An incomplete list of things I read or heard this year that changed my mind or shaped my thinking
Happy holidays from Read Max!
You’re reading Read Max, a newsletter guide to the future. Happy holidays and season’s greetings! This Friday year-end post is, probably, the last edition of Read Max in 2021, unless I can manage to do a Matrix 4 blog during naptimes next week.
My culture-consumption habits this year were erratic, at best, and I’m not sure I have the memory, track record, or wherewithal to produce a “best of” list. So what follows is, instead, a list of things I read or heard this year that changed my mind or shaped my thinking about ideas or events. It’s not precisely a “favorite things I read” list, nor is it necessarily a list of essays whose arguments or ideas I wholeheartedly endorse. Instead it’s a list of things that stuck with me, for better or worse, and that I think other people might find sticky as well.
I don’t think this is technically a 2021 piece but it’s a very smart, well-researched, and approachable ideological genealogy of Bitcoin.
If I’d read this history of worker resistance to technologies of exploitation after Read Max had kicked off I would’ve written a piece arguing that the “machine” of digital journalism isn't (just) the proprietary CMS or the office computers or the internal workflow but the whole "machine" of SEO, social media, and audience development — and to commit sabotage in that context often means making your stuff illegible: "bad" headlines, obscure jokes. From inside social media, irony, and the way it cuts off audiences and adds friction to distribution and reception, starts to look a lot like luddist sabotage.
Funny, scary, terrifically well written.
I didn’t know I wanted to know the answer to this question until I read this excellent newsletter.
Really loved this:
In the context of these competing models of education, it’s no surprise that Twitter can feel a lot like a school, with all its benefits and horrors. It’s a space of discipline and hierarchy; it has its teachers and bullies and cliques. It’s full of grandstanding and humiliation, but it can also be a place of solace and solidarity. You learn a lot, but you might also be scared of getting something wrong. The school of the social industry can reach more people than selling copies of the Socialist Worker or an action training weekend or even a political education festival. But it can also reinforce mistaken beliefs about where the classrooms are, and about how people change their minds. It’s often said that platforms turn disagreements into denunciation. Yet they also distort the force of ideas. As Seymour writes, most people “take far too much pleasure in their beliefs to give them up for a well-put policy statement.” Political education is vital, but politics is not education. Social change doesn’t happen by swapping people’s false beliefs for true ones via a better media strategy. It requires the collectivization of their individual struggles and, often, the reorganization of their lives.
I discovered more good music via this show, about global Black contributions and responses to country music, than basically anywhere else.
A very beautiful post in the New Left Review about … geology??
Since it’s the end of the year, I want to thank everyone who’s signed up for this newsletter since it launched in September, especially those of you who’ve bought paid subscriptions. I am still trying to figure out precisely what this newsletter is, and I really appreciate your support and patience as I experiment with form and content. I’m especially moved by the people who are paying for it so early in the process: Thank you for the confidence that I can produce $50 worth of value for you over the next year or so. If you have thoughts, questions, ideas, or suggestions for newsletter topics, please email me! I like to hear from people. If you’ve been enjoying it for free, please consider signing up for a paid subscription to ensure that Read Max can continue uninterrupted through 2022. Starting next month, some of these posts will be going behind the paywall, so you may want to get in early.
While we’re earnest-posting, I want to specifically thank Tommy Craggs, who’s edited a bunch of these posts — the good ones — often at the last minute and with very little warning. (The email where I accidentally called The Parallax View “The Parallax Effect” was one he did not edit.)