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Truth is Powerful

Where Vibes Come From


The same commentators who use vibes today may have reached for charisma. But while charisma was admiring and grand, vibes is noncommittal and irreverent. Getty; The Atlantic Vibes has become a ubiquitous word in the past half decade, one many people now reach for when describing the distinct emotion given off by a place, or a thing. It is the prevailing shorthand for a cultural atmosphere, mood, and zeitgeist.

Vibe talk has also entered politics. In this magazine in 2021, Derek Thompson invited readers to think of politics as a “ vibes war .” This spring, again in these pages, David A. Graham argued that John Fetterman won the Democratic Senate primary for Pennsylvania less on policy than “ on vibes .” And Rolling Stone pronounced that Fetterman was “neither centrist nor a progressive. He’s a vibe.”

To the political commentator Will Stancil , “‘vibes’ is the idea that politics is rooted in and governed by mass psychology, which makes political behavior intrinsically difficult (and sometimes impossible) to model as a series of quantifiable inputs and predictable outputs, the approach favored by econometrically-inclined disciplines.”

In place of data, vibe-talk promises instead to capture deeper emotional currents. What interests me about this form […]

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