Vox of the Voxless (Read The Comments 2)

textcontext_rotation-270The people campaigning against (or desultorily complaining about) internet comments sections should be pleased with Vox, a project of self-described “digital natives,” most of whom gained their fame blogging during the last decade.

Since we are referring to an internet project, all details are subject to change, but, as of this writing, Vox does not include reader commenting features (with the very minor exception of a few posts on its development blog). Nor does it take blog-style “pingbacks” or “trackbacks.” For anyone contemplating engagement with Vox or its content, Vox’s individual editor and author pages do sometimes include email links, but a search for a Vox editorial contact address eventually leads via Vox Media to a link that returns the user to the front page: a closed circle. In another typical absurdity, a dropdown menu invites us to “sign up,” but at no point before, during, or after provides any indication of the purpose of doing so, whether for Vox or the user or anyone else. Nor does Vox feature a masthead, and, if Vox has an ombudsperson, he or she is not identified. The site does not even provide some new-fangled version of old media “letters to the editor”: To send a message to Vox’s editors, a reader will apparently have to storm Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein’s ca. 600k-follower Twitter feed hoping to be noticed, or, possibly a better idea, look for another address, electronic or physical, somewhere else. No doubt if a very important person somewhere says something very important about Vox, Vox will find out, and possibly explain what it means in Vox’s non-opinionated opinion, but, in sum, as a matter of self-presentation and self-constitution, or, one might say, organically, Vox has no ears to hear its populum, which, as far as Vox is concerned, has nothing to say of interest, at least to Vox or via Vox.

Not too long ago, a project like Vox would have put some kind of forum for exchange of ideas, along with other tools for user engagement on site, at the center of its mission: The void Vox offers instead marks it as truly up-to-the-moment. To the problem of community management on the internet, Vox offers the anti-solution of annihilating community pre-emptively. The site provides slickly formatted information or what its founders call “explanation,” not communication; device-responsivity, but neither authentic responsiveness nor its dependent, responsibility. Vox embodies, in sum, a social-interactive dissolution of society and negation of interaction, media unmediated – the internet version of a gated community, or maybe of one of those floating islands for super-wealthy libertarians.1

At the opposite end from Vox and other new platforms stands Twitter, where the instruction or demand “Don’t read the comments!” is usually repeated by writers who seem to enjoy reminding their followerships and themselves of their beloved position above their audience. Since “Don’t read the comments!” is itself implicitly a comment, and since Twitter is itself nothing more or less than a free-floating comments section, a vast “open thread,” the individual who tweets “Don’t read the comments!” is in effect asking not to be read, and any consequential implementation of “Don’t read the comments!” would require general abandonment of the platform.2

Twitter is still sometimes referred to as “micro-blogging,” and, along with other new social media, it has efficiently taken over many functions previously served by blogs, before them by discussion forums and chat rooms, before them by newsgroups, and so on backwards to the era when the internet was immanent in print, speech, hand-written letters, and presence face to face rather than in an electronic switching system. A general movement from blogging to new social media may also have proceeded from the discovery by bloggers of their own often economically conditioned inability to sustain a public platform responsibly and rewardingly, or to keep up with technological evolution in a changing virtual landscape. That many popular or once-popular sites even by Fall 2014 have not been adapted for smartphones and tablets, and give a not merely amateurish but careless impression on these very widely used devices, is indicative. Yet Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms may have hurt blogging in other less obvious, but possibly more damaging ways: Many formerly habitual bloggers and blog-commenters find it easier to tweet than to post, in other words than to risk coherent criticism of a carefully formed thought, perhaps while wrongly assuming that all or even many if any of their followers are paying attention (and are ready at any moment to touch-tap a sentence fragment to retweeted and favstarred glory).

A bit of reflection will reveal that a tweet on a difficult and complex topic is as pointless as it is facile, since it is tweeted in the certain knowledge that it can neither be attacked nor defended consequentially: A position that can neither be attacked nor defended consequentially is inconsequential, a pseudo-position, a position that might as well never have been articulated, for all intents and purposes never really taken. That this conclusion may apply to every thought thought today in the great networked hollow of hollows is an hypothesis invisible to Twitter and to Vox.


  1. The Voxists implicitly view the entirety of the internet as their comments section, but language or any information without specific context of engagement or meaning for particular people is noise. In communication, the set of all things and the empty set are the same set. Vox, which searches for the disappearance of interest in favor of an imaginary pure emergence of fact, is not boring by accident, or merely because nothing is less interesting than 10 facts that should be interesting or a virtual stack of informative “cards”: Its central and defining mission is boredom. In place of a vast proliferation of partial truths, Vox seeks to substitute a singular falsehood, the opinion of no opinion, direct contact with the thing in itself, non-subjective objectivity, but to be “interesting” is to initiate the inter(-)action of self and others in relation to an object – which interaction always involves intention or preference, and entails the risk of disagreement, conflict, frustration, and even destruction, or of tragedy rather than accounting errors. Boredom, or the felt lack of interest, is also this blog’s mission, also the anismist anti-mission, or everyone’s mission, though some may call it satisfaction or peace. The difference between it as an achievement and as a presumption is the difference between ecstasy and the Hell worse even than other people. []
  2. As we have observed before, all posts – as by further reasonable extension all articles, essays, treatises, books, Facebook updates, multimedia Snapchat ephemera, and retweeted links to images of the more photogenic galaxies – are commentary by other means. []

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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