The Gray Area with Sean Illing

The Gray Area with Sean Illing

The Gray Area with host Sean Illing is a philosophical take on culture, politics, and everything in between. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we do offer a space for real dialogue. Resist certainty, embrace ambiguity, and get some cool takes on a very hot world. Formerly the Vox Conversations podcast. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.


November 28, 2022 57 min

Sean Illing talks with Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician, speaker, and bestselling author who has written on subjects like addiction, stress, and attention deficit disorder. In Maté's new book, The Myth of Normal, he argues that the Western paradigm of health is fundamentally flawed in its attempt to separate inner, emotional well-being from bodily health. Sean and Dr. Maté discuss how our society and culture can contribute to illnes...

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Sean Illing talks with economic historian Brad DeLong about his new book Slouching Towards Utopia. In it, DeLong claims that the "long twentieth century" was the most consequential period in human history, during which the institutions of rapid technological growth and globalization were created, setting humanity on a path towards improving life, defeating scarcity, and enabling real freedom. But... this ran into some probl...

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November 17, 2022 45 min

Sean Illing talks with neuroscientist Gregory Berns, author of The Self Delusion. Berns claims that the idea of a unified, persistent self is a kind of illusion, and that we are better understood as multiple selves at different moments in time, tied together by a story — which is what we call our identity. Sean and Greg also talk about whether the brain is a computer, how perception works, the limits of thinking too much about thin...

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November 14, 2022 49 min

Sean Illing talks with veteran political strategist James Carville about the U.S. midterm elections — and the surprising success for Democrats that was a far cry from the "red wave" of Republican victories widely predicted by pundits. They talk about why the results differed so vastly from these expectations, what lessons both parties should be drawing from the outcomes, and whether or not the Democratic party, despite thei...

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Sean Illing talks with technologist, media theorist, and author Douglas Rushkoff, whose new book Survival of the Richest explains how the ultra-wealthy are obsessed with preparing for the end of the world — and the troubling mindset that leads many rich and powerful people down this road. They discuss the blend of tech utopianism and fatalism behind this doomsday prepping, how Silicon Valley and "tech bro" culture have ince...

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Sean Illing talks with Nicole Hemmer, history professor and author of the new book Partisans. In it, she gives a reinterpretation of the Reagan presidency and what followed, and shows how the conservative political movement entangled with media figures and became what it is in the 1990s. They discuss the doomed but influential presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan, the rise to dominance of conservative talk radio, and the enduring...

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Sean Illing talks with Yuval Noah Harari, historian and bestselling author, about how humanity came to be the dominant species on earth, and what our future might hold. Sean and Yuval discuss mankind's imaginative "superpower," the threats to democracy across the globe, the future of artificial intelligence — and plenty more.

Yuval's new book Unstoppable Us adapts many of his macro-historical insights from Sapiens fo...

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October 31, 2022 59 min

Sean Illing talks with reporter Katie Engelhart, whose book The Inevitable is an up-close look at physician-assisted dying. This is the practice of receiving state-sanctioned medical aid to end one's life — a practice now legal in 10 U.S. states, Canada, and elsewhere around the world. They discuss the details of the procedure — including why people fight for this right and exercise it — as well as many of the moral and legal q...

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October 27, 2022 58 min

Sean Illing talks with Jonathan Lear, a psychoanalyst and philosopher, about his new book Imagining the End: Mourning and Ethical Life. How can we continue to live a good life in a world beset by catastrophe, crisis, and chaos? Sean and Jonathan discuss the role of imagination and culture in the ways we make meaning in the world, the idea of mourning as a confrontation with our uniquely human ability to love, and how to turn away f...

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October 24, 2022 67 min

Sean Illing talks with historian and author Peniel Joseph about his new book The Third Reconstruction, which argues that the time we're currently living in can be understood as on a continuum with the civil rights era of the '50s and '60s. and the original American Reconstruction following the Civil War. Sean and Peniel discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the Obama presidency — and important differences between the...

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October 20, 2022 54 min

Sean Illing talks with Reza Aslan, scholar of religions and author of multiple bestselling nonfiction works, to discuss the state of religion in America today. Sean and Reza discuss the relationship between politics and religion, why it can be hard to separate the emotional experiences of faith from the symbolic language of organized religion, and how new religious identities are being forged along principles of Christian nationali...

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October 17, 2022 59 min

Sean Illing talks with war reporter and New Yorker contributing writer Luke Mogelson about his new book The Storm Is Here. In it, Luke shares his on-the-ground reporting across America — from anti-lockdown protests in Lansing, Michigan, to the uprising in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd — to explain how the forces that animated the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021 came to gather strength. In this discus...

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October 13, 2022 58 min

On this first episode of The Gray Area, Sean Illing talks with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who takes on many of our most vexing societal problems in his new book Starry Messenger. According to Neil, if we all were to adopt a more scientific approach to politics, many of our social problems would be easier to identify, talk about, and solve. In this conversation, Sean challenges that claim, and they discuss what the limits o...

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October 11, 2022 1 min

Resist certainty, embrace ambiguity. The Gray Area is a philosophical take on culture, politics, and everything in between with host Sean Illing. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we do offer a space for real dialogue. Get some cool takes on a very hot world. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.

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In this episode originally recorded in July 2021, Vox's Zack Beauchamp talks with Columbia law professor Jamal Greene about his book How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart. They discuss how the US obsession with rights and their protections gives too much power to judges and the courts, makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to find reasonable solutions to legitimate problems, and has ma...

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Sean Illing talks with former Republican strategist Tim Miller about his new book Why We Did It, which offers an inside look at Donald Trump's total capture of the Republican Party. Now a staff writer at The Bulwark, Miller shares detailed conversations he had with other party operators — who he criticizes as power- and fame-hungry enablers. He pulls back the curtain on a DC culture of identity and status, talks about the media...

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September 29, 2022 50 min

Vox’s Marin Cogan talks with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg about her new book On Repentance And Repair, which is about how to make amends in the modern world. They talk about the difference between repentance and forgiveness, why making amends is so important, and how a "five step plan" for repairing harm drawn from the Jewish tradition can serve as a guide even for navigating repair in modern, complex issues. And, merely apologiz...

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September 26, 2022 60 min

Sean Illing talks with Carrie Jenkins about her new book Sad Love, and her call to rethink the shape and boundaries of romantic love. In this far-ranging discussion about the meaning of romantic love, Sean and Carrie discuss the connection between love and happiness, what we should expect (and not expect) from our romantic partners, and whether or not loving a person must entail that we love only that person.

Host: Sean Illing (@...

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September 23, 2022 26 min

Into It is a new podcast from Vulture and New York Magazine hosted by Sam Sanders. Each week, Sam and his Vulture colleagues break down the pop culture they can't stop thinking about and help us all obsess . . . better.

In this segment, Sam talks to New York Times columnist Tressie McMillan Cottom about the popular TV show Yellowstone and how it reflects our own identity politics.

New episodes of Into It drop every Thursday.


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September 22, 2022 56 min

Vox’s Emily St. James talks with the celebrated author and trans activist Julia Serano about her new book, Sexed Up. They talk about what "sexualization" really means, and why sexualizing behaviors are so pervasive and widespread throughout society. They also discuss why we're so prone to classify and categorize people, how patterns of what Julia calls "enforced ignorance" are communicated to children, and how w...

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