BrownCast Podcast episode 21: A conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams, a cosmopolitan in Paris

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

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This week we have a conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams, a writer based in Paris. He is the author of Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine.

The discussion was wide-ranging, as we discussed being a writer, cosmopolitanism, race and identity, the nation-state, and finally the prospects for France in the 21st century. Really hard to summarize, so I have to just recommend for you to listen.

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5 years ago

Re: the discussion of Renaud Camus — it touches upon one of the bigger cognitive dissonances within liberal/ left based thinking: not daring to address certain issues that are staring society in the face, leaving the field open for voices from the fringes to fill the vacuum. The discussion surrounding the refugee influx in 2015 in Sweden and Germany might be a starker example — it’s rather implausible that skewing the population pyramid between the ages of 18 – 24 will not have consequences. Not having the conversation is not a solution, but it’s a topic that is taboo to certain sections of the intelligentsia.

5 years ago

I am listening to and loving this conversation. One note. The ancient world was “NOT” Malthusian. Total factor productivity rises and falls over time. This is the narrative history of many cultures and civilizations all over the world.

An example of total factor productivity falling is the dark ages across Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Free trade does improve the lives of most. The world is not now and almost always has not been zero sum. 1 + 1 =3 in the real world. We benefit from collaboration, team work, exchanging ideas, the success of each other.

I would also argue that ancient societies did make new citizens, did welcome immigrants, travel and trade. We have lived through global ages of globalization many times. Including 5 thousand years ago (between Egypt, Sumeria, SAARC, South East Asia, Turan, Xinjiang . . . I don’t have clear evidence about China).

5 thousand to 4.5 thousand years ago there were large sumerian immigrant communities in SAARC living in IVC. There were also large IVC immigrant communities living in Sumeria.

Many parts of the world have been deeply globalized for large parts of their history. China for example . . . which exchanged knowledge with SAARC, Xinjiang, Tibet, Turan, Iran, South East Asia for thousands of years.

Razib, you mentioned how imperialism facilitated cosmopolitanism.

How do you define imperialism? One reason I ask is that many academics and people I have met define imperialism as European Enlightenment classical liberalism and its parent eastern philosophy (an open system open source architecture based on freedom of art and thought).

Thomas Chatterton Williams says “even in our democratic liberal systems we are struggling.”

I do not agree. We use to live in democratic liberal systems 1960s-1990s. We still have pockets of it across Asia and to a lesser degree in North America and to a still lesser degree in Europe. But the world is increasingly post modern marxist.

Post modernist marxism is a rejection of European Enlightenment classical liberalism and eastern philosophy. And is responsible for many of the problems around the world.


On whiteness . . . I think the concept is mostly bogus as currently understood by post modernist cultural marxists.

Categorically there is no such thing as white supremacy. White privilege also mostly does not exist.


Now I will get back to listening.

5 years ago

Zach just jumped in. 🙂

Loved your point. I have no idea what “Western” means.

Does it mean European enlightenment classical liberalism with a growing contribution from eastern philosophy and Islam and post modernist cultural marxism?

Maybe we should focus on what we want North American culture and European culture to be and start moving in that direction. For me that would be a combination of classical liberalism (European enlightenment) with a growing integration with eastern philosophy (partly achieved through a rediscovery of pre Abrahamic European religion and culture), Confucianism, and transcendental Sufi Irfan ism. A society of growing merit, competence, capacity, physical health, mental health, intelligence. And a growing universalist heart.

5 years ago
Reply to  Razib Khan

Razib, we don’t have a lot of great economic history from “WAY” back. The papers I have seen (granted a long time ago) were based on very incomplete data and a lot of assumptions that may not be so.

We honestly don’t know what the population was 1000 AD or 0 AD. Let alone further back. My hypothesis is that often populations use to rise massively and shrink massively in specific regions. Why? Unknown. Pandemics? Changing weather patterns? Wars? Backward ideologies (I consider marxism to be one).

With the rise of the Abrahamic institutions (I interpret Abrahamic faiths my own way . . . but that is not how large institutions enforced it) from say 300 AD to the near modern era we lost freedom of art and thought. My suspicion is that this led to a large drop in total factor productivity ceteris paribus.

“there is also weird stuff that indicates that health increases due to land surplus vis-a-vis labor.”

I have heard this point before. I am skeptical. Most of the time I think it is the opposite, except for large black swan catastrophic events (such as pandemics and genocidal wars). But these black swans are so large (fat tails on the extremes of the distribution pattern) . . . it skews the results. So on aggregate this weird correlation might appear to hold. Honestly I don’t know for sure.

What should scare all of us is the possibility that the last three centuries might not be as big an aberration as we thing. We might have had many great civilizations rise and fall over the past 400 K years of our species.

We too could collapse if we behave stupidly or get hit by natural catastrophes. This is all the more reason we need to resist post modernist cultural marxism and other illiberal philosophies. [Of course Islamism too . . . but the world might be doing better in counteracting Islamism than cultural marxism post modernism. Or maybe I am too optimistic as many muslims tell me.]

5 years ago

Now an hour in. Razib most Asian rich and upper middle class who play the post modernist game know they are abusing the system. They abuse the system anyway.

Zach, in America and Canada at least Asians “ARE” part of the American elite. I know this is not yet true in England.

But even in England, would you say that Bahai and Hindus are over represented among the elite?

5 years ago

Razib one of the most interesting and best aspects of you in your interest in Chinese culture . . . a fascination I share. For the life of me I don’t understand why more non Chinese people aren’t more interested in China.

Personally I would write more about China if I understood Mandarin. I love reading old Chinese mythological and religious stories.

Since almost all the ancient literature of the 10 Darshanas is lost, I learn a ton about eastern philosophy by reading ancient Chinese accounts. I was reading and discussing this with people earlier today. Ancient Chinese astronomy was extremely similar to ancient Arya astronomy.

I really look forward to Brown Pundits interviewing many Chinese thought leaders soon. Barnett Rubin’s interview will hopefully bring up some Chinese perspectives. And give contexts for future interviews with Chinese interlocutors. [Absolutely loved Carl Zha.]

5 years ago

Please listen to this conversation referred to by Thomas Chatterton Williams and Razib:

I think a commentary on this conversation titled “American Caste (b)” would be awesome for Brown Pundits.

This is very relevant for Asians. Asians must not follow the American post modern culturally marxist model. India needs to reject the post modernist culturally marxist breaking India forces.

Brown Pundits