“The fashionable philosophy of individualism draws its respectability in part from an appeal to biology and specifically to the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection … The appeal to biology is not to the coherent body of scientific thought, but to a confused myth. It is a travesty of Darwinism to suggest that all that matters in social life is conflict. Social cohesion may become a critical condition for the survival of the society” (2,292 words)
Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, called it a conditioned reflex, and got a Nobel Prize for the work. Not quite. He used a buzzer, not a bell (the Russian word zvonok was mistranslated). His Nobel was for earlier work on digestive physiology. He called his discovery the “conditional reflex” — conditional on the sound of the bell. Bonus fact: He bottled gastric juice from his lab dogs and sold it as a remedy for dyspepsia (1,100 words)
By declaring a “caliphate” across part of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State claims a heritage stretching back to the “four Rightly Guided Caliphs” of the seventh century. Ottoman rulers called themselves caliphs until 1924. But the caliphate is not an institution, still less an institution with historical continuity. It is more of a motivational idea, a political fantasy analogous to communism’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” (2,000 words)
60,000 Americans were sterilised “often under coercion or without consent”, in programmes running until 1974. State Eugenics Boards could force surgery on anybody — often children — deemed likely to produce offspring with “a tendency to serious physical, mental or nervous disease or deficiency”. To be poor was sometimes enough. The policy was justified as “a humane, practical protection against threatened race degeneracy” (14,300 words)
Queen Victoria probably spared Britain a revolution. Her predecessors were mad and dissolute. The country could scarcely stand another bad monarch. Without Victoria, the Crown would have gone to Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, “a scar-faced brute who was widely believed to have murdered his valet and married a woman who had killed her previous two husbands, and whose extreme Toryism made him hated by the masses” (1,360 words)
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