Malthusian ideas are enjoying a revival, perhaps unsurprising in an age of ecological crisis. Across the world, food and water supplies are critically threatened by climate breakdown. Thanks to the combined effects of pollution and extractive agribusiness, the soil in Britain has fewer than a hundred harvests left. You don’t have to look hard to find someone arguing that we are breeding ourselves into oblivion. To the fear that there will not be enough food for earth’s people, Malthus prescribes a beguilingly simple solution: reduce the number of people on earth.
A decade ago, the cellist Anton Lukoszevieze was reading Gene Santoro’s magisterial biography of Charles Mingus, Myself When I Am Real, when a brief mention of a forgotten, maybe even lost composition captured his imagination. Mingus’s String Quartet No.1 was performed for the first and, during his lifetime, only time at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1972. It wasn’t recorded. Lukoszevieze got copies of the sheet music from the Mingus papers housed at the Library of Congress in Washington DC and discovered that, true to form, Mingus had rewritten the rulebook, including a part for voice and trading one of a conventional string quartet’s violins for a second cello.
I know that a nation doesn’t experience trauma in the same way as a person, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the Leave campaign’s latching onto the phrase ‘take back control’ hadn’t been not only about appealing to what Dominic Cummings called a desire for ‘loss aversion’, but had also touched on something deeper, darker, more self-destructive.
Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow. President Felipe Nyusi is running for re-election and, for the first time, provincial governors will be directly elected rather than appointed by the president. The campaign has been fraught and accusations of irregular behaviour have mounted up, primarily against the ruling party, Frelimo. Last Monday, 7 October, Anastacio Matavele was leaving a training workshop for election monitors in Xai-Xai, the capital of Gaza Province, when he was gunned down in his car. Matavele was the head of the local election observer mission, and it seems likely that his murder was linked to a voter registration scandal.
In the latest episode of the Talking Politics podcast, David Runciman, Gary Gerstle and Helen Thompson discuss the state of the Trump presidency, from impeachment and cover-ups to Syria and Ukraine. They ask what it would take for Republican senators to desert him and what the collateral damage is likely to be for the Democratic presidential candidates.
In June 1982 I was spending my usual summer at the Aspen Center for Physics when I was approached by Philip Anderson. He was a very persuasive person who had won the Nobel Prize five years earlier. I didn’t really know him but he presented me with almost a command. It looked as if AT&T was going to be broken up and Anderson was worried about what might happen to Bell Laboratories, where he worked. He wanted me to write something about it, preferably for the New Yorker. My problem was that I knew almost nothing about Bell Labs. I knew that the transistor had been discovered there as had the radiation left over from the Big Bang. I also knew that it was an enormous laboratory employing some 25,000 people. Under these circumstances how could I possibly write something that made any sense? But Anderson is as I said a very persuasive person so I agreed to try something.
In the thirty years since Francis Fukuyama declared that history had ‘ended’ with the decisive victory of Western liberal democracy over all other ideologies, his thesis has been mocked as facile, triumphalist or just plain wrong; but it has never quite gone away. This year it could even be said to be having a moment.