I hate affirmative action.
I don’t just disagree with it.
I don’t just think it’s against the 14th Amendment.
I hate it.
The hatred comes from an understanding
that it is a bandaid, that it is a substitute
for the actual development of the capacities
of our people to compete.
They wanna tell African Americans to pat us on the head.
We’re gonna have a separate program for you.
We’re gonna give you a side door that you can come into.
That doesn’t make us any smarter.
It doesn’t make us any more creative
and it doesn’t make us any more fit
for the actual competition that’s unfolding before us.
The following is a conversation with Glenn Loury,
professor of economics and social sciences
at Brown University.
He is one of the great minds and communicators of our time,
writing and speaking about race and inequality.
I highly encourage you to listen to his show
on YouTube and Substack, simply called The Glenn Show.
This is the Lex Friedman Podcast.
To support it, please check out our sponsors
in the description.
And now, dear friends, here’s Glenn Loury.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech
I think is the greatest speech in American history.
If I may, I’d like to read a few words of it.
And ask you a question about this dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up
and live out the true meaning of its creed.
We hold these truths to be self evident,
that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia,
the sons of former slaves and the sons of former
slave owners will be able to sit down together
at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi,
a state sweltering with the heat of injustice,
sweltering with the heat of oppression,
will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children
will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged
by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
First of all, damn.
I mentioned to you offline I immigrated to America
and this is why I love this country.
This is one of the great speeches that represents
what this country is about.
So what is this ideal of equality
that we should strive for as a nation,
that all men are created equal?
What does that mean to you, this equality?
Well, if we put this in historical context,
King is speaking in 1963 when he gives that speech.
It’s exactly 100 years after Abraham Lincoln signs
the Emancipation Proclamation
declaring the enslaved people to be free.
They’re not yet citizens in 1863,
but the end of slavery has become the position
of the federal government when Lincoln issues
that Emancipation Proclamation.
So putting it in context, enslaved people,
four million or so African descended enslaved people,
how do they become citizens?
How do they become in this status of subjugation
and domination and stigma and exclusion?
How do they become citizens?
It seems to me that that’s the heart of it.
The equality that King is talking about
is an equality of status as members of the nation
as free and equal citizens within the republic.
Now, I think it’s really important to understand
that slavery was not merely a legal order,
but it was also a social system
that had the symbolism attached to it.
They had a big journey to make
from their subjugated status as serfs, as landless people,
as uneducated, unfit for citizenship really
in the minds of many.
So I think that’s what in 1963, 100 years later,
that King is appealing to this idea
that when Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence
writes these words, all men are created equal
and endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights,
Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, didn’t have in mind
when he wrote those words, the people who were slaves.
But by the time you get to 1963,
King is invoking this idea, all men,
and of course he means all persons.
He doesn’t only mean men.
He means men and women are created equal.
He wants this idea to be embraced by the country
in reference to the descendants of the African slaves.
That’s his dream.
That’s his idea.
The legacy of slavery would be erased,
that the position of African Americans would be equalized
within the political community,
which is the United States of America.
That’s my sense of it in any case.
So on a very basic level, the worth of a human being
It’s just literally the worth of a human being.
So I mentioned to you offline
that I came from the Soviet Union.
My grandfather fought in World War II,
and for Hitler, the worth of a Slavic person
as they were captured, there’s different numbers,
but it’s in the hundreds to one German
in terms of the value of the person to the great Germany.
So he wanted Germany to expand
and conquer a large part of the world.
And within that future world, that Third Reich,
the worth of a Russian or a Slavic person
is one hundredth or one thousandth of a German person,
of a pure German person.
So that has to do with not some kind of public policy
or politics or all that kind of stuff.
It has to do with the basic worth of a human being.
And that’s what Dr. King is speaking to,
that all people on some kind of deep level
are worth the same.
If you’re somehow weighing the value of a person,
we’re equal in that basic fundamental worth.
Yeah, I think that’s correct.
I think that’s very well said.
I don’t know that he had in mind
the position of Slavic people in Central Europe
in the middle of the 20th century,
or the first part of the 20th century, King.
I don’t know that he had that in mind.
He might well have done.
But certainly that’s the idea.
So you don’t think he was really thinking
about this particular civil rights struggle
and the particular struggle
against the backdrop of the history of slavery in America
and thinking about African Americans.
He wasn’t thinking about the basic,
he wasn’t speaking to the basic worth of all human beings.
No, I don’t mean to say that.
The speech in Washington.
In 1963 at that march was within the context
of the United States.
And it was within the context of the civil rights movement.
There was a movement that was going on.
He was an actor in a political drama that was American
that had to do with the fight over equal rights
for voting, for housing, for employment,
for citizenship of blacks in America.
But King was informed, I think,
by a much broader Christian ethic of the equality
of all persons.
I mean, he gets killed in 1968.
The five years after that speech in Washington,
he spends developing his worldview
and the things that he had to say, for example,
about the war in Southeast Asia that was going on
at that time made appeals to universal principles
He was a pacifist to some degree.
He was against war.
He was a socialist to some degree.
He might not have worn that label publicly,
but he believed in a decent society
where the poor would not go untended,
where healthcare would be available to people who needed it
and this kind of thing.
A humanitarian who saw that the value of a life
was not dependent upon the color of the skin,
upon the native mother tongue that might be spoken,
upon whether male or female.
All persons are created equal.
This is very much the ethic of Martin Luther King,
on my understanding.
Broadly speaking, what do you learn about human nature
by looking at the history of slavery in America?
So what does that tell you about people?
Well, I think of two things right off the top of my head.
One is about the capacity of people
for looking the other way in the face of
unethical and morally profoundly problematic practice.
So, I mean, slavery was controversial.
It was controversial going all the way back
to the founding of the United States of America.
The country was founded on a compromise
where half of the country thought that slavery was abhorrent
and would not have had it countenanced in the Constitution.
The other half of the country were steeped
in the dependence on the labor of these African captives
and their descendants.
The economy depended upon it.
They owned them as property.
That was their wealth.
Their wealth was invested to some degree
in the value of these human beings.
And in order for the United States to come together
as a confederation of the several colonies,
there had to be a compromise made.
And it was made where slavery was allowed to persist
and the people who were against it
or who thought it morally problematic
were able to countenance the practice
in the Southern states where slavery flourished.
And that went on for 75 years
after the founding of the country
until the crisis of the late 1850s
that led to the Civil War
and ultimately to the emancipation.
So one thing I think about human nature
from the fact of slavery is that the ability of people
to live with terrible, morally questionable practices
and have that as a part of their institutions.
It took a movement, a massive movement of abolitionists
struggling against slavery for the better part of a century
before that practice could be eradicated.
But the other thing about human nature that I see
is the ability of people to sustain their humanity
under the most awful, oppressive conditions.
The enslaved persons, the slaves and their children,
I mean, they were chattel,
they were bought and sold like horses or cattle.
And yet their humanity was not destroyed by that.
And they were able to sustain their dignity to some degree
in such a manner that once emancipation finally did arrive,
the freedmen and women, the persons who had been enslaved
and who were set free were able to over the following decades
build a foundation for the development of African Americans
within the context of American society
that eventually culminated in the civil rights movement
of the middle of the 20th century
and has led us into the present day.
So, you know, human nature can countenance awful evil
but human nature can also survive
in the face of terrible evil.
That’s what I take from slavery.
That survival, that flame can burn even when the world
around it tries to put it out.
There’s still a little flame of human consciousness,
of spirit, of culture, of whatever the hell that is
that makes humans flourish and makes humans beautiful
that lives on.
That’s very well said.
Yeah, I think you put it very well.
There’s gotta be some poetic way of expressing that.
Leave it to the poets.
What about the people that look the other way?
How many people do you think, just regular people,
knew that something is, this is wrong?
Or do people through generations convince themselves,
most people, most regular people,
convince themselves that there’s nothing wrong?
I ask this question because I wonder
what we’re looking the other way on today also.
Because you have to ask yourself these difficult questions
of assuming we’re the same people we were back then
then we can be flawed in that same kind of way.
We can look the other way just as others have in history.
Yeah, you spoke of the European context
and of the Nazis and certainly a lot of people
had to be looking the other way when the massive crimes
that were committed by that regime were being undertaken.
I mean, railroad cars full of human beings
being taken off to be slaughtered or to be worked to death
in labor camps or to be gassed, et cetera.
A lot of people had to know about what was going on
and look the other way or enthusiastically supported
the persecution of the Jews and the gypsies and so on.
And I don’t know, I wasn’t around in 1840.
My sense of the matter is that like many practices
that are unjust, most people thought
that’s just the way it is.
I mean, that’s the world that they inherited.
They were not moralists, they were not revolutionaries.
They just wanted to go along.
Some people might’ve been troubled by it
but thought there’s nothing that can be done.
Some people might’ve thought, well,
they’re these black Africans, they’re not really like us
and they are lucky to be here.
If they were in Africa, they’d be worse off still.
Some people might’ve thought that.
Some people might’ve been disturbed
but not been able to see what it is
that they could do about it.
They might’ve thought, oh, this is disgusting.
This is not something I would wanna have anything to do with
but not knowing whether there’s any practical way
of opposing it, that’s why you need a movement.
You need for the people who are troubled by the practice
to know that there are others like themselves
equally troubled and as they gather together,
collectively, they can exert their influence.
I mean, debates about the wrongness of slavery,
as I say, go all the way back to the founding of the country.
There were abolitionists and there were people
who opposed the compromise that led to the framing documents
and institutions that created the United States of America,
opposed the countenancing of slavery in that situation.
But it took a while before that could come to a head
and produce the crisis which ultimately led
to the eradication of slavery.
I would note that slavery is not unique to the United States.
It’s not unique to the Western Hemisphere.
The enslavement of people, the trafficking in human chattel
is something that one sees on a global basis,
one sees it going all the way back to antiquity.
So we might ask, how is it that people finally came
to turn their backs and eradicate the practice?
That might be the thing worth really trying to understand
because the practice itself is,
there’s a wonderful book by the sociologist
Orlando Patterson called Slavery and Social Death
that was published in 1982, which is a comprehensive history
and social analysis of the institution of slavery
over 2,500 years, going back to the classical Greek
and Roman civilizations, finding slavery in Africa
amongst Africans, finding slavery in the Middle East,
finding slavery in the Far East,
finding slavery in South Asia, the enslavement of people,
the practice of taking someone as a captive in war
and then instead of killing them, which you could do,
making them into your property was very, very widespread
in human culture.
So I mean, I’d like to make this point sometimes
when people are talking about how wrong slavery was
and I agree without any question
that the practice was profoundly morally problematic,
but I’d like to make the point that given how wrong it was,
think about how impressive was the accomplishment
of the eradication of slavery.
Now, that was something, I mean, there were 600,000 dead
in the war between the states, 1861 to 1865
in a country of 30 million people.
That’s a lot of dead people who gave their lives
not to eradicate slavery in every instance,
probably most of them were just fighting for,
they enlisted or were conscripted into the forces
and they fought and they died,
but the net effect of their having fought and died
was to push along a process
that led to the eradication of slavery.
That’s an amazing achievement.
The slaves themselves were largely uneducated
and backward in their,
of course, what else could they have been?
They were kept in captivity,
they were prevented from developing their human potential
and yet after the end of slavery,
that population, that 4 million plus African descended people
became the foundation for what a century later
leads to Martin Luther King standing in the Washington Mall
and giving that great speech
and now here we are 150 years down the road
and Barack Obama is president of the United States.
Now, he did not descend from slaves,
I think we must not lose track of that,
but he identified as an African American
and was a part of the population
that consisted largely of people who descended from slaves
and we are, we African Americans are
for all practical purposes,
fully equal citizens of this great republic.
That has happened within a century and a half
and I don’t know that you can find any parallel
to that kind of transformation in the status of people
from human chattel to full citizens of the republic.
Anywhere in human history,
it’s certainly worth celebrating the achievement
of the eradication of slavery, I would say.
And it probably started with a few people
that inside their mind dared to rebel.
You know, it’s interesting to think about how it all started,
how in the state of injustice,
the revolution percolates, like where it starts.
You said people that see something is wrong find each other.
It’s in the ideas of charismatic individuals
that not only know that something is wrong,
but are able to tell others about it and be convincing
and then together gather and rise up.
It’s interesting to make this kind of incredible progress
from slavery to where we are today
to live out the ideal of this all men are created equal.
The power of individual,
because I don’t know what you think about it,
but I tend to think that a few small individuals
probably originated this.
Like it’s the power of the individual,
because sometimes we think there’s injustice in the world,
what can I possibly do?
But I tend to think one person can be the seed
of starting to fix the injustice.
One person here, one person there.
One thinks of course of Frederick Douglass,
this massively significant figure who was born in slavery,
who stole his freedom because he was property
and he decided he was not gonna be property anymore
and he took it unto himself to emancipate himself personally
and who became an educated, a powerfully articulate,
massively influential person in the United States
and in England going around presenting himself
as an embodiment of human dignity
and commitment to ideals of equality.
And I mean, he’s just one person,
but there were others like him.
Just one person.
All it takes is just one person.
So here we are on this topic of equality
in the 21st century.
So what does equality mean today?
If you start to think about this idea of equality of outcome
or the injustice of inequality,
at which point does equality of outcome is just,
at which point is it unjust?
Sort of looking at our world today
and looking at inequality,
how do we know that some inequality is a sign of injustice
and some is the way of life?
So what does equality mean when we look at the world today,
different from Dr. King’s speech of the basic humanity?
I don’t think King’s speech, I have a dream
that one day my four little children will be judged
not by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character
requires equality of outcome.
He says his children will be judged
by the content of their character.
That’s a conditional statement.
That is the judgment will depend upon the content
of their character, not the color of their skin,
but it doesn’t follow from that,
that the outcomes, whatever outcomes we consider wealth
and economic power,
position within the society,
representation in the various professions,
the various measures of social achievement
doesn’t follow from judging by the content of character
and not color of skin,
that when we look at the end of the day
at the social outcomes that they will be equal
across the different groups.
In fact, I think there’s a contradiction in the idea
that groups will be equal
in all of the various social outcomes,
that they will be equally successful in business,
that they will be proportionately represented
in the various professions,
that they will have the same educational achievement,
that the occupational profiles will look the same.
If they are, in fact, distinct groups
with their own cultural traditions and practices,
with their own ideals and norms,
various immigrant populations,
people coming to the United States of America
from all corners of the world,
the descendants of the African slaves,
the black Americans here today,
who are ourselves various with different backgrounds,
different origins and so on,
the different religious practices and commitments
that Jewish or Mormon or Christian or whatever,
however we parcel up the total population
into the various groups,
these groups are themselves different from one another.
They have different norms
within their own cultural practice.
How would we expect,
if in fact we recognize
that the groups are different from one another,
that in a world that is fair,
they would all come out equally represented
in every undertaking.
They’re not equally represented,
and that fact, I’m arguing,
is in and of itself insufficient
to justify the conclusion
that they’re not somehow being fairly treated.
Fair treatment doesn’t imply equal outcomes
in a world in which the populations in question
are themselves different
with respect to their culture, their practices,
their norms, their traditions,
their beliefs, their ideals, and so on.
The fact of those different norms, traditions, beliefs,
cultural orientations, and ideals
will have consequences
in terms of their different social outcomes.
So I just think it’s a mistake
that people are making
when they think
fairness of treatment
implies equality of outcomes.
It does not.
Is the process by which we’re speaking now
in the midst of the National Basketball Association’s
I confess to being a Boston Celtics fan.
I mean, I’m just,
it’s a very good team, and I’m excited about my Celtics.
I mean, we defeated Kevin Durant
and Kyrie Irving and company, okay,
in a playoff series.
We whipped them,
and we’re on our way to
the Eastern Conference Finals,
and we’re on our way to the NBA Finals,
and I’m, you know, if I were a betting man,
I’d put down a few bucks
that the Boston Celtics, underrated as we are,
have a very good chance of winning the NBA Finals.
Okay, so that’s the NBA.
That’s the National Basketball Association.
I’m a sports fan.
I like basketball.
Slightly biased prediction, but yes.
Yeah, it is somewhat biased.
All I’m saying is,
if you take a look at who the star players are
in the National Basketball Association,
you’re gonna find that there’s some Eastern Europeans.
You know, there’s some really good basketball players
coming out of Eastern Europe,
and more power to them,
and there are a lot of African Americans.
There are not that many Jews, as far as I know.
No offense intended there, Lex,
but I mean,
the NBA is not
of all of the different populations in the United States.
Now, we could go into the reasons why,
but I’m just saying the process
by which you get to be playing in the NBA is fair.
If you can play, you can get on the court.
All they’re looking for is people who can play.
I think something like that is true
in many different venues.
I expect, if you’re a really good technical engineer,
companies are gonna employ you,
and if you can make money, they’re gonna advance you,
and you will be able to rise to the top of that profession.
I expect that the people who are engaged
in financial transactions,
who are actually making bets on the market,
by and large, are the people who are good at that activity,
and if you’re good at that activity in this world,
in this modern world,
you’re gonna rise to the top.
I’m not saying that there are no barriers of discrimination.
Of course, there are of many different sorts,
but I’m saying that to expect that there would be,
okay, I mean, let’s look at who’s actually writing code.
Let’s look at who’s actually trading bonds.
Let’s look at who’s actually starting businesses and so on.
To say that in a fair world,
I would expect that if blacks are 10% of the population,
they’d be 10% of every one of those things,
is to ignore the reality that the differences
in the culture and practices and norms
of the various population groups
will lead to differences in their representation
amongst people who are outstanding performers
in one or another activity.
How do you know if the difference in culture
accounts for the difference in outcomes,
or it’s the existence of barriers,
especially barriers early on in life,
of discrimination that are racially based?
So if you think about affirmative action,
in which ways is affirmative action empowering,
in which way is it limiting
for these early development of different groups,
but let’s just speak to African Americans.
We should say that you went to some no name
Northwestern University at first,
but then you ended up with the great university of MIT.
So that’s your, not early, but middle development.
So speaking of the development,
the opportunities, the equality of opportunity,
how do we know we got that equality right?
Yeah, I’m glad you put it like that.
We were talking about results,
now we’re talking about opportunity.
I was taking the position that
when King says, I have a dream and he envisions a world
where his children will not be barred
from the good things in life
because of the color of their skin,
we’re talking about opportunity, not about results.
But opportunity is not just something
that depends upon what the law is
and what public policies are.
Opportunity also depends upon the social conditions
in which people are raised,
the social and economic conditions.
So the child of a poor family that has no resources,
it doesn’t have the same opportunity
as a child of a wealthy family
to realize their full human potential.
You asked me, how can we tell whether or not
a difference in outcomes is a reflection
of unequal opportunity,
or it’s a reflection of differences in culture
and interest and practice?
And I don’t know that there’s a single answer
to that question,
but I think one wants to look at the data,
one wants to try to measure.
As a social scientist, I would say what you wanna do
is you wanna estimate the significance of various factors
for determining the outcome.
If the outcome is how much money does a person make
when they work in the labor market?
So you look at their wages and you think,
well, that depends upon a number of things.
It depends upon how educated they are,
what kind of skills they have,
what kind of work experience they have, and so on.
And those things are all legitimate factors
that might determine how much they end up making
in the labor market.
But you also wanna perhaps, controlling for those things,
see whether or not the fact that they are black
or they are Latino or whatever,
fact that they are male or that they are female,
the fact that they do or do not speak English
as their native language, this kind of thing,
whether those factors also are implicated
in determining how successful they are in the labor market.
And if you find that after you have controlled
for the things that are legitimately determining success
and failure in the labor market,
like skills and education and experience,
having controlled for those things,
the fact that a person is black or is a woman
or is an immigrant or is of Latino background
also affects their earnings,
then you might conclude that to that extent,
they’re not getting equal opportunity in the labor market,
that kind of idea.
But I wanna focus a little bit more here
on what we mean by opportunity
because it’s not just whether employers treat the worker
on a fair and even basis,
irregardless of the worker’s racial or ethnic background.
That’s one opportunity issue,
but that’s at the end of the development process.
They are now presenting themselves to the market,
trying to find work and being employed at this or that wage.
That’s the end of the line.
What about the developmental opportunity,
the opportunity to acquire skills in the first place?
That goes all the way back,
that goes all the way back to birth.
It even goes back to before birth.
Or the mother carrying the infant in the womb,
she has certain nutritional practices
as she might be smoking or drinking alcohol
or something like that.
I’m not saying she is, I’m not saying she isn’t,
I’m just saying whether she is or she isn’t
that will affect the development of the fetus.
The newborn, now there’s a question of environment.
There’s a question of the development
of their neurological potential.
Do they learn how to read?
Are they stimulated verbally?
How many words have they heard spoken?
Are they being nurtured in a home environment
so as to maximize the possibility
of them achieving their human potential?
What about the peer group influences?
What about the values and norms of the surrounding
human communities in which they’re embedded?
Do they encourage the young person
to apply themselves in a systematic way
to their studies and to their focus
on their acquisition of language command
and of their educational potential?
So development is not only something
that is controlled by the society’s practices,
it’s also something that is influenced
by the cultural background of the individual.
And those things are not equal.
Those things vary across groups in a very significant way.
And that too will be a factor
determining disparities of outcome.
So when I see outcomes that are different,
I see wealth holding that’s different.
I see educational achievement that’s different.
I see representation in the professional schools
and law school and medical school
that’s different between groups.
One question is are the institutions treating people fairly?
But another question is do the background
in social and cultural influences
equip people in the same way?
And we know that the answer to that,
not in every instance do they equip people in the same way.
And so it makes the judgment, the moral judgment
that we make when we see inequality of outcome complicated.
Inequality of outcome is a systemic factor to some degree,
but it is also a cultural factor to some degree,
I wanna say, and that’s controversial, I know.
A lot of people, they think of themselves
as being progressive.
They wanna point a finger at society
whenever they see a disparity.
But I think that that’s a mistake.
I think it misunderstands the difficulty of the problem.
You think that if you get the right law,
if you have the right public policy,
if the right politicians are elected to office,
suddenly those disparities will go away.
And I’m here to tell you that that’s a false hope.
And moreover, it is probably the wrong goal.
But I mean, we could go into that.
You were talking about affirmative action,
which is something else altogether.
And you were talking about me and my education,
which is also something that’s a little bit different.
And I’m happy to talk about those things.
Northwestern University, by the way, was a great university.
I’m just joking, it’s one of the great universities
of the world, yes.
And I studied mathematics at Northwestern University,
which is how I ended up at MIT in the first place.
And I got a very good technical training in mathematics
when I was at Northwestern, so.
You love both mathematics and human nature.
And so, which is why you ended up going into economics
at one of the great economics programs in the world at MIT
and getting your PhD there.
So one of the many hats you wear is that of an economist,
which allows you to think systematically and rigorously
about the way the world and the way humans work at scale.
Trying to remove the full mushy mess of humans,
like a psychology perspective, economics allows you to do.
Well, economics is one of the social sciences.
I think there’s value in psychology and in sociology.
There’s a lot to know that doesn’t come up
within the study of economics.
We study markets and the dynamics of economic development
and trade and so on.
But yeah, speaking personally, as I was coming along,
I was fascinated by mathematics.
I was good at it and ended up at Northwestern
and took a lot of courses there in functional analysis
and logic and mathematics and dynamical systems
and stuff that I ended up employing
in my graduate studies in economics.
But you’re right, I was not satisfied simply
to be proving theorems.
I wanted to be addressing issues of social significance
I discovered to my delight was a field of study
that allowed me both to develop
rigorous analytical frameworks,
modeling and precision of logical deduction
and inference on the one hand,
satisfying my mathematical interests,
but on the other hand,
could address questions of social significance
like why does racial inequality persist?
Why are some countries prospering and growing
and others less so?
Why do the prices of raw materials fluctuate
in the way that they do over time and so on and so forth?
And I ended up falling in love with the application
of mathematical analysis to the study of social issues.
What do you use beautiful about mathematics,
about mathematical puzzles, about logic,
all those kinds of things?
Because it’s still there.
The love for math is still there for you.
So is there something you could speak to?
What is the kernel, the flame of that love?
It’s like magic.
I mean, you know, being able to prove something
and I mean, you know, I think of offhand,
you know, there’s no largest prime number, okay?
So how would somebody know that?
Okay, what’s a prime number?
So a prime number is a number that has a whole number
that has no divisor other than one.
There are no divisors of the number
that makes it a prime number, like 13 or 19 or 37,
So they’re prime numbers.
There’s no largest prime number.
There are infinite number of prime numbers.
There’s no largest prime number, okay?
That’s an idea.
You can get your mind around it in an instant.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of depth to see the question.
There’s no largest prime number.
I wonder if prime numbers show up in economics.
I mean that.
Oh, they don’t show up in economics except cryptography.
I understand that’s important.
For code, you know, in coding stuff.
And that shows up in economics.
But in terms of models, probably not.
That’s, so prime numbers are little,
you know, in abstract algebra,
it’s like they show up in all these places
that are just like beautiful mathematical puzzles
that don’t immediately have an application,
but somehow maybe challenge you,
and as a result, push mathematics forward.
Like Fermat’s last theorem, you know,
as far as I know, no obvious real world application,
but it has challenged mathematicians
throughout the centuries.
And somehow indirectly progressed the field, but.
That the rational numbers are countable.
They can be put in one to one relationship
with the integers and, you know,
but that the real numbers are not countable
and there’s a lot more real, quote unquote,
more real numbers.
These are orders of infinity.
This is Cantor, Georg Cantor, and all that kind of stuff.
Or Gödel’s theorem, I studied this as an undergraduate,
you know, the incompleteness theorem
that there are propositions within any logical system
that’s rich enough to accommodate arithmetic.
There are going to be propositions
that you can formulate that are true,
but that you cannot prove to be true.
So the idea that you could systematically develop
a logical framework for mathematical inquiry
that could demonstrate the truth or falsity
of any proposition is not a feasible goal.
A feasible goal.
This was Hilbert’s project as I understand it
and Gödel showed that there was no hope ever
of being able to demonstrate the closure
of logical systems that were rich enough
to accommodate the real numbers.
They gave an existential crisis to all mathematicians
and scientists alike and humans
because maybe you can’t prove everything.
I remember, you know, when I was a junior college,
a community college student
before I transferred to Northwestern
and I took a calculus course and it was a lot of fun
and it was differentiating algebraic expressions
and integrating and using trigonometric substitutions
and it was a lot of simple problem solving.
I get to Northwestern,
I take a course in differential equations.
And again, it was a lot of formulaic applying
if you get a differential equation of this structure
like if it’s linear, you got exponentials, et cetera,
you can solve it.
And then I took a course that showed me, you know,
where the question was not how to solve
any particular functional expression,
but it was proving the existence of a solution
to a differential equation where it was like X dot equals
F of X and T and F is just some arbitrary function.
What do I have to assume about the function F
in order to know that there exists a solution
to the differential equation,
dx dt equals F of X and T.
And it’s basically, they called it a Lipschitz condition.
It’s a condition about the bounding of the slope
of the function F as a function of X that it doesn’t,
that you can sort of uniformly bound the slope
on that function and then you can use a iterative process
to show that the sequence of, you know, partial solutions
to the thing converges to something that’s a solution
to the real thing.
Anyway, again, I’m not gonna bore you
or pretend that I’m a mathematician, I’m not.
But what I’m saying is the difference
between a specific algebraic formula
that you can manipulate and solve on the one hand
and the abstract question of whether there exists
a solution in the general case is like a huge,
was like a huge step for me in my study of mathematics
and the techniques that you have to employ
to address these larger questions and so on.
So I, you know, when I was an undergraduate,
I took the first year PhD sequence in math analysis
at Northwestern from a brilliant mathematician
named Avner Friedman and learned about measure theory
and learned about some early functional analysis ideas
and when I saw that those ideas were being applied
by advanced study in economics, I was delighted.
I found an intellectual home.
So one of the fascinating challenges in mathematics
is to think how can you, which echoes
the challenge of economics, what are the properties
of an equation that allow you to say something profound
and say it simply?
And so the question of economics is how do you
construct a model where you can generalize nicely
and say something profound and say it simply?
So one of the questions, one of the challenges
of economics is macro versus microeconomics is,
you know, the world is made up of individuals.
So there’s a connection to this, our discussion
of race and discrimination and outcomes
and all those kinds of things.
The world is made up of individuals,
but in order to say something general,
we have to construct groups in order to analyze the data.
We have to aggregate that data somehow.
We have to make an average over some set of people.
So what are the pros and cons of looking at things
like equality of opportunity and equality of outcome
based on groups versus based on individuals
and what are the groups, if there’s any pros
to looking at groups that we should be looking at?
Okay, well, those are big questions.
I mean, in economics, you’re right.
I mean, micro, you have an account of how individuals
make decisions about spending their money
on this consumption side and about how enterprises
make decisions about what to produce, how much of it,
what inputs to use, what techniques of production
and so on, individual firms, individual consumers,
and then you want to aggregate.
So there’s a so called theory of general equilibrium
where you think supply and demand in a bunch of markets,
you think prices that move to equilibrate,
but you recognize that the price in one market
affects people’s behavior in another,
the markets are interacting with each other.
You realize that the behavior of one individual
affects the supplies and available resources
and for other individuals, so they’re knitted together
in some kind of systematic way.
And you want to try to demonstrate the fact
that notwithstanding all these interdependencies,
there exists a solution to the system of equations
that equates demand and supply
across all the different markets.
This is the existence of general equilibrium.
Then you want to try to say something about the properties
of an equilibrium, if it exists, is it efficient?
What do you mean by efficiency?
Well, the idea of so called Pareto efficient outcomes,
these are outcomes that cannot be uniformly improved upon,
everybody can’t be made better off
by an alternative outcome.
You want to demonstrate the efficiency
of competitive equilibrium.
What do you mean by competition?
You mean that people take their actions
to do the best for themselves that they can.
Profits of firms, well being of consumers,
they try to do the best for themselves that they can,
but they do so in reference to a set of prices
that they believe they cannot control.
That’s the criterion of competitive market circumstance.
So does a competitive equilibrium exist?
Do there exist a set of prices
which if everybody recognizes them as given
and responds to those prices on behalf of their own interest,
the outcome will be supply equaling demand
in all the markets where people are interacting
with one another, and that requires the use
of some concepts and topology, fixed point theorems
and whatnot that are familiar to mathematics,
not very deep mathematical results,
but important to economics.
That’s all about general equilibrium and whatnot.
But you ask about groups.
By the way, amazing whirlwind summary of all of economics,
but yes, go ahead, that was great.
Markets of competition of operator efficiency anyway,
but yes, groups.
And prices. And prices.
And by the way, there are some very beautiful
formalizations of everything that I’m saying here.
You end up in vector spaces,
you end up with sets of bundles of consumption
and production, you end up with convexity,
you end up with hyperplanes,
which are in this finite dimensional vector space,
which are all of the bundles that have the same value
at a certain price.
You end up with inner products.
It’s very pretty.
Yeah, but you almost forget that it’s just a bunch
of humans transacting with each other.
That markets are made up of individuals.
Markets are made up of individuals.
And in order to carry out this formalization,
you have to make assumptions about the individuals.
And the end result is true in a formal sense,
but may not be true as a representation of the reality,
because it depends upon assumptions
that themselves may not hold.
But at least you know what it is that has to be true
in order for your formal framework to be relevant,
which is already a step in the right direction, I think.
I mean, the formalization is better than the intuition.
There aren’t your intuition where we sit back
and we don’t really know exactly what we’re talking about
because we haven’t pinned it down in a precise way.
I’m in favor of the formalization.
People, they think, what is mathematics
and the social sciences?
After all, we’re dealing with people.
People are not automata.
I agree with that.
But the analysis of the interaction of people,
I think, to be rigorous, requires us to be specific
about what we’re talking about, about markets,
about consumers, about firms, about profits,
about technology, about preferences.
And that’s the language of economics.
But people’s behavior depends upon what they seek in life,
depends upon their goals and their objectives.
Those things are at play.
They can be pushed this way or that.
So, I mean, nationalism,
fighting and dying for your country,
religion, sacrificing on behalf of some abstract ideal
of the good or of what is the human situation
and what is the meaning of life.
Economists have to assume that these things
are some particular thing
before they can turn the crank on their machine
to analyze the outcomes of human interaction.
And yet these things, belief in my identity,
but the things that I’m willing to sacrifice and die
for purposes of life that I affirm
and pass on to my children are important preconditions
for actually carrying out any economic analysis.
And they are subject to manipulation and to change over time.
And that’s not something that economics
has a whole lot to say about.
Well, is there some general things
that are really powerful in terms of,
you said nation, religion, those are groups.
Can you group people nicely
in helping you understand human nature?
So group them into nations based on their citizenry.
That’s geography, right?
The geographic location of your birth
or your long term residence, or maybe religious belief,
what religion you believe over time.
Is there groups like that?
And then race, is that useful?
What are the pros and cons of looking at outcomes
based on these kinds of groups, race in particular?
I think they’re pros and I think they’re cons.
I mean, I am myself, Glenn Loury sits before you right now,
a black American, an African American.
I quote unquote, I identify as,
that’s the way they talk about it nowadays.
I identify as a black American.
My skin is brown, my hair is coarse, my nose is broad,
relative to the way other people’s noses look.
My lips are thicker.
That’s a consequence of my ancestral descent
from the human population resident in the African continent
in millennia past, my race.
Here in the United States,
we have various quote unquote races defined crudely
in the way that I just tried to define myself.
You could say, and I think there is a very powerful argument
that these are superficial differences.
I mean, really?
Why should it matter that your eye color
or your hair color or the shape of the bones in your face
or the color, the tone of your skin,
the amount of melanin,
how it is that you react to ultraviolet radiation
in terms of your skin, what is that the basis of anything?
I mean, that’s arbitrary, that’s not meaningful.
Could there really be meaning
in these superficial differences among human beings?
Isn’t that a archaic or barbaric way
of thinking about ourselves,
to look at each other’s skin color or hair texture
and then to decide, oh, that’s a black or that’s a white
or that’s a Latin or that’s an Asian or that’s a whatever.
That’s something that we should outgrow, a person might say.
That’s a relic of a kind of tribal society
of a kind of pre modern society
where we built real structure
on the basis of such superficial difference.
A person could say that.
On the other hand, I am a black American.
I mean, that’s part of my identity,
that’s part of my heritage,
it’s part of the stories that I tell myself
about who my people are.
Why do I need a people?
Why do I need a narrative of descent
in which I affiliate with a racially defined people?
Do I really need that?
I mean, I think that’s an important question.
In fact, this is a confession, think of myself as black.
I could think of myself as simply human.
I could not identify specifically as black.
I could say, my eyes are brown too, so what?
I’m a brown eye?
I mean, I’m gonna invent a group based on my eye color.
I weigh 290 pounds.
I’m gonna have a body size group.
I’m a plus 200 and that’s quote, who I am, close quote.
I don’t do that.
I came from Chicago.
Yes, I do have a certain sense of affinity with my hometown.
I’m a Chicago born person,
but frankly, I haven’t lived in Chicago since 1979.
That’s a long time.
I wear my Chicago origins very, very lightly.
I would not go to war with someone from Cleveland
or St. Louis and fight to the death
with that St. Louis person or that Cleveland person
based upon the fact that we come from different cities.
And you have even abandoned in your heart
the Chicago Bulls.
There’s some Chicago that’s still in me, I suppose,
but it’s not very deep.
It’s not quote, who I am anymore.
And I’m wondering, here I’m trying to pose the question,
why is it that being a descendant of African slaves
should be who I am?
So there’s some answers.
One answer is people will look at me
and deal with me differently based upon what they see.
I don’t have control over that.
I’m going to be perceived as a member of a group,
whether or not I elect to affiliate myself
with that group or not.
Therefore, I need to be mindful of the fact
that regardless of what my internal orientation is,
the world will perceive me in a particular way
and will perceive me differently
based upon the color of my skin.
So a police officer who stops me at two o clock
in the morning because my tail light is out
and ask me for my automobile registration
and I reach quickly to the glove compartment
to get my registration.
And the police officer says, show me your hands.
And I don’t quite hear what he says
or I ignore what he says as I’m getting my document
out of my glove compartment.
But the police officer thinks because I have not responded
to his demand to show my hands
that I might be reaching for a weapon.
And the police officer sees that I’m black
and fears that the likelihood that I might have a weapon
is higher because in that town at that time,
a lot of the people who get stopped with weapons in their car
happen to be black and male and so on.
And he pulls his weapon and he discharges it
and I’m bleeding out there and I’m dead now.
And all of that is a possibility that’s very real
and it’s based upon the color of my skin.
And therefore, when he stops me,
I keep my hands on the steering wheel
and I don’t go to the glove compartment.
And I’m fearful of the fact that he might mistake me
for a criminal, et cetera.
Or I walk into a high end store, clothing store.
I see you’re nicely dressed there, Lex.
I’m not, but that’s okay.
I do have some good clothes at home.
I just didn’t wear them here today.
But you know what I mean.
And the salesman in the clothing store
either treats me like an old friend
and is warm and welcoming.
And what can I do for you, sir?
And let me show you this and that.
And what are you looking for?
Because he thinks I’m gonna spend $1,000 there that day
and he’s gonna get a 5% commission or whatever it is.
And he either does that or he ignores me
and looks at me with suspicion
and thinks I might be trying to shoplift something
or thinks I’m only gonna spend $50 and not $500
and therefore I’m not worth his time.
And I’m aware of the fact
that when I go into the clothing store,
especially the high end places where I can buy a good suit
or buy some really good dress shirts or slacks
that fit me well and so on,
I’m aware of the fact that I may not be taken seriously
by the salesman based upon the fact
that he’s looking at me and he sees a black person.
And therefore I dress up
before I go out to buy clothes to get,
cause I wanna present myself
as not someone who just walked in off the street,
but as one of those black people
who is really prepared to spend some money in the store
so that I can be treated with respect.
And I have to carry the burden such as it is
of knowing that I need to earn the being taken seriously
being taken seriously by overcoming the suppositions
that people may have about me
based upon the color of my skin, something like that.
Or I ask myself, what am I gonna teach my children
about who they are and where they come from?
What stories am I gonna tell them about their ancestors?
Who are their ancestors?
Every African American has European ancestors.
Every black person in the United States of America,
I think that I can say that almost without exception.
We could go to 23andMe and look at the DNA.
They have European ancestors, they’re not purely African.
That’s a fact and that’s a consequence
of the experience of African descended people
because it’s a mixed population.
My name is Lowry, spelled L O U R Y
but pronounced as if it were L O W E R Y.
And I gather if you trace the history of that name
that it’s Scottish.
So somewhere back then.
So you could identify as a Scot.
Well, or I could claim some Scottish descent, but I don’t.
I don’t know who those ancestors are.
And frankly, I don’t know who my enslaved ancestors are.
I can’t trace my family history back very far
into the 19th century.
So what stories do I tell my children about who we are,
about who their ancestors are?
I mean, I wanna tell my children some story
and that story is gonna be colored, quote unquote,
by my race.
So even though it is superficial
and in an ideal world, you might think,
why would human beings, I mean, I read science fiction.
So there’s this Chinese writer, Chixin Liu is his name.
I might not pronounce it exactly right, C I X I N L I U.
Chixin Liu, he has a trilogy of The Three Body Problem,
The Dark Forest, and Death’s End.
Those are the three books of Chixin Liu’s trilogy
about how Trisolaris, which is another star system
within a few light years of the solar system,
and Earth get into a conflict.
And when the Trisolaris come down to dominate Earth,
suddenly all of these differences between the Chinese
and the North Americans and the Europeans
and the Africans and the South Asians
become kind of insignificant because after all,
the Trisolaris with their advanced civilization
whose star system is dying,
have their eyes on the solar system,
which has a planet, the third rock from the sun
that is pretty habitable and the difference between us
become pretty insignificant.
So we shouldn’t need for an invasion
by extraterrestrial beings to have to happen
before we would recognize the common humanity
that we all share that is profound and is deep.
We all descend in effect from the same ancestral population
of Homo sapiens who walked out of East Africa eons ago
and have survived amongst all of the different possible
variations of species and whatnot,
of humanoid population, the Homo sapiens have flourished,
the others have died out and here we are
and we can just look at the genetic endowments
that characterize our biological essence
and we can see that we are quote unquote
the same beneath the skin
and yet we end up freighting so much weight
onto these superficial differences.
So I can see both sides of the issue is what I’m saying.
I can see the argument race is an irrelevancy
because at the end of the day, deep down it is.
But I can also see the argument
that I hold on to racial identity because A,
my racial presentation colors how other people deal with me
but B, because everybody needs a story.
Everybody needs an account.
You tell me you’re Jewish.
I mean, I don’t know how deep that is.
I don’t know how genetically profound that is.
I do know that it’s a culturally profound identity
for a lot of people based upon maybe some of the same
kind of forces that I’m talking about.
A, they won’t let you not be Jewish.
You could say you’re not Jewish
but when Hitler is rounding people up,
what you say doesn’t have a whole lot to do
with what the Gestapo was about.
And B, you need to tell your children a story.
That’s the fascinating thing about this tribalism
that you spoke about that we form tribes as humans
throughout human history, form tribes
and have directed hate toward other tribes
and sometimes violence and destruction.
And yet tribalism allows you to tell a story
to your children, allows you to grow a culture.
There’s something about defining yourself
within a particular tribe that allows you
to have a tradition.
You have an article that you wrote
called The Case for Black Patriotism.
So I should also say it’s so interesting
because for me personally, I feel, identify as,
believe I am an American.
And yet within the American umbrella,
it feels that there’s a longing for other tribes.
You mentioned Jewish but what I honestly feel is,
I mean a lot of it is humor and culture and so on
is Russian and Ukrainian because that’s where I come from.
That’s where my family is from.
You know, there’s like stereotypical things
that are funny, humorous type of thing about Russians
that’s showing no emotion, good at chess and math,
into wrestling, drinking vodka.
I mean, there’s literally every single stereotype.
I’m in the embodiment of that.
So there’s a, you celebrate that in certain kinds of ways.
There’s a tradition there within the American umbrella
and some of it is humor, some of it is little quirks
of culture but now with the war in Russia and Ukraine,
interestingly enough, even that little thing,
it becomes also a source of negative tribalism.
But anyway, that context aside, what is black patriotism
and why do you feel?
I mean, I’m speaking in an article called
The Case for Black Patriotism in a Particular Context
and what I’m saying basically is very simple.
I’m saying we are African Americans
and the emphasis should be on the American.
I actually don’t even much care
for the framing African American
but I’m not gonna fight with people about it.
It’s, I don’t think it’s worth fighting about.
That’s not how, I would just say we’re Americans
or if you want, we’re black Americans.
We’re certainly not African.
That is the African American population
is a population of people who come into existence
here in North America through the cauldron of slavery.
There are also immigrants, immigrants from East Africa,
immigrants from West Africa, immigrants from Southern Africa,
immigrants from the Caribbean who descend
from an ancestral population which is African.
The history of the world since 1500 is a history
in which people of African descent are scattered
because of slavery throughout the Western hemisphere.
And so here we are.
But the institution of slavery ended in 1863
in the United States.
The struggle that we started out talking about
which gave rise to Martin Luther King giving that speech
that you say is the greatest speech in American history
and I’m not gonna argue with you about that,
happened right here in the United States.
We are, what is the United States?
The United States is a nation of immigrants.
The population of the North American continent
was sparsely populated by an indigenous population
which was destroyed in conquest by a European population
that settled here in North America and appropriated the land
and have built a civilization here
which has been peopled by a large influx of immigrants
of individuals from Europe, Irish and Italian
and Greek and Slavic and Jewish, Russian Jews
coming in large numbers and so on
and wave after wave after wave of immigration,
Asian, Latin American population of people
who have come to reside here in the United States
and we black Americans who descend from slaves.
We African Americans who descend from slaves.
So here we are.
This is a great nation.
I mean, this is a monumentally significant political force
which is the United States of America founded in 1776, 1787
fought a war of independence from the British,
established a republic which is a confederation
of these independent colonies
which has grown into now the 50 states
of the United States of America, continental nation.
The richest and most powerful nation on the planet
with massive influence throughout the world
for good and for ill.
That’s who we are, I wanna say to black people.
There is no other home for us.
This fantasy of we being a people apart
back in the day when I was coming along in the 1960s,
there was something called
the Republic of New Africa Movement
and they wanted some states in the South
given over to black people
and we were gonna have our own country.
And that’s a joke, it’s a fantasy.
It’s a mythic, unbalanced,
the unrealistic fanciful politics.
It’s not a serious politics.
We’re Americans, we’re not going anywhere here.
The idea that, and I wanna say this
in a number of different registers,
I wanna say first of all,
we need to make peace with the fact
that that’s who we are and that’s where we are.
So nobody is coming, the world court
is not gonna litigate our disputes.
The United Nations is not gonna set up a desk
for people of African descent who reside in North America.
We have to work out whatever our concerns are
with our fellow Americans right here
within the context of American politics.
That means compromise.
That means looking for a framework for political expression
which is broader than our racial identity, et cetera.
So I wanna say that.
But I also wanna say there’s no reason
to apologize for this.
There’s something positive to affirm.
I take on this question about slavery in brief,
because in fact, slavery was awful and it was wrong
and it was on the backs of the enslaved Africans
and it had consequences that have endured
long after the termination of the thing.
But I also wanna say, look at what has happened
in the last 150 years for African Americans.
And I wanna say, look at the vitality
of the institutions here in the United States of America,
of the Democratic Republic of the United States of America.
Again, not perfect, which are malleable enough,
these institutions to allow for the transformation
of the status of African Americans
such as has occurred since the end of slavery.
And I wanna say there’s a lot to celebrate in that.
So this is our country.
We are full members of the polity.
We have burdens and responsibilities
as well as privileges that are associated
with our membership in this Republic.
That does not mean that we should not fight
for what we believe to be right,
although we are not one voice here, we black Americans.
It does not mean that we should not protest things
that we think are deserving of protest.
But I wanna say, it does mean that we should not reject
the framework that we’re operating in
because we basically don’t have any alternative.
And because when viewed in full context,
a noble and profoundly significant achievement,
the United States of America and a beacon
to the rest of the world, I don’t wanna go off
in some starry eyed kind of jingoistic celebration
of America as the greatest civilization, et cetera, et cetera.
But this great nation is our nation.
And I think we do best by beginning,
we black Americans do best by beginning,
this is my argument in the piece,
by beginning from a framework which accepts that fact
and then builds on it.
So black patriotism is, if not exactly the same,
rhymes, echoes American patriotism.
So a black American is first and foremost an American.
Yeah, a black American is first and foremost an American
and it’s a good thing too.
Let me return to the question of Dr. King
and another powerful, impactful individual, Malcolm X,
to ask you the question.
Well, first, people often perhaps inaccurately portray them
as representing two different ideals, approaches
to the fight for civil rights.
So Martin Luther King for the nonviolent approach,
the peacemaker, and Malcolm X is the by any means necessary.
What do you think about this distinction?
And broadly speaking, in black patriotism,
in the future of black Americans in the 21st century,
what is the role of anger?
What is the role of protest?
Even violence encompasses a lot of things,
but just aggression and the fuck the man,
we’re going to have to make change, force change.
Okay, I think you put your finger on something
really important in the context of,
we were just discussing my black patriotism essay.
It’s not the only story.
There is another story and Malcolm X is someone
you identify and his memory lives on
and is powerfully influential.
And I think you see it in Black Lives Matter,
and I think you see it in the protest and rioting
and so forth that has broken out periodically
going all the way back to the 1960s and before,
but especially since the 1960s.
You saw it in Los Angeles in 1992,
the Rodney King civil disturbances
that broke out there and the balled up fist,
the radical afrocentric rejection
of the American story that Martin Luther King,
he believed in.
He believed in a magnificent promissory note.
And a lot of people are rolling their eyes
and saying, as you say,
fuck the man, magnificent promissory note.
I mean, just get your knee off my neck.
That’s what you can do for me.
Don’t ask me to believe in your BS
about some magnificent promissory note,
some founding fathers who were all slave owners anyway.
I mean, just get your knee off my neck.
Now, I can relate to that.
As I mentioned, I grew up in Chicago in the 1950s
and the 1960s.
I remember Malcolm X, I mean, literally in real time.
I remember when he was murdered in 1965
in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem,
in Manhattan, in New York City.
I remember my uncle, I was raised in a house
where my aunt and uncle were the master of the house.
And my mother and my sister and I lived
in a small apartment upstairs in the back
of this big house that my successful aunt and uncle owned.
And my uncle was a small businessman,
a barber and a tradesman.
He was a hustler.
I mean, legally, he did what he had to do to make money.
He was a very enterprising, not especially well educated,
but a very intelligent and disciplined
and resourceful provider for his family,
which included myself, my sister,
and my mother in their household.
And we called him Uncle Mooney
because he had moon shaped eyes
that protruded and were round.
Uncle Mooney, James Ellis was his name.
Uncle Mooney, James Ellis Lee was my Uncle Mooney.
But I’m saying all that to say this.
He admired the nation of Islam.
I mean, King and Malcolm X,
Martin King and Malcolm X differed
along a number of different dimensions.
Malcolm X was a Muslim.
And Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian minister.
My Uncle Mooney didn’t have any time
for these Christian ministers.
He thought that was the white man’s religion.
And back in that day, you’d go into a black church
and you’d see a portrait of Jesus
and he’d be blonde hair, blue eyed.
He didn’t even look like a Mediterranean.
I mean, he didn’t look like somebody who came from Palestine.
I mean, he looked like somebody who came
from Northern Europe or something like that,
the picture of Jesus.
And my Uncle Mooney rejected that whole thing.
He would be damned if he was gonna bend his knee
to some white Jesus.
But he was not a Muslim either.
But he respected the Muslims.
He brought home their newspaper.
It was called Muhammad Speaks.
This is the nation of Islam,
which is the black Muslim movement
founded in American cities in Detroit and then Chicago,
going back to the early middle 20th century
and growing into a very significant movement
that had a lot of influence,
Louis Farrakhan and controversial figure
descends from this movement.
It has fractured now
and has the major part of the legacy of the black Muslims
has assimilated itself into Islam proper.
Malcolm X made a famous pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina
and came back with a very different vision
about what it meant to be a Muslim
and understood himself to be a part of the large tradition
and religious culture of Islam that has a global reach.
And he had a different vision when he came back from that.
Some people say that’s why he was killed and so on.
I don’t know.
I certainly find that to be plausible
that he became the constituted threat to the sect,
which was the black Muslims
and had to be dealt with.
I don’t know if we’ll ever know the full story on that.
But anyway, what I’m trying to say is
the black Muslims were there, Malcolm X was there.
And in my experience,
they constituted a counterpoint to the position of king,
which depended on a kind of respect
for the best of the tradition of American democracy,
appealing to the better nature of our oppressors,
live up to the full meaning of our creed.
I mean, these are words that he would use.
A magnificent promissory note is what he would think of
as the declaration of independence
and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln,
a unfulfilled ideal.
And the black Muslims were like, fuck that.
We’re gonna take care of our own.
We’re gonna build our own schools.
We’re gonna build our own businesses.
We’re not waiting for the white man to do anything.
Get your knee off my neck and get out of my way
and let me take care of my own.
And my uncle respected that.
He respected the straight back,
the stand up straight with your shoulders back.
That’s a Jordan Peterson.
But I mean, that was way before Jordan Peterson,
but that was his philosophy.
Stand up straight, but just raise your children.
Don’t be depending upon welfare.
You’re taking welfare from the white man.
You need to get busy.
You need to educate yourself.
You need to clean up your act.
Put down the fried chicken because it’s gonna kill you.
My uncle Mooney loved this book that Elijah Muhammad,
they called him the honorable Elijah Muhammad,
who was the founder and the leader of the nation of Islam.
He had a book and all the book said was,
be smart, eat green vegetables, don’t eat fried food.
Don’t eat pork.
Don’t eat pork and take responsibility for your diet
and be healthy.
And don’t be putting a whole lot of pills into your body.
You don’t need to do that
if you just get control of your diet
and you eat properly.
My uncle loves this idea of responsibility for self
and a determination to build.
He respected that in the Muslims,
even if he didn’t buy the religious part of it.
And so, and by the way, when my uncle died in 1983,
he left me a bequest.
It wasn’t money, unfortunately.
It was his complete collection
of the recorded speeches of Malcolm X.
And I have these albums.
These are 33 and a third LPs.
There’s six of them.
And I have a complete collection,
as best as my uncle could assemble,
of the recorded speeches of Malcolm X.
Now, why did he do that?
He did that because he did not want me to forget.
Don’t be dependent upon the white man.
Build your own.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Proud black man, take care of your business.
Take care of your children.
Pick up the trash in front of your house.
This was this philosophy.
So violence now, that’s another story.
I mean, Malcolm X would say,
we’re gonna defend ourselves.
You’re gonna mess with us,
you racist Ku Klux Klan or whatever.
We’re gonna arm ourselves and we’re gonna fight you back.
You racist police who are oppressing
and persecuting and abusing our people,
well, you better be ready
because we’re gonna fight you back.
And that too was the spirit that my uncle,
that was a kind of attitude, a kind of posture.
My uncle was not a radical.
He was a businessman, but he respected this idea.
You take your life in your own hands when you mess with us
because we’re prepared to defend ourselves.
So that blood runs in you too.
That thread is, when you write about black patriotism,
that thread is there too.
It’s like you embody both the ideal that we’re all American,
but also that there is this oppressive history.
There is the powerful that are manipulating you,
that are oppressing you, and you can’t just wait around
for things to fix themselves.
You have to take action.
You have to take things into your own hands.
And sometimes that means being angry.
Sometimes that means being violent.
That’s there too.
Yeah, it’s there, but here, and the but is,
I don’t, me today, Glenn Loury in 2022,
think that that is the answer.
I don’t think that violent rebellion gets us anywhere
at the end of the day.
I think we’re past that.
There aren’t Knight Rider, Ku Klux Klan,
people breaking down your door and dragging you away.
There are not nooses thrown over a tree limb
where you hang somebody from the tree
because they whistled at a white woman
or they got too much property in your community
and you became, they were uppity Negroes
and whatnot like that.
That is a thing of the past in America
that the situation is no longer the one
that requires that kind of violent reaction
and that there is, if we look at the net effect
of the so called rebellions in American cities,
The George Floyd protests, which became violent
and arsonists in the aftermath of civil disturbance
and whatnot in the summer of 2020,
I think set back the program for African Americans.
I don’t think it advanced it.
I think there are things to be concerned about,
schools that are not working,
police that are not respecting citizens and so forth.
But I think that those are things
that affect white Americans as well
and that the way to ultimately correct those things
is to make alliance and associate oneself
with Americans who are concerned to change these things.
And I don’t think it’s properly framed
as a racial problem.
I certainly don’t think that violent rebellion
gets us anywhere.
I get the historical salience of that posture
and it made a lot of sense
in the early and the mid 20th century.
I don’t think it makes very much sense at all
in the early 21st century.
Well, thank you for allowing me for a brief moment
to try to channel your Uncle Mooney
and maybe Malcolm X in this conversation
as we look forward to the 21st century.
You mentioned that in part,
you’re troubled by the term African American.
So words are funny things until they’re not.
So let me ask you about what I think
is one of the most powerful and controversial words
in the English language, the N word.
So this is a word that I can’t say
that only certain people have the right to say.
I have a friend, Joe Rogan, who has,
what would you say, there was mass pushback
or highlighting of the fact that he didn’t just say N word
but said the full word many times
throughout his conversations
when referring to, in a meta way,
about the power of words,
especially when related to certain comedians
using those words.
What do you think about this word?
Is it empowering?
Is it destructive?
What is it?
What does it mean for race in America?
What does it mean that people like Joe Rogan
were essentially, there’s an attack to cancel him
for using the word?
Just as a scholar of human nature,
what do you think about this whole thing?
This is a phenomenon that interests me.
The N word, nigger, I can say it because I’m black.
But I mean, I can also say it because I like hip hop.
And when I listen to hip hop, I hear the word all the time.
These niggas ain’t, you know,
you better watch out for these, et cetera.
I heard the word constantly as I was growing up
as a boy and a young man in Chicago.
Niggas ain’t shit.
That was said.
That was, you know,
and that could be a reflection of some kind of pathology
within the African American community of self hatred
and so forth.
It could be, or it could just be a colloquial linguistic way.
I mean, I assume other groups also have their various,
I don’t know how the Irish talk about their Irish brothers
and, you know, whatever.
And I don’t know how the Jews talk about
the Jewish brothers and whatever.
But black people, when talking about other black people
use the N word all the time.
My nigger, N I G G A, you know, my nigger.
That is a term of endearment.
My friend, Randall Kennedy,
the law professor at Harvard University
has a book called Nigger.
And he uses the word in the title of the book,
the history of a strange history of a provocative word.
At some point there’s a subtitle,
but the title of the book is N I G G E R colon.
And then he has a subtitle.
I think, of course, the use of the word as a slur
and an insult, which is a part of the history
of black people in the United States,
the use of the word by the Southern racist segregationist,
we don’t want no niggers up in here.
Yall, you know, niggers have no place in my restaurant,
in my store, et cetera.
That’s meant to be an insult.
It’s an insult to people.
It’s a fighting word.
It’s a way that you say that to somebody.
It’s a invitation for conflict.
That said, what is it that about this particular word
and also the asymmetry of it,
that do you think it’s empowering
to the black community to own a word?
My honest answer to you is I don’t know.
I don’t fully understand it.
It has become symbolic in a way.
And the policing of the use of the word,
I can say it, but white people can’t say it.
I can say it.
I’m not a racist.
I’m not a self hating black.
I’m just speaking the language of colloquial English
that has emerged amongst African Americans
in which that word plays a big role.
But the prohibition on its use by others.
And of course, in the Joe Rogan case,
it wasn’t as if he was calling anybody an N word.
He was simply pointing out that people had said stuff
in which the N word was a part of what they said.
Now, he did make the statement about,
how did he put it?
The planet of the apes,
that one of the offensive things that he said,
he walked into a room,
there’s a bunch of black guys standing around.
He says, like planet of the apes.
He said it’s like Africa, planet of the apes.
Yeah, he should have been a little bit more careful.
That was an insult.
That was something that if you say that
and people are offended,
they have a right to be offended.
And if you didn’t mean to offend them,
you can apologize.
And he did apologize.
I accept his apology.
Joe’s okay with me as far as that goes.
In fact, John McWhorter and I at the podcast that I do,
The Glenn Show, had a conversation,
part of which touched on the Joe Rogan phenomenon.
And we concluded he didn’t really do anything wrong.
I mean, you can like or you can hate him or whatever,
but the idea that he’s a racist is kind of ridiculous.
So frankly, I mean, if that’s your test
of what constitutes a racist, the utterance of the word,
then it’s kind of silly as far as I’m concerned.
What do you think about the rigorous testing of people
to the degree they’re racist or not?
The accusation of racism being a way to attack,
to bully, to divide.
So what are the pros and cons of that once again?
Because it does reveal the assholes and the racists,
but it can hurt people who are not.
Well, I think we have a history here in the United States
of blatant racism that goes back a long way.
And that has present day echoes.
So there are racists.
I mean, there are people who will look and see,
oh, those are black people.
They’re patronizing this business.
I don’t wanna patronize this business anymore.
Who if their daughter or their son is dating somebody
that is black, they will say,
I really wish you wouldn’t do that.
I mean, why are you hanging out with those people?
Don’t you know who they are?
There are people, there are racists, okay?
There are black racists.
That is black people who see somebody who’s white
and who then invoke a whole lot of stereotypes or whatever,
or have a visceral dislike based upon nothing
other than the color of the person’s skin.
Such people exist.
Racism is a real thing, et cetera.
On the other hand, I think this,
throwing around the accusation of racism,
a college professor is teaching a course.
He says in the context of teaching the course
that the underrepresentation of blacks
in physics program at this university
is because they score lower on the test than other groups
and they’re not qualified.
So say the professor gives a lecture and he says,
we don’t have more blacks in the physics department
at this university because there are not enough
Somebody in the classroom who hears that,
a black student, objects.
He’s a racist, okay?
That’s a power move.
It’s a move to try to control the conversation.
It’s not an argument, it’s an epithet.
You’ve said that a person who has a particular idea
that you don’t like, maybe that idea is,
I’m against affirmative action, I think it’s unfair.
I was just with Dorian Abbott.
Dorian Abbott is a scientist at the University of Chicago
who published a piece in Newsweek magazine
in which he said that he thought affirmative action
and racial balancing was unethical.
He was invited to give a lecture at MIT,
a very distinguished lecture in his field
based on planetary science.
I don’t know exactly what it is.
I’m not a scientist.
But in any case, because he had said
that he didn’t like affirmative action
and he thought affirmative action was racist,
that’s basically what he said.
Why are we looking at people based upon their race
and decide we should just do it on the merit?
That was his position.
Now, people protesting at the university
where he was invited, MIT, saying that he’s a racist
because he had that opinion.
He gets disinvited.
Charles Murray is a popular social science writer
who is famous for his book about IQ, The Bell Curve,
one chapter of which chronicles the racial differences
between black and white in performance
on mental ability tests and speculates about the extent
to which such differences may be connected
with the genetic inheritance of these racially diverse people.
Now, he could be wrong about everything that he’s saying.
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a white supremacist
because he observes that there are racial differences
in measured intellectual ability amongst Americans
of different racial descent.
He could be wrong.
Let me stipulate that he is wrong.
I mean, I don’t wanna argue about whether he’s right
I don’t wanna argue about whether he’s right
or about whether he’s wrong.
He’s addressing himself to a factual issue.
And now the issue becomes instead of grappling
with the factual questions at hand
and demonstrating his rightness or wrongness
about those questions, the issue becomes his character.
He’s a racist.
That’s, in my mind, a lot like calling him a witch.
And the use of that word now, I think,
has parallels to accusing people of witchcraft
because they have views about substantive questions
that bear on racial inequality or racial difference
that a person finds unacceptable
or that a person disagrees with.
And you think you can shut somebody up.
Crime in the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore,
Philadelphia, Washington, DC is out of control,
some person might say.
Murder rate is high.
Who’s committing those crimes?
They’re mostly black young men who are doing the carjackings
and who are doing the shootings.
They’re killing each other.
They’re making our city unlivable.
Now, that’s a hypothetical statement that I offer.
It might be correct, it might be incorrect.
It might be appropriate, it might be inappropriate.
It may be true, but something that we would be better off
if people didn’t focus on, I don’t know.
Responding to someone making that statement,
have you seen what has happened to my city?
It used to be that you could go to North Michigan Avenue
and you could find one after another
after another high end shop.
This is in Chicago, my hometown.
And tourists would come and they’d go to the theater
and there were restaurants and they’d go out.
They don’t do it anymore.
You know what?
Half of those stores are boarded up now.
You know why?
Because when George Floyd was killed,
black people mobbed in the city and they burnt
and they rioted and they looted
and it hasn’t been the same ever since.
And I’m moving to the suburbs.
I’ll be damned if I’m gonna send my children
to those schools.
A person could say that.
They might be right, they might be wrong to say it.
Calling them a racist is exactly not
a rebuttal of what they said.
It’s a move.
It’s a move to try to take control of the conversation
by accusing someone of having bad character
because they said something that made you uncomfortable,
which you can’t deal with.
So you think you can shut them up by calling them a racist.
You might as well be calling them a witch.
You might as well be calling for their head on a platter
because they believe that Satan is Lord
because that’s the kind of quote argument, close quote,
which is precisely not an argument
that people who invoke that term are using.
And here’s what I have to say about that.
It’s a fool’s errand to try to refute somebody
by calling them a witch.
Likewise, it’s a fool’s errand to try to rebut
the contrary forces in American politics
that are a reaction often to real things
that are going on on the ground in black communities
in the cities across this country
by calling people a racist.
You may shut them up, but you won’t change their minds.
And you know what?
At the end of the day, they’re gonna go to the ballot box
and they’re gonna vote.
They’re gonna pick up their store
and they’re gonna move it to the other side of town
or to another town altogether.
They’re gonna keep their children away
from places where they think the influences
are harmful to those children.
They may not even talk about it in public.
You can believe that in private
that they’re talking about it with each other.
You had better find a more effective way
of dealing with the conflicts in this country
that fall along racial fault lines
than calling people witches,
which is what this, you know, anti racist,
you’re a racist because you think
that the out of wedlock birth rate amongst black Americans
is seven babies out of 10 are born
to a woman without a husband.
Their families are falling apart.
Now, no one says that in public
because they’d be called a racist
if they said it in public.
But as a matter of fact, the families are falling apart.
You didn’t change that in the least
by telling people to shut up about it.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan is called a racist
in the 1960s, the late Senator,
the New York Senator who was a federal employee
and an intellectual writing reports
and he writes a report about the Negro family,
he called it in those years.
If I use the word Negro,
now they’re gonna call me a racist if I’m a white person.
I can’t even use the word Negro,
which is a historically legitimate reference
to the descendants of the enslaved people,
which we were as black Americans proud to use until yesterday.
So all of this linguistic policing is a sign of weakness.
It’s false black power.
People will seed you the ground.
Okay, you don’t want me to use that word?
I won’t use that word anymore.
Okay, you don’t want me to talk about that in public?
All right, I won’t talk about it in public anymore.
I don’t wanna be called a racist, okay?
So I won’t express my opinion.
You haven’t changed anybody’s mind.
And you’ve also mentioned that for that,
you haven’t changed anybody’s mind,
but also for things like in universities and institutions,
there’s a diversity inclusion
and equity kind of meetings and education and so on.
And I believe I read somewhere,
I’ve been, like I mentioned to you offline,
big fan of your Glenn show, people should listen to it.
There’s also just interviews of you that I’ve listened to.
I believe you mentioned somewhere
that even those kinds of meetings,
people might sit through and nod along,
but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s making progress,
that they may actually be bottling up a frustration.
The fear is that that’s going to result
in a pendulum sort of push back towards this idea
of forced appreciations, like forced anti racism kind of thing.
I talk about this often in my podcast,
that’s the Glenn show, you can find the Glenn show
on my YouTube channel and also at Substack.
Yeah, you have a great Substack.
You and your friend do Q and As
and all that kind of stuff on Patreon.
So yeah, so people should definitely follow you.
It’s a brilliant conversation.
Check us out.
But yeah, I mean, one concern is that the policing,
the superficial policing,
this is a part of political correctness,
the insistence that you only use certain words,
that you only talk in a certain way,
is a phony kind of power
because it doesn’t actually persuade people
about the issues that are at hand.
Instead, it forces them underground
in their talk about these issues,
and that’s problematic.
Much better that we have overt and explicit
and honest disagreement
to the extent that there are disagreement
about things that are going on
than that we have a superficial kind of conversation
that is purged of any real biting,
discomforting confrontation with the realities
of the situation at hand.
And for black Americans,
I think one big part of the reality
of the situation at hand is violent crime, violent crime.
A police officer is afraid when he stops the car
because it’s an 18 year old driver in the vehicle.
He’s got dreadlocks.
He’s a black person.
The car doesn’t have the right license plate.
He’s afraid to deal with that person.
And one of the reasons he’s afraid to deal with them
is because a few who look like him are behaving violently.
Their violence is usually perpetrated
against others who look like themselves, but not always.
And that reality doesn’t get changed
by telling a newspaper writer who writes about it
that they are racist or enforcing within a newsroom.
You can’t cover that story in that way
because to do so would be racist.
I think it’s a monumental mistake
to enforce a closure on public discussion
based upon a calculation that if we allow people,
if Twitter allows this kind of post,
if the Washington Post runs this kind of story, et cetera,
you end up with a superficial politeness,
a superficial politeness,
but a subterranean seething resentment
that only makes matters worse.
If I can get your comment, maybe you have ideas
because it does seem that this kind of attack works
of being called a racist, being called, maybe not sexist,
but somebody, like we’re going through a Johnny Depp trial
It’s a defamation trial, and the reason it’s a defamation
trial is because all it took is a single accusation
of Johnny Depp being somebody who sexually
and physically abused Amber Heard.
And all it took is just a single article.
No proof was given except the accusation itself,
and the world believed it.
So it’s effective.
So how do you fight back if it’s so damn effective
that you can just call anybody racist?
And it works.
It’s hard to wash off.
It’s, you’re not proven in the court of law
or anything like that, but we get those articles,
we get that label, and then the world moves on
and just assumes that person is racist.
So how do you, do you have any ideas how to fight back?
No, I don’t, frankly.
Just highlighting the fact.
Listen, Roseanne Barr, who made this statement
about Valerie Jarrett, she made some kind of ape
like reference to the whatever, and her show
got canceled, and she’s a racist.
So first of all, pointing it out, I suppose,
is one of the most powerful things that this,
the hypocrisy of it, the.
You say it works, I guess you’re right.
It used to be that calling someone a communist worked.
I mean, going back to the late 40s, early 50s,
Red Scare, McCarthyism, and whatnot,
and the person might’ve belonged to a club
that was pro Soviet Union in the 1930s
when they were in college.
They might’ve voted for the socialist candidate,
Henry Wallace, in the presidential election of 1948.
They might belong to the Communist Party.
They might think Karl Marx was right about a whole lot
of stuff about capitalism and whatnot,
and they got called a communist or a Marxist,
and it could’ve ruined their career,
could’ve ruined their lives.
And a lot of people shut up about it,
and it took, and it went on for a long time.
And in a way, it kind of still is going on.
I mean, you call somebody a Marxist,
if you can make that stick, they’re certainly not gonna
get elected president of the United States.
But I don’t know about this.
I think, you know, I once read this book
by a German political scientist
called Elisabeth Neula Neumann.
That was the writer’s name, Elisabeth Neula Neumann.
The book was called The Spiral of Silence.
And the argument was there can be some views,
some issues in society that get defined
in such a way that it’s inappropriate to hold those views.
And as a result, people who don’t want to be shamed,
who don’t want to be ostracized don’t express those views.
And when they don’t express them,
anybody holding the view because they don’t hear it
said by others think that they’re the only one
and one of the few who hold the view,
and so they don’t want to be the only one
out there saying something, so they keep it to themselves.
So now this view, this attitude in society
could be held by a large number of people,
but because of the fear that if they were to express it,
they’d be ostracized, no one says it.
And since no one is saying it,
the others who hold the view don’t know
that they’re not alone,
that they are not the only ones who hold the view.
And hence they keep silent.
That could be an equilibrium.
It could be a relatively stable situation
in which the emperor has no clothes.
Everybody can see that this dude is naked, okay?
But everybody thinks that, you know,
I don’t want to be the only one to say it.
And so we all kind of collaborate in this charade
of keeping the view to ourselves.
Then along comes an event that somebody decides
to defy the consensus and to speak out.
It could be a little kid who in the story
about the emperor has no clothes,
doesn’t realize that he’s not supposed to say
that the emperor is naked.
The thing about the kid in the story
who says that the emperor is naked,
it’s not that he’s saying it.
It’s not even that other people hear him saying it.
It’s that everybody knows
that everybody else heard him say it, okay?
The kid who speaks out and says the emperor has no clothes
creates a circumstance in which it’s common knowledge
that the emperor has no clothes.
Now common knowledge does not just mean knowledge.
It does not even mean widespread knowledge.
It means comprehensive knowledge
of other person’s knowledge of the thing, okay?
So the spiral of silence is a equilibrium
that is susceptible to being undermined
by a process of a kind of cumulative process,
a snowballing process of revelation
that you’re not the only one who thinks this way, okay?
It’s fascinating to think that there’s an ocean
of common knowledge that we’re waiting for the little kid
to wake us up to, different little parts of it.
And the little kid, by the way,
could be somebody like Donald Trump,
only more effective than Donald Trump,
somebody who is smarter than Donald Trump,
somebody who is shrewder than Donald Trump,
somebody who figures out that when Colin Kaepernick
takes a knee at a football game and says,
I’m not gonna stand for this president allegiance,
that a vast number of people are very unhappy about that.
Somebody who understands
that when a Black Lives Matter activist
stands up with his ball of fists and says,
burn this bitch down about a city
in the United States of America,
that a lot of people are upset about that, a lot of them.
A person, a shrewd politician,
a shrewd manager of a public image
could build on and create a circumstance
in which more and more people will feel safe
to express that view.
And the more who express it,
the safer those who have yet to express it but who hold it
will feel in expressing it.
And to the extent that the view is very widespread
but is kept under wraps, an explosion could happen.
And you can look up tomorrow and have a very different
country than you had today
because the conspiracy of silence, the spiral of silence
ends up getting unraveled by somebody who steps out
away from the consensus,
dares to take the slings and arrows
of exposing themselves as a naysayer
but taps into a sentiment that’s very widespread.
And I fear that with respect to many racial issues,
this is the situation that we actually confront,
that it could unravel in a very ugly way.
But it could also unravel in a beautiful way.
So it’s depending.
There is a spiral of silence, you’re saying,
and it could be, speaking of children,
charismatic children, there’s a guy named Elon Musk
who might be a candidate for such an unraveling, right?
You mentioned the person that speaks out
could be a Donald Trump.
But in this current situation that we live in,
like as this week, Elon has purchased Twitter.
That’s what I hear.
And is pushing for, in all kinds of ways,
the increase of free speech on Twitter.
And speaking about some of the issues
that we’ve been speaking about here with you,
but maybe in broader strokes about just the fact
that you have to, it’s okay to point out
that the emperor wears no clothes,
and to do so from all sides in a way
that everybody’s a little bit pissed off,
but not too much.
What do you think about this whole effort
of free speech in these public platforms?
Elon in particular, Twitter, your avid Twitter user.
But just public platforms for discourse,
for us as a civilization to figure stuff out.
Yeah, well, the people on the left
are very upset about the possibility
that Elon Musk and Twitter will be open to,
more open to provocative public speech
that has heretofore been banned or suppressed.
And I think they might be right to be concerned
that that could happen.
I don’t know enough about the technology
and about the market to really,
I mean, social media and whatnot,
it seems like it’s a complicated system
of interactions between people and who the users are
and so forth and so on.
I do know that that New York Post story
about Hunter Biden’s laptop was real news
and could have affected the outcome of the election,
and it was suppressed,
and that Twitter had a role in suppressing it.
I do know that the question of where the COVID 19 virus
originated and the role that a lab leak account
could have played in the public processing of that event
was real news, and that it was suppressed
by people who were trying to control misinformation,
disinformation, Russian disinformation campaigns
So Twitter has users, I’m one of them,
and it has a lot of users.
It’s not as big as Facebook, I gather.
It’s not, but it’s important,
the ability to construct counter platforms,
people moving around and whatnot.
It’s a kind of network dynamic
that maybe I should understand it better than I do
being a social scientist, but.
I don’t think anyone understands it,
even people inside Twitter, which is fascinating.
It’s a monster because of just the bandwidth of messaging,
and you don’t know who is a bot and who is a human.
That’s a fascinating dynamic,
and the viral nature of negativity.
All of those dynamics, of course,
you are probably the right person to understand it
from a social scientist perspective,
from an economics perspective,
but nobody really understands,
and it’s fascinating within that domain,
how do you allow for free speech,
not allow for free speech, encourage free speech,
defend free speech, and at the same time,
manage millions of ongoing conversations
from just becoming insanely chaotic.
Sort of from Twitter perspective,
they want people to be happy, to grow,
to actually have difficult, critical conversations,
and the problem with humans is they think
they know what that is, and they think
they can label things as misinformation,
as counterproductive or healthy conversations, in quotes,
and the problem is, as we are learning,
humans are not able to do that effectively.
First of all, power corrupts.
There’s something delicious about having the power
to label something as misinformation.
You do that once for something
that might be obviously misinformation,
and then you start getting greedy.
You start getting excited.
It feels good.
It feels good to label something
as misinformation or disinformation
that you just don’t like, and over time,
especially if there’s a culture inside of a company
that leans a certain political direction
or leans, in all the groups that we talked about,
leans a certain way, they’ll start
to label as misinformation things they just don’t like,
and that power is delicious, and it corrupts.
You have to construct mechanisms,
like the Founding Fathers did,
for somehow preventing you from allowing
that power to get too delicious.
At least that’s my perspective on what’s going on.
Well, I’ll just tell you personally,
I’m excited about the prospect.
I’m glad to see Musk making the move that he’s making,
and we’ll see what happens at Twitter and so forth.
You’re looking forward for the, what did he say?
Let’s make Twitter more fun.
I’m looking forward to the fun.
You’ve talked about you are at a prestigious university.
Brown University, and you’ve mentioned
that universities might be in trouble.
I think it’s with Jordan, but everywhere else,
that barbarians are at the gate.
Who are the barbarians at the gate of the university?
So first of all, what is to you beautiful
about the ideal of the university in America, of academia?
And what is a threat?
Well, you know, a university is dedicated
to the pursuit of truth, and to the education
and nurturing of young people as they enter
into the pursuit of truth, to doing research and to teaching
in a environment of free inquiry and civil discourse.
So free inquiry means you go wherever the evidence
and your imagination may lead you.
And civil discourse means that you exchange arguments
with people when you don’t agree with them
on behalf of trying to get to the bottom of things.
I think the university is a magnificent institution.
It is a relatively modern institution.
I mean, last 500 years or so.
I mean, there are universities that are older than that,
but the great research universities of the world,
not only here in the United States,
are places where human ingenuity is nurtured,
where new lot knowledge is created,
and where young people are equipped to answer questions
that are open questions about our existence
in the world that we live in.
You can trace to the university much,
if not most, of the advances in technology
and resourcefulness and our understanding
of the origins of the species, of the nature of the universe,
cosmology, et cetera, science,
the pursuit of humanistic understanding,
the nurturing of traditions of inquiry,
so forth, so that’s the university.
Barbarians are at the gates.
The people who are trying to shut down open inquiry
at the university on behalf of their particular view
about things are a threat to what the university stands for,
and they should be resisted.
So if I’m inquiring about the nature of human intelligence,
and I wanna study differences between human populations
and their acquisition of,
or their expression of cognitive ability,
that’s fair game, it’s an open question.
If I wanna know something about the nature
of gender affiliation and identity
and gender dysphoria and whatnot,
that’s fair game to study in a university.
You can’t shut that down, you shouldn’t be able to,
by saying, I have a particular position here,
I’m a member of a particular identity group,
suppose I wanna study the history of colonialism,
and there’s a narrative on the progressive side,
which is colonialism is about Europeans dominating
and stealing or whatever, whatever,
and I happen to think, well, there’s another aspect
to the story about colonialism too,
which is that it’s a mechanism for the diffusion
of the best in human civilization to populations
that were significantly lagging behind with respect to that.
It brought literacy to the Southern hemispheric populations
that were dominated in the process of the colonizing thing.
I’m not taking that position, by the way.
I’m just saying somebody at a university
should be able to take it up and pursue it
and engage in argument with people about it.
I’m talking about race and ethnicity,
but this extends to a wide range of things.
Suppose we’re talking about race,
a wide range of things, suppose we’re talking about climate,
and one person says the earth is endangered
because carbon in global warming, et cetera, et cetera,
and another person says, no, wait, no, wait,
look at where we stand in the 21st century.
We’re vastly richer than our ancestors just 250 years ago.
We have much more knowledge about that
and so forth and so on.
250 years from now, human ingenuity will have devised
in ways that we can not even begin to anticipate.
All manner of technological means for managing the problem.
There’s no reason that we should shut down
industrial civilization today
because we fear the consequences of it
when in fact we are vastly richer than our ancestors
and those who come two centuries after us
will be vastly more effective
at dealing with problems than we are now.
Let’s, et cetera.
I’m not actually making that argument.
I’m just saying the tendency to try to say, oh, no,
that person is a climate denier.
They can’t pursue that area of inquiry
is against the spirit of the university.
I think the barbarians at the gates
has to do with the people who think they know
what the right side of history is
and try to make the university stand
on the right side of history.
My position is you don’t know
what the right side of history is.
And the purpose of a university is to equip you
to be able to think about what is the right side of history.
What is the solution to the dilemmas that confront us
as human beings living on this planet
with the billions that we are in the condition that we are.
So the identitarians,
the ones who wanna make the university kowtow
to their particular understandings about their own identity.
We now have at Brown University and various other places,
we don’t do Columbus Day anymore.
We do Indigenous Peoples Day.
When that day comes up in October,
we don’t talk about Columbus.
They’re taking down statues of Columbus
all across the country and so forth and so on.
I’m not arguing anything here other than
that the latter day position
BIPOCs, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color,
the latter day position that the university
has to reflect a particular sensibility
about these identity questions.
I think it’s a threat to the integrity of the enterprise.
I don’t think you’re overstating it.
I tend to be, just from my limited knowledge of MIT,
but perhaps it applies broadly,
I think the beauty of the university, broadly speaking,
is the faculty and the students.
And the problem arises from the overreach
of a overgrowing administration
that gives, again, thinks that it knows enough
to make rules and conclusions based on a set of beliefs,
and then based on that, empowers a certain small selection
of students to be the sort of voices of activism,
of a particular idea.
And not, I think activism is beautiful,
but not just activism, but anybody that disagrees
is shut down, and that, I think,
the blame lies with the administration.
So I think the solution is in lessening,
just like the solution with too big of a government,
too big of a bureaucracy, is there needs to be
redistribution of power to what makes universities beautiful,
which is the old students and the young students,
old students being professors.
So the scholars, the curious minds,
the people that are in this whole thing
to explore the world, to be curious about it,
on a salary that’s probably way too low
for the thing they’re doing.
That’s the whole point.
And then the administration just gets in the way,
and is the source of this kind of,
I would say that, in your beautiful phrasing,
I would say the administration
is the barbarians at the gate.
So the solution is smaller bureaucracy,
I have to, on this point, you had this conversation,
you put on your self stack with Jordan Peterson
about cognitive inequality.
I think it’s titled Wrestling with Cognitive Inequality.
This particular topic of just IQ differences
between groups, why is this,
why is it so dangerous to talk about?
Why this particular topic?
Well, it’s like you’re calling black people inferior.
It’s like you’re saying they’re genetically inferior.
That’s what people are saying.
It’s like you’re rationalizing the disparity of outcomes
by reference to the intrinsic inferiority of black people.
If you say cognitive ability matters for social outcomes,
if you say cognitive ability exists,
people really are different
in terms of their intellectual functioning.
And if you say cognitive ability differences
are substantial between racially defined populations,
the sum of that, there is cognitive ability,
it matters, and the difference by race
is the conclusion that outcome differences by race
are in part due to natural differences
between the populations.
People find that to be completely offensive
So that’s what I think is going on.
Can you steel me on that case
that we should be careful doing that kind of research?
So this has to do with research.
It’s like the Nazis used Nietzsche in their propaganda.
You can use, white supremacists could use conclusions,
cherry pick conclusions of studies to push their agenda.
Can you steel me on the case that we should be careful?
Yeah, I could do it at three levels.
One is what do we mean by cognitive ability?
So there’s many different kinds of intelligence
a person might say.
How good are IQ tests at measuring
other kinds of human capacities
that are pertinent to success in life,
like temperament, like emotional intelligence, and so on.
So intelligence is not a one dimensional thing
measured by G.
The cognitive psychologists talk about G,
the general intelligence factor,
which is a statistical construction.
It’s a factor analytic resolution
of the correlation across individuals
in their performance on a battery,
a different kind of test.
And they use that to define a general factor of intelligence
that a person could say that is a very narrow view
of what human mental capacities actually are.
And that it’s much better to think about
multi dimensional measures of human mental functioning
rather than a single cognitive ability measure,
so called IQ, which is a narrow construction
that doesn’t capture all of the subtle nuance
of human difference in functioning.
Functioning is not just the ability
to recite backwards a sequence of numbers.
I say eight, seven, nine, five, three, two.
You say two, three, five, seven, eight, nine.
It’s not just that.
Intelligence is a complex management
of many different dimensions of human performance,
including things like being able to stick with a task
and not give up, things like being able to discipline
and control your impulses so as to remain focused
and so forth.
That could be one dimension.
I could start by questioning the very foundation
of the argument for racial differences in cognitive ability
by saying that your measure of cognitive ability is flawed.
I could go to a higher level.
I could say what we’re really interested in
is social outcomes and the question of what factors
influence social outcomes extends well beyond mental ability
to many other things.
So here’s an example.
Visual acuity, how well do you see?
You’re not wearing glasses, I am.
Visual acuity varies between human beings.
Some people see better than other people do.
Visual acuity can be measured.
I can put you at the chart and you can,
can you identify and read that bottom line
in small print or not?
So we can measure visual acuity
and it varies between human beings.
Visual acuity is partly genetic.
I think that’s undoubtedly true.
We inherit genes that influence whether or not
we are nearsighted or farsighted or astigmatic or whatever.
So visual acuity differs between people
and can be measured and is under genetic control.
On the other hand, corrective lenses allow for us
to level the playing field between people
who are differently endowed in terms of visual acuity.
Likewise, social outcomes are what we’re really interested in
employment, earnings, whether or not they’re law abiding,
how do they conduct themselves and their families
and so forth amongst individuals.
Yes, social outcomes are influenced
by so called cognitive ability,
but they’re influenced by many other things as well.
If there are interventions that can be undertaken in society
that level the playing field between people
who have different natural endowments of cognitive ability,
the fact that people or groups differ in cognitive ability
becomes less significant.
Just like it’s less significant that people differ
with respect to how well they see
when corrective lenses allow
for the leveling of that playing field.
There are in fact interventions, educational interventions,
early childhood interventions that have been shown
to level the playing field
to create better life outcomes for people
even if they happen to be endowed with low intelligence.
So a second level of arguing against this whole program
of research on human differences and intelligence
is to observe that yes, human beings
and perhaps racially defined groups
may differ on the average in intellectual endowment,
but there well may be social interventions
that level the playing field,
whether it’s in education
or in other kinds of programmatic interventions,
especially for the poor.
A final level of argument is the one that you alluded to,
which is that if you talk like this,
you’re gonna encourage a kind of politics
which is very ugly.
And it’s best to frame the discussion
in ways that don’t put emphasis
on racially defined natural differences between populations.
That’s an argument that I am myself personally
On the one hand, I think, you know,
those people are just stupid.
It is racist, okay?
On the other hand, I think the calculation,
we shouldn’t do this kind of research.
Suppose I’m at the National Science Foundation,
a research team submits a proposal.
The proposal proposes to undertake a study.
The study would explore the extent to which people
and racial groups differ with respect
to their intellectual performance
and how that’s influenced by their genetic
and environmental interaction.
And I decide not to fund the study
based on a political calculation
that the subject is too sensitive.
And if you explore that subject,
you might get the wrong answer.
And if you get the wrong answer,
the white supremacist will be encouraged.
Well, that is presuming before the research is done
that I know the outcome of the research
and that I can calculate what the political consequence
of the research outcome is gonna be.
That’s assuming the thing before you even know
what the thing actually is.
It’s a kind of omniscience.
It presumes that you as the master of the universe
can tell people what it is
that people are being treated like children,
what it is that they’re capable of knowing
and what it is that they’re not capable of knowing.
It would be like someone saying to Einstein,
I don’t know about that special relativity theory.
You know, it could well lead
to the development of technologies
that would allow nuclear weapons.
Or someone saying to Oppenheimer,
who is a physicist overseeing the Manhattan Project
where the US developed a nuclear weapons capacity,
don’t carry out that project
because the results of acquiring that knowledge
may be more than we can deal with.
Or someone saying to someone doing biomedical research
who’s interested in exploring the nature of the human genome,
don’t carry out that experiment,
that cloning, undertaking, whatever,
because the consequences could be deleterious.
Well, the consequences could be deleterious.
The consequences could also be the cure of cancer.
The consequences could also be
being able to generate electric power
without producing carbon effluent.
So who are you to tell me,
you being the person in the political position
to control the research,
what the consequence of doing the research is?
I think I don’t want to cede that kind of power
to politicians over the course of human inquiry.
So yes, I would want there to be regulations
governing the use of biologically sensitive
and potentially dangerous pathogens
in a lab in Wuhan or any place else.
I would not want to simply leave that to laissez faire.
On the other hand, I think that the tendency
to try to shut down inquiry
on behalf of supposed adverse political consequences
is the road to ignorance and impoverishment
at the end of the day for humankind,
denying ourselves the potential benefits
of that kind of inquiry.
I think we need to take our chances with inquiry
rather than to try to control it.
And I feel that way about the exploration
of human intelligence as much as anything else.
So you’ve asked me to steel man the case
against research on IQ of the sort
that Charles Murray is famous for popularizing.
And I’ve said A, your measure of intelligence
is single dimensional and it ought to be multi dimensional.
I’ve said B, the consequences of people’s differing
in intelligence depends not only
on the natural endowments of the people
but also on the environment
and the potential for intervening in that environment
through one or another kind of instrument
as the metaphorical example of the use of corrective lenses
to level the playing field between people
with different visual acuity indicates.
But finally, I’ve said, yes,
research on racial differences in IQ can foster
political beliefs that we would regard to be noxious.
On the other hand, to presume that what we don’t know yet
and might find out from the research is gonna be harmful
is to assume a kind of presumption
or of knowing what the outcome of unknown processes might be
which we ought to be very slow to embrace
because if we had done so in the past,
we wouldn’t have nuclear power.
There’s a lot of things that we wouldn’t know.
I mean, what were people saying about Darwin
and exploration of the evolution
and origin of the species?
They were afraid that it was gonna, in effect,
disprove the religious based accounts
of what were they saying about Copernicus
and et cetera, et cetera.
So, you know.
That was a masterful layering of, quote,
wrestling with cognitive inequality.
You dragged in nuclear research,
Copernicus, Darwin, biomedical research with genetics,
even COVID and the lab leak.
I mean, that was just fun to listen to.
Let me ask you about your politics.
So you’ve recently said that you’re a conservative leaning.
I mean, maybe that’s a day to day thing.
Maybe you can push back.
But so you have somebody like your friend, John McWhorter,
who we could say is on your left, to the left of you.
And then you have somebody like Thomas Sowell
who maybe is on to the right of you.
And yet there’s a lot of overlap between the three of you.
So to what degree does politics affect your view on race
And maybe to what degree does your view on race
affect your politics?
And that, for people who don’t know, has shifted over time.
You’ve been on quite a roller coaster,
as anybody who thinks about the world should be.
Well, let’s begin with the fact that I was trained
as an economist in a tradition of what many people
would call neoliberalism.
I was trained at MIT, which was not a right wing place
by any means, but it was a place where you learned
about markets and about the benefits of capitalism
as a way of organizing society,
the virtues of free enterprise,
the fact that the pursuit of profit
was not necessarily a bad thing,
but it well might be the road to prosperity
and to economic growth.
The idea that private property and individuals seeking
to acquire and succeeding in acquiring wealth
did create inequality, but it also created opportunity.
And it also expanded the ability to do things
and expanded our knowledge and our control
over the physical environment in which we’re embedded
and et cetera.
So we were not Marxists at MIT, although we did read Marx.
I mean, those of us who were intellectually curious,
you read Marx.
Marx was an important figure in the history of the West.
And I think Marx should be read in capital three volumes,
et cetera, alienation of labor and whatnot.
The implications of modernization,
the advent of industrial capitalism, et cetera.
That kind of dynamic deserves to be studied
and to come at it in a critical way,
informed by the intellectual inheritance of Marx and Marxism.
I think that’s a part of a full education
in social philosophy and economic analysis
that an open minded person ought to acquaint themselves with.
But at the end of the day,
I think that the free marketeers have the better of it.
I think the story of the 20th century
as far as economic development is concerned reflects that.
I think that the experiments where centralized control
over economic decisions was the order of the day failed.
I think that the fact of the 21st century rise of China
as a force has a lot to do with the spread of,
in effect, capitalist oriented modes
of entering economic exchange,
freeing up prices, markets, property, and so forth.
Although obviously it’s a complicated
political economic system, we’re talking about China.
But I think that the story of the 20th century
and the hope for the 21st century
is that prosperity is enhanced through the free exchange
of goods and the pursuit and acquisition of property
by people in a more or less capitalist oriented system.
That’s the view that I hold.
I guess that makes me a conservative, I don’t know.
I wanna say that’s not to the exclusion
of a social safety net.
I’m not saying that old people in an ideal social system
would be left to their own devices
regardless of whether or not
they had saved for their retirement.
I’m not saying that the ideal of extending decent access
to healthcare to all people regardless
of whether or not they can afford it,
decent access to education to people
regardless of whether or not they can afford it
is standing in the way of prosperity.
I don’t believe that.
I think the mixed economies that we see in Northern Europe
and in North America are a balancing
of the virtues of free enterprise property
and the pursuit of wealth on the one hand
against the needs to have a decent society
in which people who fall between the cracks nevertheless
are bolstered through a sense of social solidarity
that is accommodated by our common membership
within a single nation state,
which is why I think nationalism is important.
And it’s why I think borders are important
because without a coherent polity
who can see themselves as in a common situation
and agree through their politics
to support each other to some extent,
you can’t sustain a safety net.
You cannot have a social safety net for a global population.
You can only have a social safety net
for a bounded population who have a sense
of common membership in an ongoing political enterprise
which they pay their dues through their taxes
in order to sustain it.
There’s a balancing that has to go on.
So that’s the first thing that I would say about my politics.
I’m a neoliberal economist.
I believe in markets.
I believe in prices.
I believe in profit.
Corporations are not an incarnation of evil.
Corporations are a legal nexus
through which production gets organized
in which you solicit the cooperation of workers,
of people who provide capital,
of people who provide raw materials
and input of customers and so on.
And that functionality allows for the production of goods
and their distribution and their earning of income
and its distribution,
which at the end of the day is the foundation
of our prosperity.
Corporations are people too.
Mitt Romney got in trouble for saying that in 2012.
But corporations are nothing but a legal fiction.
The corporation is not a person as such,
but the nexus of contracts and relationships
amongst the stakeholders who intersect
in the context of the corporation
is the way in which we organize
the massively complex set of activities
that are necessary in order to produce economic benefits,
in order to feed people,
in order to have everybody with a cell phone in their pocket,
in order to be able to travel from one side of a continent
to another on a device that is with almost absolute certainty
gonna safely take off and land
and in order to be able to build cities and et cetera.
But do the markets, the ideal of the market
collide with the ideal of all men are created equal?
The identity, the struggle that we’ve been talking about
of what it means to sort of empower humans
that make up this great country.
Do they collide and where do they collide?
Well, markets are gonna produce inequality
and all men being equal is a statement
about the intrinsic worth of people,
not about the situation that will come about
when people interact with each other through markets
because people are actually different
and because there are factors
that are beyond anybody’s control called luck and chance
that you and I both invest.
It looked a priori like your investment and my investment
were equally likely to succeed.
But as a matter of fact, ex post facto,
your investment succeeds, my investment doesn’t succeed.
I don’t have wealth and you have wealth.
That is an inevitable consequence of a environment
in which both of us are free to make our investment choices
and where the consequences of investment
depend in part upon random circumstances
of which no one has control.
But you asked me about my politics
and I was just trying to lay down a foundation
by saying I begin as an economist
in the tradition of liberalism, Adam Smith and so forth,
John Maynard Keynes for that matter and so forth,
that Milton Friedman and so forth,
that Paul Samuelson, Bob Solla, James Tobin and so forth,
Thomas Sowell, yes, that appreciates property,
the virtues of free enterprise,
the set of institutions that allow for security of contract,
a rule of law, things of this kind.
So that’s one thing to say about my politics.
Another thing to say about my politics and you’re right,
I’ve moved around, is that I began south side of Chicago,
black kid, I was a liberal Democrat.
I encountered the economics curriculum at the MIT
and I became trained in economics
in the tradition that I’ve just described.
And I encountered also the Reagan Revolution.
This is the late 70s and early 80s.
These are big debates about economic policy and so on.
And I found a lot to admire in the supply side errors,
the people were saying,
let’s get the government out of the way,
the people who were worried about national debt,
which is a lot more now than it was then,
the people who were worried
that the welfare state could be too big,
that the incentives of transfer programs
could be counterproductive, that you had a war on poverty
and we did have a war on poverty and poverty won.
And that’s what I found.
And we did have a war on poverty and poverty won.
And there’s a lot of evidence that the war on poverty
was lost by the people who were trying to, quote unquote,
eradicate poverty in our time.
That incentives really do matter
and that the state, which is driven by politics,
is often unresponsive to the dictates of incentives.
Whereas markets eliminate people who are inefficient
and who are not cognizant of the consequences of incentives
because they can’t cover their bottom line
and they won’t persist for very long.
If they can’t cover their bottom line,
they’re forced to respond to the realities of differences
and costs and benefits and so forth
in a way that governments can cover
because they have their hand in our pocket.
They can cover their losses
and they can make accounts balanced,
not withstanding their mistakes
because they can take my property by fiat,
by the power of the state, the tax collector comes,
if I don’t pay, he seizes my holdings.
And they can carry on in that way.
They need the corrective influence of markets
in order to be responsive to the realities of life.
I mean, I may not like it that prices are telling me
that something that I wanna do is infeasible.
I may not like it, but what the prices are telling me
is that the costs of doing it exceed the benefits
to be derived from doing it.
And if I persist in doing it not withstanding that,
I’m gonna run losses.
And those losses will accumulate.
And the net effect of that over an entire society
is stagnation and ultimate attenuation
of the economic benefits
that might be available to people.
Again, I think if you look at the developing world
in the postcolonial period,
the second half of the 20th century,
that’s exactly what you see.
Planning doesn’t work.
Centralized control over resource allocation doesn’t work.
Okay, so I became more conservative in that respect,
but I also, and this has to do with race,
lost the faith in the posture
that what became of the civil rights movement.
I mean, the civil rights movement, you quote King 1963,
the civil rights movement starts out as
we want equal membership in the polity,
but it becomes a systematized cover I’m going to argue
for deficiencies that are discernible
within black American society, which only we could correct.
That’s a very controversial statement.
I make it with trepidation.
I don’t take any pleasure in saying it,
but here’s what I’m talking about.
So I’m talking about the family.
So the family is a matter internal to the community
about how men and women relate to each other
and engage in social reproduction, childbearing,
the standing up of households,
the context within which children are developed,
are maturing and so forth and so on.
So the African American family is in trouble.
I think I can demonstrate that
by reference to high rates of marital dissolution,
by high rates of birth to out of wedlock and so forth.
You can’t even say that
the African American family is in trouble.
Violence, homicide is an order of magnitude more prevalent
amongst African Americans than it is
in the society as a whole.
This is behavior, it’s behavior of our people.
I speak of black people.
Of course, we’re not the only people in society
for whom violence is an issue.
It’s an order of magnitude more prevalent in our communities.
I’m talking about schooling and school failure.
So we have affirmative action as a cover.
It’s a bandaid on differences in the development
of intellectual performance,
which is only partly a consequence
of the natural intelligence of people
and largely a consequence of how people spend their time,
what they value, how they discipline themselves,
what they do with their opportunities,
how parents raise their children,
what peer groups value and things of this kind.
The Asian students who are scoring off the charts
on these exams are doing it
not because they’re intrinsically more intelligent
to other people, but because they work harder,
because their parents are more insistent
on focusing on their intellectual performance
because they’re disciplined,
because of the way that they devote their time
and their resources to equipping their children
to function in the 21st century.
This is what I believe.
I think it’s demonstrably the case.
And it is a factor in racial disparity.
The way that the civil rights movement has evolved
under the wing of the Democratic Party
into an organized apologia for the failures
of African Americans to seize the opportunities
that exist for us now in the 21st century,
but did not exist in the first half of the 20th century,
the way in which the civil rights movement
has become an avoidance mechanism
for us not taking we African Americans responsible.
This is Glenn Loury.
Not everybody’s gonna agree with it.
It’s part of what makes me a conservative.
I am tired of the bellyaching.
I’m tired of the excuse me, white supremacy.
It is in my mind, a joke.
I lament the fact that that kind of rhetoric
is so seductively attractive to African Americans
and so widely adopted by others.
And as I am fond of saying, at the end of the day,
nobody is coming to save us.
I mean, higher education, MIT, Caltech, Stanford,
where the future is happening,
that is about mastery over the achievements
of human civilization, such as they manifest themselves
in the 21st century.
There’s no substitute for actually acquiring mastery
over the material.
There’s no substitute for that to be patronized,
to have the standards lowered.
They wanna get rid of the test.
They wanna tell African Americans to pat us on the head.
We’re gonna have a separate program for you.
We’re gonna give you a side door that you can come into.
That doesn’t make us any smarter.
It doesn’t make us any more creative.
And it doesn’t make us any more fit
for the actual competition that’s unfolding before us.
Now, you wanna be 10% of the population
that’s carried along for the next 100 years?
You wanna be a ward of the state in the late 21st century?
You go ahead.
Because the Chinese are coming.
You’re not gonna hold them back.
The world is being remade every decade
by new ways of seeing and new ways of doing.
If you don’t get on board with the dynamic advancement
of the civilization in which we are embedded,
you’re gonna end up being dependent on other people
to look kindly upon you.
And this story that you’ve got, this bellyache,
this excuse, my ancestors were slaves,
is only gonna work for so long.
So that makes me, I suppose, a kind of conservative.
I hate affirmative action.
I don’t just disagree with it.
I don’t just think it’s against the 14th amendment.
I hate it.
The hatred comes from an understanding
that it is a bandaid, that it is a substitute
for the actual development of the capacities
of our people to compete.
I’d much rather be in the position
of having them try to keep me out
because I’m so damn good,
like they’re doing with the Asians,
than having them have to beg the Supreme Court
to allow for a special dispensation on my behalf
because they need diversity and inclusion and belonging.
It’s not just diversity.
It’s not just diversity and inclusion.
It’s diversity and inclusion and belonging.
I’m whining because I feel like I don’t belong.
That’s a position of weakness.
And it’s only political correctness
that keeps people who can see this,
and believe me, a lot of people can see it
from saying so out loud.
So you want the black American community
to represent strength.
Correct, and I want us to deal with what it is
that we have to deal with in order to be able
to project strength in an increasingly competitive world.
Let me ask you,
I know you said you’re angry
or dislike affirmative action.
Let me ask you about something
that even to my ear cut wrong.
Now I’m relatively apolitical.
So President Biden, when he was running for president,
gave a campaign promise that he will nominate
a black woman to the US Supreme Court,
saying, quote, the person I will nominate
will be someone with extraordinary qualifications,
character, experience, and integrity.
And that person will be the first black woman
ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.
Do you wish he only said the first sentence
and not the second?
Yes, I wish that he had only said the first sentence,
even if his intention was to do
what he said he was gonna do in the second sentence.
In other words, I wish that he had simply said,
if I have the opportunity to nominate someone
to the Supreme Court, it’s gonna be
a superbly qualified person to carry out that position.
And he might’ve kept to himself his intention
to name an African American woman to that position.
And then going ahead and named an African American woman
to that position.
And I’m sure that Katanji Brown Jackson,
I don’t doubt that she’s exceptionally qualified.
She has a distinguished career.
She served as a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
She’s a graduate at Harvard Law School.
She has a background.
You do not have to be a world class
constitutional legal scholar
to get onto the United States Supreme Court.
A lot of members of the United States Supreme Court
have had different kinds of legal careers
before they were elevated to that position.
Earl Warren of the famed Warren Court of the 1950s and 60s
was a politician as well as a leading jurist and whatnot.
I mean, many kinds of people in the US Supreme Court.
I have no doubt that Judge Katanji Brown Jackson
is a qualified member to be on the Supreme Court.
I wish that Biden had not done what he did.
He could have just appointed a black woman
by saying that he was limiting his considerations
to black women.
And what are black women as a percentage
of all potential appointees to the Supreme Court?
3%, 4%, I don’t know, we could look the number up.
By saying that he puts an asterisk on the appointment,
but it’s worse than that
because she will live down the asterisk
if a person is inclined to do that.
She will have the opportunity to show
through her performance exactly what kind of juror she is.
Just as Justice Clarence Thomas has shown
through his performance that he was qualified
and more than qualified to be
on the United States Supreme Court,
what I dislike was the pandering.
He was seeking votes from black people by pandering to us
and then he’s treating us like children.
Why should I care what color the person is
who’s on the United States Supreme Court?
What I should care about is what kind of opinions
they’re gonna write when they’re on the United States.
Do I suppose that being a black woman
means that you’re gonna write different kinds
of opinions than others?
Well, perhaps, perhaps that kind of identity politics
at the highest level of American legal establishment
is something that rubs me very much the wrong way.
What I should care about is the nature
and the future of the law.
I mean, I’m actually struck by this
because the court is conservative.
It has six conservative members on it
and it has three liberal members on it.
And if I were and I’m not a liberal Democrat,
the highest concern that I would have
about an appointment to the Supreme Court is,
is this a person who is going to be effective
in advocating my liberal views
within the highest counsel of American law?
Now, the fact that that person is a woman
or is a black person is way down the list
of the things that I would think are important
to the kinds of opinions that they’re going to write.
So, I mean, I think Joe Biden,
this is just a piece of a larger political strategy
to cobble together a coalition
that’ll be successful at the polls
in sustaining Democrats.
Jim Crow 2.0, this whole characterization
of the conflict in the states
about election security and voting rights
is another part of that strategy.
He is pandering to black voters.
He is trying to frighten us,
thinking that if the Republicans win,
our rights will be taken away.
And I think it is a infantilization
of African American politics.
I think black people are not to be as concerned
about the color of the skin of a person
who is serving in government
as they are about the content of their character
and the focus of their political
and ideological orientation,
which for me would be center or even center right,
but that’s me.
And it should not have a significant impact.
Nevertheless, he said she can overcome the asterisks,
but to me it was deeply disrespectful
that anyone would give an extra asterisk
to have to overcome.
He didn’t have to say it.
All he had to do was do it.
If he wanted to put a black woman on the court,
then he could have gone ahead and done it.
The reason he said it is because he wanted black people
to vote for him by saying it.
And I’m saying that treats us like we’re children.
It’s not a political statement.
I just thought as a leader,
that was kind of disgusting.
Let me ask you about Thomas Sowell.
You mentioned him.
He’s a colleague and somebody who was an influence
in the space of ideas.
So what broadly, what impact has he had on your ideas
and how do you think he shaped the landscape of ideas
in our culture in general?
I think Thomas Sowell, he’s in his 90s now.
He’s been around for a long time.
He’s still got it.
He’s still going at it.
Books continue to come out.
I think he’s a great man.
I think Thomas Sowell, regardless of his race,
he’s black, is one of the 100 most significant economists
of the 20th century.
He has chosen as his subject,
a substantial part of his subject,
subject to investigate the deep causes
and consequences of racial disparity of one kind or another.
He’s written fundamental books about that, many of them.
He’s a social philosopher.
He is a economic historian.
He is a combatant in the conflict of ideas
around how to think about society
and this beyond racial differences,
although race has been a big part
of what he’s written about.
He’s been critical of affirmative action
and he didn’t just stand back and wag his finger.
He got busy looking at the consequences
of affirmative action in societies all around the world.
And he’s written books about that.
He’s been critical of the narrative about civil rights
and racial inequality.
He believes in small government.
He doesn’t think that efforts to redistribute income
have proved to be the solution
to the problem of racial disparity.
Tom has not been honored by the committee
that hands out Nobel recognition in economic science
and probably won’t be because he’s controversial.
And I reckon that that committee would be loath to encourage
the blowback that they would be sure to receive
if they were to take a controversial
and politically focus and expressive black conservative
and honor in that way.
So I think another reason is that Tom
as a methodological matter is not especially quantitative.
He pays attention to data
but he doesn’t do statistical analysis
and he doesn’t do modeling.
So from a methodological point of view,
he’s not a cutting edge kind of person
of mathematically sophisticated,
kind of quantitatively statistically oriented
but he does descriptive stuff.
He writes in a style that is much more
like a social historian than it is
like a mathematically trained analytical economist.
On the other hand, he is an economist in the Chicago school
with Milton Friedman and George Stickler
prominent amongst his teachers who takes price theory
which is the analysis of the interplay of market forces,
mindful of incentives and so on
to implement the basic insights from economic science.
There is no free lunch.
I mean, there’s always gonna be a cost
to anything that you do and so on.
People respond to incentives, demand curves slope downward.
Competition tends to work best
when people are free to enter and not and so on.
I mean, that kind of thing.
But Tom is also a social historian and a philosopher
in the tradition of Friedrich von Hayek.
One of Tom’s books I’ve deeply admired,
“‘Knowledge and Decisions,’
is an extension of the Hayekian arguments
about the limits of central planning and whatnot.
So I think Thomas Sowell, African American,
born as I understand it in Louisiana,
raised in New York City, graduate of Harvard College,
a military veteran, a PhD in economics
from the University of Chicago,
a black conservative social scientist
of very high stature, I think he’s a great man.
And one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century.
And you’re saying implicitly deserves a Nobel Prize.
Yeah, I do think so.
I mean, Hayek was awarded by the committee.
Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist
who wrote about economic development,
wrote a famous two volume work,
“‘An American Dilemma,’ about the status of blacks.”
I mean, I think Tom could be put in that company
very easily without any difficulty.
I agree, Daniel Kahneman, them,
so it doesn’t have to be an American.
Psychologist, an economist, Eleonora Ostrom,
the political scientist who was honored in a joint prize
given to her and Oliver Williamson 15 years ago or so.
He could be put in that company really quite easily.
Let me ask you, you mentioned Obama
in the very beginning that we were talking about.
How did it feel, that seems like forever ago,
that in 2008, Barack Obama became president?
Now at that time, perhaps you identify
as conservative already.
So politics aside, just in general,
how did it feel that in 150 years
where this country has come along?
Well, yeah, I didn’t identify in 2008
as a conservative to the same extent that I do today.
I was kind of in transition yet again.
I was excited by the Obama candidacy.
At first I was skeptical because after all, he’s not black.
The man’s father is a Kenyan
and the man’s mother is a white American
and he identifies as black.
I find it interesting that the first black president
of the United States,
and I could have put inverted commas around black,
and the first black vice president of the United States,
neither of them descend from American slaves.
Kamala Harris’s father is of African ancestry in part.
He’s a Jamaican immigrant
and her mother is an Indian immigrant.
She was Kamala Harris,
raised up largely in Canada,
though born in the United States.
Barack Obama is, as I’ve said, of mixed ancestry
and neither of his parents are the descendants
of American descendants of African slaves.
But blackness is flexible.
It’s something that you can put on
or you can take off to a certain degree for some people
and so be it.
I was excited, our time has come, hope and change.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
These are slogans from 2008.
I can’t believe I bought that crap.
Let me push back here.
You talked about, I mean, to me a Jew is a Jew.
Skin color is skin color.
I mean, Barack Obama is black when it matters,
when you’re talking to a white supremacist,
when you’re talking to, if you’re a slave owner,
Just like you said, when Hitler comes around,
a Jew is a Jew.
It doesn’t matter how you identify, it doesn’t matter what.
So in that sense, don’t you think that Barack Obama
is black in the most powerful of ways,
which is designating how far the MLK, the Dr. King vision?
And look, I said it a little bit tongue in cheek.
Yes, yes, of course.
But I think Obama has been very careful
about manufacturing a kind of public persona
that is intended to position him in the most effective way.
You mean like every politician?
Yeah, like every politician, sure.
And that the racial identity piece is an aspect of that.
I mean, anything I say here would only be speculation
because I have no facts about the personal history
of Barack Obama.
And I accept Barack Hussein Obama,
as Hillary Clinton once said, I take him at his word
about whatever she was talking about.
Well, was he a Christian?
I think is what the question was.
And there was some right wing attack on Obama
for having been raised for some years in the Philippines
and all of that, or Indonesia, I beg your pardon,
in Indonesia and his stepfather and all of that.
But she took him at his word and I take him at his word
about his racial identity.
But you were captivated by the power of his words
and you regret to the degree you were captivated.
Well, I mean, I think in retrospect,
that whole campaign looks like a pie in the sky
kind of fairy tale.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
I can’t quote exactly that speech that he gave
in Grant Park in Chicago when he was announced
as the winner of the election.
But today is the day that the rise of the ocean
stopped words to this effect.
I mean, those who doubted that we could do it,
that tonight is your answer.
This was gonna be a new day, it was gonna be a new regime.
Well, it wasn’t a new day and it wasn’t a new regime.
It was American politics more or less as usual.
Barack Obama turns out not to be the Messiah.
Maybe there should be no surprise in that.
Race relations got set back during Obama’s tenure.
My beef with Obama is that, okay, you’re black.
You say you’re black, you’re black.
You got elected, now we have a black president.
A black president.
You can do stuff that nobody else could do.
You’re a black president.
You could tell the people burning down the city
to get their butts back in their houses and to stop it.
You could tell the race hustlers,
they all shocked into the world.
Not only has our time come
for those who supported my campaign,
your time is over for those who wanna carry on
a advocacy rooted in racial grievance.
The election of myself to this highest office proves
that the institution of this state are legitimate
and open to all comers.
I think Barack Obama, when the SHIT hit the fan,
if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.
I deeply regret that he said that.
He’s president of the United States.
The color of his skin and the color of Trayvon’s skin,
the correlation between those two things.
If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.
Now he says, when he said it,
he only meant to sympathize with the parents.
But in fact, when he said it from the highest office
in the land and then sent his attorney general,
Eric Holder out to enforce this narrative,
he doubled down on a racial narrative
that I think is actually false.
I think the story that systemic racism in America
as reflected in policing that terrorizes black people
because of the color of their skin is demonstrably false.
I think that the central threat to black lives
is violent crime perpetrated largely by black people
against other black people.
I think there is such a thing as police brutality
and I think there are reasons to have regulations of police
but I think it is a second order issue
in terms of the quality of life of African Americans.
I think Obama could have told the people
who after Freddie Gray died in police custody
in a van in Baltimore and who undertook
to burn that city down to get their asses off the street
and go back to their apartments and stop it.
I think he could have said in the aftermath
of Michael Brown being shot dead by Darren Wilson
in Ferguson, Missouri and there was a grand jury deliberation
that he elected not to indict Officer Wilson
and people took the streets in that city
and stood on top of vehicles and so forth and so on.
He could have told them we don’t mob around courthouses
in this country, we respect the rule of law,
get your butts off the streets
and back into your apartments.
He didn’t do that.
To push back a little bit.
Yeah, good, push back.
I think you’re asking Barack Obama,
the first black president of the United States,
to do the thing that I think should be done
by the second black president of the United States.
I think his very example, given the color of his skin,
was the most powerful thing.
And actually doing some of these hard Thomas Sowell type
of Glen Lurie type of strong words about race,
it may be too much to ask given the nature
of modern day politics.
He is a politician.
And he needed to get elected, he needed to get reelected.
It was in his second term
where most of what I’m talking about happened,
so he wasn’t facing further election.
But Obama was what, 46 or 47 when he was inaugurated?
He served for eight years, so he’s in his mid 50s.
He’s got another half century or 40 years of life,
His post presidency, I think,
was what was primarily on his mind.
Not getting elected to anything,
but being enshrined in a certain way.
And the persona that he is now embodying,
which depends upon a racial narrative
that I and Thomas Sowell and others object to,
I think was very much in the forefront of his mind
when he made decisions as the chief executive officer
of the country that we’ve all now have to live with.
Yeah, but the fact is, he opened the door
in a way that hasn’t been done
in the history of the United States,
that I don’t see there being even a significant discussion
when an African American, a black man or a black woman
runs for president, maybe a black man, let’s say,
because there still hasn’t been a woman president.
I just see that that broke open the possibility of that.
That’s not even a discussion.
And that example by itself, I mean, to me,
the role of the president isn’t just policy.
It’s to inspire.
It’s to do the Dr. King thing, which is, I have a dream.
And Barack Obama is an example of somebody
that could give one hell of a speech.
It got you to believe.
Obama is a smooth operator without any question.
He’s a master of his craft.
He did the impossible.
I mean, he beat Hillary Clinton in that primary fight,
and he beat John McCain in that general election,
and hats off to him.
And moreover, he remains a iconic figure in American culture.
I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
Let me just mention, Clarence Thomas is also black.
Clarence Thomas has a story that is vivid and inspiring,
just like Obama’s story.
He overcome obstacles just like Obama did.
I mean, extreme poverty and so forth and so on.
Clarence Thomas has served longer than any other member
of the United States Supreme Court.
He is one of nine justices,
and it’s three equal branches of government.
So Clarence Thomas, by my arithmetic,
personifies 1 27th of the American state.
He is an iconic figure.
His example should be an inspiration to Americans
of all races, but especially a black American youngsters.
He happens to be conservative.
He’s very conservative.
So fucking what?
He too deserves to be in that pantheon.
He is not. By the custodians of American education,
Clarence Thomas’s name is not on that many schools.
Barack Obama’s name will be on many of them.
I’m not equating them.
They’re different people.
The offices are very different.
But the same logic that you just used
to extol the significance of Barack Obama’s ascendancy
could and should be applied to Clarence Thomas,
in my opinion.
Yes, but it’s the office, but also there is a resume
and there’s accomplishments,
but then there is oratory and charisma
and a number of Twitter followers.
So there’s ability to captivate a large number of people.
And that’s a skill.
That’s a skill that correlates,
but is not directly connected to
with how impressive your resume is.
I agree, and moreover, the judicial function,
the judge doesn’t go out and give speeches of that sort
because it’s exactly antithetical to what he’s doing.
He’s a custodian of the law,
and that’s not a popular feature,
figure in American policy.
He doesn’t stand for election, and it’s a good thing too.
So I take that point.
Here, I want to say something else, though,
The next black president,
you say the first black president
shouldn’t have been the one to do that.
The second one should,
is more likely than not gonna be a Republican.
I’m not, I don’t have a particular person in mind.
I’m just saying.
I agree, I agree, I agree.
And that’s why it’s gonna be super fun.
Let me ask you to put on your wise sage hat
and give advice to young people.
So if you’re talking to somebody
who’s in high school, in college,
what advice would you give them about their career,
about life in general,
how to live a life they can be proud of?
Well, I’d say the world is your oyster.
I mean, first order of business, you’re not a victim.
I don’t care what color you are.
I don’t care, you’re male, female,
you’re gay, straight, whatever.
The world is your oyster.
You are so privileged.
You sit here in the United States of America,
a free country, a rich country,
everything is possible for you.
Believe me, you can do anything, okay?
Secondly, I would say mastery over the medium
in which we’re embedded is the key to the future.
So get educated, focus, work hard,
invest in your future by acquiring the skills that you need
to be able to navigate the 21st century.
I would say the Chinese are coming
and I don’t mean anything against China.
I just mean to say the world’s a small place
and it’s getting smaller.
And you better get moving and you better get moving quickly.
I’d say your identity, your coloration, your orientation,
your category is not the most important thing about you.
So the temptation to limit yourself,
I give this speech to my kids.
I would say, I quote James Joyce.
He has a passage in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
in which he says, do you know what Ireland is?
Ireland is an old sow that eats her pharaoh.
This is Joyce.
He says, Stephan Daedalus is the character
that he has in mind in this Chronicle.
He says, your ethnic inheritance,
he’s talking about Irish nationalism,
are like nets holding you back.
That your challenge is to learn how to turn those nets
into wings and thereby to fly, okay?
Flying into the open skies of modern society.
Don’t be your grandfather, don’t be your father.
Don’t wear your things so heavily
that it keeps you from being open
to everything that’s new in the world.
Wear it lightly.
Yes, everybody comes from somewhere,
but it doesn’t have to be where you end up.
So you’re not your father, you’re not your grandfather.
You are this wonderfully blessed human being
in the middle of, going into the middle of the 21st century
and don’t miss it, don’t live blinkeredly,
don’t live small, live big.
Live big and wear your history lightly.
Yeah, everybody’s got a mother tongue,
everybody’s got a story, everybody has a people,
but the world is a small place.
I love that you’re quoting an Irishman.
One of the greatest writers of the 20th century,
a profound one, but an Irishman nevertheless.
The levels of humor within that is not lost on me.
Let me just mention the great Ralph Ellison,
the African American writer, Invisible Man
is his masterpiece, embodied this spirit.
Okay, we black Americans, we do come from somewhere,
that come in from somewhere is from slavery in America,
that’s our ancestral heritage.
But that’s not what we are, skin and bone,
these are superficial things, the spirit.
And if I were a more religious person,
I could give a whole disposition about that,
but it’s the spirit, it’s that light that’s inside,
that’s who we are and our challenge
is to live in the fullness of it,
as opposed to this blinkered thing
where we don’t look left, we don’t look right,
we’re just fitting within this template that we inherit.
That is a travesty, really.
Glenn, you’ve lived an incredible life, a productive one,
but just representing some powerful ideas,
some powerful ideals, but life comes to an end.
Do you think about your death?
Are you afraid of it?
Well, it is a really interesting coincidence
that you posed me that question,
because I’m coming from a funeral.
Today is Sunday, on the preceding Tuesday, five days ago,
I was at the funeral of Eugene Wesley Smith,
who was my brother in law, he was my sister’s husband.
My sister, Leonette, passed away in August of 2021.
Her husband has died at the age of 68 in April of 2022,
and I was at his funeral.
He died suddenly of a heart attack
that came completely out of the blue.
He seemed to be in perfect health.
He was a magnificent human being.
I could go into the details, but take my word for it.
He was a businessman, a steel trader, metals trader.
He would buy and sell.
He worked mostly from his home office.
He had clients, counterparties,
people he did business with all over the world.
He had three sons, one of whom is in his early 30s,
two of whom are in their late 30s.
These are my sister’s children.
She’s deceased, now he’s deceased.
The older two sons are severely developmentally disabled,
and although they’re in their late 30s,
they’re not independently viable.
They don’t function effectively.
They have to be cared for.
That responsibility has now fallen to the family,
but mainly to the surviving son who lives with his wife
and his two young children,
and has assumed the responsibility.
They’ve cared at home, my sister and her husband, Wesley,
Eugene Wesley Smith, cared for their disabled sons at home.
They didn’t want to see them institutionalized.
They had some help from programs at the state
and social worker and so on,
but they mainly took on the burden
of caring for them at home.
Anyway, I go on at length here,
and I don’t know how much of this you will choose
to make use of, and it doesn’t matter, really.
I’m just trying to respond to your question.
I was asked to offer some remarks at the funeral,
and I offered them.
And I spoke well of this great man.
He was a great man.
He had a straight back.
He was a standup guy.
He could be counted on.
His word was his bond.
He had broad shoulders.
He carried a lot of people with him,
business associates, family members,
and so forth and so on.
He had a huge heart.
He was a giving and kind person.
He had a great mind.
He was an intellectual, even though as a businessman,
much of his day was taken up with the minutia of contracts
and the details of the order being delivered
and not being delivered,
of the quality of the product,
of the financing, and so forth and so on.
There was still a powerful mind there.
Yeah, he was a powerful mind, and he studied.
He read books.
He was interested in music and art.
He was a spiritual seeker,
had been ordained as a child minister in his youth,
and while he remained a master of the Christian canon,
he also explored Eastern religion and other spiritual paths
and kind of stood above any particular tradition
as a man who believed in God
but thought that God manifests himself in many ways
to human beings and that there was much to learn
from other religious traditions as well.
This is Wesley.
We called him Wesley by his middle name,
Eugene Wesley Smith.
May he rest in peace.
That’s five years younger than I am right now.
He dropped dead without any warning.
I could, too.
How did that make you feel?
What were the thoughts in your mind leading up to it,
having to give that speech in the days that followed?
Well, first of all, I wondered,
what would I say, what would I say?
And, you know, there was no way to prepare,
and I decided, you know, I rehearsed in my mind this,
you know, he had straight back, he had broad shoulders,
he had a big heart, he had a great mind,
you know, he had a capacious spirit and whatnot,
and I used that as a template for making my remarks.
But my main thought was, my God,
life is precious and life is fleeting,
and death is a part of life.
My death is a part of my life.
And I thought, you know, well,
I want to take better care of myself than I do,
you know, et cetera, et cetera.
But I also thought, a lot of this is not in my hands at all.
I thought, one should have his affairs in order.
My brother did not have all of his affairs in order,
in the sense that there is a lot of,
you know, things are going to probate,
there was no will, there’s, you know,
it’s kind of unsettled.
I don’t want that to happen to my surviving family members.
I want to have my affairs such that, should heaven forbid,
I fall over one day and don’t get up again.
People don’t have to scramble about
how to take care of things from that point forward.
But as a human, are you afraid?
In your own heart.
Now, I read this wonderful book called The Swerve.
It’s about Lucretius.
It’s about the nature of things,
which is this great classical work from the Roman period
by this guy, Lucretius.
And I’m trying to think of the name of the author,
but you could look it up.
The Swerve is the book.
It won like a National Book Award or a Pulitzer Prize.
And it’s the history of the recovery of this book
by one of these Italian, Renaissance Italian people
who would go into the monasteries in Central Europe
and look through the scrolls and they discover
these classical works from antiquity,
which had been lost through the dark ages
and they republish and read these works.
And Lucretius’s great work on the nature of things
was one of these books, Poggio Broccolini.
I don’t remember the Italian guy’s name,
but this all could be looked up.
Yeah, Poggio Broccolini.
15th century and the name of the author
is Stephen Greenblatt.
Yeah, Stephen Greenblatt, a magnificent book
and a terrific story.
Anyway, one of Lucretius’s points, he was an atheist.
I mean, he was a Roman.
I mean, he didn’t believe in mysticism.
And he argued it’s irrational to be afraid of death.
Why should I fear death?
Death is coming to all of us.
The point of being afraid, I mean, I’m wasting my time
fearing something that I have no ultimate control over.
It’s irrational to be afraid of death.
Yeah, because you can’t predict when it happens.
You only know that it happens.
So why be afraid?
And therefore live every day fully,
live every day purposefully, you know,
and so on, but these are all just words.
You know, I don’t wanna die.
I wanna live forever.
I’m not gonna live forever.
I don’t wanna suffer.
I see people suffering.
I saw my late wife, Linda Datcher Lowry,
Dr. Linda Datcher Lowry, professor of economics
at Tufts University, whom I met in graduate school at MIT,
black woman from Baltimore.
We married, we raised two sons together.
She died at the age of 59 from metastatic breast cancer.
And I watched her suffer and I watched her die.
And it took a while.
And we cared for her at home right up until the very end.
She died in our bed with our sons on either side of her.
And the dog curled up by the door,
the porch door in the bedroom, and she expired.
And I watched her suffer and I watched her die.
And I don’t wanna suffer.
I don’t wanna die.
I am likely to suffer before I die.
I am likely to see my death coming and to lament it.
There’s a book by Richard John Newhouse, the theologian,
called As I Lay Dying,
As I Lay Dying, Richard John Newhouse.
He had stomach cancer and he thought he was dying.
And he wrote this book As I Lay Dying.
And then he recovered, he went into remission
and he had another couple of years.
He thought he was dying and he had another couple of years.
And I can remember meeting him at a bookstore
in suburban Boston when he was on a tour.
He was just a friend of mine,
a theologian and a public intellectual.
He founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life
in New York City, which still exists,
Richard John Newhouse.
And he’s contemplating his own death
from the point of view of a Christian minister.
He was first a Lutheran pastor
and then he converted to Catholicism
or as he would have put it, I returned to the church
because he thought the Renaissance was over.
I mean, I’m sorry, the Reformation,
Richard thought was over.
He says there’s only one church, et cetera.
Get into theology stuff here.
But I’m saying all that to say,
I read that book aloud to my wife, Linda,
as she lay dying in that bed.
I read that book and it was filled with hope.
I mean, it first acknowledged the dread.
Yes, I lie dying.
I don’t wanna die.
I’m a Christian minister.
Christ was raised from the dead.
I’m supposed to believe in everlasting life
but the fact of the matter is this is me
and I’m lying here and I’m dying.
This is the end of me.
How are you gonna do anything other than dread
the end of me?
So let’s acknowledge that I don’t wanna die, okay?
I’m just gonna tell you that upfront.
But that is not the end of,
my death is not the end of life.
I have lived well and fully.
I will go and do my best right up until the end.
I will accept what is inevitable
and I will hold out this belief.
And he’s a Christian minister so he holds out this belief.
And he knows that the belief is not rational.
It’s not a reasoned deductive scientific conclusion.
It’s spiritual in the most fundamental way.
It is something that people hold on to and they have hope
and he had hope.
I don’t know if I have that hope.
I used to be, but I’m no longer a Christian
and I’m no longer a theist really.
I’m with Lucretius there.
I mean, there’s no magic that’s going on here.
There’s no unseen hand behind the scene
that’s arranging things.
What I believe is that when I look at the natural world,
I see the evolution of the species
and I see the organic development of the planets.
I mean, the earth is going to not exist
in a finite number of years.
I think with a very high probability,
the sun is gonna die.
It’s gonna implode.
It’s gonna go supernova, whatever is gonna happen.
And there’s not gonna be any there, there.
What’s the meaning of life, Glen Lowry?
That’s the meaning of life.
Yeah, let’s go, let’s go.
What’s the why?
Or is that something economists and social scientists
and mathematicians are not equipped to answer?
You know, I think we try to live well and meaningfully
within our time.
We bond, we reproduce, we try to pass on
and we accept our limitations and our mortality.
We try to contribute
and that’s through our children and through our work.
And we’re in this together, we’re not in this alone.
We are connected to other people.
I get a lot of gratitude out of teaching.
I’m a teacher.
My students are gonna outlive me.
They’re gonna have students.
I’m a writer.
My writing is gonna outlive me.
I don’t wanna be self important or pretentious here.
I doubt that I’m gonna be the James Joyce
of the 21st century.
They may not be reading my stuff in a hundred years
because people will certainly be reading Ulysses
in a hundred years.
But I try to have an impact on the world that I’m a part of
and try to leave a legacy that’s dignified.
I mean, I could give some flowery words
here, truth seeking and whatnot.
What about love?
What role does love play in this life thing?
Love makes the world go round.
I mean, without love, I mean, what have we got?
I mean, we don’t have family and, you know,
we certainly have missed out if love is not a central part
of our existence.
But stop asking me questions like that.
Glenn, thank you for doing everything you do,
for thinking the way you do, for being fearless and bold.
And the Glenn show and your writing and your work
and just being who you are.
Thank you for being you.
And thank you for giving me the huge honor
of spending your extremely valuable time with me today.
This was awesome.
It’s been my pleasure, Lex.
I mean, really, and it has been like four hours, man.
You’re wearing me out for me.
I love it.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Glenn Lowry.
To support this podcast,
please check out our sponsors in the description.
And now let me leave you with some words
from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, then walk.
If you can’t walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.