Podcast #264: History Through A Cultural Lens, with Thaddeus Russell


Part 2 in the survey series, A Renegade History Course. This is the second discussion with historian Thaddeus Russell, the author of A Renegade History of the United States.

Discussed Today:
-Brett's Problems with Macklemore
-Are gay people being encouraged to embrace and celebrate conformity?
-Thaddeus discusses his appearance on the Sean Hannity Show
-The Progressive Lineage of Macklemore’s And Lorde’s Attacks On the Pleasures of the Poor, by Thaddeus Russell
-Daniel Bell and cultural contradictions of capitalism
-The Puritan work ethic of Girls Gone Wild
-Truth by consensus
-History through a cultural lens
-Would Karl Marx have changed the world if he had been a union organizer?
-Doris Kearns Goodwin and the Great Man theory
-Full audio of Thad on Hannity

Bumper Music:
"Thrift Shop" Macklemore
"Air" La Femme D'Argent
"Lose It" Eminem

Look Closer:
Thaddeus Russell's Site - www.thaddeusrussell.com

Thaddeus On Stossel - http://youtu.be/xpelVE7trK0

The Progressive Lineage of Macklemore’s And Lorde’s Attacks On the Pleasures of the Poor, by Thaddeus Russell - http://reason.com/archives/2014/02/01/that-kind-of-luxe-just-aint-for-us-the-p

Daniel Bell: The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism - http://stevewatson.info/readings/politics_perspectives/Bell-CulturalContradictions.pdf

Great Man Theory - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_man_theory

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  1. Brett, around the 30 min mark, you guys are discussing poor food choices. Am I understanding Thaddeus’ contention (and your subsequent agreement) is that people are making those choices because they are rebelling (my word) against the system, so-to-speak, which tells them they should be eating healthy?

  2. Good podcast Brett. I always enjoy listening to very intelligent, well spoken people in conversation.

    I think it would be extremely interesting if he did a 2 year experiment where he went to some random city that he drew out of a hat and intentionally lived a low-key totally average life, surrounded by totally average people (i.e. a grocery clerk, forklift driver, janitor, etc.), then wrote a serious book about it through an academic lens. The contrast between an entire life of high-end academia and trying to find a descent conversation in some “breakroom” in the back of a factory would be soooo damn interesting! And he is the kind of guy who could make a book like that funny as hell on top of it. If I won the lottery, I would hit him and Sam Harris up on it 🙂

    That song by “Air” is amazing!

    • This has already been done to an extent. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich, it is worth a read in regards to what you were saying

  3. Today I listened to this podcast for about the fourth time and I was listening to the discussion about how we are given the products that we want and how companies are spending all this money to figure out what we want. The upshot of that discussion seemed to be that people choose cigarettes and junk food and other “edible” poisons because school spent all this time pushing us to be healthy so that we could be good soldiers and workers. Or because we didn’t want to be force to exercise in gym class. It is in effect a rebellion against that pressure. I understand the rebellion against becoming a good soldier or worker, but I fail to see how the ramifications of that rebellion then serve the individual or whatever purposes an individual may choose. Especially when the health effects of that rebellion come home to roost and the individual then ends up paying for the effects of that rebellion on their own. That choice to rebel may hamper the puritan work ethic but it also hampers any work that individual may choose to do for their own purposes. For example, I just returned from a week of camping on the beach. An enjoyable activity that I choose to do annually. It was alot of work to setup my tent and all the stuff I brought with me. I certainly would have had a harder time doing that if I ate junk food, smoked cigarettes, and didn’t exercise.

  4. Consumers do not rule the market place. Behavioral Economics pretty much demonstrates that they do not rule. They may play a part but that part is much much smaller. The secret of it all, the secret of all persuasion, is to induce the person to persuade himself. This is what marketing & Advertising try and do. The advertising industry’s prime task is to ensure that uninformed consumers make irrational choices, thus undermining market theories that are based on just the opposite. Capitalism, needs to be constantly producing identities for peoples if the system is to survive, more or less. Control the language and you control how people think and perceive the world, for language is the tool used to formulate concepts and thoughts. Marketing & Advertising hire psychologists and linguists all the time to manipualate emotion & language in order to sell an idea/emotion/way of life etc. and fuse it to a product. Marketing & Advertising treats social life and the human psyche as products to be manipulated by Pavlovian conditioning. Once a culture becomes entirely advertising-friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all. It ceases to be a culture worth the name. It has to have the constant mood that shoppers require. There has to be a kind of Muzak playing in the background all the time. The integration of entertainment with advertising, in a partnership that often begins before a show is even conceived. Ad Age magazine dubbed this alliance between New York’s ad-men and Hollywood’s studios, “Madison and Vine.” This is another thing to put into consideration.

    Consumers do not quite live up to the idea that the economic textbooks used to convey. On the one hand, their wants are nothing like as definite, and their actions upon those wants nothing like as rational and prompt. On the other hand, they are so amenable to the influence of advertising and other methods of persuasion that producers often seem to dictate to them instead of being directed by them. In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek developed this notion into a full-blown theory of the wealthy and the well-born as an avant-garde of taste, as makers of new horizons of value from which the rest of humanity took its bearings. Instead of the market of consumers dictating the actions of capital, it would be capital that would determine the market of consumption—and beyond that, the deepest beliefs and aspirations of a people. Hayek has much more in mind than producers responding to a pre-existing market of demand; he’s talking about men who create new markets—and not just of wants or desires, but of basic tastes and beliefs. The freedom Hayek cares most about is the freedom of those legislators of value who shape and determine our ends. The men of capital, in other words, are best understood not as economic magnates but as cultural legislators: “However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.”

    Below are some examples of quotes by those who are considered leaders in Marketing & Advertising as food for thought. Also I have put together a reference list of books that I have read to let you know from where my understanding is coming from. I would be sincerely interested to know where you think I may be incorrect, partly right &wrong or what I am missing.

    A lovemark is a brand that has created loyalty beyond reason, that’s infused with mystery, sensuality and intimacy, and that you recognize immediately as having some kind of iconic place in your heart to turn nearly any product into an object of devotion.

    KEVIN ROBERTS: –that there were brands that connected, and there were brands that people loved. They didn’t like them, they didn’t admire them, they didn’t respect them, they didn’t use them. None of that wimpy-wompy stuff. They loved them.

    advertisers capitalize on this by trying to associate their product with our needs for narrative, community, and transcendence.

    Nike wants us to associate its shoes with the transcendence of sport. Starbucks is a “third place” for community, alongside home and the workplace. And Mac users “get it,” they know something which makes them superior to non-Mac-users.

    At the end of the day, your shoes are just running shoes, and your laptop is just a computer. They aren’t able to confer an identity or give your life meaning. This is a good thing, too. Not for you, but for these companies, because it means that you’ll need to go shopping again.

    BOB GARFIELD, Columnist, Advertising Age: If you’re looking for an example of how advertising is a really corrosive force in society, I advise you to look away from consumer product advertising and just look at political advertising because it’s a stain on our democracy. You know, if you’re selling soup or soap or oatmeal, one thing you basically have to do is tell the truth – not the eternal truth, but the factual truth. So by and large, advertising is essentially truthful, except political advertising, which year after year – and it gets worse every year – is just the artful assembling of nominal facts into hideous, outrageous lies.

    FRANK LUNTZ: Look, for years, political people and lawyers – who, by the way are the worst communicators – used the phrase “estate tax.” And for years, they couldn’t eliminate it. The public wouldn’t support it because the word “estate” sounds wealthy. Someone like me comes around and realizes that it’s not an estate tax, it’s a death tax because you’re taxed at death. And suddenly, something that isn’t viable achieves the support of 75 percent of the American people. It’s the same tax, but nobody really knows what an estate is, but they certainly know what it means to be taxed when you die. I’d argue that is a clarification, it’s not an obfuscation.

    DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Luntz has admonished Republican politicians to talk about “tax relief” instead of “tax cuts,” and to replace the “war in Iraq” with the “war on terror.” He once told his party to speak of “climate change,” not “global warming.”

    Journalist Nicholas Lemann wrote a profile of Luntz in The New Yorker magazine called “The Word Lab.” He described how Luntz once turned public opinion simply by replacing the name “estate tax” with the more emotionally charged “death tax.”

    Luntz has sold his corporate and political clients the idea that a few carefully chosen words can make all the difference. But he’s not just looking for any words. Luntz’s quarry are those words that grab our guts and move us to act on an emotional level.

    Frank Luntz doesn’t do issues, he does language around issues. He figures out what words will best sell an issue, and he polls them and he tests them and he focus groups them and he comes up, issue by issue, with how to talk about it and how not to talk about it.

    FRANK LUNTZ: If the language works, the language works.

    Luntz gives his clients one consistent piece of advice: Heed the public will.

    One of my discoveries was that when you learn a word – whatever it is, coffee, love, mother – the first time you understand, you imprint the meaning or this word, you create a mental connection. And so actually, every word has a mental highway. I call that a code, an unconscious code in the brain.

    My experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have no idea. So they’re going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? “Well, you know, in case I need to go off road.” Well, you live in Manhattan. Why do you need a four-wheel drive in Manhattan? “Well, you know, sometime I go out and I go in”– I mean, this is– you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This has nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do.


    – Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Ariely, Dan
    – The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic by Dan Ariely (Author)
    – The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz (Author)
    – Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes by Jacques Ellul (Author)
    – Debt: The First 5,000 Years David Graeber (Author)
    – Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Paperback
    by Naomi Oreskes (Author) , Erik M. M. Conway (Author)
    – Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels
    – Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty (History of Communication)
    – Conspicuous Consumption -Thorsten Veblen
    – America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (Galaxy Books) [Paperback]
    – Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom by Doug Henwood (Author)
    – Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (American Politics and Political Economy Serie, Thomas Ferguson (Author)
    – The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Zimbardo, Philip
    – Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation by David F. Noble (Author)
    – My Job, My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual by Al Gini
    – The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Hochschild
    – The Pyramid Climbers by Vance Oakley Packard
    – Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple
    – Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
    – Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status by Robert H. Frank
    – The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure by Juliet Schor
    – Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller
    – The Theory of The Leisure Class: An Economic Study In the Evolution of Instiutions by Thorstein Veblen
    – Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker
    — The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value by James F. English
    – The Consumer Society Reader: An Anthology by Juliet B. Schor & D.B. Holt
    – Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd
    – The Psychological Foundations of Culture by Mark Schaller & Christian S. Crandall
    – The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism by Thomas Frank
    – Status Anxiety by Alain De Botton
    – The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
    – The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value by James F. English

  5. I have no doubt that book would be a good read and that Mr Russell is very interesting and you could nitpick at his philosophical thought patterns and the men seem to be really impressed but it sounds like he is full of himself and that he stirs a sense of controversy using the same old chestnuts in a slightly different wrapper.
    I have only added this comment as I find it strange not to have been brought up.
    Personally, I would argue that , impressed though he may be, a Tad shaped co-host does not enhance my SS audio extravaganza
    juss sayin

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