Lex Fridman Podcast - #360 - Tim Urban: Tribalism, Marxism, Liberalism, Social Justice, and Politics

The following is a conversation with Tim Urban,

his second time in the podcast.

He’s the author and illustrator of the amazing blog

called Wait But Why, and is the author of a new book

coming out tomorrow called What’s Our Problem?

A Self-Help Book for Societies.

We talk a lot about this book in this podcast,

but you really do need to get it

and experience it for yourself.

It is a fearless, insightful, hilarious,

and I think important book

in this divisive time that we live in.

The Kindle version, the audio book, and the web version

should be all available on date of publication.

I should also mention that my face

might be a bit more beat up than usual.

I got hit in the chin pretty good

since I’ve been getting back into training jujitsu,

a sport I love very much, after recovering from an injury.

So if you see marks on my face

during these intros or conversations,

you know that my life is in a pretty good place.

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And now, dear friends, here’s Tim Urban.

You wrote an incredible book called What’s Our Problem?,

a self-help book for societies.

In the beginning, you present this view of human history

as a 1,000-page book where each page is 250 years.

And it’s a brilliant visualization

because almost nothing happens for most of it.

So what blows your mind most about that visualization

when you just sit back and think about it?

It’s a boring book.

So 950 pages, 95% of the book,

hunter-gatherers kind of doing their thing.

I’m sure there’s obviously some major cognitive

and advancements along the way in language.

And I’m sure the bow and arrow comes around at some point.

So tiny things, but it’s like,

oh, now we have 400 pages till the next thing.

But then you get to page 950 and things start moving.

Recorded history starts at 976.

So basically the bottom row

is when anything interesting happens.

There’s a bunch of agriculture for a while

before we know anything about it.

And then recorded history starts.

Yeah, 25 pages of actual recorded history.

So when we think of prehistoric,

we’re talking about pages one through 975 of the book.

And then history is page 976 to 1,000.

If you were reading the book, it would be like epilogue AD,

the last little 10 pages of the book.

And we think of AD as super long, right?

2,000 years, the Roman Empire, 2,000 years ago.

Like that’s so long.

Human history has been going on for over 2,000 centuries.

Like that is, it’s just, it’s hard to wrap your head around.

And this is, I mean, even that’s just the end

of a very long road.

Like, you know, the 100,000 years before that,

it’s not like, you know,

it’s not like that was that different.

So it’s just, there’s been people like us

that have emotions like us,

that have physical sensations like us for so, so long.

And who are they all?

And what was their life like?

And it’s, you know,

I think we have no idea what it was like to be them.

The thing that’s craziest about the people of the far past

is not just that they had different lives,

they had different fears,

they had different dangers and different responsibilities,

and they lived in tribes and everything,

but they didn’t know anything.

Like, we just take it for granted

that we’re born on top of this tower of knowledge.

And from the very beginning,

we know that the earth is a ball floating in space,

and we know that we’re going to die one day.

And we know that, you know, we evolved from animals.

And all the, those were all like incredible,

you know, epiphanies quite recently.

And the people a long time ago,

they just had no idea what was going on.

And like, I’m kind of jealous,

because I feel like it, I mean,

it might’ve been scary to not know what’s going on,

but it also, I feel like would be,

you’d have a sense of awe and wonder all the time,

and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

And once you learn, you’re kind of like,

oh, that’s like, it’s a little grim.

But they probably had the same capacity for consciousness

to experience the world, to wander about the world,

maybe to construct narratives about the world

and myths and so on.

They just had less grounded, systematic facts to play with.

They still probably felt the narratives,

the myths they constructed as intensely as we do.

Oh, yeah.

They also fell in love.

They also had friends,

and they had falling outs with friends.

They didn’t shower much, though.

No, they did not smell nice.

Maybe they did.

Maybe beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe it’s all relative.

How many people in history have experienced a hot shower?

Like, almost none.

That’s like, when were hot showers invented?

100 years ago?

Like, less?

So, like George Washington never had a hot shower.

It’s just kind of weird.

Like, he took cold showers all the time, or like.

And again, we just take this for granted,

but that’s like an unbelievable life experience,

to have a controlled little booth

where it rains hot water on your head.

And then you get out, and it’s not everywhere.

It’s like contained.

That was like, you know,

a lot of people probably lived and died

with never experiencing hot water.

Maybe they had a way to heat water over a fire.

But like, then it’s, I don’t know.

It’s just like, there’s so many things about our lives now

that are just total anomaly.

It makes you wonder, like,

what is the thing they would notice the most?

I mean, the sewage system.

Like, it doesn’t smell in cities.

It’s incredible.

What does the sewer system do?

I mean, it gets rid of waste efficiently,

such that we don’t have to confront it,

both with any of our senses.

And that probably wasn’t there.

I mean, what else?

Plus all the medical stuff associated with sewage.

Yeah, I mean, how about the disease?


How about the cockroaches and the rats

and the disease and the plagues?

And, you know, and then when they got,

so they caught more diseases,

but then when they caught the disease,

they also didn’t have treatment for it.

So they often would die

or they would just be in a huge amount of pain.

They also didn’t know what the disease was.

They didn’t know about microbes.

That was this new thing,

the idea that these tiny little animals

that are causing these diseases.

So what did they think?

You know, in the bubonic plague,

you know, in the Black Death, the 1300s,

people thought that it was an act of God

because, you know, God’s angry at us.

Because why would, you know,

why would you not think that

if you didn’t know what it was?

And so the crazy thing is that these were the same primates.

So I do know something about them.

I know in some sense what it’s like to be them

because I am a human as well.

And to know that this particular primate

that I know what it’s like to be

experienced such different things.

It’s, and like, this isn’t,

our life is not the life that this primate

has experienced almost ever.

So it’s just, it’s just a bit strange.

I don’t know.

I have a sense that we would get acclimated very quickly.

Like if we threw ourselves back a few thousand years ago,

it would be very uncomfortable at first,

but the whole hot shower thing, you’ll get used to it.

After a year, you would not even like miss it.

There’s a few, I’m trying to remember which book

that talks about hiking the Appalachian Trail,

but you kind of miss those hot showers.

But I have a sense like after a few months,

after a few years.

Well, your skill recalibrates.


Yeah, I was saying the other day to a friend

that whatever you’re used to,

you start to think that,

oh, the people that have more than me

or are more fortunate, like, it just sounds incredible.

I would be so happy.

But you know, that’s not true.

Because the experience, what would happen is

you would get these new things

or you would get these new opportunities

and then you would get used to it.

And then you would, that’s the hedonic treadmill.

You’d come back to where you are.

And likewise, though, because you think,

oh my God, what if I had to, you know,

have this kind of job that I never would want?

Or I had this kind of marriage that I never would want?

You know what, if you did, you would adjust

and you’d get used to it

and you might not be that much less happy than you are now.

So on the other side of the you being okay going back,

you know, we would survive if we had to go back.

You know, we’d have to learn some skills

but we would buck up.

And you know, people have gone to war before

that were in the, you know, shopkeepers a year before that.

They were in the trenches the next year.

But on the other hand, if you brought them here,

you know, I always think it would be so fun to just bring,

forget the hunter-gatherers, bring a 1700s person here

and tour them around, take them on an airplane

and show them your phone and all the things it can do.

Show them the internet, show them the grocery store.

Imagine taking them to a Whole Foods.

Likewise, I think they would be completely awestruck

and on their knees, crying tears of joy.

And then they’d get used to it

and they’d be complaining about,

like, you know, you don’t have the oranges in stock.

It’s like, you know, and that’s, you know.

The grocery store is a tough one to get used to.

Like when I first came to this country,

the abundance of bananas was the thing

that struck me the most.

So like fruits in general, but food in general,

but bananas somehow struck me the most.

That you could just eat them as much as you want.

That took a long time for me.

Probably took several years to really

like get acclimated to that.

Is that-

Why didn’t you have bananas?

The number of bananas, fresh bananas.

I don’t, that wasn’t available.

Bread, yes.

Bananas, no.

Yeah, it’s like we don’t even know what to,

like we don’t even know the proper levels of gratitude.

You know, walking around the grocery store,

I don’t know to be like, the bread’s nice,

but the bananas are like, we’re so lucky.

I don’t know.

I’m like, oh, I could have been the other way.

I have no idea.

Well, it’s interesting then where we point our gratitude

in the West, in the United States.

Probably, do we point it away from materialist possessions

towards, or do we just aspire to do that

towards other human beings that we love?

Because in the East, in the Soviet Union,

growing up poor, it’s having food is the gratitude.

Having transportation is gratitude.

Having warmth and shelter is gratitude.

And now, but see within that,

the deep gratitude is for other human beings.

It’s the penguins huddling together

for warmth in the cold.

I think it’s a person-by-person basis.

I mean, I’m sure, yes, of course, in the West,

we will, on average, feel gratitude towards different things

or maybe it’s a different level of gratitude.

Maybe we feel less gratitude than countries that,

you know, obviously, I think the easiest,

the person that’s most likely to feel gratitude

is going to be someone whose life happens to be one

where they just move up, up, up throughout their life.

A lot of people in the greatest generation,

you know, people who were born in the 20s or whatever,

and a lot of the boomers, too.

The story is the greatest generation grew up dirt poor

and they often ended up middle-class.

And the boomers, some of them started off middle-class

and many of them ended up quite wealthy.

And I feel like that life trajectory

is naturally going to foster gratitude, right?

Because you’re not gonna take for granted these things

because you didn’t have them.

You know, I didn’t go out of the country, really,

in my childhood very much.

You know, like, you know, we traveled,

but it was to Virginia to see my grandparents

or Wisconsin to see other relatives,

or, you know, maybe Florida after going to the beach.

And then I started going out of the country

like crazy in my 20s,

because I really, you know, became my favorite thing.

And I feel like because I,

if I had grown up always doing that,

it would have been another thing.

I’m like, yeah, it’s just something I do.

But I still, every time I go to a new country,

I’m like, oh my God, this is so cool.

And in another country,

this thing I’ve only seen on the map,

I’m like, I’m there now.

And so I feel like it’s, a lot of times,

it’s a product of what you didn’t have

and then you suddenly had.

But I still think it’s case by case

in that there’s like a meter in everyone’s head,

you know, that I think at a 10,

you’re experiencing just immense gratitude, right?

Which is a euphoric feeling.

It’s a great feeling.

And it makes you happy to savor what you have,

to look down at the mountain of stuff that you have

that you’re standing on, right?

To look down at it and say, oh my God, I’m so lucky.

And I’m so grateful for this and this and this.

And obviously that’s a happy exercise.

Now, when you move that meter down to six or seven,

maybe you think that sometimes,

but you’re not always thinking that

because you’re sometimes looking up

at this cloud of things that you don’t have

and the things that they have, but you don’t,

or the things you wished you had,

or you thought you were gonna have or whatever.

And that’s the opposite direction to look, right?

And that’s the, either that’s envy, that’s yearning,

or often it’s, if you think about your past,

it’s grievance, right?

And so then you go into a one

and you have someone who feels like a complete victim.

They are just a victim of the society,

of their siblings and their parents and their loved one.

And they are, they’re wallowing in everything

that’s happened wrong to me.

Everything I should have that I don’t,

everything that has gone wrong for me.

And so that’s a very unhealthy,

mentally unhealthy place to be.

Anyone can go there.

There’s an endless list of stuff it can be aggrieved about

and an endless list of stuff you can have gratitude for.

And so it’s, in some ways it’s a choice and it’s a habit.

And maybe it’s part of how we were raised

or our natural demeanor, but it’s such a good,

you are really good at this, by the way.

Your Twitter is like-

Go on.

Well, like you’re, you are constantly just saying,

man, I’m lucky, or like, I’m so grateful for this.

And that’s, it’s a good thing to do

because you’re reminding yourself,

but you’re also reminding other people to think that way.

And it’s like, we are lucky, you know?

And so anyway, I think that scale can go from one to 10.

And I think it’s hard to be a 10.

I think you’d be very happy if you could be,

but I think trying to be above a five

and looking down at the things you have more often

than you are looking up at the things you don’t

or being resentful about the things

that people have wronged you.

Well, the interesting thing, I think,

was an open question, but I suspect

that you can control that knob for the individual.

Like, you yourself can choose.

It’s like the Stoic philosophy.

You could choose where you are as a matter of habit,

like you said, but you can also probably control that

on a scale of a family, of a tribe,

of a nation, of a society.

I mean, you can describe a lot of the things

that happened in Nazi Germany and different other parts

of history through a sort of societal envy

and resentment that builds up.

Maybe certain narratives pick up

and then they infiltrate your mind

and then now your knob goes to,

from the gratitude for everything,

it goes to resentment and envy and all the rest of it.

Germany between the two World Wars,

you know, like you said, the Soviet kind of mentality.

So yeah, and then when you’re soaking in a culture,

so there’s kind of two factors, right?

It’s what’s going on in your own head

and then what’s surrounding you.

And what’s surrounding you kind of has concentric circles.

There’s your immediate group of people

because that group of people, if they’re a certain way,

if they feel a lot of gratitude

and they talk about it a lot,

that kind of insulates you from the broader culture

because, you know, people are gonna have the most impact

on you or the ones closest.

But often, all the concentric circles

are saying the same thing.

The people around you are feeling the same way

that the broader community,

which is feeling the same way as the broader country.

And, you know, I think this is why

I think American patriotism, you know, nationalism,

you know, can be tribal, can be very, not a good thing.

Patriotism, I think, is a great thing

because really, what is patriotism?

I mean, it’s if you love your country,

you should love your fellow countrymen.

You know, that’s a Reagan quote.

It’s like patriotism is like,

I think a feeling of like unity,

and, but it also comes along

with an implicit kind of concept of gratitude

because it’s like, we are so lucky to live in,

you know, people think it’s chauvinist to say

we live in the best country in the world, right?

And, you know, yes, when Americans say that,

no one likes it, right?

But actually, it’s not a bad thing to think.

It’s a nice thing to think.

It’s a way of saying, I’m so grateful

for all the great things this country gives to me

and this country has done.

And I think, you know, if you heard a Filipino person say,

you know what?

The Philippines is the best country in the world.

No one in America would say that’s chauvinist.

They’d say, awesome, right?

Because when it’s coming from someone, you know,

who’s not American, it sounds totally fine.

But I think, you know, national pride is actually good.

Now, again, that can quickly translate

into xenophobia and nationalism.

And so, you know, you have to make sure

it doesn’t go off that cliff, but.

Yeah, there’s good ways to formulate that.

Like you talk about, we’ll talk about like

high rung progressivism, high rung conservatism.

Those are two different ways of embodying patriotism.

So you could talk about maybe loving the tradition

that this country stands for,

or you could talk about loving the people

that ultimately push progress.

And those are, from an intellectual perspective,

a good way to represent patriotism.

We gotta zoom out, because this graphic is epic.

A lot of images in your book are just epic on their own.

It’s brilliantly done.

But this one has famous people for each of the cards.

Like the best of.


And by the way, good for them to be the person that,

it’s not that I could have chosen

lots of people for each card,

but I think most people would agree,

you know, that’s a pretty fair choice for each page.

And good for them to be, you know,

you crushed it if you can be the person

for your whole 250 year page, so.

Well, I noticed you put Gandhi, you didn’t put Hitler.

I mean, there’s a lot of people gonna argue with you

about that particular last page.


Yes, you’re right, I could have put,

I actually, I was thinking about Darwin there, too.

Darwin, yeah, Einstein.

Yeah, exactly.

You really could have put anyone.

Did you think about putting yourself for a second?

Yeah, I should have, I should have.

That would have been awesome.

I’m sure that would have endeared the readers to me

from right from the beginning of the first page of the book.

A little bit of a messianic complex going on.

But yeah, so the list of people, just so you know,

so these are 250 year chunks.

The last one being from 1770 to 2020.

And so it goes Gandhi, Shakespeare, Joan of Arc,

Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, Muhammad, Constantine,

Jesus, Cleopatra, Aristotle, Buddha.

It’s so interesting to think about

this very recent human history.

That’s 11 pages, so it would be 2750, almost 3,000 years.

Just that there’s these figures that stand out

and that define the course of human history.

It’s like the craziest thing to me

is that Buddha was a dude.

He was a guy with arms and legs and fingernails

that he maybe bit and he liked certain foods

and maybe he got, he had digestive issues sometimes

and he got cuts and they stung.

And he was a guy and he had hopes and dreams

and he probably had a big ego for a while

before I guess Buddha totally overcame that one.

And it’s like who knows, the mythical figure of Buddha,

who knows how similar he was.

But the fact, same with Jesus, this was a guy.

To me, he’s a primate.

What an impact.

He was a cell first and then a baby.

Yeah, he was a fetus at some point.

He was a dumb baby trying to learn how to walk.

Yeah, like having a tantrum because he’s frustrated

because he’s in the terrible twos.

Jesus was in the terrible twos.

Buddha never had a tantrum, let’s be honest, the myth.

The mother was like, this baby’s great.

Like wow, wow.

Let’s figure something out.

It just, I mean, listen, hearing about Genghis Khan,

it’s incredible to me because it’s just like

this was some Mongolian herder guy

who was taken as a slave and he was like dirt poor,

catching rats as a young teen to feed him and his mom

and I think his brother.

And it’s just like the odds on, when he was born,

he was just one of probably tens of thousands

of random teen boys living in Mongolia in the 1200s.

The odds of that person, any one of them being

a household name today that we’re talking about,

it’s just crazy like what had to happen.

And for that guy, for that poor, dirt poor herder

to take over the world, I don’t know.

So history just like continually blows my mind.

And he’s the reason you and I are related probably.

Yeah, no, I mean, also that’s the other thing

is that some of these dudes, by becoming king,

by having a better army at the right time,

William the Conqueror or whatever is in the right place

at the right time with the right army

and there’s a weakness at the right moment

and he comes over and he exploits it

and ends up probably having, I don’t know,

a thousand children and those children are high up people

who might be have a ton of,

the species is different now because of him.

Like forget England’s different

or European borders look different,

like we look different because of a small handful of people.

When sometimes I think, I’m like,

oh, this part of the world, I can recognize.

Someone’s Greek, someone’s Persian, someone’s wherever

because they kind of have certain facial features.

And I’m like, it may have happened.

I mean, obviously that’s a population,

but it may be that like someone 600 years ago

that looked like that really spread their seed

and that’s why the ethnicity looks kind of like that now.

Sorry, anyway.

Yeah, yeah.

Do you think individuals like that

can turn the direction of history

or is that an illusion that narrative would tell ourselves?

Well, it’s both.

I mean, so I said that William the Conqueror, right?

Or Hitler, right?

It’s not that Hitler was born

destined to be great at all, right?

I think in a lot of cases,

he’s some frustrated artist with a temper

who’s turning over the table in his studio

and hitting his wife and being kind of a dick

and a total nobody, right?

I think almost all the times

you could have put Hitler baby on earth.

He’s a rando, right?

And maybe sometimes he becomes some kind of,

he uses the speaking ability

because that ability was gonna be there either way,

but maybe he uses it for something else.

But that said, I also don’t think,

but it’s not that World War II

was gonna happen either way, right?

So it’s both.

It’s that these circumstances were one way

and this person came along at the right time

and those two made a match made in, in this case, hell.

But it makes you wonder, yes, it’s a match in hell,

but are there other people that could have taken his place

or do these people that stand out,

they’re the rare spark of that genius

whether it take us towards evil, towards good,

whether those figures singularly define

the trajectory of humanity?

What defines the trajectory of humanity

in the 21st century, for example?

Might be the influence of AI,

might be the influence of nuclear war,

negative or positive, not in the case of nuclear war,

but the bioengineering, nanotech, virology,

what else is there?

Maybe the structure of governments and so on.

Maybe the structure of universities.

I don’t know.

There could be singular figures that stand up

and lead the way for human.

There will be.

But I wonder if the society is the thing

that manifests that person

or that person really does have a huge impact.

I think it’s probably a spectrum

where there are some cases when a circumstance was such

that something like what happened was gonna happen.

If you pluck that person from the earth,

I don’t know whether the Mongols is a good example or not,

but maybe it could be that if you plucked Genghis Khan

as a baby, there was because of the specific way

Chinese civilization was at that time

and the specific climate that was causing

a certain kind of pressure on the Mongols

and the way they still had their great archers

and they had their horses

and they had a lot of the same advantages.

So maybe it was waiting to happen.

It was gonna happen either way

and it may not have happened to the extent or whatever.

So maybe, or you could go the full other direction

and say, actually, this was probably not gonna happen.

And I think World War II is an example.

I kind of think World War II really was kind of the work of,

of course, it relied on all these other circumstances.

You had to have the resentment in Germany.

You have to have the Great Depression.

But I think if you take Hitler out,

I’m pretty sure World War II doesn’t happen.

Well, then it seems like easier to answer these questions

when you look at history, even recent history,

but let’s look at now.

Let’s look at, I’m sure we’ll talk about social media.

So who are the key players in social media?

Mark Zuckerberg, what’s the name of the MySpace guy, Tom?

Tom, it’s just Tom, yeah.

There’s a meme going around

where MySpace is like the perfect social media

because no algorithmic involvement.

Everybody’s happy and positive.

Also, Tom did it right.

At the time we were like, oh man,

Tom only made like a few million dollars.

Ooh, he sucks to not be Zuck.

Tom might be living a nice life right now

where he doesn’t have this nightmare

that these other people have.

Yeah, and he’s always smiling in his profile picture.

He looks good.

And so there’s like Larry Page.

So with Google, that’s kind of intermingled

into that whole thing,

into the development of the internet.

Jack Dorsey, now Elon, who else?

I mean, there’s people playing

with the evolution of social media.

And to me, that seems to be connected

to the development of AI.

And it seems like those singular figures

will define the direction of AI development

and social media development

with social media seeming to have such a huge impact

on our collective intelligence.

It does feel in one way like individuals

have an especially big impact right now

in that a small number of people

are pulling some big levers.

And there can be a little meeting

of three people at Facebook.

And they come out of that meeting

and make a decision that totally changes the world.

On the other hand, you see a lot of conformity.

You see a lot of,

they all pulled the plug on Trump the same day.

So that suggests that there’s some bigger force

that is also kind of driving them,

in which case it’s less about the individuals.

I think this is, what is leadership?

I mean, to me, leadership is the ability

to move things in a direction

that the cultural forces are not already taking things.

A lot of times people seem like a leader

because they’re just kind of hopping on the cultural wave

and they happen to be the person who gets to the top of it.

Now it seems like they’re,

but actually the wave was already going.

Real leadership is when someone actually changes the wave,

changes the shape of the wave.

I think Elon with SpaceX and with Tesla,

genuinely shaped a wave.

Maybe you could say that EVs were actually,

they were gonna happen anyway,

but there’s not much evidence

about at least happening when it did.

If we end up on Mars,

you can say that Elon was a genuine leader there.

And so there are examples.

Now, Zuckerberg definitely has done a lot of leadership

along the way.

He’s also potentially kind of caught in a storm

that is happening and he’s one of the figures in it.

So I don’t know.

And it’s possible that he is a big shaper

if the metaverse becomes a reality.

If in 30 years, we’re all living in a virtual world.

To many people, it seems ridiculous now

that that was a poor investment.

Well, he talked about getting,

you know, I think it was something like a billion people

with a VR headset in their pocket

and by, you know, I think it was 10 years from now

back in 2015, so we’re behind that.

But he was talking about that.

And honestly, this is something I’ve been wrong about

because I went to like one of the Facebook conferences

and tried out all the new Oculus stuff.

And I was like, you know, pretty early

talking to some of the major players there

because I was gonna write a big post about it

that then got swallowed by this book.

But I would have been wrong in the post

because what I would have said was that this thing is,

when I tried it, I was like, this is, you know,

some of them suck, some of them make you nauseous

and they’re just not that, you know,

the headsets were big and, you know,

but I was like, the times when this is good,

I have this feeling, it reminds me of the feeling I had

when I first was five and I went to a friend’s house

and he had Nintendo and he gave me the controller

and I was looking at the screen and I pressed a button

and Mario jumped.

And I said, I can make something on the screen move.

And the same feeling I had the first time

someone showed me how to send an email,

it was like really early and he’s like, you can send this.

And I was like, it goes, I can press enter on my computer

and something happens on your computer.

Those were obviously, you know, when you have that feeling,

it often means you’re witnessing a paradigm shift.

And I thought, this is one of those things.

And I still kind of think it is,

but it’s kind of weird that it hasn’t, you know,

like where’s the VR revolution, like?

Yeah, I’m surprised, because I’m with you.

My first and still instinct is,

this feels like it changes everything.

VR feels like it changes everything,

but it’s not changing anything.

Like a dumb part of my brain is genuinely convinced

that this is real.

And then the smart part knows it’s not,

but that’s why the dumb part was like,

we’re not walking off that cliff.

The smart part’s like, you’re on your rug.

It’s fine.

The dumb part of my brain is like,

I’m not walking off the cliff.

So it’s like, it’s crazy.

I feel like it’s waiting for like that revolutionary person

who comes in and says, I’m gonna create a headset.

Like honestly-

Yeah, it’s Steve Jobs’ iPhone of-

Honestly, a little bit of a Carmack type guy,

which is why it was really interesting

for him to be involved with Facebook.

It’s basically, how do we create a simple dumb thing

that’s a hundred bucks, but actually creates that experience.

And then there’s going to be some viral killer app on it.

And that’s going to be the gateway into a thing

that’s gonna change everything.

I mean, I don’t know what exactly was the thing

that changed everything with a personal computer.

Is that understood?

Why that, maybe graphics?

What was the use case?

I mean-


Wasn’t the 84 Macintosh a moment when it was like,

this is actually something that normal people

can and want to use?

Because it was less than $5,000, I think.

And I just think it had some like

Steve Jobs user-friendliness already to it

that other ones hadn’t had.

I think Windows 95 was a really big deal.

I remember like,

because I’m old enough to remember the MS-DOS

when I was like, kind of remember the command.

And then suddenly this concept of like a window

you drag something into, or you double click an icon,

which now seems like so obvious to us,

was like revolutionary because it made it intuitive.

So, you know, I don’t know, yeah.

Windows 95 was good.

It was crazy, yeah.

I forget what the big leaps was,

because that was Windows 2000, it sucked.

And then Windows XP was good.

I moved to Mac around 2004, so I stopped.

You sold your soul to the devil?

I see.

Well, us, the people, still use Windows and Android.


The device in the operating system of the people.

Not you elitist folk with your books

and your, what else?

And success.


So, you write, more technology means better good times,

but it also means badder bad times.

And the scary thing is, if the good and bad

keep exponentially growing, it doesn’t matter

how great the good times become.

If the bad gets to a certain level of bad,

it’s all over for us.

Can you elaborate on this?

Why is there, why does the bad have that property?

That if it’s all exponentially getting more powerful,

then the bad is gonna win in the end?

Am I misinterpreting that?

No, so the first thing is, I noticed a trend,

which was like, the centuries,

the good is getting better every century.

Like, the 20th century was the best century yet

in terms of prosperity, in terms of GDP per capita,

in terms of life expectancy, in terms of poverty

and disease, every metric that matters.

The 20th century was incredible.

It also had the biggest wars in history,

the biggest genocide in history,

the biggest existential threat yet with nuclear weapons.

The Depression was probably as big an economic.

So it’s this interesting thing,

where the stakes are getting higher in both directions.

And so the question is, if you get enough good,

does that protect you against the bad, right?

The dream, and I do think this is possible too,

is the good gets so good.

You know, have you ever read the culture series

that Ian Banks books?

Not yet, but I get criticized on a daily basis

by some of the mutual folks we know

for not having done so.

And I feel like a lesser man for it.

Yes, I need to change that.

So that’s how I got onto it.

And I read six of the 10 books, and they’re great.

But the thing I love about them is like,

it just paints one of these futuristic societies

where the good has gotten so good

that the bad is no longer even an issue.

Like, basically, and the way that this works

is the AI, you know, the AIs are benevolent

and they control everything.

And so like, there’s one random anecdote

where they’re like, you know, what happens

if you murder someone in,

because you’re still, you know, there’s still people

with rage and jealousy or whatever.

So if someone murders someone,

first of all, that person’s backed up.

So it’s like they have to get a new body

and it’s annoying, but it’s like, it’s not death.

And secondly, that person, what are they gonna do?

Put them in jail?

No, no, no, they’re just gonna send a slap drone around,

which is this little like tiny, you know, random drone

that just will float around next to them forever.

And by the way, kind of be their servant.

Like, it’s kind of fun to have a slap drone,

but it’s just making sure that they never do anything.

I was like, oh man, it could just be,

everyone could be so safe and everything could be so,

like, you know, you want a house,

you know, the AIs will build you a house.

There’s endless space, there’s endless resources.

So I do think that that could be part of our future.

That’s part of what excites me is like there is,

like today would seem like a utopia to Thomas Jefferson,


Thomas Jefferson’s world would seem like a utopia

to a caveman.

There is a future, and by the way,

these are happening faster, these jumps, right?

So the thing that would seem like a utopia to us,

we could experience in our own lifetimes, right?

Like it’s, especially if, you know,

life extension combines with exponential progress.

I want to get there.

And I think in that part of what makes it utopia

is you don’t have to be as scared of the worst bad guy

in the world trying to do the worst damage

because we have protection.

But that said, I’m not sure how that happens.

Like, it’s either easier said than done.

Nick Bostrom uses the example of,

if nuclear weapons could be manufactured

by microwaving sand, for example,

we’d probably be in the Stone Age right now

because .001% of people would love to destroy

all of humanity, right?

Some 16-year-old with huge mental health problems

who right now goes and shoots up a school

would say, oh, even better, I’m going to blow up a city.

And now suddenly there’s copycats, right?

And so that’s like, as our technology grows,

it’s going to be easier for the worst bad guys

to do tremendous damage.

And it’s easier to destroy than to build.

So it takes a tiny, tiny number of these people

with enough power to do bad.

So that, to me, I’m like, the stakes are going up

because what we have to lose is this incredible utopia.

But also, like, dystopia is real, it happens.

The Romans ended up in a dystopia

they probably earlier thought that was never possible.

Like, we should not get cocky.

And so, to me, that trend is,

the exponential tech is a double-edged sword.

It’s so exciting.

I’m happy to be alive now overall

because I’m an optimist and I find it exciting,

but it’s really scary.

And the dumbest thing we can do is not be scared.

Dumbest thing we can do is get cocky and think,

well, my life is always, the last couple generations,

everything’s been fine.

Stop that.

What’s your gut?

What percentage of trajectories take us towards the,

as you put, unimaginably good future

versus unimaginably bad future?

As an optimist.

It’s really hard to know.

I mean, all I, you know,

one of the things we can do is look at history.

And on one hand, there’s a lot of stories.

I’m actually listening to a great podcast right now

called The Fall of Civilizations.

And it’s literally, every episode is like, you know,

a little, like, two-hour deep dive into some civilizations.

Some are really famous, like the Roman Empire,

some are more obscure, like the Norse and Greenland.

But it’s, each one is so interesting.

But what’s, it’s, I mean,

there’s a lot of civilizations that had their peak.

There’s always the peak, right, when they’re thriving,

and they’re at their max size,

and they have their waterways,

and they have their, it’s civilized,

and it’s representative, and it’s fair,

and whatever, not always, but it’s,

the peak is the great, you know,

if I could go back in time, you know,

it’s not that, you know, the farther you go back,

the worse it gets.

No, no, no, you want to go back to a civilization

during, I would go to the Roman Empire in the year 100.

It sounds great, right?

You don’t want to go to the Roman Empire in the year 400.

We might be in the peak right now, here,

whatever this empire is.

Yeah, so, honestly, I think about, like, the 80s,

you know, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s.

Oh, here we go, the music.

No, no, I hate the 80s.

It’s so much better.

No, the 80s culture is so annoying.

It’s just like, I’m, when I listen to these things,

I’m thinking, you know, the 80s and 90s.

America, the 90s, was popular.

People forget that now.

Like, Clinton was a superstar around the world.

Michael Jordan was exported internationally.

Then basketball was everywhere, suddenly.

You had, like, music, the sports, whatever.

It was a little, probably, like, the 50s,

you know, coming out of the World War

and the Depression before it,

it was like this kind of, like,

everyone was in a good mood kind of time, you know?

It’s like, finish a big project and it’s Saturday.

It was like, I feel like the 50s was kind of like,

everyone was having, you know, the 20s,

I feel like everyone was in a good mood, randomly.

Then the 30s, everyone was in a bad mood.

But the 90s, I think we’ll look back on it

as a time when everyone was in a good mood.

And it was like, you know, again, of course,

at the time, it doesn’t feel that way, necessarily.

But I look at that, I’m like,

maybe that was kind of America’s peak.

And like, no, maybe not.

But like, it hasn’t been popular since, really, worldwide.

It’s gone in and out, depending on the country.

But like, it hasn’t reached that level of, like,

America’s awesome around the world.

And the political, you know, situation’s gotten,

you know, really ugly.

And, you know, maybe it’s social media.

Who knows?

But I wonder if it’ll ever be as simple

and positive as it was then.

Like, maybe we are in the, you know,

it feels a little like maybe we’re in the beginning

of the downfall, or not.

Because these things don’t just,

it’s not a perfect smooth hill.

It goes up and down, up and down.

So maybe there’s another big upcoming.

And it’s unclear whether public opinion,

which is kind of what you’re talking to,

is correlated strongly with influence.

Because you could say that even though America’s been

in a decline in terms of public opinion,

the exporting of technology, that America has still,

with all the talk of China, has still been leading the way,

in terms of AI, in terms of social media,

in terms of just basically any software-related product.

Like chips.

Yeah, chips.

So hardware and software, I mean, America leads the way.

You could argue that Google and Microsoft and Facebook

are no longer American companies.

They’re international companies.

But they really are still at the, you know,

headquartered in Silicon Valley, broadly speaking.

So, and Tesla, of course, and just all of its,

all of the technological innovation still seems

to be happening in the United States.

Although, culturally and politically,

this is not, this is not, it’s not good.

Well, maybe that could shift at any moment

when all the technological development can actually be,

create some positive impact in the world.


That could shift it.

Leadership and so on, with the right messaging.

Yeah, I think, I don’t feel confident at all

about whether, no, no, I don’t mean that.

I don’t mean, I don’t feel confident, in my opinion,

that we may be on the downswing, or that we may be,

because I truly don’t know.

It’s like, I think the people,

these are really big macro stories

that are really hard to see when you’re inside of them.

It’s like, it’s like being on a beach

and running around, you know, a few miles this way,

and trying to suss out the shape of the coastline.

It’s just really hard to see the big picture.

You get caught up in the micro stories,

the little tiny ups and downs

that are part of some bigger trend.

And also, giant paradigm shifts happen quickly nowadays.

The internet came out of nowhere

and suddenly was like, changed everything.

So there could be a changed everything thing on the way.

It seems like there’s a few candidates for it.

But I mean, it feels like the stakes are just high,

higher than it even was for the Romans,

higher than it was for because

that we’re more powerful as a species.

We have God-like powers with technology

that other civilizations at their peak didn’t have, and so.

I wonder if those high stakes and powers

will feel laughable to people that live,

humans, aliens, cyborgs,

whatever lives 100 years from now,

that maybe are a little like,

this feeling of political and technological turmoil

is nothing compared to what’s to come.

Well, that’s the big question.

So right now, you know the 1890s was like

a super politically contentious decade in the US.

It was like immense tribalism

and the newspapers were all like lying and telling.

There was a lot of what we would associate

with today’s media, the worst of it.

And it was over gold or silver being this,

I don’t know, it’s something that I don’t understand.

But the point is, it was a little bit of a blip, right?

It happened, it must’ve felt like

the end of days at the time.

And then now, most people don’t even know about that.

Versus, again, the Roman Empire actually collapsed.

And so the question is just like,

is yeah, in 50 years, will this be,

or like McCarthyism, oh, they had like,

oh, that was like a crazy few years in America

and then it was fine.

Or is this the beginning of something really big?

And that’s what I don’t know.

Well, I wonder if we can predict

what the big thing is at the beginning.

It feels like we’re not, we’re just here along for the ride

and at the local level and at every level

are trying to do our best.

But we’re all just-

How do we do our best?

That’s the one thing I know for sure

is that we need to have our wits about us and do our best.

And the way that we can do that,

you know, we have to be as wise as possible, right?

To proceed forward.

And wisdom is an emergent property of discourse.

So you’re a proponent of wisdom versus stupidity?

Because you can make an,

I can steal man the case for stupidity.

Do it.

I probably can’t.

But there’s some, I think wisdom,

and you talk about this,

can come with a false confidence, arrogance.

I mean, you talk about this in the book.

That’s too easy.

That’s not wisdom then.

If you’re being arrogant, you’re being unwise.


Yeah, you know, I think wisdom is doing

what people a hundred years from now

with the hindsight that we don’t have

would do if they could come back in time

and they knew everything.

It’s like, how do we figure out how to have hindsight

when we actually are not?

What if stupidity is the thing

that people from a hundred years from now

will see as wise?

I mean-

The idiot by Dostoevsky,

being naive and trusting everybody,

maybe that’s-

Well, then you get lucky.

Then maybe you get to a good future

by stumbling upon it.

But ideally, you can get there.

Like, I think a lot of,

America, the great things about it

are a product of the wisdom of previous Americans.

You know, the Constitution was a pretty,

you know, pretty wise system to set up.

There’s not much stupid stumbling around.

Well, there is, I mean,

with Dostoevsky’s The Idiot,

Prince Mishkin, and Brothers Karamazov,

there’s Alyosha Karamazov.

You err on the side of love

and almost like a naive trust in other human beings.

And that turns out to be,

at least in my perspective,

in the long term,

for the success of the species is actually wisdom.

It’s a compass.

But we don’t know.

It’s a good compass.

When you’re in the fog, it’s a compass.


Love is a compass.

Okay, but here’s the thing.

So I think we should have,

a compass is nice,

but you know what else is nice?

It’s a flashlight in the fog.

That can help.

You can’t see that far,

but you can see, oh, you can see four feet ahead

instead of one foot.

And that, to me, is discourse.

That is open, vigorous discussion

in a culture that fosters that

is how the species,

is how the American citizens as a unit

can be as wise as possible,

and maybe see four feet ahead

instead of one foot ahead.

That said, Charles Bukowski said

that love is a fog that fades

with the first light of reality.

So I don’t know how that works out,

but I feel like there’s intermixing

of metaphors that works.

Okay, you also write that quote,

as the authors of the story of us,

which is this thousand page book,

we have no mentors, no editors,

no one to make sure it all turns out okay.

It’s all in our hands.

This scares me,

but it’s also what gives me hope.

If we can all get just a little wiser together,

it may be enough to nudge the story

onto a trajectory that points

towards an unimaginably good future.

Do you think we can possibly define

what a good future looks like?

I mean, this is the problem

that we ran into with communism,

of thinking of utopia,

of having a deep confidence

about what a utopian world looks like.

Well, it’s a deep confidence.

That was a deep confidence

about the instrumental way to get there.

It was that, you know,

I think a lot of us can agree

that if everyone had everything they needed

and we didn’t have disease or poverty

and people could live as long as they wanted to

and choose when to die,

and there was no existential,

major existential threat could be controlled,

I think almost everyone can agree that would be great.

That communism is a,

that was, they said,

this is the way to get there.

And that is, that’s a different question, you know?

So the unimaginably good future I’m picturing,

I think a lot of people would picture,

and I think most people would agree.

Now, not everyone,

there’s a lot of people out there

who would say humans are the scourge on the earth

and we should de-growth or something,

but I think a lot of people would agree that,

you know, just again,

take Thomas Jefferson, bring him here.

He would see it as a utopia for obvious reasons,

for the medicine, the food, the transportation,

just how, the quality of life and the safety

and all of that.

So extrapolate that forward for us.

Now, we’re Thomas Jefferson, you know,

what’s the equivalent?

That’s what I’m talking about.

And the big question is,

I actually don’t, I don’t try to say,

here’s the way to get there.

Here’s the actual specific way to get there.

I try to say, how do we have a flashlight

so that we can together figure it out?

Like, how do we give ourselves the best chance

of figuring out the way to get there?

And I think part of the problem with communists

and people, ideologues,

is that they’re way too overconfident

that they know the way to get there.

And it becomes a religion to them, this solution.

And then you’re not, you can’t update

once you have a solution as a religion.

And so.

I felt a little violated when you said communists

and stared deeply into myself.

In this book, you’ve developed a framework

for how to fix everything.

It’s called The Ladder.

Can you explain it?

Okay, it’s not a framework for how to fix everything.

I would never say that.

I’ll explain it to Tim Urban at some point.


How this humor thing works.

Yeah, no.

A framework of how to think about collaboration

between humans, such that we could fix things.

I think it’s a compass.

It’s like a, it’s like a,

it’s a ruler that we can,

once we look at it together and see what it is,

we can all say, oh, we want to go to that side

of the ruler, not this side.

And so it gives us a direction to go.

And so what are the parts of The Ladder?

So I have these two characters.

This orange guy, this primitive mind is,

this is our software.

That is the software that was in a 50,000 BC person’s head

that was specifically optimized

to help that person survive in that world.

And not even, not just not really survive,

but help them pass their genes on in that world.

And civilization happened quickly

and brains change slowly.

And so that unchanged dude is still running the show

in our head.

And I use the example of like Skittles.

Like, why do we eat Skittles?

It’s trash.

It’s obviously bad for you.

And it’s because the primitive mind

in the world that it was programmed for,

there was no Skittles.

And it was just fruit.

And if there was a dense, chewy, sweet fruit like that,

it meant you just found like a calorie gold mine.

Energy, energy, take it.

Take it, eat as much as you can.

Gorge on it.

Hopefully you get a little fat.

It would be the dream.

And now we’re so good with energy for a while.

We don’t have to stress about it anymore.

So today Mars Inc. is clever and says,

let’s not sell things to people’s higher minds,

who’s the other character.

Let’s sell to people’s primitive minds.

Primitive minds are dumb.

And let’s trick them into thinking

this is this thing you should eat.

And then they’ll eat it.

Now Mars Inc. is a huge company.

Actually, just to linger real quick.

So you said primitive mind and higher mind.

So those are the two things that make up

this bigger mind that is the modern human being.

Yeah, it’s like, you know, it’s not perfect.

Obviously there’s a lot of crossover.

There’s people who will yell at me for saying

there’s two minds and you know that.

But to me, it’s still a useful framework

where you have this software that has making decisions

based on a world that you’re not in anymore.

And then you’ve got this other character.

I call it the higher mind.

And it’s the part of you that knows

that skills are not good and can override the instinct.

And the reason you don’t always eat Skittles

is because the higher mind says,

no, no, no, we’re not doing that.

Because that’s bad and I know that, right?

Now, you can apply that to a lot of things.

The higher mind is the one that knows

I shouldn’t procrastinate.

The primitive mind is the one that wants to conserve energy

and not do anything icky and can’t see the future,

so he procrastinates.

You know, you can apply this.

No, I, in this book, apply it to

how we form our beliefs is one of the ways.

And then eventually to politics and political movements.

But like, if you think about,

well, what’s the equivalent of the Skittles tug of war

in your head for how do you form your beliefs?

And it’s that the primitive mind in the world

that it was optimized for,

it wanted to feel conviction about its beliefs.

It wanted to be sure that it was,

it wanted to feel conviction

and it wanted to agree with the people around it.

It didn’t want to stand out.

It wanted to fervently agree with the tribe

about the tribe’s sacred beliefs, right?

And so there’s a big part of us that wants to do that,

that doesn’t like changing our mind.

It feels like it’s part of our,

the primitive mind identifies with beliefs.

It feels like it’s a threat, a physical threat to you,

to your primitive mind when you change your mind

or when someone disagrees with you in a smart way.

So there’s that huge force in us,

which is confirmation bias.

That’s where that comes from.

It’s this desire to keep believing what we believe

and this desire to also fit in with our beliefs,

to believe what the people around us believe.

And that can be fun in some ways.

We all like the same sports team and we’re all super into it

and we’re all gonna be biased about that call together.

I mean, it’s not always bad,

but it’s not a very smart way to be.

And you’re actually, you’re working kind of for those ideas.

Those ideas are like your boss

and you’re working so hard to keep believing those.

Those ideas are, you know,

a really good paper comes in that you read

that conflicts with those ideas.

And you will do all this work to say that paper’s bullshit

because you’re a faithful employee of those ideas.

Now the higher mind, to me,

the same party that can override the Skittles

can override this and can search for something

that makes a lot more sense, which is truth.

Because what rational being wouldn’t want to know the truth?

Who wants to be delusional?

And so there’s this tug of war

because the higher mind doesn’t identify with ideas.

Why would you?

It’s an experiment you’re doing.

It’s a mental model.

And if someone can come over and say, you’re wrong,

you’d say, where, where, show me, show me.

And if they point out something that is wrong,

you’d say, oh, thanks.

Oh, good.

I just got a little smarter, right?

You’re not gonna identify with the thing.

Go, yeah, kick it.

See if you can break it.

If you can break it, it’s not that good, right?

So there’s both of these in our heads

and there’s this tug of war between them.

And sometimes, you know,

if you’re telling me about something with AI,

I’m probably gonna think with my higher mind

because I’m not identified with it.

If you go and you criticize the ideas in this book

or you criticize my religious beliefs,

you criticize, I might have a harder time

because the primitive mind says, no, no, no.

Those are our special ideas.

And so, yeah, so that’s one way to use this ladder

is like, it’s a spectrum.

You know, at the top,

the higher mind is doing all the thinking.

And then as you go down, it becomes more of a tug of war.

And at the bottom, the primitive mind is in total control.

And this is distinct, as you show,

from the spectrum of ideas.

So this is how you think versus what you think.

And those are distinct.

Those are different dimensions.

We need a vertical axis.

We have all these horizontal axes,

left, right, center, or, you know,

this opinion all the way to this opinion.

But it’s like, what’s much more important

than where you stand is how you got there, right?

And how you think.

So this helps if I can say this person’s kind of

on the left or on the right, but they’re up high,

I think, in other words, I think they got there

using evidence and reason

and they were willing to change their mind.

Now, that means a lot to me, what they have to say.

If I think they’re just a tribal person

and I can predict all their beliefs from hearing one

because it’s so obvious what political beliefs,

that person’s views are irrelevant to me

because they’re not real.

They didn’t come from information.

They came from a tribe’s kind of, you know,

sacred 10 commandments.

I really like the comic you have in here with the boxer.

This is the best boxer in the world.

Wow, cool.

Who has he beaten?

No one, he’s never fought anyone.

Then how do you know he’s the best boxer in the world?

I can just tell.

Now, I mean, this connects with me

and I think with a lot of people

just because in martial arts,

it’s especially kind of true.

There’s this whole legend about different martial artists

and that kind of would construct like action figures,

like, you know, thinking that Steven Seagal

is the best fighter in the world or Chuck Norris.

But Chuck Norris is actually backed up.

He’s done really well in competition,

but still the ultimate test for particular for martial arts

is what we now know as mixed martial arts, UFC and so on.

That’s the actual scientific testing ground.

It’s a meritocracy.

Yeah, exactly.

I mean, there’s within certain rules

and you can criticize those rules,

like this doesn’t actually represent the broader combat

that you would think of

when you’re thinking about martial arts,

but reality is you’re actually testing things.

And that’s when you realize that Aikido

and some of these kind of woo-woo martial arts

in their certain implementations

don’t work in the way you think they would

in the context of fighting.

I think this is one of the places where everyone can agree,

which is why it’s a really nice comic.

Because then you start to talk about,

map this onto ideas that people take personally,

it starts becoming a lot more difficult

to basically highlight that we’re thinking

with not with our higher mind, but with our primitive mind.

Yeah, I mean, if I’m thinking with my higher mind,

and now here, you can use different things

for an idea as a metaphor.

So here, the metaphor is a boxer.


For one of your conclusions.

For one of your beliefs.

And if all I care about is truth,

in other words, that means all I care about

is having a good boxer,

I would say, go, yeah, try, see if this person’s good.

In other words, I would get into arguments,

which is throwing my boxer out there

to fight against other ones.

And if I think my argument’s good, by the way,

I love boxing.

If I think my guy is amazing, Mike Tyson,

I’m thinking, oh yeah, bring it on.

Who wants to come see?

I bet no one can beat my boxer.

I love a good debate, right, in that case.

Now, what would you think about my boxer?

If not only was I telling you he was great,

but he’s never boxed anyone, but then you said,

okay, well, your idea came over to try to punch him.

And I screamed and I said, what are you doing?

That’s violence and you’re an awful person.

And I don’t wanna be friends with you anymore

because you would think this boxer obviously sucks.

Or at least I think it sucks, deep down,

because why would I be so anti anyone?

No boxing allowed.

So I think if you’re in, so I call this a ladder, right?

If you’re in low-rung land,

whether it’s a culture or whatever,

a debate, an argument, when someone says,

no, that’s totally wrong, what you’re saying about that,

and here’s why, you’re actually being totally biased,

it sounds like a fight.

People are gonna say, oh wow, we got in a fight.

It was really awkward.

Are we still friends with that person?

Because that’s not a culture of boxing.

It’s a culture where you don’t touch each other’s ideas.

That’s insensitive.

Versus in a high-rung culture, it’s sport.

I mean, like every one of your podcasts,

whether you’re agreeing or disagreeing,

the tone is the same.

It’s not like, oh, this got awkward.

It’s like, the tone is identical

because you’re just playing intellectually either way

because it’s a good high-rung space.

At his best, but people do take stuff personally.

And that’s actually one of the skills of conversation

just as a fan of podcasts,

is when you sense that people take a thing personally,

you have to like, there’s sort of methodologies

and little paths you can take to calm things down.

Like go around, don’t take it as a violation of like that.

You’re trying to suss out which of their ideas

are sacred to them, and which ones are, ah, bring it on.

And sometimes it’s actually,

I mean, that’s the skill of it, I suppose,

that sometimes it’s the certain wordings

in the way you challenge those ideas are important.

You can challenge them indirectly

and then together, walk together in that way.

Because what I’ve learned is people are used to their ideas

being attacked in a certain way, in a certain tribal way.

And if you just avoid those,

like for example, if you have political discussions

and just never mentioned left or right

or Republican and Democrat, none of that,

just talk about different ideas

and avoid certain kind of triggering words.

You can actually talk about ideas

versus falling into this path

that’s well-established through battles

that people have previously fought.

When you say triggering, I mean,

who’s getting triggered?

The primitive mind.

So what you’re trying to do,

what you’re saying in this language

is how do you have conversations

with other people’s higher minds,

almost like whispering, without waking up the primitive mind.

Primitive mind is there sleeping, right?

And as soon as you say something,

the left primitive mind gets up and says, what?

What are you saying about the left?

And now everything goes off the rails.

What do you make of conspiracy theories

under this framework of the latter?

So here’s the thing about conspiracy theories

is that once in a while, they’re true, right?

Because sometimes there’s an actual conspiracy.

Actually, humans are pretty good at real conspiracies,

secret things, and then I just watched the Madoff doc,

great new Netflix doc, by the way.

And so the question is,

how do you create a system that is good at,

you put the conspiracy theory in,

and it either goes, eh, or it says,

this is interesting, let’s keep exploring it.

Like, how do you do something that it can,

how do you assess?

And so again, I think the high-rung culture

is really good at it because a real conspiracy,

what’s gonna happen is you put it,

it’s like a little machine you put

in the middle of the table,

and everyone starts firing darts at it,

or bow and arrow, or whatever,

and everyone starts kicking it and trying to,

and almost all conspiracy theories,

they quickly crumble, right?

Because they actually, you know,

Trump’s election one is,

I actually dug in and I looked at every claim

that he or his team made,

and I was like, all of these,

none of these hold up to scrutiny, none of them.

I was open-minded, but none of them did.

So that was one that as soon as it’s open to scrutiny,

it crumbles.

The only way that conspiracy can stick around

in a community is if it is a culture

where that’s being treated as a sacred idea

that no one should kick or throw a dart at,

because if you throw a dart, it’s gonna break.

So it’s being, and so what you want

is a culture where no idea is sacred.

Anything can get thrown at,

and so I think that then what you’ll find

is that 94 out of 100 conspiracy theories come in,

and they fall down.

The other, maybe four of the others come in,

and there’s something there,

but it’s not as extreme as people say,

and then maybe one is a huge deal,

and it’s actually a real conspiracy.

Well, isn’t there a lot of gray area,

and there’s a lot of mystery?

Isn’t that where the conspiracy theories seep in?

So it’s great to hear that you’ve really looked

into the Trump election fraud claims,

but aren’t they resting on a lot of kind of gray area,

like fog, basically saying that there is dark forces

in the shadows that are actually controlling everything?

I mean, the same thing with maybe you can,

there’s safer conspiracy theories, less controversial ones,

like have we landed on the moon, right?

Did the United States ever land on the moon?

There’s, you know, like the reason

those conspiracy theories work is you could construct,

there’s incentives and motivation

for faking the moon landing.

There’s a lot of,

there’s very little data supporting the moon landing

like that’s very public and kind of looks fake.

Space kind of looks fake.

And that would be a big story if it turned out to be fake.

That’s the, that would be the argument against it.

Like are people really, as a collective,

going to hold onto a story that big?

Yeah, so that, but there’s a lot,

the reason they work is there’s mystery.

Yeah, there’s a great documentary

called Behind the Curve about flat earthers,

and one of the things that you learn about flat earthers

is they believe all the conspiracies,

not just the flat earth.

They are convinced the moon landing is fake.

They’re convinced 9-11 was an American con job.

They’re convinced, you know,

that name a conspiracy and they believe it.

And so what’s so interesting is that

I think of it as a skepticism spectrum.

So on one side, you, it’s like a filter in your head,

filter in the beliefs section of your brain.

On one end of the spectrum, you are gullible,

perfectly gullible.

You believe anything someone says, right?

On the other side, you’re paranoid.

You think everyone’s lying to you, right?

Everything’s, everything is false.

Nothing that anyone says is true, right?

So obviously those aren’t good places to be.

Now, the healthy place, I think that the,

so I think the healthy place is to be

somewhere in the middle,

but also you can learn to trust certain sources

and then, you know, you don’t have to do as much,

apply as much skepticism to them.

And so here’s what, like,

and when you start having a bias,

just say you have a political bias,

when your side says something,

you will find yourself moving towards

the gullible side of the spectrum.

You read an article written that supports your views,

you move to the gullible side of the spectrum

and you just believe it and you don’t have any,

where’s that skepticism that you normally have, right?

And then you move, and then you,

as soon as it’s the other person talking,

the other team talking, you move to the skeptical,

closer to the, you know, in denial, paranoid side.

Now, flat earthers are the extreme.

They are either at 10 or one.

So it’s like, it’s so interesting

because they’re the people who are saying,

ah, no, I won’t believe you, I’m not gullible,

no, everyone else is gullible about the moon landing,

I won’t.

And then yet, when there’s this evidence like,

oh, because you can’t see Seattle,

you can’t see the buildings over that horizon,

and you should, which isn’t true.

You should be, if the Earth were round,

you wouldn’t be able to see them.

Therefore, so suddenly they become

the most gullible person.

They hear any theory about the Earth flat, they believe it.

It goes right into their beliefs.

So they’re actually jumping back and forth

between refusing to believe anything and believe anything.

And so they’re the extreme example,

but I think when it comes to conspiracy theories,

the people that get themselves into trouble

are the ones who, they become really gullible

when they hear a conspiracy theory

that kind of fits with their worldview.

And they likewise, when there’s something

that’s kind of obviously true and it’s not a big lie,

they will actually, they’ll think it is.

They just tighten up their kind of skepticism filter.

And so, yeah.

So I think the healthy places to be is where you are not,

because you also don’t want to be the person who says,

every conspiracy, you hear the word conspiracy theory

and it sounds like a synonym

for quack job crazy theory, right?

So, yeah.

So I think it’d be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum

and to learn to fine tune it.

Which is a tricky place to operate,

because you kind of have to,

every time you hear a new conspiracy theory,

you should approach it with an open mind.

And also if you don’t have enough time to investigate,

which most people don’t, kind of still have a humility

not to make a conclusive statement that that’s nonsense.

There’s a lot of social pressure, actually,

to immediately laugh off any conspiracy theory,

if it’s done by the bad guys, right?

You will quickly get mocked and laughed at

and not taken seriously if you give any credence.

You know, back the lab leak was a good one,

where it’s like, turned out that that was

at least very credible, if not true.

And that was a perfect example of one

where when it first came out,

not only so, so Brett Weinstein talked about it.

And then I, in a totally different conversation,

said something complimentary about him

on a totally different subject.

And people were saying,

Tam, you might have gone a little off the deep end.

You’re like quoting someone who is like a lab leak person.

So I was getting my reputation dinged

for complimenting on a different topic

someone whose reputation was totally sullied

because they questioned an orthodoxy, right?

So you see, so what does that make me want to do?

Distance myself from Brett Weinstein.

That’s the, at least that’s the incentive that’s a,

and what does that make other people want to do?

Don’t become the next Brett Weinstein.

Don’t say it out loud because you don’t want to become

someone that no one wants to compliment anymore, right?

You can see the social pressure.

And that’s, and of course, when there is a conspiracy,

that social pressure is its best friend.

Because then they see the people from outside

are seeing that social pressure enact,

like a Tim Urban becoming more and more and more extreme

to the other side.

And so they’re going to take the more and more

and more extreme.

I mean, this, what do you see that the pandemic did,

that COVID did to our civilization in that regard,

in the forces?

Why was it so divisive?

Do you understand that?

Yeah, so COVID, I thought might be,

we always know the ultimate example of the topic

that will unite us all is the alien attack.

Although honestly, I don’t even have that much faith then.

I think there’d be like, some people are super like,

you know, pro-alien and some people are anti-alien.

But anyway.

I was actually starting to interrupt

because I was talking to a few astronomers

and they’re the first folks that made me kind of sad

in that if we did discover life on Mars, for example,

that there’s going to be potentially a division over that too

whereas half the people will not believe that’s real.

Well, because we live in a current society

where the political divide has subsumed everything.

And that’s not always like that.

It goes into stages like that.

We’re in a really bad one where it’s actually,

in the book, I call it like a vortex,

like almost like a whirlpool

that pulls everything into it, it pulls.

And so normally you’d say, okay, you know,

immigration naturally going to be contentious.

That’s always political, right?

But like COVID seemed like,

oh, that’s one of those that will unite us all.

Let’s fight this not human virus thing.

Like obvious is no one’s sensitive.

No one’s like getting hurt when we insult the virus.

Like let’s all be, we have this threat,

this common threat that’s a threat to everyone

of every nationality in every country, every ethnicity.

And it didn’t do that at all.

The whirlpool was too powerful.

So it pulled COVID in and suddenly masks,

if you’re on the left, you like them.

If you’re on the right, you hate them.

And suddenly lockdowns, if you’re on the left,

you like them and on the right, you hate them.

And vaccines, this is people forget this.

When Trump first started talking about the vaccine,

Biden, Harris, Cuomo,

they’re all saying, I’m not taking that vaccine.

Not from this CDC.

Because it was too rushed or something like that.

No, but because I’m not trusting anything that Trump says.

Trump wants me to take it, I’m not taking it.

I’m not taking it from this CDC.

So this was, Trump was almost out of office.

But at the time, if Trump had been,

it would have been, I’m pretty sure it would have stayed.

Right likes vaccines, the left doesn’t like vaccines.

Instead, the president switched.

And all those people are suddenly saying,

they were actually specifically saying that if you,

you know, that like, if you’re saying the CDC

is not trustworthy, that’s misinformation.

Which is exactly what they were saying about the other CDC.

And they were saying it because they genuinely

didn’t trust Trump, which is fair.

But now when other people don’t trust the Biden CDC,

suddenly it’s this kind of misinformation

that needs to be censored.

So it was a sad moment because it was a couple of months,

even a week or so, I mean a month or so

at the very beginning when it felt like a lot

of our other squabbles were kind of like,

oh, I feel like they’re kind of irrelevant right now.

And then very quickly the whirlpool sucked it in.

And in a way where I think it damaged the reputation

of these, a lot of the trust in a lot of these institutions

for the long run.

But there’s also an individual psychological impact.

It’s like a vicious negative feedback cycle

where they were deeply affected on an emotional level

and people just were not their best selves.

That’s definitely true.

Yeah, I mean, talk about the primitive mind.

I mean, one thing that we’ve been dealing with

for our whole human history is pathogens.

And it’s emotional, right?

It brings out, you know, there’s really interesting studies

where like if, they studied the phenomenon of disgust,

which is one of these like, you know, smiling is universal.

You don’t have to ever translate a smile, right?

Certain, you know, throwing your hands up

when your sports team wins is universal

because it’s part of our coding.

And so is disgust to kind of make this like, you know,

face where you wrinkle up your nose

and you kind of put out your tongue and maybe even gag.

That’s to expel, expel whatever,

because it’s the reaction when something

is potentially a pathogen that might harm us, right?

Feces, vomit, whatever.

But they did this interesting study where people who,

in two groups, the control group, you know,

was shown images of,

and I might be getting two studies mixed up,

but they were showing images of like car crashes

and like disturbing, but not disgusting.

And the other one was shown like, you know,

like, you know, rotting things

and just things that were disgusting.

And then they were asked about immigration.

These were Canadians and the group that was,

had the disgust feeling going through,

pulsing through their body was way more likely

to prefer like immigrants from white countries.

And the group that was, had been shown car accidents,

they were, they still prefer the groups

from white countries, but much less so.

And so what does that mean?

It’s because the disgust impulse makes us scared of,

you know, sexual practices that are foreign,

of ethnicities that are not look,

that don’t look like us, of, it’s still xenophobia.

So it’s ugly, it’s really ugly stuff.

This is of course also how, you know,

the Nazi propaganda with cockroaches and,

or it was, Rwandan was cockroaches, you know,

the Nazis was rats and, you know,

it’s specifically, it’s a dehumanizing emotion.

So anyway, we were talking about COVID,

but I think it does, it taps deep into like

the human psyche and it’s, I don’t think it brings out our,

I think, like you said,

I think it brings out an ugly side in us.

You describe an idea lab as being opposite of echo chambers.

So we know what echo chambers are.

And you said like, there’s basically no good term

for the opposite of an echo chamber.

So what’s an idea lab?

Yeah, well, first of all, both of these,

we think of an echo chamber as like a group maybe,

or even a place, but it’s, it’s a culture.

It’s an intellectual culture.


And this goes along with the high rung, low,

so high rung and low rung thinking is individual.

So I was talking about what’s going on in your head,

but this is very connected to the social scene around us.

And so groups will do high rung

and low rung thinking together.

Basically it’s, so an echo chamber to me

is a collaborative low rung thinking.

It is, it’s a culture where the cool,

it’s based around a sacred set of ideas.

And it’s the coolest thing you can do

in an echo chamber culture is talk about how great

the sacred ideas are and how bad and evil

and stupid and wrong the people are

who have the other views.

And this, and it’s quite boring, you know,

it’s quite boring, you know, it’s very hard to learn.

And changing your mind is not cool

in an echo chamber culture.

It makes you seem wishy-washy.

It makes you seem like, you know,

like you’re waffling and you’re flip-flopping or whatever.

Showing conviction about the sacred ideas

in echo chamber culture is awesome.

If you’re just like, you know, obviously this,

it makes you seem smart.

While being, you know, humble makes you seem dumb.

So now flip all of those things on their heads.

And you have the opposite, which is idea lab culture,

which is collaborative high rung thinking.

It’s collaborative truth finding.

But it’s also just, it’s just a totally different vibe.

It’s a place where arguing is a fun thing.

It’s not, no one’s getting offended.

And criticizing like the thing everyone believes

is actually, it makes you seem like interesting.

Like, oh, really, why do you think we’re all wrong?

And expressing too much conviction

makes people lose trust in you.

Doesn’t make you seem smart, it makes you seem stupid

if you don’t really know what you’re talking about,

but you’re acting like you do.

I really like this diagram of where on the x-axis

is agreement and the y-axis is decency.

That’s in an idea lab.

In an echo chamber, there’s only one axis.

It’s asshole to non-asshole.


This is a really important thing to understand

about the difference between, you call it decency here,

about assholishness and disagreement.

So my college friends, we love to argue, right?

And no one thought anyone was an asshole for,

it was just for sport.

Sometimes we’d realize we’re not even disagreeing

on something and that would be disappointing.

And be like, oh, I think we agree.

And it was kind of like sad.

It was like, oh, well, there goes the fun.

And one of the members of this group has this,

she brought her new boyfriend to one of our like hangouts.

And there was like a heated, heated debate.

Just one of our typical things.

And afterwards, the next day he said like,

is everything okay?

And she was like, what do you mean?

And he said like after the fight.

And she was like, what fight?

And he was like, you know, the fight last night.

And she was like, and she had to,

and then she was like, you mean like the arguing?

And he was like, yeah.

And so that’s someone who is not used

to idea lab culture coming into it.

And seeing it as like, that was like,

this is like, are they still friends, right?

And idea lab is nice for the people in them

because individuals thrive.

You don’t want to just conform.

It makes you seem boring in an idea,

but you want to be yourself.

You want to challenge things.

You want to have a unique brain.

So that’s great.

And you also have people criticizing your ideas,

which makes you smarter.

It doesn’t always feel good,

but you become more correct and smarter.

An echo chamber is the opposite

where it’s not good for the people in it.

Your learning skills atrophy, and I think it’s boring.

But the thing is they also have emergent properties.

So the emergent property of an idea lab

is like super intelligence.

Just you and me alone, just the two of us.

If we’re working together on something,

but we’re being really grown up about it,

we’re disagreeing, we’re not, you know,

no one’s sensitive about anything,

we’re going to each find flaws in the other one’s arguments

that you wouldn’t have found on your own.

And we’re going to have double the epiphanies, right?

So it’s almost like the two of us together

is like as smart as 1.5.

It’s like 50% smarter than either of us alone, right?

So you have this 1.5 intelligent

kind of joint being that we’ve made.

Now bring a third person and fourth person in, right?

You see, it starts to scale up.

This is why science institutions can discover

relativity and quantum mechanics

and these things that no individual human, you know,

was going to come up with without a ton of collaboration

because it’s this giant idea lab.

So it has an emergent property of super intelligence.

An echo chamber is the opposite

where it has the emergent property of stupidity.

I mean, it has the emergent property

of a bunch of people all, you know, paying field,

you know, fealty to this set of sacred ideas.

And so you lose this magical thing about language

and humans, which is collaborative intelligence.

You lose it.

It disappears.

But there is that axis of decency,

which is really interesting

because you kind of painted this picture

of you and your friends arguing really harshly.

But underlying that is a basic camaraderie, respect,

there’s all kinds of mechanisms

we humans have constructed to communicate,

like mutual respect or maybe communicate

that you’re here for the idea lab version of this.

Totally, you don’t get personal, right?

You’re not getting personal.

You’re not taking things personally.

People are respected in an idea lab

and ideas are disrespected.

And there’s ways to signal that.

So like with friends, you’ve already done the signaling.

You’ve already established a relationship.

The interesting thing is online.

I think you have to do some of that work.

To me, the sort of steel manning the other side,

or no, having empathy and hearing out,

being able to basically repeat the argument

the other person is making before you

and showing like respect to that argument.

I could see how you could think that

before you make a counter argument.

There’s just a bunch of ways to communicate

that you’re here not to do kind of,

what is it, low rung, you know,

shit talking, mockery, derision,

but are actually here ultimately

to discover the truth in the space of ideas

and the tension of those ideas.

And I think it’s,

I think that’s a skill that we’re all learning

as a civilization of how to do

that kind of communication effectively.

There’s, I think disagreement,

as I’m learning on the internet,

it’s actually a really tricky skill.

High effort, high decency, disagreement.

I gotta listen to, there’s a really good debate podcast,

Intelligence Squared, and they can go pretty hard

in the paint.

It’s a classic idea lab.

Exactly, but how do we map that to social media?

When people will say, well, like Lex or anybody,

you’re not, you hate disagreement.

You wanna censor disagreement.

No, I love Intelligence Squared type of disagreement.

That’s fun.

You wanna reduce assholery.

And for me personally, I don’t want to reduce assholery.

You know, I kind of like assholery.

It’s like fun in many ways,

but the problem is when the asshole shows up to the party,

they make it less fun for the party

that’s there for the idea lab.

And the other people, especially the quiet voices

at the back of the room, they leave.

And so all you’re left is with assholes.

Well, political Twitter to me is one of those parties.

It’s a big party where a few assholes

have really sent a lot of the quiet thinkers away.

And so if you think about this graph again,

some place like Twitter,

a great way to get followers is to be an asshole

with a certain, you know, pumping a certain ideology.

You’ll get a huge amount of followers.

And for those followers,

and the followers you’re gonna get,

the people who like you are probably going to be people

who are really thinking with their primitive mind

because they’re seeing you’re being an asshole,

but because you agree with them, they love you.

And they think they don’t see any problem

with how you’re being.

Yeah, they don’t see the asshole.

This is a fascinating thing.

Well, because look at the thing on the right.

Agreement and decency are the same.

So if you’re in that mindset,

the bigger the asshole, the better.

If you’re agreeing with me, you’re my man.

I love what you’re saying.

Yes, show them, right?

And the algorithm helps those people.

Those people do great on the algorithm.

There’s a fascinating dynamic that happens

because I’ve currently hired somebody

that looks at my social media and they block people

because the assholes will roll in.

They’re not actually there to have

an interesting disagreement, which I love.

They’re there to do kind of mockery.

And then when they get blocked,

they then celebrate that to their echo chamber.

They’re like, look at this, I got him, or whatever.

Or they’ll say some annoying thing like,

oh, so he talks about he likes,

if I’d done this, they’ll say,

oh, he says he likes Idea Labs,

but he actually wants to create an echo chamber.

But I’m like, nope, you’re an asshole.

Look at the other 50 people on this thread

that disagreed with me respectfully.

They’re not blocked.

Yep, exactly.

And so they see it as some kind of hypocrisy

because again, they only see the thing on the right.

And they’re not understanding that there’s two axes,

that I see it as two axes.

And so you seem petty in that moment,

but it’s like, no, no, no,

this is very specific what I’m doing.

You’re actually killing the conversation.

And generally, I give all those folks a pass

and just send them love telepathically.

But yes, getting rid of assholes in the conversation

is the way you allow for the disagreement.

You do a lot of, I think when primitive-mindedness

comes at you, at least on Twitter,

I don’t know what you’re feeling internally in that moment,

but you do a lot of, I’m gonna meet that

with my higher mind.

And you come out and you’ll be like,

thanks for all the criticism, I love you.

And that’s actually an amazing response

because what it does is that it unriles up

that person’s primitive mind

and actually wakes up their higher mind

who says, oh, okay, this guy’s not so bad.

And suddenly, civility comes back.

So it’s a very powerful.

Hopefully long-term, but the thing is

they do seem to drive away high-quality disagreement

because it takes so much effort

to disagree in a high-quality way.

I’ve noticed this on my blog.

One of the things I pride myself on

is my comment section is awesome.

Everyone’s being respectful.

No one’s afraid to disagree with me

and tear my post apart, but in a totally respectful way

where the underlying thing is like,

I’m here because I like this guy and his writing

and people disagree with each other.

And they get in these long, and it’s interesting,

and I read it and I’m learning.

And then a couple of posts,

especially the ones I’ve written about politics,

it’s not like, it seems like any other comment section.

People are being nasty to me.

They’re being nasty to each other.

And then I looked down one of them

and I realized almost all of this

is the work of three people.

That’s who you need to block.

Those people need to be blocked.

You’re not being thin-skinned.

You’re not being petty doing it.

You’re actually protecting an idea lab.

Because what really aggressive people like that do

is they’ll turn it into their own echo chamber.

Because now everyone is scared

to kind of disagree with them, it’s unpleasant.

And so people who will chime in

are the people who agree with them.

And suddenly, they’ve taken over the space.

And I kind of believe that those people

on a different day could actually

do high-effort disagreement.

It’s just that they’re in a certain kind of mood.

And a lot of us, just like you said,

with a primitive mind, could get into that mood.

And I believe it’s actually the job

of the technology, the platform,

to incentivize those folks to be like,

are you sure this is the best you can do?

If you really wanna talk shit about this idea, do better.

And then we need to create incentives

where you get likes for high-effort disagreement.

Because currently, you get likes

for something that’s slightly funny

and is a little bit mockery.

Yeah, basically signals to some kind of echo chamber

that this person is a horrible person,

is a hypocrite, is evil, whatever.

That feels like it’s solvable with technology.

Because I think in our private lives,

none of us want that.

I wonder if it’s making me think

that I wanna like, because a much easier way

for me to do it just for my world

would be to say something like,

here’s this axis, this is part of what I like

about the ladder, is it’s a language

that specifically what we’re talking about

is high-rung disagreement, good,

low-rung disagreement, bad, right?

And so it gives us a language for that.

And so what I would say is I would have my readers

understand this axis, and then I would specifically say

something like, please do it but why a favor,

and upvote regardless of what they’re saying horizontally,

regardless of what their actual view is.

Upvote high-rungness.

They can be tearing me apart,

they can be saying great, they can be praising me, whatever.

Upvote high-rungness and downvote low-rungness.

And if enough people are doing that,

suddenly there’s all this incentive

to try to say, no, I need to calm my emotion down here

and not be personal, because I’m gonna get voted

into oblivion by these people.

I think a lot of people would be very good at that.

And not only would they be good at that,

they would want that, that task of saying,

I know I completely disagree with this person,

but this was a high-effort, high-rung disagreement.

It gets everyone thinking about that other axis, too.

You’re not just looking at where do you stand horizontally,

you’re saying, well, how did you get there,

and how are you, are you treating ideas like machines,

or are you treating them like little babies?

And that there should be some kind of labeling

on personal attacks versus idea disagreement.

Sometimes people throw in both a little bit.

That’s like, all right, no, there should be a disincentive

at personal attacks versus idea attacks.

One metric is a respectful disagreement.

If I see, just say someone else’s Twitter,

and I see you put out a thought,

and I see someone say, I don’t see it that way,

here’s where I think you went wrong,

and they’re just explaining.

I’m thinking that if Lex reads that,

he’s gonna be interested.

He’s gonna wanna post more stuff, right?

Because he’s gonna like that.

If I see someone being like,

wow, this really shows the kind of person that you become,

I’m thinking, that person is making Lex

want to be on Twitter less.

It’s making him, and so what’s that doing?

What that person’s actually doing is they’re putting,

is they’re actually, they’re chilling discussion,

because they’re making it unpleasant to,

they’re making it scary to say what you think.

And the first person isn’t at all.

The first person is making you wanna say more stuff.

So, and those are both disagreed.

Those are people who both disagree with you.

Exactly, exactly.

I want to, great disagreements with friends in meat space

is like you’re, they disagree with you.

They could be even yelling at you.

Honestly, they could even have some shit talk

where it’s like personal attacks.

It still feels good.

Because you know them well,

and you know that that shit talk,

because yeah, friends shit talk all the time,

playing a sport or a game.

And again, it’s because they know each other well enough

to know that this is fun.

We’re having fun, and obviously I love you.

Like, you know, and that’s important online.

It’s a lot harder.

Yeah, that obviously I love you

that underlies a lot of human interaction

seems to be easily lost online.

I’ve seen some people on Twitter and elsewhere

just behave their worst.


And it’s like, I know that’s not who you are.


Like, why are you, who is this human?

I know someone personally who is one of the best people.


It just, I love this guy.

Like one of the best, like fun, funny, like nicest dudes.

And he, if you looked at his Twitter only,

you would think he’s a culture warrior,

an awful culture warrior.

And, you know, biased and just stoking anger.

And it comes out of a good place.

And I’m not gonna give any other info about,

you know, specific, but like,

I think you’re describing a lot of people.

It comes out of a good place

because he really cares about what, you know,

it comes out, but it’s just, I can’t square the two.

It’s so, and that’s, you have to,

once you know someone like that,

you can realize, okay, apply that to everyone.

Because a lot of these people are lovely people.

And it’s just bring, even just, you know,

back in the, before social media,

you ever had a friend who like,

was just like, they had this like dickishness

on text or email that they didn’t have in person.

And you’re like, wow, like email you is like kind of a dick.

And it’s like, it just, certain people

have a different persona behind the screen.

It has, for me personally, become a bit of a meme

that Lex blocks with love.

But there is a degree to that where this is,

I don’t see people on social media

as representing who they really are.

I really do have love for them.

I really do think positive thoughts of them

throughout the entirety of the experience.

I see this as some weird side effect

of online communication.

And so it’s like, to me, blocking is not

some kind of a derisive act towards that individual.

It’s just like saying-

Well, a lot of times what’s happened

is they have slipped into a very common delusion

that dehumanizes others.

So that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.

We all can do it.

But they’re dehumanizing you,

or whoever they’re being nasty to,

because in a way they would never do in person,

because in a person they’re reminded that’s a person.

Remember I said the dumb part of my brain

when I’m doing VR won’t step off the cliff,

but the smart part of my brain knows I’m just on the rug?

That dumb part of our brain is really dumb in a lot of ways.

It’s the part of your brain where you can

set the clock five minutes fast to help you not be late.

The smart part of your brain knows that you did that,

but the dumb part will fall for it, right?

That same dumb part of your brain can forget

that the person behind that screen,

that behind that handle, is a human that has feelings.

And that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person

for forgetting that, because it’s possible.

Well, this really interesting idea,

and I wonder if it’s true that you’re right,

is that both primitive-mindedness

and high-mindedness tend to be contagious.

I hope you’re right that it’s possible

to make both contagious,

because our sort of popular intuition is

only one of the primitive-mindedness is contagious,

as exhibited by social media.

To compliment you again, don’t you think that your,

your Twitter to me is like, I was just looking down,

and I mean, it is a, it’s just high-mindedness.

It’s just high-mindedness, down, down, down, down, down.

It’s gratitude, it’s optimism, it’s love, it’s forgiveness.

It’s all these things that are the opposite

of grievance and victimhood and resentment and pessimism,

and there’s, I think, a reason that a lot of people

follow you, because it is contagious.

It makes other people feel those feelings.

I don’t know, I’ve been recently,

over the past few months, attacked quite a lot,

and it’s fascinating to watch,

because it’s over things that,

I think I probably have done stupid things,

but I’m being attacked for things

that are totally not worthy of attack.

I got attacked for a book list.

I saw that book list, by the way.

I thought it was great.

But you can always kind of find ways to,

I guess the assumption is this person surely is a fraud

or some other explanation.

He sure has dead bodies in the basement

he’s hiding or something like this,

and then I’m going to construct a narrative around that

and mock and attack that.

I mean, I don’t know how that works,

but there is, there does,

and I think you write this in the book,

there seems to be a gravity pulling people

towards the primitive mind and it’s like.

Well, when it comes to anything political, right?

Religious, certain things are bottom-heavy for our psyche.

They have a magnet that pulls our psyches

downwards on the ladder, and why?

Why does politics pull our psyches down on the ladder?

Because for the tens of thousand years

that we were evolving during human history,

it was life or death.

Politics was life or death,

and so there’s actually an amazing study

where it’s like they challenged

like 20 different beliefs of a person,

and different parts of the person’s brain,

and they had an MRI going,

different parts of the person’s brain lit up

when non-political beliefs were challenged

versus political beliefs were challenged.

When political beliefs were challenged,

when non-political beliefs were challenged,

the rational, prefrontal cortex type areas were lit up.

When the political beliefs were challenged,

and I’m getting over my head here,

but it’s like the parts of your brain,

the default mode network,

the parts of your brain associated with introspection

and your own identity were lit up,

and they were much more likely to change their mind

on all the beliefs, the non-political beliefs.

When that default mode network part of your brain lit up,

you were gonna, if anything,

get more firm in those beliefs

when you had them challenged.

So politics is one of those topics

that just literally, literally lights up

different part of our brain.

Again, I think we come back to primitive mind,

higher mind here.

It’s like it gets our higher,

this is one of the things our primitive mind

comes programmed to care a ton about,

and so it’s gonna be very hard for us

to stay rational and calm and looking for truth

because we have all this gravity to it.

It’s weird because politics, like what is politics?

Like you talk about, it’s a bunch of different issues,

and each individual issue, if we really talk about it,

we don’t-

Yeah, tax policy, like why are we being emotional

about this?

I don’t think we’re actually that,

I mean, yeah, we’re emotional about something else.

Yeah, I think what we’re emotional about is my side,

the side I’ve identified with,

is in power and making the decisions,

and your side is out of power,

and if your side’s in power, that’s really scary for me

because that goes back to the idea of who’s making,

who’s pulling the strings in this tribe, right?

Who’s the chief?

Is it your family’s patriarch or is it mine?

We might not have food if we don’t win this

kind of whatever chief election,

so I think that it’s not about the tax policy

or anything like that,

and then it gets tied to this broader,

I think a lot of our tribalism

has really coalesced around this.

We don’t have that much religious tribalism in the US,

not the Protestants and the Catholics hate each other,

we don’t have that really, right?

And honestly, people like to say

we have racial tribalism and everything,

but a white, even kind of a racist white conservative guy,

I think takes the black conservative

over the woke white person any day of the week right now.

So that’s the strongest source of the division.

It tells me that I think politics

has way stronger tribalism right now.

I think that that white racist guy

loves the black conservative guy

compared to the white woke guy, right?

Again, not that racial tribalism isn’t a thing,

of course it’s always a thing,

but political tribalism is the number one right now.

So race is almost a topic for the political division

versus the actual element of the tribe.

It’s a political football, it’s, yeah.

So there’s, I mean, this is dark because,

so this is a book about human civilization,

this is a book about human nature,

but it’s also a book of politics, about politics.

It is, just the way you list it out in the book,

it’s kind of dark how we just fall

into these left and right checklists.

So if you’re on the left, it’s maintain Roe v. Wade,

universal healthcare good, mainstream media fine,

guns kill people, U.S. is a racist country,

protect immigrants, tax cuts bad,

climate change awful, raise minimum wage.

And on the right is the flip of that,

reverse Roe v. Wade, universal healthcare bad,

mainstream media bad, people kill people,

not guns kill people, U.S. was a racist country,

protect borders, tax cuts good,

climate change overblown, don’t raise minimum wage.

I mean, it has, you almost don’t have to think

about any of this, it’s like literally.

So when you say it’s a book about politics,

it’s interesting because it’s a book

about the vertical axis.

It’s specifically not a book about the horizontal axis

in that I’m not talking, I don’t actually talk

about any of these issues.

I don’t put out an opinion on them.

Those are all horizontal, right?

But when you, so rather than having another book

about those issues, about right versus left,

I wanted to do a book about this other axis.

And so on this axis, the reason I had this checklist

is that this is a low, part of the low rung politics world.

Right, low rung politics is a checklist.

And that checklist evolves, right?

Like Russia suddenly is like popular with the right

as opposed to, you know, it used to be in the 60s,

the left was the one defending Stalin.

So they’ll switch, it doesn’t even matter,

the substance doesn’t matter, it’s that this is

the approved checklist of the capital P party

and this is what everyone believes.

That’s a low rung thing.

The high rungs, this is not what it’s like.

High rung politics, you tell me your one view on this,

I have no idea what you think about anything else.

Right, and you’re gonna say I don’t know

about a lot of stuff because inherently

you’re not gonna have that strong an opinion

because you don’t have that much info,

these are complex things.

So there’s a lot of I don’t know

and people are all over the place.

You know you’re talking to someone who has been

subsumed with low rung politics when if they tell you

their opinion on any one of these issues,

you know you could just rattle off their opinion

on every single other one.

And if in three years it becomes fashionable

to have this new view, they’re gonna have it.

That’s, you’re not thinking, that’s echo chamber culture.

And I’ve been using kind of a shorthand of centrist

to describe this kind of high rung thinking

but people tend to, I mean it seems to be difficult

to be a centrist or whatever, a high rung thinker.

It’s like people want to label you as a person

who’s too cowardly to take a stance.


Somehow, as opposed to saying I don’t know

as a first statement.

Well the problem with centrist is that would mean

that in each of these, tax cuts bad, tax cuts good.

It means that you are saying I am in,

that I think we should have some tax cuts

but not that many.

You might not think that.

You might actually do some research and say

actually I think tax cuts are really important.

That doesn’t mean oh I’m not a centrist anymore,

I guess I’m a far, you know.

No, no, no, that’s why we need the second axis.

So what you’re trying to be when you say centrist

is high rung.

Which means you might be all over the place horizontally.

You might agree with the far left on this thing,

the far right on this thing.

You might agree with the centrists on this thing.

But calling yourself a centrist actually like

is putting yourself in a prison on the horizontal axis.

And it’s saying that whatever on the different topics,

I’m right in between the two policy wise.

That’s not where you are.

So yeah, that’s what we, we’re badly missing

this other axis.

Yeah, I mean I still do think it’s like for me,

I am a centrist when you project it down to the horizontal.

But the point is you’re missing so much data

by not considering the vertical.

Because on average maybe it falls somewhere in the middle.

But in reality there’s just a lot of nuance issue to issue

that involves just thinking and uncertainty

and changing given the context of the current

geopolitics and economics and just always considering,

always questioning, always evolving your views,

all of that.

Not just about like, oh, I think we should be

in the center on this.

But another way to be in the center is

if there’s some phenomenon happening,

you know, there’s a terrorist attack.

You know, and one side wants to say

this has nothing to do with Islam.

And the other one, the other side wants to say

this is radical Islam.

Right, what’s in between those?

It’s saying this is complicated and nuanced

and we have to learn more.

And it probably has something to do with Islam

and something to do with the economic circumstances

and something to do with, you know, geopolitics.

So in a case like that, you actually do get

really un-nuanced when you go to the extremes

and all of that nuance, which is where

all the truth usually is, is going to be in the middle.

So, yeah.

But there is a truth to the fact that

if you take that nuance on those issues,

like war in Ukraine, COVID,

you’re going to be attacked by both sides.


People who are really strongly on one side or the other

hate centrist people.

I’ve gotten this myself.

And you know, the slur that I’ve had thrown at me

is I’m an enlightened centrist in a very mocking way.

So what are they actually saying?

What does enlightened centrist mean?

It means someone who is, you know,

Steven Pinker or Jonathan Haidt gets accused of,

is, you know, that they’re highfalutin,

you know, intellectual world.

And they don’t actually have any,

they don’t actually take a side.

They don’t actually get their hands dirty.

And they can be superior to both sides

without actually taking a stand, right?

So I see the argument and I disagree with it

because I firmly believe that the hardcore tribes,

they think they’re taking a stand

and they’re out in the streets

and they’re pushing for something.

I think what they’re doing

is they’re just driving the whole country downwards.

And I think they’re hurting all the causes they care about.

And so it’s not that, you know,

it’s not that we need everyone to be sitting there,

you know, refusing to take a side.

It’s that you can be far left and far right,

but be upper left and upper right.

If we talk about the,

you use the word liberal a lot in the book

to mean something that we don’t

in modern political discourse mean.

So it’s this higher philosophical view.

And then you use the words progressive to mean the left

and conservative to mean the right.

Can you describe the concept of liberal games

and power games?

So the power games is what I call the like,

basically just the laws of nature as the,

when laws of nature are the laws of the land,

that’s the power game.

So animals, watch any David Attenborough special.

And when the little lizard is running away

from the, you know, the bigger animal or whatever,

I use an example of a bunny and a bear.

I don’t even know if bears eat bunnies.

They probably don’t, but pretend bears eat bunnies, right?

So it’s like in the power games,

the bear is chasing the bunny.

There’s no fairness.

There’s no, okay, well, what’s right?

What, you know, what, what, what, what, what’s legal?

No, no, no.

If the bear is fast enough, it can eat the bunny.

If the bunny is, can get away, it can stay living.

So that’s it.

That’s the only rule.

Now, humans have spent a lot of time

in essentially that environment.

So when you have a totalitarian dictatorship,

it’s, and so what’s the rule of the power games?

It’s everyone can do whatever they want

if they have the power to do so.

It’s just a game of power.

So if the bunny gets away,

the bunny actually has more power

than the bear in that situation, right?

And likewise, the totalitarian dictatorship,

there’s no rules.

A dictator can do whatever they want.

They can torture.

They can, you know, flatten a rebellion

with a lot of murder because they have the power to do so.

What are you gonna do, right?

And that’s, that’s kind of the state of nature.

That’s our natural way.

You know, when you look at, watch a mafia movie,

you know, there’s, we do a lot of, we have it in us.

We all have, we all can snap into power games mode

when it becomes all about, you know,

just actual raw power.

Now, the liberal games is, you know,

something that civilizations for thousands of years

have been working on.

It’s not invented by America or modern times,

but America’s kind of was like the latest crack at it yet,

which is this idea,

instead of everyone can do what they want

if they have the power to do so,

it’s everyone can do what they want

as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

Now, that’s really complicated.

How do you define harm?

And the idea is that everyone has a list of rights

which are protected by the government.

And then they have, they’re inalienable rights

and they’re protected.

Those are protected, again, by, you know,

from an invasion by other people.

And so you have this kind of fragile balance.

And so the idea with the liberal games is you,

that there are laws, but it’s not totalitarian.

They will build very clear, strict laws

kind of around the edges of what you can and can’t do.

And then everything else, freedom.

So unlike a totalitarian dictatorship,

actually it’s very loose.

You can, there’s a lot of things can happen

and it’s kind of up to the people,

but there are still laws that protect

the very basic inalienable rights and stuff like that.

So it’s this much looser thing.

Now, the vulnerability there is that it,

so the benefits of it are obvious, right?

Freedom is great.

It seems like it’s the most fair.

They, you know, that equality of opportunity

seemed like the most fair thing.

And, you know, equality before the law,

you know, due process and all of this stuff.

So it seems fair to the founders of the US

and other enlightenment thinkers.

And it also is a great way to manifest productivity, right?

You know, you have Adam Smith saying,

it’s not from the benevolence of the butcher or the baker

that we get our dinner, but from their own self-interest.

So you have, you can harness kind of selfishness

for progress, but it has a vulnerability,

which is that because the laws,

it’s like the totalitarian laws,

they don’t have an excess of laws for no reason.

They want to control everything.

And the US, you know, in the US we say,

they’re not going to do that.

So the second, it’s almost two puzzle pieces.

You have the laws, and then you’ve got a liberal culture.

Liberal laws have to be married to liberal culture,

kind of a defense of liberal spirit

in order to truly have the liberal games going on.

And so that’s vulnerable because free speech,

you can have the first amendment, that’s the laws part.

But if you’re in a culture where anyone who, you know,

speaks out against orthodoxy

is going to be shunned from the community,

well, you’re lacking the second piece of the puzzle there.

You’re lacking liberal culture.

And so therefore you might as well be in a,

you might as well not even have the first amendment.

And there’s a lot of examples like that

where the culture has to do its part

for the true liberal games to be enjoyed.

So it’s just much more complicated,

much more nuanced than the power games.

It’s kind of a set of basic laws

that then are coupled with a basic spirit

to create this very awesome human environment

that’s also very vulnerable.

So what do you mean the culture has to play along?

So for something like a freedom of speech to work,

there has to be a basic, what, decency?

That if all people are perfectly good,

then perfect freedom without any restrictions is great.

It’s where the human nature starts getting a little iffy.

We start being cruel to each other,

we start being greedy and desiring of harm,

and also the narcissists and sociopaths

and psychopaths in society.

All of that, that’s when you start to have to inject

some limitations on that freedom.

Yeah, I mean if, so what the government basically says

is we’re going to let everyone be mostly free.

But no one is gonna be free to physically harm other people

or to steal their property, right?

And so we’re all agreeing to sacrifice that 20%

of our freedom, and then in return,

all of us in theory can be 80% free.

And that’s kind of the bargain.

But now that’s a lot of freedom to leave people with.

And a lot of people choose,

it’s like you’re so free in the US,

you’re actually free to be unfree if you choose.

That’s kind of what an echo chamber is to me.

It’s, you can choose to kind of be friends with people

who essentially make it so uncomfortable

to speak your mind that it’s no actual effective difference

for you than if you lived in a country.

If you can’t criticize Christianity in a certain community,

that you have a First Amendment,

so you’re not gonna get arrested by the government

for criticizing Christianity.

But if you have this, if the social penalties

are so extreme that it’s just never worth it,

you might as well be in a country

that imprisons people for criticizing Christianity.

And so that same thing goes for wokeness, right?

This is what people get, cancel culture and stuff.

So when the reason these things are bad

is because they’re actually,

they’re depriving Americans of the beauty

of the freedom of the liberal games

by imposing a social culture that is very Power Games-esque.

It’s basically a Power Games culture comes in,

and you might as well be in the Power Games now.

And so liberal, if you live in a liberal democracy,

there will always be challenges to a liberal culture,

lowercase l, liberal.

There’ll always be challenges to a liberal culture

from people who are much more interested

in playing the Power Games.

And there has to be kind of an immune system

that stands up to that culture and says,

that’s not how we do things here in America, actually.

We don’t excommunicate people

for not having the right religious beliefs or not,

we don’t disinvite a speaker from campus

for having the wrong political beliefs.

And if it doesn’t stand up for itself,

it’s like the immune system of the country failing

and Power Games rushes in.

So before chapter four in your book,

and the chapters that will surely result

in you being burned at the stake,

you write, quote, we’ll start our pitchfork tour

in this chapter by taking a brief trip

through the history of the Republican Party.

Then in the following chapters,

we’ll take a Tim’s career tanking deep dive

into America’s social justice movement

as you started to talk about.

Okay, so let’s go.

What’s the history of the Republican Party?

I’m looking at this through my vertical ladder.

I’m saying, what is this familiar story

of the Republicans from the 60s to today?

What does it look like through the vertical lens, right?

Does it look different?

And is there an interesting story here

that’s been kind of hidden

because we’re always looking at the horizontal.

Now the horizontal story, you’ll hear people talk about it

and they’ll say something like the Republicans

have moved farther and farther to the right.

And to me, that’s not really true.

Like, was Trump more right-wing than Reagan?

I don’t think so.

I think he’s left.

In terms of actual policy, yeah.

Yeah, so we’re using this.

Again, it’s just like you’re calling yourself centrist

when it’s not exactly what you mean,

even though it also is.


So again, I was like, okay, look,

this vertical lens helps with other things.

Let’s apply it to the Republicans.

And here’s what I saw is I looked at the 60s

and I saw an interesting story,

which I don’t think not everyone’s familiar

with what happened in the early 60s.

But in 1960, the Republican Party was very,

it was a plurality.

You had progressives, like genuine Rockefeller,

pretty progressive people,

all the way to, then you had the moderates

like Eisenhower and Dewey.

And then you go all the way to the farther right,

you had Goldwater and what we might call,

I call them the fundamentalists.

And so it’s this interesting plurality, right?

Something we don’t have today.

And what happened was the Goldwater contingent,

which was the underdog, they were small, right?

Eisenhower was the president or had just been the president

and was, it seemed like the moderates were,

he said, you have to be close

to the center of the chessboard.

That’s how you maintain power.

These people were very far

from the center of the chessboard,

but they ended up basically have like a hostile takeover.

They conquered their own party

and they did it by breaking all of the kind

of unwritten rules and norms.

So they did things like they first started

with like the college Republicans,

which was like this feeder group that turned in,

you know, a lot of the politicians started there

and they went to the election

and they wouldn’t let the current president,

the incumbent, speak.

And they were throwing chairs and there were fistfights.

And eventually people gave up and they just sat there

and they sat in the chair talking for, you know,

their candidate until everyone eventually left

and then they declared victory.

So basically they came in,

there was a certain set of rules, agreed upon rules,

and they came in playing the power games saying,

well, actually, if we do this, you won’t have the power,

you know, we have the power to take it

if we just break all the rules, right?

And so they did and they won.

And that became this hugely influential thing,

which then they conquered California through, again,

these people were taken aback,

these proper Republican candidates were appalled

by the kind of like, you know,

the insults that were being hurled at them

and the intimidation and the bullying.

And eventually they ended up in the National Convention,

which was called like the right wing Woodstock.

It was like, you know,

the Republican National Convention in 64 was just,

again, there was jeering and they wouldn’t let

the moderates or the progressives even speak.

And there was racism, you know,

Jackie Robinson was there and he was a proud Republican.

And he said that like,

he feels like he was a Jew in Hitler’s Germany

with the way that blacks were being treated there.

And it was nasty.

But what did they do?

They had fiery, you know, plurality enough to win.

And they won.

They ended up getting crushed in the general election

and they kind of faded away.

But to me, I was like, that was an interesting story.

I see it as, I have this character in the book

called the Golem, which is a big,

kind of a big, dumb, powerful monster.

That’s the, you know,

the emergent property of like a political echo chamber.

It’s like this big giant, it’s stupid,

but it’s powerful and scary.

And to me, I was like, a Golem rose up,

conquered the party for a second,

knocked it on its ass and then faded away.

And to me, when I look at the Trump revolution

and a lot, and not just Trump, the last 20 years,

I see that same lower right,

that lower right monster kind of

making another charge for it, but this time succeeding

and really taking over the party for a long period of time.

I see the same story,

which is the power games are being played

in a situation when it had always been,

the government relies on all these unwritten rules

and norms to function.

But for example, you have in 2016,

Merrick Garland gets nominated by Obama

and the unwritten norm says

that when the president nominates a justice,

then you pass them through

unless there’s some egregious thing.

That’s what has happened.

But they said, actually, this is the last year

of his presidency and the people should choose.

I don’t think we should set a new precedent

where the president can’t nominate people,

nominate a Supreme Court justice in the last year.

So they passed it through and it ends up being Gorsuch.

And so they lose that seat.

Now, three years later, it’s Trump’s last year

and it’s another election year and Ginsburg dies.

And what did they say?

They say, oh, let’s keep our precedent.

They said, no, actually, we changed our mind.

We’re gonna nominate Amy Barrett.

So to me, that is classic power games, right?

There’s no actual rule and what you’re doing

is they did technically have the power

to block the nomination then,

and then they technically had the power

to put someone in and they’re pretending

there’s some principle to it,

but they’re going for the short-term edge

at the expense of what is like the workings

of the system in the long run.

And then what did the Democrats have to do

in that situation?

Because both parties have been doing this,

is they either can lose now all the time

or they start playing the power games too.

And now you have a prisoner’s dilemma

where it’s like both end up doing this thing

and everyone ends up worse off, the debt ceiling,

all these power plays that are being made

with these holding the country hostage.

This is power games.

And to me, that’s what Goldwater was doing in the 60s,

but it was a healthier time in a way

because there was this plurality within the parties,

reduced some of the national tribalism,

and there wasn’t as much of an appeal to that.

But today, it’s just like do whatever you have to do

to beat the enemies.

And so I’m seeing a rise in power games.

And I talk about the Republicans

because they did a lot of these things first.

They have been a little bit more egregious,

but both parties have been doing it

over the last 20, 30 years.

Can you place blame,

or maybe there’s a different term for it,

at the subsystems of this?

So is it the media?

Is it the politicians, like in the Senate and Congress?

Is it Trump, so the leadership?

Is it, or maybe it’s us, human beings?

Maybe social media versus mainstream media.

Is there a sense of where,

what is the cause and what is the symptom?

It’s very complex.

So Ezra Klein has a great book, Why We’re Polarized,

where he talks about a lot of this.

And there’s some of these,

it’s really no one’s fault.

First of all, the environment has changed

in a bunch of ways you just mentioned.

And what happens when you take human nature,

which is a constant,

and you put it into an environment,

behavior comes out.

The environment’s the independent variable.

When that changes, the dependent variable,

the behavior, changes with it, right?

And so the environment has changed in a lot of ways.

So one major one is,

it used to, for a long time, actually,

first it was the Republicans,

and then the Democrats just had a stranglehold on Congress.

There was no, it was not even competitive.

The Democrats, for 40 years, had the majority.

And so therefore, it actually is a decent environment

to compromise it, because now we can both,

you know, what you want is Congress people

thinking about their home district,

and voting yes on a national policy,

because we’re gonna get a good deal on it back at home.

That’s actually healthy,

as opposed to voting in lockstep together,

because this is what the red party is doing,

regardless of what’s good for my home district.

You know, an example is Obamacare.

You know, there were certain Republican districts

that would have actually, officially,

been benefited by Obamacare,

but every Republican voted against it.

So, and part of the reason is,

because there’s no longer this obvious majority.

Every few years, it switches.

It’s a 50-50 thing.

And that’s, you know, partially because it’s become,

so we’ve been so subsumed with this one national divide

of left versus right, that people are not,

people are whoever, you know,

they’re voting for the same party for president,

all the way down the ticket now.

And so you have this just kind of 50-50 color war,

and that’s awful for compromise.

So there’s like 10 of these things, you know,

that have redistricting, but also, it is social media.

It is, I call it hyper-charged tribalism.

You know, in the 60s,

you had kind of distributed tribalism.

You had some people that are worked up about the USSR,

right, they’re national, that’s what they care about.

US versus foreign.

You had some people that were saying left versus right,

like they are today.

And then other people that were saying

that they were fighting within the party.

But today, you don’t have that.

You have ideological realignment,

so you kind of got rid of a lot of the in-party fighting.

And then there hasn’t been that big of a foreign threat,

nothing like the USSR for a long time.

So you kind of lost that,

and what’s left is just this left versus right thing.

And so that’s kind of this hyper-charged whirlpool

that subsumes everything.

And so, yeah, I mean, people point to Newt Gingrich,

you know, and people like there’s certain characters

that enacted policies that stoked this kind of thing,

but I think this is a much bigger

kind of environmental shift.

Well, that’s going back to our questions

about the role of individuals in human history.

So the interesting,

one of the many interesting questions here is about Trump.

Is he a symptom or a cause?

Because he seems to be, from the public narrative,

such a significant catalyst

for some of the things we’re seeing.

This goes back to what we were talking about earlier,

right, like is it the person or is it the times?

I think he’s a perfect example of it’s a both situation.

I don’t think, if you plucked Trump out of this situation,

I don’t think that Trump was inevitable,

but I think we were very vulnerable to a demagogue.

And if you hadn’t been, Trump would have had no chance.

And so why were we vulnerable to a demagogue

is because you have these,

well, I mean, I think it’s specifically on the right.

If you actually look at the stats, it’s pretty bad.

Like the people who,

because it’s not just who voted for Trump.

A lot of people just vote for the red, right?

What’s interesting is who voted for Obama against Romney

and then voted for Trump?

Who, you know, these are not racists, right?

These are not hardcore Republicans.

They voted for Obama.

And where did the switch come from?

Places that had economic despair,

where bridges were not working well.

That’s a signifier.

You know, where paint’s chipping in the schools.

You know, these little things like this.

So I think that, you know, you had this,

a lot of these kind of rural towns,

you have true despair.

And then you also have the number one indicator

of voting for Trump was distrust in media.

And the media has become much less trustworthy, you know?

And so you have all these ingredients

that actually make us very vulnerable to a demagogue

and a demagogue is someone who takes advantage, right?

There’s someone who comes in and says,

I can pull all the right strings

and push all the right emotional buttons right now

and get my self power by taking advantage

of the circumstances.

And that is what Trump totally did.

It makes me wonder how easy it is for somebody

who is a charismatic leader to capitalize

on cultural resentment when there’s economic hardship

to channel that.

So John Haidt wrote a great article

about like, we basically,

like truth is in an all time low right now.

Like it’s, the media is not penalized for lying, right?

MSNBC, Fox News, these are not penalized

for being inaccurate.

They’re penalized if they stray from the orthodoxy.

On social media, it’s not the truest tweets

that go viral, right?

And so Trump understood that better than anyone, right?

He took advantage of it.

He was living in the current world

when everyone else was stuck in the past.

And he saw that and he just lied.

He, everything he said, you know, it doesn’t,

truth was not relevant at all, right?

It’s just truly, it’s not relevant to him

when what he’s talking about.

He doesn’t care and he knew that neither do

a subset of the country.

I was thinking about this,

just reading articles by journalists,

especially when you’re not a famous journalist in yourself,

but you’re more like in your times journalist.

So the big famous thing is the institution

that you’re a part of.

Like, you can just lie.


Because you’re not going to get punished for it.

You’re going to be rewarded for the popularity

of an article.

So if you write 10 articles,

it’s, there’s a huge incentive to just make stuff up.

You gotta get clicks.

To get clicks.

That’s the first and foremost.

And like culturally, people will attack that article

to say it’s dishonest, like one half the country

will attack that article for saying it’s dishonest.

But they’ll kind of forget the,

you will not have a reputational hit.


There won’t be a memory like this person made up

a lot of stuff in the past.

No, they’ll take one article at a time

and they’ll attach the reputation hits

will be to New York Times, the institution.


And so for the individual journalist,

there’s a huge incentive to make stuff up.


It’s wild.

And it’s scary because it’s almost like you can’t survive

if you’re just an old school honest journalist

who really works hard and tries to get it right

and does it with nuance.

What you can be is you can be a big time substacker

or a big time podcaster.

A lot of people do have a reputation for accuracy

and rigor and they have huge audiences.

But if you’re working in a big company right now,

I think that many of the big media brands

are very much controlled by the left.

But I will say that the ones that are controlled

by the right are even more egregious.

Not just in terms of accuracy,

but also in terms of,

the New York Times for all of its criticisms,

they have a handful of,

here and there they put out a pretty,

an article that strays from the,

Barry Weiss wrote there for a long time.

And then you’ve got,

they wrote an article criticizing free speech

on campus stuff recently.

And they have a couple very left progressive friendly

conservatives, but they have conservatives

that are writing the op-eds.

Fox News, you’re not seeing thoughtful,

Breitbart, you’re not seeing thoughtful

progressives writing there, right?

There’s some degree to which the New York Times,

I think still incentivizing the values,

the vertical, the high effort.

So you’re allowed to have a conservative opinion

if you do a really damn good job.

Like if it’s a very thorough, in-depth kind of-

And if you kind of pander to the progressive senses

in all the right ways.

I always joke that Ted,

they always have a couple token conservatives,

but they get on stage and they’re basically like,

so totally, the progressivism’s right about all of this,

but maybe, maybe libertarianism isn’t all bad.

So there is an element, but you know what?

It’s something.

It’s better than being a total tribal.

I think you can see the New York Times tug of war,

the internal tug of war.

You can see it,

because then they also have these awful instances,

or like the firing of James Bennett,

which is this whole other story.

But they have, yeah, you can see it going both ways.

But in the 60s, what did you have?

You had ABC, NBC, CBS.

The 70s, you had these three news channels

and they weren’t always right.

And they definitely sometimes spun a narrative together,

maybe about the Vietnam or whatever.

But if one of them was just lying,

they’d be embarrassed for it.

They would be penalized.

They’d be dinged and they’d be known as,

this is the trash one.

And that would be terrible for their ratings,

because they weren’t just catering to half the country.

They all were catering to the whole country.

So both on the axis of accuracy

and on the axis of neutrality,

they had to try to stay somewhere in the reasonable range.

And that’s just gone.

One of the things I’m really curious about

is I think your book is incredible.

I’m very curious to see how it’s written about by the press.

Because I could see, I could myself write

with the help of Chad JPT, of course,

clickbait articles in either direction.

Yeah, it’s easy to imagine.

Your whole book is beautifully written

for clickbait articles.


If any journalists out there need help,

I can help.


I can write the most atrocious criticisms.

Yeah, I’m ready, I’m braced.

Yeah, so speaking of which,

you write about social justice.

You write about two kinds of social justice,

liberal social justice and SJF,

social justice fundamentalism.

What are those?

Yeah, so the term wokeness is so loaded with baggage,

it’s kind of like mocking and derogatory.

And I was trying not to do that in this book.

If it’s a term loaded with baggage,

you’re already kind of,

you’re from the first minute, you’re already behind.

So to me,

it also, when people say wokeness is bad,

social justice is bad,

they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Because the proudest tradition in the US

is liberal social justice.

And what I mean by that, again,

liberal meaning with lowercase L.

It is intertwined with liberalism.

So Martin Luther King, classic example,

his I Have a Dream speech,

he says stuff like,

this country has made a promise to all of its citizens,

and it has broken that promise to its black citizens.

In other words, liberalism, the constitution,

the core ideals, those are great.

We’re not living up to them, we’re failing on some of them.

So civil disobedience,

the goal of it wasn’t to hurt liberalism,

it was to specifically break the laws

that were already violating,

the laws that were a violation of liberalism,

to expose that this is illiberal,

that the constitution should not have people

of different skin color sitting

in different parts of the bus.

And so it was really patriotic, the civil rights movement.

It was saying, this is a beautiful,

we have a, liberalism is this beautiful thing,

and we need to do better at it.

So I call it liberal social justice,

and it used the tools of liberalism

to try to improve the flaws.

And they were going on, so free speech.

Mario Savio in the 60s was, he’s a leftist.

And what were the leftists doing

in the 60s on Berkeley campus?

They were saying, we need more free speech,

because that’s what liberal social justice

was fighting for.

But you can also go back to the 20s, women’s suffrage.

I mean, emancipation, the thing that America

obviously has all of its, these are all ugly things

that it had to get out of, but it got out of them,

one by one, and it’s still getting out of them.

And that’s what’s cool about America.

And liberal social justice basically is the practice

of saying, where are we not being perfect liberals?

And now let’s fix that.

So that’s the idea of liberalism

that permeates the history of the United States.

But then there’s, so many good images in this book.

But one of them is highlighting the interplay

of different ideas over the past, let’s say 100 years.

So liberalism is on one side, there’s that thread.

There’s Marxism on the other,

and then there’s postmodernism.

How do those interplay together?

So it’s interesting because Marxism is,

and all of its various descendants,

obviously there’s a lot of things that are rooted

in Marxism that aren’t the same thing

as what Karl Marx preached.

But what do they all have in common?

They think liberalism is bad, right?

They actually think that the opposite

of what Martin Luther King and other people

in the civil rights and other movements,

they think the opposite.

He thinks liberalism is good, we need to preserve it.

They said liberalism is the problem.

These other problems with racism and inequality

that we’re seeing, those are inevitable results

of liberalism.

Liberalism is a rigged game,

and it’s just the power games in disguise.

There is no liberal games.

It’s just the power games in disguise,

and there’s the upper people that oppress the lower people,

and they convince the lower people.

It’s all about false consciousness.

They convince the lower people that everything is fair,

and now the lower people vote against their own interests,

and they work to preserve the system

that’s oppressing them.

And what do we need to do?

We need to actually, it’s much more revolutionary.

We need to overthrow liberalism, right?

So people think, oh, what we call a wokeness

is just a normal social justice activism,

but it’s more extreme, right?

It’s this, no, no, it’s the polar opposite, polar opposite.

And so now that’s the Marxist threat.

Now, postmodernism is kind of this term

that is super controversial,

and I don’t think anyone calls themselves a postmodernist

or take all of this with a grain of salt

in terms of the term,

but what’s the definition of radical?

The definition of radical to me is

how deep you want change to happen at.

So a liberal progressive and a conservative progressive

will disagree about policies.

The liberal progressive wants to change a lot of policies,

change, change, change, right?

And the conservative is more wants to keep things

the way they are.

But they’re both conservative when it comes to liberalism,

beneath it, the liberal kind of foundation of the country.

They both become conservatives about that.

The Marxist is more radical

because they want to go one notch deeper

and actually overthrow that foundation.

Now, what’s below liberalism

is kind of the core tenets of modernity,

this idea of reason and the notion

that there is an objective truth

and science as the scientific method, right?

These things are actually beneath, and even the Marxist,

if you look at the Frankfurt School,

you know, these post-Marxist thinkers and Marx himself,

they were not anti-science.

They believed in that bottom-bottom foundation.

They actually wanted to preserve modernity,

but they wanted to get rid of liberalism on top of it.

The post-modernist is even more radical

because they want to actually go down

to the bottom level and overthrow it.

They think science itself is a tool of oppression.

They think it’s a tool

where oppression kind of flows through.

They think that the white Western world

has invented these concepts,

like they claim that there’s an objective truth

and that there’s reason and science,

and they think all of that is just one metanarrative,

and it goes a long way

to serve the interests of the powerful.

So in the sense that it’s almost caricatured,

but that is to the core of their belief

that math could be racist, for example.

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Not the education of math, but literally math, mathematics.

The notion in math

that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer.

That, they believe, is a metanarrative

that serves white supremacy,

or the post-modernist might have said

it serves just the powerful or the wealthy,

so what social justice fundamentalism is,

is you take the Marxist thread

that has been going on in lots of countries,

and whoever the upper and lower is,

that’s what they all have in common,

but the upper and lower,

for Marx was the ruling class and the oppressed class.

It was economic.

But you come here,

and the economic class doesn’t resonate as much here

as it did maybe in some of those other places,

but what does resonate here in the 60s and 70s

is race and gender

and these kind of social justice disagreements.

And so what social justice fundamentalism is,

is it’s basically this tried-and-true framework

of this Marxist framework,

kind of with a new skin on it,

which is American social justice,

and then made even more radical

with the infusion of post-modernism,

where not just is liberalism bad,

but actually, like you said, math can be racist.

So it’s this kind of philosophical Frankenstein,

this stitched together of these,

and so again, it’s called,

they wear the same uniform as the liberal social justice.

They say social justice, racial equality,

but it has nothing to do with liberal social justice.

It is directly opposed to liberal social justice.

It’s fascinating, the evolution of ideas.

If we ignore the harm done by it,

it’s fascinating how humans get together

and evolve these ideas.

So as you show, Marxism is the idea

that society is a zero-sum.

I mean, I guess zero-sum is a really important thing here.

Zero-sum struggle between the ruling class

and the working class,

with power being exerted through politics and economics.

Then you add critical theory, Marxism 2.0 on top of that,

and you add to politics and economics,

you add culture and institutions.

And then on top of that, for post-modernism,

you add science, you add morality,

basically anything else you can think of.

To stitch together Frankenstein,

and if you notice, and which is not necessarily bad,

but in this case, I think it’s actually violating

the Marxist tradition by being anti-science.

And it’s violating the post-modernism,

because what post-modernists were,

they were radical skeptics.

Not just of, they were radical skeptics,

not just of the way things were, but of their own beliefs.

And social justice fundamentalism is suddenly,

is not at all self-critical.

It says that we have the answers,

which is the opposite of what post-modernists

would ever say.

No, you just have another meta-narrative.

So, and it’s also violating, of course,

the tradition of liberal social justice in a million ways,

because it’s anti-liberal.

And so this Frankenstein comes together.

Meanwhile, liberal social justice

doesn’t have a Frankenstein.

It’s very clear, it’s very,

it’s a crisp ideology that says we need,

they’re trying to make,

we’re trying to get to a more perfect union.

They’re trying to keep the promises

made in the Constitution.

And that’s what it’s trying to do.

And so it’s much simpler in a lot of ways.

So you write that my big problem

with social justice fundamentalism

isn’t the ideology itself.

It’s what scholars and activists started to do

sometimes around 2013,

when they began to wield a cudgel

that’s not supposed to have any place

in the country like the US.

So it’s the actions, not the ideas.

Well, to be clear, I don’t like the ideology.

I think it’s a low-rung ideology.

I think it’s morally inconsistent

based on its flip-flops on its morals,

depending on the group.

I think it’s echo chambery.

I think it’s full of inaccuracies

and kind of can’t stand up to debate.

So I think it’s a low,

but there’s a ton of low-rung ideologies I don’t like.

I don’t like a lot of religious doctrines.

I don’t like a lot of political doctrines, right?

The US is a place inherently

that is a mishmash of a ton of ideologies.

And I’m not gonna like two thirds of them

at any given time.

So my problem, the reason I’m writing about this

is not because I’m like, by the way,

this ideology is not something I like.

That’s not interesting.

The reason that it must be written about right now,

this particular ideology,

is because it’s not playing nicely with others.

But if you wanna be a hardcore evangelical Christian,

in the US says live and let live.

Not only are you allowed to have an echo chamber

of some kind, it’s actively protected here.

Live and let live.

They can do what they want.

Now, if the evangelical Christian started saying,

by the way, anyone who says anything

that conflicts with evangelical Christianity

is going to be severely socially punished

and they have the cultural power to do so,

which they don’t in this case.

They might like to, but they don’t have the power.

But they’re able to get anyone fired who they want.

And they’re able to actually change the curriculum

in all these schools to suddenly not conflict

with no more evolution in the textbooks

because they don’t want it.

Now I would write a book about evangelical Christianity

because that’s what every liberal,

regardless of what you think

of the actual horizontal beliefs,

doesn’t matter what they believe

when they start violating live and let live

and shutting down other segments of society.

And it’s almost like a, it’s not the best analogy,

but an echo chamber is like a benign tumor.

And what you have to watch out for

is a tumor that starts to metastasize,

starts to forcefully spread and damage the tissue around it.

And that’s what this particular ideology has been doing.

Do you worry about it, you know,

as an existential threat to liberalism

in the West, in the United States?

Is it a problem or is it the biggest problem

that’s threatening all of human civilization?

I would never, I would not say it’s the biggest problem.

It might be.

I wouldn’t, if someone, if it turns out in 50 years

someone says actually it was, I wouldn’t be shocked.

But I also, I wouldn’t bet on that

because there’s a lot of problems.

I’m a little sorry to interrupt.

It is popular to say that kind of thing though.

And it’s less popular to say the same thing

about AI or nuclear weapons,

which worries me that I’m more worried

about nuclear weapons even still

than I am about wokeism.

So I’ve gotten, I’ve had probably

a thousand arguments about this.

That’s one nice thing about spending six years

procrastinating on getting a book done

is you end up test, battle testing your ideas

a million times.

So I’ve heard this one a lot, right?

Which is, there’s kind of three groups

of former Obama voters.

One is super woke now.

Another one is super anti-woke now.

And the third is what you just said,

which is sure, wokeness is over the top, right?

They’re not, you’re not woke,

but I think that the anti-woke people

are totally lost their mind.

And it’s just not that big a deal, right?

Now here’s why I disagree with that.

Because it’s not, it’s not wokeness itself.

It’s that a radical political movement,

of which there will always be a lot in the country,

has managed to do something that a radical movement

is not supposed to be able to do in the US.

Which is they’ve managed to

hijack institutions all across the country,

and hijack medical journals, and universities,

and the ACLU, all the activist organizations,

and nonprofits, and NGOs.

And certain tech companies.

Yeah, and many tech companies.

And so it’s not that I think this thing is so bad.

It’s a little like we said with Trump.

It’s that, the reason Trump scares me

is not because Trump’s so bad.

It’s that because it shows,

it reveals that we were vulnerable to a demagogue candidate.

And what wokeness reveals to me is that we are currently,

and until something changes,

we’ll continue to be vulnerable to a bully movement,

and a forcefully expansionist movement

that wants to actually destroy the working class

in their liberal gears and tear them apart.

And so here’s the way I view a liberal democracy

is it is a bunch of these institutions

that were trial and error crafted over hundreds of years.

And they all rely on trust, public trust.

And there’s a certain kind of feeling of unity

that actually is critical

to a liberal democracy’s functioning.

And what I see this thing is, is as a parasite on that,

that whose goal is, and I’m not saying each,

each individual in this is,

I don’t think they’re bad people.

I think that it’s the ideology itself has the property of,

its goal is to tear apart the pretty delicate workings

of the liberal democracy

and shred the critical lines of trust.

And so you talk about AI,

and you talk about all these other big problems,

nuclear, right?

The reason I, I like writing about that stuff

a lot more than I like writing about politics.

This was a fun topic for me,

is because I realized that all of those things,

if we’re gonna have a good future with those things,

and they’re actually threats,

like I said, we need to have our wits about us.

And we need the liberal gears and levers working.

We need the liberal machine working.

And so if something’s threatening to undermine that,

it affects everything else.

We need to have our scientific mind about us,

about these foundational ideas.

But I guess my sense of hope comes from

observing the immune system respond to wokeism.

There seems to be a pro-liberalism immune system.

And not only that, so like there’s intellectuals,

there’s people that are willing to do the fight.

You talk about courage, or being courageous.

And there is a hunger for that,

such that those ideas can become viral,

and they take over.

So I just don’t see a mechanism by which wokeism

accelerates like exponentially,

and takes over, like it’s expand.

It feels like as it expands, the immune system responds.

The immune system of liberalism,

of basically a country, at least in the United States,

that’s still ultimately at the core of the individual values

the freedom of speech, just freedoms in general.

The freedom of an individual.

But that’s the battle, which is stronger.

So to me it is like a virus in an immune system.

And I totally agree, I see the same story happening.

And I’m sitting here rooting for the immune system.

But you’re still worried.

Well, here’s the thing.

So a liberal democracy is always gonna be vulnerable

to a movement like this, right?

And there will be more.

Because it’s not a totalitarian dictatorship.

Because if you can socially pressure people

to not say what they’re thinking,

you can suddenly start to just take over, right?

You can break the liberalism of the liberal democracy

quite easily, and suddenly a lot of things are illiberal.

On the other hand, the same vulnerability,

the same system that’s vulnerable to that,

also is hard to truly conquer.

Because now the Maoists, right, similar kind of vibe.

They were saying that science is evil,

and that the intellectuals are,

it’s all this big conspiracy.

But they could murder you.

And they had the hard cudgel in their hand, right?

And the hard cudgel is scary.

And you can conquer a country with the hard cudgel.

But you can’t use that in the US.

So what they have is a soft cudgel,

which can have the same effect initially.

You can scare people into shutting up.

You can’t maybe imprison them and murder them.

But if you can socially ostracize them and get them fired,

that basically is gonna have the same effect.

So the soft cudgel can have the same effect for a while.

But the thing is, it’s a little bit of a house of cards.

Because it relies on fear.

And as soon as that fear goes away,

the whole thing falls apart, right?

The soft cudgel requires people to be so scared

of getting canceled or getting whatever.

And as soon as some people start,

you know, Toby Lutka of Shopify, I always think about.

He just said, you know what,

I’m not scared of this soft cudgel.

And spoke up and said, we’re not political at this company,

and we’re not a family, we’re a team,

and we’re gonna do this.

And you know what?

Like, they’re thriving.

He will be on this podcast.

He seems like a fascinating human being.

He’s amazing.

He spoke up, he’s saying that we’re not going to.

He’s one of the smartest and kindest dudes.

But he’s also, he has courage at a time when it’s hard.

But here’s the thing, is that it’s different

than that you need so much less courage

against a soft cudgel than you do.

The Iranians throwing their hijabs into the fire,

those people’s courage just blows away

any courage we have here.

Because they might get executed.

That’s the thing, is that you can actually

have courage right now, and it’s, so.

I’m not sure I understand.

Don’t worry about it.

Oh man, the irony of that.

And you talk about, so two things to fight this,

there’s two things, awareness and courage.

What’s the awareness piece?

The awareness piece is,

is first just understanding the stakes.

Like, getting our heads out of the sand

and being like, technology’s blowing up exponentially.

Our society’s trust is devolving.

Like, we’re kind of falling apart in some important ways.

We’re losing our grip on some stability at the worst time.

That’s the first point, just the big picture.

And then also, awareness of, I think, this vertical axis

or whatever your version of it is.

This concept of, how do I really form my beliefs?

Where do they actually come from?

Are they someone else’s beliefs?

Am I following a checklist?

How about my values?

I used to identify with the blue party or the red party,

but now they’ve changed, and I suddenly am okay with that.

Is that because my values changed with it,

or am I actually anchored to the party,

not to any principle?

Asking yourself these questions.

Asking, looking for where do I feel disgusted

by fellow human beings?

Maybe I’m being a crazy tribal person

without realizing it.

How about the people around me?

Am I being bullied by some echo chamber without realizing it?

Am I the bully somewhere?

So that’s the first, I think, just to kind of

do a self-audit.

And I think that just some awareness like that,

just a self-audit about these things can go a long way,

but if you keep it to yourself, it’s almost useless.

Because if you don’t have,

awareness without courage does very little.

So courage is when you take that awareness

and you actually export it out into the world,

and it starts affecting other people.

And so courage can happen on multiple levels.

It can happen by, first of all,

just stop saying stuff you don’t believe.

If you’re being pressured by a kind of an ideology

or a movement to say stuff that you don’t actually believe,

just stop, just stay on your ground and don’t say anything.

That’s courage, that’s one first step.

Start speaking out in small groups.

Start actually speaking your mind, see what happens.

The sky doesn’t usually fall.

Actually, people usually respect you for it.

And it’s not every group, but you’d be surprised.

And then eventually, maybe start speaking out

in bigger groups, start going public.

Go public with it, and you don’t need everyone doing this.

Look, some people will lose their jobs for it.

I’m not talking to those people.

Most people won’t lose their jobs,

but they have the same fear as if they would, right?

And it’s like, what, are you gonna get criticized,

or are you gonna get a bunch of people,

angry Twitter people will criticize you?

Like, yeah, it’s not pleasant,

but actually that’s a little bit

like our primitive mind’s fear that really,

back when it was programmed, that kind of ostracism

or criticism will leave you out of the tribe and you’ll die.

Today, it’s kind of a delusional fear.

It’s not actually that scary.

And the people who realize that

can exercise incredible leadership right now.

So you have a really interesting description of censorship,

of self-censorship also, as you’ve been talking about.

Who’s King Mustache?

And this gap, I think, I hope you write even more,

even more than you’ve written in the book

about these ideas, because it’s so strong.

This censorship gaps that are created

between the dormant thought pile

and the kind of thing under the speech curve.


So first of all, so I like to think of,

I think it’s a useful tool,

is this thing called a thought pile,

which is if you have a, on any given issue,

you have a horizontal spectrum,

and just say I could take your brain out of your head

and I put it on the thought pile

right where you happen to believe about that issue.

Now, I did that for everyone in the community

or in a society, and you’re gonna end up

with a big mushy pile that I think

will often form a bell curve.

If it’s really politicized,

it might form like a camel with two humps,

because it’s like concentrated here.

But for a typical issue, it’ll just form a fear of AI.

You’re gonna have a bell curve, right?

Things like this.

That’s the thought pile.

Now, the second thing is a line

that I call the speech curve,

which is what people are saying.

So the speech curve is high

when not just a lot of people are saying it,

but it’s being said from the biggest platforms,

being said in the New York Times,

and it’s being said by the president

on the State of the Union.

Those things are the top of the speech curve.

Now, and then when the speech curve’s lower,

it means it’s being said either whispered in small groups,

or it’s just not very many people are talking about it.

Now, when a free speech democracy

is healthy on a certain topic,

you’ve got the speech curve sitting

right on top of the thought pile.

They mirror each other,

which is naturally what would happen.

More people think something that’s gonna be said

more often and from higher platforms.

What censorship does,

and censorship can be from the government,

so I use the tale of King Mustache,

and King Mustache, he’s a little tiny tyrant,

and he’s very sensitive,

and people are making fun of his mustache,

and they’re saying he’s not a good king,

and he does not like that.

So what does he do?

He enacts a policy, and he says,

anyone who is heard criticizing me or my mustache

or my rule will be put to death.

And immediately at the town,

it was because his father was very liberal.

It was always free speech in his kingdom.

But now King Mustache has taken over,

and he’s saying this is a new rules now,

and so a few people yell out,

and they say, that’s not how we do things here.

It’s what I call a moment of truth.

Did the king’s guards stand with the principles

of the kingdom and say, yeah, King Mustache,

that’s not what we do,

in which case he would kind of have to,

he’s nothing he can do.

Or are they going to execute?

So in this case,

it’s as if he laid down an electric fence

over a part of the stockpile and said,

no one’s allowed to speak over here.

The speech curve, maybe people will think these things,

but the speech curve cannot go over here.

But the electric fence wasn’t actually electrified

until the king’s guards, in a moment of truth,

get scared and say, okay,

and they hang the five people who spoke out.

So in that moment, that fence just became electric.

And now no one criticizes King Mustache anymore.

So I use this as an allegory.

Now, of course, he has a hard cudgel

because he can execute people.

But now when we look at the US,

what you’re seeing right now is a lot of pressure,

which is very similar.

An electric fence is being laid down saying,

no one can criticize these ideas.

And if you do, you won’t be executed, you’ll be canceled.

You’ll be fired.

Now, is that fence electrified from there?

No, they don’t work at the company, they can’t fire you.

But they can start a Twitter mob

when someone violates that speech curve,

when someone violates that speech rule.

And then the leadership at the company

has the moment of truth.

And what the leaders should do

is stand up for their company’s values,

which is almost always in favor of the employee and say,

look, even if they made a mistake,

they make people make mistakes, we’re not gonna fire them.

Or maybe that person actually said something

that’s reasonable and we should discuss it.

But either way, we’re not gonna fire them.

And if they said no, what happens is the Twitter mob

actually doesn’t have, they can’t execute you.

They go away.

And the fence has proven to have no electricity.

What’s been the problem with the past few years

is what’s happened again and again

is the leader gets scared

and they get scared of the Twitter mob and they fire them.

Boom, that fence has electricity.

And now actually, if you cross that,

it’s not just a threat.

Like you will have, you’ll be out of a job.

Like it’s really bad.

You’ll have a huge penalty.

You might not be able to feed your kids.

So that’s an electric fence that goes up.

Now, what happens when an electric fence goes up

and it’s proven to actually be electrified?

The speech curve morphs into a totally different position.

And now these new people say,

instead of having the kind of marketplace of ideas

that turns into a kind of a natural bell curve,

they say, no, no, no, these ideas are okay to say.

Not just okay, you’ll be socially rewarded.

And these ones don’t.

That’s the rules of their own echo chamber

that they’re now applying to everyone and it’s working.

And so the speech curve distorts.

And so you end up with now,

instead of one region,

which is a region of kind of active communal thinking,

what people are thinking and saying,

you now have three regions.

You have a little active communal thinking,

but mostly you now have this dormant thought pile,

which is all these opinions

that suddenly everyone’s scared to say out loud.

Everyone’s thinking, but they’re scared to say it out loud.

Everyone’s thinking, but no one’s saying.

And then you have this other region,

which is the approved ideas

of this now cultural kind of dictator.

And those are being spoken from the largest platforms

and they’re being repeated by the president

and they’re being repeated all over the place,

even though people don’t believe it.

And that’s this distortion.

And what happens is the society becomes really stupid

because active communal thinking

is the region where we can actually think together.

And now no one can think together.

And it gets siloed into small private conversations.

It’s really powerful what you said

about institutions and so on.

It’s not trivial from a leadership position

to be like, no, we defend the employee

or we defend the, yeah, the employee,

the person with us on our,

like, because we don’t,

because there’s no actual ground

to any kind of violation we’re hearing about.

So the mob, they resist the mob.

It’s ultimately to the leader, I guess,

of a particular institution or a particular company.

And it’s difficult.

It’s difficult.

No, yeah, no, no, it’s not.

If it were easy, there wouldn’t be all of these failings.

And by the way, that’s the immune system failing.

That’s the liberal immune system of that company failing,

but also then it’s an example,

which means that a lot of other,

it’s failing kind of to the country.

It’s not easy.

Of course it’s not, because we have primitive minds

that are wired to care so much

about what people think of us.

And even if we’re not gonna,

first of all, we’re scared that it’s gonna start a,

because what do mobs do?

They don’t just say, I’m gonna criticize you.

I’m gonna criticize anyone who still buys your product.

I’m gonna criticize anyone who goes on your podcast.

So it’s not just you.

It’s now suddenly, if Lex becomes tarnished enough,

now I go on the podcast and people are saying,

oh, I’m not buying his book.

He went on Lex Friedman, no thanks, right?

And now I get, I call it a smear web.

Like you’ve been smeared and it’s so,

we’re in such a bad time that it smear travels to me.

And now meanwhile, someone who buys my book

and tries to share it,

someone said, you’re buying that guy’s book?

You know, he goes on Lex Friedman.

You see how this happens, right?

So that hasn’t happened in this case,

but that, so we are so wired.

A, that is kind of bad, right?

Like that is actually like bad for you,

but we’re wired to care about it so much

because it meant life or death back in the day.

Yeah, yeah.

And luckily in this case,

we’re both probably can smear each other in this conversation.

This is wonderful.

I smear you all the time.

Given the nature of your book.

What do you think about freedom of speech

as a term and as an idea,

as a way to resist the mechanism,

this mechanism of dormant thought pile

and artificially generated speech?

This ideal of the freedom of speech

and protecting speech and celebrating speech.

Well, so this is kind of the point

I was talking about earlier,

about King Mustache made a rule against,

he’s created official.

I just love the,

one of the amazing things about your book,

as you get later and later in the book,

you cover more and more difficult issues

as a way to illustrate the importance

of the vertical perspective.

But there’s something about using hilarious drawings

throughout that make it much more fun.

And it takes you away from the personal somehow.

And you start thinking in the space of ideas

versus like outside of the tribal type of thinking.

So it’s a really brilliant,

I mean, I would advise for anybody to do,

when they write controversial books,

to have hilarious drawings.

It’s true.

Put the silly stick figure in your thing

and it lightens, it does, it lightens the mood.

It gets people’s guard down a little bit.

And it works.

It reminds people that we’re all friends here.

Let’s laugh at ourselves,

laugh at the fact that we’re in a culture war a little bit

and now we can talk about it,

as opposed to getting religious about it.

But basically, King Mustache had no First Amendment.

He said, the government is censoring,

which is very common around the world.

Governments censor all the time.

The US, again, there’s some,

you can argue there’s some controversial things recently,

but basically the US,

the First Amendment isn’t the problem, right?

No one is being arrested for saying the wrong thing,

but this graph is still happening.

And so, so freedom of speech,

when people, what people like to say is,

if someone’s complaining about a cancel culture

and saying, this is an anti-free speech,

people like to point out, no, it’s not.

The government’s not arresting you for anything.

This is called the free market, buddy.

This is called, you’re putting your ideas out

and you’re getting criticized

and your precious marketplace of ideas,

there it is, right?

And I’ve gotten this a lot.

And this is not making a critical distinction

between cancel culture and criticism culture.

Criticism culture is a little bit of this kind of

high-rung idea lab stuff we talked about.

Criticism culture attacks the idea

and encourages further discussion, right?

It enlivens discussion.

It makes everyone smarter.

Cancel culture attacks the person.

Very different.

Criticism culture says, here’s why this idea is so bad.

Let me tell you.

Cancel culture says, here’s why this person is bad

and no one should talk to them and they should be fired.

And what does that do?

It doesn’t enliven the discussion.

It makes everyone scared to talk and it’s the opposite.

It shuts down discussion.

So you still have your First Amendment,

but First Amendment plus cancel culture equals,

you might as well be in King must,

you might as well have government censorship, right?

First Amendment plus criticism culture, great.

Now you have this vibrant marketplace of ideas.

So there’s a very clear difference.

And so when people criticize the cancel culture

and then someone says, oh, see, you’re so sensitive now.

Look, you’re doing the cancel culture yourself.

You’re trying to punish this person for criticizing.

No, no, no, no, no.

Every good liberal, and I mean that in the lower case,

which is that anyone who believes in liberal democracies,

regardless of what they believe should stand up

and say no to cancel culture and say, this is not okay,

regardless of what the actual topic is.

And that makes them a good liberal

versus if they’re trying to cancel

someone who’s just criticizing,

they’re doing the opposite.

Now they’re shutting.

So it’s the opposite things,

but it’s very easy to get confused.

You can see people take advantage of the,

and sometimes they just don’t know it themselves.

The lines here can be very confusing.

The wording can be very confusing.

And without that wording,

suddenly it looks like someone

who’s criticizing cancel culture is canceling,

but they’re not.

You applied this thinking to universities in particular.

There’s a great, yet another great image

on the trade-off between knowledge and conviction.

And it’s what’s commonly,

actually you can maybe explain to me the difference,

but it’s often referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect,

where when you first learn of a thing,

you have an extremely high confidence

about self-estimation of how well you understand that thing.

You actually say that Dunning-Kruger means something else.

So yeah, when I post this,

everyone’s like Dunning-Kruger,

and it’s what everyone thinks Dunning-Kruger is.

Dunning-Kruger is a little different.

It’s you have a diagonal line like this one,

which is the place you are,

it’s the, I call it like the humility tightrope,

but the humility sweet spot.

It’s exactly the right level of humility

based on what you know.

If you’re below it, you’re insecure.

You actually have too much humility.

You don’t have enough confidence

because you know more than you’re giving yourself credit for

and when you’re above the line,

you’re in the arrogance zone, right?

You need a dose of humility, right?

You think you know more than you do.

So we all want to stay on that tightrope,

and Dunning-Kruger is basically a straight line

that’s just has a lower slope.

So you start off, you still are getting more confident

as you go along, but you start off above that line

and as you learn more, you end up below the line later.

So, but anyway.

So this wavy thing.

This wavy thing is a different phenomenon

and it’s related, but.

So this idea, so for people just listening,

there’s a child’s hill, pretty damn sure you know a whole lot

and feeling great about it, that’s in the beginning.

And then there’s an insecure canyon, you crash down,

acknowledging that you don’t know that much.

And then there’s a growth mountain.

Grown up mountain.

Grown up mountain, where after you feel ashamed

and embarrassed about not knowing that much,

you begin to realize that knowing how little you know

is the first step in becoming someone

who actually knows stuff, and that’s the grown up mountain.

And you climb and climb and climb.

You’re saying that in universities,

we’re pinning people at the top of the child’s hill.

So for me, this is a very, you know,

I think of myself with this, because I went to college,

like a lot of 18 year olds, and I was very cocky.

I just thought I knew a lot, you know?

And when it came to politics, I was like bright blue,

just because I grew up in a bright blue suburb,

and I wasn’t thinking that hard about it,

and I thought that, you know?

And what I did when I went to college

is met a lot of smart conservatives

and a lot of smart progressives,

but I met a lot of people who weren’t

just going down a checklist, and they knew stuff.

And suddenly I realized that a lot of these views I have

are not based on knowledge.

They’re based on other people’s conviction.

Everyone else thinks that’s true, so now I think it’s true.

Whoa, I’m actually like,

I’m transferring someone else’s conviction to me,

and who knows why they have conviction?

They might have conviction

because they’re transferring from someone else.

And I’m a smart dude, I thought.

Why am I like giving away my own independent,

you know, learning abilities here,

and just adopting other views?

So anyway, it was this humbling experience.

And it wasn’t just about politics, by the way.

It was that I had strong views about a lot of stuff,

and I just, I got lucky, or not lucky, I sought out,

you know, the kind of people I sought out

were the type that loved to disagree,

and they were, man, they knew stuff.

And so you’re quickly, and again,

ideal lab culture, it was an ideal lab.

And also, I also went to, I started getting in the habit,

I started loving listening to people who disagreed with me,

because it was so exhilarating listening to a smart,

when I thought there was no credence

to this other argument, right?

This side of this debate is obviously wrong.

I wanted to see an intelligence squared

from that debate in particular.

I wanted to go see, I’ve actually gotten

into intelligence squared in college.

I wanted to see a smart person who disagrees with me talk.

It became so fascinating to me, right?

It was the most interesting thing.

That was a new thing.

I didn’t think I liked that.

And so what did that do?

That shoved me down the humble tumble here, number three.

It shoved me down where I started to,

and then I went the other way,

where I realized that I had been,

a lot of my identity had been based

on this faux feeling of knowledge,

this idea that I thought I knew everything.

Now that I don’t have that, I felt really dumb,

and I felt really almost embarrassed of what I knew.

And so that’s where I call this insecure canyon.

I think it’s sometimes when you’re so used

to thinking you know everything,

and then you realize you don’t.

And then you start to realize

that actually really awesome thinkers,

they don’t judge me for this.

They totally respect if I say,

I don’t know anything about this.

They say, oh, cool, you should read this and this and this.

They don’t say, you don’t know anything.

They don’t say that, right?

And so, and not that I’m, by the way,

this is not to say I’m now on Grown Up Mountain

and you should all join me.

I often find myself drifting up with like a helium balloon.

Oh, I think I read about the new thing,

and suddenly I think I have all,

I think I read three things about a new AI thing,

and I’m like, I’ll go do a talk on this.

I’m like, no, I won’t.

I don’t, I just, I’m gonna just be spouting out

the opinion of the person I just read,

so I have to remind myself.

But it’s useful.

Now, the reason my problem with college is today

is that it’s, I was, I graduated in 2004.

This is a recent change,

is that all of those speakers I went

who disagreed with me, a lot of them were conservative.

So many of those speakers

would not be allowed on campuses today.

And so many of the discussions I had

were in big groups or classrooms.

And this was still, you know, this was a liberal campus.

So many of those disagreements,

they’re not happening today.

And I’ve interviewed a ton of college students.

It’s chilly.

It is, you know, people keep to themselves.

So what’s happening is,

not only are people losing that push off Child’s Hill,

which was so valuable to me,

so valuable to me as a thinker.

It kind of started my life as a better thinker.

They’re losing that, but actually,

what college, a lot of the college classes

and the vibe in colleges,

a lot of it is now saying

that there is one right set of views.

And it’s this kind of, you know, woke ideology.

And it’s right.

And anyone who disagrees with it is bad.

And anyone, and don’t speak up, you know,

unless you’re gonna agree with it.

It’s teaching people that Child’s Hill is that,

you know, it’s nailing people’s feet to Child’s Hill.

It’s teaching people that these are right.

This views are right.

And like, you don’t have any,

you have nothing to,

you should feel a complete conviction about them.


How do we fix it?

Is it part of the administration?

Is it part of the culture?

Is it part of the,

is it part of like actually instilling

in the individual, like 18 year olds,

the idea that this is the beautiful way to live

is to embrace the disagreement and the growth from that?

It’s awareness and courage.

It’s the same thing.

So first of all, just get,

awareness is people need to see what’s happening here.

That kids are getting, losing the,

they’re not going to college and becoming better,

tougher, more robust thinkers.


They’re actually going to college and becoming zealots.

They’re getting taught to be zealots.

And the website still advertises, you know,

wide variety of, you know, the website is a bait and switch.

You list all the universities, yeah, Harvard.

It’s a bait and switch.

It’s still saying here,

you’re coming here for a wide intellectual,

basically they’re advertising this as an ideal lab.

And you get there and it’s like,

actually it’s an echo chamber that you’re paying money for.

So if people realize that,

they start to get mad, hopefully.

And then courage, I mean, starts, you know,

yes, brave students.

There’s been some very brave students who have started,

you know, big think clubs and stuff like that,

where it’s like, we’re going to have, you know,

present both sides of a debate here.

And that, that takes courage,

but also courage and leadership.

Like the, it’s like, if you look at these colleges,

it’s specifically the leaders who show strength,

who get the best results.

Remember the cudgel is soft.

So if a leader of one of these places says, you know,

that the college presidents who have shown some strength,

they actually don’t get as much trouble.

It’s the ones who pander, the ones who,

you know, in that moment of truth, they shrink away.

Then they get a lot more trouble.

The mob smells blood.

For the listener, the podcast favorite Liv Burry

just entered, and your friend just entered the room.

Do you mind if she joins us?


I think there’s a story she has about you.

So Liv, you mentioned something that there’s a funny story

about, we haven’t talked at all

about the actual process of writing the book.

Is there, you guys made a bet of some kind?


Is this a true story?

Is this a completely false fabric?

No, no, it’s true.

Liv is, she’s mean.

When she, I did not know mean Liv.

She’s like, she’s like a bully.

She’s like scary.

I have to have that screenshot.

So Liv was FaceTiming me and she was like,

she was like being intimidating.

I took a screenshot and I made it my phone background.

So every time I opened it, I was like, ah.

So to give the background of this,

it’s because if you hadn’t noticed,

Tim started writing this book, how many years ago, six?

2016, mid 2016.

Right, as sort of a response to like the Trump stuff.

Not even, yeah, it was just supposed to be a mini post.

I was like, oh, I’m so like,

I was like, I’m looking at all these like future tech things

and I feel this like uneasiness,

like, ah, we’re gonna like mess up all these things.


There’s like some cloud over our society.

Let me just write a mini post.

And I opened it up to WordPress to write a one day

little essay and things went.

On politics.

It was gonna be on like this feeling I had that like,

this feeling I had that we were,

our tech was just growing and growing

and we were becoming less wise.

What’s up, what’s up with that?

And I just wanted to write like,

just like a little like a little thousand word essay

on like something I think we should pay attention to.

And that was the beginning of this six year nightmare.

Did you anticipate that the blog post

would take a long while?

Um, I don’t remember the process fully in terms of,

I remember you saying, oh, I’m actually writing this,

it’s turning into a bigger thing.

And I was like, hmm.

You know, because the more we talked about it,

I remember we were talking about it.

I was like, oh, this goes deep.

Because I didn’t really understand the full scope

of the situation, like nowhere near.

And you sort of explained it.

I was like, ah, okay, yeah, I see that.

And then the more we dug into it,

the sort of the deeper and deeper and deeper it went.

But no, I did not anticipate it would be six years.

Let’s put it that way.


When was your TED talk on procrastination?

So that was, that was March of 2016.

And I started this book three months later

and fell into the biggest procrastination hole

that I’ve ever fallen into.

Oh, wow.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

I mean, it’s like, it’s, I just like,

I like how much cred I have as a, as for that TED talk.

I’m like, I am legit procrastinator.

That is not, I’m not just saying it, like.

But it wasn’t just that.

That’s true.

Because I mean, you did, you know,

you did intend it to start out as a blog post,

but then you’re like,

actually this needs to maybe multiple,

actually let’s make it into a full series.

You know what?

I’ll turn it into a book.

And then that’s why.

And, and, and what,

but also what Liv witnessed a few times,

and my wife has witnessed like 30 of these,

is like these, these 180 epiphanies,

where I’ll be like, I’ll like,

I’ll have a moment when I’m,

and I don’t know what, you know,

sometimes it’s that there’s a really good idea,

but sometimes it’s like,

I’m just dreading having to finish this the way it is.

And so there’s epiphanies where it’s like,

you know what?

I need to start over from the beginning

and just make this like a short,

20 little blog posts list.

And then I’ll do that.

And then I’ll say, no, no, no,

I have like a new epiphany I have to,

and it’s these, and, and yeah,

it’s kind of like the crazy person a little bit.

But anyway, can I tell the story of the, the, the bed?

Go for it.

All right, so things came to a head

when we were in,

we were all on vacation in Dominican Republic,

Tim and his wife, me and Igor,

and we were in the ocean.

And I remember you’d been in the ocean for like an hour,

just bobbing in there, becoming it.

And we got talking and we were talking about the book

and, you know, you were expressing just like this,

you know, the, just the horror of the situation,

basically you’re like, look, I just,

I’m so close, but there’s still this,

and then there’s this,

and an idea popped into my head,

which is the, you know, poker players often,

we, we will set ourselves like negative bets,

you know, like essentially if we don’t get a job done,

then we have to do something we really don’t want to do.

So instead of having a carrot,

like a really, really big stick.

So I had the idea to ask Tim, okay,

what is the worst either organization or individual

that you, if you had to, you know,

that you would loathe to give a large sum of money to?

And he thought about it for a little while

and he gave his answer.

And I was like, all right, what’s your net worth?

He said his net worth.

All right.

10% of your net worth to that thing.

If you don’t get the draft,

because, oh, that’s right,

but just before that I asked him,

how long, like if you had a gun to your head

or to your wife’s head,

and you had to get the book into a state

where you could like send off an edit to the,

a draft to your editor, how long?

And he’s like, oh, I guess like I could get it

like 95% good in a month.

I was like, okay, great.

In one month’s time, if you do not have that edit,

handed in, there’s draft handed in, really scary.

10% of your net worth is going to this thing

that you really, really think is terrible.

But you’re forgetting the kicker.

Go on.

The kicker was that,

because, you know, procrastinators, they self-defeat.

That’s what they do.

And then Liv says, I’m going to sweeten the deal.

And I am going to basically match you.

And I’m going to put in,

I’m going to send this like a huge amount

of my own money there if you don’t do it.

So, and I can’t, that’s, that would be really bad.

So not only are you screwing yourself,

you’re screwing a friend.

And she was like, and as your friend,

because I’m your friend, I will send it.

I will send the money.

I mean, like that, you know, like tyranny.

And I got the draft in.

I got the draft in. Just, just!

I know, well, I was-

Ego could have tested this.

Actually, it was funny,

because it was like supposed to be

by the summer solstice or whatever it was.

It was like a certain date.

And I got it in at four,

I got, no, I got it in at 4 a.m.

like the next morning.

But then, and, and, and, and they were both like,

that doesn’t count.

I’m like, it does.

It’s still, for me, it’s the same day still.

It’s okay.

Can you imagine how fucked in the head you have to be?


To like literally technically pass the deadline

by four hours for an obscene amount of money

to a thing you loathe.

That’s how bad his sickness is.

Because I knew the hard, hard deadline.

I knew that there was no way she was going to

actually send that money because it was 4 a.m.

So I knew I actually had the whole night.

So yeah.

You know, I should actually punish you and just,

I should send like a nominal amount to that thing.

No, thanks.


But yeah.

Is there some micro like lessons from that,

from how to avoid procrastination

writing a book that you’ve learned?


Well, I’ve learned a lot of things.

I mean, like first don’t take,

don’t write like a dissertation

about like proving some grand theory of society,

because that’s really procrastinating.

Like I would have been an awful PhD student

for that reason.

And so like I’m going to do another book

and it’s going to be like a bunch of short chapters

that are one-offs,

because that’s like,

it just doesn’t feed into procrastination.

But your book is like a giant like framework.

There is grand theories all through your book.

I know.

And I learned not to do that again.

I did it once.

I don’t want to do it again.

Oh, with the book was a mistake.

So the book is a giant mistake.


Don’t do another one.

Look, some people should.

It’s just not for me.

You just did it.

I know.

And it almost killed me.


So that’s the first one.

But secondly, yeah.

Basically there’s two ways to fix procrastination.

One is you fix,

it’s like a picture you have a boat that’s leaking

and it’s not working very well.

You can fix it in two ways.

You can get your hammer and nails out

and your boards and actually fix the boat.

Or you can duct tape it for now

to get yourself across the river,

but it’s not actually fixed.

So ideally down the road,

I have repaired whatever kind of bizarre mental illness

that I have that makes me procrastinate

in a very like,

I just don’t self-defeat in this way anymore.

But in the meantime,

I can duct tape the boat

by bringing what I call the panic monster

into the situation via things like this

and this scary person.

And having external pressure,

to have external pressure of some kind is critical for me.

Yes, I don’t have the muscle to do the work

I need to do without external pressure.

By the way, Liv,

is there a possible future where you write a book?

And meanwhile, by the way,

huge procrastinator.

That’s the funny thing about this.

How long did your last video take you?

Oh my God.

Is there advice that you give to Liv

how to get the videos done faster?

Well, it would be the same exact thing.

I mean, actually I can give good procrastination advice.

Panic monster?

Yeah, well, we should do it together.

It should be like we have this date,

but you know, it’s-

We should actually just do another bet.

I have to have my script done by this time.


So I gotta get the third part out.

Because then you’ll actually do it.

And it’s not,

the thing is the time,

it’s like if you could take three weeks on a video

and instead you take 10 weeks,

it’s not like, oh, well, I also,

I’m having more fun in those 10 weeks.

The whole 10 weeks are bad.

Yeah, it’s torture.


So you’re just having a bad time

and you’re getting less work done and less work out.

And it’s not like you’re enjoying your personal life.

It’s bad for your relationships.

It’s bad for your own-

But you keep doing it anyway.

Yeah, well, a lot of people have troubles

keeping a diet, right?


Primitive mind.

Why’d you point at me when you said that?

That was offensive.

What’s your procrastination weakness?



What’s he doing right now?


Everything, preparing for a conversation.

I had your book, amazing book.

I really enjoyed it.

I started reading it.

I was like, this is awesome.

It’s so awesome that I’m going to save it

when I’m behind a computer and can take notes,

like good notes.

Of course, that resulted in like a last minute,

everything, everything.

Everything I’m doing in my life.

Not everyone’s like that.

People self-defeat in different ways.

Some people don’t have this particular problem.

Adam Grant, he calls himself a procrastinator,

where if he gets an assignment,

he will go home and do it until it’s done and hand it in,

which is also not necessarily good.

It’s like you’re rushing it either way, but it’s better.

But some people have the opposite thing,

where they will, the looming deadline

makes them so anxious that they go and fix it, right?

And the procrastinator, I think, has a similar anxiety,

but they solve it in a totally different way.

Well, they don’t solve it.

They just live with the anxiety.

Right, right.

They just live with the anxiety.

I think there’s an even bigger group of people.

So there’s these people, the Adam Grants.

There’s people like me.

And then there’s people who have a healthy relationship

with deadlines, but they’re still part of a bigger group

of people that actually,

they need a deadline there to do something.

So they actually, they still are motivated by a deadline.

And as soon as you have all the things in life

that don’t have a deadline, like working out

and like working on that album you wanted to write,

they don’t do anything either.

So there’s actually like, that’s why procrastination

is a much bigger problem than people realize

because it’s not just the funny last second people.

It’s anyone who actually can’t get things done

that don’t have a deadline.

You dedicate your book, quote, to Tandis,

who never planned on being married to someone

who would spend six years talking about his book

on politics, but here we are.

What’s the secret to a successful relationship

with a procrastinator?

That’s maybe for both of you.

Well, I think the first and most important thing.

You already started with a political answer.

I can tell.

Okay, go ahead.

No, the first and most important thing is,

because people who don’t procrastinate,

it’s like you will, people, and the instinct

is to judge it as like,

that’s either just think they’re just being like a loser

or they’re taking it, or they’ll take it personally,

you know, and instead to see this as like,

this is some form of addiction or some form

of ailment, you know, they’re not just being a dick, right?

Like they have a problem and so some compassion,

but then also maybe finding that line where you can,

you know, maybe apply some tough love, some middle ground.

On the other hand, you might say that, you know,

you don’t want the significant other relationship

where it’s like, they’re the one nagging you.

Maybe that’s, you don’t want them even being part of that.

And I think maybe it’s, you know,

better to have a live, do it instead.

Right, having someone who can like create

the infrastructure where they aren’t the direct stick.

You need a bit of carrot and stick, right?

Maybe they can be the person who keeps reminding them

of the carrot and then they set up the friend group

to be the stick.

And then that keeps your relationship in a good place.

Stick, like looming in the background,

that’s your friend group.

Okay, at the beginning of the conversation,

we talked about how all of human history

can be presented as a thousand page book.

What are you excited about for the 1000th,

how do you say that, first page?

So the next 250 years.

What are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about,

have you read The Fable of the Dragon?

Okay, well, it’s an allegory for death

and it’s, you know, Nick Bostrom,

and he talks about the, he compares death to a dragon

that eats 60 million people,

or whatever the number is, every year.

And you just, every year we shepherd those people up

and they feed them to the dragon.

And that there’s a Stockholm syndrome

when we say that’s just a lot of man.

And that’s what we have to do.

And anyone who says, maybe we should try to beat the dragon,

they get called vain and narcissistic.

But someone who tries to, someone who does chemo,

no one calls them vain or narcissistic.

They say they’re good, good for you, right?

You’re a hero, you’re fighting the good fight.

So I think there’s some disconnect here.

And I think that if we can get out of that

Stockholm syndrome and realize that death

is just the machine, the human physical machine failing,

and that there’s no law of nature that says

you can’t, with enough technology,

repair the machine and keep it going until,

no one, I don’t think anyone wants to live forever.

People think they do, no one does.

But until people are ready.

And I think when we hit a world where we can,

we have enough tech that we can continue

to keep the human machine alive until the person says,

I’m done, I’m ready.

I think we will look back and we will think

that anything before that time,

that’ll be the real A.D., B.C.

We’ll look back at B.C. before the big advancement

and it’ll seem so sad and so heartbreaking, barbaric.

And people will say, I can’t believe

that humans like us had to live with that

when they lost loved ones and they died

before they were ready.

I think that’s the ultimate achievement.

But we need to stop criticizing and smearing people

who, you talk about it.

So you think that’s actually doable in the next 250 years?


A lot happens in 250 years,

especially when technology really exponentially, yeah.

And you think humans will be around

versus A.I. completely takes over

where mortality means something completely different?

I mean, look, the optimist in me,

and maybe the stupid kind of 2023 person in me,

says, yeah, of course, we’ll make it.

We’ll figure it out.

But you know, I mean, we are going into,

you know, I have a friend who knows

as much about the future as anyone I know.

I mean, he’s really, he’s a big investor in future tech

and he’s really on the pulse of things

and he just says, the future’s gonna be weird.

That’s what he says.

The future’s gonna be weird and it’s gonna be weird.

Don’t look at the last few decades of your life

and apply that forward and say,

that’s just what life is like.

No, no, no, it’s gonna be weird and different.

Well, some of my favorite things in this world are weird.

And speaking of which, it’s good to have this conversation.

It’s good to have you as friends.

This was an incredible one.

Thanks for coming back and Liv,

thanks for talking with me a bunch more times.

This was awesome.

Thank you, Lex.

Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Tim Urban.

To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now, let me leave you with some words

from Winston Churchill.

When there’s no enemy within,

the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.


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