Author: Ben Sixsmith

The Decadent Society—A Review

A review of The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success, by Ross Douthat. Simon & Schuster (February 25 2020) 272 pages.  Writing about decadence can be symptomatic of the condition. How many conservatives—this reviewer included—have eased out article-length moans about sclerotic institutions, falling birth rates and mindless popular culture without as much as a thought of having an effect on them. In our lazier moments we are not opposing decadence but merely providing a soundtrack. I suspect that Ross Douthat knew this when he wrote The Decadent Society. Douthat has long been an outpost of conservatism at the New York Times. The Grey Lady specialises in bland liberal conservatives like David Brooks, Bill Kristol and Bret Stephens but Douthat is both more traditional and more incisive. A social conservative, he also has too much mischief and curiosity about him to succumb to the stuffiness of the stereotype. Readers who might fear that a book bearing the name The Decadent Society would be humourless and cranky, then, need have no such fears. The …

Grooming Gangs and Indifferent Police: What Have We Learned After Rotherham?

Victoria Agoglia was reported missing 136 times between February and September 2002. Whenever she returned to her residential care home she was thought to be drunk or to have taken drugs. Staff at the home were aware of a “pimp” who appeared to be in his mid-twenties and who was thought to have been supplying her with drugs. “No attempts were made to verify his age,” one reported. Victoria told her social worker that she had been injected with heroin by an older man. This information was not relayed to the police. Astonishingly, Victoria’s “drugs worker” thought an appropriate course of action was to make the girl agree to smoke rather than inject heroin. Within two months, Victoria was dead after a 50-year-old man injected her with the drug. This tragic and appalling case is detailed in a new review of “the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.” As in similar cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere, there were numerous victims and the perpetrators were Pakistani-Muslim. As on other occasions, …

‘For the Love of Men’—A Review

A review of For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank, St. Martin’s Press (September 2019) 336 pages. “There is no greater threat to humankind,” Liz Plank announces on the first page of her book For the Love of Men, “Than our current definitions of masculinity.” A bold claim. “Toxic masculinity,” Plank claims, underpins vast amounts of suffering across the globe. Lest this introduction lead one to expect an anti-male screed, Plank is at pains to insist that many of the victims of “toxic masculinity” are men themselves. Who could claim that masculinity cannot be problematic? Men are undeniably responsible for most of the rape and murder in the world, and suicide claims a disproportionate number of male lives. The male bias towards camouflaging vulnerability—expressed, for example, in men’s disproportionate unwillingness to address potential health problems, be they mental or physical—was more adaptive when familial life depended on men getting up to work and fight every day of every week, but it is less so in our more comfortable …

The Globalisation of Ethnonationalism

In Reading Lolita in Tehran, the Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi discussed her experiences teaching the novels of Austen, Joyce and Nabokov to Iranian students as the Islamic Revolution transformed the country. Nafisi related their themes of empowerment and resistance to the oppression and the censorship she saw around herself. For liberals, this was among the most inspiring stories of globalisation. Art and ideas that had been dreamed up on one side of the world could reach and change people on the other. Liberal values could take root in authoritarian societies and grow, and spread their branches and flower throughout them. This has always been a challenge for conservative governments and nationalistic governments. “European civilisation will have a beneficial effect on us,” said the Turkish nationalist Ziya Gökalp: … not only with its science and technology, but also in matters of taste and morality. But this influence is permissible only to the extent that it helps dismantle the Persian one. The moment it attempts to supplant what it destroys, it has itself become harmful …

Deepfakes and the Threat to Privacy and Truth

You just crossed into the twilight zone. “Photographs furnish evidence,” wrote Susan Sontag in On Photography. “A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened.” Sontag went on to write of how photographs can misrepresent situations. But do they even have to show real objects? When you open the website “This Person Does Not Exist” you are met with the face of a man or woman. He or she looks normal—like the average person you would brush past on the way to work—but he or she does not exist. The website uses generative adversarial networks, which produce original data from training sets. Through analyzing vast numbers of real faces the website can generate new ones. True, there are some glitches. The first man I saw—a cheerful, bald, middle-aged man who could have been a television evangelist or a salesman at a training seminar—had an inexplicable hole beneath his ear, which, once seen, gave him an unnerving reptilian appearance. More often than not, though, the faces are indistinguishable from the real thing. You just …

The Right Needs To Grow Up On Environmentalism

Mentioning the environment to a conservative is liable to elicit a similar response that mentioning political correctness would from a left-winger: a slight raising of the eyebrows, a slight exhalation of breath and, perhaps, a folding of the arms or tapping of the feet. It smells—it positively stinks—of out-group affiliation. The environment? That’s what those dreadful latté sipping, lentil eating, flip-flop wearing leftists talk about. Are you sure you’re in the right place? It did not have to be this way. Up until the later decades of the twentieth century, attitudes towards the environment did not fall along tribal lines. Conservationists, like President Theodore Roosevelt, were often conservatives. As environmental causes, like the campaigns against DDT and air pollution, gathered storm in the 1970s, however, conservative were dismayed by the apparent tendencies towards big government and internationalism in addressing them. A 1970 letter to William F. Buckley from his National Review colleague James Burnham, unearthed by the assiduous researcher Joshua Tait, also expresses deep concerns regarding threats to free enterprise and a “snobbish elitism…with the …

In Defense of Male Stoicism

I dealt with the most stereotypically feminine of mental illnesses in the most stereotypically masculine way. After acknowledging that I was anorexic, and deciding that I had no wish to be, I put my head down and tried to recover with the minimum of fuss. I told almost nobody about my condition, and almost never discussed it with the people I had told. I had two sessions with a therapist—almost missing the first after getting myself lost and terrifying pedestrians by running up to them, wild-eyed, to ask for directions to the mental health center—and then abandoned them out of embarrassment and reticence. I did not want to talk, and I did not cry, and I had no wish to hold anyone’s hand or be hugged. As a means of recovery, I would not recommend this. I was fortunate enough to have a family who supported me as I recovered, and someone less privileged would need additional support. Had I been more open to professional help, meanwhile, I might have made a quicker and more comprehensive recovery, …

‘Anti-Imperialism’ and Apologetics for Murder

A consistent feature of the British socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been support for Islamists and Third World dictators. Corbyn himself has dined with his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, and saluted the Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. Andrew Murray, one of his consultants, is a sympathiser with the Juche regime in North Korea. Yasmine Dar, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, is an admirer of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chris Williamson MP, Corbyn’s longtime supporter and friend, is a big fan of the Castroite regime in Cuba. And Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Director of Strategy and Communications, was formerly a Guardian columnist, of whom the leftist commentator Brian Whitaker once wrote: [Milne] views international politics almost entirely through an anti-imperialist lens. That, in turn, leads to a sympathetic view of those dictatorial regimes which characterise themselves as anti-imperialist. It’s the same with Islamist movements where they oppose Western-backed regimes… To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary to return to the West after World War Two. First World Failure, and Third World Hope By the end of …

Britain’s Grooming Gang Crisis

The scale of the street grooming crisis in the UK almost defies belief. Hundreds of girls and young women were raped in the city of Rotherham, and hundreds by similar exploitation rings in Rochdale, Peterborough, Newcastle, Oxford, and Bristol. Now, up to a thousand girls are thought to have been drugged, raped, and beaten in Telford between the 1980s and the 2010s. This is, of course, a highly emotive subject. How could it not be? Yet if the phenomenon is to be understood it is important to evaluate the data objectively. Otherwise we have a lot of heat and little light. Responses to the crisis are contentious because most of the perpetrators are British Asians; specifically British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Child abuse is not uniquely or largely a problem of particular demographics but grooming gangs – that is, multiple offenders exploiting women they have met, manipulated, and abused outside their homes – are 84 percent Asian, and this does not mean Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Indonesian (other perpetrators have been Somali, Romani, Kosovan, Kurdish, and …

In Memory of the Spanish Flu

A hundred years ago the First World War was lurching bloodily towards its squalid end. The Germans were planning their Spring Offensive: a desperate attempt to beat the Allies before the Americans could intervene. Its failure led grindingly to their defeat. An Allied counteroffensive smashed the Hindenberg Line, General Ludendorff endured something close to a breakdown and the Germans slowly, sullenly began to surrender. I would argue that the First World War was the most important episode of the 20th Century. The Tsar’s bad joke of a campaign fuelled the rise of communism. Germans, humiliated and impoverished at Versailles, were left to stew in the resentment that inspired Nazism. The British, who had lost almost three quarters of a million men in a war many had expected to be won in months, had been devastated militarily and psychologically. The French had lost a million men. Europe was not the same. Even as the war began to end, however, and as people might have been excused for breathing sighs of relief, the world was stumbling into …