« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#131 — Dictators, Immigration, #MeToo, and Other Imponderables

2018-07-02 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Masha Gessen about Vladimir Putin, the problem of gauging public opinion in Russia, Trump's fondness for dictators, the challenges of immigration, comparisons between Christian and Muslim intolerance, "fake news" and the health of journalism, the #MeToo movement, and other topics. 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
My guest today is Marcia Getten mushrooms. Right or for the new Yorker she's, been publishing their since two thousand fourteen and join the staff in two thousand hunting she's, the other nine books, including the future at history, how totalitarianism reclaimed. Russia, which won the National Buck award in twenty seventeen and the man, without a face, the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin. She writes for the New York review. Looks as well and in New York Times and has also been a science journalist writing about AIDS and medical genetics. Mathematics,
wrote for a popular science magazine in Russia, but then got fired for refusing to send a reporter to observe the great Vladimir Putin hang aligning with siberian cranes. She's a visiting prevent, sure am hers. College she's, waiting, Guggenheim Fellowship a Carnegie, Fellowship Niemann, fellowship and I ve long wanted to get Marcia on the party ass had been a fan of her writing for years. We cover many controversial topics here: Russia and Putin and Trump, but also the meat to movement, and we touch concerns about immigration and The differences between christian and muslim intolerance, a bit fake news, the health of journalism- and I found a very satisfying Matias point of view on the past. So without further delay. I bring you, Marcia guessing I'm here.
Marcia, guessing Marcia, thanks for coming on. Thank you threaten So is a lot I want to talk to you about. I will obviously properly introduce you and in the intro and and link to your books, but I don't think we'll be focusing on your books that I want to cover many of the topics you cover so well for the new year and these may seem unrelated. I want to talk about Russia and and what's going on there and and the relationship between Russia in the end. The? U s I want to talk about the need to movement and perhaps wall. If we have time at the end, we can talk about immigration, which you ve touched on recently, and this might seem unrelated, but that they really are almost unified in in the character who currently occupies the press say the United States as problems that are both real but also easy to exaggerate. Eight war misconstrue as a kind of political overreaction to trump
and I am increasingly worried that any false note here, any dishonesty in in how we treat these issues becomes. Just so counter productive? That unity in the aggregate just seems guaranteed to get him reelected lustrous for we diamond all that lets. You start with your background. A you have a fascinating story. For those who don't know you? How is it you came to be right in which her you're writing and and doing it in the? U S so I was born in the Soviet Union in nineteen sixty seven. I came to this country with my parents when I was fourteen, so one thousand nine hundred and eighty one, so I was educated here and I got my first as a journalist and the gay press in the nineteen eighty say, spend several years writing about AIDS, which was grey training and then a ninety one I went back to the Soviet Union still deserve it.
And on assignment and that sort of shifted, mind her journalistic career, and eventually I moved back to offend, lived there for more than twenty years. And then I was end, became both. I kept writing for american publications and writing books this, but I was also writing for Russian. Since an edited several rush magazines in succession and I was kind of driven out of the country. At the same time, the main people were driven out of the country during the crackdown that began after persons three ascension too, to this circle presidency. In twenty twelve, so I came here at the end of twenty thirteen ends gradually sort of stopped writing for russian publications and and then became a separate the near so us focus on the Russia Peace fur
Why were you specifically forced to leave Russia? Was it just the reality of what it was like to be gay and jewish, or both gay and jewish in Russia? At that point, or was it because some we're doing journalistic with your eyes and actually being jewish. Having had nothing to do with it that some another couple wasted till to look at one is that it is just that the reality- I have been clear in Russia being Queer parent and in particular I was threatened. Specifically by name in the media by politicians. With having with children taken away, and my oldest son was adopted. So there was, there was not an empty threat that the social services could have come after me and could have sought probably successfully to another option. So that was that something to panic and sickly, packing of our bags. Another way to look at it. As that,
a large number of people who were active in the protests of twenty eleven twelve and I was reactive in those protests. I I organised a thing called the protest workshop, which was modeled after act up. It was a large serve clearing house for four per just actions. So I was, I thought it was coordinating the a lot of the street level stuff that was happening in Moscow in twenty eleven two thousand and twelve. Everyone who was visible in leading the protest at the time, was either jailed or killed or moving out of the country in obviously being driven out of the country is the best case scenario. In that case, these are protests against Putin generically, or these are protests over some specific.
You well that you ask. I think that the protests were framed by most people as protests against rigged elections. I think that the catalyst in two to a large extent, the catalyst was served, the blatant the spectacle. Of the transfer of power from meeting me, there fear, if your member such a character back to Vladimir Putin in what they mean. Clear was prearranged. Transfer of power and the voters, were expected to rubber stamp. It now it's not like Russian had had real elections, for more than a dozen years you know, elections had become an empty ritual. But somehow I think that the exposing how empty that regime was was insulting to people in there There's a way in which things can become scene when their when their exposed. Even though.
Everybody knows that the existing you know kind of like genitalia, it's a common knowledge problem. It's a game theory is often referred to by that term of Dragon City. It's different. If Everyone can know it, but once everyone knows that everyone else knows it, it's impossible to not react to it. The classic example is enough here, if you drinking in public out of a paper bag, while every cop that looks at you knows that you're drinking alcohol out of that bag, but because his bag there they can decide. To ignore it. But if the naked bottle of alcohol is out there will, then they can't ignore it and his sort of this step. Trusting analogy. I am not sure that it holds because it suggests that russian citizens generally feel like they. They have civic duty that they need to perform their forced to do so. I am not sure that that's that's actually the case. Having that, I think, there's something so deeply offensive to people's sensibilities.
When it was made clear how how little they mattered, even though each one of them individually felt that they mattered very little here, So this is how the protests were framed for me in it they were really anti put in, and that's that's that's what drove me I didn't. I didn't want Vladimir persons who pays I'd over free unclear because I don't actually think as possible. But I thought that if the rest of my compatriots were willing to for one's pay attention to the fact that the entire electoral system had been dismantled, then there was a good thing answer that neither the protests were incredibly inspiring in invigorating or so what do we actually know about? Putin. That is uncontroversial me we're living in this surreal moment now, where Putin appears to be popular, at least among Republicans, in the U S, what we have a president who
will not say a bad word about him, and I want to talk ultimately about the consequences and implications of that. But what can you say as a journalist about Putin? That is that you really feel he is not in fact disputable, that's kind of a huge question I mean you know. I wrote a fairly long book about Putin that that was essentially compilation of of things that we know about Putin. If someone were to say well, isn't he you know all leaders of countries, you don't have to take a hard line from time to time and he's he's not better, but he certainly not much worse than any other problem leader on the world stage, and it's not a terrifying obscenity.
That we have a presence in the United States who treats him as a normal leader. What would be the first things he would say to you? What? What would you pick out of prudence? Bio that would argue against that? Can a carefree attitude puts in is a bloody dictator who jails and kills his opponents and has waged several illegal wars to the tune of hundreds of tat. Of lives, and so I do not think it is ok to treat him as a normal leader, no matter how much the current american president aspires to be like him and what was the status of public, opinion generally in sure now, insofar as you can gauge at both toward Putin and toward the U S in Europe, because you what we see release, would someone pretty far from
The facts. Let myself sees in the media is the suggestion that there is a way. Extraordinary degree of aunt. I am U S and anti european sentiment there and that some of this, is can framed as of a piece with prudence popularity as a leader that he's could bringing back the strong country of Russia that has been so demeaned really since the fall of the Soviet Union, the house describe public opinion in Russia? Well, I wouldn't Skype Publicopinion Russian. What I would say is that in a country that has no public and new opinions, it is very difficult to talk about public opinion. And I mean that literally put an over his eighteen year, rain has presided over the near complete destruction of the public sphere. You can't have public opinion without a public sphere if
wait a particular position, a hysterical mobilizing in a country under siege position, as it happens, but really any position becomes the singular position that the dominates the entire public sphere, then you can't have any meaningful opinion either right and that's and that's where they subtitle of my of my of my book is how to tell a terrorism reclaimed Russia because they lived experience. Of being in Russia now is delivered experience of being under totalitarianism? Even their Russia doesn't habits. How turn regime it doesn't have a regime of state terror, but what it does have its total domination over at the thoughts and feelings and perceptions of its citizens. So there is no such things public. But that view the view that dominates that emanates from the crime
An end dominates the publisher or what passes for public sphere, and Russia is the the opinion that Russia is a country under siege admitted that it is at war. With the United States and that war is being fought by proxy in Ukraine and ensure it so that what that's scary? Because, even if You can imagine most Russians are not happy with how Russia is You governed, if you think that there is a consensus, that The real enemies is outside an end. Is the? U s it it. It paints a picture of the potential for a dangerous level of support for a ramping up of Aggression in the way, I remember hearing at one point that the prospect of nuclear war with the? U S was being kind of casually reference in the context of some political campaign out of it if it was Putin's or or someone else
Russia and there isn't that there's nobody else addressed her. However, one about Iraq's political campaign yet, but you the idea that the prospect of of Nuclear war, in particular between Russia and the United States, could be a happy talking point over their affection, for, although I have that is factually correct, or what is that story that I'm dimly recalling its an understatement? It's not just the stuff of political campaigning. It is enshrined in Russia's military doctrine that I believe was changed and twenty two, often pulled me out amendment twenty thirteen bottom, the russian military doctrine reserves the right of first strike in response to any at including a non nuclear one. The threatens the integrity of the Russian Federation and Russia. The russian military doctrine also identify
as the United States and NATO member countries as its primary strategic enemies. Why? I can only imagine we have a similar doctrine why we haven't. We haven't disavowed any possibility of first strike on our side. Have we I would have to check, but I believe that, according to the military doctrine, first strike is a sure reserved for immediate nuclear threat or nuclear struck, and that is that, as a difference, Russia, the bars higher. So the belief that America is the enemy is insofar as you can. You say, you can't really judge public opinion by you. You feel that this notion is really well subscribed. However, cynical people might be about the information it comes to him through state run media. I dont think
understand what I'm saying. Maybe I'm not make myself very clear as well as well. I'm not saying that public opinion can be judge them, nothing. The Pieper, cynical, I'm saying that public opinion actually doesn't exist. I was saying that people have robbed of their ability to form their own opinions right. So it's just not a thing that is so all we have to deal with is what what we see in the russian media. You believe you can't gauge how much the products of the russian media that we see significantly in Well, this is the view of people on the ground in Russia, SAM I'm saying people don't have views, but White House possible argovie? If you, if we can ask everyone in Russia whether they thought Amerika was a good place or a bad place, and they all answer
That question one. Where the other you, you would say that the answer would be meaningless or yes, I would say that answer would be meaningless because you can predict with ninety percent accuracy, Russia, eighty six percent accuracy, as the polls show that people will say exactly what was last on television so. If the television is talking about the United States being the enemy than if you conduct a publication opinion poll, then you would get eighty six percent of people saying here, the United States is our enemy. If, tomorrow, We become best friends with the United States. People will say exactly that. That's what a totalitarian society looks like and that's what I mean when I say that people don't actually have views or in a day, It is a matter of survival and tell hands state to be able to accurately mirror the signal that comes from. Above all, that's interested it sort of four
so others put the question to given that is their potential silver lining to trumps approach to Russia. The fact that we have this glad hand in narcissist who simply does not care or maybe even seem to know about the human rights violations of the people he's creating photo ops with the fact that trumpets taking that approach to Putin and will will leave aside the the russian hacking scandal and everything else it my trouble as he is there, a potential silver lying there in that relations can solve between the U S in Russia and that a different message gets path,
to the russian population, and we essentially de escalate a very tense situation, albeit with various casualties in the EU. It doesn't help people in Syria doesn't help people in Russia all that much, but it it does possibly closed the door a little bit too the prospect of some horrible conflagration between Russia and the Eu S. I don't see how that happens, because it is the The imaginary mortal combat between the United States, and Russia is not a function of american politics or american behaviour is a function of pollutants need to have a mobilizing idea. The only one rising idea law. Enough to fit sort of the the superpower
since left over from the Soviet Union is the idea of conflict with the United States put in hand. Absolutely no interest in having that constant diffused because his entire politics is constructed around that conflict. That's interesting! So let's do we have this summit, this meeting coming up between Tromp and Putin. Let's say that is yet another instance of should happy talk between the two leaders, a howl Putin. Represent that internally to Russia, he will show that the american President has come asking for meeting that that acknowledges that Russia is regaining
superpower status, and that is the ultimate ambition element of the ultimate serve insult. As put in his framed. It is Russia's loss of its place as one of the two poles of power in the world, and Russia's ambition is to reclaim that that that that place, and so firms desire. His near begging for a summit with Putin is a reflection of of pollutants. Success in this house going to be framed in Russia So if we had a different president and a different policy, what would you want? The? U S, posture to be Witherspoon to Russia now me: is there anything that would in your mind, reliably move us in a productive direction and our or put pressure on Putin. That would be not merely edginess toward conflict, but actually,
stabilize him within Russia. I dont know that that's possible, and so I dont think that that's how we need to think about foreign policy nerve. Republicans are terribly fond of talking about values based foreign policy wasted. They haven't practice since in it and police the times of rain, if ever, but I think that that's actually how we need to be thinking about it and that requires a real refraining. You have to admit that it premium, likely that any american actions will actually influence put his politics Britain's installed? Politics are determined by his own logic of survival, so the question becomes not how do we destabilize Putin? But what is the right thing to do?
or perhaps more productively. What are the wrong things to do? It is wrong to sit down with a dictator who mergers is applied It is wrong to seek to have common ground with a dictator murderous his opponents. It is wrong to even entertain the possibility Of an alliance with the waiter who waging illegal wars solely everything. You just said. I, it least for me could be said about North Korea do view them as similar situations have. So so, let's let us just talk about Trump and the EU in the where's context offers them away. What do you believe? It is true that explains trumps unwillingness to notice anything unsavory about
and the mother investigation runs its course we find out everything we're going to find out is there They are there in your mind whether its financial entanglements or something more unseemly by what? What do you think it's true and what do you think the consequences are of are seems at half the? U S, population simply doesn't care what what may or may not be true that interest for use it as a witch hunt. So, first of all, I dont think that you can ask you. What do you think it's true? I did their things. I knew too true, and there are things I knew that I don't write about a given what you know to be true. What would not surprise you have? First of all, I would like a pretty the bright line between what you think you know to be true and everything else is conjecture, but conjectures it as much as you're comfortable. I guess we'll see what we know to be true is that from has never many dictate
he didn't like. So in a sense, we don't need the mauler investigation to explain his evident affinity for puts him. He has a desperate desire to be liked and affirmed by the dictators of the work. He has an understanding of power that is as close to the understanding of power that that is, good bye to Turkey or Putin, or you know that leaders of no three and China can be brilliant and Yahoo. As close that that's his understanding far that's what he understands. He does not understand, serve the imperfect, incomplete, it power wielded by elected officials in an actual democracies, The strong man archetype of the leaders is the one he recognizes end seems to want to buy
Eddie you want. You want a hundred percent of Americans too, to support him. He thinks that that is the desired outcome. He doesn't understand that. That's what happens in to tell her answers. So: how much have you gone down the rabbit hall of thinking about right in about wondering about more of a ulterior motive for not criticizing Putin. Give me his own financial needs for his his real estate, Brandon Empire will again. Evidently we don't need to find an ulterior motive to understand what is going on here. The crucial difference would be in revealing the ladder you know that would seem impossible. A fondness for dictators, while perhaps it should be impossible, is not the kind of thing that can be made salient enough in seems his fellow Republicans that they will even comment on it. Much less act against it.
Anything is impossible until at least the House of Representatives Majority Democrat. Yet what that may be the case, It's like you're asking me about served instrumental the instrumental truth kind of not terribly interested in that. I think we have a fairly clear understanding of the Trump phenomenon has affinity for dictators. I'm in not saying that the multi investigation procedures should absolutely proceed. Anything the morbid, learn from it. The better I don't expect it to be regulatory was then, how concerned? Are you given trumps apparent affinity for dictators? how concerned are you this our own democratic institutions, might not be up to the challenge of
fully raining him enemy user justice. Imagine for argument sacred. He gets reelected in twenty twenty Eve written somewhat about. That is what it's like to be in a totalitarian society or something that is losing its its democratic mornings again is. It is hard to imagine that were here and that we have such a difference of perception across the aisle politically we have. We have something like half of american society that doesn't, seem to notice or care about all the things you and I notice and Caroline about in Tromp, amended to the fact that we have a leader who has all of the instincts you just described using a more concerned about applause and the size of his crowds and hankers familiar, Harry parades and everything out of him seems like just to them.
Benign interpretation, as is just the dumb ejaculation of a teenagers ego. Essentially, but then I think you are concerned that it is more sinister than that. So what are you? How do you view America democracy in the age of trump. Now yet so I dont you know, I don't think, there's any more sinister than than the damaging collation of teenagers. This that's beautifully put in in power near great, in fact democratically Susan are not designed for bad faith actors. They can't withstand it. They dependent on everybody, moralist playing by the rules and innocent unit that than the the sort of the bad faith acting did not begin with trumpet certainly begun much earlier,
With the gridlock in Congress and and now we're reminded once again of the of the shameful spectacle of the non confirmation of of mere garland bottom, but what we have seen, for example, with the travel ban over the last year and a half, I think, is a very good example of what has When, on the one hand you have democratic institutions that are designed to be collaborative, and deliberative and, on the other hand, it DUMBO and force the Dublin force. Will that largely win? But if one side tries to find an imperfect solution and a temporary consensus in the other side is not at all interested in any of that in just once to push through, it will succeed in pushing through why, on the travel banish, I would think someone
I would want to know what I think about that I've come in and elsewhere, as you probably know, I've been very worried about the spread of jihadism and Islamism and those contagious ideas that jump borders. Whether or not people move across them, and I think the travel ban isn't is an idiotic response to a a real challenge. So you know I don't support it. You know that my non support of it is in no way minimizing the challenge we have with Islamism, man and the changes and there's nothing to envy in here up now with unchecked immigration leading to the rise of right wing populism and amazed to see we're just by
of good luck, surrounded by oceans and not having to to respond to at precisely that same problem. But I do think that you even acknowledging the challenges in Europe. I think the travel ban is certainly the wrong approach here. I don't have have any thoughts on that, but well, I think that we agree that the travel ban is the wrong approach. I think we disagree on on the comparison you just made between the United States in Europe, because I dont think think that been added to the extent that you can link the rise of the right in Europe to the influx of refugees. You can do the same thing here. Even this
spectre of immigration in the public. Imagination is enough to fuel the fear that turns fuels, trumpets politics. The fact that the United States took eleven refugees last here doesn't change this that this in your sense of of of coming doom, and that, of course, is also true of several european countries that took a piddling number of refugees, but are seen the far right rise in response to a two perceived threat. It doesn't help you can actually find the cases where the fears can seem justified in Germany or in England, or maybe it's just that there is clearly a less than ideal situation, which the basic problem there is forget about. The recent refugee crisis is also a problem with the failure of assimilation. There, what should you have to take it?
When does there as the clearest case, if you know, if you run a appall among not even immigrants but a second generation british citizens who happened to be Muslim, asking you to whether homosexuality is morally acceptable. The response is zero percent. Finding it morally acceptable. That's a public attitude there It suggests a failure of assimilation that that should be troublesome now granted the the farthest of the far right populous are not so concerned about tolerance of homosexuality, one presumes, but that's an example of the kind of lack of assimilation. They could worry reason both people and think that ok, with pride had enough of this immigration stuff for a while, until we can figure out how to get the various communities in our society to agree about. You know how to live in a civil service you know as well as a homosexual Jew
I am not willing to change serve. My let me put it this way is almost everyone I am not willing to sacrifice muslims sense of safety and security in the society in which I live from and I think that's very much of the function of the of the of the rhetoric that that that we hear both in this country- and I am much more prominently in europe- will certainly some of the rhetoric, but there's also theirs problem of assimilation. There's a problem of Islamism, DV the expectation that that Islam will become an assent in political force. In that the West will eventually Ben the knee and Sharia law will be implemented globally. Read this idea that is subscribed by some percentage of the muslim commute. De wherever there is a muslim community that the problem of a clash of
ideas and world views that we have to figure out how to solve, and we shouldn't be eager to import those ideas, those convictions as quickly as possible, people into our society, no more so than we would want to import any other totalitarian fantasy into our society. If we can help it, that's the concern em. If you, if you tell me that, We have a hundred thousand and then this is a bit of a departure from the topic I wanna hit with you, but just it's kind of interesting that were disagreeing here, If we have, you tell me, there's a hundred thousand refugees from the Middle EAST. That really need a home, and I were going to move them all to San Diego, and you tell me that they're all christian beleaguered Christians who are who require movement to the to the west to be safe from their highly sectarian neighbours that
a completely legitimate claim upon asylum. It sounds like to me, and it comes with an assurance insofar as- we know who these people are that none? These people are jihadists right. None of these people have any fondness for our Cato arises and that's all good news. I think you would probably acknowledge that No, they wouldn't. You wouldn't tell her to find, let me Let me now that I've I've claim this identity of the homosexual chew. You know, I feel much more threatened in this country by the increasingly powerful christian right, then by the poor, powerless and marginalized muslim community. Sure, but they may be equally intolerant of who I am birds, but the ones have the power, and the Guns Heather's don't so. No, both of those can be true amateur, you're, just not acknowledging that there's a I'm,
not acknowledging. That is good news that I'm saying that you did. I think that both groups have valid asylum claims but you know I'm not going to get any more excited about a measuring group of fundamentalist Christians than I am going to get it, about it in a measuring group, a fundamentalist Muslims were, I didn't, have a fundamentalist, but what you wouldn't acknowledge that there is, there is a difference in the level of I would like to continue with neither the content. You'll need to subscribe at San Aristotle. You get access to all might episodes of making sense, Pontiac and two other subscriber only content, including bona capital and I M is relations I've been having a waking up that making his pipe ad free freed. And rely entirely on with your support and even subscribed. Now, SAM Aristotle
Transcript generated on 2020-03-23.