The Most Interesting People I Know
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

11 - Lewis Bollard on Ending Factory Farming

11 - Lewis Bollard on Ending Factory Farming

August 10, 2019

Lewis Bollard leads the Open Philanthropy Project’s strategy for farm animal welfare. He directs roughly $30M in grants annually to nonprofits working to reduce suffering of farmed animals around the world. By virtue of his position, Lewis has deep insight into the state of the farmed animal welfare movement, which we get into in some detail.

Unfortunately, there are some audio issues with this episode- Macbook Airs are the bane of my existence. Otherwise, I think this was a great conversation. Lewis is a world-class expert on this topic, and his passion for the cause is clear.

We cover:

Open Philanthropy’s approach to ending factory farming, the scale, tractability, and neglectedness of factory farming, the transition to plant based meat alternatives, the hierarchy of suffering per calorie, whether you have to be a vegan to be an animal activist, the advocacy campaigns that Open Philanthropy is supporting, America’s role in defending factory farming worldwide, whether factory farming is efficient, whether we need to end capitalism to end factory farming, the psychological challenge of seeing the horror of factory farming in everyday life, undercover farm investigations, civil disobedience and violence in fighting for animal rights, the ethics of pursuing corporate campaigns, criticisms of Open Phil's approach to farmed animal welfare, and, of course, how you can get involved.

Show notes:

Lewis:

His Twitter: https://twitter.com/lewis_bollard

His monthly newsletter 

His conversation on the 80,000 Hours Podcast

Effective Altruism Animal Welfare Fund

Other links:

Infographic showing number of animals killed on farms compared to labs and shelters

Amount of animal suffering per calorie for different foods

Meat and the H Word: Given the amount of suffering involved in the mass killing of animals, how is it not one of the greatest moral atrocities of our time?

Hedonic Treadmill

Video: Baby Pig Fresh Pork Sausage Prank

At Least 3.4 Million Farm Animals Drowned in the Aftermath of Hurricane Florence

Anarcho-pacificism

Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE)

Books:

Animal Liberation

Eating Animals

Animal Machines

10 - Brianna Rennix on Our Brutal Immigration System

10 - Brianna Rennix on Our Brutal Immigration System

July 29, 2019

Brianna Rennix is an immigration lawyer and a Senior Editor at Current Affairs magazine. She works near the border in Dilley, Texas, helping prepare detained immigrant women for their asylum hearings. This is a job that requires you to ask people about the worst things that have ever happened to them. And if you fail, they may be deported to their death. 

Immigration has been in the news a lot recently, particularly the torturous conditions immigrants are being held in. Unfortunately, a lot of this coverage isn't properly contextualized and there's a lot of misinformation about how our immigration system actually works. I've wanted to have Brianna on for a while because, as I tell her, she writes about immigration with more analytical and moral clarity than anyone else I've come across. We touch on a lot of it here, and I really encourage you to read her work on immigration that can be found in the show notes. 

We cover:

Brianna's work as an immigration lawyer, how Clinton and Obama laid the groundwork for Trump's immigration policies, the push and pull factors driving immigration, America's role in stoking violence in Central America, the origins of MS13 and Barrio 18, Trump's efforts to destroy the asylum process, asylum claims in theory and in practice, the intensity of asking people to relive their worst experiences day in and day out, and what you can do to help.

Brianna's work:

This Week in Terrible Immigration News 7-29-19

Waiting for the Holy Infant of Atocha

The Case for Opening Our Borders

Crammed into cells and forced to drink from the toilet – this is how the US treats migrants

Things You Can Do Beyond Calling Your Congressperson

Understanding the Administration’s Monstrous Immigration Policies

What Would Human Immigration Policy Look Like?

Can We Have Humane Immigration Policy?

Links:

Majority of undocumented immigrants show up for court, data shows

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

US Involvement in Regime Change in Latin America

Polls: Most Voters Are Cool With Trump’s Deportation Raids, But Not His Racist Tweets

How to Create a Crisis

Observing immigration court

Never Again Action

Video of Ihlan Omar being welcomed home

‘Nobody Opened the Door’: Neighbors Rally During an ICE Raid in Houston

Video: Town Of Trump Voters Angry After Local Businessman Gets Deported

Movimiento Cosecha

9 - Spencer Greenberg on Life-Changing Questions, Effective Altruism, and Burning Man

9 - Spencer Greenberg on Life-Changing Questions, Effective Altruism, and Burning Man

July 23, 2019

Spencer Greenberg is a mathematician, social scientist, and entrepreneur. He received his PhD in applied math from NYU and is the founder of SparkWave, a social venture foundry. As we discuss, SparkWave has created a number of apps tackling problems like depression, anxiety, and finding participants for academic studies. Spencer also created the site www.clearerthinking.org, which offers free online tools and training programs to help users avoid bias and make better decisions. This site has a lot of fun and thought-provoking exercises. My favorites that we didn’t dig into: common misconceptions, political bias test, and leaving your mark on the world. Spencer has spoken at Effective Altruism Global and been published in the New York Times.

We cover: life changing questions you can ask yourself, intrinsic values, some hard problems for utilitarianism, Sparkwave’s apps for anxiety and depression, how to ensure social ventures don't become evil, Effective Altruism, the profound challenge of doing good in the world, the connection between our happiness and the news, gaming Facebook for your happiness, the best legal approach to prostitution, Spencer's thoughts on fiction and nonfiction, why memorizing is underrated, and the best description of Burning Man I've heard. 

When I conceived this show, Spencer was one of the first people that came to mind. As you’ll soon see, he has informed and well-developed thoughts on a huge range of topics. He’s changed my mind quite a few times, and I appreciate his approach to thinking through the hardest problems we face as a species. 

Spencer’s referenced work:

Life-Changing Questions

Intrinsic Values Test

Spencer’s presentation at Effective Altruism Global on “Value traps, and how to avoid them”

Mind Ease for anxiety

UpLift for depression

Facebook post on humor

Facebook post on 10 policies Spencer supports

Other links:

The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

The Repugnant Conclusion

Current Affairs article on Wikipedia

Is it fair to say that most social programmes don’t work?

Peter Singer’s essay Famine, Affluence and Morality

What it’s like to go to Burning Man for the first time

8 - Emily Bazelon on Prosecutors, Jeffrey Epstein, and Kamala Harris

8 - Emily Bazelon on Prosecutors, Jeffrey Epstein, and Kamala Harris

July 16, 2019

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. She is the author of Charged: the New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. Emily is also the co-host of Slate’s “Political Gabfest” podcast. She has appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Fresh Air, This American Life and pretty much all the other big shows. Needless to say, I’m grateful she took the time to come on my show. 

In our discussion, we cover:

The outsized and unchecked power of prosecutors in our criminal justice system, what one thing Emily would do to change that system, whether she's a prison abolitionist, Tiffany Cabán’s prospects should she wins the Queens DA race, whether it's better to get progressive prosecutors in office or pursue state level reforms, what Jeffrey Epstein says about the rule of law, and Kamala Harris's record as a prosecutor and what it means for her candidacy.

Shownotes:

Emily’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/emilybazelon

Emily’s work referenced:

Her book Charged

Kamala Harris, a ‘Top Cop’ in the Era of Black Lives Matter

The Charged podcast

Other links:

The Paradox of the Progressive Prosecutor

Solitary Confinement: a Threat to Denmark’s Credibility

KAMALA HARRIS FAILS TO EXPLAIN WHY SHE DIDN’T PROSECUTE STEVEN MNUCHIN’S BANK

Kamala Harris calls Manafort’s relatively light sentence unfair

7 - Vanessa A Bee on Social Media, #metoo, and Innovating Under Socialism

7 - Vanessa A Bee on Social Media, #metoo, and Innovating Under Socialism

July 12, 2019

Today’s guest is attorney, and writer Vanessa A Bee. Vanessa is the Social Media Editor and now Associate Editor at Current Affairs Magazine, where she runs a fiery and informative Twitter account: @curraffairs (in addition to her own: @vanessa_abee). You can also catch her on Current Affairs’s wonderful podcast.

On this episode, we cover:

The role of social media in our politics, whether writers need to be on Twitter, Vanessa's ideological and religious journey, prison reform vs abolition, #Metoo, the boring importance of antitrust law, how standard labor contracts restrict our freedoms, the revolving door between regulators and the companies they used to regulate, and why innovation may actually be better under socialism.

There are some audio issues with this episode. Some processors can’t keep up with the recording software I use. I did what I could for this episode, and am looking into workarounds for future episodes. 

Shownotes:

Vanessa’s articles:

How Not to Talk About Uncomfortable Shoulder Rubs

Can Penitent Sexual Predators Ever Be Granted Redemption?

Court-Packing is Necessary to Save Democracy 

The Rules of Monopoly

Innovation Under Socialism

Other links:

WashPost article where Terry Cruz details his alleged sexual assault

Pete Davis’s Twitter thread on how all of Obama’s antitrust Assistant Attorney Generals went on to work for the corporations they used to regulate