The Most Interesting People I Know
21 - Malaika Jabali on Identity Politics and Myths About the Midwest

21 - Malaika Jabali on Identity Politics and Myths About the Midwest

February 8, 2020

Malaika Jabali is an attorney, activist, and writer based in New York. She is a contributing writer to Essence Magazine and a frequent contributor to the Guardian. Her work also appears in Current Affairs, Jacobin, the Intercept and elsewhere. Malaika is my first returning guest, and I was very happy to have her back. Since we last spoke, she has written extensively about the 2020 candidates and deepened the reporting that began with her excellent Current Affairs feature The Color of Economic Anxiety. That article won the award for best General Feature from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Last week, Malaika released her first film, Left Out, which challenges many of the assumptions about what working class midwesterners want out of their politics. The 8 minute film is available for free on YouTube and well worth your time. We discuss it as well as: 

How economic anxiety can depress voter turnout, the underrated importance of people who voted for Obama but didn’t turn out in 2016, assumptions made about midwesterners, the myth of the moderate Democrat, Malaika's advice for 2020 candidates, the lack of diversity in early primary states and how it impacts the nominating process, why black voters don't like Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden's implosion, Bernie's campaign and rhetoric around race, whether Bernie is a class reductionist, how he could be better at speaking to the intersections of race and class, identity politics as it was originally conceived and how it has been misappropriated, the false choice between emphasizing identity based oppression and solidarity, and the lack of representation in socialist groups like the DSA.

You can find Malaika on Twitter: @MalaikaJabali and me: @GarrisonLovely

I’ve also created an email address for the show. I welcome any feedback, guest ideas, or just a hello at mostinterestingpeople27 [at] gmail [dot] com 

 

Show notes:

Malaika’s work:

The Color of Economic Anxiety

bit.ly/LeftOut2020

Pete Buttigieg has a race problem. So does the Democratic party

 

Other links:

Economic anxiety vs racial resentment:

Time to Kill the Zombie Argument: Another Study Shows Trump Won Because of Racial Anxieties — Not Economic Distress

No, It Wasn’t Just Racism

The Missing Obama Millions

For elites, politics is driven by ideology. For voters, it’s not.

Black Futures Lab Census

Most Iowa Democratic caucus-goers support a single-payer health-care plan

Experiments show this is the best way to win campaigns. But is anyone actually doing it?

How Bernie Sanders Evolved on Criminal Justice Reform

Joe Biden: “I love kids jumping on my lap”

Phillip Agnew's 'With These Hands' – Powerful Bernie Rally Moment

The force of Operation POWER

20 - Meagan Day on the Case for Bernie Sanders

20 - Meagan Day on the Case for Bernie Sanders

January 23, 2020

Meagan Day is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Vox, Mother Jones, The Week, The Baffler, In These Times, n+1, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction book Maximum Sunlight was excerpted in the Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017. She has co-authored a book with Micah Uetricht called Bigger than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism. Look for it in late April.

Today, we make the case for Bernie Sanders: why he is the most electable candidate and the one we should be most excited about. We dig into the data and the theory behind why a Bernie nomination would likely lead to a Bernie presidency. We also discuss why the case for Joe Biden’s electability falls apart and address some of the strongest arguments against Bernie. 

We spend the first 13 or so minutes discussing the allegation that Bernie told Elizabeth Warren that a woman couldn’t win the presidency. If you’re familiar with this dispute, feel free to skip ahead. 

If this episode inspires you, you can get involved by visiting berniesanders.com/volunteer. Of course you can also make a donation at berniesanders.com. There is also the BERN app which helps you build grassroot support among your friends and family. Find the app at app.berniesanders.com

We’re entering the most critical period of the Democratic primary. The winner of the Iowa caucus on February 3rd is likely to become the Democratic nominee, so if you’ve been on the sidelines, now’s the best time to get involved. 

 

Show notes:

Meagan's writing:

How an Anti-Sexist Candidate Got Smeared as Sexist

Bernie Is the Candidate Who Can Beat Trump. Here’s Why.

Bernie Sanders Believes in Mass Politics — Something the New York Times Can’t Wrap Their Minds Around

Social Security and Medicare Are Not Safe With Joe Biden

19 - Ben Burgis on Reclaiming Logic for the Left

19 - Ben Burgis on Reclaiming Logic for the Left

January 5, 2020

Ben Burgis is a philosopher and logician who lectures at Rutgers University. He has a segment on the Michael Brooks Show called the Debunk and writes a weekly column for Jacobin magazine. We spend most of the show talking about his book Give Them an Argument: Logic for the Left, which challenges the left to take logic more seriously. 

Ben’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/benburgis?lang=en

And Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/benburgis

 

We also discuss:

The aesthetic of reason being adopted to defend bad arguments, why the left needs to make better arguments for their positions, the limits of logic in persuading people whose material interest differ from ours, why left principles for redistribution don't stop at our borders, conflict vs mistake theory in explaining the motivations of our political opponents, and where each theory may apply, the importance of interpreting our allies' arguments charitably, Ben's thoughts on moral philosophy, why tankies are bad utilitarians, double standards for Marx vs other problematic philosophers from history, Jeremy Bentham’s good takes, state monopoly on violence and police reforms, where Ben disagrees with the left, the problems with a radically empirical worldview, whether utilitarianism takes you to implausible places, and how to balance epistemic humility with the need to beat confident bullshitters.

 

Links:

Conflict vs Mistake Theory

Dark Money

Life expectancy going up under mao

Deconstructing the ‘Ferguson Effect’ (Note: I think the evidence for this is more mixed than I thought at the time of the interview)

The Case for Disarming America's Police Force

NEW YORK CITY VOTERS MAY EXPAND POWER OF CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD, ALLOWING IT TO INVESTIGATE POLICE WHO LIE

Moral Tribes

18 - Marcus Davis on Nuclear War, Invertebrate Sentience, and Foundational Research

18 - Marcus Davis on Nuclear War, Invertebrate Sentience, and Foundational Research

December 9, 2019

Marcus Davis is the co-founder and lead researcher at Rethink Priorities, a nonprofit conducting foundational research on neglected causes within the Effective Altruism movement. Marcus also co-founded Charity Entrepreneurship and Charity Science Health. Rethink Priorities has put out a lot of impactful research on topics like nuclear war, invertebrate sentience, and ballot initiatives, in addition to taking on the crucial task of conduc ing the annual Effective Altruism survey. They’ve managed to do a lot with an annual budget of less than half a million dollars and are accepting donations. Residents in the US, UK, Canada, Germany and Switzerland can make tax-deductible donations here: https://www.rethinkpriorities.org/donate

 

We discuss: 

Rethink Priorities’ goals, how much we should worry about nuclear war, fish stocking, the promise of ballot measures for passing progressive policies and animal welfare protections, recent ballot measures on psychedelic decriminalization, determining the sentience of animals, whether octopuses are aliens, who makes up the Effective Altruism movement, how to reach people who aren't young STEM grads, how less effective interventions can still be improvements over the status quo, the ways in which EA doesn't reflect society at large and steps that could be taken to rectify that, and what Rethink Priorities can do with your money

 

Show notes:

Luisa Rodriguez’s series on nuclear war

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg

Rethink Priorities’ presentation on ballot initiatives

Psychedelic ballot initiatives

Nagel’s paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat”

Invertebrate Sentience Table

David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster”

Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Octopuses may be aliens: A controversial study has a new spin on the otherworldliness of the octopus

Results of the 2018 EA survey

Article on GiveDirectly’s disaster relief program: Google’s unusual plan for disaster relief: just give survivors money

Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People

17 - Rob Scott on Teaching College in Prison

17 - Rob Scott on Teaching College in Prison

November 24, 2019

Rob Scott is the Executive Director of the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), which he has led since 2013. Under his leadership CPEP has expanded operations from one to four prisons and now serves over 200 incarcerated students. Rob also helped form state and national coalitions for higher education in prisons. In 2016, he was recognized as one of 10 White House “Champions of Change” for his work with CPEP. 

In college, I co-founded the Prison Reform and Education Project (PREP) and got to know Rob, who eventually served as our faculty adviser. As we discuss, I was also a volunteer teaching assistant with CPEP. Rob was one of the first people who came to mind when I conceived of this podcast, but has been a little busy being a new father the past few months, so this conversation was a long time coming. 

We discuss:

How Rob got started in prison education, how prison education has gone from boot-strapped projects done in the shadows to flagship programs supported by major universities, how the era of Pell grants in prisons was not all it's cracked up to be, how CPEP works, why crime may have declined, the power of language in our self concept, the experience of teaching in prison, a better definition of crime, the limitations of attempting to change oppressive institutions from the inside, the tenuous state of Pell grants for incarcerated people, Rob's complicated stance on prison abolition, the small “d” democratic origins of incarceration as punishment, and restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration.

Rob is an incredibly thoughtful and selfless guy, and his opinions consistently surprise me. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.

Links:

Reasonable Doubt: A New Look at Whether Prison Growth Cuts Crime

My very angry tweet thread about Bret Stephens’s stupid take on the 1994 Crime Bill

Games Criminals Play: How You Can Profit by Knowing Them

Shane Bauer’s article: My four months as a private prison guard

Shane's book: American Prison

Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish

Snopes: the somewhat true story comparing Felicity Huffman’s 14 day sentence to a homeless woman’s 5 year sentence for purportedly lying to get her kid into a better public school

NPR: Former Physician at Rikers Island Exposes Health Risks of Incarceration

16 - Andrés Gómez Emilsson on Solving Consciousness and Being Happy All the Time

16 - Andrés Gómez Emilsson on Solving Consciousness and Being Happy All the Time

October 25, 2019

Andrés Gómez Emilsson is the Director of Research at the Qualia Research Institute (QRI). QRI aims to systematize the study of consciousness, to do to consciousness what chemistry did for alchemy. He holds a master’s degree in computational psychology and an undergraduate degree in symbolic systems from Stanford University, where he co-founded the Stanford Transhumanist Association. 

This is a pretty wild episode touching on some of the most important and mind-bending ideas I’ve ever encountered, centered around a single question: why can't we be happy all the time?

We get into some pretty wacky territory but I think Andrés does a good job of making this approachable to somebody who has never encountered these ideas before. 

We use the term intuition pump a few times, this is a word coined by the philosopher Daniel Dennett to describe a thought experiment that helps the thinker use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem. 

We cover:

Andrés’s life project to overcome all the mechanisms that prevent us from being happy all the time, the hedonic treadmill, the promise of anti-tolerance drugs, the influence of genetics on our ability to be happy, how electric stimulation of the brain doesn’t lead to tolerance the way drugs do, wireheading done right and wrong, three types of euphoria, the social gulf between Bay Area life-optimizers and everyone else, negative utilitarianism, the worst and best experiences humans have, the therapeutic and scientific potential for 5-meo-dmt, psychedelics as Effective Altruism’s cause X, the best way to use ibogaine for treating opiate addiction, a better approach to using opiates for pain management, and why people report wacky new beliefs after ego dissolving psychedelic experiences

Links:

Simon and Garfunkel song: Richard Cory

Andrés’s article: Wireheading Done Right: Stay Positive Without Going Insane

Book excerpt describing electrodes placed in the brains of mental patients in the 1950s: The Orgasmic Brain

84% of drug users who report a bad trip say they benefited from the experience

NYMag: Psychedelic Mushrooms Cured My Cluster Headaches

NY Public Radio interview on how Harry Anslinger started the war on drugs

The Qualia Research Institute (QRI)

QRI executive director Mike Johnson’s blog: Opentheory.net

15 - Matt Stoller on Fighting Monopoly Power and Why Obama Was Actually Bad

15 - Matt Stoller on Fighting Monopoly Power and Why Obama Was Actually Bad

October 16, 2019

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and the author of Goliath: the 100 Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy (out now!). He was previously a Senior Policy Advisor and Budget Analyst to the Senate Budget Committee and worked in Congress on financial services policy, including Dodd-Frank, the Federal Reserve, and the foreclosure crisis. Matt has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and elsewhere. As we discuss, Matt had a brief excursion in Hollywood, where he was a writer and actor on a TV show with Russell Brand. You may be most familiar with Matt from his very active and entertaining Twitter feed (@mattherstoller).

Goliath is a “big idea” history coming at the right time. Concentrated corporate power affects your life every day, in ways both subtle and obvious. The domination of key industries by a handful of megacorporations is not the natural or permanent state of affairs. We have successfully fought and tamed monopolies before, but have forgotten how. Goliath reminds us of the way forward. 

We discuss:

Matt’s path from being a remorseful Iraq War supporter to being a vigorous opponent of concentrated financial power, the case for and against monopoly power, the neoliberal roots of the disastrous response to the financial crisis, the link between monopoly power and fascism, dangerous and desirable monopolies, the massive state intervention in the economy during and after WWII, the proper role for finance in society, the real basis for the American dream, the impact of fair trade laws and their repeal, whether small businesses are actually any better than big ones, how the ruling class frames their rule as inevitable, the law and economics movement, the Democrats’ betrayal of organized labor, the crisis of legitimacy for economics, antimonopoly’s political moment, and why Obama was actually bad. 

Show notes:

Matt’s work:

When American Capitalism Meant Equality

The Progressive Case Against Obama

Other links:

Louis Brandeis's book Other People’s Money, and How the Bankers Use It (free ebook)

Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Fred Dutton’s NYT Obituary

Obama’s not as tough on mergers as you think

On the Obama admin’s role in the 737 Max scandal: The emerging 737 Max scandal, explained

Obama Failed to Mitigate America’s Foreclosure Crisis

Obama officials’ failure to stop the opioid crisis

14 - Leah Garcés on Working with Factory Farmers to Help Animals

14 - Leah Garcés on Working with Factory Farmers to Help Animals

October 2, 2019

Leah Garcés is the president of Mercy for Animals, one of the world’s largest effective animal advocacy organizations. She was previously the executive director of Compassion in World Farming USA. Today we discuss her new book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry. Leah tells the remarkable story of how she teamed up with farmers to expose the world to the horrible conditions and practices in American chicken farms. As we discuss, her work with farmers, journalists, documentarians, and activists pressured chicken producers to make significant commitments to improve welfare standards for their birds. 

Even if you don't care about the welfare of chickens for whatever reason, the labor conditions of the typical chicken factory farmer should be enough to outrage you. Saddled with debt and squeezed by an oligopoly of chicken producers, the typical American chicken farmer eeks out poverty wages and spends their days walking through ammonia-clogged chicken coops picking out dead birds. 

Beyond these campaigns, Mercy for Animals produces a lot of other great work, like their drone footage of factory farms and the destruction of the Amazon.

Specifically, we discuss:

Leah’s vision for how we’ll relate to animals in 2050, why we should care about chickens, the evidence we have that they can suffer, conditions in a typical coop, how chickens have been bred to suffer, how Leah started working with a chicken factory farmer, the brutal economics and lifestyle of chicken farming, how the incentives conspire against the welfare of the chickens and the people farming them, Leah's work getting footage of chicken farms out to the world, her meetings with executives at chicken producers and the resulting welfare improvements, whether factory farming is the greatest moral atrocity in the world, whether factory farm executives are like war criminals, whether companies will make good on their animal welfare commitments, and her plans for Mercy for Animals. 

Show notes:

NYT Opinion piece Leah’s work prompted: Abusing Chickens We Eat

Wired article on Leah’s work with Craig Watts: Hoping to Change the Industry, a Factory Farmer Opens His Barn Doors

Effective Altruism Forum post: Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments?

From Open Philanthropy’s Lewis Bollard: Will Companies Make Good on Cage-Free Pledges?

13 - Lyta Gold on Cancel Culture, Feminist Utopias, and Comedy

13 - Lyta Gold on Cancel Culture, Feminist Utopias, and Comedy

September 17, 2019

Lyta Gold is the Amusements and Managing Editor of Current Affairs magazine. She is also the co-editor of the Current Affairs Big Book of Amusements, a full-color collection of some of the wonderful amusements that have appeared in the pages of Current Affairs, in addition to some brand new ones. The Current Affairs print edition is chock full of beautifully-illustrated activities, quizzes, lists, comics, and more that are often the brainchild of Lyta. Some example amusements: The Best Sex Positions for Conceiving an Employable Child, Is Your Feminism Angry Enough? And Which Authoritarian Will I Vote For? Lyta also appears on the Current Affairs podcast, my biggest competitor as well as my primary source of guests.

On today’s episode we cover: feminism, Steven Pinker, IQ, feminist Utopias, whether the patriarchy is a dead, cancel culture, Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, changing norms around consent, Joe Rogan and his new lefty guests, comedy and whether any topics are off limits, Mark Fisher's essay Exiting the Vampire's Castle, and the limits of identity politics

Subscribe to Current Affairs here: https://www.currentaffairs.org/subscribe

Buy the Big Book of Amusements here: https://www.currentaffairs.org/store


Links:

Larry David as Bernie Sanders

Nathan Robinson’s article on Steven Pinker

On Pinker’s support for the paper arguing Ashkenazi Jews were smarter because they were forced to be moneylenders: The Unwelcome Revival of ‘Race Science’

My review of Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature

Twitter thread on Pinker’s sexual assault stats in Better Angels

Yes, IQ Really Matters

Why is Charles Murray Odious?

Lyta’s Evolutionary Psychology Quiz

Bernie Sanders on Joe Rogan

Cornel West on Joe Rogan

Rutger Bregman owning Tucker Carlson

Never Again Action protest movement against ICE and CBP

Jon Stewart being transphobic for laughs in 2003

Exiting the Vampire’s Castle

How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left

12 - Eric Levitz on Why Democrats Should Wage a Vicious Class War in 2020

12 - Eric Levitz on Why Democrats Should Wage a Vicious Class War in 2020

August 18, 2019

Eric Levitz is a political analyst and Associate Editor at New York Magazine, where he writes an alarming number of “good takes” on a huge range of topics. I think Eric’s columns are the rare combination of well-written and well-argued. I don’t know of any political columnists who are more empirically grounded. I feel substantially better-informed having read him. 

We cover: 

The danger of moderation in extraordinary times, the climate crisis and the Green New Deal, how our identities inform our political choices, the time-honored Republican strategy of stoking racial fears to cling to power, why Democrats should wage a vicious class war in 2020, the fallacy of thinking about politics along one dimension, the surprising popularity of some radical left positions, the mind-numbing democratic debates, how Biden could run away with the whole thing, Bernie's decision to lean into the democratic socialist label, how Eric would describe his job, bias and the myth of objectivity in political writing, and Eric's hottest takes.

Links:

Eric's writing:

Moderate Democrats’ Delusions of ‘Prudence’ Will Kill Us All

Tribalism Isn’t Our Democracy’s Main Problem. The Conservative Movement Is.

Democrats Must Reach Out to Moderates in 2020 — By Waging a Vicious Class War

Here’s Who Won (and Lost) the Second Democratic Debate, Night One

Here’s Who Won (and Lost) the Second Democratic Debate, Night Two

We’re All ‘Socialists’ Now

Eric’s writing at NY Mag

Eric’s Twitter: @EricLevitz

Other links:

There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.

Video: Fred Hampton on racism and capitalism

Article on last place aversion: Avoiding Last Place: Some Things We Don't Outgrow

VERMONT SOCIALIST PLANS MAYORALTY WITH BIAS TOWARD POOR