Invisibilia: “The End of Empathy”

I’m circling back to catch up on a podcast from last week because Invisibilia‘s final episode of season 3 was so interesting I listened to it twice.

“The End of Empathy” approaches one story from two perspectives and makes an attempt to reconcile them. The story revolves around Jack Peterson, a man who got involved with the misogynist incel movement and then left it. The first take, by co-host Hanna Rosin, makes an effort to see things from Peterson’s perspective. The second, done by This American Life producer Lina Misitzis, doesn’t extend Peterson much empathy.

This causes Rosin to do some soul-searching and she exposes a gap in how generations approach empathy. Millennials, like Misitzis, possess 40 percent less empathy than those in Generation X, like Rosin, according to survey data. Like many things these days, millennials take a tribal approach to empathy. Those on “our team” deserve it, but why should women empathize with someone, like Peterson, who (at least at one point) belonged to a group that has perpetuated violence against women? Others, like terrorists, possess an extreme empathy for their own team, according to a researcher quoted in the episode.

It’s clear that Rosin does not view incels like Peterson as those on her team. The author of The End of Men has her feminist bona fides in order. But in her view, bridging the gaps that divide groups requires seeing things from the other group’s perspective (at some point the episode reminded me of Part 2 of Radiolab’s “In the No” series which had feminists of two generations discuss their divergent views on the #MeToo movement).

While I belong to the millennial generation, I tend to side with Rosin, though Misitzis makes some legitimate points. The acts Peterson committed should not be excused, but unless we understand what led him to commit those acts, what hope do we have of stopping others from traveling down that path? It’s clear that telling people they’re garbage with reprehensible views only leads them to dig in deeper.

Paired with increased tribalism, extreme empathy for your own team paired with an absence of empathy for others seems like a recipe for disaster. “Basically, you give up on civil society at that point,” the researcher said. In the end, both Rosin and Misitzis seem to move a little closer to the other’s viewpoint. Maybe podcasts will save us.

Listen here.

Invisibilia will return with new episodes in the fall.

Against the Rules: “The Seven Minute Rule”

A sense of unfairness pervades society, Michael Lewis wants to explore its origins.

Michael Lewis.

If you listened to this week’s This American Life you know Michael Lewis has a podcast. If you’re a non-fiction nerd like myself, a podcast from the author behind Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Big Short recommends itself.

In Against the Rules, the first from Malcolm Gladwell and former Slate editor Jacob Weisberg’s Pushkin Industries that doesn’t feature Gladwell as a host, Lewis attempts to determine what’s happened to the country’s idea of fairness. He explores the sense that the system is rigged, that nobody trusts the referees.

The first episode takes that metaphor literally. Lewis looks at the increasing number of outbursts against NBA referees. Counterintuitively, he finds it’s a response to better officiating in the age of instant replay. The outbursts come from star players who no longer get breaks.

This week’s episode turns to Lewis’ signature subject, consumer finance. He talks to a woman with $77,000 in student loans and looks at the ways student-loan servicing companies fail to act in the best interest of their clients. He also speaks to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who attempted to create a referee for consumer financial products.

But the episode’s opening poses a unique question. A man posed as Michael Lewis and accrued more than $16,000 in debt with Citigroup and tanked his credit rating. Why, Lewis asks, is this his problem? Why isn’t the onus on Citigroup, who issued the credit card to an imposter?

A sense of unfairness pervades society. The presidential campaigns of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump both found success with vows to dismantle a rigged system. The recent revelation that rich parents have paid bribes and forged test results to get their children into elite schools just revealed something everyone assumed had always gone on. Michael Lewis wants to explore the origins of that belief. Two episodes in, he’s off to a good start.

Listen here.

New episodes of Against the Rules with Michael Lewis appear on Tuesdays.

Starlee Kine seeks support for new podcast

Just a heads-up to fellow podcast fans: Starlee Kine has launched a Patreon page seeking funds to start a new show. In exchange for $5 per month, she offers patrons early access to episodes and access to updates and possibly some unsolved Mystery Show cases.

This is great news for podcast fans. Kine, who appeared on This American Life numerous times over the years, hosted the delightful Mystery Show, which was inexplicably cancelled by Gimlet Media in 2016 after just six episodes. In the show, Kine solved mysteries like the overnight disappearance of a video store and an argument over Jake Gyllenhaal’s height.

You should really listen to the entire series — it’s one of my all-time favorite podcasts — but if you’re looking for a place to start, an episode about a bizarre belt buckle found in the street is a perennial fan favorite. Once you’ve fallen in love with the show, head to Patreon and support Starlee’s next project.