kottke.org posts about Rebecca Solnit

How to Comment on Social Media

Rebecca Solnit with a cheeky & hilarious piece on How to Comment on Social Media.

1) Do not read the whole original post or what it links to, which will dilute the purity of your response and reduce your chances of rebuking the poster for not mentioning anything they might’ve mentioned/written a book on/devoted their life to. Listening/reading delays your reaction time, and as with other sports, speed is of the essence.

7) If you’re a man and that O.P. is a woman, her facts are feelings and your feelings are facts, and those forty-seven increasingly lengthy responses you fired off were clearly a rational reaction. If she reacted negatively to them, do not forget to rebuke her for being emotional.

I hate to say it, but the reason I am not enjoying Mastodon so much these days is because I see stuff like this on there regularly:

9) Which is why the person who said, or rather typed, offhandedly “people should bike more” really means all people need to bike everywhere under all circumstances and is callously indifferent to people who: live in Siberia and can’t bike through -40 blizzards; are physically unable to cycle; can’t afford bikes; and let us not forget those who have bicycle-related trauma. Which is why anyone who could say “people should bike more” is a fascist who needs crushing.

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“Slow Change Can Be Radical Change”

Rebecca Solnit writing in Literary Hub about the power and necessity of slow change:

I’ve found in my twenty-something years of messing about with Buddhism is that what it has to teach is pretty simple; you could read up on the essentials in a day, probably in an hour, possibly in a quarter of an hour. But the point is to somehow so deeply embed those values, perspectives, and insights in yourself that they become reflexive, your operating equipment, how you assess and react to the world around you. That’s the work of a lifetime โ€” or of many, if you’re inclined to believe in reincarnation.

Most truths are like that, easy to hear or recite, hard to live in the sense that slowness is hard for most of us, requiring commitment, perseverance, and return after you stray. Because the job is not to know; it’s to become. A sociopath knows what kindness is and how to weaponize it; a saint becomes it.

You see things happen “gradually, then suddenly” in all sorts of places, including, as Solnit notes, both the climate and the fight for climate justice.

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What Can I Do About the Climate Emergency?

Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility is a climate anthology published last year and edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua. They’ve just added a chapter to the book that’s available for free download that contains practical advice on how to involved in combatting the climate crisis: What Can I Do About the Climate Emergency?

The climate movement needs you. In this pamphlet, we outline some of the ways you can join it, and we share examples of how ordinary people have found their role, their power, their impactful projects, and their climate community. There’s a place for you in the crucial work of speeding the transition away from destruction and toward thriving. Figuring out where your skills are useful and what you can stick with is important. Identifying whom to work with and what to work on is crucial. Some of us are good at staying with a legislative issue for a season or a year or a decade. Some of us are good campaigners. Some like protests and are ready to blockade and risk arrest. Some of us are homebound but can make calls and write letters. It all matters.

One of the best and most challenging things about the climate crisis is that there is no one solution. That is, the solution is a mosaic of many changes. The way we get to a world that doesn’t run on fossil fuel and instead centers justice, sustainability, and community is happening in hundreds of thousands of ways โ€” this coal plant shutdown, that methane-gas ban, these electric schoolbuses and bike lanes, that solar rooftop, these offshore turbines, that grasslands protection. These need to be sped up and amplified. National legislation and international treaties matter, but so do the countless small pieces that add up. It’s not just about what we need to stop but also about the rejuvenating work of building the world we want.

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Climate Optimism: “We Can Do This.”

Climate scientist Kate Marvel is done warning people about the problems with our climate and has moved on to highlighting our success in combatting it.

The reason is that now, we have a better story to tell. The evidence is clear: Responding to climate change will not only create a better world for our children and grandchildren, but it will also make the world better for us right now.

Eliminating the sources of greenhouse gas emissions will make our air and water cleaner, our economy stronger and our quality of life better. It could save hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives across the country through air quality benefits alone. Using land more wisely can both limit climate change and protect biodiversity. Climate change most strongly affects communities that get a raw deal in our society: people with low incomes, people of color, children and the elderly. And climate action can be an opportunity to redress legacies of racism, neglect and injustice.

I could still tell you scary stories about a future ravaged by climate change, and they’d be true, at least on the trajectory we’re currently on. But it’s also true that we have a once-in-human-history chance not only to prevent the worst effects but also to make the world better right now. It would be a shame to squander this opportunity. So I don’t just want to talk about the problems anymore. I want to talk about the solutions. Consider this your last warning from me.

Here’s the report that Marvel refers to in her piece: The Fifth National Climate Assessment and a Vox article about what’s in it.

See also Rebecca Solnit’s We can’t afford to be climate doomers:

Many things that were once true โ€” that we didn’t have adequate solutions, that the general public wasn’t aware or engaged โ€” no longer are. Outdated information is misinformation, and the climate situation has changed a lot in recent years. The physical condition of the planet โ€” as this summer’s unprecedented extreme heat and flooding and Canada’s and Greece’s colossal fires demonstrate โ€” has continued to get worse; the solutions have continued to get better; the public is far more engaged; the climate movement has grown, though of course it needs to grow far more; and there have been some significant victories as well as the incremental change of a shifting energy landscape.

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Rebecca Solnit: We Can’t Afford to be Climate Doomers

Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian on the climate crisis:

Many things that were once true โ€” that we didn’t have adequate solutions, that the general public wasn’t aware or engaged โ€” no longer are. Outdated information is misinformation, and the climate situation has changed a lot in recent years. The physical condition of the planet โ€” as this summer’s unprecedented extreme heat and flooding and Canada’s and Greece’s colossal fires demonstrate โ€” has continued to get worse; the solutions have continued to get better; the public is far more engaged; the climate movement has grown, though of course it needs to grow far more; and there have been some significant victories as well as the incremental change of a shifting energy landscape.

I don’t think of myself as a climate doomer, but I certainly feel less hopeful about the situation than Solnit does. She asserts that the main obstacles to meaningful action on the climate crisis in the West are politics and capitalism, which is supposed to make readers feel hopeful. But that’s the part that often fills me with despair. The unpopular extremist party that controls more than half of the political apparatus in the country with the biggest responsibility to fix the planet is not only not interested in doing so, they are actively working against it. And they’ve built up such a wall against public accountability that I don’t know if protest (which they will make illegal if they can) or even voting (which they’ve fought to make more difficult) are meaningful levers with which to try and change the situation.

Ok, maybe I am a climate doomer. But this piece by Solnit is good medicine for folks in despair about the climate. And I’m putting Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility (edited by Solnit and climate activist Thelma Young Lutunatabua) on my reading list as well. (via @marcprecipice)


Ten Ways to Confront the Climate Crisis Without Losing Hope

If we’re going to address the climate crisis, we need to fight despair and keep hope alive. Rebecca Solnit wrote a piece for The Guardian about 10 ways we can guard against our feelings of dread and fear.

2. Pay attention to what’s already happening

Another oft-heard complaint is “nobody is doing anything about this”. But this is said by people who are not looking at what so many others are doing so passionately and often effectively. The climate movement has grown in power, sophistication and inclusiveness, and has won many battles. I have been around long enough to remember when the movement against what was then called “global warming” was small and mild-mannered, preaching the gospel of Priuses and compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and mostly being ignored.

One of the victories of climate activism โ€” and consequences of dire climate events โ€” is that a lot more people are concerned about climate than they were even a few years years ago, from ordinary citizens to powerful politicians. The climate movement โ€” which is really thousands of movements with thousands of campaigns around the world - has had enormous impact.

See also We Have the Tools to Fix the Climate. We Just Need to Use Them. (via life is so beautiful)


This Is Who We Are

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding โ€” the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery โ€” the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people โ€” as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups โ€” America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.


Rebecca Solnit: We Don’t Need to Meet Nazis Halfway

Writing for Lithub, Rebecca Solnit on On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naive version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?

Reading this, I was reminded of the paradox of tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

And also, I can’t remember where I heard this recently, but it’s perhaps worth noting that in game theory (I know, I know), when you’re dealing with an iterated prisoner’s dilemma situation (where two competitors are engaged in repeated confrontation), one of the the best strategies is called generous tit-for-tat. Playing a generous tit-for-tat strategy means cooperating on the first move and then mirroring whatever the other player did on their previous move โ€” but, crucially, occasionally cooperating after an attack as a opening to potential future collaboration. So, if the other party cooperates, so do you. And if the other party attacks, attack back…but not every time. Attempting to collaborate in the face of repeated attack leaves the door open to reestablish a virtuous cooperation cycle. The real world of national politics is not quite so simple, but it seems like a shift in strategy for progressives might be in order. (via christopher jobson)


People Behave More Cooperatively During Disasters

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a few weeks now, so I was glad to find this short but meaty Twitter thread by Dan Gardner about how people react in a crisis: they get more cooperative, not less.

Please remember: The idea that when disaster strikes people panic and social order collapses is very popular. It is also a myth. A huge research literature shows disaster makes people *more* pro-social. They cooperate. They support each other. They’re better than ever.

But the myth matters because it can lead people to take counterproductive actions and adopt policies. The simple truth is we are a fantastically social species and threats only fuel our instinct to pro-social behaviour.

Incidentally, this point is made, and is forgotten, after every disaster. Remember 9/11? Everyone was astonished that snarling, greedy, individualistic New Yorkers were suddenly behaving like selfless saints. No need for surprise. That’s humanity. That’s how we roll.

A reader suggested I check out Rebecca Solnit’s writing on the topic, and indeed she wrote an entire book in 2010 about this: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Solnit recently spoke to CBC Radio about her research.

I had learned by reading the oral histories of the 1906 earthquake, and by reading the wonderful disaster sociologists in a field that begins in part with Samuel Prince, looking at the Halifax Explosion in 1917 … that actually in disasters, most people are altruistic, brave, communitarian, generous and deeply creative in rescuing each other, creating the conditions for success of survival and often creating these little disaster utopias where everyone feels equal. Everyone feels like a participant.

It’s like a reset, when you turn the machine on and off and on again, that our basic default setting is generous and communitarian and altruistic. But what’s shocking is the incredible joy people often seem to have, when they describe that sense of purpose, connection, community agency they found. It speaks to how deeply we desire something we mostly don’t have in everyday life. That’s a kind of social, public love and power, above and beyond the private life.

I’ve put this 2016 episode of On Being with Solnit on my to-listen list.

The amazing thing about the 1989 earthquake โ€” it was an earthquake as big as the kind that killed thousands of people in places like Turkey and Mexico City, and things like that. But partly, because we have good infrastructure, about 50 people died, a number of people lost their homes, everybody was shaken up. But what was so interesting for me was that people seemed to kind of love what was going on.

That same year in the aftermath of the election, she wrote an essay called How to Survive a Disaster.

I landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, shortly after a big hurricane tore up the city in October of 2003. The man in charge of taking me around told me about the hurricane-not the winds at more than a hundred miles an hour that tore up trees, roofs, telephone poles, not the seas that rose nearly ten feet, but the neighbors. He spoke of the few days when everything was disrupted and lit up with happiness as he did so. In his neighborhood all the people had come out of their houses to speak with each other, aid each other, to improvise a community kitchen, make sure the elders were okay, and spend time together, no longer strangers. “Everybody woke up the next morning and everything was different,” he mused. “There was no electricity, all the stores were closed, no one had access to media. The consequence was that everyone poured out into the street to bear witness. Not quite a street party, but everyone out at once-it was a sense of happiness to see everybody even though we didn’t know each other.” His joy struck me powerfully.

More reading material on this, via Gardner: Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment, Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies, There Goes Hurricane Florence; Here Come the Disaster Myths, and 5 Most Common (and Most Dangerous) Disaster Myths.

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Noticing, the kottke.org newsletter. You can subscribe here.


The coup has already happened

I’ve been thinking about Trump’s presidency in terms of a coup to come, but Rebecca Solnit makes a compelling case for that event already being in our rear view mirror.

A lot of people are waiting for something dramatic to happen, some line to be crossed, an epic event like the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller III that will allow them to say that now we have had a coup and now we are ready to do something about it.

We already had the coup.

It happened on November 8, 2016, when an unqualified candidate won a minority victory in a corrupted election thanks in part to foreign intervention. Any time is the right time to pour into the streets and demand that it all grinds to a halt and the country change direction. The evidence that the candidate and his goons were aided by and enthusiastically collaborating with a foreign power was pretty clear before that election, and at this point, they are so entangled there isn’t really a reason to regard the born-again alt-right Republican Party and the Putin Regime as separate entities.

Update: A site called No Package Deals argues that the coup took place earlier than the 2016 election and began with the obstruction by Senate Republicans in not seating any judges, including Scalia’s replacement to the Supreme Court.

In February of 2016, after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Mitch McConnell announced that the President no longer had the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, period. For some years now the President has not had the power to appoint judges, but nobody much noticed because it wasn’t the Supreme Court. The Republicans just said, Nope. Not seating your judges. End of discussion.

When McConnell said, Nope, not seating your Supreme Court justice either, we’ve already told you we’re not seating your judges, most people noticed. President Obama nominated someone anyway. McConnell stood firm: Mr. President, we have stripped that power from you. You are not going to seat any judges. Nobody did anything. The coup stood.

There’s also this little tidbit concerning Iran:

On March 9th of that same year 47 Republican members of the Senate wrote a letter denying in plain terms the President’s power to negotiate with a specific foreign power. They sent their letter to the government of Iran. Paraphrased they said, Don’t make any deals with our President, because we’ll weasel out of them as soon as he’s not looking. Iran took a chance and made the deal with the President. We will see how it comes out.

Well, it turned out pretty much like No Package Deals expected. (via @heatherhollick)


City of Women NYC subway map

”City

From the New Yorker, Rebecca Solnit on how the world’s places are mostly named after men.

A horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments. For example, at Fifty-ninth and Grand Army Plaza, right by the Pulitzer Fountain (for the newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer), is a pair of golden figures: General William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback and a woman leading him, who appears to be Victory and also a nameless no one in par-ticular. She is someone else’s victory.

The biggest statue in the city is a woman, who welcomes everyone and is no one: the Statue of Liberty, with that poem by Emma Lazarus at her feet, the one that few remember calls her “Mother of Exiles.” Statues of women are not uncommon, but they’re allegories and nobodies, mothers and muses and props but not Presidents.

For her book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, Solnit and her co-author Joshua Jelly-Schapiro commissioned Molly Roy to make a subway map of NYC that uses only the names of the city’s prominent women for the station names.

It’s a map that reflects the remarkable history of charismatic women who have shaped New York City from the beginning, such as the seventeenth-century Quaker preacher Hannah Feake Bowne, who is routinely written out of history โ€” even the home in Flushing where she held meetings is often called the John Bowne house. Three of the four female Supreme Court justices have come from the city, and quite a bit of the history of American feminism has unfolded here, from Victoria Woodhull to Shirley Chisholm to the Guerrilla Girls.


Dear Donald Trump, you should visit your hometown someday

In a short essay from Literary Hub titled New York is a Book Conservatives Should Read, Rebecca Solnit writes an open letter to Donald Trump urging him to take some lessons from the city in which he lives. Solnit argues that Trump’s wealth has insulated him from experiencing one of the true pleasures of American cities like New York: energetic and meaningful diversity.

You treat Muslims like dangerous outsiders but you seem ignorant of the fact that the town you claim to live in has about 285 mosques, and somewhere between 400,00 and 800,000 Muslims, according to New York’s wonderful religious scholar Tony Carnes. That means one out of ten or one out of twenty New Yorkers are practitioners of the Islamic faith. A handful of Muslims, including the Orlando mass murderer, who was born in Queens, have done bad things, but when you recognize how many Muslims there are, you can stop demonizing millions for the acts of a few.

NYC is only one-third white and is home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews and millions of blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

Speaking of African-Americans: have you ever been to Harlem or the Bronx? You keep talking about black people like you’ve never met any or visited any black neighborhoods. Seriously, during that last debate you said, “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs. I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she’s done is talk to the African-Americans and to the Latinos.” Dude, seriously? Did you get this sense of things from watching TV-in 1975?

Solnit wrote the piece after compiling her most recent book, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts โ€” from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists โ€” amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, it explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey. We are invited to travel through Manhattan’s playgrounds, from polyglot Queens to many-faceted Brooklyn, and from the resilient Bronx to the mystical kung fu hip-hop mecca of Staten Island.

This NY Times piece on the political inclinations of rural areas vs cities is an interesting companion to Solnit’s letter.

“There is something really kind of strange and interesting about the connection between peoples’ preferences โ€” what they view as the good life, where they want to live โ€” and their partisanship,” said Jonathan Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford. His precinct-level maps of presidential election results show deep blue in the densest, central parts of metropolitan areas, where you’d find the Main Streets, city halls, row homes and apartment buildings. The farther you travel from there, the redder the precincts become. And this is true whether you look around New York City or Terre Haute, Ind.


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