breaking news from the world of ideas

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 1
September 2022
Debate
13:37

Schools are too obsessed with mental health

Provisions like emotional check-ins and take-a-break corners won't help students

As American schools return for the new academic year, one priority has risen above them all: visibly addressing students’ mental health. In Kentucky, some elementary schools now start their days with “emotional check-ins”, where students use an app called Closegap to answer questions on how they are feeling. Forty schools in Houston now have relaxation rooms, known as “Thinkeries”, with bean-bag chairs, warmly-coloured walls and slogans such as “Choose Kind”. Other schools have “take-a-break” corners with “self-regulation kits”: stress balls, acupuncture rings, books with tips on deep breathing. A school in Pennsylvania has therapy dogs, emergency counsellors and is planning to give mental health training to all tenth graders (15-16 year olds). ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 10
August 2022
Campus Wars
15:30

Students don’t need protecting from ‘challenging’ books

Withdrawing supposedly harmful content helps no one

This week, an investigation by The Times revealed that ten universities have recently withdrawn books from compulsory reading lists because of concerns about “challenging” content that may “cause students harm”. For example, the University of Essex has permanently removed Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad because of its “graphic description of violence and slavery”, while the University of Sussex has “permanently withdrawn” August Strindberg’s play Miss Julie due to its discussions of suicide. 

The Times also found that trigger warnings had been applied to over 1000 texts, ranging from the classicism of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (University of Aberdeen) to the “upsetting scenes” of Far From The Madding Crowd (University of Warwick) to — my personal favourite — the “animal cruelty” of 1984 (University Greenwich). ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 14
July 2022
Reaction
11:23

Where is the outrage over Telford?

Once again, fear of racism is leading to a muted response

When you think of child sex abuse scandals, you might think of Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Newcastle, Keighley, or now, Telford. An inquiry found yesterday morning that over a thousand young girls had been sexually abused in Telford over generations due to systemic, wholly avoidable failures by police and local councils.

Yet the reaction to the story has been strangely subdued. While many outlets wrote about the inquiry, within hours the stories were no longer on the homepages of The Guardian, The Independent or The Telegraph. None of these sex abuse scandals have generated the level of outrage you would expect given the harrowing realities behind them. Ever since the news of the Rotherham child exploitation scandal, described as “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”, broke in 2012, the media and establishment has been tiptoeing around the issue. For years these awful atrocities have been exposed, one after the other, yet there has been no national conversation, no social media movements, no calls for heads to roll for neglect of duty. Even though they are ongoing scandals on a scale that eclipse other #MeToo controversies like the abuse of the USA gymnastics team, they have received a fraction of the coverage. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 30
June 2022
Dark Web
11:30

Is Big Tech exploiting Roe v Wade?

Misinformation on both sides is running rife

Another week, another mass outbreak of Big Tech “misinformation”. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling to revoke Roe vs Wade has led to a surge in videos advising herbal remedies for home abortions, with some amassing millions of views. Self-proclaimed experts recommend everything from pennyroyal (which can damage liver and kidneys) to ginkgo biloba (which can lead to excessive bleeding), all in the name of #mybodymychoice.

This is just a drop in the ocean. On the pro-choice side, we have celebrities like Halle Berry with hundreds of thousands of followers tweeting that the treatment for ectopic pregnancies is the same as abortion (it isn’t). On the pro-life side, old articles are recirculating claiming that the abortion pill isn’t safe (it is). From conspiracy theories that the Democrats support infanticide to campaigns to make abortion legal up until birth, polarised views dominate, and the silent majority who believe in the right to abortion (up until a certain point), have nothing to cling to in the riptide. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Wednesday, 15
June 2022
Debate
10:00

The medieval trial of Amber Heard

Rumour and gossip have returned to the courtroom

In his essay ‘Was the jury ever self-informing?’ Daniel Klerman explores how medieval juries were allowed to base their verdicts not on court evidence, but on information they learned through tight-knit communities and interested parties. He concludes that what distinguishes the medieval and modern jury is that medieval jurors came to court with extensive knowledge about the case and the defendant; rumour and gossip meant that jurors were ‘already informed’ before they walked through the door.

By Klerman’s standards, the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, and the insatiable, salacious social media frenzy that came with it, was positively medieval. Amber Heard, in her first interview since the verdict, said that the “hate and vitriol” meant that no one could argue that there had been “fair representation”, and her lawyers have already argued that there was “no way” the jurors “could not have been influenced” by the gruesome media circus that spawned such malicious memes, misinformation, and even merchandise. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Monday, 4
April 2022
Reaction
10:50

How TikTok glamourises mental health disorders

Self-proclaimed ‘mental health advocates’ have become dangerously influential

Nearly 16 years before the creation of Tiktok — 10 years before Instagram, 4 years before Facebook — Mark Feldman wrote an essay called ‘Munchausen’s By Internet: Detecting Factitious Illness and Crisis Online.’ Feldman describes how some users misuse ‘virtual support groups’ by feigning, exaggerating or creating medical problems in order to gain attention and sympathy. Some of the most notorious examples include a blogger who faked a cancer diagnosis; a woman who pretended for over a decade to be a widower with an ill son; or the horrific case of Lacey Spears, who tweeted about her son’s illness while secretly poisoning him with salt. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 8
March 2022
Spotted
16:34

International Women’s Day: contrived, commercialised and cynical

Companies have outdone themselves

Today is International Women’s Day, and once again I find myself overwhelmingly underwhelmed. International Women’s Day, a global event designed to celebrate the cultural, political and socio-economic achievements of women, has been transformed from a feminist focal point to the equivalent of a Hallmark holiday: contrived, commercialised, cynical claptrap.

At best, the nods to International Women’s Day are benign but random; for example, why did e-scooter company Tier feel the need to email this morning to reassure me that they are committed to making women ‘safer and more confident on their journeys’? I’m not sure hiring more e-scooters is the answer to that particular problem. ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 24
February 2022
Debate
07:30

Parents are right to be terrified of the metaverse

The platform is already being used by perverts and sexual predators

The metaverse, the ‘future of the internet’, has already proven itself to be a paradise for perverts and sexual predators. There are stories of users being virtually gang-rapedmasturbated at and harassed. There are no age verification checks, leaving children free to mix with adults, and making exploitation inevitable. One NSPCC researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and rape threats; she was invited into a virtual strip club, shown sex toys and condoms, and watched avatars simulate sex.

It’s easy to label the metaverse dystopian — a technological nightmare of unfiltered human depravity run by Silicon Valley supreme leaders who are more interested in profit than protecting minors. But the problem with calling it dystopian is that it creates a false sense of distance. A dystopia is only an imagined state, often in the far future, a hypothetical manifestation of society’s fears and anxieties. ...  Continue reading

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