Markets need regulatory and legitimising institutions to thrive – consumer-safety rules, bank regulations, central banks, social insurance and so on. When it comes to providing the arrangements that markets rely on, the nation-state remains the only effective actor, the only game in town. Our elites’ and technocrats’ obsession with globalism weakens citizenship where it is most needed – at home – and makes it more difficult to achieve economic prosperity, financial stability, social inclusion and other desirable objectives. As we’ve all seen, elite globalism also opens political paths for Right-wing populists to hijack patriotism for destructive ends.
My father wrote that wine contains “an inexplicable élan vital.” Inexplicable. It not only couldn’t be explained, it shouldn’t be. He would not have wanted to know which receptors he had used to taste the 1904 Château Lafite Rothschild he was served at his eightieth-birthday party, just as he would not have wanted to read a chemist’s account of how it had been produced. He liked to think of wine as made partly by human beings but mostly by the glorious lottery of soil and slope and sun and rainfall, no two vineyards alike, no two years alike, no two bottles alike, the whole enterprise risky, suspenseful, and at least partly accidental. “Accidental” is another word for “miraculous.” If the opposite of science is religion, then my father’s feelings about wine were as religious as he ever got. My research confirmed that I was different from him not only in matters of gustation and olfaction but also in matters of character. He liked to leave some things a mystery. I’d rather find everything out.
I’m more open about my wine non-appreciation than I once was, and I have discovered that I am far from alone. Everywhere I go these days, I seem to run into people who belong to the club. Its members include two former students of mine, one who says that half a glass leaves her zonked and red-faced (I suspect an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency), and another who invests in wine futures but has never sampled his stock because he says wine makes his mouth hurt (possible supertaster). A former boyfriend recently told me that his late father, who could have afforded Haut-Brion, opted for half-gallon bottles of S. S. Pierce Sauternes, into which he stirred half a cup of sugar (genetic variant for sweet preference).
When we play one of Mozart’s or Beethoven’s compositions, or when we hear one, we probably aren’t hearing what they heard or what they thought in their heads as they composed. Their pianos were quite different from the ones we play today. Modern pianos are the product of a 600-year evolution. The instrument has evolved from the mention of Hermann Poll’s clavicembalum in 1397, through various clavichords and harpsichords to the modern grand piano.
What Emre herself referred to as “the idle chirping of social media” flew not-so-idly her way with a pile of praise—even I congratulated her for voicing what I could not, for decoding a lack of profundity I had hitherto suspected but failed to parse, concluding I was simply too stupid to understand. This may have been one of the reasons few had openly criticized this kind of precious prose in the past, not to mention the social status of the writers who engage in writing such essays, causing peers who question it to do so on the DM so as not to risk their own upward mobility. (Surely, Emre’s position as a Canadian academic outside of New York’s literary circles insulates her, to a degree.) However, it was also noticeable that most of the praise for Emre came from white academics. Only a minority outside of this circle argued that “It” girl Chew-Bose was merely the writer of colour du jour to be sacrificed on the altar of white institutions or that writers like Gaitskill and Nelson were only the latest in a procession of Caucasian intellects.
The technology critic is typically a captive figure, beholden either to a sorrowful past, a panicked present or an arrogant future. In his proudest moments, he resembles something like a theorist of transformation, decline and creation. In his lowest, he is more like a speaking canary, prone to prophecy, a game with losing odds. His attempts at optimism are framed as counterintuitive, faring little better, in predictive terms, than his lapses into pessimism. He teeters hazardously between implicating his audience and merely giving their anxieties a name. He — and it is almost always a he — is the critical equivalent of an unreliable narrator, unable to write about technology without also writing about himself. Occasionally, he is right: about what is happening, about what should happen, and about what it means. And so he carries on, and his audience with him.
Franklin Foer, thankfully, recognizes these pitfalls even if he can’t always avoid them. Who can?