by UnHerd
Monday, 5
July 2021
Spotted
07:00

UnHerd picks: June’s best Substacks

Featuring culture wars, DNA, Jeff Bezos, OnlyFans and Dr Johnson
by UnHerd
Where do I click subscribe? (Getty)

June was a month that saw a sex scandal bring down a minister of state, a G7 summit invade Cornwall, and two by-elections. These have been the headline making events that British newspapers have dutifully recorded.

But elsewhere — especially in the expanding digital ecosystem of Substack — writers and journalists less tethered to the news cycle have been following their own interests, and producing superb work. Over the course of the month, UnHerd staff collected some of the best new writing.

How to explain our exhausting and seemingly endless culture wars? Angela Nagle argued that the populist moment has created a battle between a secular clerisy on one side, and everyone else on the other:

… a struggle between the clerisy – a vast secular moral teaching class created in the 20th century who accrue power, set the terms of moral virtue and prestige and parasite existing wealth through producing and maintaining ideology – and those who found themselves outside the clerisy, subject to its punitive rules without gaining any benefits from its parasitic existence.
- Angela Nagle, Substack

The novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth wrote about the “naive purity” of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his quest to conquer space:

Having discovered, conquered, mapped, named or otherwise quantified every thing, people and place on the planet, there is nowhere else for us to go here on Earth. Furthermore, our ongoing quest for more ‘resources’ to fuel the kind of always-on lifestyle that Bezos has so effectively accelerated, means that we can’t find enough fuel here to power our greed (sorry, ‘progress’)
- Paul Kingsnorth, Substack

Matt Taibbi reviewed anti-racist guru Robin DiAngelo’s new book Nice Racism:

Reading DiAngelo is like being strapped to an ice floe in a vast ocean while someone applies metronome hammer-strikes to the the same spot on your temporal bone over and over.
- Matt Taibbi, Substack

Over at ChinaTalk, Jordan Schneider examined ‘rap propaganda’ made by Chinese Communist Party propagandists:

“100%” is a 15-minute panegyric to the Party. It is the benighted brainchild of 100 rappers and it sounds the part. Most of the lyrics are anodyne professions of national pride. The chorus screeches: “Sound the trumpet/ China Rising!/ Aiming for victory/ China Rising!/ Our wills united we become a wall/ China Rising!/ Never give up/ China Rising!”
- ChinaTalk, Substack

Is a backlash towards liberal feminist sex positivity on the way? Default Friend looked at TikTok, where a growing number of Gen Z users are making videos that warn against platforms like OnlyFans and PornHub. A new sexual conservatism is on the way, she argues.

Razib Khan summarised cutting-edge research in human genomics. The origins of humanity are much more complex, it turns out, than we thought they were:

Over the last twenty years, genomics, ancient DNA and paleoanthropology have joined forces to completely overhaul our understanding of the origin of our species. The true diversity and complexity of human evolution over the last few hundred millennia surpasses even the most unhinged imaginings we might have hazarded just a short generation ago. But greater clarity has left us with a messier and less elegant narrative. Our species’ status, it turns out, is “complicated.”
- Razib Khan, Substack

Historian Anton Howes wondered why the agricultural revolution experienced in Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries has been eclipsed by the far more famous industrial revolution. Journalist Noah Smith blamed Pakistan’s sclerotic political system for it’s failure to grow it’s economy. Julie Burchill enjoyed seeing a smile on the Queen’s face at Ascot.

Dominic Cummings shared some old WhatsApp messages that Boris Johnson wrote about Matt Hancock. The author Freddie deBoer questioned whether the American Left could look at all the sound and fury of the year since the George Floyd protests and be happy with itself:

At some point, people who are dedicated to the pursuit of racial justice in the United States must do this mental work: they must acknowledge that nothing has changed since George Floyd died, and that there is no reason to think that anything will change soon.
- Freddie deBoer, Substack

And Henry Oliver investigated an intriguing gap in the career of Samuel Johnson. Where was the great man in 1745, during the Jacobite uprising, which he strongly sympathised with? The truth is that we don’t know. Johnson, writes Oliver, “like many prominent conservatives throughout history… started out as a romantic radical, and that he may well have got much closer to astonishing behaviour than we are able to prove or believe.”

Join the discussion


  • Rich curation. Thank you to whomever. Only wish I could have gone on reading Matt Taibbi’s enjoyable panning of Robin DiAngelo’s latest.magnum opus.

  • Thanks for the leads. Sites like Medium and Substack need some curation given they really don’t show up in search. Is there a ‘new search’ that indexes them?

  • To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

    It's simple, quick and free.

    Sign me up