Bookmarked Do Protests Even Work? (The Atlantic)

Movements, and their protests, are powerful because they change the minds of people, including those who may not even be participating in them, and they change the lives of their participants.

In the long term, protests work because they can undermine the most important pillar of power: legitimacy.

Zeynep Tufekci explores the potential of protests to challenge the legitimacy of those in power. As she explains, what would have taken years to coordinate in the past can now be organised in days with apps and digital platforms. This lack of friction can subsequently dilute the impact of such movements. However, what can make a protest more pertinent is the level of risk associated with it. As Tufekci highlights with the current situation in America.

The current Black Lives Matter protest wave is definitely high risk through the double whammy of the pandemic and the police response. The police, the entity being protested, have unleashed so much brutality that in just three weeks, at least eight people have already lost eyesight to rubber bullets. One Twitter thread dedicated to documenting violent police misconduct is at 600 entries and counting. And nobody seems safe—not even a 75-year-old avowed peacenik who was merely in the way of a line of cops when he was shoved so violently that he fell and cracked his skull. Chillingly, the police walked on as he bled on the ground. After the video came out to widespread outrage, and the two police officers who shoved him were suspended, their fellow officers on the active emergency-response team resigned to support their colleagues. Plus the pandemic means that protesters who march in crowds, face tear gas, and risk jail and detention in crowded settings are taking even more risks than usual.

The challenge with any protest is the fear repression. This is what stopped the Chinese protests in 1989 and the Egyptian protests in 2013. However, such measures have their limits.

Force and repression can keep things under control for a while, but it also makes such rule more brittle.

The challenge to power and repression is overcome by changing the culture and conversation. This is required to undermine the legitimacy.

Legitimacy, not repression, is the bedrock of resilient power.

This is why Anne Helen Petersen argues that small protests in small towns matter because there have been a lot of them, therefore the bedrock is crumbling.

Rebecca Solnit uses the metaphor of a waterfall to describe such change:

The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash

When they are a consensus idea, that’s the end of the insurrection, or the waterfall, and politicians are smoothing things over and people have accepted the idea that they at first resisted, whether it’s the abolition of slavery or the right to marriage equality

Although she suggests there are groups who deserve credit for escalating the current situation.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.

The Black Lives Matter movement itself has been building since 2013.

However, as Stan Grant highlights in regards to the recognition of Australia’s indigenous people in the consitution, such success can be a long time coming. This is something Doug Belshaw touches on in his reading of Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Here is the problem for the person, or group of people, wishing to smash the spectacle, to dismantle it, to take it apart. It must be done in one go, rather than piecemeal. Otherwise, the spectacle has too much capacity to self-repair.

Liked who cheats and why (

Students don’t cheat because they’re lazy; they cheat because they’re incredibly anxious, terrified of failure, and haven’t been taught to come up with original arguments (or trust themselves when they do). They’re the students who got into a desired college through sheer determination. They’re not dumb or stupid or anything close to it. But they’ve become convinced that any sort of failure (on an assignment, in a class) is tantamount to total life failure, and accumulate anxiety about each assignment accordingly.

Bookmarked How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Peterson (BuzzFeed News)

I couldn’t figure out why small, straightforward tasks on my to-do list felt so impossible. The answer is both more complex and far simpler than I expected.

Anne Helen Peterson discusses the anxieties associated with childhood optimisation and the pressures to find a good job. She highlights the changes in education, social media, personal branding and rise in debt. This subsequent cognitive load is one of the reasons that we struggle with creative solutions and deep work. The concern Peterson raises is that there is no clear solution to this system malaise. This has me thinking about the rise in staff well-being programs. Pushing back on Peterson’s fatalism, Kimberly Hirsh argues that we have to “perceive ourselves and others, and by extension others, as creatures of inherent worth, not merely parties to transactions, in spite of existing within an economic system that views us exactly as such.” Hirsh also curates a number of other responses to the article too.


If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation.

We’ve exchanged sit-down casual dining (Applebee’s, TGI Fridays) for fast casual (Chipotle et al.) because if we’re gonna pay for something, it should either be an experience worth waiting in line for (Cronuts! World-famous BBQ! Momofuku!) or efficient as hell.

Even the trends millennials have popularized — like athleisure — speak to our self-optimization. Yoga pants might look sloppy to your mom, but they’re efficient: You can transition seamlessly from an exercise class to a Skype meeting to child pickup. We use Fresh Direct and Amazon because the time they save allows us to do more work.

That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance.

Pundits spend a lot of time saying “This is not normal,” but the only way for us to survive, day to day, is to normalize the events, the threats, the barrage of information, the costs, the expectations of us. Burnout isn’t a place to visit and come back from; it’s our permanent residence.

The problem with holistic, all-consuming burnout is that there’s no solution to it. You can’t optimize it to make it end faster. You can’t see it coming like a cold and start taking the burnout-prevention version of Airborne. The best way to treat it is to first acknowledge it for what it is — not a passing ailment, but a chronic disease — and to understand its roots and its parameters. That’s why people I talked to felt such relief reading the “mental load” cartoon, and why reading Harris’s book felt so cathartic for me: They don’t excuse why we behave and feel the way we do. They just describe those feelings and behaviors — and the larger systems of capitalism and patriarchy that contribute to them — accurately.

Bookmarked The Rise, Lean, And Fall Of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg by Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed News)

The reality of Silicon Valley is that it’s commerce by any means necessary. And the reality of Sandberg is that she’s excellent at it.

Anne Helen Petersen looks at the legacy of Sheryl Sandberg. From her movement that encourages women to ‘lean in’ to her ability to make things happen, Peterson highlights the power and position held by Sandberg. What is becoming more clear though is the flaws in her armour of invincability and the limit to her aerobic instructor’s smile.


In Silicon Valley, the term “unicorn” is used to describe privately held startups that reach a valuation of over $1 billion. When the term was first popularized in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, there were just 39 such companies, representing a vanishingly small fraction of all startups: 0.07%. At the time, Facebook was the only “super-unicorn” (worth more than $100 billion) to emerge from the preceding decade. It’s fitting, then, that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — the person largely responsible for the revenue behind that huge valuation — had been figured as a kind of super-unicorn herself: the rare woman capable of wielding power while preserving her likability.

At Harvard, she took a class from Larry Summers, which yielded a foundational story of the Sandberg myth: The entire semester, she didn’t say a word. Didn’t raise her hand, didn’t come to office hours, never outed herself as a know-it-all. But she turned in the best midterm exam in class, and the best final. Summers agreed to oversee her thesis; after graduation, he hired her to come work for him at the World Bank. “She always had … the ability to lead people down any path, and always for good,” one of her former professors told the Harvard Crimson. She was superwoman.

Many, many feminists begged to differ. Dozens of critics and researchers have underlined the flaws in Lean In, focusing especially on its narrow focus on women who are heterosexual and/or already occupy the upper echelons of the class hierarchy. But the overarching feminist critique of the text is straightforward: It doesn’t actually challenge the status quo, or patriarchal control of it. It just tells women how to better manipulate the existing system

By asking nicely, with an aerobic instructor’s smile on her face, for the mere semblance of equal treatment, Sandberg became a global celebrity — what cultural theorist Leo Lowenthal calls an “idol of production.” Zuckerberg was seen as an innovator, as was Steve Jobs — men who slotted into the long history of celebrated male entrepreneurs and inventors. But Sandberg’s primary skill was leadership. Getting things done. “For all her success, she’s nothing like a man,” Time magazine declared in 2013. “She may currently have thousands of people saying ‘Right!’ to her, but she’s refined her technique since elementary school. Now it blends an overwhelming amount of data with a weapons-grade ability to nurture and an exquisite organizational acumen.” If she couldn’t complete a task, she’d poach someone who could. She was “ruthlessly prioritizing,” as she likes to say, but not busting any balls along the way.

in blaming, or even hating, her — without situating her within the larger context of Silicon Valley, the demands of venture capital, and the logic of the stock market — she becomes something just as mythical as she was before: a supervillain.

Liked selfishness or survival by Anne Helen Petersen (TinyLetter)

People make parenthood and full-time employment work all the time, I realize that. My friends in Seattle make it work. But it’s not a coincidence that I’m the only one of those friends who incurred substantial debt from post-grad education, and I don’t mean that as a commentary on intelligence. Like many late-mid-and-young millenials, my decisions about having children are the result of many factors — the (very slowly) growing acceptance of non-parenthood as a viable lifestyle choice, observation of the ways in which parenthood stunted my own mothers’ professional life and fulfillment, but, above all else, a clear-eyed look at the costs of parenthood. To suggest that it’s just a matter of wanting more leisure time — laying by the pool! watching ESPN! — is to fundamentally misunderstand the ways in which millenials have come to conceive of labor.

Bookmarked that doesn’t mean dumbing it down by Anne Helen Petersen (TinyLetter)

My advice to the group of academics, then, was two-fold. First: recognize that both sides need to be more flexible. Understand that journalists have to have somewhat reductive headlines, and that they operate on deadlines. But also assert, at the beginning, that you are unwilling to provide a soundbite — and want, above all else, to insert nuance, instead of a flat argument, and if they can’t deal with that (even if it’s just three sentences of complication, instead of one declarative sentence) then you will not do the interview. It’s not that academics should request quote approval, it’s more that they should be able to reach an agreement with the journalist about the sort of argument to which they’re affixing their good name.

Anne Helen Petersen explains how to work with and in journalism to extend the reach of academic ideas.
Bookmarked The cost of reporting while female (Columbia Journalism Review)

Over the course of nearly 200 years, female journalists have been under threat because of their gender, race, beat, views, and coverage.

Anne Helen Petersen documents a number of examples where women have been threatened while working as journalists. This includes a series of historical cases. This reminded me of Lindy West’s confrontation of troll and why he chose to do what he did. I am always left wondering what the answer is, sometimes fearing that such thinking creates more problems than solutions. Maybe there is something in Sherri Spelic’s suggestion to ‘think small’:

Sometimes it pays off to think small. Think next door, down the hall, at the next meeting. Act large in small spaces. Notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Practice not knowing and being curious. Be kind. Welcome warmly and mean it.

via Audrey Watters newsletter