Zanele Muholi’s best photo: out and proud in South Africa

11 days ago

She wanted to be a model, but not many South African bureaux accept LGBTI people as clients

This photograph is part of a series called Faces and Phases, which Ive been working on for a decade. Its about creating positive images of black lesbians and transgender people in South African society, and its dedicated to a close friend of mine who died in 2007 at persons under the age of 25. She was a so-called curative rape survivor. I felt I needed to remember the people that were growing up in front of me, and to find myself as one of us rather than one of them. The project is about us being counted in South African visual history. I think thats true photography to say that you were present.

Most of my subjects are friends or friends of friends, and often activists like me. I photograph people who are already out and fully understand who they are. I dont shoot people that are underage because I dont want them to danger their lives, especially if theyre still dependent on their parents. Its too dangerous.

I took this shooting of Sinenhlanhla Lunga at a friends place in the Katlehong township. I dont use a studio we just threw a blanket over the fencing as background. I think what defines this image is the gaze. Its beautiful; theres nothing superfluous. Sinenhlanhla wanted to be a professional model, but it never happened. You can have a dream of being a visible queer or trans model, but the mainstream hasnt reached that level of acceptance. When we last spoke, she was about to have a child.

Im so happy that were alive, living in a country that is so infested by hate crime. About three months ago, we had droughts in my hometown of Durban and a church leader said they had been caused by homosexuality and same-sex wedding. It was reported in the media, too. Its painful to me because the church should be preaching love. At the end of July, on the weekend of Durban Pride, there were blizzards, inundations and snow it was very strange. I said to a friend: I wonder what the church leaders are saying now?

In the same year this photograph was taken, lots of my photographic equipment and my computer was stolen from my apartment in Cape Town. It was a backlash against my work, and it was a double blow because I lost a lot of unpublished material.

One of the most challenging things about being a faggot visual activist in South Africa is not having access to spaces to exhibit my work here where it would be most important even as I gain recognition abroad. The position of politicians towards LGBTI people fluctuates a lot. When one of us has been killed or there are elections you find a lot of support, and then when its over they come up with a different agenda. Thats why its so important to have our own people in politics, in medicine and in the media.

Faces and Stage will carry on as long as I live we are growing up together. I also give workshops to young women and provide them with cameras to let them document their own lives. Some have even become photographers. That truly arouses me because I know Im not opposing alone.

ZANELE
Photograph: pr/ no credit

Zanele Muholis CV

Born: Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa, 1972.

Education: Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and Ryerson University, Toronto.

Influences: The LGBTI someones I photograph.

High phase: Working on a project that has reached 10 years. Also, Faces and Stages being shown at Venice Biennale in 2013 one of the few queer projects that has built it to that stage.

Low phase: Being misunderstood.

Top tip: Collaborate, support one another projects, and devote credit where its due. Feed the passion of people who want to become the next generation of photographers.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Attiya Khan: why I tackled the boyfriend who beat me- and made a film about it

1 month, 5 days ago

For the two years Attiya Khan was with Steve, he abused her daily. So why did she choose to make a documentary about an experience that nearly killed her?

Attiya Khan was 16 and a high-school student in Ottawa when she began dating Steve. He was a year older, he was funny, he was smart, he was her first real boyfriend. They started living together almost immediately- and the experience nearly killed her.

For the two years they were together, Steve abused Khan daily. He punched her, he hurled racist slurs against her, he strangled her until she passed out. She was often afraid for her life. Aged 18, Khan operated from the relationship; literally kicked off her heels and ran. And then, 20 years later, in 2013, Khan stopped running. Instead she sat down with Steve in front of a camera and asked: why? Why had he hurt her? Was he sorry for what he’d done?

The result of Khan’s conversations with Steve is A Better Man: an intensely personal documentary that’s often difficult to watch. But the movie isn’t just about one female, about one relationship: it’s a call to action for abusive humen to stand up and take responsibility for their fury and their actions. Before the film’s debut in New York on November 15, as part of the annual documentary film festival DOC NYC, I spoke to Khan via email.

I guess the first question a lot of people might have when hearing about your movie is why you would you want to talk to a human who violently abused you. What constructed you decide to talk to Steve?

I had been bumping into Steve every few years since escaping from him. These encounters were short and we mostly just had small talk. There was one time, around 10 years after leaving him, where Steve asked me to sit down with him and I concurred. We sat in a coffeehouse and he merely cried and recurred “I’m sorry” over and over again. I did not say much. I was waiting for him to say more. I wanted to know what he was sorry for.

Something shifted in me after this. I realized how likely it was that he had been affected by the violence he used against me. This led me to asking him if he would participate in A Better Man. At the beginning, I didn’t know what I would get out of these conversations, I just knew I needed and wanted to have them. I wanted Steve to know in detail what he had done to me and how it has affected every day of my life. It’s time for people who have harmed others to step up and be accountable for their harmful behaviors. It’s also time for people who have experienced violence to have more options to find security, mending and justice.

What did your conversations with Steve teach you about the sources of male violence and aggression?

We know that a lot of people who hurt others were hurt themselves at some phase, which doesn’t excuse their choices to use violence( after all, many people who experience violence growing up do not go on to abuse others ), but it does offer some context. Steve’s own experience of violence before he gratified me influenced his use of violence against me. At one point in the film, Steve says that he use violence to keep me at his side. He was afraid to lose me. Fear is not an emotion that many humen feel comfy expressing. Fear constructs you vulnerable, and most boys and men are learned how to never indicate vulnerability. They’re taught they should always be in control, and often they’re taught to take control by dominating other people. Although it isn’t easy to accept, it does make sense to me that Steve responded to his own anxiety by trying to control me.

You frame A Better Man as a” film that changes the conversation on violence against girls “. Could you explain that change a little more ?

Before I made this film, I worked as a counselor for women fleeing violence. My work in this field has inspired me so much, but it also stimulates me angry how much weight females have had to carry in the movement to end violence against us. If we don’t carry that weight, who will? I think hearing from people who are working to end their violence, and the people who are helping them change, shifts some of the weight off the shoulders of survivors and reminds us all where the responsibility to stop violence actually lies.

How did stimulating the film affect your PTSD ?

During the making of the film I started to heal. Every day I would sit down with Steve, I would feel some of my ache, decades of pain stored in my body being lifted. I felt this change even when Steve did not say or recollect much. This had an impact on my life in major ways. I don’t have nightmares any more. I feel safer leaving the house. When I’m out, I’m not always expecting to be hurt by him or others. I don’t spend as much time thinking about potential dangerous the status and how I would get out of them. I feel more relaxed and am enjoying life more.

Did you ever is considered that Steve should have faced prison time ?

The criminal court system is one track to justice, which is heavily focused on punishment. In my suit, punishment was not what I wanted. Some of us don’t want the person or persons we care for to go to prison, even though we really want the violence to stop.

I also don’t think the threat of prison is always successful in get people to take responsibility for harm they’ve caused. In many cases, people end up denying harm that they know they’ve caused in order to avoid prison. The criminal court system wouldn’t have asked me what I needed to move forward and how the damage could have been repaired. There also isn’t much focus within the criminal court system on rehabilitation and helping those who have harmed others move towards a life without violence. This doesn’t make sense to me.

Attiya
Attiya Khan with Steve, in their late teenage years. Photo: Attiya Khan& Lawrence Jackman

What has the process of making this documentary teach you about restorative justice versus traditionally bred different forms of penalty?

There’s no single pathway to justice that will work for every survivor, which is why I think we need access to as many pathways as is practicable. When it’s doing well, restorative justice necessitates the person who did the harm to listen and acknowledge the hurt they’ve caused to others, and to try to repair the harm on words laid out by the person they hurt. I don’t think facing the damage we’ve caused is very easy for most people. Many of us run from these truths about ourselves for as long as we can, because of the shame to participate in confronting them.

Restorative justice does require some involvement from the survivor, so they can situate terms that work for them- although it doesn’t have to be face-to-face, and friends, family and facilitators help share the emotional labor. This type of process suited me because I wanted to have some control, I wanted to ask Steve questions in person and I wanted my own needs to be centered, which wouldn’t have been the case if I had pursued justice in the criminal system.

What steps do you think humen- all men , not just abusive men- should be doing to help prevent male aggressivenes and domestic violence cases ?

A lot more people engage in abusive behavior than we might gues. It may not be physical abuse, and it may be occasional rather than a pattern, but abusive or hurtful behavior in relationships is common. Manipulating our partner to try and “win” an argument can be abusive. Excessive resentment can be abusive. I think if we were all willing to look at our own behavior more honestly, abuse would be much less common. Everyone is capable of causing harm.

We also have to be willing to look at our friends and family more honestly, and tell them when we have concerns about their behaviour. It can be helpful for men to have supportive spaces to talk about these things- I think it can be hard for a lot of men to have emotionally vulnerable conversations with each other. My squad generated a discussion guide to assist groups of men to watch the cinema and discuss how it might apply to their own lives and relationship.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Which countries have the worst drinking cultures?

1 month, 16 days ago

From savouring flavors in France to binge drinking in Australia readers talk about the alcohol culture where they live

How much alcohol is safe to drink? It is a question scientists have been trying to get to the bottom of for centuries, and now a survey exploring drinking advice around the world has found that the answer varies significantly depending on where you live.

In the US, for example, three or four drinkings a day( 42 g for women and 56 g for men) is thought to be safe, but in Sweden that is well over the amount health authorities recommend: 10 g for women and 20 g for men. Whats more, a standard drink in Iceland and the UK is 8g of alcohol, compared to 20 g in Austria.

Government standard drink definition in grams with readers quotes about the countrys drinking culture
Government standard drink definition in grams

Can these fluctuations be attributed to the fact that each place has its unique drinking culture? We asked readers to summarise their countrys stance towards alcohol and the unscientific, we should stress outcomes seem to suggest we might all be tip-off the scale when it is necessary to consuming a safe amount.

South Africa

It is differed, but most people drink socially , not generally to excess, but responsible drinking( not drinking and driving for example) is rare. We should have tighter drinking and driving statutes. Dickon, 40

Spain

In the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon, workers stop for brunch with a beer followed by a big brandy then get into their autoes and go back to work. Its the drink-driving that I dont like. Anonymous, 45

Australia

Binge drinking is glorified in Australia, and the focus is not on drinking in moderation or for enjoyment. We should be encouraging alcohol-free days. I am likely not a true representative of the Australian drinking population as I am a very light drinker I drink maybe once a month. Anonymous, 44

New Zealand

There is a big binge-drinking culture among the youth in the country and a huge part of the health budget and policing budget is spent on dealing with drink-driving, collision and emergency services, and other long-term harmful effects of alcohol. We have a robust liquor industry that lobbies the government ferociously to prevent regulation of alcohol marketings. Advertising here has been grudgingly curtailed. Anonymous, 50

Japan

People often go to Izakayas[ Japanese-style pub] after work on Fridays or special occasions with their colleagues. However, alcohol is nearly always drunk here alongside snacks or food, entailing very few people get incredibly drunk. There are some cases of people with alcohol-related problems in this country, but people dont drink alcohol in order to get drunk, but rather to relax.

A
A bar in Tokyo. Photo: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Japans alcohol safety guidelines seem approximately around the same as my home country[ the UK ]. However, you need to be 20 years old to buy alcohol in Japan, although unless you seem underage they wont ask you for ID, especially if you seem non-Japanese. Anonymous, 23

Belgium

Beer sold in every frituur[ chip store ], open bottles of wine to help yourself to in supermarkets but drunkenness is socially unacceptable. The guidelines seem fair enough, especially having at least two non-drinking days a week. Elspeth Morlin, 46

France

In France people drink extensively and steadily, but in small divisions. Even though I have find a couple of people drunk, I have never seen any aggressivenes. At a dinner party you are able to ordinarily have an apritif, three glasses of various types of wines and a digestif but all in small quantities. There will also be water on the table. The guidelines in France are sensible, although here there is a tradition of ignoring regulations and laws anyway. The French drink to savour the flavors and to enhance their food. Peter, 62

Italy

In Italy, consuming alcohol revolves around food. So you are either drinking to accompany your snack( wine will always be on the table at an Italian meal ), or you are please give free snacks to soak up your drink when at a bar. So the idea is that you order a drinking at a standardised cost and you are given crisp or other bite-sized food. Or you can help yourself from a generous buffet.

The whole point of aperitivo is that you have it before dinner and drinking on an empty belly generally leads to unpleasant situations( especially as typical aperitivo beverages are of the likes of the murderer negroni ). Hence the free food. This has led to the creation of a sub-culture: the one of apericena[ a hybrid of aperitivo and cena: dinner ]. So people, instead of going for a drinking and then on to dinner, go to the bar with the best buffet, order a drink( commonly 8-10) and then simply reached the buffet and stuff their faces, scoring a very cheap dinner. Benedetta, 31

Philippines

Once a bottle is opened it must be finished; its never shut while still full. I guess 14 g a day for women seems reasonable, but 28 g a day for a human seems a little high. However, I have never seen these guidelines published or “was talkin about a” anywhere in this country. Richard Hartland, 39

UK

In the UK the notion of enjoying yourself in the evening without alcohol is so unusual it can lead to you being called a freak( or at least miserable and antisocial) whereas drinking yourself insensible is not just acceptable, it is admired. Unfortunately( and I am a drinker) all advice dedicated seems to be decided upon somewhat arbitrarily and although most doctors agree alcohol is bad for you, restriction seem to be plucked out of the air with no real evidential statistics.

While most would agree that binge drinking in the UK is deplorable and turns our towns and cities into ugly and threatening places at night, I find the nanny country reaction of teaches us that any amount of drinking can give us cancer or liver failure somewhat unhelpful. In Europe people seem to drink as part of a food experience and it is an accompaniment , not an end in itself. We have much to learn but our history suggests an entrenched route of relating to alcohol. Fergus, 68

US

We would have a lot less underage drinking problems if we lowered the drinking age to 18. Young adults are getting targeted at parties and social events at universities where police know there will be alcohol and the people who are there and under 21 get underage drinking charges( and people over 21 get charged with the supply of alcohol to minor ). I am not even a huge drinker, just seems absurd that freshman and sophomores have to be sneaky about it, which leads to more issues. There is also a binge-drinking culture generally in the US Karina, 23

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud | Oliver Burkeman

1 month, 16 days ago

The long read: Cheap and effective, CBT became the dominant kind of therapy, consigning Freud to psychologys dingy basement. But new analyzes have cast doubt on its domination and presented dramatic results for psychoanalysis. Is it is high time to get back on the lounge?

Dr David Pollens is a psychoanalyst who assures his patients in a modest ground-floor office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a neighbourhood probably only rivalled by the Upper West Side for the highest concentration of therapists anywhere on countries around the world. Pollens, who is in his early 60 s, with thinning silver hair, sits in a wooden armchair at the head of a sofa; his patients lie on the lounge, facing away from him, the very best to investigate their most embarrassing fears or fantasies. Many of them come several times a week, sometimes for years, in keeping with analytic tradition. He has an impressive track record treating anxiety, depression and other disorders in adults and children, through the medium of uncensored and largely unstructured talk.

To visit Pollens, as I did one darknes wintertimes afternoon late last year, is to plunge immediately into the arcane Freudian speech of resistance and neurosis, transference and counter-transference. He exudes a sort of warm neutrality; you could easily imagine telling him your most troubling secrets. Like other members of his tribe, Pollens ensure himself as an excavator of the catacomb of the unconscious: of the sex drives that lurk beneath awareness; the hatred we feel for those we claim to love; and the other distasteful truths about ourselves we dont know, and often dont wish to know.

But theres a very well-known narrative when it comes to therapy and the relief of agony and it leaves Pollens and his fellow psychoanalysts decisively on the wrong side of history. For a start, Freud( this story runs) has been debunked. Young boys dont lust after their mothers, or fear their fathers will castrate them; adolescent girls dont envy their brethren penises. No brain scan has in the past situated the ego, super-ego or id. The practice of charging clients steep fees to ponder their childhoods for years while characterising any objections to this process as resistance, demanding farther psychoanalysis looks to many like a swindle. Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically incorrect about nearly every important thing he had to say than Sigmund Freud, the philosopher Todd Dufresne proclaimed a few years back, summing up the consensus and echoing the Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Medawar, who in 1975 called psychoanalysis the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the 20 th century. It was, Medawar went on, a terminal product as well something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of notions, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity.

A jumble of therapies emerged in Freuds wake, as therapists struggled to set their endeavours on a sounder empirical footing. But from all these approaches including humanistic therapy, interpersonal therapy, transpersonal therapy, transactional analysis and so on its generally agreed that one emerged triumphant. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a down-to-earth technique focused not on the past but the present; not on mysterious inner drives, but on adjusting the unhelpful think patterns that cause negative emotions. In contrast to the meandering conversations of psychoanalysis, a typical CBT exercise might involve filling out a flowchart to identify the self-critical automatic thoughts that occur whenever you face a setback, like being criticised at work, or rejected after a date.

CBT has always had its critics, primarily on the left, because its cheapness and its focus on getting people promptly back to productive work constructs it suspiciously attractive to cost-cutting politicians. But even those opposed to it on ideological grounds have rarely questioned that CBT does the job. Since it first emerged in the 1960 s and 1970 s, so many studies have stacked up in its favour that, these days, the clinical lingo empirically supported therapies is usually simply a synonym for CBT: its the one thats based on facts. Seek a therapy referral on the NHS today, and youre much more likely to end up , not in anything resembling psychoanalysis, but in a short series of highly structured sessions with a CBT practitioner, or perhaps learning methods to interrupt your catastrophising believing via a PowerPoint presentation, or online.

Yet rumblings of dissent from the vanquished psychoanalytic old guard have never quite gone away. At their core is a fundamental disagreement about human nature about why we suffer, and how, if ever, we can hope to find peace of mind. CBT exemplifies a very concrete opinion of painful emotions: that theyre principally something be removed, or failing that, made tolerable. A condition such as depression, then, is a bit like a cancerous cancer: sure, it might be useful to figure out where it came from but its far more important to get rid of it. CBT doesnt exactly claim that happiness is easy, but it does imply that its relatively simple: your distress is caused by your irrational faith, and its within your power to confiscate hold of those faiths and change them.

Psychoanalysts contend that things are much more complicated. For one thing, psychological pain needs first not to be eliminated, but understood. From this perspective, depression is less like a tumour and more like a stabbing ache in your abdomen: its telling you something, and you need to find out what.( No responsible GP would just pump you with painkillers and send you home .) And happiness if such a thing is even achievable is a much murkier matter. We dont actually know our own minds, and we often have powerful motives for keeping things that way. We find life through the lens of our earliest relationships, though we usually dont realise it; we want contradictory things; and change is slow and hard. Our conscious minds are tiny iceberg-tips on the dark ocean of the unconscious and you cant genuinely investigated that ocean by means of CBTs simple, standardised, science-tested steps.

This viewpoint has much romantic appeal. But the analysts debates fell on deaf ears so long as experimentation after experiment seemed to confirm the superiority of CBT which helps explain the shocked response to a study, published last May, that seemed to show CBT get less and less effective, as a therapy for depression, over time.

Examining scores of earlier experimental trials, two researchers from Norway concluded that its consequence sizing a technological measure of its usefulness had fallen by half since 1977.( In the unlikely event that this trend were to persist, it could be entirely useless in a few decades .) Had CBT somehow benefited from a kind of placebo impact all along, effective merely so long as people believed it was a miracle cure?

That puzzle was still being digested when researchers at Londons Tavistock clinic published results in October from the first rigorous NHS study of long-term psychoanalysis as a treatment for chronic depression. For the most severely depressed, it concluded, 18 months of analysis worked far better and with much longer-lasting effects than treatment as usual on the NHS, which included some CBT. Two years after the various therapies ended, 44% of analysis patients no longer fulfilled the criteria for major depression, compared to one-tenth of the others. Around the same day, the Swedish press reported a finding from government auditors there: that a multimillion pound scheme to reorient mental healthcare towards CBT had proved completely ineffective in meeting its goals.

Such findings, it turns out, arent isolated and in their midst, a newly emboldened band of psychoanalytic therapists are pressing the instance that CBTs pre-eminence has been largely built on sand. Indeed, they argue that teaching people to guess themselves to wellness might sometimes make things worse. Every thoughtful person knows that self-understanding isnt something you get from the drive-thru, said Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist at the University of Colorado medical school, who is one of CBTs most unsparing critics. His default bearing is one of wry good humour, but exasperation ruffled his demeanor whenever our dialogue dwelt too long on CBTs claims of supremacy. Novelists and poets seemed to have understood this truth for thousands of years. Its only in the last few decades that people have said, Oh , no, in 16 sessions we can change lifelong patterns! If Shedler and others are right, it may be time for psychologists and therapists to re-evaluate much of what they thought they knew about therapy: about what works, what doesnt, and whether CBT has really consigned the cliche of the chin-stroking shrink and with it, Freuds picture of the human mind to history. The impact of such a re-evaluation could be profound; eventually, it might even change how millions of people around the world are treated for psychological problems.

How does that stimulate “youre feeling”?

***

Freud was full of horseshit ! the therapist Albert Ellis, arguably the progenitor of CBT, liked to say. Its hard to deny he had a phase. One big part of the problem for psychoanalysis has been the evidence that its founder was something of a charlatan, prone to distorting his findings, or worse.( In one especially eye-popping example, which only came to sun in the 1990 s, Freud told a patient, the American psychiatrist Horace Frink, that his sadnes stemmed from an inability to recognise that he was lesbian and hinted that the answer lay in making a large fiscal contribution to Freuds run .)

Peter

Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

But for those working challenging psychoanalysis with alternative approaches to therapy, even more troublesome was the sense that even the most sincere psychoanalyst is always engaged in a guessing-game, always prone to finding proof of his or her hunches, whether its there or not. The basic premise of psychoanalysis, after all, is that our lives are was governed by unconscious forces, which speak to us only indirectly: through symbols in dreamings, accidental slip-ups of the tongue, or through what infuriates us about others, which is a clue to what we cant face in ourselves. But all this stimulates the whole thing unfalsifiable. Protest to your shrink that , no, you dont actually dislike your father, and that merely shows how desperate you must be to avoid acknowledging to yourself that you do.

This problem of self-fulfilling prophecies is a disaster for anyone hoping to figure out, in a scientific route, whats really going on in the mind and by the 1960 s, advances in scientific psychology had reached a point at which patience with psychoanalysis began to run out. Behaviourists such as BF Skinner had already shown that human behaviour could be predictably manipulated, much like that of pigeons or rats, by means of penalty and reward. The burgeoning cognitive revolution in psychology is of the view that goings-on inside the mind could be measured and manipulated too. And since the 1940 s, there had been a pressing need to do so: thousands of soldiers returning from the second world war exhibited emotional disturbances that exclaimed out for rapid, cost-effective treatment , not years of dialogue on the couch.

Before laying the groundwork for CBT, Albert Ellis had in fact originally trained as a psychoanalyst. But after practising for some years in New York in the 1940 s, he found his patients werent getting better and so, with a self-confidence that would come to define his career, he concluded that analysis, rather than his own abilities, must be to blame. Along with other like-minded therapists, he turned instead to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, teaching clients that it was their beliefs about the world , not events themselves, that distressed them. Getting change over for a promotion might induce unhappiness, but depression came from the irrational propensity to generalise from that single setback to an image of oneself as an all-round failure. As I see it, Ellis told an interviewer decades later, psychoanalysis devotes clients a cop-out. They dont have to change their styles they get to talk about themselves for 10 years, blaming their parents and waiting for magic-bullet insights.

Thanks to the breezy , no-nonsense tone will be approved by CBTs supporters, its easy to miss how revolutionary its claims were. For traditional psychoanalysts and those who practise newer psychodynamic techniques, largely derived from traditional psychoanalysis what happens in therapy is that seemingly irrational symptoms, such as the endless repetition of self-defeating patterns in love or run, are revealed to be at least somewhat rational. Theyre responses that made sense in the context of the patients earliest experience.( If a parent abandoned you, years ago, its not so strange to live in constant dread that your spouse might do so too and thus to act in ways that screw up your matrimony as a result .) CBT flips that on its head. Feelings that might appear rational such as impression depressed about what a disaster your life is stand exposed as the outcomes of irrational thinking. Sure, you lost your job; but it doesnt follow that everything will be awful forever.

Peter

Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

If this second approach is right, change is clearly far simpler: you need only identify and correct various thought-glitches, rather than decoding the secret reasons for your agony. Symptoms such as sadness or nervousnes arent necessarily meaningful clues to long-buried anxieties; theyre intruders to be banished. In analysis, the relationship between therapist and patient serves as a kind of petri dish, in which the patient re-enacts her habitual ways of pertaining with others, enabling them to be better understood. In CBT, youre just trying to get rid of a problem.

The sweary, freewheeling Ellis was destined to remain an foreigner, but the approach he pioneered soon attained respectability thanks to Aaron Beck, a sober-minded psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania.( Now 94, Beck has probably never called anything horseshit in his life .) In 1961, Beck devised a 21 -point questionnaire, known as the Beck Depression Inventory, to quantify clients suffering and showed that, in about half of all cases, a few months of CBT relieved the worst symptoms. Objections from analysts were dismissed, with some justification, as the complaints of people trying to protect their lucrative turf. They detected themselves compared to 19 th-century medical doctors bungling improvisers, threatened and offended by the notion that their mystic art could be reduced to a sequence of evidence-based steps.

Many more analyzes followed, demonstrating the added benefit of CBT in treating everything from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder to post-traumatic stress. I went to the early seminars on cognitive therapy to fulfill myself that it was another approach that wouldnt work, David Burns, who went on to popularise CBT in his worldwide bestseller Feeling Good, told me in 2010. But I passed the techniques to my patients and people whod seemed hopeless and stuck for years began to recover.

Theres little doubt that CBT has helped millions, at least to some degree. This has been especially true in the UK since the economist Richard Layard, a vigorous CBT evangelist, became Tony Blairs happiness czar. By 2012, more than a million people had received free therapy as a result of the initiative Layard helped push through, working with the Oxford psychologist David Clark. Even if CBT wasnt especially effective, you might argue, that kind of reach would count for a lot. Yet its hard to shake the sense that something big is missing from its model of the agony mind. After all, we experience our own inner lives, and our relationships with others, as bewilderingly complex. Arguably the entire history of both religion and literature is an attempt to grapple with what it all means; neuroscience daily uncovers new subtleties in the workings of the brain. Could the answer to our woes truly be something as superficial-sounding as identifying automatic supposes or modifying your self-talk or challenging your inner critic? Could therapy genuinely be so straightforward that you could receive it not from a human but from a book, or a computer?

A few years ago, after CBT had started to dominate taxpayer-funded therapy in Britain, a woman Ill call Rachel, from Oxfordshire, tried therapy on the NHS for depression, following the birth of her first child. She was sent first to sit through a group PowerPoint presentation, promising five steps to improve your mood; then she received CBT from a therapist and, in between sessions, via computer. I dont guess anything has ever constructed me feel as lonely and isolated as having a computer program ask me how I felt on a scale of one to five, and after Id clicked the sad emoticon on the screen telling me it was sorry to hear that in a prerecorded voice, Rachel recalled. Completing CBT worksheets under a human therapists guidance wasnt much better. With postnatal depression, she said, youve run from a situation in which youve been working, earning your own money, doing interesting things and suddenly youre at home on your own, mostly covered in sick, with no adult to talk to. What she required, she sees now, was real connect: that fundamental if hard-to-express sense of being held in the mind of another person, even if only for a short period each week.

I may be mentally ill, Rachel said, but I do know that a computer does not feel bad for me.

***

Jonathan Shedler remembers where he was when he first realised there might be something to the psychoanalytic notion of the mind as a realm far more complex, and peculiar, than most of us imagine. He was an undergraduate, at college in Massachusetts, when a psychology lecturer astounded him by construing a dream Shedler had associated about driving on bridges over ponds, and trying on hats in a store as an expression of the fear of pregnancy. The lecturer was exactly right: Shedler and his girlfriend, whose dream it was, were at that moment waiting to learn if she was pregnant, and urgently hoping she wasnt. But the lecturer knew none of this context; he was apparently merely an expert interpreter of the symbolism of dreams. The impact could not have been greater, Shedler recollected, if his terms had been heralded by celestial cornets. He decided that if there were people in the world who understood such things, I had to be one of them.

Yet academic psychology, the field Shedler next entered, entail having that kind of exuberance for the mysteries of the mind drummed out of you; researchers, he concluded, were committed to quantification and measurement, but not to the inner lives of real people. To become a psychoanalyst takes years of training, and its compulsory to undergo analysis yourself; analyzing the intellect at university, by contrast, necessitates zero real-life experience.( Shedler is now that rarity, a trained therapist and researcher, who bridges both worlds .) You know that thing about how you need 10,000 hours of practise to develop an expertise? he asked. Well, most of the researchers inducing pronouncements[ about which therapies work] dont have 10 hours!

Shedlers subsequent research and writing has played a significant role in undermining the received wisdom that theres no hard evidence for psychoanalysis. But its undeniable that the early psychoanalysts were sniffy about research: they were prone to viewing themselves as embattled practitioners of a subversive art that needed nurturing in specialist institutions which in practice meant forming cliquish private bodies, and rarely interacting with university experimenters. Research into cognitive approaches thus got a big head start and it was the 1990 s before empirical studies of psychoanalytic techniques began hinting that the cognitive consensus might be flawed. In 2004, a meta-analysis concluded that short-term psychoanalytic approaches were at least as good as other routes for many ailments, leaving recipients better off than 92% of all patients prior to therapy. In 2006, a study tracking approximately 1,400 people suffering from depression, nervousnes and related conditions ruled in favour of short-term psychodynamic therapy, too. And a 2008 analyse into borderline personality disorder concluded that merely 13% of psychodynamic patients still had the diagnosis five years after the end of therapy, compared with 87% of the others.

Peter

Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

These analyzes havent always compared analytic therapies with cognitive ones; the comparison is often with treatment as usual, a phrase that encompasses a multitude of sins. But over and over again, as Shedler has argued, the starkest differences between the two emerge some time after therapy has finished. Ask how people are doing as soon as their therapy ends, and CBT seems persuading. Return months or years later, though, and the benefits have often faded, while the effects of psychoanalytic therapies remain, or have even increased is recommended that they may restructure the personality in a lasting style, rather than simply helping people manage their moods. In the NHS study conducted at the Tavistock clinic last year, chronically depressed patients receiving psychoanalytic therapy stood a 40% better opportunity of going into partial remission, during every six-month period of the research, than those receiving other treatments.

Alongside this growing body of evidence, intellectuals have begun to ask pointed questions about the studies that first fuelled CBTs ascendancy. In a provocative 2004 newspaper, the Atlanta-based psychologist Drew Westen and his colleagues showed how researchers motivated by the desire for an experiment with clearly interpretable outcomes had often excluded up to two-thirds of possibilities participants, typically because they had multiple psychological problems. The practise is understandable: when a patient has more than one problem, its harder to untangle the lines of cause and impact. But it may mean that the people who do get analyzed are extremely atypical. In real life, our psychological problems are intricately embedded in our personalities. The issue you bring to therapy( depression, say) may not be the one that emerges after several conferences( for example, the need to come to words with a sex orientation you fear your family wont accept ). Moreover, some studies have sometimes seemed to unfairly stack the deck, as when CBT has been compared with psychodynamic therapy delivered by graduate students whod received only a few days cursory training in it, from other students.

But the most incendiary charge against cognitive approaches, from the torchbearers of psychoanalysis, is that they might actually make things worse: that finding ways to manage your depressed or anxious guess, for example, may simply postpone the point at which youre driven to take the plunge into self-understanding and lasting change. CBTs implied promise is that theres a relatively simple, step-by-step route to gain mastery over agony. But perhaps theres more to be gained from acknowledging how little control over our lives, our emotions, and other people actions we really have? The promise of mastery is seductive not just for patients but therapists, too. Clients are anxious about is available on therapy, and inexperienced therapists are anxious since they are dont have a clue “what were doing”, writes the US psychologist Louis Cozolino in a new volume, Why Therapy Works. Therefore, it is comforting for both parties to have a task they can focus on.

Not astonishingly, resulting supporters of CBT reject most of these criticisms, arguing that its been caricatured as superficial, and that some decrease in effectiveness is merely to be expected, because its grow so much in popularity. Early analyses employed small samples and pioneering therapists, enthused by the new approach; more recent analyses use bigger samples, and inevitably involve therapists with a wider range of talent levels. People who say CBT is superficial have just missed the phase, said Trudie Chalder, professor of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy at the Kings College Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience in London, who highlights the fact that no single therapy is best for all maladies. Yes, youre targeting peoples beliefs, but youre not only targeting easily accessible beliefs. Its not just Oh, such person or persons looked at me peculiarly, so they must not like me; its faiths like Im an unlovable person, which may derive from early experience. The past is very much taken into account.

Nonetheless, the dispute wont be settled by adjudicating between clashing analyses: it goes deeper than that. Experimenters may reach wildly different conclusions about which therapies have the best outcomes. But what should count as a successful outcome anyway? Examines measure relief of symptoms yet a crucial premise of psychoanalysis is that theres more to a meaningful life than being symptom-free. In principle, you might even aim a course of psychoanalysis sadder though wiser, more conscious of your previously unconscious reactions, and living in a more engaged way and still deem the experience a success. Freud famously declared that his aim was the transformation of neurotic suffering into common unhappiness. Carl Jung said humanity requires difficulties: they are necessary for health. Life is painful. Should we be thinking in terms of a cure for painful feelings at all?

***

Theres something profoundly appealing about the idea that therapy shouldnt be approached as a matter of science that our individual lives are too distinctive to be submitted to the relentless generalisation by which science must be pursued. That sentiment may help explain the commercial success of The Examined Life, Stephen Groszs 2013 collect of narratives from the analysts couch, which expended weeks on UK bestseller lists and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Its chapters consist not of experimental findings or clinical diagnoses, but of narratives, many of which involve a jolt of insight as the patient suddenly gets a sense of the depths he or she contains. Theres the man who lies compulsively, in a bid for secret intimacy with those he can persuade to join him in deceit, just like his mother hid evidence of his bedwetting; and the woman who eventually realises how effortfully shes been denying the evidence of her husbands infidelity when she notices how neatly someone has stacked the dishwasher.

Each life is unique, and your role, as an analyst, is to find the unique narrative of the patient, Grosz told me. There are so many things that only come out through slip-ups of the tongue, through someone confiding a fantasy, or employing a certain word. The analysts undertaking is to stay watchfully receptive to it all and then, from such ingredients, help people stimulate meaning of their lives.

Peter

Illustration: Peter Gamlen for the Guardian

Surprisingly, perhaps, recent support for this seemingly unscientific view has emerged from the most empirical corner of its further consideration of the mind: neuroscience. Many neuroscience experimentations have indicated that the brain processes information much faster than conscious awareness can keep track of it, so that countless mental operations run, in the neuroscientist David Eaglemans phrase, under the hood unseen by the conscious intellect in the driving-seat. For the above reasons, as Louis Cozolino writes in Why Therapy Works, by the time we become consciously aware of its own experience, it has already been processed many times, activated memories, and initiated complex patterns of behaviour.

Depending on how you interpret the evidence, it would seem we can do countless complex things from performing mental arithmetic, to reaching a automobiles brakes to avoid a crash, to making a choice of wedding partner before becoming aware that weve done them. This doesnt mesh well with a basic assumption of CBT that, with develop, we can learn to catch most of our unhelpful mental responses in the act. Rather, it seems to confirm the psychoanalytic intuition that the unconscious is huge, and largely in control; and that we live, unavoidably, through lenses created in the past, which we can only hope to modify partially, slowly and with great effort.

Perhaps the only undeniable truth to emerge from conflicts among therapists is that we still dont have much of a clue how minds run. When it comes to easing mental suffering, its like weve got a hammer, a watch, a nail-gun and a loo brush, and this box that doesnt always work properly, so we just maintain making the box with each of these tools to consider what works, said Jules Evans, policy director for the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London.

This may be why many intellectuals have been drew attention to what has become known as the dodo-bird verdict: the idea, supported by some studies, that the specific kind of therapy induces little difference.( The name comes from the Dodos pronouncement in Alice in Wonderland: Everybody has won, and all must have awards .) What seems to matter much more is the presence of a compassionate, dedicated therapist, and a patient committed to change; if one therapy is better than all others for all or even most problems, it has yet to be discovered. David Pollens, in his Upper East Side consulting room, said he had some pity for that verdict, despite his passion for psychoanalysis. There was a wonderful British analyst, Michael Balint, who was very involved in medical train, and he had a question he liked to pose[ to physicians ], Pollens said. It was: What do you think is the most powerful drug you prescribe? And people would try to answer that, and then eventually hed say: the relationship.

Yet even this conclusion that we simply dont know which therapies work best might be seen as a point in favour of Freud and his successors. Psychoanalysis, after all, personifies merely this awed meeknes about how little we can ever comprehend about the workings of our minds.( The one question nobody can ever answer, writes the Jungian analyst James Hollis, is of what are you unconscious ?) Freud the man scaled heights of arrogance. But his legacy is a reminder that we shouldnt inevitably expect life to be all that happy , nor to assume we can ever genuinely know whats going on inside indeed, that were often profoundly emotionally invested in preserving our ignorance of unsettling truths.

What happens in therapy, Pollens said, is that people come in asking for help, and then the very next thing they do is they try to stop you helping them. His smile hinted at these components of sillines in the situation and in the whole therapeutic endeavour, perhaps. How do we help a person when theyve told you, in one way or another, Dont help me? Thats what analytic treatment is about.

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Downward spiral: how addiction decimated a Wyoming family

1 month, 30 days ago

The nations suicide rate is three times “the member states national” average and 16% of its people experience alcoholism or addiction. Alexs family are the faces behind the figures

Alex remembers taking his wife to ensure a psychic. The clairvoyant came highly recommended by her doctor. Danielle was struggling. Pete, her son from a previous relationship, had killed himself in 2004. He was merely 13.

Alex drove 180 miles west from Rock Springs, Wyoming, where the couple lived, to Rainbow Gardens in Ogden, Utah. They drove through Sweetwater Countys extraterrestrial rock formations, its oil and gas fields, its mines. There was nothing to consider for miles but sage-covered high desert, a landscape of stark beauty and eerie desolation.

The clairvoyant told them that some peoples spirits were solitary, and that other people occupy and leave this world in clans. Pete wouldnt have learned anything new in this life, the clairvoyant continued. He needed to die and wait for his clan to succumbs so they could all start life over with him.

In the years that followed, one after another of Alexs clan died.

Danielles sister died from a prescription drug overdose in 2009. In 2015, Danielle died, following 15 years of opioid addiction, and that same year, her mother succumbed to complications related to alcohol abuse.

For years now, the US has been engulfed in an unprecedented epidemic. Americas white suicide rate is the highest it has been in 30 years, with Wyoming resulting at three times the national average. While the life expectancy of Americans of coloring has increased endlessly, the mortality rate of non-Hispanic, middle-aged whites particularly those with little formal education has risen dramatically.

In Wyoming, the number of people with diabetes has risen steadily, and heart disease is expected to affect four times as many people in 2030 as in 2010. The Center for Integrated Behavioral Health Policy, a research center based at George Washington University, estimates that more than 16% of Wyomingites suffer from alcoholism and addiction to illicit drugs.

But Wyoming is not alone with this problem: the national median is just under 14%. One change is, however, that in the second least populated country in the US, mental healthcare can be hard to come by. Wyoming has one of the lowest number of psychiatrists and the fewest child and adolescent psychiatrists per capita.

The hypothesis surrounding the causes of addiction are differed: childhood abuse and forget, trauma, mental illness and incarceration of a mother are often blamed. Experts point to the role of epigenetics, the inheritability of genetic code and gene expres. Inner isolation and the lack of a supportive community also appear to play a role. Family systems are more fragmented today than the latter are 50 years ago, and the church, which used to be the center of peoples communal and spiritual life, has lost its importance for many Americans.

Addiction and suicide are democratic, swallowing up individuals across all education and income levels. Americas medical and mental healthcare and Veteran Administration systems are struggling to address problems that may have been averted by strong family and community systems in the past. The narrative of Alex and his family illustrates how a series of tragic events can snowball to claim an entire household. Suicide, mental illness and craving are never due to merely one cause; they are the results of a perfect storm.

Alex Alex in front of the trailer where Pete died. Photo: Sabine Heinlein

At 42, Alex is burly and almost bald. When I visit him around Christmas a few days before what would have been his stepson Petes 22 nd birthday he offers to take me on a tour of the places in Rock Springs that are connected to his familys downward spiral.

Clad in beige vinyl siding, the mobile home where Pete killed himself seems neat but impersonal. It hadnt yet snowed enough to sugarcoat the scenery. Alex tells me that Danielle wasnt able to return home after Petes suicide. She grabbed her pets and daughters and moved in with neighbours. The couple quickly decided to sell.

Trudging through snow under big gray skies that portend a storm, Alex and I visit Petes grave. Someone has put an artificial flower and a small American flag next to a piece of an antler. The antler is there because Pete was supposed to learn how to hunt that year. There is also an ashtray because Pete liked to smoking. Alex seems detached, and I ask him what he is feeling. He has come to terms with Petes suicide, he tells me. His mission is now to understand the forces that ravaged his family.

Danielle and Alex met in the mid-1 990 s. They were drawn to each other because they were both unique, as Alex puts it. Alex was shy he still is. One of Danielles limbs was stunted due to a birth defect, and she was supporting herself by working at a gas station.

The youngest of more than a dozen children from several different sets of mothers, Danielle was daddys daughter. But according to Alexandria, her longtime friend, her familys home was filled with emotional abuse. There was always sorrow and one craving after another, Alexandria remembers. The home was never clean, and her parents regulations were idiosyncratic. They gave her whatever she wanted. They didnt push her to do things for herself.

In elementary school, Danielles teachers and fellow students marveled at how fast she could get dressed. Though Danielle had only the one hand, she was faster than anyone else in her class. But in middle and high school, rewards became harder to achieve and expectations crumbled.

In seventh grade, Danielle got involved with the bad kids who hung out at a local gas station. Parties took place in the mountains, even in the middle of winter, and it was( and still is) common for kids to start drinking in their early teens. In rapid succession, Danielle had two children, Pete and Melissa, from two different fathers.

Then Alex came along.

I wasnt one of those arrogant assholes who exude so much confidence, Alex says. I have a soft spot for people who are handicapped or the underdog. Danielle was always smiling and happy, with a sense of sentence you can only get from being a mother. Im going to do it this style and no one can tell me different. She taught me that about myself.

Soon after the couple got married, Danielle insisted they follow their friend Alexandrias family to Louisiana. They took their new newborn daughter Tammy and Danielles eight-year-old son Pete with them. Seven-year-old Melissa stayed in Wyoming with her biological daddy, who was addicted to alcohol.

Things were drying up here, Alex remembers. I sold everything and chose, OK, for better or worse, here we go. But things were drying up down there, too. In Louisiana, there were additional obstacles. Louisiana is a buddy-buddy thing. If youre not Cajun, then youre a nobody. He acknowledges: Its the same here in Wyoming. Any outsider you look down on.

At humors objective, Alex joined the army. To his astonish, he enjoyed it. I was becoming something more than what I was, he explains. Growing up, every time I got a friend in school theyd move. The majority of my life I have been by myself.

For the first time ever, the lone wolf felt like part of a pack. His household was get a foothold in a more stable life, and things seemed to be looking up.

In May 2000, Alex was driving with his family. They had just bought carpeting for their home on the base because Danielle fretted the children would hurt themselves on the tiled floor. Seven months pregnant with Ashley, the couples second child, Danielle sat next to Alex. In the backseat were nine-year-old Pete and the couples newborn daughter Tammy.

Alex insured the traffic lights change to amber. He decided to stop. As soon as the car eased to a halting, he felt potential impacts of the loaded semi-trailer truck behind them. The children were fine, but Alex and Danielle suffered herniated disc in the neck.

It seemed like a big old snarl that started the snowball rolling down the hill until the big crash at the bottom, Alex says about the accident.

Alex and Danielle were both in severe ache, and doctors in Louisiana were quick to prescribe opioid analgesics. Alex cant recollect whether doctors ever told him or Danielle that the analgesics were addictive, but while he didnt like how hazy the medicines attained him feel, Danielle soon couldnt live without them.

Once, Danielle tried to go off the drugs cold turkey, ending up in the hospital. Physicians there said she could have killed herself. Thats when arrangements were made to send her to a[ rehab] facility, Alex remembers. But the program was only a week or two long, and Danielle, who seemed to be in constant ache, relapsed soon afterwards.

Alex Alex holding a family photo, back when he was in the army. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

Both Alex and Alexandria wonder whether Danielle exaggerated how much ache she was in to get more narcotics, but they are careful about making assumptions. Danielle always seemed to feel every longing, every hurt, more intensely than others. Maybe she felt pain more strongly, too.

Alexs neck pain developed into migraines, and he was no longer be permitted to do the armys morning calisthenics. Once, while driving a truck, he blacked out. He came to on the wrong side of the road.

His military career stalled. He had become what his superior policeman called one of the broke-ass people. He explains: When you are injured, you are frowned upon. You are hazed. Because you are not up there doing everything with the big dogs.

Alexs second daughter, Ashley, was born two months after the accident, addicted to oxycodone. When she was just 24 hours old, Ashley stopped inhaling and almost died. Physicians dedicated her a Narcan injection, commonly used to treat withdrawal syndromes in babies exposed to opioids before birth. Suffering from withdrawal and in pain, the newborn cried all the time.

In 2001, Danielle had neck surgery, but her ache still didnt subside. Soon afterwards, she was back to spending much of her time in bed, high on medications. Alexandria, who more than once tried to talk to her about her craving, recollects. She never took responsibility for her own actions.[ Therapy] was scary. It was always somebody elses fault.

Alex was placed on desk duty. He couldnt believe how quickly the military had written him off. Instead of supporting him on his difficult journey, medical doctors started the process of medical discharge. Shortly after he was “lets get going”, his division shipped out to Iraq. I wasnt able to fulfill my investment. I felt like a piece of crap, Alex says.

In 2002, Danielle and Alex moved back to Rock Springs to be closer to their clan. Melissa, Danielles oldest daughter, was back in the picture, helping them raise her two young stepsisters.

With Alexs discharge from the army, Danielles spousal insurance was terminated, and due to her pre-existing conditions no insurance company would take her. Alex was paying more than $500 a month for Danielles narcotics. Eventually, a doctor set her on methadone a prescription analgesic more commonly known for helping heroin junkies detoxify as a less expensive alternative.

In 2006, Danielle and Alex received a quarter-million-dollar settlement from the accident. Alex maintained $10,000 to start a welding business. The rest he devoted to Danielle. Danielle hired a housekeeper, bought a doublewide trailer home and an SUV. She gave money to relatives, took her children on vacation and dragged Alex to the mall to buy $ 1,500 worth of clothes. Within a year she had blown all the money.

Rock Springs is three hours from the closest metropolitan area, Salt Lake City. But thats in good weather conditions. When it is snowing, it can take more than twice that long. During blizzards, I-8 0 sometimes shuts altogether.

A bust-and-boom town, Rock Springs wasnt reached as hard by the Great Depression as the rest of America; everybody still needed coal. The proud community had splendid gardens to grow their own veggies. Ethnic minorities put on culture events featuring food, drinkings and dances. Established as a safety net for employees, the Mutual Aid Society hosted balls, and Union Pacific organized parades and first assist competitors. The prevalent sentiment was: We built this community out of the desert, we made a great a home for ourselves says Brie Blasi, the executive director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.

It wasnt all rosy, however. Alex leads me to a big paint at the Rock Springs Library that depicts one of the most serious incidents of anti-immigrant violence in American history. While Rock Springs celebrates itself as Home of 56 Nationalities, it is anything but diverse, and not exactly known for being accepting of foreigners. Sweetwater County is 94% white, and its immigration history is fraught with alienation and bloodshed.

Years of unjust labor policies that favored whites and fomented xenophobic sentiments culminated in the 1885 Chinese Massacre, in which a mob of 150 white humen murdered at least 28 Chinese miners. Dozens more were injured, robbed and driven from their shacks at Bitter Creek.

How many white people were murdered? Alex asks the librarian. The answer is none. The Chinese didnt carry guns.

Castle Castle Rock, Wyoming. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

Rock Springs last coalmine closed in 1963. Social clubs shut or became less active. People no longer huddled together where they ran but had to drive out of town to the oil and gas fields and the mine that extracted trona( a mineral used to construct baking soda, glass, detergents and textiles ). Closely dependent on the mineral prizes, the economy seesawed.

For many years, Rock Springs white, working-class people enjoyed an atmosphere of social cohesion that today is hard to find. But as stark differences in wealth are paraded in schools and on social media, members of the general atmosphere has become one of one-upmanship, Alex says. Something has to change. He thinks that Donald Trump will bring the change America needs.

Maybe change has already been under way. In recent years, thanks to its minerals, Sweetwater County has been doing well economically very well, in fact. Between 2000 and 2015 the median household income rose from $54,173 to $81,592, well above the national median of approximately $56,000.

Alexs welding business, too, went well for a while but he was powerless over Danielles expending habits. I wanted things to work out, he says. Thats why I did everything she asked for. When the economy tanked, I would have been able to survive had I treated it like a business and not like her personal piggy bank.

Meanwhile, Danielles son Pete had been sucked into his own pain. Pete was ruined before I came around, Alex says, adding, seemingly ashamed, that an uncle had shown porn to Pete when he was just two or 3 years old. He was distraught over a lot of things, and the biggest one was being rejected by his biological father. He couldnt understand why I wanted something to do with him and his father didnt.

In school, Pete was in constant difficulty. He was bullied for his emo style, and once another kid hit him with a stone, dividing his head open. At home, he was called at and hit by Danielle over the smallest violations. Alex was often away, working 12 -hour changes in the fields.

The counseling and the different medications doctors tried out on Pete didnt seem to do much.

When a young family friend was taken to an institution for emotionally challenged juveniles and Pete saw her improve, he demanded to be taken there, too. According to his sister Melissa, he wanted to be somewhere where he could get one-on-one focus all the time to work out his issues and not have to worry about the family life. But since he wasnt held high-risk, there werent any immediate options available for him.

Melissa, the oldest of Danielles three girls, recollects the tragic day in 2004 clearly. Then 12 years old, she had caught 13 -year-old Pete smoking marijuana with a cousin. She told Danielle. As part of his penalty, he was to sit in his room, with no volumes, publications or video games.

As she recalls the tale, Melissa is calm and thoughtful , not unlike her stepfather. She seems like the various kinds of person who has everything under control, but as you excavate deeper, her struggle emerges.

When Alex came home from work that day Danielle was in bed, like the majority of cases. The first thing he did was check in on Pete. He procured him reading a publication that Melissa had slipped him. Mom said nothing is nothing, Alex said, taking away the publication. He went to light the BBQ to make dinner. It was a warm summertime evening, and Melissa was playing horsey with her three- and five-year-old half-sisters.

Suddenly, Melissa heard Alex hollering. When I strolled over to the bedroom doorway and appeared in, I thought that they were fighting, she remembers. But when Alex laid my brother on the ground, I assured that he wasnt breathing, that he was purple and blue. I ran and woke up my mommy, and she started freaking out, so I grabbed the phone and called 911. Then I grabbed my little sisters and my cousin and I told them that they needed to go outside.

Alex says it couldnt have been more than 15 minutes until he went back to check on Pete. He had hanged himself in his closet.

After breaking through the cloud of the initial shock, Melissa went to see her junior high school counselor. It would be better if she didnt talking here her stepbrothers suicide, she remembers the counselor telling her. Better not devote other children any ideas( she adds that this policy has since changed and counselors are more open and engaged with their own problems now ). Over the next few years, Melissa would ensure several of her schoolmates attempt suicide and succumb of medication overdoses.

Like Danielle, Alex holds himself spiritual but doesnt go to church. For him, organized religion has lost its message. It is not as complicated as people make it out to be, he tells me. Whatever Alexs and Danielles beliefs, the family couldnt “lets get going” of Petes young soul.

After his death, they would sometimes hear their little daughter Ashley giggle in her room. Pete, stop tickling me, she would squeal. Once Alex and Danielle thought they find his white pant-leg duck into the bathroom; another time the couple heard an indefinable growling under the bed. It wasnt a cat, Alex says, locking eyes with me.

The The graveyard where Pete is interred. Photograph: Sabine Heinlein

In the midst of all this, Danielles sister had also become addicted to painkillers. One day, she was detected unconscious in the rain. She had overdosed and reached her head severely. Pill bottles with Danielles name were found in her home. Suffering from memory problems, the sister lost her undertaking before succumbing of an overdose in 2009. It was never determined whether her death was accidental.

The cataclysms didnt be brought to an end. Four years ago, Danielle asked Alex to sit down. She had to tell him something. Their daughter Tammy wasnt his child after all. A DNA exam had confirmed it.

For a week, Alex lay in agony, curled up in a ball. That was the worst ache I ever had, he told me. I didnt want to kill myself, but if my heart was going to stop, Id be OK with that.

It is not that Alex has never tried to access the mental healthcare system. He and Danielle had taken their daughters to household therapy after Ashley, their youngest, had threatened to kill herself in 2012. Alex partially blames himself for Ashleys self-harm ruminations: he was working 12 -hour transformations to make ends meet, and Ashley, who had always been the calm one in the family, wasnt getting enough attention. But family therapy was like World War Three, Alex remembers. All the feelings were coming out it might have been better to leave them all bottled up. The household soon fell out, but the fighting and heartache continued.

For Alex, psychiatric assist never seemed available when he needed it most. The local clinic that serves veterans didnt have an appointment available for another month, and the nearest VA hospital was 160 miles back. Alex didnt want to call the VA suicide hotline because he didnt feeling comfortable having an intimate dialogue about his pain on the phone.

In 2013, Danielle and Alex separated; the kids bided with Danielle, but Alex came around frequently. Soon, Danielles new boyfriend moved in. Alex tried to go back to college but fell out because his daughters implored him to come home.

Danielles health began to deteriorate rapidly. Running back and forth to get medicine from doctors in Utah and Wyoming, she switched from methadone back to OxyContin. She tried to go to rehab in Laramie, Wyoming, but it was too late. Danielle had developed a rare blood clotting disease, diabetes and lung problems. A physician also suggested that she suffered from bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that, merely in hindsight, stimulated sense to her family and friends.

Then Danielle suffered several strokes, with the third one causing mobility and speech problems. She briefly went to physical and speech therapy but quit when she suffered another major bout of depression around the anniversary of Petes death. In 2014, she was diagnosed with early stages of dementia.

In March 2015, a few days after her 43 rd birthday, Danielle died of kidney failing. A couple of months later her mom succumbed of complications related to alcoholism at 69.

In the span of a decade, Alex and the three girls had lost their friend, aunt, mom, and grandmother. A big part of their clan was now gone.

The snowstorm has ended when I drive through the trailer park where Tammy and Ashley live. The black night is partly lighted by a timid half-moon, and the packed snowfall on the streets gleams cold blue. Tammy and Ashley , now 15 and 17, still live in Danielles old mobile home, together with a roommate and “the mens” they continue to call mommies fiance.

Tammy, the 17 -year-old, sports a curly wild mane that matches her extroverted demeanor. She greets me warmly while rapidly wiping kitchen counters. Ashley quietly sits on the beige sofa with the roommate who is cradling an infant the girls agreed to babysit for the night. Across from us is a dusty shelf filled with memorabilia. There are photos of Pete and Danielle, as well as some of her favorite objects, among them a clay ashtray Pete made for his mother in grade school.

Mom said Pete had the darkest blue eyes. Nothing I have ever seen before. As if he was a god, Ashley tells me. A cat and puppies of various sizings squirrel around us. Tammy says she only rescued a pregnant cat whose paws had gotten stuck on the ice. The atmosphere exudes warmth and openness.

Tammy and Ashley both dropped out of school. The girls now do what teenagers do when left to their own devices. They sleep much of the day, watch Tv and go to Walmart for a stroll. Afterwards, over dinner at their favorite diner, they talk about why they didnt like school. They were bullied, they say. Unless you have a certain family name or youre one of the best athletes or super smart-alecky, you get bullied, Alex agrees.

Alex has tried to get Ashley to go to therapy after a friend of hers told him that she was cutting herself. He is concerned. Earlier that day, he received a bellow from a local counselor asking whether Ashley would come back. He cant drag her there, Alex told the counselor.

If Alex knew what his daughters required, hed give it to them. For now, he only wants to give them time to process their loss.

As I am leaving Rock Springs behind me, fiddling with the radio to find something other than pop music, Christian sermons, commercials or Christmas ballads, I think back to what Alex said about his hope that Donald Trump would bring change.

What kind of change does he and his family require? The old coalmining days are long gone. People no longer dance and garden with each other. Parents can no longer rely on their offsprings upward mobility.

The pride of hard, manual labour has faded, and family emergencies rarely bring whole communities together. The mental healthcare system in the US continues to struggle to fill the gaps that the changes have created. In a secluded, sparsely populated region where both mental illness and therapy are met with mistrust stemming from both disgrace and anxiety, those who are down and out often have no place to go.

Danielles name was changed, alongside their lists of her children

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here

The 100 best nonfiction volumes: No 41- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie( 1936)

2 months, 21 days ago

The original self-help manual on American life with its influence stretching from the Great Depression to Donald Trump has a lot to answer for

The selling of the American self, and its dream of a better future, began with the Declaration of Independence and founding father Benjamin Franklin, who once observed that God helps them that help themselves. Selling and salesmanship pervade American life and literature: Sister Carrie ( Theodore Dreiser ), Babbitt ( Sinclair Lewis ), The Iceman Cometh ( Eugene ONeill ), Death of a Salesman ( Arthur Miller ), and Glengarry Glen Ross ( David Mamet ).

Exactly 80 years after How to Win Friends first appeared, it comes as no surprise to find a distorted, and sickeningly corrupted, version of Dale Carnegies homespun and inspirational self-help manual prosper in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, bestselling author of The Art of the Deal . Trump, indeed, continues actively to extol a later Carnegie fan( Norman Vincent Peale, writer of The Power of Positive Thinking ) for his contribution to the American way of life. Whatever the outcome of Tuesday 8 November, theres no doubt that the ecstatic selling of American greatness will remain part of “the member states national” psychodrama for years to come.

Trumps diehard supporters are an apt reminder that, for many Americans, the pursuit of happiness is unsatisfying, success painfully elusive, and failing shameful and/ or infuriate. The hunger for a better future remains a constant feature of the American sociopolitical scenery. In the depths of the Great Depression, it was this desperate need that Carnegie addressed in How to Win Friends and Influence People . Carnegies message was to inspire go-getting Americans to look on the bright side, and sell themselves better. By the time of Carnegies demise in 1955, more than 5m transcripts had been sold, the book had been translated into more than 30 speeches, and its title had passed into the language. Today, my paperback reprint from Vermilion( an imprint of Random House UK) boasts over 16 m transcripts sold. As Jay Parini, a devout student of Carnegies work, has noted: between 1989, when Soviet communism failed and 1997, How to Win Friends went through no fewer than 68 editions in a Russian translation. Notions of success usually make for a bestseller.

Carnegie himself, born in 1888, the same year as TS Eliot, represented the American idea of self- or re-invention. He grew up the son of a failed Missouri farmer named Carnagey. Ambitious young Dale changed the spelling of his name more closely to associate himself with the great steel baron, Andrew Carnegie, a late 19 th-century household name, and embarked on a career as a salesman while also attempting to make a future in the theatre as an actor, auditioning successfully for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Theatre life was hard. It was at this stage, he wrote, that the dreams I had nourished back in my college days turned into nightmares.

But he didnt give up, and it was from this cavity of despair and letdown that he conceived the idea of devoting courses in public speaking. Paraphrasing RW Emerson, a deeply influential American we shall meet later, he would say, Do the thing that you fear to do, and the death of fear is absolutely certain. By 1916, he was in a position to rent Carnegie Hall and lecture to full houses about his self-help techniques. His first book, Public Speaking: A Practical Course for Business Men , are still in 1926, and led inexorably through his growing stateswide audience to How to Win Friends .

The key to this new iteration of his optimistic message was its 12 principles( which ranged from No 1, The only route to get the best of an debate is to avoid it, to No 12, Throw down a challenge, via No 6, Let the other person do a great deal of the talking ). Each principle was deftly illustrated by Carnegies well-chosen examples of influential and successful Americans in action.

Carnegie left nothing to opportunity. To persuade his readers of his wisdom, he went to the top of American society in the 1930 s. I personally interviewed ratings of successful people, he writes, some of them world- famous inventors like Marconi and Edison; political leaders like Franklin D Roosevelt movie stars like Clark Gable and Mary Pickford and tried to discover the techniques they used in human relations. He ensure himself as an enabler, quoting Herbert Spencer: The great objective of education is not knowledge but action. This, he declared, was an action book.

As Donald Trump knows only too well, to hook the uncommitted, any good salesmans pitch must subtly invite the buyer to risk leaving his or her convenience zone, and take a chance. Carnegie was not afraid to connect his message to new ideas. Early on in his pitch for a mass audience, Carnegie mixed a simple American credo with revolutionary European suppose. He writes: Sigmund Freud said that everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex exhort and the desire to be great.

Carnegie also traded in folksy wisdom, in the manner of his idol, Abraham Lincoln. His first chapter, If You Want to Gather Honey, Dont Kick Over the Beehive, fosters a positive, warm and optimistic posture in dealings with others. He argues against assaulting or criticising people. That they are able to merely induce them aggressive towards you. After that, successive chapters enter into negotiations with: how to get people to act as you want them to; how to build people like you; how to convince people of your arguments; and finally, how to be a Leader( Constructing People Glad to Do What You Want ). All this was packaged into Carnegies systematic technique, an important key to his popular success.

The measure of Carnegies extraordinary achievement can be seen in his many imitators. The most immediate was Norman Vincent Peale whose keynote sentence could have been written by Carnegie: If you feel that you are defeated and have lost confidence in your ability to win, sit down, take a piece of paper and make a list , not of the factors that are against you, but of those that are for you.

Unlike Carnegie, Peale was that now familiar American figure: a charismatic evangelist trading in a petroleum, faith-based optimism. The officiating priest at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan for more than half a century, Peale first began to promote positive thinking on the radio with a programme entitled The Art of Living . The latest edition of The Power of Positive Thinking proclaims: This Book Could Change Your Life, and specifically offers to enable everyone to enjoy confidence, success and exhilaration. Here, in about 300 pages, is a succinct expres of the American Dream in its purest form. From the outset, like Carnegie, Peale identifies squarely with the Common Man. His book, he proclaims, was written for the plain people of this world, of whom certainly I am one. With a sly allusion to Abraham Lincolns origins a straight lift from Carnegie he then makes a classic assertion of white American solidarity: I was born and reared in humble midwestern situations in a dedicated Christian home. The everyday people of this land are my own kind whom I know and love and believe in with great faith. Then follows Peales kicker: When any one of them lets God have charge of his life the power and glory are amazingly demonstrated.

What Peale offered was not merely spiritual counselling( over the years, plenty of other evangelists had already done that ), but a system of simple procedures that would generate untold peace of mind, improved health and a never-ceasing flow of energy. Extolling the common sense of his system, he goes on:[ This volume] induces no pretence to literary excellence , nor does it seek to demonstrate any unusual scholarship on my part. This is simply a practical, direct-action, personal improvement manual.

After Peale, the other American titles that owe a huge indebtednes to Carnegie include: The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson( 1982 ); The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey( 1989 ); and Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day by Joel Osteen( 2007 ). From these popular bestsellers, bought by people who likely possess almost no other books, it is only a short step to Trumps Make America Great Again.

Dale Carnegie has something to answer for.

A signature sentence

Charles Schwabs personality, his charm, his ability to stimulate people like him, were almost wholly responsible for his extraordinary success; and one of the most delightful factors in his personality was his captivating smile.

Three to compare

Norman Vincent Peale: The Power of Positive Thinking ( 1952)
Donald Trump: The Art of the Deal ( 1987)
Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Power of Believing Without Thinking ( 2005)

How to Win Friends and Influence People is published by Vermilion ( 8.99 ). Click here to buy it for 7.37

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Scottish food standards agency criticised over E coli poisoning suit

2 months, 22 days ago

FSS told newspaper it had no direct proof connecting outbreak that killed three-year-old girl with artisan cheese-maker

Scotlands food criteria bureau has come under attack after it confirmed it had no samples or test evidence connecting a cheese-maker with a food poisoning outbreak that killed a three-year-old girl.

Prof Sir Hugh Pennington, a world authority on the glitch blamed for the outbreak, E coli O157, said the information issued by Food Standards Scotland( FSS) on its investigation had been a mess, and had failed to answer basis the issue of the case.

The whole thing is a mess in terms of the public datum coming out said Pennington, emeritus prof for bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen and a former adviser to the UK Food Standards Agency. From my point of view, I just dont understand whats going on.

He said he was puzzled by the agencys delay in releasing its report in the outbreak, which objective several weeks ago. The sooner we find all the data which has been collated which allows the FSS to point the finger, the better it will be for everybody, he added.

The agency issued an alert in July after it connected an E coli outbreak that had affected 20 people with two batches of Dunsyre Blue, one of the best known brands from South Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese, which has pioneered the use of unpasteurised milk.

The firm receded the cheeses from sale in July, but the frighten intensified last week after the FSS revealed that a three-year-old girl in Dunbartonshire had died and 11 people were hospitalised after contracting the E coli O157 bug. Prosecutors at the Crown Office are analyzing a file on the case.

Errington Cheese insisted its repeated testing had seen no traces of E coli in any of the cheeses involved, but the FSS said last week that two batches of Dunsyre cheese were implicated based on epidemiological evidence.

Two days later, the company said that withdrawing the cheeses from sale was in the best interests of consumers to protect them from potential risks to public health.

However, the agency told the Sunday Herald at the weekend it had no direct proof the cheeses it had named and had banned from sale were to blame. Tests carried out to date from samples taken by South Lanarkshire council as part of this investigation have not seen the same stres connected with the outbreak, it said.

It is understood the FSS did not test any samples of the cheese eaten, had no swabs from any restaurant or home or supplier, and was relying instead on a questionnaire of those affected by the outbreak. The FSS would not comment on those elements of its investigation.

The agency said on Saturday its testing of Erringtons cheese led to a positive finding of E coli O157 on a different product, the firms Lanark White brand; although it had not yet is proved that that cheese had the shiga toxin that stimulates the bug so dangerous.

The company withdrew its Lanark White from marketing, too, on the agencys instructions but again tried to defend its food hygiene and production standards. In a statement on its website, Errington Cheese said its advisers were unhappy about the testing used by the FSS: those batches of Lanark White had been on sale for three weeks with no reports of ill-health.

The company said in August there had been no E coli detected at all at its mill or in its cheeses since 21 March, either by its own laboratory, the local council or by its clients.

Its six samples of the Dunsyre Blue that was targeted by the FSS had all been clear. From the limited information given to it by the FSS, all the cases occurred in the first two weeks of July, even though the cheese had been on sale for up to nine weeks.

The FSS said on Monday: Public health is and is still being FSSs priority and specific actions will continue to be determined by what is necessary to protect public health and the interests of consumers. As there is an ongoing food safety investigation, we will publish more information when this is necessary to protect public health and provide information to consumers.

Pennington said it was often difficult to immediately connects a suspect batch of cheese to a poisoning outbreak because an E coli bug may merely affect part of each block, and consumers may have eaten the only evidence available.

In some instances, people could pick up the bug from an infected knife without feeing the cheese involved. However, without very detailed analysis, such as DNA testing, of each bug identified in every patient to prove a direct connection, there could more than one source of the outbreak.

Pennington has not been contacted by the Errington family in this case but gave expert evidence in the companys defence in 1994 when it was unsuccessfully prosecuted after traces of listeria were found it its Lanark Blue cheese. He said in this case the Erringtons had a right to see the FSSs report as soon as is practicable, so it could understand why its brands had been identified as the source of this outbreak.

But he said the FSS attitude in this case underlined long-standing hostility in Scotlands public health and food safety sectors towards cheese make use of unpasteurised milk, including the Errington brands. English regulators were more relaxed about unpasteurised milk; Scottish agencies became far more hardline after two major salmonella outbreaks in the 1970 s caused a number of fatalities.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Moby:’ There were bags of drugs, I was having sexuality with a stranger’

3 months, 10 days ago

He was the sober, Christian dance music innovator but then Moby discovered success … Now hes coming clean

Before I picked up Mobys new memoir, Porcelain, I thought of him as a small, bald, cheeky chappy who made tuneful dance music. I knew he had a few unconventional beliefs( wasnt he vegan? Hardcore Christian? Perhaps teetotal ?), but filed him as essentially harmless. After reading Porcelain, well Lets just say his volume is packed with incident. Lots of dodgy sex, oceans of alcohol, antics a-gogo. Plus: cockroaches, raves, demise, celebrities( from Madonna to Robert Downey Jr, but not in starry situations) and good old Top Of The Pops. Its a cavort of a book. Such outrageous fun, in fact, that Moby tells me hes “ve noticed that” people have regarded him differently after reading it.

They have a look, he says. Its odd being on the receiving objective of that appear. Its a seem of knowing, but its also a seem of fear. Like, Is everything OK?

The fact is, his volume constructs me like Moby more. For a start, he writes brilliantly, with none of the self-indulgence of most pop memoirs: I wanted each chapter to be like an anecdote youd tell in a bar, to have a punchline, he says. And also, theres something touching about who he was back then. At one point, he writes this, about some club children They were all doing obscene quantities of drugs and having sex with strangers, but they still seemed innocent and thats exactly how he comes across. Its quasi-Dickensian, he says. Naive boy from the country moves to the big city and things go wrong.

We are drinking herbal tea and eating( very tasty) vegetables in Mobys freshly opened vegan restaurant in blue-skied Los Angeles. Its a nice place and I am relaxed, but endearingly, Moby isnt. He picks up a fallen cushion and plumps it before putting it back on the bench; he asks me if Im too cold and alters the air con; he goes through the menu with me.

Moby has lived on the west coast for six years, but had no problem transporting himself back to his past for the book. Sometimes he would be used to describe being blind drunk in New York, contained within filth and squalor, and look up from his laptop and be shocked to see his swimming pool, bathed in sunshine. The writing felt true and current realities felt like fiction. It was like hour travel.

Lets zoom back in time with him, then. Porcelain contains general information with Mobys life between 1989 and 1999, from where reference is moved to New York to just before the release of Play, his fifth album, and the one that changed everything. Play was packed full of sample-heavy, catchy dance tunes, which interred themselves into everyday life. Even if you havent actively listened to the album, youll know the anthems: Honey, with its driving piano riff and Bessie Jones sample get my honey come back, sometimes; Natural Blues, featuring another blues sample( oh lordy, difficulty so hard ), this time from Vera Hall.( Moby sourced these samples, and others, from Alan Lomaxs folk music field recordings .) Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad ? has featured on the GSCE syllabus for music since 2008. Anyway, the big thing about Play was that every single one of its ways was subsequently licensed for ad or films. This was a huge bargain at the time, and a huge bargain for Moby. It moved him from the electronica shadows into the big league, changed him from a musician who scrabbled for a few thousand dollars to a fully fledged, in-the-spotlight, pop starring overlord. For a while, Moby was dance musics Adele: everyone liked his stuff.

Moby DJing in New York in 1989. Photo: Mobys personal collection

None of this is hinted at in his memoir, however, because none of it was foreshadowed in real life. In real life, before Play, Moby was bumping around New York, getting DJ gigs in now legendary clubs like Mars and Nasa, as well as nasty swingers nights( he says he would play anywhere ). His career, as careers do, took day. In 1992, he had success with one way, Go( particularly in the UK, where we have always been more open to his music than the US) and made a few well-received albums.

Then, in 1995, simply at the moment dance music actually crossed over, he blew whatever small chance he had by bringing out a thrash punk LP.

He is funny about this and his musical work is all present and correct in Porcelain, but it takes second place to the more fascinating everyday happens in their own lives. Hes a dominatrixs sidekick( he calls himself Master Bobby and hollers at a businessman wearing fuchsia lingerie ). He get Lyme cancer, he dates indie girls and strippers; he lives in disused warehouses and crappy flats with weirded-out flatmates who want to set him on fire and buy the petrol to do so.

What is strange is how he chose to compartmentalise their own lives. He ricochetted between out-there clubbers and the suburban devout, between hanging out in debaucheries and having a largely unconsummated relationship with his Christian girlfriend( they would hand out vegan sandwiches to homeless people for thrills ). He was monastic in his home habits, then would go out and socialise madly. He was a vegan, sober , nonsexual God-botherer partying in the blood-soaked Meatpacking District with the sex-and-druggers. In 1995, after being teetotal for eight years, he took up drinking again. Theres a sort of relief in it. He had so many different personae to try to unite.

Moby Reading Festival, 1996. Photograph: Scott Frassetto

Is he still like that?

Hmm. I still recognise that person, stumbling through life without much agency. Theres exuberance and a good work ethic, but ultimately complete cluelessness, being baffled by everything. Its like being a snowball rolling down a mountain. The snowball might have started various kinds of pure, but by the end, its filled with dead squirrels and sticks and boulders and wellies and garbage. Youve got this snowball at the end, but to what magnitude does it relate to or resemble that original snowball?

Moby, as you see, does a good line in therapy talk( Well, were in southern California, the land of veganism and therapy, he says ), but hes also very funny. Salman Rushdie has given a glowing quote for the encompas of Porcelain that references Mobys supposed ancestor Herman Melville( hence Moby, after Melvilles Moby-Dick; his real name is Richard Melville Hall ). He has started writing the next instalment, covering the 10 years post-Play. He says his publishers, so far, dont approve. They suppose his excesses construct him too unsympathetic. Such as? Oh, notoriety, money, degeneracy, debauchery, bottoming out, says Moby. Whats not to like? I know! Thats what I want to read in a book!

Because it focuses on their own lives from 23 to 33 years old, Porcelain doesnt take on Mobys childhood. Still, tellingly, it opens with a scene concerning him and his mother. She is working in a laundromat, unhappy, furious, and he is sitting in the car, waiting for her to finish her shift. He is 10. He tells me he could have written a lot more about his young life there are maybe five memoirs in there and he clearly had a tough time. His father died in a drink-driving accident when Moby was just two. His mothers household was wealthy( Mobys grandfather operated a successful Wall Street company ), but she rejected her background and set off to build her own narrative. Sometimes we would be living in a squat-ish home with three or four other drug-addicted hippies, with bands playing in the basement, he says. Which voices fun, but when youre in fourth grade trying to do homework and there are people smoking pot in the kitchen, or fighting Every so often, they would stay with his grandparents in wealthy Darien, Connecticut, which was nice, but built him feel poor and ashamed.

Moby With his mother, wearing her chemotherapy wig, in New York, 1997. Photograph: Mobys personal collecting

In the second half of the book, his mum dies of cancer, and theres an nasty almost unbelievable incident that happens around her funeral. I remember it so clearly, Moby says. Person had left a digital alarm clock at my house, and it was the most reliable thing in the world, and the alarm was as clear and simple to utilize as a digital clock can be. And so, the night before my mommies funeral, I set the alarm. But this completely dependable clock at some phase was set forward 21 hours, which meant that if it were 3am it somehow get set presented to midnight. The only thing that could have happened is that, at some point during the night, I woke up in a fugue nation and set the clock forward 21 hours, so I would miss her funeral I must have defined it forward 21 hours, because something in my subconscious said that was the only legitimate and expedient route to miss the funeral.

I ask him how he feels about that now, and his eyes mist up a tiny bit. He is sad: not for himself, but for his family. She was my mom, but more importantly in some ways she was my aunts sister. And my grandmothers daughter. I feel guilty. But for myself, I dont know.

Not knowing how you feel about things is a protective instinct. Moby is a lovely companion, in real life and on the page, but he can seem detached from his feelings. When his mum told him she had cancer, she also told him that he has a half-brother. I ask him about this, assuming he would have got in touch. But no.

If it were a full friend, then that would be interesting, but its a half-brother, he says.( It !). In terms of my genetic sequence, I have almost as much in common with you and most of the people in this eatery as I would with a half-brother. And thats that.

What Porcelain suggests is that Mobys greatest love back then wasnt his family, or a person, or even music, but a city. At heart, Porcelain is a love letter to old New York: that grubby, crumbling, dangerous place. Lately, Moby was describing him to some young friends, and they couldnt believe what he was describing; honouring the city of that time was a major motivating in his writing. New York totally changed in those 10 years. In 1989, it was old New York cheap, murder-y, dysfunctional, flames and by the end of the 90 s, it was Jay Z and bottle service and condos.

Moby In his first promo shoot in 1988. Photo: Joseph Kugielsky

It took Moby a long time to fall out of love with New York, but he did. He gave up drinking and his love objective. I was walking up Orchard Street, and “its one” of those shitty days, 36 degrees Fahrenheit, sleeting, grey snowfall, and I realised there is sometimes an elective quality to suffering. New York suited his drinking; he classifies himself as an old-timey alcoholic, I mean, theres just no doubt, you know? He would try going out for got a couple of drinks and find himself at 8am, with strangers in my house, bags of drugs, Id had about 15 drinkings, having sex with a complete stranger. Which is great, but that was my best attempt to drink in moderation. Also, I supposed I was going on these great escapades, and the truth is I was going from one bar to another on Ludlow Street.

So he got sober and moved to LA. For a while, he lived in Marlon Brandos old home, the fabulous Wolfs Lair, an actual castle, but it soon felt too big. Now hes in a three-bedroom place: his musical equipment is in one bedroom, his exercising stuff in another, and he sleeps in the third. Scarcely Jay Z, but he seems happy.

In the past few years, Moby has reassessed their own lives. He wants to carry on making music he has an album came to see you this year but he doesnt want to tour. Hes happy for people to pay for his music, but he doesnt mind dedicating it away and, to this end, has set up a website so that student filmmakers can use his albums as soundtracks for free. Hes stopped caring what other people think of him( not much social media, simply occasionally posting on Instagram, largely cute animals or nature scenes ). And hes decided that animal rights are his lifes work.

Thats my day undertaking animal rights, he says. Inducing music and writing volumes and doing other things is what I love, and its fun, but I dont see it as work. You know, a lot of activism is single-issue activism. Like say, someone campaigns about turning land into a park. Theres the land, you turn it into a park, it benefits the community thats good. But its limited. But the thing with animal agriculture, everything is covered by it. Theres the animal side of it: most people who are not sociopaths can agree that animal suffering is not a good thing. But then theres the climate change facet, the rainforest deforestation, famine the reason theres famine is because food that could be fed to humans is fed to animals instead then heart disease, diabetes, cancer, erectile dysfunction Animal activism is my lifes purpose. If someone came to me and said if I could die, and my demise would somehow serve the purpose of saving animals, Id do it in a heartbeat.

Then of course, theres the restaurant, which he determines a constant trial. Everything has to be perfect. Im an emotional perfectionist I simply want things to feel as good as they maybe can for the people who are experiencing them.

He did have another vegan restaurant, in New York, called TeaNY, which he opened in 2002, with his then girlfriend. This was a disaster, as they split up soon after, and, though theyre still on good terms, he doesnt seem to know if TeaNY is still going. Relationships dont appear to be Mobys forte: he hooks up with a couple of women in the book who seem great, but he cant make it last. Was he simply a sexuality puppy? I dont think I was driven by sexuality. The style I dated was motived by the desire to be validated in people eyes. And clearly the desire to have sex as well, but it was like trying validation without attachment or obligation.

Moby Moby calls himself a developmentally disabled space foreigner or robot. Photograph: Chris Buck for the Guardian

He also thinks his difficulties with his mum had an effect. If youre constantly ashamed when youre growing up, when you become an adult youre constantly ashamed. And when you get close to people you presume they will only like you as long as they see you in your best sun. There is the profound desire for closeness and the profound anxiety of the other person. You start getting close to someone, they do something that might not be perfect, and it triggers a terror answer and you run away By you, I mean me, of course.

Anyway, hes been in a relationship for eight months now, his first in 10 years. It seems to be going OK, though he cant genuinely tell. He calls himself a developmentally disabled space foreigner or robot and he keeps having to ask his girlfriend things: Like, is it OK if I go to bed after you do? Hes also pretty set on not having children. He says, if the person or persons Im dating got pregnant, sure Id blithely be involved and help out as much as I possibly can, but its not something I long to do, which is about as detached as you can get without running away. Hes going to adopt a couple of dogs after he comes back from his book tour, he thinks. He seems able to feel great feeling for human beings and animals in general, but detects it harder one-on-one.

We talk a little bit about his Christianity; towards the end of the book, he starts questioning it, and he says now that he still understands the desire for spirituality, simply not institutionalised belief systems or ideological rigidity.

I dont think that God cares what jersey you wear, he says. Its not like Man United and Leeds is that the right UK sports reference?

Leeds arent in the Premiership any more.

OK, Arsenal? Man United and Arsenal: that tribal rivalry is really fun in athletic, but I dont think it should be part of divinity.

We are having a laugh now; I feel as though Im talking to a friend. Moby is quite the most low-key multimillionaire I have ever met. He is modest. He looks the way he always did: unflashy with his shirt over a T-shirt, creative casual, unrich. He hasnt even had his teeth done, which is almost prosecutable in LA. We talk a bit about fund and he says he thinks materialism doesnt run, meaning it doesnt actually make anyone properly happy. He should know, of course.

Moby On stage at Le Znith in Paris in 2015. Photograph: Getty Images

Moby seems to be enjoying his life , now hes not spending a big part of it drunk. I love reading and travelling to interesting parts of the world, and having time to think and write and construct music and do activism. Life is short, and we have a limited amount of day and energy, and its just so much easier trying to be your honest self.

I take the opportunity to ask him about a long-standing gossip. Supposedly, years ago, Moby and his friends would play a prank at parties. One of them would unzip his flies and hang his willy out of his trousers, then the others would challenge him to go up to someone famous and knob touch them. I ask him if this ever happened, or if it was made up.

Its both, he says, and intermissions. Hmm, theres a funny side to this story. I might change it because I dont know if I want it to follow me around. I had some friends from college who would do that. They would get very drunk, pull their willy out and merely brush it up against people. Because it was funny. So what I will say is that a friend of mine once did that to Donald Trump. I chuckle. It was a eatery on Park Avenue around 20 th Street, some fundraising event, when Trump was just a New York real-estate developer.

You seem to remember it well. Did that person get extra kudos for Trump?

You can extrapolate as to who that person might be, and thats as much as I can say, says Moby, a man who cant resist a funny anecdote, whos happy to tell the truth, who has lived a full and full-on life but who is old enough now to know that he doesnt want all the consequences that come wrapped in the adventures. Fair enough. As long as he maintains writing all those narratives down, were good.

Porcelain by Moby is published by Faber& Faber at 14.99. To order a transcript for 11.99, going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Banning alcohol in airports is the worst notion I’ve ever heard | Luke Holland

3 months, 14 days ago

Excuse me while I cry into my pre-noon pint at the proposed crackdown on selling liquor in airports. And its all the fault of the #banterlads

Next time youre in an airport enjoying a cheeky pre-breakfast snifter youd better make it a double, because things might be about to change.

Following several well-publicised incidents of flights being disturbed by, lets say, exhaustively freshened individuals, newly appointed aviation pastor Tariq Ahmad is proposing a crackdown on the sale of alcohol at UK airports. This is in response to concerns raised by airlines quite reasonably peeved that theyre the ones who have to deal with the fallout of a brutal regimen of pre-flight pints.

Ahmad says he wants to create an environment in which youre going to be safe and secure. Fine. I dont believe many of us have any desires to travel on an unsafe, unsecure aeroplane. And the knock-on effects of the rowdy and tanked-up having to be expelled from flights to other passengers is huge: postpones. Noise. Missed connects. Or, if youre sitting near Gerard Depardieu, some new trainers.

Yes, drinking at airports has its downsides. I think all our hearts sink in audible unison when a troupe of #banterlads sits in the row in front of you wearing T-shirts with Chlamydi-andy and Captain Shag brandished on them. Then theres the bickering drunk couple, which is funny for five minutes, but not five hours. Or worst of all, the lone drunkard, pink of cheek and musty of odour; a casualty of a delayed flight with nothing to pass the time besides the challenge of sampling every beer in Wetherspoons, and who will without fail fall asleep on your shoulder and dribble.

The thing to remember, though, is that the these people are at worst an irritant, and at best positive incentives to earn enough fund so you can afford to travel in business. They dont disrupt flights. In fact, the various kinds of behaviour that does is exceptionally rare.

At least 442 people were arrested in the UK for drunken airport loutery between 2014 and 2016. Annoying, sure. But lets give this some perspective: in 2014 alone, British airport terminals managed 238 million passengers. Thats one raving vomity lush per 538,461 passengers. Banning airport boozing because of this infinitesimal few would be a colossal overreaction.

It also ignores the millions of passengers who enjoy drinking in airports without micturating in a bin. Myself and millions of others ensure an airports laissez-faire posture to slurping the dizzy-water as an integral component of a holiday. The giddy recklessness of buying a strong drink at 8am without passers-by giving you a look usually reserved for discarded offal is one of lifes greatest pleasures. Also, Im a nervous flyer. It will be far more preferable for my fellow passengers if Im gently sozzled than if Im sober and hollering about how are always about to die in a fireball of molten inevitability.

And lets not forget that flying, the whole rigmarole of it, is rubbish. Getting to the airport at least two hours before takeoff. The riffling-through-your-suitcase-and-seeing-your-Batman-underpants indignity of security. The endless queues. You cant smoke. Foods expensive. Everywhere, there are awful people and their awful children. All this in addition to that highly unlikely yet no less bum-clenching potential that, after youve absorbed all this suffering like a white-hot sponge of coiled rage, the planes just going to plummet to Earth like a vast javelin aimed immediately at hell anyway. The only thing that can possibly induce flying any of it remotely bearable is booze. Which is what builds this preposterous, joyless, nannying intervention so alarming.

And what does the government know anyway? Either they are career legislators or from high-flying worlds like corporate finance, and I gamble theyve never had to wedge their knees into an economy legroom allowance the size of a sick pouch. How would they know that the only thing that can dull the agony of two displaced kneecaps is Glenfiddich?

So I propose this: for a whole year, all members of the government have to travel economy with the rest of us. No queue jumpings. No preferential treatment. Nothing. Then, and only then, can they truly consider whether banning liquor in airports is a good notion. When common sense persists they can buy me a pint. Ill take mine at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 6am. Cheers.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Is the world truly better than ever?

3 months, 18 days ago

The long read: The headlines have never been worse. But an increasingly influential group of thinkers insists that humankind has never had it so good and merely our pessimism is holding us back

By the end of last year, anyone who had been paying even passing attention to the news headlines was highly likely to conclude that everything was terrible, and that the only attitude that attained sense was one of profound cynicism tempered, perhaps, by cynical humor, on the principle that if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, one may as well try to enjoy the ride. Naturally, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump loomed largest for many. But you didnt need to be a remainer or a critic of Trumps to feel depressed by the carnage in Syria; by the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean; by North Korean missile exams, the spread of the zika virus, or terror attacks in Nice, Belgium, Florida, Pakistan and elsewhere nor by the spectre of catastrophic climate change, lurking behind everything else.( And all thats before even considering the string of deaths of beloved celebrities that seemed like a calculated attempt, on 2016 s part, to rub salt in the wound: in the space of a few months, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher and George Michael, to name only a handful, were all gone .) And few of the headlines so far in 2017 Grenfell tower, the Manchester and London attacks, Brexit chaos, and 24/7 Trump provide any reason to take a sunnier view.

Yet one group of increasingly prominent commentators has seemed uniquely immune to the gloomines. In December, in an article headlined Never be borne in mind that we live in the best of days, the Times columnist Philip Collins an end-of-year summary of reasons to be cheerful: during 2016, he noted, the proportion of the worlds population living in extreme poverty had fallen below 10% for the first time; global carbon emissions from fossil fuel had failed to rise for the third year running; the death penalty had been ruled illegal in more than half of all countries and giant pandas had been removed from the endangered species list.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof proclaimed that by many measures, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity, with falling global inequality, child mortality roughly half what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people gaining access to electricity each day. Throughout 2016 and into 2017, alongside Collins at the Times, the author and former Northern Rock chairperson Matt Ridley the title of whose book The Rational Optimist constructs his inclinations plain kept up his weekly output of ebullient columns celebrating the promise of artificial intelligence, free trade and fracking. By the time the professional contrarian Brendan ONeill delivered his own version of the debate, in the Spectator( Nothing better sums up the aloofness of the chattering class than their blathering about 2016 being the worst year ever) the standpoint was becoming sufficiently well-entrenched that ONeill seemed in danger of forfeiting his contrarianism.

The loose but growing collection of pundits, academics and thinktank operatives who endorse this obstinately cheerful, handbasket-free account of our situation have occasionally been labelled the New Optimists, a name are aiming to elicited the rebellious scepticism of the New Atheists led by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And from their perspective, our persisting mood of despair is irrational, and frankly a bit self-indulgent. They argue that it says more about us than it does about how things genuinely are exemplifying a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. And “that its better” explained as the result of various psychological biases that served special purposes on the prehistoric savannah but now, in a media-saturated era, constantly mislead us.

Once upon a period, it was of great survival value to be worried about everything that could go wrong, says Johan Norberg, a Swedish historian and self-declared New Optimist whose volume Progress: Ten Reasons to Appear Forward to the Future was published just before Trump won the presidency last year. This is what attains bad news especially compelling: in our evolutionary past, it was a very good thing that your attention could be easily confiscated by negative info, since it are most likely indicate an imminent danger to your own survival.( The cave-dweller who always assumed there was a lion behind the next stone would usually be wrong but hed be much more likely to survive and reproduce than one who always presumed the opposite .) But that was all before newspapers, television and the internet: in these hyper-connected times, our addiction to bad news just leads us to vacuum up depressing or enraging stories from across the globe, whether they threaten us or not, and therefore to conclude that things are much worse than they are.

Really good news, on the other hand, can be a lot harder to place partly because it tends to occur gradually. Max Roser, an Oxford economist who spreads the New Optimist gospel via his Twitter feed, pointed out recently that a newspaper could legitimately have operated the headline NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY every day for the last 25 years. But none would have done so, because predictable daily events, by definition, arent newsworthy. And youll rarely watch a headline about a bad event that failed to occur. But surely any judicious assessment of our situation ought to take into account all the wars, pandemics and natural disasters that might hypothetically have happened but didnt?

I used to be a pessimist myself, says Norberg, an urbane 43 -year-old raised in Stockholm who is now a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington DC. I used to long for the good old days. But then I started reading history, and asking myself, well, where would I have been in those good old days, in my ancestors northern Sweden? I probably wouldnt have been anywhere. Life expectancy was too short. They mixed tree bark in the bread, to make it last longer!

In his volume, Norberg canters through 10 of the most important point basic indicators of human flourishing food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality and the conditions of childhood. And he takes special pleasure in squelching the fantasies of anyone inclined to wish they had been born a couple of centuries back: it wasnt so long ago, he find, that puppies gnawed at the abandoned corpses of beset victims in the street of European cities. As lately as 1882, only 2% of homes in New York had running water; in 1900, worldwide life expectancy was a paltry 31, thanks both to early adult death and rampant child mortality. Today, by contrast, its 71 and those extra decades involve much less agony, too. If it takes you 20 minutes to read this chapter, Norberg writes at one point, in his own fluctuation on the New Optimists favourite refrain, almost another 2,000 people will have risen out of[ extreme] poverty currently defined as living on less than $1.90 per day.

These onslaughts of upbeat statistics seem intended to have the effect of demolishing the usual intractable political disagreements about the state of the planet. The New Optimists invite us to forget our partisan biases and tribal allegiances; to dispense with our cherished theories about what is wrong with the world and what should be done about it, and breathe, instead, the refreshing air of objective fact. The data doesnt lie. Just look at the numbers!

But numbers, it turns out, can be as political as anything else.


The New Optimists are surely right on the nostalgia front: nobody in their right mind should wish to have lived in a previous century. In a 2015 survey for YouGov, 65% of British people( and 81% of the French) said they supposed the world was getting worse but judged according to numerous sensible metrics, theyre simply incorrect. People are indeed rising out of extreme poverty at an extraordinary rate; child mortality really has plummeted; standards of literacy, sanitation and life expectancy have never been higher. The median European or American enjoys luxuries medieval potentates literally couldnt have imagined. The essential finding of Steven Pinkers 2011 volume The Better Angels of Our Nature, a key reference text for the New Optimists, seems also to have been largely accepted: that we are living in historys most peaceful era, with violence of all kinds from deaths in war to schoolyard bullying in steep decline.

But the New Optimists arent primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago.( Even if youre a card-carrying pessimist, “youre supposed to” didnt require convincing of that fact .) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable assert, there are several more controversial implications. For instance: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And farther though this is a claim merely sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists that whatever weve been doing these past decades, its clearly run, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than merely expressed his belief that things arent even worse as you imagined: it entails having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon. Rational optimism holds that the world will pull out of the current crisis, Ridley wrote after the financial crisis of 2007 -8, because of the route that marketplaces in goods, services and notions allow human being to exchange and specialise honestly for the betterment of all I am a rational optimist: rational, because I have arrived at optimism not through temperament or instinct, but by looking at the evidence.

Illustration
Illustration by Pete Gamlen

If all this were really true, it would suggest that an overwhelming proportion of the energy we dedicate to debating the country of humanity all the political outrage, the warns of imminent calamity, the exasperated op-ed column, all our anxiety and remorse about the suffering afflicting people all over the world is wasted. Or, worse, it might be counterproductive, insofar as a belief that the situation is irredeemably nasty seems like a bad route to motivate people to induce things better, and thus in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are the facts, wrote the American economist Julian Simon, whose vocal opposition to the gloomy predictions of environmentalists and population experts in the 1970 s and 1980 s set the stage for todays New Optimists. On average, people throughout the world have been living longer and feeing better than ever before. Fewer people succumb of famine nowadays than in earlier centuries every single measure of material and environmental welfare in the United States has improved rather than deteriorated. This is also true of the world taken as a whole. All the long-run trends phase in exactly the opposite direction from the projections of the doomsayers.

Those are the facts. So why arent we all New Optimists now?


Optimists have been telling doom-mongersto cheer up since at least 1710, when the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz concluded that ours is necessary the best of all possible worlds, on the grounds that God, being perfect and merciful, would barely have created one of the more mediocre ones instead. But the most recent outbreak of positivity is a possibility best understood as a reaction to the cynicism triggered by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. For one thing, those attacks were a textbook example of the various kinds of high-visibility bad news that activates our cognitive biases, persuading us that the world is becoming lethally dangerous when actually it isnt: in reality, a slightly higher number of Americans were killed while riding motorcycles in 2001 than died in the World Trade Center and on the hijacked planes.

But the New Optimism is also a rejoinder to the various kinds of introspection that gained pace in the west after 9/11, and subsequently the Iraq war the help feeling that, whether or not the new global insecurity was all our defect, it certainly demanded self-criticism and reflection, rather than simply a more strident assertion of the merits of our worldview.( The whole world hates us, and we deserve it, is how the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner derisively characterises this attitude .) On the contrary, the optimists insist, the data demonstrates that the global dominance of western power and notions over the last two centuries has watched a transformative improvement in almost everyones quality of life. Matt Ridley likes to quote a predecessor of the contemporary optimists, the Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay: On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?

The despondent self-criticism that frustrates the New Optimists is fuelled in part at least the way they see it by a kind of optical illusion in the way we think about progress. As Steven Pinker observes, whenever youre busy judging governments or economic systems for falling short of standards of decency, its all too easy to lose sight of how those standards themselves have altered over time. We are scandalised by reports of prisoners being tortured by the CIA but only thanks to the historically recent emergence of a general consensus that torture is beyond the pale.( In medieval England, it was a comparatively unremarkable feature of the criminal justice system .) We can be appalled by the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean merely because we start from the position that unknown strangers from distant lands are worthy of moral consideration a notion that would probably have hit most of us as absurd had we been born in 1700. Yet the most powerful this kind of consensus grows, the more unconscionable each violation of it will seem. And so, ironically enough, the outrage you feel when you read the headlines is actually evidence that this is a magnificent time to be alive.( A recent addition to the New Optimist bookshelf, The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer, bind this argument immediately to the optimists faith in science: it is scientific progress, he argues, that is destined to induce us ever more ethical .)

The nagging suspicion that this argument is somehow based on a sleight of hand it would seem to permit any outrage to be reinterpreted as evidence of our betterment may lead you to another objection: even if its true that all efforts really is so much better than ever, why assume things will continue to improve? Improvements in sanitation and life expectancy cant avoid rising sea levels destroying your country. And its dangerous, more generally, to predict future outcomes by past performance: position things on a sufficiently long timescale, and it becomes impossible to tell whether the progress the New Optimists celebrate proved to be history steady upward trajectory, or just a blip.

Almost every advance Norberg champs in his book Progress, for example, took place in the last 200 years a fact that the optimists take as evidence of the unstoppable potency of modern civilisation, but which might just as easily be taken as evidence of how rare such periods of progress are. Humans have been around for 200,000 years; extrapolating from a 200 -year stretch seems unwise. We risk inducing the mistake of the 19 th-century British historian Henry Buckle, who confidently declared, in his volume History of Civilization in England, that war would soon be a thing of the past. That this barbarous pursuit is, in the progress of society, steadily declining, must be evident, even to the most hasty reader of European history, he wrote. It was 1857; Buckle seemed confident that the recently concluded Crimean war would be one of the last.

But the real concern here is not that the steady advance of the last two centuries will gradually swing into reverse, plunging us back to the conditions of the past; its that the world we have created the very engine of all that progress is so complex, volatile and unpredictable that tragedy might befall us at any moment. Steven Pinker may be absolutely correct that fewer and fewer people are resorting to violence to settle their disagreements, but( as he would confess) it merely takes a single angry narcissist in possession of the nuclear codes to spark a global catastrophe. Digital technology has unquestionably helped fuel a worldwide surge in economic growth, but if cyberterrorists use it to bring down countries around the world fiscal infrastructure next month, that growth might instead swiftly become moot.

The point is that if anything does go severely wrong in our societies, its really hard to see where it stops, says David Runciman, prof of politics at Cambridge University, who takes a less sanguine view of the future, and who has debated New Optimists such as Ridley and Norberg. The thought that, say, the next financial crisis, in a world as interconnected and algorithmically driven as our world, could simply spiral out of control that is not an irrational believe. Which stimulates it quite hard to be blithely optimistic. When you live in a world where everything has appeared to be getting better, yet it could all breakdown tomorrow, its perfectly rational to be freaked out.

Runciman raises a related and equally troubling thought about modern politics, in his book The Confidence Trap. Democracy seems to be doing well: the New Optimists note that there are now about 120 democracies among the worlds 193 countries, up from just 40 in 1972. But what if its the very strength of republic and our complacency about its capacity to withstand almost anything that augurs its eventual breakdown? Could it be that our real problem is not an excess of despair, as the New Optimists maintain, but a dangerous degree of overconfidence?

According to this argument, the ones who voted for Trump and Brexit didnt genuinely do so because they had concluded their system was broken, and needed to be replaced. On the contrary: they voted as they did precisely because they had grown too confident that the essential security provided by government would always be there for them, whatever incendiary selection they made at the ballot-box. People voted for Trump because they didnt believe him, Runciman has written. They wanted Trump to shake up a system that they also expected to shield them from the recklessness of a human like Trump. The problem with this pattern delivering electoral shocks because youre confident the system can withstand them is that theres no reason to assume it can continue indefinitely: at some phase, the damage may not be repairable. The New Optimists describe a world in which human agency doesnt appears to matter, because there are these evolved forces-out that are moving us in the right direction, Runciman says. But human bureau does still matter human beings still have the capacity to mess it all up. And it may be that our capacity to mess it up is growing.

The optimists arent unaware of such risks but it is a dependable feature of the optimistic mindset that one can usually find an upbeat interpretation of the same seemingly scary facts. Youre asking, Am I the man who falls out of a skyscraper, and as he passes the second storey, says, So far, so good? Matt Ridley says. And the answer is, well, actually, in the past, people have foreseen tragedy only around the corner and been wrong about it so often that this a relevant fact to take into account. History does seem to bear Ridley out. Then again, of course it does: if a civilisation-ending catastrophe had in fact occurred, you presumably wouldnt be reading this now. People who predict imminent tragedies are usually wrong. On the other hand, they need only be right once.


If there is a single momentthat signalled the birth of the New Optimism, it was fittingly, somehow a TED talk, delivered in 2006 by the Swedish statistician and self-styled edutainer Hans Rosling, who died earlier this year. Entitled The best stats youve ever seen, Roslings talk summarised the results of an ingenious survey he had conducted among Swedish university students. Presenting them with pairs of countries Russia and Malaysia, Turkey and Sri Lanka, and so on he asked them to guess which scored better on various measures of health, such as child mortality rates. The students reliably got it incorrect, basing their answers on the assumption that countries closer to their own, both geographically and ethnically, must be better off.

But in fact Rosling had picked the pairs to demonstrate a phase: Russia had twice Malaysias child mortality, and Turkey twice that of Sri Lanka. Part of the defeatist mindset of the modern west, the way Rosling find it, was the deeply ingrained assumption that we are living through times that are as good as theyre ever going to be and that the future “weve been” bequeathing, to future generations and especially to the world beyond Europe and north America, can only has become a disheartening one. Rosling enjoyed observing that if you had run this experiment on chimps by labelling a banana with the name of each country and inviting them to pick one, they would have performed better than the students, since they would be right half the time, thanks to opportunity. Well-educated European humans, by contrast, get things far wronger than opportunity. We are not merely ignorant of the facts; we are actively convinced of depressing facts that arent true.

Its exhilarating to watch The best stats youve ever seen today partly because of Roslings nerdy, high-energy stage performance, but also because it seems to shine the bracing light of objective fact on questions usually mired in angry partisanship. Far more than when he delivered the talk, we live now in the Age of the Take, in which a seemingly infinite supplying of blog posts, opinion columns, books and Tv talking heads compete to tell us how to feel about the news. Most of this opinionising focuses less on stacking up hard facts in favour of an debate than it does on proclaiming what posture you ought to adopt: the typical take invites you to conclude, say, that Donald Trump is a fascist, or that he isnt, or that BBC presenters are overpaid, or that your yoga practice is an instance of cultural appropriation.( This shouldnt really come as a surprise: the internet economy is fuelled by attention, and its far easier to confiscate people attention with emotionally charged debate than mere datum plus you dont have to pay for the expensive reporting required to ferret out the facts .) The New Optimists promise something different: a route to feel about the state of the world based on the way it really is.

Illustration
Illustration by Pete Gamlen

But after steeping yourself in their work, you begin to wonder if all their upbeat factoids genuinely do speak for themselves. For a start, why expressed the view that the correct comparison to be making is the one between the world as it was, say, 200 years ago, and the world as it is today? You might argue that comparing the current with the past is stacking the deck. Of course things are better than the latter are. But theyre surely nowhere near as good as they ought to be. To pick some obvious instances, humanity indisputably has the capacity to remove extreme poverty, aim famines, or radically reduce human damage to the climate. But weve done none of these, and the fact that things arent as terrible as they were in 1800 is arguably beside the point.

Ironically, given their reliance on cognitive biases to explain our predilection for negativity, the New Optimists may be in the grip of one themselves: the anchoring bias, which describes our tendency to rely too heavily on certain pieces of information when attaining decisions. If you start from the fact that plague victims once languished in the street of European cities, its natural to conclude that life these days is wonderful. But if you start from the position that we could have eliminated famines, or reversed global warming, the fact that such problems persist may provoke a different kind of judgment.

The argument that we should be feeling happier than “weve been” because life on countries around the world as a whole is getting better, on average, also misunderstands a fundamental truth about how happiness works: our judgments of the world result from constructing specific comparings that feel relevant to us , not on adopting what David Runciman refers to as the position from outer space. If people in your small American town are far less economically secure than they were in living memory, or if youre a young British person facing the prospect that you might never own a home, its not particularly consoling to be told that more and more Chinese people are entering the middle classes. At volume readings in the US midwest, Ridley recollects, audience members often questioned his optimism on the grounds that their own lives didnt seem to be on an upward trajectory. Theyd say, You keep saying the worlds getting better, but it doesnt feel like that round here. And I would say, Yes, but this isnt the whole world! Are you not even a little bit cheered by the fact that really poor Africans are get a bit least poor? There is a sense in which this is a fair point. But theres another sense in which its a completely irrelevant one.

At its heart, the New Optimism is an ideological argument: broadly speaking, its proponents are advocates for the power of free markets, and they aim their sunny picture of humanitys recent past and imminent future to vindicate their politics. This is a perfectly legitimate political argument to attain but its still a political argument , not a straightforward, neutral reliance on objective facts. The assert that we are living in a golden age, and that our dominant mood of despair is unwarranted, is not an antidote to the Age of the Take, but a Take like any other and it induces just as much sense to adopt the opposite opinion. What I detest, Runciman says, is this assumption that if you push back against their argument, what youre saying is that all these things are not worth valuing For people to feel deeply uneasy about the world we inhabit now, despite all these indicators pointing up, seems to me reasonable, given the relative instability of the evidence of this progress, and the[ unpredictability] that overhangs it. Everything really is pretty fragile.


Johan Norberg, who launched his book Progress two months before the US presidential election, watched the results come in on a foggy morning in Stockholm, at a party organised by the American embassy. As Trumps victory became a certainty, the atmosphere turned from one of growling alarm to frightened skepticism. We were all Swedes in the media, politics, business and so on I think it would have been hard to find a single person there who had hoped for a Trump win so pretty soon the mood was going downhill dramatically, Norberg recollected. And whats more, they didnt have any alcohol, which didnt assist, because everyone was saying: We require something strong here! But they had it more put up like a breakfast thing. He smiled. I think Americans dont actually understand Swedes.

The populist surges of the last two years in the US and Britain powering the rise of Trump, the Brexit vote, and the unpredicted levels of support for Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn pose a complicated problem for the New Optimists. On the one hand, its easy enough to characterise such anger directed toward political establishments as a mistake, based on a failure to perceive how well things are going; or as a legitimate reaction to real, but localised and temporary bumps in the road, which neednt constitute any larger argument for despair. On the other hand, it is a curious view of the world that sees such political waves exclusively as responses, mistaken or otherwise, to the real situation. They are part of that real situation. Even if you think that Trump advocates, say, were wholly in error to perceive their situation negatively, the perception itself was real enough and they genuinely did elect Trump, with all his potential for destabilisation.( The New Optimists, says David Runciman, think of politics as nothing more than an annoyance, because in their view the things that drive progress are not political. But the things that drive failing are political .) There is a point at which it stops being so relevant whether widespread pessimism and anxiety can be justified or not, and becomes more relevant simply that it is widespread.

Norberg is no Trump supporter, and the outcome of the elections might have seemed like a setback to an writer promoting a book painting humanitys immediate future as wholly rosy. In it, he does warn that progress isnt inevitable: There is a real risk of a nativist backlash, he writes. When we dont consider the progress we have attained, we begin to search for scapegoats for the problems that remain. But it is in the nature of the New Optimism that negative developments can be alchemised into reasons to be cheerful, and by the time we talked, Norberg had an upbeat spin on the election, too.

I think it might be that in a couple of years day, well think it was a great thing that Trump won, he says. Because if hed lost, and Hillary had won, shed have been the most hated president of modern times, and then Trump and Bannon would have employed that to build an alt-right media empire, create an avalanche of hatred, and then there might have been a more disciplined nominee the next time round a real fascist, rather than person impersonating Trump may prove to have been the incompetent, self-absorbed person who ruins the populist brand in the United States. This sort of counterfactual debate suffers from not being falsifiable, and in any case, its a long way from a position of straightforward positivity about the direction in which the world is moving. But perhaps it is the one genuinely indisputable truth on which the New Optimists and the more pessimistically minded can agree: that whatever happens, things could always, in principle, have been worse.

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Read more: www.theguardian.com