Rethinking PowerPoint: Interviews With The Worlds Leading Presentation Experts

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Because she brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality, Anderson may be the philosopher best suited to this awkward moment in American life. She builds a democratic frame for a society in which people come from different places and are predisposed to disagree. With a bit of time before her talk, she sat in a high-backed chair and spoke with undergraduates about her work. The students, looking a touch wary, listened intently and stared.

People who meet Anderson in the world often find that she is more approachable than they imagined an august philosopher to be. Most days, she wears a colorful cotton blouse, hiking sneakers, and hard-wearing khakis that could bear a carabiner full of keys.

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A few friends felt unsettled when she was interviewed on cable news earlier this year; it was the first time they had ever seen her wearing makeup. In Ohio, she wore a loose black dress, trimmed in hot pink, over billowing pants and black flats. She crossed her right leg over her left and blinked as students formulated questions. As the students listened, she sketched out the entry-level idea that one basic way to expand equality is by expanding the range of valued fields within a society.

Unlike a hardscrabble peasant community of yore in which the only skill that anyone cared about might be agricultural prowess, a society with many valued arenas lets individuals who are good at art or storytelling or sports or making people laugh receive a bit of love.

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She was trying to understand how hierarchies of esteem could be compatible with equality. Anderson replied with a bright cackle of delight: Hah-hah-hah! Friends have noted that her laughter, like the autumn weather, comes in warm and chilly forms. There is, more ominously, a rough, guttural chuckle of declining barometric pressure Hhhh-aahr-aahr-aahr , with which she introduces ideas she considers comically, dangerously bad.

In general, Anderson is outgoing when conversation turns to ideas and shy about other things. Now she cleared her throat noisily. She spread her hands wider. A few years after her summer at the bank, Anderson was back in Cambridge, as a Harvard graduate student, studying political and moral philosophy under the mentorship of John Rawls. At a dinner party one evening, she was introduced to a former philosophy undergraduate named David Jacobi. He was smart, winsomely geeky, and uncommonly kind, and he had a thing for brainy women.

They began dating.

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Jacobi wound up in medical school. Anderson wound up teaching at Michigan. She was touched when he requested a hospital near her, in Detroit, for his internship. Sometime after that, they got married, though neither recalls exactly when. As Anderson toured apartments, though, she noticed other forces in play. Greater Detroit was effectively segregated by race. Oak Park had middle-class white sections and middle-class black sections.

Now she felt herself being swept, as a middle-class white woman, into a particular zone.


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To the extent that it constrained her options, it felt like an impingement on freedom. To the extent that it entrenched racial hierarchy, it seemed anti-egalitarian as well. Do we want things to be equal where we start in life or where we land? When inequalities arise, what are the knobs that we adjust to get things back on track?

Individually, people are unequal in countless ways, and together they join groups that resist blending. How do you build up a society that allows for such variety without, as in the greater-Detroit real-estate market, turning difference into a constraint?


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  5. How do you move from a basic model of egalitarian variety, in which everybody gets a crack at being a star at something, to figuring out how to respond to a complex one, where people, with different allotments of talent and virtue, get unequal starts, and often meet with different constraints along the way? The problem, she proposed, was that contemporary egalitarian thinkers had grown fixated on distribution: moving resources from lucky-seeming people to unlucky-seeming people, as if trying to spread the luck around.

    This was a weird and nebulous endeavor. Is an heir who puts his assets into a house in a flood zone and loses it unlucky—or lucky and dumb?

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    Or consider a woman who marries rich, has children, and stays at home to rear them crucial work for which she gets no wages. If she leaves the marriage to escape domestic abuse and subsequently struggles to support her kids, is that bad luck or an accretion of bad choices? Egalitarians should agree about clear cases of blameless misfortune: the quadriplegic child, the cognitively impaired adult, the teen-ager born into poverty with junkie parents.

    But Anderson balked there, too. By categorizing people as lucky or unlucky, she argued, these egalitarians set up a moralizing hierarchy. In the article, she imagined some citizens getting a state check and a bureaucratic letter:. To the disabled: Your defective native endowments or current disabilities, alas, make your life less worth living than the lives of normal people.

    To the ugly and socially awkward:. This was, at heart, an exercise of freedom. The trouble was that many people, picking up on libertarian misconceptions, thought of freedom only in the frame of their own actions. Egalitarians should focus policy attention on areas where that order had broken down.

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    Being homeless was an unfree condition by all counts; thus, it was incumbent on a free society to remedy that problem. Anderson was born early, at three pounds six ounces, and stayed small through childhood, wearing toddler-size clothes into the second grade. For years, she scarcely spoke; she had a lisp and seemed loath to reveal the imperfection. Eve recalls passing her bedroom and hearing her practicing her name repeatedly, E-liz-a-beth, trying to get it right.

    It was the first full sentence that she had ever uttered. Their household, in Manchester, Connecticut, was mixed and fluid. They helped found a local Unitarian Universalist worship space. Eve volunteered at the local Democratic Party headquarters and had campaigned for Adlai Stevenson; in , Olof was elected to a Democratic seat on the Manchester board of directors. She, in contrast, felt awkward and anxious.

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    The reading led to other interests. The world outside seemed untidy; she found peace in the stability of shared ideas. One Friday afternoon, Anderson sat with Kimberly Chuang, a soft-spoken twenty-nine-year-old who had just defended her dissertation, the final rite of passage before the Ph.

    At the defense, five professors prodded her with questions in the manner of a dental scaler scraping away plaque—an excavation that Chuang seemed to enjoy in proportion. They deliberated, then issued good news. Everybody stood up and applauded.

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    Still, Chuang blanched as they discussed the scope of her new obligations. She had four classes to help teach, and was supposed to give talks at a slew of international conferences. How should she prepare these audition-like presentations? What ensues is a very lively Q. She laughed darkly: Hhhh-aahr-aahr-aahr. Michigan, despite its winters, seemed a warmer place.