579 episodes

The Gray Area with host Sean Illing is a philosophical take on culture, politics, and everything in between. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we do offer a space for real dialogue. Resist certainty, embrace ambiguity, and get some cool takes on a very hot world. Formerly the Vox Conversations podcast. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.

The Gray Area with Sean Illing Vox

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.5 • 9.9K Ratings

The Gray Area with host Sean Illing is a philosophical take on culture, politics, and everything in between. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we do offer a space for real dialogue. Resist certainty, embrace ambiguity, and get some cool takes on a very hot world. Formerly the Vox Conversations podcast. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.

    Best of: Imagine a future with no police

    Best of: Imagine a future with no police

    Guest host Fabiola Cineas talks with author, lawyer, and organizer Derecka Purnell about her recent book Becoming Abolitionists. They discuss Derecka's journey to defending the idea of police abolition, and what that position really entails. They explore questions about the historical and social role of policing in society, how to imagine a future where we radically rethink our system of criminal justice, and how we can acknowledge and incorporate current data about crime — while still rethinking our inherited assumptions about police.
    This was originally released in Jan. 2022 as an episode of Vox Conversations.

    Host: Fabiola Cineas (@FabiolaCineas), reporter, Vox.com
    Guest: Derecka Purnell (@dereckapurnell), author
    References: 


    Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom by Derecka Purnell (Astra House; 2021)


    Police shootings database 2015-2023 (Washington Post)


    The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James (Vintage; 1989)


    Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 by W.E.B. Du Bois (1935)


    "One American city's model of policing reform means building 'social currency'" by Nathan Layne (June 12, 2020; Reuters)


    "The Camden Police Department is Not a Model for Policing in the Post-George Floyd Era" by Brendan McQuade (June 12, 2020; The Appeal)


    "Murder Rose by Almost 30% in 2020. It's Rising at a Slower Rate in 2021" by Jeff Asher (Sept. 22, 2021; New York Times)


    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
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    This episode was made by: 


    Producer: Erikk Geannikis


    Engineers: Patrick Boyd & Paul Robert Mounsey


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


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    • 1 hr 3 min
    Is America broken?

    Is America broken?

    Sean Illing speaks with Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine. They discuss her recent essay on "brokenism," a term she coined in an effort to redefine political divisions in America. Newhouse argues that the most salient divide right now is between those who want to fix the institutions we have and those who want to burn it all down and start fresh.

    Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area
    Guest: Alana Newhouse (@alananewhouse) editor-in-chief, Tablet
    References: 


    “Brokenism” by Alana Newhouse (Tablet, Nov. 21, 2022)


    “Everything is Broken” by Alana Newhouse (Tablet, Jan. 14, 2021)


    "See Workers as Workers, Not as a College Credential" by The New York Times Editorial Board (Jan. 28)


    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
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    Support The Gray Area by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts
    This episode was made by: 


    Engineer: Patrick Boyd


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


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    • 50 min
    The creator of Fargo is done with good guys vs. bad guys

    The creator of Fargo is done with good guys vs. bad guys

    Sean Illing talks with Noah Hawley, the creator and showrunner of the anthology drama Fargo on FX, as well as a celebrated novelist whose newest book is Anthem (2022). They discuss themes stemming from Hawley's recent piece in the Atlantic about myths, stories, and tropes from the Old West (and Hollywood) that are still powerful and active in shaping American society. Hawley also talks about why we're drawn to shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, what to expect on the forthcoming fifth season of Fargo, and what his new novel says about the future.

    Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area
    Guest: Noah Hawley (@noahhawley), novelist; tv/film director
    References: 


    "It's High Noon in America" by Noah Hawley (The Atlantic; Dec. 19, 2022)


    Anthem by Noah Hawley (Grand Central; 2022)


    Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)


    "'Duck Dynasty' vs. 'Modern Family': 50 Maps of the U.S. Cultural Divide" by Josh Katz (New York Times; Dec. 27, 2016)


    "The sex-trafficking investigation of Matt Gaetz, explained" by Amber Phillips (Washington Post; Jan. 27, 2022)


    The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)

     
    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
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    Support The Gray Area by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts
    This episode was made by: 


    Producer: Erikk Geannikis


    Engineer: Patrick Boyd


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


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    • 55 min
    Revisiting the "father of capitalism"

    Revisiting the "father of capitalism"

    Sean Illing talks with Glory Liu, the author of Adam Smith’s America: How a Scottish Philosopher became an Icon of American Capitalism. Smith is most well-known for being the “father of capitalism,” but as Liu points out in her book, his legacy has been misappropriated — especially in America. They discuss his original intentions and what we can take away from his work today.

    Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area
    Guest: Glory Liu (@miss_glory), author; lecturer, Harvard University
    References: 


    Adam Smith’s America: How a Scottish Philosopher became an Icon of American Capitalism by Glory Liu (Princeton; 2022)


    Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson (Yale; 2012)



    Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton & Rose Friedman (Harcourt; 1980)


    “Adam Smith’s ‘History of Astronomy’ and view of science” by Kwangsu Kim (Cambridge Journal of Economics v. 36; 2012)


    Works by Adam Smith:


    The Wealth of Nations (1776)


    Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)


    Lectures on Jurisprudence (1763)

     
    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
    Subscribe for free. Be the first to hear the next episode of The Gray Area. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
    Support The Gray Area by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts
    This episode was made by: 


    Producer: Erikk Geannikis


    Editor: Amy Drozdowska


    Engineer: Patrick Boyd


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


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    • 53 min
    Can effective altruism be redeemed?

    Can effective altruism be redeemed?

    Guest host Sigal Samuel talks with Holden Karnofsky about effective altruism, a movement flung into public scrutiny with the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried and his crypto exchange, FTX. They discuss EA’s approach to charitable giving, the relationship between effective altruism and the moral philosophy of utilitarianism, and what reforms might be needed for the future of the movement.
    Note: In August 2022, Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic family foundation, Building a Stronger Future, awarded Vox’s Future Perfect a grant for a 2023 reporting project. That project is now on pause.

    Host: Sigal Samuel (@SigalSamuel), Senior Reporter, Vox
    Guest: Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell; CEO of Open Philanthropy
    References: 


    "Effective altruism gave rise to Sam Bankman-Fried. Now it's facing a moral reckoning" by Sigal Samuel (Vox; Nov. 16, 2022)


    "The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism" by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (New Yorker; Aug. 8, 2022)


    "Sam Bankman-Fried tries to explain himself" by Kelsey Piper (Vox; Nov. 16, 2022)


    "EA is about maximization, and maximization is perilous" by Holden Karnofsky (Effective Altruism Forum; Sept. 2, 2022)


    "Defending One-Dimensional Ethics" by Holden Karnofsky (Cold Takes blog; Feb. 15, 2022)


    "Future-proof ethics" by Holden Karnofsky (Cold Takes blog; Feb. 2, 2022)


    "Bayesian mindset" by Holden Karnofsky (Cold Takes blog; Dec. 21, 2021)


    "EA Structural Reform Ideas" by Carla Zoe Cremer (Nov. 12, 2022)


    "Democratising Risk: In Search of a Methodology to Study Existential Risk" by Carla Cremer and Luke Kemp (SSRN; Dec. 28, 2021)

     
    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
    Subscribe for free. Be the first to hear the next episode of The Gray Area. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
    Support The Gray Area by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts
    This episode was made by: 


    Producer: Erikk Geannikis


    Editor: Amy Drozdowska


    Engineer: Patrick Boyd


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


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    • 1 hr 3 min
    The roots of homelessness

    The roots of homelessness

    Sean Illing talks with writer and reporter Jerusalem Demsas about the causes of homelessness in America. They discuss our ideas of home ownership, and how our country’s cultural expectations and policies are working against us. 

    Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area
    Guest: Jerusalem Demsas (@JerusalemDemsas) staff writer, The Atlantic
    References: 


    “The Homeownership Society Was a Mistake” by Jerusalem Demsas (The Atlantic; Dec. 20, 2022)


    “The Obvious Answer to Homelessness and Why Everyone’s Ignoring It” by Jerusalem Demsas (The Atlantic; Dec. 12, 2022)


    “The Billionaire’s Dilemma” by Jerusalem Demsas (The Atlantic; Aug. 4, 2022)


    “Stuck! The Law and Economics of Residential Stagnation” by David Schleicher (Yale Law Review; Oct. 2017)


    “Black Americans And The Racist Architecture of Homeownership” by Alisa Chang, Christopher Intagliata, and Jonaki Mehta (NPR; May 8, 2021)

     
    Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
    Subscribe for free. Be the first to hear the next episode of The Gray Area. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app.
    Support The Gray Area by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts
    This episode was made by: 


    Producer: Erikk Geannikis


    Editor: Amy Drozdowska


    Engineer: Patrick Boyd


    Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall


    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    • 53 min

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5
9.9K Ratings

9.9K Ratings

olivejuice678 ,

Sean Illing

In the ep. “Of boys and men” - sean - “what is new or different today that is exasperating those differences?”
***Exacerbating
Not “exasperating”!
Very surprised to hear this error!

ksuhaka ,

Thought provoking in the best way

Somehow this show just keeps getting better. Top flight guests drawn into deep conversations filled with good will and valuable insights. Sean is an intelligent, generous interviewer and so darn likable. I look forward to every new episode.

corby76 ,

Every episode encompasses a great conversation.

This has become my favorite podcast. I don’t remember how I stumbled across this one, but I find it’s the one I look forward to the most. The host is really good at giving his guest space to explain their views on the topic, and injecting enough questions to clarify their points, as opposed to the argumentative and combative approach I generally experience listening to similar programs.

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