Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present.
You can click the timestamp to jump to that time.Lex Fridman (00:00):
The following is a conversation with Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator, host of The Ben Shapiro Show, co-founder of The Daily Wire, and author of several books, including The Authoritarian Moment, The Right Side of History, and Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings. Whatever your political leanings, I humbly ask that you try to put those aside and listen with an open mind, trying to give the most charitable interpretation of the words we say. This is true in general for this podcast, whether the guest is Ben Shapiro or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump, or Barack Obama.
I will talk to everyone, from every side, from the far left to the far right, from presidents to prisoners, from artists to scientists, from the powerful to the powerless, because we are all human, all capable of good and evil, all with fascinating stories and ideas to explore. I seek only to understand, and in so doing, hopefully add a bit of love to the world.
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There’s going to be ways to destroy the genetic material where you’re not gonna be able to reprint your body and mind. Or at least you won’t be able to reprint memories. Maybe it’ll be insurance on your memories. You’re not going to insure the life of your body and everything within it, but you’re going to insure the data, the information inside your brain. If it gets corrupted and destroyed, the people you love will get some money. That’s a really interesting future idea, but unfortunately or fortunately, depends where you land on the debate. We live in a time when all of us do face mortality.
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Of course, the oracle’s not gonna be able to tell you everything. You’re gonna have to figure out some of it on your own, but it’s always nice to have a mentor, somebody to give you words of advice even if you choose to ignore them. Anyway, get special savings for a limited time when you go to insidetracker.com slash Lex. This is the Lex Friedman Podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Ben Shapiro. Let’s start with a difficult topic. What do you think about the comments made by Yay, formerly known as Kanye West, about Jewish people?
Ben Shapiro (07:16):
They’re awful and anti-Semitic, and they seem to get worse over time. They started off with the bizarre Death Con 3 tweet, and they went into even more stereotypical garbage about Jews and Jews being sexual manipulators. I think that was the Pete Davidson, Kim Kardashian stuff, and then Jews running all of the media, Jews being in charge of the financial sector, Jewish people, I mean, there’s no, I mean, I called it on my show, there’s Sherman Nazism, and it is. I mean, it’s like right from Protocols of the Altars of Zion type stuff.
Lex Fridman (07:50):
Do you think those words come from pain? Where do they come from?
Ben Shapiro (07:53):
And, you know, it’s always hard to try and read somebody’s mind. What he looks like to me, just having experience in my own family with people who are bipolar, is he seems like a bipolar personality. He seems like somebody who is in the middle of a manic episode, and when you’re manic, you tend to say a lot of things that you shouldn’t say, and you tend to believe that they’re the most brilliant things ever said. Washington posted an entire piece, speculating about how bipolarism played into the kind of stuff that Ye was saying, and it’s hard for me to think that it’s not playing into it, especially because even if he is an anti-Semite, and I have no reason to suspect he’s not, given all of his comments, if he had an ounce of common sense, he would stop at a certain point, and bipolarism tends to drive you well past the point where common sense applies. So, I mean, I would imagine it’s coming from that. I mean, from his comments, I would also imagine that he’s doing the logical mistake that a lot of anti-Semites or racists or bigots do, which is somebody hurt me. That person is a Jew. Therefore, all Jews are bad, and that jump from a person did something to me I don’t like who’s a member of a particular race or class, and therefore, everybody of that race or class is bad. I mean, that’s textbook bigotry, and that’s pretty obviously what Ye is engaging in here.
Lex Fridman (09:14):
So jumping from the individual to the group.
Ben Shapiro (09:16):
That’s the way he’s been expressing it, right? He keeps talking about his Jewish agents, and I watched your interview with him, and you kept saying, so just name the agents, right? Just name the people who are screwing you, and he wouldn’t do it. Instead, he just kept going back to the general, the group, the Jews in general. I mean, that’s textbook bigotry, and if it were put in any other context, he would probably recognize it as such.
Lex Fridman (09:37):
To the degree as words fuel hate in the world, what’s the way to reverse that process? What’s the way to alleviate the hate?
Ben Shapiro (09:43):
Hate. I mean, when it comes to alleviating the kind of stuff that he’s saying, obviously debunking it, you know, making clear that what he’s saying is garbage, but the reality is that I think that for most people who are in any way engaged with these issues, I don’t think they’re being convinced to be anti-Semitic by Ye. I mean, I think that there’s a group of people who may be swayed that anti-Semitism is acceptable because Ye is saying what he’s saying, and he’s saying so very loudly, and he’s saying it over and over, but I think that, for example, there are these signs that were popping up in Los Angeles saying Ye is right. Well, that group’s been out there posting anti-Semitic signs on the freeways for years, and there are groups like that posting anti-Semitic signs where I live in Florida. They’ve been doing that for years, well, before Ye was saying this sort of stuff. It’s just like the latest opportunity to kind of jump on that particular bandwagon, but listen, I think that people do have a moral duty to call that stuff out.
Lex Fridman (10:41):
So there is a degree to which it normalizes that kind of idea that Jews control the media, Jews control X institution. Is there a way to talk about a high representation of a group, like Jewish people, in a certain institution, like the media or Hollywood and so on, without it being a hateful conversation?
Ben Shapiro (11:08):
Sure, of course. A high percentage of, higher than statistically represented in the population, percentage of Hollywood agents are probably Jewish. A higher percentage of lawyers generally are probably Jewish. A high percentage of accountants are probably Jewish. Also, a higher percentage of engineers are probably Asian.
Statistical truths are statistical truths. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the nature of the people who are being talked about. There are a myriad of reasons why people might be disproportionately in one arena or another, ranging from the cultural to sometimes the genetic. I mean, there are certain areas of the world where people are better long-distance runners because of their genetic adaptations in those particular areas of the world. That’s not racist. That’s just fact. What starts to get racist is when you are attributing a bad characteristic to an entire population based on the notion that some members of that population are doing bad things.
Lex Fridman (12:05):
Yeah, there’s a jump between, it’s also possible that record label owners, as a group, have a kind of culture that Fs over artists, doesn’t treat artists fairly, and it’s also possible that there’s a high representation of Jews in the group of people that own record labels, but it’s that small but a very big leap that people take from the group that own record labels to all Jews.
Ben Shapiro (12:34):
For sure, and I think that one of the other issues also is that anti-Semitism is fascinating because it breaks down into so many different parts, meaning that if you look at sort of different types of anti-Semitism, if you’re a racist against black people, it’s typically because you’re racist based on the color of their skin. If you’re racist against the Jews, you’re anti-Semitic, then there are actually a few different ways that breaks down, right? You have anti-Semitism in terms of ethnicity, which is like Nazi-esque anti-Semitism.
You have Jewish parentage. You have a Jewish grandparent. Therefore, your blood is corrupt, and you are inherently going to have bad properties. Then there’s sort of old-school religious anti-Semitism, which is that the Jews are the killers of Christ or the Jews are the sons of pigs and monkeys, and therefore Judaism is bad, and therefore Jews are bad. And the way that you get out of that anti-Semitism, historically speaking, is mass conversion, which most anti-Semitism for a couple thousand years actually was not ethnic. It was much more rooted in this sort of stuff, right? If a Jew converted out of the faith, then the anti-Semitism was quote-unquote alleviated. And then there’s a sort of bizarre anti-Semitism that’s political anti-Semitism, and that is members of a group that I don’t like are disproportionately Jewish. Therefore, all Jews are members of this group or are predominantly represented in this group. So you’ll see Nazis saying the communists are Jews. You’ll see communists saying the Nazis are Jews, or you’ll see communists saying that the capitalists, rather, are Jews. And so that’s the weird thing about anti-Semitism. It’s kind of like the Jews behind every corner. It’s basically a big conspiracy theory. Unlike a lot of other forms of racism, which are not really conspiracy theory, anti-Semitism tends to be a conspiracy theory about believers of power being controlled by a shadowy cadre of people who are getting together behind closed doors to control things.
Lex Fridman (14:19):
Yeah, the most absurd illustration of anti-Semitism, just like you said, is Stalin versus Hitler over Poland, that every bad guy was a Jew. It was like, so every enemy, there’s a lot of different enemy groups, intellectuals, political and so on, military. And behind any movement that is considered the enemy for the Nazis and any movement that’s considered the enemy for the Soviet army are the Jews. What does the fact that Hitler took power teach you about human nature when you look back at the history of the 20th century? What do you learn from that time?
Ben Shapiro (14:59):
I mean, there are a bunch of lessons, too. about Hitler taking power. The first thing I think people ought to recognize about Hitler taking power is that the power had been centralized in the government before Hitler took it. So if you actually look at the history of Nazi Germany, the Weimar Republic had effectively collapsed.
The power had been centralized in the chancellery and really under Hindenburg for a couple of years before that. And so it was only a matter of time until someone who was bad grabbed the power. So the struggle between the Reds and the Browns in Nazism, in pre-Nazi Germany, led to this kind of up-spiraling of radical sentiment that allowed Hitler in through the front door, not through the back door, right? He was elected.
Lex Fridman (15:42):
So you think communists could have also taken power?
Ben Shapiro (15:44):
There’s no question communists could have taken power. They were a serious force in pre-Nazi Germany.
Lex Fridman (15:48):
Do you think there was an underlying current that would have led to an atrocity if the communists had taken power?
Ben Shapiro (15:53):
It wouldn’t have been quite the same atrocity, but obviously the communists in Soviet Russia at exactly this time were committing the Holodomor, right? So there were very few good guys in terms of good parties. The moderate parties were being dragged by the radicals into alliance with them to prevent the worst-case scenario from the other guy, right? So if you look at… I’m sort of fascinated by the history of this period because it really does speak to how does a democracy break down? I mean, the 20s Weimar Republic was a very liberal democracy. How does a liberal democracy break down into complete fascism and then into genocide?
And there’s a character who was very prominent in the history of that time named Franz von Papen, who was actually the second-to-last chancellor of the republic before Hitler. So he was the chancellor, and then he handed over to Schleicher, and then Schleicher ended up collapsing and then ended up handing power over to Hitler. It was Papen who had stumped for Hitler to become chancellor. Papen was a Catholic Democrat. He didn’t like Hitler. He thought that Hitler was a radical and a nut job, but he also thought that Hitler, being a buffoon, as he saw it, was going to essentially be usable by the right forces in order to prevent the communists from taking power, maybe in order to restore some sort of legitimacy to the regime because he was popular, in order for Papen to retain power himself. And then immediately after Hitler taking power, Hitler basically kills all of Papen’s friends. Papen, out of quote-unquote loyalty, stays on. He ends up helping the Anschluss in Austria. Now, all this stuff is really interesting mainly because what it speaks to is the great lie we tell ourselves is that people who are evil are not like us. They’re a class apart, people who do evil things, people who support evil people. They’re not like us. That’s an easy call. Everybody in history who has sinned is a person who’s very different from me. Robert George, the philosopher over at Princeton, he’s fond of doing a sort of thought experiment in his classes where he asks people to raise their hand if they had lived in Alabama in 1861. How many of you would be abolitionists? And everybody raises their hand. He says, of course that’s not true. Of course that’s not true.
The best protection against evil is recognizing that it lies in every human heart and the possibility that it takes you over. And so you have to be very cautious in how you approach these issues. And the back and forth of politics, the sort of bipolarity of politics or the polarization in politics might be a better way to put it, makes it very easy to kind of fall into the rock-em-sock-em robots that eventually could theoretically allow you to support somebody who’s truly frightening and hideous in order to stop somebody who you think is more frightening and hideous. And you see this kind of language, by the way, now predominating almost all over the Western world, right? My political enemy is an enemy of democracy. My political enemy is gonna end the republic. My political enemy is going to be the person who destroys the country we live in. And so that person has to be stopped by any means necessary. And that’s dangerous stuff.
Lex Fridman (18:53):
So the communists had to be stopped in Nazi Germany. And so they’re the devil. So any useful buffoon, as long as they’re effective against the communists, would do. Do you ever wonder, because the people that are participating in evil may not understand that they’re doing evil, do you ever sit back in the quiet of your own mind and think, am I participating in evil?
Ben Shapiro (19:16):
So my business partner and I, one of our favorite memes is from, there’s a British comedy show where the name escapes me, of these two guys who are members of the SS, and they’re dressed in the SS uniforms and the black uniforms, they put the skulls on them, and they’re saying to each other, one says to the other guy, you notice the British, their symbol is something nice. And it’s like an eagle. But it’s a skull and crossbones. You see the Americans, you see their blue uniforms. They’re very nice and pretty. Ours are jet black. Are we the baddies?
And the truth is we look back at the Nazis and we say, well, of course they were the baddies. They wore black uniforms and they had jack boots and they had this and that. And of course they were the bad guys. But evil rarely presents its face so clearly. So yeah, I mean, I think you have to constantly be thinking along those lines and hopefully you try to avoid it. You can only do the best that a human being can do. But yeah, I mean, the answer is yes. I would say that I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on whether I’m doing the right thing. And I may not always do the right thing. I’m sure a lot of people think that I’m doing the wrong thing on a daily basis. But it’s definitely a question that has to enter your mind as a historically aware and hopefully morally decent person.
Lex Fridman (20:33):
Do you think you’re mentally strong enough if you realize that you’re on the wrong side of history to switch sides? Very few people in history seem to be strong enough to do that.
Ben Shapiro (20:44):
I mean, I think that the answer I hope would be yes. You never know until the time comes and you have to do it. I will say that having heterodox opinions in a wide variety of areas is something that I have done before. I’m the only person I’ve ever heard of in public life who actually has a list on their website of all the dumb, stupid things I’ve ever said. So where I go through and I either say, this is why I still believe this or this is why what I said was terrible and stupid. And I’m sure that list will get a lot longer.
Lex Fridman (21:16):
Yeah, I look forward to new additions to that list. Yeah, exactly. It actually is a super, super long list. People should check it out. And it’s quite honest and raw. What do you think about, it’s interesting to ask you given how pro-life you are about Yay’s comments about comparing the Holocaust to the 900,000 abortions in the United States a year?
Ben Shapiro (21:41):
I’ll take this from two angles. As a pro-life person, I actually didn’t find it offensive because if you believe, as I do, that unborn and preborn lives deserve protection, then the slaughter of just under a million of them every year for the last almost 50 years is a historic tragedy on par with a Holocaust. From the outside perspective, I get why people would say there’s a difference in how people view the preborn as to how people view, say, a seven-year-old who’s being killed in the Holocaust. The visceral power and evil of the Nazis shoving full-grown human beings and small children into gas chambers can’t be compared to a person who, even from a pro-life perspective, may not fully understand the consequences of their own decisions or from a pro-choice perspective, fully understands the consequences but just doesn’t think that that person is a person, that that’s actually different. So I understand both sides of it. I wasn’t offended by Ye’s comments in that way, though, because if you’re a pro-life human being, then you do think that what’s happening is a great tragedy on scale that involves the dehumanization of an entire class of people, the preborn.
Lex Fridman (22:43):
So the philosophical, you understand the comparison? I do, sure. So in his comments, in the jumping from the individual to the group, I’d like to ask you, you’re one of the most effective people in the world at attacking the left. And sometimes it can slip into attacking the group. Do you worry that that’s the same kind of oversimplification that Ye’s doing about Jewish people that you can sometimes do with the left as a group?
Ben Shapiro (23:12):
So when I speak about the left, I’m speaking about a philosophy. I’m not really speaking about individual human beings as the leftist group and then try to name who the members of this individual group are. I also make a distinction between the left and liberals.
There are a lot of people who are liberal who disagree with me on taxes, disagree with me on foreign policy, disagree with me on a lot of things. The people who I’m talking about generally when I talk about the left in the United States are people who believe that alternative points of view ought to be silenced because they are damaging and harmful simply based on the disagreement. So that’s one distinction. The second distinction, again, is when I talk about the right versus the left, typically I’m talking about a battle of competing philosophies. And so I’m not speaking about typically, it would be hard if you put a person in front of me and said, is this person of the left or of the right? Having just met them, I wouldn’t be able to label them in the same way that if you met somebody in the name of Greenstein, you’d immediately got Jew or you met a black person. And the adherence to a philosophy makes you a member of a group if I think the philosophy is bad. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you as a person are bad, but it does mean that I think your philosophy is bad.
Lex Fridman (24:18):
Yeah, so the grouping is based on the philosophy versus something like a race, like the color of your skin or race as in the case of the Jewish people. So it’s a different thing. You can be a little bit more nonchalant and careless in attacking a group because it’s ultimately attacking a set of ideas.
Ben Shapiro (24:36):
Well, I mean, it’s really nonchalant in attacking the set of ideas, and I don’t know that nonchalant would be the way I’d put it. I try to be exact when you’re, you don’t always hit, but if I say that I oppose the communists, and then presumably I’m speaking of people who believe in the communist philosophy. Now, the question is whether I’m mislabeling, whether I’m taking someone who’s not actually a communist and then shoving them in that group of communists. That’d be inaccurate.
Lex Fridman (25:00):
The dangerous thing is it expands the group as opposed to you talking about the philosophy. You’re throwing everybody who’s ever said, I’m curious about communism, I’m curious about socialism, because there’s like a gradient. It’s like to throw something at you, I think Joe Biden said MAGA Republicans, right? Right. You know, I think that’s a very careless statement because the thing you jump to immediately is like
Ben Shapiro (25:27):
all Republicans. Everyone who voted for Trump. For Trump. Right.
Lex Fridman (25:29):
Versus I think in the charitable interpretation that means a set of ideas.
Ben Shapiro (25:34):
Yeah, my actual problem with the MAGA Republicans line from Biden is that he went on in the speech that he made in front of Independence Hall to actually try and define what it meant to be a MAGA Republican who was a threat to the republic was the kind of language that he was using. And later on in the speech, he actually suggested, well, you know, there are moderate Republicans and the moderate Republicans are people who agree with me on like the inflation reduction act. Like, well, that can’t be the dividing line between a MAGA Republican and a moderate, like a moderate Republican, somebody who agrees with you. You got to name me like a Republican who disagrees with you fairly strenuously, but is not in this group of threats to the republic. You make that distinction, we can have a fair discussion about whether the idea of election denial, for example, make somebody, you know, a threat to institutions. That’s a conversation that we can have and then we’ll have to discuss how much power they have, you know, what the actual perspective is, delve into it. But, you know, I think that he was being overbroad and sort of labeling all of his political enemies under one rubric. Now, again, in politics, this stuff sort of happens all the time, I’m not going to plead clean hands here because I’m sure that I’ve been inexact.
But somebody, what would be good in that particular situation is for somebody to sort of read me back the quote and I’ll let you know where I’ve been inaccurate. I’ll try to do that.
Lex Fridman (26:43):
And also you don’t shy away from humor and occasional trolling and mockery and all that kind of stuff for the fun, for the chaos, all that kind of stuff.
Ben Shapiro (26:51):
I mean, I try not to do trollery for trollery’s sake, but, you know, if the show’s not entertaining and not fun, people aren’t going to listen. And so, you know, if you can’t have fun with politics, the truth about politics is we all take it very seriously because it has some serious ramifications. Politics is Veep, it is not House of Cards.
The general rule of politics is that everyone is a moron unless proven otherwise, that virtually everything is done out of stupidity rather than malice, and that if you actually watch politics as a comedy, you’ll have a lot more fun. And so the difficulty for me is I take politics seriously, but also I have the ability to sort of flip the switch and suddenly it all becomes incredibly funny because it really is. Like if you just watch it from a pure entertainment perspective and you put aside the fact that it affects hundreds of millions of people, then watching, you know, President Trump being president, I mean, he’s one of the funniest humans who’s ever lived, watching Kamala Harris be Kamala Harris and talking about how much she loves Venn diagrams or electric buses. I mean, that’s funny stuff. So if I can’t make fun of that, then my job becomes pretty morose pretty quickly.
Lex Fridman (27:50):
Yeah, it’s funny to figure out what is the perfect balance between seeing the humor and the absurdity of the game of it versus taking it seriously enough because it does affect hundreds of millions of people. It’s a weird balance to strike. It’s like I am afraid with the internet that everything becomes a joke.
Ben Shapiro (28:09):
I totally agree with this. I will say this. I try to make less jokes about the ideas and more jokes about the people in the same way that I make jokes about myself. I’m pretty self-effacing in terms of my humor. I would say at least half the jokes on my show are about me. When I’m reading ads for Tommy John and they’re talking about their no-weshy guarantee, I’ll say things like, you know, that would help me in high school because it would have, I mean, just factually speaking. So, you know, if I can speak that way about myself, I feel like everybody else can take it as well.
Lex Fridman (28:37):
Difficult question. In 2017, there was a mosque shooting in Quebec City. Six people died, five others seriously injured. The 27-year-old gunman consumed a lot of content online and checked Twitter accounts a lot of a lot of people, but one of the people he checked quite a lot of is you, 93 times in the month leading up to the shooting. If you could talk to that young man, what would you tell him? And maybe other young men listening to this that have hate in their heart in that same way, what would you tell him?
Ben Shapiro (29:09):
You’re getting it wrong. If anything that I or anyone else in mainstream politics says drives you to violence, you’re getting it wrong. You’re getting it wrong. Now, again, when it comes to stuff like this, I have a hard and fast rule that I’ve applied evenly across the spectrum, and that is I never blame people’s politics for other people committing acts of violence unless they’re actively advocating violence. So when a fan of Bernie Sanders shoots up a congressional baseball game, that is not Bernie Sanders’ fault. I may not like his rhetoric. I may disagree with him on everything. Bernie Sanders did not tell somebody to go shoot up a congressional baseball game. When a nutcase in San Francisco goes and hits Paul Pelosi with a hammer, I’m not gonna blame Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, for that.
When somebody threatens Brett Kavanaugh, I’m not gonna suggest that that was Joe Biden’s fault because it’s not Joe Biden’s fault. I mean, we can play this game all day long, and I find that the people who are most intensely focused on playing this game are people who tend to oppose the politics of the person as opposed to actually believing sincerely that this has driven somebody into the arms of the god of violence. But I have 4.7 million Twitter followers. I have 8 million Facebook followers. I have 5 million YouTube followers. I would imagine that some of them are people who are violent. I would imagine that some of them are people who do evil things or want to do evil things.
And I wish that there were a wand that we could wave that would prevent those people from deliberately or mistakenly misinterpreting things as a call to violence. It’s just a negative byproduct of the fact that you can reach a lot of people. And so, you know, if somebody could point me to the comment that I suppose, quote, unquote, drove somebody to go and literally murder human beings, then I would appreciate it so I could talk about the comment, but I don’t, mainly because I just think that if we remove agency from individuals and if we blame broad-scale political rhetoric for every act of violence, the people who are gonna pay the price are actually the general population because free speech will go away. If the idea is that things that we say could drive somebody who is unbalanced to go do something evil, the necessary byproduct is hate, is that speech is a form of hate. Hate is a form of violence. Speech is a form of violence. Speech needs to be curbed. And that, to me, is deeply disturbing.
Lex Fridman (31:32):
So definitely he, that man, that 27-year-old man, is the only one responsible for the evil he did. But what if he and others like him are not in our cases? What if they’re people with pain, with anger in their heart? What would you say to them? You are exceptionally influential and other people like you that speak passionately about ideas. What do you think is your opportunity to alleviate the hate in their heart?
Ben Shapiro (32:02):
If we’re speaking about people who aren’t mentally ill and people who are just misguided, I’d say to him, the thing that I said to every other young man in the country, you need to find meaning and purpose in forming connections that actually matter in a belief system that actually promotes general prosperity and promotes helping other people. And this is why the message that I most commonly say to young men is it’s time for you to grow up, mature, get a job, get married, have a family, take care of the people around you, become a useful part of your community.
I’ve never, at any point in my entire career, suggested violence as a resort to political issues. The whole point of having a political conversation is that it’s a conversation. If I didn’t think that it were worth trying to convince people, at my point of view, I wouldn’t do what I do for a living. So violence doesn’t solve anything. No, it doesn’t.
Lex Fridman (32:56):
As if this wasn’t already a difficult conversation, let me ask about Ilhan Omar. You’ve called out her criticism of Israel policies as anti-Semitic. Is there a difference between criticizing a race of people like the Jews and criticizing the policies of a nation like Israel?
Ben Shapiro (33:18):
Of course, of course. I criticize the policies of Israel on a fairly regular basis, I would assume from a different angle than Ilhan Omar does. But yeah, I mean, I criticize the policies of a wide variety of states. And to take an example, I mean, I’ve criticized Israel’s policy in giving control of the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf, which effectively prevents anybody except for Muslims for praying up there. I’ve also criticized the Israeli government for their COVID crackdown. I mean, you can criticize the policies of any government, but that’s not what Ilhan Omar does. Ilhan Omar doesn’t actually believe that there should be a state of Israel. She believes that Zionism is racism and that the existence of a Jewish state in Israel is, in and of itself, the great sin. That is a statement she would make about no other people in no other land. She would not say that the French don’t deserve a state for the French. She wouldn’t say that the Somalis wouldn’t deserve a state in Somalia. She wouldn’t say that Germans don’t deserve a state in Germany. She wouldn’t say for the 50-plus Islamic states that exist across the world that they don’t deserve states of their own. It is only the Jewish state that has fallen under her significant scrutiny. And she also promulgates lies about one specific state in the form of suggesting, for example, that Israel is an apartheid state, which it is most eminently not, considering that the last unity government in Israel included an Arab party, that there are Arabs who sit on the Israeli Supreme Court, and all the rest. And then beyond that, obviously, she’s engaged in some of the same sort of anti-Semitic tropes that you heard from Yeh, right? The stuff about it’s all about the Benjamins, that American support for Israel is all about the Benjamins. And she’s had to be chided by members of her own party about this sort of stuff before.
Lex Fridman (34:45):
Can you empathize with the plight of Palestinian people?
Ben Shapiro (34:48):
Absolutely. I mean, you know, some of the uglier things that I’ve ever said in my career are things that I said very early on when I was 17, 18, 19. I started writing a syndicated comment when I was 17. I’m now 38. So virtually all the dumb things, I don’t say virtually all, many of the dumb things, the plurality of the dumb things that I’ve said came from the ages of, I would say, 17 to maybe 23. And they are rooted, again, in sloppy thinking. I feel terrible for people who have lived under the thumb and currently live under the thumb of Hamas, which is a national terrorist group, or the Palestinian Authority, which is a corrupt oligarchy that steals money from its people and leaves them in misery, or Islamic Jihad, which is an actual terrorist group. And the basic rule for the region, in my view, is if these groups were willing to make peace with Israel, they would have a state literally tomorrow. And if they are not, then there will be no peace. And it really is that simple. If Israel, the formula it’s typically used has become a bit of a bumper sticker, but it happens to be factually correct. If the Palestinians put down their guns tomorrow, there would be a state. If the Israelis put down their guns, there would be no Israel.
Lex Fridman (35:51):
You get attacked a lot on the internet. Oh, yeah. You noticed. I gotta ask you about your own psychology. How do you not let that break you mentally? And how do you avoid letting that lead to a resentment of the groups that attack you?
Ben Shapiro (36:08):
I mean, so there are a few sort of practical things that I’ve done. For example, I would say that four years ago, Twitter was all-consuming. Twitter is an ego machine, especially the notifications button, right? The notifications button is just people talking about you all the time, and the normal human tendency is, wow, people talking about me. I gotta see what they’re saying about me, which is a recipe for insanity. So my wife actually said, Twitter is making your life miserable. You need to take it off your phone. So Twitter is not on my phone. If I wanna log onto Twitter, I have to go onto my computer, and I have to make the conscious decision to go onto Twitter and then take a look at what’s going on.
Lex Fridman (36:40):
I could just imagine you, like there’s a computer in the basement you descend into the check Twitter.
Ben Shapiro (36:45):
That’s pretty much it. If you look at when I actually tweet, it’s generally like in the run-up to recording my show or when I’m prepping for my show later in the afternoon, for example.
Lex Fridman (36:54):
That doesn’t affect you negatively mentally, like put you in a bad mental space?
Ben Shapiro (36:57):
Not particularly if it’s restricted to sort of what’s being watched now. I will say that I think the most important thing is you have to surround yourself with a group of people who you trust enough to make serious critiques of you when you’re doing something wrong, but also you know that they have your best interests at heart because the internet is filled with people who don’t have your best interests at heart and who hate your guts, and so you can’t really take those critiques seriously or it does wreck you.
The world is also filled with sycophants, right? The more successful you become, there are a lot of people who will tell you you’re always doing the right thing. I’m very lucky. I got married when I was 24 and my wife was 20, so she’s known me long before I was famous or wealthy or anything, and so she’s a good sounding board. I have a family that’s willing to call me out on my bullshit as you talk to Yay about. I have friends who are able to do that. I try to have open lines of communications with people who I believe have my best interests at heart, but one of the sort of conditions of being friends is that when you see me do something wrong, I’d like for you to let me know that so I can correct it, and I don’t want to leave bad impressions out there.
Lex Fridman (37:58):
The sad thing about the Internet, just looking at the critiques you get, I see very few critiques from people that actually want you to succeed and want you to grow. I mean, they’re not sophisticated. They’re just, I don’t know, they’re cruel. The critiques are just, it’s not actual critiques. It’s just cruelty.
Ben Shapiro (38:15):
And that’s most of Twitter. I mean, as I say, Twitter is a place to smack and be smacked. I mean, anybody who uses Twitter for an intellectual conversation, I think, is engaging in category error. I use it to spread love. I think it’s the possum. You’re the only one. It’s you and no one else, my friend. All right.
Lex Fridman (38:33):
On that topic, what do you think about Elon buying Twitter? What do you like, what are you hopeful on that front? What would you like to see Twitter improve?
Ben Shapiro (38:43):
So I’m very hopeful about Elon buying Twitter. I mean, I think that Elon is significantly more transparent than what has taken place up till now. He seems committed to the idea that he’s gonna broaden the Overton window to allow for conversations that simply were banned before, everything ranging from efficacy of masks with regard to COVID to whether men can become women and all the rest. A lot of things that would get you banned on Twitter before without any sort of real explanation. It seems like he’s dedicated to at least explaining what the standards are going to be and being broader in allowing a variety of perspectives on the outlet, which I think is wonderful. I think that’s also why people are freaking out. I think the kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth and wearing of sackcloth and ash by so many members of the legacy media, I think a lot of that is because Twitter essentially was an oligarchy in which certain perspectives were allowed and certain perspectives just were not. And that was part of a broader social media reimposed oligarchy in the aftermath of 2017.
So in order for, just to really understand, I think, what it means for Elon to take over Twitter, I think that we have to take a look at sort of the history of media in the United States in two minutes or less. The United States, the media for most of its existence up until about 1990, at least from about 1930s until the 1990s, virtually all media was three major television networks, a couple major newspapers, and the wire services. Everybody had a local newspaper with wire services that basically did all the foreign policy and all the national policy. McClatchy, Reuters, AP, AFP, et cetera. So that monopoly or oligopoly existed until the rise of the internet. There were sort of pokes at it and talk radio and Fox News, but there certainly was not this plethora of sources. Then the internet explodes, and all of a sudden, you can get news everywhere. And the way that people are accessing that news is, you’re, I believe, significantly younger than I am, but we used to do this thing called bookmarking, where you would bookmark a series of websites, and then you would visit them every morning. And then social media came up. Was this on AOL, or? Yeah, exactly, you had the dial-up, and there was actually a can connected to a string, and you would actually just, it would go, ehh, ehh.
And then there came a point where social media arose, and social media was sort of a boon for everybody, because you no longer had to bookmark anything. You just followed your favorite accounts, and all of them would pop up, and you’d follow everything on Facebook, and it would all pop up, and it was all centralized. And for a while, everybody was super happy, because this was the brand new wave of the future. It made everything super easy. Suddenly, outlets like mine were able to see new eyeballs, because it was all centralized in one place, right? You didn’t have to do it through Google optimization. You could now just put it on Facebook, and so many eyeballs were on Facebook, you’d get more traffic. And everybody seemed pretty happy with this arrangement, until precisely the moment Donald Trump became president. At that point, then the sort of preexisting supposition of a lot of the powers that be, which was Democrats are gonna continue winning from here on out, so we can sort of use these social media platforms as ways to push our information, and still allow for there to be other information out there. The immediate response was, we need to reestablish this siphoning of information. It was misinformation and disinformation that won Donald Trump the election. We need to pressure the social media companies to start cracking down on misinformation and disinformation. You can actually see this in the historical record. I mean, you can see how Jack Dorsey’s talk about free speech shifted from about 2015 to about 2018. You can see Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech at Georgetown in 2018, in which he talked about free speech and its value. And by 2019, he was going in front of Congress, talking about how he was responsible for the stuff that was on Facebook, which is not true. He’s not responsible for the stuff on Facebook, right? It’s a platform. Is AT&T responsible for the stuff you say on your phone? The answer is typically no. So when that happened, all of these, because all the eyeballs had now been centralized on these social media sites, they were able to suddenly control what you could see and what you could not see. And the most obvious example was obviously leading up to 2020, the election, the killing of the Hunter Biden story is a great example of this. And so Elon coming in and taking over one of the social media services and saying, I’m not playing by your rules, right? There’s not gonna be this sort of group of people in the halls of power who are gonna decide what we can see and hear. Instead, I’m gonna let a thousand flowers bloom. There’ll be limits, but it’s gonna be on a more case-by-case basis. We’re going to allow perspectives that are mainstream but maybe not mainstream in the halls of academia or in the halls of media. Let those be said. I think it’s a really good thing.
That comes with some responsibilities on Elon’s personal part, which would be to be, for example, I think more responsible in dissemination of information himself sometimes, right? He got himself in trouble the other day for tweeting out that story about Paul Pelosi that was speculative and untrue. And I don’t think what he did is horrific. He deleted it when he found out that it was false. And that’s actually a free speech working, right? He said something wrong, people ripped into him. He realized he was wrong and he deleted it, which seems to be a better solution than preemptively banning content, which only raises more questions than it actually stops.
With that said, as the face of responsible free speech, and that’s sort of what he’s pitching at Twitter, he, I think, should enact that himself and be a little more careful in the stuff that he tweets out.
Lex Fridman (43:46):
Well, that’s a tricky balance. The reason a lot of people are freaking out is because, one, he’s putting his thumb on the scale by saying he is more likely to vote Republican. He’s showing himself to be center-right and sort of just having a political opinion versus being this amorphous thing that doesn’t have a political opinion. I think, if I were to guess, I haven’t talked to him about it, but if I were to guess he’s sending a kind of signal that’s important for the Twitter, the company itself, because if we’re being honest, most of the employees are left-leaning. So you have to kind of send a signal that, like a resisting mechanism to say, since most of the employees are left, it’s good for Elon to be more right to balance out the way the actual engineering is done, to say we’re not going to do any kind of activism inside the engineering. If I were to guess that’s kind of the effective aspect of that mechanism. And the other one, by posting the Pelosi thing, is probably to expand the Overton window, like saying we can play, we can post stuff, we can post conspiracy theories, and then through discourse, figure out what is and isn’t true.
Ben Shapiro (44:55):
Yeah, again, like I say, I think that that is a better mechanism in action than what it was before. I just think it gave people who hate his guts the opening to kind of slap him for no reason. But I can see the strategy of it, for sure. And I think that the general idea that he’s kind of pushing right where the company had pushed left before, I think that there is actually unilateral polarization right now in politics, at least with regard to social media, in which one side basically says the solution to disinformation is to shut down free speech from the other side. And the other side is basically like people like me are saying the solution to disinformation is to let a thousand, like I’d rather have people on the left also being able to put out stuff that I disagree with than for there to be anybody who’s sort of in charge of these social media platforms and using them as editorial sites. I mean, I’m not criticizing MSNBC for not putting on right-wing opinions. I mean, that’s fine. I run a conservative site. We’re not gonna put up left-wing opinions on a wide variety of issues because we are a conservative site. But if you pitch yourself as a platform, that’s a different thing. If you pitch yourself as the town square, as Elon likes to call it, then I think Elon has a better idea of that than many of the former employees did, especially now that we have that report from The Intercept suggesting that there are people from Twitter working with DHS to monitor, quote, unquote, disinformation and being rather vague about what disinformation meant.
Lex Fridman (46:15):
Yeah, I don’t think activism has a place in what is fundamentally an engineering company that’s building a platform. Like, the people inside the company should not be putting a thumb on the scale of what is and isn’t allowed. You should create a mechanism for the people to decide what is and isn’t allowed. Do you think Trump should have been removed from Twitter? Should his account be restored?
Ben Shapiro (46:38):
His account should be restored. And this is coming from somebody who really dislikes an enormous number of Donald Trump’s tweets. Again, he’s a very important political personage. Even if he weren’t, I don’t think that he should be banned from Twitter or Facebook in coordinated fashion. By the way, I hold that opinion about people who I think are far worse than Donald Trump. Everyone knows I’m not an Alex Jones guy. I don’t like Alex Jones. I think Alex Jones pervades. Uh-oh, you think Alex should be back on Twitter? I do, actually, because I think that there are plenty of people who are willing to say that what he’s saying is wrong. And I’m not a big fan of this idea that because people I disagree with and people who have personally targeted me, by the way. Alex Jones has said some things about me personally that I’m not real fond of. You guys not… Well, we’re not besties. No, it turns out, yeah.
All I’ve said is I don’t really enjoy his show. He said some other stuff about the Antichrist and such, but that’s a bit of a different thing, I suppose. Even so, I’m just not a big fan of this idea. I’ve defended people who have really gone after me on a personal level, have targeted me.
The town square is online. Banning people from the town square is unpersoning them. Unless you violated a criminal statute, you should not be unpersoned in American society as a general rule. That doesn’t mean that companies that are not platforms don’t have the ability to respond to you. I think Adidas is right to terminate its contract with Kanye, for example, or with Ye. But Twitter ain’t Adidas.
Lex Fridman (48:15):
So the way your stance on free speech to the degree it’s possible to achieve on a platform like Twitter is you fight bad speech with more speech, with better speech. And that’s, so if Alex Jones and Trump is allowed back on in the coming months and years leading up to the 2024 election, you think that’s gonna make for a better world in the long term?
Ben Shapiro (48:42):
I think that on the principle that people should be allowed to do this and the alternative being a group of thought bosses telling us what we can and cannot see, yes. Do I think in the short term it’s gonna mean a lot of things that I don’t like very much? Sure, I mean, them’s the cost of doing business, you know? I think that one of the costs of freedom is people doing things that I don’t particularly like. And I would prefer the freedom with all the stuff I don’t like than not the freedom.
Lex Fridman (49:08):
Let me linger on the love a little bit. You and a lot of people are pretty snarky on Twitter, sometimes to the point of mockery, derision, even a bit of, if I were to say, bad faith in the kind of mockery.
And you see it as a war. Like, I disagree with both you and Elon on this. Elon sees Twitter as a war zone, or at least has saw it that way in the past. Have you ever considered being nicer on Twitter? Like, as a voice that a lot of people look up to? That if Ben Shapiro becomes a little bit more about love that’s gonna inspire a lot of people? Or no, is it just too fun for you?
Ben Shapiro (49:49):
The answer is yes. Sure, it’s occurred to me. Let’s put it this way, there are a lot of tweets that actually don’t go out that I delete. I will say that Twitter’s new function, that 30 second function is a friend of mine. Every so often I’ll tweet something and I’ll think about it a second time. Like, do I need to say this? Probably not.
Lex Fridman (50:04):
Can you make a book published after you pass away of all the tweets that you didn’t send?
Ben Shapiro (50:13):
I don’t know, my kids are still gonna be around, I hope. So that’s the legacy. But yeah, I mean, sure. The answer is yes, and this is a good piece of what we would call in Orthodox Judaism, Musser. This is like, he’s giving a Musser schmooze right now. This is like the kind of be a better person stuff. I agree with you, I agree with you. And yeah, I will say that Twitter is sometimes too much fun. I try to be at least, if not even handed, then equal opportunity in my derision.
I remember that during the 2016 primaries, I used to post rather snarky tweets about virtually all of the candidates, Republican and Democrat. And every so often I’ll still do some of that. I do think actually the amount of snark on my Twitter feed has gone down fairly significantly. I think if you go back a couple of years, it was probably a little more snarky. Today, I’m trying to use it a little bit more in terms of strategy to get out information. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna make jokes about, for example, Joe Biden. I will make jokes about Joe Biden. He’s the president of the United States. Nobody else will mock him. So the entire comedic establishment has decided they actually work for him.
Lex Fridman (51:18):
So the president of the United States, no matter who they are, get the snark.
Ben Shapiro (51:23):
Yes, yes, and President Trump, I think, is fairly aware that he got the snark from me as well. When it comes to snarking the president, I’m not gonna stop that. I think the president deserves to be snarked. So you’re not afraid of attacking Trump? No, I mean, I’ve done it before.
Lex Fridman (51:35):
Can you say what your favorite and least favorite things are about President Trump and President Biden one at a time? So maybe one thing that you can say is super positive about Trump and one thing super negative about Trump.
Ben Shapiro (51:51):
Okay, so the super positive thing about Trump is that because he has no preconceived views that are establishmentarian, he’s sometimes willing to go out of the box and do things that haven’t been tried before. And sometimes that works. I mean, the best example being the entire foreign policy establishment telling him that he couldn’t get a Middle Eastern deal done unless he centered the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and instead he just went right around that and ended up cutting a bunch of peace deals in the Middle East or moving the embassy in Jerusalem. And sometimes he does stuff, and it’s really out of the box, and it actually works, and that’s kind of awesome in politics and neat to see. The downside of Trump is that he has no capacity to use any sort of…
There’s no filter between brain and mouth. Whatever happens in his brain is the thing that comes out of his mouth. I know a lot of people find that charming and wonderful, and it is very funny, but I don’t think that it is particularly excellent personal quality in a person who has as much responsibility as President Trump has. I think he says a lot of damaging and bad things on Twitter. I think that he seems, you know, consumed in some ways by his own grievances, which is why you’ve seen him focusing in on election 2020 so much. And I think that that is very negative about President Trump. So I’m very grateful to President Trump as a conservative for many of the things that he did. I think that a lot of his personality issues are pretty severe.
Lex Fridman (53:09):
What about Joe Biden?
Ben Shapiro (53:12):
So I think that the thing that I like most about Joe Biden, I will say that Biden, two things. One, Biden seems to be a very good father by all available evidence, right? There are a lot of people who are put out, you know, kind of tape of him talking to Hunter, and Hunter’s having trouble with drugs or whatever. They’re going to tape him thinking, he seems like a really good dad. Like the stuff that he’s saying to his son is stuff that, God forbid, if that were happening with my kid, I’d be saying to my kid. And so, you know, you can’t help but feel for the guy. He’s had an incredibly difficult go of it with his first wife and the death of members of his family and then Bo dying. I mean, like that kind of stuff, obviously, is deeply sympathetic. And he seems like a deeply sympathetic father. As far as his politics, he seems like a slap on the back kind of guy, and I don’t mind that. I think that’s nice so far as it goes. It’s sort of an old-school politics where things are done with handshake and personal relationships.
The thing I don’t like about him is I think sometimes that’s really not genuine. I think that sometimes, you know, I think that’s his personal tendency, but I think sometimes he allows the prevailing winds of his party to carry him to incredibly radical places, and then he just doubles down on the radicalism in some pretty disingenuous ways. And there I would cite the Independence Hall speech, which I thought was truly one of the worst speeches I’ve seen a president give. So you don’t think he’s trying to be a unifier in general?
Not at all. I mean, that’s what he was elected to do. He was elected to do two things, not be alive and be a unifier. Those were the two things. And when I say not be alive, I don’t mean like physically dead. This is where the snark comes in. But what I do mean is that he is, he was elected to not be particularly activist.
Basically, the mandate was don’t be Trump. Be sane. Don’t be Trump. Calm everything down. And instead he got in and he’s like, what if we spend $7 trillion? What if we pull out of Afghanistan without any sort of plan? What if I start labeling all of my political enemies, enemies of the republic? What if I start bringing Dylan Mulvaney to the White House and talking about how it is a moral sin to prevent the genital mutilation of minors? This kind of stuff is very radical stuff. And this is not a president who has pursued a unifying agenda, which is why his approval rating sank from 60% when he entered office to low 40s or high 30s today. Unlike President Trump, who never had a high approval rating, right? Trump came into office and he had like a 45% approval rating. And when he left office, he had about a 43% approval rating. It bounced around between 45 and 37, pretty much his entire presidency. Biden went from being a very popular guy coming in to a very unpopular guy right now. And if you’re Joe Biden, you should be looking in the mirror and wondering exactly why.
Lex Fridman (55:48):
Do you think that pulling out from Afghanistan could be flipped as a pro for Biden in terms of he actually did it?
Ben Shapiro (55:53):
I think it’s going to be almost impossible. I think the American people are incredibly inconsistent about their own views on foreign policy. In other words, we like to be isolationist until it comes time for us to be defeated and humiliated. When that happens, we tend not to like it very much.
Lex Fridman (56:10):
You mentioned Biden being a good father. Can you make the case for and against the Hunter Biden laptop story for it being a big deal and against it being a big deal?
Ben Shapiro (56:21):
Sure, so the case for it being a big deal is basically twofold. One is that it is clearly relevant if the president’s son is running around to foreign countries picking up bags of cash because his last name is Biden while his father is vice president of the United States. is vice president of the United States. It raises questions as to influence peddling for either the vice president or the former vice president using political connections. Did he make any money? Who was the big guy? All these open questions. That obviously implicates the questions to be asked.
Then the secondary reason that the story is big is actually because of the reaction of the story. The banning of the story is in and of itself a major story. If there’s any story that implicates a presidential candidate in the last month of an election or a media blackout, including a social media blackout, that obviously raises some very serious questions about informational flow and dissemination in the United States.
Lex Fridman (57:10):
No matter how big of a deal the story is, it is a big deal that there’s a censorship of any relevant story.
Ben Shapiro (57:16):
When there’s a coordinated, collusive blackout, yeah, that’s a serious and major problem. So those are the two reasons why it would be a big story. The two reasons, a reason why it would not be a big story, perhaps, is if it turns out, and we don’t really know this yet, but let’s say that Hunter Biden was basically off on his own doing what he was doing, being a derelict or a drug addict or acting badly, and his dad had nothing to do with it and Joe was telling the truth, but the problem is we never actually got those questions answered. So if it had turned out to be nothing of a story, the nice thing about stories that turn out to be nothing is that after they turn out to be nothing, they’re nothing. The biggest problem with this story is that it wasn’t allowed to take the normal life cycle of a story, which is, original story breaks, follow-on questions are asked, follow-on questions are answered, story is either now a big story or it’s nothing.
When the life cycle of a story is cut off right at the very beginning, right when it’s born, then that allows you to speculate in any direction you want. You can speculate, it means nothing, it’s nonsense, it’s a Russian laptop, it’s disinformation. Or on the other hand, this means that Joe Biden was personally calling Hunter and telling him to pick up a sack of cash over in Beijing and then he became president and he’s influence peddling. So this is why it’s important to allow these stories to go forward. So this is why actually the bigger story for the moment is not the laptop, it’s the reaction to the laptop because it cut off that life cycle of the story.
And then at some point I would assume that there will be some follow-on questions that are actually answered. The House is pledging, if it goes Republican, to investigate all of this. I would be supremely surprised if it turns out that there was no direct involvement of Joe in this sort of stuff because it turns out, as I said before, that all of politics is Veep. And this is always the story with half the scandals that you see is that everybody assumes that there’s some sort of deep and abiding, clever plan that some politician is implementing it and then you look at it and it turns out, no, it’s just something dumb, right? This is sort of a perfect example of this. President Trump with the classified documents in Mar-a-Lago. So people on the left-hand side, it’s probably nuclear codes. Probably he’s taking secret documents and selling them to the Russians or the Chinese. And the real most obvious explanation is Trump looked at the papers and he said, I like these papers, and then he just decided to keep them.
Right? And then people came to him and said, Mr. President, you’re not allowed to keep those papers. He said, who are those people? I don’t care about what they have to say. I’m putting them in the other room, in a box. It is highly likely that that is what happened. And it’s very disappointing to people, I think, when they realize, the human brain, I mean, you know this better than I do, but the human brain is built to find patterns. Right? It’s what we like to do. We like to find plans and patterns because this is how we survived in the wild. You found a plan, you found a pattern, you cracked the code of the universe. When it comes to politics, the conspiracy theories that we see so often, it’s largely because we’re seeing inexplicable events. Unless you just assume everyone’s a moron.
If you assume that there’s a lot of stupidity going on, everything becomes quickly explicable. If you assume that there must be some rationale behind it, you have to come up with increasingly convoluted conspiracy theories to explain just why people are acting the way that they’re acting. And I find that, I don’t say 100% of the time, but 94% of the time, the conspiracy theory turns out just to be people being dumb and then other people reacting in dumb ways to the original people being dumb.
Lex Fridman (01:00:22):
But it’s also, to me in that same way, very possible, very likely, that the Hunter Biden getting money in Ukraine, I guess, for consulting and all that kind of stuff is a nothingburger. He’s qualified, he’s getting money as he should. There’s a lot of influence peddling in general that’s not corrupt.
Ben Shapiro (01:00:40):
I think the most obvious explanation there, probably, is that he was fake influence peddling, meaning he went to Ukraine. And he’s like, guess what? My dad’s Joe. I’m like, well, you don’t have any qualifications in oil and natural gas and you don’t really have a great resume, but your dad is Joe. And then that was kind of the end of it. They gave him a bag of cash hoping he would do something. He never did anything.
Lex Fridman (01:00:58):
I think you’re making it sound worse than it is. I think that, in general, consulting is done in that way. Your name, it’s not like you’re- I agree with you. You’re not, it’s not like he is some rare case and this is an illustration of corruption. If you can criticize consulting, which I would- That’s fair. You’re basically not providing, you look at a resume and who’s who. Like, if you went to Harvard, I can criticize the same thing. If you have Harvard on your resume, you’re more likely to be hired as a consultant. Maybe there’s a network there of people that you know and you hire them in that same way. If your last name is Biden, if your last name- There’s a lot of last names that sound pretty good at it.
Ben Shapiro (01:01:35):
For sure, for sure, for sure. Biden admitted that much, by the way, in an open interview. He was like, if your last name weren’t Biden, would you have got that job? And he’s like, probably not.
Lex Fridman (01:01:44):
And you’re right, I agree with you. It’s not like he’s getting a ridiculous amount of money. He was getting a pretty standard consulting kind of money, which also I would criticize because they get a ridiculous amount of money. But even to push back on the life cycle or to steel man the side that was concerned about the Hahnemann-Lapdorf story, I don’t know if there is a natural life cycle of a story because there’s something about the virality of the internet that we can’t predict that a story can just take hold and the conspiracy around it builds, especially around politics, where the interpretation, some popular sexy interpretation of a story that might not be connected to reality at all will become viral. And from Facebook’s perspective, probably what they’re worried about is an organized misinformation campaign that makes up a sexy story or a sexy interpretation of the vague story that we have, and that has an influence on the population of the populace.
Ben Shapiro (01:02:45):
I think that’s true, but I think the question becomes who’s the great adjudicator there? Who adjudicates when the story ought to be allowed to go through a bad life cycle or allowed to go viral as opposed to not? Now, it’s one thing if you want to say, okay, we can spot the Russian accounts that are actually promoting this stuff. They belong to the Russian government. Got to shut that down. I think everybody agrees. This is actually one of the slides that’s happened linguistically that I really object to is the slide between disinformation and misinformation. You notice there is this evolution. In 2017, there was a lot of talk about disinformation. It was Russian disinformation. The Russians were putting out deliberately false information in order to skew election results was the accusation. They were using disinformation or misinformation, and misinformation is either mistaken information or information that is, quote, unquote, out of context. That becomes very subjective very quickly as to what out of context means, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be from a foreign source. It can be from a domestic source. It could be somebody misinterpreting something here. It could be somebody interpreting something correctly, but PolitiFact thinks that it’s out of context. That sort of stuff gets very murky very quickly, and so I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea that Facebook, I mean, Zuckerberg was on with Rogan talking about how the FBI had basically set look out for Russian interference in the election, and then all of these people were out there saying that the laptop was Russian disinformation, so he basically shut it down. That sort of stuff is frightening, especially because it wasn’t Russian disinformation. I mean, the laptop was real, and so the fact that you have people who seem to, let’s put it this way. It seems as though, maybe this is wrong. It seems as though when a story gets killed preemptively like this, it is almost universally a story that negatively affects one side of the political aisle.
I can’t remember the last time. There was a story on the right that was disinformation or misinformation where social media stepped in, and they went, we cannot have this. This cannot be distributed. We’re going to all collude so that this information is not distributed. Maybe in response to the story being proved false, it gets taken down, but what made the Hunter Biden thing so amazing is that it wasn’t really even a response to anything. It was like the story got posted. There were no actual doubts expressed. As to the verified falsity of the story, it was just supposition that it had to be false, and everybody jumped in. So I think that confirmed a lot of the conspiracy theories people had about social media and how it works.
Lex Fridman (01:04:53):
Yeah, so if the reason you want to slow down the viral spread of a thing is at all grounded in partisanship, that’s a problem. You should be very honest with yourself and ask yourself that question. Is it because I’m on the left or on the right that I want to slow this down? Versus is it hate, bipartisan hate speech? Right, so it’s really tricky, but like you, I’m very uncomfortable in general with any kind of slowing down, with any kind of censorship. But if there’s something like a conspiracy theory that spreads hate that becomes viral, I still lean to let that conspiracy theory spread because the alternative is dangerous, more dangerous.
Ben Shapiro (01:05:38):
It’s sort of like the ring of power, right? Like everybody wants the ring, because with the ring you can stop the bad guys from going forward, but it turns out that the ring gives you enormous power, and that power can be used in the wrong ways too.
Lex Fridman (01:05:51):
You had the daily wire, which I’m a member of. I appreciate that, thank you. I recommend everybody sign up to it. It should be part of your regular diet, whether you’re on the left and the right, the far left or the far right, everybody should be part of your regular diet. Okay, that said, do you worry about the audience capture aspect of it? Because it is a platform for conservatives, and you have a powerful voice on there, it might be difficult for you to go against the talking points against the stream of ideas that is usually connected to conservative thought. Do you worry about that?
Ben Shapiro (01:06:32):
Well, I mean, the audience would obviously be upset with me and would have a right to be upset with me if I suddenly flipped all of my positions on a dime. I have enough faith in my audience that I can say things that I think are true and that made us agree with the audience on a fairly regular basis, I would say, but they understand that on the deeper principle, we’re on the same side of the at least I hope that much, from the audience. It’s also why we provide a number of different views on the platforms, many of which I disagree with, but are sort of within the generalized range of conservative thought.
It’s something I do have to think about every day, though. Yeah, I mean, you have to think about like, am I saying this because I’m afraid of taking off my audience or am I saying this because I actually believe this? And that’s a delicate dance a little bit. You have to be sort of honest with yourself.
Lex Fridman (01:07:17):
I feel like Sam Harris is pretty good at this, at fighting, at saying the most outrageous thing that he knows, he almost leans into it. He knows it’ll piss off a lot of his audience. Sometimes you almost have to test the system. It’s like if you feel, you almost exaggerate your feelings just to make sure to send a signal to the audience that you’re not captured by them. So speaking of people you disagree with, what is your favorite thing about Candace Owens and what is one thing you disagree with her on?
Ben Shapiro (01:07:53):
Well, my favorite thing about Candace is that she will say things that nobody else will say. My least favorite thing about Candace is that she will say things that nobody else will say. I mean, listen, she says things that are audacious and I think need to be said sometimes. Sometimes I think that she is morally wrong. I think the way she responded to Kanye, I’ve said this clearly, was dead wrong and morally wrong. What was her response? Her original response was that she proffered confusion of what Ye was actually talking about. And then she was defending her friend. I wish that the way that she had responded was by saying, he’s my friend and also he said something bad and antisemitic. I wish that she had said that. Right away. Right away.
Lex Fridman (01:08:34):
I think you can also, this is the interesting human thing, you can be friends with people that you disagree with and you can be friends with people that actually say hateful stuff and one of the ways to help alleviate hate is being friends with people that say hateful things.
Ben Shapiro (01:08:51):
Yeah, and then calling them out on a personal level when they do say wrong or hateful things.
Lex Fridman (01:08:56):
It’s a place of love and respect and privately.
Ben Shapiro (01:08:59):
Privately is also a big thing. The public demand for denunciation from friends to friends is difficult and I certainly have compassion for Candace given the fact that she’s so close with Ye.
Lex Fridman (01:09:14):
Yeah, it breaks my heart sometimes, the public fights between friends and broken friendships. I’ve seen quite a few friendships publicly break over COVID. COVID made people behave their worst in many cases, which breaks my heart a little bit because the human connection is a prerequisite for effective debate and discussion and battles over ideas. Has there been any argument from the opposite political aisle that has made you change your mind about something? If you look back.
Ben Shapiro (01:09:56):
I’m thinking it through because I think that my views probably on foreign policy have morphed somewhat. I would say that I was much more interventionist when I was younger. I’m significantly less interventionist now. Can you give an example? Sure, I was a big backer of the Iraq war. I think now in retrospect, I might not be a backer of the Iraq war if the same situation arose again based on the amount of evidence that had been presented or based on the sort of willingness of the American public to go it. If you’re going to get involved in a war, you have to know what the endpoint looks like and you have to know what the American people really are willing to bear and the American people are not willing to bear open-ended occupations.
Knowing that, you have to consider that going in. On foreign policy, I’ve become a lot more of a almost Henry Kissinger realist in some ways.
When it comes to social policy, I would say that I’m fairly strong where I was. I may have become slightly convinced actually by more of the conservative side of the aisle on things like drug legalization. I think when I was younger, I was much more pro-drug legalization than I am now, at least on the local level. On the federal level, I think the federal government can’t really do much other than close the borders with regard to fentanyl trafficking, for example, but when it comes to how drugs were in local communities, you can see how drugs were in local communities pretty easily.
Lex Fridman (01:11:15):
Which is weird because I saw you smoke a joint right before this conversation.
Ben Shapiro (01:11:19):
It’s my biggest thing. I mean, I try to keep that secret.
Lex Fridman (01:11:21):
All right. Well, that’s interesting about intervention. Can you comment about the war in Ukraine? For me, it’s a deeply personal thing, but I think you’re able to look at it from a geopolitics perspective. What is the role of the United States in this conflict, before the conflict, during the conflict, and right now in helping achieve peace?
Ben Shapiro (01:11:44):
I think before the conflict, the big problem is that the West took almost the worst possible view, which was encourage Ukraine to keep trying to join NATO and the EU, but don’t let them in. And so what that does is it achieves the purpose of getting Russia really, really, really ticked off and feeling threatened, but also does not give any of the protections of NATO or the EU to Ukraine. I mean, Zelensky is on film when he was a comedy actor making that exact joke. He has Merkel on the other line, and she’s like, oh, welcome to NATO, and he’s like, great. And she’s like, wait, is this Ukraine on the line? Oops. So that sort of policy is sort of nonsensical. If you’re going to offer alliance to somebody, offer alliance to them, and if you’re going to guarantee their security, guarantee their security. And the West failed, significantly, to do that.
So that was mistakes in the run-up to the war. Once the war began, then the responsibility of the West began and became to give Ukraine as much material as is necessary to repel the invasion.
And the West did really well with that. I think we were late on the ball in the United States. It seemed like Europe led the way a little bit more than the United States did there. But in terms of effectuating American interests in the region, which being an American is what I’m chiefly concerned about, the American interests were several-fold. One is preserve borders. Two is degrade the Russian aggressive military, because Russia’s military has been aggressive, and they are a geopolitical rival of the United States. Three, recalibrate the European balance with China. Europe was sort of balancing with Russia and China. And then because of the war, they sort of rebalanced away from China and Russia, which is a real geostrategic opportunity for the United States.
It seemed like most of those goals have already been achieved at this point for the United States. And so then the question becomes, what’s the off-ramp here? And what is the thing you’re trying to prevent? So what’s the best opportunity? What’s the best-case scenario? What’s the worst-case scenario? And then what’s realistic? So best-case scenario is Ukraine forces Russia entirely out of Ukraine, including Luhansk and Kremia. That’s the best-case scenario. That’s accomplishable, including the United States. The White House has basically said as much. It’s difficult to imagine, particularly Kremia, the Russians being forced out of Kremia. The Ukrainians have been successful in pushing the Russians out of certain parts of Luhansk and Donetsk. But the idea they’re going to be able to push the entire Russian army completely back to the Russian borders, that would be, at best, a very, very long and difficult slog in the middle of a collapsing Ukrainian economy, which is a point that Zelensky has made. It’s like, it’s not enough for you guys to give us military aid. We’re in the middle of a war. We’re going to need economic aid as well. So it’s a pretty open-ended and strong commitment.
Lex Fridman (01:14:15):
Can I take a small tangent on that, in the best-case scenario? If that does militarily happen, including Kremia, do you think there’s a world in which Vladimir Putin would be able to convince the Russian people that this was a good conclusion to the war?
Ben Shapiro (01:14:33):
Right, so the problem is that the best-case scenario might also be the worst-case scenario, meaning that there are a couple of scenarios that are sort of the worst-case scenario, and this is sort of the puzzlement of the situation. One is that Putin feels so boxed in, so unable to go back to his own people and say, we just wasted tens of thousands of lives here for no reason, that he unleashes a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield. Nobody knows what happens after that. Do we put NATO planes in the air to take out Russian assets? Do Russians start shooting down planes? Does Russia then threaten to escalate even further by attacking an actual NATO civilian center, or even a Ukrainian civilian center, with nuclear weapons? Where it goes from there, nobody knows, because nuclear weapons haven’t been used since 1945. So that is a worst-case scenario. It’s an unpredictable scenario that could devolve into really, really significant problems.
The other worst-case scenario could be a best-case scenario, could be a worst, we just don’t know, is Putin falls. What happens after that? Who takes over for Putin? Is that person more moderate than Putin? Is that person a liberalizer? It probably won’t be Navalny. If he’s going to be ousted, it’ll probably be somebody who’s a top member of Putin’s brass right now and has capacity to control the military. Or it’s possible the entire regime breaks down. What you end up with is Syria and Russia, where you just have an entirely out-of-control region with no centralizing power, which is also a disaster area. And so in the nature of risk mitigation, in sort of an attempt at risk mitigation, what actually should be happening right now is some off-ramp has to be offered to Putin. The off-ramp likely is going to be him maintaining Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk.
It’s probably going to be a commitment by Ukraine not to join NATO formally, but a guarantee by the West to defend Ukraine in case of an invasion of its borders again. By Russia, like an actual treaty obligation, not like the BS treaty obligation when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the 90s. And that is likely how this is going to have to go. The problem is that requires political courage, not from Zelensky. It requires courage from probably Biden because Zelensky’s not in a political position where he can go back to his own people who have made unbelievable sacrifices on behalf of their nation and freedom and say to them, guys, now I’m calling it quits, we’re going to have to give them Luhansk and give Putin an off-ramp. I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer to most Ukrainians at this point in time from the polling data and from the available data we have on the ground. It’s going to actually take Biden biting the bullet and being the bad guy and saying to Zelensky, listen, we’ve made a commitment of material aid. We were offering you all these things, including essentially a defense pact. We’re offering you all this stuff.
But if you don’t come to the table, then we’re going to have to start weaning you. There will have to be a stick there. It can’t just be a carrot. So that will allow Zelensky, if Biden were to do that, it would allow Zelensky to blame Biden for the solution everybody knows has to happen. Zelensky can go back to his own people and he can say, listen, this is the way it has to go.
I don’t want it to go this way, but I’m signing other people’s checks. Right. I mean, like this is it’s not my money. And Biden would take the hit because he wouldn’t then be able to blame Ukraine for whatever happens next, which has been the easy road off, I think, for a lot of politicians in the West is for them to just say, well, this is up to the Ukrainians to decide. It’s up to the Ukrainians to decide. Well, is it totally up to the Ukrainians to decide? Because it seems like the West is signing an awful lot of checks and all of Europe is going to freeze this winter.
Lex Fridman (01:17:48):
This is the importance of great leadership, by the way. That’s why the people we elect is very important. Do you think there’s power to just one on one conversation or Biden sits down with Zelensky and Biden sits down with Putin almost in person? Because maybe I’m romanticizing the notion, but having done these podcasts in person, I think there’s something fundamentally different than through a remote call and also like a distant kind of recorded political type speak versus like man to man. So I’m deeply afraid that Putin outplays people in the one on one scenarios because he’s done it to multiple presidents already.
Ben Shapiro (01:18:30):
He gets in one on one scenarios with Bush, with Obama, with Trump, with Biden, and he seems to be a very canny operator and a very sort of hard nosed operator in those situations. I think that if you were going to do something like that, like an actual political face to face summit, what you would need is for Biden to first have a conversation with Zelensky, where Zelensky knows what’s going on. So he’s aware. And then Biden walks in and he says to Putin on camera, here’s the offer. Let’s get it together.
Let’s make peace. You get to keep this stuff and then let Putin respond how Putin is going to respond. But the big problem for Putin, I think, and the problem with public facing fora, maybe it’s a private meeting. It’s a private meeting. Maybe that’s the best thing. It was a public facing forum. I think it’s a problem because Putin’s afraid of being humiliated at this point. If it’s a private meeting, then sure, except that, again, I just I wonder whether when it comes to a person as canny as Putin and to a politician that I really don’t think is a particularly sophisticated player in Joe Biden.
And again, this is not unique to Biden. I think that most of our presidents for the for the last 30, 40 years have not been particularly sophisticated players. I think that that’s that’s a that’s a risky scenario.
Lex Fridman (01:19:46):
Yeah, I still believe in the power of that, because otherwise, I don’t know, I don’t think stuff on paper and political speak will solve these kinds of problems, because from Zelensky’s perspective, nothing but complete victory will do. Right. He is, as a nation, his people sacrificed way too much. And they’re all in. And if you look at it, because I traveled to Ukraine, I spent time there, I’ll be going back there. Hopefully also going back to Russia, just speaking to Ukrainians, they’re all in. They’re all in.
Yeah, nothing but complete victory. Yep, that’s right. And so for that, the only way to achieve peace is through like honest human to human conversation, giving both people a way to off ramp, to walk away victorious.
And some of that requires speaking honestly, as a human being, but also for America to the actually not even America, honestly, just the president, be able to eat their own ego a bit, and be the punching bag a little just enough for both presidents to be able to walk away and say, Listen, we got the American president to come to us. And I think that makes the president look strong, not weak.
Ben Shapiro (01:21:05):
I mean, I agree with you. I think it would also require some people on the right, people like me, if it’s Joe Biden, to say if Biden does that, I see what he’s doing, it’s the right move. I think one of the things that he’s afraid of, to steel man him, I think one of the things he’s afraid of is he goes and he makes that sort of deal. And the right says you just coward in front of Russia, you just gave away Ukraine, whatever it is, but it’s going to require some people on the right to say that that move is the right move and then hold by it if Biden actually performs that move.
Lex Fridman (01:21:31):
You’re exceptionally good at debate. You wrote how to debate leftists and destroy them. You’re kind of known for this kind of stuff, just exceptionally skilled at conversation and debate and getting to the facts of the matter and using logic to get to the conclusion in the debate. Do you ever worry that this power, talk about the ring, this power you were given has corrupted you and your ability to see what’s like to pursue the truth versus just winning debates?
Ben Shapiro (01:22:05):
I hope not. I mean, so I think one of the things that’s kind of funny about the branding versus the reality is that most of the things that get characterized as destroying in debates with facts and logic, most of those things are basically me having a conversation with somebody on a college campus. It actually isn’t like a formal debate where we sit there and we critique each other’s positions or it’s not me insulting anybody. A lot of the clips that have gone very viral is me making an argument and then they’re not being like an amazing counter argument. Many of the debates that I’ve held have been extremely cordial. Let’s take the latest example. Like about a year ago, I debated Ana Kasparian from Young Turks. It was very cordial. It was very nice, right?
That’s sort of the way that I like to debate. My rule when it comes to debate and or discussion is that my opponent actually gets to pick the mode in which we work. So if it’s going to be a debate of ideas and we’re just going to discuss and critique and clarify, then we can do that. If somebody comes loaded for bear, then I will respond in kind. Because one of the big problems, I think, in sort of the debate slash discussion sphere is very often misdiagnosis of what exactly is going on. People who think that a discussion is debate and vice versa. And that can be a real problem. And there are people who will, you know, treat what ought to be a discussion as, for example, an exercise in performance art.
And so what that is is mugging or trolling or saying trolly things in order to just get to the, like that’s something I actually don’t do during debate. When people watch me talk to people, I don’t actually do the trolling thing. The trolling thing is almost solely relegated to Twitter and me making jokes on my show. When it comes to actually debating people, sounds actually a lot like what we’re doing right now. It’s just the person maybe taking just an obverse position to mine. And so that’s fine. Usually half of the debate or discussion is me just asking for clarification of terms. What exactly do you mean by this so I can drill down on where the actual disagreement may lie? Because some of the time people think they’re disagreeing and they’re actually not disagreeing.
When I’m talking with Ana Kasparian and she’s talking about how corporate and government have too much power together, I’m like, well, you sound like a tea party. You and I are on the same page about that. That sort of stuff does tend to happen a lot in discussion. I think that when discussion gets termed debate, it’s a problem. When debate gets termed discussion, it’s even more problematic because debate is a different thing.
Lex Fridman (01:24:17):
And I find that your debate and your conversation is often in good faith. You’re able to steal man on the other side. You’re actually listening. You’re considering the other side. The times when I see that Ben Shapiro destroys leftists, it’s usually just like you said, the other side is doing the trolling. Because the people that do criticize you for that interaction is the people that usually get destroyed are like 20 years old. And they’re usually not sophisticated in any kind of degree in terms of being able to use logic and reason and facts and so on.
Ben Shapiro (01:24:52):
And that’s totally fine, by the way. If people want to criticize me for speaking on college campuses where a lot of political conversation happens, both right and left, that’s fine.
I’ve had lots of conversations with people on the other side of the aisle too. I’ve done podcasts with Sam Harris and we’ve talked about atheism or I’ve done debates with Ana Kasparian or I’ve done debate with Cenk Uygur or I’ve had conversations with lots of people on the other side of the aisle. In fact, I believe I’m the only person on the right who recommends that people listen to shows on the other side of the aisle. I say on my show on a fairly regular basis that people should listen to Podsave America. Now, no one on Podsave America will ever say that somebody should listen to my show. That is verboten. That is not something that can be had. It’s one of the strangenesses of our politics. It’s what I’ve called the happy birthday problem. I have a lot of friends who are of the left and are publicly of the left and on my birthday, they’ll send you a text message, happy birthday, but they will never tweet happy birthday, lest they be acknowledging that you were born of woman and that this can’t be allowed. So on the Sunday special, I’ve had a bevy of people who are on the other side of the aisle, a lot of them ranging from people in Hollywood like Jason Blum to Larry Wilmore to Sam to, you know, just a lot of people on the left.
I think we’re in the near future probably going to do a Sunday special with Ro Khanna up in California, the California Congress person. Very nice guy. I had him on the show. That kind of stuff is fun and interesting. But, you know, I think that the easy way out for a clip that people don’t like is to either immediately clip the clip. It’s like a two-minute clip and clip it down to 15 seconds where somebody insults me and then that goes viral, which is, you know, welcome to the internet, or to say, well, you’re only debating colleges. You’re only talking to 20. I mean, I talk to a lot more people than that. That’s just not the stuff you’re watching.
Lex Fridman (01:26:27):
You lost your cool in an interview with BBC’s Andrew Neil, and you were really honest about it after, which was kind of refreshing and enjoyable. As the internet said, they’ve never seen anyone lose an interview. So to me, honestly, it was like seeing like Floyd Mayweather Jr. or somebody like knocked down. What was it? Can you take me through that experience?
Ben Shapiro (01:26:51):
Here’s that day. That day is I have a book release, didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before, and this is the last interview of the day. And it’s an interview with BBC. I don’t know anything about BBC. I don’t watch BBC. I don’t know any of the hosts. So we get on the interview, and it’s supposed to be about the book, and the host, Andrew Neil, doesn’t ask virtually a single question about the book. He just starts reading me bad old tweets, which I hate. I mean, it’s annoying and it’s stupid, and it’s the worst form of interview when somebody just reads you bad old tweets, especially when I’ve acknowledged bad old tweets before. And so I’m going through the list with him, and this interview was solidly 20 minutes. I mean, it was a long interview.
And I get to, and I make a couple of particularly annoyed mistakes in the interview. So annoyed mistake number one is the ego play, right? So there’s a point in the middle of the interview where I say, like, I don’t even know who you are, which was true. I didn’t know who he was. It turns out he’s a very famous person in Britain, and so you can’t make that ego play.
Lex Fridman (01:27:44):
But even if he’s not famous, that’s…
Ben Shapiro (01:27:45):
It’s a dumb thing to do, and it’s an ass thing to do. So saying that was more just kind of peak in silliness. So that was mistake number one.
Lex Fridman (01:27:55):
It was like, oh, Ben is human.
Ben Shapiro (01:27:57):
Glad somebody enjoyed it. So there’s that. And then the other mistake was that I just don’t watch enough British TV. So the way that interviews are done there are much more adversarial than American TV. In American TV, if somebody is adversarial with you, you assume that they’re a member of the other side. That’s typically how it is. And so I’m critiquing some of his questions at the beginning. And I thought that the critique of some of his questions is actually fair. He was asking me about abortion. And I thought he was asking it from a way of framing the question that wasn’t accurate. And so I assumed that he was on the left because, again, I’d never heard of him. And so I mischaracterized him, and I apologize later for mischaracterizing him. We finally go through the interview. It’s 20 minutes. He just keeps going with the bad old tweets. Finally, I got up, and I took off the microphone. I walked out.
And immediately, I knew it was a mistake. Like, within 30 seconds of the end of the interview, I knew it was a mistake. And that’s why, even before the interview came out, I believe I corrected the record that Andrew Neil is not on the left. That’s a mistake by me. And then, you know, took the hit for a bad interview. And so as far as what I wish I had done differently, I wish I had known who he was. I wish I had done my research. I wish that I had treated it as though there was a possibility that it was going to be more adversarial than it was.
I think I was incautious about the interview because it was pitched as, it’s just another book interview. And it wasn’t just another book interview. It was treated much more adversarially than that. So that’s on me. I got to research the people who are talking to me and watch their shows and learn about that. And then, obviously, you know, the kind of gut-level appeal to ego or arrogance like that, you know, good luck and shouldn’t have done that. And losing your cool is always a bad look.
Lex Fridman (01:29:34):
So the fact that that sort of became somewhat viral and stood out just shows that it happens so rarely to you. So just to look at, like, the day in the life of Ben Shapiro, you speak a lot, very eloquently, about difficult topics. What goes into the research, the mental part? These look pretty, like, energetic and, like, you’re not exhausted by the burden, the heaviness of the topics you’re covering day after day after day after day. So what goes through the preparation mentally, diet-wise, anything like that? Like, when do you wake up?
Ben Shapiro (01:30:13):
Okay, so I wake up when my kids wake me up. Usually that’s my baby daughter who’s two and a half. We are on the monitor usually about 6.15, 6.20 a.m. So I get up. My wife sleeps in a little bit. I go get the baby. Then my son gets up. And then my oldest daughter gets up. I have 8, 6, and 2. The boy’s the middle child.
Lex Fridman (01:30:33):
Is that both a source of stress and happiness?
Ben Shapiro (01:30:35):
Oh, my God, it’s the height of both, right? I mean, it’s the source of the greatest happiness. So the way that I characterize it is this when it comes to sort of kids in life. So when you’re single, your boundaries of happiness and unhappiness, you can be a zero in terms of happiness. You can be like a 10 in terms of happiness. Then you get married, and it goes up to like a 20 and a negative 20 because your happiest stuff is with your wife, and then the most unhappy stuff is when something happens to your spouse. It’s the worst thing in the entire world. Then you have kids, and all limits are removed. So the best things that have ever happened to me are things where I’m watching my kids, and they’re playing together, and they’re being wonderful and sweet and cute, and I love them so much. And the worst things are when my son is screaming at me for no reason because he’s being insane, and I have to deal with that, right? Or something bad happens to my daughter at school or something like that. That stuff is really bad. So, yes, the source of my greatest happiness is the source of my greatest stress. So they get me up at about 6.15 in the morning. I feed them breakfast. I’m kind of scrolling the news while I’m making them eggs. And, you know, just updating myself on anything that may have happened overnight.
I go into the office, put on the makeup and the wardrobe or whatever, and then I sit down and do the show. A lot of the prep is actually done the night before because the news cycle doesn’t change all that much between kind of late at night and in the morning, so I can supplement in the morning. So I do the show.
Lex Fridman (01:31:46):
So a lot of the preparation, like thinking through what are the big issues in the world, is done the night before?
Ben Shapiro (01:31:50):
Yeah. I mean, and that’s reading, you know, pretty much all the legacy media. So I rip on legacy media a lot, but that’s because a lot of what they do is really good and a lot of what they do is really bad. I cover a lot of legacy media, so that’s probably covering, you know, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Daily Mail. And then I’ll look over at some of the alternative media. I’ll look at my own website, Daily Wire. I’ll look at Breitbart. I’ll look at The Blaze. I’ll look at maybe The Intercept. I’ll look at, you know, a bunch of different sources, and then I will look at different clips online. So media comes in handy here. Grabian comes in handy here. That sort of stuff, because my show relies very heavily on being able to play people so you can hear them in their own words. And so that’s sort of the media diet. So I sit down. I do the show.
And then once I’m done with the show, I usually have between, now it’s like 11, 15 in the morning maybe, because sometimes I’ll prerecord the show. So it’s 11, 15 in the morning. I’ll go home, and if my wife’s available, I’ll grab lunch with her. If not, then I will go and work out. I try to work out like five times a week with a trainer, something like that. And then I will— Just regular gym stuff? Just going to the gym? Yeah, weights and plyometrics and some CrossFit kind of stuff. And yeah, I mean, beneath this mild sterilizer, a hulking monster. And so I’ll do that. Then I will do reading and writing.
So I’m usually working on a book at any given time. You shut off the rest of the world for a minute. Yes. So I put some music in my ears, usually Brahms or Bach, sometimes Beethoven or Mozart. Those four. Those are on rotation. No rap. No rap. No rap, despite my extraordinary rendition of WAP. Do you still hate WAP? The song? I will say I do not think that it is the peak of Western civilized art. I don’t think that 100 years from now, people will be gluing their faces to a WAP and protest at the environment. But Brahms, the rest will be still around? Yes. I would assume if people still have a functioning prefrontal cortex and any sort of taste.
Lex Fridman (01:33:55):
Strong words from Ben Shapiro. All right. So you got some classical music in your ears and you’re focusing. Are you at the computer when you’re writing? Yeah, I’m at the computer. Usually we have a kind of a room that has some sun coming in.
Ben Shapiro (01:34:03):
So it’s nice in there or I’ll go up to a library that we just completed for me. So I’ll go up there and I’ll write and read. Do you like to read physical books? Yeah, I love physical books because I keep Sabbath. I don’t use Kindle because when I’m reading a book and I hit Sabbath, I have to turn off the Kindle. So that means that I have tons and tons and tons of physical books. When you move from Los Angeles to Florida, I had about 7000 volumes. I had to discard probably 4000 of them. And then I’ve built that back up now. So I’m probably going to have to go through another round where I put them somewhere else. I tend to tab books rather than highlighting them because I can’t highlight on Sabbath. So I have the little stickers and I put them in the book.
So a typical book from me, you can see it on the book club, will be filled with tabs on the side. Things that I want to take note. Actually, I got a person who I pay to go through and write down in files the quotes that I like from the book. So I have those handy. Which is a good way for me to remember what it is that I’ve read. I read probably somewhere between three and five books a week.
In a good week five. And then I write, I read, and then I go pick up my kids from school at 3.30. So according to my kids, I have no job. I’m there in the mornings until they leave for school. I pick them up from school. I hang out with them until they go to bed, which is usually 7.30 or so. So I’m helping them with their homework and I’m playing with them and I’m taking them on rides in the brand new Tesla, which my son is obsessed with. And then I put them to bed and then I sit back down. I prep for the next day, go through all those media sources I was talking about. Compile kind of a schedule for what I want the show to look like and run a show and it’s very detail oriented. Nobody writes anything for me. I write all my own stuff.
So everywhere that comes out of my mouth is my fault. And then, you know, hopefully I have a couple hours or an hour to hang out with my wife before we go to bed.
Lex Fridman (01:35:56):
The words you write, do you edit a lot or does it just come out, you’re thinking like what are the key ideas I want to express?
Ben Shapiro (01:36:01):
No, I don’t tend to edit a lot. So I thank God I’m able to write extraordinarily quickly. So I write very, very fast. In fact, in a previous life, I was- You also speak fast, so it’s similar- Yeah, exactly. And I speak in paragraphs. So it’s exactly the same thing. In a previous life, I was a ghostwriter. So I used to be sort of known as a turnaround specialist in the publishing industry. And it’d be somebody who came to the publisher and says, I have three weeks to get this book done. I don’t have a word done. And they would call me up and be like, this person needs a book written, and so in three weeks, I’d knock out 60,000 words or so.
Lex Fridman (01:36:33):
Is there something you can say to the process that you follow to think, like how you think about ideas? Stuff is going on in the world and trying to understand what is happening. What are the explanations, what are the forces behind this? Do you have a process or just you wait for the muse to give you the interpretation? Well, I mean, I don’t think it’s a formal process, but because I read-
Ben Shapiro (01:36:56):
So there’s two ways to do it. One is sometimes the daily grind of the news is going to refer back to core principles that are broader and deeper. So I thank God because I’ve read so much on so many different things of a lot of different point of views. Then if something breaks and a piece of news breaks, I can immediately sort of channel that into in the mental Rolodex these three big ideas that I think are really important. Then I can talk at length about what those ideas are, and I can explicate those.
For example, when we were talking about Musk taking over Twitter before, and I immediately go to the history of media, that’s me tying it into a broader theme. I do that, I would say, fairly frequently when we’re talking about, say, subsidization of industry.
I can immediately tie that into, okay, what’s the history of subsidization in the United States going all the way back to Woodrow Wilson and forward through FDR’s industrial policy, and how does that tie into sort of broader economic policy internationally? So it allows me to tie into bigger themes because what I tend to read is mostly not news. What I tend to read is mostly books. I would say most of my media diet is actually not the stuff. That’s the icing on the cake, but the actual cake is the hundreds of pages in history, econ, geography, social science that I’m reading every week, and so that sort of stuff allows me to think more deeply about these things.
That’s one way of doing it. The other way of doing it is Russia breaks in the news. I don’t know anything about Russia. I immediately go, and I purchase five books about Russia, and I read all of them.
And so one of the unfortunate things for me and the unfortunate thing about the world is that if you read two books on a subject, you are now considered by the media an expert on the subject. So that’s sad and shallow, but that is the way that it is. The good news for me is that my job isn’t to be a full expert on any of these subjects, and I don’t claim to be. I’m not a Russia expert. I know enough on Russia to be able to understand when people talk about Russia what the system looks like, how it works, and all of that, and then to explicate that for the common man, which a lot of people who are infused with the expertise can’t really do. If you’re so deep in the weeds that you’re a full-on academic expert on a thing, sometimes it’s hard to translate that over to a mass audience, which is really my job.
Lex Fridman (01:39:10):
Well, I think it can actually, it’s funny with the two books, you can actually get a pretty deep understanding if you read and also think deeply about it. It allows you to approach a thing from first principles. A lot of times if you’re a quote-unquote expert, you get carried away by the momentum of what the field has been thinking about versus like stepping back, all right, what is really going on? The challenge is to pick the right two books.
Ben Shapiro (01:39:35):
Right, so usually what I’ll try to find is somebody who knows the topic pretty well and have them recommend, or a couple people and have them recommend books. So a couple years ago, I knew nothing about Bitcoin. I was at a conference, and a couple of people who you’ve had on your show actually were there, and I asked them, give me your top three books on Bitcoin, and so then I went and I read like nine books on Bitcoin, and so if you read nine books on Bitcoin, you at least know enough to get by. And so I can actually explain what Bitcoin is and why it works or why it doesn’t work in some cases and what’s happening in the markets that way. So that’s very, very helpful.
Lex Fridman (01:40:09):
Well, if Putin is an example, that’s a difficult one to find the right books on. I think The New Tsar is the one I read where it was the most objective.
Ben Shapiro (01:40:18):
When I read, I think about Putin, it was one called Strongman. It was very highly critical of Putin, but it gave a good background on him at the very least.
Lex Fridman (01:40:27):
Yeah, so I’m very skeptical of things that are critical of Putin because it feels like there’s activism injected into the history. Like the way The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is written about Hitler, I like because there’s almost not a criticism of Hitler, it’s a description of Hitler. Which is very, it’s easier to do about a historical figure, which with William Shirer, with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, it’s impressive because he lived through it. But it’s very tough to find objective descriptions about the history of the man in a country of Putin, of Zelensky, of any difficulty. Trump is the same.
Ben Shapiro (01:41:06):
Everybody likes the hero-villain archetype, right? And it’s like either somebody’s completely a hero or completely a villain. And the truth is, pretty much no one is completely a hero or completely a villain. In fact, I’m not sure that I love descriptions of people as heroes or villains generally. I think that people tend to do heroic things or do villainous things. In the same way that I’m not sure I love descriptions of people as a genius. My dad used to say this when I was growing up, he used to say they didn’t believe that there were geniuses. He said he believed that there were people with a genius for something. Because people, yes, there are people who have very high IQ and we call them geniuses, but does that mean that they’re good at EQ stuff?
Not necessarily, but there are people who are geniuses at EQ stuff. In other words, it would be more specific to say that somebody’s a genius at engineering than to say just broad spectrum they’re a genius. And that does avoid the problem of thinking that they’re good at something that they’re not good at, right? It’s a little more specific.
Lex Fridman (01:41:52):
So because you read a lot of books, can you look back, and it’s always a tough question because so many is like your favorite song, but are there books that have been influential in your life that are impacting your thinking or maybe ones you go back to that still carry insight for you? The Federalist paper is a big one in terms of sort of how American politics works.
Ben Shapiro (01:42:09):
The first econ book that I thought was really great because it was written for teenagers, essentially, is one called Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. It’s like 150 pages. I recommend it to everybody sort of 15 and up. It’s easier than, say, Thomas Sowell’s Basic Econ, which is 400 or 500 pages.
There’s a great book by Carl Trueman called Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, which I think is the best book of the last 10 years. That’s been sort of impactful on some of the thoughts I’ve been having lately.
What’s the key idea in there? The key idea is that we’ve shifted the nature of how identity is done in the West from how it was historically done, that basically for nearly all of human history, the way that we identify as human beings is as a mix of our biological drives and then how that interacts with the social institutions around us. So when you’re a child, you’re a bunch of unfettered biological drives, and it’s your parents’ job to civilize you.
And civilize you literally means bring you into civilization, right? You learn the rules of the road. You learn how to integrate into institutions that already exist and are designed to shape you. And it’s how you interact with those institutions that makes you you. It’s not just a set of biological drives. And then in the modern world, we’ve really driven toward the idea that what we are is how we feel on the inside without reference to the outside world. And it’s the job of the outside world to celebrate and reflect what we think about ourselves on the inside.
And so what that means is that we are driven now toward fighting institutions because institutions are in positions. So everything around us, societal institutions, these are these are things that are crimping our style. They’re making us not feel the way that we want to feel. And if we just destroy those things, then we’ll be freer and more liberated. It’s a it’s a I think much deeper model of how to think about why our social politics in particular are moving in a particular direction is that a ground shift has happened in how people think about themselves. And this has had some somewhat kind of shocking effects in terms of social politics.
Lex Fridman (01:44:03):
So there’s negative consequences in your view of that, but is there also a positive consequence of more power, more agency to the individual? I think that you can make the argument that institutions were weighing too heavily in how people form their identity.
Ben Shapiro (01:44:12):
But I think that what we’ve done is gone significantly too far on the other side. We basically decided to blow up the institutions in favor of unfettered feeling slash identity, and I think that that is not only a large mistake. I think it’s going to have dire ramifications for everything from suicidal ideation to institutional longevity in politics and in society more broadly.
Lex Fridman (01:44:37):
So speaking about the nature of self, you’ve been an outspoken proponent of pro-life. Can you can we start by you trying to steel man the case for pro-choice that abortion is not murder and a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental human right, freedom?
Ben Shapiro (01:44:58):
I think that the only way to steel man the pro-choice case is to, and be ideologically consistent, is to suggest that there is no interest in the life of the unborn that counter ways at all, freedom of choice. So what that means is we can take the full example or we can take sort of the partial example. So if we take the full example, what that would mean is that up until point of birth, which is sort of the Democratic Party platform position, that a woman’s right to choose ought to extend for any reason whatsoever up to point of birth. The only way to argue that is that bodily autonomy is the only factor. There is no countervailing factor that would ever outweigh bodily autonomy.
That would be the strongest version of the argument. Another version of that argument would be that the reason that bodily autonomy ought to weigh so heavily is because women can’t be the equals of men if the this institutes of biology are allowed to decide their futures. If pregnancy changes women in a way that it doesn’t change men, it’s a form of sex discrimination for women to ever have to go through with pregnancy, which is an argument that was made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Those are the arguments. The kind of softer version is the more, I would say, emotionally resonant version of the argument, which is that bodily autonomy ought to outweigh the interests of the fetus up till point X.
And then people have different feelings about what point X looks like. Is it up to the point of viability? Is it up to the point of the heartbeat? Is it up to 12 weeks or 15 weeks? That’s where the American public is, where the American public is, broadly speaking, not state by state, where there are various really varied opinions. But broadly speaking, it seems like the American public, by pulling data, wants somewhere between a 12 and 15 week abortion restriction. They believe that up until 12 or 15 weeks, there’s not enough there to not be specific, but to be kind of how people feel about it, to outweigh a woman’s bodily autonomy. And then beyond that point, then there’s enough of an interest in the life of the preborn child. It’s developed enough that now we care about it enough that it outweighs a woman’s bodily autonomy.
Lex Fridman (01:46:59):
What’s the strongest case for pro-life in your mind?
Ben Shapiro (01:47:03):
I mean, the strongest case for pro-life is that from conception, a human life has been created. It is a human life with potential. That human life with potential now has an independent interest in its own existence.
Lex Fridman (01:47:16):
If I may just ask a quick question. So conception is when a sperm fertilizes an egg? Yes. Okay. Just to clarify the biological beginning of what conception means.
Ben Shapiro (01:47:25):
You know, because that is the beginning of human life. Now, there are other standards that people have drawn, right? Some people say implantation in the uterus, some people will suggest viability, some will say brain development or heart development. But the clear dividing line between a human life exists and a human life does not exist is the biological creation of an independent human life with its own DNA strands and etc. Which happens at conception. Once you acknowledge that there is that independent human life with potential, and I keep calling it that because people sometimes say potential human life. It’s not a potential human life. It’s a human life that is not developed yet to the full extent that it will develop.
And once you say that, and once you say that it has its own interest, now the burden of proof is to explain why bodily autonomy ought to allow for the snuffing out of that human life. If we believe that human life ought not to be killed for quote unquote no good reason. You have to come up with a good reason. The burden of proof has now shifted. You’ll find people who will say well the good reason is that it’s not sufficiently developed to outweigh the mental trauma or emotional trauma that a woman goes through if for example she was raped or the victim of incest.
And that is a fairly emotionally resonant argument, but it’s not necessarily positive. You can make the argument that just because something horrific and horrible happened to a woman does not rob the human life of its interest in life. One of the big problems in trying to draw any line for the self-interest of life in the human life is that it’s very difficult to draw any other line that doesn’t seem somewhat arbitrary.
You say that independent heartbeat. People have pacemakers. If you say brain function, people have various levels of brain function as adults. You say viability. Babies are not viable after they are born. If I left a newborn baby on a table and did not take care of it, it would be dead in two days. So once you start getting into sort of these lines, it starts to get very fuzzy very quickly. And so if you’re looking for sort of a bright line moral rule, that would be the bright line moral rule and that’s sort of the pro-life case.
Lex Fridman (01:49:26):
There’s still mysterious, difficult scientific questions of things like consciousness. So what to you does the question of consciousness, how does it come into play into this debate?
Ben Shapiro (01:49:39):
So I don’t believe that consciousness is the sole criterion by which we judge the self-interest in human life. So we are unconscious a good deal of our lives. We will be conscious again. When you’re unconscious, when you’re asleep, for example, presumably your life is still worth living. If somebody came in and killed you, that would be a serious moral quandary at the very least.
Lex Fridman (01:50:03):
But the birth of consciousness, the lighting up of the flame, the initial lighting up of the flame, there does seem to be something special about that. And it’s a mystery of when that happens.
Ben Shapiro (01:50:15):
Well, I mean, Peter Singer makes the case that basically self-consciousness doesn’t exist until you’re two and a half. So he says that even infanticide should be okay. He’s the bioethicist over at Princeton. So you get into some real dicey territory once you get into consciousness. Also the truth is that consciousness is more of a spectrum than it is a dividing line. Meaning that there are people with various degrees of brain function. We don’t actually know how conscious they are. And you can get into eugenic territory pretty quickly when we start dividing between lives that are worth living based on levels of consciousness and lives that are not worth living based on levels of consciousness.
Lex Fridman (01:50:47):
Do you find the aspect of women’s freedom, do you feel the tension between that ability to choose the trajectory of your own life versus the rights of the unborn child?
Ben Shapiro (01:51:06):
In one situation, yes, in one situation, no. If you’ve had sex with a person voluntarily, and as a product of that, you are now pregnant, you’ve taken an action with a perfectly predictable result. Even if you took birth control, this is the way that human beings have procreated for literally all of human existence. And by the way, also how all mammals procreate.
So the idea that this was an entirely unforeseen consequence of your activity, I find I have less sympathy for you in that particular situation because you could have made decisions that would not lead you to this particular impasse. In fact, this used to be the basis of marriage, right? When we were a apparently more terrible society, we used to say that people should wait until they get married to have sex, a position that I still hold. And the reason for that was because then if you have sex and you produce a child, then the child will grow up in a two-parent family with stability. So not a ton of sympathy there. When it comes to rape and incest, obviously heavy, heavy sympathy. And so that’s why I think you see, statistically speaking, a huge percentage of Americans, including many pro-life Americans, people who consider themselves pro-life, would consider exceptions for rape and incest. One of the sort of dishonest things that I think happens in abortion debates is arguing from the fringes. This tends to happen a lot. Pro-choice activists will argue from rape and incest to the other 99.8% of abortions, where you’ll see people on the pro-life side argue from partial-birth abortion to all of abortion.
You actually have to take on sort of the mainstream case and then decide whether or not that’s acceptable or not.
Lex Fridman (01:52:29):
The exception, just ethically, without generalizing it, that is a valid ethically exception.
Ben Shapiro (01:52:36):
I don’t hope that there should be an exception for rape or incest because, again, I hold by the bright-line rule that once a human life with potential exists, then it has its own interest in life that cannot be curbed by your self-interest. The only exception that I hold by is the same exception that literally all pro-lifers hold by, which is the life of the mother is put in danger. Such a tough, tough topic because if you believe that that’s the line, then we’re committing mass murder. Or at least mass killing. I would say that murder typically requires a level of mens rea that may be absent in many cases of abortion. Because the usual follow-on question is, well, if it’s a murder, why not prosecute the woman? And the answer is because the vast majority of people who are having abortions don’t actually believe that they’re killing a person.
They have a very different view of what is exactly happening. So, I would say that there are all sorts of interesting hypotheticals that come in to play when it comes to abortion, and you can play them any which way. But levels, let’s put it this way, there are gradations of wrongs. I don’t think that all abortions are equally blameworthy, even if I would ban virtually all of them.
I think that there are mitigating circumstances that make, while being wrong, some abortions less morally blameworthy than others. I think that I can admit a difference between killing a two-week-old embryo in the womb and stabbing a seven-year-old in the face. I can recognize all that while still saying I think it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy.
Lex Fridman (01:54:07):
Do you think the question of when life begins, which I think is a fascinating question, is a question of science or a question of religion?
Ben Shapiro (01:54:14):
When life begins, it’s a question of science. When that life becomes valuable enough for people to want to protect it is going to be a question that is beyond science. Science doesn’t have moral judgments to make about the value of human life. This is one of the problems that Sam Harris and I have had this argument many times, and it’s always kind of interesting. Because Sam is of the opinion that you can get to ought from is. That science says is, therefore we can learn ought. Human flourishing is the goal of life. I always say to him, I don’t see where you get that from evolutionary biology.
You can assume it, just say you’re assuming it, but don’t pretend that that is a conclusion that you can draw straight from biological reality itself because obviously that doesn’t exist in the animal world, for example. Nobody assumes the innate value of every ant.
Lex Fridman (01:54:57):
I think I know your answer to this, but let’s test it because I think you’re going to be wrong. So there’s a robot behind you. Do you think there will be a time in the future when it will be unethical and illegal to kill a robot because they will have sentience? You would say no, Lex, because there’s a fundamental difference between humans and robots, and I just want to get you on record because I think you’ll be wrong.
Ben Shapiro (01:55:23):
It depends on the level of development, I would assume, of the robots. You’re assuming a complexity in the robots that eventually imitates what we in the religious life would call the human soul. The ability to choose freely, for example, which I believe is sort of the capacity for human beings. If all of that could be proved and not programmed, meaning the freely-willed capacity of a machine to do X, Y, or Z.
Lex Fridman (01:55:57):
You could not pinpoint exactly where it happens in the program.
Ben Shapiro (01:56:00):
Right. It’s not deterministic. Then it would raise serious moral issues, for sure. I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. Are you afraid of that time? I’m not sure I’m afraid of that time. I mean, any more than I’d be afraid if aliens arrived in the world and had these characteristics.
Lex Fridman (01:56:18):
There’s just a lot of moral complexities, and they don’t necessarily have to be in the physical space. They can be in the digital space. There’s an increased sophistication and number of bots on the Internet, including on Twitter. As they become more and more intelligent, there’s going to be serious questions about what is our moral duty to protect ones that have or claim to have an identity.
Ben Shapiro (01:56:39):
That’s really interesting. Actually, what I’m afraid of is the opposite happening. The worst that should happen is that we develop robots so sophisticated that they appear to have free will, and then we treat them with human dignity. That should be the worst that happens. What I’m afraid of is the opposite. If we’re talking about this particular hypothetical, that we develop robots that have all of these apparent abilities, and then we dehumanize them, which leads us to also dehumanize the other humans around us.
That’s what I really see happening. The devaluation of life to the point where it doesn’t really matter. I mean, people have always treated, unfortunately, newly discovered other humans this way. I don’t think there’s actually a new problem. I think it’s a pretty old problem. It’ll just be interesting when it’s made of human hands.
Lex Fridman (01:57:21):
It’s an opportunity to either celebrate humanity or to bring out the worst in humanity, so the derision that naturally happens, like you said, with pointing out the other. Let me ask you about climate change. Let’s go from the meme to the profound philosophy. The meme is there’s a clip of you talking about climate change and saying that…
Ben Shapiro (01:57:44):
Ah, the Aquaman meme.
Lex Fridman (01:57:45):
You said that for the sake of argument, if the water level rises five to ten feet in the next hundred years, people will just sell their homes and move, and then the meme is sell to who. Can you argue both sides of that?
Ben Shapiro (01:57:59):
The argument that they’re making is the straw man. The argument that I’m making is over time. I don’t mean that if a tsunami is about to hit your house, you can list it on eBay. That’s not what I mean, obviously. What I mean is that human beings have an extraordinary ability to adapt. It’s actually our best quality, and that as water levels rise, real estate prices in those areas tend to fall. That over time, people tend to abandon those areas. They tend to leave. They tend to, right now, sell their houses, and then they tend to move. Eventually, those houses will be worthless, and you won’t have anybody to sell to, but presumably not that many people will be living there by that point, which is one of the reasons why the price would be low, because there’s no demand.
Lex Fridman (01:58:32):
It’s over a hundred years, so all of these price dynamics are very gradual, relative to the other price dynamics.
Ben Shapiro (01:58:39):
That’s why the joke of it, of course, is that I’m saying that tomorrow, there’s a tsunami on your source step, and you’re like, oh, Bob will buy my house. Bob ain’t going to buy your house. We all get that, but it’s a funny meme. I’ll admit I laughed at it.
Lex Fridman (01:58:50):
How is your view on climate change? The human contribution to climate change? What does she do in terms of policy to respond to climate change? How has that changed over the years?
Ben Shapiro (01:59:00):
I would say the truth is, for years and years, I’ve believed that climate change was a reality, and that anthropogenic climate change is a reality. I don’t argue with the IPCC estimates. I know climatologists at places like MIT or Caltech, and they know this stuff better than I do, so the notion that climate change is just not happening or that human beings have not contributed to climate change, I find doubtful. The question is to what extent human beings are contributing to climate change. Is it 50 percent? Is it 70 percent? Is it 90 percent? I think there’s a little bit more play in the joints there, so it’s not totally clear. The one thing I do know, and this I know with factual accuracy, is that all of the measures that are currently being proposed are unworkable and will not happen. When people say Paris Climate Accords, even if those were imposed, you’re talking about lowering the potential trajectory of climate change by a fraction of a degree.
If you’re talking about Green New Deal, net zero by 2050, the carbon is up there in the air, and the climate change is going to happen. Also, you’re assuming that geopolitical dynamics don’t exist, so everybody’s going to magically get on the same page, and we’re all going to be imposing massive carbon taxes to get to net zero by 2050. That’s hundreds of times higher than they currently are. That’s not me saying that. That’s Klaus Schwab saying this of the World Economic Forum, who’s a big advocate of exactly this sort of policy.
The reality is that we’re going to have to accept that at least 1.5 degrees Celsius of climate change is baked into the cake by the end of the century. Again, not me talking, William Nordhaus, the economist, who just won the Nobel Prize in this stuff talking. What that suggests to me is what we’ve always known. Human beings are crap at mitigation and excellence in adaptation. We’re very bad at mitigating our own faults. We are very, very good at adapting to the problems as they exist, which means that all of the estimates that billions will die, that there will be mass starvation, that we will see the migration in just a few years of hundreds of millions of people.
Those are wrong. What you’ll see is a gradual change of living. People will move away from areas that are inundated on the coast. You will see people building seawalls. You will see people building new technologies to suck carbon out of the air. You will see geoengineering. This is the sort of stuff that we should be focused on. And the sort of bizarre focus on what if we just keep tossing hundreds of billions of dollars at the same three technologies over and over in the hopes that if we subsidize it, this will magically make it more efficient. I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that that is going to be the way that we get ourselves out of this, necessity being the mother of invention. This will adapt because we have adapted and we will continue to adapt.
Lex Fridman (02:01:23):
So to the degree we invest in the threat of this, it should be into the policies that help with the adaptation versus the mitigation.
Ben Shapiro (02:01:31):
Right. Seawalls, geoengineering, developing technologies that carbon out of the air. Again, if I thought that there was more sort of hope for the green technologies currently in play, then subsidization of those technologies, I might be a little bit more for. I’ve seen tremendous progress over the course of the last 30 years in the reliability of, for example, wind energy or the ability to store solar energy to the extent necessary to actually power a grid. What’s your thoughts on nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is great. Nuclear energy is a proven source of energy and we should be radically extending the use of nuclear energy. To me, honestly, this is like a litmus test question as to whether you take climate change seriously. If you’re on right or left and you take climate change seriously, you should be in favor of nuclear energy. If you’re not, I know that you have other priorities.
Lex Fridman (02:02:16):
Yeah, the fascinating thing about the climate change debate is the dynamics of the fear-mongering over the past few decades because some of the nuclear energy was tied up into that somehow. There’s a lot of fear about nuclear energy. It seems like there’s a lot of social phenomena, social dynamics involved versus dealing with just science. It’s interesting to watch. On my darker days, it makes me cynical about our ability to use reason and science to deal with the threats of the world.
Ben Shapiro (02:02:46):
I think that our ability to use reason and science to deal with the threats of the world is almost a timeframe question. Again, we’re very bad at looking down the road and saying – because people can’t handle, for example, even things like compound interest. The idea that if I put a dollar in the bank today, that 15 years from now, that’s going to be worth a lot more than a dollar. People can’t actually see that. The idea of let’s foresee a problem and then we’ll deal with it right now as opposed to 30 years down the road, typically we let the problem happen and then we solve it. It’s bloodier and worse than it would have been if we had solved it 30 years ago, but it is, in fact, effective. Sometimes it turns out the solution that we’re proposing 30 years in advance is not effective, and that can be a major problem as well.
Lex Fridman (02:03:24):
Well, that’s then to steelman the case for fearmongering, for irrational fearmongering. We need to be scared shitless in order for us to do anything. I’m generally against that, but maybe on a population scale, maybe some of that is necessary for us to respond appropriately to long-term threats.
Ben Shapiro (02:03:45):
We should be scared shitless. I don’t think that we can actually do that, though. First of all, I think that its platonic lies are generally bad, and then second of all, I don’t think that we actually have the capacity to do this. I think that the people who are the elites of our society who get together in rooms and talk about this sort of stuff, and I’ve been in some of those meetings at my synagogues Friday nights, actually. I was going to make the joke, but I’m glad you did.
I’ve been in Davos-like rooms, and when people discuss these sorts of topics, and they’re like, what if we just tell people that it’s going to be a disaster with tsunamis and day after tomorrow? It’s like, you guys don’t have that power. You don’t, and by the way, you dramatically undercut your own power because of COVID to do this sort of stuff. What if we scare the living hell out of you to the point where you stay in your own house for two years, and we tell you you can’t send your kids to school, and then we tell you that the vaccine is going to prevent transmission, and then we also tell you that we need to spend $7 trillion in one year, and it won’t have any inflationary effect, and it turns out you’re wrong on literally all of those things.
The last few years have done more to undermine institutional trust than any time in probably American history. It’s pretty amazing.
Lex Fridman (02:04:52):
I tend to agree with that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Let me ask you back to the question of God, and a big ridiculous question. Who’s God?
Ben Shapiro (02:05:04):
I’m going to use the Aquinas formulation of what God is, that if there is a cause of all things, not physical things, if there is a cause underlying the reason of the universe, then that is the thing we call God. Not a big guy in the sky with a beard. He is the force underlying the logic of the universe, if there is a logic to the universe, and he is the creator, in the Judaic view, of that universe, and he does have an interest in us living in accordance with the laws of the universe that, if you’re a religious Jew, are encoded in the Torah, but if you’re not a religious Jew, would be encoded in the natural law. By Catholic theology.
Lex Fridman (02:05:54):
Why do you think God created the universe? Or as is popularly asked, what do you think is the meaning behind it? What’s the meaning of life?
Ben Shapiro (02:06:03):
What’s the meaning of life? I think that the meaning of life is to fulfill what God made you to do, and that is a series of roles. I think that human beings, and here you have to look to sort of human nature, rather than looking kind of to big questions. I’ve evolved something that I’ve really been working on, you know, I’m writing a book about this actually, that I call colloquially role theory, and basically the idea is that the way that we interact with the world is through a series of roles, and those are also the things we find most important and most implementable.
And there’s sort of virtue ethics, right, which suggests that if we act in accordance with virtue, like Aristotle, then we will be living the most fulfilled and meaningful life, and then you have sort of deontological ethics, like Kantian ethics, that it’s a rule-based ethic. You’ll follow the rules, then you’ll find the meaning of life, and then what I’m proposing is that there’s something that I would call role ethics, which is there are a series of roles that we play across our lives, which are also the things that we tend to put on our tombstones and find the most meaningful. So when you go to a cemetery, you can see what people found the most meaningful, because it’s the stuff they put on the stone that has like four words on it, right? Father, beloved mother, sister, brother, and you might have a job once in a while, a creator, a religious person, right?
These are all roles that have existed across societies and across humanity, and those are the things where we actually find meaning, and the way that we navigate those roles brings us meaning, and I think that God created us in order to fulfill those roles for purposes that I can’t begin to understand because I am him. And the more we recognize those roles and the more we live those roles, and then we can express freedom within those roles. I think that liberty exists inside each of those roles, and that’s what makes all of our lives different and fun. We all parent in different ways, but being a parent is a meaningful role. We all have spouses, but how you interact that relationship is what makes your life meaningful and interesting.
That is what we were put on earth to do, and if we perform those roles properly, and those roles do include things like being a creator, like we have a creative instinct as human beings, being a creator or being an innovator, being a defender of your family, being a social member of your community, which is something that we’re built to do. If we fulfill those roles properly, then we will have made the world a better place than we inherited it, and we will also have had the joy of experiencing the sort of flow they talk about in psychology where when you engage in these roles, you actually do feel a flow.
Lex Fridman (02:08:32):
So you’re a fundamental part of the human condition? Yes. So the book you’re working on is constructing a system to help us understand?
Ben Shapiro (02:08:43):
It’s looking at, let’s assume that all of that’s true. The real question in the book is how do you construct a flourishing and useful society in politics?
Lex Fridman (02:08:52):
If this is our understanding of a human being, how do we construct a good society?
Ben Shapiro (02:08:59):
Right, exactly, because I think that a lot of political theory is right now based in either J.S. Mill kind of thought, which is all that a good politics does is allows you to wave your hand around until you hit somebody in the face, or Rawlsian thought, which is what if we constructed society in order to achieve the most for the least, essentially? What if we constructed society around what actually makes humans the most fulfilled, and that is the fulfillment of these particular roles, and where does liberty come into that?
How do you avoid the idea of a tyranny in that? You have to be a mother. You must be a father. Where does freedom come into that? Can you reject those roles totally as a society and be okay? The answer probably is not. You need a society that actually promotes and protects those roles, but also protects the freedom inside those roles, and that raises a more fundamental question of what exactly liberty is for. I think that both the right and the left actually tend to make a mistake when they discuss liberty. The left tends to think that liberty is an ultimate good.
Simple choice makes a bad thing good, which is not true, and I think the right talks about liberty in almost the same terms sometimes, and I think that’s not true either. The question is whether liberty is of inherent value or instrumental value.
Is liberty good in and of itself, or is liberty good because it allows you to achieve X, Y, or Z? I’ve thought about this one a lot, and I tend to come down on the latter side of the aisle. You asked me areas where I’ve moved. This may be an area where I’ve moved. Is there anything when you think more shallowly about politics, or maybe more quickly because this is how we talk in America is about liberties and rights? We tend to think that the right is what make, not like the political right, rights make things good. Liberties make things good. The question really is what are those rights and liberties for? Now, you have to be careful so that that doesn’t shade into tyranny. You can only have liberty to do the thing that I say that you can do.
But there have to be spheres of liberty that are roiling and interesting and filled with debate, but without threatening the chief institutions that surround those liberties, because if you destroy the institutions, the liberties will go too. If you knock down the pillars of the society, the liberties that are on top of those pillars are going to collapse, and I think that that’s, if people are feeling as though we’re on the verge of tyranny, I think that’s why.
Lex Fridman (02:11:06):
This is fascinating, by the way. It’s an instrumental perspective on liberty. That’s going to give me a lot to think about. Let me ask a personal question. Was there ever a time that you had a crisis of faith where you questioned your belief in God?
Ben Shapiro (02:11:21):
Sure. I would less call it a crisis of faith than an ongoing question of faith, which I think is, I hope, most religious people. The word Israel, in Hebrew, Yisrael, means to struggle with God. That’s literally what the word means. And so, the idea of struggling with God, if you’re Jewish or B’nai Yisrael, the idea of struggling with God, I think, is endemic to the human condition. If you understand what God’s doing, then I think you’re wrong. And if you think that that question doesn’t matter, then I think you’re also wrong. I think that God is a very necessary hypothesis.
Lex Fridman (02:11:55):
The struggle with God is life. That is the process of life.
Ben Shapiro (02:12:00):
That’s right. Because you’re never going to get to that answer. Otherwise, you’re a god and you aren’t.
Lex Fridman (02:12:04):
Why does God allow cruelty and suffering in the world? One of the tough questions.
Ben Shapiro (02:12:08):
There’s two types of cruelty and suffering. So, if we’re talking about human cruelty and suffering, because God does not intervene to prevent people from exercising their free will, because to do so would be to deprive human beings of the choice that makes them human. Which is the Garden of Eden, basically, is that God could make you an angel, in which case you wouldn’t have the choice to do the wrong thing. But so long as we are going to allow for cause and effect in a universe shaped by your choice, cruelty and evil are going to exist. And then there’s the question of just the natural cruelty and vicissitudes of life.
And the answer there is I think that God obscures himself. If God were to appear in all of his glory to people on a regular basis, I think you wouldn’t need it. There would be no such thing as faith. It would just be reality. Nobody has to prove to you that the sun rises every day. But if God is to allow us the choice to believe in him, which is the ultimate choice from a religious point of view, then he’s going to have to obscure himself behind tragedy and horror and all those other things. And this is a fairly well-known Kabbalistic concept called Tsim Tsum in Judaism, which is the idea that when God created the universe, he sort of withdrew in order to make space for all of these things to happen.
Lex Fridman (02:13:22):
So God doesn’t have an instrumental perspective on liberty.
Ben Shapiro (02:13:25):
In a chief sense, he does, because the best use of liberty is going to be belief in him. And you can misuse your liberty, right? There will be consequences if you believe in an afterlife, or if you believe in sort of a generalized, better version of life led by faith, then liberty does have a purpose. But he also believes that you have to give people, from a cosmic perspective, the liberty to do wrong without threatening all the institutions of society. I mean, that’s why it does say in the Bible that if man sheds blood by man, shall his blood be shed, right? There are punishments that are in biblical thought for doing things that are wrong.
Lex Fridman (02:14:03):
So if you’re a human being who lacks the faith in God, so if you’re an atheist, can you still be a good person?
Ben Shapiro (02:14:09):
Of course. A hundred percent. And there are a lot of religious people who are crappy people. How do you understand that tension? From a religious perspective, what you would say is that it is perfectly plausible to live in accordance with a set of rules that don’t damage other people without believing in God. You just might be understanding the reason for doing that wrong, is what a religious person would say.
This is the conversation, again, that I had with Sam, basically, is you and I agree. I said this to Sam. You and I agree on nearly everything when it comes to morality. We probably disagree on 15 to 20 percent of things. The other 80 percent is because you grew up in a Judeo-Christian society, and so do I. We grew up 10 miles from each other around the turn of the millennium. So, there’s that. So, you can perfectly well be an atheist living a good, moral, decent life, because you can live a good, moral, decent life with regard to other people without believing in God. I don’t think you can build a society on that, because I think that relies on the sort of goodness of mankind, natural goodness of mankind. I don’t believe in the natural goodness of mankind. You don’t. I believe that man has created both sinful, and with the capacity for sin, and the capacity for good.
Lex Fridman (02:15:11):
But, if you let them be on their own, doesn’t…
Ben Shapiro (02:15:15):
Without social institutions to shape them, I think that that’s very likely to go poorly.
Lex Fridman (02:15:20):
Interesting. Well, we came to something we disagree on, but that might reflect itself in our approach to Twitter, as well. I think if humans are left on their own, they tend towards good. They definitely have the capacity for good and evil, but when left on their own, I tend to believe they’re good.
Ben Shapiro (02:15:43):
I think they might be good with limits. What I mean by that is that what the evidence, I think, tends to show is that human beings are quite tribal. So, what you’ll end up with is people who are good with their immediate family and maybe their immediate neighbors, and then when they’re threatened by an outside tribe, then they kill everyone. Which is sort of the history of civilization in the pre-civilization era, which was a very violent time. Pre-civilization era was quite violent.
Lex Fridman (02:16:04):
Do you think, on the topic of tribalism in our modern world, what are the pros and cons of tribes? Is that something we should try to outgrow as a civilization?
Ben Shapiro (02:16:14):
I don’t think it’s ever going to be possible to fully outgrow tribalism. I think it’s a natural human condition to want to be with people who think like you or have a common set of beliefs, and I think trying to obliterate that in the name of a universalism likely leads to utopian results that have devastating consequences. Utopian sort of universalism has been failing every time it’s tried, whether you’re talking about now it seems to be sort of a liberal universalism, which is being rejected by a huge number of people around the world in various different cultures, or whether you’re talking about religious universalism, which typically comes with religious tyranny, or whether you’re talking about a communist or a Nazi-ist sort of universalism which comes with mass slaughter.
So this is universalism I’m not a believer in. I think that you have some values that are fairly limited that all human beings should hold in common, and that’s pretty much it. I think that everybody should have the ability to join with their own culture. I think how we define tribes is a different thing. So I think that tribes should not be defined by innate physical characteristics, for example, because I think that thank God as a civilization we’ve outgrown that, and I think that that is a childish way to view the world, and all the tall people aren’t a tribe. All the black people aren’t. All the white people aren’t a tribe.
Lex Fridman (02:17:33):
So the tribes should be formed over ideas versus physical characteristics.
Ben Shapiro (02:17:36):
That’s right, which is why actually to go back to sort of the beginning of the conversation when it comes to Jews, you know, I’m not a big believer in ethnic Judaism. As a person who takes Judaism seriously, Judaism is more to me than you were born with a last name like Berg or Steen. Hitler would disagree with you. He would disagree with me, but that’s because he was a tribalist who thought in racial terms.
Lex Fridman (02:17:57):
So maybe robots will help us see humans as one tribe.
Ben Shapiro (02:18:03):
This is Reagan’s idea, right? Reagan said, well, if there’s an alien invasion, then we’ll all be on the same side. So I’ll go over to the Soviets and we’ll talk about some deep truth to that.
Lex Fridman (02:18:08):
What does it mean to be a good man, the various role that a human being takes on in this role theory that you’ve spoken about? What does it mean to be good?
Ben Shapiro (02:18:24):
It means to perform, now I will do Aristotle. It means to perform the function well. What Aristotle says is the good is not like moral good, moral evil in the way that we tend to think about it. He meant that a good cup holds liquid. A good spoon holds soup. It means that a thing that is broken can’t hold those things, right? So the idea of being a good person means that you are fulfilling the function for which you were made. It’s a teleological view of humanity. This means that you are bringing up your child in durable values that is going to bring them up healthy, capable of protecting themselves and passing on the traditional wisdom of the ages to future generations while allowing for the capacity for innovation.
That being a good father, being a good spouse would mean protecting and unifying with your spouse and building a safe family and a place to raise children. Being a good citizen of your community means protecting the fellow citizens of your community while incentivizing them to build for themselves. It becomes actually much easier to think of how to, this is why I like the role theory because it’s very hard in virtue theory to say, be generous. How does that manifest? I don’t know what that looks like. Sometimes being generous might be being not generous to other people, right?
When Aristotle says that you should be benevolent, what does that mean? This is very vague. When I say be a good dad, most people sort of have a gut level understanding of what it means to be a good dad. Mostly what they have a gut level understanding of what it means to be a really bad dad.
What it means to be a good man is to fulfill those roles, as many of them as you can, properly and at full function, and that’s a very hard job. I’ve said before that because I engage a lot with the public and all of this, the word great comes up a lot. What does it take to be a great leader? What does it take to be a great person? I’ve always said to people, it’s actually fairly easy to be great. It’s very difficult to be good. There are a lot of very great people who are not very good, and there are not a lot of good people. Most of them, frankly, most good people die mourned by their family and friends, and two generations later they’re forgotten. Those are the people who incrementally move the ball forward in the world, sometimes much more than the people who are considered great.
Lex Fridman (02:20:26):
Understand the role in your life that involves being a cup and be damn good at it. Exactly, that’s right. Hold the soup. Jordan Peterson has been there. It’s very like lobster with Jordan Peterson. Exactly. I think people will quote you for years and years to come on that.
What advice would you give? A lot of young people will look up to you. What advice, despite their better judgment? No, I’m just kidding. Maybe. Only kidding. They seriously look up to you and draw inspiration from your ideas, from your bold thinking. What advice would you give to them? How to live a life worth living, how to have a career they can be proud of, and everything like that?
Ben Shapiro (02:21:09):
Live out the values that you think are really important and seek those values in others would be the first piece of advice.
Second piece of advice, don’t go on Twitter until you’re 26 because your brain is fully developed at that point. As I said early on, I was on social media and writing columns from the time I was 17. It was a great opportunity and, as it turns out, a great temptation to say enormous numbers of stupid things when you’re young. I mean, you’re kind of trying out ideas and you’re putting them on. You’re taking them off and social media permanentizes those things and engraves them in stone and then that’s used against you for the rest of your life. I tell young people this all the time. If you want to be on social media, be on social media, but don’t post. Watch if you want to take in information and, more importantly, you should read books. As far as other advice, I’d say engage in your community.
There’s no substitute for engaging in your community and engage in interpersonal action because that will soften you and make you a better person. I’ve become a better person since I got married. I’ve become an even better person since I’ve had kids. You can imagine how terrible I was before all these things. Engaging in your community does allow you to build the things that matter on the most local possible level. I mean, the outcome, by the way, of the politics of fulfillment that I was talking about earlier is a lot of localism because the roles that I’m talking about are largely local roles. That stuff has to be protected locally. I think we focus way too much in this country and others on world-beating solutions, national solutions, solutions that apply to hundreds of millions of people.
The solutions that apply for, like, five, and then we get to the solutions that apply to, like, 20, and then we get to the solutions that involve 200 people or 1,000 people. Let’s solve that stuff, and I think the solutions at the higher level flow bottom up, not top down.
Lex Fridman (02:22:48):
What about mentors and maybe role models? Have you had a mentor or maybe people you look up to, either you interacted on a local scale, like you actually knew them, or somebody you really looked up to?
Ben Shapiro (02:22:59):
For me, I’m very lucky. I grew up in a very solitude-parent household. I’m extremely close to my parents. I’ve lived near my parents literally my entire life with the exception of three years of law school. Right now, they live a mile and a half from us.
Lex Fridman (02:23:13):
What did you learn about life from your parents and your father?
Ben Shapiro (02:23:18):
So many things from my parents. Good and bad. I mean, I think the good stuff from my dad is that you should hold true to your values. He’s very big on, you have values, those values are important, hold true to them.
Lex Fridman (02:23:32):
Did you understand what your values are, what your principles are early on?
Ben Shapiro (02:23:35):
Fairly quickly, yeah. Yeah, and so, you know, he was very big on that, which is why, for example, I get asked a lot in the Jewish community why I wear a kippah, and the answer is it never occurred to me to take off the kippah. I always wore it, why would I take it off at any point? That’s the life that I want to live, and that’s the way it is. So that was a big one from my dad, from my mom, practicality. My dad is more of a dreamer, my mom is much more practical.
And so, you know, the sort of lessons that I learned from my dad are that you can have, sort of the counter lesson is that you can have a good idea, but if you don’t have a plan for implementation, then it doesn’t end up as reality. And I think actually he’s learned that better over the course of his life, too. But my dad, from the time I was very young, he wanted me to engage with other adults, and he wanted me to learn from other people. One of his rules was if he didn’t know something, he would find somebody who he thought did know the thing for me to talk to.
That was a big thing, so I’m very lucky. I have wonderful parents. As far as sort of other mentors, in terms of the media, Andrew Breitbart was a mentor. Andrew, obviously, he was kind of known in his latter days, I think, more for the militancy than when I was very close with him.
Lex Fridman (02:24:41):
So for somebody like me who doesn’t, who knows more about the militancy, can you tell me what is a great, what makes him a great man?
Ben Shapiro (02:24:49):
Well, what made Andrew great is that he engaged with everyone, I mean everyone. So there are videos of him rollerblading down the boulevard, and people would be protesting, and he would literally rollerblade up to them, and he would say, let’s go to lunch together, and he would just do this. That’s actually who Andrew was. What was the thinking behind that? The two he was, he was just garrulous. He was much more outgoing than I am, actually. He was very warm with people. For me, I would say that with Andrew, I knew Andrew for, let’s see, I remember when I was 16, he passed away when I would have been 28. So I knew Andrew for 10, 12 years. And people who met Andrew for about 10 minutes knew Andrew 99% as well as I knew Andrew.
Because he was just all out front, like everything was out here, and he loved talking to people, he loved engaging with people. And so this made him a lot of fun, and unpredictable, and fun to watch, and all of that. And then I think Twitter got to him. I think Twitter is, one of the lessons I learned from Andrew is the counter-lesson, which is Twitter can poison you. Twitter can really wreck you. If you spend all day on Twitter reading the comments and getting angry at people who are talking about you, it becomes a very difficult life. And I think that in the last year of his life, Andrew got very caught up in that because of a series of circumstances. It can actually affect your mind.
Lex Fridman (02:26:01):
It can actually make you resentful, all that kind of stuff.
Ben Shapiro (02:26:03):
I tend to agree with that. But the lesson that I learned from Andrew is engage with everybody. Take joy in sort of the mission that you’re given. And you can’t always fulfill that. Sometimes it’s really rough and difficult. I’m not going to pretend that it’s all fun and rainbows all the time because it isn’t. And some of the stuff that I have to cover, I don’t like. And some of the things I have to say, I don’t particularly like. That happens. But that’s what I learned from Andrew. As far as other mentors, I had some teachers when I was a kid who said things that stuck with me.
I had a fourth grade teacher named Mr. Netty who said, don’t let potential be written on your tombstone. Which is a great line, particularly to a fourth grader. But that guy had an 11th grade English teacher named Anthony Miller who is terrific. Really good writer. He studied with James Joyce at Trinity College in Dublin. And so he and I really got along and he helped my writing a lot.
Lex Fridman (02:26:58):
Did you ever have doubt in yourself? I mean, especially as you’ve gotten into the public eye with all the attacks. Did you ever doubt your ability to stay strong, to be able to be a voice of the ideas that you represent?
Ben Shapiro (02:27:09):
I don’t doubt my ability to say what I want to say. I doubt my ability to handle the emotional blowback of saying it. Meaning that that’s difficult. I mean, again, to take just one example. In 2016, the ADL measured that I was the number one target of antisemitism on planet Earth. That’s not fun. It’s unpleasant. And when you take critiques, not from antisemites, but when you take critiques from people generally.
We talked about near the beginning how you surround yourself with people who are going to give you good feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Sometimes people are giving you feedback and you don’t know whether it’s well motivated or poorly motivated. And if you are trying to be a decent person, you can’t cut off the mechanism of feedback. And so what that means is sometimes you take to heart the wrong thing or you take it to heart too much. You’re not light enough about it. You take it very, very seriously. You lose sleep over it. I mean, I can’t tell you the number of nights where I’ve just not slept because of some critique somebody’s made of me. And I thought to myself, maybe that’s right. And sometimes it is right.
Lex Fridman (02:28:07):
Some of that is good to stew in that criticism, but some of that can destroy you. Do you have a shortcut? So Rogan has talked about taking a lot of mushrooms. Since you’re not into the mushroom thing, what’s your escape from that? Like when you get low, when you can’t sleep?
Ben Shapiro (02:28:24):
Usually writing is a big one for me. So the writing for me is cathartic. I love writing. That is a huge one. I love my family. Again, I usually have a close circle of friends who I will talk with in order to sort of bounce ideas off of them. And then once I’ve kind of talked it through, I tend to feel a little bit better. Exercise is also a big one. I mean, if I go a few days without exercise, I tend to get pretty grumpy pretty quickly. I mean, I got to keep the six pack going somehow, man.
Lex Fridman (02:28:52):
There you and Rogan agree. Well, we haven’t, aside from Twitter, mentioned love. What’s the role of love in the human condition, Ben Shapiro?
Ben Shapiro (02:29:04):
Man, don’t get asked for love too much. In fact, I was –
Lex Fridman (02:29:09):
You don’t get that question on college campus?
Ben Shapiro (02:29:10):
No, I typically don’t actually. In fact, we were at an event recently, it was a Daily Wire event, and in the middle of this event, there’s a meet and greet with some of the audience, and in the middle of this event, this guy walks by with this girl. They’re talking, and they’re talking to me, and their time kind of runs. The security’s moving them, and he says, no, no, no, wait, hold on a minute. And he gets down on one knee, and he proposes to the girl in front of me. And I said to him, this is the weirdest proposal in human history. What is happening right now? Like, I was your choice of cupid here? So, well, you know, we actually got together because we listened to your show, and so I can perform at a Jewish marriage right now.
We’re going to need a glass. We’re going to need some wine. It’s going to get weird real fast. But, yeah, so Love Doctor, I’m typically not asked too much about. The role of love is important in binding together human beings who ought to be bound together, and the role of respect is even more important in binding together broader groups of people. I think one of the mistakes that we make in politics is trying to substitute love for respect or respect for love, and I think that’s a big mistake. So I do not bear tremendous love in the same sense that I do for my family, for random strangers.
I don’t. I love my family. I love my kids. Anybody who tells you they love your kid as much as you love your kid is lying to you. It’s not true. I love my community more than I love other communities. I love my state more than I love other states. I love my country more than I love other countries, right? Like, that’s all normal, and that’s all good. The problem of empathy can be when that becomes so tight-knit that you’re not outward-looking, that you don’t actually have respect for other people. So in the local level, you need love in order to protect you and shield you and give you the strength to go forward. And then beyond that, you need a lot of respect for people who are not in the circle of love. And I think trying to extend love to people who either are not going to love you back or are going to slap you in the face for it, or who you’re just not that close to, it’s either it runs the risk of being ersatz and fake, or it can actually be counterproductive in some senses.
Lex Fridman (02:31:11):
Well, there’s some sense in which you could have love for other human beings just based on the humanity that connects everybody, right? So you love this whole project that we’re a part of. And actually, another thing we disagree on, so loving a stranger, like having that basic empathy and compassion towards a stranger, even if it can hurt you, I think it’s ultimately, that to me is what it means to be a good man, to live a good life, is to have that compassion towards strangers.
To me, it’s easy and natural and obvious to love people close to you, but to step outside of yourself and to love others, I think that’s the fabric of a good society. You don’t think there’s value to that?
Ben Shapiro (02:32:03):
I think there can be, but I think we’re also discussing love almost in two different senses, meaning that when I talk about love, what I think of immediately is the love I bear for my wife and kids, or my parents, or my siblings, or the love of my close friends. But I think that using that same term to describe how I feel about strangers, I think would just be inaccurate.
And so that’s why I’m suggesting that respect might be a more solid and realistic foundation for the way that we treat people far away from us or people who are strangers. Respect for their dignity, respect for their priorities, respect for their role in life. It might be too much of an ask, in other words. There might be the rare human being who’s capable of literally loving a homeless man on the street the way that he loves his own family. But if you respect the homeless man on the street the way that you respect your own family, because everyone deserves that respect, I think that you get to the same end without forcing people into a position of unrealistically expecting themselves to feel a thing they don’t feel.
One of the big questions in religion that comes up is God makes certain requests that you feel certain ways. You’re supposed to be happy about certain things, or you’re supposed to love thy neighbor as thyself. You’ll notice that in that statement, it’s thy neighbor. It’s not just generally anyone, it’s love thy neighbor.
Lex Fridman (02:33:23):
I think that extends to anyone that follows you on Twitter, thy neighbor, because God anticipated the social network aspect that is not constrained by geography.
Ben Shapiro (02:33:33):
I’m going to differ with you on the interpretation on that, but in any case, the kind of extension of love outwards might be too big an ask, so maybe we can start with respect and then hopefully, out of that respect, can grow something more if people earn their way in. One of the big problems when we’re talking about universalism is when people say, I’m a world citizen. I love people of the other country as much as I love myself or as much as I love my country. It tends to actually lead to an almost crammed-down utopianism that I think can be kind of difficult, because with love comes a certain expectation of solidarity.
When you love your family, you love your wife, there’s a certain level of solidarity that is required inside the home in order to preserve the most loving kind of home. If you love everybody, then that sort of implies a certain level of solidarity that may not exist. Maybe the idea is, for me, start with respect, and then maybe as people respect each other more, then love is an outgrowth of that, as opposed to starting with love and then hoping that respect develops.
Lex Fridman (02:34:34):
There’s a danger that that word becomes empty and instead is used for dogmatic kind of utopianism.
Ben Shapiro (02:34:43):
This is the way that, for example, religious theocracies very often work. We love you so much, we have to convert you.
Lex Fridman (02:34:49):
Let’s start with respect. What I’d love to see after our conversation today is to see a friendship here that continues the growth on Twitter of being even more respectful than you’ve already been, and maybe one day converting that into love on Twitter. If I could see that in this world, that would make me die a happy man.
Ben Shapiro (02:35:11):
A little bit more love in the world, for me, as a gift for me. I’ll try to make that happen. I do have one question. I’m going to need you to tell me which jokes are okay. Are jokes still okay?
Lex Fridman (02:35:23):
Can I just run your Twitter from now on? You just send it to me.
Ben Shapiro (02:35:26):
100%. I will pre-screen you the jokes, and you can tell me if this is a loving joke or if this is a hate-filled obnoxious joke.
Lex Fridman (02:35:32):
People will be very surprised by all the heart emojis that start popping up on your Twitter. Ben, thank you so much for being bold and fearless and exploring ideas. And your Twitter aside, thank you for being just good faith in all the arguments and all the conversations you’re having with people. It’s a huge honor. Thank you for talking to me. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.
Ben Shapiro is a conservative political commentator, host of The Ben Shapiro Show, co-founder of The Daily Wire, and author of The Authoritarian Moment and other books. Please support this podcast by checking out our sponsors:
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Here’s the timestamps for the episode. On some podcast players you should be able to click the timestamp to jump to that time.
(00:00) – Introduction
(07:07) – Kanye ‘Ye’ West
(14:47) – Hitler and the nature of evil
(22:53) – Political attacks on the left and the right
(28:37) – Quebec mosque shooting
(38:33) – Elon Musk buying Twitter
(51:36) – Trump and Biden
(56:09) – Hunter Biden’s laptop
(1:07:42) – Candace Owens
(1:11:22) – War in Ukraine
(1:21:31) – Rhetoric vs truth
(1:26:26) – Infamous BBC interview
(1:29:42) – Day in the life
(1:44:37) – Abortion
(1:57:32) – Climate change
(2:04:55) – God and faith
(2:16:05) – Tribalism
(2:20:41) – Advice for young people
(2:24:26) – Andrew Breitbart
(2:26:56) – Self-doubt
(2:28:58) – Love