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Truth is Powerful

Where Vibes Come From

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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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