Bret Weinstein on Joe Rogan

Bret Weinstein recently was on the Joe Rogan show

Dr. Weinstein starts off on a pessimistic note, saying that things will get worse in terms of the culture wars and civil unrest, with the George Floyd protests being the latest manifestation of a longer-term trend of unrest and opposition to ‘enlightenment values,’ although I wish he would have expanded on this. The podcast is 3 hours long but this point still needed some elaboration as to how specifically things will get worse and what will happen. He also takes credit for having the foresight of predicting the Floyd riots even though he never actually made such a prediction or gave a date, and is he is hardly the only public intellectual make such an premonition, others including Jonathan Haidt, who years ago also raised similar concerns about campus and left-wing radicalization. Although, like Weinstein, I oppose the rioting, my outlook is more optimistic in that this is being blown out of proportion by the media and that the unrest will blow over. I agree also regarding ‘critical studies’ being antithetical to science, and that today’s left seems hostile to science, such as in regard to sex being a spectrum.

For example, in regard to the George Floyd protests, this map from Wikipedia of protest locations makes the situation appear worse than it actually is:

Because it’s not depicted to scale, the circles indicating protest activity cover much of the United States, so it would seem like the entire country is protesting everywhere. If it was actually drawn to scale, the circles would appear as a scattering of tiny dots. It’s hard to find exact figures, but I would estimate the total number of people who have protested is probably less than 200,000, across all cities since May, which although is a lot, is tiny relative to the total adult US population. The property damage is also surprisingly light, with totals ‘only’ in the tens of millions of dollars range for some cities. Minneapolis officials estimated the cost at $55 million, with 200 buildings damaged or destroyed. I’m sure most people, based only media coverage, if asked to estimate the damage, would probably guess in the billions of dollars range.

Moreover, the immediacy and pervasiveness of social media and the 24-7 news cycle makes is easy to lose perspective in terms of the infrequency of such events. The tendency to overestimate the frequency recent but rare negative events is called recency bias. One would have to got as far back as the Rodney King Riots to find an event of comparable severity–almost 30 years. What happened on June 18th, 2017? Or August 3rd, 2018? There were not protests. You would have to guess thousands of dates, in which all 300+ million Americans are peacefully going about their lives, to find the handful in which there is unrest. For every antifa skirmish, BLM tantrum, or campus SJW-meltdown, there are hundreds of days in which nothing happens, yet we ignore those. People are still talking about the MIddlebury College protests of 2017, but what about the week before that, and before that? And the week after that, and after that?

It is also easy to lose to lose perspective in terms of race relations, in believing that things are worse than they actually are. A common narrative is that there is deep-seated, ingrained antipathy by blacks against white people and ‘white institutions’ attributable to ‘systemic racism,’ the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, and other factors, and such a narrative is often perpetuated by the left-wing media, but also some right-wing blogs, and initially I was in agreement, but upon further investigation I found some possible counter-evidence, suggesting that BLM and other agitators, despite the considerable media coverage they get, are hardly representative of most blacks, and that most blacks are not obsessed with slavery or racism. Surveys have shown that blacks and Latinos are more optimistic about America compared to whites. I also found that blacks, relative to population, are over-represented in the police and armed forces, which one would not expect if blacks are, as a whole, distrustful of America and its institutions and hate the police.

In regard to the 2017 Evergreen State College protests, he makes it seem like he survived the trenches of Vietnam or something, but him being protested on was the best thing to happen to his career. He got a large settlement from Evergreen and went from being a largely unknown college biology teacher to being a major public intellectual who is a marquee name on shows such as Joe Rogan. As he himself attests, he went from only having 400 followers on Twitter to 300,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 YouTube subscribers. To say he has dog in this fight is not entirely wrong, and it would seem he stands to benefit professionally, in terms of increased social status, revenue, and bookings, if things were to get worse societally, as he is predicting, by positioning himself as a voice of logic and reason and critic of the left who is still a liberal, so he able to court both a center-left and right-wing audience, which explains his popularity. His popularity also shows you don’t have to take a conservative/traditional stance on social issues to be ingratiated by the right–just opposing the far-left is good enough, and like Dr. Jordan Peterson, his credentials add much needed intellectual rigor and credibility in a field that is otherwise dominated by avowedly left-wing academics.

To say Bret is smart is an understatement, and like his Brother, Eric, is easily one of the five smartest guests Rogan has ever had on his show. But I still disagree about the need for stricter lockdowns and quarantines to stop Covid-19, and his belief that a 6-week total lockdown could have eliminated the virus. China imposed the strictest measures of any country, and for awhile it looked like they had completely eradicated the virus, only for new cases to recently surface in another market, with 150 new cases recorded. Same for South Korea and New Zealand, which in spite of strict measures have seen a small spike in new cases. Containing a virus that is as contagious as Covid-19 is impossible, short of a vaccine or herd immunity. A 6-week lockdown would not suffice, as all it would take is a single infected person to restart the spread of the disease. Such a lockdown would not only have to be enforced in the US but also the world, and travel would have to heavily restricted, because even if the US managed to stop any new cases, a single incoming affected person would restart the spread unless herd immunity is or vaccine achieved. It is just not possible or feasible. Flattening the curve comes at the cost of flattening the economy through a protracted economic contraction, and given the near-impossibly of containing this thing, my recommendation has been to just let the virus run its course undeterred in order to expedite herd immunity and reduce the duration of economic damage.

For reference, herd immunity is defined as a condition in which enough people have become infected and thus have antibodies that it is mathematically impossible for the virus to spread within the population. This limit, which is represented as a percentage affected of the total population, is a function of the r-naught, and for Covid-19 estimated at 60-85% percent of the total population will be affected. This leads to the counter-intuitive result that even if a virus is very contagious, as Covid-19 evidently is, not everyone will be affected. Social distancing, quarantines, and lockdowns are intended to lower the r-naught, which means fewer people will get sick as proven mathematically as the limit of the s-function, but the obvious problem is keeping the r-naught low is difficult and economically costly.