Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
This was my breaking point with Meghan Daum: In 2018, she published “Nuance: A Love Story,” where she details her realignment with the alt-right over the course of long, lonely nights with YouTube’s algorithms. I read this essay waiting, waiting, for the turn — “and then I realized I had allied myself with racist, anti-woman, anti-human propaganda” — but it doesn’t come. Instead, Daum ends on a mild note about belonging and loneliness and nuance. It’s the kind of ending that’s possible only for someone secure against the very real and mortal outcomes of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, or whatever hopelessly un-nuanced terms you prefer.
Emily Witt’s critique of Daum’s latest book, which dives deeply into similar themes, is nuanced and rational. Witt focuses on “alternative optimisms” — worldviews that lean away from the traditional complaints of cis white feminism (without denying their reality) and lean toward ways of being that don’t simply correct but reinvent the status quo. As satisfying as it would be to see Daum roundly thrashed, this gentle but firm redirection is probably a better path.
The books that made sense to me at the time were those that questioned the primacy of the heteronormative family. Lauren Berlant’s thesis in her book “Cruel Optimism,” from 2011, that “the heterofamilial, upwardly mobile good-life fantasy” is no longer tenable has become the underpinning assumption of the millennial progressive left and millennial sexuality. I saw hope in the alternative optimisms in Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” and Tim Dean’s “Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking”—queer theory, at least, was more skeptical that there was only one way to be in the world.
Along similar, or at least parallel, lines, a profile of Samantha, a young woman who joined the alt-right to please a boyfriend and then (with some intervening events) left. Samantha’s road toward sympathy with the alt-right was also paved by pseudo-intellectuals like Jordan Peterson; like the frog in an over-used metaphor, her skin thickened as the water grew hotter. She quickly rose in the ranks as an expert recruiter of other women, hard to do in a cause that has as a core belief the subordination and worthlessness of women.
Samantha’s departure from the movement was as anticlimactic as her arrival: a gradual accumulation of pressure from outside the fence, similar to the process that pulled her in in the first place. It’d be great to think that this is true for the majority of alt-righters — that they’re operating less on principle than on a desire for belonging, and specifically to belong to something that feels special, private, better. But I think Samantha was just lucky enough to get off the ride before it entered the final tunnel.
She asked him to imagine a house was on fire and 10 people were inside, five of them black and five white. He could only save five. Wouldn't he save the white people first? The man said he would save whomever he could reach. Samantha thought, 'That's what I would do, too.' But she didn't say anything. "I felt like most of the time I was in there, I was waiting for someone else to say, 'We know this is all bullsh*t, right?'"
And now, a reminder that life is also light and silly and full of joy — no, it’s not kittens! I should have made it kittens, you’re right. But how about Zadie Smith, describing in all the glory of Zadie Smith’s prose, the excruciating problem of dressing properly for a two-continent life?
Some New York memos, collective and unindividuated and everywhere, are simultaneously signs of widespread social transformation, and therefore heartening to see. Afro hair worn natural, boys in sequins and eyeshadow, gender-neutral separates. Others drive me to distraction. For three winters in a row, I swear there wasn’t a woman in New York who didn’t own a ribbed woollen hat with a fake-fur bobble on it (although when I emailed friends in London, it sounded as if it was just as bad over there). And last fall, the ubiquity of teddy bear coats made me feel violent towards teddy bears, as a breed.