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Howard Anglin: Pizza is the true secret to good mental health

Commentary

One of the most noticeable features of university life today is the obsessive attention to student well-being. I don’t think a day has passed in the last two years when I haven’t received an email from the university with tips or links to resources for “welfare,” “self-care,” or “mental health.” It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m enrolled in an institute of higher learning or some other kind of institution.  

When I was at university the first time around in the 1990s, student welfare consisted of a designated person in each residence whose chief responsibility was to take freshmen across the street to emergency when they needed their stomachs pumped. I assume the university checked that we were still enrolled each term, but if so that was the limit of their interest in our existence, let alone our well-being. 

I’m not saying the old way was better, but neither can I say that the new way produces a noticeably calmer and better-adjusted class of student. If the adultlings today are more anxious than any generation before them—including the two generations that fought world wars in their teens and early twenties—it’s not for lack of administrative attention.Of course, the reason young people are simmering stock pots of stress is obvious to anyone has followed the changes to our society over the last two generations: the loss of childhood independence; helicopter parenting; institutionalised health and safetyism; technological dependence; predatory social media design; and a therapeutic industry that profits off neurosis. Alas, you’d have to be prepared to be treated like a dissident to point this out, let alone do anything about it. But that’s a whole other column.

The latest student welfare wheeze is alpacas. A couple of weeks ago, the university brought a small herd of “wellbeing alpacas” into Radcliffe Square for … well, honestly, I couldn’t tell you what it was for, but there were alpacas and it had something to do with mental health. Whatever the idea was, it backfired, as the camelids created a new distraction for the students studying in the library next door. 

Fortunately, there is a better way. Over the last twenty years, I’ve developed a simple “self-care” routine that is cheap, reliable, and 100 percent alpaca-free: Friday pizza night. Almost every Friday, wherever I’ve been in the world and whatever else is going on in my life, I’ve set aside Friday night for pizza. Over time the ritual has evolved, but the essentials have remained the same: Neapolitan-style pizza, at a bar, with red wine and a detective or spy novel, in silence. That’s it. That’s the secret to long-term mental health.

Pizza night started when I was working as a lawyer in Washington DC, when by Friday evening, I would find myself too mentally exhausted to do anything but eat, drink, and read. So that’s what I did. Even if I had more work to do over the weekend, Friday pizza night gave me something to look forward to all week. I used to say that pizza night may be on Friday, but it’s really for Wednesday in one of those weeks that seems to be dragging on forever. Pizza night turns an interminable Wednesday into just two more nights ’til pizza night

Each component of the pizza night ritual is important. I may be in Chicago, New York, New Haven, or Rome, each of which has its own distinct style of pizza, but pizza night is for Neapolitan-style pizza, the more genuine the better. I’ll enjoy the local variety another day.Which, let’s be clear, is not really pizza. The bar might be full and tables may be available, but I’ll wait for the bar, however long it takes. Sitting alone at a table is fine for some occasions, but reading at a bar strikes the right balance between sociability and seclusion for pizza night. 

The reason for the wine should be obvious. It should be good, but not too good. Pizza night is not the time to explore the dusty end of the cellar. Something a bit rustic, nothing mass-produced. The choice of book is important. The goal is a brief mental holiday, so I’ve settled on spy and detective novels that take me to a different time and place. Le Carré and Deighton, of course, and Philip Kerr, Joseph Kanon, David Downing, and Alan Furst. For a lighter escape, Ian Fleming, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.

Finally, the silence. Pizza night is a solitary activity; it is a few hours alone with two of the great physical comforts in life—good pizza and red wine—lost in 1970s Berlin or 1930s Paris. Pizza night is unapologetically selfish. I’ve excused myself from occasions with bosses, friends, girlfriends, several premiers, a prime minister, and Supreme Court justices of two countries to sit alone at a bar with my pizza, wine, and book. We give so much of our lives to others, it’s not too much to ask for one night to ourselves.

There are exceptions, of course. Major family holidays take precedence, obviously, as do (most) weddings and similar obligations. On some work trips there may not be time between poorly-scheduled meetings to get away even for an hour (though this is rare). As a rule, I refuse Friday invitations or make it clear that I will have to leave early. I’ve found that generally there’s no need to explain. A simple “I’m sorry, Friday’s pizza night” suffices, even if it’s met by a queer glance or, from those who know, an eyeroll.

Every civilisation since the Sumerians has known that humans need ritual, but our irreligious age has no time for them. Weeks and months now run together in a blur of overlapping memories with only Christmas and birthdays to mark the passage of time. To stay grounded, I try always to have something planned to look forward to: a holiday at least once a year; a short getaway each month; and, every week, pizza night. Pizza night is a secular sacrament that orders time and locates me within it. It reassures and comforts by imposing rhythmic familiarity onto a world of kaleidoscopic disorder. And who couldn’t use that?

Bonus:

Eight of my favourite pizza night locations,The usual caveat applies: because the worst people in the world are those who reveal hidden gems, I have omitted some of my favourite regular places. based on pizza quality, wine selection, and atmosphere. Only one is perfect, but all are excellent.

La Notizia, Naples

50 Kalò, Naples

Da Zero, Milan

2Amys, Washington DC 

Norman Hardie, Prince Edward County

Via Tevere, Vancouver

Rosso, Edmonton

Standard Serious Pizza, Berlin

Karamveer Lalh: Poilievre’s addiction policies show the two sides are speaking a different language

Commentary

There is a notion that Pierre Poilievre’s detox and rehab policy and the liberal “safe supply” approach to addiction are two sides of the same coin, both aiming to solve the same problem. However, this assumption is incorrect.

These policies stem from fundamentally different understandings of the problem and its solution, thus reflecting the stark differences between conservative and liberal philosophies. Put simply, they are not two different answers to the same question but rather two distinct answers to two separate questions.

At the heart of this ideological divide lies the question of whether one can commit a crime against oneself. The liberal perspective, focusing on empowering and encouraging individuals to make good choices, refrains from casting blame on past decisions that led to their current predicament. In this view, while selling drugs may be a crime, being addicted to them is not.

On the other hand, the conservative viewpoint takes a more paternalistic approach: an addict has made a series of poor decisions and must face the consequences. To a conservative, an addict has committed a crime against themselves.

To unpack this further, we must consider how conservatives and liberals perceive crime. In a broader sense, crime is not merely an act against an individual but against society, or as we conceptualize it in Canada, against the Crown. For example, our criminal cases are presented as R v [Accused], where R stands for Rex (King) or Regina (Queen), symbolizing the societal nature of crime.

Crime demands both discipline and punishment. Society demands satisfaction through the punishment of crimes, and those who emerge from punishment should be “corrected” and not re-offend. This is broadly agreed in our politics. Where the disagreement lies is in what sorts of crimes warrant more discipline and which require more punishment. The mandatory treatment approach conservatives propose is a paternalistic solution fitting neatly into this framework. For example, a conservative, when prompted to imagine a drug addict harassing someone on the street or the subway, may feel disgusted rather than sympathetic to that addict. A conservative may see them as a person who should be disciplined into seeking treatment and becoming a productive member of society rather than coaxed, incentivized, or have their “relative harm” reduced.

This fundamental difference in how we view societal problems is evident in the current debate over drug policy. It’s also a question that divides the Right, with small-c conservatives affirming and right liberals (and libertarians) denying that committing a crime against oneself is possible.

The non-aggression principle (NAP), the cornerstone of the conception of liberal (and libertarian) morality, attempts to answer this question. Very generally, it can be considered as follows: no aggression against an individual, their property, or contracts is permitted without that individual’s consent. This principle does not contemplate any instances where an individual can harm oneself because if one were to harm oneself, one consents to do so. A more traditional conservative would criticize this idea because it operates on the assumption that all humans are always rational actors, which is patently untrue. 

A thorny issue for right liberals arises when considering entirely fictional child pornography, like drawings or AI-generated photos. The libertarian argument of “no harm, no foul” is a difficult position to defend, particularly because such material elicits a powerful disgust response. Beyond any grand ideas of morality, we collectively oppose even artificially generated child pornography because it is disgusting. While often overlooked, this emotion plays a significant role in our moral calculus.

Disgust, powerful and visceral, is both a smoke alarm and a nuisance. While it should not be the sole guiding force of our morality—in fact, one should absolutely consider the fact that disgust is often tied to dehumanization, and dehumanization leads to human catastrophe—it does warrant the understanding that many of our moral judgements are strongly tied to disgust. This leads us to question whether our societal response to imperfect human behaviour should be. The conservative conception of morality stated ecumenically as possible would suggest that it is possible to commit a crime against one’s soul, and a crime against one’s soul may sometimes warrant state intervention to discipline and punish that individual for weakening the overall moral fibre of society.

Everyone agrees that parents may prevent children from eating candy for breakfast every day, even though this is a perfectly permissible (albeit certainly not one that is recommended) choice for an adult. The question of what “harms” parents are allowed or not allowed to prevent for their children is complex, and liberal arguments often break down when applied to non-adults.I do not claim to offer any bright line rule here, but we know of several examples of such debates: should a parent be notified if a child expresses to a teacher that they have body dysphoria? Is there a meaningful difference between that and children who display signs of depression or suicidal ideation? What about an eating disorder (a type of body dysphoria) versus gender dysphoria? The usual response is that these are heavily context-dependent, which makes writing legal rules for a diverse society extremely challenging.

Similarly, addicts, who can often be seen as dependents due to their inability to make rational decisions about their addiction, pose a significant policy challenge. The question of when intervention is necessary is not easily answered by the NAP alone, suggesting the need for a more paternalistic approach. The very fact that drug addicts continue to exist despite a safe supply is evidence enough for a conservative to question the effectiveness of a purely incentive-based approach. Similarly, the persistent existence of violent criminals even after posting bail is a testament to the limitations of the liberal approach.

In this context, the stance of Poilievre becomes especially relevant. The more fundamental disagreement underpinning his policy is whether quality of life is considered in these decisions. Are all lives equally worthwhile? Should they all be protected equally? With finite resources, how do we decide how they get allocated? On its face, the argument is that pouring money into a safe supply seems especially unwise when we lack options for treatment and recovery.

This dichotomy between conservatives and liberals can be understood better if one realizes they are not even speaking the same language. The conservative is focused on the specific, where the existence of crime is itself repugnant and warrants a stricter approach. In contrast, the liberal is focused on the general, where more gentle nudging and incentives will eventually produce their ideal society.

Conservatives hold the more intuitive position that our emotions are the primary driver of our morality. However, they often fail to articulate this in a language that could counter a general principle such as the NAP. Conservatives need to remember that moral judgments are not merely subjective expressions of feelings but reflect objective claims about what is good for humans in relation to their social roles and traditions.

In this sense, there is rationality in our emotions. They are not simply expressions of hooray or boo but rather reflect what conservatives hold to be objective truths. Accordingly, there is a rational basis for their morality that goes beyond the limitations of the NAP: conservatives oppose consuming illicit drugs, the consumption of AI-generated child pornography, and eating candy for breakfast because these actions do not contribute to a fulfilling life.

The respective perceptions of crime, punishment, discipline, and harm of each side underpin their approach to policy-making around crime. It’s crucial to understand these differences, as they define the very problems our society is perceived to be facing. Furthermore, the role of emotions, often under-discussed, must be given due consideration in shaping our moral and political discourse. Without a thorough understanding of one’s opponent’s worldview, our political discourse, and ultimately our democracy, risks further deterioration.

By acknowledging the rationality in our emotions and the limitations of a purely incentive-based approach, we can foster a more nuanced understanding of these complex societal issues. The conservative and liberal approaches to drug policy are not simply two sides of the same coin—they are distinct philosophical perspectives that shape our understanding of crime, punishment, and societal well-being.