulness, almost as decisively as if it had not existed.” Karl Marx, who spent his life studying the subject, observed that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. This topsy-turvy election year makes one wonder whether he might have gotten that backwards. We’ve had farce, that much is certain. What will the next time bring?

Nathaniel Rich is the author of Odds Against Tomorrow.

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Who is the most influential politician in history? belief in his resurrection, in Christian history, which has shaped so much since.

Hasan Minhaj, correspondent, The Daily Show Alexander Hamilton. A bastard, orphan immigrant who came to America to leave his mark on our nation’s history speaks to me and to so many other immigrant children. His impact on politics and our inancial institutions is second to none.

author, The Oil Kings After seizing power in 550 B.C., Cyrus the Great established the Persian empire, which became the world’s irst superpower, and his landmark declaration of support for human rights resonates today. Cyrus was great, but he was also good.

Rick Beyer, author, Rivals Unto Death (February 2017) In a desperate hour, John Adams prodded reluctant delegates at the Continental



Congress to declare American independence. Jeferson gets points for prose and Hancock for handwriting, but neither would have had the chance if America’s grouchiest Founding Father hadn’t pushed the Declaration through.

Jane Hampton Cook, author, The Burning of the White House Scholarly and sly, James Madison spearheaded the creation of the U.S. Constitution; built a political party with Thomas Jeferson; and as the fourth president helped propel the next three presidents by promoting James Monroe to a Cabinet position, John Quincy Adams to a pivotal peacecommissioner role, and Andrew Jackson to a major general.

Jon Meacham, author, Destiny and Power Pontius Pilate. As the Roman governor of Judea around A.D. 33, he was brutal and unforgiving. Wary of unrest, Pilate convicted Jesus and condemned him to death—the crucial event, followed by his disciples’


Mark D. Steinberg, history professor, University of Illinois Lenin. Marx welcomed the “specter of communism” that was “haunting Europe,” but it became solid and moved from the streets into the halls of power—and not only in Europe—when a savvy, opportunistic, and charismatic political leader entered the picture and rewrote the rules.

Andrew Roberts, author, Masters and Commanders Winston Churchill, because he persuaded the British people to ight on against Nazi Germany before America came into the war. Denying Hitler victory meant that the U.S. could use Britain as an unsinkable aircraft carrier from 1942 to 1945. READER RESPONSES

Andrew Gombos, Houston, Texas Julius Caesar. He crafted the transition from republic to triumvirate to empire and left a legacy of leadership that was emulated for 2,000 years, and continues today. Cori Schlegel, Stoughton, Wis.

Tony Goldwyn, actor, Scandal (President Fitzgerald Grant) Despite a lifetime of oppression at the hands of a racist government, including 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela transformed South Africa through his faith in the brotherhood of man. His Truth and Reconciliation Commission stands as a shining example of the power of forgiveness.

If you had asked “Who is the greatest politician in history?,” I might have reasoned Abraham Lincoln, or Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt. But for the question that you actually asked, I can’t see how the answer could be anyone other than Adolf Hitler. Want to see your name on this page? E-mail with your response to the question for our January/February issue: Who is the worst leader of all time?

Illustrations by GRAHAM ROUMIEU

Capital Creates Light in New Places Nearly a decade ago, First Solar had a bold idea: make solar power an affordable alternative to conventional energy. Since then, Morgan Stanley has helped First Solar raise capital to expand into new markets. Now, regions from the Atacama Desert in Chile to rural India have access to clean, renewable energy. With our help, First Solar is enabling a world powered by reliable and affordable solar electricity. Good business—it’s something to see.

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The Atlantic Noviembre 2016  

The Atlantic Noviembre 2016

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