Dr Sinead Murphy

What are We to Make of the Research Finding that Women Think Men Wearing Facemasks are More Attractive?

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy A study conducted by the school of psychology at Cardiff University has found that men whose faces are covered by medical masks are judged by women to be more attractive than those whose faces are not covered at all. The results are not yet published of research into the relative attractiveness of women whose faces are masked, but academics at Cardiff confirm that the phenomenon cuts more or less both ways. Now that recommendations/mandates/rules/guidance regarding mask wearing have been more or less lifted, it is dispiritingly clear by the numbers continuing to cleave to them that there are many among us who rather like their masks. But not the wildest speculation on why this might be was likely to have settled on the explanation that masking your face makes you more desirable. How can such a contradiction be, that we are enhanced as we are effaced? Shouldn’t we wish to see more of an attractive person rather than find them attractive because we see less of them? There is nothing to whet the philosophical appetite like such a paradox – resolution of apparent contradictions is its bread and butter. So here goes: Paradox: we like to see less of what we like to see. Resolution: there are two things to see in this case, not one,...

Postcard From Ireland

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy Christmas 2021. Just off the ferry and out of the Port of Larne, after two years of Covid exile. Overhanging the wide expanse of state-of-the-art motorway to Belfast was one of those gigantic electronic billboards for giving urgent messages to motorists. And it was indeed lit up with a message, written in huge points of light. Warning of congestion ahead, perhaps? Of a motorway accident? Of horses on the road? Of any other contingency relevant to the traveller at seventy miles an hour? Not so: “IN THIS TOGETHER WASH YOUR HANDS,” it advised. Wash your hands? Now?? I cannot recall ever reading a message so utterly inappropriate for motorway traffic, promoting a kind of suicide-by-safety. The message was repeated often on the approach to Belfast and on the route through the city. One sign deviated by encouraging the wearing of face coverings. Otherwise, the capital city of Northern Ireland appeared to have funnelled its fantasy of Covid containment so enthusiastically through hand washing that it could not resist recommending the ritual to those whose hands were at that moment the only thing keeping them from certain death. Covid gave one thing back to a world that it stripped of interest and joy. It gave Covid regional flavour – local custom. During almost two years of more-or-less-lockdown,...

Let Our Children Face the World

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy On Monday January 3rd, the Guardian featured an opinion piece by Zoe Williams on the U.K. Government’s recommendation, announced the day before, that all students in Year 7 and above should wear a facemask during the whole of the school day, including in classrooms. The stated aim of Williams’s piece was to honour the “endless adaptability” of young people as revealed for her in their stoical refusal to “bellyache” and “moan” about mask requirements. Whatever Williams’ intention with this piece, the effect was to further dehumanize young people and encourage them not to complain in the face of draconian Covid restrictions. In my view, she exhibited a lack of human feeling and the specific brand of callous indifference that defines the Left’s way of thinking about Covid. ——— Williams opens her article on the subject of bouncing. She recalls her first trip as a professional journalist to interview a talented young skateboarder who was preparing to enter a competition. As she watched his practice session, during which he “smashed” to the ground many times, Williams reports that his mother observed, “He’s 14. They bounce at that age.” And so Williams establishes her basic position – that young people bounce back, that young people are “resilient”. It is not an original position: in April 2021, when schools...

Both the Young and the Old Have Been Disorientated by Covid Restrictions

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy I have two boys going to school. One spends his days more or less lost in a strange crowd, struggling to understand what they mean, unable to read their faces. The other also spends his days more or less lost in a strange crowd, struggling to understand what they mean, unable to read their faces. Only one of my boys is autistic. The other negotiates the would-be social periods of his school day in a faceless herd in which meaningful experience is severely impeded and only the most pared down, loudly spoken, rigidly predictable interactions can make it through. Dearth of meaningful experience and rigidity of interaction are the classic symptoms of autism. My younger son began to exhibit them at the age of two; my older began to endure them at the age of eleven, when, at the end of November the U.K. Government advised all secondary schools to re-mandate the wearing of face masks in their communal spaces. -----Of all descriptions of the condition of autism, a want of orientation may be the most accurate. Children with autism cannot find their place in the world by the usual landmarks. Words and objects that would normally be salient and around which meaningful experience would cluster do not stand out for them even in familiar interactions...

You Are Magical, Extraordinary, Cool and Beautiful

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy There is a shop on the high street of one of Newcastle’s suburbs. On the window is emblazoned: YOU ARE MAGICAL, EXTRAORDINARY, COOL AND BEAUTIFUL. To whom is the statement addressed? According to a 2019 study, over half of adults in this country are overweight or obese; up to 2018 at least, more were repeat users of opioid painkillers than in any other country in the EU; and during three months last summer, six million people in England were prescribed anti-depressants just to get through the day. Whoever the shop’s sign is describing, it is not likely to be any of the beings of flesh and blood who daily pass it by. In his article for the Daily Sceptic on October 24th, Will Jones named the three major themes according to which our lives are currently being transformed: Covid, Climate, and Critical Theory. These themes have jostled with one another for our ever more petrified attention during the past almost-two years. Each theme is accompanied by the great motif of ‘Zero’ – Zero Covid, Zero Carbon, Zero Tolerance. There is something tantalizing about Zero. It has an elegant and satisfying simplicity. That it cannot be realised does not dilute its effect, which is to instill in us a new contempt: for the mechanisms of our bodies,...

Anatomy of a Cancellation

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy Some weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a student conference, to be hosted by Newcastle’s Philosophy Department on November 17th 2021. The title of the conference: “Thinking Differently”. Having accepted the invitation, I began to consider what theme I might best speak on. It is coming up to two years since I have had the opportunity of addressing a group of young people on philosophical matters, although I have spent half of my lifetime in regularly doing so. The chance should not be squandered, I thought – not in these challenging times, at any rate. I had the idea of beginning my presentation with a brief account of a chance meeting that I had a couple of months into the first U.K. lockdown of 2020, when I collided with a man suddenly and without warning. I was running, he was coming out of a pharmacy. Before either of us knew what was happening, we were in each other’s arms. Or – I was in his arms, to be precise. He had extended them outward and forward so that they grasped my shoulders. I had drawn my elbows towards my body and put out my palms so that they pushed against his chest. I thought of asking the students at the conference to consider what...

Have Continuing Covid Restrictions in Schools Left Children Feeling Unfurnished, Permanently Waiting for the Upholsterer?

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy Students spilling out of one of the large secondary schools in Newcastle are all wearing masks again. Evidently, that school at least has revived its requirement for masking, on account of rising ‘case’ numbers among teenagers in the city. And worse: the BBC reported that on September 30th as many as 2.5% of those enrolled at English state schools were exiled from school altogether for reasons to do with Covid. The ease with which schools are reverting to covering children’s faces and excluding those who ‘test positive for Covid’ (an entirely unscientific description) makes one wonder whether there is an affinity between our institutions of education and the masking and distancing of the Covid era. Covid is not responsible for everything that it has exacerbated. Measures taken by schools against it have certainly diminished the personal and palpable content of children’s lives – people in masks might as well be anyone, and nothing on a screen offers much of sensory stimulation. But is neglect of the personal and palpable in fact a general principle of our schools? Is this what explains their complacent revival of masked and remote learning? * * * After one-and-a-half years of almost no school at all, our little boy with autism is now attending for three days in the week. We...

The Plastic Health Crisis

by Sinéad Murphy On September 20th, the U.K. Government began its programme of Covid vaccination in schools, having approved the experimental mRNA injections for healthy children between the ages of 12 and 15. Just over two weeks earlier, the Government’s advisory committee on vaccination and immunisation – the JCVI – announced that they could not, on health grounds, recommend these injections for 12 to 15 year-olds; the margins of benefit were simply too small, they said. One week after that, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Chris Whitty, trumped the advice of the JCVI, recommending the Covid vaccinations for 12-15 year-olds after all. His word carried the day, and the programme that he sanctioned is now in train. But on what grounds did Chris Whitty approve the Covid vaccines for children, given that the JCVI declined to approve them on health grounds? He approved them… on health grounds. Offering the vaccines to children of 12 to 15 years would assuage their fear of the virus and help them to feel that the Covid crisis is coming to an end, he claimed, and would therefore be a significant benefit for what he termed their “mental health”. Such is the wily ascendancy of the concept of ‘health’ that having refused the vaccination of children on health grounds it then granted the vaccination...

Why it’s a Mistake to Ask Academics For Advice on How to Manage the Pandemic

by Dr. Sinead Murphy On August 26th, Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at University of Edinburgh and Covid advisor to the Scottish Government, tweeted this: https://twitter.com/devisridhar/status/1430905196075311106 Sridhar has been a high-profile contributor of allegedly scientific expertise throughout the Covid months; recently, she has featured in the Telegraph in support of the roll-out of the Covid vaccination programme to children of 12 years and above, as well as on the BBC’s Newsround, when she assured her school-aged audience of the ‘100%’ safety of the Covid injections when administered to children. Notwithstanding her tweet that her interventions in the Covid debate have been nothing more than simple explanations of what’s happening, many of Sridhar’s claims during the past year-and-a-half have been contestable at best, plain false at worst. The BBC quietly retracted Sridhar’s '100%’ safety statement, although not before it was broadcast in thousands of schools across the U.K., complete with that air of implicit authority that the BBC continues to confer on its content and contributors. In response to this, and possibly other ‘bumps', Sridhar is now running for cover. But it is a curious kind of cover, worthy of our consideration. "I’m just an academic," she is pleading, as if that condition comes with a great exemption, with indemnity for all fallout from inaccurate forecasts and implausible...

The Covid Witch-Hunts

by Dr Sinéad Murphy In the Republic of Ireland as of July 26th, only those who have accepted two jabs are allowed to go inside the pub – that den of such life and good cheer that there is an Irish Pub to be found in the remotest corners of the globe. On va à l’Irish? a French friend of mine used to say to his college mates, when they had a free afternoon in Poitiers. Can this really be happening? Can the people of my native land really be refusing entry at pub doors to friends and neighbours who have not agreed to receive a particular medical treatment? I’ve been gone for over a decade – have things really changed that much? What of the good-humoured scepticism that used to mitigate every piece of Irish officialdom? I know someone who lost his Irish passport while living and working illegally in the U.S., and who managed to have it replaced via a network of ex-patriots in the police and the passport office there. Years ago, I was stopped by the Gardai for exceeding the speed limit on a stretch of road approaching Cork city – "You were travelling quickly there, do you know that?" asked the garda. "God, I’m sorry," I said. "Watch yourself next time, girl," he said. That...

The Loneliness of Herds

by Dr Sinéad Murphy There is a bench alongside the footpath as you walk down St Thomas Street towards Newcastle’s city centre – one of those benches on which we were forbidden to sit not much more than one year ago, lest our lingering there should increase the viral load of the open air. At some point between then and now, we were allowed to sit on benches once again, though exactly when and how and with whom are unclear, determined by subsections of caveats of government decrees of such ambiguous legality that one would have to be unusually dogged to ferret them out. Many have sat on them, notwithstanding the regulatory fog. Many have perched at either end in rain and hail and snow, sipping coffees over sodden masks. But now our benches are returned to us in earnest. We may sit on them whenever we wish. For however long we wish. And with whomever we wish. Just as we used to. Except not just as we used to. The bench on St Thomas Street is hung with a new sign, attached to the back of one of its four sections. It reads “Happy to chat bench” with an outline underneath of two people sitting and talking on a bench. Our benches are returned to us, but with a...

If You’re not one of the few Experts, Then You’re one of the many Functionaries

by Sinéad Murphy Hans-Georg Gadamer In another instalment of the Covid assault on the vulnerable, my little autistic boy has been sent home from school, to compound his already profound remove from social life by going into ‘isolation’ once again. To have asked for details as to why this decision was made would have been to dignify it with the appearance of reason, but, given that the corridors of school chat are not resounding with news of the serious illness of a teacher or a child, it is sure to have been in response to another positive result from the lateral flow test, the Covid gift that keeps on giving – it is reported that, on June 24th, 5% of English schoolchildren were not in class because of it. Joseph, who has an ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ that legally obliges the city’s council to provide for his needs until he reaches the age of 25, has hardly been at school since the end of March 2020, on account of combinations and permutations of distancing, masking, and quarantining. And now he is at home again. If Covid does not strike again, by the time he is allowed to return to school Joseph will have nine days left before the summer holidays begin. That is what a council’s legal obligation to...

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December 2022
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