Graeme Wood

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Can Culture Make us Crazy?

Originally appeared in Pacific Standard.

Review of The Truman Show Delusion by Joel and Ian Gold.

In 2003, at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Joel Gold met his first patient suffering from what is now called the Truman Show delusion: the belief that he was being stalked by reality television, and that almost everyone was in on the gag but him. Gold’s current book, written with his brother Ian, a philosopher, is an attempt to explain the cultural roots of madness, with Truman Show patients and others as case studies. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Dozen Words for Misunderstood

Originally appeared in Pacific Standard.

Review of The Language Hoax by John McWhorter

 

Few fields of study suffer from a more complete public misunderstanding than linguistics. It isn’t uncommon for a linguist to be asked, on meeting a non-linguist, how many languages he or she speaks, or to hear the exclamation, “Oh dear, I must watch my grammar!” Linguists study languages and their structures, but speaking many of them isn’t a job requirement, nor is being a professional grammar scold. A slightly rarer misimpression is usually held by those with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. These people think they flatter a linguist when they say how important linguistics is, “because what we think depends on the words we use to think it.”

This last belief is the bugbear that’s been eating John McWhorter’s trash, and that he hopes to kill off once and for all with his latest book, The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language. McWhorter’s writing appears frequently in the liberal New Republic and the conservative City Journal, often on the subject of race and politics. (McWhorter subscribes to a number of political heterodoxies.) But before he went into punditry, McWhorter trained as a linguist and contributed to the study of creolization, the process by which two or more languages coalesce into a full-featured third language.

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Death at the Summit

Originally appeared in Pacific Standard.

More than 200 climbers are entombed in the ice on Mount Everest. When wind clears the snow away, clothing and limbs sometimes surface like saplings in a spring thaw. You can tell the older victims by their mid-century ice axes and crampons. The latest are recognizable by their branded parkas and iPhones, still loaded with text messages and snapshots.

The 2011 climbing season drew its usual clientele of rich mountaineers, and it left four more dead, at least one of whom had been trading messages with his office until days before his death. A goateed Irishman of 42 with the gaunt, taut look of a fitness obsessive, John Delaney ran the Dublin-based betting site Intrade, a playground for speculators whose interests extended beyond sports and stocks. At the time, Intrade allowed users to bet on the outcomes of a wide range of events—elections, legal cases, TV talent shows, hurricanes—and to buy and sell their bets using a dynamic stock market-like interface. Read the rest of this entry »

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