Dan Carlin: Hardcore History | Lex Fridman Podcast #136 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Dan Carlin: Hardcore History | Lex Fridman Podcast #136".
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The following is a conversation with Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History and Common Sense podcasts. To me, Hardcore History is one of, if not the greatest podcast ever made. Dan and Joe Rogan are probably the two main people who got me to fall in love with the medium of podcasting as a fan and eventually as a podcast for myself. Meeting Dan was surreal. To me, he was not just the mere human like the rest of us, since his voice has been a guide through some of the darkest moments of human history for me. Meeting him was like meeting Genkis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Alexander the Great and all of the most powerful leaders in history all at once in a crappy hotel room in the middle of Oregon. It turns out that he is in fact just the human and truly one of the good ones. This was a pleasure and an honor for me. Quick mention of each sponsor, followed by some thoughts related to the episode. First, is Athletic Greens, the only one drink that I start every day with to cover all money traditional bases. Second, is Simply Safe, a home security company I use to monitor and protect my apartment. Third, is Magic Spoon, low carb keto friendly cereal that I think is delicious. And finally, Cash App, the app I use to send money to friends for food and drinks. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast. As a side note, let me say that I think we're living through one of the most challenging moments in American history. To me, the way out is through reason and love. Both require a deep understanding of human nature and of human history. This conversation is about both. I am, perhaps hopelessly, optimistic about our future. But if indeed we stand at the precipice of the great filter watching our world consumed by fire, think of this little podcast conversation as the appetizer to the final meal before the apocalypse. If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review it with 5 stars and app a podcast, follow us on Spotify, support it on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter @lexphredemen. And now, finally, here's my conversation with the great Dan Carlin.
Insights Into Evil And War
Nature of evil (02:36)
Let's start with the highest philosophical question. Do you think human beings are fundamentally good or are all of us capable of both good and evil, and it's the environment that molds how we, the trajectory that we take through life? How do we define evil? Evil seems to be a situational eye of the beholder kind of question. So if we define evil, maybe I can get a better idea of... And that could be a whole show, couldn't define evil. But when we say evil, what do we mean? That's a slippery one, but I think there's some way in which your existence, your presence in the world leads to pain and suffering and destruction for many others in the rest of the world. So you steal the resources and you use them to create more suffering than there was before in the world. So I suppose it's somehow deeply connected to this other slippery word which is suffering as you create suffering in the world, you bring suffering to the world. But here's the problem I think with it, because I fully see where you're going with that and I understand it. The problem is the question of the reason for inflicting suffering. So sometimes one might inflict suffering upon one group of individuals in order to maximize a lack of suffering with another group of individuals or one who might not be considered evil at all, might make the rational, seemingly rational choice of inflicting pain and suffering on a smaller group of people in order to maximize the opposite of that for a larger group of people. Yeah, that's one of the dark things about I've spoken and read the work of Stephen Coddkin. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the historian and he's basically a Stalin, Joseph Stalin scholar. And one of the things I realized, I'm not sure where to put Hitler, but with Stalin, it really seems that he was sane and he thought he was doing good for the world. I really believe from everything I've read about Stalin that he believed that communism is good for the world and if you have to kill a few people along the way, it's like you said the small groups, if you have to sort of remove the people that stand in the way of the utopian system of communism, then that's actually good for the world. And it didn't seem to me that he could even consider the possibility that he was evil. He really thought he was doing good for the world and that's stuck with me because he's one of the most, it's to our definition of evil. He seems to have brought more evil onto this world than almost any human in history and I don't know what to do with that. Well, I'm fascinated with the concept so fascinated by it that the very first hardcore history show we ever did, which was a full 15 or 16 minutes, was called Alexander versus Hitler and the entire question about it was the motivations. So if you go to a court of law because you killed somebody, one of the things they're going to consider is why did you kill them? And if you killed somebody, for example, in self-defense, you're going to be treated differently than if you malicious killed somebody maliciously to take their wallet. And in the show, we wondered, because I don't really make pronouncements, but we wondered about if you believe Hitler's writings, for example, Minkum, which is written by a guy who's a political figure who wants to get off. So I mean, it's about as believable as any other political tract would be. But in his mind, the things that he said that he had to do were designed for the betterment of the German people, right? Whereas Alexander the Great, once again, this is somebody from more than 2,000 years ago, so with lots of propaganda in the intervening years. But one of the views of Alexander the Great is that the reason he did what he did was to, for lack of a better word, write his name in a more permanent graffiti on the pages of history, right? In other words, to glorify himself. And if that's the case, does that make Alexander a worse person than Hitler because Hitler thought he was doing good, whereas Alexander, if you believe the interpretation, was simply trying to exalt Alexander. So the motivations of the people doing these things, it seems to me, matter. I don't think you can just sit there and go, the only thing that matters is the end result, because that might have been an unintentional byproduct, in which case that person, had you been able to show them the future, might have changed what they were doing. So were they evil or misguided or wrong or made the right? So and I hate to do that because there's certain people like Hitler that I don't feel deserve the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, if you're fascinated by the concept of evil and you delve into it deeply enough, you're going to want to understand why these evil people did what they did. And sometimes it can confuse the hell out of you, who wants to sit there and try to see things from Hitler's point of view to get a better understanding and sort of commiserate. So, obviously, first history show, I'm fascinated with the concept. So do you think it's possible, if we put ourselves in the mindset of some of the people that have led, created so much suffering in the world, that all of them had their motivations, had good intentions underlying them? No, I don't. It's simply because there's so many. I mean, the law of averages would suggest that that's not true. I guess as pure evil possible, meaning you, again, it's slippery, but you, the suffering is the goal. The suffering, the intentional suffering. Yes, I think that. And I think that there's historical figures that one could point in. But that gets to the deeper question of, are these people sane? Do they have something wrong with them? Are they twisted from something in their youth? These are the kinds of things where you start to delve into the psychological makeup of these people. In other words, is anybody born evil? And I actually believe that some people are. I think the DNA can get scrambled up in ways. I think the question of evil is important too, because I think it's an eye of the beholder thing. I mean, if Hitler, for example, had been successful and we were today on the sixth or seventh leader of the third Reich, since I think his entire history would be viewed through a different lens because that's the way we do things, right? Genghis Khan looks different to the Mongolians than he does to the residents of Baghdad, right? And I think so, and I have the beholder question, I think comes into all these sorts of things. As you said, it's a very slippery question.
Is violence and force fundamental to human civilization? (09:33)
Where do you put, as somebody who's fascinated by military history, where do you put violence? In terms of the human condition, is it core to being human or is it just a little tool that we use every once in a while? So I'm going to respond to your question with a question. What do you see the difference being between violence and force? Let me go farther. I'm not sure that violence is something that we have to put up with as human beings forever, that we must resign ourselves to violence forever. But I have a much harder time seeing us able to abolish force. And there's going to be some ground where if those two things are not the same, and I don't know, maybe they are, where there's certainly some crossover. And I think force, you know, you're an engineer, you'll understand this better than I did, but think about it as a physical law. If you can't stop something from moving in a certain direction without pushing back in that same direction, I'm not sure that you can have a society or a civilization without the ability to use a counter force when things are going wrong, whether it's on an individual level, right? It's going to attack another person, so you step in to save that person, or even at the highest levels of politics or anything else, a counter force to stop the inertia or the impetus of another movement. So I think that force is a simple, almost law of physics in human interaction, especially at the civilizational level. I think civilization requires a certain amount of, if not violence, then force. So, and again, they've talked, I mean, it goes back into St. Augustine, all kinds of Christian beliefs about the proper use of force, and people have philosophically tried to decide between, can you have sort of an ajinsa, a Buddhist sort of, you know, we will be non-violent toward everything and exert no force, or there's a reason to have force in order to create the space for good. I think force is inevitable. Now, we can talk, and I've not come up to the conclusion myself, if there is a distinction to be made between force and violence, I mean, is a non-violent force enough, or is violence when done for the cause of good, a different thing than violence done either for the cause of evil, as you would say, or simply for random reasons. I mean, we humans lack control sometimes. We can be violent for no apparent reason or goal. And that's it, I mean, you look at the criminal justice system alone, and the way we interact with people who are acting out in ways that we as a society have decided is intolerable, can you deal with that without force and at some level of violence? I don't know. Can you maintain peacefulness without force? I don't know. Just to be a little bit more specific about the idea of force, do you put force as general enough to include force in the space of ideas? So you mentioned Buddhism or religion or just Twitter. I think there are no things farther apart than that. The battles we do in the space of ideas of the great debates throughout history, do you put force into that or do you, in this conversation, are we trying to right now keep it to just physical force? In saying that you have an intuition that force might be with us much longer than violence. I think the two bleed together. So take, because it's always my go-to example. I'm afraid and I'm sure the listeners all hate it. But take Germany during the 1920s, early 1930s before the Nazis came to power and they were always involved in some level of force, beating up in the streets or whatever it might be. But think about it more like an intellectual discussion until a certain point. It would be difficult, I imagine, to keep the intellectual, counter-forceive ideas from at some point degenerating into something that's more coercion, counter-force, if we want to use the phrases we were just talking about. So I think the two are intimately connected. Actions follow thought, right? And at a certain point, I think especially when one is not achieving the goals that they want to achieve through peaceful discussion or argumentation or trying to convince the other side that sometimes the next level of operations is something a little bit more physically imposing, if that makes sense. We go from the intellectual to the physical. Yeah, so it too easily spills over into violence. Yes. And one leads to the other often.
Will we always have war? (14:41)
So you kind of implied perhaps a hopeful message. But let me ask you in the form of a question. Do you think we'll always have war? I think it goes to the forced question too. So for example, what do you do? Let's play with nation states now, although I don't know that nation states are something we should think of as a permanent construct or whatever. But how is one nation state supposed to prevent another nation state from acting in ways that it would see as either detrimental to the global community or detrimental to the interests of their own nation state? I think we've had this question of going back to ancient times, but certainly in the 20th century, this has come up quite a bit. I mean, the whole second world war argument sometimes revolves around the idea of what the proper counterforce should be. Can you create an entity, a League of Nations, a United Nations, a one world entity maybe, even, that that alleviates the need for counterforce involving mass violence and armies and navies and those things? I think that's an open discussion we're still having. It's good to think through that because having a United Nations, there's usually a centralized control, so there's humans at the top. There's committees and usually leaders emerge a singular figure that then can become corrupted by power. And it's just really important. It feels like a really important thought experiment and something to really rigorously think through how can you construct systems of government that are stable enough to push us towards less and less war and less and less unstable and another tough war which is unfair of application of force. That's really at the core of the question that we're trying to figure out as humans. As our weapons get better and better and better at destroying ourselves, it feels like it's important to think about how we minimize the over application or unfair application of force. There's other elements that come into play too. You and I are discussing this at the very high intellectual level of things, but there's also a tail wagging the dog element of this. So think of a society of warriors, a tribal society from a long time ago. How much do the fact that you have warriors in your society and that their reason for existing, what they take pride in, what they train for, what their status in their own civilization, how much does that itself drive the responses of that society? How much do you need war to legitimize warriors? That's the old argument that you get to and we've had this in the 20th century too, that the creation of arms and armies creates an incentive to use them and that they themselves can drive that incentive as a justification for their reasons for existence. That's where we start to talk about the interactivity of all these different elements of society upon one another. So when we talk about governments and war, we need to take into account the various things those governments have put into place in terms of systems and armies and things like that to protect themselves. For reasons we can all understand, but they exert a force on your range of choices, don't they? It's true. You're making me realize that in my upbringing, and I think I'm bringing many, warriors are heroes. To me, I don't know where that feeling comes from, but to die fighting is an honorable way to die. It feels like that. I've always had a problem with this because as a person interested in military history, the distinction is important. I try to make it at different levels. So at base level, the people who are out there on the front lines doing the fighting, to me, those people can be compared with police officers and firemen and people, the fire persons. But I mean, people that are involved in an ethical attempt to perform a task, which ultimately one can see in many situations as being a saving sort of task, or if nothing else a self-sacrifice for what they see as the greater good. Now, I draw a distinction between the individuals and the entity that they're a part of, a military. And I certainly draw a distinction between the military and then the entire, for lack of a better word, military, industrial, complex that that service is a part of. I feel a lot less moral attachment to those upper echelons than I do the people on the ground. The people on the ground can be any of us and have been in a lot of, you know, we have a very professional sort of military now where it's a very, a subset of the population. But in other periods of time, we've had conscription and drafts and it hasn't been a subset of the population. It's been the population, right? And so it is the society oftentimes going to war. And I make a distinction between those warriors and the entities, either in the system that they're a part of the military or the people that control the military at the highest political levels. I feel a lot less moral attachment to them. And I have much harsher about how I feel about them. I do not consider the military itself to be heroic. And I do not consider the military industrial complex to be heroic. I do think that is a tail wagging the dog situation. I do think that draws us into looking at military endeavors as a solution to the problem much more quickly than we otherwise might. And to be honest, to tie it all together, I actually look at the victims of this as the soldiers we were talking about. If you set a fire to send firemen into to fight, then I feel bad for the firemen. I feel like you've abused the trust that you give those people, right? So when people talk about war, I always think that the people that we have to make sure that a war is really necessary in order to protect are the people that you're going to send over there to fight that. The greatest victims in our society of war are often the warriors. So in my mind, when we see these people coming home from places like Iraq, a place where I would have made the argument and did at the time that we didn't belong, to me, those people are victims. And I know they don't like to think about themselves that way because it runs totally counter to the ethos. But if you're sending people to protect this country, shores, those are heroes. If you're sending people to go do something that they otherwise probably don't need to do but they're there for political reasons or anything else you want to put in that's not defense related, well, then you've made victims of our heroes. And so I feel like we do a lot of talk about our troops and our soldiers and stuff, but we don't treat them as valuable as the rhetoric makes them sound. Otherwise we would be more careful about where we put them. If you're going to send my son, and I don't have a son, I have daughters, but if you're going to send my son into harm's way, I'm going to demand that you really need to be sending him into harm's way. And I'm going to be angry at you if you put him into harm's way, if he doesn't, if it doesn't warrant it. And so I have much more suspicion about the system that sends these people into these situations where they're required to be heroic than I do the people on the ground that I look at as either the people that are defending us in situations like the Second World War, for example, or the people that turn out to be the individual victims of a system where they're just a cog in a machine and the machine doesn't really care as much about them as the rhetoric and the propaganda would insinuate. Yeah, and as my own family history, it would be nice if we could talk about there's a gray area in the places that you're talking about. There's a gray area in everything. But when that gray area is part of your own blood, as it is for me, it's worth shining a light on somehow. Sure, give me an example what you mean. So you did a program of four episodes of Ghosts of the Us Front. Yeah. So I was born in the Soviet Union. I was raised in Moscow. My dad was born and raised in Kiev. My grandmother, who just recently passed away, was raised in Ukraine. She's a city. It's a small city on the border between Russia and Ukraine. I have a grandfather born in Kiev. In Kiev? The interesting thing about the timing of everything as you might be able to connect, is she survived the most badass woman of ever encountered my life. Most of the warrior spirit I carry is probably from her. She survived Polymermore, the Ukrainian starvation of the 30s. She was a beautiful teenage girl during the Nazi occupation. So she survived all of that. And of course, family that everybody, and so many people died to that whole process.
The Russian front in World War II (24:21)
And one of the things you talk about in your program is that the gray area is even with the warriors, it happened to them just because you're saying now. They didn't have a choice. So my grandfather on the other side, he was a machine gunner that was in Ukraine that in the Red Army? In the Red Army. And the statement was that there's, I don't know if it's obvious or not, but the rule was there's no surrender so you better die. So you're basically, the goal was when he was fighting and he was lucky enough, one of the only to survive by being wounded early on, is there was a march of Nazis towards I guess Moscow and the whole goal in Ukraine was to slow them into the winter. I mean, I view him as such a hero. And he believed that he's indestructible, which is survivor bias, and that bullets can't hurt him and that's what everybody believed. And of course, basically everyone that he quickly rose to the ranks, let's just put it this way, because everybody died. It was just bodies, dragonies, heavy machine guns, always slowly retreating, shooting and retreating, shooting and retreating. And I don't know, he was a hero to me. Like I grew up thinking that he was the one that sort of defeated the Nazis, right? And but the reality, there could be another perspective, which is all of this happened to him by the incompetence of Stalin, the incompetence and men of the Soviet Union being used like pawns in a shittily played game of chess. Right? So like one narrative is of him as a victim, as you're kind of describing. And it then somehow that's more paralyzing and that's more, I don't know, it feels better to think of him as a hero and as Russia, Soviet Union, saving the world. I mean, that narrative also is in the United States that the United States was key in saving the world from the Nazis. It feels like that narrative is powerful for people. I'm not sure and I carry it still with me. But when I think about the right way to think about that war, I'm not sure if that's the correct narrative. Let me suggest something. There's a line that that a Marine named Eugene Sledge had said once and I keep it on my phone because it's it's it makes a real distinction. He said the front line is really where the war is and anybody even a hundred yards behind the front line doesn't know what it's really like. Now the difference is is there are lots of people miles behind the front line that are in danger, right? You can be in a medical unit in the rear and artillery could strike you planes could strike me. You could be in danger. But at the front line, there are two different things. One is that at least and I'm doing a lot of reading on this right now and reading a lot of veterans accounts. James Jones who wrote books like from here to return a defictional accounts of the Second World War, but he based them on his own service. He was at Guadalcanal for example in 1942 and Jones had said that the evolution of a soldier in front line action requires an almost surrendering to the idea that you're going to live. You become accustomed to the idea that you're going to die and he said you're a different person simply for considering that thought seriously because most of us don't. But what that allows you to do is to do that job at the front line, right? If you're too concerned about your own life, you become less of a good guy at your job, right? The other thing that the people in the one in the 100 yards of the front line do that the people in the rear medical unit really don't is you kill and you kill a lot, right? You don't just, oh, there's a sniper back here. So I shot him. It's we go from one position to another and we kill lots of people. Those things will change you and what that tends to do, not universally because I've read accounts from Red Army soldiers and they're very patriotic, right? But a lot of that patriotism comes through years later as part of the nostalgia and the remembering when you're down at that front 100 yards, it is often boiled down to a very small world. So your grandfather, was it your grandfather? Grandfather. At the machine gun, he's concerned about his position and his comrades and the people who he owes a responsibility to. And those, it's a very small world at that point. And to me, that's where the heroism is, right? He's not fighting for some giant world, civilizational thing. He's fighting to save the people next to him and his own life at the same time because they're saving him too. And there is a huge amount of heroism to that and that gets to our question about force earlier. Why would you use force? Well, how about to protect these people on either side of me, right? They're lives. Now is there hatred? Yeah, he hated the Germans for what they were doing. As a matter of fact, I got a note from a poll not that long ago and I have this tendency to refer to the Nazis, right? The regime that was, and he said, why do you keep calling them Nazis? He says, say what they were. They were Germans. And this guy wanted me to not absolve Germany by saying, oh, it was this awful group of people that took over your country. He said the Germans did this. And there's that bitterness where he says, let's not forget what they did to us and what we had to do back, right? So for me, when we talk about these combat situations, the reason I call these people heroic is because of they're fighting to defend things we could all understand. I mean, if you come after my brother and I take a machine gun and shoot you and you're going to overrun me, I mean, you're going to, that becomes a situation when we talked about counterforce earlier, much easier to call yourself a hero when you're saving people or you're saving this town right behind you. You know, if they get through your machine gun, they're going to burn these villages. They're going to throw these people out in the middle of winter, these families. That to me is a very different sort of heroism than this amorphous idea of patriotism. You know, patriotism is a thing that we often get used with, right? People manipulate us through love of country and all this because they understand that this is something we feel very strongly, but they use it against us sometimes in order to whip up a war fever or to get people. I mean, there's a great line and I wish I could remember it in its entirety that Herman Goring had said about how easy it was to get the people into a war. He says, you know, you just appeal to their patriotism. I mean, there's buttons that you can push and they take advantage of things like love of country and the way we have a loyalty and an admiration to the warriors who put their lives in the line. These are manipulatable things in the human species that reliably can be counted on to move us in directions that in a more sober, reflective state of mind, we would consider differently. I mean, you get this war fever up and people wave flags and they start denouncing the enemy and they start saying, I mean, you know, we've seen it over and over and over again. In ancient times, this happened. But the love of country is also beautiful.
Ideologies of the US, the Soviet Union, and China (32:15)
So I haven't seen it in America as much. So people in America love their country. Like this patriotism is strong in America. But it's not as strong as I remember, even with my sort of being younger, the love of the Soviet Union. Now was it the Soviet Union this requires a distinction or was it Mother Russia? What it really was was the Communist Party. Okay. So it was the system in place. Okay. The system in place like loving, I haven't quite deeply secondalized exactly what you love. I think you love that like populist message of the worker of the common man. So let me draw the comparison then. And I often say this that the United States like the Soviet Union is an ideological based society, right? So you take a country like France. It doesn't matter which French government you're in now. The French have been the French for a long time, right? It's not based on an ideology, right? Whereas what unites the United States is an ideology, freedom, liberty, the constitution. This is what draws, you know, the E. Plurabismum kind of the idea, right? That's that out of many one, well, what what binds all these unique different people? The shared beliefs, this ideology, the Soviet Union was the same way because as you know, the Soviet Union, Russia was merely one part of the Soviet Union. And if you believe the rhetoric until Stalin's time, everybody was going to be united under this ideological banner someday, right? It was a global revolution. So ideological societies are different. And to be a fan of the ideological framework and goal, I mean, I'm a liberty person, right? I would like to see everybody in the world have my system of government, which is part of a bias, right? Because they might not want that. But I think it's better for everyone because I think it's better for me. At the same time, when the ideology, if you consider, and you know, this stems from ideas of the enlightenment and there's a bias there, so my bias are toward the, but you feel, and this is why you say we're going to bring freedom to Iraq. We're going to bring freedom to here. We're going to bring freedom because we think we're spreading to you something that is just undeniably positive. We're going to free you and give you this. It's hard for me to wipe my own bias away from there, right? Because if I were in Iraq, for example, I would want freedom, right? But if you then leave and let the Iraqis vote for whomever they want, are they going to vote for somebody that will, I mean, you know, you look at Russia now, and I hear from Russians quite a bit because so much of my views on Russia and the Soviet Union were formed in my formative years. And we were not hearing from many people in the Soviet Union back then, but now you do. You hear from Russians today who will say your views on Stalin are archaic and cold. So you try to reorient your beliefs a little bit, but it goes to this idea of if you gave the people in Russia a free and fair vote, will they vote for somebody who promises them a free and open society based on enlightenment democratic principles? Or will they vote for somebody we in the US would go, what are they doing? They're voting for some strong man who's just good. So I think it's very hard to throw away our own biases and preconceptions. And it's an all eye of the beholder kind of thing. But when you're talking about ideological societies, it is very difficult to throw off all the years of indoctrination into the superiority of your system. I mean, listen, in the Soviet Union, Marxism one way or another was part of every classroom. You know, you could be studying geometry and they'll throw Marxism in there somehow because that's what united the society. And that's what gave it a higher purpose. And that's what made it in the minds of the people who were its defenders, a superior, morally superior system. And we do the same thing here. In fact, most people do, but see, you're still French no matter what the ideology or the government might be. So, in that sense, it's funny that there would be a Cold War with these two systems because they're both ideologically based systems involving peoples of many different backgrounds who are united under the umbrella of the ideology. First of all, that's brilliantly put. I'm in a funny position that in my formative years, I came here when I was 13, is one when I, you know, teenage is your first love or whatever, as I fall in love with the American set of ideas of freedom and individualism. They're telling, aren't they? They're telling. Yes. But I also remember, it's like you remember like maybe an ex-girlfriend or something like that. I also remember loving as a very different human the Soviet idea. Like we had the national anthem, which is still, I think the most badass national anthem, which is the Soviet Union. Like saying, we're the indestructible nation. I mean, just the words are so like Americans' words are like, oh, we're nice. Like we're freedom. But like a Russian Soviet Union national anthem was like, we're bad motherfuckers. Nobody will destroy us. I just remember feeling pride in a nation as a kid, like dumb not knowing anything because we all had to recite the stuff. It was, there's a uniformity to everything. There's pride underlying everything. I didn't think about all the destructive nature of the bureaucracy, the incompetence, the, all the things that come with the implementation of communism, especially around the 80s and 90s. But I remember what it's like to love that set of ideas. So in a funny place of like, remember like switching the love because I'm, I kind of joke around about being Russian, but you know, my long term monogamous relationship is now with the idea, the American ideal. Like I'm stuck with it in my mind. But I remember what it was like to love it. And I think about that too, when people criticize China or they criticize the current state of affairs with how Stalin is remembered and how Putin is to know that the, you can't always wear the American ideal of individualism, radical individualism and freedom in analyzing the ways of the world elsewhere. Like in China, in Russia, that it does, if you don't take yourself too seriously, as Americans all do, as I do, it's, it's kind of a beautiful love to have for your government, to believe in the nation, to let go of yourself and your rights and your freedoms, to believe in something bigger than yourself. That's actually, that's a kind of freedom. That's you're actually liberating yourself. If you think like life is suffering, you're, you're giving into the flow of the water, the flow, the way of the world by giving away more power from yourself and giving it to what you would conceive as, as the power of the people together, together we'll do great things and really believing in the ideals of what, in that case, in this case, I don't even know what you would call Russia, but whatever the heck that is, authoritarian, powerful state, powerful leader, believing that can be as beautiful as believing the American ideal. Not just that. Let me add to what you're saying. I'm very, I spend a lot of time trying to get out of my own biases. It is a fruitless endeavor, long term, but you try to be better than you only are. One of the critiques that China, and I always, as an American, I tend to think about this as their government, right? This is a rationale that their government puts forward, but what you just said is actually, if you can make that viewpoint beautiful, is kind of a beautiful way of approaching it, the Chinese would say that what we call human rights in the United States, and what we considered to be everybody's birthright around the world, is instead Western rights. That's the words they use, Western rights. It's a fundamentally Western oriented, and I'll go back to the Enlightenment-based ideas on what constitutes the rights of man, and they would suggest that that's not internationally and always applicable, that you can make a case, and again, I don't believe this. If this runs against my own personal views, but that you could make a case that the collective well-being of a very large group of people outweighs the individual needs of any single person, especially if those things are in conflict with each other. If you cannot provide for the greater good, because everyone's so individualistic, well then really, what is the better thing to do to suppress individualism so everybody's better off? I think trying to recognize how someone else might see that is important if you had talked about eliminating war, we talked about eliminating conflict. The first need to do that is to try to understand how someone else might view something differently than yourself. I am famously one of those people who buys in to the ideas of traditional Americanism. A lot of people who live today, they would seem to think that things like patriotism requires a belief in the strong military and all these things we have today, but that is a corruption of traditional Americanism, which viewed all those things with suspicion in the first hundred years of the Republic, because they saw it as an enemy to the very things that Americans celebrated. How could you have freedom and liberty and individualistic expression if you had an overriding military that was always fighting wars and the founders of this country looked to other examples, like Europe for example, and saw that standing militaries, for example, standing armies were the enemy of liberty. Well we have a standing army now, and one that is totally interwoven in our entire society. If you could go back in time and talk to John Quincy Adams, early president in the United States and show him what we have now, he would think it was awful and horrible and that somewhere along the line the Americans had lost their way and forgotten what they were all about. But we have so successfully interwoven this modern military industrial complex with the traditional benefits of the American system and ideology so that they've become intertwined in our thinking, whereas 150 years ago they were actually considered to be at opposite polarities and a threat to one another. So when you talk about the love of the nation, I tend to be suspicious of those things. I tend to be suspicious of government. I tend to try very hard to not be manipulated and I feel like a large part of what they do is manipulation and propaganda. And so I think a healthy skepticism of the nation state is actually 100% Americanism in the traditional sense of the word, but I also have to recognize as you so eloquently stated, Americanism is not necessarily universal at all. And so I think we have to try to be more understanding, see the traditional American viewpoint is that if a place like China does not allow their people individual human rights, then they're being denied something. They're being denied and 100 years ago they would have said they're God-given rights. Man is born free and if he's not free, it's because of something done to him. The government has taken away his God-given rights. I'm getting excited just listening to that. Well, what I mean, but I think the idea that this is universal is in and of itself a bias. Now do I want freedom for everybody else? I sure do. But the people in the Soviet Union who really bought into that wanted the workers of the world to unite and not be exploited by the greedy blood-sucking people who worked them to death and pocketed all of the fruits of their labor. If you frame it that way, that sounds like justice as well. So it is an eye of the beholder sort of thing.
I'd love to talk to you about Vladimir Putin. Sort of while we're on this feeling and wave of empathy and trying to understand others that are not like us. One of the reasons I started this podcast is because I believe that there's a few people I could talk to. Some of it is ego. Some of it is stupidity. Is there some people I could talk to that not many others can talk to? The one person I was thinking about was Vladimir Putin. Do you still speak the language? I speak the language very well. That makes it even easier. You might be appointed for that job. That's the context in which I'm asking you this question. What are your thoughts about Vladimir Putin from historical context? Have you studied him or have you thought about him? Yes. Studied is a loaded word. Here's, again, I find it hard sometimes to not filter things through an American lens. So as an American, I would say that the Russians should be allowed to have any leader that they want to have. But what an American would say is, but there should be elections. So if the Russians choose Vladimir Putin and they keep choosing him, that's their business. Where as an American, I would have a problem is when that leader stops letting the Russians make that decision. And we would say, well, now you're no longer ruling by the consent of the governed. You've become the equivalent of a person who may be oppressing your people. You might as well be a dictator. Right? There's a difference between a freely elected and reelected and reelected and reelected dictator. Right? If that's what they want. And look, I, it would be silly to broad brush the Russians like it would be silly to broad brush anyone, right? Millions and millions of people with different opinions amongst them all. But they seem to like a strong person at the helm and listen, there's a giant chunk of Americans who do too, in their own country. But an American would say as long as the freedom of choice is given to the Russians to decide this and not taken away from them, right? It's one thing to say he was freely elected. But a long time ago, and we've done away with elections since then, is a different story too. So my attitude on Vladimir Putin is if that's who the Russian people want and you give them the choice, right? If he's only there because they keep electing him, that's a very different story. When he stops offering them the option of choosing him or not choosing him, that's when it begins to look nefarious to someone born and raised with the mindset and the ideology that is an integral part of yours truly and that I can't, you know, you can see gray areas and nuance all you like, but it's hard to escape. And you were in, you alluded to this too. It's hard to escape what was indoctrinated into your bones in your formative years. It's like exit, you know, your bones are growing, right? And you can't go back. So to me, this is so much a part of who I am that I have a hard time jettisoning that and saying, oh, no, Vladimir Putin not being elected anymore is just fine. I'm too much of a product of my upbringing to go there. Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. But of course, there's like we're saying, there's gray areas, which is I believe I have to think through this, but I think there is a point of which Adolf Hitler became the popular choice in Nazi Germany in the 30s. Which is in the same way, from an American perspective, you can start to criticize some in a shallow way, some in a deep way. The way that Putin has maintained power is by controlling the press. So limiting one other freedom that we Americans value, which is the freedom of the press or freedom of speech that he, it is very possible. Things are changing now, but for most of his presidency, he was the popular choice and sometimes by far. And I actually don't have real family in Russia who don't love Putin. The only people who write to me about Putin and not liking him are like sort of activists who are young, right? So like to me, they're strangers. I don't know anything about them. The people I do know and have a big family in Russia, they love Putin. Do they miss elections? Would they want the choice to prove it at the ballot box? And, or are they so in love with him that they wouldn't want to take a chance that someone might vote him out? No, they don't think of it this way. And they are aware of the incredible bureaucracy and corruption that is lurking in the shadows, which is true in Russia. Everywhere, everywhere. But like there's something about the Russian, it's a remnants, it's corruption is so deeply part of the Russian, so the Soviet system that even the overthrow of the Soviet, the breaking apart of the Soviet Union and Putin coming and reforming a lot of the system, it's still deeply in there. And they're aware of that. That's part of the, like the love for Putin is partially grounded in the fear of what happens when the corrupt takeover, the greedy takeover. And they see Putin as the stabilizer, as like a hard like force that says, counter force, counter force, get your shit together. Like basically, from the Western perspective, Putin is terrible, but from the Russian perspective, Putin is the only thing holding this thing together before it goes, if it collapses. Now, from the, like Gary Kasparov has been loud on this, a lot of people from the Western perspective say, well, if it has to collapse, let it collapse, that's easier said than done when you don't have to live through that. Exactly. And so, anyone worrying about their family about, and they also remember the inflation and the economic instability and the suffering and the starvation that happened in the 90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they saw the kind of reform and the economic vibrancy that happened when Putin took power, that they think like this guy is holding it together. And they see elections as potentially being mechanisms by which the corrupt people can manipulate the system unfairly as opposed to letting the people speak with their voice. They somehow figure out a way to manipulate the elections to elect somebody like one of them Western revolutionaries. And so, I think one of the beliefs that's important to the American system is the belief in the electoral system that the voice of the people can be heard in the various systems of government, whether it's judicial, whether it's, I mean, basically the assumption is that the system works well enough for you to be able to elect the popular choice. Okay. So, there's a couple of things that come to mind on that. The first one has to do with the idea of oligarchs. There's a belief in political science, you know, it's not the overall belief, but that every society is sort of an oligarchy really, if you break it down, right? So what you're talking about are some of the people who would form an oligarchic class in Russia, and that Putin is the guy who can harness the power of the state to keep those people in check. The problem, of course, in a system like that, a strong man system, right, where you have somebody who can hold the reins and steer the ship when the ship is violently in a storm, is the succession. So if you're not creating a system that can operate without you, then that terrible instability and that terrible future that you justified the strong man for is just awaiting your future, right? I mean, unless he's actively building the system that will outlive him and allow successors to do what he's doing, then what you've done here is create a temporary, I would think, a temporary stability here because it's the same problem you have in a monarchy, right? Where you have this one king and he's particularly good or you think he's particularly good, but he's going to turn that job over to somebody else down the road, and the system doesn't guarantee because no one's really worked on it. And again, you would tell me if Putin is putting into place, I know he's talked about it over the years, putting into place a system that can outlive him and that will create the stability that the people in Russia like him for when he's gone, because if the oligarchs just take over afterwards, then one might argue, well, we had 20 good years of stability. But I mean, I would say that if we're talking about a ship of state here, the guy steering the ship, maybe if you wanted to look at it from the Russian point of view has done a great job, maybe just saying it, but the rocks are still out there and he's not going to be at the helm forever. So one would think that his job is to make sure that there's going to be someone who can continue to steer the ship for the people of Russia after he's gone. Now let me ask because I'm curious, and ignorant. So is he doing that, do you think? Is he setting it up so that when there is no Putin, the state is safe? From the beginning, that was the idea whether one of the fascinating things, I read every biography, English written biography on Putin. So I need to think more deeply, but one of the fascinating things is how did power change Vladimir Putin? He was a different man when he took power than he is today. I actually in many ways admire the man that took power. I think he's very different than Stalin and then Hitler at the moment they took power. I think Hitler and Stalin were both in our previous discussion already on the trajectory of evil. I think Putin was a humble, loyal, honest man when he took power. The man he is today is worth thinking about and studying. I'm not sure. That's an old line though about absolute power corrupting absolutely. But it's kind of a line, it's a beautiful quote, but you have to really think about it. What does that actually mean? Like one of the things I still have to do, I've been focusing on securing the conversation. So I haven't gone through a dark place yet because I feel like I can't do the dark thing for too long. So I really have to put myself in the mind of Putin leading up to the conversation. But for now my sense is he took power when Yeltsin gave him one of the big acts of the new Russia was for the first time in his history a leader could have continued being in power and chose to give away power. That was the George Washington. Right. We in the United States would look at that as absolute positive. A sign of good things. So that was a huge act and Putin said that that was the defining thing that will define Russia for the 21st century, that act and he will carry that flag forward. That's why in rhetoric he after two terms he gave away power. Not to medbedev but it was a puppet, right? Yes, but still the story was being told. I think he believed it early on. I think he, I believe he still believes it. But I think he's deeply suspicious of the corruption that looks in the shadows.
Journalism is broken (57:33)
And I do believe that like somebody who thinks click bait journalism is broken. Journalists annoy the hell out of me. Hey, journalism's working perfectly. Journalism's broken. Journalists. Things working great. So I understand from Putin's perspective that journalism, journalists can be seen as the enemy of the state because people think journalists write these deep beautiful philosophical pieces about criticizing the structure of government and the proper policy, you know, the steps that we need to take to make a greater nation. No, they, they unfairly take stuff out of context. They, they're critical in ways that's like shallow and not interesting. They, they call you a racist or sexist or they make up stuff all the time. So I can put myself on the mindset of a person that thinks that it is okay to remove that kind of shallow, fake news voice from the system. The problem is, of course, that is a slippery slope to then you remove all the annoying people from the system and then you change what annoying means, which annoying starts becoming a thing that like anyone who opposes the, the system. I mean, I get, I get the slippery, it's obvious that it becomes a slippery slope, but I can also put myself in the mindset of the people that see it's okay to remove the liars from the system as long as it's good for Russia. And okay. So here in lies and this again, the traditional American perspective because we've had yellow, so-called yellow journalism since the founding of the Republic. That's nothing new. But the problem then comes into play when you remove journalists, even, you know, it's a broad brush thing because you remove both the crappy ones who are lying and the ones who are telling the truth to your left with simply the, the approved government journalists, right? The ones who are towing the government's line, in which case the truth as you see it is a different kind of fake news, right? It's the fake news from the government. Instead of the clickbait news and oh yeah, maybe truth mixed into all that too in some of the outlets. The problem I always have with our system here in the United States right now is trying to tease the truth out from all the falsehoods. And look, I've got 30 years in journalism. My job used to be to go through before the internet, all the newspapers and find that I used to know all the journalists by name and I could pick out, you know, who they were and, and, and, and I have a hard time picking out the truth from the falsehood. So I think constantly how are people who don't have all this background, who have lives or who are trained in other specialties, how do they do it? But if the government is the only approved outlet for truth, a traditional American and a lot of other traditional societies based on these ideas of the enlightenment that I talked about earlier would see that as a disaster waiting to happen or a tyranny in progress. Does that make sense? It really makes sense. And I would agree with you. I still agree with you. But it is clear that something about the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in today, like literally the last few years with the internet is changing. And the argument, you know, you could say that the American system of freedom of speech is broken because the, here's, here's the belief I grew up on and I still hold, but I'm starting to be sort of trying to see multiple views on it. My belief was that freedom of speech results in a stable trajectory towards truth always. So like truth will emerge. That was my sort of faith and belief that, that yeah, there's going to be lies all over the place, but there will be like a stable thing that is true, that's carried forward to the public. Now it feels like it's possible to go towards a world where nothing is true or truth is, is something that groups of people convince themselves of and there's multiple groups of people. And the idea of some universal truth, I suppose is the better thing is something that we can no longer exist under. Like some people believe that the Green Bay Packers is the best football team and some people can think of the Patriots and they deeply believe it to where they call the other groups liars. Now that's fun for sports. That's fun for favorite flavors of ice cream, but they might believe that about science, about various aspects of politics, various aspects of sort of different policies within the functioning of our government. And like that's not just like some weird thing we complain about, but that'll be the nature of things. Like truth is something we can no longer have. Well let's, and let me de-romanticize the American history of this too, because the American press was often just as biased, just as, I mean, I always looked to the 1970s as the high watermark of the American journalistic, the post-watergate era where it was actively going after the abuses of the government and all these things. But there was a famous speech, very quiet though, very quiet, given by Katherine Graham who was a Washington Post editor I believe. And I actually, somebody sent it to me, we had to get it off of the journalism, like a JSTOR kind of thing. And she at a luncheon assured that the government people at the luncheon don't worry, this is not going to be something that we make a trend. Because the position of the government is still something that was carried, you know, the newspapers were the water, and the newspapers were the big thing up until certainly the late '60s, early '70s. The newspapers were still the water carrier of the government, right? And they were the water carriers of the owners of the newspaper. So let's not pretend there was some angelic, wonderful time. And I'm saying to me, because I was the one who brought it up, let's not pretend there was any super age of truthful journalism and all that. And I mean, you go to the revolutionary period in American history and it looks every bit as bad as today, right? That's a hopeful message actually. So things may not be as bad as they look. Well, let's look at it more like a stock market and that you have fluctuations in the truthfulness or believability of the press. And there are periods where it was higher than other periods. The funny thing about the so-called clickbait era, and I do think it's terrible, but I mean, it resembles earlier eras to me. So I always compare it to when I was a kid growing up, when I thought journalism was as good as it's ever gotten, it was never perfect. But it's also something that you see very rarely in other governments around the world. And there's a reason that journalists are often killed regularly in a lot of countries. And it's because they report on things that the authorities do not want reported on. And I've always thought that that was what journalism should do. But it's got to be truthful. Otherwise, it's just a different kind of propaganda, right?
Genghis Khan (01:04:58)
Can we talk about Genghis Khan? Sure. Genghis Khan, by the way, is it Genghis Khan or Genghis Khan? It's not Genghis Khan. It's either Genghis Khan or Chingghis Khan. So let's go with the Genghis Khan. It's the only thing I'll be able to say with any certain last certain thing I'll say about it. It's like, I don't know, GIF versus GIF. I don't know how it ever got started the wrong way. Yeah. So first of all, your episodes on Genghis Khan, for many people, are the favorite. It's fascinating to think about events that had so much, like, inner ripples had so much impact on so much of human civilization. In your view, was he an evil man? This goes to our discussion of evil. Another way to put it is I've read, he's much loved in many parts of the world, like Mongolia. And I've also read arguments that say that he was quite a progressive for the time. So where do you put him? Is he a progressive or is he an evil destroyer of humans? As I often say, I'm not a historian, which is why what I try to bring to the hardcore history podcasts are these sub-themes. So each show has a, and they're not, I try to kind of soft pedal them. So they're not always like really right in front of your face. In that episode, the soft pedaling sub-theme had to do with what we refer to as a historical arsonist. And it's because some historians have taken the position that sometimes, and most of this is earlier. So historians don't do this very much anymore, but these were the wonderful questions I grew up with that blend. It's almost the intersection between history and philosophy. And the idea was that sometimes the world has become so overwhelmed with bureaucracy or corruption or just stagnation that somebody has to come in or some group of people or some force has to come in and do the equivalent of a forest fire to clear out all the dead wood so that the forest itself can be rejuvenated and society can then move forward. And there's a lot of these periods where the historians of the past will portray these figures who come in and do horrific things as creating an almost service for mankind, right? Creating the foundations for a new world that will be better than the old one. And it's a recurring theme. And so this was the sub theme of the cons podcast because otherwise you don't need me to tell you the story of the Mongols, but I'm going to bring up the historical arsonist element. But this gets to how the con has been portrayed, right? If you want to say, oh, yes, he cleared out the dead wood and made for a fruit, well, then it's a positive thing. If you say my family was in the forest fire that he set, you're not going to see it that way. Much of what Genghis Khan is credited with on the upside, right? So things like religious toleration. And you'll say, well, he was religiously, the Mongols were religiously tolerant. And so this makes them almost like a liberal reformer kind of thing. But this needs to be seen within the context of their empire, which was very much like the Roman viewpoint, which is the Romans didn't care at a lot of time what your local people worshiped. They wanted stability. And if that kept stability and kept you paying taxes and didn't require the legionaries to come in and then they didn't care, right? And the cons were the same way. Like they don't care what you're practicing as long as it doesn't disrupt their empire and cause them trouble. But what I always like to point out is yes, but the con could still come in with his representatives to your town, decide your daughter was a beautiful woman that they wanted in the cons concubine and they would take them. So how liberal an empire is this, right? So many of the things that they get credit for is though there's some kind of nice guys may in another way of looking at it just be a simple mechanism of control, right? A way to keep the empire stable. They're not doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They have decided that this is the best. And I love because the Mongols were what we would call a pagan people. Now, I love the fact that they, I think we call it the forgot the term we used to had to do with like, like they were hedging their bets religiously, right? They didn't know which God was the right one. So as long as you're all praying for the health of the con, we're maximizing the chances that whoever the gods are, they get the message, right? So I think it's been portrayed as something like a liberal empire and it, the idea of Mongol universality, universality is more about conquering the world. And it's like saying, you know, we're going to bring stability to the world by conquering it. Well, what if that's Hitler, right? He could make the same case or Hitler wasn't really the world conqueror like that because he wouldn't have been, he wouldn't have been trying to make it equal for all peoples. But my point being that it kind of takes the positive moral slant out of it. If their motivation wasn't a positive moral slant to the motivate and, and the Mongols didn't see it that way. And I think the way that it's portrayed is like, and I was like to use this, this, this analogy, but it's like shooting an arrow and painting a bullseye around it afterwards, right? How do we, how do we justify and make them look good in a way that they themselves probably, unless we don't have the Mongol point of view per se. I mean, there's something called the secret history, the Mongols and there's things written down by Mongolian overlords through people like Persian and Chinese scribes later. We don't have their point of view, but it sure doesn't look like this was an attempt to create some wonderful place where everybody was living a better life than they were before. I think that's, that's later people putting a nice rosy spin on it. So, but there's an aspect to it. Maybe you can correct me because I'm projecting sort of my idea of what it would take to, to conquer so much land is the ideology is emergent. So if I were to guess the Mongols started out as exceptionally, as warriors who valued excellence in skill of killing, not even killing, but like the actual practice of war. And you can start out small, you can grow and grow and grow. And then in order to maintain the stability of the things over which of the conquered lands, you develop a set of ideas with which you can, like you said, establish control, but it was emergent. And it seems like the core first principle idea of the Mongols is just to be excellent warriors that felt to, that felt to me like the starting point. It wasn't some ideology like with Hitler and Stalin, with Hitler, the, there was an ideology that didn't have anything to do with war underneath it. It was more about conquering. It feels like the Mongols started out more organically, I would say, it's a, like this phenomenon started emergently and they were just like similar to the Native Americans with like the command, she's like the different warrior tribes that Joe Rogan's currently obsessed with, that, that led, led me to look into it more. They seem to just start out just valuing the skill of fighting, whatever the tools of war. They had, which were pretty primitive, but just to be the best warriors they could possibly be, make a science out of it. Is that, is that crazy to think that there was no ideology behind it in the beginning? I'm going to back up a second. I'm reminded of the line set about the Romans that they create a wasteland and call it peace. That is, that, but, but, but there's a lot of conquerors like that, right? There, you will sit there and listen, historians forever have, it's, it's the trade, it's the famous trade offs of empire. And they'll say, well, look at the trade that they facilitated and look at, you know, the religion, all those kinds of things, but they come at the cost of all those peoples that they conquered forcibly and, and, and by force, integrated into their empire. The one thing we need to remember about the Mongols that makes them different than say the Romans. And this is complex stuff and way above my pay grade, but I'm fascinated with it. And it's more like the Comanches that you just brought up is that the Mongols are not a settled society. Okay. They are, they are, they come from a nomadic tradition. Now several generations later, when you have a kubalakan as, as the, as the emperor of China, it's, it's beginning to be a different thing, right? And the Mongols, when their empire broke up, the ones that were in settled, the so-called settled societies, right? Iran, places like that, they will become more like over time, the rulers of those places were traditionally. And the Mongols and say like the, the, the, the cognate of the Golden Horde, which is still in, in their traditional nomadic territories will remain traditionally more Mongol. But when you start talking about who the Mongols were, I try to make a distinction. They're not some really super special people. They're just the latest confederacy in an area that saw nomadic confederacies going back to the beginning of recorded history, the Scythians, the Sarmatians, the Avars, the Huns, the Magyars. I mean, these are all the nomadic, you know, the nomads of the Eurasian step were huge, huge players in the history of the world until gunpowder nullified their, their traditional weapons system, which I've been fascinated with because their traditional weapons system is not one you could copy because you were talking about being the greatest warriors. You could be every warrior society I've ever seen values that what this, what the nomads had of the, of the Eurasian step was this relationship between human beings and animals that change the equation. It was how they rode horses. And societies like the Byzantines, which would form one flank of the step and then all the way on the other side, you had China and below that you had Persia. These societies would all attempt to create mounted horsemen who used archery and they did a good job, but they were never the equals of the nomads because those people were literally raised in the saddle. They compared them to centaurs. The Comanches, great example, considered to be the best horse riding warriors in North America. The Comanches, I always loved watching the, there's paintings, George Catlin, the famous painter who painted the Comanches illustrated it, but the Mongols and the Scythians and Scythians and Avars and all these people did it too, where they would shoot from underneath the horse's neck, hiding behind the horse the whole way. You look at a picture of somebody doing that and it's insane. This is what the Byzantines couldn't do and the Chinese couldn't do. It was a different level of harnessing a human animal relationship that gave them a military advantage that could not be copied. It could be emulated, but they were never as good. That's why they always hired these people. They hired mercenaries from these areas because they were incomparable. It's the combination of people who were shooting bows and arrows from the time they were toddlers, who were riding from the time they were, who rode all the time. The Huns were bow-legged, the Romans said, because they were never, they ate, slept, everything in the saddle. That creates something that is difficult to copy and it gave them a military advantage. I enjoy reading actually about when that military advantage ended. 17th and 18th century, when the Chinese on one flank and the Russians on the other are beginning to use firearms and stuff to break this military power of these various cons. The Mongols were simply the most dominating and most successful of the confederacies, but if you break it down, they really formed the nucleus at the top of the pyramid, of the apex of the food chain. A lot of the people that were known as Mongols were really lots of other tribes, non-Mongolian tribes, that when the Mongols conquered you after they killed a lot of you, they incorporated you into their confederacy and often made you go first. You're going to fight somebody. We're going to make these people go out in front and suck up all the arrows before we go in and finish the job. To me, and I guess a fan of the Mongols would say that the difference and what made the Mongols different wasn't the weapon system or the fighting or the warriors or the armor or anything, it was Genghis Khan. If you go look at the other really dangerous, from the outside world's perspective, dangerous step, nomadic confederacies from past history was always when some great leader emerged that could unite the tribes. You see the same thing in Native American history, two degree two. You had people like Attila, or there was one called Tumen. You go back in history and these people make the history books because they caused an enormous amount of trouble for their settled neighbors that normally, Chinese, Byzantine, and Persian approaches to the step people were always the same. They would pick out tribes to be friendly with. They would give them money, gifts, hire them, and they would use them against the other tribes. Generally, Byzantine, especially in Chinese diplomatic history, was all about keeping these tribes separated. They don't let them form confederations of large numbers of them because then they're unstoppable. Attila was a perfect example. The Huns were another large confederacy of these people and they were devastating when they could unite. The diplomatic policy was don't let them. That's what made the Mongols different is Genghis Khan united them and then unlike most of the tribal confederacies, he was able, they were able to hold it together for a few generations. To linger on the little thread that he started pulling on this man, Genghis Khan, that was a leader.
Greatest leader in history (01:19:19)
It's a homogen. What do you think makes a great leader? Maybe if you have other examples throughout history and great, again, let's use that term loosely. Now he's going to ask for a definition. Great uniter of whether it's evil or good, it doesn't matter. Is there somebody who stands out to you, Alexander the Great, talking about military or ideologies and some people bring up FDR or I mean it could be the founding fathers of this country or we can go to, was he man of the century up there, Hitler of the 20th century, installing and these people had really amassed the amount of power that probably has never been seen in the history of the world. Is there somebody who stands out to you by way of trying to define what makes a great uniter, great leader in one man or a woman maybe in the future? It's an interesting question and I want to have thought a lot about because, well, let's take Alexander the Great as an example because Alexander fascinated the world of his time, fascinated ever since. People have been fascinated with the guy. But Alexander was a hereditary monarch, right? He was handed the kingdom. He did not need to rise from nothing to get that job. In fact, he reminds me of a lot of other leaders of Frederick the Great, for example, in Prussia. These are people who inherited the greatest army of their day. Alexander, unless he was an imbecile, was going to be great no matter what because if you inherit the vermoch, you're going to be able to do something with it, right? Alexander's father may have been greater. Philip. Philip II was the guy who literally did create a strong kingdom from a disjointed group of people that were continually beset by their neighbors. He's the one that reformed that army, took things that he had learned from other Greek leaders like the Theban leader at Paminondas. And then laboriously over his lifetime, stabilized the frontiers, built this system. He lost an eye doing it. His leg was made lame. This was a man who looked like he built the empire and led from the front ranks. And then, who may have been killed by his son, we don't know who assassinated Philip, but then handed the greatest army the world had ever seen to his son, who then did great things with it. You see this pattern many times. In my mind, I'm not sure Alexander really can be that great when you compare him to people who arose from nothing. So the difference between what we would call in the United States, the self-made man or the one who inherits a fortune. There's an old line that, you know, it's a slur, but it's about rich people. And it's like he was born on, he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple, right? Philip was born at home plate and he had to hit, Alexander started on third base. And so I try to draw a distinction between them. Genghis Khan is tough because there's two traditions. The tradition that we grew up with here in the United States and that I grew up learning was that he was a self-made man. But there is a tradition and it may be one of those things that's put after the fact because a long time ago, whether or not you had blue blood in your veins was an important distinction. And so the distinction that you'll often hear from Mongolian history is that this was a nobleman who had been deprived of his inheritance. So he was a blue blood anyway. I don't know which is true. There's certainly, I mean, when you look at a Genghis Khan though, you have to go, that is a wicked amount of things to have achieved. He's very impressive as a figure. Attila's very impressive as a figure. Hitler's an interesting figure. He's one of those people, you know, the more you study about Hitler, the more you're wonder where the defining moment was. Because if you look at his life, I mean, Hitler was a relatively common soldier in the First World War. I mean, he was brave. He got some decorations. In fact, the highest decoration he got in the First World War was given to him by a Jewish officer. And it was, he often didn't talk about that decoration even though it was the more prestigious one because it would open up a whole can of worms you didn't want to get into. But Hitler's, I mean, if you said who was Hitler today, one of the top things you're going to say is he was an anti-Semite. Well, then you have to draw a distinction between general regular anti-Semitism that was pretty common in the era and something that was a rabid level of anti-Semitism. But Hitler didn't seem to show a rabid level of anti-Semitism until after or at the very end of the First World War. So if this is a defining part of this person's character and much of what we consider to be his evil stems from that, what happened to this guy when he's an adult, right? He's already fought in the war to change him so. I mean, it's almost like the old, there was always a movie theme. Somebody gets hit by something on the head and their whole personality changes, right? I mean, it almost seems something like that. So I don't think I call that necessarily a great leader. To me, the interesting thing about Hitler is what the hell happened to a nondescript person who didn't really impress anybody with his skills. And then in the 1920s, as you said, sort of the man of the hour, right? So that to me is kind of fast. I have this feeling that Genghis Khan, and we don't really know, was an impressive human being from the get-go. And then he was raised in this environment with pressure on all sides. You start with this diamond and then you polish it and you harden it his whole life. Hitler seems to be a very unimpressive gemstone most of his life, but then all of a sudden. So I mean, I don't think I can label great leaders. And I'm always fascinated by that idea that, and I'm trying to remember who the quote was by that, that great man, oh, Lord Acton, so great men are often not good men. And that in order to be great, you would have to jettison many of the moral qualities that we normally would consider a Jesus or a Gandhi or, you know, these qualities that one looks at as the good, upstanding moral qualities that we should all aspire to as examples, right? The Buddha, whatever it might be. Those people wouldn't make good leaders because what you need to be a good leader often requires the kind of choices that a true philosophical, diogenes, moral man wouldn't make. So I don't have an answer to your question. How about that? That's a very long way of saying, I don't know. Just linger a little bit. It does feel like from my study of Hitler that the time molded the man versus Genghis Khan where it feels like he, the man molded his time. Yes. And I feel that way about a lot of those nomadic confederacy builders that they really seem to be these figures that stand out as extraordinary in one way or another. And remembering, by the way, that almost all the history of them were written by the enemies that they so mistreated that they were probably never going to get any good press. They didn't write themselves. That's a caveat we should always do. Nomadic or Native American peoples or tribal peoples anywhere generally do not get the advantage of being able to write the history of their heroes. Okay.
Could Hitler have been stopped? (01:27:04)
I've recently almost done with the rise in the fall of the Third Reich. It's one of the historical descriptions of Hitler's rise to power, Nazis rise to power. There's a few philosophical things I'd like to ask you to see if you can help. One of the things I think about is how does one be a hero in 1930s Nazi Germany? What does it mean to be a hero? What do heroic actions look like? I think about that because I think about how I move about in this world today. You know, that we live in really chaotic, intense times where I don't think you want to draw any parallels between Nazi Germany and modern day and any of the nations. We can think about, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that authoritarian governments take hold. Authoritarian companies take hold. I'd like to think that I could be in my little small way and inspire others to take the heroic action before things get bad. I kind of try to place myself in what would 1930s Germany look like? Is it possible to stop a Hitler? Is it even the right way to think about it? And how does one be a hero in it? I mean, you often talk about that living through a moment in history is very different than looking at that history, looking when you look back. I also think about it would it be possible to understand what's happening, that the bells of war are ringing? It seems that most people didn't seem to understand, you know, late into the 30s, that war is coming. That's fascinating. On the United States side, inside Germany, like the opposing figures, the German military didn't seem to understand this. Maybe the other countries, certainly France and England didn't seem to understand this. I kind of try to put myself into the 90s, 30s Germany as I'm Jewish, which is another little twist on the whole. Like what would I do? What should one do? Do you have interesting answers? So earlier we had talked about Putin and we had talked about patriotism and love of country and those sorts of things. In order to be a hero in Nazi Germany, by our views here, you would have had to have been anti-patriotic to the average German's viewpoint in the 1930s, right? You would have to have opposed your own government and your own country. And that's a very, it would be a very weird thing to go to people in Germany and say, listen, the only way you're going to be seen as a good German and a hero to the country that will be your enemies is we think you should oppose your own government. It's a strange position to put the people in a government and say, you need to be against your leader, you need to oppose your government's policies, you need to oppose your government, you need to hope and work for its downfall. That doesn't sound patriotic. It wouldn't sound patriotic here in this country if you made a similar argument. I will go away from the 1930s and go to the 1940s to answer your question. So there is movements like the white rose movement in Germany, which involved young people really and from various backgrounds, religious backgrounds often, who worked openly against the Nazi government at a time when power was already consolidated, the Gestapo was in full force and they execute people who are against the government. And these young people would go out and distribute pamphlets and many of them got their heads cut off with guillotines for their trouble and they knew that that was going to be the penalty. That is a remarkable amount of bravery and sacrifice and willingness to die and almost not even willingness because they were so open about it. It's almost a certainty, right? That's incredibly moving to me. So when we talked earlier about the human spirit and all that kind of thing, there are people in the German military who opposed and worked against Hitler, for example. But to me, that's almost cowardly compared to what these young people did in the white rose movement because those people in the Wehrmacht, for example, who were secretly trying to undermine Hitler, they're not really putting their lives on the line to the same degree. And so I think when I look at heroes, and listen, I remember once saying there were no conscientious objectors in Germany as a way to point out to people that you didn't have a choice and you were going to serve in there. And I got letters from Jehovah's Witnesses who said, yes, there were. And we got sent to the concentration camps. Those are remarkably brave things. It's one thing to have your own set of standards and values. It's another thing to say, oh no, I'm going to display them in a way that with this regime, that's a death sentence. And not just for me, for my family, right? In these regimes, there was not a lot of distinction made between father and son and wives. That's a remarkable sacrifice to make and far beyond what I think I would even be capable of. And so the admiration comes from seeing people who appear to be more morally profound than you are yourself. So when I look at this, I look at that kind of thing and I just say, wow. And the funny thing is if you'd have gone to most average Germans on the street in 1942 and said, what do you think of these people? They're going to think of them as traders who probably got what they deserved. So that's the eye of the beholder thing, it's the power of the state to sow propagandized values and morality in a way that favors the state that you can turn people who today we look at as unbelievably brave and moral and crusading for righteousness and turn them into enemies of the people. So I mean, in my mind, it would be people like that. See, I think, so hero is a funny word and we romanticize the notion. But if I could drag you back to 1930s Germany from 1943, I feel like the heroic actions that doesn't accomplish much is not what I'm referring to. So there's many heroes I look up to that, like David Goggins, for example, the guy who runs crazy distances, he runs for no purpose except for the suffering in itself. And I think his willingness to challenge the limits of his mind is heroic. I guess I'm looking for a different term, which is how could Hitler have been stopped? My sense is that he could have been stopped in the battle of ideas where millions of people were suffering economically or suffering because of the betrayal of World War I in terms of the love of country and how they felt they were being treated. And a charismatic leader that inspired love and unity that's not destructive, could have emerged. And that's where the battle should have been fought. I would suggest that we need to take into account the context of the times that led to Hitler's rise of power and created the conditions where his message resonated. That is not a message that resonates at all times. It is impossible to understand the rise of Hitler without dealing with the First World War and the aftermath of the First World War and the inflationary terrible depression in Germany and all these things. And the dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic's government, which was often seen as something put into place by the victorious powers, Hitler referred to the people that signed those agreements that signed the armistice as the November criminals. And he used that as a phrase which resonated with the population. This was a population that was embittered. And even if they weren't embittered, the times were so terrible. And the options for operating within the system in a non-radical way seemed totally discredited. You could work through the Weimar Republic, but they tried and it wasn't working anyway. And then the alternative to the Nazis who were bully boys in the street were communist agitators that to the average conservative Germans seemed no better. So you have three options if you're an average German person. You can go with the discredited government, put in power by your enemies that wasn't working anyway. You could go with the Nazis who seemed like a bunch of super patriots calling for the restoration of German authority or you could go with the communists. The entire thing seemed like a litany of poor options. And in this realm, Hitler was able to triangulate, if you will. He came off as a person who was going to restore German greatness at a time when this was a powerful message. But if you don't need German greatness restored, it doesn't resonate. So the reason that your love idea and all this stuff, I don't think would have worked in the time period is because that was not a commodity that the average German was in search of then. Well, it's interesting to think about whether greatness could be restored through mechanisms, through ideas that are not so, from our perspective today, so evil. I don't know what the right term is. But the war continued in a way. So remember that when Germany, when Hitler is rising to power, the French are in control of parts of Germany. The ruler, one of the main industrial heartlands of Germany was occupied by the French. So there's never this point where you're allowed to let the hate dissipate. Every time maybe things were calming down, something else would happen to stick the knife in and twist it a little bit more. From the average German's perspective, the reparations. So if you say, okay, well, we're going to get back on our feet, the reparations were crushing, these things prevented the idea of love or brotherhood and all these things from taking hold. And even if there were Germans who felt that way and there most certainly were, it is hard to overcome the power of everyone else. You know, what I always say when people talk to me about humanity is I believe on individual levels were capable of everything and anything. The bad are indifferent, but collectively it's different, right? And in the time period that we're talking about here, messages of peace on earth and love your enemies and all these sorts of things were absolutely deluged and overwhelmed and drowned out by the bitterness, the hatred. And let's be honest, the sense that you were continually being abused by your former enemies. There were a lot of people in the allied side that realized this and said, we're setting up the next war. They understood that you can only do certain things to collective human populations for a certain period of time before it is natural for them to want to. And you can see German posters from the region, not see propaganda posters that show them breaking off the chains of their enemies. And I mean, Germany awake, right? That was the great slogan. So I think love is always a difficult option. And in the context of those times, it was even more disempowered than normal. Well, this goes to just a linger in it for a little longer. The question of the inevitability of history. Do you think Hitler could have been stopped? Do you think this kind of force that you're saying that there was a pain and it was building? There was a hatred that was building. Do you think there was a way to avert? I mean, there's two questions. Could have been a lot worse and could have been better in the trajectory of history in the 30s and 40s. The most logical, see, we had started this conversation. It brings a wonderful bow tie into the discussion and buttons it up nicely. We had talked about force and counter force earlier. The most obvious and much discussed way that Hitler could have been stopped has nothing to do with Germans. When he remilitarized the Ryanland, everyone talks about what a couple of French divisions would have done had they simply gone in and contested. And this was something Hitler was extremely, I mean, it might have been the most nervous time in his entire career because he was afraid that they would have responded with force and he was in no position to do anything about it if they did. So this is where you get the people who say, you know, and Churchill is one of these people too, where they talk about that, you know, he should have been stopped militarily right at the very beginning when he was weak. I don't think, listen, there were candidates in the Catholic Center Party and others in the Weimar Republic that maybe could have done things and it's beyond my understanding of specific German history to talk about it intelligently. But I do think that had the French responded militarily to Hitler's initial moves into that area that he would have been thwarted and I think he himself believed, if I'm remembering my reading, that this would have led to his downfall. So the potential, see, what I don't like about this is that it almost legitimizes military intervention at a very early stage to prevent worse things happening, but it might be a pretty clear cut case. But it shows, we pointed out that there was a lot of sympathy on the part of the Allies for the fact that, you know, the Germans probably should have Germany back and this is traditional German land. I mean, they were trying in a funny way, it's almost like the love and the sense of justice on the Allies part may have actually stayed their hand in a way that would have prevented much, much, much worse things later. But if the times were such that the message of a Hitler resonated, then simply removing Hitler from the equation would not have removed the context of the times. And that means one of two things, either you could have had another one or you could have ended up in a situation equally bad in a different direction. I don't know what that means because it's hard to imagine anything could be worse than what actually occurred, but history is funny that way. And Hitler's always everyone's favorite example of the difference between the great man theory of history and the trends and forces theories of history, right? The times made a Hitler possible and maybe even desirable to some. If you took him out of the equation, those trends and forces are still in place, right? So what does that mean? If you take him out and the door is still open, does somebody else walk through it? Yeah, it's mathematically speaking. The probability of charismatic leaders emerge. I'm so torn on that. I'm at this point. Here's another way to look at it. The institutional stability of Germany in that time period was not enough to push back. And there are other periods in German history. I mean, Hitler arose and arisen in 1913. He doesn't get anywhere because Germany's institutional power is enough to simply quash that. It's the fact that Germany was unstable anyway that prevented a united front that would have kept radicalism from getting out of hand. Does it make sense?
Hitler's Antisemitism (01:44:03)
Yes, absolutely. A tricky question on this, just to stay in this a little longer because I'm not sure how to think about it, is the World War II versus the Holocaust. We were talking just now about the way the history unrolls itself and could Hitler have been stopped. And I don't quite know what to think about Hitler without the Holocaust. And perhaps in his thinking, how essential the antisemitism and the hatred of Jews was. It feels to me that, I mean, we were just talking about where did he pick up his hatred of the Jewish people. There's stories in Vienna and so on that it almost is picking up the idea of antisemitism as a really useful tool as opposed to actually believing in his core. Do you think World War II, as it turned out, and Hitler, as he turned out, would be possible without antisemitism? Could we have avoided the Holocaust? Or was it an integral part of the ideology of fascism and the Nazis? Not an integral part of fascism because Mussolini really, I mean, Mussolini did it to please Hitler, but there wasn't an integral part. What's interesting to me is that that's the big anomaly in the whole question because antisemitism didn't need to be a part of this at all, right? Hitler had a conspiratorial view of the world. He was a believer that the Jews controlled things, right? The Jews were responsible for both Bolshevism on one side and capitalism on the other. They ruled the banks. I mean, United States was a "juified country," right? Bolshevism was a sort of a political... In other words, he saw Jews everywhere and he had that line about if the Jews of Europe forced another war to Germany, they'll pay the price or whatever, but then you have to believe that they're capable of that. The Holocaust is a weird, weird sidebar to the whole thing. And here's what I've always found interesting. It's a sidebar that weakened Germany because look at the first world war. Jews fought for Germany, right? Who was the most important? And this is a very arguable point, but it's just the first one that pops into my head. Who was the most important Jewish figure that would have maybe been on the German side, had the Germans had a non-antisemitic... Well, listen, that whole point... You're a science-type. Yeah, it's a science-type. But the whole... I should point out that to say Germany or Europe or Russia or any of those things were not anti-Semitic is to do injustice to history, right? Pogroms everywhere. Yes. That is the... It's standard operating procedure. What you see in the Hitlerian era is an absolute huge spike, right? Because the government has a conspiracy theory that the Jews have... It's funny because Hitler both thought of them as weak and super powerful at the same time, right? And as an outsider people that weakened Germany, the whole idea of the blood and how that connects to Darwinism and all that sort of stuff is just weird, right? A real outlier. But Einstein, let's just play with Einstein. If there's no anti-Semitism in Germany or none above the normal level, right? The baseline level. Einstein leave along with all the other Jewish scientists and what does Germany have as increased technological and intellectual capacity if they stay, right? It's something that actually weakened that state. It's a tragic flaw in the Hitlerian worldview. But it was so... And let me... You had mentioned earlier, like maybe it was not integral to his character. Maybe it was a wonderful tool for power. I don't think so. Somewhere along the line and really not at the beginning, this guy became absolutely obsessed with this. With a conspiracy theory. And Jews. And he surrounded himself with people and theorists. I'm going to use that word. Yes, really, really sort of loosely who believed this too. And so you have a cabal of people who are reinforcing this idea that the Jews control the world, that inter... He called it international jewelry was a huge part of the problem. And because of that, they deserve to be punished. They were an enemy within all these kinds of things. It's a nutty conspiracy theory that the government of one of the most... I mean, the big thing with Germany was culture, right? They were a leading figure in culture and philosophy and all these kinds of things. And that they could be overtaken with this wildly, wickedly weird conspiracy theory. And that it would actually determine... I mean, Hitler was taking vast amounts of German resources and using it to wipe out this race when he needed them for all kinds of other things to fight a war of annihilation. So that is the weirdest part of the whole Nazi phenomenon. It's the darkest possible silver lining to think about is that the Holocaust may have been in the hatred of the Jewish people. It may have been the thing that avoided Germany getting the nuclear weapons first. And... Is it isn't that a wonderful historical ironic twist that if it weren't so overlaid with tragedy, a thousand years from now will be seen as something really kind of funny. Well, that's true. It's fascinating to think as you've talked about... So the seeds of his own destruction, right? The tragic flaw.
Destructive power of evil (01:49:54)
And my hope is... this is a discussion I have with my dad as a physicist... Is that evil inherently contains with it that kind of incompetence. So my dad's discussion sees a physicist and engineer. His belief is that at this time in our history, the reason we haven't had nuclear... Terrorists blow up a nuclear weapon somewhere in the world is that the kind of people that would be terrorists are simply not competent enough at their job of being destructive. So like, there's a kind of... If you plot it, the more evil you are, the less able you are. And by evil, I mean purely just, like we said, if we were to consider the hatred of the Jewish people as evil, because it's sort of detached from reality. It's like just this pure hatred of something that's grounded on conspiracy theories. If that's evil, then the more you sell yourself, the more you give into these conspiracy theories, the less capable you are at actually engineering, which is very difficult, engineering nuclear weapons and effectively deploying them. So that's a hopeful message that the destructive people in this world are by their worldview incompetent in creating the ultimate destruction. I don't agree with that. Oh boy. I straight up don't agree with that. So why are we still here? Why haven't we destroyed ourselves? Why haven't the terrorists blow? It's been many decades. Why haven't we destroyed ourselves to this point? Well, when you say it's been many decades, many decades, it's like saying in the life of a 150 year old person, we've been doing well for a year. The problem with all these kinds of equations, and it was Bertrand Russell, right? The philosopher who said so, he said it's unreasonable to expect a man to walk on a tight rope for 50 years. I mean, the problem is that this is a long game. And let's remember that up until relatively recently, what would you say 30 years ago, the nuclear weapons in the world were really tightly controlled. That was one of the real dangers in the fall of the Soviet Union. Remember the worry that all of a sudden you were going to have bankrupt former Soviet republic selling nuclear weapons to terrorists and whatnot. I would suggest, and here's another problem is that when we call these terrorists evil, it's easy for an American, for example, to say that Osama bin Laden is evil. It's easy for me to say that. But one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter as the saying goes, and to other people he's not. What Osama bin Laden did and the people that worked with him, we would call evil genius, the idea of hijacking planes and flying them into the buildings like that, and then he could pull that off. That still boggles my mind. It's funny, I'm still stunned by that. And yet, the idea, here's the funny part, and I hesitate to talk about this because I don't want to give anyone ideas. But you don't need nuclear weapons to do incredibly grave amounts of danger. Really, what one can of gasoline and a bick lighter can do in the right place and the right time and over and over and over again can bring down societies. This is the argument behind the importance of the stability that a nation state provides. So when we went in and took out Saddam Hussein, one of the great counter arguments from some of the people who said this is a really stupid thing to do is that Saddam Hussein was the greatest anti-terror weapon in that region that you could have because they were a threat to him. So he took that and he did it in a way that was much more repressive than we would ever be. And this is the old line about why we supported right-wing death squad countries because they were taking out people that would inevitably be a problem for us if they didn't. And they were able to do it in a way we would never be able to do, supposedly. We're pretty good at that stuff. Just like the Soviet Union was behind the scenes and underneath the radar. But the idea that the stability created by powerful and strong centralized leadership allowed them, it's almost like outsourcing anti-terror activities allowed them to, for their own reasons. I mean, you see the same thing in the serious situation with the Assads. I mean, you can't have an ISIS in that area because that's a threat to the Assad government who will take care of that for you. And then that helps us by not having an ISIS. So I would suggest one that the game is still on on whether or not these people get nuclear weapons in their hands. I would suggest they don't need them to achieve their goals really. The crazy thing is if you start thinking like the Joker in Batman, the terrorist idea, it's funny. I guess I would be a great terrorist because I'm just full of those ideas. Oh, you can do this. It's scary to think of how vulnerable we are. But the whole point is that you as the Joker wouldn't do the terrorist actions. That's the theory that's so hopeful to me with my dad is that all the ideas, your ability to generate good ideas, what forget nuclear weapons, how you can disrupt the power grid, how you can disrupt the attack, our psychology attack like with a cannon gasoline. Like you said, somehow disrupt the American system of ideas. That coming up with good ideas there. Are we saying evil people can't come up with evil genius ideas? That's what I'm saying. We have this Hollywood story. I don't think history backs that up. I think you can say with the nuclear weapons it does, but only because they're so recent. But I mean evil genius. I mean, that's almost proverbial. But that's okay. So to push back for the fun of it or I don't need to, I don't want you to leave this in a terrible mood because I push back on every hopeful idea you had. But I tend to be a little cynical about that stuff. But that goes to the definition of evil, I think, because I'm not so sure human history has a lot of evil people being competent. I do believe that they mostly, in order to be good at doing what may be perceived as evil, you have to be able to construct an ideology around which you truly believe when you look in the mirror by yourself that you're doing good for the world. And it's difficult to construct an ideology where destroying the lives of millions or disrupting the American system, I'm already contradicting myself as I'm saying. I was just going to say people have done this already. Yes. But then it's the question of like about aliens with the idea that if the aliens are all out there, why haven't they visited us? The same question, if it's so easy to be evil, not easy, if it's possible to be evil, why haven't we destroyed ourselves? And your statement is from the context of history, the game is still on. And it's just been a few years since we've found the tools to destroy ourselves. And one of the challenges of our modern time, we don't often think about this pandemic kind of revealed is how soft we've gotten in terms of our deep dependence on the system. So somebody mentioned to me, you know, what happens if power goes out for a day? What happens if power goes out for a month? Oh, for example, the person that mentioned this was a Berkeley faculty that I was talking with, he's an astronomer who's observing solar flares. And it's very possible that a solar flare, they happen all the time to different degrees to knock out the power grid for months. So like, you know, just as a thought experiment, what happens if just power goes out for a week in this country? Like the electromagnetic pulses and the nuclear weapons and all those kinds of things. But maybe that's an act of nature and even just the act of nature will reveal like a little fragility of the fragility of it all. And then the evil can emerge. I mean, the kind of things that might happen when power goes out, especially during a divisive time. Well, you won't have food at baseline level. That would mean that the entire supply chain begins to break down. And then you have desperation and desperation opens the door to everything.
Futurism And Potential Collapse Of Society
Will human civilization destroy itself? (01:59:09)
Can I ask a dark question? As opposed to the other things we've been talking about? There's always a thread, a hopeful message. I think it'll be a hopeful message on this one too. You may have the wrong guess. I'm just saying. If you were to bet money on the way that human civilization destroys itself or it collapses in some way that is where the result would be unrecognizable to us as anything akin to progress, what would you say? Is it nuclear weapons? Is it some societal breakdown through just more traditional kinds of war? Is it engineered pandemics, nanotechnology? Is it artificial intelligence? Is it something we can't even expect yet? Do you have a sense of how we humans will destroy ourselves or might we live forever? I think what governs my view of this thing is the ability for us to focus ourselves collectively. That gives me the choice of looking at this and saying, what are the odds we will do x versus y? So go look at the 62 Cuban Missile Crisis where we looked at the potential of nuclear war and we stared right in the face of that. To me, I consider that to be you want to talk about a hopeful moment? That's one of the rare times in our history where I think the odds were overwhelmingly that there would be a nuclear war. And I'm not the super Kennedy worshipper that I grew up in an era where he was especially amongst people in the Democratic Party. He was almost worshipped and I was never that guy, but I will say something. John F. Kennedy by himself probably made decisions that saved a hundred million or more lives because everyone around him thought he should be taking the road that would have led to those deaths. And to push back against that is when you look at it now, again, if you were a betting person, you would have bet against that. And that's rare, right? So when we talk about how the world will end, the fact that one person actually had that in their hands meant that it wasn't a collective decision. It gave, remember I said I trust people on an individual level, but when we get together we're more like a herd and we devolve down to the lowest common denominator. That was something where the higher ethical ideas of a single human being could come into play and make the decisions that influence the events. But when we have to act collectively, I get a lot more pessimistic. So take what we're doing to the planet. And we talk about it always now in terms of climate change, which I think is far too narrow. Look at, and I always get very frustrated when we talk about these arguments about is it happening? Is it human? Just look at the trash. Forget, forget climate for a second. We are destroying the planet because we're not taking care of it and because what it would do to take care of it would require collective sacrifices that would require enough of us to say okay, and we can't get enough of us to say okay, because too many people have to be on board. It's not John F. Kennedy making one decision from one man. We have to have 85% of us or something around the world. Not just, you can't say we're going to stop doing damage to the world here in the United States. If China does it, right? So the amount of people that have to get on board that train is hard. You get pessimistic hoping for those kinds of shifts unless it's right, you know, Krypton's about to explode. And so I think if you're talking about a gambling man's view of this, that's got to be the odds on favorite because it requires such a uni, I mean, and the systems may be already even in place, right? The fact that we would need intergovernmental bodies that are completely discredited now on board and you would have to subvert the national interests of nation states. I mean, the amount of things that have to go right in a short period of time, we don't have 600 years to figure this out, right? So to me, that looks like the most likely just because the things we would have to do to avoid it seem the most unlikely. Does that make sense? Absolutely. I believe call me naive. And just like you said with the individual, I believe that charismatic leaders, individual leaders will save us. Like the system. You don't get them all at the same time. What if you get a charismatic leader in one country, but what if you get a charismatic leader in a country that doesn't really matter that much? Well, it's a ripple effect. So it starts with one leader and their charisma inspires other leaders. Like so it's like one ant queen steps up and then the rest of the ant starts behaving. And then there's like little other spikes of leaders that emerge. And then that's where collaboration emerges. I tend to believe that like when you heat up the system and shit starts getting really chaotic, then the leader, whatever this collective intelligence that we've developed, the leader will emerge. Like there's just as much of a chance though that the leader would emerge and say that Jews are the people who did all this. That's right. You know what I'm saying is that the idea that they would come up, you have a charismatic leader and he's going to come up with the rights or she is going to come up with the right solution as opposed to totally coming up with the wrong solution. I mean, I guess what I'm saying is you could be right, but a lot of things have to go the right way. But my intuition about the evolutionary process that led to the creation of human intelligence and consciousness on earth results in the power of like if we think of it just the love in the system versus the hate in the system that the love is greater. The human kindness potential in the system is greater than the human hatred potential. And so the leader that is in the time when it's needed, the leader that inspires love and kindness is more likely to emerge and will have more power. So you have the hitlers of the world that emerge, but they're actually in a grand scheme of history are not that impactful. So it's weird to say, but not that many people died in World War II. If you look at the full range of human history, you know, it's up to 100 million, whatever that is with natural pandemics too, you can have those kinds of numbers, but it's still a percentage. I figure what the percentage is, maybe 3, 5% of the human population on earth, maybe it's a little bit focused on a different region, but it's not destructive to the entirety of human civilization. So I believe that the charismatic leaders, one time is needed that do good for the world in the broader sense of good are more likely to emerge than the ones that say kill all of the Jews. It's possible though, and this is just, you know, I've thought about this all of 30 seconds, but I mean, we're betting money here on the 21st century. Who's going to win? I think maybe you've divided this into too much of a black and white dichotomy, this love and good on one side and this evil on another. Let me throw something that might be more in the center of that linear balancing act, self-interest, which may or may not be good, you know, good, the good version of it we call enlightened self-interest, right? The bad version of it we call selfishness, but self-interest to me seems like something more likely to impact the outcome than either love on one side or evil on the other. Simply a question of what's good for me or what's good for my country or what's good for my point of view or what's good for my business. I mean, if you tell me, and maybe I'm a coal miner or maybe I own a coal mine, if you say to me, we have to stop using coal because it's hurting the earth. I have a hard time disentangling that greater good question from my right now good feeding my family question, right? So I think maybe it's going to be a much more banal thing than good and evil, much more a question of we're not all going to decide at the same time that the interests that we have are aligned. Does that make sense? Yeah, totally. But I mean, I've looked at I and Rand and objectiveism and kind of really thought like how bad or good can things go when everybody's acting selfishly. But I think we're just talking to ants here with microphones talking about. Ants here with my good back. But like the question is when they when they spreads. So what is what do I mean by love and kindness? I think it's human flourishing on earth and throughout the cosmos. It feels like whatever the engine that drives human beings is more likely to result in human flourishing and people like Hitler are not good for human flourishing. So that's what I mean by good is there's a I mean, maybe it's an intuition that kindness is an evolutionary advantage. I hate those terms. I hate to reduce stuff to evolutionary biology always. But it just seems like for us to multiply throughout the universe is good to be kind to each other. And those leaders will always emerge to save us from the hitlers of the world that want to kind of burn the thing down with a flamethrower. That's the intuition. But let's talk about you brought up evolution several times. Let me play with that for a minute. I think going back to animal times, we are conditioned to deal with overwhelming threats right in front of us. I have quite a bit of faith in humanity when it comes to impending doom right outside our door. If Krypton's about to explode, I think humanity can rouse themselves to great and would give power to the people who needed it and be willing to make the sacrifices. But that's what makes I think the pollution slash climate change slash screwing up your environment threat so particularly insidious is it happens slowly. It defies fight and flight mechanisms. It defies the natural ability we have to deal with the threat that's right on top of us. And it requires an amount of foresight that while some people would be fine with that, most people are too worried and understandably, I think too worried about today's threat rather than next generation's threat or whatever it might be. So I mean, when we talk about when you'd said, what do you think the greatest threat is? I think with nuclear weapons, I think we have a nuclear war, we darn right could. But I think that there's enough of a inertia where against that because people understand instinctively, if I decide to launch this attack against China and I'm India, we're going to have 50 million dead people tomorrow. Whereas if you say we're going to have a whole planet of dead people in three generations, if we don't start now, I think the evolutionary way that we have evolved mitigates may be against that. In other words, I think I would be pleasantly surprised if we could pull that off. Does that make sense? Totally. I don't mean to be like the I'm the suspecting doom. It's fun that way. I think we're both maybe I'm over the top on the left. Maybe I'm over the top on the doom. So it makes for a fun chat, I think.
Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX (02:11:14)
So one guy that I've talked to several times, he's solely becoming a friend, is a guy named Elon Musk. He's a big fan of hardcore history, especially Genghis Khan, series of episodes, but really all of it. Him and his girlfriend Grimes listen to it. I know what you're on. Yeah, you know, Elon? Okay, awesome. So that's like relationship goals. Like listen to hardcore history on the weekend with your loved one. Okay. So let me if I were to look at the guy from a perspective of human history, it feels like he will be a little speck that's remembered. Oh, absolutely. You think about like the people what will we remember from our time, who are the people will remember, whether it's the the Hitler's or the Einstein's who's going to be. It's hard to predict when you're in it. But it seems like Elon would be one of those people remembered. And if I were to guess what he's remembered for, it's the work he's doing with SpaceX and potentially being the person that we don't know, but the being the person who launched a new era of space exploration. If you look, you know, centuries from now, if we are successful as human beings surviving long enough to venture out into the, you know, toward the stars, it's weird to ask you this. I don't know what your opinions are, but do you think humans will be a multi planetary species in the arc long arc of history? Do you think you long will be successful in his dream? And he doesn't he doesn't shy away from saying it this way, right? He really wants us to colonize Mars first and then colonize other Earth like planets in other solar systems throughout the galaxy. Do you have a hope that we humans will venture out towards the stars? So here's the thing. And this actually again, dovetails do what we were talking about earlier. I actually, first of all, I toured SpaceX and it is when you, you know, it's hard to get your mind around because he's doing what it took governments to do before. Yes. Okay. So it's incredible that we're watching individual companies and stuff doing this. Doing a faster and cheaper. Yeah. Well, and pushing the envelope, right? Faster than the governments at the time we're moving is it's, it really is. I mean, there's a lot of people who I think who think Elon is overrated and you have no idea, right? When you go see it, you have no idea. But that's actually not what I'm most impressed with. It's Tesla I'm most impressed with. And the reason why is because in my mind, we just talked about what I think is the greatest threat, the environmental stuff. And I talked about our inability, maybe all at the same time to be willing to sacrifice our self interests in order for the, for the goal. And I don't want to put words in Elon's mouth. So you can, you can talk to him if you want to, but in my mind, what he's done is recognize that problem. And instead of building a car that's a piece of crap, but you know, it's good for the environment. So you should drive it. He's trying to create a car that if you're only motivated by your self interest, you'll buy it anyway and it will help the environment and help us transition away from one of the main causes of damage. I mean, one of the things this pandemic and the shutdown around the world has done is show us how amazingly quickly the earth can actually rejuvenate. We're seeing clear skies and places, species come. And you would have thought it would have taken decades for some of this stuff. So what if to name just one major pollution source, we didn't have the pollution caused by automobiles, right? And if you had said to me, Dan, what do you think the odds of us transitioning away from that were 10 years ago, I would have said, well, people aren't going to do it because it's inefficient at this. It's that nobody wants to, but what if you created the vehicle that was superior in every way so that if you were just a self oriented consumer, you'd buy it because you wanted that car. That's the best way to get around that problem of people not wanting to. I think he's identified that. And as he's told me before, you know, when the last time a car company was created that actually, you know, blah, blah, blah, he's right. And so I happen to feel that even though he's pushing the envelope on the space thing, I think somebody else would have done that someday. I'm not sure because of the various things he's mentioned, how difficult it is to start there. I'm sure that the industries that create vehicles for us would have gone where he's going to lead them if he didn't force them there through consumer demand by making a better car that people wanted anyway. They'll follow, they'll copy, they'll do all those things. And yet who was going to do that? So I hope he doesn't hate me for saying this, but I happen to think the Tesla idea may alleviate some of the need to get off this planet because the planet's being destroyed, right? And we're going to colonize Mars probably anyway, if we live long enough. And I think the Tesla idea, not just Elon's version, but ones that follow from other people is the best chance of making sure we're around long enough to see Mars colonize. Does that make sense? Yeah, totally. And one other thing from my perspective, because I'm now starting a company, I think the interesting thing about Elon is he serves as a beacon of hope, like pragmatically speaking, for people that, sort of to push back on our doom conversation from earlier, that a single individual could build something that allows us, self-inched individuals to gather together in a collective way to actually alleviate some of the dangers that face our world. So it gives me hope as an individual that I can build something that can actually have impact that counteracts the Stalin's and the Hitler's and all the threats that face that human civilization faces, that an individual has that power. I didn't believe that the individual has that power in the halls of government. Like, I don't feel like anyone presidential candidate can rise up and help the world, unite the world. It feels like, from everything I've seen and you're right with Tesla, it can bring the world together to do good. That's a really powerful mechanism of whatever you say about capitalism, that you can build companies that start, you know, it starts with a single individual. Of course, there's a collective that grows around that, but the leadership of a single individual, their ideas, their dreams, their vision can catalyze something that takes over the world and does good for the entire world. But again, I think the genius of the idea is that it doesn't require us to go head to head with human nature, right? He's actually built human nature into the idea by basically saying, I'm not asking you to be an environmental activist, I'm not asking you to sacrifice to make it. I'm going to sell you a car you're going to like better and by buying it, you'll help the environment. That takes into account our foibles as a species and actually leverages that to work for the greater good. And that's the sort of thing that does turn off my little doomcaster cynicism thing a little bit because you're actually hitting us where we live, right? You're not, you can take somebody who doesn't even believe the environment's a problem, but they want a Tesla. So they're inadvertently helping anyway. I think that's the genius of the idea. Yeah. And I'm telling you, that's one way to make love much more efficient mechanism of change than hate. Making it in your self interest to make you just creating a product that leads to more love than hate. You're going to want to love your neighbor because you're going to make a fortune. Exactly. There you go. Right. I'm on board. That's why Elon said loves the answer. That's I think exactly what he meant. Okay, let's try something difficult.
Steering around the iceberg - wow do we avoid collapse of society? (02:19:36)
You've recorded an episode of steering into the iceberg on your common sense program. Yeah. That has started a lot of conversations. It's quite moving. It was quite haunting. Got me a lot of angry emails. Really. I did something I haven't done in 30 years. I endorsed a political candidate from one of the two main parties and there were a lot of disillusioned people because of that. I guess I didn't hear it as an endorsement. I just heard it as a similar flavor of conversation as you have in hardcore history. It's almost the speaking about modern times in the same voice as you speak about when you talk about history. It was just a little bit of a haunting view of the world today. I know we were just wearing our doom caster. You got to put that right back on, are you? I like the term doom caster. How do we get love to win? What's the way out of this? Is there some hopeful line that we can walk to avoid something and I hate to use the terminology but something that looks like a civil war? Not necessarily a war of force but a division to a level where it doesn't any longer feel like a United States of America with an emphasis on United. Is there a way out? I read a book a while back. I want to say George Friedman, the Strat for a guy, wrote it. It was something called the next 100 years I think it was called. I remember thinking, I didn't agree with any of it. One of the things I think he said in the book was that the United States was going to break up. I'm going from memory here. He might not have said that at all but something was stuck in my memory about that. I remember thinking. I think some of the arguments were connected to the differences that we had and the fact that those differences are being exploited. We talked about media earlier in the lack of truth. We have a media climate that is incentivized to take the wedges in our society and make them wider. There's no countervailing force to do the opposite or to help. There was a famous memo from a group called Project for a New American Century. They took it down but the way back machine online still has it. It happened before 9/11. Spond all kind of conspiracy theories because it was saying something to the effect of, and I'm really paraphrasing here, but the United States needs another Pearl Harbor type event because those galvanize a country that without those kinds of events periodically is naturally geared towards pulling itself apart. It's those periodic events that act as the countervailing force that otherwise is not there. If that's true, then we are naturally inclined towards pulling ourselves apart. To have a media environment that makes money off widening those divisions, which we do. I was in talk radio and it has those people, the people that used to scream at me because I wouldn't do it, but we would have these terrible conversations after every broadcast where I'd be in there with the program director and they're yelling at me about heat. Heat was the worthy. Create more heat. What is heat? Heat is division. They want the heat, not because they're political. They're not Republicans or Democrats either. We want listeners and we want engagement and involvement. Because of the constructs of the format, you don't have a lot of time to get it. You can't have me giving you on a podcast an hour and a half or two hours where we build a logical argument and you're with me the whole way, your audience is changing every 15 minutes. Whatever points you make to create interest and intrigue and engagement have to be knee-jerk right now. They told me once that the audience has to know where you stand on every single issue within five minutes of turning on your show. In other words, you have to be part of a linear set of political beliefs so that if you feel A about subject A, then you must feel D about subject D and I don't even need to hear your opinion on it. You feel that way about A, you're going to feel that way about D. This is a system that is designed to pull us apart for profit but not because they want to pull us apart. It's a byproduct of the profit. That's one little example of 50 examples in our society that work in that same fashion. What that project for a new American Century document was saying is that we're naturally inclined towards disunity and without things to occasionally ratchet the unity back up again so that we can start from the baseline again and then pull ourselves apart until the next Pearl Harbor that you'll pull yourself apart, which I think was, think that's what the George Friedman book was saying that I disagreed with so much at the time. An answer to your question about civil wars, we can't have the same kind of civil war because we don't have a geographical division that's as clear-cut as the one we had before. We had basically North-South Line and some border states. It was set up for that kind of a split. Now we're divided within communities, within families, within gerrymandered voting districts and precincts, right? So you can't disengage. We're stuck with each other. So there's a civil war now, for lack of a better word. What it might seem like is the late 1960s, early 1970s where you had the bombings and let's call it domestic terrorism and things like that because that would seem to be something that once again you don't even need a large chunk of the country pulling apart. Ten percent of people who think it's the end times can do the damage just like we talked about terrorism before and a can of gas and a big lighter. I've lived in a bunch of places and I won't give anybody ideas where a can of gas and a big lighter would take a thousand houses down before you could blink. That terrorist doesn't have to be from the Middle East, doesn't have to have some sort of a fundamentalist religious agenda. It could just be somebody really pissed off about the election results. So once again, if we're playing an odds game here, everybody has to behave for this to work right. Only a few people have to misbehave for this thing to go sideways. And remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So you don't even have to have those people doing all these things. All they have to do is start a tit-a-tat-retribution cycle. And there's an escalation. Yes. And it creates a momentum of its own. Which leads fundamentally, if you follow the chain of events down there to some form of dictatorial government as the only way to create stability. Right? You want to destroy the republic and have a dictator? That's how you do it. And there are parallels to Nazi Germany, the burning of the Reichstag, you know, blah, blah, blah. I'm the doomcaster again, aren't I? And some of it could be manufactured by those seeking authoritarian power. Absolutely. Like the Reichstag fire was. Or the Polish soldiers that fired over the border before the invasion in 1939. To fight the devil's advocate with an angels advocate, I would say just as our conversation about Elon, it feels like individuals have power to unite us, to be that force of unity. So you mentioned the media. I think you're one of the great podcasters in history. Joe Rogan is like a long form, whatever. It's not podcasting. It's actually whatever the... Very infrequent is what it is, no matter what it is. But the basic process of it is you go deep and you stay deep and the listener stays with you for a long time. So I'm just looking at the numbers, like we're almost three hours in. And from previous episodes, I can tell you that about 300,000 people are still listening to the sound of our voice three hours in. So usually it's 300 to 500,000 people listen and they do... Congratulations, by the way. That's wonderful. Joe Rogan is like 10 times that. And so he has power to unite. You have power to unite. There's a few people with voices that it feels like they have power to unite. Even if you quote unquote endorse a candidate and so on, there's still... It feels to me that speaking of... I don't want to keep saying love, but it's love and maybe unity more practically speaking that sanity, that respect for those you don't agree with or don't understand. So empathy, just a few voices of those can help us avoid the... Really importantly, not avoid the singular events, like you said, of somebody starting a fire and so on, but avoid the escalation of it. The preparedness of the populace to escalate those events. To turn a singular event in a single riot or a shooting or even something much more dramatic than that, to turn that into something that creates like ripples that grow as opposed to ripples that fade away. So I would like to put responsibility on somebody like you and me in some small way. Joe, being cognizant of the fact that a lot of very destructive things might happen in November. And a few voices can save us is the feeling I have. Not by saying who you should vote for or any of that kind of stuff, but really by being the voice of calm, that like calms the seas from or whatever the analogy is from boiling up. Because I truly am worried about, this is the first time this year when I sometimes... I somehow felt that the American project would go on forever. But when I came to this country, I just believed, and I just think I'm young, but like, you know, I have a dream of creating a company that will do a lot of good for the world. And I thought that America is the beacon of hope for the world and the idea is of freedom, but also the idea of empowering companies that can do some good for the world. And I'm just worried about this America that filled me a kid that came from... Our family came from nothing and from, you know, Russia as it was, Soviet Union as it was, to be able to do anything in this new country. I'm just worried about it. And it feels like a few people can still keep this project going. People like Elon. People like Joe, is there... Do you have a bit of that hope? I'm watching this experiment with social media right now. And I don't even mean social media. We really expand that out to... I mean, I feel like we're all guinea pigs right now, watching... You know, I have two kids and just watching... And there's a three-year space between the two of them, one's 18, the other's 15. And just, you know, when I was a kid, a person who was 18 and 15 would not be that different. Just three years difference, more maturity. But their life experiences, you would easily classify those two people as being in the same generation. Now because of the speed of technological change, there is a vast difference between my 18-year-old and my 15-year-old. And not in the maturity question, just in what apps they use, how they relate to each other, how they deal with their peers, their social skills, all those kinds of things where you turn around and go, "This is uncharted territory. We've never been here." So it's going to be interesting to see what effect that has on society. Now, as that relates to your question, the most upsetting part about all that is reading how people treat each other online. And, you know, there's lots of theories about this. The fact that some of it is just for trolling laughs, that some of it is just people are not interacting face-to-face, so they feel free to treat each other that way. And I, of course, am trying to figure out how -- if this is how we have always been as people, right, we've always been this way, but we've never had the means to post our feelings publicly about it, or if the environment and the social media and everything else has provided a change and changed us into something else. Either way, when one reads how we treat one another and the horrible things we say about one another online, which seems like it shouldn't be that big of deal, they're just words, but they have a cumulative effect. I mean, when you -- I was reading Megan Markle, who I don't know a lot about because it's too much of the pop side of culture for me to pay a lot, but I read a story the other day where she was talking about the abuse she took online and how incredibly overwhelming it was and how many people were doing it. And you think to yourself, "Okay, this is something that people who are in positions of what you were discussing earlier never had to deal with." Let me ask you something, and boy, this is the ultimate doomcaster thing of all time to say, when you think of historical figures that push things like love and peace and creating bridges between enemies, when you think of what happened to those people, first of all, they're very dangerous. Every society in the world has a better time, easier time dealing with violence and things like that than they do non-violence. Non-violence is really difficult for governments to deal with, for example. What happens to Gandhi and Jesus and Martin Luther King, and you think about all those people, right? When they're that day -- it's ironic, isn't it, that these people who push for peaceful solutions are so often killed, but it's because they're effective. And when they're killed, the effectiveness is diminished. Why are they killed? Because they're effective. And the only way to stop them is to eliminate them because they're charismatic leaders who don't come around every day. And if you eliminate them from the scene, the odds are you're not going to get another one for a while. I guess what I'm saying is the very things you're talking about, which would have the effect you think it would, right? They would destabilize systems in a way that most of us would consider positive, but those systems have a way of protecting themselves, right? And so I feel like history shows -- history is pretty pessimistic, I think, by and large, if only because we can find so many examples that just sound pessimistic. But I feel like people who are dangerous to the way things are tend to be removed. Yes. But there's two things to say. I feel like you're right, that history, I feel like the ripples that love leaves in history are less obvious to detect, but are actually more transformational. Well, one can make a case about -- I mean, if you want to talk about the long-term value of a Jesus, a Gandhi book, yes, yes, those people's ripples are still affecting people today, I agree. And you feel those ripples through the general improvement of the quality of life that we see in -- throughout the generations, like you feel the ripples through the -- I'll go along with you on that. But even if that's not true, I tend to believe that -- and by the way, the company that I'm working on is a competitor -- is exactly attacking this, which is a competitor to Twitter. I think I can build a better Twitter as a first step. There's a long story in there. I think a three-year-old child could build a better -- and that this is not to denigrate -- I'm sure yours would be better than a three-year-old. But Twitter is so -- and listen, Facebook, they're really awful platforms for intellectual discussion and meaningful discussion. But we're -- and I'm on it. So let me just say I'm part of the problem. We're new to this. So it wasn't obvious at the time how to do it. It's now a three-year-old can -- I do. I tend to believe that we live in a time where the tools that people that are interested in providing love, like the weapons of love are much more powerful. So like, the one nice thing about technology is it allows anyone to build a company that's more powerful than any government. So that could be very destructive, but it could be also very positive. And that's -- I tend to believe that somebody like Ilana wants to do good for the world. Somebody like me and me like me could have more power than any one government to -- and by power, I mean the power to affect change, which is different from God. What do you do with government -- and I don't mean to interrupt you, but I'll forget my friend. I thought I'll get it. I mean, how do you deal with the fact that already governments who are afraid of this are walling off their own internet systems as a way to create firewalls simply to prevent you from doing what you're talking about? In other words, if there's an old line that if voting really changed anything, they'd never allow it, if love through a modern day successor to Twitter would really do what you want it to do. And this would destabilize governments. Do you think that governments would take countermeasures to squash that love before it got too dangerous? There's several answers. One, first of all, I don't -- actually to push back on something you said earlier, I don't think love is as much of an enemy of the state as one would think. Different states have different views. I think the states want power, and I don't always think that love is in tension with power. I think -- and I think it's not just about love, it's about rationality, it's reason, it's empathy. All of those things, I don't necessarily think they always have to be by definition in conflict with each other. So that's one sense, I feel like basically you control gen horse love into behind, but you have to be good at it. This is the thing. You have to be conscious of the way these states think. So the fact that China bans certain services and so on, that means the companies weren't eloquent, whoever the companies are weren't actually good at infiltrating. Isn't that a song like love is a battlefield? I think it's all a -- >> A capeditor, yeah. It's all a game, and you have to be good at the game. And just like Elon, we said with Tesla and saving the environment, that's not just by getting on a stage and saying it's important to save the environment, is by building a product that people can't help but love. And then convincing Hollywood stars to love it, like there's a game to be played. >> Okay, so let me build on that, because I think there's a way to see this. I think you're right. And so it has to do with a story about the 1960s. In the vast scheme of things, the 1960s looks like a revival of neo-romantic ideas, right? I had a buddy of mine several years, well, two decades older than I was, who was in the 60s, went to the protest, did all those kind of things. And we were talking about it, and I was romanticizing it. He said, "Don't romanticize." He goes, "Let me tell you, most of the people that went to those protests and did all those things, all they were there was to meet girls and have a good time." And it wasn't so -- but it became in vogue to have all -- in other words, let's talk about your empathy and love. You're never going to, in my opinion, grab that great mass of people that are only in it for their interest in whatever -- but if meeting girls for a young teenage guy requires you to feign empathy, requires you to read deeper subjects because that's what people are into, you can almost as a silly way to be trendy. You could make maybe empathy trendy, love trendy, solutions that are the opposite of that, the kind of things that people inherently will not put up with you. In other words, the possibility exists to change the zeitgeist and reoriented in a way that even if most of the people aren't serious about it, the results are the same. Does that make sense? Absolutely. Okay. So we've found a meeting of the month. Yeah, exactly. Creating incentives that encourage the best and the most beautiful aspects of human nature. But the chance are will. Amen. And it all boils down to meeting girls and boys. Listen, listen. Once again, you're getting to the bottom of the evolutionary motivations and you're always on safe ground when you do that. Yeah.
Advice on podcasting (02:41:43)
That's a little difficult for me of -- and I'm sure it's actually difficult for you to listen to me say complimenting you, but it's difficult for both of us. So but you and I, as I mentioned to you, I think off my been friends for a long time, it's just been one way. So like I've -- It's two way now. It's two way now. So like that's the beauty of podcasting. You know, I mean, now just been fortunate enough with this particular podcast that I see in people's eyes when they meet me, that they've been friends with me for a few years now. And we become fast friends actually after we start talking. But it's one way in the vet and that first moment. You know, like there's something about your -- especially hardcore history that, you know, I do some crazy challenges and running and stuff. I remember in particular, probably don't have time. One of my favorite episodes, the painful tainment one. Some people hate that episode. Because it's too real. Yeah, they can't listen to it. It's by darkest one. We wanted to set a baseline. That's the baseline. But I remember listening to that. When I ran 22 miles for me, that was a long distance. Oh, wow. That's painful tainment right there. Yeah. And it just pulls you in. There's something so powerful about this particular creation that's bigger than you, actually, that you've created. It's kind of interesting. I think anything that is successful like that, like Elon's stuff too, it becomes bigger than you and that's what you're hoping for, right? Yeah, absolutely. Didn't mean to interrupt you. I apologize. I guess a question I have, if you look in the mirror, but you also look at me, what advice would you give to yourself and to me and to other podcasts? Or maybe to Joe Rogan about this journey that we're on? I feel like it's something special. I'm not sure exactly what's happening, but it feels like podcasting is special. What advice, and I'm relatively new to it, what advice do you have for people that are carrying this flame and traveling in this journey? Well, I'm often asked for advice by new podcasters, people just starting out. I have a tried and true list of do's and don'ts, but I don't have advice or suggestions for you or for Joe. Joe doesn't need anything from me. Joe's figured it out, right? I mean, he's still a confused kid, curious about the world. But that's the genius of it. That's what makes it work, right? That's what Joe's brand is, right? I guess what I'm saying is, by the time you reach the stage that you're at or Joe's at, they have figured this out. The people that sometimes need help or brand new people trying to figure out, what do I do with my first show and how do I talk to them? And I have standard answers for that. But you found your niche. I mean, you don't need me to tell you what to do. As a matter of fact, I might ask you questions about how you do what you do, right?
Joe Rogan, Spotify, and the future of podcasting (02:44:55)
Well, there's, I guess there's specific things that we were talking offline about monetization. That's a fascinating one. Very difficult as an independent, yeah. And one of the things that Joe is facing with, I don't know if you're paying attention, but he joined Spotify with a $100 million deal before going exclusive on their platform. The idea of exclusivity, that one, I don't give a damn about money, personally, but I'm single. And I like living in a shitty place. So I enjoy. So I guess makes it easy enough. You get the freedom right to not carry out. Freedom. Materials is slated. Not saving for anybody's college. Exactly. Yeah. Okay. So on that point, but I also, okay, maybe it's romanticization, but I feel like podcasting is by radio. And when I first heard about Spotify, partnering up with Joe, I was like, you know, fuck the man. I said, I even, I drafted a few tweets and so on, just like attacking Spotify, then I'd call myself down that you can't lock up this special thing we have. But then I realized that maybe that these are vehicles for just reaching more people and actually respecting podcasts, there's more and so on. So that's what I mean by it's unclear what the journey is because you also serve as beacon for now there's like millions, one million plus podcasters. I wonder what the journey is. Do you have a sense? Are you romantic in the same kind of way in feeling that because you have a roots in radio too? Do you feel that podcasting is pirate radio or is this Spotify thing one possible avenue? Are you nervous about Joe as a fan as a friend of Joe? Or is this a good thing for us? So my history of how I got involved in podcasting is interesting. I was in radio and then I started a company back in the era where the dot com boom was happening and everybody was being bought up and it just seemed like a great idea, right? I did it with seven other, six other people and the whole goal of the company was we had to invent the term. I'm sure everybody there's other places that invented it at the same time. But what we were pitching to investors was something called amateur content. So this is before YouTube before podcasting before all this stuff. And my job was to be the evangelist and I would go to these people and talk and sing the praises of all the ways that amateur content was going to be great. And I never got a bite and they all told me the same thing. This isn't going to take off because anybody who's good is already going to be making money at this. And I kept saying, forget that we're talking about scale here. If you have millions of pieces of content being made every week, a small percentage is going to be good no matter what, right? Sixteen year olds will know what other 16 year olds like. I kept pushing this nobody bit. But the podcast grew out of that because if you're talking about amateur content in 1999, well, then you're already, you're ahead of the game in terms of not seeing where it's going to go financially, but seeing where it's going to go technologically. And so when we started the podcast in 2005 and it was the political one, not hardcore history, which was an outgrowth of the old radio show, we didn't have any financial ideas. We were simply trying to get our handle on the technology and how you distributed to people and all that. It was years later that we tried to figure out, okay, how come we get enough money to just support us while we're doing this? And the cheap and the easy way was just to ask listeners to donate like an PBS kind of model. And that was the original model. So then once we started down that, we figured out other models and advertising thing and that we sell the old shows. And so all these became ways for us to support ourselves. But as podcasting matured and as more operating systems developed and phones were developed and all these kinds of things, every one of those developments, which actually made it easier for people to get the podcast, actually made it more complex to make money off of them. So while our audience was building the amount of time and effort we had to put into the monetization side began to skyrocket. So to get back to your Spotify question to use just one example, there's a lot of people who are doing similar things. In this day and age, we just sell MP3 files. All you had to have was an MP3 player. It's cheap and dirty. Now every time there's an OS upgrade, something breaks for us. So we're having, I mean, my choices are at this point to start hiring staff, more staff, and then be a human resources manager. I mean, the pirate radio side of this was the pirate radio side of this because you didn't need anybody but you and another, I mean, you could just do this lean and mean and it's becoming hard to do it lean and mean now. So if somebody like a Spotify comes in and says, "Hey, we'll handle that stuff for you." In the past, I would just say, "F off, we don't need you. I don't mind." And I definitely am not making what we could make on this, but what we would have to do to make that is honoris to me. But it's becoming honoris to me day to day anyway. And so if somebody were to come in and say, "Hey, we'll pick that up for you. We will not interfere with your content at all. We won't." And in my case, you can't say, "We need to show a month because that ain't happening." Right? So I mean, everybody's design is different, right? So it doesn't, there's not one size fits all. But I guess as a long time pirate podcaster, there are, we've been looking to partner with people but nobody's right for us to partner with. So I'm always looking for ways to take that side of it off my plate because I'm not interested in that side. What I want to do is the shows and it's really at this point, you shouldn't call yourself an artist because that's something to do with the side of my other... But I mean, we're trying to do art and there's something very satisfying in that. But the part that I can't stand is the increasing amount of time, the monetization of question takes on us. And so there's a case to be made, I guess is what I'm saying, that if a partnership with some outside firm enhances your ability to do the art without dis-enhancing your ability to do the art, the word I'm looking for here is it's enticing. I don't like big companies. So I'm afraid of whatever strings might come with that. And if I'm Joe Rogan and I'm talking about subjects that can make public companies a little nervous, I would certainly be careful. But at the same time, people who are not in this game don't understand the problems that literally... I mean, just all the operating systems, all the podcatchers, every time some new podcatcher comes out, makes it easier to get the podcast, that's something we have to account for on the back end. And I'm not exactly the technological wizard of all time. So I think it is maybe the short answer is that as the medium develops, it's becoming something that you have to consider, not because you want to sell out, but because you want to keep going. And it's becoming harder and harder to be pirate-like in this environment. The thing that convinced me, especially in Science Spotify, is that they understand... So if you walk into this whole thing with some skepticism as you're saying, big companies, then it works because Spotify understands the magic that makes podcasting or they appear to in part. At least they understand enough to respect Joe Rogan. And despite what... I don't know if you... So there's the internet and there's people with opinions on the internet. Really? Yes. And they have opinions about Joe and Spotify, but the reality is there's two things. In private conversation with Joe and in general, there's two important things. One, Spotify literally doesn't tell Joe anything. Like all the people that think that Spotify is somehow pushing Joe in this direction or that. It's contractual. Did he insist upon that? It's in the contract. But also, companies have a way of even with the contract. Yeah, sure do. And it's hard to be marketing people. "Hey, I know we're not forcing you to do that." Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can see that. Yeah, but Joe... I'm with you. You and Joe are the same and Spotify is smart enough not to send a single email of that kind. That's really smart. And they leave them be. There is meetings inside Spotify that people complain, but those meetings never reach Joe. That's like company stuff. And the idea that Spotify is different than private radio, the difficult thing about podcasting is nobody gives a damn about your podcast. You're alone in this. I mean, there's fans and stuff, but nobody... Nobody's looking out for you. Yeah. And the nice thing about Spotify is they want Joe to... Joe's podcast to succeed even more. Joe talked about is that's the difference between YouTube and Spotify. Spotify wants to be the Netflix of podcasting. Like, what Netflix does is they don't want to control you in any way, but they want to create a platform where you can flourish. Because your interests are aligned. Interests are aligned. So let me bring up something that... Let's make a distinction because not all companies who do this are the same. And you brought up YouTube and Spotify, but to me, YouTube is at least more like Spotify than some of these smaller... The term is "walled garden." You've heard the term "walled garden." Okay. So I've been around podcasting so long now that I've seen rounds of consolidation over the years. And they come in waves. And all of a sudden... So you'll get... And I'm not going to mention any names. But up until recently, the consolidation was happening with relatively small firms compared to people like Spotify. And the problem was is that by deciding to consolidate your materials in a walled garden, you are walling yourself off from audience, right? So your choice is I'm going to accept this amount of money from this company, but the loss is going to be a large chunk of my audience. And that's a catch 22 because you're negotiating power with that company based on your audience size. So signing up with them diminishes your audience size. You lose negotiating power. But when you get to the level of the Spotify to just pick them out, there's other players, but you brought up Spotify specifically, these are people who can potentially... Enhance your audience over time. And so the risk to you is lower because if you decide in a year or two, whatever the licensing agreements term is, that you're done with them and you want to leave, instead of how you would have been with some of these smaller walled gardens where you're walking away with a fraction of the audience you walked in with, you have the potential to walk out with whatever you got in the original deal plus a larger audience because their algorithms and everything are designed to push people to your content if they think you'd like. So it takes away some of the downside risk, which alleviates... And if you can write an agreement like Joe Rogan, where you've protected your freedom to put the content out the way you want. So if some of the downside risk is mitigated and if you eliminate the problem of trying to monetize and stay up with the latest tech, then it might be worth it. I'm scared of things like that, but at the same time, I'm trying to not be an idiot about it and I can be an idiot about it. And when you've been doing it as independently for as long as I have the inertia of that, has a force all its own. But I'm inhibited enough in what I'm trying to do on this other end that it's opened me at least to listening to people. But listen, at the same time, I love my audience and it sounds like a cliche, but they're literally the reason I'm here. So I want to make sure that whatever I do, if I can, is in keeping with a relationship that I've developed with these people over 15 years. But like you said, no matter what you do, you are good. Because see, here's the thing. If you don't sign up with one of those companies to make it easier for them to get your stuff on this hand, they might yell at you for how difficult it is because the new operating system just updated and you just, I can't get your stuff. So either way, you're opening yourself up to ridicule at this point. All of that makes it easier to go, well, if the right deal came along and weren't screwing me and they weren't screwing my audience and blah, blah. You know, I mean, again, in this business, when you're talking about cutting edge technology that is ever-changing and as you said, a million podcasts and growing, I think you have to try to maintain flexibility, especially if they can mitigate the downside risk. I think you'd be an idiot to not at least try to stay up on the current transit. Look, I'm watching Joe. I'm going, okay, let's see how it goes for Joe. I mean, if he's like, "Ah, this is terrible. I'm getting out of this." You go, "Okay, those people are off." So Joe's put himself out as a guinea pig and the rest of us, guinea pigs appreciate it. As a fan of your show and as a fan of Netflix, the people there, I think I can speak for millions of people in hope that the hardcore history comes to Netflix or if Spotify becomes the Netflix, the podcast, and then just Spotify. There's something at its best that they bring out the, you said, artists. So I can say it. If they bring out the best out of the artists, they remove some of the headache and somehow they put, at their best, Netflix, for example, is able to enforce and find the beauty and the power and the creations that you make even better than you. They don't interfere with the creations, but they somehow, it's a branding thing probably too. Yeah, the interfering would be that would be a no-go for me. That's right. Absolutely. That can't help. It's a lot of places under the box that could be thrown absolutely. So I would love, I know there's probably people screaming yes right now in terms of hardcore history on Netflix would be awesome. I don't love asking this question, but it's asked probably the most popular question. That's unanswerable. So let me try to ask it in a way that you would actually answer it, which is of course, you said you don't release shows very often.
Future episodes of Hardcore History podcast (03:00:02)
And the question is, or the question is, well, can you tell Dan to do one on the Civil Wars? Can you tell Dan to do one on the Pauline Bonaparte? Can you tell him to do one? Every topic, you spoke into this? Actually, your answer about the Civil War is quite interesting. I didn't know you knew what my answer, but the Civil War was. As a military historian, you enjoy in particular when there is differences in the armies as opposed to contrasts. With the Civil War, which blew my mind when I heard you say, there's not an interesting, a deep, intricate contrast between the two opposing sides. Like the Romans Civil War, where it's legionary against legionary. And you've also said that the shows you work on are ones where you have some roots of fundamental understanding about that period. And so when you work on a show, it's basically pulling at those strings further and refreshing your mind and learning what it's like. You've definitely done the research. Wow, these are words out of my mouth. You're right. But is there something like shower thoughts on Reddit? Is there some ideas that are lingering in your head about possible future episodes? Is there things that, whether you're not committing to anything but whether you're going to do it or not, is there something that makes you think, hmm, that would be interesting to pull at that thread a little bit? Oh, yeah. We have things we keep in our back pocket for later. So blueprint for Armageddon, the first World War series we did, that was in my back pocket the whole time. And when the centennial of the war happened, it just seemed to be the likely time to bring out what was- That was a hell of a series. That's probably one of my favorites here. You're my rear end, man. I have to text it. Psychologically, you mean- Well, just, you know, when you get to these, I think I'm guessing here, I think it's 26 hours, all pieces together. Think about, and we don't do scripts, it's improvised. So think about what 2020- I had somebody write on Twitter just yesterday saying, um, I'm quote, he said something like, I'm not seeing the dedication here. You're only getting 2.5 shows out of here. And I wanted to say, man, you have no idea what the only people who understand really are other history podcasts. And even they don't generally do 26 hour- You know, that was a 2-year endeavor. As I said, the first show we ever did was like 15 minutes. I could crank out one of those a month. But when you're doing, I mean, the last show we did on the fall of the Roman Republic was 5 and a half hours. That's a book, right? And it was part six or something. So I mean, you just do the math. And it felt like you were assigned to interrupt it. And on World War I, it felt like you were emotionally pulled in to it. Like it felt taxing. I was going to say, if that's a good thing though, because that, you know, and I think we said during the show, that was the feeling that the people at the time happen. I think in at one point, we said it, this is starting to seem gruesomely repetitive. Now you know how the people at the time felt. So in other words, that had in sort of inadvertently, because when you improvise a show, some of these things are inadvertent, but it inadvertently created the right climate for having a sense of empathy with the storyline. And to me, those are the serendipitous moments that make this art and not some sort of paint by the numbers kind of endeavor, you know? And that's to me, that wouldn't have happened had we scripted it out. So it's mostly, you just bring the tools of knowledge to the table and then in large part improvise, like the actual wording. I always say we make it like they made things like spinal tap and some of those other things where the material. So I do have notes about things like on page 427 of this book, you have this quote so that I know, ah-ha, I'm at the point where I can drop that in. And sometimes I'll write notes saying, here's where you left off yesterday. So I remember, but in the improvisation, you end up throwing a lot out. And so like, but it allows us to go off on tangents. Like we'll try things. And I'll sit there and go, I wonder what this would sound like. And I'll spend two days going down that road and then I'll listen to him go, mm-hmm, doesn't work. But that's, you know, like writers do this all the time. It's called killing your babies, right? You can't, you know, but people go, so this guy goes, I'm not seeing the dedication. He has no idea how many things were throwing out. I did an hour and a half, I had an hour and a half into the current show about two months ago. And I listened to it and I just went, you know what? It's not right. Boom, out the window. There goes six weeks of work. Yeah, right. But here's the problem. You trust your side to interrupt. You trust your judgment on that? No. No. But here's the thing. Our show is a little different than other people. Joe Rogan called it evergreen content. In other words, my political show is like a car you buy and the minute you drive it off the lot, it loses half its value, right? Because it's not current anymore. These shows are just as good or just as bad. Five years from now as they are when we do, although the standards on the internet change, so when I listen to my old shows, I cringe sometimes because the standards are so much higher now. But when you're creating evergreen content, you have two audiences to worry about. You have the audience that's waiting for the next show and they've already heard the other ones and they're impatient and they're telling you on Twitter, where is it? But you have show, the show is also for people five years from now who haven't discovered it yet and who don't care a wit for how long it took because they're going to be able to download the whole and all they care about is quality. And so what I always tell new podcasters is they always say, I read all these things. It's very important you have a release schedule. Well, it's not more important than putting out a good piece of work and the audience will forgive me if it takes too long, but it's really good when you get it. They will not forgive me if I rush it to get it out on time and it's a piece of crap. So for us, and this is why when you brought up a Spotify deal or anything else, they can't interfere with this at all because my job here as far as I'm concerned is quality and everything else goes by the wayside because the only thing people care about long term, the only thing that gives you longevity is how good is it? How good is that book? If you read JRR Tolkien's work tomorrow, you don't care how long it took him to write it. All you care is how good is this today? And that's what we try to think to. And I feel like if it's good, if it's really good, everything else falls into place and takes care of itself. Although sometimes to push back, sorry to interrupt is- Oh, I've done it to you a thousand times so you can get me back. Sometimes the deadline, you know, some of the greatest like movies and books have been music about like Dusty Yes, I forget which one knows from Underground or something. He needed the money so you had to write it real quick. Sometimes the deadline creates is powerful at taking a creative mind of an artist and just like slapping it around to force some of the good stuff out. Now the problem with history of course is there's different definitions of good that like it's not just about what you talk about, which is the storytelling, the richness of the storytelling. And I'm sure you're, you know, again, not to compliment you too much, but you're one of the great storytellers of our time that that I'm sure if you put in a jail cell and forced at a like somebody point a gun at you, you could tell one hell of a good story. You still need the facts of history or not necessarily the facts, but you know, like making sure you're painting the right full picture, not perfectly right. That's what I meant about the audience doesn't understand what a history podcast you can't just riff and be wrong. So let me let me both both oppose what you just said and back up what you just said. So I have a book that I wrote, right? And in a book you have a hard deadline, right? So Harper Collins had a hard deadline on that book. So when I released it, I was mad because I would have worked on it a lot longer, which is my style, right? Get it right. But we had a chapter in that book entitled Pandemic Prologue, question mark. And it was the book about the part about the Black Death and the 1918 flu and all that kind of stuff. And I was just doing an interview with a Spanish journalist this morning who said, did you ever think how lucky you got on that on that, you know, and first of all, lucky on a pandemic, it strikes you, but had I had my druthers, I would have kept that book working in my study for months more and the pandemic would have happened. And that episode that would have looked like a chapter I wrote after the fact. I would have had to rewrite the whole thing. It would have been. So that argues for what you said at the same time, I would have spent months more working on it because to me, it didn't look the way I wanted it to look yet, you know. Can you drop a hint of the things you're keeping on the shelves? Oh, the Alexander the Great. I've talked around it. I talked to somebody the other day, said, do you know that the very first word in your very first podcast in the title, the very first thing that anybody ever saw with hardcore history is the word Alexander because the show's entitled Alexander versus Hitler. I have talked around the career. I've done show after I talked about his mother in one episode. I talked about the funeral games after his death. I've talked around this. I've specifically left this giant Alexandrian sized hole in the middle because we're going to do that show one day and I'm going to lovingly enjoy talking about this crazily interesting figure of Alexander the Great. So that's one of the ones that's on the back pocket list. And what we try to do is whenever this we're doing Second World War in Asia and the Pacific now I'm on part five, whenever the heck we finish this, the tendency is to then pick a very different period because we've had it and the audience has had it. So I will eventually get to the Alexander saga. What about just one last kind of little part of this is what about the other half of that first 10 minute, 15 minute episode, which is so you've done quite a bit about the World War. You've done quite a bit about Germany. Will you ever think about doing Hitler the man? It's funny because I talked earlier about how I don't like to go back to the old shows because our standards have changed so much. Well, a long time ago, one of my standards for not getting five hour podcasts done or not getting too deeply into them was to flip around the interesting points. We didn't realize we were going to get an audience that wanted the actual history. We thought we could just go with, assume the audience knew the details and just talk about the weird stuff that only makes up one part of the show now. So we did a show called Nazi tidbits. It was just little things about it's totally out of date now. You can still buy them, but they're out of date. Where we dealt a little with it, it would be interesting. But I'll give you another example. History is not stagnant, as you know. We had talked about Stalin earlier. Ghost of the Osprom was done years ago and people were writing me from Russia now and say, well, your portrayal of Stalin is totally out of it's outdated because there's all this new stuff from the former Soviet Union. You turn around and you go, okay, they're right. When you talk about Hitler, it's very interesting to think about how I would do a Hitler show today versus how I did one 10 years ago. You would think, well, what's new? It happens a lot, but there's lots of new stuff and there's lots of new scholarship. I would think that would be an interesting one to do someday. I haven't thought about that. That's not in the back pocket. But yeah, that'd be interesting. I have a disproportionate amount of power because I trapped you somehow in a room and thereby-- You're a pandemic. You're a pandemic. So my hope will be stuck in your head. But after Alexander the Great, which would be an amazing podcast, I hope you do give a return to Hitler. The rise and fall of the Third Reich, which to me-- It's a contemporary book, basically. Yeah. Exactly. It's by a person who was there. Shire, yeah. I really loved that study of the man of Hitler. And I would love to hear your study of certain aspects of it. Perhaps even an episode that's more focused on a very particular period, I just feel like you can tell a story that-- It's funny. Hitler is one of the most studied people. And I still feel like all the stories or most of the stories haven't been told. Oh, and there's-- I've got three books at home. I'm on all the publishers lists now. And they just-- There's Young Hitler. There's this Hitler. There's that. I mean, I've been reading these books. And I've read about Hitler. I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. My mother thought I needed to go to a psychologist because I read it when I was six. And she said there's something wrong with the boy. And-- She was right. But she was absolutely right. But you would think that something like that is pretty established fact. And yet there's new stuff coming out all the time. And needless to say, Germany's been investigating this guy forever. And sometimes it takes years to get the translations. I took five years of German in school. I can't read any of it. So I mean, and he is. When you talk about fascinating figures, he's so-- the whole thing is so twistedly weird. There was a-- it came out a couple years ago. Somebody found a tape of him talking to-- I want to say it was General-- the Finnish General, Mannerheim, right? And he's just in a very normal conversation of the sort we're having now. And the Hitler taped when you hear him normally, he's ranting and waving. But this was a very sedate. And I wish I'd understood the German well enough to really get a feel because I was reading what German said and they say, wow, you can really hear the southern accent. Little things that only a native speaker would hear. And I remember thinking this is such a different side of this twisted character. And you would think you would always-- you would think that this was information that was out in the rise and fall to the third right there. But it wasn't. And so this goes along with that stuff about new stuff coming out all the time. Alexander, new stuff coming out all the time. Really? Well, at least interpretations rather than factual data. And those give depth to your understanding. Yes, and you want that because of the historiography. People love that. And that was a byproduct of my lack of credentials where we thought we're going to bring in the historians. We call them audio footnotes right away from me to say, listen, I'm not a historian, but I'll quote this guy who is so you can trust him. But then we would quote other people who had different views. And people didn't realize that if they're not history majors, that historians don't always agree on this stuff and that they have disagreements. And they loved that. So I love the fact that there's more stuff out there because it allows us to then bring in other points of view. And sort of maybe three dimensionalize or flesh out the story a little bit more.
Is Ben real? (03:15:04)
Two last questions. One really simple one, absurdly ridiculous and perhaps also simple. First, who has been in this e-reel? I didn't know what you're talking about. Very well. How's that for an answer? It's like asking me, is Harvey the white rabbit real? I don't know. There's carrots all around the production room, but I don't know what that means. Well, a lot of people demanded that I somehow figure out a way to prove the existence. If I said he was real, people would say no, he's not. If I said he was, if he wasn't real, they would say yes, he is. So it's a Santa Claus Easter Bunny kind of vibe there. Yeah. I mean, what is real anyway? That's exactly what I told him it exists.
Philosophy And Purpose Of Life
Meaning of life (03:15:48)
OK, the most absurd question, I'm very sorry, very sad, but then again, I'm not. What's the meaning of it all? We study history of human history. Have you been able to make sense of why the hell we're here on this spinning rock? Does any of it even make sense? What's the meaning of life? What I look at sometimes that I find interesting is certain consistencies that we have over time. History doesn't repeat, but it has a constant. And the constant is us. Now we change. I mentioned earlier the wickedly weird time we live in with what social media is doing to us as guinea pigs. And that's a new element, but we're still people who are motivated by love, hate, greed, envy, sex, all these things that would have connected us with the ancients, right? That's the part that always makes history sound like it rhymes. And when you put the constant, the human element, and you mix it with systems that are similar. So one of the reasons that the ancient Roman Republic is something that people point to all the time as something that seems like we're repeating history is because you have the two, you have humans, just like you had then, and you have a system that resembles the one we have here. So you throw the constant in with a system that is somewhat similar and you begin to see things that look like they rhyme a little. So for me, I'm always trying to figure out more about us. And when you show us in 500 years ago in Asia and 800 years ago in Africa, and you look at all these different places that you put the guinea pig in and you watch how the guinea pig responds to the different stimuli and challenges, I feel like it helps me flush out a little bit more who we are in the long timeline, not who we are today specifically, but who we've always been. It's a personal quest. It's not meant to educate anybody else. It's something that fascinates me. Do you think there's in that common humanity throughout history of the guinea pig, is there a why underneath it all? Or is it somehow like it feels like it's an experiment of some sort? Now you're into Elon Musk and I talked about this, the simulation thing, right? Nick Bostrom's. Sure. But there's some kid in where the equivalent of an alien's ant farm, you know? And we hope he doesn't throw it to Rancheli and just to see what happens. I think the wise elude us. And I think that what makes philosophy and religion and those sorts of things so interesting is that they grapple with the wise. But I'm not wise enough to propose a theory myself, but I'm interested enough to read all the other ones out there. So let's put it this way. I don't think there's any definitive why that's been agreed upon, but the various theories are fascinating. Yeah. Whatever it is, whoever the kid is that created this thing, the ant farm is kind of interesting. It's so far, a little bit twisted and perverted and sadistic, man. That's what makes it fun, I think. But then again, that's the Russian perspective. I was just going to say it is the Russian perspective. That's what makes the Russian history. Russian history, one day I'll do some Russian history. I took it to college. Oh, that's the ant farm, baby. That's an ant farm with a very, very frustrated young teenage alien kid. Dan, I can't say I've already complemented you way too much. I'm a huge fan. This has been an incredible conversation. It's a huge gift. Your gift of humanity, I hope you... Let me cut you off and just say you've done a wonderful job. This has been fun for me. The questions, and more importantly, the questions can come from anybody. The counter statements, your responses have been wonderful. You made this a very fun intellectual discussion for me. Thank you. Well, let me have the last word and say I agree with Elon. Despite the doomcaster say that I think we've concluded definitively and you don't get a chance to respond, that love is in fact the answer and the way forward. So thanks so much, Dan. Thank you for having me. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Dan Carlin. Thank you to our sponsors. Athletic Greens, the only one drink that I start every day with to cover all my nutritional bases. Simply safe, a home security company I use to monitor and protect my apartment. Magic Spoon, low carb keto friendly cereal that I think is delicious. And finally, Cash App, the app I use to send money to friends for food and drinks. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast. If you enjoyed this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review it with 5 stars and up a podcast, follow on Spotify, support on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter, Alex Friedman. And now let me leave you with some words from Dan Carlin. Wisdom requires a flexible mind. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.