About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Open letter to Leonard Lopate

Dear Mr. Lopate,

I often listen to your and other WNYC shows, being a member since I moved to the New York area three years ago. I rarely write to the media, but your segment this morning featuring Russell Simmons really got me worried.

I do understand that Mr. Simmons has somehow "helped transform hip-hop from a New York subculture to an international phenomenon" (which, apparently, is a good thing, though there is considerable room for disagreement), but that doesn't seem to justify devoting 40 minutes of airtime to his quasi-incomprehensible rants.

Mr. Simmons, who seemed primarily interested in letting your audience know that his book is on the top 10 bestsellers list, talked about a single prophet that established all the major religions of the world -- a statement that would find Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims alike understandably baffled. He also kept referring to the alleged fact that "there is only one world," apparently not understanding that your question referred to being "in another world" in a metaphorical and cultural -- not literal or spiritual -- sense. Was he even paying

Moreover, Mr. Simmons praised "The Secret," a book that is a rare example of nonsense on stilts, and which is selling simply because it tells people that they can get whatever they want just because they want it (both you and Simmons failed to point out that the author of the same book also blames the victims of events such as the Holocaust for not having maintained a positive enough attitude toward the world).

And as icing on the cake, Simmons kept heaping praise on Deepak Chopra, a charlatan with few equals in contemporary culture, who has written books full of pseudoscientific language that try to sell people on methods for remaining forever young (with the general public so blinded by the flimflammery that it doesn't seem to have noticed that Chopra himself has visibly aged since his first book came out).

Really, Mr. Lopate, don't we have more insightful people and interesting topics to put on our beloved public radio?


  1. M,

    Simmons was on the Colbert Report the other day as well, and I came away with much the same impression - total hack. At first he tried to just pitch his book (facing the audience and holding the book up himeself) until Colbert reigned him back into the interview. The rest of the time he tried (unsuccessfully) to explain the title of the book while Colbert through him off with wacky questions. Simmons started saying something about the Secret but never finished fortunately. Finally he gave Colbert some power bracelet from Africa with a special diamond attached. Do you think he gets an easy pass from journalists because he one of a few visible African-American businessmen? What a schlup.

  2. I don't know much about this guy. Entertainment industry people often have an inflated sense of importance.

    After clicking on one of the links in Massimo's posts I learned that Simmons was supposed to talk about his call to purge the world of rap of various demeaning words. So maybe this is at least one admirable thing he is doing.

    That is of course not to endorse his endorsement of this Secret nonsense.

  3. "Simmons was supposed to talk about his call to purge the world of rap of various demeaning words"

    Not clear why this is admirable. If he finds certain lyrics demeaning, can't he just not listen to them rather than try to impose his standards on others? And why do Simmons and others focus on rap? I find "country" (of the pop variety) to be equally demeaning and vapid, but I never see anyone villify it.

  4. Get the Secret for what its worth:

    NewsMax offeres the Secret for free:


    They offered Ann Coulter's book for about $5.00 so The Secret must be worth()less.

    One catch, you have to order NewsMax Magazine and read columns from the likes of Bill O'Reiley.

  5. "Not clear why this is admirable. If he finds certain lyrics demeaning, can't he just not listen to them rather than try to impose his standards on others? And why do Simmons and others focus on rap?"

    Apparently you know less about the guy than I do. He is the founder of Def Jam records, which is apparently a major rap hip hop label. Therefore, he has influence in that arena.

    Being who he is, he has the freedom to not sign artists who take part in this demeaning of women. Or he can use his position to PERSUADE, (not impose) rap artists to change their approach to their art in this respect. Those artists also have the freedom to ignore him and find another label. That is simply setting a standard for his label.

    You can't be serious about not entering into conversations and arguments about standards with other people, can you?

    Say you found out you had a friend who verbally abused his girlfriend, or was explicitly a racist. Would you not challenge him on his behaviour? Or at least call him an asshole and discontinue the friendship?

    This is really what we are talking about, but on the level of society and culture. Nobodys talking about imposing anything on anybody. We are talking about persuasion.

    We live in a society. And morals and standards are established in society through culture and argument. Much of this is done by persuasion. Other standards and morals we do impose through laws. Are you prepared to defend the idea that we should not do any of this?

    Of course there are standards that should not be established through laws, like language and speech. And yes, the religious right and other uptight theocrats put up a fuss over things like the Vagina Monologues and the use of scrotum in a childrens book. I disagree with this.

    But what I do think is that people should be given a basic level of respect. Its called civility.

  6. Sheldon,

    Thanks for the comments. Actually, I was aware that Simmons was head of Def Jam records, and I know he has hands in a whole array of hip-hop business. Of course it is within his right to attempt to persuade artists to include respectful lyrics, and it is their right to go with another label. I don't find it admirable because it's pointless. For example, many complain that rap contains misogynistic lyrics. This undoubtedly true, but as far as I am aware, no has shown that simply listening to such lyrics actually causes mysogyny, physical abuse, etc. To my mind, one avoids and distracts from the real issue by going after offensive lyrics rather than the root cause of biogtry and violence. So Simmons et al. can keep blaming music/hollywood/tv/internet all they want, but I don't respect them for it. Hope that clarifies.

  7. Artemis NemesisJuly 02, 2007 12:16 PM

    Never mind Simmons. Lopate is the one who skims over the surface of complicated issues, all to further his own narcissistic goals. Lopate is the classic example of "liberal lite." He might as well be working for the right (and maybe he is). Lopate gives thinking a bad name.

  8. Some of you start your arguments out fine but then you somehow self defeat them.
    What it seems to boil down to is that it is a matter of WHO is right not WHAT is right.
    Also, I can't help but think that if there were a style of "music" similar to RAP in the respect that white people wrote and sung lyrics about blacks in demeaning ways, a lot of you who defend RAP because "Though it's lyrics are misogynistic there is no proof that it contributes to misogyny" would be in an uproar about "racism" in music lyrics that "create the culture of racism " (etc etc). The fact is that talking about women in misogynistic ways is part of what misogyny is ; It is not strictly the ACTING out of violence and discrimination. Who (except maybe people with very low self esteem) want to be constantly referred to as objects and be thought of in terms of someone's sex toy (etc etc)?
    Here's the parallel that we ought to consider:
    Is it racist to STRICTLY out rightly lynch a black person because or hat person's color, but IT IS NOT racist to MERELY write songs or words that praise lynching and condone keeping black people as they used to be in the cotton fields and not allowing them to got school to become scientists and engineers?

    Do websites such as Racism and Reality merely allow freedom of speech but don't really encourage anyone to become a racist whom is not inclined to be a racist even if that person logs onto the website and reads the "racist" words and comments ?

    If Racism and Reality is a website that keeps out people of differing opinions about people who are not white, is that in the same vein as someone keeping out certain artists whom do not contribute to the misogynist reputation of a certain RAP label?

    The fact is that misogyny is far more socially acceptable than so-called "Racism."

    The bizarre thing is that it seems that RAP is the creation of black people and particularly black males and that it seems to be a backlash and a movement that certain blacks have created so as blacks can become the oppressors as whites had been to them back in the times of slavery.

    It is just an awful scenario.
    There is a need for a lot of blacks to listen more to Larry Elder ( not that I agree with him entirely either).


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