Q&A with Nina Power: On Writing, Academia, and Mental Health

Author and retired philosophy professor Nina Power answered questions on the state of academia today, writing blogs vs. books, and how to protect your mental health when internet mobs attack.

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Justin: [00:00:00] All right. So Nina, I want to give you a brief introduction For those of you who might not know too much about your history. I mean, you pretty much have done at all when it comes to the intellectual life. You've traditionally published books with small presses. You've published books with big presses. Your current book, I think, is with Penguin.

And you've done also a whole bunch of different kinds of independent exercises. You've done pamphlets online. You've done short books, published with very small presses. You've now done an online course with me. You've been pretty much all over the place. And you've been successful in many of these domains. So these are the types of experiences that people here might want to learn about or might have questions about. So I want to just get right into it. The first question I wanted to start off with is, you succeeded in academia, and you rose pretty high in the traditional kind of professor game. You had a secure academic appointment, and you published a lot of peer reviewed academic work. You played that game for quite a while and you did quite well. You also recently have chosen to leave that game.

But what I wanted to ask you is a question that I receive a lot from people, I'm sure you probably do too, which is the question of, should I go into academia, still, despite all of the problems that we're seeing today? I get asked a version of this question all the time, and it's typically on a younger adult who knows that they want to pursue serious intellectual work. They want to do research, and they want to do meaningful, patient, long-term intellectual work, that really just doesn't seem to fit in a lot of the kind of more market-oriented career. So the natural instinct for most people is to do a master's program or to do a PhD, and to go the academic route. But there's a lot of people nowadays who are looking at the academic environment, and they're thinking, oh, I don't know if this is worth it. I don't know if I even want to have anything to do with this. Should I just like build a YouTube channel? Or should I just do some other thing? So I get that question a ton. I'm just curious, how do you think about that question? And what would your advice be to young adults who want to pursue an intellectual life and are thinking about academia? Who should go into academia still and who shouldn't? How would you think about that Nina?

Nina: [00:02:16] Yeah, I mean, there's a lot to say really. I mean, my context is the UK, which obviously is different, in some important ways to the US. And when I was sort of coming through academic life myself, I'm not from an academic background. I actually was fortunate enough to receive kind of completely free higher education, which is now unthinkable. I was the last cohort in 97 to get my degree paid for by the local authority. And I did my master's part time and only had to pay 1000 pounds a year. And then I had a scholarship for my PhD. And then I got the job at Roehampton, when I was 27, just before I finished my PhD, which again, is really unusual. It's very young. And also to get the job before I've completed PhD.

So in a way, I probably got the last of the best kind of experience, which would be kind of free higher education, and also an academic job very early on, which had pluses and minuses. I mean, the minuses being that I got all their workshops at me, and I got treated really badly. And I said yes to everything, because I was naive in a way. And I thought that I had to do that. So I kind of had to teach seven modules from scratch in the first year and it was extremely tiring.

But I think, there's obviously kind of an ongoing question about the so called elite overproduction at the moment. I mean, there's obviously a lot of PhDs who won't get a job in academia. It’s extremely competitive. I think if you do a PhD in America, they give you much more training as far as I understand. It's a much longer process. I mean, in the UK, you can basically get a PhD in three years, usually four with a write up year, but it's not the same kind of thing. And actually, we have quite a lot of Americans such as Justin, for example, getting jobs in the UK, because the US PhD is regarded quite highly here. I don’t know for other subjects, but certainly in philosophy and social sciences, humanities, literature, UK University seemed to really appreciate the American system.

And I mean, I think, to some extent, I never kind of really believed in academia. That sounds a bit weird, but I think I was always much more interested in a kind of more expansive intellectual relation. I had a blog, which was quite successful, but philosophy blog, the whole time I was working. I stopped that in 2011. It was called Infinite Thought. And it was kind of quite funny and irreverent sort of attempt. Also, I started it while I do my PhD. It was partly a kind of distraction and also just to try out ideas. It was around the time where people like Mark Fisher and Owen Hatherly would have to leave and people associated with zero books were having blogs. Many of which got then became short books, or that a lot of those people became more traditional writers in lots of ways. And so yeah, so I think during the time, I was a lecturer at Roehampton.

I was there for 13 years, which is a really long time. And we lost the fee battle in 2010. And I was very involved in trying to keep higher education free, or at least minimally expensive. Because I am committed to the expansion of education, at least I was, then very much. I mean, I still am. But I'm not sure that university is always the best place for it, I think. I think probably what we will see in the UK and elsewhere is a kind of shutting down of many of the universities. I think they're not just COVID. But other reasons, I think we might see the shrinkage of the amount of universities and I think probably a diminution in the number of particularly working class people going to university in the first place. So I think that's something else to bear in mind. At least that's from my perspective here in the UK. And so I think it's possible to do both.

I think Justin's question about whether if you're intellectually inclined or academic, should you go into academia, I think, if you're a very stable person, and if you're somebody who wants security, and is very interested in producing very, very kind of like, solid scholarly work, I think that it is a good place for you. I guess I would call it the social conservatism of some of my colleagues. Very surprising. I think academics don't tend to be particularly radical or interesting people necessarily. And that's okay. But at the same time, I think there was, from my point of view, an increasing kind of, sort of inhibition in the university. I think it became harder and harder to have different views. I think there was a kind of, like, wokefication of the university in the UK as well.

I think that my students certainly, to my mind became much more anxious to speak in seminars, which is not very useful when you're teaching philosophy, because you want people to kind of try things on and get things wrong and be challenged. And so, there's a very different, increasingly different atmosphere from when I was a student at Warwick in the late 90s and early 2000s, which was really very, like a bear pit. I mean, people would argue all the time. It was very rough in a way, but like, really, from a scholarly point of view, really helpful to actually be criticized by people who need more than you did. And there was no kind of niceties around that. And there was something incredibly enjoyable and useful about that. And I think that, from my point of view, seem to become harder. I think a lot of the students are much more anxious, and a lot of them are on a lot more kind of antidepressants and things like these. So there was a kind of more pastoral role, which you're not really trained to do if you're an academic.

So from my position, I guess, I find it less and less kind of exciting to be in academia. I probably need more stimulation the most in terms of like having an interesting life. And I suppose most of my interesting conversations were happening with people who weren't in academia. I have some close friends who remain, but like 100, for example, they've now just, they're proposing to cut the whole of arts and humanities completely. So I kind of got out before probably. We would have lost our jobs anyway. So I'm not talking from an elite institution point of view here at all. I mean, Warwick, the first university I went to is quite a high ranking university. But all of my PhD was at Middlesex, which became Kingston, and then I taught at Roehampton. So I'm really talking about naughtily, kind of world class universities.

Justin: [00:08:55] That's great. There's a lot of insight there. Now, you mentioned at one point that you were writing a blog all through your academic career, even back to when you were doing your PhD. I know that this is something a lot of people in our community are trying to do or want to do. They have some kind of professional track, but they also want to keep a kind of independent, personal intellectual life going, ideally, on the internet, probably in most cases. I wonder, do you have any tips for how to do that? Because it's not always easy, right? When you have kind of a bunch of professional obligations, and these incentives to kind of overwork and exhaust yourself on your career goals, but also finding time and space to think freely and express yourself in a way that's fun and interesting and genuinely, as satisfying and interesting to you. I think a lot of people struggle with this. So do you have any anything you could say about that?

Nina: [00:09:45] Yeah. I mean, the other day, I went through all of my old diaries and stuff in it and I realized that I had basically been writing every day since I was about 11. So I think there's also kind of like vocational dimension to writing in some ways. So it's like what I tend to do is write. So I think I don't have a problem with that, whereas some people might be less inclined to write every day. So I think when I was doing my PhD, actually it was very interesting. The blog did become very useful. Like, it became like a place to try out even in a funny way some of the things I was struggling with in my PhD because every now and again, of course, there were like periods of complete horror. And, I just felt like I was unemployed with a monkey on my shoulder. I didn't know what I was doing. My project just seemed to stink.

So it's like, to have a blog and just write funny posts, even mildly, theoretically inflected reflections on everyday life, or silly jokes about philosophers or whatever, actually was proven very useful. I actually reintegrated some of the funny material, taking out the jokes back into my thesis later on. Also, I got a lot of attention for it. And people started asking me to do reviews. So that's when I actually started writing for magazines. It's through the blog. I don't know about the landscape now. But then it was very possible to have, let's say, a mildly interesting intellectual blog where you wrote about either very focused things or lots of different things. And people would pick up on it, people would be like, oh, you want someone to write about this, that person over there is doing some interesting stuff. So it was also surprisingly a place where people noticed, and if you're part of a network as well.

I think, there's probably more anxiety these days about what you can and can't say. I don't know. I mean, I basically gave up caring about that. It's like once you've been canceled once, it's like, who cares? I think what does matter, what people care about is good work, an interesting, serious work, ultimately.

Justin: [00:11:53] Okay. So I think we should pause on that, and discuss that for a minute. Because I think a lot of people have a lot of concerns and anxiety around that, obviously, for a good reason. This prospect of being canceled for writing something on your blog, that's not even that controversial or crazy, but someone somewhere doesn't like it. And all of a sudden, there's this big fuss about it. You've been through this rodeo a few times. And I'm just kind of curious. And I think, you've navigated it with a lot of steadfastness, and courage, and you've managed to do a pretty good job of keeping yourself sane and positive and successful through it all. So I think this is something we could all really benefit from hearing a little bit about, like I wonder, my first question would be and this is something also someone emailed me this question to ask is, what surprised you the most, like what did this experience of being canceled teach you? Because in my own experiences, I found it extremely revealing and illuminating, just about the nature of socialites, the nature of what most people are, really. I saw some real new things that I didn't really expect to see. So I'm just curious. The first part of this question is, when you went through your first kind of cancellation moments, or you started really having serious haters come out of the woodwork, what surprised you, what did it teach you about either human beings or the social and political context of the moment?

Nina: [00:13:11] Yeah, it's a very interesting question. I mean, I tried to write about this in various places. I mean, I kind of knew it was coming. Partly because I was feeling so uncomfortable and unhappy with the way things were going in the London left, because various people were just being canceled. So I was already criticizing that as a model of human behavior, saying, like what on earth does this have to do with solidarity?

Or shouldn't we be talking to people personally? And so I think if you expose the mechanism, then you end up being next in the mechanism. And, I was. So I think that's something. I mean, I think probably people do know to some extent, what you kind of can't say. Obviously, it changes every five minutes. And if you have stuff online from three years ago, someone will dredge it up or 10 years ago, whatever, if they want to go for you. Yeah, I mean, I think it's important to have a few good friends.

Basically, I think social media in that whole world does provide you with a very false idea of how many friends it's actually possible to have and then the people who kind of turn on you, even if they were people you were close to, which in my case, some of them were; if they've hitched their wagon to a particular work position, they have no hesitation.

Justin: [00:14:29] Did that surprise you? Were you surprised how quickly so many people would fold and just kind of like join this chorus? People that maybe you meet, people maybe that you thought would actually maybe stand by you. Were you kind of surprised and disappointed by that? I certainly was.

Nina: [00:14:47] Yeah. I mean, surprised to some extent, although I just seen it happen to like Sam, Chris and various of my other friends. So it was obvious to me how volatile this situation was like in the London left theory world, right? So I see various men in particular just kind of dispense with and people really denouncing them, losing them, all that work, so I knew it.

Justin: [00:15:09] Okay, so it sounds like having friends is one crucial thing. You maintain that. And so what would you do like just talk on the phone with like close personal friends to keep yourself sane or like what else?

Nina: [00:15:19] Sure. And I think, I mean this also kind of coincided with like me changing my life. I had various kind of addiction problems and stuff. So I kind of had a proper like midlife crisis and had to change my life completely. And I guess one of the things I realized was basically like, the importance of being able to think for myself.

I think a lot of my own happiness before had been kind of thinking that I had to be nice about certain things and not say certain things that I really thought or ask particular questions. But then I realized that was sort of killing me. I was part of the problem. And that actually being around these people, and I would like get drunk, and I get angry and like, lose my shit anyway. So it wasn't exactly a winning strategy. So I think people were kind of, it was obvious that they were kind of things I disagree with, whether it's about sex and gender question, or whether it was about how we should treat each other politically, or even basic things about how the world works.

I think the kind of lefty woke worldview just wasn't kind of okay, and I think the left is also terrible at dealing with addiction and things like this, like it kind of is a very melancholic, miserable world to be in. And I think people kind of want to blame capitalism. And there's this idea that there's no real way out of it, and I think if you escape, people are also annoyed with you for doing that. Like they really resent you.

Justin: [00:16:45] So we have a question here from Jeremy about how your blog initially got traction in the early days. Jeremy, did you want to articulate your question? Jeremy's a therapist and a podcaster. Jeremy, go ahead and ask your question.

Jeremy: [00:17:02] Let me unmute myself there. By the way, I love your work on how the genders like need to communicate more. I see that a lot. I specialize in a lot of men's mental health stuff. And so I've seen a lot of the impact of like divorce and things like that. But anyway, I wanted to ask, so I'd love to talk to you more about that. But I wanted to ask in the early days, when you didn't have a lot of followers, how you publicized your blog, how you got it out there for people to see it. Does that make sense?

Nina: [00:17:33] Yeah, sure. I mean, I think, I was encouraged to write my book by Mark Fisher, who sadly is no longer with us. But he was kind of very, very important in the blogosphere. He arguably wrote one of the best and most respected and interesting kind of theory, cultural criticism type blogs. He personally was very encouraging. And I think one thing that we all did at that time was basically link and argue with each other. So that basically, we created a network kind of like, post and response situations, and there was an ongoing conversation in which, if you link to a post by someone else, they would see it and if they were a bigger blogger, they might respond if you were suitably interesting. So it was a kind of like bootstrapping.

Jeremy: [00:18:20] Conversation.

Nina: [00:18:21] Huh?

Jeremy: [00:18:21] It was a conversation.

Nina: [00:18:23] Yeah, exactly. So I think basically, like-minded or like-minded enough people, we're all sort of talking to each other. And then it would depend on the quality of your own blog, whether people would kind of stick around and read it. And, obviously, that landscape has changed a bit, but this was before Facebook and Twitter as well. So blogs had a different party. Imagine now, but they had a different meaning. So yeah, I mean, I think it's being in high quality discussion, even quite polemical with people in your field. That seemed to work, basically.

Justin: [00:19:01] That's great. That's interesting. I know other people here, very likely have questions. I want to encourage you to either type it in the chat or if you want to just kind of interject, you're more than welcome.

Nina: [00:19:13] There's a longer question from before about being nonpartisan, and I think I'm probably not the best person to ask for that. Because basically, I don't know what the word is. Indifferent to actively. I'm not very good at upholding social norms or doing or saying the right thing. So I never managed to and it did get me in trouble. I mean, I was writing columns. This is before kind of cancel culture. When I was writing articles for The Guardian and stuff that went against like what my VC thought, like he would talk to me and said, look, I respect you. You're allowed to write what you like, but just be careful, blah, blah, but like, I never was, and I think, because, I suppose I'm more committed to thinking and saying what I want to.

Justin: [00:20:11] So that's very good. Thank you for answering that question. I was gonna raise that also. Nina, I wanted to ask you a little bit more specifically about book publishing. Your first book was with Zer0 Books, One Dimensional Woman, which would make quite an impact. And to this day, it's widely cited and well regarded. My understanding is that basically authors like you and Mark Fisher, really kind of put Zer0 Books on the map. And for those of you listening, Zer0 Books is that kind of niche, kind of radical left press. And with the early books from like Mark Fisher and One Dimensional Woman, I would say Zer0 Books had quite a bit of cachet. At a certain point, I think their publishing roster seems to have evolved. And I'm just kind of curious, because Doug Lane, the publisher, and kind of the spokesperson for Zer0 Books, he seems like he's kind of gone pretty woke. But I noticed that he did have you on the YouTube channel recently. So I wonder if and remember, this is private so you can speak candidly. I'm just kind of curious, what's up with Zer0 Books right now? Is that a place that people like, independent thinkers should still think about publishing with? Or how do you see where they're going? Just give us a quick kind of take on what's up Zer0 Books.

Nina: [00:21:25]
Yeah, I mean, I have to say that, obviously, the original people involved in Zer0 Books amongst Tariq Goddard, I mean, it was his idea in the first place, did leave a few years ago to set up repeater. So Zer0 Books is not what it was like. It’s not the same people running it. I don't know. It's tough for me to get a handle on Doug Lane. To be honest, I think he was a bit hesitant about having me on. He claimed that people had emailed him, including Luke Turner, apparently to say that he shouldn't have me on at various points, but I guess he decided that it was fine now or something. Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I'm not really sure where he's coming from. He seems to be coming from kind of Marxist-ish position or leftist position. I don't know how woke he is really.

Justin: [00:22:10] That question is maybe a little too inside baseball to be useful to many people. But it could be useful for some people, because I know a lot of people look to Zer0 Books, especially if you're on the left. A lot of people look to Zer0 Books as the kind of more accessible kind of alternative to Verso as a good way to kind of publish your first book. So that's why I thought it might be interesting to some people here to learn a little bit about that.

Nina: [00:22:29] Let me be more technical. I mean, I think, if you have a short book of like, 20, 30,000 words, Zer0 doesn't seem like a bad place to try that. Because what worked for them was basically people turning blog posts at that time into short polemics. And there was a niche in the market that time because major publishers weren't publishing short books like that had a theory aspect, because most publishers especially in the UK, are very shy of theory. They think it doesn't sell. They don't like philosophy. And Zer0 Tariq really saw a niche in the market. He was very clever. He basically found these great bloggers. He was friends with them, and thought, yeah, we can turn these into short books. So I think probably there's still room there to do that. Also, Repeater and other places. A lot of other places are doing something similar.

Justin: [00:23:12] Okay, cool. My personal cents for people who are interested in that is that you probably do have to be pretty woke, I think, to go that route, I think, especially if you're not already quite well known. And you're not bringing an audience. I think Zer0 Books is and probably Repeater too, they're kind of going to be looking for a fair amount of kind of like woke signaling credibility, like you have to kind of prove to them that you're not naughty. I think, to a certain degree, probably, although that might be unfair. That's my personal perception. So Nina, I guess the more general purpose question that would be more valuable to more people would be around book publishing. Do you have any advice for people who want to get a book deal? Just general advice, like presumably, you probably also participated in review processes at different levels in different ways. So I'm curious for people who are interested in possibly getting a book deal, whether that be with Zer0 Books, or with Penguin or with some other different press, in your experience. Like, are there certain aspects of developing a book proposal or making a pitch to get a book contract? Are there parts of that process that you think people don't understand? Or they would do well to understand better?

Nina: [00:24:30] Yeah, I mean, I don't know. Some of it might be out of people's hands. But basically, I think if you're an interesting writer and I think the only way to become a better writer is to write all the time. I think it's like engineering your skill. It's like woodwork. I think people sometimes have this very poetic emotional relation to writing. Of course, it has that dimension but at the same time, it's also a kind of like a task. And so I think, I don't know. I mean, obviously, I can only speak from my experience, but I think the more I published, the more I wrote, the more I kind of tried to, I don't know, write in my own voice, the more people kind of responded to that.

So I think to try to be kind of idiosyncratic writer and to write what you think and feel, and to get better at that, I think that's an interesting idea. I mean, I think there are loads of, I mean, I think Zer0 and Repeater do cover some interesting material. There’s some really interesting topics covered by those books, which wouldn't be picked up by major presses. And, I mean, the book I'm writing for Penguin finished it, and it's in a way, it's a kind of mainstream topic, it's a more popular book.

And in a way, it was kind of harder to write a popular book than it is to write a kind of more academic piece in lots of ways because you have to kind of make it engaging and interesting in a particular style. Like it can't be too complex. Even though I want to make some quite complicated arguments, you have to write them in a kind of like jaunty public popular way.

Justin: [00:26:03] Okay, that's great. And Jeff makes a good point. Jeff Shellenberger here makes a good point in the chat for people who are listening to this later that there are some heterodox leftist like pro-Brexit leftists who are currently doing books with Zer0 books. So perhaps Zer0 Books is still relatively, ideologically open-minded avenue for people to consider if they want to pursue the left wing kind of bent one way or another.

Nina: [00:26:27] Yeah. I would give it a go. I mean, Doug said at the end of my chat with him, like if I had any more ideas, I should send it to him. So you can't be that worried about it.

Justin: [00:26:36] Okay, cool. Good to know. That's good to know, for people. So we got a few more questions coming in now. Nick White, do you want to introduce yourself briefly and ask your question?

Nick: [00:26:45] Oh, yes. Hello, Nina. So I work as a genetic engineer in the biotech industry in Boston. And, I used to think I was a fairly left leaning person, but Boston, much like Asheville, North Carolina, everything has been sort of free aligned. And I see a lot of these engineers, I would say, 80% are just sort of like, general old school, liberal and don't fully understand the identity politics stuff. But there's a small vocal minority, that basically sets policy for the company. And because it's very fashionable to hold these sort of moral opinions like everyone just sort of goes along to get along. And the few, like dissenters or conservatives in this particular company, either don't talk or talk compulsively, and then end up getting fired for different things. And so, on the one hand, I don't want to tilt at windmills, I don't like spending energy on political battles. This is not a subject that's interesting to me. But I would like to see the company succeed, if possible, and do well at that. So I don't know if you've seen or know of anyone who has stayed inside an institution like this, and argued for positions that are maybe a little more compassionate or effective successfully, and was able to change it from the inside. I think that's my question.

Justin: [00:28:32] Good question.

Nina: [00:28:33] Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I'm thinking about people maybe on the dissident right who some of whom have kind of jobs in corporations and so on, who kind of, I guess, largely stay quiet, but managed to sort of, I don't know, maybe kind of gently hold positions that are against the dominant moral ideology in certain ways. But I think to be honest, they're generally really cautious. For reasons of, obviously, financial and familial security. I mean, I personally don't have any family, but I kind of also made that decision as well, like there wasn't anyone I had to protect, so that I could be free. But I don't think that's a decision for everybody. And I wouldn't recommend it necessarily.

Justin: [00:29:20] We have a question here from Enrique. And Enrique is kind of in the middle of the culture wars in academia and anthropology in particular. Enrique, do you want to introduce yourself briefly and ask your question? Oh, you're muted.

Enrique: [00:29:38] I wanted to ask Nina this question. As I've shared in the forum, I'm kind of involved. My friend got cancelled, and he was the editor in an anthropology journal. And I wanted to ask Nina, I mean, as a good friend, not my good friend, but you seem to be a very good friend to your friends. So it's like what can a good friend do? Other than defending them, it's like contextualizing or providing information. For example, you in DC did with Sam Chris like no one defended him, but also no one shared really your story. I mean, can a defense be an effective way of standing up for a friend and does publiticization reverse the effects of cancellation? I mean, if a friend is obviously plagued and continuously pursued by the issue, as my friend is, what can really one do as a friend?

Nina: [00:30:34] Yeah, I don't know. I think that's a tricky one. But I think, there is a difference between the internet and real life. I mean, still just about however kind of integrated, and they are. I mean, I spend a lot of time just talking with Daniel, for example, like, outside, just walking and thinking together, and it has nothing to do with the kind of online life and also I see Sam when it's possible when we're not in lockdown. I mean, it's still possible, but I think to have a kind of personal and intellectual relationship with somebody that has nothing to do with the internet is like, I don't know, brutally important. I mean, it's extremely important for me to have that personal kind of contact. I mean, one of one of the problems, I suppose, in our kind of like valueless age is, things like loyalty and friendship are seen as rather dispensable. To go back to the beginning, I had to learn some of that the hard way, like people I did think were friends and just turned out to be absolutely not. And I think probably we're all guilty of that, in some ways, as well, like just kind of turning away from people. And so I think having like two or three, or even one close friend is already a kind of major success.

Justin: [00:31:56] So basically, a common theme then in your strategy towards all of this is maintaining personal friendships, but specifically off the internet, making a lot of time, to spend quality time off the internet to go into the sun, to walk around, to do kind of like physically normal bonding types of activities with a small group of people who you trust and who you can maintain that loyalty with.

Nina: [00:32:21] I mean, the second part of that would be to also kind of to keep writing and keep working and publishing online. I mean, like I'm involved in various projects, which are kind of actually producing things, like we're setting up a magazine, of cultural criticism and things like that for people who are very interesting, but are now blacklisted by other venue. Daniel is now getting published again, and various places did pick me up after I was kind of blacklisted for a while. So I don't think cancellation is forever, right? It's also very asymmetrical. It is a very strange thing. It's just because some small group of people decide to haunt you and make your life hell for a while, it does. They're not the only people in the world.

Justin: [00:33:11] It's such a good point. And it also lasts much shorter than people think like people forget things really quickly. And if you have a good attitude, and you're confident, and you just basically act like it never happened, you'd be surprised how quickly you can basically put it behind you and people will be more than happy to do collaborations with you. Like a few weeks later, or a few months later, if you have the right attitude I find. There's an important little wrinkle though in Enrique’s question which I want to make sure we address which is Enrique’s articulating or kind of expressing I think a concern a lot of people have, which is, yes, of course you can always speak your truth on a blog or whatever. But does it really have the traction that you want? Sometimes it feels like writing the truth on a blog, it feels like it goes nowhere. It feels like it's not worth it. It feels like thousands of cancellers are really having all the impact and dominating the narrative. And there's this fear that like, yeah, I can write my truth on a blog, but no one's really going to read it. No one's really gonna care. It's not really going to have the impact that it has. I get the sense from you Nina that you think it does have more of an impact than it might seem. So I wonder if you could speak to that.

Nina: [00:34:15] Yeah, I think it's a really interesting question. I mean, you say people forget things. That's true. But people also remember things. And I think if people remember if you've kind of stood up for someone, and if you were brave, and if you defended somebody, and if you defended the truth, people also remember that, and it's surprising what sticks in people's minds, like an article you've written from five years ago that you didn't think anyone read, but people are like, oh, that was so important to me. I think there's even if you don't get any kind of immediate response back, I think there's a value in trying to be as clear as possible. And, of course, if you just write the same thing as everybody else, it's kind of boring. I think it's to try and have a new angle or to try to come at it like in a more profound and interesting ways.

Justin: [00:35:15] Yeah, I would just say quickly that it is not an interview of me. But just a quick point on Enrique’s question there, which is that the all the thousands of people who will jump onto like a hate mob, and talk about like how you're evil or something like that, those people are going to forget immediately, like in a few days they're going to be on to the next moral panic. And they're going to literally forget that they even condemned you a few days later. So that all gets cycled through the system very rapidly because the media cycles are so short. And these are such superficial emotions and superficial activities. But I think what Nina is getting at is that maybe 10 people who read your blog post closely are going to be really affected by it. And they're going to really significantly update their mental model of who you are, and what you represent. And they are going to remember that. So there's this weird asymmetry where like the thousands of people hating you, one fine day, those people forget and go away. But the much smaller number of people that you actually do hit with your blog post, those people stick around and the impact you make on them stays because it's memorable, because it's courageous. True intellectual courage today is so rare that when you encounter it, you know it and you treasure it, because real intellectuals are always looking for other real intellectuals. So when you encounter it, you're like, oh, this guy's legit. This girl's legit. And, I'm bookmarking him. I'm respecting him. I'm gonna be paying attention to him in the future. And if you only get 10 people to feel like that, from your blog post, it's so much more valuable than anything else. It's completely worth that 1000 people who maybe called you a naughty person one day. That's my take. I think we probably have other questions. There's a lot of people here today. So I'd love to encourage people to chime in if they want to. I have a few questions, also. So people can take some time to think about what they want to ask

Nina: [00:37:02] I just want to speak to a point that Enrique made a question rather at the end. Enrique, I know I owe you an email. But you asked, what's your favorite article in defense of someone canceled? I think it's interesting. I got a lot of private messages and support from different people at various points. I mean, one of the interesting things that happened, I think, in the UK over the kind of whole sex and gender question was a lot of women who'd been targeted for saying the wrong thing, or for saying that we need to think about what it means to change the definitions of man and woman. And this has legal implications and social implications.

I mean, a lot of women got very, very seriously kind of ostracized, and targeted and economically punished. And various groups went after them. And they were targeted. And I think there was kind of a lot of support, therefore, from those particular women. And I certainly receive some from those kind of women as well, who tended to be like very rational, a lot of them are philosophers, a lot of them a feminist philosophers, or legal scholars or whatever. And I suppose it's not that not one defense that comes to mind in a way, but I really appreciated the kind of concern and the rationality of those women basically who took the time to kind of be very cautious and to be supportive.

Justin: [00:38:30] Great. So we have a great question here from Jeff Shellenberger. Jeff is a lecturer at NYU. He's an adjunct, I believe, and he's got a great blog and has been doing more work on the internet, and it's definitely been gaining traction. I think his question is quite interesting. And a lot of other people might be wondering the same. Jeff, do you want to introduce yourself and ask your question?

Geoff: [00:38:59] Sure. Yeah. So I guess, I mean, obviously, I've kind of gotten something of Justin's take on this. But I'm curious about yours. I'm somebody who's in a stable full time position that is not tenure track. It's still precarious to some extent. But basically, I'm on a kind of five year renewable contract at this point. So it's like, I have a certain stability within the system, even if it's not that of like somebody with tenure. So, I've definitely been thinking a lot about all the good reasons I have for wanting to jump ship, but I find the stability and so on that that provides kind of hard not to fall back on. So I'm just curious, especially I'm always interested just to hear about people who left despite being reasonably well positioned and what sort of best arguments for that choice are.

Nina: [00:40:04] Yeah, I mean, I think I have to be honest and be realistic. I already had a kind of parallel writing career, not that it doesn't make me a great deal of money, but I was already for a long time writing for newspapers, magazines. I was invited to give lectures. Of course, being canceled in that, but only like temporarily perhaps. And, I immediately got picked up by other publications.

So in a way, I already had the possibility of another type of career, even though that I have a lot less security and a lot less income now. I think the best argument, therefore, is a] I have a second career, and b] I don't know. For me, it was also about being able to speak freely, and I didn't want people to try to lose me my job. Basically, I wrote this and I figured, look, if I've got nothing to lose, they can't take it from me. But that's a decision that only people in a very specific, I have somewhere to live, and I don't have anyone I have to pay for or protect, right?

So I could make that decision in the image of freedom, the kind of freedom that I want, and that I have, but most people are probably not in that position. They have parents to look after or they have children, or they have a spouse or whatever. I value my freedom and independence of thought and being I guess, very, very highly. So that was my main reason for leaving.

Justin: [00:41:33] That's really interesting Nina. Something I might follow up on with you on that is, maybe you have tips on how to build that kind of alternative income stream from published writings, right? So, for instance, I believe you now write for a bunch of places like the Spectator, places like that, and so on.

Nina: [00:41:55] Yes.

Justin: [00:41:55] What about for people who maybe have one foot in a professional career, whether that be academia or something else, and they want to start doing writing for money in the way that you have done? How do you get started doing that? Like, are there particular tips or tricks you have to share with people on how to do that?

Nina: [00:42:11] Well, just to reiterate, I mean, I write every day, and I've been writing every day for most of my life. I had this blog that then people picked up on at different age. I got work in New Humanist and New Statesman and Guardian through my blog. And then I wrote this short polemical book, which was only supposed to kind of mean anything for about two weeks, but then people kept reading it and whatever. So I don't know. I mean, I think I probably had it quite lucky in a way.

But I would say I was also writing about a lot of different things all the time. So the more you different things you write about, I mean, that's one way of doing it. Someone was like, oh, you've written about this already. Can we have another article on this topic? But the other option would be to become the world expert on X, right? Which is much more of a generalist, and so I don't know. I mean, you could also pitch. I mean, the other people I knew who were writing blogs, and who were coming up that way, many of whom are now quite successful writers, right? Popular writers and journalists, like lots of the Zer0 Books people. Basically, we just pitch all the time to magazines, whatever's happening. Magazines and newspapers always want something topical.

So if you say, like I've got an angle on this, you probably have to send loads of pitches, but people will pick them up, and especially if you've got even a minimal track record of having published something. I mean, you could start your own magazine, and then lots of people transitioned from doing all kinds of DIY stuff. I mean, I think, again, it's just having a kind of good style really. Just don't be a boring writer. I think one of the things Mark said, Mark was obsessed with music press because at that time in sort of the 80s especially, the music press was where the best writing was.

The content is almost secondary to the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that was generated by the writing. So I think also to kind of maybe read, like really, really thrilling writers like, of the past, whether they’re music writers, or art critics or whatever, to get a sense of what's possible, because I think social media creates particular modes of writing like particular tones, particular styles, many of which are really dull, but they circulate because human beings are so mimetic, and we copy each other all the time. So I think to break out of that, and maybe go back and read like older critics.

Justin: [00:44:39] If that is so, I got a question from someone earlier through email that I think is kind of similar to something that Geoff is asking about. So I want to ask this as a follow-up question. Do you sense that there are particular niches or topics right now that are particularly attractive to pursue if you're trying to make money kind of writing in public? In other words, are you sensing certain topics that are resonating right now and maybe are kind of undersupplied by thoughtful writers? I guess what I have in mind specifically would be this kind of anti-woke kind of critical thinking niche that you're kind of representing. Do you think that this is a big opportunity that's still undersaturated? Like could you make a career writing for paying outlets, kind of expanding on this undersupplied niche of just honest, critical thinking, maybe left-leaning, but anti-woke kind of perspective and diagnosis? Do you see that as like a growth industry, or as something quite small that you wouldn't encourage people to really build an intellectual trajectory on?

Nina: [00:45:47] Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I think some of the best writing that's happening at the moment is in places like the Tablet, UnHerd, and The Critic, places that do permit people to kind of write freely and to try to analyze the current moment and there's something you can tell when something's written with a kind of sincerity and truthfulness, and with genuine intellectual perception. So I think a lot of the work that's been done, try to analyze the kind of current context, whether it's in the art world or broader culture. I mean, it is out there, and I think to write to that level, like, it's possible to add to that conversation.

I mean, I do think, I mean, maybe one thing that's kind of important, just kind of comes to mind, where people go back and look at kind of historical thinkers or figures, and talk about how they might be relevant today. I think this is a really, really important thing to do, because it forces people to take a step back from the kind of relentless sort of immediate analysis, and I've never really been interested in new show of political analysis, right, I’m more interested in the bigger kind of philosophical and political questions.

So I think, the Tablet, has been running really interesting series, of pieces, where they take figures from moral philosophy, and then try to use them to think about the contemporary moment. So whatever field you're in, I think, to kind of reinvigorate figures from the past forward today, I think is a really good genre of writing. I think there's a lot of mileage in that because it adds a perspective that is kind of maybe being forgotten in the kind of mousetrap.

Justin: [00:47:31] I love that. That's really concrete. And I completely agree with that, to just basically mine history for the great thinkers that are currently just being ignored, that people don't know anything about, the history of intellectual life and the great thinkers of the past, or this kind of like huge reservoir of content to be explored and developed and shared. And I think you're totally right, that it appeals to people. And it really resonates with people. And that's a really good concrete tip, I think. I think Geoff’s work kind of is already doing this, like his blog. He writes about people like Gerard and kind of mining and excavating some of these thinkers that people are interested in. It's a really good strategy. So I want to let Nina go at the top of the hour, but we still have a bit of time. So I'm curious if anyone has any questions, they're just chomping at the bit to ask. Camilla, are you with us? I know you emailed me a question. Would you like to introduce yourself and ask it or I can for you? Camilla emailed me the question for you Nina about how you see the near future of feminism and feminist philosophy. I think it's pretty clear to a lot of people that academic feminism is kind of under this like pretty serious stranglehold of like, pretty bad thinking and kind of really dubious institutional machinations. Your book is about men and women. And so how do you see the near future of feminist thought unfolding?

Nina: [00:49:03] Yeah, I mean, complicated question. I mean, my book is largely about reconciliation. And it's about the fact that we live in a hetero-social world, and that this kind of resentments between men and women are being kind of really manipulated and played up by this kind of media environment we're in. I don't think it's a controversial book. It's trying to be incredibly reasonable. It's kind of trying to address the complaints of both men and women on both sides. But from a certain kind of caveman style feminism, the kind that would see all men are entitled and see misogyny everywhere. It would be a very anti-feminist book, and I think whenever we want to call it the kind of contemporary strain of feminism, which is very kind of pro sex work, pro-trans, I don't know consumerism, I mean, like criticize the consumer aspect.

Back in 2009, that was what really what my book was about, it’s against consumer feminism and the way in which women were being invoked as great subjects of capital labor. And so, yeah, I don't know. I mean, I think the second wave is still relevant. I think also the second wave where these questions were asked about masculinity, about sex, about love, about work, in the most profound form. And I think, this idea that somehow the second wave is like, we just need to leave it behind because of all of its failures and lacks, which aren't even there. That's just what people say, from the standpoint of the present, but they're not reading that second way. Like, they're just dismissing it, because it's old.

I think some of the most interesting thinkers in this sort of media sphere of women obviously people like Angela Nagle and Red Scare. They're a bit mean girls for me, but they're very cool. And, they're interested in Camille Paglia, and Lasch. I think, you can't really cancel Paglia. They tried to cancel her a few years, but like back. So there are still kind of very interesting people. I think there is a discussion to be had about the relationship between men and women today. There's a really serious one, I think a kind of feminism that may be really looked at. I mean, I don’t say this because I've just written this book but that actually takes seriously some of the complaints of men and trying to understand at least where they're coming from.

A while ago, I wrote a piece about the documentary, TFWTF, and trying to think very seriously about things like male depression and male suicide rates. And I don't think it's anti-feminist to think that men suffer too. I think everybody suffers. And I think, to try to acknowledge that suffering in its sex nature, so I don't think we should give up on sexual difference, which obviously puts me at odds with a lot of mainstream feminism today. I think men and women exist. And the difference is really important. But it's also really important to understand each other.

Justin: [00:52:08] Awesome. Thank you for that. So I would say there's probably just one last question, then Nina, if you'd be so kind. The question is, basically, so you are not a particularly internet oriented person. You're quite kind of skeptical of digital media. You certainly don't have the personality type who intended in the first place to have this kind of super online life, I know, a lot of ways, you're averse to the negative effects of an overly online life. And yet, you have found yourself thrown into the mix of it all. You now are active on Twitter. You now are doing online courses. You're now writing for internet outlets, and doing a whole bunch of different experiments that are more or less at this point, kind of organized through the internet. So the question would be, what did you wish that you understood at the beginning of all this, that maybe you didn't? So I'm sure that in learning and doing all these different things, you've learned a lot about what this new intellectual life on the internet is like, and what it involves, and what it requires, or what works or what doesn't work. Just curious, like in your experience of going through it all, and kind of learning the ropes, what do you wish that you knew earlier?

Nina: [00:53:24] Well, I would have taken up yoga a lot earlier, and I would have drank a lot less. I mean, those aren't even jokes. I mean, in terms of mental health, and so on. I mean, like, when I was drinking really heavily, I was online a lot. And it was making me very unhappy. I was posting just crazy shit. I mean, some of it was quite funny. But it wasn't necessarily like, really a healthy thing to do, right? So, obviously, the internet can be like, extremely compulsive and addictive in itself.

I've just taken off a month off Twitter and stuff just because it's like, some crazy guy got me the other day, and I just thought, I forgot how horrible this place can be. And I thought it was a good opportunity to have a break. But in terms of using the internet, I don't know. I mean, I think like I managed to survive, but I mean, yeah, I did make lots of mistakes. But I suppose you could say I didn't have a particularly straight path through any of this.

And, I did write like these public confessions and so on. And I think there's a way in which, like, I don't think that most people want to live that publicly, like it is a quite a strange thing to do in a way and people will kind of think that they know you better than they do, because they identify with your writing or they hate you because you're writing. So that's a kind of different kind of game. And I think I probably accept that if I write very publicly and personally at times, that those things will happen. But I don't think that most people want that. It's not necessarily the easiest thing to live with when people are kind of very, very over identified with you or extremely antagonistic to you as well.

So I don't know, I probably would be more cautious in some ways. I would be more intellectually brave. And I think more personally cautious.

Justin: [00:55:23] Interesting. Okay. So in other words, the payoffs to being intellectually brave turned out to be kind of greater than you thought. And also, people who you may be trusted more than they deserved turned out to kind of burn you more than you thought?

Nina: [00:55:41] Yeah.

Justin: [00:55:43] And also, do yoga protect your mental health more aggressively from the outset?

Nina: [00:55:48] Yes.

Justin: [00:55:51] Nina, thank you so much for giving us your time, and letting us shoot all of these questions, rapid fire at you for a whole hour. Thank you. You've been very generous with your time and we're very grateful. This was super interesting. And I think it will be a useful resource for many people now and in future months, as people kind of go over the archive and want to learn from people like us. I just want to thank you very much, Nina.

Nina: [00:56:12] Nope. Thanks, Justin. It's always lovely to see you. And it's nice to see some of you from the Bataille course and to see new people. I wish you all very good luck.

Justin: [00:56:24] Excellent. If anyone wants to follow up with her about any of this, you can do that in the forum. All right Nina, we’ll let you go. Thanks again, and we'll see you soon.