The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


The Michael Shermer Show

The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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Jordan Peterson & Michael Shermer on Science, Myth, Truth, and the Architecture of Archetypes

This episode is sponsored by:

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Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life (book cover)

Jordan Peterson is the bestselling author of 12 Rules for Life, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide. After working for decades as a clinical psychologist and a professor at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Peterson has become one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals. His YouTube videos and podcasts have gathered a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions, and his global book tour reached more than 250,000 people in major cities across the globe. With his students and colleagues, he has published more than one hundred scientific papers, and his 1999 book Maps of Meaning revolutionized the psychology of religion. He lives in Toronto, Ontario with his family.

Shermer and Peterson discuss:

  • the balance between chaos and order,
  • the nature of good and evil,
  • the banality of evil and the evil of banality,
  • the meaning of Maps of Meaning,
  • objective truths, subjective truths, historical truths, political truths, religious truths, literary truths,
  • what great stories teach us about human nature and society,
  • Why aren’t all countries on earth democracies?
  • the appeal of populist and authoritarian leaders,
  • the appeal of Hitler and the Nazis, then and now,
  • the danger of assessing according to race, sex, class and power,
  • how to think about the resurrection of Jesus as mythic truths,
  • heaven as not a place to go but a state of mind and society,
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Joseph Campbell’s hero myth/hero’s journey,
  • oppression-redemption myths,
  • The Native American Ghost Dance of 1890: Wovoka as Jesus,
  • how Peterson’s dark dreams, physical and mental health issues, and his clinical practice inform his worldview as tilting toward the darker side of humanity,
  • Peterson’s critics and their motivation, and
  • the mass appeal of Peterson’s message.
Quotes read by Shermer during the podcast

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859):

A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.

Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945):

From 600 B.C. to the present day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them. … It is clear that each party to this dispute is partly right and partly wrong. Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments. Every community is exposed to two opposite dangers: ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes cooperation impossible.

Michael Shermer on the resurrection, from Heavens on Earth (Henry Holt, 2018):

But what if this story was never meant to be considered as literally true? What if it was meant to be a metaphorical or mythic truth, through which readers might be inspired to “bear your own cross” or admonished not to be “crucified” by your enemies, or warned not to “resurrect” bad habits, or encouraged to be “born again” by starting their life anew after a troubling past?

Or perhaps it was meant to be a literary truth, as famously pronounced by U.S. Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a deeply religious man, in his 1896 Democratic National Convention “Cross of Gold” speech:

we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Such mythic, metaphorical, and literary truths play a central role in human culture through the arts, literature, religion, and even politics. Recall that Jesus suggested to his oppressed peoples that redemption was coming, that the Kingdom “has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Especially in Luke 17:20–21, Jesus seems to infer that heaven is a state of mind:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’.

What if the greatest religious truth in all of Western Christendom—that if you accept Jesus as your savior, you go to heaven where you will spend an eternity with God—was never meant to be taken literally? This is illuminated in the tantalizing passage in Matthew 16:26 in which Jesus tells his disciples:

Verily I say unto you, ‘There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom’.

Maybe Christians have been misreading passages like this for centuries. Maybe the “kingdom” to which Jesus refers is the heaven within ourselves, or the heavenly communities we build here on Earth. As I wrote in my 2018 book Heavens on Earth:

Heaven is not a paradisiacal state in the next world, but a better life in this world. Heaven is not a place to go to but a way to be. Here. Now. Since no one—not even the devoutly religious—knows for certain what happens after we die, Jews, Christians, and Muslims might as well work toward creating Heavens on Earth.

Let’s reconsider the 1890 Native American Ghost Dance I recounted in an earlier chapter. Naturally, modern readers do not accept the account of the resurrection of dead Native American ancestors as literally true, but what if it was never intended to be treated as such? Consider this interpretation of the Ghost Dance by the anthropologist James Mooney in his 1896 book The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890:

And when the race lies crushed and groaning beneath an alien yoke, how natural is the dream of a redeemer, an Arthur, who shall return from exile or awake from some long sleep to drive out the usurper and win back for his people what they have lost. The hope becomes a faith and the faith becomes the creed of priests and prophets, until the hero is a god and the dream a religion, looking to some great miracle of nature for its culmination and accomplishment. The doctrines of the Hindu avatar, the Hebrew Messiah, the Christian millennium, and the Hesunanin of the Indian Ghost dance are essentially the same, and have their origin in a hope and longing common to all humanity.

The utopian quest for perfect happiness was exposed as the flawed goal that it is by George Orwell in his 1940 review of Mein Kampf (Orwell, George. 1940. Review of Mein Kampf (Unabridged Translation). New English Weekly, March 21. In: Orwell, Sonia and Ian Angus (Eds.) 1968. Orwell: My Country Right or Left 1940–1943. Boston: Nonpareil Books, 12–14.):

Hitler…has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. Hitler…knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice.

On the broader appeal of Fascism and Socialism, Orwell added:

However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet…we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

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Naomi Oreskes — Why Trust Science?

Why Trust Science? (book cover)
Why the social character of scientific knowledge makes it trustworthy

Do doctors really know what they are talking about when they tell us vaccines are safe? Should we take climate experts at their word when they warn us about the perils of global warming? Why should we trust science when our own politicians don’t? In this landmark book, Naomi Oreskes offers a bold and compelling defense of science, revealing why the social character of scientific knowledge is its greatest strength — and the greatest reason we can trust it.

Tracing the history and philosophy of science from the late nineteenth century to today, Oreskes explains that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single scientific method. Rather, the trustworthiness of scientific claims derives from the social process by which they are rigorously vetted. This process is not perfect — nothing ever is when humans are involved — but she draws vital lessons from cases where scientists got it wrong. Oreskes shows how consensus is a crucial indicator of when a scientific matter has been settled, and when the knowledge produced is likely to be trustworthy.

Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science. She became Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University in 2013, after 15 years as Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Oreskes is author or co-author of 7 books, and over 150 articles, essays and opinion pieces, including Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury, 2010), The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia University Press, 2014), Discerning Experts (University Chicago Press, 2019), Why Trust Science? (Princeton University Press, 2019), and Science on a Mission: American Oceanography from the Cold War to Climate Change, (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). Merchants of Doubt, co-authored with Erik Conway, was the subject of a documentary film of the same name produced by participant Media and distributed by SONY Pictures Classics, and has been translated into nine languages.

Shermer and Oreskes discuss:

  • the replication crisis in the social sciences,
  • the demarcation problem: science vs. pseudoscience,
  • verification vs. falsification: From Francis Bacon to Karl Popper,
  • Eddington’s eclipse experiments that verified (or failed to falsify) Einstein,
  • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification,
  • climate skeptics and evolution skeptics,
  • scientific method: (1) consensus (2) method (3) evidence (4) values (5) humility,
  • model dependent realism,
  • facts and values: when facts conflict with values,
  • eugenics, birth control, flossing,
  • perspectival / viewpoint diversity,
  • how to talk to a climate denier, anti-vaxxer, creationist, Holocaust denier, GMO denier, nuclear power denier, etc.,
  • science and moral values,
  • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness,
  • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

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Andrew Doyle — Free Speech: And Why It Matters

Free Speech: And Why it Matters  (book cover)

Towards the end of the twentieth century, those who advocated what became known as “Political Correctness” rightly identified the ways in which marginalized groups were often disparaged in everyday speech. Casual expressions of homophobia, racism and sexism went from being commonplace to being rejected by the vast majority of the public over the course of just two decades.

Since then, the victories of Political Correctness have formed the basis for a new intolerant mindset, one that seeks to move beyond simply reassessing the social contract of shared discourse to actively policing speech that is deemed offensive or controversial. Rather than confront bad ideas through discussion, it has now become common to intimidate one’s detractors into silence through “cancel culture”, a ritual of public humiliation and boycotting which can often lead to the target losing his or her means of income.

Free Speech is a defense of our right to express ourselves as we see fit and takes the form of a letter to those who are unpersuaded. Taking on board legitimate concerns about how speech can be harmful, Andrew Doyle argues that the alternative — an authoritarian world in which our freedoms are surrendered to those in power — has far worse consequences.

Andrew Doyle is a writer, satirist and political commentator. He regularly appears on television to discuss current affairs, is a panelist on the BBC’s Moral Maze, and was recently interviewed on The Joe Rogan Experience, the most downloaded podcast in the world. He has written for a number of publications, including the Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail, Spectator, Standpoint, and Sunday Times. He is the creator of satirical character Titania McGrath, under whose name he has written two books — Woke: A Guide to Social Justice and My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism, both published by Little, Brown. Titania McGrath has over half a million followers on Twitter. He was formerly a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, and a lecturer at Oxford University where he completed his doctorate.

Shermer and Doyle discuss:

  • Titania McGrath,
  • “We need to check your thinking.”
  • hate speech as violence,
  • Liberal and Conservative attitudes toward free speech and how they shifted,
  • private vs. public speech, government censorship vs. cancel culture,
  • history of free speech from the Greeks to today,
  • social media companies: platforms or publishers?
  • enabling speech and why not inviting someone like Milo Yannapolis to speak is not censorship,
  • why claims like “you can’t say anything anymore” is self-refuting,
  • What about fraud, libel, perjury, blackmail, espionage?: “speech is to perjury what fire is to arson.”
  • Frank Zappa on CNN’s Crossfire vs. Conservatives,
  • comedy and satire.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promoting science and reason. If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support.

This episode is sponsored by:

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“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” —Thomas Paine

“Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter.” —Milton

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.” —Marcus Aurelius

Recent postings by Andrew Doyle as @TitaniaMcgrath on Twitter (read on the podcast)
Tweet by Titania McGrath
Tweet by Titania McGrath
Tweet by Titania McGrath
Tweet by Titania McGrath
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John Mueller — The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency

The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency (book cover)

In this conversation based on his new book, The Stupidity of War, political scientist John Mueller argues that American foreign policy since 1945 has been one long miscue; most international threats — including during the Cold War — have been substantially exaggerated. The result has been agony and bloviation, unnecessary and costly military interventions that have mostly failed. A policy of complacency and appeasement likely would have worked better. There has seldom been significant danger of major war. Nuclear weapons, international institutions, and America’s super power role have been substantially irrelevant; post-Cold War policy has been animated more by vast proclamation and half-vast execution than by the appeals of liberal hegemony; and post-9/11 concerns about international terrorism and nuclear proliferation have been overwrought and often destructive. Meanwhile, threats from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, or from cyber technology are limited and manageable. With international war in decline, complacency and appeasement become viable diplomatic devices and a large military is scarcely required.

Shermer and Mueller discuss:

  • why war in general is stupid,
  • America’s bad wars: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan,
  • America’s good wars: The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II,
  • no Hitler, no Holocaust … no World War II,
  • exogenous triggers of the decline of war (you can’t just say war declined because states became less warlike),
  • democracy and trade as factors in the decline of war,
  • rise of war aversion and the decline of international war,
  • Aren’t proxy wars between great powers just international wars by other names?
  • counterfactual: what if the US became isolated after WWII?
  • why the USSR was never as serious a threat as believed,
  • why terrorism is not an existential threat … or much of a threat at all,
  • arms race between US armed forces: Navy, Army, Airforce (nuclear triad: subs, missiles, bombers),
  • deterrence is not needed between France/Germany, etc.,
  • the game-theoretic logic of deterrence, conflict and resolution,
  • how appeasement got a bad name and why we should resurrect it,
  • nuclear weapons and the Cuban Missile Crisis,
  • appeasement as a viable strategy for resolving conflict, but what about Hitler and Munich?
  • the domino theory of containment: Korea, Vietnam, and other proxy wars,
  • current hot spots: China, Russia, North Korea, Syria, the Middle East,
  • why there is no need for vast military spending and such a large military, and
  • why the United States should be patient and wait for the worst regimes to collapse from their own inherent weaknesses rather than getting entangled in costly and deadly conflicts.

Dr. John Mueller is a political scientist at Ohio State University, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also the author of Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, Policy and Opinion in the Gulf War, The Remnants of War, and Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.

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This episode is sponsored by:

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Michio Kaku — The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything

The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (book cover)

When Newton discovered the law of gravity, he unified the rules governing the heavens and the Earth. Since then, physicists have been placing new forces into ever-grander theories. But perhaps the ultimate challenge is achieving a monumental synthesis of the two remaining theories — relativity and the quantum theory. This would be the crowning achievement of science, a profound merging of all the forces of nature into one beautiful, magnificent equation to unlock the deepest mysteries in science. Shermer and Kaku discuss:

  • What happened before the Big Bang?
  • What lies on the other side of a black hole?
  • Are there other universes and dimensions?
  • the multiverse and its multi-configurations,
  • black holes, worm holes, and portals to other universes,
  • time travel,
  • dark energy and dark matter,
  • What is gravity, anyway?
  • Does science progress through falsification, confirmation, consensus, or Bayesian reasoning?
  • string theory: how can it be tested?
  • proofs for God’s existence: cosmological, teleological, ontological, fine-tuning,
  • Did God have a choice in creating the universe?
  • Is God just the laws of nature or a personal being?
  • What is the meaning of life in a meaningless universe?
  • ETI and AGI: any sufficiently advanced ETI or AGI would be indistinguishable from God.

Michio Kaku is a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, co-founder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Beyond Einstein, The Future of Humanity, The Future of the Mind, Hyperspace, Physics of the Future, and Physics of the Impossible. He is the science correspondent for CBS This Morning, the host of the radio programs Science Fantastic and Exploration, and a host of several science TV specials for the BBC and the Discovery and Science Channels.

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Jeff Hawkins — A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (book cover)

For all of neuroscience’s advances, we’ve made little progress on its biggest question: How do simple cells in the brain create intelligence? Jeff Hawkins and his team discovered that the brain uses maplike structures to build a model of the world — not just one model, but hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. This discovery allows Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought.

Jeff Hawkins is the cofounder of Numenta, a neuroscience research company; founder of the Redwood Neuroscience Institute; and one of the founders of the field of handheld computing. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and author of On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines.

Shermer and Hawkins discuss:

  • What is intelligence?
  • What is consciousness?
  • All thoughts, ideas, and perceptions are the activity of neurons.
  • Everything we know is stored in the connections between neurons.
  • the neocortex as the key to higher intelligence,
  • cortical columns as the key to reference frames that lead to intelligence,
  • motor cortex, sensory cortex, and sensory-motor learning,
  • Vernon Mountcastle’s Big Idea,
  • why the old reptilian brain is heterogenous whereas the new brain is homogeneous,
  • Jeff Hawkins Big Idea: There is no central control room in our brains; instead, our perception is a consensus which the columns reach by voting. Within the columns — even within neurons — predictions are made, and depending how successful their predictions are, the neurons will vote for their version of events,
  • maps and models in your head,
  • predictive models of the world,
  • dendritic spikes as predictions,
  • species specific perception,
  • veridical perception vs. survival perception,
  • metaphors of how the brain works: a clockwork machine, pneumatic or hydraulic devices, cavities through which animal spirits flowed, electrical device, nerves as telegraph wires, cybernetics, computers, etc.,
  • Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 (Thinking, Fast and Slow),
  • Can immortality be achieved through mind uploading?
  • AI/AGI: Does Big Blue know it beat Gary Kasparov in Chess? Does Watson know it won Jeopardy?
  • SETI and the nature of alien intelligence, and
  • colonizing the galaxy with our intelligence.

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Daniel Dennett & Gregg Caruso — Just Deserts: Debating Free Will (moderated by Michael Shermer)

The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb, High-Fat Eating (book cover)

The concept of free will is profoundly important to our self-understanding, our interpersonal relationships, and our moral and legal practices. If it turns out that no one is ever free and morally responsible, what would that mean for society, morality, meaning, and the law?

Just Deserts brings together two philosophers — Daniel C. Dennett and Gregg D. Caruso — to debate their respective views on free will, moral responsibility, and legal punishment. In this conversation Dennett and Caruso present their arguments for and against the existence of free will and debate their implications. Dennett argues that the kind of free will required for moral responsibility is compatible with determinism — for him, self-control is key; we are not responsible for becoming responsible, but are responsible for staying responsible, for keeping would-be puppeteers at bay. Caruso takes the opposite view, arguing that who we are and what we do is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control, and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward.

Just Deserts introduces the concepts central to the debate about free will and moral responsibility by way of an entertaining, rigorous, and sometimes heated philosophical dialogue between two leading thinkers.

Dr. Daniel C. Dennett is Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Science and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. His books include Content and Consciousness (1969), Brainstorms (1978), Elbow Room (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), Freedom Evolves (2003), Breaking the Spell (2006), and From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017). He is a leading defender of compatibilism, the view that determinism can be reconciled with free will, and is perhaps best known in cognitive science for his concept of intentional systems and his multiple drafts model of human consciousness.

Dr. Gregg D. Caruso is Professor of Philosophy at SUNY, Corning and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University. He is also the Co-Director of the Justice Without Retribution Network at the University of Aberdeen School of Law. His books include Free Will and Consciousness (2012), Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice (2021), Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility (ed. 2013), Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience (co-ed. with Owen Flanagan, 2018), and Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: Challenging Retributive Justice (co-ed. with Elizabeth Shaw and Derk Pereboom, 2019). He is a leading proponent of free will skepticism, which maintains that who we are and what we do is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control, and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense — i.e., the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward.

Survey discussed at the beginning of the podcast

At the beginning of the podcast Dr. Shermer discussed the results of a 2009 survey that asked 3,226 philosophy professors and graduate students to weigh in on 30 different subjects of concern in their field, from a priori knowledge, aesthetic value, and God to knowledge, mind, and moral realism. On the topic of “free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will,” the survey found the following results:

Accept or lean toward
Compatibilism 59.1%
Other 14.9%
Libertarianism 13.7%
No free will 12.2%

By far, the majority of professional philosophers hold the position that free will and determinism are compatible.

Now, from a scientific perspective it shouldn’t matter how many people support one or another position. Only the quality of the evidence and arguments should matter. As Einstein said in response to a 1931 book skeptical of relativity theory titled A Hundred Authors Against Einstein, “Why one hundred? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.”

But there is something revealing about these figures, and that is this: if the most qualified people to assess a problem are not in agreement on an answer — and the free-will/determinism problem has been around for thousands of years — it may be that it is an insoluble one. For example, is it really reasonable for the 12.2 percent of philosophers who are determinists to conclude that 59.1 percent of their professional colleagues are simply wrong in taking the compatibilist position? Isn’t it more likely that the issue comes down to language and what is meant by the terms “free will” and “determinism”?

Dr. Shermer asks Dr. Dennett and Dr. Caruso their response to these findings.

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Gary Taubes — The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating

The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb, High-Fat Eating (book cover)

According to the CDC, in 2020 36.5 percent of adult Americans are obese, with another 32.5 percent overweight. In all, this means that 69 percent — more than two-thirds — of all adults are overweight or obese. Two-thirds. Is it possible that the dietary and nutrition advice we have been given for the past half century needs revising? That is the conclusion of the work of the renowned science journalist Gary Taubes, who has been studying and writing about this topic for the past quarter century in this and previous books, Good Calories Bad Calories, Why We Get Fat and The Case Against Sugar. After a century of misunderstanding the differences between diet, weight control, and health, The Case for Keto revolutionizes how we think about healthy eating.

For years, health organizations have preached the same rules for losing weight: restrict your calories, eat less, exercise more. So why doesn’t it work for everyone? The Case for Keto puts the ketogenic diet movement in the necessary historical and scientific perspective. It makes clear the vital misconceptions in how we’ve come to think about obesity and diet (no, people do not become fat simply because they eat too much; hormones play the critical role) and uses the collected clinical experience of the medical community to provide essential practical advice.

Taubes reveals why the established rules about eating healthy might be the wrong approach to weight loss for millions of people, and how low-carbohydrate, high-fat/ketogenic diets can help so many of us achieve and maintain a healthy weight for life. Shermer and Taubes also discuss:

  • the consensus process in science and why it doesn’t always work,
  • the replication crisis in science as applied to nutrition science,
  • the Newtonian mechanical model of science and why it doesn’t work with human bodies,
  • the physics model of calories and why it is misleading for dietary advice and obesity,
  • how difficult it is to collect accurate data on what people eat,
  • the many complicating variables at work in determining dietary recommendations,
  • what, precisely, is wrong with the long-standing recommendations about what we should eat,
  • intermittent fasting,
  • why some people gain weight whereas others do not on the same diets,
  • why losing weight is so difficult on most recommended diets,
  • why it is okay to have bacon-and-eggs for breakfast (unless you are a morning faster, in which case have them for lunch),
  • what type of meat and animal fats are best to consume,
  • which fruits and vegetables you should consume and avoid,
  • cholesterol, heart disease, and statins, and
  • why you should give Keto a try.

Gary Taubes, an award-winning science and health journalist, is cofounder and director of the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI). He is the author of The Case Against Sugar, Why We Get Fat, and Good Calories Bad Calories, and a former staff writer for Discover and correspondent for Science. He has written three cover articles on nutrition and health for The New York Times Magazine, and his writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Esquire, and numerous “best of” anthologies, including The Best of the Best American Science Writing (2010). He has received three Science in Society Journalism Awards from the National Association of Science Writers, and is also the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. He lives in Oakland, California.

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Michael Heller & James Salzman — Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives

Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives (book cover)

A hidden set of rules governs who owns what — explaining everything from whether you can recline your airplane seat to why HBO lets you borrow a password illegally — and in this lively and entertaining conversation, two acclaimed law professors reveal how things become “mine.”

“Mine” is one of the first words babies learn. By the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural, whether buying a cup of coffee or a house. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you reclining or the squished laptop user behind? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock-off a recipe or a dress design? Mine! explains these puzzles and many more. Surprisingly, there are just six simple stories that everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the story that steers us to do what they want. But we can always pick a different story. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. As Michael Heller and James Salzman show ownership is always up for grabs.

Shermer and Heller and Salzman discuss:

  • Principles of ownership:

    • first in time,
    • possession is nine-tenths of the law (attachment),
    • finders keepers, losers weepers,
    • my home is my castle: how far up and down?
    • you reap what you sow (product knock offs?; book knock offs?
  • children’s sense of ownership starting with playground toys,
  • knee defender: who owns the rights between seats,
  • Spirit’s 1968 instrumental track Taurus vs. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven,
  • HOV lanes,
  • why HBO tolerates, even encourages, illegal password-sharing,
  • fisheries and the tragedy of the commons (Deadliest Catch TV show),
  • marriage menu,
  • 23andMe: who owns my genetic information?
  • tree huggers vs. solar: who owns sunshine?
  • Disney copyright battles,
  • estate taxes, trusts and wills,
  • Elon Musk gave away the patents on Tesla car systems,
  • negative truthful gossip: more powerful than law,
  • UBI and reparations for Native Americans/African Americans,
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s copyrighted speeches,
  • North American land ownership and Native Americans?
  • Curt Flood: who owns athlete’s careers?
  • Why has there been a 98% drop in African American land ownership?
  • generational wealth, wealth inequality: 1% own 40% of the nation’s wealth: $30 trillion dollar wealth transfer from Baby Boomers to their offspring.

Michael Heller and James Salzman are among the world’s leading authorities on ownership. Heller is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law at Columbia Law School. He is the author of The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. Salzman is the Donald Bren Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law, with joint appointments at the UCLA School of Law and the UCSB Bren School of the Environment. He is the author of Drinking Water: A History.

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John McWhorter — The Elect: Neoracists Posing as Antiracists and their Threat to a Progressive America

In episode 165 of The Michael Shermer Show, Dr. Shermer speaks with John McWhorter about his new online book on how the antiracism movement poses a threat to progressive America. Shermer and McWhorter discuss:

  • antiracism as a religion,
  • the 3 waves of Antiracism:

    1. abolition of slavery and segregation,
    2. 1970s/1980s battle against racist attitudes,
    3. 2010s: racism is baked into the structure of society so whites are complicit.
  • creation myth of antiracism: problems began in 1619,
  • the antiracism trinity: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi,
  • The Elect (like Thomas Sowell’s The Anointed),
  • antiracism,
  • white fragility,
  • black bodies,
  • reparations,
  • Black Lives Matter (BLM),
  • BLM and the nuclear family,
  • George Floyd, Tony Timpa and police violence,
  • the N-word and language as violence,
  • systemic racism (incarceration rates, housing, jobs, income, etc.),
  • Third Wave Antiracism catechism (from The Elect):

    1. When black people say you have insulted them, apologize with profound sincerity and guilt. But don’t put black people in a position where you expect them to forgive you. They have dealt with too much to be expected to.
    2. Black people are a conglomeration of disparate individuals. “Black culture” is code for “pathological, primitive ghetto people.” But don’t expect black people to assimilate to “white” social norms because black people have a culture of their own.
    3. Silence about racism is violence. But elevate the voices of the oppressed over your own.
    4. You must strive eternally to understand the experiences of black people. But you can never understand what it is to be black, and if you think you do you’re a racist.
    5. Show interest in multiculturalism. But do not culturally appropriate. What is not your culture is not for you, and you may not try it or do it. But — if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it, you are a racist.
    6. Support black people in creating their own spaces and stay out of them. But seek to have black friends. If you don’t have any, you’re a racist. And if you claim any, they’d better be good friends — in their private spaces, you aren’t allowed in.
    7. When whites move away from black neighborhoods, it’s white flight. But when whites move into black neighborhoods, it’s gentrification, even when they pay black residents generously for their houses.
    8. If you’re white and only date white people, you’re a racist. But if you’re white and date a black person you are, if only deep down, exotifying an “other.”
    9. Black people cannot be held accountable for everything every black person does. But all whites must acknowledge their personal complicity in the perfidy throughout history of “whiteness.”
    10. Black students must be admitted to schools via adjusted grade and test score standards to ensure a representative number of them and foster a diversity of views in classrooms. But it is racist to assume a black student was admitted to a school via racial preferences, and racist to expect them to represent the “diverse” view in classroom discussions.

Subscribe to Dr. McWhorter’s site to read chapters of The Elect.

John H. McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies, and music history at Columbia University. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and host of Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast. McWhorter is the author of twenty books, including The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson — Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going

Cosmic Queries: StarTalk‘s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We‘re Going (book cover)

In this thought-provoking conversation on life, the universe, and everything, Neil deGrasse Tyson tackles the world’s most important philosophical questions about the universe with wit, wisdom, and cutting-edge science. For science geeks, space and physics nerds, and all who want to understand their place in the universe, this enlightening new book offers a unique take on the mysteries and curiosities of the cosmos, building on rich material from his beloved StarTalk podcast, along with dozens of his most popular tweets on science.

Shermer and Tyson discuss:

  • known knowns: what we know about the universe and how we know it, such as how big it is and how it began,
  • known unknowns: what we know that we don’t know about the universe, such as dark energy and dark matter,
  • unknown unknowns: what we don’t even know that we don’t know about the universe,
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What if we had brains the size of Jupiter: would the universe be understood differently?
  • What was there before the Big Bang (or is this the wrong question)?
  • the origins of morality and the sense of right and wrong,
  • the hard problem of consciousness,
  • why some questions are one thought too many,
  • consensus science,
  • theories of everything from outsiders (and letters Neil receives),
  • panspermia and directed panspermia,
  • Fermi’s paradox: where are all the aliens?
  • Would ETI be bipedal primates (convergent evolution vs. life’s diversity)?
  • AI and the paperclip paradox,
  • How does the luminiferous aether differ from space-time (gravitational waves)?
  • What is gravity, anyway?
  • archeoastronomy and pre-scientific understanding of the cosmos,
  • Is the universe closed, flat, or open?
  • the multiverse: will it ever be a testable hypothesis?
  • the big rip and the end of the universe.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of the popular podcast StarTalk Radio and Emmy award-winning National Geographic Channel shows StarTalk and Cosmos. He earned his BA in physics from Harvard and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia. The author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Tyson is the first Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children. Follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Helen Pluckrose — Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everybody

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody (book cover)

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn’t practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only white people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this wide-ranging conversation Helen Pluckrose recounts the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. Shermer and Pluckrose discuss:

  • liberalism vs. illiberalism,
  • Enlightenment/Scientific humanism vs. theism/authoritarianism/anti-humanism,
  • modernism/modernity vs. postmodernism,
  • social justice/wokeism vs. social justice,
  • critical theory: revealing hidden biases & assumptions, inequalities,
  • political correctness,
  • cancel culture,
  • identity politics,
  • postmodernism,
  • postcolonial theory,
  • queer theory,
  • critical race theory and intersectionality,
  • feminisms and gender studies,
  • disability and fat studies,
  • social justice in action, and
  • an alternative to the ideology of social justice.

Helen Pluckrose is a liberal political and cultural writer and speaker. She is the editor of Areo Magazine and the author of many popular essays on postmodernism, critical theory, liberalism, secularism, and feminism. A participant in the Grievance Studies Affair probe, which highlighted problems in social justice scholarship, she is today an exile from the humanities, where she researched late medieval and early modern religious writing by and for women. She lives in England.

Quoted in the podcast episode:

Open Letter to Independent Editors by Todd O’Keefe, Wed Feb 17, 2021

I am a local Santa Barbara songwriter and musician. Last week, the Independent had planned to publish a conversation with me about my new song, “Indian Wedding.”

After I did the interview, I was told that the title “Indian Wedding” might be offensive, so before the Independent could run a picture of the artwork with the song title, I was asked for my racial background. Let me repeat that: Before the Independent would publish the artwork for my single, I was asked what my race was. Apparently, if I answered with what they considered the correct race, then the album art could be posted. If I answered with what they considered the wrong kind of race, then a picture of the artwork would not be printed so as not to offend its readers. Of course, I refused to answer the question, seeing how it was not only irrelevant but also clearly inappropriate.

I just wanted to inform the staff of the Independent that there is a large country in Southern Asia called “India.” In this country, they occasionally have “weddings”. Also, I believe that the editorial staff at the ironically titled “Independent” have lost their minds.

Editor’s Note: As O’Keefe correctly asserts, members of our staff raised concerns his song title could be construed as cultural appropriation. Out of an abundance of caution when it comes to such charges, he was requested to provide another image if he were not of Indian or Native American descent. We regret that he’s chosen another route, as we believed our readership would enjoy the new song.

Here is a link to the song and artwork.

From Nick Gillespie’s video OpEd Libertarian Postmodernism: A Reply to Jordan Peterson and the Intellectual Dark Web

Famously in the 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard, he defined postmodernism as ”incredulity toward metanarratives,” which means that, you don’t take knowledge, or assertions of knowledge, as a given, but rather you understand that knowledge and wisdom, and even scientific understanding of things, is not something that you’re walking around and you discover in the backyard that you stumble across like you stumble across the Grand Canyon, or a mountain, or something. Rather it’s something that produced by humans, and, as a result, it’s contingent, it’s limited. Incredulity toward metanarratives means that you are skeptical of these big stories that we tell about, “Well this is the why the world is the way it is. This is why it’s always been that way. This is why it always will be that way.” Or, alternatively, “This is why the world should be this way, which just happens to comport with what I want.” I see that phrase, incredulity toward meta narrative, as very simpatico with libertarianism, and it’s very simpatico with something like public choice economics, which James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, the founders of it, called ”politics without romance.” What it does is it looks at what is being said, why it is being said, who benefits, and whether or not it actually holds up to scrutiny from a kind of 360-degree angle.

From Stephen Beckner’s essay on postmodernism in Skeptic, Vol. 24, No. 1, “Straw Man on a Slippery Slope: The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism”

A physicist and science historian like Thomas Kuhn uses the dressier term paradigm. Fancier still is Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s Model Dependent Realism.

In the history of science we have discovered a sequence of better and better theories or models, from Plato to the classical theory of Newton to modern quantum theories. It is natural to ask: Will this sequence eventually reach an end point […] or will we continue forever finding better theories, but never one that cannot be improved upon?

Here Hawking and Mlodinow are wondering if we will ever discover capital “T” truth in the form of a theory of everything. The pragmatists and the postmodernist say no, because such a theory would essentially be, well, everything. The fact that our maps will always fall short of reality is not an argument for their futility. But it might be an argument for moderation, nuance, and generosity in our dealings with our fellow mapmakers. The great irony in all of this is that in an infamous Waking Up podcast interview Jordan Peterson had this to say:

Truths are always bounded because we’re ignorant. […] There’s no reason to assume that our current scientific view of the world isn’t flawed or incomplete in some manner that will prove fundamentally fatal to us.

So here we have the man who is arguably spearheading this latest campaign against postmodernism, vigorously defending a postmodern-adjacent view of truth, while Sam Harris, a man with a mind supple enough to see free will as a construct of self, found himself digging his heels in on an absolutist position.

In his Reason TV video Nick Gillespie says that postmodernism “celebrates the limits of human knowledge.” I see it like that as well. The hucksters of scientific rectitude and the grievance studies radicals are alike in that they’ve both got postmodernism wrong. It isn’t an ideology, it’s a tool for identifying and investigating ideology. It’s not a path, it’s a light on the path. In its purest form it is anti-authoritarian, anti-essentialist, and anti-dogma. What more could a skeptic ask?

From Dr. Shermer’s essay “A Dream Deferred”, republished in Giving the Devil His Due

Intersectionality theory includes these contrasts of oppression:

White—Non-White, Male—Female, Light—Dark, Cisgender—Transgender, Heterosexual—Homosexual, Gender-typical—Deviant, Young—Old, European—Non-European, Anglophone—English as Second Language, Gentile—Jews, Rich—Poor, Fertile—Infertile, Able-bodied—Disabled, Credentialed—Non-Literate.

As philosopher Kathryn Pauly Morgan explained intersectionality, each of us may be identified and judged on where we fall “on each of these axes (at a minimum) and that this point is simultaneously a locus of our agency, power, disempowerment, oppression, and resistance.” The Chicana feminist activist Elizabeth Martinez worried what such hierarchical assessments might lead to: “There are various forms of working together. A coalition is one, a network is another, an alliance is yet another. But the general idea is no competition of heirarchies should prevail. No Oppression Olympics.”

From Dr. Shermer’s essay “A Dream Deferred”, republished in Giving the Devil His Due

Among its many elements, Dr. King’s dream included his faith that one day “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” Within our culture in general, and on social media and talk radio and television in particular, the jangling discords of identity politics are said to be pulling us into another civil war, this one cultural instead of martial. With discordance arising from these many identities competing for power and influence that have brought out the worse demons of our nature, it is prudent to recall the dream of a civil rights crusader from an earlier century—Abraham Lincoln—as his country was on the eve of a real civil war over the enslavement of millions of people who wanted nothing more than to be treated equally as fully human with the same rights and privileges as those enslaving them. Speaking to the southerners who had already seceded from the union and formed the Confederate States of America, the Great Emancipator implored:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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Benjamin Friedman — Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” — John Maynard Keynes The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936

From one of the nation’s preeminent experts on economic policy, a major reassessment of the foundations of modern economic thinking that explores the profound influence of an until-now unrecognized force — religion.

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (book cover)

Critics of contemporary economics complain that belief in free markets — among economists as well as many ordinary citizens — is a form of religion. And, it turns out, that in a deeper, more historically grounded sense there is something to that idea. Contrary to the conventional historical view of economics as an entirely secular product of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Friedman demonstrates that religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset. Friedman makes clear how the foundational transition in thinking about what we now call economics, beginning in the 18th century, was decisively shaped by the hotly contended lines of religious thought within the English-speaking Protestant world. Beliefs about God-given human character, human agency, and about the purpose of our existence, were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived. Friedman explores how those debates go far in explaining the puzzling behavior of so many of our fellow citizens whose views about economic policies — and whose voting behavior — seems sharply at odds with what would be to their own economic benefit. Illuminating the origins of the relationship between religious thinking and economic thinking, together with its ongoing consequences, Friedman provides invaluable insights into our current economic policy debates and demonstrates ways to shape more functional policies for all citizens.

Benjamin Friedman is the William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy, and formerly chairman of the Department of Economics, at Harvard University, where he has now taught for nearly half a century. Mr. Friedman’s two previous general interest books are Day of Reckoning: The Consequences of American Economic Policy Under Reagan and After, and The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. He has also written extensively on issues of economic policy, for both economists and economic policymakers, and he is a frequent contributor to national publications, especially The New York Review of Books. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Shermer and Friedman discuss:

  • how the worldview of scientists shapes how they see the world, including economic scientists,
  • how the Newtonian mechanical worldview trickled down to social theory about how economies operate through forces,
  • which religious ideas most influenced the thinking of 18th century Enlightenment thinkers,
  • why Adam Smith was not, as many contemporary thinkers believe, a proponent of unregulated free markets,
  • the religious idea of free will and personal responsibility shaped economic theory,
  • Prosperity Gospel (God wants us to be rich) vs. Social Gospel (God wants us to help the poor),
  • post WWII theological conservatives linked arms with free-market conservatives because of the threat of godless Communism,
  • When did Jesus became a conservative (the post WWII bundling of religion and economics)?: the influence of J. Howard Pew (Pew Research); Dwight Moody (Moody Bible Institute); Charles Fuller (Fuller Theological Seminary); Byman Stewart (Bible Institute of Los Angeles); George Pepperdine (dedicated to teaching “under conservative, fundamental Christian supervision”) and the founding of Pepperdine University (Dr. Shermer’s alma mater); William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, The Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell,
  • why Americans who might benefit from an expanded welfare state now routinely vote against it,
  • why evangelicals voted for Trump in record numbers,
  • the economic bailout of 2020 and 2021 (the debt held by the public as a share of GDP is the highest (at 102%) since WWII, and never this high in peacetime.
  • Trekonomics/Post-Scarcity capitalism: what happens when poverty is eliminated? and
  • income inequality, UBI, and the future of work in an A.I. dominated world.

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Roy Richard Grinker — Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness

The Solace: Finding Value in Death Through Gratitude for Life (book cover)

For centuries, scientists and society cast moral judgments on anyone deemed mentally ill, confining many to asylums. In Nobody’s Normal, anthropologist Dr. Roy Richard Grinker chronicles the progress and setbacks in the struggle against mental-illness stigma — from the 18th century, through America’s major wars, and into today’s high-tech economy. Grinker argues that stigma is a social process that can be explained through cultural history, a process that began the moment we defined mental illness. Though the legacies of shame and secrecy are still with us today, Grinker writes that we are at the cusp of ending the marginalization of the mentally ill. Grinker infuses the book with the personal history of his family’s four generations of involvement in psychiatry, including his grandfather’s analysis with Sigmund Freud, his own daughter’s experience with autism, and culminating in his research on neurodiversity. Drawing on cutting-edge science, historical archives, and cross-cultural research in Africa and Asia, Grinker takes readers on an international journey to discover the origins of, and variances in, our cultural response to neurodiversity.

Roy Richard Grinker is professor of anthropology and international affairs at the George Washington University. He is the author of several books, including Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism. He lives in Washington, DC.

Shermer and Grinker discuss:

  • Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason:

    “We have yet to write the history of that other form of madness, by which men, in an act of sovereign reason, confine their neighbors, and communicate and recognize each other through the merciless language of non-madness; We must try to return, in history, to that zero point in the course of madness at which madness is an undifferentiated experience, a not yet divided experience of division itself. We must describe, from the start of its trajectory, that ‘other form’ which relegates Reason and Madness to one side or the other of its action as things henceforth external, deaf to all exchange, and as though dead to one another.”

  • Grinker family connection of psychiatry and mental illness,
  • Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness, and The Manufacture of Madness,
  • Stigma: why wouldn’t a medical model of madness lessen stigma?
  • labeling problem. Robert Rosenhan’s experiment,
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),
  • autism spectrum (Bill Gates? Temple Grandin?),
  • neuroses vs. psychoses,
  • schizophrenia,
  • mental vs. medical models,
  • brain and mind, Descartes’ dualism,
  • illness vs. disorder,
  • DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
  • The “heap problem”: how many characteristics of a disorder makes madness?
  • capitalism and madness,
  • women, “hysteria” and the “invention of the female,”
  • slaves and “drapetomania” (the disorder of wanting to escape to freedom),
  • war and the treatment of madness: hysteria, shell shock, PTSD,
  • Are we all on the spectrum between madness and normalcy (whatever that is)?
  • positive labels: “gay is good” “black is beautiful” … LGBTQ,
  • homelessness and mental illness, and
  • the future of madness and normalcy.

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Abigail Shrier — Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (book cover)

Until just a few years ago, gender dysphoria — severe discomfort in one’s biological sex — was vanishingly rare. It was typically found in less than .01 percent of the population, emerged in early childhood, and afflicted males almost exclusively. But today whole groups of female friends in colleges, high schools, and even middle schools across the country are coming out as “transgender.” These are girls who had never experienced any discomfort in their biological sex until they heard a coming-out story from a speaker at a school assembly or discovered the internet community of trans “influencers.” Unsuspecting parents are awakening to find their daughters in thrall to hip trans YouTube stars and “gender-affirming” educators and therapists who push life-changing interventions on young girls — including medically unnecessary double mastectomies and puberty blockers that can cause permanent infertility.

In this conversation Abigail Shrier recounts has she dug deep into the trans epidemic, talking to the girls, their agonized parents, and the counselors and doctors who enable gender transitions, as well as to “detransitioners” — young women who bitterly regret what they have done to themselves. Coming out as transgender immediately boosts these girls’ social status, Shrier finds, but once they take the first steps of transition, it is not easy to walk back. She offers urgently needed advice about how parents can protect their daughters because if this trend continues a generation of girls is at risk.

Abigail Shrier is a writer for the Wall Street Journal. She is a graduate of Columbia College, where she received the Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship; the University of Oxford; and Yale Law School. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Shermer and Shrier discuss:

  • separating facts about gender dysphoria from moralizing about it (everyone is entitled to universal human rights regardless of what the science says about them),
  • the historical baseline rate of gender dysphoria compared to current trends,
  • F–M trans & M–F trans,
  • What percent of trans revert?
  • Trans or gay? Do F–M trans want to be men or trans?
  • What happened to lesbians?
  • determining the cause of the spike in female-to-male trans in social contagion & social media,
  • pressures girls and young women are under that lead them to such drastic steps: isolation, bad online social dynamics, restrictive gender and sexuality labels, unwelcome physical changes and sexual attention, puberty, bullying, online mobbing,
  • sex vs. gender; who you identify as vs. who you are attracted to,
  • trans binding, clothing, and general behavior.

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