Nothing we can do will make the world more free, fair and prosperous than giving women control over their own bodies

Marchers hold signs that say “Resist Sis” and “Viva La Revolucion” in front of Trump International Hotel on January 19, 2019
Marchers hold signs that say “Resist Sis” and “Viva La Revolucion” in front of Trump International Hotel on January 19, 2019
Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

By Victoria Bateman

Women’s bodies are one of the biggest political battlegrounds of our time. What should in many ways be personal — a woman’s body — is instead political. The assault ranges from the recent clampdown on family planning in the United States (and its global gag rule prohibiting funding for international family-planning organisations that discuss or offer abortion), to new repressive restrictions on clothing, including ‘burqa bans’, or new laws in a growing number of European countries that aim to abolish women’s ability to monetise their bodies. …

On Nias island, the heart can be ‘squeezed’, ‘hot’, even ‘hairy’. What can anthropology say about unfamiliar emotional zones?

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Stone/Getty Images Plus

By Andrew Beatty

In his classic thought experiment set out in ‘What Is An Emotion?’ (1884), William James, pioneer psychologist and brother of the novelist Henry, tried to imagine what would be left of emotion if you subtracted the bodily symptoms. What, for example, would grief be ‘without its tears, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breastbone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more.’ …

Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos

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Photo: William Farlow/Unsplash

By Sahanika Ratnayake

Three years ago, when I was studying for a Masters in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, mindfulness was very much in the air. The Department of Psychiatry had launched a large-scale study on the effects of mindfulness in collaboration with the university’s counselling service. Everyone I knew seemed to be involved in some way: either they were attending regular mindfulness classes and dutifully filling out surveys or, like me, they were part of a control group who didn’t attend classes, but found themselves caught up in the craze even so. We gathered in strangers’ houses to meditate at odd hours, and avidly discussed our meditative experiences. …

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre defied the gloomy existentialist stereotype. They enjoyed having a good time.

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Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in Paris, June 1977. Photo: STF/AFP/Getty Images

By Skye C Cleary

Existentialism has a reputation for being angst-ridden and gloomy mostly because of its emphasis on pondering the meaninglessness of existence, but two of the best-known existentialists knew how to have fun in the face of absurdity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre spent a lot of time partying: talking, drinking, dancing, laughing, loving and listening to music with friends, and this was an aspect of their philosophical stance on life. …

We’re opportunistic, inventive and flexible animals, and there is no ‘natural’ or ‘right’ way to bring up our children

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Photo: Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images

By Olga Mecking

Motherhood has never felt natural to me. I wasn’t very good at understanding my babies’ needs or what their cries meant, something that other parents seemed to know without giving it too much thought. ‘She’s just tired,’ they would say. Or: ‘This sound means he’s hungry.’ And I had no idea, and felt like a failure.

Even worse, I didn’t like the feeling of my baby attached to me. I felt ambivalent about nursing her; I didn’t hate it and sometimes I enjoyed it, but I felt burdened by the intensity that raising a child required.

It’s a cliché that parenting is hard but what is even harder is the judgment from other members of society — parents and nonparents alike. When I talked about my experiences in articles and blog posts, one word often came up to describe mothers like me: unnatural. …

The backlash against antidepressants results from a suspicion of medicine, and misunderstands the very nature of depression

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Photo: Pavel Abramov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Vasco M Barreto

I was first prescribed antidepressants in 2000. Ever since, I have been on and off these drugs, mostly because the idea of taking them made me uncomfortable. It was a mixture of guilt, probably not unlike the guilt some athletes must feel for taking a prohibited doping substance; shame for needing a pill that had such a profound impact on my behaviour; and frustration with the recurrent episodes of depression that would bring me back to the antidepressants I would then quickly abandon.

I broke this cycle when my daughters were born and I realised that it would be irresponsible to stop treatment because being a good father meant having a stable mood. It was a purely pragmatic decision, made without resolving the existential issues that antidepressants had raised for me before. That being the case, I do not write with the fervour of the newly converted, although sometimes I speculate about how much smoother my life would have been had I decided much sooner to stick to the antidepressants. …

Across time and place, royal women wielded power in remarkably similar ways, building political agency on a par with kings

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Power behind the throne. The tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine alongside Henry II of England in the church at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France. Photo: Martin Cooper/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Laura Spinney

Eleanor of Aquitaine is often portrayed as one of the most powerful queens in history. Wife, mother and counsellor of kings, crusader, landowner, patron of the arts, her power eventually grew so great — at least in the eyes of one royal husband, Henry II of England — that he chose to lock her up. But what if Eleanor wasn’t exceptional? What if, in the manner and the degree to which she exerted power, she was very much in line with royal women throughout history?

That suggestion is not original. It has been raised by a persistent if minority chorus of academics — mainly feminist archaeologists such as Joyce Marcus and Joan Gero — for decades, but the problem has always been identifying a norm for queenly power. In a recently published paper, the political anthropologist Paula Sabloff of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico attempts to do just that, by comparing the roles and political clout of royal women in eight premodern societies spanning five continents and more than 4,000 years. …

Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not. She doesn’t love us or want what’s best for us.

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Photo: Alexandr Podvalny/Unsplash

By Molly Hodgdon

To live in Vermont is to be smothered by nature’s beauty on a daily basis. Everywhere you look is another peaceful pond, another shimmering lake or emerald hill or misty field graced by a family of grazing deer. It’s almost obnoxious, like that one friend you have who’s so pretty, funny, smart and talented that you want to hate her stupid gorgeous face.

Immersed as we are in these exquisite pastoral gifts, Vermonters tend to forget that Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not. She doesn’t love us or want what’s best for us. …

A cat is alive, a sofa is not: that much we know. But a sofa is also part of life. Information theory tells us why.

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Photo: ParkerDeen/iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Sara Walker and Michael Lachmann

On a sofa in the corner of the room, a cat is purring. It seems obvious that the cat is an example of life, whereas the sofa itself is not. But should we trust our intuition? Consider this: Isaac Newton assumed a universal time flowing without external influence, and relative time measured by clocks — just as our perception tells us. Two centuries later, Albert Einstein dropped the concept of universal time, and instead introduced a concept of time measured only locally by clocks. Who before Einstein would have thought that time on the Sun, the Moon, and even on each of our watches runs at slightly different rates — that time is not a universal absolute? …

If psychedelic substances are a portal to ultimate reality, why have they been the preserve of white, college-educated men?

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Mabel Dodge Luhan, photographed circa 1934, wrote the first subjective account of a peyote trip from a female perspective. Photo: Carl Van Vechten Collection/Getty Images

By Mike Jay

A recent study of users of novel psychedelic substances found, probably to no-one’s surprise, that they are more likely than average to be male, white and college-educated. This has been the public face of psychedelic culture ever since it emerged more than half a century ago. All of its figureheads, from Aldous Huxley to Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Hamilton Morris have been drawn from this limited demographic. But as the use of psychedelics expands, evolves and becomes more diverse, its longstanding biases of gender and ethnicity are becoming more conspicuous. …


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