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Rob Henderson On Overcoming Trauma

Rob Henderson On Overcoming Trauma

His new memoir shows the chasm between real trauma and the "luxury beliefs" of his woke peers.

Rob is a young independent writer. His work has been featured in the NYT, the WSJ, the Boston Globe and others, and he writes a popular substack that coined the term “luxury beliefs.” He had a tumultuous childhood in foster care, joined the Air Force at 17, and went on to graduate from Yale and Cambridge. He tells that story in his first book, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class.

You can listen 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). For two clips of our convo — on attending Yale during the Halloween costume meltdown, and how to reform the foster care system — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: born into poverty in LA; an absent father; a drug-addicted mom who grossly neglected him; her arrest and deportation; entering foster care at age 3; having his first beer at age 5; his social worker being the most stable figure in his childhood; seven different homes by age 8; an eccentric foster mom who used Rob for free labor and nearly let him drown in her swimming pool; finally adopted by parents — who divorced 18 months later; the adopted father who cut him off; the adopted mother who partnered with a woman — who suffered a near fatal gunshot; growing up in the working-class Central Valley; constantly getting into fights; constantly using drugs and booze; drunk-driving on the reg; getting terrible grades; barely graduating high school; enlisting in the Air Force at 17 and serving eight years; entering rehab at 24; his life saved by a standardized test in the military; how the SATs are a life-line for marginalized teens; Rob getting into Yale; being mystified by the “luxury beliefs” and victim culture of his privileged peers; micro-aggressions and emotional labor; Orwell on oikophobia of the intelligentsia; the high marriage rates of liberal elites; Google’s Gemini trying to indoctrinate the masses with CRT; and the importance of a stable family above all else.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Christian Wiman on resisting despair as a Christian, George Will on Trump and conservatism, Abigail Shrier on why the cult of therapy harms children, Adam Moss on the artistic process, and Richard Dawkins on religion. Please send any guest recs, dissents, and other pod comments to

A listener really enjoyed last week’s episode on the Stoics and the Founding Fathers:

Your interview with Jeffrey Rosen was both illuminating and inspiring. I had read Barton Swaim’s critique of Rosen’s new book, The Pursuit of Happiness, but had not yet purchased it. That changed as a result of listening to your conversation. One of the true joys of being retired is that I now have time to read great works and listen to interesting podcasts — and none comes close to the depth and quality of the Dishcast. Being profoundly dyslexic, I read very slowly. I have found that listening to a book on Audible, as I follow along with the actual text, greatly enhances the experience as well as my comprehension and ability to recall. Perhaps you have other readers/listeners who have similar issues with dyslexia who might wish to try my listen/read method.

So grateful for your support. From a college professor:

I enjoyed your conversation with Rosen, particularly toward the very end when you discussed the salutary qualities of daily reading. I don’t know anyone in my line of work who doesn’t agree that students just won’t read like they used to. Almost every undergrad is “literate,” but those who don’t practice serious reading in college — who don’t grapple with complex arguments or tackle lengthy books — simply won’t develop those skills (probably ever). I suspect this will have huge ramifications for this generation.

If I sound arrogant or preachy, let me explain. A while back I noticed not only that I was reading less, but that my own skills were atrophying. I had for the most part given up serious books, and all my reading was done online. Often this meant I was skimming and scrolling; if something didn’t seize my attention immediately, I’d click on something else.

So, I started doing almost exactly what Jeffrey did: I wake around 5, have my coffee, listen to soft classical music on WQXR and read a book​ for about an hour-and-a-half. Then as the sun rises, I take my dog for a walk in Piedmont Park. Granted, I’m not reading ancient political philosophy, but I’m not reading crap, either — it’s serious nonfiction. This ritual has made a huge difference in my middle-aged life and makes me more appreciative of time on earth. We live in a wellness culture where lots of people are obsessed with various life hacks, morning routines, and tricks for human optimization, and this simple one works for me. 

Great advice. From a high school teacher:

The conversation with Rosen was fascinating and quite stimulating. I teach a high school class on Western political theory and we read some of the texts that Rosen has recommended. Just teaching students about the Greek concept of freedom as the ability to set a goal and then achieve it can be somewhat mind-blowing to a generation of Zoomers. “So, getting my homework done and not doomscrolling on TikTok is actually freedom?”

I also want to comment on two unrelated points in your episode. The first is the condemnation of Thomas Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings and the various children that emerged from their union. I must confess that, as a US History teacher, I uncritically spread this information as well, having mostly learned it from the DNA news that broke in 1998. Since that time, I have come to learn that TJ’s parentage of the Hemings children is very much in question, and the story about the tryst in Paris and the agreement is all based on the possibly biased testimony of one descendant. You can read about it here and here.

Now, I’m not claiming that it is certainly true that TJ did not father the children of Sally Hemings. But the matter of his paternity is very much in question, and we should avoid the blanket condemnation of the act that we see today. The fact that the Thomas Jefferson Institute that runs Monticello has uncritically accepted his paternity is more a sign of the usual wokery that has pervaded the culture than any indication that the allegations are true. Of course, even if TJ fathered no children with Sally Hemings, this still doesn’t get him off the hook for his hypocrisy in celebrating freedom while owning slaves. But there’s no need to gild the lily here!

The other issue I want to address is the mystification both you and Rosen evinced over the question of why the 1960s led to the collapse of the traditional concepts of forbearance and freedom as restraint. My theory is that this was the result of widespread prosperity — culture being downstream of economics. While America had been the richest nation in the world for decades prior to the 1960s, the Boomer generation was the first to grow up in an environment of widespread societal prosperity. For many of this cohort, the concept of real danger or actual need were mere abstractions. Ability was unchained from the need for material possession, and as a result many chased phantoms like personal fulfillment and sought to destroy many of the structures of their youth. 

I see this among my own students. Those who are the children of immigrants are much more likely to understand the importance of the close ties of family, obligation and honor. The wealthy children of native-born Americans are much more likely to yearn for values like self-actualization. We know that “self-actualization” is a chimera. Forster was right: “Only connect!” The self and meaning can only be realized in a community where we are valued. But this takes self-sacrifice and does not work well with the cult of the unlimited individual, so today’s widespread societal unhappiness makes perfect sense. 

From a listener on the God stuff:

Thank you for continuing to talk about religion, and more specifically, Christianity. I know not all of your listeners appreciate it, but I wanted to let you know that, to some of us, it means a great deal. Not only are the conversations insightful, but they also feel validating in a way. I grew up in Portland, Oregon and went to Portland State University (a very left institution). The hatred of Christianity and Christians was so palpable on campus that I really struggled with how to reconcile my faith with my desire to learn and be an intellectual. It seemed that no matter how well I did on the coursework, I was still an idiot and a horrible person for believing in something that, in their eyes, caused so much pain throughout the world.

On the other hand, the very conservative Slavic Christian community I grew up in avoided some of the most challenging questions the sciences, history and philosophy put before me in school. Listening to your episode with Rosen was the first time I heard a conversation about how faith and reason can not only coexist, but are intertwined. Thank you for revealing a world to me that I didn’t know existed, and in which I’m no longer worried about playing the fool. It has helped me and I’m sure has helped others as well, even if they haven’t expressed it.

That’s incredibly gratifying. I think you’ll love the upcoming podcast with Christian Wiman. A quick plug for another episode:

Thanks for introducing me to Joe Klein. The Dishcast is the perfect length for my bus journey from Galle to Colombo (Sri Lanka) on a Sunday morning.

This is why I still love the web. Just imagining someone on a bus in Sri Lanka listening to Joe Klein gives me a thrill. Another listener touches on several other convos:

I’ve been listening to more of your podcasts recently, and I’ve gotten reacquainted with your work after mostly losing track of you after you left The New Republic (what a tragedy that place turned out to be — I finally cancelled my decades-long subscription after the woke barbarians took it over). I first became acquainted with your when I read Virtually Normal. Still have the book.

I loved the talk with Matthew Crawford on anti-humanism and social control. It’s rare that I get to hear a program that provides new meaningful insights for me. And it ended on such an unexpected but welcome soft note of a sort of beckoning spiritual revelation.

In the Isikoff and Klaidman interview, I really appreciated your ability — and willingness — to talk about Trump in a reasonable and fair way. I thought your questions were right on, and I did — and do — think the two gentlemen were over-stating their case. I’m likely to be to the right of you politically, and likely also more sympathetic to Trump’s case, but I did not think any of your arguments against Trump were unreasonable.

Nowadays nuance and care for the details of truth seem so out-of-style with even the well-educated. In those details we can find room to spare our harshest judgments from those who come to different conclusions. It’s one thing to support a boorish, vain, charlatan huckster who at least gets some good work done while cursing and bragging. It’s another to support an eloquent intentional butcher of millions.

In listening to the Nate Silver episode, I learned he, like you and I, is homosexual.  Had no idea.

I was grateful for your correction on the use of the word “sex” vs. “gender.” I have a presentation on defending freedom of conscience from the incursions of the Gender Ideologues, and it includes a slide on the importance of understanding their proper use. Google’s Ngram shows how spectacularly successful the Gender Ideologists who came from Women’s Studies have been in introducing “gender” into our daily lexicon. Same for “LGBT etc.” In a recent interview, I reminded the interviewer that I am not “LGBT” anything; I’m not lesbian, bi, or trans. 

It’s been good to find you again, and I look forward to more episodes. 

Great to find you again too. Another writes:

I appreciate this comment from your reader last week:

Life is better now for gay men because the overt mechanisms of oppression are gone. Currently there is more openness — perceived as a good thing, but which also includes the pressure to be out at school, out at work, out to your family, out to the public, get married (someday), maybe adopt kids, all of it. We had none of that. We had just a few choices mostly concerning survival, which was hard, but simple, uncomplicated, and included not sharing personal information except with your closest confidants and other gay people. These days, gay men feel pressure to share, defend, explain, and promote. That requires a lot of energy, commitment, and vulnerability.

I have long felt that homosexuals have had one set of unfair expectations largely replaced with another set of unfair expectations.

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