I’d strongly recommend viewing this episode and episode 226 with Peter Schiff as an exercise in contrast. I didn’t design it this way but it worked out that way. Here you have two individuals who both are saying that they care about American democracy and yet their behavior and approach couldn’t be more different. In fact, this interview goes a long way to answering why.
Yascha Mounk is Jewish and grew up in post-war Germany. When you have that kind of experience, you know firsthand just how fragile democracy and economics are and how carefully they must be guarded. There is no room for complacency or arrogance or behaving in any way that might put your own narrow, selfishness at odds with the health of the system. Instead, you try to figure out ways that your personal desires for profit and success can align with the larger goals of the health of the system. I’m sure Yascha wants a nice house or apartment and a nice car. I certainly do. But when you’ve been to places like Libya like I have or when the hellscape of World War II and the Holocaust are vivid in your mind like Yascha, then you just aren’t going to risk destroying the system that makes your present prosperity possible.
However, as Yascha found out and as The New York Times reported in its article “How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’” that has become less real for most people in the West. Yascha found that roughly 75% of people born in the 1930s in America believed it was important to live in a democracy but only 25% of people born in the 1980s believed that it was important to live in a democracy.
This is why history repeats itself. People get lazy, complacent and forget why a society in which the power of leaders is checked by the people is so important.
And you end up with people like our previous guest, Peter Schiff.
It may not seem fair to single out Peter Schiff. It’s not. Peter is just one among many voices. And that is the point. That’s all a democracy is. It’s the collective intelligence of the crowd. And if your crowd is full of people like Yascha Mounk then you respect the problem enough to be constantly trying to figure out what you’re missing. And if your crowd is full of people like Peter Schiff then you relentlessly self-promote and figure out how to make money without really wondering if your worldview might be part of destabilizing America AND you convince yourself that you are part of saving your country even as you drive the dysfunction that will ultimately tear it apart.
Everybody thinks they’re part of the solution and, yet, we have all these problems. That you think you’re one of the good guys and can spot the idiocy of others doesn’t tell you that you’re one of the good guys; it tells you that you’re human. That’s how humans think. Actually serving your country and humanity requires relentlessly looking for holes in your own thinking because you have a constructive paranoia that you might end up in a Holocaust-type situation or that yours might be the generation that rather than moving democracy and human progress forward destroys it. You’re always wondering “what am I missing?” Yascha does that and so he’s open to new ideas. Peter bloviates, self-promotes, shills his products and finds the fault in Wall Street but can’t see the log in his own. It’s a perfect exercise in contrast.
I actually didn’t set Peter Schiff up. A listener did without asking me. We’ve corresponded for a while. Throughout the election, he made light of my concerns about Russia and undermined my own limited attempts to have a conversation about Russia on Facebook. Then, after the election, he finally read about Russia and realized he was wrong. When I tried to hold him accountable, he said I was acting like he’d killed someone. Trolling was fun he said. And he was just one voice.
That’s how democracies are killed. They’re killed by indifference, complacency, the promotion of foolish ideologies that line your pockets and by not bothering to inform yourself about potential threats to that democracy. They’re killed because of Hanlon’s Razor.
Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity.
Stupidity is a choice. It’s a choice to not listen, not take personal responsibility and to revel in a certain self-righteous self-satisfaction. It’s the sum total of a lot of people trolling for fun and not thinking about the effects of millions of people doing that. In the end, if a democracy gets killed, all the people will have its blood on their hands.
Anyone who wants to join us in helping improve humanity’s thinking is welcome but Mixed Mental Arts is a discipline with standards. We challenge each other. We hold our beliefs accountable to reality. We do everything we can to transcend our obliviousness. And we recognize that all actions have consequences. Our brains enable us to think them through. It requires behaving like a grown up to take responsibility for doing that.