The socialism America needs

Clobbered from all sides by the pandemic, climate change and disruptions in virtually every industry by the rise of artificial intelligence, the capitalist dream is dying — and a new, mutant form of socialism is growing in its place. In the US, perhaps it’s no surprise that most Democrats have a better opinion of socialism than capitalism. Far more startling is the fact that they are not alone: the Republican party and the corporate establishment, which once paid lip service to competitive capitalism, are both starting to embrace the importance of massive deficit spending and state support. ...  Continue reading

Who’s entertained by sex scandals?

This month, in Lincoln, Nebraska, the state attorney general made a grim announcement: the office had verified 258 victims’ claims that they’d been abused by 57 separate Catholic Church officials — in cases going back decades. It verified, also, claims that the Church knew about these accusations, and have covered them up since.

But this announcement barely made the news outside the state. What was once so shocking has become mundane. An independent commission in France released a report that 200,000 minors have been abused by clergy over the last 70 years; the New York Times piece about it showed up in my social media feeds maybe twice, before disappearing back into the vast sea of suffering that is the daily news. ...  Continue reading

Why Rotterdam erupted

When hundreds of rioters piled into Rotterdam centre on Friday night, attacking police, throwing bricks, setting off fireworks and rampaging through the streets, it was no small irony that they left a police car burning outside the Erasmushuis. This cultural building represents one of Rotterdam’s most famous exports: the humanist and Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, known today as a beacon of tolerance and liberty.

But from the images of the violence that were soon shared across the world, there didn’t seem to be much of that famed Dutch moderation, openness and reasonableness on show. While the rioters left destruction in their wake, it later emerged that the police had directed live rounds of fire at rioters, leaving four people with gunshot wounds. As Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans — who initially likened the protests against the Netherlands’ latest coronavirus restrictions to a World War Two bombardment (before retracting the war analogy after facing a barrage of criticism) — said, there was a “bitter irony” to the location of such wanton violence. ...  Continue reading

Kyle Rittenhouse could still tear America apart

As a matter of justice, Kyle Rittenhouse deserved to be acquitted. Despite the jury taking three-and-a-half agonising days to deliberate, his case was relatively straightforward and none of the facts were seriously in dispute.

He went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, last August to protect property during a Black Lives Matter protest after widespread arson and vandalism the night before. He ended up shooting three men that night, killing two, in what he claimed were acts of self-defence. All of the shootings were captured on video, some from multiple angles. He tried to retreat from everyone he shot that night, resorting to deadly force only when he was cornered, physically attacked, or threatened with a gun. At no point did he continue shooting after ending the immediate threat. ...  Continue reading

Rationalists are wrong about telepathy

Steven Pinker likes to portray himself as an exemplar of science fighting against a rising tide of unreason. But in relation to phenomena that go against his own beliefs, he is remarkably irrational himself: he asserts that evidence is not required to assess the reality of phenomena he does not believe in, because they cannot possibly be true. How can a champion of rationality adopt such double standards?

In his new book Rationality, Pinker is adamantly opposed to telepathy and other kinds of extra-sensory perception (ESP). His position is that they do not happen because they cannot happen. He freely admits that he pre-judges the evidence by claiming that these purported phenomena are extremely improbable, assigning them an infinitesimal “prior probability”, in the language of Bayesian statistics. He acknowledges that “believing in something before you look at the evidence may seem like the epitome of irrationality”, but he justifies his refusal to look at the evidence by classifying these phenomena as “paranormal’, lumping them together with seemingly unrelated topics like homeopathy, astrology and miracles. ...  Continue reading

Is hate always a crime?

What gives the British police their power? The answer has always been us, the public. The first of the “general instructions” issued to recruits of the new Metropolitan Police service in 1829 was “to prevent crime and disorder.” But the second was “to recognise always that the power of police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect”.

That’s why the British police model is often referred to as one of “policing by consent”. The service is run with the blessing and co-operation of the public, rather than as an arm of the state. We know that the police regularly walk into situations which most of us would instinctively avoid, often showing great courage in difficult situations. A YouGov poll in October suggested that the police in general are positively viewed by the public, with 65% saying they trust them and 31% saying they don’t. But recent scandals have taken a toll on the specific reputation of one force in particular: only 33% of the British public say that they trust the Metropolitan police (although the figure is higher among Londoners, at 57%). ...  Continue reading

Why I sued PinkNews

The last thing I would want to do, as a journalist, is to sue a publication for libel. But after enduring years of distress and provocation from PinkNews, I finally changed my mind. The final straw came in May 2020, I had gone to bed early in preparation for a 5am start the next day. But then my phone started beeping as several WhatsApp messages came through. I flicked through them quickly. Four women, all of whom I knew through feminist campaigning, were alerting me to the fact that there was, as one put it, “yet another ‘horrible’ article” about me on PinkNews. “You are not named but I think it’s blatantly obvious it’s about you.” I turned off my phone and went to sleep. ...  Continue reading

In defence of defending empire

Within living memory, writing the biography of an obscure colonial official would have been considered towards the unremarkable end of the academic spectrum. The sort of worthy scholarly chore undertaken by some unambitious don in the twilight of his career, and published by a dutiful university press that would run off a few hundred copies, destined to lie undisturbed on the shelves of faculty libraries. But today, it is the sort of thing that gets you cancelled and earns you death threats — and that academic presses, intimidated by their own staff, shun like the plague.

Bruce Gilley, Professor of Political Science at Portland State University, first had a taste of such treatment in 2017, when he published a now famous, or notorious, article entitled, “The Case for Colonialism”. It was peer reviewed and published by a reputable scholarly journal. But then came the storm: a collective letter signed by hundreds of colleagues denounced him; editors of the journal resigned; terrified publishers pleaded with him to withdraw the article to protect them from possible violence; and abuse and death threats came flying his way. ...  Continue reading

The importance of complicated sex

When I told Mary Gaitskill to read Michel Houllebecq’s first novel, Whatever, she replied: “You like that shit?” The next day she sent me a kind email recommending an energy healer. I didn’t take her up on the offer; I remained confused and disappointed that she’d been so unimpressed.

Before our call, she’d emailed me explaining that she wanted to talk about incels, and I thought that Whatever was the best book about them ever written: the world is divided into ugly and hot people who compete in ruthless combat, with no relief in marriage and no reward but rot. It’s obviously depressing — when I first read it, I immediately made my first (and for many years, last) therapist appointment. I was a 21-year-old living with my brother on Gainesville, Florida’s Sorority Row. I had no romantic prospects. At night, I just took eight Benadryl and listened to hotter blondes get railed. ...  Continue reading

There’s nothing woke about crypto

Who would have thought information technology could kill millions? But between 1618 and 1648, that’s exactly what happened.

It’s estimated that about 20% of the population of Europe died in the Thirty Years’ War, the culmination of some 150 years of religious conflict triggered by the Protestant Reformation. And the Reformation was, in turn, powered by a radical new means of disseminating information: the printing press.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain said, it does rhyme. It’s not original to suggest that the internet is as transformative as the printing press: less library in your pocket and more, as David Bowie put it in 1999, an “alien life form”. But less often asked is: if revolutionising how we view, store, exchange and cross-reference our knowledge set off violent religious convulsions 500 years ago, that rewrote the political map of Europe, how long before the internet does the same thing? ...  Continue reading

Why America can’t kick its opioid addiction

It’s tempting to think about America’s opioid crisis in the past tense. The Sackler name — which belongs to the family that owned and ran Purdue, the pharmaceutical company that flooded America with addictive painkillers — has long been removed from the walls of the art galleries and museums they showered with money. Lawsuits have been settled. Dozens more are ongoing. Stories of addiction in Appalachia and rustbelt overdose deaths fill bookshop shelves. You can watch the same tale play out on Hulu’s TV series Dopesick.

But America’s lethal addiction crisis is far from over. In fact, it’s worse than ever. According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control published this week, more than 100,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in the 12 months between April 2020 an April 2021. It is the first time the figure has reached six figures over a year-long period and represents a 28% jump on the previous 12 months. ...  Continue reading

Inside the Austrian lockdown

Mia and Christopher are Austrian circus performers. From their home in Vienna, accompanied by their dog, Magic, they go off to take part in theatrical shows large and small around Europe, from the Royal Albert Hall to private parties, sometimes juggling fire, sometimes trapeze, sometimes simply with stunning displays of balance and strength.

Perhaps the least interesting thing about this talented young couple is that they are unvaccinated against Covid-19. When I meet them at their house in a wooded suburb outside Vienna, I am almost embarrassed to ask about it. But they carefully explain how, for reasons of mistrust, caution and, as they see it, integrity, they have decided not to take the Covid vaccine — and how this fact is suddenly defining their whole lives. ...  Continue reading