Humankind by Timothy Morton review – no more leftist defeatism, everything is connected

A bracing book from the fashionably wild thinker embraces anarchist and Buddhist ideas in an argument for solidarity with all that exists

In 2015, Cecil the lion was shot with an arrow by a big-game hunting American called Walter Palmer. Facebook and Twitter erupted in outrage against the insouciant dentist, UN resolutions were passed, Palmer was stalked and his extradition to face charges in Zimbabwe demanded.

Timothy Morton takes Palmer’s flash-mob shaming as a hopeful sign. We may be living in dark times – the epoch he and other radical thinkers call the Anthropocene, in which our species has committed ecological devastation, presided over the sixth mass extinction event (animal populations across the planet have decreased by as much as 80% since 1900) and got our degraded kicks by offing lovely lions. But, in a dialectical twist, humans are becoming so aware of what we’ve done that we are now ...

Humankind by Timothy Morton review – no more leftist defeatism, everything is connected

A bracing book from the fashionably wild thinker embraces anarchist and Buddhist ideas in an argument for solidarity with all that exists

In 2015, Cecil the lion was shot with an arrow by a big-game hunting American called Walter Palmer. Facebook and Twitter erupted in outrage against the insouciant dentist, UN resolutions were passed, Palmer was stalked and his extradition to face charges in Zimbabwe demanded.

Timothy Morton takes Palmer’s flash-mob shaming as a hopeful sign. We may be living in dark times – the epoch he and other radical thinkers call the Anthropocene, in which our species has committed ecological devastation, presided over the sixth mass extinction event (animal populations across the planet have decreased by as much as 80% since 1900) and got our degraded kicks by offing lovely lions. But, in a dialectical twist, humans are becoming so aware of what we’ve done that we are now ...

Tom Phillips: two skulls, 50,000 postcards and a book that took 50 years to finish

He’s now in his 80s but the man who painted Beckett, illustrated Hell and made art out of beard trimmings, is still fired up. As his half-backwards opera Irma returns, we join the great experimentalist for a boozy lunch of artisanal bubble and squeak

One day 51 years ago, Tom Phillips strolled from his home in Peckham, south London, with his friend, the American painter Ron Kitaj. His idea was to buy a secondhand book at random and work on it for the rest of his life as an art project. Whatever book Phillips found, he would draw, paint and collage over its pages. The result would be a found text with a new story, a creative betrayal of the original. “Betrayal is too strong a word,” the 80-year-old painter, poet and composer corrects me as we drink tea at his kitchen table. “I envisaged myself climbing on someone else’s ...

Stranger in a Strange Land by George Prochnik review – Gershom Scholem and Zionism

The author, like his subject, rejected consumer capitalism and travelled to Israel to find a more meaningful Jewish life. But problems arose … One day before the outbreak of the first world war, a precocious boy called Gerhard Scholem burst into a room at home and began the rite of symbolically castrating his father. “Papa, I think I want to be a Jew,” he exclaimed. He was planning to learn Hebrew, study the Bible and become a Zionist. His father, an assimilationist German businessman who despised his Jewish heritage, was appalled: “You want to return to the ghetto?” he asked. “You’re the ones who are living in the ghetto,” his son snapped back. “Only you won’t admit it.” Scholem meant that his father had established the family in a gilded bourgeois Jewish prison within a hostile German society – his friend, Walter Benjamin, who grew up in a ...

American freakshow: the extraordinary tale of Truevine’s Muse brothers

Beth Macy’s bestselling book tells the story of two African American brothers with albinism who were kidnapped and forced to perform in a 1920s circus. What can their story teach us about racism in the US today?In October 1927, the circus came to Roanoke, Virginia. It was a vast affair. There were four locomotives, 100 railcars, 1,600 people, five rings, six stages, elephants and high-wire acts. Among the attractions arriving in town were two albino African-American men called George and Willie Muse, famous across the United States as Eko and Iko, the sheepheaded cannibals from Ecuador. But the Muse brothers weren’t from Ecuador: on that day, as their train pulled up, George and Willie were coming home. Ringling Brothers circus pitched its tents on Roanoke fairgrounds where, a year before, thousands had attended a Ku Klux Klan rally, its leaders declaring then that “their organisation was simply to keep ...

Habermas by Stefan Müller-Doohm review – from Hitler Youth to famed philosopher

The Holocaust, religion and the EU’s future are all central issues in the biography of a celebrated, combative thinkerIn 1953, the 24-year-old Jürgen Habermas wrote a newspaper article publicly challenging Germany’s greatest living philosopher to explain himself. What had Martin Heidegger meant in his 1935 book Introduction to Metaphysics when he referred to the “inner truth and greatness” of national socialism? How could Heidegger have allowed the republication of these lectures without any revisions or commentary, particularly as he had claimed his membership of the Nazi party before the war had been an aberration? This was a key moment in Habermas’s intellectual and moral development. Born in 1929, he had been one of the “anti-aircraft generation” of postwar intellectuals, along with novelist Günter Grass and sociologists Ralf Dahrendorf and Niklas Luhmann, all of whom had, as teenagers, helped to defend Hitler. At 15, Habermas was, like most of ...

Raoul Martinez on writing this year’s essential text for thinking radicals

If we are shaped by everything from politics to genetics, can we really be held responsible for our actions? In his book Creating Freedom, the author says we must change our attitude to society’s losers ‘If our choices are produced by a brain we didn’t choose, I don’t think it makes sense to say we are truly responsible for our actions,” says Raoul Martinez, pausing to sip from his glass of stout. I eye him over my cappuccino. If I spilled his pint now, would I deserve punishment for this action, in the form of a punch on the nose from the 33-year-old author of this season’s must-have text for thinking radicals? Apparently not. “If that is true,” resumes Martinez, “then the moment we blame or say certain actions deserve punishment seems to be incoherent.” This may seem the stuff of a million undergraduate philosophy essays on the free ...