Introducing the January 2015 Issue
Jen Percy examines women's rights in liberated Afghanistan, Sam Frank hangs out with Silicon Valley's apocalyptic libertarians, Emily Witt analyzes Pinochet's legacy in Chile, and more
e are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The apocalyptic libertarians whose dogmatically rational and technocentric subculture Sam Frank investigates this month are much nicer than Star Trek villains, but their confidence is comparable. Frank summarizes their view of the world: “Our whole society was sick—root, branch, and memeplex—and rationality was the only cure.” Frank’s travels take him from the dark corners of the Internet—he speaks with the founder of a website whose members include “a grab bag of former libertarians, ethnonationalists, Social Darwinists, scientific racists, patriarchists, pickup artists, and atavistic ‘traditionalists’ . . . plumping variously for fascism or monarchism or corporatism or rule by an all-powerful gold-seeking alien named Fnargl who will free the markets and stabilize everything else”—to sunny California, where he attends a workshop held by the Center for Applied Rationality. There, the focus is on productivity; politics, he writes, are viewed as “tribal and viscerally upsetting.” He discovers our would-be computing overlords are (of course) mostly male and lacking in imagination. But he also finds reason for hope.
In her Letter from Chile, Emily Witt examines the ways in which Pablo Neruda’s oft-disturbed corpse carries traces of that country’s violent past and still-volatile present. “The three burials of Pablo Neruda,” she writes, can be mapped onto “the conflict, rupture, and reconciliation of Chile; the dusk, night, and dawn of the Chilean left.” Witt, who studied in Chile as a teenager, brings her personal experience of the country’s profound conservatism to bear on her analysis of Pinochet’s legacy and the resurgence of Communism among the country’s youth.
In this month’s Folio, Jen Percy, an excerpt of whose book Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism appeared in the November 2013 issue, travels to Afghanistan and discovers that conditions for women have hardly improved since the U.S. invasion in 2001—which politicians had sometimes used women’s rights to justify. Women marry their rapists in order to avoid jail time for committing a “moral crime,” domestic-violence shelters are overcrowded, and even the female employees of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs are covered in bruises inflicted by abusive husbands. “Violence against women is now a matter of revenge against the foreigners,” a member of Afghanistan’s parliament tells Percy, “because women’s rights are one of the achievements of the international community. It’s a structured violence against women.”
Andrew Cockburn’s Letter from Washington takes us back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He investigates the subsequent expansion of NATO, and the ways in which it turned out to be a boon for defense contractors, who saw the newly autonomous Baltic states as a lucrative new potential market. Cockburn sketches a merry-go-round of political pressure, influence, and profit, with the same players hopping on and off for decades—and finds it’s once again picking up speed.
Our January Readings include Maya Dukmasova‘s translations of messages written in Old Novgorodian on birch-bark scrolls between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries (“Find me a good whole horse carcass, you know, a nice big one. If you don’t find a nice one like that, a half will do”); excerpts from posts to Five-O, an app created by three African-American teenagers that allows users to comment on interactions with police officers (“I was with my black boyfriend, and the officers both told me I shouldn’t be dating him”); a selection from a recently declassified article published in the winter 1986 issue of Studies in Intelligence, the in-house journal of the CIA, which blames Soviet propaganda for giving many citizens the idea that “we are assassins, blackmailers, exploiters of sex and illicit drugs”; and Emily Anderson’s transformation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series.
Also in this issue: an Annotation, by Jonah Campbell and Simon Liem, of Purdue Pharma’s March 2013 letter to the FDA asking the government to withdraw its approval of OxyContin; Caleb Crain’s review of Hermione Lee’s biography of the elusive Penelope Fitzgerald; a new story by Stephen Dixon; and a meditation, by Daniel Mendelsohn, on the necessity—in television narratives and in life—of endings.