So what exactly prompted Dave Rubin’s transformation from “woke,” to “awake,” as he describes it?
What was the personal cost he faced for standing up for free speech and his beliefs? And why does he think it was worth it?
And, how is this coronavirus outbreak making people rethink “social justice” and their values?
In this episode, we sit down with Dave Rubin, host of The Rubin Report and author of the new book, “Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason.”
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Dave Rubin, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Dave Rubin: It’s good to be with you again. I am looking forward to chatting. Some strange alliances have happened over the last couple of years, and anytime I can find someone that makes some sense, I’m happy to talk.
Mr. Jekielek: This is kind of “interview-host interviewing interview-host.” In the first 200 episodes I did, I don’t think I had a single remote interview. In the last two months, it has basically been exclusively remote interviews. Before we dive in here, do you find this different at all?
Mr. Rubin: I do find it different. Last time I spoke to you I think it was that turning point in West Palm Beach. Is that right, at the Student Action Summit? It is nice because we get to sit just a few feet away from each other. Your crew is there; there’s people watching, and there’s a certain energy to it. You can just feel something when it’s live. I would say the thing that I miss most right now because of being quarantined like everybody else in the midst of this lockdown, is that while we can communicate about our ideas clearly doing it this way, there is something to be said about sitting across from somebody. Right now, I’m in my normal studio location, and the guest chair is right in front of me. There’s something to be said about being four or five feet away from somebody, looking them in the eye and really getting to something different.
We can do 99% of it this way, but you just miss a little bit of the human interaction. I think a lot of us are missing that right now. You can’t go out there and hug your brother or shake hands with your neighbor. I think we need that. We are social creatures in the midst of social distancing right now. We have to figure out other ways to connect, so we’re doing the best we can right now.
Mr. Jekielek: Actually my wife and I just did a virtual double-date, if you can believe that. We have been planning to meet these friends of ours for four months or something, and that’s what we came up with. It actually kind of worked.
Mr. Rubin: I’ve done a couple versions of that. We’ve had laptops at our dinner table, and I brought on my folks, my brother and sister and their kids. We’ve done some happy hours with the Rubin Report community where I’ve had around 100 people on Zoom.
We all have a drink together and try to chat. That is what people want, so while we’re social distancing, with this six foot [separation requirement], we still have to remain social. Hopefully this thing is going to slowly start [getting better], or actually quickly would be nice. I think over the next couple of weeks, we will see the state start coming around.
Mr. Jekielek: I certainly hope so. By the way, watch out with Zoom, because the Chinese Communist Party is listening in on that one as far as we can tell.
Mr. Rubin: I know. I suspect that the Chinese know what I’m thinking about most everything at this point. As you know, I started a tech company, locals.com, and that’s the platform that I’m running Rubin Report off of. We’re working on some live streaming stuff, and we just added live chat and a whole bunch of other things. At this point if you’re relying on big tech for everything, you’re in a real world of hurt. Everyone should be trying to figure out how they can be a little detangled from big tech and find other ways to communicate with people.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. Of course, we’re here to talk about your book which just came out today. It is really interesting: “Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason.” I think you’re speaking to that with locals.com here. What is this “age of unreason” that you’re seeing Dave?
Mr. Rubin: Well, the “age of unreason” is what most of us see, I think. Some of us, like you and me, are intimately involved in trying to make some sense of it. I would say that the “age of unreason” is this strange time where anyone who takes an opinion that is sort of counter to the mainstream narrative, whatever that might be, whether you say that there are two genders (something that we know is true), whether you say you’re for low taxes, whether you say you are for immigration restrictions, just basic stuff that we can all discuss the marginal issues around all of them, there’s a fear that you will be destroyed by the mob, that the Twitter people will come after you, that you could lose your job, that you could lose friendships, that relatives will block you or unfriend you on Facebook and the rest of it.
All of that leads to unreason because as human beings, what separates us from the animals basically, is that we have a highly functioning brain. We actually only use a small portion of it, and some of us too little of it, but we can reason. We can use logic; we can see the world as it is; and we can adapt to that, as opposed to an animal that is in effect basically just reacting all the time. An animal is looking for food and water all the time and then eating and then procreating, but that’s pretty much all they do. We have these incredible faculties that somehow we’ve become afraid of using.
One of the things that sort of put me on the map over the last couple years is, as you know, I come from the left. I was a progressive, and I started saying about four or five years ago, “Hey guys, there’s something wrong on our side.” Liberals are not acting liberally. Liberalism, at its core, is sort of open-mindedness. When someone says you’re liberal, they mean open-minded, and often when conservatives say you’re liberal, they mean open-minded as a pejorative. I mean open-minded in the best sense of things.
I think what’s happened here is there’s basically been a schism between the progressive, socialist collectivist wing, so that’s like the Bernie Sanders, AOC wing of the left versus old-school liberals. By old school liberals, I mean JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country.” That’s the reverse of what Bernie Sanders would say. Old-school liberals [are] like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great senator from my home state in New York, and Mayor Ed Koch in New York, people that didn’t want the government to solve everything. What has now happened is that we are caught in this endless fight between the people who want the government to do everything and people who want you to be free, basically, meaning have individual rights and be free. Just through social media and everything else, this has led us to a place of unreason, where we are having a really hard time talking about anything honestly. I think you guys at Epoch Times are doing a really nice job of that, by the way.
Mr. Jekielek: I appreciate that. I found it very interesting that you decided to dedicate your book to Ben Affleck, because there’s this pivotal moment in your life where he figures in. Tell me about that.
Mr. Rubin: Yeah. It is funny, because the book is obviously just arriving to people today as we’re taping this interview, and I’m getting a lot of people tweeting at me “Why did you dedicate it to Ben Affleck?” If they read just a little bit, they’ll find out why. I lay out three of the pivotal moments in my life that woke me up to a lot of the things that I talked about, that in effect got me to go from woke to awake.
One of them is directly due to Ben Affleck. It’s a moment that I think you’ll remember, when Ben Affleck was a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. This is about five years ago now, and he was on the panel side of the table. The way Bill Maher does those interviews, it’s like he has three people on one side and they’re debating the topics. Then later on, he brings on another guest on his side of the table, and that’s really for a one-on-one. It is usually with an author or a professor or thinker, really for a one-on-one conversation. So Affleck had already had his portion of the show, and then Bill Maher brought on a neuroscientist by the name of Sam Harris. I didn’t know who Sam Harris was at the time, actually. Here’s this mild-mannered neuroscientist, and he’s on the show to talk about a book called “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.” Because of the nature of the topic, they started talking about religion.
One of the important things about religion or discussion about anything, really, is that we have to be able to separate ideas from people. In other words, you should be able to criticize the Old Testament. That, of course, doesn’t mean you’re bigoted or prejudiced against Jewish people. We should be able to criticize the New Testament, and nobody in their right mind would think that means you hate all Christians. The same would go for the Quran and Muslim people. There is a difference between a set of ideas and people. By the way, you should be able to criticize any set of ideas, for example, a political party platform, the Republican Party platform or the Democratic Party platform. These are a set of ideas. You could say, “I hate X, Y, and Z, and the Republican Party platform,” but that doesn’t mean you hate all people who are Republicans. This is a very important and simple idea to understand if you think about it for just a moment.
But in effect, Sam Harris and Bill Maher were talking about this. They started talking about it related to Islam, and Ben Affleck did what seems to be part of the new progressive mantra, which is get overly animated, red in the face, huffing and puffing, angry. He called them gross and racist. Bill Maher had been the standard bearer and I would say still is really one of the last sane lefties that we’ve got. This is a guy who’s fought for every lefty cause in America for the last 30 years. Sam Harris is just a neuroscientist who was on there to talk about inner peace. His book tour ended up getting hijacked for the next six months, because he ended up talking about what it was like to fight with Ben Affleck.
What was interesting to me about that was I had been noticing this thing for about a year on the left. This knee jerk response to call everyone racist and bigoted and homophobic and the rest of it. I couldn’t quite piece the whole thing together. There was something about that moment, seeing an A-list Hollywood star not listen to the calmly rationed arguments of these two people, but instead just overly emote and scream and be angry and label them with these baseless accusations. When I saw it, it suddenly clicked. It was one of those moments where wow, I had been thinking this thing and I couldn’t quite put a label on it, couldn’t quite piece it together and then suddenly, it stuck with me.
What was more interesting was over the next few weeks, suddenly everybody from BuzzFeed and Yahoo and all the usual suspects were writing articles about Bill Maher and this Sam Harris guy being racist. You know what, you can have all sorts of criticisms of Bill Maher–I actually have several of them myself now–but no one in their right mind thinks Bill Maher and Sam Harris are truly racist. On top of the fact that Muslim is not a race; Islam is a religion. Muslims are the people who practice it, but it’s not a race. Even putting that aside, it was just this knee jerk reaction to destroy anyone who disagrees with you, and then the way the media fuels it. So I lay that out as one of the three sort of defining moments of my wake up call. I thank Ben Affleck, because even though it was his overly, sort of over the top insanity that led me to wake up, he did get me there, so I owe him one.
Mr. Jekielek: This makes me think of one of the early chapters in your book, which I think is kind of provocatively titled, “Don’t Worry, You’re Not a Nazi.”
Mr. Rubin: Yes, well I hope that most of the people that are reading my book are not a Nazi. I suspect that virtually none of them are going to be Nazis. Let’s also remember that the Nazis were the National Socialists in Germany in the 30s and 40s. There are very few Nazis that still exist.
Really, of course, the point of titling the chapter that is that unfortunately … a certain set of people, have used these labels so baselessly and so widely and so egregiously, that good, decent people are now called the worst possible things. I know it seems silly to have to title a chapter like that, but I know a lot of people are so afraid of being called these things that they stop saying what they think. That is the message that I’m trying to get across.
It won’t magically get better. I think a lot of people think, “Oh, I can just kind of be quiet for a while,” and this thing will magically get better; society will magically reset. But it won’t. You know the story of the frog and the slowly boiling pot. He thinks it’s okay until he croaks. I sense a lot of people are in that position, so that really was the reason that I wrote this book. I want people to stand up for what they believe. I want them, of course, to know what they’re talking about.
I lay out all my political positions in this, and I don’t even care if you agree with me on all of them. I want you to forthrightly and honestly fight for what you believe. Then when we get to that place, when we have a real difference of opinion, when we get to that spot, well let’s debate it, but let’s not destroy each other in the process.
Mr. Jekielek: You actually mentioned in this chapter I think, the issue of gaslighting. Frankly at first when I saw people accusing each other of gaslighting on Twitter, it seemed to be like everyone and their dog does it all the time. I didn’t even understand what gaslighting meant for starters, so I’m wondering if you could explain it and how this plays into this crazy political environment that we’re in.
Mr. Rubin: In effect, gaslighting is when you find someone who thinks something different than you think, whatever that thing might be. You find something that you don’t like about them, and then you unleash a torrent of endless accusations, endless slurs, slander, libels, and all of these things. What you’re doing is as if you’re pouring gas on them and just throwing the match and walking away. You are trying to destroy them as a person instead of tackling their ideas, and we see a tremendous amount of this.
When I’ve taken some positions that are counter to the mainstream leftist dogma, I get called a Nazi and all of these ridiculous things. I grew up around Holocaust survivors, many of them not only in my family, but extended family. Now, in and of itself, that doesn’t mean I’m not a bigot. My beliefs mean I’m not a bigot, but the idea that you would use this on people who come from families that were destroyed and have a history of being genocided and pogromed and the rest of it is really crazy.
That is partly what they do, because it’s an effective strategy in the short term, because by gaslighting somebody, you’re not only destroying them, but you’re signaling to a lot of the people around them: “See what we can do to you too? We can mob the hell out of your social media accounts until you won’t even want to be on Facebook or Twitter anymore.” It’s dangerous and it’s antithetical to how we’re supposed to be in a free society. If the founders were all alive right now, what did the founders do? There’s a million books written on this. The founders all had slightly different ideas about how to create the new world, right? They didn’t want a king anymore, and they wanted the colonies to operate. Some wanted the colonies to operate more cohesively. Some wanted them to be more independent. There’s a million stories about this, and it’s why we have federalism so that we have different states operating differently.
The point was, we have to respect our differences, and somehow that’s been lost. It’s lost not just because of the bad actors, but it’s lost equally because too many of us have acquiesced to it. And again, that’s the roadmap that I’m laying out here for people. It won’t get better just because you think it will. You have to make it better.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s also this element of gaslighting though, where unless you have very, very strong convictions and you’re super clear about your values, you start wondering, “Does this person have a point?”
Mr. Rubin: That’s actually a real point here. One of the things that they want to do is to make you second guess yourself all the time. Now, there’s nothing wrong with second-guessing in and of itself, right? … You don’t want to just jump to a conclusion, and now say “I’ve got the truth and I’m never looking back.” Of course, you don’t want to do that. What you want to do is learn new information, come to a position, and then hopefully know your position well enough to be able to fight the attacks.
But what [gaslighters] do partly is [have] such over the top rhetoric, such anger, such vitriol that yes, they want to keep you in an endless cycle of second-guessing yourself. What I would say though, is some level that actually can be good, because I know that when I’ve been mobbed and attacked and had people say all these things about me, for a certain amount of time, it did really cause me to go back into myself and really make sure I knew what I was talking about. I’m not afraid of apologizing if I did something wrong. I’m not afraid of apologizing if I made a mistake. I actually acknowledge a few things that I did in the show over the years that I talked about in the book. They want to keep you second-guessing, so that your footing will never be even. That’s very different from well-intentioned criticism. Those are very different things.
Mr. Jekielek: At the same time, though, you were also unable to sleep [and] you were losing your hair. You were actually thinking of quitting the whole business. The silver lining was introspection but the other side of it was…
Mr. Rubin: It comes with a price, and I can tell you that everyone who has stood up to the mob, everybody who has said, “Here I am, this is what I believe,” you will take a certain amount of hate. This is just an uncomfortable fact. When I lay out to people why you should fight for what you believe in [and] why you should say what you believe, I’m not sugarcoating it and saying, “You’re just gonna come out of the political closet, and everyone’s going to love you. It’s going to be wonderful.” I actually lay out some of the things that happened to me when I first started really fighting for free speech and talking about the things that I truly believed. The amount of hate that I got, not just the online hate from anonymous Twitter people, I mean from people that were invited to my wedding, people that knew me well, suddenly saying I was a racist and a bigot and all of these things.
I would always say to them, “Please point out where I’m being racist or prejudiced,” and they could never do it. They constantly move the goalposts and change your thoughts, and they also try to mind read. They try to find something that you said somewhere, and then extrapolate it onto everything else that you think, which is a very dangerous thing. Yes, in the midst of it, I was getting all of this hate, which I had never got before. By the way, I also thought that I was being a good liberal by speaking up against what I saw on my side. I thought I was going to get a lot of love. I did get a lot of love. Mostly though, it was coming from more right-leaning people or disaffected liberals.
I did not expect the hate thing, and I talked about in the book, how one day I was getting a haircut and my stylist, Jess, who’s a good friend of mine said, “You know, you need to see this.” She brought the mirror around, and I had huge chunks of hair missing from my head, and I had developed an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. They don’t know why it happens other than stress. Your white blood cells actually attack your hair follicles, and I talked about in the book, at one point, I had lost about almost 40% of my hair.
I’m very happy to tell you this is all my hair now. Not quite as great as yours, but it’s all mine. I went on a very experimental treatment that caused all sorts of horrific reactions to my body, every inch of my body covered in sores and rashes, and I couldn’t be around heat. I was itchy all the time, and I was still doing the show, and you can watch old videos of mine from that time. Right around when I did that “Why I Left the Left” video for PragerU, and I had huge bags under my eyes. I’m bloated. I just looked miserable. It’s really hard for me to think back to that. But I fought through it, like everyone else who has stood up to the mob, whether it’s Jordan Peterson, whether it’s Lindsey Shepherd, whether it’s Brett Weinstein, whether it’s James Damore, the list goes on and on. If you fight and you stand up for yourself, you will get to the other side and you will be better. I cannot sit here and tell you that it doesn’t have a cost, because it does.
Mr. Jekielek: You call your book a call to action for the people that are having these “errant thoughts,” right? I’ll read a quote here that really struck me. “Rather than being all inclusive and fair, the left is now authoritarian and puritanical.” I thought that was interesting. “It has replaced the battle of ideas with a battle of feelings while trading honesty with outrage.” Wow, “puritanical” [is a] very strong word. Can it be that half the country are actually these Puritans now? Is that possible?
Mr. Rubin: That’s a great question. People will say to me, “Dave, you talk about the left as if it’s a monolithic structure.” First off, I try to explain this as often as possible. We need labels so that we are able to have functional conversation, so that every time I say something, I don’t have to qualify it eighty-seven times, with “but not this exact person, and this guy is good, or this person thinks something different” or something like that. Of course, when I say the left, I don’t mean every single person who considers themselves part of the left.
I have friends who are on the left, who now I would say are misguided and slightly confused about their principles. Many of them actually, [those who] I would consider the good liberals, they’re just being held hostage in an odd way. What has happened is, when you run around calling everybody a bigot and racist, when you wake up, you suddenly realize, “Uh-oh, now that’s what they’re going to do to me.” So a lot of people are in a self hostage situation. It’s as if they’re sitting there with a gun to their own head, because they’re afraid “The same tactics that I used will now be applied to me.” I know a lot of people like that, by the way. Some public people actually.
But in terms of the puritanical nature of what’s happened with the left, look, here’s a simple example. Right now, I take some positions in the book that are going to [upset] people on the right, that are a major no for people on the right. There is almost nobody in conservative circles is thought of as pro-choice. In many ways, this is sort of the great dividing line for what I would say classical liberals and conservatives. Abortion seems to be the one that separates a lot of classical liberals from saying, “Okay, I’m a conservative or libertarian conservative,” something like that. Now, I’m also against the death penalty. Most conservatives are for the death penalty. I happen to be gay married, in a same-sex marriage, whatever you want to call it. Most conservatives, I think have actually come around to it, but there’s certainly a religious portion of conservatives that are personally not for it. I’m for a certain level of state education. I’m for dignity with death. I mean, things that are thought of as lefty things.
Now interestingly, when I bring up all of the things that I just mentioned to you, and I talk about them with Glenn Beck, or with Ben Shapiro, or Dennis Prager, or Larry Elder, or any of the sort of thought leaders on the right, there’s an absolute ability to agree to disagree, to say “We’ll continue this conversation, let’s figure it out” or “it’s just we think differently of things, and who cares? We are still Americans.” On the left, what has happened–and this is why the word puritanical is correct–[is] if you have to check off ten boxes, and you check nine of those boxes, they’re not happy with you, and they will gladly get rid of you.
I think there’s an actual reason for that. The reason is that … broadly speaking, people on the right believe in individual rights, meaning that everyone who is [a] legal member of society should have the same rights regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, color of skin, ethnic origin, etc. That doesn’t mean they always play to that perfectly, but that’s sort of the underlying [basis] of what’s on the right. That is guarded by the Constitution, and most conservatives believe that the Constitution is a good founding document.
On the left, there is no longer a unifying principle. What’s the unifying principle that brings Joe Biden, AOC, or Bernie Sanders together? It actually doesn’t exist, except “Oh, I believe in government.” What happens is they make that belief in government seem somehow like it’s a moral authority.
Bernie Sanders will say: I’m for $15 federal minimum wage. Now, I don’t believe the federal government should be allowed to tell companies how much to pay their employees. I happen to pay my employees well, and I pay all their health insurance, but that’s my choice. As a small businessman, I know the better I pay them, the harder they’re going to work for me, that’s great. But Bernie comes in. He’s never run a small business. Bernie’s never run anything, actually. He just makes up a number $15 minimum wage, and that sort of sounds good to people. But then, what happens is a few weeks later, Rashida Tlaib, the Congresswoman who is part of the squad, says $20 minimum wage. Then suddenly it’s as if, “Well, I guess you’re right, because Bernie just made up a number, so why can’t you make up a number? Actually, why not $50 minimum wage or why not $100 minimum wage?”
That is why the left has gotten so out of control, because they view government as fundamentally good or fundamentally something that’s supposed to give you something. So they’re always in a race to out-government themselves. That’s a very different principle than just saying everyone should be treated equally. That is why there really is a left-right asymmetry right now.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. It’s very interesting. Basically, plurality of voices is just not allowed. I actually think that we talked about this when we spoke last, and I’m going to ask you the same question, because maybe you have some further thoughts on it. How is it decided what these 10 checkboxes are? Because they’re not the same all the time from what I’ve seen, right? But there’s somehow this collective understanding that these are the 10 checkboxes, so to speak, and I don’t understand that.
Mr. Rubin: It is really interesting, because you’re right. Even within the left itself, and within the orthodoxy of what has happened, if you talk to individual people, their ten things are different. They fight over that: “Wait a minute, are you saying that racial justice is less important than gender justice or environmental justice?” They will fight about the pecking order with which these things should be looked at. That’s deeply dangerous, too.
So what I sense is happening in America right now is [not a] left-right thing. We have really viewed [the country] through that prism for so long, [it] doesn’t really strike me as the best prism anymore. The prism we should be looking at is an authoritarian versus libertarian prism. Now, I don’t mean Libertarian, meaning you have to be a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party. They haven’t done a great job of fixing that thing. What I do mean though is authoritarian meaning you believe in a top-down government. You believe that there’s some sort of central authority that almost by dominion knows what’s good for everybody. That it can just subsequently do good.
Now that is in contrast to what I believe, which is a more libertarian approach, which means that I don’t think we can create a perfect system, because we are imperfect. I would rather give everybody equal rights. Then you have to work hard. You may be lucky; you may be unlucky. Maybe you come from some money; maybe you grew up poor, but society can’t rejigger all of those things to make us all equal. Actually, it shouldn’t do that, because every time it would lift somebody up, it would have to take somebody down. This is just a fact. If you let someone into a college based on the color of their skin, that means you have to punish somebody else and not let them get in because of the color of their skin.
These are things that we all know to be true and that we all institute in our real lives. I don’t care whether the pilot of my plane or the person who would perform heart surgery on me is black or gay or white or anything else. What I would want them to be is the best pilot or the best surgeon. We all know that is true, and yet we’ve been confused into thinking that somehow that’s not right, and that it is odd, because it is the anti-racist, or the people who purport to be anti-racist, who are constantly subjecting us all to a racial lens through everything. [They say] “Wait, we should have a certain amount of black doctors; we should have a certain amount of lesbian engineers” or whatever it might be. I just don’t think we can create a perfect system. I think freedom is messy, but it is way better than the alternative.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s look at this particular spectrum, authoritarian to libertarian. I think I know exactly what you’re saying here. It’s interesting, because right now in this time of coronavirus, or CCP Virus as we like to call it at the Epoch Times, there’s a lot of questions being raised exactly about this. For people that have traditionally been very far, let’s say down to the libertarian side of the spectrum might be thinking, “Hey, this is maybe one time when the government really needs to do something.” I think there’s a lot of convincing arguments to that end, and vice versa. Have you been thinking about this?
Mr. Rubin: This [is] absolutely a great question. As you know, when you write a book, I finished this thing in July, and we are now in April so about eight months later. I’m so thrilled, actually, that despite corona–which is obviously horrific, and we’re watching the amount of people that are unemployed and the debts and the rest of it–I’m actually quite enthused that so many of the ideas that I talk about here are actually super relevant right now. Because right now, as you just said, if you take an absolutely libertarian approach on everything, and basically let everyone do what they want when they want, well, you would never be able to truly protect your family or your property, if anyone could do whatever they want relative to a pandemic and a virus like this.
On the counter side to that, one of the things that I’m seeing that I’m enthused by is that I’m seeing lefties now who are always for big government, and for more taxes, well, suddenly they’re going, “I’m for big government, but wait a minute, I also hate Trump, and he’s in charge of government, so maybe I shouldn’t be for big government,” or I’m seeing other lefties say, “you know, because of this economic crisis, we should slash taxes on everybody or people shouldn’t have to pay taxes for three years.” So now lefties, in some ways, are becoming more libertarian on certain things, and you’re seeing the more liberty focused people saying, “Okay, what are the marginal reasons that we have to use government?”
By the way, all of that is very much within the classical liberal lens that I lay out in this book. What a classical liberal lens on society wants to accomplish is individual rights as I lay it out, and then you figure out what are common sense guidelines for a society to have in terms of government. I want the free market and competition to do absolutely as much as possible, but could we leave figuring out how to deal with corona right now fully up to [the market]? Of course not.
What we can do is what is happening, by the way. A lot of individual companies, [such as] Michael Lindell over at My Pillow, transforming his factory to make 50,000 masks a day. We are seeing all sorts of people do interesting things in the private sector. What we need is a combination of the state government and the federal government to sort of package that together and say, “This is how we have to deal with it.” That’s very much within the classical liberal lens. It is far more within, let’s say, a conservative lens, than within the leftist lens, which is, “We hate government. We want to keep giving it money all the time, but at the same time, we’re going to say that the person in charge of [the] government is evil, and also say the government’s totally inefficient.” I think that their hearts are in the right place, but I’m confused about where their brains are.
Mr. Jekielek: Also thinking about this whole coronavirus situation, it certainly made me reflect a lot more on what’s important to me. These kinds of disasters do that, right? As a keen student of this, how has ‘wokeism,’ so to speak, been fairing as people are looking deeper into themselves about what’s really important and perhaps acting on it more. What have you seen? What have people been telling you?
Mr. Rubin: It is interesting, because at the beginning of the year, I always do a little Twitter thread about what trend I see happening throughout the year. Now, this is January first; I did not expect corona, nor did anyone else. But I said that this was the year that ‘wokeism’ would collapse on itself, because I didn’t think that it could survive a democratic election cycle, because so many competing interests were going to be fighting themselves that it could not survive. I don’t mean that the idea of identity politics is going to be completely destroyed, but right now, notice people really aren’t talking about identity politics that much when in effect, when the poop hits the fan, let’s say, you know what happens? People start dropping these superfluous issues.
Nobody cares [about the identity politics of] the team of doctors who hopefully will cure coronavirus or come up with a vaccine. If they happen to be all white men, guess what? That’s okay. If they happen to all be black women, that’s okay too. Maybe it’ll be a mix. Maybe they will be all cisgendered or gay, nobody cares. What we want right now in a time of crisis is competent people to solve the problems that we have.
Because suddenly we’re dealing with real life or death issues, all of us right now are reevaluating. “How do I like working at home? Do I want to commute all the time? Do I live too close to a big city and I want to live a more rural life? Is the job that I’m doing rewarding? Am I in love with the person that I’m trapped in the house with?” I think everyone right now is reevaluating everything that they want to do, and that is actually good, but what I would fear is burning down everything that came before this. What I want to do is [as follows]: all right, we’ve had this crisis. We’re gonna reopen the country as the states decide what to do, and then let’s remember what was good about the old world. By old world, I mean the 2019 world, the beginning of 2020 world. Let’s remember what was good about it, but then take some of the new things we’re thinking about and build a better world for the future. I think we can do it.
But I think we have too many people that are just obsessed with burning everything down, or we have a set of people, and I deal a lot with this in California with a progressive mayor and a progressive governor, who want giant government takeovers of everything. Suddenly people like Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis are talking about no rent, you shouldn’t have to pay rent for months. Alright, well then do the landlords actually have to pay their mortgages, and if they don’t, then what happens with the banks? I mean, we have to think about all these things, but you can’t just give bumper slogans “no rent for anybody, free college everybody.” It all kind of sounds good, but it’s not real, because you have to think things through.
Mr. Jekielek: This actually reminds me of the subheadings in one of your chapters: “looking backward instead of looking forward” or something in this vein, and I found that actually kind of counterintuitive, but very interesting. I wonder if you could speak to that.
Mr. Rubin: Yeah, well look, we should look backward to help us see what could be in front of us. There’s too many people right now that think that [since] we live in such a modern world and we’re running around with iPhones and GPS and Twitter and video everywhere and mass communication, somehow we’ve evolved out of everything that came before us. I think that’s so deeply dangerous. I don’t think that I’m any more evolved as a human being per se than my father or my grandfather or skip five generations before that. For me to think that would actually be an erasure of history.
Now it doesn’t mean I don’t have different ideas than they do. It doesn’t mean I [don’t] have new information that they didn’t have. Science has provided all sorts of wonderful things, but there are time-tested ideas that have been churned through the generations that are good ideas. The idea of the family as the first building block, a structure of society, that is a good idea. We all know that. Any of us that come from a family that’s still intact, know that to be a good thing. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect within that. But many of us that come from broken families know “Oh, if that could have all been worked out, maybe things would be different.” It doesn’t mean that you can’t be a single parent and be an absolutely wonderful parent, but there are lessons that have been churned over time.
In the chapter where I talk about my relationship with Jordan Peterson, this is something he really did move me on. There are truths that are eternal truths that we didn’t just magically come up with because we’re here in 2020 and we’ve got iPhones. I think a lot of people think that, but there are stories that can tell us a deeper truth that has been given to us, that our ancestors believed in.
Look, there’s a reason that we all believe the little guy can beat the big guy. You know why that is? Because David beat Goliath. Why do I rail against YouTube all day when they’re censoring me and demonetizing me? It’s slightly crazy to do it, but you know, there’s a story. David beat Goliath. My name happens to be David. So if David could beat Goliath, maybe Dave could beat Google.
We have to come around to realize to look backwards, so that when we’re called Nazis of today, we could see that actually, the far left, the collectivists, have far more in common with the Nazis. There seems to be this bizarre notion that being a Nazi is a far right thing. I suppose you know of the horseshoe theory, where the far right and the far left actually become one thing, but the Nazis were the National Socialists, that’s a leftist move. Again, that also gets to why I think the left doesn’t quite make sense.
As socialism seems to be getting hotter with young people, well, has it ever worked? Not only is the answer no, but millions and millions of people have been killed in the name of socialism. So we can’t just navigate the future just by the whims of how we feel about the day. We should be looking back and going, “Well, maybe some of this stuff happened before, and maybe some of this is human nature that we can’t escape.”
Mr. Jekielek: As I was preparing for this interview by reading your book, I got inspired to actually look up Jordan [Peterson’s] lecture on the Gulag Archipelago. First of all, [it’s] a book I think everybody should read. It takes a while to do so, but it’s unbelievable. The lecture itself is a couple of hours of watch time. It is very powerful. It actually speaks frankly, to a lot of the things we’ve been talking about today as well. Jordan Peterson has had a very important impact on your life. You have a chapter in the book that talks about the value of mentorship. Of course, he was one of your prime mentors; you were on tour with him for a year. Tell me a little bit about that, both how he has been a mentor to you, and in general, why we should seek mentors, because I’m not sure I have one. Maybe I should be looking.
Mr. Rubin: Maybe you should be, but maybe you are already a mentor to somebody else. Some of this, I think happens through osmosis. I’m a Star Wars guy, so we think of it like a master and an apprentice, or something like that. Or there are only two Sith at the same time, if we want to be on the dark side of the Force. I don’t think that’s exactly how it is. Sometimes a mentor doesn’t have to be a sit-down agreement: “I’m going to teach you the ways of the Force. I’m going to teach you the ways that I’ve accomplished things.”
What happened with me and Jordan couldn’t have possibly been more organic. He was in my studio one day. We were having a chat with Ben Shapiro. It’s one of my most viewed episodes, actually. That night, Jordan was doing his first-ever theater show here in Los Angeles. He had never done it. He had done the YouTube lectures, but he had never gone to a theater to just talk about ideas with thousands of people. He was literally walking out the door, and I said, “Hey Jordan, if you want me to swing by tonight, I’ll open up the crowd for you. I’ll warm up. I’ll tell some lobster jokes, and we’ll see what happens.” He didn’t even hesitate. He immediately said, “Yes, I’ll see you there. Let’s do it”.
I went that night, and the PA announcer said, “And now, welcome to the stage, the host of the Rubin Report, Dave Rubin.” There were about 3,000 people there, and they went bananas, and I thought, “Whoa, this thing is real.” I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t know I was gonna be there. I didn’t even know if they knew me. From that, the agents were there, and we immediately signed the deal, and we traveled together for about a year and a half, about 120 stops, something like 20 countries. It was remarkable. It was never like we sat down and Jordan said, I’m going to teach you these things.
What he did do was, well first off, he wrote a pretty spectacular book that literally changed the world. I mean, they sold, I think, over 6 million copies of the book in I don’t know how many languages. The amount of people, the thousands and thousands of people that I saw that were standing up straight with their shoulders back, that were cleaning their room instead of cleaning the world. Fix yourself before you fix the world. People that were getting off drugs, people that were addicted to porn, people that were in bad relationships, didn’t have the right job, I mean every issue you can possibly think of, started to fix themselves because of the words of this man.
As I talked about in the book, I never saw him break one of those 12 rules. … One of the rules is if you see a cat in the street, you should pet it. One night we were in London, and we were at Douglas Murray’s apartment and Douglas was cooking dinner for us, and Maajid Nawaz was there, Jordan, myself, and some of the spouses. Douglas has a cat, and I’m very allergic to cats, so I was avoiding the cat all night, but I kept thinking if Jordan doesn’t pet this cat, then he’s breaking one of his own rules. He didn’t pet the cat all night, and I’m thinking about it all night long, and then as we were walking out the door, not only did he pet the cat, but you could picture Jordan, he’s very tall and lanky, the cat’s bed was right by the front door, and Jordan basically got down and Indian style sat in the bed with the cat and gave it these long very comforting strokes.
I thought, alright he’s the real deal. I mentioned that sort of as a joke, but also because he lived up to those things. It doesn’t make him Jesus. It doesn’t make him perfect, but we need more people in the world that try to do that, because his message was, do right by yourself and you could do right by the world. I saw him do that. He has had some problems subsequently, but again, he never purported to be perfect. By the way, he did talk about taking some anti-anxiety medication. He was open about that. He’s a human just like the rest of us.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m hoping he can convalesce. It’s been incredibly difficult for him, little that that we do know publicly about his situation. I hope he comes back with a vengeance, so to speak. He’s had, as you mentioned, incredibly influential and helpful ideas to many people.
Mr. Rubin: Absolutely, and he will be back I promise you that.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of “12 Rules for Life,” I think you described your book is kind of a lighter version of “12 Rules for Life.” You definitely have some advice and prescriptions in the book. I found that was really quite interesting. You have a whole chapter that just focuses on “check your facts, not your privilege,” which is just kind of looking at conventional wisdom, if you call it that, or what you’re supposed to believe, and giving some facts that might challenge that. It’s very interesting.
Mr. Rubin: The whole idea of that title was, we’re told that only certain people can talk about certain things because of their privilege. That again, is a deeply anti-human idea. You should be able to talk about whatever you want, regardless of your sexuality, or your gender, or your skin color. But we’re told, “If you talk about gun violence in the inner city as a white person, you’re racist.” This is a crazy notion. We all know, it’s a crazy notion, yet we behave as if it’s not.
I tried to just lay out some basic facts in that chapter to hopefully get people to match that against what they think and then perhaps do a little more research. One of the things that I say in that chapter is [that] there’s been a litany of books written about each one of these individual issues. I’m giving you a couple pages on each as a primer for it. When I hear you make that comparison to “12 Rules for Life,” well first off, I’m not a clinical psychologist, and I’m not even comparing my ability as an author to anything like Jordan Peterson, but what he did was give people [something] seriously dense [and] important.
It’s funny, when Jordan gave a particularly great lecture and we’d step off stage, I would say to him, “Jordan that felt thick tonight,” because it was like, the ideas were out there, and they were thick, and you had to kind of walk through them. It wasn’t going to be an easy walk, but it was important, and you’d have to work. Versus if someone just gave a simple lecture that was just giving everyone what they want, it is thin. It’s like walking through a piece of paper, you could walk right through it. So I would say “12 Rules for Life” is very congruent with the ideas Jordan puts out there. You got to do some work to listen to this stuff. You’re gonna have to do a little Googling on a couple of fancy words, and a little bit of historical context, and Solzhenitsyn, and talk about Carl Jung, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
What I tried to do here, even by the length of the book, was to give something that people could read in a couple days, that would introduce them to a lot of the ideas and just give them enough of a juicing to get out there in the world a little bit more. Everyone attacks things using their strength. I think that’s what I tried to do here.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of attacks, you have a particularly strong attack on fake news. I think your chapter is titled, “Learn How to Spot Fake News.” I’m actually going to read the quote, because I found that it was an amusing sentence. “But really putting my mild exaggerations aside, the media truly is a cabal of hyperpartisan habitual liars who are destroying an entire industry from within.” I have a lot of trouble with [understanding] what “the media” refers to these days, frankly. At the same time, that quote seemed over the top to me. What are you saying here?
Mr. Rubin: First off, I should be clear that I’m occasionally using some humor in there and some over the top language to illustrate the point, of course, because what you want to do to get people to think about things is you want to throw out some things that break up the way they think about the world, and then you can sort of go in and repiece things together. First off, you’re right, and this gets to what you asked me before about [the term] “the left.” When I say “the media,” do I mean every single person in the media? Of course not. As I just said, you guys are doing a really nice job. When I follow you on Twitter, when I see things come across, I think this is usually pretty fair. It doesn’t seem like you’re burying the lede. It doesn’t seem hyperpartisan, and the rest of it. That is a beautiful thing.
When I say the media, of course, I don’t mean everyone in the media. When I’m talking about “the media” really what I’m talking about here are the things that we think of as “mainstream media” that have been the drivers of the conversation for so long. I really am talking about CNN when I say that; I really am talking about The New York Times when I say that. What I’m talking about are things that are guised as supposedly centrist or honest places of journalism, that really in many cases are just sort of either operatives of the Democratic platform and party or run protection rackets for them or something like that.
A great example is happening right now actually, which is that there are these sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden. Now, Joe Biden is a Democrat. The New York Times and CNN protect Democrats and always attack conservatives. If you need my example of this, well you may remember Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court Justice who then was a nominee, was also accused of sexual assault. For weeks and weeks and weeks, New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and everybody ran with every accusation. The cover of Time Magazine had the women on there. We’re told we have to believe all women, Me Too, all of this stuff. Now that’s because he’s a conservative, so they don’t like him. CNN doesn’t like him. [The] New York Times doesn’t like him.
Now it happens to Joe Biden, and he’s their guy, so what do they do? I lay out four types of fake news. … People think of fake news as just a fake headline or a made up story or when the headline doesn’t match the contents of the article. Those are all correct, but another one, a more pernicious type of fake news, is when the media just won’t cover a story, because it doesn’t fit their narrative. So in this case, for weeks on Twitter and YouTube, there have been all of these stories, and people talking about all of this stuff against Biden. I’m not saying it’s true and I’m not saying what happened [with] Kavanaugh was false. This isn’t about the specific accusations. It’s about the same story though. The same exact story, and when it goes against the conservative, we run with it, we blow it up. It’s a condemnation of society and the rest of it.
When it’s not [a conservative], they ignore it, ignore it, ignore it until they can’t ignore it anymore. At that time, they’ve done the destruction already, because enough people have woken up to the game, so [those media] are destroying themselves. I really believe that. It’s why I say all the time: I wish I never had to talk about the media. I just wish we had a media that was pretty decent. It doesn’t have to be great. Just give me something that’s pretty decent, seemingly, mostly non-partisan, but they seem unable to do it. They seem absolutely unable to do it. So when the New York Times finally ran the story on Biden, I think it was on page 23 or 24, and within the article, they had a whole bunch of accusations against Trump. That’s very unfortunate, because that is a type of fake news, and it’s not destroying me. It’s destroying them.
Mr. Jekielek: I don’t really know what to say these days when I look at the media. All I can say is we’re going to keep doing our best to try to offer a fair picture through our lens, since everyone has one, right? We are going to finish up in a moment, and your last chapter is, “So we’re Going to Move on With Life.” There’s an interesting element in there. You described this anecdotal study of a nurse who is working in hospice, who essentially found that one of the biggest regrets of a lot of the people that were dying was that they didn’t live unapologetically. There are a number of actual studies that support this. That is very interesting. This is, I guess, part of your call to action. How are we moving on with life here?
Mr. Rubin: There was a woman in Australia; her name was Bronnie Ware; and she worked with these people in hospice and found what we all know to be true. Nobody was dying in their last days and thought “I should have spent more time at the office.” Nobody was dying in their last days and said, “I should have hidden my truth longer,” and the rest of these things. What everyone regretted was not doing what they wanted to do for a living, not marrying the person they wanted to marry, not pursuing the things that made them happy, and the rest of it.
These are all things that we know, but we rarely act on, so what I try to do in the last chapter, because the book is largely political, of course, but it’s not all consumed by politics. There’s a reason for that, which is that I don’t allow my life to be completely dictated by politics. I’m a political person just like you are, and I love politics, and I love the drama, and I love the fights, and I love all of it. But then I also keep that in a box, and I live a life outside of that.
A lot of us are realizing that right now during coronavirus, that if you see your whole salvation in politics, you’ll just be endlessly miserable. You could just look at the people on Twitter who can only tweet about the world through a political lens. There’s no joy in it, because politics is not a joyful thing. I would say politics is a necessary evil. We need some sort of machine that allows us to cohesively live, but you shouldn’t be looking at it as if it’s your salvation.
So one of the things that I’m trying to do with the final chapter is say to people, “Figure out some ways, in this technological adolescence that we’re in, to find some happiness. Don’t let your problems chase you.” I mentioned the story about Winston Churchill in there also, that he had this black dog that he felt was following him in his life. We all have some version of this: all the questions we have about life, all the fears we have about life that are always following us. I’m not telling you that I don’t have these things, right? I’m not telling you that of course. Those things often drive us to do good things.
But I think we also have to find a way to just be okay with the world as it is. One of the things I try to lay out there is getting off social media every now and then is really good for people. Don’t be obsessed with the news cycle all the time. For three years in a row, I’ve done this “August Off the Grid” thing where I do no news, no phone, no Facebook, no Twitter, no television, no nothing. It allows my brain to reset and think about the world in a new way.
I always come back feeling refreshed and with a new perspective on life. Quite literally, I will find in the midst of it, it’s usually around August 15, suddenly, I have old songs playing in my head. There’s a reason for that, because your brain [is like] a computer. It’s only got a certain amount of room and we’re inundating it constantly. We’re bombarding it with endless information. That’s wonderful at some level, but at another level, what is it actually doing to us? Are we any happier right now? Is the average human any happier because we’re all walking around with an iPhone and on Facebook? I’m pretty sure we’re not.
So I try to lay out a couple things to people. Look, if you can’t do a full month off the grid, maybe take that last week of the summer off the grid when everyone’s really shutting down before the school year starts again or take off for maybe Christmas to New Year’s when a lot of people are shutting down. Don’t watch as much news. There’s things that we can do.
Reconnect with some old friends. I’m really proud [about] my two best friends in the world, as it stands now at 43 years old. One of them I met on the first day of kindergarten. I remember meeting him when we were four or five years old, and the other one moved to my town when we were in third grade. We have a group text going and we’re texting with the same rhythm that we spoke with way back when. I think that connects you to your past. That’s important. I try to lay out a few of these things, so that we don’t just become permanently political, because it will not lead you to happiness.
Mr. Jekielek: The best I’ve been able to do is about a week of meditation, off the grid, and so forth. That’s the most I’ve been able to swing over the years. Frankly, it’s been a couple of years to be perfectly honest.
Mr. Rubin: … I’ve had a few more people join me every year. I never really asked people to do it, but then people would say “I’m doing it. I’m doing it.” This August or at some point in July this year, I think I’m going to ask some public people to join me, so you may have just gotten yourself on the list.
Mr. Jekielek: Wonderful. Any final words before we finish up?
Mr. Rubin: More than anything else, if you’re trying to make some sense out of the world today and out of our political madness, and if you want to find a lens especially in a time of coronavirus when so much is up in the air and you want some of the tools to fight for what you believe, even if those [beliefs] are not what I’m laying out in this book, I think this is the right book for you. It’ll help a conservative, perhaps understand a little bit more of a liberal perspective. It’ll help a lefty understand certainly more of a true liberal or conservative perspective. I think what you’ll find is that if you incorporate some of these ideas into your life, you won’t be as permanently affected or damaged by the political system, because you’ll realize that that’s not really what all this whole thing is about. It’s about something much bigger.
Mr. Jekielek: Dave Rubin, thank you very much. I look forward to finding out what you’re going to cook up this summer. It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Rubin: Absolutely. It is a pleasure talking to you as always, and we’ll do it in person hopefully in the not too distant future.
Mr. Jekielek: Look forward to that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.