I’ve been following Eric Weinstein ever since seeing him live with Sam Harris in San Francisco a few years back. He has the gift trifecta kindness, intelligence, and honesty, and that’s seriously refreshing to have at the moment.
Unfortunately he’s driving me insane right now.
He just had Sam on his show, The Portal, and I seriously turned the epsisode off and back on again three times.
Here’s my attempt to capture what I found so unpleasant.
- Eric didn’t allow Sam’s points to land. He (mostly) either said Sam was wrong outright, or came over the top with something like, “I’m surprised we’re disagreeing this much.”, or “I can’t believe you’re seeing this different than me.”
- He seems too infatuated with the beauty of his own ideas and his own sentences. It doesn’t mean he is, but that’s how he comes off.
- He’s constantly making points that are almost right—but not quite.
- He does the exact opposite as well, which is take a perfectly made point made by Sam and say, “Maybe”, or “Almost”, or some other response that refuses to give due credit.
So the big thing on this episode was the idea that Trump was empowered by a wholesale selling out of the lower class by the elites. He seems to believe this to a nearly conspiratorial level.
Basically, he thinks that the leftist elites put a ton of policies in place that ultimately destroyed the middle class and are now crushing the working and poor classes. And he thinks the people inherently feel this, and that they’re punishing the left for it by electing Trump.
Sam and I see the world as far more complex than that. Is it true that some liberal policies actually ended up hurting the middle class and poor people? 100%. But if you take a policy like free trade, or immigration, I don’t see how you can imply that their actual purpose was to hurt the working class.
Does immigration put pressure on native workers? Of course it does. Does it have benefits? Of course it does. Are there people on the left that secretly want to hurt native workers with immigration so that they can make more money? Sure. I suppose so. But aren’t there far more liberals who either don’t know that’s happening or wish that it weren’t?
It just seemed like Eric was flirting really closely with a fully conpspiratorial line around major liberal policies being secret attacks on “the people”, and I just cannot get behind that.
And he wouldn’t listen to Sam when he’d ask him to see the other side. Sam was agreeing that there could be truth in what he said, but that that fact could be diminished by more intention on the other side, i.e., there being far more people thinking they were doing the right thing as opposed to participating in a conspiracy.
But Eric wouldn’t let a single point land.
He either sidestepped and let the point glance off, or he’d catch it and come back with some version of, “I can’t believe you’re that naiive”.
The disorienting part of this is that I believe Eric is being 100% honest and acting in good faith. That’s the only reason I was able to turn the podcast back on again after quitting it two or three times out of frustration.
Listening to him is so often a tortuous combination of being slightly wrong, imprecise, and genius all at the same time. I always want more and want it to end at the same time.
It’s like spending two hours trying to take that deep inhalation to catch your breath, but never getting it—even though you’re not even tired.
I felt even more beholden to write this because he was genuinely asking Sam for help on his show. He was asking what he could do better.
Well, I have some answers, Eric, and I’ll be DM’ing them to you as well since we follow each other on Twitter.
- Let other people’s points land fully; I know you’re acting in good faith, but others won’t when you just walk through their reasoning
- Try to be super concise when making a clarifying point; don’t allow yourself to build a fragment into stream of consciousness
- Focus on the impact of the idea and not on its structure or sound. Your language is beautiful, and your intelligence is beyond question, but the game is actually convincing the other person through empathy
- As a rule, if it sounds overly smart it’s probably too opaque: notice how Sam’s sentences are usually quite simple. They add up over time through layered simplicity.
- Remember that a big part of what people need from the portal is clarity; it doesn’t have to be simple, but it does have to be transparent
My bottom line here is that The Portal is an awesome idea, and Eric is an awesome intellectual who I am thankful to share time and a planet with.
We just need more clarity and transparency in your points, my friend.
- See their side
- Acknowledge it
- Refine your point to address the disconnect
We’re here supporting you.
- One thing I worry about is if some or all of the things I mentioned here are a result of Eric’s disability, and thus something he’s struggling with and trying to fix. If that’s the case, well, then I’m an asshole and I apologize. Eric Weinstien at a 4/10 is anyone else at a 9/10, so don’t stress it.