You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel?
Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting?
Each week, host Jason Gots surprises some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. Join us and special guests Neil Gaiman, Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Maria Popova, Mary-Louise Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many more...
Ruth Whippman—a mindful, productive, super-positive nation of nervous wrecks
With the help of positive psychology and the happiness industry, many of us seem to be running in the exact opposite direction of happiness.
- "It's almost like the only way we can understand leisure is as a productivity hack."
- "If we think of happiness as an individual responsibility, that stands in the way of building a society in which the conditions are there for everybody to thrive."
In the years before the election of the impossible president rent forever the very fabric of being, the band Radiohead was busy channeling something many of us were feeling but nobody was really talking about. A kind of ambient, multivalent state of anxiety that seemed to characterize life in the mid-to-late '90s. Listening to Radiohead was therapeutic. Your own awkward, unpresentable panic somehow dissolved into their sonic ocean, where it was transformed into sexy, transcendent beauty. It felt, uh…empowering?
In a New York Times Op-Ed last week, Ruth Whippman wrote: "After a couple of decades of constant advice to 'follow our passions' and 'live our dreams,' for a certain type of relatively privileged modern freelancer, nothing less than total self-actualization at work now seems enough. But this leaves us with an angsty mismatch between personal expectation and economic reality. Almost everyone I know now has some kind of hustle, whether job, hobby, or side or vanity project. Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, visit my Etsy shop, donate to my Kickstarter, crowdfund my heart surgery. It's as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul."
Modern anxiety cuts across national borders and social classes, but in America right now its artisanal flavor is a blend of soaring, media-driven dreams and dwindling probabilities of making a living while pursuing them. And nobody's more eloquent or wickedly funny about this reality than Ruth Whippman, the author of AMERICA THE ANXIOUS. I'm genuinely, sustainably happy that she's here with me today.
Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:
Jonathan Zimmerman explains why teachers should invite, not censor, tough classroom debates.
- During times of war or national crisis in the U.S., school boards and officials are much more wary about allowing teachers and kids to say what they think.
- If our teachers avoid controversial questions in the classroom, kids won't get the experience they need to know how to engage with difficult questions and with criticism.
- Jonathan Zimmerman argues that controversial issues should be taught in schools as they naturally arise. Otherwise kids will learn from TV news what politics looks like – which is more often a rant than a healthy debate.
Should all speech be free? How much intolerance should society tolerate?
- For society to stay open and free, you don't need to eliminate prejudice. You need the opposite: All kinds of prejudice pitted against each other.
- Intellectual diversity helps society as a whole learn the truth. And as long as society has rules that force ideas to be openly tested, the intolerant will not gain the upper hand.
- "In America it's legal to be intolerant. It may not be right. It may not get you accepted or respected. But absolutely it's legal and it should be legal," says Jonathan Rauch.
Picking up where we left off a year ago, a conversation about the homeostatic imperative as it plays out in everything from bacteria to pharmaceutical companies—and how the marvelous apparatus of the human mind also gets us into all kinds of trouble.
- "Prior to nervous systems: no mind, no consciousness, no intention in the full sense of the term. After nervous systems, gradually we ascend to this possibility of having to this possibility of having minds, having consciousness, and having reasoning that allows us to arrive at some of these very interesting decisions."
- "We are fragile culturally and socially…but life is fragile to begin with. All that it takes is a little bit of bad luck in the management of those supports, and you're cooked…you can actually be cooked—with global warming!"
How do you write away the personal hole in your heart when that hole was left by a man half the world idolizes? Steve Jobs' daughter, the writer Lisa Brennan-Jobs, on the process and effects of writing her beautiful memoir SMALL FRY.
- "If I hadn't gone back with a fine-toothed-comb, a lot of these assumptions I had would have just been the air I breathed into my future."
- "There is something like theft in a memoir. If you want to write about yourself you have to write about other people who are unwitting and don't want to be written about…"
Artist, "bird noticer", and concerned citizen of the digital state of the world Jenny Odell looks at many different ways of resisting the attention economy, sinking into the reality of our lives, and finding solidarity and agency with others.
- "Someone is defining the terms already by asking the question. And if you're not attentive, you will accept those terms."
- "It's really hard to draw a hard line around an entity in any ecological system. And I think this is a great description of the self, too."
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