“Eric Weinstein, host of “The Portal” podcast and managing director at Thiel Capital, returns to The Realignment to discuss the state of the U.S. after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.”
Saagar Enjeti: Dr. Eric Weinstein, welcome back to The Realignment—
Eric Weinstein: Careful with the “doctor”, I don’t want to be confused with somebody preparing to do surgery.
Saagar Enjeti: That’s true. But that’s also a pun, Eric. My parents are both PhD “doctors” themselves, so ever since the whole scandal on Jill Biden, I’ve been calling them both “doctor.” So, I just think that it’s an honorific that we should try.
Eric Weinstein: Actually—
Saagar Enjeti: To give everybody—
Eric Weinstein: I’ll be entirely honest, I really don’t think MDs should be called “doctor.” If anyone should be called “doctor”, it should be PhDs. But I figure we should let it slide.
Saagar Enjeti: See, we’ve already got such good content. Eric, we wanted to bring you back to the show because you’ve been putting out some really just, I think, profound thoughts about where we are at the state of the country. I think you recently tweeted you’re having trouble sleeping as a result of the capital riots and so much of what we saw, and I just want to give you the opportunity to just give us your thoughts and break down this terrible week in America, and how you think that we can get out of this? What can we do?
Eric Weinstein: Well, I want to even go—I think it is a terrible week. But I don’t think it’s a terrible week for the same reasons that everyone else seems to think it’s a terrible week. One of the things that’s going on is that we have a very strange selective memory. And the selective memory doesn’t remember the fact that we’ve had bombings in the Capitol Building, we’ve had, I think a Jewish suicide bomber in the Capitol building in previous times.
Marshall Kosloff: Puerto Rican occupiers, yeah, it goes deeper than that.
EW: Right. So, the fact is that the optics of this week are absolutely horrendous. We had a police—law enforcement officer beaten to death with a fire extinguisher, which, you know, I don’t, I really don’t even have words for that. But I also think that, in part, we’re not really capable of having the discussion about what really happened. What—maybe we could—let’s start with the Viking. Right? We had a Viking taking pictures, playing around, I don’t know, in the Senate or the House. And I think that this really gets to the heart of what’s going on, which is that we are LARPing our way into armageddon. And the seriousness of this, you know, all of the talk of civil war and all this kind of stuff, is weirdly not getting our opportunity to find the off-ramp.
In large measure, what we’ve got is two teams of Live Action Role-Players, or, so-called LARPers. And they’re engaging in something that I was worried about in I think 2013, and I wrote an article for the Edge Annual Question. And they asked, “What is the scientific theory that everyone should have in their cognitive toolkit?” And I had several ideas, I was going to write about regulated expression in genetics. And I said to my wife, you know, the thing I really want to write about is Kayfabe, and that is the system of lies and deceptions found inside of professional wrestling. Now of course, that’s not going to be seen as an academic theory. But professional wrestling and the intelligence community are the two places that understand nested levels of deception better than any other two groups. And they’re lightyears ahead of psychology departments.
So, part of what’s going on is that we’ve got two national LARPing complexes that are engaged in what I would call Kayfabe. So we have Vikings, people are posing, stealing the lectern, I don’t know, from the House of Representatives, thinking that they’re at some kind of a rave or a party, maybe it’s Burning Man for politics, not clear. That situation can go completely insane and become real in a way that I don’t think people appreciate. So I often pose the question, “Which is more real, mixed martial arts or professional wrestling?” And I would say professional wrestling by a longshot. If you look at the list of deaths associated with professional wrestling, it doesn’t get more real than that. I don’t think UFC has had its first fatality yet.
And, in essence, what we have is we have a mock national conversation, one around “Stop the Steal” which has rejected the United States justice system, which has refused to give Donald Trump much comfort. And the idea that you’re going to save America from its own justice system is pretty interesting, by going around the will of the courts. So I think what we have here is a national meaning crisis, where there are people who have very little future, and there are people who still have a future. And the people who still have a future are selling LARPing to two teams, you know, one of which is Wokistan, and the other of which is Magastan. And so we now have a war, mostly on the internet, mostly through Kayfabe, of Magastan versus Wokistan, which have to be two of the, you know, most intellectually crippled theories you could have, not because they don’t contain seeds of truth, but because they fill in what is missing with total nonsense. And I think that what’s going on, I—did you guys take a look at the video of the woman being shot in the capital?
SE: Yes, we did.
EW: How closely did you study it?
SE: I think I saw it [from] three or four different angles. But I mean, I saw this woman literally leap towards a gun. And I just couldn’t stop thinking, I’m like, ‘What really compels somebody to do that?’ I mean, it’s pure and genuine belief.
EW: Well, and that’s exactly it. This is like the Boxer Rebellion in China, where you had people who were convinced that they had supernatural powers, or you know, you get kids, you know, on some powerful drug and you turn them into child warriors, and you make them wear dresses, and you tell them that the dress will make them invincible, or, you know, I forget what general, you know, butt-naked or whatever it was in Africa—there are sort of supernatural beliefs about what’s going on. One of the angles on the woman being killed shows the gun emerge first, pointed at the window that they’re trying to break through.
EW: And you clearly hear on the audio, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” Right? So that’s clear warning. You see that the finger that is to pull the trigger is properly not on the trigger. It’s not inside the trigger guard. It’s along the barrel of the pistol. It comes inside the trigger guard, and then it goes back out. This is not somebody who is looking to discharge a weapon. This is somebody looking to not discharge a weapon. And the idea that this woman was climbing up on this, right into a gun, is bolstered by the idea that right behind her is—immediately after she’s shot, you see all sorts of law enforcement officers armed to the effing teeth, who are clearly behind her, who are not stopping this thing: we are not going to have an accurate discussion. What we’re going to have is a political football. And the political football is going to be used by anyone and everyone who has a partisan axe to grind, in an attempt to divide the country into these warring factions. And we can’t get at these two insane memetic complexes, because the center is actually sponsoring the lunatics. So figure that the center of the left and the right, the establishment, is busy looting the United States government, stealing as much silver as it can, cutting the paintings out of the frames, and they’re distracting the people with no future, as the people who still have a stake in the game and can hollow us out, keep amping us up.
And I posted something on social media—if you recall, Donald Trump was encouraging people to rough up the protesters and beat them up, back in 20—the 2016 election, and one guy who was 78 threw an elbow into the eye of an African American and sort of sucker punched him with an elbow. And, I went looking for those two guys, thinking I should get them on my podcast. And I—I found that they’d reconciled, and they hugged in a courtroom, and they’d put this behind them. And in four years, the video had fewer than 20,000 views, and fewer than I think 20 likes. And I posted this, and immediately, just posting it, caused a 50% increase in the viewership over four years in a single day. We are being kept from coming together, we are being kept from getting rid of these people, and right now, the most important thing is that, by any—and with apologies to Malcolm X—by any legal means necessary, we have got to remove our current leadership. Period. The end. There is no more.
MK: So a question that comes to mind because it came up a couple of times during your statement there, LARPing. There’s a portion of the audience which isn’t online. If you’re not on Twitter, this won’t make as much sense for you. So can you just describe the phenomenon of LARPing? What is it, and how does it manifest itself on the Wokistani side or the Magastani side if you will?
EW: Well, okay, sure. If you ever go to—let’s say if you go to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, many of the most nerdy and kind of spectrummy kids are engaged—and by the way, I say that with zero disrespect, I’m proud to be part of that group—engage in sort of live action versions of Dungeons and Dragons, and they’ve got foam swords and maces and all sorts of things, and there are, you know, very clear rules. And you get to play in a fantasy medieval war situation, let’s say. Now, in some sense it’s like the Stanford Prison Experiment of Zimbardo, where you tell people you’re guards, you’re prisoners, and sure enough, theater becomes real. There’s a limited ability to suspend the distance between our characters and ourselves. Our characters are, in some sense, real. And what’s interesting is that live action role-playing can become immersive, you can forget that you’re in a game. And in Kayfabe, which is the sort of professional wrestling system of deceptions, you break things into “work” or “shoot.” A “work” is a scripted activity taking place—by the way, Kayfabe is carnival speak for “fake”—and so a “work” would be if, you know, we agreed to have a fight on this podcast to drive your ratings through the roof. Right? Coming up in 10 minutes. And—
MK: And I have some words for you, Dr.
EW: Marshall, I’ve had about enough of your back-talking!
SE: Let’s not call out CNN too hard here, Eric.
EW: So, then a “shoot” would be the spontaneous occurrence of reality in a scripted event. And then tertiary deception occurs, where you think you have a work where everyone’s in on it. By the way, if you don’t understand the professional wrestling is fake, you’re called a “mark.” If you understand that it’s fake, you’re called a “smart mark” or a “smark”, and one of the reasons I love this stuff is that I can’t get the language that the espionage community uses to talk about deception. You know, like “false flags” and stuff like that, I mean, they’re very advanced, but professional wrestling by now is known to all. So the smarks understand that it’s all fake. But then you can have a situation where the fourth wall appears to break, and the people who are in on the idea that it’s a deception are suddenly freaked out to find out that it’s spilled over into reality, but that spill over into reality can in fact be encased by another fourth wall. And that would be called a “worked shoot.”
So what’s going on right now is that we don’t have language for the levels of theater, deception, fantasy, and we’re struggling. So what we do is we keep finding meaning. And if you’ll notice very carefully, what we’re doing this week is that we’re finding meaning, you know. “These are the darkest days of America. We thought it could never happen here, but in shocking footage released from Capitol Hill, we see the destruction of everything good about this country,” blah, blah, blah. That kind of mock seriousness is preposterous. I mean, this has been visible for the entire time that we’ve been engaged in this, and nobody cares about the fact that we are a thermonuclear nation trifling with the very dangerous business of degrading the customs of the United States, which are used to evade the need for putting restrictions into law. Our culture has allowed us to be free. And right now what you’re seeing is the degradation of our culture, which will necessitate rules. Right?
The old magic of America is that it’s a country in which you have no desire to burn the flag you have every right to burn. And when you lose that culture, you’re going to see a call to restrict free action. So, the magic of the United States is not its constitution. I’ve compared that to the Written Torah of the United States. But the Written Torah is complemented in a duality by the Oral Torah. And the Written Torah doesn’t really work on its own. You need the Oral Torah and the culture to animate the document—the document can’t do anything. What we’re now seeing is a complete degradation. The great attack of Donald Trump was on the Oral Torah and culture of the United States. And a lot of people who found that very restrictive, it’s like, why can’t I tell Pollock jokes? When was the last time anybody told a Pollock joke? I grew up and there were books of Pollock jokes. We don’t do that anymore. And that kind of behavior is something that we can do, we just choose not to. So we’re talking now about the degradation of our culture, where Donald Trump has pioneered the idea that if everyone has thrown out the first baseball—every president has thrown out the first baseball of the season, he realizes that there’s a huge win to be gotten by not going along with tradition. Every time there’s a tradition or a custom, you can always just decide that you’re going to disobey it to show how independent, you know, the fact—let’s imagine it had been going on for 200 years, which it has.
EW: Cool, “I’m the first person in 200 years to think for myself,” and that’s what Donald Trump has been doing. He’s been degrading the Oral Torah of the United States, which was holding things together so we didn’t need rules. And the people who didn’t like the Oral Torah, and wanted to be completely free to be, you know, their horrible selves, were super enthusiastic about the idea that Donald Trump was finally “freeing” us. And guess what’s going to happen next, you’re going to see a move to shut down speech on the internet, you’re going to have the major tech platforms refusing to host, you’re going to have financial harassment, you’re—I’m already, you know, I’ve been making the joke for years, that should republicans be allowed to use the streets?
That’s not a joke, I start seeing calls that Republicans shouldn’t be able to buy groceries. So I think that the problem is, I think this is a grave week, as Marshall says I’ve been up, you know, I really am on no sleep. But I don’t think it’s serious for the same reasons. I think that the problem is that this LARPing can become reality, it can convert to reality, it’s a rehearsal for something. And effectively, it’s like, if you’re waving a gun around with no intention of firing, and it suddenly goes off, you’ve just transitioned into a different world. And you see this all the time. And right now, what people are doing is they’re dancing on the eaves of a building, you know, and somebody’s gonna fall sooner or later, and the whole thing is going to convert in seconds.
MK: How does the leadership class distinguish between the LARPing and the actual danger moments, because—I think we’ve mentioned this—I’m from Portland, Oregon, and you see the example of this in the treatment of Antifa. Back in July, back in June, Mayor Ted Wheeler, the leadership class of the city say that it doesn’t exist, it’s not real. Anything that has happened, anything that does exist is basically referred to as LARPing. Come November, predictably, as soon as Donald Trump is no longer in the presidency, the mayor of Portland gives a very strong, very aggressive statement about Antifa not following the law, all these sorts of things. So that’s the center left to left-wing version, the right-wing version is—
EW: No, sorry, that isn’t the center-left to left wing version. That’s something that never—Ted Wheeler is an abomination unlike anything that we’ve ever seen on the center-left. I don’t know what that is.
MK: My point is that I—here’s what I mean by that, I suspect that most mayors of most Democratic cities would have operated in the sense that Ted Wheeler operated. What I want to do is bring this back to what happened last week—if you went to most Republicans, Republicans who have now turned very aggressively against what happened at the Capitol, they would probably say there’s protesters, it basically doesn’t matter, there’s gonna be some MAGA people, there’s gonna be a couple of groupers, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Now, it matters. So from my perspective, on both sides of the aisle, you see a leadership class, it doesn’t seem able to navigate the LARP to real world danger scenario. How, from your perspective, should they think about that?
EW: I don’t think we have a leadership class. And Marshall, I don’t mean to say that I can’t understand your question. I mean to say that we should reject your question, and I don’t—the frame is the problem. I don’t—let me make a more provocative statement and then attempt to back it up, because the provocative statement is gonna obviously sound insane. I don’t think the United States government really exists at the moment. I don’t think that there is a leadership class. I think what happens is that, you know, just the way you have an army during peacetime, which develops certain habits, you get peacetime generals, people play war games. It’s not really an army. And then you have a live action situation, and the thing has to convert into a fighting force.
I think we don’t have a government. And I don’t think we’ve had a government for a long time. I think in some sense, the last time the United States clearly existed may have been 1945, and then it has been degrading in various fashions from there. So, that was a pretty functional thing we put together during World War II. And, you know, we were able to do the space program and, you know, the 1950s were an era of incredible scientific progress, unfortunately also incredible military progress, both us and the Iron Curtain, behind the Iron Curtain. But I don’t think that you understand how little the government actually exists now. And when Donald Trump got elected, I went to visit a colleague at the old Eisenhower office building off the West Wing, and as I was walking the halls, I noticed how many offices were empty—that seemed to have very important plaques on their doors. There was no Trump intellectual movement that you could staff the government with.
And I think this goes back to something that Saagar and Krystal said beautifully on Joe Rogan right at the beginning, I recommend everybody at the beginning of that episode, that there are these two teams that get rotated in and out of government, and either you go into the think tanks, or you go into the office buildings, in government office buildings. Trump did not have an intellectual movement to put in. And so as a result, you know, it’s sort of the dream of the anti-tax movement, that you want a government so small, you can strangle it in a bathtub. And I think that in part, he wasn’t able to staff because Donald Trump really was the only thing behind Trumpism. It was a completely idiosyncratic, drunken boxing movement, where Donald Trump understands a few things very well better than anyone else, and many things much worse than anyone else, or it’s just a horrible human being. But he’s at his best when he’s sticking it. To the left, the institutional organized left, which again, isn’t really left at all, based on its hypocrisy, he’s very effective at that. He’s the only—if you include military and administrative appointments, I don’t think we have had another president with zero government experience. And that’s an incredible achievement. And many people said, we’re never going to get another shot. Let’s get on this train, even though we can see the danger even though we despise him. Because the main thing is to stop the insiders from selling us out to China, from selling us out to Davos. The major business, post the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been selling out those Americans too weak to defend themselves in order to get wealth by globalization, let’s say, or financialization, or anything like that.
So we’ve been in a suicidal spiral, clearly, since Bill Clinton, and arguably before that. In such a situation, I don’t think we have a leadership class. And I think that the people who are sitting in those seats are children, and they’re children who are, in general—at the national level, many of them are born in the 1940s. I mean, somebody pointed out that, well, one way of saying it is Dianne Feinstein was conceived in the Hoover administration. Most of these people were conceived in like, you know, the Truman administration. This is not a way to lead a technologically advanced society into the 21st century. These people can’t code. They’ve never used a pipette. They basically—they don’t know what the Teller-Ulam design is. They don’t—they’re not technically capable people. They’re professional peacetime kleptocrats. And the extent to which Ted Wheeler and Mayor Jenny destroyed confidence in the willingness to enforce the law created this thing that I got really attacked on social media for, which is that we created the “Never Trump” Trump voter—people who hate Donald Trump with a passion, who voted for him in desperation to stop Mayor Ted Wheeler and Mayor Jenny and their obvious attempt to allow a criminal element into the city for the purposes of provocation, allowing, in particular in Portland, attacking the federal courthouse with—you guys remember the Shaggy song, It Wasn’t Me?
EW: That was the strategy: What Antifa? Yeah, there’s no Antifa! It doesn’t exist! And you know, Jerry Nadler was asked about this directly and I posted this clip where you know, you see the courthouse being firebombed, and the claim is that the group doing the firebomb doesn’t even exist! It’s a myth. And, okay, this is why for example black Americans believe in chemtrails, because the Tuskegee medical experiment lets them know hey, we’d do anything. We’re so crazy, given what we’ve already done to you, you have no reason to believe that chemtrails aren’t real. It’s what we would call Bayesian priors. You’re tutoring people’s Bayesian priors that you’re completely full of shit, you have absolutely no integrity, you’re willing to engage in madness—and keep in mind that the one thing we know about LARPing is that the body count in Portland is so low because this is an agreed upon theatrical battle.
MK: Quick thing Eric, I have to ask you this. I’m not asking you this in the woke sense, so let me finish a thought here. I’m from Oregon, as I said before, so I only mostly know white people. So everyone I knew growing up who believed in chemtrails was white. So I get your point about why black people—why do white people believe in chemtrails?
EW: Oh, that’s a little bit different. The Pacific Northwest, because of its history of labor activism and communism, in part shares a lot of the history of black America. So, one of the reasons that people see me as conspiratorial is because I come from a progressive family. And so when the government has spied on your family, when it’s—you know, we locked Paul Robeson in the country by taking his passport, we locked Charlie Chaplin out of the country so that he left, and we wouldn’t let him back in to go to his house. Once you’ve been the target of the United States government, you realize that the mainstream belief of “Oh that’s all science fiction and you go to too many movies” is complete nonsense. So I would say everybody who shares the history of just being lied to and having their history completely denied—remember, the Weather Underground was a response to the assassination of Fred Hampton at the hands of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, as directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the crime of introducing the Rainbow Coalition to decrease black fighting between gangs to create a political movement. We are that crazy. And because we are that crazy, everyone who is plugged into the Howard Zinn version of our history is not quite so sure that all elections are free and fair. You know, if you take Operation Ajax in Iran, we clearly know how to turn over a government.
MK: That was the overthrow of the Shah, right?
SE: Yeah. Mosaddegh, Mosaddegh.
MK: So yeah. Too many, too many operations, it’s hard to keep track.
EW: There’s also Operation Condor in Chile. The issue is, if you don’t know your history, maybe all this sounds like conspiracy theory. If you do know your history, you know what we’re capable of, and there’s no question that we’re capable of throwing an election. And then now the problem is okay, he said that. It’s a little bit like saying, I don’t believe vaccines are 100% safe. Now, that’s clearly true. Vaccines are not 100% safe. However, there’s an expectation that nobody will speak reality if you’re part of—you know, if you’re like me and you have advanced degrees in something, you’re supposed to deny reality the way everybody denies reality. We’re now at the point where the public, so many members of the public have caught on to the fact that the national official narrative is total nonsense, and they’re willing to believe anything at this point.
SE: This is something I really want to focus in on with you, Eric. And I want to kind of turn it into where we are today. And it’s something I’ve talked a lot about on Rising, and talking about tomorrow, is about impeachment. And a point that I’ve been trying to make, and I’m curious to get both your guys’ thoughts on this, is that in the context of impeachment, the way I look at his impeachment is you have to have—this is essentially the most extreme act that you can go through as a democratic society: invalidating the election (the previous), removing the democratically elected President of the United States. And I looked at the recent polling, and to the extent that we even have polling, I don’t know if I even believe it. But what we have is this: 56% of polls, 56% of Americans say that Trump should go. And you could say that’s a lot. But to me I’m like, wait, so there’s still a sizable majority of the country that says that he shouldn’t go, and then you look within Republicans, and you say 73% or whatever still approve of Trump, still, you know, think of the job he’s doing. Some have even, you know, justified the capital violence. And I’m not saying any of this with a qualitative judgment. What I’m saying is, is if your goal is to unite the country, if your goal is to move on, which is what Joe Biden and many of the case[s] for him [were], this seems to be the worst possible thing that you could do.
EW: Which thing is the worst possible?
SE: But then the other se—to impeach Trump. To impeach Trump, either right now, or to impeach and, you know, bar him from office in the future. Because the way I look at it is that would be one of the single biggest instances of trying to, basically not even invalidate votes, but to tell a sizable major—a sizable minority of this country, 44% or so, that the person that you have immense faith in is no longer allowed to represent you as President. And it seems to me that it could be, could be—I’m not saying it’s intentional—that it’s a cover for not wanting to address the reasons that Trump was elected in the first place, number one—and this is what I said today, too, is look, if you’re Joe Biden or the Democrats and you want to make sure that Trump is never elected again, you don’t have to impeach him. Do, you know, distribute a vaccine properly, and, like pass $2,000 checks for all Americans. You will win the presidency. It’s actually not that hard.
I just, I want to get your thoughts on impeachment, about the legitimacy of democracy. No no no, it’s fine. If you disagree, it’s fine. Because, my goal—what I know is that you’re trying to operate in good faith towards trying to be a more harmonious country. And it seems to me that a lot of this, a lot of impeachment talk and more, is about punishment. It’s about penalizing, and I have to try and take Trump out of it, because I find what he did so odious, and all that, but we still have to live with many of the people who voted for him in this country, and we have to channel those concerns and more. Go ahead.
EW: We don’t have to live with them. They’re us.
SE: Yes. Exactly.
EW: Those are my brothers. Those are my brothers and sisters. And let me tell you something. You guys have kids?
MK: No. We don’t.
SE: We don’t.
EW: Okay. Let me imagine you’re my kids, okay? You get involved in a cult. You think I’m not coming ba— I’m coming in for you, to get you the hell out of there? You think that I’m not—that I’m just gonna, you know, dismiss you and say, “Oh, my God. They’re now part of a cult, and they’re beyond the pale, and I just have to cut ties and I’m going to disavow them.”
SE: Yeah, of course not.
EW: Fuck, that shit. Okay? MAGA is our responsibility. Those are my brothers and sisters. I’m not running away from them, I’m not interested in that. I’m not demonizing them. But, a cult it is. I’m not gonna say it isn’t a cult. I’m also not gonna say that Woke isn’t a cult. It’s a cult. These cults are incredibly powerful. And, some of us have been noticing that there is no class of “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” people in our country. This is sometimes what a monarchy is supposed to do. I was hanging out with a royal family in Europe, which will remain nameless. And—
MK: There’s like three, so, someone can figure this out.
SE: No, there’s more than that. There’s more than that.
EW: There’s more than that. And, a prince was saying, “Well, you have to appreciate we’re in a very bad situation. No one—there’s no justification for monarchy anymore. So we’re really sort of hanging on by a thread.” I said, “Look, I’m anti-monarchy, but you should at least be able to steelman the case.” They said, “Well, what do we do? What is our function?” And I said, “You’ve had 75 years of peace since the end of World War II. How often do you use a fire extinguisher? Almost never. Does that mean that you just get rid of the fire extinguisher? Because you haven’t used it? No, you check in on it. And when you need it, it’s there. And what’s the purpose? You’re supposed to walk the rubble when the bombs are falling, you know, on a city, for example. You’re supposed to give the people something to rally around.”
And I don’t believe in doing that through monarchy because I’m an American, we reject that. But I do believe in Buzz Aldrin. Right? I do believe that there are people who are apart, you know? Like when Killer Mike’s spoke in Atlanta, he seemed to be apart. I don’t know who that guy is, I’m not really a hip-hop fan—but I was really impressed with him. And if you, you know, in particular, I am a huge fan of black oratory. The skill involved in black oratory coming out of the black church is—it’s a really—it’s its own thing. And it’s one of the things I’m proudest of as an American. There are times when you have to address a mob or a crowd. The times you have to do what James Brown did after Martin Luther King—I’m going to get through this. We have got a situation in which we don’t believe in seating anybody who has those characteristics in the chairs. The reason that I want to do Rising more than I want to talk to the two of you is not anything against Marshall. It’s about the optics. Rising looks like adulthood. It looks like it comes from the institutional complex. And the optics is the adults.
The institutions don’t listen to anyone outside of a closed system. And effectively, they’ve put up this barrier where they call everything alt-right, or far-right, that doesn’t have the right characteristics, which is “on the take.” And right now, the important thing is to seat the people who have tried to call both balls and strikes for four years and have been torn apart, who’ve had their families torn apart, who’ve, you know—look, I work for a guy who supported Donald Trump in 2016—was noticeably absent in 2020. My entire ability to speak freely comes from my good friend’s money. And the fact that I disagree with him, and I love him so much that I trust that he will not sever me, because I’m undermining his political—I mean, this—you know, my brother for example is ejected from Evergreen State College because he was willing to stand against racism, even if it comes from blacks.
EW: You know, the number of people who’ve tried to call balls and strikes for four years is tiny. And right now, what I want to do is I want to take Brian Williams, and Mara Gay, and I want to give them a huge vacation. Let them go to Tulum. And I want to see different people in those chairs. If those people can’t figure out even how to add and subtract, speaking of their crazy idea that Bloomberg could have given everyone a million dollars with his campaign investment—there is no commentary class that’s competent that sits in those chairs. It’s, you know, that the problem, as I’ve said, is that the system isn’t broken, it’s fixed. And until you actually seat your critics, until you do what we used to do, which is to seat the Noam Chomskys at a place like MIT, so that the conscience of MIT lives inside of MIT, so that the ombudsman can say that the paper is out of control at the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. When you don’t seat your critics inside of the organization, you are on the road to self extinguishing.
And right now, the most important thing is to realize that we don’t have time to put everything on the blockchain, to build new institutions. The most important thing, right now, is to get the tiny number of people who’ve been calling balls and strikes, who were born after 1964, into those effing chairs, to tell the system you’re over, it’s over, you’re done. You people from the ’40s, you’ve failed. You don’t understand where you are. You’re not technically competent. You don’t have the country’s best interests at heart. You’ve sold us to China. You’ve created incredibly deep, fake stories about, you know, the intelligence complex taking over the world, or, you know, something about the desire to destroy America.
All of these crazy stories that we’ve built around Wokistan and Magastan have to go. And, they are responsive to each other. Woke creates MAGA, MAGA creates Woke, you know, it’s—the snake is eating its own tail. The whole way we get out of this is that we put the people we trust more—let me give you a very simple rubric. Take anyone where the official description of that person is maximally divergent from the actual description of that person. Like, “Ben Shapiro is a Nazi.” Okay, an Orthodox Jewish Nazi. That’s pretty interesting. You know, “Sam Harris is an incredible islamophobe.” No he isn’t. I know Sam, he’s like, he’s my good friend. All of these things, “Bret Weinstein is, you know, the far right.” Seat the people where the description of them inside the gated institutional narrative, or the GIN, is maximally divergent from the reality, because that’s the place that the system showed you. Let the system tell you who it fears, and seat the people in the chairs who are feared most, who are maximally misportrayed. And then you’ll have a solution.
SE: But here’s the question Eric, which is that and—oh, and for the record, Eric is coming on Rising, so don’t everybody worry about that. He will be there and it’s going to be great. But here’s the problem: Democrats and Democratic primary voters in particular who select our possible next president, they love Brian Williams and Mara Gay, and they love MSNBC, and the MSNBC lineup—
SE: And Republican—but they do, they trust them.
EW: They don’t. No they don’t.
SE: See, I don’t know.
MK: So, I wouldn’t say da—I wouldn’t say, Saagar let’s specify. A certain very influential and powerful part of the Democratic Party, people who live in Northern Virginia, people who live in the Long Island suburbs, the Park Avenue reference and everything, they certainly do like those people.
EW: Which Long Island suburbs? The Hamptons?
MK: We’re reaching the limits of my East Coastness—
SE: We’re reaching the limits of our conventional wisdom. But I want to make, just one second, I want to make this point too, because the Republican Party does deeply trust Fox as well. And so, to the point of the media actors, who [unintelligible]—look, I mean, I would love nothing more than to be seated, but I, I can tell you, I go on Fox. There is a character that they want me to play. Increasingly, I have been doing a lot less because they will ask me to come on, and all they want me to do is smack the left, smack the left, smack the left, or talk about culture war issues, and I’m like no, because this is ripping this country in half. And I’ve increasingly turned down a lot of appearances unless it’s to talk about an economic system.
EW: Do you know what my condition is for going on Fox?
SE: Go ahead.
EW: And I’ve done this, like the last time, I think was probably Greg Gutfeld. I said if I come on Fox, I’m telling your audience that I view Fox as a propaganda network. And he said sure. And I said we got a deal.
SE: That’s great. Yeah, that’s good.
EW: No, but I’m telling you, this is part of the deal, which is what’s going on is not quite correct. So let’s take Long Island. The Hamptons loves Kamala Harris. The Kamala Harris that is loved in the Hamptons is not the Kamala Harris that we see. In other words, it’s like a developer looking at a computer program. They see the code, we see the binary. We see the finished product without being able to see what’s actually going on. They specifically love Kamala Harris because they know who she is and what she’s going to do for them. And we see the front end, which is what she’s going to do to us. So first of all, no, I don’t think that they love Brian Williams. And if you think that they love Brian Williams, please allow me to go on opposite Brian Williams and Mara Gay, they’re gonna love him a lot less. Because, you know, it’s a little bit like thinking that the professional wrestlers—well, no, it’s like the Gracie challenge. We used to talk about karate and kung fu and all of these things. And Brazilian Jiu Jitsu wasn’t on anybody’s list of coolest martial arts back in the 1970s, right? It’s only when you actually start pitting these things against each other that you stop believing that somebody is the coolest or the best, you know?
EW: I mean like, Steve Vai seems to be the greatest guitarist in the world until somebody named Guthrie Govan shows up and then, like, check out what happens there. At some level, they live in a protected world, and in professional wrestling, it would be called a “promotion.” They’re not actually fighting. They are, you know, Brian Williams is scripted to win. He’s a designated winner. So we have a designated winner system, and we can’t get away from them. But are you telling me that people wouldn’t—weren’t getting frustrated about what was done to Tulsi Gabbard? When Tulsi went after—
MK: There was like two people, Eric, Rick, there’s like two people who actually feel like—I want to have a quick story about this because it reflects, I think, a danger and over-valorizing Rising, no offense Saagar.
SE: No, it’s fine.
MK: When I was doing Rising panels, back in January and February, every week we were doing the polls, everything like that. I thought Andrew Yang and Tulsi were just crushing it because you’d say something nice about Andrew, and you would get, I would get all these really nice comments that talked about how smooth my skin looked. Or I would say something about Tulsi, her foreign policy, people would say this young guy is the smartest young guy you’ve ever seen. But then the actual election happens and they get like 4 and 2 and 3% of the vote.
EW: That’s not my point.
MK: Well, but my point, though, is that if we’re talking about—like, here’s a better way to put this. Brian Williams represents far bigger of a constituency, at least for right now, at least for the subsequent future, than anything Tulsi Gabbard is putting up there. Tulsi Gabbard, bless—like, bless her, I’m not using this—
SE: Yeah this is not an insult.
MK: It’s not an insult, but Tulsi Gabbard is a—she’s this weird former Republican who’s conservative in many socially conservative ways. She’s progressive in different ways. But that’s not an actual viewpoint which has a serious constituency. So I just can’t accept the idea that she, and a person who represents her ideology, is the inverse of Brian Williams. That’s my concern.
EW: Let me be very clear about this. I don’t think necessarily that Andrew or Tulsi would have won. I’m not claiming that they were set to win. What I am claiming is that when you starve people for airtime, when you publish, like, the ugliest picture of them, and the most attractive picture of somebody else, you do all the media tricks that we do every time, and you drop people from your graphics, that has the effect of letting somebody know that person isn’t going to win. And we tend to take the message. We know that, I knew that Andrew and Tulsi weren’t going to do very well. That causes me not to want to invest in them. And so I don’t necessarily—you know, I wasn’t, I never signed on to Andrew or to Tulsi.
What I am trying to say is that many of us face this accumulated thumb pressure on the scales of justice. And the justice in this case has to do with the primary. There was no primary. My claim is that the primary didn’t exist. It was not free and fair. It’s sealed in a particular way. I don’t think the candidates are allowed to assemble unless the event is sanctioned. The events that are given are given out to legacy media structures. The time given to the candidates is wildly asymmetric. There are all sorts of ways in which the rules are built to make sure that there has to be an appearance that anyone can enter, but that that will not actually happen in a way in which the general election is threatened. An insider will always prevail for the general, and that’s what Donald Trump snuck through on the Republican side. Bernie almost snuck through it in 2016. And, we don’t really know what would have happened with Tulsi and Andrew, if—
SE: See, Eric, I—this is where I want to ask my question too, though, which is even within this premise, which is that within the GIN—because, what you’re supposing is that, if you were allowed to go on Brian Williams, but then we both know that they’re not going to invite you. So I mean, this is part of what I want to get at, which is that, with—and I think your concept of the GIN is incredibly important to anybody who’s actually trying to think about systems, because when you’re thinking about systems, that’s when you’re actually gonna think, generally on a much more structural level as to why incentives work, and the way that people respond to those incentives within them, which is that, at a bare, at a base level, your success, my success, you know, the reason people are even tuning into this conversation, is because Brian Williams will never invite you on, it’s that, I mean, they’re not gonna have me on MSNBC anytime soon. And it’s within that closure of the system—what my greatest fear is, I used to think that they have to eventually relent, because they’re losing market share or whatever, but it’s just not true. The truth is that they got the result that they wanted, in the primary, and they’ve, they’re more profitable than ever, they actually have more viewers than ever by doubling down on the strategy. How can we… Is there a solution to that? That’s my question, because I’m not sure if there is right now.
EW: Well, what I’m trying to get at is, this is the Jayaprakash Narayan effect. If you know Indian history, during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, all—most of the founding fathers of modern India had moved on from the independence movement, and it’d become bureaucrats, it’d become wealthy by, you know, getting in on the spoils of a new nation. And there was this one guy, Jayaprakash Narayan, who’s sort of the patron saint of lost causes, whose heart was too pure to actually profit from the good work that he did. And when Indira Gandhi declared the state of emergency as she did, which was highly unpopular, the cry went out in the darkness, “There is one light.” Jayaprakash, you know, is the word for light, right, “Prakash.” And the slogan was, “Sampoorna Kranti Ab Nara Hai, Bhavi Itihas Hamaara Hai”, “Total revolution is now the slogan. Future history is ours”. And that’s how this game works. You’re pushing the world towards the Jayaprakash Narayan moment. He didn’t matter except once. But when you need Jayaprakash Narayan, you’re not going to reach for Brian Williams. You’re not going to reach for Sean Hannity. You’re going to want to—there are people, you know people—I have not even set up a Patreon page, and I won’t do it until after the inauguration, you know, or some—people have no ability to contribute to me. And, it’s probably an empty gesture. But the point is, you need people who are planning only for that one eventuality.
MK: I want to build on something here real quick, Eric, because this is interesting. It goes back to your earlier comment about leaders who are equipped. The dynamic that Saagar’s speaking about, what’s happened with MSNBC and Rising, insert Rogan, Sam Harris, and even the Patreon economy is the idea that we no longer have big institutions, no one’s getting 30 million viewers, we instead see a dissemination of audiences. So the business model for you, if you’re doing a Patreon is you get 1000 people who love you the most to give you $10 a month, etc, etc, etc. That’s a lot more valuable than getting 50,000 people who are giving you YouTube revenue clicks. The problem here is that the skill set that that’s selecting for is a skill set of appealing to niche, niche, niche audiences. If Sabra and I wanted to blow up The Realignment right now, what we would do is say, we think the DNC was stolen, in a sort of conspiratorial way. We would do all these little dynamics that wouldn’t necessarily be honest, but they would appeal to that niche audience. So how do we have a set of leaders, or how do we create leaders? Or how do we fill people into different spaces, when what they haven’t been selected for is integrating their group into other groups, or articulating their perspectives rather than what they’re doing? Yeah.
EW: The time hasn’t come, Marshall. The time hasn’t come. Look, I love money. Everybody says that they don’t care about money, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I just love it, because I can buy—I could buy Navy SEALs to protect my house, given what I’m about to say and do. I can boost my signal, I can hire assistance; right now I do everything myself. My problem is that I don’t love money enough. And I don’t think you guys love money enough. No, I’m not kidding.
SE: No we don’t. Yeah.
EW: You know, but hopefully you love money, it’s just, not enough. And your time isn’t now. It becomes very clear—you know, why don’t I love money? Because I have things—money is very expensive. Most of the very wealthy people I know spend almost all of their time talking about money. And I don’t want that life, my time is too valuable. If time is money, my time is precious, and there’s not usually enough money to buy my time. What I believe is that nobody really believes that at the moment. We’re still caught in the old system about power, money, and who’s on top and all of this stuff.
I want my children to survive in a country that I deeply love. And, I don’t see anybody fighting for this. You know, the concept of being a patriot, I can tell you everything wrong with this country, this country has been horrible to my family. I love this country. And, the idea that I get to push out a sophisticated version that is not immediately intellectually insulting, the idea that—you know, I’ve given up huge amounts of income by quieting my podcast because I knew that these cancellations were coming. And, I did not want to give people the excuse to come after me. Our time isn’t yet, gentlemen. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. For 75 years, something hasn’t happened. And that’s so long, that people can’t remember that something is about to happen. We are about—
MK: What do you mean by s—What do—can you define 75? So do you mean like war? Like what do you mean by something, nothing has happened?
EW: In the fall of 1945, we dropped some atomic devices in Japan. And with the exception, in some sense, of maybe The Great Leap Forward in China, we didn’t have 20th century level tumult. So we’ve been through this incredibly quiescent period. And we are the children of The Great Nap. We grew up in a, you know, even with the Cold War, the storm clouds were always on the horizon, the Cuban Missile Crisis, they stayed on the horizon. So as a result, we don’t really know what reality is. We’ve been in a prolonged state of unreality. And when you look at what happened at the Capitol building, and you compare it to what happened at Stalingrad, you’re not even—these aren’t the same parts of speech.
The future is coming. And it’s going to come pretty violently because nobody knows how to hold this thing together. And I don’t mean violently necessarily in terms of blood in the streets, it could be the disruption of our legal system. It could be any one of a number of things. But what’s happened is we’ve held the future at bay. This is my wife, Pia Malaney’s observation. And Covid accelerated the future, because the future has been held back by the people born in the 1940s. The fact that all five of the major candidates left at the end of the election were all born in the 1940s—all of them would be the oldest person ever to take office—tells you something, because it was not even remarked upon. Effectively, what you’re looking at is the pre-Great Society world attempting to hold back the future, and this is their last, you know, when you corner a beast at the end of its life, it is maximally ferocious, because it has no reason to hold back. And what we’re seeing is a maximally ferocious group of septa- and octogenarians clinging to power, which is about to give way.
What I’m trying to tell both of you is your time isn’t quite yet. All that you’re doing right now is you’re getting yourself set for what comes next. And the key question will be, how do we get rid of Brian Williams? How do we get rid of Mara Gay? How do we get rid of Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, and get technically capable, social media savvy people who live in the modern world into the chairs that are needed to direct the institutions. If the institutions only listen to institutional media, what we’re doing is whatever Winston Churchill was doing before World War II.
And what I highly recommend, gentlemen, is look at Chamberlain’s speech of resignation. We always talk about Chamberlain waving the paper about “peace in our time” and “go home and get some sleep” and all this kind of stuff. That was his low point. Wanna know what his high point was? His resignation speech. It’ll give you chills. What he did was, he said Hitler, I don’t know, had invaded Holland, maybe? I can’t remember exactly. And, he says Hitler is counting on our division, and you want to know what he doesn’t count on? What I’m about to do next. I’m resigning. I’m resigning to back Winston Churchill. And Winston Churchill has asked me to stay on. So fuck you.
Well, Joe Biden, if he was an American patriot, would resign at this moment, because he can’t give the speech that you just said. Joe Biden cannot give the unity speech. Killer Mike could give the unity speech, I could give the unity speech, you guys could give the unity speech. Joe Biden can do the Neville—try to imagine not being up to the level of Neville Chamberlain. If Joe Biden resigns, and he should resign, right? Like, this is my thing. People used to do this stuff. People used to understand that the commitment to country was a real thing, and that hanging on to power—like for what purpose is Joe Biden hanging on to power? He’s 78. What’s he going to get from this? He can’t lead. He’s so tarnished. He’s so tainted. MAGA is tainted. Everybody who only called balls and strikes for four years is tainted, you know. And my claim is that those of us who are untainted have this idea of, “Oh, we can’t sit down in the chair.” The fuck we can’t sit down in the chair, gentlemen. We can sit down in those chairs. I mean, what degree, from what university, does Brian Williams have that makes—is it his hair? He’s got better hair, in some sense, for television than any of us. Okay, is that the qualification? I mean, let me ask you guys a question: if he was doing a radio—a podcast that wasn’t institutionally affiliated, what do you think his numbers would be?
SE: Yeah, it would be low. But, I mean the whole point, right, is that he’s just been around forever. He’s actually a pretty good interviewer, whenever it comes to some, you know, new segments. I didn’t say he was perfect. But look, this is the thing, is—
EW: No he’s not.
MK: I do have to cut in for something, Eric. I really disagree with what you said about Joe Biden. And mind you, he can disprove all of this, but looking at the Democratic Party of today, looking at the terrible reality of what—and obviously we started this conversation talking about how we should look to history and like, this wasn’t Stalingrad, et cetera, et cetera, cetera. I think Joe Biden is basically the only person within the institutional Democratic Party, who A, has an actual constituency that really matters, that B, has the capacity to make the unifying decisions that he has to make. He could totally fail to do that. He can make the wrong calls, but the fact that during the height of everything, Joe Biden has the confidence to say, “No, I’m not for defunding the police.” Or, “No, I actually know that most Democrats and people in this country don’t support Medicare for All.” But that matters. That’s the difference—if he resigns, there is no Churchill waiting in the wings. That’s the problem here. And the difference is Churchill, by that point too was, what, he was 65 years old? So it wasn’t as if there was these, like, young whippersnappers who were ready to go. I just don’t think the historical analogy works here.
SE: I guess the question is why—when Joe Biden seems to be, at least within the Democratic Party, the only person even wanting to do what you are alluding to there, Eric, what is to be done? Why should he resign?
MK: I think in everything you’re critiquing Kamala Harris would be worse, on every single count that we’re talking about right, I genuinely believe that Kamala Harris would be worse.
EW: Agreed. I don’t want him to resign so that Kamala takes over. What I’m trying to say is, the entire class is tainted.
EW: Right? And I was saying also, Marshall, what you were saying is that we haven’t created Break-Glass-In-Case-Of-Emergency people. And I want to be very clear about something. I am not interested in a political career. I would be a disaster. So let me destroy any hope—
SE: You’re too honest.
EW: No it’s not just too honest, you know, there’s certain—there are executive decisions. I’m a thinker, I’m not—the ability to make a strong decision on limited information, commit to it, and lead people is a special skill set. And I’m not embarrassed that that isn’t my skillset. I’m frickin’ terrific at all sorts of things. I’m not terrific at that. I am not running for office. I’m not trying to get power. I’m not trying—this is not part of a grab.
You know, there’s this old Bill Hicks routine about marketing and sales, that once you start thinking in marketing and sales terms, and somebody tells you that they hate marketing and sales people, marketing and sales people say, “Oh great, you’re going after the anti marketing and sales dollar, that’s good dollar.” You can’t get out of the mindset of everybody’s grasping for power. Power is fucking boring. I mean, I want to do math and physics. I want to push out all sorts of amazing things to my audience and delight the world. I want to go play the mandolin. You know, I’m not interested in government.
What I am saying is, I’m interested in making sure that the Break-Glass-In-Case-Of-Emergency people get into a position where they can take over from the corrupt people. And I think that the problem, to be honest, is that you guys have Stockholm Syndrome from living in DC. I mean, what we need, what we need currently is, and I understand what you’re saying about Biden, he threads some line, but you know, he voted for the 2005 bill to make student debt non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. I can go through a million things that Joe Biden has done badly. You know, to tell people that he’s gonna prioritize everybody who doesn’t look like him for help with their business, well, Lord knows what Hunter Biden sells, you know, to make his millions. Enough.
And I think that part of the problem is that we’re used to selecting from a pulldown menu. I would recommend that all of your listeners go to a Starbucks and ask for a “short” coffee, because you’ll notice it’s not on the menu. And when you ask for the short coffee, they will give you the short coffee. There are things that are not on the menu that you have to know to ask for. And so right now, the point is, I don’t want a pulldown Kamala Harris, or Joe Biden, or Elizabeth Warren, or any one of these people. I want the short coffee, give me the short coffee. I don’t want Mara Gay. I don’t want Nikole Hannah Jones. I don’t want Sean Hannity, none of these people. And the problem is that most of us have the idea, well, if not A, then the other thing, then B. My point is, no. I want 37, you know, Q, and you’re just talking about A/B testing.
MK: So here’s a question that builds into everything you’re saying here. What—because despite our DC Stockholm Syndrome, which is definitely a real thing in many respects, we do largely agree with your critique. We, frankly, don’t want to run for office either. That’s the dynamic here. But, that being said, there are people who do want to run for office, there are young people who show up in DC, I’m not going to name names here, but who build very big social media followings, and then come into office—like, I will name a name here—like Madison Cawthorne, you know, who has been a frustrating experience from my perspective, because on the one hand, he starts out and he talks about how he wants to fix health care and be his generation’s leader, XYZ thing. And then on the day of his election, he’s tweeting, and he’s apologized for this, name you, but, you know, “owned, Lib,” or just whatever. He’s falling—he—”Cry more, lib.” He’s falling back into the trap of that previous system. So, what would you—what would your advice be for young people who are trying to not be—who want to be that break glass figure, but every single incentive is to push in the opposite direction. Everything is telling you to go speak at the DSA convention, or to go speak at the Turning Point USA conference.
EW: Well, first of all, if you speak at Turning Point USA, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with speaking at Turning Point USA. Just make sure that Charlie Kirk knows that you’re going to say something that isn’t so charitable about Turning Point USA, and that you’re going to thank him for the opportunity, the same way I do it on Fox News. So the first thing is, is that you can absolutely go on Fox News and tell them that Fox News is a propaganda network. And once you’ve done that, that’s fine. If you listen, I went on Ted Cruz’s podcast, The Verdict, but you’ve got to be disagreeable. You can’t get swept up in the desire to make nice. You can’t sell your hosts out. I’m not gonna you know, go on Ted Cruz’s podcast to stick it to Ted Cruz. I really appreciate the fact, and I was polite as could be. On the other hand, I’m no pushover. Don’t be a pushover. Have your own independent sense of reality, and make sure that you carry it with you when you get onto that stage, and make sure that you try to call balls and strikes, and be prepared that you’re going to be called—you know, the amazing thing is in the internet era, is that there’s a name for every ready-made argument. You know, “Oh, both-sides-ism. Oh, that’s just what-about-ism.” Okay, well, you’re gonna get the automated bot-level arguments, “Dude, I thought you had integrity. Now I realize you’re just a grifter,” blah, blah, blah. You know, these are the hyenas of social media. And they just nip at you to try to wear you down. Okay, what you need, you know, you ever watch hyenas going after a lion, you’ve got 20 hyenas on one lion until the rest of the family shows up. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this show. You guys are Break-Glass-In-Case-Of-Emergency people. You know, Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro—Ben Shapiro and I can appear together. If you want to see unity, Glenn Beck just reached out to me. He said, you know, we need unity now. And I was never a Glenn Beck fan, but I just wrote one letter, you know, I think I just wrote one word, “In.” You know, what do you need? Let’s do this thing.
So my claim is, lead by example. And you don’t have to be perfect. You know, I lashed out at Kyle Kashuv, you know, when he was, like, saying I tried to warn you about this. Enjoy, you know, your new Biden Administration. And I deleted the tweets, you know, because I was on edge. You don’t have to be Jesus Christ, or some kind of a saint, you don’t have to be Mother Teresa. The key thing is, people eventually get that you really care and that you’re decent. And that, you know, maybe you want power or fame, you want to be thought well of. I know that I want status, blah, blah, blah, it’s not a big sin. What we’ve got to do is recognize our time isn’t yet, and we’re on the doorstep of our time, and we have to get there.
And so what I would say to those young people is, don’t screw up your future playing in the present, while the present is unraveling. Better to forego it. Take a few years, you’re not going to get there necessarily. Maybe this whole thing blows up before you ever get there, in which case, I’m sorry. But your best bet is not to play in the present. The thing to do is to get the damn septuagenarians and octogenarians who do not come from the modern era, who come from the pre-Great-Society universe, off the stage, replace them with technically capable people who are better adapted to the modern era. And you can find these people by the people who are maximally demonized relative to their reality, because those—let the system tell you who it fears most. Go scan the list of alt-right people. Every person called a Nazi with a Jewish surname should be somebody that you’re probably interested in talking to. Every person who’s never voted Republican, who’s called “The Far Right” is somebody you should be interested in talking to. Everyone with an advanced degree in virology who says the Wuhan lab hypothesis should not be off the table, because we don’t do science by putting our politics first before we examine all of the evidence. All of those people. I mean, it’s very hard when you can’t trust the CDC, the Surgeon General, Anthony Fauci, or the WHO to know what you’re doing, locked at home, while your business is crumbling—
EW: Not sure whether, in fact, this is actually a very serious pandemic, or a bad version of the flu, because I can tell you, I can’t figure it out. I’m a pretty smart guy, I can’t figure it out. There are times when I hear that the hospital beds are overflowing and we can’t—we don’t have space in the ICU, and we’re—we have triage deaths. And there are other reports I hear that we’ve got all of these beds ready, and that nobody’s inhabiting them. None of this makes any sense. So my claim is that if you feel like you can’t figure out COVID, you can’t figure out what just happened in the election, you don’t understand why the election is disputed in this way, join the club.
I don’t know how much voter fraud there was in this election. What I do know is that our courts didn’t find any of this persuasive. And so if you’re going to claim well, okay, no, the courts are actually under Russian control, if you keep adding epicycles to your conspiracy theory, where the Donald Trump appointed justices aren’t affirming Donald Trump, there’s some point at which you’ve got to realize that you’ve been engaged in a massive LARP, and the LARP is based on a certain amount of reality. And right now what we need to do is to have a place to come back. And I just want to talk about this one woman in Texas. I saw on social media—she adores me, she says, you know, “You’re my favorite person,” blah, blah, blah, and it’s very touching. And I see her wrapped in a Trump cape, you know. And she’s at this January 6 rally. And I knew to fear the January 6 rally, and two days before I put out a tweet stream trying—
SE: You did, you did. Yeah.
EW: I called her up. And she’s like, “I can’t believe you’re calling me.” And I just said, “Look, you’re in college. And you’re going to something like a rave, and you’re having great conversations, and you’re having fun, and you’re trying to explain your patriotism. And you’re worried that you saw all of the thumb on the scales for media, and you’re worried that it extends to the election. And the person who got shot could have been you.” And she immediately talked to me about, you know, “Well, I can’t, how do I go towards Biden?” It’s like, no, neither! Get off that spectrum! Go to your studies! Go get drunk, you know. And I said, “Be young, wild, and free. That’s your job right now. Get away from these old people!” These are crazy old people, and they have no future. This is all going to be taken care of by Father Time. In 20 years, Bill Clinton is in all likelihood going to be dead. Hillary Clinton. Very few of these people are going to be around. You are still going to be here. Stop investing in these old people. They’ve gotten control of our society. In any previous era, before the 1980s, before we started messing around with mandatory retirement, which was allowing our society to renew itself, these people would be embarrassed to be seeking office. You know, I mean, it—when was the last time an octogenarian showed up for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photoshoot? At some level, it’s not appropriate, you know? It’s just—I appreciate that they want to stay engaged, but, you know, there’s a reason that Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale didn’t run in 2020. And it’s because they have better sense to realize it’s not their time anymore. And I probably would rather have had Jimmy Carter than Joe Biden!
SE: That’s when you know, things are really bleak. Eric, I want to end it there because I think that’s such an inspiring and important point. And I can say too, from personal experience, that you’re 100% right. I mean, just small story, but, you know, whenever I was choosing between Rising, which, remember, at that time, there was no Rising, you know, it was like me, it was just Krystal, right. There was this show at The Hill, which was, you know, at 6000 subscribers on YouTube. It was like, literally nothing, not something people knew anything about. And I had another job offer as a White House correspondent, with a larger news organization here in DC. And everybody in DC told me to take that White House correspondent job, every single one—
MK: I remember this. People talked a lot of shit, it was a real thing. What’s Saagar doing? It was a whole thing.
SE: “What’s he doing?” They were like take the DC correspondent job. They’re like who knows about this thing? Stay within your, you know, your path. Keep doing these three minute Fox News appearances, right? Over and over again, like, that’s the cache Saagar, don’t you understand? Like, what are you doing? And I self exited from the system, before I got to it. I hit the red button. And I was like no, enough, I don’t care enough about Fox. I don’t care about being in the White House all the time. I don’t care about doing these Trump interviews. I don’t care about all of the traditional things in Washington media that we care about and that we are supposed to care about, in terms of your career.
What happens? A year later, “Holy shit, you’re on the Joe Rogan podcast!” Right? It was like this, it was like a—me colliding with a world that they knew tangentially, but didn’t value. And they didn’t understand, you know, the success of the program or the growth, and they minimized it, you know, basically until they couldn’t, until they couldn’t reckon with the fact about how big it had gotten and my ability to have you here to talk to you. I mean, I know people were like, I listen to Eric Weinstein to figure out what’s going on. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you know, I’ve talked with Eric, he’s been on my pod—” They’re like, “Oh, my God, you actually know him?”
And it’s just this, it’s this self-defeating problem that we have here in Washington and all establishment media in particular, where they’re always going to tell you to take the safe route. And the only way to succeed, and this happens with politics, anybody who is young, is you have to self exit and say—it’s like you said, you have to look to where the future is going, and you have to play that game, instead of doing what some, like, Boomer executives want you to do, and play within the role that you’re assigned yourself.
So I just want to say again, like, thank you for underscoring that. And, really, in a time like this, I just, we had to talk to you, because you’re one of the few people here who, in good faith, is trying to reach—we want to live in a more harmonious country. And I genuinely know that whenever I talk to you. I don’t know that whenever I talk to a lot of people. Left, right, I mean, all of it is about punishment. All of it is about exacting a cost from your enemies. I don’t know many people who would say about MAGA—be like, these are my brothers and sisters. We have to talk that way more again.
MK: I know we just said we’re gonna—I know we just said we’re gonna finish up, but I thought of a question that came up here. This is totally random. Apologies for that. But as we’re thinking about punishment, and cults, right? The use of cult was applied to Trump. I want to know what you think about this, though, Saagar. Within Eric’s framework of what would you do if your kids were kidnapped by a cult, you go the fuck in, you do all that stuff. But you almost certainly would support the punishment of the cult leader, especially if that punishment prevented him from doing that to other people’s kids. So, how do you think about the punishment framework within the contract you’ve created for Eric? Because it’s unclear which direction it goes.
SE: I agree with that. I would say, and this what I said on my show this morning, which is that he lost the election. That’s the punishment. Like, he lost. That’s the real price. He was humiliated on national stage and lost states that he won previously. Eric, I’m curious, before we go, what do you think about that?
EW: I have a very—people will not understand this and I’m hesitant to say it, but I think I probably should. I believe in smacking some people to the curb, and being the first to make sure that you offer them a hand back up. And my feeling is that right now Donald Trump needs to be smacked to the goddamn curb. And I also believe that at some level, you need to potentially offer, if not him, certainly people around him a hand back up and a way back. And the vengeance—the problem with social justice theory is that justice is actually sometimes a euphemism for vengeance. A lot of us feel very humiliated, we feel very jealous. And Donald Trump is going to be built back up by overreach of the Democratic Party, because the Democratic Party is not without its own blood on his hands. And, in essence, the Democratic Party created the presidency of Donald Trump, in my opinion, by saying, how do we get somebody to irradiate themselves? Well, we’ll give them cancer and then they’ll need to irradiate themselves. Inside of that framework, I don’t think that the Democratic Party is in a position to do this. I do think that the tiny group of misfits to which you guys belong, and I can’t tell you how touched I am that you guys think in these terms, let me just say that for all future appearances on anything you do you have a general “Yes.” I don’t give out a general “Yes,” but I so admire what you guys are doing, that, just don’t even ask me to come next time, whenever you want.
What I’m really thinking is that at some level, you do need to smack some people to the curb. But you also need to recognize that religions that are around for thousands of years have forgiveness, and grace, and redemption. And this passion for the destruction of the individual, the cancellation of an entire human being, the social isolation from deplatforming is a recipe for creating people with nothing left to lose who have access to fertilizer, and potassium nitrate, and worse. And, you know, my claim is that most of us need love, and admiration, and trust. And look at my, look at my timeline. The number of people who say “Eric, I always politically disagree with you, but I never feel that you’re condescending—” Never use words like knuckle draggers, or make fun of the inability of people to spell. I talk a lot about the fact that my IQ is a bit lower than most people imagine, because of my learning issues. I talk about the fact that I am disgusted with the tote bag conspiracy, you know, if you have Karl Castle on your answering machine, that you’re so proud of the fact that you’re not like “those other people” in the center of the country who, by the way, all those farmers actually know genetics probably better than you do, because you just don’t even understand what’s going on in Kansas or Montana or whatever, ranchers…
We need to basically realize that the rest of—that our country is being driven insane by its media, but that person-to-person, human-to-human, most of us are better. And one of the things that I really think, you know, the cure for anti-semitism is getting to know more Jews as friends. The cure for anti-black prejudice is, you know, hanging out in black spaces and experiencing the warmth and hospitality. Part of the problem is that we’ve learned to distrust each other and to look down on each other, and if you will just come forward with an open heart and an outstretched hand, almost everybody immediately realizes that they’re coked up on institutional media, and once that kind of haze and fog lifts, we get back to the business of being who we are, because frankly, if we’re going to be “We’re great, and the other side is horrible,” that’s not America, you’ve already given up on your country. And so I just want to say what a pleasure it is to be in a position where, whatever our differences are, I know you guys have your hearts in the right place. I just view myself as a supporting actor. You guys are the future, and anything I can do to help you get you there will be my honor.
MK: Likewise, Eric.
SE: Thank you so much.
Hello, You’ve found The Portal. I’m your host Eric Weinstein, and I’m still trying to lie low until this election cycle is concluded given that, in particular, the threat of being booted off the platforms like Twitter for intellectual non-compliance looms over us all. If you have any questions about whether self-censorship is real, I, as a grown Harvard PhD with just under a half a million followers and a direct connection to the CEO of Twitter, live in fear that more than a decade spent building an audience can be undone without possible appeal by the push of a button, sending a single message from some person named Vijaya, who I have never met, after having done nothing at all wrong. Oh yeah. It’s real. These sudden Kafkaesque suspensions, which are then retracted and apologized for, and which emanate from the ironically named Trust and Safety group really do work. Congratulations Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Mission accomplished.
So I am going to make this an all audio-essay episode, with three distinct segments. These will begin my goodbye to the wildest administration within the memories of my middle-aged life, which I may add, also includes the administrations of Ronald Reagan and even Richard Nixon fairly vividly. I think we will begin with a segment on Trump and what I have avoided saying about him for some time. We will then hear from two of our loyal sponsors, I’ll come back to give my thoughts on the bizarre state of the 2020 US election before paying some bills, and we will then hear from two other sponsors before moving to our final segment on the effect of the 2020 election on my colleagues in long form podcasting. So, without further ado, let us discuss what I have waited to say about Donald Trump until the bitter end.
Beginning To Cash Out My Trump Position
If your regular commentators have sounded a bit odd recently to your ears, they have to mine as well. I spent some time recently rather puzzled, and tried to figure out why that might be, before I settled on a relatively simple explanation. In some sense, what I believe we are seeing is that members of the commentariat had settled in for a kind of alternate political reality when Donald Trump first took the oath of office, and that each analyst had built a bespoke theory of Donald Trump and the meaning of the sojourn into the bizarre splitting of the country into incompatible camps of political interpretation. As it now appears to most of this group, Trump will shortly leave office, and so people are cashing out any remaining value in their private Trump positions. We are finding that some people who supported him actually secretly despise him. Others who thought they hated his idiosyncratic antics are surprised by how upsetting they find Biden’s staffing choices, signaling a return to our usual metastatic swamp politics.
There is a semi-official position of our institutional class on Donald Trump that has to be stated up front. Put simply, Donald Trump is to them an unethical and lucky idiot under the control of foreign powers, who stumbled into the White House because an enormous percentage of the United States electorate is composed of either unethical bigots or confused fools who cannot think for themselves, and are thus taken in by a simple conman.
Now, in my opinion that is simply false. In my estimation there is a single aspect of Donald Trump that is more remarkable than any other. And that is that Donald Trump is the only true outsider ever to run the presidential gauntlet successfully and win. Perhaps his singular importance within our system is that he is utterly unique as an outsider. I hope I have this right, but when our government is understood to include our military as well as political appointees, so far as I can work out Donald Trump is the first and only president in our nation’s history to have never been in government. This one fact is the key to understanding many dichotomies that Trump vs Biden represented:
- Outsiders vs Insiders
- The Crude vs The Civil
- Idiosyncratic vs Systemic corruption
- Bullshittng vs Spinning
- Unpredictable negotiation vs Reliable leadership
- Offensive vs Overly Pandering behaviors
- Narcissistic vs Collectivist impulses
- Free vs Constrained thinking and action
Now the difficult part to talk about is this. As I have said before, I consider the Trump phenomenon to be an epiphenomena of the escalating kleptocracy of our centrist, Silent, and Boomer political classes. When you can’t point to a moderate, political, and adult center because they are too busy stealing things that aren’t nailed down, you are more likely to end up in the far wings of the political spectrum. And both parties have been busy stuffing their pockets and faces while playing footsie with their own extremes. This is done by alternating between keeping a proper distance one minute and casting come-hither looks towards the fringes in the next.
And, in this set up, the one thing we cannot ever discuss is the narrative—the GIN, to regular listeners—that allows the looting of our nation and its future by a seemingly near-permanent gerontocracy of magical individuals conceived between the Hoover and Truman administrations. They are the Golden Ones, if you will. These are people who, in any sensible era, would resign for the good of their own children, but who seem to be utterly unconcerned that they have held back needed change for more than 30-50 years, rather like a hypothetical aging monarch waiting for an untrustworthy heir to expire so that she herself can at last move on towards a well-deserved rest and reward. It is not so much that these people are old, mind you, but rather that they are failed leaders who have held power without success, challenge, or much turnover for far longer than is normal in any healthy society.
Many of you know that I occasionally refer to Donald Trump as an existential risk to the fabric of our democracy, and by extension the world, as we are the lone stabilizing nuclear and economic superpower as I see it. But what I have tried not to say until now is why I have called Donald Trump an existential risk since before his election, while I obviously see him as the enemy of my enemy. Is it not the fact that the enemy of my enemy is supposed to be my friend? It is here that we run into difficulty. Most of the political observers seem to be cheerleaders of one form or another, and I suppose that is even true of me. But you can imagine without too much difficulty that during the doping scandal in the Tour de France bicycle race, for example, that there would be someone cheering for the race itself, given that it seems everyone who was viable was juicing.
That is roughly my position now. I am a cheerleader for the American experiment and don’t want any of these people to win. Now, I know that that doesn’t make sense at some level, but it is what I believe, and at this point I am just trying to wait this out.
One of the things that makes me consider Donald Trump an existential risk is that he is the most skilled politician I have ever seen in getting air time to talk about what the mainstream wants never to openly discuss: Immigration, Islam, the Chinese Communist Party, Critical Race Theory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Costs of Bad Globalization, the American Embassy in Jerusalem, comparative viral morbidity and mortality rates. But discussing these things isn’t the problem. In fact, I am in awe of how he gets the kleptocrats to talk about the things that they are actively trying to paper over and are thus loath to discuss.
Let me get something out of the way: Donald Trump has a very particular and methodical way of pointing out what is wrong with the mainstream, as I understand it. At some point early on, I studied the recurring motifs and structures in his Twitter feed and found a tremendous amount of method between his supposedly spontaneous ejaculations into the Twittersphere. And this is likely why he was hired, and is not likely to be renewed. He was considered, in some sense, by his supporters a foreign threat, intended to kill the tumor of systemic corruption in Washington D.C.; Manhattan, New York; and Silicon Valley slightly faster than he damages the accumulated national culture of civil society.
Without fail, he simultaneously takes the legitimate anger we all feel as well as the critiques that have been building for generations, but which have been silenced and stonewalled for decades by our mainstream institutions, and he remakes them in his own image so that they are more powerful, more politically effective, and much more divisive than the underlying correct versions of any legitimate and decent point he might raise. This has a tendency to polarize us about Donald Trump rather than about the issues at hand.
In some ways, Donald Trump is similar to Black Lives Matter during Covid, where an enormous number of issues had been building up under quarantine-like conditions. Then suddenly, a single tragic death with the optics of a police lynching caught on video allowed all energy to be focused on the single issue of unarmed black Americans dying in police custody. This is a category which, while absolutely tragic, is simply too small to fully explain the enormous reaction, given that nearly identical deaths had recently occurred on video with white suspects and without much impact. In short, both Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter learned how to channel diverse frustrations over legitimate grievances that had for years been pushed by institutions to lie outside the Overton window so that they could not be discussed by the population in general. And both Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter made everything they could into a narrative about themselves as their reward for breaking the silences.
For example, as a Xenophilic Restrictionist, I have sought for years to point out that absolutely nothing anti-immigrant can be automatically inferred from an American’s desire for lower immigration, without further information. That point went nowhere politically, as both political parties pay the donor class with visas as a tool to keep working Americans from being able to bargain effectively with their employers at the negotiating table. What is more, no news organization, at least with which I am familiar, has ever broken ranks on the idea that there is an entirely legitimate xenophilic case to be made for restricting high levels of immigration. And that was where things were, at least before 2016.
Enter Donald Trump. In one fell swoop, Donald Trump made the pro-American case for labor, but he also gave Americans a new-found freedom to blame foreign workers trying to get in if they so chose. In the Trump era, if you wanted to take a shortcut around blaming the donor class, which was trying to put pressure on wages to juice corporate profits, you could just blame the desperate immigrants themselves, risking their lives by trying to cross the border illegally. The choice was yours.
This left people like me in a conundrum: essential progressive issues that had been directly stifled for 40 to 50 years were suddenly alive again, but reborn as right-of-center nationalism. Is Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory in particular simply divisive McCarthyist bullshit with a PhD? Is constructive engagement through ever tighter economic ties with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party a suicidal strategy for the US? Is there something both Orwellian and wrong with not reporting intolerant religiously motivated massacres as being specifically religiously motivated? Why, after all, can’t we discuss that ever freer trade is an esoteric, anti-labor wealth concentration scheme defended by economists with exoteric excuses well known inside the economics profession to be horseshit?
Well, Donald Trump was here to help and, at least in public, he always seemed to relish deliberately cutting at least a few corners to help out anyone with a simple and direct frame of mind who wanted to call bullshit on what appears, at least to me, to be a creepy and mysterious media consensus not to honestly report the news. But there was always a cost. The Trump version of every one of the above reasonable ideas was simpler and thus far more politically powerful… and it was always also far more dangerous than it had been previously been. And this polarized many contrarians, myself included.
Yes, I am a Restrictionist, but I wasn’t going to stand for relaxed norms in conversation so that xenophobia could flourish. My national pride may despise the Davos agenda to degrade democratic sovereignty, but I wasn’t going to opt for newly liberated jingoism, because my patriotism doesn’t have anything to do with nationalist bigotry. In fact it repudiates it. Yes, I favor talking about the religious madness that totalitarian jihadis have invoked to explain their massacres of ordinary people, but no, I don’t favor painting my many Muslim friends with a broad brush dipped in excrement by Donald Trump, just to get at the ridiculous ways news desks refuse to comment honestly on mass murderers who are cheered on by what is still a *miniscule* minority of American Muslims who support jihadi barbarism.
And so, Donald Trump has offered this same service to all contrarians who have been ignored for many years. He would finally get a mutant version of your legitimate issues heard on a world stage for the price of changing the prohibitions around what could be said, and also do so in a way that made your issue partially intellectually illegitimate. And while some of those relaxations were warranted, some of them were terrifying. Particularly in the time during the 2016 election, up to the period shortly after Charlottesville, my various inboxes and direct messages showcased to me the glee that anti-semites and other bigots were experiencing. The number 1488 was suddenly everywhere, and Pepe the frog greeted me standing next to an oven one minute and grinning underneath the welcome message Arbeit Macht Frei the next. Lots of tweets and direct messages were suddenly throwing around Hebrew and Yiddish words to indicate that the anti-semites were coming for us now, having cracked the supposedly secure code of our shibboleths? The message: We would not replace them. Trust me, it was an eye opener.
Thus, when the prophesied friendly stranger in the black sedan pulls up to tell you that he’s a lovable man who will be your vehicle to take you anywhere you want to go, the answer for me was then and is still a clear “Nuh uh”. I mean, the band The Ides of March pretty much warned us about this exact phenomenon directly in 1970, no? And with one hell of a hook. I digress.
Sure, I could see the appeal of at last getting past the gatekeeping at CNN or NPR if I only closed my eyes to the emboldening of bigots and ignored the body count of Trump allies who were injured by their associations with him. But, as none other than Peggy Noonan had prophetically warned us about the phenomenon of Trump cooties before the election, nobody was going to be getting out of that Cadillac as the same person who stepped inside that car. So some of my contrarian friends got in, while others stayed out.
But it divided many of us contrarians and first principle thinkers to see legitimate issues that could not previously be discussed turned into supercharged illegitimate issues that should not be discussed in the terms that he offered. In short, I ended up praying for Trump not to find more of these issues, because every time he located some issue over which Americans felt they were being gaslighted, he took away its legitimacy for someone who might come later and actually want to fix it in the right way. Trump was like a self-taught back alley surgeon, who could take you right away at a price you could afford because he refused to scrub in, while all the other properly trained physicians who followed procedures were booked with indefinite waiting lists at extortionary prices. Some of us wanted nothing to do with him, while others signed up to take the risk.
Now, if I am honest, Trump did do something to clamp down on the right wing fringe and their tiki torches. After Charlottesville, the worst of it may have been over, but the pattern was established. Trump was going to change what was permissible in political life for both better and worse. The Overton window was going to be stretched under Trump to include things that should never have been included as well as other things that should never have been excluded by our moderate institutions from conversation in civil society.
So, for example, where in years past I had foolishly written an academic, peer reviewed explanation and Coasian labor model for economists, explaining why the villains in immigration theory were US employers screaming about labor shortages, Trump was much closer to saying “The immigrants are taking your jobs.” Well, to a labor market analyst, that’s not remotely the same thing at all as saying “US employers and political donors are colluding to confiscate your most valuable rights without market-based compensation, while denigrating you as lazy and stupid, and hiding behind a veneer of excellence and xenophilia as they economically undermine your families.” But it’s much easier, isn’t it?
So I began to better understand his strategy. He was simply going to take all the correct points about the Chinese Communist Party, Trade, Universities, Totalitarian Islam, Migration, and Critical Theory that our corrupt political centrists in both parties had made impossible for us to discuss, and he would break through the media blockade to replace the whole lot with a truly shitty and intellectually damaged version of each and every one of them.
And that is where I found myself. Trump was effectively taking all the issues that we needed to fix and making them all over in his own image. He was going to divide us by rebranding legitimate forms of contrarianism in a way that would potentially paralyze us for a generation, as China would continue to accumulate power. (A period of time I don’t think we have.) Thus, between Trump’s unpredictability, an asset in negotiations, while a nightmare in alliances, and his ability to divide us by rebranding undiscussable issues that should unite all but our elite, as if they were naturally MAGA issues specifically branded in ways to divide us all, Trump set us up for a collection of daily splitting events in the political multiverse.
So why haven’t I talked about what the threat is? Well because first of all, I don’t want to highlight more issues for him to find and rebrand. I also frankly don’t want to talk about him. I find it boring. I’d frankly rather talk about jazz, physics, love, and getting our millennial generation the option for homes and families they need to renew our society.
I also don’t want to talk about the nuclear football constantly when we can mostly forget about it. And I also don’t want to give legitimacy to Donald Trump. Yes, like everyone else, he can see what we are not supposed to talk about. But unlike anyone else, Donald Trump can always get the issue heard, albeit at the cost of changing the issue into something unrecognizable and occasionally disgusting. And that makes it possible for the kleptocrats to justify reimposing an even narrower and more draconian Overton window than before. As they are now attempting to do.
Right now, you can look at the changes in the Terms of Services of the tech platforms, and the nature of the algorithms which tell us what we can and cannot simply observe. If you thought Trump was shattering the Overton window for good, take a second look. Watch now as they Build it. Back. And even Better that it ever was before.
We will return after these messages with our next audio essay on the US Elections of 2020.
What Is Going On With This Election?
Perhaps what concerns me most about the fallout of Trump’s decision to contest the 2020 election is that an enormous number of us are in one of two seemingly irreconcilable camps. Either we can’t imagine how anyone is seriously claiming that there is a basis to challenge the victory of Joe Biden and the Democrats, or we believe that it is just as obvious that Trump clearly won the election.
Perhaps my top concern is that this infinite splitting of the political multiverse must come to an end, or we will become an ungovernable country, divided by two main master partisan narratives. We cannot continue indefinitely to pretend that somehow we are the sane, and that the millions who disagree with us are simply crazy.
As I believe that—barring some kind of a revelation—it has become clear that for some time Joe Biden has won the general election, I will be concentrating on why my friends and followers who disagree with my conclusion need not be any crazier than those who agree with me.
The main point I want to consider is this: “What does it mean if someone raises the issue of fraud or a stolen election?” Does it mean that they are necessarily a delusional Trump supporter? A QAnon lunatic? A dupe?
Hardly, in my opinion. In fact, the best argument for keeping the issue of fraud on the table comes not from Donald Trump, who has so far, in my opinion, embarrassed himself by failing to make any credible case, but instead from the Democratic Party.
So, while that may initially sound somewhat far-fetched, let us remember that it was from the Democratic Party and its allied media that we first heard that the 2016 election had been compromised by Russia, and that Russia likely held control over Donald Trump, and by extension the United States.
Now before I get into the meat of this essay, I need to locate some serious malware that is likely installed between both your ears and mine, so as to uninstall and hopefully disable it. Ready?
Okay, when I say the phrases “Russian Asset”, Kompromat, “Putin’s Bitch”, “golden showers”, and “Moscow hotel”, what is the first name that comes to your mind? Okay, great. So hopefully we’ve just established that both you and I have had the same malware installed in our minds through mainstream media.
Now, this cognitive malware I’m aiming to remove is not what was alleged and insinuated, however, about Donald Trump’s sexual proclivities, indebtedness, or fondness for authoritarian despots. It was instead that this was a matter for casual accusation, lighthearted banter, humor, and bonding. We were all led, regardless of party, into talking rather casually about two nuclear nations and the infiltration and direct control of the stronger one by the weaker of the two old Cold War rivals.
Now, call me old fashioned, but I am passably acquainted with the history of our intelligence services, special forces, and their most audacious exploits. No one refers to Operation Ajax in 1950s Iran as “Kermit’s Shits and Giggles”. I’ve never heard of the “Cuban Missile Prank” or “Cuban Missile Tomfoolery”. When a serious person like a sitting senator becomes serious about alleging something of this magnitude, we are usually talking about things that involve Charges of Treason, Secret Closed Door Sessions, Covert Operations, Regime Change, Troop and Fleet Deployments, and potentially War. There is no such thing, of which I am aware, as “kind of a Russian Asset”, “Russian Asset-ish”, “Russian Asset Lite”, or “Russian Asset without obligation to extreme action beyond formal reprimand”. If you don’t believe me, try asking Julius Rosenberg. You get my point.
So what I want you to notice is that the malware that is in your brain has a particular purpose. It appears to be installed to allow you to treat an assertion of the executive branch of the United States government as being under Russian control as some kind of semi-serious concern that oddly doesn’t rise to the level of exotic emergency action. This is somewhat akin to the claims of a few Hollywood personalities every four years that if a Republican becomes president, they will leave the country. I am sure that this means something, it is just that I am not sure what it means when they fail to depart. Whatever it does mean, the malware allows us to explore what are quite clearly literal claims without triggering an expectation of literal consequences.
So with that understood, I want to point a few things out that I believe are socially extremely controversial, while somehow simultaneously being intellectually non-controversial:
- This was obviously not a free and fair election.
- It can be completely legitimate to worry about whether this election was fair with respect to material levels of voter fraud.
- Neither A nor B need have anything to do with Donald Trump and his legal team’s bizarre and largely unsupported, unprofessional post-election claims or seemingly unhinged post-election strategy.
Let’s begin with A. A free and fair general election would have to include a true national primary election, and we clearly don’t have a national Democratic primary. What we have instead is a political industry run by insiders for insiders, where MSNBC and its allied media’s blatant and legendary mistreatment of Andrew Yang’s campaign cleanly and openly illustrated that our primaries are at least partially fixed by insiders for insiders. The amount of credibility spent dropping Andrew Yang from graphics or posting a picture of an unrelated Yang was just incredible. The network at times seemed to spend more time apologizing for one obvious diss after another than it did fairly covering the candidate.
Some of us in long-form podcasting, who interviewed and talked with more than one candidate for the Democratic nomination, became aware of just how tightly integrated the political parties, media news desks, think tanks, and donor classes truly are. We at times talked about hosting debate replacements where the candidates with something to say could dig deep into issues, while those searching for those canned ready-made-for-TV gotcha moments could take a hike and kiss our asses. Would you believe that there are actually Democratic party rules in restraint of trade in place to make that impossible in the marketplace of ideas? I suppose we should all have seen that coming. But we didn’t truly understand just how many ways this process has been bulletproofed by its insiders to remain a duopoly that stays in power by doling out access to media in exchange for promises not to hold an actual primary with actual coverage and actual debates outside of legacy platforms.
So the fact that this wasn’t remotely a free and fair election, given the open interference from media, tech platforms, and the party mandarins was in evidence at all turns, and doesn’t really hinge on proving fraud in the later general election. You don’t get to the general election without building on a primary as foundation. And our rolling pseudo-primary system is manifestly neither free, nor fair, nor an election. Thus any general election that rests on the primary would not be free and fair, even if there were zero irregularities for mail-in voting and in-person voting.
As for point B, this claim works in roughly the same way. Imagine that absolutely everything Donald Trump, his legal team, and his supporters have said about fraud is at best false, and at worst an attempt to subvert democracy. Imagine they are wrong about everything. Well, even so, it still makes sense to worry about fraud, as I will try to explain.
Over the last four years, the hatred of Donald Trump by the establishment produced a kind of a kitchen sink strategy. His opponents hated him so much that they threw everything they could think of at him, without noticing that their conflicting and simplistic claims tended to weaken each other. The same people would accuse him of being both a low IQ idiot and an evil supergenius in adjacent accusations, without stopping to breathe or notice any contradictions. He was, simultaneously, a Xenophobe of the highest order, but with a foreign wife, and who loved only Russia. A billionaire who was broke, but whose oceans of non-existent money somehow insulated him. In short, his opponents never settled on a simple consistent narrative, and preferred a largely self-contradictory strategy in hopes that something would eventually stick.
And so it went with the election.
In particular, there were three claims insisted on by his detractors which, at least in their stronger forms, could not all simultaneously be true. They are as follows:
- It is essentially insane to suggest that the 2020 election could be stolen, as only conspiracy nuts would say such a thing.
- Donald Trump was a foreign asset under the control of Vladimir Putin, who was installed in 2016 amidst foreign election tampering.
- Donald Trump began his presidency by disrespecting the US intelligence community, whose skill is the envy of the world, and whose loyalty and patriotism should be beyond question.
Ahem. You may pick no more than two of these strong claims before you run into a contradiction. If you claim that Donald Trump was under foreign control and that the 2016 election was materially tainted by fake news and foreign interference, then it would become the patriotic duty of our intelligence community to stop a foreign stealth take over of the United States by a Russian asset by almost any means available. And since you believe that our intelligence community is highly skilled, it can’t be unthinkable for them to hack an election if the sovereignty of the United States has been compromised, given our history of exploits since the Dulles Brothers (Allen Welsh and John Foster) and J. Edgar Hoover. Thus if you want to claim that it is madness to even question the hacking of the election without evidence, you would either have to claim that our intelligence community isn’t imaginative or patriotic enough to consider removing a compromised leader controlled from abroad, or that the extravagant attempt to taint Trump’s presidency by claiming that he was Putin’s man in DC was a political stunt. A monumental work of Kayfabe, held together by horseshit and presented as if it were the product of straight shooting patriots. I personally would like to think that treating the claim of Trump as being under Putin’s direct control as overblown political theater is the best way out of this messy puzzle. But just consider how expensive back-propagating the implications of that line of reasoning truly are, and how despicable his opposition would have to be if everyone inside has always believed that the Russian asset theory was overblown BS.
So while I have never seen any clear evidence of widespread fraud, I would certainly trust our intelligence community to do their sworn patriotic duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, in attempting to remove a foreign asset in control of our nuclear football inside our own oval office. Thus the idea of asserting that any questioning of electoral integrity in 2020 as automatically being crazy talk must itself be crazy talk. The major conspiracy theorists of this era will always be those who asserted that Trump has been compromised early and belonged completely to Vladimir Putin. You don’t get to claim all the strongest assertions you find politically expedient without noticing that they will always tend to directly contradict each other.
In my personal estimation it was either up to the Democratic Party and its affiliated media to back off of the strongest and least substantiated claims against Donald Trump, or to follow the consequences of those claims into severe action well beyond impeachment. The fact that they did neither is what confused me completely, and what leads me to say that a questioning of the legitimacy of the 2020 election follows not from Benford’s law, nor from Trump’s legal strategy, but is instead a direct consequence of routinely asserting something tantamount to treason, while avoiding any necessity to explore the dire, and likely obligate, consequences of such assertions, which, I trust, are known to us all and need not be detailed here. It may be a low probability event, but it is not consistent to claim that one must be a devotee of QAnon to imagine that our intelligence community would be forced to act, in the presence of material and substantiated claims tantamount to treason.
We will return shortly with our final audio essay on the state of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web.
Loyalty and the Intellectual Dark Web
This essay is written from what some today would consider a gendered perspective. As a guy who grew up going to an all male high school, and who has since held positions in academic mathematics, physics, and economics departments, who has worked in finance and hedge funds, risk management, and technology, I have found myself repeatedly in a world far more gender-segregated than most, and one which I wish appealed to more women. I have had very few collaborators, but they have been oddly evenly split between men and women. My high school and my experience with the Sell-side culture of Wall Street investment banks allow me to say that “Toxic Masculinity” actually describes a real thing and it should never have been ruined by overuse for just that reason. In one evening in finance or 11th grade, I probably heard more open misogyny than I did in all my years studying mathematics, physics, and economics combined. But what all male group culture can sound like behind closed doors in high trust environments varies more than almost any woman likely imagines. Some of it was and is absolutely wonderful, and some of it bordered on psychotic. Sell-side finance culture was by far the worst I experienced. In my experience, many people there were trying to earn your business by assuming that you are automatically car, sports, stripper, and cigar obsessed. And those Sell-side professionals were not entirely male, either. It was pretty much exactly as you would expect from what you see in the movies minus the dwarf tossing. I guess I never got invited for dwarf tossing after I turned down free tickets to the US open. [sic trans]
MIT and Harvard’s Symplectic Geometers and Topologists were, by contrast, likely the best. An all male culture at MIT when I first arrived to be sure, but one which easily and instantly put out a welcome mat as soon as talented women started showing an interest. No one there even seemed to notice, or wanted to discuss much, any change in the culture, as the subject matter was universally thought to be far more interesting. There were also very subtle gradations: Labor Market Economics, Algebraic Geometry, and Particle Theory at Harvard were at times somewhat exaggeratedly and, frankly, comically male, but they had a core of women regularly attending and giving the seminars, and I don’t think I ever heard any comments there that couldn’t be said in a mixed group.
The reason I am going into all this as background is that I want to establish two separate claims:
- That, due to my subject matter interests alone, I have inadvertently spent a fair chunk of my life in a large and diverse array of nearly all male environments.
- That my experience within these environments is that they range along a spectrum, from outright misogyny to environments which are welcoming to women but which are self-segregated by the differing interests of men and women, and with every gradation in between.
Unfortunately this diversity is not accurately perceived. In an effort to drain all the true swamps of their misogyny, we drained pretty much every male culture we could find of its vitality. Try to imagine a world in which women could not congregate by themselves for fear that they would get up to witchcraft. That’s pretty close to where we are now.
You may fairly ask the question, “What, if anything, is lost when we target straight male culture by treating any meeting behind closed doors as suspect? Isn’t that where the bad behavior actually happens?” Well, yes. That’s right. But there are so many good things, and even magic that happens too, that are being lost when we don’t understand that the majority of such rooms are normal, healthy places on which men actually depend as much as nursing mothers who form support groups for postpartum depression, say.
And, while few mention it, men have tended to help each other course correct, in private. When you see a man come to his friend’s aid in public, and when that friend being threatened has done something wrong, you actually have zero idea of what is going on in private. Maybe they are high-fiving like idiots. That certainly happens among jerks. But it is far more likely that there are going to be words that go in a different direction. Men have historically helped each other get back on track in private, while holding mobs at bay in public, in a way that puts an enormous premium on loyalty, but which has not always been understood from outside, because it is, by definition, invisible.
So this is all preamble, because the last section of this episode has to do with a funny topic. For a guy that values male culture around course-correction in private, it is somewhat odd to admit that my least favorite four-word sentence to hear spoken in the English language by another man has recently become “I’ve got your back.” Now, why is that? Shouldn’t that sentence be among one’s favorite sentences?
Well, that’s undoubtedly how it should be… but truth be told, most of us have never been part of a fighting unit, and the closest thing we’ve been to a platoon in a firefight is a movie theater. We know that there is supposed to be a fog of war, just as we are familiar with the phrase “brothers in arms”, but, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us must realize that we mostly don’t fully know what those words actually mean. Dealing with an implacable mob on the internet that is taking aim at your reputation, and thus your ability to earn a living to feed your family, is surely a hell of a lot closer to being in a bar fight than paintball is. Full disclosure: I have never played paintball.
So when a man says “I’ve got your back”, what is he really saying?
Well I used to think I knew what it meant, but I don’t fully know anymore. And at the moment, it feels like it means nothing.
I have placed my life in the hands of only one male friend on multiple occasions, and none of those involved combat. That friend’s name is Adil Abdulali, and I suppose he also placed his life in my hands now that I think about it. We do have a few decent enough stories about physical risk from years back that remain, so far anyway, personal and private. Our mothers might be listening to this podcast after all and I wouldn’t want to alarm them. Please don’t worry, Alia, if you are listening, everything worked out fine, and it was a long time ago.
I must therefore, by necessity, lean rather more heavily on this one life-long friendship’s experience than I would like. But he has had my back certainly for a long time and, knowing him, probably has since shortly after I first met him at age 16.
Now, do we disagree about many things? Of course. Have we always done the right thing by each other? Mostly, but not always. Yet, we have always righted our ship when it has listed, and we don’t keep track of the small things. There have been stretches of years where one or the other of us were in a drought of good luck and it just doesn’t make sense to pay attention to these matters over decades.
So, why am I bringing this up? Because ever since The Portal took off, I have been regularly and repeatedly invited to “throw other people under the bus” as the kids today say. And most of those calls have been to throw men, rather than women, in the path of an oncoming mob.
The public calls don’t sound familiar to my middle-aged ears. And while they are often phrased in bro-speak, they seem foreign to Protestant, Masculine, British, Professional, and other norms of not regularly losing your shit in public, nor sorting out personal business with friends in front of the world. I may be only one of those four things, but I appreciate that norm in whatever cultures exhibit it.
So, what does this new culture sound like? Well, something like this:
“Hey Eric, did you hear what your bros just said about you?”
“Dude, time to collect your friend. He’s so cringe, and it’s not a good look for you.”
“Yo, you gonna call out your homie on his BS or nah? Thought not. Bye.”
“Hey, did you read that article about your ‘Ride or Die’ and what he did? You gotta cut him loose, dude.”
Now, what is this style of speech? “Bruh”, “Nah”, “Call out”, “Ride or Die”, “Not a good look”, “Collect your homie”, “Spill the tea”, I don’t know about the rest of you who grew up before the Internet, but at least in my experience, we didn’t use to talk or think like this all the time.
The point of bringing up this stylized speech is that the calls are so frequent that it makes me wonder what we are doing as a society. Assuming men and women are truly equal, it stands to reason that I would be invited to disavow women making controversial or boneheaded statements about half the time. Why are there so few calls to disavow not only women but tech companies, government officials, newspapers, hereditary monarchies, theocracies, etc.?
In particular, among nations, I find it fascinating that I am regularly invited to disavow Israel, but not Turkey, both of which I deeply love. I get regularly invited to disavow men and not women. I must disavow Brett Kavanaugh on the Right, but not Joe Biden on the Left in a similar situation. This appears to be because of a persistent asymmetry: I am invited to disavow things from the political Right by the political Left, while the political Right doesn’t expect devotion or this kind of disavowal of the Left. In short, the disavowal game doesn’t seem to play by any symmetrical rules.
And why is this? Well, it appears to be because disavowal has become a major collectivist political tactic to pick off all who refuse to sing from one party’s hymnal when instructed. For better or worse, only one of our two political parties seems to be imbued with the power to grant an indulgence, so that someone may keep his respectability separate from his behavior. Call it the Chappaquiddick privilege, if you’re confused about which party has the power.
So, how does this work? Well, no one sensible wants to publicly support bad behavior, so the rhyme “Silence equals Violence” is particularly effective against caring progressives who want to “Do the right thing”. The problem with this is that Public Silence or even Public Support for another person is not remotely the same thing as condoning an action of that person in private. I regularly support someone in public whose behavior I may criticize in private. In fact, I’ll go further. I believe that we are obligated to both protect and not abandon friends to mobs that are braying for their blood, just as we are obligated to balance public protection with private accountability within an intimate context.
Yet, what we seem to be seeing now is a bull market in disavowal: “Do you disavow Israel?” “Do you disavow your employer?” “Do you disavow your sibling?” “Do you disavow the IDW?” “Do you disavow your candidate?” … etc. etc. etc.
That’s a lot of requests for disavowal, so let me make this easier. When it comes to people I have spent serious time with, the simple answer is a polite but firm ‘No’. The slightly longer answer is “Go bugger yourself. I appreciate that you are offering me a bus under which you believe my friends belong. I well understand that there is always a mob, which hungers not only for justice but sanctimony, attention, entertainment, and excitement, and that my friends may look like a delicious snack to it. But in a gendered context, men haven’t usually course-corrected in this way. We take each other aside, we talk it through, attempting to minimize harm as well as embarrassment, offer support, and in serious circumstances, attempt to find a way back if someone has done something seriously wrong. Occasionally, when we are really not getting through, we have even been known to physically fight each other in private without letting on in public that such a thing has ever occurred. So if you don’t see men taking each other aside, you may easily get confused that nothing is happening. But, that’s not usually my experience. Very often, the difficult conversations are happening, even when what you are seeing are outward signs of support. And perhaps, calling each other out is the new way forward, but, I’m old and set in my ways, and I don’t know how to do that with my friends. So, you kids have fun and I’ll stick with having different public and private reactions from time to time. We can always compare notes at the very end to see whose system actually worked better.”
So, why do I believe the older system, with all its flaws, is better? Isn’t it hypocritical? To me, this is like saying “If you feel that the human body isn’t shameful, you should just go to work naked, as it would be far more honest.” Let’s admit that always saying the same thing in public as you do in private has got a certain, powerful, simple appeal to it. However, it is a disaster to succumb to that appeal.
Permit me to put forward a theory. Society is actually safer with fewer isolated people, and it is safest when we all have a stake in the world. And cancellation? It’s about creating people with no stake in life and no way back. It is an absolute abomination. There is simply no social justice without redemption, statutes of limitations, forgiveness, due process, and grace, full stop. But aside from social justice through cancellation being just about the most heartless, braindead, boneheaded, evil, malignant, repugnant, and self-contradictory idea I have ever had the pleasure to encounter, it is also dangerous. How often do we read about a tragedy involving a loner on a losing streak who mostly kept to himself and had nothing left to lose? That may be extreme, but it gets to the problem of disavowal, cancelation, shame, and repudiation. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Let me put it in simple terms: the men you depend on to be capable of stopping a bar fight are, somewhat embarrassingly, generally the men who have been in bar fights themselves. The man who stops a drunk buddy from making an ass out of himself, by finding a diplomatic way to exit an incident, is not infrequently a guy who has been drunk and stopped by his buddies from the same kind of idiocies in some earlier phase of his life, like ten years ago, or ten minutes ago. If we were to disavow our buddies for their most boneheaded moments, we’d all generally be forced to disavow ourselves first. We would then keep ourselves and each other from earning a living and would all shun ourselves into social isolation, poverty, and self-harm.
One can hear the response forming immediately in the minds of the Woke, “Dude, how is this not condoning bad behavior?” Well, it would be if every time you saw a man stick up for his friends, that was all that happened. And it is time to tell the world, “That’s not generally what happens. And by inducing everyone to publicly call out their friends for their lapses, we the Internet are ridding ourselves of the most powerful single tool we have to make better men.”
This new social media theory of “no platforming”, “cancelation”, “calling out”, and “shaming” is not a recipe for a happy world, or an ethical one. It’s a recipe for creating a desperate human out of every normal schmuck with a beating heart. In fact, if you have a friend accused of tearing off mattress tags under penalty of law, or murder, or treason, or even stealing adorable helpless puppies to sell their tiny internal organs on eBay, I want you to consider what happens when you disavow that friend or diss that person in public in order to signal to everyone that you know right from wrong in that particular case.
First of all, the people in front of whom you are disavowing your friend on social media contain many people worse than your friend. So you are selling out your friendship to please acquaintances and strangers, some of whom are doing the same damn things or even worse. Secondly, you are creating a more isolated human being at the exact same moment that someone is in maximal need of love, warmth, guidance, and help. You are generally not successfully signaling virtue to me, but are instead signaling that you are abdicating responsibility for standing by someone who may have done a wrong thing, and who likely needs your loyalty now more than ever.
Now I bring all of this up to briefly discuss the state of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. First of all, it doesn’t really fully exist. But if it did, it would not recognize disavowal as a major modality. There are tensions within it, as there have always been, but there are also unwritten rules that have not previously required my commentary. In particular, my friend Sam Harris attempted to very publicly exit the so-called IDW. That’s a bit tricky, since it doesn’t fully exist, and almost no one in it talks about it that much in 2020. So you may be thinking that I am angry at Sam for violating this rule. Oddly, it is closer to being the opposite of that. Sam was quite right, in my opinion, in one sense, and the more important one, and wrong in another of lesser significance. Before this, I heard public remarks about Sam’s inability to understand reality from more than a few people that dismayed me. But in true IDW fashion, I am not going to talk directly about who made those remarks, because the ideas were the problem, and the idea that Sam is not capable of seeing reality is frankly silly. If you aren’t happy about that and feel disappointed, please feel free to get your Internet drama somewhere else. It’s available 24/7. Now to be blunt, I have disagreed with Sam for the four years of this administration on two basic points:
- Whether Donald Trump as Evil Chauncy Gardner (Sam’s concept), or Freakish Strategic Savant (My choice) is a better description.
- Whether the Mainstream media is less or more terrifying because it still fact checks, uses compound complex sentences, cares about an appearance of journalistic integrity, and carries gravitas earned in a previous era as it explores new territory, dividing us as a society to serve business and activist models and interests.
Now I’d love to tell you that I am correct and that Sam is in the wrong, but honestly I don’t know that. I don’t know Sam to be wrong on either point. I simply disagree with him, as we have done openly and cordially over the last four years. What’s more, I would say that Donald Trump’s bizarre challenge to the 2020 election has, so far anyway, been a rare and pretty spectacular late win for Sam’s model over my own of Trump’s strategic intuition. If Sam has Trump Derangement Syndrome, a non-existent pseudo-malady which I don’t really believe in and thus don’t discuss much, then TDS is so far doing a better job at explaining the very end of this term than I feel it was doing at explaining the middle of it. Two cheers for that non-existent TDS that Sam doesn’t have.
What’s more, Sam did not name or shame anyone who named or shamed him by accusing him of getting this wrong. He stuck to the ideas in true IDW fashion.
And as Sam’s friend Christopher Hitchens once said in a seminar that I attended at the Kennedy School, and the only time I ever met him, “A gentleman is defined to be a man who is never rude by accident.” And Sam is very much a gentleman.
Which brings me to what Sam *is* doing wrong. You don’t leave the IDW by being civil, focusing on ideas, forgoing the ability to stick it to others, holding to your true convictions, or getting things right. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how this works at all. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but you do it instead by being publicly dismissive of members of your group rather than their ideas, trolling, not paying attention to shifting situations like the election, getting captured by your audience, or getting it wrong and not noticing. If the IDW is a protocol as much as it is a group of humans, Sam continued to behave as a gentleman, while others were far closer to trying to leave the group, by at least testing the above boundaries.
This is why, when Sam published a clip about resigning from the IDW, I chuckled to myself and chose to quote from Hotel California on Twitter. In the words of the Eagles, “Sam: Relax. We are programmed to receive.” Feel free to collect your things, to find the passage back to the place we all were before, as you can, in fact, check out anytime you like. I’ll send for the nightman at once. If you really want to leave, however, you now know what it takes.
The IDW, like the Hotel California, doesn’t really exist. Maybe it never did, and this was all just a dream in a tongue-in-cheek bad joke of mine that took on a life of its own for a while. But it’s possible there is some reason we still go back to the IDW now and again, just as we do to that tired old song over 40 years later. Or hadn’t you noticed that every time you queue it up to play it again, it proves that we are never really able to leave it fully behind. Which, if you give it a moment’s thought, is exactly what the song’s lyrics foretold. Funny that.
*Insert guitar solo here.*
Be well everyone.
You’ve been through The Portal.
Eric returns to Joe Walker’s podcast, The Jolly Swagman, for Joe’s 100th episode.
If you have ever wondered whether you were crazy when everyone else claims to see things differently than you do, this is the episode for you.
Book clubs are everywhere and we are always asked for book recommendations. But what about the great Essays, Interviews, Conversations, Aphorisms, Shaggy Dog Stories, Lyrics, Courtroom Testimonies, Poems, Movie Scenes, Jokes and the like? Sadly, there is almost never a club in which to discuss them. Yet there are Essays and offerings in other intellectual formats that are just as profound and meaningful as any book while having the advantage of being much more in keeping with modern attention spans. The Portal seeks to fill this obvious lacuna.
We thus finish out the regular first year of the Portal Podcast with an inaugural episode of an experiment: The Portal Essay Club. In this episode Eric reads aloud an astonishing essay from 1944 by Arthur Koestler which changed his world. In the essay, Koestler wrestles with a difficult question that has plagued independent thinkers for ages: what if everyone who is supposedly ‘normal’ is actually a maniac living in a dream world? What if the only sane ones appear crazy just as the crazy appear sane?
During the episode, Eric first reads aloud the essay “The Nightmare That Is A Reality.” and then discusses paragraph by paragraph what makes this one of the most profound yet often forgotten essays to have appeared within the twilight of living memory (1944 as it happens). We hope you will enjoy this experiment and let us know what you would like to see appear next in this series.
Thanks for a great first year.
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Eric’s reading of “The Nightmare That Is a Reality” by Arthur Koestler (the subject of this episode) can be heard in the video below.
Eric Weinstein: Hello, you found The Portal. I’m your host, Eric Weinstein with a new experiment for this episode. The idea for this episode grows out of a familiar question, what are your top 10 book recommendations? Now this is a question that I’m asked so frequently that I have sadly become somewhat numb to it by now. In contrast, I do not believe that I’ve ever been asked for my top recommendations for essays or speeches, lectures, conversations, short stories, lyrics or interviews. And perhaps once in a blue moon, I’m still asked for my poetry recommendations, although even that seems to have trailed off in recent years. So I’d like to close out the regular programming for this the inaugural year of The Portal by trying to entice you all into daring to think about books somewhat less in relation to all of the other marvelous forms in which rich and meaningful thinking are communicated. So let’s look at all the great book clubs, both online and in real life. Keep doing the great job that they’ve been doing of talking about books, but for The Portal, let’s pick up essays, speeches and the like, since they are trading at a deep and unexplicable discount given the modern attention span and the amount of top material available.
Thus, I thought I would start with perhaps the most meaningful essay I have ever discovered on my own, before exploring other non book formats on future episodes. The essay I’m going to read to you is from January 9 of 1944. Now, after the war, we would learn that in just three months of operation Reinhardt, that is September, October, November of 1942, over one and a quarter million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the heart of Europe. This essay comes from more than one year later, after this most terrible and organized of all murder sprees. Only I don’t see this essay as being particularly tied to its time. Instead, it is an eternal lesson to me, for the author Arthur Koestler is trying to tell the reader something that is, in equal terms, desperate, essential, impossible, and timeless. He is desperate because he has a message to share with the world before more lives are snuffed out, and you can practically hear the sounds of the dwindling hourglass sands that goad him as he writes. And what he has to say is timeless, because, in every era, there’s a situation such as the one he describes here.
After some brief messages, I will be back with Arthur Koestler and his 1944 essay, “The nightmare that is a reality,” from the January 9 edition of The New York Times of that year, which can sometimes be found under the title “On Disbelieving Atrocities”. After that, we will hear from our sponsors one last time before discussion of the meaning of this astonishing essay.
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And now the reading of this episode’s essay by Arthur Koestler. This essay is entitled, “The nightmare that is a reality”. It was published on January 9 in 1944 in the New York times by Arthur Koestler.
“There’s a dream which keeps coming back to me at almost regular intervals. It is dark, and I’m being murdered in some kind of thicket or brushwood. There is a busy road at no more than 10 yards distance, and I scream for help, but nobody hears me. The crowd walks past laughing and chatting.
“I know that a great many people share, with individual variations, the same type of dream. I’ve quarreled about it with analysts and I believe it to be an archetype in the Jungian sense, an expression of the individual’s ultimate loneliness when faced with death and cosmic violence, and his inability to communicate the unique horror of his experience. I further believe that it is the root of the ineffectiveness of our atrocity propaganda.
“For, after all, you are the crowd walk past laughing on the road. And there are a few of us, escaped victims, or eyewitnesses of the things which happened in the thicket, and who, haunted by our memories, go on screaming on the wireless, yelling at you in newspapers and in public meetings, theaters and cinemas. Now and then we succeed in reaching your ear for a minute, I know that each time it happens by a certain dumb wonder on your faces, a faint, glassy stare entering your eye. And I tell myself now you have them, hold them, bold them, so that they will remain awake. But it only lasts a minute. You shake yourself like puppies, we’ve got their feet wet. Then the transparent screen descends again and you walk on protected by the dream barrier which stifles all sound.
“We, the screamers, have been at it now for about 10 years. We started on the night when the epileptic Vann de Lubbe set fire to the German Parliament; we said, if you don’t quench those flames at once, they will spread all over the world; you thought we were maniacs. At present we have the mania of trying to tell you about the killing by hot steam, by mass electrocution, and live burial of the total Jewish population of Europe. So far 3 million have died. It is the greatest mass killing in recorded history, and it goes on daily, hourly as regularly as the ticking of your watch.
“I have photographs before me on the desk while I’m writing this, and that accounts for my emotion and bitterness. People died to smuggle them out of Poland; they thought it was worthwhile. The facts have been published in pamphlets, white books, newspapers and magazines and whatnot. But the other day I met one of the best known American journalists over here. And he told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey, nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believe that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda and lies, and that they didn’t believe a word of it.
“As to this country, I’ve been lecturing now for three years to the troops and their attitude is the same. They don’t believe in concentration camps. They don’t believe in the starved children of Greece, in the shot hostages of France, in the mass graves of Poland. They have never heard of Lidice, Treblinka, or Belzec. You can convince them for an hour, then they shake themselves, their mental self defense begins to work, and in a week, the shrug of incredulity has resumed like a reflex temporarily weakened by a shock.
“Clearly all this is becoming a mania with me and my like. Clearly we must suffer from some morbid obsession, whereas the others are healthy and normal, but the characteristic symptom of maniacs is that they lose contact with reality and live in a fantasy world. So perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps it is we, the screamers, who react in sound in healthy way to the reality which surrounds us, whereas you are the neurotics who totter about in a screened fantasy world, because you lack the faculty to face the facts. Were it not so, this war would have been avoided, and those murdered within sight of your daydreaming eyes would still be alive.
“I said “perhaps,” because obviously the above can only be half the truth. There have been screamers at all times, prophets, preachers, teachers and cranks, cursing the obtuseness of their contemporaries and the situation patterns remain very much the same. There are always the screamers screaming from the thicket, and the people who pass by on the road. They have ears but hear not. They have eyes, but see not. So the roots of this must lie deeper than mere obtuseness.
“Is it perhaps the fault of the screamers? Sometimes no doubt, but I do not believe this to be the core matter. Amos, Hosea and Jeremiah were pretty good propagandists, and yet they failed to shake their people and to warn them. Cassandra’s voice was said to have pierced walls, and yet the Trojan War took place. And at our end of the chain, in due proportion, I believe that, on the whole, the MOA and the BBC are quite competent at their job. For almost three years, they had to keep this country going on nothing but defeats, and they succeeded.
“But at the same time, they lamentably failed to imbue the people with anything approaching a full awareness of what it was all about, of the grandeur and horror of the time into which they were born. They carried on business-as-usual style, with the only difference that the routine of this business included killing and being killed. Matter-of-fact, unimaginativeness has become a kind of Anglo-Saxon racial myth. It is usually opposed to Latin hysterics and praised for its high value in an emergency. But the myth does not say what happens between emergencies, and that same quality is responsible for the failure to prevent their reoccurrence.
“In fact, this limitation of awareness is not an Anglo-Saxon privilege, though they are probably the only race which claims as an asset what others regard as a deficiency. Nor is it a matter of temperament; Stoics have wider horizons than fanatics. It is a psychological fact inherent in our mental frame, which I believe has not been given sufficient attention in social psychology or political theory.
“We say “I believe this” or “I don’t believe that,” “I know it” or “I don’t know it,” and regard these as black-and-white alternatives. In reality, “knowing” and “believing” have varying degrees of intensity. I know that there was a man called Spartacus who led the Roman slaves into revolt, but my belief in his one-time existence is much paler than that of, say, Lenin. I believe in spiral nebulae, can see them in a telescope and express their distance in figures, but they have a lower degree of reality for me than the inkpot on my table.
“Distance and space and time degrades intensity of awareness. So does magnitude. Seventeen is a figure which I know intimately like a friend; fifty billions is just a sound. A dog run over by a car upsets our emotional balance and digestion; three million Jews killed in Poland causes but a moderate uneasiness. Statistics don’t bleed; it is the detail which counts. We are unable to embrace the total process with our awareness, we can only focus on little lumps of reality.
“So far all this is a matter of degrees; of gradations, and the intensity of knowing and believing. But when we pass the realm of the finite, and are faced with words like eternity in time, infinity of space, that is, when we approach the sphere of the Absolute, our reaction ceases to be a matter of degrees and becomes different in quality. Faced with the Absolute, understanding breaks down and our “knowing” and “believing” is lip-service.
“Death, for instance, belongs to the category of the Absolute, and our belief in it is merely a lip-service belief. I “know” that, the average statistical age being about 65, I may reasonably expect to live no more than another twenty-seven years, but if I knew for certain I should die on November 30, 1970, at 5 A.M., I would be poisoned by this knowledge, count and recount the remaining days and hours and grudge myself every wasted minute, in other words, develop a neurosis. This has nothing to do with hopes to live longer than the average; if the date were fixed 10 years later, the neurosis-forming process would remain the same.
“Thus, we all live in a state of split consciousness. There is a tragic plane and a trivial plane, which contained two mutually incompatible kinds of experienced knowledge. Their climate and language are as different as church Latin from business slang.
“These limitations of awareness account for the limitations of enlightenment by propaganda. People go to cinemas they see films of Nazi tortures of mass shootings of underground conspiracy and self-sacrifice. They sigh, they shake their heads, some have a good cry, but they do not connect it with the realities of the normal plane of existence. It is romance, it is art, it is Those Higher Things, it is church Latin. It does not click with reality. We live in a society of the Jekyll and Hyde pattern magnified into gigantic proportions.
“This was, however, not always the case to the same extent. There were periods and movements in history—in Athens, in the early Renaissance, during the first years of the Russian Revolution—when at least certain representative layers of society had attained a relatively high level of mental integration; times, when people seem to rub their eyes and come awake, when their cosmic awareness seemed to expand, when they were “contemporaries” in a much broader and fuller sense; when the trivial and the cosmic planes seemed on the point of fusing.
“And there were periods of disintegration and dissociation. But never before, not even during the spectacular decay of Rome and Byzantium, was split thinking so palpably evident, such a uniform mass-disease; did human psychology reached such a height of phoneyness. Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio as communications expand; the world is open to us as never before, and we walk about as prisoners, each in his private, portable cage. And, meanwhile, the watch goes on ticking. What can the screamers do, but go on screaming until they get blue in the face?
“I know one who used to tour this country addressing meetings—an average of ten a week. He is a well-known London publisher. Before each meeting he used to lock himself up in a room, close his eyes and imagine in detail, for twenty minutes, that he was one of the people in Poland who were killed. One day he tried to feel what it was like to be suffocated by chloride gas in a death-train. Another day, he had to dig his grave with two hundred others, and then face a machine gun, which of course is rather unprecise and capricious in its aiming. Then he walked out to the platform and talked. He kept going for a full year before he collapsed with a nervous breakdown. He had a great command of his audience, and perhaps he has done some good. Perhaps he brought the two planes divided by miles of distance and inch closer to each other.
“I think one should imitate his example, two minutes of this kind of exercise per day, with closed eyes after reading the morning paper, are, at present, more necessary to us than physical jerks and breathing the yogi way. It might even be a substitute for going to church, for, as long as there are people on the road, and victims in the thicket, divided by dream barriers, this will remain a phoney civilization.”
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Okay, so having read the essay aloud, what I thought we might try to do in this inaugural experimental episode is to try to explore what the essay means—why I’m choosing it. So what I thought I might offer up is just an off-the-cuff discussion of the parts of the essay that I find to be most salient and important. I’ve been sending this essay around to friends and family and colleagues for years. I view it as, perhaps, the most important essay I’ve ever read, because, in part, it affected me deeply and personally. There are three attributes that I look for in people, having to do with three famous psychology experiments: the Milgram experiment, the Asch experiment and the Zimbardo experiment. Now, the Milgram experiment is famously known for the issue of obedience, that there is supposed to be an experimenter who tells the subject that they are to administer an increasing electric shock to someone else participating in the experiment, and not to question the increase in the level of shock given that the screams will be increasing.
What is found is that in general, when people are absolved of responsibility, they’re willing to mete out incredible pain and torture to others, and this is, in fact, what Stanley Milgram was getting at when he was attempting to show that ordinary people are capable of impossible cruelty.
I highly recommend a song by Dar Williams, called Buzzer talking about the Milgram experiment. I think it’s a beautiful song. And it’s an important understanding of humanity that most of us should probably just imbibe deeply—that we are all capable of horrendous acts when someone else absolves us.
So, if I’m looking for people who are Milgram-negative, it means that they will not do the wrong thing, even when they are incented to do it, to do the wrong thing, by an absolution of responsibility. In the Asch-conformity experiment, the experimenter, Dr. Ash, tried to see whether or not people would give completely wrong answers if the confederates in the experiment, unknown to the actual subject, give the same wrong answer before the subject is in fact asked for the answer in question, which I believe in the original formulation of the Asch conformity experiment was to say whether one line was longer or shorter than others—an objective fact that most people were willing to lie about, when in fact, other people in the room would lie earlier and say that they saw the long line as being short.
The last experiment is the Zimbardo experiment, of Philip Zimbardo at Stanford, but it’s more commonly known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which, effectively, a mental headspace—that of pretending to be guards are prisoners—extended so deeply into the being of the people who were asked to act out this, in fact, drama, that they lost track of reality. And I’ve dealt with this before in an essay on Kayfabe, written in Edge.org, where Kayfabe is the system of lies that professional wrestling uses to manage the difference between fantasy, which is called “work” and reality, which is called “shooting”, in the jargon of professional wrestling.
Very often people lose track of what is real and what is fantasy, and the Koestler essay, in fact, touches on all of these questions. Who is it, among us, who is capable of passing the Stanford Prison Experiment by not getting so drawn dragged into the drama that they lose track of reality? Who’s capable of getting through the Asch experiment by not being so conformist that they’re willing to lie just because everyone else is lying? This touches on Timur Kuran’s theory of preference falsification, which was one of our earliest episodes in the series earlier in this year of The Portal. And who is capable of being Milgrim Negative—that is, people who refuse to carry out unspeakable cruelty just because someone else absolves them. So, let’s get to the Arthur Koestler essay. I think what I really want to do is to concentrate on the first four or so paragraphs, because I think that’s really the meat of what makes this article spectacular, and this this essay really different.
I find that in some of the rest of his discussion, he doesn’t really reach the same high heights. So, in some sense, it’s really the first portion of this essay, which I think makes it absolutely worth everyone’s while.
So let me read and then I’ll give you my impressions. So he starts off by saying, “There is a dream which keeps coming back to me at almost regular intervals, it is dark and I am being murdered in some kind of thicket or brushwood.” And I want you to remember the concept of the thicket, because he’s going to talk about a screen and so there’s both a metaphorical version of it and they imagine physical version of it.
“There’s a busy road and no more than 10 yards distance, and I scream for help, but nobody hears me. The crowd walks past laughing and chatting.” Alright, that’s his setup. So he is being murdered. And there is a normal world, which is the street, and then there is the unspeakable world, which is what happens that is cloaked by the thicket or brushwood, in his original telling of the tale, people do not hear him screaming. And he talks about screaming, and screaming will be a conserved concept throughout the article.
Then he says, “I know that a great many people share, with individual variations, the same type of dream. I have quarreled about it with analysts, and I believe it to be an archetype in the Jungian sense, an expression of the individual’s ultimate loneliness, when faced with death, with cosmic violence, and his inability to communicate the unique horror of his experience.” So I think this is extremely important to understanding the essay. He says that I know that a great many people share this the same type of dream. So he’s talking about the idea that this dream may, in some sense, be a universal. Yet, if it is a universal, that immediately gives us our first problem. Who are these people who are walking past on the road, laughing and chatting? Are they not the same people who are going home at night to dream this dream of isolation, of being completely vulnerable, and, in fact, being at the world’s mercy? Are we not, in fact, seeing two versions of the self, which he is going to attempt, in some places, to distance himself from those who do not care, who do not stop, who do not hear. But, in fact, he cannot find resolution, because what he is confronted with, while he can be an accurate reporter, to an extent, he will also end up as the unreliable narrator because he himself doesn’t understand the drama in which he is, in fact, figuring prominently.
As we get to the second paragraph, this gets developed. “I further believe that it is the root of the ineffectiveness of our atrocity propaganda.” So he’s hoping that we can get the word out about atrocities and he doesn’t fear the word “propaganda”. And then he says, “For after all”, and now he points the finger at second person. “You are the crowd who walked past laughing on the road and there a few of us escaped victims of eyewitnesses of the things which happened in the thicket and who, haunted by our memories, go on screaming on the wireless, yelling at you in newspapers and in public meetings, theaters, and cinemas.”
At this point, you can see that he very clearly has a different model from the universal, which is that there is a “You” and the “You” are the crowd who walk past, and then there is the “We” and the “We” are the enlightened few who are trying to grab the attention and the mindshare of the crowd.
So, then he says “now and then we” that is those who are not screened from reality, “now and then we succeed in reaching your ear for a minute. I know it each time it happens by a certain dumb wonder on your faces a faint, glassy stare entering your eye, and I tell myself now you’ve got them. Now hold them, bold them, so that they will remain awake.”
So, clearly, the idea is that mostly it’s hard to get people to hear, but there is a moment in which people become open to the idea that they are in fact not seeing something, and he sees this as a dream state, as a fantasy state. But then he says, “but it only lasts a minute,” and here comes a sentence that I cannot free from my consciousness, “You shake yourselves like puppies who have got their fur wet. Then the transparent screen descends again and you walk on, protected by the dream barrier, which stifles all sound.”
What he is talking about here is, in fact, the actual thing that he has previously metaphorically put forward as “the thicket”. What is this thicket? What does it mean that we are in fact reachable, but then become unreachable after we have already been reached? So he’s talking about this as a transparent screen is invisible In fact, and it descends, so that you can walk on. So this issue of walking past, not being concerned, having to get to your day-to-day duties, is only possible because of the concept of “the dream barrier”, and he says, “which stifles all sound”. This question about whether you are, in fact, hearing, or whether you, in fact, are in some sense choosing not to hear—this is something that has perplexed psychologists for quite some time. There have been studies done which show that in order to suppress certain sorts of information, in a weird sense, the individual has to have an excellent map of that which they are pretending not to know, otherwise, it is too easy to trip over something that forces us to confront the reality. So, in fact, what we’re talking about is some very elevated theory of mind that Koestler does not possess, and perhaps we don’t possess in our current time, which is to try to understand exactly what is this thicket, metaphorically, or literally, in terms of brain science, that allow people not to actually understand, listen, or hear.
He continues, and he names the group that he’s previously called “We”, and he integrates it with the concept of “the screem”, so that it is the willingness and ability to scream that, in fact, designates the in-group that Koestler belongs to, and he says “We the Screamers” and I do think that this is an excellent name for those of us who try to alert large numbers of people to dangers before people are really ready to listen. “We the screamers”—not particularly attractive as a group name—”have been at it now for about 10 years. We started on the night when the epileptic Vann de Lubbe set fire to the German Parliament. We said that if you don’t quench those flames at once, they will spread all over the world, and you thought we were maniacs.” So this idea of being able to see the future, and be trapped in one’s own time, and by sharing the vision of the future one is treated as a maniac, in his case—this is obviously sitting very poorly with him. He’s clearly writing in 1944, where it should be clear that the people who are calling this early during the 30s were in fact, the same ones. And he’s got a bigger and taller order, that not only do we have a World at War, but he has something else to tell us and this is going to be really the subject, which is “What is the biggest thing you could possibly have in plain sight that no one could see?”
“At present, we we have the mania of trying to tell you about the killing by hot steam, mass electrocution and live burial of the total Jewish population of Europe.”
Okay, so now he drops. He drops the big bombshell, he’s talking about the Holocaust, but it’s 1944. And instead of being able to call it “The Holocaust”, or “The Shoah”, or “The genocide against the Jews of Europe”, he’s forced to talk about it from first principles, because it’s—strange to say it—the world had not woken up to the idea that there was a mass killing, a genocide, happening inside of World War II. And so he’s forced in 1944 to speak in these terms that most of us living in the present day would imagine, would have been commonplace during the time. But consider that this is January of 1944.
“So far, 3 million have died. It is the greatest mass killing in recorded history. And it goes on daily, hourly, as regularly as the ticking of your watch.” So he gets from daily to hourly. But now you know exactly what’s on his mind. He’s talking about seconds. And he’s talking about what it is like to know that people are being murdered second by second. And that every time that you fritter or take a cup of tea, or adjust your colar, or whatever it is that you’re doing, people are dying at the exact same time that you were unable to figure out how to reach other people and say, “Do you understand what is happening here?”
So clearly, in my mind, the ticking of the watch is about seconds, and he has a very clear idea about how many people are dying for every second wasted.
“I have photographs before me on the desk while I’m writing this. And that accounts for my emotion and bitterness.” Now normally when people talk about bitterness, they’re talking about someone else being bitter. And in fact, on social media, it’s usually an attempt at a kill shot in some kind of a target. “Wow, you sound bitter.” Clearly, everyone who is bitter is in some sense, one down because they’re not reconciled. The inability to say hey, it’s all good. No, I’m not invested is a modern weirdness, we have to recognize that there are reasons for evolutionarily having a trait known as bitterness, and he’s talking about the fact that he’s been at it for 10 years, and it is more pain and weight than this tiny number of people that he’s referring to as “the screamers” can bear.
So anyway, as he says this, he now says “People died to smuggle them out of Poland.” That is, the photographs, for example, “They thought it was worthwhile.”
Now, I want to bring attention to the fact that even in 2020, when this is being recorded, Witold Pilecki, who I do not know how to pronounce his name because I’ve never heard another human being actually talked to me about this person, he is a personal hero along with Dick Gregory, a few other people, of incredible courage, the courage that I don’t have, and most—nobody I know has. Witold Pilecki was a Polish non-Jew who decided that he would get himself smuggled into Auschwitz, attempt reconnaissance, take photographs, and figure out what was going on at Auschwitz and then somehow after organizing resistance, get himself out.
Possibly the bravest bravest thing I’ve ever heard. He, I believe, dressed as a Jew, got himself incarcerated and taken to Auschwitz, did the reconnaissance, organized resistance, got a report together, and smuggled it out. Okay. Most of us have never heard this man’s name. It just I don’t even understand that there should be an entire month devoted to this guy in the Jewish calendar.
He was then killed by the communists after the war. But the key point is that these reports had been smuggled out of Europe, and were widely ignored. And the question of why we would not want to know that our enemy was engaged in mass atrocity, and why it was so difficult to communicate, is something that we should all, I think, pay a great deal of attention to.
So he says, “people died to smuggle them out of Poland, they thought it was worthwhile.” Now the question of course, is, “What happens when Witold Pilecki, for example, gets to report out, and it has very little effect?”
The weak link in the chain, in fact, is not presence or absence of heroes. The weak link in the chain is, “What do the rest of us do when we have access to information that should propel us towards action?”
“The facts have been published in pamphlets, white books, newspapers, magazines, and whatnot. But the other day I met one of the best known American journalists over here and he told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey, nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believe that the Nazis committed atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they didn’t believe a word of it.”
Now, what is one make of this somehow, we cannot get people to understand and believe that the world is far different than whatever it is that they are generically told to believe by major news organs, for example, until you have institutions willing to reify a particular reality—in this case, the actual Holocaust—it’s very difficult to get people to go along with it, because you don’t have that kind of concordance between the information and what the institutions say. And this is what really struck me about this, someone describing the Holocaust in 1944, who has to talk about himself as a crazy person in order to anticipate what the mood of the public would be in hearing this.
Now, how big does something have to be, before it becomes impossible for people to pretend that it’s not happening? If it can be the size of the Holocaust, and people can still convince themselves that this isn’t worth reacting to, it gives you an idea that there may be no limit on the size of the elephant that can fit into any room.
Then he says, “As to this country,” and I think he’s probably talking about Britain, where he had a home, “I’ve been lecturing now for three years to the troops and their attitude is the same. They don’t believe in concentration camps. They don’t believe in the starving children of Greece in the shot hostages of France, in the mass graves of Poland. They’ve never heard of Lidice, Treblinka or Belzec. You can convince them for an hour, and then they shake themselves. Their mental self defense begins to work, and in a week, the shrug of incredulity has returned like a reflex, temporarily weakened by a shock.”
So here you see he recapitulates the earlier metaphor of the puppy shaking themselves having gotten the for the for wet. And what he’s saying is, is that you can convince them for an hour. The problem isn’t whether or not you can reach people. The problem is, how do you and using his words, “how do you hold them, and bold them”? In effect, what we’re doing is is that we’re taking the information and we’re putting it in some very unstable state. And as soon as that person has a chance to compute the consequences of what holding that information may do mean how it may obligate that person, they’ve quickly begin a second process. So what we initially imagine is the problem of teaching people of informing people is in fact a very little use whatsoever. The real issue has to do with, “What do we do to make sure that the information stays in place?” This is a massive reframing. It’s not that we need the information superhighway. Instead, the question is, where’s the courage superhighway? Where’s the superhighway of emotion and reification? We don’t have a reification superhighway. And I want to talk a little bit about the Portal as we get to the end of this last of the major early paragraphs in the essay.
“Clearly, this is becoming a mania with me and my like”, again talking about the problem that is ostensibly his small group, but then he starts to make some moves, and we start to see the real boldness of this essay.
“Clearly, we must suffer from some morbid obsession, whereas the others are healthy and normal.” Alright, well, this is like, you know, Queens Gambit declined. He’s going to make a Gambit where he’s going to offer something of great value, which is that, clearly, his group must be the crazy people.
But then he, he makes an incredible move, and he says this, “But the characteristic symptom of maniacs is that they lose contact with reality and live in a fantasy world, so perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps it is we the screamers who react in a sound and healthy way to the reality which surrounds us, whereas you are the neurotics who taught her about any screened fantasy world, because you lack the faculty to face the facts. Were not so, this war would have been avoided, and those murdered within sight of your daydreaming eyes would still be alive.”
Now that is so strong and so bold that he’s going to have to pull his punches slightly in the next sentence, which I think we should ignore. He says, “I said perhaps because obviously the but the above can only be half the truth.” Well, obviously, yes, it’s only a portion of the truth. The rest of the essay, for the most part, is his attempts to explain away this crazy state of affairs. But I think that, really, what makes this essay so incredible is this move where he says it cleanly and plainly: he is saying that a tiny number of us are, in fact, sane and healthy and sound, and that the vast majority of humanity is in fact, maniacal. That the neurotics, the maniacs, are, in fact, the average Joe, the the simple Jane, whoever you want to call it, as being the median individual is, in fact, in danger of being completely crazy and nuts. And this is exactly what, in a certain sense, a naive reading of the Milgrom, Asch, and Zimbardo experiments would tell us. They would tell us that the generic person in our society is willing to lie, is willing to do the unspeakable, is willing to disappear into a story that’s been told.
In fact, why is that? Well, it has to do with what I’ve talked about as truth, meaning, fitness, and grace. These are the four directives, which I’m forced to trade off between, where I can’t simply go pure truth because for example, sometimes if, let’s imagine that you’re, you’re being held hostage, and you’re asked to answer a question, and you know that the answer to your question will be life or death. The reason we refer to these communications from hostage takers as “hostage videos” is to let people know that when people are in life and death circumstances, they frequently lie, they will go back on the truth in order to be fit, to have a hope of saving themselves. And in fact, this is one of the issues, that very often we cannot get people to listen to things, as per Upton Sinclair’s famous line that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”, something to that effect.
What we have, in the situation where fitness must compete with truth, is a recognition that understanding many things may cause us to become less fit in a Darwinian sense. And so I think that this is one of the things that we have to contend with. It’s just that when we realize that we are up against insuperable odds, as we might have felt when we were facing Nazi Germany, it becomes weirdly rational to lie if we’re trying to preserve ourselves, and we feel that we have very little agency with which to actually change the course of history. So I think that that’s one of the aspects of why you can expect madness on behalf of a large number of people, but it’s also the case that, in general, people lack courage, en masse. They also, very often, simply cannot find a way of behaving that is consistent. And in attempting to behave in a consistent fashion, both intellectually and morally, when they find out that they can’t do it, they sign on for large programs, with the idea being that we can all say, “Oh, well, I went along with what was the dominant force in my time”, and not have to actually take individual responsibility.
So I think that in those paragraphs, we have a fantastic message from the past, which is that something of arbitrary size, that should be seeable by everyone, that is well documented, and to which many people have been exposed can still be hidden. And that the way in which is hidden does not have to do with the fact that the evidence isn’t present. It has to do with the fact that there is the secondary process, this process of shaking ourselves, of getting rid of the truth, of getting rid of our obligations to each other, of, in fact, going into a dream state to protect us. And I believe that in large measure, that’s where we are right now.
One of the reasons that I started The Portal is because I believe almost none of what I’m told by our leading institutions. I don’t believe that the universities are level with us. I don’t believe that the political parties are leveling with us. I don’t believe that our news media are asking the questions or trying to get information into our hands so that we can conduct civil society. In effect, I think that almost all of our institutions are lying to us about almost everything, almost all the time. And to make such a statement is to sound insane, as Koestler did in his time. But I believe that, in part, one of the purposes of The Portal has been to alert people to the idea that we probably live in a fantastic world that doesn’t really exist, and have done so for between ’75 and 47, 48 years depending upon how you want to count.
As to what we should do about it, I’m not entirely sure. One of my thoughts was that we should start The Portal as a means of escaping from this fantasy reality. But I’m watching how the system seems to be destroying individuals using the fact that the few things that are free, that are meaningful in our world are, in general, run by individuals and not large organizations, and that individuals can always be trapped up on accusations and personal foibles. So I want to talk a little bit about what the institutions were failing to do in Koestler’s world, and then I’ll get to the end of his essay.
He says, “At our end of the chain in undue proportion, I believe that, on the whole, the MOI and BBC are quite competent at their job. For almost three years, they had to keep this country going on nothing but defeats, and they succeeded. In other words, he was talking about the fact that it’s important that one’s sensemaking organs—in this case, for example, the BBC in the UK—they have to go to war, because, in fact, you’re talking about a mixture of informing the public and making sure that the public is emboldened to fight whatever it is threat to its survival, in this case, what was happening in the continent.
He says, “But at the same time, they lamentably failed to imbue the people with anything approaching a full awareness of what it was all about, of the grantor and horror of the time into which they were born.” In other words, what was going on in retrospect was that the same part of Europe was fighting the craziest part of Europe. And I don’t mean to say that the US and the UK were blameless, certainly we know about the British Empire and the many horrible things that happened under it, but, in effect, the blueprints for a better tomorrow were found in the UK, and in the US, and we were the good guys. And I don’t want to get into the idea that “there were no good guys in World War II”, because if good guys means anything, we were the good guys. What we had to do was to defeat pure evil, even though we aligned ourselves with a pure evil in the form of Stalin, who, you know, has to be admitted, gave, on behalf of his people, an incredible sacrifice in what would be called the Great Patriotic War over there in the effort to stop Hitler. So, yes, there were a lot of complications, there were monsters everywhere. But it was necessary for people to recognize that pure evil had to be defeated in the form of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis,, and that people who were fighting that war, were not even at the time fully aware of the fact that they were fighting arguably one of the noblest wars that we will ever see.
So, I think it’s very important that we understand Koestler’s context—he then tries to talk about why was it that there were so many great Cassandra’s in the past that failed to alert people, prophets, preachers, teachers, he can’t figure out exactly why it was that we’ve historically been, perhaps, less successful than we might have been. He talks about whether the Anglo Saxon penchant for being cool under fire, which sometimes is exaggerated in wartime—I remember reading letters home from the front in World War I, where the Brits talk about, “Oh, we’ve been, you know, having having some fun with our counterparts on the other side, tossing pomegranates back and forth,” referring to grenades.
And that is possible, that it’s not helpful to be too cool about these things. Koestler himself was a Hungarian Jew who made the UK his home, but both Hungarians and Jews are known to run a little hot. So he hides behind Latin hysterics as he talks about cultural reasons for taking different attitudes. But he can’t really figure out where this disconnect is coming from.
Then he talks about the weird way in which some knowledge is distant and some knowledge is immediate. So he talks about whether or not he believes that Spartacus existed and led a revolt of slaves, or the fact that maybe the numbers are too big in the Holocaust, that individual life is a tragedy, but that millions of lives at once can’t be thought through, and then, weirdly, it has less weight than even a single, a single death, which is very immediate to us because of the way in which our brains keep track. He talks about the idea that the absolute is a particular problem, an impediment, this issue of knowing and believing when he talks about if he knows the exact date of his death, it will have a very different than if he knows the approximate time of his death. Interesting to note that he commited suicide in the 1980s from having incurable diseases and having spent his life, interestingly, as a man trying to ground his idealism in some movement, or some institution, and he finds that his idealism is always of a nature that doesn’t allow him to affiliate. So he tries communism, he tries to anti-communism, he tries Zionism, he tries any manner of different ways of living idealistically, and, like Prince Charming with a glass slipper, he’s trying it out on all of the various possible institutions and never finding the right fit for Cinderella.
Then he says, thus we all live in a state of split consciousness. And I think this is where he starts to actually reconcile himself to the fact that he’s introduced two separate ideas, that is, that there’s a universal aspect of this experience of being isolated and picked off—think about cancel-culture at the moment as a good example that, are we both part of the mob and we fear the mob will turn on us? So here he starts talking about being in a state where he recognizes that there is split consciousness, and that perhaps this resolves the puzzle—that we all have split consciousness, some of us are aware of it. Others of us make use of it and don’t admit to it.
So he says, “Thus we all live in a state of split consciousness. There’s a tragic plane and a trivial plain, which contain two mutually incompatible kinds of experienced knowledge.” I think it’s worthwhile looking at different breakdowns of knowledge. One would be technae versus epistemae. Technae is sort of the knowledge that you have embodied in you, that you feel—a woodworker who works with his hands has technae, but the person who designs a building inside of their mind, and does it according to architectural specifications, might be working within epistemae—for example, the person who understands the acoustics of a great violin, but may not have the knowledge of how to actually machine the wood in order to produce those acoustics. That would be one breakdown of knowledge between two different kinds.
Another kind is the trivial and the profound, which in writing is sometimes referred to when you juxtapose them as bathos, where you have to save the universe, but first you have to remember to floss your teeth. And I do think that there’s a weird way in which the lived experience movement is, in a strange way, an attempt to say that knowledge can’t be universal because of lived experience, and that if someone’s lived experience contradicts the universal we should privilege lived experience, as opposed to that which appears to be far more robust and can actually be shared between people.
So he says, “We have incompatible kinds of experience knowledge, their climate and language are as different as church Latin”—keep in mind that this was before Vatican II—”is different as church Latin from business slang. These limitations of awareness account for the limitations of enlightenment by propaganda. People go to cinemas, they see films of Nazi tortures, of mass shootings, of underground conspiracy and self sacrifice. They say they shake their heads, some have a good cry, but they do not connect it with the realities of their normal plane of existence.”
I think about this as how difficult it is for us to actually think about what it is that we’re saying, and feel it, and embody it. And I found this in the financial crisis where the person who probably had the best handle of the financial crisis before it hit was a friend of mine, or, at least in my circles, was a friend of mine named Adil Abdul Ali, who I wrote a paper and mortgage backed securities with in 2001, and he told me what was going to happen in the financial crisis before it happened. And he did it in a detailed fashion, what was going to happen first, what was going to fail next, which contracts were going to come up, etc. When it all happened, I called him up and I said, Adil, you must have made a fortune. He said, we made some money, but not nearly as much as you would hope or expect. And I said, “That’s impossible. You knew everything in detail before it happened.”
He said, “Yep.” I said, “Well what happened?”
And he said, “I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.”
I said, “Really?”
He says, “No, there’s a difference between being fully committed to it, and simply thinking it’s true.”
I found that to be an incredible statement, but then I was able to connect it to other people’s comments. When Dick Gregory, who, along with Wiltold Pilecki—he is a great hero of mine—found out that the FBI was considering having him killed by La Cosa Nostra, or Italian organized crime, he was shocked.
He said, I always said something like, “I always knew they were trying to kill me. But I didn’t know they were trying to kill me!” And I thought, “Well what did he mean by that?” And it’s this weird way we have of thinking something is true before we actually get confirmation that we are permitted to feel this truth with every fiber in our body. And so I think that this is something that Koestler is talking about, which is that many people who are not screaming are thinking, but they’re not having the embodied experience.
And then he says, “We live in a society of the Jekyll and Hyde pattern magnified into gigantic proportions.” And I think this gets to a very interesting, final way of closing out our analysis of this essay, because it speaks to how different is the time in which we live. If we think about an era in which we’re convinced that things were incredibly real, we could hardly do better than go back to World War II. Yet, this is somebody writing from the tail end of World War II, showing us that, in fact, people were participating in World War Two—they were losing their lives without a sense of the grandeur of what it was they were involved in. There’s always been this question, for example, did people in the Renaissance know that the Renaissance was happening? Was this some sort of environment, like water, or fish never notice it? Or air, where birds and humans, you know, depend on it, but, in fact, we don’t see the medium in which we live, and in which our lives play out.
So he says, with respect to this Jekyll and Hyde pattern, “This was however, not always the case to the same extent. There were periods and movements in history, in Athens, in the early Renaissance, during the first years of the Russian Revolution, where at least certain representative layers of society had attained a relatively high level of mental integration—times when people seem to rub their eyes and come awake.” Again, remember the issue of sleepiness and wakefulness.
He says, “When their cosmic awareness seemed to expand, when they were contemporaries in a much broader and fuller sense, when the trivial and the cosmic plane seemed on the point of fusing.” So if you think back to—what is it—the milk delivery man walking through the ruins of London during the Battle of Britain, and the idea that we have to carry on, you know, “keep calm and carry on”, that idea that a simple small act is an act of defiance. And it’s a way in which the trivial and the and the cosmic come together. I remember when my daughter cut my hair during the covid epidemic, it was a an incredibly small act, but also one that felt laden with meaning, because I had not been able to go to something as simple as a barber, for months.
He says, “But never before, not even during the spectacular decay of Rome and Byzantium, was split thinking so palpably evident, such a uniform mass disease. Never did human psychology reach such a height of phoniness. Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio”—and here it comes—”as communications expand. The world is open to us as never before. And we walk about as prisoners, each in his private, portable cage.”
I don’t know how you read this. “Private portable cage” sounds to me like the mental space that we disappear in when we’re on a street, but looking into a phone, when our headphones are in our ears and maybe our earbuds are playing music or we’re listening to a podcast, we’re not really present. We are not contemporary with anything. It’s not that we’re listening to a synchronized broadcast most of the time. We are asynchronously, out of time and out of space, and due in large measure to communications.
Now he’s talking about 1944 as being a period of increased communications, “Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio as communications expand, and the world is open to us as never before.”
Well, okay, assume that that’s true. What does it say that our phones carry all of this information and can screen us away from the people who are even at our own table as we privately customize our own world to be the cage that we’ve always desired so that we can lock ourselves in, and we have a permanent thicket surrounding us, that we can’t be reached by anyone else?
And then I think about who in the present really constitutes the screamers?
And I wanted to read a little bit at the very end of this essay, just to remind ourselves, and to mention a friend. “What can the screamers do but go on screaming until they get blue in the face? I know one who used to tour this country addressing meetings at an average of 10 a week. He is a well known London publisher. Before each meeting, he used to lock himself up in a room, close his eyes, and imagine in detail for 20 minutes that he was one of the people in Poland who were killed. One day he tried to feel what it was like to be suffocated by chloride gas in a death train. The other, he had to dig his grave with 200 others and then face a machine gun, which of course is rather unprecise and capricious in its aiming. Then he walked out to the platform and talked, he kept going for a full year before he collapsed with a nervous breakdown. He had a great command of his audiences, and perhaps he has done some good. Perhaps he has brought the two planes, divided by miles of distance”—again, the thicket, if you will—”an inch closer to each other”. So, in other words, it’s very little that has been done, but even an inch is less distance if there are miles.
“I think one should imitate this example.”
Well, I do want to say that there are some of us who have been connecting to the pain of our audiences, and one in particular who made a point of lecturing as fast as he could to as many people as possible. In part, he had encountered a group of people that unfortunately go under the name of incels, that I think he understood better than any of us. We have dispensed with our need for young men—young men who cannot form families, young men for whom there is no enemy that we need to be saved from, so that even the idea of glory in war is not available to them. They’re not able to earn, they’re not able to command the respect in our society, because we, in fact, are completely unclear whether there’s anything we want from masculinity at all. And I think this individual recognized that there was an enormous demographic, just the way in previous election cycles, the exurbs and soccer moms were discovered.
Well, this incel demographic is filled with good young men who are lost. And he went around trying to talk about this problem, and the fact that it was deranging our society, until he couldn’t go anymore, and effectively collapsed in a nervous breakdown. And I think that we have to be compassionate with people who see the size of the problem.
In 2020, many of you have woken up to the idea that some of us, the modern day versions of the screamers, have been yelling at you for decades. On this program, we’ve tried to talk about a great number of things that have no echo in the outside world. You will find that, in fact, we’ve talked about three or four, or perhaps five things with very little impact. In the first place—in episode, I think it was 25—we talked about Jeffrey Epstein, and what questions needed to be asked. And in fact, despite being listened to by just under half a million people on I think YouTube alone, and over half a million people, of course, between the audio and the video, it’s had no effect. In Episode 19 of The Portal, in our inaugural year, we talked about the laboratory of mice of the Jackson Laboratory, potentially being broken, and the fact that we’ve cheated ourselves of the molecular embodiment of the antagonistic pleiotropy concept of George Williams.
We have not heard anything from the Johns Hopkins University with respect to what happened in that interaction, and we would like to extend an another invitation to that laboratory to talk about the problems of scientific interaction surrounding elongated telomeres, laboratory animals, and the perverse incentives of science itself.
In Episode 18, I believe we discussed the distributed idea suppression complex. Again, we got tremendous traction from all of our listeners, an incredible base at this point, but, strangely, within the institutional world, there was no interest whatsoever, except potentially just to sort of deride it, even though what we’re talking about is exactly the same problem that Koestler had.
Additionally, we released Geometric Unity in lecture form, and we have not really heard—despite the fact that I believe that the major ideas are set out in that lecture and the additional material that we put up—almost any substantive response.
We’ve talked about the problem that the National Academy of Sciences, National Science Foundation faked a labor shortage during the 1980s under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, passing to Eric Bloch, as head of the NSF, and passing to Peter House as head of the Policy Research and Analysis Division. We’ve heard nothing on this front, even though we claim that there was a study done in 1986, that clearly showed that we were going to fake a science and engineering shortage that could have been cured by the market, which is what happens in the market economy.
The key feature is that a lot of what we do here on The Portal has no echo. And to the extent that it will have an echo, it will have an echo only when we screw up. So, part of what I wanted to talk to you about was the thicket. What is the dream barrier? What is the screen that keeps us from connecting from reaching our highest and best function in this world, to collaborating amongst ourselves.
Now I would say that the communities that have formed around The Portal have been the most important and gratifying thing as we finish out this year. Try to find the Discord servers. Look for ThePortal.wiki. Look for the website, and sign up if you can, but, most importantly, recognize that we are living in a dream state. And most of what we’ve been taught to believe is completely untrue.
We’ve been trying to do our best to show you another world whether it’s through preference falsification, the idea of stagnation, when many of you have been taught that everything is accelerating at a dizzying speed. Our hope is that at the end of this, that you are not those who walk along the road while people are being hurt in the thicket. We should all be taking a much closer look at what’s really going on, for example, with China and its Uighur Muslim population. There are things to be done in our era, and there are ways in which this essay was written for people of all times. It happens that it’s a time capsule coming out of the Holocaust and World War II, to let us know that, even back then, monstrous things, enormous things, things that dwarf the Hindenburg were claimed not to be seeable by large numbers of people who were staring straight at them. So, if you believe that, in some sense, you’re isolated, that the people around you, your family, your coworkers don’t believe what you see, if you have become convinced that the world is magnificently off the rails, and so far from what it claims to be that you can’t get things to line up, feel free to imagine that, in fact, that you are the maniacs, but also consider whether Arthur Koestler isn’t speaking to you. Maybe the idea is that the people who don’t see this, those who laughed when we called this the “No Name” or “N^2 Revolution”, those that derided the idea of having anything that would stand up to cancel culture, the idea that the problem at Evergreen State College was going to become a national problem, if you only waited for those kids to graduate, given the level of indoctrination. It’s not too late to realize that we have a problem of universal institutional collapse. I think that’s probably my craziest statement, because, if you’ll think about it, saying that all the institutions are led by people who cannot be trusted, is exactly the sort of thing Koestler was talking about. How do we talk about something that is so large that it can’t be believed, simply because to believe it would cause someone not to know how to live their life the very next day?
I think we have to be courageous and realize that we’re going to be living our lives in The Truman Show for a while until this situation breaks and we at last come to grips with the fact that many of us have known nothing other than the bubble in which we grew up.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this essay, “The nightmare that is a reality” by Arthur Koestler from January 9, 1944, in the New York Times. It’s been really meaningful to me that I can bring something up. I never thought I could discuss this with, in all likelihood, over a quarter of a million people or more, going forward. So thank you very much for sharing something of a great personal significance. I hope it was worthwhile. You’ve been through The Portal. We hope that you will subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, wherever you listen to podcasts, Spotify, and then you’ll go over to YouTube and find our channel and not only subscribe, but click the bell icon so that we’ll make sure that we’re in a position where we can update you whenever our next video episode drops. Until then, be well, take care of yourselves. Stay healthy.