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  • Worldwide, People Divided on Whether Life Today Is Better Than in the Past

Current economic conditions a key factor in assessing progress

Table of contents.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Methodology

society then and now essay

Fifty years ago, the world was a very different place. The United States and its allies were locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, personal computers and mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction, and much of the world’s population had yet to experience substantial improvements in life expectancy and material well-being .

Numerous countries found themselves at important crossroads – whether it was military conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, civil rights and war protests in the U.S., or Soviet tanks crushing Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring.

How far do people around the globe think they and others like them have come, compared with 50 years ago? Pew Research Center put that question to nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries around the globe this past spring.

At a country level, some of the most positive assessments of progress over the past 50 years are found in Vietnam (88% say life is better today), India (69%) and South Korea (68%) – all societies that have seen dramatic economic transformations since the late 1960s, not to mention the end of armed conflict in the case of Vietnam. A majority in Turkey (65% better) also share a sense of progress over the past five decades. In some of the more developed countries, publics also report that life is better today, including 65% in Japan and Germany, and 64% in the Netherlands and Sweden.

But not everyone is convinced that life today is an improvement over the past. Americans are split on this issue : 41% say life is worse while 37% say better. Meanwhile, half or more in countries ranging from Italy (50%) and Greece (53%) to Nigeria (54%) and Kenya (53%) to Venezuela (72%) and Mexico (68%) say life is worse today.

Events unique to the history of individual countries cannot be ignored when considering why publics are more positive or negative about how the present compares with 50 years ago. However, our analysis also indicates that views of the current economy are a strong indicator of whether people say life for people like them is better today than it was 50 years ago, even when controlling for the demographic factors of income, education, gender and age. Indeed, across the countries analyzed, people with positive views of the current economy are 30 percentage points more likely than those with negative views to say life has improved for people like them. 1

In general, countries that are more upbeat about their national economy are more likely to say life today is better compared with the past. For example, in Vietnam, where 91% say economic conditions are good, a corresponding 88% say life is better for people like them compared with 50 years ago. And in Venezuela, where only 20% say conditions are good, 10% say life is better for people like them. Overall, the correlation between economic assessments and views of the past is quite strong (+0.68).

society then and now essay

These are among the major findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 40,448 respondents in 37 countries from Feb. 16 to May 8, 2017. A separate survey in the U.S. was conducted June 27-July 9, 2017, among 2,505 respondents.

Regional variations in assessments of present vs. past

Latin Americans stand out for their widespread negative assessment of progress over the past half-century. Venezuelans and Mexicans (72% and 68% life is worse) are the most downbeat, but nowhere in the region do more than half say life has improved for people like themselves.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, views of life today compared with 50 years ago vary substantially by country. Turkey reports the most progress in the region, with 65% saying life is better, followed by Israel, where 52% say the same about their country. Tunisians, Jordanians and Lebanese tend to say life has gotten worse for people like them, with Tunisians expressing the most widespread negativity (60%).

In sub-Saharan Africa, comparative assessments of present and past are more evenly divided. A median of 46% say life today is worse than five decades ago, compared with 42% who think life is better. Positive ratings of progress range from 47% “better” in South Africa to 36% in Ghana.

Nigeria and Kenya are the only countries surveyed in the region where more than half say life is worse (54% and 53%, respectively).

society then and now essay

Europeans tend to see the past half-century as a period of progress. A regional median of 53% describes life as better today, compared with 30% who take the opposite view. Upbeat assessments are most common in Germany (65% better), the Netherlands (64%), Sweden (64%), Poland (62%) and Spain (60%). Greeks (53% worse) and Italians (50%) are the least convinced that life is better than 50 years ago.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to some of the most favorable assessments of progress. Vietnam (88% better) stands out, but views of life today vs. the past are also quite rosy in India (69%), South Korea (68%) and Japan (65%). Filipinos are the least sanguine about progress, with fewer than half (43%) saying life is better.

In North America, Canadians widely report progress over the past five decades (55%) while fewer Americans (37%) say the same about life in their country. In the U.S., Republicans are more likely to say life is better today , compared with Democrats – an attitudinal shift in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president in November 2016.

society then and now essay

The more educated are more likely to say life is better

In more than half the countries polled, people with more education say that, for people like them, life is better than it was a half-century ago. The educational divide on whether life is better is greatest in Poland and Peru (both 19 percentage points). But it is also apparent in many European and Asian nations, as well as the U.S. 2

The reverse pattern, with less educated more optimistic about life today, is seen in just two countries: Nigeria (by 23 points) and Turkey (9 points).

society then and now essay

While age is not as large a dividing line on whether life is better today, there are some interesting patterns by age across a select group of countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, 66% of those ages 18 to 29 say life is better today, compared with 41% who say this among Brits 50 and older (some of whom might remember what life was actually like back then).

Age differences also appear in Australia, Sweden, the U.S. and Germany among advanced economies, and in South Africa, Ghana and Peru among emerging economies.

There is a reverse pattern on age in South Korea, where 73% among those 50 and older say life is better now compared with 59% who say this among 18- to 29-year-olds. This pattern is also found in Senegal and Venezuela.

Divisions within countries point to perceived gains and loses

In some countries polled, views about who has gained and lost over the past half-century divide sharply along religious or ethnic lines.

society then and now essay

In Turkey, 79% of Muslims who observe the five daily prayers ( salah ) that are required under Islam say life is better for people like them compared with 50 years ago. In contrast, only about half (49%) of Turkish Muslims who pray seldom or never at all see the same progress. These divergent views may in part reflect differences in opinion about President Recep Erdogan and his religiously conservative AKP party.

In Nigeria – home to both Muslims and Christians, but now governed by an elected Muslim leader – Muslims are much more enthusiastic about their country’s progress. Nearly three times as many Nigerian Muslims as Christians (62% vs. 22%) say life is better today compared with 50 years ago.

In Israel, 50 years after the Jewish State was victorious in the Six-Day War against a coalition of Arab nations, Israeli Jews are far more convinced than Israeli Arabs that life today is better for people like them. Nearly six-in-ten Jews in Israel say life has improved, compared with only a third of Israeli Arabs who see similar progress.

And in South Africa, there is a sharp racial divide on social progress: Blacks in the country, who a half-century ago were oppressed via the apartheid system, are much more likely to say life is better today for people like them (52%), compared with mixed-race (or “coloured”) and white South Africans (37% and 27%, respectively).

Political divides on life today in Europe

society then and now essay

Populism is often associated with nostalgia for an idealized past. In the case of Europe, at least, our survey findings confirm that populists tend to be more enamored of the past than people who look askance at some of the continent’s right-wing populist parties.

For example, Germans who support the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) are 28 percentage points more likely to say that life is worse off for people like them than those who have an unfavorable view of the anti-immigrant party. This pattern also holds in Sweden among supporters of the Swedish Democrats, in France among those with a favorable view of National Front, in the Netherlands among PVV supporters and in the UK among fans of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

  • Ghana and Italy excluded due to insufficient sample size on reported income. U.S. excluded because questions were administered on separate Pew Research Center surveys. ↩
  • For the purpose of comparing education groups across countries, we standardize education levels based on the United Nations’ International Standard Classification of Education. The lower education category is below secondary education and the higher category is secondary or above in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela and Vietnam. The lower education category is secondary education or below and the higher category is postsecondary or above in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UK and U.S. ↩

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20 big ways the world has changed since 1999

  • The dawn of the new millennium was just under 20 years ago.
  • The world we live in now is completely different from then.
  • Here are all the biggest changes.

Insider Today

As we get closer and closer to 2019, it's hard not to look back on the years past and reflect on how different everything is now. Twenty years ago, in 1999, the world was a completely different place than it is today.

We were on the dawn of a new millennium, stressed and unsure about what Y2K would bring. Cell phones were only just beginning to become popular, social media was not yet the number one topic of conversation, Britney Spears had just dropped her first album, and newspapers and magazines were still going strong.

Although 1999 might not feel that far away sometimes, when you think about how much the world has changed since then, it feels like it happened a million years ago. Here are a few more examples of how different our lives are today:

You're now on the internet more than you aren't on the internet, instead of just using it for school or work.

society then and now essay

In 1999, the internet was still shiny and new, something that seemed to be full of exciting possibilities… we just didn't know how to use them yet. Most of the websites we know and love today weren't even a thought in 1999 — even Google had just become a thing about a year earlier.

Those who went online who were using the internet for school or work, not for entertainment or connecting with people. Today, the internet is obviously a huge part of our lives, and it's hard to imagine a time when it wasn't. More than 4 billion people have access to the internet. 

Today, you can talk on the phone and use the internet at the same time.

society then and now essay

In fact, you can talk on the phone, watch TV, scroll through social media on your iPad, and read a different website on your computer if you really wanted to. Back in 1999, dial-up was necessary to connect to the internet , and so we all found ourselves getting kicked off the phone if someone tried to get online, or waiting for our family members to end their conversations so we could log on.

You no longer have to worry about breathing in secondhand smoke when going out to eat.

society then and now essay

It wasn't until the early 2000s that smoking bans in restaurants really went into effect. In 1999, you were still able to go into a restaurant or bar that reeked of smoke, which wasn't a pleasant experience if you didn't smoke. Some restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections because even that wasn't taken away until later on. Today, you don't have that problem, as smoking indoors is banned pretty much everywhere .

You now get more excited about television than you do about movies.

society then and now essay

The last few years have been full of some truly excellent television, whether it's shows on cable TV or on streaming services. Everything is about TV right now, and there is no shortage of amazing shows to watch. There were plenty of good shows on in 1999 as well, of course (like "Sex and the City" and "The Simpsons"), but it was more about the movies than anything else.

Huge films like "Fight Club," "The Matrix," and "American Beauty" came out in 1999, and as New York magazine points out , "it was the best, most innovative year for American movies in recent memory."

That's a big change from the Golden Age of Television we're currently in , although you're much more likely to watch them on a computer or a computer hooked up to your TV than you were back then. 

You no longer have to sit around hoping your Napster song download goes through.

society then and now essay

Who can forget Napster? The file-sharing network was created in 1999 , and it was then that everyone started illegally downloading music for free instead of buying CDs. The service came with its fair share of issues, though, from songs that took hours to download to ones that ended up being the completely wrong file.

Today, you don't have to painstakingly download your music illegally, you can just listen to whatever you want on a streaming service like Spotify. It might not be free if you don't want to listen to commercials, but it's certainly more convenient.

You rent movies off Amazon Prime instead of heading to Blockbuster.

society then and now essay

Back in 1999, Blockbuster was the place to be on the weekends. If you wanted to watch a specific movie or television show, you went to Blockbuster to hope it was on the shelves so you could rent it and watch it -- and return it promptly, or pay a hefty late fee. Blockbuster locations started closing in the early 2000s, and today, there is only one left.

Now, if you want to watch something, you either find it on Netflix or you rent it off of your TV's On Demand service or Amazon Prime, from the comfort of your own bed.

Eating at a restaurant has become a social experience.

society then and now essay

Not only do Americans now spend more on bars and restaurants than they do on grocery shopping , according to Bon Appetit, but in 2018, food has been just about presentation as it is about taste. 

In 1999, you have grabbed a dinner on date night as a special treat, today people are consuming over-the-top, colorful internet food so they can snap a picture as well as grab a bite. 

You can no longer go on vacation and truly take a break from everything.

society then and now essay

Back in 1999, cell phones were not so common that even toddlers owned them. In fact, even if you did have one, you didn't get service everywhere you went, especially if you traveled somewhere new.

And since WIFI and tablets weren't a thing either, you could go on vacation and actually be away from everything, with no ability to check your email or get text message updates from friends.

Today, you can't do that unless you choose to go off the grid. And even then, t here is likely still the urge to check your phone. 

Many people see terrorist attacks a more of a looming threat today.

society then and now essay

Of course, terrorism existed in 1999, and it was something people worried about — but it wasn't yet in the back of their head as something to stress over during everyday life. It wasn't until after the Twin Towers fell in New York due to the attacks on 9/11 (in 2001) that terrorism became a much more real threat for many.

In fact, according to Vox, peoples' fears in the US have stayed elevated today after 9/11 to about the level they were just after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. They also pointed out that the likelihood of a terrorist attack is much smaller than say, the threat of a car accident. 

It's worth noting that w hile much of the world has seen an increase in terrorism , the rate of death from a terrorist attack has actually decreased as of 2017. 

You probably also have a much bigger fear of mass shootings today than you did 20 years ago.

society then and now essay

Again, mass shootings existed in 1999 in the US, but they weren't talked about as often. The Columbine High School shooting happened in 1999, and although it wasn't the first mass shooting or the first school shooting, it was a huge event.

Today, mass shootings are happening on a much more regular basis in the US. T he days between mass shooting occurrences went from 200 days on average during the period of 1983 to 2011 to 64 days since 2011, according to the  Harvard Injury Control Research Center .

You now get updates from the president of the United States on Twitter.

society then and now essay

Today, President Donald Trump often uses Twitter as a means of communication, something that was unheard of in 1999 —  both because things were different, and because Twitter wasn't invented yet. In 1999, you waited to hear what Bill Clinton had to say on television or in a newspaper.

You no longer have to memorize anyone's phone numbers.

society then and now essay

In 1999, cell phones were nowhere near as popular as they are today. If you wanted to keep track of someone's number, you either wrote it down in an address book, or you memorized it so you could call them whenever you needed to. Think about it: do you know anyone's number by heart anymore? Probably not.

You text instead of leaving voicemails.

society then and now essay

Even if you did have a cell phone in 1999, you didn't text people all the time. If you couldn't get in touch with them, you left a voicemail on their answering machine. Coming home to find you had messages was kind of exciting. Today, noticing that you have a voicemail is usually just horribly annoying.

Everyone has a smartphone, and most people don't even know what a Nokia is.

society then and now essay

If you did have a cell phone in 1999, chances are good that it was a clunky Nokia. Nokia's were used for making calls and playing the snake game, and that was it. iPhones didn't come around until 2007 .

You have to take your shoes off when you fly now.

society then and now essay

Today, you know going into a flight that you're going to have to remove your shoes when going through airport security. In 1999, you didn't have to do that, because no one considered shoes to be a threat. That didn't happen until the  shoe bomber of 2001 .

Online dating is the norm today.

society then and now essay

Online dating was around in 1999 ( was created in 1995 ), it just wasn't something people admitted to taking part in. Back then, it was considered taboo, something people did only if they were desperate. Today, people embrace online dating apps and online dating has lost much of its stigma, according to Pew. 

Today about 5% of Americans who are married or in a committed relationship say they met their partner online. 

You have the option to watch television without commercials.

society then and now essay

Another great thing about TV today? If you pay for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, you can nix commercials completely. If you DVR something, you can simply fast forward through them. In 1999, you didn't have that option, unless you wanted to attempt to record something on a VHS tape and then fast forward.

You now take photos on your cell phone instead of a film camera.

society then and now essay

In 1999, disposable cameras were everywhere, and you didn't go out for the night without one. People took photos, then waited days or weeks for the film to get developed before having the chance to see how they turned out. Today, you use your cell phone instead of a camera, and you see your pictures immediately.

You use Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

society then and now essay

The web browser of choice in 1999 was Internet Explorer. Today, it's Google Chrome , and it's a whole lot more advanced.

You make playlists instead of burning CDs.

society then and now essay

If you wanted to listen to specific music in 1999, you made CDs full of the random songs you liked, then kept them stored in little plastic books. Today, you just put together a quick playlist on a streaming service and listen to it from your cell phone.

Visit  INSIDER's homepage  for more.

society then and now essay

  • Main content

Back to issue

Francis Mulhern

Culture and Society, Then and Now

A ny retrospect o f Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society should begin by acknowledging that the book comes to us through an already-long history of explicit retrospection. footnote 1 It is a work much looked back upon. These acts of retrospection have occurred in every decade, and have differed in kind and relative salience, as of course in critical bearing. They form no consensus beyond the unchallenged assumption that the book was important and perhaps remains so. They do not substantiate a simple narrative of any kind, even if the inertial flow of textbook characterizations is noticeable—and probably inevitable, as derived acquaintance comes more and more to predominate over direct reading knowledge as the ground of Williams’s currency and reputation.

The best-known retrospects are those of the nineteen-seventies: Terry Eagleton’s, not only the best-known but also probably the most influential, and then the interviews that made up Politics and Letters . footnote 2 With all qualifications made, it can be said that Eagleton and Williams’s New Left Review interlocutors—I, at any rate—tended then to maximize the continuity between Culture and Society and the antecedent lineage of English cultural criticism and to minimize the continuity with a Marxism that Williams had first embraced, then seemingly abandoned, and was now rediscovering in new or unsuspected forms. The identifying term of this dialogic set was the phrase ‘Left-Leavisism’.

The pattern of discussion in the nineteen-eighties was more complex. Williams’s political engagements, in the domestic and international crises of the time, were now declaratively revolutionary, and Marxism was the terrain on which he forwarded the theoretical programme he sometimes called cultural materialism. At the same time, his work was called into question on new grounds, as critical investigations of race and racism and the subordination of women claimed their places at the centre of cultural theory and politics. footnote 3 Indeed, this might have been the decade that forgot Culture and Society , had it not been Williams’s last: he died in 1988. Discourse on his work proliferated now, but in keeping with the protocols of the new situation. Culture and Society was widely recalled, of course: but this was retrospect as memorial.

Then, at the turn of the decade, came the final crisis of the Eastern bloc and, in much of the West, the refiguring or dissolution of the Communist parties. At home, this coincided with the ascent of social-liberalism in an exhausted Labour Party and a long season of perverse apologia for commodity culture. In this hopeless conjuncture, Culture and Society showed its most radical face (as in truth did the contemporaneous work with which it was often mistakenly twinned, Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy ). footnote 4 The core thesis of Williams’s conclusion—concerning the intrinsic historical creativity of socialized labour—had perhaps never seemed so coolly intransigent as it came to seem in the nineties. Here now, beyond memorial, from an earlier bad time, was ‘a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger’. footnote 5

These evocations of the past forty-odd years are one way of saying, by illustration, that Culture and Society is a classic—classic in the sense that Frank Kermode gives the term in his study of the category. footnote 6 It is, notably, diversely readable. Or, to put the matter in another way, it is an elusive text, never quite where you suppose it to be, where, perhaps, you would prefer it to be, whether wishfully or in a spirit of resentment. And certainly the book has had a way of chastening confident hindsight with its own backward glance, as it goes on being read and re-read, and always slightly differently.

Beyond Romanticism

What kind of work is it? Williams’s translators bring their own judgements. In some languages, such as Catalan and Spanish, the title retains its original form, ‘culture and society’. In Italian, the historical field and form of the book come to the fore: Cultura e rivoluzione industriale: Inghilterra 1780–1950 . The German edition abandons the original title-form for something quite different: Gesellschaftstheorie als Begriffsgeschichte , or ‘social theory as history of ideas’, with a sub-title continuing ‘studies in the historical semantics of culture’. This is an impressive miniature essay in critical specification, a contribution in itself—and it may be that we owe it in part to the circumstance that a literal translation had recently been pre-empted by another publication. Kultur und Gesellschaft was the title under which, in 1965, Herbert Marcuse reissued his writings from the 1930s, including a classic work of Frankfurt Critical Theory, ‘On the Affirmative Character of Culture’. footnote 7 A few years later, there appeared a selective English version, called Negations , which Williams reviewed for his university’s house magazine, the Cambridge Review . In doing so, he wrote the first, and probably the least influential, retrospect of his own Culture and Society .

Williams’s title, ‘On Reading Marcuse’, fairly indicated the nature of his interest. footnote 8 He was writing about Marcuse but also about his reader, this reader, himself. In its opening phase, the review is characteristically measured—respectful, emphatically mindful of shared political commitments, yet intellectually distant. ‘I think he is more often wrong than right’, Williams says, and the difficulties extend beyond concepts and theses into matters of formation and mentality: ‘we see the world quite differently, at a level of primary experience quite as much as in developed intellectual work . . .’ But Williams reads on, and reports with ‘interest and pleasure’ a ‘possible bridge’ from Britain to this alien thought-world. It has been common to classify such moments as instances of an island empiricism saved from inanition by post-Hegelian theory. But the story Williams goes on to dramatize here, with mounting intensity, is different. The particular interest of the essay on affirmative culture, he says, is that ‘its analysis corresponded so closely with a central theme of Culture and Society , and that both were historical treatments, of very much the same problem’, while being ‘continents of countries apart in method and in language’. Williams describes ‘a marvellous moment of intellectual liberation’ as he now reads across ‘that gap’. He cites Marcuse’s summary of affirmative culture and declares: ‘This is exactly my own conclusion’ about ‘the essential origin and operation of the idea of culture, as it developed in England after the Industrial Revolution, at a time when we were very close, especially through Coleridge and Carlyle, to the German thought to which Marcuse’s arguments relate.’ And in this, he says, with an air of elation, there is ‘a sense of meeting, after a long separation’. footnote 9

Great closeness, a long separation, but then the euphoria of meeting and recognition. The ill-assorted comrades turn out to be siblings, in a distinguished line. It is a moment of romance, in a writer in whom romance, perhaps surprisingly, exerts a steady pressure. And the central historical claim is none the less forceful on that account. For all the differences Williams registers, as hyperbolically as anyone could wish, there is a strict and consequential conceptual homology between his thought and Marcuse’s at this point. Pressing forward through the free indirect mode that both writers favoured for the occasion—with debatable results—is a shared critique of what Williams called the idea of culture as a central discursive formation of bourgeois civilization. footnote 10 Williams was more inclined to affirm the affirmative than Marcuse, who pursued his dialectic into a notorious formal equation of liberal and fascist culture. There is reason, then, to regret the loss of that phrase as the title of the book we know as Culture and Society , and the loss of the introduction, after its part publication in 1953, also as ‘The Idea of Culture’, for it did much to make clear, in its cool, distant framing, that the purpose of this work too was destruction. footnote 11

This objective parallelism of early Williams and the Frankfurt critique of culture is historically specific, not merely an echo from one developed capitalist society to another, and not as chronologically strained as it may seem to be. Marcuse’s study of affirmative culture dates from 1937. Adorno’s brilliant continuation piece, ‘Cultural Criticism and Society’, was drafted in the early 1940s and first published late in that decade. footnote 12 Seeded in the same post-war years, between 1949 and 1952 the essential critical-conceptual work of Culture and Society had been done, as the essay ‘The Idea of Culture’ makes plain. footnote 13 The Frankfurt School’s debt to the early Lukács is well known. Here, then, it is worth emphasizing how, among the various thinkers that Williams invokes in his Marxism and Literature , the one whose work most strongly resonates with the core theme of the book is Lukács—and not the Lukács of novelistic realism but precisely the author of History and Class Consciousness , a shared precursor in a distinctive post-romantic lineage of Marxist cultural thought.

Communism and English tradition

What, then, can be said about the political significations of the project? The book’s most telling associations, its formative associations, were with the Communist Party. This was something already fading from wider recognition by the middle 1950s, as Atlanticism consolidated its hold. With the adoption and re-narration of Culture and Society by the early New Left, it became hard to imagine. The cultural vision corresponding to the Communist Party’s new political programme, The British Road to Socialism , was a concerted rally of the national culture. In the literary journal Arena , which had been founded for the purpose, this took two related forms: a polemical rejection of ‘the American threat to British culture’ and, in direct continuity with the inter-war Popular Fronts, a systematic effort to define a legitimating national past for communism. Thus, Jack Lindsay’s Coleridge, the subject of the longest study in the record of the journal, was presented emphatically as both an English thinker and—with conspicuous reference to Hegel—a dialectician. footnote 14 Edward Thompson looked back to William Morris for illumination of ‘the moral issues today’. footnote 15 Here was one of the intertexts of Culture and Society and, oddly enough, a warrant for everything in the book that supports the familiar continuist reading of it. It is odd indeed that the Englishness of Culture and Society, so often mistaken as the trace of Leavisian discourse, should turn out to be the sign of rather more substantial Communist affinities.

However, the relationship was not so simple. For the gist of Williams’s critical argument, like Marcuse’s before him, was radically at variance with the servicing assumptions of popular frontism. Marcuse’s assertion of the deep twinship of liberal and fascist culture was an outrage against the humanist pieties of official and fellow-travelling discourse in the middle 1930s. Similarly, if in an altogether less dramatic way, the British Communist narrative of English culture was not well served by Williams’s opening declaration of purpose, which he stated as plainly as anyone could wish, in damning terms that no communist could mistake: ‘I wish to show the emergence of culture as an abstraction and an absolute.’ footnote 16 The theoretical judgement of the chapter ‘Marxism and Culture’ is equally unmistakable: the English Marxist debt to English Romanticism has been significant and significantly damaging. footnote 17 Culture and Society is, then, complex in its orientation and address. Immersed in a certain stream of English social thought, but finally sharing less with English cultural liberalism than with the Communist cultural orientation of the time; Communist, but in an intransigent critical spirit that recalls the theoretical leftism of the 1930s—including, it should be said, the writings of Christopher Caudwell, who had suffered, post mortem, the most withering of all Williams’s particular judgements. footnote 18

Culture and Society appears to furnish all of us with some evidence for our discrepant, sometimes conflicting interpretations of what it has to say, and does so, I think, in consequence of its central polemical purpose, which was not to develop the idea of culture as a position or vantage-point but to disclose it as the site of struggle it had historically been. This entailed asserting continuities where there was said to be rupture, and division, including self-division, where coherence was tacitly assumed. One example must suffice to illustrate this procedure and the ambiguities it nourished. Williams is discussing Morris’s socialism, in an explicit contrast with Labour and Fabianism. He cites Morris’s clairvoyant thoughts about the cooption of socialist measures for a modified order of capitalist rule, and, in doing so, claims them for what he calls ‘the tradition’, the line descending from Burke through Arnold. Here, I would say, is Williams at his most tendentious, but that is not where my emphasis falls. What is most striking about this passage and others like it is the perfect ambiguity of its gesture to a reader. The gesture is one of inclusion, of association, but in what spirit? For one kind of reader at least, the spirit is affirmative, constructive—and in that interpretation lies a whole tradition of reading Culture and Society . But for another kind of reader—the kind who may have been more vividly present to Williams in the chill of the early 1950s—the spirit may have seemed provocative, the claim a discordant intrusion in a composed selection of values anointed as ‘culture’. The gesture of sharing, if indeed it is that, is a calculated embarrassment, a politically directed check on the presumptuous fluency of the idea of culture as it circulated in post-war Britain.

Culture and Society now

That gesture is as necessary now as it was then, we can say to begin with, although the terms of engagement have undergone crucial alteration. It is not that Williams’s terms—which were those of basic class relations—have become obsolete. For all that has changed, the capitalist ordering of social life has not changed. (Even the bright claims that all has changed utterly have a faded fifties look about them.) Yet in important respects Culture and Society is now distant from contemporary perceptions of cultural interest and possibility—as successive waves of contemporaries have been saying for several decades. I confine myself here to just one kind of case, which has become inescapable, and which, as it happened, actually announced itself all those fifty years ago, but without entering the discursive space of the book.

There is a moment early on in Culture and Society , just a few pages into the first chapter, when Williams cites Edmund Burke on the true constitution of a nation. Here is Burke:

A nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation; but it is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not only of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultuary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice, it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, disposition, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time.

Williams then returns to his discussion, reporting that ‘immediately after Burke, this complex . . . was to be called “the spirit of the nation” [and] by the end of the nineteenth century, it was to be called a national “culture”’. He adds: ‘examination of the influence and development of these ideas belongs to my later chapters.’ footnote 19 It is a poignant moment. ‘These ideas’: which ideas? Burke’s head-word is nation , and Williams repeats it twice in the first sentence of his commentary. But it is clear from the context that his spontaneous conceptual translation of the term is ‘society’, specifically ‘organic society’. He has good reason for doing so. That is a large part of Burke’s meaning. But society conceived of in this way is already more than a collective order or system, the merely social. It is, precisely, national society, or society as nation. Burke’s ‘people’ are above all fathers and mothers and daughters and sons, generations in the shaping of an extended family. Their social being is inherently ethnic—and emphatically so, for Burke’s ethico-political preference is set in stone. This organic constitution, he says, is ‘made by what is ten thousand times better than choice’.

Here is an idea of culture that Williams did not, in fact, pursue in his later chapters—or, for that matter, in The Long Revolution , notwithstanding the theoretical status he accorded ‘the system of generation and nurture’ there. footnote 20 In this idea of culture, the family is the stake, the symbol and the template of sociality. Its common collective mode is, as it was for Burke, the nation, in more or less marked association with ethnicity and race. In its most general character, it is the idea of culture as customary difference. This, rather than the meanings made familiar in literary criticism, sociology and cultural studies, is the politically charged sense of culture—its dominant—as it circulates in public controversy today, not least in Britain.

Culture as customary difference

Culture is always culture, of course. That is its opaque charm. This time, what is at stake in the tautology is customary difference . Both parameters are essential: custom, or anything understood as custom, takes precedence over other modes of social validation, and its currency is difference. Thus, culture is what differentiates a collectivity in the mode of self-validating direct inheritance—whose value, in return, is precisely that it binds the collectivity in difference . The main substance of culture in this sense—its privilege or its fate—is ethnicity. This is often more obviously so in the case of racialized populations, but certainly not only then. The great contemporary exception is the supra-ethnic Ummah , Islam—which, nevertheless, is spontaneously ethnicized in countries such as Britain and France, whose Muslim populations were effectively founded by large-scale, regionally compact post-colonial migrations. Culture today consists above all else in customs we do not share with the others.

Culture as customary difference is not, in any final respect, a third variety, to be listed along with the high, minoritarian reserves defended by cultural criticism, and the popular forms and practices valorized by Cultural Studies. It exhibits essential features of both. It is a form of assertion of the cultural principle that is normative, at least for the particular collective it identifies—how ‘we’ really, properly are—and in some cases makes universal claims, as in the spotlit instance of purist Islam. At the same time, it is popular, more or less, in its human resources and appeal, understood as a necessary defence against the encroachments of the encircling, overweening other, which takes many forms: racism and bigotry, but also liberalism, modernity, Godlessness, materialism, selfishness, immorality, Americanization and so on. And if the discourse of culture as customary difference thus combines features of the two, this is not because it embodies a kind of dialectical resolution. On the contrary, it is because culture in this sense is the first form, the matrix from which the familiar varieties of cultural criticism (and, indirectly, cultural studies) emerged. Leavis’s high humanism was energized by an eidetic imagery of native custom. In Thomas Mann, the continuity was still more pronounced. Culture—that is, a national sensibility—is what identifies us; the rest is civilization.

Culture in this sense found its first philosophical interpreter in Herder, in the late eighteenth century, and has had numberless learned advocates since. But no one quite authored it, in that reductive, bookish sense. Such cultures have been made and sustained with the active participation of many millions, and this way of putting the matter suggests something more than the inertial recurrence implied in the term custom . Herder spoke of tradition , meaning by that a process in which collectivities adapt their inheritance for changed conditions. footnote 21 Tradition in this sense is inventive. However, the everyday meaning of the word tells its own story. Tradition is inventive, and much of what it invents is precisely ‘tradition’, a continuity symbolically assured by the observance of acknowledged custom. This, it has often been said, is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. As Marx perceived, it is the spontaneous counter-discourse of capitalist modernity itself, just as old and with at least as many years of life to come. footnote 22 What he could hardly have imagined, however, is that one hundred and fifty years later, after the surge and ebbing of socialist labour movements in every continent, the flowering and decay of secular nationalism throughout the old colonial territories, culture would be so widely honoured as the touchstone of social well-being.

The multicultural fix

It is a dialectical irony of the idea of culture that it should have made its way to the centre of public discourse in Britain thanks in good part to the workings of official policies whose purpose has been, in a sense, to contain it: the cluster of policies and precepts called multiculturalism, which took shape from the nineteen-seventies onwards as part of a new strategy for managing race relations. The emphasis in what follows now about multiculturalism is critical, and, noting that, I start with two equally emphatic acknowledgements. First, multiculturalist discourse—the more exact designation of my subject—has itself been a many-voiced phenomenon, and no set of generalizations such as these can hope to capture its many inflections. footnote 23 My remarks are an attempt to register and evaluate some key characteristics and tendencies of its dominant liberal variants. Second, the irreducible positive value of multiculturalism is that it has embodied, in British public life, an unprecedented attempt to acknowledge and embrace the historical fact of a multi-racial society. It has been an important, if sometimes ambiguous, favouring condition of the struggle against racism. For now, we might say, some kind of multiculturalism is the horizon of all progressive thought and practice in its sphere. Nothing that needs to be said, from the left, in criticism of liberal multiculturalism can simply over-write that crucial development in policy and sentiment, the reach for a new civility that will be adequate to our real conditions of life in this respect. footnote 24 But the criticisms have been made all along, and they bear recapitulation at a time when that discourse has entered a period of acute anxiety.

The idea of multiculturalism was always questionable as a line of solution to the crisis that prompted its adoption, that of racism and the struggles against it. Culture is an anodyne representation of race, which is a historically constituted relation of organized inequality, domination and subordination. To speak blandly of a plurality of cultures in coexistence is to obscure the historic dominance of one of them, that of Anglo-Britain, and an array of continuing social effects that are not mainly ‘cultural’. Yet in the cultural multiplex as which liberal discourse pictures the uk ’s population, the leading theme has been ‘diversity’, as though that were a warrant of equality, and as though some kinds of diversity were not the effects of long-standing inequality. (Likewise, social exclusion is now deplored as an obvious evil, as though the goal of full inclusion in neo-liberal Britain were the outer limit of social aspiration for all of us, and as though ‘exclusion’ itself were not in truth a structural variety of its benign other, inclusion.) The promotion of culture as a defining social relation has tended to obscure the articulations of ethnic and class formation, which differ crucially from one part of the multicultural landscape to another. The resulting patterns of relative success or failure, adjustment or deadlock, inter-ethnic convergence or particularist assertion, may have at least as much to do with generic class situations or with historic changes in the division of labour as with the specificities of cultural inheritance.

This shortcoming is in part that of liberalism generally: once capitalist social relations are excused fundamental questioning, progress can only take the form of improved life-chances for selected individuals. But in this context individuals are specified as members of communities, and here the idea of culture plays its own contradictory part in the working out of multiculturalism. The idea, as I began by saying, valorizes difference at the expense of inter-cultural commonalities. Whatever the biographical reality (individual or collective) of our formation, what counts as culture is what distinguishes us from others with whom we may in reality share as much if not more. The kind of difference that counts is custom: confirmed, received difference. It is for this reason that the multiculturalist appeal to diversity has the paradoxical effect of promoting customary stereotypes even as it deplores their negative effects. For the commercial sector of the cultural multiplex there is an irresistible logic in this: niche markets in authenticities are potentially beyond counting, and without prejudice to the emerging market in hybridities, which has yet greater potential. The junk-word ‘vibrant’, without which no description of the metropolitan multiplex sounds quite right, belongs to the vocabulary of tourism and, even on the lips of the well-meaning, degrades the multiculturalist ideal of a shared home to a tainted image of exoticism for all.

Customary difference is most strongly confirmed in the plane of religion, whether as doctrine, as worship, as spiritual observance or as sanctioned behaviour. The culminating effect of this discursive logic, where the contingencies of inheritance and situation favour it, is to strengthen traditionalism, the systematic advocacy of customary relations and practices, and to confirm its beneficiaries as natural leaders of populations invariably called communities. The bonds of community are seldom merely confining, of course, even though they can tighten to the point of strangulation. Unforced affections sustain them, as, in a contrasting way, do fears of an indifferent or hostile world beyond. But there is normally a price to be paid for this kind of cohesion, and those least likely to pay it are heterosexual males of a certain age and standing. The leading businessmen, the mouthy politicians, the clerics, all the father-figures who come forward again and again as the authoritative voices of ‘their’ communities are heard at the expense of dissident, resisting voices: those of feminists, very notably, and other independent community activists—and of others, not leaders or activists of any kind, who simply want to live and love unthreatened on something closer to their own preferred terms. This is the monocultural face of multiculturalism, of a politics through which, as Rahila Gupta puts it, ‘the state more or less enters into an informal contract with the more powerful leaders in the minority community—disempowering women and trading women’s autonomy for community autonomy.’ footnote 25 Proposals now circulating for a modified liberalism acknowledging group as well as individual rights would sanctify such bargaining at the level of political philosophy and constitutional precept. footnote 26

Beyond culture

Such, today, in Britain and elsewhere, is the dynamic of the idea of culture. The idea , not the complex realities it presumes to interpret and regulate, in Britain’s black and brown and white minority communities. There is no relevant minority I know of in which this idea of culture, however it is formulated, is pervasively and effectively dominant. (On the other hand, its restless, fluctuating existence in the collective psyche of the majority population—and in official liberal discourse—textures the experience of anyone living in Britain. footnote 27 ) It hardly captures the historical reality of multicultural, inter-cultural formation in Britain today—a reality for which, in truth, the idea of culture promotes a false description and a futile or damaging general prospectus. What I have been attempting to describe, with all due extremism, is the logic of a discourse whose public authority—credibility, at least—and impetus are far greater than its actual social reserves. And for an explanation in the most general terms of why this might be so, we may return to Culture and Society , and a famous passage from its Conclusion:

The idea of culture is a general reaction to a general and major change in the condition of our common life. Its basic element is its effort at total qualitative assessment. . . . General change, when it has worked itself clear, drives us back on our general designs, which we have to learn to look at again, and as a whole . . . . The working-out of the idea of culture is a slow reach again for control. footnote 28

The first thing to note in this is that ‘the idea of culture’ recalled by Williams is in one basic respect different from the phenomenon outlined here. In the first, the effort of discovery is evident and sometimes dominant, but in the second it is the contrasting cultural mode—transmission—that prevails, commanding the rhetoric even where the practical realities are historically more complex. The reach for control is a reach for continuity, heritage, tradition, custom. But with that large and discouraging qualification made, we can see how Williams’s distant generalities hold across the span of years from Burke to the present. What are the verities—religious, ethnic, national—sponsored under the idea of culture if not efforts at ‘total qualitative assessment’, with solutions to match?

Williams was committed to the position that literature could have early access to emerging realities, in the forms appropriate to its own kinds. On this occasion, he came close to concluding something apparently similar, though less clearly affirmative, about the idea of culture. It is, he said, ‘a general reaction to a general and major change in the conditions of our common life.’ That is its great historical significance, but also its insufficiency. A ‘reaction’ is something less deliberate than a ‘response’, and not at all an apt classifying category for the learning process of which he speaks as a later stage of the change. The idea of culture is a revelation in the way that a psychic symptom is revealing: insistent in its registration of a real state of affairs yet not a simple, sufficient account of it. footnote 29 The idea of culture is not so much what must be learnt as the warning that there is nevertheless something to learn. That is the most general argument of Williams’s classic, and one that, fifty years on, still claims us.

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Anxious Youth, Then and Now

By Jon Grinspan

  • Dec. 31, 2013

society then and now essay

FOR years now, we’ve heard the gripes by and about millennials, the offspring of the Great Recession, caught between childhood and adulthood. Their plight seems so very 21st century: the unstable careers, the confusion of technologies, the delayed romance, parenthood and maturity.

Many of the same concerns and challenges faced the children of the industrial revolution, as the booms and busts of America’s wild 19th century tore apart the accepted order.

Each New Year’s, young men and women filled their diaries with worries that seem very familiar today: They found living with their parents “humiliating indeed” and felt “qualified for nothing.” Others moaned: “I am twenty-five and not in love yet.” Gathering over beer or cigars, they complained about how far they were from marriage, how often they switched jobs.

The idea that millennials are uniquely “stuck” is nonsense. Young Victorians grasped for maturity as well, embarrassed by the distance between their lives and society’s expectations.

These Americans were born into an earthquake. During the 1800s America’s population exploded from 5 million to 75 million. By 1900 nearly as many people lived in New York City as had lived in the entire country during the Revolution. The nation went from a rural backwater to an industrial behemoth — producing more than Britain, Germany and France combined — but every decade the economy crashed. America saw the kind of wild change we see today in China, and in a new society with little to stabilize it.

For rootless 20-somethings, each national shock felt intimate, rattling their love lives and careers. Many young adults could not accept that their personal struggles were just ripples of a large-scale social dislocation. So each New Year’s, they blamed themselves. In a Jan. 1, 1859, entry in her journal, 19-year-old Mollie Dorsey, stuck on a Nebraska homestead in the middle of a recession, castigated herself for not being “any better than I was one year ago.”

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Jamala Rogers (left) and Tef Poe were among the panelists to discuss “Generations of Struggle: St. Louis from Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter.”

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Civil rights, then and now

John Laidler

Harvard Correspondent

Through the prism of St. Louis and Ferguson, panel discusses how the movement has evolved, and where it endures

Their tones and tactics may vary, but African-American civil rights activists from different generations share plenty of common ground in their efforts to confront continuing racism across American society, speakers told a Harvard forum.

That sentiment was an overriding theme in the panel discussion on changing dynamics in the fight for black equality held Thursday at CGIS South, and presented by the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History with support from the  Hiphop Archive & Research Institute .

“We’ve got to air out the differences — that’s important. But our similarities in this case are a lot more important than our differences,” said panelist George Lipsitz, a professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Providing introductions at the session were the center’s director, Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, and Elizabeth Hinton, assistant professor of history and of African and African American Studies.

The discussion among three St. Louis civil rights leaders and two professors came amid surging protests nationwide against police killings of unarmed black people. Although focused on the half-century struggle for black rights in that racially divided city, the forum also touched on broader themes in the Civil Rights Movement, including some generational tensions over the more aggressive approach to change taken by some younger leaders.

Among the panelists was the rapper Tef Poe, who gained recognition last year for his widely publicized comment that this “is not your father’s Civil Rights Movement.”

A co-founder of HandsUpUnited, a protest group organized after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo., Poe said his comment was aimed at the firm resistance the black community needed to show in response police violence.

“In St. Louis, when police kill someone of color, it’s very aggressive at the [protest] scene, and a lot of us don’t shy from the fact that it’s aggressive,” he said. “I want it to be aggressive … I want you to know that if you are going to come to one of these communities where there’s black folks and you are going to pull your gun out and you are going to shoot, you will be met with resistance.

“All too often, we’ve been told that change happens in increments … That’s fine,” Poe said. “But we are in the midst of what we are describing as a war … I can’t allow you to come in our neighborhood with a full militarized force.”

Jamala Rogers, a veteran activist who was also involved in the Ferguson protests, said activists from different generations were socialized differently.

“We know there are particularities about how we see the world and how we see the struggle,” said Rogers, whose past leadership work has included co-founding the Organization for Black Struggle. She said it was important to air those differences and for younger activists to learn from the movement’s past strengths and weaknesses.

“And we need not to be devaluing … the worth of young people,” Rogers added. “They bring a lot of energy.”

Lipsitz said there were benefits to having “different ways of solving problems.” He said each generation of black activists has in common its participation in a unique centuries-long struggle.

Percy Green II, a civil rights activist for more than half a century who has been arrested more than 100 times during protests, said civil disobedience remains an important tool to sustaining the movement.

“I might do certain things that move you a little out of your comfort zone. But it’s only when you have moved out of your comfort zone that you pay a little bit more attention to the event,” said Green, a founder of the St. Louis organization ACTION.

Poe said that those who want to work for change need to be serious about their commitment. “It’s not easy. You will have to sacrifice,” he said. “But if you really believe this is life or death, what are you going to do about it?”

Robin D.G. Kelley, a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, praised Rogers and others who kept the Civil Rights Movement going during the decades when it appeared to have lost steam. He said such recognition avoids the misconception that “every movement, every eruption is a complete break.”

Kelley also saluted those behind the Ferguson protests, observing, “The sustained level of resistance was so high it became almost ground zero for the struggles around the country, if not the world.”

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History of Now

What Does George Orwell’s ‘1984’ Mean in 2024?

Now 75 years old, the dystopian novel still rings alarm bells about totalitarian rule

Anne Wallentine

Anne Wallentine

Edmond O'Brien and Jan Sterling during the filming of a 1956 adaptation of George Orwell's 1984

In recent years, some conservative American groups have adopted the slogan “Make Orwell fiction again,” a line that suggests the dystopian depictions of totalitarianism, historical revisionism and misinformation found in George Orwell ’s 1984 are now reality. Liberal groups may agree with some of those concepts—but would likely apply them to different events.

Seventy-five years after its publication on June 8, 1949, Orwell’s novel has attained a level of prominence enjoyed by few other books across academic, political and popular culture. 1984 ’s meaning has been co-opted by groups across the political spectrum, and it consequently serves as a kind of political barometer. It has been smuggled behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and used as counterpropaganda by the CIA; at moments of political crisis, it has skyrocketed to the top of best-seller lists.

The language and imagery in the novel—which Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange , once called “an apocalyptical codex of our worst fears”—have also been reinterpreted in music, television, advertisements and films, shaping how people view and discuss the terror of political oppression. The terms the book introduced into the English language, like “Big Brother” and “thought police,” are common parlance today. “ Big Brother ” is now a long-running reality TV show. 1984 -like surveillance is possible through a range of tracking technologies. And the contortion of truth is realizable via artificial intelligence deepfakes . In a world that is both similar to and distinct from Orwell’s imagined society, what does 1984 mean today?

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Jean Seaton , director of the Orwell Foundation and a historian at the University of Westminster in England, says that 1984 has become a way to “take the temperature” of global politics. “It goes up and down because people reinvent it [and] because people turn to it … to refresh [their] grasp on the present. It’s useful because you think, ‘How bad are we in comparison to this?’”

In 1984 , three totalitarian states rule the world in a détente achieved by constant war. The all-seeing Party dominates a grimly uniform society in the bloc called Oceania. As a low-level Party member, protagonist Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite historical records to match the ever-changing official version of events. As a Party slogan puts it , “Who controls the past controls the future: Who controls the present controls the past.”

Winston begins to document his contrarian thoughts and starts an illicit affair with a woman named Julia, but the two are soon caught and tortured into obedience by the regime. Ultimately, Smith’s individuality and attempt to rebel are brutally suppressed. While most contemporary societies are nothing like the book’s dystopia, in the context of today’s proliferating misinformation and disinformation , the Party’s primary propaganda slogans—“War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery” and “Ignorance is strength”—don’t seem all that far-fetched.

George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm​​​​​​​

According to Orwell’s son, Richard Blair , the writer thought his novel would “either be a best seller or the world [would] ignore it. He wasn’t quite sure which of the two it would be.” But soon after its publication, 1984 ’s best-seller status became clear. The book has since sold around 30 million copies. It most recently returned to the top of the American best-seller list in January 2017, after a Trump administration adviser coined the doublespeak term “alternative facts.”

“It’s a very relevant book … to the world of today,” Blair says. “The broad issue [is] the manipulation of truth, something that large organizations and governments are very good at.”

Many other dystopian novels carry similar warnings. So why does 1984 have such staying power? Orwell’s novels “all have exactly the same plot,” says the author’s biographer D.J. Taylor . “They are all about solitary, ground-down individuals trying to change the nature of their lives … and ultimately being ground down by repressive authority.”

1984 , Taylor adds, is the apotheosis of Orwell’s fears and hypotheses about surveillance and manipulation: “It takes all the essential elements of Orwell’s fiction and then winds them up another couple of notches to make something really startling.” Orwell’s precise, nightmarish vision contains enough familiar elements to map onto the known world, giving it a sense of alarming plausibility.

A row of Ministry of Information posters on a wall in the United Kingdom in 1942

The novel traces the dystopian future onto recognizable London landmarks. “The really scary thing for the original readers in 1949 was that although it was set in 1984, it’s there: It’s bomb-cratered, war-torn, postwar England,” says Taylor. The University of London’s Senate House inspired the novel’s “ Ministry of Truth ,” as it had housed the Ministry of Information during World War II’s propaganda push.

Born Eric Blair in 1903, Orwell had a short but prolific writing career, chronicling politics, poverty and social injustice before his early death from tuberculosis in January 1950, just seven months after 1984 ’s publication. Though an accomplished essayist, Orwell is best known for 1984 and Animal Farm , his 1945 satire of Stalinist Russia.

Born in Bengal when the region was under British colonial rule, Orwell studied at Eton College but left the school to follow his father into the civil service. He became disillusioned with the colonial British Raj while serving in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days . In 1927, Orwell returned to England and Europe, where he immersed himself in working-class poverty to write Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier . He fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, almost dying from a throat wound. The conflict reinforced his socialist politics : “Everything he wrote after that was against totalitarianism [and] for democracy,” Blair says.

Photo of Orwell from his Metropolitan Police file

Orwell wrote 1984 while battling tuberculosis on the Isle of Jura in Scotland, aware that his condition was deteriorating as he wrote the novel, Taylor says. Upon finishing the manuscript, he went to a London hospital for treatment, where he married editorial assistant Sonia Brownell from his hospital bed. The writer died three months later at age 46. Blair, whom Orwell had adopted with his first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, shortly before her death in 1945, was 5 years old at the time.

Though Orwell described 1984 as a warning rather than a prophecy, scholars have demonstrated significant interest in mapping the author’s imaginings onto the modern world. “When I started writing, what I was involved in was something you could call ‘Orwell Studies.’ And now there's an Orwell industry,” says Taylor, who has published two biographies of the author. (His latest , released in 2023, was informed by new primary source material.)

Taylor attributes this popularity to Orwell’s “uncanny ability … to predict so many of the things that trouble us here in the 2020s.” He notes that in the United Kingdom, Orwell mainly draws political and literary audiences, while in the United States, scientific circles are increasingly curious about Orwell’s foreshadowing of modern technology and surveillance methods.

A poster from a 2013 protest against the National Security Agency invokes Orwell's image.

“There’s something about his work that keeps getting reinvented and reactivated” in relation to events that happened well after Orwell’s death, says Alex Woloch , a literary scholar at Stanford University. “I think of Orwell as a text that people can turn to in confronting many different kinds of political problems, and particularly propaganda, censorship and political duplicity.”

Orwell’s “main relevance in the U.S. was forged during the Cold War,” Woloch says. A democratic socialist and anti-Stalinist, Orwell was able to “represent the contradictions of the communist ideology, the gap between its self-image and its reality.” 1984 and Animal Farm “were understood as the exemplary anti-communist texts ,” embedded in U.S. curriculums and widely taught in the decades since.

“With the end of the Cold War,” Woloch adds, “Orwell’s writing could be claimed by many different people who were arguing against what they saw as various forms of political deceptiveness,” from the Marxist Black Panther Party to the ultraconservative John Birch Society .

“It’s very difficult to think of another writer who’s so much admired across all parts of the political spectrum,” Taylor says. “He’s almost unique in that way.”

Adapted to the needs of a broad range of readers, 1984 took on a life beyond its author and its pages. In her forthcoming book, George Orwell and Communist Poland: Émigré, Official and Clandestine Receptions , Krystyna Wieszczek , a research fellow at Columbia University, explores the use of 1984 as a tool of resistance. The novel “provided an easy-to-use vocabulary … that [readers] could use to name the phenomenon” of oppression, Wieszczek says. Copies were smuggled into Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain that divided Eastern Europe from Western Europe, some even in the diplomatic bag of a secretary to the French Embassy in Warsaw.

society then and now essay

In the 1950s, a CIA operation sent Animal Farm and other “printed matter from the West [into communist countries] in gas-filled balloons,” Wieszczek says. But many Poles objected to this tactic, fearing a reprise of the devastating and unsuccessful 1944 Warsaw Uprising . Through distribution points across Europe, the U.S. also sent millions of copies of anti-communist literature, including 1984 , to Poland. According to Wieszczek, surveys suggest that as much as 26 percent of Poland’s adult population—around seven million people—had some access to clandestine publications in the 1980s. Polish émigré imprint s like Kultura in Paris also ensured banned publications reached audiences in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War. Cheekily, one of Kultura’s editions of 1984 even used a “Soviet militant poster as a cover,” Wieszczek says.

“Many people read 1984 as a very negative, pessimistic book, but … it had a kind of liberating impact … for some readers,” she explains. They were reading a banned book about banned books that reflected, to an extent, their own circumstances.

“ 1984 is a horrible book,” Wieszczek adds. “You never forget—it stays with you, this big pressure on the chest and the stomach. But somehow, it brought hope. There was this man on other side of the Iron Curtain who understood us. … There is hope because people understand.”

A protean text for political, intellectual and underground movements, 1984 has also resonated in popular culture. Its myriad artistic interpretations are explored in Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 . The novel inspired television shows, films , plays, a David Bowie album (though Orwell’s widow, Sonia, turned down the artist’s offer to create a 1984 musical) and even a “ Victory gin ” based on the grim spirits described in the novel. It was cited in songs by John Lennon and Stevie Wonder and named by assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as one of his favorite books. And its imagery continues to inform the public’s perception of what might happen if 1984 weren’t fiction after all.

society then and now essay

In January 1984, an Apple Macintosh ad directed by Ridley Scott aired during the Super Bowl. It depicted a maverick woman smashing a Big Brother-esque screen that was broadcasting to the subordinate masses, and it ended with the tagline , “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” The implication was that buying Apple products would set people apart from the crowd. In an Orwellian twist, although the ad positioned Apple as the underdog against the dominant IBM, the company actually had a competitive market share, claiming 25 percent to IBM’s 24 percent at the end of 1983.

While the term “Orwellian” can be used to describe Orwell’s style, “the classic use … is for politicians [who] grotesquely misuse language for ideological purposes and use language to disguise or pervert reality rather than to expose it,” Woloch says. Today, the phrase has become a “floating signifier,” Taylor says. “It’s so regularly used it doesn’t actually mean anything.” He cites a politician misusing “Orwellian” to complain about a perceived personal injustice (a canceled book contract).

“[Orwell’s] books have such widespread currency that you can use him to describe anything, really,” Taylor adds. “The word can mean anything and nothing at the same time.”

society then and now essay

This is ironic, given how precise Orwell was about language. The reduction of language and creative thought to “ Newspeak ” in the novel figures largely in the population’s oppression. Orwell “was passionately committed to language as a contract crucial to all our other contracts,” writes Rebecca Solnit in Orwell’s Roses . He is “an exemplar of writing as the capacity to communicate other people’s experience,” Seaton says, “… so to read Orwell is, in a sense, to defend language and writing.”

Orwell’s main question, according to Woloch, “is how, as a thinking person and a fair-minded person, … do you confront the genuine pervasiveness of political problems that make up the world that we’re in?” The scholar quotes Orwell’s famous line from a 1938 New Leader essay : “It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it.”

“The big three themes [of 1984 ] that people ought to bear in mind,” Taylor suggests, “are the denial of objective truth, which we see everywhere about us, every war that’s currently taking place anywhere in the world and in quite a lot of domestic political situations, too; the manipulation of language … and the use of words to bamboozle people; and the rise of the surveillance society. … That to me, is the definition of the adjective ‘Orwellian’ in the 21st century.”

society then and now essay

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Anne Wallentine is a writer and art historian with a focus on the intersections of art, culture and health. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and the Courtauld Institute of Art, she writes for outlets that include the Financial Times , the Economist , the Art Newspaper  and Hyperallergic .

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Culture and society, then and now

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  • History, Sociology, Political Science

18 Citations

People's palaces: architecture, culture and democracy in two european post-war cultural centres, the halls of angst: culture and materialism, unesco and the ‘right’ kind of culture: bureaucratic production and articulation, the media and the academic globalization debate, the recursive mode: space, time, and the hyper-commodification of culture, the glob al horizons of professional communication: critical theoretical approaches to the discipline's emerging cultural issues, the media and the academic globalization debate : theoretical analysis and critique, what we do and what is done to us: teaching art as culture, a theatrical critique of resilience in culture, jack lindsay’s alienation, related papers.

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  • Campbell, M. (2018). Popular Music in America: The Beat Goes On. Cengage Learning.
  • Hanson, J., & Hanson, K. (2006). The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America. Harv. CR-CLL Rev., 41, 413.
  • Rose, T. (1994). Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Vol. 6). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Nelson, R. L., & Bridges, W. P. (1999). Legalizing Gender Inequality: Courts, Markets and Unequal Pay for Women in America (Vol. 16). Cambridge University Press.
  • Ture, K., & Hamilton, C. V. (1992). Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. New York: Vintage.

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Home — Essay Samples — Information Science and Technology — Cell Phones — Cell Phones: Then and Now


Cell Phones: then and Now

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Role of Education in Modern Society Essay

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There is no use denying the fact that education plays an important role in the life of modern people. It is difficult to imagine a person who wants to achieve some great goals and who does not obtain good knowledge. Education is the thing which helps to obtain this very information. That is why, it is possible to say that a person, who graduates from college, differs greatly from a freshman. Resting on my own practice, it should be said that the thing which is the most important and makes the difference is experience.

It is easy to determine whether a person is experienced or not. The thing is that during the process of study a person obtains not only knowledge. Student teaches how to communicate and how to behave in society. It is a very important process which leads to the formation of experience. However, it is not professional experience as it can be obtained only while working, though, it is that sort of knowledge which will be very useful while communicating with employers and looking for some information.

This experience can also help to use knowledge obtained in the process of study (Dewey 13). Nevertheless, it is another thing which differs me from a freshman. Knowledge, which I was given, will help me to become successful and make me more confident and this confidence can be easily seen.

Additionally, knowledge helps to find better job as qualified specialists are more appreciated. Finally, friends and acquaintances are another thing which should be mentioned. In the course of study I made many friends who could help me in the future life. Moreover, some of them can help to find a job and build a career.

With this in mind, it is possible to say that things which differ a freshman from a graduate are knowledge, experience and friends. These things are very important for the future of any person that is why college can be taken as a perfect place which creates a good basis for the further development of a person.

Speaking about all these changes which happen to a person, it should be said that they are possible due to the wise combination of in and out of class activities. The thing is that a students life is comprised not only of classes and the process of obtaining knowledge. There is no use denying the fact that this aspect is very important and it should be given great attention. However, the life of a student out of a class should also be given attention.

Socialization is very important for a person as he/she is a part of society and should understand the main regularities according to which it functions (“Importance of Education Speech” para. 5). That is why, college or some other educational institution is the best place which can teach a person how to behave in society and how to survive.

It is also obvious, that a graduate does not have enough knowledge to become an ideal worker, however, his/her social experience can help and show the best for him/her to develop, obtain knowledge and achieve success. That is why, it should be said that knowledge obtained in class can become useless if a person is not able to understand how to use it. At the same time, self confidence without knowledge can be taken as some sort of arrogance (Kidwai para. 5) and will not have positive influence on the life of a person.

That is why the aspect of education, that supposes in class work, should not be forgotten. Students have to divide their time between different tasks and activities for them to be able to get the most out of the whole course. Thus, they should also choose priorities which, they think, will be the most important in their future life.

Only such subdivision and combination of in and out of class activities can lead to the balanced development of personality of a student. With this in mind, it is possible to say that the majority of changes happen both under the influence of in and out of class exercises which promote a freshman becoming a good specialist in the chosen sphere.

It is obvious that all changes in the life of a person happen under the influence of certain factors which became topical at the given moment of time. Problems that a person faces and stresses connected with it make him/her accept a certain decision which influences the whole life and helps to form the character. The process of studying is not an exception. Being very important for the life of every person, it has its own factors which influence his/her becoming a new person with new skills and experience.

There are several important factors. The first one is stress which a student feels when he/she just enters a college. The thing is that this event can very often be taken as the beginning of a persons individual and independent life. He/she does not live with parents anymore, moreover, he/she should count only on his/her forces. That is why, this period is very important and obviously influences the character of a person. Student teaches how to live alone and how to study.

Moreover, he/she starts to realize himself/herself as the part of society. Adaptation to new conditions can take several month and is obviously the first important event which influences significantly the whole life of a person. The second important event is recognition of the importance of knowledge and experience which are obtained during the course. There is no certain time when it could happen, however, it contributed greatly to changes which appeared.

Having realized necessity of all skills and information which a student can obtain while studying, he/she starts to do his/her best in order to get the maximum (“Education” para. 6). This recognition can be taken as a certain turning point as since that time a person starts to work for himself/herself and do everything which is possible to become the best student of the course. The last important event which could also have significant influence on a person is graduation.

Having received his/her diploma, a person understands that he/she just starts the long way to success and that he/she has to do a lot to succeed. Diploma is the thing which can help, however, a person still has to work hard. Summing it up, it is possible to say that these three events can be taken as the most important things which influence student significantly.

Summarizing the given discussion, it should be said that importance of the whole process of study could hardly be overestimated. A person rises from an inexperienced freshman to qualified specialist who could work and succeed. The process of development is very important and environment and educational institution helps a person to evolve. A graduate obtains priceless experience and knowledge which could help him/her in his/her future life.

These phenomena are obtained due to several factors and events which happen during the whole course. Necessity to become independent and recognition of the role of a specialist in society influence a person and make him/her work harder. Moreover, a student is surrounded by people who help him/her to socialize which is also an important aspect of human life. Some of people will become friends for a student while other will be able to help in some complicated situations.

However, all these people are very important for any person as they comprise the network of acquaintance which is vital for a social being. Additionally, combination of in and out of class activities helps to teach a person not only the knowledge which is the part of curriculum. However, a person also teaches show to divide his/her own free time and how to choose priorities. With this in mind, having analyzed the whole process of study, it is possible to make a certain conclusion.

Education is a thing which helps a person not to get lost in the modern world as it gives confidence and needed experience (“Improve your personality through education” para. 6). It should also be said that a person, who graduated from any educational establishment, can easily be detected as he/she differs from the rest of young people who do not have education (“The Difference Between Being Educated and Uneducated” para.7). Under these conditions, it seems logic to recommend people to obtain education as it gives obvious advantages and helps in their life.

Works Cited

Dewey, John. Experience and Education . n.d. Web.

Education . n.d. Web.

Improve your personality through education . 2010. Web.

Importance of Education Speech . n.d. Web.

Kidwai, Anam. Top 15 Reasons why Education is Extremely Important. 2014. Web.

The Difference Between Being Educated and Uneducated . n.d. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, April 21). Role of Education in Modern Society.

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IvyPanda . (2020) 'Role of Education in Modern Society'. 21 April.

IvyPanda . 2020. "Role of Education in Modern Society." April 21, 2020.

1. IvyPanda . "Role of Education in Modern Society." April 21, 2020.


IvyPanda . "Role of Education in Modern Society." April 21, 2020.

320 episodes

Each Tuesday and Friday, Ezra Klein invites you into a conversation on something that matters. How do we address climate change if the political system fails to act? Has the logic of markets infiltrated too many aspects of our lives? What is the future of the Republican Party? What do psychedelics teach us about consciousness? What does sci-fi understand about our present that we miss? Can our food system be just to humans and animals alike? Listen to this podcast in New York Times Audio, our iOS app for news subscribers. Download now at

The Ezra Klein Show The New York Times

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  • 4.5 • 9.3K Ratings
  • JUN 7, 2024

The Economic Theory That Explains Why Americans Are So Mad

There’s something weird happening with the economy. On a personal level, most Americans say they’re doing pretty well right now. And according to the data, that’s true. Wages have gone up faster than inflation. Unemployment is low, the stock market is generally up so far this year, and people are buying more stuff. And yet in surveys, people keep saying the economy is bad. A recent Harris poll for The Guardian found that around half of Americans think the S. & P. 500 is down this year, and that unemployment is at a 50-year high. Fifty-six percent think we’re in a recession. There are many theories about why this gap exists. Maybe political polarization is warping how people see the economy or it’s a failure of President Biden’s messaging, or there’s just something uniquely painful about inflation. And while there’s truth in all of these, it felt like a piece of the story was missing. And for me, that missing piece was an article I read right before the pandemic. An Atlantic story from February 2020 called “The Great Affordability Crisis Breaking America.” It described how some of Americans’ biggest-ticket expenses — housing, health care, higher education and child care — which were already pricey, had been getting steadily pricier for decades. At the time, prices weren’t the big topic in the economy; the focus was more on jobs and wages. So it was easier for this trend to slip notice, like a frog boiling in water, quietly, putting more and more strain on American budgets. But today, after years of high inflation, prices are the biggest topic in the economy. And I think that explains the anger people feel: They’re noticing the price of things all the time, and getting hammered with the reality of how expensive these things have become. The author of that Atlantic piece is Annie Lowrey. She’s an economics reporter, the author of Give People Money, and also my wife. In this conversation, we discuss how the affordability crisis has collided with our post-pandemic inflationary world, the forces that shape our economic perceptions, why people keep spending as if prices aren’t a strain and what this might mean for the presidential election. Mentioned: “It Will Never Be a Good Time to Buy a House” by Annie Lowrey Book Recommendations: Franchise by Marcia Chatelain A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Rollin Hu. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Efim Shapiro and Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

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The Republican Party’s Decay Began Long Before Trump

After Donald Trump was convicted last week in his hush-money trial, Republican leaders wasted no time in rallying behind him. There was no chance the Republican Party was going to replace Trump as their nominee at this point. Trump has essentially taken over the G.O.P.; his daughter-in-law is even co-chair of the Republican National Committee. How did the Republican Party get so weak that it could fall victim to a hostile takeover? Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld are the authors of “The Hollow Parties: The Many Pasts and Disordered Present of American Party Politics,” which traces how both major political parties have been “hollowed out” over the decades, transforming once-powerful gatekeeping institutions into mere vessels for the ideologies of specific candidates. And they argue that this change has been perilous for our democracy. In this conversation, we discuss how the power of the parties has been gradually chipped away; why the Republican Party became less ideological and more geared around conflict; the merits of a stronger party system; and more. Mentioned: “Democrats Have a Better Option Than Biden” by The Ezra Klein Show “Here’s How an Open Democratic Convention Would Work” by The Ezra Klein Show with Elaine Kamarck Book Recommendations: The Two Faces of American Freedom by Aziz Rana Rainbow’s End by Steven P. Erie An American Melodrama by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, Bruce Page Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show’‘ was produced by Elias Isquith. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker, Kate Sinclair and Rollin Hu. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota and Efim Shapiro. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

  • MAY 31, 2024

Your Mind Is Being Fracked

The steady dings of notifications. The 40 tabs that greet you when you open your computer in the morning. The hundreds of unread emails, most of them spam, with subject lines pleading or screaming for you to click. Our attention is under assault these days, and most of us are familiar with the feeling that gives us — fractured, irritated, overwhelmed. D. Graham Burnett calls the attention economy an example of “human fracking”: With our attention in shorter and shorter supply, companies are going to even greater lengths to extract this precious resource from us. And he argues that it’s now reached a point that calls for a kind of revolution. “This is creating conditions that are at odds with human flourishing. We know this,” he tells me. “And we need to mount new forms of resistance.” Burnett is a professor of the history of science at Princeton University and is working on a book about the laboratory study of attention. He’s also a co-founder of the Strother School of Radical Attention, which is a kind of grass roots, artistic effort to create a curriculum for studying attention. In this conversation, we talk about how the 20th-century study of attention laid the groundwork for today’s attention economy, the connection between changing ideas of attention and changing ideas of the self, how we even define attention (this episode is worth listening to for Burnett’s collection of beautiful metaphors alone), whether the concern over our shrinking attention spans is simply a moral panic, what it means to teach attention and more. Mentioned: Friends of Attention “The Battle for Attention” by Nathan Heller “Powerful Forces Are Fracking Our Attention. We Can Fight Back.” by D. Graham Burnett, Alyssa Loh and Peter Schmidt Scenes of Attention edited by D. Graham Burnett and Justin E. H. Smith Book Recommendations: Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter L. Galison The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin and Elias Isquith. Original music by Isaac Jones and Aman Sahota. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

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‘Artificial Intelligence?’ No, Collective Intelligence.

A.I.-generated art has flooded the internet, and a lot of it is derivative, even boring or offensive. But what could it look like for artists to collaborate with A.I. systems in making art that is actually generative, challenging, transcendent? Holly Herndon offered one answer with her 2019 album “PROTO.” Along with Mathew Dryhurst and the programmer Jules LaPlace, she built an A.I. called “Spawn” trained on human voices that adds an uncanny yet oddly personal layer to the music. Beyond her music and visual art, Herndon is trying to solve a problem that many creative people are encountering as A.I. becomes more prominent: How do you encourage experimentation without stealing others’ work to train A.I. models? Along with Dryhurst, Jordan Meyer and Patrick Hoepner, she co-founded Spawning, a company figuring out how to allow artists — and all of us creating content on the internet — to “consent” to our work being used as training data. In this conversation, we discuss how Herndon collaborated with a human chorus and her “A.I. baby,” Spawn, on “PROTO”; how A.I. voice imitators grew out of electronic music and other musical genres; why Herndon prefers the term “collective intelligence” to “artificial intelligence”; why an “opt-in” model could help us retain more control of our work as A.I. trawls the internet for data; and much more. Mentioned: “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt” by Holly Herndon “xhairymutantx” by Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst, for the Whitney Museum of Art “Fade” by Holly Herndon “Swim” by Holly Herndon “Jolene” by Holly Herndon and Holly+ “Movement” by Holly Herndon “Chorus” by Holly Herndon “Godmother” by Holly Herndon “The Precision of Infinity” by Jlin and Philip Glass Holly+ Book Recommendations: Intelligence and Spirit by Reza Negarestani Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky Plurality by E. Glen Weyl, Audrey Tang and ⿻ Community Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. And special thanks to Sonia Herrero and Jack Hamilton.

  • MAY 21, 2024

A Conservative Futurist and a Supply-Side Liberal Walk Into a Podcast …

“The Jetsons” premiered in 1962. And based on the internal math of the show, George Jetson, the dad, was born in 2022. He’d be a toddler right now. And we are so far away from the world that show imagined. There were a lot of future-trippers in the 1960s, and most of them would be pretty disappointed by how that future turned out. So what happened? Why didn’t we build that future? The answer, I think, lies in the 1970s. I’ve been spending a lot of time studying that decade in my work, trying to understand why America is so bad at building today. And James Pethokoukis has also spent a lot of time looking at the 1970s, in his work trying to understand why America is less innovative today than it was in the postwar decades. So Pethokoukis and I are asking similar questions, and circling the same time period, but from very different ideological vantages. Pethokoukis is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of the book “The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised.” He also writes a newsletter called Faster, Please! “The two screamingly obvious things that we stopped doing is we stopped spending on science, research and development the way we did in the 1960s,” he tells me, “and we began to regulate our economy as if regulation would have no impact on innovation.” In this conversation, we debate why the ’70s were such an inflection point; whether this slowdown phenomenon is just something that happens as countries get wealthier; and what the government’s role should be in supporting and regulating emerging technologies like A.I. Mentioned: “U.S. Infrastructure: 1929-2017” by Ray C. Fair Book Recommendations Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey The American Dream Is Not Dead by Michael R. Strain Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Rollin Hu. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Annie Galvin, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. And special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

  • MAY 17, 2024

The Disastrous Relationship Between Israel, Palestinians and the U.N.

The international legal system was created to prevent the atrocities of World War II from happening again. The United Nations partitioned historic Palestine to create the states of Israel and Palestine, but also left Palestinians with decades of false promises. The war in Gaza — and countless other conflicts, including those in Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia — shows how little power the U.N. and international law have to protect civilians in wartime. So what is international law actually for? Aslı Ü. Bâli is a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in international and comparative law. “The fact that people break the law and sometimes get away with it doesn’t mean the law doesn’t exist and doesn’t have force,” she argues. In this conversation, Bâli traces the gap between how international law is written on paper and the realpolitik of how countries decide to follow it, the U.N.’s unique role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its very beginning, how the laws of war have failed Gazans but may be starting to change the conflict’s course, and more. Mentioned: “With Schools in Ruins, Education in Gaza Will Be Hobbled for Years” by Liam Stack and Bilal Shbair Book Recommendations: Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law by Antony Anghie Justice for Some by Noura Erakat Worldmaking After Empire by Adom Getachew The Constitutional Bind by Aziz Rana The United Nations and the Question of Palestine by Ardi Imseis Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at [email protected]. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota and Isaac Jones. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu, Elias Isquith and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Carole Sabouraud.

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Customer Reviews

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Thank you for this, REAL explanation of cost and how it effects us in a very real way. When Obamacare went through, they constantly talked about it as though it was a great thing. It never was. So telling us that Joe Biden has done a pretty good job just makes us angry‼️

He’s Even Better at Podcasting than Writing

I first encountered Ezra’s podcasting voice on the episode of Search Engine called “Is there a sane way to use the internet?” I was impressed at Klein’s manner: calm, anti-hype, thoughtful, and ferociously prepared. He really could see nuance where so much is missing today. Even if you are a right wing republican, you won’t find him to be a dogged Democrat. He is a genuinely curious and interested person who focused on facts. I checked out his podcast and quickly devoured his 3 part series on AI —and now I’m on a campaign to get others to listen to his podcasts. I really appreciate his curious and analytic mind, and how thoughtful he is in his interviews. He does not fawn over his guests, but he also does not antagonize them either. In a world where everyone seems to want to get rich by upsetting everyone, Ezra’s a thoughtful voice of moderation, challenging us to think more deeply and ask ourselves and each other better questions-as well as listen to the answers. An antidote to the modern media complex on both sides.

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Education About Asia: Online Archives

A brief essay on my key issues book: the philippines: from earliest times to the present.

My AAS Key Issues in Asian Studies book— The Philippines: From Earliest Times to the Present —is intended to introduce readers to a nation originally named after a European prince. The people of the archipelago that now constitutes the Philippines had a long history before any European contact occurred. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, Filipinos have experienced a wide range of encounters with the US. The Philippines was Asia’s first republic and then became a US colony after an American war of conquest and pacification, which some argue resulted in the deaths of 10 percent of the population. Almost a million Filipino soldiers and civilians, and approximately 23,000 American military, died in the war against Imperial Japanese forces.

There are at least two ideas that drive this book. The first is that the Philippines was not some isolated archipelago that was accidentally “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Some residents of the Philippines had contact with “the outside world” long before European contact through trade with other Southeast Asian polities and Imperial China.

Photograph of a middle aged Damon Wood. He has a bald head and a grey short beard, and he is wearing a black business suit.

The second and more important theme is that vibrant cultures existed before outsiders arrived, and they have continued throughout the history of the Philippines, though perhaps not seen or simply ignored by historians and other scholars. The intrusion by the Spaniards might be seen to have changed almost everything, as did the American incursion, and to a lesser extent the Japanese occupation. This is not the case. But if one does not know what was there before, the focus may be upon the intruders—their religion, culture, economies, and the impact they had on the local population—rather than on Filipinos, the local inhabitants. While acknowledging the impact and influence of foreign occupations, I sought in the book to focus on Filipinos and to see them as not merely, or even primarily, reactive.

Beginning with the pre-Hispanic period, The Philippines: From Earliest Times to the Present seeks to present, briefly, the reality of an advanced indigenous culture certainly influenced but not erased by more than three centuries of Spanish occupation. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence on two levels—peasants and elite—of organized resistance to that presence, culminating in what some call a revolution and finally a republic. But this development was cut short by the Americans. When a commonwealth was put in place during the fourth decade of American rule, this was interrupted by World War II and the Japanese occupation. After World War II, the Philippines once again became an independent republic with the growing pains of a newly evolving democracy and its share of ups and down, including the Marcos dictatorship.

The Philippines has emerged in the twenty-first century with a robust and expanding economy, and as an important member of ASEAN. And it has its issues. On November 7, 2013, the most powerful Philippine typhoon on record hit the central part of the archipelago, resulting in more than 6,000 deaths. President Rodrigo Duterte, elected in 2016, has caught the eye of human rights advocates as he has dealt harshly with a drug problem that is far more significant than most realized. Then there is the ongoing conflict with China over islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines has been and will continue to be in the news.

The Philippines: From Earliest Times to the Present depicts Filipinos as not passive or merely the recipients of foreign influences. Contrary to the title of Stanley Karnow’s 1989 book, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, the Philippines is not made in anyone’s, including America’s, image. Teachers and students should find this book helpful, not only in dealing with the history of the Philippines but also in recognizing that often the histories of developing countries fail to seriously take into account the local population—their culture, their actions, their vision of the world. The Philippines is perhaps best known today in the West as a place with beautiful beaches and as a wonderful place to vacation. This book will show it to be much more than that.

I’m 48 and my husband is 29. That won’t stop us from having a baby

Caroline Stanbury

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Caroline Stanbury currently stars on Bravo's reality series “ The Real Housewives of Dubai .” Stanbury also hosts the podcast “ Uncut & Uncensored , ” has a wellness brand, “ Bust The Label , ” and is building a real estate venture in Bali called “ Samsara Nest . ” She is married to Real Madrid soccer star Sergio Carrallo and has spoken about their plans to have a child together on the reality show. In a personal essay for TODAY, she shares more about their desire to grow their family, and why they are considering surrogacy.

Having a biological child with my husband, Sergio, was something I always knew would come up between us, honestly.

Sergio doesn't have any children. He's 29 and I just turned 48. From the moment we got involved, I realized that he'd probably want his own family.

I have three children from my first marriage: one 18-year-old girl, Yasmine, and two 14-year-old boys, Zack and Aaron. Sergio is very, very good as a stepfather. It’s a lot of work to blend into an already grown-up family. Of course, the kids love him.

Everyone kept asking if we were having a baby after our wedding two years ago. They're rooting for a Sergio-and-Caroline baby. I think they just want to see me waddling around or watch how first-time dad Sergio copes with sleepless nights. But it’s a lot of pressure to have the whole world know our reproductive issues.

Sergio Carrallo and Caroline Stanbury on the red carpet

Maybe I never should have mentioned it in front of the cameras. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

We've already done two rounds of in vitro fertilization . Even though we got 15 eggs the first round and another 15 or 20 the second round, we only ended up with one viable embryo.

So we have a little baby boy on ice, waiting for us.

Knowing that there's one embryo is exciting, but it's also worrisome for Sergio. He's thinking he'd like to do another round of IVF in January next year and try for another embryo or two.

I suggested using someone else's eggs if we don't get another embryo with mine — which is a great option that works for many people — but that isn't something Sergio would consider. He wants our baby to biologically belong to both of us.

Unfortunately I probably can't carry another child myself. I had preeclampsia with all my children, and I got very sick with the twins. My children are against me carrying a baby because of the health risks for me. But right now, I'm undecided. My doctor thinks that I may be able to carry one more child, however, and I also feel the healthiest I've ever been. So never say never.

In the meantime, we're looking for a surrogate .

I never thought I’d be in a position where I’m reading how to find another woman to carry my baby, and I'm trying to figure out what that would look like. What if she wants to live in another country? What if Sergio wants to rub her belly? There are a million questions that don’t have answers to right now.

Surrogacy was illegal here in Dubai until just a few months ago. After surrogacy was legalized, I called the IVF clinic and they gave me two names of surrogacy agencies. I'm due to have a consultation, which I put off until after summer.

Moving forward with having another baby is a difficult decision at my age. It’s definitely something we go back and forth about a lot.

Sometimes, we think about the fact that we’ve already got three children. I’m older. I’ve already raised kids. We’ve got a life where we travel a lot and we work a lot. We have a really nice lifestyle. My children have grown up, and they’re leaving home.

Having a baby now would mean that while Yasmine is going to university, I’m about to go and look at nappies again. 

But I think that Sergio will be a great dad, and he deserves to be a father. And it could be fun! Maybe I'm better prepared to go back into the trenches now. I know exactly what to expect, so I won't be so overwhelmed by it all.

When you have a baby at a younger age, you're in shock because everyone's telling you what you can and can't do with your own child, and you're scared. But now that I've had three kids, I know that babies are resilient. It's not as hard as people like to make out.

Having three children under the age of 5 was quite hard, but I think having just one might be a walk in the park for me.

I've got more patience now than I had when I was a younger mom. I was running a much bigger company then and was dealing with more pressures at the time. Now, I've softened. So maybe when I have Sergio's baby, I'll be all gaga over it. A baby may turn me into a completely different human.

In talking to women on my podcast, " Uncut & Uncensored ," I've realized that the one thing Sergio and I have given everybody is hope. I'm showing women that they can go on and start a whole new life — perhaps literally — at 48.

At the same time, I know that it's tough for a lot of couples who want to have children and can't. I think the most important thing is that your partner supports you wholeheartedly. You can have a wonderful relationship with children or without, and it makes such a difference when you have a partner who reassures you that they will be by your side no matter what.

And Sergio has done just that. Which, ironically, is one of the many reasons I know he would be a great dad.

“The Real Housewives of Dubai” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. 

Caroline Stanbury is a star on Bravo's "Real Housewives of Dubai." Rosie Colosi is a parenting reporter for TODAY. 

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