Author: Matt Johnson

Poultry Farming, COVID-19, and the Next Pandemic

I Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906 to expose the horrific conditions in American factories at the turn of the century. While he intended to highlight the misery and abuse of the workers, his graphic descriptions of disgusting and unsanitary conditions at slaughterhouses were what most outraged the public. President Theodore Roosevelt was among the indignant readers, and he used the outcry over The Jungle to push for passage of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. “I aimed for the public’s heart,” Sinclair later wrote, “and by accident hit it in the stomach.” Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals (published in 2009)—and the chapter “Influence/Speechlessness,” in particular, about the US poultry industry and the risks it poses to our health—ambitiously aims for the reader’s heart and stomach at the same time. Foer gives us a glimpse into the hellish life of the more than nine billion factory farmed chickens “produced”—all 56.8 billion pounds of them, as the National Chicken Council (NCC) proudly announces—by the industry every year. “It’s hard …

COVID-19 Is Not the End of ‘The End of History’

I. If there were an annual award for the world’s most misunderstood essay, Francis Fukuyama would have won it every year for the past three decades. “The End of History?” was published in the National Interest in the summer of 1989, and it argued that the world was witnessing the “total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” This observation led Fukuyama to a conclusion that has catalyzed more debate than any other single argument since the collapse of the Soviet Union: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Fukuyama must have known how controversial this claim was, but he never could have anticipated the impact his essay would have or how grossly it would be misrepresented. What’s remarkable about “The End of History?” is how fundamentally …

Candace Owens Is Dangerously Misinformed about Vaccines

After Bill Gates criticized the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization, right-wing social media personality and America Firster Candace Owens accused Gates of being a “vaccine-criminal.” In a Facebook post on April 15th that has since generated 38,000 reactions and over 6,000 comments—as well as being shared more than 22,000 times—she elaborated: FACT: Bill and Melinda Gates, along with their partners at the World Health Organization have been unethically experimenting with non-FDA approved vaccines on African and Indian tribes for YEARS… As this information is getting out, Snopes has bent over backwards to try to say that it is technically false. It is not and it is easily researchable and verifiable. I suggest every single person take the time today to educate themselves and read this academic review on the long efforts Bill Gates and the World Health Organization have the taken, under the guise of “philanthropy”, to develop and mandate worldwide vaccines. In another tweet published the same day, Owens stated: Experimenting on and incidentally paralyzing and infertilizing poor colored children …

Will There Be a New Cold War with China? A Reply to Niall Ferguson

The end of the Cold War was a heady time in the West. Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?”—which argued that the world was witnessing the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”—was published in the National Interest a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. US President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were touting the possibility of a “peace dividend,” in which billions of dollars could be shifted from defense budgets to domestic projects. The number of nuclear weapons in the world dropped precipitously after peaking in the mid-1980s, and the threat of nuclear war seemed dimmer than it had been in decades. There are countless ways in which the post-Cold War era hasn’t lived up to expectations. The global recession in the late 2000s and rising income inequality have undermined faith in open markets and democratic institutions, authoritarian demagogues have risen to power on both sides of the Atlantic, and as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, we could be heading for yet another recession …

Christopher Hitchens, Anti-Identitarian

The Hitchens Prize is an annual award sponsored by the Dennis & Victoria Ross Foundation, named for the late polemicist and essayist Christopher Hitchens and presented to “an author or journalist whose work reflects a commitment to free expression and inquiry.” George Packer was this year’s recipient, and his acceptance speech examined a strange pathology of our time: “Writers are now expected to identify with a community and to write as its representatives.” While the community “might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique,” the effect is always the same: to enforce certain dogmas; to loudly declare your virtuous affiliations; to suppress independent thought. Hitchens, like Packer, was a great admirer of George Orwell (the former wrote a book in 2002 called Why Orwell Matters, while the latter edited two volumes of Orwell essays). In his 1946 essay “The Prevention of Literature,” Orwell observed: “To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.” Hitchens thought fearlessly. As Martin Amis put it, he liked “the …

Holbrooke and the 68ers

Our Man—Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer, Knopf, 608 pages, (May 2019) Power and the Idealists by Paul Berman, W. W. Norton and Company, 348 pages, (April 2007 Reissue) I. George Packer is a shrewd chronicler of American decay. In his 2013 book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Packer reveals a battered, post-recession United States—from gutted factories in Youngstown, Ohio to abandoned housing developments in Tampa, Florida. The Unwinding isn’t a polemic—it’s written in the style of John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, so it includes long profiles of the main “characters” alongside shorter essays about major American figures (from Colin Powell to Oprah) and page-long, staccato blasts of ads, lyrics, movie quotes, and headlines over the years. While some of the portraits in The Unwinding are evocative accounts of American resilience and ingenuity, if you pick up the book today, it’s like reading the prequel to Trumpism. And it hasn’t escaped Packer’s notice that his most recent book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End …

The Apologist’s Apologist—A Reply to Robert Wright

In his most recent Nonzero Newsletter, Bloggingheads co-founder Robert Wright celebrates the “death” of the Intellectual Dark Web. Observing with some satisfaction that Google searches for “Intellectual Dark Web” have declined over the past couple of years, he points to what he describes as the IDW’s main “public relations problem”—its members aren’t as committed to the “vigorous and open exchange of ideas” as they insist. To substantiate this charge, Wright complains that a Twitter search returns no IDW objections to Trump’s recent executive order targeting antisemitism on U.S. college campuses. This alleged “inconsistency in the attitude of some in the IDW toward thought policing,” Wright says, was on his mind following publication of an article I wrote about Max Blumenthal for Quillette in October entitled “Tyranny’s Mouthpiece.” Blumenthal had just appeared on Wright’s Bloggingheads show, which he spent doing what he always does—blaming the United States for as much chaos and bloodshed in the Middle East as possible. Blumenthal was fresh off a trip to Damascus, where he had attended a regime-sponsored “international trade union …

Gates Derangement Syndrome

Is it immoral to be a billionaire? That was the motion before the Oxford Union in a debate held last September, emphatically proposed by the journalist Anand Giridharadas. Billionaires, Giridharadas argued: …find clever new ways to pay people as little as possible and as precariously as possible. They avoid taxes illegally and legally, with trillions hiding offshore, as we’ve heard tonight. They lobby for public policies that don’t benefit the public interest—in fact, cost the public interest but enrich them. They form monopolies that asphyxiate competition. They cause social problems to make a profit: obesity by selling sugary drinks; the opioid crisis by selling OxyContin; the housing calamity by speculating in dodgy mortgages; climate change by selling fossil fuels. After outlining all the ways in which billionaires are marauding thieves and parasites, Giridharadas explained that they “then use philanthropy, some of the spoils of dubiously gotten wealth, to whitewash not just their reputations, but to actually create the ability to keep doing what they are doing.” In many cases, this bleak and cynical view of …

Tyranny’s Mouthpiece

On September 8, 2019, Syria’s state news agency published an article about the beginning of the Third International Trade Union Forum in Damascus, which hosted “dozens of intellectuals, journalists, (and) political and social activists from Arab and foreign countries.” Among the attendees were the American journalists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. If you want to know why Blumenthal and Khalek were welcome at an event organized “under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad”—aside from the fact that they’re frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today—the rest of the article should give you an idea. It condemns the “aggressive terrorist war” launched against Syria, along with the “economic war that constitutes terror in and of itself” (a reference to U.S. sanctions). It calls for a media campaign to galvanize world public opinion in support of the Syrian government and “reveal the truth about the U.S. policy of besieging independent and free countries.” It points out that the “real goal of the war on Syria is to stop it from being a force that …

The Hell of Good Intentions—A Review

A review of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy, by Stephen Walt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (October 2018) 400 pages. Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is sick of academics, politicians, and journalists who regard the United States as the “indispensable nation,” which has to remain “engaged around the world” to ensure that the “US-led international order” is upheld. These are the fundamental assumptions that have underpinned American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War—a foreign policy that goes by many names, depending on who you ask. Left-wing critics call it “neoliberalism” or “neoimperialism,” Hillary Clinton calls it “American leadership,” and Walt—author of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy—calls it “liberal hegemony.” Walt isn’t alone in decrying liberal hegemony—John Mearsheimer (Walt’s collaborator and a fellow realist at the University of Chicago) published The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities around the same time as The Hell …