Page 1


No. 30

Since this is the first issue

of our new quarterly cycle and you will be hearing from us more frequently, we have dispensed with the conceit of an introduction to explain our whereabouts between issues. Suffice it to say that in the pages that follow, you will discover an array of stories, articles, graphics, and poems pertaining to the supreme political values of liberty and security, while also delineating certain fearful efforts to subvert them. Naturally, this means diagnosing the overlapping plagues of scapegoating, xenophobia, and demagogic posturing that afflict our body politic—especially in a presidential campaign year. But we also spotlight some symptoms of a derangement brewing in the culture. Read a new analysis of sex hysteria within the 4chan Internet enclave, take in the craze for cryonics, apprehend the dread logic of be-glad-you’re-not-there cults, enjoy a story about the enemy within families (that would be incest), and look aghast at our report of municipal corruption in California’s state capital; it will set your hair on fire. Over the year we will give you columns that gingerly dismantle consensus thinking about imponderables such as activism, technology, and corruption, and light the way toward reason. Still, this issue leans toward the irresistible proposition that the country, high and low, writhes in the grip


of a collective panic attack, a case of the sweaty palms, a crack-up of faith in the near future, a claustral terror that our bipolar political system—trapped amid competing but mutually outmoded visions of sanity in the baby-boomer gene pool—cannot hope to allay, but can only stoke to greater furies. Sober pundits intone, how do we balance liberty and security, freedom and safety? We? Balance? The bywords of America in 2016 are more like plutocrats and jittery. Not since the late 1950s has a sense of impending doom so twisted the nation’s mood. While the Dead Kennedys went on to lament, in the first flush of the punk era, that they were too drunk to fuck, we say the country has now become too scared to think. Enjoy. —John Summers the Baffler [no. 30] 1 3

T h e B a f f l e r ( no. 3 0 ) C on t e n t s

F rom t h e A rc h i v e Clip-On Tie The diary of a New York art museum security guard

S t or i e s


Christos Ikonomou

Fa n ta s y Isl a n ds

The Sunstroke

Withering on the Vine A tale of two democracies


Despair Fatigue How hopelessness grew boring


Frameless Treatment Guidance Systems

Pa n ic ! Ro om Keep Fear Alive The bald-eagle boondoggle of the terror wars


The New Man of 4chan


Melissa Monroe

84 102

Ann Neumann

4 1 the Baffler [no. 30]

40 78

No Need to Argue Anymore Fani Papageorgiou


13 60 62 83 113

Natalia Ginzburg

Corey Pein

A mber A’Lee Frost

Melissa Monroe


K ade Crockford

Boys Will Be Men

The refugees born for a land unknown Edwin Muir

David Gr aeber

Taking Liberties Cults and capitalism

Ludmilla Petrushevsk aya


Poe m s

Thomas Fr ank

Everybody Freeze! The extropians want your body

Ottessa Moshfegh

People Are Streinz

David Ber man

Angela Nagle

The Locked Room


from Absolute Solitude


Ulysses XXI


Dulce MarĂ­a Loynaz Benjamin Fondane

Pa n ic ! R o o m

R a bbl e Rouse Against Activism Astr a Taylor

P ho t o G r a ph ic


Cr ac k p o t s They Made Him a Moron The strange career of Alec Ross

Nina Ber man


E x h i bi t ions


A: Fr ances Jetter B: Mark Dancey

Evgeny Morozov

C: Br ad Holland

Info-Sca m The Rest Is Advertising Confessions of a sponsored content writer


D: Greta Pr att


E: Mark Wagner

Ba f f l om at h y

25 54 77 147 184 180

Jacob Silver man

S h a m e of t h e Cit i e s Sacramento Shakedown Kevin Johnson’s crossover corruption


Cosmo Garvin

A nc e s t or s The Stranger Georg Simmel



the Baffler [no. 30] 1 5

Fa n ta s y I s l a n d s

Withering on the Vine A tale of two democracies 3 Thomas Fr ank


ere you to draw a Venn diagram of Democrats, meritocrats, and plutocrats, the space where they intersect would be an island seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts called Martha’s Vineyard. A little bit smaller in area than Staten Island but many times greater in stately magnificence, Martha’s Vineyard is a resort whose population swells each summer as the wealthy return to their vacation villas. It is a place of yachts and celebrities and fussy topiary, of waterfront mansions and Ivy League professors and closed-off beaches. It is also a place of moral worthiness, as we understand it circa 2016. The people relaxing on the Vineyard’s rarefied sand are not lazy toffs like the billionaires of old; in fact, according to the Washington Post, they have “far higher IQs than the average beachgoer.” It is an island that deserves what it has. Some of its well-scrubbed little towns are decorated in Puritan severity, some in fanciful Victorian curlicues, but always and everywhere they are clad in the unmistakable livery of righteous success. It is ever so liberal. This is Massachusetts, after all, and the markers of lifestyle enlightenment are all around you: Foods that are organic. Clothing that is tasteful. A conspicuous absence of cigarette butts. Here it is not enough to have a surgically precise garden of roses and topiary in the three-foot strip between your carefully whitewashed house and the picket fence out front; the garden must be accessorized with a sign letting passersby know that “this is a chemical-free Vineyard lawn, safe for children, pets, and ponds.” It is ever so privileged, ever so private. This is not Newport or Fifth Avenue, where the rich used to display their good taste to the world; the Martha’s Vineyard mansions that you read about in the newspapers are for the most part hidden away behind massive hedges and long, winding driveways. Even the beaches of the rich are kept separate from the general public—they are private right down to the low-tide line and often accessible only through locked gates, a gracious peculiarity of Massachusetts law that is found almost nowhere else in America. Over the last few decades, this island has become the standard vacation destination for high-ranking Democratic officials. Bill Clin16 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


the Baffler [no. 30] 1 17

Fa n ta s y I s l a n d s

Despair Fatigue How hopelessness grew boring 3 David Gr aeber

Is it possible to become bored with hopelessness?

There is reason to believe something like that is beginning to happen in Great Britain. Call it despair fatigue. For nearly half a century, British culture, particularly on the left, has made an art out of despair. This is the land where “No Future for You” became the motto of a generation, and then another generation, and then another. From the crumbling of its empire, to the crumbling of its industrial cities, to the current crumbling of its welfare state, the country seemed to be exploring every possible permutation of despair: despair as rage, despair as resignation, despair as humor, despair as pride or secret pleasure. It’s almost as if it’s finally run out. On the surface, and from a distance, Britain looks like it’s experiencing one of the stranger paroxysms of masochistic self-destruction in world history. Since the Conservative victory of 2010, first in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and now on its own, the British government has set out to systematically unravel much of what makes life good and decent in the country. Conservative leaders started by trashing the United Kingdom’s once proud university system, while eyeing the greatest source of national pride and dignity, the universal health guarantees of the National Health Service. All of this is being done in the name of an economic doctrine—austerity, the imperative need for fiscal discipline—that no one genuinely believes in and whose results pretty much everyone deplores (including prime minister David Cameron, who in private has denounced the decline of his local public services), in response to an existential crisis that does not exist. How did this happen? It appears that the entire political class has become trapped in the bizarrely successful narrative that swept the Tories into power after the crash of 2008 and still sustains them long after its consequences have run beyond any sort of humanity or common sense.

Boom Crash Opera Pretty much every major sitting government was booted out after the crash, and the political complexion of the government in question 26 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


the Baffler [no. 30] 1 27

Pa n ic ! R o o m

Keep Fear Alive The bald-eagle boondoggle of the terror wars 3 Kade Crockford “If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that ‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.”

—Thomas Fuentes, former assistant director, FBI Office of International Operations

Can we imagine a free and peaceful country? A civil society that rec-

ognizes rights and security as complementary forces, rather than polar opposites? Terrorist attacks frighten us, as they are designed to. But when terrorism strikes the United States, we’re never urged to ponder the most enduring fallout from any such attack: our own government’s prosecution of the Terror Wars. This failure generates all sorts of accompanying moral confusion. We cast ourselves as good, but our actions show that we are not. We rack up a numbing litany of decidedly uncivil abuses of basic human rights: global kidnapping and torture operations, gulags in which teenagers have grown into adulthood under “indefinite detention,” the overthrow of the Iraqi and Libyan governments, borderless execution-by-drone campaigns, discriminatory domestic police practices, dragnet surveillance, and countless other acts of state impunity. The way we process the potential cognitive dissonance between our professed ideals and our actual behavior under the banner of freedom’s supposed defense is simply to ignore things as they really are. They hate us for our freedom, screech the bald-eagle memes, and so we must solemnly fight on. But what, beneath the official rhetoric of permanent fear, explains the collective inability of the national security overlords to imagine a future of peace? Incentives, for one thing. In a perverse but now familiar pattern, what we have come to call “intelligence failures” produce zero humility, and no promise of future remedies, among those charged with guarding us. Instead, a new array of national security demands circulate,

50 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


which are always rapidly met. In America, the gray-haired representatives of the permanent security state say their number one responsibility is to protect us, but when they fail to do so, they go on television and growl. To take but one recent example, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared before the morally bankrupt pundit panel on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to explain that intractable ethnic, tribal, and religious conflict has riven the Middle East for more than a century— the United States, and the West at large, were mere hapless bystanders in this long-running saga of civilizational decay. This sniveling performance came, mind you, just days after Politico reported that, while choreographing the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rumsfeld had quietly buried a report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicating that military intelligence officials had almost no persuasive evidence that Saddam Hussein was maintaining a serious WMD program. Even after being forced to resign in embarrassment over the botched Iraq invasion a decade ago, Rumsfeld continues to cast himself as an earnestly outmanned casualty of Oriental cunning and backbiting while an indulgent clutch of cable talking heads nods just as earnestly along. the Baffler [no. 30] 1 51

Pa n ic ! Ro o m

The New Man of 4chan 3 Angela Nagle

“ The first of our kind has struck fear into the hearts of America,”

announced one commenter last year on the giddily offensive /r9k/ board of the notorious, anarchic site 4chan. “This is only the beginning. The Beta Rebellion has begun. Soon, more of our brothers will take up arms to become martyrs to this revolution.” The post, dated October 1, was referring to the news that twenty-six-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer had killed nine classmates and injured nine others before shooting himself at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The night before the shooting, an earlier post on /r9k/ had, in veiled but ominous terms, warned fellow commenters from the Northwestern United States that it would be a good idea to steer clear of school that day. The implication was not lost on the /r9k/ community. The first responder in the thread asked, “Is the beta uprising finally going down?” while others encouraged the anonymous poster and gave him tips on how to conduct a mass shooting. The apparent link between the post and the killer remains under FBI investigation, but in the immediate wake of Harper-Mercer’s rampage, a number of the board’s users hailed it as a victory for the beta rebellion. The details that emerged about Harper-Mercer’s online life made it difficult not to resort to stereotyping. On a dating site, he had listed pop-culture obsessions typical of “beta” shut-ins, including “internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading,” and added that he lived “with parents.” His profile specified that he was looking for a companion with a shared set of personality traits: “introvert, loner, lover, geek, nerd.” The term “beta,” in the circles Harper-Mercer frequented, is an ironic inversion of the fabled swagger of the alpha male. Whereas alphas tend to be macho, sporty, and mainstream in their tastes, betas see themselves as less dominant males, withdrawn, obsessional, and curatorial in their cultural habits. Withdrawn does not necessarily imply peaceable, however, which is where the “uprising” and “rebellion” parts of the beta identity come in. This particular brand of computer-enabled detachment easily seeps into a mindset of entitled violence and is accompanied by a mixture of influences from the far right to the countercultural left. The email on Harper-Mercer’s dating profile was, but he was also a member of a group named “Doesn’t Like Organized Religion,”

64 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


the Baffler [no. 30] 1 65


The Sunstroke 6 Ludmilla Petrushevskaya


hat is a vacation by the sea, if not a return to eternal youth? Every summer, land-locked Muscovites flock to the Black Sea to face rowdy crowds, suspect food, infernal partying and drinking, horrible beach music—all for the sake of a dazzling day in the water followed by an equally dazzling evening when the skin tingles as though on fire, and a vacationer’s new face looks out young and rosy from the mirror. Whether she jumps off the pier, descends the steps cautiously, or runs into the water happily, intoxicated with coolness and freedom, the result is the same. Out of the sea foam emerges a goddess, a Venus, invisible at first, but by the end of the vacation fully hatched, like a snake that has shed its skin. (There are lots of recipes and lotions, but mistakes can still happen, and the old skin may peel unevenly. The new face can resemble a young potato, but that can be corrected by subsequent total sunbathing.) The daily grind has been shoved aside, replaced by endless aquatic vistas. Soon, new routines and concerns take over paradise, along with petty complaints that this is wrong and that is bad, all the beach cots are taken, a drinking party is raising hell, blaring music on a boom box, and so on. Next come endless arguments with family members who drag their feet in the morning and can’t leave for the beach on time to avoid the afternoon heat and so quickly get burnt. Children in the water are a torture to a parental heart; one needs to keep constant watch on the shore or else swim in circles in shallow water without any pleasure, like a bodyguard, and to look for sunburns, apply the lotion, send the child into the shade despite loud protests. But the process of regeneration is taking place. A mass of golden hair falls over the shoulders like a cloak; eyes lighten against the tan skin; leg muscles tauten like ropes; the children grow healthier by the minute, although not without contracting bronchitis first, or an ear infection, or a simple cold. The precious days are rolling past; more than half are gone. The husband spends most evenings with his pal from last season, a prominent scientist like himself, although in a different field; both are nominated to the Academy of Science. The wife receives friends and acquaintances; the children join their own little cabal. It’s fun! 78 1 the Baffler [no. 30]

Vera is responsible for coffee and dessert. Hooray! H A ZE L L E E SA N TI N O


In the evening, the family reconvenes. Shower; quiet haggling over

the upcoming hike to the mountaintop to watch the sunrise—Mirbala, their local friend, is leading the group. The husband refuses definitively. The children make faces: they have plans, a girl in their gang is having a birthday party, they need money for a present and cake, please, Mom. All this means that the following night, Vera, the wife, is free— and there she is, marching uphill with a group of seven adults, Mirbala leading the way. Each carries a jacket and a bedroll. Mirbala is also bringing marinated lamb, for kebobs; Serezha is dragging wine. There is also Serezha’s gangly wife, plus Mirbala’s mysterious girlfriend in large earrings and a turban, plus a shy woman, Valya—Vera will make friends with her. A friend of Serezha’s is carrying the grill and skewers. Vera is responsible for coffee and dessert. Hooray! There are three children, tired and miserable; two belong to Serezha, and the other is his friend’s little girl. Finally, they stop for the night. Fire in the grill, excitement, first glass of wine, first kebob off the fire. (“Not enough marinade,” Mirbala moans; “Enough, enough,” shout the women.) The kids are exhaustthe Baffler [no. 30] 1 79

Pa n ic ! Ro o m

Everybody Freeze! The extropians want your body 3 Corey Pein

Narratives are made by the artful omission of facts. Never was this

maxim more evident than in a gullible feature story that landed on the front page of the New York Times last fall, about a young woman’s lastditch bid for life extension as she succumbed to the ravages of brain cancer. A sober look at the case would have revealed it to be but the latest botched mortuary procedure conducted by a gang of creepy scam artists. Instead, through the good graces of the Times, this grim tale was spun into an inspirational saga of one person’s courageous quest for a second chance at life, aided by medical visionaries on the verge of miraculous technological breakthroughs. Kim Suozzi died at age twenty-three in January 2013. After her first diagnosis, two years earlier, Suozzi became one of the youngest people ever* to undergo an expensive form of ritualistic corpse mutilation called cryonic preservation. In pop culture, cryonics is perhaps best known as the plot device that transports the schlubby pizza delivery guy in Matt Groening’s animated series Futurama into the thirty-first century. The decades-old quack procedure, which involves freezing corpse parts for later resuscitation, was for a long time apocryphally associated with such wealthy eccentrics as Walt Disney. It then caused a scandal in 2002 when it was widely reported that the body of baseball great Ted Williams had gone into deep freeze against the wishes of some in his family. In recent years, cryonics has regained an entirely undue aura of respectability as the thought leaders of Silicon Valley have trained their enterprising, disruptive vision on the conquest of disease and death.** Suozzi, an agnostic libertarian and aspiring neuroscientist, began taking cryonics seriously after discovering the work of the futurologist Ray Kurzweil through a cognitive science class at Truman State University in Missouri. After surgery failed to stop the growth of her brain tumor, Suozzi determined that upon death she—or rather, her

* In spring 2005 a two-year-old Thai girl was frozen by Alcor at the request of her parents after succumbing to a terminal illness.

** Cryonics, the con job, should not be confused with cryogenics, the science of freezing things, although it frequently is.

84 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


head—would be frozen and stored for decades, centuries, or millennia in the hope that one day, diligent, wonder-working doctors would transplant her consciousness into a new, healthy body, or perhaps onto a high-capacity hard drive. As a tech-savvy millennial, Suozzi turned to the chat website Reddit for help in raising the $80,000 she needed to fulfill her last wish. That got her well on her way, with about $7,000 reportedly raised. Cryonics boosters jumped in and helped raise more within their affluent network. In the end, it worked: Suozzi’s dismembered remains were frozen and stored at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, the world’s largest and most famous cryonics outfit. And the sad, strange story might have ended there, if not for the hungry maw of the news business. the Baffler [no. 30] 1 85

Pa n ic ! Ro o m

Taking Liberties Cults and capitalism 3 Ann Neumann

102 1 the Baffler [no. 30]



ike the slow-motion collapse of most empires, the end of Chuck Dederich’s sprawling rehabilitation-cum-alternative lifestyle community, Synanon, began with an unforgivable—and some say uncharacteristic—act of hypocrisy. Dederich was playing The Game, the confrontational group therapy method that he’d devised in the late 1950s, which involved twelve or more people, their chairs in a circle, taking cracks at one another for hours on end. The rules of The Game were simple: anything went—yelling, foul language, accusations, insinuations, and other verbal abuse—except physical violence. “Talk dirty and live clean,” Dederich said. Only in 1973, when Dederich was treated to too much of his own talking cure, he snapped, and the once high-flying Synanon experiment sank into the standard script of scandal-battered culthood. Apostate members publicized charges of psychological abuse, financial impropriety, a string of violent assaults, and unhinged guru megalomania. The media, ever attuned to stories of spiritual hubris run amok, made Synanon a byword for faddish West Coast New Age nuttery. In reality, though, Synanon represented a pivotal moment in America’s restless quest for spiritual self-understanding: the juncture at which the promise of psychic liberation dead-ended into abject rites of submission before the delusions of a charismatic leader—or if you prefer, when Keynesian optimism bowed to neoliberal protocols of behavioral control. Dederich’s Game, in its way, was a perfect exercise in austere self-discipline in an age of mounting psychic and economic squalor. The focused, personalized vitriol, the way it tore down all participants until they were emotionally resigned, the belief that lashing out in session would prevent doing so in life—these boot-camp-style rituals of self-reflection were the key to Synanon’s success. Synanon grew up alongside several kindred movements seeking to systematize enlightenment via heightened personal self-control, from Scientology and est (a.k.a. Erhard Seminar Training) to the secessionist, authoritarian spiritual communities run by Dederich-lite figures such as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Frederick Lenz (a.k.a. Rama or Atmananda). With its

the Baffler [no. 30] 1 103

Pa n ic ! Ro o m

Boys Will Be Men 3 Amber A’Lee Frost

The first time I heard about Tucker Max I was still finishing up col-

lege, vaguely toying with the idea of getting a master’s degree in gender studies. But here, it seemed, was a popcult phenom who was itching to give me—and women the world over—an alpha-dude-docented crash course in the subject. To be a bit more precise, I was idly scrolling through Facebook when I noticed a post by a feminist friend; Tucker Max, reviled misogynist and de facto bard of brews, bros, and hos, was being protested by women’s groups, on the grounds that his purportedly true-life tales of extremely inebriated sex promoted rape culture. Despite living in a college town myself (presumably the heart of Maxmania), I had never encountered Max’s bestselling I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which by then was already a few years into its run on the New York Times bestseller list. The book was so popular that it even spawned a movie, which promptly beefed it at the box office. Apparently, Max’s epically masculine tales of debauchery—dubbed “fratire” by the New York Times in 2006—did not translate well to the big screen. There’s no question that Max’s work traded in misogyny. Lines like “Your whole gender is hardwired for whoredom” and “Fat girls aren’t real people” are pretty representative of his oeuvre. But I’ve never really bought the theory that his sexism was infectious, any more than I believe heavy metal makes you kill your parents. My position has always been that most professional misogynists work in character, and that on some level, everyone is aware of that. While Max was a successful literary shock jock, his routine got stale and his followers drifted, in part because his contempt extended beyond women to include his mouth-breathing readers. Compared to them, Max implied, he was so much better—more frequently laid, more epically drunk, more excellently attired and turned out. As Max aged, and his readers along with him, the “I came, I drank, I fucked” storylines wore even thinner. And despite the raw sensationalism of his stories, Max wasn’t a very compelling writer. The same cannot be said for Neil Strauss, who inhabited the other, marginally more genteel camp of the mid-aughties dick-lit trend, and whose meditations on dudeliness were slightly more sophisticated. A clearly superior writer to Max, Strauss made it big by embedding

114 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


the Baffler [no. 30] 1 115

Info-Sca m

The Rest Is Advertising Confessions of a sponsored content writer 3 Jacob Silverman

Recently, I landed the tech-journalism equivalent of a Thomas Pyn-

chon interview: I got someone from Twitter to answer my call. Notorious for keeping its communications department locked up tight, Twitter is not only the psychic bellwether and newswire for the media industry, but also a stingy interview-granter, especially now that it’s floundering with poor profits, executive turnover, and a toxic culture. I’ve tried to get them on the record before. No one has replied. This time, though, a senior executive from one of Twitter’s key divisions seemed happy—eager, even—to talk with me, and for as long as I wanted. You might even say he prattled. I was a little stunned: I’d been writing about tech matters for years as a freelance journalist, and this was far more access than I was used to receiving. What was different? I was calling as a reporter—but not exactly. I was writing a story for The Atlantic—but not for the news division. Instead, I was working for a moneymaking wing of The Atlantic called Re:think, and I was writing sponsored content. In case you haven’t heard, journalism is now in perpetual crisis, and conditions are increasingly surreal. The fate of the controversialists at Gawker rests on a delayed jury trial over a Hulk Hogan sex 148 1 the Baffler [no. 30]


tape. Newspapers publish directly to Facebook, and Snapchat hires journalists away from CNN. Last year, the Pulitzer Prizes doubled as the irony awards; one winner in the local reporting category, it emerged, had left his newspaper job months earlier for a better paying gig in PR. “Is there a future in journalism and writing and the Internet?” Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl, wrote last January. “Haha, FUCK no, not really.” Even those who have kept their jobs in journalism, he explained, can’t say what they might be doing, or where, in a few years’ time. Disruption clouds the future even as it holds it up for worship. But for every crisis in every industry, a potential savior emerges. And in journalism, the latest candidate is sponsored content. Also called native advertising, sponsored content borrows the look, the name recognition, and even the staff of its host publication to push brand messages on unsuspecting viewers. Forget old-fashioned banner ads, those most reviled of early Internet artifacts. This is vertically integrated, barely disclaimed content marketing, and it’s here to solve journalism’s cash flow problem, or so we’re told. “15 Reasons Your Next Vacation Needs to Be in SW Florida,” went a recent BuzzFeed headline— the Baffler [no. 30] 1 149


No. 30  
No. 30