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Hey, did y'all listen to the new Taylor Swift song? I didn't because I was writing this. I assume it's basically the same as all of the other new Taylor Swift songs, in that it probably tries to cram five different musical styles into three and a half minutes in an attempt to appeal to as many different algorithmically determined taste groups as possible and then trade in off Swift's famous name to entice listeners to stick with the track all the way through.
The internet makes everything terrible. Before the internet, everything was terrible for other reasons. This week's selection of great writing for you to read this weekend confronts these two fundamental human truths.
"The War to Sell You a Mattress Is an Internet Nightmare"
David Zax for Fast Company
So, the craziest story that I've read in a really long time is about the world of online mattress reviewing. David Zax's piece is centered around a mattress blogger named Derek Hales (aka "Halestorm") and his legal battle against the Casper mattress brand, fanning out into an expose on the shady practice of affiliate marketing — a tactic which runs rampant in the mattress start-up sphere. Because Casper sued four bloggers for giving them negative reviews and also because I love thinking up bad jokes, I hereby declare that "Casper" stands for "Company Aiding Sleepy People Except Reviewers."
"New Atheism's Idiot Heirs"
Alex Nichols for The Baffler
Writing for The Baffler, Alex Nichols hits on a vital and prescient point: that a lot of dumbasses who are drawn to the alt-right used to hang out on Reddit and get mad at people who believed in God. Notes Nichols:
Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism's most devout adherents. They were after the burst of dopamine that comes from feeling smarter than other people, from exercising some pathetic simulacrum of masculine power, from seeing someone else feel bad and knowing they were responsible. Strangely enough, this is also the goal of modern right-wing politics. Just as conservatives discovered they could skip straight to the "angry liberal" portion of the argument by electing Donald Trump, the worst New Atheists discovered they didn't need atheism at all. They could be just as insufferable alone, on Youtube, spitting nonsense into the vacuum. The Greeks, those purported inventors of Western logic, had a name for such a man divorced from the public good. They called him "idiot."
"The Cultural Axis"
Robert O. Paxton for The New York Review of Books
Given that lately we've all been arguing about who is and isn't a Nazi — and if those Nazis and borderline-Nazis should be allowed a cultural platform — it's important to remember that the original Nazis gave a GIGANTIC shit about culture.
In fact, one of the ways they reoriented German society was through reorienting its people's tastes. The underlying values, anxieties, and aspirations that underscore mass taste can also indicate certain lines of thinking, and so by telling its people they were supposed to like certain works of art because they represented the sort of ethno-nationalistic ideas the Nazis prioritized, they were essentially hoping to reverse-engineer a new national identity for the German people.
"The Secrets of Sleep"
Jerome Groopman for The New Yorker
Sleep! It's important, it's different for everybody, and despite hundreds of years of hypothesizing and theorizing, we basically know jackshit about it. Some cultures segmented their sleep cycles and spent an hour reading and/or having sex in the early morning before going back to sleep; other cultures structured their sleep cycles around religious and agrarian rituals; and lots eloquent insomniacs have blamed their lack of sleep on innovations that disrupted their ways of life.
Pretty much the only thing we know about sleep, according to Jerome Groopman's article in The New Yorker, is that "every time a man dreams he has an erection; every time a woman dreams, the blood vessels of her vagina become engorged." Before you get all excited about how dreams automatically make you horny, you should know that Groopman follows this up by noting, "These changes in our genitalia are apparently unrelated to sexual thoughts before sleep or to sexual content in the dreams themselves. Rather, erections and vaginal engorgement seem to be the result of the state of dreaming itself." So, uh, yeah.
Anyways, to tie everything back to the point that I began this article with, before we blamed smartphones for keeping us awake at night, Henry David Thoreau blamed his sleeplessness on trains.
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