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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Mar 7, 2024

On this episode of Unsupervised Learning, Razib talks to Zoe Booth and Iona Italia. Booth is community engagement officer and Italia is managing editor at Quillette. An Australian, Booth has degrees in French, Politics and Law from the University of Newcastle. Italia is an erstwhile academic of British nationality and mixed Parsi and Scottish heritage, with a Ph.D. in English literature from Cambridge University. She is the author of Our Tango World, former editor-in-chief of Areo Magazine and the host of the Two for Tea Podcast. Razib discusses both of their trajectories into the heterodox intellectual sphere, Booth, from her starting point as a younger Millennial and Italia as a member of Generation X. While Booth recounts she had typical generational views on social justice and left-inflected politics, Italia admits despite being very left-wing most of her life she was never very well disposed to the identitarian trend that has crystallized into “woke” politics in the 2020s. Booth also addresses the reality that even if the existence of Quillette, a female-led bastion of free thought, with founding editor Claire Lehmann and now managing editor Italia might seem to suggest otherwise, it is not always easy to be a heterodox woman. Booth and Italia discuss how female personality orientation tends more toward making people feel comfortable and included rather than confrontations over truth claims that might hurt feelings. Italia and Razib also address her unique personality quirk of very high disagreeability, which might explain both her rejection of group-think and her earnest quest for the truth as she understands it.

Booth and Italia talk about how the recent events around the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, have resulted in changes in their social life due to political polarization. Overall Quillette has taken a pro-Israel position across the editorial staff, which has resulted in some blowback among their readership. Italia also talks about her own change from solidarity to the global left because of their Hamas-friendly stance, and her continued rejection of conservative social movements, including Islam. Booth and Italia also address Quillette’s consistent trend of touching cultural and political third rails, but in the service of classical liberal values. Italia believes any blowback toward her and the magazine comes disproportionately from a small group of malcontents, and that broadly liberal values are much more popular than most people realize.