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The Hub for Important Ideas
The Hub for Important Ideas

Episode 46 · 4 months ago

A House Divided Part 2 featuring Sheldon Solomon - Episode 46 – The Hub for Important Ideas

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

How do we go beyond the divisions in our society? This episode features part two of a conversation with social psychologist Sheldon Solomon who offers a unique perspective on our polarized country that goes beyond the standard political, social, historical, and economic explanations.

How do we go beyond the divisions in our society? Welcome to the hub for important ideas. I'm Steve James and I'm Ken Swain. This episode is called a house divided, part two. We're looking for an explanation for our divided country that goes beyond the standard political, social, historical and economic explanations that we're hearing all around us. We want to look at our polarized society in terms of a social psychological perspective. We're going to play for you a recent conversation we had with Dr Sheldon Solomon. Sheldon Solomon, PhD, is a social psychologist at skidmore college. He is best known for codeveloping terror management theory with Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pasinski, which is concerned with how humans deal with their own sense of mortality. He's the author or CO author of over a hundred articles and several books and has been featured in various films, Radio Interviews and the award winning Youtube Documentary Series Conversations with Solomon. He Co authored the book the Worm at the Corps on the role of death in life, with Greenberg and Pasinski. He recently appeared in the documentaries planet of the humans and unfit. Here's the conversation with Dr Solomon Sheldon. Welcome to the hub for important ideas. Great to be back. Oh Great, I sheldon. Hello Ken, thank you so much for being our guest once again. It's always a pleasure to have you on our show showing. The title of this episode is a house divided, part two. Very clever title we came up with. We've been looking for an explanation for our divided country that goes beyond the standard political, social historical what we talked about the last time, and we want to look at our polarized society in terms of the social psychological perspective that you bring to it. Sounds good, okay. So would like to read a few passages from the worm at the core. If you heard of that one vaguely familiar yeah, in the fall of two thousand and ten, conservative pundits implored their followers to steer clear of the H one, n one flu vaccination because they distrusted the federal government. Some claim the vaccination was a part of a plot by then President Obama to infect the masses in order to hasten a socialist revolution, produce infertility and keep track of the public through nano sized micro chips slipped into the vaccinations. That was twelve years ago. Here we are in two thousand and twenty two, and this sounds a lot like the US anti vaxer's in the midst of the covid pandemic. How do you respond and how do you explain this great question? What I would say in terms of explanation is, wow, there's nothing new under the sun, and what I mean by that is that America has a very long history of right wing paranoid conspiracy theories, probably predating the Salem witch trials. And, moreover, this kind of conspiratorial paranoia tends to be amplified during historical moments when existential concerns are apt to be aroused. And so, for example, in the last epidemic with Obama, there was research done by some of our colleagues showing that people who tend to be suspicious of traditional medicine, when they're reminded of their mortality, they're less inclined to seek medical attention when they're sick. They're more reliant on faith, healers or prayer, and this is, as you know, prototypical with regard to terror management, theory as it was designed to corroborate Ernest backer's view, which is that our concerns about the give rise to potentially debilitating anxiety that we try to manage by embracing our cultural world views that give us a sense that life has meaning and that we have value. Well, fast forward to the present moment, and actually I should back up a bit, and I wish I wasn't the human etch a sketch at this point, because every time I shake my head and I can't remember what happened thirty seconds ago. But there are some folks who have written about why conspiracy theories tend to become prominent during pandemics and why charismatic and populist leaders tend to become...

...more potent and powerful under those conditions, and I think this is completely compatible with like a Becker terror management theory point of view, because the argument is that, you know, pandemics are fuzzy, germs are invisible, you can't hear them, but ideological demagogues or plenty visible and audible, and when an Alpha male generally puffs out his chest allegorically and says only I can fix it, people understandably sometimes would prefer to be persuaded by that kind of veneer of self confidence. But of course that happens at the expanse, ultimately, of their wellbeing. So fast forward to the present endemic and, as you all know, former president trump it was just part of his ideological conception of thanks that the virus wasn't bad. It was as mild as the flu. Wearing a mask is a sign of weakness or, even worse, a sign that you might be a Democrat, and most folks, I think, will remember when trump had covid and then he got out of the White House and he's on the porch of his quarters and he rips off his mask triumphantly. You maybe know that that's not what he wanted to do. He wanted to have a fucking superman shared on and to get out of the ambulance and to take off his shirt and reveal the superman costume. But he was talked out of that, but evidently one of the few people that had some influence over him. All right, but what's the point? The point is that here we are in a supremely ironic death spiral of sorts. So we've already established that existential anxieties, when they arise that we tend to cling tenaciously to our world view, and for the average Republican that world view is embodied in former president trump, and so it shouldn't surprise us. And so there's a study that came out a year ago and it I'll spare you the details, even though these are great researchers. In Two thousand and twenty they looked at fifteen million smartphones a day for a couple of months and all over the United States, and they measured social distancing, which is easy to do with smartphone technology, and what they found is that you could predict social distancing as a function of support for either president trump or Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. In simple anguish, the more people supported trump, the less likely they were to social distance. This, in turn, was directly responsible, and when I say that I mean statistically, the absence of social distance was related to an increase in cases and an increase in death. So here you have but people, not necessarily morons, but clinging tenaciously to a Trumpian worldview in order to minimize that anxiety that has the result of actually killing them. Y. But just to be sure we're all equally horrified, it's not only killing them, it's killing us too, because in another recent study, very clever experimenter looked at support for former president trump as a function of mortality rates in different local communities, and what they found is that the higher the death rate, the greater the support for trump, and this was true even for people who reported being moderate or liberal. All right, just think about that for a second, and that's why I say we're in a death spiral here. You've got trump tell like seventy, five or a hundred million Americans not to worry about the virus, and they're doing that, which is pumping up death which is in turn increasing support for trump. I would say that it's broad youant if you can watch my fingers doing that. Are quotes brilliant in the same sense that Hitler was brilliant in terms of constructing conditions to ensure their perpetuation and power by keeping...

...people in a perpetual state of existential angst. Amazing, Sheldon. Here's another quote from the worm at the core attempts to eradicate the evil. Other fan the flames of conflict by arousing death fears and those on the receiving end not only through direct death threats, to their physical existence, but also by the psychological humiliation of being belittled and dehumanized. How can people maintain their sense of being significant and contributors to a meaningful world while having their homeland appropriated and being forced to relinquish traditional beliefs and adopt an alien way of life, or while witnessing treasured traditions and artifacts absorbed into the dominant culture in demeaning ways, or while serving as a cultural caricature? This paragraph was written to describe historical invaders or people intent on eradicating evildoers, but it can also be used to describe our fellow Americans who have different beliefs and world views not shared by other Americans. When coastal elites describe half the country as fly over people and red necks, the heartland citizens can help but feel humiliated, belittled and dehumanized. You Remember The New Yorker magazine cover in one thousand nine hundred and seventy six that just showed the east coast and the West Coast and everything in the middle was just not even there. It was supposed to be a satirical look at a New Yorkers S S parochialism, but it now appears to be an example of twenty one century East Coast Elitism. Who in heartland America would not look at this image as anything less than ethnocentric superiority? And how do you see that? Yeah, next, yes, yes, although what I would say is yes, that's a good point and an important one, as long as we stipulate that it cuts both ways. My point would be that is surely a common trope. The idea that anything worthwhile in the US is going to be on either coast and anything in between is just a very sad state of affairs in terms of people or places. Yeah, that sure does fit the bill for a patronizing, condescending, dehumanizing view of the other. And conversely, I think it's equally true to the average person in fly over country that they have an equally unfortunate stereotypic view of the folks on the coast. And my point is there's a kernel the truth in each view. You know, prejudices and stereotypes often have a little bit of substance to them. But my concern is that. Well, first of all, my concern as it would be best if we could step back coastal people and flatlanders in the middle and consider the possibility that these are caricatures of stereotypes, that most of us have had no direct experience either with America in the middle or on the coasts. And, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, but we're just in the mood, given the last question, I think that vested interest have a very significant stake in these matters and have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep these stereotypes in place, lest people notice that they are put there to obscure the horrifying possibility that folks on the coast and in the middle of the country recognized that they have more common interests than they do differences that put them at odds with each other. To put that little bit more particularly, I could see how the coastal elites, the educated, the cosmopolitan, the worldly, the globalized, but they've had no direct experience, again, with the middle of America. Maybe you've been to Chicago at all hair or had some Greek food in the city itself, but you've not seen anything else except flying over, which sure does look like a rather uninspired topography. You know, you've got the square fields, with the square inner state, with every one of them having the Walmart...

...the Apple Bees and the pizza hut, and I've had many a trip where I go into a Walmart and Texas to look for something and then a few days later I'm in Nebraska, but I don't realize that I just walk into another Walmart and turned down the same aisle. Not I'm a thousand miles away, but it really doesn't matter because it's the same thing everywhere. Well, I could see. And then course, the average person in these parts has watching Fox News and rarely transcends the MONOSYLLABIC utterance. And it sure seems like there is a kernel of truth to the idea that the flyover country is a bit of a waste. But that's without noticing that the flyover country in fact is very rich and very varied, in that people being people. There's terrible people, there's interesting people everywhere. But it is the educated, cosmopolitan, globalized elite that turned the midwest in to the hard state of affairs which they then take issue with. I don't know if that makes any sense, but the Midwest, the interior of the US, has been really devastated and a lot of the things that the elite look down on are in fact the result of their exploitation of the very people that they then pile on by despising on top of that. But on the other hand, I could see how your Fox News watching rural Americans can look at the coastal elites and be like, wow, the US are pompous and promiscuous heathen's ready to and pregnate any orfice, a bicycle seat or a fire hydrant, and that these terrible people in Manhattan are determined to take away their God and their guns. And they too have not been in a city. They may have been in Manhattan on forty two street, that's not a city. They don't notice the richness and the texture of the neighborhoods in the city. We're not. Everybody is a globalized, highly educated elite. And I guess my point is what I've already said, without taking us too far afield, I think that vested interest have a vested interest in fostering mutual hostility between red and blue folks to distract from what I believe to be the real distinction in America, and that's between those who exploit in those who are exploited. It's an interesting theory because the way I look at it is those divisions are there and people like trump or exploiting them. Yes, so, yes, you're right, there is some bad actors involved, but they didn't create this situation. They didn't. They didn't create the rust belt. No, they did not, and the very name rust belt implies that it's fallen apart. No, no, absolutely right to even a good point, and you guys know that I don't ever listen to myself, so I can't remember if I've said this before. We'll play. We got read Lard if we talked about Hannah, our rent and origin of totalitarianism at any point. We talked about her back on the perspective show. Okay, so twenty years ago here. So I'm really preoccupied with our rents book because it just in information of what Steve Just said. She does point out that these stereotypes about our rural, less educated, more tied to the land, quote, rustic population versus the urban, cosmopolitan city dwellers, that that's a common source of tension in industrialized country. The country moles in the city miles. That's correct. But again what our rent says is that what happens is it is about unregulated capital in pursuit of capital and she's saying this in a s she saying, look, here's what happens. People who are interested in maximizing revenue have no commitment to, or any perceived responsibility for, the communities from which they reside, and so if it's cheaper to go to Mexico or Korea in order to build things, to make money, they're going to do that. And then what's going to happen is that that's going to be...

...at the expense of the local communities that were thriving before the money moved elsewhere. But she insists, what happens is that, in order for this to occur, you need to explain to the people that are being disenfranchised what's happening, and of course you can't tell them the truth, which is that we need to make money. So fuck you. So what you must do is identify an enemy, either domestic and or foreign, and declare them the all encompassing repositories of evil responsible for your economic malaise and, in so doing, distract from what's actually happening, which is a movement of resources at the expense of local populations. It's so she talks about populism as the inevitable result of global full capital moving across borders in an unregulated fashion. And she says that can't happen without racism and it can't happen ultimately without environmental destruction and it can't happen without populist resentment, because most of the local population is unaware of what it is that has actually created the conditions responsible for their current difficulties. And are told that they should blame the immigrants, that's car and they should blame the Sodom and Gomorrah of the elites, and they're told all these different things, a lot of misinformation. But trump came along and and said I alone can fix it. Yes, so they bought that. Populist leaders are good at rioting the resentments. They are, and I think we've talked about this in other venues, but their genius is there that alchemists of hate. They are able to deftly manipulate their followers by transforming their anxieties from fear to rage and directing it to external sources, while again Miss Directing attention from what's actually happening. Because, according to our rent, and we don't want to get to political here, what all populists have in common is is incompetence and corruption, but luckily I has it's been very incompetent. So this brings us to a very important concept we've been wrestling with. According to Google, postmodernism is, in Western Philosophy, a late twenty century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism or Relativism, a general suspicion of reason and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. So Ken and I are struck by the similarity this characterization has to our twenty one century society and the divisions we struggle with. We're talking about here. Would you comment on this? Are we living in a postmodern time? Sure, somebody said this at launch, but I already had it written down. I think we're living in a post post modern time. In we're a post post post, we're postal at this point. Well, okay, so according to the Google definition, you know there were two parts there. That was the broad skeptivism, subjectivism, general suspicion of reason, and then there was that and followed by an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Let me tackle that part because I think that that is arguably an important contribution of the socalled post modern movement to draw attention to the extent to which social institutions, be they political, economic and or religious, are generally in the service of a particular ideological position with respect to maintaining power. But I mean that as a compliment to what the postmodern types are doing, noting that they're not the first to do that, and I'm not claiming to be a scholar in this regard, but you know, we got Carl marks, going back to the S in his economic and Philosophical Manuscript, saying you are what you do and that, unbeknownst to us, everything that we do...

...and everything that we want and everything that we think we want is a reflection of a particular ideological ban you know. And then in my world we got Eric Chrome and the S is doing the same thing and escape from freedom. See Right Mills. In the s you got the power elite. Then Mark USA in the s with, what is it, one dimensional man. Then we got the s critical race theory and Burgher eluctment, social construction and reality. In the S got this British Dude John Gray, book called false dawn the delusions of global capitalism. My point, I guess, is that, yeah, it has come to the attention of lots of folks the relationship between ideology and social structures, you know, and this has not stopped to this day. So I like Naomi Klein her book this changes everything, where she points out the relationship between the oliberal economics and the assured destruction of the environment. There's other great folks doing the same thing now reading this cool book was just published. It's called becoming abolitionists, police protests and the pursuit of freedom, by a young African American rights lawyer, Dereka Pernell, and this is a book about the history of policing in the United States and how it started as a private enterprise to maintain the enslavement of people of Color, and it has essentially not changed very much from its original intent, which is to preserve the interests of the property landowners and slave owners. So my point is on battling a bit, but I think that's a good thing. And what we're witnessing now is incredibly horrific. People are hysterical right now. If you even point that out. Let's remember the critical race theory does not say that all white people are racists. It is the opposite of that. The claim is that institutional structures are either inadvertently or intentionally designed to ensure inequitable outcomes. And so here we are. We've kind of peeked because right now, you know, Frank's apposite in one thousand nine hundred and eighty, after Ronald Reagan was elected, that the American public treats intelligent behavior as if it were some sort of hideous physical deformity. And that's where I think we're at the moment. We have literally declared it illegal to consider the possibility that we've got institutions that are skewed in the service of protecting particular ideologies, and of course that's reflected. You know, we got the anti evolution stuff, we've got the anti critical race theory and then, of course you got in Florida, Orange Hitler's offspring to santis. You got the anti woke law. I don't know if you guys would be yeah, are familiar with that. We should talk more about this. You can't say gay, yeah, can't say gay, and being woke is just a euphemism for being hostile to white people. And even though we have to talk about this down the trail a bit. I find it very ironic the reactionary resistance, for example, just to the notion of wokeness, because Eric Hoffer, in his book the true believer, he says what happens is that once you become attached to a charismatic, popular leader, you essentially go to sleep. He says that there is a fact proof screen erected around you to ensure that ideas bounce off you like rainwater cascading off at ducks ass in a hurricane. And so the idea of waking up is meant allegorically and literally to suggest that you should snap out of that trance and not to go pedantic. But this is why Americas scares me right now, because we are basically we have the attentions manager bills and we're functionally illiterate and have forgotten our common history as citizens of Western civilization. Because in Plato's the Cave, you know the cave right, if you look at most translations. The people at the bottom some of the cave are ignorant and it's dark, and...

...yet when they are released from their chains in the cave, they don't run to the sunlight, which is metaphorically the truth. They have to be dragged out of the cave, and that's why Plato says we need leaders and we need people to be educated, because then, and only then, he says, we have a society where people will not be asleep. So again here's Plato, at the dawn of Western civilization, talking about enlightenment in terms of Waking Up. And then Freud. As you know, his definition of neurosis was dreaming while awake, in other words, you're not awake, you're sleep walking in a stupor right then you got James Joyce, page nine of Ulysses. History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. Got Bob Marley, my favorite wake up and live. I'm not insisting the people agree with me, but I take issue with some of my buddies, including my close buddies, Jeff in our Zona. He's like I'm sick of the woke people. They're just as bad as the trumpets. And while the woke people can be sickening, I'm not sick of them because I see what they're asking of people to have the merit of being true. So my definition of wokeness is to notice how much of your life is the result of institutional structures. This is what seawright mill says in the power elite in the S. because once you wake up to the fact, and the way that mills puts it is, if you wake up and notice how much of what happens to you is the result of institutions rather than personal predilection, you might realize that you're not the only one, that other people have problems similar to yours, and this in turn might engender the kind of compassion that fosters collaboration and the service of making conditions better for everybody. Right. So, but enough ranting. Let's just talk about the broad skeptivism, the skepticism rather, subjectivism, relativism, general suspicion of reason. Yeah, all of the above, I think, one way of thinking of the Post Modern Movement, and I do believe this is true amongst English professors and New Age folks, the Birken stock clad to food chomping people. In my world, and that is the there's no such thing as truth and therefore anything is true, and therefore what I think is no less true than what anybody else thinks. And Yeah, that's unfortunate, and I think that's the postmodern notion at its worst, and that gets us to where we are today, in a state of incipient fascism, with the know Kelly an conway, alternative facts, Juliani. Truth is not truth. You've got former president trump, who lies more than baby's breathe, so eighty percent of what tumbles out of his oral cavity is factually incorrect. We have to put it in on our rents terms. We have lobotomized people to the point where they're no longer capable if engaging in a rational thought, and I think there's postmodernism really taken to its logical conclusion. It's just words chasing words connected to nothing, because nothing's true. And let's proceed by having said that, though, let's just note and maybe move on, that there are more new on monst kinds of skepticism, relativism, suspicion of reason. Skepticism is the basis of scientific inquiry, and it's only when your mindlessly skeptical of anything or everything that it becomes, in my estimation, unfortunately, problematic. The same thing with subjectivism. I'm very much in favor of each of us...

...taking our phenomenological experiences quite seriously, but it becomes neolistic or solipsistic. Is that a word? Yes, okay, so I knew it's a worried but I didn't know if I could pronounce it. But it just becomes antalcranial fusion when you get to the point where my view is, quote, true by virtue of it being my view. RELATIVISM. We're going to have a lot more to say about this. But there's a lot of kinds of relativism. and not to get silly, but in part to buy me some time to think about what I'm actually going to say, but I think that there's some situations that are absolutely relative and then there's others that are relatively absolute, and we need to really be careful as we waged through these ideas. You know, we could ask somebody, do you like the deep ish Chicago pizza or do you like the thin, you know, New York Pizza, and I would say, look, whatever you say is absolutely relative because you might favor one or the other. And Yeah, that's relativism in a benign or benevolent fashion. I put a lot of absolutes turn out to be relative. Right, not to go all math, but will put can on the spot. What's the shortest distance between two points straight line? Nice, relative to euclidian geometry, because it's not a non EUCLIDIAN. So let's just, as a preface for where we're going to head, note that, just like all of the stupid false dichotomy's nature, nurture and so on and so forth, I think it's unfortunate if we see relativism and absolutism is mutually exclusive points on a single continuum. I think it's more complicated than that. And then the general suspicion of reason. Well, you know, that goes back to Nietsche's reaction to the enlightenment. That's why he declares in the Gay Science the consciousness is the most calamitous stupidity by which we shall some day perish. But Nietzsche, while suspicion ishess of reason, is not in any way suggesting that we abandon it entirely, which is the way that the postmodern sentiments at their extreme has drifted. And so I guess my point is that there are mindless forms of skepticism, subjectivism, relativism and suspicion of reason, and then there's just very nuanced ones that have been around since the enlightenment. Just pointing out. You Got Nietzsche, you got Mary Shelley with Frankenstein, but there were a boltload of people just saying that the enlightenment, while it had some great components, also has caused us substantial drest by venerating reason and suggesting that we're on an inexorable road to progress that is paved solely by rationality, to the exclusion of other human sensibilities. We've been talking with Social Psychologist Sheldon Solomon on our divided country and related subjects. We're going to take a short break. Don't go anywhere, we'll be right back. We're having a conversation about our divide a society with Social Psychologist Sheldon Solomon. Sheldon for the break. You mentioned Nietzsche and the Gay Science. He's one of our favorite soothsayers and I think you saw this stuff coming. Here's a quote from the Gay Science. Where are we headed? Are we not endlessly plunging backwards, sideways forwards in all directions? Is there an up and down anymore? Do we not wander as if through an endless nothingness? Is this relativism? Is Nietzsche describing our twenty one century world? Wow, I think he's definitely accurately characterizing our twenty one century world. To be sure, whether or not it is relativistic, I certainly think that's part of it. But let's face it, because this is right in the neighborhood of US spokes are and through struck, where he insists that we have to reevaluate all values in light of the fact, as he puts...

...it, in the gay science. He famously declares God is dead. But you need to read the rest of the paragraph, and we've talked about this before. or He then goes on to say Christianity has become unbelievable, and here he's not being cynical, he's just saying that a confluence of historical events, Darwin, the Industrial Revolution, the enlightenment, market based economy of UN regulated capital, have rendered the Judaeo Christian world view no longer convincing. And he said we are going to be in a state of psychological disarray for about two hundred years, which means we got another half century, and I really think that he has insightfully predicted what was about to happen and what we now see happening. When you guys sent me that quote, I'm working with a skimore student and her senior capstone experiences in French existential novels. And so last week we read Sartra, the stranger. No, no, Kamus, the stranger moves. And you know, one of the lines in the middle is everything is true and yet nothing is true. There you go, relativism and a fucking fortune cookie, and then Sartra's nausea. I looked anxiously around me. The present, nothing but the present. We have so much difficulty imagining nothingness. Now I knew things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them there is nothing. And so, yeah, I think that here we are one of the books we never wrote in the twenty years ago. The working title was a cultural animal in an existential age and it was just based on we wanted to expand on the paragraph and Nietzche's book, explaining why, once we lack a compelling view of reality that we share with a sufficient number of the fellow humans that we exist within a community. This is highly problematic, both individually as well as interpersonally, and I think, just to get back to our broad theme for today, that, yeah, the overriding reason that we currently have the degree of divergence and polarization and difference is because we've lost that overarching view. Maybe what we call or the postmodern is called the Meta narrative. Skip, Ye, ahead a little, but are we now looking at the what? The decline or the decadent phase? Yeah, or where we no longer have a firm, solid Meta narrative that we had in the s in the victory culture. We don't now have, or let's say the country as a whole no longer has, because because there are many people who still cling to that victory culture, met a narrative that where the greatest country in the world and where Patriots and we salute the flag and all that. But yet they, even those folks, understand that that's not shared by everyone and it doesn't describe the situation that they find themselves in. So that's a post narrative concept as well, the whole absence of the Meta narrative. Yeah, and so that's basically the main idea of Oswalt spanglers, like two thousand page, two volume decline of the West, decline of the West, and Spangler's book is just a tribute to Nietzsche and Gerta, and that's what Spangler said. You said it can. I don't know if you're familiar with that book, but yes, I am. He says we are in the decadent phase and people of good will can disagree about the particulars, but spangler's point is that a culture is like a living entity. It is jest stated, it comes to fruition, it has a life and then over time it is either a proptly terminated or dissipated. And what Spangler pointed out is that, yeah, there comes a point where you get to God is dead and there is no longer an over arching shared view of reality. And he said...

...what happens then is we're thrust back on ourselves. And so you have auto wronk from spangler saying wow, when you don't have a Worldview, you turn your body into a worldview. We're going to see more tattoos, when to see more piercings, we're going to see more narcissistic preoccupation with our personal development, cosmetic surgery. There you go yoga, and this is not a projartive indictment of people who do these things. And then he said there's just going to be a lot of cults. That you're going to have your fascists, you're going to have your fundamentalist you're going to have your vegans, you're going to have your Yankee fans, and that, the fact that we no longer have a shared, compelling vision of reality, in no way undermines our need for those concerns to be addressed and if they're not provided by the culture, we will seek them elsewhere. And you may have a very solid worldview, very solid belief in your Christian faith or whatever it is, and your patriotism, but you've got this nagging feeling, this nagging doubt that it's shared and you don't have what Merlin Maory calls a Yes vote. That's right. Your culture is not giving you that and you're certainly don't have a cosmic yes vote. That's right. So what do you do that? That's why we keep saying trump is not the cause. He's a symptom of this malaise that's been going on for thirty, forty years. Yes, but he is a malignant tumor above and beyond that malaise. And I think in your humble opinion, yes, yeah, no, in my humble opinion he's uniquely dangerous, but he is capitalizing on the same forces. It was Eric frome who said in one thousand nine hundred and forty one remember, he came to the US to escape the Nazis and escape from freedom. was originally going to be a book about the psychology of Nazism, and then he got here and he said Americans are actually more prone to become fascists then the Nazis. And he then began to think about that and he said, look, the fertile grounds for fascism is the alienated individual. And here we are, here we are. Yeah, Sheldon, that Steve and I are always talking about Princeton philosophy professor Michael Sue Group, who was part of the teaching company in the S, and now he's posted all of his content on Youtube and if you're not familiar with it, you definitely should check it out. But his lecture on French philosopher Jean Francois Leotard. He says we're all talking past each other, we're all speaking separate languages, and he references the abortion issue as an example. How does this resonate with you? Yeah, now I'm not familiar enough with his work and I need to catch up to you guys to necessarily speak directly about his use of abortion as an example, but I like the idea in general and I think it's just a logical extension of postmodernity, where people talk all the time, but words are meaningless and less they're associated with thoughts or the words have some external reference, and most people talking these days they may as well be lobotomized. What they're saying is just the mindless reflection of the scripts that they've adopted from their specific overlords, be they left or right, and there's very little in the way of conversation. You Mean Democrats aren't pedophile cannibals? No, they're not. Ok that, yeah, and so anyway. So I do think that there's a lot of that going on. But again I would stipulate that it's not symmetrical in the sense that this will sound politically partisant, but it has the merits of being true. Right now, there is no for but people who identify as trump supporters. There's no pretense of telling the truth, making sense, trying to engage with another human being in a state of civil disagreement. No, there's plenty of lefties that are equally mind numbing, but I do believe that at their best, they're at least capable of stepping back and having a conversation that includes thoughts and ideas of their own right. Having said that, though, I do think the general idea is quite correct. We talk at each other and passed each other, but...

...we don't talk to each other, and this is highly problematic. It has been problematic for some time, but really problematic right now, as the average American no longer lives in physical proximity to anybody that they might disagree with. This was not true in our youth, and this was also before. And again, I'm not blaming trump for everything, but he was the first president of the United States to declare he was running for reelection before he was inaugurated and who started his administration with the Hitler highlight film, declaring that he had no interest in anyone who did not support him, and so I believe the this has created some of the circumstances that make any kind of meaningful conversation between Americans highly problematic. And, by the way, back to Hannah or ant, you need that for fascism. You know, the worst thing for fascists is people having real thoughts that they exchange with others. Remember that the word conscious means to know with and that's why I'm really preoccupied right now with frome and Hanna are rent when they talked about existential isolation and anxiety. That's the psychological impetus for grabbing onto a populist leader as if they're going to save you from drowning in a storm. Sheldon, you brought up a very important term which we hadn't really gotten into very much, relativism, and one of the problems is, of course, that we, like you say, we have absolutists, we have relativists. They're not mutually exclusive because they exist simultaneously. For example, the Catholic Church and some theologians. They say relativism is a denial of absolute truth and it leads to moral license and a denial of the possibility of sin and of God. But yet, like I had said, they laugh the whole support of the culture. So they're absolutists, and you can be an absolutist in many different parts of our society, like Gretit Tumberg, for example, or Jordan Peterson or Thomas Jefferson. We hold these truths to be self evident, but yet we have this culture that undermines the absolutist undermines the beliefs, and I look at that as a severe problem that we're facing, which results in the skepticism, the malaise, a disillusionment. Would you comment on that? As relativism, that the heart of our secular social upheaval? Yeah, how about maybe? I've got to say relatively you knew that was no. Honestly, Steve, this was the question that I was like, wow, I hope we have like twelve hours, because you do. You make a fine point the the idea that everything is relative and nothing can be absolute. Yeah, that can be a hindrance and indeed is. And yet when I look at those particular quotes, it just made me, well, first of all made me dizzy because I'm like, Oh wow, these are kind of examples of relatively absolute statements, because, of course, you know, we got Jefferson. We hold these truth to be self evident. All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Is One of the most uplifting statements, although note that the pursuit of happiness was not the original where was the perusal? Well, it was the pursuit of property or well, pretty I but you know, the point is is that you guys know this. You Know Jefferson was a slaveholder. He raped sally the slaves. And when he says all men are created equal, he did mean men, but only white man, white land. But but who happened on property? So on the one hand, when we state this as an absolute, yeah, that's well intentioned. And my favorite, and...

...we may have talked about this and other venues, was Kurt Vonnegut, who I saw in the S and somebody said why do you hate America? And he turned purple and he said don't go there, I love America. I just insist that America be in practice what it purports to be in principle. And then he went on to explain how it was the hypocrisy and the cognitive dissonance created by Jefferson statement that necessitated racism as the psychological response, because of all men are created equal, then black people must not be human, or else we would just be blatantly hypocritical. So anyway, here's an absolute framed in relative terms. Did offer Jordan Peterson, he says, a bedrock axiom of our culture and one of the things we got right in the West is their sovereign, responsible individual. There isn't anything more meaningful or real then the idea of individuals sovereignty. And of course the idea is real and meaningful. It's also wrong, right, and so I wish we had Jordan here to talk more directly. One of my students was going to see him, I think, next week, and tell him that I wanted to come on his podcast. So we talk about some of these things directly. But the point is is I get on fine with Jordan. I would just point out that he should give John Locke some credit for this statement, because it was lock who constructed the idea of a sovereign individual in the well intentioned desire to create the conditions conducive to a democratic civil society. Right. So basically, lock is resisting and resenting rulers by divine right, and it was by claiming that or sovereign individuals that he was able to justify the notion of a civil society where decisions are made by the majority. And my point is, anyone who likes freedom should be like Super Psychi fiving lock and Jordan Peterson. And yet this view of an individually sovereign person also happens to just be wrong. We are in fact the most uber social creatures. There really is no such thing as a sovereign individual. The point here for me would be yeah, well, here's an idea that's foundational sovereign individual. But lock then goes on to use that idea, which is not true, in order to justify neoliberal economics and why greed is good and people should selfishly pursue their interests without concern for those around them. And then even Greta Thornburg over, you know she's right about there's no gray when it comes to environmental issues, because that's true. We are in a state, as you guys know, or within a decade of the earth not being fit for human habitation. It is unlike any other problem that humans have ever encountered in that there are no compromise solutions. We either, as Bill mckibbon or Naomi Klein have pointed out, we either commit to doing something or not, because any half measure will not suffice. You know, Obama Care or the affordable care act is a Frankenstein conglomeration of non optimal opportunities that is nevertheless better than nothing. But we can't do that with climate change. And yet even here I would respectfully submit, as much as I admire Gretta, that even her statement is absolutely relative, because it's relative to human interests. Nature will be fine. Two hundred and seventy million years ago, when Earth got ten degrees hotter, I think ninety percent of the life in the ocean and seventy five percent of the life on land was extinguished, and it took fifty million years for the biodiversity to return. And that's like a nap in cosmic time. Yeah, so Greta is right. There's no gray for humans, plenty of gray for nature. However, true, Sheldon, when it comes to moral relativism, nom Chomsky believes that there's a mental structure that we inherit. He says, quote, you have extensive built in innate structure, just as you can develop a human rather than an insect...

...visual system, only it's guided by genetic instructions, very specific ones. The same is true of acquisition of language, of acquisition of Arithmetical capacity, acquisition of a culture, hence acquisition of moral values. I believe animals also have a rudimentary mental structure. Social Animals must have it. Ours is probably far more complex if it involves acquiring language and math. Do you agree with Jonathan Height and moral foundations, theory that there are fundamental moral mental foundations that we inherit sort of? All right, so great. The great question relativistic as well? No, because, yeah, relativistically, again, props to Chompski, but no serious evolutionary type takes his idea of a language acquisition device seriously today. But that's fine. Remember he's writing these thanks seventy years ago. So if we forget about the particulars and just think about inherited mental structures, Chompski is quite right. And this is the antithesis. Remember, Chompsky is writing these things in opposition to skinner, who's just the twenty century blank slate dude. And skinner, by the way, is just marks without communism, because their environmental determinus. They're just saying that, if you modify external conditions, that humans are infinitely malleable, and the Chomskis of the world are saying that that's just simply not true, and I believe that to be the case. All right. Now, though, you ask about height and fundamental moral mental foundations. Yes, I do think that there are, although, once again, without getting into particulars, there's disagreement about his particular ones. Right. So basically, you know, I don't know if we need to go over like his five different flavors. If we do, then I'll have to look it up, but we did it on a previous past. Yeah, those. So basically, you've got deference to authority and purity, and that is what conservative folks tend to rely on when they make moral judgments. And then there's fairness and equity, and those are the aspects of morality that tend to be more heavily relied on by people who identify as liberal or progressive. My sense is the yeah, they are both part of an inherited pack age of psychological proclivities that are consequence of us being fundamentally cultural animals that we are, and this is something that I think we need to make more prominent in the way that we think about. Thanks, because these ideas are subsequent to Becker's theorizing, and so these days, as much as I'm compelled by backers ideas and the truth tends to endure. It's also the case that his understanding of evolution and the development of culture was based on what we thought seventy or so years ago, and I now am a big fan of this dude, Joseph Henrick, and he is the chair of the Anthropology Department at Harvard and he writes about cultural evolution and what he says is that what we need to understand is that we're fundamentally cultural animals and that we're really not much smarter than other creatures as individuals. And he turns out to be right that crows and dolphins and chimps are just as smart as most humans and smarter than most of the students in my class. As I keep telling them, what makes us so potent as a species is our capacity to traffic and share a cultural knowledge that is accumulated and passed on over time. We are the beneficiaries of thousands of generations of accumulated wisdom, and the point is that none of us would be alive by sundown if we were flown to some place in the middle of nowhere and divested of our accouterments. I told my students the other day, let's do an experiment. Will put a squirrel, my dog and you in...

...a helicopter and let's go to the middle of the adirondacks and we'll just drop you there. And who's going to be alive the next day? I'm betting on the Squirrel and the dog and not you. All right, well, what's the point? Well, the point, according to Henrik, is that if the reason why we are so successful is that we're fundamentally cultural animals, this needs to somehow be reflected in the way that we behave, and this directs our attention to the role of social norms. And there's another dude that I'm fond of, a guy named Michael Thomas Cello, who writes about human development from an evolutionary point of view and he talks about he calls it shared intentionality, and he's like, this is what makes us so potent. It's not what's in our head, it's our capacity to cooperate and collaborate with other in Di viduals, that that's part of our tremendous success. But it's also our capacity to absorb and retain cultural knowledge like and what the Thomas Ello Dude points out is that those are two different developmental pathways that, over time, some of our interactions are with our peers when we're babies, and it is through those interactions that we develop a basic sense of fairness and equity, but at the same time that that's happening, we're also more passive recipients of cultural wisdom that we get from our ancestral forbearers. And my point is is that this is important, because what we can see is that the aspects of morality that conservatives are most concerned about are ones that are in quire acquired in deference to authorities, whereas the ones that the liberals rely on emerge more directly from horizontal interactions between people equal power. IRREGARDLESS, though, norms are not, from this perspective, just arbitrary stupidities. They are ways of fixing cultural ideas so that we share the same beliefs in a way that allows us to co operate. Put a hyphen between Co and operate and Co Ordinate, and the evolutionary type say that this is reflected in our basic tendency to be overly concerned about what other people think about Usin to at here particularly rigorously to external norms. So there's a very famous series of studies, and I'll shut up soon, but it's with little kids and apes. And so let's say that you're showing a little kid how to open a wooden box and you're going to get like a knife or something. Let's that use a knife, because there's a little kids. All right, so let's use a screwdriver to open a wooden box. And so you have an ape sitting next to a kid and you're like, okay, we're going to open the box. I. But what you do is, before you pick up the screwdriver to open the box, you do some kind of like Buddhist thing where you appear to be praying and then maybe you clap your hands three times and then you open the box and then you walk away. And the question is, what is the ape do and what is the human do? Well, what the APE does is it runs in, it grabs the tool and it opens the box. It doesn't do anything like the Gooda and clapping, because that's clearly irrelevant. That has nothing to do with what is instrumentally necessary in order to open the box. Kids will exactly imitate those behaviors. Moreover, if another kid comes in and doesn't do that, they will get angry and punitive. But what's the point here? Is? It's not that people are docile or stupid, it's that in order to maintain a suite of cultural knowledge and pass it over time, because that knowledge is often not explicit. In other words, culture is smarter than any of us. We know a lot, but we don't know that we know it, and the predisposition to adhere to social norms is the bedrock of that. Is. You need to fix norms in order for there to be any degree of coordination or cohesion. Right where the terror management and of it comes in is in conditions where existential or physical threats arise, at which...

...point our subscription to those norms becomes more profoundly amplified. So, Sheldon, your co writer and Buddy Tom Pasinski said once that there is no absolute truth, but he looked at that as something that was liberating and that he was able to live comfortably with. But in my mind it contradicts what we just said of out Chomsky and height talking about these moral foundations. Is it possible to agree with both Chomsky Height and with Tom Pasinski, who said there's no absolute truth? Yeah, I'll try. If my buddy Tom was here, I would ask where he gets his psychoactive substances so that some of the same because, without getting into an epistemological pissing match. There can be absolute truth and we can, rather than say there is none, just acknowledge are incapacity to ever attain it. So you know, but that's a just a point of Trivia for when I'm hanging out with my buddy again. You know, when I saw that question, my buddy Tom, by the way, is a lot smarter than me, maybe all of us together, Jeff to, but I don't remember the last time he read a book. And I think I saw that and I'm like, wow, you talking about heidegger without even knowing it, because what Tom was saying and Tom Speak and I'm, you know, getting he's one of my best friends, and I mean this as a compliment, is it Harkens back to heidegger's moment of vision in light of the recognition that life is not intrinsically meaningful that is instigated by the awareness of once mortality. So if you got heideger saying that we have anst you know, this anxiety, this feeling of being unsettled and not at home, and that gives us the proverbial fork in the road and that for some there is the flight from death that reduces you to a culturally constructed meat puppet marching to the beat of somebody else's drum. Well, there's height, there's the people clinging to authority and purity. Those are the folks that give us Hitler, according to Hannah our rent, but Heideger, leaning on Kureki Guard, points out that monkst is both sympathetic as well as antipathetic, that we flee from anxiety, but we are also attracted to it. I love the way that Heideger puts it, although I'll probably butcher it because he's and he's again he's using Kureka guard here, the idea that anxiety is yourself, summoning yourself to find yourself. It's basically deep inside your own self, as Heideger puts it, clamoring for attention in the hopeful prospect that you will be able to shed the cultural construction masquerading as yourself and find yourself in the process. And this is what Tom Means by the prospect of this being quite liberating. Back to Heideger, he's like you can have that anxiety clears. It just literally blows a hole in your culturally constructed vision of reality where you can realize that you are ultimately contingent cultural caricature. You know, I'm Sheldon Solomon and the twenty one century I could have been a goat hurder in Mongolia, but I'm not. And Care Gi guards point is is, once you see that, the arbitrary and contingent nature of existence, yeah, that's when you realize that life has no intrinsic meaning. Now, while that could be existentially devastating, it could also be a joyous opportunity to, as care to put it, recognize that the purpose of life is living. And so then you've got heideger saying wow, what what happens to you if you're able to go in that direction? You know what Tom would consider to be the liberating and two things,...

...and he's like, well, you know, like Buddha, enlightenment is quite ordinary. The world hasn't changed much. You're still an ambulatory cultural artifact, but everything looks different because you're able, by virtue of your awareness, to recognize care cuguard defined consciousness as the possibility of possibilities and whill that could be daunting to some, the idea of the prospect of a world in which there are no absolutes gives us, in principle a host of choices that we could make for ourselves that are ultimately not only psychologically uplifting but interpersonally benevolent and still have the moral foundations. That's correct. So for the heidigers of the world and for the that's is an important point and thank you, Steven. With all due respect to religious authorities, it is not the case that you need absolutes for moral systems to function. They evolutionarily are not absolute. What's absolute is the need to have social norms, but the way they are manifest it is culturally relative. And what I say to the skim more students and it has no effect because again, they don't read. But I'm like, you know they're hearing this? I do, I might. Well, I don't know if they're hearing as if they don't look at me, they're looking at their devices. But I'm like, you should take a quick look at the pope's encyclicals. The Pope Francis is a really cool, relativistic pope and he's actually one of the most interestingly progressive folks trying to kind of have it both ways right now, trying to hold up a worldview that is potentially compelling to large amounts of humanity while at the same time making it a pretty big tent and willing to loosen up some of the cultural mandates in ways that I find kind of getting halfway between a fundamentalist and secular humanist world. So, just going back for a moment to the fact that we have a missing worldview right now, or no world view. In Eastern thought, there's a role for nothingness in meditation. Letting go in the mind then allows all things, a fuller reality to enter. Are we in a cultural meditation where we might be served by allowing for a period of experiencing a kind of collective nothingness? Yeah, wow, great question. What might that sort of social breathing mean practically? Wow, okay, that's more than one question. Don't do that. To make kind know that now those are awesome questions. is now again. I'm kind of I'm preoccupied right now with our chrome because I'd just been teaching escape from freedom of where from makes an interesting point again. S He says that one of the distressing elements of life in the United States is the degree of frenetic activity that the average person engages in, primarily to ensure that they never sit still. Long enough to have an actual thought and a big element right now. Kind of thank canons to even everybody. Goldie war is the positive psychologist who I sometimes get annoyed with, but they're now emphasizing the importance. It's through the mindfulness notion, but just the idea of contemplation, just to give us the conditions that might be more conducive for the kinds of reflection that I think we all agree might be one antidote to just keeping ourselves comfortably numb by never sitting still long enough to do otherwise. It's not. Give me the second part of the question again, though. What might that sort of social breathing mean from a practical standpoint? Wow, you don't know. I have to get back to you on that, but to be silly, I think we need to. Well, the hope is that it would restore...

...the conditions conducive to personal growth and interpersonal interactions that are not necessarily profused with discord, ensuring that we talked past each other. Now, that's not a particularly useful statement, given that you framed it in terms of what's practical, but what I'm perseverating about these days. Another thing that I've been teaching a lot. Is Daniel Conoman, the guy who won the Nobel prize for his fast and slow thinking. You guys know that distinctions of condomon Princeton psychologists, the only psychologist ever to win a Nobel Prize in economics and the only to win a Nobel prize in anything. But his point is that there's two basic cognitive systems. You cause some system, wanting system to system one and is fast thinking. And this is what most of us do for most of our waking moments, and it has nothing to do with the active use of our intellect in the service of the rational pursuit of truth. It is just the reliance on heuristic models of experience that allows us to make our way through the day. Generally fine, but we're on autopilot designed to keep you alive. That's correct, and basically that's the average person. We are capable of rational thought, but it is not our default state. That's slow thinking, according to Condomon, and that's where you step back. You are explicit in your awareness of thinking about something, and it is under those conditions that we make the most progress in terms of advancing rational discourse in my world. Like I say, I think that current circumstances ensure that the average individual spends relatively no time engaged in actual thought. And I would like us to as a society, think about and I have no idea, frankly. counteths right. We're kind of trying to think these days in terms of pragmatic application Stians, but the closest I've come for the moment as a teacher in a college setting is to try and create conditions that might foster this kind of protracted contemplation. And this is just maybe this is silly, but one thing I've noticed that skidmore, and I don't know if this is everywhere, but most of the professors at Skidmore, you know, we have classes. They're like fifty minutes long or they're eighty minutes long, and the professors almost always and their class at that end of the time period. And this doesn't make me better human, although it might. I end my classes when I'm done for the day and what that means is that sometimes an eighty minute class will last for twenty minutes and the kids will sit there in a stupor as if they're being denied if I don't just say Shit for another hour, and they're like well, what are we supposed to do? And I'm like yeah, what are we supposed to do? So the last line of Herbert Marcus has one dimensional man is there's a young woman fighting for social justice and Marcusa ass will what are you going to do? And she says, I don't know. For the first time in my life I'm going to get to think about what it is that I would like to do. And my point is is that it's actually astonishing how unsettled the students are with the prospect of just time where I'm not dictating to them what they should be doing. And I'm like, there's no syllabus in life. Why don't you do something ideally related to what we're doing? But if not, Molle Tully, something you take, go off. There's no syllabus in life. That's a good quote, you know, Shell theon. We always like to get to the idea of hope. Where we can find hope? In the past we've all talked about the classic Becker Solution, which is opportunities for heroism. We've talked about the death positive movement, together...

...humility and gratitude. We've talked about flow, one of my favorites, but you and Kenneth Miller are buddy Kenneth Miller, who is shy about getting on microphone, but he's making his his thinking known. He has talked about an ethics of all things have standing that asks of US tenderness and yields festivity. This from Sylvia Ben so and all things have standing in the spark hunter file. Would you comment on this as an opportunity for hope? Yeah, I think it's a great opportunity for hope. We've had these talks. Seems like it's gone on decades and twenty years. That's twenty here. Yeah, all right. So we've been doing this for quite a while and we have always, believe, been in broad agreement that backer's account of human behavior is rather profound and compelling, and I would submit, if you add on top of that the terror management theory research you know to be annoying, I would say that at this point that only the willfully ignorant or intellectually dormant can deny that existential concerns have a pervasive effect on human affairs. Moreover, I think we agree with the Robert J lift in, the PSYCHOHISTORIAN, in the book destroying the world to save it where you know and lifting a course, knows backers work and agrees with it. And we know from our experiments that when we remind people that they're going to die, that it just makes them prejudice and aggressive and fascisistic and antagonistic to nature and just mindless consumers of money and stuff. And when it comes to the end of the denial of death, backers like, wow, the average Americans either spends their time drinking or shopping, which is the same thing, and clearly he's not suggesting that we do that, but he has nothing beyond saying wow, yeah, I don't really know what to do. Just do something and incinerate yourself in the process, where he's like make yourself an offering to the life force. And Kenneth and we go way back and we met originally in the context of our mutual interests in backer. We should annoy him and get him some day to tell us how you bumped into these ideas to begin with. But Kenneth approached me and he's like, I have this idea, like to do a dramatic podcast that conveys Sylvia Benzo's ideas about our ethical obligation to things. And there were two things that caught my eye. One is the he wanted to do a podcast, that he was interested. Well, I'd originally, I've no, might have been a film, but it was a drama. And this goes back to Greg Bannock, thirty years ago, running up to me and Seattle when I was lecturing and he's like, Dude, you're a non pharmacological intervention for insomnia and anyone you're talking to either agrees with you already or they're not going to listen to you. If we want to make efforts to disseminate these ideas broadly in a way that they might be engaging and effective, we got to do it through art, not through academic psychobabble. So that was the first thing before I even saw the drama, which is magnificent. So the other thing that excited me was when Kenneth told me that the ideas in it were inspired by Sylvia Ben so and May. Being me and coming from New Jersey and having graduated from High School and College on Scathe by knowledge, I read the script to the drama and I was like this is fucking excellent, because it really is. It stands on its own merits, but because Kenneth asked me to be of use with regard to the ideas themselves as they related to Becker. I'm like, Damn now, not going to have to read been so. So we get the book. The face of things, was in another side of ethics. Is that it? But anyway I'm really hooked. But...

...the first page or two we're basically been so adopts heidegger's position, which is the philosophy took a wrong turn a couple of thousand years ago. We're still paying the price for it today, and the the result of that price is genocide, eletrocities and environmental destruction. So she starts her philosophical inquiry with a very practical claim, and that is that we will not be able to effectively address two of the most daunting problems currently confronting us, that being the environment and ongoing ethnic hostilities culminating in genocide eletrocities, without a fundamental alteration of ethical sensibilities. And what she proposes is that we use the ideas of Martin Heideger to supplement the ideas of the Manuel Levy us in order for that to happen, and is from that that we get ethic of thanks right Classic Comic Book. What, then, so gets from leaving us is the idea that our primary and fundamental ethical obligation is not to ourselves Alves, as Western philosophy often has it, which is narcissistic kind of morality or ethics that gets us to where we are today. Leving US was all about the primary obligation of humans is the metaphorical and literal response to the appeal of another, and so leving us is relational. He's like we are uber social creatures and, metaphorically, the face of every other human essentially compels us to engage with them in a manner that places their needs as more primary than ours. And basically, the appeal of the other is I am here, I exist, and the ethical obligation to the other is based on the moral imperative vouch shall not kill. All Right, so you've got leving US really shifting attention away from an individual ethic to one in which ethics essentially becomes the metaphorical space between us in a world in which we are fundamentally connected to and ultimately dependent on, those around us. Well, what Ben so does is to admire leaving os while at the same time criticizing him for one, being overtly patriarchal, because it appears that, and this is we can people good will could disagree about this, but he appears to be thinking primarily about men interacting. I don't know about that, but what I do know is more explicitly leaving us our obligations to others. Refer just to other humans. Right now, there are other leaving no scholars who say well, Levingns shouldn't have stopped there. If we have obligations to fellow humans, what about to dolphins? What about to dogs? All right, well, what Ben so does is to say, well, that's not enough, and she relies on heidegger's understanding of the notion of a thing. And this is rather complicated and it sounds kind of metaphysical, because it is of sorts. But heidegger's point is that for the most part we see things in an anthropomorphic, utilitarian sense. Is being only interesting and I courton, to the extent that they are of practical use. HEIDEGGER's point is that a thing exists in its own right, independent of what it means to us or what use it might have for us, and, moreover, that everything not only literally exists in its own right but has its own history.

That he describes, I think in a rather lovely way, as a gathering of a gathering of to put it another way, just to gathering of events culminating in the present moment where things have standing in their own right. All right. Now back to Ben so, she says I want to take heidegger's claim that all things have standing and I want to apply levyoss has ethical mandate that we have an obligation to respectfully attend to every thing and what she says. If we were to do that, that would result in a kind of stance towards life that she describes as tenderness. Right now, more work needs to be done, and actually counteth's account of tenderness is more profound and tender than my own. But tenderness is a stance towards life, not a sentimental Valentine's Day Hall Mark Card. And what Ben so does beautifully is to break up the word tenderness and to point out that it's both a noun and a verb. To tend means to actively care for and to be willing to modify what one does in careful concern of that entity. It requires a tension which means that you're actually paying attention to those things around you. And Ben so's point is that tenderness is a stance towards life that is potent, it's powerful, it is goal directed, it is rational and persistent and while it will not in any way eradicate evil, it may put us in a position to alter our surroundings in a manner that somehow pushes the evil into smaller and smaller corners of the world, both literally and Metaphor. Parkley, and then she goes on to say that, okay, well, how would we know if we're being tender? And from that she develops the notion of festivity and she's like a tender person will be festive. And here's she's drawing that word from the ancient Greek notion of a festival. And the point is that when my students, when I ask them what's a festival, they're like, oh, I know, that's where you drink as much as you can and tear off your clothes and let's see how many people you can assault in x number of minutes. And of course that's one kind. That's an orgy. That's not a festival. A festival for Ben so, and she goes to great lengths to establish this through scholarship, is actually when we transform secular time and space into a mystical experience. She's like, look, when you have a festival, it could be held in a place that is usually pretty common, it could be a parking lot, and yet during the festival itself you are in a different phenomenological state of awareness. Of course you're there in that time and place, but most festivals also have a time altering dimension where you pay homage to what used to be in the form of recognition of ancestral influences, at the same time that festivals often direct our attention collectively to what's going to happen in the future. And so her point is that festivals at their best give us a form of secular prayer. They don't have to be religious at all to be profound. And then her last step, or well it is the last one in the book, is when she says now what I want to do is to take the state of mind that arises in a festival setting and make that, to the best of our ability, the way that we lived daytoday. And so she literally says it would be good if we can get to the point where we had a festive take on life itself. Now I...

...don't know if I've done justice to been so or too Kenneth's use of been so, but I find it very appealing, in part because Ben so says at the end of her book that festivity is a nonpathological way to manage anxiety he's engendered by mortality. So there's the connection between Becker and terror management theory. And to get back to where we started, it's that the concern about our original articulation of backer's ideas in the context of terror management theory is that it sure looked like the only way to manage existential anxiety is by self esteem. And yet self esteem, as Virginia Wolf points out, in the room of one's own as offered acquired. You make yourself look big by making somebody else look small, and that self esteem implies an effort to inflate yourself, and this is particularly problematic in a narcissistic culture. So self esteem is still extraordinarily important, but I think there's a number of ways to acquire it that do not necessitate feeling as if you have to be better than those around you, and so I see festivity in the same pile of life enhancing affectations along the lines of mindfulness, contemplation flow, and I look forward to us in the future in integrating those different constructs. But I am compelled by this idea of tenderness as an overarching stance towards life, not a sentiment, but rather as a superordinate way of guiding our existence. And perhaps if our society could embrace tenderness as a way of dealing with one another and find a way to celebrate that in festivity, that might be a way to bring us to yeah, okay, so it's hopefully. You're asking for a hopefopeful. I'm yeah, Young for hopeful. Right, that's all's hopeful. Yeah, wait a minute. So let me just peck away on this a second. So have you heard of this Guy David Graeber? No, I'd so. There's a guy named David Graber. He just died. He's an archeologist and an anthropologist and he's written some of my favorite books, the history of debt, book called Bullshit Jobs, and then his most recent book is called the Dawn of everything, and new history of humanity was just released in November and the graber and it's written by another guy, David when grow also. But their point is that our current view of anthropology and archeology is very western, very white, very patriarchal and very much appears to infer that the way things are are the way that they ought to be. So they mock like Steven pinker in the beginning of this book, because you know in pinker's latest books he's like this, everything re grads, getting better to know, getting better. Well, their point is is, first of all that's just wrong, but that's not their main point. What they urge is a broader survey of human history that is not confined to the white man's burden. And they say there are plenty of societies throughout history. They use the word tenderness, and they're mostly matriarchal cultures that are rather egalitarian, but they're not necessarily hunters and gatherers. He's like, well, if you read Pinker, the only way you can have a city or a cosmopolitan environment is a heavily hierarchical one that is inequitable where there's gonna be massive exploitation. It just can't be otherwise. And his point is is that, yeah, can't be otherwise. If you don't considered that it has been otherwise historically, and so my point is that the one thing that we want to pre empt is just this idea that this is naive and not even in the domain of human possibility, because the fact act of...

...the matter is is that at our best we're profoundly pro social and capable of care and tenderness. We've been talking with Sheldon Solomon about our divided country and related issues. Sheldon, thank you for a terrific conversation. You are very welcome. I like being here and launch was awesome. Thank you going. Thank you. I hope you'll be our guest again. It's always a pleasure. Count me in any time. All Right, okay, thank you. We've been talking with Social Psychologist Sheldon Solomon about our divided country and related subjects. Steve, what are your takeaways? Well, my overall takeaway is that sheldon basically agreed with us about postmodernism, relativism and our other explanations for our divided society. And if you're someone who dismisses Postmodernism, I don't blame you. There's a lot to disregard, but hang in there. Hopefully it will make some sense we started with very current ideas from their sheldon diverted a bit to remind us of terror management theory and the works of Ernest Becker. Yeah, he said terror management theory was designed to corroborate Ernest Becker's view, which is that our concerns about death give rise to potentially debilitating anxiety that we try to manage by embracing our cultural world views that give us a sense that life has meaning and that we have value. When existential anxieties arise, we tend to cling tenaciously to our worldview, which in this case might include being suspicious of social norms like traditional medicine. Then we got into this postmodern philosophical framework that is characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism or Relativism, a general suspicion of reason and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. We said we were struck by Jean Francois Leotard, who, in one thousand nine hundred and seventy nine, described what sounds a lot like our contemporary America. Sheldon looked at our relativistic notion that quote there's no such thing as truth and therefore anything is true, and therefore what I think is no less true than what anybody else thinks. Obviously this is problematic and we end up with things like alternative facts. But Sheldon compounded the discussion when he said quote. Keep in mind more nuanced kinds of skepticism are the basis of scientific inquiry. But he was wary of contemporary assertions like my view. is quote true by virtue of it being my view? Really glad he took issue at that right we talked about Nietzschee. Sheldon said he's accurately characterizing our twenty one century world. According to Sheldon, Nietzsche said we are going to be in a state of psychological disarray for about two hundred years, which means we've got at least another half century to go. How we know that, who knows, but I won't be here so I don't care. Barzoon says the same thing pretty much. So we got into the postmodern notion of Meta narrative. Sheldon agreed that quote. We as a society lack a compelling shared view of reality. The overriding reason that we currently have the degree of divergence and polarization and difference is because we've lost that overarching view, which in postmodern is called the Meta narrative. Sheldon said, quote. You get to God is dead and there is no longer an overarching shared view of reality. The fact that we no longer have a shared, compelling vision of reality in no way undermines our need for those concerns to be addressed and if they're not provided by the culture, we will seek them elsewhere. But that's an important point and I think that we need to stress that often and everywhere. Yeah, yeah, I think we should remind our listeners also that God may not be dead for everyone in our world, but the strength of belief in God and our dependence on religion to provide the Meta narrative that we used to live by now takes a back seat to secular things like money, power, achievement, fame and beauty. We looked at some of the dangers in all this and Sheldon noted that quote. The fertile grounds for fascism is the alienated individual, and we've explored the ideas of alienation before. Absolutely. Sheldon also said we're...

...fundamentally cultural animals. The predisposition to adhere to social norms is the bedrock of that. You need to fix norms in order for there to be any degree of coordination or cohesion. According to terror management theory, in conditions where existential or physical threats arise, our subscription to those norms becomes more profoundly amplified. The existential issue, as Sheldon sees it, is once you see the arbitrary and contingent nature of existence, that's when you realize that life has no intrinsic meaning. Now, while that could be existentially devastating, it could also be a joyous opportunity to recognize that the purpose of living is living. The idea of the prospect of a world in which there are no absolutes gives us, in principle, a host of choices that we could make for ourselves that are ultimately not only psychologically uplifting but interpersonally benevolent. I think that's a key concept, that the absence of absolutes, or the absence of universal absolutes or cosmic absolutes, can be psychologically devastating or enriching, depending on who you are. That's very true. And Sheldon said, with all due respect to religious authorities, it is not the case that you need absolutes for moral systems to function. They evolutionarily are not absolute. What's absolute is the need to have social norms, but the way they are manifested is culturally relative. That's a hard one for some of us to accept, at me included. Yeah, well, the more you think about it, if you get your head wrapped around it, you understand that science is squarely behind that notion that morality is not dependent on absolutes, and we've talked about this with various other people in various contexts before. Yes, that's for sure my favorite line of the day. There's no syllabus in life. It reminds me of the psychology assertion that we can only understand life by looking at it backwards. Huh, but we are compelled to live it forwards. Yeah, so there's no syllabus in life. Don't you wish you had a teacher like Sheldon when you were in school? Well, when I was in schools so long ago, I think socrates was teaching. So yeah, I yeah, I think that you're probably right about that. Me Too. We were looking for hope, as we always are, and we got into a conversation about philosopher Sylvia Ben so and her book the face of things, and these ideas came to us from our good friend Kenneth Miller. In the interests of time, we're going to say her ideas. Benso's ideas are based on Emmanuel Levinos and Martin Heideger and have a very hopeful and appealing quality. They help us address the environment and ongoing ethnic hostilities. Sheldon says, ethics essentially becomes the metaphorical space between us in a world in which we are fundamentally connected to and ultimately dependent on, those around us. He said that, according to Ben so, tenderness is a stance towards life. Festivity is a non pathological way to manage anxieties engendered by mortality. Perhaps if our society could embrace tenderness as a way of dealing with one another and find a way to celebrate that in festivity in person, that might be a way to bring us together. Yeah, Sheldon ends with quote. At our best we are profoundly pro social and capable of care and tenderness. These are important ideas, Steve, important ideas as always. Folks, join US next time. Like us on facebook. Please recommend us to your friends, email your feedback or leave a comment. Or an apple podcast review. Let us know what you want and how we can improve. Become a part of our community of people who value these important ideas and you can find us at www ideascom and support us on Patreon at wwwcom front, the hub important ideas. We are one hundred percent listeners supported, and please check out our award winning documentary video series conversations with Solomon exploring human motivation on Youtube. Thank you for listening to the hub for important ideas. I'm Steve James and I'm Ken Swain. Special thanks to our friend and colleague Kenneth Miller for his thoughtful contributions,...

Goldie James for audio engineering and our friend Laura see for her photography. STAY SAFE, everybody. Stay well. This has been a contemporary heroism initiative. Production.

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