I’d like to open this inaugural post with a short anecdote about my grandfather:
My family hails from Cuba, and once Castro’s revolution took hold of the country, he knew that his “big mouth” would get him into trouble in a country where speech wasn’t protected as he could easily be the target of government repression if he articulated his true feelings. He managed to secure transport to Spain with no way of knowing how he’d make it to America, but after a couple of years, he found his way to New York. If there’s anything that’s genetic in my family line, it’s having a “big mouth.”
This newsletter is a project I’ve tried to start several times over the last year and a half and every time, I found some reason to shy away from it. As an author of fiction though, every day that’s passed, I’ve become increasingly aware of the necessity of crafting some kind of content that will drive new readers to my work, and this newsletter will be a key piece of that.
There’s also a degree of cultural awareness that I have that makes it difficult to stay silent any longer. I’ve tried to hold my tongue on things I find appalling, particularly the fusion of private and state apparatus on social media platforms, first revealed last year by the admission of Psaki and Biden’s White House that they were working directly with Facebook to target spreaders of misinformation (whatever that means) & now revelations out of The Twitter Files from Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger indicate a similar relationship between the FBI and Twitter. This might be one of the bigger stories that isn’t getting enough traction in my view, but so are many others, and one of the things I’ve been struggling with for the better part of a year is what even is the value of such a story?
The main thing I learned from reading Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death last year is that the true value of any piece of information is in its utility for enacting change in your life. When you understand this, you can begin to see that upwards of 99% of what you consume on a daily basis has nearly 0 value, except in being able to articulate trivia about said piece of information. I’ve tried to take the ostrich approach with a lot of this information that comes my way, burying my head in the sand and direct my focus toward writing my novels and reading the growing stack of books on my shelf. Not only do I find it immensely difficult to stay away–but in many cases, the information tends to find me.
The book I’m reading now, Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita, is one such example of information finding me. What he discusses in the book are concepts I’ve been increasingly obsessing over for the last six years or so, and if you’d told me the book was written in 2020, I’d believed you. However, the book was in fact published in 2005. The point is, the problems that I see in the society I live in have been with us for much longer than I ever realized and no amount of focusing my energy elsewhere can remove the fact that they bother me immensely, even when I go as far as to ship my computer off to my grandmother’s house so that I can sleep in a room without access to the internet and finally get some reading done.
Where does that leave me?
I’m aware that the utility of a newsletter like this (what basically amounts to a personal diary containing my reflections on culture) has a value that’s close to zero for a majority of the planet. However, I am a writer, and in order to be a writer–I must write about the topics I’m being called to write. We find ourselves at the inflection point of so many fascinating trends that will come to define the 21st century. Some of these include:
- The integration of the internet into the daily lives of billions of people across the planet, and how the species is evolving with the technology
- A true experiment in the form of an equalized marketplace of ideas (or information anarchy) as information that’s veracity is difficult to confirm spreads through the population, whether as a means of top-down control or bottom-up inertia
- How economies designed for infinite growth will deal with dwindling population counts as more developing nations enter the first world and birth rates plummet as a result
- The capture of Western institutions by what some refer to as the successor ideology (faith in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) in the wake of the failure of liberalism
- The information revolution in the form of artificial intelligence, the jobs its arrival will displace and the new jobs we can’t even conceive yet of it creating
and the one that I find most compelling, albeit for terrifying reasons:
- Transhumanism and the implications of superseding our biological limits with technology which will bring with it a necessary redefinition of what it means to be human.
In conversation with a relative last week, I was told that my generation was inheriting a world of disinformation, where we won’t be able to tell what’s true and what isn’t. Frankly, there are many among us holding the levers of power that abandoned long ago the idea that there even is such a thing as truth in the first place. This, as I’ve stated, will be one of this century’s defining problems that the culture must adapt to, but I have faith in the single, most powerful, resource humanity has ever wielded in our time on this Earth: brain power. I’m confident that the more brains we throw at this problem, the better our chances at overcoming the odds against us.
The outcome is not guaranteed, and we flirt constantly with falling prey to tyranny. There are many ways in which we are startlingly close to being locked inside of a digital prison with no hope of escape, but there are also paths awaiting our traversal that will ensure human flourishing. The price of admission is a willingness to bond with one another over values instead of immutable categories, champion and model the things we wish to preserve & above all, a willingness to live not by lies by speaking out against the things we oppose.
That, as I see it, is the utility of this newsletter. Much like travelling to a country with no way of knowing how I would get to my intended destination, this is the first step in a journey towards a destination where I cannot anticipate the outcome. That terrifies me, but if it gets just one of you to feel like you can go out and live by the principles above, despite the fear it may inspire in you, then it’s worth it. I can no longer stand back and stay silent, because I need the my future children to know that I tried to do something.
- No, The Revolution Isn’t Over by N.S. Lyons goes over 20 points as to why we might reconsider the popular notion that we’ve passed “peak wokeness.” It’s not a rosy picture, and Lyons offers nothing material in the way of solutions as to dealing with this on an institutional level other than what boils down to waiting it out and hoping for the best.
- Alex Perez on the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Baseball, Growing Up Cuban-American in Miami & Saying Goodbye to the Literary Community by Elizabeth Ellen contains something of a more optimistic outlook than the one afforded by Lyons in the post above. Perez is someone I don’t know personally and share a kinship in spirit with, when it comes to feeling like the only person interested in intellectual pursuits in the whole of Miami. Frankly, and this is embarrassing to admit, his permission to “man up” and fight back against “some of the most mediocre people on the planet,” is what put enough wind in my sails to commit to finally doing these newsletters once weekly.
This Week’s Selected Quote
Nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.
-from Antigone by Sophocles