What Sincerity Looks Like

a string of references to Swift’s various public beefs — with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, and so on. If Donald Trump or his political enemies made a video about their Twitter wars, it would look like this.

The crucial lyric is “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” The world is full of snakes. The only way to survive is through combat. (“I got smarter. I got harder in the nick of time.”)

This is a song for a society without social trust. Everybody is vying for fame and dominance. Swift was a former innocent who was perpetually being turned into a victim, but she’s learned her lesson. The only way not to be a victim is to be venomous. “Look what you made me do!” she barks over and over.

.. A person has a soul, which is what Chance is worrying about. A brand has a reputation, which is the title of Swift’s next album. A person has private dignity. A brand is a creation for an audience. “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,” is how Swift puts it.

.. The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting againstthe society you find so vicious and corrupt.

.. Back in the 1950s, sincerity seemed treacly and boring, and authenticity, in the form of, say, Johnny Cash, seemed daring and new. But now rebellious authenticity is the familiar corporate success formula, and sincerity, like Chance the Rapper’s, is practically revolutionary.

Good-golly Gorsuch may turn out to be a rascal on the bench

Gorsuch played a folksy sycophant straight out of the 1950s.

No fewer than eight times he punctuated his testimony with “Leave It to Beaver” exclamations of “goodness” — “goodness, no!” “oh, my goodness!”

.. It’s a good bet that Gorsuch, once he has charmed the grown-ups and secured confirmation, will, like Haskell, reveal himself to be a rascal and cause all manner of mischief on the court with abortion and gun rights, money in politics and presidential power.

.. Leahy noted that Feinstein told him not to let Gorsuch’s flattery “go to your head, Pat.”

“Oh, he should!” Gorsuch insisted.

And when Leahy asked Gorsuch to “trust me” on a historical point, Gorsuch gushed: “I trust you, entirely.”

.. The most Democrats can hope for from Gorsuch is that he’ll stand up to Trump when he exceeds his constitutional powers.

.. Was he sincere in saying that he was a lowly “speechwriter” or “scribe” and not the brains behind a controversial memo he authored?

Was he sincere when he said “we were all surprised” to find his name on Trump’s shortlist?

.. People ordinarily don’t talk like this: “I have a loving wife, a beautiful home and children, a great job with wonderful colleagues. I’m a happy person.”

Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career. Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is “the choice to let our true selves be seen.”

.. But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.

.. “Deceit makes our world go round,” he concluded. “Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.”

.. High self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations. And while that would seem to reward self-promoting frauds, these high self-monitors spend more time finding out what others need and helping them.

.. sincerity. Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.

.. younger generations tend to be less concerned about social approval. Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles.

.. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.

How the Best Commencement Speech of All Time Was Bad for Literature

if not exactly a novelty book pedaled at $15 a pop (250 words per dollar).

.. This is definitely tedious, and Wallace’s triumph in This is Water is to let us know that he knows it’s tedious—that this “deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories,” as he says in the next sentence, is the “standard requirement of US commencement speeches.”

.. This is Water is the best commencement speech of all time not because it has transcended the formula, flattery, and platitudes that a graduation speech trades in, but precisely because it has mastered them. Wallace does not conceal this.

.. Tell your audiences that they’re too smart to want a certain thing and give it to them anyway. Remind everyone that they’re too hip for corny dad sermonizing and then double down on the corny dad sermonizing. This is a great way to write a commencement speech—not by avoiding platitudes, but by drawing an enchanted circle around yourself where the things we thought were platitudes can be revealed as dazzling truths.

.. that to be sincere is to be banal; and that banality is truth.

.. In 2005, David Foster Wallace stood at a lectern at an elite liberal arts college and explained that the “real value of a real education has nothing to do with knowledge” and everything to do with “simple awareness.” In 2016, the real value of my education is rapidly accumulating interest that no amount of simple awareness is likely to likely to pay off

.. Praising a person for their sincerity too often means praising a person for having feelings, and feelings, for some reason, seem to count less when women have them. It’s hard not to notice that the New Sincerity authors—Franzen, Wallace, Safran Foer—are men; everyone has noticed that David Foster Wallace die-hards are disproportionately men

.. That sincerity has always enfolded an impotent politics. In the speech’s most memorable passage, one exercises their “choice of what not to think” in the supermarket by choosing, despite the tedium and frustration of “adult existence,” to think patient, hospitable thoughts about the other customers:

.. The nice thoughts that we think about people are worth nothing to anyone unless they are meaningfully voiced in the public sphere, unless they’re given an active civic expression. But in Wallace’s vision, one’s obligation to other people begins and ends in the privacy of one’s own mind.

.. The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels,

.. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different.

.. Wallace’s idea of a literary rebel risks nothing except ridicule, another way of saying a rebel who risks nothing at all.

.. There is, moreover, a blind arrogance in the belief that what you primarily owe the world is your sincerity: the gift of your outspoken, unmediated self, your willingness to be the most you that you can be.

.. It’s a belief in which simply existing becomes an act of bravery—which in a private, harrowing way, it was for Wallace. We know that now. But the truth remains that for most people like him—white, male, preternaturally talented—being in the world is not a matter of moral courage. To be male, gifted and white is to be as safe on Earth as any mortal can expect to be, to live in the ambivalent knowledge that the greatest violence you’re likely to encounter is the violence that you do to yourself.

.. Irony has nearly died this election cycle, with Donald Trump turning the sincerity fetish into orange-haired flesh, disabling irony by embodying satire. He has made sexism, racism, and Mussolini quotations brave simply by making them sincere. Donald Trump speaks truth to power—“power”  in this case being women, immigrants, and “the establishment” ..

.. But I don’t know what literature is about. I’m not sure that it’s about what it feels like to be a human being. I’m not sure that it makes us kinder, more empathetic, more humane.