In this Portal podcast clip, Eric Weinstein and Andrew Yang discuss the current state of the institutions, political decay, and Universal Basic Income (UBI).
This “housekeeping” (cough cough) episode of The Portal is only for the hard core listeners who launched this experiment with us. This year we begin to take on the idea of the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex or “DISC”.
From “Terms of Service” changes, to selective enforcement of rules, peer review, “Strategic Silence”, ‘authoritative sources only’, deboosting, shadow banning, down ranking, “unbiasing”, “Good Censorship”, ‘diversity and inclusion’ oaths, ‘cancel culture’, no-platforming, mob shaming, certification requirements, “trust and safety” and quality control, we are surrounded by others interested in various forms of idea suppression who would prefer to work in private. Obviously some, but not all, of those ideas are truly dangerous. But many of those ideas never reached us because they threatened institutional players rather than public safety.
This is the year we begin to do the unthinkable: attempt to fully reveal and slip the DISC. Stay tuned to the Portal for 2020. Or feel free to unsubscribe right now before we change it up…hope to see you soon.
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Eric Weinstein: Hello, you’ve found The Portal. I’m your host Eric Weinstein, and this is sort of an unusual edition of The Portal because it’s coming at the beginning of a new decade and I wanted to set some intentions, and also to sort of recap where we’ve been for the last half a year that the show has been on the air and on the internet. There are no notes. There’s nothing planned. What I’d like to do is to just try to speak directly about some of the things that have been on my mind and give you all my thoughts on your feedback on the show, and where I think we’re going to be going to next. So, with your permission, let’s begin.
It’s been a pretty interesting half of a year. The show has built up a fairly sizable audience. And what’s more, there are a lot of influential and important voices within our audience, so I know that when I’m speaking I’m reaching a lot of the people who would be on my dream list of people to interview, to talk to, and in fact to plot next steps with. So, I think we’ve had a pretty successful run of it. We can still grow the show bigger, but the show is now large enough that I actually don’t mind losing some of our listeners and some of our viewers by going into more challenging topics. And so, I don’t think that our primary goal is going to be building the audience quite as much as it was during the first 6 months.
Furthermore, I think what’s been somewhat confusing is that we’ve had—if I recall correctly—16 different interview episodes and one solo episode so far, and I don’t think that is exactly what The Portal was intended to be. In fact, you could argue that The Portal has not even begun. What we’ve done is to build up an audience and to habituate the audience to a different style of interaction. I think we had to figure out what we were going to do if we wanted to bring you certain high-level concepts that often get lost, because the admonition to make sure that you don’t lose your audience along the way means that you never get very far because you’re always doing the sort of preliminary groundwork, and you’re never actually getting to the meat of the issue.
And I think one of the things that we are very proud of is that we have a very motivated audience, who’s willing to sometimes even listen to the show more than once, or do it with a notepad, so that if there are unfamiliar concepts, they can be looked up, and in fact, we’ve noted that there have been several communities spring up around the show so that people can trade their questions, and we’ve been watching you guys answer each other’s questions in a way that’s really been gratifying. So having a lot of experts in the audience has been a huge boon to the show, and we hope to try to figure out how to make community in a meaningful sense a larger part of the show on a going-forward basis.
One of those efforts that’s particularly special is that we’re trying to enlist artists. That could be visual artists, that could be digital artists, it could also be musicians. And the idea we have is that that legion of artists will be able to help push out many of the higher-level ideas that we would find challenging to do just in speech, by using, sort of, the brain’s full abilities to take in new information, and also to use the, sort of the transcendent modality to kind of open hearts and minds to truly different and unfamiliar ways of thinking.
So, I think we may try to get that going. We need, obviously, to build a website. We need to have some way in which people who wish to avoid advertising can subscribe to the podcast, and other people who want to contribute and be part of this as a movement…
We just held our first live show at the Ice House in Pasadena, and thanks everybody who came out. The show sold out extremely quickly, even though we sort of didn’t exactly advertise where and when it was, except for cryptically at first. And, one of the things that allowed us to do is to meet the listenership en masse, and, you know, it was a truly interesting, and, in many different ways, diverse group of people.
There were [sic] a pretty even split between anti- and pro-Trump voices. People got along great, so we don’t seem to be as affected as I was concerned we might be by the election cycle. And what I sensed was that people really want to use the show to coalesce and come together, and that there’s a lot of fear at the moment about anything tribal, or anything cult-like, and therefore, anything that might be tribal trades at a discount.
So I think we might actually take a contrarian position, and decide that the show in fact deserves more community, based on the way in which we see our listenership and our viewership going. And so, rather than fear that anything would emerge with leadership, because, of course, anything with leadership looks like Hitler to many people, anything that looks at all ritualistic looks like a cult, I think we’re not going to worry about those things quite so much.
So I think, if I can, I’m going to try to realize that, in fact, the audience is leading, and that I need to do a better job of just accepting that there’s a lot of interest in new ways of thinking, and this is one way of kind of getting unstuck, to try to find The Portal out of the stasis. And so if the show is to be true to its original mission, I think we’re going to have to take some risks, which might mean drinking songs, it might mean ritualistic behavior, and hopefully it’ll mean a lot more opportunities to interact through live dates. The show is going to remain unabashedly a commercial enterprise, because otherwise it would never happen.
And I want to give a huge shout out to Kast Media, who has been the original studio and effectively a co-producer of the show, along with Jesse Michels, and the advertisers and the sponsors who have been paying for the equipment, for the people who work on the show, so that nobody had to shell out anything in order to get this. The show would never have happened if it wasn’t taking place as a commercial enterprise.
And so, even though some of you find the ads annoying, although others of you find them actually entertaining or interesting, what we need to do is to come up with a better model, and a model in which sponsors get access to the kind of heart and passion for sticking with the show. So I think I’m going to try to figure out how the riskvertizer model works in earnest this year, but it’s also important to me that those of you who wish to avoid having a brain sullied with any kind of commercial intrusion have an option to do that.
We’ve been doing that through the YouTube videos, and in that respect, I feel like, in general if you’re willing to sit through maybe an initial ad that rolls before the video goes, you usually have an uninterrupted viewing or listening experience thereafter. We’ll try to get the videos a little bit in better sync with the audio, but most importantly what I want to get to is what the show is really about.
And, the last thing I will say on the sort of initial housekeeping is we probably needed to recognize earlier that we need your help. A lot of you guys are audio engineers, or you’re graphic designers, or you’re website builders. I don’t quite know how to source the talent we need from the pool, but I’ve been bombarded by wonderful offers from any of you, some of you at the absolute top of your field, who want to help this podcast because you want to see this grow as a movement.
And maybe I was slow to recognize how genuine the interest was, and, just to say, thank you. I mean, I think it’s sort of hard to recognize that it’s working, for various internal psychological reasons. I’ve been incredibly touched, and I really want to incorporate some of the offers of help because Lord knows we need it, just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. So stay tuned, I think we’ll be organizing that shortly.
We’ve now got a Facebook group for The Portal Podcast. We’ve got an Instagram account that’s growing. Twitter’s still our largest following, but the actual subscriptions to the podcast, on both YouTube, through Apple and other places, are now quite large. And I think it’ll be increasingly hard to shut down these channels to you, so that even if we lose one or two of them because of something we say, hopefully we’ll remain engaged to and will try to make sure that we’re not the vulnerable to having the oxygen cut off.
The Portal in 2020 and this Decade
All right, so what is it that is happening in 2020? What kind of a decade are we up for? What’s going to be going on with The Portal during the coming year? The coming 10 years? I think that the first thing that I want to signal is that we are finally ready to take on something which I’ve always found terrifying, and that has to do with idea suppression.
Now before we get to idea suppression, and how it functions, and what it is, I want to take new listeners through a very brief description of how we would order the world relative to The Portal and its objectives. So if you will, let me take you back to the end of World War II. There’s a lot of prehistory, but we can’t afford to do everything.
Twin Nuclei Problem of Cell and Atom
So shortly after World War II, there were two very important events in the early 1950’s, from our perspective, one of which was the unlocking of the three-dimensional structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, and the other was the explosions of hydrogen devices using work of Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, and what that changed in the human picture—because we went from a short period where we were dealing with atomic bombs, where duck-and-cover was a plausible solution, to dealing with hydrogen devices in which the destructive power was really incalculable. It’s the power of gods used to power the sun, here on Earth.
Now, to my way of thinking, since the early 1950s, there has been no comparable explosion of wisdom to go along with this newfound power that humans have—this new godlike power. So I’ve called this the twin nuclei problem of cell and atom.
And I think what we’ve had is an incredible run of luck. And I think it’s the most magical and marvelous thing, but I don’t believe that we can count on luck forever. And in fact, given some of the events of early 2020 taking place in Iraq and Iran, I would say that history at the scale that we were accustomed to it during the, let’s say, first half of the 20th century, could start up at any moment, and we’re entirely unprepared for this.
Embedded Growth Obligations (EGOs)
Now, in the story that has this major through-line that we’ve been following, the next thing that happens that’s really important is a guy named Derek de Solla Price starts to calculate that science is on an exponential trajectory, and rather than thinking that that’s a great thing, he starts to understand that anything on an exponential trajectory can’t really go on, because it’s going to burn itself out. And if science is the original seed corn, if you will, of technology, and technology of economics, then effectively what’s going to happen in science is going to percolate through a chain, through technology and into the economy, with a potential stagnation coming.
Now, he started to arrive at these ideas, I think, at Yale in the late 1950s. It was not well understood what he was talking about—and still I’m always shocked that the book Science Since Babylon, which he wrote, and which discusses this issue, is so much less well-known than, say, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. For some reason, this is so dispiriting to so many people that we actually don’t discuss it much.
Studying this work led to the idea of talking about EGOs, that is, embedded growth obligations. Now, embedded growth obligations are the way in which institutions plan their future predicated on legacies of growth. And since the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and the early ’70s had such an unusually beautiful growth regime, many of our institutions became predicated upon low-variance, technology-led, stable, broadly distributed growth. Now, this is a world we have not seen in an organic way since the early 1970s. And yet, because it was embedded in our institutions, what we have is a world in which the expectation is still present in the form of an embedded growth obligation. That is, the pension plans, the corporate ladders, are all still built very much around a world that has long since vanished.
We have effectively become a growth cargo cult. That is, once upon a time, planes used to land in the Pacific, let’s say, during World War II, and Indigenous people looked at the air strips and the behavior of the air traffic controllers, and they’ve been mimicking those behaviors in the years since as ritual, but the planes no longer land. Well, in large measure, our institutions are built for a world in which growth doesn’t happen in the same way anymore.
Gated Institutional Narrative (GIN)
All right. What then happened was that a different structure, which I have termed the gated institutional narrative, came to become repurposed. Now, the gated institutional narrative is like an exchange—a financial exchange, if you will, except it’s an exchange of information and ideas. And in order to actually participate in this particular special conversation, you need to have a seat on the exchange. That is, you need to write for an important paper, like the Wall Street Journal, or you need to be a senator or a congressman so that you can gain access to the news media, or you need to be sitting at a news desk.
In any of these situations, whether you’re a professor, or a reporter, or a politician, if you can gain a seat inside of the gated institutional narrative, you can attempt to converse with other people within that particular conversation. The rest of us do not really have the same level or kind of access to this highly rarefied discussion, and I’ve previously compared this to what we would term a “promotion” inside of the world of professional wrestling. It’s an agreed-upon structure, in which people often agree to simulate dispute, rather than actually have disputes, because somebody could get really seriously injured, but they’re in fact working together to produce an engaging and regular product for mass consumption. The problem with this gated institutional narrative is that, in general, it doesn’t contain the most important ideas, and that is where the gating function comes in.
Distributed Idea Suppression Complex
The most important ideas are likely to be the ideas that are most disruptive. What if the entire food pyramid, for example, was wildly off? What if fats were not the great danger we thought they were, and those waving fields of wheat that are fabled in American song, in fact, give rise to carbs, which are very dangerous to us all? So if everything were inverted, let’s say, where, in a world where instead of banishing volatility during the so-called Great Moderation before 2008, we were actually building the tinder for the world’s largest financial forest fire. What if, in fact, we had all sorts of things exactly backwards and completely wrong? What if diversity wasn’t always a sign of our strength, but sometimes a sign of our weakness? What if, for example, immigration, far from being an issue of xenophobes versus xenophiles, was actually an instrument of redistribution having very little to do with xenophobia or xenophilia to begin with?
These sorts of ideas can’t be entertained inside of the gated institutional narrative, and that’s where the gating function comes in. What was originally a function intended to ensure quality control of the narrative became an instrument for something else. And this is where I want to introduce the most important concept that I think we will be dealing with on a going-forward basis in 2020 on this program, the DISC. What is the DISC? The DISC stands for the distributed idea suppression complex.
Now, taking it apart, the center of it is idea suppression. Not all ideas are good, and so idea suppression is very frequently understood as an important concept when we’re talking about something like bigotry, or we’re talking about something like violent ideology. Of course we want to suppress certain ideas. But, these are not the ideas that are principally important inside of the DISC.
The DISC is actually a complex. It is a large collection of different structures, and it’s not controlled in any one place. Many of these have emerged separately. But what makes an aspect of the DISC—what shows you a particular component—is that it protects institutions from individuals who are making valid and reasonable points.
So, if you imagine that the institutions have become incredibly fragile because they’re in fact built for growth, and that plan for their growth obligates them to tell untruths, and to hide certain characteristics, because they are not, in fact, able to grow at the rates in which they are supposed to, you need some complex for making sure that that information doesn’t reach the bottom entrance to a pyramid structure.
Two Current Examples of the DISC
Let’s talk about some aspects of idea suppression. The two stories that I’m following most closely—and we can date this particular episode by talking about current events, I think that’s fine—the two stories I’m following most closely with interest from the perspective of understanding the DISC are the story of Andrew Yang and the media, and the story of Jeffrey Epstein and his recent demise.
Now, in neither of these cases is my principal interest the ostensible subject matter. In the case of Andrew Yang, Andrew is going through a weird ritual that I’ve noted repeatedly election cycle after election cycle. Perhaps the three most recent versions of the situation have been with Ron Paul and his run for president, with Bernie Sanders and his run for the presidency, and now with Andrew Yang.
In all of these cases, we see a very bizarre behavior inside of the news media. That is, that when the candidate starts to gain traction with the public, they become left off of lists. They become misreported—very often a reporter will stand in front of the graphic that has that particular candidate alongside others, and we don’t really know why this is occurring, and we don’t know how these instructions are going out.
But in the case of Andrew Yang, because this is taking place in a highly connected internet era, we have people chronicling all of the myriad ways in which Andrew Yang’s candidacy is distorted. In particular, there appears to be a different level of distortion taking place at one particular news media outlet. We need to better understand exactly what is the political economy of the news.
Now in the case of Andrew Yang, the key question would be, “Why aren’t the regular news media, and the competing news media, reporting on the outsized effort being made to make sure that Andrew does not appear normally with other candidates in this Democratic primary field?”
It doesn’t make logical sense, if you believe that the principal reason for reporting on the election is to make sure that the voters have an early opportunity to hear all voices and to begin to make their decisions, rather than immediately trying to pick a narrative about frontrunners who are always taken to be inevitable, and that’s a conserved feature of this bizarre election coverage, cycle after cycle.
So the first thing I want to do is recommend that you Google “MSNBC” and “Andrew Yang”, and “#YangMediaBlackout”, and look at the impressive data set that has been collected, which shows a singular focus that can be inferred from the data on Andrew Yang. Now, to an extent, this has also happened with Tulsi Gabbard. To an extent there’s been some carryover from Bernie Sanders, but Bernie Sanders’ showing in 2016 was so strong that the same games that were applied to Sanders then cannot easily be applied now.
But the key question we have is, “Why is the news media spending so much on one candidate, who doesn’t appear to be that large, to keep that candidate from growing?” I think this is an interesting topic, and what it has to do with is making maps of silence.
Now through the efforts of Dana Boyd and the Data and Society group, we’ve learned about a doctrine called strategic silence. And that is, that there are certain things that the media may not want to happen and therefore, rather than simply reporting the facts of the matter, they make editorial decisions so as not to give fodder or fuel for some undesirable outcome. Now, we can partially understand that in the case of copycat killings after, let’s say, gun massacres. But, it’s much harder to understand why somebody coming from outside of the political system would be treated to something like strategic silence or strategic distortion.
What we need to do is to have a better understanding of the maps of silence and maps of distortion that take place in our press. And what Andrew has done that is special and unique is that he’s given us a very large N for our dataset. We now have enough different incidents of this that we can begin to piece together what might be inferred from this very bizarre behavior.
The second example of this that I find fascinating is the death of Jeffrey Epstein. Now, you’ll hear a lot of other people say well Epstein didn’t kill himself, or it’s obviously this, or it’s obviously that. I have a decidedly smaller interest in those questions. The questions that fascinate me have to do not with Epstein, not with who might have killed him, whether he died by his own hand, but they have to deal with the sense-making apparatus—that is, the news media around this untimely exit from our world. Now, Jeffrey Epstein was accused of trafficking and had a very bizarre life that is difficult for many of us understand, where he got a slap on the wrist in Florida and appeared to operate with impunity even after his conviction in Florida as a sex offender.
What’s fascinating is that, if anyone remembers the Watergate era, the news media used to go to federal agencies and ask whether or not something was true or false, and this gave us the phrase “a non-denial denial“. When is the question arises, let’s say, in this case, “Does Jeffrey Epstein have any ties to any known intelligence community,” that question can be asked, let’s say, to the CIA, to the State Department, to the NSA, and you might expect that you’d get an answer, “Absolutely this person had no ties,” because the idea of the intelligence agencies being connected to a known sex trafficker seems preposterous at one level, but you can also imagine that they’d get “No comment.”
Now, we don’t even have that in this situation. You can go—I think I did this fairly recently with the New York Times—and try to simply use their own search engine: “Have you asked the question whether Jeffrey Epstein had ties to the intelligence agencies?” The other questions that arise in this case are, “Where is the last known recording of Ghislaine Maxwell’s passport crossing a border?” This is a simple factual question. A reporter would be dispatched. They would call up somebody like Interpol. They would try to find out whether people would speak about it or not speak about it.
Under any circumstances, they would be able to print an interesting story. For example, “Interpol has no comment,” or “Interpol says that the last recorded border where Ghislaine Maxwell’s passport showed up was a border crossing in New York City.” Under any circumstances, it is very bizarre to see the map of silence around these questions.
Another such question is, “If Jeffrey Epstein’s fortune came from currency trading, where are the records from his office in Villard House in Manhattan?” He had a very large office in a trophy property on the island of Manhattan, and to the best of my knowledge, I have seen no printed discussion of where the supposed trading records of this person [are], who seemed to amass a fortune.
Another weird thing about this fortune is that he seemed to live life as a high 11-figure individual, owning islands and incredible properties, and multiple jets, and yet all of the assets I’ve seen accounted for puts him instead in 9-figure territory. Now that’s two orders of magnitude different, and I don’t think that there are many 9-figure rich who would live anything like Jeffrey Epstein’s lifestyle. It appears that most of the assets were put towards a kind of front, if you will.
So we don’t have any idea about where the records are of his trading. We don’t have any idea where the passport of his partner was seen last, and we also have no confirmation that any of our major government agencies have denied that Jeffrey Epstein, the accused sex trafficker, was tied to any intelligence community. In all of those situations, what you can map with honesty, and without having to go anywhere near tinfoil-hat territory, is that there’s something broken with our sense making apparatus. Because in the Watergate era, you could have assigned this to a cub reporter and they would have known exactly what to do. Where are our “no comments” on the record? No one knows.
All right, in those two circumstances, that gives you an idea about how the DISC, the distributed idea suppression complex, works inside of journalism. There is some sort of editorial function that is keeping us from learning certain things, because certain stories do not run. With a little bit of poetic liberty, this seems to be what Paul Simon was talking about in Sounds of Silence. What we’re listening for now are the silences. Where else are we confronted with silence? What are the other things we would expect, where we don’t hear particular ideas?
Now, obviously, you have a situation where I’ve been talking for quite some time about the idea that there are many reasons that one might ask to restrict immigration. The Sierra Club used to support a restriction of immigration. Farm workers unions used to support restrictions on immigration. But sometime in the fairly recent past, it became an idée fixe of the elite that the only reason for supporting a restriction in immigration, the only possible reason could be that you were xenophobic, and probably racist.
Now, I don’t exactly know where these ideas came from, but I know that these ideas are prima facie preposterous. They make no sense. And so I’ve been talking for some time—about where are the media willing to discuss all of the reasons that one might want to restrict immigration having nothing to do with xenophobia? The so-called “xenophilic restrictionist” perspective. This is another place where there is no public discussion, and we have no idea why. So once you begin to look for these silences, these gaps, you start to become rather terrified, that somehow the world is not behaving properly, and that’s one of the reasons that people are flocking to this podcast.
The DISC in Academia
This is, however, not my major focus. My major focus of the distributed idea suppression complex, or DISC, has to do with what happened inside of our universities. Now, I’m in a somewhat unusual position, in that both myself and my wife have PhDs, as well as my brother and his wife, and we’ve all appeared in interviews within the last five years, so maybe you’ve seen all of us on camera, or have some idea of how Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Pia Malaney, and I sound.
What some of you don’t know is that I believe that, inside of that group of four, one of us wrote a book immediately after getting a PhD, which is Heather Heying’s book, Antipode, about her solo travels to the jungles of Madagascar. So if you have a young woman in your life who is looking for a pretty impressive female role model, I would say Heather’s toughness, intelligence, and grit makes for pretty terrific reading, and I’d recommend buying the book Antipode for that young lady.
In the case of the remaining three, none of us wrote a book immediately afterwards. However, I think that the quality of the discoveries that were being explored was incredibly high, and in each case, what I thought happened to those was most unexpected.
Now, what are these ideas that I’m claiming were suppressed? So I would say that in one case, we were talking about the reasons why we die. One of these theses contained what I think is one of the best models for the reasons that we have these finite life-spans, and of course, we’re all subject to what might be called environmental insult: if a piano falls on your head while you’re walking down the street, that’s usually going to be your exit. But why we age, why we get cancer, and why we die, I think has not been very well understood at the molecular level. And I think perhaps one of the first mature attempts to do this took place in my brother’s thesis at the University of Michigan. This is one of the major ideas that I wish to be exploring in 2020.
If biology is one of the greatest ideas man is ever had in the form of natural and sexual selection in the work of Darwin and Wallace, I would say that the other complex of great ideas, truly top ideas, would be what I would call geometric dynamics. Those are the ideas that take place underneath theoretical physics, whether we’re talking about the standard model or general relativity. And we now believe that all fundamental physical phenomena can be divided between these two great theories. In one case, that of Einstein’s general relativity, it’s been known for about a hundred years that the substrate of the theory is Riemann’s theory of differential geometry, that is, Riemannian geometry.
What is much more recent, perhaps slightly less than 50 years old, thanks to Jim Simons and C.N. Yang, is the knowledge that the classical theory underneath quantum field theory is in fact a different form of geometry, known as Ehresmannian geometry, fiber bundle geometry, gauge theory, or Steenrod geometry, whatever you want to call it. So the idea that geometry is the birthplace of fundamental physics, I think is now generally understood by all practicing theoretical physicists functioning at the top level.
Inside of that complex, we’ve been stuck for approximately, I don’t know, 47 years, where theory used to lead experiment, and we used to make predictions and the predictions would usually be confirmed in relatively short order. We have not had a period of stagnation inside of theoretical physics that mirrors this, with the closest comparable period perhaps being the period from the late 1920s, with the advent of quantum electrodynamics, to the late 1940s, with the beginning of renormalization theory being ushered in at the Shelter Island, Pocono, and Old Stone conferences.
So that 20-year period is now more than doubled, and we haven’t been making progress. And I’ve been very uncomfortable with the idea of coming forward with ideas. Why? Well, to be honest, it’s very rare for anyone outside of theoretical physics to have reasonable ideas in physics. I could explain why, but the physicists are fantastic. They’ve got all sorts of no-go theorems, and all sorts of considerations that have to be kept in mind, and effectively what they’ve got is a world that is so tightly constrained, when it comes to understanding where we are, that almost every new idea is instantly dead on arrival. Now this has been incredibly demotivating to people in the field. And it does feel, from many different perspectives, like we’re almost at the end, if not of all of physics, at least of this chapter of physics.
But what I’m starting to see is that the field has become exhausted. It has been telling the same story since 1984, about how string theory is our leading theory of quantum gravity, that quantum gravity is the replacement for Einstein’s search for a unified field. And, as the accelerator turns up the Higgs and little else, as effectively no new physical theories arise with confirmations, as the only major updates to our model of the physical world are things like massive neutrinos or the accelerating expansion of the universe coming from experiment, the theoretical physics community has been very slow to own up to just how much trouble it’s in. It’s an incredibly demanding life. It has incredible standards for rigor and intellectual honesty, and quite honestly, it’s been lying for far too long to sustain the kind of integrity that’s needed in that community.
Now, I don’t know whether I’m nuts, but I do know that at previous points, I’ve suggested things into both the mathematical and physics communities that have later been shown, by other people, to be correct. And while I was waiting for a some kind of confirmation, I was being told Eric, you’re completely off base. You’re not getting it. One of these situations involved something called the Seiberg-Witten equations, which I put forward in the 1980s, around probably 87, and I was told that these couldn’t possibly be right, that they weren’t sufficiently nonlinear. I’ll tell the whole story about how if spinors were involved, then obviously Nigel Hitchin would have told us so, blah, blah, blah.
None of this was true, and in 1994, Nati Seiberg and Edward Witten made a huge splash with these equations. I remember being in the room, and seeing the equations written at MIT on the board and I was thinking well, wait a minute. Those are the equations that I put forward. If those equations are being put forward by Witten, why is it that the community isn’t telling him that they’re wrong for the same reasons that they told me that they were wrong?
Legend of the Mugnaia
This is also how idea suppression works. When you are young, and when you are vulnerable, and when you need the help of older members of your academic community to bring you forward, you’re extremely vulnerable to what might be termed the Droit du seigneur—or the prima nocta—of the academic community. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there was an old legend that the Lords of the Manor would command the right to take the virginity of every bride on her wedding night, until there arose a miller’s daughter known as the Mugnaia.
Now the Mugnaia had a different plan, for she wished instead to be with her husband, and not the evil Lord of the Manor. So what she did was she smuggled a knife underneath her robes, and appeared in the bedchamber of the Lord of the Manor, and killed him.
Now this is celebrated in the Festival of the Oranges, which is potentially the world’s largest food fight in which armed combatants throw oranges at each other—I think it’s in Italy, if I’m not mistaken—celebrating the victory of the Mugnaia. But right now, we have a problem in our intellectual disciplines, which is that when we come forward with our best ideas, very often, even if they’re slightly wrong, they’re slammed. And when they’re slammed, sometimes the older members of the community then take the ideas for themselves at a later point.
This has to stop. And I think I’ve been trying to gather courage to put forward some ideas, which I think some aspects of them may be wrong, but are certainly quite interesting, and given that our leading theories have completely stalled out and failed to ship a product for—depending on how you count—you know, nearly 40 years or 50 years, depending upon whether it’s the anomaly cancellation or something called the Vanetsiana model… I think it’s time to simply ignore these people and realize that the leading lights of our most important community have failed.
Finding the Source Code
If we don’t figure out the full source code, going beyond Einstein, going beyond the standard model, we can’t know whether we’re actually literally trapped in our local area, or whether we have some hope of going out and looking at the night sky with an idea that that might be the roadmap to our future. So whether or not we’re consigned by Einstein to the Elon Musk program, let’s say, of exploring the Moon and Mars, or whether, in fact, we might get on the Star Trek or Star Wars program, of exploring the cosmos has to do with whether or not we can get the source code.
So the next thing has to do with who we are, what is this place, and what I’ve called Geometric Unity. It is the aim of making The Portal a place where I can have a channel that cannot be controlled by the academic complex, and I’ll come back to that in a second. The third area that I want to talk about has to do with markets. Now markets are really the sponsor of our freedom. By having non-centrally directed, locally organized human activity, free agents are able to contract freely with each other, exchange with each other, build prosperity, lift each other up, and if you are a progressive, you almost certainly really have to appreciate the power of markets. But our markets are in great danger at the moment, in my opinion, because they’re being meddled with, and they are returning results that indicate that only a tiny fraction of us are worthy of reaping the true rewards of the markets, while many of us feel that we’re being left behind.
Generational Wealth Structure
If you look at the wealth structure of the Silent Generation, Boomer Generation, Generation X, and the Millennials, or Gen Y, you see that the Millennials have, at this age, amassed far smaller percentages of the wealth, than the Boomers did at the same age, and I don’t think it’s because they’re lazy or they’re not talented. So we have a very dangerous situation shaping up, where our younger generations are not fully bought in.
In fact, in the last year I just bought my first house. I’m 54 years old, born in 1965. I’ve bought one car, and then had to re-buy it when it got rear-ended. There’s something very bizarre about that pattern, for somebody who is educated at an Ivy League undergraduate institution and has an advanced degree from potentially our leading institution in the country. We’ve created a world in which it’s simply too hard for regular people to advance properly, because the society is not growing.
Now, rather than complain about it, I’d rather do something about it. So partially what I hope to do is to show you what’s been going on with GDP and inflation, by introducing a new theory that combines the two greatest theories we have. So if you think about biology as being driven by the theory of natural and sexual selection, and if you think about physics as being driven by geometric dynamics, either coming from Riemannian or Ehresmannian geometry, then, in fact, what would be the the meeting place of our two greatest theories? The only place that I’m aware of is that it takes place in economics. And why is that? Because you have apes carrying on the theory of selection, but by other means, through markets. And what are markets? Markets are an attempt to create an as-if physical system by uniformizing apples and oranges, so that we have a basis for their comparison by using mediums of exchange, like money.
So, in so doing, economics is the logical meeting place for the two greatest theories man has ever had. And this was explored in the early—rather, the mid-1990s, early to mid-1990s, by Pia Malaney, my wife and collaborator, and myself, in work that never got out of Harvard University. Now that’s not quite true. There is a book called The Physics of Wall Street, by James Weatherall, which touches upon this. But this work died because of something called the Harvard Job Market committee. And my wife went into that Job Market committee meeting, having her work presented there, thinking that she could apply anywhere in the country, and being told, instead, that she had almost nothing, and that she’d be lucky to escape with a PhD.
Now in these three cases, that is, a theory of death that comes out of my brother’s work at the University of Michigan, a theory of productivity, and how our wealth is inflated away, coming out of my wife’s work at Harvard, and another theory about “What is this place,” and “How do these different geometries come together,” which would be the subject of Geometric Unity—all three of these ideas met a level of resistance that none of us had ever anticipated or encountered. And I think that it’s been terrifying to me to think about the idea of going up against the institutions.
However, last year I made an interesting calculation. I decided to look at the presidencies of all of our leading research institutions, and to try to figure out how many of them belonged to people who came after the Baby Boom.
In a previous world, let’s say the world of the early 1980s, approximately half of the heads of research institutions would be Gen X and Gen Y, that is, Xers and Millennials. However, almost no research university, certainly almost no leading research university, with, I think, the exception of the University of California at Berkeley, when I did this calculation last year, was under anything other than the presidency of a Baby Boomer. Now what had happened? Well, we got rid of a mandatory retirement requirement, that probably affected things fairly significantly, and we began to concentrate all sorts of power in one generation’s ideas. Now, generations aren’t magical things—what they are, are instead cohorts that are exposed to some set of circumstances that is peculiar to the time in which they are growing up.
So for example, if your primary experience is that you work hard as a kid, with a paper route and an internship, you go to college, you work your way up a ladder, and everything works out fine, and pretty soon, before you know it, you’ve got three kids and two homes, that’s your idea of what a normal life is. Now this is sort of the basis of the meme “Ok Boomer,” because many of the rest of us who followed this generation have no idea how you would accomplish that in these times.
I actually put the blame slightly more on the Silent Generation than most people do. I think if you look at it you realize a lot of the problems that we’re having now began through intergenerational issues initiated by the Silents rather than the Boomers, but, it’s a pretty stark division between the Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z, and the Silents and the Boomers, as the major generations that are still extant.
In this situation, it’s terrifying to say what I’m about to say next, but it is time to inflict ourselves on our own institutions. It is time to have Gen X candidates for presidencies, not necessarily just of the political parties, because we’ve spent, what is it, 20 years on men born in the summer of 1946 so far. I mean, we’re just at the beginning of Baby Boom presidencies, and we’ve been doing it since 1992.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, I think that the presidencies of companies, or CEO roles, I think that the issue of university presidents—many of these things have been tilted far too much towards these other generations. I think that Gen X has a very interesting story to tell. We were not highly infantilized, in terms of when we were growing up. In fact, we had to the moniker of the latchkey kids, and we’re also not large enough to get things just by chanting them. We have always had the pressure of having to make some degree of sense, because we’re just too small as a generation.
The Failure of Peer Review
So, in fact, what I’d like to do—I’ve said that I believe that string theory is effectively in affirmative action program for mathematically talented Baby Boomers who do not wish to sully themselves with the problem of working on the physical and real world as we have it. What I’d like to do is to bring you these three theories over the course of the next year or two—that is, a theory of death, a theory of markets, and how the agents within those markets, and the measurement of those markets should be changed and understood, and a theory, also, about who we are and what is this place in which we find ourselves, called Geometric Unity.
The purpose of The Portal, if you will, is to create a channel that has never existed. Now, I could try to submit everything to Phys Review Letters. I could try to submit to Econometrica. I could try to go through all of the normal channels, and I think what I’ve started to realize is, part of the problem of having screwed up all of this early stuff in our lives, of having tried to do this the formal and “right” way, so to speak—the privilege of having been screwed over so directly and so beautifully by the system is the right to raise the middle finger to the institutions. Like, how dare you expect that I’m going to use your quiet procedures.
If you think about what peer review is, it’s the exact opposite of what peer review should mean. “Peer review” should mean that you publish your article, and then the peers in the community review it, but in fact what it is is peer suppression. You take your article and you mail it off to somebody who you don’t know. That person gets an early look at it. They might hold it up in review. They then inflict any changes that they want, or they reject it for reasons that make no sense. And then it’s handed back to you.
Now, why does it have such a positive spin? It’s not long standing in the community. It doesn’t seem to have a very long history, but it came out of an effort to quality control new ideas. We wanted to know if new ideas were coming from reputable people. Were they using reasonable methods? Were they reasonably familiar with their fields? And in fact, that is the good reason that we had this new technique of peer review. Previously, editors have been tasked with being responsible for the field and figuring out whether or not something was up to snuff.
In this new situation, it was perfectly constructed for abuse. In fact, what you find is that it’s like what my brother refers to as the low posted speed limit in a southern town. The key question isn’t peer review, it’s how is it enforced for different people? That is, if you are a famous professor who is well plugged into a journal, where your friend is the editor, you are going to have an entirely different experience with peer review than if you submit the exact same article coming from someplace that is not well known to that journal, and in which there is a bias against that group.
For example, if I were to point out that every purebred dog in a kennel show is a product of intelligent design, that is, that humans have commanded canines with whom and how they can mate—that process has produced things like dachshunds and poodles. However, if I use words like “intelligent design”, I guarantee you that even though it’s clearly true that dogs are intelligently designed, that that paper will be rejected, because there is a belief that we should have a line which says no paper on intelligent design has ever been accepted by a leading peer-reviewed journal.
Now that political understanding of intelligent design has to do with both a reasonable idea and an unreasonable idea. The reasonable idea is that you should not be able to smuggle Jesus into evolutionary theory. You should not be able to do young Earth creationism inside of a scientific context. That is the previous, reasonable version of peer review. It makes sense as quality control.
But, what happens when you start talking about perception-mediated selection? For example, pseudocopulation in orchids, which we’ve discussed before, or in the predatory system with the other mussel lampsilis, where the perception of the bass matters, because it thinks that it’s consuming a bait fish. But in fact, that’s a fake bait fish filled with the young of the mussel.
In both of those cases you have perception-mediated selection, and you can make an argument that that should be called “intelligent design”, but those magic words can’t appear in that journal. Why? For a political reason. So what we have is we’ve created a system based around quality control that in fact is rife and open for abuse.
In that system, we now have to realize that we need other channels. We need an ability to route around. We need to be able to reinsert dissidents and people who do not get along with institutions back inside of the institutions.
If you look at Noam Chomsky sitting at MIT, you will realize that it was once the case that such people were much more common. You can look up a fellow, an old friend of mine named Serge Lang, and you could scarcely believe that such a person could have existed at Yale, but that person very much did exist. You can look at an old controversy about David Baltimore and a woman named Margo O’Toole, and the courage of Mark Ptashne and Walter Gilbert in fighting a Nobel Laureate when Margo O’Toole accused a colleague of the Nobel Laureate of misconduct, or at least, irreproducibility of results.
We have a long and storied history that has gone wildly off the rails with the crisis in current sense-making. And the purpose of The Portal was always to set up a channel by which we would have enough people watching that we could attempt to keep people from being rolled in the alleys when they contradicted the institutions, and that is in large measure what we’re here to do.
If you look at our episode with Timur Kuran, we introduced you to a concept of preference falsification. Right now, the danger of the Andrew Yang and the Jeffrey Epstein situations is that they have conveniently communicated to many people, “Of course we’re going to mess with your sense-making. What is it that you’re prepared to do about it?”
No Living Heroes
This brings us to a final issue, which I think is incredibly important, which has to do with why there are no living heroes. In effect, we almost don’t believe in heroism. As soon as somebody starts to make us excited about the world and what is possible for the individual, we come to start feeling terrible about that person, unless they’re trapped inside of a Marvel movie, or something like that. If you go back to the history of ticker tape parades, you will see that there were many ticker tape parades given for individual aviators, individual explorers, ships captains who put their ship at risk to rescue the crew of another—and, in fact, this pattern largely stopped.
My contention is that the difficult case of Charles Lindbergh may have marked a turning point. In Lindbergh’s case, he had flown solo to Europe from the United States and come back a hero, I believe in the late 1920s. Now, Lindbergh was a very difficult human being to deal with, because he was an authentic hero, and he was also somebody who believed in America First, and in isolationism, and given the Nazi menace in Europe, I think it’s almost an unforgivable position. Nevertheless, the fact is that Lindberg commanded tremendous popularity, and that popularity could have been used to keep the U.S. out of a war.
What I find is that, since Lindbergh, it has been very rare to elevate any individual to the point where they can oppose our institutions. The Pete Seegers and Albert Einsteins of the world, who fought against McCarthyism, were a huge danger to the industry that was cropping up around anti-communism. When it came to the Vietnam War, it was very dangerous to have popular entertainers, like John Lennon, who were against it.
We have been frightened about individuals coming to rival our institutions in terms of power. And that’s what’s so great about the new revolution in long-form podcasting, and all of these other forms of social media. Now, we have a great danger in that most of these platforms are mediated. We saw what happened to Alex Jones. It’s quite possible that if these powerful institutions come to believe that a particular individual should be removed, they can always choose to enforce the rules in a different way.
We saw recently the advent of Terms of Service changes to include deadnaming. Now if I say that Walter Carlos composed the album Switched-On Bach, or performed the album Switched-On Bach, that is a true statement. But because Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos, I have no idea whether or not I can be accused of deadnaming. Now imagine that you have a hundred such rules, rules that are never spelled out, never clear, that can be enforced any which way to deny someone access to the major platforms. This is the great danger with this moment. We have unprecedented access, but we also have a gating function, which can be turned on at any time if we fall out of line with the institutions.
I want to read you one tweet that has been on my mind for quite some time. This tweet came from a contributor to The Washington Post, who is a professor at the Fletcher School and it said, “Good morning, Eric!”—I’m going to leave out the parentheses—”So I’ve read up on a few of your notions, and I have some thoughts, but my basic conclusion is simple: what’s true isn’t new, and what’s new isn’t true.”
I think it’s fantastic. I was stung by it, because at first I was under the impression that we were still living in a world in which the Washington Post, New York Times, Harvard, Stanford, what-have-you, control the major conversation. But, coming off of a recent date at the Ice House in Pasadena, which was a live gig with Peter Thiel, I’ve started to realize how powerful this new movement is. We can reach anyone, anywhere, and I think that the gated institutional narrative deserves to have the battle that it’s been bruising for.*
* Note: The last clause of this sentence was cut from the YouTube version of this episode: “…and I think that the gated institutional narrative deserves to have the battle that it’s been bruising for.“
David vs Goliath
What I now believe is that the gated institutional narrative has been spoiling for a fight. We are quickly coming to the point where we have a David-and-Goliath moment. We now need to try to re-inflict the individuals who are uncorrelated, who are not particularly good at taking orders, who don’t like committee meetings, who don’t want to sign loyalty oaths, but who are passionately committed to the public good, and to some version of intellectual meta-honesty. We need these people to once again take up positions inside of the institutions, and I would like to, in fact, inflict myself on my favorite institution, Harvard University.
The children of Harvard University have always been divided into white sheep and black sheep, and there’s no question that I represent black sheep Harvard, but I also think that one of the features of the University that makes it great is that it has tolerated both its white sheep and it’s black sheep.
It is time to do battle with the oppressive structures that have been used to silence new ideas. If in my family, I assert that there might be as many as three revolutionary Nobel-quality ideas in one clutch, how many ideas might there be suppressed if that is actually true? How many people are sitting on top of intellectual gold that never got its chance to see the light of day?
What I’d like to do is to try to do battle with the DISC, to show you that it exists, to try to figure out how it works, and to try to show that the tools that we currently have may be powerful enough to defeat it. This is the actual purpose of The Portal, and I think even if we lose some viewers and some listeners, even if people start to see articles appearing that say how terrible the show is, and how it’s trying to foment some kind of unrest, to hell with them.
We are in an amazing position to try to do something new, and to stand up for a lot of people who may have given up on their own original ideas, and to try to spark a revolution, because if I’m right, the DISC has been sitting up on top of some of our best and most hopeful ideas for a way out of our economic conundrums, our military problems, ideas which have some chance of delivering us to a much more interesting and brighter tomorrow.
So, I hope that this is going to be an unbelievable decade. Thank you guys for sticking with it. I’m sorry if this was a little bit long, but it was a lot to say and it was heartfelt and quite important to me to get it out, and we will return to trying to get you high quality content, either in the form of interviews, which you’ve become used to on The Portal, or perhaps some new visual content that allows you to understand ideas that would be very difficult to communicate but for some novel means of presentation.
We hope to approach the community, to try to coordinate people who are eager to contribute back into the program, and maybe get a little bit of a closer relationship to our content going forward, maybe influence it a little bit, and we haven’t figured out all of the bugs. So thanks for being part of the initial experiment. Thanks for sticking with us, and we’re looking forward to being with you in the coming year and decade ahead. So you’ve been through The Portal for first solo episode of 2020. Be well everybody. Stay tuned.
In this episode of the Portal, Eric checks in with his friend Andrew Yang to discuss the meteoric rise of his candidacy; one that represents an insurgency against a complacent political process that the media establishment doggedly tries to maintain. Andrew updates Eric on the state of his campaign and the status of the ideas the two had discussed as its foundation when it began. Eric presents Andrew with his new economic paradigm; moving from an ‘is a [worker]’ economy to a ‘has a [worker]’ economy. The two also discuss neurodiverse families as a neglected voting block, the still-strong but squelched-by-the-scientific-establishment STEM community in the US, and the need to talk fearlessly – and as a xenophile – about immigration as a wealth transfer gimmick.
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Eric Weinstein: Hello, you’ve found The Portal. I’m your host Eric Weinstein, and we’re here this evening a little bit later than usual with my friend and presidential candidate, Andrew Yang. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Yang: Thank you for keeping The Portal open late for me Eric.
Eric Weinstein: Oh my God, thanks for bringing the energy. You’ve just come fresh off this rally at MacArthur park. You’re indefatigable, the Energizer bunny.
Andrew Yang: Yes. We just had a 6,000 person rally. 7,000, 8,000, I lost track. I was counting manually. No, I wasn’t, but—
Eric Weinstein: And I should say that your hat is Make America Think Harder.
Andrew Yang: Yep.
Eric Weinstein: But it’s—
Andrew Yang: It’s what The Portal’s all about I suspect.
Eric Weinstein: It’s math—well we’re trying. We’re trying. So we don’t want to keep you up late because we want you super charged for tomorrow, so let’s just dig right into it. Andrew, I’m remembering that we were having this dinner at Zazi in San Francisco—
Andrew Yang: Yes.
Eric Weinstein: And you were impressing the hell out of my wife and myself, and I said, “That guy’s going places.” She says, “How candy is it?” These are different times.
Andrew Yang: Oh, thank you… [inaudible]
Eric Weinstein: So am I right that this is, this is happening?
Andrew Yang: Oh, it’s happening—
Eric Weinstein: Big time.
Andrew Yang: I mean, our campaign is growing by leaps and bounds by all of the measurements you would ordinarily measure a presidential campaign: crowd size, fundraising—
Eric Weinstein: Fanaticism.
Andrew Yang: Well that’s, yeah I guess—
Eric Weinstein: The Yang Gang is absolutely fanatical. Trust me, I encounter them all the time on social media.
Andrew Yang: Well I love the Yang Gang. Thank you Yang Gang. Yeah, the excitement is palpable and I love it. I mean, everywhere I go now people will just say like I support you, and give me a fist bump… And certainly when we campaign, I mean, now we draw crowds of either hundreds or thousands depending upon where we are.
Eric Weinstein: It’s amazing. Now, let’s just dig into it. We’re in this totally bizarre situation. I don’t think the institutions have faced up to just how dire our situation—
Andrew Yang: No they have not.
Eric Weinstein: Is. When I go outside, for the most part, the physical world is still humming along, but everywhere else you can see the signs that somehow the superstructure that undergirds the simple physical reality has really been fraying. Am I wrong about that?
Andrew Yang: No, I agree with you, you know. And in many ways, if you’re just living life not plugged into all of the institutional decay, then you just go out and the sun’s shining and the birds are chirping and, you know, like you said, the physical world is still more or less sound, barring the occasional heat wave and unseasonal weather pattern.
Eric Weinstein: So, the way I see it: effectively, what you have is a world of institutions, and you have the wrong people in the institutions. In fact, what’s happened is somehow that the institutions were built in an era where things were growing rapidly. The growth pattern changed a heck of a long time ago—almost 50 years ago. And so for what they’ve done is they—these institutions have selected for people who can continue to tell stories about growth and to kind of play games to keep the illusion that everything is still humming along as if it was the ’50s and ’60s, but that hasn’t been true for a long time. How far off am I?
Andrew Yang: Well, that’s what the numbers say, and I’m a numbers guy, where if you look at the economy of the ’70s, you had a certain level of buying power among the middle class, and a certain split in terms of the gains from the economy among different parts of society, and then the lines started to diverge starting in the ’70s, and now they’re incredibly divergent, where you have middle-class incomes essentially unchanged during that time, and then people at the very top level absorbing more—more and more of the gains in the winner take all economy. But we all pretend like it’s still the ’70s, and you can see the disconnect in the lived experience of most Americans and most of the country, where they’re starting to catch on that things have changed, and I mean, it’s dark, it’s dark—
Eric Weinstein: Well, it’s incredibly dark and it’s worth laughing about, I think, for that reason. Because if we don’t have a sense of humor about it, we’re not going to be able to easily do the work. So I think whistling past the graveyard and gallows humor—definitely there’s a place for that.
Andrew Yang: Well, I, you know I, I naturally, I suppose… People have said to me that I have a very dystopian point of view, but I tend to present it in a positive, upbeat manner.
Eric Weinstein: I think you’re trying to get us through a bottleneck that you and I both know is coming, and that, in essence—I mean, one of the things I’m very concerned about with you is that I don’t want you to promise the world that you know how to do this. I want you just to say that I’m the best person to handle whatever’s coming next because nobody knows what to do.
Andrew Yang: Well certainly I would never claim omniscience or that I’m going to get everything right. I mean, I make mistakes all the time. Just ask my wife, she’d be like yeah, you screwed up just the other day. But… Well you and I were talking before the cameras started rolling, that I think it’s going to be a very dark time, and the goal has to be to try and survive the darkness, and not have it produce existential level harm. And I believe that I can assist in that regard, but I certainly would never say that I have all the answers, or that if I’m president, everything’s going to work right. Because the fact is, there are two things that I’ve thought about. It’s like, there’s the way the president makes you feel—
Eric Weinstein: Right.
Andrew Yang: And then there is actually solving problems on the ground. And right now, our experience of the presidency tends to be around the feeling. Like if Donald Trump does something irrational, it really does not affect my day to day existence, except for the fact that I see all the news reports and I’m like oh, that guy, what’s he doing? you know? And the same is true in reverse. Like if Barack Obama did something decent and human, it made me feel good—didn’t necessarily, you know, like change my commute, or anything—
Eric Weinstein: Sure.
Andrew Yang: And so there’s the way it makes us feel, which I believe I can assist with just about immediately for anyone who, you know, wants someone who seems solutions oriented—
Eric Weinstein: Right, positive—
Andrew Yang: And positive—
Eric Weinstein: Data, data friendly. That’s better—
Andrew Yang: Yeah data friendly, and genuinely wants to just try and make people’s lives better, I think that that would make people feel better. But then there’s the reality of trying to solve the problems from the perch at the top of the government—
Eric Weinstein: Yeah.
Andrew Yang: And that’s a very different process. I mean, I’m locked in on this idea of a freedom dividend in part because I think it’s the most dramatically positive thing we could do that we could actually effectuate in real life that would improve people’s lives, that we can actually get done.
Eric Weinstein: Now, I am both positive and negative about it, as you probably remember. What my belief is, is that we have two claims as Americans. We have a claim as a contributor to the economy, and we have a claim as a soul because we happen to live here, and as a soul, we have certain rights as a human being, just as a member of society. The weaker of the two is as a soul. But, that claim still exists, and in some sense, what you’re calling the freedom dividend, or universal basic income, speaks to the idea that there are these two competing claims. And you don’t want to get rid of the incentive structure that allows people to, you know, take a dream and turn it into something, and—
Andrew Yang: I love the dream. I love work. I love entrepreneurship.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. And this is—
Andrew Yang: I love people doing great stuff.
Eric Weinstein: So, I think that there’s a theory—that there’s sort of a series of economic theories that haven’t actually been developed. And I think one of the things that’s really important to me is that we retake the institutions, because what we’ve done is we’ve selected for people who’ve used very simplistic models that have had a huge effect on transferring wealth, but have not actually mirrored our problems. We’ve selected for the people who have, really, don’t tell the truth. And I’m very worried how, let’s talk about your first term in office, which is going to happen. Who are you—
Andrew Yang: 2021, inauguration day. It’s going to be a blast. You’re going to be there, Pia is going to be there, Yang Gang’s going to be there, we’re going to have a giant party in DC.
Eric Weinstein: Wait, wait, wait, wait a second. Getting ahead of us. Who are you going to staff your government with if you’re going to have the same problem that everybody has, which once you’ve caught—once the dog catches the car, then what? You’ve got all of these institutions which have selected for economists who don’t tell the truth, who’ve selected for sociologists who are friendly to the institutions and hostile to our people. What do we do?
Andrew Yang: My team is going to be a blend of different people with different experience sets from different industries, even different ideologies. And I think you need some people who are DC insiders, who have relationships on Capitol Hill if you really want to get things done, because you’re talking about possibly the most institutionalized town in our society. And so if you get there and just like I’m going to staff it with outsiders, then no one’s going to get anything done.
Eric Weinstein: This is, this was Trump’s problem.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. Like, you’re not gonna get anything done. You’re just, you’re just going to be fighting with the system all the time: that they’re going to be like these antibodies that treat you like this hostile agent, and then they’re going to just make your life miserable, at every turn. I mean, that’s just the way organizations work. It’s the way cultures work, and so you need to have a blend of people that are like look, hey, I get it. I’m a new figure and you’re concerned, and one of my principles is that I don’t fault people for the incentives that have formed them. And, by this what I mean is, like if you show up in DC and there’s someone who’s been part of the fabric of DC for 20+ years, and they are someone who’ve been through administrations right and left, just sort of survived the whole thing, and their goal is to just keep that function going and make sure they get to retirement and whatnot. Like, you can’t blame that person for being part of that system, because that’s what their incentives have been for years and years. And so, what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get there and be like I’m going to like turn everything upside down. I’m going to like, attack everyone.
Eric Weinstein: Well, the immune system will just actually, you know, the macrophages will descend on you and—
Andrew Yang: Yeah, and then you’ll never get anything done.
Eric Weinstein: You’ll never get anything done. So that was one of the answers that I was dying to hear, which is I’m going to have to work with the infrastructure that’s already there. But then there’s the second part of it, which is that I actually need to see some people permanently ejected, called out, chastised, who have been this class of people misadvising our government throughout the ’80s, ’90s, early part of this century.
Andrew Yang: Well, and that’s the dark part for all of us. That we sense that there is really limited accountability in DC. Like, you can give bad advice and screw something up… and you keep your job. You know, your think tank’s still there. Like, no one goes back and says hey, your white paper, it turns out it was completely mistaken, you know, like that. That’s not the way that town works or that you know, many government institutions work. So that’s the challenge, is that you have to try and make changes within this incredibly institutionalized environment, and so you need a combination of people that are well-intended, you bring them in and say look, this is going to feel like brain damage. You’re going to come in—
Eric Weinstein: Right.
Andrew Yang: And you’re going to be like, especially if you come in with a background like you and I might have from technology or entrepreneurship, where you look up and you’ll be like wait, you have how many people doing what? And you’re not allowed to do what? You know? It’s like the story of like healthcare.gov, where like the website didn’t work, in part because they hired a giant consulting firm and they had all these bureaucratic processes, and then when the website didn’t work, you know what they did? They hired a bunch of maverick Silicon Valley types and threw the red tape out the window and then did a repair job. So the goal has to be to bring in patriots who understand that they’re not going to have like an enjoyable time trying to turn the battleship, but that if they turn the battleship three degrees to the right, they can do more good—
Eric Weinstein: Sort of.
Andrew Yang: Than if they were in another environment where they turned it, you know, like—
Eric Weinstein: Andrew, I think we’re in a much more revolutionary situation, and in part to energize people… I mean, what we’re talking about is a revenge of competency. A revenge of genius, or revenge of people who actually know how to do things and care enough, who are ready and want to be mobilized and want to be called up, who’ve been sitting, you know, with major league skills in the minors or worse. And the fact is that what the institutions have done have inverted the competency hierarchy.
I mean, you know, there’s a guy that I don’t understand named Brad DeLong, who was part of the group that brought in NAFTA, and they helped to sell this idea that free trade was good for everybody. And then years later, I hear oh, you know what free trade actually is? There was an esoteric version, an exoteric version. The exoteric version we put on display for everybody. We always knew that the—in the esoteric version that was shared in the seminar rooms, that it was a social Darwinist welfare function that rewarded you by the cube of your wealth. And I’d just sit there with my jaw on the floor thinking, what did you just say? And then he says like I don’t understand, maybe we hurt people in Ohio, but we helped a lot of Mexican peasants. And I’m thinking, so you think that the American voters, who you’ve called jingoistic and, you know, ultranationalists, are going to be very happy that you’ve denigrated their patriotism and now what they have to show for it is that there are Mexican peasants who are significantly better off—which, I mean, who doesn’t want Mexican peasants to be better off? But, for F sake. I mean, this is, this is a class of people that needs to lose.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. And a lot of them are going to lose in my administration. Like I’m not a generally vindictive person—
Eric Weinstein: No it’s not, I, look—
Andrew Yang: You know, so, so—
Eric Weinstein: I hope he has a happy, wonderful life.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, exactly. It’s the kind of thing where it’s like hey, guess what. You had a lot of influence and authority—
Eric Weinstein: It’s over.
Andrew Yang: In one era, it’s over now. Like, you know, not going to unduly try and make your life miserable or anything, but, you know—
Eric Weinstein: Well, exactly. There’s nothing vindictive. It’s just, I don’t want to watch the Alan Greenspan Show, or the Larry Summers Show, or the Paul Krugman Show. I don’t really need—there’s no reason that these people get to be in every scene in every decade ad infinitum.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. Again, like I said, there’s really no accountability for being wrong, and so if someone presided over an era where, you know, there was epic mismanagement, you know, we still are asking them what the heck they think.
Eric Weinstein: Can I hit you with another one? That’s really comical for me?
Andrew Yang: Sure.
Eric Weinstein: I watch the graphics that have your name in relationship to the other competitors, and I know who the networks are afraid of, and they’re afraid of you. They’ll do a linear perspective graphic and you’ll be the guy on the very far end and then the presenter will stand in front.
Andrew Yang: I have noticed that, that does seem to be a, something of a—
Eric Weinstein: Well, I don’t think you should be bringing it up. I think the job is for people like me to be bringing this up, because they’ve been playing this game, with like Ron Paul, with Bernie Sanders, and—I don’t know if you’re familiar in magic with the concept of a magician’s choice.
Andrew Yang: No, I’m not.
Eric Weinstein: So a magician engages in a trick with magician’s choice. Let’s say that I want you to choose C—out of A, B, and C. So I give you the option, pick two. And you pick A and B, and I say okay, I’ll take those away, so now we’ll look at C. Or, if you pick A and C, I’ll say okay, we’ll take one of those two and we’ll throw a B away. Now, which one do you… So eventually you think you’ve made a decision, but in fact, the whole game was that the magician was pushing you without your knowledge. This is what I—
Andrew Yang: It’s like media company’s choice.
Eric Weinstein: This is what I think, it’s media company’s choice. And we’ve got a situation where, my feeling is that the more the Yang Gang can find—and this goes for Tulsi Gabbard or whoever else might be sidelined by this game—my feeling is that what you’re on right now is the equivalent of pirate radio. This is samizdat for the American people, and we should be—
Andrew Yang: It’s one reason I’m here, man.
Eric Weinstein: And it’s one of the reasons that we need to make sure that these channels are opened to the very people that the DNC doesn’t want running or the networks don’t want running. And the thing that I hate is that we’re in this William Tell situation, where we’ve got to run against our own party.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. Well, you know, again—
Eric Weinstein: And you may not want to say that, and I understand why, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to listen to a situation in which you were, you’re shut out of air time and you’re pushed off to the side of the graphic.
Andrew Yang: Thank you Eric. And I can say that this man is the head of pirate radio for the 21st century. Certainly one of the high chiefs of it. And to me, again, you know, you have these institutions with certain incentives and certain relationships, and they’re going to be naturally protective of the folks that they think are on the inside and be naturally very leery of the people that they think are on the outside. But one of the themes of this era is that there are more of us on the outside that are catching on, and that the stranglehold that media companies had on our attention has weakened significantly. It’s one reason why someone like me can do so well in this environment, or that someone like you can become this independent intellectual voice that doesn’t need to, you know, like get a CNN contributor contract or whatever.
Eric Weinstein: Well it’s very funny. One of the members of the Washington Post—which, you know, says that “Democracy dies in darkness,” that’s their tagline—but one of them said that everything you, Eric, you have to say that’s new isn’t true. And everything you say that’s true isn’t new. So it was like remarkably there’s nothing I can possibly contribute to the conversation. It’s just—
Andrew Yang: That seems so unlikely.
Eric Weinstein: I mean statistically, it’s pretty hard to imagine that it’s a perfect—
Andrew Yang: Everything’s been said Eric, just give up now.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah, and the only stuff that hasn’t is wrong. So, what I’d love to do is to talk about some sort of new ideas to undergird some of the economic things that you and I have traditionally talked about more before your meteoric rise, so let’s dig into it.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, I’d love that. Yeah, please.
Eric Weinstein: Okay. So one of the things that Pia—
Andrew Yang: Also I want to say that I quote this man all the time, I’ve learned a great deal from him and his wife, and that he’s one of the most profound economic thinkers that I’ve encountered, and I’ve met a lot of fucking people. So, I just wanna—
Eric Weinstein: You’re very kind, sir, and one of the things that I would say is that even when I disagree with you, even on your signature stuff, that the way I really view you is that you’re the candidate who is most open to new ideas, and you’re always up for a good discussion, a good argument, and you’ll go with whatever’s best, and I find that you are as close to non-egoic as anyone I’ve met running. I mean, you really are, seem to be running out of compulsion.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. Well, you know, I, I don’t have any native desire to be president.
Eric Weinstein: I didn’t felt [sic] that you ever did, and it was one of the reasons I love the fact that you’re running.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. I think my, one of my main qualifications to be president is that I just don’t socialize that much, in the sense of, like, if you have me around a bunch of fancy stuff, like it really doesn’t do anything for me. Like, you know, as president, I would love to do away with a lot of the—
Eric Weinstein: You do like geeking out,
Andrew Yang: Like the ceremony, like it seems like it’s counterproductive. And no, I happen to think that might help me do a better job.
Eric Weinstein: So let’s try to geek out on a couple of ideas that Pia and I have been playing with, see what you think.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, I love it.
Eric Weinstein: Okay. So one of the things that we’ve been thinking about is some people will start talking about the difference between the shareholder economy of the past and the stakeholder economy of the future—
Andrew Yang: Yup
Eric Weinstein: There are other issues about the dignity of work, and what happens when machines replace you… You can’t necessarily defend yourself economically, but you still have a reason to get up in the morning and do something.
Andrew Yang: Oh we hope you have a reason that you get up and do something.
Eric Weinstein: Amen. Now, the thing is, we’ve been thinking about this paradigm from object oriented programming, which is the difference between “is-a” versus “has-a.” So, if a Lamborghini can play an FM broadcast through its speaker, you could technically find out that by some definition, the Lamborghini is a radio. But that seems absurd. It’s much more sane to say that it has a radio, just the way it has a transmission. We make this error, I think when we talk about workers. We say that person is a worker, they are a brick layer, or a teamster, you know?
Andrew Yang: Completely.
Eric Weinstein: And that what we need to do is to readjust our model of an economic agent to a has-a model. And so the idea is that you may have a breadwinner, and you also have a contributor, and you also have a consumer, and therefore what it is that we do all day long—in the face of the automation that may or may not get here in dribs and drabs or come as a wave, we don’t know—that we need to have a model of humans that recognizes a need to be active in the economy whether or not the marginal product of our labor is sufficient to take care of our family.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, I love it so much and I couldn’t agree more.
Eric Weinstein: Okay. So that’s, that would be the kind of a research program that we would love to try to see undergirding a new economy that recognizes a much richer concept of an agent, but without it, I’m worried that, that you know, the, the sort of, the power of that Chicago-style thinking pushes us back into humans as widgets.
Andrew Yang: Well, humans as widgets is predominant, and you can see it at every turn, where even if you ask a kid what do you want to be when you grow up, it’s, you know, they’ll say I want to be a fireman, astronaut, baker, a scientist, whatever it happens to be. And by the numbers, we are more work obsessed now than we perhaps have ever been, and trying to break up our identities—
Eric Weinstein: Sure.
Andrew Yang: Into several aspects, where you take a trucker who’s on the road away from his family four days a week and say you know, you’re a dad, you’re like a consumer of hunting gear, or you know, like you, there’s more to you than being a trucker, when they have shaped their life—
Eric Weinstein: Right.
Andrew Yang: Around being a trucker because, you know, it’s literally—you’re behind the wheel for 14 hours a day. You get out, you sleep at a rest stop. I mean, these are all-consuming types of existences that are filled by hundreds of thousands of American men, and you know, 94% of them are men. So, you know, it’s not like oh, he just thinks they’re all men. It’s like, come on, 94% of them are. And so if you were to go to that person and then try and have them adopt a more holistic identity, when they have essentially shaped their entire existence around their role in this real life—like almost circulatory system, where it’s like they’re piloting this blood vessel that has a bunch of Home Depot crap in the back, or whatever the heck they’re transporting on like a daily basis—having them have other aspects of their identity that they value to a point where you could remove the work component and they would, you know, be cool with going home and spending time with their families is pretty much the opposite of the way our civilization functions right now.
Eric Weinstein: Well we saw these deaths of despair discussed by economists in the, you know, the heartland of America. We saw this demographic crisis that happened when the Soviet Union fell apart with, you know, the mortality crisis. All sorts of people were dying of alcoholism, heart attacks, and stress. So this is a really serious thing we have to figure out about the restoration of human meaning and dignity as different from employment.
Andrew Yang: You had something like a dozen disenfranchised taxi cab drivers and limo drivers kill themselves, you know, last year, like one of whom killed himself in front of city hall. I mean, like, did his self-destruction cause meaningful ripples in our society? No. Most people watching this and listening to this right now, it’s like oh, that shit happened? Like, you know that, like, but that sort of self-destruction is happening all the time, and most of them are just men quietly drinking themselves to death in their homes and then, you know, they’re dead. But—
Eric Weinstein: Well, I love the idea that you’re talking about compassion for men, because one of the things that I’m finding is that it’s very tough to talk in a world that is currently exploring this idea of toxic masculinity from some place that it might’ve been reasonably defined, and blowing it up past that point. It’s a very dangerous thing to see a world that sort of thinks that, you know like, all straight, white guys are okay, when in fact, many of them are very vulnerable and—
Andrew Yang: By the numbers.
Eric Weinstein: By the numbers. Right.
Andrew Yang: You know, yeah. It’s so, the—and this is one of the themes that, when you talk about trying to define people by different aspects of their life that might have work as one of them, but have like others, the fact is, I think men struggle more with breaking up our identities than women do. Because if you were to say to a woman hey, you’re a parent, you’re, you know a sister, you’re a nurse, you’re like, all of these things, I think they would be more ready to embrace some of the non-work aspects of their identity, in part because of the cultural load that is placed on different types of people in our society.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah but I think they’re facing a big one coming up, which is that you’re going to have a huge cohort of millennial females who pretty much would love to be in a situation with meaningful work, but also with a family raising children of their own. And there’s, first of all, isn’t necessarily a supply of guys who can rise to the—I mean, you know, it doesn’t have to be traditional households, but a lot of it is going to be male, female, breadwinner, somebody stays at home, it might be the woman who’s in the workforce, might be the guy staying home, whatever. The fact is a lot of these families aren’t going to form because we’re not in a position to say I can afford a 30 year mortgage. I can see enough stability in my future, I can—
Andrew Yang: Yeah. And that’s part of the thing, is that these challenges face us all in different ways, and it’s really, to me, counterproductive to disastrous to single out a particular subset of us and be like hey, you’ve got it wrong. You’re okay, you know, that’s a legitimate, you know, like thing to be upset about. That is not. I mean, like if, if someone is struggling, like it ends up reaching different groups in different ways.
Eric Weinstein: Right.
Andrew Yang: And you can’t say it’s like oh, your struggles are somehow more valid than others’. So just to wrap around this thought, so I think that the division of our identities into like work and non-work—
Eric Weinstein: Right.
Andrew Yang: It’s one of the greatest things we have to overcome. And by the numbers, if you lose your job and you’re a man, you tend to have relatively self-destructive patterns of behavior manifest relatively consistently and quickly, where unemployed men volunteer less than employed men despite having much more free time, as an example. Substance abuse tends to go up, very self-destructive behaviors. A lot of time spent “on the computer” goes up, which, so that’s a combination of gaming and some other things, and—
Eric Weinstein: Porn.
Andrew Yang: And porn, I’m sure, is, you know, I didn’t, I mean, I kind of implied it and, but I was thinking it—
Eric Weinstein: No no no, look. This is a free radio station, effectively, and we’re going to be able to say that that’s one of the things that may be deranging us. We don’t know what its effects are.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, no, so—and that women have struggles obviously, but the struggles take a different form in terms of… and the numbers show that women are more adaptable to non-work idleness in that they will not share the same patterns of self-destructive behavior that men do. Now of course, women obviously, you know, hate to be unemployed, but the thing that I joke about that’s sort of true is that women, however, are never truly idle in the sense that they always find like ways to be productive contributors in a way that men struggle with, in many respects.
Eric Weinstein: So kin work for example, where you’re working for your family, taking care of elderly parents, your kids, somebody else’s kids, these things are part of the fabric of civil society. One of the questions I have is, should we talk about coming up with some new financial products that get women the money they need during the period of their life when they might need extra help in the house? When they, when the binds that come from caring for elderly parents or children are starting to knock them out of the workforce, and trying to figure out how to make some kind of creative structure to help shift the burdens to times of their life when they can better afford it. What do you think about that?
Andrew Yang: Yeah, so just to sort of show the other side of the coin, so men volunteer less if they’re unemployed than employed, even though that doesn’t make any sense in terms of their free time. Women show higher rates of volunteerism and going back to school when they have more time. So it’s just that the numbers show clear patterns of like, different responses to non-work-related time or idleness. But I, I’m with you on the fact that right now trying to map everyone’s economic prospects to the market, the market’s valuation of our wages, has all sorts of distorting effects, and tend—what you’re suggesting that we should just start putting money into people’s hands at various points in their lives, I mean, that’s really one of the underpinnings of the freedom dividend. You know, my universal basic income—
Eric Weinstein: I see that that’s a part of it.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, it’s like you put 1000 bucks a month into people’s hands, and then that would allow us all to make different types of decisions, really from almost day one of our adulthood.
Eric Weinstein: Let’s try a few other things that I think might be interesting. One thing that wins presidential campaigns that we don’t talk much about is demographers. Demographers are sometimes asked, “Tell me some group of people that we don’t know about as a voting block that nobody’s figured out how to speak to.” And I think I have a couple of these that are candidates, and I’d like to bounce them off—
Andrew Yang: Oh please, yeah, I’d like this, maybe I’ll find a new audience to—
Eric Weinstein: Well then, okay. So the first one that I have, you know, so these are things like soccer moms was one from years past, or exurbs, between rural and suburbs, where people didn’t realize that there were intermediate places. So here’s one that I think is huge that hasn’t been identified. Parents of super smart kids that have some kind of a learning difference that causes them to wildly underperform in school. This is something that makes me crazy because I think it’s all over. Once you start seeing it, you see it everywhere. Parents are tearing their hair out—
Andrew Yang: Yup.
Eric Weinstein: Teachers can’t handle the kids—
Andrew Yang: Nope.
Eric Weinstein: And there’s just this maddening loss of human brilliance that is flushed down the toilet.
Andrew Yang: Have you come up with a name for this group?
Eric Weinstein: Well, I often refer to these as kids with learning superpowers, and I talk about teaching disabilities, which is the more dangerous version of this: that because people don’t fit into the notion of what can be educated by one teacher teaching a room of 30 people to make the economics work, my belief is that—and I’ll come up with a name for it for you—but I want to talk to all of the parents who are leading lives of despair, saying why is my kid wildly underperforming and I know how smart this kid is? Why are we doing this to ourselves and why will no one speak to it? This is, by the way, this is me and it’s been in my family for four or five generations.
Andrew Yang: It’s me too
Eric Weinstein: Really?
Andrew Yang: Well, yeah. I’m very public about the fact that my older son is autistic—
Eric Weinstein: I know that.
Andrew Yang: And that when we put him in various environments, I mean, there were very, very sharp struggles. And to me, atypical is the new normal, like neurologically atypical. And you’re right that as soon as you start seeing it, you see it everywhere—and that the facts show that it’s incredibly commonplace. And at this point, I think most American families have someone either in the family or someone in their social circles that resembles the description that you just put out there of this group. To me, a lot of it is that our institutions just aren’t well-designed for people with different learning profiles or different approaches to the world—
Eric Weinstein: And yet these are very often the people who are going to found new fields, who are going to find new drugs for us, who are going to think in such different a- uncorrelated fashions, that these are very often the people that I value the most, and you never know whether the thing’s going to work out because the kid every, every year is sustaining more and more trauma. Whereas these other kids, it’s like, you know, I remember looking at the neurotypicals as if I was like Cinderella, watching all the other sisters go to the ball and I was sitting there scrubbing dishes. Like what? You know, every conference was Eric is underperforming. Eric can’t meet his potential. Eric this or that. You know, at some point it’s just like, you don’t realize how much damage you’re doing to maybe as much as a fifth of the country.
Andrew Yang: Well, someone described it as like you’re getting regular, low grade psychic beating.
Eric Weinstein: That’s pretty good.
Andrew Yang: And, and that’s something that you obviously wouldn’t wish upon anyone, much less little kids.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. And by the way the autism thing, you know, I don’t know whether your child is high functioning or not, but it’s certainly the case that a lot of us have the idea that we almost don’t want to deal with people who aren’t in some sense on the spectrum or having some kind of ability to focus and to work with abstractions. Very often I think of, you know, I, I’m on top of this, I’m colorblind, and I always make the point that I see camouflage better—
Andrew Yang: Did you know that you’re wearing bright purple right now?
Eric Weinstein: Stop it. That used to happen. I used to dress myself before I let my girlfriend, now wife, make these decisions. I would make terrible decisions.
Andrew Yang: I’m just kidding, you look great. Pia he looks great, I’m sure you had something to do with it.
Eric Weinstein: So that would be one group. Here’s another one that I think is really important. Now, I know that you are the child of immigrants and that, you know, I’m of course married to an immigrant. The temptation is for us to, sort of, be very defensive of our immigrants because we have some forces at the moment that have become very jingoistic, and I think that that’s right. But I also think that we have to recognize that there is a story about immigration that’s very unpleasant and ugly, which is how Americans have used immigration to redistribute wealth amongst ourselves. And effectively, the immigrant is used as a tool of redistribution, then people get angry or protective of the tool, and one of the things that I think—that’s very important—is that a huge chunk of America is highly xenophilic. They like foreigners, they like traveling abroad. They like food, music—
Andrew Yang: You probably read Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. You’re probably friends with John, right?
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, I figured. Okay, continue, ’cause this is what it reminds me of.
Eric Weinstein: Okay. The thing is that xenophilic restrictionists are a good chunk of this country. If you do a poll, and you allow for all four boxes, xenophilic, xenophobic, restrictionist, expansionist, xenophilic restrictionism is a giant cohort. Nobody speaks to it because if you say anything about restrictionism, the media will instantaneously label you a xenophobe. Can we at least distinguish the idea of the immigrants, as souls like ourselves, who have been an important part of our national tapestry, together with the fact that very often they are used as instruments of transfers of wealth? And—
Andrew Yang: I agree.
Eric Weinstein: And that we should be angry at our fellow Americans who cynically use immigration and hide behind the immigrant to take money from one sector and put it into their own pockets.
Andrew Yang: Or you should not be angry at someone who’s angry about the immigrants.
Eric Weinstein: Well this is the thing—
Andrew Yang: Because, because there is something, like you said it’s like, you know, in some ways someone can have a very legitimate grievance about the fact that there have been these instruments of wealth transfer that have been imported into our midst.
Eric Weinstein: So I call these the Americans who redistribute our wealth “immigrantrepreneurs”, right? And the idea is that if they could use puppy dogs to redistribute our wealth, they’d use puppy dogs because nobody can be against puppies. Right? And so it’s a very cynical use of the Statue of Liberty. It’s something that’s very difficult to talk about. But it’s something that I’ve been talking about for a while, because I think that I’m so far in the xenophilic category it would be comical if somebody decided I actually had a problem. So I’ve been bold and I haven’t really had the problem, but most Americans feel very uncomfortable talking about immigration because they have two different feelings. They one, have a really good feeling about the person that they know who happened to come from Uganda or India, and they have the sense that something is wrong with the story. We’re going to have to disentangle it and restore something that makes us feel good about it rather than uncomfortable.
Andrew Yang: I agree.
Eric Weinstein: Great.
Andrew Yang: And, you know, I think I may be able to help in this regard.
Eric Weinstein: I think you’re perfectly positioned for this.
Andrew Yang: You know, in part I’m the son of immigrants who loves this country, who loves that immigrants have been an incredible source of dynamism—but, you know, you can’t have open borders and unrestricted immigration. I understand the sentiment where people are struggling with the fact that our country has brought many people in, either intentionally or unintentionally, in ways that are changing our economy and society in ways that in, like, some people have legitimate problems with.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. I just think, I think we need to be able to have an open conversation about difficult topics around this and pull them apart. And the fact is we need, we need people to feel comfortable that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable as long as you’re trying to explore it—but the current president, for my money, gets way too close to jingoistic sentiment.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, and that’s one of the natural reactions, is that if the current president says one thing, then, you know, the right thing to do is say the exact opposite. But then the nuance gets lost and then unfortunately we end up falling into these polarized camps
Eric Weinstein: That’s why I feel like we have—it’s so important not only to defeat the current president, but also to defeat the kleptocratic center of our own party as well as the regressive left that proposes as the progressive left, and then to take care of the constituents that are currently all over the spectrum in a new world. And this is one of the things I love about your slogan, which is not left or right, but forward, right?
Andrew Yang: Yes. That’s the slogan.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. And that that thing is that it’s moot, it’s a question of—
Andrew Yang: It also happens to be the truth. It’s not just like—
Eric Weinstein: I know, that that’s the thing. It’s moving out of Flatland, like we’ve been given this smorgasbord of bad options and just say hey, I don’t think I want to dine from there. I think these things are available off menu. Do you mind if I… You know, like for example, Starbucks I think will sell you a short cup of coffee, but they won’t put it on the menu. You have to know that to ask for it. So I like to think of you as the guy who somehow knows that there are things that aren’t on the menu.
Andrew Yang: I am animal style at In-N-Out. I am… Andrew Yang is animal style!
Eric Weinstein: Let me give you—
Andrew Yang: I agree that I can change the political conversation in a way that many Americans find very exciting and productive, because 25% of Americans are politically disengaged, including, I’m sure, some people watching this, and I believe it’s up to 48% [that] self-identify as Independent, which is almost twice what identify as either Democratic or Republican—
Eric Weinstein: I’m so close to identifying as Independent. I can’t stand my own party, but my feeling is I have to stay there and say hey, we’re out of control in order to save the structure, because I, I—
Andrew Yang: Well, the two party system, I mean, I agree. That’s why I’m running as a Democrat in part. It’s like, well, you have these two parties. Maybe you can turn one of them into like a highly functioning party with great ideas than the rest of it, I mean, that’s like an easier solution than—
Eric Weinstein: Look Andrew, what I really want to do is I want to reta—I want the insurgency that you and I have been sort of a part of, this loose collection of people who are thinking completely off the menu, to start retaking our institutions. We always had heterodox people of high caliber who are, you know, effectively heretics housed inside the Harvards and MITs and Caltechs, and I think we’ve gotten rid of that kind of—
Andrew Yang: Or they are there. Then they’re scared shitless to, like, say the wrong thing or else they’ll get—
Eric Weinstein: Well, do you remember the time, you remember that situation where MIT turned over Aaron Schwartz?
Andrew Yang: I shouldn’t laugh, ’cause, I mean, it’s dark.
Eric Weinstein: But we should laugh.
Andrew Yang: No, no, I mean—
Eric Weinstein: I’m for laughing at the dark.
Andrew Yang: Yeah, I laugh at the dark, it’s, you know—
Eric Weinstein: It’s like everybody knows that, but you’re not allowed to do it in public. So screw that. You know, we had this situation with this guy, Aaron Schwartz—
Andrew Yang: Did you know Aaron?
Eric Weinstein: No. Did you?
Andrew Yang: I’ve, you know, he’s a friend of friends.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah. You know, and this guy almost certainly was a pretty pure-hearted human being who was fighting the good fight. MIT is supposed to shelter those people, and instead they cooperate, you know, in turning them over.
Andrew Yang: As soon as you get the institutional incentives in a particular direction, then, like—I mean, this is not near, and this is just like recent, because in recent memory, but you know I stuck up for Shane Gillis, this comedian that had said—
Eric Weinstein: I saw that, and the the idea that, you know, you were in a position to say look, I’m the candidate—
Andrew Yang: He personally actually, yeah, and so if anyone should be offended, it’s me. And so I think he shouldn’t lose his job over it, well—
Eric Weinstein: Well this is the thing, the quality of mercy, or forgiveness, or just recognition that there should be space for remorse and redemption, this is what makes so much of the intolerant left feel cult-like, and I thought what you were doing was you were showing the best aspects of a truly compassionate left.
Andrew Yang: I was trying to be a human being, you know? Like you looked at him, being like well, like is that a job losing offence? But then the fact that NBC ended up firing him was entirely consistent with our corporate incentives, because if you look at it and say like well, is this person that we’ve invested a lot in that’s some, a revenue generator for us? No, because he hadn’t even worked for one day. It’s like our corporate incentives to can him and thoughts like, you know, put an end to any controversy or advertiser or whatnot, that would be troubled by it, yeah. So it’s like, so if you’d asked me, it’s like hey, do you think he’s going to be fired? I’d be like yeah, he’s almost certainly going to be fired because that’s what the corporate incentives [inaudible].
Eric Weinstein: Well I understand that, so one of the things that I’m really interested in doing—
Andrew Yang: But it, it still made me sad. Like I was like hey, this would be unusually human and forgiving if they decided to—
Eric Weinstein: Well, they lost a teachable moment, because one of the things that’s going on is that so much of the information economy is very, very marginal in the sense that you’re almost producing a public good. So for example, I slap ads on my podcasts—
Andrew Yang: Buy stuff from his sponsors. No I’m kidding.
Eric Weinstein: What I’m trying, well, what I’m trying to do is I’ve tried two new models, one of which I’m calling reverse sponsorship, where I shout out some great company which doesn’t know that I’m going to say something positive, and maybe they become sponsors, maybe they don’t, but the other one is riskvertisers, where people get to know me over long periods of time, and the hope is that you’re going to say look, you’re not going to catch me being horrible and bigoted and all of these things, but I might say something dangerous, like something that I just said about immigration, and will you make sure that you will not run away from me during the period where the mob descends and the frenzy is at its worst? Right? Because if we don’t fix the economic models, we can’t have deeper discussions because everybody’s going to run away at the first sight of trouble. And so part of what we’re trying to do ultimately with the advertising—
Andrew Yang: Look at this, pirate radio, pre-advertising.
Eric Weinstein: What do you think?
Andrew Yang: I mean, I love it. It’s like, leave it to you to try and solve that kind of problem.
Eric Weinstein: All right, I’ve got some other things that I want to talk about in demographics.
Andrew Yang: Oh yeah, please.
Eric Weinstein: Okay—
Andrew Yang: So let me first say, I am a parent of a neurologically atypical young person. I agree with you—that I think that many of the people who have a different perspective are going to end up being contributors in highly distinctive ways. I will say that even kids who are not going to be contributors in highly distinctive ways still deserve schools that can support and accommodate them. And that, to me, these kids are like, the shorthand I use is that they’re spiky. You know, it’s like you have very high capacities in some respects or a different point of view, and then real challenges in other respects. And so if I send you into a social environment where there are 30 kids for one teacher, you’re going to have a terrible, terrible time, you know? That’s 100% predictable, and so if then you have like a critical mass of people that resemble this, then you should try and design an institution that takes that into account. And I feel so deeply for families that struggle with this, like you struggle with, it sounds like you’ve experienced it.
Eric Weinstein: Oh absolutely.
Andrew Yang: I have struggled with it. And you and Pia, you know, and me and Evelyn, like we have an unusual level of ability to try and, you know, manage situation, and I meet single moms around the country who have, you know, autistic or neurologically atypical kids, that don’t have the means and they live in a part of the country that does not have like a lot of resources in place for kids that are different. And, it breaks my heart. Like it, the fact that there are all of these kids that are heading into these schools that are getting, you know, more than low grade psychic beatings.
Eric Weinstein: Oh my God. This is why I leave my DMs open on Twitter, and this is one of the number one things I do it for, is people write to me and they say I know you’re really busy, but I just want to tell you, nobody had ever spoken to my situation. You’re proud of something I’m always ashamed of, and—
Andrew Yang: I guarantee you I’m not the first presidential candidate with autism in the family.
Eric Weinstein: Yeah.
Andrew Yang: And the fact that I’m the first talking about it is, to me, long overdue and ridiculous. And—
Eric Weinstein: Amen.
Andrew Yang: And you know, and I get some of the same messages that you get, but you know, like, I want to actually try and solve the problem for those families. I mean, it makes me feel glad that they feel spoken to and that they realize they’re not the only ones going through it.
Eric Weinstein: I want to see, I want to see more money going to figure out how do we diversify the classroom of the future—
Andrew Yang: Yeah.
Eric Weinstein: So that the load isn’t born by people who don’t fit the economics of the teaching model.
Andrew Yang: Yes. And part of it is that we regard the education of our kids as a cost, and so then the city, then, is like well, I can’t afford to have like a teacher for your neurologically atypical kid. And so what we have to do is, talk about inverting the model, is you have to look at the education of our children as an investment. And then you say what’s that? Like, these kids require, you know, like X and Y? Then we should make that investment with the certainty, and I share your confidence in this, that you have a couple of those kids do something highly atypical and remarkable, then that pays for whatever support, or teacher, or infrastructure—
Eric Weinstein: This is an underground movement. I mean, I just had a very well known professor reveal to me that he couldn’t read papers—in his field. I mean, he just can’t read, you know? And he has to figure out what the paper is likely to be saying. There is such a weird world of unexpected achievement.
Andrew Yang: And this is the demon—the demon that we have to slay, in many ways, is that the negative externalities are not being encompassed within the budgets of various institutions.
Eric Weinstein: Very well said.
Andrew Yang: But then, also, we’re foregoing all of the potential positive value creation or generation from proper investment in our human capital—and another dimension too, and this is neither here nor there, but I was just with Dean Kamen in New Hampshire, and he was talking about how the FDA, like all their incentives are just to like regulate the shit out of anything. And then I said to him, I was like you know what they should start measuring is the foregone utility of keeping something away from from people, like if you had something and—
Eric Weinstein: What is the opportunity cost of the regulations?
Andrew Yang: Yeah. He had like, so he had like this prosthetic limb that he was trying to give to vets, and the FDA was making it really hard for him to do so, and he was like are you kidding me? I’m trying to give limbs to Vets who’ve been amputated. And so by your making it hard for me to do so, you multiply like all of the limbless Vets who aren’t getting a limb, like, you know, it’s like—so if you had that as like an actual measurement for the FDA, it’s like you need to have these companies internalize the negative externalities of things like pollution and the rest of it, but you almost need like our institutions, like our schools and our regulatory agencies to start trying to somehow capture the potential gains from investing in our kids, or allowing a certain innovation into the market. Like, the big problems are that our measurements are really primitive. And it ends up, and you end up with binary incentives where you lose a lot of the value, and so you end up being like hey, don’t have a teacher for your kid, so your kid’s gonna, you know, just end up sidelined. And sidelined is like a euphemistic way for saying destroyed.
Eric Weinstein: I know. One of the things I wanted to do at some point—I actually ended up talking to the Heritage Foundation of all people about this—was the idea of national interest waivers so that we could have a Skunkworks with very light regulation hanging off the side of every large company. And the idea is that you would put some portion of a company, you could put some portion of the company outside, where the rules were effectively different, because you needed people to take massive risks, to be able to move super fast, to be dealing with highly non-neurotypical people.
Andrew Yang: And this is one of the things that drives me nuts about the political conversation is like, you get like, they get like yelled at for a particular, it’s like oh, you made a mistake, duh duh duh. It’s like, you kind of need to have an environment where you’re going to accept a certain level of mistakes, particularly when you’re talking about large scale society-wide investments, where like, of course you can’t get that stuff right. And you know, it’s like, and that the problem is that the political incentives are for everyone to try and avoid like a negative headline, or something that, that’s—
Eric Weinstein: Look, a lot of us are very disagreeable, very difficult to deal with. And, you know, I saw you pick up endorsements from people like Elon Musk, you know, which is… Then I hear his personal life being criticized, I was like I don’t really care. This guy is responsible for how much—
Andrew Yang: Advancing the species.
Eric Weinstein: How much adva—right, how much innovation? If he’s got a few foibles, let’s give him some privacy. Let him be in peace and just recognize that we’re getting an unbelievable deal, and yet this desire to somehow stamp out outliers—I mean, outliers are essential to the American project.
Andrew Yang: Yes, I could not agree more. And you know I, I’d consider myself—it’s pretty funny Eric, ’cause I, you know, I think I had, in many ways, like a highly conventional upbringing that helped—like, I feel like I’m sort of a hybrid where, to the extent that I was highly contrarian or dissimilar, you know it’s like, I, you know, I’ve, I came up through a series of institutions in an era where, you know, I think I learned to adapt. But then I look at my boys and I think to myself that, you know, that their way of life is going to be very, very different than mine. I’m sure yours too, ’cause we came of age in a different era.
Eric Weinstein: Well this is true. I mean I was just talking about this actually, with Bret Easton Ellis sitting in that chair that, you know, I grew up as part of this free range world largely before Etan Patz got kidnapped and the milk carton kids changed everything. I worry about the sort of—we were too free range and these kids are too sheltered, that we have to find some new mix. But I want to get to another issue.
Andrew Yang: Give me one more demographic.
Eric Weinstein: Okay.
Andrew Yang: Yes.
Eric Weinstein: Let’s do it. And then we’ll, we’ll close it out. I want to talk about something which really makes me angry and excited. I think that America has, without question, some of the finest sources, educationally, for brilliance in STEM subjects. And we’ve pretended for a very long time that Americans are not good at STEM, that we are disinterested in STEM, that STEM careers are fantastic when many of them are pretty shitty, and that we don’t recognize that the entire STEM complex is suffused with bullshit. Because the model, the economic model for investing in basic research went belly up because the universities were built on a growth model that was unsustainable. And I want to stop lying.
So one, I want to start recognizing that we have high schools that have more Nobel prizes than all of China, that we are using Chinese labor and other Asian countries, not just because we are exporting education as a good, but because we have a cryptic labor market in basic research where we pretend people are students when they’re actually workers. We pretend that we’re importing them to educate them, but actually what we’re trying to do is use a poverty differential. We have our own people who are really fantastic because they’re not very obedient, and instead people prefer obedient people coming in who are here on temporary visas, therefore they have to follow orders.
The entire National Science Foundation, National Academy of Science complex is bizarrely suffused with nonsense. And because of this, we can’t actually have the national academies adjudicate what’s true because they are the prime offender of this. How do we get back to a situation which we can recognize that we have a Stuyvesant or a Bronx Science, you know, or a Far Rockaway, or any of these unbelievable high schools that are turning out people who desperately want to do STEM subjects. They’re not being paid when they finally get their degrees at an appropriate level.
Andrew Yang: Yeah.
Eric Weinstein: They’ve been secretly studied by our science complex, because these career paths are known to be crappy, and we have completely suffused this with a mis-description so that nobody can actually fix any problems.
Andrew Yang: That’s an incredible description. And to me, the lack of proper resources for basic research, for things that ended up being foundational for many of our current industries—
Eric Weinstein: It’s the biggest bargain in the world. It’s just the future you’re investing in.
Andrew Yang: It’s just right now we’re so brainwashed by market-driven thinking, that if there’s not some short-term profitability tied to it or there’s no drug company funding it, or something along those lines that—and this is something that the government, historically has been the leader in where it said, you know what, we can lay the foundation and create paths for people to be able to do basic research, the benefits of which will be unclear. They may not exist. They may not materialize for decades, but it’s similar to what we’re talking about with the neurologically atypical kids, is that like a few of them pay off and then the payoff can be unfathomably significant.
Eric Weinstein: Well we call this long vol. investing in hedge fund land, where most things don’t work out, but a few that do pay for all of the losers.
Andrew Yang: Yup. Yeah. And right now the, yeah. To me, this is a role where historically, the government has led, and you need a government willing to make long-term sustained investments that may only pay off way down the road and may not pay off, but you still need to be able to make them.
Eric Weinstein: Well, I also, you know, the other weird part of this is that by using our own people, and letting in particular China know that it can’t operate a relatively totalitarian government over there and have the benefit of freedom over here with a pipeline for all of our innovations to immediately go back over there—China needs to be induced in some sense to understand that they can’t get by without giving their people freedom.
And what they’re right now doing is that they’re using our freedom and a periscope by which they can see everything that we’re doing. And if we actually cut that off, I know that the universities are going to scream bloody murder, but what’s going to happen is China’s going to have to start investing in its—the right of its own people to give the middle finger, because irreverence is the secret of American ingenuity.
Andrew Yang: Yeah. Yeah. You know, this reminds me of a joke that they told in artificial intelligence, which is, “How far behind is China than the US in AI?” And the answer is 12 hours. And you say, you know, obviously they wake up and then they see what we did.
Eric Weinstein: Andrew, I can’t tell you how fantastic it is, to have you come into the studio. You’re coming off of this big rally in MacArthur park.* You’re welcome anytime to come back. I’d love to continue the conversation when you’re next in LA—
* Note: The following sentence was cut from the YouTube version of the podcast: “I know that it’s late for both of us.”
Andrew Yang: I would love this too, man, this feels to me like half a conversation. We’re going to have to have the second half at some other time. So if you enjoyed this convo, let Eric know, and then hopefully he’ll have me back. And if you’d like to join the Yang Gang, you should know we are very, very cheap gang to join.
Eric Weinstein: Is that right?
Andrew Yang: Well, our average donation is only $25. So, our fans are even cheaper than Bernie’s, which no one even knew could be a thing in politics, but here it is. But you get $25 times enough people and you wind up putting up very very big numbers—and you’ll see like, we’re already into the eight digits as a campaign, and we can take this whole thing, we can contend, because a lot of people watching this right now, you’re ignoring politics as usual. We can actually have a different sort of politics that takes real thinking, real ideas, real solutions, and brings them to the highest levels of our government. It just needs enough Erics and Pias and you all watching it at home to say I prefer this to the stuff I’m getting through the cable TV networks—
Eric Weinstein: Well, Andrew, you know one of the things I think that’s been great about watching your meteoric rise is that you are outside of control without being out of control—
Andrew Yang: Thank you.
Eric Weinstein: And that having a kind of a mature person, who’s not easily bought or swayed, who’s speaking in a way that nobody knows what he’s going to say next, has been hugely positive for the entire process, so thank you very much.
Andrew Yang: Well, thank you. You know, the only currency I answer to is ideas and humanity. Like you, you know, you put a good idea in front of me or a good person, I listen.
Eric Weinstein: Well, you’ve been that way since before all the success. So we wish you continued success, and we’ll have you back here the next time you’re in LA with a little bit of time.
Andrew Yang: Would love that, brother. Thank you.
Eric Weinstein: All right. Thanks, you’ve been through The Portal with Andrew Yang, presidential candidate for 2020, and telling us to Make America Think Harder.
Andrew Yang: Yes. This man is going to make you think harder all the time.
Eric Weinstein: All right. Be well everybody