What does Eric Weinstein make of the current controversy around vaccines and Ivermectin, centred on the criticism of his brother Bret’s podcast, the Dark Horse.
In the last days, Sam Harris and former guest Yuri Deigin have both been heavily critical of claims made by both Bret and his guests.
In this conversation with Rebel Wisdom’s David Fuller, Eric talks through his concerns at what is going on, and what he thinks are the deeper currents of the problem, including a lack of effective leadership in dealing with the pandemic.
Films mentioned in this episode:
Eric Weinstein, Glitch in the Matrix 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKeMIWVOnbo&t=4s
Sam Harris, A Contagion of Bad Ideas: https://samharris.org/subscriber-extras/256-contagion-bad-ideas/
David Fuller: This is a conversation with Eric Weinstein, where we talk about how to make sense of the conversation around vaccines, around ivermectin, and yes, also around the ongoing controversy surrounding his brother Bret Weinstein’s podcast, The DarkHorse.
Eric Weinstein: What’s going on with Bret, what’s going on with ivermectin, and with the Joe Rogan podcast, with all of this stuff, is downstream of a total leadership vacuum. We have careerists—We have peacetime careerists where we need wartime generals. What Bret is doing concerns me, as it should concern everyone, as it concerns Bret. But we’re focusing on scapegoating an individual who is trying to make sense of this when no one expects Pelosi, Trump, Biden, McConnell, or Fauci to recuse themselves, to step down, to admit responsibility. And in that world, there are no good options.
David Fuller: I got in touch with Eric after hearing that he had had a discussion on Clubhouse with Yuri Deigin, the lab leak researcher and former guest of Bret’s who coauthored a Quillette article that was heavily critical. Eric and Bret’s friend, Sam Harris, also brought out a recent podcast that was critical of The DarkHorse’s content.
Eric Weinstein: Well, I think Sam kept his sword mostly in its sheath. I think that Sam is a—Sam and I both maintain different versions of a principle—I’m more radical than he is. I believe that there is a lot of residual wisdom in a corrupt system. I believe that our institutions are degrading, they are greatly degraded. I cannot stand the leadership class. But I believe that all of those things, like all the things that are in place in a hospital to make sure they don’t cut off the wrong leg if you’re having an amputation or something. These things are part of the wisdom. They were put there in part by people who are now dead, where nobody remembers why they’re there. So, I think Sam has an instinctual feeling that the system works.
David Fuller: Now obviously there’s the personal dimension here, but we shouldn’t get distracted by the soap opera. These are hugely significant topics of importance to everybody, and most importantly for me and for Rebel Wisdom, the question we’ve been wrestling with for years: How can we make sense of the world and find truth when many of our institutions are struggling? And how can we weed out the good ideas from the bad in the alternative media landscape?
Eric Weinstein: Keep in mind that you’re listening to somebody who’s very worried about protecting the credibility of the heterodoxy. And we’re going to have to confront the fact that our audiences want us to do things that are not safe, not good, because of the fact that they want a Schelling point, which either says, “The Man is right,” or, “The Man is trying to stick it to us,” and neither of these Schelling points is viable. Congratulations, you’ve entered the wilderness of modernity.
And David, my personal opinion is you’ve been trying to balance this from the beginning of my relationship with you. And it’s one of the reasons that this is the first podcast that I’m talking about this on, because I know that you’ve been seeing this coming for quite some time. And now we have the pandemic to show that both you and I have been right to be concerned about this the whole time.
David Fuller: So I hope you find this conversation useful.
Heterodoxy and Natures of Contrarianism
David Fuller: Eric, thank you for joining me.
Eric Weinstein: David, thanks for having me.
David Fuller: We’ve talked about the information landscape before, and I think it feels quite necessary to talk about this now, because we’ve put out a few films recently about vaccines, ivermectin. Obviously, a lot of this is a little bit close to home because of the focus on Bret’s podcast at the moment, but I think it flags up a lot of more interesting topics and deeper topics, and one that I’m particularly concerned about personally. I’ve interviewed you before, we put out a film, Glitch in the Matrix II, about your philosophy. We’ve talked to Bret quite a lot. And I really value your analysis of culture and analysis of the information landscape. But I’m also concerned from something that I see particularly with Rebel Wisdom, and with the comment thread, and this sort of sense that in this wider heterodox space, there are people who are attracted to a lot of the arguments because they are first principles thinkers, they’re looking at things from a heterodox perspective, but I also see a kind of reactive contrarianism as well, which for me is just falling over onto the other side of this divide. We can talk about the perverse incentives on the mainstream, but for me, there’s a lot of perverse incentives on the other side as well. So I’d be interested in your take on that, and whether you share some of those same concerns.
Eric Weinstein: Well absolutely. I mean, I think I very often call it reflexive contrarianism, where the idea is that the bad contrarian attempts to put a minus sign in front of whatever it was that was said by the mainstream and hopes that that’s right, because the mainstream is always wrong. That doesn’t work for myriad reasons. But in particular, one thing is it means you’re under the control of the mainstream, because you’re reflexively simply negating them at all times. And very often, the most actually heterodox and difficult thing for somebody who’s in that space is to say, “I actually think that the mainstream is correct about something. They may have gotten there through means that I don’t approve of.”
I think that first principles thinking is very tough. And one of the reasons I think we often claim that we want people to be critical thinkers, but then in practice that’s honored in the breach, is that very few people have the discipline. And that’s why we’ve talked, I think, previously about camping and decamping, about maintaining the dialectic within the self. And, in practice, this appears to be more than most people can handle. And so I think that one of the reasons you’re looking to heterodox thinkers as a population is that you’re hoping to find somebody who doesn’t lose their footing. And that’s very tough. Almost everyone loses his or her footing at some point on on these topics.
The pressures on the heterodox thinker are unbelievable. If you’re going to be in public, and you’re going to try to get it right, and you’re going to try to maintain friendships, not stab people in the back, also try to be critical, but very often, sometimes, you don’t—you know, I think one of the great dangers on our side of the fence is that we want to show that we are the actually public spirited people when we have private interests, we have loyalties, we have things that we’d prefer not to say that we think we should be allowed not to say. It’s one of the reasons, if you look at my feed, you’ll find the word institutional is used probably more than by anyone else on Twitter. And the reason for that is, I think that the ethics of individuals taking on institutions are very sweet. The institution is not going to get harmed. The institution may be diminished, it may have fewer benefactors, let’s say, but an institution isn’t going to take its own life. It’s not going to have an alcoholism problem. I think that individual on individual, or institution against individual, these are much more fraught.
Now, I think one of the problems is some of these accounts have gotten quite large. And the question is, are they under any form of control at all? Are there any pressures? When when we hear, “Don’t platform that person,” many of us have a reflexive feeling of, “I’ll platform whoever the hell I want.” I don’t even think platform is a verb. What is doing the gatekeeping? What is doing the quality control?
And David, I want to just sing your praises slightly. You and Bari Weiss were two of the earliest people who were really looking at this question about, “Are the heterodox taking up the full suite of responsibilities for the system that they seek to critique and displace?” And one of those things is, well, once you get enough power, are you using it responsibly? And I think you’ve been on that from the beginning. I’ve recognized it, but I think that coming from the world of broadcast journalism, you were quite early to realize how important that was as we see these accounts get large.
Audience Capture and Incentive Structures
David Fuller: Yeah. And I guess the interesting thing from my perspective is what I’ve described as the uncanny valley between the mainstream and the alternative. The mainstream, we see the incentive structures there, and often—I’d say it’s an existential project to be able to weed out the heterodox good ideas, where the novelty is, from the incorrect. That’s an existential project and we don’t trust the big tech platforms to do it. My concern is that I think we’ve been very critical of the incentive structures, the perverse incentives on the mainstream side, whereas it seems clear to me that there’s a lot of perverse incentives on the other side. We can talk about audience capture, we can talk about the way that these platforms kind of warp the world around us and stop us being able to see—or exploit our own biases. And this sort of feels like—and I get increasingly concerned that with… Do you think that it’s—that you might have had too much of a focus only on the faults of the mainstream, and not enough of the faults of the alternative?
Eric Weinstein: Appreciate that. Just as I’ve sung your praises about being early, give me at least that I may have introduced the concept of audience capture, because I’ve been worrying about the same thing from the beginning. You know, I think I’ve counseled many people that you have to put poisonous tweets for the people who follow you who you wish would not follow you. You have to make sure, in some sense, that they understand that you’re not there to flatter them. You’ll notice for example, David, that I have been trying to avoid any kind of a Patreon at enormous costs to myself. Do you have a Patreon-like thing where people can contribute to you?
David Fuller: Yes, we’ve got a membership model.
Eric Weinstein: I don’t. In fact, I read ads. I’ve read ads from the beginning. I’ve just noticed, for example, that my brother and Heather have started reading ads. And my point has been I would rather be dependent on carefully cultivated commercial relationships than have a bunch of my audience think—because your audience will always say things like, “That’s it, I’m unfollowing you. You’ve gone over the line,” including where they misinterpret you. And it’s important to have a certain amount of antagonism—at a healthy level, not at a psychotic level—with one’s own audience. I think that I frequently say it on air, which is I expect my audience to work their ass off. I’m not gonna prechew everything. Why? Because I don’t want the audience that needs everything prechewed. I don’t want the audience that says, “Oh, well Eric said it, so we can stop thinking.” It’s one of the reasons why I think I’ve got a very, very large audience, but it’s not millions. Maybe it is millions, on something like Clubhouse, you know.
But again, there’s an active attempt to discourage the people who will capture you. And almost everyone who has numbers, because… I will move to a sponsorship model where people can contribute, but I’m sad about it. I’m being forced to do it for reasons that I don’t want to get into. But I’ve tried for the longest—I mean, look, I’ve taken my own podcast off the air at times because I don’t want to be removed by the tech companies, I don’t want to be enmeshed in certain battles. You’ll notice that I almost always wear a jacket because I am the establishment-in-waiting, not, you know, the sort of rebels living in the trees, enjoying terrorism and calling it freedom fighting. It requires an incredible amount of discipline to do this, and most of us, myself included, aren’t equal to it all the time. So audience capture has been a huge concern. But give me my due that I’ve been worried about how do we take on the responsibilities of the thing that we’re replacing?
You’re really asking a good question, in my opinion. What is it that the heterodox have to do to avoid the same sorts of problems that corrupt the mainstream? Once these things become viable businesses, how do you avoid being captured by your own incentive structure? You make money from this. One of the reasons you are having me on is that you know that this will generate interest, and you will make money from this. True?
David Fuller: One of the reasons, I guess.
Eric Weinstein: Just admit to it. Okay. One of the reasons I’m on is that I want to make sure that I have a trusted person I can talk to, so that I can—I’ve been incredibly silent on this ivermectin thing. I’m trusting you because I know you. And I’m not happy about the way this ivermectin thing is playing out. But, do we need Bret Weinstein in the world? Hell yes we need Bret Weinstein in the world. Am I worried about the incentives on Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, myself, you, Bari Weiss? Absolutely.
Now, my personal stupidity is that I’ve lost a tremendous amount of income trying to avoid certain problems so that I can continue to be a voice. And you can you can say this selfishly, which is that I’d like to invest in my long term credibility by getting things right. I know that if I watched a 20% hit in my bottom line, it would affect me. So sometimes I take that to zero so I can’t be hit, so I continue to do sensemaking. Do I think that’s a good state of affairs? No, it’s lousy. I question myself every day, am I an idiot for having given up this much income, not even putting my hat out? I don’t know. I don’t know how to do it.
But I do know that the following thing is that we are in an existential dance, and that those of us who need to be in leadership positions have to show some amount of ability to forego wealth. I mean, I think we need wealth. I personally think that the best thing for me would be fuck you money. I would like to be immunized from the market through fuck you money rather than immunized from the market through stoicism. However, we all have to figure this out for ourselves.
Failures in Leadership and Individual Sensemaking
David Fuller: Yes, and I think we share a strong interest in that, and a concern, and a sense of responsibility on that as well. I’d like to turn to—the reason that we’re having this conversation now is because of the controversy that’s erupting around The DarkHorse Podcast, around your brother’s podcast. And this, for me, brings into clear and obvious contrast the need for a system to be able to assess the true and the false. And what I’m concerned is that we’re seeing [is] effectively silos of information and people not dialoguing in a healthy way to come to truth together. What is your sense of what’s going on at the moment around this?
Eric Weinstein: Well, let’s do a little bit of table manners and set the table. First of all is I would be within my rights to recuse myself completely because we’re talking about my brother. I love my brother, I’m incredibly supportive of my brother. There is undoubtedly bias in my mind coming from my relationship with my brother. And anyone who says, “Well, you know, that guy is warped, and who’s he fooling?” they never listen to this. But that was stated at the beginning of whatever it is that I’m about to say, and I don’t know what I’m about to say.
But, you can’t ask me, “Can you objectively tell us what you think about Bret Weinstein?” And the penchant for telling people that tribal behavior is wrong is something that I’ve railed against numerous times. So, if I have private information, if I—I’m going to try not to lie, I’m going to try to not distort, but recognize that my obligations to your audience, and giving them the fullest, most complete picture, are non-existent, and they should grow up and expect that you’re talking to the brother of a person at the center of the story. All right?
My feeling about this is that medicine is a very funny area. It’s not a purely academic pursuit: it’s a life and death issue. And it’s a business issue. It’s an issue of culture. It’s an issue of corruption. It’s an issue where there’s corruption to get around the corruption, so that you file a form that you shouldn’t in order to get around a barrier that shouldn’t be there. It takes place in a human context, which I find I’m very happy to avoid, because everyone gets diminished who has to play within that system—and somebody has to be there. We need doctors, we need public health professionals.
But because of the number of ways in which the truth has to be bent, and people’s ethics have to be flexible, and groups have to come to consensus, I find that it’s corrosive of the mind, in general, to play in this sphere. I know that, for example, the scuttlebutt around certain physicians is, “That guy is a quack. That guy has an axe to grind. This requirement is a bad requirement that was pushed through by lobbying, by medical companies, like Big Pharma, whatever.” In that context, we don’t have a lot of good options.
And I think one of the major themes that I’d like to communicate to your audience is that all of the really great options in handling a pandemic have been foreclosed by our leadership. I think there is no concept of leadership at all. I don’t think in the era in which we live, we have seen someone behave as a leader. If I were Anthony Fauci, for example, and I really cared about the saving the maximum number of lives, he would say, “For better or worse, I am associated with so many negatives that I believe that my presence here is, in fact, detrimental to our objectives. And I’m going to allow a younger person without the baggage to inhabit this role and let them come to their own findings. And we’ve located a 37-year-old up-and-coming lady out in Texas who I think is the right person for the job,” something like that. He’ll never do it. Nancy Pelosi will not recuse herself, to say that “I was the one who encouraged people to go to Chinatown celebrations at the beginning of the pandemic,” nor Eric Garcetti about running the LA marathon. All of the people in place do not display the characteristics of a leader.
Big Pharma, for example, has an amazing opportunity. In the US, there was something called, I think, the PREP Act, which immunizes them from the liability of something going wrong. Now, I’m not an expert in law, and I’m not an expert in medicine, so I don’t really want to get into this. But if Big Pharma would step out from the shadows and say, “We only need protection from frivolous lawsuits. If these vaccines were to go wrong, we want to be on the hook. We are so confident of the long term safety—not just the short term safety of the vaccines—that we are choosing voluntarily to forego the protection because lives are at stake.”
There is something about a war footing, where we are 75 years out, let’s say, from World War II. We have not seen anyone on a war footing. We haven’t seen anyone with the presence of mind of a Neville Chamberlain to step down because the good of the country is at stake. And so there’s no concept of how we would actually deal with a pandemic in the modern era. What’s going on with Bret, what’s going on with ivermectin, and with the Joe Rogan podcast, with all of this stuff, is downstream of a total leadership vacuum. I know what to do to build leadership. I know what I would do if I were a member of the establishment in terms of sitting in a seat at an institution. We have careerists—We have peacetime careerists where we need wartime generals. I know what to do as a wartime general. I don’t know what to do with peacetime careerists in a war footing.
Now, everything is downstream from that. Like, blaming Bret Weinstein? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You told people not to wear masks because they don’t work, or in fact, they retain germs so you can get sick from your mask, so don’t wear masks but make sure that the health professionals wear—I mean, that’s such an affront to the mind, that—and you’re still sitting in your position. You’re still lying to the public. I don’t think we understand that the era of pre-internet Public Health is permanently over for the rest of our lives. You cannot come up with cute little rhyme schemes or, you know, my personal favorite is there’s a tradition of storytelling in Public Health, where you try to get celebrities to do things because they have the clout with the public. And they have Ariana Grande dancing to this number “No Lockdowns Anymore“; we can have air kisses and bottomless mimosas.
No. Science is science, and Public Health has to change for the modern era. And what Bret is doing concerns me, as it should concern everyone, as it concerns Bret. But we’re focusing on scapegoating an individual who is trying to make sense of this when no one expects Pelosi, Trump, Biden, McConnell, or Fauci to recuse themselves, to step down, to admit responsibility. And in that world, there are no good options. I’m happy to pick through for the rest of our time together discussion about the options that are available to us after all of the good ones have been foreclosed.
But I want to put a pin in this. The most important thing is there were plenty of things that we could do with honorable people that we cannot do with current leadership. If leadership was understood, we would have options. In the absence of leadership, which is where we are, you have people who belong in chairs that would allow them to be more measured, more careful, to command more resources, sitting in podcasting studios, waiting for octogenarians to leave the stage, and waiting for a post-corporate era.
And let’s now get into what you wanted to get into. But that’s the most important note that your audience needs to hear. Leadership is possible. It is not possible with this generation of people who are anti-leaders. We are talking about an epidemic of anti-leadership with the people sitting in chairs of leadership.
David Fuller: You mentioned that Bret is concerned. I’m concerned, you’re concerned, because of the the immense gravity of some of these claims and some of the concerns. My focus, more than anything, is on what a healthy, truth-seeking mechanism might look like around this. And what I’m seeing at the moment is not a healthy truth-seeking mechanism.
Eric Weinstein: But it’s not just about truth-seeking, David. Sensemaking includes defeating prisoner’s dilemmas. And one of the things is that Public Health and War are probably the two best examples of a society needing to be something more than a collection of individuals pursuing their own freedom. A society that can defeat prisoner’s dilemmas, that has a culture for defeating prisoner’s dilemmas, outcompetes a society that cannot defeat a prisoner’s dilemma all things being equal. The problem of the epidemic of 75 years of peace, with very little to equal the Spanish Flu, World War I, or World War II in the developed world, is that there is no culture of defeating a prisoner’s dilemma when you have to.
Now, I don’t know what COVID is. Part of me still thinks COVID is a really, really serious disease that has killed, and killed, and killed. Another part of me thinks COVID is an overblown panic that is being used by various people. And I believe both of those statements are true. I don’t think Anthony Fauci is somebody who thinks that he owes the public the truth in general. I think he is somebody who believes that he was entitled to tell us not to wear masks to cover up for the failure to replace personal protective equipment when the government was not heeding the literature, which is quite explicit that in a changing correlative environment, you need surge capacity. Surge capacity means that the trickle of need for something like personal protective equipment is not useful as a basis for predicting pandemic need. So that wasn’t replaced, and so Anthony Fauci believed that he was entitled to distort the truth, to try to get people not to buy masks because medical people needed them more.
Now, what I said to you at the beginning is, there’s a point—one of the reasons you guys maintain a queen is that the queen may need to, once or twice in the century, address the public, and say something like, “Time to pull together people.” Right? “Keep calm and carry on. We need you not to buy this up because there are people who need it more. This is a restriction on your liberty, we’re well aware of it. We wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t critically important to us as a society.” And you look directly into the camera and you level with people, “We screwed up. We’ve got a problem. We need your help.”
Anthony Fauci’s attitude is “Well, I’m going to tell people that they don’t need to wear masks because masks don’t work.” That’s why Anthony Fauci is a peacetime careerist, who needs to be in another—he needs to be enjoying his retirement. He can’t be in a position of leadership. So yeah. They don’t believe in truth, David. In fact, Public Health in general doesn’t believe in truth. Public Health believes that you have truthful conversations at an esoteric level, and then you decide on a different exoteric strategy because the public doesn’t know transfer RNA from messenger RNA. They don’t understand viral replication. They wouldn’t know T4 bacteriophage from coronavirus.
That kind of contempt for public intellect may be warranted. Who knows? I don’t know. But I can tell you that the Public Health community does not believe that truth is their primary goal. Their primary goal is getting what they believe to be efficacious public outcomes through messaging, storytelling, simplification, and in fact, coercion, in the form of like Cass Sunstein, and nudge, and trying to effectively modify people’s behavior who they don’t think are capable of having a conversation at the level of virology or epidemiology.
David Fuller: Could you say more about the ivermectin thing that you’re not happy with? What are you not happy with about it?
Eric Weinstein: I don’t like the way the bed is structured. I think ivermectin is interesting. I think that the… So I’m vaccinated. And I don’t think I knew about ivermectin before I got vaccinated. But I don’t trust Johnson and Johnson, who I chose to be my my vaccine provider. I trusted the older technology of not using mRNA, not because I think that mRNA technology won’t work in the long run, I think it will replace the technology I chose, but it was new and fresh, and new, fresh things often have unforeseen consequences. So my feeling is that I chose an inferior technology, because it was too new. I chose to get a vaccine from a company I don’t trust. I chose to follow the recommendations of people inside of the mainstream who I despise.
I don’t think the average person can do such a thing. I think the cognitive dissonance of saying, “I don’t trust you. I know you’re lying. I know you’re perversely incentivized. I know that this is running risks. I know that you’re claiming that it’s safer than the thing that I took, and I still think it was the right thing to do”—It’s not a Schelling point where people can collect. They tend to collect either at, “For God’s sakes, those people who don’t listen are quacks. Listen to the recommendations people, the CDC and the Surgeon General are singing from the same hymnal.” There’s that Schelling point. And there’s the Schelling point, “Man, you can’t trust these guys, because they’re in bed with each other and they’re corrupt.” Okay. These are the reflexive positions that you talked about: the reflexive contrarian position, the reflexive establishment position. Waking up every day and trying to do your own sensemaking is exhausting, and it’s not viable for the world. We need institutions to do this.
People claim—You know, I was just talking to Sam Harris two nights ago. He said, “Well, you’re anti-institutions.” No, I’m anti- the group of people who inhabits the institutions. Why do you think I’m wearing a jacket in sweltering heat? I am the institution class. I’m just an exile. It’s like hating Vichy France is not the same thing as hating France. I love France so I hate Vichy France. This is too confusing for people, people need simpler stories, and we need a Schelling point where people can collect that makes sense. There is none available, and that’s the key issue.
Now with ivermectin, my feeling about it is there’s not enough data. The data that’s there may have its own problems. The studies may be too small, come under question. [I] don’t know. I don’t understand the pathways, I’ve tried to understand the pathways that are claimed. I’m not in this field, so you wouldn’t expect that I would just have an easy time walking in and understanding it.
I personally—the way I read the whole thing is I think the vaccines are riskier than they’re claimed. And I think that vaccines in general are riskier than as claimed by their proponents. I think that the claim that vaccines are safe, is the—”Vaccines are safe” is the three line thing that you do when you’re really trying to say something like, “Vaccines aren’t perfectly safe. They do have negative side effects. Maybe they have far more than we’ve ever thought, but that on balance vaccines for a population are safe, and we have to spread the risk. So you’re taking a risk and we expect you to do it just the way we expect you to be conscribed into an army when there’s a war.” It’s not very comfortable. But we don’t have a culture of adult communication to the public, so we say things like, “Vaccines are safe. No lockdowns anymore. Vax it or mask it.” You know, it’s basically singsong rhymes from kindergarten. And the way I always took it is those were the lies, the real truth is, “We expect you to bear the risk. We recognize that we’re perversely incented. It’s still unbalanced, fairly safe.” The cost of the of the illness, particularly in terms of morbidity, not just mortality—and we always focus on mortality, we somehow don’t focus on negative long term side effects—has on balance been in favor of the vaccines. And what I don’t want to do is, I don’t want—I’m not in a position of leadership, David. I’m out here, you know, you’re in my dining room right now.
Institutions, Celebrity, and Responsibility
David Fuller: Sure, but you are someone who some people look to for understanding, and you have some influence.
Eric Weinstein: Well this is the really uncomfortable part. I don’t think Bret really understands that he’s a celebrity. And I don’t think I understand that I’m a celebrity. It’s a weird thing to say, you know? You’re like an academic. You’re 55 years old in my case, Bret’s over 50 now. What are we? I tell myself a story that I go down the Sunset Strip, and people say, “Hey, Eric! Great job,” out of a car or something. And I say, “Well, I’m a mathematician,” and then it’s harder for me to say, “I’m an entertainer. I’m a podcaster. I’m an influencer.” So if somebody offered to send me their clothing so I’d wear it on Instagram, it’s very funny.
I don’t think that there’s an acceptance of this, because in part, saying, “I am a celebrity,” feels like I’m saying “I’m a douchebag.” And then understanding the ways in which a celebrity can influence, or the idea that people are turning to you to outsource their thinking… Your message may be, “I’m trying to teach you to fish the way I fish.” And their point is, “Keep showing us how to fish by pulling fish out, and then we can eat more.” And you’re like, “Aww shit, really?” So yeah, none of us know how to do this, and we’re fumbling.
But in general, my feeling is, is that the mainstream is angry because it’s trying to say, “You’re fumbling the wrong way, You’re having your thoughts out loud, on large channels, when we have a public health campaign that you’re interfering with.” And the feeling is, “You have a bad public health campaign that’s misconfigured. You have anti-leaders in leadership positions. So people are going to think for themselves.” You have a new technology, the internet, which is meeting—you know, I had Hong Kong flew in the late ’60s. There was no internet. And by the way, Woodstock was held in the middle of the Hong Kong flu.
We don’t understand where we are. We have no concept of what we’re doing. We’re figuring it out in real time. And the biggest problem that we’re having is there are two strategies. One strategy is, “Let’s get everybody singing from the same hymnal as if the internet hadn’t been invented. Let’s imagine that the journalists had the higher reputation they did after, let’s say, Watergate, when they went after institutions and the powerful as opposed to protecting the powerful. Let’s imagine that we were doing this in a totally different context. Everybody who’s contradicting that doesn’t realize that they’re getting in the way of the war effort—the war on the virus.” We say, “There’s no war effort. You guys are a bunch of losers and clowns. What the fuck are you doing? I don’t see a Churchill, or a Patton, or a MacArthur. I don’t see anyone of competency. I don’t see a Montgomery.” So what, the rest of us have pitchforks, and knives, and Swiss Army blades, and we’re supposed to defend against an invading Panzer division? I don’t know. How are we supposed to be doing this David?
So Bret is thinking out loud, and he’s doing things that are interesting, and he doesn’t understand, in part, what happened. Well, what happened was war, and pandemic, are two places where everything changes. This leaves none of us any options, David. This is the big problem, which is what am I supposed to do in the face of Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Anthony Fauci? I don’t know. Bret is thinking out loud. He’s thinking out loud in a room so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
David Fuller: You mentioned that you’ve spoken to Sam Harris before. Obviously, Sam put out that podcast that was very critical of Bret recently. Did you—What did you make of that?
Eric Weinstein: Well, I think Sam kept his sword mostly in its sheath. I think that Sam is a—Sam and I both maintain different versions of a principle—I’m more radical than he is. I believe that there is a lot of residual wisdom in a corrupt system. I believe that our institutions are degrading, they are greatly degraded. I cannot stand the leadership class. But I believe that all of those things, like all the things that are in place in a hospital to make sure they don’t cut off the wrong leg if you’re having an amputation or something. These things are part of the wisdom. They were put there in part by people who are now dead, where nobody remembers why they’re there. So, I think Sam has an instinctual feeling that the system works. We know that the vaccines are fairly safe. We know that the virus is fairly dangerous. My guess is that Bret is particularly motivated by a subset of issues. Why are we not talking about the long term safety of the vaccines as opposed to only the short term?
David Fuller: I think the point that you made earlier about the the narrative around the vaccines is interesting, because my sense is that you get—I know it’s a loaded term—but conspiracy theories more generally tend to grow in the gaps in the official narrative. So I think the vaccine narrative is a really good example because it’s a simplification to say, “Vaccines are entirely safe.” Whereas a true story might be to say, “Vaccines are a medical intervention. All medical interventions have a benefit-and-cost ratio. Our judgement is that the benefit ratio versus the cost for vaccines is extremely good.” And the problem is that because a simplistic narrative is offered, you incentivize and you get these conspiracy narratives thriving in the gaps.
Eric Weinstein: That’s exactly right. So this is why I’m not a reflexive. I can’t stand the people who put a minus sign in front of whatever The Man says, and says, “Well, I think for myself,” because there’s nothing less individualistic. Now, the hardest thing is to say, “I’m going to go with the people who are lying to me,” which is what I did. And I’m trying to show leadership, I’m trying to say—and I did this at the beginning of the pandemic, which is you sit down, you say, “Okay, this is gonna suck. You can ask us when this is going to be over it, the short answer is we don’t know.”
“Two weeks to flatten the curve?” I never understood that. Never made any sense to me. And the reason it made no sense is because, to me, it was nonsensical. “Herd immunity”—we speak like people with cognitive defects. We talk in such simplistic terms that can’t possibly support the weight of the conversation.
The key point is, “We expect you to get vaccinated. We expect you to get vaccinated at risk to yourself and your family. We expect you to take something that we cooked up, and break your skin’s barrier, and have it coursing through your body even though you can’t understand how it works.” That is a profound ask. It is similar to saying, “We expect your sons to go to war when we say it’s time to go to war.” That does not ring in modern ears. We don’t understand, like, “Wait, wait. Why do you get my son? It’s my son, you’re some sort of distant thing.” This is why government is a profound responsibility. And I think that people think it’s a profit opportunity, that you do it for a few years, and then you get the sweet consulting gigs and the speaking arrangements afterwards. I can’t get past it, David. I can’t get past the idea that somehow the lessons of the 20th century appear to have been learned by absolutely no one.
Pandemic Sensemaking Ex-Ante and Ex-Post
David Fuller: And we’re just about to wrap up. Is there anything that we missed that you wanted to say?
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, I mean, I think that this—the issue about the ivermectin is that there’s something interesting to investigate. And the right way to think about this, in my opinion, is to say that you’re running the opportunity cost of being exposed to increased damage from COVID should you get it while you were waiting for something else to occur. The morbidity associated, if you happen to be in the population of people who get long-COVID with all of these bad symptoms, and you know, I’m worried about long term cognitive impairment, long term respiratory impairment with significant histological damage to your lung tissue. There are concerns about the vaccines. It’s not wrong to be concerned about vaccines. I want to reach the people who are aware that public health is not getting it done.
What I would say differently from Bret is you’re not crazy for fear that vaccines aren’t as safe as claimed. You’re not crazy for thinking that the Public Health people are lying to you and have lied to you. You are obligated to think about whether or not this is so bad that you want to forego the vaccines in order to do something where there isn’t a tremendous amount of data or a tremendous amount of understanding, where the experts, or alternative experts, may have things that they are choosing to do which show that they may be noble, they may be courageous, but they may also be self-interested. You have to take on the full responsibility of what you’re doing. And if you’ve never heard somebody say, “I’m going with the people I don’t trust over the people I do,” that’s how crazy where we are is.
Now, you can disagree with me. You can say, “Eric, you should have understood ivermectin.” Let’s imagine ivermectin comes and wins the day. Let’s imagine that ivermectin is as good as anyone has said it is, if not better. It will still have been badly structured ex-ante as an argument the way it has been. And I want to put a post-it note here. If it turns out that that’s true, it reminds me in part of the father who says, “Our family is in terrible financial trouble, but I’ve met a man who said that he will pay ten million dollars for us to have one round of Russian roulette, where we spin a six-chambered revolver and have our youngest child put it to his head and pull the trigger. And if he wins, we get ten million dollars.” Okay, so now you actually go through it, and you pull the trigger, and there is no bullet in the chamber, and the family is ten million dollars richer, all of their problems have gone away. Was that father correct by recognizing that there was an opportunity if everything ex-post works out? I don’t think so.
The right thing to do is believe in your institutions, do not believe in their leadership. That causes you a problem, because the institutions are going to do bad things. There’s a lot of wisdom that is resident in the rules, in the culture, in the fact that people who see patients all day long pick up clinical knowledge. There’s a lot of groupthink; it’s not one-way. The establishment is the establishment because they are the worst, they are the best, they are trustworthy, not trustworthy—you’re in a very difficult, complicated landscape. If you’re coming to conclusions of, “It’s all the market, man,” or, “They’re just trying to get us to put microchips in our”—you’re probably wrong. I am concerned that there are behind the scenes narratives. I am concerned that this doesn’t make any sense. Do I have fears that we’re going to discover that there was some terrible thing that was afoot? I don’t know. Yeah, it’s possible.
Right now, I don’t know what to tell anybody, and I keep saying that over and over again. You’re in a world in which you can’t trust the leadership of the institutions. You’re going to have to make a go of it. Please, if you’ve never heard a voice say this, I want to speak to you. I don’t trust these people either. I want Anthony Fauci out of his chair yesterday. I can’t stand to listen to him. I can’t stand that the Surgeon General lied to me under Trump. I can’t stand that Nancy Pelosi wanted me to go and put myself in danger in order that we didn’t hurt businesses on Chinese Lunar New Year. I still took the vaccine. I don’t think it’s completely safe. I do think that ivermectin is hopeful. It is not illogical to try to find a new Schelling point. Am I correct? I don’t know.
I’m just telling you ex-ante, I like my position more than Bret’s. Ex-post, Bret’s position may carry the day. But I will certainly not be bowing down to it as if it was the world’s greatest prediction. I can assure you that he has the best of intentions, and that this isn’t simply some sort of a power grab. And I can assure you that people like me and Sam Harris, behind the scenes, we’re all trying to talk. We’re trying to do the sensemaking. And in particular, there will be a Patreon, you will be able to contribute to me, I will come back with new episodes.
But keep in mind that you’re listening to somebody who’s very worried about protecting the credibility of the heterodoxy. And we’re going to have to confront the fact that our audiences want us to do things that are not safe, not good, because of the fact that they want a Schelling point which either says, “The Man is right,” or, “The Man is trying to stick it to us,” and neither of these Schelling points is viable. Congratulations, you’ve entered the wilderness of modernity.
And David, my personal opinion is you’ve been trying to balance this from the beginning of my relationship with you. And it’s one of the reasons that this is the first podcast that I’m talking about this on, because I know that you’ve been seeing this coming for quite some time. And now we have the pandemic to show that both you and I have been right to be concerned about this the whole time.
David Fuller: Eric, thank you for joining me again.
Eric Weinstein: David, as always.
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