breaking news from the world of ideas

by Noah Carl
Monday, 12
April 2021
Response
17:00

Cancel culture is real — and it’s getting worse

In a recent article, UnHerd’s science editor Tom Chivers argues that culture war debates are futile because the people on each side are working with different definitions of key terms. He takes ‘cancel culture’ as an example, arguing that “there’s nothing solid there to argue about” since the term has “no stable or universally agreed definition”. For Chivers, debating the existence of cancel culture is “all mood affiliation and tribalism”.

I’m a fan of Chivers’ writing on science and culture, but in this case I have to respectfully disagree with him. He wants to take a middle path between — as he sees it — two equally zealous factions: those who claim cancel culture doesn’t exist, and those who argue it’s a very real problem. However, this isn’t a debate where the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Rather, those who deny that cancel culture exists are simply wrong. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 12
April 2021
Idea
14:26

What’s really behind America’s BDSM craze?

Over the weekend the NYT published an investigation into a fetish trend that, in our atomised and hyper-mediated era, seems profoundly apt: ‘findom’, or financial domination, in which people dress in fetish gear and insult their submissives, usually remotely, until they receive gifts of money.

It may come as a surprise that contemptuous online treatment combined with demands for money should be an erotic experience for some, rather than just an everyday experience of contacting customer services. What, then, could prompt those who engage in this to find it so thrilling?

A glance at popular search terms on a porn website (if you can bear it) suggests a strong relationship between shame and eroticisation: the more something is stigmatised, the more drawn to it some will be. In that context, it’s striking that growing numbers (especially of men) should eroticise what amounts in effect to selflessly sharing your resources with another. It suggests that in the age of ‘me, me, me’ the idea of supporting another person unconditionally has become so unthinkable as to acquire an erotic allure. ...  Continue reading

by Katja Hoyer
Monday, 12
April 2021
Explainer
10:30

Will a Bavarian joker be Germany’s next chancellor?

The gloves are off in the race to become the next chancellor of Germany. On Sunday, the Bavarian Minister-President, Markus Söder, declared that he would like to stand as chancellor candidate for the conservative bloc — “if the CDU were willing to support me”. The curtain is raised for a showdown with fellow conservative Armin Laschet, who also wants the job.

Laschet told the Bild Zeitung this morning that he fully expects to get support from his party. The German media also favour him but his polls have been in free-fall for weeks. His candidacy for the chancellorship would be a huge risk for the German conservatives. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 12
April 2021
Spotted
07:00

Why we won’t cancel Yuri Gagarin

Sixty years ago today, we became a spacefaring species. It was, of course, Yuri Gagarin who took that giant leap — becoming the first human being to reach outer space.

It wasn’t a long trip. Lift off was at 6.07 am and he landed back on Earth less than two hours later. However, during his time away he orbited the planet, endured eight gees of acceleration (without blacking out) and completed the last ten minutes of his journey by parachute (having ejected four miles up).

What did you do before breakfast?

His achievement surely places him among the great explorers. However, if he were a Columbus, a Livingstone, or a Lewis and Clark, you can be sure that today there’d be an effort to ‘contextualise’ Gagarin and the Vostok 1 mission. ...  Continue reading

by John Milbank
Saturday, 10
April 2021
Reaction
07:00

Prince Philip’s Socratic sense of duty

The death of a monarch always comes as a shock because the Crown is haloed with immortality. When the present Queen dies it will be a double shock, because her long reign is coterminous with the lives of so many. But it is a tribute to Prince Philip that his death today comes as nearly as great a shock. He is inseparable from the Queen in our minds and it is poignant to think of her left old and alone in her echoing palaces.

We ourselves are left with the sense of the beginning of the passing of an era. And Prince Philip would seem to represent in an acute form the best of the values of that era, which in many ways jar with today’s. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 9
April 2021
Video
17:32

Sir Nicholas Soames: Philip’s values now seem far away

There are few families in Britain closer to the royal family than the family of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill. His grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, knew Prince Philip very well over a 60-year period and shared his thoughts on his passing in a special edition of LockdownTV.

“It’s a strange day, a day of reflection, and I hope people get him right,” he told me. “The press, with that attention span for which they are famous, always talks about his ‘gaffes’ — his gaffes were that what you saw was what you got. He was an absolutely ram rod straight former naval officer, who didn’t have much time for sycophancy or bloody fools or anyone else, and spoke as he found. But he was essentially a man of great humour, he had tremendous wit and charm … and he held very strong views. This is not a mere figure.” ...  Continue reading

by Niall Gooch
Friday, 9
April 2021
Reaction
15:41

Prince Philip embodied the KBO spirit

Late in the evening of 28 March 1941, about a hundred miles off the southern tip of the Greek mainland, a small flotilla of Royal Navy battleships surprised part of the Italian Mediterranean fleet, and inflicted severe damage on it. The encounter formed part of the Battle of Cape Matapan. Among the officers decorated for their role in the action was a young sub-lieutenant from HMS Valiant, Philip Mountbatten, later Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose death has been announced today.

Philip was on active service for almost the entire Second World War, in several theatres, and as many tributes have pointed out, could have risen very high in the post-war Royal Navy, had he not been obliged to withdraw from normal service when his wife became Queen Elizabeth II. It can’t have been easy, for a vigorous and assertive young man, recently appointed to his first command, to take a more quietly supportive and limited role as consort. And yet he did, stepping away from his own career to support his wife. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Friday, 9
April 2021
Video
11:57

Russell Brand’s vaccine passport crusade

“Is it right” asked Russell Brand on his YouTube channel this week, “that big tech companies, and the state, are given the power to determine whether or not you can enjoy every day freedoms?”

In the early 2010s the comedian became a lightning rod, or a punching bag, due to his political interventions. He guest-edited the New Statesman. He was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, when he said that voting was a waste of time. Ed Miliband sank considerable political capital into getting Brand to endorse him during the 2015 election — which didn’t quite work out for either of them. Owen Jones compared Brand to George Orwell (and Brand compared Owen Jones to… George Orwell). ...  Continue reading