Good morning, Quartz readers.
This week, US president Donald Trump warned of a looming clash of civilizations. The Western world faces existential threats, and may not have the “will to survive,” he told an audience in Warsaw.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, leaders from the European Union and Japanhaggled over cheese (paywall). They also signed the outline of a major free-trade deal: Tariffs will be slashed for parmesan in Japan and Toyotas in Europe.
Same day, radically different visions for the future world order.
The key players in these dramas have since decamped to Hamburg for the G20 summit, a showcase of “multilateralism versus multipolarity.” Consensus about anything, not least the merits of trade, will be elusive.
The Europeans and Japanese are fresh from signing an agreement that covers a third of the global economy, creating a free-trade area that rivals NAFTA in size. Canada inked a similar deal with the EU not long ago. Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and France’s Emmanuel Macron continue to extol the value of international cooperation—synchronized global growth, propelled byunexpectedly perky trade, helps them make their case.
For now. Trump scotched trade talks with a group of Asian countries early in his term, and isn’t too keen on NAFTA, either. He’s now threatening tariffs on steel imports, which would spark retaliation by trading partners. Still, the essence of his “America First” policies are cheered by fellow populists, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (among others), who are emboldened to promote their own varieties of muscular, identity-based nationalism.
At the moment, neither approach is assured the upper hand. Trump’s tariffs could end up hurting workers at home, and antagonize key allies like China, whose help he seeks to rein in North Korea. Macron’s zeal for reform is sure to meet stiff resistance, with critics keen to pounce if the young leader’s style isn’t backed by substance. Today’s upside-down geopolitical environment also creates unusual, unsteady alliances: One of the American administration’s ideological allies routinely hacks and humiliates it, while free traders in Europe and elsewhere keenly court communists in Beijing (paywall).
Is there a renewed vigor in world trade? Is globalization going in reverse? Yes, on both counts. —Jason Karaian
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
An AI never forgets. The latest neuroscience suggests that the human brain scraps mundane memories in order to more rapidly access and learn from the stuff that matters. As Katherine Foley explains, one of the problems with algorithms designed to mimic human intelligence is that they remember everything—and have a harder time learning because of it.
Talk to your kids about race. Many well-meaning parents assume that by avoiding the topic of race, their children will grow up not “seeing” it. But psychological studies have shown that’s not true: Even small children form ideas about race, often by absorbing all the wrong messages from their environment. Lila MacLellan spoke to an educator about the best way to start the conversation with kids.
The future of work was always scary. From Elon Musk to Bill Gates, today’s business leaders are openly warning the public about the potential for automation and AI to put people out of work. But as Sarah Kessler explains, humanity has a long history of panicking about how technological advances—from sewing machines to locomotives—will affect jobs. Some roles have been rendered obsolete, but work itself has survived. 🤞 history repeats itself.
The American story behind China’s national anthem. “March of the Volunteers” has been the score of a rousing left-wing film, was sung by Paul Robeson in Harlem, and made a cameo in US war propaganda. Since 1982, it has also been China’s national anthem—and the government is now cracking down on how it gets sung. David Bandurski unpacks this song’s remarkable 50-year history.
Beauty is so last season. In couture at least, ugliness is having a moment. Vetements is pushing out gangly, oversized garments; Van Noten is mixing drab plaids and chintzy florals. Marc Bain takes a deeper look at this development, and examines our longstanding attraction to (or fascination with) ugliness and bad taste.
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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Hidden figures in algorithms. Much has been made of search algorithms’ racist biases, but they also contain many other hidden asymmetries. The fact that Facebook doesn’t account for “Krissy” in searches for “Chrissy,” for example, created a decade-long rift between Meredith Talusan and her sister. In an essay for Wired, Talusan argues that our reliance on opaque and sometimes blunt algorithms makes us forget to look for what’s not being shown to us.
Beyond Borat. “The most decorated athlete in all of Kazakhstan is a five-year-old Mongolian horse named Lazer.” Thus begins Will Boast’s sweeping story in The Virginia Quarterly Review about Kazakhstan’s quest to make peace with its history, while laying the foundation of a new Kazakh cultural identity. Part of that identity? Kokpar, an ancient nomadic game that roughly translates to “goat grabbing.”
Connecticut problems. US conservatives look at Connecticut’s underfunded pensions, $2 billion deficit, and bankrupt capital, and see the consequences of high taxes. Liberals see a poster child for the perils of income inequality. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that they’re both wrong, or at least only partially right. The richest US state, he writes, is actually a poster child for the struggle of the American city.
The French marketing myth. The chic French woman is everywhere: in our fashion, our makeup, our love of rosé, and our taste for baguettes. In other words, consumers spend a lot money trying to be more like a stereotype. In Racked, Eliza Brooke exploresone of our oldest lifestyle tropes—living life like a French girl—and the massive amount of industry it inspires.
What will football look like in the future? Jon Bois at SBNation has a lot of ideas, and they are not what you think. His new experimental fiction is a dark and deeply funny take on how humans who have conquered death but failed to save the planet are occupying themselves in the year 17776. The internet was made for stuff like this.
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