breaking news from the world of ideas

by Freya Sanders
Friday, 17
January 2020

Anne Brontë, the forgotten sister who was ahead of her time

Anne Brontë, who died 200 years ago today, was more radical than either of her sisters

Literature written by women in the nineteenth century kept a lid on the uglier feelings that surface when you’re denied the opportunity to make a living. If you took Jane Austen novels as reliable historical documents, you’d think women felt no rage. Pride and Prejudice is driven by the imminent threat that six women will be left destitute if one man should suddenly die; the women express little more than mild vexation.

Charlotte Brontë, a few decades later, went some of the way towards expressing fury — Jane Eyre famously cried, “I am a free human being with an independent will”. But the outburst stems from moral angst; Charlotte leaves the real unseemliness of women trying to earn their own money to her sister, who is the exception to my rule. ...  Continue reading

by Freya Sanders
Tuesday, 7
January 2020
Seen Elsewhere

What’s minimalism trying to hide?

Minimalist products depend on a maximalist production chain — and that chain is exploitative and wasteful

One of the paperbacks to look out for this year is Robert Macfarlane’s latest, Underland — a precise, dizzying portrait of ‘the worlds beneath our feet’. Describing caves, mines and catacombs, the author reveals a vast network of underground structures that support the world we live on — structures full of things that are valuable, and things we want to hide.

We rarely consider these structures; they’re metaphors for everything we’d rather not think about (hell, death, evil etc.). Out of sight, out of mind. But Macfarlane makes a strong ethical case for confronting the undersides of surfaces we can see. ...  Continue reading

by Freya Sanders
Thursday, 2
January 2020

Green means going local in globalised Vancouver

A sign in a pile of potatoes saying 'BC first' taught me a lot...

If you multiplied Islington by four and plopped it next to the Pacific, you’d end up with a city a lot like Vancouver. The largest city in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC for short) seems tailor-made for the liberal elite.

Free movement is the city’s fabric: there’s a running joke that no one who lives in Vancouver actually grew up there; 67% of the population were born outside BC, 45% outside Canada. In most Vancouver constituencies, Left-wing candidates won sizeable majorities in October’s federal election. There are more Extinction Rebellion chapters within 100 miles of the city than in the whole of BC’s two neighbouring provinces put together. (Cost of living is exorbitant, naturally, and gentrification rampant; inequalities are increasing.) ...  Continue reading

by Freya Sanders
Wednesday, 13
November 2019
Seen Elsewhere

Don’t read this if you’re scared of flying

Two planes never crash for the same reason. But then, they did.

Fear of flying is irrational. That’s what my travelling companions always tell me, while I sweat profusely in the window seat, wincing with every bump. My mother — a former pilot — often used to remind me that the aviation industry gets safer with every accident, because it always learns from its mistakes. Two planes never crash for the same reason.

But then, they did.

The latest issue of the New Yorker includes a riveting piece about the now infamous Boeing 737 MAX, two of which crashed in the space of 5 months (in October 2018 and March 2019). It tells the story of the aftermath: first, the pilots were blamed; when that proved to be unfair, the airlines were blamed; when that proved to be unfair, Boeing itself was blamed. ...  Continue reading

by Freya Sanders
Friday, 27
September 2019

Hissing at dissent, at women’s event

Just because women need to be protected from violence, it doesn’t mean we need to be protected from disagreement...

Inevitably, a recurrent theme at last night’s Intelligence Squared ‘Women in Power’ event was the importance of avoiding aggression and listening to other points of view. 

And so, there was condemnation of Boris Johnson’s rhetoric. Classicist Mary Beard called the PM “juvenile”. Tory Peer Sandip Verma said that this sort of language can spill “out onto the streets”. Rachel Reeves MP reminded us that her friend, Jo Cox, died believing we have far “more in common than that which divides us”. As the discussion continued, there was support for language policing and all-women shortlists; the overwhelmingly female audience nodded approvingly. I did, too. ...  Continue reading