DiscoverThe Ezra Klein ShowCal Newport has an answer for digital burnout
Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout

Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout

Update: 2019-01-148
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Cal Newport suspects you’re a digital maximalist — someone who believes that any potential for benefit is reason enough to start using a new technology. Don’t feel bad. That’s how most of us are. That’s how society teaches us to be.

Newport wants us to become digital minimalists. He defines digital minimalism as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected activities … that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Newport is making a bid to be the Marie Kondo of technology: someone with an actual plan for helping you realize the digital pursuits that do, and don’t, spark joy and bring value to your life. This is a conversation about becoming a digital minimalist: why to do it, how to do it, and what it might get you. Whether you want to try Newport’s whole plan or just pick and choose some good ideas from his buffet, there’s a lot in here that will help you find a healthier, more intentional approach to technology.

Book Recommendations:

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White
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Andrew Sullivan and I work out our differences
I’ve been arguing with Andrew Sullivan online for almost 15 years now. It’s one of my oldest and most rewarding hobbies. In the past, I’ve always felt we understood each other, even in periods of sharp disagreement. Lately, that’s changed.Sullivan and I have both been writing about identity politics and demographic change, though from quite different perspectives. Our arguments of late have felt more like we’re talking past each other, or about each other, than to each other. We decided to do this podcast to talk it out, and trace where our differences really cut, and where they can be bridged. This is a conversation about political movements, American religiosity, and identity. It’s about whether the illiberalism of today is really worse than the illiberalism of yesteryear, and whether the critiques of the campus left accurately describe anyone who holds real power. It’s about how much demographic change a society can absorb, and at what pace that change should occur. It’s about what conservatism is versus what it says it is. A lot of what I try to do on this show is dig beneath the daily fights over whatever is in the news to the differences in worldview that power our disagreements. I think this conversation was unusually successful in doing that. Some background links, if you want to dig into the articles we're discussing:America's new religionsAmerica, land of brutal binariesThe political tribalism of Andrew SullivanDemocrats can't keep dodging immigration as a real issue
The core contradiction of American politics
The Republican and Democratic parties are not the same. I’ll say it again: The Republican and Democratic parties are not the same.I don’t just mean they believe different things. I mean they’re composed in different ways, they argue from different premises, they’re structured in different ways. We treat them as mirror images of each other — the left and right hands of American politics — but they’re not. And the ways in which they’re different make it hard for them to understand each other, and hard for American politics to function.Political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dan Hopkins literally wrote the book on how the parties are different. In Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, they argue that the differences between the parties stem from a central and longstanding split in the country’s political personality: We are a country of philosophical conservatives, and policy liberals. We want a small government that does more of everything.I asked Grossmann on the show to walk me through the ways the parties are different, and how those differences explain everything from the GOP’s repeated shutdowns to asymmetric polarization to the rise of Fox News. This is a conversation about the fundamental structure of America’s parties, public opinion, and media institutions. It’s worth the time.Book Recommendations:Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965by Eric SchicklerBefore the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensusby Rick PerlsteinLaw and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960's by Michael W. Flamm
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This conversation will change how you understand misogyny
Misogyny has long been understood as something men feel, not something women experience. That, says philosopher Kate Manne, is a mistake. In her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Manne defines misogyny as “as primarily a property of social environments,” one that not only doesn’t need hatred of women to function, but actually calms hatred of women when it is functioning.Politics is thick right now with arguments over misogyny, patriarchy, and gender roles. These arguments are powering media controversies, political candidacies, and ideological movements. Manne’s framework makes so much more sense of this moment than the definitions and explanations most of us have been given. This is one of those conversations that will let you see the world through a new lens.In part because her framework touches on so much, this is a conversation that covers an unusual amount of ground. We talk about misogyny and patriarchy, of course, but also anxiety, Jordan Peterson, the role of shame in politics, my recent meditation retreat, Sweden, the social roles that grind down men, and a piece of satire in McSweeney’s that might just be the key to understanding the 2016 and 2020 elections. Enjoy!Information about Peltason Lecture at UC IrvineBook Recommendations:Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah ArendtObedience to Authority: An Experimental View by Stanley Milgram Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Ending the age of animal cruelty, with Bruce Friedrich
You often hear that eating animals is natural. And it is. But not the way we do it.The industrial animal agriculture system is a technological marvel. It relies on engineering broiler chickens that grow almost seven times as quickly as they would naturally, and that could never survive in the wild. It relies on pumping a majority of all the antibiotics used in the United States into farm animals to stop the die-offs that overcrowding would otherwise cause. A list like this could go on endlessly, but the point is simple: Industrial animal agriculture is not a natural food system. It is a triumph of engineering.But though we live in a moment when technology has made animal cruelty possible on a scale never imagined in human history, we also live in a moment when technology may be about to make animal cruelty unnecessary. And nothing changes a society’s values as quickly as innovations that make a new moral system easy and cheap to adopt. And that’s what this podcast is about.Bruce Friedrich is the head of the Good Food Institute, which invests, connects, advises, and advocates for the plant and cell-based meat industries. That work puts him at the hot center of one of the most exciting and important technological stories of our age: the possible replacement of a cruel, environmentally unsustainable form of food production with a system that’s better for the planet, better for animals, and better for our health.I talk a lot about animal suffering issues on this podcast, and I do so because they’re important. We’re causing a lot of suffering right now. But I don’t believe that it’ll be a change in morality or ideology that transforms our system. I think it’ll be a change in technology, and Friedrich knows better than just about anyone else alive how fast that technology is becoming a reality. In a rare change of pace for the Ezra Klein Show, this conversation will leave you, dare I say it, optimistic.Book Recommendations:Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World by Paul ShapiroEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Robert Sapolsky on the toxic intersection of poverty and stress
Robert Sapolsky is a Stanford neuroscientist and primatologist. He’s the author of a slew of important books on human biology and behavior. But it’s an older book he wrote that forms the basis for this conversation. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky works through how a stress response that evolved for fast, fight-or-flight situations on the savannah continuously wears on our bodies and brains in modern life. But stress isn’t just an individual phenomenon. It’s also a social force, applied brutally and unequally across our society. “If you want to see an example of chronic stress, study poverty,” Sapolsky says.I often say on the show that politics and policy need to begin with a realistic model of human nature. This is a show about that level of the policy conversation: It’s about how poverty and stress exist in a doom loop together, each amplifying the other’s effects on the brain and body, deepening their harms.And this is a conversation of intense relevance to how we make social policy. Much of the fight in Washington, and in the states, is about whether the best way to get people out of poverty is to make it harder to access help, to make sure the government doesn’t become, in Paul Ryan’s memorable phrase, “a hammock.” Understanding how the stress of poverty acts on people’s minds, how it saps their will and harms their cognitive function and hurts their children, exposes how cruel and wrongheaded that view really is.Sapolsky and I also discuss whether free will is a myth, why he believes the prison system is incompatible with modern neuroscience, how studying monkeys in times of social change helps makes sense of the current moment in American politics, and much more. This one’s worth your time.Book Recommendations:The 21 Balloons by William Pene DuboisChaos: Making a New Science by James GleickThe Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Melvin Konner
Frances Lee on why bipartisanship is irrational
There aren’t too many people with an idea that will actually change how you think about American politics. But Frances Lee is one of them. In her new book, Insecure Majorities, Lee makes a point that sounds strange when you hear it, but changes everything once you understand it.For most of American history, American politics has been under one-party rule. For decades, that party was the Republican Party. Then, for decades more, it was the Democratic Party. It’s only been in the past few decades that control of Congress has begun flipping back every few years, that presidential elections have become routinely decided by a few percentage points, that both parties are always this close to gaining or losing the majority.That kind of close competition, Lee shows, makes the daily compromises of bipartisan governance literally irrational. And politicians know it. Lee’s got the receipts."Confrontation fits our strategy,” Dick Cheney once said. "Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”Why indeed? This is a conversation about that question, about how the system we have incentivizes a politics of confrontation we don’t seem to want and makes steady, stable governance a thing of the past.Book Recommendations:The Imprint of Congress by David R. MayhewFear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira KatznelsonCongress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers by Josh Chafetz
Eric Holder’s plan to save democracy
Eric Holder was attorney general during the first six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and there are days when it feels like he’s the attorney general of Obama’s post-presidency, too. Holder chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a cause close enough to Obama’s heart that the ex-president recently folded his Organizing for America operation into it.Holder calls the project “a partisan effort for good government,” a line rich with both the promise and problems of Obamaism. The NDRC doesn’t want to build a redistricting operation to match the GOP’s machine, they want to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians altogether. But critics worry that their organizing will work in blue states, fail in red states, and lead to Democrats unilaterally disarming in the redistricting wars.In this conversation, Holder lays out his strategy to end redistricting and answers his critics. We discuss whether there’s still the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the subject, and what tools Democrats have in red states. We also revisit Holder’s famous “nation of cowards” speech on race, and discuss whether more bankers should’ve been sent to jail during the financial crisis. Enjoy!Book Recommendations:An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963 by Robert DallekThe Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik
Anil Dash on the biases of tech
“Marc Andreessen famously said that ‘software is eating the world,’ but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world,” wrote Anil Dash.Dash’s argument caught my eye. But then, a lot of Dash’s arguments catch my eye. He’s one of the most perceptive interpreters and critics of the tech industry around these days. That’s in part because Dash is part of the world he’s describing: He’s the CEO of Glitch, the host of the excellent tech podcast Function, and a longtime developer and blogger.In this conversation, Dash and I discuss his excellent list of the 12 things everyone should know about technology. This episode left me with an idea I didn’t have going in: What if the problem with a lot of the social technologies we use — and, lately, lament — isn’t the ethics of their creators or the revenue models they’re built on, but the sheer scale they’ve achieved? What if products like Facebook and Twitter and Google have just gotten too big and too powerful for anyone to truly understand, much less manage?You know the topics that obsess me on this podcast. Polarization. Identity. Attention. I’ve come to believe that all of them are downstream from the technologies on which they rest. If you feel like society has gone a bit wrong, it’s likely because the internet has gone a bit wrong. And Dash’s arguments help explain why.Book Recommendations:Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David RitzPrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl
Rep. Katie Porter on how capitalism is failing
Katie Porter is the Rep.-elect from California’s 45th District, which happens to be the district I grew up in. She’s part of the brigade of Democrats who turned Orange County blue for the first time since the Great Depression. But that’s not why I asked her on the show. I asked her on the show because she’s one of the most interesting members of the incoming House majority.Porter grew up on an Iowa farm, watching the debt crises of the ’80s devastate her family and her region. At Harvard Law, she took the class of a particularly charismatic professor whom you might have heard of: Elizabeth Warren. That class changed Porter’s life.Porter’s academic work explores how rarely markets work the way they’re supposed to, and how often banks and other lenders play by different rules than the law says they need to. In 2012, then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris appointed Porter to be California’s independent monitor of banks, where she saw the lengths they went to to avoid abiding by the settlements they’d signed.In this conversation, Porter and I talk about how all this informed her path to Congress, why she thinks Americans are losing faith in capitalism, whether the Obama administration failed homeowners in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage collapse, and why lenders are always making you fax them documents (the answer is, honestly, infuriating).I know, I know, interviews with politicians are often a bit bland. Trust me. This isn’t one of those.Recommended books:Evicted by Matthew DesmondDenial by Jessica SternLonesome Dove Larry McMurtryNotes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
Peter Beinart on anti-Semitism in America and illiberalism in Israel
This is a conversation I’ve been putting off, if I’m being honest. I can’t hold it from the safe space of journalistic distance. It’s about the strange, vulnerable space that many Jews, myself included, find themselves in today. The first part of this conversation is about being Jewish at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the Western world. The October massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was the worst act of anti-Semitic violence ever committed on American soil. In 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia, protesters waved torches while chanting “Jews will not replace us.” It’s often said that anti-Semitism is a light sleeper. It feels like it’s stirring.The second, and separate, part of this conversation is about Israel. The peace movement in the Jewish state has collapsed, and the country has decided a repressive illiberalism is the best guarantor of safety. They’ve found plenty of allies on the American right for that project, but it’s one that shreds the humanistic and pluralistic ideals that many diaspora Jews, myself included, believe in.All of this is coming at a time that has reminded many of us of the core lessons of Judaism: the importance of remembering what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land, of knowing that bigotry takes whatever forms it requires to justify itself, of maintaining humanity amid struggle. Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York. He’s also a columnist at the Atlantic and the Forward, a CNN contributor, and author of The Crisis of Zionism. He’s a thoughtful and courageous writer on these issues, and I’m grateful he joined me for this conversation.Recommended books: Covenant & Conversation series by Rabbi Jonathan SacksSpiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America by Edward KaplanThe Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
Where Jonathan Haidt thinks the American mind went wrong
Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist at New York University and the co-founder of Heterodox University. His book The Righteous Mind, which describes the different moral frameworks that animate the left and the right, was a key influence on my work. But these days, Haidt is worried about something new."Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years," he writes in The Coddling of the American Mind, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff. "The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers."The kids, in other words, aren't all right. Haidt sees a generation warped by overparenting and smartphones and flirting with illiberalism. He worries over a culture of "safetyism" that confuses disagreement with violence. He sees political correctness on campus as a threat not just to speakers' incomes, but to students' psyches.I often find myself a skeptic in this conversation. The panic over campus activism seems overblown to me. It's suffused with bad-faith efforts to nationalize isolated examples of college kids behaving badly in order to discredit serious critiques of social injustice. But that's why I wanted to have Haidt on the show: If anyone could convince me I'm wrong about this, it'd be him.Recommended Books:Meditations by Marcus AureliusHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale CarnegieThe Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen StennerNotes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
Sandy Darity has a plan to close the wealth gap
Here’s something to consider: For families in which the lead earner has a college degree, the average white family has $180,500 in wealth. The average black family? $23,400. That’s a difference of almost $160,000 — $160,000 that could be used to send a kid to college, get through an illness, start a small business, or make a down payment on a home that builds wealth for the next generation, too.Sandy Darity is an economist at Duke University, and much of his work has focused on the racial wealth gap, and how to close it. He’s a pioneer of “stratification economics” — a branch of study that takes groups seriously as economic units, and thinks hard about how group incentives change our behavior and drive our decisions.In this podcast, we talk about stratification economics, as well as Darity’s idea of “baby bonds”: assets that would build to give poor children up to $50,000 in wealth by the time they become adults, which would in turn give them a chance to invest in themselves or their future the same way children from richer families do. Think of it as a plan for universal basic wealth — and people are listening: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a past guest on this show, recently released a plan to closely tracked Darity’s proposal.I know, I know, the election is in a day. But right now, we don’t know who will win. So how about spending some time thinking about what someone who actually wanted to ease problems like wealth inequality could do if they did have power?Recommended books: Caste, Class, and Race by Oliver CoxCapitalism and Slavery by Eric WilliamsBlack Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois
Rep. Mark Sanford on losing the Republican Party to Donald Trump
Mark Sanford was elected to Congress in 1994, where he quickly established himself as one of the most conservative members of the chamber. In 2002, he was elected governor of South Carolina. He was, again, one of the most conservative elected officials in the country. Many expected him to be the GOP’s nominee against Obama in 2012.Then it all happened. The disappearance. “Hiking the Appalachian trail.” Sanford left public life. He was done, it seemed. And then he wasn’t. He won a House seat in South Carolina. He overcame the kind of scandal that usually destroys a politician. But he couldn’t overcome Trump. Sanford was a rock-ribbed conservative, a Republican, but he was no Trumpist. He accused the president of fanning the flames of intolerance, of being reckless with the truth. He wrote a New York Times op-ed calling on Trump to release his tax returns. Sanford got a primary opponent for his troubles, Trump endorsed her, and Sanford lost. Weeks after Sanford's defeat, Trump appeared before House Republicans and mocked Sanford in front of his colleagues. The president, unusually, was booed.I sat down with Sanford in his final weeks in Congress to talk about what he’s learned about the Republican Party, about Donald Trump, about America, and about himself.  Recommended books: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine AlbrightThe Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook by Niall Ferguson
Jay Rosen is pessimistic about the media. So am I.
This is a tough conversation. It was a tough one to hold, and it’s a tough one to publish.I’m a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for 15 years. I believe in journalism. But right now, I’m worried we’re failing. I’m worried we’re making American politics worse, not better.That’s not because we're not doing remarkable, courageous, heroic work. It’s not because we’re fake news or biased hacks. Look at the #MeToo movement, the investigations of Donald Trump's finances, the remarkable reporting that journalists do every day from war zones and Ebola outbreaks and authoritarian regimes.It's because everything around us has changed — our business models, the way people read us, the way we compete with each other, the way we’re manipulated — and we’re getting played, particularly in political reporting and commentary, by the outrage merchants and con artists and trolls and polarizers who understand this new world better.President Trump is the most successful media hacker out there, but he’s not the only one. They’re using us as tools to fracture American democracy, and I don’t think we know how to stop them.Jay Rosen is a professor of journalism at New York University and the founder of PressThink. He’s one of our sharpest, clearest critics and interpreters. I asked him on the show to help me think through what’s wrong in the press, and what I’m doing wrong in my own work.Recommended books:Deciding What's News by Herbert GansDemocracy in America by Alexis de TocquevilleExit, Voice, and Loyalty by Albert O. HirschmanMaking Democracy Work by Robert Putnam
Why Bill Gates is worried
“To put it bluntly,” wrote Bill and Melinda Gates in their foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report, “decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life.”There is no topic in the philanthropic world more fraught than population growth. The history of efforts to analyze and address it is filled with bad predictions and cruel solutions. The Gateses, though, are trying to take a different approach to the issue. Rather than seeing a population problem in the demographic projections, they’re framing it as a poverty problem — and, for that matter, an opportunity. In this conversation, I talk with Bill Gates about the report and about much more: the geographic and political forces that have held African development back, whether economic growth brings political freedom, the risks posed by artificial intelligence, and how we should weigh future human lives and current animal suffering. This conversation also marks the launch of a new Vox podcast and section, Future Perfect, which focuses on evidence-based ways to make the world a better place. You can find the section at Vox.com, and you can find the podcast, which is hosted by my colleague and friend Dylan Matthews, wherever you get your podcasts. Enjoy!Recommended books: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy PuddicombeEducated by Tara WestoverBig Debt Crises by Ray Dalio Find the Future Perfect podcast on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | ART19

Why Bill Gates is worried

2018-10-1501:00:501

Reihan Salam makes the case against open borders
In his new book, Melting Pot or Civil War: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders, Reihan Salam tries to do something difficult: build a pro-immigrant case for a more restrictive immigration system. This is an argument, interestingly, that’s as much about inequality as it is about immigration. “Diversity is not the problem,” Salam writes. “What’s uniquely pernicious is extreme between-group inequality.”Salam, the executive editor of the National Review, thus makes a two-sided case: He argues that a socially sustainable immigration system is one where America is more deeply committed to equality, which means both focusing on higher-skilled immigrants who need less support and radically raising the amount of support we’re willing to give immigrants who do need it. And that compromise, he argues, should be paired with a more serious American effort to improve the economic conditions of the places immigrants travel here from. Is this a synthesis that makes sense? Does it really address the cleavages preventing us from moving forward on immigration? And what are the fundamental values that we should base our immigration system on anyway? That’s what Reihan and I discuss in this episode.  Recommended books: The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants Are Changing American Life by Tomas JimenezReplenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity by Tomas JimenezWho Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity by Samuel Huntington
Jose Antonio Vargas on living undocumented in Trump’s America
Jose Antonio Vargas was born in the Philippines in 1981. When he was 12, his mother sent him to America, to live with family. When he was 16, he went to the DMV to get a driver's license and found out his green card was forged; he was an undocumented immigrant. Vargas went on to be a decorated journalist, winning a Pulitzer as part of the Washington Post team covering the Virginia Tech shootings. He profiled Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker and led a technology vertical at the Huffington Post. But he lived in fear of his secret, of the fragile foundation upon which he'd built his life. So he did something few would have the courage to do: He told the world himself. In his new book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, Vargas details what happened both before and after his confession. "This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves," he writes. "This book is about what it means to not have a home.”Vargas has spent the better part of the last decade doing something no one should have to do: asking people to see him as a human, not a category; asking the country he lives in to decide what it wants to do with him, or what it wants from him. It is a testament to how strange and broken our system is, how uncertain our values are, that it has refused to give him an answer.Immigration politics is at the core of Trumpism, which means it’s at the core of our politics right now. But the stories of actual immigrants aren’t. In this raw conversation, Vargas and I discuss his life, how being undocumented changes not just your path but your psyche, and what Vargas wants to say to those who see him as the problem they elected this president to fix.  Recommended books: The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinThere There by Tommy OrangeAmerica Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Francis Fukuyama’s case against identity politics
Is all politics identity politics? And if so, then what does it mean to condemn identity politics in the first place?That’s the subject of my discussion with Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama. In his new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, he builds a theory of what identity means in modern societies and how spiraling demands for recognition are tearing at the fabric of our politics. "The retreat on both sides into ever narrower identities threatens the possibility of deliberation and collective action by the society as a whole," he writes. "Down this road lies, ultimately, state breakdown and failure.” Yikes.Fukuyama’s book revolves around a question I’ve become a bit obsessed by: When do we see political claims as identity politics, and when do we see them as just politics? What’s obscured in the passage from one boundary to another? Whose agendas are served by it? And in a country whose narrative of progress and perfection is inextricably bound up in the success of past moments of identity politics, how did this come to be such a vilified term today?So I asked Fukuyama on the show to discuss it. This is a great conversation with one of the foremost political thinkers of our age. Recommended books:Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government by  Christopher Achen and Larry BartelsThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Carol Anderson on the myth of American democracy
The president of the United States was the runner-up in the popular vote. The majority in the US Senate got fewer votes than the minority. And even if Democrats win a hefty majority of the vote in 2018’s House elections, Republicans, due to gerrymandering and geography, may retain control of the chamber.But it’s not just the structure of our system that eats at America’s democratic claims. It’s the rules being layered on top of it. In 2017, 99 bills to limit voting have been introduced in 31 states. Recent years have seen an explosion of laws meant to make it harder for Americans — particularly nonwhite, young, and poorer Americans — to vote. America calls itself a democracy, but it's elected officials are actively working to make democratic participation harder.This is nothing new, says Carol Anderson, chair of Emory’s African-American studies department, and author of the new book One Person, No Vote. Efforts to limit the franchise, to ensure power remained where it was even as the trappings of democracy gave it legitimacy, are as old as the country itself. “Right now, our democracy is in crisis,” she says. This is a conversation about the distance between what America claims to be, what it is, and how much worse it can get. It's about the continuity between past violations of our democracy that we all understand and condemn and present violations that cloak their true nature.With the 2018 election around the corner, this is a conversation we all need to be having.  Recommended books: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari BermanOne Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin KruseIt's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
David French on “The Great White Culture War"
David French is a senior writer for National Review and one of the conservatives I read most closely. About a month ago, he published an interesting column responding to some things I had said, and to the broader currents cutting through our politics. “Conservative white Americans look at urban multicultural liberalism and notice an important fact,” he wrote. "Its white elite remains, and continues to enjoy staggering amounts of power and privilege. So when that same white elite applauds the decline of 'white America,' what conservatives often hear isn’t a cheer for racial justice but another salvo in our ongoing cultural grudge match, with the victors seeking to elevate black and brown voices while remaining on top themselves."I asked French to come on the podcast to discuss this idea — and the controversies that motivated it — more deeply, and he quickly accepted. The result is a tricky conversation about very sensitive territory in our politics. It’s about how we talk about race and class and status and gender and sexuality and religion, how we understand and misunderstand each other, how our political identities turn conflicts about one thing into conflicts about all things, why groups that are objectively powerful feel so powerless, and much more. I always appreciate the grace, openness, and intelligence French brings to his writing, and all of that is on full display here too. Recommended books: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt Coming Apart by Charles Murray The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey
Anand Giridharadas on the elite charade of changing the world
“How can there be anything wrong with trying to do good?” asks Anand Giridharadas in his new book, Winners Take All. “The answer may be: when the good is an accomplice to even greater, if more invisible, harm.”Giridharadas has done his time in elite circles. His education took him through Oxford and Harvard, he spent years as a New York Times columnist, he's a regular on Morning Joe, he’s a TED talker. And so when he mounted the stage at the Aspen Institute and told his fellow fellows that their pretensions of doing good were just that — pretensions — and that they were more the problem than the solution, it caused some controversy. Giridharadas’s new book will make a lot of people angry. It’s about the difference between generosity and justice, the problems with only looking for win-win solutions, the ways the corporate world has come to dominate the discourse of change, and the fact that elite networks change the people who are part of them. But for all the power of Giridharadas’s critique of elite do-goodery, does he have better answers to the problems they’re trying to solve? And what of the very real problems that have left so many disillusioned with government, or the very real accomplishments that exist in the systems we’ve built? If we are pursuing change wrong, then what needs to be changed to pursue it better?Recommended books: There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald (forthcoming)The Argonauts by Maggie NelsonIdentity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Francis Fukuyama
Reup: Zephyr Teachout vs. Corruption
Zephyr Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University and one of the nation’s foremost experts on political corruption. She’s also, after a glowing New York Times endorsement this week, arguably the frontrunner in the race to replace Eric Schneiderman as New York’s attorney general. The Democratic primary, which will likely decide the race, is on September 13.The NY AG position is unusually important right now. President Trump’s businesses are in New York, his family works in New York, his associates worked in New York. When special counsel Robert Mueller referred Michael Cohen for prosecution, it was to New York prosecutors. And for all the talk of Trump’s pardon power, he can pardon against federal prosecution, not state prosecution.  All that means that the New York attorney general is uniquely situated to investigate, and prosecute, the corruption swirling around Trumpworld.I had Teachout on this podcast in June 2017. We talked about how political corruption was defined by the Founding Fathers, and why, during the Constitutional Convention, they discussed the threat posed by corruption more than they discussed the threat posed by foreign invasion. And we talked about the way today’s Supreme Court — in the Citizens United and related decisions — has narrowed the definition to be almost meaningless. We also discussed an emoluments lawsuit Teachout was involved in against Trump, as well as the power of corporate monopolies in American life.It was a great conversation then, and it’s all the more relevant now. Enjoy!
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Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout

Cal Newport has an answer for digital burnout

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