Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Interview with Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is an author. His books include Apocalypse Never and San Fransicko. He is the founder of the publication Public.

Sep 5, 2023

Michael’s Substack publication, Public, can be read here.

Liberal Conservative Libertarian Christian

Max Raskin: From your politics, it’s pretty clear that you have positions on both the right and the left, but I wonder — in terms of your actual day-to-day life, do you look more like someone on the progressive left or someone more on the conservative right?

Michael Shellenberger: What do you mean by that?

MR: Do you own a gun, or do you go to Equinox?

MS: That’s so funny. Culturally, I’m definitely more on the left. I just went to Stonehenge.

MR: Why?

MS: Because it’s incredible. It’s one of the great mysteries. It’s a calendar aligned with the summer solstice, and we don’t know what it is. I think there’s a bunch of questions that have not been resolved about our pre-history that are super interesting and are starting to come out now.

But culturally, I live in the Berkeley Hills. To boil it down, at the end of our political campaign we said, “I’m a liberal in my compassion for the vulnerable. I’m a libertarian in my love of freedom. And I’m a conservative in that I believe you need civilization to protect both of those things.” The identity question is a very interesting one.

I think that the old view that liberals are important to move society forward and for progress, and conservatives are here to protect what you need to protect — I think that’s still basically right. I do think that we have a better sense of the values that undergird these political ideologies thanks to the work of Jonathan Haidt and other social psychologists.

MR: His next book is going to be about the harmful impacts of cell phones and social media on Gen Z and I wonder — do you do anything in your personal life that would differ from your average person of your caste? Do you limit your phone time, for example?

MS: I regret not having limited the phone for the kids and some of it wasn’t totally in my control. I think Jonathan Haidt has won that argument. I’m convinced. Keep the smartphones out of schools. I would just not allow kids to have them before the age of maybe 16, kind of like with cigarettes.

MR: Do you have a religious practice? Are you religious at all?


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