Audio Long Reads, from the New Statesman
Are 'Substackademics' the new public intellectuals?
Roy Jenkins, while serving as president of the European Commission, used to spend his mornings writing. The heads of state who visited him were often keener to speak about his biographies of Asquith or Gladstone than about new legislation. This integration of politics, scholarship and the media was once a feature of British intellectual life, from AJP Taylor to CP Snow, but today the space to think and work has become ever more constrained. It is difficult to imagine Ursula von der Leyen, the current president of the European Commission, blocking out chunks of her diary for an unfinished novel. As our universities and political institutions bow to the pressures of specialisation and professionalisation, where do today’s public intellectuals reside? The answer, often, is on Substack – a platform that allows its authors to monetise content and easily engage with its users. But it is a cut-throat world, and one that requires continual self-promotion. Reliant on crowdfunding, and on relatively closed conversations with like-minded individuals, how healthy is it really for intellectual life? In this essay, originally published on newstatesman.com on 20 October 2022, the Cambridge history professor Chris Bickerton examines the decline of the public intellectual. You can read the original text here.Read by Adrian Bradley. If you liked listening to this you might also enjoy How does a music writer grieve? With playlists, of coursePodcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit www.newstatesman.com/podcastoffer
Era of the rogue superpower: what Trump’s bid means for the US, Russia and China
On 15 November, despite a poor showing in the US midterm elections for the candidates he had backed, Donald Trump surprised no one in announcing his second run for the presidency. What does his official return to the political stage mean for the Republican Party – and for America, Russia and China?In this essay, the New Statesman’s China and global affairs editor Katie Stallard reflects on the ugly civil war on the right of the Republican party between supporters of the Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Trump loyalists, as well as looking ahead to the international challenges facing America’s next president. Meanwhile, Stallard writes, in Russia has reached what the scholar Andrei Kolesnikov calls his “Stalin phase”: isolated, paranoid, and convinced of his own omnipotence. And in China, Xi Jinping has removed his rivals and ordered the military to “prepare for war” as he reasserts the country's claim on Taiwan. Tensions with the Biden White House have escalated, and both Putin and Xi will be counting on political dysfunction in the US – maybe even Trumpism – to consolidate their power.This article was originally published on newstatesman.com on 16 November and in the 18 November edition of the magazine. You can read the text version here.If you enjoyed this podcast, you may also enjoy listening to The making and meaning of Giorgia MeloniPodcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit www.newstatesman.com/podcastoffer
Margaret Atwood: why I don’t write utopias
In 2001 Margaret Atwood began writing the novel Oryx and Crake. She started from the idea of species extinction, including human extinction. How long have we got? And would we bring about our own demise? The premise of Oryx and Crake was that, since we have the capability to bioengineer a virus capable of wiping out humanity, someone might be tempted to do just that – in order to save everything else. In this imagined future, humans have been replaced with a vegan, peace-loving, self-healing upgrade. Twenty years after the novel was published, Atwood writes, as the climate crisis accelerates, there is a high probability a Crake might appear among us to put us out of our misery. And in the real world, there would be no new replacement. Atwood’s novel continues to have relevance, as does a question she is frequently asked: why write dystopias? Why not imagine worlds where there is greater equality, not less? In this essay, she explores the 19th-century boom in literary utopias, from William Morris to Edward Bellamy, and then their 20th-century demise, as “several nightmares that began as utopian social visions” unfolded. As a thought experiment, Atwood imagines what a 21st-century utopia might look like and how it might address the many contradictions of civilisation. Could she write a practical utopia? And would anyone want to read it? Written by Margaret Atwood and read by Amelia Stubberfield. You might also enjoy listening to Wrestling with Orwell: Ian McEwan on the art of the political novel This article appeared in a special issue of the New Statesman on 21 October 2022 guest edited by Greta Thunberg. You can read the text version here, and more from the issue here. The essay is also included in “The Climate Book”, curated by Greta Thunberg and published by Allen Lane. It is available with a 15 per cent discount here, using the promo code ClimateNS (purchasing a book may earn the NS a commission from Bookshop.org, who support independent bookshops).
The ADHD decade: what’s behind the surge in adult diagnoses?
On both sides of the Atlantic, the number of people being diagnosed with ADHD is rising. Psychiatry UK, which provides both private and NHS-funded assessments, reports that it is receiving around 150 ADHD referrals a day; in 2022 the organisation expanded its prescribing team from ten to 60.Why are more people being told they have ADHD? Partly, this is a course correction: adults who were diagnosed with depression or a personality disorder are now receiving a more nuanced, helpful assessment. But there is also a more complex story to tell, about the social and cultural forces at play. It is not a coincidence that diagnoses have risen alongside the growth of the internet’s attention economy – a vast infrastructure designed to capture and monetise people’s focus. Nor is it a coincidence that they have increased during an era of cut-throat capitalism, in which ever more people are consigned to desk-bound jobs that place huge demands on their time. In this environment, what is the “right” amount of attention, and what should we give our focus to?In this deeply reported piece, New Statesman associate editor Sophie McBain talks to psychiatrists and patients about their experiences of treating and living with ADHD. Disorganised and distracted herself, might she have the condition? In the absence of a precise scientific benchmark, what counts as disordered thinking – and what is merely a response to our always-on, multitasking lives? McBain revisits the earliest research into ADHD, its treatment with amphetamines, and explores the modern search for a root cause. If anxiety was one of the defining disorders of the early 21st century, are we now entering the ADHD decades? This article originally appeared in the 4-10 November 2022 issue of the New Statesman magazine; you can read the text version of the article here. Written by Sophie McBain and read by Emma Haslett. You might also enjoy listening to The psychiatrists who don't believe in mental illness by Sophie McBain.
Britain after a nuclear attack: the BBC film that shocked a generation
Four years ago, the New Statesman published a long read by Jude Rogers marking the reissue of two landmark British films released at the height of the Cold War: Threads in 1984, and When the Wind Blows in 1986. Both films explore the devastating effects of nuclear attacks on ordinary people, and hoped to educate the public, as well as politicians, on the danger. For anyone who has seen these films, both will have lingered long in the mind. When this piece was published, the nuclear threat was re-emerging, with tensions between America and North Korea. Four years on, the lessons these films can teach us are much more urgent.This article was first published on newstatesman.com on 14 March 2018, and appeared in the 16 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman magazine. You can read the text version here.Written and read by Jude RogersYou might also enjoy listening to “The movie that doesn’t exist (and the fans who think it does)” by Amelia Tait.Podcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit www.newstatesman.com/podcastoffer
Rebecca Solnit on hope, despair and climate action
Rebecca Solnit has been writing about hope for nearly 20 years, starting with her 2003 essay "Hope in the Dark", which became a bestselling book of the same name. What began as a response to the cynicism that followed the invasion of Iraq ("we didn’t stop the war, we have no power, we can’t win") has evolved into a sustained argument for the value of protest. You have to take the long view, says Solnit, to see the positive social and political changes that have occurred in the past half-century: “history is full of ruptures and surprises”.In this powerful new essay, specially commissioned for Greta Thunberg’s guest edit of the New Statesman, Solnit examines the privilege of “climate despair”. It is easy for those who are safer from the impacts of global heating to surrender, she writes, or to decide that climate action is too difficult or too late; those who are in harm’s way – many of them in the Global South – do not have that luxury. Solnit looks at successful protests, from those against the Keystone XL pipeline to undocumented farm workers' fight against McDonald’s, and through them makes the case for hope. She writes, too, about how she keeps her own hope alive: “I’ve learned that the feeling that nothing will change is just mental weather, and that the record is all in favour of change… I try to distinguish between despair as a feeling and a forecast.”Rebecca Solnit is the author of Orwell’s Roses, Hope in the Dark, Men Explain Things to Me, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She serves on the board of the climate group Oil Change International, and recently launched the climate project Not Too Late (nottoolateclimate.com).This essay originally appeared in a special issue of the New Statesman guest edited by Greta Thunberg and featuring contributors including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Ai Weiwei, Adam McKay and Björk. You can read the text version of Solnit’s essay here, and more from the issue here. If you enjoyed listening to this, you might also enjoy Wrestling with Orwell: Ian McEwan on the art of the political novel. Written by Rebecca Solnit. Read by Emily Tamkin.
Grayson Perry on the rise and fall of Default Man
In 2014, the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry guest-edited the New Statesman on the theme of the “Great White Male”. Perry, who is known for his subversive ceramics and tapestries as well as his cross-dressing alter-ego Claire, wanted to explore issues of gender, masculinity, Britishness, class and the grip that white male power still exerts on the UK’s culture and politics. In his signature essay for the issue, he characterised this force as “Default Man”. Default Men are middle-class, heterosexual and usually middle-aged: they comprise a tiny global minority but, with “their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks”, Perry writes, “they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms and also in the media.” By closely examining Default Man’s tribe – dress, behaviour, identity – he discovers that, though it masquerades as “normal”, it is in fact deeply odd and, at times, disastrous for society. Perry argues that Default Man’s dominance was weakening – and that has been borne out in the years since the article was first published by the changing shape of the British establishment: the percentage of women MPs, for example, has risen from 24 per cent to 34 per cent. In September 2022, Liz Truss’s cabinet became the first to have no white men holding any of the four great offices of state. But in the same period, figures such as Jordan Peterson have popularised the idea that masculinity is “under assault” and must be reasserted. The global “men’s rights movement” has amplified this message. In this context, Grayson Perry’s advice for Default Man – to relax, ditch his macho baggage, and allow his grip on power to loosen – seems as prescient as ever. Written by Grayson Perry and read by Tom Gatti. This article originally appeared on newstatesman.com on 8 October 2014 and in the 10 October issue of the magazine. You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this, you might want to listen to “How to grow old in America” by Geoff Dyer. Podcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit www.newstatesman.com/podcastoffer
Grow-your-own steak: seeking a cure for the planet’s meat addiction
Even the most ardent carnivore might struggle to argue that meat is a force for good. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gases than the exhaust from every form of transport on the planet combined. And while doctors try to curb antibiotic prescription, 80 per cent of antibiotics used in the US are administered to healthy animals to minimise infections on crammed farms. Industrial animal farming is also a major cause of deforestation, water waste, water pollution, eutrophication and diseases. One solution, of course, is to stop eating meat. Another, posited by scientists and entrepreneurs in the US and UK, is to start growing it. In this magazine long read, reporter Jenny Kleeman (author of Sex Robots and Vegan Meat) looks at two start-ups – a shiny Silicon Valley facility and a “farm” on an Oxford industrial estate – which aim to do just that: multiplying stem cells in bioreactors, creating in-vitro chicken nuggets, burgers and steaks. For now, it is an expensive and time- and energy-consuming process – but some have predicted the global market for such products will reach $250bn by 2030. Is there demand, and how much do humans need meat, anyway? Written by Jenny Kleeman and read by Emma Haslett. This article originally appeared in the 22-28 April 2022 issue of the New Statesman, and on newstatesman.com on 20 April. You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this, you might want to listen to "The psychiatrists who don’t believe in mental illness” by Sophie McBainPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.
What drives Liz Truss? The people and ideas behind the PM’s economics
On 23 September 2022, the UK’s new prime minister and her chancellor delivered their explosive “mini-Budget”, cutting taxes for the richest in society and increasing government borrowing. Global markets were alarmed – but should the reality of Trussonomics have taken anyone by surprise? In this reported long read, the New Statesman’s writer at large Jeremy Cliffe looks at the ideas, institutions and thinkers who have shaped Truss’s politics for decades, from a society of free-market thinkers who gathered at Lake Geneva in 1947, to today’s libertarian think tanks in Massachusetts Avenue, Washington DC, and Tufton Street, London (where many of the current cabinet have worked). Cliffe talks to those who have followed Truss’s rise most closely, and who detect the influence of Thatcher, Reagan and even Khrushchev in her thinking. But is her government now too radical even for her former colleagues? And where will a prime minister who some believe “actually wants to destabilise things” go next? Written by Jeremy Cliffe and read by Rachel Cunliffe. This article originally appeared on 28 September on newstatesman.com and in the 30 September – 6 October issue of the magazine. You can read the text version here. If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy “Boris Johnson: The death of the clown” by Ed DocxPodcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit newstatesman.com/podcastoffer.