Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Addendum - EP25 The Long View

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It’s Hardcore History.


I hear from many of you that say,

just turn on the microphone and talk,

and it’ll be a good show, and we’ll be glad to get it.

So today will perhaps be a test of this theory’s validity.

What’s held up today’s show for a while now

is probably some old training in the news business

that doesn’t exist anymore.

Um, where, as a youngster learning the ropes,

you would come back to your editor with some facts,

some information, some quotes, uh, some background stuff,

um, and you’d present it to them,

and they’d say, okay, what’s the story?

Right? Meaning, all these elements that you have

have the makings for a good news story,

but what are you trying to say?

I mean, is this a man bites dog story?

Or is it a dog bites man story? I mean, you know, you don’t know.

A lot of the more complicated stories require

somebody telling you what the story is.

What does all this mean? Right?

All this information you’re throwing my way.

What am I supposed to think?

And so I was trying to apply that to today’s show,

and it just completely discombobulated

the entire thing, because I’m not trying to tell you

what to think at all, nor do I have a point.

Sometimes, uh, I’ll talk to people, you know,

via social media or whatever, and they’ll say,

uh, it’d be fun to have dinner with you.

Well, this is what dinner might be like,

I’m just warning you.

Bunch of different things that have nothing to do

with anything else. I mean, I used to love

Larry King’s newspaper column back in the 80s, 1980s.

Uh, at that time, Larry King was like the busiest man on Earth.

He did TV, he did radio, he did a newspaper column,

and, uh, looking at him now, I have no idea

how he accomplished it all, but he certainly organized

his projects in a way that, you know, took into account

how busy he was, because the newspaper column was,

well, I don’t even know how to describe it to you.

Imagine 40 sentences, each sentence have no connection

to any of the other sentences in the piece.

So it would say something like,

uh, before President Reagan heads off to the summit

with the Soviet Union, he’s going to be

at the summit with the Soviet Union, he needs to bear in mind,

you know, the words of, uh, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

You know, and then the next one would be,

I love the way Jackie Kennedy’s wearing her hair now,

it takes years off her life.

You know, it would just be like, you know,

the Yankees have won five in a row,

keep up this pace and they’ll make the playoffs.

I mean, at the same time, you kind of understood

why he did it, right? It’s a way for a very busy guy

to churn out a newspaper column.

And that’s maybe what my thing is gonna sound like today.

Where it’s all the elements of a good news story

without the reporter telling you what the story is.

Because I don’t know what the story is.

This actually started off as a completely different piece,

uh, with a bunch of different strands, all of whom…

all of which went nowhere.

Right? They just sort of drifted off into the ether.

Um, but they all at least emanated from the same point.

I thought that was progress. If I could just tie up

all those loose threads, we’d have a heck of a show.

Uh, and that’s what I’ve spent the last two weeks

trying to do. It doesn’t really work.

And as I’m trying to do this, as is normal

with an art project like this, it takes on a life of its own

and develops in an area completely, you know,

off in one direction from the original piece.

So I have a completely different show in front of me right now.

And much more in the way of notes

than I’m accustomed to using. And I find that if you have

more than just a couple of notes, um,

it’s less helpful than having no notes at all.

I’m drowning in notes now. I don’t even know where to look.

And none of it’s, as I said, connected to anything else.

It’s a whole bunch of facts, figures, interviews,

quotes, and data, and no editor to tell me

what the heck the story is.

So let me ask, if we’re reading the equivalent,

forget about, like, newspapers, and what do they say?

Journalism’s the first draft of history.

So let’s think about this less like the newspaper

and more like the history book.

And less like a human history book

than a great, giant, galactic history book, right?

The kind of history books that they’re reading

on other planets about the history of this galaxy

and I’m wondering about the section

that they’re going to have on us.

Obviously, in a great galactic history book,

everybody’s just gonna be shrunk down

to a small little space, right? A little mention.

The poor students in galactic middle school

are gonna have to read about, you know,

Earth and humanity and all that.

It’s just gonna be an extra credit, you know,

assignment on the back of a real test.

But, I mean, what do you think the great galactic history book

is gonna say in its Earth section

when it has to condense, you know, our entire existence

down to just, you know, a few points, right?

What’s the story here on this Earth humanity timeline question?

And I was thinking about that because the only way,

of course, to look at a subject like that

is through a very, you know, long lens, right?

You can’t just take 1520 A.D. and say,

let’s base it on this year. What’s humanity like?

You gotta take a big picture view, right?

Well, let me start this conversation,

this dinner conversation that goes nowhere,

off with a gift one of your number gave me

a long time ago now.

One of the greatest gifts I ever got.

A completely outside the box sort of thing,

and completely geared towards my own personal proclivities,

right? Being a history nut, uh, being a person from a country

that’s, uh, had many successive waves of immigration

from other countries.

A person who is of multiple nationalities

like so many other Americans, and Canadians,

and Australians, and people like that, right?

Come from an immigrant country,

gonna have a lot of different people in you, probably.

So this listener sent me this wonderful gift.

It was an early version of the DNA ancestry test,

the genealogy tests.

Now, these things are everywhere now,

but this was long before the craze hit.

Very early on, very outside the box.

Not cheap.

And I was so intrigued by the possibilities

that I overcame my natural reticence

to sharing my genetic code with anyone.

Swabbed my cheek, or whatever the heck

they were asking for back then.

Put it back in the mailing, uh, packet,

send it to the lab, and waited with bated breath

for the results here to find out exactly how closely

the DNA evidence matched the analog family tree history

that, like many of you, I had also done.

Talk to your grandmothers and grandfathers

about who your, you know, deep ancestors were,

what countries did we come from, what ethnicities are we?

And I thought I had the math right.

I could say, well, if your grandmother

on your mother’s side is half this and half that,

that means you’re 12% this.

And, I mean, I thought I had it figured out,

but I wanted confirmation that my math was right.

So I sent away to the DNA test.

And when it came back to me and I opened it up,

it was nothing like what I expected.

Instead of answering questions about things like my ethnicity,

or the percentage of each ethnic group I belong to,

it didn’t deal with ethnicity at all.

When I opened up this packet of results,

and I’m going, you know, I’m not, this isn’t,

I’m just putting in fake numbers here,

but I mean, it was something akin to,

uh, you open it up and it says,

your ancestors moved out of Africa 150,000 years ago

into what’s now southern Russia.

They lingered there for another 50,000 years

before heading, I mean, it was one of those sorts of things.

In other words, it was deep genealogy, deep ancestry.

It never even got to the point

where modern ethnicities developed.

Right? Stopped before then.

So instead of finding out exactly how Irish,

or Scandinavian, or whatever it might be you were,

um, all you found out about was what you’re,

you know, the equivalent of your caveman ancestors were doing.

And at first I was disappointed,

because this was not what I was expecting,

nor what I was after, but I’ve had the opportunity

many times since to think about this.

To think what this DNA test was reminding me about.

It was reminding me about how long

anatomically modern human beings have been around.

And it’s important to remember this,

because it is the vast, vast majority

of, you know, the time that we’ve spent on this planet

that happened before we started paying any real attention

to ourselves in the history books.

And by that I mean, you know how old your history books are

in terms of how far back they go, right?

Now, modern history combines with archaeology

and anthropology and about a hundred other wonderful

modern scientific specialists,

whose job it is to uncover the prehistoric past,

but traditionally, history started with writing.

And writing started with urban societies.

And so, you know, the history books I have from 1950

start with, like, Mesopotamia and Sumeria.

The implication, not the stated…

necessarily, sometimes stated, but usually not stated,

is that nothing of real value happened

before urbanism and writing and all these sorts of things.

And there was also this implied idea

that anything of value that even happened afterwards

happened in the societies that were doing these things

that set these new modern humans apart

from all the humans that came beforehand, right?

The humans that existed before cities and writing

and complex modern societies.

But that’s the vast, vast, vast majority of time, right?

Anatomically modern human beings have been around,

and this is the current number. The current number changes.

Right? It keeps getting revised earlier and earlier.

I’m just gonna try to be really safe here and say,

anatomically modern human beings have been around

from between 250,000 and 350,000 years ago.

Let that sink in for a minute.

250,000 to 350,000 years ago.

Let’s just take 300,000 as a good, round, current number.

300,000 years. Now, this doesn’t take into account

previous versions of humanity,

which lived at the same time. There’s some overlap, right?

Neanderthals are here when modern human beings are, too.

There’s interbreeding going on, right?

That’s another fascinating part of human history.

But so, we have anatomically modern human beings

300,000 years ago.

I was doing some preliminary research for this

just so I didn’t sound like too much of an idiot.

And there was a distinction made with anthropologists

between anatomically modern human beings

and behaviorally modern human beings.

Now, I’m not sure what that necessarily means,

but I think they’re talking about things like use of fire,

and that sort of deal. I’m not sure,

but even that was suitably ancient.

Something like 150,000 years ago,

just for comparison’s sake.

Now, if we remember that the human history

that our history books from 1950 would have said began,

began about 5,000 or 6,000 years ago.

Well, when you have 300,000 years that you’re playing with,

5,000 or 6,000 years is the very most recent edge

of that entire history, right?

The vast, vast majority of the history of the human species

predates where your history books start.

And there are, well, there are probably multiple ways

of looking at this, but let me just look at it

in sort of a pass-fail way, right? Two ways.

One way of looking at this is that all of human activity

going on before what my 1950s history book

would consider to be the important time

when things get started, although they might have said

the important time is the agricultural revolution,

right, a date that also keeps getting pushed back.

But that would still mean the vast majority

of human history happened before the agricultural revolution.

The point is, is that if you try to envision

what’s going on in that period before, you know,

real history begins, it can either be something

like a more complex version of, like, chimpanzee life, right?

What societies of chimpanzees live like

and what their daily activities are concerned with

and their social structure. I mean, obviously,

more complex, like chimpanzees with fire,

chimpanzees with very modest religious,

you know, understandings. More complex chimps, right?

And I think that’s very possible.

You go look at, you know, cavemen,

in air quotes, caveman society, that looks a little to me

like complex apes, but it doesn’t necessarily

have to be that way. There’s also, like,

the Middle Earth possibility. And, you know,

for those who don’t know, Tolkien’s, J.R.R. Tolkien’s

Lord of the Rings idea of this thing called Middle Earth

is not a place. Middle Earth is a time period

in our own world. And it’s supposed to have existed

before the so-called Age of Man began.

So, it’s deep prehistory. And I guess with the Age of Man

beginning, you know, Sumeria’s in their future.

Well, based on this idea, is the idea that there might have been

all kinds of fascinating things going on

in terms of the great human story.

Just maybe on a much smaller scale, right?

As much smaller venue, a much more tight locality,

but the same sorts of drama and romances and great wars

and big leaders and heroes and villains.

And, I mean, in other words, the exact same human story

we have in the last 6,000 years of human history,

just earlier, smaller.

There’s that old line that quantity has a quality all its own.

Well, 300,000 years of history seems to give you enough time

for a bunch of good stories to happen,

even if they’re happening, you know, in a much slower pace

than they happen in the modern world, I would think.

If that great galactic history book, you know,

it had the aliens monitoring the first 300,000 years

of human history, maybe they have some good stories in it

that we don’t know anything about.

But I’ve often wondered about the, you know,

greatness of prehistory.

There’s a line from Gwynne Dyer’s fabulous, um,

late 70s, early 1980s, uh, documentary on war

where he had wondered about the first time

1,000 human beings had ever gathered

in the same place at the same time.

You know, a very early prehistory question.

And he thought it likely that the first time

1,000 people were ever in the same place at the same time,

it was because a battle was happening.

And that makes you think of all the prehistoric battles, right?

When was the first time an army of 500 men

absolutely knocked everybody over in terms of its size?

Wow, did you… 500 men, can you believe it?

Nobody’s ever had an army that big.

Or the first great empire, even on a…

You know, the first great empire might have been

20 miles long and five miles wide and…

But if that’s the biggest amount of territory

that’s ever been controlled by one people over another,

that’s an empire, isn’t it?

By the strict definition of the terms.

So I think about all these sorts of things.

Who was the first great king?

And we have to remember, too, when it comes to things like

so-called prehistory, prehistory and history

happen at different times in different places, don’t they?

Just because history started in a place like Sumeria

in 3200 BCE, it’s still dark as heck in terms of prehistory.

Not that far away from Sumeria, isn’t it?

You’re going to talk about the various nomadic tribes

living outside the walls of a city like Ur or something.

Well, it’s still prehistory in their community, isn’t it?

And that applies all the way up to modern times.

I mean, the history of Native American

or African tribal peoples that didn’t pay attention

to writing or didn’t write,

that’s all stuff that’s dark to us now.

Their history begins when it starts being written down

by somebody themselves or some outsider group.

Makes you think about all the history that existed

that didn’t get written down.

So I think about this all the time, though,

and ever since that DNA test,

specifically because I try to keep track

of what I like to call the long view.

Right? Looking at history in terms of…

They’d probably say in one of the new kinds of books

that get marketed all the time, the megatrends, right?

But there are certain elements of human behavior

and conduct and activity and what one might say

make up the general pieces of information

in the great galactic history book

that implies that there is some kind of story, right?

We have lots of facts and interviews and data,

but the, you know, galactic history book writer

of the future is going to have to try to come up,

because his editor’s going to make him,

with what it all means.

When you’re talking about these human beings

on this planet for several hundred thousand years,

what’s the story?

I was writing down some of the things

that just seem to be constants with us.

Because some problems, of course, are temporary,

others are created by circumstances

in your time period, but some just seem to be ever-present,

no matter, you know, how long the lens

we’re viewing our past is.

I mean, there seems to always be war and conflict.

There is no sustained period of time

that I’ve ever seen where people aren’t fighting.

There used to be an idea,

and this is because both history and many other disciplines

are connected to the trends of human society

during the time period that they arise.

That’s a famous problem in history, isn’t it?

Main thing they try to teach you in historiography

is how the heck do you weed out the corruption

that the historians operating within their own time period,

as we all do, infuse into how they’re assessing

the material, right?

How do you divorce the historian

and the times that they’re working in

from the times that they’re assessing?

And this is a problem that we all have, even today, right?

And when I was a kid, it was during this period

where there were quite a few people

who were trying to insinuate that something like war

and conflict between human beings,

especially organized conflict,

was something that only developed with cities.

That we lived a more Garden of Eden-type existence,

a more gathering of the tribes kind of existence,

before cities ruined it all for everybody.

And that man, or woman, or humanity,

in their natural state, is of a peaceful, helping nature.

Well, there’s enough stuff today, I would say,

and this is my own personal bias coming in,

because I choose the sources, as we all do,

that sound right to me.

But put me in the camp of those anthropologists

and archaeologists who’ve come out and said,

uh, the evidence seems to indicate

we’re a pretty murderous species.

And that we were a pretty murderous species

before someone started writing down

exactly how murderous we were.

War, and human conflict, and genocide,

and things like ethnic cleansing.

This stuff seems to have always been with us.

And if you doubt the ability of, you know,

peoples in a much lower state of organized development

to be that way, just go look at Chimpanzee Society now.

You watch chimpanzees for a while,

and you get a pretty darn good idea of just how murderous

and hierarchical and everything else we could be,

because the chimpanzees, I mean, it’s almost like

holding up an embarrassing mirror when you go watch them,

because you go, wow, I see all these same elements

still in us today.

We may think of ourselves so far removed,

but certain of the base level things seem pretty unchanged,

if you ask me.

And war, and conflict, and domination,

and those sorts of things seem to be pretty developed

in Chimpanzee Society, especially for a bunch

of non-humans, and I think we still exhibit

those things today, so that’s a pretty much of a constant

when I try to gain some perspective on humanity

as a species over the long view.

Ethnicity and immigration.

These are things that are still a big part

of news stories today.

You could throw colonialization in there, too,

and these things seem to be ever-present

in the historical chronicles, too,

and seem likely to have existed before history did as well.

Right? Same things we have problems with.

And one of the great things about the long view,

I feel like, is the fact that it absolutely takes

the ethnicity issue and makes it a non-issue

over the long haul, because what people…

And I think we’ve been…

maybe corrupted is not a bad way to put it,

corrupted by 19th and early 20th century historiography.

And the fact that just as it always is,

history and history writing, and history research,

and history teaching is intimately wound up

and intertwined with the values and attitudes

of the time period where the writing, the teaching,

and the reading is going on, right?

And in the 19th century especially,

you have a time period where nation states

are in search of their roots.

They’re doing their own national version

of my DNA ethnicity test.

Trying to find out where they come from.

But a lot of this isn’t just an open-ended,

uh, in search of and we’ll go wherever the data leads

this kind of thing. It’s goal-oriented.

I mean, everyone wants to come from some wonderfully…

august, glorious, historical lineage.

Nobody wants to be the descendants

of a couple of peasants, or a couple of serfs.

We all want to be, um, you know, descended

from great peoples and kings and, you know,

societies that made an impact on the past, right?

We all want royal lineage, historically speaking.

That’s why the 19th century spawned all these,

you know, connections to pre-nation states.

I mean, the French started glorifying

their Gallic past. The Germans, you know,

their Germanic histories. And you go look

at the statues they put up,

and they’re wonderfully romantic figures, right?

But how’s that any different from, uh,

modern-day Italians celebrating their Roman past,

or current Greek citizens celebrating

their famous ancient Greek history,

and on and on and on, right?

They’re hardly the only ones. I mean, a lot of people

were infected by this 19th century, um, desire

to tie one’s modern people to some ancient ancestor,

some glorious, exalted ancient ancestor.

I mean, the Kurds, um, there’s a belief

in Kurdish society that their descendants

of the ancient Medes, right, partners in empire

with the ancient Persians.

Syrians today believe themselves,

and I’ve seen articles that back them up on this,

and articles that disagree, so I can’t make an opinion,

but Syrians today consider themselves

to be the descendants of the ancient Assyrians.

I mean, everybody’s looking for glorious ancestors, right?

And the truth is, is some people have them.

I mean, DNA seems to show, uh, waiting, as always,

when we talk about DNA, for more evidence,

but DNA seems to show that a lot of Jewish people today

are descendant from Jewish people

who lived thousands of years ago,

so it’s not impossible.

One can come from an illustrious, glorious past,

but in the 19th century, the implication almost was

that peoples were hermetically sealed off from each other,

and you had these different peoples.

A perfect example would be, uh, look at how the Nazis,

although Nazi ideology, when it came to race and ethnicity,

wasn’t so much singular as it was past itself by date.

Because if you take a Nazi racial philosophy,

and, you know, taken it a hundred years into its own past,

there would’ve been a lot of people

who would’ve thought the same way as the Nazis.

And the Nazis had a belief that people were pure of blood, right?

And you pick up a history book from the late 18, early 1900s,

and you look at exactly how obsessed it is

with ethnicity and race and peoples,

and, you know, where their background is

in terms of their breeding,

and these people are Nordic,

and these people are Slavic, and these people are, uh, Mongolian.

And, I mean, the… It’s an absurd amount of fascination

when the great galactic history book readers

are gonna try to make sense of what humanity was.

And the reason it’s absurd is because of how temporary it all is

when we’re taking the long view.

Races and ethnicities are some of the long views version

of short-term issues, because they’re ever-changing.

And that’s what the 19th century,

both peoples, cultures, and historians got wrong,

was this idea that somehow, you know,

once upon a time on the world stage,

we’ll just pick one people,

but you could fill anybody in for the same thing.

That there were a bunch of blonde-haired, blue-eyed peoples

that, you know, arose independently,

although back in that time period,

we might’ve been talking about Adam and Eve-type origins,

but you know what I’m saying, arose independently

in the North where they’re still to be found,

and then sometime in relatively recent history,

they started having interactions with other peoples

and ethnic societies,

and that’s when interbreeding started.

In other words, from a Hitlerian, Nazi-istic,

you know, race-traitor standpoint,

that’s when things turned evil.

It was much better back in the days

when blonde-haired, blue-eyed people

never mated with people who weren’t of their own kind.

Became what the Harry Potter world

would refer to as mudbloods.

Totally ignoring the fact that we’re all mudbloods.

That’s one of the great secrets and pieces of perspective

that the long view gives us,

and that’s that the current ethnicities

as we identify them are temporary things.

Long-term things from our short-term way of looking at it.

I mean, if I’m gonna live to be 90 years old,

ethnicity seems pretty set in stone to me.

If I’m gonna live to be 200,000 years old,

every ethnicity I see is a passing fad.

There was a story I read, um…

not that long ago, and it was in a…

It wasn’t in a professional publication.

It was something like the BBC or something.

It was a public thing.

But they were talking about a facial recreation

that had been done on a skeleton,

I don’t know how much of a skeleton,

uh, known in Britain as Cheddar Man.

And Cheddar Man is a figure from prehistory,

and they found, uh, this figure in Britain,

and I believe they’ve done DNA.

I don’t know. I don’t remember the story well.

I didn’t go look it up.

Shows you how much prep went into this, right?

Trying to figure out what the story is

without, you know, checking the facts of the story.

But the news story was, and they always say,

a dog bites man story is not a news story,

but a man bites dog story, now that’s news, right?

Well, the Cheddar Man story probably wouldn’t have been

as big of a deal had this facial recreation

I guess it was like a forensic person

who works maybe with murder victims or something today.

But they’re taking the DNA and the skulls

and whatever they have to work with,

and they’re giving you this recreation

of a face of a prehistoric Britain,

and it doesn’t look anything like the British people today.

Doesn’t look like a very, you know,

good representation of the Kentish Anglo-Saxon type,

because it had dark, dark skin.

Dark, dark hair.

And maybe, if I’m recalling it, blue or green eyes,

or the light eyes.

In other words, it was a completely different ethnicity

than one would expect to see as an ancestor of the people

in a place where it’s assumed to be cold and dark,

and the people have very light skin, very light hair.

Although a lot of Celts don’t have light hair.

But you know what I’m saying, there’s a certain type

we associate with the British Isles.

The problem is that our view on this is skewed

by the timeline.

Because if you went back to the British Isles

at around the time Cheddar Man was actually living,

you would expect to see something different,

because back then, something different was living there

than the type of people that live there now.

And the reason why is because of that eternal human quality

that makes up one of those constants.

When we look at the long view of history, people move.

And they intermix with each other while they do.

My DNA test that showed that, you know,

I came out of Africa, or my ancestors did 150,000 years ago,

or whatever it was, is something that’s going to be the same

for most, if not all, of us.

There’s going to be some people that probably still live

in the place where humankind first became

anatomically modern.

They can say, we are the indigenous inhabitants

of this place, because when humanity first arose,

we were here, and we’ve never moved.

The vast majority of us have.

The implications for that, though, if you think about it,

are profound, but only if we’re looking at this

through the long view.

And this gets me to a phrase that I’d like to jettison

from my lexicon, but it’s going to be hard.

I’m going to need… I’m addicted to it.

I’m going to need some kind of patch or something

to help me get through the process

of weaning myself off a phrase.

Maybe it’s a phrase that I use,

because I’m falling out of love with it,

and I like other phrases better.

That’s a good way to put it.

The phrase is indigenous peoples.

Now, I use this phrase as many other people do.

I’m talking about the Native Americans, for example.

I’ll say the indigenous peoples.

But I’m falling out of love with this phrase.

I think I like the way the people in Canada

treat it better. They call their Native American

tribal peoples, they call them First Nations.

And I think that’s a better representation

of what the term should mean.

Because indigenous peoples gets me into trouble

when I’m looking at things through my long-term,

long-view lens.

Because that implies that we’re all indigenous

to somewhere, right? So, if you say,

well, I’m not a tribal Aboriginal person.

My family comes from a bunch of different places.

Where’s their homeland, right? Where am I indigenous to?

And you quickly can see what the problem

in that sort of an approach might be,

and that’s that people move, right?

I don’t live where my ancestors lived.

Am I indigenous to where my ancestors were from?

Well, when did they get there?

And how long do you have to be someplace

to be considered indigenous to it?

Because as we just said, according to the long-term

DNA test, we’re all indigenous to like Northeastern Africa.

And once you leave there, well, you’re either

the first person to arrive someplace,

or you’re squatting on somebody else’s land

that got there before you did.

300,000 years of human history,

with people moving and intermixing all the time,

means that almost nobody is probably on the land

that they inhabited first, before anyone else got there.

Now, the First Nations in Canada,

I just assume that they’re the first people

in that part of the world to establish hierarchies

and governments and some sort of an organization,

you know, tribal organization or whatever.

And I think that’s accurate.

But this indigenous people’s thing gets complicated.

Ethnicity does too. I mean, I was looking for…

I was doing some searches, but I couldn’t figure out

the right search terms to spit back the results

that I wanted. I was trying to find a person

who’s up on the latest DNA and isotope evidence

and everything else that can help us answer a question

about how many people who inhabit certain

geographical areas today are related to the people

that used to be there. And of course, you’ve got to define

what you mean by used to, right?

But I was specifically thinking of like, Roman times.

So are the people in Italy, or maybe the question should be

how many of the people in Italy today can trace

their genetic heritage back to ancient Rome?

And I was starting to play with that.

And then the long view question hit me again, though,

in a shorter term sense.

But which Rome are we even talking about?

Which Rome are we even talking about?

I thought to myself after I’d posed the question to myself.

Because the Rome of like 450 BCE,

when it’s a single city-state at war

with other Italian city-states 10 or 12 miles from itself,

well, that’s one kind of Italy, isn’t it?

Made up of one kind of people.

But the Rome of, say, Tiberius or Marcus Aurelius,

you know, the Roman Empire, well, that’s a multi-ethnic,

multicultural society, isn’t it?

With not just people from all over the world.

You know, Rome’s an international city back then.

But even the emperors coming from places like Spain

and the Balkans and North Africa and Syria.

I mean, all those places are contributing

leadership positions to the Roman state.

So if I was to say something like, well, how many people

in Italy today can trace their roots back to the Roman Empire?

Some person who just got there one generation ago from Syria

might be able to say, I can.

So you gotta be careful, because people were moving around

and interbreeding all the time.

This idea of race purity that the Nazis had

was a bunch of nonsense.

And it’s worth looking for just two seconds

upon how something like that gets started.

There’s a book out there, it’s a pretty darn good one, too.

It’s called… The title is something like,

The Most Dangerous Book Ever Written,

or something like that.

But it’s a book about Tacitus’ work on the Germans.

Now, Tacitus was an ancient Roman writer,

actually, he was a Roman imperial writer.

And he wrote a famous book on the ancient Germanic tribes,

right, contemporaries of the Romans.

Well, the Nazis, in their wisdom to try to find racial history,

latched onto this book, because there’s parts of it

that talk about something that they could use

as evidence of race purity.

Because Tacitus says in one part,

that the Germans never mingled their blood

with lesser people.

Now, The Most Dangerous Book points out

what any good history professor talking about Tacitus’ book

would also point out, and that’s that Tacitus,

just like most ancient writers, is not writing books

for the same reason we write books,

so don’t assume that he is.

He’s actually writing a book to chastise Romans

about things that they do,

and he uses this Germanic stuff as evidence for,

look at how they do it, and they’re so strong.

If we did it more like them, we’d be…

So he’s making a case with something.

This idea that the Germans didn’t mix their DNA

with other people during the Roman era

is nonsense, because the Germans, like, almost…

You don’t want to say every human society,

because that’s not true,

but the vast majority of human societies,

and this is another thing that maybe, you know,

belongs on our list of constants, is slavery.

The Germans were a slave-holding society.

If you have slaves, you’re going to be mixing your DNA with them.

Another example of, you know, how you can sort of be blind

to this obvious fact, I mean, if you look at

some of the great kings from the past

that would have been Nazi racial ideological, um…

prototypes, right?

The kind of people they were celebrating.

How about, and this is a bit of a spoiler alert

for the Viking show still to come,

but how about the famous Danish king,


The king that ruled much of Scandinavia

while he ruled England.

He seemed to be creating this giant…

Theoretically, had it continued, you could have had

this giant northern block of nations, right?

He’s sort of the Nazis’ iconic dream

of, you know, the Nordic peoples ruling over vast areas.

But this Danish king’s mother

had the Nazis done the classifying

would have been seen as an untermenschen, a subhuman.

Knut’s mom was from a Slavic people.

She was the daughter of…

Well, you… My history books often say Polish king,

but this predates the creation of a real Poland.

But it’s a Slavic king, and Knut’s parents married…

into a dynastic marriage.

And that’s the other thing you forget.

It’s not just people at the lower end of society,

the slaves mixing their DNA into the gene pool.

Royal marriages of the sort that were famous

100, 200 years ago, where you would marry, you know,

your son off to another king’s daughter

to try to cement a dynastic relationship,

that’s been going on from time immemorial.

In fact, romantic love is the new kind of reason

people get married.

Creating dynastic relationships between powerful families

is the really old, ancient reason that people get married.

And they’re mixing their DNA at the very highest level

so these ideas of taciturn…

Well, the Germans never mingled their blood

with lesser peoples, unless, of course,

they’re marrying the queens of lesser peoples

and creating, you know, dynastic alliances.

I mean, in other words, all of that stuff is ridiculous,

and people have been mixing from time immemorial

and moving from time immemorial,

and that means that none of the peoples

who are in the locations that they are now

probably used to be there, and they almost certainly,

just like Cheddar Man in Britain, looked differently.

I mean, just look at some of the mass people movements

that we have in the 6,000 years of recorded history.

And the good news for those of us wanting to look back

on those moments is that they’re often extremely disruptive

of the status quo during the time period

we’re talking about.

And, you know, they’ve always said that journalism

is the first draft of history.

Well, history writing often follows similar rules.

In the old line, if it bleeds, it leads.

Works just as well for history as it did for,

you know, current news writing.

And many of the moments in history

where the if it bleeds, it leads standard most applies

are these time periods where vast numbers

of human beings are on the move.

I mean, is the most famous the one where

the Germanic tribes were set in motion?

The famous Volker Wanderung, right?

The movement of peoples, the great migrations

they’re sometimes called.

Well, everybody knows about that, right?

These are the migrations that supposedly set in motion

some of the forces that toppled the Western Roman Empire.

The tribes, you know, they’re famous too.

The Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Vandals,

the Lombards, there’s a whole bunch of them.

But people forget that that movement of peoples

was supposedly started by another great movement

of peoples that hit those Germans

like a bunch of tumbling dominoes, the Huns.

And the Huns, of course, live in one of the great

ethnic melting pots on the face of the Earth.

They live in the Eurasian steppe,

where if we want to play the ethnic melting pot game,

you could have a ton of fun.

It’s one of the most interesting parts

of the great, you know, Eurasian steppe,

and that’s how many different peoples have lived there

and how often they’ve been mixing with each other

because, of course, they have famously mobility

and they move like waves across this giant,

flat expanse of land.

And the numbers of people that have exploded

out of the heartland over by the Altai Mountains

and then usually spreading southward and westward

have, you know, subsumed numerous tribes in the past.

I mean, the first one in recorded history

that was mentioned in one of those books

where writing happens are the Cimmerians.

Contemporaries of the ancient Assyrians

and people like that.

Well, what happened to the Cimmerians, right?

These are supposedly, they would say, a hundred years ago,

ethnically Caucasian people,

probably speaking an Indo-European language.

I mean, they’d have a whole bunch of ways of phrasing it.

But the Cimmerians got treated the same way

that the Huns and the Mongols of later eras

treated the steppe enemies that they ran into

when they were overrun, pushed farther westward,

and then eventually absorbed by the Scythian tribes,

sometimes called Scythian in the old days.

I’m firmly in the camp, by the way,

of those people trying to change the soft sea

back to the hard sea as it used to be

and as it still is in the languages

that invented those terms, right?

Scythians is a Greek term,

and the Greeks would not have said Scythians, so Scythians.

Just like Cimmerians, right?

Scythians, just like Cimmerians are not Cimmerians,

they’re Cimmerians.

And after the Scythians,

they had the same treatment that they meted out to the Cimmerians,

done to them by the Sarmatians,

who had the same thing done to them probably by the Sakha,

who had the same thing done to them by early versions of the Huns.

You had Turks, you had Magyars, you had Avars,

which are, you know, both Turks.

Um, of course, you had Mongolians eventually.

In other words, over and over and over again,

you’ve had these tribes both ethnically cleanse areas,

drive people out of areas,

genocide peoples,

and usually, after defeating them, absorbing them.

Well, ethnically speaking,

these people of the steppe are endlessly fascinating.

Some of the tribes, the Chinese referred to a couple of them

as the Wusun and the Yuxi.

These are tribes which would be in modern-day China today,

but looked much more like they belonged quite a lot farther west

if we’re just gonna take their ethnicity, their hair color,

their eye color into account.

You know, people in modern-day China

generally look pretty Chinese,

and the more towards the Han areas you go,

the more this is true.

But if you look at the Great Steppe overall,

you can see the remnants of the DNA

mixing and scattering everywhere.

It’s a fabulously mixed territory

where people can have Asian features

with Western color eyes or Western-style hair with…

I mean, it’s the same culture

that bred these descriptions of Genghis Khan

that can ring true when you hear them,

that he had Asian features,

but maybe green eyes or red hair.

This same mixing that you see on the Eurasian Steppe

through all of recorded history,

and which my history books would have maybe treated

from 1950, maybe would have treated

as an unusual aspect of this area,

the unusual mixing of different races and ethnicities

is, in fact, the norm pretty much everywhere.

And Cheddar Man is a perfect example.

And if not Cheddar Man, because someone will write me and go,

well, that was all wrong with Cheddar Man.

Doesn’t matter. You’re finding this in all the other areas, too.

The people that live there now

often bear little resemblance to the people

who used to live there.

That does not mean that you can’t trace your history

back to them. There could be a very Anglo-Saxon-looking person

in modern-day Kent that might find out

that they’re a direct descendant of Cheddar Man.

The only thing worth noting, though, is that if you…

you know, had gone back to your ancestors’ times,

they’re all going to look quite a bit different than you.

And, and here’s the part that shows a certain continuity

in the mixing of human DNA

in another 10,000, 20,000,

30,000 years, if we’re looking at the long view here,

people are going to be different colors yet again.

The ethnic question is an ever-changing target, right?

And I would like to say that it will solve itself

when we’re all some version of the same color.

But if you do look at human history over the long haul

and try to pick out commonalities,

one of the things we tend to be really good at

is disliking people that are different than we are.

And just like that Star Trek episode,

where you had the one guy who had the left side of his face black

and the right side of his face white,

and the other guy who had the exact black and white face,

but on different sides, uh, as that, as the first character,

and they found a reason to not like each other because of that.

But to the outsiders, they looked like the same people.

There’s that great line where Captain Kirk says,

you know, but you’re both the same color.

And the Frank Gorshin-played character says,

what are you talking about? Can’t you see I’m black on the left side?

He’s black on the right side.

I mean, in other words, we’ll find some reason

that we’re ethnically different enough

to get upset over our ethnic heritage,

if human history is any guide.

Never mind that to us today, people 30,000 years in the future

may all appear to be the same color.

The star-bellied, sneatch-like aspect of human history shows

we’ll find a reason to declare some people

better than others, and other people worse.

This same question about movement and time

seems to work pretty well with this, um, idea of things like

land ownership…

or land rights. I mean, how much of our problems today

in the world, and especially over the last 100, 150 years,

seem to be related to who owns the land?

This is connected to colonialism, too,

and colonialism’s another one of these ancient things.

Native Americans and other tribal peoples often have,

as part of their founding origin,

legends that they are, or were created,

as the human beings who lived in a certain spot.

Now, there are other tribal peoples

who have a tribal story about moving from some other place.

I mean, a lot of the tribes that we just spoke about,

the Germanic-type tribes that are famously involved

in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire,

the Goths and stuff, they all had origin legends

that said that they were from elsewhere, from Scandinavia.

So they knew that they had moved, but many, many peoples

have a founding origin legend that they come from

the territory that they’re currently in,

and have always been there.

It seems pretty obvious that unless they were

the first people that showed up in the human migration,

that first stepped foot in a given area,

that they’re wrong about this,

that none of us inhabit the area we used to inhabit.

As I said, unless you come from the same part of Africa

where human beings, anatomically correct human beings,

first arose, you’re a squatter on somebody else’s property.

Or maybe you were the first people.

You arrived in virgin territory.

There were no human beings in the area

that your ancestors first, you know,

arrived at and declared their homeland.

That’s fine.

Seems unlikely a modern ethnicity

or a modern nation state can claim something like that.

It seems strange to us when, you know,

some of the Zionists in Israel will proclaim

that territory to be their ancestral land, right?

Going back to the Bible, but the Bible,

in terms of its, you know, ancient-ness,

is a new document when we’re looking at things

through the long view, right? The 300,000-year lens.

Then you start asking, well, you know,

who was there 10,000 years ago?

Who was there 20,000 years ago?

And then everything, when it comes to the land

that certain ethnic peoples don’t just live on now,

but are associated with, right?

Their heritage is connected to the land.

It all looks like they’re just the people

that own the current deed to the property.

It’s like selling a house, historically speaking.

Oh, yes, they bought these from the Amalekites,

who had gotten it from the Guti,

who had originally got it from the Sumeri.

I mean, you know…

Makes you start to feel like there are no indigenous peoples,

that human beings are, by their very nature,

newcomers everywhere.

I thought I’d play this little game,

and I found that I use it all the time now.

But I got the idea talking with my wife’s grandfather once.

And I forgot when this happened.

I want to say it was like 2000 or 2005, somewhere in there.

And he was in his mid-90s, one of those amazing people

who were still exercising like crazy.

I mean, just completely with it.

And you look at them and you go,

holy cow, this person’s 95 or whatever they were.

And he was telling me what it was like

in the Pacific Northwest, where I live,

and where he grew up when he was a kid here, right?

So, you know, the 1930s, 1920s.

And I was zoning out while he was talking,

because I just couldn’t help but think to myself,

how wild it was that if you took this man’s lifetime,

whatever it was, 95 years,

and you just added another lifetime,

you know, same lifespan as he was currently living,

to it, so two 95-year-old lifetimes,

you would find yourself back in time

to where there were almost no European people

in the Pacific Northwest, right?

The spot we’re standing on has only Native peoples.

Um, if you add this man’s lifetime by another lifetime.

And that got me thinking about human lifetimes

as a substitute for talking about years,

or centuries, or dates.

Because, and I was trying to do the math correctly,

so if you just wanted to imagine

that a human lifespan was about 50 years,

and we all know, don’t we, that the infant mortality rates

in earlier times skew the patterns a little bit.

I think 50 would still be considered a little high

by some people, but let’s just say,

your average lifespan over time is 50 years.

If you take two of those lifetimes, right,

then you have a century. So, two lives to a century.

That means that if you have four human lives,

then you’re back to that point my wife’s grandfather

was talking about, right? Four 50-year human lives,

and there are no Europeans, basically,

in the Pacific Northwest.

That seems pretty short, right? When you just say,

oh, it’s just your great-great-great-grandfather.

Well, it gets even weirder when you go even farther

back in time, right? If you take 10 or 11

of those 50-year lifespans…

Great-great-great-great-great, whatever you want to say,

10 or 11 of them, and now you’re back

in Columbus’ time, and you’re talking about

there being no Europeans anywhere in the hemisphere.

You say 1492, or you say five or six hundred years ago,

it just seems like forever ago.

You say 10 or 11 50-year lifespans,

doesn’t seem that long at all, does it?

You want to keep playing that game if you say

a 20 of those lifespans?


whatever it is, 20 lifespans, and you are in,

you know, the early Middle Ages.

Normans, Saxons, William the Conqueror,

Vikings, 20 human lifetimes of 50 years.

40 of those human lifetimes?

40 of them, and you’re in Julius Caesar’s time period,

the death throes of the Roman Republic.

60 of those lifetimes, and you’re in Old Testament time.

90 of those 50-year lifespans, 90.

And you can watch the great pyramids

being built in Egypt.

And before that, it’s basically prehistory.

So the thousands and thousands of human lifetimes

that are part of your ancestral genetic code,

only the last 90 or 100 or something like that,

all that is is all recorded history,

and it’s hardly any of your past.

That, to me, is absolutely mind-blowing.

And I feel like the ramifications should be huge,

even if, you know, to my editor’s dismay,

I can’t tell you what the story is here.

One of the things I have always been fascinated with

is how the people from a very, very long time ago

saw their own very, very ancient past.

I mean, for example, there is a king’s list

that the Neo-Assyrian scribes put together

in the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

And the Neo-Assyrians were the last of the great

Assyrian states, the high watermark

of their political and military dominance.

Think 750 BCE, and you’re right there.

Well, the Neo-Assyrian scribes concocted a king’s list, right?

One king after another, after another,

that stretched all the way back in time.

That chronicled their rulers going back,

remember, from their own time period,

which is like 750 BCE, going back 2,000 years from there.

I love that they referred to the first 17 kings

in their king’s list as the kings who lived in tents.

Denoting that these were like nomadic kings, right?

People who didn’t even live in houses.

Now, most historians will tell you that those sorts

of legendary historical creation lists

are a bunch of nonsense, and that they go from,

you know, really attestable rulers that were

you know, really attestable rulers that we know existed

to people that may or may not have existed

to a bunch of, you know, kings in the distant past

that were almost certainly fictitious.

But how’s that any different than all of us doing

what the 19th century made common, right?

Trying to associate our current situation

with some wonderful, glorious, ancient lineage.

The ancient Assyrians were no different.

What is a little different, though,

is what became of them, maybe compared to what will become

of us. My favorite story, almost certainly,

I mean, it’s top five for me, from the ancient world

and all the ancient writings, and we quoted it in the show

we did on the Assyrians, Judgment at Nineveh,

available from the website if you want it.

Although, one of the many shows I’d like to redo

with the modern sort of approach where we go into it

more deeply and over a longer period of time.

But it’s the wonderful story from the Greek general,

Xenophon, when he came upon what used to be

some of the grandest cities in the world,

a couple hundred years after their grandeur had passed.

And they, you know, Xenophon was a Greek general

whose men were involved in a Persian dynastic struggle.

They ended up on the losing side and had this amazing account

of trying to get home from the battle site,

which was deep in like Iraq, all the way back to Greece,

harried the whole way by the enemy forces.

But at one point in Xenophon’s account,

and he’s writing this, you know, like in 401, 400 BCE, right?

For us, it’s very, very ancient times.

But he runs across ancient cities,

cities that are ancient in his time period.

We wondered about how the Assyrians saw their ancient past.

Well, this wasn’t Xenophon’s ancient past.

These weren’t Greek cities. These were Assyrian cities.

But Assyria had been gone for a couple hundred years,

and Xenophon had no idea about them.

He talked about these, I always call them ghost cities,

because they’re cities that are literally just turning to dust

because these cities were often made up of the mud bricks

that they used to use as an archaeological building,

uh, material back then.

And Xenophon described how tall the walls were,

how big the city’s circumferences were,

and all these kinds of things.

And you can tell he’s plainly, um,

astonished by what he sees.

These are cities that are probably bigger than anything in Greece,

or certainly as big as the big cities in Greece,

and yet they’re clearly from a much earlier time period.

Now, this is a guy being pursued and on the run by his enemies,

but he still had time to make a few inquiries

to the local people squatting here and there

around these giant, ancient, you know, structures,

and the people give him the wrong answer.

They don’t know who it belongs to either.

It’s only a couple hundred years since they were destroyed.

Assyria’s enemies combined and brought that empire down

and destroyed these cities,

but Xenophon already can’t figure out

who it was that built them.

I love that story because it’s a story about antiquity

looking back on an even earlier antiquity.

And there seems to be kind of a, sort of a cosmic lesson there

that we seem to think ourselves immune from.

And it’s the lesson that someday somebody could be going

through our ruins and asking, you know,

the few squatters here and there who built them.

And if you don’t believe that’s possible,

let me just suggest to you

that that’s probably what your average Assyrian person

on the street would have said to me

if I did one of those, and I used to hate those,

those classic, you know, we used to call them MOSs,

man on the street, but today you’d say

person on the street interviews.

If I’d gone to your average Assyrian in Nineveh and said,

so, do you think someday this city will be a ruin

and no one will even remember Assyria?

I would think they would think I was crazy.

And that’s what people today would think

if I asked them a similar question.

But the long view seems to indicate

that that’s how most things have gone in the past,

which means one of two things, as I always say,

either things will continue to go as they always had,

and that will be interesting,

or they will defy the way things have always gone

and go in a different direction, which is equally interesting.

So either we end up a ruin to somebody else,

or we don’t, both fascinating outcomes.

There are some other things, though,

that we haven’t brought up that I think also

are part of what the long view seems to indicate to me.

We’ve always been hard on our environment.

And this is another thing that I think was part of

an earlier era of things like anthropology

that maybe is starting to also be seen in a different light,

this idea that human beings lived in harmony with nature

once upon a time.

I don’t think that’s true.

And I think, like I said, the…

And again, maybe I’m choosing sides here,

but the anthropologists and stuff that I’ve been reading

seem to suggest the same thing.

We’ve always been extremely hard

wherever we’ve lived on the environment.

The difference between earlier eras and today are twofold.

One, we create stuff now that doesn’t biodegrade.

So if you were tough on your environment,

but it was just a question of chopping down all the foliage

and leaving around biodegradable material

and all that kind of stuff,

well, that goes away eventually.

If instead we’re dealing with things like plastics

and polymers and all kinds of other things, right?

Contaminants that don’t go away, well, that’s a different…

You know, in other words, we’re being no better stewards

of our environment than our ancestors were,

but the materials that we’re polluting our environment with

are much more permanent.

So the environment stays much more damaged much longer.

And of course, the other thing is,

when you’re moving around in a nomadic state,

which would have been most of human history

if we’re looking at the 300,000-year lens,

well, that means that you’re able to give land time to recover

after you’ve been hard on it.

And you see this with ape populations, right?

They just, they’ll move from one burned-out territory

to another, and by the time they get back

to the original location in their range,

it’s had time to recover.

And they haven’t polluted it with forever chemicals, right?

But we’ve always been hard on the environment.

So the fact that we’re still hard on the environment

is part of the consistency of looking at human behavior

over the long haul, which means that trying to extricate

ourselves from this mess of destroying our environment

is going to be…

Well, no one ever said it was going to be easy,

but we would literally have to change the way

we have always been, not revert to a way we used to be again.

I think it’s a myth that we ever were in that particular way.

So humans have always moved.

And this is where the notes that I have around me,

just it would start to overwhelm me.

But there were two lines that I juxtaposed,

one right by the other.

One was this concept, and again, you’ll often hear this

from environmental groups, a concept known as

Seventh Generation Philosophy.

And this is supposedly tied back to the Iroquois Confederation.

And the story goes that the people who ruled

those Native American groups were taught to think about

their decision-making and how it would affect

seven generations into the future.

Now, I love this concept, but I find it hard to believe in it.

And the quote that I juxtaposed next to it

was a quote by the 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes,

who was, and you know, the context behind it was

somebody was talking about going through some hard times

and letting the economic system correct itself

over the long haul.

And he said, and the quote is something like,

well, you know, in the long haul, we’re all dead.

Or in the long run, we’re all dead.

And the point he was trying to make was that

if you tell somebody, well, things will get better,

but they won’t get better till after your lifespan is over.

Well, you’re condemning that poor person then

to have to live a terrible life because you’re telling them

that it’s part of something that you’re doing

for the good of something farther past your horizon.

And he was insinuating that you might change

the future horizon if you just tried to improve

this person’s life now and didn’t try to worry

about the amorphous stuff, you know, in the future.

Well, I was trying to think about artificial intelligence,

which is all in the news right now, of course.

Um, and if you had said to an AI program

that it needed to run society, but that it needed to have

as its founding sort of guiding principles,

this seventh-generation philosophy as its thinking.

And I can’t tell you that I came up with any specific scenarios

except that AI destroys the world,

which is the one I normally come up with

about 80 percent of the time.

But the idea of trying to manage human resources

for the good of people 200 years from now, for example,

just seemed to go against all of the human proclivities

built into us. I mean, if you have to…

I mean, throughout most of human history,

we live so hand-to-mouth that the idea of trying

to preserve things for future generations,

and this goes back to the Keynes quote a little bit,

would certainly mean a poorer lifestyle,

or maybe not even surviving,

to the current generation you lived in, right?

If the Iroquois really were trying to decide things

for seven generations in their future,

then they were prosperous people indeed.

Most people don’t have those kinds of, you know,

the wealth and the options and the surplus.

It’s hard enough getting through the winter,

much less trying to preserve stuff

so that people 200 years in the future

have enough for themselves, right?

Don’t cut down this forest now.

Well, why? It would make our lives so much better.

Well, what about people 200 years from now?

Well, if we don’t manage our resources better now,

we won’t be here 200 years from now.

See what I’m saying?

Interesting to think about how an AI would try

to figure out a way to manage human resources

and needs and actions with that long of a timeline.

I mean, we might have to put up with a ton of things today

going away that make our lives what they are

on the grounds that to do otherwise

would be to hamstring people hundreds of years from now

from living lives, you know, well at all.

This is exactly the sort of problem,

you know, something that so runs against the grain

of what our past history seems to indicate is our pattern,

where a person like yours truly is susceptible to seduction

by something like the artificial intelligence

wildcard answer to our problems.

Because otherwise, it can become depressing

to look at just how consistently we live a certain way.

Over the long view, and then expect those ways

and those patterns of behavior to change

just because we’ve invented weapons, for example,

that are so destructive that fighting the kind of wars

that we had become accustomed to fighting

would be practically suicidal, genocidal for sure.

And you can’t even imagine something like that happening.

But our past history would suggest

that imagining anything else is probably being

far too optimistic, unless, of course,

you can throw a wildcard into things

that, you know, upsets that balance.

In other words, what if you had a fix?

You know, something that came in there

and prevented us from doing the very things

we’ve always done, depressingly always done, right?

We’re gonna destroy the environment.

Well, let’s invent something that will prevent us

from destroying the environment, right?

So, the seventh generation thinking infused

into our robot overlords.

That’s how the, you know, Kurt Vonnegut novel

on Dan Carlin’s idea for saving us from ourselves

with artificial intelligence would go.

It would make a great movie, wouldn’t it?

Perfect science fiction dystopian classic,

you know, invented by misanthropic people

who didn’t trust people to handle people problems

and wanted a wildcard instead.

But you can see how it could seduce a person like yours, truly.

And there’s something wonderfully symmetric

about the whole thing that’s appealing also.

This idea that our answer to the problem

of inventing all these things over time

that have made modern life possible, right?

The kind of lifestyles and progress that,

you know, we all live lives that only the very, very, very,

very most privileged and wealthy people in the past ever lived.

I mean, we’ve got this wonderful planet we’ve created

through all of our inventiveness.

There’s a wonderful symmetry to the idea

that we could invent our way out of our inventiveness problem,

or at least our inventiveness byproducts problem.

I like that.

And one can also make the case that,

you know, the last couple of hundred years

have put human collective intellectual capacity

and the ability of entire human societies to adjust

under huge amounts of pressure.

And the need to speedily evolve to handle

what are historically very rapid changes.

I mean, the last couple of hundred years,

there’s, well, as we’ve always said,

there’s going to come a time where you’re gonna reach

the limits of humanity’s ability to evolve

and adjust to changes at the pace of change

as it continues to speed up.

Now, we may have reached that point already,

or it may be in our future,

but at some point, it’s going to arrive.

And at that point, the only thing one can suggest

that would solve a problem like that

is human inventiveness having invented something

that could go beyond human evolutionary capacity

to change more quickly than human brains

and human societies can change.

That is a pro-artificial intelligence argument

right there, isn’t it?

The idea that you need something like this

to sort of save humanity.

The anti-artificial intelligence argument, though,

is well-known and well-understood, too.

Basically, it boils down to a question,

is it ever smart to build something

that will be smarter than you are?

I don’t know what the right answer is in a case like this,

because sometimes I wish we had something smarter than we are,

but the obvious downside of that is, well, obvious.

And even if we had a choice in the matter,

and I’m not sure we do,

I don’t know what the right choice would be.

I remember James Burke asking the question,

the great science historian, a long time ago,

if you looked over the technological horizon

and you didn’t like what you saw,

and you didn’t want to invent and deal with the ramifications

of inventing something in the future,

could you decide not to?

And I don’t know what the answer to that is.

And I don’t know exactly which way this will go,

but if you are a betting person,

it would be smart to look at exactly how things have gone,

and note that it’s probably the safe bet

to assume that it’s the right thing to do.

And it’s the right bet to assume that we humans will do

just what we have always done.