What do you believe?
Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 on NPR, is a journalist and the author of the novels Hey Day, Turn of the Century, The Real Thing, and his latest non-fiction book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. He has written and produced prime-time network television programs and pilots for NBC and ABC, and co-authored Loose Lips, an off-Broadway theatrical revue that had long runs in New York and Los Angeles. He is a regular columnist for New York Magazine, and contributes frequently to Vanity Fair. He is also a founder of Very Short List.
Andersen began his career in journalism at NBC's Today program and at Time, where he was an award-winning writer on politics and criminal justice and for eight years the magazine's architecture and design critic. Returning to Time in 1993 as editor-at-large, he wrote a weekly column on culture. And from 1996 through 1999 he was a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker. He was a co-founder of Inside.com, editorial director of Colors magazine, and editor-in-chief of both New York and Spy magazines, the latter of which he also co-founded.
From 2004 through 2008 he wrote a column called "The Imperial City" for New York (one of which is included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008). In 2008 Forbes. com named him one of The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media. Anderson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and is a member of the boards of trustees of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Pratt Institute, and is currently Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives with his family in New York City.
Kurt Andersen: I don’t think of myself as having a personal philosophy. I suppose I do, even though I couldn’t say it’s utilitarian, or Buddhist. I don’t have a word for it or a set of words.
I find that I am mistrustful and temperamentally, almost instinctively mistrustful, of ideological thinking, which I suppose is a form of ideology in itself. But nevertheless, people who believe they understand the way the world works – religious ideologues, political ideologues, any kind of ideologues, and then pursue life as a means of fulfilling that pre-existing set of understandings. Whatever the antithesis of that is, that’s my philosophy. Which is a kind of empirical, flexible sense of life.
I find myself going back and forth, depending on the circumstance, depending on the day, practically, depending on the issue we’re talking about, of feeling conservative or progressive, or feeling as though it’ll all work out in the end or it won’t. But so I can’t sum that up, except as I would say a kind of skepticism that doesn’t tip over into cynicism; an empiricism that isn’t without heart. I can give you more lines like that, but that would get at the edges of my philosophy.
No. Religion or faith don’t play into my world view, at least not consciously. I was not raised in a religious tradition. My family, my parents were kind of lapsed Unitarians. Even if they were pious Unitarians, it wouldn’t have been a strict, religious faith. I don’t understand faith in God. And I have my moments of spiritualness. o I’m not 100% a kind of materialist. Well you know, I’m probably 97% that way. I’m mostly persuaded that, at least in my lifetime, that religious faith has done more harm than good.
Recorded On: July 5, 2007
Andersen is 97% materialist.
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