My job at Vox is to talk to interesting people.
As we approach the end of 2017, I wanted to look back and highlight the five conversations that really stuck out to me: the ones that challenged me the most, that got me thinking about a difficult problem or provocative idea.
Most of them are serious, like the conversation I had with New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones about the roots of racial segregation in American schools, or the one with Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski on what the dying can teach the living about life.
One of them, with Stanford professor Robert Sutton, was less serious but still profoundly useful: He offered advice for how to deal with assholes.
So without further ado, here are the five coolest conversations I had this year.
1) The art of avoiding assholes
“One of the simplest — but admittedly hardest — things you can do is simply learn not to give a shit. Not giving a shit takes the wind out of an asshole’s sails. When an asshole’s being nasty to you, ignore him. Think about when you’ll get home later that night and the fact that that asshole won’t be there and won’t matter. Think about how a year from now that asshole won’t be in your life, but he’ll still be the asshole he always was.” —Robert Sutton, author of The Asshole Survival Guide
2) Schools are segregated because white people want them that way
“What people also don't want to acknowledge is that schools are segregated because white people want them that way. It's not simply a matter of zip codes or housing segregation or class; it's because most white Americans do not wish to enroll their children in schools with large numbers of black kids. And it doesn't matter if they live in the North or the South, or if they're liberal or conservative. We won't fix this problem until we really wrestle with that fact.” —Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine writer
3) What the alt-right actually believes
“[T]hey're against the idea that problems in society are socially constructed or even that most of our experiences are socially constructed. So they would say that gender is not socially constructed but a biological category. They say the same thing about race. They reject the idea that America is founded on abstract principles and instead believe it's a product of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and that it could be no other way.
“It’s basically a belief that the various societal norms and taboos — around race or culture or gender — are bullshit and that they’re poking holes in all of it. It’s a kind of postmodern questioning of everything.” —Angela Nagle, author of Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
4) Why capitalism can’t survive without socialism
“It seems to me that the greatest danger is that the truly rich, I’m talking nine and 10 figures rich, are increasingly separated from the lives of the rest of us so that they become largely insensitive to the concerns of those who still earn by the hour. As such, they will probably not anticipate many of the changes, and we will see the beginning stirrings of revolution as the cost for this insensitivity.” —Eric Weinstein, managing director of Peter Thiel’s investment firm, Thiel Capital
5) What the living can learn from the dying
“When we come close to the end of our life, what’s really important makes itself known. It isn’t whether or not we have two Mercedes or whether or not we spent more time at the office. For most people, it’s about relationships. It’s about answering two questions: ‘Am I loved?’ and ‘Did I love well?’ So much of what happens around the end of life boils down to those two questions.” —Frank Ostaseski, author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach the Living