breaking news from the world of ideas

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 1
November 2019

Becoming formed as well as informed

As another election gets going, it's not just information that matters

As we go into our third opportunity in four years to perform our highest civic responsibility, I’ve been thinking about citizenship and formation. Thomas Jefferson is regularly (slightly mis-)quoted as saying that democracy relies on an informed electorate. It’s often read as an argument for the free press, or other sources of information dissemination – if a citizenry has all the facts, they will make good choices.

Leaving aside “fake news” and the problems of accurate information, scholars since De Toqueville have long argued that facts are not enough. De Toqueville called for “habits of the heart”, social stories and rituals which shape disparate individuals into citizens able to sustain a democracy. Formation, the kind of people citizens are becoming, is as important as information, and even harder to get right. With most adults no longer regularly attending “sites of formation” such as religious services, voluntary groups and unions, our “habits of the heart” are ever more delegated to social media and entertainment consumption- industries not designed, or indeed willing, to bear that weight. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 31
October 2019

The real horror of Halloween

Watch out for cars more than ghosts this halloween eve

When I was a kid, trick-or-treating was something that mostly happened in America. And it was from the US that we heard chilling tales of poisoned candy and ‘treats’ containing razor blades. For the most part, these have proved to be urban myths.

But there is one deadly threat that does stand up to scrutiny — the elevated risk of death on the roads. (which is part of Vox media) reports on research that indicates a substantially increased danger on Halloween:

That simultaneous burst of increased pedestrian activity and increased car traffic creates a deadly combination. A study by University of British Columbia researchers looked at 42 years of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. Halloween night was, on average, 43 percent more deadly for pedestrians than other autumn nights.

Recorded fatalities are much lower in years when the festivity falls on a Saturday or Sunday, suggesting that evening commuter traffic is the biggest source of danger. ...  Continue reading

by Eleanor Doughty
Thursday, 31
October 2019

Spare a thought for the troops whose Christmas just got cancelled

The Christmas election is having consequences beyond Westminster

I was praying for a January election. Not for any political reason, but so we could have a Christmas. I knew that if it was held this year, Christmas would be cancelled. And ‘lo, it has been.

My partner is in the army, and yesterday his Christmas leave was cancelled. He is one of the few whose job revolves around state ceremonial events. Most of the time, it’s marvellous — all those shiny helmets, neatly-combed plumes and elegant horses.

It’s literally the stuff of Christmas cards. Ours will have apologies in them this year, as he won’t be going home for Christmas — he’ll be at work, with the rest of the ceremonial troops who now have the second State Opening of Parliament of the year to prepare for. ...  Continue reading

by Will Tanner
Thursday, 31
October 2019

Workington Man must be one part of a coalition

Onward director Will Tanner responds to Freddie Sayers on the 'Belonging in Politics' report...

Will Tanner is the Director of Onward, responding to Freddie Sayers’s post about their new report, ‘The Politics of Belonging.’

Swing voter archetypes are, of course, reductive. They boil down the attitudes and demographic markers of an entire electorate to identify a sliver of voters that will have a disproportionate impact on an election, and the constituencies that may turn on their votes.

Workington Man is no different. Following in the footsteps of Essex Man and Worcester Woman before him, he is an artefact of hard data, not political judgement. The archetype is male, white, did not go to university, voted Leave, and lives in a Northern town because, in all mathematical probability, a tonne of polling data says that these are the characteristics that will be disproportionately influential in 2019. ...  Continue reading

by Libby Emmons
Thursday, 31
October 2019

Obama’s warning on wokeness

The former president upsets everybody with an important message

Obama’s got a message for the kids: quit being so judgy. This is basically what he had to say to those assembled at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. He called out call-out culture as non productive, and for a man with a legacy of compromise and negotiation, it’s easy to see why the practice of pointing figures at everyone else’s ideological flaws would rankle.

Sitting with a classmate of his daughter’s, on a stage before supporters, he noted that what’s happening today on college campuses as well as in discourse is not actually helping anything. He said that the mindset that has young people thinking “the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,” doesn’t actually change anything, but instead entrenches a mindset that is antithetical to getting any real work done. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 30
October 2019

What about Workington Woman?

A new report on 'Workington man' is interesting, but there's no mention of women

Today’s report out from Onward on the ‘Politics of Belonging’ has received widespread coverage and rightly so: the central idea that our society isn’t now clamouring for more freedom, but more security, is spot on.

It’s striking how Will Tanner and James O’Shaunessy, the report’s authors, have presented what is really an existential question that goes to the heart of the culture wars (more freedom or more belonging?) in think tanky terms that the media feel comfortable talking about. It’s based on polling, talks about voters’ needs rather than bemoaning the ills of society, and is presented by Onward, an outfit that is considered safely ‘soft centre-Right’. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 30
October 2019
Seen Elsewhere

The real reason why people hate vegans

The hostility that vegans get from their ‘own side’ is especially intriguing...

Writing in The Guardian, George Reynolds asks: why do people hate vegans?

It’s a good question and I don’t think any of his answers are wrong. However, some forms of veganophobia require more explanation than others.

There are always exceptions, but veganism falls pretty much one side of the ‘snowflake’ versus ‘gammon’ culture war — and thus gets the kind of abuse directed at the snowflakes generally. Thus when a story like the Greggs vegan sausage roll comes up, it’s going to disgust people like Piers Morgan as a matter of course.

Much more interesting is the hostility that vegans get from their ‘own side’ — i.e. other youngish, hipsterish, Left-leaning individuals. What explains this?

Despite their supposed tendency towards proselytisation and self-advertisement, what makes vegans different is precisely that they are not just virtue-signallers. Their particular cause involves personal sacrifice. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 29
October 2019

Rory Stewart on Love, Brexit and Boris Johnson

Rory Stewart talks to Freddie Sayers about love, Brexit and how Boris Johnson made him feel like an abused wife

I sat down with Rory Stewart for a fascinating discussion about whether politicians should talk about love, whether he got it wrong over Brexit and how Boris Johnson made him feel like an abused wife.

Have a watch!

Some key quotes:

Fundamentally, it is about showing love for another human being – whoever that human being is. And that means that you need to try to live out your values when you engage with them; and try not to be thrown off balance by the fact that they’re angry with you; try to get beyond your disagreements and try desperately to remember that they are like you. That we’re all an odd bundle of insecurities, vanities, strengths, weaknesses – and that we may do bad things, but that we’re not intrinsically bad people. ...  Continue reading