Astra Taylor

  • Declaration of Independence

    I've spent the past few days unpacking my library. My books are finally on the shelves, though not in a particularly orderly fashion. For the past couple of years I’ve been uprooted, shooting and editing a film called What Is Democracy?, and I could carry only a few precious boxes of reading material with me. I lugged all the titles relevant to my project between countless hotel rooms and sublets in case I might need, or feel a random urge, to crack them.

    I began writing the film proposal in 2014. I like the openness of the question in the title, though I briefly considered calling it The

  • Relive Without Dead Time

    FIFTY YEARS AFTER the fact, do the events of May 1968 in France still matter? Today the poetic graffiti slogans scribbled near impromptu barricades in Paris’s Latin Quarter—-“All power to the imagination”; “Workers of all countries, enjoy!”—are considered quintessential expressions of generational defiance. But in our own surreal and unpredictable political moment, it can be tough to see what relevance faded memories of an ecstatic European youth revolt have to offer.

    Around the turn of the millennium, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, May 68 was alive to me in a way I suspect

  • Unfinished Business

    THE MORNING AFTER the election I met with Mickey Michaux Jr., a North Carolina Democratic state legislator in his mid-eighties who was recruited to politics by none other than Martin Luther King Jr. Michaux was surprisingly sanguine, the victory of Donald Trump a disappointment but not a complete shock. Having come of age in the South under Jim Crow, he has confronted worse.

    Michaux recommended King's Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), and said I'd find it prescient. He was right. The book is a searching assessment of the civil-rights movement, its victories and its weaknesses,

  • Unpopular Front

    Political theorist Wendy Brown opens her brilliant and incisive new book, Undoing the Demos, with a clarion call: Western democracy is imperiled. According to Brown, democracy has grown gaunt as a consequence of an ascendant political rationality that, like an ideological auto-immune disorder, has assaulted its very fiber and future.

    Superficially, of course, there is no shortage of democracy. By one estimate, eighty-one countries moved from authoritarianism to democracy between 1980 and 2002. And yet, everywhere we look, democracy is in crisis, with scholars warning that the United States

  • By Any Memes Necessary

    THE FIRST TIME I SAW Gabriella Coleman speak about the hacker group Anonymous I was befuddled. It must have been around 2009. Anonymous was already at least three years old, having materialized out of the bowels of the popular, and often excruciatingly obscene, online bulletin board 4chan as early as 2006, yet it was still known mostly for its antisocial pranks. One particularly troubling stunt was fresh on people’s minds: Some exceptionally reprobate Anons had boasted of uploading rapidly flashing images to an epilepsy support forum in order to trigger seizures in viewers. In her talk, Coleman

  • The Man Who Has Everything

    The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s reverential biography of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, isn’t a book you should feel obliged to read. It doesn’t bristle with character development, narrative arc, or unexpected lessons. To be sure, Stone, a tech correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, gamely plays up minor dramas and speed bumps that studded Amazon’s path: the stock price dipping and soaring; sagas of hiring and firing; battles over how to phrase direct-marketing e-mails or whether to offer free shipping. But we all know where that path is heading: world domination. Almost two decades after

  • A Small World After All

    At a recent conference on media reform, I found myself talking to a professional activist and technologist. He told me about some online images—customized for sharing on Facebook—that civilians in Syria had circulated to protest Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent in their country. The images were both powerful and deeply moving, he told me. “It’s like we are building a giant empathy machine,” he said, referring to the Internet. The effortless sharing of memes, he explained, was a crucial step toward a more peaceful world. In fact, he went so far as to insist that the invasion of

  • culture December 09, 2011

    Occupy Wall Street on Your Street

    As Occupy encampments across the country come under attack and are raided or threatened by local authorities, everyone is asking what’s going to happen now that protesters have been forcibly expelled from public space.

  • culture October 05, 2011

    Apocalypse Now: the Geopolitics of Climate Change

    I’m just guessing, but I bet one of the most irritating things about being an expert on climate change is people asking you where they should hunker down to weather the coming crisis. Where’s a good place to buy property given the current forecast? Somewhere that’s not too close to the coast, away from rising sea levels and tropical storms. A place that has fresh water and other natural resources in abundance, of course. And, better yet, somewhere that will get more pleasant as the thermometer cranks. New York City is looking iffy these days. Phoenix is out. Montreal perhaps? Lucky for me, I