Every morning, we run The Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.
But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world.
The Puzzle [The Players’ Tribune]
It is encouraging to see a piece that doesn’t treat strength and vulnerability as dichotomous at the top of the Zeitgeist.
I am not the target audience for this piece, or perhaps much that gets published at the blog that, like Deadspin, was among the Gawker properties that survived (sort of) the wrath of Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan (if “Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan” sounds like the start to a decent joke instead of something you remember from a few years back, consider Googling it).
Still, it is an interesting brief aside into the history of one particular symbol. It highlights the capacity of the arts and entertainment to provide long-term support to narratives, the necessity of the occasional iconclasm, and the inevitable co-option of particularly effective symbols to serve even more abstracted ideas. Not deep, not broad, but an interesting weekend read.
As to why it sits at the top of our Weekend Zeitgeist – the most linguistically connected articles published in the world in the past week? Gender and sex – and the language used to discuss them – are integral to the Zeitgeist in 2019. Here is our map of their connectedness to all non-financial news in the last week alone. They are both central and connected to almost all other topics and language/meaning-based clusters.
Since the Reagan Revolution, certain words have been banished from the American political lexicon, tarnished as they were with associations with communism or socialist policies. Among the simplest, and most powerful?
It’s not a word even Obama used all that much. He preferred ‘folks.’
Trump and most others adopted less socialism! Meme-sensitive variants like ‘hard-working Americans’ or ‘blue collar Americans’ or ‘regular, everyday Americans.’
Why was this connected to so many articles? Why did it sit at the top of the Zeitgeist? Because the language of socialism, of talking very specifically about workers and their lives, is no longer off-limits. Sure, editorials like this would have found their way into plenty of Vermont newspapers in the past.But there’s no way in hell they would have been among the top 5 most connected to all published articles by language.
Here are the socialism-related articles (in bold) against the full network of non-financial articles.
For more about what we are observing here, be sure to keep up with the ET Election Index.
The Democrats Discover the Supreme Court [The Atlantic]
Despite its third foundational principle (in which it rather delightfully claims to be the organ of no party or clique), the Atlantic probably sits on the periphery of the 10 most influential missionaries of left-leaning politics in the US. Like many similar publications, it is an essay, analysis and opinion journal. Ordinarily I’d call this paragraph an exercise in Fiat News, but the article is obviously just a collection of the author’s opinions, and if you expected otherwise, it’s probably your own damn fault.
Regardless of how you feel about this policy idea in particular, there’s one word that should always trigger your “Why am I reading this now?” impulse. whether you see it in true news or opinion pieces: moderate. Conservative journals usually prefer the term mainstream to validate and imply the accepted nature of their opinions – National Review used the term in 320 articles in the last year alone. The trigger should be the same. There is rarely a case in which these words will be used, especially as much as moderate is in this piece, that is not intended to shape Common Knowledge about what everyone thinks everyone thinks. And it usually means that the thing or policy about which the word is being used, well, ain’t, although it’d sure be nice if everyone thought everyone thought it was.
The Anti-College Is on the Rise [New York Times]
Regular readers will not be surprised that this is at the top of the Zeitgeist. We’ve written about related issues, too.
The problem is the same problem faced by the federal reserve and by portfolio managers and just about everyone else. When you optimize for two objectives, you will usually solve for one…or none at all. The post-secondary system has tried to solve for producing rich, broad, civil-minded liberal education on the one hand, and vocational training on the other, the latter becoming a marketing necessity throughout the 20th century. What they ended up with was neither, and a powerful credentialing cartel.
For my part, initiatives like the above are interesting, and seem to be searching for reproduction of a purely educational mission. I have no aversion to them, because that is a thing that a healthy liberal society should make available to its citizens. I also have no faith that they will do anything to tear down the credentialing problem embedded in university education.
But I suppose not everything has to. Optimizing for one objective – and achieving it – is rare thing worthy of admiration.