• If you’re in LA and want to give the best taco in the area, check out LA Taco’s app.

The first fallacy is that we can chalk this all up to teens behaving badly. In fact, lots of self-reported teen behaviors are moving in a positive direction. Since the 1990s, drinking-and-driving is down almost 50 percent. School fights are down 50 percent. Sex before 13 is down more than 70 percent. School bullying is down. And LGBTQ acceptance is up.

The second fallacy is that teens have always been moody, and sadness looks like it is rising only because people are more willing to talk about it. Objective measures of anxiety and depression—such as eating disorders, self-harming behavior, and teen suicides—are sharply up over the past decade. “Across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said in October. Today’s teenagers are more comfortable talking about mental health, but rising youth sadness is no illusion.

The third fallacy is that today’s mental-health crisis was principally caused by the pandemic and an overreaction to COVID. “Rising teenage sadness isn’t a new trend, but rather the acceleration and broadening of a trend that clearly started before the pandemic,” Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, told me. But he added: “We shouldn’t ignore the pandemic, either. The fact that COVID seems to have made teen mental health worse offers clues about what’s really driving the rise in sadness.”

This is why I find so much of recent personal writing tiresome: It’s too often defined by melodrama, humorlessness, and excessive self-pity. I don’t mean personal writing about traumatic experiences — the sort of thing typified by the XoJane years, about which much has already been written — but rather the fashion for intensely melodramatic depictions of experiences, or feelings about experiences, which just aren’t that bad. The kind of pieces where the writer seems to have given up on the idea of writing something someone else might truly relate to and instead settled for the essay equivalent of standing in the street shouting “Pity me! Pity me!” at passing strangers. Rather than laughing or gasping or nodding while reading you mainly find yourself thinking: My god, will you get a grip.

Now, in 2022, humans are building more border walls than ever before, just as every country is riddled with more disinformation than ever before. So many of the weaponized lies involve immigration, borders, and that old reliable anti-Semitism, so useful in a xenophobic scare campaign because of the centuries of hysterical conspiracy theories about the Jew as the Other.

That corrosive and weaponized disinformation and the climate crisis arrived together is not a coincidence. The vehicle for the lies is social media, but while they made this all possible they are not the underlying reason for the waves of anti-immigrant disinformation campaigns coming at us right now.

That underlying reason is climate catastrophe.

  • Something interesting happened on Chinese social media and @ThisIsWenhao has an overview:
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TC: As you put it in the book, “the American Revolution produced more misery than freedom.” Naturally, plenty of people have taken issue with that. Jack Rakove wrote that your book downplays the positive significance of the revolution as a “manifestly political event.” How do you respond to that?

WH: Well I think for the people that Professor Rakove studies, the American Revolution certainly was a political event. Look how limited their political opportunities were in British colonial America. Only Rhode Island and Connecticut elected their governors. The rest were chosen, usually from among non-colonists, by colonial proprietors or royal officials in England. So were most of the governor’s councils. Where was the opportunity for educated and ambitious young colonials, especially those like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson who were not cut out for military service?

For men of Adams’s and Jefferson’s class, the revolution changed all that, as has been shown by Gordon Wood and many others, including my friend Conrad Wright and (with a closer eye on political economy) you. Before and even after the Constitution was adopted in 1788, gentlemen worried that the Revolution had also provided opportunities for the classes beneath them. But if the controversy over Marcus Rediker’s and Peter Linebaugh’s Many-Headed Hydratells us anything, it is that often when elites see a hydra, there is no hydra, as even Rediker and Linebaugh would agree. The evidence of democratic (as opposed to insurrectionary) influence on government policy in the founding era is actually pretty thin, especially after the Constitution took away the states’ most important peacetime powers—levying taxes to pay off war debts and regulating debtor-creditor relations, including the money supply—and bestowed them on a new and designedly undemocratic federal government. Even for white men, true democratization would have to wait at least until the Jacksonian era.

The aspects of the revolution that did trickle down to the masses—women as well as men and all ethnicities and income levels—were violence, displacement, and disease. We have long known that in the west, the revolution simply continued and intensified settlers’ attempted genocide of Indigenous people. While optimists like me tend to focus on the African Americans who joined Governor Dunmore and got free, it appears that the majority died, mostly of disease. Elizabeth Fenn chronicled much of the carnage in Pox Americana, and I am eager to read Sean Gallagher’s forthcoming work on the recaptured Black Virginians who were sent to work in the lead mine out near the New River—basically a death sentence.

Cold War influence fueled Orange County’s mid-century conservatism, but it also brought minority workers here because federal antidiscrimination requirements were stronger than local customs. The military’s influence has been both conservative and progressive. African American activists had pressured the U.S. military to desegregate in the 1940s, so it was military members and veterans who desegregated many of the suburban tracts of Orange County in the 1950s. The midcentury military attracted people who desired a same-sex atmosphere, so LGBTQ spaces in Laguna Beach and Garden Grove thrived with military-affiliated customers. The Cold War spurred global migrations and international refugees who built Orange County’s Little Saigon, Little Arabia and Koreatown, as well as communities of Armenians, Cambodians, Filipinos, Romanians, Persians, Salvadorans and Samoans. Orange County’s politics are contrapuntal, zigging and zagging fascinatingly. The global Cold War has had significant repercussions for this single California county. 

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.