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An Interview with Dr. Iona Italia on Universal Basic Income, Strongmanism, Human Rights, and Fearlessness (Part Five)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/09/15


Dr. Iona Italia is an Author and Translator, and a Sub-Editor for Areo Magazine, and Host of Two for Tea. She discusses: incentivization of the arts and humanities; responding to those who do not see the value in the arts and the humanities; varieties of strongmanism; the whys of the current situation and how to get out of it; and final feelings or thoughts in conclusion.

Keywords: Areo Magazine, human rights, Iona Italia, Two for Tea, UBI, strongmen.

An Interview with Dr. Iona Italia on Universal Basic Income, Strongmanism, Human Rights, and Fearlessness: Host, Two for Tea & Sub-Editor, Areo Magazine (Part Five)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: If we’re looking to incentivize, in some manner, civic culture, arts and humanities culture, how do we do it? There is the obvious answer of it is coming out of the intrinsic need to express oneself, explore the world of ideas, of the history of the world. However, what else?

Dr. Iona Italia: I suggest UBI. I think that is currently the best, most practical suggestion. Of course, like any system, some people will “abuse” it. I do not think it is abuse. Some people will choose to live on the low income that UBI provides. I think it is $1,000 a month they are suggesting for the US, which is a small income for the US. That is about what I currently live off, but I live in Argentina.

I think most people will either go and get a job that earns much more than that or they will take the UBI and they will use it as that safety net to be able to put energy into things like Areo Magazine, into podcasts, into writing, into art. Those are all things that we cannot seem to monetize easily but which do enrich our lives. It will also enable people to do things like care for their elderly parents, disabled partners, et cetera, and it will cut down on bureaucracy, enormously.

It will not punish people for going back to work, for example, because if you go to work and earn your salary, you will still receive your $1,000 in UBI, so you will not be tempted to stay on welfare because otherwise you will be penalized financially for going to work. So, I am a big fan. I think that would be one good start.

2. Jacobsen: What would be a proper response to individuals who completely see no value, or little value in the arts and humanities and productions for or coming out of civic culture?

Italia: If people see no value in something, it is rather hard to persuade them. All you can say is, “You live in civil society and other people value this.” You can, I think, though, see a good example of what happens when education is entirely technical with the kinds of things that are coming out of India and the movement on the Indian far-right, which is very much driven by young men from technical colleges, who have degrees, who have PhDs but they have absolutely zero humanities education at all.

They know how to do programming or to build a bridge, but they have no background in literature or history. They’ve become absolute fodder for this worrying, troubling strong rise of a violent terrorist, ethnonationalist, far-right movement in India. That’s one cautionary tale, there.

3. Jacobsen: Also, we’re seeing this in many forms when we’re seeing it a form of strongmanism, and then men who identify with the form of strongmanism. 

We can see this in a secular garb with Xi Jinping in mainland China with the elimination of terms limits. We can see the imposition of that through re-education camps, or at least, a million.

We can see this with Orbán in Hungary, saying the state stance is there are only male and female, which is a traditional fundamentalist Abrahamic religious stance. We can see this with, I think, Theresa May, in a bit. I think she’s one that comes up. We can also see this with Bolsonaro.

Italia: Bolsonaro.

Jacobsen: Who was at the top of the polls? Lula. Who is in prison? Lula. What happens when Bolsonaro gets into office? Immediately within a week, LGBTI+ rights and indigenous land rights are the first things to be targeted, in certain ways.

Italia: And of course, throughout the Muslim world you, you have strongmen in most of those countries. We’re already talking about the movement in India and “Modi the strongman”. You have Putin.

Jacobsen: Duterte.

Italia: Yes. You have people from the left, as well, who are doing this, left-wing authoritarians like Maduro. You already mentioned China.

Jacobsen: The typical story is men in most positions of power and influence and most of the men making those important decisions. We’re seeing a rise in the aggressive form of that, where it is you were noting it as “ethnonationalism,” sometimes connected to religious fundamentalist revivalism, or something like this.

Italia: Yes, in some African countries also.

4. Jacobsen: Two questions, whys and hows there, we have got a few minutes left. One, why? Two, how do we get out of it?

Italia: [Laughing] What an easy couple of questions! Why? I do not know. I officially studied English literature, but I did, of course, study lots of history because of my specialist period interest. One thing I can tell you is that history is highly contingent. You have one accidental event happening.

I am often asked to decide, for example, on Twitter, people often ask me, which is the greater threat, the far right or ultra-woke Social Justice excesses. I find the far right a bit scarier, but which is the greater threat? I have no idea because I do not have a crystal ball. It is impossible to predict the future. It is hard to know, even, how historical things happened. We can trace how but we cannot trace the why.

Perfect storms happen all the time. This thing happened. It led to this. That led to that. There are many, many feedback loops and snowball effects. I do not have a good answer to the “why”. “How”. I do not have a good answer to the “how” except that I think that we must keep returning—and it sounds so corny, I know—but we must keep returning to universal little humanism.

I used to think the liberal part of that was the most important part, but now I tend to think that the universal part may be the most important. I am currently reading Nick Christakis’s book, Blueprint, which is very much about this. We must abandon identity politics of all stripes, and we must return to a strong focus on the things that unite us.

5. Jacobsen: Does a return to human rights, or maybe a re-emphasis on human rights, provide such a framework? We see this in specific documents, for instance, on women’s rights with the Beijing Declaration from 1995. We can also see this 71 years ago with the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948. Would these suffice as bases?

Italia: No. Legislation never suffices on its own without cultural change, as well, but, as I said before, both cultural changes can drive legislation, also, legislation can drive cultural change. On its own, no, but it is a start.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts, in conclusion, based on the conversation today?

Italia: I guess my final thought is that I think that one big problem is that there is too much fear around speech. Even when people’s free speech rights are guaranteed, people are, of course, and always will be, in certain situations, careful about what they say, and this can be a good thing.

But when you are discussing bigger philosophical or political or social issues, it is important to be fearless, to explore ideas by talking through them, i.e. to work out what you think about the issue over the course of discussion rather than coming with a fixed agenda, with your conclusions already in place, and then presenting that as if you were…This is the difference between real political discussion and high school debating, the type that Ben Shapiro does. You stand up and you’re going to win your point.

Not for reasons of ego, but also that means that you must even contemplate some ideas that are either politically incorrect, or that are evil-adjacent, let’s say, but are not actually evil. Sometimes the right answer is close to a wrong answer. That is the way that things are.

We need more fearlessness in what we’re willing to talk about and how we’re willing to talk about it. Only then will we come to the good solutions and will we be able to debunk the bad ones.

6. Jacobsen: Thank you much, and best of wishes with your chocolate chai and your keto diet.

Italia: Thanks. Bye-bye.

Jacobsen: Bye.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Host, Two for Tea; Sub-Editor, Areo Magazine.

[2] Individual Publication Date: September 15, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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