The Cult of Knick Knacks (with Amanda Montell)

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You’re in a cult! You’re in a cult! We’re allll in a cult! Amanda Montell, host of Sounds Like A Cult and all-around smartest person, joins the Aunties this week. She talks about her new book “The Age of Magical Overthinking,” and dives into why we add more things into our life when the solution is to pare down (the call is coming inside the house!) But that won’t stop Amanda – or the Aunties – from collecting things that just scratch that itch. Like lemon bells, LED candlesticks and bike figurines that remind her of Amsterdam. To quote Taylor Swift: “I got a blank space, baby…” and I’ll fill it with knick knacks.

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SuChin Pak, Amanda Montell, Kulap Vilaysack

Kulap Vilaysack  00:10

Welcome back to Add To Cart a show about the things we buy, the things we buy into and what it says about who we are. I’m your auntie Kulap Vilaysack.


SuChin Pak  00:18

And your other auntie SuChin Pak.


Kulap Vilaysack  00:20

Now Su, on our episode with our dear friend Mahandra, during the holidays we talked about some cult documentaries and I said how jealous I was of people who can 100% commit and believe in something like a cult for example do you remember that?


SuChin Pak  00:36

I sure do. Yeah, that is an ability that we seem to lack and we just talked to Susan Liu and we talked about how add on to that that I’m so freakin cheap that I actually am uncomfortable like truly there is it just the price tag will get me off of that wagon so fast.


Kulap Vilaysack  01:01

Yeah, so our guest today looks at cults in a different light or in a in a more deeper light can like it deeper. I mean, Starbucks former sponsor Lululemon, by the way we’re so Lululemon will come crawling back what do you what do you need from us? You may think you’re not in a single cold, but you actually may be in many cults. The cults are calling from inside the house. Okay, so our guest today she’s a writer and linguist. She’s such a command of the language she we were just talking about, quite simply knows so many words.


SuChin Pak  01:35

All the words.


Kulap Vilaysack  01:35

All of the words.


SuChin Pak  01:36

I’ve never said that about anybody because it makes me sound stupid. And I’m not know but I said that before we started recording I said, this person has come more words than anyone I’ve ever ever met.


Kulap Vilaysack  01:48

So smart, she’s the creator, host of the hit podcast, Sound Like a Cult. She’s also the author of three non fiction books. That’s 123 If you’re nasty, her newest one The Age of Magical Overthinking drops a day please Add To Cart, Amanda Montell.


Amanda Montell  01:51

[…] Yeah, I’m so fucking smart.


SuChin Pak  02:15

I mean, I know you hear that all the time. But it’s not just no smart it’s just like the words and the words on the page two because we did the podcast together and I was like, wow.


Amanda Montell  02:31

No, I was like wow, I was like wow because you you you two are such a dynamic duo. I stand you both so much. That Stanley Cups episode we’ll talk about it but like it is chef’s absolute kiss and it’s going to be out next week. If you’re listening to this the week that it drops tune into sounds like a call next week because this cold of Stanley Cups episode is so funny. It’s so disturbing. I didn’t realize we got so far into it, but we didn’t know.


SuChin Pak  02:56

Disturbing is our middle name.


Kulap Vilaysack  02:58

That’s right. I’m comfortable there.


SuChin Pak  03:00

Yeah, we take normal things and we disturb it.


Amanda Montell  03:04

When you were obviously every episode you intro like were your aunties. I was thinking like I’m your overly chatty Gremlin cousin. I like that, no at all like annoying as fuck little cousin who’s like, three heads shorter than everyone else in the class who like comes in? You’d be like, yeah, like can be deeper, did you know According to physics, and blah, blah, blah, blah, like that’s me.


Kulap Vilaysack  03:32

You sound like a little boy and Jerry Maguire.


Amanda Montell  03:37

Oh, yeah, remember that? […] That little boy Jonathan Lipnicki is that same again human head weighs eight pounds. I swear to god last night. I was like falling asleep on my partner’s shoulder as we were watching the Cold War documentary. And he was like, can you move your head or like rested lighter and I was like the human head only weighs eight pounds, you can handle it.


SuChin Pak  04:02

That’s incredible. I’m married to a person whose head probably weighs three pounds. It’s the smallest human head maybe alive. And that’s still too heavy. He puts it on my shoulder and I’m like, no, no, I have you know, muscle issues. Like you can’t lay that three pounds on my on my shoulder, so I get it.


Amanda Montell  04:21

This is like such an irrelevant statement. But my brother was recently diagnosed with having a blank space in his brain. Yeah, but so my brother is actually the smartest person alive. I it’s so funny that you’re calling me smart because I am a fucking idiot compared to everyone else in my family. And especially him especially him he is so fucking smart, it’s annoying and very calm though. Like he you know will like show up to the airport with no passport, but they’ll like still let him on the plane because he’s so chill. Like he’s that person. I know, he was recently diagnosed with a blank space in his brain. And we’re like, that’s what that pathological sense of calm is.


SuChin Pak  05:06

God if we could pay for that, if we could pay for blank spaces, I want the whole thing I want 99% of it to yank.


Kulap Vilaysack  05:15

My shit is so jam packed with just.


SuChin Pak  05:19

[…] Garbage.


Kulap Vilaysack  05:21

Me too […]


SuChin Pak  05:25

We’re gonna get into your cart. And the first thing we’re adding to your cart before you even get to your cart is your new book, The Age of magical overthinking. And I mean that. I mean, I knew that this book was going to be informative, but it’s so funny, and that part’s so heartbreaking. So it’s both of those things is so beautiful. But I want you to explain this concept of magical overthinking because we all know what magical thinking is. But I love that you got this little slice of it that’s so unique, right?


Amanda Montell  06:00

So the book was inspired by this dissonance I kept feeling that despite living in the information age, the world only seems to be making less sense. And, as it turns out, cognitive biases are a huge part of this answer. So cognitive biases are these psychological shortcuts that we take subconsciously, naturally, that we’ve always taken in order to make sense of the world enough to survive it. But these cognitive biases are combining poorly with the information age to cause us to make decisions that make no sense to feel confused and isolated and frustrated, more than we can rationalize ourselves. So while magical thinking on its own, is our tendency to think that our internal feelings and thoughts can affect external events, magical overthinking is what I’m describing as a product of this time when our innate irrationalities and mysticisms are clashing with information overload, mass isolation, and this really capitalistic pressure to know everything under the sun to have like a perfect cogent, hot take about everything. That sort of like combo of clashing factors has caused this magical overthinking phenomenon that is continues to live rent free in my head.


SuChin Pak  07:25

Yeah, it’s also you just described on TV. I’m like, ah, and what’s wrong? Yeah, nothing wrong with that.


Kulap Vilaysack  07:35

Well because that the poor the youth are having auntie behavior, that’s it, I feel bad.


SuChin Pak  07:41

The thing that I read when I was reading the book, I was like, oh, boy, here’s add to cart, which I thought was so funny, was this whole concept of like, additive solutions. So like, even as we’re talking about, like, for instance, Stanley Cups, right? Like, the solution there is I just drink more water. You don’t even just get a cup and you just drink more water and you just stay hydrated, like, it’s not that complicated. But that’s not what we did. That’s not what we do on this podcast either. What we do is, we look for a cup with a giant straw, and a giant handle.


Kulap Vilaysack  08:16

And a ding dong.


SuChin Pak  08:17

And a ding dong, […] leaks everywhere. And then we go hard.


Kulap Vilaysack  08:24

It’s in a fashionable immutable color that is aesthetically pleasing to mine eye, and also my peers have them.


SuChin Pak  08:31

People go wild again. So I just thought was so funny that like, we rather than simplify or take away right to solve a problem, we as humans, for some reason have this bias to add to solve right?


Amanda Montell  08:49

I am so glad that you call that study out of everything in the book because that is the one that I keep returning to do. So this is like a perfect example of magical overthinking when we are experiencing a problem, our instinct as human beings, especially growing up in consumerist society, is to add a bunch of fucking variables to the equation when the much simpler and effective solution is so often just to take one little thing away. So the study that I referenced, and this is was in the context of a chapter about sunk cost fallacy, which I talked about referring to a shitty ass relationship that I was in for a long time that I kept justifying, because I couldn’t bear the idea that all of these resources that I had poured into this relationship, were not going to pan out. Anyway, in the context of that chapter, I wrote about this study where a bunch of participants were presented with a puzzle that they could solve by either adding or removing colored blocks. The vast majority of participants decided to solve the problem with a very cumbersome solution of adding a whole bunch of colored blocks to the puzzle when the much more effective solution involves just simply Taking one colorblock away, but almost nobody did that, it’s the subtractive solution. So that related to my relationship because I thought during the most miserable points of my frickin toxic ass cult of one relationship with this boyfriend, I thought, You know what we need to go on another vacation, or to get another cat, I love all my cats, but I didn’t they didn’t solve my relationship problems to put on my cat.


Kulap Vilaysack  10:25

A lot of cats.


Amanda Montell  10:26

A lots of put on a cat, it is a lot and they are capable of so much but listen, I was like, you know what I need to do? I need to just post a whole bunch of really happy photos of us online that will solve the problem when so often the problem just involves taking something away, remove one colored block break up. So this I mean, this bias has been so illuminating for me and it comes up all the time. Just the other day, I was looking at my junk drawer. I was like what a mess, you know what I need? I need to go to the container store and get a bunch of like gorgeous acrylic drawer dividers that will solve my problem to Add To Cart Yes […].


SuChin Pak  11:00

I know that’s.


Amanda Montell  11:01



SuChin Pak  11:02

Literally you’re talking about why we sit here every week. This is all we do, additive.


Amanda Montell  11:08

Additive solution Add to Cart, so yeah, I mean, it didn’t occur to me until I was literally on to the like ready to check out that I was falling prey to additive solution bias and I just needed to throw that shit away. It’s not gonna happen.


SuChin Pak  11:09

I mean, it can happen but that’s not gonna happen in my life. I’m going to go to The Container Store and buy all the containers. I I’m in this thing where like, we’re trying to figure out how to afford to build an […] like an office right for me, because I don’t have one love mainly because I need a closet. Like I don’t have a closet in here.


Kulap Vilaysack  11:46

You know, to be fair, you don’t have you’re really to be honest. You don’t really have your own space. And the closet is one piece.


SuChin Pak  11:53

Yeah, exactly. I don’t have a room. Anyway, today we were just like, looking at the numbers scratching our heads. And I had this fleeting thought which we’ll never I’ll never say to my husband and we’ll just fly right out which is I we could save a lot of money if I actually edited my closet down and we could get this closet smaller. There’s no I will die on that hill. I’d rather not have it Ku, forget it. Don’t build it, forget it, I’m not taking one thing out.


Amanda Montell  12:27

I know I am completely with you. I want to move like my home that I love so much and have lived in for five years and like everyone’s like your house is so beautiful. I’m like I know it’s my home. I love it so much. I am desperate to move like yesterday because I need a bigger closet. I’m just like, I will give all of this up for a bigger closet.


SuChin Pak  12:49

And that’s why we’re here, in each other’s carts.


Kulap Vilaysack  12:52

Well, meanwhile, I love got a great closet. And I have no problem giving things away. Editing things when stuff comes in. I take things out and stuff comes in. And I take things out and they feel that and then great. I need that balance.


Amanda Montell  13:11

Shit, that’s true.


Kulap Vilaysack  13:12

Am I having a superior tone? I own that too.


Amanda Montell  13:18

And we don’t care. Maybe you have a blank space. Maybe maybe you would like say is it.


SuChin Pak  13:25

It’s giving major blank space.


Kulap Vilaysack  13:28

Well, Amanda, how do you generally add to cart?


Amanda Montell  13:33

Okay, I am an anxious shopper for sure because I’m like concerned about well, I’m not saying this in like a super environmentalist type way but like, I guess I absorbed enough. I guess I’ve absorbed enough about this low heat death of the planet that I’m like, I was like this I cancelled my Amazon Prime, because I’m like, what?


Kulap Vilaysack  13:59

This is an auntie […] this is I don’t think we’ve ever learned a guest without a Prime account, there have been people who have said I’m trying to pull back there have been people who said you know if I have to all do it, but nobody has come. Nobody has had been fucking brave. To say what to do what you’ve done.


SuChin Pak  14:19

You’re out there. I don’t, Amanda, what is it like out there?


Kulap Vilaysack  14:23

You are the Joan of Arc.


Amanda Montell  14:30

Look, this is what happened. I cancelled it and then I got it back and then I cancelled it again. And I cancelled it again. Because on sounds like a cold. I interviewed an ex Amazon employee, okay, who really like, you know, show me behind the curtain of that place, which is like such a Broly nightmare hellscape of a work environment as you can imagine, at Amazon. Apparently there are bros who wear something called a Utilikilts it’s literally like a tool belt but a skirt and so the culture there is like Utilikilts energy it’s like I am so such a premier like.


SuChin Pak  15:14

Cancel, cancel prime.


Amanda Montell  15:16

I you know I’ve just like I can’t with the utility culture I’m canceling Amazon Prime so I guess the and the other thing I learned from that guest was that I am hugely oh my god thank you Keegan for linking Utilikilts in the chat it’s it’s important that everyone see this because they’re like $400 and they’re just for show like no one needs Utilikilts. It’s like the look of an Amazon employee isn’t Utilikilts and one of those five finger shoes one of those socks with fingers.


Kulap Vilaysack  15:43

It’s like what you picture like a blacksmith having or some? Yeah, okay.


Amanda Montell  15:48

Right there Silicon Valley posers like, yeah, they don’t work with their hands. So anywho I cancelled it again. But I also learned from this guest that like, living in a city is such a privilege because you have access to anything that you might need in a storefront. So like, I can patronize a small business when I need, like a fucking, I don’t know, paper towel roll, I can like go get a cute one from the Home Goods Place. But, you know, not everybody can do that. Like first for some people they live in, like, I don’t know, other kinds of places that aren’t cities, one of those suburbs, rural areas. And so like Amazon is just like a survival mechanism for them. And so for me, I’m just like, okay, this is this is like one sacrifice that I can make. And so that’s why I did that, but so I’m an anxious consumer. I do try to do the thing where like, if I acquire something I have to give something away. I I’m like a clothing swap girly. Like I will host clothing swap brunches. I’m a Poshmark girl I’m like a thrift store girl consignment. Love that, so but sometimes when I’m lacking agency in my life, which is often I will freak the fuck out and buy something very expensive. And sometimes that expensive thing that I’m buying is a tattoo that I put on my body, when I’m feeling like out of control sometimes I make bonkers consumerist choices that are in many cases permanent.


Kulap Vilaysack  17:20

And we’re back we’re back to our show.


SuChin Pak  17:22

We’re back.


Kulap Vilaysack  17:31

Well, let’s talk about some game changers we asked you to bring and one of them is Rifle Paper Company. So you and your you’re not even just talking about their paper. You’re not even just talking about stationary you’re not talking about pens. What else?


Amanda Montell  17:45

I’m talking about my religion that is Rifle Paper Co. Listen, so I okay, here’s like something I’m really proud of that I buy. I am a member of the Huntington gardens are you from Mill?


Kulap Vilaysack  17:57

I am a Mill. It’s gorgeous, I’m beautiful. It’s beautiful place in Los Angeles.


Amanda Montell  18:02

The best thing about that place is the fucking gift shop, okay. It’s like in a dome greenhouse palace. And everything is colorful and fancy. And actually my two Game Changers I’m talking about right now I discovered in that gift shop, so rifle, Rifle Paper Co does make stationery and pens and notebooks and journals and stuff like that, which I love, they have like little like fucking flowers on them, like, it’s like, god it’s a fairy tale, it’s a fairy tale. But I am extra in love with their candles that smell like a natural forest they will never live in. And they’re pungent, they make like silk pajamas that looked like a fucking woodland fairy painted them.


Kulap Vilaysack  18:45



SuChin Pak  18:46

I had no idea that they did anything other than stationery. Like they do shoes. Shoes, like little rain boots with flowers on them.


Kulap Vilaysack  18:58

Styles, I’m fighting the urge to shop right now. Man, I gotta tell you, I didn’t know this website, I’m looking at this.


SuChin Pak  19:07

Scratches an itch for Ku.


Kulap Vilaysack  19:10

I’m like, well, look at that umbrella.


Amanda Montell  19:12

We live in LA like we don’t need a ton. But when I see anything patterned with a bunch of little like hand drawn rainbow flowers. That’s it, I’m like, something primal takes over, I like feel myself losing my bells. And I buy stuff. And regret it but then I don’t.


SuChin Pak  19:35

No, and they’re like, you know, it’s like little things. You know, it can’t it can’t hurt anyone. It’s covered in flower.


Amanda Montell  19:43

I forgot to mention this. I am a tchotchke whore, like, listen to this, this is crazy. Because like we shop I think in in contemporary society we shop in part to tell ourselves a story about who we are. It’s we’re very like identity motivated. And, and so when I’m surrounded by shit that I feel like says something about who I am, I feel comforted because I feel connected to my sense of self. So like if someone were to walk into my little office that I’m in right now, would they think I was deranged and unwell? But would they get a sense of my personality? Yes, and that’s what matters. There is a little tchotchke up on that shelf right there. It’s a little adorable, like figurine of a bicycle of like a beach cruiser bicycle that I bought 10 minutes after I rode a bike for the first time in 10 years in Amsterdam. I was there last year, I rented a bike, I was so scared. 10 minutes into me overcoming that fear. I was like, I am a bicycle girl. I just like holy shit, I didn’t know this about myself. I had like a conversion moment like an evangelical speaking in tongues. I was like, I need to pull over and buy a bicycle figurine. This is my religious talisman, like across on the wall and I will bow down and […] I wrote a bike for 10 minutes.


Kulap Vilaysack  20:57

Have you ridden a bike since?


Amanda Montell  21:00

Are you kidding me? No.


SuChin Pak  21:01

Why would she need to? She got the figurine? She already said it, but she’s gonna be repetitive? Like she’s gonna say it again.


Amanda Montell  21:09

No, that was like a wise follow up but no, I have not ridden a bike since so shit like that. I mean, I just like impulsively seat will fit tiny things are cute. You know what […] tiny little things are cute. And if it’s tiny it’s not hurting anyone so oh my god, I’m looking at like, I’m looking at a bell right now in the shape of of a lemon. And I was like, I’m a bell girl. I’m like a whimsical fairy, I’m a bell girl. I bought that in the freaking Amalfi Coast. Because I was like, I am so fucking whimsical, I’m an island girl.


Kulap Vilaysack  21:45

Lemon girl, okay, your limoncello girl yeah.


Amanda Montell  21:48

And what did I do? I tattooed on my body as well, I bought the bell.


SuChin Pak  21:54

A lemon bell, and then she’s showing us a lemon tattoo on her forearm.


Amanda Montell  21:59

Fine line with the flat wrong with gorgeous tattoo. It’s just a lemon like relaxed but I’m just like I am a whimsical woodlands citrus fairy, and I need everyone to know forever forever. I’ll be if I live a long time I will be ancient with this lemon on my body and I’ll be like yeah.


Kulap Vilaysack  22:22

This I think goes into your next your next item which is Great Pants Wic tell the people what this is.


Amanda Montell  22:32

Okay, I needed to list this as a game changer because I have been read to filth for purchasing this item by my partner and everyone who comes to visit because I show off this object and I’m like, I yeah, like I am so brilliant for acquiring this and everybody’s like, you’re a fucking idiot. So it is a $150 candlestick. That is not real fire, but rather LED. And if you pinch the very top of the wick, it will illuminate or de illuminate accordingly. So you get to feel like you’re a little tuberculosis ridden nightgown clad housewife in the homesteading country in the 1800s.


Kulap Vilaysack  23:18

Because you’re a lemon girl […]


SuChin Pak  23:23

In the country, you’ve written your bicycle into town to get the churned butter. And now you’re home. And you need to look at your canned peaches.


Kulap Vilaysack  23:34

That’s right in the cellar.


Amanda Montell  23:36

This is why I can’t go on Tiktok because the Trad wives would find me immediately the algorithm would be like your man because you love lemons and hand dyed tea towels. And I would be like yes, I do, goddamnit.


Kulap Vilaysack  23:51

To have you done a Trad Wives.


Amanda Montell  23:52

Episode coming, it’s coming.


Kulap Vilaysack  23:55

I can’t I’d love to see what you do with it. I really I cannot wait because there’s a Trad wife, a traditional wife. There’s a movement on Tiktok.


SuChin Pak  24:05

Wait, what?


Amanda Montell  24:07

Yeah, it is this movement on social media where I think in the face of like so much technological progress and uncertainty. A lot of women have been like, you know, we what we need to do, ladies is we need to go back to traditional gender roles, traditional gender presentations, and we need to submit to our men went into the kitchen, get back into the kitchen.


Kulap Vilaysack  24:28

And our brood, there’s a mother element to like, you know, yeah, it’s very so yeah, being great traditional, and get and that’s how we get our femininity back.


Amanda Montell  24:37

That’s right, but the aesthetic fucks like I am hot in a Little House on the Prairie moment. Yes, the tchotchkes are charged gang like it’s irresistible. So I can’t be on Tiktok because I will fall into that call. I know that about me. So I rest my case.


Kulap Vilaysack  24:57

Now are you are you carrying this Grey Pants Wick within that gown, or are you just imagining that you’re wearing in a gown while doing.


SuChin Pak  25:05

She’s wearing her Rifle Paper Pajamas set comes in the.


Amanda Montell  25:11

That’s fucking right, yes, I do. And you know I’m not the most wilderness see? Girly not alive, so like, I don’t really know my way around a flashlight, but I know my way around this wick. And so when I need to peer into a dark, dank corner say to find one of the many cats I acquired during my shitty relationship, say if they’re hiding in the back of the closet. I would never touch a flashlight, but I poke that little LED wick into the back of the closet. I’m like, there you are, Theodore, there you are. And it just it helps me see oh my god because also my favorite way to walk around is to tiptoe in my little slippers, like a fucking church mouse from a nursery rhyme. So like the vibes in your fucking nuts like it is the Lulu Central.


Kulap Vilaysack  25:56

And your partner is like can we just turn the lights on? Will you just let us can we turn on the overhead lights?


Amanda Montell  26:03

Do you have my home bug because yes, he’s like just turn on the light. I’m like no, because I also hate overhead lighting. Did either of you watch Better Call Saul?[…] There’s a character I’m Better Call Saul that thinks he’s allergic to electricity. I have that my home is dark all the time. Because not only is it like a shady little area that I am desperate to move away from so I can get a burger closet. But I will not turn on an overhead light I can’t I like feel ill only led for me.


Kulap Vilaysack  26:42

Okay, so we asked you to bring also bring in two cults that you’ve already talked about on your podcast? We’ve been teasing a little bit about Stanley Cups. Well, what else should we let people know?


Amanda Montell  26:54

Oh my god, I mean, it for me. It was so easy just to write off Stanley Cups as this flash in the pan drop in a bucket like silly consumerist thing. But I keep thinking back on our discussion of the lore surrounding it that origin story with the woman whose car caught on fire and lo and behold, her Stanley Cup rose from the ashes and the water inside was so […] Yes, that in combination with the origin story of like the Mormon mom influencer, who like was able to pass stellify and Mamafi this like really boring, unremarkable cup to like, fill a void in our culture that exists among women in particular, I think and I’m just like, this Stanley Cup thick. It’s deeper than we think, will it have legs? Will it stick around? Time will tell probably not. You kept joking that like Stanley Cups, we’re gonna be a fucking like way in the rearview mirror, by the time the episode drops, which is in which is literally next week, so we’ll fucking see. But it’s true that like the community and the identity benefits, and the lore and the ritual that surrounds Stanley Cups are so much more intense than I gave it credit for. So I was glad to be able to talk through that shit with you ladies.


Kulap Vilaysack  28:13

It was so fun.


SuChin Pak  28:15

It’s a little I think once we got into the cult of Stanley Cups, and like the origin story, you start to see how Trad Wives is a little adjacent and you start to see how like fitness, culture and body image is adjacent. So you start to see that like right around Stanley Cups are all these really deep seated issues and things that we have been thinking about since the dawn of times that you’re like, wow, because it that’s the thing about your podcast and when you talk about cults, when you just a lot of the cults, it doesn’t feel like a cult, but when you the whole point is is that, nothing comes from nothing like it always comes from somewhere. And that somewhere is really interesting.


Amanda Montell  29:08

So accurate, like there is a deeper, more spiritual existential route to things that look really frivolous because we are moving away from traditional religion. So where are we going consumerist religions, entertainment religions? Like that’s why we’re able to do so many topics of this podcast like because cults are everywhere. They’re manifesting in so many different ways right now.


Kulap Vilaysack  29:36

Toxic relationships as a cult. Speak on this.


Amanda Montell  29:40

Fully, okay, so this is the episode of the podcast that I felt most called out by. Basically, when I was writing my last book, which is about the language of cults from Scientology to SoulCycle, basically arguing that like a cult leader is most powerful tool is language and guess what girlie is that type of culty language shows up in our everyday we live in places we might not think to look, as I was researching that chapter, I realized that so many of cult leaders, most like classic tools of influence, also show up in one on one dynamics, these cult of one type relationships. Where, you know, in a cold context, you might call something financial exploitation and love bombing in a relationship context, you might call that domestic theft and grooming. But like so many of these techniques of manipulation are the same, even though it’s just a cult of one. And I keep finding myself gravitating toward cultivating relationships where it’ll be a romantic partner, or a friend who is like super charismatic, and makes me feel special and makes me feel like we’re gonna, you know, conquer the world together. And then I end up in a situation that truly, truly resembles a cult so we did an episode on the cult of toxic relationships, where our special guests was Dan Savage, the sex and relationships columnist and like, OG podcaster. And that was so fun. He’s like, everyone, your aunties. He’s like, Gunkel, he’s the best. So I was like mind blown by that conversation. And it’s an idea that I wanted to explore even more, so. In the new book, I have a chapter in there that we referenced earlier called a toxic relationship is just a call to one. And it talks about how the sunk cost fallacy really motivated my decision to stay for so many years that I could not justify to myself in this relationship that wasn’t serving me. And additive solution bias, like literally contributed to all of that, and so it’s good when I cover something on my call podcast that makes me feel attacked. Because I’m like, what is good, again? Like, what is the root? What is going on there? And I can explore that more in future writings.


Kulap Vilaysack  31:47

Man, yeah.


SuChin Pak  31:50

Explain this sunk cost fallacy. Like, I know what it is, but like, there may there may be people that don’t really know what that is. Because that’s like.


Kulap Vilaysack  32:00

I put eight years into this relationship. I, you know, I gave him my 20.


Amanda Montell  32:06

I can’t give up now.


SuChin Pak  32:06

It’s like, I’ve put so much. It’s so it doesn’t make sense. It’s, there’s no logic in it.


Amanda Montell  32:13

So like, all these cognitive biases are like a double edged sword. They make no sense because of the culture that we’ve created. But they once made sense enough, you know, they were resource rational, they were rational enough to help us. So yes, the sunk cost fallacy describes our tendency to think that resources already spent on an endeavor justify spending even more, and it’s mostly talked about in an economics context. But those resources could be emotional resources, like hope or secrets, you know. And so this informs so many decisions that we make from low stakes ones, like, I’ve already watched 100 episodes of the show that I don’t even like, but I’m so attached to these characters, like I can’t give up now I have to keep watching the show, to I joined this call 10 years ago, and they promised that all these things would come to fruition. They haven’t, but I’m just I just gotta double down, I just gotta like, invest more, and surely those promises will come true. And that was this fallacy that I was applying to my own relationship. And I beat myself up for years after I got out for being so irrational. But then I came across this really fascinating philosophy paper, called the sunk cost fallacy is not really a fallacy at all, or something like that by a philosopher whose last name was Doody. So it’s unfortunate that I have to keep referencing that study, because like lmao.


Kulap Vilaysack  33:38

Spelled D O O D Y.


Amanda Montell  33:40

Yeah, no, fully spelled like that. I’m like when I say it, I have to picture it as being spelled D U T Y are also like lose it. But anyway, Ryan Doody shout out, he but he put forward like a very interesting idea, which is like, it is actually not that unreasonable to want to commit to a bet that you made about yourself, even if it ended up being a bad bet. Because it is very much in our favor, to create a positive impression of our decision making track record, so that other people will perceive us as predictable, reliable, someone that they’re going to want in their corner. If we are constantly going back on our commitments, we’re going to look like loose cannons, you know, like, we’re not going to look like people want in their life on their team in their workplace. So even though it’s not like an excuse for staying in a bad relationship, the sunk cost fallacy, it is an explanation and it does have some rationality to it. You know, like we’re social creatures, we rely on one another, we rely on being in groups. And so if staying in a relationship that’s really bad for you, on some level, makes you appear more attractive to others in your community. It like, it’s not that cuckoo bananas to want to stay in it. But at the same time we end up we end up being really forgiving of people who need to get out of relationships like that, so we don’t we don’t need to overthink it that much. But yeah, that was like such a healing chapter to write for me personally.


SuChin Pak  35:07

Do you think that this tendency, and I’m talking particularly about relationships, and what do you guys think? Like? Do you think for some reason, it is often more of a female, quote unquote, problem? Do you know what I mean? Like, I’m just trying to think of like, all of the terrible relationships I’ve been in. And like, I’ve definitely been the sunk cost fallacer. You know, where I’m like, no, I cannot eat, and I mean, I’ve put too much into this, but maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.


Kulap Vilaysack  35:45

I’ve seen it both. I’ve seen it.


Amanda Montell  35:47

I, I’ve seen it both I would think not. And something interesting that I found while researching that chapter, is that men and women experience emotional abuse and relationships in equal volumes, like men are not more likely to commit emotional abuse in relationships, and a vast majority of people unfortunately, have experienced emotional abuse wherever they fall on the gender spectrum. So I yeah, I don’t think that women are more likely to fall to the sunk cost fallacy. There are biases that I write about in the book that disproportionately affect women like the halo effect and zero sum bias. And we don’t have time to like talk about all of those, but I actually think the sunk cost fallacy equally affects everybody which is validating, I think.


Kulap Vilaysack  36:31

Oh, man, can I just throw something out? Have you done a brain scan? How do you know that there isn’t a blank space in your head?


Amanda Montell  36:42

I pray to god there’s a blank space.


SuChin Pak  36:45

No, it’s filled with tchotchkes


Kulap Vilaysack  36:48

She’s the, she’s the opposite.


Amanda Montell  36:50

That’s it, that’s fucking it.


SuChin Pak  36:52

You don’t need the scan. You don’t need the scan you don’t need the scan. I don’t need the scan. I know I don’t have blank space.


Kulap Vilaysack  36:59

I posit the scan. It is the size of a perfect lemon that’s what I think Amanda.


SuChin Pak  37:07

A perfect, let’s guess what she committed to that. She committed to that lemon.


Amanda Montell  37:13

Oh my God, I am dying at the idea of like, if you’re a consumerist freak, your brain scan just is like a perfect homunculus style depiction of like everything you’ve been buying and obsessed with, lmao, my blank space is filled with lemon bells and bicycle figurines. Kill me now, Jesus, and like little spray bottles, little spray bottles for your succulents. I’m just looking at all my shit. I have like a little figurine of like a bunny like a hair. It’s like very hipster and Wes Anderson looking with butter. I buy that. I think that was $30, I’m an agent.


Kulap Vilaysack  37:52

Amanda, thank you so much for for being part of this Auntie call today. I 100% picture you now. In a night gown. One hand as you’re led wick, the other hand has your suckling mister. And you’re just shuffling along shuffling along and your cats are tiptoeing.


SuChin Pak  38:13

Tiptoeing, she’s tiptoeing because she’s, she has typhoid fever or something like that.


Amanda Montell  38:20

Exactly, this is so embarrassing. I love I love this.


Kulap Vilaysack  38:26

You can find her on Instagram at Amanda_Montel in go listen to Sounds like a Cult. I mean we had a blast. So much fun. Obviously pick up her book The Age of magical overthinking, but she’s this is your third while you’re at it. Get the Trifecta.


SuChin Pak  38:43

The whole set.


Kulap Vilaysack  38:44

Yeah, get the set.



Add To Cart is a production of Lemonada Media. Our producers are Kegan Zema and Tiffany Bouy. Brian Castillo is our engineer. Theme music is by Wasahhbii and produced by La Made It and Oh So Familiar with additional music by APM music. Executive producers or Kulap Vilaysack, SuChin Pak, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Be sure to check out all the items we mentioned today on our Instagram at @AddToCartPod. Follow Add to Cart wherever you get your podcasts or listen at free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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