Transcript

Hello, You’ve found The Portal. I’m your host Eric Weinstein, and I’m still trying to lie low until this election cycle is concluded given that, in particular, the threat of being booted off the platforms like Twitter for intellectual non-compliance looms over us all. If you have any questions about whether self-censorship is real, I, as a grown Harvard PhD with just under a half a million followers and a direct connection to the CEO of Twitter, live in fear that more than a decade spent building an audience can be undone without possible appeal by the push of a button, sending a single message from some person named Vijaya, who I have never met, after having done nothing at all wrong. Oh yeah. It’s real. These sudden Kafkaesque suspensions, which are then retracted and apologized for, and which emanate from the ironically named Trust and Safety group really do work. Congratulations Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Mission accomplished.  

So I am going to make this an all audio-essay episode, with three distinct segments. These will begin my goodbye to the wildest administration within the memories of my middle-aged life, which I may add, also includes the administrations of Ronald Reagan and even Richard Nixon fairly vividly. I think we will begin with a segment on Trump and what I have avoided saying about him for some time. We will then hear from two of our loyal sponsors, I’ll come back to give my thoughts on the bizarre state of the 2020 US election before paying some bills, and we will then hear from two other sponsors before moving to our final segment on the effect of the 2020 election on my colleagues in long form podcasting. So, without further ado, let us discuss what I have waited to say about Donald Trump until the bitter end. 


Beginning To Cash Out My Trump Position

If your regular commentators have sounded a bit odd recently to your ears, they have to mine as well. I spent some time recently rather puzzled, and tried to figure out why that might be, before I settled on a relatively simple explanation. In some sense, what I believe we are seeing is that members of the commentariat had settled in for a kind of alternate political reality when Donald Trump first took the oath of office, and that each analyst had built a bespoke theory of Donald Trump and the meaning of the sojourn into the bizarre splitting of the country into incompatible camps of political interpretation. As it now appears to most of this group, Trump will shortly leave office, and so people are cashing out any remaining value in their private Trump positions. We are finding that some people who supported him actually secretly despise him. Others who thought they hated his idiosyncratic antics are surprised by how upsetting they find Biden’s staffing choices, signaling a return to our usual metastatic swamp politics. 

There is a semi-official position of our institutional class on Donald Trump that has to be stated up front. Put simply, Donald Trump is to them an unethical and lucky idiot under the control of foreign powers, who stumbled into the White House because an enormous percentage of the United States electorate is composed of either unethical bigots or confused fools who cannot think for themselves, and are thus taken in by a simple conman.

Now, in my opinion that is simply false. In my estimation there is a single aspect of Donald Trump that is more remarkable than any other. And that is that Donald Trump is the only true outsider ever to run the presidential gauntlet successfully and win. Perhaps his singular importance within our system is that he is utterly unique as an outsider. I hope I have this right, but when our government is understood to include our military as well as political appointees, so far as I can work out Donald Trump is the first and only president in our nation’s history to have never been in government. This one fact is the key to understanding many dichotomies that Trump vs Biden represented:

  • Outsiders vs Insiders
  • The Crude vs The Civil
  • Idiosyncratic vs Systemic corruption
  • Bullshittng vs Spinning
  • Unpredictable negotiation vs Reliable leadership
  • Offensive vs Overly Pandering behaviors
  • Narcissistic vs Collectivist impulses
  • Free vs Constrained thinking and action

Now the difficult part to talk about is this. As I have said before, I consider the Trump phenomenon to be an epiphenomena of the escalating kleptocracy of our centrist, Silent, and Boomer political classes. When you can’t point to a moderate, political, and adult center because they are too busy stealing things that aren’t nailed down, you are more likely to end up in the far wings of the political spectrum. And both parties have been busy stuffing their pockets and faces while playing footsie with their own extremes. This is done by alternating between keeping a proper distance one minute and casting come-hither looks towards the fringes in the next.

And, in this set up, the one thing we cannot ever discuss is the narrative—the GIN, to regular listeners—that allows the looting of our nation and its future by a seemingly near-permanent gerontocracy of magical individuals conceived between the Hoover and Truman administrations. They are the Golden Ones, if you will. These are people who, in any sensible era, would resign for the good of their own children, but who seem to be utterly unconcerned that they have held back needed change for more than 30-50 years, rather like a hypothetical aging monarch waiting for an untrustworthy heir to expire so that she herself can at last move on towards a well-deserved rest and reward. It is not so much that these people are old, mind you, but rather that they are failed leaders who have held power without success, challenge, or much turnover for far longer than is normal in any healthy society.

Many of you know that I occasionally refer to Donald Trump as an existential risk to the fabric of our democracy, and by extension the world, as we are the lone stabilizing nuclear and economic superpower as I see it. But what I have tried not to say until now is why I have called Donald Trump an existential risk since before his election, while I obviously see him as the enemy of my enemy. Is it not the fact that the enemy of my enemy is supposed to be my friend?  It is here that we run into difficulty. Most of the political observers seem to be cheerleaders of one form or another, and I suppose that is even true of me. But you can imagine without too much difficulty that during the doping scandal in the Tour de France bicycle race, for example, that there would be someone cheering for the race itself, given that it seems everyone who was viable was juicing. 

That is roughly my position now. I am a cheerleader for the American experiment and don’t want any of these people to win. Now, I know that that doesn’t make sense at some level, but it is what I believe, and at this point I am just trying to wait this out.  

One of the things that makes me consider Donald Trump an existential risk is that he is the most skilled politician I have ever seen in getting air time to talk about what the mainstream wants never to openly discuss: Immigration, Islam, the Chinese Communist Party, Critical Race Theory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Costs of Bad Globalization, the American Embassy in Jerusalem, comparative viral morbidity and mortality rates. But discussing these things isn’t the problem. In fact, I am in awe of how he gets the kleptocrats to talk about the things that they are actively trying to paper over and are thus loath to discuss.   

Let me get something out of the way: Donald Trump has a very particular and methodical way of pointing out what is wrong with the mainstream, as I understand it. At some point early on, I studied the recurring motifs and structures in his Twitter feed and found a tremendous amount of method between his supposedly spontaneous ejaculations into the Twittersphere. And this is likely why he was hired, and is not likely to be renewed. He was considered, in some sense, by his supporters a foreign threat, intended to kill the tumor of systemic corruption in Washington D.C.; Manhattan, New York; and Silicon Valley slightly faster than he damages the accumulated national culture of civil society.

Without fail, he simultaneously takes the legitimate anger we all feel as well as the critiques that have been building for generations, but which have been silenced and stonewalled for decades by our mainstream institutions, and he remakes them in his own image so that they are more powerful, more politically effective, and much more divisive than the underlying correct versions of any legitimate and decent point he might raise. This has a tendency to polarize us about Donald Trump rather than about the issues at hand. 

In some ways, Donald Trump is similar to Black Lives Matter during Covid, where an enormous number of issues had been building up under quarantine-like conditions. Then suddenly, a single tragic death with the optics of a police lynching caught on video allowed all energy to be focused on the single issue of unarmed black Americans dying in police custody. This is a category which, while absolutely tragic, is simply too small to fully explain the enormous reaction, given that nearly identical deaths had recently occurred on video with white suspects and without much impact. In short, both Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter learned how to channel diverse frustrations over legitimate grievances that had for years been pushed by institutions to lie outside the Overton window so that they could not be discussed by the population in general.  And both Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter made everything they could into a narrative about themselves as their reward for breaking the silences.

For example, as a Xenophilic Restrictionist, I have sought for years to point out that absolutely nothing anti-immigrant can be automatically inferred from an American’s desire for lower immigration, without further information. That point went nowhere politically, as both political parties pay the donor class with visas as a tool to keep working Americans from being able to bargain effectively with their employers at the negotiating table. What is more, no news organization, at least with which I am familiar, has ever broken ranks on the idea that there is an entirely legitimate xenophilic case to be made for restricting high levels of immigration. And that was where things were, at least before 2016. 

Enter Donald Trump. In one fell swoop, Donald Trump made the pro-American case for labor, but he also gave Americans a new-found freedom to blame foreign workers trying to get in if they so chose. In the Trump era, if you wanted to take a shortcut around blaming the donor class, which was trying to put pressure on wages to juice corporate profits, you could just blame the desperate immigrants themselves, risking their lives by trying to cross the border illegally. The choice was yours. 

This left people like me in a conundrum: essential progressive issues that had been directly stifled for 40 to 50 years were suddenly alive again, but reborn as right-of-center nationalism. Is Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory in particular simply divisive McCarthyist bullshit with a PhD? Is constructive engagement through ever tighter economic ties with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party a suicidal strategy for the US? Is there something both Orwellian and wrong with not reporting intolerant religiously motivated massacres as being specifically religiously motivated? Why, after all, can’t we discuss that ever freer trade is an esoteric, anti-labor wealth concentration scheme defended by economists with exoteric excuses well known inside the economics profession to be horseshit?

Well, Donald Trump was here to help and, at least in public, he always seemed to relish deliberately cutting at least a few corners to help out anyone with a simple and direct frame of mind who wanted to call bullshit on what appears, at least to me, to be a creepy and mysterious media consensus not to honestly report the news. But there was always a cost. The Trump version of every one of the above reasonable ideas was simpler and thus far more politically powerful… and it was always also far more dangerous than it had been previously been. And this polarized many contrarians, myself included. 

Yes, I am a Restrictionist, but I wasn’t going to stand for relaxed norms in conversation so that xenophobia could flourish. My national pride may despise the Davos agenda to degrade democratic sovereignty, but I wasn’t going to opt for newly liberated jingoism, because my patriotism doesn’t have anything to do with nationalist bigotry. In fact it repudiates it. Yes, I favor talking about the religious madness that totalitarian jihadis have invoked to explain their massacres of ordinary people, but no, I don’t favor painting my many Muslim friends with a broad brush dipped in excrement by Donald Trump, just to get at the ridiculous ways news desks refuse to comment honestly on mass murderers who are cheered on by what is still a *miniscule* minority of American Muslims who support jihadi barbarism.  

And so, Donald Trump has offered this same service to all contrarians who have been ignored for many years. He would finally get a mutant version of your legitimate issues heard on a world stage for the price of changing the prohibitions around what could be said, and also do so in a way that made your issue partially intellectually illegitimate. And while some of those relaxations were warranted, some of them were terrifying. Particularly in the time during the 2016 election, up to the period shortly after Charlottesville, my various inboxes and direct messages showcased to me the glee that anti-semites and other bigots were experiencing. The number 1488 was suddenly everywhere, and Pepe the frog greeted me standing next to an oven one minute and grinning underneath the welcome message Arbeit Macht Frei the next. Lots of tweets and direct messages were suddenly throwing around Hebrew and Yiddish words to indicate that the anti-semites were coming for us now, having cracked the supposedly secure code of our shibboleths? The message: We would not replace them. Trust me, it was an eye opener. 

Thus, when the prophesied friendly stranger in the black sedan pulls up to tell you that he’s a lovable man who will be your vehicle to take you anywhere you want to go, the answer for me was then and is still a clear “Nuh uh”. I mean, the band The Ides of March pretty much warned us about this exact phenomenon directly in 1970, no? And with one hell of a hook. I digress.  

Sure, I could see the appeal of at last getting past the gatekeeping at CNN or NPR if I only closed my eyes to the emboldening of bigots and ignored the body count of Trump allies who were injured by their associations with him. But, as none other than Peggy Noonan had prophetically warned us about the phenomenon of Trump cooties before the election, nobody was going to be getting out of that Cadillac as the same person who stepped inside that car. So some of my contrarian friends got in, while others stayed out.

But it divided many of us contrarians and first principle thinkers to see legitimate issues that could not previously be discussed turned into supercharged illegitimate issues that should not be discussed in the terms that he offered. In short, I ended up praying for Trump not to find more of these issues, because every time he located some issue over which Americans felt they were being gaslighted, he took away its legitimacy for someone who might come later and actually want to fix it in the right way. Trump was like a self-taught back alley surgeon, who could take you right away at a price you could afford because he refused to scrub in, while all the other properly trained physicians who followed procedures were booked with indefinite waiting lists at extortionary prices. Some of us wanted nothing to do with him, while others signed up to take the risk. 

Now, if I am honest, Trump did do something to clamp down on the right wing fringe and their tiki torches. After Charlottesville, the worst of it may have been over, but the pattern was established. Trump was going to change what was permissible in political life for both better and worse. The Overton window was going to be stretched under Trump to include things that should never have been included as well as other things that should never have been excluded by our moderate institutions from conversation in civil society.

So, for example, where in years past I had foolishly written an academic, peer reviewed explanation and Coasian labor model for economists, explaining why the villains in immigration theory were US employers screaming about labor shortages, Trump was much closer to saying “The immigrants are taking your jobs.” Well, to a labor market analyst, that’s not remotely the same thing at all as saying “US employers and political donors are colluding to confiscate your most valuable rights without market-based compensation, while denigrating you as lazy and stupid, and hiding behind a veneer of excellence and xenophilia as they economically undermine your families.” But it’s much easier, isn’t it? 

So I began to better understand his strategy. He was simply going to take all the correct points about the Chinese Communist Party, Trade, Universities, Totalitarian Islam, Migration, and Critical Theory that our corrupt political centrists in both parties had made impossible for us to discuss, and he would break through the media blockade to replace the whole lot with a truly shitty and intellectually damaged version of each and every one of them.

And that is where I found myself. Trump was effectively taking all the issues that we needed to fix and making them all over in his own image. He was going to divide us by rebranding legitimate forms of contrarianism in a way that would potentially paralyze us for a generation, as China would continue to accumulate power. (A period of time I don’t think we have.) Thus, between Trump’s unpredictability, an asset in negotiations, while a nightmare in alliances, and his ability to divide us by rebranding undiscussable issues that should unite all but our elite, as if they were naturally MAGA issues specifically branded in ways to divide us all, Trump set us up for a collection of daily splitting events in the political multiverse.  

So why haven’t I talked about what the threat is? Well because first of all, I don’t want to highlight more issues for him to find and rebrand. I also frankly don’t want to talk about him. I find it boring. I’d frankly rather talk about jazz, physics, love, and getting our millennial generation the option for homes and families they need to renew our society. 

I also don’t want to talk about the nuclear football constantly when we can mostly forget about it. And I also don’t want to give legitimacy to Donald Trump. Yes, like everyone else, he can see what we are not supposed to talk about. But unlike anyone else, Donald Trump can always get the issue heard, albeit at the cost of changing the issue into something unrecognizable and occasionally disgusting. And that makes it possible for the kleptocrats to justify reimposing an even narrower and more draconian Overton window than before. As they are now attempting to do. 

Right now, you can look at the changes in the Terms of Services of the tech platforms, and the nature of the algorithms which tell us what we can and cannot simply observe. If you thought Trump was shattering the Overton window for good, take a second look. Watch now as they Build it. Back. And even Better that it ever was before. 

We will return after these messages with our next audio essay on the US Elections of 2020.  


What Is Going On With This Election? 

Perhaps what concerns me most about the fallout of Trump’s decision to contest the 2020 election is that an enormous number of us are in one of two seemingly irreconcilable camps. Either we can’t imagine how anyone is seriously claiming that there is a basis to challenge the victory of Joe Biden and the Democrats, or we believe that it is just as obvious that Trump clearly won the election.

Perhaps my top concern is that this infinite splitting of the political multiverse must come to an end, or we will become an ungovernable country, divided by two main master partisan narratives. We cannot continue indefinitely to pretend that somehow we are the sane, and that the millions who disagree with us are simply crazy.

As I believe that—barring some kind of a revelation—it has become clear that for some time Joe Biden has won the general election, I will be concentrating on why my friends and followers who disagree with my conclusion need not be any crazier than those who agree with me.

The main point I want to consider is this: “What does it mean if someone raises the issue of fraud or a stolen election?” Does it mean that they are necessarily a delusional Trump supporter? A QAnon lunatic? A dupe?

Hardly, in my opinion. In fact, the best argument for keeping the issue of fraud on the table comes not from Donald Trump, who has so far, in my opinion, embarrassed himself by failing to make any credible case, but instead from the Democratic Party. 

So, while that may initially sound somewhat far-fetched, let us remember that it was from the Democratic Party and its allied media that we first heard that the 2016 election had been compromised by Russia, and that Russia likely held control over Donald Trump, and by extension the United States. 

Now before I get into the meat of this essay, I need to locate some serious malware that is likely installed between both your ears and mine, so as to uninstall and hopefully disable it. Ready?

Okay, when I say the phrases “Russian Asset”, Kompromat, “Putin’s Bitch”, “golden showers”, and “Moscow hotel”, what is the first name that comes to your mind? Okay, great. So hopefully we’ve just established that both you and I have had the same malware installed in our minds through mainstream media.   

Now, this cognitive malware I’m aiming to remove is not what was alleged and insinuated, however, about Donald Trump’s sexual proclivities, indebtedness, or fondness for authoritarian despots. It was instead that this was a matter for casual accusation, lighthearted banter, humor, and bonding. We were all led, regardless of party, into talking rather casually about two nuclear nations and the infiltration and direct control of the stronger one by the weaker of the two old Cold War rivals. 

Now, call me old fashioned, but I am passably acquainted with the history of our intelligence services, special forces, and their most audacious exploits. No one refers to Operation Ajax in 1950s Iran as “Kermit’s Shits and Giggles”. I’ve never heard of the “Cuban Missile Prank” or “Cuban Missile Tomfoolery”. When a serious person like a sitting senator becomes serious about alleging something of this magnitude, we are usually talking about things that involve Charges of Treason, Secret Closed Door Sessions, Covert Operations, Regime Change, Troop and Fleet Deployments, and potentially War. There is no such thing, of which I am aware, as “kind of a Russian Asset”, “Russian Asset-ish”, “Russian Asset Lite”, or “Russian Asset without obligation to extreme action beyond formal reprimand”. If you don’t believe me, try asking Julius Rosenberg. You get my point.

So what I want you to notice is that the malware that is in your brain has a particular purpose. It appears to be installed to allow you to treat an assertion of the executive branch of the United States government as being under Russian control as some kind of semi-serious concern that oddly doesn’t rise to the level of exotic emergency action. This is somewhat akin to the claims of a few Hollywood personalities every four years that if a Republican becomes president, they will leave the country. I am sure that this means something, it is just that I am not sure what it means when they fail to depart. Whatever it does mean, the malware allows us to explore what are quite clearly literal claims without triggering an expectation of literal consequences. 

So with that understood, I want to point a few things out that I believe are socially extremely controversial, while somehow simultaneously being intellectually non-controversial: 

  1. This was obviously not a free and fair election. 
  2. It can be completely legitimate to worry about whether this election was fair with respect to material levels of voter fraud. 
  3. Neither A nor B need have anything to do with Donald Trump and his legal team’s bizarre and largely unsupported, unprofessional post-election claims or seemingly unhinged post-election strategy. 

Let’s begin with A. A free and fair general election would have to include a true national primary election, and we clearly don’t have a national Democratic primary. What we have instead is a political industry run by insiders for insiders, where MSNBC and its allied media’s blatant and legendary mistreatment of Andrew Yang’s campaign cleanly and openly illustrated that our primaries are at least partially fixed by insiders for insiders. The amount of credibility spent dropping Andrew Yang from graphics or posting a picture of an unrelated Yang was just incredible. The network at times seemed to spend more time apologizing for one obvious diss after another than it did fairly covering the candidate.

Some of us in long-form podcasting, who interviewed and talked with more than one candidate for the Democratic nomination, became aware of just how tightly integrated the political parties, media news desks, think tanks, and donor classes truly are. We at times talked about hosting debate replacements where the candidates with something to say could dig deep into issues, while those searching for those canned ready-made-for-TV gotcha moments could take a hike and kiss our asses. Would you believe that there are actually Democratic party rules in restraint of trade in place to make that impossible in the marketplace of ideas? I suppose we should all have seen that coming. But we didn’t truly understand just how many ways this process has been bulletproofed by its insiders to remain a duopoly that stays in power by doling out access to media in exchange for promises not to hold an actual primary with actual coverage and actual debates outside of legacy platforms. 

So the fact that this wasn’t remotely a free and fair election, given the open interference from media, tech platforms, and the party mandarins was in evidence at all turns, and doesn’t really hinge on proving fraud in the later general election. You don’t get to the general election without building on a primary as foundation. And our rolling pseudo-primary system is manifestly neither free, nor fair, nor an election. Thus any general election that rests on the primary would not be free and fair, even if there were zero irregularities for mail-in voting and in-person voting. 

As for point B, this claim works in roughly the same way. Imagine that absolutely everything Donald Trump, his legal team, and his supporters have said about fraud is at best false, and at worst an attempt to subvert democracy. Imagine they are wrong about everything. Well, even so, it still makes sense to worry about fraud, as I will try to explain. 

Over the last four years, the hatred of Donald Trump by the establishment produced a kind of a kitchen sink strategy. His opponents hated him so much that they threw everything they could think of at him, without noticing that their conflicting and simplistic claims tended to weaken each other. The same people would accuse him of being both a low IQ idiot and an evil supergenius in adjacent accusations, without stopping to breathe or notice any contradictions. He was, simultaneously, a Xenophobe of the highest order, but with a foreign wife, and who loved only Russia. A billionaire who was broke, but whose oceans of non-existent money somehow insulated him. In short, his opponents never settled on a simple consistent narrative, and preferred a largely self-contradictory strategy in hopes that something would eventually stick. 

And so it went with the election. 

In particular, there were three claims insisted on by his detractors which, at least in their stronger forms, could not all simultaneously be true. They are as follows: 

  1. It is essentially insane to suggest that the 2020 election could be stolen, as only conspiracy nuts would say such a thing. 
  2. Donald Trump was a foreign asset under the control of Vladimir Putin, who was installed in 2016 amidst foreign election tampering.
  3. Donald Trump began his presidency by disrespecting the US intelligence community, whose skill is the envy of the world, and whose loyalty and patriotism should be beyond question. 

Ahem. You may pick no more than two of these strong claims before you run into a contradiction. If you claim that Donald Trump was under foreign control and that the 2016 election was materially tainted by fake news and foreign interference, then it would become the patriotic duty of our intelligence community to stop a foreign stealth take over of the United States by a Russian asset by almost any means available. And since you believe that our intelligence community is highly skilled, it can’t be unthinkable for them to hack an election if the sovereignty of the United States has been compromised, given our history of exploits since the Dulles Brothers (Allen Welsh and John Foster) and J. Edgar Hoover. Thus if you want to claim that it is madness to even question the hacking of the election without evidence, you would either have to claim that our intelligence community isn’t imaginative or patriotic enough to consider removing a compromised leader controlled from abroad, or that the extravagant attempt to taint Trump’s presidency by claiming that he was Putin’s man in DC was a political stunt. A monumental work of Kayfabe, held together by horseshit and presented as if it were the product of straight shooting patriots. I personally would like to think that treating the claim of Trump as being under Putin’s direct control as overblown political theater is the best way out of this messy puzzle. But just consider how expensive back-propagating the implications of that line of reasoning truly are, and how despicable his opposition would have to be if everyone inside has always believed that the Russian asset theory was overblown BS. 

So while I have never seen any clear evidence of widespread fraud, I would certainly trust our intelligence community to do their sworn patriotic duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, in attempting to remove a foreign asset in control of our nuclear football inside our own oval office. Thus the idea of asserting that any questioning of electoral integrity in 2020 as automatically being crazy talk must itself be crazy talk. The major conspiracy theorists of this era will always be those who asserted that Trump has been compromised early and belonged completely to Vladimir Putin. You don’t get to claim all the strongest assertions you find politically expedient without noticing that they will always tend to directly contradict each other.

In my personal estimation it was either up to the Democratic Party and its affiliated media to back off of the strongest and least substantiated claims against Donald Trump, or to follow the consequences of those claims into severe action well beyond impeachment. The fact that they did neither is what confused me completely, and what leads me to say that a questioning of the legitimacy of the 2020 election follows not from Benford’s law, nor from Trump’s legal strategy, but is instead a direct consequence of routinely asserting something tantamount to treason, while avoiding any necessity to explore the dire, and likely obligate, consequences of such assertions, which, I trust, are known to us all and need not be detailed here. It may be a low probability event, but it is not consistent to claim that one must be a devotee of QAnon to imagine that our intelligence community would be forced to act, in the presence of material and substantiated claims tantamount to treason.

We will return shortly with our final audio essay on the state of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web.


Loyalty and the Intellectual Dark Web

This essay is written from what some today would consider a gendered perspective. As a guy who grew up going to an all male high school, and who has since held positions in academic mathematics, physics, and economics departments, who has worked in finance and hedge funds, risk management, and technology, I have found myself repeatedly in a world far more gender-segregated than most, and one which I wish appealed to more women. I have had very few collaborators, but they have been oddly evenly split between men and women. My high school and my experience with the Sell-side culture of Wall Street investment banks allow me to say that “Toxic Masculinity” actually describes a real thing and it should never have been ruined by overuse for just that reason. In one evening in finance or 11th grade, I probably heard more open misogyny than I did in all my years studying mathematics, physics, and economics combined. But what all male group culture can sound like behind closed doors in high trust environments varies more than almost any woman likely imagines. Some of it was and is absolutely wonderful, and some of it bordered on psychotic. Sell-side finance culture was by far the worst I experienced. In my experience, many people there were trying to earn your business by assuming that you are automatically car, sports, stripper, and cigar obsessed. And those Sell-side professionals were not entirely male, either. It was pretty much exactly as you would expect from what you see in the movies minus the dwarf tossing. I guess I never got invited for dwarf tossing after I turned down free tickets to the US open. [sic trans]

MIT and Harvard’s Symplectic Geometers and Topologists were, by contrast, likely the best. An all male culture at MIT when I first arrived to be sure, but one which easily and instantly put out a welcome mat as soon as talented women started showing an interest. No one there even seemed to notice, or wanted to discuss much, any change in the culture, as the subject matter was universally thought to be far more interesting. There were also very subtle gradations: Labor Market Economics, Algebraic Geometry, and Particle Theory at Harvard were at times somewhat exaggeratedly and, frankly, comically male, but they had a core of women regularly attending and giving the seminars, and I don’t think I ever heard any comments there that couldn’t be said in a mixed group.

The reason I am going into all this as background is that I want to establish two separate claims: 

  1. That, due to my subject matter interests alone, I have inadvertently spent a fair chunk of my life in a large and diverse array of nearly all male environments.
  2. That my experience within these environments is that they range along a spectrum, from outright misogyny to environments which are welcoming to women but which are self-segregated by the differing interests of men and women, and with every gradation in between.

Unfortunately this diversity is not accurately perceived. In an effort to drain all the true swamps of their misogyny, we drained pretty much every male culture we could find of its vitality. Try to imagine a world in which women could not congregate by themselves for fear that they would get up to witchcraft. That’s pretty close to where we are now.

You may fairly ask the question, “What, if anything, is lost when we target straight male culture by treating any meeting behind closed doors as suspect? Isn’t that where the bad behavior actually happens?” Well, yes. That’s right. But there are so many good things, and even magic that happens too, that are being lost when we don’t understand that the majority of such rooms are normal, healthy places on which men actually depend as much as nursing mothers who form support groups for postpartum depression, say. 

And, while few mention it, men have tended to help each other course correct, in private. When you see a man come to his friend’s aid in public, and when that friend being threatened has done something wrong, you actually have zero idea of what is going on in private. Maybe they are high-fiving like idiots. That certainly happens among jerks. But it is far more likely that there are going to be words that go in a different direction. Men have historically helped each other get back on track in private, while holding mobs at bay in public, in a way that puts an enormous premium on loyalty, but which has not always been understood from outside, because it is, by definition, invisible.

So this is all preamble, because the last section of this episode has to do with a funny topic. For a guy that values male culture around course-correction in private, it is somewhat odd to admit that my least favorite four-word sentence to hear spoken in the English language by another man has recently become “I’ve got your back.” Now, why is that? Shouldn’t that sentence be among one’s favorite sentences?

Well, that’s undoubtedly how it should be… but truth be told, most of us have never been part of a fighting unit, and the closest thing we’ve been to a platoon in a firefight is a movie theater. We know that there is supposed to be a fog of war, just as we are familiar with the phrase “brothers in arms”, but, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us must realize that we mostly don’t fully know what those words actually mean. Dealing with an implacable mob on the internet that is taking aim at your reputation, and thus your ability to earn a living to feed your family, is surely a hell of a lot closer to being in a bar fight than paintball is. Full disclosure: I have never played paintball.

So when a man says “I’ve got your back”, what is he really saying?

Well I used to think I knew what it meant, but I don’t fully know anymore. And at the moment, it feels like it means nothing.

I have placed my life in the hands of only one male friend on multiple occasions, and none of those involved combat. That friend’s name is Adil Abdulali, and I suppose he also placed his life in my hands now that I think about it. We do have a few decent enough stories about physical risk from years back that remain, so far anyway, personal and private. Our mothers might be listening to this podcast after all and I wouldn’t want to alarm them. Please don’t worry, Alia, if you are listening, everything worked out fine, and it was a long time ago.

I must therefore, by necessity, lean rather more heavily on this one life-long friendship’s experience than I would like. But he has had my back certainly for a long time and, knowing him, probably has since shortly after I first met him at age 16.

Now, do we disagree about many things? Of course. Have we always done the right thing by each other? Mostly, but not always. Yet, we have always righted our ship when it has listed, and we don’t keep track of the small things. There have been stretches of years where one or the other of us were in a drought of good luck and it just doesn’t make sense to pay attention to these matters over decades.

So, why am I bringing this up? Because ever since The Portal took off, I have been regularly and repeatedly invited to “throw other people under the bus” as the kids today say. And most of those calls have been to throw men, rather than women, in the path of an oncoming mob.  

The public calls don’t sound familiar to my middle-aged ears. And while they are often phrased in bro-speak, they seem foreign to Protestant, Masculine, British, Professional, and other norms of not regularly losing your shit in public, nor sorting out personal business with friends in front of the world. I may be only one of those four things, but I appreciate that norm in whatever cultures exhibit it.

So, what does this new culture sound like? Well, something like this:  

“Hey Eric, did you hear what your bros just said about you?”

“Dude, time to collect your friend. He’s so cringe, and it’s not a good look for you.”

“Yo, you gonna call out your homie on his BS or nah? Thought not. Bye.”

“Hey, did you read that article about your ‘Ride or Die’ and what he did? You gotta cut him loose, dude.”

Now, what is this style of speech? “Bruh”, “Nah”, “Call out”, “Ride or Die”, “Not a good look”, “Collect your homie”, “Spill the tea”, I don’t know about the rest of you who grew up before the Internet, but at least in my experience, we didn’t use to talk or think like this all the time.

The point of bringing up this stylized speech is that the calls are so frequent that it makes me wonder what we are doing as a society. Assuming men and women are truly equal, it stands to reason that I would be invited to disavow women making controversial or boneheaded statements about half the time. Why are there so few calls to disavow not only women but tech companies, government officials, newspapers, hereditary monarchies, theocracies, etc.?

In particular, among nations, I find it fascinating that I am regularly invited to disavow Israel, but not Turkey, both of which I deeply love.  I get regularly invited to disavow men and not women. I must disavow Brett Kavanaugh on the Right, but not Joe Biden on the Left in a similar situation. This appears to be because of a persistent asymmetry: I am invited to disavow things from the political Right by the political Left, while the political Right doesn’t expect devotion or this kind of disavowal of the Left. In short, the disavowal game doesn’t seem to play by any symmetrical rules. 

And why is this? Well, it appears to be because disavowal has become a major collectivist political tactic to pick off all who refuse to sing from one party’s hymnal when instructed. For better or worse, only one of our two political parties seems to be imbued with the power to grant an indulgence, so that someone may keep his respectability separate from his behavior. Call it the Chappaquiddick privilege, if you’re confused about which party has the power. 

So, how does this work? Well, no one sensible wants to publicly support bad behavior, so the rhyme “Silence equals Violence” is particularly effective against caring progressives who want to “Do the right thing”. The problem with this is that Public Silence or even Public Support for another person is not remotely the same thing as condoning an action of that person in private. I regularly support someone in public whose behavior I may criticize in private. In fact, I’ll go further. I believe that we are obligated to both protect and not abandon friends to mobs that are braying for their blood, just as we are obligated to balance public protection with private accountability within an intimate context. 

Yet, what we seem to be seeing now is a bull market in disavowal: “Do you disavow Israel?” “Do you disavow your employer?” “Do you disavow your sibling?” “Do you disavow the IDW?” “Do you disavow your candidate?” … etc. etc. etc. 

That’s a lot of requests for disavowal, so let me make this easier. When it comes to people I have spent serious time with, the simple answer is a polite but firm ‘No’. The slightly longer answer is “Go bugger yourself. I appreciate that you are offering me a bus under which you believe my friends belong. I well understand that there is always a mob, which hungers not only for justice but sanctimony, attention, entertainment, and excitement, and that my friends may look like a delicious snack to it. But in a gendered context, men haven’t usually course-corrected in this way. We take each other aside, we talk it through, attempting to minimize harm as well as embarrassment, offer support, and in serious circumstances, attempt to find a way back if someone has done something seriously wrong. Occasionally, when we are really not getting through, we have even been known to physically fight each other in private without letting on in public that such a thing has ever occurred. So if you don’t see men taking each other aside, you may easily get confused that nothing is happening. But, that’s not usually my experience. Very often, the difficult conversations are happening, even when what you are seeing are outward signs of support. And perhaps, calling each other out is the new way forward, but, I’m old and set in my ways, and I don’t know how to do that with my friends. So, you kids have fun and I’ll stick with having different public and private reactions from time to time. We can always compare notes at the very end to see whose system actually worked better.”

So, why do I believe the older system, with all its flaws, is better? Isn’t it hypocritical? To me, this is like saying “If you feel that the human body isn’t shameful, you should just go to work naked, as it would be far more honest.” Let’s admit that always saying the same thing in public as you do in private has got a certain, powerful, simple appeal to it. However, it is a disaster to succumb to that appeal.

Permit me to put forward a theory. Society is actually safer with fewer isolated people, and it is safest when we all have a stake in the world. And cancellation? It’s about creating people with no stake in life and no way back. It is an absolute abomination. There is simply no social justice without redemption, statutes of limitations, forgiveness, due process, and grace, full stop. But aside from social justice through cancellation being just about the most heartless, braindead, boneheaded, evil, malignant, repugnant, and self-contradictory idea I have ever had the pleasure to encounter, it is also dangerous. How often do we read about a tragedy involving a loner on a losing streak who mostly kept to himself and had nothing left to lose? That may be extreme, but it gets to the problem of disavowal, cancelation, shame, and repudiation. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

Let me put it in simple terms: the men you depend on to be capable of stopping a bar fight are, somewhat embarrassingly, generally the men who have been in bar fights themselves. The man who stops a drunk buddy from making an ass out of himself, by finding a diplomatic way to exit an incident, is not infrequently a guy who has been drunk and stopped by his buddies from the same kind of idiocies in some earlier phase of his life, like ten years ago, or ten minutes ago. If we were to disavow our buddies for their most boneheaded moments, we’d all generally be forced to disavow ourselves first. We would then keep ourselves and each other from earning a living and would all shun ourselves into social isolation, poverty, and self-harm.

One can hear the response forming immediately in the minds of the Woke, “Dude, how is this not condoning bad behavior?” Well, it would be if every time you saw a man stick up for his friends, that was all that happened. And it is time to tell the world, “That’s not generally what happens. And by inducing everyone to publicly call out their friends for their lapses, we the Internet are ridding ourselves of the most powerful single tool we have to make better men.”

This new social media theory of “no platforming”, “cancelation”, “calling out”, and “shaming” is not a recipe for a happy world, or an ethical one. It’s a recipe for creating a desperate human out of every normal schmuck with a beating heart. In fact, if you have a friend accused of tearing off mattress tags under penalty of law, or murder, or treason, or even stealing adorable helpless puppies to sell their tiny internal organs on eBay, I want you to consider what happens when you disavow that friend or diss that person in public in order to signal to everyone that you know right from wrong in that particular case. 

First of all, the people in front of whom you are disavowing your friend on social media contain many people worse than your friend. So you are selling out your friendship to please acquaintances and strangers, some of whom are doing the same damn things or even worse. Secondly, you are creating a more isolated human being at the exact same moment that someone is in maximal need of love, warmth, guidance, and help. You are generally not successfully signaling virtue to me, but are instead signaling that you are abdicating responsibility for standing by someone who may have done a wrong thing, and who likely needs your loyalty now more than ever. 

Now I bring all of this up to briefly discuss the state of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. First of all, it doesn’t really fully exist. But if it did, it would not recognize disavowal as a major modality. There are tensions within it, as there have always been, but there are also unwritten rules that have not previously required my commentary. In particular, my friend Sam Harris attempted to very publicly exit the so-called IDW. That’s a bit tricky, since it doesn’t fully exist, and almost no one in it talks about it that much in 2020. So you may be thinking that I am angry at Sam for violating this rule. Oddly, it is closer to being the opposite of that. Sam was quite right, in my opinion, in one sense, and the more important one, and wrong in another of lesser significance. Before this, I heard public remarks about Sam’s inability to understand reality from more than a few people that dismayed me. But in true IDW fashion, I am not going to talk directly about who made those remarks, because the ideas were the problem, and the idea that Sam is not capable of seeing reality is frankly silly. If you aren’t happy about that and feel disappointed, please feel free to get your Internet drama somewhere else. It’s available 24/7. Now to be blunt, I have disagreed with Sam for the four years of this administration on two basic points: 

  1. Whether Donald Trump as Evil Chauncy Gardner (Sam’s concept), or Freakish Strategic Savant (My choice) is a better description.
  2. Whether the Mainstream media is less or more terrifying because it still fact checks, uses compound complex sentences, cares about an appearance of journalistic integrity, and carries gravitas earned in a previous era as it explores new territory, dividing us as a society to serve business and activist models and interests. 

Now I’d love to tell you that I am correct and that Sam is in the wrong, but honestly I don’t know that. I don’t know Sam to be wrong on either point. I simply disagree with him, as we have done openly and cordially over the last four years. What’s more, I would say that Donald Trump’s bizarre challenge to the 2020 election has, so far anyway, been a rare and pretty spectacular late win for Sam’s model over my own of Trump’s strategic intuition. If Sam has Trump Derangement Syndrome, a non-existent pseudo-malady which I don’t really believe in and thus don’t discuss much, then TDS is so far doing a better job at explaining the very end of this term than I feel it was doing at explaining the middle of it. Two cheers for that non-existent TDS that Sam doesn’t have.

What’s more, Sam did not name or shame anyone who named or shamed him by accusing him of getting this wrong. He stuck to the ideas in true IDW fashion. 

And as Sam’s friend Christopher Hitchens once said in a seminar that I attended at the Kennedy School, and the only time I ever met him, “A gentleman is defined to be a man who is never rude by accident.” And Sam is very much a gentleman.

Which brings me to what Sam *is* doing wrong. You don’t leave the IDW by being civil, focusing on ideas, forgoing the ability to stick it to others, holding to your true convictions, or getting things right. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how this works at all. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but you do it instead by being publicly dismissive of members of your group rather than their ideas, trolling, not paying attention to shifting situations like the election, getting captured by your audience, or getting it wrong and not noticing. If the IDW is a protocol as much as it is a group of humans, Sam continued to behave as a gentleman, while others were far closer to trying to leave the group, by at least testing the above boundaries.  

This is why, when Sam published a clip about resigning from the IDW, I chuckled to myself and chose to quote from Hotel California on Twitter. In the words of the Eagles, “Sam: Relax. We are programmed to receive.” Feel free to collect your things, to find the passage back to the place we all were before, as you can, in fact, check out anytime you like. I’ll send for the nightman at once. If you really want to leave, however, you now know what it takes. 

The IDW, like the Hotel California, doesn’t really exist. Maybe it never did, and this was all just a dream in a tongue-in-cheek bad joke of mine that took on a life of its own for a while. But it’s possible there is some reason we still go back to the IDW now and again, just as we do to that tired old song over 40 years later. Or hadn’t you noticed that every time you cue it up to play it again, it proves that we are never really able to leave it fully behind. Which, if you give it a moment’s thought, is exactly what the song’s lyrics foretold. Funny that. 


*Insert guitar solo here.*


Be well everyone. 

You’ve been through The Portal.

This essay appears in audio format at the beginning of The Portal Podcast, Episode 41.


Hello all. 

The subject of this audio essay is my absence, the tech platforms, the 2020 election, Jean Seberg and, oddly enough, article 58 of the former Soviet Union’s Russian Penal Code. 

I don’t want to say too much quite yet about what I’ve been up to, but suffice it to say that I’m fine (or at least as fine as anyone is in 2020). Also, rest assured that I have not forgotten about you all or lost interest in the podcast or, more importantly, our community. Far from it. In fact it’s the exact opposite of that. I want to ensure that we can continue talking and building the community that has sprung up around the podcast. Portal Nation, if you will, is a place where I choose to spend my own free time with perhaps less distance than I should have with my audience, many of whom have become my friends. 

Some time ago, I started warning many of my friends to be very careful on the internet in the immediate run-up to the 2020 US election. In particular I warned people associated with the Intellectual Dark Web that they should be very careful not to lose their accounts. In the time since, we have seen new levels of bizarre behavior on Twitter and Facebook which seem to be catching up to Google in terms of naked attempts to manipulate the national conversation. Not all of it is sinister, mind you. I don’t hate having actual facts checked by true fact-checkers although the words ‘actual’ and ‘true’ are doing a lot of heavy lifting in this sentence. 

The idea for the warning was simple. Back in November of 2016, I started commenting on the idea that the “Fake News” panic was ‘not authentic’. That it was likely constructed in November of 2016 as a placeholder to be used by institutions stunned by the results and rocked in their faith that they could broadly control every election to make sure that both candidates were broadly acceptable to the institutional class with no Ralph Naders, Ron Pauls, Ross Perots or Bernie Sanders to worry about.  

Now that is an odd thing to say. What does that mean, ‘inauthentic’ or ‘constructed’? Many of you are now no doubt thinking “I remember everyone talking about fake news all during the election.” Isn’t that interesting. Because that is not what happened at all. That’s a fake memory, and it’s not even yours. In fact, as late as the end of October 2016, almost no one was talking much about “fake news”. In fact the concept didn’t even really spike until after Trump’s victory. It was not until the week of Sunday, November 13, 2016 that the hypnotic and invariant phrase “Fake News” exploded and went from being an extremely minor news story to the supposedly settled explanation for everything that had caught the New York Times, The Democratic Party and the heavily anti-Trump Tech Giants measuring the oval office drapes while about to lose the race of a lifetime. Which is to say, I wasn’t buying it. I just sat there and watched helplessly as everyone I knew responded to the perseverated phrase being repeated into their minds. 

Interestingly, this was seemingly an exact repeat of the “Dean Scream”, which occurred on Monday January 19, 2004, when the news media destroyed the political campaign of Howard Dean over a total and complete non-event by perseveration alone, to create fear, uncertainty and doubt or (FUD) as it is known to conspirators who practice this disinformation technique. At that time the entire United States (save for a few contrarians) got brainwashed into seeing a candidate supposedly lose his mind on stage, which would never have occurred to anyone if the institutional media hadn’t repeated it into a so-called ‘alternative fact’ in the minds of Americans. 

If you doubt me, Dave Rubin and I arranged to have me on his show, The Rubin Report, before Trump’s inauguration, so that there would be a permanent archival record of my claims, and to which all folks who would later question these claims could return. I further went to the trouble before the election of having my employer acquaint everyone in the firm with the theory of Preference Falsification due to economist Timur Kuran, one of our first guests, because I was all but certain that the polling data and the Gated Institutional Narrative had not accounted for people lying about their hidden support for Donald Trump.  

Perhaps now you understand more about the title of the last Portal Episode as a mildly coded message to my treasured audience. I once again suspected that almost everybody who is not sufficiently disagreeable to be considered Milgram Negative, Asch Negative and Zimbardo negative, according to the three famous psychology experiments, was about to go completely insane, as we did four years ago. It is simply too hard for ordinary people, whose ability to feed their families depend on working for institutions to resist the drumbeat of either the Democratic or Republican master narratives. 

Now most of you in my audience were born after 1980, and so you cannot obviously remember the revelations of the mid 1970s the way I do, when I was around 10 years old. But for me and others in Progressive American Families, the revelation that the FBI had secretly planted totally false stories like the one that destroyed the reputation, career and ultimately the sanity of law-abiding progressive Hollywood star Jean Seberg in mainstream newspapers and news magazines like the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek casts a long shadow. The reason is simple: we have all the chilling receipts, as the kids say today. The idea of the US deep state’s use of mainstream media to destroy lawful citizens’ lives and sanity simply for political beliefs is not a conspiracy theory. It is a 100% certain conspiracy fact that, for some odd reason, isn’t taught much in US high schools.  It is also the reason we must investigate the investigators and eavesdrop on our own spies, if we wish to remain a free society.

Well, I am of the belief that destroying people is considered fair play in elections by the insiders who view these contests as their own private blood sport, to which ordinary dissenting Americans are viewed as interlopers, and thus prey. And, increasingly, very few of us outsiders seem to believe in democracy anymore, as we increasingly believe that our side must always win against the implacable foe by any means necessary, to quote brother Malcolm. When this sport of personal reputational destruction is coordinated by members of the complex formed by institutional media, the intelligence community, the political parties, political consultants, finance, tech and the academy I call it Seberging to remind us of just how real the threat is to all who have idiosyncratic politics but who have done nothing legally wrong.  

Now, as many of you might guess, if I had a strong belief that I could do something to save us by telling you to “vote Biden” or “vote for Trump”, I don’t think I would let this stand in my way. But, truth be told, I don’t think we are playing ‘The lady or the Tiger’ with these two parties anymore. It’s more like the Bengal tiger vs the Siberian Tiger. So naturally I was trying to figure out any way to plausibly get the two parties to focus on eating each other, rather than the rest of us. And I am sorry to say that I, along with absolutely everyone I know, have failed to come up with any plausible options. We seem to be on autopilot. We have built institutions which are going to oversee our undoing unless someone figures out a way to stop playing with the failed septuagenarians and octogenarians who came in as young people to the national stage in the 1970s, and have rewritten the rules for their own plunder and enrichment for 30 to 50 years. 

[This essay’s a bit heavy right? Pause the audio. Pace yourself. Take a deep breath. Maybe think about puppies?]

Continuing. So to sum up the above: I don’t believe almost any of what we are talking about on a daily basis makes any sense. We are going to wind up with one of two candidates that should not be running for control of the nuclear missile launch codes. Four years ago, I called the 2016 election the Sophie’s choice election, and I barely got myself to vote for Hillary Clinton, who I could not stand. This year I put the pen directly over Biden’s name and could not get the pen to move towards the paper. This was a bit of a surprise. That’s never happened to me before, where I could not vote for my own party. Was it true that I had become a Trump supporter? I tried the same ouija board maneuver, and this time I couldn’t even get the pen to hover over Trump’s name. What was happening? I won’t bore you with who I voted for, because it doesn’t matter. I am only telling you this because I failed this basic test and threw my vote to someone who will not win. And with that, I will promise you that I will not judge you for your vote. You cannot do worse than I did, so I have no way to blame you for whichever way you choose to fail. This was not the Sophie’s choice election. This was supposed to be the The King Solomon election, in my mind, where, if either candidate truly loved the country more, he would have been the first to resign. 

So getting back to my absence, I became convinced that the Portal was of very little value to you in the election. Many of you flattered me by saying “Where are you when we need you most?”, as if I had somehow abandoned you. I am touched, but that is not where we are. I don’t have your answers. I am lost as well, so I have been trying to look past the election for months. I am just being honest here.

Whatever we are going to do to save ourselves from the Kleptocrats of the center, the nut jobs of the far right, the apathy of the non voters, the woke lunacy and the dreamers of third party options, we are going to do with either Trump or Biden in office. Four years ago before Trump took the oath of office, I was at a dinner in LA with Sam Harris and Dave Rubin. Sam was talking about how he was going to have to hold Trump accountable with his broadcasts, and I said something that I’d like to think turned out to be wise. “Sam, you just can’t do that,” I said. He asked why I would say that given my feelings which were not out of line with his. I said “I’ve studied Trump’s style and it is based around deliberate ambiguities that Left and Right can be counted upon to hear as meaning different things. If Trump makes N nested ambiguous statements in a minute, he will create a minimum of 2 to the N legs of the decision tree that must be considered, given your strategy.  He will force you and the rest of the United States public intellectuals to waste much of your intellectual life, for four to eight years, picking up after him. He just needs to knock over the intellectual vases faster than you can glue their shards back together. No matter how good you are, you aren’t going to make it through like that.” “So what will you do instead?” he asked. “I said I will make one or more clear statements that Donald Trump represents an existential risk to the United States and that I expect he will use his freedom as an outsider to do a combination of both very good and very bad things. But I am not going to let him run my intellectual life every day on his truly ingenious brain farts. I will then focus my energy and attempt to hold my own party, the Democrats, intellectually accountable so we can win with someone we can believe in.” And except for that part at the tail end, I think I did about as well as I could have in anticipating the problems and formulating a strategy during these four years.

So, why be absent? Well, I haven’t gotten to the part about Article 58 yet. Recall that I don’t believe that FakeNews was an authentic narrative in November 2016. So… what was it then? Well, I don’t know. But if I had to guess, there was probably a meeting somewhere in early November of 2016, where it was decided that the United States needed a narrative to buy time for its aggrieved institutions so that the 2020 election could be ‘fixed’ to the greatest extent possible. And I believe that Fake News was likely the placeholder that had been settled upon. That would be the origin of the gradual changes in Terms of Service across Twitter, Facebook, and Google, and how the structural changes were coordinated that gradually eroded all protections for free speech across the platforms. That’s where Data and Society and its crazy ‘Guilt by association minus any methodology’ technique appeared. In essence, the four year battle plan was to figure out how to use the Fake News meme to gain greater narrative control of the news. Only there was a new problem. 

We the people had become the news. We shared stories and links. And to control the news, now meant the institutions had to control us as ordinary people much more aggressively.  We all opined often and often better than the professional commentariat at that. And Long Form Podcasting, as led by the popular Joe Rogan, became seen as the great embarrassment and threat to mainstream legacy media. People dying to be treated like adults, with long attention spans, dropped NPR and the New York Times, as home to the 1619 project, which its leader openly admitted was attempting to get America to riot(?!), and flocked to podcasts hours in length to listen to Snowden or Bernie Sanders on Joe Rogan. And there was absolutely no plan to stop this that was working, when they finally realized just how powerful these podcasts are. You could hear Roger Penrose one minute and Edie Bravo the next. Everyone knew that simply calling Sam Harris “gross and racist”, Joe Rogan “alt-right”, Ben Shapiro a Nazi white supremecist, Peter Thiel “anti-gay”, Bret Weinstein “anti-black”, and Maajid Nawaz an Islamophobe, was beyond stupid. I mean, our audiences had spent hours listening to us and interacting with us at events. It wasn’t just that the mainstream media was bullshitting the American public. They were gaslighting us all around people we already knew, and failing so long as there were people willing to risk their reputations to shatter the spell. 

So they figured out that we needed the platforms, in part, to reach each other and proceeded to change the platform rules over and over again to make them vague, illogical, ideological, inconsistent and actually impossible to understand. Add to that, these platforms were now patrolled by new Religious Police as if Twitter were Saudi Arabia with the The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice replaced by the Trust And Safety Committee. No one could say what the rules were. What exactly was deadnaming, for example? Is saying that Bruce Jenner won the 1976 decathlon, years before Caityln Jenner even existed, a punishable offense?  Only the Trust and Safety committee could tell you. 

Which brings us to Article 58 of the Soviet era Russian Penal Code which introduced the concept of “enemy of the workers” and “counter-revolutionary activities”. You see, Article 58 was a law where everyone was guilty, but not everyone was prosecuted. Thus any inconvenient person could be disappeared into the gulags or executed in show trials under Article 58. And that is where we are. Shortly before the election, a provocative mid-October New York Post article on Hunter Biden appeared that could not be shared on Twitter or Facebook. Which is, of course, insane. But also anticipated. Here’s why. 

They failed to come up with a workable strategy to control us, because there is really nothing they can do short of totally draconian China-like measures, and so they will ultimately lose this battle one day. The jig has been up for years now. But the legacy and tech powers do not know how to concede. So they gaslight, harass and threaten individuals that don’t agree to silence themselves. And, sure enough, just like with Article 58 and the show trials, the tech platforms treat Trust and Safety as a Star Chamber where you can be accused without being told what you did wrong and tried in absentia. Hell, we are all guilty of violating these Terms of Service, because they aren’t real, well-defined, or even self-consistent. 

Which brings me to what I said to my brother, Bret, not long ago when he proposed Unity 2020 as a plan to undermine the control of the two party duopoly by drafting a republican and democrat to run together. I told him it couldn’t work unless an extraordinary piece of luck occurred, and that it was a bad use of political capital to call everything dangerous, like this election, ‘make or break’. The other thing I said was that Unity 2024 is a good idea, but that he should do this project in a separate account on Twitter and Facebook. He did not listen at first and released video on his own youtube channel. Very quickly, the @articlesofunity account they had set up on Twitter was suspended without explanation. Links to Unity2020 websites shared through direct messaging were labeled ‘suspicious’ and ‘spam’ by Twitter’s Religious Police. It appeared that the thought of Americans burying their hatchets was seen as a serious offense which the usually forward thinking CEO Jack Dorsey himself could not face for reasons that remain utterly opaque. A short time later, Bret logged into Facebook to find that his personal account, in which he had not posted for some time, had been irreversibly closed, reviewed, and there were no appeals possible while stating no reason for the expulsion.  After a public outcry from Joe Lonsdale, Tulsi Gabbard, myself and others, and some back channel communication to Facebook Board members, the account was mysteriously opened again with a claim that it had merely been flagged by “a system”. Clearly whatever Facebook was doing it was willing to lie about this in front of the eyes of the world right before an election. Either it was reviewed, and the claim about a mere system flagging the account was FakeNews, or there was no review, and claim of human review was FakeNews. In either case, Facebook, the New York Times, Twitter, CNN and all the other supposedly authoritative media have been pushing the FakeNews they claim to decry. There are no other possibilities, for those of us who have been watching this space, that bear scrutiny, given the inconsistency of the claims. 

And so, I took the time off, so as not to give too much surface area to Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai, and whomever they are coordinating with or delegating to in the 2-3 months before the election and a couple months after. It is what financial professionals called the uncompensated risk of losing my ability to communicate to you while the Tech and Media worlds are going for broke to control this election. If I knew that there was a good choice in the election, the risk would have a purpose. But I can see the unraveling of the US fabric with either choice. It made me sad to pull back from something I love doing, and it’s a real cost to me as it’s significant income to miss out on at a time I want to be building for retirement (presumably sometime in my 80s, the way I’m going). But truth be told, there were also some other issues I was having with covid-exposure and guests in the studio, loss of privacy, and sad interactions with unstable people in my communities, who seem to need psychological help. I may say more about these issues later. 

But I’ve missed doing the Portal for you all. And I will be back in 2021 and perhaps a few episodes before then. But in the meantime, remember that one of The Portal creeds is to only go long heroism if you can short martyrdom as part of the trade. I didn’t enjoy us having to get Bret reinstated at Facebook, as no ordinary person without connections or followers would get this treatment. And we still haven’t succeeded in getting Jack to explain what is going on at Twitter with the suspensions. So stay safe out there. You don’t have to swing for the fences on this elections because, quite frankly, both of these are terrible options. Vote however you feel is right. Because, if I’m right, the real work is going to come after this, the most bogus of US elections that I have ever seen. Be well everyone.

This essay appears in audio format at the beginning of The Portal Podcast, Episode 39.


Hi, it’s Eric with this episode’s audio essay. The subject today is “Optics”. I want to try to use this essay to formulate a simple law for social media, but to do so, I would like to put it within a context of other such laws to which it is akin. In the first place, we have a theory within economics stated using only five words, and known as Say’s Law after Jean-Baptiste Say, which states simply this: supply creates its own demand. That is to say, if you have a truckload of some object for which there is demand, say, chairs, for example, its sale will result in increased demand for other goods from the profits obtained. And thus, Say’s Law links the concepts of aggregate supply and demand, which may have previously been thought by some to be independent. A similar law in the theory of communications was that of Marshall McLuhan, whose famous five word adage, “the medium is the message”, can be interpreted as saying that the vehicle of communications is actually likely to be the principal constituent of the payload it delivers.

While these laws are well known, they are not often connected, despite having a similar flavor. In both cases, they link two concepts which are traditionally considered as connected complements. In this spirit, what I would like to experiment with here is the introduction of a five word law for social media. It may be stated either as “the optics are the substance” or “optics create their own substance”, depending upon whether one wishes to follow McLuhan or Say, respectively.

Now what do I mean by this? Well, consider the effect of a smartphone on human cognition. To be clear, we must acknowledge that such a remarkable device gives us the ability to dive deeply into any subject we care to investigate, but, if we are honest, we must admit that it is even more likely in practice to distract us constantly and dilute our attention than to be the tool that we hope we will utilize for noble means. Thus, we very seldom do dive deeply into any of the subjects which come across our feeds, searches, and screens. And even if we do pursue a news story or update into the weeds, it is very unlikely that large numbers of other users will do so alongside us.

Thus, the most important aspect of a story may well not be its underlying substance or truth, but it’s optics instead. That is, our intuitive sense of an update may well be expected to be the extent of our engagement with that story. Specific five word specializations of this as-yet unnamed law might be: “The headline is the article” or “The publisher is the politics”. Knowing that an unedited video was leaked to appear on James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas is presumably sufficient to make sure that it is not taken seriously by any center-left institution. The optics of the United States’ cleverly named Black Lives Matter movement are stated clearly in the title. To oppose this organization for its platforms, the self declared Marxist agenda pushed by its founders, or its bizarre foray into the politics of the Middle East, where there are very few black American lives, is not possible under this law of social media without becoming a racist in the eyes of the internet. Why? Because the optics are in the title, and thus, the implied substance of the organization is designed to make it impossible to oppose without catastrophic costs to those reacting to the nuanced found in the details.

But what, then, is the new role of what we would have previously considered the substance, before the advent of the smartphone and the social internet? Well, this remains a curious question. Let us, for the remainder of this episode, take a radical stance and call this “legacy reality”. You see, in legacy reality, all sorts of things are happening that contradict our new five word law. For example, in legacy reality, a white man named Tony Timpa was killed in Dallas under almost identical circumstances to those in which George Floyd in Minneapolis later lost his life. Timpa was held down on camera for a comparable amount of time: 11+ minutes for Timpa to the 8+ minutes in which Floyd suffered, but he was white, while Floyd was black. Yet there’s bizarrely no concept of Timpa’s death being significant, except in one regard: it shows that we have, as yet, no ability to say which of these deaths is provably racially motivated in the absence of further evidence, and thus, to raise the issue is to question the optics of fluids death.

In short, Floyd’s death was, optically, a lynching. Therefore, in the era of social media, it was, in substance, a lynching as well by our new law, and the introduction of Timpa’s death is to use legacy reality to question modern substance. Now, the reason I say “modern substance” here is that the implied racism of Floyd’s death as an example of a clear optical lynching was sufficient to propel millions into the streets. And, truth be told, the issue of structural racism and the differential application of policing, trial, sentencing, and incarceration along racial lines has a long and nauseating history from the era of slavery into the present. Thus, the nonsense that powerful Americans have traditionally used to avoid looking directly at the shame of differential treatment within our criminal justice system, particularly for nonviolent drug-related crimes, was matched by the new substance of an optical lynching. Organizers were effectively saying to us, “So what if we don’t know for a certainty that it is a lynching in legacy reality? It was at a minimum a much needed optical lynching to galvanize the real change we need, and for which we have waited far too long.”

With that said, the very real changes that are likely to come about as a result of an optical lynching may or may not be for the good, but a sudden injection of unwanted legacy reality is extremely likely to result in buzzkill and the mood spoilage of any movement that is being coordinated not through groupthink, but group-feel.

So why have optics been so successful in overtaking legacy reality of late? I believe that for a variety of reasons, we’ve changed what would be called the recursion depth were we in computer science here, rather than the politics of civil society. Well, I trust that most of my readers are well aware as adults that an irrational number such as pi cannot be computed from a simple fraction. Some of us can still remember the first time we were told that this is not true, and that twenty-two sevenths solves the problem. In fact, twenty-two sevenths seems equal to pi, but only to two decimal places of accuracy, before the two decimal expressions part ways once and for all.

Far fewer of us know that the so called “perfect fifth” in western music is in fact not perfect at all. It is ever-so-slightly flat, and below the pure Pythagorean fifth, producing a ratio of the frequencies of “so” to “do” of approximately 1.4983, rather than 3 to 2, or 1.5.

Now both these examples show us that we can be easily fooled into thinking we understand a situation by not carrying out an investigation beyond a certain limit. In fact, we cannot afford to give infinite attention and resources to investigating every problem. And so, we must cut off our investigations at some point. Sometime between 1971, when Herb Simon started thinking about attention economics in 2001, when the attention economy concept finally gained enough momentum from Devonport, Beck, and others, to propel it into greater mainstream awareness, a huge opportunity was missed. That opportunity was the study of the corresponding market for inattention. For example, in the news media business, many people think that there is always a search for the most eyeballs, yet they’re also arose a concept called “The Friday News Dump”, which sought to find the spot in the week where people would give the least attention for the dissemination of bad news. Likewise, print media writers learn to hide their true underlying stories by “burying the lead”, when the main story had to be told, but was not favorable to the papers way of thinking. This would sometimes be handled what is internally called the “To Be Sure” paragraph, where the author too often effectively confesses the mitigating truth that they had hoped to avoid, at least until the penultimate paragraph many layers deep.

Well, what happens when you can actually calculate where your audience will stop reading, listening, feeling or thinking? Studies have suggested that just over half of all people spend 15 seconds or less reading an article while digitally grazing.

Likewise, nearly three out of five link sharers have not so much as clicked on the headline that they are passing on. These dispiriting findings for professional writers would be akin within computer programming to finding out that somebody had reset the Python byte compilers recursion limit, which is usually initially set by default to something near 1000 out of the box, to a single digit number.

This, however, creates a fantastic opportunity for those whose ethics are sufficiently flexible. A particular form of our five word law, when applied to news media would be “the headline generates the story”, or “the headline is the story”. Once this has been discovered, we see that, increasingly, the purpose of the article in our era is not to inform, but to minimally support the desired headline for wide dissemination. Other forms of this principle are that, at least in the eyes of the weak and the dim, “the slogan is the platform”, “accusation generates its own conviction”, “the indignation is the reputation”, “swarms generate their own consensus”, “the messengers the message”, and “the aspiration is the implementation”. This also explains the underlying wisdom of the moronic phrase, “not a good look, bro”. It is often a warning that you were saying something in legacy reality without regard for the optical limits of the situation.

Here, the most important word may well be “bro”, as a corruption or shortening of “brother”, letting you know that you are now in an informal world where barely the first three letters will be read before the word becomes too cumbersome to complete. In an attempt to sum up, then, I will leave you with this:

There is not only a market for your attention, but one for your inattention as well. Your smartphone may well put all the world’s information at your fingertips as is so often remarked upon, but unlike the fabled Library of Alexandria, it puts all the world’s disinformation, misinformation, noise, and distraction as well. And what our CEOs and technologists have learned is that your emotions are responsive to optics and not substance when there are cat and GoPro videos to be watched.

Increasingly, there will be a war on anyone found to be attempting to traffick in higher recursion limits. I recently remarked on Twitter on the situation in Portland, where the nightly battle over the federal courthouse is generating two separate false narratives. In one narrative increasingly found on the right the City of Portland, Oregon is sloppily described as burning and constantly at war, which is not, as the ritualized battle is now confined to a single massive federal building as I write this into particular hours of the night. In the other narrative, peaceful protesters protected by moms and veterans are being attacked by federal fascists without provocation. Unfortunately for those pushing the latter narrative, any honest review of the videos circulating from citizen journalists will quickly dispel the illusion that a non-political mainstream media is dispassionately reporting all the news that is fit to print. What actually seems to be going on, which I have worked out with my brother, who has first hand knowledge of the situation on the ground in Portland, is that each side is trying to get attacked above a certain level before responding. That sounds crazy, of course, but the value going into the election is to generate video that optically moves the needle. As crazy as that sounds, the fatality count is so far thankfully absurdly low in the Pacific Northwest, given the violence because both the rioters, as opposed to the protesters, and federal agents, seem to be competing to be attacked.

After all, it bizarrely appears that there’s nothing more powerful in this media era than being a victim. Everything is reversed. And, in a presidential election year, with the country in turmoil, the rule of the land is victim takes all. So what did I say on Twitter that is worth discussing? That the behavior and absence of a cognitively declining Joe Biden from the national scene, and the extreme nature of the radicalized left seems to be creating a collection of people that I never thought that I would see, the never-Trump Trump voter. It seems that almost everyday people write to me and tell me that they voted for Hillary and or Bernie, despise Trump, see him as evil, dangerous, and mentally impaired, but now, paradoxically, view him as the last remaining alternative to the party of Mayor Wheeler of Portland, and Mayor Jenny of Seattle, currently experimenting with the abolish-law-enforcement movement, which is now both seen and denied everywhere by the Democratic Party and its allied media. I have conversed publicly with such never-Trump Trump voters on my Instagram Live q&a walks which I’ve been doing under Covid. I’ve even generated a video with Joe Rogan that has been seen by 6.5 million people on YouTube alone, where Joe said that he would vote for anyone over Biden despite having no love of Trump.

Yet I found myself besieged by thousands of accounts that I had never heard of for daring to insist that this phenomenon, that can be easily seen and validated, is in fact, seeable. “Name one person who was left of center and would vote for Trump over Biden!”, came the challenge from the swarm. This bewildered me at the time. Then I saw thousands of almost identical tweets with the same weird meme. “Cool story, bro. Did you hear this hanging out in a hipster coffee shop? That totally happened, right?” I must admit, I was relieved. This was coordinated, as it turned out, by someone with 13 million followers on Twitter, who ran what was termed a “pod” that coordinated swarming behavior. The fact that all of these tweets could be instantly invalidated was not the point. No one cared about their credibility. The point was that the optics are the substance and a swarm is sufficient to generate the optics needed. At some point I saw that the swarm included not just internet trolls, but verified accounts, including one of a Stanford professor.

“A Stanford professor?”, I just shook my head. The recursion limit was now set at one on a bright warm day in July and the clocks were all striking 13. But it was alright. Everything was alright. The struggle was finished.

This essay appears in audio format at the beginning of The Portal Podcast, Episode 37.


Hello, it’s Eric with a few thoughts this week on the coming US election before we introduce this episode’s main conversation. Now, I should say upfront that this audio essay is not actually focused on the 2020 election, which is partially concluded, but in the election of 2024 instead. The reason I want to focus on that election is that, precisely because it is four years away, we should know almost nothing about it. We shouldn’t know almost anything about who is likely to be running or what the main issues will be, and we should be able to say almost nothing about the analysis of the election. Unfortunately, almost none of that is true.

Now, obviously, we can’t know all of the particulars. However, we still know a great deal more than we should. And that is because the ritual is not what many suppose it to be. A simple, nationwide open contest, to be held on a single day, after several unrestricted long form debates, with unbiased rules enforced by trusted referees. What is most important is that, prior to the 2024 election, there will have to be an appearance of a primary election.

So what actually is a primary election and what function does it serve? It’s hard to say. But if you think about it, this is really the awkward disingenuous and occasionally dangerous ritual by which a large and relatively unrestricted field of candidates needs to be narrowed to the subset that is acceptable to the insiders of the parties, their associated legacy media bosses, and the party megadonors. Now the goal of this process is to, in the famous words of Noam Chomsky, manufacture consent from us, the governed, so that we at least feel like we have selected the final candidates, who, in truth, we would likely never have chosen in an open process. I’ve elsewhere compared this ritual to the related process referred to by professional illusionists as “magician’s choice”, whereby an audience member is made to feel that they’ve selected something, like a card from a deck, out of their own free will, but that the magician has actually chosen from a position of superior knowledge and control, long before the trick has even begun.

In the modern era, of course, “consent” has become a much more interesting word, especially of late. And perhaps that fact is important in this context too, as the constellation of issues carry over surprisingly well. To bring in more terminology from the national conversation on consent, the party rank and file are groomed, if you will, by the party-affiliated media, as to who is viable, and who should be ignored and laughed at, through a process of what might be termed “political negging”. The candidates are also conditioned by being told that they can only appear in party-approved debates, which must be hosted exclusively by affiliated legacy media outlets, which emphasize sound bites and theatrical gotcha moments over substance, despite the internet’s general move towards in-depth discussion made possible in large part by the advent of independent long form podcasts like this one. Thus, both voters and candidates are prevented from giving informed and uncoerced consent by the very institutional structures most associated with democracy itself.

Now, why am I saying all of this? Well, it goes back to a video I’ve not been able to get out of my mind for four years. As some of you may remember from the 2016 election, Jake Tapper was asking democratic national committee chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about why Bernie Sanders would be leaving New Hampshire with an equal number of convention delegates after trouncing his old rival Hillary Clinton in an historic upset.

Tapper asked, “What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say that this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?”

Now, what was odd here was the idea that only those new to the process needed to have this explained. As someone then in his early 50s, I can say that I certainly felt that this was rigged at the time, even though this was hardly my first rodeo. But I digress.

Wasserman Schultz was in fact prepared for the question, and she replied, “Well, let me just make sure that I can clarify exactly what was available during the primaries in Iowa and in New Hampshire. The unpledged delegates are a separate category. The only thing available on the ballot in a primary and a caucus is the pledged delegates, those that are tied to the candidate that they are pledged to support. They receive a proportional number of delegates going into our convention.”

Now this was confusing. Why are there any unpledged delegates at all? And why not call them Super Delegates, just like everyone else? And why was she asserting that availability was a settled question? This is like an emergency room administrator explaining to someone having a heart attack in real time that what is available is a vending machine down the hall rather than the nurse or physician chatting idly beside it. I remember thinking, “I don’t care what you say is available, you crazy, crazy lady.”

But of course, she wasn’t crazy. And this wasn’t about availability. It was about naked power, and its public rationalization. Wasserman Schultz attempted to explain further that it was all due to a need for—and I swear I’m not making this up—diversity and inclusion. She continued, saying,

“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that the party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. We as the Democratic Party, really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention, and so we want to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend, and be a delegate at the convention, and so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn’t competition between them.”

Did I hear that right? This is about diversity and inclusion for Super Delegates? Oddly, Tapper responded that while this obviously made no sense to him, either, they should both move to the next question,

“I’m not sure that that answer would satisfy an anxious young voter. But let’s move on.”

If you were confused, let me offer to translate. This isn’t supposed to be an election. “One man, one vote” is nowhere in evidence, obviously. And this isn’t the party of the rank and file. This is the party of the insiders. Perhaps it is weirdly easier to discuss this in the consent paradigm. She was saying, in effect,

“Come on, Jake. You’re a big boy, so don’t be so naive. Obviously lifelong rank-and-file, card-carrying party primary voters are just asking for it by coming to the polling place and voting provocatively in the presence of super delegates. Hey, if they weren’t into it, they wouldn’t flock to the voting booth like moths to a flame now, would they, know what I mean? Look, since we both know our place here, let’s move on to your next question so we don’t kill the buzz, shall we?”

To be clear, and most of us really never understood what the invariant phrase “diversity and inclusion” really means in such settings. I’ve always marveled at why both inclusion and the word diversity initially strike most of us and certainly me as positive concepts, but the now ubiquitous “diversity and inclusion” soundbite leaves many with a vaguely sick feeling. If I understand correctly, there’s both the meritorious part of the primary process which involves having to win at the ballot box by listening and appealing to voters, as well as the corrupt part of the voting, which is guaranteed through superdelegate quotas. And bizarrely, the diversity delegates she refers to here are the unpledged delegates. That is, in the twisted logic of the modern Democratic Party, it is actually the insiders who are the vulnerable diversity and inclusion delegates who must be protected. And, as you must have guessed, in the mind of the party operatives, only a bigot would argue with diversity and inclusion.

So is that the extent of it? Well, not even close. While the parties are not exactly shy about making sure that truly fair primaries are structurally impossible, they still have to leave at least a formal possibility that the people could choose a candidate hostile to the rent seeking insiders and donors. If an upset were not formally possible, the rank and file would be expected to balk at calling this arcane process a primary election, and they would be expected to reject the final candidate pushed by insiders, yet leaving that possibility formally open is dangerous to the mandarins, as it is exactly what led to Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee in 2016.

Thus, there are two more important steps to controlling the process to prevent a Trump like coup against the insiders in the future. Perhaps the most disturbing to observe is the constant harassment of popular candidates by party activists who live inside what is supposed to be independent news media, and who pose as journalists and news people. This is the second juggernaut to stop popular candidates, by ignoring their outperformance and positive reception, by dropping them from graphics, misspelling their names, ignoring their successes, standing in front of their likenesses on green screens and even inexplicably using someone else’s photograph just to troll them. Particularly egregious here was the all out war that MSNBC appeared to be waging on Andrew Yang in 2019 and 2020, which showcased the exact same tactics that had been used previously against Bernie Sanders in 2016, and Ron Paul in 2012, when the Pew Research Center on journalism in the media concluded, “The same could be said of the narrative in the news media of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who received the least coverage of any candidate overall. The difference with Paul is that he has received by far the most favorable coverage of any candidate in the blogosphere, 48% positive and only 15% negative”.

In Yang’s case, MSNBC was forced to comically apologize on multiple occasions for both suppose that errors and claimed emissions. When dropped from a visual the network dutifully tweeted, “Earlier on, we aired a poll graphic that inadvertently left off Andrew Yang. This was a mistake that we have since corrected on air. We apologize to Mr. Yang,” said MSNBC when they mysteriously dropped the candidate from their visuals. Yet when inexplicably screwing up Yang’s first name they said, “Earlier tonight on The Beat, we made a mistake in a segment about Andrew Yang. While we fixed his name during the segment, we’d like to apologize Andrew for the error.”

Yet this string of seemingly focused errors and omissions targeted on Yang continued unrelentingly, despite being extensively documented by the campaign. If these super delegates, staggered primaries, apparently deliberate errors, and endless targeted emissions were not enough to keep popular candidates from gaining serious support, the last major rigging of the election takes place by saying who can and cannot hold a debate. In 2020, all three of the most ferociously independent, and therefore dangerous candidates to Democratic Party insiders—that would be Sanders, Gabbard and Yang—were welcomed on Joe Rogan’s extremely popular long form podcast. Additionally, Sam Harris and I both interviewed Yang, and Dave Rubin, I believe, interview Both Yang and Gabbard, yet we were told that there were various strict rules to prevent multiple candidates from appearing at once in real discussions outside the standard format of legacy-media-run, media soundbite and gotcha spectacles termed “debates”. The main benefit of having, say, a Joe Rogan or a Sam Harris hosted discussion or debate is that the candidates could actually develop long trains of thought with nuance and subtlety to go well beyond the bumper sticker level complexity so loved by legacy media. But inside the bizarre upside-down world of official debates refereed by legacy media, the candidates that do the best in free long form discussions are systematically given the least time.

To sum up, the more you thrive with bold ideas and positions and actual policy discussions, the less time you are given and the bigger your handicapping. It’s essentially that simple. Thus, that long form format that we use on this show would almost certainly spell the death of most of the “focus-group candidates”. So why bring up 2024, when the election of 2020 has not even taken place? Because it is always going to be the same so long as we are fighting the current and last wars rather than the next one.

Personally, I don’t want to go through this idiocy ever again, just like you. And, like you, I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, just for the privilege of blessing the candidate that the insiders can count upon to be hostile to my interests, because I have nowhere else to go. I would likely have voted for any candidate who would have told Debbie Wasserman Schultz that she should be fired immediately, and to stop hurting democracy. We need to recognize that in a country stuffed to the gills with both talent and ambition, there is no conceivable world in which a creepy 74 year old reality television celebrity with an enormous ego but no previous interest in government would be running against a relatively disinterested 77 year old with obvious progressing cognitive decline, for the most demanding job to be found on Earth.

There is no plausible world in which all five of the final five major candidates—that would be Biden, Trump, Bloomberg, Warren and Sanders—would all be born in the 1940s. That just isn’t something that would happen in a country where no president outside of that list was ever past the age of 70 at first inauguration in the history of the Republic, going back to its founding. With no precedent for such an aged ruler, are you really telling me that suddenly in 2020, we have five four or five septuagenarians without significant outrage or commentary?

Really?

Come on.

So what are we saying here? Really, then In short, there is no primary. And with no real primaries, there is no meaningful election, per se, and it is time to overthrow whatever structure is supporting an abomination posing as an election. If the parties donors and media maintain levers that are sufficient to control the elections, then a foreign power can also scheme to control the same levers the parties and insiders have given themselves to avoid democracy. We can’t afford to give the party and media insiders these levers even if we thought that they were trying to use them for our benefit, which they obviously are not.

It is time to clean out the innards of the parties and their media enablers. We need an independent media that isn’t trying to elect anyone in particular, but it’s instead animated by reporting whatever is actually happening. And we need to know that the party insiders aren’t choosing the candidate before we can even get a chance to enter the voting booth. Right now, many say that we are a democracy in decline, but I disagree. We are instead a republic that is not sure that it is safe to experiment with democracy at all. And there’s nothing less safe than a rigged an bittering superpower that will do everything it can to make sure that those with their snouts already in the trough are allowed to feed in uninterrupted splendor by the people they both parasitize and claim to represent.

The purpose of this essay is to say this: I may or may not vote the lesser of two evils in 2020, but we as a nation should be immediately focused on gutting these monsters parties and their affiliated media before 2024. There is no reason to cycle endlessly around the strain. It is time to overthrow and fire those who have taken over the DNC, RNC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, New York Times, etc., and repurpose them to spectacular effect against us all. Let these anti-patriots of both the left and right search for work elsewhere before we sign up to do this every four years. Before we move on to slates of octogenarians or young wild eyed utopians with little real world experience, it is time to end the national charade of pseudo democracy so that we can find out whether the real thing that is actual consent is any better than being groomed and nagged by the creeps hanging around the ballot box. I can’t promise that it will be, but don’t you think it’s time we found out?

Of course, I’m a bit worried about what we might get. But it’s unlikely to be worse than this. So, I’m game if you are.

This essay appears in audio format at the beginning of The Portal Podcast, Episode 36.


Hello, it’s Eric. I wanted to talk about the death and the afterlife of the blues. Now, the difficulty in talking about the blues is that people do not have a common picture of what I mean. Some will hear in the phrase “the blues” a reference to mood. Others will associate it with the music that fits a depressed state of mind. And musicians will hear it as a reference to a class of structured music analogous to sonata form in western classical music, or the ritualized three part structure of a classical Indian concert.

Well, permit me to pretend that you were where I was as a young man coming of age, which is that I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that I loved rock and roll, and that within rock, there were certain songs more than others that I would listen to over and over again. And oddly, I would notice several names recurring on the song credits. For example, W. Dixon, who the hell was W. Dixon? And the other name that came up repeatedly clearly sounded like a patrician blueblood Senator, McKinley Morganfield. There were others, of course, as well. Ellis McDaniel sounded Scottish to me as a name, but he wrote like he was straight out of Texarkana. This was confusing. All these rock bands knew about these guys and played their songs, but these names weren’t listed on any performances.

So who were these people? And why did I love everything that they did? I asked around in my circle of family and friends, and no one had an answer or even thought the question particularly interesting. So one day, in the days before the internet, I went to the Tower Record store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, near where we lived, and determined that I would screw up my courage to ask.

Now I say that for the benefit of those of you who may not regularly visit record stores or musical instrument shops, because you may not understand who works behind the counter and on the floor. Music is a weird sector of the economy, because it behaves somewhat like a legal drug, which some people can handle, while others cannot. And as a result, many musicians of near infinite ability exist who still cannot earn much living doing what they love most, which is playing music. Thus, almost everyone working in any area that touches music is usually overqualified by orders of magnitude. And Tower Records on Sunset was effectively a university-level music and folklore department, with shaggy professors manning the cash registers on the floor. I would have my parents drop me off there just to listen to the conversations at their classical music annex across the street from their larger popular music store.

But on this one particular day, I got up the courage to go to the general information desk and ask my question.

“May I help you, young man?”, the bearded gentleman said to me, with what sounded like it might have been a faint snort of contempt.

“Yes, sir. Who is W Dixon?” I said meekly.

Never heard of him. Sorry. Next?

“Wait!” I exclaimed desperately. “I’m not done with my questions.”

“Go on, then”, the bearded man said.

Who is McKinley Morganfield?”

Suddenly the man’s face brightened. “You mean Muddy Waters?”

“No”, I protested. “It’s not a body of water or a song. It’s a person, a songwriter.”

The man called over some associates to laugh over the situation I was creating.

“This young man is trying to discover the blues and he’s never even heard of Muddy Waters!” The man said.

I was now panicking as this was fast becoming an embarrassing scene with lots of grown men laughing at me and my questions. Let’s try my last question instead.

“Who is Ellis McDaniel?”

All the men laughed and said the same word simultaneously, “Bo Diddley!”

Then the bearded man said, “Oh, and that mysterious W. Dixon you asked about is going to be a bass player out of Chicago named Willie Dixon.”

“Then you know what I’m talking about. So why are you all laughing at me?” I asked.

“Because your life is about to change today, and you don’t even know it or just how much”, said the man.

“How can you know that?” I demanded.

“Well, you’ll see,” said he.

The bearded man then got up and walked me over to what was not much more than a single bin or two in the huge store labeled “blues” off to the side of the jazz section.

As he left I started going through the records and started seeing all of the song titles that I had loved, only they were no longer being performed by the Rolling Stones or The Doors. And what was more, almost all of the musicians were black, but often in the same configurations as white rock groups—electric guitar and bass, keyboards and drums, for example. Sure enough, there was a singer called Muddy Waters, a guitarist named Bo Diddley, and a world of people I’d never heard of. I decided to take a risk and bought two of the cheapest of these mysterious records, a collection of BB King songs, and a double album of John Lee Hooker.

I got the records home and, feeling humiliated, I determined never to go back to that store again. I opened the shrink wrap and took the BB King record out of the paper sleeve first. And I remember watching the stylist drop down to the vinyl and I waited nervously listening to the scratches over a tiny eternity for whatever was to come next. The song started and my life changed in under 10 seconds. I felt like I was being born so, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Put on the song you upset me baby, and you’ll find that it begins with a tasty, upbeat guitar that introduces the mood. I felt like I wanted to dance immediately. I didn’t feel at all depressed. It made no sense.

Then I heard BB King’s voice for the first time. The lyrics, or the description, without apology, I might add, of a woman who is “36 in the bust, 28 in the waist, 44 in the hips, she got real crazy legs…”

Well, growing up in a progressive household, I was mortified and excited all at the same time as I dove for the volume knob to turn it down. What was I listening to? And wasn’t that like eight inches larger down below than what I was taught were the fabled perfect measurements? And this BB King, he wasn’t embarrassed at all. I mean, he was literally shouting her measurements to the world, like he expected she would find that flattering, rather than feeling objectified or needing to diet.

But it wasn’t the lyrics that got me. It was that I had swum upstream and discovered the distilled essence of Rock and Roll, without knowing that there was anything there to discover. If this was a scene from Kung Fu Panda, I would be stumbling upon The Pool of Sacred Tears, where it all began. I liked this music so much more than Rock and Roll that I couldn’t get enough of the sound. This was audio heroin to me. I went to the piano my family had downstairs, and tried to figure out the notes, but they didn’t fit the Do-Re-Mi scales I had once learned in six months of failed piano lessons.

Well, what I soon learned was that there was a musical art form called the blues that was more dance music than Moke fest. Oddly, it wasn’t well understood by anyone I seem to know. And it was based on two main secrets. It is perhaps easiest to say what they are while sitting at the piano. The first secret is that the left hand in the bass plays a repeating 12 bar cycle of three chords in a particular sequence known as the blues progression. The other secret is that the right hand improvises using a scale known as the blues scale that is neither major nor minor, and that cannot even fit onto the white keys alone in any key. This was literally music to my ears. Many of these blues musicians like me were unable to read music. A good number of them were even blind. Yet they had developed a mature art form like Haiku that used a largely rigid formula to produce work of infinite variety and emotion.

Why was I never told that this existed? Why was this never even offered to me as a possible alternative to classical music? The short and perfect answer is race. The Blues, even more than jazz, really is black music, which black Americans had largely outgrown by the 1960s, if we are honest, just as some white musicians, we’re learning how to master it. There’s a famous song by Muddy Waters about what he calls the story that’s, “never been told”, where the title and main line of the song is, “The Blues had a baby, and they named it Rock and Roll”.

The reason for my confusion is that there’s often no real difference between Rock and Roll and the Blues. You can look on YouTube for Keith Richards showing how the Stone song “Satisfaction” is actually a disguised country blues hidden in plain sight, or you can hear Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin tell the audience that “Whole Lot of Love” really derives from Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”. And if we are honest, there is a certain financial premium to be earned by white musicians for simply taking the work of black blues musicians and repackaging it for white audiences Rock and roll. Before we even get to it, they have legitimately added as true innovation in a collaborative process.

It is also true that it represents different cultural norms. I remember my grandfather who was not a bigoted man telling me that he personally disliked this music and that I was bending guitar notes and trying to sing with melisma and wide vibrato. “Why not listen to a Schubert song cycle instead?”, he asked. To him and others, I was clearly going in an unexpected and disappointing direction away from the formal regimented western classical music that my parents and grandparents held up as the gold standard.

Yet exactly what my grandfather detested was what I loved most. The warmth, the excitement, the improvisational brilliance. By the time I snuck out of the house at 15 to see Ray Charles at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with my friend Ed Tuttle, I could see that this was really another world. The audience was part of the show, or at least that was true in black musicians played before black audiences. People would stand up in their seats and shout at the stage, or dance in the aisles, and the performers would talk back, sometimes in words and sometimes with their instruments. When I went to see BB King years later in Boston in two back to back concerts over two nights, the first one was in a black area of town, and it was joyous and raucous.

The next night’s event however, it was like looking at an autopsy of the previous evening, by comparison. The white concert hall audience waited respectfully until the end of every song to clap vigorously as if they were seated at a symphony. I didn’t want to be black necessarily, but I wanted to be in with black America. If blues was developed largely around call and response, the white audience simply did not understand how to give back to the musicians and the music always suffered as a result.

So what is the blues and why does it matter? Well, accept for a moment that, if American classical music means anything at all, and we’re really talking about the art form known as jazz, blues is in a certain sense an ancestor to jazz as well as Rock and Roll and R&B, with the so called Talking Blues, a forerunner of hip hop and rap. Thus, despite black audiences largely turning away from the blues as an art form, it can’t really ever die, because it is the foundation for so much of the American contribution to world music. Further, it is a place for musicians to meet. When two musicians who do not know each other or their respective styles want to play together for the first time, in my experience, they’re most likely to try to play a 12 bar blues the way strangers would shake hands and introduce themselves.

It is also a superpower waiting to be discovered in the life of everyone who dreams of playing music. Because it is based on just two musical rules, the initial overhead for entering the world of blues musicianship is quite a bit lower than other forms, while the limits of virtuosic elaboration within the idiom have never been found and tested even by the likes of Art Tatum or Jimi Hendrix. If you think you can’t play music at all, but you have too strong working arms, start with a guitar and a slide, like a coffee mug, and a chart of the 12 bar blues cycle. You can probably play your first blues song within 15 minutes with a little bit of instruction from a friend who is knowledgeable.

Now you may be guessing that there is a payload to this story, and there is. I fell deeply in love with black America completely by accident before I was 14. It was from afar at first, having few black friends, but love turns to progressive understanding over decades, and infatuation turns to a deeper appreciation of gifts, quirks, and flaws. At this point, I don’t even have a strong sense of distance and objectivity, as it is all through my life by now.

One of the things I found was that I had developed a very different picture of black Americans than almost anyone I knew as a result. And central to that picture was that black Americans took merit and meritocracy as seriously and definitionally as any group I ever met, with the possible exception of Soviet Russians.

As a folklore minor at the University of Pennsylvania, I advanced the thesis there that I want to share with you all. And that is this: We non blacks are missing the history and role of merit, and particularly genius, in black culture. Having been fenced out of white institutions by discrimination, and having been stripped of their heritage by slave owners who wish to erase their past, black Americans came up with an ingenious solution to rebuild their identity in the space of the hundred years since slavery. They would use open head-to-head high stakes competitions in, well, just about everything. In the school yard, they called it The Dozens and it was a game of insult played for keeps. At open mic night they called it head-cutting competitions to see who could blow the other clear off the stage. When it came to the spoken word, they would have pitted Robert Frost against TS Eliot, had they both been black and at a poetry slam. Regular chess often took too long, so they hustled at Blitz style chess in public parks against all comers. In comedy, competitive roasting and the blow torching of hecklers reigned supreme. And in hip-hop, the concept of a rap battle is well known to all.

And this is why I don’t really get the race and IQ discussion, because this is a genius-based culture, whose principal gift, after all, lies in out thinking the rival with creative generative solutions, under maximal pressure, that will never be found on a multiple choice test. This is exactly how Eminem could win at rap battling, because fairness and judging is how blacks maintained an air of superiority over whites, who needed to cheat by exclusion.

I have threatened for years to come up with an IQ substitute test that favored blacks based on my study of black history. It would involve multiple people competing directly against each other head to head in real time to solve open ended analytic problems under maximal pressure, where no answer was known to begin with to those making up the test.

But despite my reverence for black genius, I also came to see flaws and faults as one does in any deep cross cultural relationship of sufficient length and depth. For example, where I learned to see the white society to which I belonged as being systemically violent in ways that I had never understood or imagined, the initial unparalleled warmth of black society that mirrored my Jewish upbringing, eventually peeled back to reveal a comfort with the idiosyncratic horror of Louisiana red sweet blood call that made me physically sick the first time I heard both men and women clapping and joking about what seemed like misogynistic madness beyond any murder ballad I had ever heard.

Now, what am I to do with all of this? On the one hand, I cannot pretend that I would even recognize the US without the black contribution. If there were a crime of cultural appropriation, I would only be let off the hook for attempting the crime without succeeding. That is how badly I wanted to understand and learn from Art Tatum, Richard Pryor, Harry Belafonte, the Nicholas brothers, Paul Robeson and Louie Armstrong, Eric Lewis, Stanley Jordan, Dick Gregory and my other heroes.

But we outside the black community, in our modeling guilt and performative shame, are now in the process of losing the ability to meet our own amazing subculture of black America as equals. Think about it. We fear, we idolize, we covet, we desire, we condescend, and we steal from them. We feel as if we have no right to meet our own people as intimates due to the fear of offense. And there is no true love where we cannot share what it is that we see and pass through the valley of offence to deeper understanding. This alienation is, in fact, the origin of the stock character from cinema of the magic Negro possessed of otherworldly wisdom, but who is always a supporting character as drawn, propelling the Caucasian narrative ever forward. And, quite honestly, I see in our shame that we don’t have enough of the deep friendships between blacks and whites, where we might actually come to love each other from a position of intimacy and knowledge, rather than an oscillation between idolization and demonization.

So I will leave you with this thought. Those of us in white America who believe most in our black brothers and sisters are not going in for this groveling performative bullshit. We have already many times stood with our friends in shock when the cab which slowed to pick us up, then sped off when it saw who we were with, and I can assure you that we were never called something so genteel and euphemistic as N-word loving race traders as we were physically bullied in school. Just as my black colleagues can mostly understand anti-semitism, I can get most of anti-black prejudice too. Sure, maybe not the whole thing, but this pretend divide has to end. What is the purpose of the heights of black oratorical skill, if not to make us understand each other better?

And speaking directly to black listeners: we are equals and very lucky to have each other. I’m so very glad you are here and I wouldn’t be who I am without your gifts. Forgive me, but no true friend of mine has ever asked me to wear a hair shirt for my connection to racial crimes of slavery committed by people who vaguely looked like me, decades before any of my family ever came to this country. I will support you and do believe that you have triumphed over the humiliation of oppression. But don’t ask me for Reparations, to abolish the police, to repeat lines that you feed me, to kneel when you instruct, or to accept lower standards of empathy between people because of the uniqueness of your pain. I’m not going to simply take your word for it that no white person fears the police, nor am I going to ignore statistics that in turns both confirm and cast out on so called lived experience. Daniel Shaver was white and died on camera in an Arizona hotel room. Be honest, had he been black, you would know that racism was behind the deed. And yet, because he was white, we know that it played no role. The true solution to race problems isn’t competing to demonstrate just how guilty we are. It is true love and friendship and critique and offense and fumbling in the dark until we get it right. We Jews do have a problem with sexual predation. Our Muslim brothers have had problems with terror. Blacks have problems with violent crime. And if you have true friends, who are any of these, you discuss these things in an arena of trust. As a black friend of mine once said, “I cross the street when a big guy with a do rag comes towards me. I’m not sure why I feel just a bit weird that you do it too.” But above all, thank you for immeasurably enriching my life. It will be an honor to try to help your children do for science and technology what you have already done for culture, letters, music, comedy and national character.

This country of ours isn’t perfect, but it’s not 1840 anymore, and no group of us has the right to scuttle this beautiful ship we share called America. Let’s reform prisons and law enforcement like grownups. I’m saying this because I believe in us as intimates, and not because I’m trying to hold on to an insulating layer that others built into the system.