All posts filed under: Long Read

The Death of a Dreamer

The following is a lightly adapted extract from Will Storr’s latest book Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, Picador (June 15, 2017), 416 pages.  Imagine that it were possible to create the perfect human. The process would be like making an app, but instead of computer code, your design language would be DNA. You’d do the creating itself on your smartphone—using a piece of software called a Genome Compiler—then email what you’d come up with to a laboratory. Technicians in that lab would manufacture the DNA, per your instructions, dry it out, then send it back to you. After all, DNA isn’t alive. It’s a polymer, an arrangement of four different chemicals. Theoretically, from that DNA, it would be possible to construct the most advanced forms of life. You could make your human a super-genius, immune to all kinds of diseases. You could even make them live forever. After all, we only age and die because the DNA program we’re running—our human code—contains an instruction to do so. Just get …

Confessions of a ‘Soulless Troglodyte’: How My Brooklyn Literary Friendships Fell Apart in the Age of Trump

I became friends with Jamie when I was 13, a few years after my family fled the Soviet Union and settled in what was then one of the most diverse neighborhoods of south Brooklyn. When we first met, Jamie (not his real name) told me that he was a genius—that his Catholic school teachers said so after he wrote a poem about vaginas and read it aloud in front of the whole class. He told me he wanted to be “an author.” In the 1990s, our street was a spontaneous symphony of the working poor, a place where kids bonded by trading ethnic insults in a dozen languages. I had mastered this crude local vernacular. Jamie’s ability to step outside of our street language, speak freely and dream about something larger was transfixing. Unlike Jamie, I churned through the city’s public schools without attracting much notice. My teachers did not seek genius. In high school, they were too busy keeping us from killing each other. I learned nothing and barely graduated. After Jamie went off …

Not All Dead White Men—A Review

A review of Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age, by Donna Zuckerberg. Harvard University Press, October 8, 2018 (288 pages). How To Be a Good Classicist  Donna Zuckerberg holds a PhD in Classics from Princeton University. Her older brother, Mark Zuckerberg, is the co-founder of Facebook. Dr Zuckerberg has arguably become the most influential scholar of Greek and Latin literature in America, thanks to Eidolon, the online journal which she founded in 2015. Outside university departments of Classics, Eidolon remains obscure. It emphasises Greek and Roman culture in the modern world, frequently in relation to some aspect of popular culture. Articles tend to be written in an informal, ‘accessible’ style; though few obviously appeal to readers who are not aspiring academics or junior scholars. Eidolon accurately reflects the orthodoxy prevailing in contemporary universities: this is what you have to say, and how you should sound, if you want an academic job. The best-known Eidolon article remains Dr Zuckerberg’s “How to Be A Good Classicist Under A Bad Emperor,” which has …

The New Patriarchy: How Trans Radicalism Hurts Women, Children—and Trans People Themselves

“I knew by the time I was eight that I didn’t want to be a boy,” says Melissa. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to be.” Born in a provincial English town in the early 1970s and brought up by evangelical Christians, the boy had never heard of a transsexual (a term that was widely used in the decades before “transgender” entered common usage in the 1990s). As for gay men, “they were all going to hell.” As soon as he could, he moved to London and “experimented,” presenting himself as a man at work and a woman in the evenings. In the early 2000s, his gender dysphoria—the distress caused by the feeling that your body is the wrong sex—came to a head. “The thought of being buried as an old man became simply unbearable.” But even as Melissa came to that bleak realization, a new future for her was opening up. Britain, like many other countries, was planning to grant gender-dysphoric people a route to legal recognition as members of the opposite sex. …

My Misspent Years of Conspiracism

I My tumble down the JFK assassination rabbit-hole began in the Tunbridge Wells Odeon on 25 January 1992. I was 16. A few years previously, I had watched a television documentary that purported to identify a second assassin in police uniform (known to conspiracy researchers as ‘badgeman’) firing at the president from the grassy knoll. But I’d never heard of Jim Garrison and knew precisely nothing about the case he had prosecuted against Clay Shaw. Oliver Stone’s new film had a 189-minute running time (later expanded to 206 minutes in the Director’s Cut) which struck me as excessive, and there was something vaguely irritating about the piety of the sentences emblazoned across the promotional material (“He is a District Attorney. He will risk his life, the lives of his family, everything he holds dear, for the one thing he holds sacred… the truth”). Nevertheless, on JFK’s opening weekend, I took my seat in a packed auditorium along with a couple of school friends and for over three hours I was mesmerised. By the time it …

Reclaiming Work as a Virtue

My father taught me a simple lesson: when the alarm clock goes off, you get out of bed, have a shave, wash yourself, put your clothes on and go to work. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to be focused on what you want to achieve. Dad believed the measure of a person was whether or not they were a worker. He believed that working was a virtue. So do I. My father was Bundjalung and my mother Gumbaynggirr, two of the hundreds of first nations that existed across Australia before British colonisation. My Bundjalung ancestors had their first contact with white settlers in the early 1800s who came looking for grazing land. Like so many indigenous peoples across the world, this early contact included killings. But the initial hostilities gave way to a compromise with both sides showing a marked level of pragmatism. The settlers set up their sheep, later cattle, station and my ancestors lived and worked there, maintaining a good relationship with the station owners to this day. My grandfather …

The Public Humiliation Diet

Reading about James Gunn’s defenestration by Disney for having tweeted some off-color jokes 10 years ago, I was reminded of my own ordeal at the beginning of this year. I’m British, not American, a conservative rather than a liberal, and I didn’t have as far to fall as Gunn. I’m a journalist who helped set up one of England’s first charter schools, which we call ‘free schools,’ and I’ve sat on the board of various not-for-profits, but I’m not the co-creator of Guardians of the Galaxy. In some respects, though, my reversal was even more brutal than Gunn’s because I have spent a large part of the past 10 years doing voluntary work intended to help disadvantaged children. It is one thing to lose a high-paying job because of your ‘offensive attitudes,’ but to be denied further opportunities to do good hits you deep down in your soul. At least Gunn can now engage in charity work to try and redeem himself, as others in his situation have done. I had to give up all the charity …

I Was a Female Incel

Author’s Note: I have chosen to publish this essay under a pseudonym to preserve my anonymity and the anonymity of others mentioned in my story. I respectfully ask anyone who believes they can identify me from what follows to respect my request for privacy.   The terror revealed itself to me in smatterings; bits and pieces of fragmented information communicated in broken English by immigrant factory workers: Van ran over a curb on Yonge Street. Many dead. As I sat amongst the ubiquitous iPhone screens on the TTC, a sea of constantly-refreshing social media feeds and angry red breaking news headlines screaming out from anodyne weekday newscasts, I grasped the reality of the psychological trauma inflicted by terrorist attacks. These were the same images we had seen dozens of times over, in sports stadiums, in concert halls, in city squares: a sea of carnage, a pile of mutilated bodies lying with their clothes torn and their limbs akimbo; a smashed vehicle, an angry sore thumb of burnt rubber and twisted metal; hysterical citizens, legions of …

What Is the Tribe of the Anti-Tribalists?

Near the end of a much-discussed podcast in May entitled Identity & Honesty, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein have the following telling exchange: Ezra Klein: You have that bewildering experience because you donʼt realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but youʼre not, that that is our disagreement. Sam Harris: Well, no, because I know Iʼm not thinking tribally— Ezra Klein: Well, that is our disagreement.….Right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you. Sam Harris: Itʼs not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public. Ezra Klein: We all have a lot of different identities weʼre part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneously, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I …

Devastation and Denial: Cambodia and the Academic Left

Looking out across the yellow-washed angular buildings that clutter the inner city of Phnom Penh in 2016, hindsight fills me with anxiety. Imagining myself here in 1975, I recall the jubilant and cheering crowds in the spring of that year who weren’t privy to that hindsight as they welcomed Khmer Rouge communists into Cambodia’s capital city after months of siege. On the morning of 17 April, word had arrived that the Khmer Rouge had captured the government’s last beleaguered military stronghold on the outskirts of the city. Prime Minister Long Boret could hardly believe the news. He demanded to be driven to the riverside to see it with his own eyes. By the time he arrived, order had already collapsed in the streets and men wearing the black shirts of the Khmer Rouge surrounded his small entourage and demanded his guards put down their guns. Managing to slip away in the chaos, Boret reported back to his cabinet at the Defence Ministry that the enemy was already in the streets. The rush then began to …