breaking news from the world of ideas

by Aris Roussinos
Wednesday, 14
October 2020
Reaction
15:27

The New York Times is at war with itself

Once the newspaper of record for the richest and most powerful empire the world has ever seen, The New York Times still leads the world in in-depth coverage of one particular topic: the internal politics of The New York Times. 

Its foreign reporting, buoyed by budgets British newspapers can only look upon with envy, is now overshadowed by its recent coverage of ‘The Gray Lady’s’ own bitter internal disputes over the acclaimed Caliphate podcast; whether or not it should have published Senator Tom Cotton’s call to disperse protestors by force; first the presence, then the resignation of opinion writer Bari Weiss, a lightning rod for progressive angst; and its 1619 Project, an ambitious attempt to replace one national myth of the essential moral goodness of America’s founding, with another, on its inherent moral evil. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 1
October 2020
Reaction
16:00

Tanks for the memory

If you’re not following the war between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh which broke out last weekend, you probably should be. Like the Boer War and Balkan Wars before World War One, or the Spanish Civil War before World War Two, this bloody clash in a faraway country of which most of us know nothing already looks like a sobering vision of warfare’s future. 

As our own defence staff deliberate over the delayed Strategic Defence and Security Review, and leak ever-more alarming hints over what military capabilities they’re planning to axe, some of the answers to the question of what the British armed forces should look like over the next few decades are being written in distant Nagorno-Karabakh — as long as we’re paying attention. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 25
September 2020
Chart
10:00

Americans are worried about the West — maybe that’s a good thing

It’s fair to say that a certain civilisational consciousness is in the air at the moment. As I’ve argued in UnHerd recently, the rising powers of Eurasia are increasingly using a rhetoric of following their own unique, civilisational special paths to justify their increasingly open divergence from liberal norms.

Similarly, there seems to be a growing fashion in publishing, always a bellwether for the concerns of the moment, for books on civilisational collapse, whether the collapse in question is those of societies past, like the enjoyable new book on Alaric the Goth, or of our own, like the newly-translated How Everything Can Collapse. One way or another, a certain Spenglerian gloom is wafting through the cultural ether. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 17
September 2020
Spotted
11:45

Don’t recycle plastic. Burn it.

Every Thursday I dump on the street for collection the laboriously sorted, washed and specially-bagged plastic rubbish my family has assembled over the course of the previous week. And every week the same niggling, cynical voice tells me this is an entirely pointless activity. What is the likelihood, this voice whispers, that any of this mound of plastic, the mere sight of which fills me with a vague and troubling sense of guilt, ends up being melted down and repurposed instead of mouldering in a heap or washed into the sea either here or on the furthest edge of the world?

So it’s with a strange sense of satisfaction that I read this horrifying piece this week from NPR and another by Politico about the plastic recycling myth. All along, American consumers were purposely misled about the value of the time and effort they devoted to recycling their used plastic, urged to save the world by carrying out this weekly ritual of middle-class self-mortification, when in fact: ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 4
September 2020
Spotted
15:00

The UBI debate exposes an ancient Christian division

With the government urging everyone back to their offices, whether they want to or not, and the Chancellor announcing that the furlough scheme 4 million of us relied on will be ending next month, 2020’s Covid Summer is officially at an end, even if the virus itself isn’t.

The necessity of us all going back to work, for the sake of the nation’s economic health, may be unarguable. But at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that a great national opportunity for rebalancing work and life is somehow being missed; that Covid, for all its anxiety and danger, somehow broke the spell of normality, chaining us to Larkin’s hated “toad, work,” and that by rushing too quickly to return to our old ways, we’re squandering the possibility to explore alternatives. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 28
August 2020
Idea
07:00

US riots are eerily reminiscent of the Troubles

The growing number of deaths from America’s ongoing political violence, as armed demonstrators shoot each other on the fringes of street protests, naturally evokes comparison to civil wars past and present, as commentators and ordinary US citizens alike wonder how close they are to the abyss. One thing that becomes very clear is that talk of civil war, to Americans at least, evokes their great 19th century conflagration as the archetype: without massed ranks of uniformed volunteers fighting pitched battles over territory, they argue, can it really be a civil war?

From a British perspective, a more obvious parallel, though far from perfect, might be the 20th century Northern Ireland conflict. The images of rival militias parading around and facing off in America’s small towns are deeply resonant of the 1914 Home Rule Crisis, which brought the entire United Kingdom to the brink of civil war — a spectre averted only by the more spectacular disaster of World War I, which, for all its horrors, at least took place overseas.  ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 21
August 2020
Spotted
07:00

Sailing into a low-tech future

Like everyone else, the Covid experience caused me to reflect carefully on the fragility of supply chains and on the vast and fragile web of trading connections which we all rely upon. Like everyone else, too, the experience of this enforced “time out” from the world — a time, at the pandemic’s peak, when all work fell away and the sound of a jet passing overhead would cause you to look up at the sky in wonder — came as an unexpected release from the accelerating hustle and pressure of 21st century life.

So I was pleased to read in my local paper this week that, soon, a vision of a slower, more considered future will sail into my home port in the shape of De Gallant, a 1916 fishing lugger repurposed as a cargo ship. Part of the nascent revival of sailing ships as cargo haulers, the Gallant is transporting olive oil, barrels of olives and sacks of rice and salt from small producers in Portugal and France to ports around England, touching UK shores in Ramsgate first before heading on to Penzance, Bristol, London, Newhaven and Great Yarmouth. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 14
August 2020
Off grid
12:07

The suburban joy of keeping chickens

It’s probably too early to make accurate predictions about the reordering of economic life yet to come, but the past few months of enforced domesticity have not been entirely disastrous. Even if the elaborate baking craze of the pandemic’s first few weeks has been quietly shelved, and rustic sourdough loaves replaced on social media feeds with photos of holidays as far from home as possible, many have taken on board Voltaire’s advice, in Candide, that for a good and peaceful life, “we must cultivate our garden”, turning our attention inward from the stresses of an uncertain world.

My own experiment with the good life centres around chickens, a trio of hens acquired just before the lockdown rush. Clemmie, Floogie and Buttercup are, together, a gentle introduction to livestock keeping, and a pleasing distraction from the outside world. Their lives, circumscribed to the small suburban garden in which they scratch around, are a strange echo of our own newly limited horizons. As you’d expect from far-diminished descendants of the dinosaurs, our hens are ferocious predators, searching out the slugs and snails which would otherwise ravage our modest vegetable patch with cool genocidal determination.  ...  Continue reading