Vol. 69 Editor’s Note: Insiders

The first issue in our newsletter model

The New Inquiry is new again. For seven years we’ve been delivering monthly PDF issues to subscribers’ inboxes: We began with Precarity and ended with Classics, and in between there were Cops, Dicks, and Posers, among others. As the landscape of digital media has changed, with digital-media conglomerates increasingly appealing to temperamental algorithms over loyal readers, we want to meet the needs of our subscribers who interact with TNI in a number of ways—less through our PDF and more through not simply online essays but also printed objects, rhetorical technology like Bail Bloc, and ways that have yet to be imagined. The Insiders issue is our first in the newsletter model and we’d love to hear how you like it. We are all very grateful for your support during this time of transition and experimentation. Your subscriptions will continue to help us commission, publish, edit, and pay writers for their border-pushing (and abolishing) work.

Cleaving the issue is a discussion among our editors—Maya Binyam, Lou Cornum, and Tiana Reid—surveying the current cultural crush on scammers. Who gets to be lionized as a scammer? Whose everyday scams are criminalized? How might a practice of scamming together make life easier for us all?

The heroes of the Summer of Scam were those who treated cash like liquid—they acquired it with a snap and siphoned it toward the fantasy of a new life, and in the end it went as quickly as it came. In their interview with Lauren Berlant, Charlie Markbreiter dismantles the myth of scammers who trade neither in money nor in status but in wealth’s forever companion: attention. According to the logic of alt-right edgelords, centrists, and conservative pundits alike, “the nonbinary person,” they write, “wants to be oppressed . . . because oppression gives them attention: magazine covers, op-eds, trending hashtags—all forms of currency in the attention economy.” The privileged, Berlant elaborates, demand that the less privileged not be humorless, which is partially why even their smallest claims, “such as not to be addressed by one’s state-sanctioned name and the pronoun conventionally attached to it,” have been called “too much.”

What follows the Summer of Scam? The autumnal winds of changing sentiments? November in New York City brought the first chills with the announcement Queens had been crowned with the curse of becoming Amazon’s new headquarters location. Taking us away from the scene of boardroom deals where city officials gift huge tax breaks to the already obscenely rich, Heike Geissler’s memoir Seasonal Associate dwells in the winter of discontent that is filling other people’s orders as an Amazon warehouse worker. The book, excerpted here, offers a look into the fleeting intimacy of a cold workplace. “You wonder whether infatuation is in the air here, whether everyone falls in love with a workmate after a few weeks with the company and if so, what that might reveal about your feelings,” writes Geissler.

Monica Mohapatra looks at how designers team up with city planners and officials to “build entirely carceral urban geographies under the cover of social-service provision.” While touting good design as a method for more humane and affordable mass incarceration, these plans do nothing to mitigate how those inside experience the same deprivations and denials that prison has always entailed.

Bearing witness to violence can give those complicit in its undertaking a way out of retribution. Emran Feroz asks whether those who are posed as whistleblowers should be valorized despite the murders and violence they facilitate prior to their whistleblowing. “Whistleblowers of war are both socially and monetarily rewarded with book deals, lucrative speaking engagements, and a seat on cable news as paid experts. We listen to those who caused the pain, and sometimes even death, far more than we ever listen to their victims,” writes Feroz.

In the 1997 film Cube, a group of six strangers find themselves in a death-rigged metal box of different rooms and chambers. Over the 90 minutes, a lot of violent things happen. It’s a brutal film and not very hopeful. But they never stop looking for a route to an outside.