The Exciting Journey of Podcasting: From Curiosity to Global Impact.
Yaron Brook: Ayn Rand and the Philosophy of Objectivism | Lex Fridman Podcast #138 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Yaron Brook: Ayn Rand and the Philosophy of Objectivism | Lex Fridman Podcast #138".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
The following is a conversation with Yaron Brook, one of the best known objectivist, philosophers and thinkers in the world. Objectivism is the philosophical system developed by Ayn Rand that she first expressed in her fiction books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and later in nonfiction essays and books. Yaron is the current chairman of the board at the Ayn Rand Institute, host of the Yaron Brook show, and the co-author of Free Market Revolution, Equal is Unfair, and several other books where he analyzes systems of government, human behavior, and the human condition from the perspective of objectivism. Quick mention of each sponsor, followed by some thoughts related to the episode. Blinkist, an app I use for reading through summaries of books. ExpressVPN, the VPN I've used for many years to protect my privacy on the internet, and CashApp, the app I use to send money to friends. 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 first read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead early in college, along with many other literary and philosophical works from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kant, Locke, Foucault, Wickenstein, and of course, all the great existentialists, from Kierkegaard to Camus. I always had an open mind, curious to learn and explore the ideas of thinkers throughout history, no matter how mundane or radical or even dangerous they were considered to be. Ayn Rand was, and I think still is, a divisive figure. Some people love her, some people dislike or even dismiss her. I prefer to look past what some may consider to be the flaws of the person and consider with an open mind the ideas she presents, and Yaron now describes and applies in his philosophical discussions. In general, I hope that you will be patient and understanding as I venture out across the space of ideas and the ever-widening Overton window, pulling at the thread of curiosity, sometimes saying stupid things, but always striving to understand how we can better build a better world together. If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review it with Five Stars and Up, a podcast, follow on Spotify, support it on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter at Lex Friedman. And now, here's my conversation with Yaron Brook.
Ayn Rand: Philosophy, Existentialism, And Works
Living a good life. (02:38)
Let me ask the biggest possible question first. - Sure. - What are the principles of a life well-lived? - I think it's to live with thought, that is to live a rational life, to think it through. I think so many people are, in a sense, zombies out there. They're alive, but they're not really alive 'cause their mind is not focused, their mind is not focused on what do I need to do in order to live a great life. So too many people just go through the motions of living rather than really embrace life. So I think the secret to living a great life is to take it seriously. And what it means to take it seriously is to use the one tool that makes us human, the one tool that provides us with all the values that we have, our mind, our reason, and to use it, apply it to living. People apply it to their work, they apply it to their math problems, to science, to programming. But imagine if they used that same energy, that same focus, that same concentration to actually living life and choosing values that they should pursue, that would change the world and it would change their lives. - Yeah, actually, I wear this silly suit and tie. It symbolizes to me always, it makes me feel like I'm taking the moment really seriously. - I think that's really, that's right. And each one of us has different ways to kind of condition our consciousness. I'm serious now and for you, it's a suit and tie. It's a conditioning of your consciousness to now I'm focused, now I'm at work, now I'm doing my thing. And I think that's terrific and I wish everybody took that. Look, I mean, it's a cliche, but we only live once. Every minute of your life, you're never gonna live again. This is really valuable. And when people, people don't have that deep respect for their own life, for their own time, for their own mind. And if they did, again, one could only imagine, look at how productive people are. Look at the amazing things they produce and they do in their work. And if they apply that to everything, wow. - So you kind of talk about reason.
Existentialist thought on experiencing life (05:00)
Where does the kind of existentialist idea of experience maybe, fully experiencing all the moments versus fully thinking through? Is there an interesting line to separate the two? Why such an emphasis on reason for life well lived versus just enjoy, like experience? - Well, because I think experience in a sense is the easy part. I'm not saying it's how we experience the life that we live. And yes, I'm all with the take time to value what you value. But I don't think that's the problem of people out there. I don't think the problem is they're not taking time to appreciate where they are and what they do. I think it's that they don't use their mind in this one respect in planning their life, in thinking about how to live. So the focus is on reason is because it's our only source of knowledge, there's no other source of knowledge.
Reasoning is Springs reasoning (05:57)
We don't know anything that does not come from our senses in our mind, the integration of the evidence of our senses. Now we know stuff about ourselves and I think it's important to know oneself through introspection. And I consider that part of reasoning is to introspect. But I think reason is undervalued, which is funny to say, because it's our means of survival. It's how human beings survive. We cannot, see this is why I disagree with so many scientists and people like Sam Harris, you mentioned Sam Harris before the show. We're not programmed to know how to hunt. We're not programmed to do agriculture. We're not programmed to build computers and build networks on which we can podcast and do our shows. All of that requires effort. It requires focus, it requires energy and it requires will. It requires somebody to will it. It requires somebody to choose it. And once you make that choice, you have to engage. That choice means that you're choosing to engage your reason in discovery, in integration, and then in work to change the world in which we live. And human beings have to discover, figure out, solve the problem of hunting. Hunting, everybody thinks, oh, that's easy. I've seen the movie. But human beings had to figure out how to do it. You can't run down a bison and bite into it. You're not gonna catch it. You're not gonna, you have no fangs to bite into it. You have to build weapons. You have to build tools. You have to create traps. You have to have a strategy. All of that requires reason. So the most important thing that allows human beings to survive and to thrive in every value from the most simple to the most sophisticated, from the most material to, I believe, the most spiritual, requires thinking. So stopping and appreciating the moment is something that I think is relatively easy once you have a plan, once you've thought it through, once you know what your values are. There is a mistake people make. They attain their values and they just, they don't take a moment to savor that and to appreciate that and to even pat themselves on the back that they did it, right? But that's not what's screwing up the world. What's screwing up the world is that people have the wrong values and they don't think about them and they don't really focus on them and they don't have a plan for their own life and how to live it. - If we look at human nature, you're saying the fundamental big thing that we need to consider is our capacity, like a capability to reason.
The Human Choice to Think (08:42)
- To me, reason is this massive evolutionary achievement, right, in quotes, right? If you think about any other sophisticated animal, everything has to be coded. Everything has to be written in the hard way. It has to be there. And they have to have a solution for every outcome and if there's no solution, the animal dies, typically, or the animal suffers in some way. Human beings have this capacity to self-program. They have this capacity. It's not a tableau rasa in the sense that there's nothing there. Obviously, we have a nature. Obviously, our minds, our brains are structured in a particular way. But given that, we have the ability to turn it on or turn it off. We have the ability to commit suicide, to reject our nature, to work against our interests, not to use the tool that evolution has provided us with, which is this mind, which is reason. So that choice, that fundamental choice, Hamlet says it, right, to be or not to be. But to be or not to be is to think or not to think, to engage or not to engage, to focus or not to focus. You know, in the morning when you get up, you're not really completely there. You're kind of out of focus and stuff. It requires an act of will to say, okay, I'm awake. I've got stuff to do. Some people never do that. Some people live in that haze, and they never engage that mind. And when you're sitting and try to solve a complex computer problem or a math problem, you have to turn something on. You have to, in a sense, exert certain energy to focus on the problem to do it. And that is not determined in a sense that you have to focus. You choose to focus, and you could choose not to focus. - And that choice is more powerful than any other like parts of our brain that we've borrowed from fish and from our evolutionary origins. Like this, whatever this crazy little leap in evolution is that allowed us to think is more important than anything else. - So I think newer scientists pretend they know a lot more about the brain than they really do. - Yeah. Shots fired. I agree with you. - And we don't know that much yet about how the brain functions and what's efficient, you know, all this stuff. So I think what exists there is a lot of potentialities. But the beauty of the human brain is it's potentialities that we have to manifest through our choices. It's there, it's sitting there, and yes, there's certain things that can evoke certain senses, certain feelings. I'm not even saying emotions, 'cause I think emotions are too complex to have been programmed into our mind. But I don't think, so, you know, there's this big issue of evolutionary psychology is huge right now, and it's a big issue. You know, I find it, to a large extent, as way too early in storytelling, ex-post storytelling about stuff. We still don't, you know, so for example, I would like to see evolutionary psychology differentiate between things like inclinations, feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts, concepts, ideas. What of those are programmed, and what of those are developed and chosen and a product of reason? I think anything from emotion to abstract ideas is all chosen, is all a product of reason. And everything before that, we might've been programmed for. But the fact is, so clearly a sensation is not a product of, you know, is something that we feel, because that's how our biology works. So until we have these categories, and until we can clearly specify what is what, and where do they come from, the whole discussion in evolutionary psychology seems to be rambling. It doesn't seem to be scientific. So we have to define our terms, you know, which is the basis of science. You have to have some clear definitions about what we're talking about. It's, when you ask them these questions, there's never really a coherent answer about what is it exactly. And everybody is afraid of the issue of free will. And I think to some extent, I mean, Harris has this, and I don't want to misrepresent anything Harris has, 'cause I, you know, I'm a fan and I like a lot of his stuff, right? But on the one hand, he is obviously intellectually active and wants to change our minds. So he believes that we have some capacity to choose. On the other hand, he's undermining that capacity to choose by saying it's just determined, so you're gonna choose what you choose. You have no say in it. There's actually no you. So it's, you know, so the, and that's to me completely unscientific. That's completely him, you know, pulling it out of nowhere. We all experience the fact that we have an eye. - That kind of certainty saying that we do not have that fundamental choice that reason provides is unfounded currently. - Look, there's a sense in which it can never be contradicted because it's a product of your experience. It's not a product of your experience. You can experience it directly. So no science will ever prove that this table isn't here. I can see it, it's here, right? I can feel it. I know I have free will 'cause I can introspect it in a sense I can see it. I can see myself engaging it. And that is as valid as the evidence of my senses. Now I can't point at it so that you can see the same thing I'm seeing, but you can do the same thing in your own consciousness and you can identify the same thing. And to deny that in the name of science is to get things upside down. You start with that and that's the beginning of science. The beginning of science is the identification that I choose and that I can reason and now I need to figure out the mechanism, the rules of reasoning, the rules of logic, how does this work and that's where science comes from. - Of course it's possible that science, like from my place of AI, would be able to, if we were able to engineer consciousness or understand, I mean it's very difficult 'cause we're so far away from it now, but understand how the actual mechanism of that consciousness emerges, then in fact this table is not real, that we can determine that it, exactly how our mind constructs the reality that we perceive, then you can start to make interesting. - But our mind doesn't construct the reality that we perceive.
The Existence of Reality and Perception (15:51)
The reality we perceive is there. We perceive a reality that exists. Now we perceive it in particular ways given the nature of our senses. A bat perceives this table differently, but it's still the same table with the same characteristics and the same identity. It's just a matter of we use eyes, they use a radar system, they use sound waves to perceive it, but it's still there. Existence exists whether we exist or not. And so you could create, I mean I don't know how and I don't know if it's possible, but let's say you could create a consciousness. And I suspect that to do that you would have to use biology, not just electronics, but way outside my expertise. Because consciousness, as far as we know, is a phenomenon of life and you would have to figure out how to create life before you created consciousness, I think. But if you did that, then that wouldn't change anything. All it would say is we have another conscious being, cool. That's great, but it wouldn't change the nature of our consciousness. Our consciousness is what it is. But-- - Respect.
Is there more to reality than our mind can conceive? (17:01)
- So that's very interesting. I think this is a good way to set the table for discussion of objectivism is, let me at least challenge a thought experiment, which is, I don't know if you're familiar with Donald Hoffman's work about reality. So his idea is that we're just, our perception is just an interface to reality. - So Donald Hoffman is the guy you see online? - Yeah. - Yes, I've met Donald and I've seen his video. And look, Donald has not invented anything new. This goes back to ancient philosophy. - Let me just state in case people aren't familiar, I mean, it's a fascinating thought experiment to me, like of out of the box thinking, perhaps literally, is that there's a different, there's a gap between the world as we perceive it and the world as it actually exists. And I think that's, for the philosophy, objectivism is a really important gap to close. So can you maybe at least try to entertain the idea that there is more to reality than our minds can perceive? - Well, I don't understand what more means, right? Of course there's more to reality than what our senses perceive. That is, for example, I don't know, certain elements have radiation, right? Uranium has radiation. I can't perceive radiation. The beauty of human reason is I can, through experimentation, discover the phenomena of radiation, then actually measure radiation, and I don't worry about it. I can't perceive the world the way a bat perceives the world, and I might not be able to see certain things. But I can, we've created radar. So A, we understand how a bat perceives the world, and I can mimic it through a radar screen and create an images like the bat, its consciousness somehow perceives it, right? So the beauty of human reason is our capacity to understand the world beyond what our senses give us directly. At the end, everything comes in through our senses, but we can understand things that our senses don't provide us. But what he's doing is he's doing something very different. He is saying what our senses provides us might have nothing to do with the reality out there. That is just a random, arbitrary, nonsensical statement. And he actually has a whole evolutionary explanation for it. He runs some simulations. The simulations seem, I mean, I'm not an expert in this field, but they seem silly to me. They don't seem to reflect. And look, all he's doing is taking Immanuel Kant's philosophy which articulate exactly the same cause, and he's giving it a veneer of evolutionary ideas. I'm not an expert on evolution, and I'm a non-expert on epistemology, which is what this is. So to me, as a semi-layman, it doesn't make any sense. And I'm actually, I have this Yaron Book Show. I don't know if I'm allowed to pitch it, but I've got this Yaron Book Show on. - First of all, let me pause. - On YouTube. - I'm a huge fan of the Yaron Book Show. I listen to it very often. As a small aside, the cool thing about reason, which you practice, is you have a systematic way of thinking through basically anything. - Yes. - And that's so fun to listen to. I mean, it's rare that I think there's flaws in your logic, but even then, it's fun, 'cause I'm disagreeing with the screen when I'm-- - And it's great when somebody disagrees with me, and they give good arguments, because that makes it challenging. - Anyway, sorry. - You know, so one of the shows I wanna do in the next few weeks is one of my philosophies, bring one of my philosopher friends to discuss the video that Hoffman, where he presents his theory, because it surprises me how seductive it is, and it seems to be so, first of all, completely counterintuitive, but because somehow we managed to cross the road and not get hit by the car, and if our senses do not provide us any information about what's actually going on in reality, how do we do that? And not to mention build computers, not to mention fly to the moon, and actually land on the moon, and if reality's not giving us information about the moon, if our senses are not giving us information about the moon, how did we get there? You know, and where did we go? Maybe we didn't go anyway. It's just, it's nonsensical to me, and it's a very bad place philosophically, because it basically says there is no objective standard for anything, there is no objective reality. You can come up with anything, you could argue anything, and there's no methodology, right? I believe that at the end of the day, what reason allows us to do is provides us with a methodology for truth, and at the end of the day, for every claim that I make, I should be able to boil it down to C. - Yeah. - Look, the evidence of the senses is right there, and once you take that away, knowledge is gone, and truth is gone, and that opens it up to complete disaster. - So, you know, to me, why it's compelling to at least entertain this idea, first of all, it shakes up the mind a little bit, to force you to go back to first principles, and ask the question, what do I really know? And the second part of that that I really enjoy is it's a reminder that we know very little, to be a little bit more humble. So if reality doesn't exist at all, before you start thinking about it, I think it's a really nice wake-up call to think, wait a minute, I don't really know much about this universe, that humbleness. I think something I'd like to ask you about, in terms of reason, when you, you can become very confident in your ability to understand the world if you practice reason often, and I feel like it can lead you astray, because you can start to think, so I love psychology, and psychologists have this certainty about understanding the human condition, which is undeserved.
When reason goes wrong (22:51)
You know, you run a study with 50 people, and you think you can understand the source of all these psychiatric disorders, all these kinds of things. That's similar kind of trouble I feel like you can get into when you overreach with reason. - So I don't think there is such a thing as overreaching with reason, but there are bad applications of reason. There are bad uses of reason, or the pretense of using reason. I think a lot of these psychological studies are pretense of using reason, and these psychologists have never really taken a serious stat class or a serious econometrics class, so they use statistics in weird ways that just don't make any sense, and that's not reason, right? That's just bad thinking, right? So I don't think you can do too much good thinking, and that's what reason is. It's good thinking. Now, the fact that you try to use reason does not guarantee you won't make mistakes. It doesn't guarantee you won't be wrong. It doesn't guarantee you won't go down a rabbit hole and completely get it wrong, but it does give you the only existing mechanism to fix it, which is going back to reality, going back to facts, going back to reason, and getting out of the rabbit hole and getting back to reality. So I agree with you that it's interesting to think about these, what I consider crazy ideas, because it, oh wait, what is my argument about them? If I don't really have a good argument about them, then do I know what I know? So in that sense, it's always nice to be challenged and pushed and oriented. The nice thing about objectivism is everybody's doing that to me all the time, right? Because nobody agrees with me on anything, so I'm constantly being challenged, whether it's by Hoffman on metaphysics and epistemology, on the very foundations of analogy and ethics, everybody constantly, and in politics all the time. So I find that it's part of, I prefer that everybody, there's a sense in which I prefer that everybody agreed with me, because I think we'd live in a better world, but there's a sense in which that disagreement makes it, at least up to a point, makes it interesting and challenging and forces you to be able to rethink or to confirm your own thinking and to challenge that thinking. - Can you try to do the impossible task and give a whirlwind introduction to Ayn Rand, the many sides of Ayn Rand, so Ayn Rand the human being, Ayn Rand the novelist, and Ayn Rand the philosopher?
Who was Ayn Rand? (25:39)
So who was Ayn Rand? - Sure, so her life story is one that I think is fascinating, but it also lends itself to this integration of all of these things. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905 to kind of a middle-class family, Jewish family. They owned a pharmacy. Her father owned a pharmacy. And she grew up, she knew what she wanted to do and what she wanted to be from a very young age. I think from the age of nine, she knew she wanted to be a writer. She wanted to write stories. That was the thing she wanted to do. And she focused her life after that on this goal of I want to be a novelist, I want to write. And the philosophy was incidental to that in a sense, at least until some point in her life. She witnessed the Russian Revolution, literally it happened outside. They lived in St. Petersburg where the first kind of demonstrations of the revolution happened. So she witnessed it. She lived through it as a teenager, went to school under the Soviets. For a while, they were under kind of the Black Sea where the opposition government was ruling, and then they would go back and forth between the communism and the whites. But she experienced what communism was like. She saw the pharmacy being taken away from her family. She saw their apartment being taken away or other families being brought into the apartment they already lived in. And it was very clear given her nature, given her views even at a very young age, that she would not survive the system. So a lot of effort was put into how do we get, how does she get out? And her family was really helpful in this. And she had a cousin in Chicago, and she had been studying kind of film at the university. - This is in her 20s? - This is in her 20s, early 20s. And Lenin, there was a small window where Lenin was allowing some people to leave under certain circumstances. And she managed to get out to go do research on film in the United States. Everybody knew, everybody who knew her knew she would never come back, that this was a one-way ticket. And she got out. She made it to Chicago, spent a few weeks in Chicago, and then headed to Hollywood. She wanted to write scripts. That was the goal. Here's this short woman from Russia with a strong accent, learning English, showing up in Hollywood, and I want to be a scriptwriter. - In English. - In English, writing in English. And this is kind of one of these fairy tale stories, but it's true. She shows up at the Cecil B. DeMille Studios, and she has a letter of introduction from her cousin in Chicago who owns a movie theater. And this is in the late 1920s. And she shows up there with this letter, and they say, "Don't call us, we'll call you," kind of thing. And she steps out, and there's this massive convertible. And in the convertible is Cecil B. DeMille, and he's driving slowly past her right at the entrance of the studio. And she stares at him, and he stops the car, and he says, "Why are you staring at me?" And she tells him a story, "I'm from Russia, "and I want to make it in the movies. "I want to be a scriptwriter one day." And he says, "Well, if you want that, get in the car." She gets in the car, and he takes her to the back lot of his studio where they're filming The King of Kings, The Story of Jesus. And he says, "Here's a pass for a week. "If you want to write for the movies, "you better know how movies are made." And she basically spends a week, and then she spends more time there. She manages to get some extensions. She ends up being an extra in the movies, so you can see Einbrand there. He's one of the masses when Jesus is walking by. She meets her future husband on the set of The King of Kings. She ends up getting married, getting her American citizenship that way. And she ends up doing odds and ends jobs in Hollywood, living in a tiny little apartment. Somehow making a living. Her husband was an actor. He was struggling actors, difficult times. And in the evenings, studying English, writing, writing, writing, writing, and studying and studying and studying. And she finally makes it by writing a play that is successful in L.A. and ultimately goes to Broadway. And she writes, her first novel is a novel called We the Living, which is the most autobiographical of all her novels. It's about a young woman in the Soviet Union. It's a powerful story, a very moving story, and probably, if not the best, one of the best portrayals of life under communism. - So you would recommend the book? - Definitely recommend We the Living. It's her first novel.
Animal Farm (31:09)
She wrote in the '30s. And it didn't go anywhere. Because if you think about the intelligentsia, the people who matter, the people who wrote book reviews. This is a time of Durante, who's the New York Times guy in Moscow, who's praising Stalin to the hills and the success. So the novel fails, but she's got her novel out. She writes a small novelette called Anthem. A lot of people have read that, and it's read in high schools. It's kind of a dystopian novel. And it doesn't get published in the U.S. It gets published in the UK. UK is very interested in dystopian novels. Animal Farm in 1984. '84 is published a couple of years after, I think, after Anthem. There's reason to believe he read Anthem. - And George Orwell read for Animal Farm. Just the small side, Animal Farm is probably top. I mean, it's weird to say, but I would say it's my favorite book. - Have you seen this movie out now called Mr. Jones? - No. - Oh, you've got to see Mr. Jones. - What's Mr. Jones? - It's a-- - Sorry for my ignorance. - No, no, it's a movie, it hasn't got any publicity, which is tragic 'cause it's a really good movie. It's both brilliantly made. It's made by a Polish director, but it's in English. It's a true story, and George Orwell's Animal Farm is featured in it in the sense that during the story, George Orwell was writing Animal Farm, and the narrator is reading off sections of Animal Farm as the movie is progressing. And the movie is a true story about the first Western journalist to discover and to write about the famine in Ukraine. And so he goes to Moscow, and then he gets on a train, and he finds himself in Ukraine, and it's beautifully and horrifically made. So the horror of the famine is brilliantly conveyed. And it's a true story, it's a very moving story, very powerful story, and just very well-made movie. So it's tragic in my view that not more people are seeing it. - I was actually recently just complaining that there's not enough content on the famine in the '30s of stuff. There's so much on Hitler. I love the reading, I'm reading, it's so long, it's been taking me forever, the rise and falls of Third Reich, yeah, I love it. - Well, I've got the book to complement that that you have to read. It's called The Ominous Parallels. It's Leonard Peikoff, and it's The Ominous Parallels, and it's about the causes of the rise of Hitler, but are philosophical causes. So whereas the rise and fall is more of a kind of the existential kind of what happened, but really delving into the intellectual currents that led to the rise of Hitler. - And maybe-- - Highly recommend that. - And basically suggesting how it might rise another-- - That's The Ominous Parallels. So the parallel he draws is to the United States, and he says those same intellectual forces are rising in the United States. And this was published, I think, in '82, it was published in '82. So it was published a long time ago, and yet you look around us, and it's unbelievably predictive, sadly, about the state of the world. So I haven't finished Iron Man's story. I don't know if you want me to-- - No, no, no, but on that point, I'll have to, let's please return to it, but let's now, for now, let's talk-- - Let me also say, just because I don't want to forget about Mr. Jones, it is true, the point you made, there are tons of movies that are anti-fascist, anti-Nazi, and that's good, but there are way too few movies that are anti-communist, just almost not. And it's very interesting, and if you remind me later, I'll tell you a story about that.
The Fountainhead (34:47)
But so she publishes Anthem, and then she starts, and she's doing okay in Hollywood, and she's doing okay with the play, and then she starts on the book The Fountainhead, and she writes The Fountainhead, and it comes out, she finishes it in 1945, and she sends it to publishers, and publisher after publisher after publisher turn it down. And it takes 12 publishers before this editor reads it and says, "I want to publish this book." And he basically tells his bosses, "If you don't publish this book, I'm leaving." And they don't really believe in the book, so they publish just a few copies, they don't do a mat, and the book becomes a bestseller from word of mouth, and they end up having to publish more and more and more. And she's basically gone from this immigrant who comes here with very little command of English and to all kinds of odds and ends jobs in Hollywood, to writing one of the seminal, I think, American books. She is an American author. I mean, if you read The Fountainhead, it's not Russian. This is not Dostoevsky. - It feels like a symbol of what America is in the 20th century. And I mean, probably, maybe you can, so there's a famous kind of sexual rape scene in there. Is that like a lesson you want to throw in some controversial stuff to make your philosophical books work out? I mean, is that, why was it so popular? Do you have a sense? - Well, because I think it illustrated, first of all, 'cause I think the characters are fantastic. It's got a real hero. And I think the whole book is basically illustrating this massive conflict that I think went on in America then, is going on today, and it goes on in a big scale, politics, all the way down to the scale of the choices you make in your life. And the issue is individualism versus collectivism. Should you live for yourself? Should you live for your values? Should you pursue your passions? Or should you do what your mother tells you? Should you follow your mother's passions? And that's, and it's very, very much a book about individuals and people relate to that. But it obviously has this massive implications to the world outside. And at the time of collectivism, just having been defeated, well, fascism, and the United States representing individualism has defeated collectivism. But where collectivist ideas are still popular in the form of socialism and communism, and for the individual, there's constant struggle between what people tell me to do, what society tells me to do, what my mother tells me to do, and what I think I should do. I think it's unbelievably appealing, particularly to young people who are trying to figure out what they want to do in life, trying to figure out what's important in life. It had this enormous appeal. It's romantic, it's bigger than life. The characters are big heroes. It's very American in that sense. It's about individualism. It's about the triumph of individualism. And so I think that's what related. And it had this big romantic element from the, I mean, when I use romantic, I use it kind of in the sense of a movement in art. But it also has this romantic element in the sense of a relationship between a man and a woman who's, that's very intriguing. It's not only that there's a, I would say, almost rape scene, right?
The philosophy still being on seeds. (38:55)
I would say, but it's also that this woman is hard to understand. I mean, I've read it more than once and I still can't quite figure out Dominique, right? Because she loves him and she wants to destroy him and she marries other people. I mean, think about that too. Here she's writing a book in the 1940s. There's lots of sex. There's a woman who marries more than one person, having sex with more than one person, very unconventional. She's having married, she's having sex with work even though she's not married to work. This is 1945. And it's very jarring to people. It's very unexpected, but it's also a book of its time. It's about individuals pursuing their passion, pursuing their life and not caring about convention and what people think, but doing what they think is right. And so I think it's, I encourage everybody to read this, obviously. - So was that the first time she articulated something that sounded like a philosophy of individualism? - I mean, the philosophy's there in "We the Living," right? Because at the end of the day, the woman is, the hero of "We the Living" is this individualist stuck in Soviet Union, so she's struggling with these things. So the theme is there already. It's not as fleshed out. It's not as articulated philosophically. And it's certainly the an anthem, which is a dystopian novel where this dystopia in the future has, there's no I. Everything is we. And it's about one guy who breaks out of that. I don't wanna give it away, but breaks out of that. So these themes are running, and then we have, and they've been published, some of the early Ayn Rand stories that she was writing in preparation for writing her novel, stories she was writing when she first came to America. And you can see these same philosophical elements, even in the male-female relationships and the compassion and the, in the conflict, you see them even in those early pieces. And she's just developing them. It's the same philosophically. She's developing her philosophy with her literature.
Her most influential work. (41:17)
And of course, after "The Fountainhead," she starts on what turns out to be her magnus opus, which is Atlas Shrugged, which takes her 12 years to publish by the time, of course, she brings that out. Every publisher in New York wants to publish it because "The Fountainhead" has been such a huge success. They don't quite understand it. They don't know what to do with Atlas Shrugged, but they're eager to get it out there. And indeed it, when it's published, it becomes an instant bestseller. And the thing about the, particularly "The Fountainhead" and Atlas Shrugged, but true of even "Anthem" and "We the Living," she is one of the only dead authors that sell more after they've died than when they were still alive. Now, you know, that's true, maybe music. We listen to more Beethoven than when he was alive, but it's not true typically of novelists. And yet here we are, you know, what is it, 50, you know, 60 years after, 63 years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, and it sells probably more today than it sold when it was a bestseller when it first came out. - Is it true that it's like one of the most sold books in history? - No. - Okay, I've heard this kind of statement. - Tom Clancy book comes out, sells more than Atlas Shrugged. - But I've heard statements like this. - So there was a very, and I shouldn't say this, but it's the truth, so I'll say it, a very unscientific study done by the Smithsonian Institute, probably in the early 90s, that basically surveyed CEOs and asked them, what was the most influential book on you? And Atlas Shrugged came out as number two, the second most influential book on CEOs in the country. But there's so many flaws in the study. One, you want to guess what the number one book? - Bible? - The Bible. But the Bible was like, you know, so maybe they surveyed 100 people. I don't know what the exact numbers were, but let's say it's 100 people and 60 said the Bible and 10 said Atlas Shrugged and there were a bunch of books over there. So, you know, I don't-- - That's again the psychology discussion, what we're having right now. - Exactly, well, and it's one thing I've learned and maybe COVID has taught me and nobody, you know, there are very few people who know how to do statistics and almost nobody knows how to think probabilistically, that is think in terms of probabilities, that it is a skill, it's a hard skill and everybody thinks they know it. So I see doctors thinking they're statisticians and giving whole analyses of the data on COVID and they don't have a clue what they're talking about, not because they're not good doctors, but because they're not good statisticians. It's not, you know, people think that they have one skill and therefore it translates immediately into another skill and it's just not true. So I've been astounded at how bad people are at that.
Diverse Opinions On Ayn Rand & Her Influence
What books would you recommend to somebody who has never heard of Ayn Rand? (43:57)
- For people who haven't read any of the books that we were just discussing, what would you recommend, what book would you recommend they read and maybe also just elaborate what mindset should they enter the reading of that book with? - So I would recommend everybody read Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And in one-- - In that order? - So it would depend on where you are in life, right? So it depends on who you are and what you are. So Fountainhead is a more personal story. For many people, it's their favorite and for many people, it was their first book and they wouldn't replace that, right? Atlas Shrugged is about the world. It's about what impacts the world, how the world functions, how it's a bigger book in the sense of the scope. If you're interested in politics and you're interested in the world, read Atlas Shrugged first. If you're mainly focused on your life, your career, what you wanna do with yourself, start with Fountainhead. I still think you should read both because I think they are, I mean, to me, they were life-altering and to many, many people, they're life-altering and you should go into reading them with an open mind, I'd say, and with a, put aside everything you've heard about Ayn Rand, put aside any, even if it's true, just put it aside. Even what I just said about Ayn Rand, put it aside. Just read the book as a book and let it move you and let your thoughts, let it shape how you think and it'll have, you know, it either have, you'll either have a response to it or you won't but I think most people have a very strong response to it and then the question is, do they, are they willing to respond to the philosophy? Are they willing to integrate the philosophy?
Why do so many people hate Ayn Rand? (45:46)
Are they willing to think through the philosophy or not? Because I know a lot of people who completely disagree with their philosophy, right? Here in Hollywood, right? Lots of people here in Hollywood love the Fountainhead. - Interesting. - Oliver Stone, who is, I think, a avowed Marxist, right? I think he's, I think he's admitted to being a Marxist. He is, his movies certainly reflect the Marxist theme. He is a huge fan of the Fountainhead and is actually, his dream project, he has said in public, his dream project is to make Fountainhead. Now, he would completely change it as movie directors do and he's actually outlined what his script would look like and it would be a disaster for the ideas of the Fountainhead but he loves the story because to him, the story is about autistic integrity. And that's what he catches on and what he hates about the story is the individualism and I think that his movie ends with Howard Walk joining some kind of commune of architects that do it for the love and don't do it for the money. - Interesting. But so yeah, so he can connect with you without the philosophy. And before we get into the philosophy, staying on Ayn Rand, I'll tell you sort of my own personal experience and I think it's one that people share. I've experienced this with two people, Ayn Rand and Nietzsche. When I brought up Ayn Rand when I was in my early 20s, the number of eye rolls I got from sort of, advisors and so on, of dismissal. I've seen that later in life about more specific concepts in artificial intelligence and technical where people decide that this is a set of ideas that are acceptable and these sets of ideas are not and they dismissed Ayn Rand without giving me any justification of why they dismissed her except oh, that's something you're into when you're 19 or 20. Same thing people say about Nietzsche. Well, that's just something you do when you're in college and you take an intro to philosophy course. I've never really heard anybody cleanly articulate their opposition to Ayn Rand in my own private little circles and so on. Maybe one question I just want to ask is why is there such a opposition to Ayn Rand and maybe another way to ask the same thing is what's misunderstood about Ayn Rand? - So we haven't talked about the philosophy so it's harder to answer right now. - We can return to it if you think that's the right way to go. - Well, let me give a broad answer and then we'll do philosophy and then we'll return to it 'cause I think it's important to know something about her ideas. I think her philosophy challenges everything. It really does, it shakes up the world. It challenges so many of our preconceptions. It challenges so many of the things that people take for granted as truth. From religion to morality to politics to almost everything. There's never quite been a thinker like her in the sense of really challenging everything and doing it systematically and having a complete philosophy that is a challenge to everything that has come before her. Now I'm not saying they aren't threads that connect, they are, right? In politics there might be a thread and in morality there might be a thread. But on everything there's just never been like it and people are afraid of that because it challenges them to the core. She's basically telling you to rethink almost everything. And that is that people reject. The other thing that it does, and this goes to this point about, oh yeah, that's what you do when you're 14, 15, right? - Yeah. - She points out to them that they've lost something. They've lost their idealism. They've lost their youthful idealism. What makes youthfulness meaningful? Other than we're in better physical shape, starting to feel 'cause I'm getting older. When we're young, sometime in the teen years, there's something that happens to human consciousness. We almost awaken anew, right? We suddenly discover that we can think for ourselves. We suddenly discover that not everything our parents and our teachers tell us is true. We suddenly discover that this tool, our minds, is suddenly available to us to discover the world and to discover truth. And it is a time of idealism. It's a time of, whoa, I want the better teenagers. I want to know about the world. I want to go out there. I don't believe my parents. I don't believe my teachers. And this is healthy. This is fantastic. And I want to go out there and experiment. And that gets us into trouble, right? We do stupid things when we're teenagers. Why? 'Cause we're experimenting. It's the experiential part of it, right? We want to go and experience life. But we're learning. It's part of the learning process. And we become risk takers because we want to experience. But the risk is something we need to learn 'cause we need to learn where the boundaries are. And one of the damages that helicopter parents do is they prevent us from taking those risks so we don't learn about the world and we don't learn about where the boundaries are. So the teenage years are these years of wonder. They're depressing when you're in them for a variety of reasons, which I think primarily have to do with the culture, but also with oneself. But they are exciting, the periods of discovery. And people get excited about ideas. And good ideas, bad ideas, all kinds of ideas. And then what happens? We settle.
Passion and indulgence of the great questions versus compromise through later years (51:51)
We compromise. Whether that happens in college where we're taught that nothing exists and nothing matters and start being nihilist, be a cynic, be whatever. Or whether it happens when we get married and get a job and have kids and are too busy and can't think about our ideals and forget and can just get into the norm of conventional life. Or whether it's because our mother pesters us to get married and have kids and do all the things that she wanted us to do. We give up on those ideals. And there's a sense in which Ayn Rand reminds them that they gave up. - That's so beautifully put and so true. It's worth pausing on that this dismissal. People forget the beauty of that curiosity. That's true in the scientific field too. That youthful joy of everything is possible and we can understand it with the tools of our mind. - Yes, and that's what it's all about. That's what Ayn Rand's ideas at the end of the day all bow down to is that confidence and that passion and that curiosity and that interest. And if you think about what academia does to so many of us, right? We go into academia and we're excited about it. We're gonna learn stuff. We're gonna discover things. And then they stick you into sub-subfield and examining some minutia that's insignificant and unimportant. And to get published, you have to be conventional. You have to do what everybody else does. And then there's the tenure process of seven years where they put you through this torture to write papers that fit into a certain mold. And by the time you're done, you're in your mid-30s and you've done nothing, you discovered nothing. You're all in this minutia in this stuff and it's destructive. And where's holding onto that passion, holding onto that knowledge and that confidence is hard. And when people do away with it, they become cynical and they become part of the system and they inflict the same pain on the next guy that they suffered because that's part of how it works. - Yeah, this happens in artificial intelligence. This happens when a young person shows up and with fire in their eyes and they say, I wanna understand the nature of intelligence. And everybody rolls their eyes. Well, for these same reasons, because they've spent so many years on the very specific set of questions that they compete over and they write papers over and they have conferences about. And it's true, that incremental research is the way you make progress, answering the question of what is intelligence is exceptionally difficult. But when you mock it, you actually destroy the realities. When we look, like centuries from now, we'll look back at this time for this particular field of artificial intelligence, it will be the people who will be remembered, will be the people who've asked the question and made it their life journey of what is intelligence and actually had the chance to succeed, most will fail asking that question, but the ones that had a chance of succeeding and had that throughout their whole life. And I suppose the same is true for philosophy. - It's in every field. It's asking the big questions and staying curious and staying passionate and staying excited and accepting failure, right? Accepting that you're not gonna get it first time. You're not gonna get the whole thing. But, and sometimes you have to do the minutia work. And I'm not here to say nobody should specialize and you shouldn't do the minutia. You have to do that. But there has to be a way to do that work and keep the passion and keep it all integrated. That's another thing. I mean, we don't live in a culture that integrates, right? We live in a culture that is all about this minutia and not, and medicine is another field where you specialize in the kidney. I mean, the kidney's connected to other things.
Fields of expertise versus integrated holistic science. (55:53)
And we don't have a holistic view of these things. And I'm sure in artificial intelligence, you're not gonna make the big leaps forward without a holistic view of what it is you're trying to achieve. And maybe that's the question of what is intelligence? But that's the kind of questions you have to ask to make big leaps forward, to really move the field in a positive direction. And it's the people who can think that way, who move fields, they move technology, you move anything, anything is, everything is like. - Which is just like you said, is painful because underlying that kind of questioning is, well, maybe the work I've done for the past 20 years was a dead end and you have to kind of face that. Even just, it might not be true, but even just facing that reality, it's a painful feeling. - Absolutely, but that's part of the reason why it's important to enjoy the work that you do. - Right. - So that even if it doesn't completely work out, at least you enjoyed the process. - It's never a waste. - It was not a waste because you enjoyed the process. And if you learn, as any entrepreneur knows this, right, and if you learn from the waste of time, from the errors, from the mistakes, then you can build on them and make things even better. Right, and so the next 20 years are a massive success. - Can we, another impossible task, so you did wonderfully on talking about Ayn Rand. The other impossible task of giving a whirlwind overview of the philosophy of objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rands developed her philosophy through writing her novel (57:25)
- Yeah, so luckily she did it in an essay. She talks about doing her philosophy on one foot. But let me integrate it with the literature and with her life a little bit. She wanted to be a writer, but her goal, she had a particular goal in her writing. She was an idealist, right? She wanted to portray the ideal man. So one of the things you do when you wanna do something is what is an ideal man? You have to ask that question. What does that mean? You might have a sense of it. You might have certain glimpses of it in other people's literature, but what is it? So she starts reading philosophy to try to figure out what did philosophers say about the ideal man? And what she finds horrifies her in terms of the view of most philosophers of man. And she's attracted, certainly when she's young, to Nietzsche because Nietzsche at least has a vision of grandeur for man, even though his philosophy is very flawed and has other problems and contradicts man in many ways. But at least he has that vision of what is possible to man. And she's attracted to that romantic vision, that idealistic vision. So she discovers in writing, and particularly in writing "Atlas Shrugged," but even in "The Fountainhead," that she's gonna have to develop her own philosophy. She's gonna have to discover these ideas for herself because they're not fully articulated anywhere else. They're glimpses again of it in Aristotle, in Nietzsche, but they're not fully fleshed out. So to a large extent, she develops a philosophy for a very practical purpose, to write, to write a novel about the ideal man.
Why Ayn Rand associated herself with a male chauvinist (59:02)
And "Atlas Shrugged" is the manifestation of that. - By the way, sorry to interrupt. As a little aside, she does, when you say man, you mean human. And because we'll bring this up often, she does, maybe you can elaborate of how she specifically uses man and he in the work. We live in a time now where-- - Yes, we can't do that. - Are we gender or so on? - Well, she did that in the sense that everybody did it during her period of time, right? It's only in modern times where we do he/she, right? Historically, when you said he, you meant a human being, unless the particular context implied that it was a... But in Einman's case, in this case, in this one sentence, she probably meant man. Not that because she, A, she viewed that there are differences between men and women, were not the same, which I know comes as a shock to many people. But she-- - She was working on a character. - She was working on a particular vision, right? She considered herself a man worshiper, and a man, not human being, a male. She worshipped manhood, if you will, the hero in man. And she wanted to fully understand what that was. Now, it has massive implications for ideal woman, and I think she does portray the ideal woman in Atlas Shrugged in the character of Dagny. But her goal is, I think her selfish goal for what she wanted to get out of the novel is that excitement, partially sexual, about seeing your ideal manifest in reality of what you perceive as that which you would be attracted to. Fully, intellectually, physically, sexually, in every aspect of your life. That's what she's trying to bring into her life. - So there was no ambiguity of gender, so there was a masculinity and a femininity in her work. - Very much so. And if you read the novels, you see that. - Yes, very true. - Now, remember, this is in the context of, in Atlas Shrugged, she is portraying a woman who runs a railroad, the most masculine of all jobs you can imagine, running a railroad, better than any man can run it, and achieving huge success, better than any other man out there. But, but for her, even Dagny needs somebody who still needs a man, in some sense, to look up to. - Yeah. - And that's the character whose name I will mention, because it gives away too much of the plot. But there has to be-- - I like how you do that, you're good. You're not, a lot of practice, a lot of practice. - Brilliant, 'cause you convey all the important things without giving away plot lines. That's beautiful, you're a master. - So she's very much, she, she described herself once as a male chauvinist. - Okay. - She very, she likes the idea of a man opening a door for her, but more metaphysically, she identifies something in the difference between the way a man relates to a woman and a woman relates to a man. It's not the same. - And let's not take too far of a tangent, but I just, as a side comment, to me she represented, she was a feminist to me. Perhaps there's a, perhaps technically, Falsafka, you disagree with that, whatever, but that to me represented strong, like she had some of the strongest female characters in the history of literature. - Again, this is a woman running a railroad in 1957. - Yeah. - And not just a woman running a railroad, and this is true of the fountainhead as well. A woman who is sexually, in a sense, assertive, sexually open, this is not a woman who, this is a woman who embraces her sexuality. And sex is important in life. This is why it keeps coming up. It was important to Ayn Rand. It's important in the novels. It's important in life. And for her, one's attitude towards sex is a reflection of one's attitude towards life. And what attitude towards pleasure, which is an important part of life. And she thought that was an incredibly important thing. And so she has these assertive, powerful, sexual women who live their lives on their terms 100%, who seek a man to look up to. - Yeah. - Now, this is psychologically complex, more psychology than philosophy, right? Psychologically complex and not my area of expertise. But this is, there's something, and she would argue, there's something fundamentally different about a male and a woman, about a male and female, psychologically in their attitude towards one another. - Yeah, but as a side note, I say that, I would say that, I don't know, philosophically, if her ideas about gender are interesting. I think her other philosophical ideas are much more interesting.
Overview Of Ayn Rand'S Philosophy & Objectivism
Ayn Rand (01:04:25)
But reading-wise, the stories it created, the tension it created, that was pretty powerful. I mean, that was, that's pretty powerful stuff. - I'll speculate that the reason it's so powerful is because it reflects something in reality. - Yeah, that's true. There's a thread that at least-- - And look, it's really important to say, I think she was the first feminist in a sense. I think in a sense, the feminists that promoted feminism into something that it shouldn't be, but in the sense of men and women are capable, she was the first one who really put that into a novel and showed it. - To me, as a boy, when I was reading "Atlas Shrugged," I think I read that before "Fountainhead," that was one of the early introductions, at least of an American woman. I had examples in my own life for Russian women, but of a badass lady. Like I admire, like I love engineering. I had loved that she could, here's a lady that's running the show. So that at least to me was an example of a really strong woman, but objectivism. - Objectivism. So, and so she developed it for a novel. She spent the latter part of her life after the publication of "Atlas Shrugged" really articulating her philosophy. So that's what she did. She applied it to politics, to life, to gender, to all these issues from 1957 until she died in 1982. - So the objectivism was born out of the later parts of "Atlas Shrugged"? - Yes, definitely. It was there all the time, but it was fleshed out during the latter parts of "Atlas Shrugged" and then articulated for the next 20 years. - So what is objectivism? - So objectivism, so there are five branches in philosophy. And so I'm gonna just go through the branches. She starts with, you start with metaphysics, the nature of reality. And objectivism argues that reality is what it is. It's kind of, it goes, harkens back to Aristotle, law of identity, A is A. You can wish it to be B, but wishes do not make something real. Reality is what it is and it is the primary. And it's not manipulated, directed by consciousness. Consciousness is there to, you know, to observe, to give us information about reality. That is the purpose of consciousness. That is the nature of it. So in metaphysics, existence exists. The law of identity, the law of causality, things are, you know, the things act based on their nature, not randomly, not arbitrarily, but based on their nature. And then we have the tool to know reality. This is epistemology, the theory of knowledge. A tool to know reality is reason. It's our senses and our capacity to integrate the information we get from our senses and to integrate it into new knowledge and to conceptualize it. And that is uniquely human. We don't know the truth from revelation. We don't know truth from our emotions. Our emotions are interesting. Our emotions tell us something about ourselves. But our emotions are not tools of cognition. They don't tell us the truth about what's out there, about what's in reality. So reason is a means of knowledge and therefore reason is a means of survival. Only individuals reason, just in the same way that only individuals can eat. We don't have a collective stomach. Nobody can eat for me. And therefore nobody can think for me. We don't have a collective mind.
Rands Philosophy (01:08:07)
There's no collective consciousness. It's bizarre that people talk about these collectivized aspects of the mind. They don't talk about collective feet and collective stomachs and collective things. But so we all think for ourselves and it is our fundamental basic responsibility to live our lives. To live, to choose, once we choose to live, to live our lives to the best of our ability. So in morality, she is an egoist. She believes that the purpose of morality is to provide you with a code of values and virtues, to guide your life for the purpose of your own success, your own survival, your own thriving, your own happiness. Happiness is the moral purpose of your life. The purpose of morality is to guide you towards a happy life. - Your own happiness. - Your own happiness, absolutely. Your own happiness. So she rejects the idea that she should live for other people that you should live for the purpose of other people's happiness. Your purpose is not to make them happy or to make them anything. Your purpose is your own happiness. But she also rejects the idea that you could argue maybe the Nietzschean idea of you should use other people for your own purposes. So every person is an end in himself. Every person's moral responsibility is their own happiness. And you shouldn't use other people for your own, shouldn't exploit other people for your own happiness, and you shouldn't allow yourself to be exploited for other people. Every individual's responsible for themselves. And what is it that allows us to be happy? What is it that facilitates human flourishing, human success, human survival? Well, it's the use of our minds, right? It goes back to reason. And what does reason require in order to be successful, in order to work effectively? It requires freedom. So the enemy of reason, the enemy of reason is force. The enemy of reason is coercion. The enemy of reason is authority. The Catholic Church doing what they did to Galileo, that restricts Galileo's thinking. When he's in house arrest, is he gonna come up with a new theory? Is he gonna discover new truths? No, the punishment is too dangerous. So force, coercion are enemies of reason. And what reason needs is to be free, to think, to discover, to innovate, to break out of convention.
Individualism vs. Statism (01:10:39)
So we need to create an environment in which individuals are free to reason, to free to think. And to do that, we come up with a concept, historically we've come up with a concept of individual rights. Individual rights define the scope of, define the fact that we should be left alone, free to pursue our values, using our reason, free of what? Free of coercion, force, authority. And that the job of government is to make sure that we are free. The whole point of government, the whole point of when we come in a social context, the whole point of establishing a government in that context is to secure that freedom. It's to make sure that I don't use coercion on you. The government is supposed to stop you, supposed to intervene before I can do that, or if I've already done it, to prevent me from doing it again. So the purpose of government is to protect our freedom, to think and to act based on our thoughts. It's to leave individuals free, to pursue their values, to pursue their happiness, to pursue their rational thought, and to be left alone to do it. And so she rejects socialism, which basically assumes some kind of collective goal, assumes the sacrifice of the individual to the group, assumes that your moral purpose in life is the well-being of other people rather than your own. And she rejects all form of statism, all form of government that is overly, that is involved in any aspect other than to protect us from forced coercion authority. And she rejects anarchy, and we can talk about that. I think you had a question in the list of questions you sent me about anarchism. - Sure, and I just talked to Michael Malice about anarchy, so I don't know if you're familiar with him. - Yes, I'm familiar with him. So yeah, so she would completely reject anarchy. Anarchy is completely inconsistent with her point of view, and we can talk about why if you want. - So there's some perfect place where freedom is maximized, so systems of government that-- - Absolutely, and she thought that the American system of government came close in its idea, obviously founded with original sin, with the sin of slavery but in its conception, the Declaration of Independence is about as perfect a political document as one could write, I think the greatest political document in human history, but really articulated almost perfectly and beautifully, and that the American system of government with the checks its balances, which is with its emphasis on individual rights, with its emphasis on freedom, with its emphasis on leaving individual free to pursue their happiness, an explicit recognition of happiness as a goal, individual happiness, was the model. It wasn't perfect, there were a lot of problems, to a large extent, because the founders had mixed philosophical premises, so there were alien premises introduced into the founding of the country, slavery obviously being the biggest problem, but it was close, and we need to build on that to create an ideal political system that will, yes, maximize the freedom of individuals to do exactly this, and then of course she had, so that's kind of, that's the manifestation of this individualism in a political realm, and she had a theory of art, she had a theory of aesthetics, which is the fifth branch of, she had metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics and the fifth branch is aesthetics, and she viewed art as an essential human need, a fuel for the human spirit, and that just like any human need, it had certain principles that it had to abide by, that is just like there's nutrition, right, so some food is good for you and some food is bad for you, some food, some stuff is poison. She believed the same is true of art, that art had an identity, which is very controversial today, right, today if you put a frame around it, it is art, right, if you put a urinal in a museum, it becomes art, which she thought was evil and ludicrous and she rejected completely, that art had an identity and that it served a certain function, that human beings needed it, and if it didn't have, not only did it have the identity, but that function was served well by some art and poorly by other art, and then there's a whole realm of stuff that's not art, basically, all of what today is considered modern art, she would consider as not being art, splashing paint on a canvas, not art. So she had very clear ideas, she articulated them not, so I would say not in conventional philosophical form, so she didn't write philosophical essays using the philosopher's language, it's partially why I think philosophers have never taken it seriously, they're actually accessible to us, we can actually read them, and she integrates the philosophy in what I think are amazing ways with psychology, with history, with economics, with politics, with what's going on in the world, and she has dozens and dozens and dozens of essays that she wrote, many of them were aggregated into books, I particularly recommend books like The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal, and Philosophy, Who Needs It, and I think it's a beautiful philosophy, I know you're big on love, I think it's a philosophy of love, we can talk about that, essentially it's about love, that's what the philosophy's all about, and when it applies, in terms of it applying to self, and I think it's sad that so few people read it, and so few intellectuals take it seriously and are willing to engage with it.
The Ayn Rand's Pooh-Poohing Modern Art (01:15:01)
- Let me ask, that was incredible, but after that beautiful whirlwind overview, let me ask the most shallow of questions, which is the name objectivism.
Objectivism vs Individualism (01:17:01)
How should people think about the name being rooted, why not individualism, what are the options, if we're like, had a branding meeting right now. - Sure, so she actually had a branding meeting, so she did this, she went through the exercise, objectivism, I do not think, I don't know all the details, but I don't think objectivism was the first name she came with, the problem was that the other names were taken, and they were not positive implications. So for example, rationalism could have been a good word, because she's an advocate of rational thought, or reasonism, but reasonism sounds weird, right? The ism, because of too many S's I guess. Rationalism, but it was already a philosophy, and it was a philosophy inconsistent with hers, because it was what she considered a false view of reason, of rationality. Reality-ism, you know, just doesn't work. So she came on objectivism, and I think actually, it's a great word, it's a great name, because it has two aspects to it, and this is a unique view of what objectivity actually means. In objectivism, in objectivity is the idea of an independent reality. There is truth, there's actually something out there, and then there's the role of consciousness, right? There is the role of figuring out the truth. The truth doesn't just hit you. The truth is not in the thing. You have to discover it. It's that a consciousness applied to, that's what objectivity is, right? It's you discovering the truth in reality. It's your consciousness interacting. - And thereby pulls in the individual in that sense. - And only the individual could do it. Now the problem with individualism is it would have made the philosophy too political. And she always said, so she said, she said, "I'm an advocate of capitalism "because I'm really an advocate for rational egoism, "but I'm an advocate for rational egoism "really because I'm an advocate for reason." So she viewed the essential of her philosophy as being this reason and her particular view of reason. And she has a whole book, she has a book called "Introduction to Objectivist "Themology," which I encourage any scientist, mathematician, anybody interested in science to read because it is a turn to force on, in a sense, what it means to hold concepts and what it means to discover new discoveries and to use concepts and how we use concepts. And she has a theory of concepts that is completely new, that is completely revolutionary and I think is essential for the philosophy of science and therefore ultimately for the more abstract we get with scientific discoveries, the easier it is to detach them from reality and to detach them from truth, the easier it is to be inside our heads instead of about what's real. And they're probably examples from monophysics that fit that. And I think what she teaches in the book is how to ground your concepts and how to bring them into grounding in reality. So "Introduction to Objectivist Themology," note that it's only an introduction 'cause one of the things she realized, one of the things that I think a lot of her critics don't give enough credit for, is that philosophy is, there's no end, right? It's always growing, there are always new discoveries, there's always, it's like science, there's always new things and there's a ton of work to do in philosophy and particularly in epistemology and the theology, she was actually, given your interest in mathematics, she actually saw a lot of parallels between math and concept formation and she was actually, in the years before she died, she was taking private lessons in mathematics, in algebra and calculus because she believed that there was real insight in understanding algebra in calculus to philosophy and to epistemology and she also was very interested in neuroscience 'cause she believed that that had a lot to tell us about epistemology but also about music, therefore about aesthetics. So I mean, she recognized the importance of all these different fields and the beauty of philosophy is it should be integrating all of them and one of the sad things about the world in which we live is, again, we view these things as silos. We don't view them as integrating, we don't have teams of people from different fields discovering things, we become like ants, specialized. So she was definitely like that and she was constantly curious, constantly interested in new discoveries, new ideas and how this could expand the scope of her philosophy and the application of her philosophy. - There's like a million topics I could talk to you but since you mentioned math, I'm almost-- - We only got three hours.
Can math be proven inconsistent? (01:22:32)
- I'm almost curious, I don't know if you're familiar with Gauss Incompleteness Theorem. - I'm not, unfortunately. - Okay, it was a powerful proof that any axiomatic systems when you start from a bunch of axioms that there will, in that system, provably must be an inconsistency. So that was this painful stab in the idea of mathematics that if we start with a set of assumptions, kind of like Ayn Rand started with objectivism, there will have to be at least one contradiction. - See, I intuitively am gonna say that's false. Philosophically, but in math, it's just true. - It's a question about how you define, again, definitions matter and you have to be careful on how you define axioms and you have to be careful about what you define as an inconsistency and what that means to say there's an inconsistency. And I don't know, I'm not gonna say more than that 'cause I don't know, but I'm suspicious that there is some, and this is the power of philosophy and this is why I said before, concept formation is so important and understanding concept formation is so important, particularly again, mathematics because it's such an abstract field and it's so easy to lose grounding in reality that if you properly define axioms and you properly define what you're doing in math, whether that is true and I don't think it is. - This is, yeah, we'll leave it as an open mystery 'cause actually this audience, there's literally over 100,000 people that have PhDs so they know Gay-Dolson-Completeness Theorem. I have this intuition that there is something different to mathematics and philosophy that I'd love to hear from people. Like what exactly is that difference? Because there's a precision to mathematics that philosophy doesn't have, but that precision gets you in trouble. It somehow actually takes you away from truth. Like the very constraints of the language used in mathematics actually puts a constraint on the capture of truth that it's able to do. - So I'm gonna argue that that is a total product of the way you're conceptualizing the terms within mathematics. It's not in reality. - Yes, so you would argue it's in the fact that mathematics, in as much as it's detached from reality, that you can do these kinds of things. - Yes, and that mathematicians have come up with concepts that they haven't grounded in reality properly that allows them to go off in places that don't lead to truth. That's right, that don't lead to truth. But I encourage you then, I encourage you to do one of these podcasts with one of our philosophers who know more about this stuff. And if you move to Austin, I've got somebody I'd recommend to you.
Prospects & Criticisms Of Ayn Rand'S Influence On Society
Who is Yaron's typical Ayn Rand Institute student? Who should be interested? (01:25:42)
And-- - Can you throw a name out? Or no? - Yeah, I mean, I would talk to Greg Salieri. - When we say our, can you say what you mean by our? - I'd say people who are affiliated with the Aynman Institute are philosophers who are affiliated with objectivism, right? And Greg is one of our brightest, and he's in Austin. He's just got a position at UT, at the University of Texas. And he would be one, Ankar Ghati would be another one, who actually works at the institute, and a chief philosophy officer at the institute. - That's awesome. - And there are others who specialize in philosophy of science, who I think Greg could probably give you a lead. But these are unbelievably smart people who know this part of the philosophy much better than I do. - Can you just briefly perhaps say what is the Aynman Institute? - Yeah, so the Aynman Institute was an organization founded three years after Aynman died. She died in 1982, and it was founded in 1985 to promote her ideas, to make sure that her ideas and her novels continued in the culture and were relevant. Well, they're relevant, but the people saw the relevance. So our mission is to get people to read her books, to engage in the ideas. We teach, we have the Objectivist Academic Center where we teach the philosophy, primarily to graduate students and others who take the idea seriously and who really want a deep understanding of the philosophy. And we apply the ideas, so we take the ideas and apply them to ethics, to philosophy, to issues of the day, which is more my strength and more what I tend to do. I've never formally studied philosophy. All my education in philosophy is informal, and I'm an engineer and a finance guy. That's my background, so I'm an inverse guy. - Well, let me, I feel pretty under-educated. I have a pretty open mind, which sometimes can be painful on the internet because people mock me or, if I say something nuanced about communism, people immediately kind of put you in a bin or something like that. It hurts to be open-minded, to say I don't know, to ask the question, why is communism or Marxism so problematic, why is capitalism problematic and so on?
Objectivism + Capitalism + Entrepreneurial Opportunities (01:28:13)
But let me nevertheless go into that direction with you. Maybe let's talk about capitalism a little bit. How does objectivism compare, relate to the idea of capitalism? - Well, first we have to define what capitalism is, 'cause again, people use capitalism in all kinds of ways. I know you had Ray Dalio on your show once. I need to listen to that episode. But Ray has no clue what capitalism is, and that's his big problem. So when he says there are real problems today in capitalism, he's not talking about capitalism. He's talking about problems in the world today, and I agree with many of the problems, but they have nothing to do with capitalism. Capitalism is a social political economic system in which all property is privately owned and in which the only role of government is the protection of individual rights. I think it's the ideal system. I think it's the right system for the reasons we talked about earlier. It's the system that leaves you as an individual to pursue your values, your life, your happiness, free of coercion and force. And you get to decide what happens to you, and I get to decide if to help you or not. Let's say you fall flat on your face. People always say, "Well, what about the poor?" Well, if you care about the poor, help them. - Right. - Just don't, you know, what do you need a government for? You know, I always ask audiences, okay, if there's a poor kid who can't afford to go to school and all the schools are private because capitalism is being instituted, and he can't go to school, would you be willing to participate in a fund that pays for his education? Every hand in the room goes up. So what do you need government for? Just let's get all the money together and pay for his schooling. So the point is that what capitalism does is leave individuals free to make their own decisions. And as long as they're not violating other people's rights, in other words, as long as they're not using coercion and force on other people, then leave them alone. And people are going to make mistakes and people are gonna screw up their lives and people are gonna commit suicide. People are gonna do terrible things to themselves. That is fundamentally their problem. And if you want to help, you, under capitalism, are free to help. It's just the only thing that doesn't happen under capitalism is you don't get to impose your will on other people. How's that a bad thing?
- So the question then is how does the implementation of capitalism deviate from its ideal in practice? I mean, this is what is the question with a lot of systems is how does it start to then fail? So one thing, maybe you can correct me or inform me, it seems like information is very important. Like being able to make decisions, to be free, you have to have access, full access of all the information you need to make rational decisions. - No, that can't be right. Because it can't be right, 'cause none of us has full access to all the information we need. I mean, what does that even mean? And how big, how much of the scope do you want to do? - Let's just start there, yeah, we don't. - So you need to have access to information. So one of the big criticisms of capitalism is this asymmetrical information. The drug maker has more information about the drug than the drug buyer, pharmaceutical drugs. True, it's a problem. Well, I wonder if one can think about, an entrepreneur can think about how to solve that problem. See, I view any one of these challenges to capitalism as an opportunity for an entrepreneur to make money. - And they have the freedom to do it. - Yeah, so imagine an entrepreneur steps in and says, "I will test all the drugs that drug companies make, and I will provide you for a fee with the answer." And how do I know he's not gonna be corrupted? Well, there'll be other ones and they'll compete. And who am I to tell which one of these is the right one? Well, it won't be you really getting the information from them. It'll be your doctor. The doctors need that information. So the doctor who has some expertise in medicine will be evaluating which rating agency to use to evaluate the drugs and which ones then to recommend to you. So do we need an FDA? Do we need a government that siphons all the information to one source that does all the research, all the things, and has a clear incentive, by the way, not to approve drugs? There's no, because they don't make any money from it. Nobody pays them for the information. Nobody pays them to be accurate. They're bureaucrats at the end of the day. And what is a bureaucrat? What's the main focus of a bureaucrat? Even if they go in with the best of intentions, which I'm sure all the scientists at the FDA have the best of intentions, what's their incentive? The system builds in this incentive not to screw up. Because one drug gets value and does damage, you lose your job. But if 100 drugs that could kill cancer tomorrow don't ever get to market, nobody's gonna come after you. - Yeah, and you're saying that's not a mechanism that's conducive to-- - You see, the marketplace is competition. So if you won't approve the drug, if I still think it's possible, I will, and it's not zero one. You see, the other thing that happens with the FDA, it's zero one. It's either approved or it's not approved. Oh, it's approved for this, but it's not approved for that. But what if a drug came out and you said, you told the doctors, "This drug in 10% of the cases can cause patients "and increase risk of heart disease." You and your patients should. We're not forcing you, but you should. It's your medical responsibility to evaluate that and decide if the drug is appropriate or not. Why don't I get to make that choice if I wanna take on the 10% risk of heart disease? So there was a drug, and right now I forget the name, but it was a drug against pain, particularly for arthritic pain, and it worked. It reduced pain dramatically, right? And some people tried everything, and this was the only drug that reduced their pain. And it turned out that in 10% of the cases, it caused the elevated risk. It didn't kill people necessarily, but it caused elevated risk of heart disease. Okay, what did the FDA do? It banned the drug. Some people, I know a lot of people who said, "Living with pain is much worse "than taking on a 10% risk." Again, probabilities, right? People don't think in those numbers. 10% risk of maybe getting heart disease. Why don't I get to make that choice? Why does some bureaucrat make that choice for me? That's capitalism. Capitalism gives you the choice, not you as an ignorant person, you with your doctor and a whole marketplace which is now created to provide you with information. And think about a world where we didn't have all these regulations and controls. The amount of opportunities that would exist to create, to provide information, to educate you about that information would mushroom dramatically. Bloomberg, the billionaire Bloomberg, how did he make his money? He made his money by providing financial information, by creating this service called Bloomberg that you buy a terminal and you get all this amazing information. And he was before computers, desktop computers. I mean, he was very early on in that whole computing revolution. But his focus was providing financial information to professionals. And you hire a professional to manage your money. That's the way it's supposed to be. You have to have... So you as an individual cannot have all the knowledge you need in medicine, all the knowledge you need in finance, all the knowledge you need in every aspect of your life. You can't do that. You have to delegate. And you hire a doctor. Now you should be able to figure out if the doctor's good or not. You should be able to ask doctors for reasons for why and you have to make the decision at the end. But that's why you have a doctor. That's why you have a financial advisor. That's why you have different people who you're delegating certain aspects of your life to, but you want choices. And what the marketplace provides is those choices. - So let me then... This is what I do. I'll make a dumb case for things and then you shut me down. And then the internet says how dumb Lex is. This is good. This is how it works. - I'm good at shutting down. And they're foolish in blaming you for the question because you're here to ask me questions. - Let me make a case for socialism. - It's gonna be bad because that's the only case there is for socialism. That's reality. - So perhaps it's not a case for socialism, but just a certain notion that inequality, the wealth inequality, that the bigger the gap between the poorest or the average and the richest, the more painful it is to be average. Psychologically speaking, if you know that there is, the CEOs of companies make 300, 1,000, 1 million times more than you do, that makes life for a large part of the population less fulfilling.
Case for Socialism (01:37:21)
That there's a relative notion to the experience of our life that even though everybody's life has gotten better over the past decades and centuries, it may feel actually worse because you know that life could be so, so much better in the life of these CEOs. That gap is fundamentally a thing that is undesirable in a society. - Everything about that is wrong. I like to start off like that. So my wife likes to remind me that as well as we've done in life, we are actually from a wealth perspective closer to a homeless person than we are to Bill Gates.
We are closer to a homeless person than we are to Bill Gates (01:38:34)
Just a math, right? Just a math, right? - It's a good ego check. - When I look at Bill Gates, I get a smile on my face. I love Bill Gates. I've never met Bill Gates. I love Bill Gates. - Yeah. - I love what he stands for. I love that he has $100 billion. I love that he has built a trampoline room in his house where his kids can jump up and down in a trampoline in a safe environment. - Can we take another billionaire? Because I'm not sure if you're paying attention, but there's all kinds of conspiracy theories about Bill Gates. - Well, but that's part of the story, right? They have to pull him down because people resent him for other reasons. - That's strange. That's strange. - But yes, we can take Jeff Bezos. We can take my favorite historically, just 'cause I like a lot about him was Steve Jobs. I mean, I love these people. And I can't, they're very few billionaires I don't love. In a sense that I appreciate everything they've done for me, for people I cherish and love, they've made the world a better place. Why would it ever cross my mind that they make me look bad because they're richer than me or that I don't have what they have? They've made me so much richer. That they've made inventions that used to cost millions and millions and millions of dollars accessible to me. I mean, this is a supercomputer in my pocket. Now, but think about it, right? What is the difference between, and I'll get to the essence of your point in a minute, but think about what the difference is between me and Bill Gates in terms of, because it's true that in terms of wealth, I'm closer to the homeless person. But in terms of my day-to-day life, I'm closer to Bill Gates. You know, we both live in a nice house. His is nicer, but we live in a nice house. His is bigger, but mine is plenty big. We both drive cars. His is nicer, but we both drive cars. Cars, 100 years ago, what cars? We both can fly, get on a plane in Los Angeles and fly to New York and get there in about the same time. We're both flying private. The only difference is my private plane I share with 300 other people. But it's accessible. It's relatively comfortable, again, in the perspective of 50 years ago, 100 years ago. It's unimaginable that I could fly like that for such a low fee. We live very similar lives in that sense. So I don't resent him. So first of all, I'm an exception to the supposed rule that people resent. I don't think anybody, I don't think people do resent unless they're taught to resent. And this is the key. People are taught, and I've seen this in America. And this is, to me, the most horrible, shocking thing that has happened in America over the last 40 years. I came to America, so I'm an immigrant. I came to America from Israel in 1987. And I came here because I thought this was the place where I could, where it had the most opportunities. And it is, most opportunities. And I came here 'cause I believed there was a certain American spirit of individualism and exactly the opposite of what you just described. A sense of I live my life, it's my happiness. I'm not looking at my neighbor. I'm not competing with the Joneses. The American dream is my dream. My two kids, my dog, my station wagon, not because other people have it, it's because I want it. In that sense, and when I came here in the '80s, you had that. You still had it. It was less than I think it had been in the past. But you had that spirit. There was no envy. There was no resentment. There were rich people and they were celebrated. There was still this admiration for entrepreneurs and admiration for success, not by everybody, certainly not by the intellectuals, but by the average person. I have witnessed particularly over the last 10 years a complete transformation and America's become like Europe. I know, are you Russian? - Yeah. - Yeah. It's become Russian. In a sense where, they've always done these studies. I'll give you $100 and your neighbor $100 or give you, what was it? Or give you $1,000 but your neighbor gets $10,000. And a Russian will always choose the $100, right? He wants equality above being better himself. Americans would always choose that gap. - And that's changing. - My sense is not anymore.
Workers resent the rich (01:43:26)
And it's changing because we've been told it should change. - And morally you're saying that doesn't make any sense. So there's no sense in which, let me put another spin. I forget the book, but the sense of, if you're working for Steve Jobs and you, your hands, you're the engineer behind the iPhone. And there's a sense in which his salary is stealing from your efforts. Because I forget the book, right? That's literally the terminology is used. - This is straight out of Karl Marx. - Sure, it's also straight out of Karl Marx. But there's no sense morally speaking that you see that as the theft. - Other way around. That engineer stealing off of, and it's not stealing. It's not, but the engineer's getting more from Steve Jobs by a lot, not by a little bit, than Steve Jobs is getting from the engineer. The engineer, even if they're a great engineer, there are probably other great engineers that could replace him. Would he even have a job without Steve Jobs? Would the industry exist without Steve Jobs? Without the giants that carry these things forward? Let me ask you this. You're a scientist. Do you resent Einstein for being smarter than you?
Analysis Of Billionaires, Wrongdoings, And Philosophical Values
Jealousy, Philosophy (01:44:43)
I mean, you envy him. Do you, are you angry with him? Would you feel negative towards him if he was in the room right now? Or would you, if he came into the room, you'd say, oh my God. I mean, you interview people who I think some of them are probably smarter than you and me. - For sure. - And your attitude towards them is one of reverence. - Well, one interesting little side question there is what is the natural state of being for us humans? You kind of implied education has polluted our minds, but like if I, 'cause you're referring to jealousy. The Einstein question, the Steve Jobs question, I wonder which way, if we're left without education, would we naturally go? - So there is no such thing as the natural state in that sense, right? This is the myth of who sows a noble savage and of John Walls is behind the veil of ignorance. Well, if you're ignorant, you're ignorant. You can't make any decisions. You're just ignorant. There is no human nature that determines how you will relate to other people. You will relate to other people based on the conclusions you come to about how to relate to other people. You can relate to other people as values, to use your terminology, from the perspective of love. This other human being is a value to me and I want to trade with them and trade the beauty of trade as its win-win. I want a benefit and they are going to benefit. I don't want to screw them. I don't want them to screw me. I want this to be win-win. Or you can deal with other people as threats, as enemies. Much of human history, we have done that. And therefore, as a zero-sum world, what they have, I want. I will take it. I will use force to take it. I will use political force to take it. I will use the force of my arm to take it. I will just take it. So those are two options, right? And they will determine whether we live in civilization or not. And they aren't determined by conclusions people come to about the world and the nature of reality and the nature of morality and the nature of politics and all these things. They are determined by philosophy. And this is why philosophy is so important. Because so philosophy shapes, evolution doesn't do this. It doesn't just happen. Ideas shape how we relate to other people. And you say, well, little children do it. Well, little children don't have a frontal cortex. It's not relevant, right? What happens as you develop a frontal cortex, as you develop the brain, you learn ideas. And those ideas will shape how you relate to other people. And if you learn good ideas, you relate to other people in a healthy, productive win-win. And if you develop bad ideas, you will resent other people and you will want their stuff. And the thing is that human progress depends on the win-win relationship. It depends on civilization, depends on peace. It depends on allowing people, going back to what we talked about earlier, allowing people the freedom to think for themselves. And anytime you try to interrupt that, you're causing damage. So this change in America is not some reversion to a natural state. It's a shift in ideas. We still live, the better part of American society and the world still lives on the remnants of the enlightenment, the enlightenment ideas, the ideas that brought about this scientific revolution, the ideas that brought about the creation of this country. And it's the same basic ideas that led to both of those. And as those ideas get more distant, as those ideas are not defended, as those ideas disappear, as enlightenment goes away, we will become more violent, more resentful, more tribal, more obnoxious, more unpleasant, more primitive. - A very specific example of this though that bothers me, I'd be curious to get your comment on.
So Elon Musk is a billionaire. - Yeah. - And one of the things that really, maybe it's almost a pet peeve, it really bothers me when the press and the general public will say, well, all those rockets they're sending up there, those are just like the toys, the games that billionaires play. That to me, billionaires become a dirty word to use, like as if money can buy or has anything to do with genius. Like I'm trying to articulate a specific line of question here because it just bothers me. I guess the question is like, why, how do we get here and how do we get out of that? Because Elon Musk is doing some of the most incredible things that a human being has ever participated in, in mostly, he doesn't build the rockets himself, he's getting a bunch of other geniuses together that have-- - That takes genius. - That takes genius. But where do we go and how do we get back to where Elon Musk is an inspiring figure as opposed to a billionaire playing with some toys? - So this is the role of philosophy. It goes back to the same place. It goes back to our understanding of the world and our role in it. And if you understand that the only way to become a billionaire, for example, is to create value. Value for whom? Value for people who are gonna consume it. The only way to become a billionaire, the only way Elon Musk became a billionaire is through PayPal. Now PayPal is something we all use. PayPal is an enormous value to all of us. It's why it's worth several billions of dollars which Elon Musk could then earn. But you cannot become a billionaire in a free society by exploiting people. You cannot because you'll be left, nobody will deal with you. Nobody will have any interactions with you. The only way to become a billionaire is to do billions of win-win transactions. So the only way to become a billionaire in a free society is to change the world to make it a better place. Billionaires are the great humanitarians of our time, not because they give charity, but because they make them billions. And it's true that money and genius are not necessarily correlated. But you cannot become a billionaire without being super smart. You cannot become a billionaire by figuring something out that nobody else has figured out in whatever realm it happens to be. And that thing that you figure out has to be something that provides immense value to other people. Where do we go wrong?
Where Do We Go Wrong (01:51:51)
We go wrong, our culture goes wrong because it views billionaires as self-interested, as selfish. And there's a sense in which, and not a sense, it's absolutely true. The billionaire doesn't ask for my opinion on what product to launch. Elon Musk doesn't ask others what they think you should spend his money on, what the greatest social wellbeing will be. I mean, there's a sense in which the rockets are his toys. There's a sense in which he chose that he would have, he would be inspired the most. He would have the most fun by going to Mars and building rockets. And he's probably dreamt of rockets from when he was a kid and probably always played with rockets. And now he has the funds, the capital, to be able to deploy it. So he's being selfish. Obviously, he's being self-interested. This is what Elon Musk is about. I mean, the same with Jepesus. There's no committee to decide whether to invest in cloud computing or not. Bezos decided that. And at the end of the day, they are the bosses. They pursue the values they believe are good. They create the wealth. It's their decisions. It's their mind. And the fact is we live in a world where for 2000 plus years, self-interest, even though we all do it, the more extensive the less, we deem it as morally abhorrent. It's bad. It's wrong. I mean, your mother probably taught you the same thing my mother taught me. Think of others first. Think of yourself last. The good stuff is kept for the guests. You never get to use the good stuff. It's others. That's what the focus of morality is. Now, no mother, even no Jewish mother, actually believes that, right? Because they don't really want you to be last. They want you to be first and they push you to be first. But morally, they be taught their entire lives and they believe that the right thing to say and to some extent do is to argue for sacrifice for other people. So most people, 99% of people are torn. They know they should be selfless, sacrifice, live for other people. They don't really want to. So they act selfishly in their day-to-day life and they feel guilty and they can't be happy. They can't be happy. And Jewish mothers and Catholic mothers are excellent at using that guilt to manipulate you. But the guilt is inevitable because you've got these two conflicting things, the way you want to live and the way you've been taught to live. And what objectivism does is that at the end of the day, provides you with a way to unite morality, a proper morality with what you want and to think about what you really want, to conceptualize what you really want properly. So what you want is really good for you and what you want will really lead to your happiness. So we reject the idea of sacrifice. We reject the idea of living for other people. But you see, if you believe that the purpose of morality is to sacrifice for other people and you look at Jeff Bezos, when was the last time he sacrificed anything? He's living pretty well. He's got billions that he could give it all away and yet he doesn't. How dare he? You know, in my talks, I often position and I'm gonna use Bill Gates, sorry guys. Drop the conspiracy theory, they're all BS, complete and utter nonsense. There's not a shred of truth. You know, I disagree with Bill Gates on everything political. I think he politically is a complete ignoramus but the guy's a genius when it comes to technology and when he's just thoughtful, even in this philanthropy, he just uses his mind and I respect that even though politically he's terrible. Anyway, think about this. Who had a bigger impact on the lives of poor people in the world, Bill Gates or Mother Teresa? - Bill Gates. - I'm getting close. And Mother Teresa lived this altruistic life to the core.
Mother Teresa Vs. (01:56:17)
She lived it consistently and yet she was miserable, pathetic, horrible, she hated her life. She was miserable and most of the people she helped didn't do very well because she just helped them not die. Right? - Yeah. - And then Bill Gates changed the world and he helped a lot by providing technology where even philanthropy gets to them, the food gets them much faster, more efficient. Yet who is the moral saint? - Sainthood is not determined based on what you do for other people.
Bill Gates (01:56:42)
Sainthood is based on how much pain you suffer. I like to ask people to go to a museum and look at all the paintings of saints. How many of them are smiling and are happy? They've usually got arrows through them and holes in their body and they're just suffering a horrible death. The whole point of the morality we are taught is that happiness is immorality, that happy people cannot be good people and that good people suffer and that suffering is necessary for morality. Morality is about sacrifice, self-sacrifice and suffering. And at the end of the day, almost all the problems in the world boil down to that false view. - So can we try to talk about, part of it is the problem of the word selfishness, but let's talk about the virtue of selfishness. So let's start at the fact that for me, I really enjoy doing stuff for other people. I enjoy cheering on the success of others. - Why? - I don't know. It's deep in there. - Well think about it. Why? 'Cause I think you do know. - If I were to really think, I don't want to resort to evolutionary arguments or this is somehow evolutionary. So I think-- - So I can tell you why I enjoy helping others. - Maybe you can go there. One thing, 'cause we should talk about love a little bit, I'll tell you there's a part of me that's a little bit not rational. There's a gut that I follow that not everything I do is perfectly rational. For example, my dad criticizes me. He says you should always have a plan. Like it should make sense. You have a strategy. And I say that I stepped down from my full salary position at MIT. There's so many things I did without a plan. It's a gut. It's like I want to start a company. Well, you know how many companies fail? I don't know. - 90%. - It's a gut. And the same thing with being kind to others is a gut. I watch the way that karma works in this world that the people like us, one guy I look up to is Joe Rogan, that he does stuff for others and that the joy he experiences, the way he sees the world, like just the glimmer in his eyes because he does stuff for others that creates a joyful experience. And that somehow seems to be an instructive way to, that to me is inspiring of a life well-lived. - But you probably know a lot of people who have done stuff others who are not happy.
People doing things vs doing more (01:59:31)
- True. - So I don't think it's the doing stuff for others that just brings the happiness. It's why you do stuff for others and what else you're doing in your life and what is the proportion. But it's why at the end of the day, which is, and it's the same. Look, you can maybe through a gut feeling say, I want to start a company, but you better start doing thinking about how and what and all of that. And to some extent the why, because if you really want to be happy doing this, you may better make sure you're doing it for the right reason. So I'm not, there's something called fast thinking, Coleman, the... - And Daniel Kahneman? - Yes.
Valuing Others & The Philosophical Aspects Of Life
Other people as a value (02:00:13)
Daniel Kahneman talks about, and there is, it's, all the integrations you've made so far in your life cause you to have specialized knowledge in certain things and you can think very fast. And your gut tells you what the right answer is. But it's not. It's your mind is constantly evaluating and constantly working. You want to make it as rational as you can, not in the sense that I have to think through every time I make a decision, but that they've so programmed my mind in a sense that the answers are the right answers, you know, in, when I get them. So, you know, I like, I view other people as a value. Other people contribute enormously to my life, whether it's a romantic love relationship or whether it's a friendship relationship or whether it's just, you know, Jeff Bezos creating Amazon and delivering goodies to my home when I get them. And people do all that, right? It's not just Jeff Bezos. He gets the most credit, but everybody in that chain of command, everybody at Amazon is working for me. I love that. I love the idea of a human being. I love the idea that there are people capable of being an Einstein, of being, you know, and creating and building and making stuff that makes my life so good. I, you know, most of us like, this is not a good room for an example. Most of us like plants, right? We like pets. I don't particularly, but people like pets. Why? We like to see life. Human beings are life on steroids, right? They're life with a brain. It's amazing, right? What they can do. I love people. Now that doesn't mean I love everybody 'cause there's some, there are really bad people out there who I hate, right? And I do hate. And there are people out there that are just, I have no opinion about. But generally the idea of a human being to me is a phenomenal idea. When I see a baby, I light up because to me there's a potential, you know, there's this magnificent potential that is embodied in that. And when I see people struggling and need help, I think they're human beings. They embody that potential. They embody that goodness. They might turn out to be bad, but why would I ever give the presumption of that? I give them the presumption of the positive and I cheer them on. And I enjoy watching people succeed. I enjoy watching people get to the top of the mountain and produce something. Even if I don't get anything directly from it, I enjoy that because it's part of my enjoyment of life. - So the word, to you, the morality of selfishness, this kind of love of other human beings, the love of life fits into a morality of selfishness. - Can't not.
Being pro-life (02:03:14)
Because it's, there's no context in which you can truly love yourself without loving life and loving what it means to be human. So, you know, the love of yourself is gonna manifest itself differently in different people, but it's core. What do you love about yourself? First of all, I love, I love that I'm alive. I love that, you know, and I love this world and the opportunities it provides me and the fun and the excitement of discovering something new and meeting a new person and having a conversation. You know, all of this is immensely enjoyable, but behind all of that is a particular human capability that not only I have, other people have. And the fact that they have it makes my life so much more fun because, so it's, you cannot view, you know, it's all integrated and you cannot view yourself in isolation. Now that doesn't place a moral commandment on me, help everybody who's poor that you happen to meet in the street. It doesn't place a burden on me in a sense that now I have this moral duty to help everybody. It leaves me free to make decisions about who I help and who I don't. There's some people who I will not help. There's some people who I do not wish positive things upon. Bad people should have bad outcomes. Bad people should suffer. So-- - And you have the freedom to choose who's good, who's bad within your own-- - It's your decision based on your values. Now I think there's an objectivity to it. There's a standard by which you should evaluate good versus bad and that standard should be to what extent do they contribute or hurt human life? The standard is human life. And so when I look at a Jeff Bezos, I say he's contributed to human life, good guy. I might disagree with him on stuff. We might disagree about politics. We might disagree about women. I don't know what we agree. But overall, big picture, he is pro-life, right? I look at somebody like, you know, to take like 99.9% of our politicians and they are pro-death. They are pro-destruction. They are pro-cutting corners in ways that destroy human life and human potential and human ability. So I literally hate almost every politician out there. And I wish ill on them, right? I don't want them to be successful or happy. I want them all to go away, right? Leave me alone. So I believe in justice. I believe good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to bad people. So I make those generalizations based on this one, you know, on the other hand, you know, I shouldn't say all politicians, right? So if I, you know, I love Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, right? I love Abraham Lincoln. I love people who fought for freedom and who believed in freedom, who had these ideas and lived up to, at least in parts of their lives, to those principles. Now, do I think Thomas Jefferson was flawed because he held slaves? Absolutely. But the virtues way outweigh that in my view. And I understand people who don't accept that. - You don't have to also love and hate the entirety of the person. There's parts of that person that you're attracting. - The major part is pro-life and therefore I'm pro that person. And I think, and I said earlier, that objectivism is a philosophy of love. And I believe that because objectivism is about your life, about loving your life, about embracing your life, about engaging with the world, about loving the world in which you live, about win-win relationships with other people, which means to a large extent, loving the good in other people and the best in other people and encouraging that and supporting that and promoting that. So I know selfishness is a harsh word because the culture has given it that harshness. Selfishness is a harsh word because the people who don't like selfishness want you to believe it's a harsh word.
But it's not. What does it mean? It means focus on self. It means take care of self. It means make yourself your highest priority, not your only priority, because in taking care of self, what would I be without my wife? What would I be without the people who support me, who help me, who I have these love relationships with? So other people are crucial. What would my life be without Steve Jobs, right? - A lot of things you mentioned here are just beautiful. So one is win-win. So one key thing about this selfishness and the idea of objectivism is the philosophy of love is that you don't want parasitism. So that is unethical. So you actually, first of all, you say win-win a lot, and I just like that terminology because it's a good way to see life. It's trying to maximize the number of win-win interactions. - Absolutely.
Every aspect in life (02:08:06)
- That's a good way to see business, actually. - Well, life generally. I think every aspect of life, you want to have a win-win relationship with your wife. Imagine if it was win-lose. Either way, if you win and she loses, how long is that going to sustain? So win-lose relationships are not in equilibrium. What they turn into is lose-lose. Like win-lose turns into lose-lose. And so the alternative, the only alternative to lose-lose is win-win. And you win and the person you love wins. What's better than that, right? - That's the way to maximize. So like the selfishness is you're trying to maximize the win but the way to maximize the win is to maximize the win-win. - Yes, and it turns out, and Adam Smith understood this a long time ago, that if you focus on your own winning while respecting other people as human beings, then everybody wins. And the beauty of capitalism, if we go back to capitalism for a second, the beauty of capitalism is you cannot be successful in capitalism without producing values that other people appreciate and therefore willing to buy from you. And they buy them, and this goes back to that question about the engineer in Steve Jobs. Why is the engineer working there? Because he's getting paid more than his time is worth to him. I know people don't like to think in those terms but that's the reality. If his time is worth more to him than what he's getting paid, he would leave. So he's winning. And is Apple winning? Yes, because they're getting more productivity from him, they're getting more from him than what he's actually producing. - It's tough because there's human psychology and imperfect information. It just makes it a little messier than the clarity of thinking you have about this. It's just, you know, because for sure, but not everything in life is an economic transaction. It ultimately is close. - But even if it's not an economic transaction, even if it's a relationship transaction, when you get to a point with a friend where you're not gaining from the relationship, friendship's gonna be over. Not immediately because it takes time for these things to manifest itself and to really absorb into it. But we change friendships, we change our loves, right? We fall in and out of love. We fall out of love because we're not, love, so let's go back to love. Love is the most selfish of all emotions. Love is about what you do to me, right? So I love my wife 'cause she makes me feel better about myself. So, you know, the idea of selfless love is bizarre. So Ayn Rand used to say, before you say I love you, you have to say the I. And you have to know who you are and you have to appreciate yourself. If you hate yourself, what does it mean to love somebody else? So I love my wife 'cause she makes me feel great about the world. And she loves me for the same reason. And so Ayn Rand used to use this example. Imagine you go up to your, to be spouse the night before the wedding and you say, you know, I get nothing out of this relationship. I'm doing this purely as an act of noble self-sacrifice. She would slap you. - Yeah. - And she should, right? So, no, we know this intuitively that love is selfish, but we afraid to admit it to ourselves and why? Because the other side has convinced us that selfishness is associated with exploiting other people. Selfishness means lying, cheating, stealing, walking in corpses, backstabbing people. But is that ever in your self-interest truly, right? I, you know, I'll offer, be in front of an audience to say, okay, how many people here have lied? I'm, you know, kidding, right? How many of you think that if you did that consistently, that would make your life better? Nobody thinks that, right? Because everybody's experienced how shitty lying, not because of how it makes you feel out of a sense of guilt, existentially, just a bad strategy, right? You get caught, you have to create other lies to cover up the previous lie. It screws up with your own psychology and your own cognition. You know, the mind, to some extent, like a computer, right, is an integrating machine. And in computer science, I understand there's a term called garbage in, garbage out. Lying is garbage in. - Yeah. - So it's not good strategy, cheating, screwing your customers in a business, not paying your suppliers as a businessman, not good business practices, not good practices for being alive. So win-win is both moral and practical. And the beauty of Ayn Rand's philosophy, and I think this is really important, is that the moral is the practical and the practical is the moral. And therefore, if you are moral, you will be happy. - Yeah, that's why the application of the philosophy of objectivism is so easy to practice. So like, or to discuss, or possible to discuss. That's why you talk about all-- - I'm so clear cut. I'm not ambiguous about my views. - And it's fundamentally practical. I mean, that's the best of philosophies is practical.
- It's in a sense teaching you how to live a good life. And it's teaching you how to live a good life, not just as you, but as a human being. And therefore, the principles that apply to you probably apply to me as well. And if we both share the same principles of how to live a good life, we're not gonna be enemies. - You brought up anarchy earlier. It's an interesting question because you've kind of said politicians, I mean, part of it is a little bit joking, but politicians are not good people. But we should have some. So you have an opposition to anarchism. - So first of all, they weren't always not bad people. That is, I gave examples of people who engage in political life who I think were good people, basically. But they think they get worse over time if the system is corrupt. And I think the system, unfortunately, even the American system, as good as it was, was founded on quicksand and have corruption built in. They didn't quite get it. And they needed Ayn Rand to get it, so I'm not blaming them. I don't think they share any blame. You needed a philosophy in order to completely fulfill the promise that is America, the promise that is the founding of America. - So the place where corruption sneaked in is the lack, in some way, of the philosophy underlying the nation?
Christianity, and the Enlightenment (02:14:42)
- Absolutely. So it's Christianity. Not to hit on another controversial topic. It's religion which undercut their morality. So the founders were explicitly Christian and altruistic in their morality. Implicitly, in terms of their actions, they were completely secular, and they were very secular anyway. But in their morality, even, they were secular. So there's nothing in Christianity that says that you have an inalienable right to pursue happiness. That's unbelievably self-interested and based on a moral philosophy, of an egoistic moral philosophy. But they didn't know that, and they didn't know how to ground it. They implicitly, they had that fast thinking, that gut, that told them that this was right. And the whole Enlightenment, that period from John Locke on to Hume, that period is about pursuit of happiness, using reason in pursuit of the good life. But they can't ground it. They don't really understand what reason is, and they don't really understand what happiness requires, and they can't detach themselves from Christianity. They're not allowed to politically, and I think conceptually, you just can't make that big break. Rand is an Enlightenment thinker in that sense. She is what should have followed right after. She should have come there and grounded them in the secular and in the egoistic and the Aristotelian view of morality as a code of values to basically to guide your life, to guide your life towards happiness. That's Aristotle's view, right? So they didn't have that.
Reality Vs Perception & The Impact Of The Pandemic
Reality, and Objective Reality, Property (02:16:34)
So I think that government is necessary. It's not a necessary evil. It's a necessary good 'cause it does something good. And the good that it does is it eliminates coercion from society. It eliminates violence from society. It eliminates the use of force between individuals from society. - But see, the argument that Michael Malice would make, give me a chance here, is why can't you apply the same kind of reasoning that you've effectively used for the rest of mutually agreed upon institutions that are driven by capitalism, that we can't also hire forces to protect us from the violence to ensure the stability of society that protects us from the violence? Why violence? Why draw the line at this particular place, right? - Well, because there is no other place to draw a line and there is a line. And by the way, we draw lines other places, right? We don't vote. We don't determine truth in science based on competition. - Right, so that's a line. - It's a line. - First of all, some people might say. - I mean, there's competition in a sense that you have alternate theories, but at the end of the day, whether you decide that he's right or he's right is not based on the market. It's based on facts, on reality, on objective reality. You have to, and some people will never accept that this person is right because they don't see the stream. So first of all, what they reject, what most anarchists reject, even if they don't admit it or recognize it, is they reject objective reality. - In which sense? So like, okay. - I'll get it, right. So there's a whole, so the whole realm of law is a scientific realm to define, for example, the boundaries of private property. It's not an issue of competition. It's not an issue of I have one system and you have another system. It's an issue of objective reality. And now it's more difficult than science in a sense because it's more difficult to prove that my conception of property is correct and you're correct. But there is a correct one. In reality, there's a correct vision. It's more abstract. But look, somebody has to decide what property is. So I have, I have defined, my property is defined by certain boundaries. And I have a police force and I have a judiciary system that backs my vision. And you have a claim against my property. You have a claim against my property. And you have a police force and a judicial system that backs your claim. Who's right? - So our definitions of property are different? - Yes, our definitions of property. Or our claim on the property is different. - So what can we just agree on the definition of property? - But why should we agree? Your judicial system is one definition of property. My judicial system is not. You think that there's no such thing as intellectual property rights. And your whole system believes that. And my whole system believes there is such thing. So you are duplicating my books and handing them out to all your friends and not paying me a royalty. And I think that's wrong. My judicial system and my police force think that's wrong. And we're both living in the same geographic area, right? So we have overlapping jurisdictions. Now the anarchists would say, well, we'll negotiate. Why should we negotiate? My system is actually right. There is such a thing as intellectual property rights. There's no negotiation here. You're wrong. And you should either pay a fine or go to jail. - Yeah, but why can't, 'cause it's a community, there's multiple parties and it's like a majority vote. They'll hire different forces that says, yeah, Iran is onto something here with the definition of property. And we'll go with that.
Are Anarchists Pro Democracy (02:20:56)
- So are anarchists pro-democracy in the majority rule sense? I don't think so. - I think anarchy promotes emergent democracy, right? - No, it doesn't. I'll tell you what it promotes. It promotes emergent strife and civil war and violence, constant uninterrupted violence. 'Cause the only way to settle the dispute between us, since we both think that we are right and we have guns behind us to protect that, and we have a legal system, we have a whole theory of ideas, is you're stealing my stuff. How do I get it back? I invade you, right? I take over, and who's gonna win that battle? The smartest guy? Oh, the guy with the biggest guns. - See, but the anarchists would say that they're using implied, like the state uses implied force. They're already doing violence. - Because they take the state as it is today and they refuse to engage in the conversation about what a state should and could look like and how we can create mechanisms to protect us from the state using those dudes. But look, my view of anarchy is very simple. It's a ridiculous position. It's infantile. I mean, I really mean this, right? And I'm sorry to my culprit and all the other very, very smart, very, very smart anarchists. 'Cause anarchists is never, you won't find a dumb anarchist. - Right. - Because dumb people know it wouldn't work. You have to have, it's absolutely true, you have to have a certain IQ to be an anarchist. - That's true, they're all really intelligent. - All intelligence. And the reason is that you have to create such a mythology in your head. You have to create so many rationalizations. Any Joe in the street knows it doesn't work because they can understand what happens with two people who are armed in the street and have a dispute. And there's no mechanism to resolve that dispute. - Yeah. - That's objective. And this is where it gets objective. That's objective. The whole point of government is that it is the objective authority for determining the truth in one regard, in regard to force. Because the only alternative to determining it when it comes to force is through force. The only way to resolve disputes is through force. Or through this negotiation, which is unjust because if one party's right and one party's wrong, why negotiate? And this is the point, I'm not against competition of governance, I'm all for competition of governance. We do that all the time, it's called countries. The United States has a certain governance structure. The Soviet Union had a governance structure. Mexico has a governance structure. And they're competing. And we can observe the competition. And in my world, you could move freely from one governance to another. If you didn't like your governance, you would move to a better governance system. But they have to have autonomy within a geographic area. Otherwise, what you get is complete and utter civil war. The law needs to be objective. And there needs to be one law over a piece of ground. And if you disagree with that law, you can move somewhere else where they may. This is why federalism is such a beautiful system. Even within the United States, we have states. And on certain issues, we're allowed to disagree between states, like the death penalty. Some states do, some states don't. Fine. And now I can move from one state if I don't like it. But there's certain issues you cannot have disagreement. Slavery, for example. This is why we had a civil war. But let me, one other argument against anarchy. Markets exist where force has been eliminated. - Sorry, can you say that again? Markets-- - Markets exist where the rule of force has been eliminated. - The rule of force? - Yes. - Can you elaborate that? - So a market will exist if we know that you can't pull a gun on me and just take my stuff. I am willing to engage in transaction with you if we have an implicit understanding that we're not gonna use force against each other. - So force has something special to it. - Yes. - It's a special, it overrides, 'cause we're still agreeing we can manipulate each other. - Yes, but force we can't. - Force kinda-- - So what is it about-- - So there's something fundamental about violence. - Force is a fundamental force. It's the anti-reason. It's the anti-life. It's the anti-force against another person. And what it does is shuts down the mind. - Right. - So in order to have a market, you have to extract force. - That's fascinating. - How can you have a market in force? There's an Instagram channel called Nature's Metal where it has all these videos of animals basically having a market of force. - Yes. - But that shuts down the ability to reason. And animals don't need to because they can't. - Exactly, so the innovation that is human beings is our capacity to reason, and therefore, the relegation of force to the animals. We don't do force.
Civilization is what we don't have force. And so what you have is you cannot have a market in that, which a market requires the elimination of it. And I don't debate formally these guys, but I interact with them all the time, right? And you get these absurd arguments where, David Friedman will say, that's Milton Friedman's son, he will say something like, "Well, in Somalia, "in the northern part of Somalia "where they have no government, "you have all these wonderful, you have these tribunals "of these tribes and they resolve disputes." Yeah, barbarically, they use Sharia law, they have no respect for individual rights, no respect for property. And the only reason they have any authority is because they have guns and they have power and they have force and they do it barbarically. There's nothing civilizing about the courts of Somalia. And they write about pirates and because they view force, they don't view force as something unique that must be extracted from human life. And that's why anarchy has to devolve into violence, because it treats force as just, what's the big deal with negotiating over guns? - So we covered a lot of high-level philosophy, but I'd like to touch on the troubles, the chaos of the day, a couple of things.
The response to the pandemic (02:27:32)
And I'm really trying to find a hopeful path way out. So one is the current coronavirus pandemic, or in particular, not the virus, but our handling of it. Is there something philosophically, politically, that you would like to see, that you would like to recommend, that you would like to maybe give a hopeful message if we take that kind of trajectory, we might be able to get out? Because I'm kind of worried about the economic pain that people are feeling, that there's this quiet suffering. - I mean, I agree with you completely. There is a quiet suffering, it's horrible. I mean, I know people. I go to a lot of restaurants. One of the things we love to do is eat out. My wife doesn't like cooking anymore. We don't have kids in the house anymore, so she doesn't have to. So we go out a lot, we go to restaurants. And because we have our favorites, or we go to them a lot, we get to know the owners of the restaurant, the chef. And it's just heartbreaking. These people put their life, their blood, sweat, and tears, I mean, real blood, sweat, and tears, into these projects. Restaurants are super difficult to manage. Most of them go bankrupt anyway. And the restaurants, we go to a good restaurant, so they've done a good job, and they offer unique value. And they shut them down. And many of them will never open. Something like they estimate 50, 60% of restaurants in some places won't open. These are people's lives, these are people's capital, these are people's effort, these are people's love. Talk about love, they love what they do, particularly if they're the chef as well. And it's gone, and it's disappeared. And what are they gonna do with their lives now? They're gonna live off the government the way our politicians would like them, bigger and bigger stimulus plans, so we can hand checks to people to get them used to living off of us, rather than. It's disgusting, and it's offensive, and it's unbelievably sad. And this is where it comes to this, I care about other people. I mean, this idea that objectivists don't care. I mean, I love these people who provide me with pleasure of eating wonderful food in a great environment. - There's something inspiring about them too. Like when I see a great restaurant, I wanna do better with my own stuff. - Yeah, exactly, they're inspiring. Anybody who does it is excellent. I love sports, because it's the one realm in which you'd still value and celebrate excellence. But I try to celebrate excellence everything in my life. So I try to be nice to these people. And with COVID, we went more to restaurants, if you believe it or not. And we did more takeout stuff. We made an effort, particularly the restaurants we really love to keep them going, to encourage them, to support them. The problem is, the problem is philosophy drives the world. The response to COVID has been worse than pathetic. And it's driven by philosophy. It's driven by disrespect to science, ignorance and disrespect of statistics, a disrespect of individual human decision-making. Government has to decide everything for us. And just throughout the process, and a disrespect of markets, because we didn't let markets work to facilitate what we needed in order to deal with this virus. If you look at the place, it's interesting that the only place on the planet that's done well with this are parts of Asia. Taiwan did phenomenally with this. And the vice president of Taiwan is an epidemiologist. So he knew what he was doing. And they got it right from the beginning. South Korea did amazing. Even Hong Kong and Singapore. Hong Kong has just very few deaths. And the economy wasn't shut down in any of those places. There were no lockdowns in any of those places. The CDC had plans before this happened on how to deal with good plans. Indeed, if you ask people around the world before the pandemic, which country is best prepared for a pandemic, they would have said the United States.
Tools for dealing with the pandemic (02:31:48)
Because of the CDC's plans and all of our emergency reserves and all that, and the wealth. And yet all of that went out the window. Because people panicked. People didn't think, go back to reason. People were arrogant. Refused to use the tools that they had at their disposal to deal with this. So you deal with pandemics. It's very simple how you deal with pandemics. And this is how South Korea and Taiwan interview. You deal with them by testing, tracing and isolating. That's it. And you do it well. And you do it vigorously. And you do it on scale if you have to. And you scale up to do it. And we have the wealth to do that. - So one question I have, it's a difficult one.
Tribalism and the need for individuality (02:32:39)
So I talk about love a lot. And you've just talked about Donald Trump. I guarantee you this particular segment will be full of division from the internet. But I believe that should be and can be fixed. What I'm referring to in particular is the division. Because we've talked about the value of reason. And what I've noticed on the internet is the division shuts down reason. So when people hear you say Trump, actually the first sentence you said about Trump, they'll hear Trump and their ears will perk up. And they'll immediately start in that first sentence, they'll say, is he a Trump supporter or a Trump? - They're not interested in anything else after that. - And then after that, that's it. And so my question is, you as one of the beacons of intellectualism, quite honest, I mean, it sounds silly to say, but you are a beacon of reason. How do we bring people together long enough to where we can reason? - I mean, there's no easy way out of this because the fact that people have become tribal, and they have, very tribal. And the tribe, in the tribe reason doesn't matter. It's all about emotion. It's all about belonging or not belonging. And you don't wanna stand out. You don't wanna have a different opinion. You wanna belong. And it's all about belonging. It took us decades to get back to tribalism where we were hundreds of years ago. It took a millennium to get out of tribalism. It took the enlightenment to get us to the point of individualism, where we think for any reason, respect for reason. Before that, we were all tribal. So it took the enlightenment to get us out of it. We've been in the enlightenment for about 250 years, influenced by the enlightenment, and it's fading. The impact is fading. So what would we need to get out of it? We need self-esteem. People join a tribe because they don't trust their own mind. People join a tribe because they're afraid to stand on their own two feet. They're afraid to think for themselves. They're afraid to be different. They're afraid to be unique. They're afraid to be an individual. People need self-esteem. To gain self-esteem, they have to have respect for rationality, they have to think, and they have to achieve, and they have to recognize that achievement. To do that, they have to have respect for thinking. They have to have respect for reason. And we have to, and think about the schools. We have to have schools that teach people to think, teach people to value their mind. We have schools that teach people to feel and value their feelings. We have groups of six-year-olds sitting around a circle discussing politics. What? They don't know anything. They're ignorant. So you don't know anything when you're ignorant. Yes, you can feel, but your feelings are useless as decision-making tools. But we emphasize emotion. It's all about socialization and emotion. This is why they talk about this generation of snowflakes. They can't hear anything that they're opposed to because they've not learned how to use their mind, how to think. So it boils down to teaching people how to think two things, how to think and how to care about themselves. So it's thinking of self-esteem and the connected, because when you think, you achieve, which gains you self-esteem. When you have self-esteem, it's easier to think for yourself. And I don't know how you do that quickly. I mean, I think leadership matters. So part of what I try to do is try to encourage people to do those things, but I am a small voice. You asked me when, early on, you said we should talk about why I'm not more famous. I'm not famous. My following is not big. It's very small in the scope of things.
Critical Thinking, Purpose Of Life, And Influence Of Ayn Rand'S Novels
Critical thinking, education, and self-confidence (02:36:48)
- Well, yours in objectivism, and that question, could you linger on it for a moment? Why isn't objectivism more famous? - I think because it's so challenging. It's not challenging to me, right? When I first encountered objectivism, it's like after the first shock and after the first kind of, none of this can be true, this is all BS. And fighting it, once I got it, it was easy. It required years of studying, but it was easy in the sense of, yes, this makes sense. But it's challenging because it abandons everything. It really says what my mother taught me is wrong. And what my politicians say left and right is wrong, all of them. There's not a single politician on which I agree with on almost anything, right? Because on the fundamentals, we disagree. And what my teachers are telling me is wrong. And what Jesus said is wrong. And it's hard. - But the thing is, so you talk about politics and all that kind of stuff, but most people don't care. The more powerful thing about objectivism is the practical of my life, of how I revolutionize my life. And that feels to me like a very important and appealing, you know, get your shit together. - Yeah, but this is why Jordan Peterson is so much more successful than we are, right? - Why is that? Make your bed or whatever. - What's that? - Make your bed or whatever he says. - Yeah, because his personal responsibility is shallow. It's make your bed, stand up straight. It's what my mother told me when I was growing up. There's nothing new about Jordan Peterson. He says, embrace Christianity. Christianity's fine, right? Religion is okay. Just do these few things and you'll be fine. And by the way, he says, happiness, you know, you either have it or you don't. You know, it's random. You don't actually, you can't bring about your own happiness. So he's given people an easy out. People want easy out. People buy self-help books that give them five principles for living a, you know, shallow. I'm telling them, think, stand on your own two feet, be independent, don't listen to your mother, do your own thing, but thoughtfully, not based on emotions. - So you're responsible not just for a set of particular habits and so on, you're responsible for everything.
Happiness and the purpose of life (02:39:09)
- Yes, and you're responsible, here's the big one, right? You're responsible for shaping your own soul. Your consciousness, you get to decide what it's gonna be like. - And the only tool you have is your mind. - Your only tool is your mind. Well, your emotions play a tool when they're properly cultivated. They play a role in that. And the tools you have is thinking, experiencing, living, coming to the right conclusions, you know, listening to great music and watching good movies and art is very important in shaping your own soul and helping you do this. It's got a crucial role in that, but it's work. And it's lonely work because it's work you do with yourself. Now, if you find somebody who you love, who shares these values and you can do with them, that's great, but it's mostly lonely work. It's hard, it's challenging, it ends your world. The reward is unbelievable.
The modern era of brainwashing and self-destruction (02:40:18)
But even at the, think about the enlightenment, right? So up until the enlightenment, where was truth? Truth came from a book. And there were a few people who understood the book. Most of us couldn't read and they conveyed it to us. And they just told us what to do. And in that sense, life's easy. It sucks and we die young and we have nothing and we don't enjoy it, but it's easy. And the enlightenment comes around and says, we've got this tool, it's called reason. And it allows us to discover truth about the world. It's not in a book. It's actually your reason allows you to discover stuff about the world. And I consider the first, really the first figure of the enlightenment is Newton, not Locke, right? It's a scientist because he teaches us the laws of mechanics, like how does stuff work? And people go, oh, wow, this is cool. I can use my mind. I can discover truth. Isn't that amazing? And everything opens up once you do that. Hey, if I can discover, if I understand the laws of motion, if I can understand truth in the world, how come I can't decide who I marry? I mean, everything was fixed in those days. How come I can't decide what profession I should be in? Right, everybody belonged to a guild. How come I can't decide who my political leader should be? That's, so it's all reason. It's all once you understand the efficacy of your own mind to understand truth, to understand reality, discover truth, not understand truth, discover it, everything opens up. Now you can take responsibility for your own life 'cause now you have the tool to do it. But we are living in an era where postmodernism tells us there is no truth, there is no reality, and our mind is useless anyway. Critical race theory tells us that you're determined by your race and your race shapes everything and your free will is meaningless and your reason. Doesn't matter 'cause reason is just shaped by your genes and shaped by your color of your skin. It's the most racist theory of all. And you've got our friend at UC Irvine telling them, oh, your senses don't tell you anything about reality anyway. Reality is what it is. So what's the purpose of reason? It's to invent stuff, it's to make stuff up. Then what use is that? It's complete fantasy.
The best argument for embracing envy (02:42:32)
You've basically got every philosophical intellectual voice in the culture telling them their reason is impotent. There's like a Steven Pinker who tries, and I love Pinker, and he's really good, and I love his books, but he needs to be stronger about this and there's a few people on kind of, there's a few people partially in the intellectual dark web and otherwise who are big on reason, but not consistent enough and not full understanding of what it means or what it implies. And then there's little old me. And it's me against the world in a sense because I'm not only willing to accept, to articulate the case for reason, but then what that implies. It implies freedom, it implies capitalism, it implies taking personal responsibility over your own life. And there are other intellectual dark web people get to reason and then, oh, politics, you can be whatever. No, you can't, you can't be a socialist and for reason. - Right. - It doesn't actually, those are incompatible. And you can't be a determinist and for reason. Reason and determinism don't go together. The whole point of reason is that it's an achievement and it requires effort and it requires engagement, it requires choice. So it is, it does feel like a little old me because that's it. The allies I have are allies. I have allies among some libertarians over economics. I have some allies in the intellectual dark web maybe over reason, but none of them are allies in the full sense. So my allies are the other objectivists, but we're just, they're not a lot of us. - For people listening to this, for the few folks kind of listening to this and thinking about the trajectory of their own life, I guess the takeaway is reason is a difficult project, but a project that's worthy of taking on. - Yeah, and difficult is, I don't know if difficult is the right word 'cause difficult sounds like it's, I have to push this boulder up a hill. It's not difficult in that sense.
Ayn Rands novel Fountainhead (02:44:35)
It's difficult in the sense that it requires energy and focus, it requires effort, but it's immediately rewarding. It's fun to do. And it's rewards immediate, pretty quick. It takes a while to undo all the garbage that you have, but we all have that I had that took me years and years and years to get rid of certain concepts and certain emotions that I had that didn't make any sense, but it takes a long time to fully integrate that. So I don't want it to sound like it's a burden, like it's hard in that sense. It does require focus and energy. And I don't want it to sound like a Dr. Spock. I don't want to say, and I don't think I do because I'm a pretty passionate guy, but I don't want it to appear like, oh, just forget about emotions. Emotions are how you experience the world. You want to have strong emotions. You want to live. You want to experience life strongly and passionately. You just need to know that emotions are not cognition. It's another realm. It's like, don't mix the realms. Think about outcomes and then experience them. And sometimes your emotions won't coincide with what you think should be. And that means there's still more integration to be done. - Yaron, as I told you offline, I've been a fan of yours for a long time. It's been, I was a little starstruck early on, getting a little more comfortable now. - I believe that's gone. - I highly recommend that people that haven't heard your work listen to it, the Yaron Brooks show.
Impacting one mind at a time. (02:46:09)
The times I've disagreed with something I've heard you say is usually a first step on a journey of learning a lot more about that thing, about that viewpoint. And that's been so fulfilling. It's been a gift. The passion, you talk about reason a lot, but the passion radiates in a way that's just contagious and awe-inspiring. So thank you for everything you've done for this world. It's truly an honor and a pleasure to talk to you. - Well, thank you. And my award is that if I've had an impact on you and people like you, wow. I mean, that's amazing. When you wrote to me an email saying you'd been a fan, I was blown away 'cause I had no idea and completely unexpected. And every few months I discover, hey, I had an impact on this world and people that I would have never thought. So the only way to change the world is to change your one mind at a time. And when you have an impact on a good mind and a mind that cares about the world and a mind that goes out and does something about it, then you get the exponential growth. So through you, I've impacted other people and that's how you ultimately change everything. And so I'm, in spite of everything, I'm optimistic in a sense that I think that the progress we've made today is so universally accepted, the scientific progress, the technological progress. It can't just vanish like it did when Rome collapsed. And whether it's in the United States or somewhere progress will continue, the human project for human progress will continue. And I think these ideas, ideas of reason and individualism will always be at the heart of it. And what we are doing is continuing the project of the enlightenment. And it's the project that will save the human race and allow it for Elon Musk and for Jeff Bezos to reach the stars. - Thank you for masterfully ending on a hopeful note, Yaron, a pleasure and an honor.
Thanks. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Yaron Brook. And thank you to our sponsors, Blinkist, an app I use for reading through summaries of books, ExpressVPN, the VPN I've used for many years to protect my privacy on the internet, and Cash App, the app I use to send money to friends. Please check out these sponsors in the description to get a discount and to support this podcast. If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review it with 5,000 Apple Podcasts, follow on Spotify, support on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter @lexfriedman. And now let me leave you with some words from Ayn Rand. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be one. It exists. It is real. It is possible. It is yours. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time. . Thank you.