This Week On Arc Digital
Week in and week out, Arc publishes commentary selected on the basis of a simple editorial metric: Is the take an intelligent one? If it is, then we want to provide a platform for it—even if it’s not a position we, as the site’s editors, personally embrace.
This means no single reader of ours should be able to say, “I agree with everything they post.” But that’s not the point, is it? The point is to read that which enriches our understanding, not that which flawlessly reflects our antecedently held beliefs.
Our goal is to be the internet’s best opinion space. And we want to share with you what we’ve been posting.
So at the end of each week, we’ll send out a recap of what we’ve posted in the days prior. If you’re a Medium member, then you have unrestricted access to the content we publish. If you’re not, Medium gives you three free reads per month.
Here’s what we’ve run this week:
by Nicholas Grossman (April 14, 2018)
The ban on chemical weapons use, especially against civilians, is one of the few unequivocal lines the international community has drawn. There have been few uses since World War I, with the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s attacks against Iraqi Kurds, and Assad’s attacks against Syrian rebels the notable exceptions.
Announcing the airstrikes, American president Donald Trump, French president Emmanuel Macron, and British prime minister Theresa May focused on chemical arms. All three said their countries do not seek regime change. Rather, they aim to punish Assad’s chemical weapons attacks and deter future use.
It’s true that many more civilians die from conventional attacks. But prohibitions against killing civilians in war are fuzzy. States usually argue the civilians were near legitimate military targets, making their deaths unfortunate-but-justified collateral damage.
By contrast, Syria is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans any use. Its chemical attacks were blatant violations of international law. While countries regularly violate other international legal and normative restrictions, that’s not a reason to ignore the prohibitions that are (mostly) working. There’s value in enforcing the chemical weapons taboo.
by Oliver Traldi (April 16, 2018)
Lefty friends keep asking me if — or telling me that — I’m a conservative now. But I’m just a liberal who remembers what they’ve forgotten. I remember what it meant to be a liberal back when I really started to identify as one, back around 2000, during Bush v. Gore, 9/11, the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War.
by Elizabeth Picciuto (April 17, 2018)
The relationship between former FBI Director James Comey and President Trump, which was never close, turned permanently sour one evening during what Comey calls “the loyalty dinner.”
As Comey tells it, he was surprised one day at work by a phone call from Trump inviting him to dinner at the White House that very night. Ill at ease about the propriety of a dinner between a president and an FBI director who was investigating his associates, Comey nonetheless canceled a dinner date with his wife to attend.
When he arrived, and realized they would not be part of a group of dinner companions, Comey felt all the more uncertain. What he found, instead, was a table set for two — a scene pre-arranged for a Trump-Comey tête-à-tête, with each of their names beautifully calligraphed on place cards.
Before the shrimp scampi, Trump got to the point of the dinner: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
Comey froze in shock, unable to reply. Yet the dinner continued, awkwardly.
A bit later, not quite sensing the reassurance he originally sought, Trump brought up the topic again. Once more, he asked for Comey’s loyalty. Comey, now more mentally prepared, replied that he would always provide Trump with honesty.
Trump was not distracted from what he wanted.
“Honest loyalty,” Trump countered, as if negotiating a deal. This was the loyalty dinner, after all, and Trump would accept no substitute value — certainly not “honesty” as a standalone pledge. What good is honesty anyway? Trump’s non-negotiable was loyalty.
by Caroline O. (April 17, 2018)
Reddit released a list of 944 accounts last week that it said were created by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the notorious “troll factory” based in St. Petersburg, Russia. This is the first time Reddit has publicly disclosed the names of IRA accounts on its website, following similar disclosures by Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. …
To get a better idea of how Russia weaponized and exploited Reddit as part of its broader influence operation, I looked at the top IRA-backed accounts identified by Reddit, focusing on the content they posted and the methods they used to amplify it, as well as how this lined up with Russian operations on other social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.
by Barry Purcell (April 18, 2018)
A term at one point most closely associated with Big Bang cosmology now refers to the deepest fear our digital luminaries have for the future. Everyone is worried about the singularity. …
There are many different conceptions of the singularity, yet they all seem to agree that it will involve some sort of runaway computer growth which would rapidly surpass human intelligence, with catastrophic consequences for us.
Although imperfect, the benchmarks for public understanding of the singularity are HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Skynet in Terminator.
by Berny Belvedere (April 18, 2018)
If we reconceptualize centrism as a procedural rather than a substantive position, if we can redraw the centrist as omnipolitical rather than apolitical, we can rehabilitate it. Here’s what I mean.
A substantive centrism doesn’t work because it fails to make important comparative judgments about the worthiness of various political options. This type of centrism stems from an incapacity to settle on philosophical beliefs, from a failure to adopt a philosophical framework. More simply, this is the “has no beliefs” centrism. What’s left is a pure pragmatism that is not grounded in any enduring values. This is the centrism that gets vilified, and rightly so; this is the centrism of the popular imagination.
A procedural centrism, on the other hand, stems from the conviction that any sufficiently durable political framework is likely to produce solutions that are very much worth considering. This type of centrism registers an openness to the major political traditions, believing that the best response to a political problem could come from any of them.
The first type of centrism is fundamentally committed to political success, which makes it so that ideas are always subordinated to the goal of winning. The second type of centrism is fundamentally committed to the truth, which is why, despite persistent pressure to polarize, the centrist of this variety will retain an openness to the solutions offered by the major political traditions. Far from relegating ideas to a second-class status, this approach honors them.
by Ben Sixsmith (April 19, 2018)
I became a conservative in my early 20s. Suddenly, right-wing writers I had thought were dull and bigoted seemed more compelling, and left-wing beliefs I had held dear became unstable. A protracted conversion story would be self-indulgent, but if I could list the two factors that made the biggest difference, one was realizing how much I valued traditional institutions — stable families, safe communities, beautiful books and buildings — and the other was the related realization of how fragile they are — singular in history and embattled in the present day. It is a lot easier to decline than to progress.
One great problem with being a conservative is finding people who accept the same descriptor yet hold the same beliefs. There is no one definition of “conservatism.” Its substance depends on one’s historical, geographical, and cultural context.
by Matthew M. Robare (April 20, 2018)
Few things produce more contention in communities large and small than zoning. Poorly run meetings can easily descend into shouting matches between developers and residents as people compete to see who has lived the longest in the neighborhood, who has the most histrionic reason for opposing a development and how important it is to the city’s tax base, making the neighborhood vibrant or contributing to the urban fabric.
While it would mean a drop in income for freelance community journalists like yours truly and deprive people of some of the best free live entertainment available, all in all we’d be better off if our cities and towns just got rid of zoning. Rather than being the last redoubt of order from all-consuming capitalist creative destruction, zoning is actually a millstone around many cities and towns dragging them into insolvency or making them so expensive they’ll eventually be devoid of life.
Thanks for reading!