Sam Berkson is a poet and blogger. Sam is a really passionate and active writer, performer, and organizer (of culture and politics) in London. We recorded this podcast in Sam’s flat in Tottenham at 3am on a Friday night.
Notes with timestamps
general patterns of the universe!!! 00:01
full automation or nah? 00:03
what’s up with Red Bull owning the whole world of extreme sports? 00:06
the crazy growth in performance in extreme sports 00:07
linguistic invariance, principles and parameters 00:14
even educated people basically don’t know shit 00:16
how natural human mental functioning is really faulty 00:18
the metaphor of the elephant and its rider 00:19:30
right-wing vs. left-wing models of human needs 00:24
the problem of aggregating from individualism to tribalism to global community 00:28
nobody does anything great out of desperation 00:44
why you have to be realistic about what thinking can do - 00:46
talking with people isn’t about solving problems but doing something meaningful 00:47
if listeners don’t like my podcasts then they're fired! 00:49
Russell Bentley is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Southampton, where he researches and teaches across the history of political thought, from ancient Greek to contemporary American politics. He also has experience in the upper echelons of university administration (formerly Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education at the University of Southampton), from which he brings to us some uncommonly frank and revealing insights into higher education today. I invited Russell to chat with me because there are very few people I’ve met in academia who are at once so professional and candid about their views from within the belly of the beast.
You can find Russell on Twitter at @RKBntly.
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Mindy Isser writes a low-key advice column newsletter in all lowercase. She is a labor organizer but also a very funny and sweet person who is fun to talk with. We used to be internet enemies but then became friends. We also made a movie together a few years ago. Here we talk about our romantic relationships, our different models of revolutionary politics, Drake (his record label made us remove the song we played, sorry Drizzy we still cool though right?), and a few other things.
Diana S. Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist, currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. Her interests include sex, disgust, veganism, utilitarianism, effective altruism, polyamory, and genetics, among other things.
Show notes with timestamps:
0:00 - 00:30
How we met on Twitter, how to make friends online, dissecting our online impressions of each other. Our weird ideological histories and intersections. Academics and drug use and talking about it on the internet. A thesis about the new ideological fracturing; the alt-right, etc.
00:30 - 00:50
Diana’s experiences with the vegan movement; the milquetoast Science March. Is “intersectionality” predictive? Diana’s view of how the left is changing, on smart people leaving the left and people with nuanced views being ejected. My thesis that there is no mass media or mainstream anymore.
Diana reviews the idea of personality, the Big Five traits. Most people are not very open to experience. Are apparent ideological differences really just due to a bunch of different lexicons and/or sociological differences? Lefties open to global warming science, not open to other science (GMOs, etc.). The problem of epistemic hygiene and disgust. Why are we so paranoid and afraid of each other when our society has never been more pacified? How evolutionary psychology explains the prevalence of signaling in politics. Very interesting exchange of hypotheses on this point, about what causes this to increase or decrease, and how it may or may not be changing. One has to be disagreeable to update; how Diana has lost a lot of friends many times but most people don’t want to do that. How I think this is changing on the left.
00:50 - 1:20
Debates about IQ and leftist denials of hierarchy. Partisan sorting. How ideology can be rational and at odds with the truth, at the same time. How social partners want to make each other really weird so there is less competition for their attention. Why it feels good when someone tells you a secret. Marriage; hierarchical polyamory vs. anarcho-polyamory. How polyamory makes healthy competition. Diana’s personal arrangements. Why I like monogamy and think pleasure is bad. It’s hard to think clearly and be honest when you’re trying to get laid. My interest in radical transparency, which Diana thinks is dumb. How sex could facilitate honesty.
Social media as escape behavior, how to manage this. Kink and sociopathy. How to use social media dopamine as a propeller of disciplined work, which you then reinvest into social media, and so on. Diana becomes more fluent when arguing. How we both leverage social media exchanges for more purposeful writing.
1:20 - 1:54
Here is when things get a little bit dicey. I asked Diana if “human biodiversity” is a racist dog-whistle or a real thing? Diana laid out a lot of arguments and cited a lot of evidence, and we had a long back and forth about this and its implications. Diana recommended the article “On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism,” an explicitly anti-racist case for "human biodiversity." I don’t know much about this stuff and I’m still processing the conversation to be honest. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, I also asked Diana about mental health and transgenderism. I’m just going to leave it at that. Definitely one of the more intense and politically challenging conversations I’ve had on this podcast so far.
Dan Goss is a happy revolutionary. Unlike me Dan actually works hard on many active political campaigns. We first met through Plan C. Although Dan is a very committed and serious organizer, he's also very based and reflective and funny, too, which is why I asked him to do a podcast. We are joined by Rosie Hiscock, who is a working actress and musician. We recorded this podcast in Dan's home in London.
Notes with timestamps:
how to shut down a coal mine in South Wales (1:56)
activist guilt, and work guilt, and why they're fucked up (7:50)
doing direct action just for fun (9:05)
honesty as the only radical political obligation (9:40)
don't be insecure about seeming selfish (13:00)
don't do stupid activist shit if you don't honestly believe it's going to make revolution (15:00)
why I like Plan C (15:30)
Dan is against altruism and selfishness (15:50)
What if the joy of our relationships was the only thing? (18:15)
don't care what some random activist group thinks (18:50)
maybe we need a cult with no leader (24:30)
how does one become ungovernable? (34:20)
acting and performance as a political skill (37:25)
The power of self-observance (38:00)
Rosie teaches us the Alexander Technique (39:00)
the political significance of a slouching posture (41:40)
resentment and conservatism (52:30)
how is Dan so happy all the time? (55:00)
on becoming revolutionary or hating yourself (63:00)
how the fear of being offensive turns people off to politics (74:30)
the idiotic performances of activism (75:00)
refuse anything that does not feel like the liberation of your soul (76:20)
radical politics is learning how to live (83:00)