Cathy is a libertarian journalist and author. She’s currently a staff writer at The Bulwark, a columnist for Newsday, and a frequent contributor to Reason magazine. She has written two books: Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, and Growing Up In Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood. We talk about how her life under totalitarianism informed her views on the war in Ukraine, and the authoritarian illiberalism in the US. She cheered me up a bit.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — whether Russians actually support the war in Ukraine, and the gaslighting from liberals over woke extremism — pop over to our YouTube page.
Other topics: how Soviet indoctrination of Cathy started in elementary school; the closet dissidents in her family; the members who were sent to the Gulag; Cathy reading banned books and hearing jokes against the Soviet leader; dissidents like Solzhenitsyn who became strong nationalists and imperialists; today’s horrors of the Wagner group and trench warfare; possible end-games over Ukraine; the US partisan flip over Russia; CRT in Florida schools and elsewhere; DeSantis and illiberal government overreach; the pushback from FIRE; Chris Rufo; the wokeism in red states; mandatory DEI statements; and Cathy’s optimism toward the woke threat based on her living through the fall of Soviet totalitarianism.
Next week is the vegan activist John Oberg who will try to convince me to give up meat. Browse the Dishcast archives for a discussion you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). As always, send your feedback and guest recommendations to email@example.com.
Here’s a listener on last week’s convo with philosopher John Gray on the threats to Western liberalism:
Really enjoyed your conversation — or should I say, your conversational tango — with John Gray. The urge to explain, teach and to understand propelled both of you forward. How interesting to listen as you figured out when to break into the other’s conversational riffs (waiting for the occasional breath). There was not a hint of competition — “hey, it’s now my turn!” — the sort of thing you hear in quasi-debates with ideological foes (necessary though they may be). There is much pleasure, downright fun, in exercising good, free, spirited talk.
I have been reading John Gray for years, and you can even call me a fan. I love to read him even if he writes the same book or essay, thematically speaking, year after year, updated to suit the events of the day. He insists on telling us in acres of print that we shouldn’t be fooled by the illusion of progress. Things haven’t gotten much better, morally speaking. We humans concoct one belief after another to make us feel better, or superior. Be it worshipping sky gods or Karl Marx (or Ayn Rand), we fragile creatures are always trying to imagine what we’re most definitely not. Gray does a good job of stripping us of our sense of agency. Reading him over the years I often want to fling his books out the window and take to bed.
So I’ve wondered over the years why I still keep reading him and subjecting myself to his scolding critiques of our collective nonsense. Is it masochism? There’s plenty of that going around. You both end up by invoking, inadvertently, the Nike swish slogan, “Just do it!” Forget optimism or pessimism. They don’t do any good. Just get on with it, Gray tells us. Be buoyed by the spirit of conversation.
Another listener touches on Trump:
Great conversation as always. I even begrudgingly appreciate the scrambling that I must do to look up people, words, ideas, and events to fully engage in your valuable work.
On your point that Trump “was a weapon used to bludgeon the people that were not listening to them” (around the 48 minute mark): after nearly four decades of the working-class’s frustrations for being ignored on a bipartisan basis, Fox News, conservative talk radio, and associated media must be mentioned. They collectively acted as both an accelerant and misdirector of the long simmering and justifiable anger. Only then could President Trump become the chosen weapon. Senator Sanders could also have been the weapon — an absolutely more appropriate but likely less effective weapon.
Another suggests a future guest:
I was struck by what you wrote here: “We’ll air a whole host of dissents to my Ukraine column next week, when I’ll also be discussing the topic with dedicated war-supporter, Cathy Young, on the Dishcast.” Young doesn’t need me to speak on her behalf, but I suspect what she really supports is victory for Ukraine and a just peace, not the kind of occupation that Ukrainians (like Estonians and so many others) remember too well. Supporting people who are fighting for their freedom, their culture, and their lives, is not the same as being a war-supporter.
I enjoyed your verbal jousting with Anne Applebaum, so I’m really looking forward to your conversation with Cathy Young. Have you given thought to including a Ukrainian voice, maybe someone like Olesya Khromeychuk?
A Ukrainian voice from the in-tray is posted toward the bottom of this post, along with more dissents over my writing on the war. Another plug for the pod:
George Packer recently wrote a piece entitled “The Moral Case Against Equity Language,” which was just brilliant. I would love to hear a conversation between you and Packer.
Good idea. More recommendations from this listener:
Please read the interview with Vincent Lloyd by Conor Friedersdorf and the Compact essay that sparked it. It’s very considered and still sensitive to the goals of the social justice movement. I’d be extremely excited to hear Lloyd on the Dishcast. He changed my thinking and I think he would bust you out of your rut of talking about social justice to people who you largely agree with.
In a similar vein, Lulu Garcia-Navarro recently had an interview with Maurice Mitchell — the head of the Working Families Party — on how the left is cannibalizing its own power. Again, a very considered approach from the social justice perspective that I found very instructive. Here’s what Michelle Goldberg recently wrote about him:
Mitchell, who has roots in the Black Lives Matter movement, has a great deal of credibility; he can’t be dismissed as a dinosaur threatened by identity politics. But as the head of an organization with a very practical devotion to building electoral power, he has a sharp critique of the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card. “Identity and position are misused to create a doom loop that can lead to unnecessary ruptures of our political vehicles and the shuttering of vital movement spaces,” he wrote last month in a 6,000-word examination of the fallacies and rhetorical traps plaguing activist culture.
I’ve yet to read Mitchell’s essay, but it’s on my list. Please consider having him as a guest as well. I’ve been a fan and subscriber to the Dishcast for a while, and I’m thinking that the social justice debate you’re having has gotten stale. I think both these guests would spark new thoughts, new directions, and new challenges.
Thanks. Another turns to gender issues:
I just watched your appearance on Bill Maher’s podcast. I loved it. Your sincerity and sadness about how gayness is getting twisted into some kind of bigotry was very apparent.
There’s one thing I think you should have told Bill. It isn’t just gays who have a “bigoted genital preference.” Straights also have “bigoted genital preference.” If Bill doesn’t want to have sex with a trans woman, he’s a bigot. It’s a mystery to me why ANYONE would want to have a physical relationship with someone who would find that experience repulsive. But of course, as you said, it’s all about control. And shaming — suggesting that there’s something wrong with you for not finding their body type attractive.
Another Dishhead writes:
I saw your tweet about the drag show for babies and toddlers. I just want to share my own experience with you.
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