December 17, 2015
We are joined in the studio by funnyman Scott Capurro, an American comedian of Genoese descent. Scott can be found on the UK morning show, The Wright Stuff, where recently he antagonized a group of disgruntled vegans.
He starts by regaling us with the story of a sacrilege masturbatory tribute to the crucified Son of God and how that got him banned from the Australian comedy circuit. We talk about fat vegetarians, how to never take hecklers personally and why audience members who “can’t find the joke” often feel embarrassed and turn on the comic. Scott was closeted in the 80’s, trying vainly to make jokes about shagging women and machismo. That didn’t go over so well, so he came out.
One distinction between the US and UK comedy scenes is that, in the US, comics must single out ethnicities and make fun of them, so that each ethnicity feels represented. Miss a particular black, Indian or hispanic joke and certain audience members feel left out. That’s the difference between Racism and Representation. Scott discusses the Seinfeld Effect, which hit the circuit in the 1990’s. Comics, the world over, started doing bits like, “Cardigans – what’s that all about?” or “Women & Toilet-Paper – what’s that all about?”
Scott shares that 20 years ago, women and gay comics weren’t even invited to college campuses, so he’s happy students have become more sensitive and politically correct: today’s atmosphere is more inclusive. Peter and Scott descend into a political morass before surfacing to talk about Brexit and the changing nature of power: these people think “being white gives them an automatic wild card in the game of Monopoly – but it doesn’t anymore. Your skin color doesn’t help you in the world any longer.” We talk about Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and an “England for the English” before moving on to San Francisco and London, each forcing astronomical costs of living on its young people. According to Scott, the “Hippie History” of San Francisco is dead and the dream of the “artist in a loft” is long gone.
We talk about Stinson Beach in Marin, with its ominous signs alerting bathers that “Great white sharks breed in these waters.” And, yet, surfers are out every day, on their boards. To a British mind, this is outrageous, but Paul and Scott both attest to the American facility with statistics: you’re more likely to get stabbed at an ATM in London than eaten by a shark in the waters off San Francisco.
Finally, Scott is asked where he’d like to be transported in history as a gay man: post-war NYC. Great social progress, radical liberalism and a music and arts scene, nonpareil. Ending on a political note, Scott predicts we’ll have a gay President before a female one, and, despite his distaste for Trump, he’d gladly work a paid gig at the White House. You can catch Scott at the Soho Theater in February and on The Wright Stuff, weekday mornings.
If you love food, you’ll love this episode. We are joined by MasterChef judge and editor of Waitrose Food Magazine, William Sitwell. Among his many notable accomplishments, William was the narrator of Michelin Stars – The Madness of Perfection. It’s a fascinating BBC documentary on the competitive nature of modern haute cuisine with lots of great behind-the-scenes action (I’ve seen it twice).
We start by learning of William’s foray into college journalism before he waded into politics in his 20’s. An unlikely turn of events had him writing for Women’s Journal, penning such grippers as, “How to date again in your 40’s.” Asked during the interview for Waitrose Magazine why he felt qualified for the job, William responded, “Well, I eat!” Sitwell, the food writer and critic, was born! We discuss the anatomy of a long lunch – noon to midnight – and how the British version differs from the Continental one. In his recent book, Eggs or Anarchy, Sitwell chronicles the life of Lord Woolton, Minister for Food during WWII.
We learn why Hitler couldn’t find the Ministry when it decamped to Wales and why Britain, with only 40% food security, was increasingly vulnerable to starvation as the war stretched on. Paul learns how staggered rationing works and how such rationing encouraged Brits in the countryside to hunt game.
Sitwell’s earlier book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes, explores the earliest recorded attempts at cooking and baking. The first recipe: hieroglyphic instructions for making Egyptian flatbread. We speculate on the first cooked food – the flame making the meat easier to chew. Also: a detailed recipe for lamb and pork ravioli from 1470 in which the pasta is boiled for as long as it takes to say five Lord’s Prayers.
Finally, we discuss the advent of the London food scene with the Roux Brothers in the early 70’s. They started Le Gavroche in 1967, followed by The Waterside Inn at Bray. Many young chefs came through their kitchen and went on to launch top restaurants of their own: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing. In a sign of how parochial London was then, one could only get olive oil at a chemist (pharmacy) and its commercial use was cleaning out waxy ears. Today, of course, London is a mecca for chefs and foodies alike and boasts many of the world’s best restaurants. Sitwell admits there is a lack of good provincial cooking in Britain (unlike in rural France and Italy), but says things are improving. And, we touch on why so few women run kitchens today and if that’s likely to change. Enjoy this wonderful exploration of food, history and the good life with William Sitwell. Cheers!
We are joined today by Kezia Noble, leading female dating coach for men. We had her on before – Episode #18 – and she’s back with a vengeance (and not a little good advice). She loved the episode in which we discussed “Where Party Girls Go to Die” and so, naturally, we start there. Kezia is appalled that young women today aspire to no greater heights than Instagram, and hold the botox-lipped, sex-kitten look to be the pinnacle of achievement. These young women are facing a ticking time bomb, she asserts, because they’re not developing any durable qualities or skills. Kezia shares that at 7 years old, she discovered her idol: Alexis Colby from Dallas. Alexis was brash, rich, and slept around. She was in control – the big boss. Another idol from Kezia’s day, Madonna, took mediocre talent and through hard work and grit sculpted it into a billion-dollar franchise. These women had what it took to succeed in a man’s world. Paul contrasts those aspirations with the celebrity infatuation that grips young girls today. They seem to abandon their own journeys to pursue the unattainable life of someone like Kim Kardashian. Such lack of foresight is dangerous, leaving many ageing party girls frustrated and bitter. At least “I was that girl with a back-up plan,” concedes Kezia. As women age-out of the party scene it might take a painful truth whispered by a girlfriend to let them know it’s time to bow out gracefully, their looks having deserted them on the dance floor. Paul asks if such honesty is welcome. “Never!” says Kezia. She’ll only get jealous and obsess on those words throughout the night. Better to focus on giving men advice. And so, we do just that, asking Kezia to tell us the 3 Things Men Do Wrong. After all, she’s coached thousands of guys since 2006, so she ought to know what mistakes they make. And she does. 1) Approach Anxiety. We sometimes euphemistically call them “butterflies” but these gnawing stomach spasms will hold you back. Kezia prescribes her mind management technique which focuses a man’s mind on the girl’s imperfections. 2) Fear of Conversation Failure – oh boy, this is a biggie. Kezia refuses to get too technical on this one, saving the best parts for her Residential Course, but she says it works for both introverts and extroverts. What attracts women to men is the trinity of i) a strong reality ii) consistency & iii) certainty in action – all of which we discuss in detail 3) Failure to Sexually Escalate, causing a Lapse into the Friend Zone. Many of us have been there and Kezia gives us her foolproof remedy: “5 Steps to Freedom.” Over the course of the hour, you’ll hear why Kezia dresses provocatively, why positive affirmations in the dressing room of a strip club don’t work and why “you should be really fucking scared if she only meets you for coffee.”
In a bit of Podcast Verité the guys break the 4th wall as they launch into a discussion of Why Dates Go Wrong. Meandering, Paul admits to his continued astonishment at being married; he thought of it as something “other people do.” Instead of the marriage stereotypes emblazoned on boardwalk t-shirts – “Game Over” – Paul has found that he loves having a playmate to come home to at night. This anticipates a section later in the podcast, in which Paul claims that open communities evaporate by 40; a single, 42-year-old guy has nowhere to go. In their discussion of first date follies, the guys talk about key attributes of a “successful dater”: calm, pragmatic, stoic, not proud, thick-skinned. Paul talks about his days in NYC as a rigid, unyielding dater who minimized “degrees of freedom” to devastating effect. Peter and Paul discuss the perils of the 2nd date and joke that it should be eliminated altogether; more earnestly, they wonder which areas in ourselves we can accept and which we need to improve. Somehow, they get on the topic of frivolous youth and wonder if the iconic billionaires of today have cast a pall over people’s 20’s – a theme discussed in The Billionaire Bust Up | Episode 14. Later, Pete tells us the #1 problem in modern dating is too much choice and adds a personal note, joking that he’s been the victim of a “sympathy date” but also that he likes to underperform in the early days to keep expectations in check. Paul is worried about the lack of relationship skills out there among young singletons – one girl Pete knows refuses to date an inexperienced man, saying she doesn’t want him to make his first mistakes on her. Paul understands the Achilles’ Heel of Mr. Single, dating-machine-extraordinaire: his inability to properly service a relationship. The relationship transition for Paul was tough, at times, and through it he learned first-hand why IKEA is kryptonite to single men. Paul pitches his upcoming e-book, On Marriage, and explains his take on the 5 Steps to the Altar: dating, courtship, cohabitation, engagement and marriage. Finally, the guys get nostalgic for youthful spontaneity and Pete worries that logistics will crowd out romance in his future relationships.
In this episode, the men discuss sacrifice. Learning how to sacrifice things in your life – how to kill things – is a prerequisite for maturity. Many of us grow up with multiple dreams, lots of friendships, myriad romances and many other distractions. Paul admits that by 40 he had to learn the painful lesson that indulging in every opportunity was costing him purpose and, ultimately, a satisfying life. Pete confesses that though his progress at 31 is acceptable, he wouldn’t be satisfied if his life was in the same place by 40. Standards of behavior and lifestyle need to change as we age; sacrifice is how we get there. The men also discuss the uniquely challenging prospect of a “creative life” since success is determined by “getting it right” and not just by following a predefined protocol, as in most careers. Finally, the guys discuss Steven Spielberg and Pete convinces Paul that Spielberg would have succeeded in any business venture – he just happened to choose film. This is because his “product” is entirely customer-focused, avoiding any personal indulgence that won’t resonate with audiences.
In this episode, we explore the idea of communal living. The Kidbutz of Topanga Canyon is a budding experiment in house-sharing with kids. Two single mothers and a single father live together in a rustic two-million-dollar home in a cool Los Angeles enclave. With shared parenting duties and divided housekeeping and cooking responsibilities, this model seems a workable and very flexible alternative to marriage and monogamy. For these only children, the quasi-siblings around them provide constant playmates. And, parents know there’s always an adult present. But, there are pitfalls to communal living: jealousy, money issues and secrecy. Peter mentions The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, in which families living communally in Denmark advocate the flexibility of such an approach. Whereas, before, single mothers had to cook every night, now they’re only on the hook for 3 or 4 big meals a month. The other nights they can go to yoga or out on a date. Paul brings out the heavy guns with Sex at Dawn and talks about the “origins of monogamy” and “policing the womb,” in a tone of self-satisfaction that rightly irks Pete. Following the thesis from Sex at Dawn that monogamy is a consequence of private property, Paul observes that many married couples become focused on private property – on buying a house, accumulating trappings of success, etc. The men discuss the generalization that single people are defined by what they do, whereas married couples are defined by what they have. What are the reasons for this? Against this backdrop, the kibbutz lifestyle is refreshing. Does a viable alternative to marriage threaten the institution? Pete has some thoughts on the principles of the Catholic Church and the men conclude – a bit tongue in cheek – that 10,000 years ago tribal man had his cake and ate it, too: harmonious parenting without monogamy. Will we ever return to that model?
Image: Nichols Canyon © David Hockney
Our funniest episode yet! On the show this week is Leo Kearse, veteran stand-up comedian from Dumfries, Scotland. We start off by joking how bullies can identify bad apples before tackling the perils of shaving and how a comedian can possibly fake it at a corporate job. Like Peter and Paul, Leo doesn’t hide his work from mom; she comes to some of his shows, sharing her opinions of his work. Leo’s been at this hard slog for 7 years and is finally making a living – sort of. Peter and Paul can relate. We talk about how much mileage a comedian can get out of a given set and whether it’s possible to cross the line in comedy: How do you crucify a spastic baby? We talk about censorship in the arts and how the audience is voyeuristic, indulging in off-colour humour at the show, then returning to neatly packaged, politically correct behaviour back at home and in the workplace. We talk about “keeping notes” of jokes or ideas, something Larry David and other comedians practice; Paul does the same for the podcast with his Little Red Book. What about playing it safe? Not taking the shot with a joke when the stakes are too high, or it’s inappropriate? Unfortunately, that’s when the opportunity for comedy is best. We talk about Newcastle girls and The Dark Side of Stand-Up: loneliness, depression and alcoholism. Leo confesses that the circuit attracts a lot of “broken souls.” We also discuss the ideal of a really funny, sexy woman – like Sarah Silverman – and the realities of dating a working comic. Finally, the guys discuss Why Children Don’t Read Self-Help and why the comic can always pick out the one sour face in the crowd. Catch Leo’s new show “I Can Make You Tory” at the upcoming Leicester Comedy Festival.
We call this episode Empathy for the Other Sex. What are the frustrations and challenges of living as a woman which men don’t fully appreciate? How come women are blind to the hardships and difficulties that we, as men, face? In this show, we try to step into the other gender’s shoes and look at life from their perspective. Among the ideas explored: attractive women becoming suspicious of duplicitous male motives; the double-edged sword of using one’s looks to gain an advantage in social or professional interactions; the moment in which a woman’s sexual magnetism evaporates; and the fickle nature of male sexual attention. Many of these things contribute to the modern female’s building cynicism towards men and dating. We also explore the profound trade-offs women face between family and career. On the male side, Paul emphasizes the weight of cultural expectations which men carry. Most males of his generation are saddled with post-war ideas about masculinity: that the man must be strong, the breadwinner and head of household. This idea is extremely handicapping. It delays a man’s emotional and relationship development until he is “ready” to commit to a woman. Establishing oneself so that leading a family becomes a viable option has become nearly impossible in many expensive global cities. In this way, both men and women are shortchanged by such outdated ideas about what it is “to be a man.” Unfortunately, women still sexually respond to this archetype, ensuring it will linger. Pete observes his female friend dismiss several effete males in a bar. When a macho guy finally approaches her, she rejoices, “Now, there’s a proper man!”
Paul opens this episode contemplating bachelorhood. He saw a 40-year-old Hank Moody type drive by the other day, alone in the car. The guy had a grey t-shirt and stubble, and looked as though he hadn’t a care in the world. Standing on the sidewalk, Paul wondered whether the man was a carefree bachelor or, in fact, a bedraggled husband and father, stealing a few moments of solitude from his family. The weird thing about 40 is that a guy can legitimately be the carefree, exciting bachelor, or the responsible family man; either lifestyle is possible. On that division line there are trade-offs, profound ones. Bachelor life is cool and it’s exciting to be footloose and fancy-free. But, at 40, a single guy may not be part of standard society and he can become marginalised. The other side of the bachelor coin is loneliness and isolation. Peter and Paul then discuss the idea of Intact Families (nuclear family) versus Broken Families (divorced) and why society holds up the enduring nuclear family as the preferred model. Even the word “broken” implies problems, though the statistics make clear that children of divorce are not necessarily disadvantaged, provided the father remains present. We discuss the plight of a friend who “likes getting married, not being married” and has therefore been to the altar five times. He’s a member of the dubious 1/32nd club. Pete makes the case that divorce can benefit women stuck in abusive relationships but that, equally, it allows men to discard older women in favour of pretty young things. Paul asks if marriage is passé. Marriage is still the default destination for heterosexual (and, increasingly, homosexual) couples but it suffers from several problems. Implicit in the marriage arrangement is the notion that a woman is property, an adjunct to the man. In fact, in the old days, a woman who married Mr. John Simpson became Mrs. John Simpson. It was only after hard-won emancipations that women retained their given names in marriage, to become, let’s say, a Mrs. Sue Simpson. Further independence saw women hyphenating to Mrs. Sue Simpson-Lennard and finally, today, some married women retain their maiden names: Mrs. Sue Lennard who is married to Mr. John Simpson. Finally, the men discuss Paul’s father’s dictum that “A bachelor is the most honest type of man.” In other words, a bachelor is not bound by decorum. He can speak his mind and manage his own PR. He’s got nothing at stake, no one to offend. A man in a relationship checks his behaviour because there’s potential fallout from his girlfriend or wife. This reminds Paul of the Vince Vaughn movie, The Break-Up, in which Vaughn begs his friends to side with him in a disagreement. They all abandon him, each fearing the retribution that will later come from their wife or girlfriend. Vaughn is an isolated man. The unspoken price of society is that the individual loses freedoms as he surrounds himself with others. He is restricted, muzzled, compromised. We speak here of freedoms of expression, but there are many others. However, isolation is very painful for the human species. For mere survival, and for the richness which companionship brings, we agree to limit our autonomy. In many of our relationships, truth is less important than harmony.
Paul opens this morbid episode by asking, “Why can I stomach a slow, reflective death but trauma unsettles me?” Suicide jumpers, car crashes and accidental deaths are too difficult for him to watch and yet he can travel in tandem with someone on a reflective descent into the abyss, such as Paul Kalanithi in When Breath Becomes Air. Why is that? In fact, Peter makes the case that a looming deadline (literally) is more torturous, giving the example of the 26th minute in Werner Herzog’s famous death row documentary. We also discuss why we can explore dark places in history or fiction but as soon as they are real and personal, they become unacceptable. We dare not look. There seems to be an incongruence between abstracted death and immediate death. Paul is stunned to learn that the most requested “final meal” of death row inmates is McDonald’s, because it conjures up warm and comforting memories of an innocent childhood during the most acute moments of adult distress. The inhumanity of subjecting people to such a cruel fate hangs in the studio air. Pete relates the story of a young stage actor who was uncharacteristically calm on the eve of a planned suicide. Perhaps he took solace in that last act of control, choreographing his own fate. Control is a hallmark of many addictions – to drugs, alcohol, food, gambling – and is often exerted when an individual feels his or her own life is most “out of control.” Controlling one’s fate via suicide is the apotheosis of this concept. In the second half of the episode, the men focus on the language of sexual conquest. Pussygate shocked many Americans because Trump’s language was vulgar, distasteful and aggressive. Paul asks why men use such language to frame their sexual exploits. His premise is that access to the female body is among the adult male’s most difficult and persistent challenges. In approaching this often insurmountable goal, men have developed a language of conquest, akin to language they might use facing Mount Everest. It is not usually politically correct. Women, on the other hand, often speak of male prospects with the language of capture: “bag the man”, “get the guy”, “he’s marriage material”, “a good catch.” As the language of conquest objectifies women, the language of capture likewise dehumanizes the man, reducing him to his status and wealth, his claim to resources. Curious about an idea from our discussion of the politics of language, Pete homes in on the theme of nuance. In a wide-ranging discussion we cover private versus public speech, how being politically correct is prejudice against the self, Fred Phelps (civil rights lawyer turned inflammatory bigot and cult leader), Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz, “voir dire” (or jury selection) and why fundamentalists of all faiths are most likely to impose the death penalty. It’s a good one!
We start off by talking about Things that Look Cool at 25 that Don’t Look Good at 45. Among the easy targets: smoking, excessive drink, raucous behaviour and being obnoxious. But what about people who try to “grow up” too fast, and are “prematurely mature?” Does their juvenile side come out later in life? Paul expresses deep gratitude that his biology at forty-one is well-aligned with his current station in life, as a committed, focused man. The tradeoffs of marriage would have been too difficult for him ten years ago. Some men aren’t necessarily heading in the direction of a monogamous, pair-bonded reality: Pete knows some accomplished, charming men who’ve chosen to cohabitate with like-minded heterosexual men rather than move in with girlfriends. Paul questions the sustainability of that model and wonders how it looks at 50 or 60, a bunch of ageing men running around a house share. Do men who get love, support and community from their buddies really have a need for women? Pete brings up the case of ladies in Japan who frequent “host bars” where they engage in deep conversation with attractive and intelligent men. Once the women have been vocally stimulated, they pay the bill and leave – no need for a real man and his awkward needs. Is this the direction of Western society? Returning to Things that Look Cool at 25, Pete regales us with stories of his 20s spent at York House, a fraternity-style living situation in central London. For his part, Paul shares that all the unpredictability and casualness of that situation would never fly now, when as a couple he and his wife are focused on security and, inevitably, private property. To end the episode, the guys touch on shame and judgement. Paul asks the question, “Where does shame come from?” His conclusion is that it comes from judgement, both of ourselves and by others. When we don’t meet our standards for ourselves in any area of life, we feel shameful. Pete’s insight is that for ambitious folks, shame and guilt are ever-present companions: standards are so impossibly high that individual efforts routinely and continually fall short. Finally, Pete asserts that the concept of guilt factors heavily into all Abrahamic faiths: “Catholic guilt comes from God; Jewish guilt comes from your mother.”
In this episode, we join painter Roza Horowitz in her studio at UCL Slade School of Fine Art. In a wide-ranging conversation we explore the artistic process, the dangers of censorship, art as therapy and political correctness. Pete starts off asking how Roza handles criticism of her work, and if she can keep a professional distance between herself and what she creates. As Pete has said before, it’s important in the arts to “meet where the work is,” so that the artist doesn’t feel personally attacked when his or her work is critiqued. Roza describes an early theme as “People Who Hurt Me” and how the heavy use of paint, impasto, helped her exorcise personal demons and get them onto the canvas. But now, as a more mature artist, she no longer paints people she knows, so the work is less personal. Discussing the greats – Picasso and Matisse – Horowitz has praise for how they were able “to get to the essence with the minimal. It looks easy, but it is very difficult.” Matisse’s exquisite line drawings come to mind; his ability to convey character with three squiggly lines. Paul asks whether Roza wants her work to be arresting or, instead, accessible, something people hang in their living room. No artist wants to be considered anodyne, she explains, but at the same time it serves no purpose if you “stand above the audience” and are understood by only a few. Perhaps the contradiction of the avant garde is that they lead the way, but must bring folks with them, as well, or risk becoming irrelevant. In Hollywood we often see this, with big actors doing one film for commercial reasons, the next one a passion piece that makes no money. Moving onto the craft of painting, we discuss one of Roza’s favourites, Goya. His ability to convey character is exceptional, she explains, and points to his use of the grotesque to reveal a subject’s true intention. The grotesque is often achieved by slight exaggeration of a physical attribute, such as an elongated smile, or individuated teeth. Such paintings remind Paul of the Joker from the Batman series, at turns familiar and menacing. Pete then brings up what is perhaps a key discipline in any art form: knowing when to stop. To put the brush or the pen down takes confidence, when fiddling is so tempting. But that is the bane of the inexperienced artist who overdraws or overwrites (or overcooks) and thereby ruins the meal. “Better to stop early than go too far,” cautions Roza. We discuss some technical methods which Roza is currently using, such as projection and painting alla prima (all at once) before moving on to our final topic: political correctness in art. Shakespeare used the court jester to reveal his true feelings about Queen Elizabeth, thereby saving his head. Likewise, Roza uses humor to reveal commentary in her work that would be unpalatable if served head-on. Peter follows up by asking if we can ever separate an artist’s character from their work, citing Richard Wagner and Eric Gill. Wagner’s anti-semitic beliefs have been well chronicled, and Gill was a renowned and decorated British artist whose diary posthumously revealed extreme sexual predilections, including incest and bestiality. Can we ever enjoy works by such men or women without a tinge of disappointment? The three of us discuss.
Image: The Protester © 2016, Roza Horowitz
Follow her: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/user/ztiworoh
Email the artist: firstname.lastname@example.org
How do you build the perfect team? That’s a critical question for organizations – from Fortune 500 companies to a President’s cabinet to the perfect theater troupe. Google sought the answer and used all the data and analytics at its disposal. In today’s episode Peter and Paul review the findings and compare the conclusions of the Google researchers to their own experience. Their starting point is a February 2016 article in the New York Times entitled “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.” An immediate takeaway is that the best teams are not comprised of the “best” people – they’re more of a hodgepodge. Syncing with members of your team is critical, as Pete demonstrates with an old acting exercise, a derivative of the Meisner Technique called 1-2-3. Paul attempts it but stumbles. As the men demonstrate, the power of this syncing exercise is unquestionable. As it turns out, the effectiveness of groups comes down to norms, spoken or unspoken rules to which the group adheres. And, crucially, some norms are better for a group’s collective IQ. The Times’ article posits two groups with strong norms: Team A, rigid, efficient, comprised of smart and successful types. Team B is a mixed lot and spends time “warming up” with jokes, gossip, goofing around. It turns out that Team B will outshine by a huge margin because of two key norms: “conversational turn-taking” and empathy. These two norms create “psychological safety” which engenders true creativity, innovation and collaboration. “Psychological Safety” is so important, it supersedes all other group attributes. A safe space, whether in acting class, a tech company or a 12-Step meeting, is a space in which members know they won’t be rejected, embarrassed or punished for sharing, no matter what. This creates mutual respect and interpersonal trust that lets new ideas emerge. Paul shares that when he feels fearful or insecure in a situation he defaults to the most conservative, hackneyed solution to prevent recrimination. An atmosphere of fear will therefore kill fresh perspective. A key insight of the article is that emotional conversations and admission of personal struggles creates “psychological safety” – a difficult prospect for some work environments where emotionalism is considered “unprofessional.”
Mentioned in the discussion:
Alex Ferguson’s Leading
Documentary on Atari: Game Over
We start the episode by thanking Michael O. for buying us a cup of great coffee. He says he listens to the podcast now, in his 20’s, to avoid a midlife crisis down the line. Peter and Paul buckle under the weight of such responsibility! We focus this episode on a freshman seminar taught at Harvard called “Reflecting on Your Life” in which 18-year-olds grapple with profound questions of identity: Are your actions in line with your stated goals and principles? Do you want to be a niche player, with expertise, or a generalist, with a broad view? Is it best to develop career interests contemporaneously (i.e. in tandem) or sequentially? Pete thinks that certain minds are predisposed to chaos and creativity, while others are orderly and focused. During the discussion, Pete concludes that the symbiosis between artists and “suits” is necessary and that each role is crucial. But, he bristles when pre-successful artists are labeled “bums” while accomplished artists are regarded as geniuses. Another question posed in the freshman seminar: what to do when your core values are in conflict. Paul has first-hand experience with this: he is married and is planning a family with all the responsibility and stability that requires (e.g. mortgage, children, education), yet he loves the creative life and his many projects, none of which could be classed a “stable career.” How will his situation resolve itself? Finally, the article asks us to confront the scale of our ambitions: are we happy contributing to the local community, or do we have “world-changing” ambition, as Elon Musk has? Is one necessarily better than the other? Do we have an obligation to the world at large? And, how can kids know at eighteen what they want, much less who they are? Pete ties it off nicely by explaining that most of the important decisions in our lives are nothing more than educated guesses: the person we marry, the city we reside in, the career we choose.
Paul opens the show by asking if we have to live life in a certain order. In economics, the Life-Cycle Hypothesis (LCH) explains how individuals borrow from future earnings when young and then accumulate in middle age only to deplete in retirement and old age. So-called “consumption smoothing” strives to explain the standard way people approach life. But is this the best way? “What about the opportunity cost of youth?” asks Pete. Isn’t it best to adventure when you’re young and healthy and your knees don’t creak? Young people need confidence in the future if they’re to delay instant gratification. Paul brings up the example of Israel during The Second Intifada (2000-2005). Aware that life could end at any moment, young Israelis engaged in sex, drugs and consumption, demonstrating their lack of confidence in the future. Halfway through the episode, Pete challenges Paul about his life of dabbling: would he have been happier had he stuck with something? They contemplate regret, but then ask if anyone can consciously acknowledge regret because we never know the outcome of paths not taken. After a tangent in which the guys discuss euthanasia and the bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air, Peter and Paul wrap up by concluding that the safety and longevity nearly guaranteed by wealthy Western countries takes the pressure off folks and allows them to drift, partly explaining the extended adolescence of the millennials. In the second half of the show, we tackle The Reversible Society. What happens to a society wherein commitments can easily be unwound? Paul quips that such “flexibility is great because you don’t have to live with your choices.” This is at odds with all the great examples from history and literature in which individuals labor under the weight of their decisions. For one thing, such flexibility creates individuals with low conviction. As Paul explains, war is the the final bastion of commitment: you can’t really flirt with war, you can’t sort-of invade a country. In the end, a Reversible Society creates citizens who are careless with their personal decision-making.
Appearance versus Reality is the theme of Episode Fifty! Paul takes a stab at the new reality show on Channel 4 called Naked Attraction. The show format involves a clothed contestant and six naked bodies on stage, hidden from view inside frosted glass silos. The glass lifts and fully nude candidates are revealed, close-up genitalia and all. A critic of the show compared it to slaves on the auction block, the main contestant compelled to dismiss bodies based on physical attributes alone. Aside from the shock factor, the show brings up several interesting sociological questions: Can we get to know someone simply by seeing them naked and vulnerable? Pete makes the astute point that “people who get naked quickly often don’t want to reveal themselves (emotionally)…” Paul observes that he knows many men – and was one, himself, once – who assume physical intimacy equates to emotional intimacy. This is nudity masquerading as intimacy. Men in strip clubs who “fall in love” with naked women, or the intensity of a carnal one-night stand – either can fool a man into thinking he “knows” the woman on the other end. In fact, as Naked Attraction reveals in its finale, physical attraction alone is not a reliable basis for compatibility. To wit: many of the couples, previously quite keen on each other, admit after three weeks that there was little actual interest and that they’ve gone their separate ways. It’s an awkward resolution, to say the least. The men segue onto memory lane, and Paul admits that in his single days in New York, he spent time with a lot of women who were NSFR – Not Suitable For a Relationship. The men acknowledge that people mature, and Paul admits that he wasn’t such a catch in those days, either; he had a lot of growing up to do. Finally, the men discuss “dream jobs” in the context of Appearance versus Reality. Upon hearing that a former classmate is now President of movie production company Plan B, Paul’s immediate thought was “Damn it – I should have stayed in Hollywood. Look what I could have become!” The truth is more nuanced, however. Movie producing, though wrapped in the glamour of Hollywood, involves the same frustrations and challenges as any business: logistics, budgeting, personnel. To think it’s all Bentleys and Bodacious Babes in the South of France is foolish – there’s plenty of gruelling, tedious work involved. Recognising that all jobs have drawbacks is a sign of maturity, which is another way of saying an acceptance of Reality.
This is the Optimization Episode. We start off by reviewing a short article by David Brooks on the glories of middle age. Brooks makes the claim that middle age is a great departure point for big adventures because, presumably, you’ve done well and accumulated resources. Apparently to many New York Times commenters, a well-resourced midlife cannot be assumed; many have continued to struggle since the Great Recession. This reversal of fortune is interesting, Paul notes, because so many of our popular narratives show the protagonist going from strength to strength. There are too few failure stories in our popular imagination, perhaps because they are uninspiring. But the truth is, many people do not “succeed,” as the word is commonly defined. One component of wisdom, highlighted in the Brooks article, is compassion – a necessary perspective in a world where not everyone makes it. During the discussion, Pete observes that “knowledge can be read; wisdom has to be lived.” There are plenty of self-help gurus peddling shortcuts to good-living, but Paul remains skeptical. After watching “A Day in the Life of Tim Ferriss” both men have a reaction. Ironically, Pete sounds the more American, explaining “failure as a path to success.” Paul has a cooler response, searching for the old quip that at least “Mussolini made the trains run on time.” Both Peter and Paul agree, however, that “optimization theory” has been hijacked from the corporate world to mixed effect: some things aren’t meant to be productive. It’s particularly disconcerting/hilarious when this type of thinking is applied to relationships, or in the realm of “soft skills.” Pete jests that “The 4-Hour Girlfriend” may not be a best-seller. Paul holds up his family in France who enjoy Parisian life, sail in the South of France and eat exceptional food, all without subscribing to the optimization mania that has gripped the U.S. (and, to a lesser degree, England). The guys get serious for a moment discussing contradiction in Hamlet and the themes in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (if one travels under tremendous burden, does that make life sweeter?) before returning to their usual convoluted banter. Paul concludes by saying that optimization presupposes an outcome, but in his view many of these so called “gurus” don’t have a credible vision of their future, at least not one he can see.
Pete hijacks the intro with a rendition of “Get Ready to Rumble,” whereupon the guys learn that silver fox Michael Buffer has made $400 million from his signature catchphrase and the $5,000,000 announcing fee he commands for each prize fight. Once Paul wrangles back some semblance of structure to the episode, the men tackle an article entitled Left on the Shelf – a cautionary tale about mid-20’s women in London who can’t find boyfriends. A large part of of the challenge for these young female professionals is choosing a mate from a smaller pool of college-educated men, and that pool looks set to dwindle. Worsening their predicament is the fact that for much of their twenties these women – by their own admission – didn’t prioritize men. Instead, they focused on career and female friends. Paul wonders if the busy-ness of young, urban professionals makes relationships passé, as calendars quickly fill up with dinners out, weekends away and drinks with friends. Living in the midst of such a stimulating environment, who has time or interest in sacrificing for a relationship? The article quotes psychologist Dr. Juliette Puig who says, “Perfectionists and high-achievers can find it particularly hard to find a partner…” The standards such people apply to jobs or personal endeavors fail when applied to relationships, since no one is “perfect.” One woman asserts that, “if I mention a kooky art show I’ve been to and he doesn’t even try to get his head around it, that’s a real turn-off.” Paul sees a problem in this type of demand. Whereas a rigid guy can date a compliant and submissive woman for some time, perhaps tiring of her in the long-run, women face a conflict if they try to emulate this male behavior: compliant men don’t sexually arouse them. Men and women may be equal, but they certainly aren’t the same when it comes to sexual attraction.
The guys brave the elements (kids, motorcycles, sirens, a hobo and a security guard) to bring you the first Podcasting in Public episode, recorded in Trafalgar Square! After a matinee viewing of The Truth at the Wyndham Theatre, Peter and Paul settle down for a discussion of the play’s main themes. The plot involves a love rectangle wherein each character is sleeping with another’s wife or husband, and only as the play progresses do we learn who’s in the know and who isn’t. A farce based on a French play, The Truth is here presented as an English adaption. The first question, “Do Players Have Weak Egos?” is answered in the affirmative by the play. The protagonist wreaks havoc on the lives of all around, while he becomes maddeningly possessive, desperate and insecure when he senses the tables have turned. He can dish it out, but he can’t take it! Pete posits that insecurity drives ambition and that strivers are all attempting to fill a hole. If that’s true, Paul wonders, then perhaps artists are creating culture to compensate for their insecurities – not an ideal state of affairs, it seems. The “Curse of the Oscar” supports this idea, since many Academy Award winners seem to fade after achieving the industry’s highest honor. “Is it Better to Know the Truth?” asks the play. The characters repeatedly justify deceit, claiming that to shield a loved one from hurtful revelations is a selfless act of compassion. Paul describes the last time he saw his grandmother alive, and how that pleasant image of her in the living room is his last, cherished memory. Others, including Pete, have seen family members in a morbid state, and those images have stuck. Maybe we don’t need to know it all. Pete offers an insight in the debate about disclosure of hurtful information: consistency is the watchword; waffling between shielding someone and full revelation is perhaps the most damaging treatment of all. And, finally, we come to “Guilt,” another theme from the play. Is guilt of any sort, and in particular the brand refined by the Catholic Church, a good governor of behavior? It certainly helps some people remain accountable to their actions. The guys wrap up before they can examine the negative, and sometimes twisted, consequences of a guilty conscience.
Peter and Paul come back to the idea of “friendship” in this episode. Alarmed by the stat that 12% of men over 18 don’t have a single friend in whom to confide a serious life issue, the guys examine several articles on Why Men Lose Friends in Their 20s. Most of the reasons are clear – moving, girlfriends, less partying, less time, focus on the career – and yet social isolation remains a major, hidden health issue for men, contributing to high rates of depression and suicide.. Paul talks about his move to London at the age of 36 which he accomplished with very little social support. But, he admits, it would have been scary had he thought about it. Pete shares about a recent filming excursion to cover a PUA event in London and how the men craved a sense of community above their stated desire for women. Men do lack established social institutions outside of work, drink and sport, though the men’s movement is attempting to fill the void. Finally, the guys end on talk of planning and old age – and Pete confesses he hasn’t given aging much thought. Perhaps there’s a link between envisioning growing old and making the uncomfortable choices and sacrifices today that will provide for happy, contented twilight years.
The guys lead off this week with A Requiem for the Renaissance Man. Paul posits that market capitalism has killed off the possibility of the Renaissance Man. Large markets reward specialization as niche-players reap outsize rewards for excelling in a narrow market. These market participants need only excel at their specialization because they can outsource all their needs to a large and complex market that can feed, clothe, shelter and entertain them. This is in contrast to the rural farmer, who by necessity, must be a jack of all trades: he and his wife must bring in the harvest, cook, sew, build shelter and repair the wheelbarrow, all by themselves. Small markets require generalization. Some of the great polymaths in history – Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill – were able to master many domains, because knowledge was shallow. Now that each domain is so deep and broad, cross-disciplinary mastery is no longer possible. The guys then ponder whether a careerist can be a Renaissance Man… Do the demands and structure of a full-time job preclude the possibility of engaging with the world in a fluid way? Does responsibility kill the possibility of The Renaissance Man? Pete recounts how a finance friend of his had to schedule time in his calendar “to be creative.” The conversation then evolves into a discussion of how the market economy supports (or fails to support) the creative arts in Europe, the UK and America. Financial accountability is hard to achieve with artistic projects, the fruits of which often take years to develop and mature. Network television takes a different, more expedient approach than the BBC or cable television in the US. Finally, Paul confesses his love of “Panto”, a uniquely British invention and Pete explains the long-standing reputation of England as a “story-telling nation” with a tradition that reaches back through Elizabethan times to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Paul fires a warning shot across the bow of marriage, alerting all young bachelors to the very real loss of three essential liberties: sexual freedom, financial autonomy, and freedom over one’s schedule (or time). Paul elaborates on what he’s learned during his first year of marriage and the reality that he now feels. Against the lamentable loss of these three freedoms the guys consider the benefits. For one thing, aging single people get bored of themselves, Paul asserts. Is he whistling in the dark, or are men who never marry and who are now in their 50’s really “one-note Johnny’s” whose lives are “on a loop?” Inevitably, Paul comes back to the question of why a guy wallowing in his personal freedoms would voluntarily surrender them, and yet he did it himself! What is this powerful force that can profoundly change a man’s outlook? Is it love? A wish for personal growth? Becoming broody? As the men search for answers, they hit on some deep issues: can a man grow-up without a woman? are most single guys just “getting by” with a bit of cash on the hip and a few girls in their phone? At the core of the discussion is whether men want to (or are able to) mature without a female force guiding them. Paul returns to his definition of maturity from an earlier podcast: anticipating change and preparing for it while you still have time and options. Part of the trapdoor of late capitalism is that it’s turned us into hyper-consumers in all areas, including romance. Just as we order a ride from Uber, or a book from Amazon, we are now conditioned to “order” a mate on Tinder or Match. With high expectations and a sometimes skewed sense of our own sexual market value, many of us don’t realize our options have dried up until it’s too late…
Mark Manson is on to something with his popular post, The Four Stages of Life. The article is here – I recommend you read it before listening to our podcast. I’ve read other “life stage” articles but this one very nicely explains why it’s important to mature and how we can move from one stage to the next. In the beginning, we learn through imitation and we seek approval. By late adolescence, we’ve hopefully moved on and formed our own identity and accepted that we will not always be liked by all people. Stage Two is Self-Discovery. This is where the article got personal for me, and why I had to do an episode on it. We start out by trying all sorts of things – experimenting – but eventually we come up against our limits: what we can and cannot do. Mature folks accept this. They focus on the few. For me, however, it’s taken until 41 to move on, and I’ve paid the price. I explain why in this episode. Part of the reason, as Pete and I discover, is that a creative mind which generates a lot of ideas must also develop a ruthless elimination mechanism: following bad or unsuitable ideas is a huge waste of time. I’ve always had a hard time killing things. My Harvard experience didn’t help, either, as I explain to Pete. Opportunity came knocking, and I was exposed to so much stuff; the sampling of life was intoxicating. Career choices were plentiful – who turns down six figures and glory on Wall Street? – so it took years to definitively eliminate options from my list. And, I had to do this “research” on my own, because I didn’t trust second-hand advice. As a result, I became a Peter Pan and now at 41 I can see that. Marriage has a way of shaking the tree. Peter offers consolation by way of comparison: many of the successful, middle-aged guys he coaches put their heads down at 20 and are only now looking up to realize they’ve got major gaps in their lives, particularly around women and sex. So, there’s a risk in committing too early, as well. In Stage Three, we’re done searching and we commit, and in Stage Four we protect and preserve our legacy. What I found most interesting is the payoff for maturity. Many people defend not growing up, but Mark has made explicit the risks: if we don’t mature we’re destined to be unhappy, at the mercy of others and the vagaries of external events. If we are able to mature, our “happiness becomes based more on internal, controllable values.”
Bayode Oduwole, CEO and founder of Pokit, is our guest this week. And what a guest he is! Our conversation is a fast-moving and eloquent exploration of modern men’s fashion and what it means to be British. Taking us back to the first days of the company, Bayode shares his memories of a British saddle maker near Birmingham that introduced him to bridle leather and all its possibilities. Soon after, Pokit’s first bag was launched and it soon became an iconic Japanese accessory (as Bayode says, “Better Lucky than Good”), fueling the growth the company needed to establish itself as a quirky alternative to Savile Row. We learn of Bayode’s previous career as a chemical engineer, wherein he employed the same exacting standards to pharmaceuticals that we can now find in his bespoke suits. On entrepreneurship, he remains realistic and tells his 40-year-old mates, “Don’t do it!” – there’s no shame in a contented, salaried life. As Bayode reminds us, not all daredevil entrepreneurs succeed: “Richard of York gave battle in vain!” Bayode and Pete agree that Britain loves an underdog, whereas America loves a winner, no matter his pedigree – a subtle, but important, distinction. Bayode educates the men on the origins of the British term “bespoke” versus the American equivalent “custom made” and how each has a particular application. In a flurry of discussion towards the end of the episode, the guys discuss “the myth of the suit”, the reason men buy suits, and how Bayode gives advice and guidance to men who have poor fashion sense. Finally, Paul voices his disapproval of young schoolboys wearing restrictive and formal suits to school when they’re just barely out of the sandbox. The two Brits descend upon him with a barrage of justifications and accusations, and “Esprit de Corps” gets mentioned several times. What an episode! Not to be missed!
In this second half of our Cannes foray, we open the mic in a very relaxed ranch-style setting in the hills of Antibes, surrounded by red bottlebrush plants (Callistemon viminalis). Pete airs his gripe about having to commute via the coastal train and the conversation turns to the benefits of living at a remove, dipping into and out of the action. Paul describes the evening train out of Cannes, along the water: an Agatha Christie-styled compartment with green leather seats and red curtains, the lights of Baie de Cannes twinkling in the crepuscular distance. After some initial joking, the guys arrive at the topic of this breezy episode: Networking in Cannes. Examining the myth that glamorous parties are the best places to network, Paul asserts that a serious meeting in an office in rainy January in London is likely to accomplish more than a drinks-fueled flirt between a randy film director and a hopeful actress in a strapless dress. In fact, the guys saw several attempts at “flirtatious networking” backfire as women were taken less seriously because they were sexually provocative. Pete sympathizes with attractive actresses who must balance sex appeal with credibility as they try to market themselves. The trick is to avoid putting your “tits above your talent” – a difficult proposition for an actress whose looks are part and parcel of her work.
Artwork: Picasso’s 1958 La Baie de Cannes
Where do party girls go to die? That’s the lead-off question for this breezy episode from the South of France. Women who bet on their looks may have a hard road ahead as age takes it toll; Peter and Paul see some sad examples on the Promenade de la Croisette. Pete explains that even his grandmother advised, “Now there are girls that men want to go out with, and there are girls that men want to marry.” In Paul’s experience, guys never marry the “hot, attention-seeking babe.” Discussing female behavior, the guys ask, “Is it true and is it fair that society will tolerate flaky, inconsistent and entitled behavior from a hot girl longer than it will tolerate the same behavior from a man?” A lively discussion ensues. Paul posits the idea of “character rehab” as remedy for women addicted to the attention and easy money of the party lifestyle – the “Jimmy Choo drip,” he calls it. In the end, many of these women exhibit an inability to take care of themselves, much less others (such as a husband and children). In the closing minutes, the guys discuss how fame and wealth can create distance from others and how they can have an isolating effect. At the exclusive parties in Cannes, why do we assume that the most interesting conversations will be with A-listers, rather than with the bathroom attendant?
This week, we have two beautiful Dutch twins on the show to discuss equality, women in business, dating the same guy and how they built a global drinks franchise. Joyce and Raissa de Haas, identical twins separated by 11 minutes at birth, are young entrepreneurs fearlessly engaged in corporate battle with the likes of Schweppes and Fentimans. They’ve launched a line of drink mixers under the “Double Dutch” brand and their product range has recently been picked up by Richard Branson for distribution in the US market. Joyce, the older CEO, explains that a university talent for making cocktails in their dorm kitchen was the initial inspiration. After college, both girls came to London to study at UCL, achieving Master’s Degrees in Finance and Technology Entrepreneurship. Describing the origins of Double Dutch’s latest flavor – pomegranate and basil – Joyce explains, “Well, in my dissertation…” It’s the first time I’ve heard a beverage recipe come out of an academic inquiry! In this wide-ranging discussion, we talk about flavor engineering, kissing the same guy, Dutch attitudes towards women in the workplace, and the criminal potential of running a lucrative business with your identical twin. This is a light-hearted episode you don’t want to miss!
How do we know when something is dead? Boredom, tension with the boss, “in it for the money” – these are all signs that it’s time to move on. But it’s very difficult to leave a job, a relationship or a situation that we’ve grown accustomed to, even if the benefits are in decline. Paul admits he has tolerated attenuating circumstances in the past, distracting himself with holidays, hobbies or exercise because he didn’t know what to do and was afraid of change. Learning The Art of the Pivot, therefore, is a crucial skill of the mature man. How do we exist in the void between what we know and what we hope for? Stephen Shelley shows us how to use faith and courage to make a change when we don’t know what’s next. Peter and Paul then discuss a situation we’ve all encountered: someone isn’t doing a “good” job and we feel they could do better. Is that judgment accurate? Paul makes the case that emotional blocks to success are just as real as physical limitations or skills deficiencies. Somehow, though, because we can’t directly observe why someone is fearful, uncooperative or careless, we judge them differently than one who falls short because of a handicap or a lack of technical knowledge. Paul argues that reality is always right, and that – axiomatically – people always do the best they can at a specific moment, given the many undetectable and subtle influences on performance.
This week, we don’t make it through our usual three topics – we get stuck on the first one! Pete takes us on a great journey discussing how he sold his short film to RADA before it was even written and then wrote 16 pages in one sitting, finishing a pack of cigarettes and a carafe of wine at an old French cafe in Soho. We talk about the dangers of writing in isolation and how difficult it can be for a shy writer to get his work seen. The romantic notion of the creative “lone ranger” is definitely a myth and something Paul admits to. This leads into a discussion of story and Pete talks about tragic figures in Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth. What are the lessons the audience is meant to absorb from these tragic heroes? Shakespearean dramas are very satisfying stories, and their dramatic structure obviously works. But how do we know when a story is broken? What are the elements, when missing, that make a narrative fail? Peter and Paul discuss. Pete’s childhood immersion in theater and literature shaped his current interest in storytelling and film: he is engaged with the big themes of life, such as ambition, betrayal, jealousy. Paul, on the other hand, had an early affinity to the sciences and mathematical endeavor. He loved the payoff of a problem solved, the immediate feedback of a solution. And, until college, Paul viewed the humanities with skepticism, as a lot of “arm waving.” The men discuss these attitudes and Pete makes the point that the study of science often delivers quicker rewards, whereas art and literature are initially inscrutable and need to be pried open to reveal their treasure.
The Harvard Experience, Part II. Paul starts off by sharing the difficulties he experienced entering such a privileged environment. He remembers how many of the posh set had fancy tuxedos and $500 cap-toe shoes for the occasional black-tie soiree, while he had to scrounge for a rental. Dinners out, club dues, fancy holidaying – all hard to manage on financial aid and a job at the library. Inequality: one of the darkest themes at this esteemed university. Out of the classroom there were many ways in which Harvard students displayed status, with a membership in a Final Club perhaps the most visible. The A.D., the Fox, the Fly, the Porcellian, the Phoenix and the Spee – these were the clubs a lot of guys wanted to find themselves at on a Saturday night, surrounded by the school’s PYT’s (pretty young things). Paul discusses the almost mythical promise the Porc (as the Porcellian is known) holds out to members: $1,000,000 in cash if they haven’t “made it” by 35 years of age. Next, Paul touches on a little-discussed aspect of a Harvard education: the cover-up. Paul reveals how many guys he knew stumbled through school but eventually graduated, with the Harvard seal of approval. The stories he could tell – but won’t – about guys who occupy positions of authority at hospitals, investment banks, and law firms! Circling back to The Social Network, the guys discuss Harvard’s near-paranoid protection of its “visual brand.” No filming on campus and no cooperation with Hollywood – at the most iconic university in the country. Amazing! After touching on another dark chapter in the university’s history – the Jewish quota, introduced by President Lowell – the guys move on to the legacy of a Harvard education: expectations. Paul admits that he often lives in the shadow of his Harvard days, measuring his progress against other graduates and the stratospheric expectations others have of Harvard.
It’s the Harvard Experience, Part I. Pete wants to know what it’s really like to attend the world’s premier university and Paul is happy to take him down memory lane. In popular culture, Harvard looms large as the university of choice for the elite and also as a mass producer of Internet billionaires, Wall Street titans and US Presidents. In this episode, Paul traces his experiences leading up to Harvard, the admissions process and the type of people he grew close to in his years on campus. From his struggles with Quantum Mechanics (and the dawning realization that he wasn’t destined to be a physicist) to his classes with Stanley Hoffmann, Helen Vendler, Cornel West, Martin Feldstein, Sheldon Glashow, Stephen Jay Gould and Alan Dershowitz, Paul takes us inside the daily life of a Harvard undergraduate. Pete keys in on two of Harvard’s biggest assets: the student body and the spirit of possibility that infects almost everyone. Paul reminisces about a place of rich diversity, world-class facilities and access to leaders of industry, politics and academia. From the birth of Facebook and Microsoft to the educations of Bush and Obama, Harvard truly is a place where anything is possible. Tune in next time for Part II of this fascinating conversation, when we talk about the downsides of a Harvard Education…
Want your kid or younger sibling to get in? Here’s how: Getting into Harvard.
This week, we look at Mic, a New York City-based media start-up that has a culture of permissiveness. Run by, and targeted at, Millennials (who are now in their early 20’s), the news site admits that managing young, hyper-expressive graduates can be difficult. In this office environment “overshares” are common, and there are few rules, fewer lines of authority and a workplace protocol that baffles older folks. Following their reflections on Mic, Peter and Paul dissect the common theme of “wearing masks” in business, and why it’s sometimes smart to keep people at a distance. As Paul observes, it’s hard to “cut off your own arm” (i.e. fire a close friend). Several profound questions arise out of the discussion: Why do we get uncomfortable when people in professional roles let loose and act out of character? Can’t we accept them as fully-faceted human beings? Why do we take more liberties with people we know than with those we don’t? Next up, the guys discuss the “democratization of media” and how the lowering of barriers to entry has eroded profits for established players, while giving a voice to many previously disenfranchised artists. With such a free-for-all, does the cream really rise to the surface? When we abandon standards, what do we lose? To offer a counterpoint, Paul invokes the Académie française, a French bureaucratic institution that adjudicates on the evolution of the French language.
This week, we’ve got Hayley Quinn on the show. She is dating, sex and relationship coach extraordinaire and a long-time friend of Pete’s. We open with the question, “Why are all our heroes and heroines SINGLE?” We like it that way and in popular media marriage is often portrayed as The End. Is it really game over on wedding day? We quickly move on to the plight of single women approaching 30 and how they navigate the “Bridget Jones” years. Paul mentions the challenge a 40-year-old woman faces as her criteria climb while her SMV (Sexual Market Value) declines. Finally, we return to the original reason for inviting Hayley on the show: to challenge Paul’s claim that older women are responsible for shaming male sexuality. Is he way off base? Our second topic comes from Pete: an actor friend of his explains that “some men have trouble with male emotion – they feel it looks weak.” The conversation takes some interesting turns as Hayley and the guys discuss how men often neglect their emotional development while they’re busy building their muscles and bank accounts.
This week, Peter shares memories of his first film audition. Coming down from Manchester by bus, Pete beat out other kids for the part of “teenage troublemaker” in a Steve Coogan production. He shares fond memories of being on set, attending the launch party and enduring a surprise twist at the premier. Segueing into a discussion of screenwriting, Peter explains the process of “getting notes” on a script and how he’s becoming more comfortable having a “work in progress” as he matures as a writer/actor. It takes a certain confidence to show imperfect work and continue to massage it to completion. To cap off the episode, Paul shares a recent realization: there is no substitute for intimacy. He admits that in his twenties and early thirties, he didn’t need the comfort and consistency of a loving relationship; partly, this was because he had the fraternity of close male friends. But now, at 40, the alternatives to a loving intimacy appear less credible. A strong partnership is surprisingly important to Paul, and material substitutes, such as glitz and glamour, seem unworthy replacements. Peter responds.
The guys take on a triplet of topics. First off, they discuss the benefits and pitfalls of working from home. A high proportion of new start-ups, both in the US and the UK, are one-person shops. One of the unforeseen difficulties of working at home/alone is the lack of community, a real challenge for people who don’t have other fixed social engagements like church or sport. Peter and Paul discuss their experience as entrepreneurs and writers and how they combat such social isolation. Next, we discuss the importance of single-sex socializing; the safety of male-only spaces where men can discuss frustrations, regrets, fears and vulnerabilities. Sexual and social posturing make co-ed environments difficult places for people to “take off their masks.” Paul discusses his first-hand experience of the power of men, alone in a room. Finally, stoking controversy, Paul asks, “Where does sexual shaming come from?” He advances a bold thesis and the discussion becomes incendiary.
In this episode, we explore the high price of self-expression. Paul admits to misplaced envy when he sees his Wall Street friends attain mega financial success as he works to build a modest stable of personal businesses centered around self-expression. Why does he do it, he wonders? Wouldn’t it be easier to work in an office and accumulate money? For certain people, pursuing self-expression through the arts (acting, writing, painting, talking, dancing, playing music) is almost a compulsion – why else would they pursue something so uncertain and so difficult? The sheer impracticality of trying to make a living from one’s personality/craft is daunting. Peter and Paul are joined in this lively discussion by long-time actor and friend, Ces, who’s had a successful start in film and television. Paul mentions the attitude of some, who denominate all activities in dollars: If it doesn’t have a clear financial payout, why do it?, these people wonder. But the joy of making creative choices is the payoff for the artist. Paul has seen friends in business – ones who don’t have a creative practice – simply substitute consumption for creation, choosing brown shoes over black ones, instead of working to nurture their art. Ces discusses the actor’s reality of confronting so many “No’s” in everyday life and how that affects his outlook. Making a career out of self-expression (i.e. art) is to put oneself at the mercy of others’ judgment, as when an actor goes for audition. Some personality types refuse to subject themselves to this, and rather have the certainty of a paycheck and the sense of control that may come with a conventional career. Pete shares his humbling foray into stand-up comedy and describes how pick-up is much like stand-up: there’s no buffer between you and the audience. Peter also postulates the Paradox of Talent: many people exonerate themselves from the responsibility of nurturing their art by saying they haven’t talent, where others do. In actual fact, talent is just another name for hours of hard graft, Pete believes. Finally, Paul asks, “Why do actors want to act?” Ces’s answer is revealing.
For Paul, middle age has brought a sea change. He shares that in his 20’s and 30’s he looked outward at possibility, imaging different lives and dreaming. Now, at 40, recently married, situated in London and coming into his own creatively, he is much more inward-looking. He admits to evaluating the choices he’s already made rather than thinking about what could be. It’s an interesting and inevitable change, but something he hadn’t anticipated. Peter admits he’s not there yet in many ways, but can relate in terms of career: he’s decided to focus only on film and media projects and not get seduced by possibilities farther afield. There is a resignation that comes with accepting one’s choices, and Paul admits so much. The guys move onto the main topic: Processing Loss and Disappointment. Many of us are aware of what we’ve lost when we’re no longer young and Paul enumerates some of those loses – but what do older people have to compensate? The common answer is that older folks have “wisdom” but what does that mean? Paul believes that emotional maturity comes from suffering loss and disappointment. In his words, the realization that “Life hasn’t turned out as one may have hoped, nor is it going to…” But whether we end up bitter and angry, threatened by the unbridled optimism of youth, or instead find ourselves measured and thoughtful depends on how well we are able to process the inevitable disappointments that life offers up. The men discuss this idea.
After a tribute to David Bowie – the ultimate frontman – the guys jump on two topics. First, Pete asks, “Are smart people entitled to success?” He’s learned from life that the rules change after 30; the men he knows who’ve really made it are all very disciplined. The guys debate the high price of focus. Paul mentions those prodigies who get an early start – men like Stevie Cohen, who was fascinated by newsprint stock prices from an early age and went on to make billions with S.A.C. The guys segue into a discussion of the current film, The Big Short. Many of the faceless architects of the financial crisis committed so-called “silent crimes” and Paul wonders how these differ from “violent crimes.” Finally, Paul gets talking about his years as a hedge fund analyst and how the film resonated with him but also reminded him of why he left that world. It’s interesting what you lose when you’re chasing big gains. Loads of money can easily rob a person of simple pleasures, something The Big Short touches upon. In the closing minutes, Pete recounts a trip he took with some finance guys and his creative pals. It seems money managers have a unique way of holidaying…
This week, Paul laments the Death of the Frontman. Years back, a handsome, well-spoken man in a suit could move mountains. He was in demand as the head of a company, the rainmaker at a law firm, a schmoozer at the Ad Agency – the many Don Drapers that greased the wheels of industry. Are there still roles like this in society? In an increasingly meritocratic and tech-driven economy, it seems substance is rising above style. Witness Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs or Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire creator of Facebook. Rare is the showman like Steve Jobs whose charisma and flair can entrance customers, employees and investors. Paul makes the case that the final two bastions of the handsome frontman are Hollywood and the Oval Office. Next, Peter and Paul discuss middle-aged men getting back in the game, and the difficulty of developing a posse after 40. There are a number of reasons for this, and the guys identify the challenges faced by men in such a position. Paul brings up a final point: men who really want to play the game after forty face a ton of social stigmatisation – also known as “shaming.” In a classic double-standard, this type of social ostracism rarely affects single, middle-aged women.
Paul shares his experience of being objectified on the London Tube by two American women. Noticing that the two women were talking about him, Paul felt himself play to the attention. In fact, he admits changing his posture, shifting his eye contact, and generally playing the role of sex object. When the women left the train, Paul had an epiphany: attractive women go through this on a daily basis. It’s both a trap and an opportunity. When women realize they can play this card they have a choice to make: how much of their identity do they want to derive from being a sex object? Next, the guys discuss what makes good film and television drama. Paul mentions Bridge of Spies, the new Spielberg film, as a great example of a film in which the protagonist takes a morally ambiguous position. Because of this, the audience members ask themselves, “Would I make the same decision if placed in a similar situation?” In another drama – the British television series Scott & Bailey (which follows two female homicide detectives in Manchester) – the female lead makes some unflattering choices, forcing the audience into an ambivalent position. Do we support her, or not? Either way, the audience is invested. That’s good drama. Finally, the guys talk about the arrogance of youth which allows people in their 20’s to be dismissive of romantic partners or career choices based on a vision of what they want in later life. Peter and Paul discuss Kierkegaard’s famous observation and reflect on how difficult it is to know when we’re young what will make us happy when we’re old.
Welcome to 2016! Peter and Paul launch right into it with a shortish episode on two topics. First, The Grand Tour, as practiced by young aristocratic men in the 17th century. Starting in London and then moving to Paris, Geneva and Northern Italy (via the Alps) to Florence, Rome and sometimes Naples, these educational rites of passage exposed privileged men of the day to new cultures, languages, cuisine, customs, and presumably, hot young women! Peter talks about the modern-day equivalent – the Gap Year – and how important it is to broaden a young man’s palette. Next, we discuss how our personal affinity for concrete/tactile engagements (acting, painting, pick-up, cooking) rather than more abstract engagements (finance, private equity, planning) can determine where we end up. Paul admits that he has a hard time engaging with complex projects that have a distant payoff. Instead, he tends to live in the moment, savouring the texture of the conversation, the taste of the steak, or the way the brush leaves a beautiful trail of azure on paper. The guys discuss how this affects their lives…
Image: Basil © 2016 Paul Janka
Paul butchers an article in The Economist entitled Who makes a good father? Based on a man’s testosterone response to a porn video, researchers can tell if he’ll be a) “someone predisposed to living a settled life involving marriage and children” or b) “prone to living life in the fast lane with frequent flings and little commitment.” Something called the Mini-K test, used by psychologists, can measure how “socially embedded” an individual is, meaning how much a man cares how society judges him and accepts him. After the commercial break, Peter and Paul talk about the common conundrum facing a guy with an idea and no money – he has to work with his friends because he’s got no cash to hire professionals. Sometimes a couple of guys in a garage can make an Apple Computer, but Pete discusses the pitfalls of working in a young enterprise in which individuals do not have clearly defined roles. How can you work with your friends and divvy up an “idea” equitably? Lastly, and inevitably, the guys discuss the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. There’s no spoiler alert, since we haven’t seen it, but we talk about the early movies and what George Lucas did well, and what he didn’t. Lucas’ brainchild has spawned Skywalker Sound, Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic and countless innovations in special effects and audio. Paul is in awe of the power of a single idea, well-executed.
In this episode, Peter and Paul tackle Fatherhood – not their own, but what their fathers gave them – or choose not to. Paul talks about the idea of fatherly “guidance” as both empowering, in that it gives structure and direction, but also limiting, because it carries expectation. Paul shares that his father didn’t take a strong interest in his academic or career development, but at the same time didn’t criticize or minimize his eventual choices. So, Paul was unguided but also liberated. Pete talks about his own father in Manchester, a man of deep scholarship and formidable intellect who invited the young Pete in for discussions of Shakespeare and glimpses of annotated folios of plays, such as Richard the Second. After the commercial break, the guys return for a discussion of choices, particularly how decision fatigue can affect our thinking. Paul mentions The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz and sets up this question: Do we need to make good choices all the time, on a continual basis, or does a successful life hinge on only one or two critical decisions? Peter takes us back to Elizabethan times for the answer!
Today’s short episode tackles a common problem: pressure from the girlfriend to “get serious.” To be clear, this can work the other way, too, with an older man trying to domesticate a “party girl” who wants to stay out till 2 a.m. Here, we talk about a specific guy who is faced with a choice between abandoning his dreams to buckle down and get a “real” job and a steady paycheck, because his girlfriend wants to move the relationship forward… Or, he can jettison the broad and gallop off into the horizon, unfettered. Pete and Paul discuss the dynamics of this situation and offer a third way forward! Next, we review a short piece in the London Evening Standard entitled The earning curve by Phoebe Luckhurst. The synopsis reads, “In your early twenties, friends have similar salaries – but as careers take off in different directions holidays, dinners and flatshares become political.” Peter and Paul reveal their own experiences juggling friendship groups comprised of diverse earners (and spenders).
The Luxury episode! Peter and Paul discuss a new offering by The Four Seasons hotel group – 24 days of globe-trotting luxury. Pete makes the case that people are the experience and that such fancy trips are price discriminatory and can, in effect, exclude certain friends. One feature of the luxury package is that “the tour accomplishes in 24 days a journey that if you tried to do commercially, might take 90.” Paul asks, “Is efficiency when you’re on holiday really the right approach?” One problem faced by these luxury guests is that they’re whisked from one viewing to the next, with little time to discuss or process. The result, the author claims, is a sight-seeing extravagance thin on genuine impact or meaning. This seems to be a theme of hyper-consumption: a lack of reflection on what we’re doing or what we’re buying. Then, after our first commercial plug, we move onto a more weighty article, Secret Fears of the Super-Rich, by Graeme Wood of The Atlantic. Nearly 200 respondents, each with a net worth in excess of $20 million, confessed their deepest fears and apprehensions. Not surprisingly, spoiling their kids was top of the list. Surprisingly, many wealthy folks admitted that life’s small pleasures were often drained of their enjoyment either through repetition (how many Gordon Ramsey meals can you eat? – Paul has an answer…) or because of expectations (holiday gift-giving is particularly trying…) A recurrent theme is how the two pillars of life – love and work – are easily compromised by lots of money.
Peter and Paul respond vociferously to a weekend article in the New York Times entitled Men’s Lib. The article implores men to “become more like women” and that in fact, men “don’t really have a choice.” The article makes several valid points, including the fact that women now exceed men at all levels of education and will continue to take spots away in the highly-paid professional sphere. The dismal scene projected by the article puts Pete off, especially the comment that men must stop thinking about white collar vs blue collar jobs, but rather embrace “pink” collar work, including positions as librarians, elementary school teachers, and nurses. Faced with what the authors call a “feminine future,” men must “adapt or be left behind.” Paul is particularly interested in how these demographic trends affect the marriage market, something he’s discussed before in comments on Date-onomics by Jon Birger. The article contends that many men “with poor job prospects do not see themselves as husband material” because they subscribe to the male-breadwinner model of marriage. This has to change, argue the authors – who, by the way, are a man and a women – and many women will have to “marry down” if they want a committed partner. One of the most provocative lines comes near the end: “More men ought to be doing what women did historically: improving their economic prospects by marrying well.” Peter and Paul envisage a late-night Manhattan bar with men leaning against the railing, coiffing their hair and batting their eyelashes, hoping a rich young woman might just buy them a drink! Next, we consider a very real choice that many people face: Financial Risk v Fulfillment Risk. Most workers accustomed to a steady paycheck fear economic insecurity when they unplug, perhaps having nightmares of park benches and dumpster-diving. Paul makes the case that few people will actually starve, and that the bigger, more profound risk is Fulfillment Risk: staying in something unsatisfying, but comfortable, until it’s too late to pursue your dreams. This, he believes, is the real risk, but hard to quantify or appreciate when we’re young because its power comes in the form of regret in later life.
Our most emotional episode yet! This week comprises Part One of our conversation with Sarah (a.k.a. Mini), a thoughtful student of psychoanalysis and film. Sarah has worked at a major movie studio and prior to that, as a dating coach for men in London. She joins us today for a deep discussion of the psychological reasons men (and women) say they’re “too busy” for a relationship. We discuss how each of us shapes our own identity, and how that identity can often be wishful thinking or downright wrong, costing us precious time, money and real connection. Sarah explains how obsessive goals often reveal our deepest, most devastating fears. Peter and Paul confess some of their fears through misty eyes. We then move on to feminism and equality, opening with the following thought experiment: take a 21-year-old male student in a big city who’s broke and hoping to date. Take an attractive woman and put her in the same situation, broke and hoping to date. Who has more options? From experience, Peter, Paul and Sarah agree that the woman can have a vast and varied range of opportunities funded by men (ex. dinners, theater, opera, travel, shopping, ice skating, movies, etc.), whereas the man will have a hard time of it, often suffering from profound feelings of inadequacy. If things are truly equal, why is this so? Sarah and the men discuss.
In this episode, the studio is graced with the presence of Kezia Noble, seductress extraordinaire! On opening, Paul struggles to make a point about Monica Bellucci’s character in the new Bond movie Spectre. He asks if such undeveloped female characters are reflective of a culture of Tinder, Facebook and globalization – a culture of surfaces – or if his perspective has changed now that he’s married… Kez and Pete hijack the topic to discuss their favorite Bond girls, and what makes Bond so alluring. Next, we discuss how “bonding rituals” are different for boys and girls, and what that says about gender stereotypes. Peter and Paul are fascinated to learn that women must disparage themselves in front of other women, if they hope to be accepted. Men’s bonding rituals are much simpler and often involve sports and career, veering away from deeply emotional subjects. Such superficial connection allows for classic male bonding activities, such as pick-up basketball wherein strangers come together to play sport and then disperse. Pete describes the male-only environment of the cigar lounge, and Paul brings out the short-story compilation “Men Without Women” by Ernest Hemingway. Finally, we end on a discussion of work-life balance piqued by an October 10th Economist article “Juggling mums and halo dads,” a review of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book. Slaughter offers a riposte to the tired refrain that women can have it all if they just prioritize and work hard; she identifies the root of the problem as “a systematic imbalance in the esteem granted ‘two complementary human drives: competition, the impulse to pursue our self-interest…and care, the impulse to put others first.” Kezia and the men discuss.
We open by responding to a listener’s comment about the double-edged sword of male self-reliance: the better one is at solving personal problems, the harder it becomes to ask for help. Later, we raise the obvious question, “Why can a man date much younger and be fulfilled, but it’s rare we see the reverse – a woman dating a much younger guy?” We didn’t resolve the question, so please comment with your thoughts. Next, we look at a popular blog post on WaitbutWhy.com that explains why Gen Y’ers are so unhappy. Unrealistic expectations and unmet demands come back to bite these youngsters in the ass… Perhaps, as Warren Buffett advocates, living a life of low expectations is the answer. Finally, we discuss the hurdle of “preciousness” in the creative process. Pete shares a powerful epiphany after witnessing a freak death and Paul finally learns the meaning of “Meet where the work is.”
It’s the acronym episode! Pete and Paul start the show with a discussion of N.P.D. (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), admitting that they and some of their friends have the symptoms discussed. N.P.D. can limit relationships and romance, but there is power in its attitudes and beliefs – a power that propels many to celebrity and business success. Paul discloses how his playboy life in NYC encouraged such narcissism. The guys move on to G.A.F (Global Assessment of Functioning) a scale previously used by psychiatrists and psychologists to evaluate incoming patients. With ten bands that describe levels of personal functioning, the G.A.F. scale provides a sobering reminder of life’s range of outcomes and the scourge of mental illness. We end with a discussion of P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), often exacerbated by men’s reluctance to seek help. The male attitude of “self-reliance”, coupled with machismo and certain “alpha” environments (e.g. military) make it hard for men to ask for help and show vulnerability.
Are students at the UK’s most prestigious universities more likely than their American counterparts to seek a career in the arts? Anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer of America’s top graduates are willing to take a gamble on a life in the theater, on camera, writing, or directing. In the UK, pursuit of the theatrical arts is celebrated, with many fine examples from the upper reaches of society: Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston. Acting in America appears to enjoy a more democratic intake. Why the difference? The men discuss. Then, Paul asks Where, or from whom, did men previously learn how to move through the different stages of life? What institutions and/or figures used to influence men? He speculates that direction used to come from the Church and from Fathers around the dinner table. Now, those influences are often missing from young men’s lives. Does the new freedom have a price? Finally, we discuss the 5-week UK drama, Dr. Foster. Paul came away impressed by the uniquely British view on sexual transgression. His read is that British commitment to the idea of “fairness” makes human failings, such as infidelity, hard to psychologically process. French and Spanish cultures would have made less of the events, it seems to Paul. The men discuss.
Daiyaan Caan, an old friend and the recent founder of Bizz stopped by to discuss ambition and what I call the “Billionaire Bust-Up!” Bizz is among the first fully-online business schools, and is set to launch this fall. Daiyaan is a 24-year old digital entrepreneur who’s been very successful in the online dating advice market, working on a freelance basis for many of the well-know names in the industry. On today’s show, he discusses how global ambition can hijack someone’s 20’s with the promise of untold riches. Paul describes how his 30’s taught him the value of adequate money, rather than the binary outcomes tantalizing young tech entrepreneurs: Billions or Bankruptcy. Pete, Daiyaan and Paul also discuss the difference between global ambitions (Facebook, Uber) and more local, personal ambitions (teaching, parenthood, civic responsibilities). Is there a way for us to have dignity even if we don’t aspire to change the world?
This week’s episode opens with the recipe to Paul’s mustard and mint chicken. The guys talk about their own love of cooking, when it developed, and how it’s a passionate expression of masculinity. Eventually, they move on to more serious topics. When faced with limited time and a long to-do list, do you “compress” or do you “cut”? A lot of harried urban dwellers try to cram all of life’s activities into 24-hours, and businesses are happy to oblige with ready meals, 30-minute workouts, sleep “hacks” and social media that hardly substitute for quality time with friends. Is this the right approach? Paul argues that it’s better to pare down your daily routine, making room for real engagement. But this requires that we know ourselves well and trust our choices. Pete observes that what is lost in this abbreviated world is “impact” and that when we’re young and less secure, we try to keep a lot of things in play, for fear of missing out. The discussion segues into the unique character traits that drive hyper-success, as seen in Steve Jobs and Sam Houser, founder of Rockstar Games. Pete examines the paradox of a man who was loved at a distance but often despised up-close. At the end of the episode, we return to the theme of commitment. In response to the common refrain “I’m too busy for a relationship; I’m focused on my career” Paul asks, “What is the difference between committing to a person and committing to an artistic or business project?” Interesting perspectives emerge.
What’s the hardest thing about growing up? Making changes BEFORE the pain comes… Paul talks about house-hunting 3 years early so he doesn’t end up getting priced-out of London when the rug-rats arrive. He’s seen it before in New York City: thirty-somethings falling off a cliff when they pair up and get pregnant; the unremitting costs of the city drive folks far afield. Peter identifies the fact that duty has become a part of Paul’s life, allowing him to put plans above immediate impulses. Duty drives excellence in many people, Pete observes. Does the airbnb culture work against commitment? The guys discuss the tradeoffs between footloose living and putting down roots, concluding that a person can’t have his cake and eat it, too. “Own your choices,” Pete advises. Paul mentions Tribal Identity and how it often results from intense shared experience. The guys get sidetracked down the rabbit hole of Scientology. We end on Media of the Week: Paul’s into Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio; Pete just finished watching The Men Who Built America.
Yad, dating coach and owner of Daygame.com, comes on the show to offer his views on monogamy, marriage, commitment and what I call “The Nomadic Life.” We discuss commitment to a relationship and what that means, particularly in the context of children. We also explore the origins of monogamy as a means of securely transferring private property. “Social Class” arises as a topic of discussion, both in regards to chasing “high-class” women, and with the observation that most PUA’s have working-class roots, making them natural-born hustlers. Late in the show, we discuss the tension between choices that require commitment and the impulse to lead an unfettered life; Paul makes the case that commitments (just like promises) matter most when we least want to keep them.
Peter and Paul open with a discussion of The Grant Study, which highlights the deep need all men have for friendship and connection. Given finite time and attention, tradeoffs are inevitable. Who gets the biggest slice: work, friends, family or wife? Discussing the difficulty of making new friends after 30, Paul makes the distinction between true friendship and “company” and identifies the compromises which lead to “forced friendship.” Is it true that social reach decreases as a person ages, and is this inevitable? The men tackle the issue. At halftime, Paul asks the question, “Can someone truly disappear in today’s society?” Ubiquitous CCTV, social media and surveillance technology, such as Google Earth, seem to make the prospect unlikely.
Do you “Burn Your Boats” as Aethilla did after the Trojan War, or do you hedge, keeping a handy Plan B in your back pocket? Peter and Paul discuss a life strategy of putting all your eggs in one basket. Responding to a listener’s comment, Peter and Paul discuss the “glass wall” men face in modern-day dating. In the olden days, a solid man was appreciated on his merit; today, it takes more to get a girl’s attention. Paul brings up The Big Chill and asks how intimacy can be maintained at a distance. This leads to the men advocating one-on-one discussions, which drive intimacy. We end on The Grant Study, a longitudinal study conceived in the late 1930’s, which tracked 268 Harvard men throughout their lives. A key finding was that relationships were all that mattered in the end, throwing into question our desperate striving for riches and recognition. Paul signs off with his thoughts on London versus New York City, in response to another listener enquiry.
Is the Dalai Lama full of shit? Peter and Paul question the credibility of someone who floats above the worldly concerns of romance and finance. Later, Peter asks, “Is achieving discipline nothing more than having a vivid imagination?” He argues that without a strong imagination it’s very difficult to be disciplined; we must be able to visualize the results we want in order to make the necessary sacrifices. Do “Reformed Rakes” make the best husbands? Paul discusses his personal transition and the perspective gained from years of reckless romancing. The episode ends with both men contemplating eternal bachelordom. Are some people designed to be permanently single, and if not, when is it “too late” to settle down?
A recent article in Vanity Fair about the dating app “Tinder” and another piece this week in the New York Times profiling working conditions at Amazon get Peter and Paul talking. First, they discuss the “Cult of Urgency” that is created when customers demand things faster, sooner and cheaper. It’s the “Culture of Now” and it’s creating a society of impatience. More ominously, companies such as Amazon, Tinder and Uber are changing the way that customers relate to the marketplace. In the past, many exchanges where relational, where the power dynamic was shared; today’s apps allow for much of life to become merely transactional. Peter and Paul consider what’s lost as a result. Later in the episode, Peter and Paul consider how the work-life balance is different across the pond and how the “Game of Life” concept is thoroughly American in that winners are celebrated, losers shunned. We end on a discussion of Jeremy Corbyn and the difficulty of aligning one’s ideals with one’s habits. Hypocrisy ensues.
John Lucas is a novelist and stringer for a number of high-profile online magazines. He covers the alternative lifestyle scene and fetish parties in and around London. John joins us for a discussion of his work, his view on sex parties and the true nature of jealousy. We end on a discussion of Pornography versus Erotica. Recently, three UK magistrates were barred from practice when it emerged they had looked at pornography on their computers. Women, however, can publicly consume erotica with impunity (think Fifty Shades of Grey). Why is one punished and the other tolerated, even celebrated? Is it a double standard, or is there something inherently more permissable about arousal by the written word? The men discuss.
Peter and Paul discuss the unique benefits of immersion in a foreign culture while traveling, dismissing the idea you can really experience a place on a short excursion. Paul examines the Fallacy of Depletion, the belief that an individual has a limited number of creative or business “gems” and therefore must ration them. The guys discuss Single-dom as a Lifestyle, not simply an activity or dating status; really enjoying the single life requires men to honestly evaluate their priorities. We end on a discussion of Johnny Carson and his groundbreaking talk show of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. Johnny defined a genre for a generation of Americans, setting the standard for dozens of late-night hosts that followed. Today, with the democratization of content, we must ask, “Are the days of the universal cultural touchpoint, such as The Tonight Show, really over?”
Is resizing your ambition in midlife an admission of failure, or simply a practical move when other commitments, like family, crowd out the time? Pete and Paul discuss their own journeys with outsized ambition and the new responsibilities that come with married life. Moving on to entrepreneurship, Pete makes the case that starting small is the best way to achieve big dreams and a good way to gauge if you’re really passionate about something. Pitching the “Big Idea” may be counterintuitive, argues Pete. Both men explore the “Death of the Entourage,” a phenomenon that plagues urban males as they hit thirty-five.
Denmark is often cited as the “happiest” country in the world, but an insider reveals that Danes confuse social safety with happiness. Peter and Paul ask the question, “Are you Happy or are you Playing it Safe?” Paul questions the relevance of “Age Appropriate Behaviour” in a society that embraces alternative life paths. We also discuss society’s distaste for “mediocrity” or “being average.”
Peter and Paul discuss the pros and cons of forward planning. Does the hyper-planning of Type A’s really serve them well? They also trace the conflict in romantic relationships to the difference between male-defined measures of success (money, fame, legacy) and female-defined measures of success (harmony, bonding, communication, attention). Are the stereotypical models of “male success” sending men down the wrong path?
Peter and Paul discuss a life of admin vs performance, the perils of moving locations simply to reenergise a life that lacks purpose, and how to use morning pages to elicit the creative process.