Social history

Too much learning is a dangerous thing

It is often said that the left does not understand human nature. Yet it is difficult to think of anything as antithetical to Homo sapiens as the notion, popularised by free marketeers during the 1980s, that people would willingly evacuate those parts of Britain where ‘market forces’ had decreed that collieries and steelworks were no longer profitable. People did not ‘get on their bikes’ — in Norman Tebbit’s notorious phrase — once industry was shut down; instead they grew resentful at a world they felt had little respect for their lives or communities. We often refer to these people as ‘left behind’ — or as the journalist and author David

Where are the scents of yesterday? Entire countries have lost their distinctive smell

Smell is the oldest sense. We owe our existence to it. The moment you start to talk about smell, things explode in a shimmering, chaotic starburst of epistemological and ontological complication. It is involuntary; we have no noselids. Smell stays switched on in our sleep: to inspire is to smell. It has a bigger ratio of genes than any system in any species. Yet it remains almost unspoken of. The existence of smell — either as verb or noun — seems a guilty secret. Mr Justice Caulfield, in Jeffrey Archer’s 1987 libel action against the Star, would have caused no comment had he suggested that Mary Archer had ‘elegance’. But

How kind is humankind?

Augustine had it that ‘no one is free from sin, not even an infant’. Machiavelli deemed that humans are ‘ungrateful, fickle hypocrites’, and even the founding father John Adams, the paragon of American democracy, was sure that all men would be tyrants if they could. Thucydides, Luther, Calvin, Burke, Bentham, Nietzsche, Freud — all were wrong about our natures. So was William Golding, creator of Lord of the Flies, himself a child-beater* and a drunk. For a treatise on human kindness, Rutger Bregman’s new book Humankind has surprisingly many villains. Here’s ‘a radical idea… a mind-bending drug… denied by religions and ideologies’, we’re told. Humans are not evil. Deep down,