Taylor Lorenz is distraught. Or, more precisely, she’s “languishing.”
Why is a reporter for the most prestigious newspaper in the world, whose beat consists of watching micro-videos of synchronized gamboling, so depressed? A full year of pandemic life, for starters. Nobody can be faulted for feeling a bit of Weltschmerz after the calendar-length COVID cope. But Lorenz’s lachrymose is more existential: “Personally I don’t think languishing captures the deep hopelessness, despair, and burnout living in this world leaves u (sic) with, wondering how everyone will cope w/ this collective suffering in years to come.”
Hoo boy, I don’t normally recommend psychotropes, but pop an L-Dopa, girl! Or uncork a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, at the very least.
It’s true that the pandemic, and reactive lockdowns, caused a great deal of emotional trauma, especially to certain demographics. Blacks were hit particularly hard by the virus; the adipose-challenged were susceptible to its fatal symptoms; children’s social development was stunted; as for the elderly, in certain cerulean states they were given death sentences as a reward for lives until-then-long-lived.
To which of these victimized cohorts does Lorenz belong? None. She’s young(ish), a woman, and her occupation is entirely digitized. In theory, she could’ve waited out the pandemic in the confined comforts of her Fort Greene one bedroom. Instead she opted to up-sticks to LA, a luxury many New Yorkers resent.
So why the lugubrious tone? The piece Lorenz cites to affirm her “languishing” defines the term as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness.” The author, Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, goes further: “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”
Or a foggy iPhone screen, as may be the case with Mme. Lorenz.
Now, I may not have a piece of parchment paper bestowing me with a psychology doctorate. Nor do I hold forth in a brightly lit lecture hall for substantial pay and pension at a fancy Ivy League university. But I’m going to hazard a guess as to why Lorenz, along with her blue-checked peers, are so dang saturnine about life. If I’m overstepping my bounds, feel free to lock me up in the intellectual poky for lack of authoritative credentials. I’d like to see you try to muscle me, anyway.
For a proper diagnosis of Lorenz’s languishing, I won’t invoke chemical imbalances or pharma-jargon acronyms like SSRI or mental illnesses of which I’m unaware. Those are all mere Band-Aids for suffering. I won’t go all God on the poor reader either, with entreaties to shore up an empty life with purpose, or, better yet, faith. Besides, I’m too worried our Twitterati betters would take such advice in a more demoniac direction, and take up with LaVey.
What I will suggest is an affliction ever ancient, ever new. Lorenz’s profession of the press is not the stuff of Joe-Friday empiricism. The American media was never nonpartisan; nor is any newshound without personal bias. But media outlets are under increasing financial strain, and have to contend with attenuated attention spans.
The pressure to be commercially viable has created an incentive to tabloidize the news, constructing and finessing—or even outright faking—narratives that tickle a reader’s biases.
Lorenz’s reputation as a social-media tattle has inhibited her reporting, enticing her to misreport on easy targets she deems as fit for flak. She recently accused mega-investor Marc Andreessen of uttering an epithet offensive to the mentally ill (the quondam coldly medical descriptor “retarded”) during a closed-door Clubhouse chat. The charge was inaccurate. But Lorenz was undeterred and unrepentant. She belayed her erroneous account into a snively sympathy drive over harassment she experiences—where else?—on the internet. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the harassment and smear campaign I’ve had to endure over the past year has destroyed my life,” she tweeted, awkwardly double-meaning the self-pity as a recognition of International Women’s Day.
How her life was ruined by online meanies is unclear. Lorenz is gainfully employed; she can shut off social media anytime she wants, “sticky” screen effect notwithstanding. But her cultivated online persona demands a contrived victim status. It’s in this production—the acting, the affectation, the curated trappings of an innocent girl just trying to make it—that Lorenz has to feel a sharp divergence with her own, actually lived life.
Here’s where ancient philosophy kicks in the door and shouts, “This is how you’ve been living all wrong!” The key lies in falsehood. In a dialogue in Plato’s Republic, Socrates asserts that any “true lover of knowledge must, from childhood up, be most of all a striver after truth in every form.” But worldly concerns can distract from questing for candor in all things. Socrates continues: “we surely are aware that when in a man the desires incline strongly to any one thing, they are weakened for other things.” By staying on the straight and narrow towards the capital-t Truth, a person will be indifferent to petty concerns, and thus “true and not a sham.”
Socrates was referring to the philosopher’s necessary disposition towards probity. But the standard can apply equally well to journalism, which, by the most generous definition, seeks to inform with facts. But too many reporters, in chasing the dragon of viral clicks, are “weakened for other things,” the main thing being their profession. Or, more simply, continuing to pull down a paycheck.
Fabulization for a living inevitably corrupts the self, and acts as a treason to others. As Montaingne wrote, “Since mutual understanding is brought about solely by way of the word, he who falsifies it betrays human society.” Is it any surprise Lorenz suffers from an ongoing attack of the dismals?
Lest you think I’m singling out a lowly TikTok documenter, Lorenz is not sui generis in her trade. Media malpractice is on the rise, most visibly within the past few weeks. From NBC editing out part of a 911 call implicating a knife-swashing teenager who was killed by police, to 60 Minutes deceptively cutting an answer from Governor Ron DeSantis on a favorable contract, the agenda-hustling has rarely seemed more naked. Lorenz reports in this tainted environment, and she may not readily recognize how pushing impartiality-immune accounts distorts her own perception. The Marxist critic Leszek Kolakowski wrote of the corrupting effect lies have on their spreaders: “By repeating the same absurdities time and again, they themselves began to believe or half-believe them. The vast and profound corruption of the language eventually produced people who were incapable of perceiving their own mendacity.”
Truth avoidance isn’t healthy. It derealizes the disbeliever, severing authentic social connection. This disembodiment puts the inveterate propagandist at a remove from the rest of society, who, however imperfectly, prefer truth to falsity.
The languishing that’s dragging Lorenz down is of her own creation. No pill, or self help course, or TED Talk, will replace the void left by cutting herself off from the Warheit. If she wants to pull herself up from her depressive hole, she need only do what comes naturally to children: tell the truth. Getting off Twitter wouldn’t hurt either.
Not bad for someone without a psychology degree, eh? Teleology is no dead letter.