Erik Marcus Interviews Jonathan Safran Foer

"Do you want to ask people to take the last step or the first step?"  Smart stuff from Jonathan Safran Foer and Erik Marcus.  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this interview.


Faust said...

There were two sections of this podcast that I thought were particularly noteworthy:

First when he is discussing the fire step vs the last step, one of the reasons that he gives for the difficulty of going straight for the last step is that for a lot of people this will involve a shift in identity. I think this is quite correct and is one of the ways that this issue does indeed parallel the atheist/theist that you have been intrigued with (in terms of the nature of the rhetorical approach employed). If you are discussing issues with people, issues that relate to their sense of who they are, of what KIND of person they are, be it politics, religion, or any kind of deep moral behavior you are going to be very close to hot emotions. Particularly given the prevalence of meat eating in our culture you really are asking people to change "who" they are in a non-trivial sense.

Then later in the podcast this point surfaces again when he says that there is a danger when discussing this issue as an AR evangalist of making it "about yourself" instead of about the issue of AR. This is simply the other side of the same coin, and is generalizable to discussions about deeply held ideologies (such as religion or politics). This is why the opponent is "bad" "stupid" "evil" "blind" "ignorant" and otherwise villified.

These are not just issue wars. They are identity wars. They are discussions about what KIND of people we want each other to be.

amos said...

Identity wars, very interesting. Having met the new vegans, I certainly don't identify with them.

amos said...

The importance of identity is almost always left out in philosophical discussions. Maybe you high brows make ethical choices on purely rational grounds, but us middle brows take identity into consideration when we make ethical choices. When I was younger, my ethical choices were motivated by a consideration of the issues and a search for identity, for striving to be one of those who take a certain ethical stand or live according to certain principles, yet I confused the two aspects, identity and issues, so thoroughly that I didn't understand where one ended and the other began. Now I separate them more clearly, and I find that where the ethical choice is only based on the issues, without a sense of shared identity, I'm less likely to take action and more likely to content myself with forming an abstract opinion on the issues. For example, I used to go to protest marches, because of the issues involved and because I felt identified with my fellow marchers, felt one of them, felt that I was the same kind of person as the other marchers were. About 10 years ago I noticed that I felt alone when I marched, that I had nothing more to say to anyone else on the march, and I stopped going to marches. My opinions in the abstract sense didn't change, but I stopped acting on them. And in some ways, my opinions slowly became more distant, less passionate, more skeptical. However, the interplay between identity and issues works in another way. If I don't feel accepted by a group, my opinions once again don't exactly change, but become more distant, more skeptical. That happened to me with the new atheists: being an atheist, I sought acceptance from them (online) and received the door slammed in my face. Surely, if I had felt accepted by them, I would feel more identified with their position, inspite of some of my intellectual differences with them.

Jean Kazez said...

I liked that part about identity too. I agree that some dietary changes have a non-trivial impact on identity--and actually do discuss that in my book (chapter 9). I discuss the case of Eskimo subsistence hunting, and how it really does involve issues of identity for these people to give the practice up. I think that's true in less dramatic cases too--and shouldn't be trivialized. I imagine Foer is very good at talking about identity issues in his book, because they are so central to literature.

Re: atheism and identity. Yes, calling yourself a "new atheist" seems to involve a certain sense of "who you are" (as that odd phrase goes).