This episode 10. Remember what a big deal turning 10 was, right, birthdays in general, but 10, 10 was real.
Ten was a march into teenage years. It meant that you were exiting whatever childhood was meant that the mirch, the gifts, we're going to probably get a little bit better. A little bit better. You started getting things like cash. Occasionally your parents would let you watch a PG 13. And then when mom was out of the house, an R rated movie, I'm projecting right there because my parents were divorced by the time I was eight. Painful story scarred me the rest of my life.
Thanks, Dad. Anyways, 10:00, this episode is not as important, but it is episode 10. And it's important in one sense that I think this is our best interview ever. And we've crowded out a lot of room for this interview and are cutting out some of the other stuff we typically do and are just going to do office hours and then bust into our interview with Sam Harris, philosopher neuroscientists and a legitimate philosopher and neuroscientist has undergraduate and doctorates in those fields.
And he's also the author of five New York Times best sellers. I was on his podcast several weeks ago because I'm kind of a big deal, kind of a big deal.
And this guy is a scary blue flame thinker and he has one of those tricks.
I don't know if he does it where he he has this very, like, warming lullabye voice and he speaks very slowly, Scott.
And you just sort of hang on his every word, but his words are very thoughtful. My sense is he really kind of looks at issues and wrestles in many ways. I just thought this was one of our better, if not best interviews that I've been involved in a long time. So we wanted to give it its full purchase. So before we got started, a quick reminder, as I whore myself out in linear podcasting or nonlinear podcasting, tonight, our third episode of numerous, you know, most TV show on Vice TV tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Aswat Damodaran, who I think is the best teacher in the world, talking about markets and if they're overvalued or not, we'll also be talking about media and dating in a post covid world. And I'll be doing a rant on the biggest unlock, which we've talked about here, and that is Amazon vaccination of their supply chain.
So with that with that, let's bust right into office hours. Here we go. Here we go. First question.
Hey, property Ryongchon here calling in from Salt Lake City, Utah. I wanted to ask you a question around all these stimulus packages. So there's a lot of numbers being thrown around, a lot of trillions of dollars. You highlighted it a little bit in a previous podcast. But ultimately, what does this mean for our kids and grandkids? You know, can you just really print trillions and trillions of dollars? What are the long term effects from it?
Everybody's talking about the short term and saving the economy in the short term. I don't understand what happens long term. Please take some light on that or at least what your your two cents are in terms of how does this affect us long term. Thanks.
So, Ryan from Salt Lake, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess you are Mormon, that you're a white Mormon dude living in Salt Lake and that you're a good skier.
Unbelievable, inappropriate stereotypes. I feel triggered, by the way, by the way, I fucking love Mormons, I was raised by a single mother and the Church of Latter day Saints in Westwood took me in. My best friend Brett is or was and is a Mormon. And he and I hung out. I played on their sports teams and they were nothing but wonderful and generous to me. And I found that a focus on family and an absence of alcohol and a focus on sports and country and success and education, that there's this cartoon of Mormons on cable TV of being polygamists and strange.
And I'm sure that that is a part of it. But the part I was subjected to where these incredibly generous, gracious, loving people. So, Ryan, anyways, no idea if you're Mormon. I'm making an assumption because we live in Salt Lake. But anyway, that's not your question. The stimulus package, I think the stimulus package should be more accurately called a hate crime against future generations. And that is we have decided that we are going to steal time and work from our unborn children and grandchildren, because money, if you think about it, is nothing but the transfer of work and time from one entity to the other.
If I give you money, I'm effectively reducing the amount of time and work you need to apply to other means of getting the requisite funds to buy food, etc.. It's a transfer of time and work and we have decided that we want our kids and grandkids to spend less time with their kids, to have less free time such that we can flatten the curve of rich people here. It is outrageous in my viewpoint what is going on. This is Madoff Times 2000.
They didn't want to put Representative Katie Porter on the Oversight Committee of the Democrats. Why Representative Porter brings this incredible attribute called math to the oversight. And we're going to find out that this was an enormous abuse of the Commonwealth. The impact supposedly and I don't fully understand this. I was a graduate student instructor in micro macro economics, but I still don't fully understand how you can print this much money and not have inflation. Where you do have is asset inflation, but product prices are going down, which holds inflation kind of steady.
But at some point when the interest on our debt, if interest rates go up and at some point they will supersedes everything else in terms of discretionary spending, right now, the interest payments on our debt are greater than the cost of our military. Then it crowds out all discretionary spending and all spending and investment we can make and things like infrastructure, education, and you end up with a shitty society or you end up like Japan, where it doesn't grow for 20 or 30 years.
When I went to business school, graduate institutions are the ultimate luxury item. Who could afford the luxury item? In the early 90s, Japanese 20 percent of my business school class were kids from Japan. Now, 20 percent of the class or 11 percent of the class actually at NYU Stern are Chinese nationals because they are printing money, they're killing it. And Japan has been in sort of recession, stagflation, whatever you want to call low growth for 20 years or 30 years.
And we might be doing that by borrowing money against a future, potentially setting ourselves up for reckless deficits. So I find it an absolute I find a criminal now the economic impact. We'll see if it saves us from a depression. You could argue that it was worthwhile. I think we could have saved us from a depression with a lot less reckless spending than this, a lot more effective spending, specifically putting money in the hands of households. But the fear rine, the fear is this results in inflation and such extraordinary debt.
It crowds out the type of investments we need to maintain our culture of innovation, and that is investments in infrastructure, investments and innovation, investments and research.
Thank you for the call, Ryan. Love the Mormons. Love the Mormons.
Next question, is God dead here in Toronto? Big fan. Thanks for all that you do. Got a question for you. So you spoken a lot about new investments in the home due to more work from home, live from home, exercise, be at home, whatever life situation. So I buy a fancier TV, a nicer couch. What do you think happens with the smart home? The smart home has huge market promise a few years ago and the reality hasn't exactly panned out.
Some tech one offs have done well and smart access, smart thermostats, smart speakers. But the grand vision of a smart, home connected, intelligent house never really emerged. Do you think that this new surge of focus on the home might enable new investments in the smart home? Or will people be satisfied with basic consumer home improvement? I guess my question is, are there any key new use cases powered by a smart, connected home that are now valuable as we shift more of our professional and social lives?
How and if so, do you think that the tech giants will once again focus on the smartphone? Thank you, Deb, from Toronto.
A very thoughtful question. So I would push back and I would say the future of this smart hub home.
Brought to you by IBM or Cisco or all these shitty little bucket shop companies control for and all the shit that has confused your home, and if you buy a nice home, you pay some what's called a trunk slammer to come and wire your house for one hundred grand sets that he has to come out every two weeks because that fucking thing doesn't work. And I speak from experience here. I think it's happening. But I think the smart hub is now brought to you by Amazon, specifically Alexa.
And that is I think voice is taking over the home and is the smart hub or the hub is in the cloud, if you will. And Alexa is is the agent for it in the home. And if you think about this, there's been very few missteps on the part of Apple. Probably their biggest misstep of the last 20 years was seeding voice to Alexa. The home is so dramatically important for the reasons you talked about. We're spending more time at home.
We're going to spend more money in our home, more work at home. But it's really the thing that's unique about the home. It's it's the only place where our smartphone is not a fifth appendage, and that is our digital interface to the world is not through our smartphone, but it is going to be through our voice. We don't walk around with a phone in our pocket, typically at home or in our hand, but we're starting to see voice permeate into all kinds of other areas.
And you could see how this will be kind of the helm of the bobsled for health care. Alexa, you know, get me an appointment at a dermatologist, Alexa, around food ordering, leaving town for two weeks.
Stop our grocery delivery. Alexa dinner party for eight. One is a vegan. As of the second quarter of twenty nineteen, US smart speaker ownership rose to seventy six million and about two thirds of U.S. households now have a smart device or a voice device. We're starting to see payments and the market is supposed to be about six hundred and twenty billion dollars, the same size as groceries. So U.S. grocery is about to be the same size as your smart home.
So smart home is booming. Deb, I think Alexa is the early winner. Amazon has more open job positions in their voice group than Google does at all of its firm, which gives you a sense of the kind of staggering investment that Amazon is trying to make and voice. I mean, Amazon, it just blows my mind, whether it's cloud, whether it's ecommerce or know the technology, the future voice, there are a number one. So it's only going to get bigger from here.
And if I were coming out of college or an investor, I would be trying to figure out a million different ways to get into the voice echoes system.
Devrim Cerrato, love the Canadians, love the Canadians. Next question.
Hey, Scott, my name is Scott and I'm one of your Canadian friends up in Calgary, Alberta. I've heard your takes on the changes to education and how distance learning could become more popular because of covid-19. But are we overlooking the critical socialization that happens in schools? How do we create these opportunities for socialization while moving to a more digital education delivery model? Wow, that's a big one.
All right. Thank you, Scott from Calgary, another Canadian. So it depends on what you're talking about. Socialization for K through 12 is paramount. I have two sons and one of them is is struggling, is not living his best life right now. And I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of socialization that he really misses his friends at school and misses some of the boundaries and behavioral modification that being around other kids sort of trains.
And I worry that a lot of kids are at home in their development, has been stunted or arrested, cauterised with other fancy word I can say. So I think it's a big deal K through 12. And I think it's part of the reason that majority, unlike most universities, which I do not believe will open in person. I do think you're seeing K through 12 schools as they are in France reopen and they're enduring a certain amount of affection.
Supposedly, France has already identified sixty covid-19 infections from the reopening of schools, but it basically said it's worth it. We're going to be doing a lot of those measurements around what level of infection is worth it. And I think School K through 12 opening, most societies are going to decide that it's worth it. There was such a a really jarring image of these beautiful French kids in a classroom, all with a mask and a face shield on. And you just thought, wow, that is just jarring about what this has come to, was so sad.
And then all I had to do was think about, OK, there's that. And then French kids, you know, are eighteen or nineteen and whatever was seven years ago were put in uniform to go dodge bullets or not. So I guess it's all a matter of perspective and we'll get used to this and this too shall pass. But this legislation is hugely important at the college level. The socialization is a bit of a luxury item, and that is people who have cars and can drink and can get around are going to socialize.
They're going to figure out, understand, taking. They'll figure it out on their own, but it won't be a safe or joyous or fun place to socialize is at the Rose Bowl. When I watched UCLA beat USC or go to parties or in the dorms. Unfortunately, I think that's going to become a bit of an accouterment of wealthy people. I think there'll be certain universities that put in place the protocols and the distancing and have the resources for the traditional fall leaves Dead Poets Society like experience.
But the real damage here and we got to think about a socialization among our younger students, and they will I think they will get that as we decide to send them back because the risks are worth it. Universities are going to be hugely disrupted because the experience will be severely diminished, which will land people to focus on the education part. And what we are realizing to assume is that the education has been vastly overrated. So socialization, hugely important, will get back there with K through 12.
The experience will be likely diminished and catalyzed greater scrutiny at universities, which will is going to result in enormous disruption at the university level. I was so long winded.
Go get it. We'll be right back. We love your questions, if you'd like to submit one, please email a voice recording to officers at Section four dot com. And now on to Sam Harris. Russell's complex issues down to the ground. This is our best interview yet.
Sam, where do we find you? I am at home hunkered down for what is this month.
Number three, let's bust bust right into it. Host Korona. When you think about nation's economic constructs and norms, who do you think are the biggest winners and losers or where are the biggest changes going to register in our society post-Katrina?
Well, I think the biggest loser I mean, I guess this could be a symptom of my being too close to the problem. But the biggest loser is the United States at the moment. I mean, when you just look at the utter failure to help lead the world out of this crisis, I mean, we're the most conspicuous case of just ineptitude in the face of the crisis. We had conservatively, we had a full month to prepare. We really had probably two to prepare.
We knew this was coming. Even if you're going to be, you know, generous and say this wasn't clear until the end of January, it was it was absolutely clear then. And we spent February just bickering over politics and trying to relearn basic facts of epidemiology. And we watched the complete implosion of our institutions and and institutions that you wouldn't think would be vulnerable to implosion and would be would stand totally above the fray of politics. You know, like like the CDC.
I mean, the CDC still can't get its act together. We still have, you know, Dr. Berk's who's running the the covid task force. And she's another one of these characters who, you know, for whatever her virtues previously, she seems to have come into Trump's orbit. You know, she's losing, it seems, integrity and gravitas by the second, which happens to everyone in Trump Trumpington. But, you know, she's saying she can't trust anything that comes out of the CDC.
I mean, this is this is just astonishing that we're in this situation. So I would I would put the U.S. as the place we really need to understand what happened here. Maybe, you know, once we have the luxury of being able to look back and do a postmortem on it. But it's quite alarming how fully we failed to perform here on on every level.
What do you think are the long term? Are there scars? Is this an opportunity for reflection? What happens? Let's let's buy into your notion and I think most people do that we did not handle this well. What impact does that have on us? What are the what are the unlocks that might be waiting for us as we come to grips with some of the ugly truth here? Or does this just permanently scar us and kind of signal the end of, you know, that beacon on a hill, if you will?
Well, everything depends on what we do from now on. You know, and there are obviously some very important dates on the calendar. And what we do in November around the election is of enormous significance. If we double down on Trump, you know, despite who he is and who we know him to be and the last few years and the last few months, how he's handled this crisis, that will be one world. They'll be a very different world than one in which we don't re-elect him because we recognize the gravity of the risk.
You know, his incompetence, you know, if nothing else imposes on all of us, you know, just a massive question mark about I think we have a real opportunity here to create a new social contract and to recognize that there are whole parts of our society that need a significant overhaul. And, you know, we need to create a a digital infrastructure Manhattan Project that two years out, we could look back and say, well, this was an enormous opportunity and we seized it and we we rectified many problems that were problems already in this just you know, this just hastened the coming wave of of, you know, political discontent and, you know, forced us to deal with things like wealth inequality, et cetera.
But, you know, I'm worried we're not going to be able to do it because political partisanship and social media and just the ubiquitous distrust in institutions like, you know, the media at the moment, this has shattered our shared reality. We just don't share a reality now. And it certainly hasn't helped that the left I mean, so you have, you know, two ends of the spectrum, obviously. I mean, you have what you know, pornographers like Rupert Murdoch and Alex Jones and Trump himself have done to our public conversation.
And the harm has been enormous. And all the lies and the conspiracy theories, they just make our situation very precarious. But the left, for its part and by left here, I don't mean the extreme left. I mean even The New York Times has become unhinged in its own way. And this you know, we have this new religion of weakness that has has made real. Journalism very hard to protect and, you know, I feel like you were watching Notre Dame burn and the right is busy swapping in gasoline for water in the hoses, and the left is complaining that there are not enough women or people of color in the fire department.
And I mean, it's not quite the same error. But, you know, both sides are making it almost impossible to marshal an intelligent response to very real problems.
You talked about certain sectors. There's an opportunity for overhaul. Where would you start? Give us an example of sectors that require an overhaul. And what do you mean by that?
Well, we're just encountering and again, I don't have any special, you know, privileged access to this. I just I'm just reading the news like, you know, most people. But it is just astounding that we just haven't fully modernized. I mean, you know, you and I spent a lot of time noticing what Silicon Valley does. And and it's very easy to to sense that we've made much more progress than we have. But when you look at just, you know, the the computer infrastructure of institutions like the CDC.
Right. I mean, it's clearly this is not being run like Google or Facebook or any, you know, actually high tech, you know, profitable company. It's just we just have not invested in a 21st century infrastructure. I mean, the fact that we can't even produce cotton swabs at this point when we need them suggests that so many things are broken. So this has been a stress test that we have failed, I mean, with the fact that we can't figure out how to get money to people in a way more sophisticated and more timely than mailing them checks once they show us their tax returns.
Right. I mean, it's just we're not even targeting the right people. So we need to to think this through really from, you know, the stud's inward. And it does strike me as a massive opportunity. If we could get out of our own way and stop. I mean, the only way to seize the opportunity, obviously, is to be able to talk about a shared set of facts. Right. We have to acknowledge the same reality.
And if we can't actually have a conversation about what's happening in the world, it's very hard to see how we converge on on real solutions. And that's on the most basic level. Our conversation is failing. And, you know, obviously I locate Trump at the at the center of that bottleneck. But, you know, that the problem is is also far larger than just him if we try to go to the root cause or one of the root causes.
Despite Pandemic's having killed more people than wars or violence, we've delegitimized and defunded our government institutions. Isn't it the very root of this that we're sort of you get you get the government and the institutions you deserve having? We sort of lost the script in terms of human and financial capital allocation. Is isn't it? Or don't we need a fundamental rethink around what's important and how we allocate capital? Isn't that isn't that a decent place? Yeah.
Yeah. And we need to understand how difficult that is to do or how badly placed we are to feel the need to do that. I mean, we we are social primates that harbor some rather obvious biases and biases that we can only correct. For once, we recognize them and recognize how non optimal they are. I mean, so, for instance, we heavily discount the significance of of the future, you know, our future, even our own future.
So we heavily discount the well-being of our future selves, but we discount the well-being of our children in the future. We we heavily discount the well-being of people who are far away from us, just, you know, physically far away in space as though that had any ethical significance. And pandemics are also just much harder for us to marshal an emotional response to it, because you're talking about an invisible threat as opposed to something that is either that we can see and really intuitively understand the physics of, you know, I mean, there are people who are still trying to get their head around the germ theory of disease.
Right. It's just not intuitive that this invisible thing that, you know, whatever it is, one 404, the width of a human hair can, you know, spell the difference between you being able to breathe. And not so we know we're badly placed to respond to this kind of thing. And when you're asking people to make significant sacrifice, you know, or at least perceived sacrifice, you know, on some level, it's just these are just numbers that, you know, people don't have a strong feeling about.
But when you're saying we need to spend, you know, an order of magnitude more, you know, every year to prepare for this, what seems like a hypothetical threat is asking a lot of people who are, you know, captivated by the one story that has a an identifiable protagonist. Right. You know, they don't really care about hundreds of thousands of people suffering a specific fate, but they really do care about a little girl or boy who gets, you know, stuck up in a tree or falls down a well.
And so we just know that our emotional hardware is really badly coupled to our ability to reason effectively about, you know, how we should prioritize risk. And we just have to figure out how to correct for that. And people can't reliably correct for that on a minute by minute basis within their own lives. We have to correct for it in a kind of sidebar conversation we have with ourselves and then enshrine that wisdom into our laws and our tax codes and our institutions.
So so we don't have to rethink it or at least our rethinking of it happens at the level of, you know, serious, sober people bringing to bear the best arguments and the best data on each one of these topics. We're just not in that spot most of the time. And on social media, we're almost never in that spot. And we have a president who doesn't even know that spot exists. And so we are public conversation about risk and priorities and what is happening in the world.
And what is likely to happen is at a level that is just tracking facts almost by accident.
Do you think there might be opportunities like Alex Jones is an example? He his message resonates with X number of people, but because it is so inflammatory and creates so much rage, which translates to engagement for a platform, and their business model is based on engagement, which backward integrates to content that is rage worthy there by Facebook, has an economic interest in taking that content that registers traction of X and amplifying it for him. You know, do you think that we would we would both respect First Amendment rights, we would give people the audience they deserve instead of the audience they're getting because they're raging people and put in place some sort of taxation system or some sort of mandate around a business model where we'd say, OK, we respect First Amendment rights, but we don't respect companies or we're going to tax companies that EPA's mission or these emissions or these externalities where they are giving the most outrageous, the most enraging content, more oxygen than they have earned on the merits of their own ideas.
Do you think there's a potential solution in there?
Yeah, well, I do think most. Of what ails us is a story of bad incentives, right? If we can work out the incentives, we have canceled most of what seems to be wrong with human nature. And so, yeah, I mean, you've just hit upon what I really put at the bottom of most of our digital problems, which is the the advertising model and the bad incentives it sets up. So, yeah, you know, I think the the principle of click bait and the need for even the most respectable organs of journalism to rely to some degree I mean, even if they have subscribers, there still is still, you know, rolling in to boats and trying to extract as much ad revenue as possible.
In most cases, I think that need has created the truly perverse incentive, which, as you say, has has led to to amplifying messages that shouldn't be amplified and just keeping the outrage machine running. So, yeah, I do think that ultimately, if we have a healthy Internet at some point it will be because we have recognized that on some level you get what you pay for and, you know, the Netflix model wins over the Facebook model.
But, you know, again, the path from here to there is is going to be bumpy.
So imagine imagine Trump gets re-elected. Where do you think we are in two to three years, where do you think America's position in the world is? Where do you think the notion of a liberal democracy? When I say liberal democracy, I mean progressive, but the purposeful insertion of institutions that are meant to slow us down. Have you thought through different scenarios?
Well, in truth, it's almost too depressing to think about it. I think if we reelect him, we will have put on some level the final nail in the coffin on American influence in the world. I mean, we will just have told the rest of civilized humanity to go fuck itself and declared ourselves masochists and sadists, you know, simultaneously with respect to the the most important problems that humanity faces, I we face. Well, we were basically saying, all right, we don't care about climate change.
We don't even believe in climate change. And even if we did, where would we care more about, you know, 75000 coal miners than we care about the billions of people who will suffer its impacts? You know, first and worst, you know, every other problem of consequence, both those we know about or should know about or should have known about, like, you know, the problem of emerging pandemics, the wars we may be tempted to fight in the near term.
And it seems fairly clear that we're stumbling into a Cold War, at least with China. So, you know, what kinds of minds do you want to have in charge when it comes time to wonder whether we're now in a shooting war or soon to be in a shooting war with with China putting Trump and the kinds of people he attracts into his orbit in charge for all of that, you know, a second time, you know, the sky's the limit on how bad that could all get.
But I think it'll just be clear, I think, to the rest of the world that they have lost their main collaborator. I mean, we were when Trump came on board, we were the lone superpower. Now we're we're seeing the rise of China in several ways. At least it's you know, it's aspiring to challenge our status as a superpower. It's certainly challenging our influence in many ways. And we're in a kind of Thucydides trap with them, or at least there's concern that we are.
You have, as you know, this this weakening power, which is us and a rising power. And as Graham Allison points out in his book by that title, the history has is fairly gloomy with respect to the the range of outcomes there. So, again, having a a dangerously selfish and unethical and almost supernaturally dishonest imbecile in charge for a second term, given the kinds of challenges we face and given that he's his track record is only been to alienate our friends and to embolden our enemies.
I mean, just doubling down on that is an error, political error of such catastrophic proportions. You know, I have no idea what the world looks like in a few years. If we do that is just it's really just awful.
You're I'm not I am definitely a half glass empty kind of guy. And I think you're more right in the middle, at least when I listen to your podcast. Do you think there's opportunity for a younger generation, the GenZE millennials who are supposed to be so fragile that they are observing what's going on here and might see the cooperation and that our superpower as a species being cooperation and that pandemics don't care about border walls? Do you think we might be maturing a generation that approaches problems differently?
I don't know if I would think of it in in terms of those cohorts. I mean, I guess I'm I'm not I don't feel in touch enough with each of them to generalize about how they might meet this challenge. But I do worry that if you put in those terms, I worry that there's a there's just a pervasive lack of respect for institutions and institutional knowledge and the kind of conversation we need to have with ourselves, you know, both in the present and with respect to the past and future.
I mean, we're there's no group of human beings that can get a lot of things done. Right. As you know, any thousand group of thousand people, it's still hard to get much of anything that civilization requires done. If we reboot successfully, it will be because we have modernized our institutions to a degree that they know they're agile enough and they're they're wise enough to respond to whatever our top 10 problems really are, not just what deranged people might think they are.
So, you know, we have to get the religious fundamentalists sidelined for the these important conversations and we have to get the weakness police sidelines. And we. We need, you know, just to actually have honest conversations about real risk and what it's going to take to mitigate it. And so, I mean, you know, forget we're in the middle of a pandemic that is cratering the global economy. Just look at this as an opportunity cost. Right.
What are all the problems that have not gone away? That we're still enormous problems in December before anyone outside of China had heard of this novel coronavirus, all these problems are still here. I mean, the problem of you know, I've got a few podcasts I recorded on the threat of nuclear war that I haven't even released because, you know, who wants to hear about nuclear war right now? But I know I'm sitting on two hours of conversation with William Perry, who, you know, is has never been more worried about the threat of us having an accidental nuclear war.
I mean, this is like, you know, in his world, we're in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, essentially. And we had no one has the bandwidth to even think about it. It's amazing the situation we're in and what is actually taking up our bandwidth in terms of our public conversation. And so I don't have an answer for you, much less a hopeful one. But, you know, there is no in principle, there is no limit to how creatively and intelligently we could respond to these problems.
I mean, the only barrier is honest reflection and conversation and a sorting out of our priorities. I mean, we have all of the intellectual resources we need to solve our problems. And if we don't have them right now, we can get them. You know, the final chapter of human progress is not only not written, it's not even imagined. We we seem capable of dropping the baton. I mean, if you look at human history as a relay race of sorts where, you know, each generation passes the baton to the next and we keep racing into a future of, you know, again, unimaginable progress.
Right. And there's just no telling how good things could get for us if we sort out our norms and shore up our politics and let science do its thing and just celebrate human ingenuity and creativity in a context of, you know, real political freedom and collaboration. There is no limit to how good things can get. We're on the cusp of something here. I mean, we're living through a time. It's a unique time. It's a time where we do have the capacity to ruin everything.
Now, that was not true 100 years ago, 100 years ago, no one had the capacity to ruin everything. As our technology gets more and more powerful and we don't get commensurately more wise, we get into this this unhappy bottleneck where the risk of us screwing up everything is growing and we remain unchanged psychologically and socially. Or we even you know, in recent years we seem to have regressed and we find ourselves in the middle of a vast psychological experiment with things like social media, where we're just, you know, rolling the dice with new ways of interacting, where the outcome of the experiment is completely uncertain.
Right. And so, yeah, we do have to get through this period. But on the other side of it, you know, I'm incredibly optimistic about, you know, what awaits us if we navigate this precipice well in the next two decades, say, but where there seems like a very important year, I mean, there's no question.
So let's talk about that important year. And do you or have you run across any of your guests that you've had? You feel I've had some novel ideas, big or small, you know, as a service corps, a rethinking of tax structure, a decision to never go back to the emissions levels we were at any smaller, big ideas that you think we should be actively considering, trusting that the world isn't what it is, it's what we make of it coming out of us?
Well, there are many things in the air here that surround the problem of wealth inequality and its political consequences, which I more and more people, you know, long before covid, I was beginning to worry about wealth inequality. Just when is it that it will become politically and ethically unsustainable in our society? And I'm concerned that this pandemic will accentuate the problem before it resets it somehow. And there are ways to reset it that can be incredibly painful and there are ways to reset it that I think could inspire everyone.
And, you know, obviously we need to find that that other path. So, yeah, for instance, I was speaking to this Yale professor, Daniel Markovits, about meritocracy. He's got this book, The Meritocracy Trap. I haven't released that podcast yet, but it's coming. And, you know, he's he's just putting into question the whole notion of meritocracy. It's a fairly deep criticism of just what's happening and what has been happening for now many decades in higher education and the way in which, you know, it has become a machine for accentuating inequality and the need to reset some of our norms there.
And, yeah, I mean, I do think that if we can't get to a place where most of us feel like there's a you know, they have skin in the game and they have an upside for the success of our society, if we can't get there, I just don't see how we solve any of these other problems. And so inequality and the perceived lack of opportunity, even where it's, you know, even where it may exist, insofar as it seems not to exist at, say, the nearest pain point, I think we we need to come out of this crisis having solved.
Yeah, it feels as if one of the most disappointing things and we we knew the numbers, but to see it happen is especially jarring that in the wealthiest nation in the world. Half our population can't go thirty year, much less 90 days without a paycheck, without feeling food insecure, you just think, well, how did we get here? How did it happen such that people are are living on such a razor's edge in the wealthiest economy or in the wealthiest country in history?
Is there an opportunity? So I've been thinking a lot about education. Is there an opportunity that we might see the rivers of the of the flight out of private schools? You're in Los Angeles, writes in. So Winward Westlake, you know, Harvard, Westlake, these private schools have seen I went to University High School, a public high school in West Los Angeles, I was there in the late 70s when we started busing and integration and basically any white kid with wealthy parents left.
And it started, I think, a downward spiral of a lack of empathy and kind of set the stage for continued cat or greater casting of our society. Is there an opportunity that way? If it's if we're relegated to some classes that people might decide at forty eight thousand dollars a year or whatever, Winward, are Harvard Westlake charges resume classes that there might be a reversion to public schools because if you're going to get mediocre resume classes for your 15 year old, you might as well pay free versus eight thousand.
Is there an opportunity that we might see the rivers of flight of not only financial capital, but human engagement from the public school system where income classes and demographic groups mixed, which has, I think you would agree, a lot of benefit. Could we see a huge reinvestment in our public schools? Well, I would certainly hope so.
I think just a first principals approach to this. It could have landed us here long ago. I mean, it just we have to get to the point where we realize that there is nothing more important than education. Right. And you know, the right then the question is, you know, what is the right kind of education? But the idea that teaching kids is a low status job and and a low a low wage job in our society. I mean, that's just that is the the the founding travesty here.
Right. That that begets so many other problems. And we need to figure out how to flip this situation where it is a highly competitive, coveted job, attracting the know some of the most talented people in our society. And yet I don't know how we would get there. But the idea that there's so little investment made in education, and it's not to say that we don't spend a lot of money on it, but the money we spend seems to be spent terribly in many cases.
So there's real opportunity for innovation. But yeah, I mean, your initial comment is about just how close people are to to being in extremis here financially. I mean, one of the details that was shocking to come out of the first weeks of lockdown was that the real problems in closing schools is not the fact that we will then be failing to educate kids or educate them. Well, thereafter is that having schools open is the only thing that guarantees a significant number of kids a decent meal that day in our society, the way we think about inequality and try to correct for it.
I mean, the place clearly the place to correct for it is not at the you know, the Harvard admissions meeting. Right. Where they're trying to figure out who to let in and how to let in more people who have been socially disadvantaged for the last 18 years. Clearly, we need resources to come in earlier and at the earliest point. What would you run into, though, among wealthy people? And this is in Silicon Valley and, you know, anywhere else really where wealth is has concentrated is a fundamental distrust of government doing anything.
Right. Right. So it's like, why should I pay more taxes if, you know, the government's just going to essentially burn up the money in a bonfire or, you know, by, you know, 4000 dollar toilet seats or, you know, keep teachers who are completely incompetent, employed for the rest of their lives. You know, I understand that skepticism or that despair, but the answer to that is not for the rich people to keep all of their money and to to shave off, you know, a tiny percentage of it for philanthropy.
The answer is, is better government. I mean, there are certain problems that only government can respond to. And it can't be a matter of a few billionaires riding in to the rescue. I mean, we need effective government, as you know. Certainly if the pandemic has taught us anything, it should have taught us that. And, you know, for all the good Bill Gates is doing, Bill Gates is not a replacement for the CDC.
Right. We need an effective CDC. So all the people who read too much of Ayn Rand need to understand that there are certain things the market can't do for us. And I mean, obviously, anything that the market can do best, we want to do best and let's privatize the hell out of all of those occasions. But there are clearly places where there is no substitute for an effective government and we need to fund that government. And our allergy to redistribution is going to have to be cured here in the near term.
You had a great podcast. You talked about the. Economy and the price we're willing to pay to reopen the economy, give us your viewpoint there. Well, I mean, there's certain moral illusions here that people are not correcting for it because the people who are most galled by the lockdown, you know, people who just think this is insane, we have overreacted to this this problem, you know, they could covid was a problem or is a problem.
But, you know, the cure is now much worse than than the disease. The people who are in that camp are almost invariably making a false comparison. They're making the comparison between what the economy is like based on the lockdown and what the economy was like before anyone had ever heard of covid-19. That's not how to run the counterfactual. The two states of the world you have to compare is lockdown and what would have happened if we had not lockdown at all.
Right. And just let this virus burn through our population. This is the the pandemic paradox that, you know, many of us foresaw. But, you know, it has absolutely no rhetorical force to point this out. You know, the people who are looking outside their windows saying, look, only 80000 people have died. This has been massively exaggerated as a problem. We were hearing that it might be a million or two million people dead. Well, 80000 people have died with us locking society down to the degree that we have.
Right. The projections of a million dead and certainly at the time we had them were not at all far fetched. And the truth is, they're still not far fetched if we just open everything up and let this thing roll through us. So the fact that we can't get to a ground truth with respect to the case fatality rate, here is another alarming fact. But at no point has it been rational to believe that covid-19 is just the flu and it's still not rational to believe that.
And the people who think we could have just not locked down or which could have opened up much earlier. And all of our economic problems are just a self-inflicted wound because we overreacted. They're just not thinking about what society would be like and may, in fact, be like in the coming months when you have just an explosion of of disease and people don't want to go to restaurants right there. It's that you're free to go to a restaurant. But nobody in their right mind wants to eat in one because, you know, no meal in even the best restaurant in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco is worth rolling the dice on whether you're going to wind up on a ventilator for it.
And that's, you know, so that's the situation we've been in all this time and we're still in it. And again, we're hamstrung by our inability to converge on a shared understanding of the basic facts of epidemiology. And we have the pedal to the metal, it seems, on producing vaccines. So, you know, hopefully we'll break a record. But the fact that we are so far behind other developed societies like, you know, Australia and New Zealand and South Korea and, you know, Singapore around just being able to live more normally and test and trace assiduously.
And that's just a, you know, society wide embarrassment. And politics has a lot to do with it.
It definitely feels as if we're having two pandemics. If you're we have the CNN and New York Times pandemic where we're not supposed to leave our houses until there's a vaccine. And then we have the Fox News pandemic where we're supposed to stop by the pub on the way to work it. It does feel as if there's a lack of nuance and a lack of recognition that the strategy for Montreaux reopening might be different than the one for Medhat. It's like, you know, it feels like there's just no shades of grey here.
You're a neuroscientist and a philosopher. Where do you find comfort when you find yourself stressed or you know, what eases your pain?
What will as you know, you know, meditation is something that I've spent a lot of time, you know, practicing and focusing on. And we spoke about this on my podcast. And, you know, I have a meditation app that I'm putting a lot of my resources into at the moment. And I mean, this experience, again, it's such a weird thing to have acclimated to it because it is such a strange experience. We're all collectively going through.
And it's you know, it's not one thing. People are having very different experiences. You know, this is this is a historic moment. And the fact that it is it's pushing us into a more palpable feeling of uncertainty on so many fronts. You know, with respect to health and our finances and our social fabric, everything is up in the air. And so, you know, I found really by sheer good luck that the kinds of things I've been paying attention to for many decades, you know, things like meditation and just thinking about what it takes to live a life that you don't regret, you know, that you don't regret it at the end of your life, but that you you don't regret at the end of any given day.
Right. Where each day feels well lived. And that's where my head has been for for quite some time. You know, all of that is is really paying off for me now. And so, I mean, it's not to say that I haven't been pushed around a little bit here, but I've been, you know, happily pushed in the direction of feeling like I just want to walk my talk even more, you know, in my personal life, in my relationships as a father, as, you know, someone who's philanthropically engaged, engaged with the world.
I mean, just, you know, just supporting causes that are not just important to me, which is obviously important, and doing that in ways that corrects for the vagaries of my own compassion. I mean, when I decide something is worth supporting now, I'm inclined to support it in a way where I don't have to depend on my waking up each day and still feeling the same, you know, vivid connection to that cause. Right. I mean, the clearest case for me happened before covid, but I've drawn some lessons from that.
So I had the the moral philosopher Wil MacAskill on my podcast, who's is one of the the people who started this movement we we call effective altruism, which is a great fusion of kind of results based managerial thinking and an ordinary philanthropy. I mean, they just look for what really works to save lives and mitigate human suffering in the world. And they kind of rank order all of those projects. And so he came on the podcast and he convinced me that some fairly unsexy causes are, in fact, the most important causes.
When when you're talking about a return on investment in mitigating, you know, death, unnecessary death and human suffering. And one of the things at the top of the list was malaria mitigation. I mean, just just putting out, you know, bed nets to the people who can most use them in, you know, places like sub-Saharan Africa and bringing down the mortality from malaria from something like it was like two point two million people a year dying not that many years ago.
And now we're down to something like 500000 or 600000. And most of the people who die are kids and pregnant women from malaria. So I felt the ethical imperative of supporting that cause, you know, for the duration of that that conversation. But I recognize that I'm only human. And, you know, that kind of inspiration has a half life. Right. And so why should I why should the problem of malaria mitigation be dependent on me waking up each morning or each quarter once again inspired to help procure bed nets for people I will never meet.
So, you know, in that case, I just automated my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation. So, you know, every month I give a significant chunk of money there, which is is frankly more than I would give. I is definitely more than I would give if I had to decide each month anew. I mean, how much are you worried about malaria this month? You know, I'm just I'm eager to correct for, you know, what are clearly, you know, software flaws in my own mind with whatever whatever levers I can pull.
And, you know, automating certain things are that's a kind of lever as I'm just kind of thinking these things through more and more now, because I on some level have more time to put my house in order. And so it feels like a very fertile period ethically for me personally, that I just feel like I can straighten things out. That should have been straightened out a long time ago. And and so that, you know, in that sense, I'm using the opportunity fairly well.
Last question, Sam, as I try to give us one piece of advice when I say us as a father and as a husband. What one piece of advice do you think or best practice would you want to share with other or other men that want to be better men? They want to be better husbands. They want to be better dads.
I mean, so some of the best advice or the the wisest thoughts sound trite when you just articulate them. But, you know, when they're deeply felt or their you know, their implications are lived, you know, they're not tried at all. And you know why we we have these these aphorisms. But I continually rediscover this epiphany and it just matters each time, you know, in your relationships with people and certainly the people you just referenced, I mean, the people who should be closest to you, your your spouse, your your kids, your job really is just to love them.
Right? I mean, that's your fundamental job. It's not to. Change them, improve them, coerce them into doing what you think they should do to live better lives. I mean, obviously there's some guidance as a parent you need to to worry about or you want to give them good information. But I just know I was in the situation with with one of my daughters the other day where she was in a state. And it was the kind of thing that previously I could have been sucked into worrying about and reacting to from a place of actually just being worried, you know, worried about her, worried about, you know, how she was developing and worried about my responsibility to make sure she's developing.
Well, just feeling like there's a problem here that I need to fix and the motive force behind, you know, fixing it had to be, you know, something like panic. We've got to fix this. Right. So there's a kind of urgency that, you know, would normally have come through there. And for some reason, I was just, you know, I was just in a clearer headspace when I encountered her, you know, in the midst of this this problem.
And I just I just recognize it all I really needed to do. And what she needed from me in that moment was just a completely noncoercive space that just communicates love. Right? I mean, that's that's it. It was such a simple job. And I have failed at that so many times. And, you know, the difference was miraculous. I mean, the difference between it just hugging her without any other message and what I would have likely done previously, it was just enormous.
And so, again, those are moments of kind of found wealth emotionally and ethically that, you know, are not just local to to one's intimate relationships, but it's and I'm just finding more and more of those in this context. And so, again, it's if there's a silver lining here, you know, I'm finding it in places like that.
So that registers and sort of a jarring way. One of my sons is struggling more with this than the other. And I immediately. Do a ton of research around finding the right child therapists and setting up a zoon call and getting them out of nature. I immediately come up. I see this as a problem, that as a successful head of household, I will address on every angle and marshal resources and intelligence and Google searches. And there is no silver bullet here.
But the first line of defense is just just a Lovemore. I think that's very just feels right. Sam Harris is an American author, philosopher, neuroscientist and podcast. Sam, best to you and your stay safe.
Yeah, thank you so much, Scott. Great to talk to you. We trust you enjoyed our interview with Sam Harris. Our producers are Caroline Chagrinned, Andrew Burrows, if you'd like what you heard, please follow, download or subscribe. Thank you for listening.
We'll catch you next week with another episode of the Prophet Show from Section four and Westwood One podcast network. Episode episode episode episode 10 episode of Soul.