Everything Bad Is Good for You

Steven Johnson argues that pop culture isn’t just good for us, it’s a cognitive workout for the brain.

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This slim manifesto addresses that whisper of guilt that arises whenever you feel like you should pick up a book but end up watching Desperate Housewives. Inspired by Sleeper, in which Woody Allen awakes in 2173 and discovers that hot fudge is now considered a health food, Steven Johnson argues that pop culture isn’t just good for us, it’s a cognitive workout for the brain. Movies, video games, and television, he says, are getting more sophisticated, and, in turn, are making us more intelligent.

In this formulation, the video game Grand Theft Auto does not represent the latest insult to Western civilization, but rather a chance to engage in “telescopic” thinking and to pleasure the “seeking” functions of our minds. This may sound like counterintuitive hocus-pocus, but Johnson is a careful thinker, and he cleverly uses neuroscience to buttress his analysis. Apparently, it’s halfway accurate to say that you’re addicted to The Sopranos.

Whether or not Everything Bad is correct, it is a brilliant speculation, the first volley in a spirited argument that the decline of reading may not mean the end of intellect. While Johnson is not an apologist for pop culture’s excesses, he’s a necessary counterbalance to those who are blind to its charms, and, perhaps, its virtues.

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Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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