All posts filed under: Science / Tech

Politics vs. Mental Health: How the Culture War Blocked My Healing Process

Donald Trump may be one of the most intensely psychoanalyzed figures in American history, with many critics casually labelling him “narcissistic,” “egomaniacal,” and “sociopathic.” Even if you disagree with these characterizations, it’s difficult to ignore how common they’ve become. Looking beyond politics, Trump’s legacy may serve to reinforce a specious connection between political preferences and mental health. As I’ve observed firsthand, even before Trump’s rise, some therapists took for granted a link between progressive ideas and good mental health. Trump’s ascendance, along with increasing overall levels of political polarization, and the well-known liberal bias that marks the fields of psychology and mental health, has helped popularize this linkage. I was raised in a socially conservative family, in which we were taught traditional values, including respect for one’s elders, loyalty to family, and the sanctity of the soul. For the most part, we also learned a creed of self-reliance, and were discouraged from attributing personal failings to societal influences. The idea of mental health wasn’t entirely unknown to us—but it tended to be discussed in a …

BirthStrike: The Movement to End All Movements

“I love my nine-year-old son very much but knowing what I know about the future of this planet and the environment he is going to inherit… I have to be honest… if I was making that decision again I’m not sure I would make the same one. I fear for my son’s future.” These were the words spoken during a debate about the BirthStrike movement at the Battle of Ideas Festival in October 2019. Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications for Population Matters and seemingly an otherwise kind and caring father, effectively informed a packed lecture theatre that he wished his son had never been born, and did so while never questioning his role as a virtuous protagonist in this fatalistic narrative. Disturbingly, this kind of sentiment has now filtered out into a wider cultural malaise of anti-natalism that is increasingly seen as progressive and in humanity’s best interest. Such anti-humanist ideas have become prevalent in modern environmentalism, seized by radical movements such as BirthStrike. The BirthStrike movement “We feel too afraid to have …

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

Rise of the Coronavirus Cranks

I am no lockdown junkie. I’d like to get that straight before I explain why the most extreme variant of lockdown scepticism is rebarbative and destructive. I will never forgive the government for dragging out the first lockdown for 14 weeks, pointlessly exhausting the public’s patience and sowing the seeds of the non-compliance we see today. I think the second lockdown was an unnecessary overreaction to a surge in cases in the north-west that was being dealt with by local restrictions. I think the 10pm curfew was counter-productive and the tier system was clumsy and unfair. I always thought “circuit breakers” caused unnecessary hardship and had no chance of nipping the problem in the bud, as their advocates claimed. It was criminal to not reopen the schools in June and I’m not entirely convinced they should be closed now. I scorn the likes of Piers Morgan and “Independent” SAGE who would have had us in lockdown all year if they’d had a chance. No amount of comparing Sweden to its immediate neighbours will persuade me …

Britain Needs a New Approach to Homelessness

Author note: Some of the names in this essay have been changed in accordance with the wishes of those interviewed. “Out here, everyone’s taking something,” a man named Karl explains as he scratches his chest and tries to gather up the copies of the Big Issue he’s just dropped. Karl is standing in the middle of a busy high street, across from Norwich’s historic market. He is one of the estimated 40 men and women in the city who sleep rough every night. Originally from east London, the 45-year-old left the capital after a relationship broke down and headed northward and settled here. After a number of serious issues with alcohol and drugs, he lost his flat and has spent the last three years bedding down on concrete in and around Norwich. Homelessness is an extremely contentious and emotive issue. As a general rule, those on the Right view it as an employment problem, while those on the Left tend to see it as the result of austerity and cuts to social spending introduced by …

Social-Media Oligopolists Are the New Railroad Barons. It’s Time for Washington to Treat Them Accordingly

In 1964, an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenburg told a Cincinnati-based reporter that his hate group would soon be holding a rally in a rural area of Hamilton County. In the filmed portions of that rally, which later became the focus of legal prosecution, robed men, some with guns, could be seen burning a cross and making speeches, infamously demanding “revengeance” against blacks (they used another word, of course), Jews, and the white politicians who were supposedly betraying their own “caucasian race.” They also revealed a plan for an imminent march on Washington, DC. In American First-Amendment jurisprudence, Brandenburg’s name is now a byword for the test that is used in assessing the validity of laws against inflammatory speech—especially speech that can lead to the sort of hateful mob activity that played out at the US Capitol last Wednesday. When details of the Hamilton County rally were made public, prosecutors successfully charged Brandenburg under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute, a 1919 law that, in the spirit of the first Red Scare, criminalized anyone …

To Expower the People

“Reckoning” is a new word in food-media vocabulary. For decades, food journalism flourished as a safe, G-rated corner of publishing, an agreeable refuge from the strife of politics and the passions of fiction. In the extended family of literature, gastro-journalism blossomed as the approachable younger sibling to the fiery op-ed and the moody novel. Slick journals like Gourmet or Bon Appétit projected a dinner-table fantasy ideal for suburban daydreams. Recipes, travelogues, and restaurant reviews allowed readers to escape their world without leaving their living room. The field’s rare ventures into the political usually took the form of culinary cheerleading: “Tacos are My Resistance” or “The Vietnamese Sandwich Shop Teaching Dallas how to Hire Differently.” Then George Floyd died. The residual anger from the protests hit the sheltered cradle of food media with blistering volley of accusations about racial inequity. And the reckoning was immediate. In the course of one month, the top editors of both Bon Appétit and the LA Times Food Section (Adam Rapoport and Peter Meehan respectively) were forced to resign, and culinary …

The Sexual Politics of Vasectomies

The fate of male reproductive organs is not a traditional concern in debates about the environment. But this is the most significant change Australian surgeon Dr Nick Demediuk, aka “Dr Snip,” has seen in the past decade. “There is the rise of the hardline vegan brigade. They just get it done.” Dr Demediuk says he performs a greater proportion of vasectomies upon younger people in their 20s and 30s who are concerned about overpopulation. They have no desire to ever have children for ideological reasons. Research group Chef’s Pencil found Australia was the second most popular place in the world for vegans in 2020, beaten only by Britain. They also found skyrocketing interest over the last five years, accelerated even further since coronavirus. This trend is compounded by the fact that most forms of contraception such as condoms or hormonal altering pills either contain animal derived products or have been tested on animals. While condoms do exist in a natural latex form lacking the offending dairy derivative, available for delivery from Amazon, the vasectomy is …

National Borders are Not Going Away

Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from a passage in Mark Moffett’s book, The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall (Basic Books, 2019).   A great songwriter once asked us to imagine a world without countries. Could our societies ever willingly eliminate their borders and come together as one? All evidence indicates the dreamer John Lennon had been imagining the unattainable. Certainly, among other species, fusion of healthy societies is vanishingly rare. Chimpanzee societies, called communities, exemplify this: the only “mergers” strain that word’s meaning. Primatologist Frans de Waal tells me that captive chimps from different sources can be integrated into one community, but such a merger is a nightmare for zookeepers that requires months of careful introductions, with bloody skirmishes along the way. Meanwhile, the bonobo, an easygoing relative of the more xenophobic chimp, has an aptitude for befriending strangers. That allows individuals who have not met before to forge a new community from scratch with comparatively little fuss. Yet in both apes such arrang­ed societies are artifacts of confinement where, …

The Future Is Already Here

There are not many ways to cause a stir in the classroom as an engineering professor, but one of them is surely to stand in front of a room full of bright-eyed, up-and-coming engineering students and inform them that “innovation, as we popularly understood it, is essentially dead.” Nevertheless, that is what I’ve taken to doing each year. Yes, I always put qualifiers on that statement (which you can perhaps catch a whiff of in the statement itself). I have been delivering “the talk” to students for several years now, outlining exactly what I mean by it, and encouraging them to push back and generate rebuttals. I always frame it as a challenge, rather than as a pronouncement from up on the stage. I am usually unmoved by the returns. It begins like this—I will ask students what inventions have been discovered in their 20-odd-year lifetimes that they feel have fundamentally changed how humans live. They get some space to think, but inevitably offer up their smartphones, at which point I nod, having begrudgingly accepted …