June 30, 2016

The Great British Break-Off

This week, we’re catching up on the split heard round the world. People laughed at Tory historian Niall Ferguson for warning that Brexit—Britain’s proposed exit from Europe—would be like his own divorce: a nasty and desolating affair that ...

This week, we’re catching up on the split heard round the world.

People laughed at Tory historian Niall Ferguson for warning that Brexit—Britain’s proposed exit from Europe—would be like his own divorce: a nasty and desolating affair that left him alone with his problems.map

And yet! A week since it’s happened—52% out, 48% in—what we’re watched does resemble the bitterest of family fractures. The adults are checked out: prime minister David Cameron abruptly resigned, while Jeremy Corbyn, his Labour adversary, is himself embattled. And few of the victorious “Leave” leaders seem prepared to step in and help the process along.

Sparkling London, with its skyscrapers and trillions of dollars of daily business, was a spot of deep “Remain” yellow on the popular map. But it has been indicted by the towns and villages, even Labour strongholds, that no longer recognize themselves in the capital. Scotland and even Northern Ireland—decidedly for remaining—are threatening to go their own way. Everywhere, racial and xenophobic rhetoric—directed at Poles and Pakistanis—is, painfully, on the rise.

Our guests—many of them intelligent, cosmopolitan Brits—had nothing but distaste for the “Leave” campaign led by Nigel Farage, with his Hitlerian posters, and Boris Johnson (he of the misleading megabus). But they’d disagree on the nature of the case for remaining in a European Union: how to sell it, or whether the U.K. should do it at all.

We thought the best thing to do would be to convene our favorite Brits and Anglophiles to discuss just where this came from—and what’s next.

June 22, 2016

Give ‘Em Hill?

When almost everyone you know is scared to death at the prospect of The Donald as The President, it can feel like we’re barely thinking about his opposite number. She’s become the default choice—the option that ...

When almost everyone you know is scared to death at the prospect of The Donald as The President, it can feel like we’re barely thinking about his opposite number. She’s become the default choice—the option that isn’t chaos.

So, after the year of Trump, at last a meditation on Presumptive Candidate #2—and she’s a Hill of a lot more difficult to get a handle on. As we stand at the altar, are there any objections to this marriage? Do we have a real picture of this woman after her 40 years in politics?

Hillary Rodham Clinton has been America’s most admired woman in the world for 20 years running. She’s also the most disliked candidate (other than Trump) since 1984, and the first Democrat more disliked than liked. Can the Hillary puzzle be solved?

The Clintons’ legacy is unclear, at best. The name conjures that strange period in the 1990s: peace and prosperity right alongside scandal, pettiness, and selling out. Our guest Doug Henwood wrote a whole book called My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency(the cover is the now-iconic painting by the visual artist Sarah Sole, above).

My Turn is a well-written laundry list of private complaints and public scandals that’s bound to make you think twice about the couple, and Hillary herself. From Honduras to Libya, “superpredators” to superdelegates, Hillary isn’t just historic in the good ways—she and Bill would bring a lot of our checkered past back into the White House with them.

Then again, Ellen Fitzpatrick reminds us that female presidential candidates tend to get a lot more than the usual scrutiny—and in her book The Highest Glass Ceiling, she has the history to back it up. If you didn’t know that more than 200 women have sought the highest office in the land, then you knew that before H.R.C., none of them even got close.

And Hillary has a further, post-feminine mystique. The critic Terry Castle—who wonderfully wrote up her meeting with Clinton at a fundraiser earlier this year in the London Review of Books—sees her, admiringly, as both woman and not-a-woman. Even as first lady, she left the familiar female identifiers in the kitchen with Tammy Wynette a very long time ago.

As “Val,” a salty old bartender on Saturday Night Live, Hillary is comic, charming, even “hot”—a glimpse of the private person that so many people have come to adore. But then the last time we elected the person we’d like “to have a beer with,” we wound up with George W. Bush—who is only now, eight years after his unhappy departure, more popular with voters than Hillary

Hillary Clinton—overexposed but uncomprehended—raises all kinds of questions for voters and citizens. Where does the personal end and the political begin? What can we learn about a potential presidency by everything that came before it? And how should we read her—by what standard? As woman or war-maker, private self or public persona, historical breakthrough—or more of the same?

Podcast • June 16, 2016

Susan Faludi: My Father, The Woman

We’re really feeling the fault lines of human identity in 2016: the vexed questions of who we are, who we aren’t, and who we’d like to be. The “angry white male” is back—and voting. Some ...

We’re really feeling the fault lines of human identity in 2016: the vexed questions of who we are, who we aren’t, and who we’d like to be. The “angry white male” is back—and voting. Some kids on campus are so rigidly identified—by race, sex, or orientation—that they’ve lost the ability to speak to each other. Single-sex bathrooms are suddenly a political battlefield.

In her captivating new book, In The Darkroom, the eminent feminist and reporter Susan Faludi has lots of lessons for this moment. She learned them in the company of her father who—estranged from her and aged 76—emailed his daughter with a bombshell: he now identified as a woman after reassignment surgery in Thailand.

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Steven Faludi left many selves behind him. Born István Friedman, the son of a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, he shed his religion, his family, and his home after the tribulations of the Holocaust. He resurfaced in Brazil as a “swashbuckling” bachelor filmmaker, then again in New York as a domineering, sometimes violent, all-American suburban dad.

In her memories of her childhood, Susan Faludi reveals what “patriarchy” feels like at the level of everyday life—her thin-skinned father belittled and spoke over her and her mother, forced her to wear traditional Hungarian peasant dresses, and even attacked her after she attended a church meeting. Steven, then passing as Christian, didn’t want his daughter to abandon her Judaism:

As I was drifting off to sleep that night, my door flew open. My father stormed in. “I created you,” he shouted as he yanked me out of bed. He grabbed me by the neck and began knocking my head against the floor. His torrent of wrath was largely incoherent, but his point was clear— that he wouldn’t have a Catholic child. “I created you,” he repeated as my head hit the boards. “And I can destroy you.” Thus did one daughter come to know that her father was a Jew.

In the Faludis’ world, matters of personal identification were confused, obscure, and still deathly important.

When Steven, now Stefi, asked her daughter to write her story, she may have been hoping for a fairy tale of last-minute self-actualization. And in her research, Susan realized that many trans memoirs play out that way—in what she calls “sugar-and-spice accounts”:

The before and after states I read often seemed cast in hell and heaven terms… The memories that predate operation are often cast as belonging to someone else, a person who no longer exists.

But Susan’s memory of her father—the man she watched break into the house after a separation to beat and stab her mother’s lover with a bat and a Swiss army knife—wasn’t easily eclipsed by the new woman she met in the hills outside Budapest. It took a long period of self-disclosure before the two arrived at compassion, care, and love. 

It’s an uneasy question about the identity voyages we’re watching today—how does a new label, even a new body, relate to the same old self?

Steven Faludi had worked as a photo retoucher for Condé Nast, airbrushing away imperfections. (Susan remembers his narration: “See, she no longer has that unsightly mole! Look, no more wrinkles!”) After her transition, Stefi Faludi modeled herself single-mindedly on a ‘50s housewife—a kind of perfect reversal of the long “macho, aggressive” period.

And yet Susan is pleased that in the last two years of life, her father finally relaxed into her own skin—identifying not as a woman, but as “a trans.” That’s “trans,” less as in category “transition” than in the “transcendence” of identity categories themselves. It sounds like how Susan Stryker, a pioneer in this thinking, describes the trans identity: “something more and something other.” “It’s a phrase I really love,” Susan says.

You can support Open Source by purchasing Susan Faludi’s new book, In the Darkroom, on Indiebound or Amazon.

 

June 9, 2016

American Hearts and Minds

With the presidential primaries practically over, let’s take a moment on the psychiatrist’s couch, with an eye on the health of American hearts and minds. We spent months and months inside two overheated political races, ...

With the presidential primaries practically over, let’s take a moment on the psychiatrist’s couch, with an eye on the health of American hearts and minds.

We spent months and months inside two overheated political races, and nearly half of all Americans are displeased with our options.  We’re left without a feeling of confidence, let alone consensus.

But Marilynne Robinson—novelist, essayist, and friend of POTUS—declares that the political pandemonium is all to the good, if it can reintroduce us to ourselves, and to a country that many of us have ceased to understand.

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Robinson sees the world through her own Christian moral learning. So for her, America is an old and venerable civilization that has finally come to appreciate what we had in Barack Obama. We’re often saved by human ingenuity, we make a few simple requests, for solid public education and affordable healthcare, and yet we’re tempted by fear, greed and division.

Robinson recalls that we’ve been in worse scrapes before. In 1968, after the death of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Chicago convention that nominated Hubert Humphrey was marred by the protests of young antiwar voters.

After that, Humphrey was stranded, Richard Nixon ascended—and brought with him a period of democratic decay.

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What if we had a replay of that strange fractured moment in the 1960s and ’70s? And what if we asked the wisest Americans we know what to do in another moment of democratic uncertainty and disappointment?

With a very wise panel—of psychologist Andrew Solomon, philosopher Nancy Rosenblum, and historian Bruce Schulman—we’re talking through just what we’ve learned.

June 2, 2016

Sex and Safety on Campus

For decades now, we’ve worried about an epidemic of sexual assault and un-safety at American colleges and universities. But there’s a question of whether, amid the familiar panic and new paperwork, we’ve made real progress toward solving ...

For decades now, we’ve worried about an epidemic of sexual assault and un-safety at American colleges and universities.

But there’s a question of whether, amid the familiar panic and new paperwork, we’ve made real progress toward solving the problem.

Consider the numbers at Harvard as they appeared in a report last year:

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Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk begins the show with a provocative statement. In an article co-written with her colleague and husband Jacob Gersen, Suk faults universities for overcompensating, after years of neglect, on matters of sexual safety by built a paranoid atmosphere and a self-defensive “sex bureaucracy.”

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On the phone, Alexandra Brodsky is one of the activists who saw to it that victims of sexual assault used the Title IX provision to involve the government in what used to be purely academic proceedings (which often produced no results).

This week she graduated from Yale Law School, but she’s still looking for ways to fine-tune the public resolution of sex claims on campus. Most recently, Brodsky proposed turning toward the “restorative justice” model put to work in South Africa, Germany, and Rwanda—an honest and possibly healing confrontation of victim and accused.

Beneath this and all sexual matters, of course there are hidden questions of selves, of gender, of privilege and bias—of what young people want and need. The writer-historian Moira Weigel discusses the socialization of women and the rise of dating (she just wrote a book about it), and the journalist Caitlin Flanagan, who nailed fraternities last year in The Atlantic, arrives to provide some wisdom.

And finally, it’s worth noting that the latest wave of the sexual-violence campaign arrives in a broader conversation about student safety, comfort and inclusion at schools. The New Yorker‘s Nathan Heller just captured the Oberlin version, but David Bromwich joins us to consider the ramifications of safety beyond the realm of sexuality.

What kind of safety are campus activists asking for? What kind can enormous, expensive universities provide? And what does the reworking of rules, patterns, and expectations on campus foretell for the world at large?

May 26, 2016

Democracy In The Dumps

In 1989, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama pronounced that liberal democracy, on the American model, as the inevitable finish line of political evolution around the world: What we may be witnessing is not just the ...

In 1989, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama pronounced that liberal democracy, on the American model, as the inevitable finish line of political evolution around the world:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

And millions of people agreed: that our own relatively free, fair, stable, and accountable model was the political wonder of the world. (Or we told ourselves more cynically that it was the worst system of all, “except all those other forms that have been tried.”)

Would it surprise you to find out that—through the years of Bush, Obama, and now Trump—Americans have begun to lose confidence in democracy?

According to new research by political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa, one in six Americans would approve of the military takeover of government. More than 40 percent of the wealthiest Americans would opt for a strong, competent leader who was not accountable to voters. And only 30% of Americans born after 1980 consider it “essential” that they live in a democracy.

Even Fukuyama—one of our guests this week—has had to reevaluate his optimism about the Western model’s world-conquering prospects:

What I understand now much more clearly is that it’s much harder to get there than I had anticipated in terms of [building ] the necessary institutions. The other thing that I didn’t fully appreciate was how easy it was to backslide.

You can hear that backsliding—the disenchantment, the decay of trust—in the voices of Trump voters from Scott Carrier‘s wonderful podcast, Home of the Brave: people like Jimmy Lee, a skilled construction worker who can’t find work for more than $8.50 an hour. He’s voting for Trump as an entrepreneur who’ll “shake up the White House.”

With Jimmy Lee in mind, we’re staging an intervention in a roaring debate—political thinkers with very different readings of what Donald Trump says about people power in America.

Commentator Andrew Sullivan came out of retirement this month to declare, in New York magazine, that we’re witnessing too much democracy—a chaotic uprising of people power, almost a French revolution at the ballot box—and that tyranny could be near at hand. For example, as

the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

In Dissent, Jedediah Purdy argued that Sullivan has the case exactly upside-down. Trump is a symptom of too little democracy; his voters, starved for power and economic prospects, are enraged and beset by a feckless government controlled by wealthy interests and unresponsive elites:

Far from living in a carnival of equality, they get pushed out of jobs because they are not productive enough, denied health care because they are not wealthy enough, denied good schools because they cannot afford to live in the best neighborhoods.

Sullivan and Purdy will provide their separate diagnoses on our air—and Orlando Patterson and Gordon Wood are on hand to hold this moment up to history.

May 11, 2016

Could Confucius Change Your Life?

In an panicked moment, maybe what we need most is a new set of eyes—or a very old one. Whatever you may find to be the problem—capitalist excess or teens “keeping it real,” digital isolation, widespread anxiety, Trumpian ...

In an panicked moment, maybe what we need most is a new set of eyes—or a very old one.

Whatever you may find to be the problem—capitalist excess or teens “keeping it real,” digital isolation, widespread anxiety, Trumpian narcissism, bad governance, or all of the above—Confucius has something to say to you.

That may be why Confucius and his followers—who taught and wrote almost 2,500 years ago—are resonating anew in the hearts of Chinese citizens. One of our guests, the great podcaster Kaiser Kuo, sees Confucian thinking as “baked-in” to the so-called Chinese character, as permanent as Plato.

Not to mention at Harvard, where, in the hands of beloved professor Michael Puett, Confucius provides counterintuitive wisdom to a bunch of self-aware, overwhelmed overachievers.

Confucius raises self-cultivation to the pursuit of a lifetime. Every encounter is a learning experience; every mundane action is a ritual to be perfected. All of it is in the service of the good life—reworking your desires, constraints, and impulses to promote ren—“goodness” or “humaneness”—in all you do.

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Imagine the “superior person” as like an archer:

He rectifies himself, and seeks for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfactions. He does not murmur against Heaven, nor grumble against men…

The Master said, “In archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.”

Maybe it’s this part that makes sense to the perfection-prone Harvard student. Imagine if all that striving were less about world takeover and more about nonstop inward renovation of the mind and heart.

Confucian thinking can put one in mind of superhuman social talents: Stefan Zweig‘s lost generation of hyper-refined Viennese (or Ralph Fiennes‘s M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel)—officials, artists, peerless hosts and hostesses with not a thread out of place, kind, warm, and accommodating down to their souls.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Stefan Zweig in his domicile in Salzburg. Photography. 1931. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Stefan Zweig in seinem Salzburger Domizil am Kapuzienerberg [?]. "Der Schriftsteller Stefan Zweig feiert am 28. Nov. 1931 seinen 50. Geburtstag" (No. 2698a). Stefan Zweig (1881 Wien - 1942 Petropolis, Brasilien, Selbstmord) begann als Lyriker des Wiener Impressionismus, entwickelte sich durch seine Freundschaft mit Emile Verhaeren und Romain Rolland zum pazifistisch-humanistischen Schriftsteller. aehnlich wie Hugo von Hofmannsthal fuehlte er sich als einer der letzten der buergerlich-europaeischen Kultur, die er in zahlreichen Novellen, Romanen und seiner Autobiographie ?Die Welt von gestern? (1942) beschrieb. In der Sammlung "Kaleidoskop" (1924) und dem kurzen Roman "Der begrabene Leuchter" (1937) beschaeftigte er sich eingehender mit dem Judentum, nachdem er vor dem aufkommenden Nationalismus aus Salzburg geflohen war (1934).]

Michael Puett argues that Confucius still points a path to that kind of orderly, rewarding mutual life. And he’s making his pitch in an exciting new book called The Path, cowritten with Christine Gross-Loh.

We’ll talk about the comeback of the great sage—long in arriving—and what it could mean for your life.

You can hear a longer version of our conversations with our favorite people living Confucianism today, at least at a deep cultural level—Tu Weiming, Gish Jen, and Kaiser Kuo—below:

 

April 27, 2016

Eileen Myles’s Moment

This week, we’re tuning into the writer Eileen Myles. Born outside Boston in 1949, Myles is just now having an all-American moment. Myles has spent the last forty years as a queer and feminist icon, who’d like to be ...

This week, we’re tuning into the writer Eileen Myles. Born outside Boston in 1949, Myles is just now having an all-American moment.

Myles has spent the last forty years as a queer and feminist icon, who’d like to be known not as she or he, but as a complex they, “the gender of Eileen.” Today, they’re not just a poet but also a famous muse, inspiring Cherry Jones‘s charismatic character—a radical lesbian poet named Leslie Mackinaw—on Jill Soloway‘s hit show, Transparent

In a moment when transgender rights and women in power are front-page issues, we are hearing again what Myles has been saying all along, as a poet, provocateur, and presidential candidate (in an “openly female” write-in campaign in 1992).

Myles is a natural on Instagram and Twitter with her one-of-a-kind, high-velocity, irreverent and vernacular voice. That voice is on display again this year in books put out by Ecco: Chelsea Girls, a republished novel/memoir of New York bohemia, and I Must Be Living Twice, Myles’s new and selected poems. Try “On The Death of Robert Lowell,” an anti-elegy:

O, I don’t give a shit.
He was an old white haired man
Insensate beyond belief and
Filled with much anxiety about his imagined
Pain. Not that I’d know
I hate fucking wasps.
The guy was a loon.
Signed up for Spring Semester at Macleans
A really lush retreat among pines and
Hippy attendants. Ray Charles also
once rested there.
So did James Taylor…
The famous, as we know, are nuts.
Take Robert Lowell.
The old white haired coot.
Fucking dead.

Before all else, Myles was a townie—who wore a Catholic-school uniform to a job at the Harvard Coop—and an old-fashioned Boston talkah. Myles has lived elsewhere since 1974, but retained the accent as part of their poetic personality.

And, in the middle of this career year, Myles has finally come home to roost: finishing up a month-long project at Harvard on the poetic applications of the Boston sound for working-class poets like John Wieners. In Wieners’ reading,”cared” turned into “cay-uhd,” and that made all the difference. As in “My Mother”:

We spoke to Myles about the democratic virtue of individualism: in dialect and sound as well as in gender and sexuality, politics and aesthetics. Let us know what you think in the comments.

April 14, 2016

Neoliberalism and Postcapitalism

This year’s American electoral shakeup sends us looking for deeper economic tremors. Unemployment is down to 4.9%, even as discouraged workers are reentering the market and the average hourly wage rose 7 cents. “More good ...

This year’s American electoral shakeup sends us looking for deeper economic tremors. Unemployment is down to 4.9%, even as discouraged workers are reentering the market and the average hourly wage rose 7 cents. “More good news,” says The Atlantic.

But retail spending and consumer confidence remain low — as if the recovery were less solid than it appears.

Our guest, the journalist and reader Paul Mason, has a thought. He looks at the present Western economy — defined by global trade, bygone unions, knowledge work, and high finance, of Davos, TED Talks, and creative disruption — and finds a glitch, a transitional crisis long in arriving.

Can our global system keep going without a reworking for the Internet age? Or is Mason’s “post-capitalism” an idea whose time has come?

The Tom Frank take

In preparation for this week’s show, we spoke with Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal: Or What Happened to the Party of the People. He points to the Clinton era as neoliberalism’s crystallizing moment:

This Week's Show •

Syria: The 21st-Century Disaster

Syria may be the essential 21st-century mess. Our guests, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have just published Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a new people’s history of the civil war. They tell us that beneath a web ...

Syria may be the essential 21st-century mess.

Our guests, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have just published Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a new people’s history of the civil war. They tell us that beneath a web of thorny conflicts — Sunni powers against Iran, Obama against Putin, interventionists against isolationists — the central story was quickly lost: a democratic uprising, against scarcity, corruption, and oppression, met with a scorched-earth crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, determined to retain power.

No matter how you look at this conflict that has displaced 10 million Syrians and taken hundreds of thousands of lives, there are grave regrets: the creation of ISIS, the reverberations of the Iraq war, American vacillation and meddling, and roads to peace not travelled (or even considered).

What might have been done, what might yet happen, and what is the lesson for the Middle East, the next president and the global community?