The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 3/13

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I mostly enjoyed the internet this week. Some news: Jussie Smollett was sentenced to jail, and Ryan Coogler was detained for withdrawing money from his own account. Highlights: We are living in a simulation, Grimes, Brittney Griner, TikTok and The White House, Biggie Smalls, The Cheesecake Factory, antlers, Ye, debating debate, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. 



1. Wired: Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the big questions, like where we came from and the origins of the universe. The older I get, however, the less those questions come to mind. Over the years, I have thought about whether we are all living in a simulation. When presented with the questions (usually by someone who passionately believes we are, in fact, in a simulation) I kind of shrug and agree that being in a simulation makes sense to me. 

As Jason Kehe explains here, in a rather humorous fashion, “The best theory physicists have for the birth of the universe makes no sense. It goes like this: In the beginning—the very, if not quite veriest, beginning—there’s something called quantum foam. It’s barely there, and can’t even be said to occupy space, because there’s no such thing as space yet. Or time. So even though it’s seething, bubbling, fluctuating, as foam tends to do, it’s not doing so in any kind of this-before-that temporal order. It just is, all at once, indeterminate and undisturbed. Until it isn’t.”

For a long time, reality as a simulation was considered a conspiracy theory. But “Three things need to happen, and probably in this order, for any crackpot idea to take hold of the culture: (1) its nonthreatening introduction to the masses, (2) its legitimization by experts, and (3) overwhelming evidence of its real-world effects.” The simulation had all three of these things happen, and people continue to consider the idea with rigor. “Nobody knows—most likely, nobody ever will—if this world of ours was simulated by some higher-dimensional alien race, and for what purpose, and ultimately whether our simulators were themselves simulated. At a certain point, really, the specifics of it begin to seem beside the point.”


2. Vanity Fair: “Infamy Is Kind Of Fun”: Grimes on Music, Mars, and Her Secret New Baby With Elon Musk

Devin Gordon did an amazing job with this profile because it is absolutely wild that he found out about Grimes and Elon Musk’s second baby only because it cried upstairs while he was interviewing Grimes downstairs. Of the accidental reveal, Gordon recounts how “[Grimes is] rattled, and I’m mortified by even accidentally making a woman—a new mother, no less—feel exposed and vulnerable. I suggest we pause for a moment to discuss the surreal professional ethics at play, which are that I can’t pretend I don’t know she’s got a secret baby with the world’s wealthiest man hiding upstairs. Especially when she invited me here. It’s a calming period that breaks with a sitcom punch line: full-blown infant screams upstairs, followed by the voice of a woman pleading SHH. Now we both start laughing.” I believe celebrities have every right to protect their children from the public. However, this reveal is wild to me. 

Apart from the secret baby, the rest of this profile feels par for the course for Grimes. She talks about how Musk thinks “she’s a simulation”; she mentions her upcoming project, Book 1. She also insists that Musk, one of the richest (if not the richest) man in the world, “does not live like a billionaire. Bro lives at times below the poverty line. To the point where I was like, can we not live in a very insecure $40,000 house? Where the neighbors, like, film us, and there’s no security, and I’m eating peanut butter for eight days in a row?” I’m not sure she read the room when making that comment, but it makes sense that “a conversation with Grimes can be like staring at a Tokyo subway map when you don’t speak Japanese. She’s always using scientific terms and alluding to heady concepts, then checking with me to make sure I know what they mean because usually I do not. If there’s an airhead in this room, it’s not her.”


3. Intelligencer: Why Isn’t Brittney Griner the Biggest Sports Story in the Country?

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. Russian officials released a statement alleging that they found hashish oil in her luggage. Only this week has her story gained attention. “It is unclear how directly Griner’s plight connects to the catastrophic Russian invasion of Ukraine, and her detention has been overshadowed by the death and destruction wrought by Putin. And part of the muted response is likely due to sensitivity of the negotiations between Russian and American officials.” Despite this uncertainty, many do not believe the claims of the Russian government because, well, it is the Russian government, and because of the timing of her detainment—right before the invasion of Ukraine. Further, Griner is a 6’9’’ Black lesbian facing criminal charges in a country that has been openly hostile to people like her.  

Griner was in Russia to play professional basketball, something that she has done for years. The WNBA has been very notably quiet on Griner’s detainment, possibly because of “its own culpability in the situation.” WNBA players are notoriously underpaid, and the association “has a salary cap, and one that’s particularly suppressive of superstar wages. Griner only made $221,450 for the 2021–2022 season, which is less than a third of the minimum salary in the NHL, but nevertheless classifies her as the fourth-highest-paid player in the WNBA.” In Europe, players can make up to eight times more money. “As Griner sits in detention in Russia, as a result of a system that is set up to devalue her and other stars at every corner, it would be nice if her plight received attention commensurate with its seriousness.”


4. The Washington Post: The White House is briefing TikTok stars about the war in Ukraine

As the title states, The White House is briefing TikTokers on the war in Ukraine, and people don’t know how to feel. Many people, including myself, often turn to social media for news—especially on rapidly evolving events—and the move makes sense since “as the crisis in Ukraine has escalated, millions have turned to TikTok for information on what is happening there in real time. TikTok videos offered some of the first glimpses of the Russian invasion and since then the platform has been a primary outlet for spreading news to the masses abroad. Ukrainian citizens hiding in bomb shelters or fleeing their homes have shared their stories to the platform, while dangerous misinformation and Russian propaganda have also spread.” Further, as is noted here, this is also a demographic shift, and TikTok is particularly popular amongst Gen Z. “The White House has been closely watching TikTok’s rise as a dominant news source, leading to its decision to approach a select group of the platform’s most influential names.”

Combating misinformation across social media platforms is an important task. My concern, which is not isolated, is viewing TikTok itself as a news source. There is no doubt that many people get news from TikTok, and there are reputable sources on the app, but framing it as a news source and not a social media platform gives me trepidation. Others have also noted the hypocrisy in the meeting, pointing out sardonically that “it’s not state-sponsored media when the US does it.” 

Overall, I am one of those people that don’t know how to feel about this. 


5. Andscape: A hustler’s prayer: Biggie Smalls’ final 24 hours encapsulated the man he wanted to become

Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the murder of Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls. Justin Tinsley traces the rapper’s last 24 hours in this hopeful meditation on his life. Tinsley weaves Wallace’s life throughout the piece and writes of a man who “wanted to be a suburban dad. Well, a handsomely paid suburban dad. He may have shown up to parent-teacher conferences smelling like weed, but he’d be there and he’d be engaged.” Wallace wasn’t always that man, and his “last 24 hours on Earth revealed he was learning from mistakes, praying for the best and understanding God was with him.”


6. The Believer: Place: The Cheesecake Factory

My friends and I have been wanting to go to the Cheesecake Factory (and the Olive Garden in Times Square) for months! I’m not sure what led to this recent obsession with the chain that “is a strange and funny place, easy to make fun of but hard to hate.” Perhaps it is due to its pervasive presence with “over three hundred locations across North America,” the fact that it’s “mentioned in a Drake song,” and that they have “lots of murals, possibly painted by a single artist.” Or it could be due to the 20-page menu and 34 flavors of cheesecake. 

Whatever the case, the restaurant’s design—“a hodgepodge of Ottoman arches, onion dome towers, and curved gold spires … [makes it] hard to imagine somewhere that’s less like a factory.” But maybe “if capitalism replaced our temples with factories, and our factories with malls, then maybe the Cheesecake Factory is all of these things at once. Maybe everything is.”


7. The New Yorker: The Great American Antler Boom

I listened to this article, written by Abe Streep and read by Pete Simonelli, who sounds like Sam Elliott. Never have I listened to an article with a better choice of an orator.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a hotspot for antler trade, most of which come from elk. “Unlike horns, which are permanently attached to an animal’s head, antlers regenerate annually.” Along with decoration and dog chews, antlers are used in traditional medicine with “top-grade elk antler sold for sixteen dollars a pound. (A large shed antler might weigh ten pounds.) Collectors are known to pay upward of fifteen hundred dollars for a particularly desirable pair of antlers, and tens of thousands of dollars for deadheads—skulls with the antlers still attached.” 

Considered a sport by many, shed hunting “can require endurance in rough, mountainous terrain. Amid thick deadfall in the high country, every root and bleached cow femur can resemble an antler. Some shed hunters use trained dogs; others rely on expensive optics.” Shed hunting has grown in popularity due to social media, and “State and tribal governments are still adjusting to this new wave of interest in antlers, introducing restrictions intended to protect wildlife; Nevada has limited shed hunting in six counties, and Wyoming has created a shed season in previously unrestricted parts of the state. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have instituted a seasonal closure in order to protect a sensitive elk calving ground.” 

For lots of the newcomers, it is about finding the biggest antlers—both for social media clout and for money. “If the international antler business is built on faith in ancient remedies and the promise of futuristic ones, then the domestic antler business is centered on an illusion of economic freedom derived from the land, and a reality in which performative masculinity caters to the whims of a flourishing pet-wellness industry.”


8. The Grio: When will the cult of Ye stop absolving the troubled genius?

Reading Sil Lai Abrams’ analysis of Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and the recent Netflix documentary about him, Jeen-Yuhs, I was immediately reminded of Claire Dederer’s 2017 essay in The Paris Review, “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” In her essay, Dederer works through the many possible answers to her question, observing that “what happens to so many of us when we consider the work of the monster geniuses—we tell ourselves we’re having ethical thoughts when really what we’re having is moral feelings. We put words around these feelings and call them opinions… feelings come from someplace more elemental than thought.”

Both Abrams and Dederer ground their essays in deep thought. While Abrams bases her arguments in the many reports of Ye’s “digital bullying, messy breakups, public meltdowns, accusations of unpaid wages, Instagram wars, slander, [and] emotional intimidation,” she and Dederer both consider the long lineages of monstrous genius, particularly when it comes to men, and cite artists such as Pablo Picasso and Miles Davis. Ye has long had a large constituency of apologists, but “we need an honest conversation about the role the genius archetype plays in the cult of celebrity, and how it inures us from acknowledging the damage being done before our very eyes.”


9. Can We Still Govern?: Fetishizing campus debate

Earlier this week, the New York Times published a conservative Op-Ed by a student at the University of Virginia, its title declaring, “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.” This is an increasingly dangerous battle cry of the right and their self-victimization. 

To Georgetown professor Don Moynihan, the debate of debate “misses broader threats to speech. Adopted from politics and debating societies, the central purpose of debate is not to cultivate knowledge but persuade your audience and defeat your opponent.” Moynihan points to four major areas of error, addressing the bigger threats to speech, fetishizing debate, the facilitation of discourse, and alternatives to debate advocating for “knowledge-driven discourse.” 

In most university classes, “debate does not occur because it is irrelevant to the class, which involves conveying some sort of technical knowledge. ‘I came to university ready to debate and the physics professor told me to quiet down’ doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Conservatives are often given more airtime to discuss their grievances about debate, as Moynihan notes here, yet “what if—hear me out—‘intellectual debate’ as a concept is what *allows* racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, transphobic ideas to be produced, to be accepted and to be spread, precisely because the concept transforms real people and their lives into disembodied abstractions?” 


10. them.: The Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills of 2022, Explained

Flordia’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has received much attention this week. In addition that that bill, formally known as HB 1557/SB 1834, there are also “dozens of bills … being filed across the country that aim to roll back LGBTQ+ rights.” Collectively, these bills comprehensively attack the rights of LGBTQ+ people through sports, healthcare, education, access to basic conveniences like restrooms, and religious freedoms. 

The sheer quantity of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can make it intimidating to keep track of, but James Factora, “with help from the ACLU, Freedom for All Americans, and other resources and trackers, [explains] some of the most widespread types of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, where they’re being filed, and what the implications might be for LGBTQ+ rights.”


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