As long as people have proclaimed the existence of God, others have rejected the idea of a deity. Among African Americans, the earliest evidence of atheism and agnosticism comes from 19th-century slave narratives. Peter Randolph’s Sketches of Slave Life (1855) and Austin Steward’s Twenty-Two Years a Slave (1857), for example, posit that the brutality of slavery drove many blacks to become atheists. Likewise, prevalent proslavery religion turned many enslaved blacks away from Christianity and religion in general.
I first learned about sex positive feminism in a graduate seminar at a large mid-western University. Every Tuesday and Thursday the long bare classroom would fill with students eager to talk about their hook-ups, their predilection for one or another kind of erotica and their general affirmation of the transformative capacities of the sexual act. For those who weren’t there, sex positive feminism stands for the precept that women are not free until and unless they are sexually free. In the competitiveness that graduate seminars breed, my classmates rambled on about threesomes, triumphant and unceremonious dumpings of emotionally attached lovers (who has time for that?) and in general lots and lots of sex. Our smug professor, nose-pierced and wild-haired and duly sporting the scarves and baubles of the well-traveled, encouraged it all. The question of how and when sexual liberation had become not simply the centerpiece but the entire sum of liberation in general never came up. The year was 2006.
THE SINGLE MOST important issue in allocating national resources is war versus peace, or as macroeconomists put it, “guns versus butter.” The United States is getting this choice profoundly wrong, squandering vast sums and undermining national security. In economic and geopolitical terms, America suffers from what Yale historian Paul Kennedy calls “imperial overreach.” If our next president remains trapped in expensive Middle East wars, the budgetary costs alone could derail any hopes for solving our vast domestic problems.
The jailing of nine men who sexually exploited girls as young as 13 in Greater Manchester shone a light on a murky underworld that exists across the UK but few people are aware of.
Some have focused on how the victims were white and their tormentors nearly all of Pakistani heritage and questions were raised over whether race was a factor in this case. Is there any consensus about whether race has played a part in such crimes?
Paul Bloom, psychologist and Yale professor, argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse. While we’ve been taught that putting yourself in another’s shoes cultivates compassion, it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions. In this animated interview from The Atlantic, we hear Bloom’s case for why the world needs to ditch empathy.
ay 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.
People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as“austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.
But that was five years ago, and the fever has long since broken. Greece is now seen as it should have been seen from the beginning – as a unique case, with few lessons for the rest of us. It is impossible for countries such as the US and the UK, which borrow in their own currencies, to experience Greek-style crises, because they cannot run out of money – they can always print more. Even within the eurozone, borrowing costs plunged once the European Central Bank began to do its job and protect its clients against self-fulfilling panics by standing ready to buy government bonds if necessary. As I write this, Italy and Spain have no trouble raising cash – they can borrow at the lowest rates in their history, indeed considerably below those in Britain – and even Portugal’s interest rates are within a whisker of those paid by HM Treasury.
While there is uncertainty as to when and how disgust became embedded in our system of ethics, there can be no doubt that its influence on society has been transformative. Without this powerful emotion to keep us all in line, we could not have achieved so much as a species. Miraculously, disgust has got us to cooperate without raising a fist – indeed, often without so much as a slap on the wrist. It has elicited so much good merely by the shaming and shunning of those whose actions harm the group.
For that reason, some thinkers have come to view disgust as a sacred gift. Leon Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics under the administration of George W Bush, counselled that we should heed ‘the wisdom of repugnance’. This voice that wells up inside us warns when a moral boundary has been crossed, he argued. In an article for the New Republic in 2001, he called for people to listen to its outrage at acts such as human cloning, abortion, incest and bestiality. Repugnance, he wrote, ‘speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls who have forgotten how to shudder.’
Needless to say, Pizarro has a less rosy view of disgust – and not without cause. As we’ve seen, it can make prejudice feelright, justifying the stigmatisation of immigrants, homosexuals, the homeless, the obese and other vulnerable groups. Moreover, our natural revulsion to disease has fed into the notion that sickness is God’s punishment for sin – a view that still persists around the world even as modern medicine has dramatically advanced.