Episodes
The internet has fractured our world into a million little subcultures catering to the specific identities and habits of everyone online. Writer Derek Thompson believes this has led to a widespread cult-like mentality that has crept into all facets of modern life — pop culture, media, politics, and religion itself. He joins Sean to explain this theory, and why it’s maybe not such a bad thing. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Derek Thompson (@dkthomp). His podcast...
Published 04/22/24
Published 04/22/24
Is it possible that we are living through one of the most revolutionary periods in human history? CNN’s Fareed Zakaria believes that we are and argues that the convergence of AI and the global backlash against liberal democracy are upending political orders around the world. He joins Sean to talk about how this period relates to history’s most impactful revolutions, both political and technological.  Click here to take the Vox podcast survey Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray...
Published 04/15/24
Philosophy may seem like a theoretical or abstract discipline in which unanswerable questions are debated to the point of tedium. But MIT professor Kieran Setiya believes that philosophical inquiry has a very practical and applicable purpose outside of the classroom — to help guide us through life’s most challenging circumstances. He joins Sean to talk about self-help, FOMO, and midlife crises.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Kieran Setiya. His book is called...
Published 04/08/24
Jane Marie is an expert in American b******t. Her podcast The Dream explores life coaching, wellness, marketing, and other fraudulent industries and exposes their exploitative practices. Her book, Selling the Dream, takes an even closer look at multilevel marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife and gives historical context to this multibillion-dollar — and distinctly American — enterprise.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Jane Marie. Her podcast is The Dream...
Published 04/01/24
As a non-believer, Devin Moss never thought he would become a chaplain or a spiritual adviser, much less one who counsels hospital patients with terminal illnesses and inmates on death row. Devin joins Sean to talk about his improbable journey, the death penalty, and the role of religion in an increasingly secular society. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Devin Moss. His podcast is The Adventures of Memento Mori.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and...
Published 03/25/24
Journalist Rhaina Cohen believes that modern culture undervalues friendships and discusses the ways in which deep friendships are distinct from but no less meaningful than romantic partnerships.  Guest host: Sigal Samuel (@sigalsamuel) Guest: Rhaina Cohen (@rhainacohen). Her book is The Other Significant Others.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear new episodes of The Gray Area by following us in your favorite podcast app....
Published 03/18/24
Stephen Markley’s novel, “The Deluge,” is an ambitious and terrifyingly realistic look at our collective future on a warming planet. He joins Sean to talk about the 10-year process of writing the book, the current political struggle over climate action, and how we can confront and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.   Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Stephen Markley. His book is “The Deluge.” Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a...
Published 03/11/24
It’s been 50 years since Ernest Becker’s breakthrough book The Denial of Death was first published, and its thesis has become more relevant than ever. Filmmaker Jef Sewell is the co-creator of a new documentary about Becker called All Illusions Must Be Broken. It features never-before-heard audio of the enigmatic anthropologist and puts his theories in a modern context.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Jef Sewell. Find out more about the film at...
Published 03/04/24
Silicon Valley is in the middle of an AI frenzy, and many of its leaders believe this technology could eventually result in human extinction. Tyler Austin Harper breaks down the most outlandish predictions, some of the more plausible problems AI poses, and how this moment reminds him of earlier extinction panics. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Tyler Austin Harper (@Tyler_A_Harper). Read his piece in the New York Times here.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray...
Published 02/26/24
America solidified its dominant posture in the international order following World War II and largely held that position for the following half-century. But as problems have accumulated at home and abroad, Americans are reconsidering their country’s role in the world, and so are its leaders. Alex Ward, author of The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump, joins us.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Alex Ward (@alexbward). His...
Published 02/19/24
Sean Illing talks with economic historian Brad DeLong about his new book Slouching Towards Utopia. In it, DeLong claims that the "long twentieth century" was the most consequential period in human history, during which the institutions of rapid technological growth and globalization were created, setting humanity on a path towards improving life, defeating scarcity, and enabling real freedom. But... this ran into some problems. Sean and Brad talk about the power of markets, how the New Deal...
Published 02/12/24
Musician Laraaji joins Sean to talk about improvisation as meditation, the transcendent nature of laughter, and lessons from a long life in sound and spirit.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Laraaji. His music can be found at https://laraajimusic.bandcamp.com/ Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear new episodes of The Gray Area by following us in your favorite podcast app. Links here:...
Published 02/05/24
Political philosopher Ingrid Robeyns believes that there should be a maximum amount of money and resources that one person can have. She tells Sean how much is too much and why limiting personal wealth benefits everyone, including the super rich.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Ingrid Robeyns. Her book is Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth. Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear new...
Published 01/29/24
For much of her life, author Maggie Jackson disliked uncertainty and thought of it as something to eradicate as quickly as possible. But when she began to explore the uncertain mind, she discovered new scientific findings showing that uncertainty is critical for astute problem-solving and creativity.  She joins Sean to talk about what she learned and how being unsure can lead to a better, more hopeful life. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Maggie Jackson. You can...
Published 01/22/24
Americans have absorbed the “Protestant work ethic” — the idea that our value as human beings is determined by how hard we work and how much money we make. Elizabeth Anderson explains how this evolved, why it pervades everything, and why it sucks. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Elizabeth Anderson, professor of public philosophy at the University of Michigan.  Enjoyed this episode? Rate The Gray Area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be the first to hear...
Published 01/15/24
If you’ve felt that learning new information or developing a new skill seems harder as you get older, you are not wrong. Neuroscientist Gul Dolen has studied brain capability and joins us to talk about the times in human development when our brains are especially adept at learning and retaining new information, and how MDMA and other psychedelics can be used to induce these moments and unlock the brain’s potential. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Gul Dolen. Learn...
Published 01/08/24
When we find ourselves in a dark place, what if we didn't "lighten things up"? Sean Illing talks with philosopher Mariana Alessandri, whose new book Night Vision offers a new way of understanding our dark moods and experiences like depression, pain, and grief. Alessandri describes the deep influence of what she calls the "light metaphor" — the belief that light is good and darkness is bad — and the destructive emotional cycles it has produced. They discuss the influence of Stoic philosophy,...
Published 12/26/23
Jon Kabat-Zinn helped kick off the American mindfulness movement with his bestselling book Wherever You Go, There You Are. On its 30th anniversary, he joins Sean for a wide-ranging conversation about what it means to be mindful in the attention economy, why mindfulness has skyrocketed in popularity, and how to think about the commercialization of an ancient practice. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness pioneer and author of Wherever You Go,...
Published 12/18/23
Most people think anarchists want to live in a lawless society devoid of any structure or order. But anarchism is actually a serious political philosophy that’s more focused on egalitarianism than it is on chaos. Philosopher Sophie Scott-Brown is an anarchist in this tradition, and she makes the convincing case that anarchism is the only political philosophy poised to deal with the uncertainty of the modern world. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Sophie Scott-Brown...
Published 12/11/23
Constance Grady, a culture writer at Vox, is joined by Emily Wilson to discuss her bestselling translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. They unpack the buzz surrounding them and the significance of The Iliad today.  Host: Constance Grady, (@constancegrady), culture writer, Vox Guest: Emily Wilson, classics professor and translator of The Iliad and The Odyssey References:  The Iliad by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson (W.W. Norton, 2023) The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson...
Published 12/04/23
Sean Illing is joined by John Gray, political philosopher and author of the new book, The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism. They discuss Thomas Hobbes and the origins of liberalism, the current state of democracy, and the very uncertain future of the global liberal order. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: John Gray, author and political philosopher References:  The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism by John Gray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux,...
Published 11/27/23
Sean Illing speaks with Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the author of a new book called Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will. They discuss the concept of free will, whether it actually exists in the way we think it does, and what it means for society if free will is indeed an illusion. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Robert Sapolsky, author, Determined: A Science of Life Without Free...
Published 11/20/23
Zack Beauchamp, a Vox senior correspondent who writes about democracy and Israel, speaks with Shadi Hamid, a columnist at The Washington Post, research professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Seminary, and author of The Problem of Democracy: America, the Middle East, and the Rise and Fall of an Idea. They discuss the October 7 attack, the subsequent war in Gaza, what it means for Israelis and Palestinians, and how Jews and Muslims in the United States can find common ground amidst their...
Published 11/13/23
Sean Illing is joined by Matt Gutman, the chief national correspondent for ABC News, to talk about his new book, No Time to Panic: How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered a Lifetime of Panic Attacks. They discuss their personal experiences with panic, the evolutionary roots of it, and how Matt has gained control over his feelings of panic and anxiety. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Matt Gutman (@mattgutmanABC), author, No Time to Panic: How I Curbed My Anxiety and...
Published 11/06/23