There is a lot going on in the Common Sense orbit these days, but we’re trying not to flood your inbox with email.
So, below you’ll find our first ever digest featuring the three stories we published today. First, a piercing essay from novelist Kat Rosenfield on our obsession with Gabby Petito. Then, a very timely dispatch from Eli Lake on China’s latest efforts to erase Tiananmen Square from our collective memory — this time with the help of a Chicago-based law firm. And last but not least, a conversation just up on Honestly with Jaron Lanier — philosopher, technologist, virtual reality pioneer and, in many ways, the prophet of Silicon Valley. It addresses a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: How do we maintain our humanity in the age of the machine?
We hope you take the time to enjoy all of it.
And: help us from ever having to put up a paywall. If you haven’t yet ponied up . . .
Why We’re Obsessed With Gabby Petito
By Kat Rosenfield
Our nationwide obsession with Gabby Petito is not about missing white women, and it’s not about the cult of the influencer, either. It’s about how a life becomes a narrative. It's about how a narrative craves a conclusion. And it’s about how we, the engagement-driving audience, will always secretly yearn for the dark and delicious drama of an unhappy ending to the fairytale. The only thing more enticing than a beautifully curated Instagram feed is the satisfaction of knowing that it was all a facade, that the perfect-looking life you craved was not just unattainable but actually bullshit. After all, just look at what happened.
There’s a macabre joke to be made about how many influencers would die to reach the million-follower benchmark, but this is quite literally what happened with Petito. Of the 1.3 million people who now follow her account, fully 1.2 million of them didn't show up until she was already gone. All of them, all of us, gawking at her digital remains like rubberneckers slowing down to peer into the twisted wreckage of a crashed car, squinting to see if there’s any blood left behind.
China Takes a Page From the Taliban’s Playbook
By Eli Lake
The Chinese Communist Party — with the help of an international law firm headquartered in the United States — is erasing the history of the Chinese democracy movement and the countless students, writers, artists and underground activists who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
Today, the sculpture Pillar of Shame, a monument to the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre that rises more than 26 feet and features the bodies of 50 protesters mowed down by Chinese troops, is slated to be removed by the University of Hong Kong, where it is housed.
The university, which is state-run and, for all intents and purposes, an extension of Beijing, is represented by the Hong Kong office of Mayer Brown, headquartered in Chicago.
Most American firms that do business in China sell things like cars or iPhones or sneakers or movies to ordinary Chinese. By contrast, Mayer Brown is selling its services to the Chinese state.
The Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, who took three years to make Pillar of Shame, has been waging a one-man campaign to stop the authorities from destroying his artwork. “If you help the Chinese government in their crimes, and you say on your website you have American values, well, you have corrupted your morals,” Galschiøt said, referring to Mayer Brown.
Was the Internet a Terrible Mistake?
My conversation with Jaron Lanier, the prophet of Silicon Valley. Listen right here (or wherever you get your podcasts):