This week my staff pick is not only a book, it’s a book that’s not even about punk! Yes, I spend virtually all of my time listening to and thinking about punk, but I try to squeeze in some time here and there for other pursuits. If I remember correctly, I heard the author Andrew Marantz on Marc Maron’s podcast and added Antisocial to the list of books I wanted to read. I’m not sure what prompted me to buy this rather than any of the dozens (maybe even hundreds?) of books on that list, but I’m glad I did.
Anti-Social chronicles the rise (and sort of fall) of the alt-right, a process that tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit enabled through their utopian belief in the unequivocal good of a technologically connected world. I don’t pay much mind to online extremism, but part of what interested me about this book was that the alt-right is a subculture not unlike the one I spend so much time taking part in. While I’d like to think my subculture is more enlightened, a lot of the same stuff goes on, particularly since both subcultures are now mediated through the same technology. It’s frightening to see how malleable people are, and how quickly they can put aside their deeply held beliefs when their definitions of what is normal or acceptable shift.
Beyond the moral, political, and social lessons, Anti-Social is a great read, as Marantz focuses on a few key characters. Some of them are leaders in the movement, and some are followers, but taken together they provide a rich portrait. Further, Marantz is a dedicated enough journalist that he doesn’t portray these people as cartoon villains, but also discerning enough to say when something is fucked up. It’s so hard to find journalism that feels like truth these days, but Anti-Social feels like truth. Further, it helps me to understand how and why so much misinformation spreads, which is a useful thing to understand as some of these same people are using the same techniques to hijack the public discourse around COVID-19.