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Sunday West: May 7
May the king live forever Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen etc
A happy coronation weekend to all subscribers, even those living in the spiritual darkness of ‘rebel’ lands. Since the last round up, I’ve written about Elon Musk mucking up the whole blue tick thing (change? Aren’t things bad enough as they are); I wrote about the colonial mindset afflicting Britannia; on a similar-ish theme, the boring, lowbrow but probably correct theory of woke, on why we can’t have nice streets, and the worst coronations in history.
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Elsewhere, Father Ted was one of the my favourite all-time sitcoms, and since I’m probably past that age where anything new is funny, it will remain that way; it was also a genuinely interesting sociological moment. Conor Fitzgerald writes a brilliant piece on the Ireland it portrayed and how that’s gone.
The always interesting In the Sight of the Unwise comparing two very typical types of young British lifestyle.
There is something about the proposal to raise the driving age limit to 25 that I find genuinely hateful; another thing to make young people more miserable, when it would be fairer and easier to just ban dangerous drivers for life. Henry Hill writes a good denunciation here.
‘A year after Caitlyn Jenner announced her new name and gender, the popularity of the name Caitlyn plummeted more than any other baby name, according to Social Security’s annual list of the most popular baby names. In fact, the four names that dropped the most were all variations of the same name: Caitlin, Caitlyn, Katelynn and Kaitlynn.’
A stat quoted by Richard Hanania in his piece on what anti-woke people misunderstand; they take their opponents on face value.
This is why anti-LGBT activism isn’t necessarily a winning issue for Republicans, even when it targets the most obnoxious behavior. At most, the issue seems to be a wash. LGBT is the new goth, or emo, and most people don’t want to be part of a political movement of bullies. The conservative will respond “But they’re the bullies! Look at cancel culture, or girls who can’t swim as fast as Lia Thomas!” That doesn’t work as well as you might think — no one truly feels a pretty athletic college girl who has to settle for second place in a swim meet is more of a victim than a trans athlete, who inspires open disgust among half the population, and whose “status” in the form of support from the other half is derived from that disgust and little more than a form of overcompensation.'
I wouldn’t say it’s autism, it’s more like ‘male-typical thinking’, but his general point is correct. A lot of the strangeness of public culture over the past few years is, as Hanania has written before, society acclimatising to more female-typical norms for debate.
The Blue Wall is crumbling, Fred Skulthorp writes in UnHerd. Well-written and correct, if a bit depressing, and given further conformation by the disastrous local elections on Thursday. This doomsterism was the theme of my book Small Men on the Wrong Side of History.
A good piece by Alex Massie on the Good Friday Agreement. It was quite galling to see President Joe Biden gurning away on a selfie with Gerry Adams. As one or two wits pointed out, surely Adams knows how to use a timer (reminiscent of this, the best tweet of all time). But the British media grumbling about it inevitable comes across as sour; some much bigger and better men, and people directly affected by the Troubles, buried the hatchet and accepted that the Good Friday Agreement meant accepting Adams as a figure one has pictures with — including the king, whose uncle was murdered by the IRA. Peace is better than war.
Rob Henderson on why the military needs patriotism.
In recent years, support for the military has plummeted more than in any other American institution—with 45 percent of Americans voicing trust in the armed forces in 2021 versus 70 percent in 2018. This decline is almost entirely due to younger Americans: among those 18 to 44, confidence in all the branches of the military is in the low- to mid-40 percent range; for those 45 and up, it’s in the 80 percent range, according to a 2022 YouGov survey.
This decline in support for the military coincides with declining patriotism among young Americans: 40 percent of Gen Zers (those born from 1997 to 2012) believe the Founding Fathers are more accurately characterized as villains, not heroes, according to psychologist Jean Twenge’s forthcoming book, Generations.
Jemima Kelly in the FT on community notes.
Most of the tweets that I have seen getting “Community Noted” (yes, it’s already a verb(opens a new window)) are from people on the left — like MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan last week, after a claim he made about rates of intraracial violence. Hasan responded to what was, in my view, fair and warranted added context by saying the Community Notes feature “has become another weapon of the right on Musk’s Twitter”.
On the same subject, Steve Sailer on being the ‘go-to guy on Twitter when celebrities say something smugly stupid about crime statistics. Most every day I see a tweet summoning me by showing Batman staring up at the Bat-Signal of my avatar, the 18th hole at Cypress Point Golf Club. (Yeah, it’s pretty cool.)’
I wonder if the whole story of BLM, which was based on complete misunderstanding of statistics and often dishonest reporting of confrontations with the police, would have been different with community notes.
“Of course he was a black woman,” Maya Angelou once wrote. “I understand that. Nobody else understands it, but I know that William Shakespeare was a black woman.”
And, in a sense, they are all right. Or, more precisely, as T. S. Eliot put it, “the most anyone can hope for is to be wrong about Shakespeare in a new way.”
This, by Daniel Hannan on Shakespeare, is very good indeed.
In 1623, two of Shakespeare’s former theatrical colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, produced what is surely the greatest compilation in human history. They gathered together all the material they had — copies of plays held by their troupe, prompt books, notes by Shakespeare himself, and, one assumes, their own recollections — and molded them into a complete record of his dramatic works.
They called their collection “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies”; but the world knows it as the “First Folio.” It contained 36 of his 39 plays. Half of them had already been produced in quarto form — that is, printed on large pieces of paper that had been folded and refolded into eight-page booklets, though often with corrupted text. But no fewer than 18 were, as far as we can tell, published for the first time: All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Henry VI (Part I), Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, King John, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Winter’s Tale.
The phrases that have slid from those 18 works into everyday English — “love is blind,” “salad days,” “strange bedfellows,” “at one fell swoop,” “faint-hearted,” “for goodness’ sake,” “neither rhyme nor reason,” “sea change,” “too much of a good thing,” and many more — would have been lost. For Shakespeare, as we know, invented countless fashionable phrases and words — including “countless” and “fashionable.”
Some who have paid attention to the sententious verbiage, the heavy-worn learning, the big head on narrow shoulders, compare Maugham to a windy little vicar from a 19th-century novel. For others, the fictional character most readily called to mind by his obsessive score-settling and unbending devotion to status — so much dinner, with so many very senior civil servants — is Alan Partridge. “Giving a speech on receiving the Praeses Elit in Dublin,” begins one of Maugham’s sentences, before it clarifies: “a prize awarded to those who have advanced the discourse in their line of work and are a source of inspiration to young people”. On this occasion, he “reflected on Gandalf standing on the bridge at Khazad-dûm in The Lord of The Rings. The fiery twin-horned Balrog approaches. And, although Gandalf knows the Balrog is too much for him, he plants his staff on the bridge and he says: ‘You shall not pass’.” As with Partridge, so with Maugham: he is much funnier than he intends to be.
Good law is difficult and, to most people, rather boring. It does not play well on social media. One benefit of the less highly networked culture of the recent past is that the acquisition of influence tended to be slow, and meritorious; whereas today, a certain kind of status within the ever-growing online legal world can be achieved swiftly, by playing to the cheap seats. So, for the time being at least, it is hard to completely refute Maugham’s clichéd insistence that “the real court is that of public opinion”.
All the great comedy figures of British comedy - Basil Fawlty, Edmund Blackadder, David Brent and Partridge - are frustrated men with an outsized sense of their own place in society.
John Gray at 75. A great thinker, and a lovely man.
Ross Douthat on ineffective altruism, rich people giving money to causes which obviously don’t really benefit mankind.
Since I wrote a newsletter a few months back defending “ineffective altruism,” meaning the virtues of giving to eccentric and personal causes without careful cost-benefit analysis, I briefly looked for something to defend in Griffin’s gift. Maybe his donation would smooth the way for some personal passion project, endowing chairs in obscure economic subfields or setting up a center to study esoteric languages. Maybe he wanted Harvard to establish an intramural Calvinball association or build a Theosophist chapel in the Yard.
Alas, no: The gift basically funds Harvard qua Harvard, carrying coals to the Newcastle that is the school’s almost bottomless endowment, which even by ineffective-altruist standards seems indefensibly useless and pathetic. Even if Griffin’s interests were ruthlessly amoral and familial — all-but-guaranteed admission for all his descendants, say — the price was ridiculously inflated: The Harvard brand and network might be worth something to younger Griffins and Griffins yet unborn, but not at that absurd price. And if he’s seeking simple self-aggrandizement, he won’t gain it, since nobody except the chatbot in charge of generating official Harvard emails will ever refer to the “Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.” (At least make them build you some weird pharaonic monument along the Charles, Ken!)
Julius Krein, the editor of American Affairs, has written perceptively about what the Republican Party means to this kind of donor (in an essay for the Harvard Kennedy School Review, amusingly enough), arguing that some of the right-wing coalition’s funders are perfectly happy not to have a Republican Party with a coherent conservative agenda, let alone a culturally conservative agenda. They just want to prop up a Republicanism that keeps the more left-wing factions in the Democratic Party in check.
Lionel Shriver on Hadley Freeman’s new book, and the similarities between anorexia and gender dysphoria.
Both neuroses are clearly communicable. Ever since a preoccupation with thinness took off in the Sixties, eating disorders have soared, making the more recent insistence that anorexia is more of a heritable genetic proclivity than a cultural contagion dubious. From the Seventies onwards, an accelerating number of young women have got the idea to express their discontent through debilitating hunger from lavish media coverage, and one another. In kind, since 2010 the number of teenage girls referred to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service increased by 5,000% — making claims of a purely genetic explanation equally iffy. Both these afflictions are social confections. Although tales of people who starved themselves or passed for the opposite sex exist in the historical record, eating disorders and transgenderism on a mass scale are recent inventions. Collectively, we made these dire maladies up.
Freeman identifies her “trigger” at 14 for dropping an alarming amount of weight as a single moment. Sitting beside a prominently bony classmate in gym class, Freeman asked, “Is it hard to buy clothes when you’re so small?” “Yeah,” the girl replied. “I wish I was normal like you.”
I have probably said this before, but I think there’s a good chance that people will in future find this whole episode almost unbelievable, in particular the response of many people who went along with it not out of ideological conviction but sheer cowardice, the desire to have a socially acceptable opinion.
Vice’s central insight was that if you framed the story right, and shot it well enough, you could persuade teens and early twentysomethings to watch in-depth explorations of Syrian rebel justice systems, or the intricacies of South Sudan’s civil war. Middle-aged execs from traditional networks had always claimed young people didn’t care about granular detail, or distant wars in Africa: but this (apart from stories about drugs) was always by far the most popular content, judging from YouTube views and comments. The audience never demands dumbing-down: viewers want nuance, shades of grey, and moral ambiguity. They want to see the world as it is, not as it ought to be.
While the rewards in the early days were mismatched to the risk, the degree of experience offered to young journalists was unrivalled, a huge draw to those with an adventurous streak. Journalists at the beginning of their careers were given access to stories the networks reserved for their hardened veterans, and repaid that trust with a fervid dedication to their craft. I was a green 31-year-old reporter when I started, with only the Libyan war, Tunisian revolution and a strange months-long sojourn with tribal rebels in Sudan under my belt. Vice gave me the freedom to follow the Malian army into bloody battle against jihadist rebels, experience the Egyptian coup from the Islamist side, return to Syria over and over again during the course of the war and follow the Isis story from their initially underplayed rise to their final desert gotterdammerung.
And an interesting nugget from Scott Alexander.
Mental illnesses tend to cluster together, and people with diagnosed mental illnesses tended to have high rates of long COVID too. Limiting all analyses to men (to remove gender as a confound; there were many more male than female respondents), anxiety increased the risk of long COVID by a factor of 1.5, and depression by a factor of 2. Borderline personality - which classically is most associated with suggestability and a tendency towards culture-bound mental illnesses, increased the risk by a factor of 10 (albeit with small sample size: 3 of 13 male borderlines had long COVID).
If you want to listen to my voice, I’ve been on three podcasts recently. Ben Sixsmith interviewed me for The Critic, I was on CapX talking about the upcoming NatCon conference, and also (for the second time) Will Jarvis’s Narratives.
PS, I also have a Facebook page, I’ve just forgotten to mention it before.
Wrong Side of History is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.