Remember “good conversation?” Remember what it was like to speak freely, to talk about complicated and sometimes controversial subjects with people who wouldn’t twist your words or insist that certain topics are off-limits? Remember when healthy disagreement was considered not threatening or unsafe but actually healthy?
Author, essayist and journalist Meghan Daum has spent decades giving voice—and bringing nuance, humor and surprising perspectives—to things that lots of people are thinking but are afraid to say out loud. Now, she brings her observations to the realm of conversation. In candid, free-ranging interviews, Meghan talks with artists, entertainers, journalists, scientists, scholars, and anyone else who’s willing to do the “unspeakable” and question prevailing cultural and moral assumptions.
Guns: A Civil Disagreement Part One
This week’s episode is the first of a two part series about guns in America. It’s a conversation between Meghan and two people with very different feelings about the issue. Melanie Jeffcoat is an actor, filmmaker and gun control activist who lives in Alabama. Jon Godfrey is a retired law enforcement officer who’s a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and lives in upstate New York. In this part of this conversation, Jon and Melanie talk about how their backgrounds shaped their feelings about guns and compare and contrast their reactions to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde,Texas. While Melanie is perplexed as to why anyone would need something like an AR-15, Jon explains why he owns such weapons and why he advocates for proper training and better mental health screenings rather than restrictions on the guns themselves. Above all, they talk about how they came to know one another. In 2018 they were part of Guns: An American Conversation, a collaboration between TIME Magazine and a consortium of local media outlets that brought together 21 people with wide ranging views on gun control for a two-day discussion. Despite their opposing views, Jon and Melanie developed a friendship that has transcended their differences, though they still do plenty of arguing.
Melanie Jeffcoat received her MFA in Acting from the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington in Seattle and has worked around the country in theater and film. Her acting credits include “All My Children,” “Ordinary Joe” and “The Wonder Years.” Her producing, directing and writing credits include "Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story,” “Gip,” and Open Secret,” which won the Audience Choice Award at the 2010 Politics on Film Festival in Washington, D.C. Melanie is co-founder of Chaotic Good Improv in Birmingham, Alabama and is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She lives near Birmingham, Alabama
Jon Godfrey worked in law enforcement for several decades, serving as Deputy County Sheriff in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, a criminal investigator in Kansas and Chief of Police for the US Dept. Of Veterans Affairs Police Service in Syracuse, New York. A retired army veteran, he lives in a rural area outside Syracuse, New York.
Safety Moose Says, “Stay Home!” Author Neal Pollack On His Dangerous New Novel, Edge of Safety
Known by his nom de guerre “The Greatest American Living Writer,” Neal Pollack has published eleven books, including a rock history satire, several crime thrillers (including two yoga-themed crime thrillers), and memoirs on subjects ranging from fatherhood to yoga to marijuana addiction. His latest book is Edge of Safety, a satirical dystopian novel set at some indeterminate point in the future. In this world, the obedient citizens of Canada live in an almost perpetual state of high COVID alert, walking their dogs on treadmills and receiving food deliveries by drone during “stay home” orders relayed by their public service mascot, Safety Moose. The United States, meanwhile, has descended into ecological and infra-structural chaos thanks to its lack of unified response. In this conversation, Neal talks about the pandemic in relation to his fictional characters as well as his own real life friends and neighbors. He and Meghan also compare notes about their struggles to stay afloat in the new creative economy and Neal’s side career as a competitive trivia player, which includes winning more than $60,000 on Jeopardy!. They also reminisce about People Who Suck, their short-lived but legendary talk show group on the Clubhouse social media app.
Neal Pollack, The Greatest Living American Writer, has written 12 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels Repeat, Jewball, Keep Mars Weird, Downward-Facing Death, and, most recently, Edge of Safety. He's also the author of the bestselling memoirs Alternadad, Stretch, and Pothead, and many magazine articles, blogposts, short pieces of Internet satire, and corporate training manuals. A three-time Jeopardy! champion and aspiring semi-professional poker player, Pollack lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.
Is A Post-Truth World All Bad? Stephanie Lepp’s “Promiscuous Pragmatic Pluralism”
Stephanie Lepp is an artist, a film and video producer and Executive Producer at the Center for Humane Technology, where she leads the production of the podcast Your Undivided Attention. Her latest independent project is Deep Reckonings, a series of “deep fake” videos that depict prominent figures making public statements that have been reimagined as empathetic and morally courageous. In this conversation, Stephanie talks about the origins and goals of Deep Reckoning as well as a variety of concepts that she’s developed in response to the current iteration of so-called “post-truth world.” This includes her her theory of “promiscuous pragmatic pluralism.” She also recounts a conversation she had with economist Glenn Loury on his podcast earlier this spring and why she thinks the next presidential debate will be an “anti-debate” on The Joe Rogan Experience.
Stephanie Lepp is the Executive Producer at the Center for Humane Technology, where she leads the production of the podcast Your Undivided Attention. Her latest independent project is Deep Reckonings, a series of explicitly-marked deep fake videos that imagine morally courageous versions of our public figures.
Has Wokeism Won? Sarah Haider Acknowledges Defeat But Won’t Stop Talking.
Sarah Haider is an activist and a writer who became a noted figure in the new atheist movement around 2013, when she co-founded the advocacy group Ex-Muslims of North America. That is a nonprofit that promotes secular values, advocates for acceptance of religious dissent and works to combat discrimination faced by people who leave Islam in the U.S. and Canada. Her work there led to her trenches of the new free speech and free-think movements and she now writes on Substack, covering issues around race, identity, gender and social politics of various kinds. Despite their 20-year age difference, Sarah and Meghan have a lot of overlapping interests; the monoculture of elite media, the social and political myopia of elites in general, the inconvenient truths of the mating economy and and misconceptions around mens’s rights, to name just a few.
In the public version of this episode, Sarah and Meghan cover those topics and more. The Patreon version includes an extra 40 minutes where they talk about Sarah’s upbringing and her relationship to Islam. Sarah came to the U.S. from Pakistan at age seven and was a devout Muslim until she had a dramatic change of perspective as a teenager. To hear that part, join the Patreon at patreon.com/theunspeakable.
Sarah Haider has spent much of her professional life in the charitable world, co-founding two nonprofit organizations, including Ex-Muslims of North America. Today she spends much of her time thinking and writing about belief, social dynamics, and culture. You can find her writing on her Substack newsletter, Hold That Thought. Also find on Twitter at @SarahtheHaider.
Uniquely Stupid and Incredibly Coddled: Jonathan Haidt On How We Lost Our Collective Minds (And Whether We’ll Ever Find Them Again)
If you’re familiar with the so-called “heterodox” space, this week’s guest on The Unspeakable scarcely needs an introduction. In 2018, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, along with author and first amendment advocate Gregg Lukianoff, published The Coddling of The American Mind: How Good Intentions And Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure. The book was central to a burgeoning public conversation that asked why young people, especially students on college campuses, were so unwilling to engage with ideas they perceived as dangerous—and in fact why they found so many ideas dangerous to begin with. Jon’s research offered crucial datapoints as to why this was happening and suggested that a handful of intersecting cultural trends—fearful parenting, omnipresent social media and the corporatization of higher education, to name a few—had resulted in a generation marked by high anxiety and a low sense of autonomy. His more recent work, including his article last month in The Atlantic, “Why The Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” goes beyond what’s happened with young people and looks at our collapsing institutions more broadly. Jon and Meghan talked about that article and covered lots of new territory, too, including a project of Meghan’s that she has just begun to talk about, a heterodox women’s community. Many of her observations about the male dominated “free think” space and women’s reluctance to speak their minds map on to Jon’s own research about girls’ social development.
Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality and how morality varies across cultural and political divisions. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis (2006) and of The New York Times bestsellers The Righteous Mind (2012) and The Coddling of the American Mind (2018, with Greg Lukianoff.) Haidt has given four TED talks and is a co-founder of Heterodox Academy, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. Since 2018, he has been studying the contributions of social media to the decline of teen mental health and the rise of political dysfunction and he is currently writing a new book, "Life After Babel: Adapting To A World We Can No Longer Share.”
An Act of Love. The Gift of Death: Author Amy Bloom On Her New Memoir
Amy Bloom is the author of ten books, mostly works of fiction, and her short story collections have been finalists for The National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her latest book, In Love, is a memoir about her husband Brian’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in his mid-sixties and Brian's decision to end his life on his own terms. This required traveling to Zurich, Switzerland, where an organization called Dignitas facilitates what they call “accompanied suicide." Amy talked with Meghan about what was involved in getting to Digntas and why even though assisted dying is technically legal in some states in the U.S., the process is much more difficult than most people realize. In addition to being an author and a professor of creative writing at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Amy has also been a practicing psychotherapist for decades and she talks about how that role intersects with her writing life and what she’s learned about relationships and compatibility after years of hearing people’s stories and telling her own.
Amy Bloom is the author of four novels and three collections of short stories, including Come To Me, a finalist for the National Book Award, and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most recent book is the widely acclaimed NY Times bestselling memoir, In Love. She has written for magazines such as The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Elle, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, and Salon, and her work has been translated into fifteen languages. She is the Silverberg-Shapiro Professor of Creating Writing at Wesleyan University.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys informative ,low key and nuanced discussions.
Meghan has a great mind while also down to earth. And she has interesting guests. She's welcome in my playlist anytime. Thanks Meghan!
In a world gone mad we need more nuance
Thank you Meghan—for having courage to facilitate difficult conversations about the ideas and concepts shaping our culture. A breath of fresh air to all of us becoming stifled in our collective bubbles.
Great when the guests aren’t lightweights
Generally well thought-out, well produced conversations on mostly serious issues. I guess it’s hard for heterodox podcasters to find guests of consequence when competing for them with other podcasts in the same domain. I wish Meghan luck and hope she doesn’t often have to settle for people like the purveyors of deep fake mashups that are simultaneously trite and easy on the one hand and dangerous on the other.