Transcript: Peter Thiel and Eric Weinstein – The Portal Podcast Episode 1
The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday
The following transcript was generated by a machine and not edited by any human – so it’s full of of errors. I’m posting the transcript because the podcast is excellent and a crappy transcript is better than no transcript. Questions/comments: get me on Twitter @mgmobrien.
Eric Weinstein 0:09
Hello, and welcome to The Portal’s first episode. Today I’ll be sitting down with Peter Thiel. Now, if you’ve been following me on Twitter or perhaps as a podcast guest on other podcasts, you may know that I work for Thiel Capital. But one of the things that people ask me most frequently is, given that you are so different than your boss and friend, Peter Thiel, how is it the two of you get along? What is it that you talk about? Where do you agree and disagree? Now, oddly, Peter and I both do a fair amount of public speaking, but I don’t believe that we’ve ever appeared in public together. And very few people have heard our conversations. What’s more, he almost never mentions me, and I almost never mention him in our public lives. So hopefully, this podcast will give some indication of what a conversation is like somebody who I find
one of the most interesting and influential teachers of our time, somebody who has influenced all sorts of people in Silicon Valley involved with technology and inventing tomorrow, and who is often not seen accurately In my opinion, by the commentariat and the regular people who are pined as pundits in the world of science and technology. I hope you’ll find Peter as fascinating as I do. Without further ado, this is the first episode of the portal. Thanks for joining.
Peter Thiel 1:26
Hello, and welcome.
Eric Weinstein 1:27
You found the portal. I’m your host, Eric Weinstein. And I think this is our first interview show to debut and I’m here with my good friend and employer, Mr. Peter Thiel. Peter, welcome to the portal.
Peter Thiel 1:37
Well, Eric, thanks for having me on your program.
Eric Weinstein 1:38
Now this is a great honor. One of the things I think is kind of odd is that lots of people know that I work for you. And many people know that we’re friends. But even though we both do a fair amount of public speaking, I don’t think we’ve ever appeared anyplace in public together. Is that your recollection as well?
Peter Thiel 1:55
I can’t think of a single occasion. So this this proves we’re not the same person.
Eric Weinstein 1:59
We’re not the same person, you are not my alter ego. But you know, on that front, I think it is kind of an odd thing for me. I mean, we met each other, I think when I was in my late 40s. And if you’d ever told me that the person who would be most likely to complete my thoughts accurately would be you I never would have believed that never having met you. We have somewhat opposite politics, we have very different life histories. How do you think it is that we’ve come to share such a lot of thinking? I mean, I have to say that a lot of my ideas are cross pollinated with yours. So you occur in a lot of my my standard riffs. How do you think that is that we came to different conclusions but share so much of a body of thought?
Peter Thiel 2:45
It’s, um, it’s I’m always hard pressed to answer that since the conclusions all seem correct to me. So you know, it’s a and it’s always mysterious. Why, why we’re white. It feels like we’re the outliers and we’re the only are among the very A few people that reach some of these conclusions about sort of the relative stagnation in science and technology, the ways in which this is deranging our culture, our politics, our society, and then how we need to try to find some some bold ways out some bold ways to find a new portal to different different world. And, and I think there’s sort of different ways. The two of us came at this. I feel like you got you got to some of these perspectives at a very early point, sort of the mid 1980s that something was incredibly off. I probably got there in the early mid 90s when I was doing this track law firm job in New York City, and somehow everything felt like it was more like a Ponzi scheme. It wasn’t really going towards the future. Everyone had a promise to you in in the sort of elite, you know, undergraduate and law school education I’d gone through. And so yeah, so I think I think we’re sort of point we, we got to these insights, but it’s still struggle. Liking how on, you know how, how out of sync they feel with, with so much of our society even even in 2019?
Eric Weinstein 4:08
Yeah, I mean, it’s a very striking thing for me. And it’s also something that’s frustrated me sometimes when I look forward to you being interviewed is that it often feels to me that so much time is spent on the initial question like, are we somewhat stagnating in science and technology that rather than assuming that as a conclusion, which I think we can make a pretty convincing argument that there has been a lot of stagnation? It seems to me that a lot of these conversations hang at an earlier level. And so one of the things that I was hoping to do in this, which is I think your second long form podcast you did Dave Rubin show some time ago, is to sort of presuppose some of the basics that people will be familiar with who’ve been following either one of us or both of us, and to get to the part of the conversation that I think never gets explained and discussed before. Because people are always so hung up at the initial frame issue. So, with your indulgence, let’s talk a little bit about what you and I see in any differences that we might have about this period of time that we find ourselves in in 2019. What would you say is the dominant narrative before we get to what might be our shared kind of counter narrative?
Peter Thiel 5:31
Well, um, you know, the dominant narrative is probably fraying and has been fraying for some time, but it is something like, you know, we’re in a world of generally fast scientific and technological progress. Things are getting better all the time. There’s some imbalances that maybe need to be smoothed out. There’s some corner case problems. Maybe there’s some dystopian risks because the technology is so so fast and so scary. That
I’d be destructive, but it’s a it’s a generally acceleration, just story. And then there’s some sort of micro adjustments within that, that, that one would have to, would have to make. It is, um, there’s, you know, there’s sort of are all sorts of ways that I think it’s fraying. You know, I think 2008 was a big watershed moment. But but that’s still what’s what’s largely, largely been holding together. And then, you know, there’s sort of different institutions, when you look at, you can look at the universities where, you know, sort of there’s a tract thing, it’s costing more every year, but it’s still worth it. It’s still an investment in the future. And this was probably ready questionable in the 1980s 1990s. In college debt in the United States in 2000, was $300 billion. Now it’s around 1.6 1.7 trillion. And so there’s a way in which the story was shaky 20 years ago, and today is is much shaker it’s still sort of holding together somehow. So in this story, in essence,
Eric Weinstein 7:01
the great dream is that your children will become educated, they will receive a college education, they will find careers and then in this bright and dynamic society, they can look forward to a future that is brighter than the future that previous generations look forward to.
Peter Thiel 7:18
Yes, I think now, again, I think people are hesitant to actually articulate it quite that way. Because that already sounds not quite true to
Eric Weinstein 7:26
your, to your point, they’ve been adding epicycles for some time, so
Peter Thiel 7:28
so it’s maybe it’s a bright future, but it’s really different from the parents, as we can’t quite know. And they’ve, you know, they have all these, these new devices, they have an iPhone, and they can text really fast and the iPhone, we can’t even understand what the younger generation is doing. So there’s, so maybe it’s better on but better has certain objective scale. Maybe it’s just different and unmeasurable, but but better in sort of an unmeasurable way. So there’s sort of our ways it’s gotten modified, but but that would still be, you know, very powerfully intact narrative and then and then that there are Sort of straightforward things we can be doing, the system’s basically working. And it’s basically going to continue to work. And there’s sort of a global version of this. There’s a US version, there’s a upper middle class US version, that a lot of different variations on this.
Eric Weinstein 8:16
So it always strikes me that one of the things that you do very well is that you’re willing, and you know, you’re famously a chess player, you’re willing to make certain sacrifices in order to advance a point. And in this case, I think you and I would both agree that there are certain areas that have continued to follow the growth story more than the general economy, and that you have to kind of give those stories they’re due before you get to see this new picture. Where do you think the future has been relatively more bright in recent years?
Peter Thiel 8:53
Well, again, I you know, I sort of date the era of stagnate relative stagnation and slowed progress all the way back to the 19 70 so I think it’s been close to half a century that we’ve been in this in this era of, of seriously slowed, slowed progress. Obviously, a very big exception to this has been the world of bits, computers, internet, mobile internet software. And so Silicon Valley has somehow been this up in this dramatic exception, you know. And whereas the world of atoms has been, has been much slower for for something like 50 years. And you know, when I was an undergraduate at Stanford in the late 1980s, almost all engineering disciplines in retrospect, were really bad fields to go into people already knew at the time, you shouldn’t go into nuclear engineering, Aero Astro was a bad idea. But you know, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, all these things were were bad fields, computer science was would have been a very good field to go into. And, and that’s been sort of a an area where there’s been been tremendous growth. So I that’s that’s a that’s sort of the the signature one that I would I would I would cite their questions about, you know how healthy it is, at this point, even within that field, so, so you know, there’s the iPhone is now looking the same as it did seven, eight years ago. So that’s the iconic invention, not not quite so sure and so that there’s been sort of a definitely a change in the tone, even within Silicon Valley in the last five, six years on on this, but that that had been that had been one that was very, very decoupled. The decoupling itself had had some artifacts, Where, where, if you have sort of a narrow cone of progress around this world of bits, then the people who are in the, those parts of the economy have more to do with atoms will feel like they’re being left behind. So there was something there was something about the the tech narrative that had this very, didn’t necessarily feel inclusive didn’t feel like like everybody was getting ahead. And one of the ways I’ve described it is that we live in a world where I’m working on the star trek computer and Silicon Valley. But we don’t have anything else from Star Trek. We don’t have the warp drive. We don’t have the transporter Can’t you know reengineer matter in sort of this cornucopia world where there’s no scarcity and and then you know how good is a society where you have a well functioning Star Trek computer but nothing else from Star Trek.
Eric Weinstein 11:19
Yeah, that’s an incredibly juicy I mean one of the ways that I attempted to encode something which in part I got from you was to say, of course, your iPhone is amazing. It’s all that’s left of your once limitless future because it’s the collision of the communications in the semiconductor revolution revolutions that did seem to continue and I did the the sort of break in the economy to something like 1972 7374 it’s really quite sharp in my mind, is it that way in yours?
Unknown Speaker 11:51
Peter Thiel 11:53
it was probably like I’d say 1968 people still, you know, the narrative progress seemed tacked on page 73. It was somehow over. So somewhere in that in that five year period, you know, when, I mean, I’ve sort of had, you know, the 1969 version was we landed on the moon in July of 1969. And Woodstock starts Three weeks later. And maybe that’s, that’s one way you could describe the cultural shift. You can describe it in terms of the oil shocks of 1973. at the, at the back end, on the probably, you know, with with the benefit of hindsight, there were things already framed by the late 1960s. So the environment was getting dramatically worse. You have the graduate movies, you should go into plastics, I think it was 1968 or 69. And that would have, you know, that would have so there were sort of things where with a story was fraying, but but I think was still broadly intact in 1968, and somehow seemed very off by 73.
Eric Weinstein 12:48
Now something that actually I’m scanning my memory and I don’t know that we’ve had this conversation, so I’m curious to hear your answer. One of the things that I found surprising is The i think i can tell a reasonably decent story about how this is a result of a scientific problem, rather than the mismanagement of our future. Do you believe that if we assume that there was this early 1970s structural change in the economy, that it was largely a sort of manmade problem, which is what we seemingly implicitly always assume? Or might it be a scientific one, and let me give you the one iconic example that really kind of drives it home for me? I think quarks were discovered in 1968. And to find out that the proton and neutron are comprised of up and down quarks is an incredible change in our picture of the world, yet it has no seeming implications for industry. And I, I started thinking about this question, are we somehow fenced out of whatever technologies are To come that we’ve sort of exhausted one orchard of low hanging fruit and haven’t gotten to the next.
Peter Thiel 14:06
Yes, um, yeah. So there’s always I think 111 way to parse this question of scientific technological stagnation is sort of nature versus culture. Did Nate the ideas of nature run out or at least the useful ideas, maybe make some more discoveries, but they’re not useful? Are they easily useful, easily useful? That sort of nature says a problem with nature. And then the the cultural problem is that there was actually a lot to be discovered or a lot that could be made useful, but somehow the culture gotten gotten deranged. And I sort of go back and forth on those two explanations. I think it’s it’s it’s very complicated. Obviously, we had, I think, in physics, you’d say, even though, you know, I mean, probably even the fundamental discoveries stopped after the mid 1970s. But, but certainly the translation didn’t happen. quarks don’t matter for chemistry in chemistry is what matters on a on a human level. I would say the A lot that happened in biochemistry, so sort of the, you know, not chemistry down sort of chemistry of the interface between chemistry and biology. And that’s where I would be inclined to say, there’s a lot more that could happen, and has not quite happened. Because maybe the problems are hard, maybe. But maybe also the cultural institutions for researching them are, are restrictive, it’s too heavily regulated in certain ways. And and it’s been just somewhat slower than we would have expected in the 1970s. So maybe, maybe it’s really just a constant dialogue between nature and culture. Yes, obviously, because obviously, if nature has stopped, then the culture is going to do range. So there’s a way in which culture is linked to nature. And then you know, the culture do ranges it also will look like nature stops. So so I think these things are there’s they’re probably elements of both. But I am, I am always, I’m optimistic in the sense that I think we could have done better. I think we could do better I think there are no, it’s not necessarily the case that we can advance on all fronts in every direction. But I think there, there’s more space on the frontier than just in this world of bits. So I think there are various dimensions on atoms where we could we could be advancing and we just we just have chosen not to,
Eric Weinstein 16:16
why do you think it’s so hard to convince people? That because both of us have had this experience, where we sit down, let’s say to an interview, and somebody talks about the dizzying pace of change, and both you and I see almost, I mean, it’s almost objectively true. I have this test, which is, go into a room and subtract off all of the screens. Yes. How do you know you’re not in 1973? But for issues of design, there aren’t that many clues?
Unknown Speaker 16:47
Yes, there are. Well, let’s,
Peter Thiel 16:50
there all sorts of things one can one can point to I mean, you know, I always point to the productivity data and omics, which aren’t great and then get into debates, and how accurately are those being measured? You Do you have this sort of intergenerational thing where, you know, our generation Gen X is at a tougher time than the boomers, the millennials seem to be having a much tougher time than, you know, either us or the boomers had. So this seems to be this generational thing. So the are some of these sort of macroeconomic variables that seemed that seemed pretty off. The, um, the direct scientific questions, I think, are very hard to get a handle on. And the reason for this is that in late modernity, which we’re living on, there’s simply too much knowledge for any individual human to understand all of it and so, um, you know, and so the, the so in this world of extreme hyper specialization, where it’s narrower and narrower subsets of experts policing themselves and talking about how great they are the string theorists talking about how great string theory is the cancer researchers talking about how they’re just about to cure cancer, the quantum computer researchers are just about to build, you know, quantum computer there’ll be a massive breakthrough and then If you’re to say that all these fields, not much is happening, people just don’t have the authority for this, this is somehow a very different feel for science or knowledge than you would have had an 1800 or even a 1900 in 1800 go to could still understand just about everything, right 1900 Hilbert could still understand just about all of mathematics. And so the sort of the sort of specialization, I think, has made it a much harder question to get a handle on the political cut I have on the specialization is always that, that if you analyze the politics of science, the specialization should make you suspicious, it should because it’s gotten harder to evaluate what’s going on, then it’s presumably gotten easier for people to lie and to exaggerate, and then one should be a little bit suspicious. And that’s, that’s, that’s sort of my starting my starting bias well, and
Eric Weinstein 18:50
mine mine as well. And I think, perhaps sort of the craziest idea to come out of all of this and again, you met you Your version of this is in a law firm, which is predicated upon the idea that a partner would hire associates and Associates would hope to become partners who could then hire associates. And so that has that pyramid structure. And then the university system, every professor is trying to train graduate students to become research professors to train graduate students. And I think that, you know, the universities were probably the most aggressive of these sort of things I’ve called embedded growth obligations. But the implication of this idea that we structured almost everything on an expectation of growth, and then this growth that was expected ran out wasn’t as high and stable and as technologically LED, as before, has a pretty surprising implication, which is, I mean, let’s not dance around it. It feels like almost universally, all of our institutions are now pathological
Peter Thiel 19:55
or sociopathic or whatever you want to call them. Yes. Yes, I suppose they’re sort of to two ways one could imagine going if, you know, you had these expectations of great growth, great expectations, he’s the Charles Dickens novel from the 19th century had great expectations. And then you can try to be honest and say the expectations are dialed down, or you can continue to say everything’s great. And it just happens not to be working out for you, but it’s working out for people in general. And, and somehow, it’s been very hard to have the sort of honest reset, and, and, and the incentives have been for the institutions to drange and to lie so, you know, there’s a problem, there’s probably a way the universities could function if they did not grow. You know, you’d be honest, most people in PhD programs don’t become professors. Maybe you’d make the PhD programs much shorter, maybe it’d be much more selective, you let fewer people and there would be some way you could sort of adjust it and the institutions could still be much healthier than they are today. But that’s that’s not the path that that seemingly was taken. And, and do something like this could have been done in a law firm context for maybe, maybe you, you still at the same percentage of people become partner, but the partners don’t get don’t make quite as much money as before or something like that. So that would have been ways when one could have gone. But those are generally not the choices that were made.
Eric Weinstein 21:19
Yeah, I wonder if that’s even possible because if you had a law firm that was honest, or university that was fairly honest, and you had one that was dishonest, it seems to me that the dishonest one could attempt to use its prestige to out compete the honest one. And so that would become a self extinguishing strategy. Unless you somehow had like a truth in advertising program.
Peter Thiel 21:45
Yeah. I don’t know. You know, I do think the truth. You know, when it breaks through, you’re better off having told the not not having, and so it’s always it. As long as everybody was dishonest. It could work. Well that’s and that’s it. But, ya know, it’s like it’s, it’s, it’s mysterious to me how long it worked. We had, you know, we had these crazy bubble economies in the, you know, we had the, the tech bubble in the 90s, the housing bubble in the 2000s, you know, what I think is a government debt bubble, you know, this last decade. And, and so if you’ve had the sort of, you know, up down bubble, that’s, um, that’s, that’s sort of harder to see than if things were just flat. So if the growth in 1970, things just flatlined, and you had 40 years of no growth, that would have been problematic, and you might have noticed that very quickly, right, but in a sense, simplifying a lot, you could say we had, you know, the 70s were down 80s were up the 90s were up the 2000s were down, so two down two up that flat, but it didn’t feel that way. It’s like internally there’s a lot of excitement a lot of stuff happened. And so yeah, there’s in California was like a even more extreme version of this, you know, the last the last three recessions in California were much more severe than in the country as a whole, the recoveries were steeper. And so California has felt incredibly volatile. Volatility gets interpreted as dynamism. And then and then people and then before, you know, 30 or 40 years have passed.
Eric Weinstein 23:18
One thing that I I’m very curious about is how this discipline seems to have arisen where almost everyone representing the institutions tell some version of this universal story, which I’ll be honest to my way of thinking can be instantly invalidated by anyone who chooses to do so it’s just that the cost of invalidating it is quite high. You know, Paul Krugman wrote this column called a protectionist moment, where he said, let’s be honest, the financial elites case for ever freer trade has always been something of a scam. And so you had people who were Participating in this who seemed to have known all along that there’s no way of justifying this on paper. But yet, we’re willing and able to participate with seemingly very few consequences to their careers. Like it didn’t give opportunities to people who were heterodox and saying, hey, aside from a few bright spots, more or less, we’ve actually entered a period of relative stagnation. How did this How did this happen? I how is it that this you feel so?
Peter Thiel 24:28
Well? I think the individual incentives were very different from the collective instead of the collective incentives, we should we have an honest conversation and right level set things and get get back to a better place. I think the individual incentives were often you pretend that it’s working great for you. It’s like if you’re, you know, the 20,000 people a year who moved to Los Angeles to become movie stars, about 20 of them make it and so you can say, well, it’s been really hard. Nobody wants to hire me, that’s a terrible city. Or you could say, you know, it’s been wonderful that all the doors are being opened to me. And that’s the second one is more effective. But that’s that’s the that’s sort of the thing you’re supposed to say if you’re if you’re succeeding, and there’s I think there’s a way in how we’ve been talking about globalization, where it sort of glib globalization, it’s working great for me on. And I’d like to have more people on more talented people come to the US, I’m not scared of competing with them. And and on. So this, this sort of is, is this. Yes. Or academia. If you’re, you know, if you’re a professor in academia, so the tenure system is great. It’s just picking the most talented people. I don’t think it’s that hard at all. It’s completely meritocratic. And if you don’t say those things, well, we know you’re not the person to get tenure. Yeah. So I think so I think there’s sort of like this individual incentive where you’re supposed to if you if you pretend the system is working, you’re simultaneously signaling that you’re one of the few people who should succeed.
Eric Weinstein 25:52
So one image that I have and you know, you and I have talked, I use the word kayfabe for the system of nonsense that undergirds professional wrestling, and you’ve taken to using LARPing, or live action role playing. It strikes me that we have two separate parallel systems. Now this podcasting experiment that you and I are now part of provides for a very unscripted out of control narrative. And then there’s this parallel institutional narrative that seems to exist in a gated form where the institutions keep talking to each other, and ignore this thing that’s happening that has reached more and more people. So you effectively have multiple narratives, one of which, I think, almost no one needs to believe it’s just the institutions need to trade kind of lies and deceptions back and forth amongst themselves. How is it that these two things can be kept separate? It’s like a real wrestling league and a professional wrestling league side by side were somehow they just don’t come into contact with each other?
Unknown Speaker 27:03
Peter Thiel 27:05
think if they came into contact something they didn’t, then they wouldn’t both be able to exist. So I think that’s not surprising that they can’t cut contact? I, I don’t think it’s a terribly, you know, I don’t think it’s ultimately stable. So I think ultimately, you know, our account is going to prevail on the institutional account is so incorrect that it will ultimately fail. I’ve probably been more hopeful about how quickly truth prevails than than it has, but I think for but I would still, I would still be very hopeful that, that, that our account is really going to break through and, you know, in the next few years, I’ve been talking about the this the the tech stagnation problem for, for, you know, the better part of a decade. And I think when I was talking about this in 2008 2009 2010, this was still you know, fringy view, it was very fringy within Silicon Valley, and I think even within silicon Valley, there’s sort of a lot of people who’ve come around to it have partially come around to it. There’s a sense that Tech has a bad conscience, it feels like it’s not delivering the promises. You know, Google had this propaganda about the future, as now seen, as you know, the self driving cars are further away than people expected. And so I think I think there is sort of a sense that things have shifted a lot over the last decade,
Eric Weinstein 28:24
but even like five years ago, I mean, it feels to me I, I moved out to work with you in 2013. And I’d never seen a boom before. And this was one of the things that was really important to me is that being in academics, the academy had been in a depression since this change around 1972 73. And seeing a boom and seeing people with like flowers and dollar signs in their eyes, you know, talking about a world of abundance and how everything was gonna be great. It seemed like everybody was the CEO or CTO. Have some tiny company. And then very, very quickly, it all started to change. And I felt like a lot of people moved back into the behemoths from their little startup having failed. A lot of the ideology felt poisonous, like don’t be evil was not even something you could utter. without somebody snickering behind your back. There’s like a self hating component where the engineers have been recruited ideologically and are like not actually there to do business. How did this happen so quickly?
Peter Thiel 29:30
Well, it’s always it’s Am I wrong about No, it’s striking how fast it’s happened. It’s striking how much it’s happened in the context of a bull market. So if you describe this in terms of psychology, you think that people people to be as angry in Silicon Valley as they are today? in the stock market must be down 40 or 50%. It’s like, you know, people in New York City were angry in 2009. They were angry at the banks. They hated themselves, but you know, the stock market was down 50 60% the banks have gotten away. alliterated and that sort of makes sense psychologically, and, and the strange thing is that in terms of the civil law, the macro economic indicators, the stock markets, the valuations of larger companies, it’s it’s like way beyond the.com, peaks of, of 2000. And all in all sorts of ways. But the mood is not like late 99, early 2000, it has a very different mood. And the way I would would explain this is that for the people involved, it is sort of a look ahead function. So it is, you know, yes, this is where, where things are, but are they going to be worth a lot more in five years, 10 years, and that’s gotten that’s gotten a lot harder to tell. And so there’s been growth, but people are unhappy and frustrated because they don’t see that much growth going forward. Even within tech, even within this world of, of bits, which had been, you know, very, very decoupled for such a long time.
Eric Weinstein 30:57
Now, one of the things that’s interesting thing to me is that when we talk like this, a lot of people are gonna say, Wow, that’s a lot of gloom and doom, so much is changing so much is better. And yet, what I sense is, is that both you and I have an idea that we’ve lived our entire life in some sort of intellectual Truman Show where everything is kind of fake. And something super exciting is about to happen.
Do you share? Is that a fair telling that?
Peter Thiel 31:31
Well, I think that I think there’s been the potential to get back to the future for a long time. And, you know, there, there have been breaks in this Truman Show at various points. There was a big break with 911 there was a big break with the 2018 browsers. Um, you know, you could say some sort of break with Brexit and Trump and, and the last few years it’s still like a little bit undecided with it, what that all means. But I think I think there were a lot of reasons to question this and reassess this for some time, the reassessments never quite happened. But But I would say, I think we’re now at the point where, where this is, is really going to happen in the next, you know, um, you know, two years to five years to a decade, I don’t think The Truman Show can keep going. Keep going that much longer. You know, when I was, you know, and again, I was I’ve been wrong about this. So Me
Eric Weinstein 32:24
too. No, I’ve been I’ve been very wrong. I’ve called it we had a bit of an off
Peter Thiel 32:26
site when I was running PayPal in spring of 2001. You know, the NASDAQ had gone from 2000 to 5000. Back to 2000. dot com bubble was over. And I was explaining, you know, we’re just battening down the hatches, or at least one little company has survived we’re going to survive and but the in sort of insanity that we saw in the.com years will never come back in the lifetimes of the people here because you know, psychologically, you can’t go that crazy again while you’re still alive. Right. The 1920s didn’t come back till the less maybe the 1980s or something. We’re long generationally. Yeah, was over Yet already in 2001, had the incipient housing bubble and And somehow, some other shows kept going for for 20 years with the
Eric Weinstein 33:09
narrative, like, the whole narrative behind the great moderation. I mean, I remember just like clutching my head, how can you tell a story that we’ve banished volatility?
Peter Thiel 33:20
Yes, it’s always I always think of the 1990 narrative was the new economy, and you lied about growth. And then the 2000s narrative was the great moderation and you lied about volatility. And, and maybe, you know, the sort of the, the 2000 10s one is a secular stagnation, where you lie about the real interest rates because the other two don’t work anymore. And then sort of a complicated way these things connect. But But yes, new economy sounded very bullish in the 90s. Great moderation was still a reasonably long stocks but sounds less bullish and then secular studies. nation in the Larry Summers forums to be specific we’re talking about means, again that you should be long the stock market, the stock market is going to keep going up. because things are so stagnant, the real rates will stay low forever. So so they are equally bullish narratives, although they sound less bullish over time.
Eric Weinstein 34:17
So that effectively we need.
What happened with the roaring 20s followed by the Depression was that there was a general skepticism and here the scepticism seems to be specific to something different in each incarnation that you keep having bubbles with some lie you have yet to tell.
Peter Thiel 34:37
Yes, but I think, of course, I think the the crazy cut on the 20s and 30s was that we didn’t need to have as big of a crash, you could you could have probably done all sorts of intervention, because the 1930s was still a period that was very healthy in terms of background, scientific, technological innovation, if you just rattle off what was discovered in the 19 30s that had real world practical things was the aviation industry got off the ground, the talkies and movies got got going. You had you had the plastics industry, you had the, you know, you had secondary oil recovery, you had household appliances got developed. And as you know, by 1939, there were three times as many people who had cars in the US as in 1929. And so it was, there was this crazy tailwind of scientific and technological progress that then somehow got, you know, badly mismanaged financially by whoever you blame the crash on. And so I think that’s, that’s what actually happened in the 30s. And then, um, and then we tried to sort of manage all these financial indicators much more precisely in recent decades, even though the tailwind wasn’t there at all.
Eric Weinstein 35:51
So let me focus you on two subjects that are important for trying to figure out the economy going forward. very fond of perhaps overclaiming, but making a strong claim for physics that physics gave us atomic devices and nuclear power, and ended World War Two definitively. It gave us the semiconductor, the worldwide web, theoretical physicists invented molecular biology, the communications revolution, all of these things came out of physics. And you could make the argument that physics has been really underrated as powering the world economy. On the other hand, it’s very strange to me that we had the three dimensional structure of DNA in 53. We had the genetic code 10 years later. And we’ve had very little in the way of, let’s say, gene therapy, to show for all of our newfound knowledge, I have no doubt that we are learning all sorts of new things to your point about specialization in biology. But the translation hasn’t been anything like what I would have imagined for physics. So it feels like somehow we’re in a new orchard. And we’re spending a lot of time exploring it. But we haven’t found the low hanging fruit in biology. And we’ve kind of exhausted the physics orchard because what we’ve found is so exotic that, you know, whether it’s two black holes colliding, or, you know, a third generation of matter, or cork substructure, we haven’t been able to use these things. Are we somehow between revolutions?
Peter Thiel 37:33
Well, I, I would say the question of what’s going on and but I’m, I wouldn’t bet I wouldn’t be pessimistic on physics generally. So that’s sort of been my bias on that one, um, biology, I continue to think we could be doing a lot more we could be making a lot more progress. And, you know, the pessimistic version is that no, biology is just sometimes much harder than physics, and therefore, therefore, it’s been slower going the The more optimistic one is that the culture is just broken. We have, we’ve had very talented people go into physics, you go into biology, if you’re, if you’re less talented, you know, it’s sort of like you can sort of think of it in Darwinian terms. You can think of biology as a selection for people with bad math genes. If you’re good at math, you go into physics go to math, or physics, or at least chemistry, and biology, we sort of selected for, you know, all of these people who were somewhat somewhat less talented. And so that might be that might be a cultural explanation for for why it’s been been slower progress.
Eric Weinstein 38:32
But I mean, we had people from physics we had like teller and Fineman and Crick. There’s no shortage of I mean, you know, to my earlier point, molecular biology anyway, was really founded by physicists, more than more than any other thing I think. Why is it that in an era where physics is stagnating, we don’t see These kind of minds. Like, I’m a little skeptical that that theory
Peter Thiel 39:04
Well, I, I I’m not I’m not so sure like if you if you’re a string theory person or even sort of an applied experimental physicist, I don’t think you can that easily reboot into biology. I mean, these these, you know, these disciplines have gotten sort of more more rigid. It’s it’s pretty hard to transfer from one area to another I, you know, I, when I was an undergraduate, you still had some older professors who are polymaths knew a lot about a lot of different things. Whereas, this is I think, the way one should really think of you know, Watson and Crick or Fineman or you know, or Teller, they, they, you know, they they were certainly world class in, in, in their field but also like incredible and highly DNS aggressive and and you know, the, the, the cultural or institutional rule is no polymaths allowed. You know, you can be you can be narrowly specialized And if you’re interested in other things, you better keep it to yourself and not tell people because if you say that you’re interested in computer science and also music or studying the Hebrew Bible. Wow, that’s a that’s that’s just that must mean you’re just not very serious about computer science.
Eric Weinstein 40:18
Well, so I totally want to riff on on this point, because I think you’ve hit the nail on the head to my way of thinking, the key problem is if you go back to our original contention, which is is that there is something universally pathological about the stories that every institution predicated on growth has to tell about itself. When things are not growing, the biggest danger is that somebody smart inside of the institution will start questioning things and speaking openly. And it seems like
Peter Thiel 40:50
the polymaths will be the people who could connect the dots and say, you know, there’s not that much going on in my department. There’s not much going on this department over here. Not that much going on in this department. Over there. And those people are very, very dangerous. You know, one of my one of my friends who studied physics at Stanford in the late 90s, his advisor was this professor at Stanford, Bob Laughlin, who, in the late 90s, brilliant physics guy, late 90s, he gets a Nobel Prize in Physics. And he suffers from these, the Supreme delusion that now that he has a Nobel Prize, he has total academic freedom and he can do anything he wants to and he decided to direct it at you know, I mean, there are all these areas you should probably shouldn’t go into each potion, question, climate science, there are all these things one one should be careful about, but he went into an area far more dangerous than all of those. He was convinced that there were all these people in the university who were doing fake science. were wasting government money on fake research that was was not really going anywhere. And he started by investigating other departments start with the biology department at Stanford University. And you can imagine this ended catastrophic Lee for Professor Loughlin, you know His graduate students can get PhDs, he no longer got funding, Nobel Peace Prize, a sort of Nobel Prize in Physics, no protection whatsoever.
Eric Weinstein 42:09
A Julian swinger fell out of favor with the physics community despite being held in its highest regard and having a Nobel Prize. And he used the epigram in book where he wanted to redo quantum field theory around something he called source theory. He said, If you can’t join him beat him. And I think it comes as a shock to all of these people that there is no level you can rise to in the field that allows you to question the assumptions of that field.
Peter Thiel 42:37
Right? It’s like, you know, you’re sort of proving yourself you’re, you know, you’re getting your PhD or getting your tenured position. And then at some point, you think you’d think that you’ve proven yourself and you can, you can talk about the whole and not just the parts what you’re never allowed to talk about more than the parts, you know, like the, the person in the university context, the core of the class of people. People who are supposed to talk about the whole right, I would say, are university presidents, because they are presiding over the whole of the university. And they should be able to speak to what the nature of the whole is, what sort of progress the whole is making is the what is the health of the progress of the whole? And, and, you know, we we don’t, you know, we certainly do not pick university presidents who think critically about these, these questions at all.
Eric Weinstein 43:29
Well, I remember discussing with a president of a very highly regarded University, he came to me said, Can you explain how your friend Peter Thiel thinks, because I just had a conversation with him. And I could not convince him that the universities were doing fantastically in this university in particular, like, how does he come to this conclusion? And I said, Well, look, Peter The doesn’t come with a PhD, but let me speak to you in your own language. I started going department by department talking about the problems of stagnation. It was very clear that there was no previous experience with any kind of informed person making such an argument. I mean, this was a zero day exploit,
Peter Thiel 44:21
but it’s Yeah, but it’s, but, you know, in some sense, if you’re a president of the university, you know, you, you should, you probably don’t want to talk to people that dangerous, you want to avoid them and you don’t want to have such disruptive thoughts. Because you have to, you know, convince the government or alumni or whoever to keep donating money that everything’s, everything’s wonderful and great. And, and no, I think one has to go back quite a long time to, to even identify any university presidents in the United States, who said things that were distinctive or interesting or, or powerful. Well, you know, there was, you know, there was Larry Summers at Harvard. You know, a decade and a half ago and tried to do like the most miniscule critiques imaginable, and got, you know, crucified. But I don’t think of you know, I don’t think of summers as a particularly revolutionary thinker.
Eric Weinstein 45:13
Well, he he was possessed of an idea that the intellectual elite in which he undoubtedly saw himself a part of had the right to transgress boundaries. And, and I think what’s stunning about this is the extent to which this breed of outspoken, disruptive intellectual has no place left inside of the system from which to speak. But it’s,
Peter Thiel 45:44
you know, but there’s, it’s not that surprising, like in a healthy system, you can have wild dissent and it’s not threatening because everyone knows the system is healthy, unhealthy system, the descent becomes much more dangerous. So, so you know, this is an idea I think that’s it’s, it’s it’s not that surprising that there’s always a one one riff I have on this, as always, you know, if you think of a left wing person, as someone who’s critical of the structures of our society, right? There’s a sense in which we have almost no left wing professors. Plus, I mean, right, in this, like
Eric Weinstein 46:18
Noam Chomsky still is still there, as sort of a last remnant of some claims that were no longer
Peter Thiel 46:25
left wing in the sense of less than just being critical of the institutions, they’re part of. Right. And there may be some that are much older. So if you’re maybe in your 80s, we can, you know, we can pretend to ignore you, or it’s just what happens to people in their 80s. Sure, and, but, but I don’t, I don’t see, you know, younger professors in their, say, 40s, who are deeply critical of the of the university structure, I think it’s just, it’s just not, you know, you can’t have that. Like, again, if you come back to something as as reductionist as the ever escalating student debt, right. You know, the bigger The debt gets even sort of thing. What is the 1.6 trillion? What does it pay for? And in essence, it pays for $1.6 trillion worth of lies about how great the system is. And so the more the debt goes, the crazier the system gets. But also the more you have to tell the lies, and these these things sort of go together. No, it’s it’s not a stable sequence at some rate this breaks. Again, I would I would bet on, you know, a decade not a century well, that this is
Eric Weinstein 47:26
the fascinating thing. You of course, famously started the Theil fellowship as a program, which correct me if I’m wrong on this 2005 is when student debt became non dischargeable
Peter Thiel 47:40
in bankruptcy, the bush 43 bankruptcy revision right now that yes, and so if you don’t pay off your student loans, when you’re 65, the government will garnish your Social Security wages to pay off your student debt.
Eric Weinstein 47:53
Right, this is, this is amazing that this exists in a modern society, and of course, well, so let me ask Am I right that you were attacking? What was necessary to keep the college mythology going and you were afraid that college might be innovating some of our sort of most dynamic minds?
Peter Thiel 48:15
Um, we were well, I think, I think I think there’s a lot of different critiques when once you have of the universities, I think the debt one is a is a very simple, very simple one it’s on, it’s on. It’s always dangerous, to be burdened with too much debt it’s for does limit your your freedom of, of action. And it seems especially pernicious to do this super early in your career. And so if you, if out of the gate you owe $100,000, and you know, it’s never clear you can get out of that hole, that’s, that’s going to either demotivate you or it’s going to push you into, into maybe you know, slightly higher paying very uncreative professions of the sort that are probably the You know, less good at moving our whole society forwards. And so I think, yes, I think I think the whole thing is, is extraordinarily pernicious. So it’s it is, it was one of these things where, you know, when I started talking about this back in, back in 2010 2000 2000, it was already it was already like it. It was controversial, but it was not like, you know, younger people all agreed with me, the younger people younger, you know, and it’s a decade later, it’s a lot crazier. It hasn’t, you know, we haven’t yet completely won, but, but I think there are sort of more and more people who agree with us, I think, I think at this point, I’m the Gen X parents of college students tend to agree, whereas I would say the baby boomer parents, you know, 15 years ago would not have agreed the 2008 crisis was a big watershed and those two wearing were on, you could say the tracking debt, you know, Roughly made sense, as long as everything, all the track careers worked in 2008 really blew up, you know, consulting banking, in sort of number of the more track professions got got blown up. And so that was kind of a watershed.
Unknown Speaker 50:14
Now, something that is, I mean, this is
Eric Weinstein 50:17
incredibly dangerous, but also therefore, quite interesting if you imagine that the baby boomers have in some sense in order to keep the structure of the university going, have loaded it up with administrators have hiked the tuition much faster than even medical inflation, let alone general inflation. This becomes a crushing debt problem for people who are entering the system. I saw a recent article that said that the company that I think it’s called seeking arrangements, which it introduces older men and women with money to younger men and women with a need for money for some sort of ambiguous hybrid diarized dating companionship, financial transfer. And the claim was that lots of students were using this suppose a sugar daddy and sugar Mommy, I don’t know what the terminology is in order to alleviate their debt burden, it’s almost as if the baby boomers in so creating a system are subjecting their own children to things that are pushing them towards a gray area. A few clicks before you get to honest prostitution.
Peter Thiel 51:34
No, I okay. I don’t I don’t want to impute too much intentionality. I don’t know how this happened. You know, I think what emerged a lot of these, it was mostly emergent. Mostly, mostly these things people, you know, yeah, that we had sort of somewhat cancerous we don’t distinguish real growth from cancerous growth and then, you know, once the cancers from metastasis sizes At a certain size, you know, you have a sort of sum I try to keep the whole thing going and it doesn’t make that much that much sense. But, but yes, I look, I think, I think one of the reasons, one of the challenges and right on our side, let’s let’s, let’s be a little more self critical here on, on, on, on this is the question we always are confronted with, well, what is the alternative? How do you actually do something and, um, and it is, you know, it’s not obvious what the individual alternatives are, on an individual level, if you get into an elite University, it probably still makes sense to go, it probably doesn’t make sense to go to number 100 or something like that. Um, but but so there is sort of a way it can still work individually, even if it does not work for our country as a whole. And so there are sort of all these all these challenges in, in, in, in an in, you know, coming up with alternate tracks, like I think, I think in software or something degree to which people are be hired if they’re just good at coding, and it’s not quite as critical that they have a computer science degree. Can we do this and other other careers, other fields? Um, I would tend to think one could it’s been, it’s been slow to happen.
Unknown Speaker 53:13
Well, so you and I have been
Eric Weinstein 53:15
excited about a great number of things that have been taking place outside of the institutional system. But one of the things that I continue I continue to be mystified by is that we are somewhat politically divided where you are well known as a conservative. And I really come from a fairly radical progressive streak. So we have this common view of a lot of the problems, but sometimes we come to very different ideas about how those problems should be solved. Do you want to maybe just try riffing, or figuring out like, assume that we somehow found ourselves in a position of some some degree of power with an ability to direct a little bit more than we have currently. What would you do to create the preconditions So not necessarily picking particular projects, but what would you try to do to create the preconditions where people are really dreaming about futures both at a technological level family formation, making our civil society healthier? What where would you? Where would you
Unknown Speaker 54:19
start to work first?
Peter Thiel 54:21
Well, there are a lot of things that is always I’m always a little bit uncomfortable, this sort of question because you can turn on me too, because I’m, you know, I feel like,
you know, we’re not going to be dictators of the United States, and then, you know, all sorts of things you could do for dictators. If, um, but, but certainly, look, I would, I would, I would, I would look at the college debt thing very seriously. I would say that, you know, it’s dischargeable in bankruptcy, and if and if and if, if, if people go bankrupt, then part of the debt has to be paid for by the owner. versity that, that did it, there has to be some sort of local accountability. So this would love that. That’d be sort of a more right wing answer the left wing answers, we should, you know, socialize the debt in some ways, and the universities should never pay for it, which would be more than, you know, Sanders. Warren approach. But, but, but, but so that’d be that’d be one version I think, you know, I think there is, um, I think I think there is, you know, I think one of the main ways inequality has manifested in our society last 2030 years, I think it’s gonna make things more stagnation than inequality, right, but just on the inequality side, it’s, it’s the runaway housing costs and the there’s a baby boomer version, we have super strict zoning laws so that house prices go up. And the house is your nest egg. It’s not a place to live. It’s your nest egg for retirement. And I would, I would try to figure out some ways to dial dial that stuff back back massively and and that’s probably intergenerational transfer words, bad for the acid prices. of baby boomer homeowners, but better for younger people to get started in, in sort of family formation or starting also households.
Eric Weinstein 56:12
What do you think about the idea of a CD, a college equivalency degree where you can prove that you have a level of knowledge that would be equivalent, let’s say to a graduating Harvard chemistry major, right, or a fraction thereof, where you have the ability to prove that through some sort of online delivery mechanism?
Peter Thiel 56:35
You create it? Yeah, I love it. Yeah, I think it’s very hard to implement. Again, I think, I think these things are hard to do. Well, again,
Eric Weinstein 56:40
but great idea, there’s a possibility of, like, we have all these people
Peter Thiel 56:45
who have something like Stockholm Syndrome, where they, they, you know, if you if you’ve got a Harvard chemistry degree, right, and if you suspect that, you know, actually the knowledge could be held by a lot of people and if it’s just a set of tests, You have to pass that your degree would be a lot less special, you will, you will resist this very, very hard. You know, if you’re, if you’re in an in an HR department or in a company, hiring people, you will want to hire people who went to a good college because you went to a good college. And if we broaden the hiring and said, we’re gonna hire all sorts of people, maybe, maybe that’s self defeating for your own position. So I think I think there are, you know, I think one should not underestimate how many people, you know, have have have a form of Stockholm Syndrome here.
Eric Weinstein 57:36
So some other ideas at some point when we were talking about, and I should have said earlier, that the Thiel fellowship for those who don’t know, is a program that is historically at least began paying very young people who had been admitted to colleges to drop out of those colleges, so they got to keep the idea that they’d been admitted to some fairly prestigious place, but Then they were given money to actually live their dreams and not put them on.
Peter Thiel 58:03
Yes, it was it was it has been an extremely successful and effective program. It’s not scalable, right. So, so we had to hack the, we had to hack the prestige status thing where it was as hard or harder to get a Thiel fellowship, than to get into a top university. Right. And, and so that’s, that’s part that’s, that’s very hard to scale.
Eric Weinstein 58:25
Well, so when I was looking at that program for you, one of the things that I floated was the idea that if you look at every advanced degree, like a JD, or an MD, PhD, none of them seem to carry the requirement of having a BA which is quite mysterious. And if you fail to get a PhD, let’s say there’s usually an embedded master’s degree that you get is a going away present. And therefore, if you could get People to skip college, if you give them perhaps four years of their lives back, and you could use the first year of graduate school, which is very often kind of a rapid recapitulation of what undergraduate was everybody’s on a level playing field. And then it worse comes to worse people would leave as a mass with a Master’s, they would in general get a stipend because a lot of the to tuition is remitted to them in graduate programs. Is that a viable program to get some group of people who are highly motivated
Unknown Speaker 59:31
Eric Weinstein 59:33
avoid the BA entirely as sort of the administrators degree rather than the professor’s degree?
Unknown Speaker 59:39
Um, let me see.
Peter Thiel 59:43
Yeah, so I mean, all the different subtle critiques I can have or disagreements, but yeah, I think look, I think I think the BA is not as valuable as it looks. I also think the PhD is not as valuable as it looks. No, no. I sort of feel it’s, it’s it’s, it’s it’s a it’s a problem across the board. It strikes me that what you’re proposing is a bit of an uphill struggle. Because at the top universities, the BA is the far more prestigious degree than the PhD at this point. So if you’re at Stanford or Harvard, you know, it’s pretty hard to get in to the undergraduate. And then you have you have more PhD students than you have undergraduates. There are all these people who are on, you know, a very questionable track, they’ve made questionable choices. It’s not clear, you know, you know, and so if you sort of, and, and, and they’re probably they probably are gonna have some sort of psychological breakdown in their future. You know, the dating prospects aren’t good. They’re all these things that are a little bit off. So, in theory, if you had a super tightly controlled PhD program, right, that might work but but you have to at least make those those two changes, you know, as it is the people in industry Like, it’s like Tribbles and Star Trek. And, you know, it’s there’s, you know, we have, you know, just so many, and they all feel expendable. And on unneeded, and it’s sort of, it’s just, that’s, that’s not a good, that’s not a good place to be, you know, and, and whereas I think the undergraduate conceit is still that it’s more, you know, k selected instead of are selected that it’s more on that everybody is special and valuable. You know, that’s often not true either. So I’d be critical of both right. And, and I think, but yeah, if we, if we could, if we could have a real PhD that was required, you know, that was, was much harder, and that actually led to sort of an academic position or some other comparable position. That would be that’d be good. You know, one of the questions I always come back to and this is what is the teleology these programs, where do they, where do they go Hmm, and, and what I think has gone You know, One of the analogies I’ve come up with is, I think undergraduate, elite undergraduate education is like junior high school football. You know, it’s not physical football, I didn’t see that coming. It’s it’s playing football in junior high schools, probably not damaging for you, but it’s not going anywhere I see. Because if you keep playing football in high school and college, and then professionally, that’s just that, the better you are, the more successful you are, the less well it works. And, and then the question is, what’s the motivational structure and when I when I was an undergraduate in the 1980s, there was still a part of it, where you thought the professor’s were cool. It might be something you’d like to be at some point in the future, you know, and, and they were role models, just like in junior high school football, and an NFL player, you know, would have been a role model. But there’s brain damage in both and now now I think it’s, it’s, it’s, you’re just you’re just doing lots of brain damage, and and it’s attractive. That doesn’t work and therefore, the teleology sort of is broken down. So undergraduate part of the teleology was that it was preparing you for graduate school. And that part doesn’t work. And that’s what’s that’s what’s gotten to arrange in graduate school. Well, it’s preparing you to be a postdoc, and then well, that’s the postdoc, Apocalypse, whatever you want to call it. postdoc, ellipse, postdoc, ellipse, postdoc, you heard it here, folks, postdoc lives and and so, but just at every step, I think that the teleology the system is is in really bad shape. It’s of course, this is true of all these institutions with fake growth that are sociopathic or pathological but but the university’s its, its striking is is very bad. And I think this was already true in important ways. In a back in the 80s, early 90s, when I was going through the system, and when I think when I think back on it, um, I think I was most intensely motivated academically in high school, because the teleology was really clear. You’re trying to get into to a good college. And then by the time I was at Stanford, it was a little bit less clear. By the time I was at law school, really unclear where that was going. And, and I was, by the time I was, you know, 25, I was far less motivated then then at age 18. So, and I think these dynamics are just, you know, more extreme than ever today.
Eric Weinstein 1:04:20
What I find so dispiriting about your, your diagnosis is, first of all, that I agree with you. Second of all, if we don’t train people in these fields, like if we don’t get people to go into molecular biology, or Bioinformatics, or something like that, we’re never going to be able to find the low hanging fruit in that orchard. So it seems to me that we have to find some way that it makes sense for a life to explore these questions. One of the things that I don’t understand and I don’t know if you have any insight, go ahead.
Unknown Speaker 1:04:53
No, go ahead.
Eric Weinstein 1:04:54
Well, I was gonna say is that
it feels to me that almost all of our instant tuitions are carbon copies of each other at different levels of quality. And that there are only a tiny number of actually innovative institutions. It used to be that, you know, Reed College was Sex, drugs and dirt. And you had, you know, St. John’s, with the great books curriculum that didn’t look like anything else are Deep Springs and the University of Chicago is crazy about young people. But the diversity of institutions is unbelievably low. Is that wrong?
Peter Thiel 1:05:30
I think that’s, that’s fair. But I, I would say, yeah, the, the, um, the bigger problem with a lot of these fields, it’s, yeah, I think we have to keep training people. I think we need to keep training people in physics or even these fields that seem completely dead. You know,
super important, but I
think the question we have to always ask is how many people should we be training and you know, my intuition is you want you want the gates to be very tight. One of my friends is a is in the process. From the Stanford economics department, and the way he describes it to me is they have about 30 graduate students starting PhDs in economics at Stanford every year, it’s, you know, six, eight years to get a PhD. At the end of the first year, the faculty has an implicit ranking of the students, where they sort of agreed who the top three or four are, the, the ranking never changes, the top three or four have a are able to get a good position in academia, the others not so much. And, and, you know, this is it, we’re pretending to be kind to people and we’re actually being cruel, incredibly cruel. And, and, and so I think that, that if there are going to be, you know, it’s a supply demand of labor, if they’re going to be good, good positions in academia, where you can, you know, have a reasonable life has not a monastic vow of poverty that you’re taking to be an academic if we’re going to have that. You want. You don’t want the sort of mouth is you struggle if you have 10 graduate students in a chemistry lab and you have to have a fistfight for a Bunsen burner or a beaker and you know, if somebody says one politically incorrect thing, you can happily throw every one of them off out of the overcrowded bus. The bus is still overcrowded with nine people on it. That’s, that’s what’s unhealthy. And so, yes, it’d be mistake to say we should dial this down and have you know, zero people, right, these fields that this is what’s scary. That’s, that’s not that’s, that’s not what I’m advocating or what, what’s, what’s being advocated here. But, but, but there is a there’s a point where, if you just add more and more people in in a, in a starvation, Malthusian context, that’s not healthy.
Eric Weinstein 1:07:42
Well, this gets to another topic, which I think is really important, and it’s a dangerous one to discuss, which is
Unknown Speaker 1:07:50
it seems to me that
Eric Weinstein 1:07:54
power laws, those distributions with very thick tails Where you have a small number of outliers that often dominate all other activity are ubiquitous. And that, particularly with respect to talent, whether we like them or not, they seem to be present where a small number of people do a fantastic amount of all of all of the innovation. What do we do if power laws are common
Unknown Speaker 1:08:26
Eric Weinstein 1:08:28
make people more comfortable with the fact that there is a kind of endowment inequality? That seems to be part of speech, species makeup? I don’t even think it’s just limited to humans.
Unknown Speaker 1:08:41
Peter Thiel 1:08:43
I’m not convinced these sort of power laws are are equally true in all, all fields of activity. So I think there are, you know, when the United States was a frontier country in the 19th century, right and you know, Most people were farmers, and presumably, some people were better farmers than others. But, you know, everyone started with, you know, 140 acres of land. And, and there was this wide open frontier. Even if you had some parts of the society that had more of a power law dynamic, there was a large part that didn’t. And that was, that was what, what I think gave it a certain certain amount of health. And, yeah, the challenges if we’ve geared our society saying that all that matters is education, and, and PhDs and academic research, and that this has this crazy power law dynamic than then you’re just going to have a society in which there are, you know, lots of people playing video games and basements or something like that. So that’s a that’s a that’s, that’s, that’s the way I would I would frame it. But yeah, I think I think there are there definitely are some areas where this is the case. And, and then, you know, we just need you know, we need we need more growth for the whole society. If you growth. You have a rising tide that lifts all boats. And so it’s always, you know, it’s the stagnation is the problem? Well,
Eric Weinstein 1:10:08
you know, I’ve joked about this, as we’re not even communistic in our progressivism because the old formulation of communism was from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs, and the inability to recognize different levels of ability. I mean, like, almost every mathematician or physicist to encounter, john von Orman’s just said, The guy is smarter than not necessarily the deepest or he did all of the great work. But, you know, when you’re dealing with somebody who’s able to employ skills that you simply don’t have, I mean, I know I’m not a concert pianist, and like,
Peter Thiel 1:10:48
Look, I I don’t I don’t know how you solve a social problem, right? If everybody has to be a mathematician or a concert pianist that, like, I want a society in which we have great mathematicians and great concert pianists. That seems that that would be a very healthy society, right? It’s very unhealthy if every parent thinks their child has to be a mathematician or a pianist and, and that’s, that’s, that’s the kind of society we we unfortunately have. Well, this is why.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:16
So this is why I try to sell you sometimes on a more progressive view of the world, which is, I want deregulated capitalism, I want the people who have the rare skill sets to be able to integrate across many different areas. And to be honest, you know, this is the thing that, that I wish more people understood about what you bring, which is that you’re able to think, in 15 different idioms that most people only have one or two of. And so whatever it is that you’re doing to integrate these things as an investor into direct research and direct work, is is really something that you know, I’ve watched firsthand for six years.
Unknown Speaker 1:11:57
The problem that I have is
Eric Weinstein 1:11:59
we are going to have to take care of the median individual, and I less think that the median individual is going to be reachable by the market over time as some of these things that are working in silicon in terms of machine learning, like
Peter Thiel 1:12:13
ever, then then you’re being you’re being more optimistic on on, on on progress in tech. That is, because I look, I think, I think, yes, look, if
Eric Weinstein 1:12:23
Peter Thiel 1:12:24
if we have runaway automation, right, um, and, you know, if we’re building robots that are smarter than humans and can do everything humans can do, then we probably have to have a serious conversation about universal basic income or, or something like that. And you’re going to end up with, you know, a very, very weird society. I don’t, I don’t see the automation happening at all. And I think the question of automation, in my mind is identical to this question of, of productivity growth. on there is, you know, we’ve been automating for 200 250 years since the Industrial Revolution. Agriculture and industry manufacturing. And the sort of society we have in the early 21st century is one in which most jobs are non tradable service sector jobs. They’re not easily automatable. So it’s like a waiter in a restaurant. It’s a yoga instructors nurse. It’s a kindergarten teacher. And that’s what that’s what most jobs in our society are. And because they’re so they’ve been so resistant to automation, that this may be one of the reasons why the productivity numbers are, are slowing down, even if we’re still innovating as fast in manufacturing. And even if we’re still improving agriculture, there are smaller and smaller part of the economy and so even 5% of your productivity growth in manufacturing, that means a lot more in manufacturing 60% of the economy that it doesn’t say 20% of the economy. And so that’s roughly that’s roughly what I what I think would happen. And, you know, if you just if you just look at the, you know, the current, the current dynamic in the us is we have, you know, unemployment, like 3.6 3.7%. Right? It’s super low, it’s, and still, there doesn’t seem to be that much wage pressure on that there doesn’t seem to be that much growth. The Productivity numbers still aren’t great. You think there’d be enormous incentives in place? To me? Yeah. Um, but I think we’ll get my read on it. It’s just the automation story has been oversold,
Eric Weinstein 1:14:29
like, I agree, the automation story has been over. So it’s
Peter Thiel 1:14:32
possible it’s going to happen. Now hospitals just around the corner, and it’s about about to happen. But what that’s what we’ve been told in a lot of these areas over the last, you know, 4050 years. So
Eric Weinstein 1:14:40
I have a couple questions about this one is sort of, if I think about how common retail occupations are, is there something about retail that is resistant to Amazon ification, if you will, where people actually want to go shop in a physical place and are willing to pay a premium that we haven’t adjusted would to have human Contact, maybe there’s some information exchange, maybe there’s a recreational aspect that’s bundled. That’s one of my two questions. The other one surrounds the idea that we’ve always focused on, like, when is AGI coming in the robots that will do everything. And part of the lesson for me about machine learning is how many things humans were doing that don’t require anything like artificial general intelligence, just some specialized neural net seems to be good enough to do the job. So those would be two questions in my mind, as to how
Peter Thiel 1:15:32
Yes, yes, but I think all these things, you know, you have to, you have to concretize right. And, yes, I think retail is, is a sector that’s under, you know, quite a bit of pressure is going to stay under quite a bit of pressure. That’s maybe the top that’s the the top one I would, it’s pretty,
Eric Weinstein 1:15:51
it looks like vulnerable to me,
Peter Thiel 1:15:52
but that’s the on and, you know, and that’s sort of that’s like Amazon is the is the most threat Think of the big tech companies and that it’s, you know, threatening a lot of other companies elsewhere in the industry and disrupting them and, you know, making things more efficient, but, you know, probably with with a lot of shear forces at work in that process. So, um, so I agree that that’s a candidate for, you know, automation or productivity improvements or things like that. I’m still not convinced that it’s in the aggregate shifting things that much, you know, and then go through and go through all sorts of individual job descriptions where, you know, people used to have secretaries because typing was a skill. And you know, the word processor, you don’t quite need this. You can do short emails, you don’t quite need a secretary. People still have executive assistants that sort of somehow do a slightly different set of responsibilities, but it’s not clear we have fewer executive assistants than we used to have secretaries. And so when when actually concretize it, it’s a it’s it’s not quite clear how much You know how disruptive the automation that’s happening? You know, it really is. It’s a, it’s always strike is, and this is it’s a version of the tech stagnation thing, right? It’s always last 4050 years things have been slow. We’re always told it’s about to accelerate like crazy. That may be true in some ways. I hope that’s true. But if one was simply extrapolating from the last 40 to 50 years, perhaps the default is that we should be more worried about the lack of automation than access automation. That’s really interesting. And And so yeah, if, if, and again, I think if we had the sort of runaway automation, I mean, you could get to like three 4% GDP growth and a three to 4% GDP growth. We can solve these problems socially,
Eric Weinstein 1:17:44
you would be willing to have like, you know, this thing that I’ve been talking to Andrew Yang about has been the idea of hyper capitalism, which is a deregulated hyper cap, hyper capitalism, where you can do more experimenting, more playing coupled to some kind of hyper socialism, where you recognize that the median individual might not be able in the future to easily defend a position needed for family formation.
Peter Thiel 1:18:12
Well, let me rephrase this a little bit, you’re not going to get a conversion experience on your first podcast here, hurry to make
Eric Weinstein 1:18:19
me wait for the next maybe
Peter Thiel 1:18:20
even a little longer than that to, but I would say, um,
if we can get the GDP growth back to 3%, a year on a sustainable basis, without fudging, without fudging without lying about productivity, numbers, etc, then there will be a lot more room for for various social programs. I wouldn’t want them to be Miss directed in all sorts of ways. But there would be a lot of things that we could do now I shouldn’t say and I’m and I would be very uncomfortable, starting with the social programs without the growth and and that’s, that’s the That’s the sort of conversation that I often see happening in Silicon Valley where, where it’s, we start with UBI, right? Because we’re lying about automation. If automation. If automation is happening, then we’ll see in the productivity numbers, and eventually, maybe we need something like UBI if automation is not happening, and you do UBI, then you just, you know, blow up the economy.
Eric Weinstein 1:19:21
Right, I should say, and, you know, you’ve come up with a question, you know, it’s you’ve come somewhat toward
Peter Thiel 1:19:26
coming them doing them in parallel. Yeah, I’m okay with that. No, no, I’m not okay with starting with a socialism well, so I appreciate even a Marxist wouldn’t believe this. Even a Marxist thinks the first get the capitals to do things before you can redistribute stuff,
Eric Weinstein 1:19:39
right? I know. And you can’t start with the redistribution before we’ve done the automation. I’m not even a Marxist Peter. But the thing that I was going to say is that as you talk about the fact that we can solve some of these problems socially, I want to talk about from the progressive side. I’m not interested in using social programs where markets continue to function. I mean, The idea of making people personally accountable for their own happiness and their own success and path through the world is incredibly liberating. And I view markets as providing most of the progress that we now enjoy. So there is something that’s very weird and punitive about the desire for redistribution. I mean, there’s almost a desire to tag the wealthy, that has nothing to do with taking care of the unfortunate. And what I really am talking about here is how do we get a conversation between left and right, which isn’t cryptic, which isn’t,
Peter Thiel 1:20:40
you know, of course, I have a much more cynical view of this where I think, the redistribution rhetoric, it’s mainly not even targeted at the wealthy. Oh, it’s targeted at the lower middle, lower middle class at the deployables or whatever you want to call them, and it’s a way to tell them that they will never get ahead, nothing will happen. in their life and and that’s that’s actually why, you know a lot of people who are lower middle class or middle class are viscerally quite strongly opposed to welfare, because it’s always an insult to them. It’s always heard as an insult. And and I’m not sure they’re wanted to feel that
Eric Weinstein 1:21:19
well, and I feel that a lot of the talk about redistribution is actually families of high eight through 11 figures, trying to figure out how to target families of six figure through low eight figure wealth as the targets of the redistribution that the very wealthy will be able to shelter assets and protect themselves or maybe even, you know, switch switch nations, whereas people who are dentists and orthodontists and accountants are going to be the ones viewed as the rich were going to be incapable of getting themselves out of the way. So I think that partially what what good fit conversation between left and right opens up is that we have a shared interest and uncovering all of the schemes of the people who enjoy pushing around pieces of paper and giving speeches in order to engineer society for their own reasons.
Peter Thiel 1:22:14
So that’s one way I would I would restate what you just said, Sure, would be that, um, you know, redistribution from the powerful to the powerless from the rich, the poor is like from the powerful to the powerless. And so you’re using power to go after those with power. And that’s almost oxymoronic. It’s almost self contradictory and so on. There may be some way to do that. I think most of the time, you end up with with some fake redistribution, some sort of complicated shell game of one sort or another, right. And, you know, the the varying I know, the causation stuff is much, much trickier. But if we, if we look at societies that are You know, somehow further to the left on some scale, right, um, the inequality, you have to go really far to the left before and maybe just destroy the whole society before you really start solving. You know, the inequality program problem. California when I first moved here as a kid in 1977, would have been sort of a centrist state in the US politically and was broadly middle class. Today, California has the second most democratic states a D plus 30. state. It’s a super unequal and at least on a correlated basis, not causation, at least not correlated basis. On the further to the left, it’s gone, the more equal it’s become. And there is something pretty weird about that. There is, you know, something that
Eric Weinstein 1:23:42
sort of fits in here is that in part I’ve learned from you. And you can tell me whether you recognize that this formulation or not, is start with any appealing social idea. That’s step one. Step two, ask what is the action absolute minimum level of violence and coercion that would be necessary to accomplish that idea. Now add that to the original idea, do you still find your original idea attractive? Hmm. And this flips many of these
Unknown Speaker 1:24:16
Eric Weinstein 1:24:18
into territory where I suddenly realized that something that people see as being very attractive, actually can only be accomplished with so much misery, right? Even if it’s done maximally efficiently, that it’s no longer a good idea. And I think that this influence I mean, this has been very influential in my thinking. And what I’ve had that look
Peter Thiel 1:24:38
the the, the visceral problem with communism is not is not its redistributive tendencies. It’s the extreme violence that you have to kill tons of people. You know, there’s always there’s always a one of the professors I studied under at Stanford and Rene Girard was a great, philosophical, sociological, anthropological thinker, and he had this observation that he thought communism among Western intellectuals became unfashionable, you could date it to the year 1953, the year Stalin died. And the reason was they were, they were not communist in spite of the millions of people being killed. They were communists, because of the millions of people that were being killed. As long as you were willing to kill millions of people, that was a tell sign that you were, we’re building the utopia, you were building a great new society. And when you stopped, you know, it was just gonna be like, lethargy of the Brezhnev era or something like that. And that that was not inspiring. I mean, people shifted from Stalin to Mao or Castro or, but, but the, the violence was charismatic, I think very charismatic. And then, but then also, if you think about, it’s very undesirable.
Eric Weinstein 1:25:47
I think that there, it’s so fascinating that we actually finally get to something like this. I think that that is a correct description of part of the communist movement, but not all of the communist movement. There were a lot of people I think in the interest My own family was certainly involved in far left politics and some of it probably dipped into communism. What my sense of it was, is that there was a period in the 30s, where people realize that there had to be coordinated social action and that there were people who were too vulnerable. And that that somehow got wrapped up in all of the things that Stalin was talking about that sounded positive if you didn’t know the reality. So for example, Paul robes and you know, a hero of the of the of the left, and it was extolling starlet Stalin’s virtues openly. My guess is, is that he didn’t fully understand what had happened that he did gotten involved in an earlier era and that as things became known and progressed, there was a point at which many people suddenly opened their eyes and said, I’ve been making excuses for the Soviet Union because at least it had the hope. I mean, you know, there were American blacks, for example, who moved to Moscow because of the the hope that it was going to be a racial more equal society. My own family, you know, I would say was talking about, you know, interracial marriage and homosexual open, supportive homosexuality, female access to birth control those things were associated with the Communist Party and a lot of those ideas are now commonplace, but we forget that, you know, once upon a time only the communists were willing to dance with these things.
Unknown Speaker 1:27:25
Yes, I look, I
Peter Thiel 1:27:29
would, I don’t wanna make this too ad hominem. But I want to say that people, like your family, yeah, we’re likely very intelligent people were somehow still always the useful idiots. And, and there was no country where the communists actually came to power, where people like those in your family actually got to make the decisions. No, I think so. Somehow, somehow, like maybe, yeah, maybe there were indirect ways. It was helpful or beneficial in countries that did not become communist, but in countries that actually became communist. You know, it, it didn’t actually ever seem to work out for those people. I
Eric Weinstein 1:28:11
definitely think that there was some sense that they were fooled and duped in this situation. But by the same token not wanting to make this to ad hominem. You know, as a gay man, I think that a lot of your rights would have been seen much earlier by the communists who were earlier to that party. I think that to an extent. Some of the things that we just take for granted as part of living in a tolerant society, we’re really not found outside and so if you were trying to die in a cart, maybe you could take something from the commie buffet, you could take something from the anticommunist buffet, and you could steal a little from, you know, regular party politics. Of course, the dixiecrats were not exactly the most racially progressive group in the world. Things Were very different, and there was no clear place to turn.
Peter Thiel 1:29:05
Yeah, it’s always it’s always easy for us to judge people in the past to too harshly. So I think I think that’s a that’s a, that’s a good generalization. I would, I would say that the, you know, that there’s something about the the Revolution, the extreme revolutionary movements that always seem to be, from my point of view, the violence was always tomorrow and I and and, you know, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a package, it’s a package deal, but I don’t like the violence part of the package. And that’s, that’s, that’s the that’s the part that at the end of the day makes me think the package would not have been worth it.
Eric Weinstein 1:29:43
So what I would like to do is to take a quick break, and I would like to come back on exactly this point, because it’s the point where I feel that perhaps you are least understood by the outside world with in terms of what we’ve been talking about, both growth and progress on the one hand, and violence on the other. So when we come back, we’ll pick it up with Peter Thiel. Thank you. Thanks. Welcome back to the portal. I’m here with my friend and employer, Peter Thiel, for this our inaugural interview episode. And we just gotten to a point which I think I hope people who’ve been tracking your career, your books, your thought process are going to find interesting, because I think it’s the thing that if I had to guess would be the thing that people least understand about you or maybe they have wrong the most. Ever since I’ve known you. Your focus has weirdly been reduction of violence across a great number of different topics at a level that I don’t think has leaked out into the public’s understanding of you and what causes you to make the choices you make. How do you see
Unknown Speaker 1:30:51
Eric Weinstein 1:30:53
as attached to reduction of violence
Peter Thiel 1:30:58
um, Well, I think that it’s, um,
it’s very hard to see how anything like the kinds of societies we have in Western Europe, the United States could function without without growth. I think, you know, I think the way sort of a parliamentary republican democracy works as you have a group of people sitting around the table, they craft complicated legislation, and there’s a lot of horse trading. And as long as the pie is growing, you can give something to everybody. When the pie stops growing, it becomes a zero sum dynamic. And the legislative process does not work. And, and so the sort of democratic types of parliamentary systems we’ve had for the last 200 250 years have mapped on to this period of, of rapid growth. We had sort of a very bad experiment, the 1930s where the growth stopped, at least certainly economic sense and system, you know, systems became fascist or communist. It didn’t, it doesn’t actually work. And so I, I suspect that if we’re in for a period of long growth, I don’t think I don’t think our kind of government can work. I think there is a prospect of all sorts of forms of violence, more violence by the state against the citizens, there may be more zero sum wars globally, or there may be other ways things are super deformed to pacify people’s mood. Maybe everyone just smokes marijuana all day. But that’s, that’s also kind of deformed. But I think, I think a world without growth is either going to be a much more violent or a much more deformed world. And, and again, it’s, you know, it’s not the case that growth simply solves all problems. So you can have very rapid growth and it can still, you can still have the problem of violence, you can still you can still have bad things that can happen, but that’s our only chance without growth. I think I think it’s very hard to see how you have a good future.
Eric Weinstein 1:33:02
Now, in some sense, whenever I hear you interpreted in the prime meet, look, you will, you have to know that there is a version of of you, that exists in the minds of pundits and, you know, the commentariat that just loves to paint you as if you were a cartoon villain. And I always think that for those people who are actually confused about you, as opposed to those who wish to be confused about you, it says if you’re looking through a window, and they’re looking at the reflection in the window, not understanding what it is that you’re focused on. Why do you think it is
Unknown Speaker 1:33:43
Eric Weinstein 1:33:45
almost nobody sees your preoccupation with violence reduction?
Unknown Speaker 1:33:51
Well, it’s, um,
Peter Thiel 1:33:57
I think um, I think that As always, it’s hard for me to come with a good answer to these sort of sociological questions. I think that I think people generally don’t think of the problem of violence as quite as central as I think, I think it is, I think it is a, I think it’s, you know, a very deep problem, you know, on a human level. If you think of, sort of this mimetic element of human nature, where we copy one another, we want the things other people want, and there’s sort of, there’s, there’s a lot of room for conflict, and that, you know, if it’s not channeled very carefully, a violent conflict in, in human relationships and in human societies, between human societies. And this, this is sort of, I think, a very, very deep problem, and it’s sort of thing and it’s not, you know, sort of sort of this Christian anthropology but you also have the same in Machiavelli, or, you know, this sort of, there are a lot of different traditions where, you know, human beings are if not you, They’re at least dangerous. And and I think, I think the sort of softer anthropological biases that that a lot of people have in, you know, sort of late modernity, or in the Enlightenment world are that, you know, humans are, by nature good. They’re by nature peaceful. And that’s not the norm. So there’s that might be sort of a general bias people have is that people can’t be despoil. It’s not it’s not this deeper problem. It’s a problem other people have. There’s some bad people are violent, but it’s not a general problem. You know,
Eric Weinstein 1:35:37
one of the things that I think, has been fascinating to me in you know, I mean, effectively, I didn’t know you when I was young, and this feels like a lifelong friendship that got started way late in my life. And one of the things that that kind of was surprising to me. Is that mic coming from a Jewish background, you’re coming from a German background. I think both of us were sent sensitized by the horrors of World War Two, which, I mean, obviously, the problem for the Jews is very clear. But the fact that Germany never really recovered is proud intellectual traditions that have gotten bound up in a level of mechanized and planned violence. You know, the decimation of a great intellectual tradition and one of the things we’ve talked about in the past, is whether the twilight of living memory of the Holocaust should be used for some more profound German Jewish reconciliation that these are two communities that have held somewhat similar thought processes from the perspective of mimetic competition, maybe, you know, there was a there was there was a problem that they were doomed to run into each other, but that in some sense, there are two wounds that need to be healed now that all of the original participants are either quite elderly or gone. Do you think that that is informing our conversation?
Peter Thiel 1:37:03
Well, I think I think there’s certainly an element of that between between the two of us. I, I think that
Unknown Speaker 1:37:13
Peter Thiel 1:37:14
there’s probably a degree to which, on the history was so traumatic that, that people still understate the this aspect there was there was something about, you know, late 19th century, early 20th century, Germany where the Judaism was better integrated into the society than in many other places. And there’s something very synergistic, very, very generative about that and, and, and, and then, you know, getting at all these ways that the that it was last are very, very hard to do. You know, it’s a it’s a, you know, sort of A the sort of social democratic response to the Hitler era in the Holocaust was sort of radically egalitarian. It’s everybody’s equal. You shouldn’t kill people. Everybody’s equally valuable. And yet, in some ways, what was Hitler killed the best people. And so there’s a way in which the the social democratic response to, to what happened doesn’t even come up to the terrible thing that happened. So in a gala, terian society, well, we don’t have as quite as many people who are all equal, nothing’s really changed. But, but maybe you have no Jewish people left in Germany, and there’s a lot less dynamism in the society as a result, and that’s something that people still can’t say in Germany, because that’s right. You feel like it’s
Unknown Speaker 1:38:45
Peter Thiel 1:38:47
you know, like, if I say it, people won’t. They won’t, they won’t contradict it or anything, but
but it’s, uh, it’s, ya know, it’s sort of profoundly profoundly uncomfortable. So I think I think there is a sense yeah, that that, you know, it’s there’s sort of all these strange ways that Germany is still under the shadow of Hitler even even, you know, the ways that people are trying to, you know, exercise Hitler, you know, in some ways have deformed the society where you can’t you can’t go back to the things that worked incredibly well in you know, pre World War One Germany, it looks like there was probably a lot that was unhealthy and wrong with the two but but but yeah, there’s a sense that something you know, something, something very big has been lost. And there’s probably our a Jewish version of this that one could one could articulate as well. But, but yeah, I think there’s something about the synergy that’s, that’s, that’s very powerful and that that’s quite missing.
Eric Weinstein 1:39:50
So, you know, from from my side of the fence, I was just listening on NPR to a description of Fiddler on the Roof being put on by Joel grey in Yiddish and The the sound of you know,
Unknown Speaker 1:40:02
Jewish, Middle High German.
Eric Weinstein 1:40:06
There’s something about it that is shocking in today’s era.
So there’s been a Jewish loss.
You know, I felt this a couple of times, I avoided To be honest, going to Germany because I didn’t want to run into old people and wonder where they had been. But eventually Soros invitation, found myself at a conference in Berlin and when I checked into the hotel, I heard my last name pronounced in you know, impeccable German.
And it was both a horrible feeling
and a wonderful feeling like somehow weirdly, something was home or I went to a restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie with my wife, and I was missing a fork. And I the person spoke no English, and I remembered from some old story of my father, and I asked him for a couple which I guess is the dish for fork and it was close enough and somebody brought me a fork. And by uttering a word that I got Gobble, gobble, gobble, okay. Sure, yes, by by going through that exercise, I found that when this fork was brought to me, I realized that there was some part of my experience, in fact, that was missing that this uncomfortable relationship, which, you know, my grandfather, when we, when we went through Israel driving
north to south
was singing leader. I mean, he was German was the language of the culture was the language of the intellectual and that never left him. And so I think that weirdly, this is the first time because I think it’ll be too late if we wait for 20 more years because there will be no one to remember. But that there is some opportunity to recognize a dual wound.
Unknown Speaker 1:41:58
Yeah, no, I
Peter Thiel 1:42:01
I think I think the I think the challenge on the on the Germany side is that it’s, it’s a, it’s, it’s sort of I had somewhat of an idiosyncratic background here where we, I was born in Germany, but we emigrated when I was about a year old. And, and, and, you know, we spoke German at home and lived in Africa. And Namibia went to a German speaking school. But it was it was very different, I think, from the, from, from the general post World War Two, German experience and, and I and so there are all these things that I can see from the outside looking in to Germany that I think are, you know, it’s still like, I still have a connection to it. And this of all these ways, you know, visited as a child many times and this is something that I connect with them and it’s, it’s obviously like, like super different, you know, and the
Unknown Speaker 1:43:00
Unknown Speaker 1:43:00
Peter Thiel 1:43:02
you know, the contrast of Germany and California we’d like to give is that California is optimistic but desperate and Germany’s pessimistic but comfortable. But the from a California perspective, the past is incredibly deep. pessimism is. Is is, is, is, is really, really striking. And, and even on that one dimension, I think,
you know, Jewish cultures is super different.
Eric Weinstein 1:43:28
Well, and I feel like Jewish culture is in part starting to attenuate that we don’t feel. I mean, this is this is crazy talk. But we never thought that there was anything positive about anti semitism. And obviously, it’s not a positive thing. But there were positive externalities, in that it allowed us to push ourselves very, very hard because we always knew that we weren’t going to get a fair shake and that at any moment, you might need to flee to someplace that was less dangerous. And I feel that as we become comfortable, we’ve lost Some of the dynamism which is a hard thing to admit, but I do think that that is in part. True, just as I see, you know, and I see this in Germany, Germany’s intellectual contribution was so profound, that nothing post World War Two seems to suggest the same nation. And I think that that loss is a profound loss not to Germany, but to the entire world.
Peter Thiel 1:44:25
Yes, it’s a, it’s, you know, and of course, one of the challenges is, you know, we can sort of describe these things we can speculate on, you know, you know, some of the causal things. It’s a, I think it’s a, it’s somehow we don’t want to go back. We can’t go back
Unknown Speaker 1:44:41
and don’t want to I agree, and,
Peter Thiel 1:44:44
and so, yeah, there is there’s a history and you know, I think something has been lost in both Germany and in Jewish culture, and how long how long reconstitutes This is a is even we can convince people have, you know, the causes and the losses? What you actually do about it is, is super hard to say. And that’s, that’s sort of always the, the strange dynamic of this.
Eric Weinstein 1:45:14
something I’d be open to us working on at some future point if we can find the time. But let me switch gears slightly and
Unknown Speaker 1:45:21
come back a little bit to the violence point.
Eric Weinstein 1:45:25
But one of the things that I think has become kind of interesting in our relationship is that a certain class of theories that are not popular in the general population are traded back and forth. Between us partially around the idea of how do we restart growth, how do we avoid violence and I wanted to sort of alert people who are interested in the portal concept to this idea of orphaned or unpopular theories that are traded among a few but Maybe not among the many. So if we could go through a few of these, one of them has to do with how you and I both were much more. I think we believe that Trump was much more likely to get elected than the general population did. And this has to do with the theory of preference falsification, that people will broadly lie about what their true preferences are. So they’ll keep one set of public preferences, but a hidden set of private preferences. And then in our culture that gets revealed every four years where you kind of have a shrinkers you gotta experiment, you find out where the cookie actually is.
Peter Thiel 1:46:38
Yes, I. Yeah, no, I thought this was a dynamic that was going on and all these strange ways in in 2016, there was a dinner I had in San Francisco about a week before the election with a group of center right people, one was very prominent angel investor in Silicon Valley, and he said, You know, I’m voting for Trump in a week. But because I’m in Silicon Valley, I have to lie. So he was unusually honest about lying. And, and, and the way the way I lie is that I tell people I’m voting for Gary Johnson. So I couldn’t say that he was gonna vote for Hillary Clinton, right, like the facial muscles wouldn’t work or something would go wrong. But Gary Johnson was sort of the lie that you could, could tell. And and then if you actually look at what happened in the month before the election, the Gary Johnson support, you know, collapsed from I know, something like six to 2% or whatever. And as far as I can tell, all of that went to Trump. And, and the question one has to ask is where are these people? You know, lying all along? Are they lying to themselves? Did they sincerely change their mind in the last month or some some combination of that? But yeah, one, one sort of vehicle for this preference falsification was that you had got a third party candidate was sort of a gateway to the transitions is what happened with ross perot, were the people when, you know, eventually went to Clinton in 92, or john Anderson in 1980. So that’s been that’s been a sort of repeated pattern. And that’s, I think, There was one element of what was going on. But then I think there were also all these all these aspects of, of the Trump candidacy that people were super uncomfortable about polite society. And, and so one would you know that the preference falsification was somehow perhaps much greater than in, in many other other past contexts. And so, you know, even even the day of the election, the exit polls suggests that the Trump was going to lose. And so there was still a two to 3% effect like this, literally the day of the voting.
Eric Weinstein 1:48:36
Well, I I,
look, I voted for Bernie in the primaries. And I felt that both you and I had realized that the clinton neoliberal story was a slow motion.
Peter Thiel 1:48:53
One Way Ticket to disaster if it kept going on election after election, so the both of us recognize that we had to get off the trigger. First one of the complicated question and all this is, you know, did people actually already sense this? And were they lying about this? So like everybody was saying, all the way throughout 2016, most of the people are saying, there’s no chance that, you know, Trump’s gonna win. This is absolutely impossible. And I didn’t really connect this before the election. But with 2020 hindsight, I wonder, was the fact that everyone was clicking on the Nate Silver 538 statistical polling model site a few times a day to reassure themselves that Hillary Clinton was still ahead and was going to win. Was that some sort of acknowledgment that on some maybe subconscious or barely conscious level, people sense that it wasn’t really as done a deal as they, they were, they were constantly saying, so. So there’s, there’s even a version of that question that i i wonder about. Yeah. And, you know, because there’s something about the polling that took on this unusually iconic role in 2016. It was so important And there was no truth outside the polls. I remember there’s, you know, one of the democrat Talking Heads saying something like, you know, Republicans don’t believe in climate change. They also don’t believe in polls. That’s where they’re going to lose. And generally polls are right. But there was something about how all important they were in 2016. That might have been a tell that something Something was a little bit of most,
Eric Weinstein 1:50:23
I think people knew, from my from my way of thinking, I think people knew that there was something very bizarre about this election. I think that the Bernie scare that if the Democratic Party hadn’t been so skillful in scuffle in sidelining Bernie, and where the party regulars were, you know, clearly backing Clinton. My sense is that it could well have been Bernie versus Trump. And that would have been enough to say, the neoliberal story is over. So I think there was that fear that this was coming to an end. My sense of it was that the Major reaction to Trump was sort of a class reaction that it was, you’re rejecting the entire concept of a, an educated group that knows the right things to say. And, you know, you’re clearly sort of not the kind of person who should be in the Oval Office much more than the issue of whether or not Trump was going to be a warmonger or turn the us into a police state, which, of course, doesn’t seem to have happened as of this moment in 2019. Yes. But I guess what my sense of it was, is that people really were shocked. I was because I live in a left of center universe. The day after, certainly pretended to be shocked. No, there’s no,
Peter Thiel 1:51:41
I look, I’ll concede your point. They were. They were pretty shocked. They were shocked. But you know, if, but I still have my question. Why? Why were they clicking on the interest a few times a day.
Eric Weinstein 1:51:52
One version of it was, let’s say even if Hillary trounce trumpet it wasn’t enough, that would be a story. I think given what Trump has been built up to, which is a, you know, orange Hitler, you know, if you imagine that your country is supporting somebody who thinks all Mexicans are rapists, and is going to take the country back to, you know, to to the Middle Ages, it would be very disconcerting if such a person could get 20% of the vote. So I think that the poll had his own significance.
Unknown Speaker 1:52:24
However, you know,
Eric Weinstein 1:52:27
I think that one of the things about preference falsification is is that when you start to believe that this is a robust phenomena, that all of the economic models that assume that your privates preferences and public preferences are the same. You start to see the world very differently. And so this is one of the portals into an alternate way of seeing the universe so is not to get surprised by revolutions.
Peter Thiel 1:52:54
Well, it’s always um, you know, it’s always this question in my mind, This question of preference falsification, the macaron theories tightly coupled to this question of, you know, how intense is the problem of political correctness? where, you know, how, how much pressure is there on people to say things they don’t actually believe. And, and, and I, you know, I, I always come back to thinking that the problem of political correctness in some sense is our biggest political problem that, that, you know, we live in a world where people are super uncomfortable saying what they think that it’s sort of dangerous to use, did you use the Silicon Valley context, um, it’s a problem that Silicon Valley has become a one party state, but there are two different senses in which you can be a one party state, one senses that everybody just happens to believe this one thing which, you know, um, you know, is one thing, and then the other one is in which 85% of people believe one thing and the other 15% Pretend to and you know, it’s sort of like a, it’s a dynamic with super majorities where, you know, we as a democracy, we think 51% of people lose something, they’re probably right. If 70 to 80% believe something, it’s almost more certainly right. But if you have 99.99% of the people believe something, at some point, you shifted from democratic truth to North Korean insanity. And so there is no there’s a sub subtle tipping point where the wisdom of crowds shifts into, into something that sort of softly totalitarian, or, or something like that. So, in my mind, if it maps, you know, very much onto this, this question of, you know, the problem of political correctness, it’s always hard to measure how, how big it is, you know, politically correct society, of course, you know, we’re just saying we think we all love Stalin, we all love Chairman Mao. And, and maybe, you know, we’re just singing these songs because we’re all enthusiastic about it. And, and I think my read on it is that that’s that promise gotten more acute in a lot of parts of our society over the last few decades?
Unknown Speaker 1:55:04
Yeah, I think that’s gotten?
Eric Weinstein 1:55:07
Well, as you know, I started this whole intellectual darkweb concept, in part to create kind of a broad based bipartisan coalition of people who are willing to speak out in public and take some risk. Speaking for a large number of people, I would never have understood how many people feel terrified to speak out if I hadn’t done that, because people come up to me all the time and say, thank you for saying what I can’t say at work. And then when I ask them, well, what is it that you can’t say at work? It’s absolutely shocking, completely commonplace things, things that are not at all dangerous, not not scary or frightening. One of the things I believe and I don’t know whether you’re going to you’re going to agree with this is that you start to understand that a lot of the people who are enforcing the political correctness suspect that they are covering Dangerous truths. So for example, if you believe that IQ equals intelligence, which I do not, I mean, let’s just be honest about it. You’re going to fear anything that shows variation in IQ between groups. If you don’t believe IQ equals intelligence, if you believe that intelligence is a much richer story, and that no group is that far out of the running, you’re not terribly frightened of the data, because you have lots of different ways of understanding what’s happening. And also, you generally find that the truth is the best way of lifting people out of their situation. So I secretly suspect To be blunt about in this kind of horrible that a lot of Silicon Valley is extremely bigoted and misogynistic. And it can’t actually make eye contact with the fact that it secretly thinks women aren’t as good programmers where I happen to think, you know, Fisher and equivalence suggests that males and females One protein apart fry protein are not likely to be, I mean, they might have different forms of intelligence and different forms of cognitive strengths. But if you don’t actually worry too much about an intellectual difference, you’d be willing to have an intellectual conversation that was quite open about it. So maybe I can turn that around, as,
Peter Thiel 1:57:18
you know, literally see, there’s sort of a lot of different things that want to react to the right. Um, yeah, I suspect that it’s, it’s, it’s a distraction of sorts, you know, I think it’s very superficial layer. And we want to have, we want to have debates, we have debates and a lot of areas, a lot of, you know, hard questions and their questions in science and technology and philosophy and religion to all these questions. I think it would be healthy to debate and there’s a way in which political debates are sort of a low form of these questions. And there’s one sense in which I think of these political questions as less important or less elevated than some of these others but Um, there’s also a sense in which these questions about politics are ones that that everyone can have access to. And so, if you can’t even have a debate about politics, you can say, you know, I like the man with a strange orange hairdo or I like the mean grandmother. Yeah. If you can’t even say that, then then we’ve sort of frozen out discussion on a lot of other areas. And that’s, that’s always one of the reasons I think the that, that political correctness starts with correctness about politics. And then when you that when you aren’t allowed to talk about that area, you implicitly throws out a lot of others that are maybe more important, and, you know, and we’re, you know, we’re certainly not gonna have a debate about string theory, if we can’t even have a common sense debate about politics or something like that. Um, you know, it’s, it’s, I’m, I’m very sympathetic to the sort of distraction theory that that you know, a lot of these sort of That’s what’s going on our society is like a psychosocial magic hypnotic magic trick where, you know, we’re being distracted from from something, something very important and political correctness, identity politics, and maybe American exceptionalism, sort of these these various ideological systems, um, you know, are distracting us from things. The the, you know, the thing I keep thinking is the main thing is distracting us from is the stagnation and is that you know that there are these problems that that we don’t want to talk about in our society. It’s possible it’s also a way to distract us from bad thoughts that we have about people with a sword use you said, but the one I would I would go back to first is just that it’s distracting us from dealing with dealing with problems. You know, the reason, the reason we have a new speak the sort of Orwellian Newspeak in politics with these zombie politicians, and, you know, you know, Hillary Clinton or jeb bush or whoever it might might be, is that we’re not supposed to talk about the real issues. Maybe they have a bad consciousness. I think they’re bad people. But it’s just I think the primary thing is just too dangerous to talk about what’s actually going on. They don’t know what to do about it. And better not talk about that.
Eric Weinstein 2:00:10
Yeah, I think there’s another take on it, which, you know, if I’m honest about it probably originates from my side of the aisle, which is that
I have a sense that
if you believe that productivity and growth is over, you don’t want to emphasize issues of merit, because you don’t really think that the merit is going to translate. And so therefore, all you can focus on like, you know, a board of a company is just a bunch of slots at a trough. And so you have to make sure that every group has its slots at the trough, right? Because it doesn’t actually matter. The board isn’t doing anything to begin with. And so it’s only a question of receiving the wealth that is already there. And so I worry that that is, you know, I guess where I break with a lot of progressives is that I believe that most progress comes from progress, right? It’s technologically LED and Information lead that the more we know, and the more we can do, the more we can take care of people.
Peter Thiel 2:01:05
Yes. I mean, and again, this is always maybe naive hope on my part, or, or, or something like this, but I always think that when we can’t talk about things, yeah, we can’t solve and and that this is exactly so that, you know, maybe these are maybe these are the calculations you make. And this is, you know, this is the way we Pat people on the head, even though they’re never going to get ahead or something like that. But, you know, it’s never going to work. And it’s and swinging and people aren’t that stupid, and they will eventually figure it out. And so that’s, that’s that’s sort of why I’m under motivated to play that game.
Eric Weinstein 2:01:41
Yeah. And I have to say that one of the things that I’ve learned from you is that it’s one thing to hold it have a contrarian position. It’s another thing to hold it when the whole world starts hating on you. For example, I watched the world go from viewing, removing Gawker is Removing a nuisance, or worse, that was threatening people selectively
to a concern, you know about,
like first amendment rights and silencing, you know, free speech and, you know, I do have the strong sense that people are willfully misinterpreting these actions that are necessary to sort of self correct in our society, and are not being terribly honest. There’s a lot of bad faith acting in our system at the moment.
Peter Thiel 2:02:39
Yeah, but, you know, again, I’m always I’m always looking at this again, where I’m, I’m always quite hopeful that people realize there’s a lot of bad faith acting and they, they, you know, they discount they
Unknown Speaker 2:02:47
grow out of
Peter Thiel 2:02:48
it accordingly. And I, you know, I’m, you know, I, I don’t know how many of the people disagree with me on the support for Trump. You know, we’ll be more open to it in five years or 10 years. And we’ll see on the Gawker matter I’m, you know, I’m going to win that one. And, and I think that, you know, I think people understand that when it gets criticized by people in the media who have themselves are up against super challenged business models where they have to act in sociopathic ways to get clicks by their readers, right, that this is just the game they have to play. I think people need more understanding than you think. And, and therefore, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s not quite what it what it looks
Eric Weinstein 2:03:36
well, but but there’s also a way in which both in both of these cases, there’s
Peter Thiel 2:03:39
nothing I think I was I was extremely disturbed by Gawker a decade, decade and a half ago because I think it was a really powerful thing at the time where it worked, because people didn’t understand how it worked. It was this hate factory, this scapegoating machine, but people didn’t see it as such. Um, and because of that, it was it was super Powerful once you you know, once you see how it works, once you understand it, it is it is less powerful. So you know, even you know had I not succeeded in litigation against against Gawker. I think it would be a weaker version of that today because, you know, there are, of course, equally nasty things on the internet, but they’re not as powerful because
Eric Weinstein 2:04:21
Peter Thiel 2:04:21
people, people can sort of the, there’s more transparency into the into the bad motives and people get it. And the hate factory only works when it’s not perceived as such.
Eric Weinstein 2:04:32
Well, I think that there is a way in which some of this stuff is slowing down because people are getting tired of the constant state of beheading figuratively, of people via their reputations that we’ve moved from honest, physical violence into reputational and economic violence against people that are considered undesirable, but I think that like there’s a story with both Gawker and Trump, which the rest of the world will never see and I wouldn’t have seen it. If I hadn’t been working with you, in the case of Gawker, I don’t think anybody even knows the story about how much you sweated the ethics internally of how do I do this? Right? How do I make sure that I don’t hurt anybody that I shouldn’t be hurting? How do I make sure that this represents something narrow and not something broad, which is a story so far as I know, that hasn’t been told. And then there’s the story with Trump, where I feel remember this. When Trump won, you had a gathering at your house, and you did not invite me. And I was so pissed at you that even though I was tooth and nail against Trump, but I remained really pretty close to a never trumper I knew why you did what you did. I knew that you felt that it was a reduction in violence. And I think that you had theories that nobody believed at the time if I look at it, this world through these windows, Trump has not been Changed mostly day to day life except for the phenomenon of Trump. But it’s not there’s the, you know, a policeman on every street corner with a, an automatic rifle. We’re not in some sort of siege from the White House. And you said, I think much less is going to happen than people imagine. And I think we’re going to be in a much less interventionist mode than we were previously. And whether or not you were right, or you’re wrong. And so far, I think you’ve been born out to be right on both of those points. I knew that you had an idea that we had to shake things up, or we were going to be in some very dangerous situation. It was Yeah, this was
Peter Thiel 2:06:38
I mean, I, I had two speeches in 2016. One was at the republican convention, one was at the Washington Press Club about a month before the election and in, in both speeches, I, you know, I underscored the ways in which I think Trump would represent a break from the interventionist neoconservative neoliberal foreign policies of you know, on the That, you know, Bush 43, that Obama still continued and that Hillary was was likely to, would have been likely to continue on. And, and I still think that that’s roughly what’s happened. It’s not been it’s not been as as far away from interventionism as I would like, but it’s directionally directionally that’s happened. And I think, um, and I think that, you know, I do think we’re not going to go back to that on the Republican side, which is like a very important thing. We’re not going to go back to the bush foreign policy ever. Yeah, that’s that’s an that’s a that that was an important thing. You know, it was it was a, it was a win win in the in the primaries when, you know, Republican primaries when when Trump spoke out against the Iraq War, right, that was, you know, that was a very important moment, from my point of view. Yeah. And I think, you know, I think, you know, we always think of the think the way one way to think of the president united states is that you’re Sort of the mayor of this country and but you’re the dictator of the world, because in the US your power is very limited outside the US you can do a great number of things. And that’s why I think these, these foreign policy questions are actually are very important ones in assessing a president.
Unknown Speaker 2:08:19
Eric Weinstein 2:08:22
I guess my my take on the great danger of Trump was that there were certain sorts of standards and agreed upon cultural aspects, which I’ve likened to the oral tour of the United States where the Constitution is our written tour. And my concern is that Trump has had an effect on degrading certain expectations where it does matter how one comports oneself as a president, maybe not as much as some of my friends would like to think. And I do think that we needed some dynamism. But my concern is, is that it’s going to be very difficult to recover. From the kind of damage to our sense of what can and cannot be said and done, not that I did think I did think that we needed to break out of our Overton window, if you will, on many topics, I would just the way that Trump touched those words not comfortable for me.
Peter Thiel 2:09:19
Yes. Well, look, I don’t want to get. Yeah, I agree. There are certain ways in which President Trump does not act presidential in the way in which the previous presidents and I agree that he’s done evil things that needed and then maybe said, but then maybe there’s some point where it was too much acting and the acting was counterproductive. And that’s, that’s, you know, it’s it’s, it’s I, I think there is something extraordinary about how it was possible for someone like Donald Trump to get elected. And, and probably a useful question for people on both the left and the right would be to try to think about you know what the underlying problems were What what some of the solutions to that are? And, and, you know, it’s, uh, you know, I think I think I think the the left are the Democrats, you know, they could they could they can win they can win in 2020. But they have to have more of an agenda than just telling the republicans to hurry up and die. Well, it has been more than that this
Eric Weinstein 2:10:19
is the thing that convinced me that I didn’t get the Trump thing, which was, I was convinced that Trump was going to be such a wake up call that the Democratic Party was going to, you know, go behind the closed door and say, We cannot let this happen. Again, we have to look honestly at how we got beat, what this represents what it means and what we’re going to do next time. And the idea that we were going to double or triple down on some of the stuff that didn’t work never even occurred to me. I had no idea that that party was so far gone. That it couldn’t actually you know, if you imagine that he’s orange Hitler, you would think orange Hitler would be the occasion to think deeply in question hypotheses and I really have been shocked. The extent to which that didn’t happen, so maybe I got my own party. wrong on that front. I didn’t know that we were this far gone. But,
Peter Thiel 2:11:08
ya know, I mean, it’s, it’s, I think there’s a lot of time to, to do that. And I keep thinking that, you know, we are at some point where, where the distractions aren’t going to work as well. You know, I think the, the, the big distraction on on the left over the last 4050 years have been forms of identity politics where, you know, we don’t look at the country as a whole, we look at parts of it and, and sort of it, it’s sort of been a way of, you know, I think obscuring these questions of stagnation. Right, I would say the right, the right wing distraction technique has been, I would say something like American exceptionalism, which is interesting, which is, you know, this doctrine that the US is this singular, exceptional Country. It’s so, so terrific, so wonderful. It does everything so incredibly well that you shouldn’t ask any, any difficult questions, any questions at all and, you know, it’s if you want the it’s, it’s I think it in theological or epistemological terms you can compare it to the radical monotheism of the God of the Old Testament where it means that God is so radically unique that you can’t know anything about him. You can’t talk about God’s attributes, you can’t, you know, say anything about him whatsoever. And if the United States is radically exceptional, then in a similar way, you can say nothing about it whatsoever and there may be all these things on the ground that seem crazy where we’re you know, we have people who are exceptionally overweight we have we have subway systems that are exceptionally expensive to build. We have universities they’re exceptionally sociopathic, immature, have the student debt problem any other country. You know, we have a trade regime. It’s exceptionally bad for our country, like no other country or self destruct to this to all these things that we somehow don’t ask us, I think exceptionalism somehow led to this country that was exceptionally unsolvable where, and it’s brilliant. And that’s a that’s so you know, there’s you know greatness is adjacent to exceptionalism but it’s it’s actually still quite different because many countries can be great and great is more, it’s more a scale and there’s some something you measure it against multivariate, it’s, whereas exceptional, it’s just completely incommensurate with anything else. And, and, and I think that’s, that’s gotten us into very, very bad cool to saddening, I think that there’s a way in which that sort of exceptionalism has ended on the right. And there’s been we’ve moved beyond that. And I’m hopeful that in a similar way, the left will move beyond that. Politics even though, you know, right now it feels like the monster is flopping about more violent than ever. Even I think it might be its death throes, but maybe not.
Eric Weinstein 2:14:09
Yeah, it could be that it’s gotten very strong or it could be on its last legs and it might as well go for broke. Yes. So let me return back to the line of inquiry. I’m so sorry. I just enjoying so much hearing what you have to say some of it’s new to me. The the theories that might be portals into a different way of looking at the world. One of them that you brought into my I’ve never heard of before was gerardus various theories. And I wonder if you might say, You’ve often credited your success in business to how you understood and you applied your army obviously, he didn’t have this kind of level of business success. So can you talk a little bit about your personal relationship to Rene’s your arts theories as a portal into a different way of seeing the world?
Peter Thiel 2:14:57
Well, it’s a little bit about the theory. So It was sort of this theory of human psychology as deeply mimetic where you sort of
Eric Weinstein 2:15:07
you copy other people to just for the folks at home, mimetic, as in mime, rather than me medic is in meme.
Peter Thiel 2:15:15
Yes, well, they’re closely related, okay. But you imitate people but you imitate. That’s how you learn to speak as a child, you copy your parents language, that’s how, but then you also imitate desire. And then there are sort of all sorts of aspects of him, he says, that can lead to sort of mass violence, mass insanity. So it has, it’s both what enables human culture to function. But it also it also is, is quite, quite dangerous. And you know, when I came across the sort of constellation of ideas as an undergraduate at Stanford, and my, my biases were sort of libertarian, classical liberal, you know, only individuals exist on individuals are radically autonomous can can think for themselves and so this was a it was both It was sort of a powerful corrective to that intellectually, but then it also worked on an existential level where he sort of realized while there are all these ways that I’ve been hyper mimetic, I’ve been hyper tracked, why might Stanford why does this matter so much? Why, you know, why am I doing all the things I’m doing? And, and, and that’s, it’s a prism through which one looks at a lot of things that’s that that I found to be quite helpful over, over. over recent decades. I think the preference falsification, you can think of in mimetic terms where, you know, everybody goes along with what everybody else thinks. And then you can get these sort of chaotic points where all of a sudden things can shift much faster than you would think possible because they’re all these dynamics that are not, you know, not simply rational, it’s not quite correct to to model people as these sort of classical atoms or something like that.
So we’re in time
Eric Weinstein 2:17:00
Do you think what would be a good way for people listening at home to start to get into Girard philosophy if they were interested? Well, there are,
Peter Thiel 2:17:09
you know, it’s there’s sort of a number of different books that Gerard wrote, I think the the magisterial one is probably things hidden since the foundation of the world. So it’s this truth of Nemesis and violence and the ways so it’s sort of part psychology part anthropology Part, Part history. You know, all portal I should point out is, it’s, they’re all hidden. It’s, you know, it’s a portal onto the past, onto human origins. It’s a it’s a, an our history, it’s a portal onto the present onto the interpersonal dynamics of psychology. It’s a it’s, you know, it’s a portal on to the future in terms of, you know, you know, are we going to let these mimetic desires run amok and head towards apocalyptic violence for, you know, even the entire planet can no longer absorb With the violence that we can unleash, or are we going to learn from this and, and transcend this in a way where we, we get to some some very different place. And so it has, it has a sense that, you know, of both danger and hope for the future as well. So it’s a, it is sort of this, you know, panoramic theory on a lot of ways, super powerful. And, and just extraordinarily different from, from what one one would normally hear there was, you know, there was there’s sort of like almost a cult like element where you had, you know, these people who are followers of Gerard, and was sort of a sense that, you know, we had, we had figured out the truth about the world in a way that nobody else did, and that you know, that that was generative and very powerful it was always there’s parts of it that are unhealthy, but, but it was, you know, it was it has sort of incredible dynamism. And it just you’re aware that you know, maybe things are so different from how, how they appear to be that you No, it’s you know, there may be a portal out there. There may be, you know,
Eric Weinstein 2:19:03
what was shocking to me. I mean, the first time I heard about it, you invited me to a conference that you were keeping quiet. And I was in the news. And there was quite a lot of anger and fury that I had done something wrong. And you waited a few days to give a talk, and you talked about scapegoating. And the mechanism by which violence that might be visited upon the many is visited upon the one. And then you also started talking about the king as if he is sort of scapegoating waiting, so that the king is not necessarily something that one would want to be. And I found it absolutely fascinating because it turns so many ideas on their heads that I got angry at you. Why hadn’t you told me this earlier, when I’d been through three sleep sleepless nights before I’d heard the theory, so I found it instantly. applicable, particularly if you’re the sort of person who’s likely to get scapegoated by not taking refuge in the hurt? Do you think it has more relevance to people who are struggling to, like break out as individuals because of the possibility of being picked off?
Peter Thiel 2:20:14
You know, I, I think, um, well, I think it has universal thing. I think it is universally true. Yeah, some has some sort of universal relevance. I think the problems of violence and scapegoating are our universal problems. It is, um, it’s probably the case, there are certain types of people who are more likely to become scapegoats. But, but it’s not an absolute thing. Yeah. And so there is, you know, there’s always you could say, there’s an arbitrariness about scapegoating because the scapegoat is supposed to represent, to stand in for for everybody. And so the scapegoat has to be perceived as someone who’s radically other But then also has to somehow emerge from from within the group. And so there are there times when the scapegoat is the sort of outlier, you know, extreme Insider, extreme outsider, you know, King slash criminal or, you know, whatever personality and that’s, that’s probably a dangerous sort of thing. It’s like Abraham Lincoln, the incredible orator who’s also grows up in a log cabin. So, you know, the sort of extreme contrasts are often often, you know, people who, who are at risk of, of this may be more than others. And then at the same time, you know, because these are sort of mob like dynamics, there is sort of a way in which, you know, it’s not like anyone’s really safe from the violence, right, ever. No One No one’s completely safe.
Eric Weinstein 2:21:48
I think that’s quite, quite true.
Peter Thiel 2:21:52
But yeah, it’s it’s a, it’s a yes, but there is a thought that
one of the sort of History ideas that Gerard had that
Unknown Speaker 2:22:03
Peter Thiel 2:22:05
is that there’s a dynamic to this process where scapegoating, it only works when people don’t understand it. And so there’s sort of, as you understand it better, it works less well or it has to get displaced into other other dimensions and so on. You know, if you have a if you have a witch hunt, so, you know, we need to find a witch to bring back peace to the community. That sort of a psychosocial understanding of what you’re doing is actually counterproductive to the witch hunt itself. You know, the witch hunt, supposed to be supposed to be a theological epiphany, right? You know, that God’s telling you who the witches, if you think of it as some sort of soul psychosocial control mechanism, then it won’t work anymore. And so, so that, you know, the metaphor that Gerard uses is that, you know, the sacred is like phlogiston and violence is like oxygen and so you know, but But it only works in a world where it’s misunderstood. And so if you understand scapegoating, you end up in a world where it works less and less well, and the kind of political and cultural institutions that are, that are linked to it will, will tend to unravel. You know, I think one of the, one of the sort of, on ways in which this this has happened, a great deal and, you know, in modernity is that we, we scapegoat the scapegoat or sort of go up one level of abstraction. And, and that sort of always makes it a little bit more complicated. And so, if we go after the people who were the historical oppressors, the historical victimizers, that’s a that’s often you know, that’s often a super powerful way it’s like slightly too complicated. There was a there was a bill clinton formulation of this, you know, we must unite against those who seek to divide us and which is on some level self contradictory. Yeah, but then, um, It’s a little bit too hard for people to fully disentangle. And that’s, that’s fair. That’s that’s sort of one way that, that I think it’s still still on sort of works even though um, you know, it’s it’s, again, when everyone sees these moves when everyone understands them, it just doesn’t work that well anymore. So it’s like, it’s like,
Eric Weinstein 2:24:18
it’s like saying, well, like, would you like me to prescribe you a placebo? In other
Peter Thiel 2:24:26
words, that probably does not work very well. It doesn’t work very well, it probably does not work very well. And
Eric Weinstein 2:24:31
but then the other part of it that I find terrifying, which is but also interesting, is that implicit in this framework is that there is a minimal level of violence needed to accomplish an end. And that the scapegoating mechanism well, entirely unjust, has the virtue of being minimal and yes, that the horror is visited upon the individual.
Peter Thiel 2:24:54
Yes, yes. Or the theological terminology Gerard would use would be the scapegoating is satanic. That archaic cultures were a little bit satanic, but not very, and they were sort of satanic in an innocent way. Because the violence was actually, you know, a way to limit violence that, that, you know, we violence is both, you know, it’s both the disease and a cure for the disease. We need violence to drive out violence. And this is, this is how this is how our societies, how our societies work, and then it’s not quite clear how things will will continue to work. So there’s Yeah, so you always say that there’s a sense in which is super broad brushstroke type argument. There’s a way in which you can say that the left is more focused on unjust on the unjustified nature of violence. And the right is more focused on how a certain amount of violence is needed for society. And, and their and their ways in which they’re both Right. And then there are ways in which
they’re both deconstructing each other.
Unknown Speaker 2:26:05
Peter Thiel 2:26:06
you could say the nation state, a nation state
contains violence in both senses the word contained, because it contains it as it limits at a channels in certain ways. But then it’s also part of part of its very being and, and you get into all these questions when, you know, when it’s appropriate when it’s when it’s not. And that’s why you know, I, I don’t like violence, I think it’s a very serious problem. But to also recognize
hands instrumental names, if you said, we’re going to get rid of all violence tomorrow, it’s going to stop, you’d be talking about nothing,
or I think us no way in which that
can well, that might require a tremendous amount of violence to enact or, um, or, if we’re gonna have no more violence at all, you know, maybe you’ll have just total chaos. A lot of violence well in that form. So it’s it’s a, it’s a. It’s an interesting problem, too. Yeah, there’s sort of all these interesting descriptors, but then how to practically translate into action? Very, very tricky. Yeah.
Eric Weinstein 2:27:13
I think that one of the things on the left that people don’t get right, I don’t know whether you’ll agree with me or not, is that I think we on the left are somewhat divided between two camps. One camp is quite open about wanting to end oppression. And the other camp is cryptic about wanting to reverse it. In other words, you’ve oppressed for long enough, it is your turn to be oppressed by us and we are actually envious of oppression. And there is something of a civil war. I mean, I would say this is the way in which the ID who is left wing or left flank is misunderstood, which is that almost none of the of the left wing members of the ID w are interested in oppressing anybody. So there’s no give me no payback period. That sounds like fun to us. And one of the things I hadn’t understood until it was said to me quite starkly. Progress is messy and you got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. There is this just tolerance, bordering on excitement, about the opportunity to stick it to those who have stuck it to you, from your perspective that this is an aspect of justice, whereas the cessation of oppression is interesting to another part of that group.
Peter Thiel 2:28:30
Yes, much less. Yellow. The disturbing thing is that it’s of course, much less exciting, and much less energizing. So I often think if you if you listen to political speech, right, the applause lines are always the ones we are going to go after the other side. Yeah, we’re, we’re going to go after the bad people. We’re going to stop them. And if you try to construct a political speech in which it was we’re going to unite people. We’re going to get everybody onto the school, and there were no better People it would be it’s almost impossible to have a speech that has any energy at all. Well, I and and so I, you know, it’s it’s, uh,
Eric Weinstein 2:29:09
let me take issue with that slightly my excite I agree,
Peter Thiel 2:29:13
although the political speech is
Eric Weinstein 2:29:16
exactly what you said so i’m not i’m not i don’t think i Miskin I’m going to miss characterize it. I think that the problem is the reason I pour energy into trying to stop the political correctness and the rules about what can be said, mostly has to do with the fact that I’m incredibly excited except I’m excited about something non political. Like if what I’m excited about is pursuing technological progress, scientific progress, more people being able to form families, etc. That’s where the excitement is. It’s not coming from the politics. It’s coming from what the politics facilitates. And so I think that the problem with these speeches is if you don’t believe There’s something that we’re keeping the space clean for. We might as well Riot or something because at least that’s exciting. And that’s got some energy behind it. And then it’s my team versus your team. But I think that would both you and I have been folk I mean, look at at some level anybody is focused on technology as you are, is a progressive in the sense of caring about what is actually progress. And I think that that the danger comes from when politics becomes your entertainment. And you know, you read very correctly I learned this from you that when you look at a bunch of candidates debating on a crowded stage, look at where the energy is, and the energy is something that is not in my opinion, a good indicator, it’s not a good proximate for the ultimate that I care about.
Unknown Speaker 2:30:47
Yes, look, I
Peter Thiel 2:30:51
I’d like it to be just the way you describe it. I just want to ride it often is not and, and so yes, scientific, technological progress. For us, right, in a way can, the hope is it can lead towards a more cornucopia and world in which there’s less Malthusian struggle, less, less violence. And then at the same at the very same time, you know, an honest account of the history of these things is that, you know, a lot of it was used to develop more advanced weapons, it was in the pursuit of violence. And one sort of account of the tech stagnation, the scientific tech stagnation is that, you know, the breakthrough thing was the atom bomb. And then, you know, we and then you built the rockets to deliver the bombs more quickly. And by 1970, we had enough bombs and rockets to destroy the world 10 or 20 times over or whatever. And the whole thing made no more sense. And, and so if one of the big drivers of scientific and technological progress was, um, was actually just the sort of military dimension when that became absurd, you know, did the whole thing slow down to the space age? And, you know, not in 1972 when Apollo left the moon but was it was the key moment 1975 when you had the Apollo Soyuz docking? And like if we’re just going to be friends with Russians, are we does it really make sense for people who are working 80 hours, 100 hours a week around the clock? And again, I don’t think it’s all that. But But I think one of the one of the challenges that we should not understate how big it is and resetting science and technology in the 21st century is, you know, how do we tell a story that motivates sacrifice incredibly hard work, deferred gratification for the future? That’s a that’s not intrinsically violent.
Unknown Speaker 2:32:49
Peter Thiel 2:32:51
And, and, and it was, it was combined with that in in all these powerful ways.
Unknown Speaker 2:32:56
Well, you know, you
Eric Weinstein 2:33:00
So when I think about the way in which the nation, let’s say came
Peter Thiel 2:33:04
around, because I think this is this is like, this is one of the reasons, you know, it sort of take people, you know, a lot of people deny that there’s a tech science stagnation going on. Sure. But then, you know, one of the other things one hears as well, you know, maybe it’s not progressing as fast. But do we really want it to progress as fast? And Isn’t it dangerous? And isn’t it, you know, we’re just going to build the AI that’s going to kill everybody, or it’ll be you know, biological weapons or it’s going to be, you know, runaway nanotechnology or, you know, and I don’t think we should, you know, dismiss those fears, you know, completely. They’re not completely Oh,
Eric Weinstein 2:33:42
the fear is that it’s going to make these things cheap and easy. Whereas right now, you you still need a state to do a lot of this work. I mean, you know, a lot the Elan Musk is one of the first private individuals with a space program.
Peter Thiel 2:33:55
Yeah, that’s a version of it. But I think in general, it’s just that that sometimes How
you will lose control over over the violence you think you can control it? Maybe Maybe it’s a large state, maybe it’s you know, maybe it’s autonomous AI weapons, which in theory are controlled by state but in practice, not quite. So it’s Yeah, there’s sort of all these, all these scenarios where this stuff can can spiral out of control. You know, I, I’m more scared of the one where nothing happens, right? So I’m more scared of like the stagnation world I feel ultimately goes straight to apocalypse. This is the way I’m much more scared of that. But we have to understand why people are scared of the non stagnant world. Well,
Eric Weinstein 2:34:36
it’s a very straight I mean, point, there are a couple of threads here that are super important, one of which is that one thing that I sense that both of us get frustrated with is that if you think about growth, as necessary to contain certain violence, and you think about growth is largely also being how much fossil fuels you’re able to burn. climate is not paired with kind of a reduction in opulence it’s paired on the other side with
Unknown Speaker 2:35:14
Eric Weinstein 2:35:16
And if you over focus on climate, and you result in a situation in which growth is slowed to a halt. Now growth doesn’t need to be the amount of fossil fuel you burn. But it has largely been that up until the present, you actually see that the trade off that you’re facing is very different than the one that’s usually portrayed by either side. And somehow we never get around to that conversation, which would be if we were very serious about climate, would we be plunged into war?
Peter Thiel 2:35:46
Yeah, obviously, you can’t have an economy without an environment. But it may also be the case that you can’t have an environment without an economy. Right and, and, and then if both of those statements are true, maybe maybe You know, the set of solutions, the set of best solutions looks really different than if you just focus on one and not the other. So, you know
Eric Weinstein 2:36:07
it. This is why it’s so important for me to have environments in which people who don’t agree on things but agree on what constitutes a conversation can sit down with an idea that nobody is going to leave the table. So but their reputation is in tatters to the extent that they can’t find a job on Monday to support themselves is that you have to actually weigh both of these things simultaneously. And the great danger is people trying to solve either problem in isolation.
Unknown Speaker 2:36:35
Well, you know,
Peter Thiel 2:36:39
if one goes with a general climate change narrative that you know, it’s it’s anthropogenic, it’s, it’s, the co2 levels are rising in a way that’s dangerous and has you know, a serious risk of some kind of big big runaway process. Um, you know, I think always the political question in my mind is on, you know, what do you do about China? And what do you do about India? Right? Because these are the countries that are, you know, trying to catch up to the developed world, they have a enormous way to go to catch up. And, and, you know, it’s a logical consequence, I think Western Europe, I think Europe has something like 8% of the carbon emissions in the world and, and then and then we have to have more than just the sort of magical political thinking where it’s something like, you know, we’re gonna have a carbon tax in California. And this will be so charismatic and so inspiring that people in China and India will copy us and follow suit. When people aren’t they’re not willing to actually say that literally because it sounds so crazy. Um, but if you say that that’s not the way things actually work, then then somehow you need you know, you need to do some really different things we need to find energy sources that are not carbon dioxide intensive. A we need to figure out ways to engineer carbon sinks. You know, the is all this sort of crazy geoengineering stuff that maybe should be on the table, maybe we should be more open to nuclear power is sort of like a range of very different debates and pushes you towards.
Eric Weinstein 2:38:14
Let me take a slightly different tack to statements that I found later in life, unfortunately, but both been meaningful to me. One is Weber’s definition that a government is a monopoly on violence and the other one, it’s a guy I can never remember. Who said, I think it was a French political philosopher said, a nation is a group of people who have agreed to forget something in common. And if you put these things together, if you imagine that somehow we’ve now gone in for the belief that transparency is almost always a good thing. And then what we need is greater transparency to control the badness in our society. We probably won’t be able to forget anything in common therefore we may not be able to have a nation Therefore the nation may not be able to monopolize violence, which is a very disturbing but interesting causal chain. Can we explore the idea of transparency given that people seem to now associate certain words with positivity even though normally we would have thought about privacy transparency trade off, let’s say?
Peter Thiel 2:39:21
Yes. Well, I, I always do think there’s a privacy transparency trade off and, and, and there’s, it’s always, it’s always a one thing is always confusing about transparency. That means there’s transparency in theory, which is like this panopticon like thing where the entire planet gets illuminated brightly and equally everywhere all at once. And so that’s in theory, but then in practice, is often sounds more like a weapon that will be directed against certain people were on, you know, it’s a question of who gets to render Who else transparent and who gets maybe it’s even a secret path dependent sequencing question where if you do it first, for select strike transparency is very powerful. And so you think about, like, you know, Mr. Snowden, against the NSA, and then the NSA trying to expose Mr. Snowden so Swedish, a sex cult wherever you want to describe it as, and, and I think a lot of it ends up having, having that kind of an having Assange is sorry, Assange. Sorry, it’s not Assange. Assange is Swedish sex called Assange against the NSA, NSA against Assange is Swedish sex sculptor, somebody like that? And that’s, um, uh, yeah. And, and. And so, I think, um, it’s, I think, in practice, full transparency, it assumes people can pay attention to everything at once or equally, and that seems that seems politically incorrect then even if you had this much money greater transparency in all these ways. They’re all these ways that that would seem creepy, totalitarian, if we, if you stated in terms of the problem of violence, right, you can think of the trade off between transparency and privacy is, you know, transparency is, um, you know, we’re looking at everybody, and therefore, they can’t be that violent, but the state may be very violent and enforcing all this transparency. And privacy is, you know, you get to have a gun and you get to do various dangerous things in the dark. No one knows what they are. And so there’s probably more violence on the individual level, but then less control on the state and it’s again this question of, you know, are you more scared of the violence of individuals are more scared of, of centralized violence and you probably one should not be to categorical or to absolute about this, but you know, it It can show up in both places. And that’s why it’s a wickedly hard problem wickedly hard
Eric Weinstein 2:42:04
It does seem to be. And I have to say I’ve just I’ve started to hate the transparency discussion, because if you’ll notice there’s a vote in 2019. For simply saying, well, I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, as if that constituted an argument that first of all, one thing that people don’t understand is that there are infections like Barcella that are actually accelerated by Sun. So it’s comical. It’s not even true bleach is probably a better disinfectant. But the idea that that constitutes an argument in our time, to me speaks to the fact that we’re living in a very strange moment. Where if you if you go back to a queasy asked is the inspiration for Turn, turn turn, there was an idea that there was a purpose to everything, and inclusion or exclusion were both needed a time to kill the time to die time to refrain from killing. There does seem to be so Have an absolutist mania in which it would be hard to imagine writing a song about a time to kill.
In the modern
era, you know, and likewise, I’m not positive, that people recognize how imperative it is for a well functioning government to have places where it doesn’t have to constantly account for it.
Peter Thiel 2:43:21
So yeah, everything. You know, if you sort of have no backroom deals, maybe that’s less corrupt, but maybe nothing that’s optional. You know, it’s the US Supreme Court still doesn’t televise its hearings. And I suspect that’s, that’s the right call even though you know, it’s there’s always and so there is something very strict and I think part of it is that if you know that everything is going to be transparent. You will censor yourself and you won’t say things so it’s not like the same thing happens in a transparent way. Maybe just stops happening all together. If you’re if you’re you know if you’re a politician or aspiring politician And you want to, you know, you’re not going to engage in bold ideas, you’re not going to experiment with different, different ways about thinking about things, you’re going to be super conventional, super curated. And, and so it’s, it’s not like we get, you know, all the benefits of transparency with none of the costs they come with. They come with a very, very high cost on and,
Unknown Speaker 2:44:25
and I, I do
Peter Thiel 2:44:28
you know, I, I do wonder if, you know, one of the strange dynamics with the younger generations in the us is that there’s a sense that you’re just constantly watched. There’s this, you know, great Eye of Sauron to use the Tolkien metaphor that’s looking at you at all times. And you know, that, yeah, it would be good if you could act the same way. And, you know, if something bad happened, we could take care of you, but you’re always being watched. I suspect it really changes your behavior.
Eric Weinstein 2:44:58
You know, it’s interesting. In a moment where I wanted to make sure that my son didn’t misbehave, I toured him around our neighborhood and pointed out all of the cameras that would track anybody on the street where we live. And you know, I’d never noticed them before, but sure enough, there they were in in in every nook and cranny that we don’t realize that if it has to be stitched together, there’s an incredible web of surveillance tools that are surrounding us at all time. Are you familiar with the theory of Jennifer Fried’s called institutional betrayal?
Peter Thiel 2:45:36
I know you’ve mentioned it to me, but I don’t know all the details. So tell me a little bit about it. Well,
Eric Weinstein 2:45:40
I don’t know all the details either. But I think what she isolated was that people who have been betrayed by institutions that have a responsibility of care, like a hospital, for example, or if you trust the sense making Oregon like your newspaper, and then you find that you’ve been betrayed by that institution that had something of a, like a principal agent problem, where you had to trust your agent in order to take care of you that the the quality of trauma is in fact different, and that it leads to a universal fear of the infrastructure of your society. That’s sort of what I picked up. What I was going to ask you about
is given our
central belief that there was something about growth that led to Universal betrayal by institutions, which has compromised experts in the minds of most people. Do you think there’s a preferred way of waking up as a society out of a kind of universal institutional betrayal? If we’re excited about the next chapter, what I’d love to talk to you about in a future episode is what we’re excited about. What comes next? Is there a way of waking up from this? Most gracefully? I
Peter Thiel 2:47:07
don’t know, I don’t know about that. It’s strikes me that there are ways we don’t want to wake up. And we don’t want to wake up in a way where it D energizes us and D motivates. And so, you know, so I think, I think one of the, one of the ways I think these institutions worked was, you know, they, it took care of people, but it was also, you know, motivational you study, you get good grades, you’ll succeed in our system, right? And, and so one way, you know, when you sort of deconstruct these institutions, there’s sort of one, one direction that I think, is always very dangerous that it just shifts people into sort of a much more nihilistic very low end. Remote where it’s just Well, there’s no point nothing can be done. And, and that’s the way I that’s, that’s the, that’s the way that I definitively do not want to wake people up. And so I think it has to always be coupled a little bit to, you know, on these paths that aren’t really going anywhere, and you shouldn’t go down these paths. But then there’s some other paths here that you take, there’s a portal here that you need to, you need to look at and if you if we are just saying, all the paths are blocked, um, you know, I think probably the risk is people just sit down where they are and stop moving all together. And that’s that that feels like the very wrong way to wake people up.
Eric Weinstein 2:48:42
That’s that sounds very wise. Let me just ask, since you’ve been attached to some of the highest energy ideas, whether it’s, you know, crazy sounding stuff like seasteading, or radical longevity or some other idea From your background in venture capital and as a technologist yourself, what are the things that you’re most excited? If we could move them back into the institutions, where they probably belonged all this time? What are what are the first sort of subjects and people that you would move back into institutional support to re energize our society?
Um, people or programs?
Unknown Speaker 2:49:29
Well, I do, I do think
Peter Thiel 2:49:31
there is something about
basic science that has, you know, doesn’t all have this sort of for profit character, some of it has this nonprofit character, we’re building up this knowledge base for all of humanity. And, and, and so and so I don’t yet know how we do basic science without some kind of institutional context. And so that’s one that’s that would see absolutely critical. You know, I, I’m super interested in the problem of longevity, radical life extension. And, you know, my my sort of disappointment in the nonprofit institutions and nonprofit world has directed me more and more over the years to just invest in biotech companies and try to find these sort of better functioning corporate solutions. And then I always have this worry in the back of my my head that maybe there are these basic research problems that they’re being sidestepped because there are too hard. So I think I think basic science is, is one that that you you’d have to do and but you have to somehow also reform the institution. So you don’t have this Gresham’s law where the, you know, the politicians replaced the scientists.
Eric Weinstein 2:50:45
That sounds like a great one. And I was very surprised to see that your friend Aubrey de Grey, who you funded to sort of get the radical longevity thing was in the news for having solved a hard math problem in his spare time that nobody even knew he was working And so it seems like even though people would treat him as crazy, he certainly has a lot on the ball and probably is exactly the kind of person who might energize a department even if you might infuriated if you can get him back in. You would,
Peter Thiel 2:51:14
if you were able to get him back in, I think you’d be able to solve a lot of problems.
Eric Weinstein 2:51:18
Well, Peter, it’s been absolutely fantastic having you thank you for a very generous gift of your time. And I hope that you will consider coming back on the portal to talk about some of the specifics about the things that you and I are most excited about doing next. We’ll do thank you so much. All right, Peter. You’ve been watching the portal with Peter Thiel, and I’m your host, Eric Weinstein. Thanks for tuning in. And please subscribe to the podcast and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below on YouTube. Thanks
The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday