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History

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.

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’? 

Built on a swamp – a brief history of Berlin, briefly

Berlin's history is certainly part of its appeal. Some of that history is wonderful and some is quite the opposite. Its story had an inauspicious beginning but it led to great heights: residence of the kings of Prussia, capital of the German Empire, metropolis feted throughout the world in the 1920s, capital of the Third Reich, ruined city, front line in the Cold War, city of the famous Berlin Wall – and, now, once more capital of a united Germany and seat of government.

One more reason to love Berlin: Rosa Parks' home has been rebuilt in Wedding

This little, inconspicuous house, painted white, doesn't actually belong here. And yet it is there, in the middle of Berlin's district Wedding. The artist Ryan Mendoza has brought it from Detroit to Berlin. Threatened by demolition, it represents an important part of American history. At the end of the 1950s, the African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks lived in this house. When the bus driver demanded her place, she remained seated.