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Opinião | Jogos de status, poliamor e os méritos da meritocracia

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Ezra Klein

Eu sou Ezra Klein, e este é “The Ezra Klein Show”. [MUSIC PLAYING]

No momento, se eu fosse listar meus cinco principais redatores de colunas regulares, Agnes Callard definitivamente estaria nessa lista. Callard é um filósofo da Universidade de Chicago. É autora do livro “Aspiração”. E ele escreve esta coluna de filosofia pública maravilhosa para a revista “The Point”. E eu amo essa coluna. Cada um deles está repleto de conhecimento sobre todos os tipos de tópicos diferentes: status e ciúme e paternidade e discussões e raiva, as coisas com que todos vivemos, certo? É um problema no noticiário que você realmente não tenha uma pegada de notícias todos os dias para escrever sobre o que significa estar com raiva ou o que significa estar com ciúme. Mas esses são problemas com os quais todos nós lutamos todos os dias. Portanto, sua coluna, que eu acho, é apenas um modelo real de como o pensamento filosófico claro e preciso pode iluminar questões que já pensamos estar bem familiarizadas. Eu realmente ganho muito com isso. Portanto, é um prazer tê-la no programa. E este é um daqueles, eu sei que é um clichê em podcasts ou entrevistas, cobrimos muito terreno. Mas ela escreve sobre tantas coisas que existe um vasto território que abordamos nesta conversa. Mas quero começar e prepará-los para os temas que abordamos antes no programa, que é como definimos e comunicamos o estado e quais são os méritos e problemas da chamada meritocracia. Callard realmente moldou a forma como vejo os dois tópicos, como ouço a mim mesmo e aos outros conversando e que tipo de metanível o que estamos dizendo está fazendo. E então tento analisar a tensão no debate da meritocracia entre acreditar que não somos realmente responsáveis ​​pela maior parte de como nossas vidas acabam. E, portanto, uma estrutura filosófica ou moral que nos culpa, principalmente por nossos fracassos, é injusta. E, no entanto, também é indispensável ter uma ideia de excelência em nossas próprias mentes, ter algo pelo qual lutar, uma forma de moldar nossos esforços para afinar os instrumentos de nós mesmos. E ela tem uma maneira maravilhosa de trabalhar neste debate. Então eu acho que você realmente vai gostar. Como sempre, meu e-mail é [email protected]. Aqui está Agnes Callard.

Então você tem esta coluna fascinante sobre o estado. E eu quero começar com como você o define. O que é status para você?

Agnes Callard

É o valor que outras pessoas lhe dão.

Ezra Klein

Essa é uma boa maneira de colocar isso. Então, fale sobre a maneira como trabalhamos nisso em nossas interações diárias. E você fala sobre o jogo básico e o jogo importante e o jogo de nivelamento. Você pode me falar sobre eles?

Agnes Callard

Claro, então o jogo básico é uma tentativa de encontrar algo em comum com uma nova pessoa que você conhece em termos de interesses, um lugar de onde você vem ou pessoas que você conhece. Afirma que nos preocupamos com pelo menos algumas das mesmas coisas. O jogo da importância é um jogo de manobra por status, no qual você tenta ser reconhecido por seu interlocutor em uma espécie de nível de importância máxima em que ele possa reconhecê-lo. Portanto, você deseja fornecer a eles todos os dados de que precisam para ver o quão importante você é. E o jogo de nivelamento é um jogo de encontrar um terreno comum para se sentir insignificante. Então você encontra uma maneira de falar com alguém de forma que ambos possam compartilhar uma experiência de desamparo ou luta. E, de certa forma, é uma forma de se desviar do jogo da importância.

Ezra Klein

Então, modele uma conversa para mim. Digamos que você e eu acabamos de nos conhecer. Quais seriam as coisas que se diria em uma conversa que cada um desses estabeleceria?

Agnes Callard

Então eu acho que uma coisa que é difícil é que tanto no jogo de importância quanto no jogo de nivelamento, existe um elemento de disfarce. Não os reproduzimos explicitamente. Jogamos o jogo básico explicitamente. Quase chegamos a dizer, ei, vamos descobrir o que temos, o que interessa a nós dois. Você gosta desse filme, certo? Mas os outros dois estão disfarçados. Então, toda vez que eles aparecem em uma conversa, eles aparecem, na verdade, você não pode simplesmente dizer a alguém, vou explicar por que sou importante. E você não pode simplesmente dizer a alguém, vamos ter empatia um com o outro, algo assim. Você tem que fazer isso fazendo outra coisa. Então, uma maneira que vejo isso se manifestando com frequência, e eu sou um acadêmico, no contexto acadêmico é uma espécie de conversa fiada. Os acadêmicos falam muito sobre como estão ocupados. E por muito tempo, isso me deixou perplexo, porque não acho que somos as pessoas mais ocupadas. Mas acho que falamos sobre estar ocupado mais do que qualquer outro grupo de pessoas que encontro. E acho que o que permite que você esteja ocupado é, é uma espécie de … é uma maneira de jogar os dois jogos ao mesmo tempo. Então, se eu digo a eles que estou muito ocupado, eu digo a eles que me sinto estressado, me sinto sobrecarregado, sinto que não estou no controle da minha vida. Eu tenho todas essas demandas que são feitas de mim, para que você possa se identificar comigo. Mas, ao mesmo tempo, também digo a eles para olharem para todas essas pessoas que querem uma parte de mim. Eu sou muito importante, certo? E eu acho que uma grande parte do que torna a agitação um assunto atraente para as pessoas é que permite que elas joguem os dois jogos ao mesmo tempo.

Ezra Klein

Então, como você difere quando se trata de avaliar o status relativo e quando se trata de simplesmente criar um terreno comum na conversa? Então, se estamos conversando, e eu não fui para Harvard, mas estamos conversando e deixei escapar que fui para Harvard. Talvez eu esteja dizendo, ei, ei, fui para Harvard, ou talvez só esteja dizendo, é onde eu realmente fui para a faculdade. Ou o contrário, se conversarmos mais tarde e eu disser, oh, estou totalmente sobrecarregado ultimamente, ou sou uma pessoa muito ansiosa, ou simplesmente não consigo fazer coisas simples na minha vida e concluí-las ultimamente, talvez eu esteja dizendo, não se preocupe. Fui para Harvard, sou igual a você. Ou talvez eu esteja apenas tentando criar um espaço para termos uma conversa. Então, quando isso é um jogo de status? E quando é que os seres humanos estão avaliando sua própria experiência em conjunto?

Agnes Callard

Acho que é profundamente indeterminado o tempo todo. [KLEIN LAUGHS] E tem que ser assim, certo? Portanto, uma coisa que você pode fazer é ser um tipo de ouvinte muito caridoso para as pessoas, e você sempre pode tentar ouvir apenas o jogo básico na conversa. E eu conheço pessoas que fazem isso, certo? Ou você pode estar muito, muito sintonizado com esses outros dois jogos, correto, e sempre responder a isso na conversa. E acho que muitas vezes, de fato, o que fazemos é combinar a expectativa de ser ouvido da maneira básica com a interpretação dos outros de uma das outras duas maneiras. Portanto, é fácil para mim pensar em mim, ah, acabei de mencionar que fui para a Universidade de Chicago ou algo assim. Quer dizer, ouvir minha própria fala é apenas o jogo básico, certo? O que é uma espécie de interpretação caridosa de mim mesmo, mas sendo hipersensível em relação à outra pessoa. E acho que sempre haverá uma ambigüidade interpretativa porque o jogo de nivelamento e o jogo de importância estão sempre disfarçados.

Ezra Klein

Portanto, você argumenta que jogamos todos esses jogos e todas essas manobras de status em parte porque deixamos, para colocá-lo em seus termos, uma importante teorização ética desfeita. Qual é a teorização ética aqui que está sendo desfeita?

Agnes Callard

É a questão do que torna um ser humano valioso. Quer dizer, você pode dizer, o que torna uma caneca valiosa? Bem, eu posso beber dele. O que torna uma obra de arte valiosa? Você é bonito. O que torna o clima valioso ou algo assim? Pode ser, bem, é bom estar lá dentro. Ou pode ser bom para o meio ambiente ou qualquer outra coisa. Existem várias maneiras de falar sobre por que algo é valioso. Mas ser humano é um caso especial, certo? E estamos muito interessados ​​no que nos torna valiosos. E eu acho que temos duas respostas básicas para essa pergunta que damos em um nível filosófico, mas todos nós estamos dando essas respostas, que é, por um lado, o que torna um ser humano valioso é um certo tipo de dignidade ou valor interior que todo mundo simplesmente tem em virtude de ser humano. Você o tem desde o momento em que nasceu ou, de acordo com sua teoria, talvez até antes de nascer, e nada do que você fizer pode perdê-lo. Você não pode perdê-lo, não importa o que faça. E todos têm isso igualmente, certo? Então, esse é um tipo de valor. A outra concepção de valor é de algo adquirido. E em parte da filosofia em que trabalho, filosofia grega antiga, Platão e Aristóteles, a palavra que às vezes é usada para isso é virtude, certo? Então, uma virtude é uma espécie de excelência de um ser humano que tem que fazer coisas para obtê-la. Então você não nasceu com virtudes. Você não nasceu corajoso. Você não nasceu com conhecimento. Portanto, a outra explicação do que torna um ser humano valioso é, bem, é o valor que eles trabalharam para adquirir. E você entende ou não. E se você não tem, você não tem. Então, a primeira concepção de valor, você poderia pensar nisso como uma rede de segurança moral que pega a todos, certo? E o segundo é aquele em que é possível faltar. E é possível ter em maior ou menor grau.

Ezra Klein

As sociedades anteriores tiveram hierarquias de status muito mais claras. E recentemente, nos Estados Unidos, pode-se dizer que temos um muito intenso. E é difícil ter mobilidade social. Mas também tentamos esconder isso de várias maneiras. Temos sentimentos muito complicados em relação a isso. Ele tem uma ótima citação neste artigo, onde diz: “Um conhecido recente me disse que as novas interações menos estressantes em sua vida foram no serviço militar porque as relações de status eram imediatamente aparentes e de conhecimento comum. Eu estava apenas olhando para quantas listras uma pessoa tinha em seus ombros, e era isso: negociações de status completas. Pelo contrário, no mundo extra-militar, a confusão reina. “Há algo na maneira como nos relacionamos com as hierarquias de status? Como, agora, nos tempos modernos, isso criou um nível incomum de confusão. E isso é bom ou ruim, se sim?

Agnes Callard

Acho que quanto mais mobilidade social você tiver, mais tensão terá. Então, se você pensar na “República” de Platão, ok, então na “República” de Platão, ele cria essa sociedade ideal. E na sociedade, existe o que ele chama de nobre mentira. A nobre mentira é que as pessoas têm metais em suas almas: bronze, prata ou ouro. E dependendo do que você tem em sua alma, você pode estar na classe dominante ou na classe dos guardiões ou na classe dos artesãos. E o que é tão interessante para mim nisso é que Platão inverte o moderno: a ideia de que a genética é a dura verdade. Quer dizer, ele acha que a mentira é que temos algum tipo de diferença fundamental inata que sustenta nossa classe social. A verdade é que essas diferenças não existem, mas temos que fingir que sim. Então, na verdade, temos que fingir que existem essas diferenças genéticas fundamentais que determinam em qual classe estaremos. E por que Platão pensaria isso? Bem, se você acredita que o fato de não ser um governante é porque existe um metal em sua alma que não pode ser mudado porque está trancado em você, então você não tentará sê-lo. E você também não verá a questão de saber se pode ou não governar como um fator determinante de seu senso de valor. Seu senso de valor já está lá, certo? Portanto, a sociedade de Platão é rigidamente socialmente imóvel, certo? E evita certos tipos de conflitos.

Ezra Klein

E então, de certa forma, isso contrasta com o que temos ou pensamos ter ou falamos sobre ter, que é uma meritocracia, que é a ideia de que de onde você vem é um reflexo de sua virtude, de sua ética de trabalho, de sua talentos e como você os usou. E ele escreveu muito sobre isso. E tem havido, principalmente na esquerda, nos últimos anos, um verdadeiro questionamento da meritocracia. Quer dizer, isso remonta mais longe. Mas foi Michael Sandel quem escreveu um livro sobre isso, Daniel Markovits escreveu um livro sobre isso. E existe essa ideia de que a meritocracia culpa as pessoas por seus fracassos, o que a torna, em muitos aspectos, imoral, dado o nível de responsabilidade que temos ou não pelos resultados de nossas vidas. Mas, por outro lado, a questão de, bem, não é bom dar às pessoas algo a que aspirar? Como você analisa isso?

Agnes Callard

Sim, uma coisa que defendo é que pelo menos idealmente o que seria bom é uma meritocracia não punitiva, certo? Portanto, você pode pensar que as recompensas que as pessoas recebem são o produto de seus esforços, sem pensar que as pessoas que não as recebem são culpadas ou merecem ser culpadas. E é assim que interagimos com as pessoas. As pessoas acham estranho pensar dessa forma politicamente, mas é exatamente assim que interagimos com nossos amigos, certo? Então, quando nossos amigos têm alguma realização, não dizemos, bem, você começou com sorte. Claro, todos os nossos amigos têm várias formas de sorte, mas não os enfatizamos quando alcançam algo. Dizemos coisas como, bem merecido, você merece. Isso era para uma ótima pessoa. Falo isso o tempo todo no Twitter quando vejo pessoas recebendo coisas e fico feliz por elas. E eu acho legal né? Por outro lado, quando tenho um amigo que rejeita um artigo de revista ou, acontece comigo o tempo todo, temos várias falhas e poderíamos tentar dar-lhes sugestões de como melhorar na próxima vez. Mas não dizemos, bem, isso é sua culpa. Se ganha. É merecido, certo? Tratamos esses casos de forma assimétrica. Nesses casos, em caso de falha, cuidamos de todas as influências externas. E acho que esse tipo de diferença no atendimento faz sentido. E é eticamente justificado como uma boa maneira de tratar as pessoas.

Ezra Klein

Então, o que li sobre esse argumento de você, me fez pensar se eu sou um mau amigo, foi a primeira vez que entendi isso. [CALLARD LAUGHS] Porque você está absolutamente certo em como eu falo e como meus amigos falam uns com os outros, certo? Alguém faz algo ótimo e nós dizemos, ei, bom para você. Você trabalhou muito. Então, algo ruim acontece com alguém e é tipo, meu Deus, o mundo é cruel. E muitas vezes, essa é a minha opinião sobre a situação. Mas não acho que seja tão onipresente quanto parece. Eu acho que muitas vezes dentro de um grupo de amigos, tem alguém que, os amigos, as várias pessoas pensam que estão realmente estragando tudo. Eles estão sendo um casal ruim em seu casamento. Ou eles não estão trabalhando duro em seu trabalho. E então, quando as consequências finalmente chegam, você é gentil com as pessoas quando isso acontece e você perdoa, você é compreensivo e está lá com elas, mas eu não acho que seja verdade que a maneira como muitas vezes as olham é assimétrico. Pode ser assim que eles falam, mas não tenho certeza se é tão profundamente verdadeiro. E isso me faz pensar se isso é realmente uma coisa tão fácil de fazer como você está falando, que queremos acreditar, talvez apenas porque nos protegemos, que nosso esforço pessoal e nossas decisões pessoais têm um resultado na vida, todos os até que … há um fenômeno muito discutido que quando você ouve sobre alguém morrendo jovem no noticiário, as pessoas imediatamente querem saber por quê, certo? Eles eram fumantes? Eles viviam de uma maneira insalubre? Porque eles querem dizer, bem, eu não vou fazer isso, então não terei esse problema. E então me parece que há algo profundo em nosso desejo de culpar as pessoas, mesmo que seja socialmente desajeitado culpá-las na cara. E então tentamos não fazer isso. Existe uma grande dose de culpa que se infiltra até nas relações sociais.

Agnes Callard

Nós vamos. Então eu acho … Quer dizer, uma pergunta é: qual é o relacionamento ético certo que você tem com essa pessoa, cujo casamento está falhando ou sua carreira está falhando porque ele está tomando algumas das decisões erradas? E eu tendo a achar que a relação ética correta com essa pessoa é tentar ajudá-la, certo? Então, posso dizer, olha, é assim que acho que você pode fazer melhor. Então, há um papel para o punitivo aí? A culpa é sua. Você mesmo trouxe isso. E tendo a pensar que a resposta é simplesmente não. Não há nada a ganhar com isso. E poderia aliviar uma espécie de tensão psicológica em você. Mas não acho o tipo de meritocracia que estou tentando delinear neste artigo, meritocracia não punitiva, não acho que seja fácil. Então você diz, talvez não seja tão fácil quanto você diz? Estou de acordo com você. Realmente não é fácil. É muito tentador querer pensar que, além de o sucesso ser justificado, o sofrimento também é justificado de alguma forma. E acho que é quase insuportavelmente doloroso para nós enfrentar um sofrimento injustificado. Por mais que falemos, esse é o caso do jovem que morre, né? Por mais que digamos, ah, a vida não é justa, coisas ruins acontecem, são apenas palavras. Nós não aceitamos isso. Em um nível profundo, não aceitamos que isso seja possível. Não acho que esteja sozinho, então não vai acontecer comigo. Acho que é como se não fosse permitido. Não é permitido que alguém experimente um sofrimento profundo de forma injustificada. E há algo profundamente filantrópico em ser intolerante com isso.

Ezra Klein

Eu acho que é um ponto muito interessante. Quer dizer, me faz pensar que Deus tem um plano de resposta para certos tipos de sofrimento, o que significa que mesmo que você não sinta como Ele é justificado agora, de alguma forma, Ele está justificado. Isso não é ideia minha. Ouvi de outra pessoa e sinto muito porque esqueci quem agora. Mas existe o argumento de que o Livro de Jó seria mais poderoso se Jó não fosse restaurado no final, se, no final de suas provações, Deus não o recompensasse por sua perseverança. Porque o que isso diz, é claro, ainda é, tipo, todo sofrimento é, em algum nível, justificado. Haverá uma recompensa no final. E como você está dizendo, uma das coisas difíceis de ser um ser humano é que não é, ou pelo menos não temos como saber que nosso sofrimento é muito. E mesmo nossas histórias fundamentais que tentam nos aculturar ao fato de que o sofrimento pode estar além da nossa compreensão, ainda está no fim, se afastam um pouco disso. E assim por diante, mas temos compreensão suficiente para dizer que há outra pessoa com melhor compreensão, alguma outra força, e que há uma lógica para essa força.

Agnes Callard

Sim, quero dizer, acho que pode não importar muito que Jó seja recompensado. Essa não é a parte de que nos lembramos. Não é a parte que fala conosco, é? Tipo, quando Jesus diz, Deus, por que você me abandonou? Faz diferença que, mais tarde, presumivelmente funcione bem para Jesus no céu ou algo assim? É como aqueles momentos em que o grito de que o sofrimento seja explicado, que seja explicado ali mesmo, na hora, é incrível o fato de a gente poder até tolerar tanto. E talvez você esteja certo sobre a curva. Acho importante lembrar que a frase, ah, a vida não é justa, a vida é cheia de sofrimento, a gente simplesmente não tem como justificar, é só mais uma virada. Na verdade, isso não é enfrentado. O enfrentamento real é tão doloroso que podemos, na melhor das hipóteses, fazê-lo por um segundo em circunstâncias muito estranhas, na verdade, realmente … as únicas vezes que eu realmente enfrentei a falta de moradia foi quando estava com meu filho médium. . E ele iria, houve um período na vida dele em que tínhamos que ir a todos os sem-teto que víamos e não apenas dar dinheiro a eles, mas havia uma negociação elaborada. Se eles tivessem um cachorro, tínhamos que dar-lhes dinheiro pelo cachorro. E tivemos que explicar a eles quanto dinheiro é para o cachorro. E então, ele falaria sobre isso. Simplesmente não acabaria. Com um sem-teto, é como se você quisesse dar o dinheiro a ele e depois acabar com isso. E isso nunca iria acabar. E eu senti que estava lidando com isso, com esse sofrimento injustificado, de uma forma que normalmente não faço. Eu geralmente encontro uma maneira de contornar isso, certo? Então, encontramos 100 maneiras de evitá-lo, mesmo quando ele está bem na nossa frente.

Ezra Klein

Uma das coisas realmente profundas e profundamente tristes da vida é a maneira como aprendemos a nos isolar do sofrimento. Acho essa história sobre seu filho muito comovente. E eu acho que há uma coisa bastante comum em que as crianças ainda não foram ensinadas a ignorar o que obviamente não é certo. Se você não se importa que eu pergunte, como você saiu dessa? Você diz que foi um tempo no passado. E o que você pensou quando viu esse final? Você ficou, em algum nível, grato por tudo ter acabado, por não ter que continuar procurando todos os moradores de rua na rua? Ou você sentiu que naquele momento algo se perdeu, talvez no seu, mas também na sua relação ética com o mundo?

Agnes Callard

Portanto, ele é alguém com uma empatia natural avassaladora. Então vou para casa. E se houvesse algo errado, ele apenas me olharia na cara e diria, o que aconteceu, certo? Eu poderia apenas ler. E acho que foi um alívio para mim porque ele tem que aprender a fazer isso, um dos projetos dele na vida será aprender a lidar com aquela empatia que ameaça se tornar tudo o que ele é e consumi-lo. Mas acredito que, em geral, sim, existe esse processo pelo qual as crianças, é quase como se se movessem, entramos na lógica do que é merecido, do que é ganho ou do que é devido. E as crianças ainda não estão naquele espaço. Vou contar uma pequena história sobre meu outro filho. Meu filho mais velho, então este é meu filho do meio com o sem-teto. Mas eu costumava evitar meu filho mais velho, morávamos em Berkeley, Califórnia. E os parques infantis tinham brinquedos. Eles estavam cobertos de brinquedos que as pessoas deixavam lá para as crianças brincarem. E houve um período em que ele nunca queria ir para lá, exceto quando outras crianças não estavam lá. Porque é assim que ele disse: as outras crianças tiram meus brinquedos de mim. Mas foi o que realmente aconteceu. Ele estaria sentado lá. Eu estaria cavando com uma pá ou algo assim. Outra criança estava se aproximando. E talvez dê uma olhada na pá. E ele iria até ela e lhe entregaria a pá. E o que ela contou do que aconteceu foi que ela pegou a pá de mim, certo? Agora o que estava acontecendo lá? Bem, ele podia ver que ela o amava, certo? E ele não queria dar a ela. Mas você sentiu que tinha que fazer isso, ou não sabia para que servia a regra quando tinha que fazer, não é? Eu não sabia sobre direitos de propriedade, sabe? E eu estaria dizendo coisas a ele. É sua pá. Você não tem que compartilhar. Os outros pais estariam olhando para mim, como se eu fosse obviamente uma pá de brincar, sabe? E diga, continue investigando. Você pode ignorar isso. Eu estaria dizendo coisas assim, certo? O que estou tentando fazer aí? Estou tentando dar uma ideia dos limites entre ele e as outras pessoas. E acho que as crianças têm que aprender isso. E então, realmente, só quando somos adultos podemos, eu acho, enfrentar o problema ou a profundidade de tal limite.

Ezra Klein

É uma forma interessante de colocar as coisas. Às vezes me pergunto se o que consideramos uma forma mais madura e realista como os adultos veem o mundo é muito menos fiel à realidade em que vivemos. Sua história me lembra esse riff de Louis CK, onde ele fala sobre descer. na rua de Nova York com um primo de um de seus amigos. E ele vê alguém em muito mau estado. A pessoa está sem teto e em farrapos. E eles estão doentes, e simplesmente não estão bem, certo? Uma pessoa que obviamente precisa de uma ajuda terrível. E ela diz que devemos ajudá-los. O que devemos fazer aqui? E ele fala, não, não, não, essa pessoa está bem, certo? Essa pessoa está exatamente onde precisa estar. E quer dizer, ele sabe o que está acontecendo aqui, certo? Este é o ponto do seu riff. Mas ele está corrigindo seu impulso empático correto para ajudar, seu entendimento correto de que o que está acontecendo ali é injusto. E ela tem uma certa responsabilidade moral sobre isso. E às vezes me parece que muito para se tornar um adulto é aprender ou aprender a fechar essa intuição de responsabilidade moral. Eu sei que esta é uma grande questão na filosofia ética em geral. É a parábola de Peter Singer sobre o lago: se você caminhasse ao lado de um menino que parecia estar se afogando em um lago e pulasse e estragasse seu terno e sapatos para salvá-los, por que não enviaria a quantia equivalente em dinheiro? dinheiro para salvar crianças em outro país, quem nós conhecemos, agora, você poderia economizar fazendo essa doação? E há uma tensão real aqui entre a filtragem que você precisa fazer apenas para viver neste mundo. Mas também, você pode realmente filtrar isso. E então, de repente, alguém que está do lado errado de uma linha que não significa nada, exceto que 200 anos atrás, houve uma guerra e um lado venceu e o outro não, eles simplesmente perderam todo o valor moral para você. . Obviamente, essa é uma questão muito profunda em filosofia, mas estou curioso para saber como você tenta traçar seu limite, como alguém que pensa muito sobre isso.

Agnes Callard

Sim, acho que talvez uma maneira de pensar sobre isso seja invertendo o padrão, quase como a história hobbesiana sobre o estado de natureza como egoísmo e egoísmo básicos. Não vejo isso quando olho para as crianças. Então aqui está a história. Tudo bem, antes de entrar na sociedade civil, cada um de nós é egoísta e só se preocupa com suas próprias necessidades e a tal ponto que estamos dispostos a fazer grande violência contra outras pessoas para conseguir o que queremos. Mas fazemos esse tipo de acordo com outras pessoas para respeitar seus direitos básicos, pelo menos para que respeitem os nossos e para que possamos ter acordos mutuamente benéficos por meio do comércio. E poderíamos colocar um soberano sobre nós para regular todo esse processo. Então, com efeito, a política está superando o problema do egoísmo. Isso é uma história, certo? E muita filosofia política surge disso e você simplesmente acredita nisso. Mas às vezes acho que é exatamente a história errada. Que a política está superando o problema do altruísmo, que em algum nível básico, respondemos ao sofrimento de outras pessoas de uma forma visceral. E nós vemos isso tão problemático quanto nosso próprio sofrimento. E o problema de causar sofrimento aos outros. Meu marido uma vez me disse: Ele se envolveu em muitas brigas quando era adolescente. E ele disse, o que eu aprendi é que não foi a pessoa mais forte que ganhou a luta, foi aquela que estava disposta a causar o pior estrago. Se você colocar o dedo no olho de outra pessoa, você pode vencer quase qualquer luta com um garoto de 16 anos, certo? Portanto, não queremos ser brutais. Não queremos agir brutalmente uns com os outros. Não é fácil ignorar o sofrimento de outra pessoa, não é? E a sociedade civil, de certa forma, está criando uma estrutura na qual cada um de nós pode ser um indivíduo e pode limitar a extensão com que atendemos ao sofrimento dos outros.

Ezra Klein

Oh, esse é um pensamento muito provocativo. Então, você acha que esta é uma forma otimista ou pessimista de pensar sobre a sociedade civil?

Agnes Callard

Acho que ele está otimista. Porque acho que a ideia seria que, à medida que a sociedade progride, podemos de fato acomodar mais e mais nosso altruísmo natural. Então, o que você mencionou onde temos guerras e vemos o outro lado como um inimigo, é como, bem, temos esse pensamento de que é uma condição para a sobrevivência de nossa sociedade que fechemos nossa humanidade a esse grupo. , direito? Mas, à medida que isso se torna menos uma condição para a sobrevivência, então nos permitimos, de fato, ativar nossa preocupação natural com os outros.

Ezra Klein

Então, na verdade, é uma ótima ponte de volta à meritocracia, onde saímos um pouco do caminho. Mas isso traz a ideia do tipo de princípio versus o caso instrumental da meritocracia. Portanto, o principal argumento a favor da meritocracia poderia ser o de que é a forma correta de estruturar a sociedade. É normal recompensar as pessoas, e as pessoas que são recompensadas são as certas. Mas o caso instrumental é essa ideia de que estamos tentando melhorar a sociedade, que é melhor dar às pessoas algo a que aspirar, que estruturamos as coisas a que aspiram da maneira certa e que as estamos recompensando por isso e Ao culpar, em algum nível, aqueles que não o fazem, estamos impulsionando a sociedade, obtendo inovações tecnológicas, inovações gerenciais, talvez até inovações éticas. E assim, de geração em geração, podemos ajudar mais pessoas e construir algo melhor. Acho que isso caiu em desgraça na esquerda. Muitas das críticas à meritocracia vêm da ideia de que ela não funciona, que não é baseada em princípios e que fere as pessoas que fracassam. Acredito que haja algo valioso em dar às pessoas maneiras de aspirar à excelência pessoal.

Agnes Callard

Creo que hay un punto profundo aquí que tiene que ser la justificación última de la meritocracia, si es que existe, que es este. No quieres que la gente sea demasiado feliz con lo que es demasiado pronto en sus vidas, ¿verdad? Por ejemplo, un niño de dos años no debería estar feliz de seguir siendo un niño de dos años. Son geniales, pero todavía no se han encontrado con la mayoría de las cosas realmente valiosas de la vida, ¿verdad? Así que una gran parte de la vida es empezar a preocuparte por cosas nuevas que ni siquiera sabías que eran valiosas de antemano. Y queremos que la gente haga eso. Y hay un problema con la forma en que la gente puede hacerlo, porque no les parece valioso. Entonces, ¿por qué … cómo van a empezar a valorarlo? Y la competencia es un mecanismo psicológico realmente poderoso para eso, ¿verdad? Y así lo ves en las escuelas. La gente quiere sacar una buena nota. Y porque quieren sacar una buena nota, estudian. Y debido a que están estudiando, se sumergen en un mundo. Y por eso usamos la competencia para sacarnos de lo que hubiera sido un punto de vista empobrecido sobre el valor. Y creo que esa debe ser la justificación última de la meritocracia. Pero esa justificación es solo una justificación de la meritocracia como una forma de motivar a las personas. No es una justificación de la meritocracia como una forma de evaluar en última instancia el valor de su vida o lo que le importa. Es una teoría de la transición, no una teoría del punto final. Y creo que una de las formas realmente profundas en las que la meritocracia se corrompe es cuando la gente la toma como una teoría del punto final. In effect, my view is: if you are comparing yourself negatively to someone else, which is, I think, a perfectly fine thing and a very useful thing to do, you’d better be in the process of trying to become better. If you’re done, in that respect — suppose you look at your neighbor, and they’re wealthier than you. If that motivates you to try to become more wealthy, great. But if all it does is create bitterness, then you’ve perverted meritocracy. That is, you’ve taken something whose function was to motivate you to become better, and you have applied it in a situation which is static.

ezra klein

Well, wealth is, I think, a really important idea to draw in here because there’s obviously the question in any hierarchy or in anything you want to call a meritocracy, which is, well, what is the merit? How are you measuring the merit? And I think that if you asked people, conceptually, how do we measure merit? You might get all kinds of answers. And then I think if you actually look at it, it’s just money. And so the way the meritocracy works is like, you have won the meritocracy if you are a high-up engineer at Facebook or you’re at a high-up position at McKinsey. And you might say to somebody, do you think a high-up engineer at Facebook or a high-up executive at McKinsey is doing more good for the world than a social worker who works with hardcore addicts? You’d say, no, of course not, right? The social worker who works with hardcore addicts — that’s a wonderful person, almost a saint. Then you might say, well, just look at society. Which do we value more? Who has more respect? Who’s going to have an easier time on the dating market? Who’s going to have an easier time having the things they want in life? And of course, it’s the people at the top of these big companies. And to your point earlier about ethical theorizing left undone, I think we’ve really lost any kind of critical conversation of what we are trying to incentivize people to change towards and then how we do it. We’ve just left it a little bit to the market.

agnes callard

Bien. So first of all, I disagree with you about wealth being the only measure of merit or even the main one. I think it is a big one. So I think that with the advent of social media, the number of Twitter followers is, for some people, a measure of merit. I think honors in academia — I can tell you that people care a lot about honors. It’s a very big deal to get tenure. But then after you have tenure, this amazing thing happens, which is that there are still these promotion levels that sort of don’t mean anything, but people still care about them, right? They’re like, oh, I want to be promoted to full professor. I want to be promoted to university professor, right? Yes, you make a little more money when you’re promoted in those ways. But I don’t think it’s the money that motivates people. I think it’s the honor. And I think the social worker gets a certain kind of honor, too. I think that they know that they’re chosen in examples like the one you just gave, right? And they get to present themselves as a social worker. And I do think that there is a certain cachet to that. I agree with you. It isn’t of the same order as the banker. Why do so many students go into those lucrative professions? Partly, it’s that money is a measure of merit. Partly, it is fear. I think it isn’t all them wanting the most honor or wanting to win the top of meritocracy. I think that students are worried about their survival. And they feel they need to make prudent choices, or they won’t survive. And they feel like — so there’s a certain amount, actually, I think, of risk aversion in some of the choices that are guaranteed to lead to financial success. On the one hand, there are questions about, who do we want to be personally, and what is it to have value as a human being? And then there’s the question, how do you organize society so that, in effect, the right things end up at the top? And I don’t think that we are crazy off with respect to that. But I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.

ezra klein

Money has this weird way … it is a transferable form of achievement. So there are honors within industries or Twitter followers. And they really work in their local space. But money works everywhere. And so that gives it, I think, a distinctive power. And it’s one reason I wish we could attach money to things that I think are a little bit more socially valuable. That’s my fundamental critique of the market. I just think it often rewards the wrong things because we leave it too much to its own devices. I don’t think scarcity is always the right way to measure these things. This is, in many ways, a left-wing critique of the way the meritocracy works. But when I read the left-wing critiques of the way the meritocracy works, a place I feel uncomfortable is that I feel like the left, in trying to critique the meritocracy so much, has lost an idea of excellence, of, what is it you’re supposed to be striving for? There’s a negative version of it. You want to rid yourself of racist ideas and bias and toxic misogyny and so on. And that’s good. And we should rid ourselves of those things. But you also need the positive version, right? Who are you trying to become? To your point about aspiration. And I guess I’ll frame it this way. I think a lot about, what does a left-wing version of Jordan Peterson look like, or at least Jordan Peterson from a couple of years ago? What would that look like? Because I think you do need that. I think he speaks to something deep in people. You’re not good enough yet, and you need to get better, and here’s how you do it. So let me ask that of you. What would a left-wing Jordan Peterson be?

agnes callard

One version of it is the idea that anti-racism could be turned into an excellence. I think we used to think, well, there’s just not being racist. And being racist is horrible, and so it’s like being a murderer or something. And just don’t do that, and then you’re fine, right? But I think that — so one — this is one version that already exists. And it is the idea that concern for the oppressed and the powerless is, itself, something that can be perfected and that you can be competitive at and be better at than other people. It’s not super attractive, as a vision, I think. But it is something like that. In effect, Jordan Peterson is a really interesting case because he is dealing with this problem of the zero-sum game of self-respect, where it’s like, people feel like they’re losers. And he is pushing that in a left-wing direction by saying, everyone can have self-respect, right? You can, yes, improve yourself. But you can do it by cleaning your room or something that everyone can do, right? So he incorporates a certain kind of egalitarianism into his approach. And similarly, I think that the left-wing version of that would incorporate a certain kind of competitiveness. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

So at the core of this conversation, as you said earlier, is the way we give people incentives to shape themselves. And you have a line that’s always stuck with me, which is that “the process of self-creation involved a fair amount of violence to myself.” When we’re creating ourselves and changing ourselves, what is the nature of that violence?

agnes callard

I think it’s that you have certain instinctive responses, and you can’t trust them. And you even have to sometimes silence them. And the very mundane version of that is cases of weakness of will where you’re like, I shouldn’t eat this extra cookie or whatever, right? There is just a thing that we do to ourselves kind of all the time where we — it’s like we’re whipping ourselves into shape, where we are denying our own desires. Those desires are judgments about goodness, right? So some part of me is saying, this cookie is good. And I’m telling her, you’re lying. That’s a kind of violence to the self, I think. And in the cookie case, maybe it’s not so serious, right? But in the case of, I don’t know, early teenage sexual desires and the kind — if you think about the kind of self-monitoring and self-criticism that we do about that, certainly more so if somebody is homosexual and living in a less tolerant community. But I think it’s just true of everyone, that there’s a kind of being grossed out by your own desires. And there’s a kind of feeling of needing to hide them and needing to shape them and needing to tell them that they’re making false judgments.

ezra klein

I think it’s really interesting, this question of, what is our desire? The voice in our head saying we don’t want to eat the cookie, or I don’t want to spend today on Twitter, or I want to work out more, or I want to spend an hour every morning reading books, or the more guttural, intuitive — like, I do want to look at Twitter. I want to sleep in. I don’t want to read the book. How do you think about that conflict between what that voice in our head says we want and then what we do?

agnes callard

I think we’re way too quick to identify ourselves with the long-term goals, especially when we’re not in the moment of being tempted. So we can say, look, I know how I should really live. And I know that I should really read those books, and I should not eat the cookies, and I should be less stressed about these things, and I should spend more time with my family. These are things I know. And I think the truth is that I do not know any of them. I believe them, and then I also believe the opposite. And some of my beliefs are, in a way, more presentable to other people, right? So I am more presentable to you if I say, “Yeah, I know I should really spend more time with my kids,” than if I say, “I have a profound need to escape my kids.” But both of those things are true of me. And I think that the violence to the self occurs as long as they are both true of you. I think — but this is me just agreeing with Socrates about something, which is that, if you had knowledge, you would not have that conflict. And a lot of people have the goal of mastering themselves — which is to say, of exerting enough violence over themselves to silence or to quiet that other voice, because they know — they say they know — the other thing, right? But the truth is that the fact that the other voice is there means you don’t know it. And the violence over yourself is the trying to quiet it when it’s really there. And knowledge would mean that you unanimously and obviously, and in a very simple way, did the thing you thought you should.

ezra klein

So I’m trying to think through the implicit definition of knowledge, or knowing something, here. It seems like a much more embodied way of knowing something than our typical way of talking about knowledge.

agnes callard

Weirdly, I almost feel like our typical way of talking about knowledge is very bodily. But maybe that’s just my Socratism. So maybe here’s why I would put it that other way. Suppose that I feel like having the cookie, but I know I shouldn’t. I think people are inclined to think of the feeling that you have the cookie as bodily and the knowing that you shouldn’t as not being bodily. I think that’s bodily, too. That’s just how things look to you in a bodily way when you’re looking at them from far away, right? So you are somebody who is just trapped in the images of things. And when you look at something like eating a cookie from close up, it looks really good to you. When you look at it from far away, it looks like it’s not very good. And those are both bodily judgments. There’s just proximate and distant bodily judgments. And what we do when we don’t have knowledge is we just vacillate between these bodily judgments. And we dress one of them up as though it were knowledge, namely the distant one. But if you actually knew in your soul, I would say, then the bodily judgments would be like a play of images that you would ignore, right? So if I say to you, well, here’s two piles of money, right? This one has $1,000, and this one has $100 — but the $100 one is taller because it’s different denominations. So it looks bigger, right? But if you know that this one is $1,000, you’re going to go for the $1,000. You won’t be like, well, that one is bigger. And so there’s a way in which we are fooled by images, because all we’re doing is, in some sense, doing what we feel like at every moment. And to have knowledge would be to just not be subject to those images.

ezra klein

Why would knowledge resolve conflict as opposed to making it clear that there’s always going to be conflict, which is to say, maybe — I want to ask this question correctly. Maybe, simply, things in their opposite are true, which is something I see a lot in your work, actually — a kind of recognition of living in the conflict of things. Why would it be true knowledge to resolve conflicts as opposed to true knowledge to say the conflicts are the truth of it?

agnes callard

So I think the difference there is just in thinking how far from knowledge we are. So I think the way I am is that I see a bunch of conflicts, and I don’t know how to resolve them. And that’s just my ignorance. If I had knowledge, I would know how to resolve them. But what I at least try to do is to not be under the illusion that I have the knowledge already. To say knowledge would involve resolving them is to acknowledge that we are very, very, very far from that. It’s not clear that it’s achievable within a human lifetime, but it is. And so there’s a different question, which is, how do we make do without knowledge, right? And we have to do some of that. But once you see it that way, nothing can really look as attractive to you as just having knowledge. You have to make do without it while you’re looking for it. But I guess I think the whole “living with contradictions, accepting contradictions” thing is just — it’s a way of swerving. It’s a way of dressing up your own ignorance as being somehow responsibility and realism. But I think I can see what it would be to know. And it would be something amazing that’s way better than where I am.

ezra klein

I like that, at least as a goal. So one way people try to get to that kind of knowledge is by asking other people for advice. And you have a wonderful column on the problems of advice. So I want to begin with a distinction you draw between coaching and instruction and giving advice. Can you talk me through that?

agnes callard

Si. So in this piece, I’m using the word “advice” in a slightly limited way. I think, naturally, it occupies a broader territory. But I’m thinking of what — I was motivated by just listening to a lot of podcasts in which people are often asked to give generic advice to people who want to be like them. And the people on the podcasts were always these really idiosyncratic, weird people who you feel sure that they did not become that person by following someone else’s advice. So there was some kind of a performative contradiction there of, why don’t you give people a recipe for becoming the person for whom you could never have a recipe, and then become that person? But here are some things I think you can do. So I think you can give people instrumental, factual knowledge about how to achieve some technical goal, right? So if there’s something where I don’t know how to do it, like, how do you get to this place? How do you operate the photocopier? Then you can explain that to someone. And the reason you can explain it to them is, you don’t need to know their bigger life goals and motivations and values in wanting to get to that place or wanting to operate the photocopier. You can know a relatively limited amount about them and still help them. So that’s one kind of thing, instruction. And I think coaching — what I mean by coaching is a kind of intimate, long-term relationship in which you become familiar enough with someone’s goals that you’re almost like an appendage of who they are. But you’re a little bit better attuned to those goals, and you can nudge them in that direction. There was a wonderful piece in “The New York Times” yesterday or the day before about gymnasts, older gymnasts, and people going back to the sport — people who’ve been told that they’re too old and they can’t do it anymore. And the relationships they have with their coaches, by contrast with the younger gymnasts, where the older gymnasts, their coaches are less tyrannical and are more like extensions of themselves. And coaching is something I do lots of in my life because I do lots of advising of different kinds of undergraduates, of graduate students, of mentoring colleagues, et cetera. So I think that’s totally possible. But what I don’t think is possible is that you can tell some stranger how to live, where that is understood in some very abstract way of, there’s a good life, and you’re going to help them achieve it, because I think that in order to help someone achieve big goals, like the coaching style, you have to know who they are. And I think you can help people achieve small goals, like, how do you work the photocopier? But that’s not what the advice is geared to. So I see advice as in existing in this incoherent space between trying to help someone in a big way who you don’t know.

ezra klein

So this is really interesting to me. So is part of what you’re saying here that for these more profound kinds of — now, I don’t want to use the word advice or instruction for this, but these more profound kinds of direction — how do I become a great writer? How do I become a better person? That to make some of these changes that are more difficult for people to make, that if it’s going to happen, it has to be grounded relationally, that you have to know the person and that whole thing, and what’s happening in advice is you’re trying to offer that kind of guidance, but non-relationally, and so it’s untethered from the sort of soil it needs to be rooted in, to mix a metaphor, in order to take hold?

agnes callard

Sí, eso es correcto. Maybe another way to put it would be, I don’t think becoming a great writer is a coherent goal. I think what you want to become is the particular kind of great writer that you can become, whatever that is, and you don’t know what it is, right? That’s what your goal is. And who can help me with that? Well, my editor, because she has some sense of who I am and of who that great writer is that I’m trying to be. But I think that trying to become a great writer in the abstract is a non-goal. One way I describe it in my book is that having aspiration that is too open-ended — you’ll just be flailing, like people who go to Europe to find themselves. Something fun might happen. But most likely, they’re not going to find anything at all, because that goal is not concrete enough. And so I think that what coaching does is it allows people to help you with a more concrete goal — becoming the best gymnast you can be, where “you can be” is actually filled in with a certain kind of person that is known to you and the coach.

ezra klein

My intuition is something similar to what you said at the beginning of this part of the conversation, which is that podcasting is an unusually advice-centric form of media, that compared to what happens on a television or in a newspaper or even in books, that even things that you don’t think are going to be about advice — it’s like everything asymptotically approaches just a bunch of advice on how to live. Why do you think podcasting has evolved in that way, or lends itself so much to advice?

agnes callard

I think it’s because it’s the leveling game part of podcasting.

ezra klein

Ooh, that’s interesting.

agnes callard

So podcasting, in effect, is elevating the interlocutor, right? You’re important enough for me to invite to a podcast. And now the whole — the whole world — whoever listens to the podcast is, in effect, elevating that person, and being like, here’s this important person, right? And a huge part of the world that we live in and the social-media world is being approachable. I think the advice part is mostly — the function of it isn’t to actually give advice. It’s to make that person seem approachable or wanting to help all the people who might otherwise resent them for being, in some way, above them.

ezra klein

So a lot of internet advice — although, obviously, not all of it — ends up revolving around relationships, which I’m going to use as a segue to a fascinating piece you wrote about jealousy, of which you have a pretty unusual take on it, which is that you say it’s a positive emotion. How is jealousy a positive emotion?

agnes callard

By positive, I don’t mean, say, praiseworthy or good. I leave that aside as to whether it is or not. What I mean by positive is that it is a form of desire or attraction rather than a form of aversion or fear, say, right? So we could classify emotions into whether the emotion is pulling you towards something or whether it’s pulling you away from something. And I think jealousy is pulling you towards something. What it’s pulling you towards, though, is the love that someone could never have for you, the love that they have for someone else, right? So I think that many people — me, certainly, but I think maybe most people — are, in some way, erotically attracted to that very love — the very love they can never have, the love that is, in some way, defined as being the love for somebody else. And I think that part of why we find that so attractive is that if you love someone, and you — it’s like, who you are for them is so limiting, in some way. Like, this is who I am, and I’m loved as this. And what if I want to be loved as someone else, too? If you see the relationship as a very central, metaphysically defining thing for who you are, then it can feel frustrating and limited to only be loved as yourself.

ezra klein

Do you think there’s a version of that, too, where you want not the love, exactly, the person has for someone else, but the version of them they are with someone else? If you love someone, you want to know them. And the sense that there is a part of them you cannot know because it is a part of them that emerges in a different dynamic with a different person, and so you can never have it — that’s always struck me as a very deep part of jealousy.

agnes callard

That’s a great point, and I don’t touch on it at all in the piece that I wrote. But I think you’re right. When I think about times I’ve been jealous, I have wanted to know about the character of the conversations that my beloved was having with his other beloved, right? Where it’s like, I want access to the you that you are for them. And what that speaks to is a kind of bottomless desire to own them. I want to own everything about you, even the parts of you that don’t exist for me.

ezra klein

Yeah, I think there’s something very real there, or there always has been for me, at least. And you get a small taste of it when you go out in public with your partner. You go to a dinner party, and you see a version of them. You’re like, wait. Yesterday, we were just hanging out. And where was this version of you? And then you realize, wherever it was, it wasn’t there in part because of me. And that’s a terrible feeling. [KLEIN LAUGHS]

agnes callard

That is a big part of why people like going to dinner parties with their partners. I think jealousy is integrated, at a low level, into most romantic relationships. And it brings people pleasure. To see their partner being desired by others, kept at a certain simmer or something — even though they feel jealousy, and even though there’s some kind of painful emotion, they want that pain. They want some of that pain.

ezra klein

I think that’s a very — a real point. I am not a very jealous person. But to the extent I sometimes get a bit jealous, I definitely find it to be a pleasurable emotion. Now, that might be because it’s happening within an overall context of security. It would not be pleasurable — and I’ve had other relationships where it’s not been pleasurable, because it was happening outside of a context of security. But inside a context of security, I find it to just be a little exciting, right? This recognition of unexplored vistas, this recognition that there is something unknown that is changing my relationship with my partner. It can be fun. And it gets to another line you have in that same piece, where you write, “I’ve never understood how polyamory is supposed to survive erotic rivalry, but I have exactly the same objection to monogamy.” Tell me why those aren’t more different for you.

agnes callard

Yeah, because, in some sense, the problem is the same. Namely, in the case of polyamory, you’re always going to want the love that — let me just throw some genders in there, right? So that he has for another woman, right? You want that love, right? And so that’s the jealousy that threatens to undermine the system. But in the case of monogamy, you also want the love that he has for another. It may not be embodied in another person at that moment, though it threatens to be at every moment. And at every dinner party, there’s that potential, right? And so if you want the love that he has for another, whether or not that slot is filled, that’s a problem.

ezra klein

Yeah, I know polyamorous couples. And one of the things I will sometimes hear from them is that it’s demystifying of that love, that, in some ways, it is less threatening to see your partner go out and then watch them come back, and they’re just the same person and, in some cases, a little dissatisfied and tired the next morning, as opposed to wondering what it is they want that you cannot give them, that it is a — that that acculturation removes it of some of its mystical power.

agnes callard

Yeah, good. And I would think, then, that you’d have to find some way to re-mystify. That is, if I’m right that jealousy is written, in some deep way, into the erotic relationship, that it’s not just — we kind of need jealousy. There’s a kind of flatness to love without the possibility of it, right? And so you’d almost worry that the polyamorous relationship that got too demystified would be like the monogamous relationship in which nothing could even get noticed at the dinner party.

ezra klein

Let me ask about this from the other side, which is, what makes for a good divorce?

agnes callard

I think most divorces are probably good divorces in the sense that very few people get divorced out of compulsion or necessity. Almost everyone chooses it because it’s the best course, right? But that doesn’t mean that they’re always pursued as well as possible.

ezra klein

Well, sometimes one of the partners doesn’t want to get divorced.

agnes callard

I’m not sure how to think about that sort of case. I suppose you’re right that there could be a relationship — you could be in a relationship where someone doesn’t want to be with you, but you still want to be with them. And it could be that, given a set of bad options, that’s somehow still your best option. But that would be a very bad case. I would think that it would be hard to persistently want to be with somebody who really didn’t want to be with you.

ezra klein

I think, in those cases — and I’m no expert on divorce. But I think, in those cases, it’s more that you are shocked and, on some level, disbelieving that the person doesn’t want to be with you. You either wish it weren’t true, or you think it will become untrue again.

agnes callard

Right.

ezra klein

¿Derecha? You think they’re going through a thing.

agnes callard

Right.

ezra klein

And this is a bad idea. And let’s just take a breath here and give it 5 or 10 or 15 or 50 years and see how you feel then.

agnes callard

Si. I got that advice a lot when I got divorced — [LAUGHTER] — because I did it very quickly. And people were like, wait, let’s deliberate. So I think that that’s a very good point. So one person might just think, over time, we can figure this out. And the other person thinks that we can’t figure this out. I think you’re right. That’s a real case where there’s a disagreement over whether we can work something through or not. And to the person who thinks that we could, the divorce would just be a genuine loss. But even in the case where there’s agreement — which is most of the divorces I know of, that at the end of the day, there’s agreement on that question — I guess I think that maybe there’s actually little more to a good divorce than the ability to continue to proceed by agreement. So marriage is proceeding by agreement, right? It’s like, you deliberate together with your spouse about how to live. And I think you can continue to do that through a divorce and after a divorce. And the question might just be how much of your lives continue to be shared, which — if you shared kids, it’s going to be a fair amount. But I think that there is this thought that — and maybe it’s rooted in the very problem that you just described about the person who wants to keep trying and the person who doesn’t — that divorce marks the end of deliberating together. And I think, if it does, then that’s going to cause a lot of pain, because, in some sense, deliberating together is how we act together with one another’s consent. And if we can’t do that, we’re going to be routinely doing certain kinds of violence to one another. And we’re going to be operating using threats and incentives. So yeah, I would say it’s the ability to deliberate together.

ezra klein

So I ask you this because, from what I can tell on social media and podcasting, you have an unusually successful divorce. You celebrate your divorciversary, or at least some of them. I obviously cannot, given our earlier conversation, ask you for your advice for divorcing couples. But there’s a specific thing you said, which is about creating space for deliberation. So I’m curious what have been, for you, the successful spaces for post-marriage deliberation.

agnes callard

Well, so one thing is, I talk to my ex-husband a lot about philosophy. He’s one of my best interlocutors. And that is important because it’s not the case that we’re always deliberating together. There’s another thing we do together that isn’t deliberating together. It’s inquiring together. And maybe that creates a certain kind of backdrop of goodwill, I guess, that is relevant to deliberating together. But I think that it’s something like — suppose there’s some important decision that needs to be made about kids, school, or about — let’s pick that, right? Something about the kids. I think the key to deliberating well with him has been not to think that I can settle that question on my own in my head and then try to sell him that plan as being the right plan. It’s immediately obvious to someone when you’re doing that. That is, persuasion is not the right tactic. Persuasion is much less commonly the right tactic than people suppose, I think. So it’s not — I should actually figure out what we should do with his help, where I think there are important pieces of the puzzle that are unavailable to me until I talk to him.

ezra klein

That’s just good — oh, man. I can’t say good life advice. That’s good life instruction. [LAUGHTER] It’s this very specific thing that one could put into practice. Often, between marriage and divorce — although often outside of marriage, too — people have kids. I have a two-year-old. And you wrote an essay — it was not that long after I had a child — about the panic of parenting, which I love. And I’ve sent to other people who have children. But you talk in there about something that has just felt truer and truer to me every day, which is that it really shouldn’t be called parenting. It should be called childing. Can you tell me why?

agnes callard

Si. I think maybe the core thought there is that parenting suggests that you make your child into something. And that’s just not the truth. It’s more like your child is trying to figure out who they should be, and you’re trying to help them without knowing what that is. And I think that it’s hard. Before you — before I became a parent, anyway, I didn’t get how psychologically difficult it would be to, in some sense, stand by and watch. And it means, every time you have an expectation for your child — and you cannot avoid having expectations — you also question it and say, am I having the right expectation for him? Is this the expectation I should be having? Because it’s not one direction of fit. It’s not like your child should meet your expectations, right? You want to have the ones that are the right ones for him. And so there’s this direction of fit, from you to your child, that means that you are constantly second-guessing and questioning yourself as a parent.

ezra klein

And that it feels like — my kid is a little bit young for this at this point. But from the older parents I know, at times from my own parents — and that it feels like a failure, that you have failed them if their lives — or even, in a local way, their year, their month — doesn’t turn out the way they wanted to, right? It does seem to me that the agony of parenting is believing that you can control things you cannot control. But also, it would be very agonizing to think, I was doing this without any control, any influence. How do you think about that? That desire to — what do you do in parenting? What’s the point of all this? [KLEIN LAUGHS]

agnes callard

So I like that point about failure. I used to give that example earlier about my kid not wanting to go to the playground to play, because the other kids took the toys away from him. And I struggled with him. And I would give him these speeches about how, it’s yours. Don’t share it. But eventually, I just gave in, and we would just go to the playground really early when there weren’t any other kids. There was a year when we just did that, just to avoid the conflict, right? And I was thinking to myself, I’m not educating him. I’m not teaching him that he’s supposed to hold onto stuff. And I saw it as a failure. But I’m like, this is my compromise. I’m just going to not get into this situation — and of course, it worked out fine, right? But I think that failure is necessary as part of the story, in that I think what you’re doing, as a parent, is you’re coming up with goals for your kid constantly. And you’re just making them up. And you’re making them up partly on the basis of stuff you hear from other people and stuff you hear from your parents and stuff you read in some book. But you’re like, here’s how his life should be, right? And then insofar as you fall short of that, you feel bad, and you readjust, and you come up with some new goal. And you’re constantly doing that. You’re constantly making up fake goals. And I think it’s because if you didn’t do that, you wouldn’t know what else to do, right? It’s like, the way you can see that so clearly is with infants, right? It’s amazing if you look at the way people deal with infants. They treat a bunch of stuff that is obviously not important as being super important — whether the child is fed with breast milk or formula, how they sleep, how often they sleep, even whether their clothing is organic or not, when they are toilet trained. There are all these details about infant life that parents obsess over. And you might look at that saying — I looked at it, actually, saying, people are nuts. None of these things are important. They just don’t matter at all, right? But you have to care about something, right? You need some kind of goal. And I think that parenting is this process where, slowly, you learn to have the right goal for your kid, to have the goal that actually matters. And you have to start out with dumb goals that don’t matter, like how they’re born and how they’re swaddled and et cetera. But you’re almost triangulating until you come to the goal for them that is their goal.

ezra klein

That’s such an interesting way of putting it. What I was thinking about while you were saying that was, so I did very poorly in school, starting in seventh grade. It was junior high. I remember the class where I got my first D. And from there through to when I was — so I’m probably 13 there, something like that — from there to the end of high school, until my senior year, my grades, for whatever reason, got little bit better. And also, it’s over, one way or the other. It was just a constant source of really difficult tension between me and my parents and disappointment for them. They wanted me to get better grades. Frankly, I wanted me to get better grades. And I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. It was not a lack of trying. And the strange thing is, it all worked out, right? Looking back from where I am now, I’m a “New York Times” columnist. I have a job. It’s all fine. I went to college. It all worked out. But of course, they couldn’t have known that. And I couldn’t have known that. And so, in a way, the goal was wrong at that time. And it caused everybody a lot of tsuris, to use the Yiddish word. But it’s not like I can fault — the goal seemed right. It’s not like I thought they were wrong about being mad at me about my terrible grades. And so sometimes, with this kind of way of looking at parenting, it becomes this real difficult question of, how do you rate tension? I think about this with — again, I have a very young toddler, so he can’t learn much from me in discipline yet. So it’s like, OK, I’m just trying to avoid tension. And I sometimes succeed and failed this morning because we did not have the right kind of juice. And there’s nothing I could do about it. But to what you’re saying, one way of looking at it is like, yeah, just chill a little bit as a parent. Do you believe that to be true, or do you think that it’s actually good to take your best guess of the goal and that the tension creates something valuable in the conflict?

agnes callard

I think it’s very hard to know. I’m —

ezra klein

Well, damn. [LAUGHTER]

agnes callard

— reflexively averse to the goal of chill. I think nobody ever believes that. People say it. Nobody believes it. Nobody acts upon it. I do think it’s important for your kid to see that you care who they become. And having that tension is a way for that care to manifest itself. Part of what you’re doing is being your kid’s superego, in some way. You’re maintaining — you’re holding a place for their conception of who they’re going to be. And you want that to be big and expansive. And you want it to be much bigger than a toddler or an eight-year-old or a 12-year-old or a 17-year-old, as my kids are, can imagine. You want it to take up more space than that, right? You want them to expect a lot of themselves. And part of how you’re doing that is by expecting a lot of them. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

How do you think about the question of setting good goals for oneself or anyone else? A through line of our whole conversation here is about goals, right? The goals the meritocracy sets for us, the goals we set for ourselves aspirationally, the goals we set for our children, and then, also, how often those goals can be wrong. They’re not true to who we really are or how things actually work out. So you’ve clearly done a lot of thinking about goals. How do you set goals for yourself?

agnes callard

So one thought that I have about goals, in general, is that you can get much less far ahead of yourself than you think you can. So that’s part of the illusion of what I said — the fact that the judgment from a distance is also a bodily judgment. It’s like, if I have this goal of, I want to, I don’t know, read a lot more books or something, then I can almost convince myself that I’m already the person who cares about that, right? But if I were, then I would be doing it. And so I think, in myself, the way that I live that out is that there’s a lot of randomness in what I do. I’m constantly exploring new avenues where, this might be me trying to become a different person. But I never really know, because if I were, this would just be the first step, and I would be confused about it. So I think that’s taking up a lot of hobbies and starting new projects, and then a lot of them fail, where I don’t have big, abstract, long-term goals except insofar as it’s something like, I have philosophical projects, and I want to bring it to a conclusion, wherever that will be. So yeah, there’s a lot of random movement.

ezra klein

That makes sense to me. Let me ask you a question I didn’t realize I’d be asking you. But now that I’m actually able to see you here — and the audience can’t, but you have a lot of color on. Behind you is one of the most colorful walls I’ve ever seen. I see a lot of cacti with eyes, flowers — possibly real. I can’t actually tell. What is your relationship with color and visual stimulation?

agnes callard

I need a lot of visual stimulation all the time. So actually, my office hasn’t always looked like this. It actually used to — when I first got my job — this is my university office — it was like a regular office.

ezra klein

This is your university office I’m looking at?

agnes callard

Si.

ezra klein

Oh, wow. [LAUGHTER] I thought this was at your home.

agnes callard

No.

ezra klein

It’s very cool. And people can actually find pictures of this online, I realize, now.

agnes callard

Si. It’s on, actually, my Twitter page. It’s the background photo or something, so you can see it.

ezra klein

Entiendo.

agnes callard

Si. We actually had a fire in the philosophy department a few years ago. So this is the second instantiation because it was destroyed. But when they came in here, the — whatever insurance people came in here after the fire, they were so confused by the room. And they were like, is this some kind of therapy room? [CALLARD LAUGHS] Si. So I’m actually puzzled by other people who don’t have a lot of color. The clothing with a lot of color on it pretty much costs the same as the clothing with very little color on it. So I’m confused by why people aren’t making what, to me, is the obviously superior choice. But color is amazing. It’s one of the most amazing features of the world. We could have lived in an uncolored world, right? A lot of the features of our world would still be in place. But there’s just this element of beauty that is out there of beauty and order and pattern and contrast. And it’s like, I want to experience it all the time. And I was starting to say that my office used to be normal. And I found myself actually googling the word “color” on my computer just to look at colors. And I’m like, this is ridiculous. I should have some color in my office. So I had one of these tapestries — actually, not these ones, but the pre-fire versions. And then I was like, oh, this is awesome. Let me add something else. Let me add something — my whole ceiling is covered, too. You can’t see it. And yeah, my husband and my kids would come in. And they’d be like, OK, but now you’re done, right? They’d keep saying that. But I keep finding new spots where I can add stuff. And to me, it’s one of the most obvious arenas in which maximization makes sense. Most things, you shouldn’t try to maximize. You shouldn’t try to maximize how much money you make. You shouldn’t try to maximize how much honor you get. But I don’t see why you shouldn’t try to maximize how much color is in your life.

ezra klein

So there’s color, and then there’s visual stimulation. And I think the thing you would normally hear from people and think, I would immediately think, is it would be distracting. You’d be looking around. And you’d always be caught on something. And I end up — when I’m writing, I have to clean my desk really intensely, and there’s nothing on it. And I would actually like more color in my room. But I tend to have very clean work spaces. So do you find that it leads to a different quality of thinking, or is it just a context in which you think best? You clearly don’t find busyness in the visual field to be distracting. But what is it for you?

agnes callard

I like being distracted, I think. That’s the randomness I was describing, right? You can’t segregate randomness like that. It has to be available to you at every moment of your life, that you might start doing something else. It creates some persistence problems with getting things done, for sure. I like patterns. I like visual patterns. I like them because they’re distracting. And I suppose, I think, that there are forms of distraction that I would find unpleasant. So there are definitely forms of distraction I find unpleasant, like if someone is talking while I’m trying to work or something like that. So maybe it would be interesting to think about why some forms of distraction feel pleasant, and others feel unpleasant. And I’ve never thought about this before, but I would guess that there’s a feeling of voluntarism with the visual where I can look at it, but it doesn’t force me to look at it. Whereas a voice that is speaking, it’s producing meaning in a way where I cannot detach from that. I have to receive that meaning. It’s like, a friend of mine once told me that she used to really enjoy the way the Coca-Cola signs looked — the swirls. And then she learned how to read, and she couldn’t see the pattern anymore —

ezra klein

Huh.

agnes callard

— because she was receiving the meaning, right? And so there’s this way in which a world of visual patterns is not a world that is conveying meaning to me. And that makes it feel unintrusive. It allows me to think all the meaning thoughts I want without having them being imposed by my space.

ezra klein

That’s really interesting. And I find that you do something else that I do but that I don’t know that many other people do, which is, always, if I’m working, I’m listening to music. And I’m listening to one song on repeat. And whatever I am doing, it’s like, I have to find — I take a lot of time, when I’m beginning to write, finding the right song and then rejecting songs because they’re not the right mood, and they’re not the right vibe, and this one is distracting me. But when I find it, it’s just like, then it’s just on repeat for six hours. And then we’re done with the piece. And I’m curious, because you do this, too, one, a little bit how you came to it, but two, how you choose the songs.

agnes callard

I’m much less systematic than you. And I often choose the wrong song and just live with it. And I actually almost — sometimes I can enjoy the pain of the fact that it’s the wrong song that I’m listening to —

ezra klein

Eso es increíble.

agnes callard

— over and over again. So there’s a perversity to it. But I think it also depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing about anger or sadness — if I’m writing about emotions, I have to feel the emotion that I’m writing about. This is actually one of my biggest frustrations with academic writing on the emotions, is that so much of that writing has, as its content, the claim that there’s a distinctively emotional way of thinking where that thinking cannot be communicated except by way of the emotion, but the piece is unemotional. And it’s like, well, do you believe it or not, right? So I feel like academic writing is not well-suited to writing about the emotions for that, because you’re not allowed to write emotionally. But for me, in order to write emotionally, I have to feel, to some extent, the emotion. So in that case, I don’t know. If I’m writing about anger — there was one time when I listened to the Neko Case song “I’m a Man” over and over again. That’s an angry song. Or sadness, especially. If I’m writing about grief or loss or suffering, then I want music that expresses that. But often, it will just be pretty random.

ezra klein

I like that. And I like the idea that you can get into the pain of the wrong song. I’m going to try that for a piece that has to be a little jarring sometime. I think it’s a good place to end. So let me ask you what is always our final question, with one addendum, which is, what are three books you would recommend to the audience that have influenced you? And then what is one song you use to feel either sadness or grief?

agnes callard

So a month ago, two months ago, I read a biography for the first time. I’d never read a biography.

ezra klein

For the first time?

agnes callard

Yes, first time.

ezra klein

Guau.

agnes callard

I thought I’d hate biographies because I associated them with history. And I don’t like history. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a bunch of facts, and I don’t know how to fit them together. And then there’s a story being told about them. But I’m always like, is this just one story that’s chosen, and could there be others? And also, the story always began before it began. And so I find history quite confusing. So I stayed away from biographies. But then I was just reading a lot of Tolstoy. And I’m like, let me try. And I read a Tolstoy biography by Rosamund Bartlett. And I loved it. And I realized that biographies are not history. They are like voyeurism. It’s like, you get to peer inside someone’s life and find out the things that they would not have wanted to tell you. So I’m going to recommend that. And I actually thought, maybe I’ll never read another biography, because it was so perfect. And maybe I’m just done. But then I got sent a new biography about Fernando Pessoa, who is someone else I’m into. And it’s not out yet, but —

ezra klein

Who’s Fernando Pessoa?

agnes callard

He is a Portuguese philosopher, poet, master of personnae. So early 20th century. He wrote under heteronyms, not pseudonyms, heteronyms, because he saw them as aspects of who he was. And he had 50 to 100 of them. But there were three or four that became prominent in his work. He published almost nothing over his life. He put all the stuff, papers, in a trunk. And his most famous book is called “The Book of Disquiet.” I’ll recommend that, too. It’s wonderful. It is a book about the restless mind, right? What is it if you can just never fix on who you are or fix on how to live your life, and at every moment, you’re shifting and thinking, what if I saw this slightly differently? He calls it “My Factless Autobiography.” But anyway, I read this biography of Pessoa that was also wonderful. It was, like, 1,000 pages, and I read it in a week. I just couldn’t stop reading it. So I’ll recommend that, too. I started one last night. I started a biography of Augustine —

ezra klein

Do you know what it’s called, the Fernando Pessoa biography?

agnes callard

It’s called “Pessoa.”

ezra klein

“Pessoa.”

agnes callard

Zenith is the author. It’s coming out in July. And last night, I started a biography of Augustine by Peter Brown. That’s just a super famous biography that everyone is like, if you like biographies, you should read this one because it’s great. And it’s good. I’ve read maybe 50 pages. But I feel like, now, well, you pick any person who was passionate and driven and weird, like Clarice Lispector or W. E. B. Du Bois or Simone Weil, or someone like that. Their biography is going to be great, right? The thing about biography is that you get to see the sincerity of someone’s passion as it drives them to develop over the course of their life. And I really didn’t get that before I read one. So I recommend the genre.

ezra klein

I love that.

agnes callard

Sad songs. There’s so many of them. For some reason, the one that’s jumping into my head is a song called “Real Death” by Mount Eerie.

ezra klein

That does sound sad.

agnes callard

It’s —

ezra klein

By who, you said?

agnes callard

Mount Eerie, I think, is the name. It’s about the death of — someone makes a song about the death of his wife. And his wife has just died. And he’s like, this is not art. This is real life, and I’m actually really sad. And it’s, somehow — the first line is, “death is real.” Death is not for making art about. And it’s this very sincere attempt to almost transcend the act of turning something into art and presenting it to you directly, telling you, like, the backpack that his wife ordered for their child whose school days she knew she would never see arriving in the mail, and giving you these details, but it’s almost spoken. That one, I can’t actually listen to a lot if I’m writing. It’s almost too sad. But anyway, that’s what jumped into my head.

ezra klein

That’s an amazing recommendation. Agnes Callard, this has been such a pleasure. Muchas gracias.

agnes callard

Gracias. It was really fun. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

That is the show. Thank you all for listening. If you enjoyed it, please rate it in your favorite podcast app or send it to a friend. You know I sometimes, at the end of these, do recommendations of my own on something related to our conversation. So we talked there about how Agnes and I both will put on individual songs over and over and over again while we’re working. And I thought I’d list a few that I’ve been listening to recently. So this one is an album, actually, not a song, but Spencer Brown’s “Stream of Consciousness,” which is lush electronica. Really, really good for work but actually pretty sonically interesting, really well-crafted. I’ve really enjoyed that. I’ve listened to it a lot recently, actually a Roge Karma recommendation to me. I was gutted that MF Doom died. I’m a big MF Doom fan from back in the day, and so I’ve been listening to a lot of him. But if you don’t know where to start, “Doomsday” is just one of my favorite songs, full stop. And it’s been on in the background for me — actually, in the foreground for me — a lot lately. And then, finally, I just ran into this song. Not really great for working, but just beautiful vocals. “Someone Else” by Bishop Briggs featuring Jacob Banks. You can turn that one on loud, and you will really feel something. “The Ezra Klein Show” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It is produced by Roge Karma and Jeff Geld, fact-checked by Michelle Harris. Original music by Isaac Jones, and mixing by Jeff Geld.

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