John Lanchester: my current favorite article writer

I love reading articles by John Lanchester. He has a very broad range of interests, is obviously extremely smart and thoughtful, and is an excellent writer. Here are three articles that I particularly enjoyed.

The Case Against Civilization. A fascinating article about how the Neolithic Revolution (agriculture and the domestication of animals) was probably one of the worst things that happened to humans. Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in human history.” Sample paragraph from the article: “In one column of the ledger, we would have the development of a complex material culture permitting the glories of modern science and medicine and the accumulated wonders of art. In the other column, we would have the less good stuff, such as plague, war, slavery, social stratification, rule by mercilessly appropriating élites, and Simon Cowell.”

You are the Product. A wonderful but scary article which is ostensibly a review of three books but ends up being a deep look into Facebook, advertising, fake news and the manipulation of society . Sample paragraph: “It’s crucial to this that Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth. No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences. Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content. This is probably one reason for the change in the company’s mission statement. If your only interest is in connecting people, why would you care about falsehoods? They might even be better than the truth, since they are quicker to identify the like-minded.”

Brexit Blues. A deep and thoughtful analysis of the background to Brexit and likely outcome. Sample paragraph: “These [high-skill, high value industrial] jobs are dependent on the UK being a liberal, open, internationalised economy with high skill levels in particular areas. That has been the direction of travel in UK politics and economics since 1979, and both parties have pursued policies with that goal in mind. The Labour government offered more social protection but did so largely by stealth and without explaining and arguing for its actions. There was no strategy to replace the lost industry; that was left to the free market. With these policies, parts of the country have simply been left behind. The white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been. No political party has anything to offer it except varying levels of benefits. The people in the rich parts of the country pay the taxes which support the poor parts. If I had to pick a single fact which has played no role in political discourse but which sums up the current position of the UK, it would be that most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48 per cent net contributors, 52 per cent net recipients. It’s a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.”

Links and Other Clicks

The Case Against Civilization at the New Yorker

You are the Product at the London Review of Books

Brexit Blues at the London Review of Books

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