DUBNER: Giving status to flatus and class to gas.
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: Which sin is the seven deadly sins list missing?
DUBNER: Wow. This struck a nerve!
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DUBNER: So Angela, we have sinned together, you and I, seven times.
DUCKWORTH: Or at least talked about it. That could be interpreted in so many ways, Stephen. But yes, we talked about sin together.
DUBNER: We’ve talked about the seven deadly sins. We’ve talked about the survey that you put together to get to our deepest, darkest reckoning of our own failings. And for this series on the seven deadly sins, there’s only one task remaining and that is as follows. We asked our listeners at the very beginning of this process to nominate what they thought was an appropriate eighth deadly sin, something that belongs on the list but isn’t on the list. So we have, appropriately, eight nominees from our listeners that we’ve, on the back end, triaged a little bit. But we got, I would say, hundreds of suggestions by email. And we have winnowed them down to eight nominees for the eighth. And I’m going to read you the first one. This is from Adam Noel in Detroit. Adam writes to say, “My eighth deadly sin is perfectionism. I constantly find myself getting upset because good isn’t always great, and this then restricts the joy I feel in what might end up as being otherwise happy moments.” He says, “I can’t help but feel frustrated when I don’t live up to some unrealistic expectations I set for myself.” Angela, what do you think of perfectionism as a nominee?
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. Adam, I have lately diagnosed myself with an acute case of perfectionism. I must have had this tendency before, but just very recently, trying to write this book and not feeling like it’s going so well, I feel like one of the major problems is that I have this ideal in mind of the things that I would write and how beautifully you would come out, and also how deep it would be. And then I compare what comes out of my printer with this mental image of what should be coming out of the printer and there’s such a gap. And it really puts me into this kind of tailspin. So, Adam, I don’t know you, but I just wonder if for you, it’s like it is for me, which is like, then I’ve just kind of entered this tide pool of, “Oh gosh, I can’t do anything.” I literally said to my husband, Jason, the other night — I was like, “I think I should retire.” And he looked at me quizzically and I was like, “No, I’m serious. I haven’t had any good ideas. I’m like, a terrible mentor. What contribution am I making to psychology?” So anyway, I think perfectionism can lead to this cascade of self-critical thoughts that are really unhelpful.
DUBNER: Wow. This struck a nerve!
DUCKWORTH: I’m not kidding. I’m really in a weirdly perfectionistic, chapter — but, by the way, I did recognize this and so I’m trying to not be perfectionist.
DUBNER: You’re throwing in all kinds of intentional mistakes just to even it out?
DUCKWORTH: Right. I’m trying to trip on the sidewalk. See if that helps. No, I have a little perspective on it, but I guess I’m surprised. I was like, what? Do I have these perfectionist tendencies? Yes, apparently I do.
DUBNER: Angela, can I ask you to keep some score for your own feelings? We’re going to go through the eight nominees and I think you and I should both rank each of these nominees as deserving.
DUCKWORTH: Now, this is not about us as humans, just like what we think justifies an eighth sin.
DUBNER: Well, gosh, how do you separate the one — I mean, this is a pretty subjective vote, really. But no.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, yeah. But no, I’m not just saying that like, “Oh, I wanted this to be sin because like, I struggle.
DUBNER: No, this is not where you lie, correct. This is you and I acting on behalf of humankind in order to pick the best eighth sin. So I want you to, and I’ll do the same.
DUCKWORTH: Wait before you rate perfectionism — and Adam’s email is pretty compelling, maybe my personal story was kind of compelling too, but there are some data —.
DUBNER: Yeah, you were selling perfectionism pretty hard.
DUCKWORTH: I was, and maybe this will sell it more: Perfectionism is on the rise, at least in U.S. samples and particularly with young people. And what the data suggests is that the new generation of young people have more of this perfectionist tendency than, say, our generation, Stephen, honestly, notwithstanding my little story.
DUBNER: So you’re saying you’re old school by being perfectionist before it was cool.
DUCKWORTH: I guess, maybe I was an early adopter of perfectionism. And then also there’s some recent research on how this may be driven by parents’ expectations — that parents may be like, increasingly critical about their kids, varying from the perfect report card and the perfect set of extracurriculars and so forth.
DUBNER: I love that the research finds that even though the latest generation of, let’s say, high school students are most at fault, that really who’s at fault is the earlier generation.
DUCKWORTH: It’s the parents. It’s us. Yeah. But I remember reading Unbroken.
DUCKWORTH: Did you read the —.
DUBNER: Is it Lauren Hillenbrand?
DUCKWORTH: That is correct.
DUBNER: I didn’t read Unbroken. I know it’s supposed to be amazing.
DUCKWORTH: It’s really good. The protagonist, who I forgot the name of, But there’s this little early part where you hear about his childhood and his teenage years and, I don’t know, like getting into all kinds of trouble and doing terribly in school and stealing things out of people’s back porch kitchens. And I just remember thinking, like, the kind of variation in childhood stories that was accepted as within the range of normal 30, 40, 50 years ago compared to what this generation, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, you got a B-plus. What’s wrong?”
DUBNER: “Where’d the other points go?”
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly. Like, “You didn’t make varsity?” I just feel like there is a sense in which our expectations for perfection of young people relative to historic norms — it seems to me plausible that they have shifted, and not necessarily for good.
DUBNER: I also see research by Martin Smith at York, St. John University in the U.K. — I’m reading here — “as people who score high in perfectionism get older, they also become more prone to experiencing negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and irritability.” So that suggests some potential further downsides of perfectionism. Does that jive with your own experience as a perfectionist?
DUCKWORTH: As an acute perfectionist, I don’t think I have a chronic — maybe I do have a chronic problem with perfectionism as well. But yeah, it completely fits with my like, “Oh gosh, and now I’m worried about everything and I’m a little bit paralyzed because I can’t move forward because everything I’m doing is so imperfect.” I think in general, the research on perfectionism suggests that it’s not good. So like at any age, the research is pretty clear that it can be a real psychological liability.
DUBNER: Okay, so perfectionism. You’re going to write down your score. I’ll write my score. We’ll compare them at the end.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. On a scale from —
DUBNER: Zero to five. You can use halfs. No point threes, no point sevens, no point seven fours.
DUCKWORTH: Can we make it zero to 10? My favorite scale is zero to ten.
DUBNER: I thought you liked five better.
DUCKWORTH: No, I like 10, when it goes from zero to 10.
DUBNER: I’ve been thinking for the last three years that you were —.
DUCKWORTH: No! I’m a zero to 10 girl.
DUBNER: Zero to 10. All right. The next nominee is — there’s several, I think, along the lines of this suggestion, but this is from someone whose name I can’t really make out. It’s just their email address, so I’m not going to read it aloud. I have to say, Angela, this one made me sit up and pay attention. “For the eighth deadly sin,” this person writes, “I would like to recommend productivity. The pursuit of productivity is ruining lives. People get to the point in their personal lives where they can’t relax and they have anxiety issues. In the business world, we are sucking people dry and keeping wages low while restricting hiring all for more investor return. The C.E.O. and investor greed is translated to abusive productivity at the worker level.” So I can tell from your response you are not buying that at all.
DUCKWORTH: I just wonder if the word productivity is what we’re looking for here. It’s not that you’re being too productive, but maybe you’re too ambitious?
DUBNER: I see why you would interpret like that, but the way this person writes the email, I think it’s pretty clear. They’re saying that this pursuit of productivity is contributing so much to different kinds of inequality.
DUCKWORTH: Hm. Yeah. The single-minded pursuit of productivity to the exclusion — yeah. Interesting.
DUBNER: The reason this resonated with me so much is because I’ve really been thinking about this a lot, not just across the economy, where it’s a, a very, very, very important issue to talk about. And I spend a lot of time on Freakonomics Radio exploring questions around productivity and especially wage and income inequality and so on with economists and others. There are some economists who are suggesting that our historical measures of progress and wealth are really outdated. That G.D.P., which has been a yardstick for many years, is very, very weak and has a lot of flaws and blind spots, and we need to have different measures of this. And I’m certainly personally sympathetic to that argument for sure. I guess, I would say that even though economists do think about productivity as a sort of holy grail or the fuel of the engine that drives commerce in a good economy, I do think it’s also easy to make the argument that it’s been taken too far, and that’s on the societal or economic front. I will say, personally, I really am trying to dial it down. I have become, I would say, sort of a slave to productivity in a way that I’ve enjoyed for many, many, many years because I do love the reward. I like the accomplishment. And I think what happened to me happened to a lot of people, which is Covid amped it up even more. Because if you do the kind of work that you could do even more of during Covid with isolation, which I happened to, then you just do more and more and more. And I looked up and I’m working more hours a week than I care to admit. And I look at other interests, other relationships.
DUCKWORTH: That it’s crowding out, right?
DUBNER: Yeah. And so I’m just saying here that this may not resonate at all with you as a nominee for eighth deadly sin, but it does with me.
DUCKWORTH: I can understand that. I mean, crowd out — this is one of the few things that I remember from this very brief conversation with Gary Becker, my only conversation with the Nobel Prize-winning economist that I didn’t know well. But in that conversation, I remember him saying that one of the major principles of economics is allocation of resources under the conditions of scarcity — the idea that you can’t have it all, like what choices are you going to make? And I think that’s right, that if I spend 12 hours a day being productive, what am I losing? And I guess you could argue relationships and leisure. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you would say — just fun, learning about stuff, even if it’s not productive, I guess. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about? Because I would agree with you and I’m sure I will come to such a reckoning at some point. Maybe I don’t feel it right now, but I can appreciate it.
DUBNER: So I’m writing down my number.
DUCKWORTH: While I write down this number, are you going to work less?
DUBNER: I think I am going to work less. I’m going to try to work less. So I think it’s a good moment to take a step back and look at what I’ve, quote, “accomplished” professionally and whether it’s time to feel satisfied and full by that, the degree to which I want to keep filling up myself, but there are a lot of things to consider. With Freakonomics Radio, I feel like I have a relationship with this really amazing audience and I don’t want to quit. I have no desire to quit. But I certainly have desire to take my day or week or month and blow a whole lot of space into it and see what can fill it up that’s a little bit more variegated. That’s the way I would put it.
DUCKWORTH: Diversifying your time portfolio.
DUBNER: There you go. That’s a productive way to put it. Okay. Moving on to number three. This suggestion is from — oh boy, from several people. There’s a Brad Webb, there’s a Zsolt Szigetvari and I think a few others. And the sin that they are nominating is disrespect. Here’s from Brad: “My suggestion for the eighth deadly sin is respect or the lack thereof. Today’s society has very little self-respect or respect for others. The basic definition is, “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. Social media,” Brad writes, “has allowed today’s society to sit behind their keyboards and criticize others endlessly. Moreover, rarely are people genuinely happy for one another. Typically, they are jealous or envious,” which is already as he notes one of the seven deadly sins. What do you think of disrespect, Angela?
DUCKWORTH: What’s interesting is that respect is, in parenting research, that’s one of three dimensions where, like, it’s good. So the three things that parents should strive to have in terms of how they raise their kids — one, the most obvious one, is being warm, like your kids should feel loved, cared about. Another is that you are appropriately demanding. You’re supposed to challenge your kids, right? That’s part of parenting. And the third one is respect. And this idea is really not about loving them, and it’s not even about liking someone. And of course, we are here talking about respect for all people, I assume, not just your children. But I think it’s important to say. I think this is about just feeling like the other person’s perspective, their opinions, who they are, it’s valued, whether you like it or not, whether you love it or not. And I do think that you could argue the opposite of this is contempt, right? Thinking that someone’s less worthwhile, that they’re lower than you? And gosh, this is a pretty contemporary problem. We seem to have oodles of disrespect or contempt for others, and maybe not enough of a kind of like, “Wait, why shouldn’t I, just as a foundational assumption, believe that everybody is equally worthwhile.”
DUBNER: And how learnable do you think it is?
DUCKWORTH: I think for me, watching somebody do it really well, like to respect other people really well, has certainly inspired me. It really makes me want to do that more. And my own kids have called me on when I’m in a kind of White Lotus moment, where like, you know, this hotel room wasn’t cleaned up for two days in a row and I showed disrespect, especially to people who are in this service position. They’ve called me on it and I think I’ve learned, in a painful way, that that’s bad. I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And then they tell me how awful it is. And actually when I watched White Lotus, the series, I was like, “Oh my gosh, mea culpa.” Like, “Am I that awful person?” So I think it’s learnable. I think we can learn to be more respectful.
DUBNER: The fourth nominee comes from, again, several listeners. One is Klint Kendrick, one is Premal Vora, and one is Jen Palmer. And they all nominate discrimination. Here’s one of those: “If we were to have an eighth deadly sin in today’s society, it would be in the neighborhood of harassment and discrimination, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.” Jen Palmer adds: “There’s little room for debate that prejudices caused centuries of harm to women, people of color, members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants, just to name a few demographics. It causes social friction and blinds the prejudiced party to good ideas, input, and meaningful connections.”
DUCKWORTH: So I think there’s a connection here, right?
DUBNER: Between discrimination and disrespect, you mean?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think there’s a connection, but there’s also a distinction. So obviously this is looking down upon other people. I think that’s the through line between discrimination and disrespect. But I think the difference is that when we talk about discrimination, it’s against a group. It’s a category of people. And I think that’s exactly right. I don’t think there’s any debate. Maybe some would debate it, but I think the world, the United States in particular, has an awful history that is ongoing with prejudicial treatment of other people.
DUBNER: I agree that discrimination is a subset of disrespect, but I could also imagine you could make the argument the other way around. I did see some data, I think this is from the Pew Research Center. This shocked me, and I feel naive for being shocked, but the share of people who say that — in this case, this survey question was about Black Americans. Nearly half of Americans say Black people face “a lot” of discrimination of society today. And the share of Black people who give that answer is higher than those of white people — so much higher that it appears that many white people do not think that racial discrimination is an issue at all, at least on a major level. Now, that’s a big topic. It’s a big historical topic. It’s a complicated topic. It’s a topic where every time someone tries to start speaking empirically, it seems to become a different kind of conversation. It’s an inherently difficult topic to approach empirically because politically, emotionally, and so many other ways, it’s just so bundled up. But I will say, it shocks me at this relatively late date — hopefully it’s an early date. Hopefully we get to hang around a few more millennia, at least, humans. But it does shock me how common it is. And, again, I see it tied to disrespect certainly, but it’s a particular flavor of disrespect that — I don’t mean to say this to sound — I mean, I guess this is going to sound like virtue signaling? If you don’t feel hatred or discrimination or bias —.
DUCKWORTH: You’re in denial of some kind.
DUBNER: So yeah, I think in terms of sinful behavior, I think it’s not low on the list. I’m going to put it that way.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Stephen and Angela choose the top eighth deadly sin.
DUBNER: This is not easy.
DUCKWORTH: This is hard.
* * *
Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the nominations for eighth deadly sin.
DUBNER: Okay, here’s an interesting nominee. I’m very curious to know what you think of this. Again, suggested by a few people, including Eamon O’Reilly, Rick Clark, and Kris Kelly. I’ll read Kris’s. “My nomination for your consideration for the eighth deadly sin is internet trolling.”
DUCKWORTH: Wow. That’s so specific.
DUBNER: “I think it should be separate from envy,” Kris writes, “which it is definitely related to, but it is most certainly a modern sin. I also think it is uniquely situational online as the majority of trolls would never say anything remotely similar if they were face-to-face with people they mostly have never encountered in real life.” I think of this one. A driver will get upset if they get cut off and they’ll throw the bird at the other driver. And I think, what would happen if they were on the sidewalk and the person cut them off? Would they do that same thing?
DUCKWORTH: Right. It’s the remove, in other words.
DUBNER: It’s the remove.
DUCKWORTH: It’s the anonymity. Wait, what is trolling exactly? Is it from the troll? And like, gosh, what is troll?
DUBNER: Isn’t troll a bad, mean little guy who lived under the bridge and wouldn’t let you go over the bridge?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, yes. But elves are nice, right? Oh, I guess you could have a wicked elf.
DUBNER: So you’re pro elf, anti-troll.
DUCKWORTH: I’m not sure. I was just a little confused about the taxonomy.
DUBNER: I do see — this is interesting. This is from research out of B.Y.U., I believe Brigham Young. This is a B.Y.U. news article summary showing that, “Research recently published in the Journal of Social Media and Society sheds light on the motives and personality characteristics of Internet trolls,” which are — I guess we could define them as people who are giving other people a really hard time for one reason or another. “Through an online survey completed by over 400 Reddit users, the study found that individuals with dark triad personality traits,” It lists them: “Narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy —” That is such a lovely bundle. “Combined with schadenfreude, were more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors.” Okay, I have to chalk this up under category of research that makes you say, “Um, yeah?”
DUCKWORTH: Like, duh? Is that what you’re saying?
DUBNER: I would say interesting, if not so surprising. But let me ask you this. When someone online is trolling someone else, what do you think that the trolling is accomplishing? What itch do you think it’s scratching?
DUCKWORTH: So it seems to be an act of aggression. Like it’s an attack, almost by definition. I think it may therefore be some act of status gain for the person. Of course, it’s anonymous, so it’s hard to make a really strong argument that you gained any status by anonymously insulting someone else.
DUBNER: But wait a minute. Is that true? Doesn’t inflating your own status, even within your own self, count to some degree?
DUCKWORTH: Maybe. I mean, I am struggling to give you an explanation. It, of course, deserves an explanation, but it’s also a behavior that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And I don’t think I’m guilty of it. I’m pausing because I’m like, “I don’t know? Maybe I’ve been an Internet troll and I didn’t realize it.”
DUBNER: I’m going to help you out there. I don’t think so.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t think so. Right? I can’t remember the time that I’ve seen something and I thought like, “Oh, I’m going to post a comment that says, ‘you’re an idiot’ or whatever.” I don’t fully understand the motivation behind this, but I do want to say, it does seem to be an attack or an act of aggression. And then you could ask like, “Why do people attack each other? Why are we aggressive?” And there is something about being in a dominance hierarchy and supposedly fighting for your own rights.
DUBNER: That’s a great point. I know a lot of people my age who spend their days just being angry online, and I hope at least that the next cohorts will look at that and say, “Yeah, I’m going to pass on that.”
DUCKWORTH: I hope that prophecy comes to pass.
DUBNER: All right. The sixth nominee, this comes from, again, several people. Jane McCallion, Daniel McCoy — I guess you have to have a Mc at the start of your name to enter this one. No, Margaret Lambert Migas. Wow. A lot of people suggested this one. And this one is deceit.
DUCKWORTH: Like dishonesty?
DUBNER: Yeah, dishonesty — here, let me read you an email from Daniel McCoy. Daniel says, “I nominate deceit as the eighth deadly sin. Trust in each other and our institutions is the foundation of civilization and the essential underlying support for democracy, fiat currency, the rule of law —.” Wow. I like how Daniel goes big. “Without mutual trust in each other and our social systems, we are just relatively smart apes. Each act of deceit intentionally misrepresenting the truth for personal gain chips away at the foundation of trust and draws us closer to demise.” What do you think of Daniel’s argument?
DUCKWORTH: I like that. You know, I did not read it, so I’m not going to deceive you and suggest I did, but did you read Francis Fukuyama’s book in the ‘90s, Trust?
DUBNER: No, I didn’t read Trust.
DUCKWORTH: But you heard of it, right? Because it’s like a big deal.
DUBNER: I mean, would I be deceitful by saying maybe?
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. I remember everybody talking about it. The idea was that it really is the bedrock of any civilization. And then like, the end of history will be the end of trust. And I think that he’s spoken more recently because he’s, I believe, still alive. He’s a political theorist.
DUBNER: He is very alive, yeah.
DUCKWORTH: Yes. Rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated. He’s a hundred percent alive. I did not read his early work. I’m, you know, no student of current events. But I do think this idea that trust is eroding, that we can’t even believe other people to be honest. So anyway, I think there’s lots of examples of that, you know, fake news and manipulation. And I think dishonesty — which, again, is maybe the broader category — it’s kind of surprising that it wasn’t in the original seven deadly sins. Like, isn’t that deadly?
DUBNER: That’s such a good point. There was no lying. There was no deceiving. What if we rebrand deceit as dishonesty? I think that might be a more appropriate nomination in a way?
DUCKWORTH: I feel like it would be a little broader. I like that mendacity word.
DUBNER: Mendacity is great.
DUCKWORTH: It just sounds mendacious.
DUBNER: I will say, if we were to narrow down dishonesty and deceit to just lying, which was mentioned by a few listeners, that is a big thing for me. I really don’t like lying.
DUCKWORTH: I know that is true about you. I mean, you’re a journalist.
DUBNER: Yeah, but I’m also, like, very old-fashioned boy scout in that way. I just feel that lying and deceit generally are big red flags for me in any kind of personal or professional relationship. I understand there are sometimes necessary lies and useful lies and even harmless lies. And when I learn that someone has said something that’s not true, I do try to understand why they’ve done it. And I often have some kind of understanding, but usually not a lot of sympathy. You know, another form maybe of deceit or dishonesty, if we’re calling it that, is just B.S. people pretending to know more than they know.
DUCKWORTH: Well, you’re not alone because it is the first thing that people sense about somebody else. So there’s this research on social cognition. You meet a new acquaintance, somebody interviews for a job, the first thing that we think of is: Is this person trustworthy/honest/do they have integrity? And so it leaps out to us. So we have been, I think, wired in some sense evolutionarily to categorize people as those who we can trust and those whom we cannot. So yeah, honesty as a virtue or dishonesty as a — I’m not going to tell you my number on rating it, but I think a compelling argument has been made.
DUBNER: Okay. The seventh nominee for the eighth deadly sin — this is from, again, a couple people wrote in. Kyle Grone —.
DUCKWORTH: By the way, Stephen, because that document was so long, probably many people wrote in, you know what I mean? I think this is just a selection.
DUBNER: It is true. Lydia Palmin and Yvonne Couch all wrote to nominate the same eighth deadly sin. I’ll read Yvonne Couch’s. She writes, this is a short one, Angela. She writes, “Hypocrisy. That’s it. That’s the email.”
DUCKWORTH: Like, drop mic.
DUBNER: Well, she does write a little bit more. She writes, “Or farting in small, enclosed spaces, but I suspect that one would be less of a conversation starter.” I don’t know. You and I, we’ve had gaseous conversations before.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I guess she means elevators? I wonder what other small, enclosed spaces you might find yourself with another person.
DUBNER: You know, I’ve thought long and hard about flatulence in part because my Freakonomics partner, Steve Levitt, his dad was or is one of the preeminent researchers of intestinal gas in the world.
DUCKWORTH: Is that true? I did not know that.
DUBNER: Absolutely. Giving status to flatus and class to gas.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. I love that. Was that a rap? Did you just make that up? Did you just freestyle that, Stephen?
DUBNER: I did not freestyle that. Nope.
DUCKWORTH: That was good.
DUBNER: Love to claim credit.
DUCKWORTH: Somebody did.
DUBNER: I could claim credit, but then I would be violating the deceit prohibition.
DUCKWORTH: That would be dishonest.
DUBNER: But what do you think about that? What do you think about hypocrisy as an eighth deadly sin?
DUCKWORTH: So hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another. Is that what hypocrisy is?
DUBNER: I see that as a slightly narrower version of what I would consider — I would say behaving, essentially, rather than just saying. So for instance, there was a piece in The Atlantic not long ago by Emma Green. It was called “The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists” which argues that even people who decide what’s right and wrong for a living don’t always behave well. And some of the examples, some of them are sort of playful — playful is not quite the right word, but in this case, she’s writing about a Florida Sun Sentinel examination of the records of nearly 4,000 police officers who traveled on toll roads. The paper found that nearly 800 of them had driven at speeds of 90 to 130 miles an hour, many either while off duty or in violation of department rules that barred excessive speeding even in emergencies. To me, one of the biggest obvious hypocrisies in the religious realm is Catholic priests. I mean, look at the number of priest scandals, mostly around sex, of the past couple millennia. The people who are meant to be the spiritual stewards of their followers just going around diddling and whatever. That I would say is a pretty high form of hypocrisy. So I would elevate it to more than just, “Says one thing and means another.”
DUCKWORTH: Right. So behaving in ways that are inconsistent with your ideals, whether you said them or not.
DUBNER: Your stated ideals, at least. Does that rub you very the wrong way?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a close cousin of dishonesty, right? I think they’re both failures of integrity. And if I’m not mistaken, integrity etymologically is from, I don’t know, the Latin or the Greek for “one,” like singular.
DUBNER: Hm. Like being united in intention and action.
DUCKWORTH: Exactly. So yeah, definitely thumbs down on hypocrisy. I do think it’s a kind of dishonesty. But yeah, I think you could make that argument for contemporary times. I’m not sure we’re any more prone to hypocrisy than we were 2,000 years ago, but still it’s a problem for sure.
DUBNER: I do think of something interesting I learned from Yuval Noah Harari. I think he’s an historian by discipline.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I don’t know what he is.
DUBNER: But I may be wrong. But you know his big, big book is Sapiens, but then he’s written other things. And he was on Steve Levitt’s podcast, People I (Mostly) Admire. And he said one small thing that I found so interesting and insightful. He was talking about — this isn’t quite hypocrisy, but I filed it under that. He was talking about how quick we are to punish public people. And he was talking about politicians in this case. So these are, let’s call them public servants. Let’s be generous and call politicians public servants, which they technically are, but often we don’t give them that much credit. And he was saying that it’s terrible when they are revealed to have said something in private that was discriminatory or hateful or whatnot. He makes the point that, “I don’t care what they say in private.” And moreover, “I think that people need to have a place where they can be unguarded, where they can be truly themselves, or their worst selves maybe, as long as when they’re in their official capacity, they’re not acting out that behavior.” And I thought that was a really smart, nuanced, interesting point that gets at hypocrisy, which makes me maybe downgrade hypocrisy a little bit.
DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, it would give you a lower sin score, I guess, if you embrace that. I don’t know that everybody would agree with that, but I take his point.
DUBNER: Okay. The eighth nominee — this is coming from Aian Binlayo, as well as from Donald Piniach and Claes Mogren and Jack Wei, and maybe some others. This is an interesting one. There are a few different words for it, but it’s mostly apathy. Here is Aian: “Apathy as an eighth deadly sin,” he writes, “which I broadly define as a lack of concern particularly for large societal issues.” He writes, “It’s a growing problem today. It can manifest itself in many ways, such as choosing not to vote or not to take reasonable steps to reduce your own environmental footprint.” Donald writes to say, “Indifference or apathy is the eighth deadly sin because it is effortless, self-rationalizing, insidiously desensitizing, and rarely invites self-reflection. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”
DUCKWORTH: I wonder whether this is something about recent culture. Do you think that’s a modern sin? I mean, look, it’s been nominated by quite a few listeners. I do think it’s a problem. One of my favorite people is the former director of Character Lab, Sean Talamas. And he used to say of his grandmother, and I think his grandmother would say of him, like, they care hard. And I remember when he said that, I was like, “Oh, I so admire people who care hard.” They’re the opposite of apathetic. These are the people who get things done, by the way. You could always argue that you could care hard about bad things, etc. But apathy, maybe especially now, it seems like a close cousin of complacency, but anyway, yeah, that’s a problem. I think we have a big bystander problem, for example, in modern times.
DUBNER: My only caveat, or my only objection to apathy as the eighth deadly sin is that I think that apathy is very often a response from good people who naturally would have a lot of empathy or sympathy, but when you come up against problems that are really hard to solve, they turn away and that turns into apathy.
DUCKWORTH: You don’t know what to do.
DUBNER: Yeah. So I would say that that’s something that is maybe a little bit more causal and maybe something you’re a little bit less responsible for internally. But I don’t know, maybe I’m trying to rationalize my own apathy because I feel I’ve become more apathetic towards certain things over time. How about you?
DUCKWORTH: I feel like if you could do something about anything, then that gives you a pass.
DUBNER: Wow, that’s pretty broad. Something about anything.
DUCKWORTH: I know. Like is it Everything Everywhere All at Once? But I think we become paralyzed in the face of all of the problems that face humanity, your neighborhood, the people in your broader social network, your own family. I mean, it can make you feel like you can’t do anything because you can’t do everything. But if you picked one problem — I remember having this conversation with Adam Grant early in our careers trying to figure things out. I remember trying to rank order all the world’s problems — and there are actually rank-order lists of the world’s problems. But I don’t know that that’s the best way to do it. And his tact, which was different and I think was better, so I was just like, “yeah, I should just do that” — it was just to pick something, honestly, any of the problems that beset the world in general or people, maybe the one you enjoy working on the most. So I do think the antidote to paralysis is to feel like if you could care hard about one thing, that’s probably all you can do in a life. But I don’t disagree.
DUBNER: Can I say, you’ve argued me right out of my objection.
DUCKWORTH: Apathy, I think if it’s really about everything can be a problem. But, we shouldn’t worry about apathy about many things.
DUBNER: I want to say one big thing, which is I think our listeners are extraordinarily astute and interesting and fun and funny and thoughtful and caring. And so to each of you, I say thank you and I’m sure Angela would join me.
DUCKWORTH: Praise, praise. This is just confetti and horns are going off. It’s so true.
DUBNER: Horns are going off. That’s, um —.
DUCKWORTH: In a good way.
DUBNER: In a good way.
DUBNER: Horns never go off in a bad way. What’s the best horn though? If you had to say of all the horns. What’s the best one?
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know.
DUBNER: I’m going to say French horn is the best horn and that’s not just because I played it.
DUCKWORTH: You play the French horn?
DUBNER: I did.
DUCKWORTH: I thought you played the guitar.
DUBNER: I’ve played several instruments, but the French horn was the first band instrument I learned when I was a kid. It’s actually hard for a kid, but I still absolutely adore the sound of a French horn in any orchestra anywhere. So if we were nominating best horns as opposed to eighth deadly sin, that’d be easy.
DUCKWORTH: It’s a clear winner.
DUBNER: This is not easy.
DUCKWORTH: This is hard.
DUBNER: Have you been keeping score? You’ve been jotting down?
DUCKWORTH: I have.
DUBNER: Okay. I’ve got my top three. Do you have your top three?
DUCKWORTH: I do, but it’s a little complicated because I had some ties. It’s a tie number one and a tie for number two.
DUBNER: Ah, so you have, you have four?
DUCKWORTH: I’ll just tell you what they are.
DUBNER: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait, wait. You have four total?
DUCKWORTH: I’m not going to tell you anything. I’m just saying that I have four in second place and I have two in first place.
DUBNER: Oh boy. Well, here’s what I was going to propose. If you agree to it — we both read our list of rank ordering. I have three. You have six apparently. And the highest overlap will become the eighth deadly sin. What do you think of that solution?
DUCKWORTH: Well, sure. Why don’t you read me your top number one.
DUBNER: But wait a minute. Before we just go and read, because this is a big deal —.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. I don’t really appreciate the gravity of the situation apparently.
DUBNER: This is a sin that is being added to a list that has been around for more than a thousand years.
DUCKWORTH: Have you checked with the Catholic church by the way? Is this good with the pope?
DUBNER: I’ve got the pope —.
DUCKWORTH: You have the pope on speed dial.
DUBNER: I’ve got the pope on the other line actually, and he’s waiting to hear what our sin is because he wants to write it into a new encyclical. It’s going to be the papal encyclical on No Stupid Questions’ eighth deadly sin. And I think he’s actually drafted most of the boilerplate. He’s just looking to plug and play now.
DUCKWORTH: Find and replace.
DUBNER: All right, so let me hear your top, I guess, six out of eight. You know what you need? You need ranked choice voting, is what you need.
DUCKWORTH: I do, I know this is a problem.
DUBNER: Give me from the bottom up. Bottom up.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, here are my ties for second place. I have four of them. So I rated all of these an eight out of 10. Because I thought they were all problematic. Perfectionism, discrimination, hypocrisy, and apathy. I thought those were all pretty bad.
DUBNER: Okay. And then you had two in first place.
DUCKWORTH: I had two in first place, so the two worst. And I gave them both nines. I kind of reserve 10 in case something really amazing came along. But anyway, are disrespect and deceit/dishonesty — I think we expanded it to dishonesty. I really can’t choose between those two. So hopefully this overlaps a little bit with the Stephen Dubner list.
DUBNER: There’s a lot of overlap between you and me, and maybe this shouldn’t surprise us because we’ve been hanging out for a long time now.
DUCKWORTH: I know. And we’re also like-minded generally.
DUBNER: We are like-minded. That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. So tied for second place for me were dishonesty and disrespect, both with an eight out of 10. So dishonesty and disrespect, those were your number one, tied for number one.
DUCKWORTH: Those are my top choices, so now I need to know what you thought was even worse.
DUBNER: Okay, so this is a little tricky because my initial score for this one was not very high. And then I listened to my friend Angela Duckworth, talk about life and what it means to go hard. Wait, what was that phrase you used? What hard?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, care hard.
DUBNER: I listened to my friend Angela Duckworth and what it means to care hard and somehow apathy or indifference was promoted and became my number one, my winner.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, interesting.
DUBNER: With eight and a half.
DUCKWORTH: Just by an edge though, right?
DUBNER: Just by an edge. So wait a second. What did you give apathy?
DUCKWORTH: I gave apathy an eight. And I gave disrespect and deceit/dishonesty a nine.
DUBNER: So apathy, combined, our scores would be 16 and a half. Dishonesty, you gave a nine. I gave it an eight. Disrespect, you gave a nine. I gave it an eight.
DUCKWORTH: So I think we have a tie.
DUBNER: We do have a tie. Should we flip a coin or should we just let the world have nine sins?
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Odd numbers have an appeal. I think if we had to choose between dishonesty and disrespect, which would you find worse, for example, in a business partner.
DUBNER: You know what? The minute you put it in that frame, it’s so easy.
DUCKWORTH: It’s dishonestly.
DUBNER: It’s not dishonesty.
DUCKWORTH: It’s not dishonesty?
DUBNER: It’s disrespect. No, because I could almost see dishonesty being a function of disrespect. I think disrespect is as bad as it gets.
DUBNER: It means that you are looking at another person or another group of people and thinking, for one of a million reasons, that they don’t deserve what you deserve. And that is a terrible way to think about the world.
DUCKWORTH: Do you know this John Wooden quote? Do you like John Wooden quotes?
DUBNER: I love John Wooden quotes.
DUCKWORTH: The great U.C.L.A. basketball coach, but mostly just a source of aphorisms.
DUBNER: Can I just say, nobody’s ever asked me, do I like John Wooden quotes. I appreciate that. That was very respectful of you to ask me whether I liked the John Wooden quotes.
DUCKWORTH: You never know. I happen to have more than one book of John Wooden quotes at home. I don’t remember how many I have. Sometimes people send them to me. But anyway, I think there’s a John Wooden aphorism that goes along the lines of: “The thing to do in life is to think that you’re just as good as anyone, but no better.” And anyway I think that is about respecting yourself, but really, the point about, “but not better.” And anyway, I think this foundational principle of treating everybody, whether you like them or not, as of equal worth. Yeah, I’m going to say by a hair, that might win the — I don’t know, is this a prize? — for being the eighth sin.
DUBNER: The prize is that the pope writes us up as a papal encyclical.
DUCKWORTH: You know, I’m Catholic. I’m not supposed to joke about the pope.
DUBNER: I’m not joking.
DUCKWORTH: You’re not joking. Okay good. I’m glad we’re all on the same page.
DUBNER: So let’s go out with this, I think. Hang on a second. Is this the best song in the world or what, Angie?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, I have heard this song! Gosh, it’s amazing how little music I’ve listened to.
DUBNER: Angela, I so appreciate your discussing the seven deadly sins and, once in a while, their antidotes with me. I really appreciate you running the survey for No Stupid Questions listeners. And I think the nominations from the listeners were fantastic. I’m feeling that disrespect is a worthy eighth deadly sin. What do you think?
DUCKWORTH: I think it is absolutely a worthy eighth deadly sin. And if it did have a cardinal virtue, which was its symmetric opposite, then yeah, respect is great. Respecting other people and, like you said, respecting yourself.
This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation. Early in the conversation, Angela says that the etymology of the word “integrity” comes from the Latin or Greek word for “one,” or singular. The actual Latin root is integer, which means entire. In math, the word “integer” means a number that is not a fraction. That’s it for the fact-check.
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela talk about the difference between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset.
DUBNER: I have to say, you had me at “toxic shrew,” and the next punk band I start will definitely be called Toxic Shrew.
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne, with help from Jeremy Johnston. We had research help from Joseph Fridman and Dan Moritz-Rabson. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. 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 the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUBNER: I’ll have my phone on.
DUCKWORTH: But does your phone ring?
DUBNER: Yeah. My phone knows how to ring.
- Gary Becker, professor of economics at the University of Chicago.
- Francis Fukuyama, professor of political science at Stanford University.
- Adam Grant, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Emma Green, staff writer at The New Yorker.
- Yuval Noah Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Lauren Hillenbrand, author.
- Martin Smith, lecturer in research methods at York St. John University.
- Sean Talamas, managing partner at Proof Leadership Group; former director of Character Lab.
- John Wooden, basketball coach at the University of California, Los Angeles.
- “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2022,” by the Pew Research Center (2022).
- “Young People’s Perceptions of Their Parents’ Expectations and Criticism Are Increasing Over Time: Implications for Perfectionism,” by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill (Psychological Bulletin, 2022).
- “The Primacy of Morality in Impression Development: Theory, Research, and Future Directions,” by Marco Brambillaa, Simona Sacchia, Patrice Rusconib, and Geoffrey P. Goodwin (Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 2021).
- “Majorities of Americans See at Least Some Discrimination Against Black, Hispanic and Asian People in the U.S.,” by Andrew Daniller (Pew Research Center, 2021).
- “Traits of a Troll: B.Y.U. Research Examines Motives of Internet Trolling,” by Brenna Seeman (B.Y.U. News, 2021).
- “G.D.P. Is the Wrong Tool for Measuring What Matters,” by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Scientific American, 2020).
- “Perfectionism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” by Martin M. Smith, Simon B. Sherry, Vanja Vidovic, Donald H. Saklofske, Joachim Stoeber, and Aryn Benoit (Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2019).
- “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016,” by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill (Psychological Bulletin, 2017).
- “The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists,” by Emma Green (The Atlantic, 2015).
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (2010).
- Trust: The New Foundations of Global Prosperity, by Francis Fukuyama (1995).
- “Is Economic Growth the Wrong Goal? (Update),” by Freakonomics Radio (2023).
- “Yuval Noah Harari Thinks Life Is Meaningless and Amazing,” by People I (Mostly) Admire (2022).
- The White Lotus, T.V. series (2021-2023).
- “Fathers and Sons,” by Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics Blog, 2006)
- “Respect Yourself,” song by The Staples Singers (1972).