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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Links - 14th May 2016

The crisis of character - "Nothing speaks more profoundly to the crisis of character than the phrase, ‘I identify as…’. In the past, individuals were... [The words] feel strikingly contingent. They speak to changeability. The undertone is ‘I identify as such-and-such for now’... Western campuses in particular have become hotbeds of identity politics, or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘identitarian left’, which now defines itself, and engages with others, through the prism of identity rather than on the basis of ideas or shared or conflicting material and political interests... a new caste system, in effect. The individual with conviction has given way to the insecure possessor of an identity, whose primary concern is with the protection of his or her identity from ridicule or assault. We enter the public sphere as self-ossified categories rather than as thinking, convinced persons... the truly notable thing about today is not so much the obsession with identity – it’s the instability of identity... People now ‘identify as disabled’, and it often isn’t entirely clear that they are disabled... Women’s colleges have been propelled into crisis by the cult of self-identification. In an era when a man can become a woman by saying ‘I identity as a woman’, can women’s colleges continue to exist?... It is argued by identitarians that the psychic needs of the individual who self-identifies as ‘they’ override the habits of the public or the universalism of spoken discourse... Among trans activists, too, the claim to be consciously and radically upsetting gender norms sits uneasily with the essentialism of corrective surgery to turn men into ‘women’... many of the new self-identifiers contradictorily claim that they have no choice but to be what they feel themselves to be. Trans teenagers will kill themselves if we do not allow them to become the gender they were really born as, threaten trans activists. The bigender person profiled by the Daily Mail, who self-identifies on different days as Layla, a woman, and Layton, a man, strikingly said that this ‘isn’t a case of me waking up and choosing to dress a certain way. I’ve got no control over whether I’m going to be Layton or Layla on a certain day’... How do we explain this strange coexistence of highly subjective identity cultivation with an instinct to biologism and essentialism?... What is today referred to as the rise of identity politics is in truth the hollowing out of the institutions, beliefs and freedoms around which life and identity were shaped and cohered for centuries. It is a crisis not merely of politics, or class, or the left; it is a crisis of character, a questioning of what it means to be human, an uncertainty as to how we become fully human"

Peter Tatchell: Gene Genie - "If heterosexuality and homosexuality are, indeed, genetically predetermined (and therefore mutually exclusive and unchangeable), how do we explain bisexuality or people who, suddenly in mid-life, switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa)? We can't. The reality is that queer and straight desires are far more ambiguous, blurred and overlapping than any theory of genetic causality can allow. After studying the sexual experiences of thousands of men, Dr Alfred Kinsey presented evidence, in Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male (1948), that "many males combine in their single histories, and very often in exactly the same period of time, or even simultaneously in the same moment, reactions to both heterosexual and homosexual stimuli"... Most studies indicate that genetic factors, while not unimportant, are of secondary significance compared to social influences, such as the relationship between a child and its parents, formative childhood experiences, cultural mores and peer pressure... If, however, gayness was primarily explainable in genetic terms, we would expect it to appear in the same proportions, and in similar forms, in all cultures and all epochs. As the anthropologists Clellan Ford and Frank Beach demonstrated in Patterns Of Sexual Behaviour (1965), far from being cross-culturally stable, both the incidence and expressions of same-sex desire vary vastly between different societies... The haste with which these unproven, questionable theories have been embraced suggests a terrible lack of self-confidence and a rather sad, desperate need to justify queer desire... The homophobes are thus, paradoxically, closer to the truth than many gay activists. Removing the social opprobrium and penalties from queer relationships, and celebrating gay love and lust, would allow more people to come to terms with presently inhibited homo-erotic desires"

The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad - "It is all part of a familiar game in which diplomatic words intended for non-Muslims... diverge sharply from actions directed at Muslims worldwide and emanating from the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance... Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite distributed millions of dollars to Sunni extremists, including those within the US, in the run-up to the September 11th attacks, under the guise of support for Islamic charities... [After 1979] Saudi Arabia spent $4 billion per year on mosques, madrassas, preachers, students, and textbooks to spread the Wahhabi creed over the next decades... Adherents to Wahhabism used Saudi control of four-fifths of all Islamic publishing houses around the world to spread their fighting words into faraway places. Indeed, 80 percent of the 1,200 mosques operating in the US were constructed after 2001, more often than not with Saudi financing. As a result, Wahhabi influence over Islamic institutions in the US was considerable by 2003... Hundreds of publications, published by the Saudi government and its affiliates, and filled with intolerance toward Christians, Jews, and other Americans, had been disseminated across the country by 2006... By 2013, 75 percent of North American Islamic centers relied on Wahhabi preachers who promote anti-Western ideas in person and online through their sermons and through the Saudi-produced literature... It costs on average only $2500 to train each jihadi, fundraisers proudly inform potential donors when urging them to give more... after ascending the throne, Salman [the King of Saudi Arabia] presented the 2015 King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam to an Indian Muslim televangelist infamous for describing the 9/11 attacks as “an inside job” led by President George W. Bush. Not surprisingly, one of Salman’s first official acts as monarch was to dismiss two influential officials who had opposed Wahhabi clergymen—a reform-minded minister of justice and a relatively tolerant chief of the religious police. And he sought to placate the public by promising financial bonuses rather than political reform

Confronting the New Misanthropy - "Today, the future of the Earth is said to be jeopardised by human consumption, technological development or by ‘man playing God’. And instead of original sin leading to the Fall of Man, we fear the degradation of Nature by an apparently malevolent human species. All of today’s various doomsday scenarios - whether it’s the millennium bug, oil depletion, global warming, avian flu or the destruction of biodiversity - emphasise human culpability. Their premise is that the human species is essentially destructive and morally bankrupt... Michael Meacher, Britain’s former minister for the environment, has referred to humans as ‘the virus’ infecting the Earth’s body. The rising popularity of a term like ‘ecological footprint’ shows how much resonance the association of normal human activity with destruction has today. This term, which implies that having an impact on the environment is necessarily a bad thing, is rarely criticised for its misanthropic assumptions... today’s neo-Malthusian thinking is far more dismal and misanthropic than the original thing. For all his intellectual pessimism and lack of imagination, Thomas Malthus believed in humanity far more than his contemporary followers do... The loss of faith in humanity is strikingly expressed in the stigma attached to speciesism... Misanthropy has a profound influence on public policy and political debate... attitudes towards the democratic ideal of free speech are directly influenced by whether we believe people are capable of making an intelligent choice between competing views. ‘The advocate of freedom of speech is likely to believe that most men are not easily deceived, are not swayed by uncontrolled emotions, and are capable of sound judgement’... ‘the individual with low faith in people tends to believe in suppression of weak, deviant, or dangerous groups’... People who viewed human nature positively tended to be more tolerant towards free speech and social experimentation. People who saw humans as being driven by narrow self-interest, greed and other destructive passions were inclined to support measures that curbed freedom. Today, the growth of censorship, the criminalisation of thought by the enactment of so-called hate crimes legislation and speech codes, and the widespread frowning upon causing offence to individuals and groups is underpinned by the idea that people cannot be trusted to make up their minds about controversial subjects."

Caitlyn Jenner Experienced 'Sex Change Regret,' Might De-Transition, Biographer Says

Student life and working class culture | Podcast | History Extra - "In the kind of 17th and 16th century there was a very interesting establishment of the role of sizar... students who couldn't afford to study could serve as servants, essentially, to the college or to other students. Which now sounds kind of degrading. It was to pay their ways and they even had to wear special hats that marked them out as sizars... it... opened a lot of opportunity...
[On student drinking culture] in the early modern period there was quite a big kind of idea. Because everything about, a lot to do with education... lessons were in Latin and it was all about the Classical World... another influence from the Classical World was that of hedonism and Bacchus and debauchery and that arguably was linked with the idea of intellectualism. That kind of reemerged in the early modern period...
The traditional breeding ground that we might think of of rock groups which is that it's working class teenagers in industrial cities looking for the, you know, way out of the straightened circumstances, which has always been the case from the Beatles to the Animals to the Who to the Kingster Eric Clapton... the template of rock music: working class kids - bright working class kids, writing about their experiences... didn't seem to be the case anymore... it's simply unaffordable nowadays"

Muslims and Jews in the 16th century | Podcast | History Extra - "Islam and English Protestantism sort of came together in this odd moment where their common enemy was Catholicism, particularly Spain, the Spain of Phillip II and the Papacy and that Reformed Protestant Christian belief looked at particularly Sunni Islamic belief and said we're actually not that different. Of course they are... England was actually working quite closely with the Islamic World [at this time]... what we today call Muslims, but the period would call Saracens or Moors or Mohammadans would appear on the English stage. There are just dozens and dozens and dozens of them throughout the 1590s, it becomes an absolute craze to put what we would call Muslims on the English stage...
[On Venice's Jewish ghetto] The great melting pot city, which is Venice... What does it mean to be Venetian? The Venetians were refugees anyway. So they were Roman refugees who ended up in this area... they themselves are this mixed heritage of all kinds of different elements or groups, and the Jews are as well. So this is a story not about cultural exclusion but cultural mixing...
[On the ghetto protecting as well as excluding Jews] the Jewish community acknowledges a sense in which it can live its own way of life, relatively free from any outside interference... these pogroms were going on throughout the early modern period"

2015 Christmas history quiz | Podcast | History Extra - "Other than the baby Jesus, who always appears in the earliest depictions of the Nativity?... The Ox and the Ass. The earliest representations of the Nativity are very simple, just showing the infant Jesus tightly wrapped, lying near the ground in a trough or a wicker basket. The ox and the ass are always present even when Mary or another human is not...
Working in Lincoln, anatomist Swan found it hard to procure enough human cadavers for his work. So his London-based friend Astley Cooper used to send him one as a Christmas present each year...
For Christmas 1171, Henry the Young King had a lavish party in which one room was filled with 110... knights called William"

How one man got the world making pesto by hand - ""My mum used a blender to make pesto, like all Genoese. Ten or 15 years ago very few Genoese still used a pestle and mortar to make pesto. Maybe one or two elderly people for tradition's sake but it really was something we no longer did," he says. Panizza had a website on which he sold mortars and in those days orders came from "Brazil, England, Germany, Sicily..." but in Genoa nobody seemed to care about them. "They were used as plant pots or decorative objects, or even as drinking troughs for chickens because, being heavy, they don't tip over. People really did that!" In an attempt to change attitudes, he began organising public demonstrations at village fairs. "When I started, it was revolutionary to make pesto with a mortar. I've seen old people with tears in their eyes watching me make pesto. They would look at me and say, 'You took me back to when I was a little child.'" In the olden days, for Genoese boys as well as girls, this was the traditional kitchen activity while grandma was cooking, he says. "The child could play at making pesto because he couldn't hurt himself, there are no knives and no flames. You put him there and he mashes in the mortar and helps you. This really is a very widespread memory - loads of people have told me. This Genoese love of pesto, apart from the fact that it tastes good, is that it takes them back to being children."

Middle East history special | Podcast | History Extra - "The deliberate destruction of cultural representations, of artworks is a pretty old tradition. We have... in Nineveh... when palaces were sacked during the period of the Babylonian and Syrian empires, there were friezes and statues that were deliberately broken as part of a sign of conquest and victory. So there's a long history of violence to these artworks."

A global view of history | Podcast | History Extra - "How do we explain that up until the 18th century, China was seen by the West as the beacon of everything that was good and wonderful. Voltaire could not stop going on about how amazing China was. And no one gave two hoots about Greece. Smelly lot of dodgy people who were part of the Ottoman Empire. And yet, with the rise of the Nation State and the Industrial Revolution, by the 19th century China was the antithesis of everything that the West wanted to be and Greece, with the Greek War of Independence, its resurgence to becoming a newly liberated nation, slipped in to that location, that place that China had occupied in our hearts and minds as the beginning and source and origin of everything that was wonderful about our Western World...
The Roman writers are constantly complaining about how Chinese silk allows Roman women to walk around looking naked because it's so thin and luxurious and svelte. This is absolutely awful"
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