Neil Levy’s Posts

Google it, Mate.

Written by Neil Levy

There’s just been an election in Australia. In elections nowadays, politicians attempt to portray themselves as one of us, or at least as someone who is in touch with ‘us’ (whoever ‘we’ are). Hence the (apparently disastrous) pictures of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich. Increasingly, journalists see testing politicians to see whether they’re really one of us as part of their jobs, even outside election campaigns. Hence Rishi Sunak being asked on TV about the cost of bread, or Dominic Raab claiming he’s not out of touch because he knows the cost of unleaded petrol.

In the early days of the Australian election, Anthony Albanese (then the opposition leader) stumbled several times, failing to recall the official interest rate and the unemployment rate and, later, details of one his own major policies.  Many commentators thought these ‘gaffes’ would harm him; it’s impossible to tell whether they did but they certainly didn’t wound him fatally: he’s now the prime minister. Despite the narrative around Miliband and the sandwich, it’s impossible to tell whether the electorate really cares about these errors and ‘gotcha’ moments. But when should we care? When is it appropriate to expect politicians to be able to answer detailed questions about policies and everyday life and when is it pointless theatre? Continue reading

The End Of The Egg?

written by Neil Levy

There are no more free range eggs in the UK. They’re a victim of the pandemic – not COVID, but avian flu. Avian flu is devastating to the poultry industry, most immediately because outbreaks lead to the culling of all the birds. Avian flu can infect humans and has caused multiple deaths over the years; prevention in domestic birds is therefore aimed not only at reducing the costs to producers but also at reducing the risks to human health. Keeping them indoors is aimed at preventing the virus spreading from wild birds to the poultry. Continue reading

Social Media and the Loss of Knowledge

written by Neil Levy

Here’s the common view of social media and its epistemic effects. Social media leads to people sequestering themselves in echo chambers, and echo chambers cause extreme and/or unjustified beliefs. When we don’t exchange opinions with a variety of people, we don’t have access to the full range of evidence and argument. Instead, because echo chambers form around already likeminded people, they lead to the entrenchment of initial views, no matter how good or bad they might have been to begin with. Continue reading

Writing Is Not That Easy: Grammarly As Affordance.

Written by Neil Levy

I recently received an email from someone about a grant application in which I’m involved.  In this email, the person coordinating the grant asked recipients to suggest revisions to the text, but noted that as it stood it had a score of 100% on Grammarly. He asked that any changes be made carefully, so that this score was retained.

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Cancelling Books

Written by Neil Levy

One of the latest flare ups in the culture wars concerns book publishing. Recent books by Mike Pence, Woody Allen and by Milo Yiannopoulos have all been met with protests, many of them stemming from staff within the publishing houses. Sometimes, these protests have been successful, at least to the extent that the publisher has decided not to publish the book.

Conflict over these books has pitted younger staff at publishing houses against older. It’s also pitted advocates of (relatively) unconstrained free speech against those who support no-platforming certain speakers. Perhaps showing my age, I find myself on both sides of these debates. These are very different cases, and the case for no-platforming Yiannopoulos seems strong; in the other cases, I am less certain. Elsewhere, I have given an underappreciated reason why we might often want to no-platform (a strong reason; not necessarily a decisive reason). In this post, though, I want to rebut some common arguments against cancelling books. Continue reading

Thoughts about Final Thoughts

By Neil Levy

 

I’ve written a brief article for Aeon Magazine, on whether the regrets of the dying give us insight into what really matters. Here’s the first paragraph.

How do we find out what really matters in life? One way might be to ask those who are dying. They might occupy a perspective that allows them to see better what’s trivial and what’s truly significant. The prospect of imminent death might carry them above petty squabbles and the pursuit of money and status, and allow them a clear view of the goods that make our lives worthwhile.

If you’re interested, you can read it here.

In Defence of Pretentiousness

Written by Neil Levy

In Paul Brok’s book Into the Silent Land, the English neuropsychologist tells the story of Michael. Following a head injury, Michael is disinhibited. When he first returned from rehab, he lived on a diet of fish fingers and Led Zeppelin.  Michael experiences the change as a return to authenticity. “He’d always liked these things and now he didn’t feel he should pretend otherwise.” Continue reading

The Urge to Destroy is Also a Creative Urge

Written by Neil Levy

Statues are the latest front in our ongoing culture wars.  Symbolism (as all sides agree) is not the be all and end all of politics, but it does matter. Those who want the statues to fall argue that they are harmful, because they commemorate racists (and worse) and thereby contribute to making these attitudes, and the exclusion they enable, acceptable. Those who want statues preserved argue that we should learn from history, not attempt to erase it. At most, they say, statues should be framed better, with explanatory plaques that note the misdeeds of the person commemorated and place them in context. Continue reading

The Coronavirus: Signs of Hope?

Written by Neil Levy

These are scary times. The death toll from Covid-19 raises hour by hour and in most countries the rate of new infections continues to grow. While most of us know that if we contract the virus the disease will likely be mild for us, we have friends and family who are at much higher risk. As society shuts down and our lives become more and more constrained, our anxiety rises along with it. Continue reading

Cross Post: Climate change: How do I cope with inevitable decline?

Written by Neil Levy

Originally published in The Conversation

I recently watched an interview with David Attenborough, in which he was asked whether there is hope that things can get better for our planet. He replied that we can only slow down the rate at which things get worse. It seems to me that this is the first time in history we have known things will get worse for the foreseeable future. How do you live in the shadow of such rapid and inevitable decline? And how can you cope with the guilt? Paul, 42, London.

I agree that we live in a unique moment in history. This isn’t like a war or an economic recession, where you know things will be bad for a few years but eventually improve. Never before have we known that the deterioration of not just our countries, but our entire planet, will continue for the foreseeable future – no matter what we do. As Attenborough says, we can (and should) fight to slow the rate at which things get worse, even though we can’t realistically hope for improvement.

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