This site is the culmination of a number of months of hard work and thought. So, before I get into anything further, I would like to thank you for reading it. Everyone here works hard to write the best articles and essays possible, all in the hopes of contributing to a better, more substantive public discourse. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be at the head of a great staff of writers and thinkers, and I would like to take the opportunity that my position affords me to talk a little bit about why exactly we started the site. Vision is a common theme for us. We feel that it is lacking in almost all facets of contemporary life, and we think it is the most crucial element in the construction of a better future. In keeping with that, here is a brief discussion of our vision for the site.
It feels a little silly to say that we find ourselves in the midst of a unique historical moment. I do not think any generation has ever looked at the world around them and said to themselves that they are in the middle of the expected, that everything is as it should be. Even in the times of greatest cultural, social, and economic stability, we cannot help but think about the opportunities upon which we fail to act, about the world we want and the distance between it and the world in which we live. Nevertheless, I still feel the need to say it: we find ourselves living in an unusual time, especially as it pertains to our young people and our students.
For young people today, the world is a place without space. Meaningful employment is scarce, and inaccessible to many even where it is available. The skills of our young workers do not fulfill the needs of the market; they leave us only under-qualified and overqualified laborers—nothing else. And for this lack of workable skills, our students find themselves saddled with debt, without hope of finding the credit with which to build a life or a business or a set of meaningful skills. In short, education is proving itself unworthy of its cost, and ineffective in producing good workers or good citizens, which, mistakenly, we have been taught are one and the same.
Our political structures, meanwhile, do not take into account our voices, or the voices of many others, for that matter (though that is perhaps the subject of another essay). They are static, gridlocked, unconcerned with our concerns not just as a generation, but as a nation at large. Now, we are left with a generation of young people who feel as though they have spent their lives being sold something—a life, a dream, a set of values, a set of goals– that no longer exists. We face a generation betrayed, that has little to no efficacy in the concrete spaces of society, that feels marginalized, that has been demeaned and belittled by those older them. The world and its institutions and processes and structures have rendered them nothing more than human capital– and poor capital at that– and have told them so explicitly and without reservation.
All the while, we find ourselves in the throes of the ever-changing effects of broad scale technological innovation, with perhaps no other technology creating as prevalent and palpable an effect as the Internet. Commerce, journalism, film, philanthropy, social interaction—all of these have been radically redefined by the Internet. The web has proven itself to be a tool of drastic, rapid change, and a successful one at that, in many regards. We can now spread information like never before; we can now educate those who never would have had the chance otherwise. We can give voices to those who, for too long, have not had them. It is, without question, the most important technology of the 21st century. The potential for the Internet to democratize, to build and synthesize new perspectives and sensibilities, to empower the poor and the weak, to improve government and industry is almost limitless, and its possibilities have left the world spinning still some decades after its advent.
I do not think any generation has ever looked at the world around them and said to themselves that they are in the middle of the expected, that everything is as it should be.
And yet, for all of the opportunities that the Internet affords us, we have yet to capitalize on even a fraction of what it has to offer to our intellectual vitality, our politics, our social organization, or our democratic society at large. We have used the Internet to do some really great things thus far. Nevertheless, the roles that we have defined for the Internet are also, in many ways, extremely limited. We have found that the Internet is an excellent tool for stopping action, that it is an excellent instrument of protest, and, somewhat relatedly, of public shaming. Outside of fundraising, however, it is a poor facilitator of positive action. The Internet has yet to get behind a defining policy or idea and push it into realization in the mainstream public. For all the articles that have been written about prison reform, or open primaries, or public elections, or budgetary solutions—how many have we actually advocated for in a meaningful way, in a space that extended beyond the cyber?
We have also found that the Internet allows us to document as nothing before ever really has. It allows us to consider our historical moment in a way that we had not prior to its advent—with immediacy, with extreme attention paid to the self, to the common people. It has showed us, really, that our young people want to engage with the world in a substantive way, that they want to exercise their wills and their selves upon it, that they want to be a meaningful part of meaningful history. In this regard, it has, in a sense, democratized historiography. The old adage that “the winners write the history books” has become less and less true, not only because we now have a greater number of voices recording our history, but because our history is being actively recorded as it is happening, not solely as present events, but as events that we already consider historical as they are happening, that we feel are significant beyond their sole value as immediate experiences.
Even in the face of all these good things, though, we must acknowledge the web’s shortcomings, and our own shortcomings in utilizing and responding to it. Our young people, in their inability to find space for themselves in the world outside of it, have found their agency, their stake in the world, in and on the Internet. This is, one would imagine, something we should be happy about. Who better to discover the ways in which the Internet can effect change than those who want it so desperately, but can achieve it through no other means? Well, if the answer to that question is in fact ourselves, we have not thus far succeeded. We have, to put it nicely, fallen short. We have certainly done some invaluable things—I cannot deny the good that we have done in using the web to our advantages. We must acknowledge, however, that our failures are wide, and deep. And they lie not just in our execution, but in our fundamental approach.
It is extraordinarily rare, now, to see writing projects—or projects of any kind, really—that we could call ambitious in scope.
We approach everything as though we must see it through the lens of a microscope, examining every little detail for its flaws, yet rarely seeing the bigger picture, the greater structural flaws and failures that we should be addressing in the first place. We seem content to think that being on the Internet is all we need to do, that if we go on a website or a blog or a social media site and highlight how problematic the representations of gender are on our favorite TV show, we will have done our part. Racism, it would seem, matters more to us in our media than in our lives. We would rather fight the war against a music video than the war on our most fundamental social inequities, or most deep-seated problems, and we do not even realize that that is our preference. We think we do good because we do not have the proper scope through which to view our own actions, to understand the true nature of organization and action and change. While it is important to fight the fights we have taken up thus far, we must not confuse them for our most important struggles.
Fundamentally, we lack vision. This is the age of the documentarian, of the individual on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, trying to take stock of history as it passes by them. No one, however, ever truly captures it, because we do not care really to understand history. We want only to understand our moment as it relates to ourselves, to us as individuals. While this is an invaluable addition to our processes of documentation and historical consideration, we cannot allow this new approach to usurp our old methods entirely. We need, at times, to take a step back, to evaluate the world from a distance, so that we can better understand not only where it is that we are, but where it is that we are going. Though we claim, now, that we as a public understand the need to historicize our contemporary problems, we are oddly reluctant to do so. We don’t want to extrapolate, to push the boundaries of our thinking to see how far flung the implications of our thinking truly are. In all fairness, this is partly because we lack the proper instrumentation to do so. Our main modes of communication and expression on the Internet are inextricably linked almost exclusively to self-expression. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram are designed to channel personal feelings and ideas and reactions. We pay attention only to ourselves partly because these media demand us to. We cannot, however, allow these platforms to limit us. We need perspective; we need true consideration; we need vision; we need effort.
In short, because our migration to virtual space is meant to compensate for our lack of concrete space, since it is meant to restore our lost agency, we have become content taking these paths of least resistance. We confuse this kind of progress, this kind of action, for something more meaningful than it actually is. And in seeing the world turn forever onwards without any kind of acknowledgement of our efforts, we find ourselves convinced, perhaps without realizing it, that we must accept the world on its own terms, that we must learn to game the system rather than transcend it, that we must learn to play by its rules than learn to redefine them entirely. We have been satiated enough to be docile, to avoid the hard work of real progress.
Still, it is not entirely our fault that we have yet to achieve all that we may on the Internet, and more importantly, in all of life’s facets. As I have said before, we lack the appropriate instruments to do so. Even in virtual space, we are missing the proper places to organize, to think, to speak. As we have all heard a million times by now, the Internet has turned publishing, journalism—print media at large, really—on its head. Content is moving online, but business models have not yet caught up to that migration. Sites, papers, firms, etc., as a result, are bleeding money. Their bottom line forces them to try and attract as many hits as possible in the hopes of garnering ad revenue—the only proven source of income on the Internet, save subscription fees, which only a few sites can charge anyway. Profit margins face further pressure, also, from the sheer amount of content that now exists on the Internet. Everyone can now stake their voice in a conversation; everyone now has access to information that only few had before. The attention and time of audience’s, as a result, has become divided. There are fewer clicks to be had, and by extension, less money to be had as well.
In the hopes of attracting more viewers, sites have opted for sensationalist tactics, for which we cannot blame them, as much as I may hate to say that. These sites know that people, for the most part, only want to hear or read what they already agree with, and without money they cannot hope to publish anything good at all. So they push their voices to the extremes in the hopes of attracting the most dedicated readers to their articles, often taking on tones of opposition in the hopes of strengthening their own voices, their own appearance of legitimacy with the audience. They make their articles shorter to satiate our allegedly shrinking attention spans, forsaking complex, nuanced, long form writing almost entirely, simplifying our discourses, and leaving our young people an ever-changing combination of uninformed, misinformed, and often times combative all in the process.
The democratizing forces of the Internet, too, are equally to blame for this trend. With the rise of blogging, we have seen the emergence of voices for perspectives long underrepresented in American society. As valuable as this has been for the democratic nature of our society, it has also, in some ways, been detrimental. Understandably so, these new voices are often radical. Not only were they often radical to start with, the experience of marginalization also often served as a radicalizing process as well. As a result, even our non-capitalistic instruments of communication—blogs, Tumblrs, non-profits, etc.—harm our public discourse in equal measure. They further flood the web with combative writing that makes enemies of those that disagree with them, that, inadvertently or not, discourages communication and understanding.
The effect we get is a sort of echo chamber. Everyone gravitates to the sites and blogs they already agree with. The lack of diversity on the sites isolates the audience from perspectives that challenge them. Eventually, we find ourselves with independent discourses that don’t communicate with one another, that speak in opposition to each other. We find that the only people speaking in our public discourse are radicals, that there is no one and nothing in the middle, that even when there is, those moderates write with the same sensationalism that we find in our more radical writing. And all of us suffer for it– our youth, our young people not yet of age to truly participate in democratic society, those too old to be fully entrenched in a culture that holds the Internet as one of its central pillars. We face, really, an existential threat to democracy, the basis of which is above all else communication. Without open discourses that are willing to engage with other one another, that do not seek to exclude the many voices that can contribute to them, we may lose the fundamental democratic nature of society.
Even in virtual space, we are missing the proper places to organize, to think, to speak.
Here at The Tally, we hope to do things differently. We do not seek to wipe out the other modes of thinking on the Internet. We firmly believe that there is a place for what our people both young and old have made thus far– in any society that claims to be democratic, we as a group must demand space for what already exists, even if it is radical, or vapid, or fluffy, or even anti-democratic. Rather than replace, this site simply seeks to complement, to try and provide content that will bridge that which the Internet already produces.
Every member of this staff is dedicated to writing balanced, fair pieces. Too many writers today speak to their audiences as if they know the answers to everything, as though their understanding of issues is so far beyond our own, that we readers could not possibly survive without their guiding hands. We, as a site, reject that. We do not necessarily blame those writers for falling into the intellectual traps that breed sanctimony and self-righteousness and pretentiousness and condescension, but we cannot accept the idea that anyone can approach the problems of contemporary life without self-doubt, without sympathy, without an eye for the perspectives and views of those that think differently than they do. We cannot promise perfection, but we will always do our best to explore the different sides of every topic, to avoid vilifying those that we disagree with, to contribute, in short, to a meaningful public discourse.
In creating a space for balanced, substantive writing, we hope, also, to provide a platform for writers who would not otherwise have a chance to be heard. There is so much talent going to waste now, solely because it does not have the proper avenues through which to manifest itself. We want this to be one of those avenues. The world needs real spokesmen. It needs, at the risk of sounding pretentious, a visible intelligentsia, a democratic one empowered by the equalizing properties of the Internet. There are a lot of voices that are still silent, and our society needs all of them, regardless of background or connection or affiliation. And it needs them in a way that lets them develop to the full extent of their capabilities. It needs them to be free to say what they must, and here we as a staff hope to give them that freedom.
Above all else, though, we want to create a new center for intellectual life on the Internet, one of what we hope will soon be many. We want to juxtapose perspectives and sensibilities and genres and forms and media in a way that they are not on the Internet today. We want to place these things in communication with one another and, in turn, synthesize new values, new modes of thinking, new understandings of the present and new visions of the future. We want to bring art and culture and politics back into the daily life of young people, back to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Democratic society does not exist solely at the ballot box, or in our wallets. Democracy demands to be present in all facets of our life—in our art, our culture, our social organization, our economic organization, our politics. If we as a “generation” want truly to foster this kind of society, we must first become good citizens, and this can happen only if we choose to engage with the world in new and meaningful ways, only if we choose to build our lives around education and art and culture and civics and a fundamental consideration for our collective society and the individuals that compose that society.
It is easy to feel tentative in the face of the future. Our problems are, arguably, more complex than they ever have been before. Our structures of power are, almost without question, more difficult to dismantle and manipulate. But we cannot let ourselves turn away from the hard work of citizenship. We all have an obligation to push ourselves, to consider the world and everything it has to offer and everything it lacks. The question should never be whether we can implement the change we want; our only question now is what we want that change to look like, and, perhaps, whether we are ready to do what it takes to make that change a reality. It is certainly, at the end of all this, an interesting historical moment in which we find ourselves. Above all else, though, we should consider it an exciting one. There is so much we can do if we decide that we are willing to do it. All we need are the right tools, and the will. I hope that you enjoy reading what we publish here, and welcome to the site.