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Lay Down Your Arms
This week: why there's so much outrage, the problem with utopia, and the truth about cooking.
THE MORAL SCREAM
Why is everyone shouting at each other on Twitter? Some answers can be found in this interesting short paper by a psychologist at Yale University on "moral outrage in the digital age". It asks what it is about online platforms that drives this kind of discourse, and offers some good answers, although I think it misses something. It discusses the signalling value of expressing outrage - the reputational rewards, the way it can make you famous, since anger is a viral emotion. But I think it misses another kind of benefit: the internal rush of pleasure you get from asserting moral superiority. In this piece, I called it "the moral surge".
HOW TO FLIP FANATICS
On a related theme - how should you talk to people who hold opposing views to your own and do so aggressively? If they're just irredeemable arseholes you should, of course, ignore them, if you can. But sometimes they will lower their fists if you signal you're not interested in a fight. David Brooks is erratic but when he's good he's very good indeed and this is one of his better efforts. I particularly liked the sentence about Martin Luther King, which demonstrates the power of jamming together words not usually seen in each other's company in order to express a paradoxical thought.
Along with this beautiful essay on centrism, I now have a second piece I can point whenever someone asks me what my political philosophy is (OK nobody ever does this). This one is by Will Wilkinson, an American writer and wonk who is one of my favourite political thinkers. It's a little dry and technical at first but when he gets into his stride it's thrilling, at least it is if you've been having similar thoughts but haven't articulated them as powerfully as he does here. It's an argument against utopian thinking, of the kind that can lead to radical leftism or strong libertarianism or Brexit. People who think like this are always claiming there's some entirely better way of doing things, if only we tried it. But they're just guessing. They've got nothing to go on, by definition, because they're shooting for something new. Guessing is dangerous, because we live in a complex world full of unintended consequences. As Will argues, the alternative isn't, or needn't be, passionless technocratic tinkering.
In 1800, there were around 50 nation states; there are now around 200. As this writer points out, going back long before 1800, there were thousands - so who is to say that's not where we're headed now? It may be that we're undergoing a several-hundred-year regression to the mean. (I don't agree with all the assumptions or implicit philosophy of this piece but it's thought provoking, especially in the context of Catalonia).
CÉZANNE JUMPING OVER THE MOON
Goodnight Moon is one of the few books I can read to my children over and again without squirming. The reason I like it, and maybe the reason it has endured so long, is that it's mysterious. With most of children's books, it's too clear what the story is trying to do - what neat little life lesson the author hopes to impart (and the stories are aimed at parent/purchasers as much or more than children). But Goodnight Moon is content to let its strangeness cast a spell. In that sense it's closer to art; if a work of art is explicable, it's not very good. And indeed, as this piece shows us, Goodnight Moon is influenced by a great artist. See also this piece on what any writer can learn from the way the story "sets up a world and then subverts its own rules".
I did a short piece about how the women who decided to go on the record about Harvey Weinstein, drawing on some interesting work by Cass Sunstein.
THE TRUTH ABOUT COOKING
So funny. Someone should give the author of this thread her own cookbook.
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