When faced with a conundrum in human interaction, we tend to seek the easiest explanation.
Why is she being so rude? Had a bad day. Why doesn’t he like me? Clearly has no taste. Why does my sister insist on texting me 20 messages in a row and then not reply for 10 days? Attention seeker.
We’re looking for nice, round, catch-all adjectives to explain why or how people do what they do. It makes actions that we don’t understand rational, ideas beyond our realm of knowledge digestible.
Most importantly, it removes us from the equation. The blame is on them, my hands are clean. Adios to the problem, that one’s on you.
But throughout history we have used one particular characteristic to explain manifold difference: madness.
The Soviet Union, for example, used psychiatric illness to both explain and confine nonconformist citizens. Leaders sanctioned a practice of using blanket “diagnoses such as ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ to subject dissidents and dissenting writers to evaluation and treatment” at psychiatric hospitals. The state had overt control of psychiatry; insubordination became culturally synonymous with insanity.
According to Cambridge academic Dr Rebecca Reich, “people genuinely thought if you walked into Red Square with a protest sign, endangering yourself and your family at a time when no one did that, then the only logical explanation must have been madness.”
Reading Reich’s work, I was particularly struck by how relevant this attitude is in understanding how we rationalise political and social movements now – specifically ones on the more extreme ends of the spectrum that we struggle to rationalise. Madness is ubiquitous in the language we so often use to explain difference.
You only have to tap the Twitter icon to see it: New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, calling Donald Trump “crazy” (at least three times); Kim Jong Un categorised as a “nuke-wielding madman”; Corbyn “is just insane”.
But we’re letting them off the hook. Calling someone crazy is a cop-out – a perfect get-out-of-jail-free card for your opponent, no explanation necessary. It’s the linguistic equivalent of throwing a milkshake at someone. Funny for a fleeting moment, perhaps, but invalid as an argument.
Madness is associated with terrorist attacks too. Because anyone who could commit atrocities like the Westminster Bridge tragedy must have a screw lose.
Sure, that fits nicely into a box that might help us rationalise their actions. And mental illness could potentially have been a contributing factor. But that alone is usually inadequate in explaining the behaviour.
It ignores radicalisation as an inherent social construct, borne out of years of social isolation, inequality and often poverty. We’re not only excusing the behaviour itself, but we’re excusing ourselves for fostering an environment that could possibly cultivate this thought. (Raffaello Pantucci’s We Love Death As You Love Life gives a sobering assessment of the radicalisation process, for reference.)
And all this before I have even broached the idea that trivialising mental illnesses might be damaging to those living with them.
So, if we want our arguments to be more productive, we need to dig a bit deeper for our explanations (even if at times it seems easier to just call someone a lunatic and hurl a milkshake at them).
Voters will head to the polls across the UK today for the European parliament elections. Seventy-three MEPs will be elected in nine constituencies in England, and one each in Scotland (6 MEPs), Wales (4) and Northern Ireland (3). Results will not be announced until all EU nations have voted over the next three days.
Theresa May is expected to announce her resignation tomorrow after a cabinet mutiny over her Brexit plan, which more recently has included an offer to facilitate the option of a second referendum. Andrea Leadsom yesterday became the 36th minister to resign during May’s time in office, saying “I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result.” The prime minister defied an attempt to force her from office last night, but her allies believe she will declare that she is leaving after a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, later today. (£)
Scientists have pinpointed the major sources of a mysterious recent rise in the ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11. According to a report in peer-reviewed journal Nature, industries in north-eastern China have released large quantities of the dangerous gas into the atmosphere in violation of the 1987 Montreal Protocol. CFC-11 was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s as a refrigerant and to make foam insulation.
Business & Economy
Sir Philip Green yesterday unveiled plans to save his retail empire. The Topshop tycoon plans to close 23 stores, putting 520 jobs under threat. Under the plan, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop stores will close and rents will be cut at another 194 stores in the Arcadia group. However, the pensions regulator has doubts that the deal will “adequately protect” the pensions of employees.
China’s recent $20 billion sale of US securities marks the country’s largest retreat from the market in more than two years and cannot be adequately explained by the typical ebb and flow of Beijing’s holdings. As the largest foreign creditor to the US government, with Treasury holdings in excess of $1.2 trillion, the move reignited fears that Beijing may be seeking to weaponise its holdings as part of the ongoing US-China trade war, wreaking havoc with the bond market and pushing interest rates higher. (£)
Japan’s Panasonic has halted business with Huawei to comply with US restrictions, dealing a fresh blow to the Chinese telecoms giant. Last week the US put Huawei on a list of companies that American firms – or companies which sell goods containing 25 per cent or more of US-originated materials – cannot trade with unless they have a licence.
What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 edged higher yesterday, closing up 0.07% at 7333.90. Bolstered by the pound’s fall, the rise bucked a trend which saw global markets fall. Many international firms listed in London earn revenues in dollars, meaning a weaker pound can be favourable to them.
Hop across the pond and it’s a different story. In the US all three main indexes traded lower, with analysts blaming ongoing trade tensions between the US and China for the fallout. Reports that Chinese surveillance firm Hikvision may be included in a US blacklist, building on restrictions issued against Huawei, further hit sentiment.
In the currency markets, the pound was down against both the dollar, at $1.27 and the euro, at €1.14.
Market analysts have blamed political uncertainty for the fall and reports that Theresa May is due to be ousted are exacerbating the issue. In addition, a no-deal Brexit looks increasingly likely; the trend is set to continue into the EU elections and beyond.
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Mitchells & Butlers
Alliance Pharma, Aviva, Avast, Bakkavor Group, Henry Boot, BMO Private Equity Trust, Coats Group, Cambridge Cognition Holdings, Dunedin Income Growth Inv Trust, EnQuest, Essentra, Foresight VCT, GCP Asset Backed Income Fund Limited, Gocompare.com Group, GYG, Highland Gold Mining Ltd., Hastings Group Holdings, Hydrogen Group, Ibstock, Inchcape, Ingenta, Instem, Intertek Group, JKX Oil & Gas, Strix Group, Legal & General Group, Intelligent Ultrasound Group, Manx Financial Group, Mercantile Investment Trust (The), Nucleus Financial Group, Pebble Beach Systems Group, Polypipe Group, Regional REIT Limited, Sabre Insurance Group, Shega Yamim (A.T.M.) Ltd (DI), Soco International, Secure Income Reit, StatPro Group, Stilo International, Trinity Exploration & Production
Int. Economic Announcemnts
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(09:00) IFO Business Climate (GER)
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(09:00) IFO Expectations (GER)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(15:00) New Home Sales (US)
Columns of Note
In yesterday’s New York Times, Olympic gold medal winner Allyson Felix shared her Nike pregnancy story. Last week, two of her former Nike teammates, Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, broke their nondisclosure agreements to unveil the shocking truth behind the company’s maternity policy. Now Felix has revealed her experience: Nike wanted to pay her 70 per cent less following the birth of her daughter. For a company that advertises its efforts to “empower women” the policy clearly didn’t match the marketing message. Thanks to Felix, Montaño and Goucher, Nike has now agreed to change its maternity policy.
Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan unpacks what happens when we wear headphones all day. Khazan herself tries to “noise-cancel life”, blocking out the sounds of her open office, noisy tube carriage and bin-facing apartment. And, given we no longer inhabit a world that allows for much privacy, so do most urban millennials. The trend is perhaps indicative of a wider theme: cancelling things we don’t want. We no longer befriend our neighbours regardless of their interest, thanks to algorithms we now read the news we want to read. So, are headphones “socially alienating” or simply another way of taking back control?
Did you know?
Many non-English languages do not have spelling bees, as the spelling of words is so predictable that spelling things correctly is not a challenge.
House of Commons
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (including Topical Questions),
Business Questions to the Leader of the House - Andrea Leadsom
Motion on the Yemen Peace Process - Keith Vaz, Alison Thewliss
Matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment - Ian Mearns
Excessive speeding and driving bans - Susan Elan Jones
House of Lords
Sponsoring research into the benefits of gaming for children’s mental health and wellbeing - Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe,
Whether the threat of prosecutions under the Suicide Act 1961 is causing suffering to mentally competent, terminally ill people at the end of their lives - Baroness Meacher
Ensuring that museums and galleries remain accessible to the public -Baroness Rawlings
Powers available to the Electoral Commission to deal with breaches of spending rules for referendums and elections - Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
Potential conflict between the right of members to speak freely in Parliament and the obligation under the rule of law to obey court orders -Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
Increasing the social value of public procurement by aligning it with Her Majesty’s Government’s Civil Society Strategy - Baroness McGregor-Smith
No business scheduled.
House of Commons
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House of Lords
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No business scheduled.