About one of every 10 people is left-handed. That can be profitable if you’re a pitcher – and a pain if you’re an average Joe living in a right-handed world. Howard Kushner – a historian of medicine and neuroscience – explains why so few people are lefties; and about the many ways cultures worldwide discriminate against them. His new book is called “On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History”.
The roots of the post-truth, alternative facts present can be discovered in America’s “promiscuous devotion to the untrue” and its instinct to believe in make believe, evident across four centuries of magical thinkers and true believers, hucksters and suckers, who have embedded an appetite for believe-whatever-you-want fantasy into the national DNA, argues Kurt Andersen, author of a new book, “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500-Year History.” Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYU professor, philosopher, and author of fiction and nonfiction books questions him about the bold claim that America’s love of the fantastic has made this country exceptional in a way that has yet to be understood?
Why is it… that there seems to be such a strong correlation between the trappings of Capitalism, and the alienation of society? – asked Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, two members of the Frankfurt School in their book “The Dialectic of Enlightenment”.
Stephen West on how the Frankfurt School thinkers saw the role of culture industry in perpetuating the cycle of working and consumption. “For eight hours a day, a third of their life these people get to go to a job that alienates them and sucks the life out of them…and their reward for doing that is more of this green paper that allows them to go home and consume stuff that makes them feel just good enough to get up and do it again the next day.”
Adorno aimed beyond trivia, “In an age of spiritual disenchantment, the individual experiences the need for substitute images of the ‘divine’. It obtains these through pseudo-culture. Hollywood idols, soaps, novels, pop tunes, lyrics and film genres such as the Wild West or the Mafia movie, fashion substitute mythologies for the masses.”
Swearing matters, argues Benjamin K. Bergen – cognitive scientist, linguist, and author of “What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves” – a book-length love letter to swearing. Young people are so chill about swearing, and Bergen studies it as an rebellious form of creative expression. Nevertheless, “we’re getting more casual about swearing when the words themselves have low stakes, but… we’re getting less casual about profanity of the slur type… when the stakes are high, because people perceive those words as causing harm.”
Finally, learn some proper English. “You are the expert, doctor Bergen. What’s your favorite swearword?” – “Here is one that’s inspired by ‘shitgibbon’ discussion. I’s ‘douchewaffle’.”
Also featured: writer Roxana Robinson, who traces the subversive path of a sexist slur, and performer/activist Jess Thom explains what it’s like to live with coprolalia — involuntarily swearing out loud.
Malcolm Gladwell in a conversation on running fast, satire as a weapon, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Harvard’s under-theorized endowment, why early childhood intervention is overrated, long-distance running, and Malcolm’s happy risk-averse career going from one “fur-lined rat hole to the next.”
Today, Americans are working harder than ever to avoid change. In this episode, Editor-in-chief of “Reason” Katherine Mangu-Ward grill Tyler Cowen about “The Complacent Class”, a follow-up to his previous book “The Great Stagnation”. Tyler has found out that Americans are moving less, starting fewer businesses, marrying people more like themselves, and relying as much as they can on algorithms that wall them off from anything that might be too new or different. As a result, we could see a version of America that is more segregated, more unequal, and no longer the leader of tomorrow’s greatest achievements.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, “His brilliant new book…has been on my nightstand after I devoured it in one sitting. I am at round-the-clock Cowen saturation right now.”
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, as anti-communist sentiment gained ground in the United States, paranoia and persecution swept through Hollywood. The House Un-American Activities (HUAC) began interrogating filmmakers and actors, accusing them of being communists or communist sympathizers. The president, Congress, the courts and the press all played a part.
Many who appeared before the HUAC were put on a blacklist that made it impossible for them to work in show business. Among the blacklisted was screenwriter Carl Foreman, whose 1952 classic western ‘High Noon’ is seen as a parable about the toxic political climate of the time.
Glenn Frankel revisits the film — and Foreman’s experiences testifying on Capitol Hill — in his new book, also called ‘High Noon’. “The blacklist movement stems out of a backlash by people who felt they want to get their country back,” Frankel says. “In those days it was [from] communists, and Jews and liberals. Today you might say it’s Islamic terrorists and undocumented immigrants.”
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” said Winston Churchill. The American satirist Joe Queenan disagrees and rails against the very idea of failure. His sharpest attack is reserved for the supposed romance of defeat. From Braveheart in Scotland via the heretic Cathars in France to the pretend soldiers in Virginia still re-enacting the American Civil War, Queenan explores whether there may be something noble about losing a war.
“I’m in the south, at one of the many re-enactment battles of the American civil war that go on every year. Thousands have turned up to re-fight a war they lost. We don’t do this in the north – it would be odd, and divisive, perhaps even inflammatory. But the memories of a conflict that took place over 150 years down here – they don’t go away.”
Contributions from classics professor Edith Hall; historian Geoffrey Regan; writer Armando Iannucci; former political correspondent and Strictly star John Sergeant; plus music from Laura Marling, Viv Albertine of the Slits and rock and roll’s greatest failure, John Otway. Produced by Miles Warde.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This modest home would go on to shape the way working- and middle-class Americans live to this day. And it all started with a journalist from Milwaukee.