Anyone who cares about fine, challenging writing, a group that surely includes every reader of Harper’s Magazine, must be concerned about the digital world’s constant intrusion into our daily lives. The screens we carry or sit in front of vie for our attention and win it more often than we would care to admit. We are readers, after all, serious readers, so why are we spending precious minutes, nay hours, scrolling through Instagram? It’s a predicament that Will Self, who writes our October cover story, calls the “tyranny of the virtual,” a phenomenon he’d rather analyze than condemn. It “is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying literature’s light,” he writes, “but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable.” This is your brain on digital.
John Hockenberry, the former Public Radio International host of “The Takeaway,” accused of sexual harassment and dismissed from his job late last year, writes about the subsequent collapse of his marriage, his fractured relationship with his children, and the perilous road back from personal and public shame. A paraplegic since the age of nineteen, Hockenberry finds context in his derailed path to maturity, solace in Byron’s poetry and Nabokov’s fiction, and empathy in a most unlikely place: the feminist theory of Andrea Dworkin.
Most outrage directed toward Trump Administration immigration policies is focused on ICE, but in “Checkpoint Nation,” Melissa del Bosque alerts us of another agency, the US Customs and Border Patrol Protection, whose seemingly unlimited, government-granted power is cause for alarm. CBP, tasked with guarding America’s borders, has been extending its reach farther and farther into the country’s interiors, not to mention the interiors of human beings, both documented and undocumented. (CBP never passes up an opportunity for a cavity check, and an inconclusive sniff from a dog is all they need to proceed.) The legal definition of “the border,” del Bosque explains, is troublingly broad. Some 200 million people—nearly two thirds of all Americans—live within CBP’s jurisdiction. CBP has the authority to set up checkpoints almost anywhere within the hundred-mile zone—they have been found in Los Angeles and Houston—and to search and detain people without a warrant. Even US citizenship is no protection from harassment by CBP.
To report on the anti-Semitism crisis plaguing Britain’s Labour Party, our UK correspondent, Tanya Gold, attends a slate of Labour events and finds the party’s moral dilemma is all too real. Wherever Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters gather, hostility to Zionism is rampant, comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are tolerated, and the Holocaust is all but shrugged off as just another genocide. Gold is surprised (and fascinated) to find fellow Jews in the midst of all this disdain, and those she speaks to willingly share their rationales. “Jews are not excluded from the Labour Party,” one tells her. “They are extremely well represented at all levels of the party. It has some people who through ignorance or political sloppiness or racism say bigoted things at times. That is it.” Gold is not relieved.
Edwin Dobb offers a gorgeous essay about the unexpected gifts that change our lives profoundly and for the better. In his case, that gift is two children who enter his life through a relationship, now ended, who remain a deeply integral part of his life, inevitable as any blood relative. “My relationships with Kate and Ezra partake of eternity,” Dobb writes, “the always-was and always-will-be, having remade the character of everything that came before while reshaping everything that came after. Could there have been a time when they weren’t mine, when I wasn’t their father?”