Category Archives: general

Apocalypse Now: A Year of Crises, Shocks and Fears of Terror

Ansbach, Munich, Würzburg, Nice, Brussels — in light of the many horrific news stories, many are asking: What’s the matter with 2016?

Has the world gone mad? This question is occupying the minds of many people these days. It feels like the world is out of step, that multiple crises are encroaching upon us and that the distant world of international politics is about to get dangerously personal. How are we supposed to deal with the feeling of living in an era that we no longer seem to understand?

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“I’m tired of living in interesting times,” a Twitter user wrote several days ago. His words were retweeted more than 1,000 times. Everyday, people on social media ask: What is wrong with 2016? When will it be over? What more does it have in store for us?

Have Fears of Terrorism in 2016 Made the World Crazy? – SPIEGEL ONLINE

“Humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent.”

This is just one Arch Duke Ferdinand scenario. The number of possible scenarios are infinite due to the massive complexity of the many moving parts. And of course many of them lead to nothing happening. But based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one.

It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it. Historians will look back and make sense of it all and wonder how we could all have been so naïve. How could I sit in a nice café in London, writing this, without wanting to run away. How could people read it and make sarcastic and dismissive comments about how pro-Remain people should stop whining, and how we shouldn’t blame everything on Brexit. Others will read this and sneer at me for saying America is in great shape, that Trump is a possible future Hitler (and yes, Godwin’s Law. But my comparison is to another narcissistic, charismatic leader fanning flames of hatred until things spiral out of control). It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. Trump won against the other Republicans in debates by countering their claims by calling them names and dismissing them. It’s an easy route but the wrong one.

So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end?—?for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.

What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. …

History Tells Us What Will Happen With Trump and Brexit

America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny — NYMag

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny — NYMag

I think the point here is that in stepping back one can see the whole system at risk. It might be war or revolution, but something big is coming.

Is American democracy headed to extinction? – The Washington Post

Behind dysfunctional government, is democracy itself in decay?

It took only 250 years for democracy to disintegrate in ancient Athens. A wholly new form of government was invented there in which the people ruled themselves. That constitution proved marvelously effective. Athens grew in wealth and capacity, saw off the Persian challenge, established itself as the leading power in the known world and produced treasures of architecture, philosophy and art that bedazzle to this day. But when privilege, corruption and mismanagement took hold, the lights went out.

Is American democracy headed to extinction? – The Washington Post

Discovery of Philistine Cemetery May Solve Biblical Mystery

An unrivaled discovery on the southern coast of Israel may enable archaeologists to finally unravel the origins of one of the most notorious and enigmatic peoples of the Hebrew Bible: the Philistines.

The discovery of a large cemetery outside the walls of ancient Ashkelon, a major city of the Philistines between the 12th and 7th centuries B.C., is the first of its kind in the history of archaeological investigation in the region. (Read more about ancient Ashkelon.)

Discovery of Philistine Cemetery May Solve Biblical Mystery

How About That Patriarchy! Britain will have first female prime minister since Margaret Thatcher – The Washington Post

The race to be Britain’s next prime minister was whittled to two on Thursday, with Conservative Party lawmakers ensuring that the country will have a female head of government — the nation’s first since Margaret Thatcher stepped down more than a quarter-century ago.

The contest will pit the home affairs secretary, Theresa May, against Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom in a race that features contenders who were on opposite sides of last month’s European Union referendum.

In a vote among 330 Tory members of Parliament, May was on top, with 199 votes, compared with 84 for Leadsom. A third candidate, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, was knocked out after securing 46 votes.

Britain will have first female prime minister since Margaret Thatcher – The Washington Post

The World’s Disappearing Sand –

Sand is the essential ingredient that makes modern life possible. And we are starting to run out.

That’s mainly because the number and size of cities is exploding, especially in the developing world. Every year there are more people on the planet, and every year more of them move to cities. Since 1950, the world’s urban population has ballooned to over 3.9 billion from 746 million.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, in 2012 alone the world used enough concrete to build a wall 89 feet high and 89 feet wide around the Equator. From 2011 to 2013, China used more cement than the United States used in the entire 20th century.

The World’s Disappearing Sand –

From Trump to Brexit: Trust in Government Is Collapsing Around the World – The Atlantic

On Wednesday, Facebook made an announcement that you’d think would only matter to Facebook users and publishers: It will modify its News Feed algorithm to favor content posted by a user’s friends and family over content posted by media outlets. The company said the move was not about privileging certain sources over others, but about better “connecting people and ideas.”

But Richard Edelman, the head of the communications marketing firm Edelman, sees something more significant in the change: proof of a new “world of self-reference” that, once you notice it, helps explain everything from Donald Trump’s appeal to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.

From Trump to Brexit: Trust in Government Is Collapsing Around the World – The Atlantic

American atheists are on the rise. They have radically different visions of the future. – Vox

It is unclear, however, how many Americans are prepared to abandon those idols. Of the roughly 25 percent of Americans the rally insists constitute the new secular movement, only 11 percent are avowed atheists. Most only decline any particular religious preference.

“When you read headlines about the rise of the so-called ‘nones,’ or people who don’t consider themselves part of a religion, that’s what they’re mostly referring to: the shruggers,” wrote Emma Green in the Atlantic. “They might be intensely spiritual or perfectly apathetic about faith, but for some reason or another they don’t self-identify as definitively atheistic.”

Most, certainly, are not at Reason Rally. And among those who are, it is not clear how many share Peter’s vision of the state as a kind of replacement god. Many of the speakers today are Democrats; they are a slight majority among the crowd, as well. But they do largely share Peter’s confidence: Once religion is banished from the public sphere, the most pressing difficulties in our national life will largely fade away, rationally debated and swiftly solved according to the dictates of reason.

American atheists are on the rise. They have radically different visions of the future. – Vox

Why the World Is Rebelling Against ‘Experts’ – The Daily Beast

What holds the rebels together is a single idea: the rejection of the neo-liberal crony capitalist order that has arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union. For two decades, this new ruling class could boast of great successes: rising living standards, limited warfare, rapid technological change and an optimism about the future spread of liberal democracy. Now, that’s all fading or failing.

Living standards are stagnating, vicious wars raging, poverty-stricken migrants pouring across borders and class chasms growing. Amidst this, the crony capitalists and their bureaucratic allies have only grown more arrogant and demanding. But the failures of those who occupy what Lenin called “the commanding heights” are obvious to most of the citizens on whose behalf they claim to speak and act.

The Great Rebellion draws on five disparate and sometimes contradictory causes that find common ground in frustration with the steady bureaucratic erosion of democratic self-governance: class resentment, racial concerns, geographic disparities, nationalism, cultural identity. Each of these strains appeals to different constituencies, but together they are creating a political Molotov cocktail.

Why the World Is Rebelling Against ‘Experts’ – The Daily Beast

The reason the world is rebelling against the experts is because the experts are wrong. One simple example is the failure of the experts to see the 2008 financial crash coming. And they can’t seem to get things going again. Also, why do we keep seeing articles mentioning the possibility of war with Russia and China? Why didn’t the experts help us navigate away from war a long time ago?

Universities are insular places where the better ideas cannot rise to the top. So we’re stuck with mediocre experts who are just plain wrong about a lot of things. If they weren’t wrong then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this current mess.

Take a look at researchers whose research doesn’t point to the right narrative:

The Bailey affair was the first of several instances in which Dreger would discover a disturbing gap between activism and science. It is probably reasonable to argue that most scholars in the history and ethics of medicine tend to associate activism with virtue. After all, crusades against smoking, drunk driving and binge drinking over the past 50 years have led to desperately needed social change. But to use Al Gore’s phrase, Dreger kept finding “inconvenient truths” in the worlds of health and medicine in which the supposed “good guys” were the ones with both the bad data and an inclination to defame anyone who did not agree with them.

Another unpopular researcher who Dreger defends is the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. Chagnon had studied the Yanomamo, an indigenous people who lived on the border of Brazil and Venezuela. Chagnon’s controversial finding was that Yanomamo men demonstrated domestic brutality, ritualized drug use and ecological indifference, far from the usual romanticized characterization of those who live in primitive rain forests. Chagnon situated his findings in the theory of sociobiology, which argued that culturally-specific behaviors have an evolutionary basis—again, not a politically correct theory among academics worried about genetic determinist visions of the world.

Science, Activism And Truth: ‘Galileo’s Middle Finger’ by Alice Dreger – Forbes

Not only do the better ideas not rise to the top in our universities, the existing order fights tooth and nail to keep others (with better ideas) down. We shouldn’t really be surprised at all the incompetent experts out there showing us what will be. But we just shouldn’t believe them.

As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession

In the late 1980s, I was introduced to a self-styled Satanic high priestess. She called herself a witch and dressed the part, with flowing dark clothes and black eye shadow around to her temples. In our many discussions, she acknowledged worshipping Satan as his “queen.”

I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether this woman was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism. (In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.) So I was inclined to skepticism. But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed. Much later, she permitted me to tell her story.

As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession