Above is the podcast video discussion between Jordan Peterson and Vivek Ramaswamy. Below I provide excerpts transcribed from the closed captions, with a fewed added images.
JP: I’m very happy today to talk with Vivek Ramaswamy who has just announced his candidacy for the American presidency and is going to well hopefully change the political landscape in doing so. Vivek is an American Business leader and New York Times best-selling author of Woke Inc–Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, along with his second book Nation of Victims–Identity Politics, the Death of Merit and the Path Back to Excellence. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, he often recounts the sage advice from his father:” If you’re going to stand out, then you might as well be outstanding.” This set the course for his life: a nationally ranked tennis player, valedictorian of his high school, Saint Xavier. He went on to graduate Summa Laude in biology from Harvard and then received his JD from Yale law school. While working at a hedge fund, he then started a biotech company Roivant Sciences, where he oversaw the development of five drugs that went on to become FDA-approved.
In 2022, he founded Strive, an Ohio-based asset management firm that directly competes with asset managers like BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard, and others, who use the money of everyday citizens to advance environmental and social agendas that many citizens and capital owners disagree with.
That’s a far more important issue than you might think and we’re going to discuss that a lot as we proceed through our conversation today.
Vivek Ramaswamy who I’m talking to today, is running for president, which seems to be quite the preposterous thing to do for anyone I would say. This next 2024 election is going to be some interesting contest. As far as I can tell, we’re not going to have seen anything like it. The fact that you threw your hat in the ring I think is part and parcel of the whole show, so let’s start by just exploring why it is that you decided to do this and what is it that you hope to accomplish by making this run.
VR: So you know some of the journey I’ve been on over the last few years. I think what led me to the doorstep: I’ve been addressing for the last few years this merger of state power and corporate power that together do what neither can do on its own. And and part of me long believed that the Republican Party in the United States is behind by 40 years, reciting slogans they memorized in 1980. When the real threat to Liberty today is different. So I’ve taken on the woke industrial complex in America through the books I’ve written, through traveling the country. Most recently taking on the ESG Movement by starting Strive last year.
Where my headspace was, I did not think I was going into politics. I wanted to actually avoid the limiting shackles of partisan politics because it just felt so constraining. I thought of running for the U.S Senate I decided not to do that. I said no, I want to do this independently as an independent voice, thought leader, author. I successfully built a biotech company before then putting those skills to work starting strive. That was where my exclusive Focus was going to be, and I’m proud to say I think we are already having major impact on the market through my work at strive, and even just through putting a spotlight on the problem.
But to be really honest about this, and this was the realization that dawned on me after you know years into that Journey, is that it does take Two to Tango. And what I mean by that is the top-down version of this problem: the cynical exploitation of corporate power and state power to shackle the human spirit is only half the issue. Because that only works if there’s a culture that’s really willing to buy it up; it only works if there’s a population that’s buying up what they’re selling. I think that requires every one of us to look deeply in the mirror and ask ourselves: What is it about us as a people that makes us want to bend the knee to the powers that be, that wants us to embrace these new secular religions. And that wasn’t a problem that I could address even through Market action in taking on BlackRock or the ESG forces in capital markets. That’s really what dawned on me: There was no better way to drive a cultural Revival in America than to successfully (and successfully is an important part of this) to successfully run for president.
The whole premise of my campaign pain is to define a national identity, answer the question of what it means to be an American in the year 2023. I do not believe we have a good answer to that question in this country. I’m on a mission to deliver an answer to that question. My basic premise is that our absence of that answer is the black hole at the center of our nation’s soul. That is what allows wokism and gender ideology and climatism and covidism to fill the void. These are secular religions that prey on that vacuum. If we can fill that vacuum with say a vision of national identity that runs so deep that it dilutes these other agendas to irrelevance, that is how we win. And I believe that there isn’t a candidate in this field who’s quite up to that challenge. I’m not sure I am either but I do believe that I’m going to give it the best shot that we have, which is why I’m running.
JP: Well you brought up a lot of very complex issues in that description of your motives. I’m going to walk through them one by one to unpack them for everybody. You said the Republicans are 40 years behind, I think that’s probably also true of organizations like the UN as well. And 40 years is a long time given how much has changed just in the last 10 years. It mean that the average person who’s watching and listening to this is also behind and isn’t even aware of of what acronyms like ESG mean or why they should really give a damn.
I just interviewed the CEO of the national organization for State Treasurers organization. It’s a financial officers organization, now there’s 28 States pushing hard back against the the ESG movement. Your description of your motives opened with a statement about a kind of fascist collusion and what we’re seeing is an amalgam of power that’s corporate (which of course the left Wingers complain about), that’s government (which the right Wingers complain about) and then of media (which everybody complains about and rightly so).
And there’s this idea that seems to be reigning in the upper echelons of the power structures that that we’re facing an apocalyptic emergency of such magnitude (whatever the emergency happens to be) that they should be conveniently ceded all the power. One of the fronts upon which that battle is being fought is the ESG movement, So would you walk through that for everyone just to bring them up to date?
VR: Absolutely. This has been something of my obsession over the last several years, not just as a commentator but as a doer and as an entrepreneur too. The ESG movement stands for environmental, social and governance factors. It’s designed to sound boring for a reason My general rule of thumb is: If it sounds like a three-letter acronym that bores you, that’s a good sign you should be paying more attention. This whole game is about using private power, using Capital markets to accomplish through the back door what government could not get done through the front door under the Constitution.
So I’ll tell you what it is and then I’ll walk through the history of how we got here because that’s also pretty important too. Essentially what the ESG movement does to use the money of everyday citizens, Americans but Canadians too, Australians and Western Europeans. It uses the money of everyday citizens to invest in companies and to vote their shares in ways that advance one-sided progressive agendas. Environmental and social agendas that most of those people do not agree with, that most people did not know were actually being advanced with their own money. And which don’t advance the financial best interests of most people whose money is actually used.
So what does that mean? Think about yourself saving in a retirement account or a 401k account or a brokerage account. You think that the person who’s managing that money is exclusively looking after your best financial interests. It turns out they’re not; they’re also looking after advancing these other environmental and social goals. Who are these institutions? They’re Asset Management firms like BlackRock or State Street or Vanguard or Invesco or countless others that have signed a pledge to say they’re going to align all of their underlying companies with the goals of the Paris climate Accords; with Net Zero standards by 2050; with modern diversity equity and inclusion standards. And those three or four firms alone manage about 20 trillion dollars or a bit more. That’s more than the US GDP right now in the hands of three to four financial institutions.
But they’re not using their own money to do it, they’re using the money of probably most listeners to this exchange right now. There’s a good chance that people watching this have their money in their retirement accounts or their brokerage accounts being used to tell companies like Apple to adopt racial equity audits that Apple’s board initially did not want to adopt. To tell companies like Chevron to adopt scope 3 emissions caps that Chevron did not want to adopt. And that most people watching this probably didn’t want to force on Chevron either, but their money was used to do it anyway. That’s what this ESG movement is all about.
How did we get here is actually a really important question. A lot of this began with two big Milestones seeing the supercharging of this ESG movement in our economy and in capital markets. The first one I think of as the big bang that really set the whole thing into motion was the 2008 financial crisis. What happened in the 08 financial crisis? By the way I had a front row seat to this because I got my first job in New York at an elite hedge fund in the fall of 2007. The fund I worked at got an honorable mention in Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short. It was my first job out of college this is this is fun stuff for me, right. A lot of people lost a lot of money on Wall Street. I didn’t have any money so it didn’t matter to me; it was more of a learning experience, which was a pretty rich one.
So from a front row seat, what happened in the aftermath of the 08 crisis was Republicans (it’s worth remembering this) Republicans in this country bailed out the big Banks. I don’t know what your view is, Dr Peterson. I view that as a major mistake. it’s a cardinal sin the Bush Administration and Hank Paulson a CEO and alumnus of Goldman Sachs used public taxpayer funds to bail out Goldman Sachs while letting his competitors fail. This was crony capitalism all the way down and the left actually had a point. In this country Occupy Wall Street was born and what they said is: Look if you’re going to play that crony capitalist game, then we’re going to play our game. We’re just going to take money from your wealthy corporate fat cat pockets and redistribute it to poor people. To help poor people because that’s what we on the far left want to do on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
But right around that time there was there was a fissure in the left-wing movement in this country. There was the birth of this new, let’s call it the woke left. Barack Obama had just been elected the first black president of the United States. There were a lot of cultural currents in the U.S that said: wait a minute, the real problem isn’t economic Injustice or poverty, it’s really racial Injustice and misogyny and bigotry, and by the way climate change. This is supposed to be Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.
This actually presented the opportunity of a generation for Wall Street to say: okay guys we’ll make a deal with you. We will use our corporate power, use our money (really your money) to applaud diversity and inclusion, to put token minorities on corporate boards, to Muse about this racially disparate impact of climate change. From the mountaintops of Davos, after flying there in a private jet, we’ll do all of these things. But we don’t do it for free: we expect the new Left to look the other way when it comes to leaving our corporate power intact.
And so they defanged Occupy Wall Street. Most people don’t even remember what was Occupy Wall Street. It went by the wayside, and that’s how the birth of this new woke industrial or ESG industrial complex was born. Where Wall Street said, if you can’t beat us join us and that’s exactly what happened. So that was the first thing.
JP: Do you think it was that conscious or do you think that it was the consequence of a thousand micro decisions?
VR: Okay it was the latter. I mean this was not a smoke-filled room where there was some sort of meeting in the back of Goldman Sachs boardroom on 85 Broad Street in lower Manhattan. This isn’t an ethical conspiracy theory this is an emergent reality right. Certainly that was the first Catalyst and so what began as a challenge to the system of stakeholder capitalism and ESG slowly became ossified as the system. And there’s a lot of forces behind it, the rise of passive index funds played a big role and that’s a discussion I can get into another another time or maybe later in this discussion.
Then there were two big catalysts that came out, one was in 2016 and one in 2018. In 2016 of course it was that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. This created a seismic shock wave across The Establishment class both in capital markets as well as the linkage between business and politics. When they said, okay wait a minute: this game may not be played the way it’s supposed to be going forward. If political leaders like Donald Trump are going to break the system, then we The Business Leaders need to exercise our authority to step into the void instead. And then they were vindicated or so they thought when Trump pulled out of the Paris climate Accords in 2018. Not many people realize this was a big event that threw kerosene on this ESG storm. Even the people who are complaining about the ESG movement need to better understand where it came from. This was a big deal that then caused Calpers, the California teachers and pension retirement system, and other big allocators, the people who give BlackRock and State Street your money. They started to say that if political leaders are not going to step up to the occasion to address the existential challenges we face like global climate change, then Business Leaders need to do it instead. Larry Fink the CEO of BlackRock started saying similar things, that we have to earn our social license to operate.
Really what caused this ESG thing to spread like wildfire was that event of pulling out of the Paris climate Accords.
JP: With that you’ve tied the corporate response to say Occupy Wall Street at the end of the 2008 financial crisis with the climate catastrophe. So let’s talk about the climate catastrophe for a moment and also to find stakeholder capitalism. Because The Narrative insisted upon by the woke left but also by these capitalists is that the emergency that confronts us on the environmental Frontier is so cataclysmic that any and all emergency measures are not only thoroughly Justified but morally required. Now I have a problem with that theory, psychologically as well as technically. Psychologically I’ve been trying to figure out how you separate the wheat from the chaff on the leadership front, especially in the face of an emergency, because real emergencies do occur from time to time. Here’s a rule of thumb everyone can try out for themselves: if the emergency you’re confronting terrifies you so badly that you’re paralyzed into immobility or tempted to aggregate all the power to yourself and become a tyrant, then you have defined yourself as insufficient for the job.
You should be able to maintain a calm head regardless of the impending emergency because there’s going to be emergencies and if you become a tyrant during an emergency, then you’re a tyrant and and not the solution. That’s the psychological issue: even if there is an emergency we shouldn’t be aggregating power into an elite.
Then there’s a second element too which is: What bloody emergency? I’ve talked a lot to Bjorn Lomberg for example and many other people as informed as Lomberg. And there’s no evidence even in the IPCC reports themselves that climate change is first of all entirely man-made because it’s not. And second even if it is there is no evidence whatsoever the in IPCC reports that there’s going to be some apocalyptic turning point in the next 50 years that justifies Untold trillions of panic dollars being spent, while we simultaneously destabilize our power grids and increase the cost of electricity by up to five times and make ourselves, at least in Europe much more reliant on Russia. And also throw poor people into poverty and risk the fossil fuel infrastructure that feeds half the planet. Because people actually also don’t understand that ammonia is made out of fossil fuel, and ammonia fertilizer feeds four billion people.
So anyways you said 2008 Wall Street is guilty because of the bailouts the lefties pushed them hard on the ethical front, and rightly so they decide to turn to ESG. But then that’s also Amplified by this sense of apocalyptic climate doom. So what’s your formulation of the environmental challenge that confronts us now. How do you construe that?
VR: I have more to say about the ESG story but I need to pause on what you just said. Some really good stuff in there. I’m gonna go one step further than you and draw a linkage between the psychological critique and the technical critique because they’re related. The first thing you said was a humble and Powerful point: even if there is some sort of existential apocalyptic issue you should not want to entrust the people who are going to then wield tyrannical Force to address it, not to mention the fact that the technical issue is itself a completely artificial one. It is grounded on false premises that deserve to be called out. I can call those out, Bjorn Lundberg, Alex Epstein others can call them out. We can go into all the details of that but the point is that those two critiques that you just offered are spot on as they are are deeply linked.
You were almost too charitable in that actually the psychological account explains the fact the entire climate agenda actually has nothing to do with the climate. It’s not that this was a tyrannical response to a threat–it was the creation of an artificial threat to exercise tyrannical power itself. Okay it’s a religious cult and so I’ve said numerous times, I think the climate religion has about as much to do with the climate as the Spanish Inquisition had to do with Christ, which is to say nothing at all. It was really just about power and dominion and Punishment all the way down and I can I can basically prove to you in a short amount of time.
To avoid going on for hours I’ll just pick a couple of tidbits. So one is if you really care about carbon emissions as the end-all, be-all, first of all you’d be delineating which kind of carbon emissions matter. I don’t subscribe to the tenets of this religion but I think it’s worth understanding a religion even if you’re not a practitioner. Even if you subscribe to this religion, there’s a difference between methane leakage and carbon dioxide. Well methane leakage is far worse in places like Russia and China so then it should be a mystery that you want to shift carbon production from the United States, where you tell companies like Exxon and Chevron to stop producing, to places like China.
Like Petro China on the other side of the world, and by the way this is exactly what the ESG movement is doing. So BlackRock is like an apostle of this Spanish inquisition-style Church. BlackRock forces companies like Exxon and Chevron to drop oil production to meet Net Zero standards by 2050. Yet literally some of the same companies buying up those same projects on the other side of the planet are Petro China of which BlackRock is a large shareholder, without telling Petro China to adopt any of those same emissions caps. This is nuts if you think that you care about reducing carbon emissions, if you subscribe to this crazy religion methane is 80 times worse for global warming then carbon dioxide so it’s not even net neutral it’s worse. So that’s the first breadcrumb that there’s something else going on here
The second breadcrumb is that the same movement certainly it’s Apostles in the ESG movement that are so hostile to carbon emissions is also hostile to the best known form of carbon free energy production known to mankind which is nuclear energy. That’s the second little breadcrumb that there’s something else going on here. The problem with nuclear energy in a nutshell is that nuclear energy might be too good at solving the alleged clean energy problem, such that it doesn’t solve for the actual agenda, which is delivering Equity between the West, America in particular, and the rest of the world to catch up. That’s really what this club is delivering. And delivering that power that we’ve been talking about of course.
JP: Those are the times, so really what’s going on those are two stunning points. And I want to lay them out uh philosophically for a moment just so people get the full import of what this means.
So let’s say that we do buy the propositions of the of what Vivek has been calling the climate religion (we’ll get back to that term later). If we do buy in then we make the assumption that the fundamental existential crisis facing us is one of pollution. And that that can be reduced in complexity to carbon dioxide emission and maybe methane and a couple of other greenhouse gases.
Now I don’t accept any of that and I know you don’t either, but we’ll give the devil his due. If that’s actually the driving Factor then the fundamental of actions and perceptions should be directed towards minimizing carbon dioxide output. But the first point you make is we’re making it very difficult for Western countries to use coal and to explore for fossil fuels, while we’re making it very easy for China to do so. And since we all share the same atmosphere and China and other terribly governed countries have way worse environmental regulations. All we’re doing is substituting a relatively clean fossil fuel for relatively filthy fossil fuel. And you added that additional decoration which: Isn’t it also convenient that companies like Black Rock happen to own huge shares in exactly the Chinese companies whose interests they’re promoting.
That means by the measurement standards of The Advocates of the climate religion themselves, their policies are not only a failure they’re actually counterproductive, just like they have been in Germany in the UK. That’s a subtle mystery on the fossil fuel front, but then you have the blatant mystery of the second thing you pointed to. In fact we can pretty much solve the bloody carbon dioxide problem overnight with nuclear. Yes we have small nuclear plants now and we have nuclear plants that are way safer than they were 50 years ago, and that could be built at a modular level. So why do you oppose them?
Which brings us into the religious issue. Because this is not so much a pro Planet agenda designed to bring about harmony with the natural world, as it is an attempt to simultaneously destabilize the entire industrial infrastructure. This is in accordance with the claim that all human activity is nothing but cancerous growth on the planet, combined with this underground desire to accrue all tyrannical power into centralized Elite hands.
So with that let’s talk about your insisting a number of times that the climate narrative is a religious or quasi-religious structure. I’ve got some thoughts about that which I’ll share eventually, but I would like you to lay out why you use that terminology specifically.
VR: Yes, I mean that in two senses: worst is the sense in which it is a religious institution gone awry. And the second is, it fills the psychological need for religion and God in the everyday person. On the first of those, as you were laying out the philosophical framing of it, I was actually reminded of one of my favorite stories about Christ. It actually came from not the Bible but from fyodor dostoyevsky’s book the Brothers karamazov in his chapter entitled The Grand Inquisitor. And it tells the story of Christ coming back to Earth during the 15th or 16th century or whatever in Seville, Spain. He’s walking the streets performing Miracles when the grand Inquisitor leading the Spanish Inquisition spots him on the street and has him arrested. The whole climax of the chapter is the dialogue between Christ and the grand Inquisitor. And the grand Inquisitor tells Christ: “Look we the church don’t need you here
Anymore, you are supposed to be a symbol that helps us do our work, but your presence here actually stops us from getting our work done. And he sentences Christ to execution the next morning.
Swap in Climate for Christ, which is really what’s happening in the psychological minds of people who are buying this religion. The climate’s just an excuse, and in fact once you get into a discussion about actually addressing carbon emissions, say with nuclear energy they get very worried. So they’re sentencing nuclear energy to death because that’s their Messiah and their savior right. You said you wanted to actually get rid of carbon emissions, well would you welcome the second coming of Christ the second coming of the climate solution of nuclear energy. No no they sentence it to death because as the grand Inquisitor told Christ in that story your presence here actually impedes our work. So in a certain sense it has a religious quality in terms of the church that protects its own turf even from the very God that it tells parishioners to worship.
Now the second question though is: Why are the parishioners worshiping at all? And I think this gets to the heart in a weird way of my candidacy for president of the United States. I just think we’re in the middle of this identity crisis where we are so hungry for for purpose and meaning and identity as Americans. At this moment it’s probably true also for much of the western world beyond America. But we’re so hungry for a cause at a moment in our history when the things that used to fill that void– faith is one of them, faith in God is a big one, but patriotism is also a big one, national identity is big, family is also pretty big in this category, even hard work actually.
These are sources of identity, sources of pride, sources of grounding. They’re grounded in truth and as human beings we’re like blind bats lost in some cave in an abyss and we send out these sonar signals for our echolocation of identity. We can’t see where we are but we deduce where we are by bouncing off the signals we send and get them back as sources of Truth. Okay I send a signal out and family is one source of identity I get back, God is another source of identity I get back, my nation is anothersource of identity, my hard work the things I create in the world. From these things we deduce our identity and it tells us even though we’re blind where we are lost in that Abyss. But when those things disappear, we send out that signal and then nothing comes back and then we’re lost and so then we start grasping at artificial sources of that identity: racial identity, gender identity.
From where do you think this bizarre gender ideology arose–from climate disaster, catastrophism- that’s a source of identity too. Climate instead of Christ, and so it’s no accident that we see all of these secular religions arise at the same time. Why do we see wokism at the same time as we see radical gender ideology, racial racism, as climatism as covidism. It’s a symptom of that deeper Abyss that we’re lost in.
JP: Okay so now you broke this out in two ways. I’m going to walk through your argument. You said there’s an offer on hand from above so to speak from the ESG and climate ideologues but there’s also corresponding need in the population that’s associated with the kind of emptiness. then you also talked about the brothers karamazov and the notion of of the grand inquisitors. So I want to address all three of those points
The first point is that the developmental psychologist John Piaget pointed out that the last stage of cognitive development as far as he was concerned was adolescent messianism. He meant that people between the ages of 16 to 21, when they’re they’re undergoing their last great neural pruning by the way, they sort of settle into their adult identities. And the way that human beings catalyze their adult identity is by identifying with something beyond themselves. And so in a in the archaic situation that would be with tribe for example, but also with the traditions of the tribe rather than just the people that are there presently. Now they’ll be initiated into the ancient traditions of the tribe and there’s a Messianic urge that comes along with that. Which would be expressed in modern terms as something like the desire of young people to to save the planet. So that’s a true psychological hunger.
What’s being offered by the radical left to address that Messianic need is something like it’s very very simple, and this is part of the problem, well to be Christ to be the Messiah you have to face down the apocalypse right, that’s the last judgment, the apocalypse that currently confronts us is environmental you know. And environmental apocalypses have confronted us throughout the entire history of mankind. So we have a an ecological, a psychological predisposition to be alerted to Environmental apocalypse. So the environmental apocalypse is a consequence of carbon carbon is a consequence of excess industrial output, if you adopt the radical left ideology which is anti-industrial. Then you fulfill your Messianic mission now, that’s on the positive side.
The negative side is you can also do it with absolutely no effort on your part, because all you have to do is oppose the right things. And it also lifts the moral burden from your shoulders because instead of having to undergo a psychological transformation that would that would involve confrontation of all of your own inadequacies, let’s say, to put yourself on the right path spiritually. You can just demonize whoever happens to be convenient for demonization. And for the radical left it would be anything to do with the industrial or corporate world. You can put all the sins on the scapegoat’s shoulders and you’re done with them. So that’s an expanded vision of that messionism; it’s this overwhelmingly simple solution to a very complex moral problem all right.
Now on the identity front you laid out a bunch of issues that I think are extremely relevant. People are struggling with their identities and they’re also being offered a one idea solution that fits all problems. The solution is your identity is nothing other than your group identity; it’s your sexual proclivity, which is a pretty pathetic identity; it’s your ethnicity, it’s your race, it’s some group identity which also takes the responsibility off of you by the way.
Now you might say, well what constitutes a valid identity in contrast to that? And you’ve already pointed to a number of those things. So this is where I think the psychological Community has failed to a large degree on this front. We’re the heirs of a liberal Protestant tradition socially and psychologically, and we believe that our identities are fundamentally individual and subjective. But that’s actually not true because your identity is nested. Let’s think of nestings okay because we could build a hierarchy that’s a proper hierarchy conceptually. And this is this is a good way of formulating what actually constitutes a robust identity. This is where you’d get signal for those forays that you’re putting out, those signals exactly.
So look a person has to be bound into an intimate relationship and everybody needs and wants that. That’s the first level of social integration, and then the the couple has to be integrated within a family. And then the family within a neighborhood, and the neighborhood within a community, and the community within a town, within the state, within a nation. And then the nation into something approximating a web of international agreements to minimally keep the peace. That’s a subsidiary hierarchy of responsibility. And the Old Testament book Exodus, part of what that book addresses is what forms of governance are necessary as an alternative to tyranny. So single top-down tyranny is the Pharaoh, or the desert which is you know completely scattered individuality. And the technical answer is the subsidiary hierarchy of responsibility. That means you know as an individual you have a responsibility as a couple, as a family member, as a community member and all of those. Then you can think of identity as the belonging in all of those hierarchical positions. And you can think of psychological Health not as something that occurs in in an interior space, but as the harmony between all of those subsidiary levels. So it’s an emergent property of Harmony and not something that’s carried internally.
VR: This is this is beautiful stuff actually. When you just describe the desert versus Pharaoh Dynamic out there, something clicked for me. It’s a killer set of ideas even in a much more practical sense. For even something as mundane as a political race here, it clicks for me why I’m doing this. You and I and others like us have complained about how the left has actually preyed on that vacuum by at least offering a substantive even if false, fundamentally artificial set of identities to fill that void. But I’m sick of complaining about that without critiquing the conservative movement. Where’s the conservative movement in filling its that identity with an alternative. We can do all the hand wringing we want, but over the last 10 years where’s our leadership? Where’s the leadership of for example conservative pro-american movement, pro-family movement or whatever you want to call it. These guys have been asleep at the switch while they’ve been watching the other side take advantage of this and that. And it’s worse than that if you’re participating in it in some ways. It’s the conservatives in the UK who’ve been putting forward the Net Zero agenda. So it’s especially in Western Europe, but even some wings of the Republican Party in the U.S their meek response is effectively participating in this. This is where the analogy hit me when you’re talking about the desert and Pharaoh. We as a people are lost in the desert and yet we’re criticizing that phenomenon by still critiquing Pharaoh.
A lot of the Grassroots movement that I’m leading already and hoping to lead is we’re already in the desert, we’re still lost, though we’re not going to find the Promised Land by still criticizing pharaoh. On the contrary the longer you’re lost, the more likely the people are going to say that I need to go back and bend the knee to Pharaoh. Actually I want to be ruled by Pharaoh, that’s exactly what’s happening.
You know this analogy is related to a weird place; I’m not going to claim to be a Moses figure or anything that’s beyond any of our pay grade. But when I laid out in this room the video where we launched this presidential campaign my goal is to create a new American Dream for the 21st century. Okay FDR had his new deal; I don’t agree with a lot of it, but FDR had his new deal, JFK had his new frontier. Where’s the conservative vision of where we’re going; that’s what I call the new dream. the new American Dream. It’s not just about money, it’s about Reviving our conviction in our purpose as Citizens. Does that mean unapologetic pursuit of Excellence? I can talk about what that means but but that’s my vision. Maybe another candidate can offer theirs, and if this Republican primary ended up being a competition of those ideas and Visions, then our country’s heading into a good place. But that’s what’s missing.
JP: Okay so let’s let’s talk about the conservative issue here. If you look at what temperamental factors predict political allegiance, the literature on that’s quite clear. If you’re higher in openness, if you’re higher creativity and you’re low in conscientiousness, you tend to move to the radical left. If you’re high in conscientiousness and low in openness, you tend to move towards the conservative front. And there’s a there’s a constant dialogue between those extremes because the creative people are necessary to make changes, when changes are necessary, but dangerous otherwise. And the conservative types are very good at maintaining functional tradition, but are intransigent in the face of necessary change. And so free speech is actually the mechanism by which that conundrum is mediated because people who can engage in free speech can keep arguing about which traditions need to be carefully modified.
Here’s the problem that it presents on the conservative front. By definition conservatives are not Visionaries. Visionaries tend to tilt in the more radical Direction because they have radical Visions you know. And so the conservatives are always pushed back into a reactionary standpoint. Almost always they object vociferously to the excesses of the left. But because they’re not Visionary they can’t extract from their tradition an image of the promised land for the future now.
I’ve been working with an organization in the UK that’s trying to do something that’s analogous to what you’re doing, to to lay out something approximating a compelling Vision on the conservative side. I’ll talk about one part of it because I think it strikes right to the core of what we’re discussing. So we spent a lot of time talking about families because so you have the individual then you have the individual in a couple but the next order of subsidiary organization is family. Then you might ask yourself: well what is a family now? The answer on the inclusive left is: a family is any old organization of any sort. But that’s that’s so blurry that it leaves people with no guidelines. They don’t know what to do because if you can do anything, you have no direction.
Well we could say a family fundamentally is a unit that produces children and if you’re not willing to buy that definition, then you could go develop your own definition of family. But it seems to me that there’s something core about laying the groundwork for the emergence and proper rearing of children that’s key to what constitutes a family. One of the corollaries of that is well if you’re going to have children you’re probably going to need to have a man and a woman involved otherwise it’s very difficult. That actually turns out to be relevant when you’re thinking about an ideal.
I talked to Dave Rubin about this for example. Reuben who’s conservative and gay is married to his his partner his husband Dave. And they went through the entire surrogacy route to have a couple of infants and it was very very very complicated both ethically, practically and financially. And they managed it so far, they have these two kids and I suspect they’ll do a perfectly good job of giving these kids a wonderful home. But they’re also incredibly financially well off, what would you say, privileged. Dave’s earned it, but they have the capital to make this non-standard solution a possibility, but it’s by no means replicable for the typical person. I mean the simplest way to have a child for the average person is to have man and a woman involved. And you can use technological intermediaries, but it can’t propagate easily that solution.
And so one of the extremely interesting things that’s emerged on the cognitive Neuroscience front recently was the same thing happening in the field of AI. It is the realization that at the center of all of our Concepts is an ideal that’s actually how we categorize. We categorize just like Plato initially hypothesized. We literally categorize in relationship to an implicit ideal. So to even use to even use the term family and for that to be meaningful, there has to be an ideal and the organization that I’ve started working with and helping put together has made it part of our formal propositional landscape that the ideal has to be something like stable long-term monogamous heterosexual child-centered couples.
Now the problem with the ideal this is what the postmodernists have shaken their fists about forever, especially the French like Deridda and Foucault. The problem with the ideal is that it marginalizes, because the more distant you are from the ideal the less you can fit in. So the question then arises: What do you do with the margin? That question is so old that that was even there in biblical times by the way; the problem of The Fringe or the margin. And the answer has to be something like: Look everybody falls short of the ideal like even a married stable married heterosexual couple. Lots of times during their say 30-year marriage they’re going to fight, they’re going to wish they were divorced, they’re going to wish they were with other partners. There might be Affairs lots of people end up divorced. There’s the vast majority of us will never realize the ideal, in fact none of us will in totality. But that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice the ideal; it means is we should put forth the ideal forthrightly, but allow the necessary space for deviation from the ideal so that everybody can move forward despite the fact that the ideal has to rule.
VR: It’s a great great framing I just want to jump in there for one second to draw even one further distinction if I may. First is there’s the sense in which each of us falls short of our ideals okay, both as individuals and even as a nation. I mean you could extrapolate this to the American level and you know take the critique of America as a nation is that America is hypocritical. It had a nation that set in motion, but there were slaves on day one, Ergo the ideals themselves are false. No, in fact hypocrisy is probably pretty good evidence that you have ideals. There’s no sense in which for example the Chinese Communist Party could be called hypocritical. You can’t be called hypocritical if you actually are measured against fundamentally nihilism at your core. So idealism and the existence of ideals makes hypocrisy possible. We should be grateful when we see hypocrisy because then we know we have two things: we have both ideals and we have something that is real. And something real never matches or rarely ever matches the ideals. So in a certain sense we should be Vindicated, we should feel reassured that we’re doing something right, because we have both ideals in reality.
And that’s just true at the individual level; anybody who’s in a married relationship knows this if they don’t admit it they’re lying to you or they’re lying to themselves, it’s just it’s just truth. I think that that is still distinct from a second question that you raised, also a good question which is I think what what and I’m a big fan of taking the best arguments we possibly can to understand the situation.
The marginal point is who’s at the outer end of the margin. I think some of this relates to not just a failure of an individual temporally over the course of a lifetime to depart from the ideal but some ways in which a certain person cannot themselves be part of the ideal ever. Because their genetics are real right the what brings us into this world is the gender, be it sexual orientation be it other attributes that that make one successful or not in a system that’s set up in a certain way. There is literally a reality of permanent marginalization for some even according to an ideally structured system.
And so I think it’s important to take that seriously but the problem with the modern radical left is it turns that exercise of interrogating the question of what we do at the margin and makes a whole new system out of it. What began as a challenge to the system on behalf of the marginalized becomes the new system that is the essence of the woke cancer. I actually didn’t mind it when it was an idea in in the halls of a liberal arts academy to think about, at least debate how it is we accommodate the people who are marginalized in a system that is still an ideal system. That’s an open conversation that at least under parameters of free speech which as you said is an intermediating mechanism between kind of the creative liberals and the conscientious conservatives. That’s great as long as we have Free Speech. The problem is when that challenge to the system becomes the new system, we’re then heading to a very different place than even the ideal that a pro-marginal would have argued for.
JP: What happened to Nicola sturgeon is a perfect example of that, the prime minister of Scotland who just resigned. Because here’s the problem with the Fringe. The ideal in the center is a Unity it’s a single thing, The Fringe is a multiplicity. And because it’s a multiplicity it can’t occupy the center without destroying the ideal which just brings the whole category to a to collapse. The Fringe Of The Fringe will destroy The Fringe. So we can’t do without the ideal even the Fringe defines itself in relation to the ideal in a dark sense.
Sometimes I think conservatives use this phrase right: they’ll come to eat their own. There’s a point to that but it’s low resolution. The essence of what’s going on is that once you’ve destroyed or invaded the ideal Itself, by definition being on the fringes is sort of nihilistic at its core. So at that point it’s a free-for-all.
You can see the feminist version of this too. Title IX women’s sports was because women are On The Fringe. Well, when that itself becomes the center of the story, just wait till the men become the women through the back door. That decimates the existence of women’s sports because funding the essence of it is gone if biological men are competing as women.
What’s happened right now is the obsession with The Fringe has eviscerated the ideal itself which leaves both those who espouse the ideals and even those who identified themselves as one time being a member of a fringe all worse off in the end. And that’s a failure of the conservative movement. We can blame the people on The Fringe for you know getting us there but they were just the agents and the pawns who moved it. It’s the role of the conservative movement to keep that structure intact. By not making a case for it, what happens in the evolution of time that ship has sailed, the structure itself is gone.
With this group that I’ve been working with in London we’ve also set forward a couple of other propositions. One is that if your policy requires compulsion or Force it’s at least sub-optimal. We’re trying to play an Invitational game. Imagine that on the Visionary Horizon your goal is to produce an image that’s so compelling that people of their own free Accord say: you know I’d be willing to sacrifice to that end.
VR: Because you can make a sacrifice if you know what you are sacrificing for. Actually this was a big part of my upbringing by immigrant parents from India. Hindu tradition came to this country part and parcel of parenting part and parcel of growing up as a kid in that household. The idea of sacrifice was woven into my upbringing; grandparents lived in the house because it was their duty to take care of their parents. That was just familial sacrifice needed to be made, sacrifices needed to be made to raise my brother and I to have the academic achievements that we did. The education didn’t happen in a vacuum it happened on the back of parents who actually said there’s more to life than just following your latest self-indulgence Yes these things can be done if you know what you’re sacrificing for.
It’s true too in the United States today. I’ve made the case to declare independence from China that’s a whole separate geopolitical discussion we can have why I think that’s important, why I think there’s an opportunity. It’s also very clear this will involve some measure of sacrifice. In fact if there’s some resistance I’m getting to declaring Independence from China, it’s actually coming from some Republicans who are unwilling to make that sacrifice. We’ve have become so addicted to buying cheap stuff, but again I say that we can make those sacrifices if we know what we are sacrificing for. So this idea of sacrifice is fundamental to this question of identity. Once you’re grounded in identity, you’re grounded in who you are, what sacrifice you might be willing to make is almost a litmus test for identity. if you have nothing for which you’re willing to make a sacrifice, it means your identity is vacant.
JP: You might ask well is there actually something in reality that’s worth sacrificing for and the answer is first of all you don’t have a choice generally. Because no matter what you do if you do something you’re sacrificing others things you might do. People might say I want to be able to do whatever I want whenever I want, sort of the ultimate in subjectivity. There’s an impulsiveness and pandering to whim associated with that. But that’s not really Freedom, but actually subjection to the rule by impulsive whims.
The reason you sacrifice the whims of childhood, that polytheistic state of motivational possession that characterizes childhood, the reason you sacrifice that to an integrated maturity is because the integrated maturity a constitutes an identity that will protect you from anxiety and provide you with hope but also unifies you across time and lays the preconditions for your social integration. Nothing about is arbitrary. So the question isn’t who is going to rule you, the question is what is it that I’m going to work towards allowing to rule me. And it’s either going to be my whims which means I’m subject to them, or it’s going to be some higher order state of integration that requires sacrifice and then that ties into this whole hierarchical identity.
VR: What’s missing in the conservative movement is this idea of the Revival of Duty and embracing Duty as a precondition for freedom. But it’s Duty that we actually autonomously opt into by way of our free choice and our Free Will. These things are not incompatible they’re not contradictory. The path to getting to this ideal, the structure of Ideal that we discussed before, ought to be a path that does not involve coercion or impinging on Free Will. You phrased it very politely sub-optimal is the word you used. I think it should be avoided is the way I would say it as a as a prospective policy maker and leader of the country.
So then you might ask yourself well what constitutes ordered Freedom. Well a game is ordered Freedom, a voluntary game is ordered freedom because you have a large landscape of choice but it’s dependent on principles. Those are the rules of the game and a game is a good analogy because people play games voluntarily. They want to play and they enjoy them. So if you set up social structure with a game like substructure, then people voluntarily hop aboard. Now the free market response to the problem of the margins is to produce a plethora of games and so that you might be marginal in one game or almost all games, but there may be some game that you’ll be Central because of your temperamental advantages.
So a free market solution to the problem of marginalization is something like the offering of a true diversity. If you’re only five foot two so you can’t play basketball you know, but you might be a damn good jockey. We have enough games so that people can trade on their idiosyncrasies. And you see this is an argument that free market types haven’t made to the diversity types. The reason you want a free market is to provide a diverse number of games so the marginalized can find a center diversity in our approach to diversity Itself by
You were talking about the level of individuals in the marginalized side and so I agree, that’s one form of approach to diversity. Here’s a different approach: diversity is diversity of institutional purpose. Let’s just take it in the realm of companies that’s the world I’ve lived in, Corporate America and capital markets. Each company ought to have a unique purpose and the problem with using a common three-letter acronym, from ESG to DEI to CSR to you know CCP; the problem with these three-letter acronyms is effectively they’re saying that, no you can’t have your own distinctive purpose. Everyone’s purpose must be common to advance environmental social and governance goals, diversity equity and inclusion goals. That’s a denial of diversity, it’s a lurking tyranny. If you’re really pro-diversity you should have that fall out of the structure that you and I discussed
What is your institutional purpose? If you run an institution you have one question: why do we exist period. Have a good answer to that question and then say what type of diversity you espouse that’s really just in service of advancing that institutional purpose. Different types of Institutions should want different kinds of diversity and and they should be transparent about what types of diversity they don’t want. I’ll give you one example that’s sort of funny. I’m a vegetarian okay I don’t eat meat because I believe it is in my tradition morally wrong to kill animals solely for culinary pleasure. There are conditions in which it would be fine to do it, but if it’s just for my culinary pleasure I’d rather not do it. I respect other people’s right to and and freedom to go in a different direction. But take the example of me working at a steakhouse. I would not make for a good employee at a steakhouse even if I would deliver the ever-prized form of diversity, seeing my diversity of appearance.
Your focus is on delivering excellent steak to a customer because the kind of diversity you want there should be in service of your purpose and so I think this this revival of the idea of purpose itself gives meaning to diversity itself and that’s whether that’s true in a company context or a national context.
There’s a version of what you described which also makes me think in a very different direction here about the response to catastrophe. Much of the social structure that we have created in absence of that purpose and vacuum; this might be a cycles of history thing less about psychology and more just about the nature of History. We create the conditions for that catastrophe whatever it might be and it might be that catastrophe itself may have to be the Catalyst for rediscovering what that sustained meaning was. In the future it may be that economic catastrophe, I think that we’re due for economic tough times in part for a lot of the difficult decisions we’ve made over the last 10 years amidst this vacuum of purpose.
JP: I’ve gone to 400 cities in the last four years lecturing about the sorts of things that we’re talking about today. There’s one point I make that always brings the audience no matter where it is to a dead silence, like absolutely pin drop dead silence. Here’s the argument: you need a sustaining meaning in your life. Sustaining means it will sustain you through catastrophe, enable you through pain and Terror. Now that can’t be happiness because happiness is absent in conditions of pain and Terror. So what is it?
I draw on my clinical it experience to answer that question. What do people have when they’re truly in the desert, when they’re abandoned and lost and in pain? Well they have the structure around them that they’d made sacrifices to produce. They have their partner, you know their their wife or their husband, they have their children and their parents and their siblings. They have their friends, they have their Community, they have this hierarchy of social structure around them that can sustain them if they made the proper sacrifices.
Then the question is: what is the nature of the sacrifice that’s necessary to make those bonds and the answer is well that’s the adoption of voluntary responsibility. This is something conservatives haven’t ever made explicit. The meaning that sustains you in tragedy is to be found through the voluntary adoption of responsibility.
And so you can respond to young people when they say: why should I grow up, I can just do whatever I want whenever I want. And that’s especially true if they happen to be wealthy and privileged. And the answer is: if you expend all that capital on Hedonism as soon as the storms come you’re Shipwrecked absolutely. There’ll be nothing left of you because there’s no Hedonism in hell. And what you will have there is whatever you’ve built responsibly, and there’s meaning in that People understand that immediately and it’s part of this alternative Vision to this fractured Hedonism that everyone is celebrating.
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