The Science of Being Nice

The word “nice” has an unusual history in the English language. Originally a term for “foolish”, its meaning over the centuries has morphed from “wanton” to “reserved” to “fastidious”. These days, it has become a somewhat bland and opaque description of personality: “she’s really nice.” But its common usage hints at the characteristics that matter deeply to us. … Continued

What is Populism?

It is sometimes said that the history of ideas is the history of words, because what we are able to think is conditioned by what we are able to say. But this claim seems a bit presumptuous. It might be more accurate to say that the history of ideas is a history of compelling but … Continued

John Quincy Adams on Busyness and Purpose

“Those who work much do not work hard,” Henry David Thoreau observed in his prescient meditation on the myth of productivity and the measure of meaningful labor a century before the dawn of the cult of workaholism, which continues to bedevil us with ever-accelerating virulence to this day. A generation earlier, John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767–February 23, 1848) — another … Continued

The Post-Truth Landscape

In early December last year, a twenty-eight-year-old man from North Carolina showed up in the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in the Chevy Chase area of Washington DC, armed with an assault rifle. Edgar Maddison Welch discharged the weapon three times into the walls and ceiling of the restaurant. The police, naturally, were called; and Mr … Continued

What is Dark Matter?

Dark matter is as tangible as stars and planets to most astronomers. We routinely map it out. We conceive of galaxies as lumps of dark matter with dabs of luminous material. We understand the formation of cosmic structure, as well as the evolution of the universe as a whole, in terms of dark matter. Yet a … Continued

Words Aren’t Violence

The excuse we have often heard for raucous campus protests over the last few years is that they are justified as a way of countering the “violence” of speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray. To prevent them from speaking is, according to this line of argument, using mere sound to eliminate the actual harm … Continued

Why Grief is So Difficult to Describe

Grief, especially when it’s raw, can feel claustrophobically private. Trying to make others fully understand what it feels like is akin to describing a colour only you can see. It’s no wonder that grieving people so often rely on clichés—“Heaven gained another angel,” or “It was his time.” It can be challenging for writers to describe … Continued

If Scientists Were Celebrities

Bumping into Millie Dresselhaus in the halls of MIT, where she was an Institute Professor, would invariably earn you a warm smile. It was hard to imagine a more modest or down-to-earth scientist. Which is why it was such a pleasure to see a video ad by General Electric imagining the late scientist (who passed … Continued

The Challenge of Identity Politics

Donald Trump’s victory last November was a shattering event for American liberalism. Surveying the destruction, the liberal Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla wrote that “one of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.” When his essay arguing for … Continued

The Met’s Bizarre Resistance ‘Art’

Mega Bog (“experimental melodic jazz-pop” musician). Ojay Morgan (aka “Zebra Katz”). Shilpa Ray (self-described “fire breathing Cyclops”). Bassem Youssef (political comedian). DJ Mojo (at press time, 168 “likes” on Facebook). These artists, among many others, comprise the lineup for Theater of the Resist, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s summer performance series of dance, music, film, and … Continued