If you don’t know Douglas Murray, in the estimation of the The Portal, this may well be the most important voice you will hear from the United Kingdom for some time. In the tradition of De Tocqueville and Alistair Cook’s famous “Letter from America,” Douglas Murray is America’s true friend. He is not the man who tells you that you look great and laughs at all your jokes, but the one who pulls the big mac out of your mouth, flushes your cigarettes down the toilet, locks your liquor cabinet and personally drives you to rehab until you straighten yourself out.
I have met many men who train in combat sports, or extoll the virtues of masculinity. However, I know of none braver than Douglas Murray. In our time, this is one voice of relentless reason that everyone needs to hear.
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For a transcript of the audio essay at the beginning of this episode, see link below:
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Is there only one such voice left in Europe? That was the thought running through my mind when I first met today’s guest. I can’t exactly remember how much I knew about Douglas Murray before I met him. I had heard his name and perhaps that he was both far-right and gay—which, while clearly possible, is usually a warning sign in the United States that our activist media is unhappy with someone breaking ranks with its various narrative arcs. But Douglas is, for the moment, a much larger voice in Europe in general, and in the UK in particular, than he is in the States. So I was not particularly familiar with him. When I met him, it was electronic and one-sided. I was watching YouTube in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. 12 people had been gunned down in cold blood for exercising their European freedom of expression. 11 men and one woman. Three writers, five cartoonists—two in their 70s, one over 80—Christians, Muslims, and Jews murdered side-by-side, show that the attackers were as happy to kill those of their own faith as they were any others. For this was not about religion, but control—exerted to a chilling threat of deadly force against any and all who disagreed with the AQAP (or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). And there, somehow, was Douglas, in the immediate aftermath of the mass killing, being interviewed on Al Jazeera, of all channels. I admit I fell instantly in love with him.
“That’s a pretty atrocious question, if I may say so,” were Douglas’s first sharp words in response to what was quite literally an atrocious question. Given that the host asking it was eagerly skipping over discussing the dozen fresh corpses in a new atrocity to ask instead about the potential backlash to the killings. Douglas’s voice was measured and controlled while dripping in the polite indignation and disgust for which the British are justly famous. There’s an old aphorism—now associated with Douglas’s late friend Christopher Hitchens—that a gentleman is defined to be a man who is never rude by accident. And Douglas here was every inch of the gentleman. The concept of heroism is much discussed these days in the realm of Marvel Comics, but rarely seen in the wild, as it were. This was the real thing: leadership. And my younger listeners will forgive me for saying so, but this was the best of masculinity personified.
I do not have this kind of courage. I know because many years ago, I had begged my best friend and his sister not to write as Shia Muslims in defense of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses when Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous fatwa was first issued. What I learned back then from my Muslim friends was that jihadist Islam was a totalizing movement and the problem was not with Islam, but with the absolutism with which it was often practiced. My friends were not absolutists, but, as Muslims, explained the danger clearly to me, I was not distinguishing properly between totalizing and non-totalizing Muslims. What I came to believe back then is that we must fight all totalizing ideologies, even if some of them happen to be associated with religions. If ownership of a Prius led 15% of Prius owners to become totalitarians who would excuse the murder of anyone who dared drive a Chevy Volt or Tesla, we would need to defeat them. The primary reason that religion gets dragged into this is that there are very few large and potent totalizing movements left after the internet and the 20th century had their way with them. North Korea, Islam, and Social Justice, for example, do remain potent, while traditional communism market fundamentalism, the Catholic Church, and even violent nationalist terror movements like ETA, the IRA, PKK, Tamil Tigers, PFLP, etc., have oddly taken it on the chin.
So if you want to understand the world in which we live, where totalizing movements still exist, but are few in number, it is still essential to listen to voices more courageous than my own. Listen to Douglas’s debate with Julian Assange. His defense of Western civilization is actually two-fold. At the first layer, he is making many of the subtle arguments we need to hear but are too afraid to say in the present period. But underneath that, his courage, decency, wit, and eloquence in the modern era is itself an argument for some of what we have lost from the Europe of a previous age and what made it, for a time, the center of world progress in science and letters. Not everything that Europe achieved can be attributed to plunder, slavery, and oppression, after all. Much of it was simply Europeans achieving by thinking more clearly and courageously than their rivals.
I hope you will enjoy this uninterrupted conversation with a personal hero of mine and good friend, Douglas Murray, after a few brief messages from our sponsors who bring you the show.
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Hello, you’ve found The Portal. I’m your host, Eric Weinstein, and today I get to sit down with my friend Douglas Murray, who’s over here from the UK where he is associate editor at The Spectator. He’s also an author, most recently, I believe, of The Madness of Crowds, but also The Strange Death of Europe before that. And in general, one of the most keen observers of the American scene from abroad. Douglas, welcome to the US and The Portal!
Douglas Murray: 9:47: It’s a great pleasure to be here.
EW: 9:48: Well, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while for our audience. Now I don’t know when we’re going to be releasing this episode but right now, we are within a month of the end of the beginning of the the US election. And there is a tremendous amount to say, but I worry that we in the US don’t actually know what it is that’s going on and that it’s affecting the rest of the planet. What is it that you’re seeing on this trip to the US that maybe is somewhat surprising? It’s been a couple of years since you’ve been here.
DM: 10:19: Yes, it is. It has been a couple of years. I’m touring around the US all month ahead of the election. A friend in New York said, when we talked about this, “Oh, I see: it’s disaster tourism.”
EW: 10:33: [laughing]
DM: 10:33: … Sort of. It’s like the people who take package holidays to North Korea.
It’s … well, it’s a very interesting time to be here obviously, whatever happens. I do have some general sort of feelings. One is that … perhaps something that has crept up on me, and it’s crept up on all of you, but I’m really struck, particularly, by how much more deranged everybody is than they were when I was last here. And, I would say, of all the people that it’s VISIBLY hurting are my liberal/left-wing/centrist friends, who just have been erupting all the time. It’s conversations are quite hard. I see what I described a little while ago as being the sort of snowplow of American politics that’s occurred in the last few years, where if you just venture anywhere into what used to be the middle of the freeway, this snowplow just comes down and casts you to one side or the other. And that’s just very clearly got a lot worse. And I don’t know if the election, whatever way it goes, can resolve that. (Maybe it’ll placate it for a bit.)
I mean, that’s, that’s the main thought. The other thought, of course, is that I’m here in the midst of a, well, ongoing pandemic. Your country is reacting to it in a similar way to my own, with all of the similar concerns that it brings with it. And you know, it just feels like layer upon layer on top of the problems that already existed here. And the questions that already existed here.
EW: 12:17: Do you think we’re just getting started with these problems? And that this is really the beginning of a towering skyscraper of insurmountable conundrum? And that these are really the first few levels and that we’re … we’re just getting going?
DM: 12:33: Yeah, it does feel like that a bit. I mean, the sort of obvious reduced version of that is, you know: does it make things better if Biden wins or if Trump wins? You know, I mean … And I can’t help thinking, well, the underlying questions remain similar. We are all, at the moment, as I said, in this time where it seems to me you fight through one layer of the layers on top of everything, and you just find another. You could find a way through understanding the pandemic, but then you find politics, and then you find something else, and just on and on.
But yes, it does feel a bit like that. I find that about the pandemic in particular—this awful feeling that it’s a sort of prelude to something, not the main event.
EW: 13:26: Yeah, I have to admit, as a guy who would like to be able to think about this scientifically, I don’t know where I can turn. And in part (I know it’s a little bit late to get in on UK bashing, given that the Empire has been given up and all that), but to lose like, I don’t know … Nature. I don’t know that I trust the Royal Society to be an arbiter of things scientific. And I think you guys are in better shape than we are.
DM: 13:58: Well, possibly. At the very beginning of the corona era, I made observation that this country (America) had a particular problem, which is that every other country turned out to have some residue of collective responsibility or non-partisan trust. In the UK, it turned out that a conservative government was able to … I mean, think of it this way: it was able to mandate that all young people not in a committed relationship and living with their partner should be forced into celibacy for months. And they did it.
EW: 14:42: With 100% compliance.
DM: 14:43: I can’t say I kept a tally.
EW: 14:47: [laughing]
DM: 14:47: [laughing] But … it turned out that we actually DID have significant levels of societal trust. Which, by the way, in Britain, we have said in recent years, we didn’t have. And to some extent, I thought maybe all the last few years have been sort of performative, to that extent. We’d kept on talking about what a divided country we were, yet a pandemic came along and we turned out to have pockets of residual societal trust. We, for instance, wanted to hear from the Queen. You know, that was a rather wonderful moment for some of us—it really … we wanted to hear from somebody who had that perspective and length and wisdom and could put it into some context of what we’d been through before and what we get through now.
Every country had a version of that. I mean, I was struck by same thing in France: Macron, at the beginning, there was some kind of unity. It was same in most countries, Except for the United States, where you couldn’t even come together on a pandemic. You couldn’t even come together on that without it being highly politicized and, in an election season, turned into a “were you pro-Trump or anti-Trump?” And I thought that was (and think still) that is a very, very bad sign for this country.
EW: 15:55: Well, it’s atrocious. From a (and I hope this isn’t too hopelessly utilitarian), but it is really the FUNCTION of having a queen around …
DM: 16:04: Yes. Oh, yeah, yeah, no, I’m a big fan. I mean, I think you guys made a mistake.
EW: 16:08: Well, I think most of the time, it’s better off not to have one. But on the rare occasions that you need something … I don’t know that it has to be a queen, but I always talk about the “break glass in case of emergency” people you’re supposed to keep aside from the political fray. So for example, David Attenborough (another one of yours), has now ventured onto Instagram because of his concern, at the end of his career, for the planet. And it’s important to have people who unite …
DM: 16:39: Yes. Yes, it is. And, of course, as you well know: pockets of residual trust in expertise of particular kinds … I mean, one of the things I found very, very hard about the pandemic has been that, you know, I’m not a virologist. I’ve never spent any serious amount of time before this year thinking about pandemics. As a friend of mine in a security area said to me at the beginning, “It’s so annoying.” You know, the pandemics guys are always the people who you left during their panels at the conference because you didn’t think it was relevant. Sort of, annoying that these people should have had more attention on them.
I didn’t—I’m guilty of this—I didn’t spend much time thinking about pandemics, if any. And so when it came along, I—like, I think, most people—thought, “Well, I’ll trust the people who know.” I do have now a very serious set of questions (I think we probably all do) and concerns. Not least on the fact that, first of all, the people who I (and most of the rest of the public) trusted turn out to have been wrong in significant ways. I’m thinking of things like the Imperial College study that predicted mortality rates at a level which we just haven’t seen in any country, whatever the country’s policy is—you don’t see these figures in Italy, you don’t see them in Sweden. And when it turned out that those same people (who I trusted and my fellow countrymen trusted) had pulled the same graphs out with BSE, for instance, I started to get a sense of ennui about this. “That’s a shame.” You know, I was very willing to put … I mean, think: we all were locked in our houses on the advice of these people. One of whom, by the way (in classic British fashion—you know, you’re never very far away from a carry-on[?] movie), turned out to tell everyone else to remain in celibacy and turned out to be going off to shag his mistress every other other day and breaking lockdown in a uniquely sort of British way.
But these people first became slight laughingstocks and then actual … actually, I think a significant amount of bitterness started to creep into it. And I think the next one will be doubt over everything. I have this very concerning thought that the pandemic was a wonderful first … it was a period, at first, that was wonderful for science, because it showed that science was perhaps the only thing left that we trusted. And that actually when the scientists appeared with the politicians, then we thought, “Okay, they’re serious. This isn’t like a newspaper columnist appearing with the politicians.” But THEN something happened.
EW: 19:35: All right. Keep going.
DM: 19:37: Well, put it this way. There’s a climate change (rather extremist climate change (very extremist climate change)) group in the UK called Extinction Rebellion who have been putting up posters in the last few months in my country saying, “We trusted the scientists on COVID. Now let’s trust them on the planet.” And I thought, You have got that exactly the wrong way around. You’ve got that EXACTLY the wrong way around. The public are currently thinking, “We DID trust the scientists. They turned out to have led us into significant error. We’re not listening to THEM again.”
EW: 20:19: Yeah.
DM: 20:19: It’s quite … At this stage, it would have to be The Plague—a child-slaying plague, the Black Death—to make us listen to the scientists again.
EW: 20:34: So you’re saying that the reservoir of trust that was in Britain, even for the scientists, after … at this point in the COVID epidemic, is almost drained?
DM: 20:44: I would have said it’s very nearly drained. Yes.
EW: 20:48: Interesting.
Let me ask a different question: Is long-form podcasting the last bastion, after science? Not because it’s particularly rigorous. Not because it’s credentialed. But because you’re actually hearing people struggling with reality in a non-institutional framework?
Is the real problem (and this is a very US-centric perspective) that our institutions are all susceptible for institutional reasons? And it doesn’t … There’s no kind of institution that can resist this sort of decay. Even a scientific institution is now falling prey to the same pressures as a financial institution, as a medical institution, as a journalistic institution … All of these institutions are falling. And, you know, if you’d asked me for the most trusted institution, at least as far as I can see things in America, at some point I might have said, “Well, it could be Caltech; it could be the Democratic Party; it could be the Supreme Court.” Right now, for me, honestly, it is Trader Joe’s. Because Trader Joe’s has stood up, they will not change Trader Jose, or Trader Yusef, or any of these things, because they think this is ridiculous.
There are pressures on institutions to lie to us, in particular with respect to health, because one of the things that … early on this epidemic it became very clear we didn’t have the masks we were supposed to have, and therefore we would have to tell a precursor story about masks being dangerous, or not working, so that people wouldn’t buy them, so that we could have them for our healthcare professionals. And that, to me, was a great crime. I noticed that to a lot of other people it’s like, “Well, of course, they’re telling a lie because they have to.” And I thought, “Well, if you do that too much, you’re going to lose science writ large.”
DM: 22:50: Yeah, I agree. I think the masks thing was one of the first and most worrying turns in that [?] … It’s precisely for that same reason: it was obvious, manifest, provable lie.
EW: 23:02: Do you have things that you can trust still in in the UK? Has the BBC managed to steer clear of this? Or are they going …
DM: 23:08: Not really. There’s a claim … They certainly have more trust than other broadcast media organizations. At times of national crisis, trust in the BBC has USUALLY been good. Actually, the stats that we have—the opinion polls this year—show a decline in … that almost, certainly in the opening months of the virus, the trust in institutions rose in almost every case other than the media, and the media plummeted. And I mean, my own view of that was that it was because the media didn’t know what questions to ask. I include myself in this. As I said, I never thought about viruses in any depth before. But if you were a BBC correspondent, and you had to ask questions of the government at the press conference every day, and you didn’t know about viruses, you were reduced to weird journalistic games, like, “X has said this, and now you’re saying this, minister. Why? Are you in contradiction?” Or, “You said this a couple of days ago, and now you’re saying this. Isn’t that a U-turn?” This is the result of what us know-nothing humanities people do when …
EW: 24:29: Oh no, no, no. This is happening to all … I’m a technical guy with a technical degree. I couldn’t follow the reasoning at all. And what you’re talking about is what I call the checksum theory of politics. When you’re handed a file to install on your computer and you want to know whether or not it’s been corrupted, you can’t read all of the lines of code to find out that they’re all in the right place. But there’s some consequence of the right lines of code being present called a checksum which you CAN inspect—which is far easier to monitor—and I think that a lot of the questions that you’re talking about are: if I can’t understand what you’re saying … like, I may not know what a bleeble-e-blop is, but if you said yesterday that they were essential, and if you say today that they’re absolutely horrid, I can at least ask you to clarify between your two positions with a zero knowledge orientation relative to what a bleeble-e-blop even is to begin with.
And as a result, we’re in this incredibly low level state where we’re just trying to say, “Did you make any sense? Is there any coherence to your perspective?” We can’t actually tell what we’re asking. And I, by the way, I had a lot of very top technical talent on phone calls early on with corona—nobody was making sense.
And I’ll tell you, the one thing that we actually did know early on is that this has nothing to do whatsoever with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Like, I don’t know how we came to such a strong conclusion so quickly. But the ONE thing we know about this virus is that that absolutely isn’t implicated.
DM: 26:00: Why do you say that?
EW: 26:02: Well, I think it’s a joke. I think we worry that it MIGHT be implicated. And there’s some political reason or economic reason for absolutely treating anyone who thinks that it might be of interest as a lunatic. Like that seems to me to be a policy decision. I would certainly … If it had 1/10th of 1% chance I certainly wouldn’t be calling it settled.
There’s a very interesting move when we take something off the table. So, the two other ones that I will give you would be “climate science is settled science” and “vaccines are 100% safe.” Anytime … I can, as a scientist, I can check those two statements instantly, and they’re both false. Now, it doesn’t mean that I’m against vaccines, or I don’t think that the planet is warming up due to human activity. But when somebody says “trust the scientists,” they’re really saying something like, “We, the UN, have gathered the IPCC and gotten a consensus statement. Please accept that as if it was somehow settled at the level of the laws of arithmetic.” Which absolutely is not.
Yeah, there’s a set of those. One was, a relatively small number of people knew that the World Health Organization was another of those international organizations that wasn’t exactly what it called itself. But now a very large number of people know that. And again, we have this issue of residual institutional trust.
You saw this famous video with a, I guess, a Hong Kong journalist trying to ask this person from the WHO and he’s pretending that he can’t hear? And then she says, “Shall I ask it again?” He’s like, “No! Let’s move on.”
DM: 27:45: [laughing] That’s right.
EW: 27:46: … And then he reaches for the kill button. … This is a bad magic show that I’m forced to sit through every day.
DM: 27:53: Yes. And yeah, the …
EW: 27:56: … and long-form podcasting can talk about the bad magic show … The key issue is CNN, or NPR, or the New York Times can’t.
DM: 28:06: And it’s not just because of length and the ability to summon up different and competing ideas and play them off against each other. It’s not JUST that, is it?
EW: 28:16: There’s a group of people from Finland who put mushrooms into instant coffee, who pay for the show, right? Called Four Sigmatic, for example.
DM: 28:27: You didn’t give me the good stuff …
EW: 28:28: [ad man voice] Douglas … Secretly, Douglas is actually drinking Four Sigmatic. — No.
DM: 28:34: [laughing]
EW: 28:34: The fact is, is that this show is one person and we have a bunch of crazy advertisers—it’s not like … Porsche and Mercedes aren’t choosing to advertise on the show and threatening, “Eric, you know. You had Douglas Murray on, and it’s quite dicey. …”
DM: 28:52: He’s not one of us.
EW: 28:53: “He’s not one of us.” You know, “We’re worried about this demographic slipping away.” You know, at some level, that’s what’s giving us our independence.
DM: 29:02: Sure, absolutely. But just going back to this thing with[?] institutions: it is striking if they can’t deal with the complexities. It was … It’s worrying when the institutions can’t be as complex as the public are. I mean, one of the things that’s been on my mind throughout all this has been moments when the public are clearly watching and nobody comments that the conclusion … nobody comments on the conclusion the public are likely to have come to. For instance, when mass protests break out (and maybe we shouldn’t get on to this yet, but), where mass protests break out, one of the things a public is clearly doing is thinking, “Well, we’ll see, because there ought to be a second wave now. … Interesting. There hasn’t been. Why is that?”
EW: 29:50: Well remember, the real public health problem is systemic racism.
DM: 29:55: I’m aware of that.
EW: 29:56: [laughs] So … [crosstalk] The intellectual whiplash …
DM: 30:01: But even before we get on to that, there is the issue of things that were not noted which the public can clearly note. We can notice that everybody who went on the protests doesn’t appear to have spent the succeeding weeks in bed, gasping for breath. This means that people seem to know more than everyone who’s speaking to them—including those in authority, who are then left repeating a mantra that the public less and less believe.
And this, with the Wuhan lab, is obviously a part of that. I remember (just before the thing went really bad) speaking to people in government—in this country and elsewhere—who, you know, “Well, you know, this is the area where they have a laboratory that does some of this stuff.” And then a few weeks later, it was announced that unless you believed that a bat at a wet market had caused it, you were a total psychopath/maniac.
EW: 31:14: And am I right that the wet market is not one thought to sell bats? My understanding is, is that it is a wet market that is not a purveyor of bats.
DM: 31:24: I mean, I …
EW: 31:25: I don’t know whether that’s … yeah.
DM: 31:25: No, I haven’t investigated.
EW: 31:25: You havent spent that much time in the Wuhan wet market?
DM: 31:30: No. I mean, when there was the bad thing I made a moment of levity—that was maybe needed, maybe not: When the the bat theory came up, you know, I said that they vindicated one of my long-held theories, which was that the problem with human beings is someone always shags a monkey.
EW: 31:45: [laughing]
DM: 31:46: It’s always been a disappointment of mine in our species. You know, there’s always just one guy away from doing that, you know, and this is one of the things that makes us a vibrant species extraordinary. I mean, obviously, because it’s extraordinarily precarious. And I thought, “There’s always gonna be one person who soups up a bat and then eats it.” And then, of course, it’s [?] we don’t realize that it’s the bat one was the less embarrassing story that the Chinese might want to get out. It wasn’t, as some of us thought, at first, the most embarrassing thing—it was actually the less embarrassing thing. And then we had the phenomena of, I think, first of all, the Australian Intelligence Services … one of the five eyes … I think it was the Australians first that said, “Actually, we think it might have come from a laboratory.” And then you get … there’s another bit of whiplash, because in the meantime, institutions had said, “That’s a conspiracy theory.”
EW: 32:45: Yes. Right.
DM: 32:45: And then one of the Five Eyes says it, and the Australian Government, and I think then the New Zealand government, calls for an official inquiry into it. And then the Chinese government tries to do everything it can to punish the Australians. And yes, I mean, by this point, one’s neck is sore.
EW: 33:04: Unless one gives up any attempt to believe any of this. Right? And this issue about … Well, I don’t know what vantage point I want to pull back to to analyze this with you. The total collapse of institutional integrity, across all sectors, across the entire Anglophone world … almost. Maybe there’s a pocket of integrity somewhere, but
DM: 33:33: It’s very hard.
EW: 33:34: … um … WTF?
DM: 33:39: Yeah.
EW: 33:40: And why is it that you and I … I mean, I have to admit, we have these late night calls, which is difficult because it can’t be late night for both of us.
DM: 33:49: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t mind when you call me in the [?] hours of[?] your lunch.
EW: 33:54: So, what … Douglas, what the hell’s going on? I mean, it’s as if we’re under some kind of swarm attack, where every institution goes mad in succession.
DM: 34:08: Yes, I am … as you know, I mean, I thought for a long time the job of the era is not to go mad [?] at first. That “Thou shalt not go mad” is absolutely the first rule of the time. And I did think when the pandemic first came, and we did all think (or a lot of us thought, as we were told) that, you know, we will be losing a lot of our loved ones, that that was an even more important impulse. “Okay, this is this is going to sort some of the wheat from the chaff. You know, this is going to reveal the stoics in our society, you know.” And I can’t say that I was entirely gloomy about the prospect. But I thought, in some ways, I mean, that’s a that’s a generational challenge, in that case. It’s an invitation to seriousness, above anything else. It’ll clear debris away. It’ll give us greater clarity.
And then of course, among much else, the fact that the virus turned out not to be what we thought it was at the beginning—
EW: 35:17: Have you lost anyone close?
DM: 35:19: I have one friend who died from the virus—wonderful Indian economist, Deepak Lal, who was at UCLA, who was … I only discovered quite a long time afterwards, actually. (Flood of news.) But Deepak’s the only person I know who died from it. He was eighty. Wonderful, wonderful man. But, I mean, I had friends, the beginning of [?], you know, who got it. A friend of mine who’s 94 who got it, and I just thought, “Oh, hell.” And after a couple of weeks, you know, she called me back and told me she was better. And then I … then, that was one of the ones for me that made me think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Because if it was what we thought it was, it would … that wouldn’t be possible.
EW: 36:03: Well, but I … Probably there’s some sort of predisposition that if we only knew to look for the marker, or something, we would understand that our odds are, you know, greatly different.
DM: 36:13: Yes.
EW: 36:13: There’s something about the fact that we never came up with the right intellectual framework. We were so focused on flattening the curve, which I think was about what I’ve called “deaths of discretion” where, if you’re wildly unprepared because you haven’t responded to your own literature telling you to prepare for a surge need as opposed to some slight variation around regular, modal needs, then what you do is you tried to say “How do we make sure that everyone changes his or her life in order to make sure that we don’t have a triage situation where a physician has to say, ‘you get a ventilator and you did not.’?”
DM: 36:53: Right. But did you lose anyone close?
EW: 36:55: I don’t think I’ve lost anyone close. We lost John Horton Conway, a mathematician. Musicians like John Prine, great songwriter. So there’re deaths that have mattered to me; I’ve had people in my community for The Portal who’ve lost grandparents and the likes. But I don’t think I’ve lost anyone close to the virus.
DM: 37:19: One of the things that made me … I’ve been uncharacteristically silent on lots of issues to do with the virus, because … I haven’t felt confident because of a set of the same problems we’re all in. There were certain people who, from the outset, said, “This is all nonsense,” and I didn’t feel at all that I could go along with them, because of the odd outriders which I was coming across in my own life, as well as reading about … people who I knew who were young, who really were gasping for breath when they got it. And I suppose it’s also, like a lot of us, I have loved ones who have underlying conditions—I wouldn’t … I felt (perhaps as a sort of fatalistic pagan element of my personality), but I did feel quite strongly that if one was blasé about it—certainly if one was blasé about it publicly—you know, the gods would strike. I don’t know quite why I still have this feeling—
EW: 38:21: I think it’s marvelous that you do, because it’s a self-protective one, even though it’s technically irrational.
DM: 38:26: Yes. It’s like pride before a fall, and all those cliches, which are cliches because they’re true. You know, you really should expect the gods will come and smite you if you’re too … you know.
EW: 38:42: How many of them?
DM: 38:43: [laughing] So many!
EW: 38:44: All of the gods.
DM: 38:45: All of them. One great rush of gods to take out Murray.
Yeah, I did feel that. I still feel that a bit. And, as I say, I mean, we’ve all been trying to work out exactly—you know, so you might find yourself in this position, you think, well, I know I don’t believe what the health secretary is telling me anymore. But I also don’t believe what his most ardent critics are saying. And I just don’t know, in this terrain, other than, “be careful,” “be sensible.” … But my idea of careful and sensible obviously isn’t the same as everyone else’s. And I don’t know how you would institutionalize that or make it a national policy.
EW: 39:27: Yeah, but none of this is making any sense to me at all. Because we haven’t developed the right intellectual framework. We developed a framework for public health. And forgive me for saying (this is not popular, particularly with my very left-of-center social world), but I believe that public health is all about lying and about habituating public health people to figure out “How do you get a distorted comment to produce a beneficial outcome?” You have the right to distort whatever … Like you could make it rhyme so that more people can remember it.
DM: 40:04: Right. Oh yes, like coming up with a sort of “five P’s” and all that.
EW: 40:09: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like—
DM: 40:09: Like “3 Ls.” It’s always like, what if one of them doesn’t start with a P?
EW: 40:13: Right. And then you force—you coerce it into doing that.
DM: 40:15: You’re gonna Protect, Prevent … Parler games. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter: You just you just … I don’t believe that stuff.
EW: 40:22: Well, that’s like Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.
DM: 40:24: Yeah. [laughing]
EW: 40:26: Just shove it into the circular hole no matter what the shape of the peg.
DM: 40:31: Yes, I … What would you come up with to try to explain it? Or to understand it, rather.
EW: 40:39: I would just tell people, “Hey, the intellectual ante for this game went way up. You need to budget[?] 10 times the amount of brain power and storage space for this that usually you do.
You know … If you followed, like, let’s say, in the UK, the Premier League: you have very clear idea about all the players who pass through your team, the history, the ways in which the weather might influence the game in an outdoor versus an indoor … I don’t know—all of this stuff … Bring that level of complexity that you would bring to football or soccer into virology, and you’ll be fine. And this is the key thing we got wrong about television, is that we used to think the television was the “idiot box” until we realized that it allowed for more character development than even film.
DM: 41:31: Yeah, absolutely.
The couple of things that also concern me about this are, on the public health one, obviously, we … The beginning of this whole thing started in the UK (and I think in America, to some extent): we had this thing of “we must protect the health service,” you know, “we must protect the hospital” by not being ill and going into them. Of course, I mean, I and others said at the time, “Actually the health service exists to protect us, not the other way around.” It isn’t that WE form a ring of steel around IT, but that IT’s made to form the ring of steel around US. And then, of course, you started to hear, I don’t know, that a grateful public was sending doughnuts to doctors who had nothing to do other than spend their day eating doughnuts. I’m not saying in all cases—at the beginning, there was certainly a fight on the front line. But since then, our health service has been moribund. We set up a 10,000 capacity hospital that didn’t take a patient.
EW: 42:33: Right.
DM: 42:35: And of course, one version of that story is, it didn’t take a patient because we all locked ourselves in our houses. But another one is, “No, that’s …”
EW: 42:43: Well … See, I guess what my take on it is, is that at some level, you had a multivariate situation. The virus was not simply the flu. It wasn’t the 1918 Spanish flu. It wasn’t the bubonic plague. It wasn’t a cold and a sniffle.
DM: 43:03: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EW: 43:04: And what we kept doing was reaching for an analogy to something it wasn’t, and none of the analogies worked because we didn’t build the intellectual space for something new, which is, “Okay, whatever the main parameters are that tell you what this virus is, here’s what we need to worry about.” Like, for example, morbidity, as opposed to mortality, wasn’t very well understood. Does this really end up in the brain? What are the consequences?
But again, I really have the feeling that this somehow masks the real story. And the real story to me is that we are not the people who won World War II anymore.
DM: 43:46: Say more?
EW: 43:47: We have an idea … Like, you and I are both of an age that we were born a good deal … I was born 20 years after the conclusion of World War II. But I still have the idea, “We put a man on the moon,” “We won World War II.” And we, I don’t think, did. I don’t think this society would be capable of fighting a World War II.
DM: 44:15: I’m never confident of that.
EW: 44:17: All right, well this is interesting.
DM: 44:19: Well, and, because … I—
EW: 44:21: I don’t think the US would be capable of knowing what to do about a European problem …
DM: 44:28: I … the only thing is, it didn’t know what to do twice before.
EW: 44:32: Yes.
DM: 44:35: I … you know, my own … my instinct on this is always that people never ARE the people they are going to be, unless the events …
EW: 44:44: Happen.
DM: 44:44: … happen. The famous example being the Oxford Union debate before World War II in the 1930s when the Oxford Union votes by a majority that it would not die for King and Country. And everyone at the time was hands up in the air in horror at the pacifism of the new generation who, 10 years later, were fighting their way through Normandy. So this happens. And …
EW: 45:09: I quite agree …
DM: 45:10: And as I say, there was a little residual part of that at the beginning of the virus, albeit the most minimal version. And if our generation’s challenge is to sit on our ass for weeks, then there’s some irony and …
EW: 45:16: [laughing] It’s quite funny, in a horrible way.
DM: 45:27: Yeah, absolutely. It’s everything that we worried that our generation would be. Our great challenge—
EW: 45:32: Well no, because we were called[?] before, after 911: Americans wanted to do something, and it was like, “Go shopping.” And it’s like, “You’re kidding!”
DM: 45:39: Yes. And the great call-up this time was to sit on the sofa eating cheetos and watching Netflix.
Yes, so as … I never think it’s totally settled (all that ‘greatest generation’ sort of thing). I do think that, aside from the public health element of this, there are a set of other things that we haven’t dealt with. And one of them (which is the only bit that I do take the sort of 1940s comparison with) is, “Are we able or willing to live with risk?” And that’s—to me—clearly the element of this is now being contested. A portion of our societies clearly think that zero risk is the desirable aim at this stage.
EW: 46:32: Well, a very large group of people (I don’t even know what the word—) … they ‘pretend’ to believe this?
DM: 46:38: Yes. Yeah, yeah. No, I—
EW: 46:39: How does one even imagine that [?] risk can be—. I don’t understand what it means.
DM: 46:45: The only way I can interpret it is … For instance, in each of our countries we have these polls that show that the public perception of the mortality rate is wildly higher than the actual rates. I mean, in America, the general public thing more people have died than in World War II (in America, from the virus). In my own country it’s similar—I mean, people think that percentiles of the population … It’s nowhere near—
EW: 47:07: But this is this thing I’m saying about public health, which is: we have to lie to people in order to get them to undertake a behavior to actually make sure that the levels are lower. So in effect, I think that the way a public health professional might see this (and this is horrible), is: Well we did have that perception pushed out, and thank God the public overreacted, because that’s why that’s why our numbers are so low in terms of mortality. So mission accomplished.” Yes, you’ve degraded the trust is in all of science in order to pull this off, but for the price of scaring the living crap out of a large number of people, we can get the death rate somewhat lower.
DM: 47:47: Yeah, that, well … So the first thing is, the public perception versus the reality, which has obviously taken a hit. The second is, a percentage of people in the general public in each of our countries to actually TELL the pollsters that they like the lockdown, or they want the lockdown. We had, at one point (I think in May or June) 28% of the British public saying that they would like the lockdown to continue, even if all five conditions the government had set for lifting the lockdown were met.
EW: 48:17: [laughing]
DM: 48:17: [laughing] And we say, “Who ARE these 28%?”
EW: 48:21: That’s not inconsequential.
DM: 48:23: No. I think, by the way, the answer (maybe it’ll be an unpopular thing to say, but), I think the answer is quite a lot of people who, for instance, found the furlough scheme in which the British government paid for 80% of salaries, and 80% of salary—if you don’t have to commute, and you don’t have to go into the office, and you can sit in your underpants all day—is very attractive. So there’s a lot of people who are quite willing to take that. (It depends on other variables, of course—Have you got a garden? What age are you? Do you own a house? Can you pad[?] around a bit? Or are you, you know, a millennial stuck in a rented flat, staring at the walls and climbing up them? I mean, all that stuff, definitely makes a difference.) But that 28% who just couldn’t get out again … obviously also includes the elderly and the very worried (and we all know cases—legitimately and otherwise—of that), and then there’s the younger people who are, you know, excessively, I think, worried about the virus.
But that 28%’s a very revealing one, and they exist everywhere. And then you’ve got the one of … the one that’s hard to read, which is the high numbers of the general public who want more stringent measures. We had a poll recently that said 70% of the public wanted curfews. I mean, either this plays to some deep sexual fetish of the British nation (which WANTS to be …)
EW: 49:55: Well, you have many.
DM: 49:56: [laughing] Don’t need to tell me.
It is either some desire to be dominated by the government and told you’re bad and locked down like, you know … I won’t extend the metaphor.
EW: 50:10: I think you should because our ratings will soar, sir.
DM: 50:13: But you … also might be banned from Youtube for explicit content.
EW: 50:18: What? Well we’re headed that way anyway, I’m sure.
DM: 50:23: But it’s either that or (and this is how I read it) people tell the pollsters this—they even tell their friends that—but they really think that the lockdown, that the curfew, is for other people.
EW: 50:37: Well maybe. But it also is killing FOMO.
DM: 50:40: Right. That’s not a bad thing.
EW: 50:42: Like, if I think about all of my very wealthy, very successful friends, I know this is sucking for them—even if they’re in slightly better shape … on their yachts with gardens or whatever it is that they do. I do think that, worldwide, FOMO has never been lower.
DM: 50:58: That’s a good thing.
EW: 51:00: Well, weirdly—
DM: 51:00: It’ll reduce one type of anxiety.
EW: 51:02: It does. And the … But again, all of this … I can’t help but feel that … See, I WAS worried about something like this, and I talked about this “twin nuclei” problem, which COVID may well fall into—if the Wuhan lab turns out to be a little bit more important than the government has assured us or our press has assured us it is. This IS one of my concerns. And then it doesn’t stop there.
I’m worried that somehow all of Western society is exhausted. And here’s the weirdest statement I can possibly make: If I just take the Anglophone countries (and I think about the UK as central to the Anglophone group (the Five Eyes, as you said)), you’re about the only voice that sounds like I remember. And like I expected. You’re the only person whose voice …
Like, you know, in a rather ironic twist of fate, atheists have canonized Christopher Hitchens, right? They’ve decided that in death he is more perfect than he ever was in life. And that kind of erudition, courage, wit, and willingness to take on issues as if they matter in real time. We’re not getting a ton of it crashing over our shores from the UK. And we’re not producing … That’s why Jordan Peterson, in part, rocketed to fame—or my brother became well known to more people—is that there are almost no voices that are willing to stand up for what we believed 25 years ago.
DM: 52:07: Why do you think that is?
EW: 52:54: I was gonna ask you, given that it’s my show.
DM: 52:57: Hah! Well, I don’t know. I can’t talk about myself. But …
EW: 53:02: Well, so forget you. Then there’s almost no one out there who sounds like we expect.
DM: 53:10: I’m not entirely sure I’m clear about what you expect.
EW: 53:13: I expect someone to say something on behalf of, let’s say, free speech. So when we had the situation … I mean, look. The place that I became aware of you was in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre when you went on Al Jazeera and were asked about whether or not this terrible tragedy was going to be bringing a wave of Islamophobia to Europe. And I can’t think of almost anyone else who’s correct emotional cadence was “How dare you?”
DM: 53:47: Well, I mean, I do that when I feel one of my own personal tripwires is deeply [?].
EW: 53:53: Okay, so let’s … Why does no one else have one of these deep personal tripwires? I expect to hear your voice and often no one else’s, to be blunt. Clearly, you’re uncomfortable with this—for those of you listening at home, Douglas is making all sorts of strange faces, which I’m not used to.
DM: 54:12: Well, I mean, I’ve always slightly, you know, maybe in a sort of British way, I find it hard to analyze myself.
EW: 54:18: Oh get over yourself. I mean, that’s not the issue. The issue is that there really isn’t almost anyone else that we’re hearing. I mean, people are listening to John Cleese, to, I don’t know, Ricky Gervais, … You know, there’s a very small number of people who are saying, “This is all madness.”
DM: 54:39: Well, as I say, it … If you’re gonna try to remain sane in the era, you have to have something to draw upon. And I do think a very important task is to encourage younger people to spend their time developing such assets.
Now, part of it is, I suppose, what we used to call “character.” One of my heroes was a totally obscure figure, there’s a British novelist called Simon Raven, who wrote some sort of Anthony Powell ‘lite’ novels in the post-war period. He was a rather rackety figure—was expelled from school, chucked out of Cambridge, and then chucked out of the army, and was chucked out of everything so he had to be a novelist.
EW: 55:40: [laughs] I see.
DM: 55:41: But he had a godfather who was a pilot in World War II, and I remember he was just sort of … he was always a hero who … I read somewhere that (one of the biopics[?] from Simon Raven, I suppose) that he, the godfather, had been in a plane (two-seater plane) in the war. And at some point, he and his co-pilot were shot down and plummeting to Earth and Simon Raven’s godfather was overheard by his co-pilot saying, “This is unfortunate. This is the end.”
EW: 56:14: [laughing]
DM: 56:14: [laughing] And they actually survived.
EW: 56:16: But in that fashion.
DM: 56:17: This became, yeah, this became family lore, you know. I mean, personally, I admire the sort of stoicism like that. I always did. And I was brought up with it. The downside of it is it includes the stuff of not analyzing emotions, and much more.
EW: 56:24: I understand that. But wasn’t everyone brought up with that? I mean, you hardly seemed alone 50 years ago. This would not have marked you out in particular. The stiff upper lip is still sort of … like … You used the word earlier, ‘performative.’
DM: 56:51: Yeah.
EW: 56:52: I don’t recall growing up with that word.
DM: 56:55: No. No, well,—
EW: 56:57: Everything now is through a very different lens and the language that we use on a daily basis … many of these concepts and words didn’t even exist.
DM: 57:08: Yes, but we’ve undergone this unbelievable revolution (which has gone on in my lifetime, let alone[?] in yours). The things that are now normal were totally abnormal. I say all the time, when … Young [?] are very fortunate to have a lot of young readers, a lot of young listeners, like you …
[?] … One of your first tasks is to develop meaningful personal relationships. And to have friends who want you to do well and who care for you. And who you care for. And who will be there for you when you need them, and who need you. You shouldn’t make it transactional. But work on that: the development of such a meaningful relationship in your life. Don’t spend your time trying to get thousands of followers online who don’t give a shit about you. Just … just don’t do that.
Now, the first part of that was obvious. Always. The second part of it has been in competition for the first part for some time, and a lot of young people have been encouraged to take the wrong path on that. They can correct that. And they should be encouraged, indeed told to correct that. Um …
EW: 58:19: I’m not sure. I really want to debate this with you.
DM: 58:21: Go on.
EW: 58:22: Alright. So it seems to me that maybe even the value of friendship has decreased, because we’re not even entirely sure who our friends are, because they are being …
Alright, let me pull all the way back. I have said to you (I think as recently as yesterday, maybe) that the phone is not what we thought it was. We’re carrying around this device—we thought that it was a version of the Library of Alexandria that we carry in our pockets, and somehow what it really seems to be is a toolkit for rewiring the human mind in ways that we have no … we lack all understand.
DM: 59:04: Yeah, absolutely. Of course. It’s changed everything and, as always, we have no idea how much it’s changed us as we’re going through it.
EW: 59:10: Right. Now, in some sense, it’s changed my friends (from from childhood and from early adulthood). And so I don’t know whether it hasn’t changed both … Like, if you think about a relationship as having two nodes—the two participants—and an edge between them? I’m not positive that it hasn’t changed all three of those things—the two actors or agents, as well as the way in which they interact.
DM: 59:36: Of course, but I mean, you have to be—
EW: 59:37: Is it worth more or less to you? [?]
DM: 59:39: You have to be strict about this stuff. And you have to find your own rules. I may be a somewhat exacting friend. [crosstalk] But I mean, I have, fairly regularly … By the way, particularly since the pandemic, I have found myself telling my friends to put the bloody phone down. “No, I don’t want you to show me that. thing on the screen. I want you to tell me.”
EW: 1:00:01: Yes.
DM: 1:00:02: Okay? “I don’t need to see the video, I’d rather that you described it to me. It’ll be more fun.”
EW: 1:00:07: Oh, I haven’t I haven’t encountered this before—
DM: 1:00:09: Oh yeah, yeah. it’s because, this year in particular, people are even MORE into this. I’ve found—I have to say it (not not to everyone, but to some people)—it’s surprising people do it. Will without their iPad / the phone and show you something. I don’t want that. I want to spend the time with you. I don’t want the distraction. I want what I can’t get elsewhere. And I think people have to do this. Including, by the way on strange things like—and again, you have to have your own rules on this—don’t look up the thing you can’t remember.
EW: 1:00:45: Well, I try to tell this to people: remember some poems because storing them between your ears allows you to make references to them. If they only exist on the internet, then you won’t necessarily be able to make a connection between two of them.
DM: 1:00:58: By the way, that … This is a very … I’m so glad you said that; this is a very, very deeply held view of mine. I heard it once as a schoolboy when a man called Terry Waite, who was held captive in Lebanon; famous in the 1980s—was an envoy of the then Archbishop of Canterbury; was kept hostage for years; when I was growing up, Terry Waite’s name was in the news all the time.
EW: 1:01:21: All the time.
DM: 1:01:22: And he once came to my school after [?]. He gave an extraordinary talk [that] remained with me about how he had got through years chained to a radiator in a basement in Beirut. And one of the things I never forget him saying was that he had the opening of Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot in his mind all the time—you know, “time present and time past / they’re both contained in time future / time future contained in time past / If all time is eternally present / all time is unredeemable.” And on. And I remember when he started reading (was reciting it), and particularly when he got to the passage (what is it?) “Footfalls echo in the memory / Down the passage which we did not take / Through the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden.” And … I was just blown away—first by the words, but secondly by the the embedding of an intuition I already had, which is “You’ll need this stuff.”
EW: 1:02:26: You’ll need this stuff.
DM: 1:02:28: By the way, the late George Steiner (who I, sadly, didn’t know, but who I once also had giving a lecture when I was a boy) also deeply impressed this on me. Steiner was the main sort of middle-of-European intellectual who came to England—I suppose, in some ways, always lost some of the fame to Isaiah Berlin. But Steiner was a remarkable figure—kind we don’t see very much anymore. (We[?] didn’t see much then.) And he … this was very much it what he would impart to you, which was: What do you have up here, the bastards can’t take. And, you know, Steiner had endless stories of examples of this, some of which—all of which were deeply moving. Russian poets who would know … A Russian poet who knew Don Juan of Byron [?] by heart, and when imprisoned in gulag, translates it in her head into Russian. And it becomes the version in Russian. (What is it?) The 1937 writers’ conference in Moscow … the Russian novelist who … (now, why have I blanked on the name suddenly—you’ll have to read it that.)
EW: 1:04:12: I won’t let you look it up. You know that.
DM: 1:04:14: Yeah. Oh, you know, the … God, I hate it when this happens. Author of Dr. Zhivago, why have I lost the name.
EW: 1:04:31: Pasternak?
DM: 1:04:32: Pasternak. Why’ve I lost Pasternak? That’s bad; that’s mental deterioration.
EW: 1:04:36: Don’t worry! Press on!
DM: 1:04:38: … Mental deterioration, right there.
Pasternak stands up at the 1937 writers’ conference. And no, because—sorry, this is a bit of a diversion, but it’s worth doing maybe. Of course, 37 is the worst year of the purges. He knows he can’t speak. He can’t not speak. And everybody knows Pasternak has to speak. And I think, having all the figures for the number of people at the 1937 conference of writers who survived in 1939 is tiny. Pasternack, by the last day, everyone says, “You’ve got to say something.” And Pasternak gets up onto the podium and says one number. And everybody rises. It’s the number of the Shakespeare sonnet, “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past.” And Pasternak did the translation of this into Russian—which, they say, is as beautiful as any of the words in English. And every of the writers recites the translation of the Shakespeare sonnet in Russian. And he survives.
EW: 1:05:58: How odd.
DM: 1:05:59: But … my point is that this … the knowledge that you’ll need stuff—that it’ll fortify you through your life—is a very deep instinct with me. And … so when people say, you know, it’s worth memorizing in order that you keep your brain going, and it’s a useful cognitive exercise … [laughing] it is not just that. It’s … Part of the purpose of it (well in fact, the most important purpose) is you need to steel yourself for what’s coming.
EW: 1:06:40: Well, to your point, I mean … You know, the old song, [singing] “The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea. The way— [?] memory of all that”?
DM: 1:06:48: Sure. Yeah.
EW: 1:06:49: [singing] “They can’t take that away from me.” This idea of ‘what cannot be taken’ … Years ago, in the town of Hoi An[?], in Vietnam, I saw … there’s a marvelous one-stringed Vietnamese instrument (which I’m going to mispronounce, because nothing can be pronounced from Vietnamese unless you’re an expert), which is going to be spelled something like the “dan bow.” And I saw it in a window, and the woman-of-the-house saw that I was admiring this, invited me in, and they wheeled in a man who’d clearly lost his marbles and was sort of … I remember him as almost drooling, not really able to speak, some form of English … And at some point, somebody brought in a guitar, and he started playing his own transcription of Chopin onto the guitar. So I thought, “Oh, this is rather strange: a drooling idiot who’s lost his mind who can play Chopin, and it appears to be his own transcription (on a guitar)” … None of it made any sense.
And then out came an album of newspaper clippings about how this man had been a journalist (and a courageous one) who had been sent for re-education by communists. And they had destroyed his body and rewired his mind, and somehow he had held on to this thing that he was. And this …
You know, there’s a lyric in a Bob Dylan song (which I’m very partial to), where he says, “Buy me a flute and a gun that shoots tailgates and substitutes,” and then the line is, “Strap yourself to a tree with roots, because you ain’t going nowhere.” And I think about this idea of the tree with roots: what is it that has survived two World Wars, and what would you like to tie yourself to? Whether or not you think that it actually makes sense, it’s important to make sure that you’re tied to SOME things that have survived through all of the tumult that the 20th century could throw it.
DM: 1:08:54: Yes. This is … Look, it is not the ONLY answer. (I know some people who think that it is, at the moment.) Marcus Aurelius alone cannot get us out of this problem. But he helps.
EW: 1:09:06: [smiling] Okay.
DM: 1:09:08: Boethius can’t, alone, help us out. But he can help.
I think that there has been a fundamental mistake in the transmission to (particularly to) younger people (including my own generation, to an extent). It wasn’t [crosstalk] … There was a mistaken impression of what life was going to be like, and I do feel the consequences of this are landing.
EW: 1:09:37: And what was … What do you consider your generation? May I ask your birth year?
DM: 1:09:41: I mean, it’s … very rude of you! I was—
EW: 1:09:45: I’m an American, I can get away with it.
DM: 1:09:46: I was born in 1979.
EW: 1:09:48: Alright. So I am at the beginning of Gen X, and you are effectively right at the end.
DM: 1:09:55: Right. I was, by the way, ID’d at an alcohol shop in LA last night.
EW: 1:10:00: Well done, [?]
DM: 1:10:01: Yeah, no, I told him “I’m coming back ALWAYS!” [laughing]
EW: 1:10:03: [laughing]
DM: 1:10:06: No, … I think I got at the END of something—partly because of the nature of my education, and the places I was educated, in the end; and partly because of sel-taught things (and I graduated towards certain people and certain ideas because of what I intuited as being worthwhile).
EW: 1:10:28: Right.
DM: 1:10:29: However, I know quite a lot of people who are my age and younger, who didn’t imbibe all of this, and who—I mean, look. Take an obvious one, “it’s unfair.” It doesn’t have the PULL on me that it does for some people. …
EW: 1:10:49: Because lots of things are unfair. You can’t make life fair.
DM: 1:10:51: Yeah! I just … Idon’t find it an intoxicating point.
EW: 1:10:55: Alright. But then that comes back on us.
DM: 1:10:58: Sure.
EW: 1:10:58: So, for example, when we complained about people who’re seeing that everything is being unfair. And then people say, “Well, are you claiming that is unfair to call everything ‘unfair’?”
DM: 1:11:07: Yeah. And, of course, the laziness that can crop into it is that you end up ignoring things that are genuinely unfair. And fairness IS actually an important thing. And you end up being blasé about things you shouldn’t be blasé about. That’s just quite a problem. But …
It’s an interesting … Like, I mean, one of my—I only met him once, but somebody I admired enormously in my 20s is Irving Kristol. And remember, Irving said somewhere about inequality, he said, “Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, but I’m not interested in inequality. I don’t find it interesting in sports. I don’t find it interesting economics. I’m just not interested in it.”
EW: 1:11:07: What does that mean?
DM: 1:11:07: He didn’t think equality was the desirable goal.
Well, I agree that equality isn’t a desirable goal.
EW: 1:11:58: I mean, I actually hold that point of view now.
DM: 1:12:00: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
EW: 1:12:01: But, I don’t think that that’s … I think that the economists who refused to study inequality actually consigned us to a world in which political economy dominates regular forms of expression, like honest market interactions, or proper use of a ballot box.
DM: 1:12:20: Well, this is the example I want to give, because, on the one hand, it’s an interesting and important generational instinct to have. On the other hand, if you apply it across the board, you miss things. And we have missed things.
EW: 1:12:35: Well, look, let’s try a different version of this. One of my claims is that the world appeared much smarter to me several decades ago, because people were running heuristics that matched the world they lived in. In other words, they weren’t actually fundamental thinkers, but (and I give the same example in order to drive it home), if the river usually flows (and you’re used to swimming in the swimming hole), when it freezes over and you talk about going swimming or diving, you’re revealed not to have updated for a phase change. And I believe that in a low-inequality world, fetishizing equality is a peculiar thing. When you get to, I don’t know, Brazilian levels of inequality, you do have a different beast on your hands—it’s not the same thing. That regime doesn’t work …
DM: 1:13:34: Yes. There’s an additional problem in that, isn’t there, Eric, which is that … There is a set of problem, which people don’t counter, or they don’t contend with, rather, because the only people who’ve been thinking about it are people with the wrong answers.
EW: 1:13:54: Where you’re driven away, because the people who fetishized something actually defined the field and you’re repulsed, or put off by those founders of that particular [?].
DM: 1:14:06: I mean, I think we’ve discussed this before in private (I know we have): the, (and it goes back to the conversation we were having about virology), which is, who can you trust on the area that you don’t know about? And how do you know they’re not pulling a fast one when you’re not looking? And … on a range of things, I think, that an explanation of where our politics and culture has been going bad, is through taking our eye off things because the people who claimed to know about it were people we knew to have the wrong answers. You know, I say this, and I’m guilty of this myself, you know, I’m more on the right than you are. But the right didn’t contend with inequality because the only people talking and thinking about inequality were people who had bad answers, which was, “Therefore capitalism is a problem.” And so, we just wanted to keep away from it.
EW: 1:15:09: Well, I had the same feeling on the left. Which is that, I don’t want to banish inequality from the system—that is not a goal; that it would be a terrible thing; and, effectively, the only way to banish inequality is through high levels of violence, and then you will watch the whoever’s meting out the violence is going to become the new unequal class. The thing doesn’t add up. And so, if you’re an intelligent, progressive … I mean, one of the things I contend with is that, my … I feel like I hate communism much more than my right-of-center friends who are willing to mumble about it all the time, but they’re not necessarily willing to pick up a stick and fight it.
DM: 1:15:45: Wasn’t that almost always the case with communism on the left? The left who were anti-communist knew what they were dealing with.
EW: 1:15:52: Oh, my gosh. And it’s … because … The thing about communism is that, in order to get humans to do something so counter to our nature, you usually need a threat. So violence tends to be implicit in communism. Whereas if you’re a progressive, wanting to live in a very violent society seems a very strange thing—even if the violence is state-controlled, and mostly kept in it’s sheath. But …
DM: 1:16:20: We should get on to violence shortly, by the way. But before we do, can I suggest that, um, there are—
EW: 1:16:26: You can take over the show. You can do whatever you want.
DM: 1:16:28: No, no. I wouldn’t dream of it!
EW: 1:16:32: Do you know how much work you would save me?
DM: 1:16:35: [laughing] Can I suggest that … Well, I mean, there’ll a be … We should, for the sake of balance, among other things, think of a right wing/left wing version of the same thing. Something the left isn’t contending with because they believe the right will smuggle in a load of dangerous stuff if they did. I suppose abortion rights might be one in America.
EW: 1:16:57: Well, abortion … I mean, abortion rights is very good, because you have the twin sins of the right wing calling every fertilized egg a ‘baby,’ and the left wing referring to a child about to be born in a few minutes, ‘fetal tissue.’ Right? It’s like … we’re deathly afraid of talking about embryology, Carnegie stages in human development.
DM: 1:17:24: Yeah. Yeah. And that is partly because of this. Because we (particularly on the left) people sense that the people who’ve been doing the thinking about it have the worst answers.
EW: 1:17:34: I can’t stand the pro-life intellectual corpus held by those with whom I caucus.
DM: 1:17:43: Yeah.
EW: 1:17:43: Sorry, sorry. The pro-choice caucus is disgusting relative to late-term pregnancies. And the pro-life caucus is horribly authoritarian with respect to personal business surrounding … yeah.
DM: 1:17:58: Absolutely. Absolutely.
There’s probably … well there are plenty of other ones. I’m trying to think maybe even one other just as, I guess, …
EW: 1:18:05: We could do immigration, or …
DM: 1:18:07: Yeah, immigration. Immigration is a very good one. I noticed this with Strange Death of Europe that, you know … I was trying to get the political class of[?] Europe, in particular, to think about immigration more deeply. And I kept discovering along the way that you couldn’t get the left to do it, because they intuited that the only people who’ve been thinking about it were the right, and the right had horrible, horrible methods[?].
EW: 1:18:30: Only have hate in their hearts.
DM: 1:18:31: Yeah. Well they had hate in their hearts, they assume the worst possible motivations, and the worst possible answers. And so they wouldn’t contend with … And … It was such a visible mistake. The left SHOULD have been thinking about it. [???] who did. I mean, trade unionists, and others, DID think about immigration, because of labor, wages, and much more.
EW: 1:18:50: Well, this is odd thing. …
DM: 1:18:51: But those people disappeared. I mean, those people disappeared, certainly in my country, by the 90s and 2000s.
EW: 1:18:59: Yeah, I feel like Ishi, Last of His Tribe, where I come from an earlier left-of-center position on immigration. And, you know, this was held by Cesar Chavez, and, you know, who might have a mural painted to him, you know, today … But on the other hand, the Sierra Club was definitely restrictionist. And the farm workers’ union were restrictionist. And it was in the 80s, when we killed off organized labor, that it became unthinkable, and the only reason to oppose immigration was because of your deep-seated hatred for your fellow man who was different of hue than you were. I mean, some such nonsense, right? And this … I give this as a check, which is: Can you can you find a single article that will talk about what I call ‘xenophilic restrictionism’? And there isn’t any!
DM: 1:19:54: Exactly. No, no, at some point … We’ve said in private before, but, a long time ago this … ‘xenophobe’ should not have been tied completely to restrictionists.
EW: 1:20:08: Well, every slaver was, you know … [?] a xenophobe—eager to import as much labor as possible.
DM: 1:20:16: As a slave owner, you might have said, early open borders.
EW: 1:20:19: Right. The whole principle, here, is that they’re independent objects. I’ve talked about this with the four quadrant model and all of this nonsense.
But … This is this question, we can’t get around our own institutional narratives. It is only a part of the institutional narrative that says, “We want to make sure that … he or she who mentions restrictionism instantly feels pain. So that the very thought about restricting immigration and …”
Let’s talk about a difference between the US and the UK: we do not have a “Rivers of Blood” speech. Many of us don’t even know what that is.
DM: 1:20:56: God. Lucky.
EW: 1:20:57: Well, what is the “Rivers of Blood” speech, and how does that affect UK thinking on immigration, different than, let’s say, what you observe of the US feelings about immigration? And then I want to use this as a launchpad to discuss a particular tick of conservative thought.
DM: 1:21:18: You know, I mean, that—for American listeners who don’t know that—yeah, that was 1968 when Enoch Powell (Shadow Cabinet Minister) gave a speech in which he referred to …
EW: 1:21:34: ‘Shadow Cabinet.’ Can you just say a few more words?
DM: 1:21:36: The party was in opposition, at the time. He was the conservative Member of Parliament—very distinguished thinker, extraordinary mind, and a very haunting figure in British politics, because … I remember him from boyhood (as I’d met[?] him a number times, as a child), he was he was a captivating figure, in lots of ways. He was like an Old Testament prophet. And he was a philosopher in politics, which, as you know, is a bad thing. I mean, it’s bad for them.
EW: 1:22:04: Okay. But he was talking about a force that would transform the UK forever.
DM: 1:22:09: Yes.
EW: 1:22:09: And it did, did it not?
DM: 1:22:11: Yes, it did. And the reason why people still talk about Enoch Powell—whereas they don’t talk about Edward Heath, who fired him for the speech—is because he was onto SOMEthing. (I’m being careful here.) He was on to SOMEthing. And a conservative critique of where he went wrong, among other things, is that he used such lurid language that the speech in which he … you[?] said that he “saw like the Roman.” He “saw the river Tiber foaming with much blood.”
EW: 1:22:39: And some of this was actually filmed, right?
DM: 1:22:41: Yes, some of it, not all of it. Anyhow, it did completely … captivated, galvanized, the debate. Dock workers and others marched, you know, “we’re with Enoch.” And others were disgusted by—The Times of London ran a leader column, calling it an “evil” speech. And there was something very, very off with it. And I concede this. You know, I …
EW: 1:23:05: But this is exactly why I think it’s fascinating. Because of the point that you earlier raised, which is that there’s something about the treatment with which something is touched …
One of my huge complaints about Trump is not that he does nothing right, but every right thing that he does, he touches with this Trump … thing … whatever it is, and—
DM: 1:23:27: Yes, and it, by the way, it’s a real problem, this, isn’t it? Because in a way, whenever anyone says, “Yes, it’s the tone I don’t like,” you think that’s the coward’s last refuge. (Very often.) It’s … you can’t counter the facts, you can’t counter [?], but you don’t like the tone. And yet, the conundrum of this is sometimes the tone does tell you an awful lot.
EW: 1:23:51: I think the tone sometimes is actually part of the content? And sometimes it isn’t. Right?
DM: 1:23:58: Right. Yup.
EW: 1:23:58: And so, you know, … One of the things that I struggle with is that I am expected, in most of my private life, to hate Trump for exactly the same reasons that everyone else in my group hates Trump. And I’m supposed to know that no credit can be given for any good thing that happens, because to the extent that someone makes the trains run on time and you acknowledge this, it just means that they have the opportunity to kill that many more of their opposition. Right? And so the idea that Trump … we were promised four … you know, fascism in the streets—it doesn’t appear to have happened wholesale. And then, you know, you get these refrains like, “Well, what about the detention centers? And the cages, and the children? And the …”
DM: 1:24:44: This is all … It does get back to the ’68 speech point, because … The conservative critique, by the way, of Powell was that he had made immigration and impossible-to-discuss subject for decades afterwards.
EW: 1:24:59: That’s the issue!
DM: 1:25:01: My late friend Roger Scruton wrote a very, very powerful essay 15 years ago or so, about the speech, titled “Should he have spoken?” Which is a very interesting, thoughtful, go-over of that question, which still, in a way, haunts Britain. And I think that maybe, whatever happens your election, maybe this will remain the case for some time with anything associated with Trump—that it will have this “Should he have said that?” …
EW: 1:25:35: Do you remember the dress?
DM: 1:25:37: Which one?
EW: 1:25:38: The one that was either black and blue or white and gold?
DM: 1:25:41: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah.
EW: 1:25:43: So the great danger is, is that almost everything has become the dress. And, you know, if I think about the Enoch Powell speech—because I’m not British, and because it doesn’t have the spell (like this is an example of something that casts a spell inside of the UK that is not felt in the US, right?) …
It’s very interesting, because there are shortcuts that you can take when talking about immigration. For example, I tend to talk about software, hardware and firmware. Right? Where, in essence, hardware is your genetics (this melanin content of this skin (which everyone seems to be so fascinated by at the moment (which I don’t believe))). Then there’s a question about the software, which is like, what do you think, what political party do you belong to? But there’s also this different issue of the firmware. Like, the operating system that rides on the hardware. And I’m very particular about firmware, and I’m almost indifferent to hardware. I don’t really care about … If you told me that there was an advanced European-like civilization in Uganda, where everyone was black but me, I would be far happier to live in that society—where the firmware was familiar and the hardware was foreign—then to live in a world in which the firmware got swapped out and everyone shared my exact genetics. Like, I really care about firmware nationalism. I don’t want hardware nationalism.
DM: 1:27:25: Yeah, absolutely. But one of the problems we have may well be going through is that … we can’t seem to cope with this.
EW: 1:27:37: Well, but, the reason I bring this up is that … I brought that up at a dinner with … I mean, I have this problem that I get along with conservatives and libertarians, even though I’m not in either group—
DM: 1:27:47: Well that’s because we’re still (if you don’t mind my saying so) that’s because we’re still willing to talk.
EW: 1:27:52: You’re still willing to talk for the moment?
DM: 1:27:55: Yes, it may be—
EW: 1:27:56: Well, no, no—it’s worse than that. So—
DM: 1:27:57: In America, it might be because the right feels that it’s also been winning. I mean, might be something to do with that. I don’t know.
EW: 1:28:03: Well, ‘winning’ is a complicated concept, because it’s multivariate: you’re losing in some places, you’re winning in others.
DM: 1:28:03: Of course.
EW: 1:28:09: And I think another reason is, is that a lot of the thinking left has been driven towards the right. So this is what I’ve referred to as “The Thinkquisition,” where, if the occupied left is Spain and the right is behaving as the Ottoman Empire (welcoming Jews who are a little bit under-the-gun), initially, you don’t see yourself as Ottoman, you see yourself as ‘displaced.’ Or, you know, what was De Gaulle doing in England? Was he being British? Or it was he … You know, I’m expected to love the Democratic Party, and I view it as like the Occupied Democrats or Vichy Democrats. I don’t know what it is. It’s been something for 28 years since Clinton.
DM: 1:28:53: But … as I said … I may be too flippant in saying this about the right, but go on with the …
EW: 1:28:59: Well what I was gonna say that this dinner, was that as soon as I started getting into this hardware/software/firmware, the call from the host came as, “Too complicated, Eric.” And I thought—
DM: 1:29:13: Do you think the host DID think it was too complicated? Or was trying to stop …
EW: 1:29:16: I think that it has to do with the fact that the host has an idea that this is that lefty stuff where you guys can’t say these words that the rest of us can say and circle around. Which is like … For example, if somebody were to say, at my table, “They’re taking our jobs,” I would get very upset.
DM: 1:29:36: Sure.
EW: 1:29:38: It doesn’t mean that I don’t know exactly what that person is saying. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t written a peer-reviewed paper that actually embodies what is meant by that phrase. But that phrase is a shortcut. And it won’t do for somebody on the left to say “they” (which is people who are more or less like me that don’t happen to hold my citizenship) taking “our” jobs (what do you mean “our” jobs? Did not have immigration before?)—like, there’s so much wrong with the statement, “They’re taking our jobs,” that I can’t get around the way the right might express that point. The right—to your earlier point that the right will taint this with a kind of jingoism, or a nationalism, or patriotism bordering on something less savory. And my feeling is: No, I would rather spend three pages and get it right, and show that it has nothing to do with xenophobia or jingoism …
DM: 1:30:45: Well, yes.
EW: 1:30:46: And the right’s point is, “That’s not going to win elections, dear boy.”
DM: 1:30:52: Yeah. Well, maybe part of the problem with this is that everyone is currently behaving as if they’re in permanent campaign mode …
EW: 1:31:00: Yes.
DM: 1:31:00: … when it’s not their bloody job. You know, I mean, this is what’s so infuriating (particularly in America) at the moment. It’s like: What do you think this dinner table is? Is it a place where friends congregate and we exchange ideas? Or is it some very some low-grade version of the VP debate?
EW: 1:31:20: Exactly. The quality of our relationships at the table are so much higher than the quality of our relationships with these things I call ‘creatures’ who have fused with their parties, or they fused with their institutions—it’s like cyborgs who’re no longer human, but part man, part machine, right? And so the issue of watching a family blow apart because of their adherence to two players they’ve never met, who hold points of view that they would never be able to get behind, …
DM: 1:31:55: This has to be fought. It has to be fought very hard, by everybody in their personal lives. I know it’s happened a certain amount in my own life. People have been willing to blow up what they should love most. For this bloody political game.
EW: 1:32:10: Well this is the … I would rather—
DM: 1:32:13: It has to be called out. Stopped. We’ve far too much tolerance [?]. I’ve noticed this in the last few weeks in America: every time I have sat down at a dinner table, (maybe I will lose the remaining friends I have, I’m not going to name any names)
EW: 1:32:25: Let’s just fuckin’ do it!
DM: 1:32:26: Okay. I’m not going to name any names. But. Every single time, in every city I’ve been to, that I’ve seen friends who are on the anti-Trump side, at some point in dinner they have lost it at somebody else at the table. I, as you know, high on disagree—
EW: 1:32:44: Now, I will point out that you came to our Shabbat dinner, recently. So … [in jest] you HAVE used the word ‘every,’ sir!
DM: 1:32:55: I think it was the day after Shabbat [?]
EW: 1:32:57: [laughing]
DM: 1:32:58: But I think … I think that holds.
EW: 1:33:01: Oh, yes, I guess it was after Shabbat.
DM: 1:33:03: Yeah, but my POINT holds.
EW: 1:33:04: Well, but … My wife and I started going into various disagreements—we’re both on the same side of the aisle, and we still don’t hear the world the same way.
DM: 1:33:12: Exactly. I forgot—how embarrassing to say that and to have forgotten that it was …
EW: 1:33:17: [simultaneous] It was so clever that you would bring it up in this way, and then …
DM: 1:33:19: … your table was one of the tables at which it happened.
EW: 1:33:21: Exactly!
DM: 1:33:23: [laughing]
EW: 1:33:24: [low voice] Damn you, Douglas!
DM: 1:33:25: As you know, I am high on disagreeability in public and highly agreeable in private.
EW: 1:33:31: I found that most disappointing.
DM: 1:33:33: I’m sorry about that. I can’t … I actually do have a pacifying instinct around the dinner table, because I don’t want that stuff.
EW: 1:33:41: I think it’s completely logical that you would be that way.
DM: 1:33:43: Right. I’m glad to hear that.
I’m just … incredibly struck by it on this visit. And I’m worried by it. And I—
EW: 1:33:53: It’s destroying all of our relationships!
DM: 1:33:54: Exactly. I dislike it. I genuinely … I like discussion in private, as in public, which involves people saying what they think and somebody else saying, “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?” on ALMOST any issue. Now, it’s true that there are occasions where somebody might say something SO reprehensible, that you say, “You know what? I just don’t think I want to be part of this.”
EW: 1:34:18: Well, that’s true.
DM: 1:34:20: Very, very rarely. Well, I can think of … I can think of maybe one or two occasions it’s happened in my life.
EW: 1:34:30: That’s extraordinary.
DM: 1:34:32: But I am not up for people blowing up every time they sit down over a meal in order to fight something over which they care more than they need to.
EW: 1:34:46: Well let me try to steelman the perspective of those who are blowing up, so that we can at least play with it.
DM: 1:34:54: Sure.
EW: 1:34:56: I believe, at the moment, that we are about to make decisions that may destroy our societies.
DM: 1:35:02: Mm-hmm.
EW: 1:35:02: I don’t think that it’s assured that the US and the UK are going to go on indefinitely, given where we are at the moment. And it’s a very strange thing to say. Because whatever it is that we’re suffering from, is a subtle thing. It’s not. If I look visually at the world, there’s no reason that we should be about to implode. But clearly, there’s a lot of indication that the visual is not matching where we are. Okay?
So if you imagine that this is actually weirdly life-and-death for people—for countries, for nations, for ideas—I do think that the stakes are extraordinarily high. To your point about what you’ve called ‘the snowplow’ earlier in our conversation: I’ve talked about this as the A-frame roof where you’re trying to dance at the top, and that it gets more and more peaked, and therefore—
DM: 1:35:48: It’s exactly the same thing the other way around.
EW: 1:35:49: It’s exactly the same thing. Okay. In that circumstance, the problem is that the places for people to collect are now so unthinkable. Like, you know, the old dirty little secret of immigration in the past was that the two positions that matter not at all are open and closed borders, because that doesn’t happen. But because the public is somehow trying to conduct this conversation, and these are the natural Schelling points—which is like, I know how to say “no restrictions,” and I know how to say “full restrictions,” I don’t know how to say, “I want these 36 pages of code implemented with this shifting priority in point space[?]” and all that kind of stuff. So in general, the more of us that have gotten involved in a discussion like immigration (on Twitter, or something to that effect), we find ourselves discussing nonsensical (traditionally nonsensical) positions. And therefore, we’re terrified of each other, because somebody says, “I don’t understand why we have to have borders. No people are illegal.” And the other person says, you know, “God, grit, and guns made America great.” And what kind of conversation is that? It’s no kind of conversation at all.
DM: 1:35:53: It is suboptimal.
EW: 1:37:10: Well it’s a child’s conversation of two dystopias, neither of which should ever happen.
DM: 1:37:18: One point (before the point I want to make): we have actually seen … Again, it’s one of these things: maybe 2020 is a year where we, among other things, notice things that we don’t talk about at the time.
EW: 1:37:30: Okay.
DM: 1:37:31: Sorry. There is a total ban—I’m going to give you an exception, of course. There’s a total ban on my countrymen coming to this country, at the moment. Instituted by the President.
EW: 1:37:41: Yes.
DM: 1:37:41: Did you think that would ever happen in your lifetime?
EW: 1:37:42: No.
DM: 1:37:43: No. Right.
EW: 1:37:45: I should say I was shocked when we locked Charlie Chaplin out of the United States on a visit home. But and I was shocked when we locked Paul Robson and Linus Pauling INTO the country. So anything of this … Like, I’ve noticed these kinds of behaviors in the past.
DM: 1:38:01: Okay. But … Obviously, here I’ve managed[?] to get an exemption on journalistic grounds for being in the States. So there are exceptions. But. I’ve done, to this point … When you say that that’s a totally unfeasible scenario—that we are dealing with two extremes, neither of which are workable—I just would add, the visuals are otherwise, at the moment. I mean, I have, when I first saw—
EW: 1:38:24: Your presence … The fact that there are exceptions … I’m not saying we[?] can’t tilt, temporarily, towards great restrictionism …
DM: 1:38:31: Okay, okay. Temporarily. Yes, ok. Temporarily.
EW: 1:38:33: Even the ‘temporarily’ … You know, during the Chinese Exclusion Act and other things we’re not so proud of in this country … You know, there’s a long period between (what was it) like, the McCarran Act would have been like the 50s, the Immigration … the great change was 1965 …
DM: 1:38:53: I’m not saying … I mean … My point is that, certainly, in the short-to-medium term, it’s possible. Some things are possible we thought were not possible. I never thought I would see Justin Trudeau announcing that no foreigners will be allowed into Canada [?].
EW: 1:39:07: Yes.
DM: 1:39:08: Okay. So these things have happened this year. People have noted them. They’re not completely insane things anymore. And one of the things we’re going to have to dance with going forward is that memory.
EW: 1:39:21: Well, so, for example—
DM: 1:39:22: On a range of things.
EW: 1:39:23: The Seattle exclusion … Capitol Hill Exclusion Zone.
DM: 1:39:26: Absolutely.
EW: 1:39:26: What the heck was that? Now …
DM: 1:39:29: That could all happen, and did happen, this year. And we haven’t …
EW: 1:39:34: Although it un-happened almost as quickly as it could happen.
DM: 1:39:38: Happily so, but …
EW: 1:39:39: Portland went on for a bit longer.
DM: 1:39:41: Yeah. Still going on.
But just to return to, as it were, the steelmanning point, which you make. I’m very glad you raise that, because it’s been on my mind since I’ve been here, and one of the things that I’ve thought would be [?]. As far as I can see it, my left wing friends in America (and never-Trumper friends) have a basis that is totally understandable. Which is something like, “How could we ever forgive anyone who allowed this man to be in power?”
EW: 1:40:19: You find this understandable?
DM: 1:40:21: Yes.
EW: 1:40:22: Oh my gosh,
DM: 1:40:23: Yeah, I do.
EW: 1:40:24: Wow.
DM: 1:40:24: I don’t sympathize with it.
EW: 1:40:27: I feel like we, the left, elected him. [crosstalk] And I was so angry. Well I’m just … This is something which I don’t understand at all. Because my feeling is … Donald Trump couldn’t have been elected without the Clintons.
DM: 1:40:43: Sure. Of course, of course. I go along with all of this. I’m saying that, if I was to steelman what the left[?] think about this, it’s saying, “How did you allow this man—with these reprehensible character traits, and so on—to be able to get to the highest office in the land?” And they blame the right for that. They blame everyone who voted for him. And what’s more, they’ve come to blame everybody who expresses any, as they see, ideological cover for his position. For instance, I believe … I have written this—I’ve very, very rarely written about Trump in recent years, because I find it fundamentally not as interesting as everyone else in the world does. And I think it’s very hard…
EW: 1:41:19: Right with you, sir.
DM: 1:41:20: … And I don’t think it’s possible to say anything very new. And when people say to me occasionally—
EW: 1:41:23: One of the greatest risks of the next administration (should Donald Trump managed to find his way into office again), is the intellectual opportunity cost of discussing nothing else for four years.
DM: 1:41:34: Absolutely. And it’s happened to too many of my friends and colleagues.
EW: 1:41:38: Sorry, I was … stepping on your words.
DM: 1:41:39: But the point with this is, is that they have decided that everybody who … I wrote once recently … I broke my own rule, because the Trump administration is trying to do a trade deal with the United Kingdom (my own country) where we have (my country) are struggling to arrange a trade deal with the European Union. It’s VERY suboptimal for my country to be in a position where we didn’t have a trade deal either with the EU or the US. The Democratic Party have made a very unpleasant threats to my country about a trade deal. Nancy Pelosi, in her unbelievable ignorance, unfathomable ignorance and rudeness to my country, has—
EW: 1:41:43: We’ll see if you can get me to stand up for Nancy Pelosi; this will be interesting.
DM: 1:42:25: … has threatened the United Kingdom because she believes that an element of the withdrawal agreement from the EU of the UK … (This more than many listeners will … I’ll do this fast.) She and some Democrats believe that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU puts in ultimate, complete danger, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that brought to an end the very violent and awful hostilities that had gone on for 30 years in Northern Ireland. Several Democrat senators signed a letter threatening the UK with this. It’s a misunderstanding of the facts, in my opinion (other people contest that obviously, but I believe that it’s a misunderstanding of the facts). Several Democrat centers signed a letter saying that the UK should … will not have a trade deal with the US if we withdraw from the EU in this manner. This is a complete trap for my country. And Nancy Pelosi, very virulently and unpleasantly, the other week, stood up and repeated that same claim.
One little addendum to that to anyone who thinks I’m somewhat … too fixated on this point: The signatories of the letter included members of your governing class who, for 30 years, supported their IRA (the Irish Republican Army) when they were killing people in my country—putting bombs in pubs; shooting farmers in the back of their head because they were from the wrong confessional class, in their view; carrying out the most brutal massacres on the mainland of the UK and in Northern Ireland. And who did this for years with the support of people in power in this country. And this country (as I’m sitting in America—I’m very pleased to be sitting here) allowed NORAID[?] and others to raise money for these barbarians to carry out these acts of violence. And the fact that people who gave cover for the IRA for years now are threatening the UK … Now they’re not all Democrats. Okay. But this is a threat of violent people … is using violent people for a political purpose, down the road, to threaten another country, over a trade deal. I put that out there and [?].
On the other hand, the Trump administration has been trying to get a trade deal with the UK. Okay. So, to that extent, I believe that the Trump administration is better for the UK, in trade terms, than the Biden administration would be. When I say that, it’s … And if I say that at an American dinner table these days, I will be accused of having given cover to Donald Trump, of agreeing with every character trait, of personally wanted to grab every pussy I can, and much more. And that’s the breakdown of the situation.
EW: 1:45:22: By ‘pussy,’ I should say that Douglas actually means ‘cowards.’ Correct?
DM: 1:45:27: Very much so.
EW: 1:45:28: Absolutely.
DM: 1:45:29: Very much. And in a very real sense. And I …
EW: 1:45:36: Douglas,
DM: 1:45:36: … this is part of the problem.
EW: 1:45:38: Well, it’s … You have to train people properly. You have to say something to the effect of, “Did Hitler do nothing right?” Right? And then they’re like, “What are you talking— [mumbling]?” Then you have to say, “Well, do you think that the Nazis were wrong to buckle to the Rosenstrasse protest and return partially Jewish men to their non-Jewish wives out of the concentration camps? Or would you have preferred that they’d send those people to the death as well?” And it’s like, “Well, that’s an absurd, blah, blah, blah.”
And then you start to realize that this has to do, not at all with the intellectual point, but with party discipline. The key point is we’ve all agreed, as if there … and I want to get to this point. I feel like there was a conference that none of us were invited to that came to some very strong conclusions, and they’ve all circulated this list of correct answers. Like, we’ve decided that Donald Trump is odious, and every good thing that he does must be made into a bad thing so that there is no break in party discipline. Now, I wasn’t at this conference. So when I hear that there’s a peace deal in the Middle East. I say, “Okay, that’s pretty good.”
DM: 1:46:45: That’s good.
EW: 1:46:46: Yeah, it’s good. But I was like, “No, you can’t do that!” Well, that is such intellectual poison, …
DM: 1:46:53: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s poisoned everyone. Can I give another example? So I favor anecdotal—Sometimes [?] you probably know, but … this is one that’s been on my mind a lot. A couple years ago, I was invited to … (I don’t boast that I’m invited to things you’re not, Eric. I’d hate to give you FOMO in 2020.) But—
EW: 1:47:13: [?] to be invited to other than a zoom call. Go ahead.
DM: 1:47:17: [laughing] I was invited to dinner in London, which really did comprise … I don’t believe in the term ‘the establishment’—I find it lazy, and there are multiple establishments at any one time, and …
EW: 1:47:29: Conjunction alert.
DM: 1:47:30: Yeah.
EW: 1:47:31: But … [laughs]
DM: 1:47:32: But. I was … It was really a dinner of people who I really would regard as the establishment. In multiple areas of public life—very distinguished figures. And, for some reason, me (as a sort of grit in the oyster). Anyhow, everyone was asked to go around the table and say what they thought (this is like two years ago)—
EW: 1:47:52: You just referred to yourself as a pearl in waiting.
DM: 1:47:55: I did. Oh, yeah, that was, that was …
EW: 1:47:57: Interesting.
DM: 1:47:58: Oh dear.
EW: 1:47:58: Uncharacteristically self-kind.
DM: 1:48:01: I didn’t mean it that way.
EW: 1:48:03: [laughing]
DM: 1:48:04: Anyhow. I was … I meant ‘the grit in the soup,’ or something like that, didn’t I?
Anyhow, the point is, is that we were … they went around the table, everyone to explain what they thought the long- and short-term threats to the country were. And everybody did the same thing. Everybody in the room talked about how Brexit and Trump were the biggest problems we faced, because they had unleashed populism. And that, therefore everything must be done to stop Brexit and Trump. The very, very few people who applied themselves to the long-term question AT ALL (and almost nobody did), said that probably long-term the largest challenge was China. And they got to me and I said, I’d rather not speak. I’d wait. And the very end of the evening, the host said, “Douglas, you know, you’ve been uncharacteristically silent, and that’s usually a worrying sign. What do you think?” And I said, “You’re all mad. You’re completely mad.” And among much other madness, you’ve decided that the general public (the majority of the public) must be warred against.
I mean, I know there’s a dispute about electoral procedure here (of the voting … the majority)—
EW: 1:49:34: No, but we … don’t like ourselves.
DM: 1:49:36: Right. But I mean, like, … In my country, when the majority of the vote public—when 52% of the public votes for something[?] … don’t go against the majority of the public, if you, you know, are in a position of—
EW: 1:49:46: But you were supposed to be trick into a United States of Europe, involving the UK.
DM: 1:49:50: That’s right. And the public said “No.”
EW: 1:49:52: The public said “No.”
DM: 1:49:53: No. Absolutely.
EW: 1:49:54: How can you not agree to be tricked into a United States of Europe?
DM: 1:49:56: Right. And in my own view, whatever the concept … Just don’t war on the general public. And, and if it is … The larger thing was that I said, “It makes no sense that you would … that in the long-term you identify (I think correctly) the geostrategic and financial competitor—the ONLY one that’s a competitor to the United States and is likely to overtake it in our lifetimes—nobody else is. You identify this (and this is before the Wuhan business) you correctly identify that, but you have decided that although that is your long-term threat, your short-term task is to—among other things—take out the only elected official who has shown any desire to deal with the long-term threat. Now, inadequately, with bluster, and much more. But how is that a strategy?
Assuming that many of the people who came to your dinner arrived in luxury automobiles …
Oh, yeah, for sure.
EW: 1:50:47: … what percentage of those luxury automobiles were purchased by funds that involved China in one way or another?
DM: 1:51:12: Oh, well, that’s …
EW: 1:51:13: … And so the problem is, I know that my pusher is going to end up killing me, but if I pick up arms against my pusher, I might not get my fix.
DM: 1:51:22: I’ve been reading that book, The Hidden Hand, which was about Chinese infiltration in the West. It’s a very interesting book, filled with facts, and not by any means nuts. And yes, I share this suspicion about a number of people around the table that night. And some of its proven, and, you know, …
EW: 1:51:44: You know my aphorism that the … I should standardize it, I guess, but … That the idealism of every age is the cover story of a major theft?
DM: 1:51:56: Yes, yes.
EW: 1:51:57: So my concern is that the Davos idealism was the cover story of a theft—inside of advanced, developed countries—of its elite, from the streams that would normally go to its workers. And so the key problem is that you have to intimidate the workers to think that the GDP—which is not being distributed to them particularly well—is somehow serving their interests because it is going to the country. So as long as a financial group, you know, …
DM: 1:52:36: Yeah, yeah.
EW: 1:52:36: … in the city of London is doing well, then the idea is that is unpatriotic to fight this global agenda.
And I think that, in part, one of the next idealisms that was supposed to follow the Davos idealism was the actual dissolution of national identity in a much more aggressive fashion. That multiculturalism is when you still can say what distinct cultures are. But when you’ve thrown all the cultures together, and you can’t say what anything actually is, everyone is a mutt, there is no distinguishing aspect …
DM: 1:53:11: Yeah, yeah. Well, that was all meant to make conflict impossible (among much else).
EW: 1:53:16: The …?
DM: 1:53:16: The melding together. One of—
EW: 1:53:19: The United States of Europe, I think, was a post World War II concern in which you had to trick people, first, into fiscal or financial union without political union, then you had to create a secondary financial crisis, because people would not have the ability, as long as the common currency was present, to inflate their debts away. And then you would force, effectively, a Teutonic … an Anglo-Teutonic state into being.
DM: 1:53:51: Yes. There are[?] people for whom the answer was always “more Europe” …
EW: 1:53:54: Right.
DM: 1:53:54: … [?] happened. Which is, again, what the public in Britain resisted.
EW: 1:54:01: Now, my problem is, is that I actually love the individual constituents of Europe.
DM: 1:54:05: Yeah, I know, I know. But yes, but the thing was undoubtedly conceived as an answer to war.
EW: 1:54:13: Well, this is the thing, that Europe went from being the most dangerous hotspot in the world to a Disneyland for American tourists looking to have a few weeks, you know, on a EuroRail pass.
DM: 1:54:25: Yeah, there’s a very funny—one of his less read novels—Michel Houellebecq’s, La Carte et le Territoire. The map and the territory? It is sort of setting in a not-very-far-off Europe in which, you know, it’s just simply Disneyland for Chinese tourists. And it’s worryingly close to the bone.
But anyway, the point is that, in all of this, we are obviously missing … This is my main reason for not writing and wanting to talk much about Trump and Brexit and so on. Because I feel like this … It’s all important. It’s very important. But it’s not as important as the things we’re missing.
EW: 1:55:08: Well, this is exactly my problem. And this goes back to this conversation I was recalling for you in the interregnum between the 2016 election and Trump’s inauguration in 2017, I found myself at a dinner with Sam Harris and Dave Rubin. And Sam was talking about how terrible Trump was and how it was important to call him out on his nonsense. And I said to Sam, “If Trump creates three nested ambiguities, you’ll have two-to-the-third or eight different possible legs of a decision tree as people try to figure out which way each of them went.” And I said, “At that rate, you have to come up with eight different responses when he only had to issue three weird statements. If you keep that up all through a Trump presidency, you will do nothing else. You’re going to have to get out of the Trump call-out business.”
DM: 1:56:08: Yeah.
EW: 1:56:08: And he said, “What’s your solution?” I said, “I’m going to say once at the beginning, that I view Trump to be an existential risk to the to the soul of America. And that …” (By the way, I never said whether I viewed the Democratic Party to be an existential risk, which I think that it was so long as it continued in its kleptocracy and it’s nonsense, but that it could reverse itself. Whereas I see Trump as being unable to change who he is—this is what he is, this is what he does, for both good and bad.
And that’s what I’ve done for, for this presidency, which is that mostly, I’ve spent my time calling out the left so that the left can beat Trump from a meaningful, rather than a kleptocratic, perspective. But you know, the thing that I posted the other day on Twitter was video of a warthog that was still alive, being fought over by a leopard and hyena. And I thought, “Why would the warthog want to express a preference as to whether to be eaten by a hyena or a warthog?” Yes, you know, maybe the leopard is elegant and the hyena distasteful. But I’m trying to think of, how do I get rid of a leopard leopard and a hyena together? You know? It’s … I find this of no interest, because neither of these things …
DM: 1:57:25: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EW: 1:57:25: The only importance is, does this buy me a little bit of extra time and room to escape?
DM: 1:57:32: Yes.
EW: 1:57:33: And the thing about about Brexit is, this is the repudiation of an ideology that was the cover story of a theft—the theft is being fought. And people don’t know how to fight the theft—they don’t know who picked their pockets and how. These people we call the elite don’t appear to be extremely productive. They don’t appear to be extremely intelligent—in fact, they say all sorts of stupid things. But what they are is a triumph of sharp elbows over sharp minds. And that is mysterious, because we don’t know how they sign their pieces of paper; We don’t know what their words mean; We don’t know where they meet.
DM: 1:58:10: And we also now can … they’re more transparent than they’ve ever been. And that’s … I often said that the point at which you really go off a person isn’t necessarily when you dislike something about them. It’s when you see through them. And with institutions, it’s the same.
EW: 1:58:36: Yeah.
DM: 1:58:36: An institution can be quite dislikable. In fact, most are, in some ways. Visa agencies, border agencies, every institution has got dislikable things. The problem is when you see through it. And with a set of our authority figures, the set of our elites, as it were: we see through them now.
EW: 1:58:58: Do we?
DM: 1:58:59: Well, a growing number of us can.
EW: 1:59:02: I’m confused about this. If I think about unprecedented access that, for example, Prince Andrew gave in that unbelievable interview. Was that transparent? Or was that opaque? What was I even looking at? That was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my life. I had the feeling that I was able to see—because the cameras were present; the reporter was present; she asked exactly the questions I would have expected her to ask. The performance was so baffling to me that I realized that there was no way I had of processing what I was watching.
DM: 1:59:38: I didn’t have that. I thought it was transparent.
EW: 1:59:41: Tell me what you saw. Because this is … It’s very strange to me that this issue of the dress crops up absolutely everywhere. We can’t agree on what we’ve seen, even though we watched the same footage.
DM: 1:59:52: Can I back up and say it’s worse than that?
EW: 1:59:55: Please.
DM: 1:59:56: Yes. The one that’s on my mind (which I haven’t been swayed people to pay attention to), is a version of your dress idea. But the one that I just couldn’t get people to focus on was what happened a couple of years ago at Chemnitz (a town in Germany), where there was … a video went online, posted an alleged antifa account (that was new). A Twitter account posted a video of what appeared to be white German males running after some immigrant-looking men across a highway. And this was released with the caption saying that this was a migrant hunt. Now, Chemnitz, at that point, was a rather tricky situation, because of a migrant had killed a local [?], and there was a lot of ill-feeling, and it could easily be whipped up by unpleasant actors (from every side).
The video went [snaps fingers] like that. That day, the Chancellor made a statement on the video—that we cannot live in a country where migrants are hunted right (and so on). The head of the domestic intelligence service in Germany (Hans-Georg Maassen) said, publicly, “The video doesn’t show that. This isn’t the video.” Now, his dispute over exactly what went on—he ended up being relieved of his position, was saved by another member the Merkel government into another position, then not able to take that up.
This a very, very important case.
EW: 2:01:44: Okay.
DM: 2:01:45: Because I can’t think of another example [?] even here in America, where it’s been as clear as that. First of all, where all these people who care about infiltration and foreign interference and all these sort of things? Like, where did this Twitter account come from? And in whose interest was it that this video should emerge? And have you ever seen the stakes that high that the chancellor and the head of the intelligence service disagree on video’s contents? These stakes are WILDLY higher than people realize.
EW: 2:02:18: Have you seen the body cam footage of the George Floyd arrest?
DM: 2:02:22: Yeah, I saw a bit of it. Yeah.
EW: 2:02:24: That’s a big problem, because the narrative that got established in order to justify why suddenly people were gathering in large numbers when everybody had been on lockdown … There’s this weird thing that—what I’ve called the gated institutional narrative (or “GIN”) … in general used to know what it wanted to say before the facts came in. The narrative arcs were established. And occasionally, you’d get a surprise move. And so I had … I think I said that there were three in my lifetime at some point … where the the GIN broke in a big way. So, like, you had old situations like the fall of Najibullah, where, in a far off land, there was a small problem; or there was one (I forget what his name was) … Camerata? In Venezuela, was like president for a day, or something. Because there was probably a CIA sponsored coup that didn’t work out.
So there’s small interruptions in the GIN. But the big ones were September 11th. The crash … the fall of Lehman Brothers. And the … what was my other one, I can’t even remember. But then, like—
DM: 2:03:41: Jeffrey Epstein.
EW: 2:03:42: The election of Donald Trump, and then became Jeffrey Epstein and his death. In 2020, the narrative can’t keep up. In general. COVID broken the narrative.
DM: 2:03:54: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EW: 2:03:54: So the number of arrivals of truly surprising things where the GIN doesn’t know what to say is fantastic in its acceleration.
DM: 2:04:06: Yeah. Well … the Floyd killing … As often [?] as an outsider of this country, obviously, you can’t help noticing it: What about the, the non-white policeman involved (standing there)?
EW: 2:04:25: I don’t think that that has … Well. In a previous … I do these audio essays in front of a lot of the releases that I do. One of which I did was a five word law for the modern era of social media. And there are these two things that are very similar five word laws, but there’s McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and there’s Say’s Law from economics, “supply creates its own demand.” So what I claimed is that “optics creates its own substance.”
The importance of The George Floyd killing or death, however you see it, is that it was optically perfect as a lynching provided you didn’t ask hard questions. To give up an optical lynching caught on video, simply because there are mitigating and complicating and confounding variables, was not possible because, in fact, in a weird sense, you have a very strong belief that there’s prejudice and bigotry that seldom lends itself to simple description. Finally, we’ve got one.
DM: 2:05:38: Finally we’ve got one.
EW: 2:05:39: And then the idea is if it’s optically perfect, and that creates its own substance, that is the minds of many people agree that this is officer Derek C and his knee on this neck caused this death through prejudice and bigotry. Then the Tony tempa killing in Dallas can’t … That violates the rule—that would complicate the optics,
DM: 2:06:04: This … All of it reminds me of this, what we discussed at the beginning, with the COVID thing. Because the problem with thinking one’s way through this era is, above everything[?] else, needing to know everything about the event, and trying not to know everything about the event. Because if you have to find out everything every time, then we the opportunity cost is too great. It goes back to this thing. But it’s worth doing when you believe that it is a revealing of the GIN narratives break. And the one that always occurs to me, about this country, is the number of times that we’re asked not to notice that, you know, an alleged white supremacist or racist killing is carried out by law enforcement in a bewilderingly diverse law enforcement situation, in cities where the head of police is black, the mayor is black, the senator is black, representatives in Congress are black.
EW: 2:07:00: Internalized racism.
DM: 2:07:00: … where … You know, everybody in the system—
EW: 2:07:05: The optics must be saved.
DM: 2:07:06: The optics have to be saved. And we still have to pretend, despite the fact that almost everybody in the system is black, …
EW: 2:07:11: [simultaneous] It’s intolerable.
DM: 2:07:11: … that it is a white supremacist killing.
EW: 2:07:13: It is intolerable.
DM: 2:07:14: Right. And … The thing that links it to the COVID thing is, the thing that it’s the same problem going on is, I don’t want to be made into one of those people who says “white supremacy doesn’t exist,” or “bigotry doesn’t exist,” or “racism doesn’t exist,” or “I don’t think the police in America have problems with race.”
Well, I got out of this by claiming that there is a bigotry shortage—that the amount of the anti-bigotry machinery that’s ginned up and the number of out-and-out bigots that exist are mismatched.
Of course. I describe this as the supply and demand problem in fascism in our society.
EW: 2:07:50: Absolutely.
DM: 2:07:51: Massive demand, small[?] supply.
EW: 2:07:52: We know exactly what to do if we have an actual fascist. Now where will we find one?
DM: 2:07:56: We make them world famous? We make them absolutely—
EW: 2:08:01: Well, this is why Richard Spencer is such an oddity,
DM: 2:08:04: David Duke, wheeled out every four years as if he’s a major political figure.
EW: 2:08:07: Yes! Well, but what otherwise … What will the Southern Poverty Law Center do?
DM: 2:08:13: Absolutely. It’s got gazillions of dollars to do nothing but libel people.
EW: 2:08:18: Our friends.
DM: 2:08:19: Including our friends.
EW: 2:08:20: I know
DM: 2:08:21: Here’s to that victory measured.
EW: 2:08:23: Yeah.
DM: 2:08:24: Yeah, occasionally our friends take large amounts of money off these bastards.
EW: 2:08:27: Yeah.
DM: 0:00 But yeah … this … So here’s where we’re pushed to. We’re pushed to a situation where we notice these things, but the thing you’re pushed into, is to say, “I think you’re chasing dragons.” And then any sensible person has this knowledge that, although dragons may not exist, nasty things do. And you wouldn’t want to be caught holding your dick when that comes out. And it’s the same—It’s like the COVID thing. It seems to me intolerable to sustain the narrative that our governments have had about the virus, yet you don’t want to be stuck in the position you’re being put into, because you don’t want the gods to come down and slay one of your nearest and dearest.
EW: 0:54 It’s very frustrating. To—just to riff off that analogy, the fact that large venomous monitor lizards exist … They clearly do. And if I get too emphatic about saying that there are no dragons, I may say there no Komodo dragons. And if I do that, then I’m getting it wrong. And I’m tempted to do that every four seconds, because I don’t believe that the Ku Klux Klan has taken over the United States; I don’t believe that Jim Crow is going—I don’t believe that every day, every black person in America gets up realizing that today they’re likely to die at the hands of law enforcement. And what I’ve claimed, previously, is that the people who claim that there’s no link between Islam and terror are people who have no close Muslim friends, because that’s what’s discussed at Muslim dinner tables. The people who are so worried about Black Lives Matter are very often without close black friends, because, quite frankly, there’s a huge dispute inside black America as to whether or not, you know, as some black friends of ours have said, it’s a white cult.
There is this very strong sense that those of us who have actually imbibed multiculturalism and diversity within our friend group are looking at these manias and these social panics and are saying, “Doesn’t anyone know any actual women, blacks, Jews, conservatives, …” Like, we’re forming these impressions of large groups of people as if they are something other than what they are.
DM: 2:36 Yes, and we, and [inaudible] we’re being fed divisive and untrue stories.
EW: 2:42 Well, so this is what I want to get into about the what I’ve called the “Iago media” and “Iago institutions,” from the Othello character who deranges a pair of lovebirds into a murderous frenzy. What do we do to stop this Iago effect? Particularly within American media, where we have all of these legacy groups—whether it’s Southern Poverty Law Center as a previously terrific institution that … seeking to do good work or journalistic … they get taken over by this need to earn their keep by publishing crazy nonsense.
And we’re gonna lose the court system—I don’t think it’s going to be POSSIBLE for Majid Nawaz to win judgments in future … Like, we have a jury system. And if this Critical Race Theory continues apace, we are not going to be able to impanel juries.
DM: 3:43 Yeah. Yeah. Well, I keep giving you things which I’m saying I don’t think we have a term for, but I wish we did. Let me do another one. I’ve become acutely aware, in recent years, of the fact that there needs to be a term for a thing that is inaccurate and wrong, but which somebody believes so sincerely, because of the information they’ve downloaded throughout their lives, that you are not able to reason them out of it at this stage.
Let me give a very quick example. It happened in my own country (I really want to bang on about Brexit; let me do it very quickly). It happened in my own country after 2016 when I discovered there were really people in my country who did believe that membership of the EU and withdrawal from the EU meant we were leaving Europe. We would no longer be able to listen to German leader; we would no longer be able to visit Paris; we wouldn’t be able to eat Italian food; we would …
EW: 4:47 Couldn’t cross the channel because it was gonna get wider.
DM: 4:49 … be stuck in this inward looking windy island. Forever.
EW: 4:54 … which can’t grow any grapes for wine.
DM: 4:58 You can, actually.
EW: 4:59 Barely. It’s pretty marginal.
DM: 5:01 My wine grove[?] friends in Britain would kill me if I allowed you to get away with this slur.
Let me just say that this I hadn’t thought of before. I really hadn’t at all contended with …
EW: 5:13 That it was that deeply held.[?]
DM: 5:13 … [?] it was that deep. You know, people like me said, “What are you talking about the EU and Europe are not the same thing. We will still go there; we will still learn the languages—if we have any sense and, and ambition to do so; we will still imbibe the culture; will still read the books. What are you talking about!? You think I’m not gonna listen to continental music? You think I simply want to listen to English folk song and do Morris dancing? You really think that’s the point of this exercise?”
But, you discover, in vain do you make this argument. Primarily because the job had been very well done—for a generation, on a generation—so that younger people, in particular, did believe these two things were completely tied up. Because they had been throughout their lives. And I realized it was exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, at this stage to divorce these two things.
Now, what if one of the things that’s going on in your country at the moment (and to a lesser extent in mine) is the same thing in relation to race? (In particular, I mean, other things as well. But …)
Allow me to give a couple of examples. When the great soprano Jesse Norman died earlier this year, it’s announced in the BBC front page as … basically the spin of the story is, Jesse Norman was a soprano who sang opera despite being black. And, you know, she was very unusual in the opera world, obviously, because, you know … And … I mean, I grew up listening to Jesse Norman, among other sopranos—saw her sing, saw her perform[?] … And I just read this obituary, and I thought, you’re trying to change our memories.
EW: 6:20 Yes.
DM: 6:26 Herbert von Karajan recorded Wagner with her in the 1970s. If that’s possible, you don’t get to pull the shit on me in 2020. You don’t get to rewrite the past. Now the problem with this is that most of this is less provable. Can I do another example? (A really, really boring one.)
EW: 7:21 No, no, I insist.
DM: 7:22 When I grew up, BBC children’s television (in the 1980s) … the presenter was a rather camp black man (who’s still on television) called Andy Peters. (This is the first time his name has been mentioned on this podcast. I’m shocked that you don’t know him!)
EW: 7:39 Sorry.
DM: 7:40 And the evening news was read by Moira Stewart on the BBC. And on ITV it was sir Trevor McDonald. Now, these people have retired. I am currently being encouraged to pretend that when I was growing up, the BBC children’s presenter was not black; the evening news on the BBC was not a black woman; when you turned over to the other channel to watch evening news, it wasn’t a black man who was knighted reading the evening news.
Now, I’m irritated by this—sometimes infuriated by it—because they’re trying to rewrite my memory of the recent past. But I have to accept, at some level, that if you are 20 years younger than me, and you’re at university, and you’re being told you live in a white supremacist society … Nothing remembers these people. There’s no institutional memory of them, because our institutions don’t have any memory. The culture doesn’t have a memory that goes back more than a few hours. And so everyone is being rewired. And we ha—And at some point, we are all going to have to contend with (maybe we already are) … people you cannot shift, because all of their reference points and all of their memory has been changed. And I don’t know how we deal with this.
EW: 9:04 Have you seen this done in real time as opposed to historically?
DM: 9:10 Well it feels like real time because it’s happened in my lifetime.
EW: 9:12 No, I mean, where you’re looking … Well …
Let me give you a famous example from the US (I don’t know whether you know it). Have you ever heard of the Dean scream? This is a good one for you. Howard Dean was running—
DM: 9:18 Oh, yeah! Yeah, of course.
EW: 9:27 Yeah, yeah, yeah. I believe he was in Iowa and he place, something like, third. And so he has to give this rousing speech. And he says [politician speech voice] “If, you know, if you told me we got to—we’d give [incomprehensible] to place third. And you know what we’re doing next? We’re going to New Hampshire and South Carolina and Texas and California and Idaho. And then we’re going to Washington DC. [Dean scream].” Okay.
[laughing] Yes, I remember, I’ve seen it.
Nothing happened. It was a total non-event.
DM: 9:58 Right.
EW: 9:59 It was a total non-event. And every talking head got on TV and said, [smooth anchor voice] “In a surprising and bizarre meltdown, Howard Dean, today, addressed supporters appearing momentarily to lose it onstage in a crowded room.” And with that weird voice [smooth anchor voice] “controversial politician, Howard Dean …”
DM: 10:18 Controversial.
EW: 10:20 Adjective, job description, proper name. [crosstalk] Controversial podcaster, Eric Weinstein. Controversial podcast guest, Douglas Murray.
DM: 10:31 Oh, yeah, no, they’ve done that to me recently. When I was on Joe Rogan, recently, Joe said something which was—some people say it’s accurate, some people say inaccurate—about setting fires. It became a huge thing because of Joe’s deal with Spotify, and everyone reported it. And I noticed these various American magazines and papers are just delighted to think they’ve caught Joe slipping up. (And Joe apologized, by the way.) And these papers said, “He was on[?] with controversial writer Douglas Murray.”
“Far right figure, Douglas Murray.”
No, they don’t put “far right” or I’d have sued their asses. But ‘controversial’ they can get away with. Excuse me?
EW: 11:11 Well, you saw my experiment with controversial professor Paul Krugman?
DM: 11:14 Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EW: 11:15 … Where there were no … Despite the fact that he was clearly controversial and a professor, there’s no instance, because it’s a formula. And it’s a way of tagging a human.
What I’m what I’m curious about is, do you believe that we are living in a gas-lit society? (Full stop.)
DM: 11:35 Yeah, I don’t like “gas lighting” as something—Mainly because of the number of people who use it who I find …
EW: 11:40 Well, to hell with those people, because we had “red pill” before they had “red pill.”
DM: 11:45 Yeah, okay. Okay.
EW: 11:46 You know, the hipster perspective is that it comes from an actual film, so …
DM: 11:49 So, I tell you, … I think we all keep getting distracted from the things we should be doing. And this has never been clearer than in this year.
EW: 12:01 Are you aware of an affect shift in yourself—in your own person?
DM: 12:06 At the moment?
EW: 12:06 Yes.
You and I have spent … We haven’t been friends for decades (as we should have done). But we have we have logged a few miles. And, in general, I find that you are one of the most hilarious people I deal with. And I don’t sense the same mirth in our conversations. It may not be you. It may be me killing the buzz. But there’s some way in which we’re not our— … I don’t think we are ourselves—we’re shifted.
DM: 12:40 It’d be sad if that was the case. …
EW: 12:42 Could be that it’s just morning and we haven’t started drinking yet.
DM: 12:44 Yeah, it’s possible. It’s gonna be after 6pm to really get me going.
EW: 12:48 [laughing]
DM: 12:50 I mean, I think to an extent … By the way, I actually find that I’ve had a certain … There is a shift … If you really want … My only personal analysis, as to[?] any shift of mine …
EW: 13:06 Perhaps I’m less fun.[?]
DM: 13:07 Yeah, I think it’s probably that.
EW: 13:09 Probably right.
DM: 13:08 But no, the only noticeable shift in myself I noticed, was that when I was writing The Strange Death of Europe and writing about migration and following all of that, in the middle of this decade, I was very, very … in a very, very gloomy, gloomy, black place. Because I was writing about what I saw as being an almost insuperable issue/problem. And when I wrote Madness of Crowds, I enjoyed myself enormously. And …
EW: 13:09 Seems perverse, but I’m sure there’s method to this madness.
DM: 13:33 Well, because … I’ll tell you, I actually said this a couple times to interviewers, I said, you’ll notice everything about me changes.
EW: 13:48 Right.
DM: 13:50 I will be very … almost, as I learned recently from somebody that the term is ‘black-pilled,’ when talking about Strange Death. And when I’m talking about madness of crowds, you’ll notice that my whole demeanor changes. I thought why that is. And there were several explanations. One was, it’s so funny. I mean, you and I talked … I think I say in the acknowledgments of The Madness of Crowds that, you know, I owe several thoughts in the book to you, and for conversations with you. And, like me, you know that, I mean, a lot of this is hilarious. A lot of the stuff about gays and women and race and trans is so damn funny. I did the audiobook for The Madness of Crowds …
EW: 14:40 So are we now at the portion of the show where we make fun of gays, trans, blacks, and women?
DM: 14:44 Oh, you bet! [laughing]
EW: 14:48 [laughing]
DM: 14:48 “Welcome to the demonetization.”
EW: 14:49 “And that’s all the time we have, with Douglas Murray.”
DM: 14:56 [laughing]
No, but I am … It’s very funny: When I did the audiobook to Madness of Crowds (I’m glad to say, it has been a ROARING success), I just had a great time. Now that sounds sort of, you know, … don’t pat yourself on the back, [?]. I laughed so much—not just because of the wittiness and the sharpness of the prose— …
EW: 15:13 [laughing]
DM: 15:13 … but the things I was quoting. Because it’s so self-evidently ridiculous.
EW: 15:22 If you break it out its natural context.
DM: 15:23 If you break it out [?]. I’m not willing to take this crap as seriously as some people are. (I’m going to take some[?] of it very seriously, because I know what they’re trying to do.) But some of it is just obviously laughable. And I kept on having to say to the sound people, you know, “Please be assured: I’m laughing, not at my own jokes, but the things I’m quoting,” you know. It’s very hard to read a sentence of Judith Butler out loud and not just burst out laughing. It’s self-evidently ridiculous, once you once you vocalize it.
Anyhow, the point I’m making is that, I was trying to work out, why does everything about my demeanor change in this? And I realized: it’s because it’s winnable. I honestly think all of that stuff’s winnable. And I perk up …
EW: 16:09 Because there’s something to do.
DM: 15:23 Well, it’s something to do. But it’s a good thing to do.
EW: 15:23 And you can attract people …
DM: 15:23 … And I think we can win now. I … And I think, by the way, (maybe we should get on to this in a bit, but) I think it’s a very important thing. It’s not just a pose. I think it’s a very important thing to say, “Here’s something that we can win.”
EW: 15:23 Yeah.
DM: 15:23 Particularly people on the on the ideological right tend not to have very many of them—they spend all their time moaning and talking about how ‘beleaguered’ they are (even when they’re in power). And, but here’s—
In the US they obsess about a flat tax, which they never get.
Yeah, yeah. And then nothing else [laughing] [?]. They talk about nothing else about the conditions of society other than a flat tax.
EW: 16:53 Yeah, something like that.
DM: 16:56 “What else might we do after the flat tax?” “Whatever you like!”
EW: 16:59 [laughing]
DM: 17:00 “… leave it up to you guys.”
So my point is, to a great extent, our attitudes are dependent on whether we think things are winnable.
EW: 17:09 Right. I agree with that.
DM: 17:10 Now … My feeling with 2020 so far is, one of the things it’s told me is that we have to be exceptionally judicious about how we spend our time. And that we have to be very, very careful that we are not being manipulated into narratives, one after the other.
I think I said to you before, my impression once George Floyd kicked off was (and people who read the updated version of Madness of Crowds will know this—I mean, I explained there what I think was going on, but you’ll know that), … I think I said to you once on the phone, I just feel like our society has become like this eye of Sauron.
EW: 17:54 Yeah.
DM: 17:55 You know, we focused … In January, we were meant to be in a climate emergency, where all governments in the world (primarily in the Western world) were being told, “You have to admit, you have to legislate, there is a climate emergency going on.” And then we had a pandemic (which seemed like a more immediate emergency). And then the people who’ve been doing climate emergency went on to pandemic emergency. And then, after May, we had the racist emergency. And I just …
Right. We’re only halfway through the year. We’re three emergencies in. The eye of Sauron is focused on climate, COVID, race, … I’m not up for this. I’m not up for spending my life doing this in whatever order you tell me—
EW: 18:46 To be constantly reactive.
DM: 18:48 I’m not … I … that’s why I spent the the early weeks of lockdown, when I thought, “Okay, maybe we’re all gonna die” just reading Tolstoy, because I thought this is something I want to do—it’s a nourishing thing to do—and I’m not going to get caught out on this on this train. (Now, in retrospect, some people might legitimately say, “Well, you missed realizing what the COVID thing was,” as well. But as I say, I did that fatalistic thing of “Okay, this is one that’s not in my bailiwick.”)
But I strongly feel that we should have learned this from the year so far, that, first of all, we keep being distracted. Secondly, everything we’re distracted onto, we don’t make better. It’s a DISASTROUS thing to realize. Like, we didn’t solve climate. We didn’t solve COVID. We SURE as hell haven’t solved race. In fact, we make everything worse.
EW: 19:46 Well what do we do about all of these British shootings by unarmed policeman of blacks in the UK?
DM: 19:55 Yeah, yeah. This is a …
EW: 19:57 That is a tough problem to solve.
DM: 19:58 Yeah. Yeah, yeah. As regular readers will know, my crack on this, which is: I saw the first major Black Lives Matter protests in the UK four years ago—I went along to see it in central London—and was amused (it fed into my pleasure and irony) that the thousand or so protesters were walking along Oxford Street with their hands in the air, imitating what they thought to be the Ferguson chant, saying “Hands up, don’t shoot,” accompanied ALL the way along that process by unarmed British police officers, who couldn’t have shot them if they’d wanted to. And …
EW: 20:29 “They could’ve held up their fingers, sir, in a menacing fashion, with the thumb cocked back to effect the position of a hammer.”
DM: 20:34 Yes. The … you know, they’ve been trying. I actually wrote the New York Post, this morning, a piece saying, I really resent, now, the American culture war’s spilling out across my country. I’m not up for this—I think it’s highly undesirable. The world has many things that they should thank America for. But your culture wars is not one of them. And it’s being overlaid everywhere. And sometimes people say, “Why are the English-speaking countries so vulnerable?” Because they’re English-speaking countries, and America is the dominant power. And so we get all the spillage faster. The French don’t get it so fast.
EW: 21:12 What do you think about pseudo English-speaking countries? (Sweden, India, …)
DM: 21:16 Oh, yeah. Well, certainly Sweden, other countries, they get get part of this. I mean, it made no sense to me, after George Floyd, that there was looting on the main luxury shopping street in Stockholm. Or why men in Brussels started hurling things at the police.
So, yes, there is this overlaying of it onto everything, which …
EW: 21:36 So, maybe that’s so bizarre, and so crazy, that we should ask this question: why is this happening everywhere, all at once, all the time? I agree that it may be more intense in the Anglophone nations. But certainly, it seems to be the case that there is some synchronizing behavior—there’s something in the environment, in the ethos, seeping through the internet. Who knows what—
DM: 22:02 What do you think that is?
EW: 22:04 Well, I think it has to do with a very long chain that begins with a slow-down in scientific progress. And that the (I don’t know how to put this exactly, but) the inventions that we’ve brought into our lives, from the pill, to fiat money, to the mobile web (where communications and semiconductor technology collide), have left us in a world where we are bizarrely exhausted. We don’t even know what the word ‘exhausted’ means. We don’t believe in religion. We can’t get rid of very need to believe in religion. I do think that the appearance of words like ‘narrative’ (which was always present) and ‘performative’ (which I think is relatively recent in origin) means that we’re sort of dealing with a world where we’re searching for new language.
The example that I like to give is that, for a period of time, there was a strange phenomena that attractive women would take pictures of themselves in bathroom mirrors and post them. And we didn’t talk about it, because we didn’t really know how to say, “Isn’t it strange that women are pointing cameras at themselves in restaurant bathrooms?” And then somebody created the word ‘selfie.’ And everybody said, “Yes, of course!” Now we have language for it.
And the same thing with the word like ‘performative.’ We, somehow, are recognizing that there’s a worldwide economic and technological slowdown.
DM: 23:40 Yes.
EW: 23:41 It isn’t occurring in the Twin areas of communications and semiconductors—so that continues apace. And we don’t have individual lives and futures that we’re interested in contributing to. (And I’m going to add one more aspect.) Perhaps the biggest disaster in my own private life (which I did not realize in real time was going to be this profound), was an interaction between Rachel Maddow and Rockefeller University. And she was invited to Rockefeller University, which is very interesting, because it’s one of only a tiny number of universities that have no undergraduates. (Right? So you have the UCSF, Rockefeller, … but still absolutely top in the world.) And she gets into the main auditorium, and I believe that there are paintings, that are commissioned, of the Nobel laureates who have worked at Rockefeller, as well as people who’ve, you know, been elected the National Academy and are thought to be the absolute leaders in the world. And she utters the phrase “What is up with the dude wall?” And the pictures come down, because no one can defend the concept of a so-called “dude wall.”
Now, I am very open to the idea, and I have particular female scientists who I feel did not get their due. I mean [sounds like “Nerder”?] would be one, but a woman named Madame Wu would be another, in physics. I don’t disbelieve (as per our earlier discussion) that there is no racism, no sexism in science. But I don’t think it’s anything like the levels that we’re seeing. And I am unmotivated, in a weird way, when I don’t believe that I can do anything that will cause a name to go into the historical record. It really matters, to me, that there’s some meaning to the world, after I’m gone, of my life. And the phrase “What is up with the dude wall?” was powerful enough … Like, when Nikole Hannah-Jones utters this phrase in a tweet, “It would be an honor” when she’s responding to [crosstalk] “Let’s call them the 1619 riots,” my feeling is, so now we’re going to topple statues of, not only slavers and Confederate Generals that may have been put up as intimidation, but also George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and an elk? We’re gonna topp—
DM: 26:22 Yeah, yeah. The burning of the elk was one of the things that made me think, maybe the era is just pagan? The fact that you would have to gather around a burning elk, night after night, struck me as informative.
EW: 26:36 Well, did they try anything bestial and …?
DM: 26:39 I don’t know. I think they just burnt the elk.
EW: 26:40 I mean, if they sodomized the elk, while burning it, I would know where we were.
DM: 26:44 Yeah, yeah, abs—
EW: 26:45 But I can’t figure out …
DM: 26:46 You know where you are with a chap when he’s up to[?] that.
The, uh … this …
EW: 26:53 [lauging] It’s just so stupid, I can’t take it.
DM: 26:55 [laughing]
The “dude wall” stuff is the really sinister … is really sinister.
By the way, again, I mean, this is a recurring theme in this conversation. The thing of, not wanting to be pushed where they’re trying to push you?
EW: 27:09 Yes.
DM: 27:10 Let me …
EW: 27:10 They’re trying to push me into becoming a bigot. They want me to be a misogynist. They want me to Islam. Nothing [?]
DM: 27:15 Yeah, they want you to say there’s no sexism, or there’s no racism, or there’s never—etc, etc. And we can’t do that. And we don’t want to do that. But the moment we concede that, then they’re going to try to pull us down into lies.
EW: 27:31 Well, this is the thing: who can still dance on the A-frame roof or avoid the snowplow?
DM: 27:36 Yes. There’s not many people can.
EW: 27:39 Well, the thing is it really down to 20 people, and you know them all because 18 of them live in the modern version of your Rolodex. Because it’s the people who can speak in public (and I really do think this has to do with institutions). The existence of Noam Chomsky is something I repeatedly discuss, because Noam Chomsky was a dissident employed by an institution without being sacked. We have lost the ability to employ the critics within the institutions that they are meant to keep honest.
DM: 27:45 Yes, yes. The … Let me hold on to [?] thought for a second and first that say something about the again about the “dude wall.” One way to try to counter this may sound like a purely tactical play—it isn’t. It is … You know, I test myself, as we all do, on what one’s feeling about certain moves that are being made at the moment. And most of it is sanguine, or irritable, or disliking, and much more. Occasionally, one comes along which really gets under my skin.
There was one recently where—because again, all the spillage of this happens everywhere. There was one recently where someone online said to someone else, you know, something like … it was somebody of ethnic minority saying to somebody who’s white, you know, (because we’ve had the statue pulling-down in Britain, as well). You know, “Why should I care about your ancestors?” And, you know, I just … I thought, you know, you think you just pull down statues of all of the people we admired. Admiral Nelson is the latest one, they’re talking about pulling down because of a forged letter hauling him onto the pro-slavery side before his death in 1805. You think you’re—
He was also not a millennial.
He was also guilty of not being a millennial. I think he WAS on board with gay marriage. I can’t remember.
EW: 28:53 [laughing]
DM: 28:53 Look, he was a Navy man, so he could have been.
I’m horrified. This is the one that gets me. You keep covering the statue of Churchill in graffiti that says ‘racist.’ You keep graffitiing the Cenotaph, which is the memorial for the dead of the two World Wars. You keep doing that. And then you say, “We don’t give a damn about your ancestors.”? What’s the instinct that kicks in? It’s not very noble, but but anyway is an instinct that’s worth …
The line seems to be[?], you know what? If you don’t give a damn about my ancestors, I don’t see why I should pretend to give a damn about yours. So let’s go at it. Fine. You want to go at that? We can do that.
Here’s the ignoble version of that in the American context: You want to tell the majority of the population, who are still white, that 13% of the population, who are black, are allowed to demean and talk in a derogatory fashion about the majority? How long do you think that’s gonna last?
Now, the problem with this is not only that it’s ugly, but it also puts one in the position of the Muslim Brotherhood as opposed to al Qaeda. Which is, “You’re going to have to put yourselves in MY hands, because otherwise it’s guys who are going to set off car bombs every hour.” It’s not a nice position. I didn’t like it when the Brotherhood did that. I don’t like it when people do it now. Nevertheless, it’s probably something we should have in our minds.
Like, the thing you’re pushing, maybe deliberately … I mean, maybe what is being done in those things is in fact, like the [???], who hoped that if they taunted the police enough, the police would behave in the way they thought the police would behave, and would reveal the true fascist nature of the state. We see this in, in America today with people you know, like white men and women screaming at black policemen—people who I just admire beyond anything: the self-restraint of these men, as these spoiled brats scream at them, and TRY to make them hit them, you know, in ORDER to reveal the true racist nature of the state, and so on.
It seems possible that this is the move that people are trying to do. They are TRYing to rile us up. They’re saying, “We’re going to come for EVERY single one of your holy things.”
EW: 31:51 Yes, that’s what they’re doing.
DM: 31:54 … And we just want to see if you snap.
And we have that problem. And then you get to the institution one, which is that nobody, as you know, nobody in an institution now can tell the truth. And it’s slightly worse than that, which is that—
I’m used to MY saying stuff like that. And then people calling me an ‘extremist.’ Do you believe what you just said?
Yes. I mean, I don’t doubt that there are …
EW: 32:34 My phrase is, almost everybody (particularly in an institution) is lying about almost everything, almost all the time. That’s where I believe we’ve gotten.
DM: 32:52 Right. I certainly think it’s … I can de-weaponize a little bit if I say, as I say … I don’t doubt there are some people—I KNOW people in institutions who think about all the things we’re thinking about, and troubled by the same things, and so on.
EW: 33:07 But when they—
DM: 33:08 They don’t speak. They don’t speak.
EW: 33:09 When they speak ex-cathedra, they either say nothing at all, they mumble something saying, “I had to say that,” or they muddled it out.
DM: 33:18 They approach me in the manner of a 1950s homosexual. You know, they effectively tap their foot under the cubicle door at me. It’s not something I like. And I feel a mixture of things with them, including pity and distaste. But, yes, I think that … What would happen to you if you were in any university—or government department, or the BBC, or the New York Times—and you said, “Look, I think this whole Black Lives Matter thing, I mean it starts in a good place, but my god, it goes to hell quite fast, doesn’t it?”
EW: 33:59 I go someplace different. I say, look, forget Black Lives Matter. They … Somebody includes one line that says “We protest Israel because of its genocidal nature as a state.” Use the word ‘genocide’ in Israel, I don’t care about any of the rest of your organization.
DM: 34:20 Mm hmm.
EW: 34:21 You know, it’s like, it’s not like, “This is a really good apple pie except for the arsenic.” “I’ve made a wonderful pot roast except for the arsenic.” It’s like … as long as there’s arsenic, I’m not talking about anything else.
DM: 34:35 Yeah.
You … one of my favorite … What if … If you’re at any of these institutions, and you’re told to do the trans stuff, and you say, “What about this gynophilia stuff?” How long do you last? I mean, if you do this …
EW: 34:50 Trans is complicated for a different reason, because it’s an umbrella category. And just the way ‘stroke’ is an umbrella category—where you have stroke from excessive thinning, and stroke from excessive clotting—it may be that two things downstream are both called ‘stroke’ but their etiologies are different, and the remediations are different. And the problem with trans is not any particular aspect. It’s one of these situations in which some people desperately need (in my opinion) some surgery to save their lives, because they’ve made three attempts and every indication is that something has happened since, you know, since birth.
DM: 35:27 Yeah, as you know, this is my view as well.
EW: 35:30 But then there’s another group of things … situations where it’s clearly social contagion. Why are you forcing me to use one term to cover two totally different situations?
DM: 35:39 Unless the aim is, again, to …
EW: 35:40 To make sure that you trip up and that we can boycott you.
DM: 35:43 Exactly. But to go back to this institutions thing, I mean, it seems to me … it’s so obvious now. I mean, it’s happened with friends of ours. The minute you get into the, the realm of the thing that they can kill you over, they get you. I mean, I don’t know how Jordan survived at Toronto. I think … Maybe let’s not get that bit of it. But when Jordan Peterson is offered the, I think unpaid, non-stipendary position at Cambridge University for one term to be at the Divinity faculty in order to research, I think he wanted to give some lectures on the book of Exodus. … And they get him. They get him. Because you’re not allowed there. We can have controversial professor roaming free. We cannot have him associated with an institution. And so we’ll come up with a BS thing of once standing beside somebody with a t-shirt which didn’t say the approved thing.
EW: 35:58 Whatever.
DM: 36:30 By the way, sorry, one other thing, again a bit of personal vendetta, if I can’t do that here. There’s a professor at Cambridge, at one of the more minor colleges, of Indian origin, rather, very, very privileged woman, who rampages around Twitter saying racist things about white people. She’s promoted. She was promoted this year. The institution says, we will promote an anti-white racist, when we find them. In fact, we’ll do it rather visibly, to rub your noses in it, as it were. But we can’t have controversial Professor Jordan Peterson coming near us. Controversial young Junior Research Fellow Noah Carl thrown out of the university one year earlier because of bogus claims about his research by people who didn’t know anything about his field of expertise. They do that one year; the next year, they promote the person who does the anti-white racism. This is the transparency problem. I would have liked to have lived—I went to Oxford. I never thought highly of Cambridge. But I know people who do. And—
EW: 37:56 We’re going to bring that in here?
DM: 37:58 I’m gonna hit them low. I am—no, I mean, seriously, I would like to live in a world where Cambridge University didn’t pull that stuff.
EW: 38:07 I mean, it does have the Lucasian Professorship. So I think it’s rather important that we retain it.
DM: 38:11 I’d like to retain it.
EW: 38:12 Yeah.
DM: 38:13 I’d like to retain it. But they make it very, very hard. They make it hard, not least by making themselves part of this trip wire mechanism that’s [?].
EW: 38:20 So this is Cambridge, but not Oxford?
DM: 38:23 Well, it has…
EW: 38:25 It’s everywhere, sir.
DM: 38:25 It has happened. It has happened. I would say that I mean, when Oxford University was first invited to pull down Rhode—Cecil Rhodes statues, it actually resisted. It looks like it’s gone along with it this time, again, because when a man is killed by a cop in Minnesota, it’s now seen as being totally obvious that there should be another assault on the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford.
EW: 38:45 You are not able to follow this logic.
DM: 38:47 No, I thought he didn’t have any responsibility for it.
EW: 38:50 Ah.
DM: 38:51 Uh, the uh—
EW: 38:53 —but maybe, maybe we don’t understand what this logic is. Maybe at some level, this is so preposterous to us that we don’t actually entertain what the transmission mechanism is because its prime facia insane.
DM: 39:10 Yes—
EW: 39:11 —and therefore we’re not at liberty, in some sense, to say, I wonder if I had to program a computer with rules, like if I let this be a data set, and I tried to train some deep learning algorithm, and I tried to figure out, okay, when some policing incident goes awry somewhere what is the propensity to tear down an elk? There has to be some probability of transition that that’s going to occur.
DM: 39:39 To have to hide our elk every time on time this happens!
EW: 39:44 Well, there’s a lovely old song of Flanders and Swang about a Gnu.
DM: 39:49 Oh, yes. great fan of that.
EW: 39:51 Yeah.
DM: 39:55 Perhaps someone by name is that—This is getting into sort of the quieter moments of this year.
EW: 40:03 Yeah.
DM: 40:05 When I’ve had the opportunity to reflect, I suppose the answer I’ve come up with is that the problem of all of this is that it’s something to do. And that whether we,
EW: 40:22 its meaning,
DM: 40:23 Its meaning.
EW: 40:24 Its meaning because we have not—
DM: 40:25 right.
EW: 40:26 It’s like omega omega three fatty acids being crowded out by omega six.
DM: 40:31 Yeah. So we have, we’ve lost God, we have the god shaped holes still. And very few things even aspire to fill them.
EW: 40:46 Nation-shaped hole.
DM: 40:47 Nation-shaped hole.
EW: 40:49 Family-sized hole.
DM: 40:50 Yeah. And the problem—again, I don’t like being stuck in Left-Right dichotomies, but, the right basically is uninterested in everything other than the economics.
EW: 41:04 Weirdly.
DM: 41:04 Weirdly, which is, is sort of fine in one sense, so long as the tide is always rising. And you and I know that the world we are now entering is one in which the tide is far from rising. So the Right’s unwillingness to address those things looks like a very, very serious—
EW: 41:25 Well they are learning,
DM: 41:26 Okay.
EW: 41:26 Like, the Libertarians learned through COVID that you can’t pretend that every man is an island.
DM: 41:31 Right. Okay. Yes, I wish libertarians had been smarter earlier on that stuff. I have a deep—
EW: 41:40 I love a lot of them, but I can’t—they live in a simplified world in which the connections between people are undervalued.
DM: 41:46 Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I’ve always been frustrated by this. And, and this—an element, sorry to say this, my libertarian friends, an element of cowardice involved in that.
EW: 41:55 But also the same thing about the rationality community, that you’re opting out of the total human condition.
DM: 42:01 Yes. And so. So the problem we find ourselves in is right and bother with this, the left has had to or deliberately or otherwise come up with things to fill the gaps.
EW: 42:16 Hmm.
DM: 42:17 All of which are plausible and decent in the places they start somewhere around the origin. You know, let’s not have people prejudiced against because of character traits over which they have no say. Good ambition. If you didn’t want to make it your life’s work, you’d have to accept that you might look bad by saying so. And so it is quite a desirable thing to spend your life doing. And particularly if it meant that it was just like the story we tell the civil rights struggles in the latter part of the last century, if it’s the perception that you just need to do one last push once and you get there, and you will always hold that ground—
EW: 42:59 Right—
DM: 42:59 —which I don’t believe, I think—
EW: 43:01 Well this is one of the things I’m starting to learn about—for example, there was a resistance to what would now be termed Second Wave Feminism, which I find very distasteful—
DM: 43:11 Right.
EW: 43:12 —where, you know, somebody would say some terms like “feminazis”, and things began and “man-hating feminists”, I would think—
DM: 43:19 Yeah.
EW: 43:19 —what are you guys talking about? Somebody wants to work in an office?
DM: 43:23 Yeah.
EW: 43:24 You know, and you’re acting like this. And I now increasingly wonder whether people who are looking at Second Wave Feminism, and extrapolating it out to some sort of 17th wave Social Justice Theory, were actually focused on a slippery slope problem. And were weirdly talking about where this could lead. I don’t think it had to lead, in fact, I think was absolutely necessary that—on what basis would you segregate education at the highest level, I forget when Princeton went co-ed and things, or when they had their first—you know, if you look at like, for example, the first black student to graduate from every one of the major universities, there’s some that are, you know, 1800s, very early on; others, like, 1950s.
DM: 44:13 Right.
EW: 44:14 So, you know, there’s a huge range of these behaviors that were once present. But I think one of the things that I’d also liked to hear from you, just as we—the original conceit of our, you know, we used to have Alastair Cook doing the Letter from America, and we had de Tocqueville famously commenting on the American landscape. I do wonder, as a gay man, how you see heterosexual relationships, because I think you’ve been an incredibly astute observer from outside as to changes in heterosexual courtship, male-female relations. And I wonder, after a short bio break, whether I could entice you to give us some carefully chosen observations on that dangerous topic?
DM: 44:59 I’d love to. Let me first say something about the meaning of life.
EW: 45:01 Sure. I did like that! Why you cracked a smile and ruined everything, I don’t know?
DM: 45:11 No, cause I didn’t quite finish that thought about, as it were the deep thought of what is happening.
EW: 45:17 Yes.
DM: 45:19 I’d like us, maybe not now. But I’d like us collectively the way your listeners and others to start to—we need to talk about this more and better. There is a very clear disjunct between the story we’ve been telling ourselves about what we are, and an intuition that we feel about ourselves as human beings. And I’m going to struggle with the language of this, because we all do, and it’s part of the human condition to struggle with it. But there is a mismatch. And very few people are speaking into it. The mismatch is that we ran a science over last few generations, perhaps longer, we may even say we ran the Enlightenment, which was one of the best ways in which we could do it. I’m not with my enlightenment, sort of “all-we-need-is-enlightenment” friends. Because I think they missed this element. Before that, we ran religion as the primary explanation mechanism. We don’t have an explanation mechanism. I’ve said before, we might be the first people in human history to have no explanation for what we’re doing. Which leaves us in a very disadvantaged position. It makes us vulnerable to mount banks and frauds and others. But we need to do better at this. And I think that if I was trying to put my finger on it, it would be something like there’s something we know about ourselves, which is not adequately expressed or even spoken during the culture. And I think of it as being it comes along in the fact that for instance, if you said, “You, Eric Weinstein, you’re a consumer”, you will say, “Well, yes, but why would you talk about me as if I’m only a consumer?”
EW: 47:23 I would say “no”.
DM: 47:24 Okay. Good. So fast way around it. If you said, “You’re a capitalist” or “You’re a free marketeer” or “You’re a voter”,
EW: 47:34 Yeah.
DM: 47:35 You see, all of these things, almost everything you have now, “You’re a social justice activist”
EW: 47:39 Right
DM: 47:41 None of it does it. What is it? It’s because there has—we have a very strong instinct, as a species, that these things don’t sum us up, and can’t. Now people are coming along at the moment from—particularly from the radical left, saying, okay, but you could sum yourself up in other ways—we will encourage you to sum yourself up because of a character trait. And the character trait would be based on something you can’t change, but also you will find meaning by warring in order to further this thing. This isn’t addressed by anyone else, but it’s that speaking to a depth, that’s speaking to depth, because it’s saying we’re going to solve a cosmic injustice.
EW: 48:21 Right.
DM: 48:22 That’s worth doing with your life. Why is nobody countering this with anything else now? Because the rest of it is this entirely, now, unfilled terrain?
EW: 48:32 Yes.
DM: 48:33 Which involves the need to say, I know I am, we are, more than what the age tells us we are. And we have the same questions that everyone has had before. And we have nobody wishing to provide answers. I have, I think, a favorite version of the question, the biggest question, which comes up in Rilke in the Duino Elegies, he’s, Rilke says somewhere in there, “Does the outer space into which we dissolve taste of us at all?”
EW: 49:11 Oh, that’s beautiful. I don’t know that quote.
DM: 49:14 And the way we end up living always is to think, at best, we will say hopefully,
EW: 49:26 Yes.
DM: 49:27 And this is my system for doing so. And in religion, obviously, we get the answer that there is a secular version of this, which is what you alluded to when you referred to the dude wall.
EW: 49:40 Right.
DM: 49:41 Let’s say the Nobel.
EW: 49:43 Secular immortality.
DM: 49:45 Secular immortality.
EW: 49:46 Right. Or if you were doing economics, you would talk about overlapping generations models rather than lineage. And so this issue of how immortality works in each individual field really matters, because you have to avoid nihilism and solipsism—
DM: 50:02 Yes.
EW: 50:02 And all of these sorts of intellectual pitfalls.
DM: 50:05 The crucial thing is, you don’t just have to because it isn’t good for you.
EW: 50:09 Yes. Well, because it’s also not, it’s so true.
DM: 50:14 Right.
EW: 50:15 And and you see, you don’t code computers? much. Okay? There’s a distinction in in object oriented programming called “is a” versus “has a”. And the way I typically talk about it is, if you’re not careful, you will define a Lamborghini as a radio. Because if you say, what is a radio? Well, it’s something that picks up radio waves and converts them into audible sound,
DM: 50:41 Right.
EW: 50:42 Well, Lamborghini can do that. Yeah, right. So to say that a Lamborghini is a radio is completely perverse, nobody will accept that statement. However, the idea that you have a voter, you have a consumer, you have a worker, you have an Anglican, whatever it is that you think of, if you think of those as what we would call “member variables”. And that that, which is Douglas, let’s say, would be the meta-object. And then all of these meta-variables like “Douglas as voter”,
DM: 51:16 Mm hmm.
EW: 51:17 You know, “Douglas, as boyfriend”, all of these things are, in fact, things that you have, rather than are,
DM: 51:24 Yes.
EW: 51:25 Now that one linguistic shift. Yeah, is a profound one. Yeah. There’s another way. So I’m very taken with the idea. And you and I’ve discussed this at length privately, that many times we’re one rhetorical device away from being able to say something, and no one’s figured that out. So for example, when I have to defend, people try to trick you into the following: they’ll say, I think, let’s say, “black power”. So am I supposed to say “all power”? “Brown power”? “White power”? Wait, wait, wait, what?
You know, okay, well, on one, on the one hand, from a symmetry perspective, “white power” versus “black power” is almost the same statement. However, we’ve got one mapped to something completely different. And we don’t notice the weird the weird ways in which this occurs. So famously, I say, what is vanilla? Vanilla has two opposite meanings. Yeah, it is either the most flavorful of flavorings.
Or it’s the base.
Or it is the least interesting base that is supposed to be effectively undetectable, and it’s completely neutral. Yeah. Same thing happens with “white” versus “European”. I have no interest in white. Mm hmm. I have a tremendous interest in Europe. Tremendous. And the idea that Europe is both seen as the most bland thing in the world. You know, white men can’t jump. White men can’t dance. White men can’t do a thing, versus what produced La Sagrada Familia and the Bach cello suites. You know, it’s like, I can’t even fit these in my head. Another one of these things I don’t notice is, for example, the idea that if I say, “the size of someone’s head may be related to that person’s intelligence,” like “my God, that’s like scientific racism, it’s phonology!”. You know, “Are you reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1911? What What is your problem?” Then I say, “I’m not worried about Zika virus because I don’t think microcephaly has any costs.” “Are you kidding? Do you know what the cognitive impairment from having a small head would be?” Have you noticed that you’re carrying both of these programs in your brain and that you have a rule that says “I will not attempt to access them”? At the same time, it’s like, “you can’t be out in the street because we have a deadly virus, and we all have to pull together.” “You must be out in the street because we have an incredible problem of public health in our racism”.
DM: 53:55 Yeah, well it happened with obesity as well this year.
EW: 53:57 Well—
DM: 53:57 Yeah. But
EW: 54:00 We can’t even give people life saving advice, necessarily. Like when I saw this virus—
DM: 54:05 That’s when it becomes—Yes, exactly. That’s when it becomes dangerous, when the when the when the thing you’re meant to sustain, for societal purposes, becomes deadly. That would be the time ordinarily where you’d change the program.
EW: 54:18 I’m coming up on having lost 50 pounds because I believed that I was a sitting duck with my BMI where it was by not paying attention to my body when COVID struck. And I listen, people immediately say, “Well, that’s fat shaming.” You know, that you can’t talk about life saving advice because it’s fat shaming. The contradictory pressures that we’ve taken on, like if you think about this, the idea that head size and shape on the one hand, we know it from scientific racism. On the other hand, we know it from the Zika virus. We’ve been given two contradictory instructions and we’ve been given no expert guidance as to how to get these concepts to play well within a single mind.
DM: 55:05 I agree, just return to us, return us for a nanosecond to the point we are we are being clogged up. And the clogging up appears to be the purpose for a lot of people.
EW: 55:21 Hmm.
DM: 55:22 And the problem is both the clogging and the unplugging becomes purpose. And my own view is that some of the unclogging that you and I both have tried to do in our different ways, and various people we know try to do, is in order to get somewhere else.
EW: 55:41 Correct, like, it’s not intrinsically interesting just to point out contradictions.
DM: 55:46 Right. I’m, I’m not interested merely in showing why hucksters like the 1619 Project people and Robyn D’Angelo, Kennedy, and all these people—I’m not interested in just like defusing bits—
EW: 56:05 The indulgence merchants.
DM: 56:07 They’ve—yeah, I’m not interested in just diffusing the bombs that they’ve put into our society. Although I do think that needs to be done. I’ve done a certain amount of it, you’ve done a lot of it. I think that I think is very worthwhile. But I think all the time, we have to all have our eyes on the—
EW: 56:24 Meaning, purpose, a journey—
DM: 56:25 —on a further goal—
EW: 56:26 I agree with this.
DM: 56:27 And I’m just, again, I come back to this point, you know, I was so worried this year that the virus would become something we all did.
EW: 56:38 Hmm.
DM: 56:39 You know, that we would all become interested in, you know, getting to Christmas.
And that’s 2020 done. And then 2021, what can we arrange? What can be arranged for us? And, before we know it, we’re all going to be on our deathbeds.
EW: 56:57 Right. What did we do?
DM: 56:58 Having, you know, I mean, it’s it comes back to what I said—we’ve had for years where some of our friends have spent four years reacting to the US president. It’s not time well spent. It’s not nothing, but it’s not far off. If this keeps happening, the opportunity costs for our societies, and for us as individuals, is just too great. And we, we both have to, we all have to find a way to do the declogging. But not only to do that—
EW: 57:32 Well, you know, I have a certain love for wildlife videos, as much as I find them disturbing. Very often, whenever you have a swarm, and it could be army ants, it could be hyenas, it could be lions, whatever it is. You have this phase, where for example, if you look at lions taking down an elephant—
DM: 57:55 Hmm.
EW: 57:58 Very often the lions nip at the elephant too distracted, too exhaust it—wolves will do these sorts of things. And you always have the narrator say, you know, “What the animal doesn’t realize is that it’s using its energy, and it will quickly become exhausted.” And you’re thinking like, well, what happens if you don’t respond to those nips?
DM: 58:18 Hmm.
EW: 58:19 It’s not clear to me that there’s a strategy. Like, even if I noticed that I’m wasting my time doing this. These people are at it every day on the other side. This is their point, this is their mission, their mission is to make sure that you can’t have rational thoughts in public unless they have a particular kind of redistributional outcome. And I do think that one of the key issues that we’re dealing with, is that we have many observations that are not in broad circulation, one of which is that the supposedly pro-empathy movement, you would imagine would be a broadening of empathy movement. How do we make sure that people who previously did not have empathy extended to them, like the homeless, or the obese, or whoever it is, that they’re included? Right? It has nothing to do with most of it.
DM: 59:11 Yeah.
EW: 59:11 Most of it has to do with the idea that it’s a redistribution of empathy, that the people who we have empathized with previously in this understanding, yeah, now need to be drained.
DM: 59:23 There’s a limited limited amount of it in the bank, we’d have to spend it differently.
EW: 59:27 Well, I wouldn’t say it that way. I would say that it is—there’s a division about oppression, should oppression be eliminated, or should it be reversed?
DM: 59:38 Well, you obviously, what with the era we’re in, it should be overcorrected.
EW: 59:42 I think that that’s—the overcorrection is a feature, not a bug. If I don’t get to visit some of what you’ve visited upon me, in getting to a new equilibrium, I’m not interested. And so this is this is the move where somebody says, “So it sounds like you’re feeling a little uncomfortable. That’s how the rest of us feel”, right? And if I say, for example, like, here’s an easy one, “You would think that white older white men would be the most privileged group in this Anti-Intersectional Olympics”, right? They have some of the highest suicide rates in the United States, much higher than black men, and much higher than, you know, younger black females versus older white men, night and day difference. And they want to make this move when redistributing empathy, which is, “Well, they’ll be fine.” You’re like, “No, no, these are suicides. They’re not going to be fine. They’re dead.” And you’re like, “Well, now you see how other people—.” Well, no, I’m looking at suicide as an exchange rate. If this group has a higher suicide rate, how are you so sure—
DM: 1:00:57 Yes.
EW: 1:00:58 —that money means what you think it does, that race means what you—that gender—like, how do you know you haven’t gotten the whole thing wrong, because at least we know that when somebody chooses to take his own life, that that is an equalizing decision.
DM: 1:01:13 Yes. Yes. The… it’s a problem in this country that’s obviously looming, by the way, isn’t it? All of this? Everyone I speak to from any political direction now talks about race more than they did four years ago. And they’re all becoming aware of the vengeance.
EW: 1:01:36 Say more.
DM: 1:01:39 Does anyone in any line of work in America now not think obsessively about race in the workplace?
EW: 1:01:45 Well it’s worse than the workplace.
DM: 1:01:46 Oh, no, no, I’m just saying, for starters.
EW: 1:01:47 No, no, I agree with that.
DM: 1:01:48 This wasn’t the case. This wasn’t the case even a few years ago. It was an issue. It’s always an issue long time, people would talk about, you know, the inability of, for instance, a, oh, I don’t know, to fire an underperforming black colleague.
EW: 1:02:04 Yes.
DM: 1:02:05 Was that’s an issue for a long time. And I would add to that, black friends who have talked amusedly about the advantages they get for being black. I spoke recently to a black friend, who says is one of the few, you know, sort of obvious things. If you’re black, you don’t have to wear a mask. Nobody who’s white will tell you off for not wearing a mask. If you’re black,
EW: 1:02:30 I actually don’t necessarily believe that.
DM: 1:02:31 Really?
EW: 1:02:32 My guess is that—I mean, I do think that there is a fair amount of prejudice based on behavioral characteristics. I mean, it’s a very tricky subject, because the place in which race has really changed in my mind is under my roof. Because I’m in an interracial family. And race was not a big part of daily life in my house. And coming to have to see a spouse or a child through the lens of race is an incredibly distasteful thing when race isn’t relevant. It’s not the case—
DM: 1:03:17 Yeah.
EW: 1:03:18 You know, if if we’re talking, for example, about who has to put on suntan lotion, it’s more important that I put on suntan lotion than that my wife does if there’s not much left in the bottle. Right? Okay. There race can matter.
DM: 1:03:32 Mm hmm.
EW: 1:03:34 But this issue about is it po—you can’t get past race, “colorblindness is a fake thing pushed by a white patriarchy”, blah, blah, blah. Horseshit!
DM: 1:03:48 Yeah.
EW: 1:03:49 I mean, I’m not saying that you never notice it, I’m saying that you can go three weeks without ever having a thought that looks like that.
DM: 1:03:55 I just say the workplace is one. But I heard of everwhere else as well now, in this country. This country has been very successfully re-racialized by people of all, from all directions.
EW: 1:04:08 I can’t stand it.
DM: 1:04:09 I can’t either, it’s exceptionally ugly. And it’s obviously gonna get a lot worse. When people know that they have been prejudiced against because of their skin color, it really doesn’t matter what skin color is, they’re going to feel resentful.
EW: 1:04:24 Well, but part of this has to do with the Immigration Act of 1965, because there was a white-black dynamic that was relevant in the country before 1965, and the browning of America without necessarily most of that coming from, let’s say, West African stock that mirrors the the imported slave population that is now the core of black America. I think that in many ways, the question was, well, what would happen to black issues, because it’s a large minority in this country. And I think that then what people tried was, let’s make it black and brown, people of color.
DM: 1:05:04 Yeah.
EW: 1:05:05 And then it turns out that okay, well, Asians are now overperforming, supposedly, in terms of entrance to elite universities. Well, we can’t do that.
DM: 1:05:14 Yeah, in my country, the vivre app for Indians are far ahead of white people.
EW: 1:05:22 Have you heard of the bamboo ceiling?
DM: 1:05:24 Yes. Yeah.
EW: 1:05:25 Right. So we have we have, yes, East Asian engineers inside of tech companies looking at the ascendancy of South Asians to the top jobs in these tech companies, claiming that the problem is brown on brown or whatever you want to call, you know, it’s completely internal—
DM: 1:05:43 Yeah.
EW: 1:05:44 —to so-called people of color.
DM: 1:05:45 Again, all of these—all the programs were running, apart from running against each other, are so unfit for purpose. The one that I can’t bear that’s happened since I was last in this country, the 1619 Project and everything, is this unbelievable imbibing by people who used to be serious in this country, of this gunk about Europeans and America. I mean, as a Dutch historian wrote recently in The Spectator, what exactly were the Europeans meant to do after they found America? Were they meant to go back home and go “shhhhhh”? Were they meant to say, “We’ve discovered this amazing place. I don’t think it has any potential, I wouldn’t bother with it. There’s a large landmass over there, it doesn’t appear to be at all heavily populated. But I don’t think we should be very much interested in it; somebody else will find it.” What exactly were they meant to do? The current thing gives out these incredibly easy-to-dispel ideas, that this country will be understood in a way that is not useful to understand the country.
EW: 1:07:05 But let’s let’s think about a way in which we could understand what the claim is. If you look at things that we talk about incessantly, for example, giving blankets with smallpox as presents to the native population using pestilence against them, that, I think we can all agree, is horrific.
DM: 1:07:30 By the way, in the Australian context, much of this is contested, but…
EW: 1:07:33 Yeah, why I’m not claiming that I know. Yeah, I spent zero time looking at this. I willing to assume that we’ve done some horrible things relative to the local population, just as, let’s say, le Nabi Indians, I believe, massacred—was one of the first school massacres.
DM: 1:07:49 But again, I’m coming back to this thing because it affects everybody now,
EW: 1:07:54 Right. Well,
DM: 1:07:56 But who, who—
EW: 1:07:58 But let’s come back after a bio break. And instead of starting where I thought we were gonna start, let’s start around this question of why it’s so hard to defend the cultures from which so much has sprung.
DM: 1:08:11 Yeah.
EW: 1:08:12 All right. Stay tuned.
I always like to say this: “And, we’re back.”
Douglas. It seems to me that right at the moment, one of the things that we’re having a real difficulty with is that we haven’t formulated rhetorically effective ways of expressing reasonable love and pride in the lineages that have added up to so much that might be loosely thought of as Western Civilization, or Indo-European civilization. And my question is, are we in part going to lose our society because nobody’s figured out the right way of getting words to play together that indicate that one wishes to take responsibility for the excesses and negative aspects of one’s society, but without groveling and pretending that everything one’s ancestors did was horrible, and that there’s nothing to be proud of? Do we have a problem that this really comes down to the fact that it’s a puzzle? The comedians, for example, weren’t able to tell jokes for a period of time because the rules around joke telling a change? And then they figured out that there were new ways of saying these jokes—you know, Joe Rogan, did this joke about “wrestling is gay”, and the audience would have this horrible, you know, realization that they were in the audience for a bigoted comic, and everybody would [gasp], you know, do this, and he said, Wait, what do you think I just said, I didn’t say it was bad, I said it was gay. And then it goes into this description of
DM: 1:09:51 Yeah,
EW: 1:09:51 Oiled bodies—
DM: 1:09:52 Oiled bodies, sweaty men—
EW: 1:09:53 Booty shorts, and all this kind of stuff. And he’s like, if that’s not gay, then what is? And that kind of innovation, like, Chappelle did this where he blames his audience—
DM: 1:10:04 Yeah, that was very interesting.
EW: 1:10:06 This is very similar to what happened in the 90s, where you went from old style advertisements, to one, I think I remember one where, instead of good things happening to people who use the product, bad things happen, to show that they’re in on the joke. So a person takes a swig from a soda can and goes, “Ahhhhh”, and they don’t notice the Mack truck that mows them down. It’s like, “It’s that refreshing!” Like, that would be a 90s style innovation. Are there ways of defending Western Civilization we just haven’t thought of because all the old ways seem not to take responsibility for the negatives?
DM: 1:10:41 It could be. We live—the clear thing is that we live in an era of revenge.
EW: 1:10:48 Hmm.
DM: 1:10:49 We live in an era of vengeance against the West.
EW: 1:10:52 Some say vengeance, you can say justice.
DM: 1:10:55 I say vengeance.
EW: 1:10:57 Yeah. So is vengeance a Russell conjugate of justice?
DM: 1:11:03 Well, could be. I think not, for the following reason, which is that it’s said in the tone of vengeance. Often unadulteratedly. For instance, the Emperor—have you heard the Empire Strikes Back term? The Empire Strikes Back has been for 20 years or so a description of immigration in Europe.
EW: 1:11:28 I see. Interesting.
DM: 1:11:30 Yeah. Yeah, they like it. Oh, you don’t like the immigration? Well, the Empire Strikes Back.
EW: 1:11:37 I see.
DM: 1:11:38 Ah, now, of course, your obvious play to That is to say, okay, and when does the Empire reassert itself and strike back? This is ugly.
EW: 1:11:50 Hmm.
DM: 1:11:50 They want—they want to make us ugly. But it’s vengeance. It’s never clearer to me than in America. It’s spoken in the term of vengeance. Where we just were about this, what to do with the Europeans and America and this whole continent,
EW: 1:12:08 Right.
DM: 1:12:09 It’s spoken as vengeance.
EW: 1:12:12 Yes, we’re very interested in vengeance, but we can’t bring ourselves to say it.
DM: 1:12:16 Yeah, they want people to suffer. The use of the term “whitie”
EW: 1:12:21 “Whitie”?
DM: 1:12:22 Yeah. What is that? What is what’s gammon? What’s gammon?
EW: 1:12:28 What is gammon?
DM: 1:12:29 Gammon is a term used by alleged anti-racists to describe white men of a certain age in particular due to the alleged hue of their skin, particularly when irritated. Do we have anything in the language as common and as acceptable now to describe for instance, an irate black man? No, you won’t want to find one either. But gammon totally, totally reasonable. Totally respect—laughed at, used by white people as well hoping to buy themselves some time.
EW: 1:13:06 Well, throwing each other over—
DM: 1:13:08 Yeah.
EW: 1:13:08 In an attempt to slow the advance.
DM: 1:13:10 Yeah. So I think this is vengeance, that we’re in a period of vengeance against European history in particular, what’s seen as being the West, Western History. And there’s, of course, one particular gigantic logical fallacy waiting to hit these people like the truck in the 1990s advert with the refreshment drink. The giant logical fallacy about to plow them down—
EW: 1:13:36 Yeah.
DM: 1:13:37 —is the misapprehension they have that what we call the western liberal society is the default position of mankind. Hmm, they think Western Society is your vanilla. They think it’s your non-colored base paint. And they’re totally wrong. Because most of your most of human experience is the Congo, Russia, you know? They have no damn idea.
EW: 1:14:15 Well, this is the sort of CHAZ fallacy, which is that if we can just get the police to stop policing, then everything will be utopian.
DM: 1:14:22 Yes. And I, again, I don’t think we have time for these people. And I think that we don’t have time for—you know, because—
EW: 1:14:28 They’re not serious points, and they can’t, they shouldn’t be engaged, because—in that fashion, because, in order to do so, all conversation has to derail until these—
DM: 1:14:39 Until these people learn a lesson.
EW: 1:14:40 Yeah.
DM: 1:14:41 You know, that’s the annoying thing. Because, arguably, what they’re going through is the thing that intermittently is necessary. We’ve discussed this before, I think we discussed it in Sydney, with your theory about the nuclear bombs being let off every now and then, you know,
EW: 1:14:55 You’re just gonna drop that like that? Because I haven’t talked that much on this program.
DM: 1:14:58 Right, which is crazy. Crazy weird—get Weinstein in private and it’s just all nuclear bombs! [laughter]
It’s this thing of, do you have remind people on some intermittent basis of what can happen? And the answer, historically, seems “Yes”. And the great regret of those of us who would like to avoid all of those things is that we actually can know it without having to learn it. And there are always people who hurtle forward who need to learn it again, you know, the people in CHAZ, discover, lo and behold, that, you know, without a police force, a man can rape a woman and just walk away.
EW: 1:15:47 Who knew?
DM: 1:15:47 Who knew, other than all humans in history?
EW: 1:15:47 Right.
DM: 1:15:47 Without a police force, the business doesn’t have any protection when the mob comes and decides to burn the whole damn thing down. Who knew, apart from everyone in history? So this is, as I said, this is the truck that’s coming towards these people. And the question really is, can they learn the lesson privately? Or do they have to do it and pull everyone else into their remedial lesson? And I strongly hope, like everybody else, that it’s the first of those two things. You know, I take a certain sadistic pleasure as we all must in those stories that occasionally emerge, and usually get a very long write up in the New York Times, of some idealistic couple from Seattle who decided to take a tandem cycling holiday through Waziristan. And, you know, they believed that, you know, if only we all tandemed together more, we’d have a future of more justice. And they all get, you know, sort of gang raped and murdered by a group of jihadis, or something, and you just sort of can’t help thinking, “Well, you know, I’m very sorry for their family. I’m sorry for them, they had to learn this lesson that way.” And it’s obviously not the case with everyone. I stress that not everyone in Waziristan is a gang raping murderer. I’m just saying that, you know, anyone who knew the world could have told them it isn’t what it looked like to them when they were growing up in Seattle. You know, it’s just regrettable that the catastrophic nature of human existence is so badly transmitted to these people. And I’m afraid, sorry to sound terribly anti-American at this moment, but this—
EW: 1:17:25 I have noticed this shift.
DM: 1:17:27 Really?
EW: 1:17:27 Yeah.
DM: 1:17:28 Okay. It’s a consequence of the fact that the people—we’re all suffering the spillage of this.
EW: 1:17:34 Right.
DM: 1:17:35 And it’s come from people in America, who think they know everything about the world and have never left these shores. I’m sorry, you have an incredibly ignorant left, you have an incredibly ignorant internationalist class, you have an incredibly parochial internationalist class. Let alone the nationalists! You have people who believe they’ve got the whole thing sussed. And they think that this situation you’ve had in this country is the default situation, and they’re willing to burn this whole damn thing down to learn that it’s not, and then they’re going to take everyone else with them at this rate. You know, I’ve fed up of the spillage of American ignorance on these matters, coming into my own country, coming all across Europe as well, we have our own problems. And this particular one, of, for instance, re-racializing everything, or making relations between the sexes all but impossible, you know, having to move all sexual relations and indeed, courtship to Tinder—
EW: 1:18:31 Or to a lawyers office.
DM: 1:18:33 Or to a lawyers office, is something that’s spilled out from the town we’re sitting in, as it happens. And I, again, I don’t know how we encourage these people who are ignorant about this to learn this, but they’re going to have to learn it fast, and not make us all have to go through the lesson with them.
EW: 1:18:49 So I think it has a lot to do with individual lessons that have interactions. Right? I don’t know if you’ve been following at all this Coinbase shift. Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, who said, effectively, “We’re an idealistic company, we have an idealism and a dream. And we can’t afford drug interactions between different idealisms.” It’s not that your idealism is wrong. But if you bring, you know your idealism, let’s say, you have an idealism about the Israeli state, and you, on the other hand, have an idealism about Black Lives Matter. And now you’ve got a problem because there’s an interference, you’re trying to work with somebody. And their organization says something about, you know, the State of Israel, and you have an organization that is idealistic for the State of Israel. What can a company like Coinbase do because they’re not in charge of all of the medications that people are taking for site society’s ills? And so their point was, at work, we’re going to try to limit the drug interactions between our idealisms so that we can actually get something done.
DM: 1:20:02 Yeah, this would be the optimal thing we did in our societies. Yes.
EW: 1:20:05 Well, this is coming from the US. So you’re welcome.
DM: 1:20:07 Yeah. Thank you. I accept this import with alacrity.
EW: 1:20:11 Yeah.
DM: 1:20:12 Yes, this is it, we have to do this, we have to strip this stuff out. I described it before. This is moral asbestos. It has to be stripped from the building. It’s unfortunate that the era we’re speaking in is the era where the asbestos is still being put in every cavity. I strongly urge people to stop the people they find doing this job.
Well, but you know—
And to do a bit of undoing.
EW: 1:20:42 We had a very interesting situation with an innovation, which I believe, if I’m not mistaken, may originated in Toronto (I could have that wrong) around 2011, which was the advent of the so called “slutwalk”, in which, in order to get rid of a persistent problem, which is the claim that feminine attire could be seen as inviting, the idea would be that women would march in the most provocative clothing possible, in order to demonstrate that there is never a cause for reacting sexually towards a woman, based on your understanding of whatever agreed upon non-explicit signaling was taking place. Now, one can understand wanting to get rid of an argument that can be made and and saying, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we actually attack the idea that there’s ever an excuse to assume that somebody was inviting amorous behavior?” On the other hand, that actually had a lot to do with having an agreed upon language, which was not explicit, protecting females by saying, look, this thing is sort of a progressive handshake that gets more and more intimate as both sides decide that they’re ready to move to the next level. But then, effectively, what we do is we, in order to get a lacuna, in our vocabulary of moves, we destroyed an entire language of courtship.
DM: 1:22:18 Yes.
EW: 1:22:18 And I was wondering, you know, in some sense, as a keen observer of heterosexuals, but coming from a homosexual perspective, what do you see going on between men and women from the outside that we can benefit from, sort of, a less interested eye?
DM: 1:22:39 Hmm. I was so thrilled, once, when you described me over dinner as the de tocqueville of heterosexuality.
You know, one of the pleasures of writing the madness of crowds was writing the chapter on men and women.
EW: 1:22:54 Yes.
DM: 1:22:54 Because I knew that I was able to say so many things that my straight friends were not able to say. Male and female.
EW: 1:23:01 I’m just gonna nod my head not knowing what’s coming next, actually. I actually don’t know what’s coming next.
DM: 1:23:07 I honestly feel sorry for you guys.
EW: 1:23:10 Hmm.
DM: 1:23:11 It used to be the case that the the straights felt sorry for the gays because the gays had unhappy lives.
EW: 1:23:18 We’ve always looked at you with a bit of envy.
DM: 1:23:21 Sure. Well, yeah, of course. Because there were aspects of—memorably, a straight friend of mine once said to me, “I wish we had straight bars.” And I said, “What are you talking about? Don’t you have them everywhere?” And he said, “No, but I mean, like, straightaway, we really could, like, just go in, and the women knew that they were also there for that purpose, and—
EW: 1:23:38 Oh, really? For me, it’s musical theater that I’ve been eyeing.
DM: 1:23:43 You can have that.
EW: 1:23:44 Yeah!
DM: 1:23:44 You can have you can have mine. I do think it’s been made intolerable. And by the way, again, the era of revenge, so much—the pleasure, which women and some men are taking, in sexually torturing heterosexual men is extraordinary to me. I mean, the recognition that the benefits of recent sexual advances can be made, can be accrued by a tiny number of heterosexual men, and that the rest should be tortured, is one of the things I think is least attractive in the age. Again, the language of revenge. I think that, I mean, several things. One is that—the big underlying one is that women are trying to make men into something that women don’t want.
That’s—on the surface. That would sound like very self-defeating and paradoxical behavior.
Sure, well, they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing.
EW: 1:24:48 Is that right?
DM: 1:24:49 Yes. So—
EW: 1:24:52 You sure?
DM: 1:24:52 The attempts to feminize the heterosexual male—
EW: 1:24:55 Right.
DM: 1:24:57 —to make him beseeching, and rather pathetic, I mean, this is also, this is a throughout the advertising culture much more—the pathetic male is the very common theme now. The male is the one who cannot do anything, and the kids and the mother need to do it, or the girlfriend. And this, this spills out onto everything. And it’s, of course, because it’s come about because the male part of the dance is not permitted. And then there’s, that’s just one layer. And then you have the layer, which is most interesting to me, which is, the sexual relations are so interesting, because people think there’s only one thing they want.
EW: 1:25:45 Say more.
DM: 1:25:46 Oh, there’s this perception, you know, I mean, “People know what they want, and they go and get it.” No they don’t! They want lots of different things. This is more the case of men than with women. But men want a reliable partner who is chaste except for for them. And they also want other things. And this is a very big juggle. Women have a little bit of that sometimes; a lot less. But women also want contradictory things, in relation to sex, like everything else. One of the things that fascinates me most is that around the same time as the “Me Too” thing emerged, then we got into this ridiculous overcorrection on sexual relations. We just come to the end of a period where all bookstores were absolutely packed with tables full of the most best selling S&M female porn.
EW: 1:26:47 Hmm.
DM: 1:26:49 What was it that was happening in that era? Nobody seems very interested. I mean, people in my mother’s age group were reading E. L. James’ The 50 Shades of Grey. I don’t think they been imbibing S&M porn before. But it spoke to something, something was going on in all of this.
EW: 1:27:06 Well, you have the concept of a bodice-ripper.
DM: 1:27:09 Right.
EW: 1:27:09 Right? And I do think that—
DM: 1:27:11 Which is genteel compared to this stuff.
EW: 1:27:13 Well, it’s very interesting. I mean, in part, you’re getting into the question of, we use— we’ve used a term “rape fantasy” in the past, that does not appear to reference actual rape. It’s a highly stylized—
DM: 1:27:28 Stylized fantasy.
EW: 1:27:30 That doesn’t—that doesn’t actually match reality in any way. And so, in some sense, the key question is, “What is literary BDSM, and what did we think it was?” It’s not clear—I mean, this is the reason that I’m slightly uncertain about these things. A friend of ours, in a group of women, said the following sentence (she being a heterosexual female), “What is wrong with us women? We seek out alpha males, and then the instant we get them home and they try to alpha us, we cry foul.”
DM: 1:28:13 Sure.
EW: 1:28:14 And I think that that has to do with something that’s actually understandable, which is that the fantasy, going back to, let’s say, The Little Prince, is The Taming Of The Other. And so, finding a successful wild beast and converting it into your own private attack dog, where the teeth only point out—
DM: 1:28:34 Yes, except that they also want the—they do on the alpha male on occasion,
EW: 1:28:39 Do and don’t, do and don’t, do and don’t, and in some—but, of course—
DM: 1:28:42 Of course.
EW: 1:28:43 What if that is, in fact, weirdly normal.
DM: 1:28:46 It’s totally normal.
EW: 1:28:47 Agreed.
DM: 1:28:48 It’s totally normal.
EW: 1:28:49 Right.
DM: 1:28:49 It’s—maybe it’s a strange moment to site Saint Paul, but [laughter] Saint Paul says this in one sentences in Galatians, “That I would not, that I do. That I do, that I would not.”
That’s that’s but that’s that’s—
EW: 1:29:13 But these higher order things, like, for example, in order to try to find a less sexually-gendered version of roles that works across male hetero and homosexuality, the concept of top and bottom was born, which is an uncomfortable fit, if you will
DM: 1:29:34 Or fem and butch.
EW: 1:29:35 Fem and butch, right. But the concept of topping from the bottom
DM: 1:29:40 Mm hmm.
EW: 1:29:41 Right? The idea that the bottom may be ostensibly controlled, but actually empowered—
DM: 1:29:51 —is a version of the of the Sex in the City, I fucked him.
EW: 1:29:57 Yes. So, for example, in Yiddish, “schtup”—
DM: 1:30:00 Yeah.
EW: 1:30:01 —for “Fuck”, if you will, is literally, I think, “push” and it’s only transitive from male to female. And that language, having more or less died out, it’s sort of preserved in amber except for the orthodox who continue to speak it. So, you know, that’s a good example of a situation which is, is weirdly [?]. Now of course Sex in the City is a show about four gay men going through their lives in Manhattan, as acted by four heterosexual women. So it’s a bit confusing.
DM: 1:30:32 Yes, yeah. And there are a lot of people who tried that—that didn’t work for them.
EW: 1:30:36 Well, exactly. And I think that, in part, this issue about I think one of the most insightful thinkers on sexuality for me has been Caitlyn Flanagan. And we’ve talked about her before. And her comment was, “it would appear that, from here on out, heterosexual sexuality is to be dictated and determined by females exclusively. And this idea being that, because of the asymmetry of the danger between male-female relations, with respect to sexual dimorphism, the fact that males are larger and stronger and more aggressive sexually, that, in effect, women would be changing the rules and the refereeing at whim and will.
DM: 1:31:23 Yes, yes. Well, that’s that’s the position we’re in. And it’s why men are having such a hell of a time.
EW: 1:31:28 What is happening on the gay side of the fence that mirrors this?
DM: 1:31:32 There is talk of the fact that younger gays now are adopting the sexual ideas that are happening in the straight world. Let me give one example of that, which is that the gay world was much more, again, I mean, I say this as a non-value judgment, for now, but—
EW: 1:31:55 You’ve been out for how long?
DM: 1:31:57 All my adult life,
EW: 1:31:58 All your adult life.
DM: 1:32:00 22 years. The… so some people, by the way, say that I have an off view of, for instance, those occasions where there’s borderline stuff, when a man and a woman—and the claim—or there’s, some people claim I have an off kilter understanding of this, because of the nature of being gay, in one sees in the gay world, and that’s possible, but I think it’s actually not an unhealthy world, in—what I’m talking about is things like, Oh, I don’t know, you’re in a bar, you need to squeeze through a space and somebody touches you on the ass, as you do. It’s not the end of the world, you know. You didn’t ask for it. But you’re in a highly sexualized place. And, so what? It’s quite flattering, you don’t always want it. If you really didn’t want it, you know, but you’re in that game, you’re in the, in the sort of sex-like world. It’s in the mix. I don’t by any means underestimate the extent to which a lot of women, rightly, the rightful thing of the sexual correction is, there are places we didn’t think of as being sexual places, which were turned into sexual places by men who made that misunderstanding. And I recognize that there’s, that’s an awful and horrible thing for that to happen. I would be like, if I was in a studio, and suddenly somebody, you know, touched me. Why would you do that here? I recognize there are—my point is, is that is that there is a high tolerance in the gay world for, or has been a high tolerance for the fact that, you know, you’re in the sex game. It doesn’t mean you’re having sex all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re, you know—
EW: 1:33:55 People are trying to get together with each other, and that there’s going to be a certain amount of type one and type two error.
DM: 1:34:00 Right. So for instance, in one of the most interesting things in the whole thing was when—when these things started to come to court a few years ago. You know, one of the only gay ones involved in MP in the UK. And actually when it came to court the whole thing fell apart, because the men who were said to have suffered included one who, on the witness stand said, “I’m not a victim.”
EW: 1:34:26 Yeah.
DM: 1:34:26 “I was in a bar with him. We were all very drunk. He shoved his hands down my pants. I said, Oh, come on. And he took his hands out. I don’t consider myself a victim. This should never have come to court.” That was a brave thing to say, and it was important thing to say. And, in my view, there needs to be a little bit more of that. But again, I’m not minimizing the fact that some people are in a position where they really don’t want that and they’ve made it clear, and they do feel violated.
EW: 1:34:49 Yeah.
DM: 1:34:51 But the point is, is that there is a dance that happens among gay couples, which is made easy by the fact that each one knows exactly what the other one is basically after.
EW: 1:35:05 They both have the experience of being male and interested and so there’s no mystery, in some sense, as to—
DM: 1:35:11 That’s not to say there aren’t dances that happen and much more. But the understanding of that space has been clearer. Now I stress, I’m told, I learned quite often that—I hear, I should say, the story that younger gays are picking up the sort of, the heterosexual move on sex. I’m increasingly, you know—I would say I was actually I go as far as to say, sex negative. Gay world was, was exciting and lots of—in lots of ways. It was one was—it was basically sex positive. I mean, it didn’t—there were people who didn’t do that. Famously, there were couples who, even in popular gay culture, were sort of—it was a trope of the sort of slightly prissy gay couple who thought they were better than everyone else. But, broadly speaking, the gay world was sex positive, it was one [?]—if you wanted sex, you could have it.
Well, you’ve removed pregnancy.
You’ve removed pregnancy.
EW: 1:36:26 So that was a huge boon.
DM: 1:36:28 Absolutely, and, and stigma, to a great extent, because I mean, none of this is, of course, all this is always moving. But I mean, this, of course, you know, was given the biggest imaginable knocked back by the AIDS crisis. But I think to a great extent, the debate is still going on the to and fro is still going on about the extent to which sex should or should not be stigmatized, and in what situations, but the viewing it in a sort of positive light, to be quite normal. And I do think I joke about the pity I feel for straight friends. But I do think—I do mean, in a way, because I see all the time things like you enter, it happened to me about a year ago, at a gathering where I just—the whole thing was owned and run by the women, who were holding everybody in the whole space captive. And the men all behaved in the way that I’ve discussed with your brother, known as “cuttlefishing”. I mean, they were, they were having all the men, the straight men were behaving as these diminutive, rather pathetic, beseeching beings. And they were doing and I said to several of them, I know what you’re doing here. I know what you’re doing. You need to stop the rampaging females from taking you out, and they could at any moment in this gathering.
EW: 1:37:54 Okay, so one of the curiosities that I have is that I have a fair number of female friends who are livid at the depopulation of the dating environment of men that they find to be masculine and attractive.
DM: 1:38:09 Of course.
EW: 1:38:09 My question though, is, they don’t stand up and say, “You’re not speaking for us all.” Like, if you speaking of my brother, my brother somehow—he’s not great on organization and executive function historically, but he got, I don’t know what it was, eight or nine leading black public intellectuals on one zoom call to do a show, and it was astounding to watch so many varied and different black men and women—I think there was only one female, Chloe Valdary, talking and disagreeing, but strongly rejecting what has been portrayed as Black America’s voice.
DM: 1:38:56 Yeah.
EW: 1:38:57 Right? And saying, “Look, these are all corrections, you’re part of an int—you’re listening into an internal conversation and you’re getting confused. And here are very different perspectives.” It strikes me that we are not here hearing loud trans voices that are saying knock it off. There’s way too many things under the “trans” umbrella and we’re torturing people because you’re asking them to clap when a person has been male for a very long time suddenly converts to female and dominates an athletic competition. Everybody is going to of course have an issue, or, you know, if—I don’t know if you saw this shooting of two sheriffs in Compton, and immediately after a gentleman, I think in a yellow hoodie, is like, “Oh, it’s going down in Compton.” And then he’s showing the cops having been shot in the car and he’s like a half a block, or a block from it. And there’s a collection of black figures screaming “No justice, no peace” before the police even arrive. In other words, to your point, we’re talking about vengeance. Now it may be that these are dirty cops. I don’t know what the history, I don’t know what the story is. However—
DM: 1:40:08 Yeah.
EW: 1:40:09 —what we’re seeing as an absence of moderating in group voices, where I expect that the leading people pointing out what’s wrong with the excesses of a Marxist cult with anti semitic issues, for example—we don’t have a huge number of black voices saying stop torturing our white brothers and sisters.
DM: 1:40:33 And by the way, in that case, it’s obvious who they would be it would be black people saying that—
EW: 1:40:39 Right.
DM: 1:40:39 The problem with the male-female sex thing is that it’s not—well, it is clear to me, in a way, but it’s not clear to the protagonists, who would be the one who said stop doing that. Because a woman who says, “Look, we’re creating these men that we don’t find attractive. We pretend the enemy is alpha men, but a lot of us want the alpha men, we certainly want them in certain rooms in the house”—I won’t go into which one—”We don’t want these weird gamma figures. We don’t want the sort of people who are being shown on all the mugshots or arrest shots in Portland. We don’t we’re not attracted to these people with like, a bit of pink hair and Rouge on one cheek, and we are piercing through the—. We don’t want them. Women don’t want that stuff. They don’t find it attractive, tiny numbers of them do.
EW: 1:41:28 Yeah—
DM: 1:41:28 —but the rest do not. And the men can’t say it, because the men, even the men who would be, well, first of all, also, there’s the thing that any man who describes themselves as alpha is always just intolerably awful. And, but the alpha traits, as it were, in men have been so vengefully assaulted, that the men have to get away with being these versions of themselves that are pathetic. And they’re hoping to do it to get through this era. And I have this conversation with them all the time. You know, it’s a survival mechanism to get through the era we’re in. I feel so sorry for them. Because this, apart from anything else, it makes it much harder to find a partner, much harder, because nobody’s being really honest about what they’re after. And, and they will tell people, they will make some people be people they’re not, and thus be unattractive.
EW: 1:42:29 This is an issue of rhetoric. So, for example, when—one of the things that I’ve learned is that advertising contradicts politics.
DM: 1:42:43 Hmm.
EW: 1:42:45 So, I agree. So for example, if I take any phrase like “male gaze”.
DM: 1:42:53 Yes.
EW: 1:42:53 The male gaze is a “bad” thing. Then I take the phrase, “Turn heads this summer” is an advertising phrase, “Invite the male gaze”, “Make sure that you get your share of male gaze.” That is used to sell clothing. Then somebody will say, “There’s no such thing as provocatively dressed. Does not exist.”
DM: 1:43:12 Yes.
EW: 1:43:13 Then you look up on Google Shopping, and you say “CFM”, right, which literally is “come schtuck me,” with the middle word changed. And you see a bunch of shoes. Now,
DM: 1:43:29 This is the same as making [?].
EW: 1:43:30 You’re marketing to people who are buying these shoes, and they’re not all drag queens.
DM: 1:43:35 No.
EW: 1:43:36 Right. And so now the idea is, if I take any, like, “Make him drool.”
DM: 1:43:43 Make him drool. Yeah, of course—
EW: 1:43:44 Make him drool.
DM: 1:43:45 It’s a good one.
EW: 1:43:45 We’ll have there’ll be an ad campaign, which is speaking about psychogenic arousal.
DM: 1:43:51 And, you know, if you try and make her drool, all you get is some things about cats, who dribble when they sleep.
But there is no equivalent. Yeah.
EW: 1:44:02 But the point is that the political assertions are contradicted, just the way—we have these divided minds, and the key question that we face is what—what is the rhetoric that allows us to point out the minds are at least divided? So for example, a different version of this on Instagram would be, you might say, “I think that gendered behavior is passe.” And then I look at a young woman who’s got 3.8 million followers, and her captions on her photos say things like, headed to the beach. “What should I wear today?” You know, “The yellow bikini, or the blue one?” Okay, well, why is that captioning worth 3.8 million followers?
DM: 1:44:54 Yeah.
EW: 1:44:54 Obviously, it has to do with the fact that we’re not over these things in the slightest.
DM: 1:44:58 No, we’re not and that’s what’s so irritating about the simplicity of what I think of as being the Neo Puritans. The Neo Puritans who’ve come along in the American counter sexual counter revolution in recent years are—have denuded people the capacity to have sex, the capability to have sex, and find sex. And the moves back are unfortunately mirroring that. So they’re becoming men’s movements that, for instance, obsess about how often they masturbate or believe you shouldn’t, you know, and save themselves and do certain dieting things, and all this sort of stuff, it’s like a men’s move against the thing that some women have forced on them in a different way. And it’s an attempt to reclaim it. And, of course, what it all demonstrates is our inability to deal with with a complex issue, which is nevertheless the issue, which most of us know most about in our lives, because it’s the one we’ve practiced the most often, which is how to get around the issues of sex, and deal with it, and enjoy it and not overstep, and all sorts of other stuff. We’ve all, almost everyone in their lives has danced around this. And we know very often, we know how complex the game is.
EW: 1:46:20 Right.
DM: 1:46:20 The problem about it is that people keep coming along saying a game is simple.
EW: 1:46:25 This is what I would say that the institutions keep echoing those who say that the game is simple. And very often you’ll have two different segments on the same show over three days, let’s say, that go in exactly contradictory directions. So, for example, if you want, you know, if you listen to the disembodied institutional voice, it will say, you know, “Princess Such-and-Such sizzles in a red, off-the-shoulder number.” Does she “sizzle”? In a “red, off-the-shoulder number”? Right?
DM: 1:47:01 A man “sizzling”, by the way, in a suit, is just an unpleasant—
EW: 1:47:05 No, no, no, not necessarily. For example, if he was a rap star—
Oh, yeah, that’s—
Then it would be seen as, you know, he “stunned” in an Armani tuxedo.
DM: 1:47:20 Stunned is, yeah, yes, sure.
EW: 1:47:22 Well there’s “stunned”, there’s “sizzles”, then you can conjugate everything creepy. Like I don’t know if you’ve ever seen these photo video reels where men effect female poses. You know, like, if a woman is in a bikini and is on all fours affecting the lordosis behavior of a large feline, the brain accepts this as if it were normal. If it sees a man doing that it’s—the fourth wall is instantly broken. What the hell is he doing?
DM: 1:47:57 Mm.
EW: 1:47:58 Right? And so in a very weird way, we’re not allowed to observe ourselves because sex is intrinsically duplicitous.
DM: 1:48:06 Yes. I mean, we have to find ways around this. And, broadly speaking, the one I mean, my favorite is just viewing sex more positively. And I thought that was—I would have thought, of any thing one might argue for, this would be a winner. But it’s definitely against the current era. And by the way, there is, of course, an inbuilt problem in it, which is not just the extent to which it’s handed out, or indeed able to be enjoyed and indulged in, and the certain unfairnesses that can exist around that. It is also the case that it isn’t entirely cost free. And this is a—
EW: 1:48:45 Well there’s the cost free aspect. There’s also what I’ve—I don’t know that I’ve spoken about this yet, but there’s the tax return principle that I believe very strongly in, which is, if you want to learn my tax returns, one strategy would be to accuse me of engaging, you know, I’m convinced, Eric that you are taking money from the North Korean government and that this explains your fine jacket.
DM: 1:49:15 Mm hmm.
EW: 1:49:16 Well, my initial instinct is to say, “No, no, no, here’s all my pay stubs. Please take all my private information.” Well, what does someone do when they’re accused of some sexual impropriety? Because in order to defend themselves, they now have to dip into stuff that is nobody’s business?
DM: 1:49:36 Yes.
EW: 1:49:38 And so in—
DM: 1:49:39 By the way in all of which, it always reminds me of—one of the reasons why there’s certain religious practices which I’m—which occasionally somebody will laugh at, and I always say I wouldn’t tease you on that because almost any religious practice to an outsider looks ridiculous. So don’t do it. I just don’t do it. It’s very discourteous. And anyhow, it the example comes to mind because it’s the same with sex. I think that a reasonable, in the genuine sense, “liberal-minded” person should hold in their head the fact that, you know, no—to every man and to [?], certainly to every man, there are few things in life more important than how, where, and when they get sex.
EW: 1:50:28 Yes.
DM: 1:50:29 But to everybody else, that man’s concerns are ridiculous.
EW: 1:50:34 Absolutely.
DM: 1:50:35 Absolutely every other person on the planet, and that you should assume that just though you could do that to other people, you probably shouldn’t, because you’re gonna—it’s going to come back to you too.
EW: 1:50:47 Well this is—this has to do with the fact that the brain, the human mind, has a particular state for the protagonist, which is us, in our story.
DM: 1:50:56 Yes.
EW: 1:50:57 And it has every other state colored differently.
DM: 1:50:59 Yes.
EW: 1:51:00 And so I remember being at the coffee connection in Cambridge, Massachusetts, seated next to two lovebirds and they were cooing at each other. Like, “Who’s my little Wookum Snookums”. Right? Now, there’s nothing ridiculous about it. “Who’s my little Wookum Snookums”—
DM: 1:51:16 Yeah.
EW: 1:51:17 —is a completely reasonable thing to say, if that’s your idiom.
DM: 1:51:21 Yes.
EW: 1:51:22 Well, look, I had this problem here where I had Ashley Matthews in your chair, and the idea was we were going to talk around sex, but we weren’t going to talk about sex in any way that was exciting. Right? And so this, trying to introduce yourself to your own mind and finding out that what you think of as “hot” is obviously ridiculous—
DM: 1:51:46 Yeah.
EW: 1:51:46 —to somebody else.
DM: 1:51:48 Yes. Yeah. Well, everybody else, everybody. That’s
EW: 1:51:52 No, no, no, there’s certain conventions that we’ve agreed to accept.
DM: 1:51:55 Oh, yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
EW: 1:51:57 So like, for example, you know, and I mentioned lordosis behavior.
DM: 1:52:00 Yeah.
EW: 1:52:01 Anything that curves the spine in particular way will generally be seen to be hot, because there are universals. For example, the idea of persistent mammary glands, not during nursing, is peculiar to the human species among 5000 species of mammals. It means that there is a universal fetish of the human breast because it actually has informational content.
DM: 1:52:25 Which is famously particularly much the case in India.
EW: 1:52:28 In what sense?
DM: 1:52:29 In online search. Indian men have a particular likelihood of searching for women who are in lactating phase, it’s quite an interesting—
It’s one of those interesting things that is sort of, you know, once everyone realized that Google search results weren’t as secret as they thought they were, you know, there’s a lot of things you can find out, not least, of course, famously the number of Arab men who want to see photos of women pretending to be IDF soldiers before they strip.
EW: 1:52:57 Yeah. But. Well, you know, that there’s this famous Bollywood song, Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai.
DM: 1:53:05 Oh, yeah.
EW: 1:53:06 Right, which is like “What’s under my sari blouse?” And, you know, “I think it’s my heart my deal” or something? Like,
DM: 1:53:13 It’s not what—
EW: 1:53:13 Yeah, but they play with, with certain idioms.
DM: 1:53:16 But it’s, it’s an endlessly interesting thing, this, because we are very interested in what other people do and are interested in, and always hope that nobody’s interested in what we’re interested—like, want to know what it is that gets us off. And this is one reason why it’s such a dangerous moment. Because as I say, my—I think a reasonable attitude towards sex is “It should be very important to yourself, and you should assume it’s of no significance to other people.
EW: 1:53:48 Right.
DM: 1:53:48 And try to live this out elsewhere. So don’t over enjoy the attempts to demean other people through whatever their sexual proclivities are. But then you have the layer on top of that, which has come in the last three years in particular, which is the men caught out in what are shown as sort of pathetic things and thinking of things that embarrassing one, but I mean, the Louie C.K. affair. It shows him, you know, it shows him, and, by extension, men in a rather pathetic light, is the presumption.
EW: 1:54:24 Because of the existence of a kink.
DM: 1:54:26 Because of the existence of a kink. And I found that, when it was going on, to be, obviously you know that some women said this was unpleasant. Some—one woman in particular did say, “Yeah, no, he asked me about this, and I never—it didn’t affect me.” And I admired her enormously for saying that. I thought, Gosh, if more people did that, if the people who don’t see themselves as victims—but the presentation of—the way we can only talk about it in the language of victimhood also means that even—I don’t want to be judgmental about it, but it’s sort of a vaguely pathetic, as it were, situation, which is being laid out, should be presented as if it is the most domineeringly appalling thing, means that we only can talk in the language of victimhood.
EW: 1:55:14 That’s an interesting point. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the Nicki Minaj video—
DM: 1:55:18 I am, I write about it! Anaconda—
EW: 1:55:20 My Anaconda.
DM: 1:55:21 [?] You should know about this!
EW: 1:55:23 Ah, alright. Well, we may have talked about it—
DM: 1:55:25 Yeah, I did—
EW: 1:55:26 We talked about the final scene.
DM: 1:55:28 Yes, yes. Yeah. I’m obsessed by this. I write about it in Madness of Crowds. It’s a very, very important video. Yeah, this is, yes. The the
EW: 1:55:37 I’ve called it strip club feminism, where the male, after innumerable sexual provocations with no other purpose—
DM: 1:55:45 Yeah. Yes.
EW: 1:55:47 —loses himself and makes the mistake of touching the female slightly in the hips and then she’s disgusted.
DM: 1:55:55 Yeah, this is there is so many versions of it. The pole dancing thing, as an alleged fitness regime workout—
EW: 1:56:09 I have strong feelings about that, so watch yourself.
DM: 1:56:11 Okay. Okay,
EW: 1:56:11 Okay, go ahead.
DM: 1:56:12 But, but all of this is—
EW: 1:56:16 But you’ve seen the Indian sport art form, athletic competition that is effectively male pole dancing.
I shall Google it immediately after this interview.
You’re in for a treat, sir. [laughter]
DM: 1:56:27 I—
EW: 1:56:28 Focus!
DM: 1:56:30 I do think that is—[laughter] Um, I do think that it’s, it’s this thing I write about in Madness, the, you know, the sexy, sexy without being sexualized, or that—all those conjugations. I just think we need, we need to think about this more carefully, more cautiously. Again, nobody wants to be pushed into the terrain of pretending that sexual unpleasantnesses don’t exist.
EW: 1:57:03 But that—
DM: 1:57:04 But, but, equally, we just can’t concede the ground we’ve conceded in recent years.
EW: 1:57:10 See, I think this is, again, the same sort of issue that we were talking about with trans before, which is, how do you give advice to to people who need to hear opposite things. So my friend makes the point that the reckless child needs to be told, “Do not stare at the sun during an eclipse, you will destroy your eyes.” The timorous child needs to be told, “If you glance at the sun, you will not necessarily go blind; don’t overdo it.” And the inability to give a textured and differentiated message—
DM: 1:57:43 This is also what I described in Madness of Crowds as the problem of the disappearance of private and public language, because ordinarily, in any other business, again, it goes back to your point about the mobile phone, and it’s done to us. At any previous point in our species, we would have known what to do with it, you said one thing to the timorous child and another thing to the reckless child. And you could do that.
It’s only today, in this era in our evolution, that we are having to find a way to say the same thing. Not just to everyone on the planet, but a thing to potentially one person and potentially to everyone on the planet. And that’s one on all of this stuff we’re struggling with. We’re struggling with communication, we’re struggling with consistency and morality, because we are trying to juggle with that fundamental communication shift. And it’s, it’s no wonder we’re confused, because I suppose the only way forward, the only way through this is to be honest about something.
EW: 1:58:41 Or to realize that we actually have to innovate new ways of speaking. I believe that Obama was actually in the process of innovating a way, and I particularly commend everyone his speech on affirmative action—
DM: 1:58:54 Oh, yeah.
EW: 1:58:55 —where what he did was he said, “If you are having the feeling that you have been traditionally frozen out of a different world or educational path, you have to realize that we need to do this to remediate past wrongs. And if you are feeling that you are being treated unfairly, this is actually something that needs to be taken very seriously. And this is completely understandable, because, in fact, there is an aspect of unfairness to the whole thing. And what he realized, I think, was that everyone heard his or her own version louder than they heard everyone else’s. So it was possible to give one speech to a group of people, and then count on the blind men to take the elephant and turn it into a bunch of different experiences. I think that we are not—part of the problem is that when we invented our version of the printing press, which was the internet that became the mobile and social internet, we didn’t invent all of the kinds of speech that we needed to go along with this new innovation. And so we imagined that this wasn’t that big of a deal. When John Brockman, I think as far back as something like 2010, asked his annual question to the effect of “How is the internet changing the way you think?” the most common answer that he received back was, “Not at all.” And he said, “You would have thought—” he said to me, in particular, he said, “You would have thought that I asked them how a toaster was changing the way they thought.” That nobody seemed to see this in terms of the impact on their lives, and I really believe that, in part, when you receive a desist order that you’ve violated a capital law in Pakistan, and you’ve never been to Pakistan, you have no dealings with Pakistan, you’re sitting in Montreal, why are you—Why is Twitter passing along a notice that you might be under a death sentence in Pakistan?
DM: 2:00:50 And unfortunately, this is one of the things I think I think for timorous of the age has been caused in large part by this, I noticed it some years ago, by the way, because we should we should try to solve that we should try to point towards
EW: 2:01:04 Well this is gonna be the last question, coming up.
DM: 2:01:07 I mean, we have to find a way through this, we have to find a way to not have timorous people. And or at least not have everyone made timorous. And I noticed some years ago, there’s a there was an event in London where I think five people gave speeches in totally different fields. One was a biologist, one was a novelist. And I just, it wasn’t a particularly interesting evening, except for in one regard, which was, I think, three or four out of the five speeches at some point, if not, at the beginning, involve the speaker saying, and it’s not what you read about me on the internet.
EW: 2:01:42 Yeah.
DM: 2:01:42 And I just thought, that’s interesting.
EW: 2:02:07 Well, this is the age of misportrayal.
DM: 2:01:47 I had only heard of one of the speakers once before. And I actually said to one of them afterwards, you know, we don’t actually spend our time reading about you on internet. We don’t Google you. I mean, now they—the problem was, they weren’t on to nothing, which is that if you did put their name in effect, and then whatever comes up in the fallacious totally appalling and obhorrent cite Wikipedia, would include a load of untrue information about the wish they were trying to like me with they’re trying to correct and there’s no mechanism to correct them. And so version of your life is put out there by this despicable company. This, these people were afraid of one legitimate thing. And they had also all been suffering through the fact that this era, which everyone pretended wasn’t going to change, everything meant they were all everyday imbibing criticism of themselves that before they would only have heard in a Rao from somebody who knew them quite well. And even then, very rarely, right. And, and, and they were all sort of I thought, that you’re all sort of traumatized. And I think to an extent in the same way that our era has has imbibed a form of catastrophism about everything. We’ve imbibed this, we’ve imbibed The, the the feeling that we are all being assaulted in the sales all the time, because we can’t get off our damn phones. And we are seeking out. It’s self harm. It’s self harm. We’re seeking out people who don’t like us, and listening to them. And it’s making us again, I think some of them are bots. Oh, I’m sure, I’m sure. But, you know, some of them are real lyrics. And they, they, they are having an effect. Yeah, I know, so many people, okay, who have been fundamentally affected by this, and they have to be saved. Also, by the way, we have to not celebrate people for suffering. You know, the sort of, I’ve been—this is a particularly female move, it has to be said, but the—I’ve been criticized, even very unpleasantly, even sometimes in really reprehensible terms, racially or sexually. I’ve been criticized like this online, doesn’t mean you’re right. Doesn’t mean you’re right; doesn’t mean you get to win. In the Kathy Newman move. She does a reprehensible interview, she makes a fool of herself. Some of us point it out, then some people online criticize her, and then she’s the victim. There are all sorts of moves like this, but it is meant that the [?]—
EW: 2:04:13 Well, you start your sentence, you know, in ridiculous fashion. Like, “As a Portuguese penguin in America, I feel that—”
DM: 2:04:14 Right.
EW: 2:04:17 It’s like, “Well, why did you tell me you were a Portuguese penguin? You know? That sounds ridiculous to you. How about if I started, “As a Jewish man in America”, “As a black man in America,” “As a gay man in America,” As a gay man from Puerto Rico”? You know, at some level, our new credentialing system has to do with the idea—it’s very much victim takes all because the great pride—
DM: 2:04:47 Yes.
EW: 2:04:47 —great prize, rather, is that only a victim is entitled to everything up to murder in self defense. Yeah, and I think that the key point is is that we’re looking to unlock the gun cabinet, if once you understand the vengeance is what’s on tap.
DM: 2:05:05 Yes.
EW: 2:05:05 Right? The idea being I need access to the gun cabinet, let me tell you that I need to defend myself because I’m under an imminent threat and therefore I’m going to do things that under any circumstance other than this would be absolutely illegal.
DM: 2:05:20 Yeah.
EW: 2:05:20 And this search for the rationale to inflict grievous harm on another, this has to do with why we’re competing, because the victim is the most powerful. It may be that the victim, on his or her own, would be less powerful. But once the victim couples to the state, or to institutional media, that combination, that sort of hybridization of a human being as victim and an incredibly powerful structure as protector, is like Iron Man getting into his mech-suits—Tony Stark becoming Iron Man by getting into a mech-suit. Well, now the victim is no longer a victim. Now the victim is actually super empowered to do what no normal person could do under any circumstances. The question that this brings up, for both of us, is, why are there so few people with ovarian or testicular fortitude in order to stand up for all of the marvelous things that this anomalously lucky situation affords us? What do we do to induce people—now I’m going to reveal something on this program that I’ve waited to reveal—people always asked me, “Well, you named the IDW, who is in the Intellectual Dark Web?” And you were patient zero. [laughter] You didn’t know it. But if there was anyone in the intellectual dark web, I realized after the Charlie Hebdo situation, it was you. And I viewed that as really heroic. And I know, in particular, because we’ve also discussed the time that you’ve taken to spend in refugee camps, the ways in which I think that you’ve really, you know, deeply put yourself in contact with those less fortunate, if I listen to Majid Nawaz’s story of how he met you, I’ve been really very moved by your willingness to wade into an area where you have deep sympathies with many of the people adversely affected and been forced to say very difficult things, with class, in an extremely fraught environment. What is it that we can do—and by the way, everybody should check out this AlJazeera clip—to induce people towards public courage to stand up for what they actually believe in, and to do so in a decent, rather than in a, simply a powerful fashion.
DM: 2:07:52 I think the first thing is just to know what you’re at risk of losing. I think that’s the overwhelming thing. You know, I’m very fortunate because I’ve been a writer all my life, and I’ve come gravitate towards things that interest me. That’s a, it’s a wonderful position to be in, you know, anyone who wants to be a writer, this is a, you know, a call to do that, for that reason, among much else. And I think difficult issues are the most interesting ones, you know, I’ve sort of always written, my first book, in a way, I invite naughty, difficult things. And if you look at naughty and difficult things, you should look them in the face, but it’s meant that along my career, I’ve been lucky enough, fortunate enough to travel to an awful, awfully large array of places, and seen an awfully large, perhaps too large array of ways in which human life can fall out. And I never, I never had taken it all for granted. But you simply can’t see the rest of the world—
EW: 2:09:01 It doesn’t all look like Portobello Road.
DM: 2:09:03 It does not it does not. And I you know, even in the non war zones, you know, even is you know, I mean, travel around India, and try to tell yourself that life in America is beknighted. Travel around much of China, and try to tell yourself that human rights are not respected in the United States of America or the United Kingdom, let alone all the countries I could list, which I’ve seen firsthand the extent to which human life has even less, in fact, much less value in the eyes of people in power than in the places I’ve just mentioned.
EW: 2:09:51 Or place like Thailand that hasn’t been colonized, and yet, if you look at a Thai demonstration, or if you go to a Muay Thai fight, or all sorts of things… things come with the human condition that don’t have anything to do with, you know, the, the impact of colonialism, let’s say.
DM: 2:10:11 Yeah. And I, yes, and I’m—and I think people should try to shrug off this, these boring paradigms that have been put into you know.
EW: 2:10:19 But what’s fun, what’s exciting? Like, in other words, we have a chance, in part. And I’ve listened to you because I generally discourage people from doing this, for the main reason that people start off very eager, and they say, “How do I get involved? How do I speak out?” And then I always say, “Look, make sure you can afford to lose your job. Make sure you can stand up to a mob.” Once those people say, “Yes, I’ve made these decisions,” I’m quite willing to tell them about all the great things that can happen to them when they do stand up, but I don’t want to lure people—
—who are ill-prepared, and then say, “Well, you know, I took your advice, and now I’m out of a job.”
DM: 2:10:57 Absolutely. I remember a friend of mine in Northern Ireland said to me many years ago, “Have you ever urged somebody to step forward and they’ve been killed?” And I said, “It hasn’t happened to me yet.” He said, “It happened to me.” You know, I—it’s a much less dangerous scenario as we’re talking about, but i i don’t i don’t urge people to be Kamikaze. I mean, I wouldn’t mind—
EW: 2:11:21 Short—long heroism, short martyrdom is our slogan.
DM: 2:11:24 Right. And, you know, my view is you wouldn’t need Kamikazes if everyone took one step forward. You know, I’m for everybody being—taking one step forward.
EW: 2:11:38 Except you.
DM: 2:11:40 Well—
EW: 2:11:40 You’re waaaaay forward!
DM: 2:11:44 That’s what my mother fears!
Yeah, I’m, I’m with her!
I, um, look, I don’t feel it. I mean, I, um, I feel… great. Apart from for the state of the world, particularly for the state of America. But, you know, if you, if you get an idea of what it is you want to defend—
EW: 2:12:13 Right.
DM: 2:12:14 —and it’s deeply embedded—
EW: 2:12:15 Right.
DM: 2:12:16 Then you can dance in all the ambiguities, and dance on all the cliff edges. It’s—
EW: 2:12:22 Well, you may die as well. But the thing that I would say is, if you know that all of this is nonsense, hmm. And you just keep your mouth quiet and you mouth things that you have to mouth because you’re on a board, or you don’t want to lose your spot in line for law school, or whatever it is that you’re worried about happening, make no mistake, you will be dying for quite some time.
DM: 2:12:45 Hmm, oh, yeah, this is a long death. I also think that, in a way, and again, maybe this is a personality trait of certain people, but I remember Christopher Hitchens, who you mentioned earlier, who was a great friend, who I think about recently, as I’m just reading Martin Ames’ book about him. Hitch once said that in, in Sarajevo in the 90s, when the city was being shelled by Serb forces, he and various other journalists and others made it in, and you know, and he said that one night he was standing sort of on the walls overlooking the city, and, you know, guns going off and all that sort of thing. He said a fellow journalist sidled up to him, and they’re all sort of smoking, and he said to Christopher, “Wouldn’t it be a wonderful time to be in love?” And he said that about, sort of, half his audiences got what he was saying. But the instinct that human life is best lived in comfort is a perfectly reasonable instinct, that most people want it. But the instinct that human life is also precarious—
EW: 2:14:04 Yes.
DM: 2:14:05 —and that the precariousness isn’t a problem necessarily, certainly not all the time. That an element of risk [?]. How’s that for everything? An element of risk is—it can be a problem in certain circumstances, and in other ways, it’s just energizing beyond anything. And if you’re going to take any risk, then you might as well take the risk of telling the truth. Not just because you might get something out of it, or achieve something out of it, or feel better about yourself, but because we all might get somewhere.
EW: 2:14:37 Well this is—I joke frequently about my anger at homosexuals for monopolizing the concept of a closet—thate there are closets in every area of human endeavor. And you shouldn’t jump out of closets regularly. Like, “I don’t think vaccines are a hundred percent safe!”
DM: 2:14:56 Yeah.
EW: 2:14:57 “Maybe 99.8—”
DM: 2:14:59 Yeah.
EW: 2:14:59 “—but not 100!” When you do it, there’s no turning back. And you have to do it a little better. You’re really not alive.
DM: 2:15:07 Mmm, that’s right.
EW: 2:15:08 But you do it too much or you become addicted to it because—
DM: 2:15:10 Yes, there are people who are addicted to it.
EW: 2:15:12 Exactly. I’m thinking about a situation I was just in with my son, where we were scuba diving in Belize. And we happened to encounter a Caribbean Reef Shark quite unexpectedly. Now, if you’ve never seen one, it’s like a scaled down Great White. It’s got the same classic profile. And the first thought was, “Holy shit, it’s a Great White Shark!” And then it darted away. And, you know, you’re reduced to scuba signals, so you can’t really tell from your guide, “No, no, don’t worry, it wasn’t a Great White, it was—”. But the next thought was, “Oh crap, it’s gone! How do I find it again?” Right? So the idea being that you went from a state of total terror to, “Wow, that’s the most fascinating thing I saw on this dive. How do I get some more?”
DM: 2:15:58 Yes, yes.
EW: 2:15:59 And I do think that, in part, you need to balance the pleasure—
DM: 2:16:03 Yes.
EW: 2:16:04 —of being yourself, and standing up and saying something real, with the terror and self-protective nature of, “I need to retain some healthy fear.” And I worry that we haven’t done a good enough job of pushing out a how-to manual for people who are thinking about taking the first steps to saying, “Hey, you know what, I don’t necessarily know, what does “believe women” mean, when two women are arguing about a point of fact, and they both can’t be correct? Like, I can’t figure out what you mean by “Believe women”, not because I don’t want to believe women, [but] because I don’t think what you’re saying actually makes sense. That would be an example of something where you could get quite hurt for observing what is absolutely obvious. Like, if you said, “Believe Paraguayans”, what if two of them get into an argument? “Believe religious people.” What if they don’t agree on an origin story? None of these—
DM: 2:16:15 [?]
EW: 2:16:58 Yeah! And I wonder if part of the thing is that we haven’t pushed out an attractive concept of an affiliate program for people to get their feet wet and start to learn that they might be, they might have a rhetorical gift for this.
DM: 2:17:13 Yeah, all I can say is that people should try it, they should dip the toe in the water. I can’t judge it enough. And—
EW: 2:17:24 You have you have good dinners, you still have friends,
DM: 2:17:27 Look, I’ve got terrific friends!
EW: 2:17:29 You travel the world.
DM: 2:17:30 I’m lucky enough to travel the world, even in this era.
There’s a very, very strong thing it’s important to stress in this, which is that people, broadly speaking, in our circle, I say, vaugley, friends and others have quite often been portrayed by others, it goes back to what you were saying about, you know, controversial professors in ways that are not really accurate.
EW: 2:17:55 Right.
DM: 2:17:55 So Jordan is portrayed as controversial professor—
EW: 2:17:59 Right.
DM: 2:18:00 —when there’s nothing, almost nothing he says it should in any way be controversial. Certainly not any more than things—
EW: 2:18:06 It’s certainly not as a psychometrician.
DM: 2:18:08 Yes. And, and—
EW: 2:18:10 I may disagree with him about his devotion to IQ as a reliable psychometric—
DM: 2:18:14 Right.
EW: 2:18:14 But it’s not—it’s a scholarly sort of an issue.
DM: 2:18:16 And it’s certainly not the case that anything he says should make him be awarded that label, as opposed to multiple other academics playing in appalling fields who certainly should be described as controversial. So anyway, the point is, we’ve been sort of wrongly designated and all sorts of ways. And I’ve found this, quite often, not just in other people, but for myself, I’m being portrayed as in some way a sort of outright—or outlier. And so I sort of have to stress to people not only that it doesn’t feel like that, but it’s not the case. You know, I’m not, like, hanging on by my fingertips to respectability, such as it is, and such as I would desire it. I write for all of the major newspapers in my country. It’s a wonderful thing. But they all want me in their pages, and it’s a great honor. And—
EW: 2:19:07 Would that be true here?
DM: 2:19:08 Here less so, partly because I’m not here, and I don’t write [?]. Secondly, I think you have a particular problem with your media here. And your media here is particularly degraded. That might—
EW: 2:19:23 It’s been very violent.
DM: 2:19:24 Yeah, it is appalling. I mean, for instance, I mean, the New York Times has, a couple of times, teased me to try to get me in, and then—
EW: 2:19:31 Fomer paper of record.
DM: 2:19:32 Exactly, then it always is what I think it’s going to be, which is that they have no intention of running the most careful version of what I think—
EW: 2:19:42 Right.
DM: 2:19:42 —in their pages. And in that form of paper only ever writes about me when it wants to assault me, but no, I think it would be different here. You’re quite right. But, the point I’m trying to make is, I’m totally mainstream. Okay, my books are all bestsellers, I, again, am enormously grateful. This is not a boast. But, you know, my first books about to be reissued for the first time in 20 years since its first publication. I have wonderful friends from a bewildering array of places. And I will not have people, who are genuinely obscure people, who deserve their obscurity, and genuinely incurious and uncredentialed and unthinking, try to portray me or any of the rest of us as, in some way, the weirdos. It’s not the case.
EW: 2:20:43 Well this is this British expression, “Oh, do fuck off.”
DM: 2:20:46 I invite them to do so, yeah. And so, it really it really has to be stressed, I’m getting fed up of the number of people who sidle up to me and asked me about my, you know, benighted status.
EW: 2:20:59 Yeah.
DM: 2:20:59 It’s not like that. It’s not just it doesn’t feel like that. It isn’t like that.
And it isn’t, I think for most of us. And I think that the era of hiding behind victimhood—
EW: 2:21:12 Yes.
DM: 2:21:13 —as a way to excuse oneself, and permit oneself to see things that are true, really ought to stop. There’s a new phase that’s needed on this, as with so many other things.
EW: 2:21:27 Yeah. My personal take on it is that this culture war ends the moment the world’s least intersectional person has to tell the world’s most intersectional person that he/she/it is wrong. And it’s a matter of fact, it’s not a question of privilege. It’s just, there are times when what you’re advocating for, you know, if you decided that what we should do is we should cut up babies and use them for spare parts. It’s very important that the most unsympathetic person you know, Bartholomew P. Wigglesbottom the 17th be able to say, “That is a stupid idea.” Even if Bartholomew is absolutely not a sympathetic character in any way, shape, or form. So it sounds to me like, you know, in essence, you do have some hope, if not to undo the strange death of Europe, at least to undo the madness of our current moment—
DM: 2:22:21 Absolutely.
EW: 2:22:22 And that what we should be doing is bringing more young people in with the confidence that there’s a place for them at the table and that their careers and dinner parties and good cheer, and that there will be people of all races, colors, and creed waiting to welcome them in?
DM: 2:22:35 Yeah, we are larger in number, and we will be larger in number, and we will be larger in number than the appalling people on the other side, with whom you wouldn’t want to dine anyway.
EW: 2:22:47 Very good. Well, you’ve been dining on the ideas of one, Douglas Murray, here from the UK. Enjoy his books on The Strange Death of Europe and The Madness of Crowds, as well as his first book, which is being reissued under the title—
DM: 2:23:02 It’s called Bosie, it’s a biography of Alfred Douglas, the man who brought down Oscar Wilde. And I’ve written a new autobiographical preface, which explains how I came into this world.
EW: 2:23:12 So run, don’t walk, to your local bookseller, or Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold. You’ve been through The Portal with Douglas, but please subscribe to us on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you subscribe and listen to podcasts, then navigate over to the YouTube channel, and please subscribe there and remember to click the bell icon to be notified when the next video drops. And other than that, take care of yourselves and be well everyone.