How feelings took over the world

Populist turbulence, viral panics, experts under attack: instinct and emotion have overtaken facts and reason in the digital age – can feelings now propel us into a better future?

On a late Friday afternoon in November last year, police were called to London’s Oxford Circus for reasons described as “terror-related”. Oxford Circus underground station was evacuated, producing a crush of people as they made for the exits. Reports circulated of shots being fired, and photos and video appeared online of crowds fleeing the area, with heavily armed police officers heading in the opposite direction. Amid the panic, it was unclear where exactly the threat was emanating from, or whether there might be a number of attacks going on simultaneously, as had occurred in Paris two years earlier. Armed police stormed Selfridges department store, while shoppers were instructed to evacuate the building. Inside the shop at the time was the pop ...

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker review – life is getting better

Now is the best time to be alive claims this bold defence of scientific rationality – if it matters, we’ll solve it

How do you write a manifesto for something that is already established? This might sound like a problem that confronts conservatives, but over the past 20 years or so it has become more of a riddle for progressives. One response is provided by the movement known as “new atheism”, which successfully assembled a band of science-loving devotees, but too often seemed to end up in a cul-de-sac of stale machismo and Islamophobia.

More pertinently, the failed 2016 campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Remain demonstrated that, in the eyes of many people, “progress” simply meant more of the same. When people feel trapped and patronised by progress, then any alternative – even regress – will feel like freedom. Informing them that the policies of the past 40 years are ...

The Rise of the Outsiders by Steve Richards – how politicians brought populism on themselves

Although alive to politicians’ mistakes, the author fails to understand why people are seeking an alternative. His heroes are the same old insidersFollowing the surprise result of the general election, a discussion began regarding the failure of political journalists, pundits and pollsters to sense the shifting mood of the electorate. In some respects, this echoed the discussion about the economics profession following the banking crisis of 2008, but there were some key differences. Economists and regulators are expected to make accurate predictions, partly to protect us from catastrophic events. Despite the fun and games of predicting election results, it is silly to place the identical expectation on political analysts. Politics is by nature a deeply uncertain process. What was less forgivable was the acute arrogance of some commentators, who dismissed Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters out of hand – they didn’t even bother to try to understand what might ...

Margaret Thatcher by David Cannadine review – how Thatcher led to Brexit

This concise book avoids the usual controversies and offers a new analysis of Thatcher’s sweeping economic reforms The year 1986 was pivotal in Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. The “Big Bang” opened up the City of London to overseas banks, and the Single European Act harmonised regulations, which was to produce the “single market”. Astonishingly, it was also the first year since Thatcher came to power in May 1979 that the unemployment rate fell. Meanwhile, sales of council houses surged, passing 1m in September 1986. From most liberal economic perspectives, these are positive achievements. And yet, while carving his way through the warring judgments on Thatcher, David Cannadine notes that “there is some agreement” that she “performed better before 1986 than after”. Given the temptation to associate “Thatcherism” with market deregulation and a new era of private sector excess, it feels strange to be reminded that “yuppies” and credit card frenzies appeared ...