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 Ben Sixsmith
Tuesday, 21
September 2021

How grannies became the new frontline activists

Octogenarians are getting themselves arrested — and it makes sense

What is your mental image of an environmental activist? Probably a young, idealistic millennial, eating lentils and wearing a multicoloured beanie. What is striking about Extinction Rebellion protestors, though, is just how old they are. The people blocking roads across England look closer to eighty than to eighteen.

The newspapers have been full of pensioners who have been getting themselves arrested: the Welsh 82-year-old, the Oxford 81-year-old and, perhaps most impressively, the 91-year-old from Kent. A study by Claire Saunders and others from the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity found that XR has “a much broader and more diverse age profile than has been the case for the previously small networks of mainly young activists,” with a mean age of over 40. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Tuesday, 21
September 2021

Why wokeism won’t rule the world

Tyler Cowen thinks it will be America's next great export — I disagree

Will wokeism rule the world? That’s an interesting (i.e. terrifying) question asked by “the decidedly un-woke” Tyler Cowen.

Writing in Bloomberg, Cowen asks “whether the U.S. will be able to deploy this new intellectual tool for exporting American cultural influence. Put another way: if there is going to be an international progressive class, why not Americanize it?” He continues:

Wokeism is an idea that can be adapted to virtually every country: Identify a major form of oppression in a given region or nation, argue that people should be more sensitive to it, add some rhetorical flourishes, purge some wrongdoers (and a few innocents) and voila — you have created another woke movement.
- Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg
 ...  Continue reading

by Toby Green
Tuesday, 21
September 2021

The Ebola lockdown that everyone forgot

It was trialled and failed in 2015

The failings of WHO’s Covid-19 policies are extensive, especially in the world’s poor countries. Today, I spoke to ex-Médecins-Sans-Frontières (MSF) Deputy Head for the Emergency Unit in Spain, Llanos Ortíz Montero, who laid out in grim detail just how badly these countries have been affected.

Ortíz Montero has worked for decades in emergency responses in countries from Mozambique and South Sudan to Haiti and the Philippines. Her interview adds to the growing evidence for the catastrophic and unprecedented policy shift which took place in the WHO’s pandemic response policy in February 2020. “The impression you get,” says Ortíz Montero, is that these policies were “a diversion away from the Alma Ata declaration.” ...  Continue reading

by Debbie Hayton
Tuesday, 21
September 2021

How the Lib Dems silenced debate on conversion therapy

Dissenting arguments went missing at this weekend's conference

Conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice, and talk of it conjures up images of electric shock treatments inflicted on gay men fifty years ago. This weekend’s Liberal Democrat Conference resolved to ban it. So important was this issue to the party that it was the first policy motion to be debated.

But the new policy implemented by the Liberal Democrats goes beyond the October 2017 Memorandum of Understanding that was supported by 21 organisations including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Crucially, that document supported exploratory therapy when working with a client who, “wishes to explore, experiences conflict with or is in distress regarding, their sexual orientation or gender identity.” ...  Continue reading

by Niall Gooch
Monday, 20
September 2021

There will never be another Only Fools and Horses

It was the last TV show collectively watched by the nation

There is a funny Stewart Lee sketch with the premise that a village has created an annual folk tradition based on the bit in Only Fools And Horses where Del Boy falls through the bar. Lee was inspired by an audience vote some years back which determined that the incident, from the 1989 episode “Yuppy Love”, was the series’ single funniest moment.

In the sketch and its preamble, Lee seems to be mocking the alleged vacuity of broad, slapstick-style sitcom humour. But there is a counterpoint to his comedy elitism, namely that a widely shared stock of well-known jokes, situations and characters is very valuable for our national life. ...  Continue reading

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 Peter Franklin
Monday, 20
September 2021

Evergrande could trigger a global economic crisis

The real-estate bubble in China is reminiscent of 2008 — only worse

Just in case you’ve never heard of it, Evergrande is China’s second largest property development company. It has 1,300 projects spread over hundreds of Chinese cities, but more to the point it is $300 billion in debt.

Evergrande’s share price this year has fallen on fears that the company is running out of money to pay creditors. The slide has now turned into a headlong rush — and dealing in the company’s bonds has been suspended.

It’s not just the markets that are panicking. Last week, angry protesters besieged the company’s offices.

If it collapses, the consequences could extend much further than the company’s creditors and investors. Indeed, there are fears that Evergrande could be China’s Lehman Brothers — the American financial services giant whose 2008 collapse came close to bringing down the banking system. ...  Continue reading