Content

Paul Graham · 07/01/23

How to Do Great Work

July 2023

If you collected lists of techniques for doing great work in a lot of different fields, what would the intersection look like? I decided to find out by making it.

Partly my goal was to create a guide that could be used by someone working in any field. But I was also curious about the shape of the intersection. And one thing this exercise shows is that it does have a definite shape; it's not just a point labelled "work hard."

The following recipe assumes you're very ambitious.





The first step is to decide what to work on. The work you choose needs to have three qualities: it has to be something you have a natural aptitude for, that you have a deep interest in, and that offers scope to do great work.

In practice you don't have to worry much about the third criterion. Ambitious people are if anything already too conservative about it. So all you need to do is find something you have an aptitude for and great interest in. [1]

That sounds straightforward, but it's often quite difficult. When you're young you don't know what you're good at or what different kinds of work are like. Some kinds of work you end up doing may not even exist yet. So while some people know what they want to do at 14, most have to figure it out.

The way to figure out what to work on is by working. If you're not sure what to work on, guess. But pick something and get going. You'll probably guess wrong some of the time, but that's fine. It's good to know about multiple things; some of the biggest discoveries come from noticing connections between different fields.

Develop a habit of working on your own projects. Don't let "work" mean something other people tell you to do. If you do manage to do great work one day, it will probably be on a project of your own. It may be within some bigger project, but you'll be driving your part of it.

What should your projects be? Whatever seems to you excitingly ambitious. As you grow older and your taste in projects evolves, exciting and important will converge. At 7 it may seem excitingly ambitious to build huge things out of Lego, then at 14 to teach yourself calculus, till at 21 you're starting to explore unanswered questions in physics. But always preserve excitingness.

There's a kind of excited curiosity that's both the engine and the rudder of great work. It will not only drive you, but if you let it have its way, will also show you what to work on.

What are you excessively curious about — curious to a degree that would bore most other people? That's what you're looking for.

Once you've found something you're excessively interested in, the next step is to learn enough about it to get you to one of the frontiers of knowledge. Knowledge expands fractally, and from a distance its edges look smooth, but once you learn enough to get close to one, they turn out to be full of gaps.

The next step is to notice them. This takes some skill, because your brain wants to ignore such gaps in order to make a simpler model of the world. Many discoveries have come from asking questions about things that everyone else took for granted. [2]

If the answers seem strange, so much the better. Great work often has a tincture of strangeness. You see this from painting to math. It would be affected to try to manufacture it, but if it appears, embrace it.

Boldly chase outlier ideas, even if other people aren't interested in them — in fact, especially if they aren't. If you're excited about some possibility that everyone else ignores, and you have enough expertise to say precisely what they're all overlooking, that's as good a bet as you'll find. [3]

Four steps: choose a field, learn enough to get to the frontier, notice gaps, explore promising ones. This is how practically everyone who's done great work has done it, from painters to physicists.

Steps two and four will require hard work. It may not be possible to prove that you have to work hard to do great things, but the empirical evidence is on the scale of the evidence for mortality. That's why it's essential to work on something you're deeply interested in. Interest will drive you to work harder than mere diligence ever could.

The three most powerful motives are curiosity, delight, and the desire to do something impressive. Sometimes they converge, and that combination is the most powerful of all.

The big prize is to discover a new fractal bud. You notice a crack in the surface of knowledge, pry it open, and there's a whole world inside.





Let's talk a little more about the complicated business of figuring out what to work on. The main reason it's hard is that you can't tell what most kinds of work are like except by doing them. Which means the four steps overlap: you may have to work at something for years before you know how much you like it or how good you are at it. And in the meantime you're not doing, and thus not learning about, most other kinds of work. So in the worst case you choose late based on very incomplete information. [4]

The nature of ambition exacerbates this problem. Ambition comes in two forms, one that precedes interest in the subject and one that grows out of it. Most people who do great work have a mix, and the more you have of the former, the harder it will be to decide what to do.

The educational systems in most countries pretend it's easy. They expect you to commit to a field long before you could know what it's really like. And as a result an ambitious person on an optimal trajectory will often read to the system as an instance of breakage.

It would be better if they at least admitted it — if they admitted that the system not only can't do much to help you figure out what to work on, but is designed on the assumption that you'll somehow magically guess as a teenager. They don't tell you, but I will: when it comes to figuring out what to work on, you're on your own. Some people get lucky and do guess correctly, but the rest will find themselves scrambling diagonally across tracks laid down on the assumption that everyone does.

What should you do if you're young and ambitious but don't know what to work on? What you should not do is drift along passively, assuming the problem will solve itself. You need to take action. But there is no systematic procedure you can follow. When you read biographies of people who've done great work, it's remarkable how much luck is involved. They discover what to work on as a result of a chance meeting, or by reading a book they happen to pick up. So you need to make yourself a big target for luck, and the way to do that is to be curious. Try lots of things, meet lots of people, read lots of books, ask lots of questions. [5]

When in doubt, optimize for interestingness. Fields change as you learn more about them. What mathematicians do, for example, is very different from what you do in high school math classes. So you need to give different types of work a chance to show you what they're like. But a field should become increasingly interesting as you learn more about it. If it doesn't, it's probably not for you.

Don't worry if you find you're interested in different things than other people. The stranger your tastes in interestingness, the better. Strange tastes are often strong ones, and a strong taste for work means you'll be productive. And you're more likely to find new things if you're looking where few have looked before.

One sign that you're suited for some kind of work is when you like even the parts that other people find tedious or frightening.

But fields aren't people; you don't owe them any loyalty. If in the course of working on one thing you discover another that's more exciting, don't be afraid to switch.

If you're making something for people, make sure it's something they actually want. The best way to do this is to make something you yourself want. Write the story you want to read; build the tool you want to use. Since your friends probably have similar interests, this will also get you your initial audience.

This should follow from the excitingness rule. Obviously the most exciting story to write will be the one you want to read. The reason I mention this case explicitly is that so many people get it wrong. Instead of making what they want, they try to make what some imaginary, more sophisticated audience wants. And once you go down that route, you're lost. [6]

There are a lot of forces that will lead you astray when you're trying to figure out what to work on. Pretentiousness, fashion, fear, money, politics, other people's wishes, eminent frauds. But if you stick to what you find genuinely interesting, you'll be proof against all of them. If you're interested, you're not astray.





Following your interests may sound like a rather passive strategy, but in practice it usually means following them past all sorts of obstacles. You usually have to risk rejection and failure. So it does take a good deal of boldness.

But while you need boldness, you don't usually need much planning. In most cases the recipe for doing great work is simply: work hard on excitingly ambitious projects, and something good will come of it. Instead of making a plan and then executing it, you just try to preserve certain invariants.

The trouble with planning is that it only works for achievements you can describe in advance. You can win a gold medal or get rich by deciding to as a child and then tenaciously pursuing that goal, but you can't discover natural selection that way.

I think for most people who want to do great work, the right strategy is not to plan too much. At each stage do whatever seems most interesting and gives you the best options for the future. I call this approach "staying upwind." This is how most people who've done great work seem to have done it.





Even when you've found something exciting to work on, working on it is not always straightforward. There will be times when some new idea makes you leap out of bed in the morning and get straight to work. But there will also be plenty of times when things aren't like that.

You don't just put out your sail and get blown forward by inspiration. There are headwinds and currents and hidden shoals. So there's a technique to working, just as there is to sailing.

For example, while you must work hard, it's possible to work too hard, and if you do that you'll find you get diminishing returns: fatigue will make you stupid, and eventually even damage your health. The point at which work yields diminishing returns depends on the type. Some of the hardest types you might only be able to do for four or five hours a day.

Ideally those hours will be contiguous. To the extent you can, try to arrange your life so you have big blocks of time to work in. You'll shy away from hard tasks if you know you might be interrupted.

It will probably be harder to start working than to keep working. You'll often have to trick yourself to get over that initial threshold. Don't worry about this; it's the nature of work, not a flaw in your character. Work has a sort of activation energy, both per day and per project. And since this threshold is fake in the sense that it's higher than the energy required to keep going, it's ok to tell yourself a lie of corresponding magnitude to get over it.

It's usually a mistake to lie to yourself if you want to do great work, but this is one of the rare cases where it isn't. When I'm reluctant to start work in the morning, I often trick myself by saying "I'll just read over what I've got so far." Five minutes later I've found something that seems mistaken or incomplete, and I'm off.

Similar techniques work for starting new projects. It's ok to lie to yourself about how much work a project will entail, for example. Lots of great things began with someone saying "How hard could it be?"

This is one case where the young have an advantage. They're more optimistic, and even though one of the sources of their optimism is ignorance, in this case ignorance can sometimes beat knowledge.

Try to finish what you start, though, even if it turns out to be more work than you expected. Finishing things is not just an exercise in tidiness or self-discipline. In many projects a lot of the best work happens in what was meant to be the final stage.

Another permissible lie is to exaggerate the importance of what you're working on, at least in your own mind. If that helps you discover something new, it may turn out not to have been a lie after all. [7]





Since there are two senses of starting work — per day and per project — there are also two forms of procrastination. Per-project procrastination is far the more dangerous. You put off starting that ambitious project from year to year because the time isn't quite right. When you're procrastinating in units of years, you can get a lot not done. [8]

One reason per-project procrastination is so dangerous is that it usually camouflages itself as work. You're not just sitting around doing nothing; you're working industriously on something else. So per-project procrastination doesn't set off the alarms that per-day procrastination does. You're too busy to notice it.

The way to beat it is to stop occasionally and ask yourself: Am I working on what I most want to work on? When you're young it's ok if the answer is sometimes no, but this gets increasingly dangerous as you get older. [9]





Great work usually entails spending what would seem to most people an unreasonable amount of time on a problem. You can't think of this time as a cost, or it will seem too high. You have to find the work sufficiently engaging as it's happening.

There may be some jobs where you have to work diligently for years at things you hate before you get to the good part, but this is not how great work happens. Great work happens by focusing consistently on something you're genuinely interested in. When you pause to take stock, you're surprised how far you've come.

The reason we're surprised is that we underestimate the cumulative effect of work. Writing a page a day doesn't sound like much, but if you do it every day you'll write a book a year. That's the key: consistency. People who do great things don't get a lot done every day. They get something done, rather than nothing.

If you do work that compounds, you'll get exponential growth. Most people who do this do it unconsciously, but it's worth stopping to think about. Learning, for example, is an instance of this phenomenon: the more you learn about something, the easier it is to learn more. Growing an audience is another: the more fans you have, the more new fans they'll bring you.

The trouble with exponential growth is that the curve feels flat in the beginning. It isn't; it's still a wonderful exponential curve. But we can't grasp that intuitively, so we underrate exponential growth in its early stages.

Something that grows exponentially can become so valuable that it's worth making an extraordinary effort to get it started. But since we underrate exponential growth early on, this too is mostly done unconsciously: people push through the initial, unrewarding phase of learning something new because they know from experience that learning new things always takes an initial push, or they grow their audience one fan at a time because they have nothing better to do. If people consciously realized they could invest in exponential growth, many more would do it.





Work doesn't just happen when you're trying to. There's a kind of undirected thinking you do when walking or taking a shower or lying in bed that can be very powerful. By letting your mind wander a little, you'll often solve problems you were unable to solve by frontal attack.

You have to be working hard in the normal way to benefit from this phenomenon, though. You can't just walk around daydreaming. The daydreaming has to be interleaved with deliberate work that feeds it questions. [10]

Everyone knows to avoid distractions at work, but it's also important to avoid them in the other half of the cycle. When you let your mind wander, it wanders to whatever you care about most at that moment. So avoid the kind of distraction that pushes your work out of the top spot, or you'll waste this valuable type of thinking on the distraction instead. (Exception: Don't avoid love.)





Consciously cultivate your taste in the work done in your field. Until you know which is the best and what makes it so, you don't know what you're aiming for.

And that is what you're aiming for, because if you don't try to be the best, you won't even be good. This observation has been made by so many people in so many different fields that it might be worth thinking about why it's true. It could be because ambition is a phenomenon where almost all the error is in one direction — where almost all the shells that miss the target miss by falling short. Or it could be because ambition to be the best is a qualitatively different thing from ambition to be good. Or maybe being good is simply too vague a standard. Probably all three are true. [11]

Fortunately there's a kind of economy of scale here. Though it might seem like you'd be taking on a heavy burden by trying to be the best, in practice you often end up net ahead. It's exciting, and also strangely liberating. It simplifies things. In some ways it's easier to try to be the best than to try merely to be good.

One way to aim high is to try to make something that people will care about in a hundred years. Not because their opinions matter more than your contemporaries', but because something that still seems good in a hundred years is more likely to be genuinely good.





Don't try to work in a distinctive style. Just try to do the best job you can; you won't be able to help doing it in a distinctive way.

Style is doing things in a distinctive way without trying to. Trying to is affectation.

Affectation is in effect to pretend that someone other than you is doing the work. You adopt an impressive but fake persona, and while you're pleased with the impressiveness, the fakeness is what shows in the work. [12]

The temptation to be someone else is greatest for the young. They often feel like nobodies. But you never need to worry about that problem, because it's self-solving if you work on sufficiently ambitious projects. If you succeed at an ambitious project, you're not a nobody; you're the person who did it. So just do the work and your identity will take care of itself.





"Avoid affectation" is a useful rule so far as it goes, but how would you express this idea positively? How would you say what to be, instead of what not to be? The best answer is earnest. If you're earnest you avoid not just affectation but a whole set of similar vices.

The core of being earnest is being intellectually honest. We're taught as children to be honest as an unselfish virtue — as a kind of sacrifice. But in fact it's a source of power too. To see new ideas, you need an exceptionally sharp eye for the truth. You're trying to see more truth than others have seen so far. And how can you have a sharp eye for the truth if you're intellectually dishonest?

One way to avoid intellectual dishonesty is to maintain a slight positive pressure in the opposite direction. Be aggressively willing to admit that you're mistaken. Once you've admitted you were mistaken about something, you're free. Till then you have to carry it. [13]

Another more subtle component of earnestness is informality. Informality is much more important than its grammatically negative name implies. It's not merely the absence of something. It means focusing on what matters instead of what doesn't.

What formality and affectation have in common is that as well as doing the work, you're trying to seem a certain way as you're doing it. But any energy that goes into how you seem comes out of being good. That's one reason nerds have an advantage in doing great work: they expend little effort on seeming anything. In fact that's basically the definition of a nerd.

Nerds have a kind of innocent boldness that's exactly what you need in doing great work. It's not learned; it's preserved from childhood. So hold onto it. Be the one who puts things out there rather than the one who sits back and offers sophisticated-sounding criticisms of them. "It's easy to criticize" is true in the most literal sense, and the route to great work is never easy.

There may be some jobs where it's an advantage to be cynical and pessimistic, but if you want to do great work it's an advantage to be optimistic, even though that means you'll risk looking like a fool sometimes. There's an old tradition of doing the opposite. The Old Testament says it's better to keep quiet lest you look like a fool. But that's advice for seeming smart. If you actually want to discover new things, it's better to take the risk of telling people your ideas.

Some people are naturally earnest, and with others it takes a conscious effort. Either kind of earnestness will suffice. But I doubt it would be possible to do great work without being earnest. It's so hard to do even if you are. You don't have enough margin for error to accommodate the distortions introduced by being affected, intellectually dishonest, orthodox, fashionable, or cool. [14]





Great work is consistent not only with who did it, but with itself. It's usually all of a piece. So if you face a decision in the middle of working on something, ask which choice is more consistent.

You may have to throw things away and redo them. You won't necessarily have to, but you have to be willing to. And that can take some effort; when there's something you need to redo, status quo bias and laziness will combine to keep you in denial about it. To beat this ask: If I'd already made the change, would I want to revert to what I have now?

Have the confidence to cut. Don't keep something that doesn't fit just because you're proud of it, or because it cost you a lot of effort.

Indeed, in some kinds of work it's good to strip whatever you're doing to its essence. The result will be more concentrated; you'll understand it better; and you won't be able to lie to yourself about whether there's anything real there.

Mathematical elegance may sound like a mere metaphor, drawn from the arts. That's what I thought when I first heard the term "elegant" applied to a proof. But now I suspect it's conceptually prior — that the main ingredient in artistic elegance is mathematical elegance. At any rate it's a useful standard well beyond math.

Elegance can be a long-term bet, though. Laborious solutions will often have more prestige in the short term. They cost a lot of effort and they're hard to understand, both of which impress people, at least temporarily.

Whereas some of the very best work will seem like it took comparatively little effort, because it was in a sense already there. It didn't have to be built, just seen. It's a very good sign when it's hard to say whether you're creating something or discovering it.

When you're doing work that could be seen as either creation or discovery, err on the side of discovery. Try thinking of yourself as a mere conduit through which the ideas take their natural shape.

(Strangely enough, one exception is the problem of choosing a problem to work on. This is usually seen as search, but in the best case it's more like creating something. In the best case you create the field in the process of exploring it.)

Similarly, if you're trying to build a powerful tool, make it gratuitously unrestrictive. A powerful tool almost by definition will be used in ways you didn't expect, so err on the side of eliminating restrictions, even if you don't know what the benefit will be.

Great work will often be tool-like in the sense of being something others build on. So it's a good sign if you're creating ideas that others could use, or exposing questions that others could answer. The best ideas have implications in many different areas.

If you express your ideas in the most general form, they'll be truer than you intended.





True by itself is not enough, of course. Great ideas have to be true and new. And it takes a certain amount of ability to see new ideas even once you've learned enough to get to one of the frontiers of knowledge.

In English we give this ability names like originality, creativity, and imagination. And it seems reasonable to give it a separate name, because it does seem to some extent a separate skill. It's possible to have a great deal of ability in other respects — to have a great deal of what's often called "technical ability" — and yet not have much of this.

I've never liked the term "creative process." It seems misleading. Originality isn't a process, but a habit of mind. Original thinkers throw off new ideas about whatever they focus on, like an angle grinder throwing off sparks. They can't help it.

If the thing they're focused on is something they don't understand very well, these new ideas might not be good. One of the most original thinkers I know decided to focus on dating after he got divorced. He knew roughly as much about dating as the average 15 year old, and the results were spectacularly colorful. But to see originality separated from expertise like that made its nature all the more clear.

I don't know if it's possible to cultivate originality, but there are definitely ways to make the most of however much you have. For example, you're much more likely to have original ideas when you're working on something. Original ideas don't come from trying to have original ideas. They come from trying to build or understand something slightly too difficult. [15]

Talking or writing about the things you're interested in is a good way to generate new ideas. When you try to put ideas into words, a missing idea creates a sort of vacuum that draws it out of you. Indeed, there's a kind of thinking that can only be done by writing.

Changing your context can help. If you visit a new place, you'll often find you have new ideas there. The journey itself often dislodges them. But you may not have to go far to get this benefit. Sometimes it's enough just to go for a walk. [16]

It also helps to travel in topic space. You'll have more new ideas if you explore lots of different topics, partly because it gives the angle grinder more surface area to work on, and partly because analogies are an especially fruitful source of new ideas.

Don't divide your attention evenly between many topics though, or you'll spread yourself too thin. You want to distribute it according to something more like a power law. [17] Be professionally curious about a few topics and idly curious about many more.

Curiosity and originality are closely related. Curiosity feeds originality by giving it new things to work on. But the relationship is closer than that. Curiosity is itself a kind of originality; it's roughly to questions what originality is to answers. And since questions at their best are a big component of answers, curiosity at its best is a creative force.





Having new ideas is a strange game, because it usually consists of seeing things that were right under your nose. Once you've seen a new idea, it tends to seem obvious. Why did no one think of this before?

When an idea seems simultaneously novel and obvious, it's probably a good one.

Seeing something obvious sounds easy. And yet empirically having new ideas is hard. What's the source of this apparent contradiction? It's that seeing the new idea usually requires you to change the way you look at the world. We see the world through models that both help and constrain us. When you fix a broken model, new ideas become obvious. But noticing and fixing a broken model is hard. That's how new ideas can be both obvious and yet hard to discover: they're easy to see after you do something hard.

One way to discover broken models is to be stricter than other people. Broken models of the world leave a trail of clues where they bash against reality. Most people don't want to see these clues. It would be an understatement to say that they're attached to their current model; it's what they think in; so they'll tend to ignore the trail of clues left by its breakage, however conspicuous it may seem in retrospect.

To find new ideas you have to seize on signs of breakage instead of looking away. That's what Einstein did. He was able to see the wild implications of Maxwell's equations not so much because he was looking for new ideas as because he was stricter.

The other thing you need is a willingness to break rules. Paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to fix your model of the world, it helps to be the sort of person who's comfortable breaking rules. From the point of view of the old model, which everyone including you initially shares, the new model usually breaks at least implicit rules.

Few understand the degree of rule-breaking required, because new ideas seem much more conservative once they succeed. They seem perfectly reasonable once you're using the new model of the world they brought with them. But they didn't at the time; it took the greater part of a century for the heliocentric model to be generally accepted, even among astronomers, because it felt so wrong.

Indeed, if you think about it, a good new idea has to seem bad to most people, or someone would have already explored it. So what you're looking for is ideas that seem crazy, but the right kind of crazy. How do you recognize these? You can't with certainty. Often ideas that seem bad are bad. But ideas that are the right kind of crazy tend to be exciting; they're rich in implications; whereas ideas that are merely bad tend to be depressing.

There are two ways to be comfortable breaking rules: to enjoy breaking them, and to be indifferent to them. I call these two cases being aggressively and passively independent-minded.

The aggressively independent-minded are the naughty ones. Rules don't merely fail to stop them; breaking rules gives them additional energy. For this sort of person, delight at the sheer audacity of a project sometimes supplies enough activation energy to get it started.

The other way to break rules is not to care about them, or perhaps even to know they exist. This is why novices and outsiders often make new discoveries; their ignorance of a field's assumptions acts as a source of temporary passive independent-mindedness. Aspies also seem to have a kind of immunity to conventional beliefs. Several I know say that this helps them to have new ideas.

Strictness plus rule-breaking sounds like a strange combination. In popular culture they're opposed. But popular culture has a broken model in this respect. It implicitly assumes that issues are trivial ones, and in trivial matters strictness and rule-breaking are opposed. But in questions that really matter, only rule-breakers can be truly strict.





An overlooked idea often doesn't lose till the semifinals. You do see it, subconsciously, but then another part of your subconscious shoots it down because it would be too weird, too risky, too much work, too controversial. This suggests an exciting possibility: if you could turn off such filters, you could see more new ideas.

One way to do that is to ask what would be good ideas for someone else to explore. Then your subconscious won't shoot them down to protect you.

You could also discover overlooked ideas by working in the other direction: by starting from what's obscuring them. Every cherished but mistaken principle is surrounded by a dead zone of valuable ideas that are unexplored because they contradict it.

Religions are collections of cherished but mistaken principles. So anything that can be described either literally or metaphorically as a religion will have valuable unexplored ideas in its shadow. Copernicus and Darwin both made discoveries of this type. [18]

What are people in your field religious about, in the sense of being too attached to some principle that might not be as self-evident as they think? What becomes possible if you discard it?





People show much more originality in solving problems than in deciding which problems to solve. Even the smartest can be surprisingly conservative when deciding what to work on. People who'd never dream of being fashionable in any other way get sucked into working on fashionable problems.

One reason people are more conservative when choosing problems than solutions is that problems are bigger bets. A problem could occupy you for years, while exploring a solution might only take days. But even so I think most people are too conservative. They're not merely responding to risk, but to fashion as well. Unfashionable problems are undervalued.

One of the most interesting kinds of unfashionable problem is the problem that people think has been fully explored, but hasn't. Great work often takes something that already exists and shows its latent potential. Durer and Watt both did this. So if you're interested in a field that others think is tapped out, don't let their skepticism deter you. People are often wrong about this.

Working on an unfashionable problem can be very pleasing. There's no hype or hurry. Opportunists and critics are both occupied elsewhere. The existing work often has an old-school solidity. And there's a satisfying sense of economy in cultivating ideas that would otherwise be wasted.

But the most common type of overlooked problem is not explicitly unfashionable in the sense of being out of fashion. It just doesn't seem to matter as much as it actually does. How do you find these? By being self-indulgent — by letting your curiosity have its way, and tuning out, at least temporarily, the little voice in your head that says you should only be working on "important" problems.

You do need to work on important problems, but almost everyone is too conservative about what counts as one. And if there's an important but overlooked problem in your neighborhood, it's probably already on your subconscious radar screen. So try asking yourself: if you were going to take a break from "serious" work to work on something just because it would be really interesting, what would you do? The answer is probably more important than it seems.

Originality in choosing problems seems to matter even more than originality in solving them. That's what distinguishes the people who discover whole new fields. So what might seem to be merely the initial step — deciding what to work on — is in a sense the key to the whole game.





Few grasp this. One of the biggest misconceptions about new ideas is about the ratio of question to answer in their composition. People think big ideas are answers, but often the real insight was in the question.

Part of the reason we underrate questions is the way they're used in schools. In schools they tend to exist only briefly before being answered, like unstable particles. But a really good question can be much more than that. A really good question is a partial discovery. How do new species arise? Is the force that makes objects fall to earth the same as the one that keeps planets in their orbits? By even asking such questions you were already in excitingly novel territory.

Unanswered questions can be uncomfortable things to carry around with you. But the more you're carrying, the greater the chance of noticing a solution — or perhaps even more excitingly, noticing that two unanswered questions are the same.

Sometimes you carry a question for a long time. Great work often comes from returning to a question you first noticed years before — in your childhood, even — and couldn't stop thinking about. People talk a lot about the importance of keeping your youthful dreams alive, but it's just as important to keep your youthful questions alive. [19]

This is one of the places where actual expertise differs most from the popular picture of it. In the popular picture, experts are certain. But actually the more puzzled you are, the better, so long as (a) the things you're puzzled about matter, and (b) no one else understands them either.

Think about what's happening at the moment just before a new idea is discovered. Often someone with sufficient expertise is puzzled about something. Which means that originality consists partly of puzzlement — of confusion! You have to be comfortable enough with the world being full of puzzles that you're willing to see them, but not so comfortable that you don't want to solve them. [20]

It's a great thing to be rich in unanswered questions. And this is one of those situations where the rich get richer, because the best way to acquire new questions is to try answering existing ones. Questions don't just lead to answers, but also to more questions.





The best questions grow in the answering. You notice a thread protruding from the current paradigm and try pulling on it, and it just gets longer and longer. So don't require a question to be obviously big before you try answering it. You can rarely predict that. It's hard enough even to notice the thread, let alone to predict how much will unravel if you pull on it.

It's better to be promiscuously curious — to pull a little bit on a lot of threads, and see what happens. Big things start small. The initial versions of big things were often just experiments, or side projects, or talks, which then grew into something bigger. So start lots of small things.

Being prolific is underrated. The more different things you try, the greater the chance of discovering something new. Understand, though, that trying lots of things will mean trying lots of things that don't work. You can't have a lot of good ideas without also having a lot of bad ones. [21]

Though it sounds more responsible to begin by studying everything that's been done before, you'll learn faster and have more fun by trying stuff. And you'll understand previous work better when you do look at it. So err on the side of starting. Which is easier when starting means starting small; those two ideas fit together like two puzzle pieces.

How do you get from starting small to doing something great? By making successive versions. Great things are almost always made in successive versions. You start with something small and evolve it, and the final version is both cleverer and more ambitious than anything you could have planned.

It's particularly useful to make successive versions when you're making something for people — to get an initial version in front of them quickly, and then evolve it based on their response.

Begin by trying the simplest thing that could possibly work. Surprisingly often, it does. If it doesn't, this will at least get you started.

Don't try to cram too much new stuff into any one version. There are names for doing this with the first version (taking too long to ship) and the second (the second system effect), but these are both merely instances of a more general principle.

An early version of a new project will sometimes be dismissed as a toy. It's a good sign when people do this. That means it has everything a new idea needs except scale, and that tends to follow. [22]

The alternative to starting with something small and evolving it is to plan in advance what you're going to do. And planning does usually seem the more responsible choice. It sounds more organized to say "we're going to do x and then y and then z" than "we're going to try x and see what happens." And it is more organized; it just doesn't work as well.

Planning per se isn't good. It's sometimes necessary, but it's a necessary evil — a response to unforgiving conditions. It's something you have to do because you're working with inflexible media, or because you need to coordinate the efforts of a lot of people. If you keep projects small and use flexible media, you don't have to plan as much, and your designs can evolve instead.





Take as much risk as you can afford. In an efficient market, risk is proportionate to reward, so don't look for certainty, but for a bet with high expected value. If you're not failing occasionally, you're probably being too conservative.

Though conservatism is usually associated with the old, it's the young who tend to make this mistake. Inexperience makes them fear risk, but it's when you're young that you can afford the most.

Even a project that fails can be valuable. In the process of working on it, you'll have crossed territory few others have seen, and encountered questions few others have asked. And there's probably no better source of questions than the ones you encounter in trying to do something slightly too hard.





Use the advantages of youth when you have them, and the advantages of age once you have those. The advantages of youth are energy, time, optimism, and freedom. The advantages of age are knowledge, efficiency, money, and power. With effort you can acquire some of the latter when young and keep some of the former when old.

The old also have the advantage of knowing which advantages they have. The young often have them without realizing it. The biggest is probably time. The young have no idea how rich they are in time. The best way to turn this time to advantage is to use it in slightly frivolous ways: to learn about something you don't need to know about, just out of curiosity, or to try building something just because it would be cool, or to become freakishly good at something.

That "slightly" is an important qualification. Spend time lavishly when you're young, but don't simply waste it. There's a big difference between doing something you worry might be a waste of time and doing something you know for sure will be. The former is at least a bet, and possibly a better one than you think. [23]

The most subtle advantage of youth, or more precisely of inexperience, is that you're seeing everything with fresh eyes. When your brain embraces an idea for the first time, sometimes the two don't fit together perfectly. Usually the problem is with your brain, but occasionally it's with the idea. A piece of it sticks out awkwardly and jabs you when you think about it. People who are used to the idea have learned to ignore it, but you have the opportunity not to. [24]

So when you're learning about something for the first time, pay attention to things that seem wrong or missing. You'll be tempted to ignore them, since there's a 99% chance the problem is with you. And you may have to set aside your misgivings temporarily to keep progressing. But don't forget about them. When you've gotten further into the subject, come back and check if they're still there. If they're still viable in the light of your present knowledge, they probably represent an undiscovered idea.





One of the most valuable kinds of knowledge you get from experience is to know what you don't have to worry about. The young know all the things that could matter, but not their relative importance. So they worry equally about everything, when they should worry much more about a few things and hardly at all about the rest.

But what you don't know is only half the problem with inexperience. The other half is what you do know that ain't so. You arrive at adulthood with your head full of nonsense — bad habits you've acquired and false things you've been taught — and you won't be able to do great work till you clear away at least the nonsense in the way of whatever type of work you want to do.

Much of the nonsense left in your head is left there by schools. We're so used to schools that we unconsciously treat going to school as identical with learning, but in fact schools have all sorts of strange qualities that warp our ideas about learning and thinking.

For example, schools induce passivity. Since you were a small child, there was an authority at the front of the class telling all of you what you had to learn and then measuring whether you did. But neither classes nor tests are intrinsic to learning; they're just artifacts of the way schools are usually designed.

The sooner you overcome this passivity, the better. If you're still in school, try thinking of your education as your project, and your teachers as working for you rather than vice versa. That may seem a stretch, but it's not merely some weird thought experiment. It's the truth, economically, and in the best case it's the truth intellectually as well. The best teachers don't want to be your bosses. They'd prefer it if you pushed ahead, using them as a source of advice, rather than being pulled by them through the material.

Schools also give you a misleading impression of what work is like. In school they tell you what the problems are, and they're almost always soluble using no more than you've been taught so far. In real life you have to figure out what the problems are, and you often don't know if they're soluble at all.

But perhaps the worst thing schools do to you is train you to win by hacking the test. You can't do great work by doing that. You can't trick God. So stop looking for that kind of shortcut. The way to beat the system is to focus on problems and solutions that others have overlooked, not to skimp on the work itself.





Don't think of yourself as dependent on some gatekeeper giving you a "big break." Even if this were true, the best way to get it would be to focus on doing good work rather than chasing influential people.

And don't take rejection by committees to heart. The qualities that impress admissions officers and prize committees are quite different from those required to do great work. The decisions of selection committees are only meaningful to the extent that they're part of a feedback loop, and very few are.





People new to a field will often copy existing work. There's nothing inherently bad about that. There's no better way to learn how something works than by trying to reproduce it. Nor does copying necessarily make your work unoriginal. Originality is the presence of new ideas, not the absence of old ones.

There's a good way to copy and a bad way. If you're going to copy something, do it openly instead of furtively, or worse still, unconsciously. This is what's meant by the famously misattributed phrase "Great artists steal." The really dangerous kind of copying, the kind that gives copying a bad name, is the kind that's done without realizing it, because you're nothing more than a train running on tracks laid down by someone else. But at the other extreme, copying can be a sign of superiority rather than subordination. [25]

In many fields it's almost inevitable that your early work will be in some sense based on other people's. Projects rarely arise in a vacuum. They're usually a reaction to previous work. When you're first starting out, you don't have any previous work; if you're going to react to something, it has to be someone else's. Once you're established, you can react to your own. But while the former gets called derivative and the latter doesn't, structurally the two cases are more similar than they seem.

Oddly enough, the very novelty of the most novel ideas sometimes makes them seem at first to be more derivative than they are. New discoveries often have to be conceived initially as variations of existing things, even by their discoverers, because there isn't yet the conceptual vocabulary to express them.

There are definitely some dangers to copying, though. One is that you'll tend to copy old things — things that were in their day at the frontier of knowledge, but no longer are.

And when you do copy something, don't copy every feature of it. Some will make you ridiculous if you do. Don't copy the manner of an eminent 50 year old professor if you're 18, for example, or the idiom of a Renaissance poem hundreds of years later.

Some of the features of things you admire are flaws they succeeded despite. Indeed, the features that are easiest to imitate are the most likely to be the flaws.

This is particularly true for behavior. Some talented people are jerks, and this sometimes makes it seem to the inexperienced that being a jerk is part of being talented. It isn't; being talented is merely how they get away with it.

One of the most powerful kinds of copying is to copy something from one field into another. History is so full of chance discoveries of this type that it's probably worth giving chance a hand by deliberately learning about other kinds of work. You can take ideas from quite distant fields if you let them be metaphors.

Negative examples can be as inspiring as positive ones. In fact you can sometimes learn more from things done badly than from things done well; sometimes it only becomes clear what's needed when it's missing.





If a lot of the best people in your field are collected in one place, it's usually a good idea to visit for a while. It will increase your ambition, and also, by showing you that these people are human, increase your self-confidence. [26]

If you're earnest you'll probably get a warmer welcome than you might expect. Most people who are very good at something are happy to talk about it with anyone who's genuinely interested. If they're really good at their work, then they probably have a hobbyist's interest in it, and hobbyists always want to talk about their hobbies.

It may take some effort to find the people who are really good, though. Doing great work has such prestige that in some places, particularly universities, there's a polite fiction that everyone is engaged in it. And that is far from true. People within universities can't say so openly, but the quality of the work being done in different departments varies immensely. Some departments have people doing great work; others have in the past; others never have.





Seek out the best colleagues. There are a lot of projects that can't be done alone, and even if you're working on one that can be, it's good to have other people to encourage you and to bounce ideas off.

Colleagues don't just affect your work, though; they also affect you. So work with people you want to become like, because you will.

Quality is more important than quantity in colleagues. It's better to have one or two great ones than a building full of pretty good ones. In fact it's not merely better, but necessary, judging from history: the degree to which great work happens in clusters suggests that one's colleagues often make the difference between doing great work and not.

How do you know when you have sufficiently good colleagues? In my experience, when you do, you know. Which means if you're unsure, you probably don't. But it may be possible to give a more concrete answer than that. Here's an attempt: sufficiently good colleagues offer surprising insights. They can see and do things that you can't. So if you have a handful of colleagues good enough to keep you on your toes in this sense, you're probably over the threshold.

Most of us can benefit from collaborating with colleagues, but some projects require people on a larger scale, and starting one of those is not for everyone. If you want to run a project like that, you'll have to become a manager, and managing well takes aptitude and interest like any other kind of work. If you don't have them, there is no middle path: you must either force yourself to learn management as a second language, or avoid such projects. [27]





Husband your morale. It's the basis of everything when you're working on ambitious projects. You have to nurture and protect it like a living organism.

Morale starts with your view of life. You're more likely to do great work if you're an optimist, and more likely to if you think of yourself as lucky than if you think of yourself as a victim.

Indeed, work can to some extent protect you from your problems. If you choose work that's pure, its very difficulties will serve as a refuge from the difficulties of everyday life. If this is escapism, it's a very productive form of it, and one that has been used by some of the greatest minds in history.

Morale compounds via work: high morale helps you do good work, which increases your morale and helps you do even better work. But this cycle also operates in the other direction: if you're not doing good work, that can demoralize you and make it even harder to. Since it matters so much for this cycle to be running in the right direction, it can be a good idea to switch to easier work when you're stuck, just so you start to get something done.

One of the biggest mistakes ambitious people make is to allow setbacks to destroy their morale all at once, like a balloon bursting. You can inoculate yourself against this by explicitly considering setbacks a part of your process. Solving hard problems always involves some backtracking.

Doing great work is a depth-first search whose root node is the desire to. So "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" isn't quite right. It should be: If at first you don't succeed, either try again, or backtrack and then try again.

"Never give up" is also not quite right. Obviously there are times when it's the right choice to eject. A more precise version would be: Never let setbacks panic you into backtracking more than you need to. Corollary: Never abandon the root node.

It's not necessarily a bad sign if work is a struggle, any more than it's a bad sign to be out of breath while running. It depends how fast you're running. So learn to distinguish good pain from bad. Good pain is a sign of effort; bad pain is a sign of damage.





An audience is a critical component of morale. If you're a scholar, your audience may be your peers; in the arts, it may be an audience in the traditional sense. Either way it doesn't need to be big. The value of an audience doesn't grow anything like linearly with its size. Which is bad news if you're famous, but good news if you're just starting out, because it means a small but dedicated audience can be enough to sustain you. If a handful of people genuinely love what you're doing, that's enough.

To the extent you can, avoid letting intermediaries come between you and your audience. In some types of work this is inevitable, but it's so liberating to escape it that you might be better off switching to an adjacent type if that will let you go direct. [28]

The people you spend time with will also have a big effect on your morale. You'll find there are some who increase your energy and others who decrease it, and the effect someone has is not always what you'd expect. Seek out the people who increase your energy and avoid those who decrease it. Though of course if there's someone you need to take care of, that takes precedence.

Don't marry someone who doesn't understand that you need to work, or sees your work as competition for your attention. If you're ambitious, you need to work; it's almost like a medical condition; so someone who won't let you work either doesn't understand you, or does and doesn't care.

Ultimately morale is physical. You think with your body, so it's important to take care of it. That means exercising regularly, eating and sleeping well, and avoiding the more dangerous kinds of drugs. Running and walking are particularly good forms of exercise because they're good for thinking. [29]

People who do great work are not necessarily happier than everyone else, but they're happier than they'd be if they didn't. In fact, if you're smart and ambitious, it's dangerous not to be productive. People who are smart and ambitious but don't achieve much tend to become bitter.





It's ok to want to impress other people, but choose the right people. The opinion of people you respect is signal. Fame, which is the opinion of a much larger group you might or might not respect, just adds noise.

The prestige of a type of work is at best a trailing indicator and sometimes completely mistaken. If you do anything well enough, you'll make it prestigious. So the question to ask about a type of work is not how much prestige it has, but how well it could be done.

Competition can be an effective motivator, but don't let it choose the problem for you; don't let yourself get drawn into chasing something just because others are. In fact, don't let competitors make you do anything much more specific than work harder.

Curiosity is the best guide. Your curiosity never lies, and it knows more than you do about what's worth paying attention to.





Notice how often that word has come up. If you asked an oracle the secret to doing great work and the oracle replied with a single word, my bet would be on "curiosity."

That doesn't translate directly to advice. It's not enough just to be curious, and you can't command curiosity anyway. But you can nurture it and let it drive you.

Curiosity is the key to all four steps in doing great work: it will choose the field for you, get you to the frontier, cause you to notice the gaps in it, and drive you to explore them. The whole process is a kind of dance with curiosity.





Believe it or not, I tried to make this essay as short as I could. But its length at least means it acts as a filter. If you made it this far, you must be interested in doing great work. And if so you're already further along than you might realize, because the set of people willing to want to is small.

The factors in doing great work are factors in the literal, mathematical sense, and they are: ability, interest, effort, and luck. Luck by definition you can't do anything about, so we can ignore that. And we can assume effort, if you do in fact want to do great work. So the problem boils down to ability and interest. Can you find a kind of work where your ability and interest will combine to yield an explosion of new ideas?

Here there are grounds for optimism. There are so many different ways to do great work, and even more that are still undiscovered. Out of all those different types of work, the one you're most suited for is probably a pretty close match. Probably a comically close match. It's just a question of finding it, and how far into it your ability and interest can take you. And you can only answer that by trying.

Many more people could try to do great work than do. What holds them back is a combination of modesty and fear. It seems presumptuous to try to be Newton or Shakespeare. It also seems hard; surely if you tried something like that, you'd fail. Presumably the calculation is rarely explicit. Few people consciously decide not to try to do great work. But that's what's going on subconsciously; they shy away from the question.

So I'm going to pull a sneaky trick on you. Do you want to do great work, or not? Now you have to decide consciously. Sorry about that. I wouldn't have done it to a general audience. But we already know you're interested.

Don't worry about being presumptuous. You don't have to tell anyone. And if it's too hard and you fail, so what? Lots of people have worse problems than that. In fact you'll be lucky if it's the worst problem you have.

Yes, you'll have to work hard. But again, lots of people have to work hard. And if you're working on something you find very interesting, which you necessarily will if you're on the right path, the work will probably feel less burdensome than a lot of your peers'.

The discoveries are out there, waiting to be made. Why not by you?









Notes

[1] I don't think you could give a precise definition of what counts as great work. Doing great work means doing something important so well that you expand people's ideas of what's possible. But there's no threshold for importance. It's a matter of degree, and often hard to judge at the time anyway. So I'd rather people focused on developing their interests rather than worrying about whether they're important or not. Just try to do something amazing, and leave it to future generations to say if you succeeded.

[2] A lot of standup comedy is based on noticing anomalies in everyday life. "Did you ever notice...?" New ideas come from doing this about nontrivial things. Which may help explain why people's reaction to a new idea is often the first half of laughing: Ha!

[3] That second qualifier is critical. If you're excited about something most authorities discount, but you can't give a more precise explanation than "they don't get it," then you're starting to drift into the territory of cranks.

[4] Finding something to work on is not simply a matter of finding a match between the current version of you and a list of known problems. You'll often have to coevolve with the problem. That's why it can sometimes be so hard to figure out what to work on. The search space is huge. It's the cartesian product of all possible types of work, both known and yet to be discovered, and all possible future versions of you.

There's no way you could search this whole space, so you have to rely on heuristics to generate promising paths through it and hope the best matches will be clustered. Which they will not always be; different types of work have been collected together as much by accidents of history as by the intrinsic similarities between them.

[5] There are many reasons curious people are more likely to do great work, but one of the more subtle is that, by casting a wide net, they're more likely to find the right thing to work on in the first place.

[6] It can also be dangerous to make things for an audience you feel is less sophisticated than you, if that causes you to talk down to them. You can make a lot of money doing that, if you do it in a sufficiently cynical way, but it's not the route to great work. Not that anyone using this m.o. would care.

[7] This idea I learned from Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology, which I recommend to anyone ambitious to do great work, in any field.

[8] Just as we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do over several years, we overestimate the damage done by procrastinating for a day and underestimate the damage done by procrastinating for several years.

[9] You can't usually get paid for doing exactly what you want, especially early on. There are two options: get paid for doing work close to what you want and hope to push it closer, or get paid for doing something else entirely and do your own projects on the side. Both can work, but both have drawbacks: in the first approach your work is compromised by default, and in the second you have to fight to get time to do it.

[10] If you set your life up right, it will deliver the focus-relax cycle automatically. The perfect setup is an office you work in and that you walk to and from.

[11] There may be some very unworldly people who do great work without consciously trying to. If you want to expand this rule to cover that case, it becomes: Don't try to be anything except the best.

[12] This gets more complicated in work like acting, where the goal is to adopt a fake persona. But even here it's possible to be affected. Perhaps the rule in such fields should be to avoid unintentional affectation.

[13] It's safe to have beliefs that you treat as unquestionable if and only if they're also unfalsifiable. For example, it's safe to have the principle that everyone should be treated equally under the law, because a sentence with a "should" in it isn't really a statement about the world and is therefore hard to disprove. And if there's no evidence that could disprove one of your principles, there can't be any facts you'd need to ignore in order to preserve it.

[14] Affectation is easier to cure than intellectual dishonesty. Affectation is often a shortcoming of the young that burns off in time, while intellectual dishonesty is more of a character flaw.

[15] Obviously you don't have to be working at the exact moment you have the idea, but you'll probably have been working fairly recently.

[16] Some say psychoactive drugs have a similar effect. I'm skeptical, but also almost totally ignorant of their effects.

[17] For example you might give the nth most important topic (m-1)/m^n of your attention, for some m > 1. You couldn't allocate your attention so precisely, of course, but this at least gives an idea of a reasonable distribution.

[18] The principles defining a religion have to be mistaken. Otherwise anyone might adopt them, and there would be nothing to distinguish the adherents of the religion from everyone else.

[19] It might be a good exercise to try writing down a list of questions you wondered about in your youth. You might find you're now in a position to do something about some of them.

[20] The connection between originality and uncertainty causes a strange phenomenon: because the conventional-minded are more certain than the independent-minded, this tends to give them the upper hand in disputes, even though they're generally stupider.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

[21] Derived from Linus Pauling's "If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas."

[22] Attacking a project as a "toy" is similar to attacking a statement as "inappropriate." It means that no more substantial criticism can be made to stick.

[23] One way to tell whether you're wasting time is to ask if you're producing or consuming. Writing computer games is less likely to be a waste of time than playing them, and playing games where you create something is less likely to be a waste of time than playing games where you don't.

[24] Another related advantage is that if you haven't said anything publicly yet, you won't be biased toward evidence that supports your earlier conclusions. With sufficient integrity you could achieve eternal youth in this respect, but few manage to. For most people, having previously published opinions has an effect similar to ideology, just in quantity 1.

[25] In the early 1630s Daniel Mytens made a painting of Henrietta Maria handing a laurel wreath to Charles I. Van Dyck then painted his own version to show how much better he was.

[26] I'm being deliberately vague about what a place is. As of this writing, being in the same physical place has advantages that are hard to duplicate, but that could change.

[27] This is false when the work the other people have to do is very constrained, as with SETI@home or Bitcoin. It may be possible to expand the area in which it's false by defining similarly restricted protocols with more freedom of action in the nodes.

[28] Corollary: Building something that enables people to go around intermediaries and engage directly with their audience is probably a good idea.

[29] It may be helpful always to walk or run the same route, because that frees attention for thinking. It feels that way to me, and there is some historical evidence for it.

@alexandershortt · 11/15/23

Foundational Value

Building a system on a foundation of value not backed by reality spawns a cancer.

This cancer helplessly latches on to false value to guide its measures of success. It will find no competition as it grows since its reality is maligned, which gives it a clear path towards its flawed definition of growth. It can produce some truly good value, but since this value is not the primary objective, its production will not be optimized nor prioritized. The cancer simply needs to be fed with capital to stay alive. And you best believe these flawed systems are nefariously funded. It's very clear where the US Gov decided to not base its value creation in reality: https://www.wtfhappenedin1971.com

See also: old twitter, big tech promotion ladders, startups that raise crazy amounts of capital with meaningless metrics, crypto pfp projects, activism as a replacement for religion

Tucker Carlson · 02/07/24

Tucker Carlson & Lex Fridman Interview

Lex Fridman(00:00:39) The following is a conversation with Tucker Carlson, a highly influential and often controversial political commentator. When he was a Fox, Time Magazine called him the most powerful conservative in America. After Fox. He has continued to host big, impactful interviews and shows on X, on the Tucker Carlson podcast, and on tuckercarlson.com. I recommend subscribing, even if you disagree with his views. It is always good to explore a diversity of perspectives. Most recently, he interviewed the President of Russia of Vladimir Putin. We discussed this, the topic of Russia, Putin, Navalny, and the War in Ukraine at length in this conversation. Please allow me to say a few words about the very fact that I did this interview. I have received a lot of criticism publicly and privately when I announced that I’ll be talking with Tucker.

(00:01:32) For people who think I shouldn’t do the conversation with Tucker or generally think that there are certain people I should never talk to, I’m sorry, but I disagree. I will talk to everyone, as long as they’re willing to talk genuinely in long form for 2, 3, 4 or more hours. I’ll talk to Putin and to Zelensky, to Trump and to Biden, to Tucker and to John Stewart, AOC, Obama, and many more people with very different views on the world. I want to understand people and ideas. That’s what long form conversations are supposed to be all about. Now for people who criticize me for not asking tough questions, I hear you, but again, I disagree. I do often ask tough questions. But I try to do it in a way that doesn’t shut down the other person, putting them into a defensive state where they give only shallow talking points. Instead, I’m looking always for the expression of genuinely held ideas and the deep roots of those ideas. When done well, this gives us a chance to really hear out the guest and to begin to understand what and how they think.

(00:02:40) And I trust the intelligence of you, the listener, to make up your own mind to see through the bullshit, to the degree there’s bullshit and to see to the heart of the person. Sometimes I fail at this, but I’ll continue working my ass off to improve. All that said, I find that this no tough questions criticism often happens when the guest is a person the listener simply hates and wants to see them grilled into embarrassment. Called the liar, a greedy egomaniac, a killer, maybe even an evil human being and so on. If you are such a listener, what you want is drama, not wisdom. In this case, this show is not for you. There are many shows you can go to for that with hosts that are way more charismatic and entertaining than I’ll ever be. If you do stick around, please know I will work hard to do this well and to keep improving. Thank you for your patience and thank you for your support. I love you all. This is a Lex Fridman podcast To support it. Please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Tucker Carlson.

Putin

(00:03:53) What was your first impression when you met Vladimir Putin for the interview?

Tucker Carlson(00:03:58) I thought he seemed nervous, and I was very surprised by that. And I thought he seemed like someone who’d overthought it a little bit, who had a plan, and I don’t think that’s the right way to go into any interview. My strong sense, having done a lot of them for a long time, is that it’s better to know what you think, to say as much as you can honestly, so you don’t get confused by your own lies, and just to be yourself. And I thought that he went into it like an over-prepared student, and I kept thinking, “Why is he nervous?” But I guess because he thought a lot of people were going to see it,

Lex Fridman(00:04:39) But he was also probably prepared to give you a full lesson in history as he did.

Tucker Carlson(00:04:46) Well, I was totally shocked by that and very annoyed because I thought he was filibustering. I mean, I asked him as I usually do the most obvious dumbest question ever, which is, “Why’d you do this?” And he had said in a speech that I think is worth reading. I don’t speak Russian, so I haven’t heard it in the original, but he had said at the moment of the beginning of the war, he had given this address to Russians, in which he explained to the fullest extent we have seen so far why he was doing this. And he said in that speech, “I fear that NATO the West, the United States, the Biden administration will preemptively attack us.” And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” I can’t evaluate whether that’s a fear rooted in reality or one rooted in paranoia. But I thought, “Well, that’s an answer right there.”

(00:05:39) And so I alluded to that in my question and rather than answering it, he went off on this long from my perspective, kind of tiresome, sort of greatest hits of Russian history. And the implication I thought was, “Well, Ukraine is ours, or Eastern Ukraine is ours already.” And I thought he was doing that to avoid answering the question. So the last thing you want when you’re interviewing someone is to get rolled, and I didn’t want to be rolled. So I, a couple of times interrupted him politely, I thought, but he wasn’t having it. And then I thought, “You know what? I’m not here to prove that I’m a great interviewer. It’s kind of not about me.”

(00:06:20) I want to know who this guy is. I think a western audience, a global audience, has a right to know more about the guy, and so just let him talk. Because I don’t feel like my reputation’s on the line. People have already drawn conclusions about me, I suppose to the extent they have. I’m not interested really in those conclusions anyway, so just let him talk. And so I calmed down and just let him talk. And in retrospect, I thought that was really, really interesting. Whether you agree with it or not, or whether you think it’s relevant to the war in Ukraine or not, that was his answer. And so it’s inherently significant.

Lex Fridman(00:06:52) Well, you said he was nervous. Were you nervous? Were you afraid? This is Vladimir Putin.

Tucker Carlson(00:06:57) I wasn’t afraid at all, and I wasn’t nervous at all.

Lex Fridman(00:07:01) Did you drink tea beforehand?

Tucker Carlson(00:07:02) No. I did my normal regimen of nicotine pouches and coffee. No, I’m not a tea drinker. I try not to eat all the sweets they put in front of us, which is… That is my weakness, is eating crap. But you eat a lot of sugar as you know before an interview, and it does dull you. So I successfully resisted that. But no, I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t nervous the whole time I was there. Why would I be? I’m 54, my kids are grown. I believe in God. I’m almost never nervous. But no, I wasn’t nervous, I was just interested. I mean, I’m interested in Soviet history. I studied it in college. I’ve read about it my entire life. My dad worked in the Cold War. It was a constant topic of conversation. And so to be in the Kremlin in a room where Stalin made decisions, either wartime decisions or decisions about murdering his own population, I just couldn’t get over it.

(00:07:52) We were in Molotov’s old office. So for me, I was just blown away by that. I thought I knew a lot about Russia. It turns out I knew a lot about the Soviet period, the 1937 purge trials, the famine in Ukraine. I knew a fair amount about that, but I really knew nothing about contemporary Russia, less than I thought I did, it turned out. But yeah, I was just blown away by where we were, and that’s kind of one of the main drivers at this stage in my life. That’s why I do what I do, is because I’m interested in stuff and I want to see as much as I can and try and draw conclusions from it to the extent I can. So I was very much caught up in that. But no, I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t think he was going to kill me or something, and I’m not particularly afraid of that anyway.

Lex Fridman(00:08:38) Not afraid of dying?

Tucker Carlson(00:08:39) Not really, no. I mean, again, it’s an age and stage in life thing. I mean, I have four children, so there were times when they were little where I was terrified of dying because if I died, it would have huge consequences. But no, I mean, at this point, I don’t want to die. I’m really enjoying my life. But I’ve been with the same girl for 40 years, and I have four children who I’m extremely close to. Well, now five, a daughter-in-law, and I love them all. I’m really close to them. I tell them I love them every day. I’ve had a really interesting life.

Lex Fridman(00:09:16) What was the goal? Just linger on that. What was the goal for the interview? How were you thinking about it? What would success be like in your head leading into it?

Tucker Carlson(00:09:22) To bring more information, to the public.

Lex Fridman(00:09:22) Disinformation.

Tucker Carlson(00:09:26) Yeah, that’s it. I mean, I have really strong feelings about what’s happening not just in Ukraine or Russia, but around the world. I think the world is resetting to the grave disadvantage of the United States. I don’t think most Americans are aware of that at all. And so that’s my view, and I’ve stated it many times because it’s sincere. But my goal was to have more information brought to the West so people could make their own decisions about whether this is a good idea.

(00:09:59) I mean, I guess I reject the whole premise of the war in Ukraine from the American perspective, which is a tiny group of dumb people in Washington has decided to do this for reasons they won’t really explain. And you don’t have a role in it at all as an American citizen, as the person who’s paying for it, whose children might be drafted to fight it. To shut up and obey, I just reject that completely. I think, I guess I’m a child of a different era. I’m a child of participatory democracy to some extent, where your opinion as a citizen is not irrelevant. And I guess the level of lying about it was starting to drive me crazy.

(00:10:38) And I’ve said, and I will say again, I’m not an expert on the regional, really any region other than say western Maine. I just don’t, I’m not Russian, but it was obvious to me that we were being lied to in ways that were just… It was crazy, the scale of lies. And I’ll just give you one example. The idea that Ukraine would inevitably win this war. Now victory was never, as it never is, defined precisely. Nothing’s ever defined precisely, which is always to tell that there’s deception at the heart of the claim. But Ukraine’s on the verge of winning. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I’m hardly a tactician or military expert. For the fifth time, I’m not an expert on Russia or Ukraine. I just looked at Wikipedia. Russia has a hundred million more people than Ukraine, a hundred million.

(00:11:24) It has much deeper industrial capacity, war material capacity than all of NATO combined. For example, Russia is turning out artillery shells, which are significant in a ground war at a ratio of seven to one compared to all NATO countries combined. That’s all of Europe. Russia is producing seven times the artillery shells as all of Europe combined. What? That’s an amazing fact, and it turns out to be a really significant fact. In fact, the significant fact. But if you ask your average person in this country, even a fairly well-informed person of good faith who’s just trying to understand what’s going on, who’s going to win this war? Well, Ukraine’s going to win. They’re on the right side.

(00:12:09) And they think that because our media who really just do serve the interest of the US government, period, they are state media in that sense, have told them that for over two years. And I was in Hungary last summer talking to the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who’s whatever you think of him, he’s a very smart guy, very smart guy, smart on a scale that we’re not used to in our leaders. And I said to him, off camera, “So is Ukraine going to win?” And he looked at me like I was deranged or I was congenitally deficient. Are they going to win? No. Of course they can’t win. It’s tiny compared to Russia. Russia has a wartime economy. Ukraine doesn’t really have an economy. No, look at the populations. He looked at me like I was stupid.

(00:12:52) And I said to him, “I think most Americans believe that because NBC News and CNN and all the news channels, all of them tell them that because it’s framed exclusively in moral terms, and it’s Churchill versus Hitler. And of course, Churchill’s going to prevail in the end.” And it’s just so dishonest that it doesn’t even matter what I want to happen or what I think ought to happen, that’s a distortion of what is happening. And if I have any job at all, which I sort of don’t actually at this point, but if I do have a job, it’s to just try to be honest, and that’s a lie.

Lex Fridman(00:13:20) There is a more nuanced discussion about what winning might look like. You’re right a nuanced discussion is not being had, but it is possible for Ukraine to, quote unquote, “win” with the help of the United States.

Tucker Carlson(00:13:31) I guess that conversation needs to begin by defining terms. And the key term is win. What does that mean?

Lex Fridman(00:13:39) Peace, a ceasefire, who owns which land, coming to the table with, as you call the parent in the United States, putting leverage on the negotiation to make sure there’s a fairness.

Tucker Carlson(00:13:53) Amen. Well, of course, as A, and I should just restate this, I am not emotionally involved in this. I’m American in every sense, and my only interest is in America. I’m not leaving ever. And so I’m looking at this purely from our perspective, what’s good for us. But also as a human being, as a Christian, I mean, I hate war. And anybody who doesn’t hate war shouldn’t have power, in my opinion. So I agree with that definition vehemently a victory is not killing an entire generation of your population. It’s not being completely destroyed to be eaten up by BlackRock or whatever comes next for them.

(00:14:37) So yeah, we were close to that a year and a half ago, and the Biden administration dispatched Boris Johnson, the briefly prime minister of the UK to stop it and to say to Zelensky, who I feel sorry for by the way, because he’s caught between these forces that are bigger than he is, to say, “No, you cannot come to any terms with Russia.” And the result of that has not been a Ukrainian victory. It’s just been more dead Ukrainians and a lot of profit for the West. It’s a moral crime in my opinion. And I tried to ask Boris Johnson about it because why wouldn’t I? After he denounced me as a tool of the Kremlin or something, and he demanded a million dollars to talk to me. And this just happened last week. And by the way, in writing too, I’m not making this…

Lex Fridman(00:15:23) Just for the record, you demanded a million dollars from me to talk to me today.

Tucker Carlson(00:15:27) I didn’t. And you paid. No, I’m of course kidding. And I said to his guy, I said, “I just interviewed Putin who was widely recognized as a bad guy.” And he did it for free. He didn’t demand a million dollars. He wasn’t in this for profit. Are you telling me that Boris Johnson is sleazier than Vladimir Putin? And of course, that is the message. And so I guess these are really… It’s not just about Boris Johnson being a sad rapacious fraud, which he is obviously, but it’s about the future of the West and the future of Ukraine, this country that purportedly we care so much about. All these people are dying, and what is the end game? It’s also deranged that I didn’t imagine, and don’t imagine that I could add anything very meaningful to the conversation because I’m not a genius. But I felt like I could at the very least, puncture some of the lies, and that’s an inherent good.

Lex Fridman(00:16:23) Vladimir Putin, after the interview said that he wasn’t fully satisfied because you weren’t aggressive enough. You didn’t ask sharp enough questions. First of all, what do you think about him saying that?

Tucker Carlson(00:16:34) I don’t even understand it. I guess it does seem like the one Putin statement that Western media take at face value. Everything else Putin says is a lie except his criticism of me, which is true. But I mean, I have no idea what he meant by that. I can only tell you what my goal was, as I’ve suggested, was not to make it about me. He hasn’t done any interviews of any kind for years, but the last interview he did with an English-speaking reporter, Western media reporter, was like many of the other interviews he’d done with Western media reporters. Mike Wallace’s son did an interview with him that was of the same variety. And it was all about him. I’m a good person. You’re a bad person. And I just feel like that’s the most tiresome, fruitless kind of interview.

(00:17:21) It’s not about me. I don’t think I’m an especially good person. I’ve definitely never claimed to be, but people can make their own judgments. And again, the only judgments that I care about are my wife and children and God. So I’m just not interested in proving I’m a good person and I just want to hear from him. And I had a lot of… I mean, you should see, I almost never write questions down, but I did in this case because I had months… Well, I had three years to think about it as I was trying to book the interview, which I did myself. But it was all about internal Russian politics and Navalny. And I had a lot of, what I thought, really good questions. And then at the last second, and you make these decisions, as you know, since you interview people a lot, often you make them on the fly.

(00:18:04) And I thought, “No, I want to talk about the things that haven’t been talked about and that I think matter in a world historic sense.” And the number one among those, of course, is the war and what it means for the world. And so I stuck to that. I mean, I did ask about Gershkovich, who I felt sorry for, and I wanted Putin to release him to me. And I was offended that he didn’t. I thought his rationale was absurd. “Well, we want to trade him for someone.” I said, “Well, doesn’t that make him a hostage?” Which of course it does. But other than that, I really wanted to keep it to the things that I think matter most. People can judge whether I did a good job or not, but that was my decision.

Lex Fridman(00:18:44) In the moment, what was your gut? Did you want to ask some tough questions as follow-ups on certain topics?

Tucker Carlson(00:18:52) I don’t know what it would mean to ask a tough question.

Lex Fridman(00:18:54) Clarifying questions, I suppose they would-

Tucker Carlson(00:18:56) I guess. I just wanted him to talk. I just wanted to hear his perspective again. I’ve probably asked more asshole questions than any living American. As has been noted correctly, I’m a dick by my nature, and so I just feel at this stage of my life, I didn’t need to prove that I could be like, “Vladimir Putin, answer the question.”

Lex Fridman(00:18:56) For sure. For sure.

Tucker Carlson(00:19:21) I think if I had been 34 instead of 54, I definitely would’ve done that because I would’ve thought, “This is really about me and I need to prove myself and all that stuff.” No, there’s a war going on that is wrecking the US economy in a way and at a scale people do not understand. The US dollar is going away. That was, of course, inevitable ultimately because everything dies, including currencies. But that death, that process of death has been accelerated exponentially by the behavior of the Biden administration and the US Congress, particularly the sanctions. And people don’t understand what the ramifications of that are. The ramifications are poverty in the United States. So I just wanted to get to that because I’m coming at this from not a global perspective. I’m coming at it from an American perspective.

Navalny

Lex Fridman(00:20:08) So you mentioned Navalny. After you left, Navalny died in prison. What are your thoughts on just at a high level, first about his death?

Tucker Carlson(00:20:20) Well, it’s awful. I mean, imagine dying in prison. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve known a lot of people in prison a lot, including some very good friends of mine. So I felt instantly sad about it. From a geopolitical perspective, I don’t know any more than that. And I laugh at and sort of resent, but mostly find amusing the claims by American politicians, who really are the dumbest politicians in the world actually, “This happened and here’s what it means.” And it’s like, “Actually as a factual matter, we don’t know what happened. We don’t know what happened.” We have no freaking idea what happened. We can say, and I did say, and I will say again, I don’t think you should put opposition figures in prison. I really don’t. I don’t, period. It happens a lot around the world, happens in this country, as you know, and I’m against all of it.

(00:21:09) But do we know how we died? The short answer? No, we don’t. Now, if I had to guess, I would say killing Navalny during the Munich Security Conference in the middle of a debate over $60 billion in Ukraine funding, maybe the Russians are dumb. I didn’t get that vibe at all. I don’t see it. But maybe they killed him. I mean, they certainly put him in prison, which I’m against. But here’s what I do know is that we don’t know. And so when Chuck Schumer stands up and [inaudible 00:21:42]. Joe Biden reads some card in front of him with lines about Navalny, it’s like, I’m allowed to laugh at that because it’s absurd. You don’t know.

Lex Fridman(00:21:49) There’s a lot of interesting ideas about if he was killed, who killed him, because it could be Putin, it could be somebody in Russia who’s not Putin. It could be Ukrainians because it would benefit the war.

Tucker Carlson(00:22:02) They killed Dugan’s daughter in Moscow. So yeah, that’s possible.

Lex Fridman(00:22:06) And it could be… I mean, the United States could also be involved.

Tucker Carlson(00:22:10) I don’t think we kill people in other countries to affect election outcomes. Oh, wait, no, we do it a lot and have for 80 years, and it’s shameful. I can say that as an American because it’s my money and my name. Yeah, I’m really offended by that. And I never thought that was true. And again, I’m much older than you, and so I spent, my worldview was defined by the Cold War and very much in the house I lived in Georgetown, Washington DC. That’s what we talked about. And the left at the time, I don’t know, the wacko MIT professor who I never had any respect for, who I know you’ve interviewed, et cetera. The hard left was always saying, “Well, the United States government is interfering in other elections.”

(00:22:53) And I just dismissed that completely out of hand as stupid and actually a slander against my country, but it turned out to all be true or substantially true anyway. And that’s been a real shock for me in middle age to understand that. But anyway, as to Navalny, look, I don’t know. But we should always proceed on the basis of what we do know, which is to say on the basis of truth, knowable truth. And if you have an entire policymaking apparatus that is making the biggest decisions on the face of the planet, on the basis of things that are bullshit or lies, you’re going to get bad outcomes every time, every time. And that’s why we are where we are.

Lex Fridman(00:23:33) Does it bother you that basically the most famous opposition figure in Russia is sitting in prison?

Tucker Carlson(00:23:40) Well, of course it does. Of course it bothers me. I mean, it bothered me when I got there. It bothers me now. I was sad when he died. Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the measures… It’s one of the basic measures of political freedom. Are you imprisoning people who oppose you? Are you imprisoning people who pose a physical risk to you? I mean, there are some subjective decision-making involved in these things. However, big picture, yeah. Do you have leaders in jail? It’s not a politically free society, and Russia isn’t, obviously. And as I said, a friend of mine from childhood, an American actually was a wonderful person, lives in Russia, in Moscow, with his Russian wife, and I had dinner with him. He’s a very balanced guy, totally non-political person, and speaks Russian and loves his many Russian children and loves the culture.

(00:24:35) And there’s a lot to love, the culture that produced Tolstoy. It’s not a gas station with nuclear weapons. Sorry. Only a moron would say that. It’s a very deep culture. I don’t fully understand it, of course, but I admire it. Who wouldn’t? But I asked him, “What’s it like living here?” And he goes, “It’s great. Moscow is a great city indisputably.” He said, “You don’t want to get involved in Russian politics.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, you could get hurt. You could wind up like Navalny if you did. But also, it’s just too complicated.”

(00:25:03) The Russian mind is not exactly the same… It’s Western, it’s a European city, but it’s not quite European. And the way they think is very, very complex. Very complex. It’s too complicated. Just don’t get involved. And I would just say two things. One, I’m not sure. I mean, I don’t know, but my strong sense is that Navalny’s death, whoever did it, probably didn’t have a lot to do with the coming election in Russia. My sense from talking to Putin and the people around him is they’re not really focused on that. In fact, I asked one of his top advisors, “When’s the election?” And she looked at me completely confused. She didn’t know the date of the election. Okay. She’s like March.

(00:25:46) And I asked a bunch of other people just in Moscow, “Who’s Putin running against?” Nobody knew. So it’s not a real election in the sense that we would recognize at all. Second, I was really struck by so many things in Moscow and really deeply bothered by a lot of things that I saw there. But one thing I noticed was the total absence of cult of personality propaganda, which I expected to see and have seen around the world. Jordan, for example, I don’t know if you’ve been to Jordan, but go to Jordan. In every building, there are pictures of the king and his extended family, and that’s a sign of political insecurity.

(00:26:25) You don’t create a cult of personality unless you’re personally insecure. And also, unless you’re worried about losing your grip and power. None of that. It’s interesting. And I expected to see a lot of it, like statues of Putin. No. There are no statues of anybody other than Christian saints. I’m not quite sure. I’m just reporting what I saw. So yes, in a political sense. It’s not a free country. It’s not a democracy in the way that we would understand it or I don’t want to live there because I like to say what I think. In fact, I make my living doing it. But it’s not Stalinist in a recognizable way. And anyone who says it is should go there and tell me how.

Lex Fridman(00:27:08) I mean, this question about the freedom of the press is underlying the very fact of the interview you’re having with him. So you might not need to ask the Navalny question, but did you feel like, “Are there things I shouldn’t say?”

Tucker Carlson(00:27:23) I mean, how honest do you want me to be? I mean, when I say I felt not one twinge of concern for the eight days that I was there. Maybe I just didn’t… And I feel like I’ve got a pretty strong gut sense of things. I rely on it. I make all my decisions based on how I feel, my instincts. And I didn’t feel it at all. My lawyers before I left, and these are people who work for a big law firm. This is not Bob’s law firm. This is one of the biggest law firms in the world, said, “You’re going to get arrested if you do this by the US government on sanctions violations.”

(00:27:57) And I said, “Well, I don’t recognize the legitimacy of that actually, because I’m American and I’ve lived here my whole life. And that’s so outrageous that I’m happy to face that risk because I so reject the premise. Okay, I’m an American. I should be able to talk to anyone I want to, and I plan to exercise that freedom, which I think I was born with.” And I gave them this long lecture. They’re like, “We’re just lawyers.” But that was… Let me put it this way, I don’t know how much you’ve dealt with lawyers, but it costs many thousands of dollars to get a conclusion like that. They sent a whole bunch of their summer associates or whatever.

(00:28:33) They put a lot of people on this question, checked a lot of precedent, and they sent me a 10-page memo on it, and their sincere conclusion was, “Do not do this.” And of course, it made me mad. So I was lecturing on the phone and I had another call with a head lawyer and he said, “Well, look, a lot will depend on the questions that you ask Putin. If you’re seen as too nice to him, you could get arrested when you come back.” And I was like, “You’re describing a fascist country. Okay. You’re saying that the US government will arrest me if I don’t ask the questions they want asked, is that what’s you’re saying?” “Well, we just think based on what’s happened, that that’s possible.” And so I’m just telling you what happened.

Lex Fridman(00:29:11) So you were okay being arrested in Moscow and arrested back in-

Tucker Carlson(00:29:15) I didn’t think for a second… I mean, maybe. Look, I don’t speak Russian. I’d never been there before. Everything about the culture was brand new to me. Ignorance does protect you sort of when you have no freaking idea what’s going on, you’re not worried about it. This has happened to me many times. There’s a principle there that extends throughout life. So it’s completely possible that I was in grave peril and didn’t know it because how would I know it? I’m like a bumbling English speaker from California, but I didn’t feel it at all.

Lex Fridman(00:29:48) But the lawyers did.

Tucker Carlson(00:29:49) Yeah. I mean, it scared the crap out of people. You’re going to look… And you have to pay in cash. They don’t take credit cards because of sanctions. And you have to go through all these hoops, just procedural hoops to go to Russia, which I was willing to do because I wanted to interview Putin because they told me I couldn’t. But then there’s another fact, which is that I was being surveilled by the US government, intensely surveilled by the US government. And this came out, they admitted it, the NSA admitted it a couple of years ago that they were up in my signal account, and then they leaked it to the New York Times. They did that again before I left.

(00:30:21) And I know that because two New York Times reporters, one of whom I actually like a lot, said and called other people. “Oh, he’s going to interview Putin.” I hadn’t told anybody that, like anybody. My wife, two producers, that’s it. So they got that from the government. Then I’m over there, and of course I want to see Snowden, who I admire. And so we have a mutual friend. So I got his text and come on over, and Snowden does not want publicity at all. But I really wanted to have dinner with him. So we had dinner in my hotel room at the Four Seasons in Moscow, and I tried to convince him, “I’d love to do an interview, shoot it on my iPhone.” I’d-

Tucker Carlson(00:31:00) … just do an interview, shoot it on my iPhone. I’d love to take a picture together and put it on the internet because I just want to show support because I think he’s been railroaded. He had no interest in living in Russia, no intention of being in Russia. The whole thing is a lie. But anyway, whatever, all this stuff. He just said, “Respectfully, I’d rather not anyone know that we met.” Great. I didn’t tell anybody and I didn’t text it to anybody, okay, except him. Semaphore runs this piece reporting information they got from the US Intel agencies leaking against me using my money, in my name, in a supposedly free country, they run this piece saying I’d met with Snowden like it was a crime or something. So again, my interest is in the United States and preserving freedoms here, the ones that I grew up with. If you have a media establishment that acts as an auxiliary of, or acts as employees of the national security state, you don’t have a free country and that’s where we are.

(00:32:07) I’m not guessing, because I spent my entire life in that world, 33 years, I worked in big news companies and so I know how it works. I know the people involved in it. I could name them, Ben Smith of Semaphore, among many others and I find that really objectionable, not just on principle either, in effect, in practice, I don’t want to live in that kind of country. People externalize all of their anxiety about this I have noticed. So it’s like Russia is not free. Yeah, I know. Neither is Burkina Faso, most countries aren’t free actually, but we are. We’re the United States. We’re different. That’s my concern. Preserving that is my concern. They get so exercised about what’s happening in other parts of the world, places they’ve never been, know nothing about, it’s almost a way of ignoring what’s happening in their own country right around them. I find it so strange and sad and weird.

Lex Fridman(00:33:00) So the NSA was tracking you? Do you think CIA was? Is people still tracking you?

Tucker Carlson(00:33:06) Look, one of the things I did before I went, just because the business I’m in, all of us are in, and just because we live here, we all have theories about secure communications channels. Like signal is secure, Telegraph isn’t, or WhatsApp is owned by Mark Zuckerberg, you can’t trust, well, okay. So I thought before I go over here, we were having all these conversations, my producers and I about this, and I decide I’m just going to actually find out what’s really going on. I talked to two people who would know, trust me, and it’s all I can say. I hate to be like, oh, I talked to people who would know but I can’t share who. But I mean it, they would know. Both of them said exactly the same thing, which is, “Are you joking, nothing is secure. Everything is monitored all the time.”

(00:33:55) If state actors are involved, you can keep whatever the Malaysian mafia from reading your texts probably. You cannot keep the big Intel services from reading your texts, it’s not possible, any of them, or listening to your calls. That was the firm conclusion of people who’ve been involved in it for a long time, decades, in both cases. I just thought, you know what, I don’t care. I don’t care. I’m not sending a ton of naked pictures of myself to anybody.

Lex Fridman(00:34:24) Not a ton, just the little?

Tucker Carlson(00:34:25) Not a ton. I’m 54, dude, probably not too many. The guys travel with three people I work with, who I love, who I’ve been around the world with for many years, and I know them really, really well and they all got separate phones and I’m leaving my other phone back in New York or whatever. I just decided I don’t care, actually. I resent having no privacy because privacy is a prerequisite for freedom, but I can’t change it, and so I have the same surveilled cell phone. I do switch them out. There it is. Because if you have too much spyware on your phone, this is true, it wrecks the battery.

(00:35:16) No, I’m serious. It does. It was, I don’t know, five or six years ago we went to North Korea, and my phone started acting crazy. I talked to someone on the National Security Council, actually who called me about this, somehow knew that your phone is being surveilled by the South Korean government. I was like, “I like the South Korean government. Why would they do that?” Because they want more information, they thought I was talking to Trump or whatever. But I could tell because all of a sudden the thing would just drain in like 45 minutes so that’s a downside.

Lex Fridman(00:35:50) You keep switching phones, getting new phones for the battery life. That’s good.

Tucker Carlson(00:35:54) Yeah. I try not to do it. I’m kind of flinty Yankee type in some ways, so I don’t like to spend $1,000 with the freaking Apple corporation too often, but yeah, I do.

Lex Fridman(00:36:04) You say it lightly, but it’s really troublesome that you, as a journalist, would be tracked.

Tucker Carlson(00:36:10) Well, they leaked it to Semaphore and they leaked it to the New York Times. Well, there’s nothing I can do, so I have to put up with everything, but I would probably not be actively angry about being surveilled because I’m just so old and I actually do pay my taxes, and I’m not sleeping with the makeup artist or whatever so I don’t care that much. The fact that they are leaking against me, that the Intel services in the United States are actively engaged in US politics and media, that’s so unacceptable. That makes democracy impossible. There’s no defense of that. And yet NBC News, Ken Dilanian and the rest will defend it, and not just on NBC news, by the way, on the supposedly conservative channels too, they will defend it and there’s no defending that. You can’t have democracy if the Intel services are tempering in elections and information, period.

Lex Fridman(00:37:05) So you had no fear. Your lawyer said, be careful which questions you asked. You said, I don’t have-

Tucker Carlson(00:37:13) Well, no, he said very specifically, depending on the questions you ask Putin, you could be arrested or not. I said, “Listen to what you’re saying. You’re saying the US government has control over my questions and they’ll arrest me if I ask the wrong question. How are we better than Putin if that’s true.” By the way, that’s just what the lawyer said. But I can’t overstate, one of the biggest law firms in the United States, smart lawyers we’ve used for years so I was really shocked by it.

Lex Fridman(00:37:42) You said leaders kill, leaders lie.

Tucker Carlson(00:37:45) Yeah. I don’t believe in leaders very much like this whole, “Oh, Zelensky’s Jesus and Putin’s Satan.” It’s like, no, they’re all leaders of countries. Grow up a little bit you child. Have you ever met a leader? First of all, anyone who seeks power is damaged morally, in my opinion. You shouldn’t be seeking power. You can’t seek power or wealth for its own sake and remain a decent person. That’s just true. So there aren’t any really virtuous billionaires and there aren’t any really virtuous world leaders. You have grades of virtue, some are better than others for sure. In other words, Zelensky may be better than Putin. I’m open to that possibility. But to claim that one is evil and the other is virtuous, it’s like, you’re revealing that you’re a child, you don’t know anything about how the world actually is or what reality is.

Lex Fridman(00:38:43) That’s quite a realist perspective, but there is a spectrum.

Tucker Carlson(00:38:46) There’s a spectrum, absolutely. I’m not saying they’re all the same. They’re not.

Lex Fridman(00:38:48) And our task is to figure out where on the spectrum they lie and the leader’s task is to confuse us and convince us they’re one of the good guys.

Tucker Carlson(00:38:59) Of course. Of course. But I actually reject even that formulation. I don’t think it’s always about the leaders. Of course the leaders make the difference. A good leader has a healthy country and a bad leader has a decaying country, which is something to think about. But it’s about the ideas and the policies and the practical effect of things. So we’re very much caught up in the personalities of various leaders, not just our political leaders, but our business leaders, our cultural leaders. Are they good people? Do they have the right thoughts? It’s like, no, I ask a much more basic question, what are the fruits of their behavior? I always make it personal because I think everything is personal. Does his wife respect him? Do his children respect him? How are they doing? Is the country he runs thriving or is it falling apart? If your life expectancy is going down, if your suicide rate is going up, if your standard of living is tanking, you’re not a good leader.

(00:39:51) I don’t care what you tell me. I don’t care what you claim you represent. I don’t care about the ideas or the systems that you say you embody. It’s dogs barking to me. How’s your life expectancy? How’s your suicide rate? What’s drug use like? Are people having children? Are people’s children more likely to live in a free or more prosperous society than you did and their grandparents did? Those are the only measures that matter to me, the rest is a lie. But anyway, the point is we just get so obsessed with the theater around people or people, and we miss the bigger things that are happening and we allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that what doesn’t matter at all matters, that moral victories are all that matters. No, actually, facts on the ground victories matter more than anything. You certainly see it in this country. Black Lives Matter, for example, how many black people did that help? It hurt a lot of black people, but in the end, we should be able to measure it.

Moscow

(00:40:52) How many black people have died by gunfire in the four years since George Floyd died? Well, the number’s gone way, way up and that was a Black Lives Matter operation, defund the police. So I think we can say as a factual matter, data-based matter, Black Lives Matter didn’t help black people and if it did tell me how. “Well, these are important moral victories.” I’m over that. That’s just another lie, a long litany of lies. So I try to see the rest of the world that way. But more than anything, I try to see world events through the lens of an American because I am one. And what does this mean for us? It’s not even the war, it’s the sanctions that will forever change the United States, our standard of living, the way our government operates. That more than any single thing in my lifetime screwed the United States. Levying those sanctions in the way that we did was crazy. For me, the main takeaway from my eight days in Moscow was not Putin. He’s a leader, whatever. None of them are that different actually, in my pretty extensive experience, no, it was Moscow. That blew my mind. I was not prepared for that at all and I thought I knew a lot about Moscow. My dad worked there on and off in the 80s and 90s because, a US government employee. And he was always coming back, “Moscow, it’s a nightmare,” and all this stuff, “no electricity.” I got there almost exactly two years after sanctions, totally cut off from Western financial systems, kicked out of Swift, can’t use US dollars, no banking, no credit cards. And that city just factually, I’m not endorsing the system, I’m not endorsing the whole country. I didn’t go to Lake Baikal. I didn’t go to Turkmenistan. I just went to Moscow, largest city in Europe, 13 million people. I drove all around it and that city is way nicer, outwardly anyway, I don’t live there, than any city we have by a lot.

(00:42:46) And by nicer, let me be specific. No graffiti. No homeless. No people using drugs in the street. Totally tidy. No garbage on the ground. And no forest of steel and concrete soul- destroying buildings, none of the postmodern architecture that oppresses us without even our knowledge. None of that crap. It’s a truly beautiful city. That’s not an endorsement of Putin. By the way, it didn’t make me love Putin, it made me hate my own leaders because I grew up in a country that had cities kind of like that, that were nice cities that were safe, and we don’t have that anymore. How did that happen? Did Putin do that? I don’t think Putin did that actually. I think the people in charge of that, the mayors, the governors, the president, they did that and they should be held accountable for it.

Lex Fridman(00:43:33) I think cleanliness and architectural design is not the entirety of the metrics that matter when you measure a city.

Tucker Carlson(00:43:41) They’re the main metrics that matter. They’re the main metrics that matter. The main metrics that matter are cleanliness, safety, and beauty, in my opinion. And one of the big lies that we are told in our world is that, no, something you can’t measure that has no actual effect on your life matters most. Bullshit. What matters most, to say it again, beauty, safety, cleanliness, lots of other things matter too, a whole bunch of things matter. But if I were to put them in order, it’s not some theoretical, well, actually, I don’t know if you know that the Duma has no power. Okay, I get that. Freedom of speech matters enormously to me. They have less freedom of speech in Russia than we do in the United States. We are superior to them in that way. But you can’t tell me that living in a city where your 6-year-old daughter can walk to the bus stop and ride on a clean bus or ride in a beautiful subway car that’s on time and not get assaulted, that doesn’t matter.

(00:44:41) No, that matters almost more than anything, actually. We can have both. The normal regime defenders and morons, John Stewart or whatever he’s calling himself, they’re like, “Whoa, that’s the price of freedom.” People shitting on the sidewalk is the price of freedom. It’s like you can’t fool me because I’ve lived here for 54 years, I know that it’s not the price of freedom because I lived in a country that was both free and clean and orderly. So that’s not a trade off I think I have to make. That is the beauty of being a little bit older because you’re like, no, I remember that, actually. It wasn’t what you’re saying. We didn’t have racial segregation in 1985. It was a really nice country that respected itself. I was here. I think with younger people, you can tell them that and they’re like, well, 1985 you were selling slaves in Madison Square Garden. It’s like, no, they weren’t. You’re going to Madison Square Garden and not stepping over a single fentanyl addict.

Lex Fridman(00:45:34) It is true, there doesn’t have to be a trade off between cleanliness and freedom of speech, but it is also true that in dictatorships, cleanliness and architectural design is easier to achieve and perfect, and often is done so you can show off, look how great our cities are while you’re suppressing-

Tucker Carlson(00:45:54) Of course, of course, I agree with that vehemently. This is not a defense of the Russian system at all. If I felt that way, I would not only move there, but I would announce I was moving there. I’m not ashamed of my views. I never have been. For all the people who are trying to impute secret motives to my words, I’m like the one person in America you don’t need to do that with. If you think I’m a racist, ask me and I’ll tell you.

Lex Fridman(00:46:18) Are you a racist?

Tucker Carlson(00:46:20) No. I am a sexist though.

Lex Fridman(00:46:22) Great

Tucker Carlson(00:46:23) Anyway. No, but if I was a defender of Vladimir Putin, I would just say I’m defending Vladimir Putin now. I’m not. I am attacking our leaders and I’m grieving over the low expectations of our people. You don’t need to put up with this. You don’t need to put up with foreign invaders stealing from you, occupying your kid’s school. Your kids can’t get an education because people from foreign countries broke our laws and showed up here and they’ve taken over the school. That’s not a feature of freedom, actually, that’s the opposite. That’s what enslavement looks like. I’m just saying, raise your expectations a little bit. You can have a clean, functional, safe country, crime is totally optional. Crime is something our leaders decide to have or not have.

(00:47:10) It’s not something that just appears organically. I wrote a book about crime 30 years ago. I thought a lot about this. You have as much crime as you put up with, period. It doesn’t make you less free to not tolerate murder. In fact, it makes you unfree to have a lot of murders. But it makes me sad that people are like, “I can’t live in New York City anymore because of inflation and filth and illegal aliens and people shooting each other, but I’m glad because this is vibrant and strong and free.” It’s like that’s not freedom actually, at all.

Lex Fridman(00:47:50) Your point is well taken, you can have both. But do you regret-

Tucker Carlson(00:47:55) Had both. That’s the point, we had both, I saw it.

Lex Fridman(00:47:57) Do you regret to a degree using the Moscow subway and the grocery store as a mechanism by which to make that point?

Tucker Carlson(00:48:06) No. Look, I’m one of the more unself-aware people you will ever interview. So to ask me how will this be perceived, I literally have no idea and kind of limited interest. But I was so shocked by it. I was so shocked by it. To the extent I regret anything and to blame for anything, it would be not, and I’ve done this a lot, not giving it context, not fully explaining why are we doing this. The grocery store, I was shocked by the prices. And yes, I’m familiar with exchange rates, very familiar with exchange rates and I adjusted them for exchange rates, and this is two years into sanctions, total isolation from the west. So I would expect, in fact, I did expect until I got there that their supply chains would be crushed. How do you get good stuff if you don’t have access to western markets? I didn’t fully get the answer because I was occupied doing other things when I was there, but somehow they have and that’s the point. They haven’t had the supply chains problems that I predicted. In other words, sanctions haven’t made the country noticeably worse.

(00:49:22) Okay, so again, this is commentary in the United States and our policymakers, why are we doing this? It’s forcing the rest of the world into a block against us called bricks. They’re getting off the US dollar. That will mean a lot of dollars are going to come back here and destroy our economy and impoverish this country. So the consequences, the stakes are really high. They’re huge and we’re not even hurting Russia. What the hell are we doing, one. On the subway, that Subway was built by Joseph Stalin right before the second World War. I’m not endorsing Stalin, obviously. Stalinism is a thing that I hate and I don’t want to come to my country. I’m making the obvious point that for over 80 years you’ve had these frescoes and chandeliers, maybe they’ve been redone or whatever, but somehow the society has been able to not destroy what its ancestors built, the things that are worth having, and there are a lot. Why don’t we have that?

(00:50:17) Even on a much more terrestrial plane, why can’t I have a subway station like that? Why can’t my children who live in New York City ride the subway? A lot of people I know who live in New York City are afraid to ride the subway, young women especially. That’s freedom? No, again, it’s slavery. If Putin can do this, why can’t we? What? This is so obvious. I’m a traitor? Okay, so if I’m calling for American citizens to demand more from their government and higher standards for their own society, and remember that just 30 years ago, we had a much different and much happier and cleaner and healthier society where everyone wasn’t fat with diabetes at 40 from poisoned food, I’m not a traitor to my country, I’m a defender of my country. By the way, the people calling me a traitor, they’re all like, whatever. I would not say they’re people who put America’s interest first to put it mildly.

Lex Fridman(00:51:16) There’s many elements, like you said, you don’t like Stalinism. You’re a student of history, central planning is good at building subways in a way that’s really nice. The thing that accounts for New York subways, by the way, there’s a lot of really positive things about New York subways, not cleanliness, but the efficiency, the accessibility, how wide it spreads. The New York network is incredible.

Tucker Carlson(00:51:44) It is.

Lex Fridman(00:51:45) But Moscow, under different metrics, results of a capitalist system. And you actually said that you don’t think US is quite a capitalist system, which is an interesting question itself.

Tucker Carlson(00:51:55) That’s for sure. We have more central planning here than they do in Russia.

Lex Fridman(00:51:57) No, that’s not true.

Tucker Carlson(00:51:58) Of course it is.

Lex Fridman(00:51:59) You think that’s true.

Tucker Carlson(00:52:00) The climate agenda, of course. The US government has, in league with a couple of big, companies, decided to change the way we produce and consume energy. There’s no popular outcry for that. There’s never been any mass movement of Americans who’s like, “I hate my gasoline powered engine. No more diesel.” That has been central planning. That is central planning. You see it up and down our economy, there’s no free market in the United States. You get crossways with the government, you’re done. If you’re at scale, maybe if you’ve got a barbershop or a liquor store or something, but even then you’re regulated by politicians. And so, no, I actually am for free markets. I hate monopolies. Our economy is dominated by monopolies, completely dominated in-

Lex Fridman(00:52:43) What do you mean?

Tucker Carlson(00:52:43) Google. What percentage of search does Google have, 90? Google’s a monopoly, by any definition. Google is just rich enough to continue doing whatever it wants in violation of US law. There’s no monopoly in Russia as big as Google. I’m not, again, defending the Russian system. I’m calling for return to our old system, which was sensible and moderate and put the needs of Americans, at least somewhere in the top 10. Somewhere in the top 10. I’m not saying that standard oil was interested in the welfare of average Americans, but I am saying that there was a constituency in our political system, in the Congress, for example, different presidential candidates are like, “No, wait a second. What is this doing to people? Is it good for people or not?” There’s not even a conversation about that. It’s shut up and submit to AI. No offense. And so I’m just-

Lex Fridman(00:53:33) Offense taken. I’ll write, “We will get you.” When it’s strong enough-

Tucker Carlson(00:53:38) I have no doubt.

Lex Fridman(00:53:39) … you’ll be the first one to go.

Tucker Carlson(00:53:40) Well, as a white man, I just won’t even exist anymore.

Lex Fridman(00:53:42) Right, so much to say on that one.

Tucker Carlson(00:53:44) I bet when you Google my picture 20 years from now, I’ll be a Black chick. A hundred percent.

Lex Fridman(00:53:50) Well, I hope she’s attractive.

Tucker Carlson(00:53:52) I hope so too. It’d probably be an upgrade.

Lex Fridman(00:53:57) So, well, the central planning point is really interesting, but I just don’t know where you’re coming from. There’s a capitalist system … the United States is one of the most successful capitalist system in the history of earth. So just-

Tucker Carlson(00:54:13) It’s the most successful. I’m just saying that I think it’s changed a lot in the last 15 years and that we need to update our assumptions about what we’re seeing.

Lex Fridman(00:54:21) Sure.

Tucker Carlson(00:54:21) And that’s true up and down. That’s true with everything. It’s true with your neighbor’s children who you haven’t seen in three years and they come home from Wesleyan and you’re like, “Oh, you’ve grown.” That is true for the world around us as well. Most of our assumptions about immigration, about our economy, about our tax system are completely outdated if you compare them to the current reality. I’m just for updating my files and I have a big advantage over you because I am middle aged, and so I don’t-

Lex Fridman(00:54:47) You’ve called yourself old so many times throughout this conversation.

Tucker Carlson(00:54:50) I don’t trust my perceptions of things so I’m constantly trying to be like, is that true, I should go there. I should see it. I guess just in the end, I trust direct perceptions. I don’t trust the internet, actually. Wikipedia is a joke. Wikipedia could not be more dishonest, it’s certainly in the political categories or things that I know a lot about. Occasionally, I read an entry written about something that I saw or know the people involved, and I’m like, well, that’s a complete lie or you left out the most important fact. It’s not a reliable guide to reality or history and that will accelerate with AI, where our perception of the past is completely controlled and distorted. I think just getting out there and seeing stuff and seeing that Moscow was not what I thought it would be, which was a smoldering ruin, rats in a garbage dump, it was nicer than New York. What the hell?

Lex Fridman(00:55:46) Direct data is good, but it’s challenging. For example, if you talk to a lot of people in Moscow or in Russia, and you ask them, “Is there a censorship?” They will usually say, “Yes, there is.”

Tucker Carlson(00:55:56) Oh yeah, of course there is. Well, I agree. Just to be clear, I have no plans to move to Russia. I think I would probably be arrested if I moved to Russia. Ed Snowden, who is the most famous openness, transparency, advocate in the world, I would say along with Assange, doesn’t want to live in Russia. He’s had problems with the Putin government. He’s attacked Putin. They don’t like it. I get it. I get it. I’m just saying, what are the lessons for us? The main lesson is we are being lied to in a way that’s bewildering and very upsetting. I was mad about it all eight days I was there because I feel like I’m better informed than most people because it’s my job to be informed. I’m skeptical of everything and yet I was completely hoodwinked by it.

(00:56:46) I would just recommend to everyone watching this, if you’re really interested, if you’re one of those people, and I’m not one, but who’s waking up every day and you’ve got a Ukrainian flag on your mailbox or whatever, your Ukrainian lapel pin, or this absurd theater, but if you sincerely care about Ukraine or Russia or whatever, why don’t you just hop on a plane for 800 bucks and go see it? That doesn’t occur to anyone to do that. I know it’s time consuming and kind of expensive, sort of, not really, but you benefit so much. I could bore you for eight hours, and I know you’ve had this experience, where you think you know what something is or you think you know who someone is, and then you have direct experience of that place or person and you realize all your preconceptions were totally wrong. They were controlled by somebody else. In fact, I won’t betray confidences, but off the air we were talking about somebody and you said, “I couldn’t believe the person was not at all what I thought.” Well, that’s happened to me-

Lex Fridman(00:57:42) In the positive direction.

Tucker Carlson(00:57:43) In the positive direction. By the way, for me, it’s almost always in that direction. Most people I meet, and I’ve had the great privilege of meeting a lot of people over all this time, they’re way better than you think, or they’re more complicated or whatever. But the point is, a direct experience unmediated by liars, there’s no substitute for that.

Lex Fridman(00:58:04) Well, on that point, direct experience in Ukraine. I visited Ukraine and witnessed a lot of the same things you witnessed in Moscow. First of all, beautiful architecture.

Tucker Carlson(00:58:13) Yes.

Lex Fridman(00:58:14) This is a country that’s really in war. So it’s not-

Tucker Carlson(00:58:17) Oh, for real,

Lex Fridman(00:58:18) … for real. Where most of the men are either volunteering or fighting in the war, and there’s actual tanks in the streets that are going into your major city of Kyiv and still the supply chains are working-

Tucker Carlson(00:58:32) Yes.

Lex Fridman(00:58:32) … just a handful of months after the start of the war. Everything is working. The restaurants are amazing. Most of the people are able to do some kind of job, like the life goes on. Cleanliness, like you mentioned.

Tucker Carlson(00:58:49) I love that.

Lex Fridman(00:58:49) Security, it’s incredible. The crime went to zero. They gave out guns to everybody, the Texas strategy.

Tucker Carlson(00:58:58) It does work.

Lex Fridman(00:58:58) When you witness it, you realize, okay, there’s something to these people. There’s something to this country that they’re not as corrupt as you might hear.

Tucker Carlson(00:59:06) Right.

Lex Fridman(00:59:06) You hear that Russia is corrupt, Ukraine is corrupt, you assume it’s just all going to go to shit.

Tucker Carlson(00:59:12) I haven’t been to Ukraine, and I’ve certainly tried. They put me on some kill him immediately list so I can’t. I’ve tried to interview Zelensky. He keeps denouncing me. I just want an interview with him, he won’t, unfortunately. I would love to do it.

Lex Fridman(00:59:22) I hope you do.

Tucker Carlson(00:59:23) I do too. But one of the things that bothers me most … I love to hear that, what you just said about Kyiv, but I’m not really surprised. One of the things that I’m most ashamed of is the bigotry that I felt towards Slavic people, also toward Muslims, I’ll just be totally honest because I lived through decades of propaganda from NBC news and CNN where I worked, about this or that group of people and they’re horrible or whatever. And I kind of believed it. I see it now, we can’t even put the word Russia at Wimbledon because it’s so offensive. Well, what does the tennis player have to do with it? Did he invade Ukraine, I don’t think he did. Stealing all these business guys yachts and denouncing thing was oligarchs, what do they have to do with it? Whatever.

(01:00:08) Here’s my point. The idea that a whole group of people is just evil because of their blood, I just don’t believe that. I think it’s immoral to think that, and I can just tell you my own experience after eight days there. I think it’s a really interesting culture, Slavic culture, which is shared by the way, by Russian and Ukraine, of course, they’re first cousins at the most distant. I found them really smart and interesting and informed. I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. I don’t understand the way their minds work because I’m American, but it wasn’t a thin culture, it’s a thick culture and I admire that. I wish I could go to Ukraine. I would go tomorrow.

Freedom of speech

Lex Fridman(01:00:49) I think after you did the interview with Putin, you put a clip, I think on TCN, your analysis afterwards.

Tucker Carlson(01:00:58) It wasn’t much of an analysis.

Lex Fridman(01:00:59) No, but what stood out to me is you were talking shit about Putin a little bit. You were criticizing him.

Tucker Carlson(01:01:04) Why wouldn’t I?

Lex Fridman(01:01:05) It spoke to the thing that you mentioned, which is you weren’t afraid. Now, the question I want to ask is, it would be pretty badass if you went to the supermarket and made the point you were making, but also criticize Putin, right? Criticize that there is a lack of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Tucker Carlson(01:01:23) In the supermarket?

Lex Fridman(01:01:25) Yes.

Tucker Carlson(01:01:26) Oh, you mean if I also said that? Well, yeah, of course I think that. I guess part of it is that because I have such a low opinion of the commentariat in the United States and the news organizations, which really do just work for the US government, I really see them as I did Izvestia and Pravda in the 80s. They’re just organs of the government and I think they’re contemptible and I think the people who work there are contemptible. I say that as someone who knows them really well, personally. I think they’re disgusting. I’m a little bit cut off kind of from what people are saying about me because I’m not interested. But-

Tucker Carlson(01:02:00) Cut off kind of from what people are saying about me because I’m not interested. So I try not to be defensive like, “See, I’m not a tool of Putin.” But the idea that I’d be flacking for Putin when my relatives fought in the Revolutionary War, I’m as American as you could be, it’s like crazy to me. Anne Applebaum calls me a traitor. I’m like, “Okay.” It’s just so dumb. But no, of course, they don’t have… No country has freedom of speech other than us. Canada doesn’t have it. Great Britain definitely doesn’t have it. France, Netherlands, these are countries I spend a lot of time in, and Russia certainly doesn’t have it. So that’s why I don’t live there. I’m just saying our sanctions don’t work. That’s all I was saying.

(01:02:43) We don’t have to live like animals. We can live with dignity. Even the Russians can do it. That’s kind of what I was saying. Even the Russians under Vladimir freaking Putin can live like this. No, it’s not a feature of dictatorship. That’s the most, I think, discouraging and most dishonest line by people like Jon Stewart who really are trying to prepare the population for accepting a lot less. He is really a tool of the regime in a sinister way, always has been like, “How dare you expect that? What are you, a Stalinist?” It’s like, no, I’m an American. I’m a decent person. I just want to be able to walk to the grocery store without being murdered. Is that too much? “Shut up, you don’t believe in freedom.” It’s really dark if you think about it.

Lex Fridman(01:03:28) So there is a fundamental way which you wanted Americans to expect more.

Tucker Carlson(01:03:33) You don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to live like this. You don’t have to accept it. You don’t. Everyone’s afraid in this country, they’re going to be shut down by the tech oligarchs or have the FBI show up at their houses or go to jail. People are legit afraid of that in the United States. My feeling is, so? Show a little courage. What is it worth to you for your grandchildren to live in a free prosperous country? It should be worth more than your comfort. That’s how I feel.

Lex Fridman(01:04:02) We should make clear that by many measures, you look at the World Press Freedom Index, you’re right. U.S. is not at the top. Norway is. U.S.’s score is 71.

Tucker Carlson(01:04:15) Norway is.

Lex Fridman(01:04:15) Same as Gambia in West Africa.

Tucker Carlson(01:04:22) Really? So let me just ask.

Lex Fridman(01:04:22) Hold on a second. Hold on a second. Hold on a second.

Tucker Carlson(01:04:22) Now you’re making me laugh.

Lex Fridman(01:04:23) Ukraine is 61 and Russia is 35, the lower it is, the worst. Close to China at 23, and North Korea at the very bottom, 22.

Tucker Carlson(01:04:33) Didn’t ukraine put Gonzalo Lira in jail until he died for criticizing the government? How can they have a high press?

Lex Fridman(01:04:38) Yes. That’s why they’re 61 out of [inaudible 01:04:40].

Tucker Carlson(01:04:40) What I’m saying, look, I don’t know what the criteria are they’re using to arrive at that, but I know press freedom when I see it. I try to practice it, which is saying what you think is true, correcting yourself when you’ve been shown to be wrong, as I have many times, being as honest as you can be all the time and not being afraid. Those are wholly absent in my country, wholly absent. People are afraid in the news business. I would know since I spent my life working there. They’re afraid to tell the truth. They’re under an enormous amount of pressure and a lot of them have little kids and mortgages, I’ve been there, so I have sympathy.

(01:05:14) But they go along with things. You are not allowed, if you stand up at any cable channel, any cable channel in the United States and say, “Wait a second, how did the Ukrainian government throw a U.S. citizen into prison until he died for criticizing the Ukrainian government? We’re paying for that. That’s why it’s offensive to me. We’re paying for it. That happens all the time around the world, of course. But this is a U.S. citizen and we’re paying the pensions of Ukrainian bureaucrats. We are the Ukrainian government at this point. If you said that on TV on any channel, well, you’d lose your job for that.

(01:05:53) Norway is at the top. Really, Norway? If I went to Norwegian television and said NATO blew up Nord Stream, which it did, NATO blew up Nord Stream, the United States government with the help of other governments blew up, committed the largest act of industrial terrorism in history, and by the way, the largest environmental crime, the largest emission of CO2, methane, could I keep my job? No. So how is that a free press?

Lex Fridman(01:06:17) Well, we don’t know that. I mean the whole point of this-

Tucker Carlson(01:06:18) In Norway?

Lex Fridman(01:06:19) Yes.

Tucker Carlson(01:06:19) Well, as a Scandinavian, and I can tell you they would not put up with that in Norway for a second.

Lex Fridman(01:06:19) It’s been a while.

Tucker Carlson(01:06:24) You’re deviating from the majority, no.

Lex Fridman(01:06:26) Well, deviating maybe is frowned upon, but-

Tucker Carlson(01:06:31) Frowned upon. Yeah.

Lex Fridman(01:06:32) But do you have the freedom to say it if you do deviate? That’s the question.

Tucker Carlson(01:06:36) Can you keep your job? That’s one measurement of it.

Lex Fridman(01:06:38) Can you keep your job, yeah.

Tucker Carlson(01:06:39) Yeah. It’s not the only measurement. Obviously being thrown into prison is much worse than losing your job. I’ve been fired a number of times for saying what I think, by the way. It’s fine. I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t mind being fired. I’ve always become a better person after it happened. But it is one measurement of freedom if you have the theoretical right to do something, but no practical ability to do it, do you have the right to do it? The answer is not really, actually.

Jon Stewart

Lex Fridman(01:07:03) You mentioned Jon Stewart, the two of you have a bit of a history. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but he kind of grilled your supermarket and subway videos. Have you got any chance to see it?

Tucker Carlson(01:07:13) I haven’t seen it, but someone characterized it to me, which is why I pivoted against it early in our conversation about how the price of freedom is living in filth and chaos.

Lex Fridman(01:07:24) Yeah, that was essentially it. So in 2004, that’s 20 years ago, Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire, a show you hosted. That was kind of a memorable moment. Can you tell the saga of that as you remember it?

Tucker Carlson(01:07:40) I mean, for me, as I was saying to you before about how it takes a long time to digest and process and understand what happens to you, or at least it does for me, I didn’t understand that as a particularly significant moment while it was happening. I just got off a plane from Hawaii. I mean, I was out of it as usual, and I was very literal as usual. So from my perspective, his criticism of me, to the extent I remember it, was that I was a partisan. Well, he had two critiques. One that Crossfire was stupid, which it certainly was. In fact, I’d already given my notice and I was moving on to another company by that point.

(01:08:17) Crossfire was stupid. Crossfire didn’t help. Crossfire framed everything as Republican versus Democrat, whatever. It was not helpful to the public discourse. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I left. So that was part of his critique, fair. I’m not sure I would’ve admitted it at the time because I worked there and it’s sort of hard to admit you’re engaged in an enterprise that’s fundamentally worthless, which it was. But his other point was that I was somehow a partisan or a mindless partisan, which is definitely not true. It is true of him. He is a mindless partisan, but I’m not.

(01:08:54) I really haven’t been since I got back from Baghdad at the beginning of the Iraq War, and I realized that the Republican party, which I’d voted for my whole life to that point, and had supported in general, was pushing this really horrible thing that was going to hurt the United States, which in time it really did. The Iraq War really hurt the United States. I realized that I had been on the wrong side of that. I said so publicly immediately from Baghdad, I said that to the New York Times and I really meant it. I mean it now. So to call me partisan, you can call me stupid, you can call me wrong, I certainly had been wrong, but partisan, I just didn’t think it was a meaningful… I mean, that’s just not true. It’s the opposite of true.

(01:09:35) So I didn’t really take it seriously at all, and I never thought much of him. So I was like, “Whatever. Some buffoon jumping around on my show grandstanding.” By the way, that happened right at the moment that YouTube began. I think that was one of the first big YouTube, it was one of the first big YouTube videos. So it had a virality that, if that’s a word, it went everywhere in a way that didn’t used to happen in cable news. I mean, by that point, that was 20 years ago as you point out, I’ve been in cable news for nine years. So before 2004, we would say something on television and then it would be lost. People could claim they heard it, but you’d have to go to I think the University of Tennessee at Knoxville archives to get it.

(01:10:23) Suddenly everything we said would live forever on the internet, which is good, by the way. That’s not bad. But it was a big change for me, and I just couldn’t believe how widely that was discussed at the time, because I thought he was not an interesting person, I think he’s obviously a very unhappy person. I just didn’t take him seriously then and I don’t now. But so anyway, that was it. It was a smaller thing in my life at the time than other people imagined.

Lex Fridman(01:10:54) Okay, you said lot of words that will make it sound like you’re a bit bitter even if you’re not. So you said unhappy person, partisan person.

Tucker Carlson(01:11:03) Well, I think he’s an unhappy guy. Well, he’s definitely partisan for sure.

Lex Fridman(01:11:05) So can you elaborate why you think he’s partisan?

Tucker Carlson(01:11:07) Well, so I think that, and I see this a lot, not only on the left, but people who believe that whatever political debate they’re engaged in is the most important debate in the world. So they bring an emotional intensity to those debates, and they’re inevitably disappointed because no eternal question is solved politically. So they’re kind of on the wrong path and they’re doomed to frustration if they believe that, and many do. He certainly does, that whatever the issue is, so Clarence Thomas should not be Supreme Court justice, and the implication is, well, if someone else’s Supreme Court justice, we’ll live in a fair and happy society, but that’s just not… It’s a false promise.

(01:11:45) So I think that people who bring that level of intensity to politics are, by definition, bitter, by definition, disappointed, bitter in the way the disappointed people are. That the real questions are like what happens when you die and how do the people around you feel about you? Those are not the only questions in life, but they’re certainly the most important ones. If we’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on who gets elected to some office, not that it’s irrelevant, it is relevant, but it’s not the eternal question. So I feel like he’s not the only kind of bitter silly person in Washington or in its orbit. There are many, and a lot of them are Republicans, so.

(01:12:24) But I just thought it was ironic. I mean, everything’s ironic to me, but being called a Russia’s sympathizer by a guy who calls himself Boris, it just made me laugh. No one else has ever laughed at that. Boris Johnson’s real name is not Boris, as you know. He calls himself Boris. It’s his middle name. So if you call yourself Boris, you don’t really have standing to attack anyone else as a Russia defender, right? I think that’s funny. No one else, as I noted does. But Jon Stewart, there are a lot of things you could say about me, but he’s much more partisan than I am. So to call me a partisan, it’s like what?

Lex Fridman(01:13:01) He would probably say that he’s not a partisan, that he’s a comedian who’s looking for the humor and the absurdity of the system on both sides.

Tucker Carlson(01:13:11) He’s a very serious person. I will say this, and he shares this quality with a lot of comedians, I know a lot of comedians, I know a cross section of people just having done this job for a long time, and a lot of them are very serious about their views, and they have a lot of emotional intensity. He certainly is in that category. That’s the silliest thing. Yeah, he’s a comedian for sure. He can be very funny for sure. He has talent, no doubt about it. I’ve never denied that. But he’s motivated by his moral views, “This is right. That is wrong.” I just think that it’s a misapplied passion.

Lex Fridman(01:13:48) Do you think I’m just a comedian? Is-

Tucker Carlson(01:13:52) I don’t think any person thinks that. I mean, if you’re just a comedian, and I, look, I’m not trying to claim, I couldn’t claim that I haven’t said a lot of dumb things, and one of the dumbest things I ever said was when he was on our set lecturing me, he’s a moralizer, which I also don’t really care for as an aesthetic matter, but he was lecturing me about something and I said, “I thought you’re here to tell jokes.” Which I shouldn’t have said because he wasn’t there to tell jokes. He was there to lecture me, and I should have just engaged it directly rather than trying to diminish him by like, “You’re just a little comedian.” Well, he doesn’t see himself that way. But I would just say this, Jon Stewart’s a defender of power. Jon Stewart has never criticized… What’s Jon Stewart’s view on the aid we’ve sent to Ukraine, the $100 billion or whatever. What happened to that money? What happened to the weapons that it bought? He doesn’t care. He has the exact same priorities as the people permanently in charge in Washington. So whatever. He’s not alone in that. So does Mika Brzezinski and her husband and all the rest of the cast of dummies.

(01:14:59) But if you’re going to pretend to be the guy who’s giving the finger to entrenched power, you should do it once in a while, and he never has. There’s not one time when he said something that would be deeply unpopular on Morning Joe. That’s all I’m saying. So don’t call yourself a truth teller. You’re a court comedian or a flatterer of power. Okay, that’s fine. There’s a role for that, but don’t pretend to be something else.

Lex Fridman(01:15:23) I’ll just be honest that I watched it just recently, that video and-

Tucker Carlson(01:15:29) From 20 years ago?

Lex Fridman(01:15:29) From 20 years ago. I watched it initially, and I remember it very differently. I remembered that Jon Stewart completely destroyed you in that conversation. I watched it and you asked a very good question of him, and there was no destruction, first of all. You asked a very good question of him, “Why when you got a chance to interview John Kerry, did you ask a bunch of softball questions?”

Tucker Carlson(01:15:56) Yeah.

Lex Fridman(01:15:57) I thought that was a really fair question. Then his defense was, “Well, I’m just a comedian.”

Tucker Carlson(01:16:02) So I thought that was disingenuous. I haven’t watched it. I never have watched the clip one time in my life, and I don’t like to watch myself on television. I never have. That’s my fault and I probably should force myself to watch it though, of course I never will. But I think the takeaway for me, which was really interesting and life-changing, was I agree with your assessment. I’ve lost a lot of debates. I’ve been humiliated on television. I’m not above that. It certainly happened to me. It will happen again. But I didn’t feel like it was a clear win for him at all. Maybe A TKO, but it was not a knockout at all, and yet it was recorded that way.

(01:16:41) I remember thinking, “Well, that’s kind of weird. That’s not what I remember.” Then I realized, no, Jon Stewart was more popular than I was, therefore he was recorded as the winner. That was hard for me to accept, because that struck me as unfair. You should rate any contest on points. Here are the rules. We’re going to judge the contest in the basis of those rules. No, in the end, it’s just like the more popular guy wins. Every TV critic like Jon Stewart, every one of them hated me, therefore he won. I was like, “Wow, I guess I have to accept that reality.” You do, like the reality of the sunrise. You’re not in charge of it. So that’s just what it is.

Lex Fridman(01:17:14) Unfortunately it’s a bit darker, I think. The reason he’s seen as the winner and the reason at the time I saw as the “winner” is because he was basically shitting on you, like personal attacks versus engaging ideas. It was funny in a dark way and making fun of the bow tie and all this kind of stuff.

Tucker Carlson(01:17:30) That’s fair, the bow tie.

Lex Fridman(01:17:31) I understand.

Tucker Carlson(01:17:32) It was fair to call me a dick. I remember he called me a dick, and I remember even when he said that, I was like, “Yeah, I’m definitely a dick, and that’s not my best quality, trust me.”

Lex Fridman(01:17:42) I thought Jon Stewart came off as a giant dick at that time, and I’m a big fan of his, and I think he has improved a lot.

Tucker Carlson(01:17:50) That may be true.

Lex Fridman(01:17:51) So we should also say that people grow, people like-

Tucker Carlson(01:17:54) Well, I certainly have, or changed anyway. You hope it’s growth. You hope it’s not shrinkage, but-

Lex Fridman(01:18:02) It is cold outside.

Tucker Carlson(01:18:03) Yeah. I mean, look, I haven’t followed Jon Stewart’s career at all. I don’t have a television. I’m pretty cut off from all that stuff, so I wouldn’t really know. But the measure to me is, are you taking positions that are unpopular with the most powerful people in the world and how often are you doing it? It’s super simple. Not for its own sake, but do you feel free enough to say to the consensus, “I disagree.” If you don’t, then you’re just another toady. That’s my view.

Lex Fridman(01:18:38) Well, I think he probably feels free enough to do it, but you’re saying he doesn’t do it.

Tucker Carlson(01:18:43) On the big things. Look, the big things, this is my estimation of it, others may disagree, the big things are the economy and war, okay? The big things government does can be, I mean, there are a lot of things government does, government does everything at this point, but where we kill people and how and for what purpose and how we organize the economic engine that keeps the country afloat, those are the two big questions. I hear almost no debate about either one of them in the media, and I have dissenting views on both of them. I mean, I’m mad about the tax code, which I think is unfair.

(01:19:19) The fact that we’ve a carried interest loophole in the tax code and people are claiming that their income is investment, income and they’re paying half the tax rate as someone who just goes to work every day, it discourages work. It encourages lending at interest, which I think is gross, personally. I’m against it. Sorry. The fact that we’re creating chaos around the world is the saddest thing that’s happening right now. Nobody feels free to say that. So that’s not good.

Ending the War in Ukraine

Lex Fridman(01:19:48) How do you hope the war on Ukraine ends?

Tucker Carlson(01:19:50) With a settlement, with a reasonable settlement. You know what a reasonable settlement is, which is a settlement where both sides feel like they’re giving a little, but can live with it. I mean, I was really struck in my conversation with Putin by how he basically refused to criticize Joe Biden and to criticize NATO. I will just be honest, as an American, it would be a little weird to be pissing on Joe Biden with a foreign leader, any foreign leader, even though I don’t think Joe Biden is a real person or really a president. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. But still, he is the American president technically, and I don’t want to beat up on the American president with a foreigner. I just don’t. Maybe I’m old fashioned. So that’s how I feel.

(01:20:33) So I didn’t push it, but I thought it was really interesting. Because, of course, Putin knows my views on Joe Biden. He knew I applied to the CIA, so they’ve done some digging on me, but he didn’t mention it, and he didn’t attack NATO. The reason is, I know for a fact, because he wants a settlement. He wants a settlement not because Russia’s about to collapse despite the lying of our media, that’s just not true, and no one is even saying it anymore because it’s so dumb. He wants to because it’s just bad to have a war. It changes the world in ways you can’t predict. People die. Everything about it is sad. If you can avoid it, you should.

(01:21:08) So I would like to see a settlement where, look, the thing that Russia wants and I think probably has a right to is not to have NATO missiles on its border. I don’t know why we would do that. I don’t know what we get out of it. I just don’t even understand it. I don’t understand the purpose of NATO. I don’t think NATO is good for the United States. I think it’s an attack on our sovereignty. I would pull out of NATO immediately if I were the U.S. president, because I don’t think it helps the U.S. I know a lot of people are getting their bread buttered by NATO. But anyway, that’s my view as an American.

(01:21:43) If I’m a Russian or a Ukrainian, let’s just be sovereign countries now. We’re not run by the U.S. State Department. We’re just our own countries. I believe in sovereignty, okay? So that’s my view. I also want to say one thing about Zelensky. I attacked him before because I was so offended by his cavalier talk about nuclear exchange because it would kill my family. So I’m really offended by that. Anyone who talks that way I’m offended by. But I do feel for Zelensky. I do. He didn’t run for president to have this happen.

(01:22:14) I think Zelensky’s been completely misused by the State Department, by Toria Nuland, by our Secretary of State, by the policymakers in the U.S. who’ve used Ukraine as a vessel for their ambitions, their geopolitical ambitions, but also the many American businesses who’ve used Ukraine as a way to fleece the American taxpayer, and then by just independent ghouls like Boris Johnson who are hoping to get rich from interviews on it. The whole thing, Zelensky is at the center of this. He’s not driving history. NATO and the United States is driving history. Putin is driving history. There’s this guy, Zelensky. So I do feel for him, and I think he’s in a perilous place.

Lex Fridman(01:22:53) Do you think Zelensky is a hero for staying in Kiev? Because I do. To me, you can criticize a lot of things. You should call out things that are obviously positive.

Tucker Carlson(01:23:07) I just tried to a second ago, I don’t know the extent that he is in Kiev. He seems to be in the United States an awful lot, way too much. You can do a satellite interview. You don’t have to speak to my Congress. You’re not an American. Please leave. That’s my opinion but-

Lex Fridman(01:23:21) You got many zingers, Tucker.

Tucker Carlson(01:23:22) No, no, no. It’s just heartfelt. It’s bubbling up from the wellspring that never turns off. But I would say this about Zelensky, yeah, to the extent he’s in Ukraine, good man. George W. Bush fled Washington on 9/11. I lived there with three kids and he ran away to some Air Force base in South Dakota. I thought that was cowardly and I said so at the time, and man was I attacked for saying that. I wrote a column about it in New York Magazine where I then had a column, hard to believe. But I felt that. I felt that. I think the prerequisites of leadership are really basic.

(01:23:53) The first is caring about the people you lead, that’s number one. In the way a father cares for his children, or an officer cares for his troops. A president should care for his people. That leads inexorably to the next requirement, which is bravery, physical courage. I believe in that. I’m not like some tough guy, but I just think it’s obvious. If you’re in charge, I’m at my house and I feel like someone broke in, I’m not going to say to my wife, “Hey, baby, go deal with the home invasion.” I’m going to deal with it because I’m dad. Okay? So if you’re the president of a country and your capital city is attacked, as ours was at the Pentagon, and you run away?

(01:24:28) “The Secret Service told me to.” Bitch, are you in charge? Who’s daddy here? The Secret Service? Do you know what I mean? I found that totally contemptible and I said so, and man, did I get a lecture, not just from Republicans, but from Democrats. “Oh, you don’t know. Put yourself in that position.” I was like, “Okay.” I don’t know what I would do under that kind of stress, enormous stress. I get it. I know one thing I wouldn’t do is run away because you can’t do that. If you’re not willing to die for your country, then you shouldn’t be leading it. So yes, to the extent, if Zelensky really is in Ukraine most of the time, amen.

Lex Fridman(01:25:05) Well, hold on a second. Let’s clarify. It’s not about what he’s in Ukraine most of the time or not.

Tucker Carlson(01:25:09) Well, I thought that was the whole premise of the problem.

Lex Fridman(01:25:11) No, at the beginning of the war, when a lot of people thought that the second biggest military in the world is pointing its guns in Kiev, is going to be taken. A man, a leader who stays in that city and says, “Fuck it.” When everybody around him says, flee, everybody around him believes the city will be taken or at least destroyed, leveled, artillery, bombs, all of this, he chooses to stay. You know a lot of leaders, how many leaders would choose to stay?

Tucker Carlson(01:25:46) Well, the leader of Afghanistan, the U.S. backed leader when the Taliban came, got in a U.S. plane with U.S. dollars and ran away, and of course is living on those dollars now. So yeah, there’s a lot of cowardly behavior. Good for him. I mean, I guess I’m looking at it slightly differently, which is what’s the option? You’re the leader of the country. You can’t leave. Stalin never left Moscow during the war. It was surrounded by the Germans, as you know, for a year, and he didn’t leave. When I was in Russia, they’re like, “Stalin never left.” It’s like he’s the leader of the country, you can’t. I mean, that’s just table stakes, of course. I would say, but you raised an interesting by implication question, which is what about Kiev? You think the Russians couldn’t level Kiev? Of course, obviously they could. Why haven’t? They could, but they haven’t.

Lex Fridman(01:26:36) Well, there’s military answers to that, which is urban warfare is extremely difficult.

Tucker Carlson(01:26:41) Do you think that Putin wants to take Kiev?

Lex Fridman(01:26:45) No, I do think he expected Zelensky to flee and somebody else to come into power.

Tucker Carlson(01:26:50) Yeah, that may be totally right. I don’t know. I have no idea what Putin was thinking when he did that about Zelensky. I didn’t ask him. But it’s a mistake to imagine this is a contest between Putin and Zelensky. This is Putin versus the U.S. State Department. That’s why I said I felt sorry for him. I mean, as I said, we’re literally paying the pensions of Ukrainian bureaucrats. So there is no Ukrainian government independent of the U.S. government. Maybe you’re for that, maybe you’re against it, but you can’t endorse that in the same sentence that you use the term democracy, because that’s not a democracy, obviously.

Lex Fridman(01:27:29) Well, that’s why it’s interesting that he didn’t really bring up NATO extensively.

Tucker Carlson(01:27:33) He wants a settlement, he wants a settlement. He doesn’t want to fight with them rhetorically and he just wants to get this done. He made a bunch of offers at the peace deal. We wouldn’t even know this happened if the Israelis hadn’t told us. I’m so grateful that they did that, that Johnson was dispatched by the State Department to stop it. I mean, I think Boris Johnson is a husk of a man. But imagine if you were Boris Johnson and you spend your whole life with Ukraine flag, “I’m for Ukraine,” and then all those kids died because of what you did, and the lines haven’t really moved. It hasn’t been a victory for Ukraine. It’s not going to be a victory for Ukraine. It’s like, how do you feel about yourself if you did that? I mean, I’ve done a lot of shitty things in my life, I feel bad about them, but I’ve never extended a war for no reason. That’s a pretty grave sin in my opinion.

Lex Fridman(01:28:26) Yes, that was a failure. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have a success over and over and over keep having negotiations between leaders.

Tucker Carlson(01:28:36) Well, the U.S. government’s not allowing negotiations. So that for me is the most upsetting part. It’s like in the end, what Russia does, I’m not implicated in that. What Ukraine does, I’m not implicated in that. I’m not Russian or Ukrainian. I’m an American who grew up really believing in my country. I’m supporting my country through my tax dollars. It’s like I really care about what the U.S. government does because they’re doing it in my name, and I care a lot because I’m American. We are the impediment to peace, which is another way of saying we are responsible for all these innocent people getting dragooned out of public parks in Kiev and sent to go die. What? That is not good. I’m ashamed of it.

Nazis

Lex Fridman(01:29:16) What do you think of Putin saying that justification for continuing the war is denazification?

Tucker Carlson(01:29:21) I thought it was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard. I didn’t understand what it meant. Denazification?

Lex Fridman(01:29:26) It literally means what it sounds like.

Tucker Carlson(01:29:30) Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of thoughts on this. I hate that whole conversation because it’s not real. It’s just ad hominem. It’s a way of associating someone with an evil regime that doesn’t exist anymore. But in point of fact, Nazism, whatever it was, is inseparable from the German nation. It was a nationalist movement in Germany. There were no other Nazis, right? There’s no book of Nazism like, “I want to be a Nazi. What does it mean to be a Nazi?” I mean, Mein Kampf is not Das Kapital, right? Mein Kampf is, to the extent I understand it, it’s like he’s pissed about the Treaty of Versailles, whatever. I’m very anti-Nazi. I’m merely saying there isn’t a Nazi movement in 2024. It’s a way of calling people evil.

(01:30:13) Okay. Putin doesn’t like nationalist Ukrainians. Putin hates nationalism in general, which is interesting. Of course he does. He’s got 80 whatever republics, and he’s afraid of nationalist movements. He fought a war in Chechnya over this. So I understand it, but I have a different… I’m for nationalism, I’m for American nationalism, so I disagree with Putin on that. But calling them Nazis, it’s like, I thought it was childish.

Lex Fridman(01:30:38) Well, I do believe that he believes it.

Tucker Carlson(01:30:40) So that’s so interesting. I agree with that. Because I was listening to this because in the United States, everyone’s always calling everyone else a Nazi, “You’re a Nazi.” But I was listening to this and I was like, “This is the dumbest sort of not convincing line you could take.” I sat there and listened to him talk about Nazis for eight minutes, and I’m like, “I think he believes this.”

Lex Fridman(01:31:02) Yeah. Having had a bunch of conversations with people who are living in Russia, they also believe it. Now, there’s technicalities here, which the word Nazi, World War II is deeply in the blood of a lot of Russians and Ukrainians.

Tucker Carlson(01:31:17) I get it. I get it.

Lex Fridman(01:31:17) So you’re using it as almost a political term, the way it’s used in the United States also, like racism and all this kind of stuff. Because you know you can really touch people if you use the Nazi term.

Tucker Carlson(01:31:29) I think that’s totally right.

Lex Fridman(01:31:30) But it’s also to me a really disgusting thing to do.

Tucker Carlson(01:31:35) I agree.

Lex Fridman(01:31:37) Also to clarify, there is neo-Nazi movements in Ukraine but it’s very small. You’re saying that there’s this distinction between Nazi and neo-Nazi, sure. But it’s a small percentage of the population, a tiny percentage that have no power in government, as far I have seen no data to show they have any influence on Zelensky and Zelensky government at all. So really, when Putin says denazification, I think he means nationalist movements.

Tucker Carlson(01:32:08) I think you’re right. I agree with everything you said. I do think that the Second World War occupies a place in Slavic society, Polish society, Central Eastern Europe that it does not occupy in the United States. You can just look at the death totals, tens of millions versus less than half a million. So it’s like this eliminated a lot of the male population of these countries. So of course, it’s still resonant in those countries. I get it. I think I’ve watched, I don’t think I know, I’ve watched the misuse of words, the weaponization of words for political reasons for so long that I just don’t like, though I do engage in it sometime and I’m sorry, I don’t like just dismissing people in a word. “Oh, he’s a Nazi. He’s a liberal,” or whatever. It’s like, tell me what you mean, what don’t you like about what they’re doing or saying?

Tucker Carlson(01:33:00) What don’t you like about what they’re doing or saying? And Nazi especially, I don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about.

Lex Fridman(01:33:07) What troubled me about that is because he said that that’s the primary objective currently for the war. And that because it’s not grounded in reality, it makes it difficult to then negotiate peace. Because what does it mean to get rid of the Nazis in Ukraine? So he’ll come to the table and say, “Well, okay, I will agree to do a ceasefire once the Nazis are gone.” Okay, so can you list the Nazis?

Tucker Carlson(01:33:34) I totally agree. Plus, can you negotiate with a Nazi?

Lex Fridman(01:33:36) Right, exactly.

Tucker Carlson(01:33:38) I totally agree with you.

Lex Fridman(01:33:39) It was very strange. But maybe it perhaps had to do with speaking to his own population, and also probably trying to avoid the use of the word NATO as the justification for the war.

Tucker Carlson(01:33:52) Yes, that’s all… Of course, I don’t know, but I suspect you’re right on both counts. But I would say it points to something that I’ve thought more and more since I did that interview, which was two weeks ago, I guess. I didn’t think he was… As a PR guy, not very good, not good at telling his own story. The story of the current war in Ukraine is the eastward expansion of NATO scaring the shit out of the Russians with NATO expansion. Which is totally necessary, doesn’t help the United States, NATO itself doesn’t help the United States. And so I’m not pro-Russian for saying that, I’m pro-American for saying that. And I think that’s a really compelling story, because it’s true. He did not tell that story, he told some other story that I didn’t fully understand. Again, I’m not Russian.

(01:34:36) He’s speaking to multiple audiences around the world. I’m not sure what he hoped to achieve by that interview, I will never know. But I did think that, this guy is not good at telling his story. And I also think honestly on the base of a lot… I mean, I know this. Very isolated during COVID, very.

(01:34:57) We keep hearing that he’s dying of this or that disease, “He’s got ALS. I mean, I don’t know, I’m not his doctor. There’s a ton of lying about it, I know that. But one thing that’s not a lie, is that he was cloistered away during COVID, I know this, and only dealing with two or three people. And that makes you weird, it’s so important to deal with a lot of people to have your views challenged. And you see this with leaders who stay in power too long. He’s been in power 24 years, effectively. There’s been upsides I think for Russia, the Russian economy, Russian life expectancy, but there are definitely downsides. And one of them is you get weird, and you get autocratic, this is why we have term limits. Very few kings don’t get crazy in old age.

Lex Fridman(01:35:44) Yeah. And you said some of this also in your post-Kremlin discussion while you’re in Moscow still, which was very impressive to me, that you can just openly criticize. This was great.

Tucker Carlson(01:35:56) Well, I don’t care.

Lex Fridman(01:35:57) I understand this. I just wish you did some more of that also with the supermarket video, and perhaps some more of that with Putin in front of you.

Tucker Carlson(01:36:06) Putin in front of me, it would be like, “I’m such a good person.”

Lex Fridman(01:36:10) I know you see it as virtue signaling.

Tucker Carlson(01:36:12) Yeah, it is. Have you seen some of the interview he did with some NBC news child?

Lex Fridman(01:36:17) Yes, I understand. So I think you’re just so annoyed by how bad journalists are, that you just didn’t want to be them.

Tucker Carlson(01:36:25) Yeah, that’s probably right actually.

Lex Fridman(01:36:27) Some great conversations will involve some challenging. You were confused about denazification.

Tucker Carlson(01:36:34) Well, first of all, I accept your criticism, and I accept it as true, that in some way I’m probably pivoting against what I dislike. And I have such contempt for American journalists on the basis of so much knowledge, that I probably was like, “I don’t want to be like that.” Fair, that is a kind of defensiveness and dumb. So you’re right. As for the Nazi thing, I really felt like we were just speaking so far past each other that we would never come to… I was like, “I don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about.” And especially when I decided or concluded that he really meant it, I was like, “That’s just too freaking weird to me.” I can think of many other examples where you’re interviewing someone, and they’ll say something that’s like… I was interviewing a guy one time and he started talking about the Black Israelites and, “We’re the real Jews.” And it wasn’t on camera, but it was so far out to me that I was like, “We’ll never understand common terms on that.”

Putin’s health

Lex Fridman(01:37:42) So you mentioned there’s a bunch of conspiracy theories about Putin’s health. How was he in person? What did he feel like? Did he look healthy?

Tucker Carlson(01:37:52) I’m not a health person myself, so I can easily gain 30 pounds and not know it, so I’m probably not a great person to ask. But no, he seemed fine. He had his arm hooked through a chair, and I heard people say, “Well, he’s got Parkinson’s.” And Parkinson’s can be controlled I know for periods with drugs. So it’s hard to assess. One of the tells of Parkinson’s is gait, how a person walks, I think. And his walking seemed fine, and I walked around with him and talked to him off camera. He’s had some work done, for sure. He’s 71 or two.

Lex Fridman(01:38:30) You mean visual purposes?

Tucker Carlson(01:38:32) Yeah, I’m 54, he’s almost 20 years older than me, he looked younger than me.

Lex Fridman(01:38:35) What was that like? The conversation off camera, you walking around with him, what was the content of the conversation?

Tucker Carlson(01:38:44) I feel bad even with Putin or anybody talking about stuff that is off the record. But I’ll just say that when I said that he didn’t want to fight with NATO, or with the US State Department, or with Joe Biden because he wants a settlement, that’s a very informed perspective, he doesn’t. Say whatever you want about that, believe it or not, but that is true.

Lex Fridman(01:39:16) So he’s open for peace, for peace negotiation?

Tucker Carlson(01:39:22) Russia tried to join NATO in 2000, that’s a fact. Okay, they tried to join NATO. So just think about this, NATO exists to keep Russia contained. It exists as a bulwark against Russian territorial expansion. And whether or not Russia has any territorial ambitions is another question. Why would it, it’s the largest landmass in the world? Whatever. But that’s why it exists. So if Russia seeks to join NATO, it is by definition a sign that NATO’s job is done here, we can declare victory and go home. The fact that they turned him down is so shocking to me, but it’s true. Then he approaches the next president, George W. Bush… That was with Bill Clinton at the end of his term in 2000. He approaches the next president and said, “In our next missile deal, let’s align on this, and we’ll designate Iran as our common enemy.” Iran, which is now effectively in league with Russia, thanks to our insane policies.

(01:40:26) And George W. Bush to his credit is like, “Well, that seems like kind of an innovative good idea.” And Condi Rice, who’s one of the stupidest people ever to hold power in the United States, if I can say. Who’s monomaniacally anti-Russia because she had an advisor at Stanford who was, or something during the Cold War, “No, we can’t do that.” And Bush is just weak and so he agreed, it’s like, “What? That is crazy.” If you’re fighting with someone and the person says, “You know what? Actually our interests align. And you’ve spent 80% of your mental disc space on hating me and opposing me or whatever, but actually we can be on the same team.” If you don’t at least see that as progress, what?

(01:41:06) If your interest is in helping your country, what’s the counter argument? I don’t even understand it. And no one has even addressed any of this, “The war of Russian aggression.” Yeah, it was a war of Russian aggression, for sure. But how did we get there? We got there because Joe Biden and Tony Blinken dispatched Kamala Harris, who does not freelance this stuff, fair to say, to the Munich Security Conference two years ago this month, February 2022. And said in a press conference to Zelenskyy, poor Zelenskyy, “We want you to join NATO.” This was not in a backroom, this was in public at a press conference, knowing because he said it 4,000 times, “We don’t want nuclear weapons from the United States or NATO on our western border.” Duh. And days later, he invaded. So what is that?

(01:42:05) And I raised that question in my previous job, and I was denounced as of course a traitor or something. But okay, great, I’m a traitor. What’s the answer? What’s the answer? Toria Nuland, who I know, not dumb, hasn’t helped the US in any way, an architect of the Iraq war, architect of this disaster, one of the people who destroyed the US dollar. Okay, fine, but you’re not stupid. So you’re trying to get a war by acting that way, what’s the other explanation? By the way, NATO didn’t want Ukraine because it didn’t meet the criteria for admission. So why would you say that? Because you want a war, that’s why. And that war has enriched a lot of people to the tune of billions. So I don’t care if I sound like some kind of left-wing conspiracy nut, because I’m neither left-wing nor a conspiracy nut. Tell me how I’m wrong.

Lex Fridman(01:42:59) Who do you think is behind it? If you were to analyze, zoom out, looking at the entirety of human history, the military industrial complex, you said Kamala Harris, is it individuals? Is it this collective flock that people are just pro-war as a collective?

Tucker Carlson(01:43:17) It’s the hive mind. And I spent my whole life in DC from 85 to 2020, so 35 years. And again, I grew up around it in that world. And I do think that conspiracies… Of course, there are conspiracies. But in general, the hive mind is responsible for the worst decisions. It’s a bunch of people with the same views, views that have not been updated in decades. Putin said something that I thought was absolutely true, I don’t know how he would know this, but it is true because I lived among them. So the Soviet Union dissolves in August of 91 on my honeymoon in Bermuda, I’ll never forget it. And it was a big thing, if you lived in DC.

(01:44:02) I mean, the receptionist in my office in 1991 was getting a master’s in Russian from Georgetown, he was going to be a Sovietologist. And he was among thousands of people in Washington on that same track. And so the Soviet Union collapses, well, so does the rationale for a good portion of the US government, has been dedicated for over 40 years to opposing this thing that no longer exists. So there’s a lot of forward momentum, there’s a huge amount of money, the bulk of the money in the richest country in the world, aimed in this direction. And it’s very hard for people to readjust, to reassess. And you see this in life all the time.

(01:44:40) I love my wife, all of a sudden she ran off with my best friend. Holy shit, I didn’t expect that this morning, now it’s a reality, how do I deal with that? Well, I got Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, and it’s all bad, but just saying that’s the nature of life. Things that you did not anticipate, never thought you’d have to face, happen out of nowhere, and you have to adjust your expectations and your goals. And people have a hard time with that, very hard time with that. So that’s a lot of it.

(01:45:09) If you’re Condi Rice, sort of highly ambitious mid-wit, who gets this degree from Stanford, and you read Tolstoy in the original, sure you did. And you spent your whole life thinking that Russia is the center of evil in the world, it’s kind of hard to be like, “Well, actually there’s a new threat, and it’s coming from farther east. It’s primarily an economic threat.” And maybe all the threats aren’t reduced to tank battles, that’s the other thing. Is these people are so inelastic in their thinking, so lacking imagination and flexibility, that they can’t sort of imagine a new framework. And the new framework is not that you’re going to go to war with China over Formosa, Taiwan. No, the framework is that all of a sudden all the infrastructure in Tijuana is going to be built by China, and that’s a different kind of threat. But they can’t kind of get there because they’re not that impressive.

Lex Fridman(01:46:07) So you actually have mentioned this, it’s not just the Cold War, it’s World War II that populates most of their thinking in Washington. You mentioned Churchill, Chamberlain, and Hitler, and they’re kind of seeing the World War II as kind of the good war and successful role the United States played in that war. They’re kind of seeing that dynamic, that geopolitical dynamic, and applying it everywhere else still.

Tucker Carlson(01:46:39) Yeah, it’s a template for everything. And I think it’s of huge significance to the development of the West, to the civilization we live in now, to world history, was a world war. And so I think it’s worth knowing a lot about, and being honest about, and all the rest. But it’s hardly the sum total of human history, it’s a snapshot. And so you keep hearing people refer to… Not even the war, no one ever talks about the war. How much does Tony Blinken know about the Battle of Stalingrad? Probably zero, he doesn’t know anything. Largest battle in human history, but I bet he knows nothing. But he knows a lot about the cliches surrounding the ’38 to ’40 period, 1938 to 1940. And everything is kind of expressed through that formula. And not everything is that formula, that’s all I’m saying. And the Republicans have a strange weakness for it, particularly the closeted ones, the weird ones who have no life other than starting more wars. Everything to them, the most vulnerable, I would say, among them, emotionally, psychologically vulnerable, the dumbest, they will always say the same thing.

(01:47:57) And it appeals to Republican voters, unfortunately. That every problem is the result of weakness. Everyone’s Chamberlain, Germany never would’ve gone in to Poland, Czechoslovakia if England had been stronger, that’s the argument. Is that true? I don’t know, actually. Maybe, it might be totally true, it might not be true at all, I really don’t know. But not everything is that, that’s not always true. If I go up to you in a bar and I say, “I hate your neck tie.” I’m being pretty aggressive with you, pretty strong. You might beat the shit out of me actually, or shoot me if I do that. An aggressive posture doesn’t always get you the outcome that you want. Sometimes it requires a more sophisticated Mediterranean posture. I mean, it kind of depends, it’s a time and place thing. And they don’t acknowledge that, everything is this same template, and that’s not the road to good decision making at all.

Hitler

Lex Fridman(01:48:47) Since we’re on the time period, let me ask you a almost cliche question, but it applies to you, which you’ve interviewed a lot of world leaders. If you had the chance to interview Hitler in ’39, ’40, ’41, first of all, would you do it? And how would you do it? I assume you would do it given who you are.

Tucker Carlson(01:49:09) Man, it would be a massive cost for doing it. It may destroy my life to interview Putin, though I can tell you as much as I want that I’m not a Putin defender, I only care about the United States. That’s 100% true, anyone who knows me will tell you what’s true, I keep saying it. But history may record me to the extent it records me at all as a tool of Putin, a hater of America. That seems absurd to me, but absurd things happen. What would I ask Hitler? I don’t even know. I guess I would probably ask him, what I asked Putin, which is what I ask everybody, “What’s your motive? Why did you do…” I mean, if he’d already gone into Poland, “Why are you doing that? What’s your goal?” And then the question is, is he going to answer honestly? I don’t know, you can’t make someone answer a question honestly. You can only sort of shut up while they talk and then let people decide what they think of the answer.

Lex Fridman(01:50:05) Well, just like in the bar fight, there’s different ways.

Tucker Carlson(01:50:07) There are different ways, that’s exactly right. Man, is that true? That is absolutely right.

Lex Fridman(01:50:13) I mean, your energy with Putin, for example, was such that it felt like he could trust you. I felt like he could tell you a lot. I think…

Tucker Carlson(01:50:23) I just wanted to get it on the record, that’s all I wanted.

Lex Fridman(01:50:27) I think it was a extremely… We have to acknowledge how important that interview was, for the record, and for opening the door for conversation. Opening the door to conversation literally is the path to more conversations in peace talks.

Tucker Carlson(01:50:43) Well, I would flip it around and say anyone who seeks to shut that down by focusing on a supermarket video of four minutes versus a two hour and 15 minute long interview with a world leader, anyone who doesn’t want more conversation, who wants fewer facts, fewer perspectives is totalitarian, and probably doesn’t have good intent. I mean, I can honestly say for all my many manifold faults, I’ve never tried to make people shut up. It’s not in me, I don’t believe in that.

Lex Fridman(01:51:14) So Putin’s folks have shown interest for quite a while to speaking with me. So you’ve spoken with him, what advice would you give?

Tucker Carlson(01:51:26) Oh, do it immediately. How’s your Russian, by the way?

Lex Fridman(01:51:26) Fluent.

Tucker Carlson(01:51:30) Have you kept up with it?

Lex Fridman(01:51:31) Yeah, fluent, so it would most likely be in Russian. So that’s the other thing is I do have a question about language barrier, was it annoying?

Tucker Carlson(01:51:41) It’s horrible. I mean, I don’t have much of a technique as an interviewer other than listen really carefully, that’s my only skill. I don’t have the best questions, I certainly don’t have the best questions. All I do that I’m proud of and that I think works is I just listen super carefully. I never let a word go by that I’m not paying… It exhausts me, actually. But you can’t do that in a foreign language because there’s a delay. And here, I’m just whining. But it’s real.

Lex Fridman(01:52:11) It’s not whining. Can you actually describe the technical details of that? Are you hearing concurrently at the same time?

Tucker Carlson(01:52:20) Yes, but there’s a massive lag. So what’s happening is… So the translators… So we were of course extremely uptight about the logistical details. So we brought our own cameraman who I’ve been around the world with, who worked at Fox, came with me now, amazing. And he did our cameras, lighting, everything, we had full control of that, and we had control of the tape. The Russians also had their own cameras, and I don’t know what they did with it. But we had full control of that, and we brought our own translator. We got our own translator, because I don’t trust anyone. So I think we had a good translator, we had two of them actually, because they get exhausted.

(01:53:01) But the problem is, from my perspective, as someone who’s trying to think of a follow-up and listen to the answer, Putin will talk, and you can in part of your ear hear the Slavic sounds, and then over that is a guy with a Slavic accent speaking English. And then you can hear Putin stop talking, and then this guy’s answer goes on for another 15, 20 seconds. So it’s super disconcerting, and it’s really hard.

(01:53:28) And the other thing is, it doesn’t matter how good your translators are. I’m interested in language, I speak only English fluently, but I’m really interested in language, and I work in language. It doesn’t matter how good your translator is, in literature and in conversation you miss so much if the language is moving… I mean, you see this in Bible study, you see it in Dostoevsky, you see it everywhere. If you don’t speak Aramaic, Hebrew, Russian, you’re not really getting… I mean, even in romance languages. I like Balzac, who obviously wrote in French. You read Père Goriot, it’s an amazing novel, hilarious, and you’re not really getting it. And it’s not that French and English are not that far apart. Russian, what?

Lex Fridman(01:54:22) Plus conversation. So the chemistry of conversation, the humor, the wit, the play with words, all this [inaudible 01:54:29].

Tucker Carlson(01:54:28) Exactly. And my understanding of Russian as a lover of Russian literature in English, is that it’s not a simple language at all. The grammar’s complex, there’s a lot that’s expressed that will be lost in the translation. So yes, I mean, the fact that you speak native Russian, I mean, I would run, not walk to that interview because I think it would just be amazing. You would get so much more out of it than I did.

Lex Fridman(01:54:53) And we should say that you’ve met a lot of world leaders, both Zelenskyy and Putin are intelligent, witty, even funny. So there’s a depth to the person that could be explored through a conversation just on that element, the linguistic element.

Tucker Carlson(01:55:09) For sure. And Putin speaks decent English, I spoke to him in English, so I know that, but he’s not comfortable with it at all. But Zelenskyy is, I think,

Lex Fridman(01:55:18) No, he is… Well, he’s better than Putin at English, but the humor, the wit, the intelligence, all of that is not quite there in English. He says simple points, but the guy’s a comedian, and he’s a comedian primarily in Russian, the Russian language. So the Ukrainian language is now used mostly primarily as a kind of symbol of independence.

Tucker Carlson(01:55:42) I’m aware of that, it’s a political decision. No, I know.

Lex Fridman(01:55:45) Really his native language is Russian language.

Tucker Carlson(01:55:48) Of course, as a lot of people in Ukraine.

Lex Fridman(01:55:49) But you can also understand his position, that he might not want to be speaking Russian publicly. That’s something I’ve…

Tucker Carlson(01:55:54) I don’t think they’re allowed to speak in Russian in some places in Ukraine. That’s one of the reasons that Russia was so mad, is that they were attacking language. And that’s a fair complaint, like, “What?” And by the way, if you haven’t been to Moscow in a while, you should see it, and you will pick up a million things that were invisible to me, and you should assess it for yourself. And my strong advice would be, even if you don’t interview Putin, go over there, spend a week there, and assess what you think. I mean, how restricted does the society feel? I mean, it would take a lot of balls to do this because… I mean, whatever you decide, you will be sucked into conversations that have nothing to do with you, political conversations. You’re obviously not a political activist, you’re an interviewer. But I think it would be so interesting.

Lex Fridman(01:56:41) But for an interview itself, is there advice you have about how to carry an interview? It is fundamentally different when you do it in the native language.

Tucker Carlson(01:56:50) Yes, I mean, I think I approached… And maybe I did it incorrectly, but this was the product of a lot of thought. I was coming into that interview aware that he hadn’t given an interview at all with anybody since the war started. So I had a million different questions, and as noted, I didn’t ask them because I just wanted to focus on the war. But I mean, there’s so many… I’ll send you my notes that I wrote, I was like a diligent little girl.

Lex Fridman(01:57:18) That would be amazing, but I think…

Tucker Carlson(01:57:20) All these questions, and some of them I thought were pretty funny.

Lex Fridman(01:57:25) In your case, I think the very fact of the interview was the most important thing.

Tucker Carlson(01:57:29) Yeah, that’s probably right. The question that I really wanted to ask that I was almost going to ask, because it made me laugh out loud. I was sitting drinking coffee beforehand with my producers, and I was like, “I’m going to go in there. My first question is going to be, Mr. President, I’ve been here in the Kremlin for two days preparing, and I haven’t seen a single African-American in a position of power in the Kremlin.” I thought that’s too culturally specific and dry. And he’d be like, “This guy’s freaking crazy.”

Lex Fridman(01:57:59) Yeah, you don’t want to open with humor.

Tucker Carlson(01:58:03) I know.

Lex Fridman(01:58:03) All right.

Tucker Carlson(01:58:03) Doesn’t translate.

Lex Fridman(01:58:05) It doesn’t. Oh, yeah, and there’ll be a small delay where you have to wait for the joke, to see if it lands or not.

Tucker Carlson(01:58:10) Like, “What? This is not America.”

Nuclear war

Lex Fridman(01:58:12) At Fox, you were for a time the most popular host. After Fox you’ve garnered a huge amount of attention as well, same, probably more. Do you worry that popularity and just that attention gets to your head, is a kind of drug that clouds your thinking?

Tucker Carlson(01:58:33) You think? I live in a spiritual graveyard of people killed by the quest for fame. Yes, I have lived in it. I mean, I would say the two advantages I have. One, I Have a happy family, and a stable family, and a stable group of friends, which is just the greatest blessing, and a strong love of nature that my family shares. So I’m in nature every day. And I have a whole series of rituals designed to keep me from becoming the asshole that I could easily become. But no, of course, I mean, that’s what I… And I don’t want to beat up on… I’m grateful to Elon who gave me a platform, and I mean that sincerely. But I definitely don’t spend a lot of time on social media or on the internet, for that exact reason. Well, first of all, I think it’s, as I’ve said, a much more controlled environment than we acknowledge, and I don’t want lies in my head. But I also don’t want to become the sort of person who’s seeking the adulation of strangers, I think that’s soul poison.

(01:59:42) And I said earlier that I think that the desire for power and money will kill you, and I believe that, and I’ve seen it a lot. But I also think the desire for the love of people you don’t know is every bit as poisonous, maybe more so. And so, yes. And it’s not just because I’ve obviously spent most of my life in public. And in fact, I don’t spend my life in public, and I’m a completely private person. But professionally, I’ve spent my life in public. It’s not just that, it’s social media makes everybody into a cable news host. And we were talking off the air, my new… I’m obsessed with this. I don’t know enough about it, but here’s what I do know. South Korea, amazing country, great people. I grew up around Koreans, probably no group, if I can generalize about a group, that I like more than Koreans, are just smart, funny, honest, brave. I really like Koreans, I always have, my whole life, growing up in sunny California with Koreans.

(02:00:39) South Korea is dying, it’s literally dying. It’s way below replacement rate in fertility, its suicide rate is astronomical. Why is that? It’s a rich country. Of course, I don’t know the answer. But I suspect it has something to do with the penetration of technology into South Korean society, is I think certainly one of the highest in the world, people live online there. And there was a belief for a bunch of reasons in South Korea that western technology would be a liberating progressive force, and I think it’s been the opposite. It’s my sense, strong sense. And I think it’s true in this country too. And I don’t understand how people can ignore the decline in life expectancy or the rise in fentanyl use. It’s not just about China shipping precursor chemicals to Mexico, it’s like, “Why would you take that shit?”

Lex Fridman(02:01:28) I hope those two things aren’t coupled, technological advancement and the erosion…

Tucker Carlson(02:01:33) Well, let me ask you… And I know you’re a technologist and I respect it, and there’s a lot about technology that I like and have benefited from. I had back surgery and it worked. Okay, so I’m not against all technology. But can you name a big technology in the last 20 years that we can say conclusively has improved people’s lives?

Lex Fridman(02:01:52) Well, conclusive is a tough thing.

Tucker Carlson(02:01:54) Pretty conclusively, that we can brag about.

Lex Fridman(02:01:58) Well, you’ve criticized Google search recently, but I think making the world knowledge accessible to anyone anywhere across the world through Google search.

Tucker Carlson(02:02:08) Well, I love that, I love that idea. Are people better informed or are they more superstitious and misled than they were 20 years ago? It’s not close.

Lex Fridman(02:02:17) Well, no, I don’t know, I think they are more informed. It’s just revealing the ignorance. The internet has revealed ignorance that people have, but I think the ignorance has been decreasing gradually. And if you look, you can criticize places like Wikipedia a lot, and very many aspects of Wikipedia are very biased. But most of it are actually topics that don’t have any bias in them, because they’re not political or so on, there’s no battle over those topics. And most of Wikipedia is the fastest way to learn about a thing.

Tucker Carlson(02:02:49) I couldn’t agree more. You can very quickly imagine… You’re an expert, and that may be the problem, I think. No, I just experienced it in Moscow. Again, I feel like I’m in the top 1% for information, certainly intake, because it’s my job. And I had literally… And I’m always out of the country, I’ve been around the world many times. I feel like I know a lot about the rest of the world, or I thought I did. And how did I not know any of that? And maybe I’m just unusually ignorant or something, or reading the wrong things. I don’t know what it was, but all I know is the digital information sources that I use to understand just something as simple as, what’s the city of Moscow like? Were completely inadequate. And anyway, look, I just am worried that we’re missing the obvious signs. And the obvious signs are reproduction, life expectancy, sobriety. If you have a society where people just can’t deal with being sober, don’t want to have children, and are dying younger, you have a suicidal society.

Tucker Carlson(02:04:00) …An extremely sick, you have a suicidal society. And I’m not even blaming anyone for it. I’m just saying objectively that is true. And the measure of a health of your society is the number of children that you have and how well they do. It’s super simple. That’s the next generation. We all die and what replaces us? And if you don’t care, then you’re suicidal. And maybe other things too. But that’s all I’m saying. So what happened to South Korea? Why can’t anyone answer the question? They’re great people, they’re rich, they have all these advantages. They’re on the cutting edge of every American… For a foreign country, they’re more American than maybe any other country other than Canada. And what happened?

Lex Fridman(02:04:45) And I mean, your fundamental worry is the same kind of thing might be happening or will happen in the United States.

Tucker Carlson(02:04:50) Well, let me just ask you this. I think North Korea seems like the most dystopian, horrible place in the world, right? Obviously it’s a byword for dystopia, right? North Korean. I use it all the time. And I mean it. If in a hundred years there are more North Koreans still alive than there are South Koreans, what does that tell us?

Lex Fridman(02:05:09) Yeah, that’s something to worry about. But also-

Tucker Carlson(02:05:11) But how did it happen? But why? I’m interested in the why. This is a question I asked Putin. Sometimes we don’t know why, but why does no one ask why?

Lex Fridman(02:05:20) I’ve seen a lot of increased distrust in science, which is deserved in many places. It just worries me because some of the greatest inventions of humanity come from science and technological innovation.

Tucker Carlson(02:05:35) Okay, then let me ask you a couple quick questions and perhaps you have the answer. I’ve always assumed that was true. And I should say that when I was a kid, I lived in La Jolla, California, next to the Salk Institute named after Jonas Salk, a resident of La Jolla, California, who created the polio vaccine and saved untold millions. And so my belief, which is still my belief, actually, that’s a great thing. It’s one of the great additions to human flourishing ever. But if technology is so great, why is life expectancy going down? And why are fewer people having kids? And why would anybody who has internet access ever use fentanyl? What is that? What is going on? And until we can answer that question, I think we have to assume the question of whether technology is a net good or a net bad is unresolved at best. Right?

Lex Fridman(02:06:25) At best, perhaps. But technology is the very tool which will allow us to have that kind of discourse to figure out to do science better.

Tucker Carlson(02:06:33) I mean, I want that to be true. And when you said that the internet allows people to escape the darkness of ignorance, man, that resonated with me because I felt that way in 1993, 4 when it was first starting, and I first got on it and I thought, man, this is amazing. You can talk for free to anyone around the world. This is going to be great. But let me just ask you this. This is something I’ve never gotten over or gotten a straight answer to. Why is it that in any European city, the greatest buildings indisputably were built before electricity and the machine age? Why has no one ever built a medieval cathedral in the modern era ever?

Lex Fridman(02:07:10) Well-

Tucker Carlson(02:07:10) What is that?

Lex Fridman(02:07:12) …Indisputably? You have a presumption. We have a good definition wat beauty is. There’s a lot of people-

Tucker Carlson(02:07:18) Right. Let’s be specific. Pick a European city or any city in the world and tell me that there’s a prettier building than say Notre Dame before it was set fire to.

Lex Fridman(02:07:28) There’s other sources of prettiness and beauty.

Tucker Carlson(02:07:30) Purely in architecture. Of course. Trees are prettier than any building in my opinion. So I agree with you there.

Lex Fridman(02:07:35) Well, but also there could be, I grew up in the pre-internet age, but-

Tucker Carlson(02:07:36) Good.

Lex Fridman(02:07:41) Good. But if you grew up in the internet age, I think your eyes would be more open to beauty that’s digital. That is in a digital-

Tucker Carlson(02:07:50) I’m not discounting the possibility of digital beauty at all. And the Ted Kaczynski in me wants to, but that’s too close-minded. I agree. I’m completely willing to believe there is such a thing as digital beauty. I mean, I have digital pictures of my phone, of my dogs and kids. So I know that there is, but purely in the realm of architecture because it’s limited, and it is one of the pure expressions of human creativity. We need places to live and work and worship and eat. And so we build buildings and every civilization has, but the machine age, the industrial age seemed to have decreased the quality and the beauty in that one expression of human creativity, architecture. And why is that?

Lex Fridman(02:08:35) Well, I could also argue that I’m a big sucker for bridges and modern bridges can give older bridges a run for their money.

Tucker Carlson(02:08:44) I like bridges too. So I agree with you, sort of. But the Brooklyn Bridge… I don’t know that there’s any modern bridges that was built in late-

Lex Fridman(02:08:54) 19th century.

Tucker Carlson(02:08:56) …19th century. Very much in the industrial age. But I’m just saying the great cathedrals of Europe-

Lex Fridman(02:09:01) Sure, yeah.

Tucker Carlson(02:09:02) Even the pyramids, whoever built them. It seems like it’s super obvious. I’m dealing on the autism level here, just like, well, why is that? But that’s a good way to start. If all of a sudden you have electricity and hydraulics and you have access to… I mean, I have machines in my wood shop at home that are so much more advanced than anything. Any cathedral builder in 15th century Europe had. And yet there’s neither I nor anyone I know could even begin to understand how a flying buttress was built. And so what is that?

Lex Fridman(02:09:40) And the other question is also consider that whatever is creating this technology is unstoppable.

Tucker Carlson(02:09:47) Well, there’s that.

Lex Fridman(02:09:48) And the question is how do you steer it then? You have to look in a realist way at the world and say that if you don’t, somebody else will. And you want to do it in a safe way. I mean, this is the Manhattan Project.

Tucker Carlson(02:10:02) Was the Manhattan Project a good idea, to create nuclear weapons? That’s an easy call. No.

Lex Fridman(02:10:06) For me, it’s an easy call in retrospect. In retrospect, yes. Because it seems like it stopped world wars. So the mutually assured destruction seems to have ended wars. Ended major military conflict.

Tucker Carlson(02:10:19) Well it’s been what, 80 years? Not even 80 years, 79. And so we haven’t had a world war in 79 years. But one nuclear exchange would of course kill more people than all wars in human history combined.

Lex Fridman(02:10:37) Your saying 79 makes it sound like you’re counting.

Tucker Carlson(02:10:40) I am counting. Because I think it obviously, it’s completely demonic and everyone pretends like it’s great. Nuclear weapons are evil.

Lex Fridman(02:10:47) Yeah, no, absolutely.

Tucker Carlson(02:10:48) The use of them is evil, and the technology itself is evil. And in my opinion, I mean, it’s like if you can’t, that’s just so obvious. And what I’m saying is I’m not against all technology. I took a shower this morning. It was powered by an electric pump, heated by a water heater. I loved it. I sat in an electric sauna. I’m not against all technology, obviously, but the mindless worship of technology?

Lex Fridman(02:11:16) Mindless worship of anything is pretty bad.

Tucker Carlson(02:11:18) But I’m just saying, so you said, let’s approach this from a realist perspective. Okay, let’s. If we think that there is a reasonable or even a potential chance it could happen, maybe on the margins, let’s assign it a 15% chance, that AI, for example, gets away from us, and we are now ruled by machines that may actually hate us. Who knows what they want. Why wouldn’t we use force to stop that from happening? So you’re walking down the street in midtown Manhattan, it’s midnight. You’ve had a few drinks, you’re coming from dinner, you’re walking back to your apartment. A guy, a very thuggish looking guy, young man, approaches you. He’s 50 feet away. He pulls out a handgun, he lifts it up to you. You also are armed.

(02:12:02) Do you shoot him or do you wait to get shot? Because all the data, look, he hasn’t shot you. He’s not committed a crime other than carrying a weapon in New York City. But maybe he’s got a license. You don’t know. It could be legal, but he’s pointing a gun at you. Is it fair to kill him before he kills you, even though you can’t prove that he will kill you?

Lex Fridman(02:12:22) If I knew my skills with a gun because he already has the gun out.

Tucker Carlson(02:12:26) Right, but it turns out that you have some confidence in your ability to stop the threat by force. Are you justified in doing that?

Lex Fridman(02:12:33) I just like this picture. Am I wearing a cowboy hat? No.

Tucker Carlson(02:12:36) No. But you are wearing cowboy boots and they’re clicking on the cobblestones. Actually, you’re in the meat packing.

Lex Fridman(02:12:40) Okay, great. I like this picture. I’m just, I think about this a lot, no. Yeah, I understand your point. But also I think that metaphor falls apart if there’s other nations at play here. Same as with the nuclear bomb. If US doesn’t build it, will other nations build it? The Soviet Union build it. China or Nazi Germany.

Tucker Carlson(02:13:08) We faced this. I mean, we faced this and the last president to try and keep in a meaningful way nuclear proliferation under control was John F. Kennedy. And look what happened to him.

Lex Fridman(02:13:20) But what’s your suggestion? Was it inevitable?

Tucker Carlson(02:13:24) Well, hold on. Well, their position in 1962 was no, it’s absolutely not inevitable. Or perhaps it’s inevitable in the sense that our death is inevitable as human beings, but we fight against the dying of the light anyway, because that’s the right thing to do. No, we were willing to use force to prevent other countries from getting the bomb because we thought that would be really terrible. We acknowledged that while there were upsides to nuclear weapons, just like there are upsides to AI, the downside was terrifying in the hands of… I mean, that’s the thing that I kind of don’t get. It’s like the applications of that technology in the hands of people who mean to do harm and destroy. It’s so obviously terrifying.

Lex Fridman(02:14:06) It’s not so obvious to me. What I’m terrified about is probably similar thing that you’re terrified about, is using that technology to manipulate people’s minds. That’s much more reasonable to me as an expectation, a real threat that’s possible in the next few years.

Tucker Carlson(02:14:21) But what matters more than that?

Lex Fridman(02:14:23) Well, I think that could lead to destruction of human civilization through other humans, for example, starting nuclear wars.

Tucker Carlson(02:14:30) Yeah. Well, I mean, this is one of the reasons I wasn’t afraid in the Vladimir Putin interview. It’s all ending anyway. You know what I mean?

Lex Fridman(02:14:39) Yeah. Well-

Tucker Carlson(02:14:39) Might as well dance on the deck of the Titanic. Don’t be a pussy. Enjoy it.

Lex Fridman(02:14:43) I think we will forever fight against the dying of the light as the entirety of the civilization.

Tucker Carlson(02:14:49) Someone the other day said that Biden ascribed that to Churchill. That was a Churchill quote. That’s kind of what I’m saying. It’s like if you live in a society where people don’t read anymore, people are by definition much more ignorant, but they don’t know it. I do think the Wikipedia culture, and I think there are cool things about Wikipedia, certainly its ease of use is high and that’s great, but people get the sense that like, oh, I know a lot about this or that or the other thing. And it’s like the key to wisdom, again, the key to wise decision making is doing what you don’t know. And it’s just so important to be reminded of what a dummy you are and how ignorant you are all the time. That’s why I like having daughters. It’s like it’s never far from mind how flawed I am. And that’s important.

Lex Fridman(02:15:39) In the same way I hope to be a dad one day.

Tucker Carlson(02:15:42) You should have a ton of kids. Are you going to have a ton of pups?

Lex Fridman(02:15:44) Five… Oh pup, you mean kids?

Tucker Carlson(02:15:46) Children.

Lex Fridman(02:15:47) Yes. But also I’ve been thinking of getting a dog, but unrelated. I would love to have five or six kids. Yeah, for sure.

Tucker Carlson(02:15:53) Have you found a victim yet?

Lex Fridman(02:15:57) You make it sound so romantic, Tucker.

Tucker Carlson(02:15:59) I’m just joking. I love it. No, you should totally do that.

Lex Fridman(02:16:03) Yeah, 100%. But also in terms of being humble, I do jiu-jitsu. It’s a martial art where you get your ass kicked all the time.

Tucker Carlson(02:16:10) I love that.

Lex Fridman(02:16:10) It’s nice to get your ass kicked. Physical humbling is unlike anything else, I think, because we’re kind of monkeys at heart and just getting your ass kicked just really helpful.

Tucker Carlson(02:16:20) I agree. I’ve had it happen to me twice.

Lex Fridman(02:16:23) Twice is enough.

Tucker Carlson(02:16:24) It got me to quit drinking. I was good at starting fights. Not good at winning them, but no, I completely agree with that.

Trump

Lex Fridman(02:16:31) Let me ask you, you’ve been pretty close with Donald Trump. Your private texts about him around the 2020 election were made public in one of them. You said you passionately hate Trump. When that came out, you said that you actually no, you love him. So how do you explain the difference?

Tucker Carlson(02:16:53) My texts reflect a lot of things, including how I feel at the moment that I sent them. That specific text I happen to know since I had to go through it forensically during my deposition in a case I was not named in. I had nothing to do with whatsoever. It’s crazy how civil suits can be used to hurt people you disagree with politically. But I was mad at a very specific person. I mean, really I, you’re asking me, I’ll tell you exactly what that was. It was the second the election ended and they stopped voting, stopped the vote counting on election night. I was like, well, this is, and it’s all now mail-in ballots and electronic voting machines. I was like, that’s a rigged election. I thought that then, I think now. Now it’s obvious that it was. But at the time I was like, “I feel like that was crazy what just happened”.

(02:17:40) I want, but I don’t want to go on TV and say that’s a rigged election because I don’t have any evidence it’s a rigged election. You can’t do that. It’s irresponsible and it’s wrong. So I was like, the Trump campaign was making all these claims about this or that fraud. So I was trying my best to substantiate them, to follow up on it. Everyone was like, “Shut up, Trump, you lost. Go away. We’re going to indict you.” But I felt like my job was to be like, no, the guy’s, he’s president, he’s claiming the election just got stolen and he’s making these claims. Let’s see if we can… Well, the people around him were so incompetent. It was just absolutely crazy. And so I called a couple of times, I finally give up, but I’d call and be like, “All right, you guys claim that these inconsistencies and this whatever, this happened, give me evidence and I’ll put it on TV.” It’s my job to bring stuff that is not going to be aired anywhere else to the public. It was insane how incompetent and unserious-

Lex Fridman(02:18:37) So they weren’t able to provide like-

Tucker Carlson(02:18:39) Here’s the point of the story and of that text. So then they come out and they say, well, dead people voted. Well, that’s just an easy call. If a dead person voted, we can prove someone’s dead. Because being dead is one of the few things we’re good at verifying because you start to smell and there’s a record of it. It’s called the death certificate. So it was like, give me the names of people who are dead who voted, and then we can get their registration and we can show they voted. Five names. So I go on TV and I say this Caroline Johnson, 79 of Waukegan, Illinois voted. Here’s her death certificate. She died. And the campaign sends me this stuff. Now in general, I don’t take stuff directly from campaigns.

(02:19:19) Because they all lie, because their job is to get elected or whatever. So I’m very wary of campaigns having been around it for 30 years, but I made an exception to my rule and I got a bunch of stuff from them. Well, of the six names, two of them are still alive. What? I immediately corrected it the next night. CNN did a whole segment on how I was spreading disinformation, which I was by the way. In this one case, they were right. I was so mad. I was like, “I hate you. I’m not talking about you. I’m so mad.” Anyway, that’s the answer. That’s what that was.

Lex Fridman(02:19:56) Who were you texting to?

Tucker Carlson(02:19:57) My producer and I was venting. It’s like a producer I was really close to, and I’ve known him for a long time. He’s really smart. And he’s like, he was someone I could be honest with. And I was like, and by the way, it was so funny. I mean now I’m doing what was me, which I will keep to a minimum, but it’s like stealing someone’s texts? And by the way, I was an idiot. I should have said, “Come and arrest me. I’m not giving you my freaking text messages.”

(02:20:22) But I got bullied into it by a lawyer… I didn’t get bullied into it. I was weak enough to agree with a lawyer. It was my fault. Never should have done that. “Fuck you. They’re my texts.” I’m not even named in this case. That’s what I should have said, but I didn’t. I said I was mad on the air the next day, but not in language that colorful, but whatever. I try to be transparent. I mean, I also think, by the way, if you watch someone over time, you don’t always know what they really think, but you can tell if someone’s lying. You can sort of feel it in people. And I have lied. I’m sure I’ll lie again. I don’t want to lie. I don’t think I’m a liar. I try not to be a liar. I don’t want to be a liar. I think it’s really important not to be a liar.

Lex Fridman(02:21:12) You said nice things about me earlier. I’m starting to question. I have questions. I have a lot of questions, Tucker.

Tucker Carlson(02:21:18) I hate Lex Fridman.

Lex Fridman(02:21:20) Yeah. I’m going to have to see your texts after this.

Tucker Carlson(02:21:24) My texts are so uninteresting now. It’s like crazy how uninteresting they are.

Lex Fridman(02:21:28) Emojis and gifs.

Tucker Carlson(02:21:29) Yeah, lots of dog pictures.

Lex Fridman(02:21:30) Nice. You said some degree the election was rigged. Was it stolen?

Tucker Carlson(02:21:37) It was a hundred percent stolen. Are you joking?

Lex Fridman(02:21:40) It was rigged to that large of a degree?

Tucker Carlson(02:21:42) Yeah. They completely change the way people vote right before the election on the basis of COVID, which had nothing to do with-

Lex Fridman(02:21:49) So in that way it was rigged, meaning manipulated.

Tucker Carlson(02:21:52) One hundred percent. Then you censor the information people are allowed to get, anyone who complains about COVID… Which is like, by the way, it might’ve hurt Trump. But I mean it’s like whatever. I mean you could play it many different ways. You can’t have censorship in a democracy by definition. Here’s how it works. The people rule. They vote for representatives to carry their agenda to the capitol city and get it enacted. That’s how they’re in charge. And then every few years they get to reassess the performance of those people in an election. In order to do that, they need access, unfettered access to information. And no one, particularly not people who are already in power, is allowed to tell them what information they can have.

(02:22:36) They have to have all information that they want, whether the people in charge want it or don’t want it or think it’s true or think it’s false, it doesn’t matter. And the second you don’t have that, you don’t have a democracy. It’s not a free election, period. And that’s very clear in other countries, I guess. But it’s not clear here. But I would say it’s this election that… It took me a while to come to this, but it’s this election that’s the referendum on democracy. Biden is senile. He’s literally senile. He can’t talk, he can’t walk. The whole world knows that, leave our borders. Everybody in the world knows it.

(02:23:19) A senile man is not going to get elected in the most powerful country in the world unless there’s fraud, period. Who would vote for a senile man? He literally can’t talk. And nobody I’ve ever met thinks he’s running the US government because he’s not. And so I think the world is looking on at this coming election and saying… And a lot of the world hates Trump. Okay, it’s not an endorsement of Trump, but it’s just true. If Joe Biden gets reelected, democracy is a freaking joke. That’s just true.

Lex Fridman(02:23:52) I think half the country doesn’t think he’s senile, just thinks-

Tucker Carlson(02:23:52) Do you really think that?

Lex Fridman(02:23:56) …He’s speaking-

Tucker Carlson(02:23:59) They don’t think he’s senile?

Lex Fridman(02:24:00) Yeah, I think he just has difficulty speaking. It’s like-

Tucker Carlson(02:24:06) Why do they think he has difficulty speaking?

Lex Fridman(02:24:09) …Gradual degradation. Just getting old. So cognitive ability is degrading.

Tucker Carlson(02:24:12) What’s the difference between degraded cognitive ability and senility?

Lex Fridman(02:24:17) Well, senility has a threshold of is beyond a threshold to where he could be a functioning leader.

Tucker Carlson(02:24:23) That may be a term of art that I don’t fully understand and maybe there’s an IQ threshold or something, but I’m happy to go with degraded cognitive ability.

Lex Fridman(02:24:32) Sure. But that’s an age thing.

Tucker Carlson(02:24:33) But he’s the leader of the United States with the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal.

Lex Fridman(02:24:37) Yeah, I’m with you. I’m a sucker for great speeches and for speaking abilities of leaders. And Biden with two wars going on and potentially more, the importance of a leader to speak eloquently, both privately in a room with other leaders and publicly is really important.

Tucker Carlson(02:24:54) I agree with you that rhetorical ability really matters. Convincing people that your program is right, telling them what we’re for, national identity, national unity, all come from words. I agree with all of that. But at this stage, even someone who grunted at the microphone would be more reassuring than a guy who clearly doesn’t know where he is. And I think everyone knows that. And I can’t imagine there’s an honest person in Washington, which is going to vote for Biden by 90% obviously because they’re all dependent on the federal government for their income. But is there any person who could say, out of 350 million Americans that’s the most qualified to lead, or even in the top 80%, like what? That’s so embarrassing that that guy is our president. And with wars going on, it’s scary.

Lex Fridman(02:25:40) But it’s complicated to understand why those are the choices we have.

Tucker Carlson(02:25:46) I agree. Well, it’s a failure of the system. Clearly it’s not working. If you’ve got one guy over 80, the other guy almost at 80… People that age he should not be running anything.

Lex Fridman(02:25:56) You have on the Democratic side, you have Dean Phillips, you have RFK Jr until recently, I guess he’s independent. And then you have Vivek who are all younger people. Why did they not connect to a degree to where the people vote?

Tucker Carlson(02:26:11) It’s such an interesting, I mean, I think it’s a really interesting question. There are a million different answers. And of course I don’t fully understand it even though I feel like I’ve watched it pretty carefully. But I would say the bottom line is there’s so much money vested in the federal apparatus, in the parties, in the government. As I said a minute ago, our economy’s dominated by monopolies but the greatest of all monopolies is the federal monopoly which oversees and controls all the other monopolies.

(02:26:43) So it’s really substantially about the money. It’s not ideological. It’s about the money. And if someone controls the federal government, I mean at this point, it’s the most powerful organization in human history. It’s kind of hard to fight that. And in the case of Trump, I know the answer there. They raided Mar-a-Lago. They indicted him on bullshit charges. And I felt that in myself too. Even I was like, come on, come on. Whatever you think of Trump… And I agreed with his immigration views and I really like Trump personally. I think he’s hilarious and interesting, which he is. But it’s like, okay, there are a lot of people in this country.

(02:27:21) At the very least, let’s have a real debate. The second… Messed up your cameras there, sorry, I’m getting excited. But the second they rated Mar-a-Lago on a documents charge, as someone from DC I was like, I know a lot about classification and all this stuff and been around it a lot. That’s so absurd that I was like, now it’s not about Trump, it’s about our system continuing. If you can take out a presidential candidate on a fake charge, use the justice system to take the guy out of the race, then we don’t have a representative democracy anymore. And I think a lot of Republican voters felt that way. If they hadn’t indicted him, I’m not sure he would be the nominee. I really don’t think he would be.

Lex Fridman(02:28:06) So now a vote for Trump is a kind of fuck you to the system.

Tucker Carlson(02:28:09) Or an expression of your desire to keep the system that we had, which is one where voters get to decide. Prosecutors don’t get to decide. Look, they told us for four years that Trump was a super criminal or something. I’ve actually been friends with some super criminals. I’m a little less judgy than most. So I didn’t discount the possibility that he had… I don’t know. He’s in the real estate business in New York in the seventies. Did he kill someone? I don’t know.

Lex Fridman(02:28:34) Yeah.

Tucker Carlson(02:28:35) No, I’m not joking. And I’m not for killing people, but anything’s possible.

Lex Fridman(02:28:39) It’s good that you took a stand on that.

Tucker Carlson(02:28:42) No, I’m not joking. I was like, well, who knows?

Lex Fridman(02:28:45) Real estate.

Tucker Carlson(02:28:46) And I didn’t know. And what they came up with was a documents charge. Are you joking? And then the sitting president has the same documents violation, but he’s fine. It’s like, it’s just crazy this is happening in front of all of us. And then it becomes… At that point, it’s not about Joe Biden, it’s not about Donald Trump. It’s about preserving a system which has worked not perfectly, but pretty freaking well for 250 years. I know you don’t like Trump. I get it. Let’s not destroy that system. We can handle another four years of Trump. I think we can. Let’s all calm down. What we can’t handle is a country whose political system is run by the Justice Department. That is just, you’re freaking Ecuador at that point. No.

Lex Fridman(02:29:28) So speaking of the Justice Department, CIA and intelligence agencies of that nature, which… You’ve been traveling quite a bit, probably tracked by everybody. Which is the most powerful intelligence agency, do you think? CIA, Mossad, MI6, SVR? I could keep going. The Chinese.

Tucker Carlson(02:29:56) It depends what you mean by powerful. Which one bats above its weight? We know. Which one-

Lex Fridman(02:30:06) Mossad, just to be clear, I guess is what you’re talking about.

Tucker Carlson(02:30:08) Well of course. Tiny country, very sophisticated intel service. Which one has the greatest global reach in comms? Which one is most able to read your texts? I assume the NSA, but Chinese are clearly pretty good. Israelis pretty good. The French actually are surprisingly good for kind of a declining country. Their intel services seem pretty impressive. No, I love France, but you know what I mean and all that. But the question… I grew up around all that stuff, that’s all totally fine. A strong country should have a strong and capable intel service so its policymakers can make informed decisions. That’s what they’re for. And so as Vladimir Putin himself noted, I don’t talk about it very much, but it’s true. I applied to the CIA when I was in college because I was familiar with it because of where I lived and had grown up and everything. And I was like, seemed interesting.

(02:30:59) That’s honestly the only reason. I was like, live in foreign countries, see history happen. I’m for that. I applied to the Operations Directorate. They turned me down on the basis of drug use actually. True. But anyway, whatever. I was unsuited for it so I’m glad they turned me down. But the point is I didn’t see CIA as a threat, partly because I was bathing in propaganda about CIA and I didn’t really understand what it was and didn’t want to know. But second, because my impression at the time was it was outwardly focused. It was focused on our enemies. I don’t have a problem with that as much. The fact that CIA is playing in domestic politics and actually has for a long time, was involved in the Kennedy assassination, that’s not speculation. That’s a fact. And I confirmed that from someone who had read their documents that are still not public, it’s shocking.

(02:31:48) You can’t have that. And the reason I’m so mad is I really believe in the idea of representative government. Acknowledging its imperfections, but I should have some say, I live here, I’m a citizen. I pay all your freaking taxes. So the fact that they would be tampering with American democracy is so outrageous to me. And I don’t know why Morning Joe is not outraged. This parade of dummies, highly credentialed dummies they have on Morning Joe every day. That doesn’t bother them at all. How could that not bother you? Why is only Glenn Greenwald mad about it? I mean, it’s confirmed. It’s not like a fever dream. It’s real. They played in the last election domestically, and I guess it shows how dumb I am because they’ve been doing that for many years. I mean, the guy who took out Mosaddegh lived on my street. One of the Roosevelts, CIA officer.

(02:32:42) So I mean, again, I grew up around this stuff, but I never really thought… I never reached the obvious conclusion, which is that if the US government subverts democracy in other countries in the name of democracy, it will over time subvert democracy in my country. Why wouldn’t it? That is, the corruption is like core. It’s at the root of it. The purpose of the CIA was envisioned, at least publicly envisioned, as an intel gathering apparatus for the executive so the president could make wise foreign policy decisions. What the hell is happening in Country X? I don’t know. Let me call the agency in charge of finding out. The point wasn’t to freaking guarantee the outcome of elections.

Israel-Palestine

Lex Fridman(02:33:27) I’m doing an Israel Palestine debate next week, but I have to ask you just your thoughts, maybe even from a US perspective, what do you think about Hamas attacks on Israel? What would be the right thing for Israel to do and what’s the right thing for us to do in this? If you’re looking at the geopolitics of it.

Tucker Carlson(02:33:46) I mean, it’s not a topic that I get into a lot because I’m a non-expert and because I’m not… Unlike every other American, I’m not emotionally invested in other countries just in general. I mean, I admire them or not, and I love visiting them. I love Jerusalem, probably my favorite city in the world, but I don’t have an emotional attachment to it. So maybe I’ve got more clarity. I don’t know, maybe less. Here’s my view. I believe in sovereignty as mentioned, and I think each country has to make decisions based on its own interest, but also with reference to its own capabilities and its own long-term interest.

(02:34:26) And it’s very unwise for… I’m not a huge fan of treaties. Some are fine, too many bad. But I think US aid, military aid to Israel and the implied security guarantees, some explicit, but many implied, security guarantees of the United States to Israel probably haven’t helped Israel that much long-term. It’s a rich country with a highly capable population. Like every other country, it’s probably best if it makes its decisions based on what it can do by itself. So I would definitely be concerned if I lived in Israel because I think fair or unfair-

Tucker Carlson(02:35:00) Concerned if I lived in Israel because I think, fair or unfair, and really this is another product of technology, social media, public sentiment in that area is boiling over. I think it’s going to be hard for some of the governments in the region, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, to contain their own population. They don’t want conflict with Israel at all. They were all pretty psyched actually for the trend in progress, the Saudi peace deal, which was never signed, but would’ve been great for everybody. Because trade peace, normal relations, that’s good, okay? Let’s just say. I know John Bolton doesn’t like it, but it’s good it, and it’s kind of what we should be looking for.

(02:35:39) But now it’s not possible. If you had a coalition of countries against Israel, I know Israel has nuclear weapons and has a capable military and all that and the backing of the United States, but it’s a small country, I think I’d be very worried. So there’s that. I don’t see any advantage to the United States. I mean, I think it’s important for each country to make its own decisions.

Lex Fridman(02:36:09) But it also is a place, like you said, where things are boiling over and it could spread across multiple nations into a major military conflict.

Tucker Carlson(02:36:18) Yeah. Well, I think it very easily could happen. In fact, probably right after Ramadan, if I had to guess. I pray it doesn’t. But again, I don’t think you can overstate the lack of wisdom, weakness, short-term thinking of American foreign policy leadership. These are the architects of the Iraq War, of the totally pointless destruction of Libya, totally pointless destruction of Syria, and the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan that resulted in a return to the status quo, of the Vietnam War. Their track record of the Korean war even going back 80 years is uninterrupted failures, one after the other.

(02:36:59) So I just don’t have any confidence in those leaders to… When was the last time they improved another country? Can you think of that? Oh, the Marshall Plan. Well, you look at Europe now and you’re like, “I don’t know if that worked.” But even if it did work, again 80 years ago. So when was the last country American foreign policy makers improved? Netanyahu’s in a very difficult place, politically impossible. I mean, I’m glad I’m not Netanyahu, and I’m not sure he’s capable of making wise long-term decisions anyway. But if I was just an Israeli, I’d be like, “I don’t know if I want all this help and guidance.”

(02:37:45) So yeah, I actually think it’s worse than just having just returned from the Middle East and talking to a lot of pretty open-minded sort of pro-Israeli Arabs who want stability above all. The merchant class always wants stability. So I’m on their side, I guess. They’re like, “Man, this could get super ugly super fast.” American leadership is completely absent. It’s just all posturing. People like Nikki Haley, you just wonder how does an advanced civilization promote someone like Nikki Haley to a position of authority? It’s like what? Adults are talking. Adults are talking. Nikki Haley, please go away.

(02:38:25) That would be the appropriate response. But everyone’s so intimidated to be like, “Oh, she’s a strong woman.” She’s so transparently weak and sort of ridiculous and doesn’t know anything, and it’s just thinks that jumping up and down and making these absurd blanket statements, repeating bumper stickers just like leadership or something. It’s like a self-confident advanced society would never allow Nikki Haley to advance. I mean, she’s really not impressive. Sorry.

Lex Fridman(02:38:53) I just feel like you hold back too much and don’t tell us what you really think.

Tucker Carlson(02:38:58) Sorry.

Lex Fridman(02:38:59) I think you just speak your mind more often.

Tucker Carlson(02:39:02) I mean, you can completely disagree with my opinions, but in the case of Nikki Haley, it’s not like an opinion formed just from watching television, which I don’t watch. It’s an opinion formed from knowing Nikki Haley, so.

Lex Fridman(02:39:14) Strong words from Tucker, well felt too.

Tucker Carlson(02:39:18) Well, the world’s in the balance. I mean, it’s not just like-

Lex Fridman(02:39:20) Yes, yes. This is important stuff.

Tucker Carlson(02:39:21) Yeah, it’s not just like, well, what should the capital gains rate be? It’s like, do we live or die? I don’t know. Let’s consult Nikki Haley. So if you’re asking should we live or die and consulting Nikki Haley, clearly you don’t care about the lives of your children. That’s how I feel.

Xi Jinping

Lex Fridman(02:39:37) Not to try to get a preview or anything, but do you have interest of interviewing Xi Jinping? If you do, how will you approach that?

Tucker Carlson(02:39:47) I have enormous interest in doing that, enormous, and a couple other people and we’re working on it.

Lex Fridman(02:39:53) Yeah. I should also say, it’s been refreshing you interviewing world leaders. I think when I’ve started seeing you do that, it made me realize how much that’s lacking.

Tucker Carlson(02:40:06) Well, yeah, it’s just interesting. I mean-

Lex Fridman(02:40:07) From even a historical perspective, it’s interesting. But it’s also important from a geopolitics perspective.

Tucker Carlson(02:40:13) Well, it’s really changed my perspective and I’ve been going on about how American I am, and I think that’s a great thing. I love America. But it’s also we’re so physically geographically isolated from the world, even though I traveled a ton as a kid, a lot, more than most people. But even now I’m like, “I’m so parochial.” I see everything through this lens and getting out and seeing the rest of the world to which we really are connected, that’s real, is vitally important. So yeah. I mean, at this stage I don’t kind of need to do it, but I really want to, just motivated by curiosity and trying to expand my own mind and not be closed-minded and see the fullest perspective I possibly can in order to render wise judgments. I mean, that’s like the whole journey of life.

Lex Fridman(02:41:06) I was just hanging out with Rogan yesterday, Joe Rogan. I mentioned to him that as me being a fan of his show, that I would love for him to talk with you and he said he’s up for it. Any reason you guys haven’t done it already.

Tucker Carlson(02:41:22) I don’t know. I’ve only met Rogan once and I liked him. I met him at the UFC in New York. He was with somebody, a mutual friend of ours. Rogan changed media. I mean, maybe more than anybody. What I admire about Rogan without knowing him beyond meeting him that one time, I mean, I’m still in media, but I’ve always been in media. It’s not a great surprise. I’m doing what I’ve always done just a different format. But Rogan, he’s got one of those resumes that I admire. I like the guy who was like, “I was a longshoreman. I was a short order cook. I was an astrophysicist.” You know what I mean? You use to call it a man of parts. This guy was a fighter, a stand up comic. He hosted some Fear Factor. How did he wind up at the vanguard of the deepest conversations in the country? How did that happen? So I definitely respect that and I think it’s cool. Rogan is one of those people who just came out of nowhere. No one helped him. You know what I mean?

Lex Fridman(02:42:31) He was doing the thing that he loves doing and it somehow keeps accidentally being exceptionally successful.

Tucker Carlson(02:42:36) Yeah, and he’s curious. So that’s the main thing. There was a guy, without getting boring, but there was a guy I worked with years ago who kind of dominated cable news, Larry King. Everyone would always beat up on Larry King for being dumb. Well, I got to know Larry King well, and I was his fill in host for a while, and Larry King was just intensely curious. He’d be like, “Why do you wear a black tie, Lex?” You’d be like, “Because I like black tie.” “Why do you like a black tie? Everyone else wears a striped tie, but you wear a black one.” He was really interested.

Lex Fridman(02:43:01) Yeah, genuinely so, yeah.

Tucker Carlson(02:43:02) Totally. I want to be like that. I don’t want to think I know everything. That’s so boorish and also false. You don’t know everything. But I see that in Rogan. Rogan’s like, “How does that work?”

Lex Fridman(02:43:15) 100%.

Tucker Carlson(02:43:16) It’s so funny how that’s threatening to people. It’s like Rogan will just sit there while someone else is free balling on some far out topic, which by the way might be true, probably truer than the conventional explanation. People are like, “I don’t know, how can he stand that?” He had someone say, “The pyramids weren’t built 3,000 years ago, but 8,000 years ago, and that’s wrong.” It’s like, first of all, how do you know when the pyramids were built? Second, why do you care if someone disagrees with you? What is that?

(02:43:44) This weird kind of group think, it’s almost like fourth grade, there’s always some little girl in the front row who’s like acting as kind of the teacher’s enforcer. Whip around and be like, “Sit down. Didn’t you hear Mrs. Johnson said sit down.” It’s like the whole American media, “How dare you ask that question?” Rogan just seems like completely on his own trip. He doesn’t even hear it. He’s like, “Well, really where the pyramids built?” I was like, “Oh, I love that.”

Lex Fridman(02:44:15) Yeah, curiosity, open-mindedness.

Tucker Carlson(02:44:17) Yes.

Lex Fridman(02:44:17) The thing I admire about him most, honestly, is that he’s a good father. He’s a good husband. He’s a good family man for many years. That’s his place where he escapes from the world too and it’s just beautiful.

Tucker Carlson(02:44:31) Without that man, you’re destroyed.

Lex Fridman(02:44:33) Yeah.

Tucker Carlson(02:44:34) If I had a wife who was interested at all in any way in what I did, I think I would’ve gone crazy by now. When we get home, she’s like, “How was your day?” “It was great.” “Oh, I’m so proud of you.” That’s the end of our conversation about what I do for a living. That is such a wonderful and essential respite from, you said how do I not become an asshole to the extent I haven’t, I kind of have. How have I not been transformed into a totally insufferable megalomaniac who is checking his Twitter replies every day or every minute? It’s that. Yeah. The core of your life has to be solid and enduring and not just ephemeral and silly.

Lex Fridman(02:45:14) So the two of you have known each other for what, 40 years?

Tucker Carlson(02:45:17) We’ve been together 40 years.

Lex Fridman(02:45:19) Together 40 years.

Tucker Carlson(02:45:20) 40 years, yeah, 1984. Was the hottest 15-year old in Newport, Rhode Island.

Lex Fridman(02:45:25) Wow.

Tucker Carlson(02:45:26) It sounds dirty, but I’m talking about myself, I was the hottest.

Lex Fridman(02:45:29) [inaudible 02:45:29]. Yeah. You were just looking in the mirror.

Tucker Carlson(02:45:32) Yeah.

Lex Fridman(02:45:32) Very nice. So what’s the secret to successful relationship, successful marriage?

Tucker Carlson(02:45:38) I don’t even know. I mean, no, I’m serious. I got married in August ’91, so that’s our 30 year of being married.

Lex Fridman(02:45:48) The collapse of the Soviet Union.

Tucker Carlson(02:45:49) Yeah, yeah, yeah. As noted. Yeah. So you hear these people, it’s actually changed my theology a little bit. Not that I have deep theology, but I grew up in a society in Southern California when I was little. That was a totally self-created society. I mean, Southern California was that root of libertarianism for a reason. It was like that’s where you went to recreate yourself. So the operative assumption there is that you are the sum total of your choices and that free will is everything. We never consider questions like, well, why do children get cancer? What do they do to deserve it? Well, of course nothing, right? Because that would suggest that maybe you’re not the sum total.

(02:46:31) Your choices matter. If I smoke a lot, I get lung cancer. If I use fentanyl, I may OD. Got it. If I don’t exercise, I might get fat, okay. But on a bigger scale, you’re not only the sum total of your choices. Things happen to you that you didn’t deserve, good and bad. Marriages, and I’ll speak for myself, in my case, just one of them. I mean, clearly spending time with the person you’re married to, talking, enjoying each other. I have a lot of rituals. We have a lot of rituals that ensure that. But in 40 years, you’re like a different person.

(02:47:09) I did drugs. I was drinking all the time when we met. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I’m very different and so is she, but we’re different in ways that are complementary and happy. We’ve never been happier. So how do we pull that off? Just kind of good luck, honestly. Then I see other people… No, I’m not kidding. But that’s true. I think it’s so important not to flatter yourself if you’ve been successful at something. The thing I’ve been most successful at is marriage, but it’s not really me. I mean, I haven’t-

Lex Fridman(02:47:41) So I think what you’re indirectly communicating is it’s like humility, I think.

Tucker Carlson(02:47:45) It’s not even humility. Humility is the result of a reality-based worldview, okay?

Lex Fridman(02:47:49) Sure, right.

Tucker Carlson(02:47:50) Once you see things clearly, then you know that you are not the author of all your successes or failures. I hate the implication otherwise because it suggests powers that people don’t have. It’s one of the reasons I always hated the smoking debate or the COVID debate. Someone die of COVID, didn’t have the vaccine. They’d be like, “See, that’s what you get.” You smoke cigarettes, you die. Well, yeah, if you smoke cigarettes, you’re more likely to get lung cancer. Whatever. Cause and effect is real. I’m not denying its existence. It’s obvious, but it’s not the whole story. There are larger forces acting on us, unseen forces. That’s just a fact. You don’t need to be some kind of religious nut and they act on AI too and you should keep that in mind. The idea that all-

Tucker Carlson(02:48:36) It’s missing why you said that.

Tucker Carlson(02:48:37) No, it’s true. It’s demonstrably true. We’re the only society that hasn’t acknowledged the truth of that. The idea that the only things that are real are the things that we can see or measure in a lab. That’s insane. That’s just dumb.

Lex Fridman(02:48:51) In the religious context, you have this two categories that I really like of the two kinds of people, people who believe they’re God and people who know they’re not, which is a really interesting division that speaks to humility and a kind of realist worldview of where we are in the world.

Tucker Carlson(02:49:12) Oh.

Lex Fridman(02:49:14) Can atheists be in the latter category?

Tucker Carlson(02:49:18) No. There are very few atheists. I’ve never actually met one. There are people who pose as atheists, but no one’s purely rational. Everyone, I mean, this is a cliche for a reason, everyone under extreme stress appeals to a power higher than himself because everyone knows that there is a power higher than himself. So really it’s just people who are gripped with a delusion that they’re God. No one actually believes that. If you’re God, jump off the roof of your garage and see what happens. You know what I mean? No one actually thinks that, but people behave as if it’s true, and those people are dangerous. I will say by contrast, the only people I trust are the people who know their limits.

(02:49:59) I was thinking actually this morning in my sauna, of all the people I’ve interviewed or met, this is someone I’ve never interviewed, but I have talked to him a couple of times, the greatest leader I’ve ever met in the world is literally a king. It’s MB Sheikh Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, who is Muslim. I’m definitely not Muslim. I’m Christian, Protestant Christian. So I don’t agree with his religion and I don’t agree with monarchies, but he’s the best leader in the world that I’ve ever met, and by far, it’s not even close. Why is that? Well, I could bore you for an hour on the subject, but the reason that he’s such a good leader is because he’s guided by an ever-present knowledge of his limitations and of the limits of his power and of his foresight.

(02:50:53) When you start there, when you start with reality, it’s not even humility. Humility can be a pose like, “Oh, I’m so humble.” Okay, humble brag is a phrase for a reason. It’s like way deeper than that’s just like, no, do I have magical powers? Can I see the future? No. Okay. That’s just a fact. So I’m not God, but I’ve never seen anybody more at ease with admitting that than MBZ, just a remarkable person. For that reason, he is treated as an oracle. I don’t think people understand the number of world leaders who traipse through his house or palace to seek his counsel. I’m not sure that there is a parallel since, I don’t want to get too hyperbolic here, but honestly, since Solomon, where people come from around the world to ask what he thinks.

(02:51:46) Now, why would they be doing that? Because Abu Dhabi’s military is so powerful? I mean, he’s rich, okay, massive oil and gas deposits, but so is Canada. You know what I mean? No one is coming to Ottawa to ask Justin Trudeau what he thinks. No, it’s humility. That’s where wisdom comes from. You start to think, I spent my whole life mad at America’s leadership class, because it’s not just Biden or the people in official positions, it’s the whole constellation of advisors and throne sniffers around them. It’s not even that I disagree with them. It’s I’m not impressed by them. I’m just not impressed. They’re not that capable, right? So that’s what I was saying about Nikki Haley. I don’t think Nikki Haley’s the most evil person in the world. I just think she’s ridiculous, obviously. Everyone’s like, “Oh, Nikki Haley or Mike Pompeo.” What?

Lex Fridman(02:52:40) Great leaders are so rare that when you see one, you know it right away.

Tucker Carlson(02:52:44) It blows your mind. What blows my mind about Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi is that everyone in the world knows it. I’ve never seen a story on this, and I’m not guessing, I know this is true because I’ve seen it. Everyone in the world knows it. So if there’s a conflict, he’s the only person that people call. Everybody calls the same guy. It’s like he runs this tiny little country, the UAE, in Abu Dhabi there are a bunch of Emirates, but he’s the president of the country, but still, and it’s got a ton of energy and all that wealth and all that. Dubai’s got great real estate and restaurants, but really it’s a tiny little country that wasn’t even a country 50 years ago. So how did that happen? Purely on the basis of his humility and the wisdom that results from that humility. That’s it.

Advice for young people

Lex Fridman(02:53:34) What advice would you give to young people? You got four, you somehow made them into great human beings. What advice would you give people in high school?

Tucker Carlson(02:53:43) Have children immediately.

Lex Fridman(02:53:45) Oh that.

Tucker Carlson(02:53:45) Including in high school? Yes, I think that. That’s all that matters in the end. Again, these aren’t even cliches anymore because no one says them. But when I was a kid, people always say, “On your deathbed, you never wish you’d spent more time at work.” I mean, everyone said that. It was like one of these things. Now, I don’t think Google allows you to say that. It’s like, “No, you’re going to wish you spent more time at work. Get back to your cube.” But I can’t overstate from my vantage how true that is. Nothing else matters but your family.

(02:54:20) If you have the opportunity, and a lot of people are being denied the opportunity to have children, and this messing with the gender roles, and I’m not even talking about the tranny stuff, I mean, feminism has so destroyed people’s brains and the ability of young people to connect with each other and stay together and have fruitful lives. It’s like nothing’s been more destructive than that. It’s such a lie. It’s so dumb. It’s counter to human nature, and nothing counter to human nature can endure. It can only cause suffering and that’s what it’s done. But fight that. Stop complaining about it. Find someone.

(02:54:54) By the way, everyone gets together, or most people get together on the basis, in a Western society where there’s no arranged marriages, they get together on a basis of sexual attraction. Totally natural. Get off your birth control and have children. “Oh, I can’t afford that.” Well, yeah, you’ll figure out a way to afford it once you have kids. It’s like it’s chicken in the egg, but it’s actually not. When you have responsibility, when you have no… This is true of men, I’m not sure if true of women, but it’s definitely true of men, you will not achieve until you have no choice. Because I always think of men, men do nothing until they have to, but once they have to, they will do anything. That is true.

(02:55:32) Men will do nothing unless they have to. But once they have to, they will do anything. I really believe that from watching and from being one. I would never have done anything if I didn’t have to, but I had to and I would just recommend it. By the way, even if you don’t succeed, even if you’re poor, having spent my life among rich people, I grew up among rich people, I am a rich person. Boy, are they unhappy? Well, that’s clearly not the road to happiness. You don’t want to be a debt slave or starved to death or anything like that, but making a billion dollars, that’s not worth doing. Don’t do that. Don’t even try to do that.

(02:56:03) If you create something that’s beautiful and worth having and you make a billion dollars, okay, then you have to deal with your billion dollars, which will be the worst part of your life, trust me. But seeking money for its own sake is a dead end. What you should seek for its own sake is children. Talk about a creative act. Last thing I’ll say, the whole point of life is to create, okay? The act of creation, which is dying in the West, in the arts and in its most pure expression, which is children, that’s all that’s worth doing while you’re alive is creating something beautiful. Creating children, by the way, it’s super fun. It’s not hard. I can get more technical off the earth if you want.

Lex Fridman(02:56:42) Can you? Yeah, please.

Tucker Carlson(02:56:43) I have a lot of thoughts on it.

Lex Fridman(02:56:44) Do you have documents or something?

Tucker Carlson(02:56:45) No, I can draw you a schematic.

Lex Fridman(02:56:48) Oh, thank you.

Tucker Carlson(02:56:49) But yeah, that’s the greatest thing. The fact that corporate America denies, “Oh, freeze your eggs. Have an abortion.” What? You’re evil. Are you kidding? Because you’re taking from people the only thing that can possibly give them enduring joy. They are successfully taking it from people, and I hate them for it.

Lex Fridman(02:57:08) You founded TCN, Tucker Carlson Network.

Tucker Carlson(02:57:11) Yeah.

Lex Fridman(02:57:11) What’s your vision for it?

Tucker Carlson(02:57:12) I have no vision for myself, for my career, and I never have. So I’m the last person to explain.

Lex Fridman(02:57:19) You just roll with it.

Tucker Carlson(02:57:19) Yeah, I’m an instinct guy, 100%. I have a vision for the world, but I don’t have a vision for my life, for my career. So really my vision extended precisely this far, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. There was a five hour period where I wondered if I would be able to, because I feel pretty spry and alert, and I’m certainly deeply enjoying what I’m doing, which is talking to people and saying what I think and learning, constantly learning. But I just wanted to keep doing that and I also wanted to employ the people who I worked with at Fox. I’ve worked with the same people for years, and I love them. So I had all these people and I wanted to bring them with me so we had to build a structure for that.

Lex Fridman(02:58:06) But this feels like one of the first times you’re really working for yourself. There’s an extra level of freedom here.

Tucker Carlson(02:58:12) Totally, totally. You don’t want me doing your taxes. I’m good at some things, but I’m really not good at others, so. One of them would be running a business. No idea. I’m not interested, not a commerce guy, so I don’t buy anything. So it’s like the whole thing I’m not good at. But luckily, I’m really blessed to have friends who are involved in this who are good at that. So I feel positive about it, but mostly I am totally committed to only doing the things that I am good at and enjoy and not doing anything else because I don’t want to waste my time. So I’m just getting to do what I want to do and I’m really loving it.

Hope for the future

Lex Fridman(02:58:53) What hope, positive hope do you have for the future of human civilization in say 50 years, 100 years, 200 years?

Tucker Carlson(02:59:01) People are great just by their nature. I mean, they’re super complicated, but I like people. I always have liked people. If I was sitting here with Nikki Haley, who I guess I’ve been pretty clear I’m not a mega fan of Nikki Haley’s, I would enjoy it. I’ve never met anybody I couldn’t enjoy on some level given enough time. So as long as nobody tampers with the human recipe, the human nature itself, I will always feel blessed by being around other people. That’s true around the world. I’ve never been to a country, and I’ve been to scores of countries, where I didn’t, given a week, really like it and the people. So yeah, bad leaders are a recurring theme in human history. They’re mostly bad, and we’ve got an unusually bad set right now, but we’ll have better ones at some point. One thing I don’t like more than nuclear weapons and more than AI, the one thing that really, really bothers me is the idea of using technology to change the human brain permanently. Because you’re tampering with the secret sauce. You’re tampering with God’s creation, and totally evil. I mean, I literally sat there the other day with Klaus Schwab. I was with Klaus Schwab. He was like a total moron, like 100 years old and has no idea what’s going on in the world. But he’s one of these guys who, speaking of mediocre, everyone’s so afraid of Klaus Schwab, I don’t think Klaus Schwab is going to be organizing anything. Again, he’s just like a total figurehead, like a douchebag.

(03:00:40) But anyway, but he was talking and he’s reading all these talking points, all the cool kids are talking about Adapos and whatever, and he starts talking about it in his way, his accent, he was saying, “I think it’s so important that we follow an ethical way, always in an ethical way, of course, very ethical. I’m a very ethical man, that we follow using technology to improve the human mind and implant the chips in the brain.” I’m like, “Okay, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re as senile as Joe Biden.” But what was so striking is that no one in the room is like, “Wait, what? You’re with people’s brains. Oh my God. What are you even talking about? Who do you think you are?”

Lex Fridman(03:01:26) I mean, you’re right, the secret sauce. The human mind is really special. We should not mess with it.

Tucker Carlson(03:01:26) It’s all that matters, dude.

Lex Fridman(03:01:32) We should be very careful. Whatever special thing it does, it seems like it’s a good thing. Human beings are fundamentally good. These sources of creativity, the creative force in the universe we don’t want to mess with.

Tucker Carlson(03:01:48) Oh, I mean, what else matters? I don’t understand. I mean, I guess, look, I don’t want to seem like the Unabomber and I’m not.

Lex Fridman(03:01:59) We are in a cabin in the woods.

Tucker Carlson(03:02:00) No. Well, I’m sympathetic to some of his ideas, but not of course sending mail bombs to people because I like people and I don’t believe in violence at all. But I think the problem with technology, one of the problems with technology is the way that people approach it in a very kind of mindless heedless way. I think it’s important, this idea that it’s inexorable and we can’t control it, and if we don’t do it, someone else will. There’s some truth in that, but it’s not the whole story. We do have free will and we are creating these things intentionally, and I think it’s incumbent on us, it’s a requirement, of a moral requirement of us that we ask, is this a net gain or a net loss? What, to the extent we can foresee them, will the effects be, et cetera, et cetera?

(03:02:46) It’s not super complicated. So I prize long-term thinking. I don’t always apply to my own life, obviously. I want to, but I prize it. I think that people with power should think about future generations and I don’t see that kind of thinking at all. They all seem like children to me, and don’t give children handguns because they can hurt people.

Lex Fridman(03:03:07) Fundamentally, you want people in power to be pro-humanity.

Tucker Carlson(03:03:11) By the way, you don’t want people who are 81 who are going to die anyway. Why do they care? By the way, if your track record with your own family is miserable, why would I give you my family to oversee? Again, these are autistic level questions that someone should answer.

Lex Fridman(03:03:28) Well, thank you for asking those questions, first of all, and thank you for this conversation. Thank you for welcoming me to the cabin in the woods.

Tucker Carlson(03:03:38) Thank you.

Lex Fridman(03:03:40) Thanks for listening to this conversation with Tucker Carlson. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. Now, let me leave you with some words from Mahatma Gandhi. When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

Ted Kaczynski · 06/01/95

Industrial Society And Its Future

Introduction

1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries.

2. The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down. If it survives, it MAY eventually achieve a low level of physical and psychological suffering, but only after passing through a long and very painful period of adjustment and only at the cost of permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine. Furthermore, if the system survives, the consequences will be inevitable: There is no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy.

3. If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later.

4. We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system. This revolution may or may not make use of violence; it may be sudden or it may be a relatively gradual process spanning a few decades. We can’t predict any of that. But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a POLITICAL revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.

5. In this article we give attention to only some of the negative developments that have grown out of the industrial-technological system. Other such developments we mention only briefly or ignore altogether. This does not mean that we regard these other developments as unimportant. For practical reasons we have to confine our discussion to areas that have received insufficient public attention or in which we have something new to say. For example, since there are well-developed environmental and wilderness movements, we have written very little about environmental degradation or the destruction of wild nature, even though we consider these to be highly important.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MODERN LEFTISM

6. Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general.

7. But what is leftism? During the first half of the 20th century leftism could have been practically identified with socialism. Today the movement is fragmented and it is not clear who can properly be called a leftist. When we speak of leftists in this article we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, “politically correct” types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like. But not everyone who is associated with one of these movements is a leftist. What we are trying to get at in discussing leftism is not so much movement or an ideology as a psychological type, or rather a collection of related types. Thus, what we mean by “leftism” will emerge more clearly in the course of our discussion of leftist psychology. (Also, see paragraphs 227-230.)

8. Even so, our conception of leftism will remain a good deal less clear than we would wish, but there doesn’t seem to be any remedy for this. All we are trying to do here is indicate in a rough and approximate way the two psychological tendencies that we believe are the main driving force of modern leftism. We by no means claim to be telling the WHOLE truth about leftist psychology. Also, our discussion is meant to apply to modern leftism only. We leave open the question of the extent to which our discussion could be applied to the leftists of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

9. The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we call “feelings of inferiority” and “oversocialization.” Feelings of inferiority are characteristic of modern leftism as a whole, while oversocialization is characteristic only of a certain segment of modern leftism; but this segment is highly influential.

FEELINGS OF INFERIORITY

10. By “feelings of inferiority” we mean not only inferiority feelings in the strict sense but a whole spectrum of related traits; low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self- hatred, etc. We argue that modern leftists tend to have some such feelings (possibly more or less repressed) and that these feelings are decisive in determining the direction of modern leftism.

11. When someone interprets as derogatory almost anything that is said about him (or about groups with whom he identifies) we conclude that he has inferiority feelings or low self-esteem. This tendency is pronounced among minority rights activists, whether or not they belong to the minority groups whose rights they defend. They are hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities and about anything that is said concerning minorities. The terms “negro,” “oriental,” “handicapped” or “chick” for an African, an Asian, a disabled person or a woman originally had no derogatory connotation. “Broad” and “chick” were merely the feminine equivalents of “guy,” “dude” or “fellow.” The negative connotations have been attached to these terms by the activists themselves. Some animal rights activists have gone so far as to reject the word “pet” and insist on its replacement by “animal companion.” Leftish anthropologists go to great lengths to avoid saying anything about primitive peoples that could conceivably be interpreted as negative. They want to replace the world “primitive” by “nonliterate.” They seem almost paranoid about anything that might suggest that any primitive culture is inferior to our own. (We do not mean to imply that primitive cultures ARE inferior to ours. We merely point out the hypersensitivity of leftish anthropologists.)

12. Those who are most sensitive about “politically incorrect” terminology are not the average black ghetto- dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any “oppressed” group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.

13. Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals) or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with their problems. (We do not mean to suggest that women, Indians, etc. ARE inferior; we are only making a point about leftist psychology.)

14. Feminists are desperately anxious to prove that women are as strong and as capable as men. Clearly they are nagged by a fear that women may NOT be as strong and as capable as men.

15. Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc. clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They SAY they hate the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the leftist’s real motive for hating America and the West. He hates America and the West because they are strong and successful.

16. Words like “self-confidence,” “self-reliance,” “initiative,” “enterprise,” “optimism,” etc., play little role in the liberal and leftist vocabulary. The leftist is anti-individualistic, pro-collectivist. He wants society to solve everyone’s problems for them, satisfy everyone’s needs for them, take care of them. He is not the sort of person who has an inner sense of confidence in his ability to solve his own problems and satisfy his own needs. The leftist is antagonistic to the concept of competition because, deep inside, he feels like a loser.

17. Art forms that appeal to modern leftish intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair, or else they take an orgiastic tone, throwing off rational control as if there were no hope of accomplishing anything through rational calculation and all that was left was to immerse oneself in the sensations of the moment.

18. Modern leftish philosophers tend to dismiss reason, science, objective reality and to insist that everything is culturally relative. It is true that one can ask serious questions about the foundations of scientific knowledge and about how, if at all, the concept of objective reality can be defined. But it is obvious that modern leftish philosophers are not simply cool-headed logicians systematically analyzing the foundations of knowledge. They are deeply involved emotionally in their attack on truth and reality. They attack these concepts because of their own psychological needs. For one thing, their attack is an outlet for hostility, and, to the extent that it is successful, it satisfies the drive for power. More importantly, the leftist hates science and rationality because they classify certain beliefs as true (i.e., successful, superior) and other beliefs as false (i.e., failed, inferior). The leftist’s feelings of inferiority run so deep that he cannot tolerate any classification of some things as successful or superior and other things as failed or inferior. This also underlies the rejection by many leftists of the concept of mental illness and of the utility of IQ tests. Leftists are antagonistic to genetic explanations of human abilities or behavior because such explanations tend to make some persons appear superior or inferior to others. Leftists prefer to give society the credit or blame for an individual’s ability or lack of it. Thus if a person is “inferior” it is not his fault, but society’s, because he has not been brought up properly.

19. The leftist is not typically the kind of person whose feelings of inferiority make him a braggart, an egotist, a bully, a self-promoter, a ruthless competitor. This kind of person has not wholly lost faith in himself. He has a deficit in his sense of power and self-worth, but he can still conceive of himself as having the capacity to be strong, and his efforts to make himself strong produce his unpleasant behavior. [1] But the leftist is too far gone for that. His feelings of inferiority are so ingrained that he cannot conceive of himself as individually strong and valuable. Hence the collectivism of the leftist. He can feel strong only as a member of a large organization or a mass movement with which he identifies himself.

20. Notice the masochistic tendency of leftist tactics. Leftists protest by lying down in front of vehicles, they intentionally provoke police or racists to abuse them, etc. These tactics may often be effective, but many leftists use them not as a means to an end but because they PREFER masochistic tactics. Self-hatred is a leftist trait.

21. Leftists may claim that their activism is motivated by compassion or by moral principles, and moral principle does play a role for the leftist of the oversocialized type. But compassion and moral principle cannot be the main motives for leftist activism. Hostility is too prominent a component of leftist behavior; so is the drive for power. Moreover, much leftist behavior is not rationally calculated to be of benefit to the people whom the leftists claim to be trying to help. For example, if one believes that affirmative action is good for black people, does it make sense to demand affirmative action in hostile or dogmatic terms? Obviously it would be more productive to take a diplomatic and conciliatory approach that would make at least verbal and symbolic concessions to white people who think that affirmative action discriminates against them. But leftist activists do not take such an approach because it would not satisfy their emotional needs. Helping black people is not their real goal. Instead, race problems serve as an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm black people, because the activists’ hostile attitude toward the white majority tends to intensify race hatred.

22. If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to INVENT problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

23. We emphasize that the foregoing does not pretend to be an accurate description of everyone who might be considered a leftist. It is only a rough indication of a general tendency of leftism.

OVERSOCIALIZATION

24. Psychologists use the term “socialization” to designate the process by which children are trained to think and act as society demands. A person is said to be well socialized if he believes in and obeys the moral code of his society and fits in well as a functioning part of that society. It may seem senseless to say that many leftists are oversocialized, since the leftist is perceived as a rebel. Nevertheless, the position can be defended. Many leftists are not such rebels as they seem.

25. The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term “oversocialized” to describe such people. [2]

26. Oversocialization can lead to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, guilt, etc. One of the most important means by which our society socializes children is by making them feel ashamed of behavior or speech that is contrary to society’s expectations. If this is overdone, or if a particular child is especially susceptible to such feelings, he ends by feeling ashamed of HIMSELF. Moreover the thought and the behavior of the oversocialized person are more restricted by society’s expectations than are those of the lightly socialized person. The majority of people engage in a significant amount of naughty behavior. They lie, they commit petty thefts, they break traffic laws, they goof off at work, they hate someone, they say spiteful things or they use some underhanded trick to get ahead of the other guy. The oversocialized person cannot do these things, or if he does do them he generates in himself a sense of shame and self-hatred. The oversocialized person cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality; he cannot think “unclean” thoughts. And socialization is not just a matter of morality; we are socialized to conform to many norms of behavior that do not fall under the heading of morality. Thus the oversocialized person is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. In many oversocialized people this results in a sense of constraint and powerlessness that can be a severe hardship. We suggest that oversocialization is among the more serious cruelties that human beings inflict on one another.

27. We argue that a very important and influential segment of the modern left is oversocialized and that their oversocialization is of great importance in determining the direction of modern leftism. Leftists of the oversocialized type tend to be intellectuals or members of the upper-middle class. Notice that university intellectuals [3] constitute the most highly socialized segment of our society and also the most left-wing segment.

28. The leftist of the oversocialized type tries to get off his psychological leash and assert his autonomy by rebelling. But usually he is not strong enough to rebel against the most basic values of society. Generally speaking, the goals of today’s leftists are NOT in conflict with the accepted morality. On the contrary, the left takes an accepted moral principle, adopts it as its own, and then accuses mainstream society of violating that principle. Examples: racial equality, equality of the sexes, helping poor people, peace as opposed to war, nonviolence generally, freedom of expression, kindness to animals. More fundamentally, the duty of the individual to serve society and the duty of society to take care of the individual. All these have been deeply rooted values of our society (or at least of its middle and upper classes [4] for a long time. These values are explicitly or implicitly expressed or presupposed in most of the material presented to us by the mainstream communications media and the educational system. Leftists, especially those of the oversocialized type, usually do not rebel against these principles but justify their hostility to society by claiming (with some degree of truth) that society is not living up to these principles.

29. Here is an illustration of the way in which the oversocialized leftist shows his real attachment to the conventional attitudes of our society while pretending to be in rebellion against it. Many leftists push for affirmative action, for moving black people into high-prestige jobs, for improved education in black schools and more money for such schools; the way of life of the black “underclass” they regard as a social disgrace. They want to integrate the black man into the system, make him a business executive, a lawyer, a scientist just like upper-middle-class white people. The leftists will reply that the last thing they want is to make the black man into a copy of the white man; instead, they want to preserve African American culture. But in what does this preservation of African American culture consist? It can hardly consist in anything more than eating black-style food, listening to black-style music, wearing black-style clothing and going to a black- style church or mosque. In other words, it can express itself only in superficial matters. In all ESSENTIAL respects most leftists of the oversocialized type want to make the black man conform to white, middle-class ideals. They want to make him study technical subjects, become an executive or a scientist, spend his life climbing the status ladder to prove that black people are as good as white. They want to make black fathers “responsible,” they want black gangs to become nonviolent, etc. But these are exactly the values of the industrial-technological system. The system couldn’t care less what kind of music a man listens to, what kind of clothes he wears or what religion he believes in as long as he studies in school, holds a respectable job, climbs the status ladder, is a “responsible” parent, is nonviolent and so forth. In effect, however much he may deny it, the oversocialized leftist wants to integrate the black man into the system and make him adopt its values.

30. We certainly do not claim that leftists, even of the oversocialized type, NEVER rebel against the fundamental values of our society. Clearly they sometimes do. Some oversocialized leftists have gone so far as to rebel against one of modern society’s most important principles by engaging in physical violence. By their own account, violence is for them a form of “liberation.” In other words, by committing violence they break through the psychological restraints that have been trained into them. Because they are oversocialized these restraints have been more confining for them than for others; hence their need to break free of them. But they usually justify their rebellion in terms of mainstream values. If they engage in violence they claim to be fighting against racism or the like.

31. We realize that many objections could be raised to the foregoing thumbnail sketch of leftist psychology. The real situation is complex, and anything like a complete description of it would take several volumes even if the necessary data were available. We claim only to have indicated very roughly the two most important tendencies in the psychology of modern leftism.

32. The problems of the leftist are indicative of the problems of our society as a whole. Low self-esteem, depressive tendencies and defeatism are not restricted to the left. Though they are especially noticeable in the left, they are widespread in our society. And today’s society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society. We are even told by experts how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise our kids and so forth.

THE POWER PROCESS

33. Human beings have a need (probably based in biology) for something that we will call the “power process.” This is closely related to the need for power (which is widely recognized) but is not quite the same thing. The power process has four elements. The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.) The fourth element is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. We call it autonomy and will discuss it later (paragraphs 42-44).

34. Consider the hypothetical case of a man who can have anything he wants just by wishing for it. Such a man has power, but he will develop serious psychological problems. At first he will have a lot of fun, but by and by he will become acutely bored and demoralized. Eventually he may become clinically depressed. History shows that leisured aristocracies tend to become decadent. This is not true of fighting aristocracies that have to struggle to maintain their power. But leisured, secure aristocracies that have no need to exert themselves usually become bored, hedonistic and demoralized, even though they have power. This shows that power is not enough. One must have goals toward which to exercise one’s power.

35. Everyone has goals; if nothing else, to obtain the physical necessities of life: food, water and whatever clothing and shelter are made necessary by the climate. But the leisured aristocrat obtains these things without effort. Hence his boredom and demoralization.

36. Nonattainment of important goals results in death if the goals are physical necessities, and in frustration if nonattainment of the goals is compatible with survival. Consistent failure to attain goals throughout life results in defeatism, low self-esteem or depression.

37, Thus, in order to avoid serious psychological problems, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.

SURROGATE ACTIVITIES

38. But not every leisured aristocrat becomes bored and demoralized. For example, the emperor Hirohito, instead of sinking into decadent hedonism, devoted himself to marine biology, a field in which he became distinguished. When people do not have to exert themselves to satisfy their physical needs they often set up artificial goals for themselves. In many cases they then pursue these goals with the same energy and emotional involvement that they otherwise would have put into the search for physical necessities. Thus the aristocrats of the Roman Empire had their literary pretensions; many European aristocrats a few centuries ago invested tremendous time and energy in hunting, though they certainly didn’t need the meat; other aristocracies have competed for status through elaborate displays of wealth; and a few aristocrats, like Hirohito, have turned to science.

39. We use the term “surrogate activity” to designate an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the sake of the “fulfillment” that they get from pursuing the goal. Here is a rule of thumb for the identification of surrogate activities. Given a person who devotes much time and energy to the pursuit of goal X, ask yourself this: If he had to devote most of his time and energy to satisfying his biological needs, and if that effort required him to use his physical and mental faculties in a varied and interesting way, would he feel seriously deprived because he did not attain goal X? If the answer is no, then the person’s pursuit of goal X is a surrogate activity. Hirohito’s studies in marine biology clearly constituted a surrogate activity, since it is pretty certain that if Hirohito had had to spend his time working at interesting non-scientific tasks in order to obtain the necessities of life, he would not have felt deprived because he didn’t know all about the anatomy and life-cycles of marine animals. On the other hand the pursuit of sex and love (for example) is not a surrogate activity, because most people, even if their existence were otherwise satisfactory, would feel deprived if they passed their lives without ever having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. (But pursuit of an excessive amount of sex, more than one really needs, can be a surrogate activity.)

40. In modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs. It is enough to go through a training program to acquire some petty technical skill, then come to work on time and exert the very modest effort needed to hold a job. The only requirements are a moderate amount of intelligence and, most of all, simple OBEDIENCE. If one has those, society takes care of one from cradle to grave. (Yes, there is an underclass that cannot take the physical necessities for granted, but we are speaking here of mainstream society.) Thus it is not surprising that modern society is full of surrogate activities. These include scientific work, athletic achievement, humanitarian work, artistic and literary creation, climbing the corporate ladder, acquisition of money and material goods far beyond the point at which they cease to give any additional physical satisfaction, and social activism when it addresses issues that are not important for the activist personally, as in the case of white activists who work for the rights of nonwhite minorities. These are not always PURE surrogate activities, since for many people they may be motivated in part by needs other than the need to have some goal to pursue. Scientific work may be motivated in part by a drive for prestige, artistic creation by a need to express feelings, militant social activism by hostility. But for most people who pursue them, these activities are in large part surrogate activities. For example, the majority of scientists will probably agree that the “fulfillment” they get from their work is more important than the money and prestige they earn.

41. For many if not most people, surrogate activities are less satisfying than the pursuit of real goals (that is, goals that people would want to attain even if their need for the power process were already fulfilled). One indication of this is the fact that, in many or most cases, people who are deeply involved in surrogate activities are never satisfied, never at rest. Thus the money-maker constantly strives for more and more wealth. The scientist no sooner solves one problem than he moves on to the next. The long-distance runner drives himself to run always farther and faster. Many people who pursue surrogate activities will say that they get far more fulfillment from these activities than they do from the “mundane” business of satisfying their biological needs, but that is because in our society the effort needed to satisfy the biological needs has been reduced to triviality. More importantly, in our society people do not satisfy their biological needs AUTONOMOUSLY but by functioning as parts of an immense social machine. In contrast, people generally have a great deal of autonomy in pursuing their surrogate activities.

AUTONOMY

42. Autonomy as a part of the power process may not be necessary for every individual. But most people need a greater or lesser degree of autonomy in working toward their goals. Their efforts must be undertaken on their own initiative and must be under their own direction and control. Yet most people do not have to exert this initiative, direction and control as single individuals. It is usually enough to act as a member of a SMALL group. Thus if half a dozen people discuss a goal among themselves and make a successful joint effort to attain that goal, their need for the power process will be served. But if they work under rigid orders handed down from above that leave them no room for autonomous decision and initiative, then their need for the power process will not be served. The same is true when decisions are made on a collective basis if the group making the collective decision is so large that the role of each individual is insignificant. [5]

43. It is true that some individuals seem to have little need for autonomy. Either their drive for power is weak or they satisfy it by identifying themselves with some powerful organization to which they belong. And then there are unthinking, animal types who seem to be satisfied with a purely physical sense of power (the good combat soldier, who gets his sense of power by developing fighting skills that he is quite content to use in blind obedience to his superiors).

44. But for most people it is through the power process—having a goal, making an AUTONOMOUS effort and attaining the goal—that self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of power are acquired. When one does not have adequate opportunity to go through the power process the consequences are (depending on the individual and on the way the power process is disrupted) boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, etc. [6]

SOURCES OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS

45. Any of the foregoing symptoms can occur in any society, but in modern industrial society they are present on a massive scale. We aren’t the first to mention that the world today seems to be going crazy. This sort of thing is not normal for human societies. There is good reason to believe that primitive man suffered from less stress and frustration and was better satisfied with his way of life than modern man is. It is true that not all was sweetness and light in primitive societies. Abuse of women was common among the Australian aborigines, transexuality was fairly common among some of the American Indian tribes. But it does appear that GENERALLY SPEAKING the kinds of problems that we have listed in the preceding paragraph were far less common among primitive peoples than they are in modern society.

46. We attribute the social and psychological problems of modern society to the fact that that society requires people to live under conditions radically different from those under which the human race evolved and to behave in ways that conflict with the patterns of behavior that the human race developed while living under the earlier conditions. It is clear from what we have already written that we consider lack of opportunity to properly experience the power process as the most important of the abnormal conditions to which modern society subjects people. But it is not the only one. Before dealing with disruption of the power process as a source of social problems we will discuss some of the other sources.

47. Among the abnormal conditions present in modern industrial society are excessive density of population, isolation of man from nature, excessive rapidity of social change and the breakdown of natural small-scale communities such as the extended family, the village or the tribe.

48. It is well known that crowding increases stress and aggression. The degree of crowding that exists today and the isolation of man from nature are consequences of technological progress. All pre-industrial societies were predominantly rural. The Industrial Revolution vastly increased the size of cities and the proportion of the population that lives in them, and modern agricultural technology has made it possible for the Earth to support a far denser population than it ever did before. (Also, technology exacerbates the effects of crowding because it puts increased disruptive powers in people’s hands. For example, a variety of noise- making devices: power mowers, radios, motorcycles, etc. If the use of these devices is unrestricted, people who want peace and quiet are frustrated by the noise. If their use is restricted, people who use the devices are frustrated by the regulations. But if these machines had never been invented there would have been no conflict and no frustration generated by them.)

49. For primitive societies the natural world (which usually changes only slowly) provided a stable framework and therefore a sense of security. In the modern world it is human society that dominates nature rather than the other way around, and modern society changes very rapidly owing to technological change. Thus there is no stable framework.

50. The conservatives are fools: They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth. Apparently it never occurs to them that you can’t make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society without causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values.

51. The breakdown of traditional values to some extent implies the breakdown of the bonds that hold together traditional small-scale social groups. The disintegration of small-scale social groups is also promoted by the fact that modern conditions often require or tempt individuals to move to new locations, separating themselves from their communities. Beyond that, a technological society HAS TO weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently. In modern society an individual’s loyalty must be first to the system and only secondarily to a small-scale community, because if the internal loyalties of small-scale communities were stronger than loyalty to the system, such communities would pursue their own advantage at the expense of the system.

52. Suppose that a public official or a corporation executive appoints his cousin, his friend or his co- religionist to a position rather than appointing the person best qualified for the job. He has permitted personal loyalty to supersede his loyalty to the system, and that is “nepotism” or “discrimination,” both of which are terrible sins in modern society. Would-be industrial societies that have done a poor job of subordinating personal or local loyalties to loyalty to the system are usually very inefficient. (Look at Latin America.) Thus an advanced industrial society can tolerate only those small-scale communities that are emasculated, tamed and made into tools of the system. [7]

53. Crowding, rapid change and the breakdown of communities have been widely recognized as sources of social problems. But we do not believe they are enough to account for the extent of the problems that are seen today.

54. A few pre-industrial cities were very large and crowded, yet their inhabitants do not seem to have suffered from psychological problems to the same extent as modern man. In America today there still are uncrowded rural areas, and we find there the same problems as in urban areas, though the problems tend to be less acute in the rural areas. Thus crowding does not seem to be the decisive factor.

55. On the growing edge of the American frontier during the 19th century, the mobility of the population probably broke down extended families and small-scale social groups to at least the same extent as these are broken down today. In fact, many nuclear families lived by choice in such isolation, having no neighbors within several miles, that they belonged to no community at all, yet they do not seem to have developed problems as a result.

56. Furthermore, change in American frontier society was very rapid and deep. A man might be born and raised in a log cabin, outside the reach of law and order and fed largely on wild meat; and by the time he arrived at old age he might be working at a regular job and living in an ordered community with effective law enforcement. This was a deeper change than that which typically occurs in the life of a modern individual, yet it does not seem to have led to psychological problems. In fact, 19th century American society had an optimistic and self-confident tone, quite unlike that of today’s society. [8]

57. The difference, we argue, is that modern man has the sense (largely justified) that change is IMPOSED on him, whereas the 19th century frontiersman had the sense (also largely justified) that he created change himself, by his own choice. Thus a pioneer settled on a piece of land of his own choosing and made it into a farm through his own effort. In those days an entire county might have only a couple of hundred inhabitants and was a far more isolated and autonomous entity than a modern county is. Hence the pioneer farmer participated as a member of a relatively small group in the creation of a new, ordered community. One may well question whether the creation of this community was an improvement, but at any rate it satisfied the pioneer’s need for the power process.

58. It would be possible to give other examples of societies in which there has been rapid change and/or lack of close community ties without the kind of massive behavioral aberration that is seen in today’s industrial society. We contend that the most important cause of social and psychological problems in modern society is the fact that people have insufficient opportunity to go through the power process in a normal way. We don’t mean to say that modern society is the only one in which the power process has been disrupted. Probably most if not all civilized societies have interfered with the power process to a greater or lesser extent. But in modern industrial society the problem has become particularly acute. Leftism, at least in its recent (mid- to late-20th century) form, is in part a symptom of deprivation with respect to the power process.

DISRUPTION OF THE POWER PROCESS IN MODERN SOCIETY

59. We divide human drives into three groups: (1) those drives that can be satisfied with minimal effort; (2) those that can be satisfied but only at the cost of serious effort; (3) those that cannot be adequately satisfied no matter how much effort one makes. The power process is the process of satisfying the drives of the second group. The more drives there are in the third group, the more there is frustration, anger, eventually defeatism, depression, etc.

60. In modern industrial society natural human drives tend to be pushed into the first and third groups, and the second group tends to consist increasingly of artificially created drives.

61. In primitive societies, physical necessities generally fall into group 2: They can be obtained, but only at the cost of serious effort. But modern society tends to guaranty the physical necessities to everyone [9] in exchange for only minimal effort, hence physical needs are pushed into group 1. (There may be disagreement about whether the effort needed to hold a job is “minimal”; but usually, in lower- to middle- level jobs, whatever effort is required is merely that of OBEDIENCE. You sit or stand where you are told to sit or stand and do what you are told to do in the way you are told to do it. Seldom do you have to exert yourself seriously, and in any case you have hardly any autonomy in work, so that the need for the power process is not well served.)

62. Social needs, such as sex, love and status, often remain in group 2 in modern society, depending on the situation of the individual. [10] But, except for people who have a particularly strong drive for status, the effort required to fulfill the social drives is insufficient to satisfy adequately the need for the power process.

63. So certain artificial needs have been created that fall into group 2, hence serve the need for the power process. Advertising and marketing techniques have been developed that make many people feel they need things that their grandparents never desired or even dreamed of. It requires serious effort to earn enough money to satisfy these artificial needs, hence they fall into group 2. (But see paragraphs 80-82.) Modern man must satisfy his need for the power process largely through pursuit of the artificial needs created by the advertising and marketing industry [11], and through surrogate activities.

64. It seems that for many people, maybe the majority, these artificial forms of the power process are insufficient. A theme that appears repeatedly in the writings of the social critics of the second half of the 20th century is the sense of purposelessness that afflicts many people in modern society. (This purposelessness is often called by other names such as “anomic” or “middle-class vacuity.”) We suggest that the so-called “identity crisis” is actually a search for a sense of purpose, often for commitment to a suitable surrogate activity. It may be that existentialism is in large part a response to the purposelessness of modern life. [12] Very widespread in modern society is the search for “fulfillment.” But we think that for the majority of people an activity whose main goal is fulfillment (that is, a surrogate activity) does not bring completely satisfactory fulfillment. In other words, it does not fully satisfy the need for the power process. (See paragraph 41.) That need can be fully satisfied only through activities that have some external goal, such as physical necessities, sex, love, status, revenge, etc.

65. Moreover, where goals are pursued through earning money, climbing the status ladder or functioning as part of the system in some other way, most people are not in a position to pursue their goals AUTONOMOUSLY. Most workers are someone else’s employee and, as we pointed out in paragraph 61, must spend their days doing what they are told to do in the way they are told to do it. Even people who are in business for themselves have only limited autonomy. It is a chronic complaint of small-business persons and entrepreneurs that their hands are tied by excessive government regulation. Some of these regulations are doubtless unnecessary, but for the most part government regulations are essential and inevitable parts of our extremely complex society. A large portion of small business today operates on the franchise system. It was reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that many of the franchise-granting companies require applicants for franchises to take a personality test that is designed to EXCLUDE those who have creativity and initiative, because such persons are not sufficiently docile to go along obediently with the franchise system. This excludes from small business many of the people who most need autonomy.

66. Today people live more by virtue of what the system does FOR them or TO them than by virtue of what they do for themselves. And what they do for themselves is done more and more along channels laid down by the system. Opportunities tend to be those that the system provides, the opportunities must be exploited in accord with rules and regulations [13], and techniques prescribed by experts must be followed if there is to be a chance of success.

67. Thus the power process is disrupted in our society through a deficiency of real goals and a deficiency of autonomy in the pursuit of goals. But it is also disrupted because of those human drives that fall into group 3: the drives that one cannot adequately satisfy no matter how much effort one makes. One of these drives is the need for security. Our lives depend on decisions made by other people; we have no control over these decisions and usually we do not even know the people who make them. (“We live in a world in which relatively few people—maybe 500 or 1,000—make the important decisions”—Philip B. Heymann of Harvard Law School, quoted by Anthony Lewis, New York Times, April 21, 1995.) Our lives depend on whether safety standards at a nuclear power plant are properly maintained; on how much pesticide is allowed to get into our food or how much pollution into our air; on how skillful (or incompetent) our doctor is; whether we lose or get a job may depend on decisions made by government economists or corporation executives; and so forth. Most individuals are not in a position to secure themselves against these threats to more [than] a very limited extent. The individual’s search for security is therefore frustrated, which leads to a sense of powerlessness.

68. It may be objected that primitive man is physically less secure than modern man, as is shown by his shorter life expectancy; hence modern man suffers from less, not more than the amount of insecurity that is normal for human beings. But psychological security does not closely correspond with physical security. What makes us FEEL secure is not so much objective security as a sense of confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves. Primitive man, threatened by a fierce animal or by hunger, can fight in self-defense or travel in search of food. He has no certainty of success in these efforts, but he is by no means helpless against the things that threaten him. The modern individual on the other hand is threatened by many things against which he is helpless: nuclear accidents, carcinogens in food, environmental pollution, war, increasing taxes, invasion of his privacy by large organizations, nationwide social or economic phenomena that may disrupt his way of life.

69. It is true that primitive man is powerless against some of the things that threaten him; disease for example. But he can accept the risk of disease stoically. It is part of the nature of things, it is no one’s fault, unless it is the fault of some imaginary, impersonal demon. But threats to the modern individual tend to be MAN-MADE. They are not the results of chance but are IMPOSED on him by other persons whose decisions he, as an individual, is unable to influence. Consequently he feels frustrated, humiliated and angry.

70. Thus primitive man for the most part has his security in his own hands (either as an individual or as a member of a SMALL group) whereas the security of modern man is in the hands of persons or organizations that are too remote or too large for him to be able personally to influence them. So modern man’s drive for security tends to fall into groups 1 and 3; in some areas (food, shelter etc.) his security is assured at the cost of only trivial effort, whereas in other areas he CANNOT attain security. (The foregoing greatly simplifies the real situation, but it does indicate in a rough, general way how the condition of modern man differs from that of primitive man.)

71. People have many transitory drives or impulses that are necessarily frustrated in modern life, hence fall into group 3. One may become angry, but modern society cannot permit fighting. In many situations it does not even permit verbal aggression. When going somewhere one may be in a hurry, or one may be in a mood to travel slowly, but one generally has no choice but to move with the flow of traffic and obey the traffic signals. One may want to do one’s work in a different way, but usually one can work only according to the rules laid down by one’s employer. In many other ways as well, modern man is strapped down by a network of rules and regulations (explicit or implicit) that frustrate many of his impulses and thus interfere with the power process. Most of these regulations cannot be dispensed with, because they are necessary for the functioning of industrial society.

72. Modern society is in certain respects extremely permissive. In matters that are irrelevant to the functioning of the system we can generally do what we please. We can believe in any religion we like (as long as it does not encourage behavior that is dangerous to the system). We can go to bed with anyone we like (as long as we practice “safe sex”). We can do anything we like as long as it is UNIMPORTANT. But in all IMPORTANT matters the system tends increasingly to regulate our behavior.

73. Behavior is regulated not only through explicit rules and not only by the government. Control is often exercised through indirect coercion or through psychological pressure or manipulation, and by organizations other than the government, or by the system as a whole. Most large organizations use some form of propaganda [14] to manipulate public attitudes or behavior. Propaganda is not limited to “commercials” and advertisements, and sometimes it is not even consciously intended as propaganda by the people who make it. For instance, the content of entertainment programming is a powerful form of propaganda. An example of indirect coercion: There is no law that says we have to go to work every day and follow our employer’s orders. Legally there is nothing to prevent us from going to live in the wild like primitive people or from going into business for ourselves. But in practice there is very little wild country left, and there is room in the economy for only a limited number of small business owners. Hence most of us can survive only as someone else’s employee.

74. We suggest that modern man’s obsession with longevity, and with maintaining physical vigor and sexual attractiveness to an advanced age, is a symptom of unfulfillment resulting from deprivation with respect to the power process. The “mid-life crisis” also is such a symptom. So is the lack of interest in having children that is fairly common in modern society but almost unheard-of in primitive societies.

75. In primitive societies life is a succession of stages. The needs and purposes of one stage having been fulfilled, there is no particular reluctance about passing on to the next stage. A young man goes through the power process by becoming a hunter, hunting not for sport or for fulfillment but to get meat that is necessary for food. (In young women the process is more complex, with greater emphasis on social power; we won’t discuss that here.) This phase having been successfully passed through, the young man has no reluctance about settling down to the responsibilities of raising a family. (In contrast, some modern people indefinitely postpone having children because they are too busy seeking some kind of “fulfillment.” We suggest that the fulfillment they need is adequate experience of the power process—with real goals instead of the artificial goals of surrogate activities.) Again, having successfully raised his children, going through the power process by providing them with the physical necessities, the primitive man feels that his work is done and he is prepared to accept old age (if he survives that long) and death. Many modern people, on the other hand, are disturbed by the prospect of physical deterioration and death, as is shown by the amount of effort they expend trying to maintain their physical condition, appearance and health. We argue that this is due to unfulfillment resulting from the fact that they have never put their physical powers to any practical use, have never gone through the power process using their bodies in a serious way. It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never had a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house. It is the man whose need for the power process has been satisfied during his life who is best prepared to accept the end of that life.

76. In response to the arguments of this section someone will say, “Society must find a way to give people the opportunity to go through the power process.” For such people the value of the opportunity is destroyed by the very fact that society gives it to them. What they need is to find or make their own opportunities. As long as the system GIVES them their opportunities it still has them on a leash. To attain autonomy they must get off that leash.

HOW SOME PEOPLE ADJUST

77. Not everyone in industrial-technological society suffers from psychological problems. Some people even profess to be quite satisfied with society as it is. We now discuss some of the reasons why people differ so greatly in their response to modern society.

78. First, there doubtless are differences in the strength of the drive for power. Individuals with a weak drive for power may have relatively little need to go through the power process, or at least relatively little need for autonomy in the power process. These are docile types who would have been happy as plantation darkies in the Old South. (We don’t mean to sneer at the “plantation darkies” of the Old South. To their credit, most of the slaves were NOT content with their servitude. We do sneer at people who ARE content with servitude.)

79. Some people may have some exceptional drive, in pursuing which they satisfy their need for the power process. For example, those who have an unusually strong drive for social status may spend their whole lives climbing the status ladder without ever getting bored with that game.

80. People vary in their susceptibility to advertising and marketing techniques. Some are so susceptible that, even if they make a great deal of money, they cannot satisfy their constant craving for the the shiny new toys that the marketing industry dangles before their eyes. So they always feel hard-pressed financially even if their income is large, and their cravings are frustrated.

81. Some people have low susceptibility to advertising and marketing techniques. These are the people who aren’t interested in money. Material acquisition does not serve their need for the power process.

82. People who have medium susceptibility to advertising and marketing techniques are able to earn enough money to satisfy their craving for goods and services, but only at the cost of serious effort (putting in overtime, taking a second job, earning promotions, etc.). Thus material acquisition serves their need for the power process. But it does not necessarily follow that their need is fully satisfied. They may have insufficient autonomy in the power process (their work may consist of following orders) and some of their drives may be frustrated (e.g., security, aggression). (We are guilty of oversimplification in paragraphs 80- 82 because we have assumed that the desire for material acquisition is entirely a creation of the advertising and marketing industry. Of course it’s not that simple. [11]

83. Some people partly satisfy their need for power by identifying themselves with a powerful organization or mass movement. An individual lacking goals or power joins a movement or an organization, adopts its goals as his own, then works toward those goals. When some of the goals are attained, the individual, even though his personal efforts have played only an insignificant part in the attainment of the goals, feels (through his identification with the movement or organization) as if he had gone through the power process. This phenomenon was exploited by the fascists, nazis and communists. Our society uses it too, though less crudely. Example: Manuel Noriega was an irritant to the U.S. (goal: punish Noriega). The U.S. invaded Panama (effort) and punished Noriega (attainment of goal). Thus the U.S. went through the power process and many Americans, because of their identification with the U.S., experienced the power process vicariously. Hence the widespread public approval of the Panama invasion; it gave people a sense of power. [15] We see the same phenomenon in armies, corporations, political parties, humanitarian organizations, religious or ideological movements. In particular, leftist movements tend to attract people who are seeking to satisfy their need for power. But for most people identification with a large organization or a mass movement does not fully satisfy the need for power.

84. Another way in which people satisfy their need for the power process is through surrogate activities. As we explained in paragraphs 38-40, a surrogate activity is an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that the individual pursues for the sake of the “fulfillment” that he gets from pursuing the goal, not because he needs to attain the goal itself. For instance, there is no practical motive for building enormous muscles, hitting a little ball into a hole or acquiring a complete series of postage stamps. Yet many people in our society devote themselves with passion to bodybuilding, golf or stamp-collecting. Some people are more “other-directed” than others, and therefore will more readily attach importance to a surrogate activity simply because the people around them treat it as important or because society tells them it is important. That is why some people get very serious about essentially trivial activities such as sports, or bridge, or chess, or arcane scholarly pursuits, whereas others who are more clear-sighted never see these things as anything but the surrogate activities that they are, and consequently never attach enough importance to them to satisfy their need for the power process in that way. It only remains to point out that in many cases a person’s way of earning a living is also a surrogate activity. Not a PURE surrogate activity, since part of the motive for the activity is to gain the physical necessities and (for some people) social status and the luxuries that advertising makes them want. But many people put into their work far more effort than is necessary to earn whatever money and status they require, and this extra effort constitutes a surrogate activity. This extra effort, together with the emotional investment that accompanies it, is one of the most potent forces acting toward the continual development and perfecting of the system, with negative consequences for individual freedom (see paragraph 131). Especially, for the most creative scientists and engineers, work tends to be largely a surrogate activity. This point is so important that it deserves a separate discussion, which we shall give in a moment (paragraphs 87-92).

85. In this section we have explained how many people in modern society do satisfy their need for the power process to a greater or lesser extent. But we think that for the majority of people the need for the power process is not fully satisfied. In the first place, those who have an insatiable drive for status, or who get firmly “hooked” on a surrogate activity, or who identify strongly enough with a movement or organization to satisfy their need for power in that way, are exceptional personalities. Others are not fully satisfied with surrogate activities or by identification with an organization (see paragraphs 41, 64). In the second place, too much control is imposed by the system through explicit regulation or through socialization, which results in a deficiency of autonomy, and in frustration due to the impossibility of attaining certain goals and the necessity of restraining too many impulses.

86. But even if most people in industrial-technological society were well satisfied, we (FC) would still be opposed to that form of society, because (among other reasons) we consider it demeaning to fulfill one’s need for the power process through surrogate activities or through identification with an organization, rather than through pursuit of real goals.

THE MOTIVES OF SCIENTISTS

87. Science and technology provide the most important examples of surrogate activities. Some scientists claim that they are motivated by “curiosity” or by a desire to “benefit humanity.” But it is easy to see that neither of these can be the principal motive of most scientists. As for “curiosity,” that notion is simply absurd. Most scientists work on highly specialized problems that are not the object of any normal curiosity. For example, is an astronomer, a mathematician or an entomologist curious about the properties of isopropyltrimethylmethane? Of course not. Only a chemist is curious about such a thing, and he is curious about it only because chemistry is his surrogate activity. Is the chemist curious about the appropriate classification of a new species of beetle? No. That question is of interest only to the entomologist, and he is interested in it only because entomology is his surrogate activity. If the chemist and the entomologist had to exert themselves seriously to obtain the physical necessities, and if that effort exercised their abilities in an interesting way but in some nonscientific pursuit, then they wouldn’t give a damn about isopropyltrimethylmethane or the classification of beetles. Suppose that lack of funds for postgraduate education had led the chemist to become an insurance broker instead of a chemist. In that case he would have been very interested in insurance matters but would have cared nothing about isopropyltrimethylmethane. In any case it is not normal to put into the satisfaction of mere curiosity the amount of time and effort that scientists put into their work. The “curiosity” explanation for the scientists’ motive just doesn’t stand up.

88. The “benefit of humanity” explanation doesn’t work any better. Some scientific work has no conceivable relation to the welfare of the human race—most of archaeology or comparative linguistics for example. Some other areas of science present obviously dangerous possibilities. Yet scientists in these areas are just as enthusiastic about their work as those who develop vaccines or study air pollution. Consider the case of Dr. Edward Teller, who had an obvious emotional involvement in promoting nuclear power plants. Did this involvement stem from a desire to benefit humanity? If so, then why didn’t Dr. Teller get emotional about other “humanitarian” causes? If he was such a humanitarian then why did he help to develop the H- bomb? As with many other scientific achievements, it is very much open to question whether nuclear power plants actually do benefit humanity. Does the cheap electricity outweigh the accumulating waste and the risk of accidents? Dr. Teller saw only one side of the question. Clearly his emotional involvement with nuclear power arose not from a desire to “benefit humanity” but from a personal fulfillment he got from his work and from seeing it put to practical use.

89. The same is true of scientists generally. With possible rare exceptions, their motive is neither curiosity nor a desire to benefit humanity but the need to go through the power process: to have a goal (a scientific problem to solve), to make an effort (research) and to attain the goal (solution of the problem.) Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment they get out of the work itself.

90. Of course, it’s not that simple. Other motives do play a role for many scientists. Money and status for example. Some scientists may be persons of the type who have an insatiable drive for status (see paragraph 79) and this may provide much of the motivation for their work. No doubt the majority of scientists, like the majority of the general population, are more or less susceptible to advertising and marketing techniques and need money to satisfy their craving for goods and services. Thus science is not a PURE surrogate activity. But it is in large part a surrogate activity.

91. Also, science and technology constitute a power mass movement, and many scientists gratify their need for power through identification with this mass movement (see paragraph 83).

92. Thus science marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of the human race or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation executives who provide the funds for research.

THE NATURE OF FREEDOM

93. We are going to argue that industrial-technological society cannot be reformed in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing the sphere of human freedom. But, because “freedom” is a word that can be interpreted in many ways, we must first make clear what kind of freedom we are concerned with.

94. By “freedom” we mean the opportunity to go through the power process, with real goals not the artificial goals of surrogate activities, and without interference, manipulation or supervision from anyone, especially from any large organization. Freedom means being in control (either as an individual or as a member of a SMALL group) of the life-and-death issues of one’s existence; food, clothing, shelter and defense against whatever threats there may be in one’s environment. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life. One does not have freedom if anyone else (especially a large organization) has power over one, no matter how benevolently, tolerantly and permissively that power may be exercised. It is important not to confuse freedom with mere permissiveness (see paragraph 72).

95. It is said that we live in a free society because we have a certain number of constitutionally guaranteed rights. But these are not as important as they seem. The degree of personal freedom that exists in a society is determined more by the economic and technological structure of the society than by its laws or its form of government. [16] Most of the Indian nations of New England were monarchies, and many of the cities of the Italian Renaissance were controlled by dictators. But in reading about these societies one gets the impression that they allowed far more personal freedom than our society does. In part this was because they lacked efficient mechanisms for enforcing the ruler’s will: There were no modern, well-organized police forces, no rapid long-distance communications, no surveillance cameras, no dossiers of information about the lives of average citizens. Hence it was relatively easy to evade control.

96. As for our constitutional rights, consider for example that of freedom of the press. We certainly don’t mean to knock that right; it is very important tool for limiting concentration of political power and for keeping those who do have political power in line by publicly exposing any misbehavior on their part. But freedom of the press is of very little use to the average citizen as an individual. The mass media are mostly under the control of large organizations that are integrated into the system. Anyone who has a little money can have something printed, or can distribute it on the Internet or in some such way, but what he has to say will be swamped by the vast volume of material put out by the media, hence it will have no practical effect. To make an impression on society with words is therefore almost impossible for most individuals and small groups. Take us (FC) for example. If we had never done anything violent and had submitted the present writings to a publisher, they probably would not have been accepted. If they had been been accepted and published, they probably would not have attracted many readers, because it’s more fun to watch the entertainment put out by the media than to read a sober essay. Even if these writings had had many readers, most of these readers would soon have forgotten what they had read as their minds were flooded by the mass of material to which the media expose them. In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we’ve had to kill people.

97. Constitutional rights are useful up to a point, but they do not serve to guarantee much more than what might be called the bourgeois conception of freedom. According to the bourgeois conception, a “free” man is essentially an element of a social machine and has only a certain set of prescribed and delimited freedoms; freedoms that are designed to serve the needs of the social machine more than those of the individual. Thus the bourgeois’s “free” man has economic freedom because that promotes growth and progress; he has freedom of the press because public criticism restrains misbehavior by political leaders; he has a right to a fair trial because imprisonment at the whim of the powerful would be bad for the system. This was clearly the attitude of Simon Bolivar. To him, people deserved liberty only if they used it to promote progress (progress as conceived by the bourgeois). Other bourgeois thinkers have taken a similar view of freedom as a mere means to collective ends. Chester C. Tan, “Chinese Political Thought in the Twentieth Century,” page 202, explains the philosophy of the Kuomintang leader Hu Han-min: “An individual is granted rights because he is a member of society and his community life requires such rights. By community Hu meant the whole society of the nation.” And on page 259 Tan states that according to Carsum Chang (Chang Chun-mai, head of the State Socialist Party in China) freedom had to be used in the interest of the state and of the people as a whole. But what kind of freedom does one have if one can use it only as someone else prescribes? FC’s conception of freedom is not that of Bolivar, Hu, Chang or other bourgeois theorists. The trouble with such theorists is that they have made the development and application of social theories their surrogate activity. Consequently the theories are designed to serve the needs of the theorists more than the needs of any people who may be unlucky enough to live in a society on which the theories are imposed.

98. One more point to be made in this section: It should not be assumed that a person has enough freedom just because he SAYS he has enough. Freedom is restricted in part by psychological controls of which people are unconscious, and moreover many people’s ideas of what constitutes freedom are governed more by social convention than by their real needs. For example, it’s likely that many leftists of the oversocialized type would say that most people, including themselves, are socialized too little rather than too much, yet the oversocialized leftist pays a heavy psychological price for his high level of socialization.

SOME PRINCIPLES OF HISTORY

99. Think of history as being the sum of two components: an erratic component that consists of unpredictable events that follow no discernible pattern, and a regular component that consists of long-term historical trends. Here we are concerned with the long-term trends.

100. FIRST PRINCIPLE. If a SMALL change is made that affects a long-term historical trend, then the effect of that change will almost always be transitory—the trend will soon revert to its original state. (Example: A reform movement designed to clean up political corruption in a society rarely has more than a short-term effect; sooner or later the reformers relax and corruption creeps back in. The level of political corruption in a given society tends to remain constant, or to change only slowly with the evolution of the society. Normally, a political cleanup will be permanent only if accompanied by widespread social changes; a SMALL change in the society won’t be enough.) If a small change in a long-term historical trend appears to be permanent, it is only because the change acts in the direction in which the trend is already moving, so that the trend is not altered by only pushed a step ahead.

101. The first principle is almost a tautology. If a trend were not stable with respect to small changes, it would wander at random rather than following a definite direction; in other words it would not be a long- term trend at all.

102. SECOND PRINCIPLE. If a change is made that is sufficiently large to alter permanently a long-term historical trend, then it will alter the society as a whole. In other words, a society is a system in which all parts are interrelated, and you can’t permanently change any important part without changing all other parts as well.

103. THIRD PRINCIPLE. If a change is made that is large enough to alter permanently a long-term trend, then the consequences for the society as a whole cannot be predicted in advance. (Unless various other societies have passed through the same change and have all experienced the same consequences, in which case one can predict on empirical grounds that another society that passes through the same change will be like to experience similar consequences.)

104. FOURTH PRINCIPLE. A new kind of society cannot be designed on paper. That is, you cannot plan out a new form of society in advance, then set it up and expect it to function as it was designed to do.

105. The third and fourth principles result from the complexity of human societies. A change in human behavior will affect the economy of a society and its physical environment; the economy will affect the environment and vice versa, and the changes in the economy and the environment will affect human behavior in complex, unpredictable ways; and so forth. The network of causes and effects is far too complex to be untangled and understood.

106. FIFTH PRINCIPLE. People do not consciously and rationally choose the form of their society. Societies develop through processes of social evolution that are not under rational human control.

107. The fifth principle is a consequence of the other four.

108. To illustrate: By the first principle, generally speaking an attempt at social reform either acts in the direction in which the society is developing anyway (so that it merely accelerates a change that would have occurred in any case) or else it has only a transitory effect, so that the society soon slips back into its old groove. To make a lasting change in the direction of development of any important aspect of a society, reform is insufficient and revolution is required. (A revolution does not necessarily involve an armed uprising or the overthrow of a government.) By the second principle, a revolution never changes only one aspect of a society, it changes the whole society; and by the third principle changes occur that were never expected or desired by the revolutionaries. By the fourth principle, when revolutionaries or utopians set up a new kind of society, it never works out as planned.

109. The American Revolution does not provide a counterexample. The American “Revolution” was not a revolution in our sense of the word, but a war of independence followed by a rather far-reaching political reform. The Founding Fathers did not change the direction of development of American society, nor did they aspire to do so. They only freed the development of American society from the retarding effect of British rule. Their political reform did not change any basic trend, but only pushed American political culture along its natural direction of development. British society, of which American society was an offshoot, had been moving for a long time in the direction of representative democracy. And prior to the War of Independence the Americans were already practicing a significant degree of representative democracy in the colonial assemblies. The political system established by the Constitution was modeled on the British system and on the colonial assemblies. With major alteration, to be sure—there is no doubt that the Founding Fathers took a very important step. But it was a step along the road that English-speaking world was already traveling. The proof is that Britain and all of its colonies that were populated predominantly by people of British descent ended up with systems of representative democracy essentially similar to that of the United States. If the Founding Fathers had lost their nerve and declined to sign the Declaration of Independence, our way of life today would not have been significantly different. Maybe we would have had somewhat closer ties to Britain, and would have had a Parliament and Prime Minister instead of a Congress and President. No big deal. Thus the American Revolution provides not a counterexample to our principles but a good illustration of them.

110. Still, one has to use common sense in applying the principles. They are expressed in imprecise language that allows latitude for interpretation, and exceptions to them can be found. So we present these principles not as inviolable laws but as rules of thumb, or guides to thinking, that may provide a partial antidote to naive ideas about the future of society. The principles should be borne constantly in mind, and whenever one reaches a conclusion that conflicts with them one should carefully reexamine one’s thinking and retain the conclusion only if one has good, solid reasons for doing so.

INDUSTRIAL-TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY CANNOT BE REFORMED

111. The foregoing principles help to show how hopelessly difficult it would be to reform the industrial system in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing our sphere of freedom. There has been a consistent tendency, going back at least to the Industrial Revolution for technology to strengthen the system at a high cost in individual freedom and local autonomy. Hence any change designed to protect freedom from technology would be contrary to a fundamental trend in the development of our society. Consequently, such a change either would be a transitory one—soon swamped by the tide of history—or, if large enough to be permanent would alter the nature of our whole society. This by the first and second principles. Moreover, since society would be altered in a way that could not be predicted in advance (third principle) there would be great risk. Changes large enough to make a lasting difference in favor of freedom would not be initiated because it would be realized that they would gravely disrupt the system. So any attempts at reform would be too timid to be effective. Even if changes large enough to make a lasting difference were initiated, they would be retracted when their disruptive effects became apparent. Thus, permanent changes in favor of freedom could be brought about only by persons prepared to accept radical, dangerous and unpredictable alteration of the entire system. In other words by revolutionaries, not reformers.

112. People anxious to rescue freedom without sacrificing the supposed benefits of technology will suggest naive schemes for some new form of society that would reconcile freedom with technology. Apart from the fact that people who make such suggestions seldom propose any practical means by which the new form of society could be set up in the first place, it follows from the fourth principle that even if the new form of society could be once established, it either would collapse or would give results very different from those expected.

113. So even on very general grounds it seems highly improbable that any way of changing society could be found that would reconcile freedom with modern technology. In the next few sections we will give more specific reasons for concluding that freedom and technological progress are incompatible.

RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM IS UNAVOIDABLE IN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY

114. As explained in paragraphs 65-67, 70-73, modern man is strapped down by a network of rules and regulations, and his fate depends on the actions of persons remote from him whose decisions he cannot influence. This is not accidental or a result of the arbitrariness of arrogant bureaucrats. It is necessary and inevitable in any technologically advanced society. The system HAS TO regulate human behavior closely in order to function. At work people have to do what they are told to do, otherwise production would be thrown into chaos. Bureaucracies HAVE TO be run according to rigid rules. To allow any substantial personal discretion to lower-level bureaucrats would disrupt the system and lead to charges of unfairness due to differences in the way individual bureaucrats exercised their discretion. It is true that some restrictions on our freedom could be eliminated, but GENERALLY SPEAKING the regulation of our lives by large organizations is necessary for the functioning of industrial-technological society. The result is a sense of powerlessness on the part of the average person. It may be, however, that formal regulations will tend increasingly to be replaced by psychological tools that make us want to do what the system requires of us. (Propaganda [14], educational techniques, “mental health” programs, etc.)

115. The system HAS TO force people to behave in ways that are increasingly remote from the natural pattern of human behavior. For example, the system needs scientists, mathematicians and engineers. It can’t function without them. So heavy pressure is put on children to excel in these fields. It isn’t natural for an adolescent human being to spend the bulk of his time sitting at a desk absorbed in study. A normal adolescent wants to spend his time in active contact with the real world. Among primitive peoples the things that children are trained to do tend to be in reasonable harmony with natural human impulses. Among the American Indians, for example, boys were trained in active outdoor pursuits—

just the sort of thing that boys like. But in our society children are pushed into studying technical subjects, which most do grudgingly.

116. Because of the constant pressure that the system exerts to modify human behavior, there is a gradual increase in the number of people who cannot or will not adjust to society’s requirements: welfare leeches, youth-gang members, cultists, anti-government rebels, radical environmentalist saboteurs, dropouts and resisters of various kinds.

117. In any technologically advanced society the individual’s fate MUST depend on decisions that he personally cannot influence to any great extent. A technological society cannot be broken down into small, autonomous communities, because production depends on the cooperation of very large numbers of people and machines. Such a society MUST be highly organized and decisions HAVE TO be made that affect very large numbers of people. When a decision affects, say, a million people, then each of the affected individuals has, on the average, only a one-millionth share in making the decision. What usually happens in practice is that decisions are made by public officials or corporation executives, or by technical specialists, but even when the public votes on a decision the number of voters ordinarily is too large for the vote of any one individual to be significant. [17] Thus most individuals are unable to influence measurably the major decisions that affect their lives. There is no conceivable way to remedy this in a technologically advanced society. The system tries to “solve” this problem by using propaganda to make people WANT the decisions that have been made for them, but even if this “solution” were completely successful in making people feel better, it would be demeaning.

118. Conservatives and some others advocate more “local autonomy.” Local communities once did have autonomy, but such autonomy becomes less and less possible as local communities become more enmeshed with and dependent on large-scale systems like public utilities, computer networks, highway systems, the mass communications media, the modern health care system. Also operating against autonomy is the fact that technology applied in one location often affects people at other locations far way. Thus pesticide or chemical use near a creek may contaminate the water supply hundreds of miles downstream, and the greenhouse effect affects the whole world.

119. The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity. [18] Of course the system does satisfy many human needs, but generally speaking it does this only to the extend that it is to the advantage of the system to do it. It is the needs of the system that are paramount, not those of the human being. For example, the system provides people with food because the system couldn’t function if everyone starved; it attends to people’s psychological needs whenever it can CONVENIENTLY do so, because it couldn’t function if too many people became depressed or rebellious. But the system, for good, solid, practical reasons, must exert constant pressure on people to mold their behavior to the needs of the system. To much waste accumulating? The government, the media, the educational system, environmentalists, everyone inundates us with a mass of propaganda about recycling. Need more technical personnel? A chorus of voices exhorts kids to study science. No one stops to ask whether it is inhumane to force adolescents to spend the bulk of their time studying subjects most of them hate. When skilled workers are put out of a job by technical advances and have to undergo “retraining,” no one asks whether it is humiliating for them to be pushed around in this way. It is simply taken for granted that everyone must bow to technical necessity. and for good reason: If human needs were put before technical necessity there would be economic problems, unemployment, shortages or worse. The concept of “mental health” in our society is defined largely by the extent to which an individual behaves in accord with the needs of the system and does so without showing signs of stress.

120. Efforts to make room for a sense of purpose and for autonomy within the system are no better than a joke. For example, one company, instead of having each of its employees assemble only one section of a catalogue, had each assemble a whole catalogue, and this was supposed to give them a sense of purpose and achievement. Some companies have tried to give their employees more autonomy in their work, but for practical reasons this usually can be done only to a very limited extent, and in any case employees are never given autonomy as to ultimate goals—their “autonomous” efforts can never be directed toward goals that they select personally, but only toward their employer’s goals, such as the survival and growth of the company. Any company would soon go out of business if it permitted its employees to act otherwise. Similarly, in any enterprise within a socialist system, workers must direct their efforts toward the goals of the enterprise, otherwise the enterprise will not serve its purpose as part of the system. Once again, for purely technical reasons it is not possible for most individuals or small groups to have much autonomy in industrial society. Even the small-business owner commonly has only limited autonomy. Apart from the necessity of government regulation, he is restricted by the fact that he must fit into the economic system and conform to its requirements. For instance, when someone develops a new technology, the small-business person often has to use that technology whether he wants to or not, in order to remain competitive.

THE ‘BAD’ PARTS OF TECHNOLOGY CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM THE ‘GOOD’ PARTS

121. A further reason why industrial society cannot be reformed in favor of freedom is that modern technology is a unified system in which all parts are dependent on one another. You can’t get rid of the “bad” parts of technology and retain only the “good” parts. Take modern medicine, for example. Progress in medical science depends on progress in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and other fields. Advanced medical treatments require expensive, high-tech equipment that can be made available only by a technologically progressive, economically rich society. Clearly you can’t have much progress in medicine without the whole technological system and everything that goes with it.

122. Even if medical progress could be maintained without the rest of the technological system, it would by itself bring certain evils. Suppose for example that a cure for diabetes is discovered. People with a genetic tendency to diabetes will then be able to survive and reproduce as well as anyone else. Natural selection against genes for diabetes will cease and such genes will spread throughout the population. (This may be occurring to some extent already, since diabetes, while not curable, can be controlled through use of insulin.) The same thing will happen with many other diseases susceptibility to which is affected by genetic degradation of the population. The only solution will be some sort of eugenics program or extensive genetic engineering of human beings, so that man in the future will no longer be a creation of nature, or of chance, or of God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions), but a manufactured product.

123. If you think that big government interferes in your life too much NOW, just wait till the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children. Such regulation will inevitably follow the introduction of genetic engineering of human beings, because the consequences of unregulated genetic engineering would be disastrous. [19]

124. The usual response to such concerns is to talk about “medical ethics.” But a code of ethics would not serve to protect freedom in the face of medical progress; it would only make matters worse. A code of ethics applicable to genetic engineering would be in effect a means of regulating the genetic constitution of human beings. Somebody (probably the upper-middle class, mostly) would decide that such and such applications of genetic engineering were “ethical” and others were not, so that in effect they would be imposing their own values on the genetic constitution of the population at large. Even if a code of ethics were chosen on a completely democratic basis, the majority would be imposing their own values on any minorities who might have a different idea of what constituted an “ethical” use of genetic engineering. The only code of ethics that would truly protect freedom would be one that prohibited ANY genetic engineering of human beings, and you can be sure that no such code will ever be applied in a technological society. No code that reduced genetic engineering to a minor role could stand up for long, because the temptation presented by the immense power of biotechnology would be irresistible, especially since to the majority of people many of its applications will seem obviously and unequivocally good (eliminating physical and mental diseases, giving people the abilities they need to get along in today’s world). Inevitably, genetic engineering will be used extensively, but only in ways consistent with the needs of the industrial- technological system. [20]

TECHNOLOGY IS A MORE POWERFUL SOCIAL FORCE THAN THE ASPIRATION FOR FREEDOM

125. It is not possible to make a LASTING compromise between technology and freedom, because technology is by far the more powerful social force and continually encroaches on freedom through REPEATED compromises. Imagine the case of two neighbors, each of whom at the outset owns the same amount of land, but one of whom is more powerful than the other. The powerful one demands a piece of the other’s land. The weak one refuses. The powerful one says, “OK, let’s compromise. Give me half of what I asked.” The weak one has little choice but to give in. Some time later the powerful neighbor demands another piece of land, again there is a compromise, and so forth. By forcing a long series of compromises on the weaker man, the powerful one eventually gets all of his land. So it goes in the conflict between technology and freedom.

126. Let us explain why technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom.

127. A technological advance that appears not to threaten freedom often turns out to threaten it very seriously later on. For example, consider motorized transport. A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations, and was independent of technological support-systems. When motor vehicles were introduced they appeared to increase man’s freedom. They took no freedom away from the walking man, no one had to have an automobile if he didn’t want one, and anyone who did choose to buy an automobile could travel much faster and farther than a walking man. But the introduction of motorized transport soon changed society in such a way as to restrict greatly man’s freedom of locomotion. When automobiles became numerous, it became necessary to regulate their use extensively. In a car, especially in densely populated areas, one cannot just go where one likes at one’s own pace one’s movement is governed by the flow of traffic and by various traffic laws. One is tied down by various obligations: license requirements, driver test, renewing registration, insurance, maintenance required for safety, monthly payments on purchase price. Moreover, the use of motorized transport is no longer optional. Since the introduction of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed in such a way that the majority of people no longer live within walking distance of their place of employment, shopping areas and recreational opportunities, so that they HAVE TO depend on the automobile for transportation. Or else they must use public transportation, in which case they have even less control over their own movement than when driving a car. Even the walker’s freedom is now greatly restricted. In the city he continually has to stop to wait for traffic lights that are designed mainly to serve auto traffic. In the country, motor traffic makes it dangerous and unpleasant to walk along the highway. (Note this important point that we have just illustrated with the case of motorized transport: When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new technology changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it.)

128. While technological progress AS A WHOLE continually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be desirable. Electricity, indoor plumbing, rapid long-distance communications ... how could one argue against any of these things, or against any other of the innumerable technical advances that have made modern society? It would have been absurd to resist the introduction of the telephone, for example. It offered many advantages and no disadvantages. Yet, as we explained in paragraphs 59-76, all these technical advances taken together have created a world in which the average man’s fate is no longer in his own hands or in the hands of his neighbors and friends, but in those of politicians, corporation executives and remote, anonymous technicians and bureaucrats whom he as an individual has no power to influence. [21] The same process will continue in the future. Take genetic engineering, for example. Few people will resist the introduction of a genetic technique that eliminates a hereditary disease. It does no apparent harm and prevents much suffering. Yet a large number of genetic improvements taken together will make the human being into an engineered product rather than a free creation of chance (or of God, or whatever, depending on your religious beliefs).

129. Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it. (Imagine what would happen to the system today if computers, for example, were eliminated.) Thus the system can move in only one direction, toward greater technologization. Technology repeatedly forces freedom to take a step back, but technology can never take a step back—short of the overthrow of the whole technological system.

130. Technology advances with great rapidity and threatens freedom at many different points at the same time (crowding, rules and regulations, increasing dependence of individuals on large organizations, propaganda and other psychological techniques, genetic engineering, invasion of privacy through surveillance devices and computers, etc.). To hold back any ONE of the threats to freedom would require a long and difficult social struggle. Those who want to protect freedom are overwhelmed by the sheer number of new attacks and the rapidity with which they develop, hence they become apathetic and no longer resist. To fight each of the threats separately would be futile. Success can be hoped for only by fighting the technological system as a whole; but that is revolution, not reform.

131. Technicians (we use this term in its broad sense to describe all those who perform a specialized task that requires training) tend to be so involved in their work (their surrogate activity) that when a conflict arises between their technical work and freedom, they almost always decide in favor of their technical work. This is obvious in the case of scientists, but it also appears elsewhere: Educators, humanitarian groups, conservation organizations do not hesitate to use propaganda or other psychological techniques to help them achieve their laudable ends. Corporations and government agencies, when they find it useful, do not hesitate to collect information about individuals without regard to their privacy. Law enforcement agencies are frequently inconvenienced by the constitutional rights of suspects and often of completely innocent persons, and they do whatever they can do legally (or sometimes illegally) to restrict or circumvent those rights. Most of these educators, government officials and law officers believe in freedom, privacy and constitutional rights, but when these conflict with their work, they usually feel that their work is more important.

132. It is well known that people generally work better and more persistently when striving for a reward than when attempting to avoid a punishment or negative outcome. Scientists and other technicians are motivated mainly by the rewards they get through their work. But those who oppose technological invasions of freedom are working to avoid a negative outcome, consequently there are few who work persistently and well at this discouraging task. If reformers ever achieved a signal victory that seemed to set up a solid barrier against further erosion of freedom through technical progress, most would tend to relax and turn their attention to more agreeable pursuits. But the scientists would remain busy in their laboratories, and technology as it progresses would find ways, in spite of any barriers, to exert more and more control over individuals and make them always more dependent on the system.

133. No social arrangements, whether laws, institutions, customs or ethical codes, can provide permanent protection against technology. History shows that all social arrangements are transitory; they all change or break down eventually. But technological advances are permanent within the context of a given civilization. Suppose for example that it were possible to arrive at some social arrangements that would prevent genetic engineering from being applied to human beings, or prevent it from being applied in such a way as to threaten freedom and dignity. Still, the technology would remain waiting. Sooner or later the social arrangement would break down. Probably sooner, given the pace of change in our society. Then genetic engineering would begin to invade our sphere of freedom, and this invasion would be irreversible (short of a breakdown of technological civilization itself). Any illusions about achieving anything permanent through social arrangements should be dispelled by what is currently happening with environmental legislation. A few years ago its seemed that there were secure legal barriers preventing at least SOME of the worst forms of environmental degradation. A change in the political wind, and those barriers begin to crumble.

134. For all of the foregoing reasons, technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom. But this statement requires an important qualification. It appears that during the next several decades the industrial-technological system will be undergoing severe stresses due to economic and environmental problems, and especially due to problems of human behavior (alienation, rebellion, hostility, a variety of social and psychological difficulties). We hope that the stresses through which the system is likely to pass will cause it to break down, or at least will weaken it sufficiently so that a revolution against it becomes possible. If such a revolution occurs and is successful, then at that particular moment the aspiration for freedom will have proved more powerful than technology.

135. In paragraph 125 we used an analogy of a weak neighbor who is left destitute by a strong neighbor who takes all his land by forcing on him a series of compromises. But suppose now that the strong neighbor gets sick, so that he is unable to defend himself. The weak neighbor can force the strong one to give him his land back, or he can kill him. If he lets the strong man survive and only forces him to give the land back, he is a fool, because when the strong man gets well he will again take all the land for himself. The only sensible alternative for the weaker man is to kill the strong one while he has the chance. In the same way, while the industrial system is sick we must destroy it. If we compromise with it and let it recover from its sickness, it will eventually wipe out all of our freedom.

SIMPLER SOCIAL PROBLEMS HAVE PROVED INTRACTABLE

136. If anyone still imagines that it would be possible to reform the system in such a way as to protect freedom from technology, let him consider how clumsily and for the most part unsuccessfully our society has dealt with other social problems that are far more simple and straightforward. Among other things, the system has failed to stop environmental degradation, political corruption, drug trafficking or domestic abuse.

137. Take our environmental problems, for example. Here the conflict of values is straightforward: economic expedience now versus saving some of our natural resources for our grandchildren. [22] But on this subject we get only a lot of blather and obfuscation from the people who have power, and nothing like a clear, consistent line of action, and we keep on piling up environmental problems that our grandchildren will have to live with. Attempts to resolve the environmental issue consist of struggles and compromises between different factions, some of which are ascendant at one moment, others at another moment. The line of struggle changes with the shifting currents of public opinion. This is not a rational process, nor is it one that is likely to lead to a timely and successful solution to the problem. Major social problems, if they get “solved” at all, are rarely or never solved through any rational, comprehensive plan. They just work themselves out through a process in which various competing groups pursuing their own (usually short- term) self-interest [23] arrive (mainly by luck) at some more or less stable modus vivendi. In fact, the principles we formulated in paragraphs 100-106 make it seem doubtful that rational, long-term social planning can EVER be successful.

138. Thus it is clear that the human race has at best a very limited capacity for solving even relatively straightforward social problems. How then is it going to solve the far more difficult and subtle problem of reconciling freedom with technology? Technology presents clear-cut material advantages, whereas freedom is an abstraction that means different things to different people, and its loss is easily obscured by propaganda and fancy talk.

139. And note this important difference: It is conceivable that our environmental problems (for example) may some day be settled through a rational, comprehensive plan, but if this happens it will be only because it is in the long-term interest of the system to solve these problems. But it is NOT in the interest of the system to preserve freedom or small-group autonomy. On the contrary, it is in the interest of the system to bring human behavior under control to the greatest possible extent. [24] Thus, while practical considerations may eventually force the system to take a rational, prudent approach to environmental problems, equally practical considerations will force the system to regulate human behavior ever more closely (preferably by indirect means that will disguise the encroachment on freedom). This isn’t just our opinion. Eminent social scientists (e.g. James Q. Wilson) have stressed the importance of “socializing” people more effectively.

REVOLUTION IS EASIER THAN REFORM

140. We hope we have convinced the reader that the system cannot be reformed in such a way as to reconcile freedom with technology. The only way out is to dispense with the industrial-technological system altogether. This implies revolution, not necessarily an armed uprising, but certainly a radical and fundamental change in the nature of society.

141. People tend to assume that because a revolution involves a much greater change than reform does, it is more difficult to bring about than reform is. Actually, under certain circumstances revolution is much easier than reform. The reason is that a revolutionary movement can inspire an intensity of commitment that a reform movement cannot inspire. A reform movement merely offers to solve a particular social problem. A revolutionary movement offers to solve all problems at one stroke and create a whole new world; it provides the kind of ideal for which people will take great risks and make great sacrifices. For this reasons it would be much easier to overthrow the whole technological system than to put effective, permanent restraints on the development or application of any one segment of technology, such as genetic engineering, for example. Not many people will devote themselves with single-minded passion to imposing and maintaining restraints on genetic engineering, but under suitable conditions large numbers of people may devote themselves passionately to a revolution against the industrial-technological system. As we noted in paragraph 132, reformers seeking to limit certain aspects of technology would be working to avoid a negative outcome. But revolutionaries work to gain a powerful reward—fulfillment of their revolutionary vision—and therefore work harder and more persistently than reformers do.

142. Reform is always restrained by the fear of painful consequences if changes go too far. But once a revolutionary fever has taken hold of a society, people are willing to undergo unlimited hardships for the sake of their revolution. This was clearly shown in the French and Russian Revolutions. It may be that in such cases only a minority of the population is really committed to the revolution, but this minority is sufficiently large and active so that it becomes the dominant force in society. We will have more to say about revolution in paragraphs 180-205.

CONTROL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR

143. Since the beginning of civilization, organized societies have had to put pressures on human beings of the sake of the functioning of the social organism. The kinds of pressures vary greatly from one society to another. Some of the pressures are physical (poor diet, excessive labor, environmental pollution), some are psychological (noise, crowding, forcing human behavior into the mold that society requires). In the past, human nature has been approximately constant, or at any rate has varied only within certain bounds. Consequently, societies have been able to push people only up to certain limits. When the limit of human endurance has been passed, things start going wrong: rebellion, or crime, or corruption, or evasion of work, or depression and other mental problems, or an elevated death rate, or a declining birth rate or something else, so that either the society breaks down, or its functioning becomes too inefficient and it is (quickly or gradually, through conquest, attrition or evolution) replaced by some more efficient form of society. [25]

144. Thus human nature has in the past put certain limits on the development of societies. People could be pushed only so far and no farther. But today this may be changing, because modern technology is developing ways of modifying human beings.

145. Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction? It is already happening to some extent in our own society. It is well known that the rate of clinical depression has been greatly increasing in recent decades. We believe that this is due to disruption of the power process, as explained in paragraphs 59-76. But even if we are wrong, the increasing rate of depression is certainly the result of SOME conditions that exist in today’s society. Instead of removing the conditions that make people depressed, modern society gives them antidepressant drugs. In effect, antidepressants are a means of modifying an individual’s internal state in such a way as to enable him to tolerate social conditions that he would otherwise find intolerable. (Yes, we know that depression is often of purely genetic origin. We are referring here to those cases in which environment plays the predominant role.)

146. Drugs that affect the mind are only one example of the new methods of controlling human behavior that modern society is developing. Let us look at some of the other methods.

147. To start with, there are the techniques of surveillance. Hidden video cameras are now used in most stores and in many other places, computers are used to collect and process vast amounts of information about individuals. Information so obtained greatly increases the effectiveness of physical coercion (i.e., law enforcement). [26] Then there are the methods of propaganda, for which the mass communication media provide effective vehicles. Efficient techniques have been developed for winning elections, selling products, influencing public opinion. The entertainment industry serves as an important psychological tool of the system, possibly even when it is dishing out large amounts of sex and violence. Entertainment provides modern man with an essential means of escape. While absorbed in television, videos, etc., he can forget stress, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction. Many primitive peoples, when they don’t have work to do, are quite content to sit for hours at a time doing nothing at all, because they are at peace with themselves and their world. But most modern people must be constantly occupied or entertained, otherwise they get “bored,” i.e., they get fidgety, uneasy, irritable.

148. Other techniques strike deeper than the foregoing. Education is no longer a simple affair of paddling a kid’s behind when he doesn’t know his lessons and patting him on the head when he does know them. It is becoming a scientific technique for controlling the child’s development. Sylvan Learning Centers, for example, have had great success in motivating children to study, and psychological techniques are also used with more or less success in many conventional schools. “Parenting” techniques that are taught to parents are designed to make children accept fundamental values of the system and behave in ways that the system finds desirable. “Mental health” programs, “intervention” techniques, psychotherapy and so forth are ostensibly designed to benefit individuals, but in practice they usually serve as methods for inducing individuals to think and behave as the system requires. (There is no contradiction here; an individual whose attitudes or behavior bring him into conflict with the system is up against a force that is too powerful for him to conquer or escape from, hence he is likely to suffer from stress, frustration, defeat. His path will be much easier if he thinks and behaves as the system requires. In that sense the system is acting for the benefit of the individual when it brainwashes him into conformity.) Child abuse in its gross and obvious forms is disapproved in most if not all cultures. Tormenting a child for a trivial reason or no reason at all is something that appalls almost everyone. But many psychologists interpret the concept of abuse much more broadly. Is spanking, when used as part of a rational and consistent system of discipline, a form of abuse? The question will ultimately be decided by whether or not spanking tends to produce behavior that makes a person fit in well with the existing system of society. In practice, the word “abuse” tends to be interpreted to include any method of child-rearing that produces behavior inconvenient for the system. Thus, when they go beyond the prevention of obvious, senseless cruelty, programs for preventing “child abuse” are directed toward the control of human behavior on behalf of the system.

149. Presumably, research will continue to increase the effectiveness of psychological techniques for controlling human behavior. But we think it is unlikely that psychological techniques alone will be sufficient to adjust human beings to the kind of society that technology is creating. Biological methods probably will have to be used. We have already mentioned the use of drugs in this connection. Neurology may provide other avenues for modifying the human mind. Genetic engineering of human beings is already beginning to occur in the form of “gene therapy,” and there is no reason to assume that such methods will not eventually be used to modify those aspects of the body that affect mental functioning.

150. As we mentioned in paragraph 134, industrial society seems likely to be entering a period of severe stress, due in part to problems of human behavior and in part to economic and environmental problems. And a considerable proportion of the system’s economic and environmental problems result from the way human beings behave. Alienation, low self-esteem, depression, hostility, rebellion; children who won’t study, youth gangs, illegal drug use, rape, child abuse, other crimes, unsafe sex, teen pregnancy, population growth, political corruption, race hatred, ethnic rivalry, bitter ideological conflict (e.g., pro-choice vs. pro- life), political extremism, terrorism, sabotage, anti-government groups, hate groups. All these threaten the very survival of the system. The system will therefore be FORCED to use every practical means of controlling human behavior.

151. The social disruption that we see today is certainly not the result of mere chance. It can only be a result of the conditions of life that the system imposes on people. (We have argued that the most important of these conditions is disruption of the power process.) If the systems succeeds in imposing sufficient control over human behavior to assure its own survival, a new watershed in human history will have been passed. Whereas formerly the limits of human endurance have imposed limits on the development of societies (as we explained in paragraphs 143, 144), industrial-technological society will be able to pass those limits by modifying human beings, whether by psychological methods or biological methods or both. In the future, social systems will not be adjusted to suit the needs of human beings. Instead, human being will be adjusted to suit the needs of the system. [27]

152. Generally speaking, technological control over human behavior will probably not be introduced with a totalitarian intention or even through a conscious desire to restrict human freedom. [28] Each new step in the assertion of control over the human mind will be taken as a rational response to a problem that faces society, such as curing alcoholism, reducing the crime rate or inducing young people to study science and engineering. In many cases there will be a humanitarian justification. For example, when a psychiatrist prescribes an anti-depressant for a depressed patient, he is clearly doing that individual a favor. It would be inhumane to withhold the drug from someone who needs it. When parents send their children to Sylvan Learning Centers to have them manipulated into becoming enthusiastic about their studies, they do so from concern for their children’s welfare. It may be that some of these parents wish that one didn’t have to have specialized training to get a job and that their kid didn’t have to be brainwashed into becoming a computer nerd. But what can they do? They can’t change society, and their child may be unemployable if he doesn’t have certain skills. So they send him to Sylvan.

153. Thus control over human behavior will be introduced not by a calculated decision of the authorities but through a process of social evolution (RAPID evolution, however). The process will be impossible to resist, because each advance, considered by itself, will appear to be beneficial, or at least the evil involved in making the advance will appear to be beneficial, or at least the evil involved in making the advance will seem to be less than that which would result from not making it (see paragraph 127). Propaganda for example is used for many good purposes, such as discouraging child abuse or race hatred. [14] Sex education is obviously useful, yet the effect of sex education (to the extent that it is successful) is to take the shaping of sexual attitudes away from the family and put it into the hands of the state as represented by the public school system.

154. Suppose a biological trait is discovered that increases the likelihood that a child will grow up to be a criminal, and suppose some sort of gene therapy can remove this trait. [29] Of course most parents whose children possess the trait will have them undergo the therapy. It would be inhumane to do otherwise, since the child would probably have a miserable life if he grew up to be a criminal. But many or most primitive societies have a low crime rate in comparison with that of our society, even though they have neither high- tech methods of child-rearing nor harsh systems of punishment. Since there is no reason to suppose that more modern men than primitive men have innate predatory tendencies, the high crime rate of our society must be due to the pressures that modern conditions put on people, to which many cannot or will not adjust. Thus a treatment designed to remove potential criminal tendencies is at least in part a way of re-engineering people so that they suit the requirements of the system.

155. Our society tends to regard as a “sickness” any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system, and this is plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system. Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is seen as a “cure” for a “sickness” and therefore as good.

156. In paragraph 127 we pointed out that if the use of a new item of technology is INITIALLY optional, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional, because the new technology tends to change society in such a way that it becomes difficult or impossible for an individual to function without using that technology. This applies also to the technology of human behavior. In a world in which most children are put through a program to make them enthusiastic about studying, a parent will almost be forced to put his kid through such a program, because if he does not, then the kid will grow up to be, comparatively speaking, an ignoramus and therefore unemployable. Or suppose a biological treatment is discovered that, without undesirable side-effects, will greatly reduce the psychological stress from which so many people suffer in our society. If large numbers of people choose to undergo the treatment, then the general level of stress in society will be reduced, so that it will be possible for the system to increase the stress-producing pressures. In fact, something like this seems to have happened already with one of our society’s most important psychological tools for enabling people to reduce (or at least temporarily escape from) stress, namely, mass entertainment (see paragraph 147). Our use of mass entertainment is “optional”: No law requires us to watch television, listen to the radio, read magazines. Yet mass entertainment is a means of escape and stress-reduction on which most of us have become dependent. Everyone complains about the trashiness of television, but almost everyone watches it. A few have kicked the TV habit, but it would be a rare person who could get along today without using ANY form of mass entertainment. (Yet until quite recently in human history most people got along very nicely with no other entertainment than that which each local community created for itself.) Without the entertainment industry the system probably would not have been able to get away with putting as much stress-producing pressure on us as it does.

157. Assuming that industrial society survives, it is likely that technology will eventually acquire something approaching complete control over human behavior. It has been established beyond any rational doubt that human thought and behavior have a largely biological basis. As experimenters have demonstrated, feelings such as hunger, pleasure, anger and fear can be turned on and off by electrical stimulation of appropriate parts of the brain. Memories can be destroyed by damaging parts of the brain or they can be brought to the surface by electrical stimulation. Hallucinations can be induced or moods changed by drugs. There may or may not be an immaterial human soul, but if there is one it clearly is less powerful that the biological mechanisms of human behavior. For if that were not the case then researchers would not be able so easily to manipulate human feelings and behavior with drugs and electrical currents.

158. It presumably would be impractical for all people to have electrodes inserted in their heads so that they could be controlled by the authorities. But the fact that human thoughts and feelings are so open to biological intervention shows that the problem of controlling human behavior is mainly a technical problem; a problem of neurons, hormones and complex molecules; the kind of problem that is accessible to scientific attack. Given the outstanding record of our society in solving technical problems, it is overwhelmingly probable that great advances will be made in the control of human behavior.

159. Will public resistance prevent the introduction of technological control of human behavior? It certainly would if an attempt were made to introduce such control all at once. But since technological control will be introduced through a long sequence of small advances, there will be no rational and effective public resistance. (See paragraphs 127, 132, 153.)

160. To those who think that all this sounds like science fiction, we point out that yesterday’s science fiction is today’s fact. The Industrial Revolution has radically altered man’s environment and way of life, and it is only to be expected that as technology is increasingly applied to the human body and mind, man himself will be altered as radically as his environment and way of life have been.

HUMAN RACE AT A CROSSROADS

161. But we have gotten ahead of our story. It is one thing to develop in the laboratory a series of psychological or biological techniques for manipulating human behavior and quite another to integrate these techniques into a functioning social system. The latter problem is the more difficult of the two. For example, while the techniques of educational psychology doubtless work quite well in the “lab schools” where they are developed, it is not necessarily easy to apply them effectively throughout our educational system. We all know what many of our schools are like. The teachers are too busy taking knives and guns away from the kids to subject them to the latest techniques for making them into computer nerds. Thus, in spite of all its technical advances relating to human behavior, the system to date has not been impressively successful in controlling human beings. The people whose behavior is fairly well under the control of the system are those of the type that might be called “bourgeois.” But there are growing numbers of people who in one way or another are rebels against the system: welfare leaches, youth gangs, cultists, satanists, nazis, radical environmentalists, militiamen, etc.

162. The system is currently engaged in a desperate struggle to overcome certain problems that threaten its survival, among which the problems of human behavior are the most important. If the system succeeds in acquiring sufficient control over human behavior quickly enough, it will probably survive. Otherwise it will break down. We think the issue will most likely be resolved within the next several decades, say 40 to 100 years.

163. Suppose the system survives the crisis of the next several decades. By that time it will have to have solved, or at least brought under control, the principal problems that confront it, in particular that of “socializing” human beings; that is, making people sufficiently docile so that heir behavior no longer threatens the system. That being accomplished, it does not appear that there would be any further obstacle to the development of technology, and it would presumably advance toward its logical conclusion, which is complete control over everything on Earth, including human beings and all other important organisms. The system may become a unitary, monolithic organization, or it may be more or less fragmented and consist of a number of organizations coexisting in a relationship that includes elements of both cooperation and competition, just as today the government, the corporations and other large organizations both cooperate and compete with one another. Human freedom mostly will have vanished, because individuals and small groups will be impotent vis-a-vis large organizations armed with supertechnology and an arsenal of advanced psychological and biological tools for manipulating human beings, besides instruments of surveillance and physical coercion. Only a small number of people will have any real power, and even these probably will have only very limited freedom, because their behavior too will be regulated; just as today our politicians and corporation executives can retain their positions of power only as long as their behavior remains within certain fairly narrow limits.

164. Don’t imagine that the systems will stop developing further techniques for controlling human beings and nature once the crisis of the next few decades is over and increasing control is no longer necessary for the system’s survival. On the contrary, once the hard times are over the system will increase its control over people and nature more rapidly, because it will no longer be hampered by difficulties of the kind that it is currently experiencing. Survival is not the principal motive for extending control. As we explained in paragraphs 87-90, technicians and scientists carry on their work largely as a surrogate activity; that is, they satisfy their need for power by solving technical problems. They will continue to do this with unabated enthusiasm, and among the most interesting and challenging problems for them to solve will be those of understanding the human body and mind and intervening in their development. For the “good of humanity,” of course.

165. But suppose on the other hand that the stresses of the coming decades prove to be too much for the system. If the system breaks down there may be a period of chaos, a “time of troubles” such as those that history has recorded at various epochs in the past. It is impossible to predict what would emerge from such a time of troubles, but at any rate the human race would be given a new chance. The greatest danger is that industrial society may begin to reconstitute itself within the first few years after the breakdown. Certainly there will be many people (power-hungry types especially) who will be anxious to get the factories running again.

166. Therefore two tasks confront those who hate the servitude to which the industrial system is reducing the human race. First, we must work to heighten the social stresses within the system so as to increase the likelihood that it will break down or be weakened sufficiently so that a revolution against it becomes possible. Second, it is necessary to develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology and the industrial society if and when the system becomes sufficiently weakened. And such an ideology will help to assure that, if and when industrial society breaks down, its remnants will be smashed beyond repair, so that the system cannot be reconstituted. The factories should be destroyed, technical books burned, etc.

HUMAN SUFFERING

167. The industrial system will not break down purely as a result of revolutionary action. It will not be vulnerable to revolutionary attack unless its own internal problems of development lead it into very serious difficulties. So if the system breaks down it will do so either spontaneously, or through a process that is in part spontaneous but helped along by revolutionaries. If the breakdown is sudden, many people will die, since the world’s population has become so overblown that it cannot even feed itself any longer without advanced technology. Even if the breakdown is gradual enough so that reduction of the population can occur more through lowering of the birth rate than through elevation of the death rate, the process of de- industrialization probably will be very chaotic and involve much suffering. It is naive to think it likely that technology can be phased out in a smoothly managed, orderly way, especially since the technophiles will fight stubbornly at every step. Is it therefore cruel to work for the breakdown of the system? Maybe, but maybe not. In the first place, revolutionaries will not be able to break the system down unless it is already in enough trouble so that there would be a good chance of its eventually breaking down by itself anyway; and the bigger the system grows, the more disastrous the consequences of its breakdown will be; so it may be that revolutionaries, by hastening the onset of the breakdown, will be reducing the extent of the disaster.

168. In the second place, one has to balance struggle and death against the loss of freedom and dignity. To many of us, freedom and dignity are more important than a long life or avoidance of physical pain. Besides, we all have to die some time, and it may be better to die fighting for survival, or for a cause, than to live a long but empty and purposeless life.

169. In the third place, it is not at all certain that survival of the system will lead to less suffering than breakdown of the system would. The system has already caused, and is continuing to cause, immense suffering all over the world. Ancient cultures, that for hundreds of years gave people a satisfactory relationship with each other and with their environment, have been shattered by contact with industrial society, and the result has been a whole catalogue of economic, environmental, social and psychological problems. One of the effects of the intrusion of industrial society has been that over much of the world traditional controls on population have been thrown out of balance. Hence the population explosion, with all that that implies. Then there is the psychological suffering that is widespread throughout the supposedly fortunate countries of the West (see paragraphs 44, 45). No one knows what will happen as a result of ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect and other environmental problems that cannot yet be foreseen. And, as nuclear proliferation has shown, new technology cannot be kept out of the hands of dictators and irresponsible Third World nations. Would you like to speculate about what Iraq or North Korea will do with genetic engineering?

170. “Oh!” say the technophiles, “Science is going to fix all that! We will conquer famine, eliminate psychological suffering, make everybody healthy and happy!” Yeah, sure. That’s what they said 200 years ago. The Industrial Revolution was supposed to eliminate poverty, make everybody happy, etc. The actual result has been quite different. The technophiles are hopelessly naive (or self-deceiving) in their understanding of social problems. They are unaware of (or choose to ignore) the fact that when large changes, even seemingly beneficial ones, are introduced into a society, they lead to a long sequence of other changes, most of which are impossible to predict (paragraph 103). The result is disruption of the society. So it is very probable that in their attempts to end poverty and disease, engineer docile, happy personalities and so forth, the technophiles will create social systems that are terribly troubled, even more so than the present once. For example, the scientists boast that they will end famine by creating new, genetically engineered food plants. But this will allow the human population to keep expanding indefinitely, and it is well known that crowding leads to increased stress and aggression. This is merely one example of the PREDICTABLE problems that will arise. We emphasize that, as past experience has shown, technical progress will lead to other new problems that CANNOT be predicted in advance (paragraph 103). In fact, ever since the Industrial Revolution, technology has been creating new problems for society far more rapidly than it has been solving old ones. Thus it will take a long and difficult period of trial and error for the technophiles to work the bugs out of their Brave New World (if they every do). In the meantime there will be great suffering. So it is not at all clear that the survival of industrial society would involve less suffering than the breakdown of that society would. Technology has gotten the human race into a fix from which there is not likely to be any easy escape.

THE FUTURE

171. But suppose now that industrial society does survive the next several decades and that the bugs do eventually get worked out of the system, so that it functions smoothly. What kind of system will it be? We will consider several possibilities.

172. First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

173. If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.

174. On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite—just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft- hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or to make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they most certainly will not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.

175. But suppose now that the computer scientists do not succeed in developing artificial intelligence, so that human work remains necessary. Even so, machines will take care of more and more of the simpler tasks so that there will be an increasing surplus of human workers at the lower levels of ability. (We see this happening already. There are many people who find it difficult or impossible to get work, because for intellectual or psychological reasons they cannot acquire the level of training necessary to make themselves useful in the present system.) On those who are employed, ever-increasing demands will be placed: They will need more and more training, more and more ability, and will have to be ever more reliable, conforming and docile, because they will be more and more like cells of a giant organism. Their tasks will be increasingly specialized, so that their work will be, in a sense, out of touch with the real world, being concentrated on one tiny slice of reality. The system will have to use any means that it can, whether psychological or biological, to engineer people to be docile, to have the abilities that the system requires and to “sublimate” their drive for power into some specialized task. But the statement that the people of such a society will have to be docile may require qualification. The society may find competitiveness useful, provided that ways are found of directing competitiveness into channels that serve the needs of the system. We can imagine a future society in which there is endless competition for positions of prestige and power. But no more than a very few people will ever reach the top, where the only real power is (see end of paragraph 163). Very repellent is a society in which a person can satisfy his need for power only by pushing large numbers of other people out of the way and depriving them of THEIR opportunity for power.

176. One can envision scenarios that incorporate aspects of more than one of the possibilities that we have just discussed. For instance, it may be that machines will take over most of the work that is of real, practical importance, but that human beings will be kept busy by being given relatively unimportant work. It has been suggested, for example, that a great development of the service industries might provide work for human beings. Thus people would spent their time shining each other’s shoes, driving each other around in taxicabs, making handicrafts for one another, waiting on each other’s tables, etc. This seems to us a thoroughly contemptible way for the human race to end up, and we doubt that many people would find fulfilling lives in such pointless busy-work. They would seek other, dangerous outlets (drugs, crime, “cults,” hate groups) unless they were biologically or psychologically engineered to adapt them to such a way of life.

177. Needless to say, the scenarios outlined above do not exhaust all the possibilities. They only indicate the kinds of outcomes that seem to us most likely. But we can envision no plausible scenarios that are any more palatable than the ones we’ve just described. It is overwhelmingly probable that if the industrial- technological system survives the next 40 to 100 years, it will by that time have developed certain general characteristics: Individuals (at least those of the “bourgeois” type, who are integrated into the system and make it run, and who therefore have all the power) will be more dependent than ever on large organizations; they will be more “socialized” than ever and their physical and mental qualities to a significant extent (possibly to a very great extent) will be those that are engineered into them rather than being the results of chance (or of God’s will, or whatever); and whatever may be left of wild nature will be reduced to remnants preserved for scientific study and kept under the supervision and management of scientists (hence it will no longer be truly wild). In the long run (say a few centuries from now) it is likely that neither the human race nor any other important organisms will exist as we know them today, because once you start modifying organisms through genetic engineering there is no reason to stop at any particular point, so that the modifications will probably continue until man and other organisms have been utterly transformed.

178. Whatever else may be the case, it is certain that technology is creating for human beings a new physical and social environment radically different from the spectrum of environments to which natural selection has adapted the human race physically and psychologically. If man is not adjusted to this new environment by being artificially re-engineered, then he will be adapted to it through a long and painful process of natural selection. The former is far more likely than the latter.

179. It would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.

STRATEGY

180. The technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless ride into the unknown. Many people understand something of what technological progress is doing to us yet take a passive attitude toward it because they think it is inevitable. But we (FC) don’t think it is inevitable. We think it can be stopped, and we will give here some indications of how to go about stopping it.

181. As we stated in paragraph 166, the two main tasks for the present are to promote social stress and instability in industrial society and to develop and propagate an ideology that opposes technology and the industrial system. When the system becomes sufficiently stressed and unstable, a revolution against technology may be possible. The pattern would be similar to that of the French and Russian Revolutions. French society and Russian society, for several decades prior to their respective revolutions, showed increasing signs of stress and weakness. Meanwhile, ideologies were being developed that offered a new world view that was quite different from the old one. In the Russian case, revolutionaries were actively working to undermine the old order. Then, when the old system was put under sufficient additional stress (by financial crisis in France, by military defeat in Russia) it was swept away by revolution. What we propose is something along the same lines.

182. It will be objected that the French and Russian Revolutions were failures. But most revolutions have two goals. One is to destroy an old form of society and the other is to set up the new form of society envisioned by the revolutionaries. The French and Russian revolutionaries failed (fortunately!) to create the new kind of society of which they dreamed, but they were quite successful in destroying the old society. We have no illusions about the feasibility of creating a new, ideal form of society. Our goal is only to destroy the existing form of society.

183. But an ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, WILD nature: those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. And with wild nature we include human nature, by which we mean those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society but are products of chance, or free will, or God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions).

184. Nature makes a perfect counter-ideal to technology for several reasons. Nature (that which is outside the power of the system) is the opposite of technology (which seeks to expand indefinitely the power of the system). Most people will agree that nature is beautiful; certainly it has tremendous popular appeal. The radical environmentalists ALREADY hold an ideology that exalts nature and opposes technology. [30] It is not necessary for the sake of nature to set up some chimerical utopia or any new kind of social order. Nature takes care of itself: It was a spontaneous creation that existed long before any human society, and for countless centuries many different kinds of human societies coexisted with nature without doing it an excessive amount of damage. Only with the Industrial Revolution did the effect of human society on nature become really devastating. To relieve the pressure on nature it is not necessary to create a special kind of social system, it is only necessary to get rid of industrial society. Granted, this will not solve all problems. Industrial society has already done tremendous damage to nature and it will take a very long time for the scars to heal. Besides, even pre-industrial societies can do significant damage to nature. Nevertheless, getting rid of industrial society will accomplish a great deal. It will relieve the worst of the pressure on nature so that the scars can begin to heal. It will remove the capacity of organized society to keep increasing its control over nature (including human nature). Whatever kind of society may exist after the demise of the industrial system, it is certain that most people will live close to nature, because in the absence of advanced technology there is no other way that people CAN live. To feed themselves they must be peasants or herdsmen or fishermen or hunters, etc. And, generally speaking, local autonomy should tend to increase, because lack of advanced technology and rapid communications will limit the capacity of governments or other large organizations to control local communities.

185. As for the negative consequences of eliminating industrial society—well, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. To gain one thing you have to sacrifice another.

186. Most people hate psychological conflict. For this reason they avoid doing any serious thinking about difficult social issues, and they like to have such issues presented to them in simple, black-and-white terms: THIS is all good and THAT is all bad. The revolutionary ideology should therefore be developed on two levels.

187. On the more sophisticated level the ideology should address itself to people who are intelligent, thoughtful and rational. The object should be to create a core of people who will be opposed to the industrial system on a rational, thought-out basis, with full appreciation of the problems and ambiguities involved, and of the price that has to be paid for getting rid of the system. It is particularly important to attract people of this type, as they are capable people and will be instrumental in influencing others. These people should be addressed on as rational a level as possible. Facts should never intentionally be distorted and intemperate language should be avoided. This does not mean that no appeal can be made to the emotions, but in making such appeal care should be taken to avoid misrepresenting the truth or doing anything else that would destroy the intellectual respectability of the ideology.

188. On a second level, the ideology should be propagated in a simplified form that will enable the unthinking majority to see the conflict of technology vs. nature in unambiguous terms. But even on this second level the ideology should not be expressed in language that is so cheap, intemperate or irrational that it alienates people of the thoughtful and rational type. Cheap, intemperate propaganda sometimes achieves impressive short-term gains, but it will be more advantageous in the long run to keep the loyalty of a small number of intelligently committed people than to arouse the passions of an unthinking, fickle mob who will change their attitude as soon as someone comes along with a better propaganda gimmick. However, propaganda of the rabble-rousing type may be necessary when the system is nearing the point of collapse and there is a final struggle between rival ideologies to determine which will become dominant when the old world-view goes under.

189. Prior to that final struggle, the revolutionaries should not expect to have a majority of people on their side. History is made by active, determined minorities, not by the majority, which seldom has a clear and consistent idea of what it really wants. Until the time comes for the final push toward revolution [31], the task of revolutionaries will be less to win the shallow support of the majority than to build a small core of deeply committed people. As for the majority, it will be enough to make them aware of the existence of the new ideology and remind them of it frequently; though of course it will be desirable to get majority support to the extent that this can be done without weakening the core of seriously committed people.

190. Any kind of social conflict helps to destabilize the system, but one should be careful about what kind of conflict one encourages. The line of conflict should be drawn between the mass of the people and the power-holding elite of industrial society (politicians, scientists, upper-level business executives, government officials, etc.). It should NOT be drawn between the revolutionaries and the mass of the people. For example, it would be bad strategy for the revolutionaries to condemn Americans for their habits of consumption. Instead, the average American should be portrayed as a victim of the advertising and marketing industry, which has suckered him into buying a lot of junk that he doesn’t need and that is very poor compensation for his lost freedom. Either approach is consistent with the facts. It is merely a matter of attitude whether you blame the advertising industry for manipulating the public or blame the public for allowing itself to be manipulated. As a matter of strategy one should generally avoid blaming the public.

191. One should think twice before encouraging any other social conflict than that between the power- holding elite (which wields technology) and the general public (over which technology exerts its power). For one thing, other conflicts tend to distract attention from the important conflicts (between power-elite and ordinary people, between technology and nature); for another thing, other conflicts may actually tend to encourage technologization, because each side in such a conflict wants to use technological power to gain advantages over its adversary. This is clearly seen in rivalries between nations. It also appears in ethnic conflicts within nations. For example, in America many black leaders are anxious to gain power for African Americans by placing back individuals in the technological power-elite. They want there to be many black government officials, scientists, corporation executives and so forth. In this way they are helping to absorb the African American subculture into the technological system. Generally speaking, one should encourage only those social conflicts that can be fitted into the framework of the conflicts of power-elite vs. ordinary people, technology vs nature.

192. But the way to discourage ethnic conflict is NOT through militant advocacy of minority rights (see paragraphs 21, 29). Instead, the revolutionaries should emphasize that although minorities do suffer more or less disadvantage, this disadvantage is of peripheral significance. Our real enemy is the industrial- technological system, and in the struggle against the system, ethnic distinctions are of no importance.

193. The kind of revolution we have in mind will not necessarily involve an armed uprising against any government. It may or may not involve physical violence, but it will not be a POLITICAL revolution. Its focus will be on technology and economics, not politics. [32]

194. Probably the revolutionaries should even AVOID assuming political power, whether by legal or illegal means, until the industrial system is stressed to the danger point and has proved itself to be a failure in the eyes of most people. Suppose for example that some “green” party should win control of the United States Congress in an election. In order to avoid betraying or watering down their own ideology they would have to take vigorous measures to turn economic growth into economic shrinkage. To the average man the results would appear disastrous: There would be massive unemployment, shortages of commodities, etc. Even if the grosser ill effects could be avoided through superhumanly skillful management, still people would have to begin giving up the luxuries to which they have become addicted. Dissatisfaction would grow, the “green” party would be voted out of office and the revolutionaries would have suffered a severe setback. For this reason the revolutionaries should not try to acquire political power until the system has gotten itself into such a mess that any hardships will be seen as resulting from the failures of the industrial system itself and not from the policies of the revolutionaries. The revolution against technology will probably have to be a revolution by outsiders, a revolution from below and not from above.

195. The revolution must be international and worldwide. It cannot be carried out on a nation-by-nation basis. Whenever it is suggested that the United States, for example, should cut back on technological progress or economic growth, people get hysterical and start screaming that if we fall behind in technology the Japanese will get ahead of us. Holy robots! The world will fly off its orbit if the Japanese ever sell more cars than we do! (Nationalism is a great promoter of technology.) More reasonably, it is argued that if the relatively democratic nations of the world fall behind in technology while nasty, dictatorial nations like China, Vietnam and North Korea continue to progress, eventually the dictators may come to dominate the world. That is why the industrial system should be attacked in all nations simultaneously, to the extent that this may be possible. True, there is no assurance that the industrial system can be destroyed at approximately the same time all over the world, and it is even conceivable that the attempt to overthrow the system could lead instead to the domination of the system by dictators. That is a risk that has to be taken. And it is worth taking, since the difference between a “democratic” industrial system and one controlled by dictators is small compared with the difference between an industrial system and a non-industrial one. [33] It might even be argued that an industrial system controlled by dictators would be preferable, because dictator-controlled systems usually have proved inefficient, hence they are presumably more likely to break down. Look at Cuba.

196. Revolutionaries might consider favoring measures that tend to bind the world economy into a unified whole. Free trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT are probably harmful to the environment in the short run, but in the long run they may perhaps be advantageous because they foster economic interdependence between nations. It will be easier to destroy the industrial system on a worldwide basis if the world economy is so unified that its breakdown in any one major nation will lead to its breakdown in all industrialized nations.

197. Some people take the line that modern man has too much power, too much control over nature; they argue for a more passive attitude on the part of the human race. At best these people are expressing themselves unclearly, because they fail to distinguish between power for LARGE ORGANIZATIONS and power for INDIVIDUALS and SMALL GROUPS. It is a mistake to argue for powerlessness and passivity, because people NEED power. Modern man as a collective entity—that is, the industrial system—has immense power over nature, and we (FC) regard this as evil. But modern INDIVIDUALS and SMALL GROUPS OF INDIVIDUALS have far less power than primitive man ever did. Generally speaking, the vast power of “modern man” over nature is exercised not by individuals or small groups but by large organizations. To the extent that the average modern INDIVIDUAL can wield the power of technology, he is permitted to do so only within narrow limits and only under the supervision and control of the system. (You need a license for everything and with the license come rules and regulations.) The individual has only those technological powers with which the system chooses to provide him. His PERSONAL power over nature is slight.

198. Primitive INDIVIDUALS and SMALL GROUPS actually had considerable power over nature; or maybe it would be better to say power WITHIN nature. When primitive man needed food he knew how to find and prepare edible roots, how to track game and take it with homemade weapons. He knew how to protect himself from heat, cold, rain, dangerous animals, etc. But primitive man did relatively little damage to nature because the COLLECTIVE power of primitive society was negligible compared to the COLLECTIVE power of industrial society.

199. Instead of arguing for powerlessness and passivity, one should argue that the power of the INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM should be broken, and that this will greatly INCREASE the power and freedom of INDIVIDUALS and SMALL GROUPS.

200. Until the industrial system has been thoroughly wrecked, the destruction of that system must be the revolutionaries’ ONLY goal. Other goals would distract attention and energy from the main goal. More importantly, if the revolutionaries permit themselves to have any other goal than the destruction of technology, they will be tempted to use technology as a tool for reaching that other goal. If they give in to that temptation, they will fall right back into the technological trap, because modern technology is a unified, tightly organized system, so that, in order to retain SOME technology, one finds oneself obliged to retain MOST technology, hence one ends up sacrificing only token amounts of technology.

201. Suppose for example that the revolutionaries took “social justice” as a goal. Human nature being what it is, social justice would not come about spontaneously; it would have to be enforced. In order to enforce it the revolutionaries would have to retain central organization and control. For that they would need rapid long-distance transportation and communication, and therefore all the technology needed to support the transportation and communication systems. To feed and clothe poor people they would have to use agricultural and manufacturing technology. And so forth. So that the attempt to insure social justice would force them to retain most parts of the technological system. Not that we have anything against social justice, but it must not be allowed to interfere with the effort to get rid of the technological system.

202. It would be hopeless for revolutionaries to try to attack the system without using SOME modern technology. If nothing else they must use the communications media to spread their message. But they should use modern technology for only ONE purpose: to attack the technological system.

203. Imagine an alcoholic sitting with a barrel of wine in front of him. Suppose he starts saying to himself, “Wine isn’t bad for you if used in moderation. Why, they say small amounts of wine are even good for you! It won’t do me any harm if I take just one little drink.... “ Well you know what is going to happen. Never forget that the human race with technology is just like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine.

204. Revolutionaries should have as many children as they can. There is strong scientific evidence that social attitudes are to a significant extent inherited. No one suggests that a social attitude is a direct outcome of a person’s genetic constitution, but it appears that personality traits are partly inherited and that certain personality traits tend, within the context of our society, to make a person more likely to hold this or that social attitude. Objections to these findings have been raised, but the objections are feeble and seem to be ideologically motivated. In any event, no one denies that children tend on the average to hold social attitudes similar to those of their parents. From our point of view it doesn’t matter all that much whether the attitudes are passed on genetically or through childhood training. In either case they ARE passed on.

205. The trouble is that many of the people who are inclined to rebel against the industrial system are also concerned about the population problems, hence they are apt to have few or no children. In this way they may be handing the world over to the sort of people who support or at least accept the industrial system. To insure the strength of the next generation of revolutionaries the present generation should reproduce itself abundantly. In doing so they will be worsening the population problem only slightly. And the important problem is to get rid of the industrial system, because once the industrial system is gone the world’s population necessarily will decrease (see paragraph 167); whereas, if the industrial system survives, it will continue developing new techniques of food production that may enable the world’s population to keep increasing almost indefinitely.

206. With regard to revolutionary strategy, the only points on which we absolutely insist are that the single overriding goal must be the elimination of modern technology, and that no other goal can be allowed to compete with this one. For the rest, revolutionaries should take an empirical approach. If experience indicates that some of the recommendations made in the foregoing paragraphs are not going to give good results, then those recommendations should be discarded.

TWO KINDS OF TECHNOLOGY

207. An argument likely to be raised against our proposed revolution is that it is bound to fail, because (it is claimed) throughout history technology has always progressed, never regressed, hence technological regression is impossible. But this claim is false.

208. We distinguish between two kinds of technology, which we will call small-scale technology and organization-dependent technology. Small-scale technology is technology that can be used by small-scale communities without outside assistance. Organization-dependent technology is technology that depends on large-scale social organization. We are aware of no significant cases of regression in small-scale technology. But organization-dependent technology DOES regress when the social organization on which it depends breaks down. Example: When the Roman Empire fell apart the Romans’ small-scale technology survived because any clever village craftsman could build, for instance, a water wheel, any skilled smith could make steel by Roman methods, and so forth. But the Romans’ organization-dependent technology DID regress. Their aqueducts fell into disrepair and were never rebuilt. Their techniques of road construction were lost. The Roman system of urban sanitation was forgotten, so that not until rather recent times did the sanitation of European cities equal that of Ancient Rome.

209. The reason why technology has seemed always to progress is that, until perhaps a century or two before the Industrial Revolution, most technology was small-scale technology. But most of the technology developed since the Industrial Revolution is organization-dependent technology. Take the refrigerator for example. Without factory-made parts or the facilities of a post-industrial machine shop it would be virtually impossible for a handful of local craftsmen to build a refrigerator. If by some miracle they did succeed in building one it would be useless to them without a reliable source of electric power. So they would have to dam a stream and build a generator. Generators require large amounts of copper wire. Imagine trying to make that wire without modern machinery. And where would they get a gas suitable for refrigeration? It would be much easier to build an icehouse or preserve food by drying or picking, as was done before the invention of the refrigerator.

210. So it is clear that if the industrial system were once thoroughly broken down, refrigeration technology would quickly be lost. The same is true of other organization-dependent technology. And once this technology had been lost for a generation or so it would take centuries to rebuild it, just as it took centuries to build it the first time around. Surviving technical books would be few and scattered. An industrial society, if built from scratch without outside help, can only be built in a series of stages: You need tools to make tools to make tools to make tools ... . A long process of economic development and progress in social organization is required. And, even in the absence of an ideology opposed to technology, there is no reason to believe that anyone would be interested in rebuilding industrial society. The enthusiasm for “progress” is a phenomenon peculiar to the modern form of society, and it seems not to have existed prior to the 17th century or thereabouts.

211. In the late Middle Ages there were four main civilizations that were about equally “advanced”: Europe, the Islamic world, India, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea). Three of those civilizations remained more or less stable, and only Europe became dynamic. No one knows why Europe became dynamic at that time; historians have their theories but these are only speculation. At any rate, it is clear that rapid development toward a technological form of society occurs only under special conditions. So there is no reason to assume that a long-lasting technological regression cannot be brought about.

212. Would society EVENTUALLY develop again toward an industrial-technological form? Maybe, but there is no use in worrying about it, since we can’t predict or control events 500 or 1,000 years in the future. Those problems must be dealt with by the people who will live at that time.

THE DANGER OF LEFTISM

213. Because of their need for rebellion and for membership in a movement, leftists or persons of similar psychological type often are unattracted to a rebellious or activist movement whose goals and membership are not initially leftist. The resulting influx of leftish types can easily turn a non-leftist movement into a leftist one, so that leftist goals replace or distort the original goals of the movement.

214. To avoid this, a movement that exalts nature and opposes technology must take a resolutely anti-leftist stance and must avoid all collaboration with leftists. Leftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology. Leftism is collectivist; it seeks to bind together the entire world (both nature and the human race) into a unified whole. But this implies management of nature and of human life by organized society, and it requires advanced technology. You can’t have a united world without rapid transportation and communication, you can’t make all people love one another without sophisticated psychological techniques, you can’t have a “planned society” without the necessary technological base. Above all, leftism is driven by the need for power, and the leftist seeks power on a collective basis, through identification with a mass movement or an organization. Leftism is unlikely ever to give up technology, because technology is too valuable a source of collective power.

215. The anarchist [34] too seeks power, but he seeks it on an individual or small-group basis; he wants individuals and small groups to be able to control the circumstances of their own lives. He opposes technology because it makes small groups dependent on large organizations.

216. Some leftists may seem to oppose technology, but they will oppose it only so long as they are outsiders and the technological system is controlled by non-leftists. If leftism ever becomes dominant in society, so that the technological system becomes a tool in the hands of leftists, they will enthusiastically use it and promote its growth. In doing this they will be repeating a pattern that leftism has shown again and again in the past. When the Bolsheviks in Russia were outsiders, they vigorously opposed censorship and the secret police, they advocated self-determination for ethnic minorities, and so forth; but as soon as they came into power themselves, they imposed a tighter censorship and created a more ruthless secret police than any that had existed under the tsars, and they oppressed ethnic minorities at least as much as the tsars had done. In the United States, a couple of decades ago when leftists were a minority in our universities, leftist professors were vigorous proponents of academic freedom, but today, in those of our universities where leftists have become dominant, they have shown themselves ready to take away from everyone else’s academic freedom. (This is “political correctness.”) The same will happen with leftists and technology: They will use it to oppress everyone else if they ever get it under their own control.

217. In earlier revolutions, leftists of the most power-hungry type, repeatedly, have first cooperated with non-leftist revolutionaries, as well as with leftists of a more libertarian inclination, and later have double- crossed them to seize power for themselves. Robespierre did this in the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks did it in the Russian Revolution, the communists did it in Spain in 1938 and Castro and his followers did it in Cuba. Given the past history of leftism, it would be utterly foolish for non-leftist revolutionaries today to collaborate with leftists.

218. Various thinkers have pointed out that leftism is a kind of religion. Leftism is not a religion in the strict sense because leftist doctrine does not postulate the existence of any supernatural being. But, for the leftist, leftism plays a psychological role much like that which religion plays for some people. The leftist NEEDS to believe in leftism; it plays a vital role in his psychological economy. His beliefs are not easily modified by logic or facts. He has a deep conviction that leftism is morally Right with a capital R, and that he has not only a right but a duty to impose leftist morality on everyone. (However, many of the people we are referring to as “leftists” do not think of themselves as leftists and would not describe their system of beliefs as leftism. We use the term “leftism” because we don’t know of any better words to designate the spectrum of related creeds that includes the feminist, gay rights, political correctness, etc., movements, and because these movements have a strong affinity with the old left. See paragraphs 227-230.)

219. Leftism is a totalitarian force. Wherever leftism is in a position of power it tends to invade every private corner and force every thought into a leftist mold. In part this is because of the quasi-religious character of leftism; everything contrary to leftist beliefs represents Sin. More importantly, leftism is a totalitarian force because of the leftists’ drive for power. The leftist seeks to satisfy his need for power through identification with a social movement and he tries to go through the power process by helping to pursue and attain the goals of the movement (see paragraph 83). But no matter how far the movement has gone in attaining its goals the leftist is never satisfied, because his activism is a surrogate activity (see paragraph 41). That is, the leftist’s real motive is not to attain the ostensible goals of leftism; in reality he is motivated by the sense of power he gets from struggling for and then reaching a social goal. [35] Consequently the leftist is never satisfied with the goals he has already attained; his need for the power process leads him always to pursue some new goal. The leftist wants equal opportunities for minorities. When that is attained he insists on statistical equality of achievement by minorities. And as long as anyone harbors in some corner of his mind a negative attitude toward some minority, the leftist has to re-educated him. And ethnic minorities are not enough; no one can be allowed to have a negative attitude toward homosexuals, disabled people, fat people, old people, ugly people, and on and on and on. It’s not enough that the public should be informed about the hazards of smoking; a warning has to be stamped on every package of cigarettes. Then cigarette advertising has to be restricted if not banned. The activists will never be satisfied until tobacco is outlawed, and after that it will be alcohol, then junk food, etc. Activists have fought gross child abuse, which is reasonable. But now they want to stop all spanking. When they have done that they will want to ban something else they consider unwholesome, then another thing and then another. They will never be satisfied until they have complete control over all child rearing practices. And then they will move on to another cause.

220. Suppose you asked leftists to make a list of ALL the things that were wrong with society, and then suppose you instituted EVERY social change that they demanded. It is safe to say that within a couple of years the majority of leftists would find something new to complain about, some new social “evil” to correct because, once again, the leftist is motivated less by distress at society’s ills than by the need to satisfy his drive for power by imposing his solutions on society.

221. Because of the restrictions placed on their thoughts and behavior by their high level of socialization, many leftists of the over-socialized type cannot pursue power in the ways that other people do. For them the drive for power has only one morally acceptable outlet, and that is in the struggle to impose their morality on everyone.

222. Leftists, especially those of the oversocialized type, are True Believers in the sense of Eric Hoffer’s book, “The True Believer.” But not all True Believers are of the same psychological type as leftists. Presumably a true-believing nazi, for instance, is very different psychologically from a true-believing leftist. Because of their capacity for single-minded devotion to a cause, True Believers are a useful, perhaps a necessary, ingredient of any revolutionary movement. This presents a problem with which we must admit we don’t know how to deal. We aren’t sure how to harness the energies of the True Believer to a revolution against technology. At present all we can say is that no True Believer will make a safe recruit to the revolution unless his commitment is exclusively to the destruction of technology. If he is committed also to another ideal, he may want to use technology as a tool for pursuing that other ideal (see paragraphs 220, 221).

223. Some readers may say, “This stuff about leftism is a lot of crap. I know John and Jane who are leftish types and they don’t have all these totalitarian tendencies.” It’s quite true that many leftists, possibly even a numerical majority, are decent people who sincerely believe in tolerating others’ values (up to a point) and wouldn’t want to use high-handed methods to reach their social goals. Our remarks about leftism are not meant to apply to every individual leftist but to describe the general character of leftism as a movement. And the general character of a movement is not necessarily determined by the numerical proportions of the various kinds of people involved in the movement.

224. The people who rise to positions of power in leftist movements tend to be leftists of the most power- hungry type, because power-hungry people are those who strive hardest to get into positions of power. Once the power-hungry types have captured control of the movement, there are many leftists of a gentler breed who inwardly disapprove of many of the actions of the leaders, but cannot bring themselves to oppose them. They NEED their faith in the movement, and because they cannot give up this faith they go along with the leaders. True, SOME leftists do have the guts to oppose the totalitarian tendencies that emerge, but they generally lose, because the power-hungry types are better organized, are more ruthless and Machiavellian and have taken care to build themselves a strong power base.

225. These phenomena appeared clearly in Russia and other countries that were taken over by leftists. Similarly, before the breakdown of communism in the USSR, leftish types in the West would seldom criticize that country. If prodded they would admit that the USSR did many wrong things, but then they would try to find excuses for the communists and begin talking about the faults of the West. They always opposed Western military resistance to communist aggression. Leftish types all over the world vigorously protested the U.S. military action in Vietnam, but when the USSR invaded Afghanistan they did nothing. Not that they approved of the Soviet actions; but because of their leftist faith, they just couldn’t bear to put themselves in opposition to communism. Today, in those of our universities where “political correctness” has become dominant, there are probably many leftish types who privately disapprove of the suppression of academic freedom, but they go along with it anyway.

226. Thus the fact that many individual leftists are personally mild and fairly tolerant people by no means prevents leftism as a whole form having a totalitarian tendency.

227. Our discussion of leftism has a serious weakness. It is still far from clear what we mean by the word “leftist.” There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about this. Today leftism is fragmented into a whole spectrum of activist movements. Yet not all activist movements are leftist, and some activist movements (e.g., radical environmentalism) seem to include both personalities of the leftist type and personalities of thoroughly un-leftist types who ought to know better than to collaborate with leftists. Varieties of leftists fade out gradually into varieties of non-leftists and we ourselves would often be hard-pressed to decide whether a given individual is or is not a leftist. To the extent that it is defined at all, our conception of leftism is defined by the discussion of it that we have given in this article, and we can only advise the reader to use his own judgment in deciding who is a leftist.

228. But it will be helpful to list some criteria for diagnosing leftism. These criteria cannot be applied in a cut and dried manner. Some individuals may meet some of the criteria without being leftists, some leftists may not meet any of the criteria. Again, you just have to use your judgment.

229. The leftist is oriented toward large-scale collectivism. He emphasizes the duty of the individual to serve society and the duty of society to take care of the individual. He has a negative attitude toward individualism. He often takes a moralistic tone. He tends to be for gun control, for sex education and other psychologically “enlightened” educational methods, for social planning, for affirmative action, for multiculturalism. He tends to identify with victims. He tends to be against competition and against violence, but he often finds excuses for those leftists who do commit violence. He is fond of using the common catch- phrases of the left, like “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “capitalism,” “imperialism,” “neocolonialism,” “genocide,” “social change,” “social justice,” “social responsibility.” Maybe the best diagnostic trait of the leftist is his tendency to sympathize with the following movements: feminism, gay rights, ethnic rights, disability rights, animal rights, political correctness. Anyone who strongly sympathizes with ALL of these movements is almost certainly a leftist. [36]

230. The more dangerous leftists, that is, those who are most power-hungry, are often characterized by arrogance or by a dogmatic approach to ideology. However, the most dangerous leftists of all may be certain oversocialized types who avoid irritating displays of aggressiveness and refrain from advertising their leftism, but work quietly and unobtrusively to promote collectivist values, “enlightened” psychological techniques for socializing children, dependence of the individual on the system, and so forth. These crypto- leftists (as we may call them) approximate certain bourgeois types as far as practical action is concerned, but differ from them in psychology, ideology and motivation. The ordinary bourgeois tries to bring people under control of the system in order to protect his way of life, or he does so simply because his attitudes are conventional. The crypto-leftist tries to bring people under control of the system because he is a True Believer in a collectivistic ideology. The crypto-leftist is differentiated from the average leftist of the oversocialized type by the fact that his rebellious impulse is weaker and he is more securely socialized. He is differentiated from the ordinary well-socialized bourgeois by the fact that there is some deep lack within him that makes it necessary for him to devote himself to a cause and immerse himself in a collectivity. And maybe his (well-sublimated) drive for power is stronger than that of the average bourgeois.

FINAL NOTE

231. Throughout this article we’ve made imprecise statements and statements that ought to have had all sorts of qualifications and reservations attached to them; and some of our statements may be flatly false. Lack of sufficient information and the need for brevity made it impossible for us to formulate our assertions more precisely or add all the necessary qualifications. And of course in a discussion of this kind one must rely heavily on intuitive judgment, and that can sometimes be wrong. So we don’t claim that this article expresses more than a crude approximation to the truth.

232. All the same, we are reasonably confident that the general outlines of the picture we have painted here are roughly correct. Just one possible weak point needs to be mentioned. We have portrayed leftism in its modern form as a phenomenon peculiar to our time and as a symptom of the disruption of the power process. But we might possibly be wrong about this. Oversocialized types who try to satisfy their drive for power by imposing their morality on everyone have certainly been around for a long time. But we THINK that the decisive role played by feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, powerlessness, identification with victims by people who are not themselves victims, is a peculiarity of modern leftism. Identification with victims by people not themselves victims can be seen to some extent in 19th century leftism and early Christianity but as far as we can make out, symptoms of low self-esteem, etc., were not nearly so evident in these movements, or in any other movements, as they are in modern leftism. But we are not in a position to assert confidently that no such movements have existed prior to modern leftism. This is a significant question to which historians ought to give their attention.

Notes

1. (Paragraph 19) We are asserting that ALL, or even most, bullies and ruthless competitors suffer from feelings of inferiority.

2. (Paragraph 25) During the Victorian period many oversocialized people suffered from serious psychological problems as a result of repressing or trying to repress their sexual feelings. Freud apparently based his theories on people of this type. Today the focus of socialization has shifted from sex to aggression.

3. (Paragraph 27) Not necessarily including specialists in engineering or the “hard” sciences.

4. (Paragraph 28) There are many individuals of the middle and upper classes who resist some of these values, but usually their resistance is more or less covert. Such resistance appears in the mass media only to a very limited extent. The main thrust of propaganda in our society is in favor of the stated values.

The main reason why these values have become, so to speak, the official values of our society is that they are useful to the industrial system. Violence is discouraged because it disrupts the functioning of the system. Racism is discouraged because ethnic conflicts also disrupt the system, and discrimination wastes the talents of minority-group members who could be useful to the system. Poverty must be “cured” because the underclass causes problems for the system and contact with the underclass lowers the morale of the other classes. Women are encouraged to have careers because their talents are useful to the system and, more importantly, because by having regular jobs women become better integrated into the system and tied directly to it rather than to their families. This helps to weaken family solidarity. (The leaders of the system say they want to strengthen the family, but they really mean is that they want the family to serve as an effective tool for socializing children in accord with the needs of the system. We argue in paragraphs 51, 52 that the system cannot afford to let the family or other small-scale social groups be strong or autonomous.)

5. (Paragraph 42) It may be argued that the majority of people don’t want to make their own decisions but want leaders to do their thinking for them. There is an element of truth in this. People like to make their own decisions in small matters, but making decisions on difficult, fundamental questions requires facing up to psychological conflict, and most people hate psychological conflict. Hence they tend to lean on others in making difficult decisions. But it does not follow that they like to have decisions imposed upon them without having any opportunity to influence those decisions. The majority of people are natural followers, not leaders, but they like to have direct personal access to their leaders, they want to be able to influence the leaders and participate to some extent in making even the difficult decisions. At least to that degree they need autonomy.

6. (Paragraph 44) Some of the symptoms listed are similar to those shown by caged animals.

To explain how these symptoms arise from deprivation with respect to the power process:

Common-sense understanding of human nature tells one that lack of goals whose attainment requires effort leads to boredom and that boredom, long continued, often leads eventually to depression. Failure to attain goals leads to frustration and lowering of self-esteem. Frustration leads to anger, anger to aggression, often in the form of spouse or child abuse. It has been shown that long-continued frustration commonly leads to depression and that depression tends to cause guilt, sleep disorders, eating disorders and bad feelings about oneself. Those who are tending toward depression seek pleasure as an antidote; hence insatiable hedonism and excessive sex, with perversions as a means of getting new kicks. Boredom too tends to cause excessive pleasure-seeking since, lacking other goals, people often use pleasure as a goal. See accompanying diagram.

The foregoing is a simplification. Reality is more complex, and of course, deprivation with respect to the power process is not the ONLY cause of the symptoms described.

By the way, when we mention depression we do not necessarily mean depression that is severe enough to be treated by a psychiatrist. Often only mild forms of depression are involved. And when we speak of goals we do not necessarily mean long-term, thought-out goals. For many or most people through much of human history, the goals of a hand-to-mouth existence (merely providing oneself and one’s family with food from day to day) have been quite sufficient.

7. (Paragraph 52) A partial exception may be made for a few passive, inward-looking groups, such as the Amish, which have little effect on the wider society. Apart from these, some genuine small-scale communities do exist in America today. For instance, youth gangs and “cults.” Everyone regards them as dangerous, and so they are, because the members of these groups are loyal primarily to one another rather than to the system, hence the system cannot control them.

Or take the gypsies. The gypsies commonly get away with theft and fraud because their loyalties are such that they can always get other gypsies to give testimony that “proves” their innocence. Obviously the system would be in serious trouble if too many people belonged to such groups.

Some of the early-20th century Chinese thinkers who were concerned with modernizing China recognized the necessity breaking down small-scale social groups such as the family: “(According to Sun Yat-sen) the Chinese people needed a new surge of patriotism, which would lead to a transfer of loyalty from the family to the state.... (According to Li Huang) traditional attachments, particularly to the family had to be abandoned if nationalism were to develop in China.” (Chester C. Tan, “Chinese Political Thought in the Twentieth Century,” page 125, page 297.)

8. (Paragraph 56) Yes, we know that 19th century America had its problems, and serious ones, but for the sake of brevity we have to express ourselves in simplified terms.

9. (Paragraph 61) We leave aside the “underclass.” We are speaking of the mainstream.

10. (Paragraph 62) Some social scientists, educators, “mental health” professionals and the like are doing their best to push the social drives into group 1 by trying to see to it that everyone has a satisfactory social life.

11. (Paragraphs 63, 82) Is the drive for endless material acquisition really an artificial creation of the advertising and marketing industry? Certainly there is no innate human drive for material acquisition. There have been many cultures in which people have desired little material wealth beyond what was necessary to satisfy their basic physical needs (Australian aborigines, traditional Mexican peasant culture, some African cultures). On the other hand there have also been many pre-industrial cultures in which material acquisition has played an important role. So we can’t claim that today’s acquisition-oriented culture is exclusively a creation of the advertising and marketing industry. But it is clear that the advertising and marketing industry has had an important part in creating that culture. The big corporations that spend millions on advertising wouldn’t be spending that kind of money without solid proof that they were getting it back in increased sales. One member of FC met a sales manager a couple of years ago who was frank enough to tell him, “Our job is to make people buy things they don’t want and don’t need.” He then described how an untrained novice could present people with the facts about a product, and make no sales at all, while a trained and experienced professional salesman would make lots of sales to the same people. This shows that people are manipulated into buying things they don’t really want.

12. (Paragraph 64) The problem of purposelessness seems to have become less serious during the last 15 years or so, because people now feel less secure physically and economically than they did earlier, and the need for security provides them with a goal. But purposelessness has been replaced by frustration over the difficulty of attaining security. We emphasize the problem of purposelessness because the liberals and leftists would wish to solve our social problems by having society guarantee everyone’s security; but if that could be done it would only bring back the problem of purposelessness. The real issue is not whether society provides well or poorly for people’s security; the trouble is that people are dependent on the system for their security rather than having it in their own hands. This, by the way, is part of the reason why some people get worked up about the right to bear arms; possession of a gun puts that aspect of their security in their own hands.

13. (Paragraph 66) Conservatives’ efforts to decrease the amount of government regulation are of little benefit to the average man. For one thing, only a fraction of the regulations can be eliminated because most regulations are necessary. For another thing, most of the deregulation affects business rather than the average individual, so that its main effect is to take power from the government and give it to private corporations. What this means for the average man is that government interference in his life is replaced by interference from big corporations, which may be permitted, for example, to dump more chemicals that get into his water supply and give him cancer. The conservatives are just taking the average man for a sucker, exploiting his resentment of Big Government to promote the power of Big Business.

14. (Paragraph 73) When someone approves of the purpose for which propaganda is being used in a given case, he generally calls it “education” or applies to it some similar euphemism. But propaganda is propaganda regardless of the purpose for which it is used.

15. (Paragraph 83) We are not expressing approval or disapproval of the Panama invasion. We only use it to illustrate a point.

16. (Paragraph 95) When the American colonies were under British rule there were fewer and less effective legal guarantees of freedom than there were after the American Constitution went into effect, yet there was more personal freedom in pre-industrial America, both before and after the War of Independence, than there was after the Industrial Revolution took hold in this country. We quote from “Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives,” edited by Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, Chapter 12 by Roger Lane, pages 476-478:

“The progressive heightening of standards of propriety, and with it the increasing reliance on official law enforcement (in 19th century America) ... were common to the whole society.... [T]he change in social behavior is so long term and so widespread as to suggest a connection with the most fundamental of contemporary social processes; that of industrial urbanization itself....”Massachusetts in 1835 had a population of some 660,940, 81 percent rural, overwhelmingly preindustrial and native born. It’s citizens were used to considerable personal freedom. Whether teamsters, farmers or artisans, they were all accustomed to setting their own schedules, and the nature of their work made them physically independent of each other.... Individual problems, sins or even crimes, were not generally cause for wider social concern....”But the impact of the twin movements to the city and to the factory, both just gathering force in 1835, had a progressive effect on personal behavior throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. The factory demanded regularity of behavior, a life governed by obedience to the rhythms of clock and calendar, the demands of foreman and supervisor. In the city or town, the needs of living in closely packed neighborhoods inhibited many actions previously unobjectionable. Both blue- and white-collar employees in larger establishments were mutually dependent on their fellows; as one man’s work fit into anther’s, so one man’s business was no longer his own.

“The results of the new organization of life and work were apparent by 1900, when some 76 percent of the 2,805,346 inhabitants of Massachusetts were classified as urbanites. Much violent or irregular behavior which had been tolerable in a casual, independent society was no longer acceptable in the more formalized, cooperative atmosphere of the later period.... The move to the cities had, in short, produced a more tractable, more socialized, more ‘civilized’ generation than its predecessors.”

17. (Paragraph 117) Apologists for the system are fond of citing cases in which elections have been decided by one or two votes, but such cases are rare.

18. (Paragraph 119) “Today, in technologically advanced lands, men live very similar lives in spite of geographical, religious, and political differences. The daily lives of a Christian bank clerk in Chicago, a Buddhist bank clerk in Tokyo, and a Communist bank clerk in Moscow are far more alike than the life of any one of them is like that of any single man who lived a thousand years ago. These similarities are the result of a common technology....” L. Sprague de Camp, “The Ancient Engineers,” Ballantine edition, page 17.

The lives of the three bank clerks are not IDENTICAL. Ideology does have SOME effect. But all technological societies, in order to survive, must evolve along APPROXIMATELY the same trajectory.

19. (Paragraph 123) Just think an irresponsible genetic engineer might create a lot of terrorists.

20. (Paragraph 124) For a further example of undesirable consequences of medical progress, suppose a reliable cure for cancer is discovered. Even if the treatment is too expensive to be available to any but the elite, it will greatly reduce their incentive to stop the escape of carcinogens into the environment.

21. (Paragraph 128) Since many people may find paradoxical the notion that a large number of good things can add up to a bad thing, we illustrate with an analogy. Suppose Mr. A is playing chess with Mr. B. Mr. C, a Grand Master, is looking over Mr. A’s shoulder. Mr. A of course wants to win his game, so if Mr. C points out a good move for him to make, he is doing Mr. A a favor. But suppose now that Mr. C tells Mr. A how to make ALL of his moves. In each particular instance he does Mr. A a favor by showing him his best move, but by making ALL of his moves for him he spoils his game, since there is not point in Mr. A’s playing the game at all if someone else makes all his moves.

The situation of modern man is analogous to that of Mr. A. The system makes an individual’s life easier for him in innumerable ways, but in doing so it deprives him of control over his own fate.

22. (Paragraph 137) Here we are considering only the conflict of values within the mainstream. For the sake of simplicity we leave out of the picture “outsider” values like the idea that wild nature is more important than human economic welfare.

23. (Paragraph 137) Self-interest is not necessarily MATERIAL self-interest. It can consist in fulfillment of some psychological need, for example, by promoting one’s own ideology or religion.

24. (Paragraph 139) A qualification: It is in the interest of the system to permit a certain prescribed degree of freedom in some areas. For example, economic freedom (with suitable limitations and restraints) has proved effective in promoting economic growth. But only planned, circumscribed, limited freedom is in the interest of the system. The individual must always be kept on a leash, even if the leash is sometimes long (see paragraphs 94, 97).

25. (Paragraph 143) We don’t mean to suggest that the efficiency or the potential for survival of a society has always been inversely proportional to the amount of pressure or discomfort to which the society subjects people. That certainly is not the case. There is good reason to believe that many primitive societies subjected people to less pressure than European society did, but European society proved far more efficient than any primitive society and always won out in conflicts with such societies because of the advantages conferred by technology.

26. (Paragraph 147) If you think that more effective law enforcement is unequivocally good because it suppresses crime, then remember that crime as defined by the system is not necessarily what YOU would call crime. Today, smoking marijuana is a “crime,” and, in some places in the U.S., so is possession of an unregistered handgun. Tomorrow, possession of ANY firearm, registered or not, may be made a crime, and the same thing may happen with disapproved methods of child-rearing, such as spanking. In some countries, expression of dissident political opinions is a crime, and there is no certainty that this will never happen in the U.S., since no constitution or political system lasts forever.

If a society needs a large, powerful law enforcement establishment, then there is something gravely wrong with that society; it must be subjecting people to severe pressures if so many refuse to follow the rules, or follow them only because forced. Many societies in the past have gotten by with little or no formal law- enforcement.

27. (Paragraph 151) To be sure, past societies have had means of influencing human behavior, but these have been primitive and of low effectiveness compared with the technological means that are now being developed.

28. (Paragraph 152) However, some psychologists have publicly expressed opinions indicating their contempt for human freedom. And the mathematician Claude Shannon was quoted in Omni (August 1987) as saying, “I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I’m rooting for the machines.”

29. (Paragraph 154) This is no science fiction! After writing paragraph 154 we came across an article in Scientific American according to which scientists are actively developing techniques for identifying possible future criminals and for treating them by a combination of biological and psychological means. Some scientists advocate compulsory application of the treatment, which may be available in the near future. (See “Seeking the Criminal Element,” by W. Wayt Gibbs, Scientific American, March 1995.) Maybe you think this is OK because the treatment would be applied to those who might become violent criminals. But of course it won’t stop there. Next, a treatment will be applied to those who might become drunk drivers (they endanger human life too), then perhaps to peel who spank their children, then to environmentalists who sabotage logging equipment, eventually to anyone whose behavior is inconvenient for the system.

30. (Paragraph 184) A further advantage of nature as a counter-ideal to technology is that, in many people, nature inspires the kind of reverence that is associated with religion, so that nature could perhaps be idealized on a religious basis. It is true that in many societies religion has served as a support and justification for the established order, but it is also true that religion has often provided a basis for rebellion. Thus it may be useful to introduce a religious element into the rebellion against technology, the more so because Western society today has no strong religious foundation. Religion, nowadays either is used as cheap and transparent support for narrow, short-sighted selfishness (some conservatives use it this way), or even is cynically exploited to make easy money (by many evangelists), or has degenerated into crude irrationalism (fundamentalist protestant sects, “cults”), or is simply stagnant (Catholicism, main-line Protestantism). The nearest thing to a strong, widespread, dynamic religion that the West has seen in recent times has been the quasi-religion of leftism, but leftism today is fragmented and has no clear, unified, inspiring goal.

Thus there is a religious vacuum in our society that could perhaps be filled by a religion focused on nature in opposition to technology. But it would be a mistake to try to concoct artificially a religion to fill this role. Such an invented religion would probably be a failure. Take the “Gaia” religion for example. Do its adherents REALLY believe in it or are they just play-acting? If they are just play-acting their religion will be a flop in the end.

It is probably best not to try to introduce religion into the conflict of nature vs. technology unless you REALLY believe in that religion yourself and find that it arouses a deep, strong, genuine response in many other people.

31. (Paragraph 189) Assuming that such a final push occurs. Conceivably the industrial system might be eliminated in a somewhat gradual or piecemeal fashion (see paragraphs 4, 167 and Note 4).

32. (Paragraph 193) It is even conceivable (remotely) that the revolution might consist only of a massive change of attitudes toward technology resulting in a relatively gradual and painless disintegration of the industrial system. But if this happens we’ll be very lucky. It’s far more probably that the transition to a nontechnological society will be very difficult and full of conflicts and disasters.

33. (Paragraph 195) The economic and technological structure of a society are far more important than its political structure in determining the way the average man lives (see paragraphs 95, 119 and Notes 16, 18).

34. (Paragraph 215) This statement refers to our particular brand of anarchism. A wide variety of social attitudes have been called “anarchist,” and it may be that many who consider themselves anarchists would not accept our statement of paragraph 215. It should be noted, by the way, that there is a nonviolent anarchist movement whose members probably would not accept FC as anarchist and certainly would not approve of FC’s violent methods.

35. (Paragraph 219) Many leftists are motivated also by hostility, but the hostility probably results in part from a frustrated need for power.

36. (Paragraph 229) It is important to understand that we mean someone who sympathizes with these MOVEMENTS as they exist today in our society. One who believes that women, homosexuals, etc., should have equal rights is not necessary a leftist. The feminist, gay rights, etc., movements that exist in our society have the particular ideological tone that characterizes leftism, and if one believes, for example, that women should have equal rights it does not necessarily follow that one must sympathize with the feminist movement as it exists today.

If copyright problems make it impossible for this long quotation to be printed, then please change Note 16 to read as follows:

16. (Paragraph 95) When the American colonies were under British rule there were fewer and less effective legal guarantees of freedom than there were after the American Constitution went into effect, yet there was more personal freedom in pre-industrial America, both before and after the War of Independence, than there was after the Industrial Revolution took hold in this country. In “Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives,” edited by Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, Chapter 12 by Roger Lane, it is explained how in pre-industrial America the average person had greater independence and autonomy than he does today, and how the process of industrialization necessarily led to the restriction of personal freedom.

Paul Graham · 03/10/24

The Best Essay

March 2024

Despite its title this isn't meant to be the best essay. My goal here is to figure out what the best essay would be like.

It would be well-written, but you can write well about any topic. What made it special would be what it was about.

Obviously some topics would be better than others. It probably wouldn't be about this year's lipstick colors. But it wouldn't be vaporous talk about elevated themes either. A good essay has to be surprising. It has to tell people something they don't already know.

The best essay would be on the most important topic you could tell people something surprising about.

That may sound obvious, but it has some unexpected consequences. One is that science enters the picture like an elephant stepping into a rowboat. For example, Darwin first described the idea of natural selection in an essay written in 1844. Talk about an important topic you could tell people something surprising about. If that's the test of a great essay, this was surely the best one written in 1844. And indeed, the best possible essay at any given time would usually be one describing the most important scientific or technological discovery it was possible to make. [1]

Another unexpected consequence: I imagined when I started writing this that the best essay would be fairly timeless — that the best essay you could write in 1844 would be much the same as the best one you could write now. But in fact the opposite seems to be true. It might be true that the best painting would be timeless in this sense. But it wouldn't be impressive to write an essay introducing natural selection now. The best essay now would be one describing a great discovery we didn't yet know about.

If the question of how to write the best possible essay reduces to the question of how to make great discoveries, then I started with the wrong question. Perhaps what this exercise shows is that we shouldn't waste our time writing essays but instead focus on making discoveries in some specific domain. But I'm interested in essays and what can be done with them, so I want to see if there's some other question I could have asked.

There is, and on the face of it, it seems almost identical to the one I started with. Instead of asking what would the best essay be? I should have asked how do you write essays well? Though these seem only phrasing apart, their answers diverge. The answer to the first question, as we've seen, isn't really about essay writing. The second question forces it to be.

Writing essays, at its best, is a way of discovering ideas. How do you do that well? How do you discover by writing?

An essay should ordinarily start with what I'm going to call a question, though I mean this in a very general sense: it doesn't have to be a question grammatically, just something that acts like one in the sense that it spurs some response.

How do you get this initial question? It probably won't work to choose some important-sounding topic at random and go at it. Professional traders won't even trade unless they have what they call an edge — a convincing story about why in some class of trades they'll win more than they lose. Similarly, you shouldn't attack a topic unless you have a way in — some new insight about it or way of approaching it.

You don't need to have a complete thesis; you just need some kind of gap you can explore. In fact, merely having questions about something other people take for granted can be edge enough.

If you come across a question that's sufficiently puzzling, it could be worth exploring even if it doesn't seem very momentous. Many an important discovery has been made by pulling on a thread that seemed insignificant at first. How can they all be finches? [2]

Once you've got a question, then what? You start thinking out loud about it. Not literally out loud, but you commit to a specific string of words in response, as you would if you were talking. This initial response is usually mistaken or incomplete. Writing converts your ideas from vague to bad. But that's a step forward, because once you can see the brokenness, you can fix it.

Perhaps beginning writers are alarmed at the thought of starting with something mistaken or incomplete, but you shouldn't be, because this is why essay writing works. Forcing yourself to commit to some specific string of words gives you a starting point, and if it's wrong, you'll see that when you reread it. At least half of essay writing is rereading what you've written and asking is this correct and complete? You have to be very strict when rereading, not just because you want to keep yourself honest, but because a gap between your response and the truth is often a sign of new ideas to be discovered.

The prize for being strict with what you've written is not just refinement. When you take a roughly correct answer and try to make it exactly right, sometimes you find that you can't, and that the reason is that you were depending on a false assumption. And when you discard it, the answer turns out to be completely different. [3]

Ideally the response to a question is two things: the first step in a process that converges on the truth, and a source of additional questions (in my very general sense of the word). So the process continues recursively, as response spurs response. [4]

Usually there are several possible responses to a question, which means you're traversing a tree. But essays are linear, not tree-shaped, which means you have to choose one branch to follow at each point. How do you choose? Usually you should follow whichever offers the greatest combination of generality and novelty. I don't consciously rank branches this way; I just follow whichever seems most exciting; but generality and novelty are what make a branch exciting. [5]

If you're willing to do a lot of rewriting, you don't have to guess right. You can follow a branch and see how it turns out, and if it isn't good enough, cut it and backtrack. I do this all the time. In this essay I've already cut a 17-paragraph subtree, in addition to countless shorter ones. Maybe I'll reattach it at the end, or boil it down to a footnote, or spin it off as its own essay; we'll see. [6]

In general you want to be quick to cut. One of the most dangerous temptations in writing (and in software and painting) is to keep something that isn't right, just because it contains a few good bits or cost you a lot of effort.

The most surprising new question being thrown off at this point is does it really matter what the initial question is? If the space of ideas is highly connected, it shouldn't, because you should be able to get from any question to the most valuable ones in a few hops. And we see evidence that it's highly connected in the way, for example, that people who are obsessed with some topic can turn any conversation toward it. But that only works if you know where you want to go, and you don't in an essay. That's the whole point. You don't want to be the obsessive conversationalist, or all your essays will be about the same thing. [7]

The other reason the initial question matters is that you usually feel somewhat obliged to stick to it. I don't think about this when I decide which branch to follow. I just follow novelty and generality. Sticking to the question is enforced later, when I notice I've wandered too far and have to backtrack. But I think this is the optimal solution. You don't want the hunt for novelty and generality to be constrained in the moment. Go with it and see what you get. [8]

Since the initial question does constrain you, in the best case it sets an upper bound on the quality of essay you'll write. If you do as well as you possibly can on the chain of thoughts that follow from the initial question, the initial question itself is the only place where there's room for variation.

It would be a mistake to let this make you too conservative though, because you can't predict where a question will lead. Not if you're doing things right, because doing things right means making discoveries, and by definition you can't predict those. So the way to respond to this situation is not to be cautious about which initial question you choose, but to write a lot of essays. Essays are for taking risks.

Almost any question can get you a good essay. Indeed, it took some effort to think of a sufficiently unpromising topic in the third paragraph, because any essayist's first impulse on hearing that the best essay couldn't be about x would be to try to write it. But if most questions yield good essays, only some yield great ones.

Can we predict which questions will yield great essays? Considering how long I've been writing essays, it's alarming how novel that question feels.

One thing I like in an initial question is outrageousness. I love questions that seem naughty in some way — for example, by seeming counterintuitive or overambitious or heterodox. Ideally all three. This essay is an example. Writing about the best essay implies there is such a thing, which pseudo-intellectuals will dismiss as reductive, though it follows necessarily from the possibility of one essay being better than another. And thinking about how to do something so ambitious is close enough to doing it that it holds your attention.

I like to start an essay with a gleam in my eye. This could be just a taste of mine, but there's one aspect of it that probably isn't: to write a really good essay on some topic, you have to be interested in it. A good writer can write well about anything, but to stretch for the novel insights that are the raison d'etre of the essay, you have to care.

If caring about it is one of the criteria for a good initial question, then the optimal question varies from person to person. It also means you're more likely to write great essays if you care about a lot of different things. The more curious you are, the greater the probable overlap between the set of things you're curious about and the set of topics that yield great essays.

What other qualities would a great initial question have? It's probably good if it has implications in a lot of different areas. And I find it's a good sign if it's one that people think has already been thoroughly explored. But the truth is that I've barely thought about how to choose initial questions, because I rarely do it. I rarely choose what to write about; I just start thinking about something, and sometimes it turns into an essay.

Am I going to stop writing essays about whatever I happen to be thinking about and instead start working my way through some systematically generated list of topics? That doesn't sound like much fun. And yet I want to write good essays, and if the initial question matters, I should care about it.

Perhaps the answer is to go one step earlier: to write about whatever pops into your head, but try to ensure that what pops into your head is good. Indeed, now that I think about it, this has to be the answer, because a mere list of topics wouldn't be any use if you didn't have edge with any of them. To start writing an essay, you need a topic plus some initial insight about it, and you can't generate those systematically. If only. [9]

You can probably cause yourself to have more of them, though. The quality of the ideas that come out of your head depend on what goes in, and you can improve that in two dimensions, breadth and depth.

You can't learn everything, so getting breadth implies learning about topics that are very different from one another. When I tell people about my book-buying trips to Hay and they ask what I buy books about, I usually feel a bit sheepish answering, because the topics seem like a laundry list of unrelated subjects. But perhaps that's actually optimal in this business.

You can also get ideas by talking to people, by doing and building things, and by going places and seeing things. I don't think it's important to talk to new people so much as the sort of people who make you have new ideas. I get more new ideas after talking for an afternoon with Robert Morris than from talking to 20 new smart people. I know because that's what a block of office hours at Y Combinator consists of.

While breadth comes from reading and talking and seeing, depth comes from doing. The way to really learn about some domain is to have to solve problems in it. Though this could take the form of writing, I suspect that to be a good essayist you also have to do, or have done, some other kind of work. That may not be true for most other fields, but essay writing is different. You could spend half your time working on something else and be net ahead, so long as it was hard.

I'm not proposing that as a recipe so much as an encouragement to those already doing it. If you've spent all your life so far working on other things, you're already halfway there. Though of course to be good at writing you have to like it, and if you like writing you'd probably have spent at least some time doing it.

Everything I've said about initial questions applies also to the questions you encounter in writing the essay. They're the same thing; every subtree of an essay is usually a shorter essay, just as every subtree of a Calder mobile is a smaller mobile. So any technique that gets you good initial questions also gets you good whole essays.

At some point the cycle of question and response reaches what feels like a natural end. Which is a little suspicious; shouldn't every answer suggest more questions? I think what happens is that you start to feel sated. Once you've covered enough interesting ground, you start to lose your appetite for new questions. Which is just as well, because the reader is probably feeling sated too. And it's not lazy to stop asking questions, because you could instead be asking the initial question of a new essay.

That's the ultimate source of drag on the connectedness of ideas: the discoveries you make along the way. If you discover enough starting from question A, you'll never make it to question B. Though if you keep writing essays you'll gradually fix this problem by burning off such discoveries. So bizarrely enough, writing lots of essays makes it as if the space of ideas were more highly connected.

When a subtree comes to an end, you can do one of two things. You can either stop, or pull the Cubist trick of laying separate subtrees end to end by returning to a question you skipped earlier. Usually it requires some sleight of hand to make the essay flow continuously at this point, but not this time. This time I actually need an example of the phenomenon. For example, we discovered earlier that the best possible essay wouldn't usually be timeless in the way the best painting would. This seems surprising enough to be worth investigating further.

There are two senses in which an essay can be timeless: to be about a matter of permanent importance, and always to have the same effect on readers. With art these two senses blend together. Art that looked beautiful to the ancient Greeks still looks beautiful to us. But with essays the two senses diverge, because essays teach, and you can't teach people something they already know. Natural selection is certainly a matter of permanent importance, but an essay explaining it couldn't have the same effect on us that it would have had on Darwin's contemporaries, precisely because his ideas were so successful that everyone already knows about them. [10]

I imagined when I started writing this that the best possible essay would be timeless in the stricter, evergreen sense: that it would contain some deep, timeless wisdom that would appeal equally to Aristotle and Feynman. That doesn't seem to be true. But if the best possible essay wouldn't usually be timeless in this stricter sense, what would it take to write essays that were?

The answer to that turns out to be very strange: to be the evergreen kind of timeless, an essay has to be ineffective, in the sense that its discoveries aren't assimilated into our shared culture. Otherwise there will be nothing new in it for the second generation of readers. If you want to surprise readers not just now but in the future as well, you have to write essays that won't stick — essays that, no matter how good they are, won't become part of what people in the future learn before they read them. [11]

I can imagine several ways to do that. One would be to write about things people never learn. For example, it's a long-established pattern for ambitious people to chase after various types of prizes, and only later, perhaps too late, to realize that some of them weren't worth as much as they thought. If you write about that, you can be confident of a conveyor belt of future readers to be surprised by it.

Ditto if you write about the tendency of the inexperienced to overdo things — of young engineers to produce overcomplicated solutions, for example. There are some kinds of mistakes people never learn to avoid except by making them. Any of those should be a timeless topic.

Sometimes when we're slow to grasp things it's not just because we're obtuse or in denial but because we've been deliberately lied to. There are a lot of things adults lie to kids about, and when you reach adulthood, they don't take you aside and hand you a list of them. They don't remember which lies they told you, and most were implicit anyway. So contradicting such lies will be a source of surprises for as long as adults keep telling them.

Sometimes it's systems that lie to you. For example, the educational systems in most countries train you to win by hacking the test. But that's not how you win at the most important real-world tests, and after decades of training, this is hard for new arrivals in the real world to grasp. Helping them overcome such institutional lies will work as long as the institutions remain broken. [12]

Another recipe for timelessness is to write about things readers already know, but in much more detail than can be transmitted culturally. "Everyone knows," for example, that it can be rewarding to have kids. But till you have them you don't know precisely what forms that takes, and even then much of what you know you may never have put into words.

I've written about all these kinds of topics. But I didn't do it in a deliberate attempt to write essays that were timeless in the stricter sense. And indeed, the fact that this depends on one's ideas not sticking suggests that it's not worth making a deliberate attempt to. You should write about topics of timeless importance, yes, but if you do such a good job that your conclusions stick and future generations find your essay obvious instead of novel, so much the better. You've crossed into Darwin territory.

Writing about topics of timeless importance is an instance of something even more general, though: breadth of applicability. And there are more kinds of breadth than chronological — applying to lots of different fields, for example. So breadth is the ultimate aim.

I already aim for it. Breadth and novelty are the two things I'm always chasing. But I'm glad I understand where timelessness fits.

I understand better where a lot of things fit now. This essay has been a kind of tour of essay writing. I started out hoping to get advice about topics; if you assume good writing, the only thing left to differentiate the best essay is its topic. And I did get advice about topics: discover natural selection. Yeah, that would be nice. But when you step back and ask what's the best you can do short of making some great discovery like that, the answer turns out to be about procedure. Ultimately the quality of an essay is a function of the ideas discovered in it, and the way you get them is by casting a wide net for questions and then being very exacting with the answers.

The most striking feature of this map of essay writing are the alternating stripes of inspiration and effort required. The questions depend on inspiration, but the answers can be got by sheer persistence. You don't have to get an answer right the first time, but there's no excuse for not getting it right eventually, because you can keep rewriting till you do. And this is not just a theoretical possibility. It's a pretty accurate description of the way I work. I'm rewriting as we speak.

But although I wish I could say that writing great essays depends mostly on effort, in the limit case it's inspiration that makes the difference. In the limit case, the questions are the harder thing to get. That pool has no bottom.

How to get more questions? That is the most important question of all.











Notes

[1] There might be some resistance to this conclusion on the grounds that some of these discoveries could only be understood by a small number of readers. But you get into all sorts of difficulties if you want to disqualify essays on this account. How do you decide where the cutoff should be? If a virus kills off everyone except a handful of people sequestered at Los Alamos, could an essay that had been disqualified now be eligible? Etc.

Darwin's 1844 essay was derived from an earlier version written in 1839. Extracts from it were published in 1858.

[2] When you find yourself very curious about an apparently minor question, that's an exciting sign. Evolution has designed you to pay attention to things that matter. So when you're very curious about something random, that could mean you've unconsciously noticed it's less random than it seems.

[3] Corollary: If you're not intellectually honest, your writing won't just be biased, but also boring, because you'll miss all the ideas you'd have discovered if you pushed for the truth.

[4] Sometimes this process begins before you start writing. Sometimes you've already figured out the first few things you want to say. Schoolchildren are often taught they should decide everything they want to say, and write this down as an outline before they start writing the essay itself. Maybe that's a good way to get them started — or not, I don't know — but it's antithetical to the spirit of essay writing. The more detailed your outline, the less your ideas can benefit from the sort of discovery that essays are for.

[5] The problem with this type of "greedy" algorithm is that you can end up on a local maximum. If the most valuable question is preceded by a boring one, you'll overlook it. But I can't imagine a better strategy. There's no lookahead except by writing. So use a greedy algorithm and a lot of time.

[6] I ended up reattaching the first 5 of the 17 paragraphs, and discarding the rest.

[7] Stephen Fry confessed to making use of this phenomenon when taking exams at Oxford. He had in his head a standard essay about some general literary topic, and he would find a way to turn the exam question toward it and then just reproduce it again.

Strictly speaking it's the graph of ideas that would be highly connected, not the space, but that usage would confuse people who don't know graph theory, whereas people who do know it will get what I mean if I say "space".

[8] Too far doesn't depend just on the distance from the original topic. It's more like that distance divided by the value of whatever I've discovered in the subtree.

[9] Or can you? I should try writing about this. Even if the chance of succeeding is small, the expected value is huge.

[10] There was a vogue in the 20th century for saying that the purpose of art was also to teach. Some artists tried to justify their work by explaining that their goal was not to produce something good, but to challenge our preconceptions about art. And to be fair, art can teach somewhat. The ancient Greeks' naturalistic sculptures represented a new idea, and must have been extra exciting to contemporaries on that account. But they still look good to us.

[11] Bertrand Russell caused huge controversy in the early 20th century with his ideas about "trial marriage." But they make boring reading now, because they prevailed. "Trial marriage" is what we call "dating."

[12] If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I'd have predicted that schools would continue to teach hacking the test for centuries. But now it seems plausible that students will soon be taught individually by AIs, and that exams will be replaced by ongoing, invisible micro-assessments.



Thanks to Sam Altman, Trevor Blackwell, Jessica Livingston, Robert Morris, Courtenay Pipkin, and Harj Taggar for reading drafts of this.