Dan Carlin

Dan Carlin: Hardcore History (#136) | on Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • What’s interesting is that Germany might have been stronger in WWII without anti-semitism
    • Albert Einstein, along with other scientists and other valuable people would have been fighting on Germany’s side
      • The Holocaust might have prevented Germany from getting the nuclear bomb first
    • Germany used many resources in the Holocaust that could have been allocated to war efforts
  • Defining evil is difficult
    – “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – Dan Carlin
  • Climate Change is a clear example of the flaws of our collective decision making
    – Too many things have to go right to prevent us from destroying the Planet
    – People around the World have to get onboard together
    – Nations would have to put aside their interests in favor of the collective ones
    – For this reason, Dan sees this as the most likely way we’ll destroy ourselves
  • Despite the impressive progress, Elon made with SpaceX, Dan is most impressed with Tesla
    • Consumers who don’t care about the environment still want Tesla
      • Elon has aligned the incentives of individuals with those of the Planet

Key Products Mentioned

Intro

Nature of Evil

  • Is inflicting suffering always evil?
    • Motivations matter too
      • You could inflict suffering on a small group of people to prevent suffering on a larger group
        • Would that be evil?
      • Stalin created tremendous suffering, while honestly believing that he was doing good for the World
      • Alexander the Great was mostly killing to glorify his own name, does that make him worse than Hitler and Stalin?
    • It’d be important to consider if the people inflicting suffering were mentally sane
    • The perspective we look from also matters
      • How would we have seen Hitler if the Nazis had won the war?

Is Violence Inherent in the Human Condition?

  • What’s the difference between violence and “force”?
    • “Force” as a way to create a change when things are going wrong
    • Dan thinks that force may be inevitable for a civilization to exist
      • Is non-violent force enough?
      • Often force spills over into violence

Will We Always Have War?

  • How can a nation prevent another one from creating harm in the World?
    • We’d need to have a Global Entity that alleviates the need for a violent counter-force
      • Such a central entity would also be vulnerable to the corruption of power
  • Does the existence of armies create an incentive to use them?
    • War becomes a justification for the existence of the army
    • Yet armies are necessary for a nation to defend itself
  • There’s a big difference between soldiers and the Military-Industrial Complex
    • Soldiers could be any of us, and in history lay citizens were often forced to go to war
      • Dan sees their actions as heroic when they are fighting to protect others
      • But soldiers are often also victims of the situation
    • We need to be suspicious about the Military making the decision to go to war
      • Is it really necessary?
      • Patriotism is often used to manipulate people into going to war
        • It is very strong in the US
        • Lex remembers it being a lot stronger in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Ideological Societies and Government Skepticism

  • Both US and the Soviet Union are (were) both ideology-based societies
    • The whole society stands on a few, very strong ideologies
      • Members of each society are conditioned to regard their ideology as superior
    • These countries tend to spread their ideology across the World
      • They don’t really know if that’s what other countries want or need
    • Other countries are not as united by a specific ideology, rather by their nationality
  • Having a strong belief in your nation’s ideal can be beautiful
    • You believe in something bigger than yourself
    • Dan tends to be very suspicious of government
      • Propaganda and manipulation are a large portion of government
      • He thinks that healthy skepticism of government is in line with American ideals

On Putin

  • Dan, aware of his American biases, thinks that as long as the Russian people freely voted and elected him, that is fine
    • If elections are taken away, it becomes a different story, as it removes individual freedom
    • Putin managed to maintain his power by tightly controlling the media, thus limiting freedom of speech
  • In Lex’s experience, as a Russian, most people in Russia still love Putin
    • They see Putin as a strong force that prevents the corruption of the system to take over
      • They are also afraid of another collapse of the country
      • This looks similar to the problem faced by many monarchs, who were succeeded by less capable man, leading to collapse
        • In these situations, it’s important to set up a system that can outlive the leader
  • Lex sees a huge change in Putin from the day he first took power
    • “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Journalism Is Broken

  • From Putin’s perspective, journalists can be seen as the enemy of the state
    • They take things out of context, makeup stuff, make shallow critiques
    • But once you try to limit those kinds of journalists, you can easily start limiting all those who oppose you
      • If the government is the only approved outlet for truth, any American would see it as a tyranny
  • You could say that the American press system is also broken
    • The idea of a universal truth that we can all agree on doesn’t exist anymore
      • Different groups of people have totally different views of what’s true
    • Let’s not pretend that there was a great time, even in the US, of truthful journalism
      • Even in the past, journalists had to carry forward the interests of the government and of the newspapers’ owners

Genghis Khan and the Mongols

  • The Mongol empire is sometimes portrayed as a liberal one
    • For example, they allowed anyone who was conquered to practice their own religion
      • This was more likely a way to maintain order than to preserve individual freedoms (similar to what the Roman Empire did)
        • There’s a line about the Romans “they created a wasteland and called it peace”
  • Differently from the Romans, the Mongols were a nomadic society
    • Growing as nomads, they were better than anyone to ride horses and use them to their advantage
      • Their skill could not be copied
      • They were often hired as mercenaries
    • Their military advantage ended in the 17th and 18th century when the Chinese and Russians started using firearms

What Makes a Great Leader (Whether Good or Evil)?

  • Taking Alexander The Great as an example
    • He inherited the greatest army of his day
      • Perhaps his dad, who built the army was greater than him
    • Self-made men who rose to power from nothing may be considered better leaders
  • Interesting to wonder what was Hitler’s defining moment
    • He was a common soldier in the First World War
      • He didn’t show such strong anti-semitism until the end of WWI
    • How did he change so drastically? What happened to him?
      • “The time molded the man, versus Gengis Khan where it feels that the man molded his time” – Lex Fridman
  • “Great men are almost always bad men” – Lord Acton
    • In order to be great, you’d have to discard moral qualities that we’d attribute to good men

Heroism in Nazi Germany

  • What does heroic action look like in Germany in 1930s?
    • One needed to act against his own government, in an “unpatriotic” way
  • In the 1940s, movements such as The White Rose openly worked against the Nazi
    • The power was already consolidated
    • These people knew they’d be killed but did it anyway
    • People within the army who were secretly trying to undermine Hitler did not put their life on the line in the same way
  • There’s a difference between heroes who sacrifice but do not achieve their goal and heroes who do
  • How could Hitler have been stopped?
    • To answer this question we really have to understand the political situation in Germany after WWI
      • The great dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic
      • The only other alternative to Nazis at the time were communist agitators
    • In this context, Hitler’s message of restoring German’s greatness was very appealing
      • At such a time of suffering, any message of peace and brotherhood could not gain traction
    • The most obvious way Hitler could have been stopped earlier has nothing to do with Germans
      • When he re-militarized the Rhineland, the French army could have stopped him if they contested him
  • Hitler was a product of his time
    • Even if he was taken out, we cannot know what could have happened
      • Somebody else could have stepped in and done the same, or even worse

Hitler’s Anti-Semitism

  • Could Hitler have risen to power without anti-semitism?
    • Anti-semitism was not an integral part of fascism
      • Mussolini did it to please Hitler
  • Hitler was obsessed with this conspiracy against Jews
    • He surrounded himself with people who would reinforce it
  • What’s interesting is that Germany might have been stronger in WWII without anti-semitism
    • Albert Einstein, along with other scientists and other valuable people would have been fighting on Germany’s side
      • The Holocaust might have prevented Germany from getting the nuclear bomb first
    • Germany used many resources in the Holocaust that could have been allocated to war efforts

Evil and Incompetence

  • “Evil contains that kind of incompetence” – Lex Fridman
    • People driven by pure hatred are usually not that competent
      • That explains why terrorists today still haven’t been able to use atomic bombs
  • Dan disagrees with this view
    • In the timeline of history, it’s still been a few years since the nuclear weapon has been discovered
      • It is still possible that terrorists will get weapons of mass destruction
        • Or they may still do incredible harm without nuclear weapons
    • Defining evil is difficult
      • “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – Dan Carlin

Will Human Civilization Destroy Itself?

  • The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was the closest event in which we saw the potential of nuclear war
    • The odds seemed to suggest there would be a nuclear war
      • John F. Kennedy’s decisions may have saved more than a hundred million lives
        • Everyone around him disagreed with the decisions he made
  • Dan is more pessimistic about the decisions that humans have to make collectively
    • Climate Change is a clear example of the flaws of our collective decision making
      • Too many things have to go right to prevent us from destroying the Planet
        • People around the World have to get on board together
        • Nations would have to put aside their interests in favor of the collective ones
      • For this reason, Dan sees this as the most likely way we’ll destroy ourselves
  • Could we get inspiring leaders around the world to save us?
    • We’d need too many leaders at the same time in all countries to be making the right decisions
  • More than good vs. evil, Dan looks at self-interest as a way to gauge whether we’ll avoid self-destruction
    • Can we get all individuals to align their interests?

Can the US Avoid a Civil War?

  • There are large differences among the American people, and these are exacerbated by the media
    • Seeking the highest engagement, media tends to be extreme and divide us further
    • Dan wonders whether another uniting even such as Pearl Harbor would re-unite the American people
  • It’s difficult to think about a civil war in the traditional sense today, as there’s no geographic division
    • Today there would likely be domestic terrorist attacks
      • Only a few people would need to misbehave to create chaos
        • For every action there is an equal opposite reaction
        • You only need one person to start, and the situation would quickly escalate
      • The way to create stability then, would be a dictatorial government
        • Similarly to what happened in Germany

Elon Musk and Tesla

  • Despite the impressive progress, Elon made with SpaceX, Dan is most impressed with Tesla
    • Consumers who don’t care about the environment still want Tesla
      • Elon has aligned the incentives of individuals with those of the Planet
  • Elon also empowers us to think that each of us can have a strong impact on the World

Can a Few Individuals Unite us and Help us Avoid Radical Escalation?

  • Lex is thinking about podcasters like Dan and Joe Rogan with huge audiences
  • Throughout history, people spreading messages of love and peace (Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King) were all killed
    • They were all seen as dangerous to the system in which they lived
    • They were killed because they were effective, charismatic leaders who don’t come around often
      • Killing them was an effective strategy to limit their effectiveness
      • At the same time, we still feel the ripples of their actions

Podcasting, Joe Rogan and Spotify

  • Nowadays it takes a lot of resources and effort to monetize a podcast
  • Dan would prefer to be able to focus only on the content
    • That’s what Spotify offered to Joe Rogan
      • The idea to partner with an outside firm that enhances his ability to focus on the art is enticing
    • At the same time, Dan is skeptical of big companies, as they may try to steer the content in certain directions
      • In Joe Rogan’s case, they specified in the contract that Spotify has no control over the content
  • Now it’s in Spotify’s interest to grow Joe’s podcast
    – Even if Joe decides to leave in a few years, he may walk away with a larger audience
  • Dan keeps his mind open to the possibility and is watching Joe to see how it goes for him

Hardcore History’s Evergreen Content

  • Dan feels pressure from his audience to release podcast episodes as quickly as possible
    • He tries to not give in to that pressure and to never compromise on quality
    • People may listen to HH episodes years after they were released
      • They won’t care how long it took to produce
    • Dan knows that his audience will forgive him, if he takes a bit longer to put it out, as long as the quality is good
      • “The only thing that gives you longevity is how good it is (your content)” – Dan Carlin
  • In the future, Dan is planning to make a new podcast on Alexander The Great
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Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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