The following is a conversation with Dan Carlin,
host of Hardcore History and Common Sense Podcasts.
To me, Hardcore History is one of,
if not the greatest podcast ever made.
Dan and Joe Rogan are probably the two main people
who got me to fall in love with the medium of podcasting
as a fan and eventually as a podcaster myself.
Meeting Dan was surreal.
To me, he was not just a mere human like the rest of us,
since his voice has been a guide
through some of the darkest moments
of human history for me.
Meeting him was like meeting Genghis Khan,
Stalin, Hitler, Alexander the Great,
and all of the most powerful leaders in history all at once
in a crappy hotel room in the middle of Oregon.
It turns out that he is in fact just a human
and truly one of the good ones.
This was a pleasure and an honor for me.
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As a side note, let me say that I think
we’re living through one of the most challenging moments
in American history.
To me, the way out is through reason and love.
Both require a deep understanding of human nature
and of human history.
This conversation is about both.
I am, perhaps hopelessly, optimistic about our future.
But, if indeed we stand at the precipice
of the great filter, watching our world consumed by fire,
think of this little podcast conversation
as the appetizer to the final meal before the apocalypse.
If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube,
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or connect with me on Twitter at Lex Friedman.
And now, finally, here’s my conversation
with the great Dan Carlin.
Let’s start with the highest philosophical question.
Do you think human beings are fundamentally good,
or are all of us capable of both good and evil,
and it’s the environment that molds how we,
the trajectory that we take through life?
How do we define evil?
Evil seems to be a situational
eye of the beholder kind of question.
So, if we define evil, maybe I can get a better idea of,
and that could be a whole show, couldn’t it, defining evil.
But when we say evil, what do we mean?
That’s a slippery one, but I think there’s some way
in which your existence, your presence in the world,
leads to pain and suffering and destruction
for many others in the rest of the world.
So, you steal the resources and you use them
to create more suffering than there was before in the world.
So, I suppose it’s somehow deeply connected
to this other slippery word, which is suffering.
As you create suffering in the world,
you bring suffering to the world.
But here’s the problem, I think, with it,
because I fully see where you’re going with that,
and I understand it.
The problem is the question of the reason
for inflicting suffering.
So, sometimes one might inflict suffering
upon one group of individuals
in order to maximize a lack of suffering
with another group of individuals,
or one who might not be considered evil at all
might make the rational, seemingly rational choice
of inflicting pain and suffering
on a smaller group of people
in order to maximize the opposite of that
for a larger group of people.
Yeah, that’s one of the dark things about,
I’ve spoken and read the work of Stephen Kotkin,
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the historian,
and he’s basically a Stalin, a Joseph Stalin scholar.
And one of the things I realized,
I’m not sure where to put Hitler, but with Stalin,
it really seems that he was sane
and he thought he was doing good for the world.
I really believe from everything I’ve read about Stalin
that he believed that communism is good for the world.
And if you have to kill a few people along the way,
it’s like you said, the small groups,
if you have to sort of remove the people
that stand in the way of this utopian system of communism,
then that’s actually good for the world.
And it didn’t seem to me
that he could even consider the possibility
that he was evil.
He really thought he was doing good for the world.
And that stuck with me because he’s one of the most,
is to our definition of evil,
he seems to have brought more evil onto this world
than almost any human in history.
And I don’t know what to do with that.
Well, I’m fascinated with the concept,
so fascinated by it that the very first
hardcore history show we ever did,
which was a full 15 or 16 minutes,
was called Alexander versus Hitler.
And the entire question about it was the motivations, right?
So if you go to a court of law because you killed somebody,
one of the things they’re going to consider
is why did you kill them, right?
And if you killed somebody, for example, in self defense,
you’re going to be treated differently
than if you malicious killed somebody
maliciously to take their wallet, right?
And in the show, we wondered,
because I don’t really make pronouncements,
but we wondered about if you believe Hitler’s writings,
for example, Mein Kampf, which is written by a guy
who’s a political figure who wants to get,
so I mean, it’s about as believable
as any other political tract would be.
But in his mind, the things that he said that he had to do
were designed for the betterment of the German people, right?
Whereas Alexander the Great, once again,
this is somebody from more than 2000 years ago,
so with lots of propaganda in the intervening years,
but one of the views of Alexander the Great
is that the reason he did what he did
was to, for lack of a better word,
write his name in a more permanent graffiti
on the pages of history, right?
In other words, to glorify himself.
And if that’s the case,
does that make Alexander a worse person than Hitler
because Hitler thought he was doing good,
whereas Alexander, if you believe the interpretation,
was simply trying to exalt Alexander.
So the motivations of the people doing these things,
it seems to me, matter.
I don’t think you can just sit there and go,
the only thing that matters is the end result,
because that might’ve been an unintentional byproduct,
in which case, that person,
had you been able to show them the future,
might have changed what they were doing.
So were they evil or misguided or wrong or made the wrong?
So, and I hate to do that
because there’s certain people like Hitler
that I don’t feel deserve the benefit of the doubt.
At the same time, if you’re fascinated
by the concept of evil and you delve into it deeply enough,
you’re going to want to understand
why these evil people did what they did.
And sometimes it can confuse the hell out of you.
You know, who wants to sit there
and try to see things from Hitler’s point of view
to get a better understanding
and sort of commiserate with.
So, but I’m, obviously, first history show,
I’m fascinated with the concept.
So do you think it’s possible,
if we put ourselves in the mindset
of some of the people that have led,
created so much suffering in the world,
that all of them had their motivations were,
had good intentions underlying them?
No, I don’t, it’s simply because there’s so many,
I mean, the law of averages would suggest
that that’s not true.
I guess it is pure evil possible,
meaning you, again, it’s slippery,
but you, the suffering is the goal.
Suffering, intentional suffering.
Yes, I think that, and I think that there’s historical
figures that one could point,
but that gets to the deeper question of,
are these people sane?
Do they have something wrong with them?
Are they twisted from something in their youth?
You know, these are the kinds of things
where you start to delve into the psychological makeup
of these people.
In other words, is anybody born evil?
And I actually believe that some people are.
I think the DNA can get scrambled up in ways.
I think the question of evil is important too,
because I think it’s an eye of the beholder thing.
I mean, if Hitler, for example, had been successful
and we were today on the sixth or seventh leader
of the Third Reich, since I think his entire history
would be viewed through a different lens,
because that’s the way we do things, right?
Genghis Khan looks different to the Mongolians
than he does to the residents of Baghdad, right?
And I think, so an eye of the beholder question,
I think comes into all these sorts of things.
As you said, it’s a very slippery question.
Where do you put, as somebody who’s fascinated
by military history, where do you put violence
in terms of the human condition?
Is it core to being human or is it just a little tool
that we use every once in a while?
So I’m gonna respond to your question with a question.
What do you see the difference being
between violence and force?
Let me go farther.
I’m not sure that violence is something
that we have to put up with as human beings forever,
that we must resign ourselves to violence forever.
But I have a much harder time seeing us
able to abolish force.
And there’s going to be some ground
where if those two things are not the same,
and I don’t know that maybe they are,
where there’s certainly some crossover.
And I think force, you’re an engineer,
you’ll understand this better than I did,
but think about it as a physical law.
If you can’t stop something from moving
in a certain direction without pushing back
in that same direction, I’m not sure
that you can have a society or a civilization
without the ability to use a counter force
when things are going wrong,
whether it’s on an individual level, right?
A person attacks another person,
so you step in to save that person,
or even at the highest levels of politics or anything else,
a counter force to stop the inertia
or the impetus of another movement.
So I think that force is a simple,
almost law of physics in human interaction,
especially at the civilizational level.
I think civilization requires a certain amount of,
if not violence, then force.
And again, they’ve talked, I mean,
it goes back into St. Augustine,
all kinds of Christian beliefs about the proper use of force
and people have philosophically tried to decide
between can you have sort of an ahimsa,
Buddhists sort of, we will be nonviolent toward everything
and exert no force, or there’s a reason to have force
in order to create the space for good.
I think force is inevitable.
Now, we can talk, and I’ve not come up
to the conclusion myself, if there is a distinction
to be made between force and violence.
I mean, is a nonviolent force enough,
or is violence when done for the cause of good
a different thing than violence done
either for the cause of evil, as you would say,
or simply for random reasons?
I mean, we humans lack control sometimes.
We can be violent for no apparent reason or goal.
And that’s it.
I mean, you look at the criminal justice system alone
and the way we interact with people
who are acting out in ways that we as a society
have decided is intolerable.
Can you deal with that without force
and at some level violence?
I don’t know.
Can you maintain peacefulness without force?
I don’t know.
Just to be a little bit more specific
about the idea of force, do you put force
as general enough to include force in the space of ideas?
So you mentioned Buddhism or religion or just Twitter.
I can think of no things farther apart than that.
Is the battles we do in the space of ideas
of the great debates throughout history,
do you put force into that?
Or do you, in this conversation,
are we trying to right now keep it to just physical force
in saying that you have an intuition
that force might be with us much longer than violence?
I think the two bleed together.
So take, because it’s always my go to example.
I’m afraid and I’m sure that the listeners all hate it,
but take Germany during the 1920s, early 1930s,
before the Nazis came to power.
And they were always involved in some level of force,
beating up in the streets or whatever it might be.
But think about it more like an intellectual discussion
until a certain point.
It would be difficult, I imagine,
to keep the intellectual counter force of ideas
from at some point degenerating
into something that’s more coercion, counter force,
if we want to use the phrases we were just talking about.
So I think the two are intimately connected.
I mean, actions follow thought, right?
And at a certain point, I think,
especially when one is not achieving the goals
that they want to achieve through a peaceful discussion
or argumentation or trying to convince the other side,
that sometimes the next level of operations
is something a little bit more physically imposing,
if that makes sense.
We go from the intellectual to the physical.
Yeah, so it too easily spills over into violence.
Yes, and one leads to the other often.
So you kind of implied perhaps a hopeful message.
Let me ask it in the form of a question.
Do you think we’ll always have war?
I think it goes to the first question too.
So for example, what do you do?
I mean, let’s play with nation states now,
although I don’t know that nation states
are something we should think of
as a permanent construct forever.
But how is one nation state
supposed to prevent another nation state
from acting in ways that it would see
as either detrimental to the global community
or detrimental to the interest of their own nation state?
I think we’ve had this question
of going back to ancient times,
but certainly in the 20th century,
this has come up quite a bit.
I mean, the whole Second World War argument
sometimes revolves around the idea
of what the proper counterforce should be.
Can you create an entity, a league of nations,
the United Nations, a one world entity maybe even
that alleviates the need for counterforce
involving mass violence and armies and navies
and those things?
I think that’s an open discussion we’re still having.
It’s good to think through that
because having something like a United Nations,
there’s usually a centralized control.
So there’s humans at the top,
there’s committees and usually like leaders
emerge as singular figures
that then can become corrupted by power.
And it’s just a really important,
it feels like a really important thought experiment
and something to really rigorously think through.
How can you construct systems of government
that are stable enough to push us towards less and less war
and less and less unstable and another tough word,
another tough word which is unfair of application of force?
You know, that’s really at the core of the question
that we’re trying to figure out as humans,
as our weapons get better and better and better
it feels like it’s important to think about
how we minimize the over application
or unfair application of force.
There’s other elements that come into play too.
You and I are discussing this
at the very high intellectual level of things,
but there’s also a tail wagging the dog element to this.
So think of a society of warriors,
a tribal society from a long time ago.
How much do the fact that you have warriors in your society
and that their reason for existing,
what they take pride in, what they train for,
what their status in their own civilization,
how much does that itself
drive the responses of that society, right?
How much do you need war to legitimize warriors?
That’s the old argument that you get to
and we’ve had this in the 20th century too,
that the creation of arms and armies
creates an incentive to use them, right?
And that they themselves can drive that incentive
as a justification for their reasons for existence.
That’s where we start to talk about the interactivity
of all these different elements of society upon one another.
So when we talk about governments and war,
well, you need to take into account
the various things those governments have put into place
in terms of systems and armies and things like that
to protect themselves, right?
For reasons we can all understand,
but they exert a force on your range of choices, don’t they?
You’re making me realize that in my upbringing
and I think upbringing of many, warriors are heroes.
To me, I don’t know where that feeling comes from,
but to sort of die fighting
is an honorable way to die, it feels like that.
I’ve always had a problem with this
because as a person interested in military history,
the distinction is important
and I try to make it at different levels.
So at base level, the people who are out there
on the front lines doing the fighting,
to me, those people can be compared with police officers
and firemen and people, fire persons,
but I mean, people that are involved
in an ethical attempt to perform a task
which ultimately one can see in many situations
as being a saving sort of task, right?
Or if nothing else, a self sacrifice
for what they see as the greater good.
Now, I draw a distinction between the individuals
and the entity that they’re a part of,
a military, and I certainly draw a distinction
between the military and then the entire,
for lack of a better word, military industrial complex
that that service is a part of.
I feel a lot less moral attachment
to those upper echelons than I do the people on the ground.
The people on the ground could be any of us
and have been in a lot of,
we have a very professional sort of military now
where it’s a very, a subset of the population,
but in other periods of time, we’ve had conscription
and drafts and it hasn’t been a subset of the population,
it’s been the population, right?
And so it is the society oftentimes going to war
and I make a distinction between those warriors
and the entities either in the system
that they’re a part of the military
or the people that control the military
at the highest political levels.
I feel a lot less moral attachment to them
and I’m much harsher about how I feel about them.
I do not consider the military itself to be heroic
and I do not consider the military industrial complex
to be heroic.
I do think that is a tail wagging the dog situation.
I do think that draws us into looking at military endeavors
as a solution to the problem much more quickly
than we otherwise might.
And to be honest, to tie it all together,
I actually look at the victims of this
as the soldiers we were talking about.
If you set a fire to send firemen into to fight,
then I feel bad for the firemen.
I feel like you’ve abused the trust
that you give those people, right?
So when people talk about war,
I always think that the people that we have to make sure
that a war is really necessary in order to protect
are the people that you’re gonna send over there
to fight that.
The greatest victims in our society of war
are often the warriors.
So in my mind, when we see these people coming home
from places like Iraq,
a place where I would have made the argument
and did at the time that we didn’t belong.
To me, those people are victims
and I know they don’t like to think about themselves
that way because it runs totally counter to the ethos.
But if you’re sending people to protect this country’s shores,
those are heroes.
If you’re sending people to go do something
that they otherwise probably don’t need to do
but they’re there for political reasons
or anything else you wanna put in
that’s not defense related,
well then you’ve made victims of our heroes.
And so I feel like we do a lot of talk
about our troops and our soldiers and stuff
but we don’t treat them as valuable
as the rhetoric makes them sound.
Otherwise, we would be much more careful
about where we put them.
If you’re gonna send my son,
and I don’t have a son, I have daughters,
but if you’re gonna send my son into harm’s way,
I’m going to demand that you really need
to be sending him into harm’s way
and I’m going to be angry at you
if you put him into harm’s way if it doesn’t warrant it.
And so I have much more suspicion about the system
that sends these people into these situations
where they’re required to be heroic
than I do the people on the ground
that I look at as either the people
that are defending us in situations
like the Second World War, for example,
or the people that turn out to be the individual victims
of a system where they’re just a cog in a machine
and the machine doesn’t really care as much about them
as the rhetoric and the propaganda would insinuate.
Yeah, and as my own family history,
it would be nice if we could talk about
there’s a gray area in the places
that you’re talking about.
There’s a gray area in everything.
But when that gray area is part of your own blood,
as it is for me, it’s worth shining a light on somehow.
Sure, give me an example of what you mean.
So you did a program of four episodes
of Ghosts of the Ostfront.
So I was born in the Soviet Union.
I was raised in Moscow.
My dad was born and raised in Kiev.
My grandmother, who just recently passed away,
was raised in Ukraine.
It’s a small city on the border between Russia and Ukraine.
I have a grandfather born in Kiev.
The interesting thing about the timing of everything,
as you might be able to connect, is she survived.
She’s the most badass woman I’ve ever encountered in my life
and most of the warrior spirit I carry is probably from her.
She survived Polar Mor, the Ukrainian starvation
of the 30s.
She was a beautiful teenage girl
during the Nazi occupation of,
so she survived all of that.
And of course, family that everybody,
and so many people died through that whole process.
And one of the things you talk about in your program
is that the gray area is, even with the warriors,
it happened to them, just like as you’re saying now,
they didn’t have a choice.
So my grandfather on the other side,
he was a machine gunner that was in Ukraine that.
In the Red Army?
In the Red Army, yeah.
And they threw, like the statement was that there’s,
I don’t know if it’s obvious or not,
but the rule was there’s no surrender.
So you better die.
So you, I mean, you’re basically,
the goal was when he was fighting
and he was lucky enough,
one of the only to survive by being wounded early on
is there was a march of Nazis towards, I guess, Moscow.
And the whole goal in Ukraine was to slow every,
to slow them into the winter.
I mean, I view him as such a hero
and he believed that he’s indestructible,
which is survivor bias.
And that, you know, bullets can’t hurt him.
And that’s what everybody believed.
And of course, basically everyone that,
he quickly rose to the ranks, let’s just put it this way,
because everybody died.
It was just bodies dragging these heavy machine guns,
like always, you know, always slowly retreating,
shooting and retreating, shooting and retreating.
And I don’t know, he was a hero to me, like I always,
I grew up thinking that he was the one
that sort of defeated the Nazis, right?
And, but the reality that there could be another perspective,
which is all of this happened to him
by the incompetence of Stalin, the incompetence
and men of the Soviet Union being used like pawns
in a shittily played game of chess, right?
So like the one narrative is of him as a victim,
as you’re kind of describing.
And then somehow that’s more paralyzing and that’s more,
I don’t know, it feels better to think of him as a hero
and as Russia, Soviet Union saving the world.
I mean, that narrative also,
is in the United States that the United States was key
in saving the world from the Nazis.
It feels like that narrative is powerful for people.
I’m not sure, and I carry it still with me,
but when I think about the right way
to think about that war,
I’m not sure if that’s the correct narrative.
Let me suggest something.
There’s a line that a Marine named Eugene Sledge had to say
once and I keep it on my phone because it’s,
it makes a real distinction.
And he said, the front line is really where the war is.
And anybody, even a hundred yards behind the front line
doesn’t know what it’s really like.
Now, the difference is, is there are lots of people miles
behind the front line that are in danger, right?
You can be in a medical unit in the rear
and artillery could strike you, planes could strike me.
You could be in danger,
but at the front line, there are two different things.
One is that, and at least,
and I’m doing a lot of reading on this right now
and reading a lot of veterans accounts.
James Jones, who wrote books like From Here to Eternity,
fictional accounts of the Second World War,
but he based them on his own service.
He was at Guadalcanal, for example, in 1942.
And Jones had said that the evolution of a soldier
in front line action requires a lot of
front line action requires an almost surrendering
to the idea that you’re going to live,
that you become accustomed to the idea
that you’re going to die.
And he said, you’re a different person
simply for considering that thought seriously,
because most of us don’t.
But what that allows you to do is to do that job
at the front line, right?
If you’re too concerned about your own life,
you become less of a good guy at your job, right?
The other thing that the people in the 100 yards
at the front line do that the people
in the rear medical unit really don’t,
is you kill and you kill a lot, right?
You don’t just, oh, there’s a sniper back here
so I shot him.
It’s we go from one position to another
and we kill lots of people.
Those things will change you.
And what that tends to do, not universally,
because I’ve read accounts from Red Army soldiers
and they’re very patriotic, right?
But a lot of that patriotism comes through years later
as part of the nostalgia and the remembering.
When you’re down at that front 100 yards,
it is often boiled down to a very small world.
So your grandfather, was it your grandfather?
At the machine gun, he’s concerned about his position
and his comrades and the people
who he owes a responsibility to.
And those, it’s a very small world at that point.
And to me, that’s where the heroism is, right?
He’s not fighting for some giant world,
He’s fighting to save the people next to him.
And his own life at the same time
because they’re saving him too.
And that there is a huge amount of heroism to that.
And that gets to our question about force earlier.
Why would you use force?
Well, how about to protect these people
on either side of me, right?
Now, is there hatred?
Yeah, I hated the Germans for what they were doing.
As a matter of fact, I got a note from a poll
not that long ago.
And I have this tendency to refer to the Nazis, right?
The regime that was, and he said,
why do you keep calling them Nazis?
He says, say what they were.
They were Germans.
And this guy wanted me to not absolve Germany
by saying, oh, it was this awful group of people
that took over your country.
He said, the Germans did this.
And there’s that bitterness where he says,
let’s not forget what they did to us
and what we had to do back, right?
So for me, when we talk about these combat situations,
the reason I call these people heroic is because of,
they’re fighting to defend things we could all understand.
I mean, if you come after my brother
and I take a machine gun and shoot you
and you’re gonna overrun me,
I mean, that becomes a situation
where we talked about counterforce earlier.
Much easier to call yourself a hero
when you’re saving people
or you’re saving this town right behind you.
And you know, if they get through your machine gun,
they’re gonna burn these villages.
They’re gonna throw these people out
in the middle of winter, these families.
That to me is a very different sort of heroism
than this amorphous idea of patriotism.
And you know, patriotism is a thing
that we often get used with, right?
People manipulate us through love of country and all this
because they understand
that this is something we feel very strongly,
but they use it against us sometimes
in order to whip up a war fever or to get people.
I mean, there’s a great line
and I wish I could remember it in its entirety
that Herman Goering had said about how easy it was
to get the people into a war.
He says, you know, you just appeal to their patriotism,
you, I mean, there’s buttons that you can push
and they take advantage of things like love of country
and the way we have a loyalty and an admiration
to the warriors who put their lives on the line.
These are manipulatable things in the human species
that reliably can be counted on to move us
in directions that in a more sober, reflective state of mind
we would consider differently.
It gets the, I mean, you get this war fever up
and people wave flags and they start denouncing the enemy
and they start signing, you know, we’ve seen it over
and over and over again in ancient times this happened.
But the love of country is also beautiful.
So I haven’t seen it in America as much.
So people in America love their country,
like this patriotism is strong in America,
but it’s not as strong as I remember,
even with my sort of being younger,
the love of the Soviet Union.
Now, was it the Soviet Union this requires a distinction
or was it mother Russia?
What it really was, was the communist party.
Okay, so it was the system in place, okay.
The system in place, like loving,
I haven’t quite deeply synchronized exactly what you love.
I think you love that like populist message of the worker,
of the common man, the common person.
Let me draw the comparison then.
And I often say this, that the United States
like the Soviet Union is an ideological based society, right?
So you take a country like France,
it doesn’t matter which French government you’re in now.
The French have been the French for a long time, right?
It’s not based on an ideology, right?
Whereas what unites the United States is an ideology,
freedom, liberty, the constitution.
This is what draws, you know,
it’s the e pluribus unum kind of the idea, right?
That out of many one, well, what binds
all these unique different people?
The shared beliefs, this ideology.
The Soviet Union was the same way.
Cause as you know, the Soviet Union,
Russia was merely one part of the Soviet Union.
And if you believe the rhetoric until Stalin’s time,
everybody was going to be united
under this ideological banner someday, right?
It was a global revolution.
So ideological societies are different.
And to be a fan of the ideological framework and goal,
I mean, I’m a Liberty person, right?
I would like to see everybody in the world
have my system of government,
which is part of a bias, right?
Because they might not want that.
But I think it’s better for everyone
cause I think it’s better for me.
At the same time, when the ideology,
if you consider, and you know,
this stems from ideas of the enlightenment
and there’s a bias there.
So my bias are toward the, but you feel,
and this is why you say,
we’re going to bring freedom to Iraq.
We’re going to bring freedom to here.
We’re going to bring freedom
because we think we’re spreading to you
something that is just undeniably positive.
We’re going to free you and give you this.
It’s hard for me to wipe my own bias away from there, right?
Cause if I were in Iraq, for example,
I would want freedom, right?
But if you then leave and let the Iraqis vote
for whomever they want,
are they going to vote for somebody that will,
I mean, you know, you look at Russia now
and I hear from Russians quite a bit
because so much of my views on Russia
and the Soviet Union were formed in my formative years.
And, you know, we were not hearing from many people
in the Soviet Union back then, but now you do.
You hear from Russians today who will say,
your views on Stalin are archaic and cold.
You know, so you try to reorient your beliefs a little bit,
but it goes to this idea of,
if you gave the people in Russia a free and fair vote,
will they vote for somebody who promises them
a free and open society
based on enlightenment democratic principles?
Or will they vote for somebody,
we in the US would go, what are they doing?
They’re voting for some strong man who’s just good.
You know, so I think it’s very hard to throw away
our own biases and preconceptions.
And, you know, it’s an all eye of the beholder kind of thing.
But when you’re talking about ideological societies,
it is very difficult to throw off
all the years of indoctrination
into the superiority of your system.
I mean, listen, in the Soviet Union,
Marxism one way or another was part of every classrooms.
You know, you could be studying geometry
and they’ll throw Marxism in there somehow,
because that’s what united the society.
And that’s what gave it a higher purpose.
And that’s what made it in the minds of the people
who were its defenders,
a superior, morally superior system.
And we do the same thing here.
In fact, most people do, but see, you’re still French,
no matter what the ideology or the government might be.
So in that sense,
it’s funny that there would be a cold war
with these two systems,
because they’re both ideologically based systems
involving peoples of many different backgrounds
who are united under the umbrella of the ideology.
First of all, that’s brilliantly put.
I’m in a funny position that in my formative years,
I came here when I was 13,
is when I, you know, teenage is your first love or whatever,
is I fell in love with the American set of ideas
of freedom and individuals.
They’re compelling, aren’t they?
Yes. They’re compelling, yes.
But I also remember, it’s like you remember
like maybe an ex girlfriend or something like that.
I also remember loving as a very different human,
the Soviet idea, like we had the national anthem,
which is still, I think the most badass national anthem,
which is the Soviet Union,
like saying we’re the indestructible nation.
I mean, just the words are so,
like Americans words are like, oh, we’re nice.
Like we’re freedom,
but like a Russian Soviet Union national anthem was like,
we’re bad motherfuckers.
Nobody will destroy us.
I just remember feeling pride in a nation as a kid,
like dumb not knowing anything
because we all had to recite the stuff.
It was, there’s a uniformity to everything.
There’s pride underlying everything.
I didn’t think about all the destructive nature
of the bureaucracy, the incompetence,
the, you know, all the things that come
with the implementation of communism,
especially around the eighties and nineties.
But I remember what it’s like to love that set of ideas.
So I’m in a funny place of like,
remember like switching the love
because I’m, you know,
I kind of joke around about being Russian,
but you know, my longterm monogamous relationship
is now with the idea, the American ideal.
Like I’m stuck with it in my mind,
but I remember what it was like to love it.
And I think about that too,
when people criticize China or they criticize
the current state of affairs with how Stalin is remembered
and how Putin is to know that the,
you can’t always wear the American ideal of individualism,
radical individualism and freedom
in analyzing the ways of the world elsewhere.
Like in China, in Russia, that it does,
if you don’t take yourself too seriously,
as Americans all do, as I do,
it’s kind of a beautiful love to have for your government,
to believe in the nation, to let go of yourself
and your rights and your freedoms,
to believe in something bigger than yourself.
That’s actually, that’s a kind of freedom.
That’s, you’re actually liberating yourself.
If you think like life is suffering,
you’re giving into the flow of the water,
the flow, the way of the world
by giving away more power from yourself
and giving it to what you would conceive as,
as the power of the people together,
together we’ll do great things
and really believing in the ideals of what,
in this case, I don’t even know what you would call Russia,
but whatever the heck that is,
authoritarian, powerful state, powerful leader,
believing that can be as beautiful
as believing the American ideal.
Not just that, let me add to what you’re saying.
And I’m very, I spend a lot of time
trying to get out of my own biases.
It is a fruitless endeavor longterm,
but you try to be better than you normally are.
One of the critiques that China,
and I always, as an American,
I tend to think about this as their government, right?
This is a rationale that their government puts forward.
But what you just said is actually,
if you can make that viewpoint beautiful
is kind of a beautiful way of approaching it.
The Chinese would say that what we call human rights
in the United States and what we consider
to be everybody’s birthright around the world
is instead Western rights.
That’s the words they use, Western rights.
It’s a fundamentally Western oriented,
and I’ll go back to the enlightenment based ideas,
on what constitutes the rights of man.
And they would suggest that that’s not internationally
and always applicable, right?
That you can make a case, and again, I don’t believe this.
This runs against my own personal views,
but that you could make a case
that the collective wellbeing of a very large group
of people outweighs the individual needs
of any single person, especially if those things
are in conflict with each other, right?
If you cannot provide for the greater good
because everyone’s so individualistic,
well then really what is the better thing to do, right?
Is suppress individualism so everybody’s better off?
I think trying to recognize how someone else might see that
is important if we want to, you know,
you had talked about eliminating war.
We talk about eliminating conflict.
The first need to do that is to try to understand
how someone else might view something differently
I’m famously one of those people who buys in
to the ideas of traditional Americanism, right?
And look, what a lot of people who live today,
I mean, they would seem to think that things like patriotism
requires a belief in the strong military
and all these things we have today,
but that is a corruption of traditional Americanism,
which viewed all those things with suspicion
in the first hundred years of the Republic
because they saw it as an enemy to the very things
that Americans celebrated, right?
How could you have freedom and liberty
and individualistic expression
if you had an overriding military
that was always fighting wars
and the founders of this country looked to other examples
like Europe, for example,
and saw that standing militaries, for example,
standing armies were the enemy of liberty.
Well, we have a standing army now
and one that is totally interwoven in our entire society.
If you could go back in time and talk to John Quincy Adams,
right, early president of the United States
and show him what we have now,
he would think it was awful and horrible
and that somewhere along the line,
the Americans had lost their way
and forgotten what they were all about.
But we have so successfully interwoven
this modern military industrial complex
with the traditional benefits
of the American system and ideology
so that they’ve become intertwined in our thinking,
whereas 150 years ago, they were actually considered
to be at opposite polarities and a threat to one another.
So when you talk about the love of the nation,
I tend to be suspicious of those things.
I tend to be suspicious of government.
I tend to try very hard to not be manipulated
and I feel like a large part of what they do
is manipulation and propaganda.
And so I think a healthy skepticism of the nation state
is actually 100% Americanism
in the traditional sense of the word.
But I also have to recognize,
as you so eloquently stated,
Americanism is not necessarily universal at all.
And so I think we have to try to be more understanding.
See, the traditional American viewpoint
is that if a place like China
does not allow their people individual human rights,
then they’re being denied something.
They’re being denied and 100 years ago,
they would have said they’re God given rights.
Man is born free and if he’s not free,
it’s because of something done to him, right?
The government has taken away his God given rights.
I’m getting excited just listening to that.
Well, but I mean, I think the idea that this is universal
is in and of itself a bias.
Now, do I want freedom for everybody else?
I sure do.
But the people in the Soviet Union
who really bought into that
wanted the workers of the world to unite
and not be exploited by the greedy blood sucking people
who worked them to death and pocketed all of the fruits
of their labor.
If you frame it that way,
that sounds like justice as well, you know?
So it is an eye of the beholder sort of thing.
I’d love to talk to you about Vladimir Putin,
sort of while we’re in this feeling and wave of empathy
and trying to understand others that are not like us.
One of the reasons I started this podcast
is because I believe that there’s a few people
I could talk to.
Some of it is ego.
Some of it is stupidity.
Is there some people I could talk to
that not many others can talk to?
The one person I was always thinking about
was Vladimir Putin.
Do you still speak the language?
I speak the language very well.
That makes it even easier.
I mean, you might be appointed for that job.
That’s the context in which I’m asking you this question.
What are your thoughts about Vladimir Putin
from a historical context?
Have you studied him?
Have you thought about him?
Yes, studied is a loaded word.
And again, I find it hard sometimes
to not filter things through an American lens.
So as an American,
I would say that the Russians should be allowed
to have any leader that they want to have.
But what an American would say is,
but there should be elections, right?
So if the Russians choose Vladimir Putin
and they keep choosing him, that’s their business.
Where as an American, I would have a problem
is when that leader stops letting the Russians
make that decision.
And we would say, well, now you’re no longer
ruling by the consent of the governed.
You’ve become the equivalent of a person
who may be oppressing your people.
You might as well be a dictator, right?
Now there’s a difference between a freely elected
and reelected and reelected and reelected dictator, right?
If that’s what they want.
And look, it would be silly to broad brush the Russians
like it would be silly to broad brush anyone, right?
Millions and millions of people
with different opinions amongst them all.
But they seem to like a strong person at the helm.
And listen, there’s a giant chunk of Americans
who do too in their own country.
But an American would say, as long as the freedom of choice
is given to the Russians to decide this
and not taken away from them, right?
It’s one thing to say he was freely elected,
but a long time ago and we’ve done away with elections
since then is a different story too.
So my attitude on Vladimir Putin
is if that’s who the Russian people want
and you give them the choice, right?
If he’s only there because they keep electing him,
that’s a very different story.
When he stops offering them the option
of choosing him or not choosing him,
that’s when it begins to look nefarious
to someone born and raised with the mindset
and the ideology that is an integral part of yours truly.
And that I can’t, you can see gray areas
and nuance all you like, but it’s hard to escape.
And you alluded to this too.
It’s hard to escape what was indoctrinated
into your bones in your formative years.
It’s like, your bones are growing, right?
And you can’t go back.
So to me, this is so much a part of who I am
that I have a hard time jettisoning that and saying,
oh no, Vladimir Putin not being elected anymore,
it’s just fine.
I’m too much of a product of my upbringing to go there.
Does that make sense?
But of course there’s, like we were saying,
there’s gray areas, which is, I believe,
I have to think through this,
but I think there is a point at which Adolf Hitler
became the popular choice in Nazi Germany in the 30s.
There’s a, in the same way, from an American perspective,
you can start to criticize some in a shallow way,
some in a deep way.
The way that Putin has maintained power
is by controlling the press.
So limiting one other freedom that we Americans value,
which is the freedom of the press or freedom of speech
that he, it is very possible.
Now things are changing now,
but for most of his presidency,
he was the popular choice and sometimes by far.
And I have, I actually don’t have real family in Russia
who don’t love Putin.
The only people who write to me about Putin
and not liking him are like sort of activists
who are young, right?
But like to me, they’re strangers.
I don’t know anything about them.
The people I do know who have a big family in Russia,
they love Putin.
Do they miss elections?
Would they want the choice to prove it at the ballot box?
And, or are they so in love with him
that they wouldn’t wanna take a chance
that someone might vote him out?
No, they don’t think of it this way.
And they are aware of the incredible bureaucracy
and corruption that is lurking in the shadows,
which is true in Russia.
But like, there’s something about the Russian,
it’s a remnants, corruption is so deeply part of the Russian,
so the Soviet system that even the overthrow of the Soviet,
the breaking apart of the Soviet Union
and Putin coming and reforming a lot of the system,
it’s still deeply in there.
And they’re aware of that.
That’s part of the, like the love for Putin
is partially grounded in the fear of what happens
when the corrupt take over, the greedy take over.
And they see Putin as the stabilizer,
as like a hard like force that says…
A counter force.
Counter force that get your shit together.
Like basically, from the Western perspective,
Putin is terrible, but from the Russian perspective,
Putin is the only thing holding this thing together
before it goes, if it collapses.
Now, from the, like Gary Kasparov has been loud on this,
a lot of people from the Western perspective say,
well, if it has to collapse, let it collapse.
You know, that’s…
That’s easier said than done
when you don’t have to live through that.
And so anyone worrying about their family about…
And they also remember the inflation
and the economic instability
and the suffering and the starvation
that happened in the 90s with the collapse
of the Soviet Union.
And they saw the kind of reform
and the economic vibrancy that happened
when Putin took power,
that they think like, this guy’s holding it together.
And they see elections as potentially
being mechanisms by which the corrupt people
can manipulate the system unfairly,
as opposed to letting the people speak with their voice.
They somehow figure out a way to manipulate the elections,
to elect somebody like one of them Western revolutionaries.
And so I think one of the beliefs
that’s important to the American system
is the belief in the electoral system
that the voice of the people can be heard
in the various systems of government,
whether it’s judicial, whether it’s…
I mean, basically the assumption is
that the system works well enough
for you to be able to elect the popular choice.
Okay, so there’s a couple of things
that come to mind on that.
The first one has to do with the idea of oligarchs.
There’s a belief in political science,
you know, it’s not the overall belief,
but that every society is sort of an oligarchy really,
if you break it down, right?
So what you’re talking about are some of the people
who would form an oligarchic class in Russia,
and that Putin is the guy who can harness
the power of the state to keep those people in check.
The problem, of course, in a system like that,
a strong man system, right?
Where you have somebody who can hold the reins
and steer the ship when the ship is violently in a storm,
is the succession.
So if you’re not creating a system
that can operate without you,
then that terrible instability and that terrible future
that you justify the strong man for
is just awaiting your future, right?
I mean, unless he’s actively building the system
that will outlive him and allow successors
to do what he’s doing,
then what you’ve done here is create a temporary,
I would think, a temporary stability here,
because it’s the same problem you have in a monarchy, right?
Where you have this one king and he’s particularly good,
or you think he’s particularly good,
but he’s gonna turn that job over
to somebody else down the road,
and the system doesn’t guarantee
because no one’s really worked on,
and again, you would tell me,
if Putin is putting into place,
I know he’s talked about it over the years,
putting into place a system that can outlive him
and that will create the stability
that the people in Russia like him for when he’s gone,
because if the oligarchs just take over afterwards,
then one might argue,
well, we had 20 good years of stability,
but I mean, I would say
that if we’re talking about a ship of state here,
the guy steering the ship, maybe,
if you wanted to look at it from the Russian point of view,
has done a great job, maybe, just saying,
but the rocks are still out there,
and he’s not going to be at the helm forever,
so one would think that his job is to make sure
that there’s going to be someone
who can continue to steer the ship
for the people of Russia after he’s gone.
Now, let me ask, because I’m curious,
and ignorant, so is he doing that, do you think?
Is he setting it up so that when there is no Putin,
the state is safe?
From the beginning, that was the idea,
whether one of the fascinating things,
now, I read every biography,
English written biography on Putin,
so I need to think more deeply,
but one of the fascinating things
is how did power change Vladimir Putin?
He was a different man when he took power than he is today.
I actually, in many ways, admire the man that took power.
I think he’s very different than Stalin and then Hitler
at the moment they took power.
I think Hitler and Stalin were both,
in our previous discussion,
already on the trajectory of evil.
I think Putin was a humble, loyal, honest man
when he took power.
The man he is today is worth thinking about and studying.
I’m not sure that that.
That’s an old line, though,
about absolute power corrupting, absolutely.
But it’s kind of a line.
It’s a beautiful quote,
but you have to really think about it.
Like, what does that actually mean?
Like, one of the things I still have to do,
I’ve been focusing on securing the conversation, right?
So I haven’t gone through a dark place yet
because I feel like I can’t do the dark thing for too long.
So I really have to put myself in the mind of Putin
leading up to the conversation.
But for now, my sense is he took power
when Yeltsin gave him,
one of the big sort of acts of the new Russia
was for the first time in its history,
a leader could have continued being in power
and chose to give away power.
That was the George Washington.
Right, we in the United States
would look at that as absolute positive, yeah.
A sign of good things, yes.
And so that was a huge act.
And Putin said that that was the defining thing
that will define Russia for the 21st century,
that act, and he will carry that flag forward.
That’s why in rhetoric, he, after two terms,
he gave away power.
To Medvedev, but it was a puppet, right?
Yeah, yes, but it was,
but like still the story was being told.
I think he believed it early on.
I think he, I believe he still believes it,
but I think he’s deeply suspicious
of the corruption that lurks in the shadows.
And I do believe that,
like as somebody who thinks clickbait journalism is broken,
journalists annoy the hell out of me.
Clickbait journalism’s working perfectly.
Clickbait thing’s working great.
So I understand from Putin’s perspective
that journalism, journalists can be seen
as the enemy of the state,
because people think journalists write these deep,
beautiful philosophical pieces
about criticizing the structure of government
and the proper policy where, you know,
the steps that we need to take to make a greater nation.
No, they, they’re unfairly take stuff out of context.
They, they’re critical in ways
that’s like shallow and not interesting.
They, they call you a racist or sexist,
or they make up stuff all the time.
So I can put myself in the mindset of a person
that thinks that it is okay to remove
that kind of shallow fake news voice from the system.
The problem is, of course, that is a slippery slope
to then you remove all the annoying people from the system,
and then you change what annoying means,
which annoying starts becoming a thing
that like anyone who opposes the system.
I mean, I get, I get the slippery,
it’s obvious that it becomes a slippery slope,
but I can also put myself in the mindset
of the people that see it’s okay
to remove the liars from the system,
as long as it’s good for Russia.
And, okay, so herein lies, and this again,
the traditional American perspective,
because we’ve had yellow, so called yellow journalism
since the founding of the Republic.
That’s nothing new.
But, but the problem then comes into play,
when you remove journalists, even, you know,
it’s a broad brush thing,
because you remove both the crappy ones who are lying,
and the ones who are telling the truth too,
you’re left with simply the approved government journalists,
right, the ones who are towing the government’s line,
in which case the truth as you see it
is a different kind of fake news, right?
It’s the fake news from the government,
instead of the clickbait news,
and oh yeah, maybe truth mixed into all that too,
in some of the outlets.
The problem I always have with our system
here in the United States right now
is trying to tease the truth out from all the falsehoods.
And look, I’ve got 30 years in journalism.
My job used to be to go through, before the internet,
all the newspapers, and find the,
I used to know all the journalists by name,
and I could pick out, you know, who they were,
and I have a hard time picking out the truth
from the falsehoods, so I think constantly,
how are people who don’t have all this background,
who have lives, or who are trained in other specialties,
how do they do it?
But if the government is the only approved outlet for truth,
a traditional American,
and a lot of other traditional societies
based on these ideas of the Enlightenment
that I talked about earlier,
would see that as a disaster waiting to happen,
or a tyranny in progress.
Does that make sense?
Oh, it totally makes sense,
and I would agree with you, I still agree with you,
but it is clear that something about the freedom
of the press and freedom of speech in today,
like literally the last few years
with the internet is changing,
and the argument, you know,
you could say that the American system
of freedom of speech is broken,
because the, here’s the belief I grew up on,
and I still hold, but I’m starting to be sort of
trying to see multiple views on it.
My belief was that freedom of speech results
in a stable trajectory towards truth always.
So like truth will emerge.
That was my sort of faith and belief
that yeah, there’s going to be lies all over the place,
but there’ll be like a stable thing that is true,
that’s carried forward to the public.
Now it feels like it’s possible to go towards a world
where nothing is true,
where truth is something that groups of people
convince themselves of,
and there’s multiple groups of people,
and the idea of some universal truth,
as I suppose is the better thing,
is something that we can no longer exist under.
Like some people believe that the Green Bay Packers
is the best football team,
and some people can think the Patriots,
and they deeply believe it
to where they call the other groups liars.
Now that’s fun for sports,
that’s fun for favorite flavors of ice cream,
but they might believe that about science,
about the various aspects of politics,
various aspects of sort of different policies
within the function of our government.
And like, that’s not just like
some weird thing we’ll complain about,
but that’ll be the nature of things,
like truth is something we can no longer have.
Well, and let me de romanticize
the American history of this too,
because the American press was often just as biased,
just as, I mean, I always looked to the 1970s
as the high watermark of the American journalistic,
in the post Watergate era,
where it was actively going after the abuses
of the government and all these things.
But there was a famous speech, very quiet though,
very quiet, given by Katherine Graham,
who was a Washington Post editor, I believe.
And I actually, somebody sent it to me,
we had to get it off of a journalism,
like a J store kind of thing.
And she, at a luncheon,
assured to the government people at the luncheon,
don’t worry, this is not gonna be something
that we make a trend.
Because the position of the government
is still something that was carried,
that the newspapers were the water,
and the newspapers were the big thing
up until certainly the late 60s, early 70s.
The newspapers were still the water carrier
of the government, right?
And they were the water carriers
of the owners of the newspaper.
So let’s not pretend there was some angelic, wonderful time.
And I’m saying to me,
cause I was the one who brought it up,
let’s not pretend there was any super age
of truthful journalism and all that.
And I mean, you go to the revolutionary period
in American history,
and it looks every bit as bad as today, right?
That’s a hopeful message, actually.
So things may not be as bad as they look.
Well, let’s look at it more like a stock market,
and that you have fluctuations in the truthfulness
or believability of the press.
And there are periods where it was higher
than other periods.
The funny thing about the so called clickbait era,
and I do think it’s terrible,
but I mean, it resembles earlier eras to me.
So I always compare it to when I was a kid growing up,
when I thought journalism was as good as it’s ever gotten.
It was never perfect.
But it’s also something that you see very rarely
in other governments around the world.
And there’s a reason that journalists
are often killed regularly in a lot of countries.
And it’s because they report on things
that the authorities do not want reported on.
And I’ve always thought that
that was what journalism should do.
But it’s gotta be truthful,
otherwise it’s just a different kind of propaganda, right?
Can we talk about Genghis Khan?
By the way, is it Genghis Khan or Genghis Khan?
It’s not Genghis Khan.
It’s either Genghis Khan or Chinggis Khan.
So let’s go with Genghis Khan.
That’s the only thing I’ll be able to say
with any certain, last certain thing I’ll say about it.
It’s like, I don’t know, GIF versus GIF.
I don’t know if you know about those things.
I don’t know how it ever got started the wrong way.
So first of all, your episodes on Genghis Khan
for many people are the favorite.
It’s fascinating to think about events
that had so much like in their ripples,
had so much impact on so much of human civilization.
In your view, was he an evil man?
Let’s go start a discussion of evil.
Another way to put it is I’ve read he’s much loved
in many parts of the world like Mongolia.
And I’ve also read arguments that say
that he was quite a progressive for the time.
So where do you put him?
Is he a progressive or is he an evil destroyer of humans?
As I often say, I’m not a historian,
which is why what I try to bring
to the Hardcore History podcasts are these sub themes.
So each show has, and they’re not,
I try to kind of soft pedal them.
So they’re not always like really right in front
of your face.
In that episode, the soft peddling sub theme had to do
with what we referred to as a historical arsonist.
And it’s because some historians have taken the position
that sometimes, and most of this is earlier stuff,
historians don’t do this very much anymore,
but these were the wonderful questions I grew up with
that blend, it’s almost the intersection
between history and philosophy.
And the idea was that sometimes the world has become
so overwhelmed with bureaucracy or corruption
or just stagnation that somebody has to come in
or some group of people or some force has to come in
and do the equivalent of a forest fire
to clear out all the dead wood
so that the forest itself can be rejuvenated
and society can then move forward.
And there’s a lot of these periods where the historians
of the past will portray these figures who come in
and do horrific things as creating an almost service
for mankind, right?
Creating the foundations for a new world
that will be better than the old one.
And it’s a recurring theme.
And so this was the sub theme of the Khan’s podcast,
because otherwise you don’t need me to tell you the story
of the Mongols, but I’m gonna bring up
the historical arsonist element.
And, but this gets to how the Khan has been portrayed,
If you wanna say, oh yes, he cleared out the dead wood
and made for, well, then it’s a positive thing.
If you say, my family was in the forest fire that he set,
you’re not gonna see it that way.
Much of what Genghis Khan is credited with
on the upside, right?
So things like religious toleration,
and you’ll say, well, he was religiously,
the Mongols were religiously tolerant.
And so this makes them almost like a liberal reformer
kind of thing.
But this needs to be seen within the context
of their empire, which was very much
like the Roman viewpoint,
which is the Romans didn’t care at a lot of time
what your local people worshiped.
They wanted stability.
And if that kept stability and kept you paying taxes
and didn’t require the legionaries to come in,
then they didn’t care, right?
And the Khans were the same way.
Like they don’t care what you’re practicing
as long as it doesn’t disrupt their empire
and cause them trouble.
But what I always like to point out is yes,
but the Khan could still come in with his representatives
to your town, decide your daughter was a beautiful woman
that they wanted in the Khan’s concubine,
and they would take them.
So how liberal an empire is this, right?
So many of the things that they get credit for
as though there’s some kind of nice guys
may in another way of looking at it
just be a simple mechanism of control, right?
A way to keep the empire stable.
They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their heart.
They have decided that this is the best.
And I love because the Mongols were what we would call
a pagan people now.
I love the fact that they, and I think we call it,
I forgot the term we used, had to do with,
like they were hedging their bets religiously, right?
They didn’t know which God was the right one.
So as long as you’re all praying for the health of the Khan,
we’re maximizing the chances that whoever the gods are,
they get the message, right?
So I think it’s been portrayed as something
like a liberal empire.
And the idea of Mongol universality
is more about conquering the world.
And it’s like saying, you know,
we’re gonna bring stability to the world by conquering it.
Well, what if that’s Hitler, right?
He could make the same case,
or Hitler wasn’t really the world conqueror like that
because he wouldn’t have been trying
to make it equal for all peoples.
But my point being that it kind of takes
the positive moral slant out of it
if their motivation wasn’t a positive moral slant
to the motivate, and the Mongols didn’t see it that way.
And I think the way that it’s portrayed is like,
and I always like to use this analogy,
but it’s like shooting an arrow
and painting a bull’s eye around it afterwards, right?
How do we justify and make them look good in a way
that they themselves probably,
and listen, we don’t have the Mongol point of view per se.
I mean, there’s something called the secret history
of the Mongols, and there’s things written down
by Mongolian overlords through people
like Persian and Chinese scribes later.
We don’t have their point of view,
but it sure doesn’t look like this was an attempt
to create some wonderful place
where everybody was living a better life
than they were before.
I think that’s later people putting a nice rosy spin on it.
But there’s an aspect to it, maybe you can correct me,
because I’m projecting sort of my idea
of what it would take to conquer so much land
is the ideology is emergent.
So if I were to guess,
the Mongols started out as exceptionally,
as warriors who valued excellence in skill of killing,
not even killing, but like the actual practice of war.
And you can start out small,
and you can grow and grow and grow.
And then in order to maintain the stability
of the things over which of the conquered lands,
you developed a set of ideas with which you can,
like you said, establish control, but it was emergent.
And it seems like the core first principle idea
of the Mongols is just to be excellent warriors.
That felt to me like the starting point.
It wasn’t some ideology.
Like with Hitler and Stalin,
with Hitler, there was an ideology
that didn’t have anything to do with war underneath it.
It was more about conquering.
It feels like the Mongols started out more organically,
I would say, like this phenomenon started emergently,
and they were just like similar to the Native Americans
with the Comanches, like the different warrior tribes
that Joe Rogan’s currently obsessed with,
that led me to look into it more.
They seem to just start out just valuing the skill
of fighting whatever the tools of war they had,
which were pretty primitive,
but just to be the best warriors
they could possibly be, make a science out of it.
Is that crazy to think that there was no ideology behind it
in the beginning?
I’m gonna back up a second.
I’m reminded of the line said about the Romans,
that they create a wasteland and call it peace.
That is, but there’s a lot of conquerors like that, right?
Where you will sit there, and listen,
historians forever have, it’s the famous trade offs
of empire, and they’ll say, well,
look at the trade that they facilitated,
and look at the religion, all those kinds of things,
but they come at the cost of all those peoples
that they conquered forcibly and by force,
integrated into their empire.
The one thing we need to remember about the Mongols
that makes them different than, say, the Romans,
and this is complex stuff and way above my pay grade,
but I’m fascinated with it,
and it’s more like the Comanches that you just brought up,
is that the Mongols are not a settled society, okay?
They come from a nomadic tradition.
Now, several generations later,
when you have Kublai Khan as the emperor of China,
it’s beginning to be a different thing, right?
And the Mongols, when their empire broke up,
the ones that were in settled,
the so called settled societies, right, Iran,
places like that, they will become more like,
over time, the rulers of those places were traditionally,
and the Mongols in, say, the Khaganate of the Golden Horde,
which is still in their traditional nomadic territories,
will remain traditionally more Mongol,
but when you start talking about who the Mongols were,
I try to make a distinction.
They’re not some really super special people.
They’re just the latest confederacy in an area
that saw nomadic confederacies going back
to the beginning of recorded history.
The Scythians, the Sarmatians, the Avars,
the Huns, the Magyars, I mean, these are all the nomadic,
you know, the nomads of the Eurasian steppe
were huge, huge players in the history of the world
until gunpowder nullified their traditional weapons system,
which I’ve been fascinated with
because their traditional weapons system
is not one you could copy,
because you were talking about being the greatest warriors
you could be.
Every warrior society I’ve ever seen values that.
What the nomads had of the Eurasian steppe
was this relationship between human beings and animals
that changed the equation.
It was how they rode horses.
And societies like the Byzantines,
which would form one flank of the steppe
and then all the way on the other side you had China,
and below that you had Persia,
these societies would all attempt
to create mounted horsemen who used archery.
And they did a good job,
but they were never the equals of the nomads
because those people were literally raised in the saddle.
They compared them to centaurs.
The Comanches, great example,
considered to be the best horse riding warriors
in North America.
The Comanches, I always love watching, there’s paintings.
George Catlin, the famous painter
who painted the Comanches, illustrated it.
But the Mongols and the Scythians and the Avars
and all these people did it too,
where they would shoot from underneath the horse’s neck,
hiding behind the horse the whole way.
You look at a picture of somebody doing that,
and it’s insane.
This is what the Byzantines couldn’t do
and the Chinese couldn’t do.
It was a different level of harnessing
a human animal relationship
that gave them a military advantage
that could not be copied, right?
It could be emulated, but they were never as good, right?
That’s why they always hired these people.
They hired mercenaries from these areas
because they were incomparable, right?
It’s the combination of people who were shooting bows
and arrows from the time they were toddlers,
who were riding from the time they were,
who rode all the time.
I mean, the Huns were bow legged, the Romans said,
because they were never,
they ate, slept, everything in the saddle.
That creates something that is difficult to copy.
And it gave them a military advantage.
I enjoy reading actually about
when that military advantage ended.
So 17th and 18th century,
when the Chinese on one flank and the Russians on the other
are beginning to use firearms and stuff
to break this military power of these various Khans.
The Mongols were simply the most dominating
and most successful of the Confederacies.
But if you break it down,
they really formed the nucleus at the top of the pyramid,
of the apex of the food chain.
And a lot of the people that were known as Mongols
were really lots of other tribes, non Mongolian tribes,
that when the Mongols conquer you,
after they killed a lot of you,
they incorporated you into their Confederacy
and often made you go first.
You’re gonna fight somebody,
we’re gonna make these people go out in front
and suck up all the arrows
before we go in and finish the job.
So to me, and I guess a fan of the Mongols would say
that the difference and what made the Mongols different
wasn’t the weapon system or the fighting
or the warriors or the armor or anything,
it was Genghis Khan.
And if you go look at the other really dangerous,
from the outside world’s perspective,
dangerous step, nomadic Confederacies from past history
was always when some great leader emerged
that could unite the tribes.
And you see the same thing in Native American history
to a degree too.
You had people like Attila, right?
Or there’s one called Tumen.
You go back in history and these people
make the history books because they caused
an enormous amount of trouble for their settled neighbors
that normally, I mean, Chinese Byzantine and Persian
approaches to the steppe people were always the same.
They would pick out tribes to be friendly with,
they would give them money, gifts, hire them,
and they would use them against the other tribes.
And generally Byzantine,
especially in Chinese diplomatic history
was all about keeping these tribes separated.
Don’t let them form confederations of large numbers of them
because then they’re unstoppable.
Attila was a perfect example.
The Huns were another large,
the Turks, another large confederacy of these people.
And they were devastating when they could unite.
So the diplomatic policy was don’t let them.
That’s what made the Mongols different
is Genghis Khan united them.
And then unlike most of the tribal confederacies,
they were able to hold it together for a few generations.
To linger on the little thread that you started pulling
on this man, Genghis Khan, that was a leader.
What do you think makes a great leader?
Maybe if you have other examples throughout history
and great, again, let’s use that term loosely.
Now I was gonna ask for a definition.
Great uniter of whether it’s evil or good,
it doesn’t matter.
Is there somebody who stands out to you,
Alexander the Great talking about military or ideologies,
some people bring up FDR or, I mean,
you could be the founding fathers of this country,
or we can go to, was he man of the century up there?
Hitler of the 20th century and Stalin
and these people had really amassed the amount of power
that probably has never been seen
in the history of the world.
Is there somebody who stands out to you
by way of trying to define what makes a great uniter,
great leader in one man or woman, maybe in the future?
It’s an interesting question.
And one I’ve thought a lot about,
because let’s take Alexander the Great as an example,
because Alexander fascinated the world of his time,
fascinated, ever since people have been fascinated
with the guy.
But Alexander was a hereditary monarch, right?
He was handed the kingdom.
Which is fascinating.
Right, but he did not need to rise from nothing
to get that job.
In fact, he reminds me of a lot of other leaders
of Frederick the Great, for example, in Prussia.
These are people who inherited
the greatest army of their day.
Alexander, unless he was an imbecile,
was going to be great no matter what,
because I mean, if you inherit the Wehrmacht,
you’re gonna be able to do something with it, right?
Alexander’s father may have been greater, Philip.
Philip II was the guy who literally did create
a strong kingdom from a disjointed group of people
that were continually beset by their neighbors.
He’s the one that reformed that army,
took things that he had learned from other Greek leaders
like the Theban leader at Paminondas,
and then laboriously over his lifetime
stabilized the frontiers, built this system.
He lost an eye doing it.
His leg was made lame.
I mean, this was a man who looked like he built the empire
and led from the front ranks.
I mean, and then who may have been killed by his son,
we don’t know who assassinated Philip,
but then handed the greatest army
the world had ever seen to his son,
who then did great things with it.
You see this pattern many times.
So in my mind, I’m not sure Alexander
really can be that great when you compare him
to people who arose from nothing.
So the difference between what we would call
in the United States the self made man
or the one who inherits a fortune.
There’s an old line that, it’s a slur,
but it’s about rich people.
And it’s like he was born on third base
and thought he hit a triple, right?
Philip was born at home plate and he had to hit.
Alexander started on third base.
And so I try to draw a distinction between them.
Genghis Khan is tough because there’s two traditions.
The tradition that we grew up with here
in the United States and that I grew up learning
was that he was a self made man.
But there is a tradition,
and it may be one of those things that’s put after the fact
because a long time ago, whether or not you had blue blood
in your veins was an important distinction.
And so the distinction that you’ll often hear
from Mongolian history is that this was a nobleman
who had been deprived of his inheritance.
So he was a blue blood anyway.
I don’t know which is true.
There’s certainly, I mean, when you look at a Genghis Khan,
you have to go, that is a wicked amount of things
to have achieved.
He’s very impressive as a figure.
Attila is very impressive as a figure.
Hitler’s an interesting figure.
He’s one of those people,
you know, the more you study about Hitler,
the more you wonder where the defining moment was.
Because if you look at his life,
I mean, Hitler was a relatively common soldier
in the First World War.
I mean, he was brave.
He got some decorations.
In fact, the highest decoration he got
in the First World War was given to him by a Jewish officer.
And he often didn’t talk about that decoration,
even though it was the more prestigious one
because it would open up a whole can of worms
you didn’t wanna get into.
But Hitler’s, I mean, if you said who was Hitler today,
one of the top things you’re gonna say
is he was an anti Semite.
Well, then you have to draw a distinction
between general regular anti Semitism
that was pretty common in the era
and something that was a rabid level of anti Semitism.
But Hitler didn’t seem to show a rabid level
of anti Semitism until after
or at the very end of the First World War.
So if this is a defining part of this person’s character
and much of what we consider to be his evil
stems from that, what happened to this guy
when he’s an adult, right?
He’s already fought in the war to change him so.
I mean, it’s almost like the old,
there was always a movie theme.
Somebody gets hit by something on the head
and their whole personality changes, right?
I mean, it almost seems something like that.
So I don’t think I call that necessarily a great leader.
To me, the interesting thing about Hitler
is what the hell happened to a nondescript person
who didn’t really impress anybody with his skills.
And then in the 1920s, it’s all of a sudden,
as you said, sort of the man of the hour, right?
So that to me is kind of,
I have this feeling that Genghis Khan,
and we don’t really know,
was an impressive human being from the get go.
And then he was raised in this environment
with pressure on all sides.
So you start with this diamond and then you polish it
and you harden it his whole life.
Hitler seemed to be a very unimpressive gemstone
most of his life, and then all of a sudden.
So, I mean, I don’t think I can label great leaders.
And I’m always fascinated by that idea that,
and I’m trying to remember who the quote was by that,
that great men, oh, Lord Acton.
So great men are often not good men.
And that in order to be great,
you would have to jettison many of the moral qualities
that we normally would consider a Jesus or a Gandhi,
or, you know, these qualities that one looks at
as the good upstanding moral qualities
that we should all aspire to as examples, right?
The Buddha, whatever it might be,
those people wouldn’t make good leaders
because what you need to be a good leader
often requires the kind of choices
that a true philosophical diogenes moral man wouldn’t make.
So I don’t have an answer to your question.
How about that?
That’s a long way of saying, I don’t know.
Just linger a little bit.
It does feel like from my study of Hitler
that the time molded the man versus Genghis Khan,
where it feels like he, the man molded his time.
Yes, and I feel that way
about a lot of those nomadic Confederacy builders,
that they really seem to be these figures
that stand out as extraordinary in one way or another.
Remembering, by the way,
that almost all the history of them were written
by the enemies that they so mistreated
that they were probably never gonna get any good press.
They didn’t write themselves.
That’s a caveat.
We should always add to basically all of human history.
Nomadic or Native American peoples
or tribal peoples anywhere
generally do not get the advantage
of being able to write the history of their heroes.
Okay, I’ve recently almost done
with the rise and the fall of the Third Reich.
It’s one of the historical descriptions
of Hitler’s rise to power, Nazi’s rise to power.
There’s a few philosophical things
I’d like to ask you to see if you can help.
Like one of the things I think about
is how does one be a hero in 1930s Nazi Germany?
What does it mean to be a hero?
What do heroic actions look like?
I think about that because I think about
how I move about in this world today.
That we live in really chaotic, intense times
where I don’t think you wanna draw any parallels
between Nazi Germany and modern day
in any of the nations we can think about.
But it’s not out of the realm of possibility
that authoritarian governments take hold,
authoritarian companies take hold.
And I’d like to think that I could be
in my little small way and inspire others
to take the heroic action before things get bad.
And I kind of try to place myself
in what would 1930s Germany look like?
Is it possible to stop a Hitler?
Is it even the right way to think about it?
And how does one be a hero in it?
I mean, you often talk about that living through
a moment in history is very different
than looking at that history,
looking when you look back.
I also think about it, would it be possible
to understand what’s happening
that the bells of war are ringing?
It seems that most people didn’t seem to understand,
you know, late into the 30s that war is coming.
On the United States side, inside Germany,
like the opposing figures,
the German military didn’t seem to understand this.
Maybe the other countries, certainly France
and England didn’t seem to understand this.
That kind of tried to put myself into 90s, 30s Germany
as I’m Jewish, which is another little twist on the whole.
Like what would I do?
What should one do?
Do you have interesting answers?
So earlier we had talked about Putin
and we had talked about patriotism
and love of country and those sorts of things.
In order to be a hero in Nazi Germany
by our views here, you would have had to have been
anti patriotic to the average German’s viewpoint
in the 1930s, right?
You would have to have opposed your own government
and your own country.
And that’s a very, it would be a very weird thing
to go to people in Germany and say,
listen, the only way you’re gonna be seen
as a good German and a hero to the country
that will be your enemies is we think
you should oppose your own government.
It’s a strange position to put the people
in a government saying you need to be against your leader,
you need to oppose your government’s policies,
you need to oppose your government,
you need to hope and work for its downfall.
That doesn’t sound patriotic.
It wouldn’t sound patriotic here in this country
if you made a similar argument.
I will go away from the 1930s and go to the 1940s
to answer your question.
So there is movements like the White Rose Movement
in Germany, which involved young people really,
and from various backgrounds, religious backgrounds often,
who worked openly against the Nazi government
at a time when power was already consolidated,
the Gestapo was in full force and they execute people
who are against the government.
And these young people would go out
and distribute pamphlets and many of them got their heads
cut off with guillotines for their trouble.
And they knew that that was gonna be the penalty.
That is a remarkable amount of bravery and sacrifice
and willingness to die, and almost not even willingness
because they were so open about it,
it’s almost a certainty, right?
That’s incredibly moving to me.
So when we talk, and we had talked earlier
about sort of the human spirit and all that kind of thing,
there are people in the German military who opposed
and worked against Hitler, for example.
But to me, that’s almost cowardly compared
to what these young people did in the White Rose Movement
because those people in the Wehrmacht, for example,
who were secretly trying to undermine Hitler,
they’re not really putting their lives on the line
to the same degree.
And so I think when I look at heroes,
and listen, I remember once saying
there were no conscientious objectors in Germany
as a way to point out to people
that you didn’t have a choice,
you know, you were gonna serve in there.
And I got letters from Jehovah’s Witnesses who said,
yes, there were.
And we got sent to the concentration camps.
Those are remarkably brave things.
It’s one thing to have your own set of standards and values.
It’s another thing to say, oh no,
I’m going to display them in a way
that with this regime, that’s a death sentence.
And not just for me, for my family, right?
In these regimes, there was not a lot of distinction made
between father and son and wives.
That’s a remarkable sacrifice to make.
And far beyond what I think I would even be capable of.
And so the admiration comes from seeing people
who appear to be more morally profound
than you are yourself.
So when I look at this, I look at that kind of thing
and I just say, wow.
And the funny thing is if you’d have gone
to most average Germans on the street in 1942
and said, what do you think of these people?
They’re gonna think of them as traitors
who probably got what they deserved.
So that’s the eye of the beholder thing.
It’s the power of the state to sow propagandize values
and morality in a way that favors the state
that you can turn people who today we look at
as unbelievably brave and moral
and crusading for righteousness
and turn them into enemies of the people.
So, I mean, in my mind, it would be people like that.
See, I think, so hero is a funny word
and we romanticize the notion,
but if I could drag you back to 1930s Germany from 1940s.
I feel like the heroic actions that doesn’t accomplish much
is not what I’m referring to.
So there’s many heroes I look up to that,
like David Goggins, for example,
the guy who runs crazy distances.
He runs for no purpose except for the suffering in itself.
And I think his willingness to challenge the limits
of his mind is heroic.
I guess I’m looking for a different term,
which is how could Hitler have been stopped?
My sense is that he could have been stopped
in the battle of ideas where people,
millions of people were suffering economically
or suffering because of the betrayal of World War I
in terms of the love of country
and how they felt they were being treated.
And a charismatic leader that inspired love
and unity that’s not destructive could have emerged.
And that’s where the battle should have been fought.
I would suggest that we need to take into account
the context of the times that led to Hitler’s rise of power
and created the conditions where his message resonated.
That is not a message that resonates at all times, right?
It is impossible to understand the rise of Hitler
without dealing with the First World War
and the aftermath of the First World War
and the inflationary terrible depression in Germany
and all these things and the dissatisfaction
with the Weimar Republic’s government,
which was often seen as something put into,
which it was put into place by the victorious powers.
Hitler referred to the people that signed those agreements
that signed the armistice as the November criminals.
And he used that as a phrase
which resonated with the population.
This was a population that was embittered.
And even if they weren’t embittered,
the times were so terrible.
And the options for operating within the system
in a non radical way seemed totally discredited, right?
You could work through the Weimar Republic,
but they tried and it wasn’t working anyway.
And then the alternative to the Nazis
who were bully boys in the street
were communist agitators
that to the average conservative Germans seem no better.
So you have three options
if you’re an average German person.
You can go with the discredited government
put in power by your enemies that wasn’t working anyway.
You could go with the Nazis
who seemed like a bunch of super patriots
calling for the restoration of German authority,
or you could go with the communists.
And the entire thing seemed like a litany of poor options.
And in this realm, Hitler was able to triangulate,
if you will.
He came off as a person
who was going to restore German greatness
at a time when this was a powerful message.
But if you don’t need German greatness restored,
it doesn’t resonate, right?
So the reason that your love idea and all this stuff,
I don’t think would have worked in the time period
is because that was not a commodity
that the average German was in search of then.
Well, it’s interesting to think about
whether greatness can be restored through mechanisms,
through ideas that are not so,
from our perspective today, so evil.
I don’t know what the right term is.
But the war continued in a way.
So remember that when Germany,
when Hitler is rising to power,
the French are in control of parts of Germany, right?
The Ruhr, one of the main industrial heartlands of Germany,
was occupied by the French.
So there’s never this point
where you’re allowed to let the hate dissipate, right?
Every time maybe things were calming down,
something else would happen to stick the knife in
and twist it a little bit more,
from the average German’s perspective, right?
The reparations, right?
So if you say, okay, well, we’re gonna get back on our feet,
the reparations were crushing.
These things prevented the idea of love or brotherhood
and all these things from taking hold.
And even if there were Germans who felt that way,
and there most certainly were,
it is hard to overcome the power of everyone else.
You know, what I always say
when people talk to me about humanity
is I believe on individual levels,
we’re capable of everything and anything,
good, bad, or indifferent.
But collectively, it’s different, right?
And in the time period that we’re talking about here,
messages of peace on earth and love your enemies
and all these sorts of things
were absolutely deluged and overwhelmed
and drowned out by the bitterness, the hatred,
and let’s be honest,
the sense that you were continually being abused
by your former enemies.
There were a lot of people in the Allied side
that realized this and said, we’re setting up the next war.
This is, I mean, they understood
that you can only do certain things
to collective human populations
for a certain period of time
before it is natural for them to want to.
And there are, you can see German posters from the region,
Nazi propaganda posters that show them
breaking off the chains of their enemies.
And I mean, Germany awake, right?
That was the great slogan.
So I think love is always a difficult option.
And in the context of those times,
it was even more disempowered than normal.
Well, this goes to the,
just to linger on it for a little longer,
the question of the inevitability of history.
Do you think Hitler could have been stopped?
Do you think this kind of force that you’re saying
that there was a pain and it was building,
there was a hatred that was building,
do you think there was a way to avert?
I mean, there’s two questions.
Could have been a lot worse and could have been better
in the trajectory of history in the 30s and 40s.
The most logical, see, we had started this conversation,
it brings a wonderful bow tie into the discussion
and buttons it up nicely.
We had talked about force and counter force earlier.
The most obvious and much discussed way
that Hitler could have been stopped
has nothing to do with Germans.
When he remilitarized the Rhineland,
everyone talks about what a couple of French divisions
would have done had they simply gone in and contested.
And this was something Hitler was extremely,
I mean, it might’ve been the most nervous time
in his entire career because he was afraid
that they would have responded with force
and he was in no position to do anything about it
if they did.
So this is where you get the people who say,
and Churchill’s one of these people too,
where they talk about that he should have been stopped
militarily right at the very beginning when he was weak.
I don’t think…
Listen, there were candidates in the Catholic Center Party
and others in the Weimar Republic
that maybe could have done things
and it’s beyond my understanding of specific German history
to talk about it intelligently.
But I do think that had the French responded militarily
to Hitler’s initial moves into that area,
that he would have been thwarted.
And I think he himself believed,
if I’m remembering my reading,
that this would have led to his downfall.
So the potential…
See, what I don’t like about this
is that it almost legitimizes military intervention
at a very early stage
to prevent worse things from happening,
but it might be a pretty clear cut case.
But it shows we pointed out that there was a lot of sympathy
on the part of the allies for the fact that
the Germans probably should have Germany back
and this is traditional German land.
I mean, they were trying, in a funny way,
it’s almost like the love and the sense of justice
on the allies part may have actually stayed their hand
in a way that would have prevented
much, much, much worse things later.
But if the times were such
that the message of a Hitler resonated,
then simply removing Hitler from the equation
would not have removed the context of the times.
And that means one of two things,
either you could have had another one
or you could have ended up in a situation equally bad
in a different direction.
I don’t know what that means
because it’s hard to imagine anything could be worse
than what actually occurred, but history’s funny that way.
And Hitler’s always everyone’s favorite example
of the difference between the great man theory of history
and the trends and forces theories of history, right?
The times made a Hitler possible
and maybe even desirable to some.
If you took him out of the equation,
those trends and forces are still in place, right?
So what does that mean?
If you take him out and the door is still open,
does somebody else walk through it?
Yeah, it’s mathematically speaking,
the probability of charismatic leaders emerge.
I’m so torn on that at this point.
Here’s another way to look at it.
The institutional stability of Germany
in that time period was not enough to push back.
And there are other periods in German history.
I mean, that Hitler arose in, arisen in 1913,
he doesn’t get anywhere
because Germany’s institutional power
is enough to simply quash that.
It’s the fact that Germany was unstable anyway
that prevented a united front
that would have kept radicalism from getting out of hand.
Does that make sense?
A tricky question on this,
just to stay on this a little longer
because I’m not sure how to think about it,
is the World War II versus the Holocaust.
We were talking just now
about the way that history unrolls itself
and could Hitler have been stopped?
And I don’t quite know what to think about Hitler
without the Holocaust.
And perhaps in his thinking,
how essential the antisemitism
and the hatred of Jews was.
It feels to me that,
I mean, we were just talking about
where did he pick up his hatred of the Jewish people?
There’s stories in Vienna and so on
that it almost is picking up the idea
of antisemitism as a really useful tool,
as opposed to actually believing it in its core.
Do you think World War II as it turned out
and Hitler as he turned out
would be possible without antisemitism?
Could we have avoided the Holocaust?
Or was it an integral part of the ideology
of fascism and the Nazis?
Not an integral part of fascism
because Mussolini really, I mean,
Mussolini did it to please Hitler,
but it wasn’t an integral part.
What’s interesting to me is that that’s the big anomaly
in the whole question because antisemitism
didn’t need to be a part of this at all, right?
Hitler had a conspiratorial view of the world.
He was a believer that the Jews controlled things, right?
The Jews were responsible for both Bolshevism on one side
and capitalism on the other, they ruled the banks.
I mean, United States was a Jewified country, right?
Bolshevism was a Jewified sort of a political.
In other words, he saw Jews everywhere
and he had that line about it.
The Jews of Europe force another war to Germany,
they’ll pay the price or whatever,
but then you have to believe that they’re capable of that.
The Holocaust is a weird, weird sidebar to the whole thing.
And here’s what I’ve always found interesting.
It’s a sidebar that weakened Germany
because look at the First World War.
The Jews fought for Germany, right?
Who was the most important?
And this is a very arguable point,
but it’s just the first one that pops into my head.
Who was the most important Jewish figure
that would have maybe been on the German side
had the Germans had a non antisemitic?
Well, listen, that whole part.
Yes, it was Einstein, but the whole,
I should point out that to say Germany or Europe
or Russia or any of those things were not antisemitic
is to do injustice to history, right?
Pogroms, I mean, it’s standard operating procedure.
What you see in the Hitlerian era
is an absolute huge spike, right?
Cause the government has a conspiracy theory
that the Jews have.
It’s funny because Hitler both thought of them as weak
and super powerful at the same time, right?
And as an outsider people that weakened Germany,
the whole idea of the blood
and how that connects to Darwinism
and all that sort of stuff is just weird, right?
A real outlier, but Einstein,
let’s just play with Einstein.
If there’s no antisemitism in Germany
or none above the normal level, right?
The baseline level, does Einstein leave
along with all the other Jewish scientists?
And what does Germany have as increased technological
and intellectual capacity if they stay, right?
It’s something that actually weakened that state.
It’s a tragic flaw in the Hitlerian worldview,
but it was so, and let me, you had mentioned earlier,
like maybe it was not integral to his character.
Maybe it was a wonderful tool for power.
I don’t think so.
Somewhere along the line, and really not at the beginning,
this guy became absolutely obsessed with this.
With the conspiracy theory.
And Jews, and he surrounded himself
with people and theorists.
I’m gonna use that word really, really sort of loosely,
who believed this too.
And so you have a cabal of people
who are reinforcing this idea
that the Jews control the world.
He called it international jewelry
was a huge part of the problem.
And because of that, they deserved to be punished.
They were an enemy within all these kinds of things.
It’s a nutty conspiracy theory
that the government of one of the most,
I mean, the big thing with Germany was culture, right?
They were a leading figure in culture and philosophy
and all these kinds of things.
And that they could be overtaken
with this wildly wickedly weird conspiracy theory
and that it would actually determine things.
I mean, Hitler was taking vast amounts of German resources
and using it to wipe out this race
when he needed them for all kinds of other things
to fight a war of annihilation.
So that is the weirdest part of the whole Nazi phenomenon.
It’s the darkest possible silver lining to think about
is that the Holocaust may have been
and the hatred of the Jewish people
may have been the thing that avoided Germany
getting the nuclear weapons first.
Isn’t that a wonderful historical ironic twist
that if it weren’t so overlaid with tragedy,
a thousand years from now will be seen
as something really kind of funny.
Well, that’s true.
It’s fascinating to think as you’ve talked.
So the seeds of his own destruction, right?
The tragic flaw.
And my hope is, this is a discussion I have
with my dad as a physicist,
is that evil inherently contains with it
that kind of incompetence.
So my dad’s discussion, so he’s a physicist
and an engineer, his belief is that at this time
in our history, the reason we haven’t had nuclear
like terrorist blow up a nuclear weapon somewhere
in the world is that the kind of people
that would be terrorists are simply not competent enough
at their job of being a destructive.
So like, there’s a kind of, if you plot it,
the more evil you are, the less able you are.
And by evil, I mean, purely just like we said,
if we were to consider the hatred of Jewish people as evil,
because it’s sort of detached from reality,
it’s like just this pure hatred of something
that’s grounded on things, conspiracy theories.
If that’s evil, then the more you sell yourself,
the more you give into these conspiracy theories,
the less capable you are at actually engineering,
which is very difficult, engineering nuclear weapons
and effectively deploying them.
So that’s a hopeful message that the destructive people
in this world are by their worldview incompetent
in creating the ultimate destruction.
I don’t agree with that.
I straight up don’t agree with that.
So why are we still here?
Why haven’t we destroyed ourselves?
Why haven’t the terrorists blown, it’s been many decades.
Why haven’t we destroyed ourself to this point?
Well, when you say it’s been many decades, many decades,
that’s like saying in the life of 150 year old person,
we’ve been doing well for a year.
The problem with all these kinds of equations,
and it was Bertrand Russell, right?
The philosopher who said so.
He said, it’s unreasonable to expect a man to walk
on a tight rope for 50 years.
I mean, the problem is that this is a long game.
And let’s remember that up until relatively recently,
what would you say, 30 years ago,
the nuclear weapons in the world
were really tightly controlled.
That was one of the real dangers
in the fall of the Soviet Union.
Remember the worry that all of a sudden
you were gonna have bankrupt former Soviet Republic
selling nuclear weapons to terrorists and whatnot.
I would suggest, and here’s another problem is that
when we call these terrorists evil,
it’s easy for an American, for example,
to say that Osama bin Laden is evil.
Easy for me to say that.
But one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter
as the saying goes, and to other people, he’s not.
What Osama bin Laden did,
and the people that worked with him,
we would call evil genius.
The idea of hijacking planes
and flying them into the buildings like that,
and that he could pull that off,
and that still boggles my mind.
I’m still, it’s funny, I’m still stunned by that.
And yet, the idea, here’s the funny part,
and I hesitate to talk about this
because I don’t wanna give anyone ideas,
but you don’t need nuclear weapons
to do incredibly grave amounts of danger.
I mean, what one can of gasoline and a BIC lighter can do
in the right place and the right time,
and over and over and over again
can bring down societies.
This is the argument behind the importance of the stability
that a nation state provides.
So when we went in and took out Saddam Hussein,
one of the great counter arguments
from some of the people who said,
this is a really stupid thing to do,
is that Saddam Hussein was the greatest anti terror weapon
in that region that you could have
because they were a threat to him.
So he took that, and he did it in a way
that was much more repressive than we would ever be, right?
And this is the old line
about why we supported right wing death squad countries,
because they were taking out people
that would inevitably be a problem for us if they didn’t,
and they were able to do it
in a way we would never be able to do, supposedly.
We’re pretty good at that stuff,
just like the Soviet Union was behind the scenes
and underneath the radar.
But the idea that the stability created
by powerful and strong centralized leadership
allowed them, it’s almost like outsourcing
anti terror activities, allowed them to,
for their own reasons.
I mean, you see the same thing
in the Syria situation with the Assads.
I mean, you can’t have an ISIS in that area
because that’s a threat to the Assad government
who will take care of that for you,
and then that helps us by not having an ISIS.
So I would suggest one, that the game is still on
on whether or not these people get nuclear weapons
in their hands.
I would suggest they don’t need them
to achieve their goals, really.
The crazy thing is if you start thinking
like the Joker in Batman, the terrorist ideas,
it’s funny, I guess I would be a great terrorist
because I’m just full of those ideas.
Oh, you could do this, you could,
it’s scary to think of how vulnerable we are.
But the whole point is that you as the Joker
wouldn’t do the terrorist actions.
That’s the theory that’s so hopeful to me with my dad,
is that all the ideas, your ability to generate good ideas,
forget nuclear weapons, how you can disrupt the power grid,
how you can disrupt the, attack our psychology,
attack like with a can of gasoline, like you said,
somehow disrupt the American system of ideas.
That coming up with good ideas there.
Are we saying evil people can’t come up
with evil genius ideas?
That’s what I’m saying.
We have this Hollywood story.
I don’t think history backs that up.
I mean, I think you can say with the nuclear weapons,
it does, but only because they’re so recent.
But I mean, evil genius, I mean, that’s almost proverbial.
But that’s, okay, so to push back for the fun of it, or.
And I don’t mean to, I don’t want you to leave this
in a terrible mood because I push back
on every hopeful idea you had,
but I tend to be a little cynical about that stuff.
But that goes to the definition of evil, I think,
because I’m not so sure human history
has a lot of evil people being competent.
I do believe that they mostly,
like in order to be good at doing
what may be perceived as evil,
you have to be able to construct an ideology
around which you truly believe
when you look in the mirror by yourself,
that you’re doing good for the world.
And it’s difficult to construct an ideology
where destroying the lives of millions
or disrupting the American system,
I’m already contradicting myself as I’m saying.
I was just gonna say, people have done this already, yes.
So, but then it’s the question of like,
about aliens with the idea that
if the aliens are all out there,
why haven’t they visited us?
The same question, if it’s so easy to be evil,
not easy, if it’s possible to be evil,
why haven’t we destroyed ourselves?
And your statement is from the context of history,
the game is still on.
And it’s just been a few years
since we’ve found the tools to destroy ourselves.
And one of the challenges of our modern time
that we don’t often think about this pandemic
kind of revealed is how soft we’ve gotten
in terms of our deep dependence on the system.
So somebody mentioned to me,
what happens if power goes out for a day?
What happens if power goes out for a month?
Oh, for example, the person that mentioned this
was a Berkeley faculty that I was talking with.
He’s an astronomer who’s observing solar flares.
And it’s very possible that a solar flare,
they happen all the time to different degrees.
To knock out your cell phones.
Yeah, to knock out the power grid for months.
So like, just as a thought experiment,
what happens if just power goes out
for a week in this country?
Like the electromagnetic pulses and the nuclear weapons
and all those kinds of things, yeah.
But maybe that’s an act of nature.
And even just the act of nature will reveal
like a little. The fragility of it all.
And then the evil can emerge.
I mean, the kind of things that might happen
when power goes out, especially during a divisive time.
Well, you won’t have food.
At baseline level, that would mean
that the entire supplies chain begins to break down.
And then you have desperation.
And desperation opens the door to everything.
Can I ask a dark question?
As opposed to the other things we’ve been talking about?
There’s always a thread, a hopeful message.
I think there’ll be a hopeful message on this one too.
You may have the wrong guess.
I’m just saying.
If you were to bet money on the way
that human civilization destroys itself,
or it collapses in some way that is,
where the result would be unrecognizable to us
as anything akin to progress, what would you say?
Is it nuclear weapons?
Is it some societal breakdown
through just more traditional kinds of war?
Is it engineered pandemics, nanotechnology?
Is it artificial intelligence?
Is it something we can’t even expect yet?
Do you have a sense of how we humans will destroy ourselves?
Or might we live forever?
I think what governs my view of this thing
is the ability for us to focus ourselves collectively.
And that gives me the choice of looking at this
and saying, what are the odds we will do X versus Y, right?
So go look at the 62 Cuban Missile Crisis,
where we looked at the potential of nuclear war
and we stared right in the face of that.
To me, I consider that to be,
you wanna talk about a hopeful moment?
That’s one of the rare times in our history
where I think the odds were overwhelmingly
that there would be a nuclear war.
And I’m not the super Kennedy worshiper that,
I grew up in an era where he was,
especially amongst people in the Democratic Party,
he was almost worshiped.
And I was never that guy, but I will say something.
John F. Kennedy by himself probably made decisions
that saved a hundred million or more lives
because everyone around him thought he should be
taking the road that would have led to those deaths.
And to push back against that is,
when you look at it now, I mean, again,
if you were a betting person,
you would have bet against that.
And that’s rare, right?
So when we talk about how the world will end,
the fact that one person actually had that in their hands
meant that it wasn’t a collective decision.
It gave, remember I said,
I trust people on an individual level,
but when we get together, we’re more like a herd
and we devolved down to the lowest common denominator.
That was something where the higher ethical ideas
of a single human being could come into play
and make the decisions that influence the events.
But when we have to act collectively,
I get a lot more pessimistic.
So take what we’re doing to the planet.
And we talk about it always now in terms of climate change,
which I think is far too narrow.
Look at, and I always get very frustrated
when we talk about these arguments about,
is it happening?
Is it human?
Just look at the trash, forget climate for a second.
We are destroying the planet because we’re not taking care
of it and because what it would do to take care of it
would require collective sacrifices
that would require enough of us to say, okay.
And we can’t get enough of us to say, okay,
because too many people have to be on board.
It’s not John F. Kennedy making one decision from one man.
We have to have 85% of us or something around the world.
Not just, you can’t say we’re gonna stop doing damage
to the world here in the United States if China does it.
So the amount of people that have to get on board
that train is hard.
You get pessimistic hoping for those kinds of shifts
unless it’s right, you know, Krypton’s about to explode.
We have, and so I think if you’re talking
about a gambling man’s view of this,
that that’s gotta be the odds on favorite
because it requires such a UNAM.
I mean, and the systems maybe aren’t even in place, right?
The fact that we would need intergovernmental bodies
that are completely discredited now on board
and you would have to subvert the national interests
of nation states, I mean, the amount of things
that have to go right in a short period of time
where we don’t have 600 years to figure this out, right?
So to me, that looks like the most likely
just because the things we would have to do
to avoid it seem the most unlikely.
Does that make sense?
I believe, call me naive,
in just like you said with the individual,
I believe that charismatic leaders,
individual leaders will save us.
What if you don’t get them all at the same time?
What if you get a charismatic leader in one country
but under, or what if you get a charismatic leader
in a country that doesn’t really matter that much?
Well, it’s a ripple effect.
So it starts with one leader
and their charisma inspires other leaders.
So it’s like one ant queen steps up
and then the rest of the ant starts behaving.
And then there’s like little other spikes
of leaders that emerge.
And then that’s where collaboration emerges.
I tend to believe that like when you heat up the system
and shit starts getting really chaotic,
then the leader, whatever this collective intelligence
that we’ve developed, the leader will emerge.
Don’t you think there’s just as much of a chance though
that the leader would emerge and say,
the Jews are the people who did all this.
You know what I’m saying?
Is that the idea that they would come up,
you have a charismatic leader
and he’s going to come up with the rights
or she is going to come up with the right solution
as opposed to totally coming up with the wrong solution.
I mean, I guess what I’m saying is you could be right,
but a lot of things have to go the right way.
But my intuition about the evolutionary process
that led to the creation of human intelligence
and consciousness on earth results
in the power of like, if we think of it,
just the love in the system versus the hate in the system,
that the love is greater.
The human kindness potential in the system
is greater than the human hatred potential.
And so the leader that is in the time when it’s needed,
the leader that inspires love and kindness
is more likely to emerge and will have more power.
So you have the Hitlers of the world that emerge,
but they’re actually in a grand scheme of history
are not that impactful.
So it’s weird to say,
but not that many people died in World War II.
If you look at the full range of human history,
it’s up to a hundred million, whatever that is,
with natural pandemics too,
you can have those kinds of numbers,
but it’s still a percentage.
I forget what the percentage is,
maybe three, 5% of the human population on earth.
Maybe it’s a little bit focused on a different region,
but it’s not destructive
to the entirety of human civilization.
So I believe that the charismatic leaders,
when time is needed, that do good for the world
in the broader sense of good
are more likely to emerge
than the ones that say, kill all the Jews.
It’s possible though, and this is just,
I’ve thought about this all of 30 seconds,
but I mean, it seems.
We’re betting money here on the 21st century,
who’s gonna win?
I think maybe you’ve divided this
into too much of a black and white dichotomy,
this love and good on one side and this evil on another.
Let me throw something that might be more
in the center of that linear balancing act,
self interest, which may or may not be good.
The good version of it we call enlightened self interest.
The bad version of it we call selfishness.
But self interest to me seems like something more likely
to impact the outcome than either love on one side
or evil on the other.
Simply a question of what’s good for me
or what’s good for my country
or what’s good from my point of view
or what’s good for my business.
I mean, if you tell me, and maybe I’m a coal miner
or maybe I own a coal mine.
If you say to me, we have to stop using coal
because it’s hurting the earth,
I have a hard time disentangling that greater good question
from my right now good feeding my family question, right?
So I think maybe it’s gonna be a much more banal thing
than good and evil, much more a question
of we’re not all going to decide at the same time
that the interests that we have are aligned.
Does that make sense?
Totally, but I mean, I’ve looked at Ayn Rand
and objectivism and kind of really thought like,
how bad or good can things go
when everybody’s acting selfishly?
But I think we’re just talking two aunts here
with microphones talking about.
But like the question is when this spreads,
so what do I mean by love and kindness?
I think it’s human flourishing on earth
and throughout the cosmos.
It feels like whatever the engine that drives human beings
is more likely to result in human flourishing.
And people like Hitler are not good for human flourishing.
So that’s what I mean by good is there’s a,
I mean, maybe it’s an intuition that kindness
is an evolutionary advantage.
I hate those terms.
I hate to reduce stuff to evolutionary biology always,
but it just seems like for us to multiply
throughout the universe, it’s good to be kind to each other.
And those leaders will always emerge to save us
from the Hitlers of the world that wanna kind of
burn the thing down with a flamethrower.
That’s the intuition.
But let’s talk about, you brought up evolution several times.
Let me play with that for a minute.
I think going back to animal times,
we are conditioned to deal with overwhelming threats
right in front of us.
So I have quite a bit of faith in humanity
when it comes to impending doom right outside our door.
If Krypton’s about to explode,
I think humanity can rouse themselves to great,
and would give power to the people who needed it
and be willing to make the sacrifices.
But that’s what makes, I think,
the pollution slash climate change
slash screwing up your environment threat
so particularly insidious is it happens slowly, right?
It defies fight and flight mechanisms.
It defies the natural ability we have to deal
with the threat that’s right on top of us.
And it requires an amount of foresight
that while some people would be fine with that,
most people are too worried and understandably,
I think too worried about today’s threat
rather than next generation’s threat or whatever it might be.
So I mean, when we talk about when you had said,
what do you think the greatest threat is?
I think with nuclear weapons,
I think could we have a nuclear war?
We darn right could,
but I think that there’s enough of an inertia
where against that because people understand instinctively,
if I decide to launch this attack against China
and I’m India,
we’re gonna have 50 million dead people tomorrow.
Whereas if you say,
we’re gonna have a whole planet of dead people
in three generations if we don’t start now,
I think the evolutionary way that we have evolved
mitigates maybe against that.
In other words, I think I would be pleasantly surprised
if we could pull that off.
Does that make sense?
I don’t mean to be like, I’m the sight predicting doom.
It’s fun that way.
I think we’re both,
maybe I’m over the top on the love thing.
Maybe I’m over the top on the doom.
So it makes for a fun chat, I think.
So one guy that I’ve talked to several times
is slowly becoming a friend is a guy named Elon Musk.
He’s a big fan of hardcore history,
especially Genghis Khan series of episodes,
but really all of it,
him and his girlfriend Grimes listen to it, which is.
I know Elon.
Yeah, you know Elon?
So that’s like relationship goals,
like listen to hardcore history on the weekend
with your loved one.
So let me, if I were to look at the guy
from a perspective of human history,
it feels like he will be a little speck that’s remembered.
You think about like the people,
what will we remember from our time?
Who are the people we’ll remember,
whether it’s the Hitlers or the Einsteins,
who’s going to be?
It’s hard to predict when you’re in it,
but it seems like Elon
will be one of those people remembered.
And if I were to guess what he’s remembered for,
it’s the work he’s doing with SpaceX
and potentially being the person.
Now we don’t know,
but the being the person
who launched a new era of space exploration.
If we look centuries from now,
if we are successful as human beings surviving long enough
to venture out into the, you know, toward the stars.
It’s weird to ask you this.
I don’t know what your opinions are,
but do you think humans will be a multi planetary species
in the long arc of history?
Do you think Elon will be successful in his dream?
And he doesn’t shy away from saying it this way, right?
He really wants us to colonize Mars first
and then colonize other Earth like planets
in other solar systems throughout the galaxy.
Do you have a hope that we humans will venture out
towards the stars?
So here’s the thing.
And this actually, again, dovetails
to what we were talking about earlier.
I actually, first of all, I toured SpaceX
and it’s hard to get your mind around
because he’s doing what it took governments to do before.
So it’s incredible that we’re watching individual companies
and stuff doing this.
Doing it faster and cheaper.
Yeah. Well, and pushing the envelope, right?
Faster than the governments at the time we’re moving.
It really is.
I mean, there’s a lot of people who I think,
who think Elon is overrated and you have no idea, right?
When you go see it, you have no idea.
But that’s actually not what I’m most impressed with.
It’s Tesla I’m most impressed with.
And the reason why is because in my mind,
we just talked about what I think is the greatest threat,
the environmental stuff.
And I talked about our inability maybe all at the same time
to be willing to sacrifice our self interests
in order for the goal.
And I don’t wanna put words in Elon’s mouth,
so you can talk to him if you want to.
But in my mind, what he’s done is recognize that problem.
And instead of building a car that’s a piece of crap,
but it’s good for the environment so you should drive it,
he’s trying to create a car that if you’re only motivated
by your self interest, you’ll buy it anyway.
And it will help the environment and help us transition away
from one of the main causes of damage.
I mean, one of the things this pandemic
and the shutdown around the world has done
is show us how amazingly quickly
the earth can actually rejuvenate.
We’re seeing clear skies in places species come
and you would have thought it would have taken decades
for some of this stuff.
So what if to name just one major pollution source,
we didn’t have the pollution caused by automobiles, right?
And if you had said to me, Dan,
what do you think the odds of us transitioning away
from that were 10 years ago,
I would have said, well, people aren’t gonna do it
because it’s inefficient, it’s this, it’s that,
nobody wants to, but what if you created a vehicle
that was superior in every way
so that if you were just a self oriented consumer,
you’d buy it because you wanted that car.
That’s the best way to get around that problem
of people not wanting to, I think he’s identified that.
And as he’s told me before,
when the last time a car company was created
that actually, blah, blah, blah, he’s right.
And so I happen to feel that even though he’s pushing
the envelope on the space thing,
I think somebody else would have done that someday.
I’m not sure because of the various things he’s mentioned,
how difficult it is to start there,
I’m not sure that the industries that create vehicles
for us would have gone where he’s going to lead them
if he didn’t force them there through consumer demand
by making a better car that people wanted anyway.
They’ll follow, they’ll copy, they’ll do all those things.
And yet who was gonna do that?
So I hope he doesn’t hate me for saying this,
but I happen to think the Tesla idea
may alleviate some of the need to get off this planet
because the planet’s being destroyed, right?
And we’re gonna colonize Mars probably anyway
if we live long enough.
And I think the Tesla idea, not just Elon’s version,
but ones that follow from other people
is the best chance of making sure we’re around long enough
to see Mars colonized.
Does that make sense?
And one other thing from my perspective,
because I’m now starting a company,
I think the interesting thing about Elon
is he serves as a beacon of hope, like pragmatically speaking
for people that, sort of to push back
on our Doom conversation from earlier,
that a single individual could build something
that allows us as self interested individuals
to gather together in a collective way
to actually alleviate some of the dangers
that face our world.
So it gives me hope as an individual
that I can build something that can actually have impact
that counteracts the Stalins and the Hitlers
and all the threats that face that human civilization faces,
that an individual has that power.
I didn’t believe that the individual has that power
in the halls of government.
Like, I don’t feel like any one presidential candidate
can rise up and help the world, unite the world.
It feels like from everything I’ve seen
and you’re right with Tesla,
it can bring the world together to do good.
That’s a really powerful mechanism
of whatever you say about capitalism,
that you can build companies that start,
it starts with a single individual.
Of course, there’s a collective that grows around that,
but the leadership of a single individual,
their ideas, their dreams, their vision
can catalyze something that takes over the world
and does good for the entire world.
But if I think, but again, I think the genius of the idea
is that it doesn’t require us
to go head to head with human nature, right?
He’s actually built human nature into the idea
by basically saying, I’m not asking you
to be an environmental activist.
I’m not asking you to sacrifice to make it.
I’m gonna sell you a car you’re going to like better.
And by buying it, you’ll help the environment.
That takes into account our foibles as a species
and actually leverages that to work for the greater good.
And that’s the sort of thing that does turn off
my little doom caster cynicism thing a little bit
because you’re actually hitting us where we live, right?
You’re not, you can take somebody
who doesn’t even believe the environment’s a problem,
but they want a Tesla.
So they’re inadvertently helping anyway.
I think that’s the genius of the idea.
Yeah, and I’m telling you, that’s one way to make love
a much more efficient mechanism of change than hate.
Making it in your self interest to love somebody.
Making it in your self interest, creating a product
that leads to more love than hate.
You’re gonna wanna love your neighbor
because you’re gonna make a fortune.
Right, okay, I get it.
There you go.
That’s why he said.
All right, I’m on board.
That’s why Elon said love is the answer.
That’s, I think, exactly what he meant.
Okay, let’s try something difficult.
You’ve recorded an episode of Steering Into the Iceberg
on your Common Sense program.
That has started a lot of conversations.
It’s quite moving, it was quite haunting.
Got me a lot of angry emails.
I did something I haven’t done in 30 years.
I endorsed a political candidate
from one of the two main parties
and there were a lot of disillusioned people
because of that.
I guess I didn’t hear it as an endorsement.
I just heard it as the similar flavor of conversation
as you have in hardcore history.
It’s almost the speaking about modern times
in the same voice as you speak about
when you talk about history.
So it was just a little bit of a haunting view
of the world today.
I know we were just wearing our doom caster.
Let me put that right back on, are you?
I like the term doom caster.
How do we get love to win?
What’s the way out of this?
Is there some hopeful line that we can walk
to avoid something, and I hate to use the terminology,
but something that looks like a civil war,
not necessarily a war of force,
but a division to a level where it doesn’t any longer feel
like a United States of America with an emphasis on United.
Is there a way out?
I read a book a while back.
I want to say George Friedman, the Stratfor guy wrote it.
It was something called The Next Hundred Years,
I think it was called.
And I remember thinking, I didn’t agree with any of it.
And one of the things I think he said in the book
was that the United States was going to break up.
I’m going from memory here.
He might not have said that at all,
but something was stuck in my memory about that.
And I remember thinking,
but I think some of the arguments were connected
to the differences that we had
and the fact that those differences are being exploited.
So we talked about media earlier
and the lack of truth and everything.
We have a media climate that is incentivized
to take the wedges in our society and make them wider.
And there’s no countervailing force to do the opposite
or to help.
So there was a famous memo
from a group called Project for a New American Century.
And they took it down,
but the Wayback Machine online still has it.
And it happened before 9 11,
spawned all kinds of conspiracy theories
because it was saying something to the effect of,
and I’m really paraphrasing here,
but you know that the United States
needs another Pearl Harbor type event
because those galvanize a country
that without those kinds of events periodically
is naturally geared towards pulling itself apart.
And it’s those periodic events
that act as the countervailing force
that otherwise is not there.
If that’s true,
then we are naturally inclined towards pulling ourselves apart.
So to have a media environment
that makes money off widening those divisions,
which we do.
I mean, I was in talk radio
and it has those people,
the people that used to scream at me
cause I wouldn’t do it.
But I mean, we would have these terrible conversations
after every broadcast
where I’d be in there with the program director
and they’re yelling at me about heat.
Heat was the word they create more heat.
Well, what is heat, right?
Heat is division, right?
And they want the heat,
not because they’re political,
they’re not Republicans or Democrats either.
We want listeners
and we want engagement and involvement.
And because of the constructs of the format,
you don’t have a lot of time to get it.
So you can’t have me giving you like on a podcast
an hour and a half or two hours
where we build a logical argument
and you’re with me the whole way,
your audience is changing every 15 minutes.
So whatever points you make to create interest
and intrigue and engagement have to be knee jerk right now.
Things, they told me once
that the audience has to know
where you stand on every single issue
within five minutes of turning on your show.
In other words, you have to be part
of a linear set of political beliefs
so that if you feel A about subject A,
then you must feel D about subject D.
And I don’t even need to hear your opinion on it
cause if you feel that way about A,
you’re gonna feel that way about D.
This is a system that is designed
to pull us apart for profit,
but not because they wanna pull us apart, right?
It’s a byproduct of the profit.
That’s one little example of 50 examples in our society
that work in that same fashion.
So what that project
for a new American century document was saying
is that we’re naturally inclined towards disunity
and without things to occasionally ratchet
the unity back up again,
so that we can start from the baseline again
and then pull ourselves apart till the next Pearl Harbor,
that you’ll pull yourself apart,
which I think was,
think that’s what the George Friedman book was saying
that I disagreed with so much at the time.
So in answer to your question about civil wars,
we can’t have the same kind of civil war
because we don’t have a geographical division
that’s as clear cut as the one we had before, right?
You had a basically north south line and some border states.
It was set up for that kind of a split.
Now we’re divided within communities, within families,
within gerrymandered voting districts and precincts, right?
So you can’t disengage.
We’re stuck with each other.
So if there’s a civil war now,
for lack of a better word,
what it might seem like is the late 1960s, early 1970s,
where you had the bombings
and let’s call it domestic terrorism and things like that,
because that would seem to be something
that once again, you don’t even need a large chunk
of the country pulling apart.
10% of people who think it’s the end times
can do the damage.
Just like we talked about terrorism before
and a can of gas and a big lighter,
I’ve lived in a bunch of places
and I won’t give anybody ideas
where a can of gas and a big lighter
would take a thousand houses down before you could blink.
That terrorist doesn’t have to be from the Middle East,
doesn’t have to have some sort of a fundamentalist
or religious agenda.
It could just be somebody really pissed off
about the election results.
So once again, if we’re playing an odds game here,
everybody has to behave for this to work right.
Only a few people have to misbehave
for this thing to go sideways.
And remember, for every action,
there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So you don’t even have to have those people
doing all these things.
All they have to do is start a tit for tat retribution cycle.
And there’s an escalation.
And it creates a momentum of its own,
which leads fundamentally,
if you follow the chain of events down there
to some form of dictatorial government
as the only way to create stability, right?
You want to destroy the Republic and have a dictator,
that’s how you do.
And there are parallels to Nazi Germany,
the burning of the Reichstag, blah, blah, blah.
I’m the doom caster again, aren’t I?
And some of it could be manufactured
by those seeking authoritarian power.
Absolutely, like the Reichstag fire was
or the Polish soldiers that fired over the border
before the invasion in 1939.
To fight the devil’s advocate with an angel’s advocate,
I would say just as our conversation about Elon,
it feels like individuals have power to unite us,
to be that force of unity.
So you mentioned the media.
I think you’re one of the great podcasters in history.
Joe Rogan is like a long form, whatever.
It’s not podcasting, it’s actually whatever the, yeah.
Very infrequent is what it is, no matter what it is.
But the basic process of it is you go deep
and you stay deep and the listener stays
with you for a long time.
So I’m just looking at the numbers,
like we’re almost three hours in.
And from previous episodes, I can tell you
that about 300,000 people are still listening
to the sound of our voice three hours in.
So usually it’s 300 to 500,000 people listen
and they tune out.
Congratulations, by the way, that’s wonderful.
Joe Rogan is like 10 times that.
And so he has power to unite.
You have power to unite.
There’s a few people with voices
that it feels like they have power to unite.
Even if you quote unquote endorse a candidate and so on,
there’s still, it feels to me that speaking of,
I don’t wanna keep saying love,
but it’s love and maybe unity more practically speaking
that like sanity, that like respect
for those you don’t agree with or don’t understand.
So empathy, just a few voices of those can help us avoid
the really importantly, not avoid the singular events,
like you said, of somebody starting a fire and so on,
but avoid the escalation of it.
The preparedness of the populace to escalate those events,
to turn a singular event and a single riot or a shooting
or like even something much more dramatic than that,
to turn that into something that creates
like ripples that grow as opposed to ripples that fade away.
And so like, I would like to put responsibility
on somebody like you and on me in some small way.
And Joe, being cognizant of the fact
that a lot of very destructive things
might happen in November.
And a few voices can save us is the feeling I have.
Not by saying who you should vote for
or any of that kind of stuff,
but really by being the voice of calm
that like calms the seas from
or whatever the analogy is from boiling up.
Because I truly am worried about,
this is the first time this year when I,
I sometimes, I somehow have felt
that the American project will go on forever.
When I came to this country, I just believed,
and I still think I’m young, but like,
I have a dream of creating a company
that will do a lot of good for the world.
And I thought that America is the beacon of hope
for the world and the ideas of freedom,
but also the idea of empowering companies
that can do some good for the world.
And I’m just worried about this America that filled me,
a kid that came from, our family came from nothing
and from Russia as it was, Soviet Union as it was,
to be able to do anything in this new country.
I’m just worried about it.
And it feels like a few people
can still keep this project going.
Like people like Elon, people like Joe.
Is there, do you have a bit of that hope?
I’m watching this experiment with social media right now.
And I don’t even mean social media,
really expand that out to,
I mean, I feel like we’re all guinea pigs right now,
watching, you know, I have two kids and just watching,
and there’s a three year space between the two of them,
one’s 18, the other’s 15.
And just, you know, when I was a kid,
a person who was 18 and 15 would not be that different,
just three years difference, more maturity.
But their life experiences,
you would easily classify those two people
as being in the same generation.
Now, because of the speed of technological change,
there is a vast difference between my 18 year old
and my 15 year old, and not in a maturity question,
just in what apps they use, how they relate to each other,
how they deal with their peers, their social skills,
all those kinds of things where you turn around and go,
this is uncharted territory, we’ve never been here,
so it’s gonna be interesting to see
what effect that has on society.
Now, as that relates to your question,
the most upsetting part about all that
is reading how people treat each other online.
And you know, there’s lots of theories about this,
the fact that some of it is just for trolling laughs,
that some of it is just people are not interacting
face to face, so they feel free
to treat each other that way.
And I, of course, I’m trying to figure out how,
if this is how we have always been as people, right?
We’ve always been this way, but we’ve never had the means
to post our feelings publicly about it,
or if the environment and the social media
and everything else has provided a change
and changed us into something else.
Either way, when one reads how we treat one another
and the horrible things we say about one another online,
which seems like it shouldn’t be that big of deal,
they’re just words, but they have a cumulative effect.
I mean, when you, I was reading Meghan Markle,
who I don’t know a lot about,
because it’s too much of the pop side of culture
for me to pay lip, but I read a story the other day
where she was talking about the abuse she took online
and how incredibly overwhelming it was
and how many people were doing it.
And you think to yourself, okay, this is something
that people who are in positions
of what you were discussing earlier
never had to deal with.
Let me ask you something, and boy, this is the ultimate
doomcaster thing of all time to say.
When you think of historical figures
that push things like love and peace
and creating bridges between enemies,
when you think of what happened to those people,
first of all, they’re very dangerous.
Every society in the world has a better time,
easier time dealing with violence and things like that
than they do nonviolence.
Nonviolence is really difficult for governments
to deal with, for example.
What happens to Gandhi and Jesus and Martin Luther King?
And you think about all those people, right?
When they’re that, it’s ironic, isn’t it,
that these people who push for peaceful solutions
are so often killed, but it’s because they’re effective.
And when they’re killed, the effectiveness is diminished.
Why are they killed?
Because they’re effective, and the only way to stop them
is to eliminate them, because they’re charismatic leaders
who don’t come around every day,
and if you eliminate them from the scene,
the odds are you’re not gonna get another one for a while.
I guess what I’m saying is the very things
you’re talking about, which would have the effect
you think it would, right?
They would destabilize systems in a way
that most of us would consider positive,
but those systems have a way of protecting themselves,
And so I feel like history shows,
see, history’s pretty pessimistic, I think, by and large.
If only because we can find so many examples
that just sound pessimistic.
But I feel like people who are dangerous
to the way things are tend to be removed.
Yes, but there’s two things to say.
I feel like you’re right, that history,
I feel like the ripples that love leaves in history
are less obvious to detect,
but are actually more transformational.
Like in this. Well, one could make a case about,
I mean, if you wanna talk about the long term value
of a Jesus, a Gandhi, but yeah, yes,
those people’s ripples are still affecting people today.
I agree with you.
And that’s, you feel those ripples
through the general improvement of the quality of life
that we see throughout the generations.
Like you feel the ripples through the growth.
Yeah, okay, I’ll go along with you on that, okay.
But I would, even if that’s not true,
I tend to believe that, and by the way,
the company that I’m working on as a competitor
is exactly attacking this, which is a competitor to Twitter.
I think I can build a better Twitter as a first step.
There’s a long story in there.
I think a three year old child could build a better,
and this is not to denigrate you,
I’m sure yours would be better than a three year old,
but Twitter is so, and listen, Facebook too,
they’re really awful platforms for intellectual discussion
and meaningful discussion, and I’m on it.
So let me just say, I’m part of the problem.
We’re new to this, so it wasn’t obvious at the time
how to do it, it’s now, and now a three year old can do it.
I tend to believe that we live in a time where the tools
that people that are interested in providing love,
like the weapons of love are much more powerful.
So like the one nice thing about technology
is it allows anyone to build a company
that’s more powerful than any government.
So that could be very destructive,
but it could be also very positive.
And that’s, I tend to believe that somebody like Elon
that wants to do good for the world,
somebody like me and many like me
could have more power than any one government.
And by power, I mean the power to effect change,
which is different from Gandhi.
What do you do with government,
and I don’t mean to interrupt you,
but I’ll forget my train of thought, I’m getting old.
But I mean, how do you deal with the fact
that already governments who are afraid of this
are walling off their own internet systems
as a way to create firewalls simply to prevent you
from doing what you’re talking about?
In other words, there’s an old line
that if voting really changed anything,
they’d never allow it.
If love through a modern day successor to Twitter
would really do what you want it to do,
and this would destabilize governments,
do you think that governments would take countermeasures
to squash that love before it got too dangerous?
There’s several answers.
One, first of all, I don’t actually,
to push back on something you said earlier,
I don’t think love is as much of an enemy of the state
as one would think.
Different states have different views.
I think the states want power,
and I don’t always think that love is in tension with power.
I think it’s not just about love,
it’s about rationality, it’s reason, it’s empathy,
all of those things.
I don’t necessarily think there always have to be
by definition in conflict with each other.
So that’s one sense is I feel like basically
you can Trojan horse love into behind,
but you have to be good at it.
This is the thing,
is you have to be conscious of the way these states think.
So the fact that China bans certain services and so on,
that means the companies weren’t eloquent,
whoever the companies are,
weren’t actually good at infiltrating.
I think, isn’t that a song, like love is a battlefield?
I think it’s all a cap editor.
It’s all a game, and you have to be good at the game.
And just like Elon, we said with Tesla
and saving the environment.
I mean, that’s not just by getting on a stage
and saying it’s important to save the environment,
is by building a product that people can’t help but love
and then convincing Hollywood stars to love it.
Like there’s a game to be played.
Okay, so let me build on that
because I think there’s a way to see this.
I think you’re right.
And so it has to do with a story about the 1960s.
In the vast scheme of things, the 1960s looks like
a revival of neo romantic ideas, right?
I had a buddy of mine several years,
well, two decades older than I was who was in the 60s,
went to the protest, did all those kinds of things.
And we were talking about it and I was romanticizing it.
He said, don’t romanticize it.
He goes, let me tell you, most of the people
that went to those protests and did all those things,
all they were there was to meet girls and have a good time.
And it wasn’t so,
but it became in vogue to have all,
in other words, let’s talk about your empathy and love.
You’re never gonna, in my opinion,
grab that great mass of people that are only in it
for their interest in whatever.
But if meeting girls for a young teenage guy
requires you to feign empathy,
requires you to read deeper subjects
because that’s what people are into,
you can almost, as a silly way to be trendy,
you could make maybe empathy trendy, love trendy,
solutions that are the opposite of that,
the kind of things that people inherently
will not put up with.
In other words, the possibility exists
to change the zeitgeist and reorient it in a way
that even if most of the people aren’t serious about it,
the results are the same.
Does that make sense?
Okay, so we’ve found a meeting of the moments.
Creating incentives that encourage the best
and the most beautiful aspects of human nature.
Even against our will.
It all boils down to meeting girls and boys.
Once again, you’re getting to the bottom
of the evolutionary motivations
and you’re always on safe ground when you do that.
That’s a little difficult for me.
And I’m sure it’s actually difficult for you
to listen to me say complimenting you,
but it’s difficult for both of us, okay?
So, but you and I, as I mentioned to you,
I think off mic, been friends for a long time.
It’s just been one way.
It’s two way now.
So that’s the beauty of podcasting.
Now, just been fortunate enough
with this particular podcast
that I see it in people’s eyes when they meet me,
that they’ve been friends with me for a few years now.
And we become fast friends actually after we start talking.
But it’s one way in the vet in that first moment.
You know, like there’s something about
the especially hardcore history that,
you know, I do some crazy challenges and running and stuff.
I remember in particular, probably don’t have time.
One of my favorite episodes, the painful tainment one.
Some people hate that episode.
Because it’s too real.
Yeah, they can’t listen to it.
It’s my darkest one.
We wanted to set a baseline.
That’s the baseline.
But I remember listening to that
when I ran 22 miles for me, that was a long distance.
Holy cow, that’s painful tainment right there.
Yeah, and it just pulls you in.
There’s something so powerful
about this particular creation
that’s bigger than you actually, that you’ve created.
It’s kind of interesting.
I think anything that is successful like that,
like Elon’s stuff too, it becomes bigger than you.
And that’s what you’re hoping for, right?
Didn’t mean to interrupt you, I apologize.
I guess a question I have, if you look in the mirror,
but you also look at me,
what advice would you give to yourself and to me
and to other podcasters, maybe to Joe Rogan,
about this journey that we’re on?
I feel like it’s something special.
I’m not sure exactly what’s happening.
But it feels like podcasting is special.
What advice, and I’m relatively new to it,
what advice do you have for people
that are carrying this flame and traveling this journey?
Well, I’m often asked for advice by new podcasters,
people just starting out.
And so I have sort of a tried and true list
of do’s and don’ts.
But I don’t have advice or suggestions for you or for Joe.
Joe doesn’t need anything from me.
Joe’s figured it out, right?
I mean, he hasn’t yet.
He’s still a confused kid, curious about the world.
But that’s the genius of it.
That’s what makes it work, right?
That’s what Joe’s brand is, right?
I guess what I’m saying is,
by the time you reach the stage that you’re at,
or Joe’s at, they don’t need it.
They have figured this out.
The people that sometimes need help are brand new people
trying to figure out what do I do with my first show
and how do I talk into them?
And I have standard answers for that.
But you found your niche.
I mean, you don’t need me to tell you what to do.
As a matter of fact, I might ask you questions
about how you do what you do, right?
Well, I guess there’s specific things
like we were talking offline about monetization.
That’s a fascinating one.
Very difficult as an independent, yeah.
And one of the things that Joe is facing
with, I don’t know if you’re paying attention,
but he joined Spotify with a $100 million deal
for going exclusive on their platform.
The idea of exclusivity that,
one, I don’t give a damn about money personally,
but I’m single, and I like living in a shitty place.
So I enjoy, so I guess it makes it easy.
You get the freedom, right, to not care, yeah.
Not saving for anybody’s college.
Okay, so on that point, but I also,
okay, maybe it’s romanticization,
but I feel like podcasting is pirate radio.
And when I first heard about Spotify partnering up with Joe,
I was like, you know, fuck the man.
I said, I even, I drafted a few tweets and so on,
just like attacking Spotify, then I calmed myself down
that you can’t lock up this special thing we have.
But then I realized that maybe
that these are vehicles for just reaching more people
and actually respecting podcasters more and so on.
So that’s what I mean by it’s unclear what the journey is
because you also serve as beacon for,
now there’s like millions, one million plus podcasters.
I wonder what the journey is.
Do you have a sense,
are you romantic in the same kind of way
in feeling that, because you have a roots in radio too.
Do you feel that podcasting is pirate radio
or is the Spotify thing one possible avenue?
Are you nervous about Joe as a fan, as a friend of Joe
or is this a good thing for us?
So my history of how I got involved
in podcasting is interesting.
I was in radio and then I started a company
back in the era where the dot com boom was happening
and everybody was being bought up
and it just seemed like a great idea, right?
I did it with six other people
and the whole goal of the company was,
we had to invent the term.
I’m sure everybody, there’s other places
that invented it at the same time.
But what we were pitching to investors
was something called amateur content.
So this is before YouTube, before podcasting,
before all this stuff.
And my job was to be the evangelist.
And I would go to these people and talk
and sing the praises of all the ways
that amateur content was gonna be great.
And I never got a bite.
And they all told me the same thing.
This isn’t gonna take off
cause anybody who’s good is already gonna be making money
And I kept saying, forget that.
We’re talking about scale here.
If you have millions of pieces of content
being made every week, a small percentage
is gonna be good no matter what, right?
16 year olds will know what other 16 year olds like.
I kept pushing this nobody bit.
But the podcast grew out of that
because if you’re talking about amateur content in 1999,
well then you’re already, you’re ahead of the game
in terms of not seeing where it’s gonna go financially
but seeing where it’s going to go technologically.
And so when we started the podcast in 2005
and it was the political one, not hardcore history,
which was an outgrowth of the old radio show,
we didn’t have any financial ideas.
We were simply trying to get our handle on the technology
and how you distribute it to people and all that.
And it was years later that we tried to figure out,
okay, how can we get enough money
to just support us while we’re doing this?
And the cheap and the easy way
was just to ask listeners to donate like a PBS kind of model.
And that was the original model.
So then once we started down that,
we figured out other models and there’s the advertising thing
and that we sell the old shows.
And so all these became ways for us to support ourselves.
But as podcasting matured
and as more operating systems developed
and phones were developed and all these kinds of things,
every one of those developments,
which actually made it easier for people to get the podcast
actually made it more complex to make money off of them.
So while our audience was building,
the amount of time and effort we had to put
into the monetization side began to skyrocket.
So to get back to your Spotify question,
to use just one example,
there’s a lot of people who are doing similar things.
In this day and age, we used to just sell MP3 files.
And all you had to have was an MP3 player,
it’s cheap and dirty.
Now, every time there’s an OS upgrade,
something breaks for us.
So we’re having, I mean, my choices are at this point
to start hiring staff, more staff,
and then be a human resources manager.
I mean, the pirate radio side of this
was the pirate radio side of this
because you didn’t need anybody,
but you know, you or you and another,
I mean, you could just do this lean and mean,
and it’s becoming hard to do it lean and mean now.
So if somebody like a Spotify comes in and says,
hey, we’ll handle that stuff for you.
In the past, I would just say,
F off, we don’t need you, I don’t mind.
And I definitely am not making what we could make on this,
but what we would have to do to make that is onerous to me.
But it’s becoming onerous to me day to day anyway.
And so if somebody were to come in and say,
hey, we’ll pick that up for you,
we will not interfere with your content at all,
we won’t, and in my case, you can’t say,
we need to show a month because that ain’t happening, right?
So I mean, everybody’s design is different, right?
So it doesn’t, you know, there’s not one size fits all,
but I guess as a long time pirate podcaster,
we’ve been looking to partner with people,
but nobody’s right for us to partner with.
I mean, so I’m always looking for ways
to take that side of it off my plate
because I’m not interested in that side.
All I wanna do is the shows,
and it’s really at this point,
you shouldn’t call yourself an artist
because that’s something to be decided by others.
But I mean, we’re trying to do art
and there’s something very satisfying in that.
But the part that I can’t stand
is the increasing amount of time
the monetization question takes upon us.
So there’s a case to be made, I guess is what I’m saying,
that if a partnership with some outside firm
enhances your ability to do the art
without disenhancing your ability to do the art,
it’s, the word I’m looking for here is it’s enticing.
I don’t like big companies.
So I’m afraid of whatever strings might come with that.
And if I’m Joe Rogan and I’m talking about subjects
that can make public companies a little nervous,
I would certainly be careful.
But at the same time, people who are not in this game
don’t understand the problems that literally,
I mean, just all the operating systems, all the podcatchers,
every time some new podcatcher comes up,
makes it easier to get the podcast,
that’s something we have to account for on the back end.
And I’m not exactly the technological wizard of all time.
So I think it is maybe, maybe the short answer is,
is that as the medium develops,
it’s becoming something that you have to consider,
not because you wanna sell out,
but because you wanna keep going.
And it’s becoming harder and harder to be pirate like
in this environment.
The thing that convinced me, especially inside Spotify,
is that they understand,
so if you walk into this whole thing with some skepticism,
as you’re saying, of big companies,
then it works because Spotify understands the magic
that makes podcasting, or they appear to in part,
at least they understand enough to respect Joe Rogan.
And despite what, I don’t know if you,
so there’s the internet and there’s people
with opinions on the internet.
I’ve not heard about that.
And they have opinions about Joe and Spotify.
But the reality is, there’s two things
in private conversation with Joe,
and in general, there’s two important things.
One, Spotify literally doesn’t tell Joe anything.
Like all the people that think that Spotify
is somehow pushing Joe in this direction.
It’s a contractual, didn’t he insist upon that?
It’s in the contract.
But also, companies have a way of,
even with the contract. They sure do.
To be marketing people, hey, I know we’re not forcing you.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I hate that.
Yeah, I’m with you.
You and Joe are the same,
and Spotify is smart enough
not to send a single email of that kind.
That’s really smart.
And they leave them be.
There is meetings inside Spotify that people complain,
but those meetings never reach Joe.
That’s like company stuff.
And the idea that Spotify is different than pirate radio,
the difficult thing about podcasting
is nobody gives a damn about your podcast.
You’re alone in this.
I mean, there’s fans and stuff, but nobody.
Nobody’s looking out for you.
And the nice thing about Spotify
is they want Joe’s podcast to succeed even more.
That’s what Joe talked about
is that’s the difference between YouTube and Spotify.
Spotify wants to be the Netflix of podcasting.
And they, like what Netflix does
is they don’t want to control you in any way,
but they want to create a platform where you can flourish.
Because your interests are aligned.
Interests are aligned.
So let me bring up something that,
let’s make a distinction
because not all companies who do this are the same.
And you brought up YouTube and Spotify,
but to me, YouTube is at least more like Spotify
than some of these smaller.
The term is walled garden, right?
You’ve heard the term walled garden?
So I’ve been around podcasting so long now
that I’ve seen rounds of consolidation over the years
and they come in waves and all of a sudden,
so you’ll get, and I’m not going to mention any names,
but up until recently,
the consolidation was happening with relatively small firms
compared to people like Spotify.
And the problem was,
is that by deciding to consolidate your materials
in a walled garden,
you are walling yourself off from audience, right?
So your choice is I’m going to accept this amount of money
from this company,
but the loss is going to be a large chunk of my audience.
And that’s a catch 22
because you’re negotiating power with that company
is based on your audience size.
So signing up with them diminishes your audience size,
you lose negotiating power.
But when you get to the level of the Spotify
to just pick them out, there’s other players,
but you brought up Spotify specifically,
these are people who can potentially,
potentially enhance your audience over time.
And so the risk to you is lower
because if you decide in a year or two,
whatever the licensing agreements term is,
that you’re done with them and you want to leave,
instead of how you would have been
with some of these smaller walled gardens,
where you’re walking away with a fraction of the audience
you walked in with,
you have the potential to walk out
with whatever you got in the original deal,
plus a larger audience,
because their algorithms and everything
are designed to push people to your content
if they think you’d like.
So it takes away some of the downside risk,
and if you can write an agreement like Joe Rogan,
I mean, where you’ve protected your freedom
to put the content out the way you want.
So, and if some of the downside risk is mitigated,
and if you eliminate the problem of trying to monetize
and stay up with the latest tech,
then it might be worth it.
You know, I’m scared of things like that,
but at the same time,
I’m trying to not be an idiot about it,
and I can be an idiot about it.
And when you’ve been doing it as independently
for as long as I have,
the inertia of that has a force all its own,
but I’m inhibited enough in what I’m trying to do
on this other end,
that it’s opened me at least to listening to people.
But listen, at the same time, I love my audience,
and it sounds like a cliche,
but they’re literally the reason I’m here.
So I wanna make sure that whatever I do,
if I can, is in keeping with a relationship
that I’ve developed with these people over 15 years.
But like you said, no matter what you do,
you are, because see, here’s the thing.
If you don’t sign up with one of those companies
to make it easier for them to get your stuff on this hand,
they might yell at you for how difficult it is,
because the new operating system just updated,
and you said, I can’t get your stuff.
So either way, you’re opening yourself up to ridicule
at this point.
All of that makes it easier to go,
well, if the right deal came along,
and they weren’t screwing me,
and they weren’t screwing my audience, and blah, blah, blah.
I mean, again, in this business,
when you’re talking about cutting edge technology
that is ever changing,
and as you said, a million podcasts and growing,
I think you have to try to maintain flexibility,
and especially if they can mitigate the downside risk,
I think you’d be an idiot to not at least try to stay up
on the current trends.
And look, I’m watching Joe.
I’m going, okay, let’s see how it goes for Joe.
I mean, if he’s like, ah, this is terrible,
I’m getting out of this,
you go, okay, those people are off the list.
So Joe’s put himself out as a guinea pig,
and the rest of us guinea pigs appreciate it.
As a huge, as a fan of your show,
and as a fan of Netflix, the people there,
I think I can speak for like millions of people
in hope that hardcore history comes to Netflix,
or if Spotify becomes the Netflix of podcasting,
then to Spotify.
There’s something at its best
that they bring out the, you said artists,
so I can say it,
is they bring out the best out of the artists.
They remove some of the headache,
and somehow like they put at their best,
Netflix, for example, is able to enforce
and find the beauty and the power
in the creations that you make even better than you.
Like they don’t interfere with the creations,
but they somehow, it’s a branding thing probably too.
Yeah, but interfering would be,
that would be a no go for me.
That’s right, absolutely.
That can’t happen.
But that’s why Netflix is masterful.
They seem to not interfere with the talent,
as opposed to, I could throw other people under the bus,
There’s a lot of places under the bus
that could be thrown, absolutely.
So I would love, I know there’s probably
people screaming yes right now.
In terms of hardcore history on Netflix,
it would be awesome.
And I don’t love asking this question,
but it’s asked probably the most popular question
So let me try to ask it in a way
that you would actually answer it,
which is, of course, you said
you don’t release shows very often.
And the question is, or the requests and the questions is,
well, can you tell Dan to do one on the Civil War?
Can you tell Dan to do one on the Napoleon Bonaparte?
Can you tell him to do one?
Every topic, and you’ve spoken to this.
Actually, your answer about the Civil War
is quite interesting.
I didn’t know you knew what my answer
about the Civil War was.
As a military historian, you enjoy, in particular,
when there is differences in the armies,
as opposed to contrasts.
With the Civil War, which blew my mind
when I heard you say there’s not an interesting,
a deep, intricate contrast between the two opposing sides.
It’s like the Roman Civil Wars,
where it’s legionary against legionary.
And you’ve also said that the shows you work on
are ones where you have some roots
of fundamental understanding about that period.
And so, when you work on a show,
it’s basically pulling at those strings further
and refreshing your mind and learning.
You have definitely done the research.
Wow, these are words out of my mouth.
Yeah, you’re right.
But is there something like shower thoughts on Reddit?
Is there some ideas that are lingering in your head
about possible future episodes?
Is there things that, whether you’re not committing
to anything, but whether you’re gonna do it or not,
is there something that makes you think,
hmm, that’ll be interesting to pull at that thread
a little bit?
Oh yeah, we have things we keep in our back pocket
So, Blueprint for Armageddon, the first World War series
we did, that was in my back pocket the whole time.
And when the centennial of the war happened,
it just seemed to be the likely time to bring out what was.
That was a hell of a series.
That’s probably one of my favorite series.
Take my rear end, man.
I have to tell you.
Psychologically, you mean?
Well, just, you know, when you get to these,
I think, I’m guessing here, I think it’s 26 hours,
all pieces together.
Think about, and we don’t do scripts.
So, think about what, I had somebody write on Twitter
just yesterday saying, he said something like,
I’m not seeing the dedication here.
You’re only getting 2.5 shows out a year.
And I wanted to say, man, you have no idea what,
the only people who understand really
are other history podcasters.
And even they don’t generally do 26 hours.
You know, that was a two year endeavor.
As I said, the first show we ever did was like 15 minutes.
I could crank out one of those a month.
But when you’re doing, I mean, the last show we did
on the fall of the Roman Republic was five and a half hours.
That’s a book, right?
And it was part six or something.
So, I mean, you just do the math.
And it felt like you were, sorry to interrupt,
on World War I, it felt like you were emotionally
pulled in to it.
Like, it felt taxing.
I was gonna say, that’s a good thing though,
because that, you know, and I think we said during the show,
that was the feeling that the people at the time have.
And I think at one point we said,
if this is starting to seem gruesomely repetitive,
now you know how the people at the time felt.
So in other words, that had sort of inadvertently,
because when you improvise a show,
some of these things are inadvertent,
but it had inadvertently created the right climate
for having a sense of empathy with the storyline.
And to me, those are the serendipitous moments
that make this art and not some sort of paint by the numbers
kind of endeavor, you know?
And that’s, to me, that wouldn’t have happened
had we scripted it out.
So it’s mostly, you just bring the tools of knowledge
to the table and then in large part improvise,
like the actual wording?
I always say we make it like they made things
like spinal tap and some of those other things
where the material, so I do have notes about things
like on page 427 of this book, you have this quote,
so that I know, aha, I’m at the point
where I can drop that in.
And sometimes I’ll write notes saying,
here’s where you left off yesterday, so I remember.
But in the improvisation, you end up throwing a lot out.
And so like, but it allows us to go off on tangents,
like we’ll try things.
Like I’ll sit there and go,
I wonder what this would sound like.
And I’ll spend two days going down that road
and then I’ll listen to it and go, it doesn’t work.
But that’s, you know, like writers do this all the time.
It’s called killing your babies, right?
You got, can’t, you know, but people go,
so this guy goes, I’m not seeing the dedication.
He has no idea how many things we’re throwing out.
I did an hour and a half,
I had an hour and a half into The Current Show
about two months ago.
And I listened to it and I just went, you know what?
It’s not right.
Boom, out the window.
There goes six weeks of work, right?
But here’s the problem.
Do you trust your, sorry to interrupt,
do you trust your judgment on that?
But here’s the thing.
Our show is a little different than other people’s.
Joe Rogan called it evergreen content.
In other words, my political show is like a car you buy.
And the minute you drive it off the lot,
it loses half its value, right?
Cause it’s not current anymore.
These shows are just as good or just as bad
five years from now as they are when we,
although the standards on the internet changed.
So when I listen to my old shows,
I cringe sometimes cause the standards
are so much higher now.
But when you’re creating evergreen content,
you have two audiences to worry about.
You have the audience that’s waiting for the next show
and they’ve already heard the other ones
and they’re impatient and they’re telling you on Twitter,
where is it?
But you have show,
the show is also for people five years from now
who haven’t discovered it yet
and who don’t care a wit for how long it took
cause they’re gonna be able to download the whole,
and all they care about is quality.
And so what I always tell new podcasters is,
they always say, I read all these things,
it’s very important you have a release schedule.
Well, it’s not more important
than putting out a good piece of work.
And the audience will forgive me if it takes too long,
but it’s really good when you get it.
They will not forgive me if I rush it
to get it out on time and it’s a piece of crap.
So for us, and this is why when you brought up
a Spotify deal or anything else,
they can’t interfere with this at all
because my job here, as far as I’m concerned is quality
and everything else goes by the wayside
because the only thing people care about longterm,
the only thing that gives you longevity is how good is it?
How good is that book?
If you read J.R.R. Tolkien’s work tomorrow,
you don’t care how long it took him to write it,
all you care is how good is it today?
And that’s what we try to think too.
And I feel like if it’s good, if it’s really good,
everything else falls into place and takes care of itself.
And so sometimes to push back, sorry to interrupt.
I’ve done it to you a thousand times,
so you can get me back, please.
Sometimes the deadline, some of the greatest movies
and books have been, you think about like Dostoevsky,
I forget which one, notes from underground or something.
He needed the money, so he had to write it real quick.
Sometimes the deadline creates is powerful
at taking a creative mind of an artist
and just like slapping it around
to force some of the good stuff out.
Now, the problem with history, of course,
is there’s different definitions of good
that like it’s not just about which you talk about,
which is the storytelling,
the richness of the storytelling.
And I’m sure you’re, again, not to compliment you too much,
but you’re one of the great storytellers of our time
that I’m sure if you put in a jail cell
and forced like somebody pointed a gun at you,
you could tell one hell of a good story,
but you still need the facts of history
or not necessarily the facts,
but like making sure you’re painting the right full picture,
not perfectly right.
That’s what I meant about the audience
doesn’t understand what a history podcast,
you can’t just riff and be wrong.
So let me both oppose what you just said
and back up what you just said.
So I have a book that I wrote, right?
And in a book you have a hard deadline, right?
So Harper Collins had a hard deadline on that book.
So when I released it, I was mad
because I would have worked on it a lot longer,
which is my style, right?
Get it right.
But we had a chapter in that book
entitled pandemic prologue question mark.
And it was the book about the part about the black death
and the 1918 flu and all that kind of stuff.
And I was just doing an interview
with a Spanish journalist this morning who said,
did you ever think how lucky you got on that?
And first of all, lucky on a pandemic, it strikes you.
But had I had my druthers,
I would have kept that book working
in my study for months more
and the pandemic would have happened.
And that would have looked like a chapter
I wrote after the fact.
I would have had to rewrite the whole thing.
So that argues for what you said.
At the same time, I would have spent months more
working on it because to me,
it didn’t look the way I wanted it to look yet.
Can you drop a hint of the things
that you’re keeping on the shelves?
Oh, the Alexander the Great podcast.
I’ve talked around, I talked to somebody the other day,
he said, do you know that the very first word
in your very first podcast, in the title,
the very first thing that anybody ever saw
with hardcore history is the word Alexander.
Because the show’s entitled Alexander versus Hitler.
I have talked around the career.
I’ve done show after,
I talked about his mother in one episode.
I talked about the funeral games after his death.
I’ve talked around this,
I’ve specifically left this giant Alexandrian size hole
in the middle,
because we’re gonna do that show one day
and I’m going to lovingly enjoy talking about
this crazily interesting figure of Alexander the Great.
So that’s one of the ones that’s on the back pocket list.
And what we try to do is whenever this,
we’re doing Second World War in Asia and the Pacific now,
I’m on part five, whenever the heck we finish this,
the tendency is to then pick a very different period
because we’ve had it and the audience has had it.
So it’s time.
So I will eventually get to the Alexander saga.
What about just one last kind of little part of this is,
what about the other half of that first 10 minute,
15 minute episode?
Which is, so you’ve done quite a bit about the World War.
You’ve done quite a bit about Germany.
Will you ever think about doing Hitler and the Man?
It’s funny because I talked earlier
about how I don’t like to go back to the old shows
cause our standards have changed so much.
Well, a long time ago,
one of my standards for not getting five hour podcasts done
or not getting too deeply into them
was to flip around the interesting points.
We didn’t realize we were gonna get an audience
that wanted the actual history.
We thought we could just go with,
assume the audience knew the details
and just talk about the weird stuff
that only makes up one part of the show now.
So we did a show called Nazi tidbits.
And it was just little things about,
you know, it’s totally out of date now.
Like, you know, you can still buy them,
but they’re out of date.
Where we dealt a little with it.
You know, it would be interesting,
but I’ll give you another example.
I mean, history is not stagnant, as you know.
And we had talked about Stalin earlier
and Ghost of the Ostfront was done years ago.
And people will write me from Russia now and say,
well, your portrayal of Stalin is totally out of,
out of, it’s outdated because there’s all this new stuff
from the former Soviet Union.
And you do, you turn around and you go, okay, they’re right.
And so when you talk about Hitler,
it’s very interesting to think about
how I would do a Hitler show today
versus how I did one 10 years ago.
And you would think, well, what’s new?
I mean, it happens a lot, but there’s lots of new stuff
and there’s lots of new scholarship.
And so, yeah, I would think that would be
an interesting one to do someday.
I haven’t thought about that.
That’s not in the back pocket,
but yeah, that’d be interesting.
I have a disproportionate amount of power
because I trapped you somehow in a room and,
During a pandemic.
So like my hope will be stuck in your head,
but after Alexander the Great,
which would be an amazing podcast,
I hope you do give a return to Hitler,
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which to me,
It’s a contemporary book, basically.
And I, exactly.
It’s by a person who was there.
I really loved that study of the man of Hitler.
And I would love to hear your study
of certain aspects of it.
Perhaps even an episode that’s like more focused
on a very particular period.
I just feel like you can tell a story that it’s funny.
Hitler is one of the most studied people.
And I still feel like all the stories
or most of the stories haven’t been told.
Oh, and there’s, listen, I’ve got three books at home.
I’m on all the publishers lists now.
And they just, there’s young Hitler,
there’s this Hitler, there’s that.
I mean, I’ve been reading these books
and I’ve read about Hitler.
I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
My mother thought I needed to go to a psychologist
because I read it when I was six.
And she said, there’s something wrong with the boy.
And, but, but she was right.
She was absolutely right.
But, but you would think that,
that something like that is pretty established fact.
And yet there’s new stuff coming out all the time.
And needless to say,
Germany’s been investigating this guy forever.
And sometimes it takes years to get the translations.
I took five years of German in school.
I can’t read any of it.
So, I mean, and he is,
when you talk about fascinating figures,
he’s so, the whole thing is so twistedly weird.
There was a, it came out a couple of years ago.
Somebody found a tape of him talking to,
I want to say it was General,
the Finnish General Mannerheim, right?
And he’s just in a very normal conversation
of the sort we’re having now.
And, you know, the Hitler tapes,
when you hear him normally he’s ranting and raving.
But this was a very sedate.
And I wish I’d understood the German well enough
to really get a feel,
because I was reading what Germans said.
And they say, wow, you can really hear the Southern accent.
You know, little things
that only a native speaker would hear.
And I remember thinking,
this is such a different side of this twisted character.
And you would think you would always,
you would think that this was information
that was out in the rise and fall of the Third Reich,
but it wasn’t.
And so this goes along with that stuff
about new stuff coming out all the time.
Alexander, new stuff coming out all the time.
Well, at least interpretations rather than factual data.
And those color your,
those give depth to your understanding.
Yes, and you want that because of the historiography.
People love that.
And that was a byproduct of my lack of credentials,
where we thought we’re gonna bring in the historians,
and we call them audio footnotes,
right away for me to say, listen, I’m not a historian,
but I’ll quote this guy who is so you can trust him.
But then we would quote other people
who had different views.
And people didn’t realize that, you know,
if they’re not history majors,
that historians don’t always agree on this stuff
and that they have disagreements and they love that.
So I love the fact that there’s more stuff out there
because it allows us to then bring in other points of view
and sort of maybe three dimensionalize
or flesh out the story a little bit more.
Two last questions.
One really simple, one absurdly ridiculous,
and perhaps also simple.
First, who has been and is he real?
I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
How’s that for an answer?
It’s like asking me, is Harvey the White Rabbit real?
I don’t know.
There’s carrots all around the production room,
but I don’t know what that means.
Well, a lot of people demanded that I prove,
I somehow figure out a way to prove the existence.
If I said he was real, people would say, no, he’s not.
And if I said he was, if he wasn’t real,
they would say, yes, he is.
So it’s a Santa Claus Easter bunny kind of vibe there.
I mean, what is real anyway?
That’s exactly what I told him if he exists.
The most absurd question, I’m very sorry.
Very sorry, but then again, I’m not.
What’s the meaning of it all?
You study history, human history.
Have you been able to make sense of why the hell
we’re here on this spinning rock?
Does any of it even make sense?
What’s the meaning of life?
What I look at sometimes that I find interesting
is certain consistencies that we have over time.
History doesn’t repeat, but it has a constant,
and the constant is us.
Now we change.
I mentioned earlier the wickedly weird time we live in
with what social media is doing to us as guinea pigs,
and that’s a new element, but we’re still people
who are motivated by love, hate, greed, envy, sex.
I mean, all these things that would have connected us
with the ancients, right?
That’s the part that always makes history sound
like it rhymes, you know?
And when you put the constant, the human element,
and you mix it with systems that are similar,
so one of the reasons that the ancient Roman Republic
is something that people point to all the time
as something that seems like we’re repeating history
is because you have humans, just like you had then,
and you have a system that resembles the one we have here.
So you throw the constant in with a system
that is somewhat similar, and you begin to see things
that look like they rhyme a little.
So for me, I’m always trying to figure out more about us,
and when you show us in 500 years ago in Asia,
and 800 years ago in Africa,
and you look at all these different places
that you put the guinea pig in,
and you watch how the guinea pig responds
to the different stimuli and challenges,
I feel like it helps me flesh out a little bit more
who we are in the long timeline.
Not who we are today, specifically,
but who we’ve always been.
It’s a personal quest.
It’s not meant to educate anybody else.
It’s something that fascinates me.
Do you think there’s, in that common humanity
throughout history of the guinea pig,
is there a why underneath it all?
Or is it somehow, like, it feels like
it’s an experiment of some sort?
Oh, now you’re into it.
Elon Musk and I talked about this,
the simulation thing, right?
Nick Bostrom’s, yeah, the idea that there’s some kid,
and we’re the equivalent of an alien’s ant farm, you know?
And we hope he doesn’t throw a tarantula in
just to see what happens.
I think the whys elude us.
And I think that what makes philosophy and religion
and those sorts of things so interesting
is that they grapple with the whys.
But I’m not wise enough to propose a theory
in myself, but I’m interested enough
to read all the other ones out there.
So let’s put it this way.
I don’t think there’s any definitive why
that’s been agreed upon,
but the various theories are fascinating.
Yeah, whatever it is, whoever the kid is
that created this thing, the ant farm,
it’s kind of interesting.
Well, so far, a little bit twisted
and perverted and sadistic, maybe.
That’s what makes it fun, I think.
But then again, that’s the Russian perspective.
I was just gonna say.
It is the Russian perspective.
That’s what makes the Russian.
So Russian history, one day I’ll do some Russian history.
I took it in college.
That’s the ant farm, baby.
That’s an ant farm with a very, very frustrated
young teenage alien kid.
Dan, I can’t say.
I’ve already complimented you way too much.
I’m a huge fan.
This has been an incredible conversation.
It’s a huge gift, your gift of humanity.
I hope you.
Oh, let me cut you off and just say
you’ve done a wonderful job.
This has been fun for me.
The questions, and more importantly,
the questions can come from anybody.
The counter statements, your responses have been wonderful.
You made this a very fun intellectual discussion for me.
Well, let me have the last word and say,
I agree with Elon and despite the doom caster say
that I think we’ve concluded definitively
and you don’t get a chance to respond
that love is in fact the answer and the way forward.
So thanks so much, Dan.
Thank you for having me.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Dan Carlin
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And now, let me leave you with some words from Dan Carlin.
Wisdom requires a flexible mind.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.