Why being politically correct is using free speech well
Martin Amis explains why the biggest challenge of free speech is learning to use it responsibly.
Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949, the son of the writer Kingsley Amis.
He was educated in schools in Britain, Spain and the USA, and graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with First Class Honours in English. He wrote and published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), while working as an editorial assistant at the Times Literary Supplement. The novel won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1974 and was followed by Dead Babies in 1975. He was Literary Editor of the New Statesman between 1977 and 1979, publishing his third novel, Success, in 1978. Regarded by many critics as one of the most influential and innovative voices in contemporary British fiction, Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. His work has been heavily influenced by American fiction, especially the work of Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow. A loose trilogy of novels set in London begins with Money: A Suicide Note (1984), a satire of Thatcherite amorality and greed, continues with London Fields27 March, 2018
Martin Amis: I think it’s indivisible, freedom of speech: I mean, either you’ve got it or you haven’t. And every diminution of freedom of speech diminishes everyone and lessens the currency of freedom of speech. But I feel nothing but unease when it’s done lightly. It has to be earned. The controversial statement has to be earned. It can’t just be tossed off. You have to be able to back it up. So I would urge civilized standards of moderation on both sides.
It has to be understood that freedom of speech isn’t just a sort of decadent frippery that we gather around us like all our other comforts and privileges. Democracy can’t work without freedom of speech. It’s an absolute cornerstone of democracy. So we have to be very responsible about this freedom but there’s no giving it up or modifying it, even.
I would say it’s an offshoot of what’s solidified under political correctness, and I’m a fan of political correctness. No one ever says, 'Oh, I’m very politically correct,' but, in fact, it’s good that we are—not the outer fringe PC, but raising of the standards about what can be said, and exclusion of things you could have said and got away with it 10 or 20 years ago and now seems discordant.
And who wants to go back to being opposed to gay marriage? The ease with which that became the orthodoxy was, I thought, tremendously encouraging, and the idea that Donald Trump has cast off these “shackles” and we can go back to being brutes again is a terrible prospect.
PC has been an agent for certain sort of evolutionary acceleration towards progressive ideas, and I think that’s been very good. I mean, when I look back at my very early fiction of 40-odd years ago I’m shocked and made uneasy by some of the liberties I took that I certainly wouldn’t take now. It doesn’t interfere with the freedom of writers, political correctness—it gives you challenges every now and then, you have to sort of work around it a bit. But I never resent that, and I think it’s self-improvement on a general scale that we’ve all responded to.
Freedom of speech is absolute, says novelist Martin Amis, and as such it must be defended absolutely—even when you don't agree with it. Free speech is what keeps democracies from descending into totalitarian states, but how you exercise your right is as important as having it. "I feel nothing but unease when it’s done lightly... You have to be able to back it up. So I would urge civilized standards of moderation on both sides," says Amis, who admits he's a fan of political correctness—although he's clear to discount the extreme policing of outer-fringe PC culture. Free speech and political correctness are not mutually exclusive, as many presume, and Amis argues that being PC is actually a responsible use of that freedom. Do we really want to just "get away" with saying things, or do we want to raise the standard of discourse? Saying something repugnant without much thought or consideration may not have legal consequences, but there are social ones. Martin Amis' latest book is a collection of essays entitled The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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