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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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Transcript

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.

I agree.

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—

Oh, lactating—huh.

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—

Yes.

—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.

Well—

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.

Investor Balaji Srinivasan is a highly original thinker in Silicon Valley on Biotech to Blockchain and everything in between. Most recently, he was quite early in warning us about the Coronavirus and was ridiculed for his efforts by many in the world of institutional sense-making. That is, before people realized he was not wrong, but simply early.

In this episode Eric talks to Balaji on the topic of what it was like to see the future before it arrived and what his crystal ball suggests about what is likely to happen next. As Balaji understands our world, the Corona virus presents a complex set of challenges that will strongly discriminate between those who can pass it’s tests and those who will fail them. He sees this resulting in functional Green Zones which will become dominant in the future and Red Zones which will be characterized by dysfunctional responses. Presumably this new divide will then be expected to take over from the “North-South” divide between industrialized and developing nations. 

Thank You to Our Sponsors:

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Transcript

For a transcript of the audio essay at the beginning of this episode, see link below:

Eric Weinstein: After a few brief words from our sponsors, I’ll be back to introduce the guest for this episode’s discussion.


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Today’s guest is general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a founder of the biotech firm Counsyl, and former CTO at Coinbase. He’s also a friend and one of the people in tech I always love talking with on almost any subject because of the originality of his homespun analyses.

Balaji Srinivasan is a fellow STEM PhD, who left research for tech. If you think about academics as having a natural culture that is often as strong or stronger than national or ethnic cultures, Balaji and I still maintain various sensibilities in common that reveal us to be academic expats from the system of research universities. In a different era, Balaji would likely have become a quirky professor—loved by students and feared by anyone with the soul of an administrator. But perhaps because his move (from Silicon Valley electrical engineering to tech) was later in time, and not quite as far of an intellectual jump from conventional East Coast mathematics, Balaji went in for a much more aggressive computer- and data-centered vision of the future than I was prepared for.

Balaji is a firm believer in visions where crypto and decentralized computing, together with other technologies, ultimately liberate us from the world of excess social engineering, financialization, and declining technical competence. Thus, I have always enjoyed our conversations immensely, as I view him as one of the most aggressive and generative futurists out there, with an interesting and original take on almost anything involving our various possible worlds to come.

It was thus no surprise to me that Balaji was one of the earliest and clearest major voices on the coronavirus. While predictably derided and misportrayed by journalists and others as being part of a world of “tech bro” preppers deranged by cheap apocalyptic fantasies from too many dystopian video games, Balaji held his ground and calmly, analytically explained why everyone needed to radically change her or his thinking as quickly as possible surrounding the virus. Of course, in that nearly-forgotten academic world—where such a highly original non-joiner would have been welcomed—Balaji might have spoken with the authority of a professor. Yet despite having a PhD from Stanford and having co-founded a major biotech company that sold for nine figures, I was shocked to see far less technical people, making their living as writers, taking potshots at this so-called “tech bro.”

Okay, I admit I don’t get it. If you’re male and you make a living in technology, you’re automatically a dismissable “bro,” according to people who write for a living across the country in either Brooklyn or near Dupont Circle? Well that’s moronic. Balaji may be crazy, but he’s certainly the right kind of crazy according to us—and not a prepper, a grifter, or a bro.

And if I may speak directly to the so-called commentariat: cut it out; stop with the jealousy. You guys are losing mindshare for rational reasons because you can’t compete with people who are actually trying to think ahead and help other people think rationally for themselves. If you want to compete with the Balajis of the world, stop trying to figure out who is up or who is down, and start learning to look at the world from first principles—that’s what they do. Then get the story early, get it right, and then show us how you don’t back down. Dare your editors to fire you if they don’t like the scoop you just filed and you did so responsibly. But whatever you do, you have a responsibility to the world to stop running everyone outside your little club down for the thoughtcrime of giving good advice that contradicts whatever nonsense is being spouted by the three letter official organization that you’ve been led to believe represents the gold standard or the word of god, like the WHO or the CDC. It’s enough already, capisce?

Okay, so Balaji might be crazy, but he’s very much our kind of crazy, here at The Portal. Thus, I wanted to introduce him to our audience. As you will note, he and I disagree—but that is hardly the issue. Balaji is trying to think critically about what happens next and how this virus remakes the world. I personally tend to think Balaji might be too quick to give up on making institutions sane again, and he likely views me as stuck in the past, unable to realize how the blockchain and private enterprise WILL allow us to disintermediate the traditional institutions and their subversion. Suffice it to say that I think I am more correct, but that I hope that his vision is closer to accurate. And, if I’m honest, neither position is a slam dunk.

I do hope you will enjoy this first uninterrupted conversation with Balaji Srinivasan, which will begin after a few brief messages from our sponsors.


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Eric Weinstein: Hello, you found The Portal. I’m your host, Eric Weinstein, and today I get to sit down with my friend, a constantly-inspiring mind which is always restless, Mr. Balaji Srinivasan. Balaji: great to have you with us!

Balaji Srinivasan: Eric, great to be here.

EW: So Balaji, of course, is the former CTO of Coinbase, as well as general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and also the founder of a biotech startup that I think sold for over $300 million, if I’m not incorrect. Balaji, is that correct?

BS: Yeah, that’s right, yep.

20:42

EW: And generally just a great uncorrelated mind and spirit, who has been particularly good … getting us early information on the corona situation. So Balaji, can you just give us a little bit of history with you, and the coronavirus, and how you came to be concerned about this, and what you’ve learned in this process?

BS: Yeah, sure. So, you know, I’ve been, basically, I guess, a part time citizen-journalist on corona for the last three months or so—four months—since late January. I was going to be doing some other things this year—and I may still do them and try and fold them in or reboot them—but I was basically just following the news and I saw the lockdown of Wuhan on January 23, and I realized that was a very serious thing, because actions speak louder than words—especially in China. And from that I started digging into the biomedical literature and read everything I could get my hands on and talked to a lot of people in China to get a view on the ground. And mainly the reason that I dug into it is, you know, like as an investor, you’re tuned to look for things that can get very big from a small base. And this was the first thing that I felt like I was diligence-ing that, if it did get really big, that I would feel BAD about it. Like, normally you’re doing diligence, good investment, and you want to hope … you hope it gets big. And this was something where I was diligence, again, trying to attack it and cut the legs out from under it, like, you know, like what one normally would and I couldn’t. And so I started tweeting about it and covering it and and that kind of brings us to the present day—lots of things happen, obviously, over that period.

EW: So this is really an interesting perspective. In some sense, the virus was “pitching” us from Wuhan— with all of those fumigations—and there were a small number of early adopters in the states who really got the virus. But for the most part, the herd couldn’t understand what was going on. And, in part, that puts you as an “early adopter” because you started talking very early about this being a potentially worldwide disaster.

BS: Yeah, I mean, like, the thing about it is, it’s one of those things that had tail risk, right? Actually, you know, I was certainly by no means the only person-, Like, Nassim Taleb also had some writing at the same time—put out a paper on this. And, you know, if you think about tail events, right—whether Taleb has, from kind of a Wall Street perspective, or, like I have (we have) from a from a tech or VC perspective— … Tyler Cowen has a good way of talking about this where he calls it, like, “base-raters” versus “growth casers,” right? And the “base rate” people essentially say, “Hey, what you’re talking about has never happened before, and therefore, tomorrow will be the same as today. And therefore, you know, you’re crazy. You know, like, things won’t change.” Right? And frankly, actually, most of the time that prediction algorithm is pretty good, in the same way that predicting tomorrow’s weather from today’s is actually … took a while for weather prediction to beat that, right?

And then, of course, you’ve got another school of thought, which is the growth algorithm, or the growth mindset, where you can say, “Hey, actually, maybe this thing COULD go vertical. And you try and diligence it.

EW: Yeah. So who do you think of as being early on this that had a large platform and a strong voice?

BS: Early, yet had a large large platform, strong voice. Um … So I actually want to give … let’s see …

So there’s folks in China, like Kai Jing [?]. I’m probably mispronouncing that, but basically, there are actually some Chinese news outlets that published really important stuff on the coronavirus, and it was actually censored in real time. (Like, I archived the links, and I could see them being taken down in real time.) And they had a fairly large platform in China. So that’s kind of one group.

A … let’s see … So I’d say Laurie Garrett, who … she had written a book on, basically, you know, illnesses, like the, I think, The Coming Plague, she had written.

I think, Taleb is somebody. I think …

Actually, Scott Alexander put together a long list of folks, and you can kind of go through that list, because I’m sure I’ll forget somebody off the top of my head.

And, you know … Actually Matt Stoller—who I disagree with on many things—was also early on this. You know, Matt and I have … I don’t know, we may agree on 30% of things. Maybe 40%. But we very much disagree on the rest. However, he was he was absolutely right and early on this.

EW: Well, he is a very disagreeable person in general and it seems to me like no one who lack- … There was no agreeable person who got this early. You had-

BS: I think that’s right. And that’s, that’s because, … You know, the thing is, the term ‘disagreeable’ has a pejorative connotation, right? And you can use it in the neutral sense of, “Someone who will not agree for the sake of agreeing.” But it’s basically something where you might might portray both of them as positive. There’s a consensus model, and there’s, like, I don’t know, an independent thinking model or a first principles model. And, yeah, like, if you’re a consensus thinker, it is something where they’re, you know, … you just get attacked and yelled at and mocked for saying something that was quite different. And, you know what? Like, a lot of people who say something that’s different from consensus aren’t necessarily correct. And then you get back into the loop of, “Okay, how do you know whether they’re correct or not?” Right? But go ahead.

26:54

EW: Well, I guess I just … I feel like if I actually have to re-fight that battle every show I’ll get nowhere. So I’ve just decided that we’ve won and that they’re obviously wrong because the record shows that they’re obviously wrong. And wrong for the same reasons every time. Like, if I were to say something about the fact that we should really be thinking about the potential for the COVID epidemic to turn towards armed conflict and war, I’ll elicit the same reaction from people who aren’t allowed to think that many steps ahead. It’s like, “Well, Chicken Little, I don’t know. You know, I guess the sky is falling again!” And …

BS: Right, right, right.

EW: … whatever that energy is, part of our lesson, I think, is just to ignore it—to learn that it’s sort of an evil thing that will hurt us very badly. Because what we’re doing, is we’re learning to associate the people who have the timestamps-, Again, on this one, I don’t have the timestamps. In fact, the first thing that I say on this is on February 9th, where I say, “No, I don’t yet have a take on the coronavirus.” Where I at least knew that I wasn’t doing the work. I was seeing too much crazy stuff.

So I guess what I want to do is to sort of say, “Look, let’s try to do something different. On my show, we don’t have to re-fight the battle of disagreeability—the disagreeable people are right, and the other people are wrong.

Okay. What do we do now with the co-existence of these communities? Like, for example, you’ve seen these tech journalists who really wanted to go after the “tech bros” who are, like, preppers and you know … the whole thing. How do we continue to manage our sense-making operation in a world where the giant sense-making organs get things wrong and don’t even stop to take, you know, the measure of the situation—they don’t catch their breath. It doesn’t matter whether somebody like Mike Cernovich was early. The point is, Mike Cernovich is off the menu, and whoever got it wrong and said, “This is a psychological problem, we should treat it psychologically,” that person will continue to have a job at the Washington Post. Why won’t this change?

BS: So, a few things. One is … Actually, I think both these questions, but the first thing and this are related. Which are, … There’s two ways that you can diverge from the conventional wisdom—this is almost tautological, but: one is, you can be MORE correct, and the other is you can be LESS correct. And the thing is, I think, you know, … Let’s call it (and that’s just on the West Coast, but) there’s a disagreeable state of mind, or whatever … you know, Taleb state of mind … is, you diverge from the consensus because you’ve got a better view than the consesnsus—you’re not consistently right, you know, in [garbled]. And we’re also seeing, like, QAnon-type stuff, and so on, which is non-consensus and, you know, I would argue, wrong, and kind of crazy stuff. And …

EW: But even there you have to be very careful because any large group of disagreeable people finds a lot of discarded truth that the mainstream doesn’t want to deal with. So even in-

BS: Yes.

EW: -the darkest corners of the web—and make them as dark as you want—they usually have a little bit of truth that they’re carefully polishing because the mainstream won’t deal with it.

BS: So this gets basically to, I think, one of my one-liners, which is, “The internet increases variance.” And you can hover on that and you can do a lot with that statement. So, for example, you go from 30 minute sitcoms to 30 second clips and 30 episode Netflix binges. You go from a stable 9-to-5 job to gig economy on one side and a 20 year old billionaire on the other side. And on many different dimensions, the internet is increasing variance. It’s going, for example, from three television channels or cable news to an incredible variety of different media outlets. It’s every [indecipherable]

EW: And where N has grown arbitrarily large.

BS: Yes. N is arbitrary large. That’s right. And, you know, in the sense every person is now a personal media channel. And I think a big next thing is that they are going to become personal media corporations.

And so what I think IS important in this world is to think about what decentralized truth looks like. And how do you come back to reference points that are true even if people don’t want to believe they’re true?

So one that I think about a lot is the blockchain. So basically, the Bitcoin blockchain … There’s actually a great book on this concept of this angle on Bitcoin that I don’t think people outside this space really think about too much. It’s called The Truth Machine. It’s by Paul Vigna and Michael Casey. Casey’s a former Wall Street Journal journalist and Vigna’s a current WSJ journalist. And they both think about … (They’re actually very good—they’re not haters or anything like that; they’re smart, and you can learn something from them.) Anyway, so this book, The Truth Machine, makes the point that … or it popularizes a point that’s well-known within the community: that whether you’re Saudi or Japanese or Brazilian, American, Norwegian, Chinese, what-have-you, you have the same view of the Bitcoin blockchain as everybody else. And that means the database of who has what money, everybody agrees on. And that’s a really important point, because that’s a truth which there’s an enormous literal incentive to change, in the sense of, if you could falsify it, if you could somehow manipulate it to award yourself a billion dollars, you would do so, or people would do so. And so this is a really interesting example of truth in an adversarial environment—where there’s enormous incentive to break it to abuse it, but the database hasn’t been corrupted because we’ve used technology—cryptography, other kinds of things, proof-of-work–to make it difficult to fake this history, to fake this truth. And that’s very powerful, because I think you can extend that to other kinds of things. As traditional sources of authority are metabolized, people do want to have common reference points—where you can cite this and the other person will have to concede it’s actually true, and then you can move forward from there premise, premise, premise, premise. (At least with a rational person.)

So let me pause there, because I think that’s part of where I think we end up going.

33:42

EW: Well, I like that a lot, and this is what I talk about in terms of self-refereed games that … In a math department, you may really dislike somebody, but if they have the better argument as to who’s right and who’s wrong … I’ve almost never seen an argument go multiple days where people can’t come to terms with who is correct and who is not. So there are these, you know, jiu-jitsu, to an extent, as long as you’re not talking about rule-breaking … somebody either chokes you out or they haven’t … and there are edge cases, of course, in every situation, but …

We have a coming world in which the attempt to reference things to authoritative sources is, I think, now going to fail. Wikipedia—which is the ultimate, sort of, top layer on top of an authoritative source model—is probably going to get degraded because too many people have write privileges inside of what were previously authoritative sources.

So I like the idea that the blockchain is an example of how you force reason and rationality, because it’s too expensive NOT to participate in communal truth. Although I don’t think it works as well for situations where you’re not solving an arithmetic problem or something equivalent to an arithmetic problem. I mean-

BS: So that’s-. So wait. So you’re smart enough that you added that qualifier on the end, which is somewhat “something EQUIVALENT to an arithmetic problem.” And a really interesting question is: how many things can be so reduced? And I think it’s a much larger set of things than people think.

So once you can track who has what bitcoin, you can extend the same thing to any digital form of property, right? Which includes stocks, bonds, you know, much of the world economy. It includes the passwords to who has access to what website. Who has a private keys to a device? To a car? To a house? Right?

EW: Right. So it has to do with who can … We can agree that a robber might have a painting, that the painting may not BELONG to the robber. And so when you start getting into issues of fairness, as opposed to just issues of custody—and again, to the same extent—when you have something that might or might not be equivalent to arithmetic, one thing that you find that’s very interesting is watching the number of bets that don’t complete. Where two people start off acting like they’ve got a really serious disagreement, and then somebody says, “Well, let’s settle it with a wager.”

BS: Yeah.

EW: And then watch as the state statement gets sharpened, you realize that the two people never really had a disagreement—because they can’t come to an agreement as to what the bet should be, because quite frankly, they both have the same underlying model of reality, but they wanted to put a different sort of emotive layer on top of it.

BS: Yes.

I think it’s also interesting because, in the formulation of a bet, each participant immediately, with the prospect of loss, starts hedging. Right? And that’s rational to do in the sense of, if you think some metric is going to hit 80%, well, you take the bet if someone says it’s only going to hit 10%, right? There’s a sort of a tug-of-war on it, and people want to give themselves more margin, right?

But actually Tyler Cowen, a while back tweeted (or maybe was Tabarrok), he posted something about how betting reduces partisanship. That is to say, it is, you know … capitalism is the opposite to tribalism, where the prospect of individual gain and loss means there’s an incentive to give a non-consensus answer.

Now … I want to return to your point about sources of authoritative truth melting down—like “the center cannot hold” and metabolizing[?]. I think there’s at least five replacements for universal, authoritative truth.

The first is the most obvious, which is tribal truth. Like, it’s true because your chieftain says it’s true. And we see that a lot, right? So that actually kind of rebuilds authoritative truth, it’s just not universal truth—it’s what your group leader is saying. Right? So that’s a big thing on social media.

A second is iterative truth. So the next three I’m going to talk about come from, I think, tech. So iterative truth (of the GitHub sense) where, rather than put out a story and say it’s capital T “True,” you know, like New York Times, literally … The New York Times markets itself as essentially infallible, neutral truth. Right? And it runs that ad campaign saying, “The truth isn’t easy. The truth isn’t this and the truth isn’t that,” right? And they publish a fair number of “just the flu” pieces, by the way, you know? (And then recently, they’re like, “You know, the truth is, it’s not just the flu.” And I just kind of laughed when I saw that, right?) So an alternative to saying, “The article is true, and how dare you question it?” is the Git or GitHub model, where you put out some code, and you know it’s going to have bugs, and whereas in an East Coast model or an academic model of retraction or correction as this huge black mark that people will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid, right? (As you’re aware, you know, folks will try to avoid that in academia, they try to avoid that in journalism—a correction is like “OooOo,” you know, and it’s like, you know, … man, it’s a humiliation for them, right?) By contrast, a pull request … somebody who files a bug … an active project WILL have edits, and it will have issues and bugs and pull requests—there’s nobody who’s ever in software who will pretend to say, “Oh, my code is always right and it has no bugs,” right? In fact, the whole thing is set up, recognizing that it’s fallible and iterative. And so that’s the second model of iterative truth. Okay? It works well in the West Coast model, the GitHub model … [simultaneous] Go ahead.

EW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Except the problem is that the … In the GitHub model, you have individual coders who are submitting code, and there is this concept of just a very basic level … whether or not the code should or should not run, DOES it run? Will it compile? And a lot of what we see in … and I guess the first thing you had was “tribal” truth, which I don’t even want to call “tribal” truth. Maybe it’s tribal STRATEGY? Like, “Don’t contradict the quarterback. We’re trying to win a game here. You know, whether the quarterback is right or wrong, the quarterback is running the show.” And so this could be like, “Well, the Democratic Party has chosen Joe Biden and our our associated organs are behind him. What are you doing questioning Tara Reid and the fact that he’s 77 years old?” Like that’s, that’s a particular kind of an issue, which is, you’re going to break down the coherence of the system.

I guess what … where I’m really driving with all of this, Balaji, is: I saw this with 2008, and I saw it with Nassim (of all people), which is, when it was clear that the world had gotten this wrong and that a tiny number of people have gotten it right, we did not promote those tiny number of people appropriately.

(I’m just going to repeat myself [Transcriber’s note: audio problems?]) So one of the things I find interesting in this situation is I went through this a little bit with Nassim Taleb in 2008. And, you know, he was getting it right. And there was a small group of us who were very alarmed about the state of finance and the risks that were being swept under the rug. In particular, through well-established metrics like “value at risk.” And what we found was, is that the people who had been the big critics didn’t become super prominent establishment figures; the establishment would rather deal with the failed people who screwed everything up (a second time, a third time, a fourth time) because it’s really not about us improving as a society—it’s about the fact that it’s hard to profit in stagnant times if you’re not getting things wrong.

Like, getting things wrong is actually VALUABLE if what you’re doing is transferring money between parties. So for example, when you print money, you can talk about it in terms of “stimulus,” “much-needed stimulus,” “we’re determined to put on a floor in the market,” “restore confidence.” All of that is language for transferring wealth. We don’t hear it as wealth transfers. And to your point about Bitcoin: What happens when I have a group of people who can transfer wealth by using a printing press and they talk only in terms that are so abstract as to be lifeless, bloodless, meaningless?

42:44

BS: Yeah, well, so I so I think two or three things I want to respond to there, which … One is, we can actually invert the … So there’s a line of argument (which I’m sympathetic to) which says, “Folks who are criticizing aren’t building.” Or rather, “You’re criticizing the man in the arena; it’s always harder if you’re the man in the arena,” etc., right? And the answer to them, is …

EW: You want to … just … It’s a reference to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech if you don’t know …

BS: Exactly. That’s right.

So, the answer to critics is actually pretty easy, which is, “Okay, go start your own company.” Right? Because the barrier to starting your own company is actually very low—you can just go out and incorporate it—and so I think that’s a good response to the person who says, “Oh, I could do so-and-so better than so-and-so CEO,” or whatever. Like, you know? Some people really could! Some of those critics are actually talented people and they COULD do better if they were in, but you only know for sure if you actually go and make the leap. Like, many of us in tech, for example, ARE former academics who may have grown up as critics. Until you put yourself in the driver’s seat … (And then you have to actually be both, by the way: as CEO or as a senior executive, you have to both be a big booster of the company and division and so and so forth, and your own harshest critic, and write detailed reviews of, “Hey, we should have done x rather than y,” that kind of thing. Right?)

So applying that to this, the fundamental question is, how do we exit these institutions and build alternatives? We can start a new company, but how can we start, for example, a new FDA or equivalent? How can we start a new city[?] how to eventually start a new country? How do we start new currency? Well, that one we’ve actually made some progress on, right? And so then, once you start a new currency, if you notice the energy out of, like, the anti-Fed stuff, it’s like bitcoiners are laughing, right? They’re not mad anymore. And the reason they’re not mad is they have the exit—if they’re right, they’ve got a bet. Which is very divergent from where, you know, Bernanke and Co were and where the current Fed is, right? They’ve got a bet that’s very divergent. And they’ll do well in the event that they’re correct. (And they’ve BEEN correct, for the last, at least 1000 X, or 10,000 X up, right?)

So I think that’s a real question: is, not so much how to get the critics into power within legacy institutions, but to empower them to build new institutions without too much interference from the legacy establishment. So … go ahead.

EW: This is where you and I obviously disagree. For those of you who are actually watching this rather than listening to this: Balaji looks like he’s got a tremendous amount of money—he showed up with practically a hoodie, unshaved. I’m still clearly trying to please my boss by wearing a jacket and shirt, ridiculously, indoors during quarantine.

BS: [laughing]

EW: Okay, I disagree with this. I think that this is part of the West Coast fantasy that we can just do everything from our garages and we can neglect the legacy stuff. And, as you know, with something like Bitcoin … If you think about gold, the dollar, and Bitcoin (let’s say, as three example currencies), one of them is backed by violence (the dollar), one of them is backed by quantum chromodynamics (gold), and one of them is backed by elliptic curves or equivalent error … mathematics. And so, something backed by violence can choose to disagree with you in a very different way—you could just make it very dangerous to hold Bitcoin.

So there are all sorts of weird ways in which I don’t think that this is played out; we don’t really know how the government’s legacy structures will interact with new structures. I do believe in, not the WHO, but The Who, when they say, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” We will have definite problems that will be … Bitcoin isn’t going to get us out of all of our human stuff. It’ll get us out of some of it.

But I guess what concerns me is that all the West Coast people are so sick of the East Coast stuff (again, letting West and East stand for something that we kind of understand).

BS: Sure. Metonyms.

EW: Yeah. Right. Well as metonyms, I would say that the West Coast just says, “I don’t want to deal with that East Coast stuff. It’s boring. It kills all the fun. All profit is lost. It’s so consensus-driven, hierarchical, credential-focused … F it!” And as a result, I feel like what’s happened is that we’ve abandoned any hold that we might have in, let’s say, the National Academy of Sciences or the great universities. And we’re NOT really creating these things anew—we’re still feeding.

I mean—if I could just put one horrible spin on it—Burning Man is like a blast for one week a year and it makes fun of the default world, but all of the riches that are needed to run Burning Man are amassed in the default world and then plowed as treasure into this giant weird celebration for one week. And I feel like the rest of us are, in some weird ways, partially parasitic on the very institutions that we’ve allowed to be taken over.

BS: So let me give something to this argument, because I’ve actually been thinking about it more (over the last few months in particular), which is, from the standpoint of corona, part of the reason that we’re in the COVID-19 crisis (maybe the biggest part of the reason) is that we just don’t have people with scientific and engineering backgrounds in the press or the state, for the most part. We have lawyers, we have liberal arts majors, we have accomplished character assassins, but we don’t really have too many people who know math or computer science. Or, in this case, biology, bioinformatics, genomics, etc., that’s …

EW: You’ve looked at the advanced degrees in Congress on Wikipedia?

49:05

BS: It’s all JDs right?

EW: It’s … it’s beyond pathetic. I mean, just … The idea that you would expect that the next president of the United States should be able to write a few lines of code … I just … We’re just drawing from the complete wrong pools of people.

BS: Right. And the thing about this is, [garbled] doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s where … Let me give you a few different riffs on Exit in this context.

So one version of it is: look at other countries, right? Like, look at some of these different space[?]. And so you can look at Lee Hsien Loong (who’s the Prime Minister of Singapore) and … he was a (as you may know), like, the senior wrangler at Cambridge—so like an actual research mathematician caliber person in terms of IQ—but also could really execute. You know, he posted a Sudoku solver, for example, on his … Well, he can execute as prime minister. He’s also very (still) very sharp. He posted a Sudoku solver on his Facebook page in C++ and knew two’s complement and relatively obscure binary bit flipping type stuff, right?

And there’s other folks, like Toomas Ilves, who is the president, I believe, of Estonia. He was actually a critical figure that helped make Estonia, like, E-stonia—like an internet-based country, right? And I think he was a Princeton graduate and was familiar and … Basically was kind of like a Bitcoin proponent in 2020 who was starting helping start a new country. It’s because he was next to the Estonian heads of state that he could do that.

So those are some examples of “It doesn’t have to be that way.” You know, you have heads of state who do have some technical skill. But, so, I definitely want to give something to your argument (which I agree with), which is that we cannot completely neglect. And so then, how do we reconcile this … you know, take that thesis-antithesis and come to a synthesis?

Something I think about a lot is like a kitty-corner strategy. For example, Google went and built up its wealth initially in Search. And after it had build a cash cow in Search, then, and only then, did it decide to take on Microsoft on its home turf with first Gmail and then Google Docs and Sheets and so on. And it was a huge … I mean, that battle is still being waged today, right? Like, that would not have been the smart FIRST thing for Google to do. They had to build up kind of their own thing first—their cash cow—before they went to engage more competitive markets. So that’s one option.

I mean there’s … Something kind of like that happened with the United States as well, you know? It exited Europe in 17- … like, actually not 1776 … in the 1600s and 1700s. Eventually declared independence—fully exited. And then over 140 years, essentially built its strength, had its own problems. And then by 1945 was STRONGER than almost every European country, right? And kind of came back in. So that’s a second example of “kitty-corner”: you go to a diagonal; you win in that diagonal; you build your strength there; and then you come back.

And today, with what’s happened, I think of (of course, you know this, but maybe not all your audience knows this) Founders Fund has this funny one-liner, which is, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Right? Meaning: where’s the innovation of the future? We just have this messaging service. And so on. But I have a feeling that social media and cryptocurrency are going to actually be the way that we DO get that future. And the reason is, I think of them respectively as American glasnost being social media, and American perestroika being cryptocurrency. Now, should I explain that for your viewers or you want to take it from there? Do you … have you thought about that?

EW: No, you can you can do that. Although I am worried that right now we’re in the COVID epidemic. And I think, you know, of course I find cryptocurrency fascinating. I do think it’s more speculative, because of the different ways in which … Look, obviously, you’ve been very early on COVID. You’ve been early on Bitcoin. And a major proponent in all things blockchain.

The concern that I have, Balaji, is that … I don’t know how to reformat this conversation. Like, I know how to have this boring conversation with the East Coast. And I know how to have the wild-eyed conversation with the West Coast. But the thing that I’m looking to have is a conversation that doesn’t really sound like either one of those two. And it has to do with the following thing:

Okay, so imagine that you’ve got like, more or less these two bad families, the Clintons and the Bushes. Okay? And, you know, it’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys, and then maybe they’re more similar to each other than we know. And, you know, of course, Barack Obama is somehow attached to the Clinton family—whatever. But it’s a little rich that we’re going to take this most powerful of nations—with all of its great universities, all of its culture—and in the space of, like, 20 or 30 years we’re just gonna screw the whole thing up so much that we’re talking about, like, moving on to the blockchain. And we’re gonna just, you know … hey, let the legacy institutions die; we’ve outgrown the New York Times; we’ve outgrown Harvard; we’ve outgrown political parties and countries; we should just be the, you know, Electronic States of America.

And it’s just like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” We skipped a bunch of steps here, you know? At some level, we’ve got a really bad economic problem. And then we’ve got two (what I view as) relatively non-productive strategies: either continue to go with the Bush-Clinton stupidity (now represented by Biden and, weirdly, Trump, who obviously is not really coming out of the Republican Party). But all of this is a reaction to how sick people are of the kleptocracy. You know, this geriatric kleptocracy. And then the other the other option is, “Well, let’s make ourselves into a really large version of Estonia—because Lord knows they’ve been forward-thinking.”

And I guess I have the sense of, “Is there no one to have a more integrated conversation?”

BS: So yeah. I mean, I actually do think … I think my point of view maybe is more integrated in the sense of … For example, I believe in RE-centralization—I believe all progress happens along the z-axis. And let me explain what I mean by that. You know, if you visualize like a clock. You start a company and it’s one minute after midnight—you’re starting it as a solo person and maybe people will die, the company will die, before you get to the next milestone. But if you start making revenue, more people join around 3pm—you go from just one person on the tundra to a lean-to with a few people. Then you start getting around to six o’clock, and now you’ve got a whole group of folks. And something crucial happens at this time, which is, your most important number goes from your burn rate to your bus number. It goes from, basically, every single person has to be indispensable, to every single person must be dispensable. Because in the first stage, where you’re coming up to product/market fit, and so on, you need just these absolutely exceptional, unique, iconoclastic, crazy people. But then once you’ve built a machine where you need to scale it, actually you don’t want iconoclastic people—or at least you have to be careful about it, since you need something where you can add 30 more engineers and get x more result, right? Like it has to be more, kind of, you put in people and you get a result, right? And so then you’re led to … Or you put in customer service reps, you put in drivers, if it’s Uber … you have some model that works like that. And then you get to a totally different thing where now you’re talking about bus number, meaning how many people can get hit by a bus before the system no longer works. And the bus number way of thinking about things starts making you think about folks as replaceable. Because if not, then you wouldn’t be doing your job. If you had a company of 400 people and 300 of them were essential, and they quit and your company would go to zero, you wouldn’t be doing your job as CEO. It literally … it’s like REQUIRED to make them redundant—not in a bad sense, but redundant the sense of, if one of them goes down, the whole company doesn’t go down. You’re making the thing antifragile in Taleb’s sense.

But then this is taken, almost always, too far. To the point that people do feel like cogs. They feel the redundancy; they feel the de-skilling; they feel the bureaucracy creeping up, where the bureaucracy is basically a substitute … Bureaucracy is not always bad. Bureaucracy, at its best, is a substitute for the thought process of a very talented executive or CEO. Like, Bezos implements a process, rather than him being there to manage that process every step of the way, he writes down instructions and people follow that. That’s actually a functional bureaucracy where it’s like writing or code that scales a human being’s judgment in such a way that it can scale across other human beings who don’t maybe have the same level of judgment. That’s why you have written policies and procedures—there’s consistency; customers get the same experience. Then, of course, what happens is around nine past the hour, you start going into the degeneration mode and the bureaucracy stifles individual initiative to such a point that someone leaves to start their own company. And now it’s 12:01 again, right?

And that’s the cycle that happens. And that’s … I’m not saying it’s exactly someone leaving from A to start B. But that’s IBM to Microsoft to Google to Facebook to then what’s next, right? And I’m not saying the guy from IBM left to [garbled] but I am saying that progress happens along the z-axis. If you think about this clock as turning, but each turn it’s like ascending a helix, where it kind of goes up, right?

59:42

EW: Now you’re starting to sound like Ken Wilbur and spiral dynamics, but …

BS: I don’t know him.

But, so, this is just my mental model where it might seem circular that the Libertarian founder rebuilds the state.

EW: Right.

BS: Right. Right? You know, because you start a company to get away from control and bureaucracy and so, and then you find that you have to actually rebuild it to scale the company. Right? It’s kind of a deep insight.

EW: Yeah. So I like the helical model. Effectively, you know, the premise of The Portal is to find the way out of Flatland. And if you’re born into Flatland, how do you learn about the z-axis? And so the typical example that we like to give is that the square root of -1 is the question that can be posed in Flatland that is on the real line but forces you to invent the imaginary axis to solve it. So what’s the problem that you-

BS: In fact, 1 / (1 + x^2) is a great example of a function that … it’s defined everywhere along the real line, but the power series doesn’t converge at +1 and -1 because there’s poles at +i and -i, so you can’t even understand Flatland unless you understand …

EW: Its context. Right.

BS: Yeah, Exactly.

EW: So … yeah, I like all that. But, Balaji, look: one of the things that I want to get to is that I really enjoy our conversations. I find you to be one of the most generative people that I speak to, just across many topics. I don’t think you could possibly be right about everything that you’re talking about, because you have so many interesting different opinions on so many things that it sort of statistically doesn’t seem likely. But it’s always like one of the most interesting perspectives in the room and always gets me thinking.

I want to get back a little bit to the virus. And I’ll have you back one or more times after this to talk about whatever you want to do.

BS: Sure.

EW: But I want to get to a little bit of what I think you’re doing, essentially, right now.

BS: Sure.

EW: Where the hell are we? It doesn’t … I mean, I don’t know how to say this to people, but this virus and our response to it is so bad that it’s particularly crashing my operating system. I can’t believe how lousy the explanations are, how completely willing people are to talk about “flattening the curve” or “social distancing” or when the vaccines will be ready … And, like, all of this strikes me as the kind of nonsense speak that I saw around the financial crisis, where you get people to parrot whatever the phrase is that’s repeated on television as if they understand it. I’m feeling like my IQ is plummeted to low two figures. What’s going wrong with me? Why am I not functioning well with the explanations that are being given? And how is it that you’re functioning better? (And I’m legitimately not doing this to compliment you. I’m saying, I can’t believe how badly I’m doing understanding this because I keep wanting to make contact with some grown-up in some official position who makes sense and I can’t find a one.)

1:02:45

BS: Well, I think … So … First, thank you for (I THINK) the kind words, though, and … But I’ll tell you at least my mental model—I wouldn’t say that you’re doing badly or I’m doing well, or anything like that—but at least my mental model on this.

In an interesting sense, the world has actually receded such that we know what we don’t-, well not everybody. But let’s say smart people, like yourself, increasingly know what they don’t know. And here’s what I mean by that. So in one sense, the world has receded physically, where lots of people are now literally sitting in their rooms, right? They can’t travel around the world and … or even to their office, or what have you, right?

But the second way in the world has receded is: most of what we know about the world is mediated, right? You’re a research scientist. I’m sure some of the folks listening are. And so you have discovered facts that are true of your own accord in some discipline, right? You write a PhD thesis, or what have you … or even just do any kind of research—it’s kind of like that. Many people … This is what I call kind of like a pre-headline person. A pre-headline person (as opposed to a post-headline person) a pre-headline person is like a research scientist, or a founder, or a journalist, or a politician, … someone who has known about the facts … known something to be true prior to being printed in a newspaper. And that seems like a very small thing, but it’s actually a big thing. Because it means that those people are responsible for discovering and disseminating new facts, right? Whereas a post-headline person will not believe something until it’s actually printed in a newspaper that they trust. Your personal, kind of, statement to them that, “Hey, x is true,” they won’t necessarily listen to it unless they believe in your authority from some other thing, some other institutional position.

So in many senses, our domain has shrunken, both physically because we’re in our rooms, and mentally because all of these nodes who we trusted to give us information about things, we’re realizing that those folks messed up. And so the signal they’re giving today, well, yesterday they were basically saying, “Oh, this thing has nothing to worry about. It’s just the flu.” “Don’t wear a mask. Now you have to wear a mask.” Like, these contradictions are so obvious and coming so quickly, that we are forced to realize that those folks are extremely fallible human beings and not oracles. It’s not, “The institution said …” It’s not “The New York Times said …” or “The Washington Post said …” It’s “This guy said …” Or “This girl said …” “This person said …”

And so I think that’s … The first step that Saul Alinsky would say, the first step in community organization is DISorganization. I think the first step in understanding is NOT understanding—having an all be a jumble, right? And, at least what I’m doing, is I’m leaning on … You have training in physics. I know, something of physics (certainly I’m not going down to elementary particle level). But I do know genomics, and I know bioinformatics, and I know diagnostics, and I know how to read biomedical papers. So that’s also mediated, of course, but it doesn’t have the pretense of being capital T “Truth.” It’s, “Here are some researchers, we put out something we believe it to be true,” and you CAN contest it—within the domain, it’s legitimate to contest it in biomedical research. And so leaning on those … that gives me SOME information (maybe more, maybe it orients it).

I would also say, for two other standpoints: as part of the earlier part of our conversation, I think, discipline-wise … or I don’t know, I’m not sure … call it mentally or dispositionally, rather—that’s better. From from a dispositional standpoint, I EXPECT authority to fail. [laughing] I already knew the state was going to fail. The EXTENT to which it failed is kind of interesting. But, like, the direction and magnitude was not 1000x off from what I expected. I think for those who did not expect that, or who found it to be 1000x off-. Go ahead.

EW: I expect institutional failure. I think about it all the time; I talk about all the time. The MAGNITUDE of this institutional failure caught me by surprise.

BS: And that’s fair. That’s fair. I don’t want to say … this is something where the the permanent bureaucracy failed—FDA, CDC, international organizations like WHO failed, the elected government failed. The UNelected government (meaning the career bureaucrats) they failed. State and local … the mayor of New York etc. … and legacy press failed. And the military, frankly, has failed. Like, the only thing … you know, I was tweeting about this, but basically, biodefense, since anthrax, was something that billions of dollars has been allocated for.

EW: Why cann’t I talk about the Wuhan lab?

BS: You- Well. So that’s actually now come back within (I’d say) the somewhat mainstream to discuss. …

EW: [sarcastic] Oh, sorry. I can talk about it again?

BS: [laughing] Right, right. Like, … So, with the Wuhan lab (just to touch on that for a second) … It is certainly the case … Let’s say we’ve got two hypotheses or … I mean, there can be k hypotheses, frankly, and you want to distinguish between them, right? It is certainly the case that there have been deadly natural viruses (and infectious diseases in general) that have arisen before the age of modern bio-

EW: I can see where you’re going.

BS: Yeah.

EW: I don’t want to do it that way. Let me phrase it …

BS: Well [indecipherable/simultaneous]

EW: Let me phrase it because I don’t want to waste time showing that we’re not crazy people. Obviously, we’re not crazy.

BS: [laughing]

EW: No, it’s a-

BS: Sure, sure.

EW: It’s a tax that I don’t want to pay, Balaji. That’s the thing is I don’t want to pay the tax of saying, “Well, of course, you know, nobody’s saying x. Nobody’s saying y.” By the time we get done with the recitations of what nobody’s saying, you know, our time will be over.

1:09:06

BS: So I guess by my nature, when I have the time to do it, I like to be precise in the statements that I feel that there’s uncertainty about, right? So let me give the other side of it.

Why is it … I think it’s plausible that it was naturally-occurring. I also think it is plausible—or certainly not impossible—that the … There’s a scientist, Zhengli Shi [?], who works in Wuhan, who had co-authored papers with a guy named Ralph Baric, which were on gain of function research in coronaviruses …

EW: This is a North Carolina lab head.

BS: That’s right. And by the way, I’m not, like, attacking this person or anything like that. I’m just saying that it was published research that is on, essentially, making …

EW: Can we just not spend our time saying what we’re not saying?

BS: I know, I know. But I just want to say that like, … Let me asterisk that. Okay? So-

EW: There’s a giant asterisk: Balaji’s a smart guy, he is not saying any of the stupid stuff you’re going to try to ascribe to him …

BS: [laughing] Sure sure sure.

EW: … like it was a synthetically engineered bioweapon let loose by a rogue faction of the Chinese Communist Party.

Like, “Yes, he’s not saying any stupid thing-” I don’t want to waste our time on this.

BS: Sure. Sure. Sure, sure. So what do I think … But I think it is-. Just given the context, though, I think it’s important to be precise about what I think it could have been.

I think it could have been that, because SARS hit China in 2003, that folks were studying SARS viruses (or SARS-related viruses) and something got out on someone’s shoe. That’s very possible. Where, you know, you were doing experiments … I mean, there’s a coronavirus from bats in Yunnan Province, that’s published on GenBank, that has 96% sequence homology to the SARS-Cov-2—to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

EW: This is the horseshoe bat on … from some cave in 200-

BS: Yeah. However, however, there are later pangolin-derived sequences that were published that have even higher homology and in theory … So one of the things I always think about in this is what I know to be true for sure. And what can I go and check for myself if I was willing to spend enough time and money, right? And, in theory, if you had somebody on the ground in China—China’s a big place—there’s going to be somebody who you could collaborate with (or pay or what have you) to go and capture some … I mean, I’m not sure too many people would want to do this, okay? But they could go and capture some bats or pangolins (with whatever local regulations there are around that) and sequence them. Right? That is a that is a conceivable experiment you could do.

1:11:56

EW: This is not an answer to the question.

BS: No, no. It does. It does because what you want to do is you want P(y|x) [“p of y given x”], right? Or P(H|D) [“P of H given D”], right? Probability of hypothesis given data. And the thing, for example, like I always think about what could falsify or prove …

EW: Balaji, you’re going down a different path. Like, my question is different.

BS: Okay.

EW: My question is … there is no way that the Wuhan lab should be discounted at this point. We don’t have enough information to suggest that no one should bring up the Wuhan lab because of concerns about racism or concerns about …

BS: Oh, yeah.

EW: But, so …

BS: [simultaneous]

EW: This is where I’m having a different issue, which is, I didn’t … I’m not trying to tell you what the probability is. I’m not trying to say where it originated. I’m trying to say what I think and don’t think. I get very nervous when somebody removes one of the choices and says, “Don’t …”

BS: Yeah, yeah yeah. Right.

EW: Right? And so the issue that I’m having is, that’s bad scientifically. When somebody says, “Well, only bad people think that the Wuhan lab might be involved.” It’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” Something broke down. Because that should be a live hypothesis. And that shouldn’t carry stigma. If you’re saying, [dumb voice] “Well, definitely, you know, it’s the Chinese are just trying to get us and they’re trying to take our stuff”—that would be stupid. But saying, hey, we’ve got a pretty significant lab doing research pretty closely related to this topic. And it could be anything from an accident to somebody was trying to grow (let’s imagine) trying to grow bat coronavirus tissue in human lungs and cadaver tissue. You don’t know. And it’s not a question …

BS: So let me …

EW: Let me just finish it.

BS: Okay, okay. Go ahead, sorry.

EW: And the instant you start talking about this, you get these really weird comebacks, which is like, “Uhhh, I don’t think anybody smart thinks that this was engineered from first principles in a lab and released as a bioweapon.” And you’re saying, “Well, yeah, nobody SAID that. So why is it that that’s what you’re responding to?”

Like that you can FEEL that there’s a force field around the issue of, is there more significant Chinese responsibility and falsifying data, controlling the WHO, disguising the origins that they know about this virus … And why are we participating in some thing to aid China? I don’t understand. Why is the US leadership so courteous to these people? The Chinese Communist Party.

1:14:46

BS: So … well, okay. So I think there’s a few interlocking things there. The first is, should a legitimate scientific hypothesis be shamed out of public debate? I don’t think so.

The second is … and this is somewhat difficult, but let me see if I can get there. You know, you’ve graded math exams, you’ve graded physical exams, almost certainly, right? If somebody gets the right answer, and they just circle it at the bottom, but they don’t show their work, or they get the right answer, and they just put pi down there, or whatever, and it just happens to be right, but all their steps are wrong, right? Then that usually doesn’t get credit, right? And I think there were a number of folks (at least in January) who were throwing around things like, “Oh, it’s like an HIV-infused sequence and so-.“ And because of that, because those were just kind of … That’s like, being in the direction of it coming from a lab, though it’s not the same as it. But it was just, like, noise and dumb and bad. And wrong, because, like, basically, if you went and looked at the sequences in BLAST (which is like a Google for DNA sequences or RNA or protein sequences, right?) … you look at it in BLAST, and you could see, actually, no: it wasn’t similar to HIV sequences at all. That was a spurious kind of assertion. Right? And so I think it is in the presence of that noise, that chaff, that is incumbent upon those who are correct to look like signal—not just BE signal, but look like it, you know? (Like the whole thing about Caesar’s wife and so on, right?)

So that’s why I try to be careful—the more controversial it is, the more it could be misunderstood.

EW: I understand the impulse to being careful-

BS: Yeah. Good.

EW: … That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is … and this is really hard on me. In essence, the way I’m seeing this is, is that I’m trying to stand up for a missing position. Once upon a time we had top people—professors, you know, people would be virologists—who would get up and they would say something approximating the truth. You know, like, “We can’t know this. These are the available hypotheses based on this information. I’m leaning this way. We can’t rule anything out.” Here we don’t have that. We’ve got this very different sort of a thing—which is what’s confusing me— which is … I’m not used to the Surgeon General sounding like a goddamn moron.

BS: [laughing]

EW: No, no, no, I’m not-

BS: Yeah. Right.

EW: I’m not used to reporters … I, like … You know, I was just watching this old video of Richard Threlkeld in the Vietnam jungle getting shot at with the platoon he was covering, you know? and like my old notion of reporters is that they’re fairly heroic. And my new notion is, is that they just don’t … they sometimes hate the people they’re covering so much that they don’t pay attention to reality. They just try to contradict whatever it is that they hate. They’re jealous of powerful people in politics. They’re jealous of rich people in San Francisco. They’re jealous of beautiful people, you know, somewhere else. And so it’s just like, “Okay, fine, let’s just trash people. That’s my job.”

So I wasn’t used to the idea that I couldn’t turn to the Surgeon General and say, “Stop lying to me.” Or, you know, … this is gonna come out on YouTube. And now I’ve got a problem. I’m building a channel on YouTube. And the CEO of YouTube says, “We won’t allow videos that contradict the WHO.” And my jaw is on the floor. Like, are you an American? Or … who are you? And do we just have to nationalize YouTube? Do we have to …

BS: So that’s exactly the wrong approach, by the way-

EW: No, because you’re gonna say blockchain. “Just put it on the blockchain”-

BS: Well, hold on. I’m not gonna … just gonna say it for … Let me explain why. The issue is the entire impulse that YouTube has there—in terms of, “Let’s give in to the centralized political authority, because the only one we have”—is the same one that says, “Oh, nationalizing will make it better.” No, it’s gonna make it worse. It’s gonna just basically make it political truth. Again. Right? Even worse now because now it’s, like, the national outlet of this. It basically becomes like the Chinese state controlled media.

EW: Balaji, it’s not like I disagree with you, in the sense that I’m trying to say, I’m standing up for a position … Like, what you’re saying … There are three versions of crazy here, and I want to talk about all three of them.

There’s ‘Balaji’ crazy, where the idea is that we all move our lives onto the blockchain. And …

1:19:30

BS: So, that’s a caricature. I want to come back to [simultaneous]

EW: I’m caricaturing all three of them.

BS: Sure. Okay.

EW: So I’m not being fair to any one of us and I will be merciless to myself.

BS: Fair. Okay.

EW: So the ‘Balaji’ version of craziness is, “Hey, don’t you understand we can all retreat into our garages. We can have sex with tardigrades. And we can form government on the blockchain. And as long as we take enough nootropics, everything is going to be awesome.” Okay? That’s the California version, and you are being saddled with that.

Then there’s the ‘Eric’ version (which is equally, if not more embarrassing): “Hey, I once saw some functional institutions when I was growing up, even though they’ve all since been allowed to fall into disrepair and we have lunatics heading all of them, I still think that we can get things back together so that we can trust the CDC and the Surgeon General. And if we can only get our people in office (and, by the way, we’re running running Biden against Trump—a 74-year-old versus a 77-year-old—which is completely insane) … but nevertheless, in 2028, everything will be fine.”

Then there’s, like, the ‘establishment’ position, which is like, “Okay, we’re wrong every four seconds; we contradict ourselves constantly. Everyone can see that we’re lying (more or less) 24/7. But hey, you’re all still forced to pay attention because these institutions still matter because, ultimately, it’s all backed by guns.” Okay?

So we’ve got one guy backed by the blockchain, one guy backed by nostalgia, and one guy backed by firearms.

BS: So the first one is “exit the system.” The second is “fix the system.” And the third is “system isn’t broke.” Right?

Now, I think there’s a synthesis of these, which is: there are certain ASPECTS of the system that people will need to reinvent; the system DOES need to be fixed; but it can’t be fixed in a down-the-middle way—that’s too fortified a route, you have to go kitty-corner. You need a creative approach that is different, right? And I’ll give several examples of reform that has happened by going kitty-corner. And you know what I mean by kitty-corner: going to a diagonal rather than straight ahead. Okay?

So one was the example I mentioned, where Google went and made money in Search, and then it went and attacked Microsoft, right?

The biggest example—you know, that’s like civilizational example that we’ve had recently—is the internet opening up and giving us this digital frontier where you could build without a license. And that metaphor becomes more than a metaphor when you talk about not just Minecraft, but VR and so on. Like that domain name where you can build, and you have complete authority to do so, is the opposite of what happens in the offline world where you cannot build without a permit and without a this and without a that, right? And this reopening of the frontier is this meta game, which has sucked a lot of talent out of DC because now there’s an option to go into tech—not just DC, but pulled talent out of academia, and out of journalism, and out of even Hollywood (frankly). [simultaneous]

EW: Boston, New York, and Washington DC. It’s a good …

BS: Exactly. That’s right. That’s right.

And so, in a sense, the fact that the frontier exists and that people have moved to this digital frontier has in turn weakened legacy institutions. So it’s kind of this double whammy: a minus one for them and a plus one for the frontier.

And a third example is cryptocurrency. Right? Rather than Satoshi going down-the-middle and trying to get a meeting with the IMF or the World Bank to say, “Hey, let’s start a new currency—one that you can’t print.” Had he done the down-the-middle kind of thing, he … First, he probably wouldn’t have gotten a meeting. And had he got the meeting, would have been laughed out of the room. Right?

And so a new [simultaneous] approach is actually needed-

1:23:14

EW: You know that I tried to get prime brokerage for Bitcoin in 2010?

BS: Wow, really? Okay. So you were ahead of the curve.

EW: Well, yeah, but I’m sure I still couldn’t get anyone to take it seriously. So it’s not like I bought a hard drive and just loaded it up with Bitcoin.

BS: Exactly. That’s right.

So this is also related … I mean, there’s so many other examples of this. For example, in 2020, Google and Apple and so on, they still don’t have TV channels, but they do have Apple TV and YouTube and iTunes and so on, right? It was literally easier to build and scale the internet and get it to people’s houses than it was for them to go and wrestle with, you know, television companies or … You know, like the entire licensing complex around television. Right? And so, I think that is … Yet the reform happened, right? It just wasn’t … You didn’t attack the Maginot Line head-on. You know? You recognize it was the Maginot Line and you figured out how to go around. Yeah?

Now, the flip side of this (to bring up the Maginot Line point in a different way): when you talk about how you’ve been like amazed by what’s happened in the US. Unfortunately (and this is this is actually something I do not think most people have realized), America has been invaded and defeated by the coronavirus. And that is the first successful invasion of America in modern times. I think the war of 1812 is like the last time … You know, the British burned the White House. Like serious kind of foreign damage on American soil. I mean, obviously, there’s Pearl Harbor, right? But, like, the continental United States has been so safe for so long that there has never been a foreign occupier. And what happened is this virus basically bypassed the Atlantic and the Pacific; it bypassed the nuclear umbrella and all the aircraft carriers; it bypassed all of that to go and kill like almost 80,000 Americans sick and a bunch more. And we basically lack—whether it’s our military, whether it’s our regulatory bureaucracy, whether it’s simple lack of the people to get the thing under control—we lack the ability to stop this.

And so right now what is happening is … the country’s efficiency in negotiating … it’s essentially an unconditional surrender to the virus, because … Like, for example, the concept of, “Hey, everyone’s gonna get it: herd immunity.” That’s basically throwing oneself on the mercy of God. Because it’s not at all clear that everyone’s gonna have immunity to this virus that’s lifelong. Other coronaviruses, for example, have immunity that only drops off after two or three years (there’s a paper on that). So it’s not clear that letting everybody get it means that they won’t be able to get it again in the future. It may just be that letting everybody get it makes this almost like a temperate malaria. You know? It’s just endemic in the region and it just takes a toll every year. You know, people have talked about this being like the fifth endemic coronavirus, and it becomes “cold and flu and COVID-19” season not just “cold and flu” season.

And so the Maginot Line concept is one I think about a lot in this context, where basically the entire 20th century establishment- Interestingly, by the way, the other entity major entities that have been invaded by the coronavirus—the ones who have been doing the worst—are the other NATO countries (UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Russia). So the folks who are squaring off in the 20th century, have basically been invaded and defeated by the coronavirus so far. (And when I say “defeated,” like … the “occupation” is going to begin. And that’s not going to be pleasant. People are fooling themselves and thinking it’s gonna be pleasant—it’s not gonna be pleasant.)

Anyway, I got on that because, you know, we were just kind of talking about Maginot Lines and moving around them. But recognizing that something that seems impregnable ISN’T, if you change your mode, is, I think, really important—you change your point of view.

Go ahead.

EW: Well, so … I sort of like this. But I also feel like …

I feel like I don’t even understand where we are. And maybe the idea, Balaji, that I want to entertain, is that I have a certain kind of weakness of mind. That I’m very good at opposing institutions (because I know how they work), but I’m not used to an institution being this wrong—like blatantly …

You know, when I start seeing Science and Nature talking about things that are completely insane in social justice theory, and I just think like, “Okay, whatever this thing is, it’s broken through to Science and Nature. It’s invaded Harvard, Princeton, Rockefeller University.” This inability to think seems to be attacking everything institutional. And I would really say that that’s the major thing that invaded us—it wasn’t the virus, because you know …

BS: Right.

EW: What’s really invaded us is that everything institutional is playing host to this particular kind of establishment stupidity, at the moment. And there … In the old days, we had Noam Chomskys inside of the establishment. Now we’re down to like our last Noam Chomsky. So it used to be that was very tough for everything to go this dumb, because of the number of smart iconoclasts who sat in official chairs. And, like, what I see now is is that effectively there are no people who are willing to stand up and say, “This is insanity.”

1:29:08

BS: Well, so here’s a couple of thoughts on that. I mean, I think that in terms of history, a comparable period, in some ways, is … I mean, the Cultural Revolution, from ’66 to ’76, was much more violent than the recent Wokeness in the US. There are some similarities in the sense that Tsinghua[?], for example, (which is like the Chinese MIT), was literally occupied by rival gangs of, you know, machine gun-toting students and they were shooting each other over some point of Maoist theory. Right? Woke and Woker[?], basically, over there. Right?

And I think a very important thing for folks to understand … Actually, Dalio had a very similar comment. Like, he had a similar, I think, mental model. Nobody has lived through anything like this in the US. But, people have in history, and they have in other places. And that’s what’s useful to really read: the history of other places and other times. (Obviously history is of other times but, you know, meaning non-American history.) And many of the folks who have landed in the US—whether from South America, or from Central America, or Iran, Russia, Eastern Europe, India, China, Korea, etc., etc.—have been leaving economic or political instability—often communism; or, in the case of India, socialism; or, in the case of Iran, Islamic fundamentalism—and they’ve been part of functioning societies like … Cuba, for example, under Batista, was a flawed, but actually relatively well-off country, and then it all just went completely to hell. Right? Same with many countries. Like, when when communist revolutions come to town, they can go from decent levels—like Venezuela, for example, prior to Chavismo—to starvation. And so other places have seen that kind of fall. And …

Like, how far do we have to fall? We still have a ways to go. And I think that it’s useful to think about these other countries and figure out how bad it could get. But why don’t we come back to that point?

Go ahead.

EW: So, I … Yeah, look. I don’t want this to be … We can explore why we’re getting knocked over by a feather. But maybe what I’d rather do is to use the COVID situation, and your different lens on it, to illustrate sort of where we are. So the, kind of … Here’s some of the questions that are on my mind.

BS: Sure.

EW: What is the real end game of this? Where are we really? When people are talking about “re-opening,” “back to normal” … I have the feeling that almost none of this stuff makes sense. And, you know, my take on “flatten the curve” was that we were caught with our pants down with respect to preparedness, and so we were trying to avoid deaths of accountability, which would be triage deaths. So then the issue was that the limbo bar was so low because we didn’t want people dying to show that we were completely incompetent. So everybody should stay home so that we don’t have deaths due to triage, as opposed to deaths due to the coronavirus. I believe that a lot of what we’re hearing in terms of how we’re going to come back, or when there’s going to be a vaccine … Nobody really knows when there’s going to be a vaccine, or what that’s going to look like.

What is the grown-up, mature perspective on the possible scenarios towards normalization?

BS: So I think the grown-up, mature perspective is a) the virus is actually serious, and I can go into why. Basically, it’s not just mortality (the mortality is quite high) but it’s morbidity (that is, say, a lot of people are actually getting sick for weeks, or even months, and that doesn’t show up in death statistics).

EW: So let’s just pause there, because I think this is super important.

So, Balaji, here’s something that you could really do that would, I think, be very helpful to me: I would like to understand what are the basic scenarios that may be playing out. If our public officials were able to speak to us truthfully, what would they be saying? If political economy and relationship with China and issues having to do with questions about preparedness in our supply chains weren’t deranging everything. What do you think the various scenarios are, more or less—in terms of the universality classes—of what might happen next?

BS: So, maybe I’ll say something you may not agree with, which is, I think, for being truthful, in the public square, folks—say, in main dimensions—America is actually behind. It thinks it’s ahead, but it’s behind. Which is similar to Blockbuster, or Barnes and Nobles, or Blackberry, or other once-powerful entities that were disrupted by something that they didn’t see coming or didn’t understand. And what this virus has done is basically … it has shown that America can’t physically innovate anymore—or at at least cannot do so quickly enough or at any scale above an individual or corporate level. It can’t coordinate at the level of a town or a city, or a state, let alone a country. And it can blow things up in other places, but building is harder than blowing something up. And so first thing is, America’s actually behind.

Actually it’s funny, I did a Twitter poll on this (for what that’s worth—it’s not a representative sample, but it’s really a survey of the folks who are kind of in my my following, or what have you) and I said, “Is America a) ahead, b) behind, or c) tied with China for physical innovation?” (Or other’s [than?] China ahead.) And 51% said China was ahead (in this little non-scientific poll, for what it’s worth, again—but just to have folks who are in tech, and of folks who would follow me on Twitter or what have you). And the other question I asked, was (it’s a kind of two part question): “a) Are you an American or not? And b) Do you think the US is still the world’s undisputed number one superpower?” And again, roughly about half of the American said “it is” and half “isn’t.” And same for the rest of the world: maybe about like 55 or 60/40[%] for the Americans, and maybe 45/55[%] for the rest of the world. And so I think these are things which, if you’re being honest with the US, you want to start thinking about it in terms of, like, a great company, or a great country that missed a few steps, and that is not as far ahead as people think and that could fall further (and maybe WILL fall further, given the corona crisis) and needs to realize that and needs to rebuild.

So … And I think just SAYING that … The problem with this is, people will not receive a dispassionate analysis of strengths and weaknesses as constructive criticism. They’ll say, “Oh my God, why do you hate this or hate that? Why you hate the country or this …” That’s not at all where it’s coming from. It’s a great country. It’s given my family and a lot of people a lot. However it’s kind of like Japan before the Meiji Restoration, or China before Deng Xiaoping fixed it, or the Soviet Union in the 80s, in some ways. (You know, I’m not saying that the US is as bad as Soviet Union or or Maoist China.) Or, frankly, Microsoft under Steve Ballmer. It’s basically in a stagnation that it needs to get out of. And Peter has talked about this. But it’s now very clear that the consequence of not being able to innovate in the physical world has led to this. And that’s one of the big things.

The second big thing is: the smart people (folks with technical and scientific ability) are simply not steering the ship. And thus you have … That you asked, so, okay, which official is going to give a straight answer? Those folks don’t have the technical ability to give a straight answer. It’s not like you’re on the board and you can ask the CEO, “Hey, give me the figures on X, Y, and Z by W date.” Right? Like, you can expect a tech CEO to be on top of their metrics, because they HAVE to be to survive as a company. But our current government of the United States is not like the founder-CEO. It’s not the person who inherited from them. It’s not the third generation. It’s like, the 40th generation. You know? For example, the mayor of New York wouldn’t be able to build the NYPD from scratch, you know? But somebody DID, at some point. They did staff that unit, and they gave it tasks, and they figured out the esprit de corps, and rules of- Not exactly rules of engagement, but basically …

1:39:01

EW: But Balaji: John F. Kennedy wasn’t one of our founding fathers, nor was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

BS: Right. But the thing is that, at a certain point when you go enough generations, you lose that. Enough generations …

EW: We went enough generations. It was still working.

BS: Yeah, but it’s not anymore.

EW: I agree with … I mean … I see us as dying from a very mysterious ailment, which is that we got two bad generations that do not give a shit about the future and they’re not smart enough or honest enough to recognize that what they’re doing is stealing from their own children.

BS: You know, FDR put some of that stuff in place, right? Social security and whatnot. And there’s a saying that, “There’s a great deal of ruin in a nation.” And I agree there’s a GREAT deal of ruin in a nation. Do you know what that’s from? It’s like in Britain, someone said to a prime minister, “Oh, this will be-” (or to someone in government—I don’t know if it’s the Prime Minister—someone in government), “Oh, this will be the ruin of the nation.” And he turned to the guy and he said very wisely, “Well, there’s a great deal of ruin in a nation.” Meaning, “Calm down, hold your horses, like … lots of stuff breaks. But you know, we’ll figure it out.”

But here’s the thing: There’s a great deal of ruin in a nation, but not an infinite amount. You could well say that Cuba was ruined by Castro’s revolution, or that Iran was ruined for for a generation by the Islamic Revolution. Countries do get messed up.

And it’s one of these things where, if you were wanting to be REALLY provocative about it (and, yeah, this is … we’ll have to see where things land up in a few years), you could say 1492 to 2020. You could say, basically this is the first time that the number one power in the world is a western country that has sort of been invaded and defeated. You know? Like, let’s[?] say like Portugal, Spain, the UK, France, Russia, and then the United States. The number one (or, in some cases, tied for number one powers in the world) have been Western for a long time. And you can argue Russia—it’s Eastern or Western, people argue about its identity in that way. But now it’s something where it’s no longer, I think, the undisputed number one. And if you want to regain that, first you have to realize that you don’t have it anymore. You can’t just like declare victory, mission accomplished, over corona while it’s rampaging through the country and there’s green zones in other countries. You have to realize that actually, it’s- …

Go ahead.

EW: Let’s get back to scenarios that the virus will take, and then we’ll come back to whether or not the real issue is is that our leaders aren’t smart enough to deliver information about spike proteins or something (you know?).

BS: It’s not just technical ability, though. That’s the thing is, that’s easy to quantify. It’s also, like, managerial ability and leadership ability. Like, people are selected … like elections select for people who are good actors, not necessarily good leaders. And you can you can play-act at being a mayor or a governor or a leader of some kind, as opposed to someone … Right?

EW: So let’s assume that there’s some issue that maybe somehow we don’t have people smart enough to convey news from experts to the general public. But I don’t want to get infinitely caught up in that.

What am I not getting about this virus? Like …

1:42:33

BS: What do we know about this virus? (I’m sorry.)

EW: What am I not getting? What are the likely scenarios for how we get to something where people aren’t asking, “Can I come out of my house yet?” I mean, obviously, at some level, it could become normal that everybody shelters-in-place ad infinitum; it could become normal that we just say “F it!” and we throw caution to the wind and we all go on spring break in Florida; it could be that we come up with some sort of managed titration, where we titrate back into the world, but nothing ever goes back to the way it was.

What are the most likely scenarios that a competent and honest government would be able to level with us about if that was where we were (with a smarter population and smarter government to boot)?

BS: So first thing I would say is, I think … It’s very … There’s a great website called endcoronavirus.org. by guys out of the Northeast (I think they’re affiliated with Harvard). And it basically shows that many countries have managed to get the virus under control—basically through a combination of not just lockdown, but central quarantine, testing, border control …

EW: What does it mean to “get the virus under control”?

BS: Two things. It means, number one, that daily new cases are either 0 or very close to that. (And that’s why the explicit goal of the head of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of Singapore … is to get new cases to 0, number one.) And then number two, to keep the Rt (reproduction number) below 1, in the event that it does arise again. So basically, keep it down, and have it stay down. Right?

And for that to happen, you need to have not just a coordinated society, but a coordinated state, … You need both society and the state to work together. There’s some exceptions to this, I would say. (Maybe I should say “need.”) Hong Kong is arguably a counterexample, where people will say a society did it but the state didn’t. Right? But I think the first thing is, it is possible to get the virus under control. It is not an inevitability that it goes to 100%. I think it’s an important point.

Now, one can counter-argue as to, “Okay, how expensive is it to do that forever?” Right? “Will these green zones be able to keep themselves green?” And I kind of think they will. Or at least many of them will. Because once you’ve gotten cases down to 0, and you’re sort of “woke” to the virus, and you’ve set up your defenses (I can get into what those defenses are, technologically and societally, because I don’t think people in the West have really followed it too much. Should I talk about that?)

Okay. So here’s just some of the things folks-

EW: And you might want to talk about green zones … talk about the zones as well.

BS: Yeah, well let me define it. So a green zone is a place with comprehensive testing that has no new cases in, let’s say, the last two weeks. Okay? You could change the timeframe, or you could say four weeks or something. But conceptually that’s right. And it also keeps the virus from coming back up. So the reproduction number stays below 1 in the event that there is a flare-up. A red zone is everywhere else. And there’s degrees of green and red. And essentially, the new developed world and developing world I think is going to be green zones and red zones. And that is to say, talent and capital will prefer to be in green zones and to avoid or get out of red zones if it can. And the reason for that is severalfold.

First is (and this a premise which I’m surprised that I still have to argue it in May, but), the virus IS serious. And … At first you might think, “Oh, look at the death counts.” Of course people would agree it’s serious. But people will throw out various, in my view, spurious objections. The most (I think) intelligent objection is, “Yes, there’s 80,000 deaths in the US, there’s hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, but they’re concentrated in older people and people with pre-existing conditions, and therefore, you know, much of the population isn’t at risk. So let them at a lockdown; go back to work; It’s not a big deal for most people.”

My counter-argument to that would basically be: Alright. Other countries … Lockdown was just one component of what they did. It was an important component, but the US has sort of done a Cargo Cult lockdown. Number two is, there’s a lot of folks (we don’t know the exact number) but there’s many folks under age 50 who’ve had very serious conditions that are not lethal (they’re not dead), they may not always be hospitalized, but they’re serious. And whether you want to believe WHO or not, WHO reported like something like 19% of people have a severe or critical condition, whereas 80% are mild. If that maps to the experienced severity that folks that I’ve seen … people I KNOW have had very severe cases: they’re not dead, they’re not hospitalized, but it’s the worst illness they’ve had in their lives, they’ve had very long convalescences (weeks to months, like eight weeks or so) …

EW: Are they permanently impaired? For example, lung tissue never comes back.

BS: Great question. So I tweeted on this in March, actually. SARS and MERS … there are studies … So there’s a group out of UCLA and (I think) David Geffen School of Medicine … UCLA and USC … to publish a paper saying we need longitudinal monitoring of people who have recovered from COVID-19 to see if they have permanent lung damage, because a good chunk of folks with SARS and MERS did.

So the thing about the long term is we’ll only know it in the long term. But I do think we should be doing longitudinal studies of patients. We should be quantifying morbidity better (not just mortality). Yes, we need to know death statistics across demographics—it’s very important. But we also need to know things like self-reported severity, duration of illness, length of convalescence (meaning recovery after illness), self-reported recurrence of symptoms, and then things like CT scans (like at 30 and 60 and 90 day intervals), and other kinds of things like, are people getting back?

And here’s the issue is: even if it’s just a series (and I say “just” in quotes, but) “just” a very serious illness, which knocks out, with some probability, healthy 30- and 40-year-olds for eight weeks or 10 weeks, that’s something where … if you had a choice, you would avoid an area where you could get that very easily. Your team would avoid an area. You would not be able to recruit people to such a city very easily if they had a choice of an equivalent job somewhere else. So what that does is it turns the first thing in real estate from “location, location, location” to “infection, infection, infection.”

It’s deeper than that as well. People think, “Oh,” you know, “end the lockdowns.” But “end the lockdowns” doesn’t, by its own, bring back the market. One way of thinking about it is … You know, earlier we made the analogy to an invasion, right? An invasion by a virus. There’s another analogy I’m going to give, which is in terms of a public utility. Our society is explicitly premised on electrical power. That is to say, there’s power outlets for all kinds of stuff. And if the power goes out, we wouldn’t tell people, “Oh, just bowl through it.” Right? Because you need to charge your computer and, you know, you can’t tell a restaurant, “Oh, just bowl through it” if their oven doesn’t work—they’re not gonna be able to serve too many customers. Maybe they can cobble a salad together, but they’re operating way below capacity. They won’t be able to handle any apps. Their demand will be way down and lots of ways people won’t be able to get there and they won’t be able to serve them—supply will also be down.

And so the point I’m making is, our society is also IMPLICITLY premised (just like it’s explicitly premised on power, as well as water, internet, roads, …) it’s implicitly premised on the absence of serious infectious disease from public venues. And the thing is that 50 years ago this was understood to be a big deal. That is to say … you know, I tweeted something on the conquest of public health, or conquest of infectious diseases, a bicentennial review. It was understood that getting cholera and malaria and stuff like that under control and turning them into non-issues, was a massive achievement. And that was that was something that was a huge social and technological achievement of coordination.

1:51:34

EW: Well, even like the banishing of malaria from Southern Europe and the southern United States … it led us to think in terms of, “Well, malaria cannot be an American problem or an Italian problem.”

BS: Yes. Bingo. That’s exactly right.

So, the issue is that power and water, are utilities that are noticeable by their presence. Public health is noticeable by its absence. And so just like an electromagnetic pulse would mean the power has gone out in America, this is like the health has gone out in America. And so that means is, you can’t just tell a restaurant, “Bull through this.” Okay? Because here’s what happens.

First, like, California put out these guidelines for in-person restaurants, how to reopen. (I’m just using restaurants as a working example because many of the things apply there.) First, these guidelines essentially expect Joe’s Diner to implement biodefense mode. Okay? It’s like 12 pages of like the most ridiculous requirements—get hand sanitizer, get this … You can’t even buy that stuff. Or if you can, it’s expensive. So first is the restaurants are hit with new guidelines. They’re not trained or skilled in this kind of thing—they’re they’re great at cooking food, not like sanitizing a place for a deadly virus. Number two is, it’s a new tax on them because they have to buy all this equipment and train their workers. Number three is, because of social distancing they have to space their tables out. So they have less revenue that way. It’s the opposite of a crowded restaurant, right? Number four, they have fewer customers, because half their customer base or whatever fraction, basically, like having the uncontrolled virus means, “Hey, I’m risking it every time I walk down.”

And this is something that the folks who are arguing, “Oh, the virus isn’t that bad, because the mortality rates … it’s not killing 50% of people.” Right? And my argument is, okay, yeah, sure, relative to DEATH you can say anything is not a big deal. Right? Death is the worst outcome, right? But relative to a cup of coffee or a slice of cheesecake or whatever at the local cafe, 10 weeks of serious illness is not something that you’d want to casually risk for that. Yes, okay, you can argue the virus isn’t as bad as dying. Fine. But it’s also … this consumer benefit you’re offering is not as good as the risk of … where it is in the middle. Right?

And so one way of conceptualizing that is … And, you know, I’m not just, like, an economic determinist, by any means, but for those people who are in the language of economics: okay. Let’s say that the virus would, on average, do $10,000 of damage to you. For example, it puts you out of work for that many weeks—you make $50,000 a year puts you out of work for 10 weeks. Okay? So let’s say it does $10,000 of damage (in the event of a serious case) and you have a 5% chance of getting the virus and a 30% chance (conditional on getting the virus) of having a serious case and then it costs you $10,000 for 10 weeks of sickness. Okay. That is 5% x 30% x 10,000 … that’s $150 cost that is now being imposed on every interaction that has a chance of getting the virus. Right? And that’s not worth it for many kinds of things. And I’m not saying that people will calculate that numerically and explicitly. But implicitly, I think that that is going to be a tax on a lot of economic behavior.

Go ahead.

EW: So I like the general framework here, but I think we’re sort of skipping a step, which is that most of us want to know what this is going to look like. So in a Green Zone, for example … So let’s say that I buy into your Red Zone/Green Zone thing. In a Green Zone, am I shaking hands with people I meet?

BS: No. You’re probably having some degree of social distancing … Well, okay, I’ll put it like this. I think you’re more likely to shake hands with somebody in a Green Zone, certainly, but I think that on balance, until … Smart people will probably continue to take precautions even in Green Zones. But I think that you’d be more likely to shake hands or go to a restaurant in a Green Zone, certainly, than a Red Zone.

EW: And in my Green Zone, let’s say, five years from now: am I wearing a mask constantly when I’m outdoors?

BS: So there’s major branch points here. And so here’s some of the key variables. The first is, do we get a drug or vaccine EVER for this? Because there are some things … HIV we’ve turned into a chronic disease, but we haven’t cured it. Okay? So I’m not saying this is … we don’t know, yet. People thought there was going to be an HIV vaccine very quickly. There’s good reason … Peter Kolchinsky actually has a great article in City Journal on the case for why you SHOULD get a coronavirus vaccine—he thinks it is possible, it’s been done in other animals, and so on. So that’s important.

On the other hand, nothing’s ever certain. (Especially in science. You’re talking about technological innovation—something that has not been done, so it’s hard to do it on a schedule.)

So A is, is there a drug or a vaccine (and a “drug” meaning something that knocks it down to a basic non-issue—it doesn’t have to cure it completely, but it knocks it down) … Is there a drug or vaccine, number one. And if so, how fast does it arrive? Right? And there’s this Warp Speed project that’s been announced. I mean, maybe they’ll get something out there. We’ll see what happens through …

EW: Have you seen the list of people who’s in it?

1:58:10

BS: No. Actually I didn’t look at that yet.

EW: Can I ask you a question on that, just as an intermediate?

BS: Sure.

EW: When you think about the smart people you’re talking to, relative to this virus—technically-capable people, people who can think well-outside-the-box, operate there, execute … Are you aware of these people being herded up by our national government and put in service of the public health?

BS: So there WAS a Wall Street Journal article saying that there’s, like …

EW: I don’t want to talk about informal things that we’re all doing to connect up.

BS: Right.

EW: Like, I have a very simple …

BS: The thrust of your question is … You know, I would say “No.” Like, there’s informal connections and so on and so forth. There’s nothing that … You know, and again, I need to look at Warp Speed—I think it just came out, like, yesterday so I just have to read [simultaneous]

EW: Yes, yesterday. But Balaji, it’s not working.

The question is different. And I guess part of the problem is, is that it feels to me like nobody has the right emotional valence. And so I’ll just say it very starkly: The instantaneous thing to do was to identify a group of people who were early (or are thought of, I don’t know, highly by people who were early) and get them all tested, tell them to report to central facilities, put them in some giant dorm with a marine at the entrance, make sure that you print up secure, you know … expedite security clearances, and have them go crazy.

BS: Like kind of out of a movie.

EW: No, not kind of out of a movie. Kind of out of the World War II era.

BS: Right, right. Sure. I mean, so it might as well be out of a movie. [laughing]

2:00:08

EW: Right. Yeah. But, like, I saw that move, but I rejected it.

BS: Okay.

EW: This is like what smart people do when they’re not stupid. I don’t know how to say this politely …

BS: Right.

EW: I know tons of people who should have been called. And I kept asking, “Are you called?” and they’d say things like, “No, we’re passing our best thoughts to somebody who might be close to somebody on the Security Council.” And my thought was, “You’re not IN Washington, DC. You’re not at whiteboards. Nobody told you to tell your family you’re going to be gone for three months.” Like we didn’t do anything smart.

BS: Yeah, so … I tweeted this, but basically … Amazingly, the US today reminds me of the India of my youth. In the sense of, India’s a country with a lot of smart people that just couldn’t get it together at a societal level for a long, long, long time. Now, amazingly, I would actually argue (even though it’s got a serious outbreak and so on) … India, I think, when (this is a prediction, and I would not call it 100%, or anything like that I could be proven wrong in six months to a year) … My overall feeling is India’s punching above its weight in this whole crisis, and has had a higher state capacity than the US over this. Which is amazing to me. Where

EW: Well India is astounding.

BS: [simultaneous] It’s astounding. And India’s actually done a better job than, frankly, maybe, France, Italy, the UK …

EW: I don’t even want to get into whether they did a good job or a bad job. When I … I mean, both you and I have a fair amount of interaction with India. When I heard that India was going to actually try to coordinate, like sheltering-in-place, I thought, “What do you think you are? Luxembourg?” I mean, …

BS: Right, right, right. But they’ve actually … so they didn’t just do that. They’ve shipped, like, a national telemedicine app with contact tracing … I mean, it has bugs, and so on. But, like, it’s out there. Which no other Western democracy, to my knowledge, has. At least, maybe Estonia has something, but not a large Western democracy.

I remember in March, I posted a SoundCloud where every single Indian, when they picked up the phone to call somebody, there’s a 3 second public health announcement played with a consistent set of talking points from the government. You know, the Prime Minister never said, “Oh, it’s just the flu,” or anything like that. They were taking it seriously from the beginning. They sealed the border to such an extent that even citizens found it hard to get back in. Etc, etc. I mean they did a lot of the blocking and tackling that … I was just like, “What!?”

I was honestly stunned. Because India has come so far. And then the US has come far in the opposite direction. Do I have an explanation for it? You can’t give a technological determinist explanation (or at least not not an obvious one) because India and China have been rising over the same period that the US and UK and Italy and so on have been falling. I think you sort of have to argue it from just like a civilizational arc standpoint. You know? Just like empires rise and they fall, you know? Maybe you could, you can give other …

EW: You and I are in different places about this. I feel like, okay, so we got stuck with, you know, the modern Republican and Democratic Party leadership and like, you know, 30 people are going to take down one of the greatest national experiments in the history of the world.

BS: Ah, so you think of it as a small … You think if you just change out 30 people, you could fix it? Is that is that your mental [indecipherable]? I think that’s a really … it’s like-

2:04:02

EW: No. My model is, is that we got hit with something almost 50 years ago, which is this economic anomaly.

BS: 1971?

EW: … that we then developed a culture of covering up the economic anomaly that has run its course after 50 years. But my belief about that was that … about when we got the Clintons, in 1992, we took a really dangerous turn towards sophisticated-sounding total bullshit. Like, I really believe that the … you know, Reagan, you could sort of see that they were trying to restart the the miracle, and maybe all of the mergers and acquisitions and getting rid of anti-trust and de-reg and all that kind of stuff … was thought that it might work. And then realized, okay, well maybe it doesn’t work well enough to restart growth, but it’s good enough to get some of us rich at the expense of some of the rest of us. And then the Clintons just took that and raised it to some really high power. And now we’re left with a situation where we can’t reboot from anything because, roughly speaking, I don’t know, the people that I would want in control of this thing are, like, people on the internet. They’re like you. I mean, who the hell are you? I don’t know. But when I when I get confused about where we are, I don’t call up the Centers for Disease Control and and say, “Walk me through this.” Or “Dear WHO, explain how this all makes sense.” I call up people who are in these weird off-the-beaten-path technical centers, you know?

And that is a failure of our society. So what my model is—different from most of the rest of yours—is that I just think the important thing is to tell Hillary Clinton and all of her friends to get up out of their chairs and move. Like, we can’t have the dumb people leading the country. We can’t have Donald Trump, as the president, bungling this this badly.

And then we get into this really weird thing where we’ve got, like, the Trumpies who can’t stand the fact that they can see that the New York Times is full of nonsense, and that the Democratic Party is filled with nonsense—which they’re quite accurate about. Or then you get, you know, all of the Democrats and the academics are like, “Oh my god, you’re opening us up to crazy anti-vaxxers and gun nuts,” you know? And it’s like, “Okay, well, first of all, whoever you guys are, don’t you realize that this is a pandemic, and this is the time to get all of the weak people, the stupid people, the non-creative people, the conventional people, out of the chairs?” And there’s like a religion about, “You can’t say that.” “Who would you put in the chairs? And why are your friends better than …”

It’s like … Look: I guarantee you that if you ask the virology community, “Who are the 10 best virologists in the world?” you get a fair amount of agreement. And the key thing that we don’t have is, we don’t have people who know that they have a job the next week if they speak the truth (or that they can get grants the next week).

But I wanted to continue to get back on this other topic, which is: What does it look like if you manage everything well? Do we ever go back to hugging strangers when we meet them? Do we ever go back to expecting that we’re going to walk down the street and not see face masks? Do we … Because you see, even if we get these vaccines for this, Balaji, it’s really the case that we forgot what pathogens WERE. You know? We’ve had this very long … Like, you know, you’re younger than I am and I at least had the Hong Kong flu as a very young kid. And, you know, most people don’t even remember that there WAS a Hong Kong flu in the late 60s. And that sense that swimming pools were a dangerous place during the polio epidemic. That … you know, we’ve BEEN through this stuff. And I’m not sure that this is the disease that … Maybe we’ll defeat this one, you know?

But there’s still some different thing, which is, are we going to continue to have, you know, gain-of-function research? Are we going to continue to have biosafety level 4 labs all over the world doing whatever it is that they do? Are we going to continue to be able to meet each other as strangers? Or is this a permanent cultural shift? Is it … I mean, I guess what I’m asking is, what is the likely trajectory for this particular disease?

BS: So … obviously predicting the future is challenging. But, here, let me give different scenarios, and I’ll give some probability estimates or whatever …

So I think the biggest branch point is, as I mentioned before, a) is there a drug or vaccine developed? And b) how fast? And obviously, in the event that some miracle cure comes out tomorrow and it’s scaled to billions of people … Well, even then, I still think … you’ve still got a giant crisis on your hands, because a lot of these jobs have basically been destroyed—there’s a lot of bankruptcy. You can’t unwind. You know Josh Wolfe actually had a good point on this where … to bring the market back up, you just need people to repurchase the stocks they just sold—it’s a reversible thing in the language of thermodynamics, right? But when lots of people are fired, businesses shut down and bankrupted, those folks get new jobs, they move other places, the economy gets reallocated … That’s not something you can just reverse, right? You can’t just click your fingers and reverse it. So even if …

EW: You can piece together any glass that you drop on a tile floor. It’ll just take you some time.

BS: Well … So my point is that when you have something where … The peak number of unemployed, on a weekly basis, was something like 7 million people (in the recent reports), and that was 10x the highest number during the financial crisis. And it took, I think, on the order of 10 years, like 2017, before unemployment levels returned to before the financial crisis. So when you’ve got 10x the financial crisis … I mean, I think that’s a generational recovery, just on the economic stuff. I mean potentially, at least. There’s a scenario that I don’t say 100% but that’s, like what I … Would I bet that this is worse than the financial crisis? Yes. Because it’s not fundamentally an economic event or a political event—it’s a biological event, right? It’s upstream.

Let me go a bit further. So let’s talk about … I want to answer your question. So I think Green Zones may be able to get it under control without a drug or vaccine just by testing, border control, and frankly, having locus of control, right? Like they say they BELIEVE that they can actually do it. Whereas Swedes and others have adopted some sort of fatalistic posture, which is “Everyone’s going to get it, so might as well get it over with.” And they don’t realize that that has a lot of risk to it. And … you know, it DOES. It just, like, it … Maybe it works out, right?

EW: Yeah, I don’t even understand … Look, every time somebody says one of these things, I just I scratch my head because I think, “Well, do you want to get it early before people understand best practices? Or do you want to get it late when people understand what works and what doesn’t?” For example.

2:11:45

BS: I mean, it’s … I SORT of get that people are like, “Oh, let me rip the band aid and get it over it.” But we don’t know what the length of immunity is. It’s OBVIOUSLY knocking out a bunch of people. I think it’s gonna make people sicker than they think it is. And why would you let … Basically, at one point, (I made this point to somebody), like, if you had the state capacity of a South Korea, or a Taiwan, or a New Zealand, or a China, or an Australia, or Slovakia, or any of these places that’s gotten it under control (or at least seems to have), you would never, if you had the option of getting it under control, CHOOSE herd immunity as a strategy. Like, you never do that, right? It’s like, “Hey, you’ve got a fire extinguisher. You put out the fire.” “Oh, let me burn down my house so that-, or let it burn my house such that, like, it’ll be a fire break to future fires in the future.” Okay, you know … might work. You know? But it wouldn’t be the strategy you would choose. It seems more like calling defeat “Oh, I meant to do that.” “Oh, I rejected Harvard.” You know? That kind of thing.

EW: It’s like if the old lady who swallowed a fly started with the horse.

BS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sort of like that. Right.

So I think the Red Zone/Green Zone distinction will be important as well, in terms of what that future looks like. In a Green Zone, I think you’re going to have a greater degree of normality. That is, say, you’re going to be able to assemble crowds. You’re going to be able to … People can go back to bars and so on. However, with that said, even in Green Zones … Did you see what happened in South Korea with the bar?

EW: Tell me.

BS: So a COVID-19 positive person (who was asymptomatic) walked into a bar and basically infected … went to five bars in a night and infected on the order of 40 to 70 people, resulting in 1900 people being tested and traced and 2000 bars being shut down. Okay? So that’s what a serious society is doing to keep this thing under control. And because …

An interesting mental model for this is a viral fire. Right? The fire is burning within people, and can pass between people, and can go “whoosh” like this very quickly. You know, people are kindling for the fire, right? If people are kept apart from each other, physically, the fire can’t spread. And so I think that the adaptation we’re going to have, I think … the most likely thing I can see is there’ll be very large economic costs for assembling large crowds in person. Especially large crowds or strangers.

EW: [indecipherable] incorporated externalities.

BS: Yeah. So what that means is, the pandemic insurance for your concert, or your rally, or something like that, is going to be high. Because in theory, you’re liable … once you know about this, once it’s no longer force majeure, this is … I mean, this is something that will be in every single contract, right?

So large crowds … I had one-liner for this, I call it “the physical divide.” The reason is, people used to talk about “the digital divide,” right? But for 70 years, we’ve gotten really good at packing a bunch of transistors on a chip—that’s become really cheap. You know what’s become suddenly really expensive, Eric? Putting a bunch of people in a room. Okay? So that’s become very, very, very expensive suddenly, okay? And so I think-

EW: [inaudible] have Balaji’s law, where we have to get more and more sparse as time goes on?

BS: So what I think is … yeah, there’s now … One of the big things is, there’s a tax on large in-person gatherings. And crucially, there’s a few big differences … People often quote this, they’ll be like, “Oh, hey, after the Spanish flu, we had the roaring 20s. It’s so ahistorical to say anything will change after this. It’ll all go back exactly how it was, you crazy tech person.” Right? And, you know, just like the “just the flu” kind of person, I call this argument “just the Spanish flu.”

EW: Just the Spanish one.

BS: Which I think is clever, right?

Okay. So the “just the Spanish Flu” argument basically says, “This is just the Spanish flu. Yeah, that killed like 100 million people. But nothing happened lasting from it. We had the roaring 20s. And you didn’t even read about it.” There are a few major differences. Not … yeah … Meaning: there are major differences from that period. And let me go through some, because I had to think about this a lot and do some research on it to articulate … Why would there be a branch point, right? Why would the Spanish Flu NOT seemingly have such a large effect, where people are in crowds two or three years later, but this this one would?

So first (and this is just to anchor), the economy … Do you know what the Carrington Event was? Okay, so for your readers or listeners, I think 1857 the Carrington Event was a solar storm that resulted in, basically like, telegraph’s catching fire or what have you. But for the most part, the economy of 1857 continued, despite this giant solar storm, because it wasn’t it wasn’t electric. Exactly.

So in a very obvious sense, the economy of 2020 is more vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse or a solar storm than the economy of 1857 or 1918. Right? So despite all our advancements, we’re more vulnerable along that axis of an electromagnetic pulse. Everybody would agree with that. Right? So then a fundamental question is, is the economy 2020 also more vulnerable, in an unarticulated sense, to a pandemic than the economy of 1918? Right? Because we can give an example where it WAS more vulnerable, because it is very explicit and quantifiable: it’s “electrical stuff no longer works.” Right? Once you kind of analogize (going back to a previous point) about how it’s like a health outage, just like a power outage. The difference is the power is more tangible, because you bank on its presence. With health, you’re depending on the infections absence, and so it’s only tangible in the opposite case. With a health outage, what businesses, what activities, what parts of our economy and society are premised on the absence of serious infectious disease from society?

So the most obvious one are crowds, right? Big crowds are out, and I think out for a generation. That’s something, at least as a … To materialize a crowd in one location will be considered a show of strength. Okay? It’s considered a society that is so confident, and so advanced, that it feels like it’s just wiped out the disease. OR, it is also possible, by the way, (and I want to make sure I …) … It is possible the herd immunity argument works. So I can’t say … I don’t say it’s not possible. I’ve just said it’s risky. You know? So it is possible that this tears through the whole population, like the Spanish Flu did, and then it’s not a recurring issue—it just kills 100 million or whatever it is, and then-

2:19:03

EW: … there’s an issue about, is the best thing (from the point of view of lineage) a blood bath? You know? That even if a small number of us make it through because … You know, take something where you’ve got a mutant receptor that makes it very difficult for the virus to attach. Just imagine.

BS: I mean, I think the best thing for lineage would be for us to invent … to get the biotechnology and biomedicine of 2100 and bring it into 2021 or 2020. Like, essentially to advance biomedicine quickly so that all the crazy stuff, like … For example, just getting a readout on your body to figure out exactly what’s wrong. This is … (Mike Snyder’s integrome is kind of like this. He’s a professor at Stanford Medical School who took a bunch of different assays and ran them all at the same time and was able to find out when he was getting sick, and when he was having diabetes or diabetes-like symptoms, because he could SEE the readouts. It wasn’t just univariate, it was highly multivariate.) So, like, getting readouts like that on people. OR all the promise of, like, nanomedicine. And this is stuff where it’s like you’re actually sending in mini-robots to go and attack the virus—all the crazy-sounding stuff. Or life extension—like what David Sinclair talks about.

EW: So that’s cool.

What about surveillance medicine? Surveillance-based medicine.

BS: Okay, so let’s talk about this. Right. So, the good scenario, as I was saying, is you advance biomedicine—in the treatment sense and so on, diagnostic sense—well enough that corona becomes a non-issue, COVID-19’s a non-issue (even if it’s still around).

I want to talk about interesting things that China is doing, just for people to know what they’re doing. Whether or not … One of the things that the US did is it copied lockdown from Italy, which in turn copied it from China. So we’ve already kind of cloned China without acknowledging we’re cloning China, without looking at the original source material to figure out exactly what they did. For example, they didn’t just give stay-at-home orders: Anybody who has tested positive was then sent to central quarantine. For example. Right? There’s 100 differences in terms of the execution. It’s like the difference between saying “Build a social network” and “Build Facebook,” right? There’s a huge difference in execution.

Okay. So that said, we should understand what China is doing. If not necessarily to copy it, but at least to understand. Okay. One of the things they’re doing is everybody in China has WeChat, and WeChat is not used that much in the West, but in China it’s like a combination PayPal and Messenger and Facebook and so on. But even more than that, it’s like your handheld interface to society. Any restaurant stall that you walk up to, any government building—anything!—has a digital interface on WeChat. And in fact, you don’t even need the physical interface. You don’t need a point-of-sale terminal. They’re just like, “Here’s my WeChat code,” and you just QR scan it and go, right?

Okay. So WeChat’s completely ubiquitous in China, and it’s something where one of the features they’ve rolled out in WeChat is a national COVID-19 app that gives every citizen a green, yellow, or red code—corresponding to … green is you’re considered healthy—you can travel, get on subways, whatever, keep going. Yellow is you are supposed to be (I think) stay-at-home, and you’re exposed, right? And red is you’re confirmed positive, you have to go to supervised quarantine. Okay?

Now, this is basically a way of instrumenting the entire country for Coronavirus. And you could imagine standing in front of a gigantic monitor—where you’re looking at the greens, yellows and reds across China—and … You know, of course those labels need to be kept up to date, which I’ll come back to, but assuming they are (kept up to date) by sensor fusion, you know, you take a bunch of different kinds of tests and you have, “Okay, what is P of a label equals Y (yellow) given this vector of variables [P(label=yellow | variables)], right? You basically have a conditional probability function that you’re estimating. So you have this gigantic screen (mentally, at least) which has all of these nodes moving around—and they’re colored green, yellow, or red—and now … if you remember that South Korea example: what happened was a red walked into a crowd of greens or a yellow walked into crowded greens in a bar. Now, rather than going in just trying to track them down, you can see them on screen. You can hit one button, and the 50 people that that yellow was near are all marked yellow themselves. And they all get text messages …

EW: Is this exciting to you?

BS: I think it’s-. So there’s obviously bad aspects to it, right? Like, in the sense of, this is Total Surveillance and so on. …

EW: I’m just … I’m … I’m monitoring a change in my friends, from going from being die-hard libertarians to “Oh my god, the surveillance economy is going to be huge!”

BS: I would never call myself a die-hard libertarian. Nor would I call myself a statist or anything like that. Let me explain why.

2:24:15

EW: I’m not talking about you. You’re too original. Forget it.

BS: Yeah, yeah.

EW: I have noticed, like, a very strange change, where a lot of my libertarian friends who are early on the virus are wildly into surveillance.

BS: So, here’s the thing about this. The pandemic is like a war, in the sense of … it is like being invaded by a virus. And, you know, Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus. There were many violations of civil liberties and so on that happened during World War II. But, crucially, the country did come back to a state of normality afterwards (after that rival was defeated; after that enemy was defeated).

And so there’s basically three models, right? The first model is, you don’t allow the state to do anything, and then you fall into kind of a market anarchy. (I’ll come back to that, because I think that’s what’s going to happen. And a lot of the US, we’re on track for that.)

The second model is, you do let the state do something, and it manages to solve the problem. (If it doesn’t, it goes back to market anarchy.) But it manages to solve the problem, and it doesn’t give up power, in which case by 2025, or 2026, or 2023, you’re going to be pushing hard on decentralization and crypto.

Or, in the third case (like the “good” government), it takes on these superpowers and then it, of its own accord, gives them up later, right? Now, that’s unlikely, but it’s not completely unprecedented. For example, South Africa, in the transition from apartheid, gave up nukes. Ukraine, when it became an independent Soviet republic, gave up its nukes. So it is unlikely for a state to give up its powers, but it’s not unprecedented for it to do so—it does happen sometimes.

So those are kind of three outcomes. I’d say what I’m most excited about (I’m not really excited about anything), but I do think that the best bet is an intelligent state that puts out the viral fire and then sends the fire engines home. You know? Like it does not, does not maintain that infrastructure for …

EW: So you say “intelligent state.” Do you mean “intelligent” as in smart or “intelligent” as in surveillance?

BS: Intelligent as in smart. As in, like, “enlightened.” You know?

So, just going back to the yellow, red and green code thing. So, the thing about this is, we already, in the US, have NSA tracking of cell phones—that’s been around since 2013, at least (Snowden has revealed that). We have lockdown and house arrest. We have taken on a ton of the economic costs. It kind of seems to me like, you know, you’d want to put out the viral fire.

But let me describe a little bit further this system, how it works. (By the way, to be clear, I’m not advocating for this. I’m just saying how it works so you can see it.) So focus[?] on this green, yellow and red code. And now there’s another aspect to it, which is, (at least it’s been reported that) China is trying to test all 11 million people in Wuhan in 10 days. Okay? Now, if they can do that, you’ve got WeChat, which is the social graph. Okay? So you visualize the social graph of Wuhan, and it’s superimposed on the map—everyone’s got x y coordinates and these nodes are kind of walking around, and they’re connected to each other in at least two ways. One is A is a friend of B. The other is a proximity graph, which is based on their x-y locations over time and whether they’re near enough to somebody else (because you can certainly be PHYSICALLY near somebody who’s not your friend in the social network, right?).

So you have this graph—the social network and proximity graph—and now you superimpose colors (green, yellow and red). And now, what they’re doing with this testing thing, is they’re trying to test (again, it’s been reported) 11 million people in 10 days. And if you have the state capacity to do that, it’s like dropping a massive amount of flares over a region such that you’re lighting up ALL of the nodes. It’s like total testing, right? It’s no longer population sampling, it’s total testing. And now you’ve got very fresh labels on the nodes—are they green, yellow or red? And here’s the crucial thing: If you can do that, if you can take an entire city, if you can light up the entire city social network with testing and find the yellow and red nodes, well, you would find any hidden disease reservoirs. That’s so amazing. You could then centrally quarantine or you have them do stay-at-home and you put out the fire because you find the disease reservoirs, right? And then you don’t have to, like … You can now do that like city by city. Okay? It’s like a clear-and-hold strategy; it’s like counterinsurgency.

So with just testing and quarantine, you could potentially put out the virus like this. Right? Now the reason I described this is, it’s … you might think, “Wow, that’s an insane violation of civil liberties that we would never do,” etc, etc. But that was what people said about what happened with the lockdown in Wuhan. And then it was basically done by Western countries like six weeks later. (And done in a bad and amateurish kind of way. It was like, if you’re doing a lockdown, you don’t want to … there’s 100 things that had never done[?].) And I published a bunch of this stuff in March, by the way, on what was actually happening in other countries—South Korea, Taiwan, etc.

But point being that it is possible—potentially, (it APPEARS possible)—to put out the viral fire with techniques short of a drug or vaccine. And this makes sense in the sense of … the US conquered a bunch of infectious diseases before they had PCR testing, before they had genome sequencing. You know, sometimes, like, quarantine and elbow grease can get you much farther than you might think.

So let me pause there. That gives some sense of how you can get the virus under control.

2:30:35

EW: Well, I appreciate your analogy to wartime. I often talk about regulated expression as a paradigm that we don’t use enough [simultaneous speech] … Well just from biology, that you have some reaction that you don’t want to be present, generally. But the idea is like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna upregulate this and downregulate that relative to the situation.” And saying that this is like life during wartime means that there are restrictions on civil liberties that aren’t usually in place. And then, you know, the concern, of course, is that the argument “Well, we already have x and so this is x plus epsilon.” “We already had Snowden revelations, and so we know that we’re doing this already, we should just make use of the data.” You know, if I play that game, that compounds to tyranny very quickly. Now, [simultaneous speech] information that says that, so and so is going to give syphilis to so and so else today, you know?

BS: Yeah, totally. And the thing is, basically, the US government has proven itself so incompetent in this current set of circumstances that I don’t think it would be smart to advocate for it having any more power. So I want to be clear about that. But I do think it’s important to understand what is being done successfully in the rest of the world, even if it’s not imitated directly.

For example, there’s privacy-preserving contact tracing. Maybe that gets you 60%. Maybe you have something where enough people opt in to a green/yellow/red code system to put out the fire in their city. There’s there’s different ways …

EW: So I think you’ve actually hit this nail on the head before and I want to bring back Balaji on Balaji, then.

BS: Okay.

W.,
Which would be … I think what you’re saying is that trust is a competitive advantage in the current world. Because if trust is high between a population and its government, that government can do things to fight a virus, that somebody else can’t and that means it’s a better place to do your production, manufacturing, what-have-you.

BS: Absolutely.

EW: So this is the thing that I’m very upset about with the US, which is: I don’t trust these people because they’re bad. They’re obviously bad. They’re stupid. They’re incompetent. They’re kleptocratic. They’re not technically adept. I get bored of saying this because I know people who are those things and they’re sitting at home—they’re not called up. You could solve this problem tomorrow if you could call up the Mark Andreesens, Patrick Collisons, Balaji Srinivasans, Laura Demings … I mean, you know, there’s any one of a number of people who are just very mentally agile. And if you had them addressing the country, you could completely change the US perspective on the virus. The key thing that we see is, is that I see Larry Kudlow and Steve Mnuchin[?] on a on a coronavirus panel—I’m just thinking, like, “What?”

BS: So let me give you some, like, aspect of how this is actually happening, in some way, different-

EW: So do you buy into this idea that trust is a central asset?

BS: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I’ve talked about that a lot. I mean, I’m not a ideological … So, ideological anything, usually … It’s funny. One can go meta and say, “Oh, you’re making an absolutist statement about absolute statements.”

EW: [indecipherable]

BS: Yeah. But let’s just say ideology, in general, is about 100% consistency. But I think a better model is: ideology often identifies sliders (like polls), and then any particular situation requires you to set those sliders at some parameter values that are difficult to intuit in advance or even verbally defend. The only way you can defend it is outcome-based. Like, do people buy your product or not? Do they come to your country or not? Did you make the right set of trade-offs that you can give some kind of high level ideological justification of, maybe, but the specific parameter values—how much surveillance versus how much not; how much coercion versus how much voluntary—those are just, like … the exact dials can’t be discovered (in my view) by angels on the heads of a pin, but solely by what people respond to or not and how much wealth and health is created for the population, in a broad-based sense.

Coming to your second point. So that’s kind of like how I think about it is … ideology plays well verbally and on Twitter … ideology is viral, but pragmatism is functional. And I think that that’s like the Singapore style of “combine whatever things you need to make something work, but get the highest health and wealth for your population,” that’s-

2:35:38

EW: Well there’s another dimension, in my opinion. So you have the ideology playing well on the internet … practicality, I understand what you’re saying.

But there’s another thing, which is coherence. So for example, the New York Times, CNN, NPR, the Democratic Party are coherent. They may be coherent around nonsense. But if they all decide to start moving in one general direction, they will coordinate their movement enough that, in my opinion, the big knock against our world (our shared world) is that there’s a tremendous amount of noise, and in this haystack of noise are more often found the needles of truth than over in the establishment area.

So, in general, my feeling is that somebody in our network is usually on top of most of these topics before it’s clear to anyone else. But there is a fair amount of noise to sort through.

BS: So your previous point was very important one, which is: how do we get competent people into positions of leadership? Right? And I’d say there’s many dimensions to this. Let me give you one reassuring thing, which is: Gates and Bezos ARE doing some amazing things with the resources they have. For example, Bezos has said that Amazon is putting $4 billion of its profits into COVID-19 supply chain stuff. And Gates is spending billions of his own money on vaccines.

And the critical thing … Do you have the concept of bioavailability from pharmaceuticals? Have you heard that concept? Okay, so, if you take take a drug, there’s different ways you can take it—intravenously, orally, sometimes you can inhale it, and so on and so forth. And a critical question is, okay, you take 100 cc’s of something or 100 units of some drug. And then the question is, is it actually bioavailable? Does it actually hit your system, or does it leach out? Is it excreted and it’s not properly metabolized and it’s just in one orifice out the other. Okay? And bioavailability is often set to, like, 100% for intravenous administration. But the point is that you might take a drug, but it might not actually be that active—you might just excrete it without it hitting the relevant part of the body where you want it to excrete. And that’s the difference between the $2 trillion that the US government printed, and the $4 billion that Amazon is allocating toward COVID-19. Amazon will be a very careful steward of that capital because it’s run by Bezos, and he’s smart, and competent, and ultimately there’s one decision maker who’s very smart and engaged—and that’s him—to resolve any conflicts now the money’s allocated.

Those government’s $2 trillion, I remember seeing that and I was like, “Okay, well how much of that is masks and vaccines and this and drugs and testing and whatnot?” And I think there was something in there for hospitals, but most of it was not that. It was just a gigantic pork barrel thing with everybody getting an ask-in[?] and so on. That was when capital is allocated politically rather than ideologically. So that was capital that was highly non-bioavailable. It was $2 trillion, but only a fraction of that actually hit the target of the virus, as opposed to what Bezos and Gates are doing, which are very focused efforts with their own capital—one 1,000th as much capital, not 2 trillion, but like a billion—however, it was capital that, because an individual was pointing it, it was actually on target, as opposed to just, you know, sprayed all over the place, right?

EW: It was on target for the individual, whatever that person is trying to accomplish.

BS: Correct. That’s right.

But I think that is where we’re likely to go. Where we have these West Coast leaders who have enough individual capital and know-how and networks and capability … they’re actually able to put a dent in this thing with far less resources than the state. And I think over time, what that leads to is building up larger and larger and larger audiences.

And here’s why … Let me talk about audiences think for a second. There’s two different kinds of truths (at least): there’s political truths and technical truths. And a political truth is something which is based on the software installed in people’s heads. That is to say, for example, where the borders of a country? Or how much is the currency worth? Or who is the President? Those are ultimately things which are based on the software installed in people’s heads. And if you can change enough of that—if you can muscle them into believing something else—you can actually change where the border is located. You can change what the currency is worth. You can change who the President (or the leader of some organization) is. Okay.

Then, separately from that, there are technical truths, which are, you know, the diameter of this virus. Or the value of this expression in math. Or the gravitational constant. Right? Those are things which no amount of muscling of people’s brains is going to change, because they’re physics or they’re math, right? Or science. And it’s impor-.

I mean the thing is that … there’s also interesting things in the middle, right? Like something like cryptocurrency uses technical truths to make it harder to change political truths in certain ways. Because people are coming to consensus on who holds what money, but cryptography is being used to make it difficult to muck with that.

What’s my point? Point is, political truths are important. Political truths are where a lot of where the money is. Political truths are where our entire establishment is focused on and they’re incapable of thinking about technical truths at all. Here’s an interesting point: If you can convince enough people (like if you can get enough backlinks), then I think you can change things. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be through a standard process. I think, for example, if you just built a large enough specialist social network in San Francisco, I bet you could win the election of San Francisco—that would actually be an afterthought. For example, if you built up a San Francisco COVID-19 response community and you organized … (And maybe San Francisco is not a great place to start, by the way. It’s pretty hard nut to crack. Okay?)

EW: But Balaji, the thing is, is that … Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t really see—between the West Coast, the East Coast, and the nostalgic perspective (which I seem to represent)— … none of us seem to have it right. But I’ll be honest. I’ve spent enough time around West Coast billionaires to know that they don’t part with large amounts of money very easily.

BS: [laughing] Sure.

EW: No, seriously. There’s an incompetent news story that’s constantly written about, “So-and-so has a limitless wallet … $10 million is like blowing his nose …” And it’s like, I’ve never met this person where $10 million is like blowing your nose.

BS: Right.

EW: I’ve never met someone so rich that they can’t think about whether or not they want to spend $10 million on something.

So we just had some sort of a rapid grant thing going on with, like, multiple billionaires all getting together to put up $11 million. So my first feeling about this is, we’re not that good on the West Coast to be able to take all this stuff on.

2:43:41

BS: No, not all of it.

Can I say one thing though? [echo/simultaneous]

EW: No no no.

BS: Okay, go.

EW: I’m going to get myself in trouble with my new tribe.

BS: Fine.

EW: My new tribe likes to talk an awful lot about dis-intermediating corrupt institutions, and then it can’t actually get its own act together (very deeply). The magic is supposed to be when these people inhabit the regular institutions. Then the regular institutions have to up their game because you’ve got a lot of people asking unfamiliar questions; the kleptocracy goes down—because people who are making their money by doing new things or pissed off about people making money from stealing things. …

And we are treating the problem of, how do we remove septuagenarians from our political parties (who’ve been there forever, or just got there)? You know, how do I get rid of Trump? Pretty easy, to me: you just stop the Democratic Party from being as corrupt and soulless as it is. How do you get rid of the people in the Democratic Party? Well, they’re gonna die, you know, in 20 … In the next 25 years, the current crowd of people who seem to be in control are going to age out of this thing. My guess is that within 5 to 10 years, there’re going to be far fewer of these types of people than there are now. …

And we’re treating this (weirdly) as like a given. Like, we can’t get rid of the rot. And I don’t want to keep getting back into it—it’s not that interesting—but I honestly don’t think that the West Coast solution … It’s like, you know, if you get a bunch of tech billionaires … Jack Dorsey has stepped up to the plate at a surprising level, if I understand correctly what he’s giving for COVID …

BS: But I’m not talking about ‘giving’—we need to be very precise about this. [? bad audio quality]

EW: Sorry, but yes, I’m talking about directing the capital. Remaining engaged. Bringing the same thing that built the businesses and built the VC fortunes into the mix, so that the idea is that you have an idea of “get shit done,” you have an idea of “get stuff funded,” …

BS: Even more precise than that, though, which is: what Amazon is doing is essentially rolling out the technologies to turn the Amazon campus into a Green Zone. And then it can sell that to other people as a business model to start expanding Green Zones out, where they MVP it for their own company first, they show that it works (because they’ve got outcome statistics in terms of who’s sick and so on), and essentially build a private health care system slash management system, and it radiates out from there. That is like the West Coast model, rather than trying to start with $2 trillion in a top-down kind of thing …

EW: No, I’m not talking about starting with $2 trillion.

BS: Yeah, I know, I know, I know-

EW: Amazon has a different situation because of its particular business model. Obviously, you know, a world that isn’t going to go out shopping quite as much in brick-and-mortar … this has accelerated a move towards online purchases … All sorts of things are happening, alright? And I understand that you can actually start to implement this and experiment within your companies, etc. Obviously, what Elon is doing in at an atoms-based company rather than an electron-based company is different.

Maybe I’m just bored of hearing my own take on this. But somehow there was a lost notion of competency that we had relatively recently that nobody thinks is even worth trying to get back.

2:47:17

BS: I’m not saying it’s not worth trying to get back. I am saying that I don’t think the mechanism for doing so is going to be a front door mechanism.

EW: Okay. And I appreciate the kitty-corner and trying to sneak up on things. You know, these are interesting-

BS: Yes. I wouldn’t even initially call it “sneak up on it” because that involves, like … It is more, accepting what you CAN change today with what you have. Doing that and then seeing what door opens in two years or three years. Right?

By Bezos, for example, … Let’s say Bezos going and fixing Amazon … which is within his power, right? I mean, a very important question … You know, like there’s that kind of thing that they make people say when they’re in, like, rehabilitation facilities (like 50 cent raps about this). It’s like, (I’m gonna butcher it), it’s, “God, give me the strength to know the … to change things that-“

EW: [simultaneous] Accept the things I cannot change …

BS: … Yeah. And the wisdom to know the difference. Right, exactly.

So, essentially, where is one’s locus of control? Right? Basically, it is … What is it that you can actually control yourself—without requiring some new powers, without getting new permissions from somebody, without winning an election … What can you do today? What’s under one’s control?

And I have a feeling that if there’s somebody who comes up with a reproducible strategy to develop … to turn things into Green Zones (and shows that with outcome statistics), that that person will, by dint of that success, be able to parlay that into larger and larger successes. And then you can see where that goes.

EW: But, Balaji … Okay, yes. But then, you know, I’m gonna have all my usual problems, right? Which is, what if that person does it through surveillance (through an unacceptable level of surveillance)?

I can’t stand surveillance. I fri**en hate it. And I’ve learned through time that most people don’t feel this way. They accept surveillance. You know? They don’t have a sense, like, you know … If I’m going to speak out about Jeff Epstein, if I’m going to speak out about our intelligence services, if I’m going to speak out about lots of different things, I want surveillance to be dangerous, illegal, expensive and difficult.

Somebody says, like, [dumb voice] “I don’t know, if it keeps me from getting sick, let them know!” Okay, so then we’re gonna have this. If you start telling me about these private solutions and Green Zones, and, you know, this whole nine yards, I’m going to say, “Okay, well, I don’t know where that’s going.” Maybe the idea is that we’re going to get an incredibly Jeff Bezos-type answer for what the world should be. Maybe I don’t want an Amazon-friendly version of this. Maybe I want a man-in-the-street, median individual-friendly version of this. Maybe I don’t …

Maybe I’m really frustrated, which is … We’re going to do what you’re saying because we’ve got this particular class of people we can’t get rid of. And they’re going to be gone soon. They’re just not going to be gone in time. Like, if you imagine that Andrew Yang, for example, were the nominee, rather than Biden (presumptively), I guarantee you that Andrew Yang would be making use of this time to tell us what it sounded like to be in direct dialogue with technical people. He would have a more technical version of this thing. But he couldn’t-

BS: But I mean, even … But, you know, it feels like-. I think one big difference between us on this is: you’re much, much more focused on electoral politics than I am. And the … I think one difference is, I don’t believe that that is actually the most important locus of how things get done. You know, there’s technology, there’s a permanent bureaucracy, there’s … I mean, like, … Like, folks are on Twitter, right?

EW: [inaudible]

BS: What’s that?

2:51:34

EW: I don’t trust Google’s relationship to China. I don’t necessarily trust Tech’s relationship to China.

BS: [laughs]

EW: I don’t always love the business community’s solutions for things, which are also corrupt. You know, like the way in which we talk about what we do as “all of it is just returns to technology and competence and brilliance” is a bit of a PR campaign, you know? And the government has their version of a PR campaign and legacy media has their version of this. And I guess what my take on this is, is that I’m CLOSER to the Tech version, but there’s a missing chunk, you see? And I think that science is the most important part of this missing chunk. The thing that’s really flipping me out is that no one is trying to restore independent science—the kind of science you can do when you’re not worried about your funding.

BS: So I’m going to talking about the PR campaign aspect.

I understand that vantage point. I think that you don’t want to be really on a PR campaign. You want to be on a RESULTS campaign. And, …

EW: No, no … we’re going to get into this … Let me head it off at the path.[?]

If you want to say what your results are, I’m going to say to you, “Okay, cases reduced per unit surveillance, or cases reduced?”

BS: Right. Except, so, [indecipherable] you add that as a metric. And if it is truly the case that … ‘Cause here’s the thing. You know what Chrome Web Inspector is? Okay, so if you launch any web browser, there’s a thing you can do where you can show every tracking pixel and everything that loads on a webpage. And you should just do that sometime. And you’ll see … Like, you go to techcrunch.com, you’re in, like, 100 databases. Okay? You’re already there. Right? Now, you can argue that is bad. (And I would agree with you in many ways. And I think that there are technologies like Zero Knowledge and so on that maybe can get us there—Brave is working on Zero Knowledge ads—and get us much of what we currently have with the internet by also protecting privacy. Potentially. Or you move to, like, a micropayment ecosystem where you’re just sending the money and not your information. … Lots of different models are there.)

But I look at … I’m pro privacy, pro decentralization, pro encryption. I think that we can get there with some combination of technology and policy and whatnot. However, I also recognize that maybe we’ve got only a stone axe right now. And we’ve got a beast that’s coming at us. And, you know, take that thing out first, and then figure it out later. Right?

And now, there’s another possibility …

EW: I think my point would be: Consider fragging your commanding officer first, putting somebody competent in charge, and then regrouping—like, what’s the next part of the plan? If we can’t get rid of our commanding officer, then we’ve got a real problem.

BS: So, the thing is that … a better way of doing it, I think, is just pulling the backlinks away. Okay? So take your example (I mean, look, you can’t do this in a platoon or whatever), but a guy goes off and says, if it were legitimate-. It’s better in a startup, okay? Let me use that analogy rather than a platoon, because … being disobedient in the military is different.

But you’ve got a company and let’s say the traitorous eight, they just left and they just did their own thing. And the folks who followed them followed them—it’s a free country. And so the backlinks that were pointing in this direction are now pointing in another direction. So if you pull enough backlinks over, then you’ve reformed the system without changing it in a direct way—you haven’t taken it on in the front, you’ve taken on the backdoor.

EW: So the United States of Blockchain …

BS: It’s not blockchain only. It’s a tool.

EW: I’m just … I think that this is kind of a weird intellectual impasse, which is: I’m not disagreeing with you, Balaji, that the current system is corrupt/doesn’t work/can’t get it done/new things are exciting, they’re happening elsewhere.

I think we live in a persistent fantasy, either about what’s possible with, sort of, West Coast mentality …

2:56:21

BS: Well, I can say one thing that we haven’t talked about, which I think is very important. I think that the layer that … How would you reform the East Coast with West Coast tactics? Okay? Let’s maybe talk about that for a second.

I think that, for example, what Bloomberg did (where he spent like $500 million on the election (at least as reported)), I think that was a waste of money. But I do think that an equivalent amount of money spent on personal media corporations—that is, getting as many people to do Substack like things as possible, that are broadly aligned with the future (like with technology, they’re pro-transhumanism, they’re pro all this good stuff)—that would have, actually, a major impact. And it’s something that can be funded. It’s something that doesn’t require a huge amount of resources. It’s something that can probably at least break even. (Not that media companies necessarily make a ton of money.)

But the reason is, that writing is fighting. And if you have a large number of new writers who are scientists and engineers … And, crucially, these should be, I think, citizen journalists as opposed to corporate journalists—they’re not full time journalists, they have personal media corporations, meaning they basically have like a, like … they’re getting like $1,000 a year or $2,000 a year from a Substack equivalent or Substack itself. And they don’t have … This is not something they’re doing full time. This is a model where it’s something in between, like, a blogger and a journalist. But it is something where you’ve got a serious hobby of writing, and if you had 1000 people like that in SF (or anywhere), that would definitely shift the debate on the topic. And it would shift electoral politics; it would shift the Overton window; it would shift-

EW: I really don’t think this [simultaneous]

BS: You don’t agree.

EW: We’re in some kind of disagreement. My feeling is, is that there are plenty of smart, interesting people—you can find them all over the internet—it has nothing to do with anything. The key thing has to do with this sort of centralized exchange that I’ve called the Gated Institutional Narrative. And the idea is, it’s a world that only listens to itself. You can say the smartest things in the worl-

Like, you got attacked by tech journalists, I assume?

BS: [] Everybody gets attacked by tech journalists—that’s all they do. Yeah.

EW: For being early on COVID.

BS: Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s true. Yes.

EW: Okay. So whatever that group of people is that seems to continue to persist no matter how many times they get things wrong: they clearly upset; they’re angry; they’re pissed off; they always have a job. Okay?

What I’m talking about is, roughly speaking, we did not get independence to the people who could use it. And we didn’t seat them in institutional chairs. And I don’t know why I seem to be the only person on this particular kick—it’s clear as day to me. But the idea is, …

You know, and let me go back to Noam Chomsky. Why does Noam Chomsky sit at MIT? He’s in his 90s. It’s because we used to have … People like you would … You’d be a professor!

BS: Okay, but let me [?] you there, though. Isn’t it better that Larry and Sergey went into Google than became professors at Stanford? Or that Zuckerberg went into Facebook rather than becoming a professor at Harvard?

EW: I can’t do this. Yes, for a few of the winners. But do you know how many people who were supposed to be … who became neither Larry nor Sergey and didn’t end up in a position in a chair where they could do anything … Like, you know, the FDA is in shambles. The CDC is in shambles. Harvard’s in shambles. You need people with agency protected from the people who want to control them by regulating whether they have a job on Monday if they mouth off on Friday.

I think that really what I’m trying to say, Balaji, is that there is no substitute for journalistic independence or academic freedom. It’s not on the blockchain. It’s not a question of … Mostly speaking, the very rich people that we discuss, on the West Coast, who have made it as so-called technologists … First of all, they’re really not technologists, they’re really business people …

BS: [laughing] It’s both. It is both, but go ahead.

EW: … But very often, the people who are really technologists just WORK for them. I’m sorry to say. And I’m not saying … There are all sorts of weird things that the West Coast does differently. And one thing is, is that it tries to bury the concept that their actual … Like, we’ll always talk about Larry and Sergey and we’ll never talk about the master coder who came up with MapReduce, you know?

BS: Jeff Dean?

EW: Yeah.

BS: And Sanjay Ghemawat? Yeah, I know them.

EW: Well, yeah. I know YOU do, because you’re local[?]. But that was my point.

If I said, Jeff Dean, do you think that the world-in-general knows who he is?

3:01:34

BS: No, but the people who SHOULD know do know. I mean, I should actually-

EW: [simultaneous] Many more people should know.

BS: I think you’re right about that. So, … But here’s the thing, is … Okay, a few different things. Several different things to shoot out there.

First, you talked about folks being under economic sanction, such they couldn’t speak freely, and how does the blockchain solve that? Actually, this is something blockchain is pretty good at for two reasons. First is, you can earn pseudonymously. So you can separate out your earning name, your speaking name, and your real name. So that you only use your real name on official forums, you speak under one pseudonym, and earn under yet a third. And that starts to isolate your job from your speech from your, you know, kind of your real name. Right? So that’s kind of one aspect.

The second aspect is that the mainstreaming of crypto (and also cryptography as well as cryptocurrency) is mainstreaming encryption. And so technologies like Keybase, and so on, allow you to communicate with others, or even publish your thoughts pseudonymously, or in an encrypted fashion without someone being able to target you for thoughtcrime. Right?

So I actually do think that those two things are pretty important.

EW: Okay, we’re gonna get into another one of these things. But my point is that … It’s like we’re constantly working around something, you know, like …

What’s the problem with thoughtcrime? The problem with thoughtcrime is we’ve got a bunch of people terrifying everybody. A tiny number of people terrifying everyone—that if you observe what you see with your own eyes or hear with your own ears, you’re Satan. You know? I don’t even know why, for example, I have no idea why my world is SO convinced that I should never mention the Wuhan lab or you’re a crazy person. Like, I don’t even know where that COMES from. It’s not part of science. It’s not part of being a grown up. It’s it’s some sort of a directive that I don’t understand. I can’t grasp it.

BS: It’s decentralized consensus. It’s basically some … It’s quasi-decentralized. And here’s what I mean: It’s not something where most of the people repeating it were told to repeat it. It is that they saw it on social media or they heard it from somebody, and they saw the tone in which it was uttered (and it’s usually uttered in like a contemptuous tone, where A is looking down on B), and they don’t be the person looked down on. And so then it’s repeated that way.

Now, some of them actually go and diligence it for its factual characteristics, but that’s rare.

EW: You remember the Sinclair Broadcasting Network’s …

BS: Yeah, right. The only thing-. The thing that was funny about that is, that happens all the time—that was just something where someone put in the effort to go and get all of those clips out of a TV news search engine. Which was impressive and actually worth doing, but, you know, that happens all the time for all kinds of stories …

EW: Well Jon Stewart made something of a career showing that they were talking points, and that everybody fanned out[?] from the party …

BS: Right, right, right, exactly. Yep.

EW: But, like, at some level … Look, I think we’re going around and around on something which I would like to just exit from. I understand that the current situation looks hopeless and pointless, and that we have new technologies and … Fine.

3:05:18

BS: Can I give a positive vision of the future? Like what things, you know …

EW: Yeah. Why don’t you close this out with a positive vision of the future, you and I can talk about other things another show. That’d be great.

BS: Okay, great. So, positive vision of the future.

First, I think we’re going to get a Y-shaped recovery. Which is to say, not V-shaped (where it bounces back) or W-shape (where it bounces up and down), but Y-shaped in the sense of, we’re on one branch of the economy, and now we’re taking a totally different one. And so the BAD part about that is, I think we’re deprecating the physical leisure economy. So bars, concerts, restaurants, travel, hotels, a lot of that stuff will be looked back on nostalgically when, you know, a middle class person could easily travel, and vacation meant international travel. I think air travel, that type of stuff, is going to be less [inaudible].

But: where does that reallocation go to? Info, bio, crypto, robo, agro, and maybe astro. Okay?

So “info”: anything digital? That’s obvious. So that just continues. But that includes virtual reality. That includes cryptocurrencies, and so on.

Bio also goes without saying. I think this is now … People have talked about this being the Century of Biology, but I think we’re going to get 50 years of progress in 10, or even faster. And it’s not going to stop at corona. It’s going to be something where … One thing that’s actually underappreciated: people have gotten used to waking up in the morning and checking dashboards. They usually check it for, you know, their email dashboard or personal dashboard or their company dashboard—their metrics. But now they’re checking it for countries. And they’re checking it not just for money or things like that, but for health. That’s very new. It’s not like people didn’t look at life expectancy. But real-time dashboards of how countries are doing in terms of health and wealth starts to reorient towards better metrics, I think, for society. And hopefully, we apply that to tracking diabetes and heart disease … I’m not saying EVERYBODY will track it to the same extent they’re tracking corona, but in the same way the financial crisis awakened an entire generation to thinking about the Fed and the money supply and being aware of those graphs, I think you’re gonna have a much larger number of people looking at health. So we start thinking about important problems, and maybe we throw, not just money, but energy and time and intelligence at anti-aging, at brain machine interface, at limb regeneration, at stem cells … All of these kinds of things exist, but could use a shot in the arm. Okay? So bio.

Then crypto … I think this is both-. I mean, obviously I’m very “bull” on crypto. But crypto is … the crypto economy is … it’s Bitcoin, but it’s also … In many Red Zones, and in places where there’s market controls being put in place, I think crypto is going to be essential.

Robo, again goes without saying. But whether it’s drone delivery (I don’t know if you’ve seen these sidewalk robots that are rolling around), whether it’s the manufacturing robots, whether it’s bringing supply chains back to the US, …

EW: Boston Dynamics in Singapore.

BS: Boston Dynamics in Singapore. Right, exactly.

I love all that stuff, because any time you can have a robot do something, you’re freeing up a human to do a higher value thing. And … Or, in this case, you’ve also got the hygiene argument, where you’d much rather have one human and five robots touch something, then … like a …

EW: You know something? I can just feel it. You’re gonna tell me that, you know … First, it’s going to be, well, we already have robots that bark orders. Now it’s gonna be tasers …

BS: [laughing] No, no. I mean, here’s the thing …

EW: … tasers. Then it’s gonna be like drones with with 50 caliber ammunition. And the idea is that everything’s gonna be incrementally just a little … Like, we-

3:09:17

BS: I’m very conscious of the slippery slope argument. And in fact, I AGREE with it. What I’m basically saying … When I made that previous comment, what I was basically saying is that: We have the costs of this already. In the sense of, we have this NSA surveillance apparatus. It’s already there. You assume, hopefully, that someone could use it for good, because what is it being used for otherwise? I don’t know, right?

EW: Or we could shrink it.

BS: We could shrink it, that’s right. But I think that …

EW: … and make it make it responsive to civic, civil liberties.

BS: Sure, absolutely. You know, … OR you have, alternatively, a competent state, which takes root privileges for a period of time and then either gives them up or is forced to give them up later, right?

But, okay, so just finishing, like, the good scenario.

So robo is, as I mentioned, it’s robotic factories, it’s … basically like the real future, right? It’s autonomy, it’s drones, it’s automation of all kinds.

And then agro is actually kind of part of, you know, it’s got pieces of the others, but certainly food production is going to be a big thing. But food production in a hygienic way, you know? Like meatpacking plants, for example, are probably going to get robotized. Just given that, like, they’ve all gotten corona infections. And, you know, maybe people will eat foods that are less amenable to … For example, the organic foods, or the free range chicken type stuff is less factory farmed, and therefore there’s less people around, and so it’s less, I think, intensive, and so maybe it has a lower infection rate. That kind of thing may happen, right?

So those sectors—info, bio, crypto, robo, agro, and the last Astro (with what Elon is doing with Starlink)—those combine for really interesting scenarios. Like, for example, go and move from the city out to a really cheap rural area with a huge house, and it’s like 1/10th the cost, or whatever, depending on how far out you go. And you’ve got Starlink, so you’ve got internet. Every job is remote work, so you can pick from any job and switch jobs very easily—the liquidity of global labor market shoots up. You have drone delivery, and so you’re connected, you know, via Amazon. You have fewer drives, but they’re self-driving, …

EW: Your carbon footprint goes way down.

BS: Your carbon footprint goes way down, that’s right. And you’re in tune with nature. You know, you can walk outside and see green and you’re basically … It’s like a techno-rural sort of lifestyle.

Somebody told me Asimov’s book, The Naked Sun, talks about something like this, and I have to go and read it because I had not read until it was mentioned.

EW: I should say, I also did the intro to one of my episodes where I talked about my wife’s general belief, which is that coronavirus effectively just accelerates all aspects of the future that were being held back.

BS: Yes, that’s right. So let’s talk about three of the biggest ones, right? Education, healthcare, and real estate.

So last one first: real estate. So for the last, I don’t know how many years, people in San Francisco and big cities have all been talking about, “Oh, my God, we can’t build skyscrapers,” you know, because of … you know, the NIMBY versus YIMBY thing. And generally, I’ve been on the YIMBY side—it reduces costs to be able to build, etc. But now, we may obviate that entirely. For example, one of the things I’ve been talking about on Twitter: VR has gotten really good. Oculus Quest is, I think, the most important device since the iPhone.

EW: It’s amazing.

BS: It’s amazing, right? And it’s under-hyped relative to how good it is.

EW: The previous version seemed to have been slightly overhyped, and then people lost interest, [unclear]

3:13:16

BS: Right. That’s right. So one of the things I’m doing is experiments with portfolio companies of mine, where everybody’s buying Oculus Quests, and seeing if they can do, effectively, like a virtual office. Okay?

Now, there’s another version of this, which is, let’s say that folks move out from the cities—because cities are big crowds, basically, right? Like, remember the one thing I think is a pretty sure bet will decline, are big crowds. When I say “decline,” doesn’t mean go to zero, but it means declines.

EW: I’m with you.

BS: Okay, so cities—and big crowds in general (a city is like a persistent big crowd)—… you get away from the city. You go to techno-rural kind of thing. You’ve got a backyard now. What you could do, is you could drop a shipping container that is both a home office and a VR room in the backyard. And it doesn’t have to be exactly a shipping container—it can be a modular, okay? You’ve got home office plus VR room. And what’s interesting is, for a company, I would rather (for my 10 employees) pay, let’s say 100K, for 10 VR rooms and the VR gear, and then I don’t have to pay anything more. Right? Like, it’s not a lease. It’s like a piece of capital equipment. It’s an amazing perk that you get. And, you know, maybe it’s like something where the employee’s in on half of it—there’s all kinds of deals or whatever you can work out with that.

But the point is, now you’ve done something where you’ve decentralized commercial real estate. You’ve networked together a bunch of cheap pieces of property to create something where you can now deliver the office itself as a service. Okay? So that is to say, you’ve got these VR rooms, you deliver a virtual office in VR, and you can change the lighting, you can have rooms that have persistent whiteboards, you can teleport somebody in for a business meeting. This concept of actually making Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office VR, or whatever … that will actually happen. I think it’s pretty cool[?].

EW: [ad voice] Not the virus we wanted, but the virus we needed.

BS: Maybe.

Okay, so what that does. also, it gets people out in nature, right? And the other thing about a VR lifestyle is, you’re standing more, and it’s actually better in some ways than sitting, right?

EW: [indecipherable]

BS: So let me give you two more.

Education. So colleges, … The entire … (This is something that is near to your heart.) My friend slash colleague Noah Smith actually tweeted about this (about this coming college apocalypse) mentioned that state funding is being cut, foreign students aren’t coming (because both immigration and lack of demand), and domestic students aren’t coming. And if the pandemic goes on such that colleges don’t re-open in the fall (no one wants to pay 50K for zoom.edu) … and, so, suddenly you’ve got a tension between what the colleges think they’re delivering in terms of benefit, and what they’re actually delivering—and so I think you’re going to have a Wile E. Coyote thing, with lots of bankruptcies. And the thing that happens, in addition to those three factors, the fourth factor is all the online education that’s been built over the last 10 years. I think that goes vertical. So we started to start to actually get a future where anybody can get a quality technical or trade education, I think, online for a fraction of the cost and actually unlock, you know, the power of the internet on that. And that’s another major thing.

And third is healthcare. So we also already mentioned bio, but these telemedicine apps—like what India is doing with Aarogya Setu—put the doctor and the prescriptions and the EHR and so on in there. This something should happen a long, long time ago. But telemedicine suddenly becomes the first line of defense. And that’s already happening in the US. So telemedicine becomes the first line defense: you can get a house call; you can actually get prescriptions, you’d have to go down to the doctor; people will see the doctor more frequently; you’ll actually have checkups; you’ll have someone monitoring you—it becomes convenient. And so you start hyper-deflating at least one aspect of medicine, which is the GP visit—the general practitioner visit. So you start actually going after …

EW: Great points. All things that are going to change—some for the better. There’s no way to not … to avoid blowing[?] people some good. Balaji, I …

BS: I wanted to have some positivity. That’s all.

EW: I really appreciate. I want to end it here because it IS positive. And I don’t disagree. And we’ve been on this as well. I think that this idea that many aspects of the future that have been held back are going to be beneficial.

I would like to talk to you, of course, at great length about a lot of different topics. You’re one of my favorite divergent minds out there. And not just mine: a lot of people in my circle hold you in very high regards. I’m so glad we were able to bring you—you’re the first remote (I think) that we’ve done in the history of the show.

So I wanted just to say, thank you for coming through The Portal. And … do you want to say anything else about what you’re doing, where we should be looking for you?

3:18:14

BS: Sure, follow me at twitter.com/balajis and I’ll probably announce some stuff on my Twitter feed and you can see it then.

EW: Alright, so maybe there’s some interesting things coming up.

You’ve been through The Portal with Balaji Srinivasan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, former CTO of Coinbase, and somebody who has been very active in the biotechnology sphere—in fact, shepherding a company to public offering or- sorry, rather a purchase, I believe, for over $300 million, and one of the people who was first and earliest and clearest on the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation.

So please try to find us wherever you listen to podcasts—on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify. Also, head over to our YouTube channel and not only subscribe but be sure to click the bell icon to be notified whenever the next video drops. And we will hopefully be back with Balaji on other topics.

Thanks for hanging in there, and stay safe out there. Be well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai and human-edited by @Nick_N#5749

This is the first episode of The Portal which was 100% recorded at home, during quarantine, under social isolation. The guest is none other than my own son Zev Weinstein and the recording was timed to straddle his midnight transition from being 14 into being 15 years old. 

Zev is currently a 9th grader who occasionally posts to his YouTube Channel GenerationZ (https://www.youtube.com/c/GenerationZW) and his Twitter Account @Zev__Weinstein (https://twitter.com/Zev__Weinstein). In this episode, we sit down to discuss history, poetry, COVID19, jewish humor and other issues, as well as the three questions I am frequently asked about on the topic of parenting: 

A) What is the proper approach to parenting a child whose learning differences are significant? 

B) Do you have any novel approaches to parenting? 

C) What is the best way to parent young boys in a world that cannot find a shared positive vision of masculinity worth celebrating? 

Rather than attempt to answer these questions entirely on my own, I thought it would make sense to bring Zev onto The Portal to discuss them with me in his own distinct voice. I hope you will enjoy this episode in the spirit with which it was recorded, and that you will encourage Zev to speak on issues of Generation Z. They are already quite well equipped to discuss how they view the generations above them in handling the world, whose stewardship they will soon inherit. 

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Transcript

For a transcript of the audio essay at the beginning of this episode, see link below: