Look at me: why attention-seeking is the defining need of our times

23 days ago

The urge to belong is universal. So would a better understanding of it help tackle loneliness and explain why stalkers, spree killers and jihadists turn their pain on others?

Look at me: why attention-seeking is the defining need of our times

My night out in Cleveland with the worst men on the internet

1 month, 29 days ago

At the Republican convention, Laurie Penny was invited to a rally led by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous and an unholy cast of characters united behind Donald Trump for whom turning raw rage into political currency is merely a game

This is a story about how trolls took the wheel of the clown auto of modern politics. Its a narrative about the insider traders of the attention economy. Its a tale about dread and disgust and Donald Trump and you and me. Its not a tale about Milo Yiannopoulos, the professional alt-right provocateur who was last week banned from Twitter for directing racist abuse towards the actor Leslie Jones.

But it does start with Milo. So I should probably explain how we know each other and how, on a hot, weird night in Cleveland, Ohio, I came to be riding in the backseat of his swank black trollmobile to the gayest neo-fascist rally at the Republican national convention.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the most serious people I know. I have assured the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We satisfied four years ago when he was just another floppy-haired rightwing pundit and we were guests on a panel show. Afterwards, we got hammered and ran around the BBC talking about boys.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuaded him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I dislike him and everything he stands for, the more he chuckles and asks when were drinking.

Feminism is cancer is one of Milos slogans, and yet it took him only seconds after learning we would both be at the RNC to offer me a lift to his Wake Up! rally. This time God help me I said yes.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Is sugar the world’s most popular narcotic? | Gary Taubes

1 month, 29 days ago

The Long Read: It eases ache, seems to be addictive and demonstrates every sign of causing long-term health problems. Is it time to quit sugar for good?

Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesnt have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to newborns it elicits a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Could the savour of sugar on the tongue be a kind of poisoning? What about the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Overconsumption of this drug may have long-term side-effects, but there are none in the short term no staggering or dizziness , no slurring of speech , no passing out or drifting away , no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only most extreme fluctuations on the apparently natural emotional rollercoaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, it constructs infants happy, at least for the period during which theyre eating it. It soothed their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and leaves them excited and full of elation until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dosage, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis.

How long would it be before parents took to using our imaginary drug to pacify their children when necessary, to alleviate inconvenience, to prevent outbursts of unhappiness or to distract attention? And once the narcotic became identified with pleasure, how long before it was used to celebrate birthdays, a football game, good grades at school? How long before no collect of family and friends was complete without it, before major vacations and celebrations were defined in part by the use of this medication to assure pleasure? How long would it be before the underprivileged of the world would happily spend what little money they had on this drug rather than on nutritious dinners for their families?

There is something about the experience of consuming sugar and sweets, particularly during childhood, that readily invokes the comparison to a drug. I have infants, still relatively young, and I believe creating them would be a far easier chore if sugar and sweets were not an option, if managing their sugar intake did not seem to be a constant topic in our parental responsibilities. Even those who vigorously defend the place of sugar and sweets in modern diets an innocent moment of pleasure, a salve amid the stress of life, as the journalist Tim Richardson has written acknowledge that this does not include permitting children to eat as many sweets as they want, at any time, and that most mothers will want to ration their childrens sweets.

But why is this rationing necessary? Children crave many things Pokmon cards, Star Wars paraphernalia, Dora the Explorer knapsacks and many foods savor good to them. What is it about sweets that makes them so uniquely in need of rationing?

This is of more than academic interest, because the response of entire populations to sugar has been effectively identical to that of children: once people are exposed, they eat as much sugar as they can easily procure. The primary roadblock to more consumption up to the phase where populations become obese and diabetic has tended to be availability and cost. As the price of a pound of sugar has fallen over the centuries, the amount of sugar consumed has steadily, inexorably climbed.

In 1934, while sales of sweets continued to increase during the course of its Great Depression, the New York Times commented: The Depression[ has] proved that people wanted candy, and that as long as they had any fund at all, they would buy it. During those brief periods of day during which sugar production outdid our ability to devour it, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugar-rich products have worked diligently to increase demand and, at least until recently, have succeeded.

The critical question, as the journalist and historian Charles C Mann has elegantly put it, is whether[ sugar] is actually an addictive substance, or if people simply act like it is. This topic is not easy to answer. Surely, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science offer no definitive evidence. Until lately, nutritionists analyse sugar did so from the natural perspective of viewing it as a nutrient a carbohydrate and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a reaction in the brain or body that induced us wishes to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.

The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet-tooth phenomenon, or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat too much of it, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared with other medications of abuse, in which existing mechanisms of craving is now relatively well understood. Lately, this comparing has received more attention as the public-health community has looked to ration our sugar intake as its own population, and has thus considered the issue that one style to regulate these sugars as with cigarettes is to establish that they are, indeed, addictive. These sugars are very probably unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.

Historians have often considers the sugar-as-a-drug metaphor to be an apt one. That sugars, particularly highly refined sucrose, render peculiar physiological impacts is well known, wrote Sidney Mintz, whose 1985 book Sweetness and Power is one of two seminal English-language histories of sugar. But these effects are neither as visible nor as long-lasting as those of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, the first use of who are capable of trigger rapid changes in respiration, heartbeat, skin colour and so on.

Mintz has argued that a primary reason sugar has escaped social disapproval is that, whatever conspicuous behavioural changes may occur when infants eat sugar, it did not cause the kind of flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion of other medications. Sugar appears to cause pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full only years or decades later. With no visible, immediately noticeable consequences, as Mintz says, questions of long-term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered. Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because well never run long enough without it to find out.

Sugar historians consider the narcotic comparing to be fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of medication foods, to use Mintzs term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16 th century onward the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.

Its history is intimately linked to that of these other narcotics. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugar cane. In the 17 th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener to tea, coffee and chocolate, and costs allowed it, the intake of these substances in Europe explosion. Sugar was used to sweeten spirits and wine in Europe as early as the 14 th century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups contained sugar.

As for tobacco, sugar was, and still is, a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel. Its this marriage of tobacco and sugar, as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that builds for the mild experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.

Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the old world until they arrived, sugar, nicotine and caffeine had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labour of everyday life. These were the 18 th-century equivalent of uppers, writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. The empire, it might be said, building on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine hurry a rush nearly everyone could experience.

Sugar, more than anything, seems to have attained life worth living( as it still does) for so many, particularly those whose lives lacked the kind of pleasures that relative wealth and daily hours of leisure might otherwise offer. Sugar was an ideal substance, says Mintz. It served to make a busy life seem less so; it eased, or seemed to ease, the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined with many other foods No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.

What Oscar Wilde wrote about a cigarette in 1891 might also be said about sugar: It is the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

Children surely respond to sugar instantaneously. Give newborns a option of sugar water or plain, wrote the British physician Frederick Slare 300 years ago, and they will greedily suck down the one, and make Faces at the other: Nor will they be pleasd with Cows Milk, unless that be blessd with a little Sugar, to bring it up to the Sweetness of Breast-Milk.

Sugar induces the same replies in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol Photo: Alamy

One proposition commonly invoked to explain why the English would become the worlds greatest sugar consumers and remain so through the early 20 th century alongside the fact that the English had the worlds most productive network of sugar-producing colonies is that they lacked any succulent native fruit, and so had little previous opportunity to accustom themselves to sweet things, as Mediterranean populations did. The sweet savor was more of a novelty to the English, and their first exposure to sugar occasioned a population-wide astonishment.

This is speculation, however, as is the notion that the taste of sugar will soothe distress and stop infants crying, or that consuming sugar will enable adults to work through pain and exhaustion and to assuage starvation aches. If sugar, though, is merely a distraction to the baby and not actively a pain reliever or a psychoactive inducer of pleasure that overcomes any ache, we have to explain why, in clinical trials, it is more effective in allaying the distress of infants than the mothers breast and breast milk itself.

Research literature on the question of whether sugar is addictive and thus a nutritional variant on a drug of abuse is surprisingly sparse. Until the 1970 s, and for the most part since then, mainstream authorities have not considered this question to be particularly relevant to human health. The very limited research allows us to describe what happens when rats and monkeys consume sugar, but were not them and theyre not us. The critical experiments are rarely if ever done on humans, and surely not children, for the obvious ethical reasons: we cant compare how they respond to sugar, cocaine and heroin, for example, to decide which is more addictive.

Sugar does induce the same answers in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Craving researchers have come to believe that behaviours required for the survival of a species specifically, eating and sexuality are experienced as pleasurable in this part of the brain, and so we do them again and again. Sugar induces the release of the same neurotransmitters dopamine including with regard to through which the potent effects of these other drugs are mediated. Because the narcotics work this route, humans have learned how to refine their essence into concentrated kinds that heighten the rushed. Coca leaves, for example, are mildly inducing when chewed, but powerfully addictive when refined into cocaine; even more so taken immediately into the lungs when smoked as crack cocaine. Sugar, too, has been refined from its original kind to heighten its rushing and concentrate its effects.

The more we use these substances, the less dopamine we create naturally in the brain. The outcome is that we need more of the medication to get the same pleasurable reaction, while natural pleasures, such as sexuality and eating, please us less and less.

There is little doubt that sugar can allay the physical craving for alcohol, the neurologist James Leonard Corning observed over a century ago. The 12 -step bible of Alcoholics Anonymous recommends the intake of sweets and chocolate in lieu of alcohol when the cravings for drinking originate. Indeed, the per capita consumption of sweets in the US doubled with the beginning of proscription in 1919, as Americans apparently turned en masse from alcohol to sweets.

Sugar and sweets inexorably came to saturate our diets as the annual global production of sugar increased exponentially. By the early 20 th century, sugar had assimilated itself into all aspects of our eating experience, and was being eaten during breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Nutritional authorities were already suggesting what appeared to be obvious: that this increased intake was a product of at least a kind of craving the development of the sugar appetite, which, like any other appetite for instance, the alcohol appetite grows by gratification.

A century subsequently still, sugar has become an ingredient in prepared and packaged foods so ubiquitous it can only be avoided by concerted and decided endeavour. There is sugar not just in the obvious sweet foods cookies, ice creams, chocolates, fizzy beverages, sodas, sports and energy beverages, sweetened iced tea, jams, gelatins and breakfast cereals but also in peanut butter, salad dressing, ketchup, barbecue sauces, canned soups, processed meats, bacon, hot dogs, crisps, roasted peanuts, pasta sauces, tinned tomatoes and breads.

From the 1980 s onwards, manufacturers of products advertised as uniquely healthy because they were low in fat, or specifically in saturated fat, took to replacing those fat calories with sugar to construct them equally, if not more, palatable often disguising the sugar under one or more of the 50 names by which the combination of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup might be found. Fat was removed from candy bars so that they became health-food bars, in spite of added sugar. Fat was removed from yoghurts and sugars added, and these became heart-healthy snacks. It was as though the food industry had decided en masse that, if a product wasnt sweetened at least a little, our modern palates would reject it and we would buy instead a challengers version that was.

For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage( and for many of us who do ), its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that makes our day. For those of us who are mothers, sugar and sweets have become the tools we exert to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in them, to motivate them, to entice them.

For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage, its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that induces our day. Photograph: Christopher Stevenson/ Getty Images

The common propensity is, again, to think of this transformation as driven by the mere fact that sugars and sweets savor good. The alternative style to think about this is that sugar took over our diets because the first taste, whether for an infant today or for an adult centuries ago, is a kind of intoxication; its the kindle of a lifelong craving , not identical but analogous of the implications of other medications of abuse.

Because it is a nutrient, and because the conspicuous ills connected to its consumption are benign compared with those of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol at least in the short term and in small doses sugar remained nearly invulnerable to moral, ethical or religion assaults. It also remained invulnerable to assaults on grounds of damage to health.

Nutritionists have found it in themselves to blame our chronic ailments on virtually any part of the diet or surrounding on fats and cholesterol, on protein and meat, on gluten and glycoproteins, growth hormones and oestrogens and antibiotics, on the absence of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and surely on the presence of salt, on processed foods in general, on over-consumption and sedentary behaviour before theyll concede that its even possible that sugar has played a unique role in any way other than merely getting us all to eat too damn much. And so, when a few informed authorities over the years did indeed risk their credibility by suggesting sugar was to blame, their words had little impact on the beliefs of their colleagues or on the eating habits of a population that had come to rely on sugar and sweets as the rewards for the sufferings of daily life.

So how do we establish a safe level of sugar consumption? In 1986, the US Food and Drug Administration( FDA) concluded that most experts considered sugar safe. And when the relevant research communities settled on caloric imbalance as the cause of obesity and saturated fat as the dietary cause of heart disease, the clinical trials necessary to begin to answer this question was ever pursued.

The traditional response to the how-little-is-too-much question is that we should feed sugar in moderation not eat too much of it. But we only know were devouring too much when were get fatter or showing other symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Insulin resistance is the fundamental defect present in type 2 diabetes, and perhaps obesity too. Those who are obese and diabetic also tend to be hypertensive; they have a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes, and perhaps dementia and even Alzheimers as well. If sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are the cause of obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance, then theyre also the most likely dietary trigger of these other diseases. Set simply: without these sugars in our diets, the cluster of related illnesses would be far less common than it is today.

Metabolic syndrome ties together a host of disorders that the medical community typically thought of as unrelated, or at least having separate and distinct causes including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and inflammation as products of insulin resistance and high circulating insulin levels. Regulatory systems throughout the body started to misbehave, with slow, chronic, pathological outcomes everywhere.

Once we have observed the symptoms of consuming too much sugar, the hypothesi is that we can dial it back a little and be fine drink one or two sugary liquors a day instead of three; or, if were parenting, allow most children ice cream on weekends merely, tell, rather than as a daily treat. But if it takes years or decades, or even generations, for us to get to the phase which is something we display symptoms of metabolic disorder, its quite possible that even these apparently moderate sums of sugar will turn out to be too much for us to be able to reverse the situation and return us to health. And if the symptom that shows first is something other than get fatter cancer, for instance were truly out of luck.

The authorities who argue for moderation in our eating habits tend to be individuals who are relatively lean and healthy; they define moderation as what works for them. This assumes that the same approach and amount will have the same beneficial impact on all of us. If it doesnt, of course, if we fail to remain lean and healthy or our children fail to do so, the premise is that weve failed we ate too much sugar, or most children did.

If it takes 20 years of devouring sugar for the consequences to appear, how can we know whether weve devoured too much before its too late? Isnt it more reasonable to decide early in life( or early in parenting) that not too much is as little as possible?

Sugar and sweets have become the tools we wield to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in their own homes, to motivate them, to seduce them. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Any discussion of how little sugar is too much also has to account for the possibility that sugar is a drug and perhaps addictive. Trying to ingest sugar in moderation, however its defined, in a world in which substantial sugar intake is the norm and virtually unavoidable, is likely to be no more successful for some of us than trying to smoking cigarettes in moderation merely a few a day, rather than a whole pack. Even if we can avoid any meaningful chronic impacts by cutting down, we may not be capable of managing our habits, or managing our habits might become the dominant theme in our lives. Some of us certainly find it easier to ingest no sugar than to eat a little no dessert at all, rather than a spoonful or two before pushing the plate to the side.

If sugar consumption is a slippery slope, then advocating moderation is not a meaningful concept.

In my own mind, I maintain returning to a few observations unscientific as they may be that induce me topic the validity of any definition of moderation in the context of sugar consumption.

The roots of the modern discussion on sugar and illnes can be traced to the early 1670 s. Thomas Willis, medical consultant to the duke of York and King Charles II , noted an increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the affluent patients of his practise. The pissing evil, he called it, and became the first European physician to diagnose the sweet savour of diabetic urine wonderfully sweet like sugar or hon[ e] y. Williss identification of diabetes and the sweetness of the urine happens to coincide with both the first flowing of sugar into England from its Caribbean colonies, and the first employ of sugar to sweeten tea.

Other observations that resonate with me when I wrestle with the concept of moderation include one of Frederick Slares commentaries in 1715, in his article Vindication of Sugars Against the Charges of Dr Willis. At a period when sugar was just beginning to be more widely eaten in England, Slare noted that women who cared about their figures but were inclining are far too fat might want to avoid sugar, because it may dispose them to be fatter than they desire to be. When Slare made his observation, the English were ingesting, on average, perhaps 5lb of sugar a year. The US FDA research indicates we now ingest 42 lb a year.

We have to acknowledge that the evidence against sugar is not definitive, obliging though I personally find it to be. Lets tell we haphazardly designated someones in our population to eat a modern diet with or without sugar in it. Since virtually all processed foods have sugar added or, like most bread, are hit with sugar, the population that is asked to avoid sugar would simultaneously be avoiding nearly all processed foods as well. They would dramatically reduce their intake of what journalist Michael Pollan, writer of books on food, agriculture and drugs, has memorably called food-like substances, and if they were healthier, there would now be a host of possible reasons set out above. Perhaps they feed fewer refined grains of any kind, less gluten, fewer trans fats, preservatives or artificial spices? We would have no practical way to know for sure.

We could try to reformulate all these foods so that they are made without sugar, but then they wont savour the same unless, of course, we replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners. Our population randomised to ingest as little sugar as is practicable is likely to lose weight, but we wont know if it happened since they are consume less sugar, or fewer calories of all sorts. Indeed, virtually all dietary advice suffers from this same complication: whether youre trying to avoid gluten, trans fats, saturated fats or refined carbohydrates of all types, or just trying to cut calories feed less and feed healthily an objective outcome of this advice is that youre often avoiding processed foods containing sugar and a host of other ingredients.

Artificial sweeteners as a replacing for sugar muddy these waters even more. Much of the anxiety about these sweeteners was generated in the 60 s and 70 s by the research, partly funded by the sugar industry, that led to the banning of the artificial sweetener cyclamate as a possible carcinogen, and the suggestion that saccharin could cause cancer( at least in rats, at extraordinarily high dosages ). Though this particular nervousnes has faded with period, it has been replaced by the suggestion that maybe these artificial sweeteners can cause metabolic disorder, and thus obesity and diabetes.

This suggestion comes primarily from epidemiological studies that show an association between the use of artificial sweeteners and obesity and diabetes. But it is likely that people who are predisposed to gain weight and become diabetic are alsoes the people who use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

As Philip Handler, then head of the US National Academies of Sciences, described in 1975, what we want to know is whether employing artificial sweeteners over a lifetime or even a few years or decades is better or worse for us than however much sugar we would have ingested instead. Its hard for me to imagine that sugar would have been the healthier selection. If the goal is to get down sugar, then replacing it with artificial sweeteners is one route to do it.

The research community can definitely do a much better task than it has in the past of testing all these questions. But we may have a very long wait before the public-health authorities money such studies and devote us the definitive answers we attempt. What do we do until then?

Ultimately, the question of how much is too much becomes a personal decision, just as we all choose as adults what level of alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes well ingest. Enough proof exists for us to consider sugar very likely to be a toxic substance, and to make an informed decision about how best to balance the likely risks with the benefits. To know what those benefits are, though, it helps to see how life feelings without sugar. Former cigarette smokers( of which I am one) will tell you that it was not feasible for them to comprehend intellectually or emotionally what life would be like without cigarettes until they cease; that through weeks or months or even years, it was a constant conflict. Then, one day, they reached a phase at which they couldnt imagine smoking a cigarette and couldnt imagine why they had ever smoked, let alone saw it desirable.

A similar experience is likely to be true of sugar but until we try to live without it, until we try to sustain that endeavor for more than days, or just a few weeks, well never know.

This is an edited extract from The Case Against Sugar, published by Portobello Books( 14.99 ). To order a copy for 12.29 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846 .

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Women’s rights are on the retreat yet again. Why? | Barbara Ellen

2 months, 7 days ago

Donald Trumps ruling attaining it easier for companies to opt out of providing free family planning highlightings the need for vigilance

When modern females are ultimately fitted with their regulation compulsory chastity belts, dare one dream that they’ll come in a range of fairly colours, delightful the documentation and snazzy designs? Or would it simply be the old-school medieval iron trad models? Hey, little ladies, do you think we’d be allowed to choose?

I muse facetiously because, in the US, President Trump has issued a ruling that makes it far easier for companies and insurers to opt out of free birth control to employees on the grounds of religious and moral beliefs, rolling back a key feature of Obamacare. Now that it will become easier to opt out, many more will do so, with the health risks to affect 55 million females. The American Civil Liberties Union( ACLU) and the National Women’s Law Center have announced that they will sue the government over the decision.

Obamacare provisions also encompassed treatment for gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Now, many girls will be worried about being able to afford such therapies. However, these unfortunate girls probably just count as collateral injury. Apart from the huge amount of money that big business will save, the real target there are sexual autonomy, doubtless all sexual independence, but specifically the female kind that a certain mindset have all along wanted to control.

Contraception, though imperfect, was one of the chief liberators of women, taking much of the dread out of sex. Thus, this removal of free family planning could only be about putting the dread back into sexuality. At the least, putting an end to the corporate bankrolling of the more liberal, humanist, proactive and protective approaches to sex.

It should come as no surprise that among the reasons cited for the change were findings that access to contraception incited” risky sex behaviour “. Eh? One would have thought that reduced access to contraception was far riskier and that, for both sexualities, access to barrier contraception would be the least “risky” of all?

However, even believing like this is to participate in the delusion that this is about people enjoying themselves safely. Take away the figleaf of social responsibility and this becomes about stopping people being able to enjoy sexuality when they want, with whom they want, without anxiety of the results of unwanted pregnancy. And when I say ” people”, I mainly mean women.

Not that things are so peachy for reproductive rights back in Europe. Even as an Irish abortion reform referendum is under discussion for next year, a poll has revealed that only 24% of Irish people are in favour of legalising terminations in nearly all cases. Meanwhile, Prof Lesley Regan, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has argued that parts of the 1967 Abortion Act are outdated and that females need faster, safer access to abortion, without the necessity of achieving the approval of two separate physicians- thus far to no avail. The lesson seems to be that it will never be over- there will always be laws that need to be updated and, where needed, protected. Where the Trump contraceptive ruling is concerned, it’s scary enough that it’s such a backward step- yet scarier that it has been so slyly done.

It’s an example of how a quite subtle shifting of legislative emphasis- simply making something easy( the opt-out) that had previously been difficult- could be enough to undermine, or even destroy, major sociopolitical progress, with far-reaching repercussions for women. The imminence of chastity belts or not, this appears to be an era when there’s a real need for women to stay alert- when hard-fought gains could be eroded in an instant with the quiet swish of a departmental pen.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Jonathan Safran Foer: technology is decreasing us

2 months, 23 days ago

Have you procured yourself checking email at dinner, or skipping from book to screen, unable to focus? The closer the world gets to our fingertips, the more we stand to lose

The first time my father looked at me was on a screen, utilizing technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only remainder his hand on my grandmothers belly and imagine his infant in his intellect. But by the time I was conceived, my fathers imagination was provide guidance to technology that dedicated shape to sound waves rippling off my body.

The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950 s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctors office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and attain girls less likely to choose abortions. The technology has furthermore been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because of deformity, because the mother wants a child of a certain sexuality. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to stimulate life-and-death decisions?

My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first infant before birth. I created the questions with my uncle, a gynaecologist “whos been” delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly , not to find out. He said, If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.

I dont believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One neednt believes in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them.

One neednt believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them Jonathan Safran Foer Photograph: Emily Berl/ Getty Images Portrait

Psychologists who examine empathy and compassion are finding that, unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to see the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. Simply put, the more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the cost of depth redefining text from what fills the hundreds of pages of a fiction, to a line of words and emoticons on a phones screen the less likely and able we are to care. Thats not even a statement about the relative worth of the contents of a fiction and a text, only about the time we spend with each.

We know that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. You wont risk killing anyone if you use your phone while eating a snack, or having a dialogue, or waiting on a bench, which means you will allow yourself to be distracted. Everyone wants his parents, or friends, or partners undivided attention even if many of us , especially children, are get are applied to far less. Simone Weil wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Novels demand many things of readers, but the most obvious is attention. I can do any number of other activities while watching a TV reveal or listening to music, and I can carry on a conversation with a friend while at an art gallery, but reading a novel demands putting everything else aside. To read a book is to devote oneself to the book. Novels always trafficking in human empathy, always bringing the other closer, always ask us to transcend our perspectives, but isnt that attention, itself, a generous act? Generous toward ourselves?


My father was not present for his childrens births it was customary, then, for men to be in the waiting room. I witnessed my sons being born. My experience was richer, deeper, more memorable and fulfilling than my fathers. Being physically present allowed me to be emotionally present.

We think of technologies as wielders of information and manipulators of matter. Google, we all know, is in the business as they put it of organising and making accessible the worlds info. Other technologies are more earthy the car propels us over land at speeds our legs cannot reach, and the bomb allows us to kill many adversaries in ways our bare hands cannot.

But technologies are not only effective at attaining or thwarting the aims of those who encounter them, but are affective. Technology is not strictly technological. I love you the same I love you issuing from the same person with the same honesty and depth will resonate differently over the phone than in a handwritten letter, than in a text message. The tone and rhythm of voice craft the words, as does the texture and colour of stationery, as does the glowing typeface of the text chosen by our mobile phone manufacturer. We love our Macs more than our PCs because Apple was more interested in harnessing and inflecting the affective resonances of its technology and in restricting a smaller coterie of upper-class to guard and guide these affects so as to create a distinctive ecosystem. We find ourselves played with smartphones in a manner that is we never did with the functional handle of a traditional landline phone because, whereas the first telephone devised by engineers supposing in functional terms, the phones in our pockets nowadays are always built in dialogue with marketers who have carefully noted how colour and curve, brightness and texture, heft and size make us feel.

We consumers forget that technology always plugs into and creates certain affects, the building blocks of emotions, as well as full-blown emotional experiences. We forget this, but successful companies do not. They remember and profit staggeringly. We forget at the expense of who we are.

Most of our communication technologies began as substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldnt always watch one another face to face, so the phone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a message possible without the person or persons being near their phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster and more mobile messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements on face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if lessened, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to opt the diminished replaces. Its easier to make a phone call than to stimulate the effort to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someones machine is easier than having a phone conversation you can say what you need to say without a answer; its easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further conceal behind the is a lack of vocal intonation, and of course theres no chance of accidentally catching person. With texting, the high expectations for articulateness is further reduced, and the other shell is offered to hide in. Each step forward has constructed it easier simply a little to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey datum rather than humanity.

The problem with accepting with preferring lessened replaces is that, over day, we too become diminished replaces. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little. Or simply feeling whats been designed and sold to us to feel.

The novel has never stood in such stark opposition to the culture that surrounds it. A book is the opposite of Facebook: it requires us to be less connected. It is the opposite of Google: not only inefficient, but at its best, useless. Screens offer a apparently endless supply of information, but the true value of the page is not what it allows us to know, but how it allows us to be known.


Like so many people I know, Ive been concerned that telephones and the internet have, in subtle ways, attained life less rich, provided bright pleasures at the expense of deep ones, have distracted me, made concentration more difficult, led me to be elsewhere far too often. Ive received myself checking email while giving my children a bath, jumping over to the internet when a sentence or notion doesnt gone effortlessly in my write, searching for tint on a beautiful springtime day so I can see the screen of my phone. Have you?

Have you found yourself putting loved ones on hold so you could click over to a call from an unidentified number? Have you found yourself conflating aloneness with loneliness? Have you find your relationship to distraction reversing: what was once a annoyance is now attempted?

Do you want to click over to the other call, want to have an email to have to respond to, want even crave the ping of an incoming, inconsequential message?

Isnt it possible that technology, in the forms in which it has entered our everyday lives, has decreased us? And isnt it possible that its getting worse? Almost all new technology causes alarm in its early days, and humen generally adapt to it. So perhaps no resistance is necessary. But if it were, where would it come from, and what would it look like?

With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and starvation, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving? Merely someone with no imagination, and no anchor in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. Its possible that many reading these terms will never die.

Lets assume, though, that we all have a defined number of days to indent the world with our faiths, to find and generate the beauty that merely a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers. We often use technology to save period, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or builds the saved period less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. Its not an either/ or situation being anti-technology is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly pro-technology but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

One day, nanomachines will see weaknesses in our hearts long before any symptoms would bring us to a doctor. And other nanomachines will repair our hearts without our feeling any pain, losing any time or spending any fund. But it will only feel like a miracle if we are still capable of feeling miracles which is to say, if our hearts are worth saving.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is published by Hamish Hamilton. To order a copy for 16( RRP 20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Ricky Gervais’s transgender gags present we’re all in a kind of transition

3 months, 4 days ago

The comic has been accused of transphobia after riffing about Caitlyn Jenner in his standup indicate. So does dedicating him a favourable review endorse those gags?

Ricky Gervais sometimes gets people backs up and so, it transpires, do reviewerswho write about him. B4 you write another @guardian review endorsing jokes about #trans people, I was advised on Twitter after covering Gervaiss recent reveal, please consider the impact. Gervais dedicates a section of his indicate Humanity to jokes about( specifically) Caitlyn Jenner but also, by sly association, the idea of transgendering more widely. If I tell Im a chimp, I am a chimp, one riff begins, as Gervais makes merry with the culture of identity as self-assertion and ratings dependable laughs with rudimentary monkey business too.

I wasnt surprised by that tweet, because Id been brooding on Gervaiss trans material( and, indeed, his cot death material ), and the degrees to which I discovered it appropriate, or offensive, or funny. Would I have reviewed him more harshly if those gags had been, for example, about race rather than gender? I feel like Im learning every day about gender right now, and I want to write about it sensitively and appropriately. Despite Gervaiss repeated affirmations that he wasnt being transphobic, it seemed clear that he was othering trans people and constructing them seem ridiculous. I stated that he could be callous and objectionable, and that his material was insensitive to trans people.

Sometimes, a comedians apparent opinions, or the style they convey them, can be so unpleasant, that no amount of joke-writing ability, and fantastic material elsewhere in the situated, can redeem them.( Ive found that to be the case with Gervais in the past .) But here, while it would be disingenuous to exonerate Gervaiss trans routine by arguing that it was about Jenner alone rather than trans people generally, it was specific to Jenner to a substantial degree. And Jenners celebrity and her public sparring with Gervais over his Golden Globes speech are fair game.

Gervais argues forcibly in the show as usual that theres no such thing as off-limits in slapstick; theres nothing you cant joke about. I agree with that just as I agree that comics, like anyone else, should take responsibility for what they say, do and impact. He deserves to be called out on his routine poking fun at the idea of transitioning, but I do think that the concepts he zeroes in on( deadnaming; identity as self-assertion) are fertile for slapstick, precisely because theyre new, theyre destabilising, and( whether you welcome them or not) were still establishing where the boundaries around them lie.( A process with which comedy may help .)

Public sparring Caitlyn Jenner. Photo: Tibrina Hobson/ AFP/ Getty Images

So, thats what I thought about Gervaiss trans material. A little snide, but( when it wasnt being snide) childishly funny. Amusingly spiky about Jenner. Contrarily pushing back against what he sees as diktats and what others see as requests for politenes or compassion. Does reviewing his present in those words add up to an endorsement of his gags? Is it even possible to endorse a joke? That would imply that jokes are ships for opinions, which is only sometimes the case, and not clearly so here. Or is the problem that I endorsed the act of joking about trans people? If so, I didnt single them out on balance, I would endorse the principle of joking about anybody.

But I acknowledge that others wouldnt. Weve likely all get weak spot, sensitivities or ironclad principles, the monstering of which we just cant discovery funny. Is it possible to laugh at a joke you disagree with? One of current challenges when writing about comedy is tracking those interactions between the head, the heart and the funny bone. Of course, the best comedy short-circuits them entirely, and you find yourself laughing at jokes that wholly up-end your politics, your pities and your expectations. But often I find myself sitting stony-faced in an auditorium , not because the jokes are bad per se, but because theyre promoting a worldview that I find cruel or cynical or rightwing.

I dare say that happens to theatre and music reviewers too, but less so because those artforms address how we live now, its mores and ideologies, more obliquely. The artists in those fields tend to take less overt or provocative stands. But comedy often obliges the critic( this one, at the least) to take a political posture; to not do so would feel dishonest. Sometimes, I oppose that instinct: I have no desire to be the PC police , nor to rank comedians( add a starring, subtract a superstar) according to their fidelity to left-liberal pieties. If Id been that guy, Id have marked down Gervais. But while I wish hed curb his crasser instincts, and I dont find his impulse to taunt sympathetic, I do think its possible to appreciate a display without endorsing every opinion it seems to express.

Three to see

Like Father Like Son Scott Gibson plays the Glasgow comedy festival. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Glasgow comedy festival
A cracking lineup on the west of Scotland, as Glasgows annual comedy carnival enters its second week. Local heroes featured include Frankie Boyle, Burnistoun duo Iain Connell and Robert Florence, Fern Brady and the Edinburgh celebrations best newcomer winner Scott Gibson with his new show Like Father Like Son.
Festival operates to 26 March.

Count Arthur Strong
There were no signs that unexpected mainstream success had blunted the sharp edges of Steve Delaneys malapropping, senile alter ego where reference is last toured in 2015[ https :// www.theguardian.com/ culture/ 2015/ apr/ 20/ count-arthur-strong-review-reading-hexagon ]. Now Delaneys deluded ageing thesp makes the road once more, in a new confection rejoice in the title The Sound of Mucus.
On 15 March at Palace theatre, Southend, 15 March. Box office: 01702 351135. Then touring.

Spoof of old-school sexism Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo: James Brown

Zoe Coombs Marr
Nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy award last year, the Aussie character comics follow-up to 2015 s demonstrate Dave is a cracker. Doubling down on her spoof of old-school sexism, Trigger Warning mocks Gaulier-style clowns too. Its richly complex, but surpassingly silly too.
At Soho theatre, London , from 16 -2 5 March. Box office: 020 7478 0100.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Isis is as much an offshoot of our global civilisation as Google

3 months, 5 days ago

In the wake of terror attacks, and as Europe unravels, it feels as if we live in divided periods. But civilisation is more united than ever. The challenges facing the future climate change, AI, biotechnology will only bring us closer

Recent events in the Middle East and Europe seem to breathe fresh life into the conflict of civilisations thesis. Western incursions into the Middle East have triggered an Islamic backlash that has driven millions of Muslim refugees westwards and inspired terrorist attacks from Orlando to Nice; now the EU is unravelling as European voters abandon multicultural dreams in favour of xenophobic local identities. Allegedly, this has happened because the west has chosen to ignore the deep logic of history. According to the clash of civilisations thesis, humankind has always been is split into diverse civilisations whose members view the world in different and often irreconcilable styles. These incompatible world view stimulate conflicts between civilisations inevitable, and these conflicts in turn fuel long-term historical processes. Just as in nature different species fight for survival, so throughout history civilisations are systematically clashed, and merely the fittest have survived. Those who overlook this grim fact do so at their peril.

The clash of civilisations thesis has far-reaching political implications. Its supporters contend that any endeavor at reconciliation among the west and the Muslim world is doomed to failure. They further maintain that the EU can work only if it renounces the multicultural fallacy in favour of an unabashed western identity. In the long run, only one culture can survive the unforgiving tests of natural selection, and if the EU refuses to save western civilization from Islamic State and its ilk, Britain had better go it alone.

Though widely held, this thesis is mislead. Isis may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the civilisation it challenges is a global civilisation rather than a uniquely western phenomenon. Not for nothing has Isis managed to unite Iran with the United States, and to make rare common ground between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. And even Isis, for all its medieval rhetoric, is grounded in contemporary global culture far more than in seventh-century Arabia; it caters to the fears and hopes of alienated, postmodern youth rather than to those of medieval shepherds and merchants. In pure organisational words, Isis has more in common with a large corporation like Google than with the Umayyad caliphate. The surest sign of a real clash of civilisations is reciprocal incomprehension. Isis, in contrast, sees its enemies only too well otherwise, its propaganda would not have been so effective. It is better, hence, to see Isis as an errant outgrowth of the global culture we all share, rather than as a branch of some mysterious alien tree.

Crucially, the analogy between history and biology that underpins the conflict of civilisations thesis is false. Human groups including human civilisations are basically different from animal species, and historic conflicts differ greatly from natural selection processes. Animal species have objective identities that suffer for thousands of generations. Whether you are a chimpanzee or a gorilla depends on your genes rather than your notions, and different genes dictate diverse social behaviour. Chimpanzees live in mixed groups of males and females. They compete for power by building coalitions of supporters among both sexualities. Among gorillas, in contrast, a single dominant male establishes a harem of females, and usually expels any adult male that might challenge his position. As far as we know, the same social systems have characterised chimps and gorillas not only in recent decades, but for hundreds of thousands of years.

You find nothing like that among humans. Yes, human groups may have distinct social systems, but these are not genetically ascertained, and they seldom endure for more than a few centuries. Think of 20th-century Germans, for example. In fewer than 100 years, the Germans organised themselves into six most varied systems: the Hohenzollern empire, the Weimar republic, the Third Reich, Communist East Germany, the federal republic of West Germany, and finally democratic reunited Germany. Of course they kept their language and love of beer. But is there some unique German essence that recognise their country from all other nations, and that has remained unchanged from Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel? And if you do come up with something, was it also there back in the working day of Goethe, of Martin Luther and of Frederick Barbarossa?

What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? Alex Proyass I, Robot from 2004 Photo: Allstar

The Preamble of the European Constitution( 2004) begins by stating that it describes inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law. This may easily give one the impression that European civilisation is defined by these values. Countless speeches and documents depict a direct line from ancient Athenian democracy to the present-day EU, celebrating 2,500 years of European freedom and republic. This is reminiscent of the proverbial blind man taking hold of an elephants tail and concluding that an elephant is a kind of brush. Athenian democracy was a half-hearted experiment that survived for scarcely 200 years in a small corner of the Balkans. If European civilisation for the last 25 centuries has been defined by republic and human rights, what are we to build of Sparta and Julius Caesar, the Crusaders and Conquistadores, the Inquisition and the slave trade, Louis XIV and Goebbels, Lenin and Mussolini?

European civilisation is anything Europeans stimulate of it, just as Christianity is anything Christians make of it. And they have made remarkably different things of it over the centuries. Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling abilities. No matter what revolutions they survive, they can weave old and new into a single yarn. Even an individual may knit revolutionary personal changes into a coherent life story: I am that person who was once a socialist, but became a capitalist; I was born in Senegal, and now live in France; I wedded, then got divorced; I had cancer, and then got well again.

Similarly, a human group such as the Germans may come to define itself by the very changes it has lived through: Once “were in” Nazis, but we have learned our lesson, and now we are peaceful democrats. You dont need to look for some unique German essence that showed itself first in Hitler and then in Merkel: this revolutionary transformation itself constructs the Germans who they are.

Isis, too, may uphold an allegedly unchanging Muslim identity, but their story of Islam is a brand new tale. Yes, they used some venerable Muslim texts and traditions to concoct it, but if I bake a cake from flour, oil and sugar that have been sitting in my pantry for the past two months, does it mean the cake itself is two months old? Conversely, those who dismiss Isis as un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic are equally mistaken: Islam has no DNA. Just as with Christianity, Islam is whatever Muslims make of it.

Isis wrecked the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/ Tass

Yet there is an even deeper change distinguishing human groups from animal species. Species often split, but never merge. About seven million years ago, chimpanzees and gorillas had common ancestors. This single ancestral species split into two populations that eventually ran their separate, evolutionary styles. Once this happened, there was no going back. Since individuals belonging to different species cannot make fertile offspring together, species can never merge. Gorillas cant merge with chimps, giraffes cant merge with elephants, and puppies cant merge with cats.

Human tribes, in contrast, tend to coalesce over time into larger and larger groups. Modern Germans were created from the merger of Saxons, Prussians, Swabians and Bavarians, which not so long ago wasted little love on one another.The French were created from the merger of Franks, Normans, Bretons, Gascons and Provencals. Meanwhile across the Channel, English, Scots, Welsh and Irish gradually came together( willingly or not) to form Britons. In the not too distant future, Germans, French and Britons might yet merge into Europeans.

Mergers dont always last, as people in London, Edinburgh and Brussels are well aware these days. Brexit may well initiate the simultaneous unravel of both the EU and the UK. But in the long run, historys direction is clear-cut. Ten thousand years ago humankind was divided into countless isolated tribes. With each passing millennium, these merged into larger and larger groups, making fewer and fewer distinct civilisations. In recent generations the few remaining civilisations have been merging into a single global community. Political and ethnic divisions suffer, but they do not undermine the fundamental unity. Indeed, some divisions are attained possible merely by an over-arching common structure.


The process of human unification has taken two distinct sorts: weak heterogeneous unification and strong homogeneous unification. The weaker heterogeneous sort involves creating ties between previously unrelated groups. The groups may continue to have different beliefs and practices, but are no longer independent of one another. From this perspective, even war is a bond perhaps the strongest bond of all. Ten thousand years ago , no tribe in America had any quarrel with Middle Eastern foes, and no African clan bore grudges towards any European. In contrast, during the second world war, people born on the coast of the Mississippi went to their demises on Pacific islands and European grasslands, while recruits from the heart of Africa fell opposing among French vineyards and Alpine snows.

Historians often argue that globalisation reached a first peak in 1913, then went into a long deterioration during the era of the world wars and the cold war, and recuperated merely after 1989. They fear that new conflicts may again set globalisation into reverse gear. This may be true of economic globalisation, but it ignores the different but equally important dynamics of military globalisation. War spreads notions, technologies and people far more quickly than commerce. War also makes people far more interested in one another.Never had the US been more closely in touch with Russia than during the cold war, when every cough in a Moscow corridor send people scrambling up and down Washington staircases. People care far more about their foes than about their trade partners. For every US film about Thailand, there are probably 20 about Vietnam. The global war on terror simply continues the process of military globalisation.

Photograph: Benoit Tessier/ Reuters

Nowadays, the global unity of conflict is perhaps most apparent on the internet, where Isis and the drug cartels are scratching shoulders with Google and Facebook, and YouTube offers funny cat videos alongside instructions on how to build bombs. Islamic fanatics, murderous drug dealers and geeky hackers dont exist on unrelated planets; they share the same global cyberspace. All are thrilled by the blockchain technology that gave us the bitcoin; all count on easy accessibility via ubiquitous smartphones, and all are antagonised by national governments attempting to wrest control of the net.

Yet the world of the early 21 st century has gone way beyond the heterogeneous unity of conflict. People across the globe are not only influenced by each other, they increasingly share identical beliefs and practices. A thousand years ago, planet Earth was home to dozens of different political models. In Europe you could find feudal principalities vying with independent city states and minuscule theocracies. The Muslim world had its caliphate, claiming universal sovereignty, but also experimented with kingdoms, emirates and sultanates. The Chinese empire believed itself to be the sole legitimate political entity, while to its north and west tribal confederacies fought each other with mirth. India and south-east Asia contained a kaleidoscope of regimes, whereas polities in America, Africa and Australasia ranged from tiny hunter-gatherer bands to sprawling empires. No wonder even neighbouring human groups had difficulty agreeing on diplomatic practices , not to mention international laws. Each society had its own political paradigm, and saw it difficult to understand let alone respect alien political concepts.

Today, in contrast, a single political paradigm is accepted everywhere. The planet is divided between nearly 200 sovereign countries, which generally agree on the same diplomatic protocols and on common international laws. Sweden, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay are all marked on our world maps as the same kind of colourful shapes; they are all members of the UN; and despite myriad differences they are all recognised as monarch states enjoying similar rights and privileges. Indeed, they share many more political ideas and practices, including at least a token belief in representative bodies, universal suffrage and human rights. When Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, or Kurds and Turks court global public opinion, they all use the same discourse of human rights, state sovereignty and international law.

The world may be peppered with various types of failed countries, but it knows merely one paradigm for a successful country. Global politics follows the Anna Karenina principle: healthy nations are all alike, but every failed nation fails “in ones own” way, by missing this or that ingredient of the dominant political package. Isis stands out in its complete rejection of this package, and its attempt to establish an entirely different kind of political entity a universal caliphate. But it is unlikely to succeed precisely for this reason. Numerous guerrilla forces and terror organisations have managed to establish new countries or subdue existing ones, but they have always done so by accepting the fundamental principles of the global political order. Even the Taliban sought international recognition as the legitimate government of the sovereign country of Afghanistan. No group rejecting the principles set out in global politics has so far gained lasting control of a significant territory.


In pre-modern times, humen experimented not only with diverse political blueprints, but with a mind-boggling variety of economic models. Russian boyars , Hindu maharajas, Chinese mandarins and Amerindian tribal chiefs had very different ideas about fund and taxation, and none was even well informed the existence of such a thing as the economy. Nowadays, in contrast, almost everybody believes in somewhat different differences on the same capitalist topic, and we are all cogs within a single global production line. Whether you live in Mongolia, New Zealand or Bolivia, your daily routines and economic fortunes depend on the same economic hypothesis, the same corporations and banks, and the same currents of capital. When ministers of finance or bank directors from China, Russia, Brazil and India meet, they have a common language, and can easily understand and sympathise with their equivalents woes.

When Isis subdued large parts of Syria and Iraq, it murdered tens of thousands of people, demolished archaeological sites, toppled statues and systematically destroyed the emblems of previous regimes and of western culture influence. Yet when Isis fighters entered the banks and discovered hoards of US dollars covered with the faces of American presidents and English slogans praising American political and religion ideals, they did not burn these dollars. For the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religion divides. Though it has no intrinsic value you cannot eat or drink a dollar bill trust in the dollar and in the wisdom of the Federal Reserve is so firm it is shared even by Islamic fundamentalists, Mexican drug lords and North Korean tyrants.

Doctor all over the word will dispense similar medicines made by the same narcotic companies Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Yet the homogeneity of contemporary humanity is most apparent when it comes to our view of the natural environment and of the human body. If you fell sick in 1016, it mattered a great deal where you lived. In Europe, the resident clergyman would probably tell you that you had made God angry, and that in order to regain your health, you should donate something to the church, make a pilgrimage to a sacred site, and pray fervently for Gods forgiveness. Alternatively, the village witch might explain that a demon had possessed you, and that she could cast the demon out employing song, dance and the blood of a black cockerel. In the Countries of the middle east, doctors brought up on classical traditions might explain that your four bodily humours were out of balance, and you could harmonise them anew with a proper diet and foul-smelling potions. In India, Ayurvedic experts would offer their own theories concerning the balance between the three bodily components known as doshas , and recommend a therapy of herbs, massages and exercisings. Chinese physicians, Siberian shamans, African witch doctors, Amerindian medication humen every empire, kingdom and tribe had its own traditions and experts, each espousing different opinions about the human body and the nature of sickness, and each offering its own cornucopia of rituals, concoctions and remedies. Some of them worked astonishingly well; others were little short of a death penalty. The one thing that united European, Chinese, African and American medical conditions was that everywhere at least a third of people was dead before adulthood, and nowhere did median life expectancy outstrip 40.

Today, if you are taken ill, it builds far less change where you live. In Toronto, Tokyo, Tehran or Tel Aviv, you will be taken to similar-looking hospitals, where you will satisfy doctors who learned the same scientific hypothesis in not-too-different medical colleges. They will follow identical protocols and use identical exams to reach very similar diagnosis. They will then dispense similar medicines made by the same drug companies. There are still some minor culture changes, but Canadian, Japanese, Iranian and Israeli physicians hold much the same views about the human body and human illness. After Isis captured Raqqa and Mosul, it did not tear down the hospitals; instead, it launched an appeal to Muslim doctors and nurses throughout the world to volunteer their services there. Presumably, even Isis doctors and nurses believe that the body is made of cells, that diseases are caused by pathogens, and that antibiotics kill bacteria.

And what builds up these cells and bacteria? Indeed, what makes up the entire world? Back in 1016, every culture had its own narrative about the universe, and about the fundamental ingredients of the cosmic soup. Today, learned people throughout the world believe exactly the same things about matter, energy, period and space. Take, for example, Irans nuclear programme. The whole problem with it is that the Iranians is precisely the same view of physics as the Israelis and Americans. If the Iranians believed that E= mc, Israel would not care an iota about their nuclear programme.

People still claim to believe in different things. But when it comes to the really important stuff how to build a country, an economy, a hospital, or a weapon almost all of us belong to the same civilisation. There are disagreements , no doubt, but then all civilisations have their internal disagreements indeed, they are defined by these disagreements. When trying to outline their identity, people often make a grocery list of common traits. They would fare much better if they made a listing of common conflicts and dilemmas instead. In 1940, Britain and Germany had most varied traits, yet they were both part and parcel of western civilisation. Churchill wasnt more western than Hitler; instead, the struggle between them defined what it meant to be western at that particular moment in history. In contrast, a ! Kung hunter-gatherer in 1940 wasnt western, because the internal western conflict about race and empire would have constructed little sense to him.

The people we oppose most often are our own family members. Identity is defined by conflicts and dilemmas more than by agreements. What does it mean to be European in 2016? It doesnt mean to have white scalp, to believe in Jesus Christ, or to uphold autonomy. Instead, it means to argue vehemently about immigration, about the EU, and about the limits of capitalism. It also means to obsessively ask yourself What defines my identity? and to worry about an ageing population, about rampant consumerism and about global warming without actually knowing what to do about it. In their conflicts and dilemmas, 21 st-century Europeans are very different from their early-modern and medieval ancestors, but are increasingly similar to their Chinese and Indian contemporaries.

Whatever changes waiting for us, they are likely to involve a fraternal struggle within a single civilisation rather than a confrontation between alien civilisations. The big challenges of the 21 st century will be global in nature. What will happen when pollution triggers global climate changes? What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? When biotechnology enables us to upgrade humans, widen lifespans, and perhaps divide humankind into different biological castes? No doubt, we will have huge debates and bitter conflicts over these questions. But these arguments and conflicts are unlikely to drive us apart. Just the opposite. They will construct us ever more interdependent, as members of a single, rowdy, global civilisation.

Yuval Noah Hararis Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is published by Harvill Secker. ynharari.com

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Keep Calm and Carry On- the sinister message behind the slogan that seduced the nation

3 months, 18 days ago

It is on posters, mugs, tea towels and in headlines. Harking back to a blitz spirit and an age of public service, Keep Calm and Carry On has become ubiquitous. How did a cosy, middle-class joke assume darker connotations?

To get some sense of just what a ogre it has become, try counting the number of days in a week you see some permutation of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. In the last few days Ive watched it twice as a poster advertising a pub New Years Eve party, several times in souvenir shops, in a photograph accompanying a Guardian article on the imminent doctors ten-strike( Keep Calm and Save the NHS ) and as the subject of too many internet memes to count. Some were related to the floods a flagrantly opportunistic Liberal Democrat poster, with Keep Calm and Survive Floods, and the somewhat more mordant Keep Calm and Make a Photo of Floods. Then there were those related to Islamic State: Keep Calm and Fight Isis on the standard red background with the crown above; and Keep Calm and Support Isis on a black background, with the crown replaced by the Isis logo. Around eight years after it started to appear, it has become quite possibly the most successful meme in history. And, unlike most memes, it has been astonishingly enduring, a canvas on to which practically anything can be projected while retaining a sense of ironic reassurance. It is the ruling insignium of an era that is increasingly defined by austerity nostalgia.

I can pinpoint the precise moment at which I realised that what had seemed a typically, somewhat insufferably, English phenomenon had gone completely and inescapably global. I was going into the flagship Warsaw branch of the Polish department store Empik and there, just past the revolving doors, was a collecting of notebooks, mouse pads, diaries and the like, featuring a familiar English sans serif font, white on red, topped with the crown, in English 😛 TAGEND




It felt like confirmation that the image had entered the pantheon of truly global design icons. As an image, it was now up there alongside Rosie the Riveter, the muscular female munitions employee in the US second world war propaganda image; as easily identifiable as the headscarved Lily Brik bellowing BOOKS! on Rodchenkos famous poster. As a logo, it was nearly as recognisable as Coca-Cola or Apple. How had this happened? What was it that attained the image so popular? How did it manage to grow from a minor English middle-class cult object into an international brand, and what exactly was meant by carry on? My hypothesi had been that the combination of message and design were inextricably tied up with a plethora of English obsessions, from the blitz spirit, through to the cults of the BBC, the NHS and the 1945 postwar consensus. Also contained in this bundle of signifiers was the enduring pretension of an extremely rich( if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 201015, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony. Some or none of these believes may have been in the heads of the customers at Empik buying their published tea towels, or they may have just thought it was funny. However, few images of the last decade are quite so riddled with ideology, and few historical documents are quite so spectacularly false.


Imperial War Museum handout of a Dig for Victory poster by Mary Tunbridge. Photo: Mary Tunbridge/ PA

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was not mass-produced until 2008. It is a historical object of a very peculiar sort. By 2009, when it had first become tremendously popular, it seemed to respond to a particularly English malaise connected immediately with the way Britain reacted to the credit crunch and the banking accident. From this moment of crisis, it tapped into an already established narrative about Britains finest hour the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940 -4 1 when it was the only country left fighting the Third Reich. This was a moment of entirely indisputable and apparently uncomplicated national valour, one that Britain has clung to through thick and thin. Even during the high levels of the boom, as the critical theorist Paul Gilroy flags up in his 2004 volume, After Empire , the blitz and the victory were frequently invoked, constructed necessary by the need to get back to the place or moment before the country lost its moral and cultural bearings. The years 1940 and 1945 were obsessive repeatings, anxious and melancholic, morbid fetishes, clung to as a means of not thinking about other aspects of recent British history most obviously, its empire. This has only intensified since the financial crisis began.

The blitz spirit has been exploited by politicians largely since 1979. When Thatcherites and Blairites spoke of hard selections and muddling through, they often elicited the memories of 1941. It served to legitimate regimes that constantly was contended that, despite appearances to the contrary, resources were scarce and there wasnt enough money to go around; the most persuasive way of explaining why someone( else) was inevitably going to suffer. Ironically, however, this rhetoric of sacrifice was oftens combined with a demand that consumers enrich themselves buy their house, get a new automobile, stimulate something of themselves, aspire. Thus, by 200708, when the no return to boom and bust promised by Gordon Brown appeared to be abortive( despite the success of his very 1940 s alternative of nationalising the banks and thus saving capitalism ), the image started to become popular. It is worth noting that soon after this point, a brief series of protests were being policed in increasingly ferocious ways. The authorities were allowed to make use of the apparatus of security and surveillance, and the proliferation of prevention of terrorism statutes set up under the New Labour governments of 19972010, to combat any sign of disagreement. In this context the poster became ever more ubiquitous, and, peculiarly, after 2011, it began to be used in what few protests remained, in an only mildly subverted form.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster seemed to represent all the contradictions produced by a intake economy attempting to adapt itself to thrift, and to normalise surveillance and security through an ironic, depoliticised aesthetic. Out of apparently nowhere, this image blending bare, faintly modernist typography with the consoling logo of the crown and a similarly reassuring message spread everywhere. I first noticed its ubiquity in the winter of 2009, when the poster appeared in dozens of windows in affluent London districts such as Blackheath during the prolonged snowy period and the attendant breakdown of National Rail; the implied message about hardiness in the face of adversity and the blitz spirit looked rather absurd in the context of a dusting of snow crippling the railway system. The poster seemed to exemplify a design phenomenon that had slowly crept up on us to the point where it became unavoidable. It is best described as austerity nostalgia. This aesthetic took the form of a yearning for the various kinds of public modernism that, rightly or incorrectly, was ensure to have characterised the period from the 1930 s to the early 1970 s; it could just as easily exemplify a more straightforwardly conservative longing for security and stability in hard times.

Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience. Most of those who have bought this poster, or worn the various pouches, T-shirts and other memorabilia based on it, were probably born in the 1970 s or 1980 s. They have no memory whatsoever of the various kinds of benevolent statism the slogan purports to exemplify. In that sense, the poster is an example of the phenomenon given a capsule definition by Douglas Coupland in 1991: legislated nostalgia, that is, to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess. However, there is more to it than that. No one who was around at the time, unless they had worked at government departments of the Ministry of Information, for which the poster was designed, would have watched it. In fact, before 2008, few had ever seen the words Keep Calm and Carry On displayed in a public place.

The poster was designed in 1939, but its official website, which sells a variety of Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise, states that it never became an official propaganda poster; instead, a handful were printed on a test basis. The specific purpose of the poster was to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi intrusion, and it was one in a set of three. The two others, which followed the same design principles, were 😛 TAGEND


and 😛 TAGEND


Both of these were published up, and YOUR COURAGE was widely displayed during the course of its blitz, given that the feared intrusion did not take place after the German defeat in the Battle of Britain. You can see one on a billboard in the background of the last scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburgers 1943 film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , when the ageing, reactionary but charming soldier detects his home in Belgravia bombed. Of the three proposals, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was discarded after the test print. Perhaps, this was because it was considered less appropriate to the conditions of the blitz than to the mass panic expected in the event of a German ground invasion. The other posters were heavily criticised. The social research project Mass Observation recorded many furious reactions to the patronising tone of YOUR COURAGE and its implied distinction between YOU, the common person, and US, the state to be defended. Anthony Burgess later claimed it was rage at posters like this that helped Labour win such an enormous landslide in the 1945 election. We can be fairly sure that if KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON had been mass-produced, it would have infuriated those who were being implored to be pacify. Wrenched out of this context and exhumed in the 21 st century, however, the poster appears to flatter, rather than hector, the public it is aimed at.

One of the few test printings of the poster was found in a consignment of secondhand books bought at auction by Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, which then generated the first reproductions. First sold in London by the shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it became a middlebrow staple when the recession, initially merely the somewhat euphemistic credit crunch, hit. Through this poster, the way to display ones commitment to the new austerity regime was to buy more consumer goods, albeit with a less garish aesthetic than was customary during the course of its boom. This was similar to the Keep calm and carry on shopping commanded by George W Bush both after September 11 and when the sub-prime crisis hit America. The wartime utilize of this rhetoric escalated during the economic commotion in the UK; witness the motto of the 2010 -1 5 coalition government, Were all in this together. The power of Keep Calm and Carry On comes from a yearning for an actual or imaginary English patrician attitude of stiff upper lips and muddling through. This is, however, something that largely survives merely in the popular imagination, in a country devoted to services and intake, where elections are decided on the basis of house-price value, and given to sudden, mawkish outpourings of sentiment. The poster isnt just a occurrence of the return of the repressed, it is rather the return of repression itself. It is a nostalgia for the state of being repressed solid, stoic, public spirited, as opposed to the depoliticised, hysterical and privatised reality of Britain over the last 30 years.

At the same time as it evokes a sense of loss over the decline of an idea of Britain and the British, it is both reassuring and flattering, connoting a virtuous( if highly self-aware) customer stoicism. Of course, in the end, it is a bit of a gag: you dont genuinely think your pay cut or your childrens inability to buy a home, or the fact that someone somewhere else has been stimulated homeless because of the bedroom taxation, or lost their benefit, or worked on a zero-hours contract, is truly comparable to life during the blitz but its all a little bit of fun, isnt it?


Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster is merely the tip of an iceberg of austerity nostalgia. Although early examples of the mood can be seen as a reaction to the threat of terrorism and the allegedly attendant blitz spirit, it has become an increasingly prevalent response to the uncertainties of economic collapse. Interestingly, one of the first areas in which this happened was the consumption of food, an activity closely connected with the immediate gratification of longings. Along with the blitz came rationing, which was not fully abolished until the mid-1 950 s. Accounts of this vary; its egalitarianism meant that while the middle classes experienced a drastic decline in the quality and sum of their diet, for many of the poor it was a minor improvement. Either way, it was a grim regime, aided by the emergence of various types of byproducts and replaces Spam, corned beef which stuck around in the already famously dismal British diet for some time, before mass immigration gradually attained feeing in Britain a less awful experience. In the process, entire aspects of British cuisine the sort of thing listed by George Orwell in his essay In Defence of English Cooking such as suet dumplings, Lancashire hotpot, Yorkshire pudding, roast dinners, faggots, spotted dick and toad in the hole began to disappear, at the least from the metropoles.

The figure of importance here is the Essex-born multimillionaire chef and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver. Clearly as decent and sincere a person as youll discover on the Sunday Times Rich List, his various crusades for good food, and the manner in which he marketplaces them, are inadvertently telling. After his initial reputation as a New Labourera star, a relatively young and Beckham-coiffed celebrity chef, his main concern( aside from a massive chain-restaurant empire that stretches from Greenwich Market in London to the Hotel Moskva in Belgrade) has been to take good food locally sourced, cooked from scratch from being a preserve of the middle classes and bring it to the disadvantaged and socially omitted of inner-city London, ex-industrial towns, mining villages and other places slashed and burned by 30 -plus years of Thatcherism. The first version of this was the TV series Jamies School Dinners , in which a camera crew documented him trying to influence the school meals choices of a comprehensive in Kidbrooke, a poor, and lately almost totally demolished, district in south-east London. Notoriously, this campaign was virtually thwarted by moms bringing their kids fizzy drinkings and burgers that they pushed through the fencings so that they wouldnt “re going to have to” suffer that healthy eating muck.


Essex-born multimillionaire cook and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver

The second phase was the book, TV series and chain of shops branded as the Ministry of Food. The name is taken immediately from the wartime ministry charged with managing the rationed food economy of war-torn Britain. Use the assistance of a few public bodies, setting up a charity, pouring in some coalfield regeneration fund and some money of his own, Oliver planned to teach the proletariat to make itself real food with real ingredients. One could argue that he was the latest in a long line of people lecturing the lower orders on their choice of nutrition, part of an immense building of grotesque neo-Victorian arrogance that has included former Channel 4 displays How Clean Is Your House ?, Benefits Street and Immigration Street , exercises in Lets laugh at picturesque prole scum. But Oliver get in there, and got his hands dirty.

However, the tale ended in a predictable manner: attempts to build this charitable action into something permanent and institutional foundered on the disinclination of any plausible British government to antagonise the supermarkets and sundry manufacturers who funnel fund to the two main political parties. The appeal to a time when things such as food and information were apparently dispensed by a benign paternalist bureaucracy, before customer choice carried all before it, can only be translated into the infrastructure of charity and PR, which is something we learn what happens over a few weeks during a Tv indicate and then keep forgetting it. A permanent network of Ministry of Food stores pop-ups that taught cooking skills and had a mostly voluntary staff were set up in the north of England in Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle and Rotherham, though the latter was forced to temporarily close following health and safety concerns in June 2013, reopening in September 2014.

Much more influential than this up by your bootstraps attempt to do a TV/ charity version of the welfare nation was the ministrys aesthetics. On the cover-up of the tie-in cookbook, Oliver sits at a table lay with a 1940 s utility tablecloth in front of some bleakly cute postwar wallpaper, and MINISTRY OF FOOD is declared in that same derivative of Gill Sans typeface used on the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. This is familiar territory. There is a whole micro-industry of austerity nostalgia aimed straight-out at the stomach. There is Olivers own chain of Jamies restaurants, which allows you order pork scratchings for PS4( they come with a side of English mustard) and enjoy neo-Victorian lavatories. Beyond Olivers empire, middle-class operations such as the caterers Peyton and Byrne blend the sort of retro food common across the western world( lots of cupcakes) with elaborated versions of simple English grub including sausage and mash. Some of the interiors of their cafe( such as the one in Mends on Tottenham Court Road in central London) were designed by architects FAT in a pop spin on the faintly lavatorial institutional design common to the surviving fragments of genuine 1940 s Britain that can still be found scattered around the UK pie and mash shops in Deptford in south-east London, ice-cream parlors in Worthing in Sussex, Glasgows dingier tavern, all featuring lots of wipe-clean tiles.


Make Do And Mend Photograph: Make Do And Mend

Other versions of this are more luxurious, such as Dinner, where Heston Blumenthal provides typically quirky English food as part of the attractions of One Hyde Park, the most expensive housing development on Earth. Something similar is offered at Canteen, which has branches in Londons Royal Festival Hall, Canary Wharf and after its scorched-earth gentrification courtesy of the Corporation of London and Norman Foster Spitalfields Market. Canteen serves Great British Food, brews, ciders and perrys[ that] represent our countrys brewing history and cocktails the hell is British-led. The interior design is clearly part of the appeal, offering a strange, luxurious version of a work canteen, with benches, trays and sans serif signs that aim to be both modernist and nostalgic. It presents the incongruous sight of the very comfortable eating and imagining themselves in the dining hall of a branch of Tyrrell& Green circa 1960. Still more bizarre is Albion, a greengrocer for oligarchs, selling traditional English make to the denizens of Neo Bankside, the Richard Rogers-designed towers alongside Tate Modern. Built into the ground floor of one of the towers, it sells its unpretentious fruit and veg next to posters advertising flats that start at the knock-down price of PS2m.

Closer to reality as lived by most people is a mobile app called the Ration Book. On its website, it gives you a crash course on rationing, when the government made assured that in the face of deficit and blockade the population could still get lifes essentials in the form of the famous volume, with its postages to get X amount of dried egg, flour, pollock and Spam. It is an app that aggregates discounts on various brands via voucher codes for those facing the crunch the people the unfortunate Ed Miliband tried to reach out to as the squeezed middle. The website countries: Our squad of Ministers broker the best deals with the biggest brands, to give you the best value. Is there any better way of describing the UK in the second decade of the 21 st century than as the sort of country that produces apps to simulate state rationing of basic goods, simply to shave a little bit off the price of high street brands?

This food-based austerity nostalgia is one way in which peoples peculiar longing for the 1940 s is conveyed; much more can be found in music and design. Stroll into the shops at the Royal Festival Hall or the Imperial War Museum in London, and you will find an avalanche of it. Posters from the 1940 s, playthings and bangles , none of them later than around 1965, have been resurrected from the dustbin of history and to be laid down for you to buy, along with austerity cookbooks, the Design series of volumes on pre-1 960 s iconic graphic artists such as Abram Game, David Gentleman and Eric Ravilious, plus a whole cornucopia of Keep Calm-related accoutrements. A particularly established example is the use of the 1930 s Penguin book encompasses as a logo for all manner of goods, purposely calling to intellect Penguins mid-century role as a substantially educative publisher. Then there are all those prints of modernist buildings, “re ready for” Londoners to frame and place in their ex-council flats in zone 2 or 3: reduced, stark blow-ups of the outlines of modernist architecture, whether demolished( the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead seen in Get Carter ) or protected( Londons National Theatre ). The plate-making company, People Will Always Need Plates, has made a name for itself with its towels, mugs, plates and badges emblazoned with different British modernist houses from the 1930 s to the 1960 s, elegantly redrawn in a bold, schematic sort that sidesteps the often rather shabby reality of the buildings. By recreating the image of the historically untainted build, it manages to precisely reverse the original modernist ethos. If for Adolf Loos and generations of modernist designers adornment was crime, here modernist builds are built into ornaments. Still, the choice of buildings is politically interesting. Blocks of 1930 s collective housing, 1960 s council flats, interwar London Underground stations precisely the sort of architectural projects now considered obsolete in favour of retail and property speculation.

Many of the buildings immortalised in these plates have been the subject of direct transfers of assets from the public sector into the private. The reclamation of postwar modernist architecture by the intelligentsia has been a contributory factor in the privatisation of social housing. An early instance of this was the sell-off of Keeling House, Denys Lasduns east London Cluster Block, to a private developer, who promptly marketed the flats to creatives. A series of gentrifications of modernist social housing followed, from the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury( turned from a rotting brutalist megastructure into the home of one of the largest branches of Waitrose in London ), to Park Hill, an architecturally extraordinary council estate in Sheffield, given away free to the Mancunian developer Urban Splash, whose own favouring of compact flats has long been an example of austerity sold as luxury although after the boom, its privatisation scheme had to be bailed out by millions of pounds in public fund. Another favourite on mugs and tea towels is Balfron Tower, a council tower block about to be sold to wealthy investors for its iconic quality. It is here, where the rage for 21 st-century austerity chic meets the results of austerity as practised in the 1940 s and 1950 s, that a mildly creepy fad spills over into much darker territory. In aiding the sell-off of one of the greatest achievements of that era the housing built by a universal welfare state the revival of austerity chic is the literal extermination of the thing it claims to love.

The Ministry of Nostalgia by Owen Hatherley is published by Verso( PS14. 99 ). To order a copy for PS11. 99, going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Telephone orders min. p& p of PS1. 99.

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

4 months, 12 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.

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.

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

5 months, 6 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 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

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