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Jeremi Suri: History of American Power | Lex Fridman Podcast #180


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The following is a conversation with Jeremy Suri,
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a historian at UT Austin,
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whose research interests and writing
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are on modern American history
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with an eye towards presidents
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and in general individuals who wielded power.
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Quick mention of our sponsors,
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Check them out in the description to support this podcast.
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As a side note, let me say that in these conversations,
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for better or worse, I seek understanding, not activism.
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I'm not left nor right.
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I love ideas, not labels.
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And most fascinating ideas are full of uncertainty,
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tension, and trade offs.
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Labels destroy that.
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I try ideas out, let them breathe for a time,
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try to challenge, explore, and analyze.
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But mostly, I trust the intelligence of you, the listener,
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to think and to make up your own mind, together with me.
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I will try to have economists and philosophers on
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from all points on the multidimensional political spectrum,
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including the extremes.
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I will try to both have an open mind
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and to ask difficult questions when needed.
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I'll make mistakes.
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Don't shoot this robot at the first sign of failure.
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I'm still under development.
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Pre release version 0.1.
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This is the Lex Friedman podcast,
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and here is my conversation with Jeremy Suri.
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You've studied many American presidents throughout history,
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so who do you think was the greatest president
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in American history?
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The greatest American president was Abraham Lincoln.
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And Tolstoy reflected on this himself, actually,
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saying that when he was in the caucuses,
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he asked these peasants in the caucuses
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who was the greatest man in the world that they had heard of,
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and they said Abraham Lincoln.
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And why?
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Well, because he gave voice to people
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who had no voice before.
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He turned politics into an art.
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This is what Tolstoy recounted,
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the peasants in the caucuses telling him.
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Lincoln made politics more than about power.
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He made it an art.
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He made it a source of liberation.
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And those living even far from the United States
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could see that model, that inspiration from Lincoln.
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He was a man who had two years of education,
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yet he mastered the English language,
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and he used the language
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to help people imagine a different kind of world.
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You see, leaders and presidents are at their best
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when they're doing more
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than just manipulating institutions and power,
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when they're helping the people imagine a better world.
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And he did that as no other president has.
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And you say he gave voice to those who are voiceless.
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Who are you talking to about in general?
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Is this about African Americans,
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or is this about just the populace in general?
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Certainly part of it is about slaves, African Americans,
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and many immigrants,
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immigrants from all parts of Europe and other areas
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that have come to the United States.
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But part of it was just for ordinary American citizens.
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The Republican Party,
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for which Lincoln was the first president,
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was a party created to give voice to poor white men,
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as well as slaves and others.
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And Lincoln was a poor white man himself,
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grew up without slaves and without land,
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which meant you had almost nothing.
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What do you think about the trajectory of that man
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with only two years of education?
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Is there something to be said
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about how does one come from nothing
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and nurture the ideals that kind of make this country great
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into something where you can actually be a leader
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of this nation to espouse those ideas,
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to give the voice to the voiceless?
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Yes, I think you actually hit the nail on the head.
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I think what he represented was the opportunity,
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and that was the word that mattered for him,
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opportunity that came from the ability to raise yourself up,
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to work hard, and to be compensated for your hard work.
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And this is at the core of the Republican Party
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of the 19th century, which is the core of capitalism.
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It's not about getting rich.
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It's about getting compensated for your work.
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It's about being incentivized to do better work.
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And Lincoln was constantly striving.
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One of his closest associates, Herndon, said,
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he was the little engine of ambition that couldn't stop.
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He just kept going, taught himself to read,
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taught himself to be a lawyer.
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He went through many failed businesses
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before he even reached that point, many failed love affairs.
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But he kept trying, he kept working,
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and what American society offered him,
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and what he wanted American society to offer everyone else
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was the opportunity to keep trying to fail
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and then get up and try again.
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What do you think was the nature of that ambition?
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Was there a hunger for power?
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I think Lincoln had a hunger for success.
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I think he had a hunger to get out
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of the poor station he was in.
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He had a hunger to be someone
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who had control over his life.
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Freedom for him did not mean the right
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to do anything you wanna do,
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but it meant the right to be secure
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from being dependent upon someone else.
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So independence, he writes in his letters
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when he's very young that he hated
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being dependent on his father.
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He grew up without a mother.
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His father was a struggling farmer,
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and he would write in his letters
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that his father treated him like a slave on the farm.
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Some think his hatred of slavery came from that experience.
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He didn't ever wanna have to work for someone again.
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He wanted to be free and independent,
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and he wanted, again, every American,
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this is the kind of Jeffersonian dream,
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to be the owner of themself and the owner of their future.
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You know, that's a really nice definition of freedom.
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We often think kind of this very abstract notion
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of being able to do anything you want,
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but really, it's ultimately breaking yourself free
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from the constraints, like the very tight dependence
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on whether it's the institutions or on your family
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or the expectations or the community or whatever,
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being able to be, to realize yourself
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within the constraints of your own abilities.
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It's still not true freedom,
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because true freedom is probably sort of
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almost like designing a video game character,
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something like that.
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I agree, I think that's exactly right.
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I think freedom is not that I can have any outcome I want.
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I can't control outcomes.
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The most powerful, freest person in the world
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cannot control outcomes,
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but it means at least I get to make choices.
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Someone else doesn't make those choices for me.
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Is there something to be said about Lincoln
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on the political game front of it,
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which is he's accomplished some of them?
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I don't know, but it seems like
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there was some tricky politics going on.
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We tend to not think of it in those terms
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because of the dark aspects of slavery.
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We tend to think about it in sort of ethical and human terms,
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but in their time, it was probably
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as much a game of politics,
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not just these broad questions of human nature, right?
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It was a game.
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So is there something to be said
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about being a skillful player in the game of politics
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that you take from Lincoln?
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Absolutely, and Lincoln never read Karl von Clausewitz,
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the great 19th century German thinker
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on strategy and politics,
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but he embodied the same wisdom,
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which is that everything is politics.
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If you want to get anything done,
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and this includes even relationships,
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there's a politics to it.
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What does that mean?
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It means that you have to persuade, coerce,
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encourage people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.
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And Lincoln was a master at that.
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He was a master at that for two reasons.
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He had learned through his hard life to read people,
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to anticipate them, to spend a lot of time listening.
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One thing I often tell people
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is the best leaders are the listeners, not the talkers.
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And then second, Lincoln was very thoughtful
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and planned every move out.
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He was thinking three or four moves,
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maybe five moves down the chessboard,
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while others were move number one or two.
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That's fascinating to think about him just listening,
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just studying.
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They look at great fighters in this way,
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like the first few rounds of boxing and mixed martial arts,
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you're studying the movement of your opponent
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in order to sort of define the holes.
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That's a really interesting frame to think about it.
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Is there, in terms of relationships,
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where do you think as president or as a politician
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is the most impact to be had?
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I've been reading a lot about Hitler recently,
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and one of the things that I'm more and more starting
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to wonder, what the hell did he do alone in a room
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with one on one with people?
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Because it seems like that's where
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he was exceptionally effective.
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When I think about certain leaders,
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I'm not sure Stalin was this way, I apologize.
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Been very obsessed with this period of human history.
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It just seems like certain leaders
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are extremely effective one on one.
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A lot of people think of Hitler in Lincoln
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as a speech maker, as a great charismatic speech maker,
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but it seems like to me that some of these guys
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were really effective inside a room.
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What do you think?
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What's more important?
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Your effectiveness to make a hell of a good speech,
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sort of being in a room with many people,
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or is it all boiled down to one on one?
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Well, I think in a sense, it's both.
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One needs to do both, and most politicians,
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most leaders are better at one or the other.
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It's the rare leader who can do both.
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I will say that if you are going to be a figure
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who's a president or the leader of a complex organization,
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not a startup, but a complex organization
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where you have many different constituencies
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and many different interests,
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you have to do the one on one really well,
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because a lot of what's going to happen
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is you're going to be meeting with people
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who represent different groups, right?
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The leader of the labor unions,
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the leader of your investing board, et cetera,
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and you have to be able to persuade them,
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and it's the intangibles that often matter most.
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Lincoln's skill, and it's the same that FDR had,
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is the ability to tell a story.
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I think Hitler was a little different,
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but what I've read of Stalin is he was a storyteller too.
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One on one storyteller?
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Yeah, that's my understanding is that he,
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and what Lincoln did,
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I don't want to compare Lincoln to Stalin,
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but what Lincoln did is he was not confrontational.
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He was happy to have an argument
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if an argument were to be had,
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but actually what he would try to do
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is move you through telling a story
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that got you to think about your position in a different way,
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to basically disarm you.
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And Franklin Roosevelt did the same thing.
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Ronald Reagan did the same thing.
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Storytelling is a very important skill.
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It's almost heartbreaking that we don't get to have,
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or maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong on this,
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but it feels like we don't have a lot of information
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how all of these folks were in private,
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one on one conversations.
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Even if we get stories about it,
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it's like, again, sorry to bring up Hitler,
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but people have talked about his piercing gaze
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when they're one on one.
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There's a feeling like he's just looking through you.
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I wonder, it makes me wonder,
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was Lincoln somebody who was a little bit more passive,
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like who's more, the ego doesn't shine.
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It's not like an overwhelming thing,
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or is it more like, again,
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don't want to bring up controversial figures,
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but Donald Trump, where it's more menacing, right?
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There's a more like physically menacing thing,
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where it's almost like a bullying kind of dynamic.
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So I wonder, I wish we knew.
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Because from a psychological perspective,
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I wonder if there's a thread
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that connects most great leaders.
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That's a great question.
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So I think the best writer on this is Max Weber, right?
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And he talks about the power of charisma,
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that the term charisma comes from Weber, right?
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And Weber's use of it actually to talk about profits.
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And I think he has a point, right?
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Leaders who are effective in the way you describe
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are leaders who feel prophetic,
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or Weber says they have a kind of magic about them.
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And I think that can come from different sources.
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I think that can come from the way someone
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carries themselves.
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It can come from the way they use words.
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So maybe there are different kinds of magic
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that someone develops.
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But I think there are two things
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that seem to be absolutely necessary.
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First is you have to be someone who sizes up the person
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on the other side of the table.
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You cannot be the person who just comes in
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and reads your brief.
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And then second, I think it's interactive.
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And there is a quickness of thought.
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So you brought up Donald Trump.
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I don't think Donald Trump is a deep thinker at all,
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but he's quick.
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And I think that quickness is part of,
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it's different from delivering a lecture
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where it's the depth of your thought.
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Can you for 45 minutes analyze something?
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Many people can't do that,
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but they still might be very effective
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if they're able to quickly react,
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size up the person on the other side of the table
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and react in a way that moves that person
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in the way they wanna move them.
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Yeah, and there's also just coupled with the quickness
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as a kind of instinct about human nature.
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Sort of asking the question,
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what does this person worry about?
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What are the biggest problems?
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Somebody, what is this, Stephen Schwartzman, I think,
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said to me, he's this businessman.
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I think he said like, what I've always tried to do
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is try to figure out, like ask enough questions
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to figure out what is the biggest problem
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in this person's life.
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Try to get a sense of what is the biggest problem
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in their life, because that's actually
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what they care about most.
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And most people don't care enough to find out.
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And so he kind of wants to sneak up on that
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and find that, and then use that to then build closeness
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in order to then probably, he doesn't put it in those words,
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but to manipulate the person into whatever,
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to do whatever the heck they want.
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And I think part of it is that,
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and part of the effect that Donald Trump has
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is how quick he's able to figure that out.
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You've written a book about how the role
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and power of the presidency has changed.
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So how has it changed since Lincoln's time,
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the evolution of the presidency as a concept,
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which seems like a fascinating lens
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through which to look at American history.
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As a president, we seem to only be talking
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00:14:36.720
about the presidents, maybe a general here and there,
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00:14:40.020
but it's mostly the story of America is often told
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00:14:43.600
through presidents.
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00:14:45.160
That's right, that's right.
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00:14:46.680
And one of the points I've tried to make
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00:14:48.560
in my writing about this and various other activities
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00:14:52.240
is we use this word president as if it's something timeless,
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00:14:55.640
but the office has changed incredibly.
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00:14:58.480
Just from Lincoln's time to the present,
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00:15:00.480
which is 150 years, he wouldn't recognize the office today.
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00:15:05.240
And George Washington would not have recognized it
link |
00:15:07.400
in Lincoln, just as I think a CEO today
link |
00:15:10.780
would be unrecognizable to a Rockefeller
link |
00:15:13.760
or a Carnegie of 150 years ago.
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00:15:16.640
So what are some of the ways in which the office has changed?
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00:15:18.880
I'll just point to three, there are a lot.
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00:15:21.280
One, presidents now can communicate with the public directly.
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00:15:25.560
I mean, we've reached the point now
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00:15:26.600
where a president can have direct,
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00:15:28.040
almost one on one communication.
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00:15:30.020
President can use Twitter if he so chooses
link |
00:15:32.280
to circumvent all media.
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00:15:35.120
That was unthinkable.
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00:15:36.160
Lincoln, in order to get his message across,
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00:15:38.360
often wrote letters to newspapers.
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00:15:40.560
And waited for the newspaper for Horace Greeley
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00:15:42.640
in the New York Tribune to publish his letter.
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00:15:44.800
That's how he communicated with the public.
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00:15:46.200
There weren't even many speaking opportunities.
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00:15:48.200
So that's a big change, right?
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00:15:49.820
We feel the president in our life much more.
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00:15:52.200
That's why we talk about him much more.
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00:15:55.240
That also creates more of a burden.
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00:15:56.280
This is the second point.
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00:15:57.240
Presidents are under a microscope.
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00:15:59.480
Presidents are under a microscope.
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00:16:00.760
You have to be very careful what you do and what you say.
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00:16:02.920
And you're judged by a lot of the elements of your behavior
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00:16:06.600
that are not policy relevant.
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00:16:07.860
In fact, the things we judge most
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00:16:09.320
and make most of our decisions on about individuals
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00:16:12.000
are often that.
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00:16:13.080
And then third, the power the president has.
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00:16:17.640
It's inhuman, actually.
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00:16:19.180
And this is one of my critiques
link |
00:16:20.480
of how the office has changed.
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00:16:21.560
This one person has power on a scale
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00:16:24.240
that's I think dangerous in a democracy.
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00:16:27.280
And certainly something the founders 220 years ago
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00:16:31.920
would have had trouble conceiving.
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00:16:34.420
Presidents now have the ability to deliver force
link |
00:16:36.560
across the world to literally assassinate people
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00:16:39.540
with a remarkable accuracy.
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00:16:41.600
And that's an enormous power that presidents have.
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00:16:44.640
So your sense, this is not to get conspiratorial,
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00:16:48.240
but do you think a president currently has the power
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00:16:53.640
to initiate the assassination of somebody,
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00:16:59.140
of a political enemy or a terrorist leader
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00:17:03.520
or that kind of thing to frame that person in a way
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00:17:07.480
where assassination is something that he alone
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00:17:10.640
or she alone could decide to do?
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00:17:12.360
I think it happens all the time
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00:17:13.520
and it's not to be conspiratorial.
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00:17:14.680
This is how we fought terrorism by targeting individuals.
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00:17:19.360
Now you might say these were not elected leaders of state,
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00:17:21.680
but these were individuals with a large following.
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00:17:23.400
I mean, the killing of Osama Bin Laden
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00:17:25.640
was an assassination operation.
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00:17:28.960
And we've taken out very successfully
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00:17:32.000
many leaders of terrorist organizations
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00:17:34.000
and we do it every day.
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00:17:35.640
You're saying that back in Lincoln's time
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00:17:37.640
or George Washington's time,
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00:17:39.120
there was more of a balance of power?
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00:17:40.760
Like a president could not initiate
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00:17:42.520
this kind of assassination?
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00:17:43.840
Correct, I think presidents did not have
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00:17:46.120
the same kind of military or economic power.
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00:17:49.280
We could talk about how a president can influence a market
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00:17:52.080
by saying something about where money is gonna go
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00:17:56.720
or singling out a company or critiquing a company
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00:18:00.000
in one way or another.
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00:18:01.220
They didn't have that kind of power.
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00:18:02.360
Now, much of the power that a Lincoln or a Washington had
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00:18:06.020
was the power to mobilize people
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00:18:08.200
to then make their own decisions.
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00:18:09.720
At the start of the Civil War,
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00:18:11.540
Lincoln doesn't even have the power
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00:18:12.720
to bring people into the army.
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00:18:13.920
He has to go to the governors
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00:18:15.620
and ask the governors to provide soldiers.
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00:18:18.280
So the governor of Wisconsin,
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00:18:19.640
the governor of Massachusetts.
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00:18:20.800
Could you imagine that today?
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00:18:22.280
So, but yeah, so they use speeches and words
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00:18:27.280
to mobilize versus direct action in closed door environments,
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00:18:32.500
initiating wars, for example.
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00:18:34.640
Correct.
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00:18:37.160
It's difficult to think about,
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00:18:39.140
if we look at Barack Obama, for example,
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00:18:43.200
if you're listening to this
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00:18:45.740
and you're on the left or the right,
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00:18:47.920
please do not make this political.
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00:18:49.220
In fact, if you're a political person
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00:18:51.520
and you're getting angry at the mention of the word Obama
link |
00:18:54.240
or Donald Trump, please turn off this podcast
link |
00:18:56.560
that I've just described.
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00:18:57.960
We're not gonna get very far.
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00:18:59.560
I hope we maintain a political discussion
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00:19:02.180
about even the modern presidents
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00:19:05.040
that view through the lens of history.
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00:19:07.460
I think there's a lot to be learned
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00:19:09.040
about the office and about human nature.
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00:19:13.080
Some people criticize Barack Obama
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00:19:15.060
for sort of expanding the military industrial complex,
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00:19:19.520
engaging in more and more wars,
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00:19:22.200
as opposed to sort of the initial rhetoric
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00:19:25.620
was such that we would pull back
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00:19:28.560
from sort of be more skeptical
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00:19:30.720
in our decisions to wage wars.
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00:19:33.120
So from the lens of the power of the presidency,
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00:19:36.880
as the modern presidency,
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00:19:39.600
the fact that we continued the war in Afghanistan
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00:19:41.920
and different engagements in military conflicts,
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00:19:46.740
do you think Barack Obama could have stopped that?
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00:19:52.320
Do you put the responsibility on that expansion
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00:19:55.480
on him because of the implied power
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00:19:58.160
that the presidency has?
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00:19:59.720
Or is this power just sits there
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00:20:01.920
and if a president chooses to take it, they do,
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00:20:04.560
and if they don't, they don't?
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00:20:06.840
Almost like you don't want to take on the responsibility
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00:20:10.080
because of the burden of that responsibility.
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00:20:12.960
So a lot of my research is about this exact question,
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00:20:16.360
not just with Obama.
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00:20:17.680
And my conclusion, and I think the research
link |
00:20:19.780
is pretty clear on this, is that structure
link |
00:20:21.920
has a lot more effect on us than we like to admit,
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00:20:24.940
which is to say that the circumstances,
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00:20:26.760
the institutions around us drive our behavior
link |
00:20:29.540
more than we like to think.
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00:20:30.600
So Barack Obama, I'm quite certain,
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00:20:32.640
came into the office of the presidency committed
link |
00:20:34.840
to actually reducing the use of military force overseas
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00:20:37.880
and reducing presidential war making power.
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00:20:40.800
As a trained lawyer, he had a moral position
link |
00:20:43.180
on this actually, and he tried.
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00:20:45.320
And he did withdraw American forces from Iraq
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00:20:47.700
and was of course criticized by many people for doing that.
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00:20:50.640
But at the same time, he had some real problems
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00:20:52.680
in the world to deal with, terrorism being one of them.
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00:20:55.600
And the tools he has are very much biased
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00:20:59.040
towards the use of military force.
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00:21:01.080
It's much harder as president to go and get Vladimir Putin
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00:21:04.160
and Xi Jinping to agree with you.
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00:21:06.400
It's much easier to send these wonderful toys we have
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00:21:09.800
and these incredible soldiers we have over there.
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00:21:12.800
And when you have Congress, which is always against you,
link |
00:21:15.860
it's also easier to use the military
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00:21:17.640
because you send them there.
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00:21:18.920
And even if members of Congress from your own party
link |
00:21:21.040
or the other are angry at you,
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00:21:23.000
they'll still fund the soldiers.
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00:21:24.240
No member of Congress wants to vote
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00:21:25.920
to starve our soldiers overseas.
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00:21:27.980
So they'll stop your budget,
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00:21:29.000
they'll even threaten not to pay the debt,
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00:21:31.240
but they'll still fund your soldiers.
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00:21:33.040
And so you are pushed by the circumstances you're in
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00:21:36.960
to do this, and it's very hard to resist.
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00:21:39.880
So that's, I think the criticism of Obama,
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00:21:42.360
the fair one would be that he didn't resist the pressures
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00:21:45.080
that were there, but he did not make those pressures.
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00:21:47.800
So is there something about putting the responsibility
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00:21:52.000
on the president to form the structure around him locally
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00:21:57.040
such that he can make the policy that matches the rhetoric?
link |
00:22:01.580
So what I'm talking to is hiring.
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00:22:05.680
So basically just everybody you work with,
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00:22:08.840
you have power as a president to fire and hire
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00:22:12.120
or to basically schedule meetings in such a way
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00:22:16.400
that can control your decision making.
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00:22:19.960
So I imagine it's very difficult to get out of Afghanistan
link |
00:22:24.380
or Iraq when most of your scheduled meetings
link |
00:22:28.520
are with generals or something like that.
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00:22:31.240
But if you reorganize the schedule
link |
00:22:33.720
and you reorganize who you have like late night talks with,
link |
00:22:37.740
you potentially have a huge ripple effect on the policy.
link |
00:22:41.860
I think that's right.
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00:22:42.700
I think who has access to the president
link |
00:22:44.600
is absolutely crucial.
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00:22:45.880
And presidents have to be more strategic about that.
link |
00:22:48.080
They tend to be reacting to crises
link |
00:22:50.480
because every day has a crisis.
link |
00:22:52.200
And if you're reacting to a crisis,
link |
00:22:53.240
you're not controlling access
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00:22:54.360
because the crisis is driving you.
link |
00:22:56.300
So that's one element of it.
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00:22:57.640
But I also think, and this is the moment we're in right now,
link |
00:23:00.200
presidents have to invest in reforming the system,
link |
00:23:04.140
the system of decision making.
link |
00:23:05.820
Should we have a national security council
link |
00:23:07.760
that looks the way it does?
link |
00:23:09.320
Should our military be structured the way it is?
link |
00:23:11.620
The founding fathers wanted a military that was divided.
link |
00:23:14.680
They did not want a unified department of defense.
link |
00:23:17.000
That was only created after World War II.
link |
00:23:19.160
Should we have as large a military as we have?
link |
00:23:20.800
Should we be in as many places?
link |
00:23:23.040
There are some fundamental structural reforms
link |
00:23:25.320
we have to undertake.
link |
00:23:26.720
And part of that is who you appoint,
link |
00:23:28.180
but part of that is also how you change the institutions.
link |
00:23:30.620
The genius of the American system
link |
00:23:32.320
is that it's a dynamic system.
link |
00:23:34.220
It can be adjusted.
link |
00:23:35.480
It has been adjusted over time.
link |
00:23:37.200
That's the heroic story.
link |
00:23:39.600
The frustrating story is it often takes us a long time
link |
00:23:43.600
to make those adjustments until we go
link |
00:23:45.440
into such bad circumstances that we have no choice.
link |
00:23:48.800
So in the battle of power of the office of the president
link |
00:23:53.480
versus the United States military,
link |
00:23:56.540
the department of defense,
link |
00:23:58.720
do you have a sense that the president
link |
00:24:00.000
has more power ultimately?
link |
00:24:01.960
So to decrease the size of the department of defense,
link |
00:24:06.060
to withdraw from any wars,
link |
00:24:08.620
or increase the amount of wars,
link |
00:24:11.200
is the president, you're kind of implying
link |
00:24:13.880
the president has a lot of power here in this scale.
link |
00:24:16.700
Yes, the president has a lot of power
link |
00:24:18.280
and we are fortunate and it was just proven
link |
00:24:20.440
in the last few years that our military,
link |
00:24:22.560
uniquely among many countries with large militaries,
link |
00:24:26.140
is very deferential to the president
link |
00:24:27.920
and very restricted in its ability
link |
00:24:29.540
to challenge the president.
link |
00:24:31.360
So that's a strength of our system.
link |
00:24:33.800
But the way you reform the military
link |
00:24:35.920
is not with individual decisions.
link |
00:24:37.640
It's by having a strategic plan
link |
00:24:40.380
that reexamines what role it plays.
link |
00:24:43.080
So it's not just about whether we're in Afghanistan or not.
link |
00:24:45.640
The question we have to ask is,
link |
00:24:47.520
when we look at our toolbox
link |
00:24:48.880
of what we can do in our foreign policy,
link |
00:24:51.560
are there other tools we should build up
link |
00:24:54.920
and therefore some tools in the military we should reduce?
link |
00:24:58.020
That's the broader strategic question.
link |
00:25:00.320
Let me ask you the most absurd question of all
link |
00:25:03.180
that you did not sign up for,
link |
00:25:04.600
but I've been hanging out
link |
00:25:06.720
with a guy named Joe Rogan recently,
link |
00:25:08.720
so it's very important for me and him to figure this out.
link |
00:25:13.560
If a president, because you said,
link |
00:25:15.560
you implied the president's very powerful,
link |
00:25:17.640
if a president shows up and the US government is in fact
link |
00:25:21.320
in possession of aliens, alien spacecraft,
link |
00:25:25.080
do you think the president will be told?
link |
00:25:28.720
A more responsible adult historian question version of that
link |
00:25:32.840
is, is there some things that the machine of government
link |
00:25:37.680
keeps secret from the president?
link |
00:25:40.560
Or is the president ultimately at the very center?
link |
00:25:42.720
So if you map out the set of information and power,
link |
00:25:46.520
you have CIA, you have all these organizations
link |
00:25:49.200
that do the machinery of government,
link |
00:25:53.800
not just the passing of bills,
link |
00:25:55.800
but gaining information, homeland security,
link |
00:26:01.680
actually engaging in wars, all those kinds of things.
link |
00:26:06.680
How central is the president?
link |
00:26:09.160
Would the president know some of the shady things
link |
00:26:11.440
that are going on?
link |
00:26:14.080
Aliens or some kind of cybersecurity stuff
link |
00:26:18.740
against Russia and China, all those kinds of things,
link |
00:26:21.400
is the president really made aware?
link |
00:26:23.440
And if so, how nervous does that make you?
link |
00:26:26.440
So presidents like leaders of any complex organizations
link |
00:26:30.880
don't know everything that goes on.
link |
00:26:32.880
They have to ask the right questions.
link |
00:26:34.140
This is Machiavelli.
link |
00:26:35.600
Most important thing a leader has to do
link |
00:26:38.680
is ask the right questions.
link |
00:26:40.100
You don't have to know the answers.
link |
00:26:41.840
That's why you hire smart people,
link |
00:26:43.680
but you have to ask the right questions.
link |
00:26:45.400
So if the president asks the US government,
link |
00:26:48.440
those who are responsible for the aliens
link |
00:26:50.320
or responsible for the cyber warfare against Russia,
link |
00:26:53.640
they will answer honestly, they will have to,
link |
00:26:56.160
but they will not volunteer that information in all cases.
link |
00:27:00.000
So the best way a president can operate
link |
00:27:01.560
is to have people around him or her
link |
00:27:04.680
who are not the traditional policymakers,
link |
00:27:06.640
this is where I think academic experts are important,
link |
00:27:09.520
suggesting questions to ask
link |
00:27:12.800
to therefore try to get the information.
link |
00:27:14.760
It makes me nervous because I think human nature
link |
00:27:18.480
is such that the academics, the experts,
link |
00:27:23.080
everybody is almost afraid to ask the questions
link |
00:27:27.120
for which the answers might be burdensome.
link |
00:27:32.800
Yes.
link |
00:27:33.840
And so that's right.
link |
00:27:34.880
And you can get into a lot of trouble not asking,
link |
00:27:37.720
it's the old elephant in the room.
link |
00:27:40.160
Correct, correct.
link |
00:27:42.960
This is exactly right.
link |
00:27:44.160
And too often mediocre leaders
link |
00:27:46.720
and those who try to protect them try to shield themselves.
link |
00:27:49.520
They don't want to know certain things.
link |
00:27:51.480
So this is part of what happened
link |
00:27:53.200
with the use of torture by the United States,
link |
00:27:55.640
which is a war crime during the war on terror.
link |
00:27:59.400
President Bush at times intentionally did not ask
link |
00:28:02.640
and people around him prevented him from asking
link |
00:28:04.880
or discouraged him from asking questions
link |
00:28:06.520
he should have asked to know about what was going on.
link |
00:28:09.640
And that's how we ended up where we did.
link |
00:28:12.360
You could say the same thing about Reagan and Iran Contra.
link |
00:28:15.360
I wonder what it takes to be the kind of leader
link |
00:28:18.600
that steps in and asks some difficult questions.
link |
00:28:21.160
So aliens is one, UFO spacecraft, right?
link |
00:28:25.560
Another one, yeah, torture is another one.
link |
00:28:28.320
The CIA, how much information
link |
00:28:30.560
is being collected about Americans?
link |
00:28:32.720
I can see as a president being very uncomfortable
link |
00:28:35.640
asking that question.
link |
00:28:37.120
Because if the answer is a lot of information
link |
00:28:39.480
is being collected by Americans,
link |
00:28:41.640
then you have to be the guy
link |
00:28:43.560
who lives with that information.
link |
00:28:46.480
For the rest of your life, you have to walk around.
link |
00:28:50.040
You're probably not going to reform that system.
link |
00:28:53.320
It's very difficult.
link |
00:28:54.160
You probably have to be very picky
link |
00:28:55.640
about which things you reform.
link |
00:28:57.080
You don't have much time.
link |
00:28:58.680
It takes a lot of sort of effort to restructure things.
link |
00:29:01.760
But you nevertheless would have to be basically lying
link |
00:29:06.000
to yourself, to others around you
link |
00:29:11.080
about the unethical things.
link |
00:29:13.240
Depends of course what your ethical system is.
link |
00:29:17.200
I wonder what it takes to ask those hard questions.
link |
00:29:20.400
I wonder if how few of us can be great leaders like that.
link |
00:29:25.400
And I wonder if our political system, the electoral system
link |
00:29:29.400
is such that makes it likely
link |
00:29:32.160
that such leaders will come to power.
link |
00:29:34.800
It's hard and you can't ask all the right questions
link |
00:29:36.760
and there is a legal hazard if you know things
link |
00:29:39.400
at certain times.
link |
00:29:40.760
But I think you can, back to your point on hiring,
link |
00:29:42.920
you can hire people who will do that in their domains.
link |
00:29:45.680
And then you have to trust that when they think
link |
00:29:47.440
it's something that's a question you need to ask,
link |
00:29:49.440
they'll pass that on to you.
link |
00:29:51.280
This is why it's not a good idea to have loyalists
link |
00:29:54.160
because loyalists will shield you from things.
link |
00:29:57.000
It's a good idea to have people of integrity
link |
00:29:59.560
who you can rely on and who you think will ask
link |
00:30:01.880
those right questions and then pass that down
link |
00:30:03.960
through their organization.
link |
00:30:06.960
What's inspiring to you, what's insightful to you
link |
00:30:10.240
about several of the presidencies
link |
00:30:12.800
throughout the recent decades?
link |
00:30:14.920
Is there somebody that stands out to you
link |
00:30:16.480
that's interesting and sort of in your study
link |
00:30:19.760
of how the office has changed?
link |
00:30:21.420
Well, Bill Clinton is one of the most fascinating figures.
link |
00:30:25.300
Why can't I, I apologize.
link |
00:30:26.820
Bill Clinton just puts a smile on my face
link |
00:30:28.580
every time somebody mentions him at this point.
link |
00:30:30.420
I don't know why.
link |
00:30:31.700
I guess it's charisma, I suppose.
link |
00:30:33.500
Well, and he's a unique individual,
link |
00:30:36.340
but he fascinates me because he's a figure
link |
00:30:41.660
of such enormous talent and enormous appetite
link |
00:30:45.660
and such little self control and such extremes.
link |
00:30:50.660
And I think it's not just that he tells us
link |
00:30:53.140
something about the presidency,
link |
00:30:53.980
he tells us something about our society.
link |
00:30:56.180
American society, this is not new to our time,
link |
00:30:58.980
is filled with enormous reservoirs of talent and creativity.
link |
00:31:02.700
And those have a bright and a dark side.
link |
00:31:05.500
And you see both with Bill Clinton.
link |
00:31:06.900
In some ways, he's the mirror of the best and worst
link |
00:31:09.760
of our society.
link |
00:31:10.940
And maybe that's really what presidents are in the end.
link |
00:31:13.040
They're mirrors of our world
link |
00:31:14.660
that we get the government we deserve,
link |
00:31:16.180
we get the leaders we deserve.
link |
00:31:18.060
I wish we embraced that a little bit more.
link |
00:31:20.220
A lot of people criticize Donald Trump
link |
00:31:22.460
for certain human qualities that he has.
link |
00:31:24.740
A lot of people criticize Bill Clinton
link |
00:31:27.040
for certain human qualities.
link |
00:31:28.580
I wish we kind of embraced the chaos of that.
link |
00:31:32.140
Because he does, you're right, in some sense represent,
link |
00:31:35.460
I mean, he doesn't represent the greatest ideal of America,
link |
00:31:39.740
but the flawed aspect of human nature is what he represents.
link |
00:31:43.720
And that's the beautiful thing about America,
link |
00:31:45.300
the diversity of this land with the mix of it,
link |
00:31:49.740
the corruption within capitalism,
link |
00:31:53.660
the beauty of capitalism, the innovation,
link |
00:31:56.800
all those kinds of things,
link |
00:31:57.760
the people that start from nothing and create everything,
link |
00:32:01.620
the Elon Musk's of the world and the Bill Gates and so on.
link |
00:32:04.380
But also the people, Bernie Mados and all,
link |
00:32:08.240
as the Me Too movement has showed the multitude of creeps
link |
00:32:11.620
that apparently permeate the entirety of our system.
link |
00:32:15.200
So I don't know, there is something, there is some sense
link |
00:32:21.020
in which we put our president on a pedestal,
link |
00:32:24.600
which actually creates a fake human being.
link |
00:32:30.180
Like the standard we hold them to
link |
00:32:33.220
is forcing the fake politicians to come to power
link |
00:32:36.620
versus the authentic one, which is in some sense,
link |
00:32:39.140
the promise of Donald Trump is like,
link |
00:32:42.740
it's a definitive statement of authenticity.
link |
00:32:46.420
It's like, this is the opposite of the fake politician.
link |
00:32:50.540
It's whatever else you wanna say about him
link |
00:32:52.580
is there's the chaos that's unlike anything else
link |
00:32:55.880
that came before.
link |
00:32:57.520
One thing, and this is a particular maybe preference
link |
00:33:00.560
and quirk of mine, but I really admire,
link |
00:33:03.300
maybe I'm romanticizing the past again,
link |
00:33:05.400
but I romanticize the presidents
link |
00:33:07.500
that were students of history.
link |
00:33:09.300
They were almost like king philosophers,
link |
00:33:17.620
that made speeches that reverberated through decades after.
link |
00:33:26.860
Using the words of those presidents,
link |
00:33:28.780
whether written by them or not,
link |
00:33:30.580
we tell the story of America.
link |
00:33:33.460
And I don't know, even Obama has been an exceptionally good,
link |
00:33:37.740
as far as I know, I apologize if I'm incorrect on this,
link |
00:33:40.320
but from everything I've seen,
link |
00:33:42.260
he was a very deep scholar of history.
link |
00:33:45.740
And I really admire that.
link |
00:33:48.100
Is that through the history of the office of the presidency,
link |
00:33:53.520
is that just your own preference
link |
00:33:55.940
or is that supposed to come with the job?
link |
00:33:58.080
Are you supposed to be a student of history?
link |
00:34:00.020
I think, I mean, I'm obviously biased as a historian,
link |
00:34:02.100
but I do think it comes with the job.
link |
00:34:03.740
Every president I've studied had a serious interest
link |
00:34:08.620
in history.
link |
00:34:09.460
Now, how they pursued that interest would vary.
link |
00:34:13.180
Obama was more bookish, more academic.
link |
00:34:16.560
So was George W. Bush in strange ways.
link |
00:34:18.540
George H. W. Bush was less so,
link |
00:34:20.180
but George H. W. Bush loved to talk to people.
link |
00:34:22.180
So he would talk to historians, right?
link |
00:34:24.380
Ronald Reagan loved movies
link |
00:34:27.220
and movies were an insight into history for him.
link |
00:34:30.020
He likes to watch movies about another time.
link |
00:34:32.900
It wasn't always the best of history,
link |
00:34:34.740
but he was interested
link |
00:34:35.920
in what is a fundamental historical question.
link |
00:34:38.700
How has our society developed?
link |
00:34:40.780
How has it grown and changed over time?
link |
00:34:43.380
And how has that change affected who we are today?
link |
00:34:46.980
That's the historical question.
link |
00:34:48.820
It's really interesting to me.
link |
00:34:50.100
I do a lot of work with business leaders and others too.
link |
00:34:53.620
You reach a certain point in any career
link |
00:34:55.940
and you become a historian
link |
00:34:57.660
because you realize that the formulas
link |
00:35:00.380
and the technical knowledge that you've gained
link |
00:35:02.140
got you to where you are.
link |
00:35:04.020
But now your decisions are about human nature.
link |
00:35:07.280
Your decisions are about social change
link |
00:35:09.420
and they can't be answered technically.
link |
00:35:12.020
They can only be answered by studying human beings.
link |
00:35:15.100
And what is history?
link |
00:35:15.920
It's studying the laboratory of human behavior.
link |
00:35:19.700
To sort of play devil's advocate,
link |
00:35:21.640
I kind of, especially in the engineering scientific domains,
link |
00:35:27.820
I often see history holding us back.
link |
00:35:30.340
Sort of the way things were done in the past
link |
00:35:34.100
are not necessarily going to hold the key
link |
00:35:36.260
to what will progress us into the future.
link |
00:35:43.060
Of course, with history in studying human nature,
link |
00:35:45.820
it does seem like humans are just the same.
link |
00:35:49.060
She has like the same problems over and over.
link |
00:35:51.740
So in that sense, it feels like history has all the lessons,
link |
00:35:55.580
whether we're talking about wars,
link |
00:35:56.980
whether we're talking about corruption,
link |
00:35:58.880
whether we're talking about economics.
link |
00:36:02.000
I think there's a difference between
link |
00:36:04.300
history and antiquarianism.
link |
00:36:06.620
So antiquarianism, which some people call history,
link |
00:36:10.020
is the desire to go back to the past
link |
00:36:12.000
or stay stuck in the past.
link |
00:36:13.040
So antiquarianism is the desire to have the desk
link |
00:36:16.000
that Abraham Lincoln sat at.
link |
00:36:17.300
Wouldn't it be cool to sit at his desk?
link |
00:36:19.180
I'd love to have that desk.
link |
00:36:20.280
If I had a few extra million dollars, I'd acquire it.
link |
00:36:22.860
So in a way, that's antiquarianism.
link |
00:36:25.640
That's trying to capture and hold on to the past.
link |
00:36:28.740
The past is a talisman for antiquarians.
link |
00:36:32.980
What history is, is the study of change over time.
link |
00:36:35.980
That's the real definition of historical study
link |
00:36:38.260
and historical thinking.
link |
00:36:39.860
And so what we're studying is change.
link |
00:36:42.200
And so a historian should never say,
link |
00:36:45.840
we have to do things the way we've done them in the past.
link |
00:36:47.700
The historian should say, we can't do them
link |
00:36:49.860
the way we did them in the past.
link |
00:36:51.020
We can't step in the same river twice.
link |
00:36:53.100
Every podcast of yours is different from the last one.
link |
00:36:56.500
You plan it out and then it goes in its own direction.
link |
00:37:00.420
And what are we studying then in history?
link |
00:37:02.980
We're studying the patterns of change
link |
00:37:05.500
and we're recognizing we're part of a pattern.
link |
00:37:08.020
So what I would say to the historian
link |
00:37:10.000
who's trying to hold the engineer back,
link |
00:37:11.280
I'd say, no, don't tell that engineer not to do this.
link |
00:37:14.820
Tell them to understand how this fits
link |
00:37:16.820
into the relationship with other engineering products
link |
00:37:20.040
and other activities from the past
link |
00:37:22.100
that still affect us today.
link |
00:37:23.620
For example, any product you produce
link |
00:37:25.620
is gonna be used by human beings who have prejudices.
link |
00:37:28.500
It's gonna go into an unequal society.
link |
00:37:30.240
Don't assume it's gonna go into an equal society.
link |
00:37:32.180
Don't assume that when you create a social media site
link |
00:37:34.660
that people are going to use it fairly
link |
00:37:36.220
and put only truthful things on it.
link |
00:37:38.900
We shouldn't be surprised.
link |
00:37:39.740
That's where human nature comes in.
link |
00:37:42.060
But it's not trying to hold onto the past.
link |
00:37:43.520
It's trying to use the knowledge from the past
link |
00:37:45.020
to better inform the changes today.
link |
00:37:48.020
I have to ask you about George Washington.
link |
00:37:50.620
Maybe you have some insights.
link |
00:37:52.680
It seems like he's such a fascinating figure
link |
00:37:56.660
in the context of the study of power.
link |
00:37:59.860
Because I kind of intuitively have come to internalize
link |
00:38:03.940
the belief that power corrupts
link |
00:38:06.120
and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
link |
00:38:07.780
Yes.
link |
00:38:11.700
And sort of like basically in thinking
link |
00:38:15.500
that we cannot trust any one individual.
link |
00:38:18.540
I can't trust myself with power.
link |
00:38:20.800
Nobody can trust anybody with power.
link |
00:38:22.860
We have to create institutions and structures
link |
00:38:24.880
that prevent us from ever being able
link |
00:38:27.300
to amass absolute power.
link |
00:38:29.220
And yet, here's a guy, George Washington,
link |
00:38:31.540
who seems to, you can correct me if I'm wrong,
link |
00:38:34.280
but he seems to give away, relinquish power.
link |
00:38:37.180
It feels like George Washington did it
link |
00:38:40.580
almost like the purest of ways,
link |
00:38:43.260
which is believes in this country,
link |
00:38:46.620
but he just believes he's not the person
link |
00:38:48.660
to carry it forward.
link |
00:38:54.020
What do you make of that?
link |
00:38:55.460
What kind of human does it take to give away that power?
link |
00:38:58.640
Is there some hopeful message we can carry through
link |
00:39:01.660
to the future to elect leaders like that
link |
00:39:05.140
or to find friends to hang out with who are like that?
link |
00:39:09.580
Like what is that?
link |
00:39:10.420
How do you explain that?
link |
00:39:11.340
So it's actually the most important thing
link |
00:39:14.020
about George Washington.
link |
00:39:14.980
It's the right thing to bring up.
link |
00:39:16.660
What the historian Gary Wills wrote years ago,
link |
00:39:21.420
I'm gonna quote him,
link |
00:39:22.260
was that Washington recognized
link |
00:39:23.940
that sometimes you get more power by giving it up
link |
00:39:26.660
than by trying to hold on to every last piece of it.
link |
00:39:30.540
Washington gives up power at the end of the revolution.
link |
00:39:32.740
He's successfully carried
link |
00:39:34.460
through the revolutionary war aims.
link |
00:39:35.940
He's commander of the revolutionary forces
link |
00:39:38.460
and he gives up his command.
link |
00:39:40.020
And then of course he's president
link |
00:39:41.180
and after two terms, he gives up his command.
link |
00:39:43.340
What is he doing?
link |
00:39:44.180
He's an ambitious person,
link |
00:39:46.100
but he's recognizing that the most important currency
link |
00:39:49.540
he has for power is his respected status
link |
00:39:53.620
as a disinterested statesman.
link |
00:39:56.580
That's really what his power is.
link |
00:39:58.580
And how does he further that power?
link |
00:40:00.500
By showing that he doesn't crave power.
link |
00:40:04.400
So he was self aware.
link |
00:40:05.620
Very self aware of this
link |
00:40:06.840
and very sophisticated in understanding this.
link |
00:40:10.300
And I think there are many other leaders who recognize that.
link |
00:40:14.620
You can look to, in some ways,
link |
00:40:19.400
the story of many of our presidents
link |
00:40:20.980
who even before there is a two term limit
link |
00:40:24.100
in the constitution, leave after two terms.
link |
00:40:26.960
They do that because they recognize
link |
00:40:28.740
that their power is the power of being a statesman,
link |
00:40:32.880
not of being a president.
link |
00:40:34.260
I still wonder what kind of man it takes,
link |
00:40:36.940
what kind of human being it takes to do that.
link |
00:40:39.560
Because I've been studying Vladimir Putin quite a bit.
link |
00:40:43.940
Right.
link |
00:40:44.780
And he's still, I believe he still has popular support
link |
00:40:51.500
that that's not fully manipulated.
link |
00:40:54.200
Because I know a lot of people in Russia
link |
00:40:55.940
and actually almost the entirety of my family in Russia
link |
00:40:59.100
are big supporters of Putin.
link |
00:41:01.140
And everybody I talk to sort of,
link |
00:41:03.460
that's not just like on social media.
link |
00:41:05.460
Right.
link |
00:41:06.300
Like the people that live in Russia
link |
00:41:08.140
seem to support him.
link |
00:41:10.980
It feels like this will be in a George Washington way.
link |
00:41:16.540
Now will be the time that Putin,
link |
00:41:19.820
just like Yeltsin, could relinquish power.
link |
00:41:22.580
And thereby, in the eyes of Russians,
link |
00:41:25.860
become, in like the long arc of history,
link |
00:41:29.580
be viewed as a great leader.
link |
00:41:31.620
You look at the economic growth of Russia,
link |
00:41:34.500
you look at the rescue from the collapse
link |
00:41:36.220
of the Soviet Union and Russia finding its footing,
link |
00:41:39.460
and then relinquishing power in a way that perhaps,
link |
00:41:44.020
if Russia succeeds, forms a truly democratic state.
link |
00:41:48.080
This would be how Putin can become
link |
00:41:49.940
one of the great leaders in Russian history,
link |
00:41:52.660
at least in the context of the 21st century.
link |
00:41:55.860
I think there are two reasons why this is really hard
link |
00:41:59.140
for Putin and for others.
link |
00:42:01.420
One is the trappings of power are very seductive,
link |
00:42:05.500
as you said before, they're corrupting.
link |
00:42:07.280
This is a real problem, right?
link |
00:42:09.380
If it's in the business context,
link |
00:42:10.500
you don't wanna give up that private jet.
link |
00:42:13.060
If it's in Putin's context,
link |
00:42:14.500
it's billions of dollars every year
link |
00:42:15.940
that he's able to take for himself or give to his friends.
link |
00:42:19.520
It's not that he'll be poor if he leaves,
link |
00:42:20.780
he'll still be rich,
link |
00:42:21.940
and he has billions of dollars stored away,
link |
00:42:23.980
but he won't be able to get the new billions.
link |
00:42:26.460
And so that's part of it,
link |
00:42:27.420
the trappings of power are a big deal.
link |
00:42:30.300
And then second, in Putin's case in particular,
link |
00:42:32.660
he has to be worried about what happens next.
link |
00:42:34.960
Will he be tried?
link |
00:42:35.860
Will someone try to come and arrest him?
link |
00:42:38.260
Will someone try to come and assassinate him?
link |
00:42:41.060
Washington recognized that leaving early
link |
00:42:44.900
limited the corruption and limited the enemies that you made.
link |
00:42:48.780
And so it was a strategic choice.
link |
00:42:50.740
Putin is at this point bringing power too long.
link |
00:42:53.100
And this comes back to your core insight.
link |
00:42:55.420
It's a cliche, but it's true, power corrupts.
link |
00:42:57.960
No one should have power for too long.
link |
00:42:59.320
This was one of the best insights
link |
00:43:00.860
the founders of the United States had,
link |
00:43:02.580
that power was to be held for a short time
link |
00:43:04.740
as a fiduciary responsibility,
link |
00:43:07.160
not as something you owned, right?
link |
00:43:08.800
This is the problem with monarchy,
link |
00:43:10.220
with aristocracy, that you own power, right?
link |
00:43:12.820
We don't own power, we're holding it in trust.
link |
00:43:17.840
Yeah, there's some probably like very specific
link |
00:43:22.060
psychological study of how many years it takes
link |
00:43:24.980
for you to forget that you can't own power.
link |
00:43:28.600
That's right.
link |
00:43:29.440
That could be a much more rigorous discussion
link |
00:43:32.680
about the length of terms that are appropriate,
link |
00:43:35.260
but really there's an amount,
link |
00:43:37.260
like Stalin had power for 30 years,
link |
00:43:39.380
like Putin is pushing those that many years already.
link |
00:43:44.100
There's a certain point where you forget
link |
00:43:46.160
the person you were before you took the power.
link |
00:43:48.420
That's right.
link |
00:43:49.260
You forget to be humble in the face of this responsibility
link |
00:43:52.100
and then there's no going back.
link |
00:43:55.060
That's right.
link |
00:43:55.900
And that's how dictators are born.
link |
00:43:57.580
That's how the evil like authoritarians become evil
link |
00:44:01.780
or let's not use the word evil,
link |
00:44:05.880
but counterproductive, destructive
link |
00:44:08.600
to the ideal that they initially
link |
00:44:11.720
probably came to office with.
link |
00:44:13.340
That's right.
link |
00:44:14.180
That's right.
link |
00:44:15.020
One of the core historical insights
link |
00:44:16.360
is people should move jobs.
link |
00:44:19.960
And this applies for CEOs probably.
link |
00:44:21.720
Absolutely.
link |
00:44:22.700
They can go become CEO somewhere else,
link |
00:44:24.320
but don't stay CEO one place too long.
link |
00:44:26.520
It's a problem with startups, right?
link |
00:44:27.860
The founder, you can have a brilliant founder
link |
00:44:29.880
and that founder doesn't want to let go.
link |
00:44:31.460
Yeah.
link |
00:44:32.300
Right, it's the same issue.
link |
00:44:33.400
At the same time, I mean, this is where Elon Musk
link |
00:44:35.800
and a few others like Larry Page and Sergey Brin
link |
00:44:41.120
that stayed for quite a long time
link |
00:44:42.900
and they actually were the beacon.
link |
00:44:45.200
They, on their shoulders, carried the dream of the company
link |
00:44:48.920
where everybody else doubted.
link |
00:44:51.120
But that seems to be the exception versus the rule.
link |
00:44:54.660
Well, and even Sergey, for example, has stepped back.
link |
00:44:57.640
He plays less of a day to day role
link |
00:44:59.580
and is not running Google in the way he did.
link |
00:45:01.880
But the interesting thing is he stepped back
link |
00:45:04.480
in a quite tragic way from what I've seen,
link |
00:45:07.640
which is, I think Google's mission, initial mission
link |
00:45:12.400
of making the world's information accessible to everybody
link |
00:45:15.560
is one of the most beautiful missions of any company
link |
00:45:17.880
in the history of the world.
link |
00:45:18.920
I think it's what Google has done with the search engine
link |
00:45:22.520
and other efforts that are similar,
link |
00:45:25.500
like scanning a lot of books, it's just incredible.
link |
00:45:29.120
It's similar to Wikipedia.
link |
00:45:32.760
But what he said was that it's not the same company anymore.
link |
00:45:38.040
And I know maybe I'm reading too much into it
link |
00:45:41.020
because it's more maybe practically saying
link |
00:45:43.480
just the size of the company is much larger,
link |
00:45:45.280
the kind of leadership that's required.
link |
00:45:47.120
But at the same time, they changed the model
link |
00:45:50.080
from don't be evil to it's becoming corporatized
link |
00:45:54.320
and all those kinds of things and it's sad.
link |
00:45:56.920
There also are cycles, right?
link |
00:45:59.280
History is about cycles, right?
link |
00:46:01.160
There are cycles to life, there are cycles to organizations.
link |
00:46:05.040
It's sad.
link |
00:46:05.880
I mean, it's sad Steve Jobs leaving Apple
link |
00:46:08.200
by passing away, sad.
link |
00:46:11.520
You know, what the future of SpaceX and Tesla looks like
link |
00:46:14.760
without Elon Musk is quite sad.
link |
00:46:16.920
It's very possible that those companies
link |
00:46:18.640
become something very different.
link |
00:46:20.360
They become something much more like corporate
link |
00:46:24.360
and stale, yeah.
link |
00:46:28.920
So maybe most of the progress is made through cycles.
link |
00:46:31.680
Maybe a new Elon Musk comes along
link |
00:46:33.320
and all those kinds of things.
link |
00:46:35.500
But it does seem that the American system of government
link |
00:46:39.560
has built into it the cycling that makes it effective
link |
00:46:46.080
and it makes it last very long.
link |
00:46:47.760
It lasts a very long time, right?
link |
00:46:50.040
It continues to excel and lead the world.
link |
00:46:53.340
Sure, sure.
link |
00:46:55.280
And let's hope it continues to.
link |
00:46:56.320
No, I mean, we're into a third century
link |
00:47:00.040
and democracies on this scale rarely last that long.
link |
00:47:03.680
So that's a point of pride, but it also means
link |
00:47:07.320
we need to be attentive to keep our house in order
link |
00:47:09.240
because it's not inevitable that this experiment continues.
link |
00:47:14.240
Now it's important to meditate on that actually.
link |
00:47:17.160
You've mentioned that FDR, Franklin D. Roosevelt
link |
00:47:20.320
is one of the great leaders in American history.
link |
00:47:24.480
Why is that?
link |
00:47:25.560
Franklin Roosevelt had the power of empathy.
link |
00:47:29.600
No leader that I've ever studied or been around
link |
00:47:32.320
or spent any time reading about was able to connect
link |
00:47:35.480
with people who were so different from himself
link |
00:47:37.800
as Franklin Roosevelt.
link |
00:47:39.200
He came from the most elite family.
link |
00:47:40.960
He never had to work for a paycheck in his life.
link |
00:47:43.260
When he was president, he was still collecting
link |
00:47:44.900
an allowance from his mom.
link |
00:47:46.640
I mean, you couldn't be more elite than Franklin Roosevelt,
link |
00:47:49.660
but he authentically connected.
link |
00:47:52.280
This was not propaganda.
link |
00:47:54.440
He was able to feel the pain and understand the lives
link |
00:47:57.780
of some of the most destitute Americans
link |
00:48:00.760
in other parts of the country.
link |
00:48:02.040
It's interesting.
link |
00:48:02.880
So through one of the hardest economic periods
link |
00:48:06.360
of American history, he was able to feel the pain.
link |
00:48:08.480
He was able to, the number of immigrants
link |
00:48:10.520
I read oral histories from or who have written themselves,
link |
00:48:13.240
Saul Bellow is one example, the great novelist
link |
00:48:15.200
who talk about how as immigrants to the US,
link |
00:48:17.480
Saul Bellow was a Russian Jewish immigrant.
link |
00:48:19.360
He said, growing up in Chicago, politicians were all trying
link |
00:48:21.600
to steal from us.
link |
00:48:22.440
I didn't think any of them cared until I heard FDR.
link |
00:48:25.200
And I knew he spoke to me.
link |
00:48:27.920
And I think part of it was FDR really tried
link |
00:48:31.520
to understand people.
link |
00:48:32.480
That's the first thing, he was humble enough
link |
00:48:33.680
to try to do that.
link |
00:48:34.960
But second, he had a talent for that.
link |
00:48:36.520
And it's hard to know exactly what it was,
link |
00:48:38.900
but he had a talent for putting himself,
link |
00:48:40.600
imagining himself in someone else's shoes.
link |
00:48:43.740
What stands out to you as important?
link |
00:48:48.200
I mean, so he was, he went through the great depression.
link |
00:48:51.720
The, so the new deal, which some people criticize,
link |
00:48:54.880
some people see, I mean, it's funny to look at some
link |
00:48:57.760
of these policies and their long ripple effects.
link |
00:49:03.400
But at the time, it's some of the most innovative policies
link |
00:49:08.040
in the history of America.
link |
00:49:09.320
You could say they're ultimately not good for America,
link |
00:49:12.300
but they're nevertheless hold within them very rich
link |
00:49:16.000
and important lessons.
link |
00:49:17.560
But the new deal, obviously World War II,
link |
00:49:20.680
that entire process, is there something that stands out
link |
00:49:23.400
to you as a particularly great moment that made FDR?
link |
00:49:30.080
Yes, I think what FDR does from his first 100 days
link |
00:49:34.860
in office forward, and this begins with his fireside chats,
link |
00:49:38.840
is he helps Americans to see that they're all in it together.
link |
00:49:43.400
And that's by creating hope and creating a sense
link |
00:49:46.720
of common suffering and common mission.
link |
00:49:49.320
It's not offering simple solutions.
link |
00:49:51.200
One of the lessons from FDR is,
link |
00:49:52.960
if you wanna bring people together,
link |
00:49:54.320
don't offer a simple solution.
link |
00:49:56.160
Because as soon as I offer a simple solution,
link |
00:49:57.920
I have people for it and against it.
link |
00:50:00.080
Don't do that.
link |
00:50:00.960
Explain the problem, frame the problem,
link |
00:50:04.040
and then give people a mission.
link |
00:50:05.940
So Roosevelt's first radio address in March of 1933,
link |
00:50:10.200
the banking system is collapsing.
link |
00:50:12.400
And we can't imagine it, right?
link |
00:50:13.600
Banks were closing and you couldn't get your money out.
link |
00:50:16.400
Your life savings would be lost, right?
link |
00:50:17.960
We can't imagine that happening in our world today.
link |
00:50:20.440
He comes on the radio, he takes five minutes
link |
00:50:22.520
to explain how banking works.
link |
00:50:24.360
Most people didn't understand how banking worked, right?
link |
00:50:26.560
They don't actually hold your money in a vault.
link |
00:50:28.400
They lend it out to someone else.
link |
00:50:30.320
And then he explains why if you go and take your money
link |
00:50:33.520
out of the bank and put it in your mattress,
link |
00:50:35.000
you're making it worse for yourself.
link |
00:50:36.840
He explains this.
link |
00:50:38.400
And then he says, I don't have a solution,
link |
00:50:40.960
but here's what I'm gonna do.
link |
00:50:42.240
I'm gonna send in government officers to examine the banks
link |
00:50:46.680
and show you the books on the banks.
link |
00:50:48.520
And I want you to help me by going
link |
00:50:50.520
and putting your money back in the bank.
link |
00:50:52.400
We're all gonna do this together.
link |
00:50:54.160
No simple solution, no ideological statement,
link |
00:50:56.680
but a sense of common mission.
link |
00:50:58.420
Let's go out and do this together.
link |
00:51:00.180
When you read as I have so many of these oral histories
link |
00:51:03.420
and memoirs for people who lived through that period,
link |
00:51:06.000
many of them disagreed with some of his policies.
link |
00:51:08.400
Many of them thought he was too close to Jews
link |
00:51:10.260
and they didn't like the fact he had a woman
link |
00:51:11.600
in his cabinet and all that, but they felt he cared.
link |
00:51:15.560
And they felt they were part of some common mission.
link |
00:51:18.300
And when they talk about their experience fighting
link |
00:51:20.520
in World War II, whether in Europe or Asia,
link |
00:51:22.980
it was that that prepared them.
link |
00:51:24.380
They knew what it meant to be an American
link |
00:51:26.040
when they were over there.
link |
00:51:27.960
So that to me is a model of leadership.
link |
00:51:30.560
And I think that's as possible today as it's ever been.
link |
00:51:33.520
So you think it's possible, like I was going to ask this,
link |
00:51:37.280
again, it may be a very shallow view,
link |
00:51:41.760
but it feels like this country is more divided
link |
00:51:45.200
than it has been in recent history.
link |
00:51:48.560
Perhaps the social media and all those kinds of things
link |
00:51:51.520
are merely revealing the division
link |
00:51:54.300
as opposed to creating the division.
link |
00:51:56.360
But is it possible to have a leader
link |
00:52:00.080
that unites in the same way that FDR did without,
link |
00:52:03.880
well, we're living through a pandemic.
link |
00:52:06.280
This is already, so like, I was going to say
link |
00:52:09.420
without suffering, but this is economic suffering.
link |
00:52:12.560
A huge number of people have lost their job.
link |
00:52:14.240
So is it possible to have, is there one a hunger?
link |
00:52:18.260
Is there a possibility to have an FDR style leader
link |
00:52:21.320
who unites?
link |
00:52:22.920
Yes, I think that is what President Biden is trying.
link |
00:52:25.680
I'm not saying he'll succeed,
link |
00:52:27.680
but I think that's what he's trying to do.
link |
00:52:29.420
The way you do this is you do not allow yourself
link |
00:52:31.760
to be captured by your opponents in Congress
link |
00:52:35.100
or somewhere else.
link |
00:52:36.080
FDR had a lot of opponents in Congress.
link |
00:52:38.000
He had a lot of opponents in politics,
link |
00:52:39.960
governors and others who didn't like him.
link |
00:52:41.840
Herbert Hoover was still around
link |
00:52:44.040
and still accusing FDR of being a conspiratist
link |
00:52:47.200
and all these other things.
link |
00:52:48.240
So you don't allow yourself to be captured
link |
00:52:52.100
by the leaders of the other side.
link |
00:52:53.380
You go over their heads to the people.
link |
00:52:55.760
And so today, the way to do this is to explain to people
link |
00:52:59.340
and empathize with the suffering and dislocation
link |
00:53:01.700
and difficulties they're dealing with
link |
00:53:03.600
and show that you're trying to help them.
link |
00:53:05.860
Not an easy solution, not a simple statement,
link |
00:53:08.760
but here are some things we can all do together.
link |
00:53:11.340
That's why I think infrastructure makes a lot of sense.
link |
00:53:13.620
It's what FDR invested into, right?
link |
00:53:15.960
FDR built Hoover Dam.
link |
00:53:17.400
Hoover Dam turned the lights on for young Lyndon Johnson
link |
00:53:20.600
who grew up outside of Austin, right?
link |
00:53:22.720
FDR was the one who invested in road construction
link |
00:53:25.720
that was then continued by Dwight Eisenhower,
link |
00:53:28.480
by a Republican with the interstate highway system, right?
link |
00:53:31.800
FDR invested through the WPA in building thousands
link |
00:53:34.480
of schools in our country, planting trees.
link |
00:53:37.020
That's the kind of work that can bring people together.
link |
00:53:40.460
You don't have to be a Democrat or a Republican to say,
link |
00:53:42.600
you know what, we'd be a lot better off in my community
link |
00:53:45.380
if we had better infrastructure today.
link |
00:53:47.540
I wanna be a part of that.
link |
00:53:48.440
Oh, well, maybe I can get a job doing that.
link |
00:53:49.960
Maybe my company can benefit from that.
link |
00:53:52.800
You bring people together and that way
link |
00:53:54.560
it becomes a common mission,
link |
00:53:56.520
even if we have different ideological positions.
link |
00:53:59.200
Yeah, it's funny.
link |
00:54:01.560
When I first heard Joe Biden,
link |
00:54:05.100
many years ago, I think he ran for president against Obama.
link |
00:54:08.560
That's correct.
link |
00:54:10.920
Before I heard him speak, I really liked him.
link |
00:54:13.800
But once I heard him speak,
link |
00:54:15.560
I started liking him less and less.
link |
00:54:17.800
And it speaks to something interesting,
link |
00:54:21.000
where it's hard to put into words
link |
00:54:22.680
why you connect with people.
link |
00:54:24.940
The empathy that you mentioned in FDR,
link |
00:54:27.400
you have these bad, pardon the French, motherfuckers
link |
00:54:31.240
like Teddy Roosevelt that connect with you.
link |
00:54:33.900
There's something just powerful.
link |
00:54:35.920
And with Joe Biden, I wanna really like him.
link |
00:54:39.000
And there's something not quite there
link |
00:54:41.740
where it feels like he doesn't quite know my pain,
link |
00:54:45.500
even though he, on paper, is exactly,
link |
00:54:49.600
he knows the pain of the people
link |
00:54:50.980
and there's something not connecting.
link |
00:54:52.440
And it's hard to explain.
link |
00:54:53.800
It's hard to put into words.
link |
00:54:55.160
And it makes me not,
link |
00:55:00.040
as an engineer and scientist,
link |
00:55:01.680
it makes me not feel good about presidencies
link |
00:55:04.680
because it makes me feel like it's more art than science.
link |
00:55:08.760
It is an art.
link |
00:55:09.600
And I think it's exactly an art
link |
00:55:11.320
for the reasons you laid out, it's aesthetic.
link |
00:55:13.280
It's about feeling, it's about emotion,
link |
00:55:14.840
all the things that we can't engineer.
link |
00:55:16.180
We've tried for centuries to engineer emotion.
link |
00:55:18.960
We're never gonna do it.
link |
00:55:19.880
Don't try it.
link |
00:55:20.720
I'm a parent of teenagers.
link |
00:55:21.680
Don't even try to explain emotion.
link |
00:55:24.080
But you hit on the key point
link |
00:55:26.120
and the key challenge for Biden.
link |
00:55:27.160
He's gotta find the right words.
link |
00:55:28.860
It's not finding the words to bullshit people.
link |
00:55:32.400
It's finding the words to help express.
link |
00:55:34.360
We've all felt empowered and felt good.
link |
00:55:36.640
When someone uses words
link |
00:55:38.640
that put into words what we're feeling,
link |
00:55:41.060
that's what he needs.
link |
00:55:41.900
That's the job of a leader.
link |
00:55:42.960
And there's certain words,
link |
00:55:44.560
I haven't heard many politicians use those words,
link |
00:55:47.020
but there's certain words that make you forget
link |
00:55:49.760
that you're for immigration or against immigration.
link |
00:55:54.840
Make you forget whether you're for wars and against wars.
link |
00:55:57.880
Make you forget about the bickering
link |
00:56:00.600
and somehow inspire you, elevate you
link |
00:56:04.320
to believe in the greatness that this country could be.
link |
00:56:07.040
Yes.
link |
00:56:08.200
In that same way, the reason I moved to Austin,
link |
00:56:11.240
it's funny to say, I just heard words
link |
00:56:15.240
from people, from friends,
link |
00:56:17.520
where they're excited by the possibility of the future here.
link |
00:56:21.840
I wasn't thinking like, what's the right thing to do?
link |
00:56:24.760
What's the strategic,
link |
00:56:26.200
cause I wanna launch a business.
link |
00:56:28.080
There's a lot of arguments for San Francisco
link |
00:56:30.040
or maybe staying in Boston in my case,
link |
00:56:32.360
but there's this excitement that was beyond reason.
link |
00:56:37.080
That was emotional.
link |
00:56:38.040
Yes, yes.
link |
00:56:38.880
And that's what it seems like.
link |
00:56:40.800
That's what builds, that's what great leaders do,
link |
00:56:43.840
but that's what builds countries.
link |
00:56:45.200
That's what builds great businesses.
link |
00:56:47.720
That's right.
link |
00:56:48.560
And it's what people say about Austin,
link |
00:56:50.160
for example, all the time.
link |
00:56:51.640
A talented people who come here like yourself.
link |
00:56:54.080
And here's the interesting thing.
link |
00:56:55.240
No one person creates that.
link |
00:56:56.760
The words emerge.
link |
00:56:58.200
And part of what FDR understood,
link |
00:57:00.240
you've got to find the words out there and use them.
link |
00:57:03.200
You don't have to be the creator of them.
link |
00:57:05.880
Just as the great painter doesn't invent the painting,
link |
00:57:08.200
they're taking things from others.
link |
00:57:10.320
As a small aside,
link |
00:57:11.640
is there something you could say about FDR
link |
00:57:15.080
and Hitler?
link |
00:57:19.240
I constantly tried to think,
link |
00:57:21.480
can this person, can this moment in history
link |
00:57:23.880
have been circumvented, prevented?
link |
00:57:29.320
Can Hitler have been stopped?
link |
00:57:31.600
Can some of the atrocities from my own family
link |
00:57:34.800
that my grandparents had to live through
link |
00:57:37.560
the starvation in the Soviet Union,
link |
00:57:39.840
so the thing that people don't often talk about
link |
00:57:42.400
is the atrocities committed by Stalin and his own people.
link |
00:57:46.840
It feels like here's this great leader, FDR,
link |
00:57:53.560
that had the chance to have an impact on the world
link |
00:57:59.320
that he already probably had a great positive impact,
link |
00:58:05.320
but had a chance to stop maybe World War II
link |
00:58:09.920
or stop some of the evils.
link |
00:58:12.040
When you look at how weak Hitler was
link |
00:58:14.400
from much of the 30s relative to militarily,
link |
00:58:17.760
relative to everything else,
link |
00:58:19.560
how many people could have done a lot to stop him?
link |
00:58:23.320
And FDR in particular didn't.
link |
00:58:26.600
He tried to play, not pacify,
link |
00:58:31.040
but basically do diplomacy and let Germany do Germany,
link |
00:58:36.760
let Europe do Europe, and focus on America.
link |
00:58:40.080
Is there something you would,
link |
00:58:42.240
would you hold his feet to the fire on this?
link |
00:58:44.640
Or is it very difficult from the perspective of FDR
link |
00:58:47.560
to have known what was coming?
link |
00:58:50.440
I think FDR had a sense of what was coming,
link |
00:58:52.600
not quite the enormity of what Hitler was doing
link |
00:58:55.080
and not quite the enormity of what the Holocaust became.
link |
00:58:57.360
I also lost relatives in the Holocaust.
link |
00:59:01.640
And part of that was beyond the imagination of human beings.
link |
00:59:04.440
But it's clear in his papers that as early as 1934,
link |
00:59:08.640
people he respected, who he knew well,
link |
00:59:10.360
told him that Hitler was very dangerous.
link |
00:59:12.320
They also thought Hitler was crazy, that he was a lunatic.
link |
00:59:15.200
Hamilton Fish Armstrong, who was a friend of Roosevelt's,
link |
00:59:18.840
who was actually the Council on Foreign Relations
link |
00:59:20.400
in New York, had a meeting with Hitler in 1934.
link |
00:59:22.520
I remember reading the account of this.
link |
00:59:24.920
And he basically said to FDR,
link |
00:59:25.960
this man is gonna cause a war.
link |
00:59:27.520
He's gonna cause a lot of damage.
link |
00:59:28.680
Again, they didn't know quite the scale.
link |
00:59:30.600
So they saw this coming.
link |
00:59:32.320
They saw this coming.
link |
00:59:33.520
FDR had two problems.
link |
00:59:34.960
First, he had an American public that was deeply isolationist.
link |
00:59:38.720
The opposite of the problem in a sense
link |
00:59:40.280
that we were talking about before.
link |
00:59:41.480
If we're an over militarized society,
link |
00:59:43.600
now we were a deeply isolationist society in the 1930s.
link |
00:59:47.840
The depression reinforced that.
link |
00:59:49.520
FDR actually had to break the law in the late 30s
link |
00:59:52.160
to support the allies.
link |
00:59:53.800
So it was very hard to move the country in that direction,
link |
00:59:57.360
especially when he had this program at home,
link |
00:59:59.920
the New Deal, that he didn't wanna jeopardize
link |
01:00:01.480
by alienating an isolationist public.
link |
01:00:03.840
That was the reality.
link |
01:00:04.680
We talked about political manipulation.
link |
01:00:06.000
He had to be conscious of that.
link |
01:00:07.640
He had to know his audience.
link |
01:00:09.080
And second, there were no allies willing
link |
01:00:12.160
to invest in this either.
link |
01:00:14.600
The British were as committed to appeasement, as you know.
link |
01:00:18.080
You're obviously very knowledgeable about this.
link |
01:00:19.760
The French were as well.
link |
01:00:21.240
It was very hard.
link |
01:00:22.080
The Russian government, the Soviet government
link |
01:00:23.760
was cooperating to remilitarize Germany.
link |
01:00:26.920
So there weren't a lot of allies out there either.
link |
01:00:30.000
I think if there's a criticism to be made of FDR,
link |
01:00:33.520
it's that once we're in the war,
link |
01:00:37.400
he didn't do enough to stop,
link |
01:00:39.160
in particular, the killing of Jews.
link |
01:00:41.280
And there are a number of historians,
link |
01:00:42.920
myself included, who have written about this,
link |
01:00:44.520
and it's an endless debate.
link |
01:00:45.600
What should he have done?
link |
01:00:47.000
There's no doubt by 1944,
link |
01:00:49.080
the United States had air superiority
link |
01:00:51.280
and could have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz
link |
01:00:53.480
and other camps,
link |
01:00:54.320
and that would have saved as many as a million Jews.
link |
01:00:56.160
That's a lot of people who could have been saved.
link |
01:00:58.680
Why didn't FDR insist on that?
link |
01:01:01.680
In part, because he wanted to use every resource possible
link |
01:01:04.200
to win the war.
link |
01:01:05.520
He did not want to be accused of fighting the war for Jews.
link |
01:01:08.400
But I think it's also fair to say
link |
01:01:09.640
that he probably cared less about Jews and East Europeans
link |
01:01:13.400
than he did about others,
link |
01:01:15.320
those of his own Dutch ancestry and from Western Europe.
link |
01:01:18.240
And so, even their race comes in,
link |
01:01:20.520
is also the explanation for the internment of Japanese
link |
01:01:22.840
in the United States,
link |
01:01:23.680
which is a horrible war crime
link |
01:01:24.680
committed by this heroic president.
link |
01:01:26.920
120,000 Japanese American citizens
link |
01:01:29.680
lost their freedom unnecessarily.
link |
01:01:31.440
So, he had his limitations.
link |
01:01:33.400
And I think he could have done more during the war
link |
01:01:37.440
to save many more lives.
link |
01:01:38.920
And I wish he had.
link |
01:01:39.880
And there's something to be said about empathy
link |
01:01:42.600
that you spoke that FDR had empathy.
link |
01:01:45.800
But us, for example,
link |
01:01:47.160
now there's many people who describe the atrocities
link |
01:01:49.800
happening in China.
link |
01:01:51.760
And there's a bunch of places across the world
link |
01:01:53.960
where there's atrocities happening now.
link |
01:01:55.600
And we care.
link |
01:01:57.520
We do not uniformly apply how much we care
link |
01:02:03.300
for the suffering of others.
link |
01:02:04.780
That's correct.
link |
01:02:05.620
Depending on the group.
link |
01:02:06.660
That's correct.
link |
01:02:07.620
And in some sense, the role of the president
link |
01:02:10.580
is to rise above that natural human inclination
link |
01:02:15.860
to protect, to do the us versus them,
link |
01:02:18.220
to protect the inner circle
link |
01:02:20.660
and empathize with the suffering of those
link |
01:02:22.780
that are not like you.
link |
01:02:24.660
That's correct.
link |
01:02:25.660
I agree with that.
link |
01:02:26.660
Yeah.
link |
01:02:29.300
Speaking of war, you wrote a book on Henry Kissinger.
link |
01:02:33.660
It's not a great transition,
link |
01:02:36.340
but it made sense in my head.
link |
01:02:39.140
Who was Henry Kissinger as a man
link |
01:02:41.660
and as a historical figure?
link |
01:02:43.500
So Henry Kissinger to me is one of the most fascinating
link |
01:02:45.940
figures in history,
link |
01:02:47.380
because he comes to the United States
link |
01:02:49.220
as a German Jewish immigrant at age 15,
link |
01:02:51.620
speaking no English.
link |
01:02:53.100
And within a few years, he's a major figure
link |
01:02:56.520
influencing US foreign policy at the height of US power.
link |
01:03:00.340
But while he's doing that,
link |
01:03:01.500
he's never elected to office
link |
01:03:03.860
and he's constantly reviled by people,
link |
01:03:06.820
including people who are anti Semitic because he's Jewish,
link |
01:03:10.420
but at the same time also his exoticism
link |
01:03:13.540
makes him more attractive to people.
link |
01:03:15.720
So someone like Nelson Rockefeller wants Kissinger around.
link |
01:03:18.800
He's one of Kissinger's first patrons
link |
01:03:20.220
because he wants a really smart Jew.
link |
01:03:22.100
And Kissinger is gonna be that smart Jew
link |
01:03:23.580
I call Kissinger a policy Jew.
link |
01:03:25.260
There were these court Jews in the 16th and 17th
link |
01:03:27.420
and 18th centuries in Europe.
link |
01:03:28.460
Every king wanted the Jew to manage his banking.
link |
01:03:31.200
And in a sense in the United States
link |
01:03:33.020
in the second half of the 20th century,
link |
01:03:35.100
many presidents want a Jew
link |
01:03:36.780
to manage their international affairs.
link |
01:03:38.540
And what does that really mean?
link |
01:03:39.460
It's not just about being Jewish,
link |
01:03:41.460
it's the internationalism, it's the cosmopolitanism.
link |
01:03:44.260
And that's one of the things
link |
01:03:45.380
I was fascinated with with Kissinger.
link |
01:03:47.020
Someone like Kissinger is unthinkable
link |
01:03:48.800
as a powerful figure in the United States
link |
01:03:50.780
30 or 40 years earlier,
link |
01:03:52.420
because the United States is run by WASD.
link |
01:03:54.100
It's run by white elites
link |
01:03:56.380
who come from a certain background.
link |
01:03:58.780
Kissinger represents a moment when American society
link |
01:04:01.340
opens up not to everyone,
link |
01:04:03.300
but opens up to these cosmopolitan figures
link |
01:04:05.900
who have language skills, historical knowledge,
link |
01:04:08.620
networks that can be used for the US government
link |
01:04:11.620
when after World War II, we have to rebuild Europe,
link |
01:04:14.600
when we have to negotiate with the Soviet Union,
link |
01:04:16.360
when we need the kinds of knowledge we didn't have before.
link |
01:04:19.360
And Harvard where he gets his education late,
link |
01:04:22.020
he started at City College actually,
link |
01:04:23.460
but Harvard where he gets his education late
link |
01:04:25.580
is at the center of what's happening
link |
01:04:26.980
at all these major universities,
link |
01:04:28.300
at Harvard, at Yale, at Stanford,
link |
01:04:29.640
at the University of Texas, everywhere,
link |
01:04:31.780
where they're growing in their international affairs,
link |
01:04:34.940
bringing in the kinds of people
link |
01:04:36.400
who never would be at the university before,
link |
01:04:38.580
training them and then enlisting them in Cold War activities.
link |
01:04:42.660
And so Kissinger is a representative of that phenomenon.
link |
01:04:46.100
I became interested in him
link |
01:04:47.580
because I think he's a bellwether.
link |
01:04:48.940
He shows how power has changed in the United States.
link |
01:04:52.820
So he enters this whole world of politics,
link |
01:04:57.340
what, post World War II in the 50s?
link |
01:05:00.300
Yes, so he actually, in the 40s even,
link |
01:05:03.540
it's an extraordinary story.
link |
01:05:05.060
He comes to the United States in 1938,
link |
01:05:07.540
just before Kristallnacht, his family leaves.
link |
01:05:09.940
He actually grew up right outside of Nuremberg.
link |
01:05:11.920
They leave right before Kristallnacht in fall of 38,
link |
01:05:16.220
come to New York.
link |
01:05:17.500
He originally works in a brush factory, cleaning brushes,
link |
01:05:21.020
goes to a public high school.
link |
01:05:23.240
And in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor, he joins the military.
link |
01:05:27.300
And he's very quickly in the military,
link |
01:05:30.380
first of all, given citizenship, which he didn't have before.
link |
01:05:34.340
He's sent for the first time outside of a kosher home.
link |
01:05:36.700
He had been in a kosher home his entire life.
link |
01:05:38.220
He's sent to South Carolina to eat ham for Uncle Sam.
link |
01:05:42.260
And then he is, and this is extraordinary,
link |
01:05:45.020
at the age of 20, barely speaking English,
link |
01:05:48.900
he is sent back to Germany with the US Army
link |
01:05:52.500
in an elite counterintelligence role, why?
link |
01:05:55.580
Because they need German speakers.
link |
01:05:57.700
He came when he was 15,
link |
01:05:58.740
so he actually understands the society.
link |
01:06:00.260
They need people who have that cultural knowledge.
link |
01:06:02.500
And because he's Jewish,
link |
01:06:04.460
they can trust that he'll be anti Nazi.
link |
01:06:07.700
And there's a whole group of these figures.
link |
01:06:10.140
He's one of many.
link |
01:06:11.340
And so he's in an elite circle.
link |
01:06:13.540
He's discriminated against in New York.
link |
01:06:15.940
When he goes to Harvard after that,
link |
01:06:17.300
he can only live in a Jewish only dorm.
link |
01:06:19.380
But at the same time,
link |
01:06:20.220
he's in an elite policy role in counterintelligence.
link |
01:06:22.980
He forms a network there that stays with him
link |
01:06:25.500
the rest of his career.
link |
01:06:27.780
There's a gentleman named Fritz Kramer,
link |
01:06:29.260
who becomes a sponsor of his
link |
01:06:31.380
in the emerging Pentagon Defense Department world.
link |
01:06:34.780
And as early as the early 1950s,
link |
01:06:36.940
he sent them to Korea to comment on affairs in Korea.
link |
01:06:40.260
He becomes both an intellectual recognized
link |
01:06:42.980
for his connections,
link |
01:06:44.260
but also someone who policymakers wanna talk about.
link |
01:06:46.500
His book on nuclear weapons, when it's written,
link |
01:06:48.740
is given to President Eisenhower to read
link |
01:06:51.660
because they say this is someone writing interesting things.
link |
01:06:54.220
You should read what he says.
link |
01:06:56.460
There's a certain aspect to him
link |
01:06:57.860
that's kind of like Forrest Gump.
link |
01:06:59.740
He seems to continuously be the right person
link |
01:07:02.060
at the right time in the right place.
link |
01:07:03.820
That's right.
link |
01:07:04.660
Somehow finding him in this.
link |
01:07:05.660
I don't wanna, you know,
link |
01:07:07.660
you can only get lucky so many times
link |
01:07:11.500
because he continues to get lucky
link |
01:07:13.540
in terms of being at the right place in history
link |
01:07:17.060
for many decades, until today.
link |
01:07:19.500
Yeah, well, he has a knack for that.
link |
01:07:21.140
I spent a lot of time talking with him.
link |
01:07:24.580
And what comes through very quickly
link |
01:07:27.940
is that he has an eye for power.
link |
01:07:30.620
It's, I think, unhealthy.
link |
01:07:31.820
He's obsessed with power.
link |
01:07:33.220
Can you explain like an observer of power
link |
01:07:36.380
or does he want power himself?
link |
01:07:39.500
Yes, both of those things.
link |
01:07:41.140
Both of those.
link |
01:07:41.980
And I think I explained this in the book.
link |
01:07:43.940
He doesn't agree with what I'm gonna say now,
link |
01:07:46.180
but I think I'm right and I think he's right.
link |
01:07:47.980
It's very hard to analyze yourself, right?
link |
01:07:50.740
I think he develops an obsession with gaining power
link |
01:07:54.380
because he sees what happens when you have no power.
link |
01:07:57.660
He experiences the trauma.
link |
01:08:00.180
His father is a very respected Gymnasium Lehrer in Germany.
link |
01:08:04.980
Even though he's Jewish,
link |
01:08:06.420
he's actually the teacher of German classics
link |
01:08:09.460
to the German kids.
link |
01:08:11.180
That's great.
link |
01:08:12.020
And he's forced to flee and he becomes nothing.
link |
01:08:15.580
His father never really makes a way
link |
01:08:17.900
for himself in the United States.
link |
01:08:18.980
He becomes a postal delivery person,
link |
01:08:21.100
which is nothing wrong with that,
link |
01:08:22.100
but for someone who's a respected teacher in Germany,
link |
01:08:25.260
and Gymnasium Lehrer are like professors there, right?
link |
01:08:27.820
To then be in this position.
link |
01:08:29.380
His mother has to open a catering business
link |
01:08:31.300
when they come to New York.
link |
01:08:33.100
It's a typical immigrant story, but he sees the trauma.
link |
01:08:35.740
His grandparents are killed by the Nazis.
link |
01:08:38.260
So he sees the trauma and he realizes how perilous it is
link |
01:08:41.940
to be without power.
link |
01:08:43.060
And you're saying he does not want to acknowledge
link |
01:08:46.500
the effect of that?
link |
01:08:49.060
It's hard.
link |
01:08:49.900
It's hard.
link |
01:08:50.740
I mean, most of us, if we've had trauma,
link |
01:08:52.660
it's believable that it's traumatic
link |
01:08:54.260
because you don't talk about it.
link |
01:08:55.180
I have a friend who interviews combat veterans and he says,
link |
01:08:58.980
as soon as someone freely wants to tell me
link |
01:09:01.100
about their combat trauma,
link |
01:09:02.660
I suspect that they're not telling me the truth.
link |
01:09:05.260
If it's traumatic, it's hard to talk about.
link |
01:09:08.900
Yeah, sometimes I wonder how much from my own life,
link |
01:09:13.140
everything that I've ever done is just the result
link |
01:09:15.740
of the complicated relationship with my father.
link |
01:09:21.100
I tend to, I had a really difficult time.
link |
01:09:23.180
I did a podcast conversation with him.
link |
01:09:25.620
I saw it actually.
link |
01:09:26.460
Yeah, it's great.
link |
01:09:27.420
It's great.
link |
01:09:28.780
It was, I was thinking I could never do that with my father.
link |
01:09:31.860
But I remember as I was doing it,
link |
01:09:33.940
and for months after I regretted doing it,
link |
01:09:37.060
I just kept regretting it.
link |
01:09:39.140
And the fact that I was regretting it spoke to the fact
link |
01:09:42.300
that I'm running away from some truths
link |
01:09:45.020
that are back there somewhere.
link |
01:09:47.700
And that's perhaps what Kissinger is as well.
link |
01:09:50.540
But is there, I mean, he's done,
link |
01:09:53.180
he's been a part of so many interesting moments
link |
01:09:56.700
of American history, of world history,
link |
01:09:59.100
from the Cold War, Vietnam War, until today.
link |
01:10:03.420
What stands out to you as a particularly important moment
link |
01:10:08.500
in his career that made who he is?
link |
01:10:13.740
Well, I think what made his career in many ways
link |
01:10:18.340
was his experience in the 1950s, building a network,
link |
01:10:23.620
a network of people across the world
link |
01:10:26.460
who were rising leaders from unique positions.
link |
01:10:30.340
He ran what he called the International Seminar at Harvard,
link |
01:10:35.220
which was actually a summer school class
link |
01:10:37.300
that no one at Harvard cared about.
link |
01:10:39.340
But he invited all of these rising intellectuals
link |
01:10:44.700
and thinkers from around the world.
link |
01:10:46.780
And he built a network there that he used forevermore.
link |
01:10:50.860
So that's what really, I think, boosts him.
link |
01:10:53.980
The most important moments in terms of making his reputation
link |
01:10:56.820
and making his career are two sets of activities.
link |
01:10:59.340
One is the opening to China.
link |
01:11:02.100
And his ability to, first of all,
link |
01:11:04.580
take control of US policy without the authority to do that
link |
01:11:07.580
and direct US policy, and then build a relationship
link |
01:11:11.180
with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai that was unthinkable
link |
01:11:14.580
just four or five years earlier.
link |
01:11:16.580
Of course, President Nixon is a big part of that as well,
link |
01:11:18.860
but Kissinger is the mover and shaker on that.
link |
01:11:20.780
And it's a lot of manipulation, but it's also a vision.
link |
01:11:23.660
Now, this is in the moment of American history
link |
01:11:26.860
where there's a very powerful anti communism.
link |
01:11:29.660
Correct.
link |
01:11:30.500
So communism is seen as much more even though
link |
01:11:33.820
than today as the enemy.
link |
01:11:35.620
Correct.
link |
01:11:36.460
And China in particular,
link |
01:11:37.460
they were one of our key enemies in Vietnam.
link |
01:11:40.700
And in Korea, American forces
link |
01:11:42.300
were fighting Chinese forces directly.
link |
01:11:44.100
Chinese forces come over the border.
link |
01:11:46.780
Thousands of Americans die at the hand of Chinese forces.
link |
01:11:49.180
So for the long time, the United States
link |
01:11:50.540
had no relationship with communist China.
link |
01:11:52.260
He opens that relationship.
link |
01:11:54.460
And at the same time, he also creates a whole new dynamic
link |
01:11:58.260
in the Middle East.
link |
01:11:59.420
After the 1973 war, the so called Yom Kippur War,
link |
01:12:02.340
he steps in and becomes the leading negotiator
link |
01:12:05.100
between the Israelis, the Egyptians,
link |
01:12:07.500
and other major actors in the region.
link |
01:12:09.980
And it makes the United States the most powerful actor
link |
01:12:12.780
in the Middle East, the Soviet Union far less powerful,
link |
01:12:15.420
which is great for the United States in the 70s and 80s.
link |
01:12:17.940
It gets us though into the problems
link |
01:12:19.420
we of course have thereafter.
link |
01:12:21.780
So that speaks to the very pragmatic approach
link |
01:12:25.460
that he's taken the realistic approach
link |
01:12:28.740
versus the idealistic approach termed realpolitik.
link |
01:12:34.580
What is this thing?
link |
01:12:35.780
What is this approach to world politics?
link |
01:12:38.900
So realpolitik for Kissinger is really focusing
link |
01:12:43.500
on the power centers in the world
link |
01:12:46.980
and trying as best you can to manipulate
link |
01:12:49.300
those power centers to serve the interests
link |
01:12:51.140
of your own country.
link |
01:12:52.580
And so that's why he's a multilateralist.
link |
01:12:54.420
He's not a unilateralist.
link |
01:12:55.940
He believes the United States should put itself
link |
01:12:58.420
at the center of negotiations
link |
01:13:00.060
between other powerful countries.
link |
01:13:02.060
But that's also why he pays very little attention
link |
01:13:03.900
to countries that are less powerful.
link |
01:13:05.500
And this is why he's often criticized
link |
01:13:07.220
by human rights activists.
link |
01:13:09.020
For him, parts of Africa and Latin America,
link |
01:13:12.500
which you and I would consider important places
link |
01:13:14.420
are unimportant because they don't have power.
link |
01:13:16.740
They can't project their power.
link |
01:13:17.900
They don't produce a lot of economic wealth.
link |
01:13:20.540
And so they matter less.
link |
01:13:21.620
Realpolitik views the world in a hierarchy of power.
link |
01:13:26.940
How does realpolitik realize itself in the world?
link |
01:13:32.140
What does that really mean?
link |
01:13:34.980
Like how do you push forward the interest
link |
01:13:37.100
of your own country?
link |
01:13:37.980
You said there's power centers,
link |
01:13:40.060
but it is a big bold move to negotiate
link |
01:13:45.420
to work with a communist nation,
link |
01:13:47.460
with your enemies that are powerful.
link |
01:13:50.500
What is the sort of, if you can further elaborate
link |
01:13:53.780
the philosophy behind it.
link |
01:13:55.020
Sure, so there are two key elements
link |
01:13:57.180
that then end up producing all kinds of tactics.
link |
01:13:59.820
But the two strategic elements of Kissinger's way
link |
01:14:01.980
of thinking about realpolitik,
link |
01:14:03.340
which are classical ways,
link |
01:14:04.580
going back to Thucydides and the Greeks,
link |
01:14:07.100
are to say, first of all,
link |
01:14:08.700
you figure out who your allies are
link |
01:14:10.820
and you build webs of connection
link |
01:14:13.380
so that your allies help you to acquire
link |
01:14:16.300
what you want to acquire.
link |
01:14:18.340
This is why, according to Herodotus,
link |
01:14:20.100
the Greeks beat the Persians.
link |
01:14:21.260
The Persians are bigger,
link |
01:14:22.460
but the Greeks, the Spartans, the Athenians,
link |
01:14:24.100
others are able to work together
link |
01:14:25.180
and leverage their resources.
link |
01:14:27.260
So it's about leveraging your resources.
link |
01:14:28.740
For Kissinger, this makes Western Europe
link |
01:14:31.100
crucially important.
link |
01:14:32.420
It makes Japan crucially important.
link |
01:14:35.060
It makes Israel and Egypt crucially important
link |
01:14:38.300
in building these webs.
link |
01:14:39.460
You build your surrogates,
link |
01:14:41.060
you build your brother states.
link |
01:14:43.100
In other parts of the world,
link |
01:14:44.220
you build tight connections and you work together
link |
01:14:46.260
to control the resources that you want.
link |
01:14:49.060
The second element of the strategy
link |
01:14:50.900
is not to go to war with your adversary,
link |
01:14:53.740
but to do all you can to limit the power
link |
01:14:56.060
of your adversary.
link |
01:14:57.420
Some of that is containment,
link |
01:14:59.340
preventing the Soviet Union from expanding.
link |
01:15:01.500
That was the key element of American Cold War policy.
link |
01:15:04.260
But sometimes it's actually negotiation.
link |
01:15:07.180
That's what detente was about for Kissinger.
link |
01:15:09.020
He spends a lot of time,
link |
01:15:09.900
more time than any other American foreign policymaker,
link |
01:15:12.500
negotiating with Soviet leaders
link |
01:15:14.500
as well as Chinese leaders.
link |
01:15:15.900
What does he want to do?
link |
01:15:16.740
He wants to limit the nuclear arms race.
link |
01:15:18.540
The United States is ahead.
link |
01:15:20.860
We don't want the Soviet Union to get ahead of us.
link |
01:15:22.780
We negotiate to limit their abilities, right?
link |
01:15:26.100
We play to our strengths.
link |
01:15:28.140
So it's a combination of keeping your adversary down
link |
01:15:31.620
and building tight webs.
link |
01:15:33.660
Within that context, military force is used,
link |
01:15:36.580
but you're not using war for the sake of war.
link |
01:15:39.100
You're using warfare to further your access to the resources,
link |
01:15:43.300
economic, political, geographic that you want.
link |
01:15:46.420
To build relationships and then the second thing,
link |
01:15:49.100
to limit the powers of those you're against.
link |
01:15:51.020
Exactly.
link |
01:15:51.860
So is there any sort of insights
link |
01:15:56.060
into how he preferred to build relationships?
link |
01:15:59.140
Are we talking about like, again, it's the one on one.
link |
01:16:03.060
Is it through policy or is it through like,
link |
01:16:05.140
phone conversations?
link |
01:16:06.860
Is there any cool kind of insights that you could speak to?
link |
01:16:09.820
Yeah, Kissinger is the ultimate kiss up.
link |
01:16:14.420
He is, some used to make fun of him.
link |
01:16:16.700
In fact, even the filmmaker from Dr. Strangelove,
link |
01:16:20.900
whose name I'm forgetting, Stanley Kubrick,
link |
01:16:23.700
called him kiss up at that time, right?
link |
01:16:27.260
He had a wonderful way of figuring out
link |
01:16:30.220
what it is you wanted, back to that discussion we had before
link |
01:16:33.580
and trying to show how he could give you more
link |
01:16:35.620
of what you wanted as a leader.
link |
01:16:36.780
It was very personalistic, very personalistic.
link |
01:16:40.460
And he spends a lot of time, for example,
link |
01:16:43.060
kissing up to Leonid Brezhnev, kissing up to Mao.
link |
01:16:46.620
He tells Mao, you're the greatest leader
link |
01:16:48.140
in the history of the 20th century.
link |
01:16:49.700
People will look back on you as the great leader.
link |
01:16:52.540
Some of this sounds like BS, but it's serious, right?
link |
01:16:55.460
He's feeding the egos of those around him.
link |
01:16:58.340
Second, he is willing to get things done for you.
link |
01:17:02.060
He's effective.
link |
01:17:03.020
You want him around you because of his efficacy.
link |
01:17:05.500
So Richard Nixon is always suspicious
link |
01:17:07.740
that Henry Kissinger is getting more of the limelight.
link |
01:17:09.660
He hates that Kissinger gets the Nobel Peace Prize
link |
01:17:11.780
and he doesn't, but he needs him.
link |
01:17:13.940
Because Kissinger's the guy who gets things done.
link |
01:17:16.420
So he performs.
link |
01:17:17.620
He builds a relationship in almost,
link |
01:17:19.540
I say this in the book, in almost a gangster way.
link |
01:17:21.340
He didn't like that he criticized that part of the book.
link |
01:17:23.100
But again, I still think the evidence is there.
link |
01:17:26.460
You need something to be done, boss, I'll do it.
link |
01:17:29.780
And don't forget that I'm doing this for you.
link |
01:17:32.020
And you get mutual dependency in a Hegelian way, right?
link |
01:17:35.060
And so he builds this personal dependency
link |
01:17:39.980
through ego and through performance.
link |
01:17:42.460
And then he's so skillful at making decisions
link |
01:17:46.780
for people who are more powerful
link |
01:17:48.340
because he's never elected to office.
link |
01:17:49.780
He always needs powerful people to let him do things.
link |
01:17:53.060
But he convinces you it's your decision when it's really his.
link |
01:17:55.820
To read his memos are beautiful.
link |
01:17:57.660
He's actually very skilled at writing things
link |
01:17:59.780
in a way that looks like he's giving you options
link |
01:18:02.420
as president, but in fact, there's only one option there.
link |
01:18:05.420
Is he, speaking to the gangster, to the loyalty,
link |
01:18:10.740
is he ever, like the sense I got from Nixon
link |
01:18:14.060
is he would, Nixon would backstab you if he needed to.
link |
01:18:19.900
One of the things that I admire about gangsters
link |
01:18:25.620
is they don't backstab those in their circle,
link |
01:18:28.820
like loyalty above all else.
link |
01:18:30.700
I mean, at least that's the sense I've gotten
link |
01:18:33.260
from the stories of the past, at least.
link |
01:18:36.500
Is, where would you put Kissinger on that?
link |
01:18:38.820
Is he loyalty above all else?
link |
01:18:41.820
Or is it, or a human, it's like the Steve Jobs thing,
link |
01:18:45.900
is like, as long as you're useful, you're useful,
link |
01:18:48.220
but then once, the moment you're no longer useful
link |
01:18:52.420
is when you're knocked off the chessboard.
link |
01:18:55.340
It's the latter with him.
link |
01:18:56.380
He's backstabbing quite a lot.
link |
01:18:59.260
And he's self serving.
link |
01:19:00.740
But he also makes himself so useful
link |
01:19:03.820
that even though Nixon knows he's doing that,
link |
01:19:05.740
Nixon still needs him.
link |
01:19:07.300
Yeah.
link |
01:19:09.380
By the way, on that point, so having spoken with Kissinger,
link |
01:19:13.420
what's your relationship like with him
link |
01:19:15.380
as somebody who is in an objective way writing his story?
link |
01:19:21.540
It was very difficult
link |
01:19:22.620
because he's very good at manipulating people.
link |
01:19:25.780
And we had about 12 or 13 interviews,
link |
01:19:28.900
usually informal over lunch.
link |
01:19:32.260
And this was many years ago.
link |
01:19:34.980
This is probably now more than 10 years ago.
link |
01:19:37.580
Did you find yourself being like sweet talked,
link |
01:19:41.420
like to where you like go back home later
link |
01:19:43.940
and look in the mirror and it's like,
link |
01:19:44.900
wait, what just happened?
link |
01:19:46.300
He can be enormously charming
link |
01:19:48.980
and enormously obnoxious at the same time.
link |
01:19:51.020
So I would have these very mixed emotions
link |
01:19:53.380
because he gives no ground.
link |
01:19:54.700
He's unwilling to, and I think this is a weakness,
link |
01:19:58.580
he's unwilling to admit mistake.
link |
01:20:03.580
Others make mistakes, but he doesn't.
link |
01:20:05.100
And he certainly won't take on any of the big criticisms
link |
01:20:07.860
that are pushed.
link |
01:20:09.140
I understand why.
link |
01:20:09.980
I mean, when you've worked as hard for what he has
link |
01:20:11.740
as he has, you're defensive about it.
link |
01:20:13.740
But he is very defensive and he's very fragile about it.
link |
01:20:15.580
He does not like criticisms at all.
link |
01:20:17.620
He used to, he hasn't done this in a while,
link |
01:20:19.820
but he used to call me up and yell at me on the phone,
link |
01:20:22.420
quite literally, when I would be quoted
link |
01:20:24.620
in the New York Times or somewhere saying something
link |
01:20:27.220
that sounded critical of him.
link |
01:20:28.740
So for instance, there was one instance
link |
01:20:30.420
a number of years ago,
link |
01:20:31.380
where a reporter came across some documents
link |
01:20:34.460
where Kissinger said negative things about Jews in Russia.
link |
01:20:37.740
Typical things that a German Jew would say
link |
01:20:39.460
about East European Jews.
link |
01:20:41.580
And the New York Times asked me, is this accurate?
link |
01:20:44.660
And I said, yeah, the documents are accurate.
link |
01:20:46.860
I've seen them, they're accurate.
link |
01:20:47.740
He was so angry about that.
link |
01:20:49.820
So there's the fragility,
link |
01:20:50.740
but there's also the enormous charm
link |
01:20:52.060
and the enormous intelligence.
link |
01:20:53.740
The real challenge with him though,
link |
01:20:54.860
is he's very good at making his case.
link |
01:20:56.940
He'll convince you.
link |
01:20:58.780
And as a scholar, as an observer,
link |
01:21:02.220
you don't wanna hear a lawyer's case.
link |
01:21:03.660
You wanna actually interrogate the evidence
link |
01:21:05.580
and get to the truth.
link |
01:21:07.060
And so that was a real challenge with him.
link |
01:21:09.340
So speaking of his approach of realpolitik,
link |
01:21:14.220
if we just zoom out and look at a human history,
link |
01:21:17.020
human civilization, what do you think works best
link |
01:21:20.660
in the way we progress forward?
link |
01:21:25.580
A realistic approach, do whatever it takes,
link |
01:21:28.700
control the centers of power,
link |
01:21:30.500
to play a game for the greater interests
link |
01:21:34.100
of the good guys, quote unquote.
link |
01:21:36.420
Or lead by sort of idealism,
link |
01:21:40.100
which is like truly act in the best version
link |
01:21:46.860
of the ideas you represent,
link |
01:21:48.660
as opposed to kind of present one view
link |
01:21:52.180
and then do whatever it takes behind the scenes.
link |
01:21:55.460
Obviously you need some of both,
link |
01:21:56.620
but I lean more to the idealistic side
link |
01:21:58.340
and more so actually, believe it or not,
link |
01:22:00.540
as I get into my 40s, as I do more historical work.
link |
01:22:04.380
Why do I say that?
link |
01:22:05.220
Because I think, and this is one of my criticisms
link |
01:22:07.500
of Kissinger, who I also have a lot of respect for,
link |
01:22:10.020
the realpolitik becomes self defeating
link |
01:22:13.100
because you're constantly running to keep power,
link |
01:22:15.380
but you forget why.
link |
01:22:17.140
And you often then use power,
link |
01:22:18.740
and I think Kissinger falls into this
link |
01:22:20.340
in some of his worst moments, not all of his moments,
link |
01:22:22.620
where the power is actually being used
link |
01:22:23.860
to undermine the things you care about.
link |
01:22:25.580
It's sort of the example of being a parent
link |
01:22:27.300
and you're doing all these things
link |
01:22:28.980
to take your kid to violin, basketball, all these things,
link |
01:22:32.260
and you realize you're actually killing your kid
link |
01:22:33.860
and making your kid very unhappy.
link |
01:22:35.580
And the whole reason you were doing it
link |
01:22:36.780
was to improve the person's life.
link |
01:22:39.140
And so you have to remember why it is,
link |
01:22:41.380
what Hans Morgenthau calls this is your purpose.
link |
01:22:43.940
Your purpose has to drive you.
link |
01:22:45.780
Now your purpose doesn't have to be airy, fiery idealism.
link |
01:22:49.180
So I believe deeply in democracy is an ideal.
link |
01:22:52.300
I don't think it's gonna ever look like Athenian democracy,
link |
01:22:56.700
but that should drive our policy.
link |
01:23:00.220
But we still have to be realistic
link |
01:23:01.460
and recognize we're not gonna build that democracy
link |
01:23:03.460
in Afghanistan tomorrow.
link |
01:23:06.020
I mean, does it ultimately just boil down again
link |
01:23:07.940
to the corrupting nature of power
link |
01:23:09.580
that nobody can hold power for very long
link |
01:23:16.260
before you start acting in the interest of power
link |
01:23:21.260
as opposed to in the interest of your ideals?
link |
01:23:23.940
It's impossible to be like somebody like Kissinger
link |
01:23:27.420
who is essentially in power for many, many decades
link |
01:23:32.420
and still remember what are the initial ideals
link |
01:23:37.260
that you strove to achieve.
link |
01:23:42.540
Yes, I think that's exactly right.
link |
01:23:44.380
There's a moment in the book I quote about him,
link |
01:23:48.300
comes from one of our interviews.
link |
01:23:49.380
I asked him, what were the guiding ideals for your policies?
link |
01:23:54.060
And he said, I'm not prepared to share that.
link |
01:23:57.300
And I don't think it's because he doesn't know
link |
01:23:58.900
what he thinks he was trying to do.
link |
01:24:00.500
He realizes his use of power departed quite a lot from.
link |
01:24:04.620
So it would sound, if he made them explicit,
link |
01:24:08.100
it would sound hypocritical.
link |
01:24:09.460
Correct.
link |
01:24:12.020
Well, on that, let me ask about war.
link |
01:24:15.180
America often presents itself to its own people,
link |
01:24:20.140
but just the leaders, when they look in the mirror,
link |
01:24:22.660
I get a sense that we think of ourselves as the good guys.
link |
01:24:29.780
And especially this begins sometimes to look hypocritical
link |
01:24:34.980
when you're waging war.
link |
01:24:38.260
Is there a good way to know when you've lost all sense
link |
01:24:43.260
of what it is to be good?
link |
01:24:48.580
Another way to ask that, is there in military policy
link |
01:24:52.620
in conducting war, is there a good way to know
link |
01:24:55.820
what is a just war and what is a war crime?
link |
01:24:59.980
I mean, in some circles, Kissinger is accused
link |
01:25:03.820
of contributing, being a war criminal.
link |
01:25:07.360
Yes, and I argue in the book, he's not a war criminal,
link |
01:25:10.080
but that doesn't mean that he didn't misuse military power.
link |
01:25:15.140
I think a just war, a just war,
link |
01:25:20.020
as Michael Walzer and others write about it,
link |
01:25:21.780
a just war is a war where both the purpose is just,
link |
01:25:26.020
and you are using the means to get to that purpose
link |
01:25:29.780
that kill as few people as necessary.
link |
01:25:33.400
That doesn't mean they won't be killing,
link |
01:25:35.180
but as few as necessary.
link |
01:25:36.020
Proportionality, right?
link |
01:25:37.300
Your means should be proportional to your ends.
link |
01:25:40.580
And that's often lost sight of,
link |
01:25:43.500
because the drive to get to the end often self justifies
link |
01:25:48.620
means that go well beyond that.
link |
01:25:50.100
And so that's how we get into torture in the war on terror.
link |
01:25:55.620
Is there some kind of lesson for the future
link |
01:25:57.980
that you can take away from that?
link |
01:26:00.160
Yes, I think the first set of lessons that I've shared
link |
01:26:03.940
as a historian with military decision makers is,
link |
01:26:06.820
first of all, always remember why you're there,
link |
01:26:08.580
what your purpose is, and always ask yourself
link |
01:26:10.460
if the means you're using are actually proportional.
link |
01:26:13.620
Ask that question.
link |
01:26:15.140
Just because you have these means that you can use,
link |
01:26:17.300
just because you have these tools,
link |
01:26:19.340
doesn't mean they're the right tools to use.
link |
01:26:22.180
And here's the question that follows from that.
link |
01:26:25.180
And it's a hard question to ask,
link |
01:26:26.780
because the answer is one we often don't like to hear.
link |
01:26:29.380
Are the things I'm doing in war actually doing more harm
link |
01:26:33.140
or more good to the reason I went into war?
link |
01:26:36.900
We came to a point in the war on terror
link |
01:26:39.020
where what we were doing was actually
link |
01:26:40.100
creating more terrorists.
link |
01:26:42.900
And that's when you have to stop.
link |
01:26:46.140
Well, some of that is in the data,
link |
01:26:47.460
but some of it, there's a leap of faith.
link |
01:26:49.460
So from a parenting perspective,
link |
01:26:51.140
let me speak as a person with no kids and a single guy,
link |
01:26:55.700
let me be the expert in the room on parenting.
link |
01:26:58.100
Now, it does seem that it's a very difficult thing to do,
link |
01:27:05.900
even though you know that your kid was making a mistake,
link |
01:27:10.980
to let them make a mistake,
link |
01:27:12.180
to give them the freedom to make the mistake.
link |
01:27:15.500
I don't know what to do,
link |
01:27:16.580
but I mean, that's a very kind of lighthearted way
link |
01:27:19.620
of phrasing the following,
link |
01:27:21.540
which is when you look at some of the places in the world,
link |
01:27:26.460
like Afghanistan, which is not doing well.
link |
01:27:32.300
To move out knowing that there's going to be
link |
01:27:34.900
a lot of suffering, economic suffering, injustices,
link |
01:27:40.100
terrorist organizations growing,
link |
01:27:42.540
that's committing crimes on its own people
link |
01:27:44.860
and potentially committing crimes against allies,
link |
01:27:48.660
violence against allies, violence against the United States.
link |
01:27:52.180
So how do you know what to do in that case?
link |
01:27:58.260
Well, again, it's an art, not a science,
link |
01:28:01.420
which is what makes it hard for an engineer to think about.
link |
01:28:04.660
This is what makes it endlessly fascinating for me.
link |
01:28:07.180
And I think the real intellectual work
link |
01:28:08.700
is at the level of the art, right?
link |
01:28:10.740
And I think probably engineering at its highest level
link |
01:28:13.060
becomes an art as well, right?
link |
01:28:14.980
So policymaking, you never know.
link |
01:28:17.660
But I will say this,
link |
01:28:18.900
I'll say you have to ask yourself and look in the mirror
link |
01:28:21.020
and say, is all the effort I'm putting in
link |
01:28:23.460
actually making this better?
link |
01:28:25.500
And in Afghanistan, you look at the 20 years
link |
01:28:28.420
and two plus trillion dollars that the US has put in.
link |
01:28:32.740
And the fact that, as you said correctly,
link |
01:28:34.900
it's not doing well right now
link |
01:28:36.020
after 20 years of that investment.
link |
01:28:38.980
I might like a company that I invest in,
link |
01:28:41.780
but after 20 years of my throwing money in that company,
link |
01:28:45.460
it's time to get out.
link |
01:28:46.300
Well, in some sense, getting out now, that's kind of obvious.
link |
01:28:51.540
I'm more interested in how we figure out in the future
link |
01:28:54.340
how to get out earlier than, I mean, at this point,
link |
01:28:57.740
we stayed too long and it's obvious,
link |
01:28:59.340
the data, the investment, nothing is working.
link |
01:29:04.380
The very little data points to us staying there.
link |
01:29:07.580
I'm more interested in being in a relation,
link |
01:29:11.620
let me take it back to a safer place again,
link |
01:29:13.740
being in a relationship
link |
01:29:14.740
and getting out of that relationship
link |
01:29:16.300
while things are still good,
link |
01:29:17.420
but you have a sense that it's not going to end up
link |
01:29:19.300
in a good place.
link |
01:29:20.380
That's the difficult thing.
link |
01:29:22.300
You have to ask yourself, whether it's a relationship
link |
01:29:24.660
or you're talking about policymaking
link |
01:29:26.300
in a place like Afghanistan,
link |
01:29:28.220
are the things I'm doing showing me evidence,
link |
01:29:31.540
real evidence that they're making things better
link |
01:29:34.220
or making things worse?
link |
01:29:35.620
That's a hard question to answer.
link |
01:29:37.460
You have to be very honest.
link |
01:29:38.540
And in a policymaking context,
link |
01:29:40.780
we have to actually do the same thing
link |
01:29:41.860
we do in a relationship context.
link |
01:29:43.260
What do we do in a relationship context?
link |
01:29:44.300
We ask other friends who are observing.
link |
01:29:46.500
We ask for other observers.
link |
01:29:48.060
This is actually just a scientific method element actually
link |
01:29:50.700
that we can't, the Heisenberg principle,
link |
01:29:52.540
I can't see it because I'm too close to it.
link |
01:29:54.540
I'm changing it by my looking at it.
link |
01:29:57.140
I need others to tell me in a policymaking context,
link |
01:30:00.500
this is why you need to hear from other people,
link |
01:30:02.660
not just the generals,
link |
01:30:03.900
because here's the thing about the generals.
link |
01:30:05.860
They generally are patriotic, hardworking people,
link |
01:30:09.540
but they're too close.
link |
01:30:11.460
They're not lying.
link |
01:30:12.300
They're too close.
link |
01:30:13.140
I just think they can do better.
link |
01:30:14.420
Yeah.
link |
01:30:17.180
How do you think about the Cold War now
link |
01:30:20.580
from the beginning to end,
link |
01:30:21.940
and maybe also with an eye towards
link |
01:30:26.020
the current potential cyber conflict,
link |
01:30:30.340
cyber war with China and with Russia,
link |
01:30:32.860
if we look sort of other kind of Cold Wars
link |
01:30:35.580
potentially emerging in the 21st century,
link |
01:30:38.820
when you look back at the Cold War of the 20th century,
link |
01:30:43.300
how do you see it and what lessons do we draw from it?
link |
01:30:46.620
It's a wonderful question
link |
01:30:48.340
because I teach this to undergraduates
link |
01:30:50.260
and it's really interesting to see how undergraduates now,
link |
01:30:54.220
almost all of whom were born after 9 11.
link |
01:30:56.620
Yeah.
link |
01:30:57.580
So the Cold War is ancient history to them.
link |
01:30:59.780
In fact, the Cold War to them is as far removed
link |
01:31:04.700
as the 1950s were to me.
link |
01:31:07.260
I mean, it's unbelievable.
link |
01:31:10.700
It's almost like World War II for my generation
link |
01:31:13.420
and Cold War for them.
link |
01:31:14.940
It's so far removed.
link |
01:31:15.780
The collapse of the Soviet Union
link |
01:31:16.820
doesn't mean anything to them.
link |
01:31:20.220
So how do you describe the Cold War to them?
link |
01:31:23.340
How do you describe the Soviet Union to them?
link |
01:31:25.500
First of all, I have to explain to them
link |
01:31:27.700
why people were so fearful of communism.
link |
01:31:30.700
Anti communism is very hard for them to understand.
link |
01:31:33.260
The fact that in the 1950s,
link |
01:31:36.460
Americans believed that communists
link |
01:31:39.060
were going to infiltrate our society
link |
01:31:40.660
and many other societies.
link |
01:31:41.820
And that after Fidel Castro comes to power in 1959,
link |
01:31:46.380
that we're going to see communist regimes
link |
01:31:47.900
all across Latin America,
link |
01:31:49.740
that fear of communism married to nuclear power.
link |
01:31:53.620
And then even the fear that maybe economically
link |
01:31:56.380
they would outpace us because they would create
link |
01:31:58.260
this sort of army of Khrushchevian builders of things
link |
01:32:02.820
and what does Khrushchev said, right?
link |
01:32:04.300
Say we're gonna catch Britain in five years
link |
01:32:06.580
and then the United States after that, right?
link |
01:32:08.620
So to explain that sense of fear to them
link |
01:32:11.540
that they don't have of those others,
link |
01:32:14.300
that's really important.
link |
01:32:15.900
The Cold War was fundamentally about the United States
link |
01:32:19.860
defending a capitalist world order
link |
01:32:22.060
against a serious challenger from communism.
link |
01:32:24.940
An alternative way of organizing everything,
link |
01:32:27.780
private property, economic activity,
link |
01:32:30.660
enterprise, life, everything,
link |
01:32:32.780
organized in a totally different way.
link |
01:32:34.300
It was a struggle between two systems.
link |
01:32:36.940
So your sense is, and sorry to interrupt,
link |
01:32:38.580
but your sense is that the conflict of the Cold War
link |
01:32:41.820
was between two ideologies
link |
01:32:44.780
and not just two big countries with nuclear weapons.
link |
01:32:48.460
I think it was about two different ways of life
link |
01:32:49.980
or two different promoted ways of life.
link |
01:32:52.620
The Soviet Union never actually lived communism.
link |
01:32:56.380
But I think my reading of Stalin
link |
01:32:58.780
is he really tried to go there.
link |
01:33:00.380
Khrushchev really believed Gorbachev
link |
01:33:02.620
thought he was going to reform the Soviet Union
link |
01:33:04.460
so you would go back to a kind of Bukhar and Lenin
link |
01:33:07.020
communism, right?
link |
01:33:08.260
So I do think that mattered.
link |
01:33:10.380
I do think that mattered enormously.
link |
01:33:11.660
And for the United States point of view,
link |
01:33:13.860
the view was that communism and fascism
link |
01:33:16.820
were these totalitarian threats
link |
01:33:18.860
to liberal democracy and capitalism,
link |
01:33:21.340
which went hand in hand.
link |
01:33:22.700
So I do think that's what the struggle was about.
link |
01:33:24.540
And in a certain way, liberal capitalism
link |
01:33:26.580
proved to be the more enduring system
link |
01:33:28.340
and the United States played a key role in that.
link |
01:33:30.980
That's the reality of the Cold War.
link |
01:33:33.580
But I think it means different things now
link |
01:33:35.220
to my students and others.
link |
01:33:38.140
They focus very much on the expansion of American power
link |
01:33:43.980
and the challenges of managing.
link |
01:33:47.180
They're looking at it from the perspective
link |
01:33:49.340
of not will we survive,
link |
01:33:51.980
but did we waste our resources on some elements of it?
link |
01:33:54.820
It doesn't mean they were against what America did,
link |
01:33:57.540
but there is a question of the resources
link |
01:33:59.260
that went into the Cold War and the opportunity costs.
link |
01:34:02.580
And you see this when you look at the sort of
link |
01:34:04.860
healthcare systems that other countries build
link |
01:34:06.740
and you compare them to the United States, race issues also.
link |
01:34:10.780
So they look at the costs,
link |
01:34:12.220
which I think often happens after a project is done,
link |
01:34:14.900
you look back at that.
link |
01:34:16.420
Second, I think they're also more inclined
link |
01:34:19.900
to see the world as less bipolar,
link |
01:34:23.460
to see the role of China as more complicated.
link |
01:34:26.700
Post colonial or anti colonial movements,
link |
01:34:29.900
independent states in Africa and Latin America,
link |
01:34:32.220
that gets more attention.
link |
01:34:34.140
So one of the criticisms now is because you forget
link |
01:34:39.260
the lessons of 20th century history
link |
01:34:42.220
and the atrocities committed under communism,
link |
01:34:45.380
that you may be a little bit more willing
link |
01:34:48.500
to accept some of those ideologies
link |
01:34:52.260
into our United States society.
link |
01:34:54.700
That this kind of, that forgetting that capitalistic forces
link |
01:35:00.100
are part of the reason why we have what we have today.
link |
01:35:05.940
There's a fear amongst some now that we would have,
link |
01:35:11.780
what would allow basically communism
link |
01:35:14.980
to take hold in America.
link |
01:35:17.700
I mean, Jordan and others speak to this kind of idea.
link |
01:35:20.740
I tend to not be so fearful of it.
link |
01:35:23.860
I think it's on the surface, it's not deep within.
link |
01:35:27.780
I do see the world as very complicated
link |
01:35:30.460
as there needing to be a role of having support
link |
01:35:34.340
for each other on certain political levels,
link |
01:35:36.500
economic levels, and then also supporting entrepreneurs.
link |
01:35:40.140
It's like that the kind of enforcing of outcomes
link |
01:35:45.460
that is fundamental to the communist system
link |
01:35:47.780
is not something we're actually close to.
link |
01:35:50.100
And some of that is just fear mongering
link |
01:35:52.020
for likes on Twitter kind of thing.
link |
01:35:56.300
If I could come in on that,
link |
01:35:57.340
because I agree with you 100%.
link |
01:35:58.660
I've spent a lot of time writing and looking at this
link |
01:36:00.940
and talking to people about this.
link |
01:36:02.980
There's no communism in the United States.
link |
01:36:04.980
There never has been, and there certainly isn't now.
link |
01:36:07.380
And I'll say this both from an academic point of view,
link |
01:36:09.980
but also from just spending a lot of time
link |
01:36:11.500
observing young people in the United States.
link |
01:36:13.380
Even those on the farthest left,
link |
01:36:14.900
take whoever you think is the farthest left,
link |
01:36:16.940
they don't even understand what communism is.
link |
01:36:18.660
They're not communist in any sense.
link |
01:36:20.620
Americans are raised in a vernacular
link |
01:36:22.420
and environment of private property ownership.
link |
01:36:24.900
And as you know better than anyone,
link |
01:36:26.660
if you believe in private property,
link |
01:36:27.780
you don't believe in communism.
link |
01:36:28.820
So the sort of Bernie Sanders kind of socialist elements,
link |
01:36:34.700
that's very different, right?
link |
01:36:36.660
And I would say some of that, not all of that,
link |
01:36:39.140
some of that does hearken back
link |
01:36:40.540
to actually what won in the Cold War.
link |
01:36:42.780
There were many social democratic elements
link |
01:36:45.020
of what the United States did
link |
01:36:46.220
that led to our winning the Cold War.
link |
01:36:48.020
For example, the New Deal was investing government money
link |
01:36:53.580
in propping up business, in propping up labor unions.
link |
01:36:57.220
And during the Cold War, we spent more money
link |
01:37:00.180
than we had ever spent in our history on infrastructure,
link |
01:37:03.660
on schools, on providing social support, social security,
link |
01:37:08.700
our national pension system being one of them.
link |
01:37:11.780
So you could argue actually that social democracy
link |
01:37:15.260
is very compatible with capitalism.
link |
01:37:17.740
And I think that's the debate we're having today,
link |
01:37:19.500
how much social democracy.
link |
01:37:20.620
I'll also say that the capitalism we've experienced
link |
01:37:22.940
the last 20 years is different
link |
01:37:24.700
from the capitalism of the Cold War.
link |
01:37:26.900
During the Cold War, there was the presumption
link |
01:37:28.980
in the United States that you had to pay taxes
link |
01:37:35.420
to support our Cold War activities,
link |
01:37:38.180
that it was okay to make money,
link |
01:37:40.340
but the more money you made, the more taxes you had to pay.
link |
01:37:43.740
We had the highest marginal tax rates
link |
01:37:45.500
in our history during the Cold War.
link |
01:37:47.860
Now, the aversion to taxes,
link |
01:37:50.620
and of course, no one ever likes paying taxes,
link |
01:37:52.260
but the notion that we can do things on deficit spending,
link |
01:37:55.060
that's a post Cold War phenomenon.
link |
01:37:58.020
That's not a Cold War phenomenon.
link |
01:37:59.540
So, so much of the capitalism that we're talking about today
link |
01:38:02.300
is not the capitalism of the Cold War.
link |
01:38:03.780
And maybe, again, we can learn that
link |
01:38:05.660
and see how we can reform capitalism today
link |
01:38:09.900
and get rid of this false worry
link |
01:38:13.500
about communism in the United States.
link |
01:38:14.900
Yeah, you know what?
link |
01:38:15.740
You make me actually realize something important.
link |
01:38:17.380
What we have to remember is the words we use
link |
01:38:20.060
on the surface about different policies,
link |
01:38:21.860
what you think is right and wrong,
link |
01:38:23.900
is actually different than the core thing
link |
01:38:28.300
that is in your blood, the core ideas that are there.
link |
01:38:33.740
I do see the United States as this,
link |
01:38:36.420
there's this fire that burns of individual freedoms,
link |
01:38:41.260
of property rights, these basic foundational ideas
link |
01:38:48.380
that everybody just kind of takes for granted.
link |
01:38:50.820
And I think if you hold on to them,
link |
01:38:54.220
if you're like raised in them,
link |
01:38:57.060
talking about ideas of social security,
link |
01:39:00.740
of universal basic income, of reallocation of resources
link |
01:39:05.740
is a fundamentally different kind of discussion
link |
01:39:08.380
than you had in the Soviet Union.
link |
01:39:10.700
I think the value of the individual
link |
01:39:13.420
is so core to the American system
link |
01:39:16.460
that you basically cannot possibly do the kind of atrocities
link |
01:39:21.300
that you saw in the Soviet Union.
link |
01:39:25.100
But, of course, you never know,
link |
01:39:26.860
the slippery slope has a way of changing things.
link |
01:39:30.620
But I do believe the things you're born with
link |
01:39:33.100
is just so core to this country.
link |
01:39:34.940
It's part of the, I don't know what your thoughts are.
link |
01:39:38.420
We are in Texas, I'm not necessarily,
link |
01:39:42.180
I don't necessarily wanna have
link |
01:39:43.420
a gun control type of conversation,
link |
01:39:45.340
but the reason I really like guns,
link |
01:39:50.380
it doesn't make any sense, but philosophically,
link |
01:39:53.980
it's such a declaration of individual rights
link |
01:39:58.620
that's so different than the conversations I hear
link |
01:40:01.780
with my Russian family and my Russian friends,
link |
01:40:04.460
that the gun, it's very possible
link |
01:40:06.420
that having guns is bad for society
link |
01:40:08.660
in the sense that it will lead to more violence.
link |
01:40:11.580
But there's something about this discussion
link |
01:40:20.260
that proclaims the value of my freedom as an individual.
link |
01:40:24.660
I'm not being eloquent in it,
link |
01:40:26.300
but there's very few debates
link |
01:40:28.740
where whenever people are saying,
link |
01:40:30.340
should you have what level of gun control,
link |
01:40:32.300
all those kinds of things,
link |
01:40:34.380
what I hear is it's a fight for how much freedom,
link |
01:40:40.500
even if it's stupid freedom, should the individual have.
link |
01:40:44.180
I think that's what's articulated quite often.
link |
01:40:46.620
I think combining your two points, which are great points,
link |
01:40:49.980
I think there is something about American individualism
link |
01:40:52.700
which is deeply ingrained in our culture and our society.
link |
01:40:56.620
And it means that the kinds of bad things
link |
01:40:58.860
that happen are different, usually not as bad.
link |
01:41:01.460
But our individualism often covers up
link |
01:41:04.300
for vigilante activity and individual violence
link |
01:41:08.900
toward people that you wouldn't have
link |
01:41:10.100
in a more collective culture.
link |
01:41:11.980
So in the Soviet Union, it was at a much worse scale
link |
01:41:14.060
and it was done by government organizations.
link |
01:41:17.220
In the United States, it's individuals,
link |
01:41:19.340
the history of lynching in our country, for example.
link |
01:41:22.020
Sometimes it's individual police officers,
link |
01:41:23.980
sometimes it's others.
link |
01:41:24.980
Again, the vast majority of police officers are good people
link |
01:41:27.300
and don't do harm to people, but there are these examples
link |
01:41:30.260
and they are able to fester in our society
link |
01:41:33.740
because of our individualism.
link |
01:41:34.780
Now, gun ownership is about personal freedom,
link |
01:41:37.940
I think, for a lot of people.
link |
01:41:39.620
And there's no doubt that in our history,
link |
01:41:42.780
included in the Second Amendment,
link |
01:41:44.420
which can be interpreted in different ways,
link |
01:41:46.300
is the presumption that people should have the right
link |
01:41:48.260
to defend themselves,
link |
01:41:49.220
which is what I think you're getting at here.
link |
01:41:51.020
That you should not be completely dependent
link |
01:41:53.300
for your defense on an entity
link |
01:41:55.780
that might not be there for you.
link |
01:41:56.860
You should be able to defend yourself.
link |
01:41:59.500
And guns symbolize that.
link |
01:42:01.620
I think that's a fair point.
link |
01:42:03.620
But I think it's also a fair point to say
link |
01:42:06.100
that as with everything,
link |
01:42:08.140
defining what self defense is, is really important.
link |
01:42:10.700
So does self defense mean I can have a bazooka?
link |
01:42:13.540
Does it mean I can have weapons that are designed
link |
01:42:16.020
for a military battlefield to mass kill people?
link |
01:42:19.020
That seems to me to be very different
link |
01:42:21.340
from saying I should have a handgun
link |
01:42:23.060
or some small arm to defend myself.
link |
01:42:26.340
That distinction alone would make a huge difference.
link |
01:42:28.620
Most of the mass shootings, at least,
link |
01:42:31.820
which are a smaller proportion of the larger gun deaths
link |
01:42:34.500
in the United States, which are larger
link |
01:42:35.540
than any other society, but at least the mass shootings
link |
01:42:37.780
are usually perpetrated by people
link |
01:42:39.100
who have not self defense weapons,
link |
01:42:41.260
but mass killing, mass killing weapons.
link |
01:42:43.460
And I think there's an important distinction there.
link |
01:42:45.660
The Constitution talks about a right to bear arms
link |
01:42:47.460
for a well regulated militia.
link |
01:42:49.100
When the framers talked about arms,
link |
01:42:51.300
that did not mean the ability to kill
link |
01:42:53.180
as many people as you wanna kill.
link |
01:42:55.140
It meant the ability to defend yourself.
link |
01:42:56.500
So let's have that conversation.
link |
01:42:57.740
I think it would be useful as a society.
link |
01:42:59.500
Stop talking about guns or no guns.
link |
01:43:02.060
What is it that we as citizens need
link |
01:43:04.180
to feel we can defend ourselves?
link |
01:43:05.740
Yes.
link |
01:43:06.740
Yeah, I mean, guns have this complicated issue
link |
01:43:09.180
that it can cause harm to others.
link |
01:43:11.060
I tend to see sort of maybe like legalization of drugs.
link |
01:43:16.100
I tend to believe that we should have the freedom
link |
01:43:19.100
to do stupid things.
link |
01:43:20.620
Yeah, so long as we're not harming lots of other people.
link |
01:43:23.420
Yes, and then guns, of course, have the property
link |
01:43:25.740
that they can be used.
link |
01:43:26.900
It's not just a bazooka I would argue is pretty stupid
link |
01:43:30.660
to own for your own self defense,
link |
01:43:32.820
but it has the very negative side effect
link |
01:43:35.380
of being potentially used to harm other people.
link |
01:43:38.540
And you have to consider that kind of stuff.
link |
01:43:42.420
By the way, as a side note to the listeners,
link |
01:43:45.180
there's been a bunch of people saying
link |
01:43:47.180
that Lex is way too libertarian for my taste.
link |
01:43:50.980
No, I actually am just struggling with ideas
link |
01:43:54.900
and sometimes put on different hats in these conversations.
link |
01:43:57.380
I think through different ideas,
link |
01:43:59.620
whether they're left, right or libertarian.
link |
01:44:02.080
That's true for gun control.
link |
01:44:03.300
That's true for immigration.
link |
01:44:04.500
That's true for all of that.
link |
01:44:05.980
I think we should have discussions in the space of ideas
link |
01:44:10.220
versus in the space of bins we put each other in labels
link |
01:44:13.020
and we put each other in.
link |
01:44:13.860
I agree 100%.
link |
01:44:15.100
And also change our minds all the time.
link |
01:44:18.700
Try out, say stupid stuff with the best of intention,
link |
01:44:23.220
trying our best to think through it.
link |
01:44:25.460
And then after saying it, think about it for a few days
link |
01:44:29.020
and then change your mind and grow in this way.
link |
01:44:32.780
Let me ask a ridiculous question.
link |
01:44:35.020
When you zoom out, when human civilization
link |
01:44:38.220
has destroyed itself and alien graduate students
link |
01:44:41.560
are studying it like three, four, five centuries from now,
link |
01:44:46.460
what do you think we'll remember
link |
01:44:47.720
about this period in history?
link |
01:44:50.520
The 20th century, the 21st century, this time.
link |
01:44:55.300
We had a couple of wars.
link |
01:44:57.900
We had a charismatic black president in the United States.
link |
01:45:02.140
We had a couple of pandemics.
link |
01:45:06.020
What do you think will actually stand out in history?
link |
01:45:11.100
No doubt the rapid technological innovation
link |
01:45:15.740
of the last 20 to 30 years.
link |
01:45:18.220
How we created a whole virtual universe
link |
01:45:21.820
we didn't have before.
link |
01:45:23.260
And of course that's gonna go in directions
link |
01:45:25.060
you and I can't imagine 50 years from now.
link |
01:45:27.460
But this will be seen as that origin moment
link |
01:45:29.360
that when we went from playing below the rim
link |
01:45:31.920
to playing above the rim, right?
link |
01:45:33.260
To be all in person to having a whole virtual world.
link |
01:45:37.140
And in a strange way, the pandemic was a provocation
link |
01:45:41.060
to move even further in that direction.
link |
01:45:43.240
And we're never going back, right?
link |
01:45:44.940
We're gonna restore some of the things we were doing
link |
01:45:46.780
before the pandemic, but we're never gonna go back
link |
01:45:48.580
to that world we were in before where every meeting
link |
01:45:50.580
you had to fly to that place to be in the room
link |
01:45:53.280
with the people.
link |
01:45:54.620
So this whole virtual world and the virtual personas
link |
01:45:57.060
and the avatars and all of that,
link |
01:46:00.020
I think that's going to be a big part
link |
01:46:02.600
of how people remember our time.
link |
01:46:03.880
Also the sort of biotechnology element of it,
link |
01:46:06.820
which the vaccines are part of.
link |
01:46:10.080
It's amazing how quickly, this is the great triumph,
link |
01:46:12.740
how quickly we've produced and distributed these vaccines.
link |
01:46:15.940
And of course there are problems with who's taking them,
link |
01:46:18.020
but the reality is, I mean, this is light speed
link |
01:46:22.180
compared to what it would have been like,
link |
01:46:23.780
not just in 1918, in 1980.
link |
01:46:26.580
Yeah, one of the, I'm sorry if I'm interrupting,
link |
01:46:28.940
but one of the disappointing things
link |
01:46:30.760
about this particular time is because vaccines,
link |
01:46:33.660
like a lot of things got politicized,
link |
01:46:37.400
used as little pawns in the game of politics,
link |
01:46:40.700
that we don't get the chance to step back fully at least
link |
01:46:44.420
and celebrate the brilliance of the human species.
link |
01:46:49.220
That's right.
link |
01:46:51.780
Yes, there are scientists who use their authority
link |
01:46:55.780
improperly, that have an ego,
link |
01:46:59.840
that when they're within institutions,
link |
01:47:05.220
are dishonest with the public
link |
01:47:06.900
because they don't trust the intelligence of the public,
link |
01:47:09.340
they are not authentic and transparent,
link |
01:47:11.320
all the same things you could say about humans
link |
01:47:13.080
in any positions of power, anywhere.
link |
01:47:15.420
Okay, that doesn't mean science isn't incredible
link |
01:47:18.980
and the vaccines, I mean, I don't often talk about it
link |
01:47:23.520
because it's so political and it's heartbreaking to,
link |
01:47:28.660
it's heartbreaking how all the good stuff
link |
01:47:31.180
is getting politicized.
link |
01:47:32.540
Yeah, that's right, and it shouldn't be,
link |
01:47:34.240
and it'll seem less political.
link |
01:47:36.580
Eating the long arc of history.
link |
01:47:37.780
Yep, it'll be seen as an outstanding accomplishment.
link |
01:47:42.600
And as a step toward whatever,
link |
01:47:44.740
maybe they're doing vaccines
link |
01:47:46.180
or something that replaces the vaccine in 10 seconds,
link |
01:47:48.620
at that point, right?
link |
01:47:49.700
It'll be seen as a step.
link |
01:47:50.700
Those will be some of the positives.
link |
01:47:52.240
I think one of the negatives they will point to
link |
01:47:54.100
will be our inability, at least at this moment,
link |
01:47:58.420
to manage our environment better,
link |
01:48:00.460
how we're destroying our living space
link |
01:48:02.740
and not doing enough even though we have the capabilities
link |
01:48:05.100
to do more to preserve
link |
01:48:06.260
or at least allow a sustainable living space.
link |
01:48:09.300
I'm confident because I'm an optimist
link |
01:48:11.740
that we will get through this
link |
01:48:12.780
and we will be better at sustaining our environment
link |
01:48:15.300
in future decades.
link |
01:48:16.700
And so in terms of environmental policy,
link |
01:48:18.820
they'll see this moment as a dark age
link |
01:48:21.540
or the beginnings of a better age, maybe as a renaissance.
link |
01:48:26.180
Or maybe as the last time most people lived on Earth
link |
01:48:31.340
when a couple of centuries afterwards
link |
01:48:33.300
we were all dissipated throughout the solar system
link |
01:48:36.300
and the galaxy.
link |
01:48:37.260
Very possible.
link |
01:48:38.100
If the local resident, hometown resident,
link |
01:48:41.120
Mr. Elon Musk has anything to do with it.
link |
01:48:45.300
I do tend to think you're absolutely right.
link |
01:48:49.140
With all this political bickering,
link |
01:48:51.020
we shouldn't forget that what this age will be remembered by
link |
01:48:55.020
is the incredible levels of innovation.
link |
01:48:57.360
I do think the biotech stuff worries me more than anything
link |
01:49:02.480
because it feels like there's a lot of weapons
link |
01:49:04.640
that could be yet to be developed in that space.
link |
01:49:06.780
But I tend to believe that,
link |
01:49:09.860
I'm excited by two avenues.
link |
01:49:11.720
One is artificial intelligence.
link |
01:49:16.900
The kind of systems we'll create in this digital space
link |
01:49:19.660
that you mentioned we're moving to.
link |
01:49:21.260
And then the other, of course,
link |
01:49:23.140
this could be the product of the Cold War,
link |
01:49:24.820
but I'm super excited by space exploration.
link |
01:49:27.620
There's a magic to humans being.
link |
01:49:30.380
And we're getting back to it.
link |
01:49:31.320
I mean, we were enthralled with it in the 50s and 60s
link |
01:49:34.380
when it was a Cold War competition.
link |
01:49:35.780
And then after the 70s, we sort of gave up on it.
link |
01:49:38.260
And thanks to Elon Musk and others,
link |
01:49:40.100
we're coming back to this issue.
link |
01:49:41.700
And I think there's so much to be gained
link |
01:49:44.860
from the power of exploration.
link |
01:49:47.580
Is there books or movies in your life,
link |
01:49:50.060
long ago or recently, that had a big impact on you?
link |
01:49:53.060
Yes.
link |
01:49:53.900
Is there something you would?
link |
01:49:54.720
Yes.
link |
01:49:56.740
My favorite novel, I always tell people this,
link |
01:49:58.740
I love reading novels.
link |
01:49:59.660
I'm a historian.
link |
01:50:01.120
And I think the historian and the novelist are actually,
link |
01:50:03.900
and the technology innovator are all actually
link |
01:50:06.240
one and the same.
link |
01:50:07.080
They're all storytellers.
link |
01:50:08.860
And we're all in the imagination space.
link |
01:50:11.460
And I'm trying to imagine the world of the past
link |
01:50:14.460
to inform us in the present for the future.
link |
01:50:16.760
So one of my favorite novels that I read,
link |
01:50:18.780
actually when I was in graduate school,
link |
01:50:20.220
is Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
link |
01:50:23.040
And it's the story of a family in L├╝beck
link |
01:50:26.220
in Northern Germany, living through the 19th century
link |
01:50:29.180
and the rise and fall of family, cycles of life.
link |
01:50:31.780
Many things we've talked about in the last couple of hours.
link |
01:50:34.420
Cycles of life, challenges of adjusting
link |
01:50:38.740
to the world around you.
link |
01:50:39.680
And it's just a very moving reflection
link |
01:50:42.420
on the limits of human agency
link |
01:50:44.300
and how we all have to understand the circumstances
link |
01:50:47.500
we're in and adjust to them.
link |
01:50:49.140
And there's triumph and tragedy in that.
link |
01:50:51.660
It's a wonderful novel.
link |
01:50:52.600
It used to be a kind of canonical work.
link |
01:50:54.260
It's sort of fallen out now.
link |
01:50:55.580
It's a big, big novel, but I'm very moved by that.
link |
01:50:59.240
I'm very moved by Tall Stories, War and Peace.
link |
01:51:01.020
I assign that every year to my students.
link |
01:51:03.020
That's a big, big book.
link |
01:51:04.740
But what Tall Story challenges
link |
01:51:07.300
is he challenges the notion
link |
01:51:08.940
that a Napoleon can rule the world.
link |
01:51:11.100
And we're all little Napoleons, right?
link |
01:51:12.720
We're all sort of thinking that we're gonna do that.
link |
01:51:15.180
And he reminds us how much is contingency, circumstance.
link |
01:51:18.180
It doesn't mean we don't have some control.
link |
01:51:21.000
You've spoke to me a little bit of Russian.
link |
01:51:23.640
Where does that come from?
link |
01:51:24.740
So your appreciation of Tall Story,
link |
01:51:26.940
but also your ability to speak a bit of Russian.
link |
01:51:28.840
Where's that from?
link |
01:51:30.040
So I speak, in addition to English,
link |
01:51:32.020
I speak reasonably well,
link |
01:51:34.500
depending on how much vodka I've had.
link |
01:51:36.820
Russian, I speak French and German.
link |
01:51:39.420
I learned those for research purposes.
link |
01:51:42.960
I learned French actually when I was in high school,
link |
01:51:44.620
Russian when I was in college,
link |
01:51:45.900
German when I was in graduate school.
link |
01:51:47.760
Now I do have family on my mother's side
link |
01:51:49.860
that's of Russian Jewish extraction,
link |
01:51:52.660
but they were Yiddish speakers by the time I met them.
link |
01:51:55.220
By the time they had gone through Germany
link |
01:51:56.700
and come to the United States,
link |
01:51:57.580
or really gone through Poland and come to the United States,
link |
01:51:59.140
they were Yiddish speakers.
link |
01:52:00.020
So there's no one really in my family who speaks Russian,
link |
01:52:02.500
but I do feel a connection there,
link |
01:52:04.060
at least a long range personal connection.
link |
01:52:07.280
Is there something to be said about the language
link |
01:52:09.660
and your ability to imagine history?
link |
01:52:12.780
Sort of when you study these different countries,
link |
01:52:17.160
your ability to imagine what it was like
link |
01:52:19.440
to be a part of that culture, part of that time?
link |
01:52:24.640
Yes, language is crucial to understanding a culture.
link |
01:52:27.580
And even if you learn the languages I have,
link |
01:52:30.620
learning Russian and German and French,
link |
01:52:32.440
it's still not the same
link |
01:52:33.280
as also being a native speaker either, as you know.
link |
01:52:36.340
But I think language tells you a lot about mannerism,
link |
01:52:39.420
about assumptions.
link |
01:52:41.940
The very fact that English doesn't have a formal U,
link |
01:52:46.780
but Russian has a formal U, right?
link |
01:52:48.380
V versus T, right?
link |
01:52:49.820
German has a formal U, Z versus D, right?
link |
01:52:53.160
So the fact that English doesn't have a formal U
link |
01:52:56.380
tells you something about Americans, right?
link |
01:52:59.140
And that's just one example.
link |
01:53:01.020
The fact that Germans have such a wider vocabulary
link |
01:53:07.300
for certain scientific concepts than we have in English
link |
01:53:10.500
tells you something about the culture, right?
link |
01:53:12.100
Language is an artifact of the culture.
link |
01:53:14.980
The culture makes the language.
link |
01:53:16.340
It's fascinating to explore.
link |
01:53:17.420
I mean, even just exactly what you just said,
link |
01:53:19.720
V, T, which is, there's a fascinating transition.
link |
01:53:26.680
So I guess in English we just have U.
link |
01:53:28.720
There's a fascinating transition that persists to this day
link |
01:53:34.760
is of formalism and politeness,
link |
01:53:38.040
where it's an initial kind of dance of interaction
link |
01:53:41.520
that's different methods of signaling respect, I guess.
link |
01:53:46.520
We don't, and language provides that,
link |
01:53:48.520
and then in the English language,
link |
01:53:51.360
there's fewer tools to show that kind of respect,
link |
01:53:53.640
which has potentially positive or negative effects
link |
01:53:56.200
on, it flattens the society where like a teenager
link |
01:53:59.040
could talk to an older person and show like a deference.
link |
01:54:04.280
I mean, but at the same time,
link |
01:54:06.920
I mean, it creates a certain kind of dynamic,
link |
01:54:09.240
a certain kind of society.
link |
01:54:10.920
And it's funny to think of just like those few words
link |
01:54:13.560
can have like a ripple effect through the whole culture.
link |
01:54:16.800
And we don't have a history in the United States
link |
01:54:18.760
of aristocracy.
link |
01:54:20.600
These elements of language reflect aristocracy.
link |
01:54:23.920
The serf would never refer to the master,
link |
01:54:26.440
even if the master is younger,
link |
01:54:27.960
it's always Voi, right?
link |
01:54:29.600
In Turgenev, it's always Voi, right?
link |
01:54:30.920
I mean, and so it's, yeah,
link |
01:54:33.640
so it tells you something about the history.
link |
01:54:34.960
That's why to your question, which was a great question,
link |
01:54:37.160
it's so crucial to try to penetrate the language.
link |
01:54:40.080
I'll also say something else,
link |
01:54:41.600
and this is a problem for many Americans
link |
01:54:43.400
who haven't learned a foreign language.
link |
01:54:44.440
We're very bad at teaching foreign languages.
link |
01:54:46.480
If you've never taught yourself a foreign language,
link |
01:54:49.920
you have closed yourself off to certain kinds of empathy
link |
01:54:53.200
because you have basically trained your brain
link |
01:54:55.640
to only look at the world one way.
link |
01:54:57.840
The very act of learning another language,
link |
01:55:00.440
I think tells your brain that words and concepts
link |
01:55:05.040
don't translate one to one.
link |
01:55:06.440
This is the first thing you realize, right?
link |
01:55:07.520
We can say, you know, these two words mean this thing,
link |
01:55:10.160
you know, these two words mean the same thing
link |
01:55:12.000
from two languages, they never mean exactly the same thing.
link |
01:55:15.200
Dosvidanya is really not goodbye, right?
link |
01:55:19.240
And there's something, you know,
link |
01:55:20.760
right now there's people talking about
link |
01:55:22.360
idea of lived experience.
link |
01:55:24.520
One of the ways to force yourself into this idea
link |
01:55:27.800
of lived experience is by learning another language,
link |
01:55:30.280
to understand that you can perceive the world
link |
01:55:32.320
in a totally different way,
link |
01:55:33.360
even though you're perceiving the same thing.
link |
01:55:35.920
And of course, the way to first learn Russian
link |
01:55:38.400
for those looking for tutorial lessons for me
link |
01:55:41.120
is just like as you said, we start by drinking lots of vodka.
link |
01:55:44.680
Yes, of course.
link |
01:55:45.520
It's very difficult to do otherwise.
link |
01:55:48.040
Is there advice you have for young people about career,
link |
01:55:51.640
about life, in making their way in the world?
link |
01:55:56.920
Yes, two things I believe that I say
link |
01:56:00.440
to a lot of talented young people.
link |
01:56:02.200
First, I don't think you can predict
link |
01:56:05.880
what is gonna be well renumerated 20 years from now.
link |
01:56:08.880
Don't pick a profession because you think,
link |
01:56:11.160
even though your parents might tell you or something,
link |
01:56:13.080
do this and you'll make money.
link |
01:56:14.200
You know, this is the scene in The Graduate
link |
01:56:16.240
where a guy tells Dustin Hoffman,
link |
01:56:17.760
go into plastics, money in plastics.
link |
01:56:20.360
We don't know.
link |
01:56:21.200
So many of my students now have parents
link |
01:56:22.480
who are telling them, bright students, you know,
link |
01:56:25.360
go to the business school.
link |
01:56:26.560
That's what's gonna set you up to make money.
link |
01:56:29.360
If you're passionate about business, yes.
link |
01:56:31.080
But don't begin by thinking you know
link |
01:56:33.560
what's gonna be hot 20 years from now.
link |
01:56:35.480
You don't know what's gonna be hot from 20 years ago,
link |
01:56:38.080
20 years from now.
link |
01:56:38.920
What should you do?
link |
01:56:39.760
This is advice number one.
link |
01:56:40.840
Find what you're passionate about.
link |
01:56:43.000
Because if you're passionate about it,
link |
01:56:45.160
you will do good work in that area if you're talented
link |
01:56:47.640
and usually passion and talent overlap.
link |
01:56:50.280
And you'll find a way to get people to pay you for it.
link |
01:56:52.800
I mean, you do it really well, people will wanna pay.
link |
01:56:54.880
That's where capitalism works.
link |
01:56:56.200
People will find it valuable, right?
link |
01:56:57.920
Whether it's violin playing, right?
link |
01:57:00.000
Or engineering or poetry, you will find,
link |
01:57:02.320
you might not become a billionaire.
link |
01:57:03.920
That involves other things.
link |
01:57:05.160
But you'll find a way to get people to pay you for it.
link |
01:57:07.400
And then the second thing is it's really important
link |
01:57:11.960
at the very beginning of your career,
link |
01:57:13.440
even before you're in your job, right?
link |
01:57:16.520
To start building your networks.
link |
01:57:18.320
But networks are not just people you're on Facebook with
link |
01:57:22.120
or Twitter with, I mean, that's fine.
link |
01:57:24.640
It's actually forming relationships.
link |
01:57:26.720
And some of that can be mediated in the digital world,
link |
01:57:28.720
but I mean real relationships.
link |
01:57:30.360
I like podcasts because I think
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01:57:31.880
they actually open up that space.
link |
01:57:33.720
I know a lot of people can listen to a podcast
link |
01:57:36.280
and find someone else who's listened to that podcast
link |
01:57:38.760
and have a conversation about a topic.
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01:57:40.440
It opens up that space.
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01:57:42.200
Build those relationships,
link |
01:57:43.800
not with people who you think will be powerful,
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01:57:45.840
but people you think are interesting
link |
01:57:48.320
because they'll do interesting things.
link |
01:57:50.480
And every successful person I know at some level
link |
01:57:54.840
had a key moment where they got where they are
link |
01:57:57.440
because of someone they knew for some other reason
link |
01:58:00.120
who had that connection.
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01:58:01.160
So use and spread your networks
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01:58:03.760
and make them as diverse as possible.
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01:58:05.200
Find people who are of a different party,
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01:58:08.080
have different interests, but are interesting to you.
link |
01:58:11.800
That's brilliant advice.
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01:58:12.640
And some of that on the passion side,
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01:58:15.160
I do find that as somebody who has a lot of passions,
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01:58:21.320
I find the second part to that is committing.
link |
01:58:27.080
Yes, that's true too.
link |
01:58:28.560
Which sucks because life is finite.
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01:58:32.000
And when you commit, you say,
link |
01:58:34.200
well, I'm never going to be good.
link |
01:58:37.960
Like when you choose one of the two passions,
link |
01:58:40.400
one of the two things you're interested in,
link |
01:58:42.400
you're basically saying, I'm letting go.
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01:58:45.320
I'm saying goodbye to.
link |
01:58:47.560
That's true.
link |
01:58:48.400
That's true.
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01:58:49.240
Which is actually what does goodbye means,
link |
01:58:50.160
not goodbye, but letting go.
link |
01:58:51.320
That's exactly right.
link |
01:58:52.520
I think that's exactly right.
link |
01:58:53.640
I think you do have to make choices.
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01:58:55.480
You do have to set priorities.
link |
01:58:56.800
I often laugh at students who tell me
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01:58:58.560
they want to have like three majors.
link |
01:59:00.560
If you have three majors, you have no major, right?
link |
01:59:02.120
I mean, so I do think you have to make choices.
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01:59:04.680
I also think it's important that whatever you do,
link |
01:59:09.920
even if it's a small thing,
link |
01:59:11.840
you always do the best you can.
link |
01:59:13.760
You always do excellent work.
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01:59:15.520
My kids are tired of hearing me say this at home,
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01:59:17.440
but I believe everything you do should be about excellence.
link |
01:59:21.200
The best you can do.
link |
01:59:22.600
If I'm going to wash the dishes,
link |
01:59:23.560
I'm going to be the best person washing the dishes.
link |
01:59:26.120
If I'm going to write a book review,
link |
01:59:28.000
I'm going to write the best possible book review I can.
link |
01:59:30.120
Why?
link |
01:59:30.960
Because you develop a culture about yourself,
link |
01:59:33.920
which is about excellence.
link |
01:59:35.480
Yeah, I was telling you offline about all the kind of stuff,
link |
01:59:39.040
Google Fiber and cable installation, all that stuff.
link |
01:59:41.420
I've been always a believer, washing dishes.
link |
01:59:45.480
People don't often believe me when I say this.
link |
01:59:47.840
I don't care what I do.
link |
01:59:50.800
I am with David Foster Wallace.
link |
01:59:52.560
I'm unborable.
link |
01:59:53.920
There's so much joy for me.
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01:59:55.840
I think for everyone, but okay, let me just speak for me,
link |
01:59:58.560
to be discovered in getting really good at anything.
link |
02:00:02.740
In fact, getting good at stuff
link |
02:00:04.280
that most people believe is boring or menial labor
link |
02:00:09.320
or impossible to be interesting,
link |
02:00:14.120
that's even more joyful to find the joy within that
link |
02:00:17.040
and the excellence.
link |
02:00:17.880
It's the Jiro dreams of sushi,
link |
02:00:19.400
making the same fricking sushi over and over
link |
02:00:22.560
and becoming a master that can be truly joyful.
link |
02:00:25.720
There's a sense of pride and on the pragmatic level,
link |
02:00:29.360
you never know when someone will spot that.
link |
02:00:31.640
And intelligent people who perform
link |
02:00:34.480
at the level of high excellence look for others.
link |
02:00:36.840
Who do you say?
link |
02:00:37.680
And it radiates some kind of signal.
link |
02:00:39.320
It's weird.
link |
02:00:40.160
It's weird what you attract to yourself
link |
02:00:43.660
when you just focus on mastery
link |
02:00:45.760
and pursuing excellence in something.
link |
02:00:48.440
Like this is the cool thing about it.
link |
02:00:51.840
That's the joy I've really truly experienced.
link |
02:00:53.960
I didn't have to do much work.
link |
02:00:55.060
It's just cool people kind of,
link |
02:00:56.760
I find myself in groups of cool people,
link |
02:00:58.840
like really people who are excited about life,
link |
02:01:01.120
who are passionate about life.
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02:01:02.600
There's a fire in their eyes.
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02:01:04.060
That's at the end of the day just makes life fun.
link |
02:01:09.000
And then also money wise,
link |
02:01:11.020
at least in this society,
link |
02:01:12.420
we're fortunate to where if you do that kind of thing,
link |
02:01:15.080
money will find a way.
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02:01:16.440
Like I have the great,
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02:01:17.780
I say this that I don't care about money.
link |
02:01:21.820
I have to think about what that means
link |
02:01:23.580
because some people criticize that idea.
link |
02:01:25.200
It's like, yeah, it must be nice to say that.
link |
02:01:28.560
Cause I have for much,
link |
02:01:30.040
many periods of my life had very little money,
link |
02:01:32.240
but I think we live in a society
link |
02:01:34.560
where not caring about money,
link |
02:01:36.400
but just focusing on your passions.
link |
02:01:38.960
If you're truly pursuing excellence, whatever that is,
link |
02:01:41.560
money will find you.
link |
02:01:42.480
That's I guess the ideal of the capitalist system.
link |
02:01:44.720
And I think that the entrepreneurs I've studied
link |
02:01:46.760
and had the chance to get to know,
link |
02:01:48.240
and I'm sure you'd agree with this,
link |
02:01:49.360
they do what they do
link |
02:01:50.960
cause they're passionate about the product.
link |
02:01:53.320
They're not just in it to make money.
link |
02:01:55.600
In fact, that's when they get into trouble
link |
02:01:57.240
when they're just trying to make money.
link |
02:01:58.440
Exactly.
link |
02:02:00.800
You said your grandmother, Emily,
link |
02:02:02.480
had a big impact on your life.
link |
02:02:04.280
She lived to 102.
link |
02:02:08.320
What are some lessons she taught you?
link |
02:02:11.520
Emily, who was the child of immigrants
link |
02:02:13.820
from Russia and Poland,
link |
02:02:15.960
who never went to college,
link |
02:02:18.320
her proudest day I think was when I went to college.
link |
02:02:21.520
She treated everyone with respect
link |
02:02:27.560
and tried to get to know everyone.
link |
02:02:28.660
She knew every bus driver in the town.
link |
02:02:31.020
She'd remember their birthdays.
link |
02:02:33.420
And one of the things she taught me is
link |
02:02:35.340
no matter how high you fly,
link |
02:02:37.940
the lowest person close to the ground matters to you.
link |
02:02:41.700
And you treat them the same way
link |
02:02:43.860
you treat the billionaire at the top of the podium.
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02:02:47.180
And she did that.
link |
02:02:48.080
She didn't just say that.
link |
02:02:49.600
Some people say that and don't do it.
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02:02:50.820
She really did that.
link |
02:02:52.100
And I always remember that it comes up in my mind
link |
02:02:56.780
at least once a week
link |
02:02:57.660
because we're all busy doing a lot of things
link |
02:03:01.300
and you either see or you even feel in yourself
link |
02:03:04.100
the desire to just, for the reasons of speed,
link |
02:03:07.220
to be short or not polite with someone
link |
02:03:09.980
who can't do anything to harm you right now.
link |
02:03:13.320
And I remember her saying to me,
link |
02:03:15.500
no, you don't, you treat everyone with respect.
link |
02:03:18.620
You treat the person you're on the phone with,
link |
02:03:21.060
customer service.
link |
02:03:22.500
You treat that person if you're talking to Jeff Bezos
link |
02:03:24.500
or you're talking to Elon Musk.
link |
02:03:27.260
And I think making that a culture
link |
02:03:29.780
of who you are is so important.
link |
02:03:31.500
And people notice that.
link |
02:03:32.460
That's the other thing.
link |
02:03:33.520
And they notice when it's authentic.
link |
02:03:34.780
Everyone's nice to the person at the bottom
link |
02:03:36.420
of the totem pole when you want to get ahead in the line
link |
02:03:38.740
for your driver's license.
link |
02:03:40.380
But are you nice to them when you don't need that?
link |
02:03:42.460
They notice that.
link |
02:03:43.300
And even when nobody's watching,
link |
02:03:45.180
that has a weird effect on you
link |
02:03:47.100
that's going to have a ripple effect and people know.
link |
02:03:51.240
That's the cool thing about the internet.
link |
02:03:52.660
I've come to believe that people see authenticity.
link |
02:03:55.280
They see when you're full of shit, when you're not.
link |
02:03:57.500
That's right.
link |
02:03:58.340
The other thing that Emily taught me,
link |
02:03:59.900
and I think we've all had relatives who have taught us this,
link |
02:04:02.140
that you could be very uneducated.
link |
02:04:04.020
She was very uneducated.
link |
02:04:05.140
She had a high school diploma,
link |
02:04:06.940
but I think she was working in a delicatessen in New York
link |
02:04:11.060
while she was in high school,
link |
02:04:12.080
or maybe it was at Gimbels or somebody.
link |
02:04:13.460
So she probably didn't take high school very seriously.
link |
02:04:14.860
She wasn't very well educated.
link |
02:04:16.020
She was very smart.
link |
02:04:17.420
And we can fall into a world
link |
02:04:19.740
where I'm a big believer in higher education
link |
02:04:21.960
and getting a PhD and things of that sort,
link |
02:04:24.380
but where we think those are the only smart people.
link |
02:04:26.540
Yeah.
link |
02:04:29.280
Sometimes those are the people,
link |
02:04:31.020
because of their accomplishments,
link |
02:04:32.380
because their egos are the ones
link |
02:04:33.740
who are least educated in the way of the world.
link |
02:04:38.940
Yeah.
link |
02:04:39.940
Least curious, and ultimately wisdom comes from curiosity.
link |
02:04:44.860
And sometimes getting a PhD can get in the way of curiosity
link |
02:04:49.660
as opposed to empower curiosity.
link |
02:04:54.180
Let me ask, from a historical perspective,
link |
02:04:58.300
you've studied some of human history.
link |
02:05:00.940
So maybe you have an insight
link |
02:05:02.800
about what's the meaning of life.
link |
02:05:07.860
Do you ever ask when you look at history, the why?
link |
02:05:10.260
Yeah, I do all the time, and I don't have an answer.
link |
02:05:13.740
It's the mystery that we can't answer.
link |
02:05:16.260
I do think what it means is what we make of it.
link |
02:05:21.940
There's no universal, every period I've studied,
link |
02:05:24.980
and I've studied a little bit of a lot of periods
link |
02:05:26.420
and a lot of a few periods,
link |
02:05:28.000
every period people struggle with this,
link |
02:05:29.420
and they don't come to,
link |
02:05:31.140
wiser people than us don't come to a firm answer,
link |
02:05:34.500
except it's what you make of it.
link |
02:05:37.060
Meaning is what you make of it.
link |
02:05:38.380
So think about what you want to care about
link |
02:05:42.240
and make that the meaning in your life.
link |
02:05:44.940
I wonder how that changes throughout human history,
link |
02:05:48.140
whether there's a constant.
link |
02:05:50.260
Like I often think,
link |
02:05:52.560
especially when you study evolutionary biology
link |
02:05:55.340
and you just see our origins from life and as it evolves,
link |
02:05:59.220
it's like, it makes you wonder,
link |
02:06:02.260
it feels like there's a thread that connects all of it,
link |
02:06:06.820
that we're headed somewhere.
link |
02:06:11.060
We're trying to actualize some greater purpose.
link |
02:06:17.420
Like there seems to be a direction to this thing,
link |
02:06:20.180
and we're all kind of stumbling in the dark
link |
02:06:22.140
trying to figure it out,
link |
02:06:24.060
but it feels like we eventually will find an answer.
link |
02:06:28.400
I hope so, yeah, maybe.
link |
02:06:30.000
I mean, I do think we all want our families to do better.
link |
02:06:35.000
We are familiar,
link |
02:06:39.560
and family doesn't just mean biological family.
link |
02:06:41.320
You can have all kinds of ways
link |
02:06:42.680
you define family and community,
link |
02:06:44.220
and I think we are moving slowly
link |
02:06:47.760
and in a very messy way toward a larger world community.
link |
02:06:53.100
To include all of biological life
link |
02:06:54.900
and eventually artificial life as well.
link |
02:06:58.680
Yeah, so to expand the lesson to the advice
link |
02:07:05.680
that your grandmother taught you,
link |
02:07:08.040
is I think we should treat robots and AI systems
link |
02:07:12.160
good as well, even if they're currently not very intelligent
link |
02:07:15.480
because one day they might be.
link |
02:07:16.960
Right, right, I think that's exactly right,
link |
02:07:18.580
and we should think through,
link |
02:07:21.760
exactly as a humanist how I would approach that issue.
link |
02:07:24.520
We need to think through the kinds of behavior patterns
link |
02:07:27.760
we want to establish with these new forms of life,
link |
02:07:31.280
artificial life for ourselves also, to your point,
link |
02:07:35.800
so we behave the right way, so we don't misuse this.
link |
02:07:39.720
We started talking about Abraham Lincoln,
link |
02:07:42.280
ended talking about robots.
link |
02:07:44.600
I think this is the perfect conversation, Jeremy.
link |
02:07:47.040
This was a huge honor.
link |
02:07:48.960
I love Austin, I love UT Austin,
link |
02:07:52.360
and I love the fact that you would agree
link |
02:07:54.400
to waste all your valuable time with me today.
link |
02:07:56.600
Thank you so much for talking to me.
link |
02:07:57.880
I can't imagine a better way to spend a Friday afternoon.
link |
02:08:00.440
This was so much fun, and I'm such a fan of your podcast
link |
02:08:03.120
and delighted to be a part of it.
link |
02:08:04.800
Thank you.
link |
02:08:06.440
Thanks for listening to this conversation
link |
02:08:07.920
with Jeremy Suri, and thank you to Element, Monkpac,
link |
02:08:11.920
Belcampo, Four Sigmatic, and Asleep.
link |
02:08:15.840
Check them out in the description to support this podcast.
link |
02:08:19.260
And now, let me leave you with some words
link |
02:08:21.440
from Franklin D. Roosevelt, FDR.
link |
02:08:24.960
Democracy cannot succeed unless those
link |
02:08:27.320
who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.
link |
02:08:31.560
The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
link |
02:08:35.960
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.