My excellent Conversation with John Gray

I had been wanting to do this one for a while, and now it exists.  Here is the audio and transcript, here is the episode summary:

Tyler and John sat down to discuss his latest book, including who he thinks will carry on his work, what young people should learn if liberalism is dead, whether modern physics allows for true atheism, what in Eastern Orthodoxy attracts him, the benefits of pessimism, what philanthropic cause he’d invest a billion dollars in, under what circumstances he’d sacrifice his life, what he makes of UFOs, the current renaissance in film and books, whether Monty Python is still funny, how Herman Melville influenced him, who first spotted his talent, his most unusual work habit, what he’ll do next, and more.


COWEN: Do you think that being pessimistic gives you pleasure? Or what’s the return in it from a purely pragmatic point of view?

GRAY: You are well prepared for events. You don’t expect —

COWEN: It’s a preemption, right? You become addicted to preempting bad news with pessimism.

GRAY: No, no. When something comes along which contradicts my expectations, I’m pleasantly surprised. I get pleasant surprises. Whereas, if you are an adamant optimist, you must be in torment every time you turn the news on because the same old follies, the same old crimes, the same old atrocities, the same old hatreds just repeat themselves over and over again. I’m not surprised by that at all. That’s like the weather. It’s like living in a science fiction environment in which it rains nearly all of the time, but from time to time it stops and there’s beautiful sunlight.

If you think that basically there is beautiful sunlight all the time, but you’re just living in a small patch of it, most of your life will be spent in frustration. If you think the other way around, as I do, your life will be peppered, speckled with moments in which what you expect doesn’t happen, but something better happens.

COWEN: Why can’t one just build things and be resiliently optimistic in a pragmatic, cautionary sense, and take comfort in the fact that you would rather have the problems of the world today than, say, the problems of the world in the year 1000? It’s not absolute optimism where you attach to the mood qua mood, but you simply want to do things and draw a positive energy from that, and it’s self-reinforcing. Why isn’t that a better view than what you’re calling pessimism?


COWEN: Under what circumstances would you be willing to sacrifice your life? Or for what?

GRAY: Not for humanity, that’s for sure.

Recommended, interesting throughout.  John is one of the smartest and best read thinkers and writers.  He even has an answer ready for why he isn’t short the market.  And don’t forget John’s new book — I read all of them — New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism.


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