Weekly Rondo: Reading wrap up
Mobs and racism and the sexual revolution — oh my!
First off, I'm sorry I have been AWOL. July has been a crazy month: Trying to start a business, starting a part-time job, taking part in Substack's "Grow" program and preparing for a month-long trip to Boston is no joke. I have also been caring for a neighbor's puppy this week, which has made for no dull moments.
While I was taking part in Substack Grow, they emphasized the importance of publishing consistently (which I always appreciate from the writers I follow), so to put more value in your inbox and Substack feed, I introduce the Weekly Rondo. A rondo is a musical term relating to a recurring main theme — you can hear a good example of it here. I tend to ruminate on the same subject or theme for weeks at a time, so I felt the name was appropriate.
Before I give you the best things I read this week, The Charrette is a reader-supported publication. Without support from my readers, I could not put the amount of time or love that I go into these posts. So please help support my work here by considering a free or paid subscription.
With no further ado…
The New Statesman: “The limits of black and white thinking” by Tomiwa Owolade
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, I got sucked into the antiracism movement. My father is a civil rights attorney. He represents people whose rights were violated by the police, so admittedly, I had pre-existing biases. Back then, I remember many of my friends committing to reading Ibram X Kendi's book How to Be an Antiracist. While I never ended up reading it, I did get the gist of it from my friends, book reviews and news articles, and I found myself drinking the kool-aid. Two years later, I feel like I have been de-programmed.
Owolade's review covers Kendi's new book, How to Raise an Antiracist. More than that, it's an incisive criticism of Kendi's general worldview at one point, saying, "If you have read one Kendi book, you have read them all … He thinks in binaries. For Kendi, there are no ambiguities when it comes to understanding racism, no shades of grey."
The article makes many other interesting insights more eloquently than I can, so I'll just say we're all a little bit racist, but current and future discrimination won't fix that.
Banished: “Cancel Culture” by Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
Banished is one of my favorite Substack reads, and I was thrilled to see that Amna Khalid is back to publishing after a short break!
The subject of cancel culture is fraught to say the least. I personally avoid using the term because of how much it turns people off from having a conversation about it. In this article, Khalid and her colleague Jeffrey Aaron Snyder go through the common arguments and myths about cancel culture on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Then, they analyze how highly ideological groups use it to move their agenda forward and use relevant examples from recent events.
The Point: “Art is for Seeing Evil” by Agnes Callard
This is by far my favorite thing I read this week. Whenever I go to a museum or show with a friend, I always want to talk about the deeper themes of the artwork — about good and evil — but inevitably, my long-suffering, bewildered friend will end up smiling and nodding at me the whole time as we (read: I) talk about it over dinner. This article made me feel seen.
Although Callard is a philosophy professor, she mostly assigns literature in her classes. Her reasoning is that it's almost easier to distinguish evil — in all its nuanced messiness — by reading Anna Karenina than by reading a philosopher's musings on the subject. We like to retroactively edit and censor art and history as a society. I suspect that this is in part due to us wanting to scrub the uncomfortable out of our lives, but Callard puts it wonderfully:
"On the simple theory, art and censorship go hand in hand: art takes up what life has censored."
Much of art deals with a group's forbidden thoughts and ideas, and unspoken desires. Art is seldom comfortable. It expresses what we are unable, unwilling or forbidden to say. It creates something beautiful out of friction.
Deseret News: “The troubling return of mob rule in America” by Jacob Hess
I recently started a part-time gig at the Deseret News as the morning newsletter writer. It's my first real job with a media company, and I love working there so far. This is my local newspaper, and as a kid, I remember that they mostly covered things that happened in Utah. However, over the last two years, they have made incredible strides in including more national news coverage, starting a magazine and including interesting voices from across the nation in their opinion pieces.
I was particularly struck by this piece by Jacob Hess. 176 years ago, violent mobs drove his ancestors out of Illinois because of their hatred of Latter-day Saints. The shock, forced impoverishment and psychological toll ended up putting his namesake in an unmarked mass grave with 3,000 other refugees in Mount Pisgah, Iowa.
Hess' heritage gives him a unique insight into the mob rule he sees overtaking the modern-day US. As a result, many of our nation's leaders seem to have a target on their backs. Hess states:
"All of this is a far cry from the righteous revolt of our founders, who sacrificed dearly to create a transformative system where we can deliberate over our widely disparate views on what is harming American society and what to do about it:
"Talk. Grapple. Consider competing views. Vote.
"There are so many options on the table before mobilizing in aggression and violent protest. Yet more and more people seem to be concluding that the right way to respond to something wrong is to rise up collectively and force others to change."
Wondery: “American Elections: Wicked Game” with Lindsay Graham (not the senator)
I mentioned a while back that I was listening to American History Tellers. I took a brief break from that and started listening to "American Elections: Wicked Game" by the same host, and I absolutely love it. Graham (not the senator) goes through every American presidential election from George Washington to Biden v Trump and gives incredible detail and context. Turns out that the president's seat is highly coveted and has made our elections ugly since the beginning!
Lean Out: “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution” by Tara Henley
Henley is another one of my favorite Substack reads/podcasts, and this week's episode did not disappoint. I've always considered myself a feminist, but in recent years, I have grown weary and irritated with the movement — particularly regarding its attitudes towards sex and reproduction. It always seems that all women are expected to shut up and have the same opinions when, in reality, women are just as diverse as any other group.
This, along with a related read on her Substack, was so cathartic for me. I always felt like I got the message that the sexual revolution was supposed to have freed us when it really felt like it made my life and the life of my friends so much more difficult. It's nice to know that I — one of the few feminists I know who actually listened to their mothers — actually have evidence backing up my decision to live a fairly boring life.
As I mentioned, this will be a regular Friday feature. I'll try and keep it shorter next time. If you see something I should read, please send it to me!
And after talking about it for months, I am finally getting around to writing about witch hunts throughout history! I am writing an article about a specific aspect of the French Revolution, but it's turning into a MONSTER of a piece. This is where I want your feedback.
Would you prefer:
I release it week by week, with parts of it being free and the rest behind a paywall.
I release the whole thing at once with 90% of it behind a paywall.
That being said, I'm hoping to get it up by Monday, so subscribe now.
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