How much longer can the liberal left survive in the face of growing scientific evidence that many of its core beliefs are false? I’m thinking in particular of the conviction that all human beings are born with the same capacities, particularly the capacity for good, and that all mankind’s sins can be laid at the door of the capitalist societies of the West. For the sake of brevity, let’s call this the myth of the noble savage. This romanticism underpins all progressive movements, from the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn to the environmentalism of Caroline Lucas, and nearly every scientist who’s challenged it has been met with a kind of irrational hostility, often accompanied by a trashing of their professional reputations. Indeed, the reaction of so-called free thinkers to these purveyors of inconvenient truths is oddly reminiscent of the reaction of fundamentalist Christians to those scientists who challenged their core beliefs.
One such Charles Darwin figure is the American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. He has devoted his life to studying the indigenous population of the Amazonian rain forest that sits on the Brazilian-Venezuelan border – the Yanomamö – and his conclusions pose a direct challenge to the myth of the noble savage. “Real Indians sweat, they smell bad, they take hallucinogenic drugs, they belch after they eat, they covet and at times steal their neighbour’s wife, they fornicate, and they make war,” Chagnon told a Brazilian journalist. His view of the Yanomami is summed up by the title he gave to his masterwork on the subject: The Fierce People. (To read more, click here.)
Since turning 50 I have become a gardening enthusiast. It started with tomatoes, then spread to raspberries and last year extended to French beans. I’ve now run out of space and was hoping to get an allotment in 2016. They’re like gold dust in West London, but one of the perks of living on my street is that the residents association has access to the Goldsmiths Close Allotments, a two-acre plot abutting the backs of our houses. I put my name down when I first moved in and was optimistic one might become available this year.
Imagine my dismay, then, when the chair of the residents association told me that the allotments had been sold to someone called David Parry – a local property developer – and the existing users had been given their marching orders. Initially, they were told to be gone in June, but the local rep pointed out this was in the middle of the growing season and got a stay of execution until October. Now they’ve been evicted and the new owner has put a padlock and chain on the only entrance at the rear of a nearby housing estate.
When I first heard about this, I was aghast. Don’t allotment-holders have any rights? (To read more, click here.)
Shame descended on the Young household last Christmas. When my wife, Caroline, picked up our nine-year-old son from school on the last day of the term, she was intercepted by his teacher, who wanted a quiet word.
Oh no, she thought. What’s Ludo done now?
In fact, it was more a case of what I’d done—or failed to do. The teacher explained that she’d asked the children to write “letters to Santa,” saying what they wanted for Christmas. At the top of his list Ludo had written: “Light bulb.” When the teacher asked him why he’d chosen such an unusual present he told her that the bulb in his bedroom had stopped working six months ago. Ludo’s hope was that if Santa put a bulb in his stocking, his deadbeat dad might finally get around to replacing it. (To read more, click here.)
Rumours of the death of Western liberalism have been cruelly exaggerated, according to Steven Pinker. The Harvard psychology professor spoke to me on the eve a lecture he is due to give at the New College of the Humanities on the workings of the human brain and we were supposed to be talking about that. But given the parlous state of the world, I was more anxious to speak about The Better Angels of Our Nature, his relentlessly optimistic book about the history of violence. In that 834-page magnum opus, he argues that violence has been in almost continuous decline for the last 2,000 years and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in our history.
Has he had cause to revise that view in light of the civil wars that have broken out in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Libya since the book’s publication in 2011, as well as the rise of Islamic State?
“It is true that there has been a change in direction when it comes to civil wars,” he says. “The world at its worst used to have 26 civil wars going on, that fell to four and now it’s back up to 11. And likewise the rate of death in civil wars has increased slightly, wiping out maybe 12-14 years of progress. So in the last three years it has gone in the wrong direction, but it has come nowhere close to erasing all of the progress that we’ve enjoyed since the Second World War. All the other trends have continued in a positive direction. That is, there have been still no new wars between countries – all of the wars have been within countries – so the world’s trend of moving away from inter-state war, state against state, is holding fast, the rate of homicide in the world is declining, the rate of violence against women, violence against children, institutional violence such as capital punishment continues to be in decline, hunting continues to be in decline, the criminalisation of homosexuality continues to be in decline, so with the partial exception of civil war, all of the other trends have continued.” (To read more, click here.)
Thank you for your kind invitation to join the Conservative party.
First, let me apologise for the delay in replying. I was three quarters of the way through a response, but then had to rip it up and start again. As you may be aware, I’ve recently become quite an expert at this whole “leaving the Labour party” thing. And there’s a template you normally have to follow.
You leave. You write about why you left. Then – and this is where I started to go wrong – you make sure the next thing you write is a stout defence of the underlying principles of your former party, and a full throated attack on their opponents. “Whatever differences I may have with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, they’re nothing compared to the differences I have with those evil, child-eating, Tory party white slavers”. The idea is, it helps you recoup a little bit of lost credibility.
But we’re old friends, and you deserve more than just a formulaic, crowd-pleasing answer. (To read more, click here.).
I was sorry to read of your second resignation from the Labour Party – sorry, but not surprised. Like other Labour moderates, you’re taking time to adjust to your party’s terminal diagnosis. If we invoke Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous five-stage model, your first resignation was an expression of “anger”, your decision to re-join an example of “bargaining” and your second resignation a manifestation of “depression”. I sincerely hope that “acceptance” soon follows.
Once it has, I wonder if you’d consider joining my party? I know, I know. That’s exactly what a Corbynista would say. And no doubt his supporters will gleefully link to this article on social media, as if it confirms what they’ve been saying all along. But I’m serious. I honestly believe there’s a place for you and your fellow apostates in the Tory Party. (To read more, click here.)
In spite of their differences, there are some striking similarities between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump. Both hold political views that place them far outside the Overton window, both have a difficult relationship with the media and both are threatening to consign their respective parties to electoral oblivion.
But what if they both triumphed? Is there a remotely plausible scenario in which that could happen? And what would be the consequence for the special relationship if it did? (To read more, click here.)
The older I get, the more Scrooge-like I become. I’m dyspeptic, misanthropic, curmudgeonly, parsimonious and unsentimental. Caroline, by contrast, is even-tempered, sweet-natured, charitable, generous and easily moved. Yet, paradoxically, I love Christmas, whereas she regards it as a time of year to be endured rather than enjoyed. This inevitably leads to a number of arguments and, as with everything else connected with the festival, they’ve become ritualised. So here are the rows that are guaranteed to occur in the Young household at this time of year.
The season always begins with a heated discussion about external lighting. My ideal is to go Full Chav, with a giant, neon-lit Santa plastered over the front of the house, along with sleigh, reindeer, elves… the lot. Caroline, on the other hand, would like absolutely nothing. We usually end up compromising on some discreet Christmas lights on the Magnolia tree in our front garden – and by “discreet” I mean soft, yellow bulbs that DON’T FLASH. I then sneak down in the middle of the night and hang an electronic ‘Merry Christmas’ sign above the front door and, if she’s feeling tolerant, she pretends not to notice it. (To read more, click here.)
According to a new report, the time has come for us to abandon Christianity as the official religion of the United Kingdom.
The authors of the report – High Court judges, professors of theology, a retired BBC executive and the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain – argue that Britain has become such a pluralist, multi-faith society in the last 30 years it no longer makes sense for us to define ourselves as Christian nation.
Their recommendations include inviting humanists to present ‘Thought For the Day’ on Radio 4, downgrading the official role of the Archbishop of Canterbury at future coronation ceremonies and allowing representatives of all faiths to automatically become members of the House of Lords.
“It’s an anomaly to have 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords,” says Dr Ed Kessler, one of the authors of the report. “There needs to be better representation of the different religions and beliefs in Britain today.”
These recommendations might sound reasonable, but they are profoundly wrongheaded. (To read more, click here.)
I will leave it to others to comment on the substance of the report, but at first glance it reads like a product of the ‘Thought For The Day’ school of theological discourse. In other words, the usual wishy-washy, Kumbuya, inter-faith bilge, overlaid with a thick layer of Jewish and Christian self-loathing, as well as craven praise for “the religion of peace”. Incredibly, one of its recommendations is to make ‘Thought For The Day’ more “diverse” and include secular contributions, as well as religious ones. You can just imagine some hand-wringing, apologetic, liberal Bishop arguing on ‘Thought For The Day’ that ‘Thought For The Day’ has become too doctrinaire and sectarian – isn’t “inclusive” enough. God forbid that anyone listening to the religious slot on the nation’s flagship current affairs programme should come away with the idea that the speaker actually believes in anything – apart, that is, from the equal validity of all beliefs, which is adhered to with an Islamic State level of fanaticism. (To read more, click here.)