I’ve always found it kind of strange that even new websites have a “FAQ” section as if people pelted them with questions before they even existed. So rather than pretend, I had Ryne Weiss, my Executive Assistant, chief researcher, and a major contributor to the blog, do an interview with me.
So Greg, you know it’s 2020, right? Why a blog?
Yes, I know it’s not exactly cutting-edge but for a good 10 years I could publish anything I wanted on the Huffington Post, and I found that just an extremely useful outlet for some FIRE cases, some free-speech incidents that weren’t on campus, and for general musings and thought experimentation. I lost the right to post directly to the Huffington Post around 2017, so I decided I needed a new platform, and I wanted it to be one that let me write, explore, stumble and pontificate in my own voice.
What is the “eternally radical idea” (not the blog)?
The short answer is that the “eternally radical idea” is freedom of speech. For a more detailed answer, check out this introductory post I wrote a couple weeks back.
This is a statement not a question: I love the logo.
Me too! It’s the work of FIRE’s incomparable graphic designer Nikki Eastman. I wanted something that represented radical ideas, and by having a blue dot revolving around a yellow dot in an elliptical orbit it’s a wonderful visual allusion to two of the great radical ideas. Indeed, I think Kepler’s discovery that planets don’t move in perfect round orbits, and even move at different speeds depending on where they are in the orbit, was even more radical than recognizing that the earth moved around the sun. I can’t thank Nikki enough. I’m happy every time I look at it.
Who will be writing for the blog?
The primary voice on the blog will be me, but possibly the most jarring thing for some readers is that I plan to primarily use the first person singular even while publishing co-authored pieces. In general, the default will be that the “I” is me unless we say otherwise. I know it’s a little unconventional, but I do think that first person can be a lot more approachable and direct, but people like Adam (Goldstein, Senior Research Counsel to the President) and you, Ryne (Weiss, Chief Research Officer to the President), who are essential to this project should be credited. We already published a big article with the great Pamela Paresky and I am hoping to do some work with FIRE’s data king, Sean Stevens.
Will the blog be primarily about FIRE issues such as free speech on campus?
I will definitely talk about free speech on campus, and free speech in general, but I prefer to think of this as more like a creative workspace to try a number of different ideas.
Are these official FIRE positions?
Oh heavens no. A big part of the point of the ERI blog is to tinker with ideas.
So, how does the ERI blog relate to FIRE’s work?
Great question, and forgive me for giving a somewhat long-winded response, but the idea for something like this came from a revelation I had while working on my first book, Unlearning Liberty. In UL, I argue that technology and progress has allowed us to create bubbles of interest and echo chambers around ourselves at a level that simply was not possible at other times in human history.
I asked myself: If I take this theory seriously, how many people get up in the morning and say “you know what I care about? Free-speech academic freedom and due process on college campuses!” At the time, I assumed that the number of people who thought that would be vanishingly small. To our credit, I think FIRE has done an amazing job of helping that issue get in front of an unprecedented number of people.
Nonetheless, I’m still fully aware that if you want to get out of the bubble of interest you’re in, you have to figure out things that appeal to people with very different interests and passions. Put more simply, we should be trying to find our way into other people’s bubbles. So we started diversifying.
We did, for example, Can We Take a Joke?, a comedy documentary explaining how free-speech and comedy are tightly intertwined, that was so influential that the director is considering doing a follow-up. I wrote an Atlantic article with my friend Jonathan Haidt about how our issues relate to the field of psychology and what predictions psychology can make about certain ways of thinking. We then expanded that into a book which also tries to explain to parents how all of these issues touch their lives as well.
We’ve done additional important creative projects like:
If these projects can bring additional people to our cause, that’s absolutely wonderful. But if people who find out about our organization through eccentric channels leave knowing only that there is a free speech problem on campus, or just that free-speech is actually a profound philosophy rather than just a legalistic idea, then we’ve accomplished something very important.
Will the blog cover topics in Coddling of the American Mind, your book with Jonathan Haidt?
Yes, absolutely. There’s lots of material, data, cases, and incidents that have happened since the publication of Coddling that we will tackle and explain in our ongoing blog series Catching up with “Coddling.” Here is the introduction, and part two on trigger warnings, screen time v. social media, COVID-19 and the continuing decline of Gen Z’s mental health can be found here. Part three on political polarization will be coming in a couple weeks.
You said you thought of the blog as a “creative workspace,” what do you mean by that?
Well, I hope to actually use the space to explore a lot of ideas, to reach people who might not otherwise think they are interested in free speech either on or off campus, and hopefully to have some fun as well.
Tell me more about the fun features? What’s that about?
One fun feature that I hope to do every month is a book recommendation, a music recommendation, and that “nerd treat,” which I am publishing at the same time as this FAQ.
And that I want to leave room to possibly do some random fun things, like discuss comic books or pop-culture, sometimes relating it back to freedom of speech, sometimes just musing.
How often do you expect you will be posting for the blog?
Good question. To give you a hint, I wanted to call this the “seldom blog” at first just to convey the idea that this won’t be a fire hydrant daily updating blog. I may do a couple posts a month.
One question I know you get a lot, so how do you correctly pronounce your last name?
Oh yes. It’s a name prone to being butchered. My last name is pretty common in Russia (my 94-year-old Dad came to the U.S. in the 1950s) and when they come over now it is generally spelled Lukyanov, which is much closer to how it’s pronounced. The easiest way to think of it is as if my name is Greg Luke Yanov. Mild stress on the “ya.” I was Catholic growing up and everyone seemed to want to change my name into an Irish or Italian name. It became such a cliche that my best friend dubbed me Lubaglio (which I even considered naming this blog). The only pronunciation I really hate though is LOU-KEE-ANN-OFF which, tragically, is the way Wikipedia currently says my name should be pronounced.
Where else can people find you?
Besides here, you can follow me on twitter @glukianoff. And if you want to know more about my thinking about free speech on campus, my book Unlearning Liberty is still the best thing I’ve ever written about the state of free speech between 2000 and 2012, and my very short book Freedom from Speech explains a lot about how I see the world. But also you should consider following some of my co-authors over the years including Jon, Adam, Pamela, Sam, and Nico.