Episodes
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
Guest host Alissa Wilkinson speaks with Walt Hickey about his new book, You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything. They discuss how entertainment affects the physical and mental states of viewers — from blood coagulation during horror movie screenings to an increase in Dalmatian adoptions after 101 Dalmatians was released in theaters — and why our responses to what we watch are worth celebrating. Host: Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie), senior culture writer, Vox Guest: Walt...
Published 10/30/23
Sean Illing speaks with one of his heroes: Werner Herzog. Herzog is a filmmaker, poet, and author of the new memoir Every Man for Himself and God Against All. They discuss "ecstatic truth," a term invented by Herzog to capture what he's really after in his work. Illing also asks him a range of big questions, such as why he is interested in Mars and whether he thinks humanity is destroying itself. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Werner Herzog, author, Every Man for...
Published 10/23/23
Michael Lewis joins Sean Illing to discuss his new book about Sam Bankman-Fried, Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon. They talk about the FTX crash, what Lewis learned while shadowing Bankman-Fried, and what SBF’s rise and fall says about us and our financial systems. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Michael Lewis, author, Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon References:  Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon by Michael Lewis...
Published 10/16/23
Sean Illing and David Brooks talk about Brooks’s recent essay, “How America Got Mean.” They discuss the country's moral history, how politics and culture have shifted our perception of connection and community, and what can be done to make things nicer. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks), author and op-ed columnist References:  “How America Got Mean” by David Brooks (The Atlantic, August 2023) How to Know a Person by David Brooks...
Published 10/02/23
Every generation thinks they’re living through the strangest times, but is our generation right? Sean Illing speaks with writer and activist Naomi Klein about her new book, Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World. They discuss how a much different Naomi — her doppelganger — scrambled her professional life and led to an unexpected plunge into the ironies and absurdities of our digital world. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein), author of...
Published 09/25/23
How worried should we be about AI? Sean Illing is joined by Stuart J. Russell, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and director of the Center for Human-Compatible AI. Russell was among the signatories who wrote an open letter asking for a six-month pause on AI training. They discuss the dangers of losing control of AI and what the upsides of this rapidly developing technology could be.  Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Stuart J. Russell, professor...
Published 09/18/23
Why is democracy worth saving? Sean Illing is joined by Astra Taylor, the author of the new book The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart. They discuss the history and reality of insecurity and how we can fight for more sustainable and meaningful democratic politics. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Astra Taylor (@astradisastra), author, The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart  References:  The Age of Insecurity: Coming...
Published 09/11/23
What will American politics look like after Trump? Sean Illing is joined by Sohrab Ahmari to discuss his new book, Tyranny, Inc. Ahmari is one of the conservative intellectuals trying to map out a post-Trump future for the Republican Party, and his book is an attempt to justify a form of democratic socialism from the right. The two discuss whether his vision could ever be the basis for a broader coalition. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Sohrab Ahmari...
Published 08/28/23
Why don’t we spend more time imagining a better future? Sean Illing is joined by Kristen R. Ghodsee, the author of Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life. They discuss why it’s hard to imagine better outcomes in life, what we can learn from experimental living communities, and what the pandemic proved about our adaptability. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Kristen R. Ghodsee, author, Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years...
Published 08/21/23
In this episode, which was originally published in August 2022, Sean Illing talks with Corey Robin, author of a 2019 book about the life and thought of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Robin discusses how Thomas — whose concurring opinion in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade garnered recent attention — developed the ideological basis of his extremist judicial philosophy, how his views went from the hard-right fringe to more mainstream over the course of his 30 years on the Supreme...
Published 08/14/23
What does masculinity mean these days? Sean Illing speaks with Christine Emba, a columnist at The Washington Post who wrote the piece “Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness.” Together they discuss the confusing state of manhood, why figures like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate hold appeal, and how masculinity could be redefined. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Christine Emba (@ChristineEmba), Washington Post columnist and author of Rethinking Sex: A...
Published 08/07/23
What does it mean to be “authentic” in the digital age? Sean Illing speaks with Tara Isabella Burton about her new book, Self-Made: Creating Our Identities From Da Vinci to the Kardashians. They discuss the history of self-creation, how it’s evolved into personal branding, and why a more collective mindset could benefit all of us. Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area Guest: Tara Isabella Burton (@NotoriousTIB), author of Self-Made: Creating our Identities from Da Vinci to...
Published 07/31/23
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, MDMA (also known as molly or ecstasy) was dismissed as a club drug and became the target of anti-drug propaganda. Today, it’s on the brink of being legalized for use in clinical therapy to treat conditions like PTSD. How did that happen? And what have we learned about the therapeutic potential of MDMA? Sean discusses all this with Rachel Nuwer, author of I Feel Love: MDMA and the Quest for Connection in a Fractured World. They talk about why they’re excited by the...
Published 07/24/23
There are many ways people are trying to know themselves these days – from taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to analyzing their astrological birth charts to identifying their attachment styles. But are any of these methods helpful? Allie Volpe, a senior reporter at Vox, discusses this with Mitch Green, a philosophy professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the book Know Thyself: The Value and Limits of Self-Knowledge. Together they explore why there’s an increased...
Published 07/17/23
Does being a parent today necessarily mean also being a climate activist? Sean Illing speaks with moral philosopher and political theorist Elizabeth Cripps about her new book Parenting on Earth, in which she discusses the real-life moral obligations of raising children in our current ecological crisis. Drawing from her experience raising two daughters, Elizabeth and Sean talk about how both to want the best for your children and to build a better society, the conflicts that arise from putting...
Published 07/10/23
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 06/29/23
Sean Illing talks with Carrie Jenkins about her new book Sad Love, and her call to rethink the shape and boundaries of romantic love. In this far-ranging discussion about the meaning of romantic love, Sean and Carrie discuss the connection between love and happiness, what we should expect (and not expect) from our romantic partners, and whether or not loving a person must entail that we love only that person. This was originally released as an episode of Vox Conversations in September...
Published 06/26/23
Sean Illing talks with evolutionary anthropologist David Samson, whose new book Our Tribal Future delves into how tribalism has shaped the human story — and how we might be able to mitigate its negative effects in the future. Sean and David discuss how and when tribal organization came on the scene, what changed in human organization when it did, and how taking advantage of some positive aspects of tribal alignment could provide a path toward inoculating humanity against stubborn, regressive...
Published 06/22/23
What do we do when an artist we love does something monstrous? Constance Grady, a culture writer at Vox, talks with Claire Dederer, the author of Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma. They discuss how to reckon with the facts and feelings of consuming art by someone who's done something bad, if it's possible to separate the art from the artist, and what responsibility — if any — comes with being a fan. Host: Constance Grady, (@constancegrady), culture and gender writer Guest: Claire Dederer, author of...
Published 06/15/23
Sean Illing talks with Clancy Martin, professor of philosophy at University of Missouri Kansas City, about his powerful new book How Not to Kill Yourself, which combines personal memoir and philosophical analysis to explore what it means to pursue self-destruction. They discuss wisdom from the Buddha and Albert Camus, Clancy's view that he is a suicide "addict," and concrete strategies for escaping the grip of suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal...
Published 06/12/23
What is the future of the racial justice movement in America? Sean Illing talks with Cedric Johnson, professor and author of After Black Lives Matter, about building a protest movement that meaningfully recognizes the underlying economic causes of the social inequities highlighted by the BLM movement. They discuss the demonstrations of Summer 2020, the prospects of building a multiracial class-conscious coalition, and viewing urban policing as a symptom of larger systemic problems. Host: Sean...
Published 06/08/23