Bret Weinstein: whatever happens, the system is broken
Freddie Sayers speaks to the evolutionary biologist about today's election
Just ahead of the election, Freddie Sayers speaks to Bret Weinstein — a leading member of what used to be called the Intellectual Dark Web, evolutionary biologist, writer and host of the Dark Horse podcast.
Over the course of 45 minutes they cover the danger of censorship by the big tech platforms, the possibility of a new political coalition and whether we’re more likely to be heading into a new Renaissance era or towards disaster.
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On Facebook deleting his account:
The only information I got was a reply saying that it had been an error, that I had triggered a system for detecting inauthentic accounts. Which is preposterous in light of how long standing my account was. And I was back. Then this morning, I started getting messages from friends of mine saying that I was again gone. When I went to log in, I still seemed to be there. So I don’t know if this is just a glitch, or if something else has happened. But I will say it is ominous. I am seeing reports of many other people who are being purged, including friends of mine. And I do have the sense that something is up behind the scenes at Facebook, probably some kind of internal conflict between those who apparently don’t like heterodox thinking, and those who wish to see us remain.
On tech censorship:
I have a model in which many of the things that feel conspiratorial are actually a combination of phenomena: one part is emergent and one part is conscious, and the two of them work together to create something quite Soviet and bureaucratic. There’s also another possibility, which is that if one wants to do arbitrary things, if one wants to silence certain kinds of speech, and amplify other kinds of speech because they are advancing a political agenda, then they can build a system in which your antagonists are in a position to trigger algorithms.
…Until we have at least a process where we all understand what the rules are and when we are told that we have violated them after seeing what the evidence is — as well as the right to challenge it — we are in danger of being ruled by the whims of the people who run these platforms.
On Big Tech’s handling of the pandemic:
To have tech platforms with no scientific guidance deciding what is the conventional wisdom in a certain quadrant of the academy — it’s mind blowing. The fact that we know many of the things that we were told were so right — that you couldn’t challenge them — turned out to be wrong, tells you everything that you need to know about this system.
…Pretending that tech platforms are in a position to render scientific judgement about really important questions like ‘How exactly did this virus end up spreading through the world?’ They shut down perfectly reasonable lines of inquiry because they found them inconvenient. It has done everything to amplify the sense that they are teams playing with the details of other people’s lives, as if it were sport.
I think Trump is going to perform way better than people expect. There’s no question that there is an Orwellian force that causes people to think twice before they confess even any nuance about Trump. I mean, I saw Noam Chomsky in the New Yorker a couple days ago said that Donald Trump was the worst criminal in human history, which is a preposterous statement coming from a place you would really expect a great deal more nuance than that.
And yet, here we are: that passes for intellectual evaluation at this moment, so undoubtedly, there are a large number of people who are frightened by the democrats willingness to pretend that this authoritarian mindset is reasonable… But I will say that I feel confident Trump will outperform expectations, I think he actually might well win. He is going to surprise people one way or the other.
Portland is mostly intact, but the energy in the system has built up a tremendous amount of pressure which has taken a form that is quite ominous. We have regular violence breaking out on the streets. It’s always localised to a few blocks because it’s a small number of people who are engaged in it, but the police are simply not putting a stop to it. And the protesters who every night become rioters are learning what they can get away with. They are going from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and terrorising business owners and people in their homes. And perhaps most ominous of all is that the mayor, who is also our police commissioner, is allowing this to happen is and is now facing a challenge for office. Which might ordinarily be a good thing, except that he’s being challenged by somebody who has signalled quite strongly that she embraces the wrongly labelled anti-fascist perspective in this case.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. I believe strongly that we will have to make progress if we are to survive as a species. That means I regard myself as a radical, but what I’m watching is people who are nominally on the same side of the political spectrum, who do not appear to understand that systems have basic requirements in order to function and that these systems are necessary to our continued existence. We are jeopardising them. Because in a state where one party effectively has complete control, there is no force to cause a reality check. In effect, people’s fantasies have run away with them. They do not seem to understand that they are playing with the substance of our real lives as if it were a video game.
The population is drenched in a kind of bullshit that is with them almost from the instant that they get up in the morning. As soon as you’ve engaged your phone, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve encountered something inauthentic — some kind of advertising at least. And it’s with us all day, until we go to bed. That’s not normal, right? Our ancestors didn’t face that. There have always been con artists, but in general, that’s not what you were dealing with moment to moment. What this has created is a kind of hunger, that people don’t realise they’re experiencing, for authenticity. And that paradoxically, has created an opening for very unlikely phenomena.
On a new political coalition:
The possibility of that vast, exhausted middle realising that our division is, consciously or not, serving someone else’s interests and not ours, does open the possibility for the kind of leader that you were mentioning. In fact, what my guess is you don’t hear in Britain, looking at our election, is that there are a tremendous number of voters who simply don’t show up. Not because they are apathetic, but because they are disaffected. And the experience of going to vote and seeing no one who represents your interests on the ballot is frustrating. And they’ve walked away. Were they to come back because there was something to come back for — they’d be the most potent political force in the country.
On the toppling the system:
I’ve been at this some time, and I’ve realised that I believe the possibility to save the system and actually, to make it much, much better is right here in front of us. We could live in a vibrant Renaissance-like era if we were to embrace the challenge. But I also would bet against us. Which I hate saying, I just think the chances that we will not spot the opportunity and allow petty disagreements to prevent us from availing ourselves of it is more likely than not.
About Portland: the police are simply not putting a stop to it.
And why is that? This scene is being played out in similar fashion in one blue city after another – the mob runs rampant, the mayor defends the mob and deflects blame onto people who aren’t there, and the cycle repeats but a bit worse than the previous time.
What a relief to watch someone liberal in the old sense of the word, discuss issues and politics with (huge) intelligence and common sense. And what a case he makes for the ‘vast exhausted middle’ who are the majority and don’t easily find a home or a platform to influence a rational response to the madness we see around us.
What an agreeable, intelligent man! On the right as I am, I’m happy to find a self-declared radical willing to discuss the issues of the day without rancour and condemnation. However, I must add something. The side of the debate which he accuses of no longer letting its opponents get a hearing is not properly described as “liberal”. The word has become a euphemism. It is clearly motivated by an updated version of Marxism, substituting a new form of “group” politics for the old “class” politics. This is why it has no truck with listening to the other side, for unlike “liberals” of any stripe, Marxists are Utopian, chiliastic and Manichean; there is no room for debate on anything other than their premises and under their correction, with reference to a body of dogmas and agreed starting points infinitely more prescriptive and complex than those of Liberalism, properly understood.
Exactly. Liberals are very few. By the dictionary definition, I qualify. Leftists, however, are in ample supply and they have no interest in other viewpoints.
Quite so. For many years I described myself as a “right wing Liberal” and found few allies, but a good deal of half grudging tolerance. Now, however – nettled and alarmed by the sudden surge from the left, the diminishing freedoms of the public square and the transformation visibly changing the face and the nature of my beloved Europe, I am moving to Conservative and Nationalist positions in a personal surge of my own. This response is so visceral that nothing can prevent it, even though it will cost me several friendships when I finally make my now wholly rightist position plain. It is as though the ice flow of the post war consensus is breaking up and you just have to opt for one berg or another. So for example where I once put personal freedom and the economy centre stage, I now believe that tradition and identity are the foremost concerns of mankind and that these are inextricably linked to origins. But I still salute proper Liberals with a wave from the fortress of Iron Conservatism and know that you differ from the many who have borrowed and besmirched your banners.
Great guy this Bret, extremely intelligent, after listening to his analysis I tend to believe that dark and confusing times lie ahead of us, the left and the right seem unable to join forces in a compromise, which is necessary for an upgrade of the existing institutions. The alternative is destruction.
I have been following Bret and Heather’s weekly Dark Horse podcasts for some time now and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. I would also encourage everyone to seek out the various films on the Evergreen College scandal in which he was the main victim.
I am very much in sympathy will almost all his views and prognoses, which are invariably articulated in the most measured of words. The views he expresses in this video are merely a prÃ©cis of the many themes explored in the podcasts. I will address the issue of the economic inequality that exists within what he describes as remarkably productive societies, and how that has led to BLM/Antifa etc.
It seems to me that Obama was expected to do something about economic inequality, but did nothing. Almost his first act as president was to appoint Goldman Sachs alumni Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. I knew there and then that there would be no hope and no change for normal, decent people. He then crushed Occupy with extreme prejudice while allowing the banks to throw 5.1 million families out of their homes in his first term. The recovery under Obama was the slowest since WWII and although Trump created an economy in which everyone had work, the issue of economic unfairness was not addressed.
My suggestion here is that because the system blocked any solution to a real problem, namely systemic economic unfairness, a lot of people went looking for solutions to imaginary problems, namely systemic racial/gender unfairness. The results played out in cities across America this summer.
Geithner was not a Goldman alum. He’d previously been President of the New York Fed, worked at the IMF, and worked at U.S. Treasury.
It is certainly fair and correct to state that the was part of the financial establishment, but that specific employment claim isn’t accurate.
The very sympatico Professor Weinstein still claims to be a liberal, but he seems to conform to one wit’s definition of a conservative: a liberal who has been mugged by reality.
The wit in question is the famous neo-con, the late Irving Kristol. I read somewhere that his experience of army life in WW2 led him to doubt the socialist egalitarian view of society.
Interesting. Similar experience here. The military is a very commune/socialist type institution in detail – everything is steered towards the collective and common goal.
Mostly that makes sense and works, sometimes it goes very wrong.
Just as a general point about day to day military life however, the reality is that the many are often carried by the relative few who do the bulk of the work. Whenever things need to be done, trivial or significant, it’s always the same people at the coalface and numbers of individuals absent when it matters.
It is unfortunate that I can’t place the actual source of that story about Irving Kristol but I do remember that it was the behaviour and attitudes of many of the soldiers themselves that dented his faith in the working class rather than the structures of military life.
Revisionist histories such as William I Hitchcock’s “Liberation” and Keith Lowe’s “Savage Continent” give a broader picture (less flattering that we are used to) of the Allied victors following the liberation of Europe.
Your point about slackers carried by the hard working few is well made and can be seen in all areas of working life. In my experience those with a chronically good opinion of themselves are the most likely to overestimate the value of their contribution ““ with an inevitable sense of entitlement.
Agree. Very helpful discussion. A number of issues were correctly identified as “important”; how to go about prioritizing would be another interesting discussion, and one the right and left could have if there were more folks willing to be open to listening and giving the benefit of the doubt as it relates to motive. Not sure I would call it the elephant in the room, but can China and its political and economic aspirations be set aside? They certainly reject our existing “system”. And they won’t politely go away and let us solve our own political disagreements. In fact, China is a significant variable in any discussion on the current equitable or inequitable distribution of wealth production, which subject I think Mr Weinstein described succinctly.
Hey Bret! Thanks for the great Dark Horse podcasts and the follow-up Q&As. I make sure to watch them both every weekend.
The disaffected voter is interesting. I have often thought an additional option to abstain due to no real representation options would be useful on voting papers. I suspect it would win.
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