This week on High Noon, Alex Kaschuta, the host of the always-fascinating Subversive Podcast and author at her Substack Garden of Earthly Delights, and one of the most courageous and interesting commentators on the internet, joins the pod.
Alex and Inez talked about whether the vibe shift with regard to Sheryl Sandburg-style girlbossing is real, whether constraint is a necessary precondition for freedom, and the tragic but captivating position of Eastern European countries trapped between the woke West pushing seemingly spent liberalism and the hard power of Russian tanks. They also discussed the inevitable consequences of prosperity, the very real anti-narcissism transformations of motherhood, and tech bro asceticism vs. right-wing bodybuilding.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. I wanted to have Alex Kaschuta on for a long time. She is one of the most consistently interesting people on the internet, in my humble opinion. She’s the host of the Subversive Podcast and she mans or womans a Substack now. I think she’d also probably want me to make sure to introduce her as a mother and a wife because I think she takes those vocations very seriously. Alex, welcome to High Noon. It’s great to have you on.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a long time coming. I’m very excited to be on, and thank you for the kind intro.
Let’s start with this. Your intellectual journey to what I think you wouldn’t object to, the label, post-liberal is very much, seems to be intertwined with how you’ve chosen to live your life, how and where you’ve chosen I should even say to live your life. So can you maybe tell us a little bit about that, how you ended up where you are both sort of intellectually and physically back in Romania, I believe, in the town that you grew up in, right?
Yeah, absolutely. So I guess my intellectual journey pretty much maps onto what I would probably call like a striver, millennial success story, in the beginning. I was probably one of the better students in my little high school, in my little town. I went to the regional Olympics in, I don’t know, biology and German language literature and stuff like that. And then I went to college in Austria and I studied my masters in Spain.
I was kind of like a small-town success story, going abroad. And then I started working in tech, in London, and that’s where I spent probably the better part of my career working in tech and finance. So I guess that’s the basis of throughout this time, I was writing on different incarnations of blogs, just throwing my work into the void because who would read it? It was just more of a journal type blog.
Then I wrote for Vice as well. I guess my journey was… One of my majors in college was diversity management. So that was the funnel that we were pushed through. The wokeness was blooming and a lot of things like that were becoming more interesting and we’re attracting a bit more attention. As a millennials striver, I was like, “Okay, what’s the thing that people of my generation are interested in?” And that’s what I did as well. And then I think after college, I became a bit more curious and I started to delve back into economics, to delve back into the stuff that I was supposed to be studying at the so-called Austrian school of economics.
I found that they didn’t teach us the whole thing. It’s just cherry-picked a little bit. So I became a bit of a libertarian as one does. I was a very kind of rabid atheist for a very long time. And then started working, became a bit more independent. And then I guess the change for me happened when I met real life. And I realized that a lot of the things that were in my head weren’t really as… Yeah, they just didn’t pan out like in the literature like all the feminism that I’ve been taught in school, all the… I don’t know. The kind of very redistributive kind of neoliberal ideas of how to organize the economy, also didn’t really seem to be working in reality.
So I’ve became a bit of an autodidact in that sense. I mean, how did I get to post-liberalism? Yeah. A pretty long road. I mean, with the long stop in libertarianism, and then I guess it’s just applying all the theories that I learned to real examples in the wider world and seeing where there were points of failure. And there were many points of failure. With libertarianism, essentially, I feel like the reality of applying it to actual humans, applying it to the wider field of power, the fact that you can throw power out the window when it comes back through the door.
And then essentially I think the biggest turning point for me was when I found the work of Nick Land and then Mencius Moldbug on the internet and then went through the whole reading list. I guess kind of NRX was my portal into post-liberalism. This is a very long rambling, complicated answer with a lot of parallels and tangents, but I guess probably something like that, maybe.
Well, and you did something that a lot of folks actually that talk a lot about it online didn’t do, which is you decided to essentially leave the millennial rat race, get married, have a child and move back to your hometown. That is interesting to me because I feel like there’s a lot of people who maybe have the same questions you had about community and atomization. But it doesn’t seem… Either they don’t have a home, which is interesting because my family, for example, we really don’t have a home to move back to.
My parents are immigrants to America and even because of what happened in Poland during the war, there isn’t really a home to go back to in that kind of kinship sense. But even folks who do, it seems like an unusual choice that you made to actually put your life where your mouth was, if that makes sense. So has moving back home, starting a family, have those things actually… I don’t want to say have they solved some of these existential problems because I think that’s kind of impossible and too much of a burden to, but has it alleviated what you hoped it would alleviate?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think motherhood is especially a phase shift. It’s kind of an entry and a different perspective on the self, just because you can’t afford to be self-centered. You’d just be ruminating and naval gazing all day about your position at center of the universe because you’re not at center of the universe, there is this extremely dependent creature that is, and you have to attend to it nonstop, just completely be immersed in its life. You know what, it’s wonderful.
Maybe I was so self-centered and narcissistic that the burden is even bigger than for your average person. But for me it was really nice to be able to just be almost like physiologically absolved of the burden of the self in a way, just to be able to not constantly contemplate, “Am I doing things right? Is this right?” There are immediate things to be done. And the thing about becoming a mother, it pulls you into a very embodied state.
There’s no negotiating with the body. There’s no negotiating with, Am I a brain in a vat? No, you’re not. Your phases are extremely hormonal. You’re tied into this kind of flux. There is a person inside of you while you’re pregnant, which is also something that’s it’s quite undeniable. It’s not like you can just go about your business, not thinking about it. It’s very immediate. It’s very present. It’s kind of a Zen thing as well. It’s really kind of ties you into the present moment.
I was thinking about these things for a longer time, even before I was pregnant, but I feel pregnancy was a bit of a crash course in all of the things that I felt were wrong with my life as this atomized millennial because there’s that. I don’t know if people can relate to this, but for me and the people that I was talking to in London and in this really busy situation, there’s kind of this background hum that’s always there and there’s always kind of this questioning, “Okay, who am I? Where am I in the hierarchy? Am I doing this right? Where will this take me?”
It’s just anxiety is kind of the state that everyone is in. Be it either by the fact that you’re in this loud hive of activity, there’s no chill in the city. There’s no chill in your job. Or just because there’s a huge status hierarchy and you’re comparing yourself of everyone. There’s many ways to look at this, but it’s almost inescapable.
And for me, it was an escape to become a mother. But obviously moving back to a smaller city. This city, it’s a hive of activity, but at a completely different scale. Very chill compared to London. Becoming a wife as well, it’s very different to dating in a big city. It’s a completely… I don’t know. You have a huge commitment to this one person and you’ve completely shifted gears from the incessant search or whatever. That’s also kind of just this huge busy work that they impose on you.
I mean, all of these things have contributed to, I would say, yes, taking, taking a huge burden off of my myself, I guess.
I mean, it’s interesting because we’re having this conversation right after famously Sheryl Sandberg, the girl boss original has basically quit Facebook. I guess Meta now. It’s not clear where she’s going after, but it does feel like there really is some kind of close of an era like we’re vibe shifting maybe away from the girl boss, kind of ideal, because this comes on the heels of a whole bunch of different think pieces. I think there was one… I can’t remember if it was New York Magazine or what, but in one of these sort of mainstream lib publications that was called, I think, losing my ambition or dropping my ambition.
The pandemic seems to have shifted a lot of people’s priorities. People have moved in the past two years. One, do you see that this is a real kind of shift that is going to affect the mainstream or the structures around it? Or do you think that it’s going to be a short lived thing and we’re going to reorient liberalism again around some slightly modified.
Maybe this is just literally like the fashion is coming in and out and the new working woman will not look like the ’80s working woman who was trying to be very masculine into sort of the ’90s and 2000s into the girl boss era. Maybe we’ll just find a new archetype and it is almost just changing what style women wear? Or do you think this is something more fundamental that’s happening?
Yeah, I guess it’s a bit of both. I think there’s always an aesthetic movement that precedes the actual political shift that’s underneath. I think there is a vibe shift happening, especially because I feel like a lot of these trends have reached critical mass, like updating this kind of reach, because I think people have realized that it was all kind of fun and games for the first few years, but it’s completely kind of destroyed this commons of relationships for a lot of people.
There’s such kind of toxic dynamics happening there. A lot of people are just enchanted with the whole thing. Even people who are successful at so-called updating. That’s become the norm in cities as well. I think with work as well, I think what the pandemic has taught a lot of people is that, one, their jobs either are soulless and it’s easier to notice that you’re soulless when you’re at home and you’re stuck in your house.
You’re just going from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting. It’s just kind of a busy work that you’re made to do. Or they’ve they realize that there are versions of their job that they can do from home. They can work part-time. They can take it a bit easier than they used to. And nothing really terrible happens. Nothing implodes. So I think there’s definitely new perspective on what work is, how to work and do we need to work this much, because I think a lot of the things that attracted people to the workplace, like for example, what every company was trying to do is to integrate people into a family feeling because a lot of people didn’t really have a lot of close friends or family close.
So obviously, the workplace was trying to entice them with this perk of having like a work family. And for a lot of people that was probably their main source of socialization, which pretty much almost completely fell away because with these Zoom meetings, you see the people, but it’s all business. There’s no chit chat. There’s no gossip. If you’re not really trying hard, it’s all reports and all that.
And they realize, “Okay, this was pretty fun when I had friends at work, but now I just have people yelling at me about reports on the Zoom meeting on maybe later than I would expect that meeting on a Thursday night or something.”
So I think that’s changed as well. So I think it was a lesson for a lot of people about the nature of work. And it made you realize, “Okay, what is important to me? Do I want to continue this? Are there other ways to make money?” I think many people looked into maybe how to do things remotely or maybe how to… Yeah, a lot of people actually just quit completely.
Maybe they realized you just don’t need the perks that came with the job and maybe the money wasn’t that good. So they’re reassessing completely. So I think it was a terrible time obviously and a lot of fallout in many directions, but I think it was a good learning opportunity for a lot of people about what exactly it was that they were trying to achieve by having these jobs by striving.
Yeah. I mean, here in the US, there was also a lot of sort of involuntary aspect of it as well just especially with schools remaining closed as long as they did. And childcare becoming prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. They ended up with a very marginal amount of money. But I think you’re right in the larger sense that marginal amount of money was actually, if you just took it on financial terms that wasn’t a make or break for… A lot of families discovered like, “Hey, this isn’t actually a make or break thing for us. Yes, we’re going to have to tighten our belt in certain way.”
What’s left of a second salary on top of childcare costs, on top of trying to drive yourself absolutely nuts, taking care of kids at home and working at the same time, they realized that that marginal thing was probably less than they thought it was. But I think on top of that, I think you’re totally right in the deeper sense. People have reconsidered whether that social hub or that status that was sort of intangible because people will say it’s about money.
Don’t get me wrong. For a lot of families, it really is. They need that second income. But I think especially that demographic that writes articles in the New York Magazine or whatever, in the New York Times personal section, they maybe realized that the money was more marginal than they were assuming. And that the other aspects, the running yourself ragged just for sort of status purposes was maybe not as worth it as they just kind of assumed that it was.
But I wanted to ask you something specific about Romania and where sort of the… I’m wondering if you see something similar… And I know actually from online conversations and then also your podcast, we disagree probably pretty significantly on Ukraine. Although, not as significantly as I think maybe people on either side of us do, but I’m wondering what you think is happening in Eastern Europe, because it seems to me that there’s this very… If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be actually really intellectually interesting, because it seems like a lot of the countries, the smaller countries in Eastern Europe, whether that’s Romania, but even like larger countries within there, whether this Ukraine or Poland, they’re stuck between two things, right, which is an increasingly wokified Western Europe and America that is more and more insistent on cultural imposition that there is a real backlash building to.
And on the other hand, there’s like traditional 19th and 20th century hard power. There are Russian tanks to your right and sort of woke NGOs to your left, or woke sort of capital power to your left, on the map anyway and maybe more metaphorically. But where do you think that space is? What’s going to happen? Not just geopolitically, but politically within these countries. So you’ve seen Hungary basically taking one route, which is accommodation with Russia. Poland taking the exact opposite route and saying, “There’s no way that we will ever accommodate the Russians ever again.”
But it seems like almost like 19th and 20th, and even before that sort of ethnic and real history is colliding with these very global level ideological forces that in a way that is leaving a very unpalatable choice for a lot of people, let’s say between Warsaw and like Kiev, right?
Yeah. Like you said, there’s a huge diversity in these countries because a lot of people talk about Eastern Europe. Well, Eastern Europe just because of the level of… Firstly, the level of penetration of communism in each of these countries is completely different. Their level of influence from the Soviet Union is very different. The way they stopped being communist was also very different. And what they’ve done afterwards is also completely different.
I mean, I live, what, five-minute drive from Hungary. These are two very different countries. They’re being governed very differently and they have different mentalities about things. For example, Hungary is in a way the buffer between Romania and Europe and in many ways Romania is much closer to Europe, the European Union than Hungary is because Hungary just has its own vibe, its own style of doing things. Love it or leave it.
Poland has a different type of history with Russia as well. I think in Romania, the main difference is that we haven’t had direct contact with Russia as kind of a civilization state since Ceaușescu, since we were kind of under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union because we were never part of the Soviet Union proper. It’s a bit of a different thing. I think Romania is pretty much, overall, in the camp of being anti-Russian aligned with Ukraine and essentially doing what the position is in Europe. So there’s not really that much differentiation there.
So essentially we’re probably more aligned with Poland than we would be with Hungary in this case. I guess my expectation of what’s going to happen, I think it depends very much on what exactly the secondary effects are of this crisis because even though obviously I’m against the aggression that’s happening in Ukraine, but I feel like a lot of people see this on… I feel like quite an emotional level, “Okay, there is war happening. We have to be anti-war. Who is the aggressor? Smite the aggressor. Who is the victim? We need to help the victim. Agree with help the victim, but how to smite the aggressor, how to manage that is a question because the aggressor is in a civilization state in itself.
The victim is a country that is, to be honest, is either in the sphere of influence of Russia or in the sphere of influence of EU and not in the sense that, “Okay, this is a completely independent democratic country.” It is not. It’s either run by a cabal of NGOs from the western parts or it’s run by a cabal of oligarchs that have ties to Russia or some combination of the two in different regions, which is essentially what happened until five minutes ago when this conflict erupted.
So I feel like a lot of people maybe have a kind of a rosy view of what Ukraine actually used to look like before this whole thing started. It wasn’t Switzerland. It’s a country at the periphery of empires. And similar to Romania as well. I mean, our luck is that we’re not really that close to Russia. We didn’t use to be part of Russia. No territorial claims except for Transnistria, which is essentially the Republic of Moldova, which is a different country.
We’re kind of lucky in that sense, but all countries in this sphere. Essentially, we’re a partner of the European Union, but if you looked at it from maybe a longer historical timeframe, you would say we’re a vassal state of the EU and the Brussels bureaucracy. So there are client states in this area. There’s no really… independence is a very tall order here.
So I guess, where I’m leading with this is that it’s pretty hard to predict exactly what’s going to happen with the Western powers. I mean in part, my podcast does… I document the many ways in which the Western powers are failing at the moment. How fast these failures were materialized, how fast the countries in Eastern Europe will realize that there are failures. Maybe the Western powers will be able to right the ship that could be happening, or maybe Russia and China will align in light of what’s happening in the EU and with the US and build a kind of consortium of civilization states in their own right, an economic zone that essentially unbeatable by the West, because they’ve decided sanctions are more important than maybe realpolitik in this situation.
So I don’t know. There’s many factors here and I feel like what I’m resisting is the kind of the context collapse that we’re all kind of forced to participate in that, okay, there’s a bad guy and there’s good people and we need to apply massive force to the bad guy. And that’s the only consideration here. I think this is a complicated thing. I don’t like the Russians. We have a huge list of family lore about how much we hate the Russians, believe you me.
I don’t think Putin just woke up one day and he’s an absolutely crazed man. And the only thing he wanted for breakfast was Ukrainian blood. For a lot of people, that’s kind of the narrative that you have to buy into or else a Putin shill carrying water, doing all sorts of things. So I don’t know. I see my cameras a bit out of focus, so I’ll fix this somehow.
Yeah. One of the things you touched on that I think is really interesting, and I feel myself caught in this sort of whiplash back and forth is that, and I keep trying to communicate to people, it’s like in Eastern Europe, liberal democracy is not like a sort of… They aren’t fatigued and cynical with it, right? Liberal democracy means shelves that are full of stuff. Like the West means, first of all, the kind of political freedom, but not in the sort of abstract way that we talk about it maybe in the West. More in the sense that like, there’s a guy in the palace and he’s literally stealing all the money.
And that’s largely like, for example, the Belarusian protest that happened a couple years ago, which I actually think is a really good test case. And just shows that there is really a clash of civilizational values with a bunch of little nationalisms in it. But the way that Putin responded to Belarus by keeping Lukashenko in power. But they had no pretensions to join the West in terms of actually joining NATO or joining the EU. Right?
Especially in the beginning of the protest, it was literally, this guy is stealing everything in this country and everybody is still poor. We don’t want to live in the hangover from the Soviet Union. I don’t know. It’s this weird whiplash when we’re so kind of play… The concepts that once animated liberal democracy for us in the West, they feel very hollow now to an increasing number of people, particularly on the right. But I think people kind of feel this that we are either in some kind of crisis of liberalism itself.
I still tend to consider myself a type of liberal, but we are in some kind of crisis of liberalism itself and the very same people who once would’ve been the most uncontroversial or… That’s not the word I want. They wouldn’t have had any doubts about, for example, projecting liberal democracy or the values of liberal democracy, whether that was in prudent or imprudent ways whether that was supporting, for example, solidarity in Poland or whether that was the imprudent idea that you can transplant liberal democracy into Iraq.
But nevertheless, in both cases, a kind of unself-reflective positive affirmation like this is the best system that exists. This respects certain aspects of humanity, of our natural rights. And this is the correct system. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s easily transplanted or that we should take over the world impose it on everybody, but that kind of unself-reflective or, or unconflicted patriotism, not just for the nation, but for the system is much, much harder to summon now, when we see what seems like the real collapse of competency of some of these democratic forms.
And then within liberalism itself, the inability to answer some of what seemed like more fundamental questions about who we are and how we should live. Again, the whiplash part of this is then you talk to people in Eastern Europe. They’re like, “No, obviously the Western system is better. There is food on the shelves.” Right? Which is also true. It just is true.
Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of post-liberal thought and the people who kind of come on my podcast and what we discuss is okay. We try to take apart all the elements of this in the sense, okay, what exactly is it in liberalism that ends up producing the food and putting it on the shelves? What exactly are the fundamental assumptions of liberalism that are in failure mode right now? Can we have one without the other? Are they the same thing?
For example, liberalism implies the idea that everyone is equal and everyone needs to have the same opportunities. I mean, obviously, you can interpret this from many ways. Once you have equality under the law, then that’s one standard. But then it seems like that slides into an expectation for equity after a while, which is essentially the point where we are now.
So a lot of these assumptions, they are, I think, conducive to the food on the shelves, but I don’t necessarily think that they’re a necessary precondition. So, I mean, for me coming out of Romania, I remember the first time I crossed the border, I think it was like a gas station in Hungary or I think maybe Germany or something. And I remember seeing all the candy in the gas station. Why is there candy at the gas station? I started just opening up all the packets of candy on the shelves because in Romania you only had a store where you went to a window and you asked for the food and they would give it to you there.
So I thought, “Okay, there’s candy on the shelves here.” That would mean that it’s easily accessible for kids like me. It’s here for the taking. So I just kind of ransacked that gas station. It was huge shock. Even now it’s a huge shock. You can very, very well tell even when you’re coming from Hungary to Romania, that you’ve crossed the border.
So it’s whatever mix of stuff they have going on in the West, we want some of that. Essentially that’s kind of the intuitive grasp of politics that we have here. And I feel like a lot of the things that came from our cooperation with the European Union have been a lot of upside. These states essentially are run by mafias. Mafia is how politics organized pretty much. In Hungary as well, maybe less so because they have a little of a different civilization state themselves.
But in Eastern Europe and beyond, that’s kind of how it works. And what the European Union has done is alleviate that state a little bit because there is oversight. And there’s oversight from an organism that doesn’t really want to deal with mafia, wants to deal maybe with a cleaned up version of mafia where there’s an org chart to this mafia and you can’t really just on a whim hire your cousins. There needs to be a bit of procedure. So they really put a damper on the mafia here a little bit. Not completely, obviously, because it’s all kind of covertly-
A special managerial mafia.
Exactly. I’m not saying that there’s not kind of a semi-equivalent in the West as well when building these huge NGOs. The European Union itself, that’s also kind of a cabal. But here we just had classical Cosa Nostra style mafia. Like I said, the European Union helped, but I think a lot of the questions of why is there abundance? How does wealth get created? A lot of people in the West now answer the question of how wealth gets created with the question, “Oh, but why is there poverty?” That’s not the question. Poverty is the basic state of humanity. And the fact that you have to be in an extremely wealthy situation to ask the question, “Oh, then why does poverty exist?”
I feel like there’s also kind of a crisis of abundance in the West as well where people have allowed themselves to ask these questions just because it does not occur to them that just complete lack of resources is the basic state. I’m rambling, but I guess that’s the position where there’s a lot of intuitive politics, but there’s not really… I don’t know exactly if Eastern Europeans are… They think about liberal democracy and they think about the founding fathers or something like that.
They think about abundance. They want some. How do you get it? That’s the question in everyone’s mind here. And it seems to be like, “Okay, we just implement whatever they’re doing in the West.”
You don’t think that those things are inextricably? Because you’re talking about how do we create prosperity without essentially some of the downsides of liberalism? You don’t think that prosperity itself creates alienation? Because if we’re talking about maybe two categories of community and ties, there’s the chosen and the unchosen. But prosperity itself puts almost everything into the chosen category, right?
Even your relationships with your family, it’s the same thing. It seems to me it’s the same thing with easy or a hard divorce, right? It both have serious kind of personal downsides, but if divorce or leaving your family correspondingly comes with starving on the street, very, very few people are going to do it. Right? You’re going to have a really, really… You’re going to have to fear for your life within your family in order to risk ending up on the street like that.
But have we just created… You don’t think those two things are sort of inextricable that people like to use your favorite economics term that it’s a… What is it? It’s like a revealed preference that as soon as people are rich enough, they have a reveal preference for sort of always choosing autonomy and they only realize much later, it’s kind of like an ultimate marshmallow test where they always realize that it actually maybe doesn’t make you happy in the long run, but in each moment it’s always going to be a revealed preference for people to choose what they want at any given moment and to choose autonomy if they can.
Yeah, of course. I think these two at that level are definitely inextricable. I mean, I think there’s also the fact that abundance delivers non-linearly. I think there is kind of… How can I put it? Maybe like a low hanging fruit level of civilizational abundance. Essentially what you have with liberalism is the philosophical veneer over the fact that the only thing that we care about is pointy line go up.
We really care about GDP. We really care about essentially measurable indicators of growth and that’s obviously kind of the path we’ve been on for a while. I feel like liberalism is the philosophical cover for all of that.
I think what post-liberalism does and a lot of people think about is that, okay, after the low hanging fruit has been plucked and after a certain level of abundance has been reached, will every unit of additional abundance, what does that deliver? Is there a straight line go up or is there kind of a bell curve where there’s a diminishing marginal return so to say for every additional unit of abundance. And also, there’s a question of how that abundance is distributed because a lot of people would say, “Okay, not everyone partakes in that abundance in the West.”
There are still people who are on the poverty line. But even when you consider that, if you look at some of the poorest areas even in the civilized states of the West, you see a lot of problems that are essentially created by an overabundance of limbic capitalism. There’s a lot of traps in these places. There’s gambling parlors. There’s essentially a lot of it… The worst food on the planet is there. There’s a lot of places where it’s not like there’s no food and shelter and it’s not like these people can’t access these things, but they essentially get in a way limbically the best products there are.
The most dopamine stimulating things in the world and they can access them either through their own money or through food stamps or whatever, welfare. They’re not really reaping the fruits of abundance. And I feel like, “Okay, add an additional unit of abundance to these neighborhoods.” What exactly are you getting? Add UBI to this? There’s a lot of people who see UBI as kind of a sorting out the problems that the externalities of liberalism.
But you’re essentially just adding fuel to a dysfunctional fire for a lot of these people because I don’t think the additional unit of whatever that is, is what they need. So I don’t know. The problem is then you have something like kind of paternalism of sneaking, which is very, anti-liberal very, post-liberal where it’s like, do we want to be guiding these decisions? Do we want to hamper freedom? What does freedom mean? Are some people freer than others if they are more able to regulate themselves in front of limbic capitalism.
We see a lot of the people in Silicon Valley who produce these things are on 10-day retreats. They have like an aesthetic lifestyle where they only eat, I don’t know, beef jerky and sleep on the floor and do all sorts of crazy shit that, “No, your average person wouldn’t even consider.” So I don’t know. I think these are kind of the questions that I’m asking. Is this a failure of liberalism? Maybe. Some things are aren’t working. Is the whole system scrapable? Probably not.
It’s definitely delivered in the past. So I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like we’re cooking up some alternative system here that’s going to is going to blow everyone’s socks off. But I feel like there are quite a few good questions to be asked and that’s kind of the point of the show.
Yeah. I guess, I fall more in the camp of that liberalism has limitations than the idea that it’s actively the problem. There’s a great Irving Kristol essay on this, by the way. Irving not Bill, that evolves into eventually a piece that’s publish called Two Tiers For Capitalism. Right? But there are limitations. And it certainly seems like even laying aside the philosophy involved, it definitely seems like even what you would call the limbic level, right? Like even feeding the receptors in your brain that there is something to constraint that freedom only tastes so sweet when pushed up against constraints, and the problem that repeatedly happens is once the constraints completely collapse, you end up with anxiety floating and even the sort of rewards are not felt in the same way.
There’s kind of a parallel at least in my view in art where every new generation breaks down some form that was in the previous one. And some of that produces in my view absolutely beautiful artwork, right? I’m not a wholly sort of anti-modernist, but you do get to a point where you collapse the frames that you’re subverting completely and then you end up with a banana taped to a wall, right? Or somebody painting with their own poo or whatever it is because they actually don’t have any constraint. Actually, there is a requirement of constraint even within freedom to create anything worth creating.
Even in gender, you could call it the… I tweeted this the other day, but the David Bowie to like cat gender, demiboy pipeline, right? What David Bowie was doing was only interesting because they’re the categories of male and female. And once you destroy that, then it’s not interesting anymore. It’s just like a mess, an undifferentiated mess. But I guess how do we sort of breakthrough some of… One where does religion fit into all of this? Because we haven’t really talked about it. And two, how do we break through this kind of malaise?
If we are the people taping bananas to the wall, metaphorically here, it seems to me we have this very difficult problem of trying to reconstruct limits in some kind of constraint within a context where everybody has an incentive to defect. Right?
You can get a lot of people to agree that there is something sort of viscerally wrong with the meaningless way in which we live our lives. But the actual imposition of limits requires us to decide, for example, what values we’re going to just make non-negotiable, right? And that becomes extremely difficult in a world already, so truly diverse in terms of commitments and values. So do you think that project is even possible? I mean, how do we reconstruct any limits in this world at all?
Yeah. Depending on the day, I think it’s a black filled day or a white filled day. Essentially, I think you made the core point here. Once we have enough abundance, we are limitless in the constraints from nature, which essentially what we’ve been battling with for our entire existence. We were battling the battle of reproduction, the one of shelter, the one of food. And now we’re at the point where we really don’t have to fight those battles and we just kind of have these what uncle Ted was calling, I always say complimentary activities or something. Something that is not the essential struggle for survival. It’s surrogate activities, exactly.
By nature, they’re unlimited, they’re self-chosen. So I think a lot of this stuff is built into the machine of modernity and of post-modernity which is kind of the strange liquid world that we inhabit now. I think religion for a lot of people is the shortcut. I mean, for me as well, I mean, it’s essentially… It’s not like I’m some person who I’ve seen the light and I’ve had like some sort of epiphany. I’ve kind of arrived at religion mathematically through like a via negativa.
I can’t imagine a life where there wasn’t something like religion. So essentially, I’ve convinced myself of it, but I’m still waiting for the epiphany. But it’s essentially a shortcut to constraint. It’s a tried and tested essentially kind of civilizational method because if we admire the civilization states of the west, we have to admire the Judeo-Christian substrate that they’ve grown on. And you could also argue that it couldn’t have been so without that substrate. There’s a perspective on the individual that actually enables the autonomy that we’re talking about that just did not exist in any other perspective philosophically or religiously before.
The human was more of a super organism with the tribe rather than his own individual having a personal relationship with God. So I think that’s also revelatory of the role that religion has to play in a system like this for it to work. So I think that’s kind of the… It’s instant constraints I would say for a lot of people, especially people rediscovering the faith after being an atheist like I was for the longest time.
Or people who are just looking for any sort of anchor point. They’re swimming, they’re marinating in liquid modernity and they want to hang onto something. And these are communities that are based around values that are legible that are pro-social that lead to children that lead to a lot of things. Are there negative sides to these communities? Absolutely. I’m sure there’s a lot of hypocrisy. Ted Haggard style things that are happening in the shadows, but at the same time, there’s also a lot of upside.
So I think that’s kind of why people are slowly trying to find their way back to religion more or less tentatively, but it’s definitely a trending position.
Yeah. I’ve come around. One of the things that probably I’ve changed my mind the most about is hypocrisy itself. I think I was very… And maybe you had these sentences too, but I still am. My sort of personality tendency and mental tendency is to be absolutely gutted by and disgusted by hypocrisy. But the more I look around, the more, actually a world that accepts a certain level of hypocrisy is just, I guess… The pithy way to say it is the tribute that virtue pays the vice, or vice pays the virtue.
I can’t remember which way, but that actually hypocrisy is the inevitable result of actually having some kind of public standard, which actually ends up having better outcomes than if you don’t have the standard and everybody is fully honest about every time they violate the standard. I mean, I have actually come around to the idea, for example, that back in the day, when the press just wouldn’t report, for example, on JFK’s many sort of sexual escapades, that that was actually in many ways superior that Americans could look at the presidency in a different way that broke when Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades became sort of front page news, and everyone had to read about Monica Lewinsky and what he did with cigars, right?
I’m coming around hypocrisy is what I’m saying as like a necessary evil. But I actually wanted to pick up on something that’s maybe more superficial that you said just a couple answers ago about the Silicon Valley people sort of doing this weird body hacking and having bizarre diets and in many ways like living the way that certain kinds of like monks lived.
It seems to me that there’s a flip side here as well, which there’s kind of a left wing version and a right wing version of this. The left wing version being eat only particular three seeds and beef jerky and live in the desert. And the right wing version being, I think the community that’s building around body building, for example. I mean, what impulses do you think those two things are filling that they seem to resurrect themselves in two different ways, depending on the sort of mindset and worldview of the two sides? First of all, maybe you just disagree with me. Maybe you think they’re different impulses. But they seem to be similar in some way.
No, I think they’re the same impulse, and I think it’s just kind of a Testament to how strong the semi-religious commitment to these. The stronger you affiliate yourselves with these egregores with these memeplexes, with these just like bundles of ideas. I mean, they’re not religions, but they’re bundles of concepts that you identify with. The more serious you are about something and probably the probability of dietary restrictions grows exponentially.
Even in Judaism, the more serious you are about Judaism, the less likely you are to have, I don’t know, a shrimp cocktail. I think religions all over the world have different types of dietary restrictions. And it’s probably a human universal to be a part of the tribe in that level or to adhere to the stricture of this to commit yourself to the right wing bodybuilder club, you need to ingest breast milk.
You need to be going out of your way to get the raw Jersey cream. I’m sorry. You can bleep that out. There’s different things that you can do, but I think it just signifies a level of commitment to whatever you believe in.
I never thought that I would associate in my mind BAP and Kim Kardashian. But in many ways I just think on this side kind of similar.
But it has been interesting. I also wonder how much this is… This whole topic interests me in terms of how people relate to death in modernity. Do you think that there’s some element of… In Silicon Valley, it’s like if I eat in this very particular way, then I can extend my life to see what new technologies might ultimately come about and then hopefully upload my brain pilot to my out of my meat suit and into the metaverse. Right?
And then on the right, it also seems to me like in some way to be not wanting to deal with the fact of decay and death. And I talked to Spencer Clayman about this because he’s a big iron man, lift heavy stone kind of guy. To some degree, these things are good. It’s good to have a healthy diet. It’s good to exercise your body and be strong. But the level of commitment to some of these things, it does stray into, as you said, I think the religious almost.
Yeah. I mean, everyone has their surrogate activities, need to be doing something. I guess they would probably say that their commitment is to kind of some internal value of beauty and kind of human excellence, which is probably not the same. Even though maybe in many cases, the results are very similar than for maybe someone who’s like vegan because of a whatever commitment to animal welfare or the climate, which are just also eternal values, Mother Earth, Gaia type ideas.
I think the contemplation of death has is also a human universe. I guess different people cope in different ways with it. My strategy has been to just not think about it. Try to just block it out and also kind of try to slowly adopt the perspective of my newfound religious feeling and try to just make my peace with it. But I could imagine that a body building might be keeping some other people warm at night or whatever other activities.
Well, before we wrap up, I want to ask you, and for those of you who don’t listen to Subversive, you should, should subscribe, listen. But she always asks at the end, all of her guests who’s a thinker or a writer that they think has not gotten enough circulation. And when I came on your show, I completely had like a Sarah Palin moment where I just ran through 50 people in my head and said, “No, her audience knows all these people.” It was all really basic, and then just froze up. But I wanted to ask you the same question.
You have a real sort of intellectual curiosity, and you’ve read, I would say a much wider swath of thinkers, philosophers, writers than most people ever will. Just all the way from libertarianism to Alexander Dugin. You’ve really bridged the spectrum of political philosophy and psychology. Is there somebody in there that you think has not gotten circulation that maybe has something particularly helpful that is just not being added in the mainstream conversation at all?
Oh, yeah. This is always a surprisingly hard question. Sometimes I think about it, but it’s just because I’ve heard so many, I’ve thought about it so much that I’m just like it’s easy to freeze up. But actually, I probably would recommend someone who’s was not necessarily unknown, but he might be unknown in maybe a philosophical context, maybe also because of the marketing of this book. Maybe he wouldn’t describe himself like this.
It’s Matthew Crawford and he has a book. Now, I’m blanking on the book, but essentially his work is around kind of recapturing attention. The marketing around his work is very self-helpy, but I think it’s quite philosophical. I can’t remember the title of the book. It’s surprising because I have it on my night stand and I’m reading it currently. But he essentially has multiple books.
I mean, his first book was called “Shop Class as Soulcraft.” And it’s all about the kind of the regaining of embodiment in daily life, because essentially he’s talking about kind of limbic capitalism. Essentially the marketplace of attention and how you can essentially use craftsmanship and working with your hands to bring yourself back into an embodied state.
He’s an excellent writer and I’m not really doing him justice by this summary. I think that’s his entire body of work, especially his last book, which I’m blanking on is really good. And like I said, he’s not necessarily an unknown guy, but I feel like there’s a philosophical undercurrent there that is mis-marketed. It’s extremely interesting and he’s a very deep thinker about a lot of the problems that post-liberals think about. This whole space that’s opened up by the failure modes of liberalism is very well addressed in his books. I think he’s very interesting. People should look him up.
Lord knows we could all use less distraction. And by the way, I looked it up not because I knew this at all, but I just looked it up while you were talking. So “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.” I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re referencing.
Exactly, that’s it.
Like I said, Lord knows that we could all be less distracted and it’s something that’s noticeable over time. And definitely, the more connected we are to the metaverse and the less we’re able to actually slow down and think through something in a deep way, or even read a book. Right? I know I noticed this in myself. I can’t sit down and read a dense book that’s not like a novel that’s catching my attention in some other way. The way that I used to, I have to do it in smaller chunks because my attention span is just totally wrecked by what I do all day.
So that’s a really interesting suggestion. I mean, check it out. People should check it out. They should also check out your Substack and your podcast. Alex Kaschuta, thank you so much for coming on High Noon.
Thank you so much, Inez.
And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube or iwf.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.