Why You're 'Now Treated Like a Lunatic' If You Disagree With Popular Opinion

Political discourse in Britain has devolved toward ludicrousness. Filling the gap is a generation of keen, talented writers presenting weighty ideas on stages across the nation.

Sir David Hare: The reason the theater is uniquely valuable is because you have to concentrate. In other words, you’re hijacked for two hours and you’ve got to turn off your cellphone. You’ve got to stop talking to your neighbor and you’ve actually all got to examine something together. Now some people would be bored and some people will look away while it’s happening and other people will cough; another will head straight for the exit. And some people will not choose to focus. But at a good play, what you get is this extraordinary act of concentration.

I suppose what I’m talking about is scrutiny. In other words, it’s one thing to look at an idea on the page and run it through your brain. But it’s a completely different thing to be in a room where a whole group of people make a moral examination together of actions and words. Now clearly for the next generation after mine who were brought up on television, cinema, video, the moving image, beginning of computers — they weren’t really interested in theater. And in England, at least, it’s not a very distinguished bunch of playwrights that follow mine. However, the young, who are now bored stiff with computers, bored stiff with film, bored stiff with television. They actually have taken up theater again. And what we have is a brilliant crop of young writers, a lot of them female, working in Britain. And the theater is being regenerated by the young. And particularly at a time when public discourse, in Britain at least, is so impoverished. And so one-track, you know. We, now, for anyone to descend from orthodoxy about neoliberal economics. That the only way of the world advancing is apparently through deregulated markets, cheap labor, you know. If you say anything else, if you start talking about workers’ rights, you’re now treated like a lunatic in Britain. They want to put you in a white coat and take you away. And so the theater’s the place where people can look at ideas again.

There’s a very beautiful saying of Raymond Williams, who was my old tutor. And Raymond Williams once said if people cannot have justice officially, they will have it unofficially. And unofficially, at the moment, means by going to the theater.

What's the point of plays in the age of digital cinema? According to Sir David Hare (who knows a thing or two about good theatre), theater is uniquely valuable because it demands concentration of its audience. "You’re hijacked for two hours and you’ve got to turn off your cellphone. You’ve got to stop talking to your neighbor and you’ve actually all got to examine something together."

One cannot possibly overstate how momentous a live performance can be. A powerful play spurs action. It encourages critical thought and discourse. British theater is thriving at the moment and it's because a generation of keen, talented writers are presenting weighty, contrary ideas about society and politics.

Hare's latest book, titled The Blue Touch Paper, is a memoir of his early life and career.


To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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