[Video Clip from Heterodox Academy’s Open Mind Conference] Alice Dreger: 00:00 Yeah. You know, I mean to my mind, the problem with these celebrity speakers being cra … Paid crazy amounts of money to come in and then we have to pay for all the securities, most of them are not intellectuals. So why are spending university money on non-intellectuals? I mean, uh, I think the most basic question should not be, “Can we tolerate this point of view?” It’s, “Is there any academic content here. Is there anything that looks like research-based thinking?” Any kind of innovative thinking here that is something like what we would expect at the university level, something that will educate an undergraduate to a higher level or are we just bringing in somebody to shout slogans, so everybody can tweet it and argue about it? So that, to my mind is where the wast of money comes in.
Benjamin Boyce: 00:45 Well, let me introduce you and then we’re just gonna start chatting. This is Stephen Messenger, uh, very prolific blogger as well as uh, a writer for Quillette Magazine, and Areo or Arrow?
Stephen M.: 00:59 It’s spelled A- R-E-O. I don’t know if I would call myself a writer. I mean, I’ve submitted essays and they accepted them, but I’m not on any sort of regular you know, rotation or …
Benjamin Boyce: 01:10 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 01:10 You know, yeah.
Benjamin Boyce: 01:11 I don’t want to piggyback or coattail on the Heterodox Academy, but it seems like you are involved in the people who are speaking across difference who were really interested in the direction that our political discourse is going, and perhaps trying to in- inject more rationality into the debate. Was that fair to say?
Stephen M.: 01:35 Um, I am interested in it and I think a lot about it, and I write a lot about it and I attended the conference, um, but I think that’s about where it ends. It’s, it’s just my interest, my hobby, my passion, I guess.
Benjamin Boyce: 01:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 01:53 To thinking about the stuff, but I’m not a member. I’m not part of any of the panels of discussions. I’m not a contributor other than my own opinions, tweets, blogs, that kind of thing.
Benjamin Boyce: 02:06 Yeah. So you attended the Heterodox Academy and uh, afterwards I saw you writing uh, kind of a mild push or criticism of the conference, how it seemed not as heterodox as you wished it to be or hoped it would be.
Stephen M.: 02:23 Right. Okay. So that, so to answer that question, it kinda goes to my thesis, my theory, world view, whatever you want to call it. Um, and that is first of all, I wanna say right off the bat that I’m a huge fan of Heterodox Academy. I support them. They’re good people. They’re trying their best to do the right things, and it’s my favorite group out of all the groups that exist out there who are trying to bridge the divide. Um, you know, and I, and I support all that they’re doing and … But from my perspective from where I sit, they’re still not completely uh, getting it in terms of what I think they’re not … Is the problem with university culture as a whole, all those things.
Benjamin Boyce: 03:18 And what would be getting at?
Stephen M.: 03:23 Understanding conservatives.
Benjamin Boyce: 03:24 Huh.
Stephen M.: 03:25 One way to describe what I see the difference between liberalism and conservatism, it all boils down to faith in something as the source of truth, as, as, as moral truth. So here’s one example. One of my essays on my blog, I argue that words like liberty, equality, justice and fairness mean different things depending on whether you are on the left or on the right. The left tends to favor um, positive justice, outcome-based positive justice, positive liberty. Um, the right tends to favor process-based negative liberty.
Benjamin Boyce: 04:14 Or potential liberty? Is that what you mean by negative?
Stephen M.: 04:17 No. No. I mean, freedom from.
Benjamin Boyce: 04:20 Okay. Okay.
Stephen M.: 04:21 Negative liberty freedom from. Positive liberty is freedom to.
Benjamin Boyce: 04:26 Okay.
Stephen M.: 04:27 Uh, and there’s a big difference between those things. And so what happens is everyone agrees liberty is a good thing. Uh, and so then we start writing policies about how we’re going to achieve liberty and they seem antithetical to each other. Uh, sometimes the policies that the right uses or would want to use or would propose to advance liberty seem like not liberty to the left, and vice versa because they have different conceptions. It’s almost like we’re speaking two different languages and we don’t know it because the two languages use the same words.
Benjamin Boyce: 05:09 Yeah. Uh, this is confusing to me. If the right desire is freedom from, how does that mash with the right’s adulation of tradition? So they don’t wanna be free from tradition whereas left kinda does wanna be free from tradition.
Stephen M.: 05:28 Right. So it’s not so much tradition. It’s the collected wisdom that comes from the tradition. It’s … So this goes back to my struggling with trying to describe like the difference between um, my frustration with, with Heterodox Academy and, and what they’re not getting, what liberals in general are not, are not getting. I’m trying to write an essay and, and get my thoughts together about what it is that bother me? By the end of a day, I just felt like …
Benjamin Boyce: 05:28 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 05:54 I just felt bothered. I just felt, you know, this, this really didn’t get to where I was, I was hoping it we got to and kind of put my finger on what it is that bothered me about it, and what I’ve identified … I don’t know if I can pull it up real quick. Um, I saw four biases in operation at this conference.
Benjamin Boyce: 06:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 06:21 Um, one, anti-conservative.
Benjamin Boyce: 06:26 Anti? So uh, not just a conservative or not conservative, but anti?
Stephen M.: 06:34 Right. Um, another one is pro, what I call rationalism. It’s you show me the study sort of academic …
Benjamin Boyce: 06:49 Citations [inaudible 00:06:50].
Stephen M.: 06:50 So many of the … So much research, some of the citations.
Benjamin Boyce: 06:53 You were like peppering the, the ground with footnotes.
Stephen M.: 06:58 Right. That kind of thing. It’s that kind of thing. That, so that, that’s a pretty good way of saying it.
Benjamin Boyce: 06:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 07:00 Uh, academic, academic bias. So we have anti-conservative. We have pro, uh, rationalist. We have pro academic, and we have pro intellectual. So one of the, one of the comments that stuck with me like nothing else was a conversation about right leaning groups on campuses inviting trolls and provocateurs to come speak. Right? And, and so that’s a whole discussion by itself. But the comment about these perceived trolls and provocateurs was they’re not even intellectuals.
Benjamin Boyce: 07:49 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 07:51 To big laughter and approval by …
Benjamin Boyce: 07:53 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 07:54 By the audience.
Benjamin Boyce: 07:55 Interesting. Good catch.
Stephen M.: 07:55 And I just … Oh, oh God, the, the, the elitism of this and I just can’t, I, I’m like this is why Trump won. I mean, you just got in tune with what’s going on out there. And so these four biases all do kinda lay around each other, and, and, and sort of creates this perfect storm of what Heterodox Academy is trying to fix.
Benjamin Boyce: 08:26 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 08:27 And they’re not … And so one of my frustrations is that they’re not doing a deep dive into what it is that’s really going on and I don’t see them doing that digging.
Benjamin Boyce: 08:38 It is …
Stephen M.: 08:40 I see them, I see them, I see the, you know, viewpoint diversity is the hammer and every problem is announced.
Benjamin Boyce: 08:45 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 08:46 I know you wanna ask a question, but let me kinda continue this a little bit to try to better describe what I mean with my, my cognitive style? Am I getting into psychology? Um, I … One of the assertions I make in, in my Quillette essay, I think it is, is that I don’t think that Plato or Aristotle or Burke or Rousseau um, or Marx or any thinker who we think of as one of the pivotal thinkers of, of human history, uh, invented a new way of thinking.
I think what they did was articulate the way of thinking with which what they were born. Okay? So the cognitive style idea, and you know, like I said is, is um, like operating systems like Mac and PC, and, uh, and for example, if, if we could take Rousseau, right? From the French Revolution and put him in the DeLorean and drop him in Evergreen College.
Benjamin Boyce: 09:51 Uh, Rousseau was before the French Revolution or you mean Robespierre?
Stephen M.: 09:56 Stirling, Robespierre, he was during the French Revolution. He was one of the key uh, uh …
Benjamin Boyce: 10:01 The thinkers of … Yeah.
Stephen M.: 10:03 Um, so … But if we could take that brain and put it in Marty McFly’s DeLorean and uh, and, and drop it in Evergreen or a college or, or any of the elite universities in the US, he would be a social justice warrior. He would be on that crowd. He would possibly be one of the Antifa activists. Right? So I think cognitive style, uh, psychology comes first and all of this reasoning follows and the basic contest between left and right. It’s not an oversize of government. It’s not over abortion. It’s not over how we handled guns or school safety or any of that, it’s over the different processors. It’s the different ways we even conceive of what it is we’re doing.
And I think Heterodox Academy, a room full of academics, many PhDs, many of those in social science haven’t gone deep enough into social science to really understand what it is that’s going on. They’ve decided that the lack of viewpoint diversity is the problem, and therefore more of it will fix the problem and my point is you’ve missed the boat.
Benjamin Boyce: 11:28 Well, uh, it, it might just be uh, a rallying point. It might just be like that which leads to more.
Stephen M.: 11:37 Right. So that’s right. I think … So what I’m describing here is the feeling I get, the sense I get by the end of the day. Now, um, I’m not saying that every person there is guilty of this, of what I’m accusing them of doing. I’m not saying I suspect that of all people there, Jon Haidt totally gets what I’m saying. Right? I think he might get it maybe even better than I do. Right? Probably better than I do because he spent an entire career studying psychology, and I’m a … Who am I? I’m just a guy who reads on spare time and thinks and talks about this stuff, right? So he might get it more than I do, and you’re right. It could be a strategy. It could be a, a, a foot in a door to get to the bigger things, but that doesn’t satisfy my frustration. That doesn’t … I still, I still don’t see the real evidence of them listening.
Benjamin Boyce: 12:31 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 12:32 And deeply understanding the true nature of, of, of what this political divide is all about. Um, and I’m wishing that they would do more of that.
Benjamin Boyce: 12:45 Yeah. A lot of these things that I see happening on the left and the right and any given group is, is not hypocrisy but uh, the, the person’s strength is also their greatest weakness and, and with regards to the left generally, it seems like they wanna tell the right that they’re going around alienating this group and that group and this group and that group and all of … They’re, they’re constantly accusing the right of alienating all these other groups and in the process, they’re alienating more and more and more and more. Not only of the right, but of their own. So I wo … I wonder if, if one of the key questions that all of us should ask as, as thinkers and as people who do wanna reach across the, the, the divide, whatever that divide is, is to ask first or try to, try to imagine, “Who might I be alienating? Who might the Heterodox Academy be alienating?” And shouldn’t that be the ones that they should be trying to understand or, or inviting, not even trying to understand, but inviting in? Would that be going too far?
Stephen M.: 13:50 Um, I’m of two minds about that. First of all, um, it’s interesting. Uh, I met just by random, one other guy, um, at this conference yesterday. In the morning when we first got there, they had tab … They had coffee and donuts and stuff, and they had little tables standing and I just happen to stand in the table with this other guy and we ended up talking and we ended up, uh, sitting together for it a lot of the day and having a lot of conversations about um, uh, you know, what we were seeing. And he had a very similar take, um, “Be careful the way you say things. Um, try to have the other person in mind when you’re talking to them and how they might react to what you say, uh, so that you don’t trigger them into not listening.”
Like if I say, “You’re an idiot,” you’re probably not gonna listen to whatever I say after that. Right? So I get that. That’s a valid point. On the other hand, you’re talking about walking on egg shells. You’re talking about exactly the sort of snowflake mentality that’s, that’s behind a lot of this of now we’re, now we’re trying to uh, trump each other into who’s got the best, I’m more alienated card.
Benjamin Boyce: 15:09 Yeah. Well, yeah.
Stephen M.: 15:10 And, and so that’s why I say I’m of two minds of that, um …
Benjamin Boyce: 15:15 Well, I said that in part because you said earlier on, “This is why Trump won.”
Stephen M.: 15:15 Right.
Benjamin Boyce: 15:21 Like you had, you had one of those moments. And, and I wonder like if it’s possible for any group to understand when a big laugh happens that that laugh, there’s a lot going on in that laugh, whenever a big laugh happens.
Stephen M.: 15:36 I think it’s possible and I think if it’s possible anywhere, it’s possible in Heterodox Academy.
Benjamin Boyce: 15:40 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 15:42 I think uh, I think these people really, really want to understand and they almost thirst for um, a deep grasp of, of what’s going on and I think you’re right. When something like that, that happens, maybe they should say, “Oh, that could be one of those things.”
Benjamin Boyce: 16:07 Is it possible for you, or can you at least try to make the attempt for me and my audience to try to explain what this group does not get about conservatives? What is it that they don’t get that led to Trump winning? What is, what is that?
Stephen M.: 16:23 I think it’s, it’s the … It’s the sacred value, the sacred value of social capital.
Benjamin Boyce: 16:29 Okay. We need to unpack that. We … Can you define social capital?
Stephen M.: 16:32 Um …
Benjamin Boyce: 16:36 You brought up the flag earlier.
Stephen M.: 16:39 I brought up the flag earlier. Right. There’s the flag. There’s the …
Benjamin Boyce: 16:41 So it’s a symbol that, that isn’t important in and of itself, but it’s important because it ties other, it ties a group together?
Stephen M.: 16:49 I … Well, yeah. It’s kind of that glued the whole society together. It’s sort of that intangible thing that, that makes a people, a people, that makes a society, a society. It’s, it’s that understanding that we are part of a bigger thing. Um, if I had a minute, I could find the page in, in, in The Righteous Mind where he talks about that. He talks about social capital is the less blind spot. That’s the name of the section of the book, “The Less Blind Spot.” And the less blind spot is social capital.
So the left with its, its tendency to think in terms of you know, weird rationalism and, and, uh, and rule-based uh, method-based, um, logic so to speak, um, when they see conservatives or people in general, um, objecting to NFL players kneeling, for example. Uh, they wanna see what’s the reasoning? What’s the rationale? What’s, what, what’s … And it’s hard to put your finger on that. It’s hard to say, if everyone understood this concept of, of social capital, then I can say it’s social capital. That’s what I’m, that’s what I think the kneelers are, are violating.
Benjamin Boyce: 18:13 One of the patterns that I’ve seen with regards to the illiberal academic is that … Or the academy and its illiberalism or its um, its mockery and outright malice toward the blue-collared worker is that a lot of people in academia are … Have only ever been in academia. They, they went from high school right into college, and then to their graduate study and then their post doc, or into the doc, and then so they’ve been insulated the whole time and there’s two parts to that. One, they’ve been sub-selected, only the people who can get what this program can get to the top of the program, and then can, can go on to support this program but to their ideas never have to actually make it in the real world.
They don’t, nobody’s run a business, nobody like has to worry about the market. They can sit all day and criticize and deconstruct reality as it’s happening and, and send it … The, the Ivory Tower trope. Right?
Stephen M.: 18:13 Right. Right.
Benjamin Boyce: 19:16 But that causes a, a disconnect. One, because they, they, they’re surrounded by people who are in their bubble and two because they’ve never actually had to like please an audience outside of the people who wanna go through the hoops that they’ve already gone through.
Stephen M.: 19:31 I think there’s truth in that, but I’m reluctant to just broad-brush everybody that way.
Benjamin Boyce: 19:31 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 19:38 I’m sure there are many top of the pyramid academics who came from much humbler roots, blue collar roots and so I wouldn’t be so quick to just say they’ve never, right? Had to. Um, but I think there’s also truth in, in, in what you’re saying. Uh, so Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I think his new book is called, “Skin in the Game.”
Benjamin Boyce: 20:12 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 20:13 Where, and he’s getting to what you’re getting out there, the academics. Uh, there’s no cost for being wrong. Right? And so whereas out there in the blue collar world, yeah, there’s a big cost for being wrong. Jon Haidt and others talk about this thing called “wicked problems.” Right? Things that are, are not black and white, easy to solve like you know, an engineering problem or something where it’s you know, strength and mass and weight and you do the math and you figure it out. Um, wicked problem, social problems. Things that are hard to, to understand and hard to get a handle on. Um, when a company has a wicked problem, when it’s … Things are going wrong and they don’t even know what they don’t know, they can’t figure out why that’s going wrong, they bring an outside help.
They hire … Sometimes they hire consulting firms. Um, then some of those help and some of them don’t, but the point is they bring in new ideas from outside. What is it we’re not seeing? Maybe there’s a way of thinking that we haven’t um, used or a way of interpreting what we’re seeing that we, we haven’t done now, so that they bring in outside help. Um, Heterodox Academy could do that. Bring in outside help, bring in outside ideas, bring in thoughtful conservatives and ask them have a pent … Have all day conference of what … Well, we could even say conservative intellectuals. Let’s even say that even though I’m criticizing, I’m saying intellectual or you know, pro intellectual bias. Let’s just say bring in conservative intellectuals and have them describe to Heterodox Academy what they perceived conservatism is?
What conservatives think conservatism is, and what conservatives think is wrong with the academy? This is from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Social capital refers to a kind of capital that economists had largely overlooked. A social ties among individuals and the norms, reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from those ties. When everything else is equal, the firm … He’s talking about companies. With more social capital will out compete its less cohesive and less internally trusting competitors, which makes sense given that the human beings were shaped by multi-level selection to be contingent cooperators.
Benjamin Boyce: 23:00 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 23:00 In fact, discussions of social capital sometimes use the example of the ultra-orthodox Jewish diamond merchants. Uh, this tightly knit ethnic group has been able to create the most efficient market because their transaction and monitoring costs are so low. There’s less overhead in every deal and their cost are so low because they trust each other. If a rival market were to open up across town composed of ethnically and religiously diverse merchants, merchants, they’d have to spend a lot more money in lawyers and security guards and also and so on. Everybody loves social capital whether you’re left, right or center. So it’s not tradition per se.
Benjamin Boyce: 23:40 And it’s not orthodoxy either.
Stephen M.: 23:42 Right. No, it’s not orthodoxy. So this is interesting. It’s interesting to bring that up because um, and this section is … Of the book is a story where … That Haidt tells where he was at, he, he decided to learn about conservatism. He decided to do for himself what I’m recommending the Heterodox Academy does and it, because he was gonna teach his course in it. And so he was in a bookstore in uh, in New York City and he found a book with the title, it’s called “Conservatism.” Um, I have it right here somewhere. But anyway, what the author was saying is what makes social and political arguments conservative as opposed to orthodox is that the critique of liberal or progressive arguments takes place on the enlightened grounds of the search for human happiness based on the use of reason.
As a lifelong liberal, I had assume that conservatism equals orthodoxy equals religion, equals faith, equals rejection of science. It followed therefore as an atheist and a scientist always obli-obligated to being a liberal. But Mueller, the author asserted that modern conservatism is really about creating the best possible society, the one that brings about the greatest happiness given local circumstances. This is Haidt. Could it be? Was there a kind of conservatism that could compete against liberalism in the court of social science? My conservatives have a better formula for how to create a healthy and happy society. Then, he goes on. He kept reading. And then that leads into the, the topic about the social capital. And so …
Benjamin Boyce: 25:20 He really does praise conservatives quite a bit in that book.
Stephen M.: 25:23 He does. He does. Um, and this is why I said it earlier that of all people, I think he probably gets it. He maybe understands it better than I do, and the um, strategy of promoting viewpoint diversity is a foot in a door that the people who most need to have their viewpoint expanded will accept. He’s basically doing a jujitsu here of using liberal um, values of inclusiveness and tolerance and open-mindedness to get in the door to then say, “You’re not very inclusive or tolerant or open-minded,” um, but we’re still in the early stages of it.
Benjamin Boyce: 25:23 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 26:10 Even though Heterodox Academy formed in 2015 and Haidt has been doing this, studying this for most of his career, we’re still in the, the, the early stages of it, but that’s why I say I think he gets it probably better than anybody and maybe even better than I do, and, and it’s an approach.
Benjamin Boyce: 26:27 And this is why, this is why I wanted to speak with you and why I want your opinion out there because insofar as it is in the early stages, this is the time when a push in the right direction will have a, a really good effect or at least they’ll be open to con … Being considerate to different pushes from different directions.
Stephen M.: 26:50 That is, that … You just made my day by, by saying that because you hear me. Even if you don’t agree, if you think I’m full of it, even if you hear it and I think that’s the biggest problem. I think academia, Heterodox Academy doesn’t hear yet.
Benjamin Boyce: 27:14 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 27:15 Uh, in the sense that, that you just showed me you hear me. Um, and that’s where I’m, that’s where I’m pushing them. I mean, I’m not an intellectual. Uh, my kids don’t know my SAT score and …
Benjamin Boyce: 27:27 (Laughs).
Stephen M.: 27:29 [inaudible 00:27:29] say about it, they never will because it’s an embarrassment compared to what there were, theirs were. Right? My degree is mechanical engineering and I struggled through and I made it. In my family, I’m the intellectual. My dad was a welder and my mom was a, was a telephone operator. Right? I’m the intellectual in the family, but I was probably one of the dullest tools in the shed of that uh, Open Mind Conference.
Benjamin Boyce: 27:51 But that gives you particular insight?
Stephen M.: 27:54 Okay. Yes. But let’s not go down that intersectionality path of settling that. Um, my truth is real truth and you don’t get it because you’re not me.
Benjamin Boyce: 27:54 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 28:07 I mean, I have my insights. I have my way of looking at it. I’m just one data point. Uh, I would like to see them get many more data points.
Benjamin Boyce: 28:13 Okay. Yeah.
Stephen M.: 28:14 Put all of them together and get a big picture.
Benjamin Boyce: 28:16 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 28:16 Right? That might give them, which might make the solutions they’re trying to implement more effective.
Benjamin Boyce: 28:27 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 28:27 The overall feeling I have by the end of the day after I left there was I just sat through a day full of, “Aren’t we great? Don’t we just get it? And aren’t we smart and aren’t we intellectual and don’t we just know what the right things are and what should be done?” Now, I’ll admit that’s unfair to most of the people there. Like I just said, I think everybody is, is trying to do the right thing and um, but still I have that feeling by the end of the day. That’s real too. So one of the things, if I could say that that meeting was missing, if I could put into one word, it would be humility.
Benjamin Boyce: 29:20 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 29:21 I think that’s what academia is missing. I think that’s what Heterodox Academy is missing. They’re doing more talking when they should be doing more listening.
Benjamin Boyce: 29:30 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 29:30 It should be saying, “All right. We’re in a bubble.” Academia is just in a tank right now, right? And so obviously, we screwed up so what is it that we screwed up about? Well, what is it that we don’t get? And I just don’t see them making a lot of effort to, to dig down into where, where that thing is. I have my beliefs about what it is. I have my suggestions about what it is, but like I said, I could be wrong, uh, and I’m just one data point. I would like to see them finding a lot more data points. I keep pushing, you know, every way I can from my little you know, space here.
Benjamin Boyce: 30:13 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 30:13 But who am I, right? I’m not one of them. I’m not an academic. I don’t, I don’t have the credibility and so, I think, you know, just try to shout into the hurricane and you know …
Benjamin Boyce: 30:23 Well, think of it this way. Your bookshelves are still bowing a little bit with all …
Stephen M.: 30:23 No way.
Benjamin Boyce: 30:28 With all the acquired knowledge and …
Stephen M.: 30:31 Well, uh, I’m … Yeah. This is, this is … Uh, everything here pertains to what I’m talking about.
Benjamin Boyce: 30:38 Really?
Stephen M.: 30:39 I’ve … Now, I can’t say that I’ve read every single one of them. I used it like a library like when you’re doing research.
Benjamin Boyce: 30:45 Yeah. Yeah.
Stephen M.: 30:46 That go and you … And, and you know, looking up that way, I have read a lot of them, but not all of them. Um, but yeah. It’s like my own little library. I’ve had times here with my … In front of me on my, on my, ju-just a little IKEA desk, right? But books open like you see in the college library where some are doing a research paper were like six books different open and, and … Yeah. So let’s …
Benjamin Boyce: 31:10 Well, I have a thousand flies that I have to vacuum out of my windows, but I want … If you’d like to … Do you know what set you down this path? I’d like to hear that story or that logical axiom.
Stephen M.: 31:28 I do know what set me down this path. Um, and it is a story and it’s kind of in my, in my Quillette article. When I graduated from college, I knew absolutely nothing about politics. I had my engineering degree and that like took up all my brainpower. I just, I was just no-not only not interested, disinterested in politics, but now I’m going out in the real world and I, and you know, I’m gonna start adulting and thinking I better be responsible about it and I’m gonna vote. I may as well … I, I, so because of my training in engineering and because of a couple of classes I took from business school, I had then just sort of trained for years into looking for first principles. Looking for uh, that guide star that, that can help you make the little decisions day to day.
Um, plus I think I’m just sort of dispositional to that like I think I just kind of … That’s, that’s partly just … Uh, so that led me into all this reading of history books.
Benjamin Boyce: 32:42 Okay.
Stephen M.: 32:42 It’s the guide star. When I … Well, my first job was here in, in, in DC, and um, so like anyone who just moves here, I go to museums in the first few weekends. I’m walking around museums. I’m in the national archives, um, and there’s little gift shop and there’s one of those thoroughly uh, wired cages with books on it. Right?
Benjamin Boyce: 32:42 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 33:05 And there’s books, the ideological origins of the American Revolution or the, or The Declaration of Independence. Uh, there is … This is it. The first book from like 1983 that I bought, Declaration of Independence and I read that, and to me, I was just fascinated. It’s like this is so cool. It was just an idea oriented. It was just a, um, it just got minds going into first principles that, that, of … That helps me decide and so that started me on the path of all this reading of history books. The other big one for me was this one, the American Revolution. That one was The Declaration of Independence. This one is the American Revolution. Those two are really uh, and then several others.
Benjamin Boyce: 33:56 Huh.
Stephen M.: 33:56 Yeah. That’s what, that’s what got it started. And then when, like I said earlier, when Haidt came along with his TED Talk in the moral groups and he’s like, “Yes. That’s it.”
Benjamin Boyce: 34:05 Okay.
Stephen M.: 34:06 “That’s what, what you’ve just been reading from history books and you’re telling me from psychology.” And so now, I’m into reading all of this psychos. I don’t know what it is. I just like it.
Benjamin Boyce: 34:15 I, I need to ask you another question. What do you think conservatives should be uh, aware of in order to be more attuned to what the liberals or you know, the, the left has to had to society?
Stephen M.: 34:30 Um, the same thing that I’ve been talking about. I think everybody, liberal and conservative equally is generally clueless about why we, humans do the silly things we do. Okay? We, we think we’re based in reason and we’re not. But we think we are, and so the … And we think that the way see, we see things is reasonable and logical and only makes sense, so therefore, there’s someone else doesn’t see it the way we do, they must be bad at reasoning or maybe just not intellectual or not academic, or d-dumb.
Benjamin Boyce: 35:15 Just from there. Yeah.
Stephen M.: 35:17 It’s, it’s funny you ask that question. I thought about it today. I thought um, you know, if there’s value in liberalism, not if there’s value, as if … But anyway, the value in liberalism is to uh, advance the boundaries. Right? To keep, to keep pushing that envelope. Um, but as you alluded to right when we, when we first started talking, the, the blessing can also be the curse and for liberalism is they don’t know when to stop. There is no boundary. Whenever you reach the boundary, you just push it farther.
Benjamin Boyce: 35:56 Yeah. All circumference and no center.
Stephen M.: 36:00 Okay.
Benjamin Boyce: 36:00 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 36:01 That sounds, that sounds right. It’s, it’s, it’s just always pushing the envelope and you know, once they get the envelope out to where they wanted it, they just make a new envelope. There’s just no limiting principle to it because this, this, this … You’re never done and that can go too far.
Benjamin Boyce: 36:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen M.: 36:22 But uh, as, what the right should do, the right is, uh, I think in terms of understanding human nature was um, has a lot to learn to and if, for example, if everyone … Here’s what I’d like to see. The righteous mind required reading in every freshmen college. Yeah. So the people just understand that there is such a thing as a different way of seeing. That rank there, that by itself I think re-reduce the, the tension.
Benjamin Boyce: 36:56 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 36:56 Right? From the beginning. Yes, it’s true that people use more knowledge to just make better arguments, and okay. So that might happen, but wouldn’t it be great if we’re arguing, “Oh, you’re just doing your care harm foundation and you don’t care about loyalty.” Right? And they might say, “Yes, exactly.” Okay. Now, we’re talking about something real that’s based in, in, in knowledge and knowledge is saying, “You liberals are a bunch of bleeding hearts.”
Benjamin Boyce: 37:23 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 37:24 Right? There’s a difference there. Um, that’s where I would like to, to see it get to.
Benjamin Boyce: 37:29 Do you have another article coming out? You’re, you’re writing this article now.
Stephen M.: 37:33 I’m writing an article now.
Benjamin Boyce: 37:34 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 37:34 And what I’m thinking is that I’ll, I’ll, I’ll try to do it in a way that I think a magazine might publish it, but they might not. Um, I’ve submitted on other things and they say this isn’t for us, and uh, and if they don’t, I’ll just put it on my blog.
Benjamin Boyce: 37:52 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 37:53 As a, as a, as a piece on there. So …
Benjamin Boyce: 37:55 How many posts on your blog do you have at this point?
Stephen M.: 37:59 Um, it’s in the hundreds.
Benjamin Boyce: 38:00 Okay. Yeah.
Stephen M.: 38:02 Or something. Yeah.
Benjamin Boyce: 38:04 Nice.
Stephen M.: 38:05 See, the blog is just … It, it’s just me. It’s just …
Benjamin Boyce: 38:10 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 38:12 Uh, I know you have to go but Haidt asked me to review his book before it came out. Um, before it came out, he wanted a critique and, and the instructions he gave me is as you read it, when you feel a flash of effect, right, that he calls, something to really like or really dislike, tell me about it and try to tell me why you think that way. Um, ’cause sometimes I want to be doing that in book. I’m doing it deliberately, but sometimes I want to avoid that and I don’t want to set people off, so they don’t see what I’m really saying, so just tell me what it is. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing every since.
Benjamin Boyce: 38:50 Wow.
Stephen M.: 38:50 Is whenever somebody see something or whatever that causes that sort of like, “Oh, I don’t like that,” or “I really do like that.” I try my best to figure out, “Okay. What is it about that that I like or don’t like and why?” And I try to get into and, and just the simple fact of having to type it out for a blog in the way that somebody else might see forces me to do the best I can in my own limited way to make a coherent argument. And so, it was just a way for me to organize my own thoughts. There was for me, uh, uh, just uh, a vehicle for me to figure out what it is I do believe and don’t believe and what, so if anybody were so inclined, which I think is probably zero people to read it from the beginning chronological, you’ll see a, a development and I think in the maturation of the ideas over time, but you’ll also see some things that were there from the very beginning, they’re still there, they’re still there now but that’s all it is.
It’s just, it’s just me venting. It’s just me trying to articulate whatever this feeling is that I just described.
Benjamin Boyce: 40:02 Yeah. Well, you, you might be venting but you’re not railing.
Stephen M.: 40:07 Okay.
Benjamin Boyce: 40:07 It, it doesn’t seem like you’re just like railing at the world.
Stephen M.: 40:12 Uh, I’m not … Yeah.
Benjamin Boyce: 40:12 It seems like you’re actually trying to …
Stephen M.: 40:14 Sometimes I am like that …
Benjamin Boyce: 40:16 Put something in the other.
Stephen M.: 40:17 So interesting thing happened with this tweet thread that caused you to call me. I mean, it caused you to call me and wanna talk to me, and it caused somebody else to just call me a retard.
Benjamin Boyce: 40:27 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 40:27 Uh, and so uh, and some … And Twitter is … Doesn’t lend itself to a heck a lot of nuanced explanations and sometimes you just bought jump to the bottom line, and for example, one of the things I … One of those tweets that um, about the conference was that uh, Heterodox Academy was tone-deaf, right? And, and, and elitist and smug, right? And condescending. Right? And so you know, I, I can get that way sometimes, uh, even in my blog pieces is, is careful and I try to be … Sometimes I am just sort of saying … Letting a little bit of the frustration out, you know?
Benjamin Boyce: 40:27 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 41:11 Um, so I wouldn’t say everyone of them is a nice quaint academic, uh …
Benjamin Boyce: 41:17 (Laughs) Intellectualization.
Stephen M.: 41:19 Uh, right. Some-sometimes it’s just me saying, “Oh, I’m just so frustrated.” But even John Peterson does that, for Pete’s sake.
Benjamin Boyce: 41:26 Wow.
Stephen M.: 41:26 So [inaudible 00:41:27] company.
Benjamin Boyce: 41:28 He does. No, he do not. He, he, he’s made an art of that actually.
Stephen M.: 41:32 Yeah. It’s a bit frustrating. He’s uh, I can see him at some of his videos. He’s uh, oh …
Benjamin Boyce: 41:32 (Laughs).
Stephen M.: 41:39 Uh, sometimes you’ll see that in some of my writing and … But other times, I’m trying to be reasonable. The articles that did get published are the more reasonable type.
Benjamin Boyce: 41:49 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 41:49 The Quillette one and the Areo, Ereo, whatever they call themselves one. Those, those are the more academic, more intellectual ones, but yeah. So you know, I don’t claim to be a saint. I’m just, I’m just being me. I’m just putting it out there, whatever works.
Benjamin Boyce: 42:07 Well, it’s good stuff.
Stephen M.: 42:09 Or it doesn’t [crosstalk 00:42:10]
Benjamin Boyce: 42:10 That’s good stuff. Uh, yeah. I, I just wanna, I want to uh, appreciate you just enough.
Stephen M.: 42:14 Yeah.
Benjamin Boyce: 42:16 So you, you’re doing really good work. (Laughs)
Stephen M.: 42:18 That’s good. So, thank you. So I’m curious to see what this end product is that you put out with an interview with me. My, uh, I’m, I’m curious to see like in the calm of the day or two from now or whenever it comes out to look at myself and be like, “Oh my god. I’m so embarrassed,” or, “I uh, actually do okay.” I, uh, I’m, I’m curious to see how I …
Benjamin Boyce: 42:41 I think there was a, there was an organic flow and it’s starting to coalesce when, when we started to figure out what we’re talking about and go back and forth a little bit or …
Stephen M.: 42:51 Yeah.
Benjamin Boyce: 42:51 So I should go now though, Stephen.
Stephen M.: 42:53 All right. All right.
Benjamin Boyce: 42:55 You have a good night and I’ll ping you with the final version of this.
Stephen M.: 42:59 Okay. Great.
Benjamin Boyce: 42:59 Thanks for coming on.
Stephen M.: 43:01 Thank you and good night.
Benjamin Boyce: 43:03 Yeah.
Stephen M.: 43:03 Take those [ice 00:43:04].
Benjamin Boyce: 43:04 Yeah. Right. Uh, uh, [inaudible 00:43:07] discussed. Have a good night.
Stephen M.: 43:08 All right. Good night.
Benjamin Boyce: 43:09 Bye.