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Are Big Ideas Still Possible? With Ross Douthat
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Are Big Ideas Still Possible? With Ross Douthat

On transcending the mediocrity of modern life.
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Are big ideas still possible? Are there any “new” ideas left—and what makes an idea new in the first place?

If we need new ideas to shake ourselves out of decadence, we should be careful what we wish for. Wokeness is one such “comprehensive framework.” Others might prove similarly frightening.

This week, Shadi is joined by New York Times columnist and author of The Decadent Society

and the political philosopher . Recently, Sam wrote an essay “Thinking is Risky”, which was cited in Ross’s newsletter, calling on academics to be more intellectually courageous. Sam’s call to action relates to a recurring theme in Ross’s work — namely that society faces “decadent” stagnation (or worse, decay) on a number of fronts. To transcend modern mediocrity, the three discuss a path to renewal, but as Shadi argues, the risks of doing so are real.

In the full episode (for paying subscribers only), the three discuss the extent a break from decadence can be achieved through religion. After all, if what makes an idea “big” is that it offers up a metaphysical/cosmic account of the universe, then cultural renewal may require religion. Anything less would be limiting and finite. Ross makes the case that religious belief is “obviously appropriate”, predicting that elites will eventually recognize its value. But is it enough for people to instrumentally appreciate the importance of religion, or must they believe themselves?

Required Reading:

  • The Decadent Society, by Ross Douthat (Amazon).

  • “Thinking Is Risky,” by Samuel Kimbriel (Wisdom of Crowds).

  • “Why Journalists Have More Freedom Than Professors,” by Ross Douthat (New York Times).

  • Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by William Deresiewicz (Amazon).

  • “At least it’s an ethos” from The Great Lebowski.

  • “Nude” lyrics, by Radiohead.

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Appears in episode
Samuel Kimbriel
Shadi Hamid