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DUCKWORTH: Ooh. I like it already. 

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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: Why do we want what we can’t have?

DUCKWORTH: It’s like, envy quickly followed by self-loathing for feeling envy. So, yay. This is really fun. 

Also: Can humans break from our tribalist instincts? 

DUBNER: Let’s acknowledge that it exists, and beat the crap out of the people who are doing the wrong stuff. 

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DUBNER: Angie, we have a question here from one Phillip Payne, who has a Hotmail account in the U.K. I don’t know if it’s relevant. We’ll find out. He says, “Hi NSQ, I think a lot — some say too much — about everyday behaviors and why people do what they do.” I would say we and Philip have that in common, then. 

DUCKWORTH: Yes, we do. Yeah. You do not have a Hotmail account in common, but you do have this curiosity in common.

DUBNER That’s true. Anyway, he writes, “Why do we want what we can’t have? Is it just a way of expressing autonomy, social signaling to our peers to show that we can achieve things many don’t? Or is there some human need to be a completist and collect/do/learn everything? Thanks, Phil Payne.” Is it true, Angie, as Phil writes, that most of us do want what we can’t have? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, I was reading Lindsey Vonn’s new memoir. I don’t even think it’s published yet. So, she sent it to me. If you don’t ski, you may not know that she’s, some would argue, one of the greatest skiers to ever live. 

DUBNER: Are you ski buddies? Do you race with her?

DUCKWORTH: You know, I don’t ski. I don’t want to ski — slightly afraid of heights. 

DUBNER: Have you ever been on a sled?

DUCKWORTH: Don’t want to be on a sled, have been on a sled. I just don’t think sliding down frictionless surfaces with no control is pleasurable. But, apparently, Lindsey Vonn does. And I guess, for her, she does have some control over it. So, I read this memoir cover to cover, in part because I really like her. I mean, she’s a paragon of grit — she’s what I study. And then, also, I literally have never read a memoir I didn’t like. Memoirs are like pizza. They just go from good to great, but there’s nothing bad. And I really enjoyed hers, because she was very, very honest and it was very reflective. She talks about [how], even as a little girl, she would kind of look to her left, look to her right, and want to one-up the people around her. She got so good that there was nobody who was better. Then she just wanted to one-up herself. And I think this “grass is greener,” you know, “why do we want what we can’t have” — at the extreme is a Lindsey Vonn or the competitors that I study in other domains as well. They just have an appetite and an instinct to do better than each other or themselves. But I think it’s more universal than the high achievers and the outliers in this. You know, what all human beings have in common is goals. Goals are things that we do not yet have that we want to have. So this question that Phil asked, in some way, is answered by the fact that, you know, what would you want? Of course you want what you don’t have. I guess his specific phrasing is what we “can’t” have. I would just say that all human beings, not just Olympic athletes, we spontaneously yearn for that which we do not yet have. And then we can address this special case of, like, what about the subset of things that we don’t have and we can’t have them? But this yearning, the striving, I think is part of the goal-directedness of all human beings. 

DUBNER: It reads to me like there is a piece of the human engine that constantly needs to run faster or better or quieter or something. 

DUCKWORTH: And never be content. Right? Built-in dissatisfaction. 

DUBNER: And I, personally, love that notion. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s so you. 

DUBNER: It’s so you, too. Come on! You are the grit lady. 

DUCKWORTH: I know. That’s why we get along. 

DUBNER: That said, I feel we should distinguish between a future state of ourselves, like what you’re talking about with Lindsey Vonn or any great achiever, and the material possessions of others, or the status of others. 

DUCKWORTH: Ah, like coveting. 

DUBNER: And now that you brought up Lindsey Vonn, I’m thinking about these two versions of wanting what we can’t, or don’t, have. And I think they’re both 100 percent legitimate. 

DUCKWORTH: I think, by the way, that coveting what somebody else has — envy, jealousy, competition — that kind of wanting tends to be less satisfying in the long run. So, okay, now you do get what your neighbor has, or you beat your fellow competitor, and then you keep going. That seems to be a less successful, long-run strategy than beating your own goals. And I know it sounds cliche, but the people that I study as high achievers at some point begin to compete against themselves, which doesn’t mean that they’re done competing, or even that they’re working any less hard. But there is something about trying to beat who you were yesterday which is just enormously more healthy than trying to beat the competition. 

DUBNER: I have to say, envy, or coveting, is one of the characteristics that I find least attractive in other people, at least if they openly do it. But even this, I have to say, it feels bifurcated. So, I’ll give an example. My mother, I believe, didn’t feel a lot of envy, although I’m sure she felt some, but she almost never expressed it. Now, maybe this was just about being proud. Maybe it was just that she didn’t want anyone to ever see her express envy. And I’ve patterned myself, or I’ve tried to pattern myself, after her, because it strikes me as an unattractive trait. On the other hand, I find it attractive when someone does admit to envy, in some cases. For instance, if I’m with another writer, and that writer says, “Have you read the new book by so-and-so?”  And they say, “I am in awe. I so wish —” Like, Michael Lewis is a writer that a lot of writers envy. 

DUCKWORTH: I was going to ask you to get vulnerable with me, Stephen. So I’m glad you’re going there. Keep going. Michael Lewis.

DUBNER: I don’t know if I am envious of him, but I appreciate him at a very, very deep level, and here’s why: Michael Lewis is someone who I, and a lot of other writers, think makes really good writing look really easy. And here’s the weird part. When you talk to him, it kind of is. And I love when someone will say to me, you know, “I read Michael’s latest book and, like, wow, it just knocked my socks off how good the storytelling was.” Maybe that’s not envy, maybe that’s just appreciation. I find that very attractive. What I don’t like is when you’re talking to another friend and you’re like, “Did you read Michael’s latest book?” And like, “Eh, it’s not for me.” What that says to me is they don’t want to come near it because it’s too hard for them. The envy is too deep. 

DUCKWORTH: There is a darkness to this emotion. It’s, like, envy quickly followed by self-loathing for feeling envy. So, yay! This is really fun. I envy Michael Lewis, I read writing by him and I’m like, “Swoon!” And, you know, “Envy!” But, for me, it’s Adam Grant. We do the same thing. I co-direct an institute with him. We’re at the same school. We both have podcasts. We write books. 

DUBNER: Does he have a podcast? I didn’t realize that. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. He has a podcast called WorkLife.

DUBNER: No, I am just saying that to make you think that I’m not even aware that he has a podcast.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, thank you. But it doesn’t work because everyone knows he has a podcast. I said the other day to a friend, I was like, “Adam has ascended to another plane of existence because he just does it all, and he does it so well.” So I do feel envy. 

DUBNER: Wasn’t he also a champion diver or something too? 

DUCKWORTH: Champion diver. 

DUBNER: Does he do magic and fix carburetors? 

DUCKWORTH: Yes. I think he was a very accomplished magician. Maybe he still is. And he’s got a lovely wife, Allison, and he’s got kids. And he answers every email. 

DUBNER: God, I hate him more every second you go on, Angela. How can you stand him being in the same department? 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know how he does it all. I also don’t know why in cartoons you’re always green with envy. I don’t know what this vomit-like color is that we would say is the emotion of envy. I feel it rarely, but I do feel it when I note Adam’s latest achievement. 

DUBNER: By the way, I think the reason we associate green with envy — “the green-eyed monster” is envy — I think it did have to do with the notion that jealousy was the result of having too much bile in your system. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, is that why it’s green? Is bile green? What is bile? I think that the gallbladder makes it, right? 

DUBNER: Bile is stuff that you really don’t want to see on the outside of your body. That’s all I really know about it. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, it’s supposed to be in there. 

DUBNER: Now I feel like we’re becoming the kind of podcast that I would never listen to, which is when you talk about vomiting. But anyway, you like Adam Grant a lot. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh yeah, I adore him. And you know what? He really is as great and as good as everybody says he is. 

DUBNER: You like him, you respect him, and yet you admit to feeling these twinges of envy. So what do you do with those? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, first of all, I don’t know that I’ve ever even told Adam. But it would be dishonest of me to say anything otherwise. So, I first feel the envy, and then I have this secondary, like, “I ought not [to] feel envious.” Or, “It’s not the noble thing to do.” You know, when my kids do great, I don’t feel envious, I just feel proud and happy and joyful.

DUBNER: Although there are parents who feel envious of their kids’ accomplishments, that I know. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s sad. But I think if we just use this modal case, anyway — that most parents feel, kind of, unadulterated joy and pleasure in their children. And, by the way, I really have a handful of girlfriends where, as beautiful or as wonderful or as great as your life is turning out, they are just happy for you, no envy involved. And those rare, pure human beings are wonderful. So I think maybe the reason I feel bad about feeling envious of this human being who is so great at everything he does, and it’s so close to what I do, is that I wish I had no envy at all, and that it was just admiration and awe and vicarious pleasure. The part that I don’t want to happen is the, “Oh, I wish I had that,” because I think what quickly follows for a lot of us is the sort of, like, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t done that, because now I’m relatively worse off.” There is a kind of malevolent edge to envy, or there can be. And I don’t want that. So I wish I just felt like the same way I’d feel if my daughter had a bestselling New York Times book.

DUBNER: Do you use that envy to motivate yourself? 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know that it drives me. But deep down, does envy propel me at some unconscious level? I have to imagine it does, in part. Look, I think maybe the self-loathing is a good short circuiting, because we don’t really want ourselves to get into a tailspins of envy. 

DUBNER: No. You don’t. 

DUCKWORTH: I think if we could have, like, just a soupcon of the self-loathing, just enough to cut your envying short a bit. But what I don’t want to do is to, like, layer on the self-loathing. We all feel envy. I’m glad that you at least would acknowledge that you could have envy for somebody like Michael Lewis, and maybe me acknowledging publicly that I can have the occasional twinge of green envy for my beloved colleague Adam, it’s just, you know, like, come on, we’re human. And envy is an emotion that probably has some functionality. And in small doses, it’s probably not going to do anybody harm. 

DUBNER: Do you know the story about the stonecutter who was unhappy with his lot in life? 

DUCKWORTH: Wait, there’s so many stonecutter parables, don’t you think? They’re like, “Let’s put a stonecutter in the next one. Let’s get a stonecutter from central casting.” No, tell me this one. 

DUBNER: This is a Zen parable about a stonecutter. 

DUCKWORTH: Ooh. I like it already. 

DUBNER: Dissatisfied with his life. And one day he’s walking by the house of the richest person in town, this merchant, and sees all these amazingly expensive fancy possessions and all these important visitors. And he says to himself, “Wow, that merchant must be so powerful. It must be amazing to be like that.” And the next day, he wakes up as the merchant. So he’s happy for a while. And then, he sees this important official, like a government official, being carried in a sedan by all these servants. And he thinks, “Whoa, how powerful that official must be.” And the next day, he becomes the official, and this trend continues, and this guy becomes the sun. He becomes a big storm cloud. Then he becomes the wind. And he finds that the one thing that he can’t move when he’s the wind is this massive rock, so he was envious of the rock, and then he becomes the rock. And one day he hears the sound of a hammer hitting his surface and he thinks, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What could be more powerful than me, the rock?” And he looks down and he sees a stonecutter.

DUCKWORTH: I love that. Is that what’s called a koan? Like, a Zen koan? 

DUBNER: It is a stone koan, which is similar to a cinnamon raisin scone. 

DUCKWORTH: Or a snow koan. 

DUBNER: So, the next time you look across campus and see Adam Grant. 

DUCKWORTH: Think of the stonecutter. Think of a snow cone. 

DUBNER: No, no, no. So, the next time you look across campus and see Adam Grant, maybe you want to pick up a hammer and start beating on him. That might make you feel better. 

DUCKWORTH: And that, my children, is the moral of the stonecutter parable. Do we got it? 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss how to break free from an “in-group”/“out-group” mentality.

DUCKWORTH Everybody in the world needs more mother’s love. That’s my public policy recommendation. 

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DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I’m going to read you a rather lengthy email — but I think it’s so interesting — from a doctoral student in Kansas named Kiley. 

DUBNER: Read away. 

DUCKWORTH: “Dear Stephen and Angela, I am a full-time Ph.D. student. I’m also a Black-Latina mother. Being immersed in academia, I am constantly having conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I feel like I’m speaking or emailing or zooming every day with someone about how I can feel included and valued as a graduate student, as a parent, as a person of color — almost to the point of virtue signaling. The thing is, despite all these conversations, I still feel like I get ostracized. And, ironically, it is by the people who are supposed to be part of my small communities. It’s the women that make snarky comments about my availability in light of the fact that I have a baby. I’ve been shamed by the Black community for having a lighter skin tone and by the Latinx community for not being fluent in Spanish. Yet we all band together in front of the majority, be it men, Caucasians, et cetera. My question is, why is it that even in communities that are considered minorities, do we feel it necessary to still pick on the “other” person? Why do we need to form groups within these small communities and establish an even smaller group of acceptable people? Why do people who have been “othered” decide to “other” their own people? Is this deeply rooted in our biology and/or are we just inherently cliquey?” 

DUBNER: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. My first thought is another question to you, which is: is this, in fact, do you think, an “other” issue — like an in-group, out-group issue, or is it just a human issue? In other words, do you think what Kiley is discussing is a deep-rooted biological issue, or maybe just more of a human desire to feel superior to anyone, whether or not they look like you?

DUCKWORTH: I think it is a deep-rooted tribalist instinct, a kind of “we” versus “them.” And I think this increasing fragmentation — as she says, it’s not only that there’s “we” versus “them,” it’s that even in the “we” group, then all of a sudden there becomes a subgroup, and on and on. I think that’s because we come from a primate line, evolutionarily. And primates are, like many other animals, tribal. You know, there is territory, and there’s, kind of, “we” versus “them” built into survival. 

DUBNER: John Haidt, the NYU psychologist, he once wrote this, which I think is interesting to think about in this context, “There’s no getting around it. We are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent, intergroup conflict. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs and tattoos. As tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse, secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life.” So, Angie, how do you suggest that Kiley, or the rest of us, can finely adjust certain settings, as John Haidt says, to minimize this sort of tribal aggression? 

DUCKWORTH: One of the studies I remember learning about is called the robbers cave experiment. I think it’ll help illuminate this question. You’ve probably heard of it. Yeah?

DUBNER: I have, but I’d like you to tell it. 

DUCKWORTH: The study was done in the 50s or 60s by Sherif, a psychologist whose name I never knew how to pronounce, and therefore could never remember his first name. But the study itself is so clever. You’ve got prepubescent boys — like, 10, 11 years old. And they’re at a summer camp. The group of boys is divided into two. And unbeknownst to each other, there are two adjacent summer camps that are physically isolated enough that when you go off to your camp, all you know is the boys that you’re assigned with, and you don’t even think about other boys at an adjacent camp. They do all these kind of, like, in-group exercises, or these interventions, to actually consolidate your identity with your group of campers. You pick a mascot, and then you make T-shirts with the picture of your mascot on it. And in this very famous study, one group of campers decide they’re going to be the eagles, and the other one pick the rattlesnakes. And they pick colors, and they do all these things to consolidate a kind of “we” identity. And then these boys are told about each other. Like, “Did you know that there’s a camp really close to here? And they have a different name and they have different colors?” And then they put these boys into conflict situations like, “Let’s do tug of war.” “Let’s tell one group that the other group doesn’t like them.” What the scientists behind this wanted to know is, what is the nature of tribalism, and what is the nature of conflict? And also, how do we actually figure out how to resolve this kind of tribalistic conflict when it comes about? And the intervention that seemed to be the most effective, in a series of studies that were done with this camping paradigm, is that: you tell the boys that they have a common enemy. You tell the boys that there’s another group: vandals. And they are sabotaging the drinking water. And then, what you find is that people band together — at least in this very, very small sample, the boys put aside their differences, and now they’re just trying to defeat the common enemy. And so the conclusion is that one of the ways that we can deal with this tribalism is to find some kind of superordinate goal that we can all be loyal to, and now to expand the circle of “we” to be both of us, both of our groups, and then to make some common enemies the “them.” When the pandemic hit, I did wonder — because, of course, our country was already fast on its way to being extremely polarized. It was hard to imagine that we could be any more polarized than we were. And I remember thinking, this is like a science fiction movie where the aliens attack Earth, and finally we set aside our differences and we take up arms together to fight the common enemy. I mean, what was [more] common than a global pandemic? 

DUBNER: Was this your prediction, that this would happen, or was it just a thought? Because if it was a prediction, then it pretty much didn’t come true. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, yes. I actually thought to myself quite explicitly, “This is gonna create a ‘them’ so that we can all be an ‘us’ together.” And it did not happen. In fact, maybe you could argue the opposite happened, you know, with mask-wearing, with vaccines, with pretty much everything that could go wrong politically, with our response in terms of lack of unity. And so, I was really disappointed. 

DUBNER: So, assuming that Kiley, who wrote to us, cannot assemble some version of the robber’s cave to come up with a common enemy, let me ask you a narrower question about the situation. What she’s talking about is, like, tribes and a subset of the tribe. So, I have seen research from several decades ago by — and I’m guessing I’m getting this name wrong — Henri Tajfel. He was a Polish-born social psychologist who worked in Britain, and he was best known for this concept, as I’m sure you know, of social identity theory. His argument was that, “The mere perception of belonging to two distinct groups is sufficient to trigger intergroup discrimination favoring the ingroup.” So, it sounds like the minute you have a distinction, or what some might consider a distinction, even from your tribe, if there’s an outgroup component, that you’re going to be, theoretically, discriminated against. So, my question for you is, what do you think this sort of discrimination is in service of? In other words, the people that she says are treating her poorly, do you think it’s in service of competition? Is it a natural response? Do you think it’s a strategic response? 

DUCKWORTH: I think there are many possibilities. You know, much more recently than that classic research, there’s Mina Cikara’s research on these ingroup and outgroup attributions that we make for, like, why people do what they do, and our negative beliefs about the “them,” as opposed to the “we.” And what Mina and her colleagues show is that we can grossly exaggerate how derogatory we assume the “they” group thinks of the “we” group. In other words, we can exaggerate in our minds and assume that, if we’re Democrats, that the Republicans absolutely hate us, and the opposite as well. And maybe if we then understood that there can be a gross distortion, maybe that’s a step towards an intervention? Just to understand that this can be not quite as extreme as we have it in our minds. That’s one possibility. I think the other thing that might be going on is that — when we ask the question, “What is going on when we seem to spontaneously create these ‘we’ versus ‘they’ things and, like, increasingly smaller ‘we’ versus ‘they’?” — I wonder whether it is an ego defense of some kind, like, we just feel threatened in some way, and we want to be assured of our own status. And therefore it’s a way of making a “they” group so that we can be in some more virtuous “we” group. 

DUBNER: That’s an interesting concept. It suggests that we value smallness and exclusivity more than a larger tribe. I mean, I could imagine that an evolutionary biologist would suggest that it would be actually valuable to treat people who are, let’s say, half like you on the observables, like you, because then you build your tribe. It’s interesting, maybe four or five years ago, the NPR podcast Code Switch did an episode on what they called racial imposter syndrome. And this describes when someone doesn’t truly feel like a member of the racial or ethnic group they’re part of, or maybe when they’re made to feel that they’re not a member. And this is similar to what Kiley [is] talking about. She gave the example — and I believe Code Switch gave a similar example — where a Latino person may not feel like a part of a Latino community if they don’t speak Spanish, or if they’re not fluent in Spanish. And in that episode, this Duke psychologist named Sarah Gaither made the claim that multiracial people face the highest level of social exclusion compared to any other racial or ethnic group. They’re excluded twice as often. This brings to mind when Barack Obama was running for president in 2007, 2008, there were some Black critics who said he wasn’t, quote, “Black enough.” Al Sharpton said famously — now, he didn’t mention Obama by name in this example, but everybody knew who he was talking about — he said, “Just because you’re our color, doesn’t make you our kind.” And look, I don’t think it’s just about race or ethnicity either. During the 2020 presidential primaries, one big social media hashtag which concerned the first openly gay presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, was #PetesNotGay, right? In The New Yorker, which is considered this bastion of kind of progressive tribalism, in a way, Masha Gessen wrote that, “Buttigieg was an old politician in a young man’s body, a straight politician in a gay man’s body.” So, I find this fascinating. And honestly, I don’t know if disturbing is the right word. I find it shallow. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s pretty disturbing. 

DUBNER: It disturbs me because I think it misses the point of the diversity argument. The diversity argument is that everyone should have opportunity, and that our collective enterprises are made better by having a broader swath of inputs, of people. And so, I think when we instead pursue a certain kind of tribalism and sub-tribalism, like Kylie is describing, it stinks, honestly. 

DUCKWORTH: This “us” versus “them” tribal instinct that we all have built into us does run directly counter to the aims of diversity, equity and inclusion — which was mentioned here in this email.

DUBNER: I will say this: Kylie’s question makes me think a little bit of this Freakonomics Radio episode we’re working on right now, which is about workplace diversity. It’s based on a couple of recent studies, one of which is actually an historical study. It looks at what happened to firms in Germany during the Nazi era, when just about all the Jewish executives at those firms were kicked out. And, by the way, they were kicked out long before they were legally compelled to do so. So, I learned many things from this paper, but one thing I was really surprised to learn was just how many very, very senior Jewish executives there were at quintessentially German firms. So the CEO of Deutsche Bank, for instance, was Jewish. And so, what the scholars did was, they wanted to measure what happened to those firms, and then larger, to the German economy, as a result of getting rid of all these Jewish executives. And, make a long story short, it was bad for the firms, and it was bad for Germany. So, that study was about discrimination and exclusion. But then, there’s another study we discuss that looks at the effects of what the author calls “forced diversity,” which is quite common today, right? There are firms that say we want to have either on our board or in our C-suite a certain number of people from this group, that group and so on. And I won’t give too much of a spoiler, but suffice is to say that forced diversity leads to some really bad outcomes. So I think what Kylie is expressing, and what this paper about forced diversity is showing is that Jon Haidt is right, that we are super-tribal. And, as Kylie says, that we are pretty bad at navigating these sub-tribes within. And rather than try to unite, or even row in the same direction, it seems that we as humans would rather make more splits to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves feel superior, to put ourselves in a better position. So, is that just what we’re stuck with, being humans? 

DUCKWORTH: I was just going to ask you that question. If having a “them” who’s not “us,” and then feeling like you’re better than the “them”— if that’s part and parcel of our human nature, and if we’re going to do it no matter what circumstances we are in. I don’t know, do you have a good idea? I mean if you go all the way back to that old and small sample camper study, you think, “Oh, superordinate goal that unites us.” Then, you had nothing less than that in the pandemic. Ok, that didn’t seem to work. I don’t know. But I will say that my only guess is that the people that I think do this the least are the people who — they like themselves, they’re happy people. I think that secure, happy people who were brought up with a strong attachment style, they tend not to derogate outgroups. They tend not to join extremist causes, et cetera. So, basically, that says that everybody in the world needs more mother’s love. That’s my public policy recommendation. What would yours be? 

DUBNER: Okay, I’m not going to argue against mother’s love, first of all. But second of all, if we had been having this conversation, let’s say 10 years ago, I would have said, it used to be, if you go back half a century, and then two centuries, and then certainly 10 centuries, that one of the greatest threats to humans on a societal and individual level was war. Wars were incredibly common. They lasted a long time and they killed boatloads of people. Now, it’s true that plagues and things, and other illnesses, killed more people. But the beauty part of coming into the 21st century was that wars were much less common, much less deadly, et cetera. Now, by the way, disease was also killing many, many, many fewer people. So, you could have, you could have looked at those two sources of misery and death, and said, “Wow, civilization is bound for nothing but glory now.” It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved sports. Because I always thought sport was really fun to watch, in part because it is a proxy for war. I mean, the sport of American football is so warlike in so many ways. There are literally two lines of scrimmage where there is a blitz. I mean, there’s all this language even from war, but it really is an approximation of war in a way that makes us root for one side against the other. But at the end of the day, if you’re lucky, nobody dies. You can even have a beer with the person from the other team or from the other fan group. 

DUCKWORTH: They shake hands and slap each other’s ass. I don’t know why they seem to do that, but they do. 

DUBNER: I mean, in the NFL, what’s very common now is there’s the prayer circle after the game where players from both teams will kneel in a circle around the logo at the midfield of the stadium and link arms and pray together. So it would seem as if we had superseded, at some level at least, this tribal desire. But as we look around now, even this one example from Kylie, which is one small example to the rest of us, but to Kylie this is huge. This is her life. This is her environment, her atmosphere, it’s her profession. It’s such a painful and, I think, common experience that I think the cost of it is much, much, much greater than we are factoring into. I think it’s something that economists, for instance, have really only begun to try to understand and measure. I mean, I mentioned this episode we are working on. One reason I’m so interested in it is whenever you can try to understand or measure, especially in economic terms, something that really hasn’t been measured or even measurable before — I think if you’re going to go with the answer of mother’s love and more of it as a way to fight this, I would go with the answer of: let’s try to. Rather than pretend this kind of uncomfortable and maybe disturbing dynamic doesn’t exist, let’s do the opposite. Let’s acknowledge that it exists, let’s drill down and measure it, and beat the crap out of the people who are doing the wrong stuff. That would be my answer. So I guess that’s a fairly tribal answer in itself. 

DUCKWORTH: That was really tribal. Just at the end there — the “beat the crap” thing. Yeah, I think you got a little tribal. 

DUBNER: Hey, I am a human after all. 

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

Stephen thinks that envy is linked to the color green because of its association with bile. This is partially correct. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and his followers believed that an excess of yellow bile could affect your personality. Although the Ancient Greek word for yellow was also used to describe light green. They believed that a surplus of this bile could make a person angry and impulsive, but not necessarily envious. And Shakespeare is responsible for the origin of the phrase “the green-eyed monster.” In Othello, the antagonist Iago warns, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” 

And to answer Angela’s question, bile is certainly something that you don’t want to see on the outside of your body, but, more specifically, it’s a digestive fluid produced by your liver. It won’t turn you green, but when a bile duct becomes blocked and excess liquid builds up in the liver, it can certainly make you jaundiced and give your skin a yellowish hue. 

Later, Angela wonders if Stephen’s stonecutter parable qualifies as a Zen koan (koh-on). In Zen buddhism, a koan is a succinct paradoxical statement used as a meditative discipline. For example, “out of nowhere, the mind comes forth” is a koan from the Buddhist text the Diamond Sutra. The parable that Stephen recounted is likely too long to count as a koan.

Finally, Angela forgets the first name of the psychologist responsible for the robbers cave experiment. The researcher in question is Turkish-American social psychologist Muzafer Sherif, who died in 1988 at the age of 82. 

That’s it for the fact-check!

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No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Eleanor Osborne, Joel Meyer, Tricia Bobeda, Emma Tyrell, Lyric Bowdich and Jacob Clemente. 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 also follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to And if you heard Stephen or Angela reference a study, an expert or a book that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we link to all of the major references that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

DUCKWORTH: Look, there is some wisdom there that I can extract other than, you know, violently beating my competitors to a pulp. 

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