Feb 2, 2022 • 6M

“What Is Gender?”

Robin Dembroff Starts Off Season 2 of “What Is X?”

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Justin Smith-Ruiu
It's the internet, aspirated.

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I’m still on my short sabbatical from Substack, and I promise I’ll be back this coming Sunday or thereabout with a proper essay, but I wanted to briefly make an appearance to share the most recent episode of my podcast, “What Is X?”, which is also the first episode of Season 2, featuring Robin Dembroff talking about Gender, and what it is. Robin is assistant professor of philosophy at Yale University, and author of the forthcoming Real Men On Top: How Patriarchy Weaponizes Gender (Oxford University Press). I’ve shared here a short sample of the episode. To hear the whole thing, go to the podcast’s website.

I’ve got big things coming up for Seasons 2 and beyond. So far I’ve been focusing on the most general and abstract of concepts, mostly “philosophical” ones. I’ve still got a good dozen or so of those that I’d like to cover (What Is, e.g., Consciousness, Love, Virtue, Music, Life, Death, Money, Faith, Reason?), but soon enough I’d like to get to some obscure and unexpected questions, perhaps going deep, far too deep for some tastes, into the sort of things of which you likely never stopped to ask, What is the nature of this thing? Perhaps I’ll do a long “What Is X?” parenthesis of 118 episodes, each dedicated to one of the elements on the periodic table: “What Is Hydrogen?” “What Is Helium?” … “What Is Tungsten?” … “What Is Oganesson?” Well, actually, I probably won’t do that, but you get the idea. I definitely will be doing “What Is Water?” at some point, but that question has a special history in philosophy that separates this particular molecule (or class of molecules?) from other objects of interest to the chemists.

Otherwise, as I also reflect on the “What Is X?” website, I’ve realized over the course of Season 1 that I’m not nearly as convincing a Socrates figure as I had previously imagined. But this may be another way of saying I’m a better conversationalist than I thought myself to be. I find I generally agree with people, at least during the time I’m speaking with them, while afterwards their spell begins slowly to wear off and I recall all the more enduring commitments I have that are in fact in tension with all the things I was nodding along to just a short time before. This might seem contradictory, hypocritical even, to some who position themselves in the world as polemicists or fighters for some particular cause (to some extent, this is a role I myself take up in my writing, just not, I’m learning, in my conversing). But everyone believes what they believe for what at least they take to be good reasons, and it’s worth learning what those are. Part of that learning is the effort we undertake in conversation to put ourselves in their position, and to see what things look like when we agree with them. So, while this podcast still strives toward a determination of Agreement (marked by the sound of bells), Disagreement (goat’s bleat), or Aporia (wind), the goat has turned out to be a rare character on this show. I make no apologies for that.

Look forward to a special Valentine’s Day episode two weeks from now, with incurable romantic Dominic Pettman, on Love, and what it is.

And otherwise keep reading my ‘stack, and better yet, subscribing to it. In the coming months, I think I will adopt a new approach to the subscriber-vs.non-subscriber puzzle. I will continue to make everything free and open to all readers, but I will shift posts to subscriber-only mode once they are, say, one month old, so that everyone can read the latest stuff, but only subscribers can access the archive. We’ll see if that works, or if I get around to doing it. As I say, it’s a real puzzle, and I don’t know what the best approach is. All I know is I would be happy to see the subscriber ratio go up somewhat.

Thanks again for your readership and support.