Catholic Herald column from May 4, 2012
Television historian Lucy Worsley recently said that she has “been educated out of the natural reproductive function” and that as a result “I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy”.
Worsley, who has a degree from Oxford and has written several books on the aristocracy, said that she had “become the poster girl for opting out of reproduction”.
She is certainly not the only woman too bright to breed. In Germany up to 50 per cent of women with degrees remain childless, and the figures in Britain and the United States are not far behind. This is not entirely new; among the first generation of women allowed to study at Oxbridge up to a third remained unmarried, but today it is far more widespread.
A huge cultural shift has occurred in just one generation, with very large numbers of men and women now feeling that their lives are complete without children. This is, historically, an unprecedented state of affairs marking out educated westerners as unique among mankind.
From The Catholic Herald, April 27, 2012
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
ALLEN LANE, £20
Ed West hails a rare book that will frame our thinking on human nature for years to come
A few weeks ago hundreds of Afghans went on a violent rampage after some American troops accidentally burned a copy of the Koran. These protests dwarfed those that followed the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians two weeks later. To educated westerners this behaviour seemed primitive, to atheist ones positively bizarre. Yet as evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains in this fascinating study of morals, politics and religion, this appeal to sanctity is innate, normal human behaviour.
Humans, Haidt says, are “90 per cent chimp and 10 per cent bee”. Unlike other large primates we have evolved a hive mentality that allows us to work in very large, non-kin-related groups, and this partly explains our instinct towards tribalism, whether to our countries, ethnic groups, religious communities, political parties or sports teams. We have deep-rooted instincts towards defending our group, and have evolved morality to protect it and to look out for freeloaders within.
This hive mentality influences our moral compasses, which evolved to deal with certain adaptive challenges: caring for vulnerable children, forming partnerships with non-kin, standing up to oppressors within a group, building coalitions to compete with other groups, negotiating hierarchies and keeping free from parasites. This gives human beings six “moral foundations”, Haidt says: a desire for care over harm, fairness, liberty over oppression, loyalty, authority and sanctity. He suggests that these govern our politics and religions.
From The Catholic Herald, March 9 2012
Ed West says that Charles Murray’s careful study of America’s growing social divide is disturbing
By Charles Murray
Charles Murray has produced a sociological study of America that should startle readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
The political scientist has trawled through the statistics to paint a picture of how American society has changed from 1963 to 2008, and his conclusions are clear: that since the 1960s America’s society has cracked into three parts, with a broad middle class separating a super-rich elite and a growing underclass.
Back in 1960, Murray argues, America was essentially a classless society. There were rich and poor people, but people generally ate the same food, took the same kinds of holidays, watched the same sort of television and, crucially, had the same values.
Despite the economic collapse of our continent and a vaguely hysterical populist campaign against the bankers who helped to bankrupt our country, the British are still glued to the US presidential election, with Mitt Romney’s image rarely off most UK news sites’ home pages.
American politics fascinates the British for a number of reasons; the sheer spectacle of the long, gruelling and expensive race, carried out over a physically enormous area; the glamour of the candidates; the strange attachment to morality as a central issue; the talk of God.
The strangest issue for Britons to comprehend is Americans’ views on evolution, as was expressed by my Telegraph colleague Tom Chivers in this piece “Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment”.
I have started occasionally writing for the website of the Saint Austin Review, the international journal of Catholic culture, literature, and ideas. Here’s a post I did for them about the Church and the Third Reich.
The year after Queen Elizabeth II’s successful visit to Ireland the Republic is set to pardon 5,000 Irish soldiers who deserted to fight for the British against the Nazis.