breaking news from the world of ideas

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 20
September 2021

Elites have lost faith in Enlightenment rationality

Two new reports confirm that we are heading back to a medieval mentality

Astrology and postcolonial theory. Some things just go better together and always will. That, at least, is the view of ‘Alice Sparkly Kat’, a ‘queer Chinese Astrologer’ based (where else?) in Brooklyn.

Mx Sparkly has published a book applying post-colonial theory to astrology, a move that the cynic in me thinks makes at least as much sense as applying astrology to post-colonial theory.

But we should set aside the temptation to see this as two strands of confected nonsense fusing to create a new, hybrid strand of confected nonsense. Take it rather as another example of the death-rattle of Enlightenment rationalism as the dominant elite epistemology. This decline is evident in a paper published in January by MIT, which explored competing uses of the same datasets by official advocates of Covid restrictions and opposing, self-organising groups of Covid sceptics. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 13
September 2021

Did Ayn Rand defeat vaccine passports?

Sajid Javid is known to be a fan of the individualist philosopher

Health secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday that the much-debated plan to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other venues at the end of September was not going ahead.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Javid insisted that while the government ‘was right to look at it’ and the plan would be kept ‘in reserve’ he was pleased to say the passports would not be implemented as previously announced, adding that it was ‘a huge intrusion into people’s lives’ and ‘most people instinctively don’t like the idea’.

Javid is widely known as a fan of Ayn Rand’s brand of radical individualism, reportedly once telling Parliament’s Crossbench Film Society that he wooed his future wife by reading her passages from The Fountainhead. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find him resistant to implementing as national policy a requirement to show medical paperwork in order to do something as everyday as going clubbing. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Friday, 10
September 2021

Modest fashion is making a comeback

Consumers are growing bored of BDSM chokers and embracing the 'granny style'

If you spent all your time online right now, you’d be forgiven for thinking fashion had arrived somewhere deeply strange. Every third girl on TikTok wears a ‘sub choker’ to make videos about doing laundry, while social media ads for an absurdly high-cut bodysuit recently caused a mixture of sniggering and nausea among the middle-aged women of my acquaintance.

Now, courtesy of yet more unsightly social media adverts, we can learn that the forward-thinking individualist should choose to empower themselves with slave shackles and accessories reminiscent of equestrian bridles.

German jewellery brand MYL’s ‘Rebellare’ collection offers these heavily fetish-themed treasures along with platitudes about feminism, self-expression and the terrible scourge of conservatism. The ‘Geschirrtasche’, for example, ‘an empowering fashion item’, is essentially a BDSM chest harness with a large wallet attached. The ‘Bold, Dominating, Empowering’ ‘Halskrause 1’, meanwhile, comprises a stainless steel neck choker connected by long rein-like chains to a bit designed to be worn in the mouth. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 30
August 2021

The rainbow wars get religious at Manchester Pride

The heckling of an LGB supporter is a worrying sign of things to come

The religious wars went up a notch this weekend at Manchester Pride, with footage emerging of Alexander Bramham, a gay man, being hounded out of the parade. His crime? Wearing a t-shirt disavowing political alliance between gay and transgender people.

For anyone who’s been asleep or on a desert island for the last few years, a quick recap. The gay rights movement has seen rapid expansion beyond lesbian, gay and bisexual issues to a seemingly-endless array of new identities.  ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 23
August 2021
Dark Web

The liberal safari into inceldom has only just begun

Meme-making anthropologists massively misunderstand online subcultures

After the recent mass shooting in Plymouth, there has been much discussion of the ‘incel’ subculture that many now hold responsible for Jake Davison’s murderous actions. Notably, the aftermath saw a flurry of appearances by (typically blonde and middle-class) morally correct female ‘experts’ on TV and radio, to offer insights about the new menace.

One such was cartoonist and creator of Instagrammable wokeness, Lily O’Farrell, with a series of cartoons describing her 18-month ‘deep dive’ into incel forums that landed her an appearance on BBC Woman’s Hour.

Her foray into this potentially hostile unexplored terrain has all the hallmarks of the intrepid explorers of the European colonial era. First they gain the natives’ trust by living alongside them before writing detailed ethnographies for consumption among respectable people back home. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 2
August 2021

What anti-vaxxers are really upset about

People want to be governed, not farmed

In Britain, vaccine uptake overall is now around 88%, and around 68% in adults under 30. Where it’s widely available but often refused because of vaccine hesitancy – notably in the US – uptake is currently more like 48%.

Just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, a vaccination isn’t really something you can compromise on: you’re either jabbed or you’re not. And like pregnancy, it also has an inescapably social dimension: having kids affects others as well as oneself, and so does declining a medical intervention that reduces the risk of severe illness.

As such, vaccination discourse sits as uneasily as fertility discourse within cultures that especially prize individualism. Predictably, then, the discourse over incentivising vax stragglers has grown louder and stranger. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 26
July 2021

The attention economy turns violent in Asda

A recent supermarket brawl was powered by digital incentives

A brawl broke out in the Clapham branch of Asda last Friday, leading to the arrest of two men in their thirties and two women in their late teens. All four of the individuals were dressed in superhero costumes.

They stormed into the store, jumping onto shop display cabinets and shouting, before staff and security intervened. One of the ‘superhero’ men punched a female shop floor worker. A separate clip then showed a chaotic fight that seemed to be taking place in the stockroom.

Reports have emerged that the aim was to create viral content. The channels have since been deleted, but on Friday a TikTok account still existed that showed several similar (albeit less violent) clips involving misbehaviour by people in superhero costumes. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 20
July 2021

Digital censorship is inevitable now

Governments are increasingly controlling the flow of information

Big Tech and government shuffled another step closer to an open China-style merger in the West this week. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to suggest in a briefing that social media platforms should collude more proactively to ensure government-approved messages are transmitted to the general public.

Activists in the UK pointed out that an equivalent dialogue between tech platforms and UK government also exists here. Civil servants have ‘trusted flagger’ status with the platforms, meaning their concerns are prioritised by tech platform censors.

Of course, ‘misinformation’ and ‘harmful posts’ are a movable feast. Psaki was referring specifically to information relating to coronavirus, but once it’s generally accepted that the government has not only a right but a duty for — as Psaki puts it — “the public health of the country” to root out “misinformation” and “harmful posts”, that rubric can be easily applied to other topics deemed important. ...  Continue reading

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