Interview of Bret Weinstein ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Bret Weinstein. He is a theoretical evolutionary biologist focused on evolutionary patterns within complex, dynamic systems. His work revolves around trade-offs that force selection to balance competing values within fluctuating or patchy habitats. His current project is focused on human consciousness in the context of novel hazards and opportunities. He lives with his wife, children, and other animal affiliates in the Anthropocene. 

So first off, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

BW: Well, thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to this discussion.

DJ: So, much as I would love to discuss your evolutionary biology work with you, and I would love to do that in a different interview; today I would like to discuss an incident that occurred at Evergreen State College that leads to discussions of larger problems in academia and on the left. So can you fill people in on the background, and then we can start the meat of the discussion.

BW: Yeah, for sure, although I should say, the problem with this story is that it is tempting to try to encapsulate it in a very clean form. But the story actually goes back a full year before the event that caused it to erupt into the public consciousness, and I don’t want to give short shrift to what actually took place, but I also don’t want to go into lots of details that your listeners might not be interested in.

So let me just suggest that if the short version of this doesn’t satisfy, your listeners would be well advised to look up a piece that came out in the Huffington Post on July 2, by Michael Zimmerman, about the implosion at Evergreen, in which he, being our former provost, goes into the deep story of how these events unfolded.

So the events unfolded in a way that people began to see them when I was confronted by a group of what the protesters said was 50 people who decided to disrupt the program, which is Evergreen’s version of a class that I was teaching. They showed up at the building I was teaching in, a student in a group that I was overseeing alerted me to that the fact that people were chanting outside the door: “Hey hey, ho ho, Bret Weinstein’s got to go.” Which was an unusual event, so I went to the door to ask them what was going on, and they seemed to know who I was. And anyway, I asked them if they wanted to discuss their concerns and they said “Yes” and I said “Well, how about we go to the fourth floor where none of my students are, so we can talk there without disrupting anything.” And they said “Where are your students now?” and I said “First three floors,” and they said “Then that’s where we’re going.”

They burst into the building and disrupted not just my program but all of the work going on in the building, and confronted me, asking, or insisting really, that I resign over what they perceived to be overt racism on my part. And what they were referring to in particular was an email that I had written to our faculty and staff email list, concerned about a change that had been made this year to a campus tradition. So the campus tradition is called “Day of Absence” and it is coupled with “Day of Presence.” And Day of Absence traditionally has been an event in which students, faculty and staff, initially black students, faculty and staff but in more recent years all students, faculty and staff of color, have chosen to absent themselves from campus in an effort to highlight the vital roles that they play. This follows on a play called “Day of Absence,” written by Douglas Turner Ward, a black playwright in the 60’s. And this tradition at Evergreen started in the 70’s.

But this year, the organizing committee for Day of Absence decided that they wished to absent white people from the campus. And this set off alarm bells for me, so I wrote a letter to the person who had announced this change, and I broadcast it to the faculty and staff, saying that there was a huge difference between a population absenting themselves in order to make a point, and a population deciding to absent another population, and that I found this unacceptable.

That email was picked up by our campus paper, which published it on the Internet so that anybody could access it. And then events must have unfolded behind closed doors, in which some group decided that this concern of mine was so egregious that it warranted my resignation or firing and they decided to protest. They then went on to protest elsewhere in the college, and they posted videos of what they were doing on the Internet, I think thinking that it would make them look powerful and insightful and noble to others who were looking on. And what happened, I think, is quite telling, which is that when the world saw these videos, overwhelmingly, outside of Evergreen at least, people were completely horrified by the behavior of the students, and when they looked at my email, they were shocked to find that the racism they had been told to expect simply wasn’t there.

DJ: So can we add a couple of details to this? My understanding is that at one point – I mean, can you talk about what you were told by the campus security?

BW: Oh, sure. So the campus police were called while these protesters were disrupting my class and while I was trying to reason with them, to not such great effect …

DJ: Wait. There’s another thing that really bugs me here, before we even get any further, which is that they could have confronted you at any time, and it seems to me that you were going out of your way to be kind, to actually interrupt your class – program, sorry – to discuss this with them. Because if I were teaching a class, and somebody came up to talk to me; unless somebody is dying, I would say “Class finishes in another 43 minutes and we will talk at ten minutes to the hour.” You see what I’m saying?

BW: Absolutely.

DJ: You were gracious in the first place to even interrupt class time.

BW: Well, as luck would have it, and I think this was pure happenstance; I had my students broken into three groups discussing subtopics of our larger topic, so at that point I could have had a discussion with them while not disrupting –

DJ: Okay.

BW: – the students’ work.

DJ: Nonetheless, they came to you during class.

BW: They came to me during class and it was clear that that was intentional. In fact, they came to the building where I was teaching, which isn’t anywhere near the building where my office is. Their intent was to disrupt class and to do so in a dramatic form and they succeeded in doing that. But I think they clearly misjudged how the world would understand it.

You’ve asked me, though, about the events that unfolded afterwards. So the campus police showed up as a result of somebody else having called them. It hadn’t really even occurred to me to call them, but somebody else did. And they blocked the police, they actually I think stopped focusing on me and they ran out into a sort of covered walkway space. And they blocked the police from coming in, and then complained, I think erroneously based on what shows up on the video, that the police had then brutally shoved white students out of the way in order to get to the students of color.

But in any case, they blocked the police for some time. The police finally made their way into the building and contacted me. The protesters then moved on to the administration building and confronted administrators, including our relatively new president Dr. Bridges. And they started making demands of him. They also posted a video of those confrontations. And then one of the things that Bridges conceded to them was that there would be a meeting at four o’clock in an old cafeteria, no longer used for that purpose, it’s now a large classroom space. But an old cafeteria on the fourth floor of the library building, that they could air their concerns there and relevant administration and staff would be present.

And I asked if I could be present, given that the protest seemed to focus at least in part on firing me, and I felt I should be there to address it. And I went, and it was quite a frightening scene, actually. As I entered this fourth floor space – you have to go down a long corridor to get into the room. And as I walked down the corridor with a number of my students – I should say, the students who protested, none of them were my students; these were students I didn’t know. And the students I do know, both present and former students, have been overwhelmingly shocked at the allegations leveled against me. It doesn’t match with the person they know.

And so anyway, a number of them wanted to go with me to this meeting, I think feeling protective of me and feeling like they could speak to the issues in a way other people couldn’t. As we walked down the hallway, I was singled out and protesters started shouting that I was a white person in need of being followed. Basically they assigned handlers to me to follow me into this room and to monitor my every move and to report back, and maybe their purpose was to control me also, I don’t know.

But anyway, I went into this room and it was a bizarre scene. There were announcements made that the chairs were not to be used by white people, that they were for people of color, that there was food which was also not to be used by white people. And there was a revision, maybe there were enough chairs that white people could use them, but they should sit behind people of color. Anyway, the event unfolded, and this is all accessible on video for people who want to look it up. But the discussion was incredibly heated. There were moments at which it appeared to nearly boil over into violence. People particularly shouting about me and the offensiveness of my presence at this meeting, or that it indicated something was deeply off.

But anyway, there was a great deal of shouting at the top of one’s lungs by protesters at the administrators and at me. And I got text messages from friends elsewhere in the room telling me that protesters were discussing the fact that they had mace that they should keep under wraps and not let it be seen. There was also apparently discussion in a couple of places that I shouldn’t be allowed to leave at the end of the meeting.

So it was quite a frightening event. There was one way in and out, controlled by the protesters, anger at a level that one does not account normally, and that anger was focused on a fiction, which is particularly dangerous because it’s very hard to falsify a fiction that people have become so attached to that they won’t even listen to dialog about it.

So anyway, I did manage to – I alerted an administrator that I was being told that I might not be allowed to leave the room. I’m not sure exactly what he did, but I was able to leave the room at the end of this meeting.

And the following day, Wednesday, I was not scheduled to have class. So I did not come to campus. I got a call in the middle of the day – the police, actually it was the Chief of Police called me and said “Are you on campus?” And I said “No. Why?” And he said “Well, we understand that protesters are searching, car to car, and they’re guarding the entrances to campus and they say they’re looking for an individual and we think it’s you.”

And they said “Please, don’t come to campus, we don’t think we can protect you.” And I inquired why, and it turned out that on the latter part of Tuesday the police had been told to stand down by the administration of the college, which is a very odd thing, especially in light of what was unfolding, to have the police told that they couldn’t interact. The police were in fact barricaded in the police station, which meant that the protesters had effectively gained control of the campus. The campus was essentially being governed by an anarchic mob at that point.

The following day I did have class scheduled. I contacted my students and said – by the way I should tell you, my students at this point were being followed in the woods. They were being harassed and doxxed, meaning they were having their information distributed online. And this was all now documented, the protesters in fact discussed that they were doing these things, and then discussed that they needed to stop at some point when it became a public relations problem for them.

But on Thursday, I told my students by email that it wasn’t safe for us to return to campus and that we should meet downtown. And I got on my bike to go meet them, and as I passed the entrance that I usually take to campus, I saw people that I thought I recognized from the protest grab their cell phones. And I thought, “This can’t be happening.” So I rode around the corner and I diverted my journey and I went to the police station, and I knocked on the door. The police were locked inside and I talked to the chief again and said “I’ve got to be imagining this,” and she said “I don’t think you are imagining this. You’re not safe on your bike. I can’t protect you. I want you to go home, put your bike away, and take the car to go meet your students.”

There’s more, but let’s just say those vignettes, because the experience of appearing to be hunted on one’s own campus, having the police hobbled in their attempt to restore some kind of rule of law to the campus, was a surreal experience.

DJ: I want to read one sentence from the article that you mentioned earlier, The Evergreen State College Implosion: Are There Lessons To Be Learned?

Because you have not yet mentioned the baseball bats. So I just want to mention that.

“The response made by the Vice President for Student Affairs when student protesters were roaming the campus armed with baseball bats and tasers made it clear that differences of opinion could be frightening.” And for me, at least, this gets to the heart of much of this. Just to be clear, so everybody listening to this knows, we have students armed with baseball bats and tasers roaming the campus. This is correct, right?

BW: Absolutely correct. And not only that, but there was at least one incident in which somebody was hit with a baseball bat. It was documented. I think it was a very low-light situation, so the documentation doesn’t entirely, you know, you don’t see very much that you can recognize, but actually the audio that goes with it is absolutely frightening. So somebody was challenged by a group with baseball bats and then, effectively, the group of people who were challenged, and then one of them was hit, ended up making it to one of our dormitories, and they were challenged again, an attempt to get the cell phone that had captured this event from them so that the protesters could do away with the evidence that it had occurred.

So there’s nothing speculative about what happened, and there’s nothing symbolic about these folks wandering with their baseball bats. They were behaving as enforcers of a code that only they know. Where their judgment – I can’t even believe we’re talking about their judgment. Maybe it doesn’t even make sense to mention it. But to have people whose understanding of what is taking place is as far off as the protesters’ understanding appears to be. To have control of the campus effectively ceded to them by the administration over the strong safety objections of the police is almost unfathomable.

DJ: Let’s just be explicit, and then let’s just move to the larger – I mean, as horrifying as this is personally, I think both you and I mainly want to focus on the larger implications for society.

BW: Absolutely.

DJ: I mean that with no disrespect to your own personal safety, I would be terrified.

BW: The larger issues are more important to me as well.

DJ: They always are. But before we go on, I just want to explicitly acknowledge that we have a university professor – you’re a professor, right? Full professor?

BW: Exactly. Well, we have a different system at our college. But I am the highest rank that we’ve got here.

DJ: So essentially a university professor, at the University, for whom the campus police are saying “We cannot guarantee your safety from mobs of students.” Even forgetting the actual content of – the actual subject? Just the notion that – okay, when I was in college, one day Edward Teller came to speak at the Colorado School of Mines, where I got my degree. Edward Teller’s one of the most horrible human beings of the 20th century. And there was no notion that students with baseball bats were going to assault this guy who had suggested that you drop a hydrogen bomb to make a bay in Alaska.

There’s this concept that universities are supposed to be this bastion of free speech. And even forgetting – once again, I agree with you – I read your email, I agree with you all down the line. This is all fine. But even ignoring all that, even if your perspective was problematical on some level –

BW: Even if I was a flat-out unapologetic racist, having students roving with baseball bats makes no sense.

DJ: And you and I could both list any number of professors who have said things that actually are quite objectionable.

BW: Sure.

DJ: Or for crying out loud, Lawrence Summers, you know, with this whole thing about certain countries being underpolluted and also this thing about how women aren’t in science because their brains don’t work that way. And the response to him was that he was made Secretary of the Treasury.

BW: Right. And my guess is we’ll agree on this too, that the best thing to do, in the case that somebody has an indefensible perspective is to let them voice it.

DJ: And then you just – I’m going to say the word “slam” but I’m going to add the word “rhetorically.” You slam them rhetorically. You let them speak and then you show how ridiculous their perspective is. This is the whole point – sorry that my voice is getting thin and reedy but it makes me so mad. This is the whole point of college, that in a well-administered college that was within a context – I don’t want to blame Evergreen, because this is happening all over the country in different ways, and the problem with the Left too that I want to get to. But what this should be – okay. Edward Teller came to the Colorado School of Mines. He’s odious. One of my few days I specifically remember 35 years later, about college? Was the discussion we had in my English class the next day, with students arguing vociferously: “He’s horrible!” “No, I like him!” And the teacher saying “You can’t just say he’s a horrible human being. You have to defend your position.” And the teacher used it as an opportunity to teach us how to think.

BW: Well, unfortunately; I think what we are witnessing – Evergreen, I have little doubt, is ahead of the curve on this. But what we are witnessing is the breakdown of the most fundamental alignment that allows something like a university to function. That we are now in disagreement about the basic purpose of the institution. And so, what was clearly true at Evergreen is that the protesters, and then maybe most surprisingly, the administration and the faculty, demonstrated themselves not only to be deeply in error about what was going on, but to be effectively ineducable. Even the revelation that what they were saying was horrifying to people across the political spectrum, even in light of that, there was no ability to update their model and rethink the situation. What they’ve done is effectively doubled down on the initial interpretation, which doesn’t make any sense. At some point you would think there would be enough evidence that they had something wrong that it would cause soul-searching. I have not seen that soul-searching yet.

DJ: So let’s be explicit. I’m just going to ask you; what are the larger social implications – what are the larger implications for this discussion – what insights does this whole incident give us to problems in both academia and the left?

BW: Yeah. That’s a good question and we can maybe start that discussion here. But I think the first one has to do with – I don’t think I’m overstating the case to say the death of inquiry. That in effect, what is being asserted in this protest at Evergreen and the larger movement that it represents, what is being asserted is that actually we’ve got the answer, and anything that conflicts with it does so for illegitimate reasons. And so, throughout the year that led up to this protest, there was increasingly overt animosity towards the sciences in particular. In fact, the vandalism that took place during the protest appeared to be targeted at the sciences in particular.

This is a frightening fact, because a society that cannot ask a question that it doesn’t know the answer to, that has to start with the answers and work backwards, essentially rationalizing those answers with something that looks like inquiry but isn’t, is a dangerous society. It leaves us with no tools with which to navigate important issues, including issues of race, including the treatment people experience in society and whether or not it is fair.

So inquiry is the best tool we’ve got, and science, to my way of thinking, is the greatest bullshit detector that’s ever been devised. So to hobble it in favor of answers that we think we know, and then to just hard-code those answers in as if they’re true and don’t need to be scrutinized, is an appalling thing to happen anywhere. For it to happen at colleges and universities tells us that we are headed somewhere very dangerous as a society. Because those institutions effectively have a kind of intellectual custody of the minds that go on to navigate for civilization. So to the extent that we are going to avoid pitfalls, we need inquiry to be more vital now than it’s been, rather than to be hobbled by an overly simplistic notion of what ought to be.

So then, you asked about the left. I think that’s really just an extension of the same puzzle. I am totally shocked at the complete collapse of the left. I have the sense, even though you and I probably disagree on some details, I think, based on what I’ve read of your work, I would imagine that you and I agree that we’re very much on the wrong track, that there are basic fundamental principles about which all reasonable people would agree, and that we should be attempting to figure out how to protect those principles in the face of all threats, including sustainability and fairness and those kinds of things. And these things are a focus of the left, or at least traditionally they have been.

But at the moment, the left is, to the extent that it exists at all, obsessed with trivia and easy answers and has become frightened of its own shadow when it comes to actually discovering new truths that it doesn’t know. It’s become the caricature that the right often paints of it, which, for those of us who are still out here on the left, is strangely, profoundly isolating. And that’s a problem that I think we need to solve right away. To the extent that the – I’ve seen a lot from people on the right since this event has unfolded, since the story at Evergreen in some senses reinforces some of the beliefs on the right, the right has been quicker to embrace and then grapple with it. And there is this thread, it’s not everybody on the right, but some fraction of the right wishes to see this as a total vindication of their perspective on everything, which it very definitely isn’t.

But to the extent that the right is crowing about the collapse of the left, it is doing itself no favor. A vibrant right, to the extent that that’s possible, actually requires a vibrant left, and the collapse of the left is a disaster across the spectrum, I’m quite convinced of that.

DJ: I think that’s really interesting. And before we go any further, I just want to make clear, too, that while I loved what you said about Evergreen being ahead of the curve, but I want to be really clear that these are problems that are nation-wide, though Evergreen, once again, may be two steps ahead of many other places.

BW: Yep.

DJ: There are attempts to – I wrote an essay about this a couple of years ago, because I’d been deplatformed at a couple of universities, and it cracked me up in some ways, because for years – I mean, you know my work. I’ve been advocating for people to take out dams, I’ve been advocating for people to bring down civilization. And that never got me deplatformed. The right never deplatformed me. It was the left that deplatformed me.

So I started doing research on this, and the sort of pro-Israel forces are still deplatforming a lot of people, but in general, the left has really taken over the mantle of deplatforming. For crying out loud, we all know about the riots at Berkeley when they were going to have, what, Ann Coulter? And of course, Ann Coulter, her perspective is really bad. But the irony seemed to be lost that the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, they were rioting to prevent someone from speaking.

My point is, this is not an isolated incident.

BW: No. It’s a symptom, I think, of the equivalent – this is like the intellectual equivalent of an autoimmune disorder. Where we are now – I don’t want to say “we,” because it’s not some of us. But some on the left in particular are sabotaging the tools that are most necessary for us to navigate. You saw a talk by Edward Teller. I remember one in college by Louis Farrakhan, who was well understood to be anti-Semitic and unapologetically so. But I went to his talk, and I listened. And you and I are talking here, we have tremendous agreement I would imagine, over the fundamental importance of sustainability, we have disagreement over whether or not civilization could be made sustainable. I spent a lot of time thinking about how it might be, and I know you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what civilization is and what might come next. We don’t agree, but there’s no difficulty with us navigating the territory that is opened by the questions of two people who’ve navigated honestly and come to conclusions that aren’t the same. In fact, that’s the most fertile ground there is for discovery.

So it does seem to me that deplatforming, the very idea that there are concepts that are so frightening that one must not hear them, is, on its face, absurd.

DJ: Especially at a university.

BW: Especially at a university. If there’s one place that doesn’t need to be true – the university is effectively like what programmers would call a sandbox. It is a place where it is safe to try out ideas and see how far they go, to investigate phenomena, to see what they are. Because nothing is riding on the outcome of the inquiry. You can do the inquiry honestly because the inquiry is not plugged in to the apparatus of what keeps things running. And you know, the purpose of course is, at least hopefully, to understand how things work in a better way, to open up opportunities that we haven’t spotted yet, or to improve what we’re doing so it’s less destructive and more rewarding.

But the idea that you need a space in which you are liberated to think freely, which means to engage with bad ideas, and to discover why they’re bad, and how bad they are – that’s fundamental.

DJ: And to promote them until you figure out they’re bad. I mean, God knows I’ve done that.

BW: Exactly. I mean, every intellectually honest worker has done that. It’s fundamental.

DJ: My favorite example is Lewis Mumford. Lewis Mumford was absolutely pro-technology. He wrote several books pro-technology, until World War II. And then he was like, “Oh. I get it.” And after that, he wrote books that undercut the thesis that he’d been promoting for ten years.

BW: Yes. I think one of the things that has gone wrong inside the university system, and I credit this to the influence markets have had on the intellectual environment. But it has become possible to get ahead in the university system by being wrong in a particular way. And that shouldn’t be the case. If you want science, and the university system where it lives, to discover new things and to actually improve the resolution with which we understand the universe that we live in, you need to align things so that at the point that it becomes clear you are incorrect, as painful as it is to get to the right side of the issue, your interests have to be mirrored in your getting there as quickly as possible. We do not want a system that pays people to stay on the wrong side of an issue and to cover, because that just blinds us. For the same reason you don’t want your friends to rationalize, because it’s dangerous to your partnership, you don’t want your university system to foster rationalization amongst scientists because it blinds you to what’s true, that you need to know. Which may not be very pleasant, but that’s the way it is.

DJ: So there’s kind of a philosophical elephant in the room, that we haven’t named as such so far, and that’s – can you talk for a moment – we have about 11-12 minutes left. Can you talk for a moment about postmodernism, and the conflict – I think that postmodernism is one of the things that has destroyed the left. Can you talk for a moment about postmodernism vs. science? Or just take it anywhere you want.

BW: Sure. Yeah. I agree with you, it has a very important role to play in this story.

DJ: Can you define it for people, too, please?

BW: Sure. And I’m probably not going to do it justice. There is an intellectual tradition that results in what we now call postmodernism, that is not – it’s very easy to caricature, and I don’t want to do that. I think, in the end, it’s been a disaster, but it’s unfair to portray every point it’s ever made as incorrect. In fact, I think it proceeds from a correct observation, which is that perception is unavoidably at the interface between what we understand to be true, and what is true. And so the fact that we cannot completely prune perception out from between us and the universe that we’re trying to understand creates real problems. Now, of course, the best tool for addressing that is really high-quality science that can tell you when your expectations about nature are incorrect.

DJ: A place we disagree! I should get my baseball bat!

Sorry. Go ahead.

BW: (laughing) Let’s put it this way. I encountered postmodernism first when I was in college at the University of California Santa Cruz. And at the time, it was obvious, even upon a brief encounter with it, that it was a kind of intellectual nihilism that is motivated to interfere with high quality thinking. So it’s kind of a weaponized analytical perspective. What it means is, or what it has come to mean, is that the flaws and the hazards in discovering what is true are understood to be so fundamental that the truth itself becomes suspect.

Taken to its logical extreme, that means that effectively all truth is in some sense a social construction, and therefore, to the extent that the truth may say things that are problematic or distasteful, that’s really the result in general of somebody’s oppressive ideology, that truth is in fact a weapon of oppression, is where this has ended up. And so you can imagine people who have such a perspective deciding that listening to the arguments made by those who hold these perspectives would be a mistake, and this is where this instinct to deplatform comes from. If arguments that are phrased analytically are inherently political arguments about preserving and acquiring power for those who have control enough to dictate how science functions, or something like that, then simply denying them the opportunity, interfering with the conduct of their work seems logical.

And the problem is, this was for decades effectively much more active in the university system than you would hope, but it was corralled to certain fields where it was understood to be high quality work, and the fields that understood it to be an abomination were insulated from it by the fact that it had no right to dictate, or very little right to dictate whether science got done.

DJ: An example of that, real quick, might be that lit crit, a lot of this crap has emerged from literary criticism, that in lit crit all you have is a text. So obviously there are lots of interpretations, etc. etc. So as long as it stays in the lit crit area, it’s like they can do whatever they want. But as soon as they start trying to say that this means that we can’t absolutely say that if you drop a ball off of an overpass, it’s going to land and hit the highway, then that’s where it becomes complete bunk.

BW: Well, beyond bunk, it becomes like a shotgun or, you know, an uzi, where it indiscriminately takes out structures that are vital and important.

So what happened at Evergreen, I think, is that the incorrect abstractions of postmodernism became militant. And they started to go after the structures of science, very directly. And they started to argue effectively that science was itself racist, that it was a place students should avoid, so they were not polluted by the propagation of those racist ideas. And if you extrapolate from this, it’s very very dangerous.

To me, and I think in some sense why I ran afoul of this thing more than some of my colleagues, is that I actually do teach about race. I teach about it evolutionarily, and I’m not shy about talking about how this came about, and what the relationship of racism is to our understanding of genetics and all of that.

So in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of almost every student I’ve had, that discussion is empowering. And it doesn’t really matter what race you come from. It’s empowering, and maybe it’s even more vital if you’re a student of color. Having a rigorous understanding of race and history and the way those things have interfaced is very powerful. So if you ask me what we should do about the fact that civilization is unfair, and in a racially biased way; well, we should arm students with a scientific toolkit for understanding how that works, why it happens, and what strategies that would be robust in the face of that might be.

And then imagine that the other side believes actually the solution to this is to run away from science and to cover the ears of those who might hear this and find it like the siren’s song. Those two things are just incompatible.

DJ: Part of the problem for me – and this is one of the best explications of postmodernism I’ve heard. Thank you.

Part of the problem for me is that if you have deemed that there is no such thing as truth, and that facts themselves don’t objectively exist, then basically all you’re left with are rhetorical tools. And all you’re left with then – if someone throws a fact at you, but you don’t believe in facts, all you can do basically is try to get them to shut up, either by calling them a bigot or by hitting them with a baseball bat. I mean, that’s really what postmodernism comes down to.

Say you and I are going to – and we’re not going to play this out, but you and I have a disagreement about whether civilization can ever be sustainable. So I say to you: okay, fact A, 10,000 years ago, fact B this, fact C this. And you say “Okay. I disagree with fact C, I agree with facts A and B. Here’s how I explain those. And by the way, here’s our facts D, E and F to show my position.” And then you and I sort of battle it out with facts. Am I right so far?

BW: Yep.

DJ: But if you don’t believe in facts, if I say “Okay, points A B and C,” and if you’re going to disbelieve that facts themselves can convince, then all you’re left with is, like, asserting things. Which doesn’t really count. All you can do then is either call me names, or hit me, or, I dunno, do something else rhetorically. Do you see what I’m saying?

The whole point here of having a discussion – so you and I are going to go to dinner, and I show up 20 minutes late, and you say to me “Derrick, why are you 20 minutes late?” And I say I wasn’t late, what do we do with that? Do you see what I’m trying to get at with this?

BW: 100%. This does lead, I think, to the hardest point to extract from this whole story. So not only do you get a kind of arbitrary interaction with facts, but you get a kind of right to weaponize language and logic. And then …

If you look at what happened at Evergreen, the number of places where you can find the protesters on tape, or on video, discussing their narrative of events, and then the videos that they produced, which contradict their representation of those events; you can see the failure of postmodern thinking, because the video, whether they like it or not, captures some version of what actually took place. And yes, it’s biased by what perspective the camera was standing in, but it doesn’t put words in people’s mouths.

So I think the irony of the Evergreen story, that I really hope people will start thinking about, is that this was a place in which people who were fully convinced of a postmodern worldview were given, or took the power to operationalize that worldview. And we saw what happened. We saw what a terrible job it did dealing with basic facts, like who said what or who did what. We saw what it did to policing. So it represented itself as capable of taking over for the police and it demanded, it became obsessed with driving the police off campus on the basis of claims of brutality that it can’t back up. And then it roved the campus with bats and it hit people and attempted to get their phones away from them in order to do away with the facts it found inconvenient.

So I think the story of Evergreen is really of what happens when you take these crazy ideas about how the universe works out of the realm of the abstract and you operationalize them. And for some reason, at Evergreen the administration and a large fraction of the faculty were willing to go along with the experiment.

But I hope people understand the result of that experiment, because for the rest of the university system, and for the left itself, it’s very much a cautionary tale.

DJ: Well that seems like a perfect place to end. And we can either end there, or, there are one or two minutes left if you want them, or we’re great. Is there anything else you want to say about this situation?

BW: I don’t think so. I think that actually covers it as well as anything. I hope at some point we get to pick up the conversation and talk about evolutionary theory and what its implications are for civilization, and maybe for revitalizing the left.

DJ: That sounds absolutely great. And thank you so much for the conversation today, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Bret Weinstein. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on August 27th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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