breaking news from the world of ideas

by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 7
September 2019

Yale’s real problem is not free speech

If you’re tired of culture war takes on student ‘wokeness’, this lucid piece by Natalia Dashan in Palladium may even give you some measure of compassion for the lost children of America’s super-elite.

A class-inflected personal account of the author’s experience at Yale, the piece argues that the Great Awokening is less a free speech issue than a byproduct of a loss of moral purpose in America’s upper class. Her view is that America’s young elite has so far lost the desire to rule that for the most part it now prefers to give away its power, either via careers that effectively render them middle class, or else throwing themselves into ‘social justice’ activities whose purpose is less social justice than social bonding, or what she calls ‘coordination by ideology’. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 6
September 2019

Would you clone your dead cat?

Mr Yu’s cat died of a urinary tract infection. The cat’s name was Garlic. Mr Yu buried him in the park. A few hours later he dug him up and put it in the fridge. He had remembered something about a new company that had started to clone pets.

A man came over from Bejing and took skin samples. $35,000, and seven months later, Mr Yu is now the proud owner of his new version of Garlic – according to the press, China’s first cloned cat. Garlic mark 2 was born in the lab using a surrogate mother. It has been called “a feline version of The Handmaid’s Tale”.

China’s first cloned kitten, Garlic.

China is the wild west when it comes to cloning, with no regulations applying to cloning animals. So far the company called Sinogene has cloned more than 40 dogs, at a cost of about $53,000 each. “There is market demand,” says the man from Sinogene, “so where is the problem?” ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 6
September 2019

Why we need to remember Martin Weitzman

Terrible news about the death of Martin Weitzman, a brilliant economist best known for his groundbreaking work on the risks of climate change.

He went against the conventional approach, which is to calculate the so-called social cost of carbon, based on what we think we know about the most likely climate change scenarios. The idea is that this social cost then determines how much we spend on mitigating the risks – preferably by means of a carbon tax to put a price on each unit of carbon emitted.

Martin Weitzman

That all sounds very rational – but Weitzman urged us to think again. What we should be most concerned with is not what we know, but what we don’t know; and furthermore we should act in accordance not with the most likely scenarios, but the more extreme possibilities. Statisticians call these the “tail risks” because in a normal bell curve of probabilities – the most unlikely (but highly consequential) outcomes are described not by the hump in the middle of the curve, but the long, flattish bits at either end – i.e. the tails. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 6
September 2019

Harry Potter can be a sacred text

I was listening to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts recently, which had the cheery theme of Apocalypse. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is presented by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper Ter Kuile, two non-religious Harvard Divinity graduates, who discuss the Rowling books as though they were sacred texts. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

For them, it is how a text is read that makes it sacred, not its literal content. So if we can read a book expecting it to help us get better at loving — with rigour and within a community —  it can be sacred. Their podcast provides a space where, they hope, a generation of millennials — millions of whom know which Hogwarts house they belong to but feel no affiliation with organised religion — can find a way to make meaning.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 5
September 2019

Toryism is not conservatism

I agreed with most of Ed West’s brilliant defence of the 21 rebel Tories. Indeed, I have an interest to declare: I used to work for one of them, Greg Clark. Greg, as well as deserving his reputation as the “nicest man in Westminster”, is also one of the most intelligent and principled. He wouldn’t have voted the way he did if he didn’t believe it to be in the best interests of the country.

Nevertheless, there’s a narrative settling around the 21 that I have to take issue with. It’s the idea that the Conservative Party is divided between swivel-eyed libertarian revolutionaries on the one hand, and a beleaguered remnant of pragmatic, traditional Tories on the other – and that furthermore it’s the latter that keep the flame of true conservatism alive. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Thursday, 5
September 2019

The truth about lies

Boris is a liar. Politicians all lie. We hear complaints like this all of the time. Wouldn’t it be great if we could wire them all up to a perfect lie-detector? Imagine how this would improve our politics.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

There is a terrific long read in the Guardian today about the history of the lie detector test. At one time we would once dunk women in rivers to ascertain the truth about them being witches; whereas waterboarding in the twentieth century was not much better, we also developed more scientific-sounding means – Polygraphs for instance – though they too were often highly unreliable. Indeed, many of these were useful to the police or the military not because they worked but because many people feared that they worked. Imagine the power we would grant to the authorities if such a machine could be developed. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 5
September 2019

Tom Tugendhat interview: is ‘National Conservatism’ coming to the UK?

What constitutes a “real” Conservative? This is a question that people have been asking this week, since the expulsion of 21 Tory MPs from the parliamentary party.

For anyone minded to take a moment out from the hourly procedural dramas, here’s an interview I did with Tom Tugendhat over the weekend about the future of Conservatism. He’s an interesting character in all this – thought of as on the ‘wet’ side on Brexit, but not as dramatically so as Rory Stewart (he didn’t join the rebels this week). He’s one of countless ambitious Tory MPs who are desperate to get past Brexit so they can start talking about other things. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Wednesday, 4
September 2019

The Tory rebels are the true conservatives

Last night’s purge of 21 Tory rebels was perhaps inevitable, sad as it is that the living legend Kenneth Clarke is no longer a Conservative MP. Among the other members of the Tory ‘rebel alliance’, to use the cringeworthy name given to the party’s last few Remainers (I prefer ‘Athenians’, as a counter to the ERG’s ‘Spartans’, but I don’t imagine it will catch on) are Nicholas Soames and Rory Stewart. All have now lost the whip, after voting against the Government.

Some are happy to see them go – Guido’s Tom Harwood, for instance, wondered how Churchill’s grandson could be such a ‘leftie’, while others have accused Rory Stewart of being part of an effete, out-of-touch elite. ...  Continue reading