I received an e-mail today that gives me a bit of pause:
I discovered your podcast a couple of weeks ago. I liked it right away, because it was three friends talking about a favorite subject... Plus, it seemed like a good way to learn about the philosophers I'd never read, like an audiobook, but way more fun.
...Your podcasts are fine, but my problem is you guys keep hitting me in the face with your political views. I get that not everyone is a conservative.... I wish I knew why that was. Anyway, in every episode, it's usually Wes who takes a shot at the right wing, usually insinuating that we're all bible-thumping, gay-hating rednecks who want to cut taxes while fetishizing our guns. The first few times, I let it go, but man! You guys have a real problem with conservatives, don't you? Do you really think we're all intellectually dishonest scoundrels who don't really believe what we're saying, haven't given a thought to our beliefs, and want to selfishly get rich at others' expense? You must, and it's okay. Your opinons are fine, though I don't agree. But they do not make me feel wanted, that's for sure.
I also get the daily double from you guys. Ayn Rand. She was a horrible human being. Her followers tend to be absolutist assholes, puffed up with self-importance. But labeling anyone who thinks her novels, or her writings on economics and racism and rational self-interest, are adolescent thinkers who refuse to grow up really offends me.
I think I should just not listen anymore. It's too bad, because I like the way you guys relate to each other and I like the subject matter, and I like your music. But I don't think you want me. You demonstrate it with every shot you take.
This parallels some occasional flack we get re. our views on religion, and I'll give the same defense: we acknowledge that it's very very likely that you, the individual listener, are a sensitive and thoughtful conservative (given that you're listening to a philosophy podcast), but we live in a culture where "conservative" means "go out and get a job and be useful, and screw all this knowledge for knowledge's sake and art for art's sake!" Philosophy is by definition in opposition to that.
As I've tried to express in some blog posts, I think there are versions of conservatism that are not blatantly foolish (foolish being, for instance, a blind focus on taxes as being the root of all evil). I think our Locke episode touches on some of the legitimate philosophical problems involved: you've got a system of accrual of property that seems fair on the face of it; does it remain fair if and when one guy gets all the nuts? How do you construct a government where the representatives aren't sold out to the rich? Can a democracy be effective if its citizens are apathetic, or worse off if they can be inflamed/bribed by appealing to an emotional issue (e.g. abortion or gay marriage) into letting supporting things against their interest (i.e. the interests of the rich as protected by those sold-out politicians)?
Re. Rand in particular, all I can say is please go read and learn about a lot of philosophy, and you'll likely come to the conclusion that even if you agree with her political views, she was just really not a good philosopher... not cogent in her arguments and not educated about the philosophy (e.g. Kant) she was reacting against. You will grow out of her if you keep pushing ahead, I promise. The elements that you like about her you'll find better if you push into her influences (e.g. Nietzsche, Aristotle). I'll say the same things to lefties who got into philosophy through drippy New Age writings. These are fine gateway drugs but must be transcended.
OK, but all this is beside the point: given that some of our listeners will have different views, and strongly identify themselves in such a way that they'll feel personally insulted at casual digs to the Tea Party, or evangelical Christianity, or George W. Bush, and given that we podcasters want to get and keep as many listeners in the fold as possible (for purely egotistical reasons, apparently, as we're not charging admission to the party), should we make some attempt to lay off with that brand of shit-talking? In other words, do we WANT listeners like the this guy?
A parallel comes to mind: we know that some of our listeners are turned off by us saying words like "shit-talking" and "fuckstick" and "queef balloon," and on occasion I'll actually edit such things out if they aren't at all germane to the discussion (for instance, when talking about Kant, you really have to talk about queef balloons). Still, I think overall the humor and naturalness outweighs this concern, and all I can say to sensitive souls is to take a deep breath and you'll get through it.
So likewise, though I definitely want to say that all thoughtful folks are welcome at the table, and our legitimate objections are always aimed at ideas and not at people, and I'm sure we'd be polite to you in person, and finally, I'll admit that some of our outbursts are a matter of overreactions to things that irritate us, if you dig the philosophy, stick around and you'll be able to simply shake your head bemusedly at what you're welcome to take as our foolish quirks. If you can't manage that, well, do what you have to do, and we wish you well.