Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why can’t we legislate against guns? Some observations about American dysfunction.

This image was taken from an article on CNN Politics.

Tribune newspapers recently asked me to comment on what we could do about guns after Las Vegas. April Baumgarten, the author, did a nice job (thank you April!), but I knew that given space limitations, she could only include a small portion of what I said. Here is my elaboration—an extended explanation of what I was trying to say.

We are living in extreme times. Discussing the possibility that maybe someone might submit legislation to limit a gun accessory is now considered a major breakthrough. Republicans and the NRA are suggesting that they might be open to limiting the “bump stock,” an add-on that makes a legal semi-automatic weapon operate as if it were an illegal automatic one. This is good, I guess. I hope it happens. It is just that doing so is the legislative equivalent of curing gangrene of the leg by giving the patient a new sock. It does nothing to solve the actual problem.

As much as I hope for tougher gun laws, the fact of the matter is that culturally, we are not ready to consider meaningful change. Our gun fetishism is both a cause and consequence of national dysfunctions. We are not doing what we should be as families, communities, self-governors, and citizens of the world. We are failing our own democracy. We need to change the way we think, act, and speak politically before any solution can be genuinely proffered, let alone achieved. In this spirit, I offer these observations of what we, as a country, ought to emphasize.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Newsletter: Announcing Why? Radio's new schedule and the return of the Senior Citizens' Philosophy Discussion Group

IPPL newsletter, September 6, 2017

The Public Philosopher
The latest news from The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life and Why? Radio.


Welcome to another season of Why? Radio. We are so pleased that you are here. We don't yet have the calendar finalized, but here are some episodes to be excited about:

September 10: “Is a Universal Basic Income too Utopian to Work?” with Rutger Bregman.

October 8: “Is Aging a Disease that Can be Cured?" with Aubrey de Grey

November 12: "What is the best science policy for a democracy?" with Heather Douglas

And some of our unscheduled guests and topics include:

- Daniel Dennett on consciousness.
- Peter Singer on moral decision-making about animals and humans.
- Beth Ritchie investigating the special vulnerability of Black women in prison.
- Cathy O'Neil on how algorithms rule our lives.

and so much more to come!

We will keep you posted, but visit our
Upcoming Episodes page for the latest schedule.

Live events                                                   

The Senior Citizens’ Philosophy Discussion Group is back and we have a new location!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Why Did Homo Sapiens Evolve Into Artists?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio: "Why Did Homo Sapiens Evolve Into Artists?" with guest Valerius Geist.Click here to listen to the episode.

There is a debate that is consuming universities across the country. Administrators are now only interested in cultivating the so-called "practical" subjects. At my own University of North Dakota, they want to give money to the schools of business and aviation, and invest in rural medicine and energy production. They are mostly uninterested in music, English, philosophy, and the arts. They even have little time for pure science—physics or biology for its own sake is deemed worthless because it does not guaranteed a financial return on investment. For the UND administration, even the STEM subjects are only worthwhile when they concern themselves with areas like information technology or unmanned aircraft systems. Down-to-earth, marketable, fashionable practicalities, that they think, makes UND more attractive to granting agencies and parents.

This is, I must say, a very odd orientation to have. What they mean by "practical" makes 99% of even their own experience invisible. Pretty much every administrator redecorates his or her office during the first weeks of the job. They all hang art on the walls and want nice desks. They wear formal business clothes, groom themselves, and have fashionable and appropriate hair styles. More money is spent on the way administrators want things to look than on copier paper or parking passes. Art is, whether they acknowledge it or not, more than just practical. It is a human necessity.

Today we will ask why this is. What does art provide that humanity cannot get from something else? To find an answer, we will turn to evolution. Neanderthals did not have art; neither did Homo erectus. Art developed alongside our ability to herd livestock and grow crops. This means that it must have a purpose. Nothing useless evolves. Or to put it another way, art is a necessary component of the survival of the fittest.

I am not going to anticipate what purposes art serves; I will leave that to my guest. But I would like to suggest that to understand art evolutionarily, is to see it in terms of the skills it requires: creativity, imagination, communication, collaboration, mutual understanding, as well as color differentiation, object manipulation, dexterity, cataloging and classification, scent identification, and aural reproduction. Studies of contemporary school children show time and time again that students who learn art do better in math and writing. It teaches them problem solving and critical thinking. It inspires everyone to think differently, to see the other perspectives better, and to improve our own self-awareness. Surely these skills were just as important for early humans as they are for those of us who live in the 21st century.

It is easy to think of evolution as somehow separate from our day-to-day lives. We live in cities and towns, early humans were at home on the African plains. We think of ourselves as individuals, but only describe our ancestors’ tribes. When we hunt, we do so for sport or tradition, but there is little there to recall the scarcity and desperation that early hunters faced. It takes more imagination to see our continuity with the creatures who came before us than it does to see what we have in common with those who live on the other side of the world, even those in cultures that we don’t understand, with practices that may horrify us.

But there is nothing more natural than the connection between early human beings and the people whom we call our friends and family. Scientists can show with precision and detail all the steps between them and us, the progressive developments that got us from there to here. They can also show, as we shall see, that we could not have developed scientific practices if we had not learned how to be artists, and we could not have become entrepreneurial if we were neither imaginative nor creative. There is no clear and distinct difference between art, science, business, engineering, and other human endeavors. You can’t have one without the others.

What some university administrators refuse to see is the holistic nature of the human experience. UND’s leadership is blind to the fact that their scheme to be the most influential university in the world when it comes to drones will necessarily fall short if there is no meaningful attention to the arts. Without lessons in creativity, neither students nor professors will be capable of innovation. This has been true since the moment that our species could be identified as human. In fact, what I suspect today’s episode will show, is that if we didn’t have art, we couldn’t be called human at all.

Follow Why? Radio on Twitter: @whyradioshow
Follow the author on Twitter: @jackrweinstein

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Do airplanes take away our free will?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio: "What Makes a Building Beautiful?" with guest Sarah Williams Goldhagen. Click here to listen to the episode.

Sarah Goldhagen’s new book is about how architecture interacts with human bodies. I read much of it flying from North Dakota to New York. I felt enclosed on the plane, and robotic. I became totally internal, even consciously disregarding my bladder because I was trapped in a window seat. Periodically, as I flexed my ankles, I would lift the window blind to get a glimpse of the bright blue sky. It refreshed me.

Ironically, the plane, which was created for habitation, felt inhuman, while the world outside, which I could only ever experience through windows, gave me life. Yet, as much as seeing the sky made me feel as if I were breathing fresh air, I only allowed myself a few moments before lowering the blind. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbor, and the flight crew had asked us to leave the shutters down to keep the plane cool and save fuel. The cynic in me believes—hell, the realist in me knows—the flight crew uses the darkness to keep us complacent and lethargic.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Monday: Why? Radio is live in New York City. Be in our audience for free.

Why? Radio is recording live in New York City on Monday, June 12, and you can be in the audience for free! Just steps away from Wall Street's Charging Bull and Fearless Girl, is the best and cheapest ticket in town. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

One hashtag to share Why? Radio with the world. Tweet #TryPod

This month is #TryPod month (we're a bit late in the game). Podcasters are asking listeners to post about their favorite shows while including the #Trypod hashtag. It's free and a great way to support shows like ours,...shows that have virtually no advertising budget. 

Please tweet or post about Why? Radio using the hashtag #TryPod and help introduce us to new listeners.

Include our address
@whyradioshow and we'll share it.

And don't forget to direct them to
Thank you, as always, for your support.


Monday, March 27, 2017

New website shows that philosophy majors are employable and make a great living.


They told you that philosophy majors don’t get jobs. They told you that you should practice asking “do you want fries with that?” They told you philosophy wasn’t about real-world skills. They were wrong.

Explore the incredible employment- and salary-statistics of philosophy degree holders at Share a site designed to persuade everyone that philosophy is a great, employable, and lucrative major. Submit your own story to help show the world that philosophy is not frivolous, but is a useful tool for whatever profession its students choose.

PQED's Institute for Philosophy in Public Life news and events

IPPL newsletter, March 26, 2017

The Public Philosopher
The latest news from The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life and Why? Radio.

The Institute for Philosophy and Public Life offers a wide range of free activities and resources open to everyone with an interest in philosophy. We have modernized our web portal to make it easier to navigate, particularly on mobile phones. We have also created a new website for prospective philosophy majors to help convinced skeptical parents that philosophy degree holders are competitive in today's job market. And, as usual, we offer both in-person and radio-based opportunities for people to come together and explore philosophy in a supportive and non-adversarial environment. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why was the word 'Ms.' so important?

 Msfirst appeared in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine.

This is the monologue for the 100th episode of Why? Radio: "Feminism as Philosophy, Politics, and Friendship" with guests Gloria Steinem and Suzanne Braun Levine. Click here to listen to the episode.

I can think of few guests more suitable for the hundredth episode of Why? Radio than Gloria Steinem and Suzanne Braun Levine. They and their feminists cohorts emphasized that everyday sexism was built on ideology as much as habit, creating a space for philosophy in the public consciousness. Gloria and Suzanne’s creation, Ms. Magazine, prepared the ground for the blogs, college courses, and television shows we have today. It was critical thinking; it was public philosophy.

Ms. offered a counterpoint to the notion that women were only interested in, well, notions. Its title alone was transgressive. It recognized that the most personal designation—that term by which we are acknowledged by others—announced our limitations. Women called Miss were deemed perpetually immature and those referred to as Mrs. were relegated to the background of a couple. Those called Ms, however, were protected by ambiguity. Freed from the conviction that without a husband, they were nothing, they could pursue the life of their choice—in theory, anyway.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why Radio's 100th episode! We need questions for Gloria Steinem and Suzanne Braun Levine.

Visit us at

Dear Why? Radio listeners,

As many of you know, the next episode is our 100th. To celebrate, we are lucky enough to have two incredible guests, best friends Gloria Steinem and Suzanne Braun Levine. The topic of the show is “Feminism as philosophy, politics, and friendship.”

We are prerecording the show, but we need your questions. So, please think about what you would ask Gloria and Suzanne if you got to talk to them personally, and pass the questions along to us. We’ll do our best to ask them during the show.

The deadline for questions is January 31st at 5pm, but feel free to send them sooner. And don’t forget to include your first name and your city/state, so we can give you credit for the question on the air.

Send them via email at
Tweet them at: @whyradiohsow
Or call us and leave a message at (888) 755-6377

Thank you all for your loyalty to the show. We look forward to sharing this milestone with you and hope the next 100 episodes are even better.

Jack Russell Weinstein

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Download a new free book: "Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College"

Published by the University of North Dakota Digital Press

Announcing an exciting new FREE book for you to download, including an essay by PQED author/ Why? Radio host Jack Russell Weinstein. Click on the link below to get your copy!
Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College
Download the book here (pdf)

The 2016 presidential election has sparked an unprecedented interest in the Electoral College. To expand the conversation, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College offers brief essays that examine the Electoral College from different disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, mathematics, political science, history, and pedagogy. Along the way, the essays address a variety of questions about the Electoral College: Why was it created? How has it changed over time? Who benefits from it? Is it just? How will future demographic patterns affect it? Should we alter or abolish the Electoral College, and if so, what should replace it? In exploring these matters, Picking the President enhances our understanding of one of America’s most high-profile, momentous issues.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Can we escape the Christian imagination?

Pictured here is St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopedists.
This is the monologue for the most recent episode of Why? Radio: "Thinking Philosophically About the Black Church" with guest J. Kameron Carter. Click here to listen to the episode.

I am so glad December is over; I hate the holiday season. I grow weary of the alienation my Jewish family feels whenever we leave our house and I’m horrified at the stressful consumer orgy forced upon my friends. I am also really tired of reminding others that even for an atheist, Christmas is a Christian holiday.

Yes, the commemoration of the birth of Christ is and must be Christian, even for those who don’t talk about Jesus. And yes, the celebration of the second coming excludes those who are still waiting for their own messiah, even if they enjoy a cup of eggnog or display their friends’ Christmas cards on the mantle while they wait.

Friday, January 6, 2017

"Thinking Philosophically About the Black Church" - Why? Radio is live, Sunday:

Why? Radio is live Sunday.
Send us your comments now or during the show.

"Thinking Philosophically About the Black Church"

Guest: J. Kameron Carter
Sunday, January 8 at 5 p.m. central.

Listen live from anywhere in the world at and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks), 91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.

Send your questions now or during the show to

Remember, if you miss this or any episode, you can access them all for free at our archive:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How can we think philosophically about disability?

This is the monologue for the most recent episode of Why? Radio: "Philosophy and Disability" with guest Anita Silvers. Click here to listen to the episode.

I want to have a philosophical discussion about disability, but before we begin, it is worth asking how we can philosophize about a subject that is either invisible to most people, or deeply embarrassing. It is invisible because we think little of the ramps we walk up or the braille on the ATM. When we use the most obvious reminder of living with a disability—the extra-wide toilet stall in a public restroom—we are either anxious that we are going to be in someone’s way who needs it, or relieved that we found a stall big enough to comfortably hang our big coats and heavy work bags. Where to hang your big coat is not a trivial issue in North Dakota.

Disability is embarrassing to address because we don’t like to call attention to people’s impairments or conditions. We are uncomfortable highlighting someone’s difference unless we perceive it as positive or worth celebrating. But, of course whether someone with a disability is to be considered different at all is a philosophical question, and it is unclear whether pathologizing disability is even useful. I’ve already used the terms “impairment” and “condition” in my introduction and I don’t quite know what new information this brings to the table. Also, I’ve already implied that my audience is looking at disability from afar, not experiencing it. I’ve actually reaffirmed the invisibility of the disabled while attempting to call attention to them.

Monday, November 28, 2016

If the Electoral College can contradict the popular vote sometimes, why would it be wrong for them to do it every single time? [Ask a Philosopher]

Today we have a question that makes me think of the current attempt to get electors to abandon Donald Trump and vote for Hillary Clinton.

A reader writes:
Long before the election, my class was discussing the Electoral College, and one student opined that it should be kept because the popular vote doesn't accord with the electoral vote only some of the time. This got me thinking, "Would we find it acceptable if the popular vote never matched the electoral vote?" It would seem that whatever makes it acceptable to have the popular vote not match the electoral vote in some instances, would also make such an outcome acceptable in every instance. Or, conversely, whatever makes it unacceptable to have the popular vote not match the electoral vote in every instance, would also make such an outcome unacceptable in each instance. But perhaps I'm missing something, so I thought I'd see what you have to say in regard to the argumentation.

This is a good, interesting, and relevant question. Let me put it another way: if it is okay for the Electoral College to contradict the popular vote once in a while, why isn’t it okay for it to do so all the time? How can opposing the popular vote be right only some of the time?

I think there are two possible options, depending on what we regard the purpose of the Electoral College to be. Is its purpose insurance or to be a representative body?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A reporter wrote an article about me and got an antisemitic email in response.

Today, the Grand Forks Herald, published an article about my inclusion in The Professor Watch List. It is a thoughtful piece. You can read it here.

Buried in the 18th paragraph is a mention about the antisemitic letter I received last week, the one I wrote the blog entry about. It was in no way, the subject of the article. It was just an aside emphasizing how these sorts of attacks make people feel vulnerable.

Within a few hours, the journalist herself got her own antisemitic rant. It read:

you do know you cannot have antisemitism without semitism right ??
I'm sure you are a college grad and do know the jews have been kicked out of 89 countries 109 times right ? You do know that.....? Right ?.
If this guy has his way you will not be able to have a gun in this country.........

I know about the letter because the journalist sent it to me. She didn’t understand one of the references and sought to know more. I have nothing but respect for this. As a Jew and a teacher, I can think of nothing nobler than asking to learn more, especially about a paniful and complex topic like antisemitism. I wish more journalists were as conscientious as she is.

I wrote her a detailed line-by-line historical explanation of the email; I won’t repost it here. But just in case others have a difficult time deciphering the sentence fragments, I will reprint my plain-English summary.

No, students who sought counseling after the recent presidential election are not "precious snowflakes."

This picture was used here to ridicule the crying student.
I believe her emotional reaction to losing is a badge of honor.

Over the last couple of weeks, pundits have publicly attacked university students for being whiny, coddled crybabies in the face of the presidential election. Following others (see here, here, and here), Rob Port a local Republican blogger attacked a neighboring university, North Dakota State University, for sending out an email informing its students that counseling services were available to anyone who was having trouble dealing with the results. This student weakness was so horrifying to a a local letter writer, that she felt the need to both describe her own time as a college student as strong and noble, and then to tell students who need someone to talk to to “get a grip” and "find God."

Even if only a small  numbers of students actually sought counseling, these attacks are dangerous and ignorant. They are based on the outdated premise that asking for psychological help is a form of weakness. It is not. Asking for help requires great strength and it is noble for anyone to act to improve his or her own well-being. Part of what makes human beings special is our desire and ability to improve ourselves. Part of what makes us fragile is that our idea of what improvement is, is often distorted by, at best, imperfect, and at worst, destructive experiences. A good therapist can help people overcome a difficult childhood, trauma, poor judgment and self-centered blinders. Personal improvement is hard that takes much more than personal reflection. Shouldn't we encourage people to work on themselves?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The author of this blog has just been put on a watch list for having “anti-American values.” Here is how you can help.

It has been a heck of a week here at PQED and Why? Radio.

We had to cancel our planned guest on Why? Radio and reran our interview with Daniel Goldhagen called “How to Think About Antisemitism.”

Two days later, our host, Jack Russell Weinstein received an antisemitic screed via email. He responded on this blog in, in the words of one religion scholar, an “amazing calm” and “powerful” way.

It took a lot out of him.

Then yesterday, the world found out that Jack is the only North Dakotan listed on Professor Watch List, a website dedicated to surveilling professors who, they say, “promote anti-American values:”

We feel a little exposed right now. We are looking over our shoulders a lot.
But we will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Molli Bernstein died this weekend. (Death in the age of Facebook.)

Molli Bernstein died of a drug overdose this weekend; I didn’t really know her. She was one of the hundreds of Facebook friends I have acquired because of my radio show and blog. I was first connected to her via a mutual acquaintance—a young photographer—when they both started complaining about Facebook censoring their pictures.

Molli was a fashion model and she had posed for some test nudes, helping an inexperienced photographer-friend as they both learned their trade. She posted them on a blog, shared them on Facebook, someone complained about the nudity, Facebook took the link down, and eventually, I wrote a post exploring the tension between the idea of “art” and the pragmatic practice of labelling images Not Safe for Work. It was a totally unnecessary chain of events.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The antisemitic email I just got and my response to it.

So, here's a problem: what image do I use here that doesn't make things worse? What can I do that doesn't exploit the history of antisemitism just to get attention? I don't want to equate this email to any real atrocity, but I'm backed into a corner. I have to have some kind of illustration here.  This is another way in which antisemitism traps Jews. Even the mere act of deciding what picture to use to begin a blog post is fraught with danger. Whatever I use, I can be accused of taking advantage of other people's suffering for my own personal publicity. 

This past weekend we broadcasted a Why? Radio rerun, an interview with Danial Jonah Goldhagen called “How to think about antisemitism.” I had my reservations about running it again because the first time we did, we lost a bunch of listeners. People who regularly wrote to the show sent emails in advance, asking why Israel was evil and other questions that were, at minimum, phrased problematically. The guest and I discussed them, addressing, in particular, the accusation that Jews all think that criticizing Israel is itself anti-Semitic. (Goldhagen’s answer was, first, that most Jews do not think this and second, that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. What is, he argued, is holding Israel to a different standard than anyone else. We’ll come back to that at the end of this discussion.)

During the show I mentions that as a host, I was scared because although I wanted to address listeners’ questions, some of the replies were going to be critical and I didn’t want to alienate a loyal audience. This turned out to be prescient. I never heard from some of them again.

But, politics being what it is, I thought it was an important episode to rebroadcast. Plus, I think it’s a really good episode, one of our best, most compelling, and most sophisticated ones. So I reran it and, predictably, today (11/16/2016) at 7:12 pm, I got the following message via my personal website.