To all Berlinecks: My ebook about moving to and living in Berlin is available!

Berlin is the city where the world goes to party, but also to live and to experiment with new ideas: social movements, technologies, fashion, art, music, sexuality and multiculturalism. The Berliners are creative, hedonistic, weird and some of the most tolerant people on earth.

What happened when I made my students turn off their phones

As a teacher who has long witnessed and worried about the impacts of technology in the classroom, I constantly struggle to devise effective classroom policies for smartphones. I used to make students sing or dance if their phones interrupted class, and although this led to some memorable moments, it also turned inappropriate tech use into a joke. Given the myriad deleterious effects of phones – addiction, decline of face-to-face socialisation, deskilling, and endless distraction, for starters – I want students to think carefully about their phone habits, rather than to mindlessly follow (or not follow) a rule.

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A ‘humanely’ killed animal is still killed – and that’s wrong

Western conventional wisdom about animal ethics is that killing an animal is not the problem; the problem is making the animal suffer. As long as we have treated and killed an animal in a ‘humane’ way, we have done nothing wrong. A compelling example of this belief is found in the case of dogs and cats, animals particularly valued in Western culture. If someone inflicts suffering on a dog or cat, they are excoriated.

Orwell knew: we willingly buy the screens that are used against us

Sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) have spiked twice recently, both times in response to political events. In early 2017, the idea of ‘alternative facts’ called to mind Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist and, as a clerk in the Ministry of Truth, a professional alternator of facts. And in 2013, the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden compared widespread government surveillance explicitly to what Orwell had imagined: ‘The types of collection in the book – microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us – are nothing compared to what we have available today.’

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We have an ethical obligation to relieve individual animal suffering

Last winter, unforgettable video footage online showed a starving polar bear, struggling in its Arctic hunting grounds. Because of global warming, the ice was thin and the food supply was scarce. The video generated a wellspring of sympathy for the plight of this poor creature, and invigorated calls for stronger efforts to combat climate change – and rightly so.

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Philosophy shrugged: ignoring Ayn Rand won’t make her go away

Philosophers love to hate Ayn Rand. It’s trendy to scoff at any mention of her. One philosopher told me that: ‘No one needs to be exposed to that monster.’ Many propose that she’s not a philosopher at all and should not be taken seriously. The problem is that people are taking her seriously. In some cases, very seriously.

A Russian-born writer who moved to the United States in 1926, Rand promoted a philosophy of egoism that she called Objectivism. Her philosophy, she wrote in the novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), is ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute’. With ideals of happiness, hard work and heroic individualism – beside a 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal based on her novel The Fountainhead (1943) – it’s perhaps no wonder that she caught the attention and imagination of the US.

Is religion universal in human culture or an academic invention?

If anything seems self-evident in human culture, it’s the widespread presence of religion. People do ‘religious’ stuff all the time; a commitment to gods, myths and rituals has been present in all societies. These practices and beliefs are diverse, to be sure, from Aztec human sacrifice to Christian baptism, but they appear to share a common essence. So what could compel the late Jonathan Zittell Smith, arguably the most influential scholar of religion of the past half-century, to declare in his book Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (1982) that ‘religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study’, and that it has ‘no independent existence apart from the academy’? 

Building Divided Berlin

Berlin was a partitioned city from the end of World War II and a city divided by a wall for about 28 years. A foreboding, fortified border down the middle of a city would seem a considerable obstacle to the continued evolution of its built environment. Yet not only did construction continue on both sides of the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989, but the division fueled development  in both direct and indirect ways.

Author: Emily Pugh

Cycling in Berlin – Between lifestyle and life-threatening

Cycling – for many Berliners, that means a lifestyle choice, the ideal form of transport and a steadfast belief that even 200 years after its invention, the future belongs to the bicycle.

“I love the idea of a city with more space and better air,” I’m told by a cyclist who rides her bike rain or shine. Yet so far, an idea is all it is: Every day, from traffic light to traffic light, it’s bumper to bumper on Berlin’s main roads (and not just there). The lone warriors in those cars are plagued by traffic jams, watching as cyclists zoom past. But even in the rigid minds of many drivers something is starting to shift. To be sure, car traffic in the city centre is in decline, yet only 13% of all journeys were conducted by bicycle in early 2018. For comparison: In Münster, Germany’s bicycle city no. 1, it’s about 40 percent.

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