All posts filed under: Review

Misunderstanding Capitalism

On 3 November, Jacobin magazine hosted a public debate (available here) on the merits of capitalism. Representing Jacobin, Bhaskar Sunkara and Vivek Chibber made the case for the prosecution; representing libertarian magazine Reason, Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward made the case for the defense. Michelle Goldberg, a columnist for the New York Times, served as moderator and opened proceedings by declaring herself persuadable by either side. To the participants’ credit, it was exciting to see people of opposing viewpoints engaging in civil debate during these tribal and polarized times. Podcast: @reason debates @jacobinmag on capitalism, socialism: @nickgillespie and @kmanguward make the case for “free minds and free markets” as the best way to improve the world https://t.co/wGhCixLPDC — reason (@reason) November 16, 2017 This debate offered an opportunity to reflect on the respective merits of capitalism and socialism (the Jacobin representatives’ preferred alternative) and lessons from the past that might help us to build a better tomorrow. It was, however, also a frustrating affair, not least because of persistent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the subject …

Sex Through the Looking Glass

A review of The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and The Growth of Governmental Power by Stephen Baskerville (Angeliko Press, 2017) 408 pages. One needs to be of a certain age to remember how much of a bounty was promised during the early days of feminism. It was to be a revolution in just about everything, transforming a world made out of male aggression and oppression into a world of feminine love and kindness, of which we would all, men as well as women, be the beneficiaries. For my own field, organizational behavior, the implications seemed to be pretty well laid out in Carol Gilligan’s classic In a Different Voice. Organization would be based, not on the rules that men had developed to keep from killing each other, but on the feelings that women had evolved to connect. Working life would consist in being cared for and loved. Being a hater of rules, this appealed to me. But I had my concerns and I thought they needed airing. In accordance with …

Beaked Up Birds: A Review of Big Chicken

A Review of Big Chicken by Maryn McKenna. National Geographic (September 12, 2017) 400 pages.   People began cultivating plants and animals on a large scale about 10,000 years ago. Farming created a steady supply of nutrients, and acted as an insurance policy so that our ancestors weren’t constantly beholden to the whims of weather and the migration of animals. Of course, weather also affected crops, and farm animals sometimes escaped their pens or were killed by parasites. But settled agriculture allowed us to spread risk over longer periods of time and across more people. Agriculture brought with it enormous benefits, including a larger trading network, a greater division of labor, and even some genetic changes that we’re better off with than without. But it also exposed us to new risks, including a less diverse source of nutrients, and new pathogens (some of the genetic consequences of agriculture are a product of our new diet and new pathogens: those who didn’t adapt were culled by the invisible hand of natural selection). When we began to domesticate animals, …

The Problem with Public Art

This is a good example of bad public art. It’s not new—it’s from 2011—but the design is still printed onto seats on the Tube in London, and I found myself staring at it the other day with appalled fascination. It’s called Acts of Kindness, by Michael Landy, and the public were meant to go to a website to share stories of people being nice to one another. What’s wrong with that? Almost everything. One thing to notice is that the figures are all adult men: they have broad shoulders and narrow hips. Presumably the artist wanted to be inclusive, yet it didn’t occur to him to draw a gender-neutral figure, or a mix of men, women and children. And what does the image mean? Self? Other? Who talks that way? No one. The natural word choice would have been me and you—but that would have sounded cute and childlike, and exposed the vapid sentiments for what they are. ‘Be nice.’ It is insincere, trite and patronising. If I see someone in need on public transport …

The Implosion of Western Liberalism

“Western liberalism is under siege,” writes Edward Luce in his short new book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Whether it is under siege, retreating or imploding, there is no longer any doubt that it is embattled. To anyone over forty, moreover, this is a puzzling—and likely also disturbing—development. By the end of the twentieth century, liberal democracy seemed not only triumphant but, to some, inevitable. In the 1970s, Portugal, Greece and Spain closed the long chapter of European fascism. As the Soviets retreated from their satellites, democratic governments (more or less liberal) spread across central and eastern Europe. Through the 1990s, even Russia appeared to be moving closer to the Western consensus over individual human rights and popular representation through genuine, multi-party elections. In three decades (1970–2000), the number of democracies worldwide went from thirty to one hundred. Perhaps even China would liberalize, many Western leaders hoped, as it opened up to Western investment, belying its Marxist rhetoric with an increasingly capitalist reality. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama foresaw the possibility …

Sex and the Seductions of Social Explanation

A review of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, by Angela Saini. Beacon Press (May 30 2017) 224 pages. I saw a funny cartoon: a man lies hopelessly drunk in a gutter while, slumped next door, his bulbous-nosed friend utters the punchline: “He’s been celebrating not having the alcoholism gene again.” This was a long time ago, when I was a researcher in a university psychology department, and the cartoon was pinned to the door of a senior colleague working on the social psychology of alcoholism. He was a man, it’s safe to say, who didn’t like genetic explanations for human behaviour. Over the years I’d largely forgotten about the cartoon, as well as most of what I once knew about psychology. The memory came back to me in recent months, however, as the long-simmering question of what kind of explanations we should give when we turn our attention to ourselves, to questions of human behaviour, has boiled over. Once again there is a partisanship for certain types …

Haruki Murakami, Poet of Loneliness

Do you ever want to take a walk? Not around the neighbourhood. Not around the park. Not around the city. Nothing planned. Nothing orderly. A walk with a beginning but no middle and no end. That is the fate of many characters in the novels of Japan’s Haruki Murakami. It is also his appeal. The reader goes for a walk: starting somewhere familiar and going somewhere strange. There is much one could dislike about Murakami’s books. The prose can be cliche-ridden. The tropes can seem cloying. The characters and plots can seem predictable. While he has been consistently popular, Murakami’s critical reception has been mixed. “Falling out of love with Murakami” was the title of one essay in the Guardian. His popularity, indeed, exposes him to cynicism as his fans can be among the most cultlike in literature: whimsical “Harukists” who love his most formulaic elements and bemoan his annual failure to win the Nobel Prize. One could easily imagine a satire of his books. A single man lives alone, cooking miso soup and listening to the Beatles. He …

Read Houellebecq To Free Your Mind

Let’s say that you, like many Quillette readers, are part of the broad coalition that aims to promote greater engagement with dangerous ideas and fight political correctness – call it cultural libertarianism if you wish, but in reality the coalition includes many social conservatives and others who don’t really fit that label. What should you read? Who should your intellectual heroes be? An obvious answer is John Stuart Mill; approving references to Mill’s wonderful On Liberty have become something of a ritual for those of us with such concerns. But there’s room for more heroes besides Mill, and room for disagreement and debate about who those figures should be. In this essay, I’d like to suggest that the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq may be such a figure. Though Houellebecq has a large international audience and many Quillette readers are surely familiar with his work, I find that his name isn’t invoked that often in the discussions of cultural issues with which we are concerned. But it should be. Houellebecq has something to offer to …

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle: Science, Commerce, Freedom, and the Origins of Modernity

They are [letters] from brothers of mine in Europe. They tell a story – albeit in a fragmentary and patchwork way – of a sea-change that is spreading across Christendom, in large part because of men like Leibniz, Newton and Descartes. It is a change in the way men think, and it is the doom of the Inquisition. — Edouard de Gex in the dungeons of the Mexican Inquisition Athenian civilization defended itself from the forces of Ares with metis, or technology. Technology is built on science. … The process of science doesn’t work unless young scientists have the freedom to attack and tear down old dogmas, to engage in an ongoing Titanomachia. Science flourishes where art and free speech flourish. — Enoch Root, in a later incarnation in Cryptonomicon The principal and proper work of history being to instruct and enable men by the knowledge of actions past to bear themselves prudently in the present and providently toward the future. — Thomas Hobbes, introduction to his translation of Thucydides Commentary on Neal Stephenson’s Baroque …

Germaine Greer and the Emma Dilemma

Rescuing Jane Austen from Both Her Well-Meaning Admirers and Her Less Well-Meaning Political Critics In the commentaries devoted to Jane Austen this year on the two-hundredth anniversary of her death, the cultural basis of her importance as a historical figure and of her great appeal as a novelist was largely overlooked, neglected, or misunderstood. The best way to approach this question is by comparing Austen’s Emma with Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Though at first glance these two books, one a work of fiction, the other of non-fiction, but each influential in its own way, would seem to have little in common, the story of Austen’s heroine in fact anticipates the actual experience of many modern women, including Ms. Greer. To begin by clearing up one large misconception: Greer’s treatise is not only about women’s liberation. Greer herself emphasized this point in drawing a distinction between “reform” feminism and “revolutionary” feminism. Reform feminists believed women could gain the same legal and political rights, equality of opportunity in education and career choices, and sexual freedom that …