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“Our literary elites may all come from the same expensive institutions,” Jessa Crispin writes in issue 62 of The Baffler, “but they are all working stiffs in their own minds, pretending to feel solidarity with the working classes.” Those literary elites, she writes, have helped flatten contemporary literature into a few “dead zones incapable of innovation . . . How does one expect to find something wild in a plot of feed crops constantly doused with herbicides?”  Meanwhile, the titans of multinational corporations scaffold their shitty politics with precepts ripped from shitty novels. Politicians, oligarchs, sextons, and janitors routinely junk fictions for parts in order to get things done. Thankfully, the writers in this issue are first readers who approach a fiction, or even literature itself, as a collection of scenes of instruction. Lucy Ellmann, in “My Study Hates Your Study,” compares literature (and art more broadly) to a “last wilderness” unspoiled by science and technology; for his part, Nathan Shields recounts the century-long winnowing by which classical composers became just another set of entrepreneurs hawking personal brands. Lucy Ives, writing about the fiction of Dodie Bellamy, follows the nonexistence of the clitoris in fiction to a startling revelation on the mirror-like emptiness of sex. Wen Stephenson links the scandal scenes of Dostoevsky to a moment of profound domestic horror in his own life. Other writers approach political rationales as fictions (and not merely as falsehoods). As Sophie Pinkham reminds us in her essay on Ukrainian writer Yevgenia Belorusets, “This is a moment when facts are both utterly compromised and vastly overvalued—asked to do all the work of politics, to justify whole worldviews with single data points.” Writing about the grave history of human contagion, Ben Ehrenreich explains that the science surrounding aerosol transmission was never “a noble crusade against superstition, as modernist mythmaking would have it, but a political struggle.” Maxwell Burkey unwinds the civil religion of postwar American patriotism, finding a literary genre with its own Christs and perennial left-wing devils. Lisabeth During, perusing Jacqueline Rose’s writing on male violence, asks, “Do you need to be above or beyond violence to deliver judgment on it? And if you are above it, how on earth can you understand it?” Sophie Lewis, in our opening salvo, takes to task a historical feminism whose exclusionary fiction of womanhood has made very real ways of living “impossible to knit into the story.” While the powers that be stop to lick their pencils, taking more cues from lousy science fiction writers as they pen these political rationales, Christopher Urban turns instead to the astronauts and academics (not to mention the vampires) that populate Tom McCarthy’s latest novel, which provides “a critique of the kinds of bourgeois literary fiction unwittingly produced today to maintain the status quo.” Will Burns finds both communion and transgression in the literature of the English pub. And Michael Hofmann surveys the career of Bei Dao, whose poems “stare back at the reader, unflinchingly, confrontingly. One can feel the energy that has gone into their making, the hard masking-tape edges, the chips and curds of unmixed color applied with a palette knife. There is no empty space, no wash, no contextualizing, no aspic. No throat-clearing, no storytelling, little paraphrasable content.” We’ll take it—and let the literary elites keep to their light reading.
World leaders are searching for a resolution to the eight-billion-body problem. Eric Dean Wilson reports that ministers gathered at COP26 for “The Shitshow in Glasgow,” where, sipping tequila and vodka, they committed to ignoring the climate crisis despite significant cost outlays. Jessica Fletcher writes of dilapidated parks and unused public spaces in New York City, which reflect the broken social hopes of the city’s past urban designers. Kevin Rogan surveys the damage wrought by landlords, Amazon, and the real estate monopoly Vornado across Manhattan. Meanwhile, in other horrifying non-places, Jonathan Katz reports that the American government upholds its tradition of renditioning its presumed enemies to the crippling darkness of its global black sites; John Washington describes the space left behind by victims of forced disappearance around the world; Kit Duckworth tells of nuns in Tuscan convents penetrating the mysteries of religion; Daniel Fernandez prods liberals’ reformist delusions about the classrooms inside America’s prisons; and Patrick McGinty describes a nebulous cult of “cryptopians” that worships at the altar of the blockchain and prays to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, now the world’s richest man, who’s got his sights set on the colonization of Mars. After a three-hour tour of the cosmos, Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos, previously the world’s richest man, openly declares class war on earth, thanking “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this.” In “Dawn of the Space Lords,” Corey Pein describes such jaunts as characterizing a new era of “blown deadlines and spectacular failures” in the space race. Astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein skewers these undemocratic pretensions in “Becoming Martian,” and considers, by way of the history of transatlantic slavery, which futures of space travel are preferable or even plausible. What isn’t plausible? Kyle Paoletta, inspects the spectacular claims of former Harvard professor Avi Loeb, who has spent four years trying to convince readers that the strange artifact called ‘Oumuamua is alien technology fueled by light from the sun. And Matthew King wonders whether this new space age will lift off at all, what with the ever-growing rings of junk clogging earth’s orbital lanes. “The brave new world unfolding before our eyes is no endless frontier of renewed exploration,” King writes, “but an uncontrolled experiment of epic proportions.” Issue 61 of The Baffler is a “Space Opera” in two acts. For the intermission, we’re thrilled to present a new work of fiction by Samuel Delany.
 January 2022
IF YOU’RE FEELING FRACKED, maybe it’s time to make the Great Resignation work for you. In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.3 million people left their jobs, the highest quit rate they’ve yet recorded. A March 2021 survey indicated that 41 percent of employees worldwide have considered resigning this year already; another survey, also published in March, reported that more than half of American workers are realizing they’re burned out on the job. Whether the “pandemic epiphanies” of newly existentialist workers will last is debated on television, but we know for sure one of those surveys was published by Microsoft, and the other by the job platform Indeed. At last the cycle of being tired all the time reveals its shape: the exhaustion we feel because of our jobs is being monitored and extracted, as data, by the transnational corporations that monitor and extract our work, which exhausts us. In “The Squandering Earth,” issue no. 60 of The Baffler, we cast aspersions on the accumulation-crazed multinationals ransacking the planet for profit, making us all feel like used-up bottles of stuff while they amass exponentially more indestructible bottles of stuff. This waste-producing apparatus is vast, Ajay Singh Chaudhary writes in “The Extractive Circuit,” “the leaden reality of a global human ecological niche organized for maximal profitability—no matter how difficult or costly to maintain.” This circuit, he stresses, “is not a metaphor,” but an accelerating systems-crash that steals time and resources from zones of least resistance, like fragile habitats. One such zone, Zachariah Webb writes in “Dead Pools,” is the state of Arizona, which has achieved almost total dehydration in a global scheme with no prospects for reform. Another is Sudan, where drought, famine, and civil war project a future of stark nomadism, Jérôme Tubiana reports. And as Bryce Covert explains in her survey of the United States’ frayed infrastructure for distributing pandemic relief, stopping this systems-crash will require a jolt to our political imagination. At other nodes along the circuit: Dave Denison follows the trail of his own recycling to the overwhelming realization that single-use plastic production will soon swamp the habitable world; Allyson Paty documents her waste stream against the “environmental ouroboros” of liberal individualist ethics; and Samuel Stein surveys the ultra-skinny high-rises and other towers of waste that now sprawl upward in our cities like accusing fingers pointed at god. In conditions of total extraction, culture is mined like anything else. Rich Woodall writes accordingly about copyright in a music industry dominated by three major labels, and other investment groups, that strip catalogs and even songs themselves for sellable parts. In “Beckett on the Richter Scale,” Marco Roth looks at the work of Evan Dara, an anonymous novelist whose intensifying fantasies of disaster seem to draw mysteriously from disparate communities. And, mercifully, J.W. McCormack’s “Mr. Garbage” finds hope in the fiction of Donald Barthelme, whose “junkman aesthetic allowed him to regulate the temperature in his model worlds and reframe their parameters accordingly.” Node, zone, worker, consumer, or resource: we’ll have to do some regulating to overcome this fatigue and ask, as Chaudhary does, “How has this level of degradation become so acceptable?”
Don’t look now. Contemporary liberals are summoning an omnium gatherum of dead words and outdated textbooks, dredging up confused accounts of Enlightenment rationality that tend to mutate into smug but underfunded mandates to “believe in science!” and calling everything from Bernie Sanders’s speeches to January’s Capitol riot to the global profusion of Black Lives Matter protests “illiberal,” an insult so circular it’s almost vicious. With the election of Joe Biden, this liberal consensus found its politics ascendant—we’re a long way away from the illiberal summer of 2020. But what to do with all this power so over-theorized and underused by the solutions-free left? By this time they’d lost sight of, or confusedly tried to befriend, their enemies on the right, though the latter continued to grow less and less subtle, as we see in the Trumpification, even now, of liberal pets like J.D. Vance. No, at the climax, liberals got sweaty and confused, “trapped at the stage of analysis,” as David Berman once wrote, “unable to perform some simple task,” like canceling student loan debt. By its own diagnosis, liberalism was ill. It needed to be “rehabilitated.” In issue no. 59 of The Baffler, “ILL LIBERALISM,” we’ll not do that. Instead we anatomize liberalism’s self-diagnosed illnesses, from its preoccupation with the post-Enlightenment idea that “history will judge us,” a way of deflecting responsibility for real-time justice in the case of atrocity; to the way it twists international consensus on nuclear deterrence, leaving nations saddled with terrifying weapons that have been used “repeatedly across the years to threaten and to dominate, though not always successfully”—and one expert’s prescription for “possibly the only non-destructive way out of the double bind of arms races.” Then there’s the nearly forgotten history of “corporate liberalism,” which might help explain why liberals today love to align themselves with progressive causes in order to latch onto and temper the forces of populism, democratic socialism, and antitrust policy, among others. Liberalism has always been, we argue, the politics of business—all the way back to slavery. And the business of liberalism is making everyone, including liberals, sick.
 September 2021
Last year we learned that an unspecified number of computer networks affiliated with the American government were compromised—maybe still are—by Russian actors. Not long ago, an oil pipeline supplying the East Coast was successfully targeted in a ransomware scheme. Earlier this week the New York Times posted a test article that described watermelons found on Mars; this non-news was an echo of real news we heard last year about possible microbes living in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, too, the epistemic weather is inclement. Possibly the most storm-damaged truth claim of all is the one that promises market exchange can provide a stable foundation for democratic life. It’s this dying rumor of liberalism that Tope Folarin considers in “Masters of Reality,” the opening essay of this fifty-eighth issue of the magazine, where the childhood memory of a transaction gone wrong hints at the white arrangement of truth. In very much the same spirit, Tarence Ray’s “United in Rage” has in its sights the web of myths that’s pushed the opioid crisis in eastern Kentucky, a region plagued by the kind of transactional logic that has offered the poor not the truth but rather another means to die. Their mortal remains are often subject to yet more bureaucratic dealing, as we hear in Wendy Selene Pérez’s “Letter From Texas,” a story of migration, debt, and a family’s struggle to repatriate a loved one’s ashes to Mexico at the pandemic’s height. Mohammad Ali, meanwhile, writes of his experience reporting on Hindu vigilantes in Modi’s India, where a “fringe” ideology has now become a constant threat to the country’s Muslim population and journalism’s “conventions of self-effacement and objectivity” are little match for the grief and fear endured by Muslim reporters. Famous men, in these conditions, act mysteriously, or much worse. In Hussein Omar’s survey of Edward Said’s career, we see how a charismatic public intellectual can easily become a cipher for a biographer’s ideas about what matters. New York mayoral also-ran Andrew Yang, in Matthew Shen Goodman’s analysis, likewise loses himself to competing truths, in this case about the political market-value of Asian American life. Madison Mainwaring dissects the horrors of ongoing sexual abuse in elite French cultural institutions, where men become rumors to evade detection, responsibility, and prosecution.  We don’t know how to cut through this electrofog—to find what David Hume called “the secret connexion” that explains why one event follows another. But we suspect whatever works will keep to the light of Jess McAllen’s “The Anti-Antidepressant Syndicate,” which uncovers Marxists and Scientologists alike in its effort to get to the bottom (or the top) of the anti-psychiatry debate. Or Evan Malmgren’s strange trip into the Quiet Zone of those living in fear of 5G. Or Marlowe Granados’s defense of the bimbo—a figure in pop culture who is always beset by nasty rumors. Or J.W. McCormack and John Semley’s inquiries into the fiction of Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, respectively, or new fiction from Alexandra Kleeman—all consulted or presented here, but never made into an instrument, a smokescreen, or even a rumor.
Baffler no. 57 takes its title, “Movements and Campaigns,” from Richard Rorty in Dissent. Is it better, his question went, to complete discrete projects in solidarity with individual interest groups, or to focus our energies on “building a movement”? In other words, how do we pick up the pieces and prevent the current global disaster from being used to further exploit us? And how do we make sure that we get what we need to survive the next one? Looking to the last century, George Scialabba cracked open Louis Menand’s new history of art and thought during the Cold War, an important work that nonetheless misses its chance at a cohesive understanding of the era’s driving political concerns (in favor of electing Menand’s own dubious pantheon of culture-heroes). William Giraldi gets in a quick word for literary obsession. “Say what you will about obsessives,” he writes, “but they know suffering, and they know suffering because they know sacrifice, and they also know sacrifice’s confederate devotion.” Britt Stigler takes a pragmatic view of high art in her consideration of the harm done to workers in American ballet. The work, she asserts, is no less physically punishing for the devotion of its practitioners, and the way out, if there is one, is in robust support of the arts and good old-fashioned organizing. Across the world, Alizeh Kohari reports on the labor struggle of a Pakistani fishing community. And those campaigns? Well, recently they’ve left a lot to be desired. Exhibit artist Lucas Sharp, once a member of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s design team, autopsies that ill-fated branding exercise and calls upon artists and designers to more clearly draw the line between commerce and participatory democracy. But answers to our questions aren’t much more likely be found in the larger-than-expected decaying particle lumps of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the spectacular collapse of which is covered at length in Brendan O’Connor’s “When the Party’s Over.” More politically promising are the subjects of essays, in this issue, by Olúfęmi Táíwò on the surprising power of ostensibly failed political actions in both Kenya and Ireland; Keisha Blain on black women in the United States as “key political actors, working to obtain justice for their loved ones and also attempting to change the nature of policing in this country”; and Simon Balto on the legacy of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Taken broadly and variously, they form a spectrum of resistance—from Black Marxism (or Marxist-Leninism) to more pragmatic varieties of black activism. Just as importantly, they offer a way of thinking about the “morality of risk” that underwrites all communities that look after their weakest members. How do we get people to stick their necks out for one another, even when they don’t have to? In the pandemic, Sarah Jaffe sees her way to a world in which that kind of care, exemplified by the black women activists of the Welfare Rights movement, is supported and compensated as all work should be. “We remain cut off from so many radical imaginings of ways we might arrange ourselves to safely share caring responsibilities,” she writes. “But this could always have been otherwise, and this moment of obvious breakdown ought to inspire us to dream differently once again.”
A public sphere drunk for years on Trumpism and anti-Trumpism has meant a lack of attention paid to everything else. In Baffler no. 56, our writers mine borderlands and boxing rings, national forests and MFA programs, to ask the questions omitted by our emaciated public sphere. For one: What about counterpublics? Issue 56, “The Counterpublic Option,” is an alternative made up of alternatives to the berserk Trump years and the frothing liberal malaise. In “The Judgment of Paris,” Lizzie O’Shea finds, in the counterpublic principles of the Paris Commune, which she contrasts with the inegalitarian mania of Facebook, ideas and policies that may help us avoid content nausea. Barry Yeoman, in “Battle Hymns of the Old South,” visits Graham, North Carolina, where “activists of different races and generations [are] building a superstructure larger than their individual organizations” and thereby challenging the mutations of neo-Confederacy sprouting in the South. Dan Royles likewise considers an overlooked counterpublic of the American South when he recounts the life-saving AIDS activism of Black gay men in Atlanta and elsewhere. In the same vein, exhibit artist GenderFail contributes typefaces in homage to the historic STAR and ACT UP movements and the activists of today’s “Say Their Name,” memorializing black Americans murdered by police in an act of cross-group solidarity. And Lina Mounzer, in “Going Beyond the Veil,” raises her objections against ‘aib, a Lebanese euphemism for the regime of shaming that places women in an impossible public and private bind. Looking to our shared ecological world, Sami Emory questions the fate of German forests “co-opted by artists, historians, Nazis, politicians across the spectrum, and scientists.” Here to add not much at all to the conversation are the renegade idiots of Silicon Valley, whose more recent intellectual pursuits have shown us, Aaron Timms writes, what happens when the counterpublic impulse goes strangely and stupidly wrong. The culture trust incubates its own particular stupidities, as Kyle Paoletta demonstrates in his essay on the craft advice of writer George Saunders, which seems “less like a creative endeavor than assembling flat-packed IKEA furniture,” and the homogeneity of contemporary MFA fiction. Meanwhile, Nathan Goldman and Cristina Rivera Garza find the counterpublic project explored and tested in the work of Guido Morselli and Gloria Anzaldúa, and Irish writer Declan Ryan writes about family, class, and boxing, a sport that has a foothold wherever deprivation can be found. Not all counterpublics, it turns out, are created with the same pretensions to equality.
Charon, the ferryman of the dead, is more like an Uber driver than a salaried employee. And his rates, in the Covid era, are surging. Now our desperate video chats with the hospitalized dying are coins in their mouths—the psychopomp’s fare. Our wits crazed with grief, we still have to find a way to survive this depression and Depression, to make ends meet. This issue of The Baffler, no. 55, has arrived too soon—it is too soon to take a full accounting of those who are gone. But the waves of the dead are arriving on the shores of the underworld, and someone has to balance the books. We can be thankful that the dead, at times, leave instructions. In Debra Levine’s “You are Witness to a Crime,” the life of ACT UP activist and artist Ray Navarro is revisited with militancy, and his memory serves to remind us of Mark Lowe Fisher’s injunction to “bury me furiously”—to pay Charon’s fare with political might and rage aimed at those with the titles to govern but not the decency. If there are parallels and non-parallels between HIV/AIDS and Covid-19, they are to be found in Levine’s writing, as well as in the efforts of our exhibition artist and essayist Ann Cvetkovich, who gathers the life-work of gay artist Robert Lynch into what she calls an “archive of feelings.” Hai Dang Phan, meanwhile, studies the photography of An-My Lê, much of it concerned with curious American reenactments of the Vietnam War, whose history is personal for the photographer. “In Lê’s silent American scenes,” Phan discovers, “the work of mourning is ongoing—as is the work of cultivation and recreation, protest and celebration.” Elsewhere, Bongani Kona excavates the bloody years of Zimbabwe’s Second Chimurenga and “the ambient, hushed-up violence that lingered on long after the war.”  Ben Ehrenreich laments the death of the state of California, razed this year by fires, where the “Anglo-European settlement of the Americas came up against the hard edge of the continent. This is where the conquest ended, and where it bounces back.” Hanif Abdurraqib weighs a tentative political hope against a surfeit of grief in a year of tumultuous organizing. Emily Harnett provides an account of those who claim to have glimpsed paradise before being ferried back to this purgatorial Earth. And Jess Bergman reckons with her own experience of death in order to undermine the prevailing story about our incoming president—that in this time of Depression and mourning, he is the grief-stricken governor we need. Biden’s sophistic project, it turns out, is the opposite of ours: he intends to strip-mine Hades in order to waylay socialism in the living world. What can we glean from a look back at America’s first Great Depression—and its last socialist putsch? The striking taxi drivers of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty might give us much to hope for and much to grieve, according to Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein’s account of workers’ perennial struggle for control of their unions. Wen Stephenson, for his part, finds a model in Stud’s Terkel’s oral history of that period, Hard Times. “No doubt the word “solidarity” has been worn out,” he writes, “overused to the point of abuse, but I don’t know a better one for what I’m seeking—and for what seems so needed now, at a time of national, global, and for so many, personal crisis. It’s hard to see a way forward without it.” In the realm of cultural decay, A.S. Hamrah watches the documentaries he’s been saving to watch at home all through a year without movie theaters. Adrian Nathan West and Matthew McKnight offer twin essays on the American novelists Gary Indiana and Percival Everett, in whose works low, dishonest characters are subjected to the putrefying gaze of televised true-crime drama and “the churn of racialized capitalism.” The hustlers and tricksters who populate their novels can’t be blamed for trying to wriggle out of such easy judgment: “in the end, people are unscrupulous, and it is no surprise they do unscrupulous things.” On the other hand, there’s no cheating a psychopomp.
 January 2021
The spine of the international liberal order is the global supply chain, a magical formulation that is meant to make us believe capitalism has an organized nervous system we can study. The supply chain is written about and thought about as an organic structure shaped by the markets and supported by reasonable states and leaders who appreciate the balance between competition and cooperation. In recent years, much of the content of liberal newspapers like the Financial Times has been devoted to news and analysis and commentary that implicitly calls for the maintenance of the supply chain and its tributaries through investment and multilateral agreements. The promise of Biden is a return to the efficient production and distribution of goods and services along this chain, and so to the jaunt of progress. It’s not so much that the supply chain isn’t real—it’s just the aggregate processes of production throughout the world. The problem is that Covid-19 should have wrecked this myth for anyone who still believed in it. The uneven distribution of Covid death among the poor and the marginal in these countries, far from explaining this away, merely proves that the smoothest operators of global capitalism are nations with rotten underbellies—those that have found a way to hide the violence that surfaces against workers at the nodes of global production. This month, a joint study from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the excessive Covid-19 mortality rate in the United States “may have been a result of several factors, including weak public health infrastructure and a decentralized, inconsistent US response to the pandemic.” The “inconsistent response” could be chalked up to malfeasance on the part of the Trump administration, but decentralization is largely about the unmapped and unregulated U.S. supply chain and the ideological unwillingness of those in power to use it to save lives. It’s a position that is every bit as liberal as it is Trumpian. The essays in this issue of The Baffler, which we’re calling “ReGlobalization,” are not set moralistically against American domestic controversies of the sort weirdly churned out during presidential elections. But taken together, they do acknowledge, as David Bromwich argues in Writing Politics, that “the idea of a good or tolerable society now encompasses relations between people at the widest imaginable distance apart.” And their response, if we may speak for them, is “no shit.”
 November 2020
The barely distinguishable personalities who explain the meaning of every event are growing ever chattier—about wars and mobs. Their rhetorical sleights, which tactically defer arguments made by the powerless, unmoneyed, or truly dead, are hallmarks of the media-size filter bubble we call, in Baffler no. 53, the Consensusphere. In the opening essay, James Pogue finds in the unfortunate Harper’s letter the same strategy of “mob” containment used by the propertied class in advance of the American Revolution. And Thomas Geoghegan, in “Abolish the Senate,” likewise looks back at American history to show how the Constitution and the U.S. Senate obstruct the representative power of the people. They should now be done away with, he argues, in a series of considered steps. Maybe it’s all this confusion about American foundations that led us to build and tolerate Confederate monuments while forgetting our literature. Terrance Hayes, on that note, has thankfully corrected literary history, or what’s left of it, with a selection of writings and drawings recovering black poets. Delving into another corner of foolishly overlooked writing, Michael Hofmann muses on his “discrete and, on the face of it, unlikely interest in the work of the old, or very old.” Elsewhere in the culture spheroid, our film critic A.S. Hamrah registers his untimely selection of the best films from the year 2000, while Stephen Kearse looks at how ratings systems, a relic of 1920s and 30s movie studio censorship, now permeate streaming media. On another surprisingly placid front of the culture war, Andrew Marzoni dives into Sarah Milov’s history of the cigarette and posits that “on both sides of the aisle, the twenty-first-century smoker cuts a transgressive figure, as was the case prior to World War I, when cigarettes became a mechanism of American expansion, a slicker instrument of chemical warfare than mustard gas.” Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em, but remember that you’ve already been relegated to the dregs of history. With their penchant for broad strokes of child scrawl, members of the Consensusphere prefer to crowd out historical nuance or committed research. In “The House That Queer Theory Built,” Matt Brim takes a hard look at what he calls the discipline’s class problem, and suggests that queer scholars have “the chance to recognize class warfare in the university as a largely unspoken but field-defining trouble of its own.” Elsewhere in the academy, Bruce Robbins finds in Fredric Jameson’s Allegory and Ideology a continuation of the critic’s pursuit of a politics rooted in “a single great collective story.” In Maia Hibbett’s “Who Keeps Us Safe?” a retributive streak crops up in recent #MeToo activism, which retains mainstream feminism’s historical preference for the harsh penalties of the punitive state. Perhaps this is why, as Tracy O’Neill writes in “Outside the Man Box,” research on the rehabilitation of domestic violence offenders is disturbingly underfunded and unheeded. This violent American program, ranging from the systemic to the intimate, continues to play out all over the world without much effective dissent among our top dogs and talking heads. In her dispatch on a year of violence and calamity In Iran, journalist Habibe Jafarian writes, Angling to pilot this same destructive foreign policy juggernaut is the weatherproof corpse of Joe Biden, perpetually if haltingly animated by browbeaten Democratic consensus. Is there any light outside of this tunnel-vision?
 September 2020
Never in our lifetimes has it been more obvious that politics, as we’ve shaped it, involves the administration of life, sickness, and the end of life. This realization, new to some who have never had to worry about health care, cuts against a longstanding media narrative about politics “as usual,” or politics as something that happens in the capitol, or even the idea that a political representative could be an outsider: there is no outside to the administration of death, and so there is nothing that can reasonably be said to be outside of politics. It’s an epiphany worthy of a global crisis, and as Asad Haider reminds us in the opening essay of Issue 52, the word crisis has, in part, a medical origin, meaning “both the condition itself and a judgment on a patient’s fate.” It’s up to us, Haider argues, to determine who makes the judgment, and whether we avoid “epochal failure.” Though this crisis is global, it is not universal. “Like cholera and poverty,” Ann Neumann writes, “Covid-19 is not the crisis; it’s a disease that feeds on our racialized inequalities.” The lifetime of our country, its pretenses to democracy, liberalism itself: all of these are premised on the administration of death to black and brown people. That is the root of the American crisis. And so appeals to liberalism and to its supposed “illiberal” opposite begin to sound curiously similar. “The absence of a coherent response to the public health crisis is an inevitable outcome of the bipartisan commitment to neoliberal governance and the maintenance of U.S. empire,” Brendan O’Connor asserts in his anatomy of the contemporary right. “Protect private property, the fascist says. The liberal and conservative nod in agreement. Which rightly belongs to white men, the fascist adds. The liberal stammers; the conservative pretends not to hear.” Nick Estes explores the colonial myths that leave Indigenous people and lands more vulnerable to the ravages of disease, incarceration, and war. And Alexander Clapp reports from North Kosovo, where after decades of ethnic conflict, “all it’s taken for Serb and Albanian politicians to finally put aside their ancient resentments is the prospect of getting rich.” Of course, high-tech predation like this abounds the world over, and Patrick McGinty takes on driverless car industry, whose head honchos are “laughably, embarrassingly, nowhere close to delivering on the pie-in-the-sky promises they began making years ago,” and the cottage industry of authors who refuse to expose these snake oil salesmen. Admittedly, The Baffler is not especially disposed to offering cures, but, hey, some would argue that we’re living in a state of exception. In this spirit, Adam Gaffney, a doctor, proposes that we overhaul the medical system to achieve the “full public financing of hospitals, not as commodity-producing factories, but as social institutions” without preference for a medical-technological supremacy reserved for the rich and the white. And Dave Denison peeks under the hood of Modern Monetary Theory, which offers an antidote to the bullshit of Federal Reserve policy that “relies on human suffering to fight inflation,” in the words of MMT evangelist Stephanie Kelton. As Denison reminds us, “The decisions we make as a nation about who prospers and who fails do not derive from some immutable economic law. There is, of course, no economic theory that can justify a federal response to rescue a banking behemoth, but not a group of rural hospitals.” “Cinema does not currently exist, or if it does exist, it’s in the form of videos from the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, shot on smartphones and put on Twitter, which viewers can watch from anywhere,” writes film critic A.S. Hamrah. “These videos, hundreds of them from all over the United States, record rioting police officers dressed in warzone military gear lashing out at peaceful protesters, beating them with batons, shooting them with rubber bullets, firing tear gas canisters in their faces, and plowing into them with police cars and trucks.” And in the end, there is no political cure more powerful than an intervention in the police order, a crisis of its own visited on the bureaucrats of death. Elias Rodriques, in an act of militant nostalgia, recalls the Black Power movements “that worked to free incarcerated people where governments will not, even as local police respond to nationwide protests against their brutality by incarcerating demonstrators in jails made even more lethal by Covid-19.” These initiatives, he writes, remind us that “when governments neglect or purposefully persecute their people’s welfare, local organizing may be the most viable means of survival.” It is only because of these revolutionary protests that we might find a paradise in place of a ghastly prison or begin to recognize the promised world.
At the beginning of 2020, we asked our far-flung disaffiliates to consider networks of care, those unholy alliances between government and private industry which continue to fail us and the informal systems we’ve created to take care of one another, come what may. By the time we had gathered their dispatches and begun to produce the magazine, the novel coronavirus had taken hold in the United States and we had shut our offices down in compliance with state and city advisories against using public transit. In the final days of assembling the issue, we wondered whether it would still be possible or sane to print and mail it to our subscribers, as the president began the ghoulish daily press briefings in which he weighs the safety of the populace against the success of the markets in which his friends trade. In his introduction to Issue 51, “The Saving Power,” editor in chief Jonathon Sturgeon reminds us that “the virus and its stimulus have only made plainer what has been true for decades: the supply chain delivers oxygen to the global economy, and it must be handled delicately and protected violently, at specific costs.” Seeking out alternative models, Jasper Craven reports on a veterans’ anti-war group applying their considerable organizing chops to reforming the ailing VA health system. And Ann Neumann interviews Ai Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, about “the workers who scrub our toilets, fold our laundry, and care for our children and aging parents,” proposing that “the challenge is two-fold: we have to help families pay for their care and we have to support the workforce with sustainable jobs that offer fair wages.” Of course, many of our other domestic arrangements are in need of pretty serious reform. To this end, Suraj Yengde offers a polemic against arranged marriage and “the brutal social reality that sits uncomfortably at the center of all romantic and marital relations in India: caste.” Katherine Rowland paints a compelling portrait of doomsday preppers looking for love in all the web’s strangest places. And Jennifer Schaffer explores the phenomenon of household technology that seeks to replace what we’ve traditionally called “the wife”: “someone to think ahead about our needs; someone to make our homes and our lives orderly; someone to tend to our emotions when they’re raw and sore. Someone to track and manage the infinite details of living; someone to be responsible for our moods; someone to balance the books. We all want someone who knows us so intimately they can predict what we’ll want.” Now, thank goodness, there’s an app for that. Yes, the divisions that work against a culture fundamentally rooted in care and mutual aid are many and deep. In a profoundly humane essay, Clare Morgana Gillis considers the loss of a dear friend, beheaded by ISIS, and the popular narratives around such killings, finding “even as the image of beheadings seeped into our culture and art, it only misled us; its brutality fed into an American willingness to see themselves only as innocent victims, and to tune out the words of protest about our bombings, and to ignore visual clues, such as the orange jumpsuits, about their historical grievances.” Emily Cataneo delves into the long history of fugitives finding sanctuary in churches, from medieval Europe to the present-day United States, and interviews some of the immigrants currently taking shelter against their deportation orders. And Ajay Singh Chaudhary reminds us that, much as we might like to believe that the science is both neutral and irrefutable, there is no universal politics of climate change. In a spate of recent films, A.S. Hamrah finds “the sick wreck of capitalism” on full display in our new regime of confinement and Netflix binging. “The movies now refer to another life,” he writes, “the one from before.” Preserving the memory of another epidemic, Dale Peck looks back on the AIDS years through Hervé Guibert’s memoir, To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, and reflects on Susan Sontag’s writings on “those two kingdoms, of the well and the sick”—a division on full display as governors across the nation push to reopen state economies at the expense of the most vulnerable among us. In this dark time, we find our hope lies simply, as Sturgeon writes, in “other people who care.”