All posts filed under: Spotlight

Create Dangerously: Albert Camus and the Power and Responsibility of the Artist

On December 14, 1957, only four days after he had delivered his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Albert Camus gave another speech in Sweden, this time at Uppsala University, called “Create Dangerously: The Power and Responsibility of the Artist,” in which he argued, “To create today means to create dangerously. Every publication is a deliberate act, and that act makes us vulnerable to the passions of a century that forgives nothing.” Exchange century for internet and you’ll know why Vintage has just rereleased this speech as its own pocket book in a new translation by Sandra Smith. These are dangerous times to create art. Which is also to say, these are the best times to create art. But what makes these times dangerous anyway? After all, Camus gave his speech only a decade after WWII when fascism had almost conquered Europe, and the Soviet Empire was just beginning its rule over half the continent that would last the next half a century. In today’s West, this idea of “danger” seems—to use one …

Mark Zuckerberg and the Changing Civil Rights Movement

On October 17, 2019, defending Facebook’s generally hands-off policy with respect to regulating the content of political advertisements, CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the podium at Georgetown University and delivered an eloquent defense of free expression. In his address, he linked speech to the historic pursuit of justice for the powerless, and made reference to his experience as a student immediately following the invasion of Iraq. This fed his later conviction that open forums for discourse are essential to the advocacy of political causes: Back then, I was building an early version of Facebook for my community, and I got to see my beliefs play out at smaller scale. When students got to express who they were and what mattered to them, they organized more social events, started more businesses, and even challenged some established ways of doing things on campus. It taught me that while the world’s attention focuses on major events and institutions, the bigger story is that most progress in our lives comes from regular people having more of a voice. This …

On Gender, Blurring the Line Between Dogma and Farce

Everyone has heard of Charlie Chaplin. Less widely recognized is the name of his older half-brother Sydney (often called Syd), who was a gifted comic actor in his own right. Unlike his younger brother, who invented his own kind of comedy, Syd relied on the established comic tropes of the day, which often were nothing more than feature-length versions of boys-school dress-up sketches. This included the 1925 version of Charley’s Aunt, in which Syd starred as an Oxford student who pretends to be a wealthy middle-aged widow as part of a hoax aimed at helping his friends Jack and Charley propose to their paramours Amy and Kitty. Predictably, this “aunt” attracts the romantic attentions of the villain, a penniless former grandee who seeks to plunder the aunt’s fortune. As this clip shows, the brilliance of Syd’s acting is expressed not by succeeding as a lady (as Nathan Lane did during portions of The Birdcage in 1996), but rather by failing in the nearly complete way that this kind of comic role requires: His feminine pretenses …

Tensions in NATO and the Looming End of Pax Americana

As NATO leaders gathered in London this week to mark the 70th anniversary of history’s most venerable military alliance, it has been widely forgotten that not so long ago the specter of armed conflict haunted the European continent. When the Washington treaty establishing NATO was signed in April 1949, the Soviet Union occupied the captive nations of Eastern Europe and an invasion of Western Europe by the Red Army was not a remote possibility. On current trends, the Atlantic alliance may well suffer a premature demise as the world moves into another great power rivalry that is also an ideological contest between democracy and autocracy. A terse review of the historical record is in order here. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States committed itself to a revolutionary foreign policy. The extraordinary task of maintaining some semblance of international order after two global conflagrations was premised on a controversial but compelling notion of enlightened self-interest. The guiding principle of U.S. statecraft was that the peace of the world was in grave and …

The Dangerous Dream of Dismantling Human Hierarchies

It is an idea that has always united radicals, from the sans-culottes of the French Revolution to current student activists at the University of Missouri: they have all detested the scourge of social hierarchy, the peculiar fact that some people rank higher than others and enjoy privileged access to some resources—be they power, esteem, attention or financial reward. It is, of course, not only radicals of past and present who shun hierarchies. Even in the more polite circles of newsrooms, sociology departments or centrist party academies, there is broad agreement that abolishing hierarchies has to be a moral imperative. Prestigious philosophers, like, say, Elizabeth Anderson, who can in no way be associated with the radical fringes, demand the dismantling of social hierarchies. In effect, the discourse of social justice is now largely synonymous with outlining what an abolition of status hierarchies would involve and if you ever wanted to make enemies and alienate people try to suggest at the next board meeting: “Well, let’s introduce a clear, steep hierarchy for a change!” Yet at the …

Why Has Kamala Harris’s Campaign Fizzled?

For Democrats, the current 2020 election cycle is perhaps the most important in modern history. For the party faithful, unseating Trump—a man Democrats consider to be the worst President in modern history—has become the overriding concern, even eclipsing the party’s lively policy debate. One rising star, and a politician many considered would give the President a run for his money, is the junior senator from California, Kamala Harris. Superficially, Harris looks like the party’s dream candidate. She is a woman—an asset to a party animated by gender politics, concerns about diversity and still reeling from the #MeToo movement. She is also an ethnic minority (her mother is Indian, her father is Jamaican), another box ticked for a party which draws considerable support from non-whites. Her former life as a prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney and California state attorney would be a dangerous match-up for the unscrupulous Trump, who has spent more time than most avoiding a court room. Having been a senator since 2016, she is already a national political figure. She has also proved …

Knitting’s Infinity War, Part III: Showdown at Yarningham

This is my third report for Quillette on the shockingly vicious social-media wars that have erupted in the world of knitting. My first, written in February, described how knitters’ blogs and Instagram accounts have become weaponized over the issue of racial representation after a knitting designer gushed publicly about her forthcoming trip to India. I concluded with the hope that “the world of knitting can return to a focus on designs, colors, and the value of something that’s unique and handmade, rather than the nationality or race of whoever made it.” This proved to be extremely naïve. In my second article on the subject, published last month, I described how this subcultural farce had descended into a full-blown tragicomedic soap opera, with knitters seeking to destroy one another’s livelihoods because of arguments about whether certain yarn colors might be racist, or whether yarn-related publications profile enough black women. I was surprised that such an esoteric subject would stir up so much reader interest. (My editors tell me that both articles went viral.) And I honestly …

Post-Liberal Politics—Left, Right, and Center

Say the words “post-liberal,” and you are bound to get a host of responses. Some may mention post-liberal theology, others may reference post-liberal peace-building, and many will discuss the prospect of organizing a genuinely post-liberal politics. Isolating a precise definition of post-liberal politics is difficult. Post-liberalism is a vague term that only denotes politics after liberalism—and after the “End of History“—without specifying what the content of this politics will be or clarifying how far this post-liberal withdrawal from liberal principles will go. According to the political philosopher John Gray, these liberal principles assume that humans on a universal basis are individualistic creatures that are destined to experience progress along meliorist lines and create better, more egalitarian societies that value the equal worth of each person. As writers and thinkers from across the political spectrum start to look beyond these axioms, a number of commentators have attempted to identify and explain the core tenets of an emerging post-liberal politics. This new brand of post-liberal politics can be divided into three strands—one on the Left, one on the Right, and one in the Center—which are …

It’s Time for Sweden to Admit Explosions Are a National Emergency

The bomb exploded shortly after 9 a.m. Friday in a blast that ripped through two apartment buildings and could be heard for miles. Twenty-five people suffered cuts and bruises and 250 apartments were damaged. A nearby kindergarten was evacuated. Hospitals jumped into disaster mode. Photos from the scene show rows of demolished balconies and shattered windows. It was ”absolutely incredible” that no one was severely injured, a police spokesperson said. It is the kind of news we usually associate with war zones, but this bombing took place in Linköping, a peaceful university town in southern Sweden. Remarkably, it was not the only explosion in the country that day; another, seemingly unrelated, blast was reported in a parking lot in the city of Gothenburg earlier in the morning. Three explosions have been reported in Malmö since Tuesday morning. As of this writing, no arrests have been made. Sweden has experienced a sharp rise in explosions in recent years, predominantly related to conflicts between warring criminal gangs. The use of explosives in the Nordic country is now …

A Single Global Standard for Internet Content Regulation Is a Recipe for Censorship

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. “If governments are to retain a firm hold of authority and not be compelled to yield to agitators, it is imperative that freedom of judgment should be granted, so that men may live together in harmony, however diverse, or even openly contradictory their opinions may be. In a democracy…everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.” So wrote Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his Theological Political Treatise of 1670. At the time, most rulers and thinkers believed that a policy of free speech would lead to bloodshed, sedition and atheism. Spinoza, on the other hand, argued that freedom of conscience and speech were necessary preconditions for pluralism, tolerance and liberty. The Portuguese-born Jewish philosopher wasn’t blind to the potential harms of free speech, but thought that they were outweighed by the benefits. “I confess that from such freedom [of speech], inconveniences may sometimes arise,” he wrote. …