George & Danielle: Non-Strangers

December 19th, 2005

Earlier this year I was perusing the New York Review of Books (my copy of Us magazine hadn't arrived yet) when I happened to see an ad for a book called Talking to Strangers, by a University of Chicago professor named Danielle Allen. At the time, I was looking forward -- with a healthy amount of trepidation -- to this new gig as a TV interviewer, and so the idea of talking to strangers was very much on my mind. That day, on my way to pick up my son from after-school, I bought a copy. Even before I'd left the store, I started reading the opening chapter and instantly got caught up in Allen's narrative.

Danielle AllenWhich is not to say that her book is your typical page-turner. It's a passionate, and breathtakingly erudite, work of political theory -- weaving together the civil rights movement, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Aristotle's writings on ethics, and many other sources into a thrillingly possible-feeling proposal for making our democracy more ... well ... democratic. I ended up underlining virtually every sentence, as time after time I found that Allen was addressing issues that had deeply troubled me -- especially on the heels of the last presidential election, when I feared that our country was in danger of breaking apart into simplistic, and polarized, contingents of "red" versus "blue." (Okay, I still fear that.) Her book -- despite its modest, down-to-earth, questioning tone -- makes a forceful and persuasive argument that we need to focus on creating political friendships across party, class, racial, and other lines. I'm thrilled that, during a brief visit to the Bay Area, she was able to drop by our studios for a conversation on the show that will air tonight at 7:30 (and be repeated on Friday night at both 7:30 and 10:30). ...

George LakoffMy other guest, George Lakoff, had only to cross the Bay to reach us. Which is not to say it was exactly easy to schedule him: because his powerful ideas about political "framing" have become so influential, he has a demanding cross-country travel itinerary that would seem unusual for your typical, mild-mannered linguistics professor at Cal-Berkeley. Even before the publication of his latest book, the slim and accessible Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Lakoff -- a founder of the Berkeley-based think tank the Rockridge Institute -- had become a hot commodity among politicos, from U.S. senators on down to grassroots activists. Like Danielle Allen, he is devoted to deepening the national dialogue about the pressing issues of our day. And on the show, he argued that following the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, we may actually be facing a unique opportunity to come together as citizens. I hope he's right! ...

In between the two interviews is a "Wandering Josh" segment in which I present some very silly petitions to some very patient Berkeleyites. Based on this first foray into the political arena, I think it's safe to say that if I ever run for office, I am highly likely to get myself recalled before the election can even take place. ...

Entry Filed under: tv episodes


  • 1. Jennah  |  December 20th, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    Hi Josh. I loved your show last night. It got my attention when you mentioned how hard it is to talk about politics, even with relatives. It was so funny when you changed infra to outra (something like that). Interestingly enough, too many people use words without looking up their etymology, and often communication just breaks down. It doesn’t have to be that way! (Maybe ego plays a factor) That’s why I loved it that you had a linguist on your show. I’ve heard good things about Lakoff’s book. I can’t wait to pick up my copy, as well as Danielle Allen’s book. As a muslim American woman living in our post-911 environment, I know exactly what it feels like when I talk to strangers. No matter how people judge me by my appearance or my religion, I neither identify myself as “blue” nor “red”, maybe pink.

    Former Berkeleyite

  • 2. Josh Kornbluth  |  December 21st, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    What a lovely comment, Jennah — thank you!! As the son of a teacher and a librarian (as well as a former copy editor), I share your passion for words (and wordplay). Here’s to a future of political and cultural diversity, with the OED available to all!

  • 3. andrea escovedo  |  December 25th, 2005 at 3:54 am

    I am going to buy a case of “Talking to Strangers” and give them to all of those people I’ve been convinced are confused.

    Inspiring !!!!!

  • 4. Josh Kornbluth  |  December 26th, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks, Andrea!!

  • 5. barbara  |  December 27th, 2005 at 12:55 am

    great show–I’m inspired by “talk to strangers”

    Thanks much

  • 6. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 2nd, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Cool, Barbara — as you could probably tell from the show, I’m inspired by Allen’s book, too!

  • 7. helen west  |  January 2nd, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    Josh, Please repeat the Geo. Lakoff interview. By the time I realized how good it was, it was too late to record! Is it possible to get tapes of your shows? He gave the best discriptions of liberals and conservatives I’ve ever heard and must have it to play for……. well, everyone I know. You are a natural. Reason being, of course, that you are a wonderful listener and as a viewer, you are easy to listen TO, relaxing. Helen

  • 8. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 2nd, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks so much for you kind words, Helen! You — and everyone you know (or at least those with a high-speed Internet connection) — can watch the Lakoff show online: just click on the “TV Program” tab at the top of this page and then scroll down to that episode. The picture is pretty tiny, but it’s watchable!

  • 9. hatif  |  May 28th, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    hi josh,
    the interview was interesting. I like your style very much. You always try to get to the heart of a crux through applying almost a childish (by this i admire you of course) searching method. You are a “new” man,josh.
    I love your show.

  • 10. Yvonne Devine  |  June 4th, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Dear Josh, MY BAD!!!! I just didn’t look far enough to find the date of this show — I am rushing to to try to buy these two books. Thanks so much for doing this show for us “progressive/radicals’ — I am an elementary public school teacher in the East Bay, and I also very much appreciate your shows on public schools and its vicissitudes. Living’ em daily!!!!! Yvonne Devine

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