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DUCKWORTH: Did you know that the Rhodes Scholarship was founded on blood money?

DUBNER: Did you know that everything was founded on blood money, if you go back far enough?

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: In the era of cancel culture, should we still be able to enjoy the art of problematic artists?

DUCKWORTH: Guess the 19th-century sin of this dead white man.

Also: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the question of whether life has greater meaning?

DUCKWORTH: When I was 16, I wrote a paper actually called “The Meaning of Life.”

DUBNER: Nailed it.

*      *      *

Angela DUCKWORTH: Stephen, we got a great question from a listener, and it asks the question: Should we separate art from the artist? And in particular, artists like Michael Jackson, or others who you just love their work, and then you discover they’ve done terrible things. 

Stephen J. DUBNER: Allegedly done terrible things, I think, in the case of Michael Jackson. Right? 

DUCKWORTH: Fair enough. I think the question is a great one. Should I stop watching Woody Allen movies? I love Annie Hall

DUBNER: Yeah. It’s obviously a timely question since so many noteworthy people have been canceled, or at least “postponed” lately between the #MeToo movement and this closer examination of history on many fronts, including racial and ethnic history. But before I answer your question about separating the art from the artist per se — and there is a long list of artists whose behavior cuts against what most right-minded people would consider honorable or decent behavior — I’d like to point out we could easily broaden this good question to sports and politics and commerce. I mean, the founder of IKEA was a Nazi sympathizer as a young man. Does that mean no more Ektorp sofa for me? Does that mean no more Swedish meatballs at the IKEA cafeteria? 

DUCKWORTH: I hope not. I think IKEA is where I’m gonna draw the line. 

DUBNER: Well, everybody’s going to have their line. 

DUCKWORTH: Right. Their own IKEA. 

DUBNER: I mean, the German auto industry was co-opted by the Nazis. Does that mean 80 years later that a given person won’t drive an Audi, or a BMW, a Volkswagen? And then you have to ask yourself if you consider an action like that, who exactly is it rewarding and who is it punishing, if anyone? 

DUCKWORTH: There might be some legitimate dividing line when you think about an artist and their art. Because it’s typically one artist and their art. So trying to separate Michael Jackson from his music is harder than a former chair of the board of a large corporation and the product of that corporation. So I think you might make a stronger case for canceling an art form, or somebody’s work, because the artist themselves was morally wrong. 

DUBNER: As opposed to — it sounds like one case you may be alluding to is — there was a board member of the Whitney Museum in New York whose company manufactured tear gas. 

DUCKWORTH: I know nothing about this, go on. 

DUBNER: And so that was considered by certain supporters of the Whitney, and certain artists, a cancelable offense, and he was excised from the board. So, you’re actually making the argument that that should be less likely to happen. If there’s a stronger tie between the person and the activity, that’s more relevant for cancelation? 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. And in art, so much of it is personal expression — essentially the communication of a worldview. So, in a way, the strong case might be made for art and artists. And then, weaker and weaker case as you progress from that to, “Oh, did you know that the Rhodes Scholarship was founded on blood money?” 

DUBNER: Did you know that everything was founded on blood money, if you go back far enough? I would argue that, yes, as you’ve said, it does make sense to connect a person and their work, particularly in the realm of art, particularly if the work they’re known for is strongly associated with who they are. So, Woody Allen. For many years, Woody Allen made films about funny, nebbishy guys from Brooklyn who dated and married much younger women. 

DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, “Who had a thing for, like, the Margaux Hemingways of the world, who were not yet legally able to drive.” 

DUBNER: And for making arguments to those characters that they should kind of abandon all of their agency and just do what he wants them to do. If you listen to R. Kelly‘s music, you can’t be that shocked when you learn that he’s been charged with sexually abusing underage women, because that’s what a lot of the music entails. So you could argue that, of course, it makes sense to reward or punish someone’s output based on how they conduct themselves in private. But I just see so much hypocrisy around this issue. I think a lot of us — if an artist or a politician or an athlete is someone we like, and they are accused of doing something bad, we tend to dismiss the bad behavior. We rationalize it. We make the convenient argument that you should separate the art from the artist. Bill Clinton, for instance, remains a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party. And I’ve heard very few Democrats make much of his historic behavior toward women. 

DUCKWORTH: So, we have motivated reasoning. We’re going to try to get ourselves to a conclusion that we like, because it jibes with our political ideology, or because we want that IKEA fold-out bed. It’s actually come up in my own work. So, one of the very first scientists who studied outliers and achievement was Francis Galton. And so, if you want to give the history of the study of human excellence, you kind of have to start with Francis Galton, who in 1869 catalogued the achievements of great athletes and great musicians, etc. Now, turns out that Francis Galton—

DUBNER: Was it beastiality? Can we guess before you tell us? 

DUCKWORTH: This is fun. Twenty questions: guess the 19th-century sin of this dead white man.

DUBNER: So not bestiality? 

DUCKWORTH: Not that I know of, actually. 

DUBNER: Did he play board games in the nude? 

DUCKWORTH: Again, I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. 

DUBNER: I think you should tell us what he did then. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, he was a eugenicist. He was studying all these outstanding achievers in part so that he could understand the transmission of genius from one generation to another. And some of his findings stand. Which is that, of course, there’s such a thing as genetics, and there is heritability. But he really had these incredibly bigoted and racist views of why certain groups of people perform better than others. The very term “eugenics” can be dated to Francis Galton. Now, to be morally consistent, if you say not to listen to certain artists whose work is representative of their own terrible personal moralities, then can you throw out Francis Galton? He really gave social science the idea of a correlation. And I’m pretty sure we don’t want to do away with statistics. 

DUBNER: Yeah. I mean, another example that is getting into the public consciousness these days is about the origins of the American environmental movement. William Vogt was one of the chief movers of that. And he was, in retrospect, what would today be called a white supremacist to the nth. So, one way to think differently about this issue would be to take it outside the sphere of emotion and to use some cost-benefit analysis. You could add up someone’s faults. 

DUCKWORTH: Like a morality score? 

DUBNER: Come up with a score. Right. R. Kelly. Francis Galton. 

DUCKWORTH: Zero to 100? 

DUBNER: And say, you know, where do they land? 

DUCKWORTH: There’s a line that’s like, below 25, we’re canceling you. 

DUBNER: Exactly. 

DUCKWORTH: Interesting. 

 DUBNER: But when it comes to art and artists, I personally am fine with it being a personal choice. 

DUCKWORTH: You’re going to embrace the idiosyncrasy and hypocrisy. You’re just going to wrap your arms around it and have an IKEA meatball. 

DUBNER: Here’s the thing. I think cultural diktats can be dangerous. Let me back up. Some Jews won’t listen to Wagner, who was proudly anti-Semitic. I respect that. Some Jews love Wagner. I respect that too.

DUCKWORTH: You respect them for not listening to him, not Wagner’s anti-Semitism. 

DUBNER: Correct. Thank you for the clarification. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Just to make sure. 

DUBNER: What about Shakespeare

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what did Shakespeare do? 

DUBNER: He wrote Merchant of Venice, okay? Harold Bloom — maybe the most prominent literary critic of the past generation, at least — he called Merchant of Venice “a profoundly anti-Semitic work,” and most people who study that kind of thing would agree. So does that mean that I should give up all my Shakespeare? Do I really want that? I don’t mean all my examples to be Jewish by the way, these are the examples that are coming to mind. 

DUCKWORTH: Bit of a theme here. Yeah. So you’re not ejecting your Shakespeare from your reading list. 

DUBNER: Look, it’s the slippery-slope argument. In fact, there is a philosopher named Janna Thompson. She’s at La Trobe University in Australia. She’s made an argument against cancel culture. Here’s what she wrote: “If the character of the artist becomes a criterion for judging art, then the door is open to the exclusion of artists because they belong to a despised group, or because they’ve said or done things that many people do not like.” So, going back to the Nazis — because all roads seem to lead to the Nazis today — that’s what the labeling of “degenerate art” was all about. Some of it was based on aesthetic principles, but it was also based on the ethnicity or politics of the artists who created it. So, do you want that too? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, I am on your side, which is that I would respect an individual’s desire to listen to or not listen to, or watch an artist based on that artist’s own life and their decisions. But I would also say this. Paul Rozin, my colleague at Penn, has found that it’s not always reason that there is a heuristic. For example, just to extend the Jewish theme here, how many people would want to put on Hitler‘s sweater? This is his favorite hypothetical example. “It’s a perfectly good sweater, it keeps you warm. It just happens to have been worn by Hitler.” It’s this idea that there is almost a spiritual contagion. And it’s not a rational thing. It’s really just that we have this very quick intuition that says, “Oh, these two things have been in proximity. And therefore, they’re of the same kind.” So we probably won’t end up using rational thought to adjudicate these issues. 

DUBNER: Yeah. When you said that Rozin said that it’s not always rational, I was thinking, is it ever rational? Because to me, most of these decisions or proclamations are based on emotional attachments. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. I mean, that’s the way humans work. But I will make one last argument against canceling, just generally. Let’s go back to politics for a second. So, one thing I personally find suboptimal about the American two-party duopoly is that it essentially forces people to go all in on either the red team or the blue team. If you want to be blue, you’ve gotta be all blue. If you want to be red, you gotta be all red. 

DUCKWORTH: No purple. 

DUBNER: No mixing and matching of policy—

DUCKWORTH: No plaid. 

DUBNER: —is really allowed. Yeah. No plaid. But think about that for a second. What are the odds that if you are a Democrat, you wholeheartedly agree with every Democratic position? Same for Republicans. Let’s say you loved Barack Obama

DUCKWORTH: I do love Barack Obama. 

DUBNER: So you probably think that every policy decision he made was pretty much great. And the ones that you thought at the moment weren’t great, you tend to forget about those. 

DUCKWORTH: 100 percent yes. 

DUBNER: Okay, and let’s say you hate Donald Trump

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. There you go. You got me. 

DUBNER: Again, you’re likely to think everything he does or will do is terrible. But what are the odds that that’s actually true? 

DUCKWORTH: What are the odds that the Democratic platform, for example, is right on every single issue and that the Republican Party is wrong, or the reverse? Odds are pretty low. 

DUBNER: Yeah. That no given person, say, Angela Duckworth, or me, or anyone — that you can’t find one piece of — fill-in-the-blank, Obama or Trump — policy that goes against the grain of your hatred or your love. What are the odds of that? So that’s the kind of doctrinaire cancelation that, in my view, harms the political process more than anything. This deep, deep, deep self-siloing. So I would say that, yes, we probably should learn to separate the politician from the policy and the art from the artist. I would take it as a sign of maturity, a sign of thoughtfulness and consideration. And I’m in favor of all of those things, for the record. 

DUCKWORTH: I’m going to vigorously agree with you. Here’s the other thing I think that’s relevant. I really think that — maybe 2020 as an exception — we’re generally trending toward a more moral species. This is Steven Pinker‘s work, and others, to document that there’s overall a great moral awakening in the human species. And if that is the case, then it’s true, we won’t be able to listen to any music from the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, etc. 

DUBNER: It does help to be able to assess things in their social-historical context. So, to punish someone for adhering to the norms of their era when those norms have become outdated would seem to be, potentially, a silly enterprise, because you can’t turn back the clock. 

DUCKWORTH: And more is more. Right? So cancel culture is eliminating from the canon, from our awareness, from social media, the people that we want to vilify. But actually, more is more in context culture. So the next time I introduce Galton’s work, or I have to tell in my research-methods class the historical origins of the correlation coefficient have been traced all the way back to this person. Like, “Oh, by the way, let me footnote this and tell you about some of the things that Galton’s said and did that are reprehensible.” But more is more I think is a good way of thinking about it. And unfortunately, cancel culture goes in exactly the opposite direction. 

DUBNER: So, Angela, going back to this listener’s question, how would you suggest any person think this through on the, let’s say, baseline level of: do I want to watch the movies of Woody Allen? Or let’s take a much more egregious example: Kevin Spacey

DUCKWORTH: Should I still watch House of Cards? 

DUBNER: Should I mourn Kevin Spacey’s absence in the final season of House of Cards? Should I find myself saying in public, “House of Cards was a really good show until Kevin Spacey disappeared.” 

DUCKWORTH: Until he left! Now you’re really hitting home. When Kevin Spacey got canceled, immediately, selfishly, I was like, “Wait, what’s going to happen to my binge-watching House of Cards?” I’m trying to actually learn more about context and be a little more reflective. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to stop watching a show. 

DUBNER: I guess you could also watch it with new knowledge and say, “Oh, so maybe covering up the fact that you’re a sexual predator is a key component of being a really good actor?” 

DUCKWORTH: It might add a whole new layer of nuance as you watch Kevin Spacey’s character throw people in front of subway trains and plot the demise of all his enemies. Yeah. I mean, there you go. 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: How do you manage feelings of existential dread?

DUCKWORTH: You’re just trying to eat candy and have fun.

*      *      *

DUBNER: Angela Duckworth. 

DUCKWORTH: Yes, Stephen. 

DUBNER: I have a question from a listener named Karin Edsall who wants to know, “Do you ever get paralyzed by the question of your existence and the meaning of life?” I should have warned this is not a light question. 

DUCKWORTH: This is pretty heavy. 

DUBNER: But wait, there’s actually a second question. “How do you recover and make decisions from that?” So, Angela, do you personally ever experience this kind of paralysis? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, the need for meaning, the yearning for meaning, the search for meaning, is universal. It’s just instinctive, right? That all of us, at some point, in some way, in some wording, ask this question: “What’s the meaning of life, and what’s the meaning of my life?” When I was 16, I wrote a paper actually called “The Meaning of Life” for a class. And I remember, as it was being churned out of my Dot Matrix printer, that I had really come up with something. Like, “I can’t wait till it prints out so I can share with everyone. I’m sure they’re dying to know.” But I thought about it a lot, and I, and I wrestled with it. Now, let me take my guess — you very much have. Am I right on that? 

DUBNER: I’ve thought a little bit about life, and the meaning thereof. I grew up in the country, and really there weren’t many opportunities to make money. And I started working quite young. So, it was physical manual labor, and I hated it so much, and I was bad at it. 

DUCKWORTH: Wait. What was your job? 

DUBNER: Oh, I did any work for anyone who would pay, I think, 50 cents an hour, a dollar an hour. So, it was picking rocks out of a field. It was baling hay. It was mucking out a barn. All of it not particularly fun, and physically very, very hard. But to me, the hardest part wasn’t that I was small and the stuff was physically hard. The hardest part was that I was just bored out of my skull. And that’s when I started having these existential doubts about, “Wow, if this is the path forward, and if this is the only path forward, I don’t think I like this path very much.” 

DUCKWORTH: I actually think, by the way, these are kind of teenager questions. Before that, you’re just trying to eat candy and have fun. And then you have this consciousness of yourself, and then you probably have some consciousness about the finite nature of life, etc. 

DUBNER: And you’re saying that after you’re a teenager, you know that life is meaningless, so you’re not pondering it anymore? 

DUCKWORTH: Yes. I mean, when I was that age, these questions seemed entirely fresh, that I was the first person to think of them. And I remember when I wrote that paper, “The Meaning of Life,” I thought I had something of an epiphany that it could be shared with others who hadn’t thought about this — that the meaning of life was happiness. I would say that I’m no longer struggling in that existential way — not because I figured it out when I was 16; it’s happiness. It’s actually the great existential psychotherapist Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning

DUBNER: Which was a Holocaust memoir. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s a memoir and it’s like a philosophical treatise in one. What I’ve come to realize after reading Man’s Search for Meaning, really, the meaning of life is not from pleasure, and it’s not from distracting yourself with entertainment. It’s having a purpose and making something of your life where you can say, “This is how it connects to other people.” And in fact, there’s several theories of happiness, and all of them have in common that there are multiple kind[s] of, like, building blocks of happiness. And meaning is a really important building block. And if you don’t have that building block, if you don’t feel like your life is part of something greater than yourself and serves some larger purpose, it’s very, very hard to be happy. 

DUBNER: Now, before we go on, some people, including Viktor Frankl, I believe, and certainly the Unabomber, for instance, have argued that modernity — technology, and a de-emphasis on family-centered societies, etc. — have been adding to existential dread, because it separates each of us from a meaningful life, or the pursuit of a meaningful life. What do you think of that? 

DUCKWORTH: Okay. The Unabomber? You’re like, “Frankl, the Unabomber.” Can you just double click on that for a moment? Because I did not know that. 

DUBNER: Okay, so first of all, if you were to take the Unabomber’s manifesto and clean up a few of the oddities. 

DUCKWORTH: If the Unabomber had a really good editor. 

DUBNER: Well, you don’t even need a really good editor. It was actually — the manifesto was quite clear in its argument that modernity had separated the human being from the world and from life. And had put up so many barriers that his very reactionary solution was to remove the barriers and remove the people who created the barriers. 

DUCKWORTH: So, for example, we’re not farming our own food, we’re not getting our water from the stream. 

DUBNER: Yes, and we’re creating technologies that govern us, that surveil us, that control us. Frankl had also made the argument, in a different context — talking about the Nazi war machine and so on — that technology was removing a lot of the thought processes and decisions and relationships that had been a feature of humankind since millennia. So, obviously, technology has benefits. But technology has costs. And so, I’m curious just to ask you generally how modernity and all the technologies therein have changed or affected the way that the median person, let’s say, thinks about life and the meaning thereof? 

DUCKWORTH: It’s a tempting hypothesis. And, by the way, poor technology is the scapegoat. It’s like, why are people unhappy? Technology. Why is anxiety increasing? Technology. Since every ancient philosopher has also talked about how difficult it is to find meaning in life, it’s certainly not unique to modern times. Has it gotten worse? I’m not sure. I think the only argument that I could make against technology is that it is so damn good, there’s so many amazing things that you could do, on your phone even, that it can distract you from wrestling with some existential questions which are probably better to be wrestled with than distracted from. But I don’t want to implicate technology as a whole as a source of lack of meaning. It doesn’t seem to me to be a very strong argument. 

DUBNER: So, do you know anything about the share of the population, let’s say, that feels that life is—

DUCKWORTH: Is meaningless? 


DUCKWORTH: So, Bill Damon is a psychologist at Stanford and he studies purpose. And there may be some subtle distinctions between meaning and purpose, but I think they’re more the same than they’re not. So I’m going to just use those interchangeably. And what Bill Damon does have data on is, when he interviews young people, he finds that, I think, one in five has a very clear sense of purpose. He mostly works on adolescents. So we’re not fully sure whether that’s true among, like, 60-year-olds. And by the way, in his definition, to have a sense of purpose, you have to be doing something, that you’re not just talking about it. But one of the elements of purpose that might be non-obvious, but I think is really important, is that you can’t just throw yourself into some good work only because it’s obviously of moral consequence. “I should work on climate change. It’s the most pressing problem.” You have to actually enjoy at some level the purposeful work that you do. I also remember, when I was 16, I had to read, I think for a French class, Candide, which I hated, by Voltaire. I despised it. But I’ll never forget the last line. 

DUBNER: “Cultivate our garden.” 

DUCKWORTH: “We must cultivate our garden.” I think that’s what psychologists would likewise recommend. And it’s so helpful, because it doesn’t ask you to solve all the problems in the universe, or even the most urgent problems in the universe, but if you can solve any problem in the universe and make a positive difference, then you’ll likely be a happy and fulfilled person. 

DUBNER: I would think that in some ways an existential thought, even existential dread, is a really useful signal. Because there is danger in the world. There’s even evil in the world. And to deny or hide from that is not a solution. So, can you talk about potentially the upsides? 

DUCKWORTH: Of angst?

DUBNER: Yeah, Viktor Frankl wrote this memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, because he had been in Nazi concentration camps, not because he’d had a lovely Vienna childhood of playing violin and eating bonbons. So, let’s say you live in an environment that is not under threat of war, or extreme poverty, etc., but that you are feeling existential dread. How could you potentially interpret that signal in a fruitful way? 

DUCKWORTH: In a Frankl way. Okay. I’m going to try to remember the three important things that Frankl said toward the end of Man’s Search for Meaning, where he also talks about the patients that he sees in clinical practice. And these are not people who are in concentration camps. These are people who are leading middle-class lives and nevertheless struggling. So, I believe that Frankl said that you can find meaning in work, as I suggested. Do something productive. The second was relationships. Many people find meaning in their close relationships with family, their friends. And then the third is to find meaning in suffering, which is of course so directly relevant to his personal experience in the concentration camps. And, notably, he didn’t have a fourth thing, which is, like, make meaning out of pleasure, make meaning out of an easy life. So it’s about how you respond to suffering, how you respond to adversity, and that you can make meaning in your life by, for example, your own character, or the way that you treat others, even if you are mistreated. Go to bed and feel proud of how you responded, even if you didn’t change the overall evil that was happening. 

DUBNER: But Angela, let me ask you this. So, one puzzling fact about suicide is that suicide, not universally, but often, tends to rise along with prosperity. So this would seem to be puzzling, at least it was to me when I first began to read this literature. But it turns out that this is what one suicidologist calls the “no one left to blame” theory of life — that if you live in very difficult circumstances, or have a very difficult personal situation, whatever, you can always imagine that things will get better and that you will be happier. Whereas if you have prosperity, and you see other people like you are thriving and you’re not, there is no one left to blame. When someone feels like there’s not an obvious external explanation for their unhappiness, what the heck do you do? So, for people who feel an existential dread, or who feel that life has no meaning, or have deep depressive episodes, have pharmaceutical solutions, for instance, turned out to be a net positive? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, lack of meaning is absolutely a hallmark of depression. And when you are experiencing severe clinical depression, most medical professionals and most psychologists, and that would include me, would absolutely say that you should see a professional about antidepressants. But I think also most medical professionals and most therapists and psychologists would say that the pharmaceuticals are, in a way, just a brake on the system so that you can then actually open yourself up to doing the work of therapy. And a lot of authors, and you may or may not have experienced this, I did a little bit, that when you’ve finished writing something big, like a book, that there’s a little depression, actually, that follows. 

DUBNER: Little depression, what are you talking about? “Little” depression. 

DUCKWORTH: A big one. I mean, because you don’t have a goal anymore. And I really think meaning is the experience of pursuing a goal that makes sense to you to pursue. My dad’s no longer with us, but he talked about retiring for most of my childhood. He would just look forward to the day where he could “do nothing.” And interestingly, it was when he retired that his depression got bad enough that he needed to see a psychiatrist. And I think many of us can identify with that. Having nothing to do is not heaven. It is more like hell. 

DUBNER: When I wrote my first book, I took a leave from my job. I was working at The New York Times. I took six months off, and I went to a house in the middle of nowhere. And I had no obligation really at all except to write the book. And I thought, “Oh, this is going to be easy.” As I was about to take my leave, one of the guys who I’d edited a few pieces by — he was a really good writer, older guy. And he said, “I want to give you one piece of advice about writing your first book or any book.” And I wasn’t really that interested. I didn’t know him that well. What’s this guy know? I’m not crazy about random people giving me advice.

But anyway, he said, “Listen, during the writing of this book, there will be at least three occasions when you come to the conclusion that, A, your book is terrible, and B, that you yourself are worthless. And I’m telling you this because everybody will feel that, and everybody will get through it, and you will feel it, and you will get through it.” And it happened. And because he had said that to me, I kind of waited it out. And I feel like that’s a message that I wish we all got at the age of about 10. 

DUCKWORTH: You will wrestle with the meaning of life. You will feel at times that your life has no meaning. You will wonder what the heck you’re doing. And there will be a time where you feel like you actually have some satisfying answers to those questions and you’re no longer tortured. 

DUBNER: Yeah, and those existential thoughts can be seen as a feature of your life and not a bug. And they can be seen as something that are a signal to really consider how well you can contribute to this big world of which you are a tiny piece. 

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio and People I (Mostly) Admire. This episode was produced me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversations. 

During the conversation about “cancel culture,” Angela says that the Rhodes Scholarship was founded on blood money, but doesn’t expand much beyond that. The Rhodes Trust was established in 1902 as part of the final will of Cecil Rhodes, a British mining tycoon who served as Prime Minister of Cape Colony in present-day South Africa. Rhodes was outspokenly racist and imperialist, and spoke with apparent relish about slaughtering Black people. He established the British South Africa Company’s police, forcibly acquired land by violent means, and reintroduced into law the torture of black workers. This has led many young applicants to feel conflicted about participating in a trust set up in Rhodes’s name. Nanjala Nyabola, journalist and former Rhodes Scholar, writes that a fellow black awardee shared the following rationalization for accepting the Rhodes scholarship: “Cecil Rhodes had no intention for us as black women to ever see his money. I can’t think of a better way of saying ‘f*ck you’ than taking it.” 

Also, while discussing Woody Allen’s controversial history, Angela says that he, quote, “had a thing for the Margaux Hemingways, who were not legally able to drive yet.” Margaux Hemingway was an actress, model and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. But Angela likely meant to reference Mariel Hemingway, the younger sister of Margaux, who in 1979, at 16 years old, played 44-year-old Woody Allen’s love interest in the movie Manhattan. Hemingway would have been just old enough to take the test to get her driver’s license while the movie was filming. That’s it for the fact-check.

No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, James Foster and Corinne Wallace. Thanks also to our intern, Emma Tyrrell, for her help with this episode. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to our show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show. Thanks to Anthonius Koko for suggesting today’s question about separating the art from the artist. If you have a question for a future episode, please share it with And if you heard Stephen or Angela refer to something that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we link to all of the experts, studies and canceled artists that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

DUCKWORTH: I got a little kitten, and my roommate Jim said, “What are you going to name it?” I had all these great names.

DUBNER: Like Michael Jackson and Woody Allen? Those were the names? Pablo Picasso? R. Kelly?

DUCKWORTH: You were warm with Woody Allen. My roommate named it Soon-Yi.

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