Featuring: hygiene theatre, Tartaria, prison abolitionists, and Sally Rooney
by UnHerd Staff
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September saw Keir Starmer return to the 1990s at Labour conference, Joe Biden’s approval ratings plummet even further, and a global supply chain crisis. These have been the headline making events dutifully broadcast and published by the mainstream. But what’s been happening on Substack? UnHerd staff have selected their favourite posts from the last month.
American-Canadian academic Justin E.H. Smith wrote about how bored he was by the pandemic. Why? Smith is not a lockdown sceptic, or anti-vax. But he is frustrated by the way Covid is now being managed:
I find covid boring. I am not a public-health expert, nor an investigative reporter, and I just do not have much to say that is not also being said in a million other places. I watch with amazement my friends and peers who have somehow nonetheless easily transformed themselves into what look lie full-time volunteer nodes of information on epidemiology, on Delta rates in Alabama and the aerial spread of miasmas in ventilated vs. unventilated spaces… It is remarkable to me to see how neatly our social world is lining up: it is consistently the same people who think applying the Bechdel test to The Avengers counts as cultural criticism who also refuse to acknowledge anything worrisome about the new high-tech hygiene regime, about how hard it might be to dismantle once it has outlived its purpose, about how it might sprout new purposes that are inimical to human thriving.
- Justin E.H. Smith
Historian Anton Howes wrote about the rise of the new billionaire-funded space empires. Howes has a warning for Musk and Bezos. Being the first to colonise space, if history is anything to go by, might not be a good idea:
Are we likely to see a similar move towards state-granted monopoly corporations when it comes to space colonisation? I suspect it depends on the potential rewards, and on the strength of the competition… How the monopolies are managed will also matter. The English East India Company, for example, was initially more focused on rewarding its shareholders than it was on investing in the full infrastructure with which to dominate a trade route. The Dutch company, by contrast, from the get-go was part of a more coordinated imperial strategy — one that sought to systematically rob the Portuguese of their factories and forts, to project force with the aid of the state. Indeed, if there’s one big lesson for the geopolitics of space, it’s that far-flung empires can be extremely fragile, with plenty of opportunities for late-arriving interlopers to take them over.
- Anton Howes
John Ganz wrote about Ross Perot’s 1992 run for the presidency; Wesley Yang investigated the origins of the prison abolition movement in the United States. Helen Lewis reviewed Sally Rooney’s new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You, wondering if the Irish author will ever write another novel:
The whole tone is of a hot afternoon in mid-September: lazy, enjoyable, convivial but marred by the great shadow of imminent autumn, an awareness that anything this good doesn’t last. Or maybe the limp sadness of an out-of-season seaside resort. This can feel airless and stultifying, and not by accident: Rooney is conveying something about the emptiness of modern life, when so much of our joy is performed for an imagined audience who will view this moment later, online. Life becomes pre-content, a future Instagram post. The problem is that in creative terms, creating this atmosphere feels like a dead end.
- Helen Lewis
Andrew Sullivan claims that Donald Trump will be back in 2024. Scott Alexander tried to work out why everybody hates modern architecture apart from modern architects, drawing on the work of our very own Peter Franklin.