Mary made me do hard manual labor today. She has some serviceberries she wanted planted in the back yard, so I had to help cut chickenwire and bend it to make a protective circle around them — we have lots of rabbits around here — and then we had to dig holes in the thick, glue-like, clayey soil in our backyard (which, I know, isn’t the best for these bushes). Look what it did to my shoes!

Unfortunately, these are my only shoes. We’re poor, and I was supposed to get a new pair for my birthday a few months ago, and we never had the energy to drive all the way to Cabela’s. I guess I’d better make the trip soon.

Also, I’ve got a blister on my right hand. I am not made for hard manual labor.

We did find something interesting, a Masked Hunter.

Now though, I have to lie down and recuperate.

Does this remind anyone else of a certain University of Chicago professor who was both outraged that anyone would refuse to pay racists and gender criticals to speak on campus, while also freaking out that students had strong opinions he disagreed with? It’s uncanny.

Although…the worst ones tend not to call themselves “conservative.” They’re “liberal” or “centrist” or “open-minded” while magically and unthinkingly aligning themselves with conservatives all the way down the line.

I’ve seen Terrence Howard in Crash and Red Tails and the first Iron Man (he wasn’t in any of the sequels, I wonder why?), and he was fine as an actor. It’s when he goes off script that you discover that he is totally nuts. Professor Dave explores some of his lunacy.

It’s 48 minutes long, but most of it is redundant — at his first attempt to explain that 1 x 1 = 2, or his redrawn periodic table, or his wacky 3-dimensional models of elements, it’s clear that he has lost the plot. And then the video gets into Howard’s 3 hour long interview with Joe Rogan, and it becomes clear that Rogan is just as ignorant and deluded and deranged and useless.

I’ve seen no more than a few minutes of Rogan in short excerpts, and knew from my first exposure that he was a fraud. Nowadays, when I see an account on social media that is trying to sell how smart he is, I insta-block that channel. I’d do the same with any mention of Howard, except that everyone sees how foolish he is, and he isn’t getting paid millions of dollars to babble for hours on Spotify every day.

Mary spotted all these tiny yellow spiders all around the backyard. Apparently, a sac full of Araneinae hatched out in the last few days.

These are the equivalent of those kids’ show Minions. They’re all over, I can’t tell them apart, and they talk funny.

While I was out roaming in the yard, I spotted a few other familiar faces. This is Salticus scenicus, the zebra jumper. They were all over the walls.

Then there was this guy, Parasteatoda, who had caught a sowbug. It’s like having lobster for lunch.

Portrait of Sir John Fortescue by William Faithorne

Extremist, early 19th century: a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal or violent action.

In 1809, a physician and opponent of vaccination by the name of Benjamin Moseley wrote, “In every country the subject has seized the ‘heat-oppressed brain’ of extremists only.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this was the first time the word “extremist” was used in written English.

The term seems to exclude the possibility that the “moderate middle” could ever itself be extreme. It is thus a spatial metaphor with which to describe our attitudes.

An early example of the geographical use is in one of the Acts of Henry VII, which talks of Chichester as being “in the extream Part of the ... Shire” (1503). The first recorded use of “extreme” as an adjective is in a very modern sounding phrase, “Lyvyn in the most extreme Povertie”, which was used to describe the poor in Sir John Fortescue’s major work of early political science The Governance of England (c.1460). As you might guess, the word has a French origin, and before that, Latin: “extremus” meaning the most “outward” or “outermost”.

Today, the spatial metaphor is often used to describe political or religious views, as a means to categorise them as dangerous or abnormal. The British government has recently updated its definition of extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 1) negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or 2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or 3) intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in 1) or 2).”

This new definition is meant to be more “focused” and was accompanied by examples of supposedly extremist organisations: three Muslim and two far-right groups. That some of these groups have already rejected the definition proves there will always be disagreement about what falls inside, or outside of the norm.

This article is from New Humanist's summer 2024 issue. Subscribe now.

A Zipline drone flying over Muhanga, Rwanda

Our use of drones in the UK is currently fairly restricted. However, new government proposals would permit them to fly beyond the operator’s line of sight, opening up a host of possibilities – from using drones to inspect infrastructure to helping police check on incidents before they arrive in person.

Medicine is one crucial area where drones could make a real difference. They are already being used in some countries, particularly those with territory that is hard to reach by road. This year, in partnership with local authorities, Japan Airlines launched an unmanned drone service to deliver goods and medical supplies in a remote part of Japan. There are predictions that a similar service could be used to respond to environmental disasters in the future. Several African countries are also using medical drone deliveries quite extensively.

Trials are already happening in the UK – for example, a 2022 trial saw chemotherapy medicine being delivered by drone to the Isle of Wight, instead of the usual combination of boat and taxi. The trial, which was granted special permission by the aviation authorities, cut delivery times from four hours to 30 minutes.

Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust is hoping to be granted a similar special permission and to launch a drone service by this autumn. In Northumbria’s proposed scheme, supplies will be dropped by a small parachute to land outside hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes.

There are still questions around the risk of accidents and crashes, and concerns about the potential for invasion of privacy as drone use becomes more commonplace. We don’t yet know how revolutionary they’ll ultimately prove to be for medicine. But “flying pharmacies” may soon be another good tool in the medical box.

This article is from New Humanist's summer 2024 issue. Subscribe now.

The cover of New Humanist's summer 2024 issue shows a group of suited protesters waving flags and holding loudspeakers against an orange and red background. The cover line reads 'Rise of the fanatics'

The summer 2024 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! This issue we're delving in to the rise of the religious right, from the US to Israel. Subscribe to the print edition for just £27 a year or buy a single issue online and in all good newsagents. Read on for a peek inside the magazine.

Trump's bishops

Mary Jo McConahay explains how US Catholic bishops are working with evangelicals to re-install Donald Trump in the White House – and usher in a new era of Christian nationalism.

"Unless they change direction, the bishops along with other ultraconservatives, fuelled by dark money from super-rich donors, may take the US down the perilous road of extremism and autocracy in the coming national elections and beyond."

Divided Israel

As the Gaza war deepens, divides within the Israeli Jewish population threaten to split the state, writes Alona Ferber.

"There is much to say about the unequal treatment by Israel of Palestinians, including those who are citizens of the state, and what it means for Israel's future. But critical, too, are the deepening divides among Israeli Jews – secular and religious, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox – and the strain this is placing on competing visions of what it means to be 'the Jewish state'. Can Israel resolve its existential tensions and internal contradictions, or will they tear it apart?"

How to be a good citizen

Canadian political philosopher John Ralston Saul speaks to us about nationalism, the future of democracy in the US, and how to be a good citizen.

"We have the right to create disorder, intellectual and emotional disorder."

The summer 2024 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for as little as £10 a year for a digital subscription, or £27 for a print subscription.

Star trails from the Earth’s rotation captured using long exposure, above a cattle truck in the Western Australian Wheatbelt

Also in the summer 2024 issue:

  • John Boyce on the remaking of Sinn Féin
  • Isabel Hilton on China's bid to export its worldview
  • James Ball on why there's no "wrong side of history"
  • Michael Rosen on the history and meaning of the word "extremism"
  • Broadcaster Chris Packham on what drives his eco-activism
  • Peter Ward on why space junk threatens humanity
  • Richard Pallardy on how viruses could save your life
  • Shaparak Khorsandi on the joys of being sober
  • Samira Ahmed on great thinkers and their clutter
  • Marcus Chown on the woman who discovered black holes – only to be forgotten
  • Marie Le Conte on why we all need to get out more

Plus more fascinating features on the biggest topics shaping our world today, and all our regular science columns, book reviews, original poetry, the cryptic crossword and brainteaser.

Subscribe to the print edition now to get a beautiful copy of the magazine delivered to your door, or choose a digital subscription to read it on the app.

New Humanist, a quarterly magazine of culture, ideas, science and philosophy, is published by the Rationalist Association, a 136-year-old charity promoting reason and free enquiry.

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

In early March, Yitzhak Yosef – chief rabbi of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Sephardi community – caused an uproar. Speaking at his weekly lecture, he suggested that Israel’s survival depended more on prayers than military might. He also made what could appear to be a threat. “If they force us to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad,” he said. “All these secular people don’t understand that without kollels and yeshivas [institutions where religious Jewish men study], the army would not be successful.”

Yosef was speaking in defence of the long-running exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from conscription, in place since the foundation of the state. As Israel faces its greatest military crisis in decades, many are questioning whether this exemption is still fair. It’s part of a larger question around the role of the Haredim – the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox Jews, meaning “the fearful” – in Israeli society, which speaks to a paradox at the heart of the Jewish state.

In its 1948 Declaration of Independence, the nascent nation pledged to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex” and to “guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture”. There is much to say about the unequal treatment by Israel of the Palestinians, including those who are citizens of the state, and what it means for Israel’s future. But critical, too, are the deepening divides among Israeli Jews – secular and religious, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox – and the strain this is placing on competing visions of what it means to be “the Jewish state”. Can Israel resolve its existential tensions and internal contradictions, or will they tear it apart?

It was early on 8 October, the day after Hamas struck, that Hannah Katsman found out her son, Hayim, had been killed at his home in Kibbutz Holit, one of the Gaza border communities attacked that day. The 32-year-old was a peace activist, atheist and academic. He had completed a PhD thesis on Religious Zionism, a movement he grew up in and had subsequently left. Speaking to me from her Jerusalem flat, plain white walls behind her, Hannah’s speech seemed slowed by grief.

Hannah is a Religious Zionist, a movement of Orthodox Jews which believes that God promised the land of Israel to the ancient Israelites, and that the Jewish people have a duty to live on and defend that land. However, she doesn’t support the political direction of the movement, which has become increasingly right-wing. She moved from the US to Israel with her family in 1990, and says she was surprised then by some aspects of the movement. “One of the more shocking things to get used to was how much people talked about politics in the synagogue,” she said, “How politics was considered fair game and your political views were scrutinised.”

In the decades since, this rightward drift has only accelerated. Elana Stozkman, a feminist activist and author, left the movement because she is no longer religious, but also because she thinks it has completely lost its way. “Once they [Religious Zionists] had lots to say about education and welfare,” about building a better society, she says.

“Today it’s all about shtachim [territories] and Palestinians. It’s what’s taught in yeshivas. It’s what the rabbis say ... That comes with a whole ideology that ignores the cries of actual human beings who also live in those areas, that has constructed a reality that is an apartheid reality.”

Religious-secular tensions

The current Gaza crisis has only highlighted how far to the right Religious Zionism has travelled. While prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu practices a conscious vagueness when it comes to any discussion of what happens after the Gaza war, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir – Religious Zionists and two of the most powerful members in the coalition – have talked openly about Jewish resettlement.

On 28 January, at a conference in Jerusalem attended by settler groups – and reportedly 11 government ministers, including Ben-Gvir – hundreds of Religious Zionists danced, waved Israeli flags and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The nation of Israel lives”), while calling for Jews to live in Gaza after the war. Ben-Gvir told attendees that the only way to avoid another 7 October was “to return home and control the land”, as well as to “encourage emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza.

Zionism was initially a secular nationalist project, but the very founding of Israel set in motion religious-secular tensions. In the summer of 1947, when all-out war between Arabs and Jews loomed, David Ben-Gurion, then leader of the executive of the Jewish Agency, which represented Jews in Palestine, reached an agreement with the religious Jewish population on how Israel, if founded, would incorporate Jewish law, assuaging the fears of Haredim about an overly secular state.

Socialist secular Jews led the Zionist movement when the state was founded the following year, and Labour Zionists dominated the country’s politics until the 1970s. But today, Israel’s Labour Party is a shadow of its former self. Many kibbutzim – the collectivist communities symbolic of the Jewish state’s early years, some of which were the targets of the attacks on 7 October – are now business parks or wedding venues.

Meanwhile, Israel’s changing demographics have made the country more divided. In 1948, when the state was founded, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community made up around 1 per cent of Israeli Jewry. Last year, the minority was 13.6 per cent of the total Israeli population of some 9.2 million, which includes 20 per cent non-Jews. The secular population has also grown. Polling by Pew Research, conducted in 2014-2015, found that roughly half of Jewish Israeli respondents identified as secular. That means that religious Jews, at least at that time, accounted for around 40 per cent of Israel’s population overall, around the same as secular Jews.

Despite this, Israel has been moving towards intolerance and away from the pluralism enshrined in the country’s Declaration of Independence. In 2018, for instance, Israel passed the Nation State Law, which defined the Jewish characteristics of the Israeli state with no consideration for equality or minority rights.

The law asserts that self-determination is an “exclusive right” of Jewish people in Israel, as well as declaring the “national value” of Jewish settlement (the law does not specify where that settlement could be). If interpreted as support for settlement in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza, this obviously affects a future Palestinian state, but it also affects Muslim and Christian Palestinians living in Israel, and the other Arabs, Druze, Circassians and Armenians who together make up the country’s 20 per cent non-Jewish minority. And while the pluralist, socialist underpinnings of the state have been largely undermined since Israel’s founding, many of the agreements made with the religious population remain unaltered.

One example is the observation of the Sabbath as the day of rest, guaranteed by Ben-Gurion. This means that public transport is practically non-existent from sunset on Fridays to sunset on Saturdays in Israel, causing significant difficulties for those who don’t observe the Sabbath. Ben-Gurion also promised that state-run kitchens would observe kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws, and that religious education institutions would retain autonomy, all of which remains in place today (kashrut is now also the default for hotels across the country).

The separation of school systems, meanwhile, means that ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose education is focused on religious study, remain isolated from the wider community. It is also one of the factors behind most Haredi Jews living in poverty, as many lack the skills and education required to join the modern workforce, adding to issues that might be caused by the need to live by strict religious codes. Increasing numbers of non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis resent that the growing community contributes less in taxes as a result of these factors.

Rights are also affected. There is still no civil marriage. Those wishing to intermarry across religious lines without converting, or even those simply wishing to marry outside of a religious institution, must leave the country to do so. Jews not deemed “Jewish enough” by Israel’s rabbinate are not able to marry in Israel, either. And divorce, which can only be granted by the husband in Orthodox Judaism, can prove impossible to secure, leaving women trapped in marriages that are unwanted or unsafe.

The ultra-Orthodox exemption

Today’s hot button issue, the Haredi exemption from conscription, was also agreed by Ben-Gurion. It was part of a deal with Haredi leaders made during the 1948 war that established the state, which Israelis call the War of Independence and Palestinians the Nakba, or “disaster”. The law was intended to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews to focus on religious study and has often caused resentment over the years.

Today, amid the war in Gaza, the issue has become a lightning rod for the country’s divisions. In January the liberal daily newspaper Haaretz ran an editorial calling for a paradigm shift following 7 October. Hamas’ attack changed everything, it said, but “only one paradigm did not change, despite the catastrophe: drafting the ultra-Orthodox ... Even in calm times, the inequality in sharing the burden is troublesome, but in a prolonged war that is expected to continue throughout this year and possibly beyond, this constitutes a severe injustice toward those who serve.”

Netanyahu’s alliance with the most religious and right-wing parties on the Israeli political spectrum had already created tensions within parliament. Now the prime minister has the added challenge of keeping his emergency war cabinet united. This includes people like Benny Gantz, the former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief-of-staff-turned-politician, who joined the national unity government after 7 October. Secular, and considered a centrist, Gantz is one of the key politicians who opposes the Haredi exemption. After new legislation was proposed to extend army service and reserve duty, while preserving the exemption, Gantz branded it “a serious moral failure” and threatened to resign.

Beit Shemesh is a hilly city halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It was first established in the 1950s as a home to Jewish immigrants from Morocco, Iraq and Iran, before the construction of shiny new neighbourhoods in the 1990s attracted a growing Haredi and Orthodox population. The city has long been the site of tensions over the segregation of men and women in public spaces. In one case that caught the nation’s attention, in 2011, an eight-year-old girl called Naama Margolese was spat on by ultra-Orthodox men on her walk to school, and insulted for dressing “immodestly”. This was one in a series of such incidents, making the city the subject of hot debate about the nation and the rights of its citizens.

Under the former ultra-Orthodox city mayor Moshe Abutbul, the municipality became a symbol of illiberal theocracy. In 2013, Abutbul declared Beit Shemesh “holy and pure” for its supposed lack of LGBTQ residents. In 2015, four women took the municipality to court for failing to remove signs posted around the city demanding that women dress “modestly” and warning them to stay off certain pavements and buildings. They were awarded damages. In 2017, when the city had still not acted to remove the signs, the Supreme Court ordered the municipality to do so. In August last year, the then mayor Aliza Bloch – the first woman to hold the position, and an Orthodox, rather than ultra-Orthodox, Jew – was effectively held hostage for two hours inside a school while ultra-Orthodox men rioted outside.

Beit Shemesh is not the only city that has become a flashpoint, exposing deep divisions in Israeli society. Just east of Tel Aviv, the centre of secular Israeli culture, is the Haredi city of Bnei Brak, another site of friction. While Tel Aviv’s pace – certainly before the current conflict – is one of casual hedonism, of flesh and heat and revealing clothes, in Bnei Brak the men wear black hats or kippas and the women dress modestly in wigs or head coverings concealing their hair, while life revolves around the rituals and rules of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. In August last year, amid a reported rise in bus drivers forcing women to sit at the back of buses, and away from men, or even telling women passengers to dress more modestly, hundreds came out to Bnei Brak to protest. Footage shows demonstrators waving Israeli flags while local residents look on, bemused.

These tensions simmer in the background, but the matter of the military draft is a distinctive issue, as it concerns the biggest and most painful sacrifice the average Israeli makes for the state. It also threatens to shatter the political alliance between Religious Zionists and the ultra-Orthodox. Joining Netanyahu in his December 2022 coalition, politicians from both communities and movements cemented their political marriage of convenience, but since 7 October it is showing strain.

After all, there are major gaps between the Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are generally non-Zionist, while some of the more extreme sects are explicitly anti-Zionist. The Neturei Karta, for instance, some of whom live in Israel, see the country’s very existence as an abomination. And while the ultra-Orthodox have lived as a minority throughout Israel’s history, using their political leverage to look after themselves, the Religious Zionist parties want to shape the country’s future.

So far, politicians like Smotrich, the finance minister and leader of the Religious Zionism party, have refrained from outright criticism of their Haredi partners in government over the conscription issue. On 11 March, Smotrich urged them to “find a solution” to the impasse. Their voting public, however, many of whom are serving in Gaza, looks askance at the alliance. At the time of writing, more than 600 Israeli soldiers have been killed, and thousands injured, since the attack on 7 October. On that day alone, Hamas killed nearly 1,200 and took more than 200 soldiers and civilians hostage. As the fighting continues, tensions will grow.

But while the conflict has ramped up some debates, it has – at least temporarily – shut down others. Israel was in political turmoil before the 7 October attacks, with mass protests against Netanyahu. On trial for criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the prime minister would seemingly partner with anyone in his attempt to stay out of prison. In December 2022, he formed the most religious and right-wing government in the country’s history. It not only included Israel’s two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (Sephardi) and United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi), longtime political partners to his right-wing Likud, but also Religious Zionism, a coalition of parties that includes those with Jewish supremacist, anti-Arab and anti-LGBTQ views.

Ben-Gvir, the brash and increasingly popular leader of Jewish Power, one of the parties on the Religious Zionism slate, has convictions for incitement to racism and support of a terror organisation, the now outlawed Jewish supremacist party Kach, which he joined as a teenager. “Netanyahu is back,” splashed the UK’s Jewish News at the time, “but now it’s the iron fist of Israel’s far-right empowering him. It confirms our worst fears.”

Throughout 2023, this coalition pursued policies that pushed Israel to breaking point. Chief among them was a judicial overhaul, dubbed a “coup” by opponents. In January 2023, Justice Minister Yariv Lavin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud, announced a programme of reforms that critics claimed would weaken the mechanisms of Israeli democracy, targeting the power of the judiciary. Weekly protests attracting hundreds of thousands of Israelis occurred for much of the year, alongside major strikes.

The judicial reforms pitted the most conservative elements of Israeli society against liberal ones, and in a crude reading, religious against secular Israelis. While the reforms were not in themselves religious, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were seen as driving them. Elana Stozkman agrees with this analysis, describing the rallies against the reform as “very secular dominated” and the protest as “rooted in the religious-secular divide”.

Both the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Religious Zionism party supported the judicial reforms because it helped them advance their agendas. Indeed, with their power in Netanyahu’s coalition, the ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionism parties secured unprecedented allocations of billions of shekels for their sector in the country’s budget, passed last May, much to the chagrin of the rest of the country.

But the 7 October changed everything, sending the country into shock and grief. Right before Hamas’s attack, the anti-government protests had translated into momentum for elections, with possible challengers to Netanyahu emerging from the Israeli centre. One week before “Black Saturday”, as Israelis refer to it, half a million people were out on the streets. Now, the horror of the massacre and ongoing war have pushed the Israeli public to the right, and Netanyahu has helped himself to religious rhetoric to garner support for the army’s operations in Gaza.

In the meantime, Israel’s religious Jewish political parties have gained in strength. In municipal elections in February, ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionist parties took control of the city council of Jerusalem, the tense capital of the country. In the meantime, apart from anger over the issue of conscription, there is little wider debate. “We have no way to fight this,” Stozkman told me. “The war has shut down public discourse.”

Point of no return?

Amid the horrors of the war, there is some cause for hope. On 28 February, one month after hundreds gathered in Jerusalem calling for Jews to resettle Gaza, a very different conference took place in the capital. This was the second annual gathering of Smol Emuni, or “the faithful left”. Under the shadow of conflict, the event attracted 900 religious, liberal Jews looking for an alternative to the domination of the religious right.

Hannah Katsman was among them, taking part in a panel on the victims of 7 October. She spoke about her son, Hayim. That evening the war was in its fifth month. The death toll of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers continued to pile up in Gaza, the former well beyond 20,000. (Palestinian deaths have now climbed to over 34,000.) Meanwhile, 101 hostages were believed to still be alive in the Strip. I asked Katsman whether attendees seemed energised, if there was a sense it could be fruitful in building a path to bridge divides. “It was a positive feeling, but it was subdued,” she said. Lots of young people took part, but there was also “anger about the hostages”.

At the time of writing, an Israeli ground operation in Rafah, southern Gaza, remains a sword of Damocles over the region. With Israeli casualties piling up, and “total victory over Hamas” looking ever elusive, anger over the Haredi exemption from army service is only increasing. At the same time, fury over the hostages still trapped in Gaza many months after Hamas’s attack has reignited anti-government protests. In the last weekend of March, the largest such protests since Black Saturday took place, with a tent encampment set up outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Since 7 October, it looks increasingly like Israel is at a point of no return. Amid the war and violence and accusations of genocide, the relationship with the Palestinians has reached its nadir. Unprecedented escalation with Iran has the region on high alert. From within, meanwhile, Israel is tearing itself apart. Is there room for hope that religious and secular Israelis can find a way beyond these decades-long tensions? And can Israel resolve its central paradox, and be a truly equal home to all its communities, non-Jews and Jews alike?

Underneath it all, Israel has a pluralist ethos, according to Yair Ettinger, an analyst for Israel’s Kan News and author of Frayed: The Disputes Unravelling Religious Zionists. “This ethos does exist,” he says but “the war has to change this for everyone. There isn’t another way.”

A pluralist ethos must be more than theory, or decades-old intention. If the modern Israeli state can’t find a way to uphold rights and equality for all citizens – Palestinians and Jews, religious and secular – it cannot survive, at least not as a democracy. These internal problems are interwoven with the decades-long occupation. But even on its own terms – even if territory wasn’t as disputed as it still is today, even if the conflict did not exist – the state of Israel is so fragile it could break.

This article is a preview from New Humanist's summer 2024 issue. Subscribe now.

From the Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter. Subscribe here. Hello! The UK’s National Health Service recently released The Cass Review, an independent report intended “to make recommendations on how to improve NHS gender identity services, and ensure that children and young people who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria receive a high standard of …

A pro-Palestine protest in London

What we think of as “extreme” is a matter of perspective. So it’s not surprising that when the UK government introduced a new definition of “extremism” in March, it sparked controversy. The new definition is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 1) negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or 2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or 3) intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

The change is not about banning groups. Instead, it seems to be mainly aimed at ensuring that the government doesn’t inadvertently support those advancing aims that might be threatening to British society. Groups deemed “extremist” will be publicly named and denied grants, ministerial meetings and access to public appointments.

The government says the new definition is “narrower and more precise”. Notably, it did away with the slippery concept of “British values” included in the previous one. It also avoided some of the more troubling language that had reportedly been considered, such as references to undermining “British institutions”, which the National Secular Society had pointed out could include the Church of England or the monarchy.

Nonetheless, legal expert Adam Wagner expressed concern about point three, noting that the idea of “creating a permissive environment” was too vague and could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. The government justified the change by pointing to the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia since the beginning of the Israel-Gaza conflict. This is a legitimate concern, but the rhetoric around the issue has too often been accompanied by sweeping characterisations of anti-war protesters as extreme or racist. Muslim groups in particular are concerned that they could be unfairly targeted. Of the five groups identified as potentially affected, three are accused of Islamic fundamentalism and two of neo-Nazism.

Should there be a definition of “extremism” at all that is separate from the criminal code on violence and hate speech? Or does this move the government too close to policing thought? As even Miriam Cates, co-head of the New Conservatives group, has argued: in a democratic society “it is surely impossible to establish robust legal definitions of terms such as ‘extremism’ ... the state should only intervene on those with ‘extreme’ beliefs when they cross the line into violence and intimidation.”

This article is a preview from New Humanist's summer 2024 issue. Subscribe now.

This thread has been created for thoughtful, rational discussion on subjects for which there are not currently any dedicated threads. Please note that our Comment Policy applies as usual. There is a link to this at the foot of the page. If you would like to refer back to previous open discussion threads, the most …

Two quick bits of news from me.

blogcoverFirst, my new book on how learning magic promotes wellbeing is out very soon. It’s called Magic Your Mind Happy, and I am very excited because it provides a new perspective on magic. I will be doing lots of events to promote the book and it’s available to pre-order here.

Second, I have invented a new optical illusion! Well, to be more accurate, a new variant on a known illusion. The Beuchet Chair is one of my favourite illusions and involves a person appearing to be much smaller than they are. Invented by Jean Beuchet in the 1960s, it relies upon forced perspective created by chair legs that are close to the observer, and a large chair seat further away.

IMG_5468I have come up with a variant. This one centres around a plinth rather than a chair. The legs of the original chair are replaced by two pieces of hinged cardboard (these can easily be cut from foamboard and hinged with tape), and the large seat and back of the chair are replaced with a piece of cloth.

The hinged screen forms the base of the plinth and is positioned in front of the photographer, and the cloth appears to form the top of the plinth and is placed on the floor behind the screen. To help to create a sense of continuity between the large cloth and the plinth, two small pieces of matching cloth are draped along the top of the screens. The front and side panels of the screen help to conceal the front and left edge of the cloth, and make lining up the photograph much easier than in the original illusion.

IMG_5515This entire set up can be constructed in a short space of time, is quick to set up, and folds flat after use. Because of this, it’s ideal for those wanting to create a convincing version of this classic illusion that is easy and cost effective to build, assemble, move, and store. I hope that you like it.

From the Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter. Subscribe here. Hello! Confronting the kinds of problems that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science was created to address—such as the spread of anti-science attitudes and the intrusion of religious beliefs on the rights and freedoms of nonbelievers—requires us to utilize many different tools. Language may be foremost …
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From the Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter. Subscribe here. Hello! The mission of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science has always been two-fold. We work to promote scientific literacy and a secular worldview. The stories we’ll look at this month illustrate how and why those two goals are inextricable and why it’s important to employ …

Hi there,

I am delighted to say that I am back performing at the Edinburgh Magic Festival this year.

First, on the 28th December I will be exploring the strange world of illusion, mystery and magic in a show called MIND MAGIC. This will involve showing some of the best optical illusions in the world, revealing whether paranormal phenomena really exist, showing how we can all achieve the impossible, explaining how to transform a tea towel into a chicken, and much more. All the info is here.

Then, on the 28th and 29th December, I am presenting a new and experimental show about the invention of magic. This will be an intimate affair for a small number of people. It will examine how magicians create magic, and explore the mind and work of a magical genius who created the world’s greatest card trick. Info here.

So, if you are around, please come along, and fun will be had!

Some exciting news from me! I have just written my first book for children.

It uses magic to teach youngsters a range of essential life skills, including social skills, confidence, creativity, lateral thinking and much much more. Readers will learn how to perform lots of seemingly impossible feats, including how to defy gravity, read minds, pluck coins from thin air, and predict the future. Most important of all, these tricks have been carefully chosen to help boost mental wellbeing and resilience. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s magic!

I am delighted to say that Magic Your Mind Happy will be published by Wren and Rook in May 2024, and is available to preorder now here.

check, 1, 2…is this thing on? hi everyone! it’s been a while.


Two quick bits of news.

First, The Royal Society have kindly given me the prestigious David Attenborough Award. This is a lifetime achievement award for my work promoting psychology and critical thinking, and focuses on my research combatting pseudo-science and examining the psychology of magic. Previous recipients include Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam and Professor Alice Roberts, and I will give an award lecture about my work in August 2024.

Second, I have a new academic magic book out! It is part of the well-known Arts For Health series and reviews work examining how watching and learning magic is good for your wellbeing, including how it boosts confidence, social skills, dexterity, curiosity and much more. It was lots of fun to write and also includes interviews key practitioners, including Richard McDougall (Breathe Magic), Julie Eng (Magicana), Mario the Maker Magician (USA), David Brookhouse (UK), David Gore and Marian Williamson (College of Magic), and Tom Verner (Magicians Without Borders).  More details here.


I am delighted to say that the second series of our On Your Mind podcast has launched today!!

Each week, science journalist Marnie Chesterton and I will explore aspects of the human psyche, including astrology, how the clothes we wear influence our thoughts, attraction, friendship, dreaming, mind control and much much more.  We will also be joined by some special guests as we attempt to answer all of your questions about psychology. The first series reached No.1 in Apple Podcast’s Science charts, and so we hope that you can join us. 

Our first episode looks at creativity and explores how to have good ideas and whether children are more creative than adults. You can listen here.

Someone contacted me hoping to find young atheists who might be interested in being part of a new series. I’m not particularly interested in having my mug on TV, but I would love to have some great personalities represent atheism on the show, so I offered to repost his email on my blog: My name […]
All throughout my youth, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote all the time, about everything. I watched TV shows and ranted along with the curmudgeons on Television Without Pity about what each show did wrong, convincing myself that I could do a better job. I flew to America with a dream in my […]
A friend linked me to this. I was a sobbing mess within the first minute. I sometimes wonder why I feel such a strong kinship to the LGBT community, and I think it’s because I’ve been through the same thing that many of them have. So I watched this video and I cried, because, as […]
UPDATE #1: I got my domain back! Many thanks to Kurtis for the pleasant surprise: So I stumbled upon your blog, really liked what I saw, read that you had drama with the domain name owner, bought it, and forwarded it here. It should work again in a matter of seconds. I am an atheist […]
@davorg / Monday 27 May 2024 00:19 UTC