Lauren Hall on Radical Moderation
Lauren Hall with Juliette Sellgren
December 8, 2023
December 8, 2023
Lauren Hall is the author of several books, the author of the wonderful Substack The Radical Moderate’s Guide to Life, and a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Today, we talk about radical moderation, what that is, and why it's important. We talk about the importance of breaking away from the political binaries and models we currently have and how to do so.
Want to explore more?
Carl Oberg, Edmund Burke: The First Conservative, at Speaking of Smith.
Read Select Works of Edmund Burke at the Online Library of Liberty,
Watch Hall and Arnold Kling discuss Jean Twenge's Generations on this episode of From the Shelf at Econlib.
Craig Biddle on Philosophy and Objectivism, a Great Antidote podcast.
Want to explore more?
Carl Oberg, Edmund Burke: The First Conservative, at Speaking of Smith.
Read Select Works of Edmund Burke at the Online Library of Liberty,
Watch Hall and Arnold Kling discuss Jean Twenge's Generations on this episode of From the Shelf at Econlib.
Craig Biddle on Philosophy and Objectivism, a Great Antidote podcast.
Read the transcript.
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith works.org.
Welcome back. We talk a lot about liberalism on this podcast and we talk a lot about the youth of the age and we talk about what values and virtues we should have, but we haven't really talked a lot about how to do that or why. I mean, we've talked about why kind of, but we're going to get into it even more today.
I'm really excited today on November 14th, 2023. I'm excited to welcome back Lauren Hall to the podcast. We're going to be talking about radical moderation. She has a book coming out on the subject somewhat soon, and she's been running this wonderful substack called The Radical Moderate’s Guide to Life. You should totally check it out. It has just interesting rumination. I don't want to use the word ruminations, but I'm going to use the word ruminations on everything about how you should think about politics and carry yourself in this day and age, which I think is super necessary and something that a lot of people are looking for. So we're going to be talking about that and that's going to be so awesome. I'm so excited. She's also a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and she came on the podcast once before to talk about an entirely different subject, the Medicalization of Life and Death. Welcome back.
It's great to be here. Thanks.
Hopefully I gave a maybe not super concise but comprehensive overview of the Substack. Maybe I just mentioned things that I like to read about on your substack. But yeah, first question, what is the most important or second most important since you've answered this question once before? Things that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't.
Lauren Hall (2.17)
So I actually can't remember how I answered this last time, so I hope I'm not just repeating myself, but for hopefully that was long enough ago that other people won't remember either. I mean, this will sort of lead into our conversation I think when I teach college students obviously. So I'm exposed to a lot of 18 to 22 year olds, and I think that the major thing that I wish they understood was that things are almost always more complicated than they first appear. And that sounds sort of, I don't want to sound like sort of boomer, get off my lawn kind of obviousness, but I work with a lot of college students and they really do sort of that there's these human problems and the solutions are or should be really simple and it's just not the case. And so I joke if there's any student learning outcome that I've focused now in all of my classes on, it's the idea that trade-offs exist so that it's nice that someone thinks they have a solution to global warming or something, but there's almost always trade-offs involved. And so you've got to grapple with those trade-offs and that's where the complexity comes in. So I think that's my major piece of advice for this sort of incoming generation.
Juliette Sellgren (3.43)
I'm not going to lie, listeners, you should go back and listen to see what her first answer was, but I don't quite remember. I just know that this wasn't the answer.
Oh, good. Okay. Well see, I'm being original in my brain. There you go.
Juliette Sellgren (3.55)
Not self plagiarizing. I've heard that that's actually a big important thing that people care about, even though I think it's kind of silly. I guess institution of practicing not plagiarizing is good, but this is a great response. It makes me think about, and I mentioned this in the last interview, so sorry for mentioning objectivism again. When I was a young objectivist once upon a time, as we all were right, I was told by so many adults like, ah, you'll just grow out of it. Just wait and see. The world has such a gray area, you can't just be black and white all the time. And I used to laugh. I was like, ah, I'll be the first just you wait. And then lo and behold, that did not hold true. But there has to be someone to tell you along the way. I probably would've come to it myself, but I think it clicked that much faster that, oh, there is a gray area, because there were all these adults where even when I was still so strong in my stance that they were relentless in being like, Nope.
But eventually you'll see that life is much more nuanced and much more complicated. And even though I didn't listen, then it made coming to the realization so much more clear. So I'm glad that this is something that you focus on in the classroom because there are a lot of professors here at UVA and I'm sure everywhere that don't really, even though they're not doing it in the objectivist way of like, ah, everything's black and white, they obviously have a clear answer in mind even when you walk in the room already knowing that it's going to be complicated, it is astonishing how clear they think the answer is. And it's a little, I don't want to say frightening, but it's a little saddening because then I'm confused because I've learned the hard way and I'm still learning every day that things are more than they seem. And so when your professors, people who are older and supposed to be imparting wisdom and knowledge don't seem to acknowledge that, it doesn't quite align with reality, it doesn't really make sense.
Lauren Hall (6.12)
Thank you. Well, if I can make a quick sort of procedural pitch. I mean, I think this is one of the benefits of interdisciplinary work. So there's a danger of specialization, and almost all of your professors, I'm guessing, are specialists, right? They've taken a specific discipline and they've really honed their talents, and that's a really amazing thing. But if you don't back up periodically and sort of check out how other disciplines are doing things, and this is why I do a lot of work in the PPE space, philosophy, politics, and economics, because being able to back up and sort of look at how other disciplines are tackling things, that builds that complexity back in. And so I do think that there's a real problem with modern academia in that we overspecialize and by overs specializing, I think it convinces us that a lot of the problems that are really complex are in fact much more simple than they actually are.
Juliette Sellgren (7.18)
So I guess maybe this is just a very, very self-interested question to ask, but I want to know, so how did you find that space? Did you have to create it for yourself? Because I look at potential options for the future, and I know that siloing is bad, but siloing seems to be the only option. And honestly, given that there's no path very evident, I seem to be more inclined to turn away the trade-off of figuring it out. And trailblazing is a little too high maybe, even though maybe it isn't really. So how did you do that? How'd you figure it out?
Lauren Hall (7.53)
Well, so first of all, I'll say too that there are trade-offs, right? So this interdisciplinary work comes with some big caveats. You have to, so there's kind of two ways you can approach it. You can approach it as interdisciplinary from the beginning or you can specialize and then broaden out later. So the way that I did it was I was sort of interdisciplinary from the beginning, which is I would say actually harder. I actually, I was a philosophy major and undergrad, but I was also really interested in evolutionary biology and the way in which evolutionary theory informed human behavior and our understanding of human social systems. So I studied under David Sloan Wilson at Binghamton University, and he was one of the major sort of evolution and human behavior researchers at the time. And when I was going to grad school, I had to decide was I going to go into pure evolutionary biology or was I going to try to apply to some of the evolutionary psych programs, or did I want to pursue philosophy?
And I ended up in a political theory program with a professor who did work in evolutionary theory. But because I started with that interdisciplinary focus, it was harder to find a grad school fit, and it was harder to find a really high impact grad school fit because the really top it offs in terms of the kind of program that you're going to enter into. I think that's changing, by the way. I mean, I went through my PhD, I don't know what it is, 15, 17 years ago or something. So I think we have better interdisciplinary options now. I think the growth of PPE programs or PPEL programs, if you add law on there, there's now really wonderful philosophy programs, for example, at the PhD level that are pretty interdisciplinary. There's sort of more interest in applied philosophy, for example. So I think people have more options than they used to.
The other root of specializing and then broadening out later that works if you're that kind of brain. I just wasn't that kind of brain. I was really interested in lots of different ideas, and you can see this from my books. So my first book was on Family and the Politics of Moderation. My second book was on the Medicalization of Birth and Death. And this current book is on sort of polarization and moderation. And so there's through lines, but the really, I jumped from policy to theory and back again. And for me, that's how I'm intellectually fulfilled. So I wouldn't have wanted to really hyper-specialized for years and years and years and then broaden out later. But there are trade-offs hard to navigate the journal system. For example, if you're doing interdisciplinary work, it's harder to navigate the publishing world if you're doing interdisciplinary work. So I would say that there's definitely paths, but I would find someone who's doing really good interdisciplinary work and then ask them how they approach these problems.
Juliette Sellgren (11.06)
That is some great advice. That is some in-depth advice. I really appreciate that. Okay, let's jump in because this fits into the greater conversation that we're planning on having. Let's start with the definitions. What does it mean to be a radical moderate? Is it a political moderate? Is it a political radical? How can you be both?
Lauren Hall (11.30)
Yeah, great question. So I still don't have a super solid definition of what exactly radical moderation is because it's more than anything, it's a rejection of a certain kind of way of thinking about the world. So part of what I do when I'm thinking about, and this is kind of how the substack evolved when I was looking at the political binary, so I'll actually back up further. There's a wonderful book called Flatland that if you've never read it, it's really, really wonderful. It's a short little novella and it's actually sort of a commentary on Victorian gender roles of all things. But the premise of flatland is that you have these two dimensional shapes that are living in two dimensional world, whether sort of line land, and then there's this two dimensional world.
One of them in particular is confronted with the reality that the third dimension exists, and he has to sort of reckon with this complexity that he doesn't know how to really grapple with. He doesn't really know how to picture it. And so when I was thinking about the sort of 2D binary, and a lot of this came from teaching politics to a lot of undergraduates, I was trying to think about why do we teach politics this way that there's a right and a left? And so I looked at that binary and I realized it's actually doing to us what flatland does, which is that it makes us think that other stuff doesn't exist. And so I started broadening it out and thinking, well, really what we're doing is trying to think about trying to reintroduce complexity. And I was heavily influenced by the political philosopher David Schmitz, who talks about justice as a map.
And for him it's about sort of peaks and valleys. So as opposed to justice being a location that you get to, we'll get to this point in our political and social lives that everything is just instead he says, well, justice is a map and it kind of depends on how you want to use it. It depends on where you're going. There's going to be, we're not talking radical relativism, but there's going to be variation and variability in how people use their maps to get around their sort of shared landscape. So I sort of pulled this map metaphor even further and started thinking about this kind of shared moral political and social landscape. So the kind of political moderation that I really care about, what I'm calling radical moderation, it's radical in the sense that it rejects this binary. It says, look, it's not even asking you to just meet in the middle.
Non-radical moderation would be, Hey, let's just compromise or let's just pick a point in the middle of our two positions and that'll be the solution that's moderation. I'm saying, let's explode this binary altogether. Let's move beyond that binary and rediscover this incredible four dimensional landscape that we are all traveling on that actually doesn't map out onto this binary. It doesn't map out onto this political compass. Instead, it actually complicates that political sort of vision. It's really messy, it's chaotic, but it's also really beautiful. It's really meaningful. And so once we've kind of exploded that sort of frame of reference of thinking about our political world in two dimensions, really interesting things start happening. And some of the interesting things include the world gets a lot more complicated, political, social and moral questions become a lot more complicated. I add the fourth dimension and well, we can talk a lot more about that as we move on.
But the fourth dimension is time. And so time is obviously really important for political and social and moral conversations. So when I think about defining radical moderation, I'm really thinking about a sort of understanding of the human social world that is complex and diverse and contingent where every solution to any given problem involves complicated. So it's not a location. It's not like you can take the political compass and say, here's the radically moderate solution right here at this location, because that's not how landscapes work. That location only works if that's where you actually want to be as an individual. But we know individuals use their landscapes. They're shared sort of moral, political and social landscapes in lots of complicated ways. So I know I'm sort of dodging the question of how you define radical moderation, but that's sort of the point. I don't want people thinking that the radically moderate position is right here on this map that you can point to or is right in between the left and the right position on say, immigration, right? It's radically moderate because you can't locate it in that way.
Juliette Sellgren (16.36)
Yeah, hard to pin down almost like what we say professors and academia should be where you can have a conversation with someone and it almost doesn't matter what they believe, it matters more maybe how you interact, whether you're really thinking and getting at the truth. This is something I started thinking about while you were responding to this, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this. Maybe at this point we think that's kind of silly because of time really, and things that have happened recently in the world and in America and all over the place. But I'm wondering if almost whether it's one spectrum or one number line with left, or it's the political compass with what authoritarian libertarian left, whether that has almost become normative, whether our use of this model to describe outcomes and prescriptions instead of methods of how to get to an outcome or reasons why you get to an outcome, how that is kind of maybe let us get lazy in terms of why we believe what we believe and how to go about thinking about other people. So we relaxed into these labels that we kind of tricked ourselves into thinking, oh, well, we must be able to pin down the point that should be because we can map all these people we know onto this graph. And I don't know, it almost makes sense that there was an idea that there could be an end to history because of maybe the implications of using this model and taking it so seriously.
Lauren Hall (18.25)
Yeah, I think that's a really actually pretty awesome point. I had not thought about Fukuyama in particular, but I think you're absolutely right that the concept of an end of history, obviously you can trace it back to Hegel and the idea that sort of history is this progressive unfolding. And of course, Hegel has a specific end to history. It's like 1808, the German administrative state. But the only way that that works is if you're sort of looking at time as not really, it is directional, right? It's pointing to this end and so on that understanding everyone is moving in the same direction whether they know it or not. And that's actually the whole point of Hegel's philosophy of history. And then Fukuyama is obviously very, very influenced by Hegel’s philosophy of history. And so if you read the end of history and the Last Man that is, we're all sort of moving toward this culmination of liberal values.
But I think what's really important for thinking about how that's actually wrong is that it does two things. I actually liked what you said about it allowing us to not take other arguments seriously enough. And I think that, or actually not even have to defend our own positions seriously enough. And so I see this all the time when people make the argument that, well, so-and-so is just on the wrong side of history, but what does that mean? It just means that I can dismiss their argument and assume that my argument is correct without actually offering any evidence for it. And now that we're seeing the rise of authoritarianism, we're seeing the rise of authoritarian populism, we're seeing all of these kind of scary movements coming back in, it should be really clear that not everyone is pointed in the same direction. In fact, we are on this complicated shared landscape and different people have different goals and different values.
And it turns out that if you consistently denigrate a group of people and you consistently put down or look down on the journey that they're taking or their specific paths, well, it turns out that they don't like that very much, and they're not going to join in with you as you try to solve complex human problems, and they're certainly not going to vote for the people that you want them to vote for. So I think the example is a really nice one because it points to this kind of oversimplification of the political and social world, and it also leads to this, what I call in the book, a moral flattening. So the two dimensional approach to social and political problems really kind of flattens other human beings. And so it allows for people to say, oh, they're on the wrong side of history. They'll, in the end, they'll be proven wrong.
I don't even have to argue against them. I don't even have to try to persuade them. I don't even have to really pretend that they're human beings that I need to take into account. And I think we saw that with vast swaths of the electorate in the last few elections. I mean, I think there's a reason that Trump's victory in 2016 took so many people by surprise because people had written off an entire segment of the population. So I think your example of Fukuyama is really exactly kind of what I'm pointing to as we just, we've oversimplified stuff to the point that we can't see the variables that will actually matter for the outcomes that we care about.
Juliette Sellgren (22.11)
If Fukuyama is wrong, if Hegel’s wrong, if that's not how history moves, then how does the time dimension play into it?
Lauren Hall (22.20)
Yeah, so that's a great question. The time dimension, and I've gotten some pushback from friends, and it's been really fantastic because it's been really helpful for me to sort of think this through the time dimension is really important. And a lot of this actually comes from, or at least it was kind of developed in my first book when I was thinking about the role of the family. And one of the things that I was working out in that book was thinking about the way that the family moderates the relationship between individuals and society and the societies in which they live in. So in that book I was talking about sort of radical individualism and radical communitarianism and arguing that the persistence of the family tends to moderate both of those political positions over time. But the time piece I think is really important because the family is a really great example of this.
So the family is necessarily generational because the family is, to a certain degree, self reproducing. It forces us into this interaction with past and future generations that we would actually, if we really wanted to tackle hard political and social problems, it's much easier to just focus on the present. It's a lot harder to focus on the future. And so this gets back to the first question you asked when you started the podcast. Why is it that all the adults in your life kept saying it's actually going to be more complicated than you think it is, right? There's actually going to be shades of gray. Well, it turns out that when you get older, particularly if you have kids, but even if you don't have kids, you might have aging grandparents, aging parents, you might have family members that you have really complicated, difficult relationships with or really loving relationships with, but you have to watch them go through really difficult things like dementia.
So relationships get more complicated as you get older. And so that's a function of the lifespan, the generational effects, the kinds of things you care about as you get older change. So a lot of people think, well, I am this person and I have this set of values. And that's easy to think when you're age 18 or 20 or even 25, but that's a lot harder when you all of a sudden have people who are completely dependent on you, and all of a sudden you have conflicting values and you have conflicting values with people that you care about and also depend on a partner. And so just the human family complicates our values in such a powerful kind of way. And then the time element comes in just across the human sort, political and social lifespan because you have historical effects. So there's political, social, and moral erosion that happens over time.
I mean, if we look at the conflict, and this will be the only thing I say about the conflict in the Middle East because I'm the least competent person to comment on it. But the part of the reason that that is such a difficult problem to solve or such a difficult conflict to solve is that you have thousands of years of history. So the people who say that time doesn't matter for how we think about political and social and moral problems, just point them to the Middle East and say, well, wait a second. What we have there is 2000 years of history complicating more than 2000 years of history complicating and sort of deeply complicating this political, this very small political location. So those are some of the ways in which time as the fourth dimension is a really relevant variable for our political and social conversations.
And so it's funny to me as a political theorist that we so often ignore it. There's a lot of sort of presence. And you even look at people like John Rawls who part of his, the Veil of ignorance was, let's ignore all of this historical contingency. Let's ignore all of this messy background of generations and all this other stuff, and let's think about it one specific moment in time. Well, okay, that's a nice thought. It's a really interesting elegant thought experiment, but it actually doesn't, at some point you have to reemerge into the real world where time is in fact this really fundamental reality that we have to grapple with.
Juliette Sellgren (26.52)
And maybe right now you can just see me as I'm about to say this, fighting against Fama and then grappling with economics as a discipline, even though it's obviously my discipline of choice that we take arbitrary individuals, which is cool and good and helpful in a lot of ways. But also I'm wondering how the time element works with this idea that there are narratives by generation. We separate people into generations because of what they experienced as a collective group of people at a certain point in time. And the narrative and identity they share collectively is different, and that does actually influence what choices you're going to make, what values you hold, how you see the world. So I don't know. It makes me think of Thomas Jefferson in the way that he thought we should ratify the Constitution every 19 years, which is kind of funny.
Lauren Hall (27.58)
Yeah, I disagree with Jefferson on that particular piece of advice.
I do too.
Lauren Hall (27.55)
I always go back to Burke here. I mean, Edmund Burke has this beautiful, in the Reflections on the Revolution in France, he has this wonderful metaphor of the intergenerational compact. So this is his criticism of liberalism, right? Liberalism talks about this sort of compact in time, a compact in the present, like the social contract. So in that kind of vision, and this is a Jeffersonian, right? Jefferson takes this and kind of runs with the lock in liberal approach, which is, yeah, every 19 years we all have to get together to decide whether we accept this contract or not. And Burke says, okay, but that's actually not how humans live. That's not how humans think about their social and political worlds. And in reality, what we have is this intergenerational compact, and it's a compact between those who are dead, those who are living, and those who are yet to be born, as well as all of the living generations that are currently around and having to live together and having their values but up against each other. And it includes wealthy, older people and younger people who are just getting out there who might be not very wealthy. It includes people who have inherited their wealth and people who will have to earn it. And Burke's point, I mean, there's a bunch of points obviously that he's using that metaphor to illustrate, but his overall point is that it's a lot more complicated than a simple decision to consent to government or not.
And this is really relevant for Burke in a lot of other ways because this is part of his overall argument for not destroying institutions that have taken a long time to. So Jefferson thinks, you know what? We can just make a decision every 19 years to sort of redraw the Constitution. And Burke says, okay, but that's actually not how institutions work. Institutions grow over time. They evolve over time. So that fourth dimension is absolutely critical to understanding how institutions operate. And if you look at a constitution like the New York State Constitution, that has been, I don't know how many times it's been, it's like 2000 pages long or something because it's been amended so many times, nobody cares about the New York State Constitution because it's essentially meaningless, because it changes so often. It's not a guiding document to anybody. So in a certain sense, in order for institutions to be sort of meaningful guideposts, they can't simply change every time a new generation wants to sort of hop in and move things around. Now, it doesn't mean that they can't evolve, but it does mean that you can't just radically throw things away every 19 years and expect people to care about those institutions in any kind of meaningful sense.
Juliette Sellgren (30.50)
Yeah. What's almost more radical, I mean, maybe this question, what I'm about to say is better prefaced with, I really like Burke, and I haven't read that many political philosophers or philosophers generally. I feel like I've read a good amount, but still there's so much to read because so much time has passed. But I would think Burke more than a lot of other thinkers at this time, and also just maybe historically is a radical moderate. I mean, what do you think? Does he embody that more than other mainstream thinkers?
Lauren Hall (31.29)
Yes, and I think part of the reason that Burke, and it's possible that most of my current work is kind of a gentle plagiarism of Burke. I've been deeply indebted to Burke for helping me think through a variety of political and social issues, which isn't to say that I agree with him on everything, but it is to say that I think his overall approach is very much a kind of, it's a gradualist approach. It's really founded on the fundamental reality that other human beings matter. So you can't just break eggs to make an omelet if those eggs are human beings. You need to think about how various kinds of reforms will affect the human beings here and now. And that reality alone, by the way, is a real hard break on sort of revolutionary thinking. When I was young, a young progressive, and when I was 17, 18, it was a lot easier for me to say, well, you know what?
People just have to sacrifice in order for change to happen. And that's certainly true in one sense, but who gets to decide who has to sacrifice? And so if it's asking other people to sacrifice their lives or asking other people to sacrifice their properties, that's a different kind of conversation. So I think Burke, his criticism of the French Revolution wasn't that the French government was amazing, or the French monarchy was worthy of defense. He understood the problems that existed. His concerns with the French Revolution were though that everyone was saying, let's just throw everything out the window. We're throwing the church out the window. We're throwing property rights out the window, we're throwing the aristocracy out the window, and we're going to remake human society in this ideal image. And he suspected and he was right, that that's a really, really dangerous thing to do.
So I think he is a radical moderate, and Burke I like too, because he's often associated with conservatism. But if you actually look at the policies that he supported at the time, particularly in terms of his attitude toward the Irish, his attitude toward the Indians and his prosecution of the East India company and Warren Hastings, he looks pretty progressive from that perspective. He's always on the side of the vulnerable. He's always on the side of the people who are being oppressed. And so it's actually really hard to put him in an ideological box, and that's one potential sign of a radical moderate is someone who's really hard to put in an ideological box. I think about Elinor Ostrom the same way. She's really hard to pin down. You can sort of gesture at political beliefs that she might have, but she's not ideological. Jane Jacobs is another one. I think they're thinking about the world in really complex ways, but they come back to that fundamental reality that humans matter.
Juliette Sellgren (34.36)
And I don't know, I think a lot about how the conversations with young libertarians or libertarians, whoever, libertarians, there's always kind of this jokey conversation about, well, would you press the button to make it happen now? And this seems to always be like a half joking, like, ha, what would you press the button for if you had one thing to press the button for? But this in itself, this thought experiment implies or acknowledges that you can't just press the button and have liberty land, and we probably shouldn't, even though that's what gets talked about, which I don't know, that just sprung to mind for whatever reason. So would you say that that's a characteristic of radical moderation, is the method, right? Because I think about Burke and I think conservatism in method and not in application necessarily, and maybe application is the wrong outcome. Well, I guess outcome comes from, I don't know, help me clarify this point. Maybe.
Lauren Hall (35.42)
No, I know where you're pointing. So I think procedurally radical moderates are going to be gradualists. Now, this doesn't mean that you can't make really important changes, but if you're going to make really dramatic sort of overhauls, the political and social landscape has to be just right because, so everybody has to kind of be on the same page more or less. And so I think there's a kind of gradualism, and this is what we see in Burke, and this is what we see. I think in both Elinor Ostrom and Jane Jacobs. You have to understand institutions. You have to understand the institutional framework in which humans are operating that institutionalism is going to demand a certain degree of gradualism. So I think that's the method. Now, in terms of specific policies, I actually think a lot of radical moderates see more clearly than either side. So I think part of the problem with the binary is that we actually close ourselves off from even being able to see the radically moderate solution that's out there.
And sometimes the radically moderate solution is even more radical than either side is claiming. So it's not to say that the radical moderates always have a sort of middling position on specific policy questions, but I think you're absolutely right to focus on the method or the process, which it will be gradualist, it will be consensus building. It doesn't require, I mean, nothing, you can't require consensus and have anything happen in the political world, but it does require that you reach out to different stakeholders. I mean, the reason that pressing the button is a sort of libertarian joke is that a, you know, can't do it because you could never get everyone to agree to do it. And because you couldn't get everyone to agree to do it, it would also cause enormous human suffering. So whatever button you're going to press, that would reset something that would put us into Liberty land. I mean, you'd have all sorts of downstream effects that you'd have to mitigate in some way. And if you don't mitigate those downstream effects, then you have that's, that becomes the new home of resistance movements. That's the antilier movement that rises up.
So I think there's a clear kind of gradualism, there's the clear focus on institutions, and there's a very clear focus on trade-offs. So that's where I think radically moderate thinkers are aligned, and those are going to be the things that they share in common, even if their policy prescriptions differ,
Juliette Sellgren (38.33)
Bucket list item achieved, get professor to say Liberty Land. It's been a thing I've been saying for a while. I don't know if I took it from someone or if I made it up, but I like it. I've been waiting to get someone to say it. It's like how in every class I try to get the professor to say silly at least once. I dunno just things I do. Okay, so why is this message so important now? And it seems as though it almost, maybe this is an aggressive way to say it, but it almost transcends politics. It almost comes before and encompasses more than just politics. It's almost cultural. So why is it necessary and how can we even begin to get there when you're working with an aggregate that is, as Milton Friedman called it, this quilt, or I think of it more as an ocean, how can you get the entire ocean to accept or behave in a certain way other than the fact that maybe the ocean behaves because of the moon, but we don't have a moon in this instance?
Lauren Hall (39.41)
Yeah. Well, the moon will be my book. How about that? Yeah, I think that there's absolutely two problems here, and this is the problem of, and when I was thinking about how to think about the newest book, it really was, do I want this to be a set of policy prescriptions? And the answer to that was no, because that's actually an academic writing a book about policy prescriptions is the surest way to make sure that those policy prescriptions will not happen. So I knew that I didn't want it to be at the policy level. So I thought to myself, well, really it's a book about how individuals interact with each other. So radical moderation is a way of thinking about our shared moral and political landscape and how we ourselves are moving through that landscape. And so I was thinking about it in terms of my own life, how I interact with people who I disagree with, and there's certain basic sort of patterns that you see.
So on the internet, obviously people who don't know each other typically don't interact very well, particularly if they disagree on hot button issues. So it's really easy to morally flatten people that you don't know. It's harder to morally flatten people that you know and care about. So there's certain kinds of spaces where I think radically moderate exploration or radically moderate conversations are easier. I typically don't, I mean, I have a blog, I have a substack, but I don't get on Facebook or Instagram or I don't know what kids are using these days, Snapchat or something, TikTok. I don't do a radical and dance because I don't actually think that interacting with a lot of people anonymously on the internet is where radical moderation is going to get a hook. Where I think it happens is really by sort of practicing it in your own life, being willing to, one of the chapters in the book is on humility, being willing to admit when you're wrong, being willing to acknowledge that other people have visions for their own lives that don't necessarily align with yours.
So taking human pluralism and human diversity as a given, we're not going to get rid of that. And that goes for human political pluralism and human political diversity. We are not going to get everyone to the end of history where everyone just all of a sudden accepts liberal values because they don't resonate with everybody the same way. Now, you could get to the point where everyone accepts grudgingly liberal institutions, but that's a different problem than getting everyone to align with the same set of values. So what this book ended up sort of turning into is a kind of almost like a self-development book of getting people to think about a certain set of principles and a certain set of values, and then practicing how to every chapter, and I do this on the blog too, so on the substack almost, maybe I haven't done this as recently, but every sort of post typically ends with sort of how to do this in practice, how to bring this into your own life. Because I think that is the problem, right? Human societies have their own kind of logic, their own kind of principles of motion, but they also have individuals and individuals have agency and individuals make choices. And so I think the only way that we can really turn this around is by getting individuals to think more deeply about how they interact with the other people that they share this landscape with.
Juliette Sellgren (43.34)
That's awesome. And listeners, go ahead and take a look at the Substack. I have found it so helpful just in my day-to-Day learning how to apply this stuff and making sure that I actually do it, because we all say that we want to be tolerant and growing and caring individuals, but are you really doing that as much as possible? I hope you are, and I hope you strive to, but this definitely helps out and it's super interesting. So go check that out. I want to thank you before I ask the last question for coming on the podcast and taking the time to share your wisdom and everything you've learned, it has meant so much to me and I've learned so much, and I know my listeners have as well.
Oh, this is always really fun. So thank you for having me.
Juliette Sellgren (44.22)
Last question, what is one thing you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?
Lauren Hall (44.31)
I feel bad that both of my answers are going to align exactly with the theme of this episode, but that's how these things work. I think one of the things that I really believed when I was younger is that you could choose a specific value like equality or liberty, and that could be the most important value of all. And I've now, I'm still very much in favor of liberty. I still care deeply about the sort of liberal project, but it just has become more clear to me that it human, social, and political life is about balancing values and about balancing principles. And I think Matt Zwolinski from Bleeding Heart Libertarians had a great comment. I might be butchering this, but it was a long time ago where he said something like, if Liberty Land, if the pure sort of libertarian state led to massive human suffering, then no, I wouldn't think liberty is a principle worth following, right?
So we don't have to be hard consequentialist, but at some point, the way that you organize things matters for how humans live together. So the big lesson I think I've learned over the last 30 odd years of grappling with, in an intellectual sense, the concept of political principles, is that there isn't one that is descendant at all times. And I think it's easier to think that when you're young, and it's a lot harder as you get older and you see the way that we need to balance a lot of these values and principles in a way that's humane.
Juliette Sellgren (46.20)
Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote Podcast. It means a lot. The great antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at Great email@example.com. Thank you.
Chris Manifold Manifol
The email address from the podcast does not seem to work. Is this the correct email address? firstname.lastname@example.org