The Royal Ontario Museum says a very rare marine fossil was discovered in Southern Ontario and it is nearly half a billion years old. Named “Tomlinsonus dimitrii," it is part of a well preserved example of an extinct group of anthropods. Typically the hard parts of an organism are fossilized, but the new find is an entirely soft bodied creature. The species is known to have lived in a shallow tropical marine sea and is no longer than a human index finger. Clockwise from top, a reconstruction of Tomlinsonus dimitrii by artist Christian McCall, a line drawaing of the specimen discovered, and an overview of the Tomlinsonus dimitrii fossil. (all images © ROM and used with permission)

One of the tragic ironies of Saint Phalle’s story is that the zeal of her practice exacerbated the health problems that plagued her all her life. In 1974, she was hospitalized for a lung abscess brought on by the liquid polyester she used to make the Nanas. In 1981, soon after starting the Tarot Garden, she began suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Refusing to see a doctor, she moved into the Empress sculpture, where she made a bedroom in one of the breasts and lived alone, deteriorating for two years. Finally, when she could no longer sculpt or even walk, she ended up in the hospital, but after receiving treatment and medication returned to the Empress, where she nearly lost her grip on reality. “In the magic space, I lost all notion of time, and the limitations of normal life were abolished,” she wrote. In her delirium, she would sometimes see “thousands of shiny, little black devils with horrible wings…coming out of all my orifices.”

In 1989, Ricardo Menon, Saint Phalle’s assistant for 10 years, died of AIDS. In 1991, Tinguely died of heart failure. Saint Phalle was depressed and carrying around an oxygen tank for her asthmatic bronchitis. “To breathe or not to breathe had become the question,” she wrote. What saved her was a move to La Jolla, a picturesque seaside neighborhood in San Diego, Calif. (She died there in 2002.) What Is Now Known includes prints from her “Californian Diary” series that show a newfound sense of fluidity. They feel dreamlike, with intricate patterns and handwriting. A few begin with the phrase “Dear Diary,” which to me marked a noticeable shift. The book until this point is filled with letters addressed to other people; now Saint Phalle was writing to herself.

The mechanisms of collective forgetting are fascinating and important. Our practice of writing genealogies determines who gets remembered, and who doesn’t. It is also haphazard. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, if our lines of transmission remain co-opted by strategic omissions, the selective erasure of names will continue.

Many names that have faded from history were women’s. That’s no coincidence. Women aren’t just missing. They have been made absent, as the historian David Noble argued in A World Without Women (1992). The overwhelming absence of women in intellectual history is constructed. And we won’t prevent the fading of women from future history simply with an occasional reminder about the existence of a few remarkable individuals throughout the ages. What really causes our collective forgetting is the stepwise removal of their names from ongoing conversation.

For centuries, women scholars have routinely appeared isolated during their lifetimes. Old black-and-white photographs of academic meetings typically show that one exceptional woman sitting rather awkwardly among many men. Stil, this isolation is not the kind that would soon lead to their disappearance from collective memory.

When Amin defended his PhD thesis at Sciences Po in Paris in 1957, it was a time when it was possible to obtain a doctorate in economics by extending Marxist concepts at elite institutions. Just a few years earlier, in 1951, Baran, a Marxist economist, had been promoted to full professor at Stanford University in California, shortly after Sweezy, another Marxist economist, retired from Harvard University in Massachusetts in 1947. In that moment, radical scholars across the world were putting forward new and competing explanations for the polarising tendencies of capitalism. There was a particular interest in re-interpreting Marx from a perspective of the postcolonial world, from scholars in India to Brazil. It was also a time when the Bandung conference – a gathering in Indonesia in 1955 of representatives from 29 newly independent Asian and African countries to build alliances around economic development and decolonisation – offered optimism for those who opposed colonialism and neocolonialism.

The mid-20th-century debates about Eurocentrism evolved from real material struggles against colonial and neocolonial relations, which stand in contrast to the contemporary field of economics, where analysis has been reduced to what can be studied within the framework of neoclassical economics and with certain accepted econometric methods. From an Aminian perspective, decolonising the university would need to make space for the kinds of radical scholarship – which critically scrutinises the role of the capitalist system itself in producing global inequalities and injustices – that was possible in the mid-20th century.

The AI industry does not seek to capture land as the conquistadors of the Caribbean and Latin America did, but the same desire for profit drives it to expand its reach. The more users a company can acquire for its products, the more subjects it can have for its algorithms, and the more resources—data—it can harvest from their activities, their movements, and even their bodies.

Neither does the industry still exploit labor through mass-scale slavery, which necessitated the propagation of racist beliefs that dehumanized entire populations. But it has developed new ways of exploiting cheap and precarious labor, often in the Global South, shaped by implicit ideas that such populations don’t need—or are less deserving of—livable wages and economic stability.

If you had to pick the unexpected breakout consumer tech hit of 2022, you could make a pretty strong case for Wordle. In a matter of weeks, the popular word game went from obscurity to ubiquity, grabbing attention and users at a torrid pace, and even earning the kinds of celebrity and pop culture shoutouts that usually cost millions, all before being snatched up by the New York Times. The hype may have died down, but the game is still wildly popular.

But what’s perhaps most amazing about Wordle is what it’s not. It’s not an app that you get from an App Store. (Though there were of course knockoffs that almost immediately showed up there.) It’s not covered in ads, and it’s not stealing your data or doing creepy things with your personal info. It’s not built by some giant Silicon Valley startup pumped full of investor money — it was built by just one guy, Josh Wardle. And it’s not designed to take over the internet, it’s just one web page, built with love for one person and limited in the amount of your time and attention that it wants to capture.

Wordle has so many great traits because it’s part of a long tradition that’s been somewhat dormant in pop culture in recent years: it’s made on, and for, the web. It is still truly possible for one person to make a website, without asking permission of any of the giant tech companies, and create an experience that touches millions of people. Maybe it’s to share a meaningful experience, or a fun game, or a weird obsession, or just to tell a story — the web was born to make these things possible.

The account has been promoted by podcast host Joe Rogan, and it’s been featured in the New York Post, the Federalist, the Post Millennial and a slew of other right-wing news sites. Meghan McCain has retweeted it. The online influencer Glenn Greenwald has amplified it to his 1.8 million Twitter followers while calling himself the account’s “Godfather.” Last Thursday, the woman behind the account appeared anonymously on Tucker Carlson’s show to complain about being temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s community guidelines. Fox News often creates news packages around the content that Libs of TikTok has surfaced.

“The role I’ve seen this account playing is finding new characters for right-wing propaganda,” said Gillian Branstetter, a media strategist for the ACLU. “It’s relying on the endless stream of content from TikTok and the Internet to cast any individual trans person as a new villain in their story.”

Throughout its increasingly popular posts and despite numerous media appearances, the account has remained anonymous. But the identity of the operator of Libs of TikTok is traceable through a complex online history and reveals someone who has been plugged into right-wing discourse for two years and is now helping to drive it.

  • The backlash about the story included ridiculous claims by conservative and far right activists that Lorenz was “doxing” the subject of the story (she was not), and anyway, it was all ridiculous. Journalist Alex Pareene has a good story on the bad faith discussion on the right and their disdain for journalism:

This new right fundamentally doesn’t want “newsgathering” to happen. They want a chaotic information stream of unverifiable bullshit and context collapse and propaganda. Their backers, the people behind the whole project, are philosophically and materially opposed to the idea that true things should be uncovered and verified and disseminated publicly about, well, them, and their projects. This may have started as a politically opportunistic war against particular outlets and stories, but it has quickly blossomed into a worldview. It’s an ideologically coherent opposition to the liberal precepts of verifiability and transparency, and the holders of those precepts are too invested in them to understand what their enemy is doing. The creep’s account, everyone in the press should understand, is the model for what they will be replaced with.

It’s not even that the right needs people to lose “trust” in traditional news organizations to win elections or start wars. That already happened and they won. It’s more like they need people to just randomly trust whatever bullshit feels right, to get them to fall for scams and believe propaganda. In the grandest dreams of the pathetic people doing most of the unpaid work, the end game is the eradication of “deviance” from public life. And that is a real threat that the people opposing this should take more seriously. Upstairs from them are the people whose job it is to make sure old people set up recurring payments. Upstairs from them, the goal is that no one finds the boss’s shell companies or offshore accounts. The mission is mainly to prevent, stigmatize, and delegitimize the discovery and confirmation and dissemination of information about how a few people got their money, where they keep it, and what they do with it—like spending it on subsidizing bigotry about trans people and getting gay teachers fired.

Elite journalists tend to graduate from the same small cohort of colleges; a 2018 study published in the Journal of Expertise found that “only a handful of select schools feed the mastheads of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, suggesting the importance of networks.” Many are the beneficiaries of what has been called journalism’s “professionalization”—a process, media professor Silvio Waisbord wrote, that “entails a unified project of occupational differentiation and the definition of common skills, norms, and ethics.” Many were trained to abide by the profession’s legacy norms in journalism schools or in newsrooms. These are places whose demographics still fail to match the audiences they strive to serve. In addition, the terms often on offer—educational debt and frequently meager wages—prevent plenty of would-be journalists from joining the profession. “Ironically, even as the economic fortunes of the news media have declined precipitously, as a social group the status of journalists has increased,” Daniel Kreiss, a professor of media studies, wrote. “Journalists are highly educated, urban, and cosmopolitan elites when compared with the publics they serve.” A number of independent contributors, meanwhile, do not meet that description.

“Most news coverage isn’t created with people experiencing poverty in mind,” Heather Bryant, a journalist and founder of Project Facet, has said. That is frequently made clear when outlets want to run sensitive and authentic stories concerning class. In a 2018 essay for Journalist’s Resource, Bryant and Denise-Marie Ordway, both reporters who grew up in poverty, called for our industry to “consider prioritizing a journalism for and with people over coverage about people.” But coverage for and with people isn’t possible without building class awareness into the editorial process from end to end.

Neural’s take: Should you be concerned? Yes. Absolutely. Should you stop using these apps? No, because that’s not really an option for everybody.

Our real concern is that big tech either doesn’t care whether users know they’re being recorded even when they’re muted, or it never stopped to think users would care. Either way, it shows a disturbing level of detachment from the user experience. 

Big tech’s unspoken mantra is “data at all costs,” and this just goes to prove how thirsty the beast is. There’s no good reason not to explicitly inform users in large print that the mute button doesn’t stop their audio feed to the server. 

JS: You know, it’s interesting because Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been really lionized, particularly in the U.S. and Western European media. And he’s become a kind of caricature, with these grand, sweeping historical comparisons. And often the quotes from him are intended to give the appearance of this defiant leader who is going to fight to the end. But when you read between the lines, and you read what Ukrainian negotiators are saying, when you read what Zelenskyy says when pressed on conditions for peace, he seems to be extremely aware of the factors that you’re citing, that this has to end in a negotiation. 

And I want to ask you about the role of the U.S. and European media in perpetuating this mythology around Zelenskyy, and the way in which it seems to kind of undermine the seriousness of the negotiators of Ukraine or of Zelenskyy when he is talking in a nuanced manner. It seems that there’s this intent to kind of create a caricature rather than actually listening to the conditions that Ukraine is stating it can live with.

NC: Yes, you’re absolutely right. If you look at the media coverage, Zelenskyy’s very clear, explicit, serious statements about what could be a political settlement — crucially, neutralization of Ukraine — those have been literally suppressed for a long period, then sidelined in favor of heroic, Winston Churchill impersonations by Congressman, others casting Zelenskyy in that mold. 

So, yes, of course. He’s made it pretty clear that he cares about whether Ukraine survives, whether Ukrainians survive, and has therefore put forth a series of reasonable proposals that could well be the basis for negotiation. 

We should bear in mind that the nature of a political settlement, the general nature of it, has been pretty clear on all sides for quite some time. In fact, if the U.S. had been willing to consider them, there might not have been an invasion at all. 

Before the invasion, the U.S. basically had two choices: One was to pursue its official stance, which I just reviewed, which makes the negotiations impossible and may have led to war; the other possibility was to pursue the options that were available. To an extent, they’re still somewhat available, attenuated by the war, but the basic terms are pretty clear. 

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.