Somewhere on the road between Stalingrad and Forever21, something essential got misplaced amidst the bathos. Eric works through a bottle of Red wine on air with social, literary and artistic theorist Anna Khachiyan (co-host of the explosive and popular Red Scare podcast) to find out what is brewing on the anti-woke Left among the intellectual daughters of Camille Paglia. Anna takes us through her project of the reconstructed feminine combining irreverent intellectual dominance with a return to valuing motherhood informed by her claims on Soviet & American heritage. The intellectual foundation of the intersectional “oppression Olympics” and reparations discussion is further dissected amidst the twin specters of the Armenian & Jewish genocides which mysteriously appear not to register at all with today’s progressives.
No puppies were eaten during this podcast, but an ambient trigger warning is otherwise in order for those with exquisite sensitivities. Caveat emptor and welcome to the Grand Finale of the inaugural year of “The Portal.”
See you all again in 2020!
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Eric Weinstein: [00:00:00]: Hello, you found The Portal. I’m your host, Eric Weinstein, and I’m lucky to be here tonight with Anna, and here it comes, Khachiyan.
Anna Khachiyan: [00:00:17]: Thanks for having me.
EW: [00:00:19]: Oh, did I, did I screw that up unforgivably?
AK: [00:00:20]: No, no, no, no, no, no that’s right.
EW: [00:00:22]: And Anna is half of the up-and-coming podcast, Red Scare, which has everyone talking.
AK: [00:00:30]: Everyone? I don’t know about everyone.
EW: [00:00:31]: Not everyone, I’m exaggerating slightly.
AK: [00:00:33]: Yeah.
EW: [00:00:33]: Yeah, but I just got introduced to you by a colleague of mine, Blake Masters, who’s Peter Thiel’s co-author, and I’ve been addicted to your podcast not quite understanding why. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever found. Can you say more about what induced you to do it and why you think it might be working?
AK: [00:00:53]: I have no clue why it’s working. I know that it’s probably due to some sort of alchemical, inarticulable thing that’s totally out of my control. And it has something to do with my chemistry with my cohost, who is an actress called Dasha Nekrasova. But I think maybe it struck a chord. I know that it consistently infuriates all the wrong people – which was never my intention.
EW: [00:01:23]: So innocent, and that’s so beautiful, but it’s also not entirely believable because it does seem like what you’re doing is you’re crowding out a certain kind of piousness. And we had an epic lunch the other day.
AK: [00:01:39]: Yeah, we did. We had what they call a “power lunch”.
EW: [00:01:41]: Is that a power lunch?
AK: [00:01:42]: Yeah, yeah.
EW: [00:01:43]: Okay.
AK: [00:01:44]: I just learned at the last minute that this podcast is being filmed, because I was telling Eric here that the way that we run ours is like a bunch of wires and crap strewn on the floor, like chain smoking. Dasha literally sits on the ground, objectifying herself at every turn. And I sit on my disgusting, stained, and cigarette burned couch. But this is my bad side and I wish I was more of a diva like Mariah Carey and could demand that we switched seats.
EW: [00:02:17]: Really?
AK: [00:02:17]: Yeah. No, I’m kidding. I’m being hyperbolic.
EW: [00:02:20]: Well, and we always pick up the syringes before the guests arrive.
AK: [00:02:25]: Anyway, what was the question?
EW: [00:02:26]: Well, the question surrounds, what I was going to get at is that we had this bit of a riff where I’ve said that I’m trying to be long good and short nice.
AK: [00:02:38]: Mmhmm.
EW: [00:02:39]: That nice doesn’t really have a future because nice is really this kind of performative version that crowds out good.
And you seem to have mastered this formula where I detect a deeply buried good and there’s an attack on nice at all times.
AK: [00:02:56]: Yeah, I mean, I think that nice on some level is a futile position. I mean, even you look at like female social politics, right? And there’s always kind of irrepentant bitches masquerading as nice girls, and then there’s nice girls masquerading as irrepentant bitches. And I think, I would like to think, that I’m the latter…
EW: [00:03:20]: Remains to be seen.
AK: [00:03:20]: Yeah. I don’t know that I have any sort of earnest, or let’s say, let’s put it this way, I don’t know that I have kind of a sustained political vision that I would like to enact. It’s kind of out of my control.
As you know, my father always used to say, “you’re but a crumb floating on the face of the earth.” But…
EW: [00:03:36]: Was that to build your confidence and self esteem?
AK: [00:03:38]: Yeah, the Russian way of parenting, it’s like Russian self-esteem. But, at the end of the day, I have kind of a very earnest ethical agenda that I’m hoping to populate the minds of my young girl and gay listeners with.
EW: [00:03:55]: I would’ve said “infect”, but okay “populate”.
AK: [00:03:58]: Yeah.
EW: [00:03:58]: Yeah.
AK: [00:03:59]: Yeah, infect is another good one.
EW: [00:04:01]: Wonderful. So let’s just dig into a little bit of your background as you’re mining it for the kind of motif that, even though it’s an intrinsically American show, it’s informed by this sort of broad Slavic soul. And you were born in?…
AK: [00:04:19]: In Moscow.
EW: [00:04:20]: In Moscow.
AK: [00:04:21]: Yeah, in 1985. The internet and my Spanish Wikipedia says that it’s 1986. Every year I’m aging backwards on the internet. Next year I’ll be 32. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, I’m like the Benjamin Button of neoliberal critique. But I was born in 1985 at the tail end, you know, right before the collapse of the Soviet Union. And there’s no way that that experience, along with the kind of inevitable trauma of immigration, doesn’t inform your worldview.
EW: [00:05:00]: So if I understand correctly, not only are you coming with this sort of tail end Soviet influence, but it is also the case that you’ve got access to the twin genocides of Jews and Armenians.
AK: [00:05:19]: That’s true, yeah. I always say on Twitter, it’s very depressing that, you know, my ancestors survived the Armenian Genocide and then the Holocaust so their descendant could become a podcaster in Brooklyn, now Manhattan.
EW: [00:05:35]: No doubt, because you’re white of hue, you are going to be labeled as “privileged” because you come from these two ethnic groups, which for some reason we can’t actually locate in human history or what these groups have been through, which I find also weirdly amusing.
AK: [00:05:50]: This is a very, I mean, this isn’t a very interesting point. I don’t know if we want to, I’m not drunk yet, so maybe we should get into the intellect.
EW: [00:05:58]: Yeah, can we toast to sobriety?
AK: [00:05:59]: Yeah, let’s toast to sobriety.
EW: [00:06:00]: To sobriety.
AK: [00:06:02]: Yeah. Na zdorovie.
EW: [00:06:03]: Na zdorovie.
AK: [00:06:03]: So I’ll get into all the kind of like heavy handed intellectual stuff in the first half, let’s say.
But this is one of, I think my central projects or critiques that I’m interested in. I don’t, obviously, I don’t dispute the completely gross, horrific legacy of American slavery, right? It existed. It plunged an entire population into poverty, into social fragmentation. The legacy is still alive and well today. What I object to, I think is the wholesale export of the American view of race relations to elsewhere in the world, to people who don’t have the similar experience.
EW: [00:06:54]: Well, I guess, from my perspective, what I find very odd about all of this is that, having been close to people in the Armenian and Jewish communities, there’s a tremendous amount of intergenerational trauma.
AK: [00:07:08]: Yes.
EW: [00:07:08]: Because there has to be.
AK: [00:07:09]: Yeah, my sister and I call it “hand-me-down trauma”.
EW: [00:07:12]: Yeah.
AK: [00:07:12]: It’s something you inherit, you know, like a brooch or like a necklace.
EW: [00:07:18]: Well, I would say it’s also a set of behavior patterns for detecting when things are starting to get really dicey. It’s sort of like you have to know that it’s not that the generation that goes through these things is the only one that has a claim. The longevity of these populations is about saying, “we don’t know whether there’s going to be another one of these episodes in your time, so everyone always has to be ready.” There’s no state of not being ready, like we’ve made it. We finally, we’re orthodontists, we’re going to be fine.
AK: [00:07:49]: Yeah, I mean you can’t rest on your laurels effectively, and I think…
EW: [00:07:53]: You have to sleep with one eye open in some sense.
AK: [00:07:56]: Well, yeah, the, you know, with the knife under your pillow.
EW: [00:08:01]: You’re gonna give away all of our secrets?
AK: [00:08:02]: Yeah. I have so many dark family secrets. But, I think the basic correct principle, the basic critique of certain, I guess leftist intellectuals in the United States, is this idea that, okay, well, somebody like me is not only white, not only would be associated as white or would consider herself white, but is essentially white passing. So, therefore, even if I was not hypothetically white, I could rake in the certain white privilege that, for example, a black or Latino person couldn’t.
EW: [00:08:38]: Well, this is what I’ve called the intersectional shakedown, and the populations that are maximally irritating to the intersectional shakedown artists are the populations with recent claims to oppression that are nevertheless making it economically. Because really what it is, is an attempt to take a real history of oppression and to turn it into cash.
AK: [00:09:03]: I tweeted literally today moments before I came here that the kind of idea of cultural appropriation, that debate makes perfect sense in a culture where identity is viewed as a form of capital because it becomes a zero-sum game.
If somebody like Rachel Dolezal, perpetuates this myth that she’s a black woman, she is basically taking food out of the mouth, power out of the hands of an actually black woman.
EW: [00:09:35]: Right. So there’s that absurdity. But then we actually have to contend with the weird aspect, for example, if you look at the exploitation of black musicians who very often, you know, at some point you had a lot of illiterate genius musicians in the Delta who are brilliant enough to produce great music, but weren’t capable of defending themselves in a legal structure.
And so you actually had cultural exploitation of one group by another through appropriation, so you’d get, you know, I think at some point I saw Otis Blackwell performing in New York City, and you know, he had to say, look, I’m the guy behind Elvis Presley. And the idea is that when Elvis sang it, it was acceptable to a market that he couldn’t sell into. So, there is a real aspect to cultural appropriation, and there’s a totally fake aspect, which is the sort of, and they’re coexisting, and so it’s very tempting for people like us just to point at the bullshit. But there actually is this unfortunate reality that’s braided with it.
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AK: [00:13:01]: It’s absolutely true. I mean, you can give the example of like Hesh in The Sopranos, right? – we talked about the Sopranos at our power lunch – who’s this guy who’s kind of this like kindly sensible Jewish grandfather…
EW: [00:13:14]: Within a mafia context.
AK: [00:13:15]: Within a mafia context, as so warm and loving and steadily. And this is a guy who has historically stiffed black musicians for royalties, right?
And there’s that famous reparations episode with, I think it was Bokeem Woodbine playing the rapper Minnie GARC…
EW: [00:13:31]: Well, there’s a question about whether he’s going to visit violence upon him, but it turns out he’s going to visit a lawsuit.
AK: [00:13:36]:< Yes. Yeah, exactly. But then you have like these cultural examples of like, you know, like a Katy Perry or a Miley Cyrus wearing cornrows, like Kim Kardashian wearing cornrows in a Kardashian like beauty photo shoot, which I find completely preposterous. No one owns cornrows.
EW: [00:14:01]: I don’t know enough about female hairstyles.
AK: [00:14:03]: Well, nobody, there’s no direct line of monetization, right? I don’t see it that way. And so that’s a discourse that I think, yeah, you’re right, exists as like a proxy discourse because people are afraid to confront the deeper, more complex issues.
EW: [00:14:19]: Well, I think that you have one set of legitimate issues acting as the stalking horse for this infernal shakedown. And my hatred of this comes from the fact that, if American Jews who have made it financially in one generation are somehow safe and secure and therefore privileged, something is entirely broken with your cosmology.
AK: [00:14:41]: Mmhmm. Well, how do you mean?
EW: [00:14:43]: Well, it’s just like, I assume that the German Jews thought the two nights before Kristallnacht were privileged and should be worried about their privilege it’s just, this is stupid.
AK: [00:14:54]: Yeah. It’s a silly argument and I think, you know, I get into spats about, listen, I’m frequently accused of like being racially insensitive and I, you know, as Quentin, the late great Quentin Tarantino said, “I reject that hypothesis.” It’s patently false. What I’ve always said is not, I’m not in the business, I’m not interested in having an oppression Olympics and saying like, well, okay, look, I come from a historically oppressed background in two sides, but yeah, I, you know, grew up in a totally middle-class milieu and, you know, but I’m going to use this kind of identitarian card. I’m going to play the card to be oppressed. That’s not at all what I’m interested in.
What I’m saying is that, as a person who comes from a different culture, I can view the legacy of American slavery at a critical distance in a way that American people may not be able to.
Right? Because in Russia, you have a parallel system called serfdom. The slaves and the serfs were emancipated within, I think, a year of each other.
EW: [00:16:01]: Right. But I mean, I just had J.D. Vance in your chair.
AK: [00:16:04]: I’ve heard only horrible things about him.
EW: [00:16:07]: Oh, I’ll introduce you. I like him quite a bit. He, you know, his family of course, is coming from Appalachia and hillbillies were defacto enslaved. Maybe it’s a form of light slavery, if you will – just the way serfdom is a different form of enslavement with company towns, company script, company stores, company housing, private armies of detective agencies – so, you know, the idea that that is seen through the lens of white privilege shows you the mental impoverishment of the current woke ideology.
And my claim is that we cannot afford to dispute it. We must ignore it just because it sort of shouldn’t qualify intellectually. It didn’t make a…
AK: [00:16:53]: I mean as George Bush the Second said, “you don’t negotiate with terrorists.” And this is, I think my big opposition to it is that woke ideology by and large is like an emotional hostage situation. It really is. It’s a, it’s a hostage crisis.
EW: [00:17:11]: Yeah, well you seem to be ignoring the credible threat to your reputation. In fact, it’s making your reputation. So you’re metabolizing this kind of weird resentment and hatred that people are experiencing through fear because these are reputational attacks. In general, they’re attacks that say, “I’m going to make it impossible for you to earn a normal living by making an attack on the reputation which you need to negotiate the institutional world.”
AK: [00:17:42]: Yeah. And it’s like, you know, Jordan Peterson famously said, “I’ve figured out a way to monetize the SJWs” and you know, you could possibly say that about Red Scare, but it’s not…
EW: [00:17:55]: No, I think you guys are doing something much more bizarre and interesting.
AK: [00:17:59]: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. It’s not intended in that way, but that was never the premise or the interest. It was truly kind of an earnest frustration with liberal mainstream feminism and liberalism.
EW: [00:18:17]: I don’t even know whether it’s liberalism. I mean like everything is so watered down and metastatic and bizarre that it’s the vague whiff of the left gone mad, right? Like it’s not liberal. It’s not progressive. We don’t even know what it is. It just sort of technically resides to the left…
AK: [00:18:35]: Yeah, it’s not conservative either, right? You can’t rightfully call it that.
EW: [00:18:39]: Self-hatred is obviously a very large part of it.
AK: [00:18:43]: I think, yeah, self-hatred. I mean, this is another kind of, you know, I repeat myself loudly and often.
EW: [00:18:50]: Well done.
AK: [00:18:51]: According to the advice of my hero, Quentin Crisp, who said that that was kind of the way to make yourself memorable. The problem with the left, and I’m talking about kind of primarily the online left, is that these are people who are thoroughly infected with the virus of the neoliberal ethos. They play completely within the terms of the system. And you know, this brings to bear a very important point, that I also like to repeat loudly and often, by the new left critic Christopher Lasch, and I’m going to paraphrase it because I don’t know it verbatim because my synapses have been zapped by being too extremely online, you know, but he said like, hey, you know, all the kind of traditional bedrocks, all of the traditional values and institutions of liberal society – we’re talking about monogamy, marriage, the gender binary, any number of other kind of traditional values have already been been dealt a serious blow by advanced capitalism itself, long before the social justice activists got their hands on them before they mounted a fight against them. And that’s a very important point to remember.
EW: [00:20:14]: So the way I see it, and you’ll let me know if this dovetails or in fact conflicts, or maybe it’s just total myths, is that the family and the religion or culture provide many of the same things that the market provides, like let’s say an insurance policy.
Alright, so for example, if you’re trying to smooth your income stream over a lifetime and you have recessions, a family might take in some members who are out of work and put them to work in portions of the family business that are still functioning, or work inside the home, in a way that sort of socializes some of the risk. And at the same time, you might buy some kind of a policy to try to smooth things out, or you’ll try to save, in an institutional context. As these things conflict, the market has denatured some of these older structures.
When people talk about American families are weak, what they usually mean is that American markets have been regular and strong enough that people have leaned less on the pathologies of their mishpokhe,in order to try to get cleaner expressions within the market for their various needs.
Like, instead of having, you know, a mother come and be with a child when a new baby is born.
AK: [00:21:48]: Do your laundry, yeah.
EW: [00:21:49]: Yeah. You hire somebody to do it. And the idea is, if the market is working in some sense, the family starts to fall apart because you don’t need it.
AK: [00:22:00]: Right, exactly. Yeah. And you know, people are smart. They know that like seven, eight years of psychoanalysis is a very tall price to pay for having your mother come every week and do your laundry.
EW: [00:22:10]: That’s an interesting take.
AK: [00:22:11]: Yeah. And there’s this, you know, whole rhetoric now about a work-life balance, whatever. And I think that the market part of the kind of, let’s say, like the psychological anima of the market, is that it provides people with a scaffolding and an infrastructure through which to relieve themselves of their family.
EW: [00:22:36]: Right. So one of the things that’s interesting to me is that you’re coming from a background, which is very familiar to me, where you have a Jewish Armenian parentage, and your father is a famous mathematician working in linear programming, sort of optimization science, and came up with this amazing algorithm that changed our picture for how things could be optimized using smaller and smaller ellipsoids.
And your mom, how did she figure into the story?
AK: [00:23:18]: My dad, his whole kind of level of achievement is way over my head, obviously. But my mom and my dad they met when they were very young and they got married quite a bit later. My mom, I think, would probably be very irate and disappointed if I described her like this, because you know she’s going to listen to this.
She is an artist who became a housewife basically. And I think that she is the great genius of the family. She’s the great kind of organizing and destructive force in my family.
EW: [00:23:56]: Well, it’s interesting, I have to say that when we had this lunch, which you’re describing as a power lunch, yet I drunk no alcohol during, so I’m not positive that it qualified.
AK: [00:24:09]: I mean, are you supposed to drink alcohol during it?
EW: [00:24:11]: I don’t really know. It would be my first power lunch.
AK: [00:24:13]: Oh, right. It’s just, you know, a stupid, girl bossy hyperbolic term. I have to drink, and smoke at all lunches.
EW: [00:24:19]: Well, very good.
AK: [00:24:21]: I didn’t smoke.
EW: [00:24:22]: You didn’t smoke.
AK: [00:24:23]: But I’m such a neurotic. I’m so shy. I was telling you that I can’t, you know, I have to constantly occupy my…
EW: [00:24:29]: Is that because you’re reveling in your neuroticism?
AK: [00:24:32]: No, no, no. I’m not like a Woody Allen person. I don’t get off on it.
EW: [00:24:35]: Okay, you sure?
AK: [00:24:35]: It’s something that I hope to shed with the kind of accumulation of experience, like habituation.
EW: [00:24:43]: Okay.
AK: [00:24:43]: Yeah, that’s not something I think you should look up to in yourself.
EW: [00:24:47]: I don’t know.
AK: [00:24:48]: But yeah, I think that my mom is kind of like a bizarre freewheeling, artistic genius, a true eccentric. And I think that I derive a lot of my personality and my tendency toward critique from her. I mean, she’s always spinning paranoid polemics about the world. It’s really quite impressive, and she’s right most of the time.
EW: [00:25:13]: I think it’s very strange that – I mean, this really actually echoes your earlier point – that we tend to see accomplishment only if it shows up in the workplace. And, for a lot of us coming from kind of ethnic families, for lack of a better word, very often people who were inside the home were well known to be the local genius and the eccentric or the life or the whatever. It was not clear in any way that, if you were the schmatta salesman, that that was really the higher expression of the two people in a marriage.
And it happens that your father did something very creative in a very analytic context. Like there’s nothing at all surprising to me that your mom might mostly be at home with the family and be the major force of the family.
AK: [00:26:02]: Yeah. And I think like, you know, my dad probably gets all the credit for being kind of the genius. My haters like to point out that I’m coasting off of my father’s accomplishments. Which is not true because I’m actually way more famous than him on Reddit!
EW: [00:26:20]: So there, dad.
AK: [00:26:21]: Yeah, there you go. He would be so… I’m here to disgrace my family name.
But, basically, I think that this kind of old breakdown of my parents’ marriage is a very instructive example of the way that women wield unofficial power through the domestic sphere.
EW: [00:26:44]: Again, it’s like, unofficially, the language is even wrong to me. It’s like in what world do we not…? I guess the idea is that it’s official if it shows up in Wikipedia and it’s unofficial if it only shows up in family lore?
AK: [00:27:00]: I think it’s official if you’re getting officially compensated for it, right?
EW: [00:27:04]: Well, this is the issue of kin work that I would bring up, which is that I think that a lot of the wage gap work is extremely weak and manipulative. But I think it’s also the case that the real wage gap is that you have to figure out how to compensate for kin work, you know, taking care of elders, relatives, or young children. And that you can arguably say that women should be paid more on average because that is uncompensated work and it has to show up somewhere. And sometimes it would show up in like prestige – the matriarch of a large family is kind of an impressive position to hold. And that with smaller families, it’s no longer so cool to be grandma.
AK: [00:27:46]: Sure, and I think that there’s a general disrespect for the institution of motherhood.
EW: [00:27:52]: Let’s talk about that. What the hell is that?
AK: [00:27:53]: That’s afoot in the culture at large, particularly on the left.
EW: [00:27:57]: So this is something which I totally resonate with. Like when did the left go, and they’re going to claim, “oh, we’re not anti-family,” but there is some weird anti-family thing.
AK: [00:28:07]: I think that that’s absolutely a kind of collective defense mechanism because we’re talking about people, much like myself, who are millennials in their late twenties, early thirties. You know, my father always used to say like, “Well, Anna, you can’t really ascend in class. You know, contrary to the myth of the American dream, but you can’t really fall in class either.” And now we’re faced with a generation that’s quite a bit like The Lost Generation in Russia, my father’s generation, all of whom drank themselves to death by the age of, you know, 52, which is this millennial generation of people like myself who…
EW: [00:28:45]: So your dad was two years younger than I am now when he died of a heart attack.
AK: [00:28:49]: Yes. Yeah, and you know, he died in the United States, but I think that he is part of the same generational trend.
EW: [00:28:56]: What year was that?
AK: [00:28:57]: In 2005.
But there are a lot of people my age who are confronting, male and female, who are confronting for the first time the reality that they will actually fall in class, and especially relative to their parents.
EW: [00:29:16]: Yeah.
AK: [00:29:16]: They will never own property. They will never pay off their student debt. They will never have a safe and dependable healthcare situation. They will never be able to afford children.
And I think the kind of broadly antinatalist trend on the left is a psychological defense mechanism because you have to reframe, I think, in the neoliberal framework, you have to reframe all adversity as opportunity.
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AK: [00:30:56]: What they’re saying to themselves…
EW: [00:30:58]: I don’t have to be burdened by babies.
AK: [00:31:00]: Yes.
EW: [00:31:00]: My breasts will be undeformed by breastfeeding.
AK: [00:31:03]: Yes, I’m a girl boss. I don’t need a man. I’m an independent, strong, independent women. So they’ve had to kind of recalibrate…
EW: [00:31:12]: This will work out for a minority of the people who claim this to be true. It’s not BS. What’s BS is how broadly this plan is likely to work.
AK: [00:31:23]: Yeah, how applicable it is across. I mean, I started noticing, I actually got a lot of flack for this and I still don’t know why, I started noticing in the pop lyrics of the last two decades or so, a kind of minute shift. You can go back as far as actually the 1960s, I remember this interview with Amy Winehouse where she’s like, you know, I much more prefer, I gravitate toward the music of the 60s, the 50s, 60s, whatever, as opposed to the music of the 2000s, because in the kind of female vocalists of the 60s, they expressed kind of a longing, a yearning for companionship and love, a desire to subordinate themselves to the will of others, or something greater than themselves, let’s put it that way, that feminists have interpreted as a fundamentally kind of misogynistic or sexist outlook.
Whereas now, you know, with the coming of somebody like Beyonce, you have these lyrics that literally are like, I don’t need you. I don’t need a man. All men are trash. I’m going to keep stacking my bills. And it’s this form of feminism that I find to be very callous and cretinous, and ultimately counterproductive.
EW: [00:32:44]: That’s actually, I mean let’s take what you just said. It was actually, weirdly, on both sides of the gender aisle. For example, let’s say John Denver when he sings about, “kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for…” He talks about when I come back I’ll bring your wedding ring. Like he’s excited about the fact that he’s screwed up in this relationship.
And he says, I’ve played around. And then he says, but I realize how important this is and I’m going to make it right. And I’m excited about becoming betrothed to you.
AK: [00:33:24]: Right, I’m gonna make amends.
EW: [00:33:26]: Well, not only make amends. You know, like when Beyonce – I mean just to connect these two data points – she’s saying, if you like it, you should put a ring on it. That’s really what she wanted. But like you didn’t exercise your options – very transactional. So now I’m up in the club getting jiggy with this other guy. You shouldn’t be upset.
AK: [00:33:48]: Yeah, yeah, sure. It is a very kind of transactional ethos that permeates all. Like there is this like kind of stupid trend on Twitter that people were mocking because other people were tweeting out kind of empathy templates.
So you know, somebody texts you and they’re like, “Hey, I’m like really going through a hard time. I’m getting a divorce, my mom’s dying of cancer,” whatever. You fire back with like, “Hey, I’m currently at capacity. Do you know somebody else who slash, I’m going through some personal problems too slash…?” And it’s like a kind of prefabricated template for how you should respond to a person in need.
EW: [00:34:27]: Wow.
AK: [00:34:28]: Yeah. This is a thing.
EW: [00:34:29]: This is how we do it now?
AK: [00:34:30]: Yeah. You’re so lucky. You’re so lucky that all this stuff is way over your head. I have to live with this every day and it shrinks my will and libido to live. But it’s like this kind of thing that is hyper transactional. All relations have become so transactional.
EW: [00:34:48]: All relationships, look, my take on this is that all relationships have an aspect of exchange, but that what distinguishes the transactional from the rich relationship is how many layers of indirection separate the people involved from the exchange. So dinner and a movie is a lot more abstract than turning a trick on a street corner.
And then you, you go further. You know, with courtship, it becomes incredibly distant in terms of the number of layers. And what we don’t recognize is that those layers of indirection are essential to a rich life.
AK: [00:35:28]: Yeah, and a rich emotional life. And what we’re dealing with now are people who, if they are not economically impoverished, are spiritually impoverished because they have no institutions or values on which to depend.
EW: [00:35:47]: Okay. So this gets me back to like your crazy podcasts and your persona. So,` first of all, I mean, you’re playing with all sorts of associations and breaking them in ways that the indicia and the underlying, like the proximate and ultimate are separated. So I normally associate vocal fry and uptalking with stupidity.
AK: [00:36:09]: Right.
EW: [00:36:09]: I don’t associate it with your level of insight and commentary. You guys sound stoned out of your mind. And there’s a tremendous amount of vocal fry, but what it speaks to is this like crazy metacognitive distance that you and your cohost have from the topics that you’re discussing. And you’re sort of, you’re constantly bemused by this sort of very weird period of the human condition.
Is that wrong?
AK: [00:36:38]: I think bemused is a nice way of putting it. I think that we’re very frustrated.
EW: [00:36:46]: What do you want?
AK: [00:36:48]: I don’t know. Like all women, we don’t know what we want. No, I mean, I think I want…
EW: [00:36:53]: I think you do know what you want.
AK: [00:36:54]: I think I want, I mean, on a kind of broad social level, I think that we have to take kind of the old Nietzschean adage, “God is dead,” right?
People always interpret that as, you know, I think people have a tendency to interpret it as, “God is dead and therefore we can get like weird septum piercings and tattoos sleeves and go fucking and sucking in polyamorous arrangements.” And that’s not at all what he meant. He meant, “God is dead and now it is up to secular humanity to replace the value system that was evacuated with the death of God with an equally viable one.”
EW: [00:37:32]: Do you think that’s possible?
AK: [00:37:33]: No. I don’t know. But I, you know, what else can we do? You know?
Dasha says to me like, you have to stay cheerful in the face of adversity like the Greeks.
EW: [00:37:44]: Yeah. Well alright, so I mean, in part, and I don’t know how long the show is going to get away with it, but ultimately it’s about, for me, recognizing what the religious impulse was. It was a load bearing structure of our civilization because it caused you to think in intergenerational terms. Like in the shared part of our tradition, the Jewish tradition, the concept of generation-to-generation goes under the name “l’dor v’dor”, from generation to generation.
And that thing about you have to be seeing yourself. You have to subordinate and submit and like this is against the ethos of our time, but it occurs everywhere because our Soma, the parts of us that are non-reproductive, are finite. They always die. And, if you do not link yourself in a chain with others, then Rome has to be built in a day because there’s nothing more.
AK: [00:38:47]: Yeah. It’s over for you hoes, as we say.
EW: [00:38:50]: Well, that was far more eloquent.
AK: [00:38:52]: Yeah. But I mean, it’s true. And look, I mean, investing, or kind of honoring posterity is a means of investing in the future. It’s a means of envisioning yourself in a greater human chain – a human centipede of drudgery and debauchery.
And what’s lost now, I mean, this is like the cardinal sin – right? – in neoliberal discourse is subordinating your will to somebody else.
EW: [00:39:22]: It’s bizarre.
AK: [00:39:23]: And to see this kind of ethos then flourish on the so-called left is profoundly dispiriting.
EW: [00:39:30]: Well, it’s such a simplistic version of empowerment. And it’s one of the things that I’ve advocated repeatedly. So in terms of, I’m going to take your adage and start repeating myself loudly and often. I keep saying that magic happens when people pass power back and forth. If you retain all your power, then you don’t get to the magic of giving your power to somebody else and having them give you an equal amount, you know, of a different kind of back. And so we never actually build those super powerful relationships, when we’re hoarding our power saying I’m not going to give anything up.
You’re interested in motherhood, like for yourself?
AK: [00:40:12]: For myself, of course, but in general. I mean I think this is the most kind of noble, honorable institution on the planet.
EW: [00:40:20]: And it really matters. I mean, this is one of the things that a family friend who is very dear to me took me aside at some point and said, “You want to know something magical? Look at your children. That’s what happens when a PhD stays home to raise them.” You know? And it was just like…
AK: [00:40:38]: Are you getting a little verklempt? That’s beautiful.
EW: [00:40:40]: I get way too verklempt on this show.
But it’s, you know, my wife was out of the workforce for like 10 years or something. And, you know, she came back, you know, with, mentally, guns blazing.
But I think that this hatred of motherhood has to be acknowledged. First of all, it’s denied. “Aw, we don’t hate motherhood. We just think it’s about choice.” But you look at it, and the mommies who work and the mommies who don’t – one gender is built to reproduce our species. And I just, I can’t stand what we’ve done to it.
AK: [00:41:21]: Yeah. And there’s kind of no honoring also among men or women of the gender difference, which exists. It’s very real and palpable. And I think feminists have this idea that, if we acknowledge that we’re different, we’re acknowledging that we’re unequal. And that’s not at all the case. We’re differently equal. We’re differently abled.
EW: [00:41:48]: So this is the weird thing. If you try to make this argument at the level of like racial groups or geographically separated groups, there really isn’t a great way of saying that there should be equality because there’s no reason that separated groups should have variables, having common means. Within a group, there actually is this weird principle of Fisher, the biological theorist, which says that it is as good to be female as male from the perspective of the fitness of the two genders as strategy.
AK: [00:42:23]: Right.
EW: [00:42:24]: And the problem with it is that you have to… – what fails is what you might call the Ginger Rogers principle. So, as the joke goes, Ginger Rogers could do everything Fred Astaire could do, but backwards and in heels. And the feminist version of this is women are as good or better at everything men can do except peeing standing up. And that can’t possibly be the case if Fisher’s theory is to hold, because then women would simply be better. Unless peeing standing up was like the be all and end all, which I mean, it’s pretty good, but it’s not that good. That’s part of the problem which is, if you claim that you’re better at something, biology tells you you have to be worse at something else.
AK: [00:43:09]: Right, so that there’s a kind of an implicit trade off, right? Or balance, let’s say.
EW: [00:43:15]: Well then it gets to this really like… – here, let’s get into trouble with psychologists and psychiatrists. The whole co-dependence concept – yes, there is something which is really dysfunctional – but a lot of interdependence is labeled as co-dependence and the modern notion that you should be a completely functional person who can do everything and able to walk out on a moment’s notice, that completely destroys the concept of coupling.
AK: [00:43:41]: Yeah, I mean I think this all goes back to the atomizing logic of the market. And my big issue, I think, my big critique, kind of the central organizing theme of my work, is this idea that progressive activism is now effectively marching in lockstep with the very market imperatives that they are opposed to on the face of things. It’s maddening.
EW: [00:44:08]: And it’s so intellectually incoherent it’s kind of amazing that it’s still hanging together as a pseudo philosophy.
AK: [00:44:16]: Yeah.
EW: [00:44:17]: Alright, so now like I feel like you’re revealed. You’re somehow reveling on your podcast in this like really dangerous kind of memes which suggests, you know, I don’t know, royalty plunged into boredom and cocaine and wanton sexuality. But, in fact, underneath it, you’re coming from an academic tradition and, you know, embracing very traditional values. There’s no reason to leave left-of-center thinking because traditionally what has the left been? It’s been about empowering working families.
AK: [00:44:54]: Right. And that’s what I’m interested in. It’s funny that so many of my critics and I, if you really look at us, it’s like, you know, the narcissism of small differences. Like, we are completely indistinguishable to like an Afghani fig farmer. You know? 99% of our politics are equivalent.
EW: [00:45:12]: Are they?
AK: [00:45:13]: I’m sure. I mean, like…
EW: [00:45:15]: Who are you pissing off?
AK: [00:45:18]: I think people that kind of are self-identified as leftists, but are basically, and I say this with like the most empathy possible because I understand their position, feel completely insecure and precarious in the market. They feel that they have no future.
I, up until a year or two ago, felt that I have no future. It was really a tossup. You know?
EW: [00:45:42]: What happened when you got a future?
AK: [00:45:43]: I mean, I started this podcast and it…
EW: [00:45:46]: I know. But, I mean what happened? Did you have a physiological change?
AK: [00:45:50]: Physiological?
EW: [00:45:52]: Like when I’ve been shit out of luck, and then I get some luck, the chemicals that are running through my body are totally different.
AK: [00:46:00]: Yeah. I mean, you start to even like look more like resplendent and wonderful and whatever, but…
EW: [00:46:05]: You get plumage.
AK: [00:46:06]: Yeah. You get plumage. I think like, but this is the first time I mean I’m 34 years old. I’m kind of like an old geezer by millennial achievement standards. You know, it’s like you have to be like 23 when you peak or something.
But again, I’m merely an individual. Right? And there’s a whole generation of people who are like now left behind.
EW: [00:46:32]: Do you know my friend Peter Thiel at all?
AK: [00:46:35]: I mean, not personally.
EW: [00:46:37]: So he’s got a great quote. I don’t know whether he said it publicly, probably has, but he says things to me and I just, I kick myself for not having thought of them first. He says a Boomer’s golden era is in his or her 20s, a Gen-Xer’s in his or her 50s. And then he looks at me and he says, “And we’re just getting started.”
It’s like I didn’t get suddenly interesting like in the last few years because I ate a mushroom. It was, there’s this thing I’ve called the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex, or the DISC.
AK: [00:47:12]: Is this your coinage?
EW: [00:47:13]: Yeah, I coin lots of stuff.
AK: [00:47:15]: Yeah, you coin a lot of…
EW: [00:47:16]: Yeah. But then, the weird thing is you watch it in the world and it only works if you’re coining something that people actually recognize is real. It’s not like you can make up anything and it just goes. But, there is this thing that tried to suppress all ideas.
It’s still working. Like they’re trying to make Andrew Yang not appear on MSNBC on any of the graphics, or Tulsi gets dropped at every opportunity.
This thing just doesn’t want to hear that there’s a massive intergenerational transfer where the two vampiric generations of the Silents and the Boomers transfuse the Xers and the Millennials in order to allow them to live in the style to which they’ve become accustomed. And like the most obvious place that you see this is the university system.
AK: [00:48:02]: Explain that.
EW: [00:48:03]: Oh, it was a pyramid scheme that was expanding. And when the growth that was natural in the system ran out, there was no way to give people professorships who had been contributing their youth to the research of those above them.
AK: [00:48:23]: Right.
EW: [00:48:24]: And so what the universities did, almost every top university loaded up on administrators and then made tuition insanely expensive and made it impossible to get rid of the debt in bankruptcy so that you can die, you know, getting a Social Security check and still paying your student loans.
AK: [00:48:41]: Mmhmm.
EW: [00:48:43]: I’m going to do a show hopefully with Sugar Baby University, which is a program inside of “seeking arrangement” sugar dating, where it would appear that the appeal is that young women who are – and some men – burdened with student debt can graduate debt free by dating older, successful people and getting an allowance every month. Which I think is just like…
It’s weird to imagine a generation sort of selling its daughters into borderline commercial sex work.
AK: [00:49:17]: Yeah. I mean, it’s monstrous. And the idea that you would institutionalize this with like a degree. It’s like the University of Pheonix for hookers?
EW: [00:49:27]: And then you’d yell at people like – “Why don’t you get a job bussing tables to pay off your student loans?” – when student tuition has gone, you know, above medical tuition, which is above regular inflation. I mean, sorry, medical inflation is above regular inflation, and tuition inflation is above medical.
The whole thing is mad, but the system couldn’t be kept together.
AK: [00:49:49]: Right.
EW: [00:49:50]: And so that is an intergenerational transfusing.
AK: [00:49:53]: Yeah. I mean, look, one of the biggest rackets in this country after management consulting is the idea that all people should go to college. I think Germany has it, right? They send most of them to vocational programs. The idea that you should even be paying, you know, $40,000 a semester in tuition to get a Communications degree as a super senior for five years is preposterous. Nobody needs to be saddled…
EW: [00:50:19]: [whispers] You’re gonna blow it.
AK: [00:50:20]: Huh?
EW: [00:50:20]: You’re going to blow it for these generations.
AK: [00:50:21]: Yeah. Why?
EW: [00:50:22]: Because it’s a scam, man! They turned the most amazing part of our country into this wealth transfer scam. It’s just, it’s funny, but it’s painful.
AK: [00:50:34]: Yeah. And, it’s horrible, I was thinking about, you know, the kind of, the idea of, are you familiar with this concept, stiob, the Russian parody genre?
EW: [00:50:48]: [speaking Russian]
AK: [00:50:49]: Stiob, stiob. We can get into this later because it’s a whole…
EW: [00:50:52]: Don’t know it.
AK: [00:50:54]: I think that, like to really understand the Trump era, for example, you have to view it through this particular lens.
EW: [00:51:02]: Well give it to me.
AK: [00:51:03]: It’s a late-Soviet parody genre or style that involves an over-identification so extreme that it’s unclear whether you’re authentically endorsing a position or perpetuating an elaborate troll.
EW: [00:51:21]: Ok.
AK: [00:51:21]: So it’s basically a post-ironic gesture. If you look at like the golden age of liberal entertainment, as you know, Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, which was kind of characterized by… – This is a really long winded digression. I didn’t mean to go here.
EW: [00:51:39]: Drink up, lets do it!
AK: [00:51:39]: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll keep going. [The Daily Show was]: characterized by, you know, this kind of snarky, implicitly moral, morally superior, ironic posture. That was, I think, supplanted eventually by this kind of stiob over-identification where it’s unclear, for example, with people like me and Dasha, it’s unclear what position we’re actually endorsing, right? And Trump, for example, is the master of this strategy. And so he plays…
EW: [00:52:15]: So do we both acknowledge that Trump has some crazy genius to him?
AK: [00:52:19]: I think he’s a total genius.
EW: [00:52:20]: Alright, good.
AK: [00:52:21]: But I think that he’s an artistic genius, not a political genius.
EW: [00:52:23]: Yeah, he’s an artistic genius.
AK: [00:52:24]: I think that he’s an artist. He’s a Gemini, just like my mother, and my mom hates Trump, with like a fire, because they’re the same person down to the kind of miserable cunty expression they kind of emote when they’re in an irritated mood. It’s really something.
EW: [00:52:41]: How is that Kantian?
AK: [00:52:43]: Kantian? Cunty, cunty.
- whispers* I’m joking.
AK: [00:52:45]: Am I…? Oh, okay. I’m very gullible, which is why I’m not a troll. But you take somebody like Trump, the guy is so over invested in performing his own incompetence that any parody of him by an outsider reads as cringy and overdetermined, which is why SNL has sucked for the last…
EW: [00:53:06]: In part, you have to get something right before you can parody it, right?
AK: [00:53:10]: Yeah.
EW: [00:53:11]: And, I don’t know if you ever saw this video. I think it’s called something like, because of the music, “In the Hall of the Trumpian King.”
AK: [00:53:21]: No.
EW: [00:53:22]: Okay. So it’s all of these liberal comedians from this golden era that you’re talking about, in the most knowing and oppressive way possible, saying, “Buddy, you’re not gonna win. Come on. We all know it.” And everyone’s saying like, “Oh, please run. Oh, it’ll be so entertaining.” Like there’s no concept that this is real.
AK: [00:53:44]: Yes. Yeah.
EW: [00:53:45]: And every single one of those people who appeared on this, including John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, became unfunny to me in just about everything that they did after. They went so over the top…
AK: [00:53:57]: Yeah. Momentarily, yeah.
EW: [00:53:59]: That they showed that they didn’t understand, like you can’t mock this stuff.
AK: [00:54:05]: And what a betrayal, like on a Freudian level, what a collective betrayal of parental authority that was. We really believed in these guys that they could parse sarcasm.
EW: [00:54:16]: They believed in them. But this is this thing I’ve called the Gated Institutional Narrative. It was protected against reality. I mean, I don’t know whether because of your…
AK: [00:54:26]: You have to publish like a coffee table book of your coinages and neologisms.
EW: [00:54:32]: I’d rather you make fun of them on Red Scare. That could actually be fun.
One of the things that, and again, this shows you how twisted my soul is, but, as a pastime, I sometimes watch the last days of the Ceausescu’s in Romania, because like right up until the end…
AK: [00:54:51]: You go on Porn Hub and Google the execution?
EW: [00:54:55]: Right, under “Slavic milf”.
AK: [00:54:59]: Yeah.
EW: [00:55:01]: It’s very much, like there’s a rally and somehow the rally goes out of control. And order has to be restored, and the cameras have to break the filming of what’s going on. And so, right at the end, they’ve got their shrinking group of loyalists who are still terrified that these people are going to, you know, regain power because that’s the way it’s always been, but everywhere the spell is broken.
And, I guess that’s sort of what I saw is that this thing was just, it was an American version of propaganda that had been so believed that, when it started not to be true, the organs just kept pumping out all of this encouragement that, you know, think Hillary’s going to win. There’s no question. She’s inevitable.
AK: [00:55:56]: I mean, even now they’re running, you know, Kamala’s out so they’re really going whole hog with Buttigieg. But yeah, there’s a certain lag in between the Progressive and Trumpian, and between kind of like traditional Democrats and conservatives and the Trump administration.
And I think like Trump, uniquely among world leaders, possibly in the history of the world, has been able to do this thing – I mean, I wrote a whole essay about it – he was able to do what the Russian avant-garde and the Socialist Realists had been trying to do – these two kind of sequential propaganda-like arms of the culture industry in the Soviet union – which is achieve a total synthesis of the material and the imaginable, or the imaginative.
EW: [00:56:56]: Sounds really good. Slow it down and give it to me.
AK: [00:56:59]: I mean, you know, it’s kind of like the typical like Soviet avant-garde idea that we were creating a total synthesis of art in life, like a single kind of art political project. And Trump alone has been able to do this, though, crucially, under a very capitalist, not communist, regime. He’s been able to marry what we imagine and what is materially possible.
EW: [00:57:32]: Yeah. He’s been very ineffective in bringing in an entire, like there is no theory of Trump.
AK: [00:57:42]: Yeah.
EW: [00:57:42]: Because almost no one either on his side or on the opposition’s side actually understands how much method he brings. And it’s cryptic, so it looks…
AK: [00:57:53]: Right, there’s a lot of indirection. He understands indirection.
EW: [00:57:55]: He does, but he’s got these formulas and I can’t tell you how bizarre it is. I mean, you probably know my friend, Sam Harris, who was sitting here and we were having this argument, friendly, but an argument nonetheless.
AK: [00:58:08]: I’m gonna rub this seat for good luck.
EW: [00:58:11]: Alot of weird stuff has happened in that chair.
AK: [00:58:13]: Has Joe Rogan ever sat in this seat?
EW: [00:58:16]: Not yet.
AK: [00:58:16]: I have a crush on Joe Rogan. I know he’s married, but…
EW: [00:58:19]: I think everyone does.
AK: [00:58:19]: Yeah. Everybody does.
EW: [00:58:20]: Yeah.
AK: [00:58:21]: I think that he really could be the guy who could run and win against Trump.
EW: [00:58:25]: He does not want me to talk about this.
AK: [00:58:27]: Okay, you can edit it out.
EW: [00:58:29]: Well no, because he’s got a great life, and the fact that everybody loves him causes people to sort of do weird things in his presence. He just wants to be a regular guy. He’s also, you know, and I don’t mind saying this behind his…
AK: [00:58:43]: “Average Joe.”
EW: [00:58:45]: That he is not. I mean, he’s running an incredible operation. But, whatever it is, there’s a lot of method there because, if you think about how difficult it is to churn these shows out and to keep them fresh, it’s almost impossible. So there’s a ton of genius going on in Joe’s front.
He has not come yet, but we agreed to do each other’s podcasts.
AK: [00:59:08]: Okay.
EW: [00:59:09]: What Sam did was to say that he, Sam, thought that Trump was the evil Chauncey Gardner. That that was his theory of mind. And I thought that is insane. I mean, Sam and I tried to have it out. We can’t see each other’s point. I’m not saying that Sam is wrong, but I see so much method to Trump’s trolling.
AK: [00:59:31]: And he doesn’t, he thinks that this is all kind of like…?
EW: [00:59:33]: I think what he does, you know, another thing I say is that Sam is more focused on honesty and I’m more focused on meta-honesty.
AK: [00:59:41]: Okay.
EW: [00:59:42]: Trump is not an honest person, but in a weird way, he is meta-honest.
AK: [00:59:47]: So he’s right when he says he’s an honest person because on some level he is, yeah.
EW: [00:59:51]: Yeah. So but, what we care about is that, like for example, Trump knows the liberal mind is automated and, as soon as you break through one of its shibboleths, it has an automated non-thinking reflexive reaction. And he can map that, and then he can say, “Okay, I’ll do something that will cause the reflexive reaction, but I will put something in place, which is totally different so that when you have that reflexive reaction, you will be shown to be an NPC.”
AK: [01:00:25]: Mmhmm. Well, am I allowed to look at my phone? There was that hilarious tweet.
EW: [01:00:30]: I will stall for you.
AK: [01:00:31]: No, that’s okay. I don’t even have to, but I have to look at my phone every 10 minutes or else I die.
There is that tweet that he had today about Greta Thunberg and how she needs to get her like anger issues under control, which was hilarious. It’s so wrong. But it’s so, I mean, the man has like the Midas touch when it comes to Twitter. I’m jealous of his game.
EW: [01:00:48]: But let’s talk about that Tweet. So Greta is this self-described autistic girl who’s mad as hell about climate and who is being, even if she has authenticity to her, there’s an entirely inauthentic complex that is settled on her that wants to use her the way the World Wildlife Federation used the panda bear as charismatic megafauna. So in some sense, Greta, the actual human is also the charismatic megafauna of a propaganda campaign, which is lying in order to probably tell the truth.
So you’ve got this real climate emergency. You should be able to do a truthful campaign, but that can’t work. So you have to do a lying campaign and you use an actual human being as your mascot.
AK: [01:01:37]: Right.
EW: [01:01:37]: So it’s like layers and layers of confusion. And the idea, of course, is that you can’t attack an autistic child, particularly a female one because she’s angry. And so Trump sees opportunity and he’s gonna go at the layer where he’s going to say, “She has anger management issues. She should get it under control. Go to an old fashioned movie with friends.” And then he uses, “Chill, Greta, chill,” where “chill” is both an admonition in terms of “chill out”, but also a reference to global cooling.
AK: [01:02:14]: Right. Yeah. And also keep in mind all of this just days after on the heels of the Pamela Karlan remark about Barron Trump that prompted Melania to tweet, in her little baby daddy voice, “Do not talk to my minor son that way.” You know, I love when, I read everything in her like sexy baby voice.
EW: [01:02:38]: Yeah. By the way, I’m so jealous of you because I can’t say anything like that because you have the XX going. You can get away with murder.
AK: [01:02:47]: Yeah. The XX and like advanced – what’s it called? – like wet brain from my years of being a Russian alcoholic.
So this woman who’s a state witness for the impeachment proceedings ostensibly insults Trump’s kid, and that’s not kosher. But he can insult a 16 year old climate change activist.
EW: [01:03:13]: Because this is this whole thing. So, if you look at how complex this troll is, he is appealing to all of the people who see the manipulation of the real Greta for this fake campaign, which in my opinion is actually crowding out the real campaign that should be there because climate is an issue, but it’s misportrayed because it has to be done in a simplistic fashion. So you’ve got like millions of layers there and Trump is finding his support in the people who see through part of it.
AK: [01:03:46]: Yes.
EW: [01:03:47]: Okay. The other thing is that he does have this thing where he knows that, because his own child has been brought in as a combatant, that he should be allowed to do something like this.
AK: [01:04:01]: He should be able to use somebody else’s child as a human shield.
EW: [01:04:04]: Well, particularly one that is being pushed forward by Time as Person of the Year.
AK: [01:04:08]: Yes. Oh God, are we there yet? We’re there. Okay.
EW: [01:04:12]: It happened, didn’t it?
AK: [01:04:13]: Oh, I thought Lizzo was the Person of the Year.
EW: [01:04:15]: I thought it was Greta.
AK: [01:04:16]: Oh, I don’t know. They should just mud wrestle and get it over with. Anyway, go ahead.
EW: [01:04:21]: Okay, so in any event, that was a perfect version of this isn’t Trump, the child; this is Trump, the master strategist. It’s a trap because the liberal or left-of-center mind just says, “Whoa, Trump attacked an autistic girl!” And, if that was the simplicity of it, they’d be right. And it’s in no way shape or form the simplicity of it.
AK: [01:04:47]: Right. But he’s really kind of a genius at doing that. And it’s so sad that he… – there is no avant garde art. I mean I said this on my podcast. Avant garde art today is the sum of the Trump PR team’s social media output coupled with the kind of unintentional comic fallout of woke ad campaigns.
EW: [01:05:13]: Well, for example, you use the word “retarded.”
AK: [01:05:15]: Yes.
EW: [01:05:17]: If I were to say, “I am really offended. I have a developmentally-challenged relative,” you might respond, “Oh, I don’t think retarded people are retarded.”
AK: [01:05:29]: Yeah.
EW: [01:05:29]: Right? And they wouldn’t understand that it’s a comment on an overloaded term.
AK: [01:05:34]: Right. Well, it’s a commentary, it’s a critique, it’s a mockery of people who disingenuously oppose the use of the word. It’s not actually a commentary or a mockery of actually disabled people.
EW: [01:05:50]: But you could see that there was a reason. I mean, as somebody who developmentally struggled in school, I have a certain…
AK: [01:05:59]: Oh, we’re talking – I was like, are you talking about you or me?
EW: [01:06:01]: Me.
AK: [01:06:01]: I was like, “You don’t know me. You can’t judge me.” Anyway, go on.
EW: [01:06:05]: Well, as somebody who struggled in school, I have some sensitivity around, like being, you know, having somebody say, like, if they see my handwriting, people will say like, “Are you an ax murderer?” You know?
AK: [01:06:19]: What’s your handwriting?
EW: [01:06:22]: Doesn’t look like anything.
AK: [01:06:23]: Okay.
EW: [01:06:24]: It looks like Jackson Pollock.
AK: [01:06:25]: It looks like prisoner scrawls. Yeah.
EW: [01:06:27]: Yeah.
AK: [01:06:27]: I love that Trump’s handwriting, by the way, is very bubbly and girlish. You can almost see him drawing a heart above the “i” like they did in high school.
EW: [01:06:32]: Oh definitely, yeah. I was very like angular and swoopy.
But, I can see how it started, but then it became like the language police and it’s completely out of control.
AK: [01:06:49]: Yeah. I mean look, I resent being policed by people who were guilty of the same crimes, you know, just 18 months ago or whatever.
EW: [01:06:59]: Yeah.
AK: [01:07:01]: I resent in general, not people, but how the culture, the system, or whatever you want to call it, has become so callous, so transactional, so interested in meting out kind of punitive justice, and so incapable of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
There’s no largess of spirit. Nobody believes that anybody does anything out of like humor or jouissance anymore.
EW: [01:07:26]: Well because, in many ways, it’s become like a scavenger hunt where you have to collect: Do you have the head of a racist? Do you have the head of a misogynist? Do you have the head of an anti-Semite? And then you get bingo if you call out all of these people. So partially it’s a reward structure.
I think one of the ways, which was called out – and I hate that term, but there you are – really well by Joe is that he had, I watched him work up a routine over several nights on “wrestling is gay.” And he starts off with “wrestling is really gay.” And because “gay” is an epithet, in some cases, people made the association, “Okay, wrestling is stupid.” That’s not what he said. He said, “Wrestling is gay.”
So they take the bait. This is very Trumpian, but this is Joe doing it as a comic. And he says, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. You just completed that in your mind. I didn’t say what you think I said.” And then now you’re in the pitcher plant, or the Venus flytrap is closed. And he says, “Let’s think about this. You got two guys in gold shorts with lace-up booties rolling around in sweat…”
AK: [01:08:41]: Rubbing each other’s bodies together. Yeah.
EW: [01:08:43]: “If this isn’t gay, what is?” Well, when he starts doing it that way, you realize that you took the bait. You had an automated reaction, as opposed to a thoughtful one. And that shows off the comic skill by laying the trap.
I mean, you saw another one of these with Dave Chappelle where he says, “I’m going to do an impression of the audience.” And the audience is insufferable. You know, he says, “I’m going to do an impression. I’m going to ruin your life and I’m gonna make it impossible for you to earn a living.”
And like, people thought it was Trump. And he says, “No, it’s you.” So the fourth wall is broken. The finger is pointed.
AK: [01:09:21]: Mmhmm, yeah. I mean look, and that’s on some level – I feel like I shouldn’t be fully confessional because that’ll take away some of the allure and the mystique – but this is what I do with my Twitter. I set things up in such a way that people always inevitably take the bait. And it’s not because I like to…
EW: [01:09:40]: Those people don’t watch this program, don’t worry.
AK: [01:09:42]: Yeah. They don’t. Yeah. This is true.
And the thing that’s so, kind of – it’s eternally amusing and yet disheartening.
My only goal, you know, now that I’m like a glass of red deep, is to get people to think and to draw their own conclusions. But when they do think – this is why, you know, democracy on some level isn’t possible -when they do…
Now we’re getting into the ASMR portion. Now, this sounds like my podcast we’re like popping bottles, pouring wine. I’m going to light up in this studio. Just kidding.
But, when people do kind of get their little engines turning, they always somehow – or the people that I’m used to dealing with, at any rate – always somehow draw the worst possible, least mutually-flattering conclusion. That speaks volumes about where the culture at large is at.
EW: [01:10:47]: But when you look at yourself metacognitively. Like, I have this thing that I called “the robot”, which is the thing that I observe making these automated decisions. And then I have another thing I call “the metacognitive perch” where I watch my robotic self and I’m just horrified by what decision it makes, how it conducts itself.
I see you as having this distance as an intrinsic part of your personality and the person I’m talking to is really sitting on the metacognitive perch.
AK: [01:11:16]: Yeah, I mean, but this is the kind of blessing and burden of being a dysfunctional, traumatized Russian person. It sucks being Russian.
EW: [01:11:28]: What are you talking about?
AK: [01:11:30]: No, you see the chess board.
EW: [01:11:31]: Yeah…
AK: [01:11:32]: Which is, it’s more of a burden than it is a blessing because it makes life very difficult to live.
EW: [01:11:40]: Say more.
AK: [01:11:41]: You know, I sympathize with people like Bret Easton Ellis and Michel Houellebecq, who were my two favorite novelists – people will laugh because I’m not reading like Flaubert, Balzac – because they have this metacognitive perch.
Their books are about metacommentary. It’s social commentary disguised as fiction, which to me is kind of the most elite form of writing.
EW: [01:12:08]: Well, so Brett sat in your chair and we talked about this issue – that I had accused him of privatizing our mutual childhood since we came from the same milieu. And, he talked about the importance of the narrator, I guess Clay, in Less Than Zero, who’s detached from the horrors of what he’s seeing. He’s weirdly drawn, just the way we are to look at an auto accident, but he’s also just, clinically, kind of detailing, “Well this is what happened.”
And, you know, somehow I brought up Joan Didion in that session and he confessed that this was his favorite author. And I think about her detachment where she was watching the sort of the 60s debauchery and he was watching the 70s debauchery and just the sense of having a traditional sensibility viewing the destruction of traditional, like you can see that this is a very long unraveling of the fabric of society.
AK: [01:13:24]: Yeah. And that’s, I mean, that’s my beef with all of these critiques of Houellebecq, right? The primary one being that he’s kind of a nihilist and a misogynist. And, in my mind – especially with this new book, Serotonin, which I don’t know if you’ve read, but if you haven’t, you should read it – it’s, you know, a giant eulogy for the decline of Western civilization and the moral failure of liberal consensus. But the main question, the kind of principle organizing theme of his work, in my mind, has always been, “Is love possible under advanced capitalism?”
What kind of nihilist is it that concerns himself with a question as meaningful and significant as, the possibility, the question of love?
EW: [01:14:10]: Why do you think that comes up?
AK: [01:14:12]: What?
EW: [01:14:13]: In order for that book to be interesting, that question has to be interesting. What makes that question interesting?
AK: [01:14:20]: Whether love is possible under advanced capitalism?
EW: [01:14:23]: If I said, “Is transportation by automobile possible under advanced capitalism?” It wouldn’t be an interesting question.
AK: [01:14:34]: Right.
EW: [01:14:35]: So why is it even a question, “Is love possible?”
AK: [01:14:39]: Because I think, you know, a vast, kind of, significant majority of people – at least people who are kind of inoculated into some sort of intellectual society or professional society, professional class – believe that it’s not, or suspect that it’s not.
EW: [01:14:59]: Well, but what is it, life for example, if I were to ask you the… – go ahead.
AK: [01:15:05]: No, I suspect that they actually want it to be true that love is not possible under advanced capitalism because then that offloads their own say in the matter of, their own responsibility, to the system or whatever.
EW: [01:15:25]: If I asked, “Are novels possible to read, like are great novels possible to read in the age of Twitter?”
AK: [01:15:35]: Sure. Yeah. They’re possible to read. I don’t know that they’re possible to write.
EW: [01:15:39]: Or to feel? I’m not even, I’m not positive that they are. Many of us have noticed a bizarre inability to plunge into a book. We think of ourselves as booked people.
AK: [01:15:49]: Right.
EW: [01:15:50]: But we don’t – we feel that our brains have been rewired. Much the way porn has changed the way in which we find our lovers, I think that Twitter has changed the way we find our novels.
AK: [01:16:03]: Right. On some level, yeah. And I mean, there’s no longer a need or, I don’t know about a desire, but there’s no longer kind of a necessity for a work of art that has a long-form expository narrative structure.
EW: [01:16:21]: I totally disagree.
AK: [01:16:22]: You think that, I mean, I think most people don’t sense that…
EW: [01:16:26]: Television got so weirdly good. Nobody was expecting that.
AK: [01:16:31]: Right.
EW: [01:16:32]: But TV came out of nowhere. Modern TV has longer narrative arcs than any movie.
AK: [01:16:38]: Yes, because the movie industry was completely eroded, right?
EW: [01:16:43]: Or because The Sopranos and Mad Men and all that figured out something we didn’t understand.
AK: [01:16:48]: Yeah, but I think TV is also like, watching is meaningfully different from reading.
EW: [01:16:53]: Well, I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if you think about this from an evolutionary perspective, there’s kind of an adaptive landscape for various forms of memetic dissemination of story narrative information. And some of them have gotten terrible. But like, if you looked at 1970s television – I went back to look at The Love Boat from my youth – it’s unwatchable.
AK: [01:17:21]: Right. I can imagine.
EW: [01:17:23]: But Game of Thrones is weirdly, strangely compelling.
AK: [01:17:26]: Yes, it is. Yeah.
EW: [01:17:27]: And the way in which movies, like there was just this transfer of wealth from cinema into the idiot box. And that’s fascinating because everything else tells us… – or long form podcasting is a very strange parallel structure.
Where are attention spans getting really long? They’re getting long somewhere.
AK: [01:17:51]: Somewhere. Yeah. It’s being transferred. I mean, you know, I had this thought earlier today in my hungover state where it dawned on me – I had a little bit of a kind of like a feminine imposter syndrome moment – and I was like, “This is ridiculous that I’m like going on this guy’s podcast. I’m some hostess from Bushwick,” you know? And then I thought…
EW: [01:18:10]: On who’s podcast? Mine?
AK: [01:18:10]: Yeah. And I was like, you know, that’s retarded, it’s gay, whatever. It’s all this kind of bevy of ridiculous words. It’s like completely…
EW: [01:18:17]: By the way, to all the advertisers who just left the program, it’s been a great run. Thank you.
AK: [01:18:21]: Yeah. But, then I think about it, and I see that with podcasting there is the possibility of a revival of the era of the public intellectual, which is something that people crave also. Like the new, as undignified as it sounds, the new class of like podcasting personas will possibly be able to revive something like that image or social role. Which is important, I think.
EW: [01:18:56]: Well, I think you could also look at this a little bit like William Tell, or yeah, Philippe Petit walking the tightrope between the twin towers. Part of what makes longform podcasting exciting is the idea that we could screw up at any moment and destroy our names and reputations. And I think that that…
AK: [01:19:18]: Should I do it for you now? I can.
EW: [01:19:19]: You started.
AK: [01:19:20]: Yeah, I’m a little wined up now.
EW: [01:19:22]: Is that right?
AK: [01:19:23]: Yeah, yeah.
EW: [01:19:23]: Well, but you see you’re a vice signaler.
AK: [01:19:28]: Uh huh. You said this to me during our power lunch. You have to re… – I say this to the audience, no hint of sarcasm – I really like when men mansplain things to me. I think that it’s fun and cool.
EW: [01:19:43]: So vice signaling – I think more people are talking about it now – but I originally started talking about it because it came out of the theory, for me, of “contract bridge” where you have to say what it is you’re going to do and then you’re judged by whether or not you accomplish that which you said you were going to do.
AK: [01:20:00]: Okay.
EW: [01:20:00]: So what I view modern society is being is a game in which you’re fitted with a white suit that you did not ask for. And then the key question is, “Do you keep it clean or does it become soiled?”
AK: [01:20:15]: Right.
EW: [01:20:16]: Okay. Well, my first belief is you’re crazy to accept a white suit because that’s not going to work out well.
AK: [01:20:22]: Right.
EW: [01:20:23]: So I’ve picked Dan Bilzerian as my example and your fellow Armenian.
AK: [01:20:28]: Another fellow Armenian, yeah.
EW: [01:20:29]: So his thing is guns, drugs, and automatic weapons, and money.
AK: [01:20:37]: Don’t forget the hoes.
EW: [01:20:39]: Sorry. Sorry. Guns – it’s the wine – girls, guns, and drugs, and money. Those are his four big things.
AK: [01:20:52]: Yeah.
EW: [01:20:53]: You can’t embarrass him by saying, “Hey, you just took a bunch of chicks out into the desert and gave them automatic weapons after you coked them up.” Or gave them weed because like, “Yes, that’s my business model.” And, as a result, there’s no industry trying to take down Dan Bilzerian.
AK: [01:21:13]: Right. I mean, I think I said this to you. I don’t remember because I was wined up then too. I said, you know, it’s the same thing with somebody like Howard Stern or Donald Trump. They never promise to respect women, so they can’t get taken down for not respecting women. Meanwhile, all these guys who were playing like the virtue game get, at least, they at least get their reputation tarnished.
EW: [01:21:36]: That’s not true actually, though. The two cases that you talked about, Howard Stern’s original gambit was that he wanted to be lashed to the mast and be surrounded by TNA and just as much cleavage as was possible and then he would do nothing. And so that was his game, was that he was Ulysses. And so it was a promise. And he was married throughout, and then his wife would call up while he was surrounded by temptation.
In the case of Bilzerian, he’s got a different promise. The promise is, “I will not lie to you and you will not lie to me. I’m not telling you that you have to be monogamous with me. I’m not telling you any one of a number of things. I will be straight with you. You will be straight with me. And if we can’t have honesty, then you have to leave.”
AK: [01:22:25]: Okay.
EW: [01:22:26]: So those are incredibly weird gambits. You have to give both of these men their due. They’re very unusual.
AK: [01:22:33]: Right. Are you socially engineering something?
EW: [01:22:37]: Well, my favorite Dan Bilzerian post on Instagram is he’s there I think with no shirt, because he’s also a kind of a confection. He serves himself up as… – he self objectifies.
AK: [01:22:50]: A snack, yeah.
EW: [01:22:52]: And he’s reaching out to this woman who’s more clothed than he is to come up a step somewhere in Greece. And the caption is, “Come with me. I’ll ruin your life, but you’ll have fun.” And like, I really think that’s his proposition.
AK: [01:23:06]: Yeah. I really have to hand it to Armenian men because they alone among men are just as vain as women.
EW: [01:23:14]: Are they?
AK: [01:23:14]: Yeah. They really like to objectify themselves.
EW: [01:23:17]: Well, but you see, in my opinion, women are really the males of the human species because as the adorn gender… – no, no, no, take it seriously.
AK: [01:23:29]: You are now echoing a thesis proposed by this woman, Andrea Long Chu, who’s like a transgender writer, who was also echoing Valerie Solanas who has the same hypothesis. That’s interesting to hear Eric Wein… – you say “WINE-STYNE”?
EW: [01:23:47]: “WINE-STYNE”, yeah.
AK: [01:23:49]: I think the power move, Eric, if I may say so, is to have Harvey on in this chair.
EW: [01:23:57]: No.
AK: [01:23:57]: No, you can’t.
EW: [01:23:59]: No. Well, no. I mean, there are people who’ve been canceled who I’m interested in.
AK: [01:24:05]: Right.
EW: [01:24:06]: And there are people who have been canceled that I’m perfectly happy that they are cancelled.
And this is part of my problem, which is that while… – I mean, this is a difference between us, which is the way I view it is, is that you have accepted the game, but you’re going to behave really badly within it.
AK: [01:24:25]: Right.
EW: [01:24:26]: I haven’t accepted the game. I’ve rejected the game.
AK: [01:24:28]: Okay.
EW: [01:24:29]: And, I understand the motivations for how this woke stuff got started. And I’m sympathetic with them to a point. And I’m completely unsympathetic with how non-self-reflective, and shallow, and mean spirited it is while pretending that it cares. And I’m going to carry that tension.
So you and I are on slightly different missions.
AK: [01:24:53]: Yeah, yeah. You’re going to carry the tension of…?
EW: [01:24:56]: I’m okay being earnest. Like my answer to your Nietzsche point is around you. So for example, you know, this is a three-dimensional projection of a four-dimensional convex polytope, and I find it transcendent.
So I’m holding up – What is this? – 120 cell, which is the name of the convex polytope, which is a generalization of the dodecahedron to four-dimensional space. And you have one over there that’s the 24 cell, which is the unique one that doesn’t correspond to one of the platonic solids.
AK: [01:25:32]: Right.
EW: [01:25:32]: I look at that one by you and I just marvel at it and I think about it the way people think about like Serafin.
AK: [01:25:40]: Yeah.
EW: [01:25:41]: It’s like I don’t have religion in my life at the same level that my ancestors did, but I have the, the wonder of mathematics, and physics, and biology that plugs the same religion-shaped hole in my soul.
AK: [01:25:55]: Yeah.
EW: [01:25:55]: And so that’s how I’ve solved the Nietzsche problem. That’s why I remain earnest, much to the chagrin of some of my listeners.
AK: [01:26:02]: I know, but I actually think that we’re, fundamentally, at the end of the day, on the same page about this.
EW: [01:26:07]: I think we’re very close to being, and I think this is one of the reasons why I covertly brought up your father because this, I think that the Jewish, and the Soviet, and the Armenian, you know, all of these things, these are very old traditions that feel very deeply, and they were naked about caring.
AK: [01:26:32]: Right. And I guess we’re actually, we’re back to where we started. It’s improv, baby!
But there’s this idea, in America, there’s this very reductive idea of like white people, right? There are all these different non-white ethnicities and cultures, but white people are a singular block.
EW: [01:26:54]: Through the magic of this country only.
AK: [01:26:55]: Right. But I mean, I don’t know if you have this similar kind of experience. I’ve always felt, for example, very alienated from Nordic, non-Jewish whites, right? Or just to give you an example.
EW: [01:27:11]: Right.
AK: [01:27:11]: I don’t have any beef with them, but those people are not my people on some level.
EW: [01:27:16]: You think that and then one of my largest constituencies abroad are Sweden and Norway.
AK: [01:27:24]: Your demos.
EW: [01:27:25]: Yeah.
AK: [01:27:26]: That makes sense because they’re also actually very earnest people.
EW: [01:27:30]: And there also, weirdly, having their idealism that has worked very well, and is in fact trotted out by the left, abused against them so that they are now starting to feel like, “WTF?” Why can’t we talk about some of the tensions that we’re experiencing?” Like there is something that it means to be Swedish, or Norwegian, or Icelandic, and to be told, “Well, your identity is just that you’re European.”
And even that is only, like this whole question about software nationalism versus hardware nationalism, you have lots of people in the UK, for example, from South Asia who, by going through the Oxbridge system, sound entirely like the British upper crust.
AK: [01:28:15]: Exactly, yeah.
EW: [01:28:16]: And, further, sometimes they come from the high castes that the British favored working with in India or Pakistan.
Now the idea that Enlightenment ideas or Anglo-Saxon ideas can run on any hardware, it’s like bootcamp where you’ve got an Apple machine that’s running Windows, you know. I don’t really care too much about the hardware. I care a great deal about the software. And the idea that everybody of European descent or who are interested in European cultures should apologize? I’m having none of this. I mean, there’s so much music, and science, and architecture and, you know, all the terrible things that happened too. I will not have that watered down. That’s an authentic experience.
The thing that bothers me about it is – and this is another one of my riffs – you have this problem with vanilla where vanilla has two meanings. One is boring, flavorless, bland; and the other is like the most flavorful of spices and flavorings and tastes, and somehow they’re both vanilla.
Well, white is the same thing. White is the most bland, boring. It’s like a canvas that has been gessoed but not painted upon. On the other hand, if you look at European culture, is there anything richer and spicier and more intricate and interesting? And somehow our minds are just bananas over these two descriptions.
AK: [01:29:45]: Yeah, I mean, but it’s always, it’s very offensively reductive on a way that personally strikes me because the only thing keeping me from becoming like a typical Houellebecq-ian protagonist or one of these like horrible millennial girl bosses who’s fundamentally empty inside, is a great deal of honor and respect that I feel for my ancestors and the cultural, the amniotic fluid that we all came at it.
EW: [01:30:27]: But it’s worse. I mean, you’re in a very funny position. You are culturally… – like your podcast is called Red Scare, and you are culturally very Russian, Soviet, Jewish, Armenian. But, if you really look at it, you can see that it’s fading.
AK: [01:30:49]: Yeah.
EW: [01:30:50]: And you’re not going to have grandchildren that relate to you.
AK: [01:30:54]: Yeah. And that’s really a terrifying thing. And it’s a actually terrifying thing on two levels because, right, “a” you’re not going to have grandchildren who relate to you on like a practical level, but “b” to even acknowledge that you want grandchildren to relate to you kind of flies in the face of this very leftist doxy that culture is relevant.
And it makes me think of like, you know, the idea of narcissism that somebody like Lasch was so kind of brilliant at identifying, diagnosing. And, at the time he was writing in the 60s and 70s, he billed it as kind of the generational pathology of our time, the kind of liberated persona.
But even at that time, narcissism was still, at the very least, a system of positive affinities. So you identified through affinity, right? Originally maybe you identified with your ethnicity or your religion, and then later you came to identify with your lifestyle markers, you know, you did yoga, or composting, or recycling, or whatever. And gradually, over time, that’s yielded to kind of a negative narcissism where people at large identify with their oppression and their adversity.
EW: [01:32:22]: But Russians identify with their oppression and their adversity in a very strong way that doesn’t look anything like what we’re doing in the U.S.
AK: [01:32:29]: Okay, see, I’ve never heard this one before.
EW: [01:32:32]: Oh, really?
AK: [01:32:33]: Yeah. I just thought we were kind of miserable, melancholic people. I think there’s a general kind of, you know, Anna Pavlova, the great Russian ballerina, said that the Russian soul is marked by melancholy.
EW: [01:32:46]: Yeah. I think that it’s, well… – You know, it’s very interesting when I had Gary Kasparov on the program, there was some very odd moments. So I tried to do an intro in Russian where I said that it was unclear if he was Gary Kasparov or Gary Weinstein, because that was his first name.
AK: [01:33:15]: Right.
EW: [01:33:15]: And he immediately just didn’t bite on that.
AK: [01:33:17]: Yeah. I’m jealous that you didn’t do the Russian language intro for me.
EW: [01:33:20]: Really?
AK: [01:33:20]: What am I chopped liver? Just kidding. No, go on.
EW: [01:33:23]: Okay. Well, I felt that, in order… – Well I mean, actually I didn’t even talk about it. Almost no one reacted to it.
AK: [01:33:31]: Yeah.
EW: [01:33:31]: One of my hopes for the program was to start personalizing it to all of the cultures that I cared the most about. And so I did this thing about *speaking Russian* because in the Moscow subways, in the subways of other cities, there’s this thing which says, you know, “Warning doors are closing. The next stop’s *speaking Russian*.” You know, that thing. I always thought it’d be cool that The Portal was like the Moscow doors opening and closing, and he just didn’t react at all to it.
The one weird thing where there was like a shiver of recognition was, I talked about the Russian satirical magazine Krokodil and how descent and irreverence existed within the Soviet Union, but in this very specified way so that there was a valve to let off steam. And it wasn’t the American picture where nobody could say anything at any time because that would never work. The Russian system was much more sophisticated. And that was the one moment at which she sort of gave me a little bit of a nod, like, “Wow, you really know your stuff.”
And the thing is, it’s very hard for an American to connect to the broad Slavic soul.
AK: [01:34:50]: Yeah. And for us to connect to the broad American soul.
I think I said this to you, you know, the kind of idea that Russians are basically optimists masquerading as cynics, and Americans are cynics masquerading as optimists. I mean, that’s like broadly on some level, stereotypically true.
And I also remember saying that Russians, unlike Americans, you know, if you have a classroom of American kids and you ask them like, who’s done X or who is Y, the hands shoot up. Because in America, it’s much, much less dangerous historically to identify yourself and Russians are in the business of indirection, misdirection, non-identification. Because it was at some point a political problem that had a kind of material, real world consequences, but has been handed down to successive generations as a behavioral quirk that’s actually really problematic if you’re trying to have like, you know, a romantic relationship with like an American man for example.
But yeah, we’re very weird, damaged people. I mean, I said this, I tweeted about this, that conversation with Kasparov was really weird because it was like an insight into all of my communication impasses with American people.
EW: [01:36:07]: Say more about that.
AK: [01:36:08]: Well, to the degree that I don’t like to disclose or identify myself. I like to misdirect by saying a great deal of stuff that seems kind of superficially very confessional and personal, but actually nobody knows anything about me.
EW: [01:36:22]: People know a lot more about you than you think they know about you.
AK: [01:36:25]: Yeah, but only through kind of nonverbal or subconscious means.
EW: [01:36:33]: I think that’s right.
AK: [01:36:34]: Yeah. Not through anything that exists on the verbal register.
EW: [01:36:38]: Well but I think, you know, I don’t know how many podcasts you’ve done like this.
AK: [01:36:45]: Probably none.
EW: [01:36:45]: Probably none.
AK: [01:36:46]: Yeah.
EW: [01:36:46]: And I do think that you’re going to find that your mystique coexists with your revelation. They’re not as rivalrous as you might imagine.
AK: [01:36:58]: Yeah, that’s possibly a good point. But I think like…
EW: [01:37:02]: But what did you hear in the Kasparov…? Like, so you listened to that podcast?
AK: [01:37:08]: Yeah.
EW: [01:37:08]: We famously tried to talk over each other. He’s very forceful. I would like to think that I’ve been far less forceful with you than I was with him.
AK: [01:37:18]: Yeah, but I’m also easier to get along with.
EW: [01:37:22]: Well, I view you as potentially more dangerous.
AK: [01:37:25]: Yeah, but that’s only because I’m a woman. Kasparov and I have the same ethnic breakdown basically, which in Russia is called *speaks Russian*.
- speaks Russian*?
AK: [01:37:35]: Like explosive mixtures. So it’s like…
EW: [01:37:37]: A binary weapon that when combined…
AK: [01:37:39]: It’s like dynamite.
EW: [01:37:40]: Yeah.
AK: [01:37:41]: Kind of like, when Armenians and Jews join forces in a single person, it’s basically an incredibly difficult, combative, categorical personality. And I think that’s probably what he is. I mean, I don’t know a ton about him, but I’m kind of obviously interested because of…
EW: [01:38:00]: He’s cheated of his meaning because there’s something about the fact that Putin, to him, is this unrecognized master menace and that we’re running a clown show while the fate of the world spins out of control. He has very much of a cold… – I mean, I have much more of a Cold War overlay in my mind than most of my contemporaries, and certainly than my millennial audience.
I can’t believe that we have nuclear weapons. That they haven’t been used in a long time, and that we imagine that this will go on forever.
AK: [01:38:35]: And that they’re laying kind of dormant for now.
I mean, but this brings me back to the whole concept of stiob, which dovetails very nicely with the idea of hypernormalization – right? – which the documentarian, Adam Curtis, took the title for his famous documentary from this term, which was coined by this guy, Alexei Yurchak, who’s an anthropology professor who did a lot of research on stiob with this guy, Dominic Boyer, a fellow anthropologist. And I guess the basic principle of hypernormalization, as I understand it in my feeble female brain, is that there was kind of an elite guild of experts, technologists, financeers, politicians who, kind of, if not conspired then agreed to invent kind of a fake world atop the real world that we inhabit, because the real world had grown so complicated that they had to model it in simplified terms. Like Fassinder’s World on a Wire, we’re living in like a successive nesting doll of like successive simulations.
EW: [01:39:51]: Matryoshka.
AK: [01:39:52]: Yeah, matryoshka. And, I forgot where we were going with this, but we now live in this kind of like hypertrophied, hyper-real reality where, you know, you said to me, “It’s like very few people can see that they’re part of the simulation.” I don’t know if I actually agree with that because I like to think that people are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
EW: [01:40:23]: Well, see, I don’t think it comes down to smart. I think it comes down to our self-blinding.
AK: [01:40:28]: Yeah, dilusion.
EW: [01:40:28]: And so one of the reasons I was asking you what you had heard in the Gary Kasparov podcast was, I wasn’t sure what happened during it.
AK: [01:40:40]: I think that he… – I mean, I don’t know if you want me to psychoanalyze. This is like a very meta-podcasting.
EW: [01:40:46]: We’ve gone pretty meta. The wine doesn’t hurt.
AK: [01:40:47]: Yeah, I think that he was deflecting your earnest attempts at mutual identification, which is like the basis of all kind of bonds. Right? I’m so excited when I meet, kind of, a fellow traveler in any capacity itself.
EW: [01:41:02]: Self. You find self in the other.
AK: [01:41:03]: Yeah. And I told you this during our lunch, I was like, “Oh my God. We’re like, you know, relatives, right?” There’s something very familiar.
EW: [01:41:08]: I feel like I’ve known you for forever and I’ve met you twice.
AK: [01:41:10]: Yeah. And there’s something very familiar in meeting other people from a kind of similar cultural background and I tend to collect them. And you know, if that’s racist, let me know.
EW: [01:41:21]: It’s very racist.
AK: [01:41:22]: But, so I think the Russian tendency, which I’ve tried to, for example, minimize, mitigate in myself to adapt better to American society, is to deflect any such attempts and to, kind of, not give anybody an inch, to not let anybody get to know you, and to stay kind of distant.
EW: [01:41:48]: Are you open to being the unreliable narrator?
AK: [01:41:52]: I’m not sure what that question means.
EW: [01:41:54]: Well, sometimes like I forget if maybe if Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart where you’re telling a story about the self and the story reveals something to the audience, maybe Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny would be a better example where he’s talking about the strawberries and the men. And like really he’s discussing his own paranoia in a way that’sleaking out into the testimony he’s giving.
So what I see with you is that you are Russian, post-Soviet enough, but that you’re very worried that it’s not really a sustaining quality in this homogenizing sea. Like your mother, you can see there’s no way she can get away from it. I have never met the woman, but I can feel her presence as being intrinsically soviet.
And your podcast is called Red Scare. But, first of all, that’s an invocation of like the 1950s or earlier.
AK: [01:42:59]: Yeah and like menstruation.
EW: [01:43:01]: And menstruation with a thong and there’s a tramp stamp. And you know, there’s this whole aspect of you’re worried that you can’t actually keep it together. You can’t hold the information back. You can’t keep the identification with Eastern Europe because it’s starting to fray.
AK: [01:43:26]: Yeah, on some level. But also, on another level, I feel kind of like a complete dinosaur. I am relatively young. I’m young-ish, but I feel like that sometimes I feel kind of insane – right? – because I’m the only one who has in my circle, for example, has kind of an an attachment to certain religious or ethnic…
EW: [01:43:53]: I took an Ivy league admission at the University of Pennsylvania and, when everyone else went into investment banking, or law, or medicine, I went to math grad school like your father because there was something ancient about…
AK: [01:44:08]: And respectable about it?
EW: [01:44:10]: But respectable, in the sense of like, *speaks Hebrew*, like a Jewish concept. It was a very Jewish and self-destructive thing to do to take this fantastic opportunity and say, “Okay, I’m going to try to achieve something for all eternity that seven people are really going to deeply understand.” Something like that.
And there is an aspect to this, which is, this is what animates Star Wars. The idea that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda mysteriously survive. I mean, I’m not a fan of the Star Wars pictures that are supposed to come chronologically early, but there is one scene which is precious to me, where the emperor says, “Execute order 66.” And all the Jedi are killed except two, one of which lives by accident, that’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Yoda intuits, “Aww shit,” you know, “This is the genocide and I’m going to be all that’s left.”
So you are that thing that carries the seed.
AK: [01:45:15]: Yeah.
EW: [01:45:16]: That’s a huge responsibility. That’s why you have a podcast. But, it’s also the case that you’re corroding in this extremely alkaline environment.
AK: [01:45:27]: Mmhmm. That’s like really beautiful and poetic, and also a horrifying reality to ponder. But yeah, it’s true on some level.
EW: [01:45:36]: Well, first of all, it’s a gift to a Russian if I gave you a horrifying, tragic mission.
AK: [01:45:39]: Yeah I know. We’ll eat it right up. Yeah.
EW: [01:45:41]: Yeah.
AK: [01:45:42]: But look, I remember Camille Paglia – I think I’m supposed to say “Pah-Leah” – really changed my thinking on the Star Wars franchise, which I’ve always thought to be kind of like the nail in the coffin of the golden age of American cinema.
EW: [01:45:59]: Oh, say more. I really wanna hear this.
AK: [01:46:01]: You know, it really opened the door. It paved the way for these mega franchises, the Marvel-ization, the Disneyfication of film. And her feeling about it was that it was a kind of epic, eternal legend saga story that was fulfilled or produced by means of the most cutting edge technology and that this is where art resides now in kind of the technological capacity of the Hollywood industry.
EW: [01:46:32]: Because transcendence is difficult to manufacture. And when you first see what a technology can do… – The Matrix would be an excellent other example to discuss, in that case, and I’m very partial to giving this example, there were multiple innovations. There was the wire work, there was “bullet time” with using still and moving camera images and interplaying between them, and then there was CGI. And so their mind was never sure what it was seeing. And so you devote extra cognitive resources to the legend and archetype that’s being explored when you’re opened by transcendence.
And that’s why we litter the set, for example, with Klein bottles often because, you know, to have glassware from the fourth dimension that defies the laws of inside and out, opens people up to, “Well, what are these people are going to be discussing? Is this a way out?” Because I think everybody wants escape.
AK: [01:47:34]: Yes.
EW: [01:47:35]: And I think that, if you go back to our Jewish tradition, the entire concept of like, what is the epic that we tell every year as our Star Wars? It’s the Passover epic of the Jews escaping. Now is the time when we understand why we tell that story, because we need to get out of here.
AK: [01:47:56]: Yeah. I think the flattering, uplifting version is escape. I think the cynical, not so flattering version is offloading your responsibility in the way that somebody like Erich Fromm described, foisting the responsibility for your life onto another.
EW: [01:48:14]: Yeah. Can I ask you sort of a final set of questions before I invite you back to the podcast when you’re next in LA, because I hope you’ll move here?
AK: [01:48:24]: I want to move here. It’s so horrible.
EW: [01:48:26]: It’s so horrible.
AK: [01:48:26]: I’m meant to be an Armenian Jew slut who hangs out at the Glendale Galleria, not a New York girl. Anyway, go ahead.
EW: [01:48:33]: I’m gonna pass on that one.
Where are we in gender space? I have the feeling that men and women of a heterosexual mindset needed to put their own mask on before helping everybody who is trying something different.
AK: [01:48:52]: Mmhmm. I like that. That’s like the plane analogy, the oxygen mask? Yeah, that’s very cute.
EW: [01:48:56]: Yeah. And that, at the moment, we’re trying to like solve 12 million things that have all been lumped under “trans.” And I always give the analogy that strokes occur from excessive clotting and thinning, so you can’t say something about strokes in general because you don’t know which type of stroke. So we don’t know which type of trans.
But if you just say, “Look, okay, we’ve got all these things about polyamory, and bisexuality, homosexuality, non-binary relations, et-cetera.” Very complicated. Let’s assume we have the best of intentions to everybody as a soul. We’re now neglecting male-female, heterosexual, procreative relationships. It’s like an afterthought. We got to do something where our concerns for all of these other variations don’t obliterate the major workhorse of societal perpetuation.
What are your thoughts?
AK: [01:49:52]: Well, whats the question?
EW: [01:49:54]: The thoughts are, the question is, “Are we getting dragged into a world in which we can’t focus on the fact that the major workhorse of perpetuation needs its own care?” Like for example, if you and I both opt into heterosexual, heteronormative, cis-gendered, et-cetera ideas, we can’t really continue to focus on our subset of people because immediately the point is, well you just excluded 12,000 other categories.
I see you as trying to…
AK: [01:50:36]: Just excluded .01 of the… Yeah.
EW: [01:50:39]: Well, but I see what you’re trying to do in some sense as re-establishing feminine mystique. Is that a fair comment?
AK: [01:50:47]: Yeah, absolutely.
EW: [01:50:49]: What do you see the role of mystique being in heterosexuality?
AK: [01:50:53]: The role of mystique? That’s a good question. You see, I’m so kind of instinctive and non-intellectual on some level that I didn’t even think about this. I think I would answer it in the negative way. I think that the absence of mystique kills libidinal energy.
EW: [01:51:12]: Absolutely.
AK: [01:51:12]: You can’t be taken seriously as a woman if you disclose everything about yourself, if you publish naked photos of yourself at all times. I mean, that’s a statement of fact, not a value.
EW: [01:51:27]: But we used to, for example, teach women to send mixed messages.
AK: [01:51:31]: Right.
EW: [01:51:32]: And we used to teach men and women to play games. And now increasingly there’s a sort of Dr. Ruth-ification of male-female relations, which is like, people should learn how to communicate, be direct, say everything that you want.
AK: [01:51:44]: Mmhmm. Safe sex, affirmative consent, all these things that…
EW: [01:51:48]: Has anyone ever achieved enthusiastic consent?
AK: [01:51:52]: Right. I know like who are these people? Like you pull out an iPad when you like, “Can I touch your breast?” It’s a really weird…
EW: [01:51:59]: I want you so much, we should call our lawyers immediately.
AK: [01:52:01]: Yeah. And sign an NDA. It’s like everytime Buttigieg has sex with his husband he signs an NDA.
But it’s maddening because the whole allure of sex is precisely the unsafe, the unconsensual. I’m not talking obviously about rape or coersion, but women like mixed messages. They like giving them, they like receiving them because it’s correct that they on some level don’t know what they want. Not because they’re stupid or weak, but because it’s an evolving communicative process that unfolds over the course of the…
EW: [01:52:45]: Do you know me well enough to order for me?
AK: [01:52:47]: Yeah. Right.
EW: [01:52:48]: Like maybe I would do a slightly better job of choosing my dish, but if you do 90% as good as I would’ve done ordering my dish and you can show me that you actually grasp me.
AK: [01:52:59]: Yeah, not only do you get to enjoy the benefit of having a dish that you wanted, but you get to enjoy kind of the meta-benefit of knowing that your partner knows you.
I got in trouble for a tweet where I said that I like when my boyfriends order food for me.
EW: [01:53:15]: That’s so hot!
AK: [01:53:16]: I know it’s so hot! Why would any woman not want that?
EW: [01:53:21]: Well, I think because, I can answer that from the guy’s perspective. We’ve all thought we knew somebody well enough and we ordered just exactly the wrong thing, which shows that we have no concept of… – we think we’re on top of it and we’re just not.
AK: [01:53:34]: Yeah. Okay. Well there’s some baked-in disappointment, potential disappointment.
EW: [01:53:37]: Well remember the Aziz Ansari thing where like he didn’t understand which wine she wanted and that was cause for humilating him in the world?
AK: [01:53:44]: Yeah, for her to write a “Me Too” Medium… – actually it was a Times expose, right?
EW: [01:53:51]: Babe.net.
AK: [01:53:52]: Oh it was Babe.net. Oh God.
EW: [01:53:55]: But the key point would be that, in order to handle certain edge cases, we deranged the general case. You know, like the world’s most predatory men have to be kept away from the world’s least agentic females. So in order to handle that case, we gave nuclear weapons.
I think Caitlin Flanagan had a beautiful observation.
AK: [01:54:20]: I love Caitlin Flanagan, yeah.
EW: [01:54:22]: I can’t get over her.
AK: [01:54:22]: Yeah, she’s great.
EW: [01:54:23]: She’s great.
AK: [01:54:24]: The one that got away. Anyway…
EW: [01:54:25]: Anyway, she said something to me to the effect of, “What’s new is that all sexuality proceeds on exclusively female terms.”
AK: [01:54:36]: Right.
EW: [01:54:37]: The idea being that men have to be completely non-agentic because whatever the woman says happened or should happen is the law of the land.
AK: [01:54:48]: And this is precisely what women don’t want. It’s almost like a prisoner’s dilemma type situation where you end up with the the most suboptimal outcome.
EW: [01:54:59]: If you guard against the thing that you fear the most, you’ll never get the thing that you want.
AK: [01:55:04]: Right. Yeah. And it’s a really kind of like bleak thing because no women, no heteronormative women, want a man who lacks agency. I mean, you said this to me, women want, they don’t want a guy who’s an asshole. They want somebody who’s credible. And the easiest, shortest way to display that is by being an asshole.
EW: [01:55:25]: Yeah, this is a reference to a conversation we were having in which I claimed that many men learn a terrible lesson, which is women want you to be an asshole. And the real lesson is women do not want to be told how beautiful and brilliant and this and that they are without some of that energy being spent on credibility because…
AK: [01:55:46]: Yeah, without some it accruing into reliable, dependable material action…
EW: [01:55:51]: Well but, sometimes you have to say, “You look very nice. It’s not my favorite dress, but…” And that sounds a little non-positive, but it goes a long way to saying, “Okay, I’m actually getting real feedback.”
AK: [01:56:03]: Are you describing the art of “negging”? You have to neg a little.
EW: [01:56:06]: No. I’m saying that that happens naturally. Negging is where you actually create kind of a hole in the person’s soul. No, it’s exactly not negging.
AK: [01:56:17]: Yeah.
EW: [01:56:17]: This is the thing. I mean, it’s a beautiful example. It’s a miscommunication. In the process of giving somebody… – You can give somebody very positive, constructive feedback and the slightest whisper of “that wasn’t exactly my favorite thing” will be heard as a shout. Because that’s how we human beings process criticism.
And so you have to spend some… – People would much rather that you spend some of your time building credibility so that whatever you do say that’s positive is actually a credible indicator of something. Because you know, traditionally the key question is, very often what women are asking is, “Is there something you find in me that is so rare that it would outweigh all other temptations? And can you please tell me a story in which that’s true?”
AK: [01:57:08]: The answer is no. Ladies, the answer is no. Run for the Hills. I’m kidding. I’m just being a sarcastic little bitch. But…
EW: [01:57:14]: Well, don’t do that, man.
AK: [01:57:16]: Why not?
EW: [01:57:17]: I dunno. I mean, if it’s your shtick, but I do think that there’s some aspect to this where we have to struggle with this for… – like you’re an older millennial.
AK: [01:57:26]: Yeah, I’m an elder millennial.
EW: [01:57:27]: You’re an elder millennial.
AK: [01:57:28]: Yeah.
The guys in the studio are like going to get snacks. They’re so tired. They’re like, “Enough of this.”
No, I’m an elder, millennial, go on.
EW: [01:57:40]: I do think that, in part, you know, you probably knew more life before the apps. Thats gonna be a big transitional issue.
AK: [01:57:49]: Yeah. Well, it’s gonna be a huge issue. I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the next generation after me. I’m afraid for them. I mourn for them. Because they have no… – I mean, all social relations – it’s like, you know, going back to those empathy templates that I was talking about – all social relations and you know, on some level, particularly sexual relations have become very Asperg-ian. They’ve become autistic. People can’t read nuance, and they are completely incapable then of the art of seduction, and so everything operates according to like templates and consent forms.
EW: [01:58:31]: Phone trees.
AK: [01:58:32]: Yeah. And it’s terrifying because I think like it’s not just women who desire credibility. What each sex desires from the other is credibility manifested in different ways. You know, like I made this joke, “I started seeing a shrink recently.”
EW: [01:58:53]: You went there.
AK: [01:58:53]: I went there because I guess my Jewish side finally overwhelmed my Russian side, that’s like profoundly hostile and suspicious of therapy. I did it primarily to appease my boyfriend, but that’s another story. And it occurred to me, it dawned on me during the process of seeing this shrink. You know the old kind of psychoanalytic concept of transference? I mean, everybody does, right?
EW: [01:59:24]: Sure.
AK: [01:59:24]: And I think transference for men is saying…
EW: [01:59:28]: Oh I saw this. This was wicked.
AK: [01:59:28]: What?
EW: [01:59:30]: The tweet you’re about to quote.
AK: [01:59:31]: Oh yeah. You know, transference for men is telling the shrink, “I want to fuck you.” Transference for women is asking the shrink, “Do you want to fuck me?” And semantically, it’s a slightly different configuration, but it comes down to the same thing.
And it’s like that John Berger quote that I quote all the time ad nauseum to the point that it’s become annoying, and my friends won’t speak to me, because it’s all I do is quote this quote all day. “Men watch. Women watch themselves being watched.” That’s the nature, right? The kind of old traditional basis of male versus female sexual arousal. You said this to me, which I thought was very astute. I’ve never heard anybody else put it this way.
EW: [02:00:18]: Yeah. We’d both come to some version of this independently.
AK: [02:00:21]: Yeah, it’s men are aroused by the woman, the presence of the woman. Women are aroused by the picture of themselves arousing the man.
EW: [02:00:34]: Or the man, in some ways, metaphorically acts as a mirror, and the better the man, the better the quality and the more flattering the quality of the reflection.
AK: [02:00:43]: Right.
EW: [02:00:44]: And that’s not to say that women are completely indifferent to male looks and the like, but that, to an enormous extent, we’ve demonized narcissism when in fact we find narcissism to be an extremely beautiful trait in a future spouse, as men.
AK: [02:01:02]: And this is a very important point too, because I’m very much a critic of narcissism as a generational pathology, but that I’m critical specifically of the maladjusted pathological manifestations of narcissism.
EW: [02:01:22]: Well the maladaptive version that doesn’t attach properly to the partner.
AK: [02:01:26]: Yeah, not the positive kind of credible. And this was really wonderfully… -You know, sometimes I feel so awful about myself because I misjudged the situation. I’m so used to like people, and art, and ideas being kind of low density and low nutrition. I’m kind of starved for stimulation in that way. And sometimes I’ll read or see something that I find really remarkable and I always have to ask myself the question like, “Hey, have my standards plummeted so much? Or have I grown more tolerant?” Which, at the end of the day, is the same question.
But, there was a very viral short story on The New Yorker by this woman, Kristen Roupenian, also an Armenian by the way. It was called “Cat Person” and in it she describes kind of a classic, “Me Too” type situation where a young college coed gets into a relationship with like a kind of older washed up 38 year old guy. And there’s this…
EW: [02:02:36]: Did you just say older and 38?
AK: [02:02:37]: Well for her, because she’s like 21.
EW: [02:02:39]: Fine.
AK: [02:02:40]: It’s okay. I think a man… Okay look, I personally…
EW: [02:02:44]: Don’t, no don’t backpedal.
AK: [02:02:45]: I’m not backpedaling.
EW: [02:02:46]: Okay.
AK: [02:02:46]: I think peak manhood is 35 to, let’s say 55 right? That’s a good window. That’s when the male race…
EW: [02:02:57]: I’ll give you a shovel and you can try to dig yourself out of the hole.
AK: [02:02:59]: Yeah, I’ll dig my own grave. That’s what I really want. I’m like, you know, that guy… – Fundamentally, I identify with the Russian guy in The Sopranos in the “Pine Barrens” episode.
EW: [02:03:09]: Oh my gosh! Don’t even get into that! That’s fantastic.
AK: [02:03:12]: But basically, Roupenian, she crafts this whole sex scene where this girl is like having sex with this guy that she finds profoundly unattractive and undesirable, but what gets her off at the end of the day is her imagining his arousal at her like nubile young body writhing around for him. And I thought that that was like a really brilliant glitch. That was, I am shocked that like, you know, a liberal paper of record would publish…
EW: [02:03:43]: It’s very odd what gets through these sites.
AK: [02:03:45]: Yeah.
EW: [02:03:45]: Like, I watched your description of the wasted opportunity of sexualizing stewardesses, where everyone has this sense of, “Oh my God,” you know, “Pan-Am stewardesses in the 60s.” It’s a universal kind of weird beauty norm, but there’s now this very strong sense of like, “And wasn’t that horrible.” And so sort of the two dimensional fantasy of “Coffee, Tea or Me?” versus the abject horror of okay, well, you weren’t allowed to compete on price because of the regulation of the airways and so people competed on the sexualization of the flight crews. And then some of the flight crews were like actually being oppressed and some of them were self-sexualizing like people do on Instagram because they wanted the attention. And there’s no language to pull these things apart.
AK: [02:04:36]: Mmhmm. Well, as usual, people missed the point of that tweet, which is not about stewardesses. They made it into a labor issue because, increasingly, the culture has kind of dried up so much that people increasingly see things through the lens of politics.
That tweet wasn’t about labor at all. It was actually kind of a very rather subjective indictment of the way that American women behave relative to women elsewhere. Women in Italy, in Thailand, in Spain, in Brazil, in the Middle East understand that their unofficial power is garnered through indirection, as you say. American women understand no such thing. I mean, Camille Paglia again, has been beating this drum for decades now.
So this had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t like a labor…
EW: [02:05:29]: But it is and it isn’t. I mean, this is the very difficult thing coming from an American context, which is that very often the cultivation of exclusively womanly power took place because women did not have alternate options. And sometimes we’ve gone too far in American culture by giving away power that is, you know, entirely functional.
So you and I both discussed, having economics and mathematics in our background, the brilliance of Sylvia Nasar’s book, A Beautiful Mind. I did not see the film. And…
AK: [02:06:06]: You haven’t seen the film?
EW: [02:06:07]: No, I refused.
AK: [02:06:08]: Well, we’ll get back to that in a minute.
EW: [02:06:09]: Okay.
AK: [02:06:10]: Yeah.
EW: [02:06:10]: And then we talked about Rebecca Goldstein’s The Mind-Body Problem. In both of these books, you see this very strong hand of the community of wives of the mostly male mathematicians and economists directing the field – who should collaborate with who; who should make up with who; who’s having a spat; who should be hired; who should be invited to the conference. And there’s a question about when women stopped wanting that role in the United States context, no one took the role over. And so it was like a load-bearing role that was now vacant.
There are ways in which I think it’s terrible that nobody’s fulfilling that role. And there are ways in which I think it’s terrible that women were expected to fulfill that role, having now seen fantastic contributions in mathematics, you know, of people like Karen Uhlenbeck or Lisa Jeffrey, any one of a number of female mathematicians who’ve put structural things in our world that I can’t live without.
AK: [02:07:22]: Right.
EW: [02:07:22]: And so, I think that there’s a really interesting and rich conversation about how much power from the old ways should be retained, and how much of it should be seeded so that more standard professional accomplishment can occur. And, because we’re having this very simplistic conversation, we’re not getting to the really rich conversation, which is “What should be the renegotiation of male and female roles around…?” It shouldn’t be that women are trying to be a substitute copy of men. On the other hand, it can’t really go back to women hold power…
AK: [02:08:03]: Barefoot, and pregnant, kids…
EW: [02:08:04]: Well, I wouldn’t say that. No. It’s also the terrifying matriarch. The hell that daughters-in-law are put through in many cultures.
AK: [02:08:11]: Yeah.
EW: [02:08:12]: You know, it’s a very… – The key issue, and I think this comes through with everything you talk about, the war that we have to wage is the war on simplistic, easy answers as opposed to nuanced richness.
AK: [02:08:26]: Yeah, and well, this goes back to this question of “hypernormalization” where we are grafting… – I mean, Angela Nagle talks about this, who I think – Angela’s a friend of mine – but I think she’s also the most brilliant young intellectual around now, and she gets kind of pilloried all the time for also being like a reactionary conservative, whatever.
Nagle talks about this idea that we, in her critique of The Handmaiden’s Tale, or The Handmaid’s Tale, sorry. That we are kind of left fighting the simpler battles of the past that we’ve grafted this kind of Cold War, binaristic analogy, you know, the East versus the West, conservative versus progressive or liberal, that no longer computes because we live in a bizarre nonlinear world with a kind of profusion, a superfluity, of information that makes anybody’s brain short circuit.
EW: [02:09:29]: Well, you know, this is like what our friend Amanda Feilding, the psychedelic Countess, who extols the virtues of psychedelic chemicals. Her point is that the default mode network is this thing that suppresses our brain from experiencing too much and that sanity and a well-functioning mind, for the most part, is attached to not perceiving everything that’s going on around you.
AK: [02:09:59]: Yeah. Selectively kind of maybe subconsciously cherry picking things that are flattering to your narrative.
EW: [02:10:06]: Because it has to otherwise, you know, the quantum soup that you and I are currently swimming in can’t be percieved. We need to perceive a simplified classical world in which, you know, you are a unified person rather than all sorts of subroutines running, you know, simultaneously some of them conscious, some of them not.
AK: [02:10:23]: And I think this is the difference between, on some level – again, this is all very like “improv”-y and stuff – but it all kind of like folds back on itself, the difference between Russians and Americans is that Russians think that they’re at, an intellectual and moral advantage because they perceive all the metaprocesses. They see the chess board. But they’re actually at a disadvantage, fundamentally, because they’re kind of overly hyper…
EW: [02:10:49]: They see too much, they feel too much.
AK: [02:10:50]: They see too much, they feel too much, and they’re overly, not only critical of the outside world, but they’re hypercritical, and they’re fundamentally a self-defeating law on that level.
EW: [02:11:00]: You know, I have to say, I have a sadness about some of your views on Russia. Oddly, and I didn’t think about this, you are the third out of – I don’t know what is this my 16th interview at this point? I don’t know when you’ll debut. – but of a Russian background. I had a Vitalik of Etherium fame, Gary, and you.
AK: [02:11:26]: This I knew. I made a quip to my boyfriend. I was like, “Oh, I’m going to do the Eric Wein – Steen? Styne. – Weinstein podcast and it’s funny that he chose, you know, Kasparov and Buterin.” It’s like you have also some sort of like a psychic Freudian compulsion, your draw to…
EW: [02:11:50]: I care about meaning. To be honest, Russia and the Soviet, I mean there are places that just are pregnant with meaning. And there’s a ton that I hate about that world. And I think I talked to you about The Barbell Society with the lowest of the low and the highest of the high.
But I chose to retain this culture. I mean, you know, it was my grandparents on one side and my great grandparents on another who came over. So I’m a little bit deeper in this thing than you are because you were born there.
I don’t want to give it up. And I work my ass off to retain it even to the point of learning a tiny bit of Russian just to deal with Russian relatives who were rediscovered when the Soviet Union came apart, that we thought had all been wiped out in the Holocaust.
You’re going to have to work your ass off to keep that connection.
AK: [02:12:46]: I know.
EW: [02:12:46]: And I intend to have many more Russians, many South Asians, many people from very particular places. I have the utmost reverence, for example, for the UK and the genius of Spain and Italy. There are these particular places that are just incredibly pregnant.
AK: [02:13:09]: Well, Spain and Italy, I mean, are wonderful because they’re – you know, every once in awhile I’ll go to Italy or Spain and you’ll be like at a little cafe, like an outdoor cafe, and they’ll serve you. They’ll give you some free shit with your coffee. They’ll give you like a little biscuit or croissant.
It’s a really weird model because the thing that makes them economically unviable that makes some kind of fundamentally obsolete to the neoliberal system is also the thing that makes them morally redeemable.
EW: [02:13:43]: But it’s also an unabashed… – look, Russia is a genius-based culture.
AK: [02:13:51]: In what way?
EW: [02:13:54]: That you revere the Lev Landau’s. You revere, you know, the Rachmaninoff’s. You…
AK: [02:14:03]: Yeah but this is, I think that this is a thing that is dying now because the last 30 or 40 – how long has it been? It’s been 40 years now since the Soviet Union collapsed? 30-something years? – the last several decades of privatization, I think have been much harder on the Russian psyche than the 70 odd years or so of Communist…
EW: [02:14:29]: We’re all getting worse at this.
AK: [02:14:30]: Yeah, but I think that this is slowly waning. You know, Russia was known basically for its educational system, for its athletic programs and no more, right?
EW: [02:14:40]: Yeah, but some of these things were bizarre… – everybody’s getting less genius.
AK: [02:14:49]: That’s true. And also not true.
EW: [02:14:52]: Who’s getting more in a really profound way?
AK: [02:14:55]: In a profound way? I mean, that’s a good question. I have to, I’ll get back to you on that.
EW: [02:15:01]: I’m just saying everybody’s taking a huge hit at the moment. It’s like we started belching out lead exhaust from leaded gasoline. The IQ of the world functionally is getting dumber and dumber and dumber.
AK: [02:15:15]: Like since the medieval era. I mean, people frown upon the Middle Ages as like, you know, they’re not called the Dark Ages for nothing, but people reached a really high pinnacle of achievement.
EW: [02:15:26]: I listen to music from back then.
AK: [02:15:28]: Yeah, I do too. And I don’t even like music. I mean, I do, but I have like a very kind of one-dimensional hobbyist’s sensibility. I’m not like a musician or composer.
But yeah, I think this is due kind of to the proliferation of information technologies, the triumph of the internet.
And you look at “Me Too”. “Me Too” is the nexus of, kind of, the market imperatives of the internet and the triumph of feminism. It wouldn’t have, feminists are very fond of saying that we live in a patriarchy. If we lived in a patriarchy, there would be no viral online movement called “Me Too.” The fact is, you know, now in this day and age, women are the cultural brokers and gatekeepers.
EW: [02:16:22]: And they’re not doing that great of a job. I mean, I want Hedy Lamarr back.
AK: [02:16:27]: Yeah.
EW: [02:16:29]: I was going to write this book about Marie Curie called “Radium Slut.” And, it was going to be about the prohibition of her to come to Stockholm for her second Nobel because she was getting schtupped by a married guy.
You know, my favorite story in physics is Madame Wu figured out the asymmetry of the weak force in the cobalt-60 beta decay in an electromagnetic field. I want those amazing, hot, sexy, brilliant chicks back.
AK: [02:17:02]: Yeah. They don’t exist. That’s why, you know, there is a cultural fixation on Russian women because only in Russia, or like in the Russian amniotic fluid, can you find a woman who has like a PhD in philology or linguistics, but looks like a supermodel and is great in the sack and knows the powers of seduction.
EW: [02:17:27]: Well, this is like the super dangerous thing. There’s a way of saying it that’s a little bit less fun than what you say. I love listening to you, but I also like not being nailed to a cross when this debuts to the audience, which is to say that the cultures where women enjoy self-feminizing, but don’t see this as competitive with intellectual achievement – yes, Russia, and to some extent, Eastern Europe is one, but East Asia is also in this idiom.
AK: [02:18:03]: Yeah, I think those are the two big ones. Yeah.
EW: [02:18:05]: And I would love to talk to you about all manners of dangerous, disgusting, horrible, vile, and illegal things, but I hope you’ll accept an invitation to come back through The Portal when you’re next out in LA. And thank you for showing up and just bringing a side that maybe not everybody’s seen before.
AK: [02:18:28]: That’s horrifying. I’m very happy to do it. I’m happy to chat. Anyway, thank you for having me.
EW: [02:18:33]: Well I’m sorry to horrify you. It was wonderful to have…
AK: [02:18:35]: Wait, do you get a buzzer that tells you when the time…?
EW: [02:18:38]: No.
AK: [02:18:39]: Okay.
EW: [02:18:39]: I’m just sort of thinking that you’ve got this happening party to go to.
AK: [02:18:42]: Oh, okay. That’s very nice of you.
EW: [02:18:43]: And I want to be respectful of your time cause, otherwise I’d completely monopolize you till the cows come home.
AK: [02:18:48]: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s fine.
EW: [02:18:49]: Okay.
AK: [02:18:50]: Yeah.
EW: [02:18:51]: You’ve been through The Portal with Anna Khachiyan. Please check out The Red Scare podcast. Come with an open mind. And, hopefully, don’t give her too much grief unless that’s good for building her audience.
With respect to The Portal, please subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, wherever you listen to podcasts. And also navigate over to our YouTube channel where, if you’ll subscribe and click the bell, you’ll be notified of any upcoming episodes. And dasvidaniya, vsego khoroshego. All the best. Be well.