breaking news from the world of ideas

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Tuesday, 21
September 2021
Seen Elsewhere

Paul Kingsnorth is right: we’re in a spiritual crisis

The West's consumerism has run amok

Paul Kingsnorth wrote an excoriating essay this week, in which he placed the fault of the climate crisis at the feet of the Western bourgeoisie. Kingsnorth certainly wouldn’t call himself a Marxist, but he believes that Marx’s analysis of the bourgeoisie provides a canny prediction of the world that has come to pass:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.
- Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Continual product innovation (which may in fact be a delusion), disruption, creative destruction: all of these approaches have normalised the stark reality that things that were luxuries for our grandparents have become necessities, even rights, to us.

We are all #bougie now. When Marx popularised the term, the bourgeoisie were distinct from rural peasants and the ruling aristocracy. They were defined by their ownership of the means of production and ability to amass capital and thus indulge in aspirational consumerism. Schumpeter used the term with a particular focus on entrepreneurs and innovators who use creative destruction to continually create new ‘needs’ and thus new markets. But #bougie, as a social media meme, implies very little power beyond the ability to purchase slightly fancy consumer goods. It’s an insult, but a knowing one, applicable to all but the most hair-shirted hermit. Upwardly mobile, aspirational, primed to see the good life as the pursuit of ever more comfort, convenience and status. Hyacinth Bucket, for those who remember her. If we’re honest, all of us too. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Monday, 31
May 2021

Gen Z: Puritanical about everything except drugs

Cocaine use among young people is at a 16-year high

The dark underbelly of middle-aged, middle class drug habits was displayed last week, after a major police operation against “county lines” drug dealing — the movement of drugs, mostly cocaine, from urban centres to rural markets. These activities exploit vulnerable people, using them as couriers and their homes to deal and store drugs. This week alone nearly 1000 of these “cuckooed” homes were visited, and “1,138 vulnerable people were safeguarded, including 573 children.”

The relaxed attitudes of Gen X and Millennials towards drug taking are well documented. The nineties and noughties saw a libertarian attitude to personal morality take hold in which the ‘live and let live’ served as a generational creed. This period also led to a rise of sex-positivity and porn-positivity, and judgementalism becoming the most mortal of sins. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Monday, 10
May 2021

Wellness is no replacement for religion

Yoga and mindfulness won't fill the spiritual void

Sam Byers is an English novelist whose work, particularly his last novel Perfidious Albion, has been compared with Martin Amis. His new book Come Join our Disease tracks Maya, a homeless woman who is offered a new start via a rehabilitation programme run by a tech company. Set up with a new job and a flat, she must chronicle her ‘journey’ on social media, inspiring her audience as she becomes a polished and productive member of society. The programme emphasises health via a rigorous schedule of yoga classes and wellness retreats, and her new boss takes a personal and directive interest in “Project Maya” — the remaking of the self. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Tuesday, 30
March 2021

Will we ever return to our rural roots?

Re-connecting with the land is vital, argues a new book

As companies begin to settle, post-pandemic, into new rhythms — which will include ongoing remote working — many people are asking if they really need to remain in cities. A new book published this week argues that this might have benefits beyond individual lives.

Uprooted by Grace Olmstead sits in the tradition of great poet and environmental essayist Wendell Berry. Olmstead muses on her childhood in Idaho farming country, and the impact of the many people, like her, who have left it behind.

It is in part a polemic against the impact of the practices of global agribusiness on soil, and an urgent plea for a return to small scale, diverse, locally appropriate farming which invests in the health of the land for future generations. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Tuesday, 23
March 2021

What St John has to say about Teen Vogue

The Bible sheds light on some very modern issues

The latest victim of what is now known as “cancel culture” fell last week. This time it’s not a middle aged white man, but a young woman of colour, who lost her job as editor of Teen Vogue over racist tweets sent a decade ago, when she was 17.

Many people have expressed disquiet that, despite apologising and making clear she in no way still holds those reprehensible views, Alexi McCammond still felt she needed to resign.

“Cancel culture” is, like most phenomena to catch the public imagination, more complex than it appears. Sometimes it’s a label slapped on a long overdue reckoning, and other times, it really is just a self-righteous lynch mob throwing their weight around. It is, however, usually seen as less of an issue by younger people...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 10
February 2021

Will Covid-19 turn us into a nation of ethicists?

The pandemic has exposed what values we hold sacred

Never in living memory has public debate felt so much like a poorly-taught ethics seminar. Unless we happened to study philosophy at university, the last time many of us were forced to think through our deepest moral commitments systematically was during an RE lesson — though as this subject has been in crisis for years, maybe not even then. Perhaps that’s why the Netflix show ‘The Good Place’ spawned a meme: ‘This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors’. Today ethics is associated in popular imagination with obscure thought experiments or how many units of utility can dance on the head of a pin while the rest of us get on with living our lives. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 20
January 2021

The two faces of Christianity in Joe Biden’s America

The practising Catholic inherits a country divided by faith

In the lead up to the presidential inauguration, when Joe Biden will put his hand on a Bible and swear to defend the Constitution (so help him God), the US has been occupied with two very different faces of political Christianity.

The first has been burnt into memories by a goat-horned shaman, covered in tattoos of the Norse pantheon, thanking Almighty God and a very New Age “white light” for “allowing” the Capitol insurgents to “send a message to communists, globalists and traitors” in the Senate chamber. Ridiculous, yes; heretical, almost definitely; but followed by pastors and many bearing Jesus banners. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Tuesday, 17
November 2020

Nice guys finish last — or do they?

A new book challenges this long-standing misconception

Nice guys finish last…or do they? David Bodanis thinks they don’t – or at least, in the long term, it’s more often the bad guys bringing up the rear. In his new book ‘The Art of Fairness: The Power of Decency in a World Turned Mean,’ the writer argues that there are two ways to succeed.

Firstly, as we’re all too familiar with: by a will to power, through division and fear. Bodanis’s extended essay on Josef Goebbels unpacks this path, though readers will think of contemporary examples.

Secondly, through fairness, exemplified by three characteristics of listening to those around you, giving generously, and defending the good (i.e. being savvy enough not to be taken for a ride). Franklin D. Roosevelt is the extended case study for this approach, not least because he and Goebbels were contemporaries. ...  Continue reading

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