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.
162. Benjamin Friedman — Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
In episode 162 of The Michael Shermer Show, Michael speaks with one of the nation’s preeminent experts on economic policy, Benjamin Friedman, about his new book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism — a major reassessment of the foundations of modern economic thinking that explores the profound influence of an until-now unrecognized force — religion.
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.
161. Roy Richard Grinker — Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness
For centuries, scientists and society cast moral judgments on anyone deemed mentally ill, confining many to asylums. In episode 161 of The Michael Shermer Show, Dr. Shermer speaks with anthropologist Dr. Roy Richard Grinker about his book Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness which 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. 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. Shermer and Grinker discuss: the DSM, ADHD, PTSD, the autism spectrum, schizophrenia, labels and stigma, neuroses vs. psychoses, mental vs. medical models, brain/mind dualism, blacks and drapetomania, homelessness and mental illness, and the future of madness and normalcy.
160. Abigail Shrier — Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters
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 how 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.
159. Joshua Glasgow — The Solace: Finding Value in Death Through Gratitude for Life
How can we find solace when we face the death of loved ones? How can we find solace in our own death? When philosopher Joshua Glasgow’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, he struggled to answer these questions for her and for himself. Though death and immortality introduce some of the most basic and existentially compelling questions in philosophy, Glasgow found that the dominant theories came up short. Recalling the last months of his mother’s life, Glasgow reveals the breakthrough he finally arrived at for himself, from which readers can learn and find solace. When we are grateful for life, we value all of it, and this includes death, its natural culmination. Just as we are grateful for the value in our lives, we can affirm this value in death.
158. Jason D. Hill — We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to The American People
In this episode Michael Shermer speaks with Jason D. Hill, a black immigrant from Jamaica, about his eloquent appreciation of the American Dream, and why his adopted nation remains the most noble experiment in enabling the pursuit of happiness. Dr. Hill came to this country at the age of 20 and, rather than being faced with intractable racial bigotry, Hill found a land of bountiful opportunity. It has been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act enshrined equality under the law for all Americans. Since that time, America has enjoyed an era of unprecedented prosperity, domestic and international peace, and technological advancement. But the dominant narrative, repeated in the media and from the angry mouths of politicians and activists, is the exact opposite of the reality. They paint a portrait of an America rife with racial and ethnic division, where minorities are mired in a poverty worse than slavery, and white people stand at the top of an unfairly stacked pyramid of privilege. Jason D. Hill corrects the narrative in this powerfully conversation based on his eloquent book.
157. Avi Loeb — Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
According to the Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, we have proof of alien existence, and more sightings are coming soon. In late 2017, scientists at a Hawaiian observatory glimpsed an object soaring through our inner solar system, moving so quickly that it could only have come from another star. Loeb argued that it was not an asteroid; it was moving too fast along a strange orbit and left no trail of gas or debris in its wake. There was only one conceivable explanation: the object was a piece of advanced technology created by an ancient alien civilization. This was a shocking claim, and many were vehemently opposed to Avi’s view. In his new book, and in this conversation, Loeb outlines his controversial theory and its profound implications for science, religion, and the future of our species and our planet. Also highlighted, and perhaps at the heart of his message, is Loeb’s plea for open and eager scientific inquiry into this field of study, and his calls for deeper faith in science and the breaking down of barriers between the scientific community and the non-scientific community.